Pumpkin Praline Trifle

November 18th, 2011

Here’s a flavorful twist to the traditional trifle that’s just perfect for a Thanksgiving dessert. This Pumpkin Praline Trifle is akin to a Tiramisu in its ladyfinger-layered composition. It satisfies your pumpkin urge without being too heavy. The bits of pecan praline dispersed throughout the dish lend a nice crunchy texture to an otherwise airy dessert. I originally made this for a recent potluck party, but will definitely be making this again for our actual Thanksgiving dinner. The original recipe is from epicurious.com, and one of the reasons this dessert appealed to me is the no-bake factor, which can be quite convenient when the oven is occupied by turkey and sides.

Pumpkin Praline Trifle (adapted from epicurious.com)


  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray (if not using a Silpat)
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup half and half
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 2/3 cups pecan halves (about 6 ounces)

Mascarpone cream:

  • 2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
  • 1 8-ounce container chilled mascarpone cheese
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream (or half and half)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2 3-ounce packages ladyfingers
4 1/2 tablespoons dark rum, divided

For Praline:
Line baking sheet with silpat or spray with nonstick spray. Using a heavy saucepan, bring both sugars and half and half to a boil over medium-high heat and whisk. Reduce head to medium-low for five minutes and whisk continuously. Add the butter, vanilla and salt and let simmer for about 8 minutes until temperature on a candy thermometer reads 260 degrees. (I tested by dropping a small amount into a cup of cold water; it should harden immediately in the water). Remove from heat and immediately spread mixture into a single layer onto silpat/prepared sheet pan. Be quick! Allow to cool and then cut into small chunks about 1/4″ or about the size of chocolate chips. This recipe makes a generous amount of praline, which can be reserved for another use in an airtight container.

For Marscapone Cream:
Whisk all ingredients (whipping cream, marscapone cream, sugar and vanilla extract) until stiff peaks form. Reserve a half cup for the pumpkin filling.

For Pumpkin Filling:
Whisk all ingredients  (pumpkin, brown sugar, whipping cream or half and half, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, salt, cloves) until combined. Whisk in reserved 1/2 cup marscapone cream until just combined.

Using an 8″x5″ trifle dish, spread a thin layer or 1/3 cup marscapone cream over the bottom of dish. Arrange a layer of ladyfingers over cream (approx 6-7 standard size ladyfingers). Sprinkle rum over ladyfingers. Spread 1/2 cup pumpkin filling over, ensuring filling reaches the edges. then sprinkle praline over this. Spread 1 cup marscapone cream over. Place another layer of ladyfinger sprinkled with rum, followed by 1 cup pumpkin filling, then a layer of praline. Repeat this last layer one more time, then top with remaining marscapone cream. Cover and let set in refrigerator 1 day or preferably 2. Before serving, sprinkle top decoratively with more praline.

Happy Thanksgiving!

cookie bar 2.0

February 14th, 2011

You could say I’ve had cookies on my mind lately. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to meet baking idol Dorie Greenspan in person, and to actually try her cookies, so I couldn’t miss Cookie Bar’s second appearance in New York. As if that weren’t reason enough to trek into the City (well, just over the Hudson river for me), I happened to hear of a blogger meetup this past Friday, February 11, so it seemed like the perfect time to go.

Josh Greenspan, Sarabeth, and Dorie Greenspan

I sent my husband, who was in the area the day before, to scout out and purchase some cookies, just in case they happened to sell out by the time I got there. By Thursday mid-afternoon, they had indeed sold out of the more chocolate-y cookies and he brought home a blondie, espresso-chocolate sablé, a coconut-lime sablé, and a pear-pineapple jammer. I almost had a hard time opening the sealed package Dorie had apparently packaged herself. Almost.

I could not wait for my turn to procure these coveted cookies and meet Dorie in person. Dorie is as gracious, genuine and sweet in person as she seems and signed two books for me (Baking, From my Home to Yours, and Paris Sweets). I mentioned she had judged my entry for a bittersweet baking contest I participated in a few years back at thekitchn.com. It was a vegan cake because I was feeling experimental and ambitious at the time.  She replied that she was always interested in trying to create vegan desserts.

Fortunately, I was able to get some of the varieties I was especially keen on trying – the strawberry-raspberry jammer, world peace cookie, and chocolate chunker (she was selling out quickly during the blogger meeting and by early afternoon, was completely sold out!). While I enjoyed all the cookies, my personal favorites were the chocolate chunkers and jammers.

