Independence, fireworks, cold beer, burgers, hot dogs, PIE.
For our nation's 234th birthday, I decided to wax patriotic and bake something as American as apple pie. Cherry pie. I was a few blueberries short of a full red, white & blue dessert, but maybe I'll try that next time.
The week before the holiday, I passed a farmer's market and saw the bushels of fresh cherries... I knew what I had to do for my country.
Forgive me, followers, it's been too long since my last post.
To repent, I've got a whole lotta pretty pictures I took of these low-fat brownies I attempted a while back. Unfortunately, they weren't a complete success--texture was a bit off, but more experimentation is planned--so I won't be sharing the recipe just yet. Instead, let's eat with our eyes (that's diet-friendly, no?...) and look at this brownie sundae as it gets constructed...
Inspired by a recent binge on Bravo shows (how can you not love Real Housewives or Top Chef?), I have been trying new ways to make my cooking and baking a little lighter.
One of the "Real Housewives" of NYC, actually, I should say, a former 'real housewife', Bethenny Frankel, who now has her own hilarious show, "Bethenny getting married?", is the successful natural foods cook and author behind the SkinnyGirl Margarita and a line of books on dieting and healthy eating.
Back at the end of April (oh boy, I'm behind) my good friend Katherine (Kay) turned 21, quite a step up from 20, so I felt that I would really have to try and top the cake I made for her last year, a citrus-flavored yellow butter cake filled with lemon curd, raspberries and whipped cream and covered with a white chocolate ganache. Yes, it was delicious.
This year, as you can see, I went a slightly darker route. I went with Ina Garten's chocolate cake and a delicious frosting from "Hey, that tastes good!", a cocoa and espresso mascarpone whipped cream.
I took my inspiration from Kay's recent world travels- she was studying in Bologna, Italy last semester when I was in Barcelona...
My inspiration? The Ratty. What on God's green Earth is that, you ask? It's our affectionate name for our main dining hall here on campus. While having lunch there one day I saw that one of the oversized wicker fruit baskets was overflowing with lovely, plump red d'Anjou pears.
So I was hit with a brilliant idea, like in one of those Windows 7 commercials: I must make a pie! Then without hesitation, I broke Ratty protocol and took quite a handful (and bagful...) of pears. But I had to, look at them!
It seems like it was just yesterday that I found out that they chose my brownie flavor suggestion (smoke salt caramel) to join their collection of delectable gourmet brownies. After a few short weeks, I received my prize for winning their contest- a full batch of these brownies!
I can't believe I made these a month ago. I miss them. Deeply. But It's well past time I shared my favorite cookie with you.
Rainbow cookies, or as the Smitten Kitchen's recipe calls them, Seven-Layer Cookies(chocolate-spongecake-jam-spongecake-jam-spongecake-chocolate... 7.. mmm), are a rich (as the SK says, they're kinda more like petit fours) combination of three delectable components: almond-based spongecake, apricot (and/or raspberry) jam, and chocolate.
My mom and my neighbor were not the only people who decided to employ my baking skills during my stint at home over break. My sister, who also works at a school, requested some goodies for the students she spends her days with. While I questioned her wanting to give school children sugar in the middle of the day, it didn't stop me from finding the perfect treat for the kinder : brownies.
But these grade schoolers were getting more than your (kinder)garden variety chocolate treat. Dulce de leche brownies by David Lebovitz are far from elementary, am I right?
Pogácsa - pronounced POH - gah - chuh. Kind of as in, "You were the head of the biggest crime family in Providence until the po-po gotcha!". Capisce?
These savory biscuits (my sweet tooth does not control me ALL the time) are a staple of every Hungarian bakery and home kitchen. A perfect snack for any time of day or part of a hearty meal, they come in a few, simple varieties: butter, cheese and--my favorite--pork crackling. As you should know by now, I have many childhood memories filled with these little buttery, cheesy biscuits made by this old lady my grandparents knew, who I called Erzsi néni - -"Aunt" Lizzie--who isn't just some old lady, but a family friend who ran her own baking business. She lives in Florida now. :( I'd call and ask her to ship up some pogácsa--the best I've ever had--but I wouldn't be able to ask in Hungarian any more. But that's a story for another day.
While still home on break, I turned to another of my recipe books, Chocolate and Vanilla by pastry chef Gale Gand and Lisa Weiss, for some excellent recipes that illustrate the versatility of those two classic flavors. Not in combination, mind you. The book is literally split between vanilla and chocolate--you need to turn the book over to switch from one to the other. Each flavor gets its own introduction and historical background, followed by a group of recipes employing the flavors in all their forms, from Dutch-processed cocoa powder to vanilla beans.
