May 27, 2019

Buttermilk Biscuits by CHLB

Apparently National Buttermilk Biscuit Day was May 14 so I'm a bit late to the game this year.  I just returned from a trip down South, to Charleston, SC, and had to share some pictures of Callie's Hot Little Biscuits (or CHLB).   It's located in the tiniest sliver of a shop on Upper King Street but produces some of the best biscuits I've ever tasted.  The first day I visited was a bit of a queue but the promise of delicious southern biscuits made it worth the wait.

I love that on the wall of the shop they've literally painted the recipe for their famous buttermilk biscuits.  How cute is that?  Back in March I made their Cheese & Chive Biscuits so for this post I made the original buttermilk that started the CHLB phenomenon.  The employees were so kind when I bombarded them with questions.  They said the key was to use White Lily Unbleached Self-Rising Flour (with the red label!) and to work the flour and butter first, until it's like the texture of grated parmesan cheese, and THEN, work in the cream cheese.  Previously I'd mixed the butter and cream cheese together with the flour.

As is the custom whenever I travel I always try to bring back a baking souvenir.  On this trip I brought four 5-lb bags of the White Lily flour.  Yes, call me crazy, but it's so expensive to buy in the West Coast!  I literally had to go to several supermarkets to find the unbleached self-rising flour but eventually found success at a Walmart Supercenter in Mount Pleasant.

While Callie's biscuits are the ultimate, I think mine come pretty darn close.  I love to eat them warm with butter or homemade jam but I've also started to serve them with some pimento cheese.  You better believe I brought back some of that Southern delicacy with me as well!  

May 4, 2019

Potato Burger Buns

After being away from home for a while the first thing I wanted to do was bake, but what to make?  Overindulging in European sweets and pastries the last few weeks had me craving something savory.  While browsing through the May/June 2019 issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine it was the recipe for Sloppy Joes that caught my eye.  But it was the idea of making Potato Burger Buns from scratch that got me excited.   Now I know that many of you may be asking, "why bother making the buns when you can easily buy them?" But to that I say, "why ever not?

If you've made bread rolls before then this recipe will be child's play for you.  If you've new to bread making I still stand by my belief that it's not as hard as you might think.  The most challenging step is to mash some boiled potatoes and that's not hard at all!

After tasting the soft and tender homemade burger buns I don't know that I'll be buying them from the store any longer, especially since they were so so simple to make.  In fact, I think I'll make another batch to keep in my freezer.  You never know when you might get a craving for a hamburger.

April 14, 2019

Hydrangea Cupcakes

Hydrangeas are one of my favorite flowers and sometimes I'll pick up a few bunches at Trader Joe's or Costco to decorate the house.  I love the massive blooms and vibrant colors they come in.  When I saw that you could make cupcakes to look like hydrangeas I knew I had to replicate them for myself.  The technique couldn't be simpler and the results are so beautiful.  They're the perfect addition to your spring or Easter table.

While searching YouTube I found this great video that demonstrates how to pipe the flowers using buttercream.  The key is to have the right piping tip.  Most posts I had seen recommended the Wilton 2D, a large closed star tip, so that's what I went with.   I used my favorite frosting, Swiss meringue buttercream, since it takes to colors so well. 

Are you doubting that you can create these hydrangeas for yourself?  You have nothing to worry about!  If you can squeeze a piping bag with a modicum of control then you've basically mastered the technique. Trust me when I say these flowers are the most impactful with the least amount of effort.

April 2, 2019

Swedish Princess Cake (Prinsesstårta)

I'd been looking for a cake to celebrate spring and Easter and the first thing that popped in to my head was a Swedish Princess Cake (or Prinsesstårta).  It's been on my baking bucket list for what seems like an eternity so it was finally time to have a go.  Fittingly, I think my introduction to these beautiful cakes was at IKEA many, many years ago...ha!  What could be more delicious than moist vanilla genoise sponge cake filled with layers of raspberry jam, diplomat cream a gorgeous dome of whipped cream and then covered in verdant colored marzipan?   Nothing, I tell you!

