December 5, 2014

Lemon-Ginger Icebox Cake & a Giveaway

When BelGioioso asked me if I wanted to create a recipe for a traditional dessert "with a twist" using their mascarpone cheese I was more than happy to accept the challenge.   The first thing that came to mind was an icebox cake made with lemon and ginger.  This dessert is not only easy to assemble but also really light and refreshing.  I highly recommend you give it a try.  You can find the recipe on culture's website.  

As an added bonus BelGioioso was generous enough to host a giveaway to my blog readers.   One lucky person will win a gift package with an assortment of their cheeses.  I speak from experience when I say they all taste delicious!

Here are the giveaway rules:

1) Only open to residents with a mailing address in the continental US (i.e., no Alaska or Hawaii addresses.)

2) Leave a comment to this blog post.  You must include your email address in the comment in order to be entered.   Sorry, but that's the only way I'll be able to contact the winner. 

3) Only one entry per email address.  

4) Giveaway ends on Thursday December 11 at 11:59PM PST.  Winner will be selected from all eligible entries on Friday December 12.

UPDATE: The randomly selected winner from the eligible entries was Comment #1.  I'll be emailing you directly for your information.  Thanks again everyone for participating! 

November 30, 2014

Top Crust Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are one of my favorite bar cookies and I definitely prefer them over the more popular brownie.  I have a tried and true recipe that I've turned to without fail.  Now don't get me wrong, I love it, but my only gripe is that I whenever I dust the top with powdered sugar it inevitably melts in to a sticky goo - not so pretty. 

My co-worker raved about the fabulous lemon bars from Devil's Teeth Baking Company and brought one in for me to try.   Their lemon bar was different from ones I'd tasted (or made) before.  This bar had a crispy and brown top "crust" that allowed the powdered sugar that was sprinkled on top to stay dry.  

I searched online to see if Devil's Teeth might have a recipe posted but to no avail.  By happy coincidence I was watching some baking videos by one of my favorite websites, Woodland Bakery Blog, and saw a recipe for lemon bars.  Even better, I could tell from the video that they had a top crust.  Eureka!  I tried the recipe and while the filling was exactly what I was looking for I found the crust to be a bit too soft.  So I combined my favorite shortbread recipe with this new filling to come up with a lemon bar that had a crispy bottom AND top crust! 

November 11, 2014

Pierre Hermé Pistachio Macarons

It only took about three years for me to finally get around to testing out Pierre Hermé's Macarons cookbook.  Call it procrastination if you like, but more than likely it was really macaron burnout on my part.  To say that I was maniacally obsessed with these French petit fours a few years ago is an understatement;  I was a fanatic and making them constantly.  It was great for my co-workers because I was bringing the macaron trials in to the office but after I found a fairly reliable recipe I stopped pretty much cold turkey.  

So what brought me out of hibernation after more than a year?  My brother's order of 200+ macarons in six different flavors.  Yikes!  I had been putting his order off for a few months and it finally got to the point where I couldn't delay any further.  

Up until that point I was using a macaron recipe that was French meringue based, i.e., no sugar syrup required.   Yes, it had its ups and downs but all the Italian meringue based recipes I previously made were far too sweet. It probably wasn't the most opportune time to try a new Italian meringue recipe, even if it was Pierre Hermé's, but I figured  if not now, then when?

My first attempt had to be Pierre's pistachio macarons, my absolute favorite flavor.   In hindsight had I known how fantastic and consistent his recipe was I would have converted ages ago!   Hermé is all about the filling which is where the real flavor of the macaron comes from and I couldn't agree more.   For the pistachio ganache I found this fantastic pure pistachio paste online that was 100% nuts, no added sugar.  Even better the company is based in the Central Valley of Northern California, miles from where I grew up!  

I highly encourage you to give this recipe a try if you want professional looking macarons from your own kitchen!

