Saturday, May 12, 2012

Where I've Been, And Where I Am Now

As I alluded to a few weeks ago, the period leading up to vacation was a whirlwind of work, with a soupçon of being sick, and a whole lot of stress. I worked 14+ hours a day for three weeks in order to be able to go on vacation, and the toll it took on me was profound.

For me, to heal, recharge and generally get right with the world, there's no place like Paris. M. was already there for work, and I joined him and he did as little work as he could for the 12 days we were there. I had caught a nasty cold and on the flight I was a seething mess of ick (really, they should have burned everything I came in contact with) but I felt that if I could hang in there until I reached Paris, everything would be OK.

And it was. It took me a few days to feel human again, but massive amounts of sleep, relaxation and pastry completed the invigorating tonic I needed to be well again, both physically and emotionally.

The thing I get over and over again when people hear that we're going to Paris for vacation is "Again?!" I have to explain that we don't find any other place as relaxing and recharging as Paris, particularly in the springtime. We've been there so many times, and we don't do the tourist things, so we don't rise early, stand in long lines, rush to fit in all the sights, have a mediocre dinner and collapse in exhaustion to do it all over again the following day. No, it's the opposite. We sleep in, take as much time as we want to laze about before I run out to pick up breakfast. We revel in our Pierre Herme croissants, or maybe a kouign amann. We may decide to take a walk to the Tuileries to sit by the fountains and feel the warm sun balancing the cool breeze. We may decide to go shopping (we both hate shopping but inexplicably enjoy it in Paris). Or we may take off with no destination in mind, just exploring, seeing where that street leads, or if the bistro we ate in years ago is in the same spot we remembered.

All that walking is as rejuvenating as the sleep and relaxation. It's also a key to eating pastry without guilt or weight gain. We typically cover 8-12 miles a day in Paris, but with all that walking we're paradoxically less hungry. My theory is that the food we are eating is so delicious that we need less of it to feel satisfied. We've never dined at any restaurant with a star, Michelin or otherwise, while in Paris. We prefer to find neighborhood bistros, or stock up on cheeses, fruit, bread and chocolate at the little epicerie around the corner from our hotel. The epicerie is pricier than a grocery store, but they have a fabulous selection of cheeses, and they make amazing puff pastry tomato tarts with pesto. Or we pick up a couple of pastries from a patisserie (always checking Paris Pâtisseries first). We open our window and stare down at the rooftops of the city we love while enjoying our room picnic.

This time I had taken myself so beyond the pale of common sense that it took me a few days to bliss out, but it happened. All that relaxing and resting and walking and watching the fountains gives one a lot of time to think and contemplate, and I did a lot of that on this trip.

How did doing things I love (working, baking, volunteering) careen out of control? I love working, love my job, but doing more of it didn't make me love it more. Ditto baking. I love to bake, but my obsession to complete Baking From My Home to Yours resulted in making things I didn't enjoy, nor did I enjoy making them. I had turned my life into too many things that had to get done, and I lost the joy of doing them. With no time (no time!) to contemplate them before, during or after, my life lost the patina of worth. I spent all this time working more, and not achieving completion, and I spent what little time I had at home baking, and not loving the process. It didn't take me more than a day in Paris to realize that I had to change. That was a revelation. In the past, I would say "things have to change!" when talking about work while we were on vacation. This time, it was clear to me that the change has to come from me. And it has.

I must have at least 20 partially written posts of things that I baked in the breathless couple of months before my vacation. I was practically an assembly line on weekends, quickly combining ingredients, putting the thing in the oven and snapping photos before it had cooled completely. While in Paris, I was able to correlate my behavior to the tourists I sometimes notice. The ones who run up to the statue, fountain, monument, whatever, quickly snap a photo and rush off. They've seen the fountain in the Tuileries, look, here's the photo. But did they experience it? I don't think so. Will they be able to recall the feel of the mist that hits from time to time when the wind changes direction and blows the fountain's spray just so? Will they remember the warmth of the sun, or that family on their bikes, or how different the water looked when the sun ducked behind the clouds? I don't think so. But that's how I'd gotten about baking, because I was rushing it, doing it because I had to, and not savoring the process.

Since coming home a month ago, things have been different. I leave work at a reasonable hour, go home and make dinner. That's shocking. For all of my love of baking and cooking, I've never been one to know how to make dinner without recipes. And needing recipes after a stressful day at work equals eating chocolate, cookies or cereal for dinner. So instead of baking (which I inexplicably am no longer motivated to do), I am learning how to make dinner without recipes.

In my search for balance, things that no longer give me joy and those that increase my stress level have to go. Regrettably, my goal of baking the rest of the recipes from Baking From My Home to Yours is at the top of that list. Ditto groups where I'm locked in to making certain things at certain times. I've belonged to many and benefitted much from them, but it's them or my sanity, and I'm embarrassed that it took me so long to figure out that I come first. With these changes, I doubt I will continue to blog.

To the many readers who stop by this space to read, use the recipes and leave your thoughts, I am deeply grateful. I started this blog three and a half years ago so I could participate in Tuesdays with Dorie. If you had told me a couple of months ago that I would no longer be blogging, I would have teared up and felt a sense of loss. But the reality is that it was time.

I have no doubt I'll bake again when the urge returns, and if I make something worth sharing, I might even write about it here. But the mad dash will have to go on without me. I'll be just fine, God willing, now that I am learning balance.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

La Palette's Strawberry Tart Goes Chocolate

I know. Another recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours. But this one features strawberries (available now fresh anywhere in the northern hemisphere). I made it in February, when the first organic local strawberries showed up at Trader Joe's. They were beauties, sweet and floral, juicy, and the first harbinger of a spring that was way too early this year, at least in our area.

