December 24, 2011


I don't think there's anything better than a flaky and buttery croissant, especially when it's fresh from your own oven.   Sound too good to be true?   It's not as unattainable as you may think and you don't even need to buy a plane ticket to France.

All it takes are three P's:  planningpreparation and perseverance.    

You know I love me some Cook's Illustrated and the most recent issue (Jan/Feb 2012) was chock full of fantastic recipes like the chocolate truffles I made earlier this month.   Another recipe that captured my attention, and that I knew I had to try, was croissants.

I've made CI's version of pain au chocolat before but they've since updated the laminated dough recipe to make it even more foolproof.  One of the best things about this recipe is that you can freeze the shaped croissants and bake them at a later time.  Fresh croissants any time you want?  Definitely not a bad thing!

Be forewarned though, making croissants from scratch is a very time consuming process.  However, your efforts really do pay off in the final product.   I swear when I took my first bite I was transported back to my student days in Dijon. 

Tips for success:  Follow CI's advice and use King Arthur all-purpose unbleached flour and Plugra unsalted butter!

December 23, 2011

2011 Holiday Treats

A quick post to show the fruits of my labor this holiday season.  Just a pic of some of the treats I made, and gifted, to friends and family.  Some are old favorites and some are making their debut to the party: 

Macarons (the ones above are raspberry and pistachio)
Walnut Snowballs

December 22, 2011

No-Bake Rocky Road Bars

My favorite ice-cream flavor of all time is Thrifty's Coconut Pineapple.   A close second is rocky road, but the kind with almonds, no walnuts please.

I was on the lookout for new recipes to try for this year's holiday treats and I saw this one for no-bake rocky road bars from America's Test Kitchen.  After endless hours spent baking cookies it was a nice change not to use the oven. 

These bars are really, really good - sort of like a pumped up version of fudge, only better.  While the inclusion of graham crackers isn't necessarily authentic to rocky road I find it added a nice texture to the candy. 

December 20, 2011

Hat and Mitten Sugar Cookies

I find it funny that whenever some people hear you're from California they automatically think it's sunshine and warm weather year-round.  Maybe that's true in the south, but up here in the north it can get downright freezing.  

My place in San Francisco was built many, many years ago so the heating system can be "quirky" to say the least.   When the mercury starts dropping I immediately bust out my cashmere-wrapped hot water bottles, thermals and cold weather accessories to stay warm. These hat and mitten sugar cookies are a tongue-in-cheek homage to this frosty ritual.  

December 19, 2011

Raspberry Marshmallows

Marshmallows are one of those things I never really thought to make at home.  It's so much easier to grab a bag of Jet-Puffed when I've got a craving for hot cocoa or Rice Krispies Treats.  Since I wanted to add some new goodies to this year's roster of homemade Christmas gifts I thought to myself, "why not marshmallows?"  I've seen other people make it so how hard could it be?

My only criteria was I wanted to make them with some kind of fruit.   I saw these raspberry marshmallows on Not So Humble Pie and I knew I found what I was looking for.  I loved their pink hue and the tartness of the raspberries would be a great counterbalance to the sweet marshmallow.

To my surprise the recipe only contained four ingredients (I don't count water!) and were so easy to make.   When you're cutting the marshmallows make sure you use a very sharp knife and lots of the cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture. 

December 17, 2011

Cup 4 Cup Gluten-Free Flour

Notice anything different about these walnut snowballs?  They look like my favorite Christmas cookies, they taste like my favorite Christmas cookies, but there's something else.  Can you guess?  Alright, I'll tell you.  They're 100% gluten-free...yes way!  

Gluten-free baking can definitely be a challenge; I speak from experience.  But I wanted to share a recent discovery that I think is going to change all that.  There's a new gluten-free flour on the market that I just tested that is pretty amazing. *  

Cup 4 Cup (C4C) Gluten-Free Flour was created by Lena Kwak, a chef at the venerable French Laundry restaurant in Napa, CA.  I first heard about it when Thomas Keller made an appearance on The Martha Stewart Show.  With Chef Keller behind it you know it's gotta be good.  So I headed to my nearest Williams-Sonoma to pick up a bag.

I've tested other brands of gluten-free flour before and I have to say none have come as close to all-purpose wheat flour in taste and texture as C4C.  And the best part is the ease with which you use it.  As the name says, it's "cup for cup" - simply substitute C4C for the exact amount of all-purpose flour in the recipe.

The gluten-free walnut snowballs I made taste exactly like the regular ones.  I couldn't believe it myself and nor will my gluten-free friends and family! 

*  This is my own product review.  In no way have I been compensated for endorsing this product. 

December 16, 2011

Dark Chocolate Truffles

When I started this blog two years ago I had no clue about all the swag that was out there to be won.   I've entered my fair share of blog giveaways, especially when its cookware or mixers, but I never actually won anything....until now!

