Wednesday, December 9, 2009


So much has happened over the last couple of months! In a nutshell: an internship, a new job, and an engagement! Meaning there hasn't been a lot of time for my lazy ass to really do a lot of baking at home.

Thanksgiving, however, was a different story. Since we couldn't go home, we decided to cook up a storm here in the city, making everything from a 14 lb bird (more than enough for our party of three) to homemade cranberry sauce, and of course, pumpkin pie.

I wanted something a little different than the traditional pumpkin pie though, and tried adding some cheesecake - hence the white and orange swirls above. While the effect was pretty, the pumpkin flavor was really so strong that if I'd eaten it with my eyes closed, I wouldn't have missed the cheesecake.

Anyway, some bourbon caramel, candied deep-fried pecans, and good old vanilla ice cream rounded out the dessert plate. Yum! (Forgive the iPhone photo, my camera decided to be stupid and stop working.)

Happy holidays!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

the last vestiges of a long gone summer

I was talking to Jade a while back and, per usual, our discussion veered toward food, desserts in particular. When I mentioned I recently used the last of the peaches for my take on an after dinner drink: peaches soaked in white wine, surprise surprise! Jade had just made the very same thing. Great's my take:

6 ripe peaches or nectarines, sliced very thin
5 Tbsp vanilla sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 bottle sweet white wine

Combine all ingredients, chill for at least two hours, preferably overnight and serve - preferably in a pretty glass - with plenty of crème chantilly (whipped cream sweetened with powdered sugar and vanilla).

Cin Cin!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Summertime Pie

As the weather gets cooler and berry season is coming to an end, it's time to make the most of the few weeks we have left of summertime flavors.

Last month after graduating and leaving my former job in pursuit of more culinary adventures, I spent a week in D.C. visiting my family. My Dad has a very particular sweet tooth - he's not crazy about cakes, cookies, or chocolate, but he does love pie. He will take a pie warm or cold, big or small, and with any type of fruit. It's amazing for me to watch my normally stoic middle-aged father turn giddy as a little boy at the site of baked fruit encased in crust.

Knowing this, I did a lot of pie baking while at their house, and was particularly inspired by a bottle of limoncello my parents had received as a gift from a friend who'd recently returned from a trip to Italy.

Not that I wanted to bake a lemon pie, but rather thought that the limoncello would be a great compliment to the sweet and rich cherries my Mom had picked up from the farmer's market. Toss in a couple of blackberries for small bursts of intense flavor, and you have a great pie filled with the tastes of summer.

I used a linzer dough recipe from Food Network Canada (replacing almonds for the hazelnuts), and about a pound of cherries with a pint of blackberries. Just bloom and melt about a teapoon of gelatin in about 3 tablespoons of limoncello, toss with pitted cherries and blackberries and a 1/4 cup of sugar, and bake for about an hour. (I prefer to taste more fruit than sugar in my pies, but if you prefer something sweeter add more sugar.)

The crust is flaky and buttery to offset the sweet, tart cherries, and the hit of limoncello brings out the deeper berry notes. It's not simple, but it is definitely worth making before we have to say adios to warm weather food for the winter.

Friday, September 4, 2009

a very belated wedding cake post

Well here I am, almost a month after graduation (gasp) and finally, finally posting my wedding cake project photos. As Jade mentioned earlier, the theme was Marie Antoinette in a modern day setting. I used the location's (Tavern on the Green) flamboyant ceiling as the palette inspiration and covered my cake in yellow fondant, wrapping the bottom of each tier in pink and placing blue bows amid the sugar paste flowers. Royal icing piping and gold dragees add a festive touch. I also stacked the tiers in a less-than-conventional fashion to give the piece movement and playfulness.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Hey, so I totally forgot to post graduation photos in the last post. And really, what would be the point of spending all that money, nine months of our lives, and the last month in a kitchen without working air conditioning for 15 hours a week if we can't at least celebrate at the end?

Apparently we were the first class to ever hand out class superlatives. Rebekah and I were excited to share them with everyone after everyone received their diplomas. Although we look mischievous above, they really were quite tame and graduation-worthy.

After the ceremony, we relaxed with some well-deserved champagne.