One of the recipes that I've become particular fond of celebrates the classic combination of chocolate and almonds. The Chocolate Almond Upside-Down Cake is a dark, moist chocolate cake that is topped (once you flip it over) with rich caramel and toasted almonds. omgah so good. Gale Gand flat out rejects the traditional upside-down cake with those cherries and pineapple all up in it. Blah. This cake looks much better. Dark and sexy, even, to use my friend's words.
Back at the beginning of the semester my friend Tessa sent me a link and told me I had to participate in a contest--a brownie flavor creating contest. Tessa knows me well. And she had heard about the contest because she follows the blog of the bakery running it: Simply Divine Brownies. Based in Fort Andross, Brunswick, Maine, Simply Divine is run by Tessa's former grade school teacher and was going to randomly select a winner from among the brownie flavor entries who would receive a tray of his or her flavor brownies as a prize!
That same day I submitted my flavor: brownies with a layer of caramel and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. I called it the Obamabrownie because I happen to know that smoked salt caramels are our president's favorite candy. Such a classy guy.
As luck would have it.... I was one of three winners. "VICTORY SCREECH!" (You have no idea how completely and utterly surprised I am that this is the first Spongebob reference to show up on here.)
It looks like the crew at Simply Divine will even be selling the "Obamabrownie", which they have renamed Opposites Attract. Very cute. And very true. Sweet and salty together wins big. As do I! Updates to come as soon as I get that tray of 45 brownies ;)
All of the above are Simply Divine's pictures of the creation of Opposites Attract
We're still in March, so you know what it's time for? A birthday, duh. Last week my friend Tessa was celebrating her 21st, so of course I wanted to make her a cake. I was a little apprehensive, though, because Tessa knows a thing or two about cakes. In high school she did an independent study on cake decorating (really) and she made some great looking cakes--she even had one covered with sunflowers. Once we get back from spring break I'll have her send over some pics.
I was going to call this Banana Bread with Derby Streusel, as in "Derby" Pie, but interestingly enough that name is a readily defended registered trademark of Kern's Kitchen. Sheesh. I thought it was just the common name given to that delectable combination of chocolate and pecans (or walnuts).
Anywho... how did I even get to that combination? Here goes:
Friday was a beautiful day in Providence- the sun was shining all afternoon, people were outside playing and running around.... and my friend Blair and I were in the basement kitchen of Caswell (another dorm) locked in an intense showdown of baking skills. Typical springtime activities.
When we first met at the beginning of the semester, it didn't take long for us to realize we both thought ourselves skilled with an oven and a whisk. We talked about how we both were big fans of Food Network, and somehow we got started about Bobby's Flay's Throwdown, a show in which he challenges a local food legend every episode to see if he can't outdo their famous barbeque ribs, ravioli, German chocolate cake, etc. Before I knew it, Blair threw down the gauntlet, leaving a note outside my door one day (fyi- this should be read with the Alabama twang that, until meeting Blair, I'd never heard in person before in my lahf):
better brush up on ya' bakin' skillz, cuz it's goin' down...
March is the month for birthdays. For her birthday on Tuesday, my friend Roshni, the classiest Brit I know, was surprised with Louboutin shoes-- but not ones to wear on her feet. These red-soled bad boys are made entirely of sugar and fondant. The shoebox, a vanilla butter cake, was covered in golden fondant and the sugar "tissue paper" was painted silver.
I'd always wanted to see a cake like this up close after seeing shows like Ace of Cakes and Food Network Challenge, so many thanks to Roshni's sister (who orchestrated the whole affair from overseas) and Sin, a dessert shop here in Providence, Rhode Island for making sure Rosh had an awesome birthday cake. And a big apology to Rosh and sister... I may have spoiled the surprise just a little bit.
This past Monday was my friend Trent's 21st birthday. It only made sense, seeing as how he always lets me bake in his kitchen, that I would make him a cake. Luckily for me, he had this insight months before I did, and sent me this recipe while I was still in Spain last semester. He told me (although part of me wishes he hadn't) that he actually first saw the cake on another site: thisiswhyyourefat. Sigh. Quite the fan of peanut butter and chocolate (who isn't? communists?), he embarked on an expedition to the food blogosphere to track down the recipe. I don't know how much his Eagle Scout training helped him, but he eventually managed to snatch it.
A few months later, I started examining the specimen. I quickly saw that it kinda earned its place on TIWYF... 2 sticks of butter, 2 eggs + 2 egg yolks, buttermilk, melted chocolate. This made me... hesitant. But, praise be, a solution presented itself in the frosting that the cake was paired with: a peanut butter icing used by Ina Garten to top some chocolate cupcakes. Having made my way to her corner of Food Network's website (here goes yet another food blog adventure...) I saw another recipe of hers for chocolate cake that had a 5-star review, but no butter and fewer egg yolks. I decided I would not be the reason WYF, so I would make Beatty's Chocolate Cake into Trent's Birthday Cake.
