>Individual Chocolate-Fudge Cakes with Saffron-Scented Oranges

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Unfortunately the picture doesn’t show just how petite and adorable this little tartelette dish is; upon reflection I probably should have put a spoon next to it for comparison.  It’s about 2 inches in diameter, making it the perfect size if you want a chocolate dessert (with a spectacular orange kick) but don’t want to make a whole tart or pie. 
Earlier in the day before making these tartelettes, I had ventured over to an amazing spice store in the Marais area of Paris called Goumanyat.  It’s truly a remarkable place, by far one of the most comprehensive spice stores I’ve ever been to, with racks and racks of all imaginable variations of spices, herbs, blends, and sauces.  I limited myself to what I felt was most necessary, an extremely difficult task, and returned home with ground coriander, a beautiful herbes de provence blend, and a package of saffron threads imported from Iran.

The blend of oranges and saffron is fascinating to me, because of its vibrant color, unique fragrance, and earthy yet potent flavor.  The recipe makes enough batter for two tartelettes, and you can store them in the fridge, cooked, for up to a week.  If you don’t have a tartelette dish, a ramekin will work just as well. 
Individual Chocolate-Fudge Cakes with Saffron-Scented Oranges – makes 2 individual-sized pies
Note: The saffron oranges taste wonderful on their own or on top of ice cream, panna cotta, or yogurt – feel free to experiment.
for the saffron oranges:
1 knob of butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 orange, peeled, divided into segments, with segment skins removed
1-2 saffron threads, diluted in 1 tbsp warm water (dilute for about 15 minutes)
for the fudge:
1 1/2 tbsp whole milk
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (about 65% chocolate)
1/2 of an egg
3 tbsp sugar
pinch salt
1/8-tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
To prepare the oranges:
1.  Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Once starting to bubble, add orange segments, sugar, and saffron water. 
2.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid has thickened into a syrup, about 12 minutes.
To make the fudge and tarts:
3.  Bring milk to a boil in a small saucepan.
4.  Add the chocolate to a small bowl; when the milk has begun to boil, pour it over the chocolate and stir gently to combine.
5.  Whisk the egg vigorously to combine; pour half of the egg in with the chocolate and mlik, along with the sugar, salt, and vanilla, whisking gently until combined. Discard the remaining half of the egg.
6.  Divide batter between two tartelette pans or two ramekins so the batter reaches just below the top edge; gently drop 3 or 4 teaspoon-fulls of the orange segments into the batter;  reserve any remaining orange sauce.
7.  Bake tartelettes until center is just set, about 10-12 minutes.
8.  Let cool slightly; serve with additional orange sauce.

>Chestnut Cookie with Buttered Apples

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I like this cookie because although it posesses a sophisticated air, what with golden, glistening apples nestled cozily on a tender cookie, it’s very straightforward to put together: flatten out some Chestnut Purée and lay on some sweet and buttery apple wedges that have been cooked in a skillet.  I had the idea for the apples because there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about chestnuts that causes them to go so beautifully with apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg; when I eat the chestnut puree I feel like I’m eating the beginning stage of an oatmeal cookie or tarte tatin.  If this doesn’t make sense, try it and then you’ll see what I mean.
I think this would go wonderfully with some fresh or canned whipped cream.  Next time I make these, I’m going to whip some cream with a pinch of cinnamon and allspice to add some extra punch.
Chestnut Cookies with Buttered Apples - makes 4 cookies
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 8-10 wedges
1/3-cup sugar
3 tbsp butter
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1.  In a small skillet, melt the butter.  Once melted, add the sugar and stir until just starting to combine.  At this point lay the apples in the skillet so they are wedged close together but aren’t overlapping. 

