Dorie Greenspan's Baking Chez Moi Explores 'French Comfort Baking'
All photos by Alan Richardson
Brooklyn native Dorie Greenspan has led a life most of us could only dream of achieving. After doing a dissertation for a doctorate in gerontology and subsequently working in research facilities, Greenspan took a step back from her career to take care of her son, Joshua. Time passed and she didn't want to go back to her former line of work. She was an avid home baker, and her husband, Michael, suggested she try her hand at practicing her passion as a profession. She did, but Greenspan quickly realized it wasn't going to work out: "That was kind of a flop for me; I got fired after a month."
It was then that a friend suggested she try her hand at writing about food. Fortunately, those cards played out. The six-time James Beard Award–winning writer has gone on to collaborate with some of the greatest culinary figures in the industry, including esteemed French pastry chef Pierre Hermé, Daniel Boulud, and Julia Child. Greenspan recently released her eleventh volume, Baking Chez Moi: Recipes From My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, in which she shares her repertoire of the simple sweets she likes to prepare at home.
The volume aims to bring readers into the world of rustic home desserts — not the elaborate pastries that line the shelves of high-end pâtisseries — in an attempt to show the inner sanctum of the French home. For the past twenty years, Greenspan and her husband have been living in Paris part-time (she spends the rest of her time in New York City and Connecticut), so she's been able to see a side of the culture that most visitors never get to experience. Even for dinner parties, the French tend to stick to the pastry shop when it comes to dessert. It takes years of going to a friend's home, until you're finally considered one of the family, to get a homemade sweet treat. "Or you do what I did after many years," says Greenspan. "I said, 'Hey, just give me what you make on a Tuesday night. You can't possibly be going to Pierre Hermé's and buying this for your family.' "
Her request worked. Greenspan compiled the book with a combination of recipes she developed herself and others she collected from friends. While she's ecstatic with the outcome, the book ended up the opposite of what she set out to do. Greenspan's original plan was to focus on fancy French pastry. In the initial stages, however, she found herself eyeing loaf cakes while the chefs she was working with were composing beautiful, intricate creations. She quickly tacked to a new direction, focusing, instead, on "French comfort baking."
Recipes range from simple cakes (like apple weekend cake and Alsace-style cheesecake) to tarts and galettes to cookies and bars to pistachio and raspberry financier.
While the difference isn't stark, Greenspan's latest work is a bit of a departure from many of her other works. (The New York Times bestseller Around My French Table is the savory significant other to her new casual pastry piece.) She co-authored two books with Hermé, one of which, Desserts by Pierre Hermé, won the IACP Cookbook-of-the-Year Award. (Both were huge hits within the restaurant industry.) The Café Boulud Cookbook was another, focusing on the creative process of the chef. But Baking With Julia, which she co-authored with Julia Child, was probably the most life-changing for Greenspan; while working on the publication, they developed a lifelong attachment. "She was just remarkable," says Greenspan. "She was just so smart and so curious about people and everything around her. And she was really a good friend."
Greenspan met Child shortly after Greenspan's first book, Sweet Times, was released in 1991. According to Greenspan, the book wasn't exactly a hit. "My mother bought it, my next-door neighbor. We could say it had a cult following," she jokes. Even so, Greenspan started attracting some attention. She was invited to Boston University for an event, in which she asked to demonstrate a recipe. It just so happened that Julia Child and Jacques Pépin were also there. After the show, Child approached Greenspan, complimenting her performance and asking her if they could sit together for the ensuing dinner. Greenspan, obviously, obliged; she was astounded by what happened next. "Julia says to me, 'Have you ever seen that imitation Dan Aykroyd did of me on Saturday Night Live?' And I said, 'Julia, I might be the only person in America who's never seen it.' So she then says, 'Oh, here's how it went.' She stood up and did Julia Child doing Dan Aykroyd doing Julia Child. It was hysterical," recalls Greenspan. "It was total love at first sight."
Sense of humor aside, it makes sense that the pair hit it off: Greenspan and Child are incredibly similar. Both are extremely talented cooks. Both write long recipes with the attention to detail of a master copy editor. Both had revelatory food experiences upon arriving in France. Where Julia's path in food was solidified with seaside sole meunière, for Greenspan, it was a strawberry tartlet that sealed her love of all things French. "It was as though I had tasted butter for the first time, and strawberries for the first time, vanilla for the first time," Greenspan remembers. "The flavors were just so full; it was so much what they were. So vanilla, so butter, so strawberry. That became my flavor standard. I kept going back to that memory of that tartlet."
