toasted frangipane and pumpkin pithiviers

A pithiviers, or pithivier if you’re the type to Americanize French words (think: ooh la la, crah-sant, bon app-uh-teet!), is a filled pie with crusts made from puff pastry. It is typically filled with frangipane, or almond paste.

And really, who am I to mess with the typical? Answer: I am somebody. And I like dessert!

I kept this pithiviers traditional, by incorporating a hearty amount of frangipane, but decided to amp it up and make it perfect for fall by also adding in some sweetened and spiced pumpkin puree. Almonds and pumpkin aren’t intuitively good together, at least in my mind, but perhaps that’s because I also don’t find pumpkin to be intuitively good. It takes something special to get me interested in a pumpkin dessert.

Last year, it was my Pumpkin Spice Madeleines. And this fall, it’s this fantastic toasted almond and pumpkin pastry.


Posed provocatively on a piggy pizza plate, this pumpkin pithiviers is poised to alliterate its way into your world.

For the first time in my baking career, I decided to make my puff pastry from scratch. Potato Inspecting was cancelled for the day because of excessive rain, so I had hours to either twiddle my thumbs to my heart’s content, or do something productive. Puff pastry it was.

And it was enjoyable. Nothing difficult to it, just a bit time consuming. But really, most of that time is spent doing your own thing, while your pastry chills out in the fridge. Read: thumb twiddling may come into play here. Feel free to use pre-made puff pastry, knowing that you will save on time, but lose out on homemade rich buttery oomph.

I toasted my almonds heartily, and added quite a bit of salt to my frangipane – I really wanted to bring out that almondy goodness. For the pumpkin puree, I (gasp!) used a can from the store. I’ve said it before: I don’t see much of a reason to roast a pie pumpkin for puree, when the canned version tastes pretty much the same, if not identical once baked. However, I’m not a pumpkiny person in general; feel free to roast some pumpkin up in lieu of thumb twiddling.

I sweetened the pumpkin puree with some brown sugar, and all the autumnal spices I had on a hand. For me, this was nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. Use whatever you have on hand, and it will turn out fantastic.


Clockwise, from top left: Toasted almond frangipane (unblanched almonds), incorporating the butter into the puff pastry dough, the finished pithiviers, and the filling prior to baking.

Toasted Frangipane and Pumpkin Pithiviers 

{Original recipe; pithiviers inspiration from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook}

Serves 8

For the puff pastry [skip this if you buy the pre-made stuff]:

Scant c. flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 c. cake flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
1/3 c. cold water
1/2 tsp white vinegar
11 tbsp unsalted butter, cold

Okay, get ready for a long list of instructions. It’s all easy, just lengthy.

In a large bowl, using a pastry blender (or in a stand mixer with the dough hook fitted), combine flour, cake flour, salt and sugar; cut in 3 tbsp unsalted butter. When mixed in thoroughly, switch to a spatula, and pour in cold water and vinegar. Mix until ingredients turn into a dough. Knead with your hands until all flour has been absorbed and you can form the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic, and refrigerate until chilled (30 minutes).

Meanwhile, place a piece of wax paper or parchment paper on your counter. Sprinkle some flour on one side, and then place 11 tbsp of unsalted butter onto the flour – cut the butter into pieces to form a butter square on the paper. Sprinkle the top of the butter with another dusting of flour. Cover with the other end of wax or parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, systematically pound the butter until it is 1/2-inch thick. Remove the paper cover, fold the butter in half, and replace paper cover; again pound until 1/2-inch thick. Repeat this process, dusting with additional flour if needed, three more times. When finished, shape into a 3-inch square, wrap well, and refrigerate at least fifteen minutes.

Once dough has chilled, dust counter or piece of wax/parchment paper with flour. Place the dough on the flour, and roll out to a six-inch round. Place chilled butter square in the center, and score the dough around it to mark the butter’s location. Cut four flaps and fold over excess, as shown in the above image. Remove the butter. Using the rolling pin, roll out these dough flaps away from the butter’s marked edges. Place the butter back on the dough, and fold flaps over; secure well. Use the rolling pin to pound the dough down to an inch thickness.

