NY Chocolate Show Opening Night & Fashion Show

November 7th, 2008

On Nov. 6, the opening night/fashion show for the 11th Annual Chocolate Show was held in New York, an event to benefit the Susan G. Komen foundation for the cure. The show has switched locations from the Metropolitan Pavilion to Pier 94, on 55th St. and 12th Ave. Pier 94 is a more spacious venue, which will hopefully better suit the large crowds. Here’s a preview, though this is probably the least populated you will see it:

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A handful of vendors were set up for the preview/opening night. Among them were Éclat Chocolate, who displayed  cocoa sticks (below, left), which are melted in hot milk to create hot cocoa. They also had some spicy peppercorn chocolates shaped in disks. Oliver Kita had some fashionista chocolate shoes (below, right) adorned with what appears to be crystallized violets.

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Two booths that you will not want to miss are Mary’s from Japan (below, top and bottom left) and the Italian Confederation which is comprised of several Italian vendors (below, top and bottom right). They both have some amazing chocolate available to purchase only at the chocolate show (outside of Japan and Italy, of course). Mary’s green tea truffle samples were a big hit last year and kept flying off their counter. The chocolates from the Italian Confederation table are also notable. I sampled some salted chocolates, Gianduja, and chocolates topped with lemon rinds (wow), which were excellent.

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Keep in mind there will be many more vendors at the actual show, including Amadei, Jacques Torres, John & Kira’s, Valrhona (among others), and you can find the full list and more info here.

On to the chocolate fashion show! This year, former Project Runway designers and celebrity pastry chefs joined forces to create pieces under the theme of Superheroes! Here are some pieces from the show:

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Left: “Villain to Mother Nature (Oil Spill) by Renee Masoomian & Vedika Webb and Right: “Viracocha” made by Steve Evetts of the Marriott Marquis and designed by Brian Bustos.
Fierce and fiercer!    

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Clockwise, from upper left: “Black Phoenix” by Kit Scarbo, Fritz Knipschildt, and Torben Bang, “Ironman” by Faith Drobin and Michelle Tampakis, “Barbarella” by Gregory Fale, Richard Capizzi & Grand Marnier, “Batgirl” by Michael Plosky & Martin Howard, ”Storm” by Vanessa Greeley and Dina Sadik, modeled by Sophie Deni.

The actual Chocolate show takes place this weekend, Friday to Sunday November 7-9, 2008, and will include demonstrations by some top pastry chefs (which itself is worth the $28 price of admission), activities for children, book signings from pastry chefs, as well as  the full roster of chocolate vendors. For more info on the show, click here.

Note: Please contact me at [email protected] if any pastry artists/designers were not credited appropriately.

A Class with Pichet Ong from P*ONG

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

Matcha Opéra Cake with Black Sesame Seed Ganache and Green Tea Buttercream

October 20th, 2008

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I think the Opéra cake is becoming one of my favorite styles of cake for its elegant style and limitless layering opportunities. I made this matcha Opéra cake for a recent birthday in my family. With its green tea joconde soaked in green tea syrup, green tea buttercream, black sesame seed chocolate ganache and chocolate glaze, it’s a must for green tea lovers!

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For the joconde (and for most of the cake components for that matter), I used the Opera recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets, and the May 08’s Daring Baker’s Challenge, adding some green tea powder. I also added black sesame seeds to give the ganache and cake a hint of a crunch. The top is sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and green tea powder.

For the Joconde (edited from the May 08 Daring Baker’s challeng/Dorie Greenspan):
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) almond meal
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp matcha green tea powder
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

Preheat the oven to 425?F. (220?C).

Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they form soft peaks using stand mixer or handheld mixer. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy.

Attach the paddle attachment to a stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and using a separate bowl, beat the almonds, icing sugar, matcha powder and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined. Do not overmix. It should only take a few seconds.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Again, avoid overmixing and deflating the batter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

Green Tea Syrup:
2/3 cup water
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp green tea powder

In a saucepan, heat water and sugar until boiling and sugar is dissolved. Take pan off the heat, let cool 2 or 3 minutes and add green tea powder, stirring. Let cool completely until ready to use.

