Falling for Fall

My favorite time of year is here. The trees are exploding in color. There’s a slight crispness in the air. And cozy sweaters and jeans are making a comeback. Ah, Autumn!

At très jolie pâtisserie, we’re rolling out our new Fall flavors – and we couldn’t be more giddy! Get ready to delight your taste buds.

NEW Autumn-Inspired Macarons:

  • Caramel Apple
  • Pumpkin
  • Chocolate with Salted Caramel
  • Buttered Rum Cider

NEW Autumn-Inspired Madeleines:

  • Brown Butter and Spices
  • Mexican Chocolate
  • Honey and Clove
  • Orange Cinnamon

We also have special edition tarts. And as always, they will be available in perfect petit-fours size for bite-size snacking, or full-size tarts, ideal for sharing. Just like Autumn, they won’t last forever, so order yours today!

LIMITED-TIME Autumn-Inspired Tarts and Tartlets:

  • Whiskey Pear
  • Brown Butter Gooey Pecan
  • Chai-Spiced Apple
  • Pumpkin – with a Chocolate Sablé Crust

Très délicieux…but don’t just take our word for it…

 

Dog days. Down dog. Upside down cake.

Perhaps my recent re-dedication to my yoga practice has inspired me in the kitchen. For some reason, I couldn’t get the thought of stone-fruit upside down cake off my mind. Here it was, nearly 95 degrees outside, and all I could think about was what fruit, and what spices would be best for a Labor Day weekend upside down cake. Had all that downward facing dog succeeded in getting me to admire the world from a different angle? Or had it merely caused me to temporarily lose my mind, yearning as I was to crank the oven up on such a hot day?

Hot as it may have been, the cake won. I headed to the market and picked up 2 pounds of gorgeous Italian plums. Back at home, I cored each plum, then carefully cut them into perfect thin slices. I whipped up a cake batter, spiked with a touch of cardamom; caramelized brown sugar and butter together in my cast iron skillet; then artfully arranged slice after slice of delicate purple plum in concentric circles around the skillet. Finally, I spread the cake batter evenly over the tops of the plums, and popped the skillet into the oven. It would be a gorgeous gooey work of art. And I couldn’t wait to sink my fork into it!

I didn’t even know if my friends were fans of plums. I would do my best to win them over with this dessert! A few minutes into baking and the heavenly scent of cardamom began to fill the house. I knew I had made the right choice then, heat wave be damned.

The cake baked up light, airy, springy and golden, the plums below caramelized to perfection, their natural tartness balanced by brown sugar’s sweetness and cardamom’s spice. When turned out onto a plate, it was pretty as a picture…but I forgot to take one! My apologies, loyal readers. But never fear, as my favorite food tester said, you MUST make this cake again!!! I can’t let my fans down, so make it again, I shall :)

Biting into the cake, I was transcended to that blissful state of complete and utter Zen…not unlike the effect of downward facing dog. Hmmm…perhaps I should take more culinary cues from my yoga practice. If this cake is any indication, amazing things can happen when your mind is completely clear.

 

 

We are Pastry Chefs

This is awesome. I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I will allow Pastry Wunderkind Michael Laiskonis to say it for me, and all my sugar-yielding kind:

We are pastry chefs. We are the red-headed step-children of the culinary brigade. You’ll find us in the basement, or in some hard-fought and carefully carved-out corner of the kitchen. We are protective of that space, our equipment, our atmosphere. We are particular. We strive to be masters of several disparate disciplines. We are sugar burners, cream puffs, the keepers of ‘Candyland’- and to too many who don’t know any better, we must certainly be just plain ‘bakers’ (not that there’s anything wrong with that). We are respected, feared, and ignored.

We are pastry chefs. We treasure our autonomy within the rigid structure around us. We are often left to fend for ourselves and we embrace a do-it-yourself spirit. We are part of a community. We band together, share ideas, and push each other. We take full use of modern technology to create a subterranean network, to shrink the physical space between us. We speak a different language. We seek to explain our intentions through references others just don’t understand. We look at things through a slightly different lens.

We are pastry chefs. We find comfort in repetition and sameness. We are precise, clean, and dexterous. We prefer control to chaos. We are also spontaneous and prone to occasional fits of whimsy. We are students of subtlety. We seek to provide maximum impact. We must predict the future as we cook. We cook with clear intention. We are constantly receptive to inspiration, and that inspiration often comes from the unlikeliest of places. We like to break things that aren’t broken, just to see what happens.

