Category Archives: Sweets

Bonus Post! Our House in Gingerbread

Raw gingerbread, ready for the oven.The last two posts have included the two most important recipes for making gingerbread houses: gingerbread and royal icing.

This season is only the second time I’ve made a gingerbread house, the first being in 2010 when Lisa and I made a gingerbread church with stained glass windows.  Thanks to the nimble index fingers of Pinterest, that has become one of the most popular posts on this site.

This year I made another house in the same style, only instead of a church, I modeled the building after the one that Lisa and I live in, in McKernan.

The structure is made from these gingerbread cookies, which are bound with this royal icing.

The shingles are sliced … Continue reading.

Royal Icing

Royal icing used to mimic snow on a gingerbread houseRoyal icing can be used in several ways, but it is most notable as the mortar that holds gingerbread houses together.  It is decorative.  It’s certainly not unsafe to eat, but it is almost entirely sugar, and it sets very hard and brittle.  The CIA Baking and Pastry book says it best: “not intended to be consumed, at least not in any measurable quantities.”

In fact besides sugar royal icing has only one other major ingredient: egg whites.  It might also have cream of tartar or lemon juice, which strengthen the protein matrix created by beating the egg whites.

To make royal icing you add a small quantity of egg whites, say 3 oz, to a mixing bowl, then start … Continue reading.

Gingerbread Cookies

gingerbread_dough.JPGThere are several kinds of gingerbread cookies, from the soft, chewy type with large cracks in the surface, to the very smooth, brittle sort used to build houses and men.  This post is about the latter.

Below is a very simple gingerbread recipe that I wanted to post on Button Soup for the sake of completeness, as I use it to build my gingerbread houses.  I like to cut the excess dough into other traditional shapes, like men, Christmas trees, and dinosaurs.

Tips and Tricks

  • The key to getting this dough to hold its shape during baking is to roll it quite thin, about 1/8″, and to chill it thoroughly before baking.
  • This is one of the very few instances
Continue reading.

Éclairs

Another example of how to use the custards I’ve been talking about.

Come to think of it, most of the posts this advent have been short, simple introductions to basic pastry preparations: whipped cream, for instance, and ganache.  Now we can start combining some of those building blocks to make more elaborate preparations.

Take éclairs.  Éclairs are long choux pastries filled with whipped cream or pastry cream, glazed with chocolate.

We discussed choux pastry here, whipped cream here, pastry cream in this post, and ganache in this one.  Several birds, one stone.

I ate my fair share of éclairs growing up.  My dad often brought them home on Saturday mornings from the doughnut shop in the … Continue reading.

Burnt Cream – Crème Brûlée

Busting into a crème brûléeWhile crème brûlée is immediately identifiable by the crust of burnt sugar on top, the custard itself has a very particular consistency and flavour.  Since it is eaten out of a ramekin, it can have a much softer, moister curd that, say, crème caramel, which is unmolded on to a plate and is therefore firmer, and eggier.

In fact crème brûlée used to be even more moist than it is now.  According to Harold McGee, crème brûlée used to be completely liquid, like crème anglaise, and was poured into a very shallow dish, dusted with sugar, and burnt. Before blowtorches became the norm the burnt crust was made by taking a heavy, metal plate out of some very … Continue reading.

Pastry Cream – Crème Pâtissière

A bowl of pastry creamTo make custard sauce we carefully cooked a mixture of dairy, sugar, and egg yolks over a double boiler so that the yolks thickened but didn’t curdle, which only occurs within a very narrow band of temperatures around 80°C.  It was nerve-racking.

It turns out that if you add starch to the mix, the eggs will never curdle, even if you boil the custard vigorously.  The starch granules absorb heat, protecting the egg proteins, and the dissolved starch interferes with protein linking.  Of course, the starch also thickens the custard, so you end up with something that is more like pudding than sauce.

This preparation is called pastry cream, or crème pâtissière, and it begins exactly as crème anglaiseContinue reading.

Custard Sauce – Crème Anglaise

Some swirls of custard sauceThe French name for this custard sauce is crème anglaise, which means “English cream.”  À l’anglaise is a descriptor given to many preparations in classic French cuisine.  It is in fact mildly derogatory, as it always describes the most basic of preparations.  For instance, vegetables prepared à l’anglaise are boiled, then served with butter and parsley.  Meat dishes prepared a l’angaise are also always boiled.  And crème anglaise is the most basic of dessert sauces, a pourable custard flavoured with vanilla.

So yes: this sauce is considered very ordinary within the context of classic cuisine.  It is not usually a featured component, but an accompaniment, an afterthought.

After initial preparation, crème anglaise can go on to become a number … Continue reading.

Custard

Egg yolks for making custardCustard is broadly defined as a cooked mixture of liquid and egg.  The liquid dilutes the egg protein, so when the mixture is cooked and the protein coagulates it forms a very delicate network that gives the custard structure.  In western cooking the liquid is almost always milk and cream, though stock can also be used.  In classical French cooking a royale is a custard made from stock and egg that is cut into geometric shapes and floated in consommé.

Most custards are comprised of roughly 4 parts dairy and 1 part egg.  The inclusion of egg whites makes for glossier, firmer custards, while using only yolks creates softer, creamier versions.

What’s remarkable about custard is the variety of consistencies … Continue reading.

Chocolate Truffles

Homemade chocolate trufflesChocolate truffles are bite-sized balls of ganache, usually rolled in cocoa or nuts, or coated in a thin layer of hard chocolate.

Though most think of truffles as a luxury item sold in boutique chocolaterie, they can actually be made at home without fuss or artistry.  All you need is good dark chocolate, heavy cream, and some garnishes of your choosing.

First, make the medium ganache described in this post.  Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until firm.

Use a measuring scoop to portion the ganache into bite-sized pieces.

Roll the pieces between your palms into uniform balls.  I use nitrile gloves for this.  Besides forming the round shape of the final truffle, this process also melts … Continue reading.

Ganache

Scooping ganacheGanache has two ingredients: chocolate and cream.  They are combined in a way that transforms the hard, brittle chocolate into a soft, perfectly smooth, workable substance.

Types: Soft, Medium, and Hard.  I most commonly make medium ganache, which is one part chocolate and one part cream by weight.  It is firm but workable at fridge temperatures, and very soft but not fluid at room temperature.

Hard ganache is two parts chocolate to one part cream.  It is much firmer than medium ganache and holds it’s shape well.  It is, however, less stable: the concentrated solids in the chocolate slowly absorb moisture from the cream, then swell, clump, and make the ganache grainy.  Hard ganache is often used as a … Continue reading.