(Yay, we're graduated!!)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A couple of things

We graduated - yay! There are many, many things that I wanted to post here during the last weeks of school, but life got in the way.

So, as a quick catch-up, I just wanted to share some wedding cake and graduation photos. Enjoy! I'll be back with a great Linzer dough recipe that got me rave reviews when used in summertime pies.

This wedding cake, like Rebekah's earlier, was a class project done in a Marie Antoinette theme. These pictures were taken about a week after the cake had been sitting in my fridge (again, I'm going to play the 'busy life' card) so the curved bottom and top tiers look a little ... well, dumpy, here.

But you can see that the use of the gold edible paint in the beading, royal icing piping, and the furls at the top really give this cake a fun and flamboyant twist. The theme was also expounded in the chocolate cameos on each of side of the middle tier.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

PattyCake makes its way into the mainstream!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's graduation time!

June is known for many things: the official start of summer (yea!), Father's Day and a flurry of graduation celebrations. My cousin Zach was one of the many celebrating his big leap from high school to college and, while I refuse to believe that my little cousin known for his suffocating bear hugs is no longer so little, PattyCake jumped at the chance to help him celebrate his big day.

Two early morning plane rides to Wisconsin, 17 hours and 150 assorted cupcakes and cookies later, Zach had his {cup}cake and I was ready for a much deserved nap (didn't you read Jade's former post? Birthdays, weddings and graduations...oh my!).

The assortment:
Cupcakes: vanilla, chocolate and red velvet.
Frostings: vanilla, chocolate, praline and cream cheese.
Cookies: vanilla-sugar, homemade oreos and bourbon pecan.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Busy Little Bees!

So it's been a while since Rebekah or I have posted anything, and we promise it's not because we have forgotten to! We have been extremely busy over the past month and now that we have a little time to rest, it's the perfect time to catch you up.

We have been delivering cupcakes across this great city, and also even all the way out to Wisconsin! (More on that later.) We also had our first cake order, which was probably one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs yet.

We had to recreate a wedding cake.

No small feat, let me tell you. The original cake, served five years ago at the wedding of J.'s boss M., was completely custom-made, from the bright-red fondant with elegant flowered piping, to the filling layered with dark chocolate ganache, vanilla cake, and raspberry mousse. To top it off a handmade, pure white, sugar-paste rose bouquet flourished atop the five tiers. It was a masterpiece of a cake and our task was to recreate it (in miniature!) to serve at their anniversary lunch.

We could have done a lot of this with store-bought parts. However, being the ambitious girls we are, everything was made from scratch. Once the easy parts were out of the way - the cake, raspberry mousse, and ganache – we tackled the hardest part: draping the fondant on the tiers and applying the piping. Finally, the sugar-paste flowers were molded by hand, shaping little white buds and wrapping them with thin petals with our freshly made sugar-paste.

We've heard horror stories of fondant cracking, peeling, and falling apart, but one thing we think more bakers should talk about is sweating. Not the sweating that you do when you realize you have to make fondant from scratch at 11:30 PM because the white store-bought fondant doesn't want to absorb enough red food coloring to get it even close to the color your client wants, but rather the sweating the cake does as it defrosts beneath your, previously perfect, layer of fondant, creating a problematic layer of moisture. This discovering found Jade doing her own form of sweating (and I’m sure grumbling) into the wee-hours of the morning while holding a hand dryer to the otherwise lovely cake.

Despite the unfortunate discovery of “sweating,” the cake was delivered in perfect form to the restaurant and promptly enjoyed (and admired) by the clients. Whew! Next, remind us to tell you about the red velvet mishap!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bon Bons

How to begin a post on chocolate? Chocolate means something different to everyone - whether it's an addiction that begins with a bar of Toblerone and ends with an empty wrapper, or a begrudgingly strict avoidance of anything to do with cocoa beans and sugar.

Personally, I try to employ Michael Pollan's sensible directive to, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." but it seems to get thrown out of the window when chocolate is around. And lately it seems to be around more often than not because of the recent focus on chocolate in our course at FCI.

We have spent the last couple of classes making chocolate candies, more specifically bon bons. These are products of our collective effort making an assortment of flavors, including espresso, toasted coconut, bourbon pecan, spice, and champagne fillings. Believe me when I say that they're worth putting a temporary hiatus on even the strictest of diets.