2.  Cook the apples over medium heat until the syrup is dark brown and very thick, about 40 minutes, turning the apple wedges once halfway through cooking.
3.  Meanwhile, divide the chestnut puree into four balls, and flatten them out to form cookies of about 2-inch diameter.  Spread cookies out on a lined and greased baking dish; once apples are ready, arrange them on top of the cookies so that they slightly overlap (see top photo). If there is any syrup remaining in the skillet, pour it evenly over the apples.
4.  Bake until apples have turned golden brown and slightly crsip, about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and do not remove from baking sheet until cookies have cooled completely and have become more firm, about 30-40 minutes.

>Moelleux au Chocolat (Molten Chocolate Cake)

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Ingredients: Chocolate, Butter, Eggs, Sugar, Flour
I knew it was over the first time I took a bite of a molten chocolate cake.  I was somewhere in Paris, unfortunately I can’t remember exactly where, but as soon as I got a spoonful on my tongue it was decided: this is the best dessert I’ve ever eaten, and it might just be the best dessert in the world.
It’s not a very difficult concept to grasp:  cook the liquid mixture made up of sugar, chocolate, butter, flour, and eggs, until the outside is firm and the inside is still liquidy.  However simple this chemical process may be, I don’t think I will ever get over the fascination of breaking the top of a moelleux au chocolat, and finding melted, oozing, delicious chocolate goo in the middle.  It’s just heavenly, and relatively straightforward to make.
However, I had a slight setback.  I brought my electric mixer over from the states, only to discover that if one uses an american mixer in Europe, the speed increases about ten-fold.  Needless to say, my darling mixer couldn’t handle this pressure, and it broke down, never to be heard from again.  In order to get the cake to rise (like a soufflé), the eggs need to be whipped, so that the air pockets inside them can expand in the oven.  Long story short, I had to whip the eggs by hand – it is totally doable, but you may get a severe hand cramp afterward.  If you have an electric mixer, I advise using it. 
Molten Chocolate Cake - serves 1

Moelleux au chocolat can be made up to 1 day in advance: prepare the recipe through step 3, and cover batter with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.  When ready to eat, bring to room temperature before proceeding with the remaining steps. 

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate (25g) - try to find 65% chocolate
1 tablespoon (20 g) butter
1/2 of an egg (I’ll tell you how to easily divide it in the recipe)
1 tablespoon  (20 g) sugar
1 teaspoon (4g) flour
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1.  Bring a small saucepean of water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl (and one that is bigger than the rim of the saucepan), and place over the saucepan.  Gently stir until the butter and chocolate are combined.  Remove from heat.
4.  In a small bowl, beat the egg with a fork until the yolk and white are fully combined.  Pour half of the mixture into another bowl.
3.  Add the sugar to one of the eggs bowls – discard the egg in the other bowl. Beat until a light, canary-yellow color has formed, and the mixture has tiny bubbles on the surface. (If using an electric hand-held mixer, this should take about 3-4 minutes on medium speed).

3.  Add the flour to the eggs and gently stir to combine.  Pour in the chocolate mixture and gently fold into the eggs and flour, until just combined.
4.  Butter a 6-oz. ramekin, using an upward vertical motion when greasing, to help the soufflé rise.  Pour in the mixture, and bake in the oven until the outside is firm and the center is still wobbly, about 12 minutes.
5.  Dig in!  This can be served with a dollop of whipped cream, creme fraiche, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

>Pumpkin Pie

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This pie is really good.  Lick-the-bowl-clean, make-sure-you-have-room-for-seconds good.  Thanksgiving came early for us this year, since I can’t make it home for the real deal at the end of the month.  And although we were stuffed just like our dear old turkey, we all managed to make some room for this pie, which had been tempting us with its deep orange hue and buttery, spicy aroma throughout our meal. 

And this opened up to some rave reviews – oohs and aahs from its eaters, and a general fascination by the sweet, tangy, and spicy combination of flavors.  The recipe I provide here shows you how to make your own crust, but of course you can buy a frozen 9-inch pie crust and I’m sure this pie would still taste great; it’s the filling that’s the winner.

