La crème de la crème: Panna Cotta and Florentines

              panna cotta cardamom

After many months, I am finally bringing you a new post.  Sometimes life gets in the way of having fun, but this February, the shortest month of the year, I challenged myself to make time to complete the Daring Baker’s Challenge.

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen.  She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestlé Florentine Cookies.

Panna Cotta, an Italian dessert, literally means “cooked cream.”  It is generally flavored with vanilla and topped with a fresh fruit or a fruit coulis.  For the challenge Mallory gave us a recipe for vanilla panna cotta as well as a recipe for a chocolate version for those interested.  I chose to do the vanilla recipe, but because I make vanilla panna cotta everyday at work, I decided to infuse the cream and milk mixture with cardamom.  Thus I present to you my cardamom panna cotta with acerola gelée and fresh mango (picture finally up):

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1097 days…..3 years and one day ago…i moved to paris, france for a 7 month work contract and guess what? i am still here.  maybe pour toujours.


Omelette Norvégienne and the beginning of a new year

         two times the goodness

Here in France, c’est la rentrée! Similar to what we call “back to school” in the United States, la rentrée literally means the return, that is the return to everyday life and sadly, the end of summer vacation.  More than crisp new notebooks or the smell of a fresh box of crayons, the French see the rentrée as the start of a new year, even more so than January 1.  In the spirit of la rentrée, I am looking forward to this year of possibilities, a sort of renaissance where projects once put aside will be taken out of the drawer and dreams will be re-imagined; perhaps finding their way into reality.

One of the advantages of living in France is that most people get a month long summer vacation.  I went home to South Carolina, where I spent three weeks with my family.  Eating and laughing, very good times.  Three weeks goes by too fast, so here I find myself back in Paris with work only a couple days away.  Unpacking suitcases, tidying up the apartment, taking the dog on his walks…but also savoring these last moments of summer.  Perhaps a little dessert wouldn’t hurt.

Allow me to present to you the The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ Challenge, a dessert that can be best described as “nutty and toasty meets cool and creamy.”

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 either in 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.”


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Compost Cookies

One of the many things I’ve baked in the past few months and I am only now posting about this.  It is no excuse, but I just started an incredible new job, so that is where I have been spending most of my time, perhaps more on that later, but now, back to the kitchen:

compost cookies parte II

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”…something my mother always tells me and this is perhaps the most perfect cookie recipe to reflect these wise words.  Apparently these cookies are the hot topic on the web because I read about them on blogs everywhere, first from here, to here, then here, and here.  Momofuku milk bar was on my list of bakeries to visit while I was in NYC a couple years ago, but the city is so big and my list was so long that I never got around to going.  It has now been moved to the top of my list for my next visit to the Big Apple.  The compost cookie is the invention of the Momofuku milk bar’s pastry chef Christina Tosi.  This ingenious cookie makes use of really whatever you have lying about, sweet or savory.  Like many home bakers, I always have ingredients left over from different recipes.  A few squares of chocolate here, some potato chips there.  Here is the recipe, as it can be found all over the internet:

                    compost cookies

I had to make a few changes to the recipe to accommodate my teeny french kitchen.  I do not have a stand mixer, (what I wouldn’t do for a kitchenaid, but there is just simply no place to put it), so I had to use a hand mixer.  I was worried that the texture of the cookies would be affected, but the end result seemed fine to me.

Once you have really creamed the butter and sugar, added in the eggs, mixed some more, then added in the flour; you can then start adding in the sweet and snacks.

dark chocolate with almonds

                   caramel beurre salé

adding in the savory snacks

For my first batch, I used: dark chocolate bar with hazelnuts, butterscotch chips, dried coconut, cranberries, salted butter caramel, rice krispies, cornflakes, and monster munch (see above photo).

compost cookie dough

once all ingredients are incorporated, scoop out balls onto a cookie sheet.

compost cookie dough balls

Chill the dough balls for at least a few hours for the best results during baking.

compost cookie

the second batch came a few days later when I had eaten all the cookies…I changed the ingredients a little, using potato sticks and corn chips instead of monster munch and leaving out the salted butter caramel, which while it tasted so good, it made the cookies uneven when it melted during baking.  I had a few oreo cookies that I threw in as well.

snack food ingredients

cookie dough

Overall, this is a great recipe.  I made some for a housewarming party and they were gone within 15 minutes.  No one could really put a finger on the ingredients.  People asked what is in the cookies, i just let them guess.  


c’est la fête!

c’est la fête!


But after dark all that is most satisfactory in French life swims back into the picture—the sprightly tarts, the men arguing with a hundred Voilàs in the cafés, the couples drifting head to head toward the satisfactory inexpensiveness of nowhere.

F. Scott Fitzgerald,

Tender is the Night, 1934


Tian à l’orange

Tian à l'orange

et voila!  finally a new post.  it is another daring baker’s challenge.

