December 22, 2018

Mince Pies


Hard to believe but in all the years that I've visited London and the United Kingdom never have I ever tasted the quintessential British Christmas dessert, Mince Pies.  Chalk it up to my fear of the mincemeat filling; something sweet with the name "meat" in it?  Hmmmm...I'll pass, thanks.  It was only after seeing Paul Hollywood's recipe did I figure it was time to give them a try.
 
 
Paul is one of my baking Yodas and I loved how his version took pre-made mincemeat filling and doctored it up with citrus zest and chopped apples.  For the crust I used America's Test Kitchen's recipe for sweet tart pastry or pâte sucrée.
 
 
Because mince pies can be overly sweet I made mine in mini muffin tins to keep the portions small but still cute and dainty.  I  have to say I love how they turned out.  And no soggy bottoms in sight because I made sure to bake them until they were deep golden brown.  A final snowfall of confectioner's sugar was all that was needed.
 
Happy Christmas to All!

December 9, 2018

Zebra-Striped Shortbread Cookies


I knew I had to make these Zebra-Striped Shortbread Cookies as soon as I saw them pictured in the December 2018 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.   Chocolate and vanilla shortbread are nothing new; I've made a checkerboard version for years each Christmas.  What I love about this version is the fresh and modern take on a classic.  The dough could not have been easier to put together and shape.  Next time I'm going to divide the two colors even more so that the stripes look super realistic!

December 2, 2018

Kransekake


Making a Kransekake was long overdue for me.  You would think that since I have such strong ties to Norway I would have made this "cookie cake" a lot sooner, but chalk it up to laziness I guess.  My introduction to this glorious confection was at my dear friends' wedding in Bergen almost fifteen years ago.   Kransekake is traditionally served at celebrations like weddings, christenings, Constitution Day (17th of May) and Christmas.  After purchasing these kransekake cake forms I really had no more excuses and was determined to make it this holiday season.  



Luckily I had no trouble finding a great recipe.  One of my favorite Scandinavian baking blogs, Passion for Baking, had one that was very straightforward with minimal ingredients: almond flour, confectioner's sugar, egg whites and vanilla.  I used my stand mixer to bring the dough together and a cookie press to pipe long tubes of the dough.  You can forgo these and do both by hand if you want. 

The kransekake's impressive appearance belies its simplicity  I was shocked at how easy it was to make and assemble.  When finished it's a true show stopper.  I'm planning to make a few more of these to give as holiday gifts.  God Jul to All!




October 15, 2018

Bagel Bread


No one loves a bagel more than I do so how excited was I when I saw this recipe for Bagel Bread in the Oct/Nov 2018 issue of Cook's Country magazine?  Pure genius!  This was one of those things where you ask yourself, "how come I never thought of it before?"  Even better, I had a small bottle of Trader Joe's Everything But The Bagel seasoning blend lying around and thought it would be perfect to use for this recipe.

I ended up making a double batch of this recipe twice, four loaves in total!, over the span of one weekend.  Trust me, I didn't intend on doing this but I found that the first batch of loaves I made were way too salty for my taste.  Back to the drawing board it was!  So for the second batch I cut the amount of kosher salt from the recipe by half the resulting bread came out perfect!

Sliced and toasted and the bagel bread was absolutely delicious.  I think I might be a total convert to the loaf shape!

October 7, 2018

Pumpkin Spice Muffins


September/October rolls around and all that people seem to talk about is the "PSL," or pumpkin spice latte.  Me, not so much.  Don't get me wrong, I love pumpkin in many forms but coffee is not one of them.  I'm much more on board the "PSM" train, aka Pumpkin Spice Muffin.


I have a go-to pumpkin bread recipe that I've been making for years and to this day still remains a favorite in my repertoire.  But after seeing these Cook's Country pumpkin spice muffins posted on America's Test Kitchen's Instagram account recently I was convinced to try something new.  Plus, I'm always a sucker for streusel topping!  For an additional crunch I sprinkled the muffins with pumpkin seeds to finish them off. 


I was very pleasantly surprised with how yummy these muffins were.  Granted, I did have my concerns about their sweetness after noting the two cups of sugar in the recipe but I couldn't have been more wrong.  The muffins were really delicious with just the right hint of sugar.  I highly recommend you make them for breakfast or your next brunch.  