Dorie hands over the very last of her cookies from cookie bar 2.0 to one lucky guy!

Despite selling out in the early afternoon, Dorie would dutifully remain until 5pm to face the unenviable task of breaking the sorry news to  customers that all the cookies were gone. In the meantime, she chatted with us bloggers. One of the great things about doing this Cookiebar, according to her, was opportunity to meet “the people”. Dorie, we’re so glad to meet you too!

The other highlight of my little jaunt was the unexpected treat of meeting Sarabeth “Goddess of Bakedom” herself from Sarabeth’s Kitchen as well as some wonderful bloggers. Thanks to The Peche and One Tough Cookie for organizing the meetup!

Dorie and Me!

baby steps

February 9th, 2011

As a relatively new parent, I’ve long since accepted the fact that my life has pretty much been turned upside down, that parenthood involves sacrificing much of my former life as I’ve known it. I look back on some of the more elaborate cakes I’ve made, the hours and days involved, and sometimes admittedly bemoan the loss of the luxury of time, a few uninterrupted hours to myself to just get into some sort creative zone.

But every little death of a piece of me yields the potential for something new or different.

Baking cookies felt exactly like the liberating paradigm shift I needed.

Humble, basic, rustic cookies.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters (Dorie Greenspan’s recipe from Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Nothing new or novel, but…they just hit home.

World Peace Cookies (Dorie Greenspan’s recipe (click here for recipe), also from Baking: From My Home to Yours)

And felt perfect.

life gave me meyer lemons

September 9th, 2010


Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive a special gift of a dozen meyer lemons from a personal tree in California. I’ve read so much about them but never actually used them in dessert, so I was eager to put these to use. Meyer lemons have something like a cross between the tartness of a conventional lemon and a sweetness of tangerines. Its mild, sweet fragrance exudes from its pores in an intoxicating way, which apparently, even my baby could not resist.


I made a meyer lemon tart with a spiced chocolate crust and chocolate creme chiboust. This tart utilizes Johnny Iuzzini’s spiced chocolate tart shell and crème chiboust recipes from Dessert Fourplay and Dorie Greenspan’s lemon cream recipe from Baking: From my Home to Yours.

I had searched through various recipes along the lines of lemon curd and decided upon Dorie Greenspan’s incredibly silky lemon cream recipe. It is comparable to a curd except it’s much more silky and luxurious as the butter is blended in with a food processor/blender at the end, creating an emulsion. And when I read the recipe was from Pierre Herme, I decided it was an absolute must to try. The lemon cream recipe is also available on Serious Eats. Dorie calls for patience as the cream comes up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit in a double boiler, and making this cream certainly tested mine. It seemed to take forever to come up to this temperature (longer than the 10 minutes she said it could take)! I was most likely not using enough water in my double boiler or perhaps using an inadequately sized one.


Having made the lemon cream already, I loved Johnny Iuzzini’s unconventional approach to a making lemon tart by using a spiced chocolate crust and a chocolate crème chiboust. The chocolate-meyer lemon combination was a love. A crème chiboust is typically made with either beaten egg whites, which Johnny’s recipe calls for, or whipped cream and can be used to fill cream puffs and the like. Of course, halfway through the recipe I realized the egg whites were essentially uncooked, and my cautious mom instincts took over given the recent salmonella outbreak, even though my organic eggs were probably fine. Not wanting to turn back, I decided to see if heating the egg whites over a double boiler, similar to the way a swiss meringue buttercream is prepared, would work. It probably led to some deflation, and given the fact that I halved the recipe to begin with, the chiboust layer was a bit thin. Nonetheless, it still came out delicious.


The chiboust is also frozen and cut into a circle, which was a bit difficult given the delicateness and thinness of the layer, and the layer didn’t quite reach the end of the tart shell. In the book they’re prepared as mini tarts, which would have been easier to handle, I think. Therefore, I added some cocoa nibs to fill the slight gap.

Despite some complications and possible cussing making this tart, I was pleased with the end result, and my family seemed to love it, as well, which of course made it worth the effort.

baking cake with mommy brain

March 18th, 2010


Blame in on the hormones, or “mommy brain”. In our childbirth prep class last year, we learned it’s partly the pregnancy hormones that can cause women to be a bit, well…”clumsier”. I used to pride myself in my technical precision and fine motor skills, skills which have escaped me to a lesser degree lately. I was, after all, able to trim and paint three rooms without getting a single drop of paint on my hands and clothes. But as I get back into the swing of things, I found myself stumbling with this cake. Maybe it didn’t help that I came up with this one on the fly, the day before it was to be served, but I managed to dump a can of sugar, spill the flour, overbake, etc. Oh well.

