Monday, September 1, 2014

Chocolate Tarts with Almond Crust

Chocolate Tarts with Almond Crust

This month's Avid Baker's Challenge of King had me singing an old nursery rhyme while making them.:
The Queen of Hearts
She made some tarts,
All on a summer's day;          
The Knave of Hearts
He stole those tarts,
    And took them clean away. 
The King of Hearts
Called for the tarts,
    And beat the knave full sore;
The Knave of Hearts
Brought back the tarts,
    And vowed he'd steal no more.
picture of a queen of hearts playing card; the queen has a chef's hat in her crown and is carrying a tray of tarts
(my version was "the king at the knave full swore", nothing about a beating, LOL)

The month's Challenge was to make the King Arthur Flour Almond Tarts, which has an almond filling.  I thought that an almond filling and an almond crust were too much alike.  I'd rather have some variety.

I didn't want to eat all of the tarts on my own, so I wanted to make sure my hubby would enjoy them with me.  So I asked my husband if he would rather have cherry pie filling or chocolate pastry cream.  It took him a very long time to choose--these are both his favorite fillings!  He finally decided on chocolate pastry cream.

Perfect, I thought!  I had the 4 egg yolks that I needed for the pastry cream in the freezer.  They were left over from the angel food cake I made awhile back.  Good chance to see how they would fare when they defrosted.

First, I made the pastry cream.  I think Mark Bittman's recipe is the easiest.  It was posted in the NY Times.

Pastry Cream


  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Salt
  • 2 eggs, or 4 yolks (just what I had!)
  • 2 cups cream, half-and-half or whole milk (I used 1% milk)
  • 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs and cream. Over medium heat, whisk the egg mixture into the sugar mixture; whisk occasionally at first to get rid of lumps, then pretty much constantly until the mixture starts to boil and thickens, about 10 minutes.
Adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. The mixture is ready when it coats the back of a spoon and a line you draw with your finger through this coating holds its shape. Stir in the butter and vanilla, and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Let cool to room temperature before using.

2 1/2 cups


Chocolate pastry cream: Add 2 ounces chopped chocolate to the mixture as it cooks.
Coffee pastry cream: Add 1 tablespoon instant espresso or 2 shots freshly brewed espresso to the mixture as it cooks.
Boozy pastry cream: Skip the vanilla. Add 2 tablespoons Scotch, bourbon, rum or port to the finished mixture while it’s still hot.
I made the chocolate pastry cream version, hubby's favorite.  Hanaa, of Hanaa's Kitchen, recently said she makes pastry cream with 1% milk.  Thank you, Hanaa!!!  I saves calories and having to buy another milk variety.
I was going to strain the pastry cream (I think the defrosted egg yolks clumped a bit), but my hubby didn't want to lose a drop of  chocolate goodness!  I used 2 ounces of semi sweet chocolate chips.

Next, I made the crust:

Adding the flour and almonds makes a crumbly mixture.

I put the mix together and then put the mix in the refrigerator overnight.  I like to bake in parts.

The next morning, I decided to bake the tart crusts.  Now, there's two times I should never bake--first thing in the morning (I'm not awake enough) or when I am on the phone.  I did both of these, and there was a comedy of errors.

Five tart pans???

First error.  I couldn't find the 6th tart pan!  Do you see 6 tarts in the picture above?  Well, I only saw 5.  Wake up, Judy!!!  That's why there's leftover crust mixture saved in the container above--for the 6th crust.

Here are the crusts in the freezer, for the 15 minutes necessary after shaping them into the tart pans.  (And after I rescued them quickly after putting them into the oven to bake).

Defrosting the whipped topping

While the tarts finally baked, I defrosted the whipped topping.  I have a favorite brand that's not available here, so I keep it frozen.  I didn't want to waterlog the container, so I it in a ziplock bag and defrosted it in cool water.  It worked fine.  I do this with packages of frozen meats all the time to defrost them quickly.

