October 3, 2021

Applesauce Bundt Cake

 

Autumn is finally here and after making half a dozen cream tarts last month I was ready for some fall  baking.  First on the docket is this super easy to make and super delicious Applesauce Bundt Cake.  I did a google search for "applesauce" cake and it came back with this recipe.  No equipment required and everything is mixed together in one bowl.  As Ina Garten would say, "How easy is that?"

Since I'd never made this cake before I wanted to test it out using just 1/2 the recipe and baked it in a 6-cup bundt pan.  The only other adjustments I made to the recipe were to 1) add chopped honeycrisp apples to the cake batter and 2) finish the cooled cake with a thick glaze made with apple cider and powdered sugar.  If you read the recipe reviews you'll find that several people commented to reduce the oil amount by 1/2 cup and replace it with an equal amount of applesauce, to give the cake more apple flavor.  Next time I think I'll do that.

September 19, 2021

Mini Fruit Tarts

 

After making six, yes six!, cream tarts in the span of three weeks I was pretty much over them.  At least for the time being.  Turns out making so many tarts meant I found myself with leftover pâte sucrée, pastry cream and fruit.   What to do? Make Mini Fruit Tarts!

 
One of the (many) lessons I have learned during this pandemic is to be more efficient with food, e.g., using up leftovers.  Pre-pandemic I was one of the last people to eat leftovers, mainly because I didn't like having the same thing over and over.  Nowadays I try to be creative and make something "new" out of them.
 

The mini fruit tarts offer just the right amount to satisfy your sweet tooth craving.  You'll need tart tins to make them, but in a pinch you could also use a standard muffin tin.  Just make sure to spray it with nonstick spray beforehand!

September 7, 2021

Cream Tart

 

Often times people will ask me where I get baking inspiration from and my usual answer, "anywhere and everywhere," probably sounds a bit disappointing, but it's true!  I can't pinpoint anything in particular that inspires me.  Sometimes it's tasting an amazing pastry and wanting to replicate it at home or a friend texting me to to say they've seen a particular dessert and asking if I could make it.  
 
 

In the case of the Cream Tart, it was seeing an Instagram post that was the inspiration.  If you're on social media I'm sure you've seen these cakes before, normally shaped into numbers or letters.   Apparently cream tarts have been popular since 2018, but to be honest I never really paid much attention to them.  After seeing that Instagram post I did some research and discovered that cream cakes weren't so difficult to make. 
 
 
When deconstructed, the tart was comprised of shortbread and some type of filling, then decorated with fresh fruit, meringues, macarons, flowers* and anything else your heart desired.   Once all the components were compiled the actual cake assembly was quite simple.  But you would never think that when you look at the finished cake...so visually stunning and very Instagram worthy!  [*Make sure the flowers you use are safe to put on food! For the "S" cake I mistakenly put a few sprigs on baby's breath but DO NOT DO THIS!  Baby's breath are toxic when consumed. They were immediately removed after taking the photo.]
 
 
I could easily see these cakes being the star dessert for a birthday, baby shower, bridal shower or any kind of party.  Since so many of my friends have birthdays in September (including my own!) they just might be getting a cream tart to celebrate.  
 

August 25, 2021

Lemon Posset and Lemon Cupcakes

 

For the Lemon Lovers Table that I recently created I included some citrus-infused treats.  At each place setting there was a decorated sugar cookie to welcome my guests.  Other desserts included the cutest  lemon petit-fours from Trader Joe's and homemade Lemon Posset and Lemon Cupcakes.


I had my first taste of lemon posset at ad hoc restaurant and I was immediately hooked on the creamy, tangy dessert.  It was so refreshing, especially after having ad hoc's famous buttermilk fried chicken!  Luckily I found a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that couldn't be simpler to make using only three ingredients: heavy cream, sugar and lemons.


For the lemon cupcakes I used a vanilla cake recipe from The Cupcake Project.  It was the winner of a recent taste test from The Kitchen.  While the cupcakes were really tasty, I actually prefer a cake that has a tighter crumb to it.  I frosted the cupcakes with Swiss meringue buttercream that was mixed with pre-made lemon curd. To pipe the buttercream swirls I used a large petal tip (Ateco #126).  I confess it was a decorating technique I pinched from Violet bakery in London. 

August 22, 2021

Lemon Lovers Table

 

I couldn't wait to put together this Lemon Lovers Table and I absolutely adore how it turned out.  It all began with the most fabulous citrus-themed linens (tablecloth, placemats and napkins) from Mrs. Alice, the tablescape brand.  If you've never heard of Mrs. Alice I urge you to check out their website because they sell so many gorgeous things.   I could easily blow my paycheck on their products!


Lemons always remind me of Capri, the small island off the Amalfi Coast in Italy that I visited a few years ago with friends.  We had the best time there!  Everywhere you turned in Capri there were lemons present, whether it was the actual fruit growing on trees, the scent perfuming the air or as an ingredient in the food.   I long to return there once the pandemic subsides.
 