For the recipe I turned to Mary Berry, of The Great British Bake Off fame.  Princess cake was the technical challenge in the Continental Cakes episode of Series 5.  At first glance this recipe is daunting, there's a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps!, but don't be deterred. While the contestants were given just over two hours to complete their cakes I made my life easy and decided to make it over the course of a weekend.  Some of the components (pastry cream, jam, marzipan and fondant rose) were made on the first day and the sponge cake and assembly were done on the second day.   

I passed on the chocolate decorations from Mary's original recipe and kept it sweet and simple with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  I just think it looks so stunning in an elegant and understated way. I don't know about you, but I seriously love all the spring feels this cake is giving me.  The beautiful pastel green marzipan exterior and cream and pink interiors are just so refreshing and light.  No doubt this beauty will banish any wintertime blues you may have.  

Happy Spring!

March 24, 2019

Happy Bee-Day Cake

How cute is this Happy Bee-Day Cake?  I really love how it turned out.  The occasion was for Laura's birthday party and her mom Julia had sent over some ideas with a bee theme.  I've been making celebration cakes for Laura even before she was born so I was happy to continue the tradition and make one for her second birthday.  Here's what baby shower and first birthday cakes looked like.

The cake is comprised of Stella Parks' White Mountain Layer Cake and Swiss Buttercream in vanilla and strawberry flavors.  Stella's white cake recipe is one of my absolute favorites.  The crumb is so moist and tender.  If you haven't already bought her cookbook you need to!  The buttercream is a traditional Swiss meringue style.  I flavored half of the frosting with ground up freeze-dried strawberries which gives you an intense fruit flavor without the additional moisture.  The perfect balance of sweet and tart. 

Happy Birthday Laurita!

March 17, 2019

Raspberry Hamantaschen

Purim is coming soon so it was the perfect excuse to make Raspberry Hamantaschen, one of my favorite cookies.  I love this shortbread cookie filled with the sweet and tart jam.  I used Sarabeth Levine's recipe for mandelbrot for the cookie and homemade raspberry jam for the filling but you can use store bought. 

Shaping the cookies in to the traditional triangles couldn't be simpler.  I cut circles out of the dough using a 3-inch cutter and filled each with one teaspoon of the jam.  Then just pinched three sides together to form the triangle shape.  Happy Purim!

March 10, 2019

Cheddar and Chive Biscuits

The Charleston Wine and Food Festival took place these past few days and while I didn't attend, after seeing all the posts on social media, I wish I had!  Seeing all the pictures of the amazing looking food had me hankering big time for Southern cuisine.  What could be more quintessentially Southern than the buttermilk biscuit?  In Charleston there is none more famous than Callie's homemade biscuits so I had to give them a try for myself.

According to Carrie Morey, the owner of Callie's and its namesake's daughter, the secrets to their delicious biscuits are White Lily self-rising flour and cream cheese.  Some of you may recall that I brought back several bags of White Lily when I was in Florida last year.  Luckily I still had a few bags tucked safely away in my freezer so I had all the ingredients ready to go.  I ended up making Callie's Cheddar and Chive Biscuits because I wanted something savory.

Seriously the most strenuous part of this recipe was grating the cheese and chopping the chives.  Everything else was easy peasy since it doesn't require any appliances like a food processor.   The biscuits came together in no time.  Hot out of the oven and with a pat of butter I can't think of anything more simple and delicious!  If only I had some fried chicken to accompany them! 

March 3, 2019

Levain Style Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

In all the times that I've traveled to New York City I never managed to make it to Levain Bakery.  If you ask my why I couldn't tell you, I guess it just never crossed my mind.  There was always someplace else that took priority.  But recently I'd been seeing their famous chocolate chip walnut cookies featured countless times on social media.  The clincher was when Stella Parks posted on her Instagram Stories that she was working on a Levain style cookie recipe for Serious Eats.  That was it, I had to try these cookies for myself.  Immediately I emailed Stella asking if she might perhaps share her recipe with me and she was kind enough to send a preview.  [Look for the actual recipe to be posted soon on]

The one thing I noticed immediately about her recipe was the high ratio of chocolate chips and walnuts compared to other chocolate chip cookies.   These ones are not for the faint of heart...they are stuffed to the max!   Another thing is that they are H-U-G-E, each one weighing about six ounces.  The recipe yields eight gigantic cookies, each one could easily be split with two or three people if you're so inclined to share.