How ecstatic was I when I received an email from Rosie of Sweetapolita last month telling me that I was one of the winners of her chocolate giveaway.   My prize?  Two boxes of dark chocolate couverture (minimum 70% cacao) from Cacao Barry.

My only dilemma now was what to make.  Perhaps chocolate chip cookies or brownies?  With this high quality chocolate I didn't want to go the obvious route.   It just so happened that the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Cook's Illustrated featured chocolate truffles....uh, bingo! 

If there was anything that would really showcase the dark chocolate it had to be the truffles.  I wanted a bit of variety so I coated some in pistachios, homemade cashew toffee bits and powdered sugar along with the traditional cocoa powder.  These are going to be the perfect holiday gift for the chocoholics I know.

December 13, 2011

Clementine Loaf Cake

I know it's winter when stores start stocking Cuties California clementines.  I love them!  My mom says that when I was a kid I used to eat oranges like a fiend so it's no surprise that Cuties are one of my absolute favorites. 

The December 2011 issue of Everyday Food featured a tangerine cake with citrus glaze on the cover and I knew I had to try it with the Cuties.  They baked their cake in a bundt pan but I went with small loaf pans which are the perfect size for gift giving.  

The cakes turned out slightly dry so next time I'm going to poke holes all over the tops then brush them with a clementine-infused simple syrup before pouring on the glaze.

December 10, 2011

Sprinkles Cookies

It's already it me or has this year just flown by?  So far this month I've been super busy with all my holiday candy making.  To date I've made 100 pounds of cashew toffee (with some help from Mom) and there's still plenty more to go.  Thank goodness I only do this once a year.

After being up to my eyeballs in candy I needed a break, a cookie break to be exact.  I first saw these sprinkles cookies on and they instantly brought a smile to my face.   Don't they remind you of the sparkling multi-colored lights you hang on a Christmas tree? The cookies are really delicious with just the slightest hint of citrus.  They'll be adored by both kids and kids-at-heart.

Season's Treatings to you....let the baking madness begin!

December 7, 2011

Mandel Bread

Despite its moniker mandel bread is not a bread at all, but actually a cookie.  It's an Eastern European Jewish treat very similar to Italian biscotti.

I first tasted mandel bread many years ago at a work potluck.  I mistakenly thought they were biscotti and was corrected by the colleague who brought them in.  They were so crunchy and light, not heavy and tough at all like some biscotti you find.  When I learned how easy they were to make I was instantly hooked.

Looking to make cookies to give away as homemade gifts?  Try making mandel bread.  Your family and friends will love them!

November 17, 2011

Carrot Layer Cake

I preface this post by saying it's basically a teaser.  Why?  Because I can't share the recipe for this delicious carrot layer cake with you....just yet!  It's one I'm testing for Cook's Illustrated and they're still tweaking it a bit.  

But I can share with you the technique used to make the cake.  Instead of baking the cake in two round pans it's baked in a half-sheet pan.  Once cooled completely the cake is sliced in to four equal rectangles then layered and frosted.  Pretty cool, huh?  It really does cut your prep time in half.  Now why didn't I think of that?

UPDATE: The recipe for this cake can now be found in Cook's Illustrated May/June 2012 issue.

November 10, 2011

Flourless Chocolate Cake

My friend Jesse's birthday was last month and my gift to her was a cake of her choosing.  What did she request?  Flourless chocolate cake.  

It's a super-easy but very elegant dessert you can make that uses ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen:  eggs, chocolate and butter.   That's it!  If you want to go a bit over the top you can even add some espresso.  I won't tell if you won't.    

An added bonus?  It's the perfect choice for any gluten-free folks in your life. 

November 3, 2011


I'm lucky enough to be a recipe tester for Cook's Illustrated, the ne plus ultra cooking authorities, so when a Paris-Brest recipe landed in my Inbox many, many, many months ago I was super excited.  I had every intention of making it straight away until procrastination and summer vacation distracted me.  When I saw that the recipe was published in the current issue of the magazine (November/December 2011) I figured it was about time to make it.

If you're not familiar with this classic French dessert it's a large ring of pâte à choux filled with a praline-infused pastry cream.  They say the Paris-Brest was the brainchild of a very ingenious baker to commemorate the famous bicycle race between the two cities.  Leave it to a Frenchie to think of something like it!

I'm sending this cake across cyberspace to my dear friend Mimi who is celebrating her birthday today.  Joyeux anniversaire mon amie!  

October 27, 2011

Pumpkin Sugar Cookies

I had some extra dough leftover from a recent cookie order so I made pumpkin shaped cookies to celebrate autumn and Halloween.   Now that I look at them they may not be so botanically correct with the green leaf and vines but they still taste good!

Happy Halloween to all the little goblins, ghosts and witches out there!

October 22, 2011

Shortbread Two Ways

It's ironic that I love to bake because diabetes tends to run in my extended family, especially the maternal branch.  Whenever I make them something inevitably the first comment I get is, "Can you make it less sweet?"  I too am a fan of less sweet desserts, so I'm not one to talk, but you've got to have some sugar otherwise what's the point?

I'm visiting the relatives this weekend so my Mom suggested I bring them a homemade treat.   The main criteria being that whatever it is be low on the sugar content..big surprise!   

The first thing that came to mind was shortbread.  They're more buttery than sweet and are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.   I decided to mix things up a bit so in addition to the classic version I tried Dorie Greenspan's espresso-chocolate shortbread.  If you're a caffeine addict you'll go crazy for them!

October 18, 2011

Quadruple Coconut Layer Cake

Doesn't this coconut cake look absolutely delicious?  Trust me when I say it tastes even better than it looks.  Why the "quadruple" in its moniker?  Because every component of this cake is infused with coconut: the cake, the filling, the frosting and of course the outside coating.  

If you're a coconut lover you definitely need to make this cake.  In the span of one week alone I made two of them, one to celebrate my Mom's birthday and another for my friend Angel's birthday. Admittedly you'll need to dedicate some time to the process - it's not something you can throw together in two hours - but the finished product is really worth the investment.

This cake actually combines elements from two sources: Bobby Flay and Cook's Illustrated.  I've made each recipe separately but then thought marrying the two would result in the ultimate cake...I wasn't wrong! 

Halloween Giveaway Winner

The winner of the McCormicks kit is Comment #22 from Jess, who's favorite Halloween candy is Milky Ways.  Thanks to everyone who entered!

October 14, 2011

Candy Corn Cupcakes and a Halloween Giveaway

If ever there was a king of Halloween candy it's got to be candy corn.  Love them or hate them they've been around since the 19th century and I think they're here to stay.   

Candy corn may not be my personal favorite, they were normally the last things to be eaten from my trick-or-treat loot bag, but I think I've reinterpreted them in a fun way with these cupcakes.  How great would these be for kids or kids at heart to make?   

To make my life easy I used a mix for the cake.  Don't judge!  I grew up on them and look how I turned!   

Now to the Halloween giveaway.....

The nice people at McCormick sent me their "Tricks for your Treats" kit to sample.  And the best part is I was able to procure another kit to give away to one of my blog readers.  If you love Halloween baking this is right up your alley!  

Here are just some of the things included in the kit: food colors, cupcake liners, a silicone baking mat, an oven mitt and a Le Creuset silicone spatula.

To enter, just answer the following question in the Comments section of this post by 12pm PST Monday October 17th.  The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on October 18th.  

What's your favorite Halloween candy?

RULES: Only one entry per person and you must leave your email address in the comment.   In addition McCormick's cannot ship to P.O. Boxes so be sure you have a physical mailing address in the US

October 4, 2011

French Silk Chocolate Pie

This French Silk Chocolate Pie was recently featured on an episode of Cook's Country TV.   There was something so nostalgic and retro about it that, despite my apprehension about pies, I had to make it.   

In the world of baking my Achilles' heel always seems to be pies.   You know why?  The darn crust!  I could never get it right, until now!  Cook's Illustrated has a foolproof pie crust that really does live up to its name...seriously it should be called idiot-proof.  And the funny part is that it includes vodka in the recipe, yes, vodka...genius!

I'm not sure where the "French" comes in to play, but perhaps it's describing the texture.  The chocolate filling is so silky smooth, light and delicious...any chocoholic will fall in love with it.   And don't get me started on the crust!

October 1, 2011

Hi-Hat Cupcakes

My friend Brian's birthday was a few weeks ago and as a belated gift I wanted to make him some sweet treats.  I first saw these hi-hat cupcakes on Martha Stewart and they've been on my "must-make" list for quite some time.  Aren't they fun and whimsical?

You can personalize hi-hats with any flavor combination you want for the cupcakes and frosting.  The original recipe uses seven minute frosting, but I'm not much of a fan because it's a bit too sweet for my taste.  Instead I used chocolate swiss meringue buttercream.    The main thing to remember is to pipe the frosting high!

Happy Birthday B!!!

September 24, 2011

Initial and Onesie Cookies

These are cookies I recently made for two separate orders, both in honor of some little ones.  The initial cookies are for the christening of a boy named Anthony and the onesie cookies are for shower for baby Madison.

September 20, 2011

Mango Almond Coconut Agave Granola

Don't you hate it when a product you love is suddenly discontinued?  I certainly do.  So when Bear Naked stopped making my absolute favorite granola, Native Mango Agave Almond, I was in disbelief.  Such a shame because it was the best store-bought granola I've ever tasted.

But no use crying, especially after the company confirmed to me that they weren't bringing it back to market.  To console myself I set out to make my own version.

I started with The Barefoot Contessa's granola recipe, which I've made many times before, and tweaked it a bit.  I think I came pretty close to Bear Naked's version.  My favorite way to enjoy it is sprinkled over a bowl of fresh fruit and greek yogurt.  A perfect way to start the day!

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