Show Some Chocolate Truffle Love on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day will be here before you know it. I, personally, get really excited about February 14th every year. There are two reasons for this: first, Valentine’s Day is my birthday, and second, I LOVE chocolate!

When I was a little girl I actually thought the world celebrated my birthday. Remember, I was a kid, and all I saw was that everywhere I looked businesses were pushing that special day. Why, even every school brought out all of their finest pink and red cards, posters, hearts and valentines and best of all- CHOCOLATE!! All sorts of chocolate. Hearts and candies in milk, bittersweet, semisweet and white chocolate was EVERYWHERE!

In school, we all had to create valentines for every child in the class. No one was ever left out. I thought this was a beautiful celebration of everyone loving each other, getting along and eating yummy candy together. What could be bad? Love and candy will always go together as far as I am concerned, even if the holiday was concocted by Hallmark, candy makers, and other savvy businesses.

For Valentine’s Day, I love to show those that I love how I feel about them. That means I make truffles. Rich, creamy, dark or white chocolate truffles. The best part is they are the easiest candy to make, and you can even make them ahead and freeze them before the big day. Truffles are just ganache with a little something extra added.

Here is a very easy recipe for truffles that you can make no matter what your skill level is as a baker or candy maker. Are you ready? Here goes.

In a medium saucepan, bring 1/2 cup heavy cream and 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter to a simmer on the stove. Once you see that the mixture is almost at a boil, remove the pan from the heat. Then gently whisk 2 cups of finely chopped, any type you want, chocolate into the hot cream. Be sure that the chocolate has mostly cocoa butter in it, and not vegetable shortening. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and everything is creamy and smooth.

At this point, you can add some flavorings if you want. Perhaps a tablespoon of cognac or liqueur of your choice, or even a teaspoon of pure vanilla or almond extract.

Now pour the mixture into a small bowl and place it in the freezer until it thickens and can really hold its shape. Line a sheet pan with foil and dust it with unsweetened cocoa powder. Take a small ice cream scoop and place small scoops of the truffle mixture onto the cocoa powder. Do not try to roll them into balls yet. They will be too soft at this stage. Place the sheet pan into the freezer until the truffles firm up enough so that you can roll them between your hands to create balls. Roll the balls in the cocoa powder keeping them coated so they do not stick. Place them back onto the sheet pan. Freeze them until they are hard. This will take several hours or overnight.

Once you have your truffles hardened, you can just give them another roll in the cocoa, box them up and give them as a gift, OR you can dip them into melted chocolate and let them harden in the refrigerator. To melt chocolate for dipping, heat a saucepan with about 1 inch of water to a boil, and fit a heat proof bowl into it, such that the bowl does not touch the water in the pan. Add about 2 cups of finely chopped chocolate to the small bowl and allow the chocolate to melt.

Once the chocolate has melted, using a fork, dip each frozen truffle into the chocolate until it is well coated and give the fork a light tap to allow any excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Set the truffle onto a clean, foil covered sheet pan. You can leave the truffles to harden as they are, or you can sprinkle them with chopped nuts or coconut or even drizzle them with a contrasting melted chocolate. My favorite combo is a dark chocolate truffle drizzled with melted white chocolate. Placed strategically in a pretty box they are not only delicious, but pretty stunning to look at too!

I suggest you keep all of your truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to 2 weeks.

So make some truffles for your sweetheart! No one knows what might happen when you give someone homemade truffles on Valentine’s Day. At least you will be making someone VERY happy.

Happy Baking, Happy Truffle Making and Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

Chef Gail

 

 

Nothing Says Happy Winter Birthday Like Potpie

My mother’s 86th birthday is coming up at the end of January and I always have her and my dad for dinner on their birthdays. Of course, they are invited for dinner at several other times during the year as well, but birthdays are extra-special. For this birthday, I want to make one of the dishes that they always seem to love: Individual Chicken Potpies!!