This was a cake for my dad. A dense, rich chocolate almond sponge cake soaked with ginger syrup, layered with ginger buttercream and ganache. The top is decorated with homemade crystallized ginger nuggets that I remembered watching Alton Brown making, recipe here. The ginger syrup was inspired by this recipe, except I omitted the vanilla bean and added some Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur after the syrup had cooled. Incidentally, the ginger used to infuse the syrup did not go to waste – I used it to make the crystallized ginger. The cake is loosely inspired by both the “Alhambra” and “Opera” cakes. As I mentioned, the process was pretty much spontaneous as I made up the components as I went along, modifying recipes here and there. Normally I wouldn’t work this way, and have everything planned and organized with recipes pre-determined. Having a baby has forced me to shift the way I work and has definitely given “multi-tasking” a new meaning, as I was making buttercream with one hand, baby in the other.


I do not have a recipe for this one, because 1) I made things up as I went along and 2) I would do things differently the next time. Perhaps my baking is shifting more towards “process” than product. They say baking is a science, an exact art. True that while I am not without my digital scale and laser thermometer, I value my intuition far more…

what i’ve quietly been up to…

January 11th, 2010

i am blatantly aware of how long it’s been since my last post, how i’ve quietly retreated from the blogging world without explanation. you see, i had been gestating this beauty for 38 weeks…


our first child arrived in December of 2009! while my pregnancy was mostly uneventful, thankfully, it was also fraught with dietary concerns as i was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. this meant that two fundamental ingredients of baking – flour and sugar – needed to be severely restricted. fortunately, through careful moderation, my baby was still delivered naturally at a birthing center in Manhattan with a healthy birth weight of 7lb 10 oz.

the journey into parenthood has and continues to be an amazing growth experience. how this affects my blogging and baking remains to be seen as i take things one day at a time, trusting my instincts as i go along, as i have been all along…don’t worry, i won’t be depriving my little one (who is thankfully clear of diabetes himself) of sweets and look forward sharing with him a lifetime of special baking occasions…

peace and happy new year to all.


flower power

May 19th, 2009


This cake is a departure from the French style ones I’ve been making recently. I made this lemon layer cake with passion fruit buttercream for my mother (yes it was for Mother’s Day – so late posting, I know!), so I wanted it to be whimsical, light and Spring-like. Sometimes, it’s just fun to make a good old fashioned American style layer cake with buttercream!

At any rate, in this cake I wanted to experiment with these soy wrapper sheets I found at Japanese mega mart Mitsuwa, in Edgewater, NJ. They’re also available on Amazon here. I’ve even found it in the International section of a local A&P supermarket. The flower pattern was inspired by the popular Marimekko Unikko fabric.

For the recipe, please see this post.


coconut cheesecake. cashew ginger crust. pearls.

April 27th, 2009

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
April’s Daring Bakers challenge was a cheesecake recipe, the challenge of which involved taking a basic recipe and being creative with it. While I’m not a big fan of cheesecake, I took this as an opportunity to try out some techniques I’ve learned or read about recently (though they’re hardly novel and have been used for some years). Ultimately, I created a Coconut Kaffir Lime Cheesecake with Cashew Ginger Crust, and Mango-Blood Orange pearls. The white “sauce” is coconut foam.


When I visited Thailand several years ago, I became enamored with kaffir lime leaves. It’s often used in curries and the delightful Tom Kha Gai soup (coconut lemongrass chicken soup). I finally received a baby kaffir lime tree last year as a birthday gift, which I’ve been nursing since. After the dormancy of winter, I’m quite thrilled with how much it’s been growing. Generally, the leaves are not eaten, but rather torn and used in soups or curries, similar to the function of bay leaves. However, it is more easily ingested when finely chiffonaded.


Instead of a traditional fruit sauce topping or glaze, I tried my hand at making fruit pearls or spheres, which originated several years ago in El Bulli restaurant in Spain. The spheres are often made with sodium alginate or calcium chloride, but not wanting to use such ingredients (not did I have access to them), I used a recipe using agar agar (seaweed-based gelling ingredient) from a recent class with Michael Laiskonis as a basis, omitting the locust bean gum. I basically cooked the juice of one mango and and one blood orange with some sugar (I read that certain fruits such as mangoes, due to their high acidity level will not set with agar agar, but coooking them might change their enzymes and alter their ability to gel). I thought the juice needed a little more kick so I also added some from half a lemon. I had to experiment with the amount of agar agar I used, but I ended up using just over a teaspoon of powder, which needs to be dissolved by boiling in water for several minutes. This juice-agar  mixture was poured into a squeeze bottle and “dropped” into a container of very cold canola oil. In class, we used a large square bucket-like container and the type of container you use will be a determining factor in the success. This part is somewhat trickier than it would sound, because the spheres can fall to the bottom and puddle, or flatten when they reach the bottom of the container, (which happened to some of my pearls). Then you strain the pearls and rinse under cold water.


