elimination challenge: dessert wars

Top Chef Just Desserts elimination challenge is dessert shop wars!  The premise behind this challenge is the following:  the cheftestants are divided into two teams of three; each team “opens” a dessert shop (picks a theme, etc), and than each individual must bake / create three individual desserts to serve in their shop (for a total of 9 different options in each shop).


This is my kind of challenge … since I often find myself day-dreaming about what I would offer if I ever opened my own little shop … obviously I’d have some tarts on offer: chocolate pecan, lemon meringue, fresh berry tart, then apple and fruit pies … I’d offer a scone of the day: lemon, vanilla, dark chocolate cherry, jalapeno-cheddar, apple walnut, lemon blueberry, raspberry white chocolate, trip chocolate … I could probably go two weeks without offering the same scone twice!  I’d make my brownies, and my flour-less torte … I’d make as many things drizzled or macerated in lemoncello as possible … I think my little shop would be cute … and would smell incredible.

Julie thinks I should name it Lynnoncello (yeah… it seems my obsession with lemoncello has gone to her head).  I kinda like the name one heck of a tart!  But that doesn’t really matter… what really matters is what three recipes I’d make for the challenge.

It’s simple really.  Go with what you love.  And I love the following:

date squares.  I love date squares more than I should.  Mostly because it brings back memories of my grandmother.  I even have her recipe framed in my kitchen… see :0)

lemon scones.  Because I love lemon.  And these scones are the bomb.  They are so good – fluffy and airy and oh so tart.  Sigh.

chocolate espresso sandwiches.  Chocolate espresso ganache (from failed truffle recipe fame) sandwiched between two mini shortbread cookies and rolled in vanilla sugar.  They are so small and cute – I could present them in a pretty bowl. 

I found the chocolate espresso sandwiches recipe in Gale Gand’s book chocolate and vanilla.  They looked too cute to pass up – – and when she recommended filling them with ganache (rather than jam), I just couldn’t help going back to that failed truffle recipe for dark chocolate espresso ganache.  It was a win-win kinda idea to me.

This recipe is SIMPLE.  I know – I always say that: but in this instance it REALLY IS.  It’s just not the quickest recipe in the world.  You need chilling time after every step.  Think of this recipe as assembly line baking – step 1, chill, step 2, chill, step 3, chill, step 4, serve! 

chocolate espresso sandwiches


shortbread cookies

1 c. butter, room temperature

1/2 c. sugar

1 3/4 c. flour, sifted

half batch dark chocolate espresso ganache

vanilla sugar, for rolling

Gale Gand’s original recipe asks that you beat the butter in the bowl of your stand mixer using your whisk attachment.  I actually started it off using the paddle attachment – since my butter wasn’t as soft as I had hoped it would be.  Once the butter had softened (well… been beaten into submission), I then switched out the paddle for the whisk attachment and proceeded to beat away for another 3 – 5 minutes: the butter became very fluffy.

Add the sugar, and once well blended, add the flour.  The dough will start to form – lifting away from the sides of the mixing bowl and gathering around the whisk in one ball.  Wrap the disk of dough in plastic wrap and allow to chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours (keep chilled, unused up to 1 week in the fridge, otherwise freeze for up to 1 month)

See … step 1 is completed.  Now you’re chillin’

When you’re ready to roll out the mini balls – take the dough out of the fridge and temper it for 5 minutes.

Roll out the dough into small balls – it’s a pretty tedious task.  Place each ball on a parchment lined cookie sheet; they spread out slightly while baking – so don’t press them next to one another – but I left a little too much unnecessary space between them :0)

Return the filled cookie sheet to the freezer and chill for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 F.

Bake each try for 10 minutes – the balls become firm, but not really golden (although the base will be slightly golden).  Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool on the cookie sheet on a wire rack.  Once cooled, remove and place in the freezer for 5 minutes – this will allow the cookies to get cold enough to add the tempered ganache.

Step 2 …. complete. 

Remove your sugar cookies from the freezer and top every other cookie with a slight dot of ganache. 

Grab the un-ganached cookies and top them – forming a little sandwich ball. 

Allow the ganache to firm up a bit again – I put mine back in the freezer for 5 minutes to help this along.

Step 3 – done! 

Remove from the freezer and roll each ball in vanilla sugar – coating the little sandwiches as best as you can.

There you have it!  Chocolate espresso sandwiches – done!  And so pretty too!

I brought the baked goodies into the office today.  WOW.  I was shocked at how quickly everything went!

The date squares disappeared in 5 minutes.  For Reals!  I put them out and … all gone.  I take that as the ultimate compliment.

The vanilla balls were a pretty huge success as well… everyone thought they were so cute – and since they’re shortbread they would be prefect for the holiday season … can’t you just picture bowls full of them, being scooped up and enjoyed by the handful — DEADLY (deliciousness).

