August 15, 2019

Viennese Swirls



One of my favorite bakers to follow on Instagram is Thida Bevington.   I don't remember how I came upon her account but I'm so glad I did.  She is an unbelievable talent and I am constantly inspired by all of her bakes.  The breads, cakes, cookies and tarts she makes are absolutely stunning!    Check out her feed and you'll see what I mean.

Out of all of her amazing creations it was the Viennese Swirls that I had to attempt.   These biscuits (Thida is English, btw) are right up my alley and everything I love in a cookie - buttery and not too sweet.   I'd also seen something similar on The Great British Bake Off so that was extra motivation to give them a try.




After watching the step-by-step instructions on Thida's Instagram highlights more than a few times I had no trouble mixing the dough.  The most important thing is for your butter to be very soft, otherwise the finished dough will be difficult to pipe. 

When the first tray came out of the oven I couldn't help myself and had to have a little sample.  Mmmmm...the texture is so short (i.e., very tender) and buttery.  Absolute heaven in a bite I tell you.  To finish them off I dipped the swirls in some tempered milk chocolate which sent these cookies to another stratosphere!  


August 10, 2019

Tomato Galette


My co-worker Coltin brought in a bounty of tomatoes he'd grown in his garden.  Never one to pass up on lovely produce I grabbed a few of the big, beefy ones.  First thing that popped in to my mind was to use them in a Tomato Galette.  I'd bookmarked a recipe from Cook's Country but didn't have all the ingredients so I improvised a bit and it still turned out delicious.    


I had plans to use up some leftover roasted vegetables by making a quiche.   Not wanting to make two different crusts for the quiche and the galette I saved myself some time and just doubled the quiche crust recipe.  It's super buttery and flaky and bakes up beautifully.

The galette itself couldn't have been easier to throw together.  Slice up the tomatoes, lightly salt them and then drain in a colander for at least 30 minutes.  This extracts most of the excess juice that otherwise would be the bane of any flaky pastry.   No soggy bottoms over here!  Add some cheese, shallots, garlic and thyme and you've got a gorgeous looking galette.


This is a fantastic option for a vegetarian but meat eaters will love it too!  Add a salad and you've got yourself a delicious meal.  

August 5, 2019

Piña Colada Cake


When I was a kid my favorite ice cream flavor of all time was Thrifty's Coconut Pineapple.  Truth be told it's still my number one, even in adulthood.  I'd been meaning to make a cake version of this ice cream flavor and I finally got around to it after being inspired by Baking With Blondie's Mango Coconut cake.  Swap out the mango for pineapple and I present to you my Piña Colada Cake

 

I used Baking with Blondie's coconut cake recipe and Cook's Illustrated recipes for the pineapple filling and coconut buttercream frosting.  The cake recipe actually uses a Duncan Hines cake mix as its base.  Yes, this is a bit controversial in a world of "from scratch" baking but one that I welcome to be honest.  I grew up eating cakes made from a mix so this brings back a lot of nostalgia for me.   There's nothing wrong with taking shortcuts if it doesn't compromise the taste.


For the filling it was important that it contain fresh pineapple and was sturdy enough to hold up between the cake layers.   Ground instant tapioca did the job of thickening the pureed pineapple while still retaining it's fresh fruit flavor.   As for the frosting I went for an American buttercream which is easier to pull together than Swiss meringue, my normal go to.  To finish the cake off I had to recreate these amazing buttercream pineapples I saw from @makefabulouscakes...are they not the cutest things you've ever seen?

When I had a taste of the finished cake I was blown away by how delicious it was.  The tender coconut infused cake with the fresh pineapple filling is a taste home run!  I will definitely be making this cake again.


July 18, 2019

Triple Berry Cake


Full disclosure: I totally and completely copied the idea for this Triple Berry Cake from Sweet Lady Jane Bakery in Southern California.  I'd seen this particular  layer cake countless times in magazines and the internet because it seemed to be the birthday cake of choice by the likes of Taylor Swift and Gigi Hadid.  Celebrities aside, I was mainly drawn to the cake for its aesthetics.  I just love the beautiful fruit flowers and leaves set against the whipped cream background.  Absolutely gorgeous!


I did a google search and found a few YouTube videos that showed how the cake is made. What I especially loved was that it wasn't too sweet since the frosting was whipped cream.  Unfortunately Sweet Lady Jane's hasn't disclosed the cake recipe but if you break it down to its components it didn't seem that difficult: yellow cake, whipped cream and lots of fresh berries (strawberries, blackberries and raspberries).



Here's what I made my cake with:

Classic Yellow Cake from Stella Parks
Cream Cheese Whipped Cream from Cook's Illustrated  

Tips for next time: 
  1. Make at least 6 cups of sweetened whipped cream (using about 3 cups heavy cream) because I ran out at the end, thus the "naked" look on the sides of my cake.
  2. When applying the fresh berries between each cake layer fill the entire surface with tightly packed fruit!  I left gaps and when you cut in to the cake you have gaps...not pretty.

July 12, 2019

Animal Crackers


I saw these animal crackers cookie cutters on Amazon and had to buy them because they were so darn cute.  They reminded me so much of one of my childhood favorite cookies, Barnum's Animals Crackers, that come packaged in the little red box.  

Plunger style cookie cutters are perfect for intricate designs like these animals have.  The best cookie recipe I've used that really holds the detailed design of the cookie cutter is Rodda's clotted cream shortbread.  I've had success every time I've used it so I knew it was the perfect recipe for these animals.  Lucky for me I still had some of the clotted cream I brought back from London.


Aren't they the most adorable cookies?  The shortbread is crispy and not too sweet, just the way I like them.  If you're hosting an animal themed baby shower or kid's birthday party they would be a very fitting dessert to serve.

July 5, 2019

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Brown-Sugar Pecan Streusel


I'm probably in the minority when I confess that I've never ever had a Starbucks Frappucino. What can I say?  Those blended drinks heaped with whipped cream have never appealed to me. Maybe it's also because I'm not much of a coffee drinker so my visits to the ubiquitous coffee chain are few and far between.   However, one thing that definitely will get me through a Starbucks door is their classic coffee cake
 

Imagine my absolute delight when I discovered that Cook's Illustrated Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Brown-Sugar Pecan Streusel is the baking doppelgänger to that beloved Starbucks cake.  The cake itself is the real star of the show.  Super moist with such a fantastic crumb.  Add to that a caramelized cinnamon sugar swirl and you've got yourself a slice of heaven.   Even better, since it's homemade you know exactly what it's made of, none of those additives or preservatives nonsense.  

 
Hosting a brunch?  You'll gain fans if you serve this coffee cake, trust me.  It can keep for several days so it's perfectly fine to make it in advance.  In fact, I'd venture to say it tastes even better a few days later.   


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 SeriousEats.com]


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!
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