Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Banana Cake with Brown Buttercream and Pecan Praline

It was my very-soon-to-be-father-in-law's birthday.  When Drew was a kid and asked his dad what kind of cake he wanted, he always said banana.  And so we made him banana.

Banana is a favorite of mine because pretty much no matter what  you do it will be moist, and people always like it.  There's something reminiscent of childhood I think.  We recently made banana popsicles with cinnamon and cumin.  The cumin was an excellent addition, really bringing out the flavors without screaming that it was there.  So we added it to the cake, and ended up with a deliciously moist cake with pleasing complexity.

The icing is an Italian brown buttercream, made traditionally but with brown butter in place of about half of the butter.  The result had all the pleasant nuttiness of brown butter, and was just sweet enough. 

Pecan praline is what you see encircling the cake, and was also between the layers.  The accentuated the nutty richness of the brown butter, complemented the banana flavor and added a little textural crunch.  Quite a success on all accounts.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Put an Egg on It, and Call it Delicious

I love eggs.  I'm picky about my eggs too.  I like them to be local and grass-fed.  They're so simple that quality is obvious and therefore paramount.  A well-raised egg is nutritious and lends deliciousness to most foods.  Particularly it is the runny yolk that I love.  As bright as sunshine, its viscous richness oozes into all the nooks and crannies of whatever you're eating, and only makes it more delicious.  I have played with yolks in numerous ways, mostly poached, and on top of salads, bean dishes, waffles, rice.  All are excellent.

Recently on a menu I saw a pizza with egg, and of course was intrigued. We decided to try it at home.  We made our crust, topped it lightly with tomato sauce, sauteed spinach, fresh mozzarella, and pecorino romano.  We put the whole thing on the grill and when it was close to being done cracked the eggs on top.  We broke the yolks slightly so they would cook more evenly, and pulled it off the heat while they were still slightly runny.

The pizza was delightful.  The saltiness of the pecorino balanced the richness of the yolk.  Together the flavor was intriguing with a slightly rich, meaty quality.  I highly recommend breaking an egg the next time you have pizza.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Greetings From a Long Lost Baker: Resurfacing

It has been a really long time.  And I have no respectable excuses except to say that moving, starting a new job, acquainting myself with Ann Arbor, and planning a wedding have kept me very busy.

I love fruit tarts, particularly mid summer when the bounty is rich.  This one is inspired by a pistachio grapefruit tart I had in Paris.  It is pistachio pastry cream with fresh plums from the farmer's market.  The plums had great flavor, though texturally they were disappointing.  A little too mushy.  My original idea was to combine the pistachio cream with cherries.  The cherries aren't in season yet in Michigan so plums stood in.   

The pistachio pastry cream was delicious.  Salty yet sweet, a perfect blend of flavors.  The plum combination, satisfactory, though cherries decidedly would be better.  Overall it made for a pleasing summer treat both aesthetically and gastronomically.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Key West Cake

Summer is here now and I'm all about fruity desserts.  Most recently I made this Key West Cake for a birthday.

The cake was sponge-like, and brushed with a rum simple syrup.  I made a mango mousse to sandwich between the layers.  The whole things was topped off with a ginger-lime frosting (made by folding homemade ginger-lime curd into whipped cream).  The curd was particularly delicious, combined with the cream it was airy, rich, and fruity all at once.

The individual components of the cake were all delicious.  Combined I am skeptical.  The ginger-lime flavor and the mango flavor seemed to cancel each other out.  Alone both were excellent, but in one bite the flavors were muddled.  If I were to make it again I'd go with the ginger lime flavor, fill the layers with the straight up curd, and ice it with the same icing. 

That's sounding really delicious to me right now, and I'm wondering how mint might be incorporated for a mojito flavor.  That I will ponder and perhaps re-visit.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


I love spring time for so many reasons.  The new growth and warmth is such a sign of hope and re-birth.  There's the feeling that anything is possible.  And then there's rhubarb.  It's tangy sweetness is such a delight that I'm totally obsessed.

When I saw it recently a the grocery store I just couldn't resist.  When we had a dinner guest I decided to serve it as a pudding.  The rhubarb stewed with sugar until softened and thick, then folded into a from scratch custard.  The flavor was spot-on.  Texturally, I was a little disappointed.  The rhubarb hadn't been cooked quite long enough and it watered down the pudding slightly.  I still loved it, and scraped my bowl clean.

We served it with our triple ginger cookies.  The ginger was a great complement to the rhubarb and added a little crunch to the dessert.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Treat for All Times

There are two things I love to do with leftover sweet potatoes.  One is the savory bread I wrote about last month.  The other is sweet potato cake.

