Molded Chocolate-filled Napoleons {ModBak}

This week’s recipe for the Modern Baker Challenge is one of several versions of mille feuille, which consist of a filling (usually sweet, but sometimes savory) between baked layers of puff pastry. Mille feuille is French for “thousand leaves”, a reference to the delicate layers exhibited by the puff pastry when it is baked.

To make the Napoleons, I began by baking a pastry layer, which I then cut to fit a foil-lined pan.

Next, I made a richly flavored chocolate mousse to go between the pastry layers. Most of the chocolate mousse recipes I’m familiar with are made fluffy by the addition of either whipped cream or egg white meringue to a chocolate pudding base. So I was surprised to see that Nick’s recipe utilizes both whipped cream and meringue. I had no doubt that this would make a stunning mousse.

Another interesting twist to Nick’s recipe is a secret that I recently picked up from Dorie Greenspan‘s Around My French Table — the addition of unflavored gelatin to the mousse. As I learned when I made Dorie’s citrus-berry terrine, French chefs (both home and professional) see gelatin as just another pantry staple and use it for many things, including strengthening whipped cream and stabilizing mousse that’s destined to be used as a filling, as in this recipe.

I spread the mousse over the baked pastry layer in the pan.

Then I topped the mousse with a second pastry layer, compressed it gently, and chilled it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I removed the pan from the refrigerator and unmolded the pastry by lifting it out of the pan, peeling away the foil, then transferring the pastry to a cutting board with a large cake spatula.

I trimmed the edges of the pastry, then cut it into serving-sized pieces. I dusted the Napoleons with powdered sugar and cocoa, then plated them with a few raspberries.

My family is accustomed to my cooking and baking, which often includes exotic ingredients and fancy plating. But even they were impressed with these pastries, which we all agreed looked like they had come from a fancy bakery.

And the taste? Well, let’s just say it lived up to the appearance. The mousse was rich and deeply flavored. And the pastry was crisp, buttery, and flaky.

This is a dessert worthy of your best dinner party. It’s also perfect for a weeknight family supper.

Margaret wrote the official post for this recipe. You can read about her experience here.

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes {MSC}

This month’s selection for the Martha Stewart Cupcakes Club is Snickerdoodle Cupcakes, featured on page 138. I’m a huge Snickerdoodle fan, which could be good or bad when it came to these cupcakes. I knew I would like the flavors, chiefly cinnamon and sugar. But just because a dish is fashioned after another dish doesn’t guarantee that it will live up to the original.

So, with mixed feelings, I set out to make this month’s cupcakes. As with most of the recipes in this book, I decided to make a half recipe, as the full recipe yields 28 cupcakes, and I don’t need that much temptation in my house.

The recipe calls for AP and cake flours. I didn’t have cake flour in the cupboard, so I improvised by adding a bit of corn starch to some all-purpose flour, with a ratio of two tablespoons corn starch per one cup flour. The easiest way to do this is to measure the corn starch into a dry one-cup measuring cup, then fill the cup the rest of the way with flour.

I mixed up the batter and filled the cupcake pans. In the past, I’ve found Martha’s recipes to be very generous — if the yield is supposed to be 15, you almost always end up with 18 cupcakes. So I was surprised when this recipe, which I expected to yield at least 16 cupcakes, ended up making only 12.

I baked the cupcakes for about 20 minutes. They smelled a lot like snickerdoodle cookies while they baked. And they came out looking something like them, too.

After the cupcakes cooled, I made the Seven-Minute Frosting on page 303. This is a meringue-type frosting, in which egg whites are beaten together with a sugar syrup cooked to the soft-ball stage.

The frosting is supposed to be piped onto the cupcakes using a Wilton 1A tip. I didn’t have the tip, and although I admit to looking for it at one store, I ultimately decided to stick to my self-imposed, although infrequently followed, rule of not buying a new piece of cooking equipment until at least the second or third time I need it. So I frosted the cupcakes without a tip. To do this, I used a disposable piping bag and cut a fairly large chunk off the end. And I have to say, it worked pretty well.

A little sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar was all it took to finish them off. The cell phone picture above doesn’t do justice to these cupcakes. They were easily the most professional-looking cupcakes I’ve ever made.

So, how did they compare to “real” snickerdoodles? Quite favorably, I’d have to say. I would be proud to serve these to company or, as I plan on doing, contribute them to a school bake sale.