December 27, 2015

Monkey Bread


This is my last post of 2015 and I think I'm ending the year on a really high note.  I don't exaggerate when I proclaim this Monkey Bread is absolutely A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!  I'm kicking myself for never trying to make it before.  Dare I say I may even prefer it over cinnamon rolls because it's so simple to make and so fun to eat.   

I've seen versions that use store bought bread dough but it's so much more delicious when you make it from scratch yourself.  This recipe from Cook's Country is easy to follow and would be great for the little ones to help with.


The yeasted dough is divided in to small pieces, rolled in melted butter, tossed in brown sugar and cinnamon and finally baked in a bundt pan.  The brown sugar and butter melts in to a yummy, gooey caramel that perfectly coats the bread.   How perfect would it be for breakfast or brunch?  

For those of you who want a smaller bread you can easily cut the recipe in half and bake in a small bundt pan.  That's what I did for the monkey bread in these pictures.  

Wishing everyone a wonderful new year!  Happy 2016!!!!


December 21, 2015

Cinnamon Walnut Babka


My introduction to Babka began with a Seinfeld episode.  The one where Jerry and Elaine are waiting to buy a chocolate babka for a dinner party but end up with a cinnamon one.  According to Elaine the cinnamon variety was the "lesser babka", but I beg to differ.

I liken babka to a Jewish version of brioche.  The yeasted dough is laden with lots and lots of butter for extra richness and filled with brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon.   Since I didn't have a recipe I turned to my friends at Cook's Illustrated for help.  Caution: I don't recommend attempting this babka without a stand mixer because of the amount of mixing and butter required in the dough. 


The rested and chilled dough rolled out beautifully and was super easy to shape.  After a rise at room temperature it baked in the oven for about an hour.  The smell of caramelized sugar, cinnamon and walnuts was hypnotic.  I'll be bringing these loaves to my parents to enjoy for Christmas.  I know they'll love it.

December 13, 2015

Holiday Cookies


Every year I love to make cutout cookies to celebrate the holidays and give as gifts.   Normally I stick to my foolproof sugar cookie recipe but this year I decided to add gingerbread to the mix.   And I'm so glad I did!  The dark molasses and spices from the gingerbread just scream Christmas to me.  

I found a great gingerbread recipe from one of my favorite blogs, The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle.  After an overnight chill in the fridge the dough is easy to roll out and cut.  The baked gingerbread is firm but still soft, if that makes sense, and the royal icing complements the cookies so nicely.


My theme for holiday decorations this year was red and white, like a candy cane stripe.   I decorated my tree with this scheme and all of my holiday baking and packaging followed suit.  I hope my friends and family will love it as much as I do!
 

December 6, 2015

Sugar Cookie Tree


I picked up this Wilton Cookie Tree Cutter Set from a Black Friday sale at Michael's and have been anxiously waiting to use it ever since.   To anyone who's ever said they aren't good at cookie decorating this project is for you.    It's super easy to make and the results are really professional looking.


I made a batch of my favorite sugar cookie recipe and cut out the different sized stars using the  cutters from the set. After the cookies were completely cooled I brushed on white royal icing then sprinkled the tops with clear sanding sugar.   Let the cookies dry overnight and then stack them to form your beautiful tree!  How simple is that?


November 26, 2015

Mandelbrot

 

I'm a fan of anything that isn't too sweet and these yummy Mandelbrot fit the bill.  These Jewish cookies are the perfect snack and a great accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea.  If you haven't heard of mandelbrot before they are very similar to Italian biscotti, except they're less likely to break your teeth!  

I found the recipe for these cookies on the blog, Goddess of Bakedom, from Sarabeth Levine.  She of her namesake jams, preserves and East Coast restaurants.   The literal translation of mandelbrot is "almond bread", but Sarabeth's version doesn't contain any nuts at all.   Rather, she fills her cookies with jam, which I think is a fantastic interpretation.  The dough can also be used to make another favorite Jewish cookie of mine, hamantaschen.  

I think my sugar-fearing relatives will definitely like these cookies.  They're going to be added to the list of holiday cookies I'm making this year.

November 15, 2015

Wellesley Fudge Cake


I may not have had the GPA or SAT scores to get in to Wellesley, the private women's liberal arts college in Massachusetts, but I will be bold and say that I possess enough of a culinary IQ to conquer their eponymous chocolate cake.   

