Tuesday, June 28, 2011

TWD: Sour Cream Chocolate Cake Cookies Go Whoopie

Before we get into any fights and things get awkward around here, let me preface this by saying: there is nothing wrong with a cake cookie per se. Sometimes you might be craving a fluffy, soft dessert, and instead of hassling with cupcake pans and liners, you go with a cakey cookie instead. I get it.


Maybe Undoubtedly this is my own issue, but I can't really get excited about a plain, unadorned cake cookie. These sour cream chocolate cookies were good, and moist, and I loved the hint of cinnamon... but they needed something more. They seemed a little naked. (Embarrassing!) So I decided to add some frosting to the mix, and you know what that means...

It's whoopie pie time, y'all! These cookies made the PERFECT layers for whoopie pies. They held their shape but weren't too hard or dry, and they made such lovely rounded tops for the pies.

I made a vanilla bean Italian meringue buttercream, with the seeds from two vanilla pods plus vanilla extract. It was vanilla-riffic. I toyed with the thought of adding mint or cinnamon, but decided to be true to classic Whoopie Pie-dom and keep things simple. Piping the filling with a giant rosette tip gave the sides those lovely swirls and made assembly super fast and tidy.

Did you know whoopie pies are having a moment? It's true, even the New York Times says so (two years ago.) The article may be dated, but I still think they're happenin'--how else to explain the fact that every time I walk into a bakery or grocery store, I just about trip over a whoopie pie display? For awhile I thought they were going to be "the new cupcake," and although the cupcake craze seems to be hanging on like grim death, whoopie pies are still weaseling their way into our hearts and stomachs slowly but surely.

I don't mind, I like 'em--even if they are even more of a pain to package and eat neatly!

With the addition of frosting, I give these cookies two frosting-smeared thumbs up. For the recipe please visit Spike, who had the brilliant idea of sandwiching these with ice cream. Yes please.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

TWD: Date Nut Loaf

Why yes, don't mind if I do.

Dates are one of those foods that I was convinced I hated, probably because of their visual association with prunes--oh, I'm sorry, dried plums. Yeah, good luck with that rebranding, prune industry.

Anyhow, I was certain that they were sticky and gooey and gross and I didn't like them. And when I first had dates, I didn't. They were probably a little past their prime, and they were sort of dry and sickly-sweet without a lot of flavor. Life's too short for bad dates, ifyaknowwhatImean.

But then a marvelous thing happened. I moved to Los Angeles--yep, still hung up on this city--and started shopping at a supermarket with a large Armenian food section. And what that means, in addition to a mind-boggling selection of feta cheese and yogurt, is that I was exposed to first-class dates for the first time. These are soft, juicy, hunka hunka burnin' love dates, bursting with flavor and absolutely delicious.

I finally understood that "nature's candy" wasn't just a lie made up by my mom to get me to stop mainlining sugar. Nature's candy exists, and it goes by the name of dates.

For the most part, I don't do much with my dates. (Sooo many possible ways to go with that sentence. Let's stick to the culinary, shall we?) I tend to eat them plain, as a pre-running snack. If I'm feeling frisky I'll split them and fill them with nut butter for some added flavor and calories. But I haven't baked with them much, until now.

This Date-Nut Loaf was really more like a poundcake than any sort of bread, quick or otherwise. It had a really tight, cakey crumb and a lovely flavor from the vanilla and almond extracts. When they baked, the date pieces almost melted and became little pockets of sweetness scattered throughout the cake, broken up by the crunch of toasted walnuts.

My favorite way to eat this cake was to cut a thick slice and toast it, then spread it with sweet butter. I imagine this would also be amazing with some fresh ricotta on top, or a little bit of creme fraiche and honey. I can also see this making a killer trifle--the texture is just right for layering with whipped cream, mousse or curd. Full recipe plus pics can be found on Mary's blog.


Monday, June 13, 2011

TWD: Chocolate Biscotti

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and first moved down to southern California to go to college. I was adamant that northern California (or "NorCal," for the obnoxious) was the superior side of the state, and I would never devolve into a southern California beach bum who wore cutoffs everywhere, read Us Weekly like it was Tolstoy and--worst of all--said "the 101" and "the 5" when talking about freeways.

