Sunday, February 28, 2010

Winning the Honey Competition: Pain Perdu

Shock.  That's what I'm still feeling.  I knew I'd be writing a post about this recipe and about the contest..... But I honestly didn't imagine that I'd write about winning!  

When I first found out about this competition, sponsored by the National Honey Board, I wasn't even sure I'd enter.  It's been a busy semester plus I've never competed in a competition like this one.  Plus, I'd have to miss class to participate in the competition......  But, I asked my chef from the class I'd be missing and he told me, "Don't let the fact that you have class that day keep you from entering the competition."  So, I didn't.  And now I'm so glad I entered!  Thank you, Chef!

Then came the process of figuring out what to make.  I had a whole list of ideas, however, I discovered some key elements of the contest (i.e. the time limit) and I determined simple was the way to go.  Simple is not always easy for me....I like elaborate.  I kept reminding myself that I needed to do something I'm really comfortable with, especially since I hadn't done a competition before.  But, I needed to make simple spectacular.  So here's what I came up with:

Pain Perdu with Creme Fraiche Pastry Cream, Honeyed Oranges & Orange Blossom Honey Syrup (with pistachio garnish)

Pain Perdu is just a fancy name for plain old french toast.  Only, there's nothing plain about this french toast: it's made with rich brioche bread and flavored with vanilla bean paste (my favorite alternative to vanilla extract) & Grand Marnier Liqueur.  Pastry Cream is virtually homemade vanilla pudding, only this one is finished with rich and tangy creme fraiche.

Adding the star ingredient to  the Orange Blossom Honey Syrup (as shot by my dad)

The honeyed oranges are nothing more than orange slices  which I embelished by slightly "caramelizing" (aka blackening) them with my nifty kitchen torch before they were tossed with a drizzle of fragrant, locally made Orange Blossom honey.  And the syrup is two very simple, yet always tasty ingredients: Butter and Honey (Orange Blossom Honey to be exact).

Three plated portions to mimic the three portions as they were presented to the three judges

So, why would I specifically choose to make Pain Perdu/French Toast?  Let me quote the "inspiration" section I included with my recipes......

Pain perdu (or as it is more commonly known: French Toast)  is prevalent in many of my childhood food memories.  I remember my father making french toast for my family on special occasions when I was young.  But then I learned to make french toast myself, with the help of my father and an American Girl Doll cookbook.  In fact, I do believe french toast is one of the first recipes I could make all by myself.   Fast forward a few years and many many batches of french toast, happily consumed by my family who often request it when I am home, and french toast still remains one of my favorite items to make.  Though it comes from humble beginnings (just stale bread, eggs, milk, a little sugar, and spices/extracts), french toast can have spectacular results.    
Versitility is a gem of both this dish and of Pain Perdu in general.  Small portions could be served in a formal plated design for an unexpected dessert.  Or larger, more informal portions could be served family style for a breakfast feast.  Either way, it is a delight to the palate.  Flavors can also be interchanged.  No Brioche available?  Use another eggy, sweet bread like Challah, or even just a good French bread (although the results will not be as rich).  No Grand  Marnier around?  Use orange extract or some orange zest or another flavoring of your choice.  No pistachios on hand?  Use another nut, such as almonds or pecans.....  The possibilities are endless!  
I truly believe in using local, in season ingredients whenever possible, and also I believe in wasting as little as possible.  This time of year (February) the grocery stores are full of many delicious citrus fruits... Oranges just happen to be one of many varieties of citrus available.  The Orange Blossom Honey chosen in this recipe not only compliments the flavor of the oranges but also was produced locally in Omega Georgia.  Additionally, this recipe allows for the use of a nearly unusable product: stale bread.  In fact, it is best made with old bread that is able to easily absorb rich eggy custard before it it fried to golden deliciousness.   

In true Laura form, I decided to design a booklet to showcase my recipes and their costs, as well as to talk about my inspiration behind the dish.  After all, I rarely do things half way :)  Here's the cover, complete with the honeycomb background and hand-drawn honey bees.

Another unexpected blessing about this competition is that it occurred right smack dab during my parents' visit!  So they were able to taste test one of my practice runs (and my dad took some pictures), help calm my nerves, assist me with my mis-en-place, wash my dishes, cheer me on, and celebrate my win!  

I was extremely nervous, though very thankful that I had the experience of teaching classes at the UND Wellness Center Culinary Corner to draw upon.  I'll never watch culinary competitions on TV again without thinking about how fast the time goes during competition..... I've got a whole new respect for "Iron Chef."