I follow my carrot cake recipe, but substitute sweet potatoes for the carrots.  This one is always a crowd-pleaser.  Moist, dense, and full of flavor, what's not to like?  This time I topped it with a cinnamon cream cheese icing.  A perfect complement, together it is sweet but not too sweet, and cinnamony enough to be a brunch treat. 

The flavor combination is particularly well-suited for the fall. but if the leftovers are there, who can resist?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Old Reliable, with a Cherry

My go-to basic cake recipe is Magnolia Bakery's Traditional Birthday Cake.  (It is the same recipe they use for the renowned cupcakes.)  It has a great texture, moisture, and is always a crowd-pleaser.  The buttercream is similarly delicious.  It is pretty traditional, with the addition of some milk, which I've found ensures a smooth texture and tempers the sweetness.

This cake is old reliable, with my own addition.  It is four layers.  The middle filling is traditional buttercream.  The other two are filled with chocolate cherry ganache.  I made a standard chocolate ganache and added dried cherries at the cooking stage.  The cherries re-hydrated a bit, and added some of their sweet sourness.  The ganache dressed the cake up a bit and a sweet surprise.  Some said it's the best cake so far.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Santa Fe Blue Cornmeal Cake

This cake has been on my list for a long time.  It is Santa Fe Blue Cornmeal Cake.  The cake contains, among other things, blue cornmeal and ground chile arbol.  The cornmeal adds a sweet nuttiness both in taste and texture.  Combined with cinnamon and the chile, it is sweet with a little kick. 

I brushed each layer with cajeta, a Mexican caramel made from goats milk.  Then comes the caramel frosting, made of whipped cream, cajeta, and sugar.  The smooth airiness of the whipped cream is the perfect foil for the rough and tumble texture of the cake.  Not the mention the richness of the caramel, which balances the chile and adds intrigue.

This cake is a great diversion from the classic vanilla and chocolate cake flavors.  Perfect for the adventurous at heart. 

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sweet Farewell to Winter

My favorite sweet potato recipe is a quick bread.  The recipe is from The Sustainable Kitchen, and I use it whenever there are left-over sweet potatoes.  I love it because it's really more of a savory bread.  There's hardly any sugar in it at all, and it is a great accompaniment to turkey or pork. 

I just tried it with the last of our Halloween pumpkin, which we pureed and froze.  The results were equally as pleasing.  The pumpkin flavor really starred, more so than the sweet potato does.

I had a loaf left-over, and decided to use it for bread pudding.  To accompany it I made a brown butter caramel sauce.  The two paired perfectly.  The depth of the caramel sauce toned down the pumpkin flavor, and sweetened it up just enough to put it in the dessert category.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Loving Lemon

Spring may be my favorite time of year.  There's such hope.  Everything is blossoming, and life begins anew.  I have been craving, no, more obsessed with desserts as fresh as spring.  That means fruit.  This time lemon.  Citrus is so refreshing, and so successfully lightens desserts.   I love it.
It might not look like much, but this lemon cake is killer.  The recipe is my mom's, and comes from the Art Museum cookbook.  The original is for lemon "bread," though it's really a cake.  Chopped walnuts are on the ingredient list.  I always omit them.  To me they interrupt the flavor and texture.  Sweetened lemon need no distraction.

I poked holes on the cake and poured a lemon glaze on top.  The glaze seeped into the cake.  Adding a little crunch and lots of lemon flavor.  Next time I want to serve it with blueberries and whipped cream. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lane Cake: A Southern Tradition?

Once my dad mentioned how much he loved Lane Cake.  I had never heard of it before.  I made a mental note, and decided to make it for his recent visit/birthday celebration.  My research showed it to be a Southern tradition, though I live in the South and no one I've talked to has ever heard of it.

I did a little research, made some adjustments, and ended up with a delicious final product.  The cake is three layers, and heavy on the egg whites.  It's not quite an angel food, it's denser than that, but lighter than most cakes. 

The filling is what sets it apart (and what you see on the top of the cake).  It is a mixture of pecans, raisins, dried figs coconut, sherry, and orange zest held together by egg yolk and sugar cooked to cover the spoon.  A quick note here to say that the figs and sherry aren't traditional to lane cakes; candied cherries and bourbon are.

The sides are iced with a sherry Italian butter cream. I am still a HUGE fan of the Italian butter cream.  I'll take it any day of an American one, especially laced with sherry.

The overall effect: the beauty of a layer cake and the flavor of a fruit cake.  A damn good fruit cake at that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oh So Peachy

I have this great layer cake cookbook, Sky High.  Slowly I’ve been trying out some of the recipes.  It is my favorite cake cookbook, I’ve just decided.

The latest cake I tried was peach melba.  Are you ready for this?  It is a cream cake, brushed with a peach schnapps simple syrup, layered with peach mousse, and iced with raspberry cream.  The whole thing is then served a raspberry-peach sauce. 