I like to think of brownies as an experiment in the interaction of two principles taken from architecture and design: form and flavor. Are the brownies cakey, fudgy, gooey, marbled, frosted? Do the brownies have a strong chocolate taste (they friggin' better- none of that blondie business, please)--dark, milk or white chocolate? mocha or mint? sweet? a little salty? (Stay tuned for excellent news I just received about a certain type of salty brownies! Seriously.)
All that said, brownies can be incredibly simple. Architectural design is easy, after all. Simple, not plain, but "just a little bit conceited", like Fergie. They're just all about how chocolately and fudgey/cakey they are. But if you're feeling adventurous, they can be jazzed up by adding another flavor into the mix. The other day when I was invited over to the kitchen of some other friends, Tessa and Katie, I was feeling adventurous.
I found this recipe, that perfect, self-centered brownie: all about having the right texture and a good amount of chocolate. Pair it with a fierce browned butter and espresso icing inspired by this, and you get the diva of baked goods.
Lemon bars - the staple of bake sales, church functions and cookie exchanges... unless you're me. Gasp! I know. Several of my friends looked at me with wide eyes when I said I'd never, ever had a lemon bar before making these. Somehow these sweet and tangy treats managed to elude me for 20 years. Luckily, my friend Trent (I swear, I have other friends too.) asked if I could whip some up, thereby ending the two decade drought of lemony goodness.
So I turned to Tastespotting, and again was brought to the perfect recipe by the perfect picture. Smitten Kitchen's reworking of Ina Garten's lemon bars looked and sounded amazing. You should take a look- her pics blow mine out of the water. Granted, I didn't have any powdered sugar on hand to prettify the bars... but her photo skills are still light-years ahead of mine. And beyond all that, she even came up with an option for increasing the "lemoniness" of the bars. Great success. I needed to recreate these to fix this gaping hole in my life.
In the spirit of last month's world athletic activities, I'd say that the delectable combination of peanut butter, oatmeal and chocolate makes these cookies
creamier. chewier. tastier.
Baked at the right temperature and for just the right amount of time, these medallions of flour, sugar and butter achieve the perfect golden and bronze hues that'll make anyone's mouth water. (Ok I'm done with the puns.)
Once again, my friend Trent spared me from having to schlep all my baking gear down five flights of stairs to the kitchen. Instead I just had to carry my baking sheets halfway across campus. A fair deal.
Trent proposed making some sort of peanut butter cookie this time, so I turned to one of my favorite blogs, Brown Eyed Baker. Of course, she had just what we were looking for: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. Even though their name was a bit of a mouthful, they looked so good that all I could think of was just that: mouthfuls and mouthfuls of them.
There are many names for this airy and buttery yeast cake that's swirled with either a chocolate or cinnamon filling, but let's just say that no matter what language you speak, you can call this pastry a little piece of heaven.
Usually known as babka (like in the Seinfeld episode) in the U.S., kuglóf originated in Central and Eastern Europe, and, depending on your baking heritage, can take many slightly different forms. The variety found in America-- often made with a streusel topping--can be very rich, and usually has either a chocolate or a cinnamon (raisin) filling. While I prefer the former by far, my family is divided on the issue. And what a polemical issue it is, given the great social significance of babka:
JERRY: That's the last babka. They got the last babka.
ELAINE: I know. They're going in first with the last babka.
JERRY: That was our babka.
ELAINE: You can't beat a babka.
JERRY: We should have had that babka.
ELAINE: They're going to be heroes.
JERRY: What are we going to do now. If we can't get the babka the whole thing's useless.
ELAINE: Well how about a carrot cake?
JERRY: Carrot cake? Now why is that a cake? You don't make carrots into a cake. I'm sorry.
ELAINE: Black Forest?
JERRY: Black Forest? Too scary. You're in the Forest, oohh. That was our babka. We had that babka!
ELAINE: What's this one?
CLERK: That's cinnamon babka.
JERRY: Another babka?
CLERK: There's chocolate and there's cinnamon.
JERRY: Well, we've got to get the cinnamon.
ELAINE: No, but they got the chocolate. We'll be going in with a lesser babka.
JERRY: I beg your pardon? Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka. People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, "Oh This is so good. What's in it?" The answer invariably comes back, Cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again. Lesser babka - I think not. (Thanks,Seinfeld Scripts)
I always (: for the past few years) bake a cake for my younger brother's birthday. This year, I thought I would take advantage of a long weekend to go home and bake one-- two months late. For some reason, (uh, re-entry shock?...) I never got around to making one during my time at home after getting back from Barcelona, so a week after this country celebrated our first president's birthday, I needed to make amends .
