Guess who just had a birthday?
That's right, the hungry hungry hubby, the ravenous rhino, the Cool J to my LL, just celebrated a milestone birthday.
Guess how old he turned?
Every day closer to decrepitude now!
Guess how we celebrated?
We had a little-boy party with old-fashioned party games, including this variation on Pin the Tail on the Donkey. (He's almost finished with his PhD and wants to be a professor.)
Guess what his birthday dessert was?
None other than Dorie's pecan pie! Pecan pie is his absolute faaaaavorite dessert, and it was beautiful serendipity that it was chosen as one of this month's recipes. And let me tell you, Dorie knows how to make a mean pecan pie. He loved it. I actually made a mondo 11" deep dish version, and doubled the recipe in the one crust.
Guess how I fed it to him?
"Make like a dolphin and jump for it, boy!"
Guess how I ate it myself?
Ever so delicately, with my pinky finger out.
Just kidding! It was more like this:
Guess how we ate the leftovers?
In huge slabs with melty vanilla ice cream.
Guess the best part about this pecan pie?
The ooey, gooey innards full of chocolate chunks and toasted pecans. Props to Beth for the great pick, and head on over to her blog for the full recipe.
Merry Christmas to everyone!
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Guess who just had a birthday?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
First off, a bit of business. My Oh Nuts! giveaway ended last night, and the winner, as chosen by the random number generator, was lucky number 17: Caroline of Sweet Caroline. So Caroline, email me your contact information and I'll get the gift certificate sent your way!
Speaking of nuts and dried fruit and yumminess, I have a great cookie-brownie-mutant recipe to recommend. I found the recipe for these Orange Cranberry Brownie Cookies on Baking Bites, and they had me at hello. It's basically all of my favorite ingredients smooshed into a fudgy chocolate cookie.
Dried cranberries, toasted pecans (my little recipe tweak), lots of orange zest, and big chocolate chunks commingle in the rich belly of this brownie-cookie beast. If you've had enough of holiday sugar cookies and gingerbread men (or just want another chocolate addition to the holiday gift plate) I give these cookies two chocolate-smeared thumbs up.
My one caution is that I didn't think they kept very well; after about 2 days they tasted stale. However, if your family is anything like mine around the holidays, they won't last longer than 2 days anyhow, so it's a moot point.
Orange Cranberry Brownie Cookies
from Baking Bites
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange zest
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup chocolate chips (pref. dark chocolate chips)
Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together melted butter and sugars. Mix in the eggs, stirring them in one at a time, then add the vanilla and orange zest.
With the mixer on low or working by hand, stir in the flour mixture, mixing until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in dried cranberries.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet (dough balls were a bit larger than 1 inch in diameter). Leave about 2 to 3-inches between cookies to allow for spread.
Bake for 9-11 minutes, until cookies are set at the edges and tops are slightly cracked looking. Cool on baking sheet for 5-10 minutes, until firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack.
Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Makes about 3 1/2 - 4 dozen.
Monday, December 14, 2009
I am humble enough to admit there are a number of things in this world I don’t understand. Theoretical physics, for example. Or the differences between Marginalist and Instiutionalist schools of economic theory. Or the continual popularity and acceptance of Lady Gaga, lack of pants and talent notwithstanding.
To this list you can now add this week’s Café Volcano Cookies. It’s a meringue cookie…but you don’t whip the egg whites. They’re full of nuts…but when you bite into them, it’s like you’re eating air. They have volcano in the title…but there’s no lava involved whatsoever. (Okay, so you can scratch that last one.)
Not in my kitchen, sadly enough. I was not feeling these. I added cocoa powder instead of coffee, but they still tasted like…nothing. Sort of nutty, very sweet, crumbly air. I thought of dipping them in chocolate, but that just seemed like throwing good money after bad, and especially during this time of year, there are so many other, tastier things to be blowing my diet on.
Monday, December 07, 2009
You don't have to tell me how good Dorie's sable recipe is. Just this past summer I was swooning over the spiced version--such good flavor, such good texture, such easy, delicious little cookies.
So this time I decided to shake it up a bit, and try a pecan version. I added ground roasted pecans to the dough, and rolled the outside of the cookies in the same ground pecans. I'm afraid the coating pushed their appearance from "rustic" to "chewed up." Next time I'm sticking with plain sugar around the outside instead.
The taste was good, although I wished I'd added some spices along with the pecans--they could have used a little more oomph. But I loved the texture, as always, and these were the perfect topper to a bowl of pumpkin praline ice cream.
