October 21, 2017

A New England trip and some Apple Cider Donuts


I just returned from a five day trip with my family to the Northeast where the main items on the agenda were leaf peeping and experiencing a New England autumn.  Living in California, and especially San Francisco, late September to mid-November normally signals Indian summer so witnessing the fall colors has been on my bucket list.  The visit really exceeded my expectations.  So much in fact that I'm thinking of making it an annual outing going forward.  



Something I absolutely had to do on this trip was go apple picking and of course sample freshly made cider donuts.  I discovered Cider Hill Farm when I was researching online for u-pick farms.  Its location was ideal because it was only about an hour north of Boston (our home base) and in the general direction of New Hampshire where we were headed for leaf peeping. 


We got to Cider Hill just as it opened at 8am and as soon as we approached the farm shop the smell of freshly made apple cider donuts filled the air.  Absolute heaven!   After gobbling down a half dozen with some hot cider we set about focusing on the task at hand - picking apples!  

There were so many different varieties to choose from and the countless rows of trees were bursting with ripe fruit.  In the end we decided on Empires, with a few Ambrosias thrown in.  One hour and a half bushel of apples later and we left the farm fully satisfied.  


When I got back home to SF all I could think about were those delicious apple cider donuts.  Normally I avoid deep frying at home but in this case I had to make an exception.  I found a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, a highly trusted source, so I felt confident they would be great.   I wasn't wrong - they had a crispy, crunchy exterior with a soft cake-y interior.  So delicious!

The next time I make this recipe I'll probably just make the donut holes.  I actually prefer the smaller portions because you don't feel so bad eating a few in one sitting.  My favorite way to enjoy them?  With a cup of piping hot apple cider, of course!  


September 13, 2017

Washboards from ATK's The Perfect Cookie & a Giveaway



If you follow my blog then you already know how much I love everything that comes out of America's Test Kitchen.  I'd even wager to say I'm their #1 fan, albeit a self-appointed title to be sure!  So when they reached out to me inquiring if I was interested in reviewing their new baking book, The Perfect Cookie,  there was no hesitation on my part whatsoever.   


 
If ever there was a cookbook with my name written all over it, this was it.    As I flipped through the countless pages of beautiful imagery I noted that almost every foolproof recipe you could imagine was covered.  No doubt you'll be like me, reaching for this tome again and again when you've got those cookie cravings.  [Notice the myriad of Post-Its peeking out from my copy!]


Since I've been baking along with ATK for ages now I've made quite a lot of their cookie recipes already.  For this review I wanted to try one that was new to me.  I'm a sucker for coconut in baked goods so I was immediately drawn to the Washboards.  Crispy, crunchy and lightly sweetened with coconut flavor, these would be the perfect treat to serve along with ice cream or a cup of tea.


Even better, because they were "slice and bake" cookies I could make the dough days in advance and bake them off whenever I wanted.   Forming and shaping the washboards couldn't be easier and the ridges on top are made using a fork.  The cookies baked to a gorgeous golden brown and after a cool down I devoured three of them straight away.   The texture and flavor actually reminded me of a coconut flavored Biscoff cookie....so delicious!   As far as I'm concerned ATK is batting a thousand with this recipe and the new cookbook. 


To celebrate the release of their newest publication ATK was kind enough to host a giveaway for 2 copies of the cookbook.  Here's how you can enter:

1) Blog: comment on this blog post with your email address 

2) Instagram: Follow me @treatssf and ATK @testkitchen, then like the giveaway post

RULES: 
  • Giveaway ends at 11:59pm PST on Saturday Sept 30, 2017
  • Winners chosen at random and have 48 hours to respond, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
  • Only open to U.S. mailing addresses 

August 6, 2017

Bacon & Maple Syrup Scones


Sometimes you go to a restaurant and there's one item on the menu that really stands out and forever sticks in your mind.  When I went to Frenchie Covent Garden this past July that thing turned out to be their snack of Bacon Scones with Maple Syrup.  

 
One bite and I was a complete goner.  Salty, sweet, smoky and savory....what more could I ask for?  They were so good, in fact, that I not only had them as my starter but later on as my dessert!  Don't get me wrong, the entire meal and service at Frenchie was fantastic, but one month on and I am still dreaming about those amazing scones.    



