Monday, November 30, 2009

Pear-Pistachio Tart and a GIVEAWAY!

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 Follow @ohnuts & Retweet to enter. " OR: “ Win a free Christmas Gift from 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

TWD: All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake

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 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

Beach Baby Shower Cake

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

Molasses Cookies and DSLR Camera Recommendations

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

TWD: Apple Cranberry Crisp

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

Healthy Cookies--Not Quite An Oxymoron

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!)

Lest you think I have gone all Kardashian on you in a desperate bid for attention and self-promotion, I really do have a point with all of these stories, and my point is this: Outdoor magazine should pay me to run and then write cute little vignettes about it. I mean, I know from experience that it can be hard to balance leading a healthy lifestyle and being an avid baker, especially if your love of baking stems from a love of eating baked goods.

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.