December 23, 2016

Springerle Cookies


One of the best things about my job is that I get the opportunity to travel to Europe every now and then.  Last month my department had a global meeting at company headquarters in Basel.  I was especially looking forward to the trip because it was just at the start of the holiday season in Europe.   Even though I travel to Europe quite frequently I've never been right before Christmas, always after. 

My friends Steve and Becky took me to the Basel Herbstmesse (Autumn Fair) that was in the heart of of old town.  Out of the myriad of stalls my favorite was the one that sold springerle cookie molds.  Springerle cookies are German in origin and made by pressing a carved mold onto rolled dough to make a pattern impression.  Normally they appear around Christmas time.  There were so many beautiful designs to choose from but in the end I went with a traditional tree. 


I searched the internet for a springerle recipe and found a great one here on House on the Hill's website.  This company makes springerle molds so I figured they'd be the authority on everything about the cookies.  

The dough is pretty straightforward, however it does call for a very particular ingredient as a leavening agent that isn't well known in America - hartshorn,  aka baker's ammonia or ammonium carbonate.   You can use baking powder as a substitute, but hartshorn helps the cookies retain their intricate design and their texture crispy.  Luckily I had some in my pantry...acquired on a trip to Norway where they sell it in the supermarket.



The key to success is making sure you flour the mold really well before you press it in to the rolled out dough.   My only complaint was that I didn't have a rectangle cookie cutter large enough to fit the design so I had to hand cut each cookie.  Note to self: buy a mold that fits within a cutter I already have!

After all the cookies were stamped and cut they had to air dry for at least 12 hours in a cool, dry place.  Don't skip the air drying because it sets the pattern and forms a nice skin on the top of each cookie.   The springerle are baked in a low oven (around 300-325 degrees) until the bottoms are lightly browned.  Make sure not to get the tops of the cookies brown!  The amount of time in the oven really depends on the size and thickness of the cookie.  The springerle I made were 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in size and about 1/3 inch thick and baked in the oven for about 20 minutes.  

For my first attempt I think my springerle came out pretty nice.  I want to try a speculaas recipe next time.  And you can be certain that I'll be acquiring more molds on my future trips to Europe!

December 15, 2016

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies from Naturally Sweet Cookbook & a Giveaway


I've mentioned before on this blog that diabetes runs in my family which isn't necessarily ideal when you love to bake as much as I do.  Inevitably this question always seems to come up when I make something for the relatives, "can you make it less sweet"?      

How excited was I when America's Test Kitchen recently came out with a cookbook specifically dedicated to baking with less sugar, entitled Naturally Sweet.  If this book didn't have my family's name written all over it I don't know what would! 


The recipes in the book use alternatives to the traditional granulated white sugar, which helps to bring down the level of sweetness.  Sucanat, an unrefined cane sugar, is the one predominantly used in Naturally Sweet.   

I was keen to test out a recipe to see if the cookbook really lived up to its claims and decided to have a go at one of my all-time favorite cookies, Oatmeal Raisin.   The cookie dough came together really easily, although you do have to take the extra step of grinding the Sucanat in a spice grinder. 


The cookies browned beautifully in the oven with crispy edges and a soft center, just how I like them!  They tasted great and had a very nice molasses flavor to them.  I didn't even miss the extra sugar to be honest but the true test was to get other people's review.

I brought the cookies in to the office but didn't disclose that they were low sugar.   My co-workers devoured them and when I revealed that they were made with less sugar they were completely surprised.  One person even said I could have cut the sweetener a little more and they still would have been fantastic.  Now that's a testimonial if I ever heard one!  I plan on making more recipes from the cookbook for my family to enjoy this holiday season.


My friends at America's Test Kitchen have kindly donated two copies of Naturally Sweet to give away to my blog readers.  Here's how to enter:

GIVEAWAY RULES:

1) Only open to those with a U.S. mailing address
2) Leave your email address in the comments section of this postSorry, comments without an email address will be disqualified.  
3) Deadline for entry: Saturday December 31 at 11:59pm PST.  

Good Luck!

