April 17, 2021

Basque Cheesecake

It all started with a text from my friend Bibsy.  "Have you ever made a basque cheesecake?"  In fact, I had never and by pure coincidence I had recently saved this post from Instagram which just happened to be a Basque Cheesecake. What really drew me in was the burnt top crust.  There was something about the dark amber color that looked so inviting and delicious. Bibsy's text was just the extra motivation I needed to make the cheesecake. 
 

The recipe couldn't be simpler to make and doesn't have many ingredients since there's no crust to contend with.  My first thought when taking a whiff of the baked cheesecake was that it smelled like crème brûlée.  And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
 

April 12, 2021

Choux au Craquelin with Pistachio Crème Mousseline and Raspberry Jam

 

Towards the end of last year I decided to make homemade pistachio paste using this recipe from Stella Parks.  Being ambitious I thought it was a good idea to double the recipe so that I would have plenty of paste to last me for a while.  Little did I know that doing this would test the limits of my poor food processor.  It definitely wasn't a good sign when the motor started smoking...ha!  Fortunately, after a long rest the food processor recovered and I didn't have to replace it. Phew!  Perhaps it was that trauma that made me procrastinate in using the pistachio paste.  Several months passed and I finally found a use for it.

Pistachio is one of my favorite nut flavors and I thought it would be delicious in a pastry cream.  I found a recipe for Choux au Craquelin with Pistachio Crème Mousseline and Raspberry Jam from the blog Ana's Baking Chronicles.  Her pictures of the pastries were so stunning that I was immediately enticed to make them myself.  

You'll notice the crackly crust on top of the cream puffs.  This is called craquelin which is a dough made of butter, sugar, flour and salt (and a little food coloring, if you want).  It's rolled out thin, then frozen and cut into discs using a small round cutter.  The craquelin is placed on top of the pâte à choux just before baking.  When baked it turns into a crackly shell on top of the baked puff.
 

One of the issues I've found with cream puffs is the pastry cream filling tends to run and not hold it's shape, especially when you try to cut into it.  What I especially liked about Ana's recipe is that she fills her choux with pastry cream whipped with butter, also known as crème mousseline or German buttercream.  The result was a filling bursting with pistachio flavor that also held up to piping and cutting.  A layer of homemade raspberry jam at the bottom of the choux serves as a nice contrast to the nutty filling.  One bite of this decadent pastry and you'll be transported back to France!

April 7, 2021

Lemon Bundt Cake

Spring is in full swing in the Bay Area and I am here for it.  After the marathon baking I did in preparation for Easter I was looking for something delicious, yet simple to make and this Lemon Bundt Cake fits the bill.  I've made quite a few lemon cakes for this blog but surprisingly this recipe from Cook's Illustrated was one that I hadn't made before.   The cakes I've made previously had sour cream or cream cheese as an ingredient but this one has buttermilk which helps to create a tender texture. 

As is the case with any bundt cake,  a key to its success is ensuring the baked cake releases nicely from the pan.  I made sure to grease my fleur de lis pan really well with shortening and then coat it generously with a dusting of flour.  My cake released beautifully and you could really see the beautiful design too. 

This cake is really delicious and really doesn't want for anything.  The crumb was light and tender and there was plenty of lemon flavor.   I am definitely going to be making this again.

March 29, 2021

Tangzhong Hot Cross Buns

 

When Easter rolls around there's nothing better than a really good hot cross bun.  You can't beat the combination of a bread roll spiced with cinnamon and studded with raisins.  My only complaint about traditional buns is the flour and water paste that adorns the top.  When it bakes up I've found it to be too hard and too tasteless.  I made this comment recently on Instagram and someone suggested making the cross out of an Asian bun topping.  It was such a brilliant idea that I wish I had thought of it myself.

 
I was then inspired make Tangzhong Hot Cross Buns, a variation of the traditional Easter bread made with tangzhong dough.  I started with my favorite tangzhong dough from Cook's Illustrated and simply added cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins. For the cross that goes on top I used a modified version of the sugary topping for pineapple buns, another favorite from Cook's Illustrated.   


When the buns baked up the cross on top wasn't as clearly distinct as you would find in other buns, but I was more than ok with that because they tasted amazing!!  Tangzhong breads are popular because of their soft and fluffy texture and these buns had it in spades.  Add in spice and raisin and I think I've found the perfect hot cross bun.  I'll definitely be making these every year.

HAPPY EASTER!
 