Now, if truth be told, Mom and Dad always seem to like what I make for them. However, when I make those individual potpies, they go a little crazy and make mmmmm noises as they eat. They are like little kids enjoying their food. I can’t blame them, because they are right. Those crazy chicken potpies are to die for! Truly.

I have made large potpies that you cut into wedges, and they are quite good, BUT a potpie that you don’t have to share with anyone else is HEAVENLY. First, you break through the flaky crust on top, and then you get into the silky, saucy chicken and veggie concoction on the bottom. You can use any combo of vegetables that you like, but my favorite combination is what is in season at the moment.

In this version of my birthday, chicken potpies, I will use poached chicken, mixed with cubed and roasted butternut squash, fennel, green beans, onions and garlic. It’s a killer combination. When everyone at the table is moaning over the food, because it is so yummy and comforting, especially during this COLDEST of Winters, you know you have a winner and a keeper of a recipe.

I build my potpies in ovenproof soup bowls or coquettes. They are pretty deep, and larger than just a ramekin, and they give everyone a really, generous portion.

Once you have made the filling, you start building the pies. First, place some filling into each of the heatproof, containers (whatever you decide to use), then brush some egg wash all along the edges of the containers. The egg will help the dough to adhere to the containers or bowls. Then roll out some circles of flaky pie dough, or even some store bought puff pastry or my Puff Pastry in a Hurry recipe. Make sure the dough circles are large enough to completely cover each container of filling, and be sure to have a large enough circle so that the dough can be pushed down over the sides a bit as well.

At this point, you will want to make some steam holes, and they can be simple or you can get creative. A simple, unadorned steam hole can be made by taking a paring knife and making about 2-3 slits across the top of the pies. To serve as a fancier steam hole, I love to carve my guest’s names or initials into the dough. I do this with a paring knife. The baked potpie looks very personalized when you serve it, and your guests will know that you created that little pie JUST FOR THEM. Now eggwash the entire top of the pie and bake until golden brown and the slits are bubbling up with the filling.

A super quick way to create a potpie is to take a stew, like beef or lentil, or any thick soup that you have made, or purchased, and add things to it. For example, you can add some store bought, roasted, shredded chicken, or roast pork, ham or turkey to the soup or stew for an easy filling. Then you can just purchase a pre-made pie crust, and you’ve got the makings of a great, “thinking ouside the box” meal.

I will let you know how those chicken potpies come out, and how the birthday girl, and the rest of the family, enjoyed them. Until then…

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Fun Uses for Puff Pastry

I love both savory dishes and sweet desserts made with puff pastry. Adding flakiness and a crunch to any food is what puff pastry does. In other words, whatever it is added to is elevated to the highest level of “deliciousness”! Incorporating puff pastry into your cooking and baking repertoire is easy as well.

You can purchase ready made puff pastry from the freezer section of the grocery store OR you can make my “Puff Pastry in a Hurry” recipe which is available on a baking video on this website. It is also included in my newest book, “Baking with Success”.

Puff pastry can be used under foods, as in a tart or turnover, or on top of foods, as on a potpie. It is really foolproof and can be used as a great “fakeout”. By that I mean that you can look like you really slaved all day on a dish or dessert, but in reality, you only spent the bare minimum of time in the kitchen. It really is a win-win situation.

Here are some great ideas for using puff pastry and making it FAST:

