February 27, 2010

Housewarming Cookie

Just came back from a great housewarming party hosted by some friends who recently bought their first place.  The house was decorated beautifully, like out of a Pottery Barn catalog, and I was very impressed with all the improvements they've made.   I brought these cookies along to celebrate the momentous occasion.  Each cookie had their address printed on it, but I've blurred part of it out since you don't need to know where they live..hehehe.  (I'm still learning the photo editing software so excuse my clumsy job.)  

I'm no where near buying a  place of my own anytime soon, what with the San Francisco real estate market being so inflated, but I'm really in awe of those who take that plunge.   Maybe one day.  Until  then I'm just fine hanging tight in my  flat.  All I can say is thank god for rent control!

Tiramisu...The Daring Bakers' Way

I'm a total slacker because I didn't participate in the last two Daring Bakers' challenges.   I was super busy baking for the holidays in December and I was going to be traveling for most of January.  Can you blame me?  But now it's February and I'm back!  Just in time to make the classic Italian dessert tiramisu.

Tiramisu.  If you've ever made it before you're probably thinking "it's not that hard," and I would agree with you on that point.  A normal tiramisu is pretty simple to put together.   But this  was tiramisu done the Daring Bakers' way, which meant that the majority of its components had to be made from scratch.   So the mascarpone cheese, zabaglione, pastry cream and savoiardi biscuits were made by yours truly.   Not so simple when you throw that doozy into the mix, is it?  

Let's start with the mascarpone.  Who the heck makes cheese from scratch?   Duh, cheesemakers do, but I'm no cheesemaker.    I've eaten many cheeses in my day and never in a million years would I have thought to make it myself.  Little did I know how easy it was.  Mascarpone is essentially whipping cream heated up with lemon juice that's poured through a cheesecloth-lined sieve and left to cool and set in the fridge.  Yep, that's it.  Now I'm  kicking myself for paying so much for those tiny tubs of mascarpone they sell at the supermarket when I could have made it at home. 

The recipe for the savoiardi/ladyfingers is a real gem.  It's true gastronomic alchemy at its best when you can take four simple ingredients: eggs, granulated sugar, cake flour and powdered sugar, and turn it in to such a delicious biscuit.  I couldn't believe how much better they tasted than the store bought versions I've used in the past. 

If you already know what type of pan you'll be using for the tiramisu I recommend piping the savoiardi batter in the same dimensions so you get a custom fit biscuit.  That's the lazy woman's trick because it saves you a lot of trouble when you're assembling the dessert.  I only had to dip a few large biscuits in the coffee mixture versus a ton of tiny ones.  For this challenge I managed to fill two pullman-loaf style pans (9" x 3").  With the extra savoiardi batter I spread it out on a 1/4 sheet pan and once it was baked and cooled I cut out rounds that would fit in the plastic coffee cup for the individual serving shown in the picture.

This tiramisu was definitely labor intensive but molto delizioso.  I daresay it could rival what you'd find at your local trattoria and highly encourage you to try this recipe.  Buon appetito!!

The February 2010 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking.  They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month.  Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

February 9, 2010

Conversation Heart Cookies

What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than to replicate, in a sugar cookie, NECCO's conversation hearts?  Chocolate is nice but there's something about these tiny hearts with their catchy phrases that always make me laugh.   Remember when you were a kid in elementary school and you handed out those boxed cards to all your classmates?   The  most prized Valentine's were the ones that had a few conversation hearts stuffed in the envelope.  

Back in the day the flavors didn't taste all that great.  I do recall some, I think  the green ones especially, that tasted like medicine.  But the flavors took a back seat to the imprinted words.   True, most of them were really cheesy, remember So Cute and Lover Boy?  You couldn't help but chuckle.  This year is the first time in their 145 years of production that the company that makes the candies, NECCO, decided to go a bit more modern with the sayings....My Boo being a perfect example.   On top of that they updated the flavors and they  all taste really good  (Strawberry, Green Apple, Lemon, Grape, Orange and Blue Raspberry)..trust me, I've sampled!  

February 8, 2010

Apple Strudel

I took a bit of a baking sabbatical in January.  First because I was going to be travelling quite a bit and wouldn't have much time, and second, quite honestly, because I OD'd from all the baking I did during the Christmas holidays.  But, it's February 2010 (the Year of the Tiger..my year!) and I'm back with a vengeance. 

This was my first time making the famous Austrian pastry and it was long overdue.  You wouldn't think it, but Austria has a long history in the baking arts.  Did you know that the baguette and croissant, two of France's most famous symbols, were actually created in Austria?  Yes, it's true.  That's where the French word viennoiserie comes from, it essentially means pastries originating from Vienna.  

If you're thinking this is like the strudel found in your supermarket freezer case you're out of luck.  You know which ones I'm talking about.  The ones from that chubby little dough boy that require a toaster.  No, no, no.  This is authentic apfelstrudel and I'm happy to report that everything from the dough to the filling was made from scratch.  

I was quite surprised at how easily it was to make strudel and the ingredients are staples in any pantry.  The challenging part of the recipe was rolling and stretching the dough so that it was super thin.  According to experts it should be so thin you could read a newspaper through it.  I didn't bother putting that to a test but for my first attempt I'm quite pleased with the results.  

The strudel tasted great warm from the oven.   Golden flaky crust and tart apples with a hint of cinnamon and sugar but not too sweet.  All it was begging for was a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  If only I had some in my freezer.  Oh well, next time.

February 7, 2010

I ♥ Red Velvet Cupcakes

Ok, I confess, the title of this post is a bit of a lie.  I don't really love red velvet cupcakes but it would have sounded stupid to say " I eh red velvet cupcakes".  Despite their ever growing popularity I don't really get what all the fuss is about.  Yeah, they look cool with the unusual color and all but I suspect it's the frosting that's the real star.  Who doesn't love the cream cheese frosting?

I made these cupcakes for two friends at work who's birthdays are a week apart in February.  Seemed appropriate to decorate them in a Valentine's theme, red being the signature color and all.

My introduction to this cake was from that classic tear jerker of a chick flick, Steel Magnolias.  Growing up in California I'd never heard of red velvet before.  Apparently it's a southern  specialty.  The groom's cake featured in the film was shaped like an armadillo, with drab gray frosting and blood red velvet cake inside.   When they cut in to it  it looked they were performing surgery.  How's that for a visual? Oh well, it's still one of my favorite movies.  Whenever it's playing on tv, normally TBS,  I have to stop what I'm doing and watch it.   It never gets old. 

Some of the best lines I know are from that movie and I've found myself using them every now and then:
  • "If you don't have anything nice to say come sit by me"
  • "My colors are blush and bashful"
  • "..looks like two pigs fighting under a blanket.."
  • "..what is this in my Frigidaire? 
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