Mont Blanc chestnut tartlets

There are many pastries/desserts I love that I frankly never plan to make.  They are far above my skill level and it just makes much more sense to leave it to the professionals.  I would say Mont Blanc - a dessert I adore featuring pureed chestnuts - was one of them.  Somehow I'm able to say "was" because I recently made some in my very own kitchen!
I suppose it started with a jar of roasted chestnuts.  After the holidays, I look out for them at William Sonoma when they typically go on sale.  I was only able to get my hands on 2 jars this year and after using one to make a rag├╣, I kept thinking about two Mont Blanc recipes I'd spotted lately...one from Angelina's in Paris (which I have tasted and well-remember) and a feature in the November/December issue of Bake from Scratch.

I had particularly high hopes for the recipe from the magazine but upon looking at it, I was totally intimidated because it involved a good half a dozen steps - from making the pastry crust, an almond cream, then meringues, the chestnut paste, and whipped cream before assembling!  But I still couldn't stop thinking about it and I thought I could make a simplified version leaning on the Bake from Scratch recipe(s)...
So that's how mine came about - a simplified Mont Blanc in tartlet, or mini tart  form, each just a little over 2 inches in diameter.  And while there are variations on the Mont Blanc, mine starts with the almond pastry crust.  Inside the crust, I nestled a little sweetened chestnut puree or chestnut paste before I piped a peak of sweetened whipped cream on top.  Finally, I piped the chestnut paste all around the whipped cream.  
In essence, I skipped the meringue you sometimes find at the bottom of a Mont Blanc (it's not my favorite component anyway) and there's no almond filling.  Instead I just added some of the chestnut puree at the base of the tart for a little more chestnut flavor.

Since Mont Blanc means "white mountain" and that's what the pastry is supposed to resemble, a dusting of confectioners' sugar is very appropriate...but as I discovered, the confectioners' sugar melted very quickly on top of the chestnut puree, seemingly before I could lift the camera and focus. [Interesting tidbit: I just learned that there are 2 types of confectioners' sugar, 10x finely ground that we typically see in the supermarket, and 5x, which is coarser and what you'd use for garnishing when you don't want it to melt on contact with the food.  Makes so much sense!  Now I just need to find out how to get my hands on the 5x variety.]
If you could do me one favor, it would be not to look too closely!  If you don't scrutinize too hard, you might not notice the uneven piping and wiggly lines.  Needless to say, my version is not only simplified but rustic.  That said, I couldn't help but feel excitement - and a little sense of pride - at having made one of my favorite desserts, even if it is a simplified version.



Easy bagel recipe!

I found my first 2018 baking inspiration in the form of these incredibly easy - and tasty - homemade bagels!
I first saw them from Skinnytaste's Instagram account and when she posted the recipe, I barely waited a day to try them.  If you like bagels and wish you could eat them more often (like me), you'll surely be tempted because they are practically 2-ingredient bagels that takes very little time to make from scratch!

Even if you don't use self-rising flour and break down the components (adding baking powder and salt yourself), you only need 4-5 ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, non-fat Greek yogurt, and an egg white to brush the top with, plus any optional topping you might like on them.  I had everything I needed to make these without going to the grocery store.  It sounds incredible but really, it works and it's tasty to boot!  
Did I also mention, they're only about 150 calories each, with 26.5 grams of carbs?  I don't know about you but though I adore bagels, I don't eat them very often as I try to watch my intake of refined carbs.  Making them myself and having this lighter option is a fabulous discovery.  Not to mention...I made bagels!  How neat is that!

For my inaugural batch of bagels, I used 2/3 all-purpose flour and 1/3 white whole wheat flour.  Next time (and there will be plenty of opportunities), I plan to increase the whole wheat proportion further.  
The non-fat Greek yogurt is key.  They work some kind of magic so that the bagels turn out with a nice soft texture and have a slightly tangy, salty bite.  These are not the traditional super-dense, heavy bagels.  My bagels were still very soft inside after 2 days sitting at room temperature.  
I toast them up and they're good plain, with butter, cream cheese, and almond butter - to name a few options.  All I can say is if you enjoy bagels and want a lighter option, try making these very easy ones!  These are going to have a place in our breakfast routine from now on.  I think that's a pretty great way to start of the new year in the kitchen!



Chocolate hazelnut toffee

Happy New Year!  It's that time again when I slowly float back down from cloud nine, and settle back into our everyday post-holiday life.  And believe me, I'm landing on some very freezing cold ground!  I sure hope you had a wonderfully relaxing and happy holiday!  We enjoyed every moment of it.  My family and I so look forward to the quiet time of that last week or so of the year and even with all the high expectations, it never seems to disappoint.  
It made me realize how wonderful the gift of time really is.  Not having to rush and having plenty of time to spend with each other, cozy and snug (which we were in general except for a 16-hour power outage), lingering over meals and savoring the calm for about 10 days straight is really as good as it gets for me.  I think my husband and I get recharged and live off of the annual holiday hiatus for months after.

Now, while the holiday baking frenzy has come and gone (and it was glorious while it lasted!), I wanted to share the last treat I made before the New Year.  I always like the idea of making toffee and candies because it's not only a lovely little nibble to add to all the Christmas cookies, it's great for gift-giving.  Pop some into a bag, jar, or tin, and you've got a lovely little hostess gift.  
This time, I made hazelnut toffee, with big chunks of whole roasted hazelnuts, topped with a coating of dark chocolate.  You can add a sprinkle of sea salt on top to finish but I kept it plain.  I'm always a little nervous when it comes to making toffee but it's so rewarding in the end.  If you use a candy thermometer and cook the mixture to 300 degrees, you'll end up with toffee that's just properly firm and crunchy but infinitely easy to bite into and eat.  

I'm a big fan of this since I love hazelnuts and there is obviously plenty of delicious hazelnut flavor and aroma in this toffee.  And the dark chocolate layer on top is a must-have in my book.  Honestly, a great homemade toffee isn't hard to make and maybe we shouldn't relegate it to the holidays.  I'm sure most people would enjoy a little homemade toffee in their life any time of the year!  Although with Chinese New Year coming up, I can't help but think this toffee would make a great sweet gift for the occasion as well.



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