29 August 2010

Turn and Face the Strange Ch-ch-changes

It's hard to believe that at this time least year, I was in NY attending my best friend from childhood's wedding (a big congratulations to J & M who are celebrating their first anniversary!). It doesn't feel like it was so long ago and yet so much seems to have changed over the past year.

Here in France, the back-to-school period, better known as la rentree, is viewed akin to New Year's Day, it's a time of rebirth and new beginnings. And we'll be marking this rentree with lots of changes -- on a personal level, I'll be sending my youngest off to school; on a professional level, I am getting ready to unveil a new look and a new name. As many of you are aware, this past year has been filled with many challenges and frustrations due to the CopyCat cupcakery yet I am happy to say that I will soon be closing that chapter of my life. More on that later....

In writing this post, I looked into familiar quotes about change. This one from Helen Keller particularly resonated with me: When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.

For all of you caught up in the changes (happy or sad) this rentree brings, I wish you courage! On a final note, the pictures in this post today feature the cake and cupcakes I prepared for a wedding (a big life change!) in Normandie this weekend. Wishing the happy couple the best of luck as they embark on their new life together.

27 August 2010

Don't Know What You Got 'til It's Gone - A Daring Baker's Challenge

I am sorry. I totally took you for granted. I guess I didn’t know a good thing when I had it. And now you are gone. There will never be another like you. I think about you all the time. Forgive me…..

Growing up, we had one of those double door, side-by-side fridge/freezer combos in our kitchen. Did I mention it also had an ice and water dispenser? It was the perfect storage vehicle for all those Stouffer’s French Bread Pizzas I grew up on (yum, pepperoni!) and TV dinners (raise your hands, did you eat those when you were younger?). If so, you probably grew up in the 70’s like me. My favorite was the meat loaf in tomato sauce, green beans, tater tots and brownie variety! I can remember chowing down on those a few times a week; the best was on Friday nights when you had TV dinner and the Love Boat/Fantasy Island TV line-up.

My mom once dated a guy who was starting up a packaged Asian food business and for months we had dozens of varieties of egg rolls stored in our freezer as they tested out different recipes and flavors. At first, I thought this was kind of cool but after a few months of nothing but egg rolls, I was hoping for a freezer defrosting occasion.

When I moved into my own place, I had a smaller fridge/freezer but still adequate space for the Lean Cuisine dinners, Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches and pints of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food I so loved! Yes, I was a freezer schizophrenic! Diet Coke with your Double Whopper anyone? Seriously, though working for an ad agency meant lots of travel and late nights so the freezer was indispensable for keeping whatever I could scarf down when I finally made it home for dinner.

Here in France when you buy an apartment (and even sometimes when you rent), your kitchen appliances are often not part of the deal. That’s to say, many of my friends in rental apartments had to buy their own refrigerators, ovens, etc. and take them with them when they move. We happened to move into an apartment with a “cuisine aménagée” which means the kitchen is in place when you move in. And it was actually one of the bonuses of our place as the previous owner had custom built-ins installed from Miele. Now I didn’t take a close look at the fridge when we visited and because it’s a built-in and disguised to look just like the cabinets that surround it, I didn’t realize how very small the freezer portion was. In fact there was a separate freezer at the back of the kitchen that I understood was to be part of the deal, but when we arrived, it had been removed. So you can imagine my horror when I first opened the fridge and realized that the freezer portion is so small, I can’t even fit a shoe box inside!

I have heard time and again people talk about Picard, which is France’s dedicated frozen food chain store, as if they served mana from heaven. And I know MANY of my friends shop there for their dinners on an almost daily basis. I don’t have that luxury, unless my family decided to go on a real California-style diet and eat a cube of beef and 1 tater split between the 4 of us for dinner. There is just no way I can cram that stuff into my small freezer. Which brings me to today’s post the Daring Bakers’ August Challenge, in which we were given the choice of two desserts to make, both of which involved making our own ice cream. Yeah, right….oh double-door fridge/freezer of my youth…where have you gone? And will you please come back to me…..

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I obviously sat out the ice cream making part of this challenge, using instead one of my fave store-bought ice creams: Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche. Rather than make these as petit fours sandwiches, I baked the cakes in my pretty new daisy shaped cupcake mold, filled them with ice cream and then covered in drizzled chocolate. My family ate these up! Thanks Elissa for the great challenge! Apologies for the crappy pics accompanying this post - I had to work fast before the ice cream melted and had only my iphone on-hand!

Brown Butter Pound Cake
19 tablespoons (9.5 oz) (275g) unsalted (sweet) butter
2 cups (200g) sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring) (See “Note” section for cake flour substitution)
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3g) salt
1/2 cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
1/3 (75g) cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C and put a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan.
2. Place the butter in a 10” (25cm) skillet over medium heat. Brown the butter until the milk solids are a dark chocolate brown and the butter smells nutty. (Don’t take your eyes off the butter in case it burns.) Pour into a shallow bowl and chill in the freezer until just congealed, 15-30 minutes.
3. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Beat the brown butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and then the vanilla extract.
5. Stir in the flour mixture at low speed until just combined.
6. Scrape the batter into the greased and floured 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and rap the pan on the counter. Bake until golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
7. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge and invert right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Glaze (For the Ice Cream Petit Fours)
9 ounces (250g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (250 ml) heavy (approx 35% butterfat) cream
1 1/2 tablespoons (32g) light corn syrup, Golden syrup, or agave nectar
2 teaspoons (10ml) vanilla extract
Stir the heavy cream and light corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and add the dark chocolate. Let sit 30 seconds, then stir to completely melt the chocolate. Stir in the vanilla and let cool until tepid before glazing the petit fours.