Tuesday, November 08, 2011

I've Moved! Come Visit SugarHero.com

Hello old friends! It's been mighty quiet around here lately--that's because the party has moved! Please come visit my brand spankin' new dessert blog: SugarHero.com!

I'm so excited to get back to blogging about desserts, and I do hope you'll join me. If you currently subscribe to this blog via RSS, you can get the new SugarHero RSS feed here.

Thank you miss you love you kisses!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

TWD: When Is A Scone Not A Scone?

Joining "Why Is A Raven Like A Writing Desk?" in the annals of head-scratching riddles, I present you with this week's installment:

"When Is A Scone Not A Scone?"

How about...when you give the scone some friends? Like whipped cream, and macerated berries, and, yes, let's throw in some pretty flowered plates. Because a good scone can never have too many friends.

If you split your scones in half, and serve them with the aforementioned whipped cream and berries, well, your scone is now officially a shortcake. Ta-daaaa!

My biggest "mistake" in the scone-to-shortcake transformation was cutting the scones too large--I knew I wanted big shortcakes, but once they were baked, they were close to 5" round, which I think we can all admit is pretty hefty. But other than that, these cream scones worked out perfectly as whipped cream and berry delivery devices.

Since I've solved the scone riddle, I'll leave it to the rest of you to figure out the raven-writing desk one. G'luck!


Monday, July 04, 2011

Last-Minute Berry Trifle

Happy Fourth of July! I went for a run this morning in the mountains near my house and spent the time thinking about how blessed I feel to live in such a beautiful land. Even when the trail is full of annoying mountain bikers. Even when I kept slipping off the rocks and getting soaked in creek crossings. Even though it was 90 degrees at 8am. Even still...what a place.

We're getting together with friends tonight and doing the fireworks thing--I hope you are too! I'm not doing dessert today, but yesterday I did whip up a quick Fourth-themed dessert. We were spontaneously invited to a friend's house for dinner, and when I asked what I could bring, they requested something sweet. Um...I have no problem with that. I had about an hour and a half to make it before we had to be over there for dinner, and in that time I made and baked the cake, cooled it, and assembled the trifle. If you use a cake mix the process will be even faster, but if you have the time (just 90 minutes!) the white chocolate-buttermilk cake recipe I used is ever so much better than a mix.

(No glamour shots of this one--this was snapped as we ran out the door!)

Trifles are one of my favorite desserts, because I LOVE moist cake. Love it. So having a dessert that basically involves soaking cake in whipped cream or curd or pastry cream or juicy berries is my idea of heaven. Plus they're infinitely customizable, and pretty low-maintenance to make. If you can throw things in a bowl, you can make trifle.

This is probably too late for anyone to make this for the Fourth of July, but summer's just beginning, and berry trifles are the perfect vehicle to show off all that amazing summer produce. So Happy Birthday, America, and happy trifling, everyone else.

Best Berry Trifle

1 recipe white cake, baked in a half-sheet pan (see below for my favorite recipe)
2 cups whipped cream
1/4 cup sugar
vanilla extract or vanilla pods
4 cups mixed berries of your choice
White chocolate bar, to garnish (optional)

To assemble the trifle, make sure the cake is completely cool. Chill a mixing bowl and beaters in the fridge for 15 minutes. While you're waiting for the mixing bowl to chill, chop your berries and toss them with a tablespoon or two of sugar (or more if the berries are very tart.) Let them sit and get juicy.

Whip the cream with 2 tbsp of sugar until it forms medium peaks. As you're whipping it, add vanilla extract or the seeds of a vanilla bean to flavor it. Cut the cake into cubes or strips, and place a layer of cake cubes on the bottom of a clear glass bowl. Top with a third of the whipped cream and half of the berries. Add more cake, top with half of the remaining cream and the second half of the berries. Now add a third layer of cake and cover it with the rest of the whipped cream.

Top your trifle with whole berries arranged in a pattern. If you want to make chocolate curls, take a white chocolate bar and make sure it's slightly soft. Just sitting in a warm room should be enough, or if you need to, microwave it at 50% power in short 5-second bursts just until it softens a bit. Use a vegetable peeler along the sides of the bar to form curls out of the chocolate. Refrigerate the trifle until ready to serve. It can be made up to 24 hours in advance.

White Chocolate-Buttermilk Cake
From Sherry Yard’s Desserts by the Yard

2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon slat
3 ounces white chocolate
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Spray a 12 x 17" half sheet pan with pan spray and line the bottom with parchment paper. Spray the parchment.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Melt the white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl at 50% power for about 2 minutes, stirring halfway through. Be careful — white chocolate burns easily. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter with 1 1/2 cups of the sugar on high speed for 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl and beaters and beat for 3 minutes more, until the mixture is light and creamy. Whisk 2 tablespoons of the whipped butter into the melted white chocolate until blended. Scrape this mixture back into the butter and beat on low speed until well blended. Add the egg yolks in 2 additions, scraping the bowl and beaters after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

On low speed, alternating wet and dry ingredients, add the buttermilk and flour mixture in 4 additions, beginning with the buttermilk and ending with the flour. Scrape down the bowl.

In a large, clean bowl, and with clean beaters, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, continuing to beat at medium speed. Beat until the egg whites form stiff, glossy peaks. Fold half the egg whites into the cake batter, then gently fold in the rest.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating the pans from front to back half way through, until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.


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!