The cheesecake itself is flavored with coconut extract and coconut flakes and infused the whipping cream with kaffir lime leaves. I also decided upon a cashew ginger crust using ground cashews and crystallized ginger from the book In the Sweet Kitchen. I also tried foaming, a technique made infamous (and not necessarily in a good way) by the contestant Marcel from Top Chef. It is easy to make foam (depending on the liquid-some will not foam) using an immersion blender. You just need to ensure the blade is not entirely immersed in the liquid, but rather at an angle.


Thank you to this month’s host, Jenny.

A Lighter Note…

April 13th, 2009

My last two posts were perhaps a bit heady, admittedly. And speaking of heady, my head has been spinning from all this talk about the psychology and science of food. So I thought I’d lighten things up with a cake to celebrate Spring: green tea sponge cake, yuzu mousse, lavender creme brulee, white chocolate caramel ganache, pistachio white chocolate crisp, white chocolate glaze with green tea and “lavender” macarons.


While this cake was intended for an Easter gathering, I wanted to avoid using any symbols specifically associated with the holiday. It was also for a family gathering, for which I tend to be more experimental – to their benefit or not – because they’ve tried it all, because I know they will still love me and because they will be brutally honest in their critique.

The main  flavor combination of green tea and yuzu was inspired by my recent class with Michael Laiskonis. I used his flavorful green tea biscuit recipe as a base (though in his blog, he doesn’t recommend this cake for an entremet). His recipe calls for the use of trimoline, an invert sugar used for stability and also to retain moistness. Honey is an invert sugar, so I used that instead, also to see what effect it would have. There did seem to be some disparity in the structure and stability of the cake between my cake and the one made in class. Not that the cake I made didn’t hold together well; it also seemed lighter.

Yuzu is an East Asian fruit that’s not commonly found in the US. It’s more commonly found in bottled form as a juice in some Japanese grocery stores. To me it smells sweetly of clementines, yet has the sharp tang of lemons. Little did I realize that I actually grew up on this stuff in yuzu tea form called Yujacha (a Korean marmalade that is mixed with hot water, mainly used to nurse a cold – I could go for some now as I feel a bit under this ‘glorious’ April weather). At any rate, I made a yuzu mousse filling by modifying a lemon mousse recipe found here on Jen Yu’s blog. I also flavored a creme brulee insert with lavender, which also served as an excuse to introduce the lavender color in the final presentation. For a crispy texture, I made a pistachio white chocolate feuillette.  There’s also a caramel white chocolate ganache insert. In the end, the cake was covered with a white chocolate glaze, and decorated with green tea and “lavender” macarons, and dried lavender.


Due to time constraints, I wasn’t going to include the caramel white chocolate ganache. I wasn’t sure about the yield of the yuzu mousse, and quickly realized after layering the creme brulee insert that I wouldn’t have enough, so I decided to make the ganache after all (I would have preferred more mousse between the pistachio white chocolate feuillette and the biscuit – it really bothers me as I look at the cross-section!). I was wary of the use of the white chocolate ganache recipe, but in the end I thought the caramely flavor didn’t compete with the flavors. I was concerned there was too much going on, but ultimately, I think the components worked together and the cake was really enjoyed by all, including an unexpected visitor – a precocious 8 year old who I wasn’t sure would appreciate the cake, but was able identify various flavors and even requested a second serving.


Green Tea Biscuit

Yuzu Mousse (I substituted powdered gelatin with gelatin sheets and lemon juice with yuzu juice.)

Pistachio White Chocolate Feuillete
50g white chocolate, chopped
13g butter
15g pistachio paste
30g rice krispies, crushed

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler. Add the pistachio paste and crushed rice krispies, mixing quickly and thoroughly. Spread in a thin layer onto wax paper to a size appropriate for your mold. Refrigerate until hard. Cut to desired shape (slightly smaller than your mold).

