Tarte Aux Fraises

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My all time favorite classic french dessert made with a buttery, crumbly pâte sucrée then topped with a silky rich vanilla crème pâtissière and delicious strawberries!

Pâte Sucrée (recipe from Hint of Vanilla)
150g unsalted butter, room temperature
112g icing sugar
1g salt
50g eggs whisked (roughly 1 medium egg)
250g all-purpose flour
20g cornstarch

1. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and cream together. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl then add the salt and egg. Mix until combined.
2. In a medium bowl, sift the flour and cornstarch. Slowly add to the butter mixture while paddle is turning until just incorporated.
3. Remove from the mixer, shape into a large flat circle, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight).
4. Take out the disk of dough and let it warm up slightly so it is easier to roll out. Lightly dust a work surface with flour (I like rolling it out on a large sheet of parchment paper for easier transfer). Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 3mm and line your 9″/23cm tart tin, then cut the overhanging dough around the edges (If the dough is too soft to work with, pop it in the fridge to harden). Using a fork, prick the surface of the dough to prevent the surface from rising while baking and refrigerate it again until firm.
5. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Crumple up a piece of parchment paper and then smooth it back out again. Place it in your tart tin and fill it with rice or pie weights. Make sure to press it into the corners of the tart.
6. Blind bake the tart shell for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven, remove the weighed parchment, and bake for another 10 minutes until the pastry is an even golden color. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Crème Pâtissière
250ml milk
25g granulated sugar
25 granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean scraped and pod saved
17g corn starch
20g butter, cubed at room temperature

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk with the scraped vanilla bean seeds and the pod. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the mixture overnight to intensify the vanilla flavor or proceed to the next step.
2. Whisk in half of the granulated sugar in the saucepan and put on a stovetop on medium heat to slowly bring it up to barely a simmer.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and corn starch. When the milk is hot (don’t let it boil), very slowly pour it over the egg mixture while whisking constantly and fast to prevent the yolks from curdling.
4. Working quickly, strain the milk-egg mixture through a fine mesh sieve back into the saucepan and cook on medium heat whisking continuously.
5. Cook the pastry cream for 2 minutes until it thickens then remove from the heat, and add the butter one at a time, whisking until fully incorporated.
6. Transfer the pastry cream to a glass container and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Store in the fridge to cool completely.

Assembly:
Take out the cooled pastry cream and give a quick stir to make it homogeneous and spreadable. Spread it on the pâte sucrée and top it off with thinly sliced strawberries or any summer fruit of your choice!

Rhubarb Financier Tart with Rose Water

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This is what I consider a perfect spring time treat. The combination of the tart rhubarb, hint of rose, and lightly sweetened almond cake got me hooked the first time making this wonderful financier cake last spring. So when I first spotted rhubarb at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago, I immediately bought a pound to bake this again since I never got around posting the recipe last year.

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I absolutely love the bright colors of the rhubarb stalks that add a wonderful gradient of colors on the cake ranging from crimson red, pink, to light green. Serve the tart anytime of the day, as a breakfast treat, afternoon snack, or a light dessert with vanilla whipped cream.

Recipe adapted from Hint of Vanilla

Roasted Rhubarb
450g rhubarb, split lengthwise
20g granulated sugar

Financier Batter
250g unsalted butter
120g almond flour
120g all-purpose flour
280g icing sugar
288g egg whites
2 tsp rose water
Extra sugar for sprinkling before baking
Icing sugar for finishing

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (one for roasting the rhubarb and another for the cake). Spray a 9-inch tart ring with non-stick spray.

Trim the rhubarb ends and cut into strips. Place on one of the baking sheets sprinkle the granulated sugar over. Roast the rhubarb until it is tender, but still has a bite and some structure to it – about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

For the financier, lower the oven temperature to 325°F (165°C).

To start, place the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Let the butter cook until the liquid becomes a light brown color and the milk solids on the bottom of the pan are a dark brown. Remove from the heat and pour the brown butter in a clean bowl to cool slightly. This should yield about 206 g of brown butter. If you have more than that, reserve the excess for other uses.

