26 November 2008

Thanksgiving Day Pecan Pie

Growing up, Thanksgiving was a holiday usually hosted at our house. I have wonderful memories of waking up early to help my mom prepare and stuff the bird, make the sweet potato pudding and set the table with a festive decor. Friends and family would come from far and wide to feast at our table and it was always a joyous occasion.

This is a tradition that I have carried on since we have arrived in France, even though it is obviously not a widely celebrated holiday here. In fact, my son brought home a colorfully decorated turkey collage yesterday; he was complimented on it by a woman in the street and our pharmacist on the way home, one of whom said "ah, what a lovely duck you have there," the other mistook it for an owl!

We will be dining this weekend at a friend's house -- this is the first time in I don't know how long that I haven't prepared the meal myself. Even last year when my daughter was only two months old, we hosted 8 adults and 8 kids for Thanksgiving lunch. I will be bringing the sweet potato pudding this year -- which is an old family recipe: a delicious purée topped with toasted marshmallows. And of course, a pecan pie...primarily for my husband who isn't too big on Thanksgiving to begin with and this is usually the only way I can coax him into joining in the festivities.

For those of you who are still looking for a dessert for your Thanksgiving celebration, here is a recipe for the BEST pecan pie you will ever taste (I will upload a photo of mine once I have made it on Friday). I have it from Peter Kump's Cooking School in Manhattan and it is wonderfully easy (only problem is that it calls for dark corn syrup, which I will be trekking halfway across Paris to buy tomorrow for the insane amount of 7+ euros at the only place I know of that stocks it: Thanksgiving - an aptly named store). Enjoy and Happy Turkey Day to all!

Thanksgiving Day Pecan Pie:
One batch Sweet Pastry Dough for a 1 crust pie (see below)

1 cup dark brown corn syrup
3/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp. butter
3 large eggs
pinch salt
2 tbsp. Bourbon
2 cups pecan halves or pieces, or a combination

1. Prepare and chill the dough

2. For the filling. combine corn syrup and sugar in saucepan and stir to mix. Place over low heat and bring to a boil, without stirring. Remove from heat, add butter and allow to melt. In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs to break up and whisk in salt and Bourbon. Whisk in syrup and butter mixture, being careful not to over mix. Allow to cool while preparing bottom crust.

3. Preheat oven to 350F/180C and set a rack in the lowest level. For the crust, lightly flour the work surface and the dough and roll it to a 12-inch disk. Fold the dough in half and place it in the pan; unfold the dough and press it firmly in the pan. Trim away all but 1/2-inch excess dough at edge of pan. Fold dough under and flute edge.

4. Arrange pecans in crust. Skim foam from top of filling (or the top will have an unattractive mottled surface) and pour over pecans. With the back of a fork, press the pecans down into the filling so they are immersed.

5. Bake the pie for about 45 minutes, until the crust is baked through and the filling is set and well puffed in the center. Cool the pie on a rack, and serve warm or at room temperature. Delicious accompanied with vanilla ice cream!

Sweet Pastry Dough or Pate Sucrée (for a 1 crust pie):
1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
3 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick)cold unsalted butter
1 large egg

To mix the dough by hand, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl and stir well to mix. Cut butter into 1-tbsp. pieces and add to dry ingredients. Toss to coat pieces of butter. Using your hands or a pastry blender, rub the butter into the dry ingredients by breaking into tiny pieces, continuously pinching and squeezing it into the dry ingredients. Keep the mixture uniform by reaching down to the bottom of the bowl and mixing all ingredients evenly together. Continue rubbing until mixture resembles coarse-ground cornmeal and no large pieces of butter remain visible. Beat the egg in a small bowl and pour over the flour/butter mixture. Stir in with a fork, continuing to stir until the dough begins to hold together, but still appears somewhat dry. Scatter flour on a work surface and scrape the dough onto it. Press and knead the dough quickly 3-4 times until it is smooth.

Both recipes copyright (c) Nick Malgieri 1996, all rights reserved.

24 November 2008

Hear Those Sleigh Bells Jingling...

In the States, you can track the Fall/Winter calendar fairly accurately by the selection of goods on offer at your local Walmart or 7-11. A few weeks following the back-to-school rush, you see the shelves filling with all sorts of Halloween candies, costumes and other spooky fare. Once the shelves are cleared of that lot, it's time to get ready for Turkey! And then while you are recovering from all that pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce and tryptophan-laden turkey, you have in quick succession: Black Friday, Christmas, & New Year's.

