Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday Must Have: The Palette Knife

The palette knife isn't really a true knife. In fact, the palette knife wasn't originally made for kitchen work, but rather for artists to mix paints and apply them to a canvas. But some of the best tools have come from other professions and have been adopted into the culinary field.

Remember this Monday Must Have? Another great example of a tool that made the cross over to the kitchen.

In my drawers of many kitchen tools, I have nearly a dozen palette knives in several different sizes as part of my collection. These are some of the handiest kitchen gadgets around. I use them daily; for icing cakes, cupcakes, lifting small pastries, lifting cakes for stacking and many other baking projects.

Here are a few of my favorite sizes:

The largest one in the above picture is my favorite size. I use it on almost every cake size that I frost and because of the straight "blade" it allows me to get my icing super smooth and if it's a square cake, it helps create straight and even corners too, which was really helpful on this wedding cake I made last weekend.

The angled palette knife (a cousin to the regular palette knife) is called an off-set spatula and many of the same baking and decorating can be accomplished with either one. But the off-set spatula is a great tool for spreading batter for cakes and jelly rolls, and fillings evenly.

These are just a few of the tasks made easier during my day, thanks to these handy artist/baker tools.
Do you have a palette knife or off-set spatula in your kitchen tool collection? If so, I'd love know how this great tool has made your life easier in the kitchen.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Puff Pastry (Vols-au-Vent)

Today is the reveal date for this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge and guess what?!

I'm still mixing, rolling, turning, chilling and baking (this will make more sense when you read the directions later).

Yep, I've waited till the last possible minute, so I'll be back much later today (hopefully before midnight PST). Check back later for write-up and pictures of this delicious pastry.

I know, I know, it's actually Tuesday now (yes, I'm 2 days late with this post--my first time and hopefully the LAST time) and I have the puff pastry made, baked and filled with yummy goodness.

But first things first--a BIG thank you to our hostess for choosing a great Daring Bakers' challenge:

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

These last two weeks have been busy, busy, BUSY with work and other types of baking and before I knew it, it was the 27th and I hadn't started the challenge yet. I've been looking forward to making puff pastry, since it's been awhile since I've made it and I was excited to come up with some delicious savory and sweet fillings--and then I ran out of time and had to make fillings using what I happen to have on hand.

I decided to only use 1/3 of the dough and I rolled out the rest into sheets and they are in the freezer. I will be re-visiting the puff pastry later in the month and be a bit more creative with some fillings, but all was not lost with this last minute challenge.

If you happen to have some puff pastry in your freezer (homemade or even store bought), then you will appreciate the simplicity of the fillings I made. They were quick and easy and the best part was they were delicious and they could be made at the last minute if you have unplanned guests show up.

I decided to make mini vols-au-vent's for both the savory and sweet fillings. Although they can be eaten in 3 or 4 bites, 2 or 3 of these filled with the savory filling were plenty.

For the first batch, I made a Creamy Chicken & Herb filling with fresh cherry red and yellow tomatoes, topped with freshly grated Asiago Cheese.

Creamy Chicken & Herb Filling

Ingredients: Boneless, skinless chicken tenders, cream of chicken soup, milk, lemon-n-herb seasoning, fresh parsley, salt, pepper, asiago cheese & yellow and red cherry tomatoes.

1) Cook chicken with seasonings and herbs in pan on stove top.

2) Add cream of chicken soup and about 1/2 cup milk and mix with cooked chicken. Simmer for a few minutes till combined and hot throughout.

3) Spoon chicken mixture into puff pastry and garnish with parsley, cheese and tomatoes.

Now for the dessert. I made a puff pastry trio dessert plate, because two desserts are better than one and three is better than two!

Again, these were filled with ingredients or products that I had on hand and they didn't take long to put together.

Dessert #1:
Fresh Raspberries w/Dark Chocolate & Sweetened Whipped Cream

Dessert #2
Apricot-Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream w/Fresh Pomegranate Seeds

Dessert #3
Lemon Curd w/Fresh Blueberries & White Chocolate Shavings

It was fun and relaxing to make puff pastry (once I was able to catch up with my work and everything else that I felt like I was behind on) and it was a great reminder to make this more often than I have in the past.