March 28, 2021

Bunny-Themed Easter Table

 

 
Easter 2021 seems a lot more hopeful than last year as COVID-19 vaccines are more broadly rolled out in the US.  I wanted my Easter decor to reflect an uplifting mood and I hope I've achieved that.  Decorating for the holidays, be it Easter or Christmas (my other favorite holiday), brings me so much joy and who doesn't need some of that right now?


 
Bunnies, bunnies and more bunnies.  These cute furry creatures were the inspiration for my Bunny-Themed Easter Table this year.  It all started with the floral meadow tablecloth and embroidered napkins I bought from Williams-Sonoma and after that the ideas just multiplied, much like their namesake animal! 

 
Since last year I started collecting Easter bunnies and this year's additions to the fluffle are moss covered bunnies I picked up from Mrs. Alice, a UK-based tablescape retailer that's become a new favorite of mine.   Everything they sell is absolutely gorgeous!

 
By way of desserts I made a spreckled egg cake, raspberry and lemon petits fours, jam-filled thumbprint shortbread and iced sugar cookies.  Colors of pastel pink, blue, yellow and green were used throughout the room to complement the Easter theme yet these cool tones were warmed up by using  rattan and wood elements such as the placemats and napkin rings.

 
Easter candy is a requirement and I filled gingham Easter basket party favors with lollipops, chocolates and marshmallows.  Ceramic bunny bowls brimming with jelly beans and malted milk balls were placed on the dining table.  They made an extra sweet addition to the tablescape.

Wishing you a wonderful Easter (or spring or Passover)!
 
Resources (note: some items may be sold out):

March 26, 2021

Speckled Egg Cake

 

The centerpiece for my Easter dessert table this year is a Speckled Egg Cake.   Around spring time you'll see cakes similar to this as it's perfect for the Easter holiday or spring season.  Even better, it couldn't be simpler to make.  All you need is a frosted layer cake along with some vodka and brown food coloring for the "speckles."

I made four cake layers (by doubling this recipe of Martha Stewart's one-bowl chocolate cake) and then filled and frosted them with blue-tinted Swiss meringue buttercream.  To achieve the "speckled" effect I mixed a little bit of vodka with brown food coloring and used a pastry brush to splatter the mixture all over the cake. 

If you don't want to use vodka I've also seen recipes that used 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract mixed with 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder.  For the cute bird's nest topping I combined about 1 cup of toasted coconut flakes with 1/3 cup of melted chocolate chips.  Form into a nest shape and place a few Cadbury's mini eggs in the center.  Chill until firm and then place at the top of the cake.

HAPPY EASTER!

March 22, 2021

Petits Fours

 

This Petits Fours post is long overdue and I mean REALLY overdue.  We're talking more than a decade people!  When you put it that way it sounds so bad, right?  My fascination with petits fours really started when I saw them made in this video, Martha Stewart Living Cake Decorating.   I was immediately drawn in by how beautiful and elegant the little cakes were.  They've been on my baking bucket list forever and I finally got my a%$ in gear and made them recently for my Easter table this year.  I packaged four petits fours into clear plastic boxes and placed a favor at each place setting.  I think they look absolutely darling and fit the Easter decor beautifully.

Essentially petits fours are small pieces of pound cake that are filled (I like jam or curd and buttercream) and covered in a glossy fondant.   I started with this recipe for the pound cake from the blog Rose Bakes which is nice and sturdy and holds up really well.  One recipe of the cake makes a half-sheet size pan and yields a lot of petits fours.  I made half of the cake into raspberry petits fours and the other half into lemon petits fours.  I'm  a sucker for fruit flavors and I think the tartness from the raspberry and lemon would be a nice counterbalance to the sweetness from the fondant. 

 

Now let's talk about fondant because that's the Archilles heel of these pretty treats.  The fondant used to coat petits fours is different from the rolled fondant you've seen covering wedding cakes and the like.  Petits fours use a poured fondant.  You can make certainly make it yourself but I was too intimidated (and lazy!) to do that so I bought some premade fondant from Amazon and it worked great.  The only thing I had to do was melt it in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until it was thin enough to coat.  Two tricks I learned from the Martha Stewart video were to have simple syrup on hand to stir into the fondant or put it back on the heat when it got too thick. 
 
 
The main caveat I have when it comes to making petits fours is that it's NOT a neat and tidy process.  The poured fondant can be very finicky to work with and downright messy.  It took me a while to get a feel for what was the best consistency for the fondant and even more time trying to figure out the best set up.  In the end I'm happy with my first attempt at petits fours.  I don't have the time to make them often so I'll save it for special occasions. 
 