Lucky for me the recipe for their signature dish was readily available on the internet.   The ingredients are easy to gather and the dough comes together super quick.  Try and use the best maple syrup you can find for this recipe.  I finished off the glazed scones with a light sprinkling of smoked Maldon sea salt to further enhance the smoky flavor.    

 
While the restaurant's version will always taste best in my mind, I think these homemade beauties are a pretty good substitute - and I don't need to travel 5,000 miles to get them!

August 1, 2017

Aloha Bundt Cake



If ever there was a thing called baking bad luck, this Aloha Bundt was its poster child.  Why?  Because for some crazy reason this particular pan seems to incite power outages.  Read on and you'll see what I mean.

Proof #1: I found this fantastic Nordic Ware pineapple bundt pan on sale at Sur La Table in Palo Alto.  Anyone who knows me knows I'm crazy about pineapples, they're my favorite fruit of all time.  Just as I was about to pay all the power in the store (and mall) went out.   No till, no purchase.  Argh!  Luckily the electricity was restored half an hour later and I was able to complete the transaction and take my pan home.  But you can be sure I was worried I'd have to leave it behind in the shop.

Proof #2: Got up early this past Sunday to make my favorite lemon poppy seed sour cream bundt cake using the new pan.  I was supposed to meet up with some friends for brunch later that morning and wanted to make sure the cake was done beforehand.  Forty five minutes in to baking and suddenly all the power in my flat went out.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Rien.  No worries I thought, I've got a gas range.  Not so fast.  Little did I know that while the oven was fueled by gas, electricity kept it running.  Suffice it to say 3 hours later and the power came back on.  Luckily I was able to finish baking the cake without any issues but it was definitely a close call. 

July 27, 2017

No-Bake Lime Cheesecake


When the temperature rises even I, as an avid baker, hesitate to turn on the oven.   Call me crazy, but when I was a kid growing up in the sweltering summers of California's San Joaquin Valley I used to bake all the time.  But mind you, I was wearing my bathing suit at the time - it was the only way I could tolerate the crazy hot weather.  These days you definitely won't catch me wearing that particular attire!

So when I was browsing the July/Aug 2017 issue of Martha Stewart Living the recipe for a No-Bake Key Lime Cheesecake immediately jumped out at me.   Even better, I had all the ingredients in my kitchen.  [Note: I used regular organic limes, not key limes.]  Graham cracker crusts are de rigueur for cheesecakes, but the twist with this recipe was it didn't require baking.  Instead you just pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes.  Genius!


The filling is super light, creamy and jam packed with lime flavor.  If you love citrus this cheesecake is right up your alley.  It's the perfect dessert for your next BBQ, but honestly I'd indulge in it for any occasion.   


July 15, 2017

Parmesan Focaccia


Apologies for the radio silence these past few weeks.  I was on a business trip to Europe and tacked on some summer holidays as well.  I live for vacation but I definitely miss my kitchen while I'm gone, especially my oven and stand mixers.

One of the first things I did when I got home after three weeks away?  Duh, bake of course!  
 

I'd been craving carbs big time so ended up making a pan of Parmesan focaccia.    Nothing better than warm, soft bread sprinkled with herbs and cheese.   I used an Anne Burrell recipe I found on The Food Network and just added cheese at the end.   The dough comes together so easily and is a dream to work with.   Only requirement is patience while the dough proofs twice.  

I served the focaccia with one of my favorite summer salads, prosciutto and melon, and it was so delicioso!  I can guarantee this will be on repeat!  


May 29, 2017

Wedding Cake & Favors


My friend Jesse was married over the weekend and it was a really beautiful event.  I was happy to contribute by making the wedding cake and cookie favors.  Can't deny that I really love how the cake turned out - simple, elegant and more important, tasty; just what Jesse wanted.  

I must confess though, in the past I shied away from making wedding cakes because the idea of it seemed so daunting.   But after the success of the baby shower cake my confidence with tiered cakes soared.  They weren't as difficult as I previously thought.


Per the bride's request, red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting made up the bottom tier while the top tier consisted of chocolate cake with chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream.  Both layers were covered in vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream.  The wedding florist decorated the cake impeccably with roses, the leaves and blooms.
 