Meanwhile, sift the almond flour, all-purpose flour, and icing sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the egg whites and rose water, then beat with paddle attachment just until everything is incorporated. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients. Once the brown butter is no longer hot (warm is okay), slowly pour it into the almond and egg white mixture with the mixer on low speed.

Pour the financier batter into the tart ring. Arrange the rhubarb on the financier trimming the ends to fit the tart ring. Sprinkle the vanilla sugar over top the rhubarb. Bake until the batter is golden brown underneath the rhubarb and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few crumbs sticking to it – about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

To finish, dust the tart with sifted icing sugar and serve.

Mini mana’eesh with homemade labneh

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There’s nothing better than a hot manousheh right off the saj, a domed large cast iron griddle. The flatbread dough recipe is a mix of water, flour, yeast, and salt, rolled out and smothered with a za’atar* olive oil paste or shredded white cheese. Sounds very simple right? But it’s not common to make homemade mana’eesh (plural of manousheh) in Lebanon since local bakeries have the best tools and techniques to create a perfect manousheh every single time. It’s also very fresh, cheap, and accessible in Beirut city or the suburbs. It’s available literally everywhere for breakfast, lunch, or at dawn after a long night of partying.

*za’atar is a mix of dried thyme, sumac, roasted sesame seeds, and salt. It’s one of those ingredients that can be used in any meal – sprinkled on eggs, dairy, meats, or roasted vegetables.

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When taken off the saj, the flatbread slightly deflates then it is topped with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and mint leaves and served rolled up in parchment paper. The key characteristics of a great manousheh is a flat bubbly surface, crisp edges, and most importantly a very chewy center with just the right amount of filling.

My favorite way to eat a za’atar manousheh for breakfast is usually with sour labneh and cherry tomatoes. I posted step by step instructions at the bottom of the page explaining how to turn regular yogurt into creamy and tangy labneh. I almost never eat labneh without a good amount of za’atar, olive oil, and fresh hot bread –making it a wonderful accompaniment to manousheh. You can sweep it, mound it, shmear it, or eat it in a spoonful. It’s THAT good.

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I used to eat mana’eesh on a weekly basis back home in Lebanon but it is hard to find a fresh manousheh bakery in NYC, and sometimes all I want are just a couple of bites of that magically chewy dough in the morning with Arabic coffee. So I found an easy and quick way to make mini mana’eesh that hit the spot every time.

A lot of recipes online call for eggs, milk, or butter for the dough. But the truth is you don’t need any of these ingredients to make a traditional manousheh dough. Also, try to avoid all-purpose flour because the secret for a wonderfully chewy bread texture is gluten, lots of it. That’s why a high protein strong bread flour is essential here; it results in a more elastic and dense dough.

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Manousheh – Recipe adapted from Mediterranean Cookbook, makes about 44, 2.5″ mana’eesh
7g instant dried yeast (¼ ounce package, about 2¼ tsp)
½ tsp sugar
15ml lukewarm water
450g (1lb) strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
½ tsp salt
300ml lukewarm water
6 tbsp za’atar
4½ tbsp olive oil (or just enough to turn za’atar into a paste)

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 20ml lukewarm water (85°F to 95°F). Leave to cream for 10 minutes.

2. Sift the bread flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the creamed yeast. Gradually add 300ml lukewarm water and draw the flour in from the sides to form a dough.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic (alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook) then shape into a ball. Pour a drop of olive oil into the base of a bowl, spread around with fingers, then roll the dough in the oil to coat it all around. Cover with a damp cloth or cling film and place in a warm place for one hour until it has doubled in size.

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) for at least 30 minutes before starting to bake. In a small bowl, pour olive oil over the za’atar until it turns into a paste. You don’t want the mix to be too oily. Knock back the dough and knead it lightly, then divide it into 44 parts (approximately 15g each) using a bench scraper or sharp knife. Space out the equal parts of dough and cover with a damp cloth to prevent forming a crust.