While I'm not surprised that these chocolates have turned out to be delicious, I am surprised by how much I've enjoyed creating these little bon bons. I now find myself daydreaming about all of the upcoming special occasions we can make chocolates for, and which ones of our friends would appreciate them the most. Who knows, maybe if you're lucky I'll make some for you!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cheddar Dill Scones

It's been raining, in case you haven't noticed. It's the kind of drawn-out, drizzly rain that lasts for days and makes me want to curl up in a Snuggie on the couch (not that I have one ... hint hint). In weather like this, the waft of cheesy scones baking in the oven gives me with a warm comfort and tides me over until the sun comes out of hiding.

Yesterday was the perfect day to go into a baking frenzy, seeing as I was confined to being indoors anyway. I took the opportunity of being home-bound to bake up a care package for my brother A. in California. My afternoon of baking began with these scones, a slight variation of Ina Garten's recipe - but with some whole wheat flour for a healthy kick. And since I like my scones fluffy, I double the cream for a biscuit-like crumb (if you prefer a drier, more dense texture this recipe is not for you).

Cheddar Dill Scones (adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 T baking powder
3 tsp salt
3/4 lb cold butter, diced
2 cups cold heavy cream
4 eggs
1/2 lb grated cheddar cheese
1 cup fresh dill, minced
heavy cream, for brushing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients, less 1 T (reserve for coating cheese and dill), and add butter. Mix until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.

Beat eggs and heavy cream together, add to dry ingredients. Mix just to combine.

Toss 1 T flour with cheese and dill, then knead into batter. Form four large rounds from the batter, and cut each round into 6 wedges. Place on parchment-lined sheet pans, bake for 25 minutes.

Cool on racks and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Strawberries and Springtime (Almost!)

When the weather hits the 80s, I don't think of beaches or suntanning, but instead ... the farmer's market! This past weekend's balmy weather flipped the switch in my mind from root vegetables and canned tomatoes to rhubarb and strawberries. I've been promising my friend Jason a rhubarb pie for the past two years, and have come up miserably short (okay, maybe the better word is lazy).

Sunday morning, I eagerly made my way to the Thompkin's Square Park farmer's market hoping to find the first sign of spring in the produce baskets. Stall after stall, however, I was reminded that although the weather is cooperating, it's still a little early for fresh spring fruit. I decided to satiate my craving with frozen strawberries instead, as a test run for Jason's eventual rhubarb and strawberry pie.

When the time comes, I'll try it again and update this recipe with fresh fruit - it should be any day now ...

Strawberry Pie

2 packages frozen strawberries, 1 pound each
200 g sugar
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 T vanilla extract
100 g heavy cream
1 packet granulated gelatin
pate brisee pie crust (or store-bought, if you can't bear to turn on your oven in the heat)

Blind bake pie crust in a 350 degree oven until golden brown - you won't be baking the pie filling, so make sure it's fully done. Set aside to cool completely before using.

Add strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice to a large sauce pot over medium-low heat. Stir the strawberries to coat them with sugar, and then let the strawberries cook until they're just starting to fall apart (about 30 minutes).

Strain the strawberries and reserve the juice and pot you cooked them in. Add the vanilla extract to the strawberries, and set aside to cool.

Save about 1/2 cup of the strawberry juice in a bowl, and return the rest to the same pot. Keep warm over low heat to reduce.

When the reserved 1/2 cup of strawberry juice is cool, add the gelatin to bloom. Once bloomed, add the hot strawberry juice from the pot to melt the gelatin, and stir until well combined.

Whip the heavy cream to a soft peak, sacrifice a little to the strawberry juice/gelatin mix to lighten it, and then fold the strawberry juice into the whipped cream. Fold the whipped cream mixture into the cooled strawberries, and pour into the cooled pie shell. Refrigerate at least one hour, or until it sets.

*I had some extra filling, which I just poured into individual ramekins. It's delicious topped with crushed vanilla snaps.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Baker's Challenge and Kaffir Lime Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from JennyBakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
This April was PattyCake's first participation in the Daring Baker's Challenge. Happily, the first recipe was cheesecake, something that we have a severe, almost debilitating love of. Our version, infused with the bright, intoxicating fragrance of Kaffir lime leaves is the perfect end to a sun-filled day. Refreshing, light and perfectly creamy.

