BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


29 Comments

Napoleon Complex

You can hardly walk a block through any big city these days without tripping over a vegan-friendly bakery. Littering the landscape with enthusiastic signs proclaiming their versatility with alternative diets, it’s thrilling to get any sort of treat with such ease. The typical selection, however, leaves a bit to be desired. Cupcakes and donuts are easy to find, but it’s the real treasures of classic French pastry that remain so terribly elusive. For anyone craving the finesse of mille-feuille, those gossamer thin sheets of puff pastry baked to a shatteringly crisp crunch, sans butter, there’s simply no where to turn… Except for the kitchen, of course.

Puff pastry may intimidate those unaccustomed to its often temperamental ways, but there’s no shame in buying the frozen variety to shave hours of mind-numbing prep off of the procedure. Rather than going the classic but tired chocolate-and-vanilla route, I wanted something a bit more lively. Lemon zest proved just the trick to add some sparkle to my Lemon-Pistachio Napoleons, baked for the March/April issue of VegNews Magazine. Considering how easy it is to put all the pieces together, it’s just as well that more bakeries don’t take the initiative for themselves. This is one DIY project that is likely far easier than taking a trip out to the nearest patisserie!


39 Comments

Around the World in 80 Plates: Lyon, France

Moving right along on our culinary world tour, our next stop will be in Lyon, France! Although I’ve never been to Lyon, I have visited Paris, and am rather familiar with one French specialty in particular… Pastry! As soon as I learned of this destination, there was no doubt in my mind that another grand dessert experiment was in store. How many times do I have the opportunity to let loose and go wild with chocolate, sugar, and cake? Perhaps more than the average person, true, but French pastries are something different altogether.

Recalling towers of multi-colored macaron shells, spiraling upwards to impossibly tall heights, and glass cases lined with glittering fruit tarts so dazzling, they could easily be confused with a jeweler’s wares, all my inspiration could be found in one memory of one patisserie. Pierre Hermé, the so-called “Picasso of Pastry,” pairs daring flavors into modern pastry presentations, which is right up my alley.

On my “dream pastry challenge” list, (Yes, such thing really does exist! The pages are lined with ideas of croquembuche and napoleons, but those are for another day) there sat the scribbled title of “plaisir sucré.” An individual portion that unflinchingly packs in the chocolate in a layered attack that seems greater than each component would be capable of. Originally based on a hazelnut cake and hazelnut praline foundation, followed by waves of milk chocolate, I just had to put in my own little twist. Speculoos is my secondary flavor, playing harmony to many shades of dark chocolate instead. There’s a lot going on in each bite, so let me break it down for you…

Though far from perfect, it felt as though I had scaled Mount Everest when that final sheet of chocolate fell into place. It’s true, I could use a whole lot of work on my chocolate skills, but a nice transfer sheet covers a multitude of tempering sins. I’m not sure that Monsieur Hermé would approve of my eggless and dairy-free rendition on his masterwork, but I’m fairly certain that my tasters did, in any event. Who knows if the competitors on the upcoming episode will turn to pastry, but I would crown them the winner right then and there if they did the French tradition justice! Tune in when Around the World in 80 Plates heads to France, this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo, to find out.

Speculoos Plaisr Sucré

Chocolate Sheets:

10 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped, Melted, and Tempered

Bittersweet Ganache:

12 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Speculoos Dacquoise:

3/4 Cup Speculoos Spread
1 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Cake Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Roughly Crushed Speculoos Cookies

Speculoos Praline:

1 1/3 Cups Speculoos Spread
6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Melted
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
2 Cups Crispy Rice Cereal

Chocolate Chantilly

Starting with the chocolate sheets, use an offset spatula to spread your tempered chocolate onto plain acetate sheets, or chocolate transfer sheets, large enough to cover a baking sheet. Mine had been rolled up for quite some time, so in order to get it flat, I had to tape down the corners with masking tape; you may choose to do the same, just to prevent it from sliding around. Spread the chocolate very thinly (thinner than is pictured- these layers were a bit tough to get a fork through) and as evenly as possible. Allow them to set, undisturbed, until completely solidified. If your kitchen is particularly warm, you can place the whole sheet in the refrigerator to help them firm up. Once solid, warm a sharp knife to allow for smoother cuts, and slice the sheet into 2 x 4-inch rectangles. Set aside.

Next up, prepare the ganache. Simple place the chocolate and “milk” in a microwave-safe dish, and heat on full power for 60 seconds. Let sit for 60 seconds more, and then stir thoroughly, until completely smooth. If there are still a few stubborn pieces of chocolate that haven’t fully melted, heat again at intervals of 20 seconds, stirring well after each heating, until smooth. Let cool until firm enough to pipe. You may wish to hasten the process by chilling the mixture in your fridge, but don’t just leave it there, because it will set to hard if allowed to reach such a cold temperature. Set aside.

Moving on to the dacquoise, preheat your oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan.

Place the speculoos spread, water, sugar, and vanilla in your blender, and process to emulsify. Scrape down the sides of the container if any of the spread is sticking, and blend once more, until the liquid mixture is entirely homogeneous.

Separately, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. Pour the liquid mix into the dry goods, and whisk just until the two are combined to create the batter. Transfer to your prepared jelly roll pan, and smooth it out into a thin but even layer. It may not seem like enough cake to cover all that space, but just keep spreading and you’ll get there! Sprinkle the crushed speculoos cookies equally over the entire surface.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before proceeding.

For the praline, simply mix together all of the ingredients until well incorporated, and quickly spread it on top of your cooled sheet of cake. This mixture is extremely thick and sticky, so I would highly recommend lightly greasing your offset spatula before going at it. It only gets thicker as it cools, too, so don’t waste any time or let it sit there unattended! Spread it out as evenly as possible, to ensure that the rest of your layers follow suit.