When the berries are fresh and luscious, it masks almost any error one might make, like over baking the tart shell, nuking cold ganache until it almost broke, forgetting the original recipe also called for strawberry jam, and fumbling the berries so they tumbled randomly into the shell (I had every intention of an artful design, but you know that's just not me). I had planned to use both the jam and the ganache (my addition to the recipe), but completely forgot. We didn't miss it. It would have been a shame to cover the strawberries' flavor with jam. Hindsight...

I have a tart shell crust that I've fallen in love with, and it's the one from The New Best Recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It doesn't look like it from this photo but it's very easy to work with (I mauled it once it was in the pan). It's like a buttery shortbread, and that's a good thing in a tart shell.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Florida {Lemon + Coconut} Pie

Being a Florida girl (you can read a post of my memories of Miami as a child here), Florida pie is Key lime pie. I am a true Key lime snob (I won't bore you with another Key lime rant). I'm fresh out of limes (our little tree wasn't very productive this year) but I did have a ton of Meyer lemons, so I used the last of them on this pie, which is a cross between coconut cream and lime (or lemon in my case).

I haven't been a huge fan of the other combination pies in Baking from My Home to Yours, so I was hoping this one would be different. The coconut cream (a combination of heavy cream and shredded coconut that is boiled until it reduces by half) looked and smelled heavenly.

The finished pie is good, though because I used lemon (and low acidity lemons at that), it wasn't quite tart enough for my taste. I liked the coconut layer, but I would chop the coconut next time rather than using it out of the bag. I think it would make it less stringy to eat that way. The recipe calls for a meringue topping, but I skipped it. I thought the pie would appeal to my tasters (and us) without it, and it did.

And speaking of tasters, I had every intention taking this one to work, but it kept getting whittled away until it was obvious it wasn't going anywhere. Since it's stored in the freezer, it's an excellent keeper. If you'd like to give it a try, you can find the recipe here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cran-Apple Crisps

It's Tuesday and I'm still making up recipes from Baking From My Home to Yours like my life depends on it. At the beginning of the year, I had 78 recipes to make up. I'm not sure how many are left, but it's lots less than 78.

This recipe is perfection as a do ahead, and even if you're making it from start to finish, it's still very doable on a weeknight. I made some changes:

  • We have tons of desserts around so I made 1/4 of the recipe, yielding 2 crisps.
  • I didn't have dried cranberries, so I substituted chopped walnuts.
  • I considered adding cardamom to the crisp topping but didn't. I think it would be awesome so if you try it please let me know how you liked it.
  • You can use practically any fruit with this one. Really, grapefruit, pears, berries, stone fruit, you can use them all.
  • Dorie's crisp topping is quite unusual in that it has oats and coconut, but it works beautifully, and is easy to throw together as it's made in the food processor.
If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Irish Soda Bread

I knew, I knew when I signed up for Tuesdays with Dorie 2.0 that my life gets busy, out of control, and that I sometimes work 14 hour days for weeks on end. In moderation is a fascinating phrase to me, one which I'm scarcely acquainted with. When I'm getting ready to go on vacation, I tend to work more than the average (normal) person, and the few weeks leading up to this recipe were no exception. Worse, M. was traveling, so I had absolutely no reason not to show up at work at 6:30 AM, and not go home before 8 or 9 or...worse.

In the middle of this insanity, it was time to make Irish Soda Bread from Baking with Julia. I literally threw this recipe together when I rolled out of bed at 5:15, and was still in my chair at work by 6:30, with warm bread for other lunatics coworkers who might show up around the same time. I used raisins, and I didn't plump them in spite of my better judgment, so they did look a little charred around the edges. No matter, this easy, delicious loaf was spectacular with softened butter and the odd crumbs I spotted on the carpet in our office were telltale evidence that this one was very popular.

If you'd like the recipe for this one, you can find it with either Cathy of My Culinary Mission or Carla of Chocolate Moosey.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Where Flan and I Make Peace, Warts and All

Flan and I, we aren't simpatico. Not that I blame it for (usually) not being chocolate; I enjoy plenty of custard desserts that aren't chocolate. I like creme brulee, but flan lacks creme brulee's crust of burnt sugar. I like creme caramel, but flan's caramel is puddled on the plate rather than easily confined in a custard cup. I honestly believe my dislike of flan comes from it being served at virtually every gathering I attended while living in Miami.

Poor flan. I went into making this recipe with the cautious mistrust of one who KNOWS something is going to go wrong. I was making it to take to my PEO meeting, and the flan didn't let me down, but I let it down.

I made the recipe as written in Baking From My Home to Yours, and it was surprisingly easy to make, not at all temperamental save the hot water bath it likes to bask in.

Its precious caramel? I unmolded the flan before driving to my meeting, over hill, dale and rush hour freeway traffic it slithered all over the serving plate, caramel slurping off the plate into the carrier, until it reached my meeting almost dry, its serving plate practically floating in a sea of caramel. The ladies loved it, thought it was a great flan and, being polite, didn't mention the lack of caramel. I tasted the tiny sliver that they left behind, and I had to agree that it was tasty, with a richness and balance I don't remember my childhood flans having. Maybe my lifelong dislike of flans was because I'd never had the benefit of tasting Dorie's flan. This flan was one I can see letting into my life on occasion, no judgment for past wrongs. It would be delightful made with orange or vanilla sugar, and I can't wait to try the coconut milk alternative.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Brioche Raisin Snails

When looking through the many recipes in Baking From My Home to Yours, this is the one that scared me the most, with the floating islands a close second. Long after I'd made brioche (several times), pastry cream (many times) and far more complicated desserts in the book, this recipe still intimidated me.

Now that I finally have made it I don't want to suggest that it was easy, but broken up over multiple days it's definitely manageable. How I did it was to make the brioche dough one night, the pastry cream another, roll the brioche out and fill it another day, and slice and bake it on the fourth day. That taught me a good lesson, that breaking baking projects up into manageable pieces makes recipes formerly out of my reach time-wise now eminently doable.

