March 28, 2012

Chocolate Eclair Cake

I live in constant fear that my gas oven will die on me.  It's happened before and for a baking fanatic like me it was my worst nightmare realized.  If you saw my oven for yourself you'd sympathize.  So can you blame me for always being on the lookout for no-bake desserts? 

My sister sent me this recipe for a chocolate eclair cake from Cook's Country a while back.   I'd never heard of it before but apparently it was quite well-known.   The no-fuss version is to layer a mixture of instant vanilla pudding and Cool-Whip between graham crackers, top the whole thing with ready-made chocolate frosting and refrigerate for a few hours.  Cook's Country amped it up big time by making everything, but the graham crackers, from scratch.

The flavors of the cake were great but I wish the graham crackers had held up their shape more, especially when it came time to slice.  Not sure how the folks at Cook's Country were able to get such nice, clean cuts because my crackers were kind of mushy.  Maybe next time I won't let the cake chill overnight; perhaps a few hours will suffice.

March 23, 2012

Quick and Easy Puff Pastry

If ever there was a Seven Wonders of the Baking World I think puff pastry, or pâte feuilletée, would have to be on the list.  It's one of the most versatile doughs you can work with for sweet and savory treats.   I grew up using the store-bought variety from Pepperidge Farm, a great product BTW, but wanted to try my hand at making it from scratch. 

Traditional puff pastry is very labor intensive and requires rolling and folding a butter block around a flour dough, similar to making croissants.  I'd heard about a quicker method where the butter is actually processed into the dough eliminating the need for lamination.  It sounded great but would the finished product really measure up?

When it doubt I always turn to the cooking and baking experts at Cook's Illustrated.  Their recipe for quickest puff pastry was supposed to deliver the multiple layers I was after in a dough that took 15 minutes to make.  Seeing is believing so off I went to test it for myself.

What can I say?  I'm definitely a believer!  The dough came together so quickly I thought it was too good to be true.  But the real test would be how the pastry performed in the oven.  I used the dough to make some French apple tarts and I couldn't believe how high they puffed.  The layers were so buttery, flaky and crispy.  All I can say is "Adios Pepperidge Farm...I've found something better."

March 20, 2012

TWD Irish Soda Bread

Appropriately for March comes this week's TWD recipe for Irish soda bread.  I used to work with an Irish colleague who would bring it in to the office every now and then.  I never managed to partake mainly because it just seemed so dense and heavy.    As I dove in to the Baking With Julia recipe I was hoping my preconceptions were off-base.

Ummm....not quite so much.  Now don't get me wrong, it wasn't terrible and it looked great, but I just wasn't feeling any love for the soda bread.  It sort of reminded me of a spongy communion wafer with fruit.  Apologies if I've offended any Irish folks out there or my devout Mom; maybe I just made a bad batch.   But if you'd like to make the Irish soda bread for yourself you can get the recipe at Chocolate Moosey and My Culinary Mission

March 17, 2012

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

For some of you pumpkin might strictly be an autumnal flavor but for me it's a favorite to be enjoyed year-long.  I absolutely love it in sweets - pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie - so delicious!  I successfully tackled chocolate whoopie pies last month so I wanted to try my luck with a pumpkin version.

The dilemma was finding a great recipe.  As I was researching online one name kept popping up, One Girl Cookies.  The pumpkin whoopie pies sold in their bakery are renowned in Brooklyn and beyond.   Unfortunately I've never had the pleasure of tasting them myself but I figured all those fans couldn't be wrong.  

As luck would have it they recently published their first cookbook which included the famous pies.  Score!  I tell you these whoopie pies are the real deal - moist, fluffy and with just the right amount of spices.  I was instantly smitten.   If you don't want them too sweet you should skip the filling recipe in the cookbook like I did and use cream cheese miracle frosting instead.  

Do yourself a favor - don't wait until October to make these, make them now!

March 15, 2012

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread

Rainstorms are loitering around San Francisco this week and when the weather gets like this it's definitely a sign for me to stay indoors and bake.  Not that I ever really need to find an excuse!


I wanted to make something that was quick and easy.  Luckily inspiration came courtesy of Martha Stewart when she was making chocolate-dipped shortbread on her show.  Dealing with chocolate seemed too messy so I flavored my cookies with lemon and thyme. 