For the evening reception each seat at dinner was set with a California cookie.  Jesse had requested the favors be decorated in blush pink, to match her wedding colors, with a gold heart placed for San Jose, her and Tyler's hometown.  They actually grew up across the street from each other!


As a baker the best compliment you can receive is that your bakes not only look good, but taste good too.  I was delighted when so many of the wedding guests came up to me during the reception to say they loved the cookies and the cake....the best seal of approval I could ask for! 

Congratulations Jesse & Tyler!!!


May 20, 2017

M&M's Cookies


What to do with a huge bag of plain M&M's that were leftover from the office ice cream sundae party?  Such was the predicament I found myself in recently.  Most people would just eat them, but that thought wasn't the most appealing to me since I've got more of a salty tooth than a sweet one.

Then I remembered those huge M&M cookies that you can find in almost every bakery and supermarket in America and I knew that was what I was going to make.  No mystery to them people.  They're basically chocolate chip cookies with the candies replacing the chips.  I under bake them just slightly so that they maintain a moist and chewy texture.   Give them a try!

April 23, 2017

Surfer Cake


Apparently I'm on a cake kick because it seems like they're all I've been making in the past few weeks.  Case in point: this post is my fourth in a row about it.  I can't help it...lots of occasions to celebrate I guess!

My friend Marcelo was having a party to celebrate not only his birthday, but also house warming.   He and his wife Juliana recently moved out of SF and found a house in the suburbs that was more dog friendly for their mini Australian shepherd.   Marcelo loves to surf and their house is just a stone's throw from the beach so I thought a surfing themed cake seemed appropriate for the celebration.

The cake consists of three layers of carrot (with pineapple and coconut mixed in) filled with boiled milk cream cheese frosting and decorated with Swiss meringue buttercream.  Ring a bell?  It should since it's basically the same cake flavors from my last post, found here.  

For the sandy beach I used graham cracker crumbs, the ocean is made of colored buttercream, and the beach towel and beach ball are made of tinted fondant.   I really love how it turned out and hope the birthday boy enjoys it too.

Yuhuuuuu....surf's up!  Happy Birthday Marcelo!!!!


April 8, 2017

Confetti Carrot Cake


I made this cake for Julia, who not only had a baby recently (check out the baby shower cake I made for her here) but was also celebrating a milestone birthday.  I wanted the cake to be something happy, blissful and festive.  I think a Confetti Cake checks all the boxes.   The rainbow of colors can't help but bring cheer to any occasion, no?


Julia's  favorite cake is carrot with cream cheese frosting so I turned to weelicious' awesome recipe.  It's the easiest thing to make and tastes fantastic!  For the cream cheese frosting I turned to my absolute favorite one from Cook's Country which uses a boiled milk paste.  Trust me when I tell you it's AMAZING and probably unlike any cream cheese frosting you've had before...super light, fluffy and not too sweet.


The best thing about this cake is how easy it is to decorate.  Once you fill and frost the cake just press the confetti sprinkles to the sides.  This technique hides a myriad of mistakes so you don't need to be a master decorator at all to get fantastic looking results.   Give it a try, you'll see!

January 21, 2017

Oh Baby Shower Cake


My friends Claudio and Julia are expecting their first baby this spring, a girl.  For their baby shower they asked if I could make the cake and I was more than happy to oblige.  These are the exact occasions where I love to put my baking skills to good use.  

For the cakes themselves Julia had requested her favorite, carrot, for the bottom tier and I suggested red velvet for the top since it was Claudio's favorite.  As for the theme Julia had in mind something similar to this pink and grey themed creation she found on Pinterest.   Lucky for me it didn't look too complicated once you deconstructed its parts. 


Don't be intimidated by the design because it's a bit easier than you might think.  Once I filled and crumb coated the three layers of carrot cake I simply piped large rosettes all around the outside with pink hued Swiss meringue buttercream.  For even the novice baker this is achievable with beautiful results.  Admittedly, the top tier of red velvet did require a bit more patience and skill in order to get the buttercream perfectly smooth and even.  Once that was achieved I decorated with grey and pink fondant circles and applied a thin fondant ribbon at the bottom.  

