High-end desserts? Sweet!

October 5, 2011 

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — It’s no secret that the San Francisco area brims with renowned eateries, bakeries and patisseries. But after browsing through the latest cookbooks by area authors, we’re beginning to suspect a plot. Apparently the pastry chefs from Miette, Gobba Gobba Hey and Chez Panisse don’t think we’ve indulged enough, so they’re giving us recipes for their irresistible fare. Our diets don’t stand a chance.

‘MIETTE’

With a book as lovely as Meg Ray’s “Miette: Recipes from San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop” (Chronicle Books, 224 pages, $27.50), who are we to complain about calories?

Ray, a dot-com refugee who got her start in a pastel pink tent at Berkeley’s Farmers Market, now owns four Miette patisseries.

Her hallmark is small, perfect cakes and sweets that carry on the very best of both the European and American baking traditions. This volume captures that perfectly.

And between the scalloped pages, beautiful layout and mouthwatering photographs — the work of Frankie Frankeny — readers may be tempted to eat the book. But it’s the recipes that really shine.

Everyone’s favorites are here, from the Guinness-laced Gingerbread Cupcakes that Alton Brown named one of the nation’s top 10 sweets, to Ray’s signature Parisian Macarons, sleek Lemon Debutante and ethereal, pale green Princess Cake.

There’s a chapter devoted to candies and caramels, another to cookies and a whole section on tarts. Cupcakes are well represented, too.

When baking fever strikes, this book offers plenty of inspiration.

‘THE WHOOPIE PIE’

Claire Ptak may live in London now, but the Chez Panisse alum was raised in California. And although she lured legions of British fans into the cupcake cult via her pastry shop, Violet, now she’s added whoopie pies to her pastry arsenal.

Her new “The Whoopie Pie Book: 60 Irresistible Recipes for Cake Sandwiches, Classic and New” (Experiment/Workman, 160 pages, $15.95) offers a primer on the gooey delights — two small cake halves sandwiched around a creamy filling — and all their many variations.

You won’t find jarred marshmallow creme sitting between these cake halves. Instead, Ptak offers recipes for homemade chocolate marshmallow cream, as well as blackberry, key lime and orange mascarpone fillings.

And she ups the ante by adding glazes and embellishments to the exteriors.

It’s a cool approach from someone with impeccable credentials — and there’s no denying the popularity of the whoopie pie genre.‘

Blackberry Whoopie Pies

Makes 9 large or 24 mini whoopie pies

Note: These whoopie pies are best served on a plate with a fork, rather than eaten out of hand.

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 1/4 cups fresh blackberries

Blackberry cream filling:

1 cup fresh blackberries

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 3/4 cups heavy cream

Blackberry geranium sauce:

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons water

4 rose geranium leaves, rinsed and patted dry

3 cups fresh blackberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer with the flat beater. Add the egg and vanilla; mix well.

Measure the milk into a liquid measuring cup and add the lemon juice. It will curdle. Beat this into the butter mixture. Add the dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Chill for 30 minutes.

Drop 18 large or 48 small scoops of batter, about 2 inches apart, onto the baking sheets. Press a few blackberries into each scoop. Bake 10-12 minutes for large whoopies, or 8-10 minutes for minis, until the cakes are left with a slight impression when touched with a finger. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the blackberry cream filling, mix the berries with the sugar, vanilla and lemon juice, using a fork to break up the berries a little. Let macerate for 10 minutes. Whisk the cream until it just starts to thicken. Fold in the berries and chill for at least 10 minutes before using.

For the sauce, heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan, without stirring, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add geranium leaves and let steep for 10 minutes. Puree half the berries. Add the geranium syrup to the puree and strain through a fine mesh sieve, discarding leaves and seeds. Add remaining whole berries to the sauce. Chill until ready to use.

To serve, spread a generous scoop of blackberry cream on the flat surface of a cooled whoopie. Drizzle with sauce. Top with another whoopie and serve with more sauce.

Source: “The Whoopie Pie Book: 60 Irresistible Recipes for Cake Sandwiches Classic and New” (Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment LLC; $15.95, 160 pages, (c) 2011, Claire Ptak.)

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Makes 18-24

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon plus

2 teaspoons ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus

2 tablespoons stout beer, such as Guinness

3/4 cup molasses

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 cups cream cheese frosting (see below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt together.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the stout and molasses, and bring to a boil. Whisk in the baking soda, whisking constantly as the mixture foams up. Remove from heat immediately and let cool to room temperature.

Using an electric mixer with the stand attachment, combine the eggs and sugars and whisk on medium speed until well combined and lightened in color, 3-4 minutes. Slowly drizzle in the oil and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low and slowly add stout mixture. Stop and scrape down sides with a rubber spatula. Return to low speed and add dry ingredients, beating until just combined. Fold a few more times with the spatula. Strain the mixture through a medium-mesh sieve into a clean bowl.

Fill each cupcake liner two-thirds full (a 1/4-cup measure works well). Bake until the tops spring back when touched and a tester inserted in the center emerges clean, 20-25 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.

When completely cool, use a piping bag to adorn the cupcakes with a swirl of cream cheese frosting.

Source: Meg Ray, “Miette” (Chronicle Books, 224 pages, $27.50)

Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes about 3 cups

1/2 cup plus

3 tablespoons

1 cup sifted, powdered sugar unsalted butter, room

2 cups (1 pound) cream cheese, temperature room temperature

Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar, beating until smooth and glossy.

Add the cream cheese and mix thoroughly. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed. Transfer cold frosting to a stand mixer and beat until smooth before using, 2-3 minutes. Cream cheese frosting lasts 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Do not freeze.

Source: Meg Ray, “Miette” (Chronicle Books, 224 pages, $27.50)

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