The thing I love about this cookbook is the cakes are so creative and innovative.

First off I can’t begin to describe how delicious just the cream cake is.  It has no butter, only heavy cream.  It is airy like angel food and rich like a pound; moist and delicious.  The peach mousse is, well, peachy.  Think peaches and cream with just the texture of cream.  The raspberry cream icing has all the delicacy of raspberries without those pesky seeds. 

The three together were heavenly.  Not to mention the stunning colors represented in one slice.  It is one of my favorite cakes.  Perfect for a special occasion on a sunny spring day.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Giving Cream Cheese Icing a Run for its Money

Carrot cake is such a classic.  My favorite carrot cake recipe, from the Silver Palate, uses pureed carrots which are first boiled.  I am convinced the cooking concentrates the sweet carrot flavor because it consistently delivers a cake far superior to those with fresh shredded carrots.

I have found this to be a perfect method for using left-over carrots, puree them and make carrot cake.  Lately I have started using brown butter instead of vegetable oil.  The resulting cake is so tender with deep, rich flavor. 

This last time I topped it off with a brown butter icing: brown butter, sea salt, vanilla, and confectioner's sugar.  Dare I say it's better than cream cheese?  I haven't decided yet.  But it definitely complements the cake well.  The salt brings out the nuttiness of the brown butter, and tames the sweetness.

I believe another taste is in order before deciding it beats cream cheese.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cobbler of All Cobblers

The picture says it best.

So I will keep this short.  I love fruit desserts.  I had a real yen for peaches, broke down and bought some frozen, deciding to make a my fiance's tried and true cobbler recipe.  It is the best I've ever had--delicious.  The only change I made was to cut in half the amount of sugar mixed with fruit.  The ratio of fruit to cakey-crust was perfect as was the sweetness.  I can't wait to try it again this summer with fresh peaches.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Peanut Butter and Banana, Anyone?

Banana cake is comfort, tender, moist, and familiar, it is always a crowd-pleaser.  For me it takes me back to my Minnie Mouse birthday party.  It was probably my fifth or sixth birthday so I don't remember much about the party.  But I do remember the banana cake made in the shape of Minnie, and decorated to complement.  The cake was so delicious that in my ravenous I dropped some on the dining rug, the stain is there to this day to prove it.

It is that cake I've been trying to replicate.  I think I've finally got it.  Instead of vegetable oil I use browned butter which adds richness and depth of flavor.  The other trick is plenty of bananas and brown sugar.  It is, in my opinion, the best banana cake.  Too tender to be layered.

This time I decided to play with the classic peanut butter and banana combination, and topped the cake with peanut butter icing.  Mostly butter and peanut butter with a little confectioner's sugar, the icing was airy yet rich.  The peanut butter played nicely with the nuttiness of the brown butter, and was perfectly reminiscent of the sandwich.  The ultimate in banana cake cum comfort food.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Stunner of a Cake

This cake, sliced, may be one of the most visually stunning cakes I have ever made. 

The cake is lemon.  A preserves of blueberry, lemon, and ginger is marbled on the top of the layers as well as the filling in between layers.  The icing is a lemon Italian buttercream, which can be spread almost as smooth as fondant.  Silky smooth, slightly sweet, and all around delicious it is my new favorite frosting.

All around it didn't have as much flavor as I was expecting.  The cake in particular was not as lemony as I was hoping.  Much of that I attribute to not having lemon extract in the cupboard.  I'm going to try it again when the pantry is better stocked.  It is a perfect spring cake.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Coconut Cake Revisited

I'm determined to perfect this coconut cake.  Here it is again, same cake, different icing.  The last one was great, just not quite right.

This icing is basically an Italian butter cream.  Egg whites beaten with sugar and water cooked to the soft ball stage.  When body temperature butter and then coconut milk are beat in.  (The coconut milk is not part of the traditional recipe.)  The icing is silky smooth, not too sweet, and pillowy soft.  The perfect complement to the slightly dense cake, and packs quite the coconut flavor punch.  Sprinkled with shredded coconut, this is THE perfect icing (for this cake).

I dare say I have perfected the coconut-lovers cake.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Ginger Snaps to Beat all Ginger Snaps

I'm on a bit of a cookie kick lately.

My future sister-in-law love Trader Joe's ginger snaps.  What makes their ginger snaps unique is the three different types of ginger in each cookie: powdered, fresh, and candied.  I decided to give it a try.

First I candied my own ginger.  Following Alice Waters' recipe for ginger snaps in The Art of Simple Food, I added minced fresh ginger and diced candied ginger in addition to the powdered ginger already in the recipe.  I then rolled the dough into long cylinders, and put them in the refrigerator, like you would for sablés.  After about two hours I rolled the cylinders in the sugar that dripped off the candied ginger during cooling.  That's ginger four ways.