September 26, 2016

Honeycrisp Apple Pie


My dear friends Frank and Evelyn moved from San Francisco to Seattle several years ago.  Both had lived and worked in the Bay Area for more than a decade but actually grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so their return to the Emerald City was a homecoming of sorts.  

I try to visit them at least once a year and on my most recent trip up north I requested we go apple picking.  Honeycrisp apples in particular, known for being sweet, slightly tart and definitely crisp.  Washington state produces the majority of the apples grown in the US and apple picking is a time honored fall tradition.


We drove about 45 minutes outside of Seattle and headed to The Farm at Swan's Trail.  The weather couldn't have been better and because it was the beginning of the season there was an abundance of fruit just ripe for the picking.  Forty five minutes and about fifty pounds of apples later we went home thoroughly satisfied.   


I ended up bringing about ten pounds of apples back to San Francisco (in my checked luggage!) and was determined to bake something with them.   Up until now I hadn't had much success with apple pies, but when I did a google search for Honeycrisp recipes I came upon this one from epicurious.com claiming it was their "favorite apple pie."  

The filling was super easy to pull together, but rather than using the included crust recipe I instead used Cook's Illustrated's foolproof one.   It's the most buttery, flaky crust I've ever tasted, owing to the use of vodka, and knew it would be fantastic for my pie.     


Golden brown and bubbling from the oven, the pie smelled heavenly.  But the real test would be once it was cooled.  Would the filling be soupy and mushy, similar to previous pies I'd made?  The verdict: NOT AT ALL!  

One bite of the cinnamon and nutmeg infused apple filling and I was hooked.  Epicurious was spot on, Honeycrisp apples were the perfect variety to use for pie baking - sweet and tart but still able to hold their shape.   I think I've found my very own foolproof apple pie recipe!


September 14, 2016

Mallorcas & a Giveaway



What started as a "girls trip" in 2014 with my girlfriends has subsequently turned in to a summer tradition that I look forward to every year.  On our first tour we went to Capri which was absolutely gorgeous and had the best people/celebrity watching.  Last year we ventured to Florence  where we shopped 'til we dropped and ate tons of pasta and gelato in between.    This summer's locale was Mallorca, one of Spain's stunning Baleriac islands. 


We stayed in Palma and had the best time walking throughout the capital city's cobblestone streets and enjoying the delicious food (tapas! sangria!), beautiful sites and fantastic shopping.  Can you sense a theme in our trips?   So when I was thumbing through America's Test Kitchen's latest amazing tome, Bread Illustrated, I was absolutely delighted to see the recipe for Mallorcas.



It seemed like every bakery we passed by sold this massive, spiral bread which I later came to learn was called ensaimada (see pic below)With further research I soon learned that Mallorcas, or Pan de Mallorca, are Puerto Rico's version of the ensaimada.  Unfortunately I never got the chance to try the bread in Palma, but armed with this recipe I could now try it's close relative!



The enriched dough is similar to brioche in that it's laden with eggs and butter.  After an initial proof the dough is rolled thinly, brushed with melted butter and rolled up like a jelly roll to achieve multiple layers.  After portioning out the dough each piece is then rolled in to a long rope, brushed with more butter and finally formed in to a spiral before it's final proof.

The smell of the freshly baked buns is absolutely hypnotic.  After a brief cooling they are generously dusted with a cloud of powdered sugar and served slightly warm.  Delicioso!  I brought the buns to my family's Labor Day BBQ where they were subsequently claimed by my siblings and mom.

There are so many fantastic bread recipes in this cookbook and I can't wait to try more.  I think the chocolate babka and Portuguese sweet bread are calling my name, so watch this blog for future posts.


My friends at America's Test Kitchen have generously donated a cookbook to give away on my blog AND my Instagram, @treatssf.   See blog giveaway rules below.

BLOG GIVEAWAY RULES:
  1. Deadline to enter is Saturday September 24, 2016, 11:59pm PST.
  2. Only open to people with US mailing addresses.
  3. To enter, leave a comment to this post with your email address.  Sorry, you must include your email address as that's the only way I can contact the winner.
GOOD LUCK! 

