May 31, 2010

Food Channel Debuts

Adios to Fine Living and Hola to the Cooking Channel, which makes its debut today.   Channel 182 for those of you in the Bay Area. Thank god there's actually a food channel out there that features people who can actually cook!  Don't know about you, but Food Network just wasn't cutting it anymore.  Those asinine challenges and reality wannabe shows are so lame.  Gotta love a channel that has Bill Granger, The Two Fat Ladies and Julia Child.   

Check it out!

May 30, 2010

Gluten-Free Snickerdoodles

Gluten-Free: two words that can test even the most experienced of bakers,  and yours truly.  Baking without wheat flour?  Is that even possible?  More importantly, will it taste good?   To my surprise it can!

It was only recently, in the past year or so, that I became more educated on gluten intolerance and celiac disease.  It's impacted the lives of several people I know.  My friend C. is gluten intolerant and in my own family I have several cousins who are reducing their gluten intake for health reasons.

In my quest to find safe treats for my gluten-free posse I came upon a great baking book called The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook.  It's chock full of favorite baking recipes that are made without gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs, soy and nuts.   I first heard about the book when the author, Cybele Pascal, made an appearance on The Martha Stewart Show.   One of her children suffered from severe food allergies and she learned to tweak recipes so that he could enjoy them.  Lucky for us she decided to share them with the world so that everyone could partake.

The snickerdoodle recipe was the first one I tried and I was quite amazed at how much the cookies looked and felt like the wheat version.  Down to even the crackly texture that's synonymous with these cookies.   They tasted close to the real thing as well.  I admit there is a bit of an aftertaste but C. told me it was probably from the xanthan gum, a plant derivative that mimics gluten, that was used in the recipe.  Apparently this is normal for most gluten-free baked goods.

I had C. and my family try the cookies and they liked them a lot which is all the encouragement I need to try out more recipes. 

NOTE:  Baking gluten-free is more expensive than  regular baking.  I found most of the ingredients at Whole Foods or in health food stores.  

May 27, 2010


I was really excited when I read that this month's Daring Bakers challenge was the French masterpiece croquembouche.  I've never made  it before but have always admired its regal stature in the pastry world.  This would be a real test of my baking skills.

It seems only fitting that croquembouche is normally found at French weddings.  I see it as the perfect marriage of pastry and architecture.   Cream filled pâte à choux arranged in a tall tower with the aid of amber caramel....amazing!

I'm no stranger to pâte à choux  and have made it many times in sweet (cream puffs, eclairs) and savory (gougères) forms.  The challenge for me this time was working with caramel.  I tend to shy away from any desserts that require handling molten sugar.  Mainly because I don't want to burn myself.  On top of that clean up is a pain.  And those who know me know I hate cleaning up.  

My hesitation with the caramel wasn't unfounded.  The first batch I made ended up as a burnt mess whose fate was at the bottom of the compost bin.  The second and third batches turned out much better, but I still used plastic gloves when I was assembling the croquembouche.  Better to be safe than sorry.

The tops of each choux were dipped in caramel and some were then rolled in Swedish pearl sugar I found at IKEA.   Once I assembled the tower I added some jordan almonds to give it that festive touch.  I'm quite happy with the final product and am looking forward to making it again.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.  

May 13, 2010

Norwegian Flag Cookies for the 17th of May

The 17th of May is a pretty big deal in Norway.  Back in 1814 it was the day the constitution was signed thus declaring it an independent nation.  For  Americans it would be similar to our 4th of July.  I had the pleasure of witnessing all the celebrations firsthand  a few years ago when I was in Bergen attending the wedding of my dear friends E&L.    

Norway is a pretty sparsely populated country, just shy of five million, but  Norwegians are some of the most patriotic people I have ever met.  And they go all out for  the 17th.   Picture tons of people crowding the streets wearing bunad, the national costume, and waving their red, blue and white flags as parades and bands march by.  "Fantastisk!" as MG would say.

I first made these cookies about five years ago.  I thought it would be a sweet way to celebrate  the holiday.  They were such a hit with my Norwegian friends that it's become a tradition for me to send these treats to them every year.       

To all my Nordic friends:  Gratulerer med dagen!

May 4, 2010

Cherry Blossom Cookies

Went to Washington, D.C. last month on a family vacation, right at the height of cherry blossom season.  I was excited because I'd heard so much about how gorgeous the trees surrounding the Tidal Basin were when in full bloom.  Just my luck all the trees, save for one, had  shed their blossoms three days before I arrived in town.  Darn!  But hope was not lost; there were  plenty of cherry blossom trees found throughout town that still had beautiful blooms on them.  

While watching the annual parade on Constitution Avenue I spotted a little kid eating a blossom shaped cookie.  Being the avid baker that I am, of course I became obsessed with trying to find it.  I scoured museums and gift shops in search of that cookie, but with no luck.  Double darn!

When I got back to San Francisco that cookie was still top of mind.  I googled cherry blossom cookies and came upon some really cute ones by Katie of  Good Things Catered.   I love how her design almost resembles a fine china pattern.  Beautiful!  I hope she doesn't mind that I replicated her creation.  As the saying goes, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

May 1, 2010

Batter Up! Baseball Sugar Cookies

America's favorite pastime is in full swing so to celebrate I made these baseball sugar cookies.   These treats will be given to Justin, who at 7 years old is already a keen enthusiast.  Am I a fan of baseball?  Not really, not at all actually, LOL! 

My favorite sports to watch are tennis and college basketball.  Wimbledon or the World Series? Not a difficult question...I'd choose Wimbledon every time.  But I do understand baseball's appeal.  Sitting in a beautiful ballpark, the sun on your face, sipping a cold one and enjoying a hot dog.  Oh yeah, and I guess watching the game too! 

The design on these cookies is really simple so it's perfect for the beginning baker.  You take a round cookie and apply a base coat of white royal icing (flooding consistency).  Let this dry for 24 hours.  Tint a thicker consistency of the frosting red and use this to pipe the seams of the baseball onto the white cookie.  You can also create a basketball, tennis or golf ball with a similar icing technique. 

I'll be making several different kinds of iced sugar cookies over the next few weeks so I hope you check back to see what they are. 

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