The chocolate espresso sandwiches – you should ask Platonic Jeff what he thought of them … just like a real bakery – he bought them all up!  LOVES IT!

FYI – my virtual bakery (as per last year) is open again.  If you want some scones … send me an email (see top left hand corner).

Orders are accepted :0) … Yes …  Zarah, Audrey, Platonic Jeff, Pierre, Mary, Lilu, Tonya, Vanessa … I’m talking to you!

elimination challenge: black & white

I am really enjoying participating in evilshenanigans’ online Top Chef Just Desserts elimination challenge.  I’ve flambéed for the first time, made salted caramel (three times!), made some gooey truffles (another first) and now… now I own a mini torch and made my very first crème brulée.


Since we follow the show’s themes; this week we were challenged with creating a black & white dessert.  The cheftestants had been asked to make a bold statement with black and white desserts for a special anniversary party for the Los Angeles Times. I loved watching the episode and was super stoked to put my own spin on it.

Admittedly – I didn’t make the white portion.  At least not last night.

I cut it pretty close and started baking late in the evneing: which meant that by the time I actually bruléed the custard (this morning at 7 am), I didn’t have the time (and I was reading a really good book … priorities, priorities) to make a white component… but don’t worry – I have plans to complete this challenge later this week:  think a meringue nest, filled with chocolate custard and then bruléed… you can say it with me… SWEET!

Back to the challenge.  The crème brulée – I don’t know what made me think it would be difficult to make. It’s not.  It’s simple – at least this recipe (adapted from Gale Gand’s chocolate and vanilla) – and although I didn’t have the little Asian spoons Gale recommends using – it still turned out BRILLIANTLY!  The custard is super creamy, not too sweet.  I think I’d add an extra star anise to the recipe – to punch up that flavour next time… but otherwise, I am pleased as punch about how it all turned out.

semi sweet chocolate star anise crème brûlée


1 1/3 c. heavy cream

1/3 vanilla pod, halved lengthwise

1 piece star anise

1 1/2 ounce semi sweet chocolate, chopped

4 egg yolks

1/4 c. white sugar

1/4 c. coarse sugar (raw or Demerara sugar)

Place your rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 300 F.

Grab a square baking pan (8-inch or 9-inch), as well as a larger baking dish (in which to set the smaller pan into).  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, bring the cream, vanilla pod and star anise to an almost boil.  Immediately turn off the heat, add the chocolate and whisk everything so that the chocolate melts.

Set aside and allow the chocolate cream mixture to infuse for about 10 minutes.

(It smells so good.  This would make one delicious hot chocolate base.  Sigh.)

Meanwhile, bring a tea kettle to a boil (or, if you’re like me, and you don’t have a tea kettle, bring a saucepan to a boil).

While your water is boiling, whisk together the egg yolks and the white sugar (until just combined).  Slowly drizzle the yolk mixture into the chocolate cream, whisking constantly.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into the smaller baking pan.

Put the smaller pan into the larger one and place both in your oven.  Slowly (and carefully), pour the boiling water into the larger pan – you want it to reach halfway up the sides of the 8-inch pan.

Bake for 40 minutes: the custard should have just set, but still jiggle a little in the centre.  Remove the smaller pan from its bain marie  and allow it to cool, about 15 minutes at room temperature (careful not to get water into the pan when you lift it out of the larger pan).

Tightly cover with plastic wrap (don’t allow the wrap to touch the custard) and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (apparently you can make this  up to 3 days in advance, keeping it chilled in the fridge until ready to use).

Now for the fun part.

To assemble, spoon out some of the custard into your desired heat-resistant brulée-wear (ceramic Asian spoons – or if you’re like me, a little ceramic bowl), smoothing the surface with a small spatula or butter knife.  Return the prepared custards to the fridge and chill them for a further 30 minutes (although this could be done up to 24 hours in advance).

Grab your kitchen torch.

Sprinkle a layer of coarse sugar over the surface of each custard, ensure that the entire surface is covered.

Aim the torch towards the custard.

Light the flame and let the sugar burn.  It’s AWESOME.

Let cool for 1 minute before serving; allowing the surface to harden, creating that lovely crack everyone likes to push their spoon through!

It was good.  Yes… even at 7 in the morning.  This is a recipe I’ll be making again and again… if only to be able to use that torch.

Marielle… get one.  You (and Papa) will LOVE it.

elimination challenge: petit fours

You might remember that I admitted to being a shoe whore… I adore shoes – flats, boots, heels, point- toed, open-toed… any type of shoe can catch my eye at any time.  It can be slightly dangerous (trip to San Francisco… I came home with 5 new pairs of shoes… seriously)… but oh so much fun!

Which could explain why I LOVED participating in this week’s Top Chef Just Desserts online elimination challenge – it all started with a pair of shoes.