Spiced Pumpkin Pie – serves 6-8

For the crust:
1 3/4 cup flour
1 stick of butter, cut up into smaller pieces
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
room-temperature water

For the filling:
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
12 oz canned pumpkin
1 tablespoon molasses
3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream

1.  To prepare the crust, spread the flour on a work surface and create a well in the center.  Place the salt and butter pieces in the well. 

1. Using a pinching motion, press the butter into the flour, until a mealy combination has formed and the butter is mixed into the flour.
2.  Create another well in the center, and place the egg yolk inside.  Again using a pinching motion, mix the yolk into the flour and butter.
3.  Pour the water over the mixture in small doses, until a ball can be easily formed (you’ll probably need around 1/2-cup of water).
4.  Knead the dough several times, and form it into a ball.  Place in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least two hours.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
5.  To prepare the filling, whisk the sugars and spices together in a medium bowl.  Add the pumpkin, molasses, eggs and the cream, and whisk thoroughly until combined.
6.  Remove the crust from the fridge and roll it out to cover a 9-inch pie pan.  Cut three or four x’s into the bottom of the crust, and remove any overhanging parts of the crust.
7.  Pour the filling inside the pan, and bake for about ten minutes.  Reduce the heat to 325 degrees, and continue to bake until filling is firm, about 45 minutes.

Voila! Tarte de potiron, delicieuse!!

>Rich Chocolate Cake w/ Pomegranate-Chocolate Glaze

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If you love chocolate, you will go crazy for this cake.  Possessed by a strong bout of generosity, I decided to cook a meal for the ten classmates in my master’s program (thankfully, my school agreed to cover the cost of food).  I made this tart and a pumpkin pie for dessert, but this was the clear winner - with a few slices leftover for the next day, there was a bit of a race to see who could get to them first – they were gone by 9 am. 
Next time I’ll make at least two tarts, maybe even 3.
In any case, this is a rich, delicious and decadent dessert, which is quick and easy to put together.  I hope you like it as much as I and my classmates did – I have little doubt that you’ll be happy with it!
Chocolate Layer Tart w/ Gingerbread Crust – serves 8-10
For the crust:
1 cup finely ground graham crackers or sweet, cinnamon-flavored crackers (you can grind them in a food processor or with a potato masher)
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
For the filling:
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (65% chocolate is best), roughly chopped
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the glaze:
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 3/4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (again, 65% chocolate is best), roughly chopped
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon warm water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. To make the crust, stir all the ingredients together and press evenly onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch fluted tart pan.  Bake until firm, about 10-12 minutes. Cool completely before pouring in the filling.
2.  To make the filling, bring the cream to a boil, and pour over the chopped chocolate in a heat-proof bowl.  Stir gently, until cream and chocolate are thoroughly combined.  Whisk the eggs, vanilla, and salt in another bowl, and stir into the chocolate-cream mixture.
3.  Pour the filling into the crust, and bake until filling is set about 3 inches in from the edge of the pan, but the center is still wobbly (the tart will continue to set while it is cooling), about 20-25 minutes. Cool completely on a rack, about 1 hour.
4.  To make the glaze, bring the cream to a boil, and pour over chopped chocolate in a bowl.  Stir until combined, add the pomegranate molasses and warm water, and mix together.  Pour glaze over the tart, and twirl the pan gently to spread the glaze evenly.
Let the glaze set for about one hour, and then delight in a beautiful chocolate cake!! You may want a large glass of milk, dessert wine, or water while enjoying this.
Merci, à bientôt!

>Tarte Tatin

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Ahh, the beautiful tarte tatin. Not only is the presentation stunning, with a perfectly caramelized glaze, but the taste is equally unbeatable, a perfect combination of sweet, silky, and crisp. I decided that I’m going to go for it, and I’m going to write my master’s thesis on gastronomy and all the beautiful things that entails. So, I knew that in order to win my professor’s hearts and convince them that I am qualified to write a thesis on food, I had to make them a tarte tatin.

