Not So Much A Cake Walk

Well, I finished my second full week of pastry school. I can't truthfully say it was the best week ever - mostly because I got dreadfully sick and spent the week fighting a fever and trying to keep my lungs from being coughed out of my chest, but there were some pastry-related incidents as well.

Because of the fever, I had to miss éclair day. My pastry cream came out lumpy. I burned a pan of caramel so badly it ended up looking like a pan of dry, blackened charcoal. Oops. Also, we made croquembouche, which were supposed to look like holiday-themed, conical towers of pâte à choux (pat-ah-shoe... cream puff dough). I tried to decorate mine to look like a snowman, but instead of looking clean and elegant like these ones,

it ended up looking like someone threw up all over a perfectly good croquembouche.

Ah well. No one said this pastry thing was going to be a cake walk. I mean, we haven't even gotten to cakes yet. I'll keep you posted. For now, I'll just stick with cookies.

Bourbon-Pecan Cookies
From the French Culinary Institute Classic Pastry Arts, Level 1

  • 170 grams pecans
  • 170 grams butter, room temperature
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 230 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, for egg wash
  • extra pecan halves or pieces, for garnishing


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the 170 grams of pecans in the oven or in a dry pan until lightly browned. Cool completely. Pulse the nuts in a food processor, until they're the size of coarse cornmeal.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the ground nuts, egg yolk, salt, scrapings from the vanilla bean, and bourbon, and mix until thoroughly combined.

Add the flour, and mix gently until just incorporated.

Shape the dough into a log approximately 2.5 inches thick. Roll the log up in a sheet of parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator, about 30 minutes.

Once chilled, slice the log into 1/4-inch thick slices, and place the sliced cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Lightly brush the tops of the cookies with egg wash, and place a pecan half (or some crumbled pecan pieces) on top of each cookie.

Bake the cookies for 7 to 10 minutes, or until nicely browned on the edges.

Makes 50-60 cookies.


Tally of Tarts

Shall we tally up? Let's see. The past eight days of pastry school have yielded me:
  • 4 apple custard tartlettes
  • 8 vanilla crescent cookies
  • 1 tarte aux noix
  • 6 shortbread cookies with candied citrus zest
  • 1 pear tart with almond cream
  • one dozen homemade fig newton cookies
  • 1 banana cream tart
  • 4 lemon meringue tartlettes
  • 6 Scandanavian butter cookies
  • 1 caramelized onion tart
  • 1 cherry clafoutis
  • 1 chocolate ganache tart
  • 8 fresh fruit tartlettes
  • one dozen gingersnaps
  • 1 baked apricot tart
  • 1 chocolate Bavarian tart
Apple Custard Tartlettes

Vanilla Crescent Cookies

Lemon Meringue Tartlettes

Homemade Fig Newtons

Baked Apricot Tart

Scandanavian Butter Cookies with Raspberry Jam

Cherry Clafoutis

Um, yes. That's twenty-four tarts and forty-four cookies. In my first week and a half as a pastry babe. Do you even know how much sugar I went through this week? Do you even know? How many pounds of butter? Do you know how hard it was, how much I toiled to bake all of these delicious, delicious things? These twenty-four tarts and forty-four cookies? ...WELL? DO YOU?

Just kidding. I love my life.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But Molly, WHAT in the name of Santa Claus do you DO with so many sweets?" Well, dear reader, I'll tell you. I eat them.

...Not really. Gotcha again.

While the thought of ingesting one billion pounds of buttered sugar does sound enticing, I thought I'd do well to keep my arteries clear(ish) for now, so I've been pawning off my sixty-eight treats to friends. And classmates. ...And school staff and homeless guys and fellow subway riders. Really anyone who looks like they could use a cookie or two. Could you use a cookie or two?

Here, try one. Or two. I don't know. Start your own tally.

From the French Culinary Institute, Classic Pastry Arts Program, Unit 1

Although I'm swimming in cookie recipes these days, this one seemed the most seasonally appropriate... they're also just really good. They're gingery and snappy and full of warm, winterish, gingery snappiness. I hear Santa likes them.

  • 150 grams butter
  • 400 grams white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 160 mL molasses
  • 20 mL white vinegar
  • 525 grams white bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • extra sugar, for rolling
*Note: I realize this recipe gives amounts in metric units. I'm sorry about that. However, I've found it extremely useful to weigh out ingredients while baking - and it's much less of a pain than it sounds. Buy a cheap kitchen scale and give it a try. If you don't feel like scales are your thing but still really want to make these, let me know - I'll do my best to convert it to the standard American measurements for you.


In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Add the molasses and the vinegar slowly, to avoid separating the mixture.

Sift together the dry ingredients, and add them all at once to the creamed butter mixture. Mix just to combine - try not to overwork the dough.

Form the dough into a log, wrap it in parchment and chill it until firm. Once firm, divide the dough into 50 small, equal portions (about 15 grams per cookie), and roll the pieces of dough into balls. Dredge the raw cookies in sugar, and place them on a parchment-lined cookie pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes. If you like chewier gingersnaps, take them out closer to 7 minutes, when the cookies are just browning. For snappier snaps, leave them in a bit longer. The cookies will spread in the oven, the sugar crust will crack, leaving behind a map of gorgeous cookie crevices, and your whole kitchen will smell like the holidays. Enjoy.

Makes 50 gingersnaps.