Roll out the dough as large as feels comfortable (don’t push it), adding small amounts of flour if needed. Fold the dough in thirds with the small end facing you. Pick up the ‘envelope’ and turn it clockwise so that the short end is again facing you. Roll dough out again to the same size as before, then fold into thirds. Rotate clockwise again, so that short end is facing you. Wrap dough well, and refrigerate until chilled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Repeat this cycle for two more periods of refrigeration, with two clockwise rotations for each period. After the final turn, refrigerate for two to three hours.

For the frangipane:

Heaping 1/2 c. almonds
2 tbsp rye flour (all-purpose will do as well)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. brown sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 egg

Toast the almonds in a sauté pan over low medium heat or on a baking sheet in a 375F oven, stirring occasionally, seven to ten minutes until well toasted and aromatic. Remove and let cool slightly. In a food processor, combine almonds, rye flour, salt, and brown sugar, and pulse until combined and crumbly. Add in butter and egg, and process until mixture resembles peanut butter (or, should I say, almond butter). Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled.

For the pumpkin puree:

Half to 2/3 of a can of pumpkin puree (8-10 oz), or an equal amount from a cooked pie pumpkin
2 tbsp brown sugar
Pinch or two of salt
A few pinches each of autumnal pumpkin-friendly spices: allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg

In a small bowl, combine pumpkin puree with brown sugar, salt, and desired spices. Mix well. Set aside.

Pithiviers Assembly:

Make an egg wash with 1 egg and 1 tbsp heavy cream (or milk). Set aside.

Roll out puff pastry on a lightly floured surface until there is enough dough to cut out two 9-inch circles. Cut both circles using the help of a knife and a 9-inch cake pan as a template. Cut a small hole out of the center of one of the dough rounds – this will help ventilate out the hot air after baking, and keep the puff pastry from subsequently deflating.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In the center, place the uncut round of dough. On the side, place the small puff pastry cutout. Use a pastry bag (fitted with a large round top) to pipe the frangipane filling onto the dough round, leaving a sizable (1 1/2-inch) filling-less border, as shown in the photo above. Spoon the pumpkin puree mixture evenly over the top of the frangipane.

Brush the egg wash over the dough surrounding the frangipane, avoiding the edge of the dough. Place the second round of dough on top, lining up the edges and pressing firmly to seal. If not sealed completely, filling will leak out the side during baking. Score the pastry with curved lines as desired. Place in freezer until firm (or until your oven has a chance to preheat).

Preheat oven to 375 F. Remove pithiviers from freezer, and brush the top only (and small pastry cutout) with egg wash. Bake for 15 minutes – remove pastry cutout. Bake 15 minutes more, then reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Rotate pithiviers, and cover edges with foil to prevent burning. Bake 30 minutes more, until pastry appears golden brown and well cooked.

Remove from oven, and cool before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature, using the pastry cutout as a decorative center – or a pre-tart appetizer.

Postscript: Over the weekend, we ventured down to the seaside town of Camden, Maine. While there, we did some gnarly mountain biking, camped in the rain, and ate the most fabulous meal in recent memory. At the incredibly affordable and only somewhat snooty Long Grain, where we just barely managed to sneak it without a reservation, we were treated to delicious Asian cuisine.

Our appetizer of pork, shrimp, and local seaweed dumplings was only so-so, but our entrees were pure delight. I enjoyed the spicy Pad Kee Mao, a stir-fried dream come true of homemade wide-cut rice noodles, pork belly, wilted Thai basil and greens, and locally-foraged mushrooms. The pork belly was perfect – excellently fatty, but not overly fatty in taste. I can’t stop talking about this dish, it was that good.

The dessert one-upped the dinner, if possible. A square of coconut custard, bruléed to perfection, was placed upon a bed of sweet reddish purple sticky rice and coconut cream. And according to the waitress, I was fortunate enough to receive the restaurant’s most coveted spoon. Yeeeahhhh, boyeee.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend.

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pumpkin spice madeleines and smetana’s moldau

It is high time I spotlight the principal raison d’être for my wee corner of internet existence. The madeleine. A treat of a cakelet, of just the right taste and size and to put a smile on most anyone’s face.

All but the most miserly madeleine-haters out there, of which I know none.

Madeleines were, several years back, one of my first introductions to the world of baking. For some reason, I bought a madeleine pan, and began to turn them out on a relatively irregular basis. I sought out the elusive bump that so many madeleine makers long to find in their finished product. I experimented with flavors, sometimes following a recipe, sometimes not. And I was sometimes successful, sometimes not.