Years later, Child would become the first person Greenspan would call upon arriving back in the States from France. Like Child, Greenspan has been thrilled to be able to share her love and inner knowledge of French cuisine with Americans. And through her years of learning and experiencing, she has become an expert teacher and cheerleader for baking and for French cuisine overall.
In this work, just as in all her others, Greenspan painstakingly lays out the directions for each recipe, aiming to make sure readers succeed. She wants readers to know that if something curdles in a specific recipe, that's OK; if the sugar starts to burn and smoke while making caramel, pull the pot off the burner. "I don't want anybody to have a surprise," says Greenspan. "So I try to make sure at each step, I'm kind of there, getting you through the recipe."
Excerpted from BAKING CHEZ MOI, © 2014 by Dorie Greenspan. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Marquise au Chocolat Makes 8 to 10 servings
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were good times for French pastry chefs. Kings still reigned, aristocrats were scattered around the country, and everyone with a title who could afford sugar and a chef wanted special sweets. It's likely that the Marquise au Chocolat comes from this period. A frozen chocolate mousse, it starts off as a simple sweet, but in the hands of someone's chef, it could become baroque. Even at home, the possibilities for getting fancy with this sweet are just about limitless.
Traditionally, the marquise is packed into a loaf pan, frozen, and then sliced just before serving. This is exceedingly practical, since you can make the dessert weeks ahead; use what you need and keep the rest in the freezer for the next dinner party. The mousse also lends itself to being made in mini loaf pans or even small ramekins — when unmolded, these look very professional.
Similarly, the marquise can be plain or surprising. Often you'll find pieces of Petit Beurre or Biscoff (speculoos) cookies inside it, or the mousse might rest on a cookie or crumb base. Truly, anything that goes with chocolate (and that can stand up to freezing) is fair game for an addition.
A word on the eggs: The yolks in this recipe are not cooked, so it's important to use very fresh eggs, preferably organic and/or from a trusted local source.
1 stick (8 tablespoons; 4 ounces; 113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces 13 ounces (369 grams) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped 4 very fresh large-egg yolks, preferably organic, at room temperature 1/3 cup (67 grams) sugar, plus 3 tablespoons sugar ¼ teaspoon fleur de sel or a pinch of fine sea salt 1½ cups (355 ml) very cold heavy cream
Line an 8½-×-4½-inch or 9-×-5-inch loaf pan with plastic film, leaving some overhang to make unmolding easier.
Put a large heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Drop in the pieces of butter, cover with the chocolate, and heat slowly, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have melted; don't let the chocolate get too hot. When the chocolate and butter have melted, you should have a thick, velvety mixture. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let cool for 15 minutes.
Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the yolks, 1/3 cup of the sugar and the salt at medium speed until the mixture pales and thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Turn the yolk mixture out onto the chocolate and butter and, with a flexible spatula or a whisk, gently fold together. Don't worry about being thorough now; you're going to fold again soon.
Wipe out the mixer (or mixing) bowl and pour in the heavy cream. Whip the cream until it shows the first sign of thickening, then slowly and steadily add the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and beat until the cream holds firm peaks. Spoon it onto the chocolate and very gently fold it in.
Spoon the mousse into the prepared pan, pushing it into the corners and smoothing the top. Fold the edges of the plastic film over the mousse and then wrap the pan in more plastic film. Freeze the marquise for at least 6 hours. (The marquise can be frozen for up to 1 month.)
To unmold, unwrap the pan, pull the edges of the plastic film away from the marquise and tug on the plastic to release the marquise. If the marquise is recalcitrant, dip the bottom of the pan in hot water for about 15 seconds, then try again. Turn the marquise over onto a platter or cutting board and serve immediately. (If it's more convenient for you, you can unmold the marquise and return it to the freezer for a few hours before serving.)
Serving: The best way to slice the marquise is to use dental floss or a warm knife--run a long-bladed knife under hot water and wipe it dry. Cut the marquise into slices that are a scant 1 inch thick. If you can serve the slices on cold plates, so much the better. Traditionally the marquise is served with vanilla crème anglaise, a lovely match. If you're rushed for time, you can serve it with faux crème anglaise: melted premium-quality vanilla ice cream. It is also good with whipped cream or crème fraîche.
Storing: Wrapped airtight, the marquise will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.