The following components were from December’s Daring Baker’s challenge, original recipes available on Saffron & Blueberry:
White Chocolate Ganache Insert
25g granulated sugar
68g white chocolate, finely chopped
68g heavy cream (35% fat content)
Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small sauce pan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color.
While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling.  Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.

Lavender Crème Brulée
Replace vanilla with dried lavender

White Chocolate Icing (not posted on Saffron & Blueberry’s site, but available as an option in the original challenge)
1.5 gelatin sheets
3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate
2 Tbsp (30g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (90 g) whole milk
1 2/3 Tbsp (30g) glucose or thick corn syrup

Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes. Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter together. Bring the milk and glucose syrup to a boil. Add the gelatin. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until smooth.
Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

Apologies if this recipe is confusing to follow. I just want to give proper credit to those whose recipes I’ve borrowed from!

Asian Flavors, American Paradox

April 5th, 2009

Pardon the pause since my last post. I am re-designing my site (a work in progress), re-arranging my home (a work in progress), all the while still undergoing something of a blog identity crisis. Some words of advice: do not develop an interest in the writings of Michael Pollan (who suggests you stick to eating foods your great grandmother would recognize) and molecular gastronomy simultaneously, lest you end up in an existential pastry quandary like me.

I also have an occasionally conflicting relationship between pastry and its effect on my personal health and others’, even attempting vegan alternatives on occasion. I admit that such anxieties would seem to epitomize what Pollan refers to as America’s “national eating disorder”. We are an unhealthy nation ironically obsessed with health and the latest nutritional breakthroughs. Our ever-changing scientific knowledge of food, diet and nutrition is imperfect at best. This epistemological crisis has the potentially harmful effect of wrongfully praising the merits of one food while vilifying another (for example, pastry). In defense of pastry, I find the following revelation interesting, taken from a NY Times Magazine article by Michael Pollan (and also mentioned in his book In Defense of Food):

Asked what comes to mind upon hearing the phrase ”chocolate cake,” Americans were more apt to say ”guilt,” while the French said ”celebration”…

The French, for example, take pleasure in food, eat smaller portions, eat socially, and don’t overly obsess about food’s nutritional value (which can lead to guilt when we do not eat foods deemed nutritious). The paradox of the thin pastry-popping Parisian exists as a paradox to us because of our flawed perspectives and systems of thought about food.

But maybe I digress.

Ultimately, this particular post isn’t about American or French pastry, per se, though the techniques are undeniably Western. The subject is Asian flavors.

So let us eat green tea biscuit (pronounced bis-cue-EE).


Left: Coconut-Lemongrass Ice Cream, Green Tea Biscuit, Caramelized Rice; Right: Yuzu Cream and “Meringue”, Green Tea Biscuit and Ice Cream, Ginger Caramel

I took a second class at the ICE with Michael Laiskonis, the cerebral award-winning Executive Pastry Chef from Le Bernardin, and blogger too. A few weeks ago, we learned about incorporating herbs such as thyme, tarragon, and rosemary into desserts; this time, we learned about incorporating Asian flavors, most notably flavors from Japan, India and Thailand, in contemporary desserts.


Black Sesame Panna Cotta, Apricot Sorbet, Soy Caramel, with Cherry Gelée, and Black Sesame Powder, Shiso Leaf. The photo on the bottom right is black sesame powder made through a combination of black sesame paste, sesame oil and tapioca maltodextrin, a curiously feather-light powder that enabled the pulverization of the paste/oil into the black sesame powder, using a food processor.

Chef Laiskonis clarified that the often contested and misunderstood buzzword “molecular gastronomy” is about developing a basic understanding of how food works. This knowledge can, in turn, liberate us and open up new possibilities.


Frozen Ginger Parfait, Rhubarb-Citrus Compote, Mandarin Coulis, garnished wih Rhubarb Chips, and Tuile Croquant. The rhubarb was sliced into paper thin strips with a mandoline slicer and baked in the oven. The tuile craquant was melted in the oven until pliable, and stretched into delicate decorations.


Rose Sorbet, Chickpea Sablée, Mango Coulis, Pistachios. Inspired by Indian flavors.

This was another stimulating class taught by a gifted and generous instructor. There was much to learn from each of the numerous, detailed components of the desserts above, from the rhubarb slivers, to pulled tuiles, to the use of unconventional foods such as chickpeas in desserts, all accomplished in the span of one class. I registered for these classes hoping to be inspired by new techniques and flavors, and I have been. But I also ended up with a bit more than I bargained for–not quite intending to struggle with my thoughts as much as I have–but sometimes it is necessary to question, to take the path of greater resistance.