Category Archives: desserts

A Cookbook Worthy of a Place on Your Overflowing Shelf

I’m always interested in new cookbooks. But I’ll be honest; I’m looking for something more in a cookbook these days. That word, more, can refer to a number of things actually —these things are always very subjective, yes? What I can tell you is that one of the things which fits my more list is what Michael Ruhlman suggests makes the difference between a recipe book and a cookbook: the ability of the reader to learn, as well as follow a recipe. So when BloggerAid offered the chance to review the book, The Craft of Baking, subtitled Cakes, Cookies and Other Sweets with Ideas for Inventing Your Own and published by Clarkson Potter, I was very excited. Of course, there’s the gorgeous cover, which doesn’t hurt in the least, either!

The Craft of Baking is written by Karen DeMasco and co-authored Mindy Fox, both respected names in the baking industry. Ms. DeMasco, James Beard Award winner and former pastry chef for Craft —yes, that Craft!—, brings her considerable knowledge to the book and makes it accessible to home bakers. She begins with a short and personal introduction, then takes a few pages to talk about ingredients, naming each and offering hints for good products, choosing less expensive options and their properties. The book also has a section that talks concisely about various techniques, useful for many bakers. 

Small sections throughout the book, such as Building Your Craft and Varying Your Craft, offer advice on adjusting ingredients and flavorings to make recipes your own. For instance, in the scone section, DeMasco offers, “Use the Chocolate Chip Scone recipe… as your base. By maintaining the proportion of the dry ingredients (…) to liquid (…) and fats(…) you can let your imagination and palate guide you in creating your own flavors.” She then proceeds to talk about varying amounts of sugar, salt, and liquids to create a new product. These sections, combined with the beautiful abundance of photos, are inspiring!

We tried several of the many recipes in the book, including the Ultimate Chocolate Brownies (nice mix of cakey and fudgy and flecked with chocolate chips), Coffee Cake Muffins with Pecan Streusel (enjoyed by not only us, but my husband’s work buddies, too), and the Pine Nut Tart with Rosemary Cream. A grownup version of Pecan Pie, the Pine Nut Tart is delicious and nutty when served alone. But the Rosemary Cream complements the pine nuts and makes the dessert really shine! So here it is, the recipe for an elegant ending to a meal:

Pine Nut Tart with Rosemary Cream
adapted from The Craft of Baking
Makes one 9-1/2 inch tart

Filling and Cream Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups Pine Nuts
Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, for rolling
1/2 recipe Almond Sablé Dough (below)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup packed Dark Brown Sugar
1 cup Light Corn Syrup
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
3 large Eggs
1 1/2 cups Heavy Cream
2 sprigs Rosemary
2 teaspoons Confectioners’ Sugar

Almond Sablé Dough ingredients:
2 1/4 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup Almond Flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) chilled Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Confectioners’ Sugar
1 large Egg
1 large Egg Yolk

Preheat the oven to 350F

To make the tart shell, whisk together the flours and salt. To another bowl, or bowl of stand mixer, add butter and confectioners’ sugar. Mix until well combined, about 4 minutes. To butter add egg, then yolk, incorporating the egg well before adding the yolk. Add half the flour mixture and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Repeat with the second half of the flour.

Divide the dough in two, shaping each into a flattened disk of 11 inches. Wrap one in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or overnight. You can also freeze this for up to a month. Place the second round of Almond Sablé Dough into a 9 1/2 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Trim the excess dough, prick the bottom all over with a fork and freeze for 10 minutes.

Line the dough with parchment or aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove lining and pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes until dry. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

As the shell cools, spread pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes. Let them cool on a wire rack. Leave oven on!

In a small saucepan, melt butter until golden brown and nutty. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, and vanilla. To mixture, add eggs and combine. Add brown butter, stirring well, then fold in pine nuts just until combined. Pour the filling into the tart shell and place on baking sheet to catch any that may bubble over during baking.

Bake, rotating the sheet halfway through to ensure evenness, for about 45 minutes. If the crust browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil. The tart should be first about the outside edge, but still a bit loose in the center.

To make the rosemary cream, bring 3/4 cup of cream just to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the rosemary sprigs. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain and cool in a bowl over an ice bath for about 5 minutes. Combine rosemary cream with remainder of cream and confectioners’ sugar and whisk until the cream forms soft peaks.

Serve the tart by removing the outer ring of the pan and garnishing with cream.

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Excitement in the Kitchen (Daring Bakers October Challenge)

This month’s baking has brought a flurry of excitement to the kitchen, at least half of which is from this month’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge. This is my first month with the Daring Bakers, and while I was a bit nervous, the idea of a baking challenge was what ultimately made me plunge into the proverbial water. Imagine my delight when my first challenge was to make something that I’ve been interested in, but have been keeping on the back burner: the macaron.

Suffice it to say that given the reputation of the Daring Kitchen, I expected nothing less than a real test and learning experience. And that’s what I got!

I chose to flavor the macaron with a combination of loose ground Russian Country tea which is very smoky, both in leaf form and in brew, and orange peel.

My first try yielded a batter that I had great hopes for. I didn’t feel I’d overmixed it, but as most of us know, sometimes things in the kitchen can be tricky.

Piping the rounds out onto the cookie sheet was messy work, made messier by the years between now and the last time I actually used a piping bag and tip! When the cookies were fairly round in shape, I called it good and sent them into the oven.

