Archive for the 'Other baking' Category

Pumpkin Praline Trifle

Friday, 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 I originally made this for a recent potluck party, but will definitely be making this again for our actual Thanksgiving dinner.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, 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


  • 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!

baby steps

Wednesday, 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

Thursday, 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.

Asian Flavors, American Paradox

Sunday, 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.

i heart chocolate and ginger…and valentine’s wishes

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009


Phew! I was in quite a bit of a baking frenzy this weekend, preparing these cake bites for a recent Arts to Grow charity event.  With refrigeration and transportation being a concern, I ultimately decided upon chocolate raspberry ginger cake bites which are dipped in dark chocolate, and dusted with gilded cocoa nibs and crystallized ginger slivers. The event was also Valentine’s Day themed, which also influenced by decision.

Up to my eyeballs in cake bites! Two of three boxes pictured here.

These were a lot of fun and the sheer quantity was a great challenge, but most importantly, I’m happy to have contributed out a great cause, namely children’s arts programs in New York City. For more info or to donate on the program, click here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

fortunately, not a fluke…

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009


I tried making another batch of macarons, this time adding some matcha powder, just to see if my last successful attempt was a fluke. I was relieved when the feet came out again! Hopefully, I’m starting to get the hang of this and am developing the fundamentals upon which to build.

finally it happened to me…

Friday, January 2nd, 2009


I’m talking about macarons!

Emboldened by my recent success with the French Yule Log (and needing something to do quite a bit of leftover egg whites), I decided to try my luck once again with the humble macaron. I’ve tried making green tea and chocolate macarons before with mixed success. They certainly met the requisite “tasty” factor, but fell short in the “pretty” aspect. Namely, they were lacking the frilly feet so coveted by macaron makers. Well, with expectations low, I tried a basic recipe for practice and lo and behold…a New Year’s gift…success!


These macarons are filled with praline whipped cream (again, ingredients from my last Daring Baker’s challenge).
This time, I decided to plop myself in front of the oven window and watch the whole baking process (it only took just over 10 minutes), so I determined that the most critical factor that had been throwing me off was the oven temperature. I’ve been bemoaning the oven that came with our condo ever since we moved in and the temperature fluctuations and their effect on the little feet became quite apparent during my observation. It was an illuminating discovery. I haven’t had problems with larger cakes, but little macarons are quite the sensitive little things. Hopefully, I’ll get a convection oven one day.

I should also note that I was able to determine this by piping two sheets of macarons. I decided to hold off on baking the second sheet until after I made the first one. The first sheet was not as successful. The oven was too hot and the tops cracked, but the ones towards the front of the oven came out fine with frilly feet, leading me to believe the temperature (where the front of the oven is cooler) was the culprit. I know about oven hot spots from working with glass, and there were certain tests you could do to determine their exact locations by suspending glass rods across the annealer to see where the rods were sagging. Perhaps I should try a comparable experiment with my oven!

I also tried something I had read about – to place one sheet on top of the other to prevent the bottom from getting too hot. That is also likely a factor in the success of the second batch. Anyway, these were my personal notes. I guess no matter how much you read about making macarons, it’s just a matter of actually making them and developing your own experiences. For me the most interesting thing about this process was developing an increased awareness of heat. Anyway, I’m happy the year is off to a good start!

A Class with Pichet Ong from P*ONG

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Last Thursday was a bag of mixed emotions. It was an unseasonably humid autumn day in New York, I hadn’t slept well, I was physically not feeling great and in generally groggy spirits. Whining aside, I hauled myself over to the ICE to take this class I had registered for a while back.


As soon as I saw Pichet Ong‘s smiling face, my mood was instantly uplifted. Pichet is such a personable man. So cute! He spoke about his background at Jean Georges, La Folie, Spice Market, etc. and how his experience in savory cooking has influenced his desserts in both flavor profiles (his desserts often play with salty/sweet flavor combinations such as the apple hand pie with bacon caramel) and his creative development process. He uses more of an instinctual approach, spontaneously creating, tasting, then revisiting the creation a second time to record the measurements used for any given dessert. Pichet regarded this instinctual approach in admittedly generalized terms as a vaguely “Asian” approach. I found this interesting and personally inspiring as I’ve come to regard baking as less and less of an exact science based on precise measurements and timing and learning to hone my instincts instead.

Apple Hand Pie with Bacon Caramel (my handpie chosen for plating demo!)

The class was divided in two. As much as the Apple Hand Pie with Bacon Caramel intrigued me, I’m actually allergic to bacon (or rather, the nitrates) so I quickly opted to join the Stilton Souffle, Walnut, Basil and Arugula Ice Cream group. At least we all got to shape a few hand pies. This cheese souffle (picture below) was quite savory, counter-balanced by the light, cool arugula ice cream.


Perhaps my favorite dessert of the class (and also the least savory) was the Carrot and Salted Caramel Cupcake, which is sold at Batch Bakery in New York. This cupcake was moist and oh so delicious.


Another delicious item was the Chevre Cheesecake Parfait with Huckleberry, Walnut, and Maldon Salt. The base of the dessert is a walnut cookie crust, a very nice crunch that contrasted the airy parfait.