I still need to try some other additions, like citrus zest, or parmesan, or grated chocolate. These sable and I have a lot more bonding to do before we're done. What's your favorite variation?
Pssst! If you haven't already, don't forget to enter the giveaway to win a gift certificate for free Oh Nuts! merchandise!
Saturday, December 05, 2009
Recently I received some samples of TCHO baking chocolate to try. If you're not familiar with TCHO, they're an artisan, bean-to-bar chocolate company based in San Francisco. I'd tried their chocolate bars in the past, and found them very good, but far too pricey to do any baking with...it's the kind of chocolate you savor square by teensy tiny square.
So I was excited to hear that they now have a baking line of 66% and 68% baking "drops," designed with cooking and candy making in mind. I am here to tell you, though, that the chocolate is also pretty amazing eaten straight from the bag. (All in the name of research, you understand.) The 68% conventional blend was my favorite--smooth, rich, with a deep chocolate taste. The 66% organic blend was very fruity and bright, and I can't wait to try it in truffles this Christmas. I think it'll be delicious with citrus flavors, or maybe paired with my new BFF, pistachios. But back to the chocolate!
I took it for a test spin using a brownie recipe provided with the chocolate. These TCHO Deep Chocolate Brownies are my favorite kind of brownie--dense, fudgy, with a crackly top and slightly crisp edges. These brownies were pretty outrageously good, with a great chocolate flavor. Here's my little brownie quirk: after cutting the batch into squares, I always cut my piece into small cubes to eat one at a time, just like a piece of chocolate. It's a good way to feel like you're indulging yourself...and also a good way to mask how many tiny brownie bites you actually eat!
What about you? Any brownie quirks? Favorite type of brownie? Any blondie lovers in the house? (The baked good, not the tired comic strip character.) Read on for the brownie recipe...
TCHO Deep Chocolate Brownies
Recipe by Emily Luchetti, courtesy of TCHO
8 ounces TCHO 68% Cacao Baking Drops, finely chopped
5 ounces (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and line it with parchment paper. Melt the chocolates and butter in a double boiler over hot water. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture. Sift together and then stir in the flour, salt, baking powder, and cocoa powder. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.
Bake until a skewer inserted in the center, comes out fudgy and not dry, about 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan. Place a cutting board on top of the pan. Invert the pan and board. Remove the pan and carefully peel off the parchment paper.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Wow, did this tart smack me upside the head and surprise me. I am so not a pistachio person. I don't hate them, but they're low on my list of go-to nuts, and I can't ever remember craving pistachios or pistachio flavored anything. And also, they're green. What is that about?
Imagine my surprise, then, when I fell in love with this pistachioriffic tart.
This tart had a pistachio crust (I added 1/4 c ground nuts to the dough), a pistachio pastry cream with bits of ground pistachios left in, and a topping of caramelized pistachios. I loved the triple-nut combination, and I could have been happy just eating that plain, without the poached pears on top.
I must admit, though, the pears were a nice touch. The recipe called for them to be poached in red wine, but since I don't drink wine, I poached them in a mixture of citrus rinds and crushed blackberries to give them a fruity aroma and, of course, the beautiful rose color. Here's what I didn't add: sugar. Oops! I was so caught up in squishing the berries with my hands (squeeeeeze the juiiiiiice! Bonus points if you say it in an Encino Man voice) I completely forgot the sugar. They turned out fine, although a little extra sweetness would have been nice, since these pears were not all that ripe.
Overall, though, stunning. Loved it. An elegant company dessert that can be made in advance and is fairly fast to assemble. This is the second Dorie pear tart to knock it out of the ballpark for me, I'm beginning to think the lady knows her pear desserts!
This dessert and my newfound pistachio obsession could not have come at a better time, because I have a nutty giveaway for you! The kind folks at Oh Nuts! have offered my readers a $25 gift certificate for the holidays. Have you seen their website? They offer 14 kinds of bulk pistachios, for crying out loud, and all sorts of other dried fruit, nuts, and candies.
So there are three ways to enter:
1. Go to the Oh Nuts Hanukkah gifts page or to the Christmas Nuts Gift page. Choose your favorite Hanukkah Gift or Christmas Gift and leave a comment on this blog post with the name and url of the gift you love the most.
