December 15, 2014

Rainy-Day Rustic Apple Tart {Easy Recipe!}

Whenever the word "rustic" appears in a recipe, you can translate to "really easy to make" and "don't worry about how it looks." This tart is a perfect example. The actual prep time is only about 20 minutes, and the presentation is very simple. 

This recipe is great for a rainy day or anytime you feel like quickly whipping up a simple treat. The tart is delicious served with vanilla ice cream or crème fraîcheGive it a try!!

1 cup of flour
1 stick of butter (room temperature)
2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of cold water
2 - 3 Granny Smith Apples (peeled, cored and sliced)

Make the pastry crust: Combine flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut the softened butter up into small pieces. Use your hands to blend the butter into the flour mixture. Mix in the water.

Continue blending until the flour-butter mixture has the consistency of pebbly sand. Then use the palm of your hands to work the dough, until it can be easily formed into a ball. 

Place the ball of dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least one hour. You can prepare the dough one to two days in advance.

On a clean floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch (0.5 centimeter) thick. You can make the tart crust any size in diameter, depending if you want mini tartlets or a large tart.

Use a bowl to trace the circular outline of the dough. Then cut off the excess dough.

Arrange the apple slices on the tart dough. Sprinkle with little bits of butter and brown sugar. It will all melt together during baking.

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Remove from oven when the tart dough is golden brown. 

Serve warm and enjoy!

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.

November 5, 2014

Dreamy Cream Puffs {Review of Choux Bakery}

Choux Cream Puffs at 248 Fillmore Street

The Lower Haight just became more hallucinogenic, thanks to a fancy little boutique selling a rainbow assortment of colorful French cream puffs. Choux Bakery is just what the neighborhood needed to edge forward from hippie to shi-shi. It's a taste of Parisian chic!

Opened this October, Choux Bakery is the creation of Laura Athuil, who recently relocated from Paris. Athuil trained at the prestigious Ecole Lenôtre and Atelier Alain Ducasse—two of the most renowned culinary programs in France.

Choux specializes in cream puffs made with a traditional soft, flaky dough and filled with silky custard in different flavors. The bakery uses high-quality authentic ingredients. Some of the key ingredients are special items imported from Europe that are favored by French chefs. There are 12 varieties: chocolate, vanilla, coffee, pistachio, rum, hazelnut, chocolate coconut, salted caramel, lemon, and seasonal flavors such as pumpkin. 

Laura's flair for design (she has a degree in Architecture and Design) is evident in the exquisite decor. The attention to detail in the frostings reflects the quality of the ingredients and adds a touch of refinement. Choux cream puffs are definitely worthy of a special occasion—a birthday celebration, baby shower, afternoon tea or dinner party. 

Choux cream puffs are a magical treat! C'est magnifique!

Delicious Cream Puffs with Beautiful Decor

Choux Bakery
248 Fillmore Street at Haight, SF, CA 94117
Monday to Friday 11:30am - 7:30pm
Sunday: 10:30am - 7:30pm
Closed on Saturdays.

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.

September 23, 2014

September Strawberry Shortcake! {Recipe by Ina Garten}

Farmer's Market Strawberries inspired me to search for a good strawberry dessert recipe. I like this one from Ina Garten (the "Barefoot Contessa") because it's simple and delicious. For a touch of garnish, I added some fresh basil, a trend that's now popular in France.