November 9, 2014

Cream Cheese Butter Cake with Raspberry Buttercream

Recently I received "The Baking Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum as a birthday gift from my sister and I tell you I couldn't wait to dig in.  I already own one of her other famous tomes, "The Cake Bible" and I knew her latest publication would be equally fantastic.  

The first recipe that caught my attention was for Cream Cheese Butter Cake.  The accompanying photo in the book looked so simple and inviting - a small square piece of white cake frosted with lemon curd buttercream.   No one does a white cake better than Rose.  She uses a reverse creaming method which produces a fine, moist and tender crumb that tastes surprisingly light. 

Unfortunately I didn't have much success with the lemon curd buttercream included in the recipe.  It didn't quite set up to the firm texture that I was hoping for.  Probably because I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have when I was making the recipe.  Oh well, I'll definitely need to revisit it another time.  But luckily I had some leftover vanilla buttercream that I embellished with fresh raspberry puree to frost the cake with.    All it needed was a fresh raspberry on top and I had the perfect snack cake.

October 5, 2014

Tartine's Passion Fruit and Lime Bavarian Cake

Tartine Bakery's fame extends not only within San Francisco but other parts near and far.  They received a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2008 which is like an Academy Award in the culinary world.  So it was extremely gratifying for me when I was able to replicate, at home, one of their most popular cakes.  

I had my first taste of the Passion Fruit and Lime Bavarian a few weekends ago with my sister.  Yes, there was a line when we got there - as there always is - but in the end waiting for 30 minutes was so worth it.  One bite of the moist chiffon cake filled with tart passion fruit bavarian cream, covered with lightly sweetened whipped cream and coconut shavings and I was hooked.   I had to try and make it for myself and lucky for me Tartine included the recipe in their eponymous  cookbook.

 The cake was perfect to bring to a family gathering to celebrate my Mom's birthday.  As I've mentioned before my people don't care for overly sweet desserts so I thought this cake was the ideal choice.   Boy was I right.  My family loved the cake, although one of my brothers said it was too tart - hmmm, there's always one dissenter in any big   My sister commented that the cake tasted exactly like the one we bought at Tartine, surely confirmation that this recipe was a winner!

While the ingredient list and instructions may seem long the actual creation of this dessert was pretty straight forward.  Make the chiffon and passion fruit filling, assemble the layers and frost.  I spread the process over several days to make it more manageable.  In the recipe you end up with an extra layer of chiffon so I made little parfait versions of the cake in glass Weck canning jars.  I'd seen desserts presented like this at my favorite restaurant, ad hoc, and thought it was such a great idea.  

Stay tuned to this blog as I'm sure I'll be creating more fabulous treats from Tartine!

August 31, 2014

Bee Sting Cake | Bienenstich

Bee Sting Cake.  The name of this dessert intrigued me when I saw it in the Oct/Nov 2014 issue of Cook's Country.  And where there is intrigue there is inevitably a strong inclination to action so I had to make it.  It's German in origin, Bienenstich, and is basically a honey and almond coated brioche cake filled with vanilla pastry cream.   

My family prefers desserts that aren't too sweet so this cake fit the bill perfectly.  They're favorite part, and mine, was the delicious and crunchy honey almond topping.  I could just eat that alone.   Oktoberfest is just around the corner and if you need a cake to accompany your beer and pretzel why not give this bee sting a try?

July 29, 2014


Call me crazy, it certainly wouldn't be the first time.  My sister says I'm the only one she knows who would even attempt to make baguettes.  But I ask myself, why should that be?  Yeah, ok, chalk them up as one of those things that you leave to the experts.  I get it.  However, I'm a home baker who is constantly looking to grow and challenge my skills so I say bring it on. 

Don't mistake my confidence for arrogance.  My self-assurance can solely be attributed to the fact that I was using a Cook's Illustrated recipe.   They've tested it countless times and I knew I was going to get fantastic results.  I was lucky enough to get a preview copy of the recipe which is now available in the Sep/Oct 2014 issue of the magazine.  Ok, I admit it, basically I begged them relentlessly until they gave up.   Tenacity has its benefits..hehehe.  

