Monday 30 March 2009

Foundations Index

No.1 - Rubbing In
This post looks at the technique used to rub butter into flour to make pastry and other items. It covers questions like which hand movements to use and why you have to do it at all.

Includes two videos (one of the entire process, one of another little tip) and step-by-step photos.

No.2 - Beurre Noisette
Making beurre noisette (a.k.a. brown butter) is a wonderful process that creates a very versatile ingredient.

This post moves through each phase, showing you what to expect. Includes a video clip to demonstrate the crackling noise.

No.3 - Creaming Butter & Sugar
Though it is one of the most routine baking techniques, creaming is often overlooked.

Why do you need to cream properly? How do you get cold butter to room temperature quickly? In no.3 I try to answer these questions.

No.4 - Icing Cakes
Here are a few tips on how to get a great finish, including how to stop the icing smearing the plate and how to put on a crumb coat.

There's also a video of me putting the final coat of icing onto a layer cake.

No.5 - Chocolate Ganache
Ganache is wonderfully adaptable - once you know the basics, you can make it your own.

In no.5 I've shown how I make ganache and given a few pointers on how to adapt the recipe.

No. 6 - Egg Yolk Custard
Traditional custard is not only a pouring sauce but a base for ice creams and much more.

In this post I've explained how to temper the eggs with hot milk, the consistency needed and how I split and scrape vanilla pods.

No. 7 - Rough Puff Pastry
Rough puff pastry is easier and faster than classic puff and can be used for most of the same dishes.

No.7 shows you how to combine, roll out and turn the puff. Includes three videos.

No.8 - Meringue, Part I
The first part focuses on the basics and history of meringue and the French method.

Includes step-by-step photos of the French technique.

No. 8 - Meringue, Part II
The second half of no.8 describes how to make Swiss and Italian meringue.

Swiss and Italian are both cooked meringues and have several uses.

No. 9 - Using Yeast
Yeast is an essential part of baking enriched breads.

No. 9 covers the basics of using yeast, where you can buy it and some of the science behind the rise.

Other techniques illustrated in detail in normal posts:
Making French Buttercream (similar to Swiss Meringue Buttercream)
Spreading and Rolling a Swiss Roll
Caramelised Milk Chocolate

Lemon Curd Cake

I suppose my first post should really contain a recipe full of pears and chocolate, but I'm saving that for later... (well, mainly for when the pears in my fruit bowl are ripe). Anyway, I'll leave my rhapsodizing about that beloved flavour combination for later and get going on the Lemon Curd Cake...

My mother recently came home with a huge bag of lemons, so I thought it was time to pull out the most lemon-heavy cake recipe I could remember. This is an adaption of a Delia Smith recipe, from her Collections book 'Baking'. I'm not usually a huge lemon fan (except when drowning smoked salmon, of course), which I'm told is sacrilege, but lemon curd is a bit of an exception. There's something about the texture and taste that just captures a sunny mood.

I made the lemon curd for the filling a few days ago, and lo and behold, when I returned to make the cake today, I found the remaining lemons had gone off. As this was midway though mixing the cake, I had to experiment. So I glugged in some of the curd and some orange peel and thankfully it came out beautifully. It's somehow more subtle and mellow than the normal juice/peel mix. Luckily I had already reduced the sugar level so the extra sugar in the curd didn't sweeten it too much.

I initially doubled the curd recipe so I would have some left over, but once I had added some to the cake, filled it and added some to the top icing (no lemon juice either!), it was all gone. So I've put the doubled recipe here, as you can never have too much.

Lemon Curd Cake

For the curd:
125g golden caster sugar
zest and juice of 2 lemons
4 eggs
100g butter

Place the sugar and rind together in a bowl and mix. Whisk the juice with the eggs and pour over the sugar mix. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the mixture. Place over a pan of barely simmering water and stir frequently until thickened (don't feel tied to it, though, I happily flitted back and forth to my laptop) . This took mine about 25 mins.

For the cake:
175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
175g butter
150g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
rind of 1/2 an orange
3 tbsp lemon curd

Preheat oven to 170C/ 325F. Cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs one by one with a tablespoon of flour, mixing well in between. Beat in curd and rind. Quickly mix in the flour. Spread into two greased tins, lined in the bases. Bake for between 25-35 mins depending on the oven, until centres are springy to touch.

