Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Daring Bakers': Croissants

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Last fall I somehow found myself in a conversation with one of my professors about how he lived in a building (I think it was in Cambridge, Massachusetts) with Julia Child.  He said the building usually smelled wonderful when he came home from work and that Julia occasionally brought up breads or other baked goods for him and his wife to try.  I wonder if he ever tasted her croissants!

This was my very first attempt at homemade croissants.  The recipe really was not that difficult, it just took a ton of time!  I made these with my mom and we had a lot of fun together.  Fresh out of the oven, these croissants were soft, sweet, and delicious.  They tasted more doughy than flaky, but were still irresistible.

Chocolate Almond Croissants
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two. Julia Child and Simone Beck


1¼ tsp dry-active yeast
3 Tbsp warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 3/4 cups strong plain flour
2 tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
½ cup milk
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup chilled, unsalted butter
1 egg, for egg wash
1 bar of chocolate, chopped into chunks
1 can almond paste
1 cup sliced almonds


1. Mix the yeast, warm water, and first tsp of sugar in a small bowl.  Leave aside for the yeast and sugar to dissolve and the yeast to foam up a little.

2. Measure out the other ingredients

3. Heat the milk until tepid (either in the microwave or a saucepan), and dissolve in the salt and remaining sugar.

4. Place the flour in a large bowl.

5. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and milk mixture to the flour.

6. Mix all the ingredients together using the rubber spatula, just until all the flour is incorporated.

7. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and let it rest a minute while you wash out the bowl.

8. Knead the dough eight to ten times only.  The best way is as Julia Child does it in the video (see below).  It’s a little difficult to explain, but essentially involves smacking the dough on the counter (lots of fun if you are mad at someone) and removing it from the counter using a pastry scraper.

9. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

10. Leave the bowl at approximately 75°F/24°C for three hours, or until the dough has tripled in size.

11. After the dough has tripled in size, remove it gently from the bowl, pulling it away from the sides of the bowl with your fingertips.

12. Place the dough on a lightly floured board or countertop, and use your hands to press it out into a rectangle about 8 by 12 inches.

13. Fold the dough rectangle in three, like a letter (fold the top third down, and then the bottom third up).

14. Place the dough letter back in the bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

15. Leave the dough to rise for another 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size.  This second rise can be done overnight in the fridge

16. Place the double-risen dough onto a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place the plate in the fridge while you prepare the butter.

17. Once the dough has doubled, it is time to incorporate the butter.

18. Place the block of chilled butter on a chopping board.

19. Using a rolling pin, beat the butter down a little, until it is quite flat.

20. Use the heel of your hand to continue to spread the butter until it is smooth.  You want the butter to stay cool, but spread easily.

21. Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured board or counter.  Let it rest for a minute or two.

22. Spread the dough using your hands into a rectangle about 14 by 8 inches.

23. Remove the butter from the board, and place it on the top half of the dough rectangle.

24. Spread the butter all across the top two-thirds of the dough rectangle, but keep it ¼ inch across from all  edges.

25. Fold the top third of the dough down and the bottom third of the dough up.

26. Turn the dough package 90 degrees, so that the top flap is to your right.

27. Roll out the dough package (gently, so you don’t push the butter out of the dough) until it is again about 14 by 8 inches.

28. Again, fold the top third down and the bottom third up.

29. Wrap the dough package in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for 2 hours.

30. After two hours have passed, take the dough out of the fridge and place it again on the lightly floured board or counter.

31. Tap the dough with the rolling pin, to deflate it a little.

32. Let the dough rest for 8 to 10 minutes.

33. Roll the dough package out until it is 14 by 8 inches.

34. Fold in three, as before.

35. Turn 90 degrees, and roll out again to 14 by 8 inches.

36. Fold in three for the last time, wrap in plastic, and return the dough package to the fridge for two more hours (or overnight, with something heavy on top to stop it from rising).

37. It is now time to cut the dough and shape the croissants.

38. First, lightly butter your baking sheet so that it is ready.

39. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest for ten minutes on the lightly floured board or counter.

40. Roll the dough out into a 20 by 5 inch rectangle.

41. Cut the dough into two rectangles.
42. Place one of the rectangles in the fridge, to keep the butter cold.

43. Roll the second rectangle out until it is 15 by 5 inches.

44. Cut the rectangle into three squares (each 5 by 5 inches).

45. Place two of the squares in the fridge.

46. The remaining square may have shrunk up a little bit in the meantime.  Roll it out again until it is nearly square.

47. Cut the square diagonally into two triangles.

48. Stretch the triangle out a little, so it is not a right-angle triangle, but more of an isosceles.  Rip of a chunk of the almond paste and place at the wide end of the dough.  Now take some of the chocolate pieces and place on top of the paste.