Over the past two months, as I have read blog after blog of pumpkin recipes, commentary on pumpkin recipes at this time of year, and commentary on commentary of pumpkin recipes, I have wondered what the dealio was wrong with me. After all, I can’t stand pumpkin. It just kind of… bothers me.

And yet, I had a can of pumpkin puree sitting on my shelf, abandoned by its former owner who had moved away. And I realized that the perfect place for some of that puree would be mixed into delightful, autumnally-spiced, pumpkin madeleines. And so, I decided to join the masses and talk about pumpkin. Pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin. Madeleines.

Had life not been frightfully busy in the past week, I would have made a super special cake to share with you here: a violin cake. I had ingenious plans to create a layer cake that would be covered in rolled fondant, with a faux-bois-colored finish, and per the recommendation of one informative site I found, real strings. Yep, real strings. Why the celebration that wasn’t meant to be?

I played in an incredibly exciting concert last night, with the University of Maine orchestra. I can’t not share it, it was that exciting. Not only did we play a trio of music that I’ve come to love more than anything else I’ve ever played before (Haydn, I’m so sorry. It’s not that I’ve forgotten you…); but we had a phenomenal guest soloist. A soloist who has apparently been selling out concerts in Tokyo – when not too busy finishing a university degree, or jet-setting off to Cambodia.

There was no way of knowing when I saw the world-renowned Midori play the Sibelius Violin Concerto in Chicago in 2003, that eight short years later I would have the great fortune of sharing the stage with her brother, Ryu Goto. Yes, he plays on the 1722 ‘Jupiter’ Stradivarius. Yes, he is the spokesperson for the East Japan Railway Company. If I ever become the spokesperson for a rail line, I’ll know that I’ll have made it.

He joined us for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, of which the finale puts me into a joyous tizzy. We also played Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, and my new favorite non-indie, non-country, non-folk, non-Dire Straits, and heck, non-metal, piece of music. Bedřich Smetana’s Moldau or Vltava. A symphonic poem chronicling the path of the Česká republikas longest river (that which runs through Praha), it is a piece that I have become seriously smitten with. I have never felt gladder in the past year that I decided to begin playing my violin again. It has been like coming home.

Speaking of home, we received our first snowfall of the year – 6 inches of heavy, wet snow fell overnight and into the morning. It’s no western Massachusetts, where totals of up to 27 inches (!) were reported. My heart fills with glee at the sight of snow, but is tempered with a bit of respect for the many in New England who are without power, and who have seen damage due to downed limbs and trees. Lesson learned, I hope – don’t plant silver maple trees if you live here. They are late to drop their leaves, easy to break during storms, and thus a terrible tree of choice when living in the path of a nor’easter. Trick or treeeeaaaaaat.

Despite the storm, it has been a beautiful fall week in New England. A perfect week for snacking on pumpkin spice madeleines, if I may be so bold.

If you aren’t familiar with the art of madeleine making, Dorie Greenspan has a terrific post that takes you through it, step by step. I like using her recipe as a guideline, and adapting from there based on the flavor profile I’m looking to create. Any way you make it, whether lemon, almond, or – gasp – even chocolate, you have to start with the basics. Focus on beating the eggs well, and chilling the batter well, and not filling the pans too full-well, and you will be on your way to madeleine greatness.

Pumpkin Spice Madeleines {original recipe, with hints from Dorie Greenspan}

Makes 38-40 madeleines, regular-sized

++Ingredients:++

1 1/3 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. sugar
Zest of one tangerine
4 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch allspice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
7-8 tbsp. canned pumpkin puree
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
Powdered sugar, for dusting

++Directions:++

In a large mixing bowl, rub zest into sugar, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Add eggs to sugar-zest mixture, and beat until thick and light, 2-3 minutes minimum, I usually beat them for around five minutes. Beat in vanilla, then add in allspice, cinnamon, and pumpkin puree. For a stronger pumpkin flavor, skip the vanilla; in this case, 5-6 tbsp of puree will be sufficient (and you will make fewer madeleines. Sad face). Fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter.

Prep pans: Butter and dust with flour, unless nonstick (then coat with vegetable spray). Spoon batter into molds, 2/3rds full. Cover, and chill for several hours minimum. Preheat oven to 400 F, and when ready, bake for 1o to 12 minutes. When golden and cooked through, promptly remove from the pan – just turn them upside down, and tap if necessary. Allow to cool to warm, or room temperature, then dust with powdered sugar if desired (I had run out. Sad face again).