The results were, if not swoon-worthy, quite impressive. I was impressed that I had made something quite delicious that didn't look half bad. Amazing. I wish I didn't skip soaking the raisins (I would have bypassed the alcohol and used apple or orange juice) because it would have plumped them up and helped them withstand the heat of the oven better.

This recipe is another one down in my quest to complete all of the recipes in BFMHTY. Margaret and Nancy are also playing catch up. Please visit and cheer them on in their countdowns to completion.

If you'd like the recipe for these lovely pastries, you can find it on Laurie's post here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Snickery Squares

I love a snickers bar. The peanuts paired with caramel and some chocolate to hold it all together. Mmm.

This recipe in Baking From My Home to Yours has stopped me each time I've thumbed through the book. When I read the number of components and started imagining how many dirty dishes I would end up with, I always kept going. Until now that is. Nancy and Margaret and I are completing the recipes we missed in BFMHTY and that means I have to make every one of them.

Once I got over needing to make every single component myself (I've made dulce de leche before, and I didn't even like it when it was homemade), the recipe wasn't that bad. I made it in stages: the candy coated peanuts, the crust and then the finally assembly once the crust was fully baked. I honestly didn't expect to like these once I knew they contained dulce de leche, but I was pleasantly surprised: The salty peanuts, rich crust and dark chocolate tie it all together in a way that puts the flavor of the DDL in the background. All in all they were well received and there were no complaints about them being rich (they were), messy (very much so) or overly sweet (ditto).

I think I'd like to try these again with caramel (which is how Nancy was going to make them). I had already purchased a jar of DDL when Nancy made that decision, or I would have gone the same route.

If you'd like the recipe, you can find it on the original TWD post here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Emergency Blender Cupcakes with Fudgy Frosting

How irresistible is an easy cupcake recipe you can throw together at the last minute? Especially a moist, chocolatey cupcake? So irresistible that I started these tonight at 8:15 in an effort to make it under the wire to post them on time. All in all, it took less than two hours to complete them (as in wearing icing) and would have taken less if I wasn't goofing off on Words with Friends. I used one of my favorite tricks to cool them off, using my granite countertop to pull the heat out of the cupcakes.

This recipe is from The Weekend Baker by Abby Dodge, and I made it for ABC Bakers. Hanaa has raved about the deliciousness and ease of the cupcakes, so as I worked, I weighed all of the ingredients for which she only gave volume measurements. I knew I would be making them again and I love recipes that I can weigh everything into either the mixing bowl (or blender jar in this case) or a measuring cup.

Hanaa had mentioned that she'd never made the frosting because she always has some extra frosting in the freezer, and I wish I was similarly afflicted. The frosting just didn't do it for me. Maybe it was the sweetened condensed milk. Next time, I'll make a ganache, let it cool and whip it until it's light and fluffy.

These cupcakes are too good to save for an emergency, unless your emergency is needing a quick chocolate fix. If you're craving an easy chocolate entreat, you can find the recipe here. And check out the other ABC Bakers' cupcakes here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits

I've written before about my love for biscuits, and how a good one makes me wistful for the Miami of my childhood, but these biscuits were so different from what I recall from my childhood that they were enjoyed for what they were, a super treat, great spread with cold butter or warm maple cream.

With biscuits it's important to handle them gently, knead them very little, and not twist the cutter when you cut them out. That reduces the rise, and you want them to spring up and get flakey.

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits - adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours
Printer-friendly recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1/4 cup cold whole milk
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and brown sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low until the ingredients are combined and no lumps of sugar remain. With the mixer still on low, drop in the butter and mix until the mixture is pebbly (don't over-mix). You’ll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between. Stop the mixer and remove the mixing bowl.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Gently toss and turn the ingredients together with a spatula until you’ve got a nice soft dough. Add the pecans and reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick, gentle kneading–3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. 

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour and pat the dough out with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don’t worry if the dough isn’t completely even–a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use a biscuit cutter or sharp knife to cut out as many biscuits as you can. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. (The biscuits can be made up to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting–just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 13 to 16 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately with soft butter.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Daring Bakers - Cranberry Orange Apricot Bread

I have been remiss in posting Daring Bakers challenges of late, even though I've made at least two that I could never get written and posted. When I saw this month's challenge however, I knew I had to participate.

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

This bread is one that I've cobbled together from various recipes (starting with a recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook) over the years, completely reworking the assembly to the point that I think it's perfect. Your mileage may vary, but I encourage you to incorporate some of these techniques in your quick bread making. They've given me tender, delicious quick breads for many years now.
  • MEP, or mise en place, is critical. Have all of your ingredients ready, including chopping, measuring, melting, heating, etc.
  • Flavors and add ins are critical, because without them, you've made a block of cake in a loaf pan with bits of things every slice or so.
  • DON'T OVERMIX. Really. My technique (I've never seen it in another recipe) is to add your mix ins when your dry ingredients are about half way mixed into the wet ingredients. This way, you don't over mix while you're trying to incorporate the mix ins. Quick bread batter quickly (no pun intended) starts to stiffen the more you mix it, making it harder to thoroughly combine the mix ins.
  • Also to address the mix ins, I mix mine together in a bowl before adding them to the recipe. Again, this makes it easier to have a homogenous loaf instead of one where all the nuts are in one half and the fruit in another.
  • Texture. I address this in a couple of ways. If I'm using a wet fruit, I let it drain on a dish towel before adding it. I try to use a variety of mix ins, including nuts or poppy seeds or oats or something to provide an interesting crunch to break up the monotony of the bread.
  • Short on time? Muffins. A muffin is a mini quick bread.
  • Plan ahead. If you want muffins for your Saturday breakfast, you can make the batter Tuesday night and freeze (well wrapped, of course) in the muffin tin. Set the muffin pan on the counter while you preheat your oven the day you plan to bake. Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.
  • I use my food processor for this bread because there's a lot of chopping, and I find frozen cranberries to be the most frustrating thing to chop by far. In this recipe I start with the nuts (if I'm using nuts), then go to the cranberries and finally the dried fruit. No need to wipe out the bowl.
  • Think outside the box, er, recipe. Chopped crystalized ginger goes so well with many fruits (think lemon, orange, cranberry, banana, etc.) Likewise, chocolate will play well with many fruits (orange, raspberry, strawberry, apricot, etc.) 
Cranberry Orange Apricot Bread
Printer-friendly recipe

