March 23, 2020

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake


Yes, you read that right, Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake.  Now before you turn away in disgust hear me out.  Think about it, what is mayonnaise made out of?  Oil and eggs.  What ingredients are normally found in a moist cake?  Oil and eggs.  Whoever thought to put mayonnaise in a cake is a true genius!

Apparently it was commonly used in baking during WWII when ingredients were scarce and it feels very appropriate to resurrect it during the COVID-19 pandemic.  These days certain staples are harder to come by than others, e.g., eggs and milk, so this cake is the perfect solution.  I'd wager that you probably have most (or all) of the ingredients already in your pantry. 


If you're lacking confidence in the baking department I highly encourage you to give this recipe a try.  Everything is mixed by hand and no electric appliances are needed.  For any parents out there looking for a relatively easy activity to do with their kids give this recipe a try.  It couldn't be simpler and is practically foolproof.   Seriously, you can't mess it up!

To decorate the cake you can go with a light dusting of powdered sugar but I had some leftover ermine frosting so I ended using that.  And don't forget the sprinkles if you have any, they're always a good idea regardless of your age.

This easy-to-make cake is packed with so much chocolate flavor I bet you won't look at that jar of Best Foods or Hellmann's the same way again.  

Stay healthy and safe!

March 18, 2020

Cara Cara Angel Food Cake


I'm trying to process everything that's going on in the world right now and the one emotion that is omni present is anxiety.  Anxiety about the uncertainty, anxiety about the well being of loved ones, anxiety about society in general.  The list goes on and on.  In times like this I inevitably turn to baking for solace.  It may seem small and insignificant but it provides the comfort I need to get me through the craziness.  So let's get baking!


San Francisco residents are currently under a shelter in place order so I've been trying to use the food I have on hand to minimize the need to leave my house.  For baking inspiration I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts.  I knew I had a lot of egg whites and Cara Cara oranges so it was an easy decision to make an orange-flavored Angel Food Cake.  You don't have to use Cara Cara oranges, but I can't recommend them enough.  A member of the navel orange family, Cara Caras have a reddish hued flesh that I think is also sweeter than your average citrus variety.


Angel food cake doesn't have a traditional leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder.  Its height comes solely from whipped egg whites and sugar, aka meringue.  Don't skimp on the lengthy whipping in the recipe, otherwise you won't get a nice, tall cake.  Oh, and another thing, a nonstick tube pan will not work.  The batter needs a "sticky" surface to cling to as it rises in the oven and a nonstick pan doesn't provide that grip.


To you this may only be cake, but it's giving me some much needed light during these dark times.  Wishing everyone health and safety and don't forget to practice kindness with each other!

March 13, 2020

The Model Bakery English Muffins


I love an English muffin for breakfast and for most of my life the Thomas' variety suited me just fine, thank you very much.   But then I tasted The Model Bakery's English Muffins and all the sudden I was like, "Thomas' who?"   You may recall that many years ago these muffins were included in Oprah's Favorite Things and with one taste you'll understand what all the hype is about.  There are two bakery locations in the Napa Valley and it just so happened that I recently had a business meeting up the road from the downtown Napa shop.  How could I not stop by and try some for myself?   

The first things I noticed about these English muffins: they were big and soft with the heavenly aroma of butter.  What a combination!  I toasted one straight away and slathered it with salted butter.   One bite and I was hooked.  The light and airy texture was unreal, something I'd never tasted before. They were without a doubt the best English muffins I'd ever eaten in my life.


At $14 for a bag of six muffins they weren't cheap, nor was it super convenient to drive an hour north of San Francisco whenever I got a craving.  Then I remembered that The Model Bakery had a cookbook and sure enough the English muffin recipe was included.  I found my next baking project!
Prior to testing the recipe I had watched a YouTube video that showed the bakery's process for making the muffins.  Unfortunately my first attempt had less than stellar results.  The muffins were alright but lacked the light and airy texture I was looking for.   Back to the drawing board it was. 


In my second attempt I switched to King Arthur's flour (higher in gluten) and kneaded the dough longer.  Straight away I could tell that this dough was different from the one before because it was so light!  Also, after the dough balls had their second rise I didn't pat them down, which was a mistake I made in the first attempt.    Frying the muffins in a skillet with clarified butter is key and you can't skip this step.  That's what makes these muffins so delicious.    

I'm happy to report that the second batch of muffins was pretty darn close to Model's, if I do say so myself.  Not 100%, but perhaps 90%?  Either way, it's close enough for me that it saves a drive up north and keeps cash in my wallet!

February 22, 2020

Portuguese Pantry

photos by Gao's Cabinets






I know this blog is about baking but I recently remodeled my walk-in pantry and was so happy with the results I wanted to share more details.  Let me start by saying the "before" pantry was such an absolute disaster zone that I cringe just thinking about it.  You literally could not walk through the room because it was crammed with things from floor to ceiling.  Last summer I got so fed up with the mess that I made the decision to redo the pantry.  I spent 4th of July weekend taking every single thing out and I assure you it was no small feat.  It wasn't until I saw everything laid out that I realized how much excess and waste I had contributed to - duplicates, even triplicates, of baking equipment or accessories!  Family, friends and Goodwill charity were the lucky recipients of my clear out.  



Once the pantry was completely empty I was then able to bring in my contractor and cabinet maker to help plan my dream room.  Straightaway I knew I wanted to incorporate azulejos, Portuguese ceramic tiles, in to the design.  Lisbon is one of my favorite cities in the world and I love the beautiful tiled buildings there.  (My phone is filled with dozens of pictures of them from my last two visits.)   After searching high and low I was finally able to find authentic tiles from a UK vendor called Everett and Blue.    


Once I had the tiles sorted everything else about the pantry design came together quite easily.  With tile sample in hand I set about designing the cabinets with my favorite custom cabinet makers, Gao's Cabinets.  I've worked with them before on my kitchen and laundry room so there was no question who I would use for the pantry.  If you're in the Bay Area I can't recommend them enough...they are a dream to work with.



When it came to the overall design of the pantry I had several objectives that were non-negotiable: 1) a place to display my baking and cooking equipment, 2) enough storage to hold all my crap and 3) overall peace and serenity.  For organization I turned to my gurus, The Home Edit.  I admit I'm a super fan and obsess over all the pictures they post on their Instagram account.  Their simple, clean aesthetic just speaks to the perfectionist Virgo in me.  

I hope you'll agree with me that the finished pantry was worth it.  I couldn't be happier with the results!!!


Resources:

General Contractor: Ed Hauer Construction
Ceramic Tiles: Everett and Blue
Cabinets: Gao's Cabinets
Refrigerator: Whirlpool
Quartz Countertop: Caesarstone
Clear Storage Bins: Idesign
Clear Expandable Organizer: Idesign
Clear Lazy Susan: The Home Edit 
Peg Board: Lowe's 
Peg Board & Wall Color: Benjamin Moore "Alpine White" 
Trim and Picture Rail Wall Color: Benjamin Moore "Swiss Coffee"

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