Packaging Details:

February 21, 2021

Buttermilk Biscuit Jammers

Every now and then I'll see a bake posted on Instagram and think to myself, "Now why didn't I think of that?"  This exact thing happened recently when I saw SF Cooking School post a picture on their Instagram stories of their take on Grand Central Bakery's famous buttermilk biscuits filled with jam.   These Buttermilk Biscuit Jammers are a genius combination of flaky, buttery biscuit filled and sweet, fruity jam.  I had to make some for myself.   
 
 
If you search google you can find Grand Central's recipe for their jammers pretty easily, like this one, but since I still had plenty of White Lily self-raising flour leftover from a past trip to Charleston I made my version of the buttermilk biscuit jammers with that instead.  The recipe was one I found on White Lily's Instagram account and only requires four ingredients: self-rising flour, butter, buttermilk and jam.     


The key to getting super flaky biscuits is to make sure all of your ingredients are COLD!  It also doesn't hurt that this particular recipe has a lamination technique that produces multiple layers.  Once I combined the flour and grated butter in a bowl I left it in the freezer overnight to ensure it was at the ideal temperature.  The next day I mixed in the cold buttermilk and shaped, folded, cut and filled the dough.  Use your favorite jam to fill the biscuits.  I used some store bought as well as homemade jams so I had a nice variety. 


As I write this post I literally just polished off my third biscuit.  They are THAT good and everything you'd want in a buttermilk biscuit.  Next time I make them I'll adjust for the following: cut the biscuits with slightly smaller cutter (using a 2" round cutter) and make the jam indentation a bit wider (so you get more jam!).  
 

February 13, 2021

Salted Caramel-Filled Brownies

I never would have thought to bake brownies in the form of a cupcake but I was easily convinced to give it a try when I saw these Salted Caramel-Filled Brownies featured on the cover of Cook's Country's Feb/Mar 2021 issue.  The combination of sweet caramel and sea salt is always a winner in my book.  The recipe features variations of the filling, like chocolate ganache and peanut butter ganache, which sounded delicious too. 

The trick with this recipe is to make sure you use parchment paper cupcake liners which are different from the paper liners you'd find at the supermarket.  I bought these ones from Amazon and I heard some Target stores also carry it.  If you don't use the parchment liners you run the risk of the brownies sticking to the liner.  Not pretty!

February 10, 2021

Chinese Almond Cookies

The Lunar New Year falls on Friday, February 12, 2021 and marks the start of The Year of the Ox.  In my family Tết is a major holiday centered around family and food.  Obviously this year we won't have the extended family gathering that we normally would, but we'll still celebrate nonetheless.

Even though these Chinese Almond Cookies aren't your typical New Year's fare I thought they'd be a great to serve as dessert.   I found the recipe from use real butter's blog and it couldn't be simpler to make.  My favorite thing is how the tops of the cookies shine like lacquer, stemming from the brush of egg wash they receive just before being baked.  The almond flavor really comes through from the almond flour and almond extract in the recipe.   

These cookies are delicious and not too sweet and can be served all year long, not just for New Year's.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới 2021!!!!


February 8, 2021

Valentine's Day Yeasted Doughnuts

   

Last month's baking hiatus motivated me to get back into the kitchen even more than before.  Here's another Valentine's Day themed treat for you that will surely win the hearts and stomachs of your loved ones.  These Yeasted Doughnuts from Cook's Illustrated are hands down the BEST ever.   

When I first saw the recipe published in the May/June 2020 issue of their magazine I ordered a deep fat fryer straight away specifically to make the doughnuts.  Chalk it up to the corona crazies because I normally tend to avoid frying at home at all costs, but let me tell you, these doughnuts are more than worth it.
 
 

How cute are the heart shapes for Valentine's Day?  I rolled some of the doughnuts in a raspberry sugar (sugar + crushed, freeze dried raspberries) and filled them with my homemade raspberry jam. Others I dipped in a chocolate glaze and decorated with sprinkles.   I recommend trying to cut out as many doughnuts as you can from the first roll of the dough.  I've found that re-kneading the remaining scraps and re-cutting yields tougher doughnuts.  

Happy Valentine's Day!


Yeasted Doughnuts

Doughnuts
4 1/2 cups (22 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
8 tablespoons (4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying

Chocolate Frosting
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup water
2 cups (8 oz) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of table salt 

For Jam-Filled Doughnuts
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup freeze dried raspberries, crushed
1 1/2 cup raspberry jam

FOR THE DOUGHNUTS: Stir flour, sugar, and yeast together in bowl of stand mixer. Add milk and egg and mix with rubber spatula until all ingredients are moistened. Fit stand mixer with dough hook and mix on medium-low speed until cohesive mass forms, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl if necessary. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 minutes.