5. Take a small piece of dough, shape lightly into a ball and roll it out into a 2.5″ inch circle using a rolling pin. Smear about 1/2 tsp of the za’atar paste on top and, using two fingers, create a small indent in the middle. Lightly dab the edges with olive oil to give it a golden color and place on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue working with the rest of the dough to fit as many as possible on a single sheet. Bake in batches, one sheet at a time to prevent the prepared mana’eesh from rising.

6. Bake for 10 minutes, until barely golden. Do not overbake the mana’eesh or they will turn out very tough and crispy and instead of soft and chewy (I usually like to test the baking time for one manousheh before proceeding with the rest). While the first batch is the oven, start shaping the rest of the dough balls into mana’eesh and place on a second parchment lined baking sheet. Proceed with baking until you’re all done.

7. Mana’eesh can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, or frozen for up to 2 months. Simply heat them up for a few minutes before serving.


Homemade Labneh
32 ounces of organic plain yogurt (I like Seven Stars Farm)
generous pinch of salt
tsp fresh lemon juice

Directions:
1. Line a mesh strainer with 3 to 4 layers of cheesecloth and set over a deep bowl.

2. Add the salt and lemon juice to the yogurt and stir. Pour the yogurt mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and gather the edges of the cheesecloth together to tie with a string or elastic band.

3. Place the bowl as it is in the fridge. Alternatively, you can place a long piece of wood or 2 sturdy chopsticks across the top part of the bowl and tie the cheesecloth in the middle to let it hang without touching the bottom.

4. Strain for 8 to 12 hours for a smooth and soft labneh consistency or 24-48 for a thick and firm consistency (I prefer the latter, but it’s really up to you!).

5. Take out the labneh from the fridge and transfer to a glass container. Store in the fridge for up to a week.

 

Mango Sorbet

Mango Sorbet | Brownie Box Blog
What I usually do when my fridge is abundant with ripe mangoes (which is rarely the case) is whip up this fast and easy fruit sorbet. You see, a close family friend recently sent me a big box of fresh mangoes that he grows in his own back garden in Florida (is it just me or is anyone else extremely jealous here?!). Naturally my first instinct is to create a very simple dessert that enhances the wonderful and refreshing taste of mangoes.

Mango Sorbet | Brownie Box Blog
Sorbets are a combination of fresh fruit juice and sugar syrup. The latter sweetens the fruit juice and affects the sorbet’s texture– you don’t want it too icy or slushy but creamy and smooth instead. To reach that consistency, the ratio of fruit to syrup has to be just right; I read a great tip on The Kitchn that involves floating a large egg – yes and egg! – in the sorbet mixture before churning it in the ice cream maker. If the egg sinks below the surface then you need to add more sugar and if the egg is completely afloat, then you need to desaturate the mixture with either fruit juice or water. The sugar levels are balanced when you see a 1 inch (2.5 cm) size of an egg shell on the surface. Obviously this method might not work on all fruit sorbets since some fruit juices can be too thick, but it’s a good tip to keep in mind.

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I want to point out that every fruit is different and every sorbet mixture needs more or less sugar (less sugar for very sweet pineapples, for instance). Also, thicker fruit juices might need to be diluted with water to get a silkier structure. It’s all about understanding the science and process of creating sorbets from scratch (here’s another great read!).

Did you ever try making homemade sorbet? I’d love to hear about your trial and errors!