Leave to cool on a rack in their tins for five minutes before turning them out and peeling off the papers. When totally cool, carefully cut each cake into two. I cut the edges off too, but that's up to you. Layer them up with the curd, spreading generously between each layer. I now realise it would look prettier if you have a top/bottom edge at each layer, so the brown clearly marks it out - the bottom layer of mine isn't that distinct, if you look. For the top icing, I used the last tablespoon or two of curd with some water, orange juice and icing sugar. It would be better with lemon though, I found it a little sweet with orange. But beggars can't be choosers, so orange it was. I topped it with orange peel, as well, but lemon would be more fitting.

Saturday 28 March 2009

About Me

Hello! I'm Emma. I'm 19 20 21 22 23 24 25. I love to eat. I love to cook.

When I started this blog in 2009, it was a way to capture my joy at being back in a kitchen during my university holidays (in my first year we couldn't cook in term time). I quickly realised that I had a single focus: baking and desserts. Though I had a patchy first few months, I kept blogging all the way through my degree (I left Oxford University in 2011 with a degree in English Language and Literature, specialising in medieval).

The view from St Mary's tower over Oxford.

My life has always revolved around food. I was taught to cook by my mum and my late grandma, along with many cookery books. After I left university I also spent five months studying pâtisserie at Le Cordon Bleu in London (Oct 2011 - Feb 2012).

I grew up in rural Devon, in South West England, which means that I have strong opinions about scones. I also spent a lot of my childhood in the Swiss Alps. My mum moved out permanently in 2007, so I spend quite a bit of time there. It's a beautiful place (and also why the name Poires au Chocolat is in French).

A summer view over the town my mum lives in.

Poires au Chocolat is named after the Pear and Chocolate Loaf Cake that I tested back in 2009. It was the first recipe I created from scratch that gave me that dancing-around-the-kitchen eureka feeling. We also used to eat freshly chopped pears with melted chocolate poured over the top a lot when I was a child - the combination is one of my favourites.

In September 2014 I left Oxford to start the Cambridge Graduate Medicine Course. I'm loving the course but sadly it's meant that I'm no longer able to actively post on Poires. You can read a bit more about it here. I'm still baking and tweaking the recipes I've posted over the years - you can see how many times I've made each recipe on the Recipe List since I've retired by the number of stars by the link.

I hope you enjoy reading my blog! Feel free to contact me by commenting or one of the following...

Email = emma [at]
Twitter = poireschocolat
Facebook = Poires au Chocolat
Pinterest = poireschocolat
Instagram = emmalgardner

You can also follow my posts on bloglovin', feedly or by email.

Photo taken by the lovely Stephanie Shih of Desserts for Breakfast when I visited California in 2012.

I've also put together a FAQ for things like camera types etc.

PR/advertising/reviews etc
I decided a few years ago that I want this blog to be pure recipe posts. I am not a restaurant critic or a product reviewer. Every recommendation is my own - all the cookbooks I use and mention are bought by me, as are all the ingredients. If I mention a restaurant/cafe/shop, I went there of my own accord and paid. I do not accept products (for review or giveaways), press trips, classes/experiences or money for promotion. I am not linked to any companies and will never put advertising on the blog.




Generally refers to positioning some fruit or other pieces in a pleasing pattern on top of a tart, cake or other surface. They can be randomly placed (as with the apple crisps on the cake below) or organised (i.e. when you use fruit slices to create a fan in a round tart tin, or the maltesers on this cake).


Place the item to be baked into a preheated oven and leave for the required amount of time before testing. Try to not open the oven door too much as it reduces the temperature.

(related: preheat)


To use a wooden spoon or similar to mix vigorously (for instance, egg into a choux paste, as below). In a stand mixer use the beater attachment.

Also often used in reference to giving eggs a light whisk to break them up before adding them to something.

(related: mix, cream)


To whizz something - usually in a food processor - to break it up (for instance, grinding nuts) or combine it with something else. In some situations a blender could be used. Generally the recipe will tell you what texture you need to end up with (i.e. smooth paste, finely ground nuts, chunks etc).

(also called: blitz)


To bake blind is to bake the pastry before the filling is added with some form of support to keep the shape.

This is usually done by covering the pastry with a sheet of crushed then flattened greaseproof paper (or several layers of cling film) and filling the case with baking weights, a tin of the same shape or beans. It is important that plenty of weights are used, especially near the sides. The whole thing is then baked for a period of time before the paper and weights are removed and the case is further baked until done.