An of a practice batch shot by my dad with his super awesome lens

Ironically, the most difficult part of this competition was executing the Pain Perdu--I believe it's probably the most difficult batch of french toast I've ever made.  I've never cooked french toast on a gas stove, nor do I really have much of any experience with gas stoves, except the few things we've done in my classes this past year......  I totally and completely burned the first couple pieces I fried.  Not only did I completely burn the french toast, I also filled the competition space with a nice fog of smoke. haha!  Thank goodness for having a backup loaf of brioche and for my classmate Irma, who was assisting another contestant (and friend).  Irma washed my badly scorched pan while I tried to get my wits and confidence back.......

But despite the trials, which also included a miscommunication about my time slot for presenting to the judges (I had to wait over 10 minutes with my completed, rapidly cooling, plates before I presented), I finished!  And then was the waiting part.....

My fourth portion on display with some of the other entries.  

Waiting is unbelievably difficult.  Waiting with 23 other participants who have also produced amazing dishes is even more difficult.   I'm not sure how the judges made their final decisions! 

Judges deliberating, as shot by my dad. 

We were all just on pins and needles waiting for everyone to finish and for the judges to make their final decisions.....  Though the judges had seemed to enjoy my dish when I presented, I didn't really think I had a chance at winning.  I was just thankful I had the opportunity to compete and learn from the experience......

waiting, waiting, waiting (as shot by my dad)

My hopes were intrigued a bit when a classmate, who entered the kitchen to return some dishes, heard one of the judges say something positive and then point to my dish..... And then another classmate thought they saw my name on a piece of paper when one of the judges exited.....  oooooooooo!

Finally, we contestants were all moved to the dining room for the final announcement.....   

.....and then they announced ME as the first place winner!  What?!?!    

It felt very dream-like as I moved to the front of the room to accept my award from the National Honey Board Spokesperson!  I don't even remember what was said.... I just know I couldn't stop smiling!

Then, they announced the other winners, and they ALL happened to be friends/acquaintances of mine.....  I was so proud of us all!

winners!  (as shot by my dad)

A HUGE thank you goes out to my fellow participants.  EVERYONE did such a great job! 

So, should I go to Europe with my winnings?

So, I believe my winning recipe will eventually be on the National Honey Board Website, but I'll post it here as well.  Honestly, try it!   I'm sure you'll love it!  :)

8 thick slices of day-old Brioche or Challah Bread, cut into triangles 
3 large Eggs
74 g Milk (approximately 1/3 cup)
30 g Granulated Sugar (1/8 cup plus 1 tsp) 
3/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste (or substitute Vanilla Extract)
1 tsp Grand Marnier 
Pinch of Salt
Vegetable Oil for coating skillet during frying
1.  Whisk the eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean paste, Grand Marnier, and salt together until well combined.  
2.  Heat vegetable oil in the bottom of a large skillet.  
3.  Dip the bread triangles into the egg mixture and drain.  Fry until golden on both sides.  
4.  Hold in a 300° F oven until ready to serve. 

192 g Milk (approximately ¾ cup) 
46 g Granulated Sugar (approximately ¼ cup)
19 g Corn Starch (approximately 2 tbl plus 2 tsp) 
56 g Creme Fraiche (approximately ¼ cup) 
4 g Grand Marnier (2½tsp) 
4 g Vanilla Bean Paste (or substitute Vanilla Extract) (1 ½ tsp) 
1.  Heat 100 g milk & 23 g sugar in a sauce pan until just boiling.
2. Meanwhile, make a slurry with the remaining 92 g of milk and the corn starch.  Mix the slurry with the remaining 23 g  of sugar & the egg yolks.  
3. Temper the hot milk & sugar into the egg mixture and return to the sauce pan.  Bring to a second boil, whisking constantly.
4.  Remove from the heat & mix in Creme Fraiche.  Allow to cool slightly & add Grand Marnier and Vanilla Bean Paste. 
5.  Cover & chill several hours.  

1 large orange
1.  Use a pairing knife or vegetable peeler to shave several strips of orange zest.  Save these strips for garnish.  Peel the rest 
of  the zest & pith off the orange flesh & discard.  Slice the orange flesh into rounds & cut each round in half.  Pat dry  with paper towel.
2.  With a blow torch, caramelize the dried orange flesh on both sides.  (optional )
3.  Warm the orange blossom honey slightly and drizzle over the caramelized slices. 

66 g unsalted butter (approximately 5 tbl)
140 g Orange Blossom Honey (approximately 1/3 cup)
pinch of salt
1.  Heat  the unsalted butter and orange blossom honey until it comes to a boil.
2.  Cool slightly and pour into shot glasses. 

This post contains affiliate links, meaning Sweet Treats makes a small commission off items purchased 
after an Amazon link is clicked with no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Contest update

Just a quick update on yesterday's contest!

Brace yourselves.....


I'm still rather in shock....    I had hoped to maybe win 4th place, but I never expected first!