September 8, 2018

Three-Layer Pound Cake


This was me thumbing through the September 2018 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine and an image of this Three-Layer Pound Cake immediately stopped me in my tracks.  It was so visually stunning with its multiple layers that I knew I was going to make it.  As I read through the recipe I was pleasantly surprised to see that the cake was made using the reverse-creaming method.

Don't be scared off!  Basically this just means that the dry ingredients and sugar are mixed together first.  Then you add in pieces of butter and mix until thoroughly combined.  Half of the liquid is then added and mixed in followed by the remaining liquids.  I find this method produces a very tender cake with a beautiful crumb.


The recipe is very straightforward and easy to follow.  My only revision would be to divide the batter evenly in to thirds to achieve even layers.  The recipe said to use 1 1/2 cups of batter each for the bottom two chocolate layers which left a thinner layer of vanilla batter on top.  Also, I wouldn't be so diligent about smoothing out the top of each layer.  I actually prefer the jagged look.

The baked cake is seriously good.  I had two slices straight away because it was so delicious.  I gave away the remaining slices to my siblings because I didn't want to be tempted!


September 3, 2018

Lemon Gooey Butter Cookies


San Francisco has no shortage of excellent bakeries and I love sampling as many of them as possible.  Recently Jane The Bakery was awarded the 2018 winner of best croissant and pain au chocolat in the city by French Morning website.  This accolade pretty much guaranteed a visit to the bakery from the likes of me.  While Jane's viennoiserie were delicious and deserving of the title what actually caught my attention were the Lemon Gooey Butter Cookies.  I'm a sucker for citrus flavored desserts so I put my detective hat on to see if I could replicate these cookies myself


I was first introduced to these cake-like cookies many years ago by my friend Jill's family friend Patti.  Patti was known for her Patti Cakes which were cookies made using boxed cake mix.  It was love at first sight when I tried them back then, but the thought never crossed my mind to make them from scratch.  Tasting Jane The Bakery's cookies motivated me to give it a try.  


A Google search resulted in quite a few recipes and I ended up trying this one from West via Midwest.   The results turned out fantastic and tasted just like the ones from Jane's.  Score!

August 27, 2018

Olive Oil Cake


Did you know August is National Olive Oil Month?  I certainly didn't until recently.  So I thought it was very fitting to make an Olive Oil Cake before the month came to an end.  I have an online subscription to Cook's Illustrated magazine and on the website there's a section called "Trending With Our Members" which lists recipes that are currently popular with subscribers.  Their version of olive oil cake was at the top of the list so I knew it was going to be good.  


I'm surprised I'd never made this cake before but I probably deemed it too boring in its simplicity.  How wrong I was!  I couldn't believe how delicious the cake was with such a moist and tender crumb.  No need to worry about a strong olive oil taste because it's not really there.  What really shines through is citrus notes coming from the lemon zest.  The cake is gorgeous on its own but you can certainly embellish it with some fresh strawberries and whipped cream if you're so inclined.


August 23, 2018

Pineapple Buns with Chinese BBQ Pork


Hard to believe but after living in San Francisco for more than twenty years I must confess that I'd never tasted a Pineapple Bun until  just recently when I made them myself from a Cook's Illustrated recipe.  It sounds a bit silly to admit since my neighborhood is literally inundated with Chinese bakeries that sell this popular sweet bread.   One taste of the soft, fluffy interior and crunchy sugar top crust and I was a goner.


The secret to this bread is tangzhong, a cooked flour and water paste, that's added to the dough and makes the interior so light and soft.  I adore working with this dough - it is so forgiving and has the most beautiful elasticity.   You seriously can't mess it up!

The topping is piped in spirals over the proofed buns and is made of a butter, powdered sugar and flour mixture.  In the oven it melts down the sides of the bread and bakes in to a crunchy crust, very similar to craquelin on a choux pastry. 


I ended up filling my buns with Cook's Illustrated char siu or barbecue pork, another staple dish in Chinese cuisine, which I recently posted to my blog.   The savory, sweet filling was a delicious complement to the pineapple bun.   I brought samples of my first batch in to the office and my Chinese-American colleagues gave them the thumbs up.  If that's not the seal of approval I don't know what is!