(other pastry terms: rub in, bring together, roll out)


To bring a liquid to boiling point - for instance, 100C/212F for water. It will bubble up vigorously. When you boil jam it will foam up but the foam should fade away it cools - if not, you can skim it off with a spoon.

(related: simmer, scald)


Bring together
To pull a mixture together into a lump or ball - for instance, pulling pastry into a ball once the liquids have been added to the butter-rubbed flour (the video below shows rough puff pastry).


Brown the butter
To heat butter past the point it melts, so that the water evaporates and the milk solids toast to create the characteristic brown flecks.

(also called: beurre noisette)

(see the foundation post here)


With, for instance, egg wash, melted butter or a sweet glaze. Use a pastry brush to lightly cover the surface with the substance, making sure you don't leave gaps.

(related: glaze)


Either on the side or in the fridge. Often to chill a dough or pastry to rest it and allow the butter to firm up or for a liquid to cool to room temperature so that it doesn't affect the other ingredients (for instance, scalded milk for a yeasted dough that would kill the yeast if it was still hot).


After baking. Best to do this on a wire rack that allows plenty of room for air to circulate. A clean oven rack can also work in a pinch, though if the gaps are too big it could cause problems with something delicate.


Use a knife to cut into the shape and size directed by the recipe.

(also called: slice, cut)


To beat softened butter and sugar so that they combine and aerate to form a fluffy, light mixture. This takes several minutes and is much faster with room temperature butter.

(see the foundation post for creaming here)


Crumb Coat
To put a thin layer of icing over a cake to catch the crumbs and make it easier to put the next coat on. Usually you chill the cake in between the crumb coat and main coat.

(see the foundation post on icing here)


Usually butter. Cut into small cube shapes. Often needed for pastry or for adding to things like buttercream. Most of the time a cube with a width/height of around 1.5cm is about right.


When the mixture separates and looks lumpy. Sometimes you want this to happen, for instance when making ricotta (as in the photo).


Cut out
With cutters. Don't twist to release the dough - with scones this can stop them rising properly and you can alter the shapes or edges of biscuits. Dipping the cutter in flour can help stop the dough sticking.

(also called: stamp out)



Double Boiler
To place a bowl or special double boiler over a pan of hot water (usually kept at simmering point). The water should not touch the bottom of the suspended bowl. This is useful for custards, melting chocolate and other things that need a delicate heat. It's also used for Swiss meringue.

(related: simmer, water bath)

(see the Swiss meringue foundation post here)


To pour a small amount of liquid over something, often in a zig-zag motion. Usually done with thin icing or melted chocolate.


Dropping consistency
The consistency that most cake mixes (especially sponge) should be - if you lift a big spoon of mixture out of the bowl and turn it to the side, it should hesitate briefly then fall off.


1. To dust a work surface means to cover it with a light coat of flour. You can sprinkle it from above, use a special flour dusting container or use a throwing/spreading motion as shown in the video below.

2. Dusting a cake or another finished piece usually means to sift over a small amount of icing sugar or occasionally cocoa powder.


Egg Wash
An egg wash is usually used on the entire outer surface of something that is about to go into the oven to give it a glossy, brown finish. To make it, lightly beat an egg - your recipe may also advocate adding salt, sugar or a bit of milk or water to thin it.

If working on puff pastry, don't go over the edges with egg wash as it will bind the layers together.

(related: brush)


Flour a tin
To cover the inside of a tin with a thin later of flour or cocoa powder to stop it sticking. This is usually done by taking a well greased tin (make sure you go into any corners or tricky bits) then adding a little flour or cocoa powder and tapping it around in the tin until it is fully coated. The excess it usually then tapped out (into the next tin, if using).

(also called: dust a tin)

The folding motion is a gentle way to combine ingredients. It's usually used to combine mixtures that need to keep any previously incorporated air - for instance, folding whipped egg whites or meringue into a base mixture.

To fold, use a big spoon or spatula and scrape round the edge of the bowl and then over into the middle, while turning the bowl in the opposite direction.


Recipes for things like fritters, doughnuts, churros call for deep frying. You don't need to have a specialised deep fryer - a big, thick-bottomed saucepan will be fine. The recipe should give you an indication of the sort of temperature needed - sometimes you'll need a thermometer but sometimes it's enough to just drip a drop of batter into the oil and see how quickly it browns. Make sure you're careful when adding things to the pot so you don't splash yourself and generally be aware that you're dealing with a hazard.


