December 7, 2013

Split-Second Cookies

You've probably seen these treats before on a Christmas cookie platter.  I never knew what they were called until recently when I found a recipe online.  Good thing too because they've become a new favorite!

If you're a fan of jam thumbprints then you'll definitely love split-seconds.  In fact, you may even like them better because they are so simple to make.  

November 1, 2013

Chocolate Espresso Dacquoise and a Cook's Illustrated Giveaway

I collect baking cookbooks like they're going out of style; I absolutely love them and get so many ideas and inspirations for this blog.  The most used and beloved book in my library, Baking Illustrated, is also the ugliest; a torn cover and well worn pages smudged and stained from flour, butter and chocolate are evidence of that.

You can't imagine how excited I was when I found out that America's Test Kitchen was publishing a follow-up, appropriately called The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book.  Would it be as good - dare I say better - than it's predecessor?   When America's Test Kitchen reached out to me to ask if I would like to review the book for the blog the answer was obvious and definite...YES!!!  Regular readers know I pretty much love all things from America's Test Kitchen, let's face it I'm a bit of a groupie!, so the probability of me not liking the new book were slim to none.

After staying up late one night to read through the entire book I can honestly say I wasn't disappointed in the least.  The Baking Book continues the successful formula synonymous with all ATK cookbooks; they do the testing (and hard work) and you get the fantastic results. With 450 delicious recipes, along with explanations and descriptions of why they work, home bakers of ALL levels, novice to expert, will find recipes to match their experience and comfort level.  Baking can be daunting but I can assure you that this cookbook makes it less so.


As a monthly online subscriber to Cook's Illustrated magazine I have previously made several of the recipes featured in the new baking book and I can tell you from personal experience they definitely work.  Among my favorites are these ones that I make repeatedly: Croissants (AMAZING!), Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes, Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake, Chewy Brownies and Blueberry Pie.   I was delighted to discover so many new recipes, especially the breads and pizzas!

To celebrate the publication of The Baking Book I decided to make a real showstopper of a dessert that I haven't previously made, Chocolate Espresso Dacquoise.  At first glance it looks like an intimidating recipe but in reality was actually quite straight forward.  I followed the instructions to the letter and the results looked just like in the book.   The crunchy, nutty meringue layered with bittersweet chocolate ganache and coffee buttercream was irresistible and surprisingly not too sweet.  On top of that the recipe is 100% gluten-free.  Think I'll be making it again for the holidays!   Like I've said before, "ATK = SUCCESS!"

Now you can be witness for yourself...the nice folks at ATK have kindly offered to send a copy of The Baking Book to one of you!  

Here's how to enter:

Leave a comment to this blog post answering the following question:

What's your favorite thing to bake?  If you don't bake, what would you like to learn to bake?

IMPORTANT: You MUST include your email address with your comment; sorry, but that's the only way I can contact the winner.  Contest ends on Friday, November 8th at 11:59 PM PST.  One entry per person.  Open to US residents only.  Good luck!

Contest is closed!  The winner of the cookbook is Jan who loves to make cupcakes.  Thanks to all who entered!

October 26, 2013

Victoria Sandwich Cake

I'm obsessed with this British reality show on BBC2 called "The Great British Bake Off", aka GBBO.   Each week the UK's best home bakers compete in three challenges centered around a common theme, e.g., Breads, Tarts, Pastry.  From the formidable judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, to the hysterical presenters, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, I love everything about this show.   CBS tried it's own version this past summer, The American Baking Competition, but unfortunately it just didn't measure up.  

Sadly BBC America doesn't broadcast GBBO on this side of the pond so I've had to get my fix on YouTube.  The very first challenge in the latest series was to make a "sandwich" or layer cake.  Several of the competitors made the British classic, Victoria Sandwich, named after Queen Victoria herself.  Apparently this vanilla cake layered with jam and fresh whipped cream was an afternoon tea favorite of the sovereign.  

It couldn't be easier to make and visually I find it quite stunning in its simplicity.  Give it a go for yourself!

October 20, 2013

Pumpkin-Pistachio Roll

I love fall.   Not only does the weather turn crisp and my cashmere sweaters are in heavy rotation, but baking takes on a different tone.  While spring and summer may emphasize fresh fruits and cool temperatures, in the autumn it's all about warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Pumpkin is the quintessential fall flavor.  Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin whoopie pies - I love them all!  This pumpkin roll is one I'll be adding to the line-up.  I took the original recipe from Libby's and replaced the cream cheese filling with pistachio Swiss meringue buttercream.  Yes, I know cream cheese is traditional, but pistachio is a personal favorite of mine and I thought the two flavors would go well together.  I wasn't wrong...try it for yourself. 