Here in France, it's quite a different story. Following "la rentrée" (which can only be explained as a cross between back-to-school and New Year's) in early September, there's a big black hole until St Nick makes his rounds, which explains why you can find Advent calendars and other Christmas chocolates on sale at the end of October! And Christmas decorations in the stores, on the streets, and hanging from lamp-posts and buildings everywhere appear not long after. I even saw Christmas trees at my local florist this week!

We had a bit of snow yesterday so I have to admit I am starting to feel the jingle bell vibe! (Or maybe it's just the lack of heat in our apartment as the building's radiator is on its last leg -- perfect timing!). I hosted a pre-Xmas sale at my house today for the parents' association I belong to, MESSAGE.

There was quite an excellent selection of vendors -- all entrepreneurial MESSAGE members -- if I don't say so myself. Exquisite hand-made cards made by Bonne Fete.* Adorable leather shoes for babies, kids and adults from Daisy Roots. (Can you guess which pretty pink booties my little cupcake will be wearing this Winter? Hint: they look good enough to eat!) Educational books by Usborne, cupcakes from yours truly, and stylish hand-made barrettes and the Pockaboo by the gals at lu & roo.
I happily was able to cross some holiday gifts off my list! Thanks to everyone who participated and attended!

* Bonne Fete cards can be purchased by writing to: bonnefete@orange.fr

22 November 2008

Feeling my 15 Minutes

Okay, maybe more like 15 seconds but Little Miss Cupcake got blogged about twice yesterday!

Check it out on:
J-Two-O, a blog about "life, sports, cats and dogs, politics, sex, the joys and frustrations of working at home, and whatever else I feel like writing about." (Okay, full disclosure, the author of this blog is a longtime friend of the family, and has been a very vocal supporter!). Thanks, J, for giving me a plug in your blog!
And, I was also mentioned on Cupcakes Take the Cake, "the #1 blog about cupcakes." This is THE place for those of us in the "industry." Smirk, smirk!

I also was interviewed by French channel, TF1, but that was about the flu vaccine. Don't ask, suffice it to say that my sleep-deprived brain and post-delivery stress after losing a cupcake to a scuffle in the street lead me to say, "No, I am not vaccinated against the flu because I am scared of getting sick from it. I mean, aren't there live 'germs' in those things?" I am sure I will be popping up all over France in a segment about how stupid people can be when it comes to misconceptions surrounding the flu vaccine. :( I was definitely not ready for my close-up!

21 November 2008

On Martha Stewart....

I've never been a huge fan of Martha Stewart though she often has great ideas and I know she has done wonders for the DIY home decor industry. She's definitely more likeable since her prison stint. I've maybe seen her show 4-5 times; there is one in particular that sticks in my mind where she was preparing the traditional French wedding cake, la Pièce Montée, or Croquembouche (disclaimer: I did not make this!), and broke out a blow-torch (!) to finish the caramel glaze that covers the puff pastry. As if her average viewer keeps a blow torch in their kitchen for just this very reason!

I had recently read about her One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes and thought I'd give them a whirl. While the ingredient list is quite similar to the recipe I use in my cupcakes, hers calls for vegetable oil whereas I normally use butter. I was curious to see how these would bake up. When cooled after removing from the oven, my testers (myself, husband and 2 kids) found these to be filled with chocolatey goodness. The oil makes them moist and springy, more like a sponge than a cake. Martha recommends storing them one day in the fridge or up to a week in the freezer (Quel Sacrilège!). After 2 days, they did seem a little too greasy though the chocolate was definitely more gooey and rich. We topped them with a raspberry buttercream (see above) and the flavor combination was unbelievably yummy!

Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes 2 dozen
* 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
* 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 large eggs
* 3/4 cup warm water
* 3/4 cup buttermilk
* 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with liners; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, sift together cocoa, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the eggs, warm water, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla; mix batter until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well mixed.

2. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about one-third full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes, rotating pan once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
Copyright 2001-2008 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

19 November 2008

My Endless Love

I used to love this movie growing up. It's a classic Romeo & Juliet tale of young love and tragedy. Brooke Shields was so beautiful in it and I used to cry at the end when she leaves David pining after her, after all he has been through in his quest to be with her. And don't get me started on the great theme song sung by Mr. Lionel Ritchie and disco diva, Diana Ross. One of my all-time favorites!