2 cups/280 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup/100 grams sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup/60 grams walnuts
11/4 cups/138 grams cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup/75 grams dried apricots
2/3 cup fresh orange juice (I've used store-bought, and substituted POG)
2 eggs
3 tbsp/42 grams unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp grated orange zest

Grease or coat an 8 x 4½ x 3 inch loaf pan with baking spray. Place oven rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Weigh or measure the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl, whisk until combined, make a well in the center and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the walnuts until coarsely chopped, and empty walnuts into a medium mixing bowl. Repeat with the cranberries, then the apricots, pulsing each individually until coarsely chopped and them transferring to the mixing bowls with the walnuts. Stir the chopped ingredients until they are equally distributed.

In a small mixing bowl or 2 cup measuring cup, add the orange juice, eggs and melted butter, then zest the orange into the wet mixture and combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and with a spatula, fold them together until about halfway incorporated, then add the nut and fruit mixture, folding just until combined. Make sure you're getting to the bottom of the bowl with your spatula so you don't have dry pockets of flour.

Transfer batter to the pan and bake on the center rack of the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Wrap in plastic wrap and store for a day or two before serving (I've never done this because it smells too good when it comes out of the oven!)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Classic Brownies

If you've ever picked up a copy of Baking From My Home to Yours, you may have noticed that there are a lot of brownie recipes. To me, a chocolate and brownie lover, that's very endearing. Astonishingly, when I was going over the list of recipes I have yet to make from the book, there were a couple of brownie recipes I missed from when the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers were baking their way through the book.

These brownies are called "Classic" by Dorie because they are the standard brownie with walnuts that you may remember from your childhood, except they don't come from a box. I doubled the recipe because I was taking them to work. They were so easy and I think I actually preferred them to my go-to recipe (you can find it here). I might have to make them again and test them side by side to make up my mind.

I normally put the nuts on my brownies so they toast in the over rather than getting soggy, but went with the classic and put the nuts in the brownies. I do prefer the nuts on top, so I'll probably do it that way in the future.

I found them to be a little bit crumbly, but moist and incredibly chocolatey. Definitely a repeater.

Classic Brownies - adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours
Printer-friendly version

5 tablespoons/2 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional, but really good)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (according to taste - I used 1/2 teaspoon)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, or spray with baking spray.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the butter and chocolates to the bowl and stir occasionally until the ingredients are just melted - you don't want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

With a whisk, stir in the sugar. Don't be concerned when your smooth mixture turns grainy. One by one, whisk in the eggs. Add the vanilla and give the ingredients a vigorous whisking (this really changes the texture a lot) before gently stirring the espresso, if you're using it.  Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the salt and flour; stirring only until incorporated, then fold in the chopped walnuts.

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with the spatula. (don't skip this part as I did or your brownies will be bumpy and uneven).

Bake the brownies for 30 to 33 minutes, or until the top is dull and a thin knife inserted into the center come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the brownies to room temperature.

When the brownies are completely cool, turn out onto a rack, remove the parchment and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Almost-Fudge Gateau

Flourless and near-flourless chocolate cake recipes are a dime a dozen. I've made quite a few, and they inevitably have the texture of a candy bar.

This cake, the latest in my effort to complete all the recipes from Baking From My Home to Yours, is different. It ingeniously uses beaten egg whites to lighten the batter, which makes it more cakey and less chocolate bar-like.

You can easily get away with not doing the glaze, but it's so dramatic, delicious and easy that I encourage you to go for it.

Almost-Fudge Gateau - adapted from Dorie Greenspan BFMHTY
Printer-friendly recipe
5 large eggs
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coursely chopped
1 cup sugar
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 Tablespoons coffee or water
1/3 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan with cooking spray, line the bottom with parchment paper, and spray the paper and sides of the pan with butter/flour baking spray. Place the pan on a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicone mat.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixer bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.

Set a heatproof howl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the chocolate, sugar, butter and coffee. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; the sugar may be grainy and that’s fine. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and set aside to sit for three minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Working with the whisk attachment of the mixer or hand mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they hold firm but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Scrape the batter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

Bake for 35 - 45 minutes, or until the cake has risen evenly (it might rise around the edges and you’ll think it’s done, but give it a few minutes more and the center will puff too) and the top has firmed (it will probably be cracked) and doesn’t shimmy when tapped; a thin knife inserted into the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Carefully release the side of the pan and remove it, then turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the pan bottom and parchment paper. Invert the cake onto another rack and cool to room temperature, right side up. As the cake cools, it may sink.

For the Glaze
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

First, turn the cooled cake over onto another rack so you’ll be grazing the flat bottom, and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to catch any drips.

Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven- the chocolate should be just melted and warm, but not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny Stir in the corn syrup.

Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth the tip with a long metal icing spatula. Don’t worry if the glaze drips unevenly down the sides of the cake’ it will just add to its charm. allow the glaze to set at room temperature or, if you’re impatient, slip the cake into the fridge for about 20 minutes. If the glaze dulls in the fridge, just give it a little gently heat from a hairdryer.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I've been enjoying discovering cookies in Alice Medrich's most recent book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in Your-Mouth Cookies. I think the enjoyment I get has been heightened by meeting the author when she taught a class in the Bay area. She lives in the area, and she baked cookies for our class herself in her own oven.

That felt very special. It's been about 9 months since that demonstration, but I still love picking up the book and discovering new flavor combinations.