We are pastry chefs. We find pleasure in hidden things. We are often most proud of what you rarely ever get to see. We want to let you in on our secrets. We like to speculate as to what your secrets might be. We are in the nostalgia business, and we have a unique opportunity, nay, a responsibility, to tap into your psyche. We recognize the powerful potential of food as a means of dialog. We want to make you happy.

We are pastry chefs. It is up to us to leave a pleasant last impression. Our work is often an afterthought of guests already satiated by savory. We admit that what we provide is mere luxury, yet we know we satisfy your innermost cravings. Each of us, at one time or another, has wished we could simply send dessert first. This is our chance. We just want to kill you with dessert.

It’s so true! And let’s be honest, how many of you would rather sit down at a nice restaurant and “ruin” your meal by ordering dessert first? It’s a prime childhood desire. And now that we’re adults, I say, why not go for it? Order that lemon panna cotta; chocolate ganache torte; banana cream pie…or hell, all three! I guarantee you’ll make the pastry chef’s night when you do.

We’re jammin’

At the onset of summer, I was distraught by the news that stone fruit would be in short supply – as in, forget about it. No juicy peaches? No crisp nectarines? No sweet plums? Fortunately, I have managed to get my hands on a few, even if only for snacking. And what few I have tried have delivered.

And the berries! Oh the berries! Maybe an unusually hot and humid summer is just what the vines ordered? Every strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and blackberry has been particularly perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I was inspired to get canning. Because come winter, I will be longing for the bright fresh flavors of summer!

Strawberries from Seedling and raspberries and blueberries from Mick Klug in hand, I began dreaming of funky new jams to play off the strengths of each fruit. If I am going to make jam, after all, I am really going to make jam. And not just any jam, something truly special.

Strawberry was a no brainer. I have always loved strawberries and balsamic vinegar together. They are one of my favorite vanilla ice cream toppings. I had an absolutely gorgeous bottle of 25-year aged balsamic in my pantry, and a garden full of beautiful fragrant basil. So, Strawberry Balsamic Basil it was. I could already see this jam pairing wonderfully with cheese on a cheese plate…and maybe even the foie that my boyfriend and I brought back from France…

In theory, this jam was already a gold medalist. In execution, however, it came up a bit short. The berries were so wickedly sweet, they completely overpowered the basil and vinegar! I will make this jam again, but next time I will infuse the sugar with the bruised basil overnight. It worked wonders for one of the other jams (to be mentioned shortly), and I think I really missed an opportunity here. I also feel it would be better to finish the jam with the balsamic instead of cooking it with the berry, basil and sugar mixture. Notes for next time…

Now for blueberries. Most berry recipes call for lemons, but I personally prefer the taste of lime with blueberries. Always have, and perhaps always will. I wanted this jam to be bright and zesty. Not just lime zesty, but peppery…so I turned to my dear friend ginger. Ginger and blueberries marry so well! And this Blueberry Ginger Lime jam expertly highlights that fact.

While tasting this jam during the cooking process, the lime flavor was intense, the ginger muted. So I added a bit more fresh ginger. Perhaps I should have waited until the jam cooled down…now it’s more like a ginger jam with blueberries! Ha ha! But soooooooooo delicious! Again, I think I would zest the lime into the sugar and let that rest together overnight before cooking. (I love infused sugars. Can you tell?) And I would trust my earlier instincts about the amount of ginger to add. The flavor definitely intensified as it sat.

Saving the best for last, lovely lovely raspberries. Such a gorgeous fruit, with the most pleasing texture and tart-yet-sweet bite. I knew right away that the vibrant lemon balm growing with wild abandon in my garden belonged to these raspberries – and how!! Raspberry Lemon Balm jam is such a palette pleaser, I don’t know why I haven’t encountered it before.

It was by far the easiest jam of the group. Just tree ingredients – raspberries, sugar and lemon balm. I muddled the lemon balm with the sugar and allowed it to sit overnight, covered. The next day, that sugar was so incredibly fragrant! (Note to self: muddle more lemon balm with sugar and use to sweeten iced tea!) It’s a vivid red color, rich, warm and enticing. The consistency is absolutely perfect for spreading. And the flavor…one bite and my boyfriend and I both agreed it was the winner of the bunch. The sweetness of the raspberries paired with the bright zing of the lemon balm captures the best of summer flavors. I look forward to opening this jam in the gray, cold winter months!

pretty little jams jars, all in a row

Paris, here I come!