  • A quick fruit tart. Roll out a rectangular piece of puff pastry and top it with thinly sliced apple or pear slices, or any other relatively dry fruit. Drizzle some caramel sauce over the fruit and bake it in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven until it gets nice and brown and puffed. Don’t allow the caramel to burn. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream!
  • A vegetable tart for an appetizer or a meal. Roll out a puff pastry rectangle or circle and brush the entire dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with some minced shallots, and bake in a 400 degree Fahrenheit  oven until puffed and golden brown. Remove from oven and spread the entire surface with some hummus, and top with a lightly dressed salad using arugula or mixed baby greens. Drizzle the entire surface with some high quality extra virgin olive oil and serve!
  • Individual pot pies. Make your favorite savory filling or stew with chicken or beef, pork or lamb. Allow it to cool thoroughly or make a day in advance. In greased, individual ramekins, add the stew almost to the top. Cut out circles of puff pastry that are large enough to cover each ramekin. Lightly brush the edges of each filled ramekin with some beaten egg, and place the puff pastry circles on top, and fit them over the edges pressing to seal. Brush the tops of each ramekin with some egg as well, make a few slits on the top of each pot pie with a knife, and bake them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the tops are nice and brown and the filling is bubbling through the slits. Serve at once!
  • Cut the puff pastry into small squares an cover each with some pesto and top each with a slice of soppressata or chorizo sausage. Sprinkle each with some shredded parmesan cheese. Bake on a parchment lined sheet pan at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 6-10 minutes or until the pastry squares are puffed and golden brown. These are yummy as an appetizer, as a soup topper or as funky “croutons” on top of a salad.

Try some of these ideas and let me know how they came out or if you have any other suggestions on how to use puff pastry.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Tips on How to Bake My St. Germain Bundtlette Cakes with Success

 

I recently made St. Germain Bundtlette Cakes on my YouTube channel and I have some tips for you to ensure success.

There are specific methods to mix cakes depending on what you are making. The St. Germain Bundtlettes use the creaming method of mixing. Utilizing this method always results in a beautiful, light and tender crumb to any cake.

This method always starts with softened butter and granulated sugar being mixed together in an electric mixer using the paddle attachment. The mixing basically forces air into the butter. This creates tiny air bubbles that will work together with the chemicals leaveners, baking powder and baking soda, to create a nice light crumb with tiny air bubbles throughout the finished bundtlettes. They almost melt in your mouth!

Next the eggs are added, one at a time, making sure that each is incorporated before adding the next.

Now the dry and wet ingredients are added in an alternating manner to create a creamy light emulsion resulting in a rich, thick cake batter. I usually add 1/3 of the dry ingredients first, followed by 1/2 of the wet ingredients. Combining these ingredients on low speed helps to prevent too much gluten from developing. Too much gluten development would create a tough cake.

Stop the mixer periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl with dry ingredients that have not been blended in well. After scraping down the bowl, I add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by the remaining wet ingredients. I end with adding the remaining dry ingredients, blending the mixture just until all of the ingredients are well combined. STOP MIXING AT THIS POINT or the cake will bake up tough.

Be sure you heavily spray the bundtlette pan with nonstick cooking spray. Bundtlette pans have nooks and crannies so smear the spray around with your fingers or a paper towel to cover all surfaces or the cakes will not come out!

The biggest tip I can give you is to NOT over fill the pans. Only fill each bundtlette 1/2 full. They will rise quite a bit.

After baking, do not remove them right away. Allow them to cool until they feel just lukewarm. I made a batch and tried to remove a few of them when they were too warm, and they broke as I took them out. Trust me, I ate every one of those broken baby bundts. It was for quality control and research purposes, and I enjoyed every crumb!

I then made a scrumptious St. Germain syrup to soak those bundtlettes in. The syrup is very easy to make. It’s just a simple syrup to start, which is simply equal parts water and sugar brought to the boil until the sugar dissolves.

I allowed it to cool down and then added my St. Germain liqueur. I then gave each of my little cakes a dunk in the pool flipping them over in the process.

Remove the cakes and place them onto a serving plate dusting them with powdered sugar before serving them.

Try these little cakes, and remember, when you make individual cakes, there is NO sharing.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Useful Tips When Baking My Chocolate Babka

I recently created a YouTube video on how to make the most scrumptious Chocolate Babka ever! Babkas are rich, sweet, European-style yeast breads filled with anything from cinnamon and sugar to nuts and jams and my favorite flavor– the Chocolate Babka full of chocolate bits, cocoa and brown sugar.