Naturally, I called Doug (my bro) before I even got home so I could start planning. He was gracious enough (: I begged him)to request a flavor for the cake, which made my life so much easier. Always a man of style, he chose a classic: yellow butter cake with chocolate frosting. A classic... which I had no go-to recipe for, sadly. So I started searching and eventually found a butter cake and a milk chocolate buttercream frosting that both looked crazydelicious.
Anybody? For some reason, I've always remembered the movie Casper (with Christina Ricci) with this line spoken by the priest/exorcist who attempts to empty the house of the friendly ghosts.
But besides clever writing, crumb cake reminds me of the trips my family used to take to a resort/lodge in Pennsylvania every Columbus Day Weekend. Each morning, breakfast in the enormous dining hall would start with a fresh-baked crumb cake brought straight to the table as we sat down. Seeing this recipe's photo on Tastespotting (an awesome site if you feel like window shopping for recipes) took me right back to those brisk October mornings where the smell of wood burning in the fireplace gave way to that of butter and cinnamon wafting up from the still warm dish sitting on our table. ...So as you can tell... I needed a piece of crumb cake. Luckily, being home for the weekend, I had most of the ingredients on hand, even the cake flour, and was ready to get to work.
First, many thanks to Shauna from Piece of Cake for posting the recipe with such great pics. They definitely caught my eye and inspired me to make this.
Put together a little chunky (peanut butter & chocolate chips) with a little monkey (mashed banana) and you get these dark, rich cookies that are perfect with a cup of coffee. Based on the Ben & Jerry's flavor combo :
these biscotti have a blend of banana, chunky peanut butter, and chocolate all baked (twice, more on this later) together into the form of the traditional Italian dry cookie.
More on biscotti: The plural of the Italian biscotto, meaning cookie or biscuit, biscotti are a twice-baked (from which they get their name "bi-cooked") and therefore relatively dry cookie or biscuit. Biscuit, actually, is a cognate (Can you tell I'm a linguistics major?) of biscotto, as are the Spanish bizcocho and German Biskuit, although the latter two refer more to a type of spongecake than to a cookie!
Before I get to the recipe, I need to thank my friend and roommate from last year, Trent, who offered to let me bake in his kitchen! Not only did he save me from scrubbing the AEPi kitchen with Lysol wipes (he keeps his kitchen spick and span) , but he also was a big help: I conquered my OCD and let him measure the cocoa powder.
For reasons beyond my control... I am still putting together my post on the biscotti, but do not fear. Once I get home (my dad should be here in a few hours), I will have more than enough time to work on finishing everything up!
I'll be adding even more posts, too, hopefully. The baking will be nonstop this weekend.
As I get ready to attempt Sugar Plum's Chunky Monkey Biscotti tomorrow, I've been navigating streets filled with slush and ice. Winter is gross. I'm hoping the biscotti will make it all better for a day. Stay tuned for the post, hopefully late tomorrow or Friday...
Speaking of which, good news! Friday afternoon my dad will be coming to bring me home to the Dirty Jerz for the coming long weekend! (Brown decided that President's Day weekend was too early this year, so they moved back our February break.) And although I can't imagine why thoughts of New Jersey wouldn't be exciting enough to all of you, going home means returning to my home kitchen! (i.e. lots of baking will be going down this weekend)
While I've been getting this blog up and running, I've been thinking a lot about all the possible directions I could take it and asking myself lots of questions. Who is my audience? What do I want to tell them? What other information should I be putting on here? Does anyone actually want to hear about me baking in someone else's kitchen? Should I even bother at all?
I think I'll put off the philosophical or existential discussions for now... even though I've already been putting off more homework than I should be mulling this all over. Right now, I can't help but be excited for this project. It came out of practically nowhere, but it's happening, nonetheless.
For now I'll just keep on baking and maybe this blog's direction will materialize out of cookies and cakes...
Speaking of which, what should I make on Thursday?!
My first foray into baking in the AEPi kitchen was a marvelous success. The cupcakes have now all been devoured (not just by me, thanks to my friends) and were thoroughly enjoyed in all their rich, chocolatey goodness. Many thanks to Ina Garten, Food Network chef of Barefoot Contessa fame, for her wonderful recipe and to AEPi for their kitchen.
Hey! I'm Matt, a college student from New Jersey going to school at Brown University up in lovely Rhode Island. But what's not always so lovely is dealing with the stresses of college life away from the comforts of home. To survive all the turmoil, I've decided to turn to the practice of baking. No, really. Here's my take on things: After two (omg) more semesters of craziness, maybe I'll get a degree, but right now all I've got is the sweet tooth I get from my dad, the love of baking I get from my mom and grandmas, and some kitchens in frat houses and the other ends of campus. That said... I have no idea if these shenanigans will end up being therapeutic or just a pain in the tush, but finding out should be delicious.