Ainsi commencait mon bel trajet avec la tarte tatin. And although the end result came out beautifully (if I may say so myself), I would be lying if I said that there weren’t some trying moments. Immedieatly after I took it out of my tiny oven, I panicked – I just had a feeling, this tarte tatin was going to fall apart if inverted it – to finalize the tarte, you have to flip it over after you take it out of the oven, so that the pie cover is on the bottom of the dish and the apples are what you see on top. However, there was so much liquid that didn’t solidify, I was positive the whole thing would fall apart, and the tarte tatin wouldn’t stick together. However, thanks to either a grace of god or the beautiful laws of physics, my tarte tatin stuck together!!!

Oh, happy day!!! I danced around my apartment in glee, because that was a major success for me. Ok, now on to the recipe. I’m going to try my hardest to make this a simple recipe to follow, because it’s really not difficult to make, you just need to believe in yourself!!

A couple of notes: Firstly, you will need several hours to put the whole thing together, and this includes the time it takes to cool the pastry crust and caramelize the apples. However, I did this over two days. Last night, I made the pastry crust, placed it in a plastic bag, and kept it in the fridge. I also peeled, cored, and quartered the apples last night because I knew I had to save time. I was meeting with my first professor at 10 AM, and I needed a good two hours to make this little guy in the morning.

Otherwise, this recipe is pretty easy – there are no special tools required, and the crust is one of the easiest I’ve ever made. Also, just note that the pan you caramelize the apples in is the same one that you put in the oven, so make sure the pan you use can fit into your oven!

Merci et bonne dégustation !

To make the pastry crust, you will need 6 tablespoons butter, 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt, one egg yolk, and water. Spread the flour out onto a large flat surface and sprinkle a pinch of salt over it. Make a tiny well in the middle, and place the butter in the well. Use your fingers to pinch the butter and flour together, until they just combine and the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center, and plop in the egg yolk. Again using your fingers, slowly massage the flour and butter into the egg yolk, and add water (up to 6 tablespoons) until the ingredients are fully combined.

At this point, you’ll want to knead your dough. I really wish I took a picture because that makes it so much easier to describe, but essentially what you want to do is, with the bottom part of the palm of your hand, push the dough away from you, while rotating the dough so that you are able to push all of it.

Flatten it out a bit, then place in a plastic zip-lock or other plastic bag, and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 day.

Now let’s get to the good stuff, the apple filling: you will need 8-10 small apples, (I used gala, but any cooking apple should work great), 1 stick of butter, and 1 cup of sugar. Wow, now that I write this list out, I realize that this really is simple to make! You’ll need to peel, core, and quarter your apples.

Place the butter and sugar in a 8- or 10-inch skillet, and cook over medium-low heat until the sugar just begins to dissolve, and small bubbles start to form. Take the skillet off the heat, and place the apples on their sides around the edge of the skillet. Place as many more apple quarters as you can in the center. Now, you’ll probably have a fair amount of apple slices that don’t fit, but you’ll need to put them on the skillet as well (the apples will shrink during cooking, so you’ll want to put in extra apples that will fill in the empty spaces).

Place the apples, butter and sugar back on medium-high heat on the burner, and cook for about 30-40 minutes longer, until the liquid is bubbling vigorously in the center and all of it has become pretty thick. Remove from heat.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees (or as high as possible if you have an oven like mine). Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it thin enough so that it will cover the apples. Cover the apples with the dough, and tuck in the dough around the edges. Cut off any extra dough with some scissors. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the dough has become golden and crispy.

Take it out of the oven, place a larger dish on top of the skillet, and carefully flip it over (do this over the sink, in case some of the liquid falls out!)

Let cool five minutes, then please enjoy!!!! I think there is usually some argument in France over whether or not this should be served with creme fraiche, however general consensus seems to be that it should be served plain and while still hot.