I have to say I think I have Trader Joe's beat here.  These cookies are delightfully gingery, not too sweet, with just the right amount of spice.  Definite winners.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

I like trying my hand at doing iconic foods from scratch.  Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, is an excellent guide for doing so.   Marshmallows make an appearance, along with graham crackers, toaster pastries, and chocolate sandwich cookies (oreos).

The cookie part is a crumbly chocolate cookie batter, rolled out and cut with cookie cutters.  The white icing is a simple mix of confectioner's sugar, corn syrup (we used honey instead), and evaporated milk.  Sandwiched together they look much like an oreo.

If you bite into one expecting an oreo, you will be disappointed.  The cookies are the crisp wafers you might expect, they're too thick and soft.  (Much of which is my fault, they should've been rolled thinner).  The other major faux pas was substituting honey for corn syrup.  I thought the honey might add flavor and intrigue, but it merely overpowers. 

That said, our sandwich cookies are good, maybe excellent, if only judged on their own merit without consideration for their iconic relative. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guinness Gone Wrong

I was so excited to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year.  The celebration: an Irish movie and Guinness Floats.  What better way to honor the Irish than with Guinness?

I've enjoyed a Guinness or two in my day, but have only heard of the float version (think traditional root beer float but with Guinness instead of root beer).  Wanting to be sure to do it right, I bought the imported Guinness and ice cream from our local creamery, Spring Ridge.  They have a cinnamon vanilla ice cream that I just love.  It really is wonderful.  By itself.

The combination looks good.  But let me tell you, the cinnamon vanilla ice cream and Guinness was a really bad combination.  So bad I couldn't ingest it.  It was frothy bitterness. 

So bad it seemed like some kind of science experiment gone wrong, like the ice cream reacted with the beer.  And maybe it did.  I'm interested in trying it again with vanilla ice cream.  But only skeptically. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blackberry Crisp

I have been eating a lot of cake, as you may have guessed from the recent posts.  I might be addicted to dessert.  No. I definitely am addicted.

Last night called for a healthier dessert alternative.  We still had two jars of blackberries frozen from summer berry picking.  I topped the berries with mixture of oats, agave nectar, and two tablespoons of berry.  After forty minutes in the oven it was beautifully browned and ready to eat.  The "crisp" wasn't as crispy as most thanks to the small amount of butter and lack of refined sugar.  But it was warm and sweet, and my body said thank you.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Brown Butter

This is a pretty regular looking cake.  And in a lot of ways it is.  But I have two words for you: Brown Butter.

If you haven't yet experienced the wonder of brown butter I suggest you step away from your computer screen and go immediately to your stove.  Put a stick or two of butter over medium heat and watch it melt.  Keep it there until the milk solids have separated and turned golden.  Strain.  And enjoy the resulting rich nuttiness.

I made said brown butter, let it harden a little, and used it instead of regular butter for this icing.  With the help of some confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and sea salt this icing is absolutely to die for.

The cake, on the other hand, was disappointing.  The recipe is from the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery.  This is a great collection that my aunt put together for me.  It is an alphabetical listing of recipes by genre.  This recipe, in the cake section, is accompanied by many other different types of cakes recipes.  I swear I used this recipe and it was delicious.  But lately it hasn't been turning out right.  I have a theory that it doesn't have enough fat. I'm going to adapt the recipe, and will report back.

The real moral of the story is to use your own chocolate cake recipe, that you know and love.  Top it with icing made from your brown butter.  You will not regret it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Brilliance of Coconut

I recently revisited the coconut cake I first wrote about this past July.  I loved the cake.  It is delightfully dense, tender, and has a lot of coconut flavor.  The fat in the cake is coconut milk.  No butter, no oil, just coconut milk.

This icing on the previous cake was too sweet for me, and too close to marshmallow.  I wanted to try making the icing with coconut oil, some cream cheese, and powdered sugar to really bring home the coconut flavor.  We didn't have any coconut oil though, so I stuck with a more traditional cream cheese icing, adding plenty of shredded coconut.

I liked this cake and icing better than the one the Saveur recipe suggests.  It is less sweet, slightly more subtle, and the coconut shines more.  I was really wishing I had coconut flakes instead of shreds, aesthetically the flakes are airier and smoother.

But if you love coconut this is a definite winner.  It's even won-over some disbelievers in the tastiness of coconut.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mincemeat Pie

In preparation for spring we're cleaning our cupboards and freezer of all our winter stockpiles.  Mostly this means our homemade turkey broth from Thanksgiving's turkey and pumpkin from Halloween, all piled up in our freezer.  There was one, more exciting item to get off the shelves, dad's mincemeat leftover from Christmas.

