June 2, 2020

Homemade Nutter Butters


Oreos may be the store-bought cookie of choice for many in the world but I'm proud to be in the minority with my preference for Nutter Butters, the delicious peanut butter sandwich cookies.  I'm a huge peanut butter fan so these cookies are right up my alley.  When I saw that Stella Parks had included a recipe for a homemade version of Nutter Butters in her fantastic cookbook, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, I bookmarked the pages for a future baking project.  No better time than the present, especially when we're still under shelter in place orders for the next few months, at least!


The cookie is a thin and crispy peanut flavored shortbread, but in my opinion the real star is the whipped peanut butter creme filling.  Made with butter, peanut butter, honey, vanilla, salt and powdered sugar, the creme is a peanut lover's dream!  I could seriously just eat the creme on its own and it would also be amazing as a frosting for cake or cupcakes.


The sandwiched cookies are pretty darn close to the original from Nabisco, if I do say so myself.  In all honesty I won't be making homemade Nutter Butters frequently because it's much easier to just buy a small pack at the store, but it was a fun project!

May 24, 2020

Patriotic Pound Cake


I think it's safe to say this Memorial Day Weekend is unlike any we have ever known due to shelter in place and, of course, the Bay Area weather is forecast to be glorious and sunny.  But hey-ho, no use getting down about it, right?  I'll still enjoy the lovely weather, albeit from a safe social distance!

 

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season here in the US and I wanted to make something patriotic to celebrate the holiday.  In the past I've made blueberry pies with a star cutout crust or Ina Garten's festive flag cake.  This year I decided to try my hand at making a Patriotic Pound Cake.  I love a good marble cake with swirls of different colored batter so why not try it in the iconic red, white and blue?



I started with the Martha Stewart Living recipe for three-layer pound cake because it has the most delicious texture and crumb using the reverse creaming method.  I omitted the chocolate ingredients and tinted 1/3 of the vanilla cake with red or blue gel food coloring.   To create the marble effect there are quite a few different techniques, but for this cake I used small ice cream scoops to portion each of the colored batters into the loaf pan.  Use a sharp knife to slice the pound cake and I guarantee you'll be delighted with the patriotic swirls!

Hope everyone has a fun, safe and healthy Memorial Day Weekend! 

May 22, 2020

Braided Challah


I don't have much experience braiding bread dough but when I see beautiful loaves twisted in such interesting ways I'm determined to give it a go.  My colleague Inna makes challah every Friday for the sabbath and recently she made a mini loaf so I could try.  Her bread had the deepest, mahogany crust and such a beautiful braid.  As soon as I got home I cut a few slices and enjoyed them toasted with butter.  Delicious!  


Straightaway I asked Inna for the recipe she used and she referred me to this one from Chen Shukron.  The original post is in Hebrew but one click on Google and you can easily get the English translation.  To shape the bread she referred me to this Instagram post, but to be honest it seriously intimidated me!   I needed to start with something more for the beginner.

A few years ago I attempted a challah, but the braiding technique was a "cheat" version because you stacked a simple plait one on top of another.  What I wanted was to make the intricate, multi-strand braids that you see in bakeries, but for a novice.


I remembered seeing a Braided Round Challah from an issue of Cook's Illustrated that looked so appealing because it used the tangzhong technique, or cooked flour paste, and was shaped so beautifully.   In the end, I decided to make Inna's recipe and the Cook's Illustrated version using the braided round technique because two challah are always better than one! 


The aroma of homemade bread permeated throughout my kitchen and it was heavenly!  Both loaves baked up gorgeously, if I do say so myself.  I should definitely practice my braiding more because now it's not as daunting as it used to be.

Shabbat Shalom y'all!  

May 9, 2020

Peanut Butter Cup No-Churn Ice Cream


Here's a great recipe to make delicious ice cream WITHOUT an ice cream maker.  At first I was a bit skeptical when I read about No-Churn Ice Cream on the Cook's Country website, but after making it for myself I'm now a complete convert.  All you need is a blender, which most households have over an ice cream machine.  The other plus with this recipe is that there's no eggs used, so no cooking a custard base.  The ice cream mixture literally came together in less than ten minutes, even better in my book!


Reese's cups are one of my favorite candies so I opted to go for the peanut butter cup version of the ice cream.  [The website has many other flavors if you don't like peanut butter.]   The recipe couldn't be simpler to make: whip heavy cream in the blender for about 30 seconds until heavy peaks form, add the rest of the ingredients (except the stir-in), pour into a loaf pan, mix in the stir-ins and then freeze for at least six hours.  That's it!


