Category Archives: Monthly Miettes

Monthly Miettes: Strawberry Charlotte


Written & photographed by
Stay-At-Home-Chef

Dear readers, I must apologize for the lateness of July’s Monthly Miettes challenge. First of all, when I read in Meg Ray’s Miette that the Strawberry Charlotte is considered to be a “challenging” cake I kinda freaked out. I mean if the professionals think it’s hard to do am I even gonna stand a chance?! Then between the kids’ summer camps and family vacations I suddenly found myself at the end of the month with one heck of an intimidating cake still to make. Trust me when I say I was crossing all of my fingers and toes!

The Strawberry Charlotte truly showcases the beauty of strawberries and is best made when these berries are at their peak. It is a light, cool dessert that is perfect to serve when you find yourself craving something sweet but you’d rather die than turn on your oven and add to the shimmery heat wave in your kitchen. In the Miette version of this dessert, sponge cake is brushed with raspberry simple syrup and then layered with a fruit purée mousse, the exterior surrounded by a band of ladyfingers, and a final crown of fresh strawberries decorates the top. Needless to say this cake will make a stunning entrance onto your dinning room table, one that is sure to elicit “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from your guests.

The results of my Strawberry Charlotte were magnificent both in appearance and taste. The journey to get to the finished product? Not so pretty! Because of the numerous steps involved in making this dessert, I decided to tackle one element each day.

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Monthly Miettes: Parisian Macarons


Written & photographed by
Stay-At-Home-Chef

My reaction to June’s Monthly Miettes challenge was a combination of elation and fear. Buckle up ladies and gentlemen…we’re making macarons! I knew the day would eventually come when our group would have to tackle these trendy treats, but I thought creator Aimée White of Food: Je t’Aimée would hold off until later. Much later. But here we all are, mere months into this fun project and Aimée has thrown down the pastry gauntlet. Gotta say I applaud her decision!

While I enjoy consuming macarons, previous to this challenge I’ve never attempted to make them from scratch. What can I say? Renowned for being virtually impossible to get right due to their finicky temperaments, I have purposely avoided these sweet delights. The challenge is that so many things are out of your control, the affects of which can be fatal to these delicate pastries. Some of the more common causes of failure include humidity, oven temperature, and the quality of egg whites.

Not to be confused with coconut macaroons, macrons are a meringue-based pastry made from egg whites, icing sugar and ground almonds. While these confectionary treats have been around for centuries, macrons as they are known today are credited to famed pastry shop chain Ladurée.

© 2012 CookThatBook

The key to a perfect macaron is the little lip (technically called a ‘pied’ or foot) that rims each one, the tops smooth and shiny, texture chewy and meltingly light. As for fillings, traditionally macarons are sandwiched with buttercream, ganache or jam.

© 2012 CookThatBook

© 2012 CookThatBook

A variety of macaron flavours are included in the book, but I opted to make the original Parisian variety with a simple buttercream filling. Rather than using pre-ground almond meal, the recipe calls for grinding your own almonds to ensure better control over their consistency. As for the signature pied, according to the folks at Miette the trick is to let your cookies rest at room temperature for two hours.

© 2012 CookThatBook

I gotta admit that I fully anticipated failing miserably with this recipe test. After all, it was my first attempt and I know pastry chefs who have spent years trying to conquer the macaron. So imagine my surprise when I pulled the cookies out of the oven and found them to be…well…perfect!

Check out my little beauties!

© 2012 CookThatBook

The texture was the perfect balance of crispy and chewy, the buttercream was divine, and I cannot wait to make them again and experiment with different flavours.

For more information on Monthly Miettes or if you’re interested in participating, please visit Food: Je t’Aimée

© 2012 CookThatBook

Monthly Miettes: Buttermilk Panna Cotta


Written & photographed by
Stay-At-Home-Chef

After making the labour intensive (but oh so satisfying!) Tomboy Cake and challenging (but to die for good!) Lime Meringue Tarts, I was glad that Aimée White of Food: Je t’Aimée assigned a simple Panna Cotta for this month. The recipe itself contains a mere five ingredients (plus the garnish of your choice) and comes together quickly and easily. Honestly, the hardest part is letting it sit overnight before you dive in and enjoy! I have to admit to continuously peaking in the fridge throughout the day to see if they had already set, but it did indeed take overnight for them to become firm.

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Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert, basically an eggless custard which translated means “cooked cream”. It literally takes five minutes to make, and the light, fresh texture and taste makes it the perfect dessert to serve in the summer. As far as entertaining goes, I have a feeling this might become my new favourite! You can make it ahead up to three days, storing in the refrigerator well covered and garnished just before serving.

© 2012 CookThatBook

For this recipe test I used 1 tsp of Vanilla Paste, an easy way of incorporating the intense flavour from a bean but in liquid format. Topped with fresh strawberries, the tang from the buttermilk made beautiful music together with the heavy cream and left your palate feeling refreshed. It truly is an effortless dessert. My only qualm was that the texture turned out much too runny for my liking (think gelatin soup). So I whipped up another batch but this time added more gelatin. The consistency was better, but still too runny. The trick with panna cotta is adding the correct amount of gelatin: too much and it turns out elastic, too little and it’s runny. However after two tries I decided not to experiment further with increasing gelatin until I hit the sweet spot. I expect a recipe to do the work for me.