August 19, 2018

Chinese BBQ Pork (Char Siu)


It all started with an email from my brother, on behalf of my mom.  Mom's an ardent America's Test Kitchen fan, similar to myself, and had just seen the Chinese Classics episode on PBS episode featuring char siu, or Chinese BBQ Pork.   She wanted the recipe so asked my brother to have me print it out for her.  (Before you ask, my parents are not technologically savvy so it's easier for them if they have hard copies of the recipe.) 


I hadn't seen this episode myself so I went about searching for the recipe on Cook's Illustrated's site since I have an online membership.  The results turned up a few versions of char siu, one from the tv show and another that was more traditional looking, i.e., very red.  I was immediately intrigued by the latter which reminded me of the delicious rows of glistening bbq pork hanging on hooks in Chinese restaurants.  The laundry list of Asian ingredients did seem a bit daunting, but if there's one thing I am, it's determined.  Once I set my mind on something nothing will stop me. 


After a quick trip to the local Asian supermarket to buy the ingredients I didn't already have I was ready to go. Trust me, do not be intimidated!  The most challenging part is gathering all the ingredients, after that the recipe comes together pretty easily.  Another plus, there's quite a bit of down time when you make this recipe.  The pork needs at least 10-16 hours to marinate so you can easily prep things the night before and finish baking the next day.  

This char siu is seriously so good.  I literally made the recipe 3x in the last week alone.  I knew it was a keeper when my family unanimously gave it the thumbs up and they are not the type of people to hand out compliments easily!   With authentic results made at home who needs takeout?  Not me!

August 11, 2018

Summer Peach Cake

 

If I'm not traveling and find myself at home for the weekend my Sunday morning ritual normally consists of a bit of exercise (if I'm not feeling super lazy) and afterwards heading over to the Clement Street Farmer's Market.  Being in California I think we are so spoiled with all the amazing fruits and vegetables literally grown in our backyards.  I love to peruse the various stands to see the abundance of what's in season.  It's a feast for the eyes and stomach!


The yellow peaches this summer have been especially delicious, perfectly ripe but still firm and sweet.  They're hands down my favorite fruit to buy at the market lately.  While my preference is to enjoy the peaches unadorned I'd been meaning to try America's Test Kitchen's recipe for Summer Peach Cake for quite a while.  What better time than now when peaches were at their best?



What I liked about this particular recipe was that most of the peaches were roasted, minimizing the risk of a soggy cake bottom.  Plus, the oven caramelizes the juices which really concentrates the fruit flavor.   The batter couldn't be easier to pull together and is whisked by hand so there's no need to pull out the stand mixer.  

This cake is literally bursting with peach flavor, I kid you not.  You're supposed to wait 2-3 hours for the cake to cool completely but I couldn't refrain myself.  After digging in to a slice I can tell you that it's absolutely delicious.  What I especially love is the addition of almond extract in the batter; it adds a certain je ne said quoi that makes the cake taste out of this world.  

Don't let the simplicity of the cake's appearance fool you - it easily rivals any of those fancy cakes in taste, bar none.  If you insist, you could dress it up a bit by adding a dusting of confectioner's sugar or a dollop of freshly whipped cream.  Why not make it à la mode with a scoop of ice cream?  Any way you serve it it's going to be peachy keen!

August 5, 2018

Pineapple Ice Cream



My obsession with pineapples treads that fine line between utter adulation and complete lunacy.  I don't know what it is about this tropical fruit but I just cannot get enough!  So when I saw Stella Park's recipe for Pineapple Ice Cream on Serious Eats I literally felt like screaming "Hallelujah"! 
Having tried many of Stella's recipes before (her fantastic cookbook is an absolute must for any baker!) I knew this one was going to be a winner. 


I wasn't sure if the fresh pineapple flavor would really come through in the ice cream (I've tried others where it was barely even a hint) but I had nothing to worry about.  One taste of the just churned ice cream and I was an absolute goner. 



This was everything I wanted in a pineapple ice cream and so much more.  The fruit flavor was so intense and the texture so fluffy and creamy.   Now the hard part is deciding if I should just enjoy the ice cream as is or make something with it.  What's your vote?