2. Go to the oh nuts facebook page become a fan and post on the wall the url and name of your favorite Hanukkah Gift or Christmas Gift. Be sure to also write "I am here via "Cake or Death." Then leave a comment here telling me you did this.
3. On Twitter, follow @ohnuts and Tweet either: " Win a free Hanukkah Gift from http://bit.ly/6nIsCi Follow @ohnuts & Retweet to enter. " OR: “ Win a free Christmas Gift from http://bit.ly/537HNp Follow @ohnuts & Retweet to enter.” Then leave a comment here telling me you did this.
That's a total of THREE possible entries in this giveaway! The drawing closes at midnight PST on December 14th, so there's plenty of time to get commenting, facebookin', and tweetin'. G'luck!
Monday, November 23, 2009
Dear Inventor of the Bundt Cake Mold,
What is the deal with all of the ridges? Why would you purposely create more nooks and crannies for my poor cake to stick to? If I wanted to spend an hour scraping cake from the inside of a pan and then painstakingly cleaning it with a toothbrush, I would do all of my baking in thimbles. But I don't do that, because I am not a crazy person, despite your pan's best efforts to make me so.
Yes, when it came time to unmold this All-In-One Holiday Bundt, the cake was...how the French say...le hot mess. Half of the top totally stuck to the pan, and of course being an impatient monkey, I kept reaching in and trying to peel it off the hot pan in one piece, but it was still warm so it practically disintegrated on contact and peeled off in dust mite-sized chunks, to be precariously placed back on the cake with a safecracker's precision. Fun this was not.
However, through the miracle of glazing, no one will ever be the wiser...
...until they read this post. Shut up, me!
Bundt cakes aren't really my cuppa--I prefer my cake three layers tall and frosted, thank you--but if I were a bundt fan, I would love this. Pumpkin, cranberries, pecans, ginger, and cinnamon, in a moist cake topped with a maple glaze? Yum!
Great flavor, great texture, now all we have to work on is great release-from-the-panage, and we'll be set.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
We are still in the midst of baby shower season around here, and the most recent honoree was my friend Meghan. Her shower had a beach theme (perfect for our warm LA winters!) so I made her a seashore cake to celebrate.
I found a great seashell candy mold at Michael's that had 5 different designs, so I was able to make a wide variety of chocolate seashells in a short amount of time. I mostly stuck to neutrals like brown and beige, but also threw in some blues, yellows, and pinks. The pearls are fondant balls rolled in silver and bronze luster dust, all set on a board covered in graham cracker "sand."
The cake topper was an oyster shell made out of fondant, and hand-painted with food coloring. This was actually one of my favorite designs I've made recently, and because so much of the decorating could be done in advance, it was relatively stress-free.
The cake itself was a butter cake with a strawberry and whipped cream filling, and I thought it could have tasted better--I foolishly tried a new recipe and didn't love it, to say the least. But overall it was a success and it was such a pleasure to be able to celebrate my friend in this way!
P.S. Y'all are awesome with your camera suggestions! I am on the brink of buying one this week, and rest assured it will make an appearance on the blog the moment I do. Many, many thanks!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Oh friends, I have a serious problem. My beloved digital camera, she of ancient years, scratched body, and pitiful megapixels, has finally bitten the dust. She has been on all my vacations, been present at weddings and funerals, and taken thousands of food photographs. A moment of silence, please.
At first I was not too distraught. After all, it was her time, and she went with moderate grace and dignity. Ashes to ashes. Plus, now I could get a new, super updated camera without any guilt! After reading way too many reviews, I settled on a midrange Fuji point and shoot. It came, it was tiny, it was cute, it seemed perfect.
But friends, after playing with it for a week...I hate it. HATE. It doesn't have any of the customizing options of my old camera, like manual focus. After taking loads of mediocre photos this afternoon, it left me feeling like this:
So I am about ready to upgrade to a DSLR, but I need advice. If you have one, what kind do you have? Do you like it? What lenses do you have? (I'm interested especially in macro lens recommendations.)
And the soft molasses cookies? Not much better than the new camera. I didn't even finish one, which hardly ever happens. And the hubs thought they were so forgettable, he literally couldn't remember what they were a few hours after eating them. I mentioned I was going to toss them, and he said, "Oh, the chocolate cookies? Okay."
Not a stellar day in the kitchen, for sure. But onward and upward. DSLR me, people!