The ice cream is delicious served alone but I had some extra choux pastries so I filled them with the ice cream to turn them into profiteroles. [Yes, I know technically you need three pastries on the plate for profiteroles, but I didn't have a third one!]

May 3, 2020

Bánh Mì


The Vietnamese Baguettes I made were destined to become Bánh Mì sandwiches.  I filled the baguettes ith char siu pork, pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cucumber and a bunch of cilantro.  By way of condiments I prefer lots of mayonnaise and a splash of Maggi seasoning.  The only thing missing was some pork pâté but I'll get some for next time.


May 2, 2020

Vietnamese Baguettes


Bánh mì (or Vietnamese baguette sandwich) is one of my all-time favorite things in the world.  It's the perfect food if you ask me.  Crisp, crunchy, soft and airy baguettes filled with meat, pickled vegetables, fresh cucumber and herbs.  Heaven in a bite!  Almost a decade later and I still think about the most delicious bánh mì I ever ate from Bánh Mì Phượng in Hội An, Vietnam.  


The key to a really good bánh mì boils down to the bread.  Viet baguette is slightly different than the French variety.  Yes, it was introduced to the country by the French in the 19th century but there's definitely a Viet spin to it.  The Vietnamese kind is much lighter and airier than the traditional baguette.


When I saw Uyen Luu had posted a recipe for homemade Viet baguette on her Instagram and website I could not contain my excitement.  Hers looked totally legit so I had to give it a go.



It's always intimidating trying a new recipe, especially when you have such high expectations for it.  Turns out I didn't need to worry.  The recipe wasn't complicated but there were a few steps you had to follow.  What I found very helpful was the YouTube video that was included in Uyen's post that showed how the baguettes were made.  Forewarning though, the video is in Vietnamese, but even if you don't understand the language you can still watch the video for visual clues on how the recipe works.


I literally jumped up and down when I pulled the baked baguettes out of the oven.  They totally looked authentic, down to the beautiful split on the top.  Straight away I FaceTimed my mom to show her the results and she even said the baguettes looked really good.  [And she's a tough critic!] I promised her that once I was able to visit again I would make them with her.

I'm planning to fill the baguettes with char siu or Chinese bbq pork.  Stay tuned!

April 25, 2020

Yeasted Doughnuts


Deep fat frying at home is one of those things I've tended to shy away from.  Mainly because I hate the cleanup and then what to do with all that used oil afterwards?  However, one glance at the Yeasted Doughnuts recipe in the May/June 2020 issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine and all those concerns went out the window.  They looked A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!  Chalk it up to the COVID crazies but I even bought an electric deep fat fryer just so that I could make the doughnuts.


I don't have a huge sweet tooth (I normally prefer salty things) but I would never turn down a good doughnut.  My favorite kinds are powdered sugar, regular glazed or chocolate frosted (sometimes with sprinkles).  With the aid of my trusty stand mixer the dough came together quite easily.   The enriched dough rests in the fridge for up to 48 hours so this is a great make-ahead recipe.



Each recipe makes a dozen doughnuts and some little holes as well and I made two batches. For my doughnut flavors I went with classic glazed, chocolate frosted, coffee frosted and filled.  For some of the filled doughnuts I used homemade raspberry jam that I had made a few weeks ago.  Considering that I also love pineapple I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by to fill the rest with the most delicious pineapple filling.  Surprisingly though, out of all the flavors I think my favorite was the coffee frosted.  I'm not a huge coffee drinker but I loved how the bitterness of the espresso powder was a nice balance to the sweet frosting.




One bite of the glazed doughnut and I was in heaven!  It was so light and fluffy, exactly like what you would find in your local shop.   I ended up giving away the rest of the doughnuts to my friends because I was too afraid to keep them in the house, lest I eat more! 

April 22, 2020

Pineapple Coconut Upside-Down Cake


One behavior that I'm trying to consciously change amidst the COVID-19 crisis is to be less wasteful.  Now more than ever it seems that resourcefulness is critical because ingredients aren't necessarily as readily available as they were before.

I'm actually enjoying the process of reinventing foods that I previously would have tossed.   It's almost like a game for me - how creative can I be with leftovers?  I had some pineapple chunks that were on its last legs and an open carton of buttermilk which is how how I found myself making this Pineapple Coconut Upside-Down Cake.  I don't often make pineapple upside-down but when I do I'm always reminded of my Dad.  It's his favorite cake.


The recipe comes directly from epicurious.com which I tweaked only slightly by adding some sweetened coconut to the party.  There's no need to bust out your stand mixer for this cake.  It easily came together using a hand mixer.  The trick is to make sure your ingredients are at room temperature.