Kaffir Lime Cheesecake with Macadamia-Graham Cracker Crust

[adapted from Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake]

For crust:
1 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
½ cup macademia nuts; finely chopped
2/3 stick butter; melted
1 ½ tbsp granuated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For cheesecake:
2 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/3 cup heavy cream
12 Kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Combine heavy cream and kaffir lime leaves and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced by half. Discard Kaffir leaves and set aside and allow the infused cream to cool slightly.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into an 8-9 inch spring form pan. Set aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add reduced Kaffir lime infused heavy cream, vanilla and lime juice and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Plan accordingly!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cashew Blondies with Vanilla Caramel

Caramel-cashew is one of those matches made in (food) heaven. Akin to apple-cinnamon or oatmeal-raisin, the combination of silky, sweet caramel and crunchy, salty cashews is better than the sum of its parts.

My first taste of this delectable combination was in a Culver’s. For those who grew up outside the Midwest, Culver’s is an “upscale” fast food chain known for its butterburgers, cheese curds and frozen custard. Cliché? Perhaps. Fabulous? But of course.

Mike, my step-dad and by far one of my favorite people in the world, has defaulted to this decadent combination since the day I met him. The first time we frequented Culver’s, (and, I’ll admit, every time since) I reached around my default dessert, an oversized concrete chocolate malt, and pilfered a large, creamy spoonful of his sundae.

Warm caramel flowed through the cold, creamy custard, picking up the salt crystals from the cashews and making the flavor utterly addictive. That combination has stuck with me for years and will always bring about fond memories of balmy, custard-filled summer evenings with Mike.

So here it is: a caramel-cashew sundae in bar form, heightened with aromatic vanilla and a hefty hint of salt. Miguel, these sweet, salty temptresses are all for you…the package should arrive in three to five business days.

Cashew Blondies with Vanilla Caramel

For Blondies
• 8 Tbsp butter; melted
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 large egg; room temperature
• 2 tsp vanilla
• ½ tsp kosher salt
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• ½ tsp baking powder
• ¾ cup salted cashews; coarsely chopped

For Caramel
• ¾ cup vanilla sugar
• Water; just enough to make a paste with sugar
• ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
• 1 tbsp butter; melted
• ¼ tsp vanilla
• Pinch of salt

Line an 8x8-inch baking dish with parchment paper allowing it to come up the sides of the pan. Butter liberally. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Whip together butter and sugar till lightened in color. Whisk together the egg and vanilla and add gradually to sugar-butter mixture. Make sure the liquid is fully incorporated into the batter before moving on. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and add all at once, mixing just to combine. Stir in chopped cashews and pour mixture into prepared pan.

Make a caramel by combining vanilla sugar with water just until the sugar is hydrated and the mixture is a paste in a thick-bottomed pan. Use a wet pastry brush to wipe down the sides of the pan and avoid forming sugar crystals. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring mixture to a boil. Regularly brush down the sides with the pastry brush and do NOT stir. As the mixture begins to color gently swirl the pan to distribute the heat evenly. Allow the caramel to cook to a medium color and remove from heat. Carefully stir in heavy cream (the mixture will bubble up). Stir in melted butter, vanilla and salt. Allow the caramel to cool slightly.

Pour caramel over top of blondie and use a sharp knife to swirl it into the batter.

Bake at 350˚F 50 – 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover with aluminum foil halfway through baking to avoid browning the top too much.

*If you don’t have vanilla sugar handy, simply use regular granulated sugar and add a bit more vanilla extract.
*To make your own vanilla sugar simply combine granulated sugar with leftover dried vanilla beans. Continue adding sugar and vanilla to keep a ready supply of this fragrant, versatile sugar.

Monday, March 23, 2009

crepes - two ways

This past weekend I indulged in much needed Sunday morning in front of the stove. With music playing in the background, steaming coffee in hand and my roommate reading the Times on the couch (okay futon), I set about making crepes. Since I’m very much into the “variety is the spice of life” philosophy when it comes to food, I cooked up two versions: original and buckwheat.

