February 27, 2011

Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies

This month's Daring Bakers' challenge brought back wonderful memories of Lake Como for me.   My friends and I travelled there to attend our friend Christine's summer wedding in the charming town of Varenna.

You can't imagine how breathtakingly beautiful this place was - right out of a postcard.   Sun, lake and amazing Italian food...what could be better?  Unfortunately no sightings of George Clooney!

The best panna cotta I've ever had was at the restaurant of the hotel where we stayed, Hotel Villa Cipressi.  Creamy and silky smooth with lots of fresh berries -  I practically licked the glass clean it was so delicious.  This version comes pretty close - all that's missing is the Italian scenery.

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

February 26, 2011

Cake Pops

If I were to say Bakerella what immediately comes to mind?  Cake pops of course!  They're taking the blogging world by storm.  I got Bakerella's book last fall and I'd been meaning to try them out ever since.  The  book is chockablock full of so many creative ideas.   

The cake pops in the picture are lemon cake mixed with lemon frosting and then dipped in Ghiradelli white chocolate candy coating.  I thought the citrus flavors would balance out the sweetness factor.  Uh..not really.  No joke, cake pops are SWEET - we're talking "take me out of my misery and just yank out my molars."  

Readers of this blog probably already know I'm not a fan of overly sweet treats.  If you're like me then cake pops might not be the ideal dessert for you.  But they are so darn cute!  Baking crisis...what to do, what to do?  Got it...I'll just save them for the little ones!  No doubt they'll be delighted with the sugar rush.   Better them than me!

February 19, 2011

Ad Hoc White Cupcakes

I bought Thomas Keller's cookbook, Ad Hoc At Home, a few years ago with every intention of recreating their famous buttermilk fried chicken.  Well, I never got around to making it.  The thought of deep frying in my small kitchen was a bit too daunting (and messy!) for me.   Fortunately there are plenty of other delicious recipes in the cookbook to try.  

My goddaughter's christening is this spring and, just as I did for her mother's baby shower, I'm going to assemble a dessert table for the party.  The color theme is white - so clean and crisp and  perfect for such a special occasion.  

One treat I definitely want to serve are white cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting.  I've found some great recipes for homemade chocolate cupcakes but I haven't had much luck with white ones.  Unfortunately my favorite high ratio yellow butter cake doesn't translate well to cupcakes....I've tried a few times without any success.

So I turned to Ad Hoc At Home for inspiration.  White cupcakes are one of three cupcake recipes found in the cookbook; the other two are devil's food and carrot cake.  Anything from Thomas Keller has to be good and these cupcakes don't disappoint.   The cake is moist and delicious and they hold their shape really well.  I actually prefer them unfrosted but I dare not omit the buttercream for fear of a riot.

February 17, 2011

Angel Food Cake

What to do with all the egg whites I was left with after making a few batches of meyer lemon bars?   Normally I'd make macarons, but lately I've been feeling "been there, done that" about them.   

My friend Debbie at work mentioned that one of her favorite cakes was angel food.  Now there's a recipe that would require a lot of egg whites.  Perfect!

I started with Cook's Illustrated's cake recipe and tweaked it a bit by substituting lemon extract for the vanilla and almond extract.   Often times you'll find angel food is coyingly sweet  - the citrus would cut in to that a bit.  

The key to achieving a really tall cake is to sift the flour and sugar multiple times and to fold the batter gently.  It's time consuming but you'll see the pay off in the finished cake.

To serve, I keep it really simple - some fresh berries and you're good to go.

February 14, 2011

Virtual Valentines

Sending virtual hugs and kisses (and some mini red velvet cupcakes and chocolate macarons!) to those near and dear to me.



February 13, 2011

Meyer Lemon Bars

Being a Californian means you get really spoiled when it comes to the abundance of amazing fruits offered here year round.  When I'm hankering for something citrus-y I love to make meyer lemon bars.  Lucky for me both of my brothers and my parents have meyer lemon trees on their property that are never in want of fruit.    Buttery, crisp shortbread topped with refreshing and subtly-sweet curd filling....absolutely delicious!

You don't have to use meyer lemons for this recipe but if you can find them you won't regret it.  The sweetness of the meyer variety is a nice change from the lip-puckering tartness that you'd find with a regular lemon.    

Most recipes have you pour a concoction of lemon juice, eggs and sugar over a warm, partially-baked crust.  Easy enough - but the problem I find with this method is that the filling never seems to set properly even after the bars are baked and cooled.  Try slicing nice even squares and you get sticky and gooey pieces.  Not ideal.  What I love about this recipe is that the filling is pre-cooked, like a curd, and when baked further in the oven its silky smooth texture holds its shape beautifully.   

If you like citrus you can't go wrong with these meyer lemon bars.

February 1, 2011

Valentine Cookies

In lieu of cards I send my nieces, nephews and goddaughter Valentine cookies.  For this year's batch I decided to go the classic route - simple hearts frosted in pink and red.   To keep them from being too boring I sprinkled fine grained sanding sugar onto the still wet royal icing.  Once dried the cookies have this shimmer and sparkle that makes them really beautiful. 

If you're unsure of your cookie decorating abilities I highly recommend you try this technique.  It's low effort with a really high impact; kind of my mantra these days.  The packaging I chose follows that same principle.  All it takes are some cellophane bags, waxed linen, whimsical tags and you've got yourself a homemade Valentine that any loved one would be happy to receive.  

cellophane bags: Kitchen Crafts
pink waxed linen: The Caning Shop
Valentine's Day tags: Anders Ruff on etsy

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