Black Sesame Seed Ganache:
8 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tbsp black sesame seeds coated in 1 tsp corn syrup

Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat milk and cream in a saucepan until boiling. Pour the liquid over the chocolate, letting sit for 30 seconds before stirring slowly. Whip the butter and add to the melted chocolate in 2 or 3 additions. Stir in black sesame seeds. Let the ganache cool in the refrigerator, checking and stirring every so often. This ganache can be prepared several days in advance.

Green Tea Buttercream:
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size chunks

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved. 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. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a piece at a time, beating until smooth.

Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, about 5 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. The buttercream can be prepared 2 days in advance.

Chocolate Glaze:
1 stick unsalted butter
5 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate

To clarify butter, melt it in a saucepan. Scoop off the white froth that rises to the top and discard. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, being very careful not to get any water in the chocolate. Pour butter into the chocolate, avoiding the layer of milky residue that forms on the bottom.

Assembling the Cake:
The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Cut a 10″ x 10″ square from each of the 2 sheet cakes. You will have two 5″ x 10″ pieces of cake left which will be laid side by side to form a third layer.
Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with 1/3 of the green tea syrup. Spread about two-thirds of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with another 1/3 of the syrup. Spread ganache over the second layer. Top with third square of joconde. Moisten with the last 1/3 syrup. Spread remaining 1/3 of the buttercream. Refrigerate (or freeze) until very firm.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake, using an offset spatula to coax the glaze to the edges. Refrigerate (or freeze) the cake again to set the glaze.

Using a knife dipped in hot water and water wiped off with towel, trim the edges. Heat the knife/wipe clean with each slicing of cake.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Dainty Little Fruit Tarts

October 14th, 2008

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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!

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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

September 25th, 2008

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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.

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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.

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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!

Live from the Martha Stewart Show

September 17th, 2008

We’re here! My husband and I are on the set of the Martha Stewart show. The audience members are filing in, and getting seated for this special blogger’s audience show. This show will air live today, Wednesday, September 17 in some parts of the country, and will air on NBC at 11am EST. The laptop brigade is out in full force!

This is a real test of multitasking (blogging, listening and photo-taking/editing at once – phew!) We happen to be sitting next to Rachel and Matt from Coconut and Lime and met Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake. Joey’s doing his intro now, so be back soon!

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Martha just came out. She looks great! Other blogs in attendance are Cute Overload and Smitten Kitchen.

Yum. Mattbites is showing us how to make alfajores, South American cookies filled with dulce de leche. I tried these for the first time in Argentina and have always been interested in making them. They are vaguely like macarons in their assemblage process of two cookies sandwiched together with a filling.

We also got to see Martha judge / eat her way through a hot dog contest (to be aired at a later date). Now that was amusing/entertaining, but also somewhat torturous to watch as we approached lunchtime.

That’s all for now! Check out the show!

une religieuse, un éclair

August 31st, 2008

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August’s Daring Bakers challenge was the humble yet heavenly éclair, which consists of a pâte à choux or cream puff, pastry cream and chocolate glaze. The éclair (which is French for lightning) is traditionally piped into a long form, such as the one pictured below. The same dough can be used for profiteroles, or the French pastry la religieuse, such as the one pictured above, among other varieties.

I thought I would attempt to make the beautiful religieuses I have admired in Laduree’s windows in Paris. I was pleased with the results. The religieuse is one large pastry cream-filled profiterole topped by a smaller one, both glazed with fondant/glaze. It supposedly resembles a nun, hence the name. I used the chocolate glaze, firmed in the refrigerator, to pipe the chocolate spikes around the sides. The éclair below is filled with vanilla pastry cream and fresh raspberries, topped with chocolate glaze and chocolate decorations.
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These éclairs were absolutely delicious and relatively easy to make, especially the dough. The multi-step chocolate glaze was perhaps the most tedious element, and the second time, I made a simple chocolate ganache which worked well. I made the éclairs twice this month, though I only photographed my first batch. I have a feeling I will be making these often.

To see what other Daring Bakers have done, click here.

the slice that almost slipped away

August 25th, 2008

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This is a cake that almost never made it to my blog. In the frenzy of preparing for my husband’s birthday celebration, I forgot to photograph the star of the party – this peanut butter and chocolate mousse cake – before it was sliced and devoured! Fortunately, I was able to save the last piece for this photo.