Now for the recipe!

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough


2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
4 sticks (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter
plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

*Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

1) Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

2) Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

1) Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

2) Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

3) To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

1) Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich.

2)With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

3) Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

1) If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

2) The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent:

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

*You will need: well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)-your filling of choice

1) Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

2) Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage.)

3) On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting. (This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

4) Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

5) Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

6) Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

7) Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

8) Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings. Fill and serve.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Must Have: Flaky Pastry Dough Recipe

I've been enjoying my day off today. It's been sunny today and I have been taking my time getting things done and yes, I will admit I've even relaxed a bit.

I decided to make Mini Jam Turnovers with the Flaky Pastry Dough for the Monday Must Have:

AND then I walked outside and saw that our pear tree had some beautiful pears that were ready to drop:

And since I didn't get a Monday Must Have post out last Monday, I just had to share a second dessert, Pear French Galettes:

This is a great recipe that I've used for several years and it comes out flaky, buttery and oh-so-tasty EVERY SINGLE TIME. If you follow these directions, you will have success every time you make this delicious pastry dough--I promise!

Many pie or tart dough recipes are very similar. You may have seen several variations that contain less sugar or no sugar, pastry flour, cake flour or all-purpose flour. This one has all-purpose flour and since most people usually have all-purpose flour at home, I find that this is a convenient recipe to have as a great go-to pie dough recipe. And this comes at the perfect time to welcome the fall season which officially begins tomorrow.

Flaky Pie Dough

Yields = (1) 9-inch pie or (12) mini turnovers & (4) 5-inch galettes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
8 oz. unsalted butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup strained ice water


1) Combine flour, sugar & salt in mixer bowl with paddle attachment and mix on low speed for 15 seconds.

2) Remove butter from refrigerator and cut into large pieces.

3) Add cold butter pieces to dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 10-15 seconds till butter combines with dry ingredients and is a little smaller.

4) While mixer is still on low speed, slowly add part of the water until dough comes together. Do not over mix (mixture may still have some dry parts, that is OK, because as the dough rests, it will absorb the water through out the rest of the dough).

5) Set a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter and scrape the dough mixture from the mixer bowl in the center of the plastic wrap.

6) Take all four sides of the plastic wrap and bring to the middle and twist securely together.

7) Using the heel of your hand, press the dough firmly and evenly into a circle.

*When you turn the dough over, you will see pieces of butter--this is a good thing!! These long pieces of butter will create a nice flaky pastry dough.

8) Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes (45 minutes to an hour is best) to chill.

Mini Jam Turnovers

Flaky Pastry Dough
Jam (Apricot, Raspberry, Peach, etc.)
Egg wash (1 egg + 2 Tbsp. milk)
Raw Cane Sugar

1) After chilling your dough, remove from the refrigerator and let it set at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling it out. Roll out the dough to about 1/16-inch thickness, using flour as needed, making sure the dough doesn't stick to the board.

2) Use a round cookie or biscuit cutter and cut as many rounds as you would like from the Flaky Pastry Dough. Drop a spoonful of jam on one half of the round, then fold dough in half and pinch the ends together using a fork.

*I made three different varieties using jam I had canned earlier in the summer; Apricot-Vanilla Jam, Peach Citrus Preserves & Spiced Peach Preserves.

*Don't worry if some of the jam oozes out--this is why I use Silpats. They are so easy to clean, even after baking sweet, sticky desserts.

3) Dock the tops of the turnovers using a fork, to allow steam to escape during baking. Next, place the sheet pan in the freezer for about 30 minutes. This dough needs to stay as cold as possible.

4) After the 30 minutes is up, remove them from the freezer, brush an egg wash on the turnovers and sprinkle some raw cane sugar on each turnover. Immediately put them in your preheated oven (400 f.) and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until they are golden brown.

*Notice how fabulous and flaky the pastry is on these cute little turnovers!

Pear French Galettes

Flaky Pastry Dough
7-8 Fresh Pears (I used Bartlett Pears)
2 cups sugar
4-6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 lemons, juiced and zested
1 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 orange zested

1) Peal, core & slice the pears and put into a bowl with the lemon juice and zest. As you continue adding the pears, toss them in the lemon juice to prevent browning.