The whipped topping whips up really nicely.  As Julia Child says, "Whip to a frenzy!"  LOL

Assembly of the tarts was pretty quick.  We really enjoyed them for dessert that night!

If you want to see the awesome versions of this recipe by the other members of the Avid Baker's Challenge, please check out Avid Baker's Challenge

If you want to see the full recipe for the Almond Tarts (with almond filling) check out King Arthur Flour Almond Tarts

Thanks so much for stopping by!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Clear out the Fridge" Roasted Vegetable Focaccica

This month's Avid Baker's Challenge is the Roasted Vegetable Focaccia recipe by King Arthur Flour.  The recipe calls for a dough that uses a starter.

I call this focaccia "Clear out the Fridge"  because it uses up a lot of things I had in the fridge.  I made this recipe on a Monday, the day before we go grocery shopping so we would have room for fresh foods. 

Tuesday is senior discount day at Kroger.  They give seniors 60+ (hubby is over 60, LOL) a 5% discount on groceries.  Needless to say, there isn't a handicapped parking space available, and the store is packed!  I know a lot of people who avoid the store on Tuesdays, but we love the discount.  Since there is tax on food here, it helps to pay the sales tax.  It's actually a party atmosphere, with people running into each other.

Here's my version of the recipe:

Roasted Vegetable Focaccia

Hands-on time:
Baking time:

Yield:two quarter sheets or one large sheet of focaccia, about 8 to 10 servings


  • 1/2 cup cool water
  • 1/16 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour


  • all of the starter (above)
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm lowfat milk; amount depends on humidity
  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  • 1-2 zucchini
  • 1/2 yellow squash
  • 1/2 sweet onion
  • 1/3 cup sundried tomato, softened in 1/3 cup warm water
  • 2 Japanese eggplant (from farmers market)
  •  olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 seeded jalapeno
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • kosher salt
  • garlic

Recent purchase from farmer's market.  The leftover was used as foccaccia toppings.

Japanese eggplant is much milder than regular eggplant.  Also, it is much easier to slice!  You slice it just like you would zucchini.  In fact, I was quoted in the Charlotte WFAE blog on how easy it is to use it. .

Quarter sheet pans--half the size of my baking sheet!

I got 2 quarter sheet pans over a year ago.  I had planned to use them for making holiday fudge.  Unfortunately, I broke my ankle and didn't do any holiday baking.

I thought focaccia would be a great way to use the pans.  Instead of making one big one, I could make two smaller ones and freeze one!  My hubby is on soft foods due to dental surgery, so I would freeze one for when he could enjoy it.

I made the focaccia over 2 days, because the starter needed 14 hours before adding it to the dough.  It would have been a lot easier if I had done it over 3 days.
Making the starter, late afternoon

Nice rise.  I think this was the starter

The focaccia, shaped and ready to rise.  It's getting late for dinner, though.  I put them in the oven, with the light on, to hasten the rise.

Out of the oven!  Time for dinner!!!

I put vegetable oil on the pans, instead of spray, because I didn't want them to stain!

I enjoyed the first pan, although I baked it a little long.  It was crispy.  Still, it was delicous!

Be sure to check out the full recipe, and directions, on the King Arthur Flour Site:

and enjoy the other focaccia postings from the Avid Baker's Challenge at

Thanks for stopping by!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Angel Food Cake Test

Our Avid Bakers Group baked Strawberry-Filled Angel Food Cake for this month's challenge.

The recipe is found on the King Arthur Flour site, King Arthur Flour's Strawberry Filled Angelfood Cake .

I decided that I didn't want to separate twelve (!) eggs and eat that much cake.  It sounded like a good time to go into test kitchen mode.  I had wanted to experiment with making layer cakes from a batter such as this one.


The funny thing is that I forgot to write out the half batch recipe.  I figured I would remember that I was doing a half batch.  Did I remember? Noooooo!  So I have all the dry ingredients in a ziplock labeled for baking a whole angelfood cake.  Just need to get 12 egg whites together.