The linens paired beautifully with Aerin x Williams-Sonoma tableware I already owned.  I found these darling woven straw fruit napkin rings on etsy.  To complete the table I made a few lemon treats such as decorated sugar cookies, cupcakes and lemon posset.  Talk about a citrus explosion, but I love it!
 

Resources
 
Tablecloth, Placemats, Napkins: Mrs. Alice
Woven Straw Fruit Napkin Rings: etsy 
Plates, Drinking Glass with Raffia collar: Aerin x Williams-Sonoma 
Wine Glass: Amazon
Bamboo Flatware: Pottery Barn 

August 4, 2021

Roasted Cherry Tomato & Garlic Focaccia

 

Liguria Bakery in San Francisco makes the best focaccia in the city and I've been going there for years.  They only sell focaccia, nothing else, so you know their signature product is top notch.  My favorite flavor is the pizza focaccia with it's tangy marinara sauce on top, but you can't go wrong with any of the flavors.  I'd been craving the classic Italian salad of prosciutto and melon (prosciutto e melone) and wanted to have some focaccia to go with it.
 
Being too lazy to get in my car and make the drive to North Beach (and deal with parking) I decided to look for a quick and easy focaccia recipe; one that didn't require  hours of preparation or a starter.  A quick internet search and I found this one from ATK Young Chefs' Club for Roman-style focaccia.   Add in some cherry tomatoes that were on their last leg and I made this fantastic Roasted Cherry Tomato and Garlic Focaccia.
 

Seriously, anyone can make this focaccia and yield amazing results.  The recipe is written for kids so that should tell you how easy it is to make.  [My only updates were to omit rosemary and add a mixture of halved cherry tomatoes, chopped garlic, olive oil, herbs and salt & pepper as the topping.]  The bread's texture is super light and fluffy and the tomatoes and garlic really elevate it to the next level.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the salad and dare I say could rival that of Liguria's famous focaccia?  I'll definitely be making this recipe again.

August 1, 2021

Mackles'mores

 

It's rare for me to stray from my go-to chocolate chip cookie (Jacques Torres's recipe published in the New York Times), but I recently discovered a new take on the all-American classic that had me wondering if it was time to reconsider.  Over the years I've visited the Pacific Northwest many times but never had I been to Hello Robin Cookies.  
 
 
Until a few months ago I'd never even heard of the cookie shop until I was FaceTiming with my friend Evelyn who lives in Seattle.  While we were chatting her family just so happened to come home with a dozen cookies from the aforementioned bakery.  They're favorite cookie being Mackles'mores, chocolate chip dough studded with marshmallows, baked on a graham cracker and finally topped with a chocolate square.  Intrigued, I immediately went online to find out more. 
 

Luckily there were plenty of websites that not only published the Hello Robin recipe but also videos showing how it was made.  The only adjustment I made to the recipe was omitting the cinnamon.  I scooped out the dough into 2 tablespoon size balls and froze them to bake off later.  This method worked liked a dream because I found the frozen dough baked beautifully. 
 
 
After the baked cookies came out of the oven I topped them with a square of Dandelion Chocolate's Gola Rainforest chocolate.  With its hints of brownie, marshmallow and roasted almonds I thought the chocolate would pair beautifully with the Mackles'mores.   The chocolate chip cookie on its own is fantastic, nice and chewy with caramel hints, but the addition of the graham cracker really takes it over the top.  So good! It wants for nothing, except maybe a cold glass of milk.


July 22, 2021

Fried Peach Hand Pies

 

My obsession with McDonald's fried apple pies is well known amongst family and friends.  You can be fairly certain that if I come across a franchise that has the fried pies on the menu I will definitely be buying them.  Unfortunately it's the baked variety that is commonly sold in the States so I have to get my fried pie fix when I'm out of the country (normally you can find them in Europe). 


I've got peaches on the brain lately because we're at the height of the season.  As I was looking up peach recipes on Cook's Illustrated I came across this recipe for Fried Peach Hand Pies.  What?  A fried pie made with peach filling?  Sold!


What I particularly love about this recipe is that you can use either fresh or frozen peaches, especially handy when it's not peak peach season.  The crust couldn't be simpler to make in the food processor and is easy to work with.  I tested the recipe using frozen peaches and, call me crazy, I actually think the peach flavor is more pronounced using frozen fruit.  Who would have known?  
 

The deep fat fryer I bought at the beginning of the pandemic made quick work of frying the pies in no time at all. Is there anything better than the sound of food frying?  Impatient to see how they tasted I had to have a taste of a fried pie while it was still hot.  One bite and I was not disappointed.  So delicious!  The golden brown crust was nice and flaky and the filling was bursting with peach flavor.  I gave some pies to my sister to taste and she said they were fantastic.   Now I want to try other fruit fillings to use with the dough.   Dare I attempt to replicate my beloved McDonald's fried apple pie?  We shall see....

July 18, 2021

Strawberry Coulis Yogurt Pops

 

After making the delicious buttermilk panna cotta I found myself with some leftover strawberry coulis.   What to make with the fruit-intense sauce?  Immediately I thought it would make a great base for a homemade popsicle.  All I needed was to mix in some Greek yogurt and pour it into silicone ice pop molds.  Voila...the best summer treat!