Now many people may say, “Oh, pleeze, it’s too much effort to making a Babka”. To the naysayers I say, you are mistaken. The small amount of effort needed is so well worth it that I guarantee you’ll be baking Babka before you know it. A little alliteration never hurt anyone either!

The yeast dough is quite easy to put together, especially since instant yeast is used. Instant yeast can be combined right in with the dry ingredients. No more proofing the yeast with warm water and waiting to see if it’s alive. I use instant yeast, also, known as fast-rising yeast, for all of my yeast breads.

The addition of rich ingredients such as: whole milk, butter and egg yolks makes the dough feel silky and satiny. This dough definitely feels different than a pizza dough. It is important to remember that rich yeast dough will not rise as high because the fat-based ingredients actually shorten the gluten strands within the dough which will create a more tender baked good. Enough baking science.

After the dough has risen, it is cut in half. Be sure that you don’t just rip it with your hands. Take a chef’s knife or a dough cutter and CUT it in half. This way you won’t destroy the gluten strands which could prevent your dough from rising later on in the oven.

Next we roll out each half to a large rectangle. Like I say in the video, try not to use any flour if you can. Too much flour can create a very DRY yeast bread. Now if you really need a bit of flour go for it, but use as little as possible. The dough is so silky that it rolls out beautifully and I don’t get need any flour at all!

Once you place the filling over the dough press on it with a rolling pin to help the filling adhere to the dough. Now as you roll up the dough, from the longest edge into a very tight spiral, be sure to gently pull back to create an even tighter log. If you do this you will get a well formed Babka with many lovely spiraled layers of chocolate filling peaking through after baking. Trust me, it is a beautiful thing!

The log is then cut in half crosswise. The two smaller logs are crisscrossed and twisted, and then gently placed into a loaf pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, and has had the two longest sides covered in parchment paper and then sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.

Next a light streusel topping is scattered on top and the loaf is baked for 40-45 minutes or until nice and brown. Every oven is different so a good rule of thumb is to rotate the loaf pan halfway through the baking time.

It’ll smell so good when it comes out of the oven, but don’t be tempted to take it out of the pan until it has cooled. Babkas, may seem old world, like a lost art. However, making and eating Babkas, is NEVER a lost art. Try this recipe and experience what I am talking about.

I’ve included the link to the YouTube video, if you want to watch me make one:

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Customizing Desserts

I usually follow recipes unless I have a specific preference about one or more of the ingredients that I may wish to swap out. As long as you know the role that the specific ingredient plays in the recipe and replace it with a similar ingredient, you can customize your own desserts.

This is easily done in cooking, but can be tricky with baking. For example, if I wish to add scallions instead of shallots to a recipe for meatloaf the final dish will still work out. However, if I wish to swap eggs for applesauce in a baked good that may not work. Eggs give structure and thicken while applesauce has no protein to speak of.

My mother did this substituting thing frequently all through my childhood. That is the primary reason that I learned how to handle myself in the kitchen–self-preservation!!

The worst substitution she ever made was for Thanksgiving one year.  Gravy calls for a thickening agent like flour or cornstarch, right? Well, even though mom had neither of those, she did have baking powder. And like she told me,” it’s white and a powder, right??” Needless to say, the gravy exploded up and all over the ceiling!  This is a true story. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

I typically don’t buy buttermilk and just use thinned out Greek yogurt when I need a cultured, acidic dairy product to make pancakes or biscuits. Since I am swapping out one acidic dairy product for another it will work fine with no ill effects in the final baked good.

Substituting a light butter for a fully fatted butter works well too. It’s an easy swap out and works great if the recipe calls for the creaming method. The bonus is you are saving saturated fat calories, yet still maintaining the integrity of the original recipe.

The craziest substitution that I have ever made was using pureed tofu instead of eggs for a cookie recipe. And you know what? They were pretty good. So who would be nutty enough to do this? Perhaps someone with an egg allergy who still wishes to have their cookies and eat them too. Remember one of my past blog entries on black bean brownies??

So experiment and make workable substitutions to create baked goods that are customized to your families’ likes and needs.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail