Pascale’s Kitchen: Shortcuts to make baking fun

For this week, I chose three types of cake bases, and within a few hours I’d created three different fancy desserts, which I immediately put in the fridge, to be taken out just before serving. 

 Decadent chocolate pie (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Decadent chocolate pie
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

This week, I had the opportunity to visit a baking specialty store I’d never been to before. From the first moment I entered, my heart started beating quickly as my eyes glanced over the incredible variety of items I saw on the shelves. 

I’ve been a baking enthusiast for many years and even published a number of baking books, so it is really heartwarming to see how much this field has expanded in Israel. Nowadays, every amateur baker can just pop in to a baking specialty store and purchase all the ingredients they need to create incredible cakes and desserts. In the past, I had to travel overseas to purchase certain items, but now everything is available here in Israel. Stores now stock an assortment of creams, powders and stabilizers that make baking easier. 

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Moreover, many shops also carry prepared crusts and baked goods that are perfect for when you want to cut down on preparation time. These cake bases come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and all you have to do is prepare cream, syrup, filling or fruit to add on top. For example, if you purchase meringue, you can skip the time required to whip the egg whites, as well as the many hours of baking and drying the meringue in the oven. You can also buy crusts that are great for using to make pies and cakes. 

So, for this week, I chose three types of cake bases, and within a few hours I’d created three different fancy desserts, which I immediately put in the fridge, to be taken out just before serving. 

For the first pie, I used flaky puff pastry. I considered using it to make a pecan pie, but in the end I decided to make a chocolate pie. I whipped together a scrumptious chocolate mixture, put the pie in the oven, then added chocolate icing and vanilla cream swirls on top.

 Decadent chocolate pie (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Decadent chocolate pie (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

For the second dessert, I decided to make a Napoleon (cremeschnitte) cake, which calls for three layers of puff pastry, with delicious crème pâtissière filling the spaces between them. I sprinkled a generous amount of powdered sugar on top before serving. 

The third dessert I made was a cracked pavlova, which is made with pieces of meringue, vanilla cream and fresh fruit.

I received rave reviews for these delicacies, none of which took much time, since I’d purchased the puff pastry and meringue and could therefore skip the first step of each of the recipes listed below. In short, you don’t always need to work very hard to come up with gorgeous and tasty desserts. 

While I was putting together the recipes that I included in this week’s column, I’d initially left out the first step of each recipe, which involved preparing homemade crusts and cakes. At the last moment, however, I decided to include instructions for preparing these cake bases, in case some of you have the time and want to make the entire cake from scratch, without taking any shortcuts. This way, whenever you want to prepare a glamorous dessert, you can pick whichever method suits your schedule.

DECADENT CHOCOLATE PIE

Use a 26-cm.-diameter pan.

  • Dough (if not using a store-bought pie crust):
  • 2 cups flour, sifted
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 200 gr. cold butter, cubed
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg

Filling:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 250 gr. bittersweet chocolate
  • 150 gr. butter
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Icing:

  • ½ container sweet cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • 150 gr. bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 Tbsp. chocolate liqueur

Serving suggestion:

  • 1 cup prepared whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

If you’ll be using a store-bought crust, you can skip the step of preparing the dough and move directly to making the filling.

To prepare the dough: Add all the dough ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and process until they are mixed well and the dough falls away from the side of the bowl. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for 3 hours. 

Next, take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out on a floured surface. Then, transfer it to a pan. Take a fork and poke holes in the dough. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Next, place a sheet of baking paper on top of the dough, then sprinkle dry beans on top so that the crust will remain flat, without any air bubbles. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 180° for 15-20 minutes until it browns. Remove from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. 

To prepare the filling: Beat the eggs, the yolk and the sugar with an electric mixer for 7-8 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. 

Place the chocolate, butter and salt in a pot and heat over a low heat. Take it off the heat and let it cool a little, then fold it into the egg mixture and stir until well mixed. 

Pour the filling onto the crust and bake for 20-25 minutes. 

To prepare the icing: Heat the cream, salt and chocolate in a small pot. Let it cool slightly. Serve alongside the pie or smooth it on top of the pie. Serve with strawberries or ice cream. 