Well, against my best predictions, I've lived in southern California for more than 11 years now, with seven of those years spent in Los Angeles itself. I still miss the Bay Area (and have dreams of living there, as soon as I obtain and then kill off a rich great-uncle so I can afford the real estate) but LA now feels like home as well.

I get annoyed when people make huge LA generalizations, like it's "so superficial" or "nobody in LA is actually from LA." The very fact that I defend it so stridently gives away my deep love for this crazy, complex, maddening, amazing city.

Right about now, you're probably wondering what this has to do with biscotti. Patience, pet.

I had a lot to learn when I first moved to LA, and these are things no movie or 90210 episode will teach you. I learned to always tell distances in minutes, not miles. I learned that no job is worth a soul-crushing commute to the Westside, and that the appropriate attitude during a celebrity sighting is casual disdain. And I learned about LA's seasons.

Oh ho ho, people from other parts of the country will sniff that "LA doesn't even have seasons," but they are absolutely wrong. We have Santa Ana season, the time in September and October where the hot winds blow west and whole mountain ranges combust in flames that last for weeks. We have that one freaky week that always happens in January or February where it's suddenly 90 degrees and folks take to sunbathing on the roofs.

And, best of all, we have May gray and June gloom, two delicious months when the marine layer hangs over the city like a shroud and doesn't burn off until the afternoon. I'm sure it's baffling and disappointing to tourists who come in the summertime expecting blazing sunshine and instead get overcast gray mornings, but I love it. It's the last pocket of civility before it gets blazing hot for four straight months, and I lap it up like a saucer of milk.

We are in the thick of June gloom right now, and every morning when I pad out to our living room and look out the balcony window, I see the San Gabriel mountains obscured by mist and palm trees barely peeking out of the fog. It makes me happy. It makes me want to sit by a fireplace and drink hot chocolate with pillowy whipped cream.

And that is why, in the middle of June, when much of the rest of the country is already sweltering, I, a resident of sunny southern California, enjoyed my chocolate biscotti with a big mug of hot cocoa.

These biscotti were richly chocolatey, with pockets of melted dark chocolate chunks and toasted almonds. They were perfect for dunking in hot chocolate and shoveling from mug to mouth just before they disintegrated from the heat and moisture.

But just as June gloom cannot be avoided, so too it cannot last forever. Soon--hopefully not this week, but quite possibly next--it will be sunny and warm when I first wake up, only to get sunnier and warmer with each passing day. Uch--that thought gives me the willies.

But even though I can't keep the sun away, I can figure out other ways to keep cool.

If hot chocolate's not in the cards, these biscotti are also great crumbled over a bowl of ice cream. You're looking at rich, creamy, calorie-riffic Haagen Daaz caramel ice cream with a little biscotti sidekick. Add some fresh berries, and the heat suddenly seems bearable.

Here's one final thing no one told me about LA: the jacarandas. These stunning trees bloom twice a year and paper our city with a thick layer of purple petals. My street is having a purple party and it makes me happy every time I see it. Oh, Los Angeles.

Jacque has the chocolate biscotti recipe and some great step-by-step directions on her blog. Check it out!


Thursday, June 02, 2011

TWD: Caramel Pot de Creme

TWD stands for Thursdays with Dorie, right?

I have been doing way too much blogging for money and not enough blogging for myself lately, which: a)first world problems, anyone? and b) shut up, me. But it is disappointing and frustrating to have to put my favorite hobby on hold. I can't even remember the last time I baked a recipe I chose myself, just for the pleasure of it. Hopefully that will change soon, but for now, I am shamefully behind in posting things I've made lately.

So without further ado, here are some belated shots of this week's TWD recipe, Caramel Pot de Cremes, presented for your viewing pleasure without all that distracting chit-chat I usually throw in there.

I know I've posted about these sugar corkscrews before, but in case you've missed it and are interested:
Sugar Corkscrews recipe
Sugar Corkscrews photo tutorial
Sugar Corkscrews video tutorial

Really, they're super-simple. I made a half-batch while I waited for the pots de creme to cool enough to shoot. It took 10 minutes and 1/2 cup of sugar, and made me feel all fancy-like. Let me know if you try them!