Now I must admit that chocolate chips are not my favorite kind of cookie but these were pretty damn good, if I do say so myself.  I broke in to one while it was still warm and the bittersweet chocolate was just slightly melted and oozing with the crunchy walnuts serving as a really lovely complement.  On my next trip to NYC I'll be sure to stop by the bakery that started it all!

February 17, 2019

Iced Fingers

I'm a huge fan of The Great British Bake Off and this recipe for Iced Fingers was featured in one of the earlier seasons of the show.  I'd been meaning to make them ever since I first watched that episode all those years ago so you could say these are long overdue.  There's just something so inviting about a soft and fluffy bun filled to the brim with whipped cream and jam. 

The recipe comes from Paul Hollywood, GBBO "male judge" and bread baker extraordinaire, so you can pretty much assume it's going to be a winner.  And you would not be wrong.  Enriched dough is not as difficult to make as you might think and this one has the most beautiful texture to work with.  You could make the dough by hand, as suggested in the recipe, but I'm too lazy for that and leveraged my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer.  It makes your life so much easier!

Baked to a lovely golden brown the fingers had a beautifully soft and fluffy interior.  My main deviation from Paul's recipe was in the filling.  Rather than using whipped heavy cream on its own I added softened cream cheese to give it more structure and stability.  The last thing you want is a weepy iced finger!  Once iced and filled with cream cheese whipped cream and raspberry jam these fingers were a dream to eat.   

One caveat though: I highly recommend making the buns all in the same day to get the maximum freshness and flavor.  I spread it out over two days and found that the buns weren't as soft and fluffy as they were when they were freshly baked...still tasted great though!

February 12, 2019

Cake Pops & Surprise-Inside Heart Cupcakes

Since I made the Surprise-Inside Heart Cake in a 6-inch size rather than 8-inch I ended up with some extra cake batter and buttercream frosting.  I couldn't bring myself to bin them so I asked myself what could I do?   Immediately I thought of Cake Pops and Surprise-Inside Cupcakes!  I love how one dessert can produce two more.

The cupcakes are really simple to put together, trust me.  Since I only ended up using half of the baked pink cake I turned the rest in to little heart shaped cake bites with the help of a petit fours cutter.  To make the cupcakes I poured a spoonful of the white cake batter in to a paper lined muffin  pan and placed the heart cake bite standing upright.  I then spooned more cake batter over to cover it completely and baked like normal.  A swirl of the buttercream and a dusting of pink, red and white jimmies finished it off.  It's not until you slice the cupcake do you discover the surprise heart inside!

Cake pops were the perfect way to use the leftover cake trimmings and buttercream.   I recommend reading this post from Bakerella who is the queen of cake pops.  The technique couldn't be easier.  You just break up the cake in to crumbs and mix in some buttercream to create a Play-doh like dough.  Roll in to ping pong sized balls and refrigerate until firm.   Then you dip the cake balls in to melted candy melts (I got mine from Michaels) and decorate with sprinkles!

February 9, 2019

Surprise-Inside Heart Cake

This was my first attempt at making a surprise-inside cake and I think it turned out okay.  I preface that by saying I'm a perfectionist so I'm always going to be my worst critic.  But while the cake does look pretty cool I would have liked the heart shape to come out with more distinct and sharp lines.  I'll save that for my second attempt I guess!

I was inspired to make this cake after seeing an Instagram video post by Baking With Blondie.  Between you and me I think I probably watched the video at least twenty times to learn how she put the cake together.  The cake was too cute not to try and replicate and Valentine's Day was the perfect occasion to practice.