2) Once your pears are all sliced and put into the bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and toss lightly to allow them to combine and create a nice juice that the pears will set in for a few minutes.

3) While the pears are soaking up all those wonderful juices and spices, remove your chilled dough from the refrigerator and let it set out for a few minutes at room temperature.

4) Roll out your dough, lightly dusting it with flour to prevent it from sticking to the board. Cut 7 to 8 inch circles (I use a bowl to cut around) and move to a sheet pan with a Silpat or parchment paper. *If you have a Silpat, that works best, but parchment paper will also work.

5) Arrange the pear pieces in a circle, overlapping until they are about 3 inches from the edge. Fold over the edge of the dough securely, until you have all the pears contained within the center of the dough. Place sheet pan in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

6) After the 30 minutes, remove galettes from freezer and brush the egg wash on the dough that is folded over the pears. Sprinkle sugar over the egg wash (regular granulated sugar or raw cane sugar will work). *I also used a streusel topping that I had in the freezer, which is made up sugar, butter, flour and spices.

7) Immediately put galettes in your preheated oven (400 f.) and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

*I love galettes! I love them more than pies and the reason is this: a better ratio of fruit filling to a flaky pastry crust.

Enjoy and Happy Autumn!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

M.I.A. and the Lack of Posts.

Dear Readers of the Jillicious Discoveries Blog,

I have MISSED you all these past two weeks!!

I can't believe that it really has been nearly two weeks since my last post. I've missed being able to read all those wonderful blogs that I follow (and I will be spending this relaxing afternoon to read and comment on many of those) and I've missed updating my own blog. I even thought that it really wasn't that long since I had posted anything, until I received an email from a fellow blogger wondering if all was well with me and where I had been (thank you for that kind email Jenny) and comments on Facebook noting that I had been silent. Things are good, I'm fine--it was just a busy week and it seemed to have flown by way too fast. I've caught up on other areas of my life and I know can focus on blogging once again (woo-hoo!)

Let me explain how last week began and seemed to set the flow of the rest of the week.

Mondays are my day off (Jillicious Desserts is closed), but this just means I need to work to get everything else done, before the "work week" begins. I was cleaning the house on Monday and decided to use this really great vacuum attachment that dusts and cleans in small areas and I used it on my desk area and really cleaned my computer and keyboard. I cleaned them so well, that later in the day, when I had a few minutes to check some emails, I discovered that I had somehow disconnected my wireless keyboard and wasn't able to type.

Do you know how frustrating it is to see the Internet, emails and other work items, but you can't really access them? I think it's worse than not having the Internet--it was just teasing me and I felt like my computer was laughing at me saying, "Ha ha, you can't get anything done right now!" And of course, one of those to-do items on my list was the Monday Must Have.

Finally I had time late that night and with the help of tech support (which is my way of saying I called my friend that is super smart about these types of things--thanks Nick!) I figured out how to re-connect the wireless keyboard to respond to typing. By then, it was late and I had to postpone blogging for another day.

The rest of the week included driving up to Portland for a friend's wedding, picking up supplies in Newport (on the coast), setting up appointments, creating dessert orders, delivering several dessert orders in two different towns and preparing ingredients and plans for a wedding cake, baking and decorating wedding cake, attending some church meetings and catching a few hours of sleep here and there.

The best part of delivering this weeks wedding cake, was that the location is literally only 3 miles from my house, so it was a nice, quick drive (no traffic) and everything with the set up went smoothly. Plus, it's always a nice way to end a busy week; to create something that I love to do and that will make someones special day more memorable.

Romantic White Floral & Blue Dot Wedding Cake Details

  • Top tier (6-inch round) - Dark Chocolate Cake w/Raspberry Filling
  • Bottom tier (10-inch round) - Dark Chocolate Cake w/White Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling
  • Sheet Cake - White-Vanilla Cake w/Raspberry Filling & Vanilla Buttercream

P.S. I will see you tomorrow with the Monday Must Have!