June 13, 2018

Lemon Streusel Cream Cheese Pound Cake




This was me the other day:  standing in front of the fridge and eyeing a big bag of lemons and a package of cream cheese.  What to do with them?  First thing that came to mind was a lemon cream cheese pound cake.  A) it's relatively easy to pull together and B) could feed the crowd at the office.  Done! To gild the lily a little further I decided to add a streusel topping.  Streusel qualifies the cake as a breakfast food, right?     



Be forewarned that while the batter comes together pretty quickly, the cake does take a while to bake in the oven.  I had to check for doneness three times when I made this one for the blog and even then it wasn't 100% to my satisfaction.  Seasoned bakers will notice that the inside top part of the cake could have taken another ten minutes.  Impatience on my part was to blame! It's long baking duration was most likely attributed to starting the oven at 325 degrees which was too low.  Next time I'll get the oven to 350 and then bake.  Oh well, still tastes pretty dang good!


June 3, 2018

White Lily Buttermilk Biscuits with Strawberry Rerigerator Jam


Last month I found myself in Florida with the primary purpose of going to Universal Orlando.  I'm a Harry Potter fan and had been wanting to check out the two HP themed attractions there.  I was especially excited about Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride since the California location didn't have it.  You would think that as an enthusiast I would have brought back a wand or similar as a memento, right?  Wrong!

What was my Floridian souvenir you may ask?  Flour!  Yes, way, flour.  More specifically, White Lily flour.  [Don't be too surprised though, I am a baker after all.]  I'd heard a lot about how amazing White Lily flour was, especially for biscuits, but unfortunately it's accessibility was mainly limited to the South.  [Yes, I know you can find it online, but I'm too cheap to pay shipping fees for flour!]   



During some down time in Orlando I made a beeline to the closest supermarket I could find which happened to be Publix.  Call me strange, but checking out local grocery stores is one of my favorite things to do whenever I travel.  The store was your typical market, but as I was strolling the baking aisle I suddenly remembered about the White Lily flour.  I can't tell you excited I was to see it on the shelf!  I promptly bought four 5 lb bags to bring back to San Francisco with me.  Three of the bags were self-rising flour and the remaining one was all-purpose.  Luckily I managed to fit this haul in to my carry on suitcase.


I finally got around to making the buttermilk biscuits today and I have to say I am blown away by how light, fluffy and utterly delicious they are.  All the hype around White Lily flour is most well deserved in my opinion.  Who would have thought that just three ingredients (self-rising flour, shortening and buttermilk) could create something so delicious?  I give it the highest compliment I know by saying they are just as good, or even better, than KFC's buttermilk biscuits, which until now were my benchmark.


To accompany the biscuits I made a quick strawberry refrigerator jam using a recipe from Cook's Illustrated and local organic strawberries I bought at the farmer's market.  The jam is super easy to make and tastes fantastic with the buttermilk biscuits.  Pure heaven I tell you!


May 2, 2018

Milk Bar's Birthday Cake


Here's my second attempt at making a Milk Bar recipe for this blog, the first being their Crack Pie.  While the latter was pretty straightforward to make (with ingredients you probably already have), I forewarn you that wasn't necessarily the case with the former. 

If you follow the recipe to a tee this cake requires clear imitation vanilla extract, a 6-inch metal cake ring and acetate cake strips.  I'd venture to guess that most people won't have those things lying around in their kitchen, unlike me the crazy baking lady who already had them in her pantry.  That being said, I really had no excuse not to make this cake, my curiosity alone was enough motivation. 


Don't let any of the aforementioned deter or scare you from trying this recipe. The components can be made in advance and assembled up to a week later so time isn't a hindrance.  In my opinion the aesthetics alone of the finished cake make it a worthwhile baking project.

 
When Christina Tosi, the cake's creator, first made this popular dessert what really set the cake apart was its "nakedness," i.e., the sides were left bare without any frosting.  Nowadays that technique is pretty normal but I guess back then it was revolutionary.  The other unique element was the addition of cookie crumbs that were sandwiched between the layers of cake and frosting.


At first glance I must confess the birthday cake looked too sweet to me.  I can't help it, that's my gut reaction whenever I see a cake frosted with anything other than Swiss or Italian meringue buttercream.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cake was moist and tender with just the right amount of salt to balance out the sugar.   I'm pretty sure I'll be making this birthday cake again!

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