These cookies, though are a classic. Snickerdoodles are a favorite because they have cinnamon sugar coating on a sugar cookie, and they're pretty simple to make. I used Vietnamese cinnamon because of its spicy flavor, and I pressed the cinnamon sugar on to the cookie balls so that the cinnamon would really stick. It must have worked because these were flavorful, if a tad over baked. Watch them carefully and check two minutes before they are supposed to be done. If the edge resists a tiny bit when you nudge it with your finger but you can feel that the edge is the only part that's done, the cookies are perfect chewy cookies. If you like a crisper cookie, bake them a minute or two longer. You can find the recipe here.

Speaking of a crisp cookie, if you're wondering what the wide, flat cookie is, that's the shatteringly thin chocolate chip cookie. I'm not a thin and crispy fan, but these blew me away. Maybe they're next...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake

Behold, the brown sugar-apple cheesecake.

Had I known how good this cheesecake is four years ago when I bought Baking From My Home to Yours, I wouldn't have waited until now to make it.

I am not a cheesecake lover. Cheesecake strikes me as overly heavy and rich, and I'm just not a fan. Or at least I wasn't until I made my first Dorie cheesecake. Her technique involves beating the cream cheese for quite a long time, which makes it light (and eliminates the chunks I used to get). This recipe is a little more complicated, but worth it.

The batter was so yummy. The apples put off such a lovely juice when I sautéed them that I almost cried when I poured it down the sink without thinking. I wished I'd made toast and enjoyed every drop of that elixir. This cheesecake was insanely popular with my tasters at work.

Nancy and Margaret are also working at a feverish pace to get through the remaining recipes in Baking from My Home to Yours. You can find Nancy's post here and Margaret's here.

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake - adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours
Printer-friendly recipe

For the Crust
Scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling
1½ pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider (I used apple juice)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
¾ cup sour cream
⅓ cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner’s sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust:
Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.

Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you’re using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they’ll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples:
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.

Getting Ready to Bake:
Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center-if the center shimmies, that’s just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan’s latch and release and remove the sides.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Irish Brown Bread

It is not at all unusual for me to get excited about buying ingredients, put them in the pantry and promptly forget they're there. Such was the case when I ordered some specialty flours from King Arthur. One of them is KAF's wholemeal flour.

One day I came upon the flour and found this recipe on the back of the package. It couldn't be any easier or faster, and I found the crunch and flavor of the wheatmeal flour to be addictive. I didn't dust mine with flour because I don't like getting flour on my clothes while I'm munching on bread. I think you could add raisins and/or chopped walnuts and it would be stunning.

The finished loaves were crumbly, and the rough slices were perfect with soup or just spread with sweet butter. It wasn't a huge hit at work (no chocolate!), but I think that's more a function of this being a much plainer recipe than the ones I normally bring to work. I'll definitely make this recipe again. If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Black-and-White Chocolate Cake

If you have Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan, maybe you've flipped by the photo of this cake and thought "gorgeous, I could never make that" as I have done so many times. But like everything else in this book, you (and I) can definitely make it.

Before we made the pineapple dacquoise for Tuesdays with Dorie, I had a very snobby attitude about white chocolate. It's not REAL chocolate, etc. But that dacquoise was so good that it started changing my mind about white chocolate, and then I saw this post on Paris Pâtisseries, and I realized that my snobbishness was not only unbecoming, but also factually incorrect.

This year has been the Year of Accepting I Don't LIKE Certain Things. This cake was the latest entrant into my list of things that I'm glad have fans, but which I no longer feel pangs of guilt for not having developed a liking of. It is a white layer cake with layers of chocolate mousse and white chocolate whipped cream. I mistakenly didn't buy enough white chocolate, so I decided not to stress about it and just left the sides of the cake bare. 

If you're a fan of white chocolate and want to try this cake (you can find the recipe here), I have a few suggestions:
  • The chocolate mousse is stabilized with corn starch and while that's great for creating a mousse that is stable when you slice the cake, it totally ruined the mouthfeel for me.
  • Making the cake mocha would really perk it up. I would add 1-2 teaspoons of expresso powder to the butter when you're creaming it for a yummy coffee flavored layer cake.
  • I left my cake layers in the oven a minute too long, and it was dry as a result. To help protect me if I were to do that again, I might swap out 1-2 tablespoons of oil for an equal amount of the butter as my friend Hanaa of Hanaa's Kitchen does.
  • The reviews I read of this recipe indicated that there wasn't enough of the white chocolate whipped cream, so I would probably increase the recipe by half.
  • Don't overbeat your whipping cream when making the white chocolate whipped cream. I stopped the mixer (I used my hand mixer so I wouldn't be tempted to walk away) when it barely held a peak and it was fine.
  • Let the white chocolate cool completely before mixing in the whipped cream, and monitor the mixture carefully when mixing it. Again, no walking away.
  • Make sure you cover your cake in the fridge. I was lazy and didn't, and the chocolate mousse CRACKED. Ugh.
In my goal to complete something, anything in my life, I am completing all the recipes in BFMHTY that were made before I joined the group or I skipped for one reason or another. Nancy at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs had the idea of posting our make ups in the weeks corresponding to the weeks the group originally made the recipe.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Baking with Julia - White Loaves

This is the first recipe in Tuesdays with Dorie's new book. We'll be baking from Baking with Julia: Savoring the Joys of Baking with America's Best Bakers (and I thought Baking From My Home to Yours was a long title). Baking with Julia will be known as BwJ, and we'll still call Tuesdays with Dorie TWD. Now that we're all straight on the acronyms, let's get started with the book and the bread.

TWD will be baking and posting from Baking with Julia twice per month. I will most likely pick one of those two recipes and post once per month. I'm already feeling a virus/vertigo/broken bone/cold/flu/amnesia coming on and it will probably strike me the week the group makes the Martha Stewart wedding cake, whenever that will be.

Our hosts this month are Laurie (of slush) and Jules (of Someone's in the Kitchen) I've made this bread twice. The first time I substituted 1/3 white whole wheat flour, and the loaf was delicious. It took longer to rise, but it was great. The second time, I made it with all white flour and it was also good.