49. Starting at the wide end, roll the triangle up towards the point, and curve into a crescent shape.

50. Place the unbaked croissant on the baking sheet.

51. Repeat the process with the remaining squares of dough, almond paste, and chocolate creating 12 croissants in total.

52. Leave the tray of croissants, covered lightly with plastic wrap, to rise for 1 hour.

53. Preheat the oven to very hot 475°F.

54. Mix the egg with a teaspoon of water.

55. Spread the egg wash across the tops of the croissants.

56. Put the croissants in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes total, until the tops are browned nicely. (About half way through you should sprinkle on sliced almonds, if desired)

57. Take the croissants out of the oven, and place them on a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Here is the video of Julia Child.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Creamy Lemon Bars

A few times a month I usually receive a small envelope with two to three different recipes cut out from the newspaper.  Also in this envelope is a handwritten note from my grandmother letting me know she found a few recipes she thought I may like to try.  I just love picking up my mail after a long day of work and tearing open an envelope with my grandmother's handwriting, knowing that what's inside will brighten my day.

These lemon bars will surely brighten anyone's day.  This was my first attempt at lemon bars and I think the recipe is just lovely.  The bars are smooth and creamy, but most importantly they are not overly sweet nor too tart.  They have a very subtle hint of lemon which is just the way I like lemon bars. 

Creamy Lemon Bars
adapted from Bev Bennett
(3 PointsPlus per serving)


For the crust:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cake flour

For the filling:
2 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)

Optional for garnish:
Sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries
Powdered sugar


Turn the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream the butter and powdered sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer.  Stir salt into flour.  Add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, to the creamed butter.  Pat the dough into an 8-inch square pan.  Bake for 13 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.

While the crust is baking go ahead and make the filling.  Beat the eggs in a medium bowl.  Add the white sugar and beat again.  Stir together the cornstarch and 2 Tbsp of the lemon juice in a separate bowl.  Pour this into the egg mixture.  Add remaining lemon juice and stir.

Once you remove the crust from the oven, let sit for about 5 minutes.  Pour the filling mixture over the crust.  Return the pan to the oven for another 30 minutes or until the top is firm when gently pressed.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan.  Store in the refrigerator (for up to one week).  When you're ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and slice into 21 piecesIf desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with whatever berries you have on hand.  (1 bar = 1 serving, 3 PointsPlus per serving)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Magic Shortbread Cookies


I received an email a few weeks back from a very nice woman wanting to place a special order for her daughter-in-law.  She said her daughter-in-law loved fudge stuffed shortbread as a child but cannot find them anymore!  What a thoughtful gesture.  I hope the recipient of these cookies had a big smile on her face when she opened her package of Magic Shortbread Cookies.

I decided on the name Magic Shortbread Cookies because they can be a bit deceptive.  From the outside it looks as though you will be enjoying a simple shortbread, but after taking a bite you may be surprised by the fudge found inside.  The shortbread was buttery and crisp and paired extremely well with the smooth hazelnut fudge.  These cookies go great with a nice cup of tea and a newspaper!

Magic Shortbread Cookies
(3 PointsPlus per serving)


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup granulated sugar for coating
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp Nutella
2 Tbsp powdered sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour and salt.  Set aside. 

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter.  Gradually add in the superfine sugar.  Beat in the vanilla extract. Pour the flour mixture into the butter mixture in small batches.  Mix until the dough comes together and cleans the sides of the bowl.

Mix the powdered sugar with 1/4 cup of Nutella until well combined.  If the mixture looks too dry, continue to add up to 1 Tbsp more of Nutella.  Pinch off small portions of the Nutella mixture and roll into pea sized balls (you will need 36-38 total, but may end up with a few more depending on your size).

Place the remaining sugar in a medium bowl and set aside.

Now it's time to wrap your dough around the fudge.  I find the easiest way to portion out your dough is to divide it into 4 sections and then divide each section into 9 pieces.  Take one piece of dough and flatten it in the palm of your hand.  Take one ball of fudge and place in the middle of the dough.  Now wrap the dough around the fudge and roll around using your hands until you form an even ball and cannot see the fudge.  Place the ball in the bowl with sugar and gently roll around until the entire surface is coated with sugar.  Place the ball on the cookie sheet and continue this process until all of the dough is used up.

Bake for about 17-21 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch or the edges turn a very light brown.  Remove from the oven and let rest for a few minutes.  Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Recipe makes about 36 cookies.  (1 cookie = 1 serving, 3 PointsPlus per serving)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Marbled Nutella Banana Bread

I just returned from meeting my two nephews for the very first time!  They are the most adorable little guys around.  I can't wait to get back down to FL to spend more time with them.

For this week's post I want to share a recipe with you that makes me feel like I'm at home, banana bread.  This is exactly what I need after being around my family for a few days and now returning to D.C.  This recipe takes banana bread to the next level by incorporating nutella in a gorgeous marbled pattern.  The bread is moist and delicious, just the way a banana bread should be.  I hope you enjoy!