July 10, 2021

Blueberry Lemon Babka

 

Never had I heard of babka before until I watched that infamous Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine were desperately searching for a chocolate one to take to their friend's dinner party.  Unfortunately for them the bakery they went to only had cinnamon ones left.  Had they only known about Bluberry Lemon Babka they would have forgotten all about chocolate.
 


The recipe for this enriched dough beauty comes from blogger Cinnamon Shtick and it is an absolute winner.   Lemon is infused throughout the bread and the citrus flavor pairs beautifully with the homemade blueberry jam filling.   The addition of a struesel crumb topping takes this bread to the next level.  So good!
 
 
If you've never made bread with an enriched dough before, i.e., a yeasted dough with eggs and butter, then I highly recommend giving this recipe a try.  The dough is a dream to work with and is quite forgiving.     I don't think you can mess it up, but even if things go awry I'm sure it will still taste delicious.

July 5, 2021

Patriotic Picnic

 

Although I've lived in the city for twenty plus years I've never been to any of the free outdoor summer concerts at Stern Grove, mainly because I was normally abroad.   But this year was different since I wasn't going overseas for the summer...thanks COVID.  The San Francisco Symphony was performing at the festival this year on the 4th of July and luckily I was able to secure some tickets.  
 
 
 
Stern Grove is one of those venues where bringing a picnic is expected and encouraged and I was totally on board with that.  Lately I've been really into picnics and I love planning out the different kinds of food and drinks that can be enjoyed outdoors.  Food always seems to taste so much better al fresco, doesn't it?   While yummy food and drink is a requirement I also like to make sure the picnic is visually appealing by using nice serving ware.  As the saying goes, we always eat first with our eyes. 


Since the concert was on the 4th of July I wanted to create a Patriotic Picnic to celebrate the red, white and blue holiday.  [Full disclosure: the food wasn't necessarily red, white and blue, but the decor was!]  When assembling a picnic I like to bring a mix of homemade and store bought items and have a variety of offerings.  Tuna fish sandwiches and some of the desserts (buttermilk panna cotta, Mackles'mores  cookies) were made by yours truly and the rest of the foods (cheese, charcuterie, dip, fruit, crackers) were store bought. 
 
 
No picnic is complete without a cocktail and the one that epitomizes summer to me is a Pimm's Cup.  A British classic, it's one of my favorite summertime drinks and always reminds me of England and Wimbledon.  If you've never had it before it's made with Pimm's, a gin-based liquor, which is mixed with lemon-lime soda, fruits and ice.  I usually tell people it's like a British sangria because it's so light and refreshing.
 
The symphony concert and patriotic picnic were a great success (several guests sitting nearby even commented how impressed they were with the spread!).  If only the temperatures hadn't been in the low 60s and overcast, but that's a typical San Francisco summer for you!


Picnic Basket: Anthropologie
Picnic Blanket: Old Navy
EnamelWare: Cost Plus  

July 3, 2021

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis and Fresh Berries

 
This is the third post on my blog featuring panna cotta but I think it might be the best tasting one yet.  My friend Maria recently hosted a pre-4th of July bbq at her house and I volunteered to bring the dessert.  Knowing that the main lunch was going to be heavy on proteins, think steak and sausages, I wanted to end the meal with something that was delicious, light and refreshing.    Cue this Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis and Fresh Berries.
 
 
The recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated and couldn't be simpler to make with heavy cream, buttermilk and unflavored gelatin.  My favorite way to serve panna cotta is in mini Weck jars, a dessert presentation I first learned from Ad Hoc restaurant.   Sometimes panna cotta can have a rubber-y texture if there's too much gelatin used, but you won't have that issue with this version.  The cooked cream is silky smooth with just the right amount of firmness.   Delicioso!
 

The recommended way to finish off the dessert is to drizzle the top with honey before topping with fresh berries.   Since I had an abundance of San Joaquin Valley strawberries from my hometown on hand I decided to make a coulis instead.   The strawberry sauce tasted absolutely delicious with the panna cotta and berries.   I'm planning to bring the mini panna cotta to a 4th of July outdoor concert and picnic.  

June 20, 2021

Rainbow Flag Cookies

As an ally to the LGBTQ+ community I wanted to show my support during Pride Month by making these Rainbow Flag Cookies.  While they may look complicated to make they really aren't.  These cookies are essentially a slice and bake cookie.  I used my favorite sugar cookie recipe and divided the dough into six equal portions which were tinted the colors of the rainbow.  Here's an easy acronym to remember what the colors are and the order they're placed in: ROYGBV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet).

 
To shape the I dough into a flag I used a long, rectangular box that was 12" L x 2 3/4" W x 2" D in size. Each portion of color tinted dough was spread into the box and flattened as evenly as possible before adding the next layer.   An hour-long chill in the fridge ensured that I could easily slice the dough before baking.  I just love how the rainbow flag cookies turned out.  The colors are so vibrant and cheerful.  

HAPPY PRIDE MONTH!
 
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