© 2012 CookThatBook

I’m definitely going to be making Panna Cotta again, but not this recipe. Perhaps next time I’ll add some white chocolate into the mix and top with stewed fresh cherries. Deb over at East of Eden Cooking is daydreaming about infusing the cream with mint and topping with fresh raspberries and shaved chocolate. The possibilities are endless…

© 2012 CookThatBook

Do you have a favourite summer dessert? What flavours are you most excited to incorporate into your baking now that summer is fast approaching?

For more information on Monthly Miettes or if you’re interested in participating, please visit Food: Je t’Aimée 


Monthly Miettes: Lime Meringue Tart


Written & photographed by
Stay-At-Home-Chef

For the second challenge of our funtastic Monthly Miettes, Aimée White of Food: Je t’Aimée tasked us with making any tart our hearts desired. Immediately following Aimée’s announcement there was a flurry on Twitter as the food bloggers involved debated which of the heavenly looking tarts to make for this month’s post. The initial response from the group was to make them all (yes they look that good!) but in the end I found the Lime Meringue Tart called my name the loudest.

All of the tarts and tartlets in Meg Ray’s Miette, are an elegant testimonial to the flavours of each season that combine intense flavoured fillings with crisp buttery shells. Why not try the Pastry Cream & Fresh Fruit Tarts to help herald in spring, let the Blueberry or Raspberry Tartlets bask beside you in the warm summer months, celebrate the flavours of fall with the Pecan Tart, or curl up in winter with the tangy Lemon Tart. Honestly, you can’t go wrong. I’m sure they all taste amazing.


© 2012 CookThatBook

© 2012 CookThatBook

The Lime Meringue Tart is the only recipe in this section that does not involve making a Pâte Sucrée crust (an ultra rich, buttery dough). Instead it calls for a homemade graham cracker crust, a glorious invention that utilizes whole-wheat flour instead of graham cracker crumbs. The results are a lovely, crisp, buttery crust gently flavoured with honey and brown sugar. As a side note, use the same recipe to make your own graham crackers, something that I will most definitely be doing in the near future.

© 2012 CookThatBook

Unfortunately my experience making these tarts was incredibly frustrating. There were simple mistakes, such listing the wrong page number for the additional recipes (e.g. the Graham Cracker Crust is incorrectly listed as being on page 152). Not a big deal, but considering this book has already gone through one major editorial overhaul it is something that should have been caught. The other issues I had were in terms of technique. First of all, the dough for the Graham Cracker Crust was much too soft to handle. Even after chilling the dough for the suggested amount of time, there was no way I could have rolled it out into anything but a heap of mush.

© 2012 CookThatBook

© 2012 CookThatBook

In the end I simply scooped the dough into my tartlet pans and pressed it into shape. It was at this point that I had my first glass of wine.

© 2012 CookThatBook

My next challenge came with the lime cream. To make the citrusy custard you whisk together the zest and juice of fresh limes, sugar and eggs in a double boiler until it reaches 172 F degrees. The recipe stipulates that this should take between 15-20 minutes, but after an hour of heating the curd I couldn’t get the temp to rise above 162 F degrees. I have no idea what went wrong, but in the end I gave up and added the butter which proceeded not to melt so I had to reheat the whole mixture over the stovetop again.

It was at this point that I had my second glass of wine.


© 2012 CookThatBook

Next I tackled the boiled icing (or Italian meringue), a shiny dense cloud of sweet icing fluff which is then brûléed on top of the tarts. A combination of sugar, cream of tarter and water is heated on the stove until it reaches a temperature of 240 F degrees. At this point you are supposed to add it to egg whites and whisk until thick and holds a firm peak.

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Okay (breathe Jasmine) the recipe says to stir the sugar until dissolved but does not stipulate to leave it alone while it bubbles away. Any time I’ve made caramel I have always avoided any stirring action, but trusting the recipe I gave the pot an occasional swirl.

I should have trusted my instincts. The syrup burned.

Thinking positively, I added the sugary mixture to the egg whites thinking it might still taste okay. Sigh. At no point did the recipe mention that the egg whites needed to be whipped prior to adding the syrup. I ended up with a half scrambled egg burnt sugar mess of a liquid that (surprisingly) tasted good but in no way would have worked for the tarts.

© 2012 CookThatBook

At this point I grabbed the entire bottle of wine and walked out of the kitchen.

The next day I found another recipe for boiled icing on Baked Bree, and the results were much improved. Lessons learned? No stirring the sugar and whip the egg whites prior to adding the syrup.

Voilà!

© 2012 CookThatBook

© 2012 CookThatBook

© 2012 CookThatBook

After all of my frustrations the tarts turned out beautifully and tasted absolutely incredible. The tangy lime cream was perfectly sandwiched between the rich buttery crust and the heavenly sweet boiled icing. I cannot tell you how fantastic these tarts tasted! It must have been all my blood sweat and tears.