A smooth and glossy combination of chocolate and a liquid, often cream. It can be used to make lots of different things, though the technique for making it remains the same. I use the method where the cream or liquid is heated, poured onto the chopped chocolate, left for a minute, then combined.

(see the foundation post on ganache here)


Use a grater to prepare the ingredient. Fruits and vegetables (apples or carrots, for instance) are usually done with a heavy grater (as below) and chocolate and nutmeg tend to use a finer grater

(related: zest)


Tins and trays sometimes need to be greased. I use a small amount of butter and a piece of parchment paper. You can sometimes use oil or even one of those oil spray misters to quickly grease a tin. Make sure you get into the corners and don't miss bits.


Usually refers to spices. I tend to use my pestle and mortar, as you can see below. Use a circular grinding motion to crush the spices (it may be easiest to start by crushing them by bashing downwards, then using the circular motion). Generally speaking you want the spices to be a fine powder. If you don't have a pestle and mortar then you could try a pepper or coffee grinder, though I haven't used them myself.


Ice Bath
An ice bath is used when you need to cool a mixture down quickly (it's often used for custards or for whipping cream).

Prepare one by putting a few handfuls of ice into a bowl that is the same size or bigger than the bowl you're going to cool, then adding a bit of cold water. When you add the bowl you're trying to cool, the sandwiched water and ice should come up to the level of the mixture in the bowl - if it doesn't, add a bit more water.


This is usually referring to citrus fruits. Cut the fruit in half then squeeze into a bowl, holding the half cut side down so that it doesn't squirt everywhere. There are several tricks to make the juice release quickly, such as rolling the uncut fruit on a surface while pressing hard or using a fork to prick the cut side of the fruit before squeezing. Fish out the pips or strain the juice before using.

You can also use a juicing dish (like this, for instance) or a food processor attachment.


To cover the surface or inside of a tin or tray with baking parchment. There's a guide to fully lining a round tin (the sides and bottom) here. You can also buy pre-prepared sheets or loaf tin liners.


To macerate fruit you cut or smash it up a bit then stir in some sugar and leave it for a bit. It draws out the juices and you end up with a wonderful syrup. Strawberries are particularly good.

To heat something until a solid ingredient turns into a liquid. Butter is usually melted in a saucepan. Chocolate is usually melted in a double boiler.

(related: double boiler)


If asked to mix you generally just want to stir until fully combined.

(also called: combine)

Soft or stiff peaks
Peaks are a way to distinguish the stiffness of meringue. A soft peak will flop down (left) but a stiff peak will stay upright when the whisk is pulled out of the mixture. When whites are whisked to stiff peaks, you should be able to tip (and even overturn) the bowl and they will not slide out or move.

(see the foundation posts on meringue here and here)


To take the peel off something, usually a fruit, as it's tough or unpleasant to eat. For apples, pears and similar fruits a peeler is easiest (I like peelers like this), but a steady hand and a knife can also work.


To transfer a mixture to a piping bag (usually a big plastic one - a little paper one is useful for drizzling and writing with chocolate or other icings) and then squeeze it out into a shape or patterns. Generally, you put pressure on from the back of the bag with one hand while guiding with your other hand.


It's important that your oven is the correct temperature when you place the tin or tray into the oven. It's worth having an independent oven thermometer that you can use to check that the temperature is correct - they can be quite far out.


Press into
Some types of pastry and bars can be pressed into a tin or tray with your hands. Try to get an even layer and pay attention to the sides and corners.


To leave a yeasted dough to increase in size before shaping or baking. Can usually be done in a warm place, at room temperature or in the fridge overnight.

(also called: proof, prove)

(see the foundation post on yeast here)


Roll out
Use a rolling pin (or, in an emergency, a wine bottle or other tube) to flatten a dough or pastry to the required thickness or shape. Generally you need to dust the surface with a bit of flour to stop it sticking. Turn the dough around between rolls - I tend to do a quarter turn after every few passes with the pin. To keep the edges straight you can tap them in - you can see me doing this in the puff pastry foundation videos.

(related: dust)

(see the foundation post on puff pastry here)


Rub in
To combine a fat with flour or similar by rubbing it in with your fingers. This is usually done by cutting the fat - butter, for instance - into small cubes and adding it to the flour. The cubes are then squished between fingers and thumb repeatedly until the mixture resembles damp sand.