September 27, 2013

Wannabe Raincoast Crisps

If you ever tasted Raincoast Crisps you probably had the same reaction I had, "OMG...these things are delicious and so addictive!" and then "I wish they weren't so expensive."  At about $10 for a small box they definitely weren't an everyday snack.  

Don't know why I didn't think of it sooner but I recently found an amazing recipe online that replicates these dried fruit and nut crisps perfectly.  In fact, a friend who I gave samples to said they tasted even better than the original!  Now if that isn't a seal of approval I don't know what is.   

I highly recommend you try making these yourself - they're so easy to recreate at home and cost a lot less too.  The crisps are really delicious with some cheese and fresh fruit jam.  The recipe is easily adaptable to whatever dried fruit and nut combination you like.  I split one recipe in half so I could have two flavors: fig/hazelnut and cranberry/pecan.  These crackers are fantastic served with your favorite cheese.  I plan on making tons to give as part of my holiday gifts.

September 21, 2013

Fresh Fruit Jam

On a recent visit with my family to Ad Hoc we were served, as the third course, a platter with nut-studded crisp crackers, various semi-firm cheeses and fresh fig jam.  The jam was simple and delicious and paired so beautifully with the cheeses that I was inspired to try fruit preserving when I got home. 

I was looking for an easy recipe because, let's face it, I have by bouts of laziness like anyone else.  It had to be a recipe that didn't call for huge quantities of fruit, sugar and a complicated canning and sealing process.  Who has time for that anyway?  

Naturally I turned to my friends at Cook's Illustrated who had a recipe for Easy Fresh Fruit Jam.  Three ingredients was all that was required: fruit, sugar and lemon juice.   Fifteen minutes later and I had an amazing preserve that could possibly even rival Ad Hoc's.

P.S. You can find the recipe for Cat Head Biscuits (in the picture above) from Cook's Country.  They taste amazing and are excellent with the fruit jam!

P.S.S. I love how the jam looks in these Weck mini mold canning jars.  I bought mine at Williams-Sonoma

September 2, 2013

Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova

If you're not familiar with them, pavlovas are a renowned dessert from New Zealand and Australia named in honor of a celebrated Russian ballerina.  Amongst all of the numerous cakes and treats  served at PG's 70th birthday bash this summer it was the Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova that was devoured first.   The combination of crispy, crunchy chocolate meringue topped with billowy whipped cream and fresh raspberries proved irresistible for the guests.   Ironically enough, the maker of said dessert (otherwise known as me) didn't have a chance to taste it for herself. 

Can you guess what I wanted to make as soon as I got home?  Yep, you got it!  With my first bite of its lusciousness I was in heaven.   Now I see what all the fuss was about.  I'll definitely be making it again!

Special tusen takk to Anne Marie for introducing me to this recipe.

July 23, 2013

Morning Buns

When it comes to baking you could say I've been around the block a few times, several laps in fact.  With decades of experience you'd think I had the right to be so arrogant.   Hardly!   It's the things I don't know that are humbling and continue to keep me coming back for more.   There's nothing better than discovering something I've never heard of or made before.

That was the case when I saw this recipe for Morning Buns on an episode of Cook's Country.   Perhaps sub-consciously I was familiar with them, but they never registered before.  Learning that they were a hybrid of a croissant and cinnamon roll definitely brought them top of mind.  

In place of laminated dough this recipe uses quick puff pastry, definitely a lot easier to make yet still achieving flaky layers.   There is some advanced preparation required but it's mainly from chilling the rolled and cut dough in the fridge.  

The buns were very easy to make by hand and baked up quite nicely.  To be honest though, quick puff pastry is not my favorite.  While the buns were buttery and flaky I still prefer a traditional croissant dough.  So the next time I make my favorite croissant dough I'll save a portion of the dough to make morning buns. 

July 9, 2013

NPR Lemon-Lime Pie

An email a while back from my sister, "Heard this lemon pie story on NPR and it sounds delicious and easy."  For those of you who may not be fluent in "big sister", allow me to translate:  "Can you make this pie for me - because I'm lazy and besides, you love to bake anyways." Luckily for her she's right, on both counts.

I was definitely intrigued by the recipe for Atlantic Beach Pie.  The filling is similar to one for key lime pie and requires basically only three ingredients: condensed milk, egg yolks and fresh lemon or lime juice.  The twist is the crust that's made with saltine crackers.  Hmmmm...salty and sweet - definitely promising.  

Could a pie this easy to make with so few ingredients be the real deal?  I had my reservations, but when I brought it to a recent family BBQ it was unanimously given the thumbs up.  Almost unheard of from such a large group of self-appointed food critics.