Strawberry Shortcake Recipe by Ina Garten

*2 cups all-purpose flour
*2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
*1 tablespoon baking powder
*1 teaspoon kosher salt
*12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
*2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
*1/2 cup cold heavy cream
*1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash
*2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and thickly sliced
*2 tablespoons Grand Marnier liqueur
*Whipped cream (sweetened with a little sugar)
*Fresh basil or mint (for garnish)

1.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2.) Sift the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder, and salt into the bowl
3.) Use an electric mixer with paddle attachment or mix by hand.
4.) Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. 
5.) Combine the eggs and heavy cream and then add to the flour mixture. 
6.) Mix until just combined. The dough will be sticky and lumpy.
7.) Place the dough on a well-floured surface. 
8.) Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough 1/2 to 5/8 inch thick. 
9.) Shape about 12 to 15 biscuits and place on the sheet pan
10.) Brush the tops of the biscuits with the egg wash, and sprinkle with sugar.
11.) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes.
12.) Toss the strawberries with 1/3 cup of sugar and the Grand Marnier in a medium bowl. 
13.) Serve a spoonfuls of strawberries over a shortcake.
14.) Top with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with basil or mint leaves.

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.

September 3, 2014

How to Make Caramel

Caramel is one of the great secrets of a pastry chef. It requires only two ingredients (sugar and water) and one technique (burning the sugar). "Caramel" sounds so much more appetizing than "burnt sugar," although the French are very honest about "crème brûlée" which means "burnt cream." 

Because of the special molecular properties of sugar, once it reaches a certain temperature the structure begins to change. The sugar changes color as it is burning and it becomes solid when cooled, like candy. 

Here's how to make caramel for use in other recipes:

1. Combine sugar and water. Place on the high heat.

2. Allow to boil for a few minutes.

3. You will notice that the bubble becomes more tightly packed.

4. Then the sugar will start changing color slightly.

5. At around 300° Fahrenheit, the sugar turns to caramel. Notice the change in color. Swirl the pan gently. Do not stir the caramel. 

6. The longer the sugar is heated, the more caramelized (burnt) it will become. For a traditional Tarte "Tatin" or other "Tatin" recipe, you will want to stop cooking the caramel around 350°- 360° Fahrenheit before the caramel becomes too burnt, as it will continue to caramelize during baking. Swirl the pan to even out the caramel color. Do not stir!
Ideal caramelization for a Tatin recipe.

7. When making caramel sauce, you can caramelize the sugar longer until it turns a darker color. Then add butter or cream. Be careful when adding the butter/cream to avoid splashing the caramel (to avoid burning yourself).

Keep in mind that the sugar continues to cook for a few minutes after you've removed the pan from the heat. 

Note of Caution: Do not stir the caramel! Stirring or splashing the caramel is dangerous because the caramel is so hot.

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.

August 28, 2014

Farmer's Market Late-Summer Plum "Tatin" Cake

{Recipe from "Barefoot in Paris" by Ina Garten}

If you like seasonal fruit desserts, here's the perfect recipe. The farmer's market in my neighborhood now has wonderful late summer plums. They're selling for $7 per basket of about 15 plums. It's a great deal and just the right inspiration for baking!

Farmer's Market Plums

"Plum Cake Tatin" Recipe
Recipe from "Barefoot in Paris" by Ina Garten
I love this recipe from Ina Garten (a.k.a. "the Barefoot Contessa") and highly encourage you to give it a try! Be sure to enjoy your Plum Tatin Cake with a dollop of crème fraîche. The cake is delicious served warm and also keeps well for several days.


6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter (room temperature) plus extra for greasing dish
10 to 12 purple "prune" plums, cut in half and pitted (or 6 to 7 regular plums)
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt


1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9-inch glass pie dish and arrange the plums in the dish, cut side down.

2.) Combine 1 cup of the granulated sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it turns a warm amber color, about 360 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Swirl the pan but don't stir. See how to make the caramel. 

3.) Pour the caramel evenly over the plums.

4.) Cream the 6 tablespoons of butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. 

5.) Lower the speed and beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the sour cream, zest, and vanilla and mix until combined. 

6.) Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and, with the mixer on low speed, add it to the butter mixture. Mix only until combined.

7.) Pour the cake batter evenly over the plums and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. 

Important Note: Be sure to put a rimmed cookie sheet under your pan to catch the overflowing caramel sauce. This will save your oven from needing a cleaning.

8.) Cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a serving plate. (If a plum sticks, ease it out and put it back on top of the cake.) Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.