Also used when you rub zest into sugar to release the citrus oils.

(related: cube)

(see the foundation post on rubbing in here)


To scald milk you heat it until the milk is steaming and starting to bubble at the edges - just before it boils, essentially. It's often performed before making bread with the milk - heating the milk denatures the whey proteins in the milk that reduce gluten development. It's said to make softer bread. Don't keep heating it for too long - you don't want lose volume to evaporation then unbalance the recipe.

Sometimes this process is also used to infuse flavours (by heating with a vanilla bean, for instance).

(related: simmer, boil, steep)


Scrape down
To use a spatula or spoon to scrape down the sides of a bowl to make sure everything is incorporated into the mixture evenly.

Separate the Eggs
The technique of separating the yolk and white of an egg. There are lots of ways (and even gadgets) for doing it, but this is the way my mum taught me as a little girl: tap the egg sharply on the edge of a bowl, then, holding the egg over the bowl, dig your thumbnails into the crack and pull apart into two domes, leaving the yolk in one of them. Transfer the yolk from one half to the other a few times to make sure all of the white has fallen into the bowl, then place the yolk into another bowl.


Pass the ingredients through a sieve to remove any lumps, combine the ingredients and aerate them.

If I can't be bothered to find my sieve and it's not a recipe that especially needs the air, I tend to just use a whisk to mix everything together and get rid of lumps.


Generally when you bring a liquid up to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it bubble away calmly. The surface will ripple and shimmer after any bubbles pop up but won't become wild and bumpy, as it does when boiling.

(related: boil, scald)

Split and scrape a vanilla pod
To split and scrape a vanilla pod, flatten the pod with a knife, then split it into two lengthways, easing the knife through horizontally. Flip it open and scrape down the pod with the knife to remove the seeds.


To use a palette knife or similar to create an even layer of the mixture - for example, spreading icing on a cake, or spreading out swiss roll mixture (as below).


To cook a pudding or other recipe using steam. This can be done by placing in the top of a steamer, as below (and as I've always done it), or placing in a pan with a dish of some kind at the bottom so the pudding doesn't touch the bottom.


This is usually done by heating a flavouring with a liquid then leaving it to cool and infuse the liquid. Often spices or herbs are used i.e. vanilla bean in milk or mint in a syrup.

(also called: infuse)


To swirl a mixture in a pan or bowl with a spoon or spatula to combine it and stop the mixture sticking or overheating in one area. Some recipes call for you to do this constantly - make sure you do if asked.


1. A technique used on chocolate to leave it shiny and snappy when cooled. There are several different methods.

2. A method used when you add egg yolks to milk or another hot liquid to make things like custard. About a third of the hot liquid is whisked into the yolks, then the mixture is returned to the pan and combined with the rest of the liquid.

(see the foundation post on egg yolk custard here)


Usually nuts. Heat in a dry frying pan until they start to smell and brown a bit or place on a dry tray in a preheated oven for a few minutes (put a timer on, they're easy to burn). Doing this really brings out the flavour in nuts.

Spices are also often toasted in a dry frying pan before grinding.


Move the mixture from one place to another - for instance from the bowl into the prepared tin. If you have a delicate mixture then proceed carefully, keeping the distance it drops from one to the other small. If you're dividing it, it can be useful to weigh each tin as the mixture is added.

(also called: spoon into, dollop)


Water bath
Similar to a double boiler (the term bain-marie seems to cover both) a water bath is placed into the oven and baked with the dish placed into it. The water usually needs to come to about halfway up the dish. It's sometimes easier to place the tray into the oven then pour the water in (though obviously being careful to not pour into the dish of mixture).

(related: double boiler)


Whisking to give volume, for instance to whip egg whites, meringue or cream.

(see the foundation posts on meringue here and here)


A quick use of the whisk to combine - for instance whisking together the wet ingredients until combined with no lumps, without adding volume. Used for making thin batters, for instance for crêpes.


To take the outside of the peel of a citrus fruit off in very small strips. The idea is to only take the coloured outside and leave as much of the bitter pith as possible. Some recipes call for the zest to be rubbed into the sugar for the recipe - this helps to release the oils in the zest.

(related: rub in, grate)


Are there any other items you'd like to see in this glossary?