For fillings I simply went to the pantry. Since Meyer lemons have been a constant in the apartment for the past few weeks, they were cut in half for easy access to their fragrant juice. Dusted with powdered sugar, those sweet, lemony crepes are always a favorite. I also brought out the jar of Nutella that seems to take up residence wherever I am in the world. (I have very fond memories of eating Nutella straight from the jar in my apartment in Rome, using thin breadsticks as merely transportation for the gobs of the creamy, chocolaty goodness that is Nutella.) Smeared with the chocolate-hazelnut spread and sprinkled with a dusting of toasted slivered almonds those crepes were reason enough to get up in the morning. I also set out maple syrup, butter sweetened with sugar and vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon-sugar and a variety of toasted nuts to round out the spread.

The best part of the day – other than the fact I got to cook barefoot in a sunny kitchen and eat crepes all afternoon – was that I froze the rest of the crepes for a quick, decadent breakfast/lunch/dinner in the (very) near future.

Since I have qualms about publishing someone else’s fabulous recipes on the site, you can find the recipes I used here and here.

Crepe Tips:
1. Don’t fear the crepe. In my experience, they’re easier than pancakes could ever hope to be.
2. The first of any batch is always a dud, no worries. Either toss it in the trash, feed it to the dog…or do what I did and eat it anyway.
3. Use a heavy, nonstick skillet as well as non-stick spray and butter. It may be a bit overcautious, but they slide out paper thin and flawless every time.
4. Use your fingers to flip rather than a spatula. Total control. (Plus you have the added pleasure of pseudo playing with your food).
5. To freeze, allow crepes to cool completely. Stack in layers with parchment or wax paper between each crepe, place in ziplock bag et voila! Crepes anytime!
6. Make crepes savory by filling with mushrooms, shallots, brie, turkey, parmesan, asparagus…the options are endless!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sour Cream Cookies With a Pistachio Twist

My obsession with pistachios has taken another turn. It began simply with the humble nut, cracked open as a lovely, slightly salty, snack. Then it was the pistachio flavored puff pastry shaped into vol au vents, then pistachio cream layered on decadent chocolate cake. This time my craving it took the form of pistachio – sour cream cookies. These cookies are a riff on a particular sour cream cookie, which has always had a special place in my heart - and my stomach.

During my first restaurant job, I got into the (wildly popular) habit of bringing home-baked sweets to work on a regular basis. One particular day, I had a seriously dangerous excess of cashew – sour cream cookies. (Those who know me well know the truth: cookies are my weakness. It is a proven fact that I can…okay, have…alright, am…eating an entire batch of cookies as I write this.) So, that day, I brought those little temptresses to work.

At 10 a.m. one of my favorites chefs to work with at the restaurant, Chef L., gobbled up the first of my cashew – sour cream cookies with browned butter frosting. Well, let’s just say that, on that particular day no one else was made known of their existence. From then on, I managed to surprise Chef L. frequently with those special sweets.

So, when I got this latest craving, my thoughts immediately went to these addictive sour cream cookies. Creamy, soft and almost cakelike, my rift on the originals boast a pronounced pistachio flavor and a luscious pistachio browned-butter frosting.

Oh, oh... I may have just eaten the last one in the house.

Pistachio – Sour Cream Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

For the cookies:
½ c brown sugar
½ c white sugar
½ c butter, softened
¼ c pistachio paste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ c flour (bleached cake)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ c sour cream
½ c pistachios, chopped

For creamy browned butter-pistachio frosting:
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 c confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 ½ Tbsp milk/cream
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 tsp pistachio paste, optional

Preheat oven to 375˚ F.

Combine sugars and butter, beat until fluffy, scraping down sides often. Add the pistachio paste and beat until completely combined. Whisk together eggs and vanilla, adding in several additions; allowing each to fully incorporate before adding the next.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Reserve a bit of the flour mixture and toss with chopped pistachios, set aside.

Add dry ingredients alternating with sour cream to the butter-pistachio mixture, leaving the mixture streaky after each addition. Gently fold in nuts.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a parchment lined cookie sheet; bake 10 to 12 minutes until the edges are golden. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. Brown the butter over low heat in a saucepan. Remove from heat and whisk in milk and vanilla. Add a bit of confectioners’ sugar to make a paste then add in cup increments until fully combined. Fold pistachio paste in completely and adjust thickness by adding a bit more milk or cream.