 
Have you ever heard of Wellesley Fudge Cake?  I sure didn't until my search for an atypical chocolate cake lead me to this recipe on Cook's Country.  Who would have thought that this bastion of higher learning was also the origin for some impressive fudge?  

 
Bloomed Dutch-processed cocoa gives the cake its deep chocolate flavor and buttermilk makes it super moist.  Similar to how traditional fudge is made, the frosting is cooked on the stove top.   Even better, when the frosting cools completely on the cake it forms a really lovely crust.  With all that fudge you would assume this cake was overly sweet.  Fear not, it's far from it.  

So while my undergraduate degree may not bear the name of a famed Seven Sister at least my dessert will!

November 9, 2015

Butter Cookies and a Lesson in Tempering Chocolate


When I was a kid and it was Tết or the holidays I could normally count on a relative or family friend to bring a tin of Delacre Belgian Cookies to the house.  They were such a treat and my favorite cookie from the assortment was the long butter cookie dipped in chocolate.  I'm elated to report that I think I've been able to make a Butter Cookie that is a very legitimate replica at home.


I refrained from making these types of cookies for a long time because I knew it required tempered chocolate.  Believe me when I say chocolate work is my Archilles heel in the realm of baking.  Tempering just seemed to involve too much science, not to mention all the mess that goes along with chocolate.  

But it was while watching an episode of The Great British Bake Off that I finally gathered up the courage to give it a go.  The contestants were working on a chocolate challenge and I noticed that several bakers were using infrared thermometers to temper. Yep, the kind of infrared thermometer found in a  hardware or home improvement store.  How cool!

  
From a google search I found several techniques to temper chocolate on Valrhona's website, found here.  I ended up using the "seeding" method and got fantastic results.  It is true what they say - the tempered chocolate hardened in mere minutes at room temperature and was shiny and not tacky to the touch.  Why did I avoid it for so long when it was so easy?  Even better, there was no mess to clean up, just one glass bowl.     


The butter cookie recipe is from Gretchen's Bakery and is a basic spritz cookie, a holiday favorite of mine.  To shape the cookies you need either a cookie press or sturdy piping bag and decorating tip.  Just a forewarning though that if you use the piping bag, like I did,  make sure your hands and arms are strong because the dough is stiff.   Good exercise I say!

With my newfound confidence in tempering it's like a whole new world is opening up to me.   I'll say one thing though, these cookies will definitely be making it on this year's Christmas cookie list.

November 2, 2015

Butter Toffee Popcorn


My brother seems to think he's the king of caramel popcorn and while that may be true, in his mind at least, I will arrogantly declare that I am the queen of Butter Toffee Popcorn.  I had previously posted a recipe on this blog for caramel popcorn that, in retrospect, just wasn't up to par.   Then I found this recipe for butter toffee popcorn on Cook's Country and that all changed.  Thus began my self-proclaimed reign as popcorn sovereign.  Long live the queen!


This recipe is fantastic.  The only tweak I made was to substitute cashews for the peanuts.  I wanted to add a little extra decadence but I think using any kind of nut will work just as well.   

A note on the popcorn: I find I get the best results using fresh popped corn, not microwave popcorn.  My favorite way to make homemade popcorn is with the Whirley-Pop.  Just two ingredients, kernels and vegetable oil, and in less than 5 minutes you've got fluffy, crispy popcorn. 

I'm thinking of making this popcorn to give as gifts during the holidays - what a more appropriate accompaniment to my popular cashew toffee.  

October 31, 2015

Botanical Pumpkin Loaf Bread


When the weather starts to get a bit chilly I always seem to get the urge to make my favorite pumpkin bread.   My baking vessel of choice is Nordic Ware's Botanical Pumpkin Loaf Pan.   I absolutely love it!  [And no, they are not sponsoring this post.]  I bought this pan a while ago at Williams-Sonoma but unfortunately they don't sell it anymore.  They do sell something very similar though.  Luckily you can still find this  pan here on the Nordic Ware site.   

My go-to pumpkin bread recipe yields two loaves so I think that's the perfect excuse for me to buy another pan, don't you think?

