Next time you have a sudden urge to bake, remember this: as long as you have butter, sugar, flour, and salt, you can make one of the most beloved, classic cookies known to mankind. And while the ingredients in shortbread may be few and simple, connoisseurs of the stuff will tell you—not all shortbreads are created equal.
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Whether you choose to make it because you've got something you need to use up (eggs, milk, stale bread), or just because you love it, bread pudding delivers a whole lot dessert satisfaction with just a small amount of effort.
Coconut macaroons may not be adorable, but, for coconut lovers, they're unadulterated coconut bliss.
Perfect, dainty madeleines are just the thing when you know you're craving something sweet but can't decide between a cookie or a slice of cake.
Professional cake makers have a little secret up their sleeves that they don't want you to know about. Next time you're enjoying a piece of wedding cake and wondering how the baker achieves such perfectly uniform layers of cake, here is one possible answer: The cake layers are actually punched out from single sheets of cake. Some layers may even be pieced together from the scraps left over from punching out other circles or squares.
Pâte sucrée (pronounced pat-sue-cray) is the sweet, crumbly dough that gives tarts a sturdy, tender base for custards, creams, and fruits. When it's made well, pâte sucrée has the crumbly texture of a buttery sable cookie. It tastes like shortbread, but is able to support even the heaviest filling without falling to pieces.
Pastry cream is the unsung hero of the dessert world. You may know it best as the filling in your cream puff, the "cream" in a Boston Cream pie, or the "pudding" in banana cream pie. It's especially worshiped by French pastry chefs; I challenge you to order something from a pâtisserie that doesn't contain it. Simply put, pastry cream makes good desserts better with its creamy, oozy richness, by adding flavor and smooth texture to anything it touches.
It's been three weeks since I began working on Canelé for my column, and this is what they've reduced me to: crazed, unable to pull myself away, and struggling to put down words that might help you, gentle reader, avoid the madness to which this pastry has driven me. Learn from my dozens of attempts and come see how to makes canelé for yourself.
Before the proliferation of molten chocolate lava cakes on restaurant dessert menus in the last quarter of the 20th century, there was the chocolate soufflé. Rich and decadent, yet impossibly fluffy with its warm, oozing center, chocolate soufflé is the great grandmother to all of the warm, partially baked chocolate desserts that followed. Learn how to make it right here.
For a number of reasons, spritz are a serious contender for the title of my favorite cookie. They suite my taste exactly; crisp, made primarily of butter, perfectly balanced with a nice hit of vanilla and salt. Best of all, they appeal to the geeky, perfectionist baker in me, because learning to make perfect spritz cookies is a marathon, not a sprint, and I'm still only on mile 13. I love a good challenge in the kitchen.
Gum paste is a sugar dough from the same family as rolled fondant that is used to create brittle sculptures for decorating cakes. It's made from confectioner's sugar, gelatin, Gum Tragacanth (or Gum Tex), liquid glucose, and water. Unlike fondant, gum paste stretches very thin and dries without cracking, which makes it great for creating dramatic, delicate flower petals. It's brittle when hardened, which also makes it useful for decorators, because there is no worry that flowers will melt or bend once they have set.
Caramel is my favorite dessert component, for both its versatility and flavor. I love how it can take so many forms: hard, brittle, chewy, creamy, clear, opaque, liquid, powdered... it boggles my mind to think about all the ways it can be used. And yet, with all these applications, it's quite simplistic. Strip away the addition of other ingredients and caramel is simply burnt sugar and nothing more.
Since first making puree from whole pumpkins, I've never gone back to the canned version. For me the difference in taste alone is worth it; puree from fresh, roasted or steamed pumpkins just tastes and smells more... pumpkin-y. It's a hard quality to describe. I also prefer the texture, which is smoother than canned pumpkin, and the bright color, which is so much more appetizing.
Macarons are so hot right now, it's easy to see why they've captured the attention of sweet fiends and bakers alike. They have a reputation for being fussy, but while they are not the easiest cookie to make, a few with cracked shells still taste just as good as those that emerge from the oven unscarred.
Employing good cake technique and best practices can make the endeavor a whole lot less stressful for the baker. The biggest, most important step that you can take when making a cake comes well before you begin icing or stacking layers. For celebration cakes, there is no step more important than coming up with a plan and a timeline. Come learn the basic steps of layer cakes!
Decorating cakes the way the pros do takes years of dedication and practice, but knowing a few cool tricks can definitely make the difference between a boring cake and a cake that looks elegant and special. With just a basic set of metal piping tips, there are many impressive designs that you can create to jazz up a cake.
Challah is made from a dough that is enriched with eggs and egg yolks, honey, sugar, and vegetable oil. While it is slightly sweet, and falls on the pastry side of the restaurant kitchen, I don't consider it a dessert. Challah plays well with both sides of the sweet or savory spectrum; it's as great for French toast as it is for turkey sandwiches, and it's the perfect bread to accompany special dinners with the people you love.
In pastry school, we learned dozens of techniques for making sugar look like all kinds of things: ribbon, balloons, delicate flowers, and even sponges. I love having these skills in my wheelhouse because it's great to be able to jazz up a simple dessert with a little sugar work for special occasions. Of all the sugar techniques I've learned, making spun sugar is my favorite way to add some drama to desserts.