Monday, November 09, 2009
This week's TWD pick, Apple Cranberry Crisp, was just about perfect. Juicy chunks of Honeycrisp apples (my fave!), tart fresh cranberries, and a streusel topping packed with coconut and ginger. It practically screamed EAT ME. Yes, it was aaaalmost perfect...
But it was missing something:
That's better! What's a warm fruit crisp without a big heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream on top? The ice cream, originally meant to be an afterthought, ended up being my husband's favorite part of the dish. (But then, vanilla ice cream is his kryptonite.) I forgot to buy some at the store, and I was tragically low on cream, but I was able to make some using my ice cream maker, a large stash of evaporated milk, and this handy recipe. Super fast, and just as good as custard-based ice creams. I knew my leaning tower of pantry cans would come in useful someday.
Even after adding the ice cream, there was still something not quite right about this crisp...
There you go. Now it's perfect. What did everyone else think?
Monday, November 02, 2009
It may not be obvious to readers of this blog, but I am actually something of a Sporty Spice in real life. I love making and photographing and writing about pastries, so that's what I focus on in this little world, but as the saying goes, woman cannot live on butter and sugar alone...or at least, she cannot if she hopes to continue to fit into her jeans.
So to balance all of my sugar consumption, I tend to exercise quite a bit...the more scenic and extreme, the better. Over the years I've gotten into marathoning and ultrarunning, and have run in some awesome places, like Death Valley:
And to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite:
And point-to-point along the 60-mile Backbone Trail:
And across the Grand Canyon rim to rim: (that's me on the far right!)
So this week, instead of making the chestnut caramel cake for TWD, which sounds intriguing but also heavy and perhaps even deadly, I've been experimenting with some slightly healthier recipes that might be a little more kind to my waistband and my winter training schedule.
The first cookie I tried was from the website 101 Cookbooks and was called, appropriately enough, Nikki's Healthy Cookies. Sounds like a winner already.
The cookie "dough" is mostly made from almond meal, oats, and coconut, bound together with bananas and coconut oil (one of my new favorite cooking ingredients!) They have some baking powder in them, so after baking they do puff up a bit and have a sort of cookie-ish texture, despite the lack of eggs or gluten. The flavor is a nice mix of banana, a little coconut, a touch of cinnamon, and of course, chocolate. Despite their healthy title, I did not hold back on the chopped chocolate:
I liked these cookies, and thought they were a decent enough substitute for the real thing, but that's just what they felt like--a substitute. I really want to find a healthy treat that doesn't feel like a placeholder but is exciting on its own.
The next healthy cookie recipe I tried is from Heather Eats Almond Butter. These are her famous Maple Nut Oaties.
People, these were deeeelicious. (And yes, I realize the pictures make the cookies look practically identical. I guess I have a healthy cookie 'type.') These tasted less like a cookie wannabe and more like a flavorful chocolate chip granola bar.
The cookies are simply toasted oats, coconut, nuts, and chocolate, bound together with nut butter and syrup. I used a combo of peanut butter and cashew butter, and agave syrup--another new favorite baking ingredient. (If you're not familiar with agave, it's a natural sweetener from the agave tree. It does have calories, but many people prefer it because it doesn't spike your blood sugar the way most sweeteners do. It also adds a nice flavor and moistness. Also, Costco sells it in bulk!) However, you can substitute real maple syrup for agave if you'd like--heck, it's even built into the recipe title.
These cookies came out moist, and chewy, and very flavorful from the toasted oats and gobs of nuts, nut butters, and chocolate. Wrapped in plastic, they're perfect for stuffing into my running pack for energy during long runs, and they're "healthy" enough that I can have them as an after-lunch (or -work, or -dinner, or -all of the above) snack and not feel like I'm canceling out the morning's run.
Never fear, this blog won't devolve into hemp-and-tofu muffin territory, but sometimes it's fun to give the ole sweet tooth a break and try new things. I'm sure I'll be back next week with refined white EVERYTHING, yahoo! But in case you're intrigued, the Maple Nut Oaties recipe is after the cut...
Maple Nut Oaties
From Heather Eats Almond Butter
1 cup toasted rolled oats. (toast them in the toaster oven set on 350° for a few minutes. Watch them as they burn easily.)