On last week’s episode, the cheftestants selected a pair of shoes each, and then were asked to do the following:

1.  design an edible dress.  Yes that’s right an edible dress.

2.  create 2 different petit fours that would become the “accessories” to the dress and shoes.

Awesome eh?  Super creative and super fun (I’m actually re-watching the episode as I write this entry).

The online challenge requires us only to create the petit fours – no edible dress for me (thank goodness… holy heck that would have been insane)… and I decided to try two new recipes.

I was inspired by my new Michael Kors: I bought them in San Francisco… they have 4 inch heels.  Oh how I heart these shoes. 

Pretty slammin’ eh? (Marianne… thanks for convincing me to buy them!)

They deserved good accessories.  Done and Done!

I started with turnovers.  Not just any turnover… apple peach rum turnover.  Yes… puff pastry, apples, peaches and a nice hit of Sailor Jerrys rum.  Delish!

I was hemming and hawing over what I should make next… and became inspired by the thought of truffles: dark chocolate espresso truffles.  My little yin and yang of baking – the freshness of the turnovers – light and airy vs. the rich, decadent truffles… soooo goooood.

apple peach rum turnovers


quick puff pastry (thawed in the fridge overnight)

2 apples

2 peaches

2 tbsp white sugar

2 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. sailor jerrys rum

1 egg and pinch of salt, creates an egg wash

coarse white sugar, to sprinkle

Peel, core and dice your apples and peaches (FYI – you end up with too much compote – but it’s so good… I just ate spoonfuls of it the following day – it’s already all gone!).


In a medium saucepan, combine the diced apples and peaches, water, sugar, cinnamon and salt; bring to a boil, cover and allow to simmer for about 4 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue to cook the fruit for about 15 minutes – adding the rum as the mixture thickens.  Stir (not continuously, but often enough) in order to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan and burning.  Once thick and the liquid has evaporated, remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the filling to cool.  Refrigerate until cold.

Remove your puff pastry from the fridge, and roll it out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  You want the pastry to be slightly thicker than 1/8-inch.  Place the cookie sheet in your freezer and allow the pastry to get firm, but not hard (not frozen).  AtOnce firm, use a round cookie cutter and cut out disks – I was able to get 9 disks out of my sheet of puff pastry.  Pull away the trimmings and return the puff pastry to the fridge.

At this point, your filling should be cold.  Preheat your oven to 425 F.

Make your egg wash by beating your egg and adding a pinch of salt.  That’s it.  Super easy eh?

Place 1 tsp of the cold apple peach filling slightly off centre on each of the puff pastry disks. 

Brush the opposite half of the disk with egg wash, fold the puff pastry over and seal – gently press on the edges and then grab a fork and press again, making it all pretty :0)

Brush the turnovers with egg wash, sprinkle each turnover with your coarse sugar. 

Place your cookie sheet in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes – until golden brown (it seems my oven cooks slightly faster than I thought… so really watch your oven).

These are actually best served at room temperature, the following day – it allows the flavours to really come through in the filling.

In terms of the challenge; these turnovers are considered a cute little clutch (purse).  Adorable non?

dark chocolate espresso truffles


9 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. honey

1 tsp espresso powder

cocoa powder, to roll in

Place the coarsely chopped chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl.  Grab a fine-mesh strainer, set both aside.

In a medium saucepan, stir together the cream, honey and espresso powder:  allow the mixture to just get to a boil.  That’ll take no time :0)

Remove the saucepan from heat, and pour the cream through the strainer right on top of the chocolate.  Let all of that just sit together for 2 minutes; that’s right… don’t stir anything … yet.

Now… gently stir the mixture (centre outward) until it is smooth and shiny. 

Cover the entire bowl in plastic wrap – ensuring that the plastic touches the surface of the chocolate mixture.  Refrigerate for 5 hours or until firm.  (I made mine the night before).

When you’re ready to shape the truffles, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Scoop out the ganache with a small teaspoon, drop onto the parchment paper in balls (well… almost balls, they aren’t perfect).  Once completed, place the cookie sheet in the freezer for at least 1 hour.

Time to roll the truffles!

Ok, grab some cocoa powder, sift it nicely and place it in a bowl.  Roll the truffle around in the cocoa powder, gently tap any excess powder off the ball and place back on your cookie sheet.  I had to do this in batches – since my little ganache balls got pretty soft at one point; I threw the cookie sheet with the un-rolled truffles back into the freezer and allowed them to “harden” again.

I seem to have done something wrong… or maybe this has happened to you too? You see… my truffles look good, taste gobsmacking amazing (rich dark chocolate + honey + espresso = deliciousness), but they umm…. aren’t hard.  They are still soft and gooey – even after spending the night in the freezer (airtight tupperware, pieces of wax paper between the layers).  I wonder what happened there… ???

That’s ok… they still look good… and go well with my shoes :0)