I had an order come in for a 10th year wedding anniversary. May we all be so lucky to make it that far! And was really touched by my Client, Vicky's, request to add some sort of writing to the cakes saying things like "Crazy for You" and "10 Years & Still Madly in Love." What a romantic! I immediately had thoughts of rose colored icing and red hearts. Vicky's husband is a chocolate fanatic and I gotta warn ya', these are chocolate on SPEED! 12 Devil's Food: 1/2 filled with chocolate cream, frosted with chocolate buttercream and topped with home-made red-tinted white chocolate hearts, 1/2 loaded with white chocolate chunks and frosted with white chocolate buttercream. To accommodate Vicky's message requests, I topped these with little flags proclaiming her declarations of love.

As someone wished me at my wedding, "May the best of your past be the worst of the future," I say the same in turn..... V & G, I am honored that my cupcakes will be part of such a special celebration and I wish you a very Happy Anniversary.

18 November 2008

Little Miss Cupcake is Humbled (& Aks for Your Understanding)

I just wanted to thank all of you who have taken the time to write and call me with words of encouragement and support, and who have offered wonderful advice. Embarking on a new business venture is scary and yet so exciting! I am working on some fabulous projects this week: A 10 Yr. Wedding Anniversary, a birthday order from someone who tracked me down from England (!) and my very first potential "Corporate" Client. This business that I have been talking about for YEARS is off and running. I even had to turn down an order today 'cause I just didn't have the time (and from a friend no less! Sorry, Peg).

So, for those of you who are thinking of placing orders for the busy holiday season, please try to get them in as soon as possible. As a small home-based business, I am practicing a "first come, first serve" policy.

Check back tomorrow for new photos of what I've been cooking up! And next week, I'll have some holiday-themed samples posted!

Ciao for now,

16 November 2008

Little Miss Cupcake Parle Aussi Français

Evidemment! I am married to a Frenchman after all....
Though it's doubtful I'll ever blog "à la Française" as my written French is so bad it would likely get me thrown out of the country faster than you can say "freedom fries," I am happy to announce that now the Frenchies can discover all about Little Miss Cupcake's delicacies on the Version Française of the site. So spread the love (and the word)!

For Every Occasion, A Cupcake.

14 November 2008

Joyeux Anniversaire Mlle. P!

Today is my niece's 6th birthday. I cannot believe how the time flies! She was born just 6 weeks before my son and we shared a lot of firsts together as both my SIL and her family, and my husband, myself and my son all decided to move back to France at the same time in 2003. Of course, my in-laws were more than happy to take us all in (really, they were!)while we found permanent housing solutions. It was a crazy time and probably affected my initial adjustment to my new "hometown" in both good ways and bad, but nonetheless, it was fantastic to see the kids growing up together, taking their first steps, saying their first words, etc.

So here I raise my glass** to you and say: Joyeux Anniversaire Mademoiselle P! May fortune smile down upon you in the year ahead. You asked for green and yellow cupcakes and here is a preview of what I will be bringing tomorrow. I promise they taste even better than they look! Bisous, Tata Cat

A note to customers: These are Vanilla Lovers' Cupcakes off the Old School Menu, tinted green and yellow per my niece's request and decorated with confetti sprinkles, gummy bears and marshmallow accents.

** For those of you here in Paris, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Flûte Paris last night, a satellite of the champagne bar in NYC, with a group of girlfriends. While the drinks are pricey and there is only about 8 tables in the joint, it's a charming place for a pre-dinner coupe or an after-theater night cap! All this talk of birthdays just makes me want to go open a bottle of bubbly...there's nothing better for washing down a cupcake. Cheers!

12 November 2008

Oursons Guimauve & Mikado Cupcakes

In the mid '90's, self-serve candy bars (like Glups on the Champs-Elysées) sprung up all over Manhattan. There was one close to my office at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza that I swear I hit almost every lunch hour. I had nursed a life-long obsession for break-up white chocolate and I never thought anything could replace that until the day I tasted my first chocolate-coated gummy bear. Pure heaven in a bite-sized morsel.