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings.  She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

The original version of this recipe can also be found in Alain Ducasse’s book of dessert and pastries, which I received recently as a gift and I have found that this book is really one of the most amazing pastry books I’ve ever seen.  It is very concise and well organized by ingredient with beautiful detailed photos of each dessert.

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may your christmas be merry with a yule “stump”

make one of your own.


souvenir of a Thanksgiving shared with friends.

souvenir of a Thanksgiving shared with friends.


looking for inspiration.

find inspiring people.


Reason #47 of why i love France: L’Ail Rose de Lautrec (Pink Garlic from Lautrec) with its characteristic pink skin and mild flavor.  i like to get my pink garlic in early fall and it will last me through the winter.

Reason #47 of why i love France: L’Ail Rose de Lautrec (Pink Garlic from Lautrec) with its characteristic pink skin and mild flavor.  i like to get my pink garlic in early fall and it will last me through the winter.


fait maison.



on the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar Senghor that straddles the seine…a [sometimes] homesick southern girl found a taste of home in a petit pecan pie from Bagels & Brownies.

on the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar Senghor that straddles the seinea [sometimes] homesick southern girl found a taste of home in a petit pecan pie from Bagels & Brownies.



DoBos ToRte….one crazy little cake.

This is the Daring Bakers Challenge for August.  This month we were given a lovely challenge, to recreate a Dobos Torte.

The August 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

A little background info:

The Dobos Torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel. (You may come across recipes which have anywhere between six and 12 layers of cake; there are numerous family variations!) It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners’ and Gingerbread Makers’ Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.

Upon my return from vacation, I was so very excited once to see that we would be making a cake that has chocolate, caramel and hazelnuts, I mean how can you go wrong!  Well, unfortunately it can go wrong, terribly wrong, that is for me.  I suppose that every baker has his or her stumbles and days where nothing seems to work out, that is how I would describe my first attempt at this recipe.  I have to admit that I was only slightly rushed just getting back into town, unpacking and then finding my oven amidst the dirty laundry (and yes my washing machine is in the kitchen, a kitchen that is the size of a bedroom closet, well, an american bedroom closet).  So I am exaggerating a little by saying that this didn’t work out for me.  The end result is that I have a layer sponge cake with a delicious chocolate buttercream, that tastes just like a creamy chocolate mousse, and to make it even more delicious, I brushed each layer of sponge cake with a Frangelico syrup.  Perhaps, I was just looking for a reason to use the hazelnut liqueur that I recently found in Portugal.  I have asked around in Paris and no one seems to know what Frangelico is, until now I’ve just used Amaretto.

So what really went wrong for me?  Unfortunately, it was the caramel.  It would not set, or was that the point? I went off the recommendations of another daring baker and did not use all of the lemon juice.  Once the little sponge triangles were glazed with caramel, they just didn’t look right.  The caramel seem to be soaked up in the sponge and they were not shiny.  Blame it on my sorry caramel skills and the hot weather.  I will try this recipe again in autumn and maybe it will turn out better.

And here for the recipe you’ve all been waiting for, drumroll please:


  • 2 baking sheets
  • 9” (23cm) springform tin and 8” cake tin, for templates
  • mixing bowls (1 medium, 1 large)
  • a sieve
  • a double boiler (a large saucepan plus a large heat-proof mixing bowl which fits snugly over the top of the pan)
  • a small saucepan
  • a whisk (you could use a balloon whisk for the entire cake, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer will make life much easier)
  • metal offset spatula
  • sharp knife
  • a 7 1/2” cardboard cake round, or just build cake on the base of a sprinfrom tin.
  • piping bag and tip, optional

Prep times

  • Sponge layers 20 mins prep, 40 mins cooking total if baking each layer individually.
  • Buttercream: 20 mins cooking. Cooling time for buttercream: about 1 hour plus 10 minutes after this to beat and divide.
  • Caramel layer: 10-15 minutes.
  • Assembly of whole cake: 20 minutes

Sponge cake layers

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
  • pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
  • 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

  • 1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
  • 8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Finishing touches

  • a 7” cardboard round
  • 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
  • ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Directions for the sponge layers:

NB. The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

1.Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9” (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn’t touch the cake batter.)
3.Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner’s (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don’t have a mixer.)

4.In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner’s (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.
5.Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8” springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

NB. This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3.Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4.Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Lorraine’s note: If you’re in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream. Male sure the butter is of a very soft texture I.e. running a knife through it will provide little resistance, before you try to beat it into the chocolate mixture. Also, if you beat the butter in while the chocolate mixture is hot you’ll end up with more of a ganache than a buttercream!

Directions for the caramel topping:

1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn’t just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Angela’s note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Assembling the Dobos

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

Don’t forget to go check out all the amazing Dobos Tortes by other Daring Bakers at the blogroll!


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