Buttermilk is the star ingredient in this recipe because the baked cake came out so light, fluffy and tender. Some upside-down cakes err on the side of too sugary in my opinion, but I found this one to be just right.  A dollop of lightly sweetened crème fraîche and this dessert could want for nothing.  In fact, I helped myself to two slices! 

April 9, 2020

My Easter Table


Self-isolation and social distancing sucks and I think most people would agree with me on that.  I've been in it for a little over a month at this point, ever since San Francisco issued the shelter in place orders at the beginning of March.  I have my good days and bad days to be sure, but with Easter coming up I was determined to do things that would lift my spirits.  Plus, it gave me a great excuse to do even more baking!



Although I can't host the Easter brunch that I would have liked this year I can still decorate my table, right?  I took advantage of the online promotions at Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn and bought a colony of ceramic bunnies and eggs to use as props.  I also found some really cute paraphernalia and tons of Easter candy at my local Target.
 


I didn't really have any preset idea of what I wanted my table to look like.  My main goal was to create something that was pretty and I think I've accomplished that.  Pastel colors are used throughout the tablescape to evoke spring and renewal.  And who doesn't need that right about now?  



The baked goods I made included iced sugar cookies, mini bundt cakes and gluten-free carrot cupcakes.   At the center of the table was the pièce de résistance, an Easter bunny made of Rice Krispies treats.   Can it get any cuter than that?  It was so simple to make using a Nordicware Easter bunny pan I bought a few years ago (similar pan found here.)


This Easter table is bringing all the good feels for me and I hope it's  sparked a little joy for you.  Happy Easter to anyone who is celebrating and to everyone out there, please stay safe, healthy and STAY HOME!

Resources:

Scalloped Green Plates and Raffia Drinking Glasses: Aerin x Williams-Sonoma 
Placemats: H&M Home
Wooden Egg Placecard Holders, Happy Easter Place Cards, Raffia Carrots, Pastel Egg, Gold Cutlery: Target

March 23, 2020

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake


Yes, you read that right, Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake.  Now before you turn away in disgust hear me out.  Think about it, what is mayonnaise made out of?  Oil and eggs.  What ingredients are normally found in a moist cake?  Oil and eggs.  Whoever thought to put mayonnaise in a cake is a true genius!

Apparently it was commonly used in baking during WWII when ingredients were scarce and it feels very appropriate to resurrect it during the COVID-19 pandemic.  These days certain staples are harder to come by than others, e.g., eggs and milk, so this cake is the perfect solution.  I'd wager that you probably have most (or all) of the ingredients already in your pantry. 


If you're lacking confidence in the baking department I highly encourage you to give this recipe a try.  Everything is mixed by hand and no electric appliances are needed.  For any parents out there looking for a relatively easy activity to do with their kids give this recipe a try.  It couldn't be simpler and is practically foolproof.   Seriously, you can't mess it up!

To decorate the cake you can go with a light dusting of powdered sugar but I had some leftover ermine frosting so I ended using that.  And don't forget the sprinkles if you have any, they're always a good idea regardless of your age.

This easy-to-make cake is packed with so much chocolate flavor I bet you won't look at that jar of Best Foods or Hellmann's the same way again.  

Stay healthy and safe!

March 18, 2020

Cara Cara Angel Food Cake


I'm trying to process everything that's going on in the world right now and the one emotion that is omni present is anxiety.  Anxiety about the uncertainty, anxiety about the well being of loved ones, anxiety about society in general.  The list goes on and on.  In times like this I inevitably turn to baking for solace.  It may seem small and insignificant but it provides the comfort I need to get me through the craziness.  So let's get baking!


San Francisco residents are currently under a shelter in place order so I've been trying to use the food I have on hand to minimize the need to leave my house.  For baking inspiration I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts.  I knew I had a lot of egg whites and Cara Cara oranges so it was an easy decision to make an orange-flavored Angel Food Cake.  You don't have to use Cara Cara oranges, but I can't recommend them enough.  A member of the navel orange family, Cara Caras have a reddish hued flesh that I think is also sweeter than your average citrus variety.


Angel food cake doesn't have a traditional leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder.  Its height comes solely from whipped egg whites and sugar, aka meringue.  Don't skimp on the lengthy whipping in the recipe, otherwise you won't get a nice, tall cake.  Oh, and another thing, a nonstick tube pan will not work.  The batter needs a "sticky" surface to cling to as it rises in the oven and a nonstick pan doesn't provide that grip.