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Ingredients
5 cups of sliced/diced mangoes (about 4 small/medium mangoes)
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Freeze ice cream maker at least 24 hours before making the sorbet.
  2. Dice the mangoes into bite-sized pieces ∼ around 5 cups.
  3. Make the simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, and stir a few times until the sugar is completely dissolved in the water (2-4 minutes). Remove from heat and cool.
  4. Combine the mangoes and ¼ cup of the simple syrup in a blender or food processor and blend until the fruit is liquified.
  5. Strain the mix if the mangoes are too fibrous to remove any solids (you can use a cheese cloth or towel paper). Gently stir with a spoon as you strain.
  6. Test the sugar levels with the egg-float test that I described earlier and make the necessary adjustments. If the egg completely sinks then add more sugar syrup, and if the mixture is too thick then add more water.
  7. Stir the lemon juice.
  8. Cover the sorbet base and refrigerate until very cold, at least 1 hour or overnight preferably.
  9. Pour the chilled base into the ice cream maker and churn to get a consistency of a thick smoothie (15-20 minutes).
  10. Transfer the sorbet to a freezable container and cover. Freeze for at least 4 hours, until the sorbet has hardened. Can be stored up to a month.
  11. Let the sorbet soften for 10-15 minutes in room temperature before serving.

Mango Tart

Mango Tart
The first signs of spring are finally here! It’s been a very long and cold winter in New York City, and nothing makes me happier than the thought of warmer days ahead. Lately I’ve been craving (and day dreaming) of fruit based sweets and pastries – blueberry galettes, pomegranate pavlovas, raspberry ricotta mille-feuille, plum crumble cakes, and blackberry mascarpone cheesecake popsicles! – Ouf my baking list keeps getting longer and longer!

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My absolute favorite is this fabulous mango tart recipe, which I developed from different classic family recipes. I adapted both recipes of the buttery crumbly crust and sweet vanilla cream from my mother’s family book of desserts, and combined them together with the mango slices to create a delicious tart that really makes an elegant statement.

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Also, the timing of making this dessert couldn’t be more perfect since not only is today the first day of spring and mother’s day, but my mom is also visiting me from Lebanon! I’m just so excited because I really look forward to bake and cook with her, she is my biggest inspiration.

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The result – as you can see – was spectacular. It’s true that it takes more time to cut the mango into super thin slices and rearrange them precisely on the round tart, but the result is beyond worth it!

Crust
Ingredients:
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
250 g (2.5 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
2 tablespoons icing powdered sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
¾ teaspoon baking powder

Directions:
1. Mix the egg yolks and vanilla in a small bowl.
2. In another bowl mix the butter, icing sugar, flour, and baking powder until combined.
3. Add the egg yolks to the dry ingredients and mix by hand until it all comes together and shape into a disk.
4. Refrigerate the dough for 30 min.
5. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180ºC (355ºF)
5. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 29 cm (11.5″) circle then transfer to a tart pan with the same dimensions. Press down the dough with the palm of your hand to level it (the crust will be thick).
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes in the oven until golden and the edges are lightly brown.
7. Let cool on wire rack.

Vanilla Cream
Ingredients:
4 cups whole or skimmed milk
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
1 vanilla pod

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl, mix the milk, flour, and lemon zest. Stand for 10 minutes.
2. In another bowl, mix the eggs and sugar with a hand mixer until pale and double in volume.
3. Strain the milk mixture into a saucepan to get rid of any clump. Add the egg mixture.
4. Using the point of a knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and place it in the saucepan along with the pod.

6. Place the saucepan on low heat and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thickened and coats the back of the spoon.
7. Take off the heat and let cool until room temperature then place in the fridge until cold.

Assembly
1. Peel two medium mangoes and slice the mango halves off the pit, then into 1/8-inch-thick slices.
2. Spread vanilla cream over pastry crust and smooth with a spatula.
3. Start placing the thin mango slices on the outer edge of the tart and work your way in, slightly overlapping the rows.

Strawberries and Cream Sponge Cake

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My sister turned 25 this past weekend and she came all the way from Switzerland to celebrate her birthday with friends and family. And what was I supposed to do the day before her birthday? Oh yes. Bake my first layered cake. Did you think that I was going to let my mother buy a cake from a patisserie?