One day after we had moved to France, I found myself face-to-face with a blue and white plastic bag in the supermarket labeled "Oursons Guimauve." "What's this?" I thought, spying the chocolate covered palm-sized teddy bears hidden within. Giving in to my curiosity, I bought a bag and threw it in with my other purchases where it was quickly forgotten as I made my way home. It wasn't until later that evening after my son had gone to bed that I had a moment to relish the delicious treat inside. WOW! thought my brain as my mouth closed over the crackly milk chocolate and my teeth sunk into the tender, fluffy marshmallow at its center. Suffice it to say, I've eaten a lot (too many) of these little guys in the 5 years that we have been here. Alas, I have not been too kind to my friends, les Oursons Guimauve, in recent months as I know that once the pack is open, there is no stopping me (and nothing ruins a diet faster than ploughing through a bag of twenty).

Just the other day, I happened upon David Lebovitz's ode to the sweet Oursons Guimauve and I thought that hey, it's been a while, maybe I should call some up and see how things are going. So, here is my humble homage to les Oursons Guimauve. My fellow chocolate and marshmallow fans, I give you the devil's food cupcake, topped with a mocha marshmallow frosting and decorated with an Ourson and some Mikado (cause I just liked how those looked but truth be told I had a few boxes lying around the house as the Mikado are my daughter's current obsession!) Calorie counters: Beware!

10 November 2008

Les 16H Gouter Cupcakes

About 7 years ago, Ferrero Rocher ran a series of ads in the US for its Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread. They featured Kobe Bryant and billed the product as an energy food. Chocolate as an energy food? True, but a bit of an outlandish and unusual advertising claim. Now that we have been living in the country where Nutella originated for several years, I am starting to understand a bit why they chose to use this platform to promote their brand.

Here in France, the 16H "gouter" is an institution. Considered an official 4th meal of the day, wherever you are when 4PM rolls around, you'll see children (and even some adults too) snacking on cookies, fruit, pastries and other sweet treats destined to give energy and get over the hurdle to dinner. I once read an article that said the most energy rich, filling and "healthy" gouter choice consists of a baguette and a few squares of dark chocolate. This is meant to be eaten like a sandwich, and I presume it is from this logic that the pain au chocolat was created.

This may also explain the Nutella phenomenon. For those of you who haven't sampled it, it's akin to how us Americans consume peanut butter or those from down under think of vegemite. My husband spreads it on his daily morning toast and most households in France have a jar stocked away somewhere in the pantry.

Since said husband is home today enjoying a 4-day weekend (which has nothing to do with Nutella incidentally!), I thought I would bake him something special. Voila a batch of cupcakes that are perfectly suited for the 16H gouter, though he could barely keep from eating them while taking the lovely photo above at 11 AM this morning. These are vanilla cupcakes filled with a cream of Nutella and frosted with a cocoa-hazelnut ganache. These got a big thumbs up from my husband, who by the way is my biggest critic. While scarfing them down, he asked, "I think you're on to something here....can you make more?"

09 November 2008

Mix-In Blondies: A U.S.A Original

My son attends a private bilingual school here that has a very culturally diverse student body. In fact, a few weeks ago I attended a dinner for the mothers in his class and of the 14 of us around the table, there were moms from Italy, Germany, Lebanon, Israel, Iran, the UK, Japan, Russia, USA and of course, a handful from France.

Parents in the elementary school were recently asked to bring in a "gouter" (a snack) that is representative of "your country or region." Being from New York, my thoughts first went to cheesecake but I honestly didn't have the time to make one. Of course, I also thought of making cupcakes but after all, I'm more than just a one-trick pony! When my husband suggested blondies, I thought "Wow, that really is something different, and unique to the States."

For fans of Dairy Queen and other chains where you can do dessert mix-ins, you'll really enjoy this recipe cause the sky is the limit...you can mix in anything your little heart desires. Some of the classic blondie mix-ins include shredded coconut, caramel chips and pecans. I opted for white and dark chocolate, and then threw in the remains of the marshmallows I had left over from my Halloween Scary Spider cupcakes. These bubbled up as they cooked and left a sugary sweet glaze on top.

So here is my very easy, no-fail blondie recipe. My one gripe is that since you can't really find light brown sugar here in France, I make them with dark brown. These tend to come out looking a little more like "brownies" but pack all the chewy caramel goodness of a classic blondie.