Frost cooled cookies with creamy browned butter frosting and garnish with finely chopped pistachios.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Food = Love

... at least in my book. One of the biggest factors that affected my decision to enroll in culinary school was that feeding people with food I have made always makes me so incredibly happy. The best nights hanging out with my friends always begin with a homemade, potluck meal (accompanied by copious amounts of wine, of course).

It was my desire to turn my affection into something tangible, edible, that led me to the French Culinary Institute. And halfway through the program, there I was: faced with an assignment to make a special occasion cake. Any cake my little heart desired.

Okay, we were given some parameters - I had to make a chocolate cake with chocolate glaze. But as for the flavors and decorations, the decisions were left up to us. Being that this is the time of year that J. and I have decided we started dating, I decided to make a cake just for him. (Don't ask, it's a long and complicated story. Let's just say that we celebrate our anniversary somewhere between St. Patrick's Day and before March Madness is over.)

The inspiration for this cake actually stemmed from our first fight, just over three years ago. The cause is negligible; the thing that I remember from that argument was my late-night, teary phone call to my friend A. He comforted me, calmed me down, and told me to be the bigger woman and apologize for the sake of the relationship, telling me, "You guys are great - I mean, you go together like peas and carrots!"

This phrase, cliche as it is, has stuck with us for the past three years. It just feels right - comfortable, familiar, and classic. So for this cake I stuck with flavors that evoked those feelings by layering the chocolate cake with sweet and salty peanut butter buttercream, and added a spike of rum soak for the cake itself for a bit of excitement. The end result? A cake that is simple but delicious, and one that we have been nibbling steadily on for this past week. I think of it as a way of stretching out my anniversary love over more than just one day of celebration.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

recipes as promised

In an earlier post this month I promised to put up my recipes for
Meyer Lemon Crème with Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble and Edible Flowers as well as another edible flower recipe for a fabulous Caprese Salad with Rosemary Reduced Balsamic . Well as promised - here they are! Originally published in the March issue of Eat Life, you can read the entire story, plus see more of my photography, Tulip Petals Taste of Cucumbers here.

Meyer Lemon Crème with Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble and Edible Flowers
serves 4
Meyer Lemon Crème
Meyer lemons juice 1/2 cup
Meyer lemon zest from 3 small meyer lemons
Tangelo zest from ½ medium tangelo
Granulated sugar ½ cup
Whole egg 1
Egg yolk 1
Butter 4 Tbsp / 2 oz / 56 g; cut into small, even pieces
Heavy whipping cream ½ cup / 4 oz / 115 g

Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble
Confectioner's sugar ¼ cup
All-purpose flour ¾ cup
Unsalted butter 6 Tbsp
Thinly sliced almonds 1/4 cup; toasted
Salt pinch

Confectioner’s sugar
Edible flowers

To make the Meyer Lemon Crème:
1. Zest the lemons and juice through a sieve. Whisk together zests, juice, sugar and eggs in a heatproof bowl set over a bain marie. Stir constantly until thickened; 10-15 minutes.
Test to see if it’s finished by drawing a line with your finger across a wooden spoon; if the line stays and no liquid slips down the curd is finished.

2. Remove the bowl carefully from heat and stir in the butter till completely melted.

3. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove any curdled egg yolk and zest. Chill completely.

4. When curd is completely chilled. Beat the heavy whipping cream to a soft peak and gently fold into the lemon curd. Cover and chill until ready to use.

To make the Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat till browned but not burnt; stirring frequently. Allow to cool slightly.

3. In the meantime, finely grind the cooled, toasted almonds in a food processor.

4. Sift together the confectioner’s sugar, flour and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and almonds and mix just until combined.

5. Evenly spread the dough about 1/4 inch thick on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake until the top and bottom are lightly browned about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely then crumble with your fingers to the desired consistency. 

To assemble:
1. Spoon the Meyer lemon cream into a small bowl or plate, sprinkle shortbread crumble generously on top. Dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar and decorate with edible flowers such as such as pansies, nasturtiums and/or geraniums.