A more in depth post, complete with pictures and recipes, will be coming sometime soon (I hope), but I'm completely exhausted from yesterday plus my parents happen to be visiting for the weekend (yay!).  So, my first priority is resting and spending time with my family.

Oh, and I'm sitting out this month's Daring Baker's challenge because I spent so much time & money on the Honey Competition.  Sorry :(  But I don't feel too bad, considering!

Here's a teaser shot my dad took of me standing in front of some of the entries.... my entry is in the top right corner (it's the one with the shot glass on the plate).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sneak Peek: Pain Perdu

This semester is/has been brutal!  I feel like I'm never home, and if I happen to be, there's always homework to do.....  But I do have something big up my sleeve.  I'm entering a contest!

The premise of the contest centers around using honey.  Not only did I create this recipe, but on Friday morning, I have one hour to execute 4 portions, plate and present them to judges!  Yikes!  

Needless to say, I've been spending as much time as I can practicing.  I'm nervous, but am trying to stay positive.  I know I can make this and make it well!

Here's a sneak peek at my dish from one of my test runs (minus garnish)...... I'll post more after the competition!

Pain Perdu

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day: Homemade Candy

Candy Assortment

I have a confession to make:  I haven't really felt much like baking at home lately.

I'm not exactly sure what it is.....  This semester is much more stressful than I anticipated and has been much more waring on my spirit.   Plus, my kitchen scale battery dieds and I haven't had a chance to replace the battery yet.  

But, with Valentine's day coming, I knew I needed to get some sort of inspiration and create something I could mail to some of my friends and family.

I'm taking a Candies & Confectionaries course this semester, and although it isn't my favorite class, I decided to stretch myself and do more candy work and make homemade candy boxes to mail.  In addition to the candies I made,  I purchased ones made in my class and in an advanced class.

Really, though, all this home project did was make me even more frustrated..... I am COMPLETELY CONVINCED that I am never meant to be a chocolatier.  Oye.

Anyway, my contribution to these candy boxes was homemade Mounds and Almond Joys.  I found my recipes here.

Candies, ready to be cut to individual size. 

Why Mounds and Almond Joys?  Well, A really really likes coconut, so I knew I wanted to make them for him :)  But I've also got a couple friends with nut allergies, so I made sure there would be nut-free candies to include in their boxes....

Yes, I made extra especially sure not to contaminate the Mounds with the nuts from the Almond Joys..... I cut and dipped the Mounds first before finishing the almond joys.

Candies waiting to be dipped in tempered chocolate.

The whole process was rather an ordeal..... Everything, baking-wise, lately seems to be an ordeal.  The first time I made the coconut filling, I overcooked the sugar mixture because my thermometer malfunctioned once the coconut was added.  And so instead of nice, chewy coconut centers, I had hard, sticky coconut centers that probably would have taken fillings out of teeth!  So, I started over.  The second time, I just cooked the syrup and coconut mixture slightly instead of relying on the thermometer.  (NOTE: I rarely advocate not using a thermometer, but this is one instance where I would).

Then came the tempering of the chocolate for dipping the centers in.  This portion of the project is also known as hell.   I have a great dislike for tempering chocolate in class.  But it's even worse at home where you do not have an endless supply of chocolate and/or cocoa butter on hand (especially high quality chocolate pieces) nor do you have a marble slab.  Armed with bars of Ghiradelli chocolate (which I first had to chop), my thermometer, a microwave, a spatula, and other necessary equipment, I set about the temper and dip the chocolate......

Sorry there are no pictures of this process.  I was too busy feeling like I should smash my head against the wall.... repeatedly.

Eventually I dipped everything, but it took several hours (complete with the point where I had to start COMPLETELY OVER on the chocolate part because I mis-set the microwave timer and broke the temper), I lost most of my sanity, and the candies looked ugly.  But they were done.  And they tasted pretty good.

When it came time to packaging the candies, I decided to make a key!  After all, I hate when boxes of chocolates don't say what each candy is.  There's nothing worse than biting into a candy and discovering you weren't expecting that specific filling and perhaps do not even like it.

Oh, I also made lovely heart shaped marshmallows that were suppose to be included in the candy boxes. But alas, I didn't realize I had forgotten to include them until after I was finished mailing the packages.....  Oh well, I'll use them in another recipe.

A finished box with the cards I photographed and designed. 

Here's hoping everyone has a wonderful Valentine's Day filled with sweet treats!  

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Another interruption: Snow!

I've got a valentine's-themed post in the works, but I thought I'd interrupt the baking posts once more to show the SNOW we just got in SC.  It's been more than 5 years since Columbia (where I shot these images) got snow and over 10 since Charleston has!

So, it's quite a momentous occasion. And was quite beautiful (especially considering it will not last very long.)