For the cake I used Stella Parks's White Mountain Layer Cake and frosted it with her American Buttercream.  Normally I would use my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream but I'd been meaning to try her take on the American classic.  I baked the white cake layers using three 6-inch pans and for the pink cake filling I used a quarter sheet pan.

A bonus to making this surprise-inside cake was that it produced two additional treats using the leftover cake and icing.  I'll post them shortly so stay tuned!

January 23, 2019

Raspberries & Cream Angel Food Cake

I debated whether or not to wait until February to post this Raspberries & Cream Angel Food Cake, you know for Valentine's Day and all, but then I figured why wait?   For those of you looking to make a dessert to celebrate the holiday this will give you a leg up and time to prepare.  The inspiration for this beautiful cake came from two baking masters: Zoë Francois and Stella Parks

For the angel food cake I made Stella's recipe which uses a slow and steady approach to whipping  the fluffy meringue base.   I also love that her recipes uses egg whites straight from the fridge - no need to get them warmed to room temperature.   As for the pale pink raspberry cream frosting, I literally stopped in my tracks when I first caught sight of it on Zoë's Instagram feed.  I couldn't get over how visually stunning it looked.  Whenever I use whipped cream as a frosting I like to add in some cream cheese which gives it a delicious tang and much needed stability.  Cue the raspberry jam and you end up with the most beautiful and delicious frosting! 

As I write this blog post I am literally enjoying a big slice of the cake.  It's heaven, I tell you.  Whereas most angel food cakes tend to be cloyingly sweet this one is anything but!  I highly encourage you to give it a try.  Trust me, you won't regret it.

p.s. I used this fabulous angel food cake cutter and it works like a dream!

January 17, 2019

Almond Anise Biscotti

One of my colleagues recently did me a huge favor at work and as a thank you I wanted to bake something to show my appreciation.  I vaguely recalled her mention in passing that she loved a good biscotti so that's what I set out to make.  Lucky for me I'd been hankering for an excuse to make these Almond Anise Biscotti I saw posted on Serious Eats a few weeks ago.  The recipe comes from Stella Parks who is one of my baking Yodas.  I seriously love everything she makes!  

Anise is not a spice I normally gravitate towards in baking but in this case the hint of licorice flavor it provides to the biscotti is spot on - just subtle enough and not overpowering.  A technique in this recipe that I'm definitely going to steal going forward is how the biscotti is shaped.  The dough is rolled in to a log that extends to the full length of a half sheet pan.  Doing this I think helps to ensure even thickness in the baked cookie. 

To gild the lily even further I ended up dipping some of the biscotti in bittersweet chocolate.  I tried tempering the chocolate using the seeding method but I'm not too convinced of how they turned out.  They still taste great though!

January 13, 2019

Passion Fruit Tart

Happy New Year!  

For my first blog post of 2019 I wanted to showcase something tart and refreshing so I present to you a Passion Fruit Tart.  This past holiday season I definitely didn't pass up any opportunities to over indulge - four raclette dinners in the span of three weeks was evidence of that!  I made this tart for dessert at one of those dinners and it was the perfect ending to such a heavy meal.  Besides, I don't think passion fruit gets all the love it deserves.  I myself am a huge fan of the tropical fruit and try to use it in baking wherever I can.

While fresh fruit is always best I find the cost of passion fruit, at least here in San Francisco, can be quite prohibitive.  My local Asian market was selling the fruit for $4 each and when you normally need at least five for any given recipe that tends to be expensive.  I found a fantastic alternative though - frozen passion fruit pulp.  Head to your local Hispanic supermarket and nine times out of ten they'll carry this item.  Plus, it's so much cheaper than the fresh fruit.  The only downside being that that you forgo  colorful seeds but I'm ok with that.

To make this tart I started with Cook's Illustrated's classic lemon tart and simply substituted the lemon juice with passion fruit pulp.  Easy peasy!   What I particularly love about CI's recipe is that you make a curd first and then bake it in a warm sweet pastry crust.  This leads to a firm filling and a tart that's easier to slice and serve.  I encourage you to give this dessert a try - you won't regret it!

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