Marbeled Nutella Banana Bread
adapted from Sugar Plum
(9 PointsPlus per serving)


2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups mashed ripe banana
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup Nutella 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat a 9-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

In a medium mixing bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, using a mixer on medium speed, beat together the banana, butter, white sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until creamy and well combined - about 2 minutes.  Beat in the eggs until well combined - about 2 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture until just combined.  Divide 1/2 of of the batter into a medium bowl; stir in Nutella until combined.

Alternate spoonfuls of batter into the loaf pan until all of the batter is used up.  Swirl batter gently with a knife. Bake 1 hour or until well risen, deep golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out with moist crumbs attached.  Once slightly cooled, slice into 10 pieces and enjoy!  (1 serving = 1 slice, 9 PointsPlus per serving)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cake Pops


Guess what?!  I became an aunt for the first time this week!!  And I'm not just any aunt...I'm now an aunt to two adorable little boys, Nolan Gray and Camden Kade.  I can't wait to meet them!  I am flying to Florida next weekend and my trip can't come soon enough! 

Even though my nephews are too young to have a cake pop, I think this recipe is a great way to celebrate.  Hopefully my brother and sister-in-law can enjoy a few pops next weekend.

If you're reading this post and thinking to yourself how in the world could I ever make a cake pop, well I'm here to tell you that you can!  It really is simple and even the most novice of bakers can create a beautiful pop with just a few ingredients and lots of patience.  Read on to the recipe below for step by step instructions and helpful tips.

Cake Pops
adapted from Bakerella
(base pop without toppings is 3 PointsPlus per serving)


1 box Devil's Food box cake mix (really any brand or flavor cake will work)
1 16oz. can cream cheese frosting
1-2 bags chocolate candy melts (regular chocolate chips will also work just fine)
50 lollipop sticks
several blocks of styrofoam
1/4 cup edible candy pearls*
1/4-1/2 cup chopped, toasted nuts*
colored sprinkles*
fleur de sel*
*optional toppings


Bake the cake according to the directions on the box.  Cool completely.

Once cool, crumble the cake into a large bowl and mix in the cream cheese frosting until smooth.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.  (This helps the mixture to firm up so it is easy to roll into balls.)

Once firm, roll into quarter size balls.  Depending on the size, you should be able to make about 45-50.  Place the balls on a parchment lined baking sheet and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

A few minutes before removing the baking sheet from the fridge, go ahead and melt your chocolate by your preferred method.  Let cool for a few minutes.  Next remove the baking sheet with the cake balls from the fridge.  Take one lollipop stick and place the tip in the melted chocolate.  Then place the stick into a cake ball.  (The chocolate helps to seal the stick and ball together so the cake ball doesn't come off later on when you dip in the chocolate.)  Repeat this step until all of the cake balls are attached to a lollipop stick.  Place back in the fridge for another 20-30 minutes.

Now comes the fun part...  Make sure your chocolate is nice and smooth.  If you need to reheat for a little go ahead and do that.  Once again remove the cake pops from the fridge.  Take one cake pop and submerge it completely in the melted chocolate.  Remove the cake pop by lifting it straight up into the air (do not move your hand sideways).  Let the extra chocolate drip for a few seconds and then turn the cake pop right side up.  Now you can add whatever toppings you have on hand simply br sprinkling them onto the pop while the chocolate is still melted and soft.  Now you place the stick into your styrofoam and leave it there untouched until firm and dry.  (If you do not have styrofoam, get creative and look around your house to find something that will hold your pop upright.  I found that by turning my fruit bowl upside down and placing the sticks in between the mesh rings, my pops were able to stay sturdy and upright).

If you have room in your fridge to place the block of styrofoam with the pops attached go ahead and put them in there to cool down.  If you do not, it's okay to keep them on the counter until they dry and then place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and put in the fridge to cool completely.

Usually cake pops are best served at room temperature, but I found with this batch they became too soft and almost fell off the stick after the first bite.  So I kept them in the fridge until I was ready to serve.  What I recommend to you is to play around with this- leave a pop out and take a bite to see if it is too soft or not.  Then you can determine if you should keep them out or place in the fridge until you are ready to devour!  (Toppings such as edible pearls and nuts may affect PointsPlus values, so I have calculated the value for the base cake pop. 1 serving = 1 cake pop, 3 PointsPlus per serving)

The combination of fleur de sel and chocolate was just incredible.  Sweet and salty and irresistibly delicious!  The toasted nuts also provided an incredible flavor when combined with chocolate.

You really can't go wrong with the infinite number of combinations.  I'd love to hear about your favorite cake pop flavor and combination so please leave your comments below!