© 2012 CookThatBook

At this point I should probably mention that when Miette was first released it was riddled with errors. Both Meg and Chronicle Books immediately took steps to remedy the situation, providing correction sheets for copies of the book already in circulation along with an amended fourth printing of the book (you can view a list of corrections for earlier editions here). Part of the reason Aimée chose this particular book for our monthly baking challenge was because of the effort the Miette team put into remedying an unfortunate situation. She wanted to give the book a fair shake.

© 2012 CookThatBook

Yet as my frustration continued to grow while making these tarts, I couldn’t help the shadow of doubt that began to take root in my mind. How many errors are still alive and kicking in this book? A few of the other food bloggers mentioned having issues with the Tomboy Cake during last month’s challenge. Hopefully things get better from here on out because deep down I’m rooting for this book. What can I say? There’s just something irresistible about an underdog. But I also love the overall design of the book, and the collection of recipes offer a nice variety and sampling from the bakery’s repertoire.

I’m crossing my fingers (and toes)…    

For more information on Monthly Miettes or if you’re interested in participating, please visit Food: Je t’Aimée  

© 2012 CookThatBook

 

Monthly Miettes: Tomboy Cake

Hands up if you like cake? Hands up if you like to eat cake for breakfast?! If your hand is still raised, you are going to adore this new monthly component that is the delicious brainchild of the lovely Miss Aimée White, creator of Food: Je t’Aimée. Aimée also happens to be one of our contributing cookbook reviewers as well as my Food & Wine Magazine Cover Recipe cohort, so when she told me about her newest project I signed up right away.

Each month we will tackle a recipe from Meg Ray’s Miette, a beauty of a cookbook based on treats baked up in Meg’s famous San Francisco bakery. Recipe by recipe we will bake our way through the book, blogging and bragging about our experiences along the way. One stipulation? We need to consume our efforts for breakfast along with our morning coffee. Twist my rubber arm.


© 2012 CookThatBook

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to flip through the book, you’ll understand why Aimée decided to create a project around Miette. It’s gorgeous. Gorgeous in the type of way that makes you read through each and every page as if it were a novel, feasting your eyes on the beautiful photography and drooling over the baked deliciousness that scream “MAKE ME! MAKE ME NOW!”

Up first? The impressive Tomboy Cake that graces the front cover of the book.

Originally this cake was meant to be more of a conventionally frosted layer cake, but Meg fell in love with the aesthetic appeal of leaving the sides bare. She liked the contrast between the rough edges and girly pink frosting peaking out between the layers – hence the term Tomboy Cake.

This cake can be adapted to include a variety of cake and frosting combinations, but the book lists a Double Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Buttercream. Because the sides are left unfrosted and exposed to air, you want to ensure that the cake doesn’t dry out. The Double Chocolate Cake is exceedingly moist, making it the perfect candidate. But be warned – this cake is not for the faint of heart (or if you’re short on time). Next to the Spiced Chocolate Torte Wrapped in Chocolate Ribbons,  I would have to say this is the most involved cake I’ve ever made. But I enjoyed the challenge and loved trying out new techniques, such as straining the batter through a fine sieve to remove lumps and prevent over mixing. Sifting the cake pans with cocoa powder (rather than flour) was also something new for me, a trick meant to give the exterior of the cake a smooth finish.

© 2012 CookThatBook

The recipe for Raspberry Buttercream is modeled after the European style of buttercream, and involves an egg white base. American buttercreams tend to be sweeter and do not use eggs, instead integrating a simple mixture of butter and icing sugar. Because I knew there would be a couple of pregnant ladies indulging in the cake, I opted to avoid the use of raw eggs and instead made my go-to (American) Buttercream Icing. However, I did adapt the recipe to include the fresh raspberry juice as outlined in the book.

© 2012 CookThatBook

I ended up serving this cake for an impromptu ladies breakfast, in celebration of my sister-in-law’s birthday.

Nothing beats indulging in a slice of this extravagant cake with your coffee at 9:30 in the morning!

© 2012 CookThatBook

There was one thing that stumped me: the recipe produces two 6-inch cakes, one of which is meant to be sliced into three layers. However, there was no way I could have got three layers out of one cake. If you look at the photograph each layer appears to be quite significant, so I’m not sure if food styling tricks were at play or I’m just out to lunch. In the end I used both cakes, slicing them each in half for a quadruple layer cake.

© 2012 CookThatBook

After each of the ladies took home a piece of cake for their significant others, I’m proud to say there wasn’t a single crumb left! The cake was rich, moist and decadently full of the irresistible flavour of chocolate. Initially I was concerned it would have been too sweet due to the amount of sugar called for in the recipe, but it was perfectly bittersweet and paired nicely with the sweet frosting.

Can’t wait for next month’s recipe challenge!

For more information on Monthly Miettes or if you’re interested in participating, please visit Food: Je t’Aimée      

© 2012 CookThatBook