This class was so much fun. I purchased Pichet Ong’s book The Sweet Spot and am so inspired by the exciting and unusual flavor combinations. Pichet is also working on a second book, though I’ll be “digesting” the knowledge I’ve acquired from this class for a while…

Dainty Little Fruit Tarts

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008


On a recent visit to the NY Cake store on 22nd St. in New York (their link doesn’t seem to be working now), I couldn’t resist purchasing a pack of assorted mini tart shells. I love the idea of having individual bite size fruit tarts that are compact and don’t require any cutting, which can be sort of a messy process. Mini tarts are so cute, to boot! I made these for a family birthday (along with a delicious green tea cake that I’ll post later), but they’re perfect for a party.

Making mini fruit tarts is a bit more time consuming and will require just a little more skill and patience than making one large tart, but the end results are worth it. They’re still relatively easy to make, and everyone will fawn over these and love you for making them! The key points I’ve learned so far are:

– As is the case with most crusts/shells, when making the sweet tart dough, avoid over-mixing the flour.
– Keep an eye on the baking, lest you end up with shells a shade too brown.
– For the pastry cream, when going for the second heating on the stove, keep stirring!


I used the same recipe I posted previously for my large fruit tart.

Fresh Fruit Tart

Sweet Tart Dough (based on recipe from Desserts by Pierre Herme)
This recipe makes enough about three large tart shells (I’m not certain how many mini tarts this equates into as I’ve made them in separate batches but as an estimate, I’d say about 40 mini shells). This larger quantity is recommended because it is easier to prepare one large batch at once. The unused portions can be frozen for later use (and will come in handy for your last minute fruit tart needs!).

2.5 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup lightly packed ground blanched almonds
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
3.5 cups all purpose flour

Beat butter on low speed in the bowl of a mixer with paddle attachment. Add rest of ingredients, except flour, and blend on low speed, scraping down sides occasionally. Add flour in 3-4 additions, still on low speed, just until mixture comes together.

Divide dough into two or three discs, depending on the size needed, and wrap each in plastic. Chill/rest in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or freeze up to a month.

Grease tart shells (I used canola oil spray and that worked fine). Scoop out one tablespoon of chilled dough and press into each individual tart mold, filling it to the edges.  Set on baking sheets and chill dough for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tart shells onto baking sheets and bake for about 15 minutes or until edges brown slightly. Start checking the oven a few minutes before and watch that you do not overbake. Transfer to wire rack to cool and then unmold.

Pastry Cream
(adapted from a recipe from Chad Pagano. Enough to fill 20 mini tarts.)

10oz milk
40 grams sugar
3 egg yolks
25 grams cornstarch
40 grams sugar
20 grams butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional, or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

In a saucepan, dissolve first portion of sugar in milk along with half a vanilla bean, bringing to boil. Whisk egg yolks in a bowl. Sift cornstarch and second portion of sugar into eggs and beat until smooth. Temper yolks by slowly pouring hot milk into eggs in a steady stream (to avoid cooking eggs). Transfer mixture back to saucepan and reheat until boiling. Stir constantly. When mixture comes to a boil – it will be thick – remove from heat. Stir in butter and mix until melted. Transfer to a clean bowl and chill for at least three hours.

To assemble tart, place a dollop of pastry cream in shell. Arrange sliced fruits and berries in decorative manner. The fruits can also be glazed with a watered down apricot preserve glaze or clear cake glaze. The ones shown in this post are unglazed.

Pumpkin Cupcakes for Autumn

Thursday, September 25th, 2008


This is my first Sugar High Friday event (and boy am I cutting it close to the deadline)! When Fanny from Foodbeam announced this month’s cupcake theme, I couldn’t resist. While I actually don’t make many cupcakes as this blog is mostly about cakes after all (though that doesn’t seem to stop me from collecting cupcake wrappers) – I do enjoy the occasional quaint cupcake. I deliberated for a while, but I knew I wanted to use some toffee I recently acquired. I’m also a huge fan of pumpkin baked goods, thus the combination of pumpkin cupcakes with toffee buttercream was born. In case you’re wondering what that subtle shimmer is, it’s edible gold dust.


After poring through numerous pumpkin bread/cookie/cake recipes, I decided to use the recipe from Williams Sonoma, and all I can say is yuuuuum……This is a flavorful, moist cupcake recipe with the right blend of spices, raisins, walnuts and crystallized ginger if you like, ideal for Halloween cupcakes, as well. The only difference was that I ran out of canola oil so instead of the full cup I used 1/2 cup of oil plus a stick of melted butter. I also added crystallized ginger chunks.


Click here for Pumpkin Cupcake Recipe

Toffee Buttercream (infamous buttercream recipe adapted from Nick Malgieri/Doree Greenspan)

1 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites (1/2 cup)
pinch of salt
3 sticks of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup of toffee crumbs
Put the sugar, egg whites and salt in a mixer bowl. Place bowl over a plan of simmering water and stir constantly with a whisk until it feels hot to the touch, or about 3-4 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Cut butter into tablespoon size pieces. Switch to the paddle attachment, and add the butter pieces one at a time, beating until smooth. Halfway through adding the butter, let beat for 5 minutes more. The buttercream should come together. Add the remaining half of butter pieces, one at a time. Let beat a few minutes more, then add in toffee crumbs, beating until just evenly incorporated.

Thanks to Fanny for hosting! Look forward to more Sugar High Friday events!