Add salt and mix on medium-low speed until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 5 to 7 minutes. With mixer running, add butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to mix until butter is fully incorporated and dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 7 to 13 minutes longer, scraping down bowl halfway through mixing. Transfer dough to lightly greased large bowl, flip dough, and form into ball. Cover bowl with plastic. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Transfer to refrigerator and chill overnight (or up to 48 hours).
 
Adjust oven racks to lowest and middle positions. Place loaf pan on lower rack. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and grease parchment. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter. Press into 8-inch square of even thickness, expelling as much air as possible. Roll dough into 10 by 13-inch rectangle, about ½ inch thick. Using 3-inch round cutter dipped in flour, cut 12 rounds. Using 1-inch round cutter dipped in flour, cut hole out of center of each round. Transfer doughnuts and holes to prepared sheet. (If desired, use 1-inch cutter to cut small rounds from remaining dough. Transfer to sheet with doughnuts.) Bring kettle or small saucepan of water to boil.
 
Pour 1 cup boiling water into loaf pan. Place sheet on upper rack, uncovered. Close oven and allow doughnuts to rise until dough increases in height by 50 percent and springs back very slowly when pressed with your knuckle, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
 
About 20 minutes before end of rising time, add oil to large Dutch oven until it measures about 1½ inches deep and heat over medium-low heat to 360 degrees. Set wire rack in second rimmed baking sheet and line with triple layer of paper towels. Using both your hands, gently place 4 risen doughnuts in oil. Cook until golden brown on undersides, 1 to 1½ minutes, adjusting burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature between 350 and 365 degrees. Using spider skimmer, flip doughnuts and cook until second sides are browned, 1 to 1½ minutes. Transfer doughnuts to prepared rack. Return oil to 360 degrees and repeat with remaining doughnuts. For doughnut holes, transfer all to oil and stir gently and constantly until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to prepared rack to cool. Let doughnuts cool completely, about 20 minutes.
 
FOR THE CHOCOLATE FROSTING: While doughnuts cool, microwave chocolate and water in medium bowl at 50 percent power until chocolate is melted, about 30 seconds. Whisk in sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth and fluid. Let cool slightly.
 
Set clean wire rack in now-empty sheet. Dip top half of 1 cooled doughnut into frosting until evenly coated, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Invert doughnut and place on wire rack. Repeat with remaining doughnuts. Let doughnuts stand until frosting is dry to touch, 15 to 30 minutes, before serving.
 
FOR THE RASPBERRY JAM FILLED: Mix sugar and freeze dried raspberries in small bowl. Spoon jam into pastry bag or zipper-lock bag fitted with ¼-inch round pastry tip.
 
Working with 1 doughnut at a time, coat all sides of doughnut in sugar and return to rack. Insert paring knife through side of 1 doughnut until tip almost reaches opposite edge. Swing knife through doughnut, creating large pocket. Repeat with remaining doughnuts. Stand doughnuts slit side up in 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
 
To fill doughnuts, insert pastry tip ¾ inch into opening and squeeze gently until jam just starts to appear around opening, about 2 tablespoons jam per doughnut. Let doughnuts stand in pan for 10 minutes to allow jam to settle. Serve.
 

February 6, 2021

Raspberry Jam Shortbread Hearts

 

January came and went in a flash without much baking on my part.  To be honest I was a bit burnt out from all the holiday baking I'd done and on top of that work was keeping me busy, but now I'm back and raring to go.   First up are these super tasty and cute Raspberry Jam Shortbread Hearts which are perfect for Valentine's Day.  The crispy, buttery shortbreads are filled with my homemade, tart raspberry jam and are utterly delicious.  They actually remind me of the British "Jammie Dodgers" biscuit.  

I used a heart shaped thumbprint cookie stamp I bought from Williams-Sonoma a few years ago.  The set also comes with a rectangle and circle shape and cuts and shapes the cookie dough perfectly.  You get professional looking results with little to no effort!

For the shortbread dough I tweaked my favorite clotted cream shortbread recipe.  Since I didn't have any fresh clotted cream I just replaced that amount in the recipe with the same amount of butter.  The dough is super forgiving and you can't really mess it up.  My main tip is to roll the dough to at least 1/4-inch thickness; any thinner and it will be harder to get the nice embossed design on the cookie. 

Gift these cookies to your loved ones for the tastiest Valentine. 

 Happy Valentine's Day!

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