I always bake vanilla or chocolate cakes for birthdays, so I decided to try something completely new. I found this gorgeous Strawberry Shortcake recipe at The Candid Appetite. I must admit, I really enjoyed looking (gawking) at the step-by-step pictures. They were really helpful in understanding the process of whipping up the cake batter, baking it into two separate pans, making the syrup, then perfectly assembling the cake with whipped cream and strawberries. I read the whole post twice and I thought– hey this is easy, the cake will be done in no time! Well it was not that drama free. It took me about 4 hours to finish everything, but then again it is my first time baking a layered cake that I’ve never tested before– for a birthday party. I only had this one chance to make it perfect. You see, I don’t have all the equipments: just one mixing bowl, and one 23 cm (9 inch) cake pan. So I had to clean the mixing bowl about 3 times and bake the cake batter in two separate batches…  It’s definitely easier to have all the baking equipments and your ingredients ready before starting.

The sponge cakes required beating the egg whites until stiff peaks form then folding them into a sugar/egg yolk mixture. I’m so happy that they came out beautifully on my first try! Next, I had to evenly brush the Rum Syrup on the baked cakes. It might seem like a lot of syrup at first, but it really gives the cake a great flavor, so don’t skip this step! For the whipped cream, I put my metal whisk in the freezer for 15 minutes to make sure that the cold cream will whip up perfectly. Then I swathed the sponge cakes with dollops of whipped cream and slices of deep red strawberries. I finished it all off with more strawberries at the top (you can also add sliced almonds on the sides of the cake). Yum. It’s a really light and slightly sweet cake, perfect for the spring season!

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No birthday should pass without a fine bottle of champagne (Not bad huh?).
I thought it would be nice to share with you all a few pictures of the cake.

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Ingredients: (adapted from The Candid Appetite)

Sponge Cakes (yields two 23 cm-9 inch cakes)

  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 1 cup (200 gr) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) water, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (140 gr) cake flour, sifted (I used a substitute here)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • About 4 cups (600 gr) of fresh strawberries, rinsed and sliced (reserve 8 whole berries for the top)
  • 2 cups (90 gr) sliced almonds for decoration (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven at 160 degrees Celsius (325 F)
  2. Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls.
  3. Start by beating the egg yolks until very thick and lemon colored.
  4. Beat in sugar gradually.
  5. Add water and vanilla extract.
  6. Mix in the sifted cake flour/ or its substitute (above)
  7. In another bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Then add salt. Beat mixture until whites form stiff peaks.
  8. Fold the whipped egg whites mixture into yolk mixture, carefully, so as to not deflate the egg whites. Do not over-mix.
  9. Pour the batter into two 23 cm / 9 inch pans lined with parchment paper.
  10. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  11. Allow the cakes to cool on a cooling rack, then invert the cakes.
  12. Place one of the layers on a serving plate or stand. Brush on the Rum Syrup (recipe follows) evenly and heavily onto the first layer. Dollop with a spoonful of the whipped cream (recipe follows) and spread evenly over the cake layer. Arrange the strawberry slices over the cream. Top with another spoonful of cream and spread once again.
  13. Top with the second layer of sponge cake, and brush with more of the Rum Syrup. Place a large dollop of the whipped cream. Spread out evenly over the top. Using an offset spatula cover the cake completely with the whipped cream. Smooth it out, removing any excess cream.
  14. Cover the sides of the cake with the sliced almonds. Arrange reserved strawberries at top of cake. Store in the fridge.

Rum Syrup (yields 1 cup)

  • 1 cup water (250 ml)
  • 1 cup sugar (200 gr)
  • 1/4 cup rum (60 ml)
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and the water over medium-high heat.
  2. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture reaches a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 5 minutes more.
  4. Remove pan from heat, and stir in rum.
  5. Let cool to room temperature. Once it has cooled completely, the syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Whipped Cream (yields 3 cups)

  • 3 cups (750 ml) very cold heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (80 gr) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a large mixing bowl, pour the heavy cream and mix on low-medium speed for several minutes.
  2. Once the cream has frothed and slightly thickened, add the sugar and vanilla.
  3. Continue to whip on medium-high until soft peaks form. Don’t over mix or the cream will turn buttery.