Lastly, prepare the chocolate chantilly according to the recipe linked, and take a moment to thank Hervé This for his brilliance.

Okay, now we’re finally ready for assembly! Slice the praline-topped cake into rectangles measuring 2 x 4-inches. Load the ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a medium-sized round tip, and pipe ganache in a zigzagging pattern across the top of each piece. Place a sheet of chocolate on top, and pipe another zigzag of ganache over that. Add another sheet of chocolate, and now grab your chocolate chantilly. Place that into a second piping bag, this one fitted with a large round tip, and pipe two straight lines lengthwise down each piece. At long last, finish it all off with a third sheet of chocolate. You’re done! Now, savor every single bite; this isn’t an ordinary, everyday sort of treat!

Makes Approximately 18 – 24 Servings (depending on how many scraps you eat during the process)

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


43 Comments

Heart Beets

Unromantic and full of teenage angst, I’ve hated Valentine’s Day with a passion for the better part of my “adult” life. Back in middle school, while all the other kids were still crafting cute cards to share amongst friends, I went home and embroidered the words “Love Bites” in sparkly seed beads on a black t-shirt. Paired with inky-black dyed hair and baggy pants approximately eight sizes too large for my frame, it was the perfect ensemble that said Don’t even think about talking to me today. I was simply charming as a child.

Though still fairly bitter about the rampant commercialism inherent in most Valentine’s Day celebrations, forced sentimentalism, and being single in general, I’ve warmed considerably to the concept since then. Instead of writing it off as a couples-only event, it’s become more about appreciating the people I care about most in my life, be it my mom, my dad, my dog, or what have you. Sure, there’s a good bit of love shared everyday so a holiday needn’t be necessary, but isn’t it nice to have a legitimate excuse to spoil these wonderful people more than normal? That’s my new understanding of Valentine’s Day.

The perfect V-Day dinner isn’t full of supposed aphrodisiacs or drenched in fine wine; It’s all about the care that goes into preparation. Pierogi, a delight that rarely if ever graces our table, sounded like the ideal dish. More involved than your average weeknight meal, shaping each individual potato pillow must be created with great attention to detail. If that sort of dedication doesn’t say “I love you and I want to feed you very well tonight,” then I don’t know what does.

A casual affair through and through, it’s the gesture that speaks louder than words. You don’t need to make your pierogi shaped like fussy hearts (although you certainly could) because it says enough that you would make them from scratch. Better yet, these are no average pierogi…

Made to match the occasion, they’re stuffed with an alluring pink filling of red beets and mashed potato! That savory, earthy flavor paired with the lightly herbaceous wrapping is simply irresistible, especially when pan-fried and paired with a smidgen of vegan “sour cream” on the side. Of course, you could go the healthier route and boil them more like ravioli, but come on, live a little- Treat your loved ones to a truly special meal!

Blushing Beet Pierogi

Herbed Pierogi Dough:

2 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Dill Weed
1 Teaspoon Dried Basil
1 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Plain Greek-Style Vegan Yogurt or Vegan “Sour Cream”
1/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Beet and Potato Filling:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
1/3 Cup Sauerkraut, Drained
1/2 Pound Peeled, Cooked and Cubed Yukon Gold Potatoes
1/2 Pound Peeled, Cooked and Finely Chopped Red Beets
1/4 Cup Plain Greek-Style Vegan Yogurt or Vegan “Sour Cream”
Salt and Pepper to Taste

To Cook (Optional):

3 – 4 Tablespoons Margarine or Coconut Oil

Prepare the dough by combining the flour, dried herbs, and salt in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer.  Separately, mix together the vegan yogurt, water, and oil before pouring these wet ingredients in as well.  Stir thoroughly until the mixture comes together into a cohesive dough, and then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead by hand for 5 – 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes so the gluten can relax, which will allow it to roll out more easily. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet, and add in the diced onion when hot.  Saute for 5 – 8 minutes on medium heat, until softened and beginning to brown around the edges.  Add the sauerkraut, and cook for just 1 or 2 more minutes.  Turn off the heat, and combine the contents of your skillet with the cooked potatoes, beets, and “yogurt” in a medium bowl. Mash together until creamy but still good and chunky, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before assembling your pierogi.

NOTE: You can prepare both components up to this point up to one day in advance. Just wrap the dough up tightly, stash the filling in an air-tight container, and store both in the fridge.

Roll out your dough as thinly as possible, pausing to allow it to rest if it continues to spring back and resist rolling thinner. Cut it out into equal circles with a 3-inch round cookie cutter. Re-roll scraps and repeat.

Place 1 – 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each circle, paint a dab of water around the edge, and seal into half-moon shapes. Crimp the outer edges with a fork to secure.

NOTE: You can again pause here and freeze the pierogi for up to a month. Just line them up on a baking sheet so that none are touching, and let them chill down in the freezer until solid. Transfer to a zip-lock bag or an air-tight container, label clearly, and fit them back into the freezer until you’re ready to enjoy. Don’t defrost; cook them as you normally would, but allow a few extra minutes.

To cook, slide them in a large pot of salted, simmering water for 5 – 9 minutes (up to 15 minutes if frozen), or until they float. Cook only 12 at a time so that you don’t crowd the pot. Remove gently with a slotted spoon. Serve, or for the more indulgent option, pan-fry them in the optional margarine or coconut oil until each side is golden brown; about 5 – 8 minutes. Enjoy with someone (or many someones) that you love!

Makes 30 – 40 Pierogi

Printable Recipe

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,688 other followers