A's back yard, around 6pm last night

Gallantly holding an umbrella over my head while I shot pics 
(the snow was so wet, I didn't want to damage my camera)

This morning, shortly after 7am, we went for a walk around the neighborhood. 

another person out viewing the snow

poor trees heavy with snow

shortly after noon.... snow is disappearing....  

I promise, back to baking tomorrow!  If you want to see more snow pictures, I'll be uploading them to flickr in the next day or two....  

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Savory Post: Boeuf Bourguignon

We interrupt your usually sweet-themed posting to bring you........ a SAVORY post!   dun dun dun..... And this isn't just any savory post, it's one about beef!

What's the big deal about beef, you may say?

Beef is a super big huge deal for me.  I haven't eaten it since 1998.

I was in 7th grade when I read an article in a magazine about being a vegetarian.  And being the impressionable middle school student I was, I decided to become semi vegetarian and immediately stop eating beef.  Eventually I eliminated most other meat......

I have a variety of other reasons for why I do not consume much meat.....  And after watching Food Inc. this fall and subsequently reading Skinny Bitch I am even more convinced that it is better for me to not consume much meat.  I was even going to try to become vegan this year, but I keep caving in to cheese and butter and creme fraiche.....   Plus, it's been easier and cheaper (and I feel healthier) for me to eat other things besides meat.  And now that I've been semi-vegetarian for so long, I've lost my taste for meat products.

That being said, reading the books My Life in France (Julia Child) and Julie & Julia (Julie Powell) and seeing the film Julie & Julia inspired me to think about the monumental "Boeuf Bourguignon"  

So, I've been thinking..... and thinking.....  and thinking..... And I decided to give it a try.  "A" came to visit for a couple days this week and we decided to make it together!

If I was going to be consuming beef for the first time in over 10 years, I wanted to make sure I was eating top-quality, organic ingredients.  And that the wine was French (it seemed only fitting).

I intended to use Julia Child's recipe from her book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," but after reading her original recipe and finding this New York Times article, I decided to go with a different version: the recipe from Ginette Mathiot's book “Je Sais Cuisiner” (“I Know How to Cook”).  Ginette Mathiot's version was just less complicated and required less ingredients.  

Additionally, I decided to make roasted garlic mashed potatoes to go with the Boeuf Bourguignon.  Just in case I absolutely hated the bouf bourguignon, at least I had something I knew I would like.  

The results?  Voila! Boeuf Bourguignon, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Artisan Baguette (made in my bread class) and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  

My verdict?  It was pretty good!  I liked the sauce and the mushrooms best, especially when mixed with the mashed potatoes or with baguette dipped in them.  The beef chunks were surprisingly tender and not as bad as I thought.  

In hind sight, I was a bit over zealous in thinking I could go from not eating beef in over 10 years, to suddenly eating large chunk of beef. I probably should have just eaten the broth. I'm never very good at baby steps.... either no steps at all or giant ones.  I did get a horrible stomach ache after eating the meal, but I'm still proud of what I did!    


Adapted from "I Know How to Cook" by Ginette Mathiot

1 tablespoon oil
3 ounces onions or shallots, chopped
3 1/2 ounces thick-cut bacon, diced
1 1/2 pounds stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2 -inch pieces, patted dry
Scant 1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cups any type of stock, hot
1 1/4 cups red wine
1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs fresh thyme and 3 sprigs parsley, tied together)
Black pepper
3 1/2 ounces mushrooms, diced

  1. In a heavy pan over medium heat, heat oil. Add onions and bacon and cook, stirring, until browned. Remove them and set aside; leave fat in pan.
  2. Add beef and brown on all sides (work in two batches if needed to avoid crowding).
  3. Sprinkle browned beef with flour, stir until browned and add stock. Stir, scraping bottom of pan, then add reserved bacon and onions, the wine and bouquet garni. Season with pepper.
  4. Simmer very gently for 2 hours.
  5. Add mushrooms and cook 30 minutes more. Season with salt and serve. Or, even better, reheat and serve the next day.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes 
**Note: These are really more guidelines than anything because I never make mashed potatoes  with a recipe....  just dump and pour until it reaches the consistency you like**

Garlic Head
Olive Oil
Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled & cut into chunks
Cream Cheese
Sour Cream

  1. Cut the tip off the head of garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil and place in aluminum foil.  Roast in a 350 degree oven 1 hour, or until the cloves are caramelized and squishy.  
  2. Boil the potatoes in salted water until they are fork tender.  Drain and place back into the pot. 
  3. Squish garlic cloves into the potatoes (number of cloves to taste, depending on how much you like garlic) and add a little butter, cream cheese, and sour cream.  Mash with a potato masher until you reach the consistency of choice.  Add warm milk or stock if you prefer the potatoes less stiff.  
  4. Enjoy! 

This post contains affiliate links, meaning Sweet Treats makes a small commission off items purchased 
after an Amazon link is clicked with no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support.