One trick I did learn from watching numerous episodes of Ace of Cakes is to use large boba straws as supports when doing a tiered cake.  This provides structure so that the top tier doesn't sink in to the one below.  The straws are so much easier to use than wooden dowels and they're super cheap too.  I picked up a packet of 50 straws from the local restaurant supply store for under $1!

Congratulations Claudio and Julia!

January 13, 2017

Zebra Bundt Cake


If you peeked in to my pantry you'd think I was trying to set up my own kitchen housewares shop.  I can't help it - I'm the first to admit I'm a total addict.  Call me a sucker for the latest cake pan or baking equipment out there.  

The inspiration for this Zebra Bundt Cake stemmed from my recent acquisition of NordicWare's Kugelhopf pan.  I'm a huge fan of this company and love all their bundt pans.  Over the years I've amassed quite a collection because they never seem to fail in terms of quality and aesthetic.  I call it effortless baking when the pan does all the cake decorating work for you.   


My intention was to make a marble cake and when I happened upon Bakers Royale's Zebra Bundt on Pinterest it immediately caught my eye.  I just love how the alternating stripes of vanilla and chocolate batter make the cake look so interesting and inviting.  When I took a closer look at the recipe I was even more pleased because it was based on one from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book.   Tish's cookbook is one of my favorites so I knew it was going to be a winner.  I wasn't wrong.

The crumb on this cake is really incredible, so tender, moist and melt in your mouth.  I was a tad bit concerned that the depth of the bundt pan would require extra baking time, leading to a drier cake, but this was not the case at all.  I'll definitely be making this recipe again!


January 7, 2017

Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns)


Have you heard of hygge?  When the weather turns chilly hygge is all the rage.  But what exactly is it?  In a nutshell, hygge is the art of being "cozy"...think candles, cashmere and warm fireplaces.  On a cold, dreary and grey day I have to say there's nothing better.  The Bay Area was bracing for a major storm this weekend (it's ok, we need the water!) and nothing sounded better to me than staying at home and baking.


I love a good cinnamon bun and the Swedish version, Kanelbullar, has been on my to do list for a while.  They evoke not only hygge, but also fika, the Swedish slang for coffee breaks.  To be perfectly frank I was really drawn to them after seeing this gorgeous photo on Edd Kimber's (aka The Boy Who Bakes) Instagram feed.  There was something about the twisted treats topped with pearl sugar that looked so appealing...I had to make them!


I found the recipe for the kanelbullar on SwedishFood.com.  The dough is similar to any other cinnamon bun recipe except it has the addition of cardamom, a very popular spice used in Scandinavian baking.  The other distinction is how the buns are shaped.  Rather than being rolled up in a log and cut the dough is stretched, twisted and shaped in to a striped round.  I found a great video here on YouTube that shows you how to do this. 

 
These kanelbullar are so good!  Straight from the oven I devoured two of them as they were the perfect accompaniment to a hot cappuccino.  Storm, schworm...I say bring it on!  I'll be inside gettin' hygge with it.

January 1, 2017

Millionaire's Shortbread


HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

If you've never made Millionaire's Shortbread before, no better time than the present to give it a try!  Trust me, you won't regret it.  While Scottish in origin, millionaire's shortbread is basically a delicious homemade Twix bar with it's crispy shortbread cookie base, soft and chewy caramel filling all topped with rich chocolate.    

I'd seen recipes for this treat before on various UK-based sites and actually attempted making them in early 2016 with less than stellar results.  That all changed when I saw the version from Cook's Illustrated in the November issue of the magazine.   They've never failed me before and this time was no different. 


The instructions couldn't be easier to follow and I was delighted with the final cookie.   I veered a bit from the original recipe and sprinkled Malden flakes on top of the caramel layer to add a nice salty/sweet contrast.  I have to admit that my one trepidation with this recipe was in slicing the bars but in the end my concerns were unfounded.  When you're dealing with chocolate it can be a bit finicky but the method CI used to temper the chocolate worked out fantastic and I had no issues whatsoever in portioning the bars.   

I gifted the millionaire's shortbread to some friends for the holidays and they were immediately devoured.  While I do prefer bittersweet chocolate I think the next time I make these cookies I'll switch it up and use some semisweet or milk chocolate.

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