Last night we made an orange cinnamon pastry to encase the mince meat.  I had never thought of flavoring a pie crust.  I recently saw it while perusing some recipes, and thought orange and cinnamon would complement the mincemeat. The combination was exceptional.

This is not a crust that can be left uneaten. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Loving the Sablés...Still

My newest sablé flavor of choice is vanilla.  

I used my favorite sablé recipe as a starting off point (still Amanda Hesser's lemon sables).  I cut out the lemon, and instead added vanilla bean and Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract.  The leftover vanilla pod I stuck in about a cup of sugar.  The resulting vanilla sugar coated the outside of the sablés for an extra punch of vanilla.  

They have the same delightful sandy texture of the lemon, and the sweet intrigue of pure vanilla.  All around an excellent cookie. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lucious Lemon

Spring is coming, and I have been craving lighter desserts.   This cake is a variation on the popular muffin flavor: lemon poppy seed.

Moist and light, this cake contains no yolks, only whites, which contribute both to its light texture and color.  The lemon flavor comes from zest in the batter.  The real secret here is the lemon simple syrup, made from the juice of the zested lemon, sugar, and a little bit of water.  I brushed this syrup on the cake as the layers were cooling.  It added quite the flavor punch.

The icing is an almond cream cheese icing.  Pretty much a regular cream cheese icing with almond extract, a perfect complement to the lemon in the cake.  I then pressed poppy seeds onto the side of the cake, and piped frosting along the outer edge.

The lemon and almond combination is a real crowd pleaser.  Perfect for those like me, with spring fever.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cranberry Update: Ice Cream

I tried making cranberry ice cream as promised.  First I strained yogurt to thicken it up a little.  Mixed it with the cranberry sauce in the spinning ice cream machine with two teaspoons agave nector.  The result is the beautiful pink ice cream.  The walnuts in the sauce gave it a crunchy textural contrast, the agave just enough sweetness to perk up the tartness of the cranberries and the yogurt. 

This will be a beautiful accompaniment to holiday dishes next winter.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Sweet Sixtieth

A dear family friend turned sixty this past weekend.  It is such an exciting occasion, we wanted to do something very special.  She also graciously gave us her cake decorating supplies, and some extras for Christmas.  I've been teaching myself, and wanted to share my progress with her.

So, we made her a cake.  The cake is vanilla bean, and the icing darjeeling tea (her favorite).  I made the icing like you would a red velvet icing, starting by cooking flour and milk together until thickened.  Except first I steeped darjeeling in warmed milk, then followed the steps to a typical red velvet icing.  It was full of darjeeling flavor with the typical creamy lightness of red velvet.

We sandwiched the icing between four layers of cake, spread it on the top and sides, then covered it all with white fondant and a green fondant bow at the bottom.  The cake is topped with sugar paste roses and leaves.  This was my first time using sugar paste to decorate a cake, we've been practicing since the beginning of January.  The first couple of attempts were disaster, but after watching a couple of YouTube videos we really started to get it down.  These roses are definitely the best yet, we're very proud.  I've included this second picture so the detail is clear.

I was so pleased with the aesthetic of this cake, it is this type of artistry in cakes that I find so fun and inspiring.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Family Classic

Recently I committed a sacrilege, something I never thought I'd be able to do.

You see, I am the third generation in my family to love and make Virginia Apple Pudding.  It is simple to make, and is kind of like a cobbler but with more topping.  The batter is poured on top of melted butter, with cooked Golden Delicious apples centered on top.  After about forty minutes in the oven the batter rises up over the apples in a warm, buttery wonder.  The outside crisps and the middle is soft and slightly gooey.  Nothing fights the cold better.

This time I made Virginia Apple pudding with pears, instead of apples.  My mother would shake her head in shame, my grandmother worse.  It was good, definitely.  But it wasn't the same.  Which just goes to show you, why mess with a good thing?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes...Always Good

Living in a rural area I often miss the food from my undergraduate days in New York.  I had a couple of haunts, one being Magnolia Bakery.  I first went to Magnolia's during freshman orientation.  Overwhelmed by the late night line--people leave their houses after 10p.m.?--I quickly ordered the banana pudding.  And it was wonderfully light and creamy.

Then I tried their cupcakes: vanilla with buttercream frosting.  Magnolia cupcakes are light and moist, like eating a cloud.  The eponymous cookbook generously shares the recipe.

For awhile I made it often, recently I've been enticed by flashier more complex cakes.  Yesterday I revisited the Magnolia cupcake recipe, as a cake.  It turned out just as I remembered.  With rainbow sprinkles sandwiched between the layers, it was pure nostalgia.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

There's Never a Bad Time for Cranberry Sauce

My Aunt Donna (actually not my aunt, but close family friend) is an excellent cook with an arsenal of great recipes.