September 5, 2016

Clotted Cream Shortbread


What to do when you bring home eight tubs of Rodda's clotted cream from London, give away six and keep two for yourself?   Well, you eat one tub, of course, slathered on scones with tons of jam.   Absolute heaven!  The dilemma then became the fate of the remaining tub, which was nearing its expiration date.   I searched on Rodda's website and found their recipe for Clotted Cream Shortbread...jackpot! 



Shortbread made with clotted cream?  The baker in me was skeptical, to be sure.  Would the clotted cream compromise the texture of  the shortbread.  Only one way to find out.  

As soon as the dough came together I knew these cookies would be fantastic.  It had the exact same look and feel as other shortbread I'd made before and rolled out like an absolute dream.   Look how beautifully the dough held the shape and  design of the strawberry cookie cutter I used.  


My toughest critics, aka my family, tried the cookies and gave them the thumbs up.   Just the right amount of crunch with a hint of sweetness.   Perfect served with ice cream or fresh strawberries and clotted cream.  

August 21, 2016

Beijinho & Brigadeiro



The 2016 Summer Olympics conclude today in Rio so here's my final homage to the games and host country.  I had heard of the popular Brazilian candy brigadeiro, a chocolate fudge ball most associated with birthday parties, but when I mentioned I was thinking of making them my Brazilian colleague Marcelo said his favorite sweet was actually the beijinho.  Beijinho?  What the heck was that?  Beijinho in Portuguese means "little kiss" and these treats are similar to brigadeiro but made with coconut instead of chocolate.  



Both candies start with a base of sweetened condensed milk and butter.  Chocolate or coconut is stirred in and the entire thing is cooked over the stove.  You stir constantly until the mixture gets very thick and viscous.  Once cooled, the candy is formed in to bite-sized balls and rolled in sprinkles or coconut.  



Given my aversion to anything overly sweet I was a bit hesitant about candy made with condensed milk.  To my delight I found both versions had just the right amount of sweetness.  I must say that I agree with Marcelo and prefer the beijinho, but that's mainly because I pretty much love anything coconut.  The one tip I would offer is to cook the candy mixture until it's super thick.  With my brigadeiro I think they definitely could have benefited from a few more minutes on the stove to ensure a harder consistency when cooled.   But no worries, it still tasted delicious!

OBRIGADO BRASIL!!

August 9, 2016

Brazilian Cheese Bread (Pão de Queijo)


Are you watching the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio?  Me too and it inspired me to bake something Brazilian.  So I present to you this cheese bread, Pão de Queijo.  I first tasted these delicious savories at a churrascaria, or Brazilian steak house.  While very similar to the French gougères, the main difference is that the pão de queijo are 100% gluten-free! 


I found this recipe on epicurious.com and tweaked it only slightly.  Tapioca flour is used in place of wheat flour which makes them perfect for anyone with a gluten intolerance.  You can easily find tapioca flour (sometimes called tapioca starch) at any Asian market for next to nothing.  

The dough is essentially a pâte à choux - milk and butter heated together in a saucepan, flour is mixed in and finally eggs are added.  It takes no time at all to make and the crunchy exterior and chewy interior of the cheesy puffs will have you making them again and again.  Make a big batch for your next Olympics viewing party! 


August 5, 2016

Foolproof New York Cheesecake with Raspberries


A few of my co-workers ran the San Francisco marathon last month and to celebrate that tremendous accomplishment I offered to bring in a treat for the office.  One of the runners requested New York Cheesecake and I was more than happy to oblige, especially when I had a few blocks of cream cheese already in my fridge.   


I turned to my friends at Cook's Illustrated for their foolproof recipe and, as usual, it worked like a dream.  Unlike most cheesecake recipes, this one guarantees that you won't have any unsightly cracks on the surface of the baked cake.  I decided to top my cheesecake with fresh fruit, but trust me when I say that underneath those spirals of juicy raspberries there is not a fissure to be found.    

July 30, 2016

British-Style Scones


Since returning from London a week ago I've made this scone recipe no less than four times.  Yes, it's that good.   But who am I kidding?  While I do love how they taste they're really more of a vehicle for clotted cream and jam.  Yes, I am one of those crazy people who brings back 8 tubs of Rodda's in my checked luggage.   Thank goodness I wasn't stopped by customs!


