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!

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