This is one of my favorites, her cranberry sauce.  I love this stuff.  I could eat it all year round.  It's pretty simple, cranberries cooked with apple juice and honey until they pop.  Throw in some orange zest, celery, and walnuts.  Let chill.  It is excellent with yogurt, ice cream, and really anything.  We've eaten it on pumpkin pancakes, and even used it as the base for a crisp.

This fall we bought extra cranberries and froze them so we could enjoy the sauce mid-winter blues.  And that's exactly what we've done.  Yesterday, while enjoying a bit with yogurt we thought of making frozen yogurt with a bit of cranberry sauce and some yogurt.  I'll update with some pictures and opinions soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fauschnauts Redux

I so enjoyed the sweet potato Fauschnauts that I decided to try it again.  I didn't have time to fill them, so I had to come up with something different.  We had some caramel left over from a bread pudding.  This was special caramel, made with brown butter. 

I am definitely convinced that brown butter greatly improves anything.  I decided to go with the theme, and brown some more butter.  I let it cool and then beat the brown butter with the caramel to make the frosting.

This was a DELICIOUS frosting: the nuttiness of brown butter, the richness of caramel, and the slightness of salt.  It paired perfectly with the subtle sweet potato flavor, even better than the cinnamon custard filled. 

P.S. I encourage everyone to put brown butter in everything.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Plaza Hotel Cheesecake

So the Plaza Hotel Cheesecake is in the 50 Best Cheesecakes in the World cookbook.  I decided I had to try it.

It's a pretty conventional cheesecake: cream cheese, eggs, and sugar.  Baked.  The difference here is, when that's all done it's topped with a mixture of sour cream, vanilla, and sugar.  And baked again, just for five minutes.

The result really is a great cheesecake.  Not just to eat, but visually stunning as well.  The two layers, different shads of white, are quite elegant when sliced.  The sour cream topping, lightens the cake, so you don't feel a brick in your stomach when finished.  It also lends a pleasing tang to the overall flavor, contributing to its increased complexity, while also cutting through the richness of the cream cheese layer.  Paired with some fresh berries this cheesecake would make an elegant end to any meal, whether you're eating at the Plaza, or not.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Cookies

(Yes we're talking Sablés, again)

This is a Dorie Greenspan recipe for Linzer Sablés.  These cookies are traditionally made for Christmas.  I think they're quite perfect for Valentine's Day, withe red jam and a heart window.  The dough is equal parts ground almonds and flour, as well as your normal cookie ingredients.  Just like traditional roll outs, the dough is chilled before flattening and cutting out the shapes.

The most important thing is that you have two heart shaped cookie cutters in the same shape but differing sizes.  One has to be small enough that it will fit inside the larger one while leaving you enough dough space that the cookie won't just fall apart.  The other important thing to remember is that you need equal numbers of plain hearts and windowed hearts.  Once that is done, they're ready to bake.

When the cookies have been baked and cooled, they are ready for assemble.  I made two kinds of jam for these linzers, with fruit that was otherwise going to go bad.  One is a strawberry balsamic jam, the balsamic cuts the sweetness of the strawberries nicely while still complementing the flavors.  The second was a basic cranberry jam.  (These are adult cookies, meant to surprise with the sweet and sour combination.)  

After sandwiching the jam between the two cookies, a little sprinkling of powdered sugar, you have a beautiful treat for your Valentine.  A platter of these cookies is really spectacular. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fauschnaut Day

On Fat Tuesday, where I'm from, we eat Fauschnauts.  They're a German doughnut often made partly with mashed potatoes.  They are plain doughnuts, for those used to the sugar bombs at Dunkin' Donuts, they many not be doughnuts at all.  But to me they're tradition.

This year I couldn't wait for Fat Tuesday.  These I made using mashed sweet potatoes instead of the normal white potato.  Plus I added a little intrigue by filling them, with a homemade cinnamon custard.  Okay, so I like tradition with a twist, there's nothing wrong with that.  I finished them off with a simple glaze.

The added flavor and substance was much appreciated on my end. They really were quite wonderful, though maybe not "fauschnauts" to most. I guess I lean more towards the sugar bombs.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Queen of Cakes

As you can see from the picture this is a queen of cakes.  Not the queen, because that would be too difficult a decision, but a queen.  It is Red Hot Red Velvet Cake from Baked. 