Word of caution: whenever you infuse an herbal element in to a sweet I find it's best to use a light touch.  Otherwise you run the risk of the finished product tasting like scented soap...not so nice. This shortbread has just the right balance of citrus and herb without being too overpowering.  Wouldn't they be the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or glass of freshly-squeezed lemonade?  

Today is my dear friend Susanne's birthday so I wanted to wish her a wonderful day!


March 12, 2012

Our Lil' Monster Cookie Favors

These monster cookies are from a recent commission for a little boy's first birthday party and are meant to complement the LePoppy Design invitation found on etsy.   I love the blue and lime green color combination - it's one of my personal favorites.   The monster is too cute and reminds me of the Yo Gabba Gabba cookies I've made before. 

March 10, 2012

TREATS Goes to School... school that is, specifically the online cooking school from America's Test Kitchen!

When I first heard about the scholarships ATK was offering to five bloggers to attend their online cooking school I immediately applied.  Why, you may ask?  "Don't you already know how to cook?"  Well, yes and no.  Sure I can follow a recipe but I wouldn't say I'm an instinctual cook.  My cooking skills are no where near on par with my baking skills so that's why I decided to enter the contest.  If there's anyone that could elevate my abilities it would definitely be ATK.

Can you imagine how ecstatic I was when I found out I was chosen as one of the lucky winners?  I felt like I'd won the lottery!  So over the next year you'll have to excuse me if I take a slight detour now and then from baking-related posts.   I'm on a mission to become the next Top Chef - not really, but a girl's got to aim high, right?  Wish me luck!

March 9, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake

C and E came over for dinner recently so we could all catch up on the latest news (and gossip!).   Dinner was light fare by my standards, chicken tortilla soup, but dessert called for something more substantial.   As soon as I saw the ripe, juicy strawberries at the market I knew I had to make shortcakes for the girls. 

Strawberry shortcake is so simple to make and so delicious.  All you need are flaky, tender biscuits, sliced strawberries and lightly sweetened whipped cream - what could be easier?

C is gluten-intolerant so I made the biscuits with C4C flour and, as expected, they came out fantastic.  I've waxed poetic about this product before and I stand by my original testimony - I'm telling you, the stuff is truly amazing!  Instead of topping the strawberries with plain whipped cream I like to make it with cream cheese.  The slight tang of the cheese perfectly counterbalances any heaviness in the dessert.

When strawberry season is in full force you have to make these strawberry shortcakes.  You won't regret it!

March 6, 2012

TWD Rugelach

This week's TWD recipe is rugelach, a Jewish pastry traditionally formed in a crescent shape by rolling a triangle of cream cheese dough around a filling.  Inside you'd typically find cinnamon, nuts, chocolate or fruit.   

I strayed from the published recipe on two fronts: filling and shape.  Personally I'm not really a fan of cinnamon mixed with fruit, the exception being apples, so I skipped the filling recipe and instead used prepared jams: raspberry and mini chocolate chips or apricot and toasted walnuts.  Secondly I shaped my pastry the traditional way, as crescents, rather than rolling and slicing them.  Call me a baking rebel if you must.

I can't honestly say that I fell in love with the rugelach.  My reception to them was lukewarm at best but I did love how flaky the pastry was.  If you'd like to try the recipe for yourself you can find it in the Baking With Julia cookbook or head over to The Urban Hiker or My Baking Heart blogs.

March 1, 2012

Sour Cream Pecan Coffee Cake

Lucky for my wallet I'm not what you would call a Starbucks coffee fanatic - tea is more my poison.  But one thing that would always get me in their shop was the reduced-fat cinnamon swirl coffee cake.  Forget about it being low-fat, I was seriously addicted to the super moist butter cake with delicious bursts of cinnamon and brown sugar.  

At about $2/slice it was turning in to an expensive habit so I wanted to find a version I could make at home. When I first saw Never Enough Thyme's Sour Cream Pecan Coffee Cake on Tastespotting I had a feeling it was exactly what I was looking for.   One bite of the baked cake and I knew I struck gold.  Starbucks doesn't use pecans in their version, but I love the addition of the crunchy nuts in this recipe.  If you can believe it the coffee cake tastes even better after a few days.  Eat your heart out Starbucks!

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