My husband’s favorite cake (coincidentally, the one got me started with this whole with this whole baking thing) is a chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse, dulce de leche and bananas. This year, I modified it, incorporating the main flavors into a lighter cake more suitable, perhaps, for summer. This cake is almost bakeless to boot, which is a welcome relief from the the oven heat in the summer. The layers from the bottom up: a chocolate cookie crust, peanut butter mousse, dulce de leche chocolate mousse surrounded sliced bananas, ganache, decorations of chocolate shavings, peanut butter and dulce de leche sauce.

I was concerned about the proportion of chocolate/peanut butter mousse to cake (or the lack thereof of cake), but it far surpassed my expectations and turned out to be light and absolutely perfect as a summer cake. Guests went for seconds and thirds. People defied their dairy allergies and vegan principles to eat this cake (I felt a bit guilty about that, but I didn’t exactly force them). So yes, it was a big hit.

Hopefully I will make this again and eventually post the recipe – I’ve been baking more based on instinct rather than precise measurements (I know, pastry is supposed to be such a precise art) and modifed various recipes as I was making.

*UPDATE*

To all those readers asking for recipes, I am sorry to say I have still not made this cake again since this post and would not feel comfortable posting the measurements based on memory. You could recreate this cake using your favorite recipes for the various components – chocolate cookie crust, chocolate mousse, peanut butter mousse, chocolate glaze, etc. I try to post recipes when I can, but this blog is more about documenting the things I’ve made and providing inspiration.

cosmic dome cake

July 30th, 2008

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This Filbert Gateau with praline buttercream, filbert (or hazelnut) genoise and ganache glaze was perhaps the most frustrating Daring Baker’s Challenge for me yet, which really shouldn’t have been since it IS cake, and I should be fortunate I was in my element. I want to attribute it up to the heat and the fact that this wasn’t the most seasonally appropriate cake to make, but I just wasn’t as inspired with this month’s challenge.

I thought I’d experiment with this cake by trying a dome shape. I received a Betty Crocker bake and fill kit a few years ago, which included a dome baking pan. I didn’t actually bake the cake in the pan (the depth of the center would mean increased baking time = dry cake). Instead, I baked the cake as a sheet and cut out circles of various sizes to fill the cake.

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The praline wasn’t sufficiently incorporated into buttercream, hence the chunks. It still tasted delicious but I knew that piping anything decorative on the surface of the cake would be nightmare. I decided to try it but as expected, the constantly clogging tip just wasn’t working. (While I think I’ve done a decent job covering up the blemishes between touching up the cake and avoiding photographing at certain angles, I can technically still say that the buttercream is part of the decoration, as that was a requirement in this challenge.) Anyway, after some deliberation I decided I would decorate with chocolate modeling paste.

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I rolled out the modeling paste onto a thin sheet and cut circles out of it, and painted the circles with edible gold dust.

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Cutting out and arranging the circles proved meditative and helped quel an otherwise frustrating experience. In the end, I was pleased with the mod/abstract aesthetics of the cake. But right up until the end, even cutting the cake proved challenging. The firmer chocolate circles pressed into the soft sides of cake from the pressure of the knife, so I had to freeze the cake to firm it up and wait another day to actually cut into the cake.

Another challenge down and boy am I glad this one is over. To see what other Daring Bakers have concocted this month, click here.

Daring the Danish Braid

June 29th, 2008

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I was fortunate that my first three Daring Bakers challenges were all cake-related and not unfamiliar territory. I knew my luck would eventually run out and that one day I’d come across a dough challenge. Well, that time finally arrived when this month’s challenge of a Danish braid was announced by Kelly of Sass & Veracity and Ben of What’s Cooking?. I think I’ve attempted cooking with yeast perhaps once before. It may have been in my childhood or teen years, but it was enough of a failed experience to have turned me off from working with yeast.

My initial reaction was to skip this month’s challenge, as after all, this is mostly a site about cakes. But my husband who has a lot of faith in me really wanted me to try this. And after perusing so many scrumptious and successful braid after braid completed by other zealous Daring Bakers, I decided to give this a go.

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Braid, pre-baked

I decided upon a cream cheese/egg filling and fresh blueberries, topped with raw sugar and sliced almonds.

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Nothing novel here, but I’m glad I “rose above” my fear of yeast and ventured out of my cake comfort zone! Thanks to Kelly and Ben for hosting! To see what other Daring Bakers have done, please visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll.