December 29, 2009

Gone Skiing....Back in 2010

Norefjell, NORWAY (29.12.09)

Treats is currently on hiatus ringing in 2010 overseas.  I'll be back in January with more yummy things to bake.  Until then have a great and safe New Years!!!

December 19, 2009

Christmas Cookie Gifts

It doesn't feel like Christmas for me unless I've made batches and batches of assorted cookies to be handed out, along with the cashew toffee, as gifts for family, friends and colleagues.  Because I do have a day job and can't bake at home all day long (I wish!) I tend to stick to cookies that can be made somewhat in advance.  Usually that means I can make the dough ahead of time and bake them as needed or the baked cookies keep in airtight containers for more than a few days.    

The cookies that made the cut this year are, clockwise from the left (in the box):  cranberry-pistachio biscotti, coconut macaroons, iced sugar cookies, checkerboard sablés and walnut snowballs. 

I tried something new with the packaging by using natural kraft boxes and card stock.  The snowflake border on the white card stock was made using the Aspen Snowflake punch set from Martha Stewart.  The tags were created using pink card stock printed with a greeting I made in Word and stamped with a cupcake design and then punched out.  Everything was tied together with red and white bakers twine.    I was trying to go for a more "organic and natural" look and I hope I've achieved it. 

December 14, 2009

Yule Log (aka Bûche de Noël)

Nothing screams Christmas and the holidays like a Yule Log or Bûche de Noël.  It was created by Parisian pastry chefs in the 19th century and is meant to resemble one of the logs you might burn in your fireplace on a cold winter's night.  I tell you, only  the Frenchies would think  to make a dessert that's supposed to look like a piece of firewood.   

Traditionally the cake is made of chocolate sponge cake and some type of filling and then rolled up in a long cylinder.  Both ends of the cylinder are cut off; one end is placed on the side of the log and the other is put on top to look like a stump.  The entire cake is then covered in chocolate frosting and decorated with meringue mushrooms.

For this cake I filled it with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream and  the frosting is dark chocolate ganache.  I didn't have the patience to make the mushrooms out of meringue since the humidity in San Francisco normally makes them too soft.  Instead I piped the mushrooms out of some leftover vanilla buttercream and it worked great.

Call it blasphemous, but doesn't the finished cake look like a big ol' Hostess Ho Ho?  Not sure that the French would appreciate that comparison..hahaha!

Joyeux Noël mes amis!

December 13, 2009

Holiday Sugar Cookies

One of my all-time favorite things to make for Christmas are hand iced sugar cookies.   Don't get me wrong, I make them all year round for gifts and commissioned orders, but there's something about the holidays that make them seem even more special.   

This year I tested out two new cookie cutters, the mitten and the snowman.  Both cookies were embellished with sanding sugar to get a shimmery texture. The technique is pretty simple but the results are quite stunning.  After applying royal icing to the cookie sanding sugar is sprinkled over the still wet icing.  Once the icing has dried the excess sugar is shaken off.   

These cookies are just begging for a hot mug of cocoa, don't you think?

Lemon Madeleines

Mention madeleines and most people associate them with Proust.   He put these little cookies on the map when the mere sight of a madeleine was able to trigger memories of long ago.  Ever since then they've become somewhat of a cult item.  I never got around to reading Remembrance of Things Past but after eating madeleines I don't blame Proust for glorifying them one bit.

I made these madeleines for my friend Gracie who very graciously did me a favor this weekend.  She loves these cookies so I thought it was a nice way of thanking her.  I had been searching high and low for a particular Martha Stewart Crafts paper punch that I had seen in the December issue of her eponymous magazine.  Apparently it was more popular than I thought and I was having no luck finding it at any of my local Michaels craft stores.  Judiciously I called the store near Gracie's house and, sure enough, they had the punch in stock which I then put on 24hr hold.

After several instances of salesperson incompetence and digging around on  her hands and knees scouring through inventory Gracie was able to find what I was looking for.  Eureka!  As good a friend as any I've ever known.  Thanks again Gracie!!!

December 11, 2009


Cannelés are a French treat that are a bit hard to classify.  They're sort of like a cross between a cake and a crepe.  The crust is dark and crunchy but inside it's like a sponge-y custard.  Hard to describe, but delicious nonetheless. 

When I lived in France I didn't really pay much attention to cannelés.  I stuck to the classics: croissants, pain au chocolat, lemon tarts, etc.  But my sister really loves these things and they're not what you'd call standard bakery fare here in the US.  Sure, in San Francisco we've got several French boulangeries that sell them, but who wants to pay $3 each?  Not me!

I figured I'd take a crack at them since I'd never made them before.  My mom always says you should try something at least once to know how it is and I'm always looking to expand my baking repertoire.  Only downside to making them is you've got to use a cannelé mold if you want to be authentic.  Traditionalists swear by the individual copper molds, but I'm not rolling in the moolah as of late (each small mold is about $17!) so the mini silicone ones worked just fine for me.  If it ended up being a disaster then it wouldn't be too much of a dent to my wallet.

For a first attempt I think these turned out pretty good. At least they taste good and that's half the battle.  

November 28, 2009

Baking Essentials 101

Just in time for the holidays, a list of equipment and tools that any baking enthusiast would love.

I'm not being paid to endorse any of these items; these are just things I've found I can't live without in my 25+ years of baking so be assured these have all been thoroughly tested.  I've included links to amazon to help you get started.  Unless I've mentioned a particular brand, buy whichever one you can afford.   Most of this stuff can be bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond..don't forget to use their 20% off coupons..even on the Kitchen-Aid mixer!

Baking arsenal in my pantry at home

  • Kitchen-Aid Stand Mixer: If you're even somewhat serious about baking, this is an absolute must and a real kitchen workhorse.  It's definitely an investment, but it will last forever.  I remember the day my parents brought home a Kitchen-Aid in the early 80s and to this day it still works like a charm.   As for which model to buy, get the one that fits your needs.  If you're only an occasional baker don't go for the Professional series, get the Classic instead. 
  • Food Processor:  A processor is a great tool for making pastry dough for pies and tarts and also for chopping nuts.  I sometimes use the food processor to make cake frostings.  They normally come with different blades for slicing and grating as well.

  • Taylor Oven ThermometerUnless your oven is properly calibrated (most aren't) get this to ensure correct temperature.
  • Polder Kitchen Timer:  Easy peasy to use and has a string so you can wear it around your neck if you need to leave the kitchen.
  • Half Sheet Baking Pans:  Used primarily for cookies, but many other uses as well.  Don't bother buying the nonstick ones; just use parchment paper.  Any standard half sheet pan (should measure 13" x 18") will do so don't buy the fancy schmancy ones.  I have a bunch that I got from Costco that were cheap as chips and they work great.  You should have at least two of these pans, especially if you're making cookies.
  • Parchment Paper: A must, must have for any type of baking.  Most people rave about the silicone baking mats like Silpat, but I prefer parchment.  I always line half sheet pans with parchment paper so that things don't stick.  If I'm making a lot of cookies I don't need to dirty a lot of pans because I just use a new sheet of parchment with each batch.  Makes clean up a breeze as well.  They sell parchment in rolls at the supermarket but because I bake so much I buy pre-cut half-sheet pan size ones in a box of 1,000. 
  • Mixing Bowls:  I like the nesting ones that come in stainless steel and glass.  Does double-duty as a bain marie. 
  • Silicone Rubber Spatula:  The utensil I use most often in baking for scraping, folding, mixing.  Buy several of these because they are indispensible.
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons
  • Pyrex Liquid Measuring Cup: To be used specifically for liquid ingredients.  
  • Wire Whisk
  • Metal Cake Pans
    • 9 x 13 Rectangle: For bar cookies (brownies, lemon bars) and cake
    • 9" or 8" Round: Either size will do, but you need at least 2
    • Loaf: For quick breads like pumpkin or banana bread
    • Muffin:  For cupcakes and muffins
  • Metal Ice Cream Scoops: I have these in different sizes and use them to portion out cookie dough so they are uniform in size.    Also great for cupcakes and muffins.
  • French Tapered Wood Rolling Pin:  This style is more agile than the traditional rolling pin. 
  • Wire Cooling Rack: I like the kind that fit perfectly in a half sheet pan.
  • Mesh Strainer:  For sifting dry ingredients and straining cooked creams
  • Microplane Grater:  Zesting citrus fruits, grating chocolate, cheese
  • Cookie Cutters


November 27, 2009

Holy Cannoli! The Daring Bakers Go Italiano....

I must admit that when I found out that this month's challenge was cannoli I didn't get the warm and fuzzies. If you couldn't already tell from reading past posts I'm a big fan of all things fried, but for some reason I've never been attracted to the cannoli. Even in my travels throughout Italy it's never been top of mind as a must-have treat. I always steered towards the simply delicioso gelato. But I guess that's the whole point of this baking group; make things we wouldn't necessarily do on our own. So despite my reservations I persevered and ventured onward...

The recipe and overall preparation of the dough was very straight forward. Trouble started brewing when I had to bust out the jug of vegetable oil to fry the cannoli. I stupidly decided to let it get to temperature unattended on the stove while I was in my office surfing the net. Mamma mia..big mistake! When I ran back to the kitchen to check on the oil temperature the marker on the candy thermometer was all the way to the top where there were no numbers. Not good! I threw a piece of dough into the oil to test how hot it really was and as soon as I did the glass bulb on the bottom of the thermometer shattered.

Long story short, my cannoli shells came out a bit more tan than I would have liked. Who am I kidding? Those suckers were burnt to a crisp! But I wanted to complete the challenge so I ended up filling them with some vanilla bean pastry cream and chopped pistachios.  Will I make cannolis again? Never say never, but based on this last experience it's definitely going to be a long time coming.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia's Italian-American Ktichen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michele Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

November 24, 2009

Pain au me souviens..

Many, many years ago (far more than I care to admit) I spent the spring semester of my junior year of university abroad in Dijon France. Yes, Dijon, the city made famous for that spicy yellow condiment.  "Officially" I was there to attend a French business school and immerse myself in the language and culture.  Unofficially it was really just an excuse to eat, drink, party, travel and meet fellow students from all over the world.  Without a doubt it was probably the best six months of my life and the memories and friendships created back then continue to stay with me.

Even on our paltry students' budget my friends and I managed to eat very well.   This is France after all, the country that claims over 50 types of cheeses, all protected and regulated under French law.  One of my absolute favorite afternoon snacks after a day of classes was a pain au chocolat from Boulangerie Garcia, just around the corner from my dormitory.  

Madame Garcia, the baker's wife, looked after the shop front, while Monsieur Garcia was happily tucked away in the basement concocting his delicious patisseries.  Madame Garcia was not what you'd expect a baker's wife to look like.  I always imagined someone petite and plump. Mais non! In fact, she was quite the opposite: tall and slender with big hair and a wardrobe that reminded you of a Journey groupie back in 1985.  But she ran that bakery like clockwork and my friends and I went there religiously to indulge in all the fantastic breads and pastries.  Those were the days... 

I often reminisce about the great times my friends and I had  that semester in France, when life seemed  so simple and carefree.   When the nostalgia hits me I normally tend to crave a pain au chocolat.  My version will never taste as good as the ones from Boulangerie Garcia, but until I  return to Dijon they'll have to suffice.

NOTE: Recipe can be found in the "Baking Illustrated" cookbook. 

November 14, 2009

Cashew Toffee - It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Thanksgiving is still a little over two weeks away and I'm already looking ahead to Christmas.  Christmas is one of my favorite holidays, and why wouldn't it be - it's the holiday renowned for  baking.  I'm one of those people who thinks that it's never too early to start the holiday spirit.  I've already got a mini Christmas tree decorated in my office at work and have my  favorite Andy Williams Christmas CD playing on continuous loop.   Call me crazy, it wouldn't be the first time!, but after all, it's the most wonderful time of the year!!!

To celebrate the upcoming festivities I've already started churning out my famous cashew toffee.  I began making this candy a few years ago and the response from family and friends was so overwhelming that it's turned in to a delicious tradition.

The toffee ingredients are simple enough, basically butter, sugar and cashews cooked to a bubbling mass, cooled and then coated with chocolate, but the result is pure heaven.  Just the right amount of sweet and salty juxtaposed with the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate coating.  A good toffee has to taste rich, but also have a crunchy bite.  Cook the mixture too long and you've got burnt sugar, not long enough and you end up with a taffy so chewy that it could yank out your fillings.   Even my longtime dentist Dr. Luke loves this toffee; if that's not the ultimate seal of approval I don't know what is.

This is just the beginning of the many treats I'll be making over the next few weeks..stay tuned!

November 7, 2009

Triumph and the Chocolate Macaron

I know, I know..macarons again?  Aren't I sick of them yet?  I emphatically say, "mais non, pas du tout!"   It's been about four months since I started getting serious about making macarons and I can honestly say I never tire of them.  Their unpredictability keeps me coming back for more abuse..and triumph!

My sister asked me to make some macarons for a party she's going to and I was more than willing to oblige.  The flavors above are raspberry, chocolate & salted peanut butter and finally chocolate & bittersweet chocolate.  I can happily report that I've made some strides in my quest for the ultimate chocolate macaron.  I'd say I'm about 90% there - got the feet and the flavor, but the tops are still a work in progress.  For some reason they are still coming out thin and sometimes wrinkly unlike the regular macs that have thicker shells. It's the chemical reaction of adding chocolate to the equation that's causing me such troubles and unfortunately I'm not Mr. Wizard so I don't know how to compensate.  The research continues...

Here are the recipes I used:  

Raspberry: Used Tartelette's basic macaron recipe and flavored swiss meringue buttercream with raspberry puree
Chocolate and Salted Peanut Butter: Tartelette's chocolate macarons with Cannelle et Vanille's filling
Chocolate and Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache: Cannelle et Vanille's chocolate macaron with ganache filling

November 6, 2009

Fried chicken so good it would make the Colonel weep...

This blog is primarily dedicated to all things baking, because that's my passion, but every now and then I must digress.  And this is one of those times.  I'm talking chicken....fried chicken....the ne plus ultra fried chicken....I'm talking Ad Hoc fried chicken.  I've eaten enough fried chicken in my lifetime (can we say KFC's 2-piece & a biscuit or Chicken N' Corn Tuesdays?) to know that Ad Hoc's rendition is the stuff of legends. Served every other Monday  at the restaurant in Yountville.  Quite possibly the best fried chicken in the universe, well, this planet at least.  I've only had it once thus far because driving an hour each way from SF is a bit of a trek for a weekday, but it was unforgettable and keeps me yearning for more.  Moist and juicy, seasoned perfectly and with the most delicious crunchy crust.  Absolute bliss! 
So why am I waxing poetic about this quintessential American comfort food?  Because I just bought Thomas Keller's latest cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home.  I'll be honest, I bought the book because I wanted to know the secret to this damn good chicken.  The recipe is there, plus a ton of other great looking ones that I can't wait to try.  So what's the secret to the chicken you might ask?  They soak the bird in a lemon and herb infused brine for 12 hours (yikes!) before dredging it in seasoned flour, buttermilk and more seasoned flour.  If you've tasted the end product you know it's all worth it.  I'm planning on attempting the recipe in the next few weeks.  If it doesn't turn out so great that's ok....I know I can always find it every other Monday at 6476 Washington St. off Hwy 29.

October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers tackle French Macarons

This month's Daring Baker's challenge, French Macarons, brought things full circle for me.   I initially started this blog to chronicle the trials and tribulations that go with making these little cookies.  Frequent readers of this blog know that macarons have been an obsession of mine as of late and I've made them numerous times; some ended in success, some not worth mentioning.  For the past few weeks I've taken a bit of a hiatus from macaron making because it seemed like they were the only things I was baking.  I'll admit, these treats are so finicky that I was fanatical about getting a consistent result.  But I guess that's what makes macarons so coveted and addictive to don't always get it right, but when you do, you're on cloud nine. 

October 15, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

Autumn has decided to arrive early this year in San Francisco.  Guess I might have jinxed  it back in September when I wished for a long Indian summer.  We recently had a major rain storm come through town and as I watched the constant downpour outside the office window all I could think of was a hot cup of chamomile tea and some freshly baked pumpkin bread.

This pumpkin bread captures the essence of Fall with its cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg undertones.  The recipe is extremely easy to make and is a real crowd pleaser so I highly recommend trying it.

October 10, 2009

Bowling Themed Sugar Cookies for Justin's 6th Birthday

For the past few years I've made sugar cookie favors to celebrate Justin C.'s birthday.  Justin is a smart and sweet little boy who just happens to be the son of my very good friend Gracie.  I normally make Justin sugar cookies cut in the shape of his age (e.g, "4", "5"),but this year I decided to make something just a little bit different.  When Gracie told me Justin's 6th birthday party was going to be at a bowling alley I got really excited.  Can it top last year's fantastic party at the indoor water park?  I think it's definitely a contender!  I can't bowl to save my life, and I even took it as a P.E. course in college!, but I do enjoy trying to be the queen of the pins.

I knew I had to make Justin's cookies with a bowling theme so what could be  more fitting than a bowling pin and bowling ball?  I got a hold of a bowling pin shaped cutter and a round cutter  was perfect for the bowling ball.  Used my basic vanilla sugar cookie recipe and iced them with royal icing.   I don't think Justin will miss a "6" cookie this year, do you?


Auntie Truc

October 4, 2009

Triple-Chocolate Mousse Cake

When I saw the picture for this cake in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Cook's Illustrated I knew I had to make it. Visually, it just looked so stunning. And I know several choco-holics whom I'm sure will have no trouble being my taste testers. The base layer is flourless chocolate cake, the middle layer is a dark chocolate mousse and the top layer is white chocolate mousse.

I used a 72% dark chocolate for the base and middle layers. Next time I think I'll use a more sweet chocolate, maybe 60% cocoa. I haven't really tasted the cake but I'm afraid it might be too bitter for some since there's not a lot of sugar in the cake itself. Hopefully the sweetness of the top white chocolate layer will compensate. The preparation itself was really straightforward. Just required a bit of time since you have to wait for each layer to cool and chill completely before adding the next layer.

Another great thing about this cake is that it's naturally gluten-free . One of my friends is gluten intolerant and it can be difficult to find desserts that don't have flour, but still taste good. Luckily, with this cake you don't even have to worry since there's not a speck of flour to speak of!

September 27, 2009

Vols-au-Vent & Pâte Feuilletée with the Daring Bakers

This was my first challenge with the Daring Bakers and it definitely wasn't for the faint of heart..we were tasked to make pâte feuilletée from scratch and use the dough to form vols-au-vent. You've probably seen vols-au-vent in your local supermarket, you just didn't know it. Pepperidge Farm makes a version called "Puff Pastry Shells".

Pâte Feuilletée belongs to the laminated dough family, which essentially means a water-based dough is layered with a block of cold butter. Croissants and danish are other examples of laminated doughs. To achieve the "puffiness" and height that is synonomous with puff pastry the dough is folded, or "turned", repeatedly with the butter so that you end up with lots of alternating layers. Once the cold dough hits a hot oven, steam is created from the water in the dough/butter evaporating. This causes the dough to lift and rise.

The pastry didn't rise as high as I would have liked, which I think was because I rushed the process. Unfortunately, good pastry requires a lot of patience, of which I didn't really have. Nevertheless, the pastry still tasted good! I filled the vols-au-vent with chicken pot pie filling and made mini tartlets with heirloom tomatoes, basil and parmesan with some of the leftover dough.

Looking forward to next month's challenge!

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

September 26, 2009

Sydney Foods

This post has nothing to do with baking but I wanted to share some memorable eats from a recent trip to Sydney. It's a beautiful harbor city with lots of great food, similar to San Francisco. My favorites from the trip were breakfast offerings at bills Darlinghurst and the baked potato wedges with sweet chili and sour cream at Opera Bar in Circular Quay.

A work colleague from Sydney recommended bills as a breakfast must-see and she was spot on. bills Darlinghurst is one of three restaurants owned by Aussie chef Bill Granger. It's located on a quiet street corner in the very chic and trendy Darlinghurst area of Sydney. As soon as you walk in you see a large communal table loaded with tons of magazines that patrons can browse through. What could be better? The breakfast offerings are some of the best I've ever tasted. The delicious organic scrambled eggs are smooth, creamy and so fluffy. The sweet corn fritters with roasted tomato, spinach and bacon are to die for. And don't miss the unforgettable ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter. To quote one of my favorite bands, Depeche Mode, "I just can't get enough"!!

Sydneysiders really love their sweet chili with sour cream. You'll find it as a potato chip or cracker flavor throughout town. I'd never heard of this flavor combination before but as soon as I tried it I was a complete convert. My first taste was at the Opera Bar in Circular Quay, nestled between the famed Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. There, they serve huge paprika-flecked baked potato wedges with the sweet chili sauce and sour cream as the dipping sauce. The sweet and spicy of the chili sauce goes beautifully with the cool and tangy sour cream. Absolute BLISS!

September 13, 2009

Onesie Cookie Favors for a Baby Shower

A work colleague recently commissioned iced sugar cookie favors for an upcoming baby shower she's hosting. She doesn't know if the baby is a boy or a girl so I suggested a white onesie with a little yellow duckie on the front. I'd seen the idea online using a lamb and cherries. I think the cookies turned out really cute. These are the extras I had, which have a different color ribbon than the ones used for the order. For those I used ivory satin ribbon with "le bébé" (French for baby) printed on it.

The cookie is a vanilla sugar cookie frosted with royal icing. Royal icing is made with powdered sugar, meringue powder and water mixed together really well. I used a thicker consistency to outline the cookie and a thinner frosting to "flood" (or fill) inside the lines. The funny thing about royal icing is you have to keep it covered in the mixing bowl with a damp paper towel otherwise it dries really quickly, but as soon as you put it on a cookie it takes at least 24 hours to dry completely.

I'm not much of an artist but I'm quite happy with how the little duckie turned out. I think royal icing is a much more forgiving medium to draw with than a pen or pencil.

September 6, 2009

Strawberry Cream Cake for Labor Day

Labor Day usually marks the end of summer for most of the country, but not here in the San Francisco Bay Area. There's a famous quote that says, "the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco." That pretty much sums it all up. For those of you who've never been to this excellent city before, avoid it like the plague in July and August. Come back September through November, that's when our Indian summer normally lasts and you get the fantastic weather. After a few months of gray clouds and endless miles of fog it's a welcome sight to see the sun shining.

My brother hosted a Labor Day BBQ today and I brought this strawberry cream cake to serve on the dessert table. Most of my relatives prefer desserts that aren't too sweet and this cake is the perfect choice. This cake is perfect for summer, especially if you've got some sweet and juicy strawberries in season. The recipe is a real winner from the folks at America's Test Kitchen. Not only is it visually stunning, but it tastes as good as it looks.

The cake is almost like a combination of sponge and chiffon, just a lot easier to make. Halved strawberries line the perimeter of each cake layer and macerated, chopped berries cover the inside. The frosting consists of heavy cream whipped together with cream cheese and a little bit of sugar and vanilla. The cream cheese adds a slight tang and also gives the whipped cream some nice structure.

Hope this cake heralds the start of a great Indian summer!

September 5, 2009

Lime and Raspberry Macarons

Wanted to try two new macaron flavors: lime and raspberry. I filled the raspberry ones with white chocolate ganache mixed with raspberry puree. I normally don't like white chocolate,and this is the first time I've used it in macarons, but with the fruit flavoring it came out alright. I'm in search of a recipe for raspberry marmalade that's not too sweet that can be used as a filling. I really LOVE the bright green color of the lime macarons. This won't be a surprise to some of my friends who know that it's one of my favorite colors...especially when paired with navy blue. I added white sprinkles to the shells , which I think really pops against the bright green. I made lime curd using some of the yolks left over after separating the whites for the macaron shells. Mixed the chilled curd with meringue buttercream so the filling is tart with a velvety texture.

August 31, 2009

Daring Bakers

I recently joined an online baking group called The Daring Bakers that I'm really excited about. What exactly is it, you might ask? Basically it's a bunch of baking fanatics from around the world who convene once a month and try out the same recipe. A member of the group is picked each month to host the challenge and choose that month's recipe. Each baker interprets the recipe in their own way so the end product won't be the same; think that's what I like best about this idea.

My first challenge will be for September. Unfortunately I can't reveal what the recipe is or what my interpretation looks like until the end of the month. That's the rule...members find out the recipe on the 1st of the month and the reveal date is the 27th. See you then!

August 25, 2009

Mini Fruit Tarts....Part II

My first attempt in making the can't-fail Parisian piecrust from the Sunday Chronicle turned out so well I decided to make it again. I'm bringing these tarts to the office to celebrate a co-worker's birthday this week. In addition to strawberries and blueberries, this time I also used raspberries and kiwis. I really like how the green color of the kiwi contrasts so nicely against the red berries and dark blueberries. The sweet Caillat crust is definitely a keeper that will be a great addition to my baking repertoire.

August 23, 2009

Mini Fruit Tarts

The food section of today's SF Chronicle featured a recipe for a tart crust that is a bit unconventional. As luck would have it I happened to have some leftover vanilla bean pastry cream in my fridge, from a macaron filling experiment gone awry, and plenty of fresh fruit. What better time than the present to try out this unusual crust? Rather than making one big tart I decided to use tartelette pans because I think they're so cute. Plus, if the finished product turned out ok I could easily share them with friends and family.

The Sweet Caillat Crust is made in a similar manner to pâte à choux dough, except without the eggs. Butter is melted with oil and water and when it reaches a boil, flour and sugar are added. The dough is mixed until it becomes like a thick paste. Here's the best part: instead of rolling out the dough you simply pat it into the tart pan and bake in a hot oven. For someone like me who hates washing dishes this is a godsend. I have to admit I was rather skeptical about this technique when I initially read the article, but the results were great. The crust was really tasty with a nice brown color and flaky, crispy texture.

Filled the cooled crusts with the pastry cream and fresh strawberries and blueberries. The final touch was brushing the tops with a bit of melted apple jelly to give the tartelettes a beautiful sheen. I think they look like the ones you see in the boulangeries of France. They'll make a great after-lunch dessert at work tomorrow! :-)

August 22, 2009

Macarons for barter...

My friend Jessie just returned from a whirlwind month-long tour of Asia with her family. She's a great photographer, so in exchange for teaching me some DSLR tricks and tips I'm making her macarons and chocolate chip cookies. I think it's a fair trade.

Jessie's never tried my macarons before and I hope she likes them. Made her some classic flavors (lemon poppy-seed, pistachio and chocolate) and one I've never made before, mango. I added finely ground freeze-dried mango slices to the macaron batter and mango puree to the buttercream filling. It's a fine line between adding enough puree to get that mango flavor but not so much that the buttercream separates...think it turned out ok.