October 11, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Rolls



It's beginning to look a lot like autumn.  I, for one, love this time of year.  The air is crisp and cool and I can finally break out the thick sweaters from storage.  My baking shifts to warmer undertones as well - spices like  cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves prevail.



Pumpkin is hands down my favorite fall ingredient.  Pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie...LOVE THEM!!  So when I saw Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls posted on Martha Stewart's Instagram I knew I was going to make them this weekend.


I started with Martha's recipe but modified it with a few tweaks of my own - replacing the cinnamon with pumpkin pie spice and filling the rolls with granulated sugar rather than brown sugar.   Icing is the best part of a great cinnamon roll and I used my go-to recipe which is made with heavy cream, melted butter and powdered sugar.

October 4, 2015

Tropical Carrot Cake


Here's another great recipe from Gretchen's Bakery - Tropical Carrot Cake.   I am a fanatic when it comes to pineapple and the addition of my favorite fruit in this cake really sends it to the next level.  The recipe calls for brown butter which makes the cake very moist and flavorful.   


Everyone loves cream cheese frosting and this version isn't too sweet, another big plus in my book.  I've made this cake twice in the last week and I'm planning to make it again soon for my Mom's birthday.  I have a feeling she's going to love it!


September 13, 2015

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cupcakes


Chocolate and Peanut Butter.  What flavor combination could be more All-American than those two?  Little did I know that it's popularity extended beyond the borders of the red, white and blue.   

Case in point: Before heading to a work conference in Basel this past summer I had asked my co-workers if they wanted anything from the US.  How surprised was I when they requested Reese's Peanut Butter Cups?   Really....Reese's?   Ironic since they live in a country that produces some of the best chocolate in the world.    



So I dedicate these Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cupcakes to my friends and colleagues in the CH.  The cupcakes are super easy to make (no mixer required) and the addition of sour cream in the batter makes the crumb really tender.  For an extra treat I put a miniature Reese's peanut butter cup in the center before baking.   As for the frosting, I could have gone the cynical route and made Swiss meringue, but instead I opted for fuss free American style buttercream.   
 

September 6, 2015

Kouign Amann 2.0


My first attempt at making Kouign Amann was five years ago and unfortunately I didn't have much success.  You can see my first blog post about them here.  At the time I just couldn't get the laminated dough right which resulted in squat and dense pastries.  C'est pas bon

But now I'm very happy to report that after all this time I finally found a recipe that REALLY works!!!  And the hero of this story is none other than Paul Hollywood, celebrity baker from England and a judge on my favorite baking show The Great British Bake Off.  These Breton beauties were the featured technical challenge in the "Pastries" episode of Season 5.


Little did I know that the key to success was to only add sugar to the very last turn of the laminated dough.  My problem in previous attempts was that I was putting sugar in every turn which ended up melting in between the dough/butter layers.  

The pastry rose and puffed up beautifully in the oven and the sugar melted to a lovely caramel.  I admit I baked them a bit too long (notice the burnt looking bits) and they got darker than I would like so next time I'll take them out about 3-5 minutes earlier.   


This recipe may not be for everyone, but anyone who wants to learn more about laminated dough should give it a go.  Find the link to the kouign amann recipe on BBC's website here.

September 1, 2015

German Chocolate Cake


Don't be fooled by its name because German Chocolate Cake has nothing whatsoever to do with Deutschland.   This yummy dessert consisting of layers of moist, chocolate cake filled with coconut-pecan icing is actually American in origin and named after chocolate-maker Sam German.  Apparently he formulated a dark baking chocolate that was used in the original recipe.  See, you learn something new every day! 


I find that most versions of German Chocolate Cake have cloyingly sweet frosting.  Not my cup of tea at all.   When I saw that the Cook's Illustrated recipe called for less sugar I knew I had to make it.    The cake is super moist (with the addition of sour cream) and the coconut-pecan icing provides a delicious, chewy and nutty contrast.  



 What I really like about this cake is that it doesn't require any decorating skills at all to achieve a beautiful finished product.  If you're a novice baker this is a great recipe to try.  No need for a decorating bag or fussy decorating tips.  Simply split the cooled cakes in half and fill with the icing.   It couldn't be easier!  This recipe works great as cupcakes as well if you want a different twist. 