Tonight I leave for a 3-week jaunt to Europe, and I am beyond ecstatic!! I will be traveling around Ireland the first week, then head to the mainland for a week in Barcelona, 2 days in Normandy, and 5 days in Paris, ooh-là-là.

This is a homecoming for me, and one that feels long overdue. My senior year of college, I put my French degree to great use, spending a semester in Paris. It was the best decision I made in my college career, and I tell everyone I know to study abroad if they can. Before responsibilities set in, and you are free to roam.

10 years have passed, and I am finally heading “home”. You, my lovely readers, can look forward to lengthy posts when I return, describing the sites, bites and more in the magnifique City of Lights. Plus, my favorite finds in Ireland, Barcelona and Normandy will be revealed in full.

Until then, à bientôt!

 

A case for Freeganism?

On a recent Saturday night, I found myself cozying up on the sofa with my boyfriend to a 53-minute documentary about dumpster diving. Romantic, no? :)

Once I got over the opening shots of the film maker perched on the filthy ledge of a grocery store dumpster, his skimpy speedo and swim goggles his sole protection against the trash that engulfed him upon diving in, I was pleasantly surprised to find the film extremely educational and alarming. I became less appalled by his willingness to rifle through food waste while scantily clad, and instead focused my bewilderment at the shocking behavior of these large corporations that are so quick to throw good food away instead of donating it. Here’s a breakdown of what I learned:

  • After paper products, food is America’s #1 source of waste, taking up about 20% of our landfills.
  • Every year, we throw away 96 billion pounds of food – that equates to 263 million lbs/day; 11 million lbs/hour; 3,000 lbs/second.
  • The cost of so much waste? An astounding $136 billion.
  • Each American throws away about 400 lbs of food a year, largely due to over buying.
  • 40% of the world’s annual grain yield is fed to animals to produce meat.
  • According to Michael Pollan, after cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy – 19%

The film maker and his friends took to regularly rescuing food from L.A. grocery store dumpsters, turning corporate-deemed trash into gourmet meals. Dozens of packages organic chicken; quart after quart of strawberries; imported cheeses; pints of organic tomatoes; loaf after loaf of bread; dozens of eggs – enough food for his family and friends to eat for months.

What caused these groceries to meet their fate in the dumpster? One bad tomato in a package of four; chicken that’s reached it’s sell-by date; one cracked egg in a case of otherwise happy eggs; day old bread…and this was purely the film maker’s hypothesis because his attempts to get an interview – even off camera – with the grocery stores proved futile. No one would talk to him. No one wanted to address this heinous issue of excessive waste.

With so many people starving and going without, it’s criminal that perfectly good food is so easily cast to the landfills. Hunger is not just a third-world concern. It’s all around us. According the the film, at least 35 million Americans confront the uncertainty of where their next meal will come from. This, from the nation the boasts the greatest food surplus of any nation? Appalling.

Am I advocating for dumpster diving instead of traditional methods of procuring food (i.e. grocery shopping) to feed your family? No. But I do think our country needs to take a good hard look at our individual waste. Stop buying more than you need. And grocery stores need to step up their efforts to donate every possible usable food item they can to local food banks. 1 cracked egg means the entire dozen cannot be sold? Fine. Donate the remaining 11 eggs to a good cause. Every little bit helps.

Intrigued? Check out the film. It streams instantly on Netflix, and is well worth 53 minutes of your time.

DIY Sweetened Condensed Milk

when i am catering a special occasion, i am on top of my inventory and have every necessary ingredient measured and accounted for to the gram. when making something on the fly at home…not always so much :)

so it was when key lime pie sparked my food fancy the other day. oddly enough, it was not key lime juice that gave me pause – i had a bottle in the back of the fridge – but sweetened condensed milk. i could have sworn i had a can somewhere in my pantry, but my search proved futile. not wishing to trek to the grocery store, i googled “sweetened condensed milk substitutions”. it seems i am not alone, as my search results turned up page after page of homemade recipes for the gooey concoction. huzzah!

after perusing several recipes, i elected to try the version below which i found on cooks.com. it was the simplest method, calling for ingredients i always have on hand, and requiring minimal equipment. this accident was proving fortuitous! but…would it work? being the ever-curious chemist in the kitchen, i was eager to experiment.

so i cracked my eggs and whisked them. then added my brown sugar, vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt and whisked until smooth. the resulting mixture was darker in color (likely due to the dark brown sugar), and a bit thinner than that sticky canned stuff. but, i would leave it to science.

i incorporated the mixture into my pie filling, poured it into my par-baked crust, popped the pie into the oven to bake and forced myself to leave the kitchen, the temptation to turn on the oven light and plop down on the floor and watch too great!