The ingredients are few and the instructions are long but don't be scared!  Just read through it several times and pay close attention to the accompanying pictures.  I found they help a lot.    If you have access to the online recipe you definitely need to watch the video! 

I've never made baguettes before and I have to say I was really impressed with how they turned out.   Although next time I'll be a bit more assertive when I use the lame to slash the formed dough so that the openings on the top of the baked baguette are more pronounced.  My skeptical sister even said they looked like they were from a bakery!  

I've eaten my fair share of baguette, especially after having lived in a France in my youth, and I can honestly say the bread was absolutely delicious.  Will my baguette be gracing the presidential table at the Elysées Palace any time soon?  Ummm, highly unlikely, but they'll definitely be most welcome at my table anytime.   

June 22, 2014

Icebox Oreo Cheesecake

I'm such a huge fan of Instagram.  Ever since I signed up for my account I check it daily, most times hourly!, for ideas and inspiration.   That's where I saw this Icebox Oreo Cheesecake from meringuedesigns, using a Cook's Country recipe.  The cookies and cream cake looked so good I had to make it for myself.   Another big plus was that it required absolutely no baking, not even for the crust, which is ideal for summer.  Love that!


I've made a few no-bake cheesecakes on this blog before but they all used gelatin to get their firmness.  This recipe uses a homemade pudding and white chocolate to mimic the velvety texture of a baked cheesecake.    It really couldn't have been easier to make so I highly recommend you give it a try.

June 12, 2014

Ultimate Banana Bread

In my experience bananas can be somewhat of a controversial ingredient in the baking realm.  I've found  that people are very divided: either they love it or absolutely hate it.   I myself fall in to the latter group, although strangely enough I don't like fresh bananas in baked goods, e.g., banana cream pie.   Maybe it's because the fresh fruit tends to turn brown, but I digress.

Here's the ne plus ultra banana bread from America's Test Kitchen.   Admittedly you will need to exert a bit more effort than in other recipes, but I guarantee you that the extra work is definitely worth it.  This quick bread has a deep, intense banana flavor while retaining a moist and tender crumb.   It's a winner!

June 2, 2014

Graduation Cap Sugar Cookies

These cap cookies are from a recent order for some friends who have two kids (!) graduating from college this year.   I'm really quite happy with how they turned out especially since the most challenging part was trying to get the royal icing to match the school colors as closely as possible.   I don't really have a tried and true technique for color matching; half the time it's by sheer luck.  Good thing it worked out this time!  

To all the graduates of the Class of 2014....CONGRATULATIONS!

May 25, 2014

Liege Waffles

Apparently I've got waffle on the brain because this is my second post about them this month.   While the Norwegian Vaffler are thin and pliable, their Belgian counterparts are anything but.  Inspiration to make Liege Waffles came from my cousin-in-law Cheryl who posted a picture of them on her Instagram account a few weeks ago.  

In the US most people are familiar with "Brussels waffles", aka Belgian waffles, but these Liege ones are a little different.  They're sweeter, denser and chewier than their well-known cousin.  The butter laden brioche-style batter is studded to the brim with chunky pearl sugar which melts and caramelizes on the outside when the waffles cook.   DELICIOUS!!!

My preference is to enjoy them plain but they're also the perfect base for other toppings like whipped cream or fresh fruit.   I've never had the pleasure of enjoying these treats in their native land, but I hope to one day.  In the meantime this version will more than suffice...and you don't need a passport to enjoy them! 

May 18, 2014

Strawberry Cupcakes

We Californians are definitely spoiled, from the beautiful weather to the overabundance of delicious fruit and veg.   I grew up in the central region of the state, specifically the San Joaquin Valley, and my parents continue to make their home there.   On my last two visits I made it a point to stop by the local stand near the house where miles and miles of strawberry fields thrive under the sun.  The strawberries are some of the most amazing that I've ever had, as sweet as candy.  They're picked daily so you know you're getting the fruit at the height of its deliciousness.