Still not satisified with the chocolate macaron, so my search continues. Tried several recipes but have gotten inconsistent results across the board: too brownie-like, no feet, super thin crust. When they say macarons are finicky they're not kidding and chocolate is, by far, the diva of them all. It's frustrating, but I'm determined to get it right...come hell or high water. I'll definitely be rejoicing when that day comes.

August 17, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Wanted to thank some colleagues at work who went above and beyond tonight to help solve a mystery. We had to follow a trail of bread crumbs, but I think we might have found the answer. What better way to express my gratitude than with some chocolate chip cookies?

Thank you DP, BH and MS...enjoy the cookies!!

August 16, 2009

Mimi's 21st Birthday Cake

My cousin is celebrating her 21st birthday this week so I wanted to make her a cake to celebrate the momentous occasion. She requested chocolate so I turned to one of my favorite recipes, Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake, from America's Test Kitchen: Test Kitchen Favorites. The cake is really moist and tender and the frosting is like a whipped ganache, not too sweet with great texture. Hope she likes it.

Happy Birthday Mimi!!!!

Di Truc

August 8, 2009

Oatmeal Cherry Walnut Cookies

My mom loves oatmeal cookies so while I'm visiting my parents this weekend I made her a huge batch. I baked off some of the dough today and she can freeze the rest to bake later.

Got the recipe from this great baking book my sister borrowed from the library called Advanced Bread and Pastry, written by Michel Suas who founded the San Francisco Baking Institute. It's a comprehensive guide to making breads, viennoiserie, cakes and cookies. Definitely geared more towards the serious baker and/or professional and it's written in that vain. I liked it so much I promptly ordered it online.

Used the oatmeal raisin cookie recipe but substituted dried cherries for the raisins and also added toasted chopped walnuts. Made the cookies super size and I think they turned out great...nice golden brown color on the outside and chewy inside. All it's begging for is a glass of milk.

August 5, 2009

Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake

Had a bunch of blueberries in my fridge that I didn't want to go to waste so I decided to add them to a lemon pound cake. Lemons and blueberries are always a great flavor combination. Used a butter pound cake recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's fantastic book The Cake Bible.

Followed Rose's recipe and added finely grated lemon zest and blueberries just at the end. I tossed the berries lightly in some flour before adding them to the batter so that they didn't sink to the bottom, but as you can see, it didn't really help. The blueberries were much heavier than the cake batter.

The glaze is really simple; freshly squeezed lemon juice whisked with powdered sugar until it has a consistency similar to condensed milk.

August 1, 2009

Macaron Flavors: Lemon-Poppy Seed, Strawberry and Pistachio

Stayed up late last night to bake the shells for the pistachio and lemon-poppy seed. Pistachio is my old standby and it's my personal favorite. But for the lemon I added the poppy seeds to the batter as a new twist. They turned out quite nice and I like the contrast of the black seeds against the bright yellow shell. This was my first foray into making strawberry. Added freezed dried strawberry powder along with powdered red food coloring to the batter. I love how the pink color turned out.

For the fillings I flavored buttercream with pistachio paste, lemon curd and pureed fresh strawberries. Really yummy!

I think I've done pretty well with the pistachio and fruit flavored macarons but I haven't found a chocolate one that's yielded good results. The search continues..stay tuned!

Macarons, macarons, macarons...

Ever since I took a tour of the Gerard Mulot bakery in Paris last summer I've been a bit obsessed with macarons. I'm not a novice baker but these things are definitely not easy to make; tempermental and finicky is an understatement. 

My first attempt at making them was Dec 2008 but the end product was kind of crap so I threw in the towel..temporarily. Over the last few months have gotten back on the horse and the results have improved after doing extensive research online. Who would have thought there would be hundreds of blogs about these cookies.

I can't explain the elation you feel when you finally get that first good batch...smooth, crispy outer shell and those little feet! Ever since then I've been trying to perfect the recipe and technique. It's still not 100% right, but I'm getting close. Just need to keep practicing.

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