Unlike the American version, British-style scones are less sweet and more fluffy and biscuit-like.  My favorite dessert after dinner when I was in the UK was having a scone smothered with a heap of clotted cream and jam.  Absolute heaven I tell you. 


This recipe from Cook's Illustrated is as authentic as any scone you'd find in an English tea salon.  They're quite simple to make and the taste will transport you to ol' Blighty, I promise.  Fresh clotted cream may be challenging to find in the States, which is why I bring a supply back with me, but these scones are just as delicious with butter and jam.  Give them a try, you won't regret it!



June 15, 2016

I Do Cookies

 

Being an avid baker and lover of all things beautiful it was on my London must do list to visit Peggy Porschen's gorgeous cake parlour in Belgravia when I spent some time in the UK capital last summer.  I own several of her books (like this one and this one) and am a huge fan of her impeccable aesthetic.  As soon as I walked through the front door I felt like I'd entered baker's heaven.  I remember thinking to myself that if I ever opened a bakery I would want it to look like Peggy's.   The decor, layout and whimsical displays of cakes and treats were a feast for the eyes. 



I spent quite some time at the parlour, enjoying a slice of delicious lemon, raspberry and rose cake, perusing Peggy's many books and just soaking in the lovely environment.   Of course I couldn't leave the shop empty handed and ended up buying these darling bride and groom cookie cutters.   [The wedding cake cutter I bought from Sugar 'n Spice, my local baking supply store.]  A year later and I finally got around to using them.  How cute would these cookies be as favors at a bridal shower or wedding reception to celebrate "I Do"? 




June 7, 2016

Leek & Gruyère Quiche


Recently I hosted Sunday brunch for work colleagues at my house.  The food, drink and company were excellent, if I do say so myself, and everyone seemed to have a great time.  As with all gatherings, when it came to prepping for the party I erred on the side of over-buying for fear that I wouldn't have enough food, which then led to a surplus of ingredients.  

When I opened my fridge to survey the leftovers what immediately caught my eye were eggs, heavy cream, milk, leeks and Gruyère.  Perfect!  I had everything I needed to make quiche.   I love these savory French tarts and as a student in Dijon would eat them almost daily.  To this day I still think  about the scrumptious tarte au fromage from Boulangerie Garcia.  


Leek and Gruyère is such a delicious flavor combination too.  Nothing better than ooey, gooey melted cheese married with the delicate, sweetness of the leeks.  The attached recipe makes one 9-inch round quiche but I opted to do mini ones using the tartlet tins I bought at E. Dehillerin last summer.  They make the perfect hand held portion that's ideal for a picnic or snack on the go.   

June 1, 2016

Lemon Tea Cookies


My work had a team meeting at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco recently.  It's an annual conference that's also one of the most anticipated events on my office calendar.  I always look forward to it because it's a chance to connect face to face with global colleagues who are based in North America, Europe and Asia. 



The catering at the hotel over the course of the three days was your typical fare, good but not spectacular.  However, the one thing I and many others absolutely loved were the lemon tea cookies the Hyatt served during a coffee break.  As soon as I took a bite of the soft, tender cookie topped with a thin layer of lemon glaze I knew I had to replicate it at home.  

 
Success all came down to getting the actual cookie, without the glaze, right.  The cookie itself reminded me a lot of a black and white in that it's texture was more cake-like.   I tried googling "Hyatt lemon tea cookie" in the hopes that someone may have posted the hotel's recipe online, but alas, no such luck and I was left to my own devices.


I ended up tweaking Cook's Country's Black and White Cookie and the results were fantastic.  By adding more flour to the recipe I got the thicker cookies I was looking for.  I also substituted lemon juice for the vanilla extract, but next time I think I'll use some lemon extract along with grated lemon peel to give it a real citrus punch.  The glaze couldn't be simpler, powdered sugar mixed with freshly squeezed lemon juice.   I don't think I'm bragging when I say I have a legitimate replica...eat your heart out Hyatt!

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