With all this luscious fruit I was looking for a recipe to showcase their wonderful flavor.  I remembered seeing a recipe for Strawberry Dream Cake in Cook's Country that would foot the bill.  But since I didn't feel like making a layer cake I converted them to cupcakes.  I used a different recipe for the frosting than the one included in the cake recipe.  I had fantastic results with the Easy Vanilla Frosting in the past so I tweaked it slightly by adding strawberries.  AMAZING!  It tasted exactly like strawberry ice cream.    

May 17, 2014

Vaffler (Norwegian Waffles)

In honor of today, syttende mai or the "17th of May", I'm making one of my all-time favorite Norwegian treats - vaffler.  These aren't the American style waffles that are eaten at breakfast with maple syrup.    Rather, these are soft and pliable and eaten as a snack.  

You'll find vaffler all over Norway: at the 7-11 convenience store, coffee shops and even the airport, but I like homemade ones the best.  My Norwegian family loves to eat their waffles with brunost, a sweet brown goat cheese, but I prefer mine with a little dollop of Nora raspberry jam

The batter comes together super quickly and you MUST use a heart-shaped waffle iron.   The recipe calls for cardamom which is used throughout Nordic baking and gives the waffles a truly authentic taste.  


May 10, 2014

Summer Berry Chiffon Cake

This Summer Berry Chiffon Cake instantly called out to me when I saw it in the June/July 2014 issue of Cook's Country, almost as if I was being taunted to make it.  Hahaha...obviously it worked.  Now that we're at the tail end of spring and on the cusp of summer this cake is perfectly apropos to make, especially with all the bountiful berries at the farmer's market.  

What sets this apart from other cakes is the easy to make, homemade jam filling that is spread between the layers of chiffon cake and cream.    The jam gives you an intensive burst of berry goodness which perfectly complements the refreshing whipped cream.   Delicious!  

I dedicate this cake to all the moms in my life - Happy Mother's Day!!!

May 4, 2014

Tres Leches Cake

Need a delicious cake to celebrate Cinco de Mayo (or any occasion for that matter)?  You've got to try this Tres Leches Cake from Cook's Country.   If you're not familiar with this Mexican dessert it's a sponge cake that is soaked in three types of "milk" (heavy cream, condensed milk and evaporated milk) and frosted with lightly sweetened whipped cream. 

I'm not a fan of versions that are completely drenched in milk; so much so they leave a puddle of liquid on your plate.   Rather, I prefer mine to be moist, not mushy.  This recipe gets it right.  

I've included the full recipe here which makes a 9x13 inch cake, but for the blog I made half the recipe and baked it in an 8x3 inch round cake pan.   Came out great!  

Note: Be sure to use all the milk mixture when you soak the baked cake.  I didn't (had about 1/4 cup of the liquid leftover) and found that I had a few dry pockets in the cake.   

April 6, 2014

Gluten-Free Funfetti Vanilla Cupcakes

I'm making my way through ATK's amazing newest publication,  The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook,  and this weekend I decided to give their birthday cupcakes a go.  It's a basic vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting, but I funfetti-d them by adding rainbow sprinkles to the cake batter.  

If you have children who are gluten intolerant you MUST make these cupcakes for their next birthday party.  The cake itself was moist and delicious and their easy vanilla frosting tasted just like whipped vanilla ice cream.   

So far I'm batting 1000 with every recipe I've tried so far.  I can't sing it's praises enough.  Run, don't walk, to buy it!  Check out this site for a few of the recipes including buttermilk waffles, light and fluffy biscuits and chocolate chip cookies.

March 30, 2014

Gluten-Free Strawberry Tartlets

Just a quick post this time!  I spent the weekend trying out more recipes from ATK's How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook.  I don't have a gluten intolerance yet I find myself drawn to these gluten free treats.  Why?  Because you seriously can't tell!!   The chocolate layer cake I made the other week was so unbelievable that I was anxious to give the other recipes a go.  Luckily I had some pastry cream in my fridge and it made absolute sense to try out the tart shell recipe.  I tell you it's spot the kind you'd find at any patisserie.  The perfectly crumbly sablée-like crust is the ideal foundation for the pastry cream and fresh fruit.  Who needs Paris, or gluten for that matter???