25 minutes later…the pie showed real promise. slightly souffled around the edges, while still slightly jiggly in the center. i removed it and allowed it to cool. it set up like a dream, and sliced beautifully. my only regret is that i did not take any pictures to document the event!

next time a recipe calls for sweetened condensed milk, why not skip the sticky canned stuff and give this recipe a try? i would love to hear (and see!) the results.

DIY Sweetened Condensed Milk

2 eggs
1 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Mix all ingredients together until smooth, and use in place of sweetened condensed milk where called for in recipes.

 

 

 

 

try our new spring flavors!

today in chicago, the temperature is supposed to reach a balmy 63 degrees. it seems like only yesterday i was watching squirrels greedily devour jack-o-lanterns in an attempt to fatten up for winter. before i know it, the robins will be chirping and flowers will be in full bloom. seems like the perfect day to unveil très jolie pâtisserie’s spring flavor line up!

madeleines

the madeleine is a traditional french petit four baked in a special scalloped pan. it’s spongy texture leaves one wondering, is it a cake or a cookie…or some fantastic hybrid of the two? not overly sweet, yet superbly satisfying, madeleines can be enjoyed any time of day or night. this spring, très jolie pâtisserie is offering this pillowy pleaser in four delightful flavors:

  • lemon (why mess with a good thing?)
  • orange & cardamom
  • grapefruit & bergamot
  • chocolate & tarragon

    madeleines on parade

macarons

macarons have become all the rage. as a lover of all fine french pastries, i am tickled to see these little gems popping up in bakeries and grocery stores around the nation.

and really, what’s not to love? with their delicate crispy shell that gives way to an ooey gooey center, these colorful treats are not only wickedly delicious, they offer a fun eating experience. this spring, you’ll find the following macaron flavors in très jolie pâtisserie’s pastry case:

  • lavender & white chocolate ganache
  • pistachio
  • lemon curd
  • orange creamsicle
  • vanilla bean

mmmmacarons!

welcome spring with sweet flavor. to place an order, visit tresjoliepatisserie.com today!

happy leap day!

an extra day this year calls for an extra special treat. so i thought i would share this whimsical little guy with you:

an adorable frog cupcake, in honor of leap day. don't worry. no frogs were harmed in the making of this treat!

since no show and tell would be complete without a tutorial, here are step-by-step instructions on how to recreate these little guys at home. it’s an easy and fun way to bond with your kiddos – or just bring out the kid in you!

first, you will need to select a flavor for your cakes. i happened to make a batch of chocolate and another of vanilla, from scratch of course. as it is a weeknight, if you are short on time and have to use a mix, i will pretend i didn’t hear that :)

while the cakes are in the oven, you can make your icing. normally, i opt for an italian meringue buttercream – it has the best flavor and texture. but when time is of the essence, you can’t go wrong with this ridiculously easy and delicious vanilla bean buttercream from America’s Test Kitchen:

Easy Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Yield: 1½ cups (enough for 12 cupcakes)

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ vanilla bean, halved lengthwise*
1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar (5 ounces)
Pinch salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon heavy cream

1. In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Using a paring knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean into butter and beat mixture at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds.

2. Add confectioners’ sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 20 seconds, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice.

*Don’t have a vanilla bean on hand? Omit the vanilla bean, and increase the amount of vanilla extract to 1½ teaspoons.

to make your icing a glorious froggy shade, add food coloring after the vanilla and heavy cream have been incorporated. i like these gel icing colors from Wilton. a little goes a long way. i buy the primary colors (red, yellow and blue), and combine them to create my own shades of greens, oranges, purples, etc.

so the cupcakes are baked and cooling, and your easy buttercream is made, dyed and ready to be applied. now all you need to make are the eyes.

to make froggy eyes, all you need are 1 bag of Wilton Candy Melts® and 1 bag of chocolate chips. line up the candy melts on your counter or table in sets of two. dab a small amount of your icing in the center of each candy melt, then affix a chocolate chip to the icing. by the time you are done frosting each cupcake, your froggy eyes will be dry and ready to be applied! and that’s as easy as sticking them into the frosting, side-by-side.

ta da!

i hope you enjoyed this easy tutorial. “hoppy” leap day everybody!