The tart filling wasn't as sweet as I had thought and the salty cracker crust was the perfect counter balance to it.  I think it's an ideal dessert after a heavy meal.   I'll definitely be making it again and again!  Could this be a case of "sister knows best"?  I shudder to!

June 20, 2013

Soft Pretzels

I had a craving for soft pretzels - you know, like the kind you get at the mall.   But since I didn't want to make the long trek to the galleria I figured I'd make them myself.   Found a recipe online and in about two hours I managed to satisfy my craving for carbs and salt.   Eat your heart out Auntie Anne's!

June 9, 2013

Raspberry Pistachio Cheesecake

I've made cheesecake before but felt compelled to make this particular one for purely superficial reasons.  I just loved how it looked in the picture.  The recipe comes from The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook.  The red raspberries were such a beautiful complement to the verdantly green pistachios.  Plus, pistachios are one of favorite nuts so that pretty much sealed the deal. 

Most cheesecakes are baked in a removable bottom pan - not this one.  Instead you use a regular cake pan so no need for aluminum foil and possibly leakage.  I admit I was a bit skeptical about how "easy" the baked cake would release from the pan but I followed the instructions and didn't have any issues.  Thank goodness!  

I want to wish one of my dearest friends (and mother to my goddaughter) a very Happy Birthday!  Gratulerer med dagen Gullet!!!

June 1, 2013

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit dear friends in Seoul.  It was the middle of August and the humidity and heat were pretty unbearable.  Luckily we had guests passes to the fantastic pool at the Grand Hyatt and used the facilities quite often.  

After a day of swimming and sunbathing my favorite thing to do was visit the on-site hotel bakery and buy their delicious panna cotta, served in these adorable glass jars.  The cool and creamy cooked cream covered with fruit coulis was the perfect way to beat the heat.  

My version of panna cotta includes buttermilk in the recipe. The slight tang of the buttermilk beautifully complements the jam topping.   It's the perfect light dessert to enjoy this summer!

P.S. The jars in the photos are the ones I collected from my Seoul trip...I ate my fair share of panna cotta!

May 25, 2013

Morning Glory Muffins

Why is it that nowadays some places have the chutzpah to refer to massive un-frosted cupcakes as "muffins"?  Have you stopped by the bakery department of your local Costco lately?  You know which ones I'm talking about.

In search of something more to the core of what a muffin should be I was really happy to find this recipe from Cook's Country.  I'd never heard of Morning Glory Muffins before but with ingredients that included carrots, coconut, walnuts, apples and pineapples it sounded delicious and healthy to boot.  Full disclosure: I'm a sucker for anything with pineapple and coconut!

I made these for Mother's Day breakfast recently and they got the thumbs-up.  How could they not?  They met all of Mom's requirements: not too sweet, moist and super flavorful. 

May 12, 2013

Coffee Crunch Cake

By the time I moved to San Francisco Blum's pastry shops had been long closed, but their desserts continued to live on.  My sister told me about their most famous creation, Coffee Crunch Cake, and brought me a slice from Yasukochi's Sweet Stop in Japantown.  

Coffee-flavored desserts aren't really a favorite of mine, but the combination of sponge-y lemon scented vanilla cake frosted with whipped cream and covered with light, airy honeycomb textured coffee candy was divine.   I had to see if I could make it for myself.

Luckily I didn't have any trouble finding a recipe online, one that was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle.   Overall the cake was delicious and very well-received.  The only adjustments for next time would be to make an oil-based chiffon for the cake and to use stronger coffee, like espresso, for the coffee flavor to really come through in the crunch. 

April 7, 2013

Meyer Lemon Icebox Cheesecake

Spring is finally in the air!  I shouldn't complain because here in San Francisco we haven't had anywhere near the snow and rain storms that the East Coast has experienced.  But still, you better believe I'm loving the sunny weather we've seen over the last few days.  I hope it's here to stay.

What better way to celebrate than with a dessert that's light, refreshing and citrus-y?  I'm a sucker for anything lemon so I've been hankering to make this Lemon Icebox Cheesecake from Cook's Country for quite some time.   My version uses delicious meyer lemons, my favorite variety.

I've made CC's icebox cheesecake for this blog before, but the addition of lemon was the main draw and this recipe is bursting with it.  From the use of lemon sandwich cookies in the crust, rather than the typical graham crackers, to a homemade lemon curd mixed in to the filling and decorated on top.  Get ready to pucker up and celebrate the season!    

March 26, 2013

Lamb Sugar Cookies

Can't sleep?  Well, you definitely won't have trouble catching some zzz's after counting these little cuties!