Run, don't walk and get this cookbook!   Stay tuned for more testing....

March 16, 2014

Gluten-Free Chocolate Layer Cake and a Giveaway

Ask anyone who knows me really well and they'd probably tell you that calling me a skeptic would be quite apropos.   I can't help it if I don't believe something right off the bat, just my nature I guess.  Which is why I couldn't wait to get my hands on "The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook" when America's Test Kitchen asked me if I would like to do a review.   I was dying to find out for myself if their gluten-free recipes, especially the baking ones, were as incredible as they have touted.  Several people in my circle are gf and being able to bake for them without having to sacrifice taste and texture would be incredible.

I knew I had to test a baking recipe and it had to be something that I normally would never make from scratch without gluten.  I've dabbled a little bit in gluten-free baking before and although most of the results were pretty good they never really did compare to "normal" baking.  

A friend recently commented that I don't have enough layer cakes on my blog so I immediately honed in on the Chocolate Layer Cake.  Believe me when I tell you that this cake is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!  Not only does it bake up beautifully, with a tight and tender crumb, but it tastes just like a rich chocolate cake WITH gluten would!  I was completely stunned by how delicious it was.   To corroborate my findings I had a few friends blindly taste a slice and they enthusiastically gave it two thumbs up.  Then when I told them afterwards that the cake was gluten-free they were completely shocked...and kept on eating.  If that's not proof, I don't know what is!

I can't wait to try the other baked (and non-baked!) recipes; think the the pies are especially calling my name.   Trust me when I say that this cookbook is the real deal, but I should have already known that when it's coming from the folks at ATK!

One lucky reader will be randomly selected to receive their very own copy of The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook.  

To enter just leave a comment to this post.

IMPORTANT: You MUST include your email address IN your comment.  Entries without an email included in the comment will be disqualified!  Sorry, but that's the only way I can contact the winner.  Contest ends Sunday, March 23 at 11:59 PM PST.  One entry per person.  Open to US residents only.  Good luck!

CONTEST CLOSED.  Congratulations to comment #43 who was randomly selected among eligible entries.  Your cookbook will be arriving soon.

March 3, 2014

Galette des Rois (King's Cake)

Since it's Mardi Gras tomorrow I thought I'd post about the Galette des Rois (King's Cake) that I made a while ago.  Full disclosure: I had intended to make the cake at the beginning of January, just in time for Epiphany, but laziness got the better of me.  Luckily the cake is equally appropriate for Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent.  

My first introduction to galette des rois was in Dijon during my junior year study abroad.  I had moved over to France right at the beginning of January and all the bakeries were selling these frangipane filled puff pastry cakes.  I learned at school there was a fève, a figurine or trinket, buried inside each cake and whomever found it was crowned king or queen for the day.  

For my cake I used some homemade puff pastry and the filling came from David Lebovitz.  Most people don't have the time or inclination to make the laminated pastry from scratch, neither do I normally, so feel free to use the store-bought kind.   Be a little stingy when filling the cake with frangipane because you may end up with a bit of an explosion like I had!  In honor of the Lunar New Year I used a tiny ceramic horse to put inside. 

February 14, 2014

February 9, 2014


Bagels - chalk it up to one of those things I normally wouldn't make, since they're so easy to buy, but had to attempt at least once in my lifetime.  I turned to Cook's Illustrated's Baking Book for the recipe and had really fantastic results.  

The ingredients are few and the process is simple but you will need to plan ahead as the dough needs to proof at least 12 hours in the fridge.   Also, a stand mixer is an absolute necessity for this recipe since the dough is much stiffer and drier than normal breads.  

I admit that I don't see myself making bagels often, but if I'm ever hundreds of miles away from the nearest Noah's I've got it covered.    
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