We had some red hot laying around that I wanted to use up, and remembered this recipe from when I browsed through the cookbook a couple weeks ago.  The cake is pretty much a traditional red velvet recipe, but with less red food coloring.  The effect s more subtle than many fire-engine red velvets you see elsewhere.  This icing too is pretty traditional, with a few twists.  The milk is cooked with flour like usual, but in this recipe granulated sugar is added to the mix.  This mixture is beaten at high speed of an electric mixer until cool and then beaten with butter, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and cinnamon.  The resulting icing is light and deliciously creamy as one expects from a red velvet icing, but with the added intrigue of cinnamon and less sweetness thanks to cooking the milk with sugar and avoiding the powdered sugar.

The cinnamon icing complements the cake, complicating the flavor profile.  Ringed with icing dot and crowned with red hots, you have the queen of Valentine's Day Cakes.  (As I was writing I decided it needed an upgrade, plus what could be better for Valentine's than a red velvet cake?)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Knodels=Warm Goodness

One of my fellow classmates at school was Austrian.  After a cooking party, that ended with lots of leftover bread, he made Knodel.  I had never heard of it, but I fell in love instantly.

Knodel is basically meatballs but with bread instead of meat.  Your stale, leftover bread, is drenched in scalded milk, and mixed with egg and onion.  I put some celery in there too.  Recipes I looked at suggested parsley, being that parsley is the only food I genuinely hate, I left that out.  The mixture is then rolled into balls and poached in water or broth.  We had some broth that needed to be used, and I threw some cabbage and carrots in there just to add some vegetables and make it a full meal.

It snowed that night. We couldn't have planned it better.  What better to eat on a cold, wintry night than warm doughy balls.  A perfect comfort food, and tragically scarce in the States.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rhubarb: A Delight Deserving a Starring Role

I love rhubarb.  The slight sweetness contrasts so delightfully with its sourness.  Plus its such a nice rosy pink.

So we still had some rhubarb in our freezer from last spring, and a Nigella Lawson recipe just waiting for it.  So on a cold wintry night we made Nigella's Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake.  The cake has a crumbly comforting texture and nuttiness of cornmeal.  Moist and delicious all around.

My qualm with the recipe is that it just does not have enough rhubarb.  It's not fault of the recipe, more just personal preference.  Rhubarb really needs and deserves more of a starring role.  I'm thinking crumble or crisp.  That's on the list for this spring.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Craving: Answered.

Recently I've become obsessed with the chocolate-mint combination.  I'm not sure why.  I'm not a big chocolate person but something about the cool lightness of mint and the way it cuts through the richness of the chocolate is intriguing me.  Then I made these...

These Chocolate Mint Brownies, posted on the Scrumptious Photography blog, are right up my alley.  First a fudgie cake brownie, then a minty cream layer, and a chocolate glaze for on-top.  And those three parts make one glorious brownie: pure indulgence (plus breath freshener).

I love these brownies.  And there's not much else to say, except that the picture doesn't do them justice.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Again With the Sablés

I know, I know, again.  I'm sorry, but really they're great cookies.

This batch of sablés are chocolate with sea salt.  The dough is the crumbliest of the different recipes I've tried.  In the mixing bowl I thought it would never hold together.  With determination and some quality hands it came together just find.  Equally challenging was slicing the dough before baking.  I lost a couple.  But after some practice I learned a cutting technique that proved quite successful.  (Support the slice with one hand while cutting with the other.)

All that extra maneuvering was worth it for the best in sandy texture.  With dark chocolate chunks, plus sweet and savory thanks to the sea salt, this recipe is for sure a keeper.  One of the favorite sablés.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Twist on Nostalgia: Graham Cracker Cake

In case you haven't noticed yet I love making cakes.  The artistry is so fun.  Plus they're tasty.

For Christmas I was given All Cakes Considered. It was written by a woman on staff of All Things Considered, who brings a cake to work every Monday.  One recipe particularly caught my eye, Graham Cracker Cake.  The cake has no flour at all, only graham cracker crumbs.  And there's something so good about graham crackers.

The icing is the perfect complement.  It's essentially whipped cream with some powdered sugar, coffee, and cocoa.  Light and airy, with a delightful touch of mocha flavor, it is delicious atop the heavy graham flavor of the cake.

The best part, for me at least, was decorating the top.  The series of stars we so much fun to do, and added such a special touch.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Crust, Jam, and a Little Nostalgia

 I think the picture pretty much speaks for itself.

We made homemade pop tarts. These were adult pop tarts, with a homemade cranberry jam filling; a little tang to counterbalance the sweet.  The recipe came from a great cookbook, Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It.  It's one we use often.  The pastry dough was some of the best I've ever had: flaky, flavorful, and tender.  We're going to try it as a pie crust.

But really, the pop tarts were super fun, especially for those of us who weren't allowed to eat them on a regular basis as a child.  They got a lot of laughs, great conversation piece.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Brown Butter Sablés

As I sat down to write this, I realized that I've been writing about my parents a lot lately.  Yesterday my mom and doughnuts, today my dad and cookies.  Why?  Because food is love, at least for me.