Fortunately, my mixer is a big KitchenAid and it didn't have a problem handling the dough for this one (though if you're listening KitchenAid, I would LOVE an 8 quart stand mixer). It passed the windowpane test after about 8 minutes. Both times, I tried to retard the formed loaves in the fridge, but it was so enthusiastic that I had to change my plans both times and bake it immediately.

In the past, I've had a problem over proofing my breads, sometimes getting huge air bubbles with lackluster oven spring, so I was more careful to follow Dorie's excellent instructions for this recipe. I was rewarded with nice loaves that were good warm with jam, good at room temperature in sandwiches, and good several days later as toast. I'm not a huge fan of all-white flour breads, so I probably won't make this one all that much, preferring to stick to my transitional riff on Dan Lepard's simple milk loaf (you can find that recipe here), or my interpretation of maple oat loaf using his three knead method (recipe here).

If you'd like the recipe for this bread, you can find it on Jules's post. And you can find the other BwJ bakers' loaves here.

Programming note: This week's TWD make up from BFMHTY will run tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chocolate Mocha Inside-Out Cake

More years ago than I care to admit, there was a show on public television called Cooking at the Academy. On one episode, the chef made a cake that made my jaw drop. It was two different flavors of cake layered with mocha and chocolate buttercream, but the surprise came when they cut a slice. I HAD to make that cake!

Back in the early 90's, I baked but still had a lot to learn, only I didn't realize it. Ah, youth. I made the cake for a co-worker's bridal shower and it was a huge hit. It's a bit labor-intensive so I've only made it a handful of times but it always commands the attention of my guests, and devout bakers are struck by the inside cross section and are similarly driven to make it themselves. If you make it, and I hope you will because it's delicious, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Give yourself a good solid day to make the cake. There are lots of steps that require letting the cake chill or the buttercream soften, not to mention the quality time you'll be spending with your mixer. If you need it for a special event, you can make it the day before and refrigerate it overnight. Just let it come to room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving (depending on the season and temperature in your house).
  • Before you start making the cake, fill your sink with hot, sudsy water. This will make the clean up much easier. When you finish with a bowl, beater, or measuring cup, just set it in the sink.
  • Almond paste that's old can be rock-like and that's hard to blend in with the cake batter. I've never done this but if you want the best results, I suggest you investigate making your own almond paste. Failing that, beat the almond paste-egg white mixture in your stand mixer fitted with a beater blade (the paddle with the spatula-like scraper) until smooth. I find it very difficult to do this by hand, and every time I make the cake, I end up with chunks of almond paste that I don't see until the layers are baked.
  • When the recipe calls for dividing the batter between the cake pans, I weigh the batter using my spare mixing bowl to tare (set to zero) the scale, then I weigh the bowl that has the cake batter in it. I divide the weight in half and write it down. Then I place one of the prepared cake pans on the scale, tare it, then measure a little less than half of the batter into the pan as directed. I'm not good at eyeballing batters and this method keeps me out of trouble.
  • I don't have an espresso maker, so I ask the barista at my neighborhood coffee shop how many ounces are in a shot, then I order that many shots. I get the shots for the buttercream in one cup and the shots for the brushing liquid in the other. Wasteful I know but the clean up from making this cake is daunting, kinda like running a marathon and then walking two hours to get home.
  • No matter how tempted you are, don't substitute butter for the margarine. I have tried on at least three occasions and my mocha buttercream broke all three times. Only when I made a note in the cookbook did I stop making this mistake.
  • If you don't have 10" cake pans, buy some. Seriously, this is the cake of a lifetime and it's worth the investment. If that just isn't in your budget with the other supplies you'll need, use your 9" pans. Any smaller and I'm afraid your crater will be wonky and the cake won't look right when you slice it.
  • The cookbook says to put the rest of your mocha buttercream in a piping bag fitted with a #4 plain tip and pipe the buttercream in a circular fashion on top of the cake, starting in the middle and working your way to the edge. It looked lovely when he did it, but he's a professional chef-instructor and I'm a piping failure. I've never done it for two reasons: One, I've never had enough extra mocha buttercream and two, the cake has enough buttercream already. Any more and it would just be too rich for most people.
  • To reinforce this point, more is not better with this cake. You want to brush on the espresso mixture sparingly, enough dampen the layer to get the flavor but you definitely don't want to make the cake wet. Same with the buttercream: more is not better. More is too much. Besides, it's SO much better to take that last layer and your extra buttercream and a biscuit cutter or sharp knife and make your own cake creation with it. Consider that dinner the night you're making the cake. If a friend helps, you can eat your plated desserts you make with the scraps and get very excited about cutting the cake later. It also helps to fuel up before the clean up.
  • I like to be nonchalant when I cut this cake so I try not to build up people's expectations. I mean, it would be awful to get them all riled up and then I cut it and it looks like a cubist Picasso painting inside. The first time especially, let them be surprised. Their surprise is better than the enjoyment you'll get from trying to explain it, plus it's almost impossible to explain without pictures.
  • I recorded the show on VHS when it was on, but I seriously worry about the quality and longevity of VHS tapes. Amazon has the episode on VHS, and I think I'm going to buy it and then have it converted to a DVD. I wish I had a video clip of the part where you cut out the cone and make the crater because it does help to see how it is done.

Chocolate Mocha Inside-Out Cake - adapted from Cooking at the Academy
Printer-friendly recipe
Sponge cakes
2 egg whites
10 ounces almond paste
12 large eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups/10 ounces granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups/8 ounces cake flour, sifted
2/3 cup/1 ounce natural (not Dutch process) cocoa powder

1 pound unsalted butter, softened
5 ounces margarine, softened (don't substitute butter)
1 cup egg whites (from 7 or 8 eggs)
1 pound sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces melted dark chocolate
1/2 cup brewed espresso (not instant), cooled

For Assembly
1/4 cup brewed espresso, cooled
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
Dark chocolate shavings

2 10" cake pans
Parchment paper rounds
Cardboard cake rounds

Prepare the spongecakes:
Mash the almond paste with the back of a spoon to break it apart and get out the lumps (see note above). Mix in the two egg whites and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two 10" cake pans with parchment rounds and set aside.