Level of difficulty: Easy-mediumTime: 40 minutes (plus 3.5 hours)Status: Dairy

 Napoleon (cremeschnitte) (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Napoleon (cremeschnitte) (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

Napoleon (cremeschnitte)

Use a 24-cm. x 32-cm. pan.

  • ½ kg. butter puff pastry, or 3 baked puff pastry sheets

Crème pâtissière:

  • ½ liter milk
  • Vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise, or a few drops of quality vanilla extract
  • 50 gr. corn flour
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 150 gr. sugar
  • 50 gr. butter
  • 1 container (250 ml.) sweet cream

Topping:

  • ½ cup powdered sugar

To prepare the crème pâtissière: Melt the corn flour in a little bit of the milk. Then add the egg yolks and sugar, and beat until mixed well. 

Heat the rest of the milk in a pot. Remove all of the vanilla beans from the pod and add them to the pot. Bring to a boil, then add between one-third and one-half of the milk to the egg mixture. Beat the egg mixture until the sugar has dissolved. 

Pour the egg mixture into the boiling milk and beat rigorously while cooking over a low heat. Keep mixing until the mixture gets thicker. 

Remove the pot from the heat, and pour the mixture into a large bowl. Add the butter, and mix until the butter has completely dissolved. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for an hour. 

Place the sweet cream in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip until the cream is smooth and has thickened. Fold half of the cream into the crème pâtissière, then the other half. Mix gently only until just mixed. 

If you are using raw puff pastry, roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut into three equal-sized pieces. Place one of the dough pieces on a tray, and then cover with a second tray that sits flat on the dough so that the dough will remain flat during baking. Bake the dough in an oven that has been preheated to 190° for 10 minutes until it has browned. Bake each piece of dough on its own. 

Place one piece of baked puff pastry in a pan and spread some of the crème pâtissière on top of it. Then add another sheet of baked puff pastry and spread on more crème pâtissière. On top, add the third sheet of baked puff pastry. 

Sprinkle a thick layer of powdered sugar on top of the Napoleon cake, and store the cake in the fridge until serving.

One way to make it easier to cut the Napoleon cake is to slice the baked puff pastry into pieces before adding the cream. 

Level of difficulty: MediumTime: 90 minutes (plus 1 hour)Status: Dairy

 Cracked pavlova (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Cracked pavlova (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

CRACKED PAVLOVA

Use an 18-cm.-diameter pan or 6-8 mini pans.

Meringue:

  • 120 gr. egg whites (3-4 egg whites from large eggs)
  • 120 gr. (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 120 gr. (2/3 cup) powdered sugar

Topping:

  • Seasonal fruit, sliced, such as strawberries, blackberries, or prepared vanilla whipped cream

Cream:

  • 1¼ cups milk
  • ½ vanilla stick
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 heaping Tbsp. corn flour

If you are using store-bought meringue, you can skip the step of preparing the filling.

To prepare the meringue: Preheat the oven to 100°. Add the egg whites and a little bit of the sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer, and mix on medium speed. While mixing, add the rest of the sugar and the powdered sugar. Mix until stiff peaks form.

Transfer the egg white mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a serrated tip. Squeeze out spiral-shaped 2-cm.-wide mounds onto a baking sheet. Bake for 4 hours, or even a little more, until the meringue pieces have completely dried out. 

To prepare the cream: Add the milk and vanilla stick to a pot, and bring to a boil over a medium heat. In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks together with the sugar and the corn flour, then add this mixture to the boiling milk, while stirring vigorously. Bring back to a boil, and cook for another 20 minutes until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl to let the mixture cool. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge. 

To construct the pavlova: Place some of the meringue pieces on a serving platter. You can leave some of the meringue intact and crumble others. Pour some of the vanilla cream on top of the meringue. Then add another layer of meringue and then more cream. Before serving, add the strawberries or other fruit, and the whipped cream. Serve cold. 

Level of difficulty: EasyTime: 40 minutes (plus 5 hours)Status: Dairy

Translated by Hannah Hochner.