August 25, 2015

Snickerdoodle Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwich


I was inspired to make these ice cream sandwiches after a recent work event where treats from CREAM were brought in.  They weren't the typical sandwiches you'd find pre-packaged in the ice cream aisle at your local market.  Rather, they sandwiched ice cream between two fresh-baked cookies.   I loved the concept and had to try and make them at home for myself.   

I posted the recipes for the snickerdoodles and strawberry ice cream on my blog earlier this week.  Don't feel limited to these flavors.  The cookie/ice cream combinations are endless: e.g., chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream, peanut butter cookie with chocolate ice cream, etc.   Let your imagination run wild!


August 24, 2015

Strawberry Ice Cream


After making these yummy strawberry cupcakes recently I still had quite a lot of fresh fruit left over that I didn't want to go waste.  What better use for it than in some ice cream?  You'd be amazed at how easy it is to make really delicious ice cream at home.  I do use an electric machine - I have a Cuisinart similar to this model - and it works like a dream. 


It literally only took the machine about twenty minutes to transform the custard base in to soft serve.  After a couple of hours in the freezer to firm up I had premium quality ice cream that would rival any from Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry's.   Give it a try for yourself...you won't regret it!


Stay tuned to see how I use this delicious ice cream for a yummy summertime treat!



August 23, 2015

Snickerdoodles


Oh Snickerdoodle...your name is so strange but your taste is so delicious.  I have no idea where the moniker for this cinnamon and sugar coated, crackly chewy cookie came from but it's so good.  A true American classic and one that  I actually prefer over the ubiquitous chocolate chip.  

I remember making snickerdoodles in my 7th grade Home Economics class.  Back then the only fat called for in the recipe was vegetable shortening (aka Crisco) but this upgraded version from Cook's Illustrated  includes butter which really amps up the flavor.   

A sign of a really good bake are cracks on the tops of the cookies.  I don't know the science behind those fissures but I think it probably has something to do with the combination of cream of tartar and baking soda that's used as leaveners.   Try not to over bake the cookies because you want them to be crisp on the outside but still soft and chewy on the inside. 

For the ultimate summertime treat I sandwiched homemade strawberry ice cream between two snickerdoodles - pure bliss!    Stay tuned on this blog for the recipe for the ice cream.


August 17, 2015

Strawberry Cupcakes 2.0


I've featured strawberry cupcakes on this blog before but I found a new recipe that takes it up another level, hence the post title "2.0".   I have no shame in admitting that I love supermarket/bakery cupcakes and frosting.   People are normally surprised by this because of my passion for baking, but it's the texture that really draws me in - nothing beats a moist and tender crumb - and it's hard to replicate at home.  Until now!


A few years ago I stumbled upon a great blog for Woodland Bakery in New Jersey, which at the time was owned by pastry chef Gretchen Price.   Gretchen was one of the first people I've seen that actually posted recipes from her bakery on the web AND for free.   Professional quality results at home?  Sign me up!  Recently she sold the bakery and started her own blog called what else, Gretchen's Bakery.   Check it out because she has excellent recipes and instructional YouTube videos.

These strawberry cupcakes are a variation of her Moist Fluffy White Cake and Buttercream recipes.  For the cupcakes I just replaced about 1/3 cup of the milk with strawberry puree (also found on her blog).   With the frosting you just add some strawberry puree at the end, to taste.   Finally...supermarket/bakery treats from my kitchen! 

August 1, 2015

Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake


Pardon my absence from the blog but I was away in Europe for the last two months, working and spending time with my friends.  To say that my time there was great would be an injustice - it was f'ing amazing!  But if I missed anything about home, other than proper Asian and Mexican food, it was my kitchen.  Baking, as many of you know, is my jam and as soon I landed in SF I was anxious to get back to my happy place.


I was absolutely delighted to see this recipe for Chocolate-Caramel Layer Cake in the Sep/Oct 2015 issue of my favorite cooking magazine, Cook's Illustrated.   There are a few steps but they couldn't be more straightforward and this is a recipe that doesn't require a stand mixer.  

The chocolate cake and frosting couldn't be simpler to make but I'm always a bit apprehensive when it comes to homemade caramel.  The key to success is using a really good instant read thermometer.   [I have  this one from Thermapen and it's also recommended by the Test Kitchen.]  After frosting the cake, all that was left was a nice sprinkling of Maldon sea salt that I brought back from London.  

It's great to be home!

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