Place the egg yolks in a mixing bowl on stand mixer and add 1/2 cup of the sugar. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until the egg yolks are pale yellow and the mixture falls in a ribbon if the beater is lifted, at least 5 and preferably 10 minutes. Add the vanilla.

Gently stir the yolks into the almond paste with a spatula and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, whip the egg whites on medium-high with the whisk attachment until they foam, then slowly add the rest of the sugar. Beat just until the egg whites form stiff peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the almond paste mixture. Gently fold in the flour with a spatula, being careful not to deflate the egg whites.

Pour a little less than half of the mixture in one of the prepared cake pans, smooth the top and set aside.

Sift the cocoa powder into the remaining batter and fold in to combine - don't overmix! Put the remaining batter in the second cake pan and smooth the top. Place both layers in the preheated oven and bake 23-25 minutes, until tops spring bake when touched. Remove layers from oven and cool completely on a rack.

When cool, run a thin, sharp knife around the edge of each cake layer and invert onto a rack. Peel off parchment paper and invert again (so top of layer is up).

Prepare the buttercream:
Beat together the the butter and margarine in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly for about 3 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved. Be careful not to cook the egg whites!

Remove the bowl from the pan and place it on a stand mixer fitter with the whisk attachment and whip until the mixture has cooled considerably and has formed stiff peaks. Lower the speed of the mixer and add the vanilla extract. With the mixer still on low, gradually add the butter mixture and whip until combined.

Divide the buttercream (you'll have about 6 cups total) into two bowls. Add the melted chocolate to one bowl and stir with a spatula to combine, and add the 1/2 cup expresso to the other bowl, similarly using a spatula to combine. Set both bowls aside.

To assemble the cake (the fun part):
Cut the almond sponge into three even layers. Reserve the top layer for another use (you'll only need two almond layers). Cut the chocolate sponge into three even layers.

Combine the 1/4 cup espresso and water in a small bowl. Place one of the chocolate layers, cut side up, on a cardboard cake round. Using a pastry brush, lightly moisten the layer with the expresso mixture. Spread a layer of mocha-flavored buttercream and shave it down to about 1/4" thick, bringing it to the edge of the layer.

Place an almond layer on top of the mocha buttercream. Moisten the almond layer with the espresso mixture, then spread a layer of the mocha buttercream and shave it down to about 1/4" thick, bringing it to the edge of the layer.

Repeat with another chocolate layer, brushing the chocolate layer with the espresso mixture and adding the buttercream and then ending with an almond layer on top. Don't brush the almond layer or top it with buttercream. You will have one chocolate layer left. Chill the cake for 15 minutes to set the buttercream.

To cut the cake, dip a sharp, thin knife (I find a boning knife works better than the serrated knife that the recipe calls for) in hot water and wipe dry. Holding the knife at approximately a 30 degree angle approximately 3/4" in from the edge of the cake, carefully and gently cut a cone-shaped section from the center of the cake, about 8" wide at the top and and 2" wide at the bottom (or "tip"). Think of it as the crater of a volcano. Wipe your knife clean. Place your hand flat on the top of the cone-shaped wedge and using the knife or an icing spatula, remove the wedge and invert it onto your hand. Place the cone-shaped wedge, flat side down, on a cardboard cake round or a plate lined with parchment paper and set it aside.

It's kind of wonky but here's the cone for this one
Working inside the "crater," spread a layer of chocolate buttercream, about 1/4" thick, lining the inside of the crater.

Place the reserved chocolate sponge layer on top of the cake (almost like putting a roof on top of the crater).

Place a cardboard cake round on top and invert the cake so the new chocolate layer is now on the bottom and the first almond layer is on the top.

Cover the cake and set it aside (not in the refrigerator) to let the buttercream soften in between the layers.

Now, reconstruct the crater. To do this, gently press on the center of the top of the cake, gently pushing the inverted crater down to meet the bottom layer. In this new crater, spread a layer of chocolate buttercream all the way around and to the edge, making sure the buttercream is about 1/4" thick. The crater won't seem as deep or as sharp around the edges, and that's OK.

Still wonky, but the buttercream will help hide the flaws
Invert the cone-shaped wedge and set it, pointy side down, flat side up, in the crater, and gently press it into place (if needed). Using a chef's knife, trim the sides of the cake to the original shape (in the event reconstructing the cake has made bits stick out, you can trim it a little to make it round again).

Spread the remaining chocolate buttercream on the top and sides of the cake. Press the toasted almonds around the side of the cake. Top the cake with dark chocolate shavings if desired.

Serve immediately, or refrigerate until needed. Set out at room temperature 20-30 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Orange Berry Muffins with Crumb Topping

In my continuing quest to bake every recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours, this week I'm catching up with the orange berry muffins. Practically every time I pick up this cookbook looking for something quick and spontaneous to bake, I look at these muffins, see the blueberries and turn the page. I've written before about the reason for my blueberry aversion here, but the time was here to put on my big girl apron and do it.

To get around my lack of true love for the blueberry, I also added some raspberries I froze last year when they were plentiful at the farmers markets, I included walnuts AND I topped them with a crumb topping. They were spectacular, and I didn't even care that they had blueberries in them.

This is not what I'd call a fast recipe, and you will dirty a few bowls, measuring cups, etc., but it will be totally worth it. It's much easier if you have the crumb topping pre-made in your freezer.

Orange Berry Muffins with Crumb Topping - adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Printer-friendly recipe

Crumb topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
About 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 Tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia extract (from King Arthur Flour, optional)
1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup raspberries – fresh or frozen (not thawed)
1 cup blueberries – fresh or frozen (not thawed)
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Make the crumb topping:
Combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and the butter crumb topping ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Rub the mixture with your fingertips until it's in big crumbles, then set aside in the refrigerator, tightly covered, until ready to use.