So, to celebrate my dad's recent retirement, and his surprise party that I missed.  We sent him Brown Butter Sablés, which my honey found a recipe for at  Yes, we're still obsessed with sables.  Yes we're trying every recipe we can find.  And yes, I'll probably write about another kind next week.  Sorry.  But you have to try these cookies.

Actually this particular recipe was not my favorite.  I love brown butter.  It has such a rich, nutty flavor far beyond regular butter.  I actually have recently become obsessed and have started using it in cookies and cakes in place of regular butter.  So, you can imagine how excited I was about these cookies.  They sound wonderful.

I'm not sure what it is I found disappointing.  Perhaps I built them up too much in my head.  But the finished cookies weren't as special as I expected.  They were too sweet, with not as much complexity as I expected.  I think a little extra salt would have added intrigue.  My honey, though, loved them.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Earl Gray Doughnuts

My mom loves tea.  I mean really loves.  She drinks probably at least three cups a day.  And so, a year or two ago, when Kelly Alexander included a recipe for Earl Gray doughnuts in her New York Times Magazine article Fry Baby, a flag went up in my head. I have been wanting to make those donuts ever since.

Finally I did.  (Sadly my mom is far away and didn't get to taste this batch, but the next one she will.)  The earl gray comes in just as a topping, mixed with sugar and sprinkled over top.  The doughnut itself has orange juice and zest to pick up the bergamot in the tea. Otherwise it's a pretty basic yeast doughnut.

This was my first time making doughnuts, and I don't have a doughnut cutter, so I used one for biscuits. That's why there's no hole.  When they were cut and fully risen I fried them in a couple inches of canola oil.  They looked just like doughnuts from the store.  Except warm and more delicious.    Though I do think they'd be better with a hole, or some orange custard filling.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Heavenly Breakfast

I know I keep raving about Spring Ridge Creamery and how good their milk is.  But, really, it's true.  So the latest experiment was making ricotta.  And, after a little cooking, a little citric acid, and a stint with cheesecloth it came out great.  Thanks to the Creamery's milk our ricotta was light, creamy, and flavorful. 

Luckily at the same time, Amanda Hesser published Recipe Redux: Heavenly Hots.  The contemporary recipe is Jody Williams' Heavenly Necci.  Necci, Italian, are chestnut crêpes.  Williams re-vamped version of traditional Necci are more moist with slightly extra volume. 

It just so happened that I have chestnut flour lying around needing to be used.  Even more coincidentally, Heavenly Necci are to be served with ricotta.  The Heavenly Necci were delicious, though not so heavenly to make.  They were so thin and delicate that they were difficult to flip; we had several casualties.

In the end we had a beautiful breakfast of homemade ricotta and Necci, and it just fell together.  That's how the best things in life happen.  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Elusive Root Beer Cake

I've been fascinated with root beer cake for awhile.  It all started with a Saveur recipe for, you guessed it, root beer cake.  Complete with root beer gummies on top, it seemed the perfect all-American cake.  The recipe has one rather elusive ingredient: root beer extract.  I halfheartedly searched for months for that extract.  And finally found it in November.  Caught up in the holidays I finally made the cake earlier this month.

Don't get me wrong it's a good cake.  Moist, with a great airy but somehow dense texture.  The icing was equally pleasing, except for a slight sugary grit. But the cake is disappointingly lacking in root beer flavor.  The let down was worsened by the months of anticipation.

That same weekend I came across the Baked cookbook (which, by the way, has some great recipes).  It too had a recipe for a root beer cake, this one a chocolate bundt root beer cake.  Eager to find a root beer flavored cake I tried it.

Now this too is a good cake.  It is made much like Coca-Cola cakes are made, by melting butter, cocoa and the soda on the stove top, and moving on from there.  Here too, it is lacking in true root beer flavor.  For chocolate lovers the fudge icing is exceptional, and makes the cake.  The cake itself is relatively run-of-the-mill.

I am still in search of a cake that truly tastes of root beer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dessert Risotto: Revisited

Not too long ago I wrote about a dessert risotto, and suggested it might good brûléed.  So we pulled out the kitchen torch and tried it on a new batch.  I had never brûléed before, and I have to say, it was far easier than expected (and really pretty fun).  The most difficult part was getting the torch to work, ours is quite finicky

The resulting risotto was beautiful to look at.  Texturally it didn't quite work.  The beauty of crème brûlée lies in the contrast of texture.  The smooth custard and the crackle of the burnt sugar.  But in the risotto the crackle jumbled with the soft bite of the rice, and neither were enjoyed to their full extent.  This is why brûlée is best left to its crème and rice to its risotto.  Delicious as each is, they're simple best left alone.