Saturday, September 25, 2010

Buttery Cinnamon Rolls

“You never make me cinnamon rolls,” my husband announced recently. He was right, of course. Common sense told me that it probably wasn’t a great idea to make a batch of delicious, gooey, buttery, glazed cinnamon rolls for two adults to ingest over the course of a weekend. Seemed more like a thing to make when a 

group was coming by for brunch, for example. But the guilt had already set in, and there was no turning back. Soon I was fervently kneading a batch of sweet dough and slathering it with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Though it does require attention, making the sweet yeast dough for these rolls is a therapeutic 

process and the results are extremely satisfying. Baking the rolls fills the house with a heady scent, and the warm, freshly glazed cinnamon rolls are amazing, and naturally delicious—they don’t contain any of the bad additives that the ones from that popular cinnamon bun chain do. 

Now, let me tell you about this recipe: Over my years as editor of Chocolatier magazine, I had many interns. Most of them were great, but a few were really exceptional. One of the exceptional ones was a woman named Nicole Rees. Nicole was beautiful (in a Katherine Hepburn way), smart, perky and was—and is—a truly 

gifted recipe developer. She was a go-getter who relished a challenge. I remember her saying one day that she had woken up at 5 in the morning in order to make her husband waffles before work. I had enough trouble rolling myself out of bed at 7 in order to stagger into work by 9, so this got my attention. Anyhow, after her days at Chocolatier, Nicole went on to become a successful recipe developer working for various magazines and newspapers, and she recently released her own cookbook, Baking Unplugged (Wiley, 2009). It’s a wonderful book, full of foolproof, unfussy recipes that you’ll turn to again and again. Here is Nicole’s recipe for Cinnamon Rolls, straight out of Baking Unplugged. I changed the glaze (Nicole used a cream cheese spread for hers), but the rest is vintage Nicole, perfect in every way.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cheesecake Mousse Crepes with Mixed Berries

I hadn’t made crepes in quite a while, so, before I forgot just how completely wonderful they are, I thought I’d make a batch. I found some nice assorted berries at my local farmers’ market—raspberries, blackberries and strawberries—and I decided to macerate the 

strawberries with some sugar and a little lemon juice and then fold in the raspberries and blackberries. My plan was that the berries would serve as a bright complement to a vanilla-scented cheesecake mousse filling, made with cream cheese, sour cream and whipped 

cream. Sort of like a deconstructed cheesecake with fresh berries. Once everything is made, you can either fill the crepes with the mousse and berries (one crepe per person is plenty), or you can fold the crepes à la crepes Suzette and top with a dollop of the mousse 

and a scattering of berries. A light dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top gives them a polished look. A note on making the crepes: when you make your first crepe, you’ll soon be able to tell if your batter is the correct consistency. If it’s a little on the thick side (which will 

make your crepes too thick), just add a little more milk, one teaspoon at a time until the batter forms a perfect, delicately thin crepe.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chocolate Glazed Vanilla Eclairs

My mother, who is Welsh, is the best hostess in the world. When you pay her a visit, she makes you feel like Queen (or King, if you’re a guy) for a Day. Even today, at the age of 87, she hosts elaborate bridge parties and luncheons with wonderful food. When I was a kid, I remember friends dropping by our house 

spontaneously. Instead of panicking, my Mom casually whipped up a batch of whipped cream-filled cream puffs to serve the visitors along with their tea. We were all pretty impressed with that trick. She was, and is, never afraid to try anything new, no matter how daunting the recipe or technique. So it’s in the spirit of my mother’s 

cooking approach—sheer fearlessness—that I present a recipe for éclairs, filled with a lightened vanilla pastry cream and topped with a shiny bittersweet chocolate glaze. Making choux paste, the dough for cream puffs and éclairs, is a technique that many find intimidating, though it’s actually fairly easy to put together. The 

only problem with homemade éclairs is that they have multiple components—the dough, the filling and the glaze—and it takes time to make each and assemble the finished pastries. The trick here is to make the filling (minus the whipped cream) a day or two beforehand, so that you only have to make the choux paste and the 

glaze the day you plan to serve the éclairs. Though I made mine slightly smaller than standard bakery éclairs, you can make them any size you like, and you can also vary the flavor of the pastry cream filling (espresso pastry cream is great with the chocolate glaze). I recommend chilling the filled éclairs while you make the glaze, so that the glaze sets up faster on the cold pastry. And do serve them the day they’re made—you won’t have any trouble finding takers.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

End-of-Summer Blueberry Turnovers

It’s the end of the summer (sob), and time to make desserts with the last of the local fruit and berries. Pies are always a good choice. Relatively easy to make, a fruit pie with a simple filling showcases the natural sweetness and flavor of the fruit without 

overshadowing it. Combining the same elements as pies—pastry and fruit filling—turnovers are like personal pies. No one can raise an eyebrow when you cut too big a slice, because there’s no slicing a turnover. It’s all yours. Turnovers can be made with standard pie 

crust, or they can be Frenchified with puff pastry. They can be served plain, with a sprinkling of sugar on top, or glazed.  I decided to make a Blueberry Turnover with a puff pastry crust, because I love the buttery crunch of baked puff pastry with the fruit filling. I 

used my recipe for Quick Puff Pastry for the crust, but store-bought puff pastry is an excellent option. Just roll each sheet out to a 12-inch square, as called for in the recipe. The filling for turnovers should be relatively thick, to prevent it from seeping out of the 

pastry as you form the turnovers, so I call for chilling it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. You should also chill the turnovers for 30 minutes before baking them for the best results.

On another topic, I saw a wonderful film the other day—it’s called Kings of Pastry, and it documents the epic journey of pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, an old friend of mine, as he attempts, along with 15 other finalists, to earn the M.O.F. (Meilleurs Ouvriers de France—

Best Craftsman in France) designation. This honor, the highest there is for a pastry chef, is bestowed upon only those deemed worthy enough after a grueling three-day demonstration of skill, artistry, training and perhaps a bit of luck. The film follows Jacquy

as he painstakingly prepares for the competition at home in Chicago, up to the presentation ceremony in Lyon. He, along with his co-competitors, seeks to fulfill his dream, which is one that can only be achieved through excellence under intense pressure. Some 

handle the pressure well, while others crack up—you’ll see a few grown men sobbing uncontrollably in the film, but I won’t ruin it for you by divulging the outcome. As Jacquy put it, “The M.O.F. is not about doing ‘the best you can do’, but the ‘best that can be done.’” And that’s never an easy thing. To read the NY Times review of the movie, click here.  The film opens on September 15. For showing information, visit