Make the muffins:
Pour the orange juice into a large glass measuring cup or a bowl and pour in enough buttermilk to make 1 cup. Whisk in the eggs, honey, melted butter and Fiori di Sicilia (if using).

In a large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with a spatula until the sugar is moist. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough – the batter will be lumpy and bubbly, and that’s just the way it should be. Stir in the blueberries. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Sprinkle on the crumb mixture (you may have some leftover - just freeze if for another time).

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes (mine were done at 21 minutes). When fully baked, the crumb topping will be golden, the muffins springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

Programming note: Check back tomorrow because I'm posting a cake that will amaze you and is a lot of fun to make. In a very tortured way that leads to a lot of dishes. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spicy Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower

Beautiful and brightly colored, Romanesco cauliflower showed up in my CSA basket for the first time several weeks ago. Confused, I looked at the list of what they were sending us and figured out what it was, then turned to the internet for recipe inspiration.

I'm not a fan of cooked cauliflower, but after trying this method of preparing Romanesco cauliflower, I am in love. The tips get browned and caramelized and the chili oil and salt transform the flavor. I was alone for dinner that first night and ate the whole head myself. Truly. It was a small head, but still.

Roasted Romanesco Cauiflower - adapted from Brooklyn Farmhouse
Printer-friendly recipe
One head Romanesco cauliflower, core removed and cauliflower broken up into florets
2-4 tablespoons chili oil
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt (smoked sea salt is especially delicious here)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

On a baking sheet, toss the cauliflower florets, chili oil and salt together. Add several grinds of black pepper.

Roast in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes, or until the cauliflower is softened and is brown in places.

Remove from oven and squeeze the lemon over the cauliflower. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Perfection Pound Cake and Lemon Curd

Whenever I hear a claim of perfection in a recipe, I get concerned. That means it's been tested and loved by many, and the off chance that someone can screw it up looms over me. My kitchen takes on a dingy hue, no, wait, the kitchen lights are on the dimmer. Scratch that. But it makes me leery of A. failure and B. disappointment.

I wouldn't say this pound cake was a failure, but I was a teensy bit disappointed. I've been to the oven with a pound cake or two, tried probably a dozen recipes, and the one I return to is Rose Levy Beranbaum's from The Cake Bible. That pound cake is moist with the finest crumb. Maybe this was operator error.

In fairness, Dorie says for best texture, wrap the cake up and put it away for a day. I didn't do that, and it may have made a difference. I also didn't add the eggs one at a time and beat well before adding the next egg. I had broken two of the yolks when cracking the eggs and three eggs fell into the bowl at the same time. See what I mean about operator error?

I used cake flour, hoping for a nice crumb but I'm not sure it made any difference. The outside was crisp, and the inside soft, but it was just a plain cake. That's why I made lemon curd to go with it. And brown sugar caramel, but I'll make that for you another time.

I was thrilled to win the latest Cook's Illustrated cookbook in a giveaway on Tracey's Culinary Adventures (thanks, Tracey!). It's a huge book, and it's been sitting on my counter asking to be used since it arrived. I cracked it open and found the lemon curd, perfect because I had a bag of Meyer lemons from my friend's huge tree. If you'd like the recipe for it, you can find it here on the Cook's Illustrated website (you'll have to sign up for a 15 day free trial, but the lemon curd is worth the trouble!)

If you're still test driving pound cake recipes, this is a good one to try (you can find the recipe here). I have a limited attention span with things that are plain, perfect or not, so it's a tough sell for me. Nonetheless, I did mark off another recipe in my quest to bake all the recipes in Baking From My Home to Yours. Score!

Programming note: If you check back around February 1st, I'm going to have a cake that will amaze you and is a lot of fun to make. In a very tortured way that leads to a lot of dishes.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits

I love a good biscuit, and I love cheese, so a cheesy biscuit already has my attention. I found this Ina Garten recipe while I was looking for something else and it is yummy. I added smoked Spanish paprika, though you could certainly leave that out, or replace it with cayenne, or a bit of garlic powder.

I also love Ina's method for making scones and biscuits. She has you put the dry ingredients in the bowl of the stand mixer, toss in the cold butter, and let the machine do the work. I added aged white cheddar and the aforementioned smoked paprika. Although the color is a little muddy, the flavor was great. 

These biscuits are great as a do-ahead recipe. Simply make the dough, cut out the biscuits and put them on a sheet pan and stick in the freezer. Once frozen through, toss them (carefully) in a ziploc bag and freeze. You can pull a few out and bake them to go with soup or chili or eggs. Just add a minute or two to the baking time.

I skipped the egg wash the recipe called for and sprinkled them with a little shredded cheddar and they were great. Did I mention they were delicious? And yummy? Good. Just wanted to make sure I mentioned we loved them.

Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits (adapted from Ina Garten, found on Food Network)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the board
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika, optional
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup cold buttermilk, shaken
1 egg, cold
1 1/2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar, plus extra for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, salt and paprika in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, add the butter and mix until the butter is the size of peas.

Combine the buttermilk and egg in a small measuring cup and beat lightly with a fork. With the mixer still on low, quickly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and mix only until almost moistened. Turn off the mixer. In a small bowl, mix the Cheddar with the 2 tablespoons of flour and, with the mixer on low, add the cheese to the dough. Mix only until roughly combined (I find it's better to do this part with a spatula so I don't over mix the dough).

Dump out onto a well-floured board and knead lightly about 6 times. Roll the dough out to a rectangle 10 by 5 inches. With a 2" biscuit cutter, dip the cutter into some flour then cut out biscuits, keeping cuts close together. Don't twist the cutter in the dough, which can keep your biscuits from rising. Transfer biscuits to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle the tops with the extra cheddar and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the biscuits are cooked through. Serve hot or warm.