With fresh refrigerator jam, chocolate pudding, and whippped cream 

I wanted to do a half batch, and test it in a cake pan

I decided to use my heating core in this direction; the heating core will mimic the angelfood cake pan

Egg whites are almost whipped

How the batter looks in the pan;
A half recipe is just enough!

What will I do with 6 yolks?
When I turned the cake over, the middle core fell out.  Good.

Fully baked.  Except that I forgot that I need to grease the bottom of this kind of pan
You can remove the cake from an angelfood cake pan and slide a knife under!
Doodling with cupcakes while it cooled, LOL

Problems getting the cake out
Next time, I grease the bottom of the pan, put parchment paper on top, then grease and flour the parchment.
I learned my lesson!

It doesn't look so bad upside down!
It was really tasty!

If you want to know more about the monthly Avid Baker's Challenge, click on this link:  Avid Baker's Challenge

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cheddar and Onion Bread

The Bread of the Month for the Facebook Artisan Bread Group is Cheddar Bread.  It's from Peter Reinhart's "Artisan Breads Every Day" book.  It's a sourdough bread, full of onion and cheese.
It's one of the first breads I've made since I switched to a firm mother starter.

I made half a batch, because we don't want to eat 2 of the two-pound loaves.  I'm glad another group member suggested that.  I used sharp cheddar cheese and chopped up half an onion.
This dough is great because there's a 4 day window from when you make the dough or starter to when you have to bake it.

Rolling out the dough, putting sharp cheddar and onion on top.

I rolled it up and cut it into two loaves.
The loaves might be more evenly shaped if I had rolled out 2 rectangles separately, but I wanted to do other things today.

Loaves were sprayed with oil spray and covered with plastic for about 2 hours

Scoring the loaves

I baked for the minimum time and went to the computer room. 

I think the loaves baked really brown because of my long preheat.  I was thinking of baking a cake first.  I was preheating for that and saw the breads really needed to get into the oven soon.  The oven bakes much hotter for an hour preheat than a half hour.

The house smells wonderful--a great onion aroma.  The only problem is, I had planned to bake that cake today for my cake decorating class.  I don't want the cake to smell like onion!!!

One loaf is for me, because my hubby needs to eat soft foods after dental surgery.  I didn't want to miss out baking this bread with the group.  The other bread will go in the freezer for both of us to enjoy in a few weeks.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

English Digestive Biscuits--ABC Bakers

Fresh from the oven!
This is my first "bake-along" with the Avid Baker's Challenge group.  I've seen what they have baked, and I like the variety.  The different items should get me out of my comfort zone to try new recipes.

It's a plus that I already have "met" many of the members of the group over the years in other baking groups!  We have all helped each other.  What a wonderful feeling of support.  My baking skills have definitely grown over the years with their help.

I am also excited to be baking some of the King Arthur Flour recipes.  Their flour is great, and I love the friendly baking help I get from their bakers' hotline.

But "digestive biscuits?"  What are they?  "Biscuit" is the English name for American "cookies."  Actually, as this video states, they were invented to help reduce flatulence!!!

Armed with this information, I set up all my ingredients --mise en place (my mice are all in place, LOL).  This helps avoid running all over the kitchen while I assemble the ingredients.
Ready to bake.  I won't have to run all over the kitchen now
 I made some changes to the recipe: 
  • White Whole Wheat flour, because that's what I had on hand
  • Mostly margarine, to use it up, part butter.
The margarine required me to add more flour, since it has more water content than butter.  Also, I refrigerated the dough for awhile to firm it up more.  I knew this before I began, so I wasn't surprised when the dough felt too soft.  Adding too much flour would make the cookies biscuits dry.

I used a round cutter that was easy to reach on the shelf.  Here's why I didn't go into my cupboard that holds my cookie/quick bread baking supplies for other shaped cutters:
Is there ever enough room in a kitchen?
My friend, Donna Nave ( her blog is ) has introduced me to cake baking, and I am hooked!  I never saw a hobby with so many accessories!!!  Thus, the full cabinet; and an addiction to cake baking, LOL.