Little Miss Cupcake's Mix-In Blondies

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 ounces soft unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/2 c dark brown sugar (or light brown if you have it)
2 large eggs lightly beaten
4 tsp. vanilla

Add whatever tickles your fancy such as chopped pecans, shredded coconut, caramel chips, M&Ms, chocolate chips, etc. I use 180 grams chopped white chocolate, 180 grams chopped dark chocolate and about a dozen chopped marshmallos.

Set oven to 350F/180C. Grease and lightly flour a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.
Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl, set aside
Whisk softened butter and brown sugar til combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Fold in dry ingredients with spatula til just combined. Fold in chocolate, marshmallows or other mix-ins and pour into prepared pan , smoothing top with spatula.

Bake 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. DO NOT overbake. Cool to room temperature before cutting. Can be stored in an airtight container and kept for 4-5 days (if they last that long!).

07 November 2008

On Perles, Vermicelles and Other Hard to Find Items

This month marks our fifth anniversary in Paris. As anyone who has moved far from home can attest, there are certain things that you will have to do without when living abroad. For me, never has this been more true than when it comes to baking and other foodstuffs. Over the years, I have learned to adapt many recipes where possible, but there are some things that are just irreplaceable.

As my mom can tell you, every time she plans a trip, I send a list over of items to buy and pack away with her on her journey. There is a fabulous brownie recipe from New York Magazine I have used for years that calls for the classic Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate. Now I have tried to make this recipe dozens of times since coming to Paris and I've finally succeeded in making a passable version using the chocolate that is available here but really, nothing comes close to the taste and consistency when made with Baker's. And this is why it is one of the most-often requested items on my list from the States.

I'm also convinced that one of these days on a return trip to France, I am going to get stopped at customs and upon finding the bottle of Karo's Dark Corn Syrup stashed away in my bags, they will either think I am crazy or smuggling some sort of illegal substance. Caution for anyone who tries this: make sure to double or triple-bag your Karo's as this is not the kind of thing you want leaking out into your luggage. I speak from experience! But personally I find there really is no substitute for Karo's in a pecan pie.

Some of the items I have successfully replaced in recipes are plain maple syrup for anything that calls for molasses; a mixture of créme fraiche and local soft cheeses, Kiri and St. Moret for cheesecakes and other desserts that use Philly Cream Cheese (which incidentally you can find here sporadically but that will set you back about 8 dollars for the 8 oz. package); and a one part-to-one part mixture of whole milk and créme liquide for recipes that require buttermilk.

When it comes to cupcakes and cake decoration, however, the assortment of sugars, sprinkles and the like you find in your typical US supermarket just can't be beat. And these are another item I stock up on whenever I am home. Today however while perusing the aisles of Lafayette Gourmet, I came across these little beauties pictured above. My, my, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! I'm showcasing a little assortment here of what I purchased because frankly, I am embarrassed by the actual quantity I bought. To think that just minutes before I had passed on a new table lamp for our entrée because I thought, "I really shouldn't be spending in this economic climate." But I am considering them an investment and well, I just can't wait to bake something up and decorate with these lovely little gems!

06 November 2008

White Chocolate Cupcakes with Orange Buttercream Icing

Recently, I purchased some delicious orange chocolate Halloween candies at our local chocolatier/ patissier. They were creamy, luscious and tangy -- a real satisfying taste combination. And the fact that they were shaped as witches, goblins and ghosts made them an excellent holiday treat. I wanted to see if I could replicate this taste sensation in a cupcake.

There is a new white chocolate bar on the market here made by Nestle to be used specifically in baking, and boy, is it delicious. I started with some of these and melted them down to be added to a traditional vanilla cupcake recipe (though reduced the amount of sugar usually added to compensate for all the sugar in the chocolate bars). For extra white chocolate ka-pow!, I placed one square on top of each cupcake before baking. These finished up settling in the bottom half of the cupcake after baking, and made for a nice added surprise when eaten.

For the buttercream, I used my regular mixture of butter, powdered sugar and crème liquide and into this grated the zest of 2 fresh clementines. I finished it by adding the juice of 3 freshly squeezed clementines and some orange food coloring to really dial up the color.

My son proclaimed these "Yum-my!" I think they turned out pretty good and did justice to the candy that inspired the lot. Next time, I may try adding an extra egg or two; these cupcakes were moist and light the day they were baked and the day after, but became a little more dense and spongey the longer they sat.