Madeleines do not get better with age, so eat them quickly or be warned – they will get soggy and sticky by day two or three.

Warning: Next time you hear from me, I may be in the middle of a luau, or mowing down on some humu­humu­nuku­nuku­āpuaʻa !

of beatakins i sing, or halloween punkin’ cookies

I love my cat more than I love Asics Onitsu Tiger shoes. I love her more than I love that The Wonder Years is now available for streaming on Netflix. I love her more than I love my pristine collection of Pogs, more than quirky patriotic tee shirts, and more than I love to hate the pop music that my car stereo blares at me on occasion.

Beata is her name.

It’s high time I showcase her cat brilliance, as she prominently appears in my header image – I guess she’s one of the three things I regularly seek out with my compass.

We like to take walks, she on her leash and me tethered to her. She likes to cry loudly at all times of day (and night!). She was a shelter rescue. Who would abandon this sweetheart?

She often likes to sit and watch the walls, hearing invisible scampering creatures that I can only wonder about. When not blankly wall-watching, she occasionally likes to watch me bake. While she didn’t take part in this latest endeavor (she was clearly very busy dreaming of her upcoming chicken and liver dinner), I think she would approve. For who, I ask you, who, doesn’t like a cutely-decorated sugar cookie?

I was a mite inspired by Xiaolu of 6 Bittersweets’ similar (but more professional-looking) pumpkin sugar cookies. Apparently they were her first decorated cookies as well. I didn’t realize I was going for the same look until a peek into my kitchen revealed that my only fall cookie cutter shape was ‘pumpkin.’ So, pumpkin it was.

I chose to turn my punkins into jack-o-lanterns, with faces reminiscent of the limited, crude shapes I find myself capable of carving into pumpkins come October each year. And whose face sticks out the most, through the cluttered sugar coma haze I’ve been living in the past two days? Why, blimey, it’s Harry Potter, boy wizard!

I’ve recently found myself embarking on concentrated mad bouts of stress baking, and these cookies are the result of one such bout. They are full of bout-iful goodness, however, and were a fun and relaxing project that took my mind off of model development failures, model run failures, and other such shenanigans.

I include the Harry Potter pumpkin cookie as a nod to my first post, nearly a year ago already, that featured my pumpkin pumpkin (not cookie pumpkin) of last year. A Harry Potter pumpkin, of course. And hey – just because the books and movies have ended – there’s no way I’m giving up my deep-rooted Harry love. This separation has only strengthened our bond. And given me more time to shower my beautiful cat with loads of affection.

 

Basic Sugar Cookies {recipe adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook}

1/2 lb unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Royal Icing (recipe follows)

Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add eggs, vanilla, almond extract, and salt; mix until combined. Add flour in two batches, mixing until just combined.

Turn out dough onto clean work surface. Flatten into a rectangle; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 1 week.

Preheat oven to 350°F., with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper. On lightly floured work surface, roll out rectangle to between 1/4- and 3/8-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes. Transfer shapes to prepared sheets with a spatula, placing about 2 inches apart: no joke, these puppies SPREAD. Chill in freezer or refrigerator until firm, about 15 minutes. Set scraps aside. Repeat process with remaining rectangle of dough. Gather all the scraps, and roll out again. Chill 15 minutes; cut out more shapes, and place on sheets. Repeat this for all eternity, or until your dough runs out (yeah right), or until you incorporate enough flour into it not to need bursts of refrigeration, or until your patience runs out and you eat the rest of the dough – I prefer the latter!.

If not using Royal Icing, decorate cookies with sanding sugar or sprinkles, if using, before baking. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden around the edges and slightly firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Decorate with Royal Icing, if using. Top icing with sanding sugar or sprinkles, if using.

Enjoy Harry Potter pumpkin cookie as a friend for nearly two days, before realizing that someone has eaten him – was it you?

Go give cat a rubdown.

Royal Icing {Note: Substitute meringue powder for the egg whites if you are afraid of raw eggs. This was a major act of rebellion against USDA guidelines on my part, but I buy (sort of) local cage-free eggs that I choose to believe are healthy and safe. Salmonella, you are not welcome here.}

3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1 1/4 tsp lemon juice
3/4 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Alter the ratios by adding more sugar, or more liquid if necessary (a little water can be helpful). Divide and tint into different shades, if desired.