Note, this does not include the large tart and mini tart pans I bought after our group member, Karen Kerr, posted the cheddar mini tarts she made for this group.  They are in the pie materials cabinet.  And it doesn't include the double cabinet for my bread supplies. 

Back to the recipe--
Making this dough is very much like pie dough.  You crumble in the butter/margarine until it's the size of small peas.  The dough is kneaded, then rolled out thinly.  The biscuits are cut and placed on a cookie sheet.  Holes are pricked in them so they stay flat.  They were baked at 350 degrees for 16 minutes.

We think they are yummy!!!

The dough looks crumbly until the dough is kneaded for a minute

Rolling the dough until it's 1/8th inch thick

Using parchment paper so my pans don't get greasy!

Enjoying some biscuits with tea and my date spread

Some of the group members have heard about my yummy date spread.  It's very versatile--you can spread it on toast, form it into balls to serve with cheese, or even cover those shaped balls with chocolate!  It's a recipe I modified by a gourmet cook, Judy Zeidler.:

Date Spread

  • 8 ounces ( 1 Cup) pitted dates, chopped
  • 1.5 ounces (1/4 Cup)  raisins, chopped
  • 1/4 cup very sweet wine
  • 2 ounces walnuts, ground (1/8 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger (you can vary this amount)

Place dates and raisins in a bowl.  Mix in the wine, then walnuts and ginger.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill.

This video made the job of pitting dates super easy.  Be sure to cut the dates with either a wet knife or a knife coated with vegetable spray.

Since this is a "digestive biscuit," a way for Victorian English to get more fiber in their diets, I thought I'd run this recipe through my recipe software.  I made 28 biscuits from this recipe.  The nutritional data is:

Per Serving: 102 Cal (58% from Fat, 5% from Protein, 37% from Carb); 1 g Protein; 7 g Tot Fat; 4 g Sat Fat; 2 g Mono Fat; 10 g Carb; 1 g Fiber; 3 g Sugar; 17 mg Calcium; 0 mg Iron; 20 mg Sodium; 18 mg Cholesterol

That's 3 Point Plus on Weight Watchers.  That's pretty high for a snack, in my opinion.

Of course, many things are better with chocolate:
Biscuits and date balls with ganache

I had some ganache left over from a chocolate torte.  I asked the woman on the King Arthur Baker's Hotline if ganache would work for covering the biscuits and date balls.  She said that it wouldn't get hard enough; I should try just melted chocolate.  My husband's reply was, "Who cares, it's chocolate!!!" 

Of course, the nutritional information of the chocolate covered treats would differ from that stated above.  :)

If you want more information about this recipe, check out:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Bit of Brioche--Small Batch Bread Baking

A Bit of Brioche--Small Batch Bread Baking

Yield, 8 - 9 ounces of brioche dough

3 large muffin size rolls


6 cupcake size rolls

Why bake bread in small batches?

  • The fun of baking bread, without a lot of leftovers to tempt you and your waistline.  
  • Great for two-person households. 
  • Less fuss than making a whole batch.  Some recipes can be hand-mixed in a bowl.  Faster measuring.
  • You can start this recipe in the morning, and have fresh bread for dinner.
  • It's possible to bake these in your oven either before, during or after using the oven for something else to save energy. If your toaster oven is large enough, you can probably bake a small batch there (would suggest rotating the pan, as toaster ovens don't have good air circulation).
  • Your kitchen will smell great!

Although many brioche recipes were researched, this recipe was adapted from Peter Reinhart's wonderful book, "The Bread Baker's Apprentice."  There's a larger proportion of egg yolk in my version of this recipe, which makes it much richer.  The final rolls are light, sweet, and buttery.