I first saw these little lamb cookies on Martha Stewart and immediately pinned them to my Easter Pinterest board.  They are super simple to make and decorate in no time whatsoever.  I don't know any kid, or kid at heart, who wouldn't love to see these cookies in their basket.  And how cute would they be for a baby shower? 

March 22, 2013


Despite the extensive baking that I do for the most part I actually prefer store bought cookies.  Strange isn't it?  For me it's all about the "process" of creating rather than the end result.  By the time the cookies have been baked I've already mentally moved on to the next challenge.

Back to the store bought old-fashioned favorite are Nabisco Ginger Snaps.  Ginger is one of my favorite spices and I love it in savory or sweet things.  When Cook's Illustrated published a recipe for these crispy, spicy cookies with a double dose of ginger (fresh and ground) I wanted to give them a try and see how they compared to Nabisco's.  

No competition whatsoever.  The homemade version was so much better than the boxed variety.  The ginger flavor really comes through without being too overpowering.  Absolutely perfect with a cold glass of milk!

March 1, 2013

No-Knead Brioche

Any time a recipe sounds too good to be true there's always a bit of skepticism on my part.  BUT, and this is a huge but, any doubt is essentially erased when we're talking about a Cook's Illustrated recipe.   Why?  Because I know they've done all the leg work for me and I'm pretty much guaranteed success.

It's always a red-letter day when the newest issue of the magazine is published online.  I find myself giddy as a child combing through the site for the latest recipes - first and foremost for the baking ones.   When I spotted the recipe for No-Knead Brioche I earmarked it as a definite must-do.

I've made Mark Bittman's dutch oven version of no-knead bread before with great success but I was intrigued if a similar technique would work for brioche.   Indeed it does!  Traditional brioche isn't difficult to make but does require some effort.  This version is fantastic if you don't have a lot of time but still want the same delicious end product.   Now that I know how easy brioche can be to make I predict that brioche bread pudding may be in my future.....stay tuned!

February 23, 2013


I kid you not, I've been waiting a year to make these hamantaschen, the traditional cookie served during the Jewish holiday of Purim.   Don't laugh but it was actually Costco that introduced me to these delicious treats.  Gotta love the weekend samples! 

Given my inexperience with the triangular shaped cookies I turned to the internet for help.  There were a few recipes online but none that really caught my eye so I ended up improvising by using a simple shortbread recipe and Solo apricot cake and pastry filling.  My interpretation of hamantaschen may not be as authentic as your Bubbe's but for now I think they're pretty darn good!

Happy Purim!

February 18, 2013

Orange Chiffon Cake

After much success with the coffee version I have to say I'm on a bit of a chiffon cake kick.  I just can't seem to get enough of this delicious, light and fluffy cake.  So when I was visiting my parents this weekend and saw the gleaming, ripe oranges hanging from their backyard tree I instantly knew what the next chiffon flavor should be.

The only tweak I made to the Cook's Illustrated recipe was adding a tablespoon of orange zest to the glaze.  It was my humble attempt to replicate the icing that came with Pillsbury Orange Sweet Rolls, one of my favorite breakfast treats when I was a kid. 

February 8, 2013

Coeur à la Crème

Looking for an alternative to the typical chocolate Valentine dessert?  Something light and refreshing with lots of flavor, not to mention French...oh la la?  Then you must try coeur à la crème, literally "heart of cream."  

What is it?  A traditional French dessert that is akin to a crustless no-bake cheesecake, but a whole lot easier to make.  All you do is whip cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla  until light and fluffy.  The mixture is then spooned in to lined heart-shaped molds and refrigerated.  After a few hours the cheese is unwrapped on to a plate and served with berries.  C'est tout!  Couldn't be simpler or more delicious!

February 2, 2013

Coffee Chiffon Cake

A very Happy Happy Birthday to one of my best friends, Gracie, who is celebrating her birthday today! 

As is my tradition I made her a birthday cake to celebrate the special day, normally red velvet or chocolate.  Imagine my surprise this year when she requested something new - a coffee cake - and not the breakfast variety I initially thought, but a cake that was coffee flavored. there's one I haven't really made before.

I knew I wanted to make something that wasn't too heavy or sweet.  Maybe this was the perfect occasion to attempt a chiffon cake.  I don't have much experience making them and have been hankering to try Cook's Illustrated's version for a while now.  

Those unfamiliar with this type of foam cake will find that it's very much like a combination of angel food cake and butter cake.  The secret to the light and airy texture is the use of vegetable oil and lots of eggs (yolks and whipped whites.)  To finish off the cake I frosted it with coffee swiss meringue buttercream.

Based on the yummy crumbs I sampled I predict Gracie will be very happy with this year's cake.
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