Chef’s notes:
* The Meyer lemon curd will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week. Once you incorporate the heavy cream serve it the same day.
* Orange zest may be substituted for the tangelo

Easy Caprese Salad with Edible flowers
Serves 4
Heirloom tomatoes 4 medium; sliced
Fresh buffalo mozzarella 1 lb; thinly sliced
Edible flowers

Balsamic Dressing
Balsamic vinegar 1 cup
Fresh rosemary sprigs 2
Butter 2 Tbsp
Black pepper
Sea salt

1. Slice the tomatoes and cheese 1/4" thick. Arrange the slices of tomato and cheese on a serving platter.

To make the rosemary balsamic reduction:
1. Place 1 cup of balsamic vinegar in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.

2. Add the rosemary and boil gently till reduced to about ¼ cup.

3. Remove from heat, add 2 Tbsp butter and mix to combine. Remove rosemary springs and drizzle over tomatoes and mozzarella.

4. Garnish with edible flowers, a nice crack of black pepper and sprinkling of sea salt. Serve with extra reduction on the side.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

egg salad and grandma's house

I remember the day, not so long ago, I realized that I actually like egg salad. It was at Grandma’s house, about a 30-minute drive from college, during one of our regular lunch dates.

I sat down at the long wooden table, perpetually accented with gorgeous flowers from her garden, and reached for the coffee. Served black and untainted, this particular roast was purchased with some of the more fastidious women of our family in mind, but that is another story… I was mid-swallow when she happily set down a sandwich overflowing with freshly made egg salad. Not one to offend Grandma, I smiled with (faux) enthusiasm and dug in, keeping my coffee mug as close as possible to wash down, what I thought would be, the unseemly flavor of egg and mayo.

To my surprise, the coffee mug never made it to my lips. Simultaneously, the sandwich was both subtle and bursting with flavor, creamy with mayonnaise and crunchy with hearty bites of celery. It was a moment of revelation in my food world – I loved egg salad.

These past few weeks, I’ve been longing for home. New York is absolutely marvelous, but the city can be exceptionally demanding; life moves here at a faster pace, triumphs are greater and failures more intense. Some days you just need something as simple as a lunch with Grandma to remind you of who you are and where you are going.

Since my grandmother now lives a 16-hour drive away, I had to make do with egg salad. But, in order to conjure up that warm memory, only a fantastic egg salad would do. I combined creamy hard-boiled eggs with the piquant bite of onion and the fresh flavors of parsley and tomato and held it all together with just a dollop of mayonnaise. To this I added a squeeze of leftover Meyer lemon juice to brighten up the flavors, a pinch of salt to round them out and more than a few good turns of black pepper because, really, what would life be without a decent amount of freshly cracked pepper?

Served with a cup of black coffee, a few grapes and a lovely dessert of chocolate-oatmeal cookie dough balls I had lingering in the freezer, I felt (almost) as if I were back at Grandma’s sun-drenched kitchen table.

Egg Salad Sandwiches
Makes 1 ½ cups

4 eggs; hard boiled and coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk; finely chopped
¼ red onion; finely chopped
1 Tbsp parsley; minced
1 tsp Meyer lemon juice
5 cherry tomatoes; seeds removed* and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Soft multigrain bread
Mixed greens

To hard boil the eggs, place them in a saucepan and add just enough water to cover completely. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook eggs, covered, for 9-10 minutes. Immediately remove eggs from saucepan with slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of cold water. Allow eggs to sit until cool enough to handle, about 2 minutes, and remove the shell.

While the eggs are cooking, combine celery, onion, parsley, lemon juice, tomatoes and mayonnaise in a medium bowl. Coarsely chop the shelled eggs and add to the mixture. Stir to combine and flavor with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, spoon egg salad onto soft multigrain bread and top with mixed greens. Enjoy with a cup of (black) coffee.

*Chef’s note: Technically speaking there is no particular need to remove the seeds of the tomatoes. This practice is merely homage to Mom, who doesn’t particularly like the squishy parts of tomatoes. Thus, I’ve been trained from an early age to squeeze out the excess pulp, and since this recipe is truly about bringing a bit of home to the table, I couldn’t imagine not accommodating Mom. That said; feel free to leave the seeds in your own tomatoes

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

miniature birthday cake for francis

Two layer white cake with chocolate-dulce de leche frosting and coconut.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

a cookie for a long road home

I moved to New York almost six months ago and hadn’t made cookies in my apartment until today. Sure, I bake three days a week in class; am constantly testing and baking for PattyCake; and spend my free time devouring desserts and sweet treats around the city. But to bake at home - in that kitchen?