RECIPE (Step by Step pictures following recipe)


2 TBSP                  Unbleached Bread Flour
1/2 tsp                    instant yeast
2TBSP                   whole milk, lukewarm (90-100 degrees)                   


1 egg + 1 yolk        slightly beaten
13 TBSP                 unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp                  granulated sugar
1/4 tsp                     salt
1/4 Cup                   unsalted butter, room temperature

EGG WASH (Optional)--1 egg + 1 TBSP whisked together

Start by making the sponge:
The sponge for this size recipe is quite small.  You can even mix the sponge in a 2 cup glass measuring cup.  Stir together the flour and the yeast, then add the milk.  Be sure to mix well, so all the flour is added.  Cover the sponge with plastic wrap, and place it in a warm spot for 30 minutes.  I put it in my microwave, with a hot cup of water.  After 30 minutes, the sponge will rise slightly.  It will be bubbly and very sticky.

Make the dough:
Place the egg, yolk, and sponge in the mixing bowl of your stand mixture.  Mix on medium speed for a minute until it's smooth.  I tried using a  hand mixer, but the dough gets very stiff after adding the flour later on.  It was too much for a hand mixer; it began smoking!

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and mix on low speed for about 2 minutes.   The dough will be very stiff.  If you are stronger than I am, you can mix the ingredients by hand to lessen cleanup.  You won't need to knead the dough!

Cover the dough  with plastic wrap, so it doesn't dry out, and let it rest for 5 minutes to let the gluten start to develop.

After 5 minutes, add the butter 1/3 at a time, making sure it gets well incorporated after each addition. The dough will soften up considerably when you add the butter.  You'll probably want to scape down the dough from time to time to make sure everything gets mixed.  Continue mixing for a few minutes more to make sure the dough is very well mixed.  The dough will be soft and sticky.

Place the dough into a wide oiled bowl or onto an greased cookie sheet, turning it to coat the dough. The dough is easier to handle when it is cold, so flatten the dough to help it get colder easily.  Place plastic wrap right onto the dough so that it doesn't develop a skin.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight to firm up. It was much easier removing the dough from the pan that had been refrigerated overnight.  It was less sticky.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and put it on a lightly floured work surface.

For smaller rolls, shape the dough into 6 pieces, about 1 1/2 ounces each. Place them in a cupcake-sized muffin pan (1/2 cup size).  For larger rolls, cut the dough into 3 pieces, and place in larger muffin pans (2/3 cup size).  You will want to fill the cups only half full, to allow for rising.  If you have the petites brioches fluted pans, you can probably make one or two less of the cupcake size to make a tete on each remaining roll.

Let the dough rise for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, about a half hour before baking.  Put a rack in the middle of the oven.

The egg wash is optional.  I did 3 test batches for this recipe.  I didn't use egg wash on the first two batches.  I got a soft crust on top.  When I added egg wash on the third test, I got a crisp crust on the outside.  Both are good; it depends on your preference.  I was going to do a fourth test of turning down to temperature to 375 degrees (the higher temperature to encourage more rise).  However, now we have a lot of tempting bread around the house; it's no longer a small batch!  :)

If you brush with egg wash, cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayefor 15 minutes more.

When you bake the larger rolls, 3 cups will be empty.  Fill the empty cups halfway with water to prevent warping of the pan.

Bake 10-12 minutes, in the center of the oven, until thermometer in center registers 180 degrees.

Remove the rolls as soon as they are done.  Let them cool on a rack for about 20 minutes (if you can wait, LOL)

I hope you enjoy making your rolls, and eating them!  I decided to place all the pictures after the recipe so you can copy the recipe easier.  I'd love to hear your comments!!!



Mixing up the sponge--easy to do in small bowl or measuring cup


A quick way of softening butter--place in bowl of hot water


The sponge gets bubbly and rises some after 30 minutes in a warm spot.


The sponge is very sticky!

The dough is a bit shaggy and sticky after all the mixing is done



1 1/2 ounces looks like this!  Filling the cups halfway full for small rolls
They rise beautifully in 2 hours


Large rolls--makes 3 rolls, three ounces each

The one on the left is baked without egg wash, and longer.  The right one has egg wash

The finished rolls, these are with egg wash
The inside of a roll, egg wash used here--YUM!!!