1/2 cup nut butter (I used half peanut and half cashew)
1/2 cup maple syrup or agave nectar (I used agave)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I used toasted coconut)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used sliced almonds)
1/2 cup chocolate/carob chips or dried fruit (Um, why use fruit when you can use chocolate?!)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
Pre-heat oven to 350°. Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Scoop cookie dough by TBSP onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes (I did 8.5, just until they started getting color). Let cool for a minute or so, then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
It has finally happened...the perfect storm of blog posting. Two of the baking groups I belong to, Tuesdays with Dorie and The Daring Bakers, have challenges that have to be posted today. As George Costanza would say, "worlds are colliding!" So rather than make 2 separate posts, today's blog will be a super-duper-mega-big post about two delicious things I've made recently: a brownie-cherry torte and (pumpkin spice and nutella) macarons.
It's kind of a shame these guys have to share the limelight, because I thought they were both worthy of their own entry. First up, TWD's brownie-cherry torte.
As you can imagine, my husband, being married to a pastry chef and candy writer/recipe developer, eats a lot of sweets. A LOT. I wouldn't say his enthusiasm for sugar has waned, but it takes more to really impress him these days. And friends, he was blown away by this torte. We're talking head rolled back, tongue sticking out of the mouth, making guttural moaning sounds. I think it's true love.
For the most part, I loved it too. I made a half batch in a 6" pan and it was still super deep-dish and dense. The brownie part was rich and fudgy, and the mascarpone mousse was a surprisingly nice topping. I wasn't sure about the combo as I was making it, but the mousse was so light and creamy, it was the perfect foil to the dark, fudgy brownie. I also loved the cherry flavor, but I wasn't sold on the texture of chewy dried fruit in my brownie. Next time I'd either use fresh cherries or morello cherries instead of dried.But there will be a next time, because this? Was amazing!
Now on to the DB's macarons. I know this is blasphemy, but I don't really like macarons. Shhhh, don't say it so loudly! I've had some that I've thought are pretty good, but for the most part, I think they're just not my ideal cookie. They're often too sweet, and I don't usually love the texture. I guess I'll always be a warm chocolate chip cookie girl at heart. And also, I think they're annoying to make, but that may just be because we have to make jumbo 3" ones at work and let me tell you, the good lord did not intend for macarons to be made so large. They're constantly causing problems and I think I have developed a big macaron-shaped chip on my shoulder because of it.
Aaaaanyways, I sucked it up and made two variations of macarons this time around: pumpkin spice, with a spiced cookie and pumpkin-flavored buttercream, and nutella, with a cocoa-hazelnut cookie and homemade nutella in the middle.
Did y'all know it's possible to make homemade Nutella? And if you did, why didn't you send me any?? This stuff is awesome! It's just ground hazelnuts, with some cocoa, sugar, and a bit of hazelnut oil and vanilla. The texture is closer to natural peanut butter than Nutella, but the hazelnut taste is much more intense, plus it doesn't have any nasty trans fats. Yes please! Subbing hazelnuts for the almonds in the cookie also worked like a dream and gave them a nice subtle hazelnut flavor.
The nutella cookies might have been my favorite because they were less sweet, but the pumpkin spice were a surprising dark horse contender! I added big pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves to the cookie batter, and then used some pumpkin flavoring oil (used to make candies, like Lor-Ann brand) to make a pumpkin buttercream. It was like a delicious mouthful of autumn. I would also consider using pumpkin butter as a filling, to give it a pumpkin flavor and maybe cut down on the sweetness.
Making the decorations on top is the simplest thing in the world. Just mix a little liquid orange food coloring with water, and use a (clean) paintbrush or pastry brush to lightly stroke it across the top. You might need to experiment with several brushes to get the effect you want. Allow it to dry for about 10 minutes, and you're all set.
The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. It can be found on just about any blog by googling, so I'll skip that for now, but I have put the homemade nutella recipe after the cut...
from the Los Angeles Times
Servings: Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Note: Use good-quality cocoa powder, such as Scharffen Berger.
2 cups raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons hazelnut oil, more as needed
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the hazelnuts evenly over a cookie sheet and roast until they darken and become aromatic, about 10 minutes. Transfer the hazelnuts to a damp towel and rub to remove the skins.
2. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a smooth butter, scraping the sides as needed so they process evenly, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, salt and oil to the food processor and continue to process until well blended, about 1 minute. The finished spread should have the consistency of creamy peanut butter; if it is too dry, process in a little extra hazelnut oil until the desired consistency is achieved. Remove to a container, cover and refrigerate until needed. Allow the spread to come to room temperature before using, as it thickens considerably when refrigerated. It will keep for at least a week.
Each tablespoon: 109 calories; 2 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 13 mg. sodium.