To you this may only be cake, but it's giving me some much needed light during these dark times.  Wishing everyone health and safety and don't forget to practice kindness with each other!

March 13, 2020

The Model Bakery English Muffins


I love an English muffin for breakfast and for most of my life the Thomas' variety suited me just fine, thank you very much.   But then I tasted The Model Bakery's English Muffins and all the sudden I was like, "Thomas' who?"   You may recall that many years ago these muffins were included in Oprah's Favorite Things and with one taste you'll understand what all the hype is about.  There are two bakery locations in the Napa Valley and it just so happened that I recently had a business meeting up the road from the downtown Napa shop.  How could I not stop by and try some for myself?   

The first things I noticed about these English muffins: they were big and soft with the heavenly aroma of butter.  What a combination!  I toasted one straight away and slathered it with salted butter.   One bite and I was hooked.  The light and airy texture was unreal, something I'd never tasted before. They were without a doubt the best English muffins I'd ever eaten in my life.


At $14 for a bag of six muffins they weren't cheap, nor was it super convenient to drive an hour north of San Francisco whenever I got a craving.  Then I remembered that The Model Bakery had a cookbook and sure enough the English muffin recipe was included.  I found my next baking project!
Prior to testing the recipe I had watched a YouTube video that showed the bakery's process for making the muffins.  Unfortunately my first attempt had less than stellar results.  The muffins were alright but lacked the light and airy texture I was looking for.   Back to the drawing board it was. 


In my second attempt I switched to King Arthur's flour (higher in gluten) and kneaded the dough longer.  Straight away I could tell that this dough was different from the one before because it was so light!  Also, after the dough balls had their second rise I didn't pat them down, which was a mistake I made in the first attempt.    Frying the muffins in a skillet with clarified butter is key and you can't skip this step.  That's what makes these muffins so delicious.    

I'm happy to report that the second batch of muffins was pretty darn close to Model's, if I do say so myself.  Not 100%, but perhaps 90%?  Either way, it's close enough for me that it saves a drive up north and keeps cash in my wallet!

February 22, 2020

Portuguese Pantry

photos by Gao's Cabinets






I know this blog is about baking but I recently remodeled my walk-in pantry and was so happy with the results I wanted to share more details.  Let me start by saying the "before" pantry was such an absolute disaster zone that I cringe just thinking about it.  You literally could not walk through the room because it was crammed with things from floor to ceiling.  Last summer I got so fed up with the mess that I made the decision to redo the pantry.  I spent 4th of July weekend taking every single thing out and I assure you it was no small feat.  It wasn't until I saw everything laid out that I realized how much excess and waste I had contributed to - duplicates, even triplicates, of baking equipment or accessories!  Family, friends and Goodwill charity were the lucky recipients of my clear out.  



Once the pantry was completely empty I was then able to bring in my contractor and cabinet maker to help plan my dream room.  Straightaway I knew I wanted to incorporate azulejos, Portuguese ceramic tiles, in to the design.  Lisbon is one of my favorite cities in the world and I love the beautiful tiled buildings there.  (My phone is filled with dozens of pictures of them from my last two visits.)   After searching high and low I was finally able to find authentic tiles from a UK vendor called Everett and Blue.    


Once I had the tiles sorted everything else about the pantry design came together quite easily.  With tile sample in hand I set about designing the cabinets with my favorite custom cabinet makers, Gao's Cabinets.  I've worked with them before on my kitchen and laundry room so there was no question who I would use for the pantry.  If you're in the Bay Area I can't recommend them enough...they are a dream to work with.



When it came to the overall design of the pantry I had several objectives that were non-negotiable: 1) a place to display my baking and cooking equipment, 2) enough storage to hold all my crap and 3) overall peace and serenity.  For organization I turned to my gurus, The Home Edit.  I admit I'm a super fan and obsess over all the pictures they post on their Instagram account.  Their simple, clean aesthetic just speaks to the perfectionist Virgo in me.  

I hope you'll agree with me that the finished pantry was worth it.  I couldn't be happier with the results!!!


Resources:

General Contractor: Ed Hauer Construction
Ceramic Tiles: Everett and Blue
Cabinets: Gao's Cabinets
Refrigerator: Whirlpool
Quartz Countertop: Caesarstone
Clear Storage Bins: Idesign
Clear Expandable Organizer: Idesign
Clear Lazy Susan: The Home Edit 
Peg Board: Lowe's 
Peg Board & Wall Color: Benjamin Moore "Alpine White" 
Trim and Picture Rail Wall Color: Benjamin Moore "Swiss Coffee"

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