Let me back up…

When I lived in Wisconsin (my home state), I had a fabulous kitchen – open and spotless with hardwood floors, high ceilings, skylights and two-year-old appliances. My gorgeously worn-in Boos butcher block took center stage during weeknight meals, weekend dinner parties and spontaneous baking sprees. To that effect, there was a constant supply of cookies in the designated jar, dough resting in the fridge before its final baking and raw dough in the freezer for a quick and easy weeknight dessert (baked or unbaked).

However, when New York came a-calling, I traded in my clean, bright space for, well, a New York kitchen: small, dirty, ill-lit and old (except for the fridge which broke two months into my life here; that's new, and yes it makes me smile). Also, it doesn’t help that I live with three boys, who while relatively tidy, are still boys who enjoy copious amounts of burritos on a daily basis. A major deviation from my old (female) roommate whose boyfriend was a chef and thus knew the merits of a clean kitchen. Regardless to say, when I traded states and kitchens, I traded my kitchen habits. I opted for eating out, baking out and staying out - of that kitchen.

Consequently, I didn’t really start baking at home in New York until today, when the urge to eat my favorite chocolate-oatmeal cookies couldn’t be satiated by any one of the many fantastic bakeries New York City has to offer. Although my oven surrendered a shroud of smoke as it preheated, forcing me to force open windows and stifle coughs, the cookies turned out just as splendid as I remembered.

Throughout the years, I’ve perfected these little nuggets of joy – mildly sweet, slightly salty with fabulously large nuggets of chocolate mingled with the nutty flavor of rolled oats and toasted walnuts. Perhaps these cookies can persuade you to take your oven out of hibernation – or merely warm it up from the last use (if you’ve been doing any small bit more of baking at home than me in the last six months) – and enjoy a little taste of (my) home.

Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies

Makes 50-60 small cookies

Unsalted butter 16 Tbsp/8 oz/225 g
Granulated sugar 1 cup/8 oz/228 g
Muscovado sugar 1 cup/8 oz/225 g
Eggs 2 large
Vanilla 1 tsp
All-purpose flour 2 cups/16 oz/450 g
Baking powder 1 tsp
Baking soda 1 tsp
Salt 1 tsp
Old fashioned rolled oats 1½ cup/12 oz/340 g
Chopped 61% chocolate 1 cup/8 oz/226 g
Chopped 70 % chocolate ½ cup/4 oz/113 g
Chopped walnuts; toasted 1¼ cup/10 oz/288 g

Beat together butter, granulated sugar and Muscovado sugar until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine eggs and vanilla and beat gently to combine. Add gradually to beating butter-sugar mixture in three additions, allowing each addition to be fully incorporated before adding the next.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add all at once to butter mixture and beat slowly till almost combined. Stir in chocolates and walnuts. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 12 – 36 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350˚F. Use a small ice cream scoop to measure out 1–inch balls. Place dough balls on parchment lined baking sheet, staggering to allow for proper air flow during baking. Bake cookies 12 -15 minutes, turning half-way through, until the cookies are medium brown and the edges have begun to set but the centers are still soft. Allow cookies to rest on baking sheet for a few minutes, then remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

*Chef’s note: I love to “age” cookies, a process that has made me a bit weird in the eyes of the common man (aka: non-bakers) and a bit of a tease in the minds of my roommates (“What? We don’t get to eat them tonight?”) Nonetheless, I can promise you it makes a huge difference in the flavor and texture of the final product. Letting the cookies to sit in the fridge for 12-36 hours allows the eggs to slowly distribute themselves completely into the dough, producing a firmer, drier dough, which, in turn, bakes more evenly. Even more important, aging helps to create the trinity of texture that I find so irresistible in a good cookie: a crunchy outside, a chewy middle ring and a meltingly, soft center. Finally, the process develops the flavors of the cookies, allowing that delectable brown sugar, caramel-toned sweetness to become more pronounced.
*Chef’s note: I use chocolate discs or pistoles in addition to chocolate chips to vary the texture, size and flavor in my cookies.