While I’d love to declare the first batch a resounding success, something wasn’t quite right. They weren’t nearly as tall as they ought to be and the macarons had no feet!

Still, after being filled with a pumpkin buttercream, they were absolutely delicious, if not exactly the correct texture.

Time for another batch!

What I didn’t realize when I joined the Daring Bakers, is that there would be a great resource of help available for all my learning needs. The Daring Kitchen site is a fantastic resource for those completing the challenges. There I learned that the most likely culprit for the problem I was having was that I just wasn’t beating those egg whites long enough. This time I beat the heck out of those things. I whipped them with my KitchenAid mixer until the whites started to draw away from the sides of the bowl and cling to the whisk.

That did the trick! The second batch wasn’t perfect in shape, and perhaps the next time I try them, they’ll be higher still. But I’m really happy with the texture and yes, feet, on the second batch. And wow, did we zoom right through eating those things. They were amazing both in flavor and texture: lightly sweet pumpkin filling in a crispy, airy and slightly chewy cookie.

Second batch (again Smoky tea and Orange Macarons with Pumpkin Italian Buttercream)

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

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The Recipe for your Fall Cookie Cutters

Yesterday’s baking project was loads of fun. The recipe, scored from the blog, Cupcake Project, is called Pumpkin Graham Crackers. The name doesn’t just refer to the cute pumpkin shape; there’s a bit of pumpkin in the batter, as well. What could be better?

Just a few notes on this one. I didn’t have graham flour in the house, although how this feat was managed, I’m not sure I could tell you. Currently I have 2 types of wheat flour, white flour, whole spelt, multigrain, grain, rice and buckwheat flours. No graham flour means I went with the wheat. I also used 100% honey, buckwheat honey to be exact. I was hoping the flavor would boost the earthiness of the cookies, which it did.

The dough came together nicely. Not too wet or too dry. It rolled out really well also, and my daughter and I began cutting. We used mini cookie cutters, so we cut and cut and cut. Then we cut some more.

Although it took quite a while, we eventually cut out all the shapes. Cute little fall leaves, apples and pumpkins. These have just a hint of pumpkin, and they are so good! After baking we ate at least a quarter of the batch.

No lie! I brought my daughter about 8 of these cute things, and not 2 minutes later she looked at me quizzically. “Where’d all the cookies go?”, she wanted to know. As if I’d taken hers! I was too busy eating my own, thank you.

As you can tell the size we made is perfect for snacking. The only problem we had was absolutely our own fault. We rolled the dough a bit too thick, so they never got properly snappy. Still they’re excellent. Wonder how they’d be with a bit of icing?

Run on over the Cupcake Project for the Pumpkin Graham Crackers recipe. Make sure to look around at the cupcakes, too. I haven’t tried any yet, but they look excellent. And the reviews are good, too!

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Reinhart v. Mom (Battle Cinnamon Roll, part II)

When I started the BBA Cinnamon Roll Recipe, I realized it was a fairly traditional one. I have a similar recipe from my mom, actually. When I say traditional and similar, I mean that the BBA recipe uses two similar rise times and takes a good chunk of the afternoon. That recipe, and I do say this with a straight face, is Mom’s ‘short’ recipe. That is not the recipe I chose to use.

I used my mom’s ‘long’ recipe. I have to say that I love that she had these labeled short and long. Because the long recipe actually takes less time. Sort of.

Here’s how it works. (Oh, and I didn’t get photos of this dough either until about the same point in the process. I must have a problem when it comes to cinnamon rolls.)

First I halved Mom’s recipe, then mixed the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Next, I added some eggs, margarine and water. I ended up with a dough very similar to the BBA dough, though with just a tad bit less fat.

Speaking of fat, both doughs received the same type of fat. Just to be fair and all. However, the BBA dough used buttermilk and Mom’s recipe, water.

After being kneaded, the dough goes right into the fridge. Overnight. No rising. Got it?

The next morning, the dough is taken out of the fridge, turned out on the counter and let sit for about 20 minutes so that it can warm up.

The dough is rolled, not quite to the BBA specs but slightly thinner than that, about 5/8 of an inch. Don’t go too thin though. Reinhart’s, of course, right on target! Too thin and the rolls end up tough and chewy.

After the dough is rolled out, Mom’s recipe calls for the remainder of the fat in the form of room temperature butter spread over the rectangle of dough.

Next comes the cinnamon and sugar. First, the cinnamon. I put it on this thick. But only do that if you’re using real cinnamon. If using cassia cinnamon, put a bit less on that that.

I can just see a bit of the dough through the cinnamon. Next is the sugar. First we want brown sugar. This is a good amount.

Then the granulated sugar.

That should do it. Next the standard log shape and cutting.

Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls go into a greased 9×13 pan to rise for about 30-45 minutes.

Then into the oven.

The rolls come out looking great. Smells great, too! Because of the difference in filling the bottom looks like this, rather than being dry.

And here’s Mom’s closeup. Sorry; there’s that lighting issue again. November 1st is clock change time. My camera can’t wait.

The verdict:

  1. The BBA rolls had a nice buttermilk tang. Mom’s didn’t. This might be easily remedied by using buttermilk in place of some of the water in Mom’s recipe.
  2. But by day three most of the buttermilk tang was gone, and the two doughs tasted nearly identical.
  3. On day two, both rolls were still soft. Mom’s were softer.
  4. By day three, both were still fairly soft. Mom’s were still softer. I’m no expert, so the only reason I can figure my mom’s are softer is that the fat (butter) spread over the rolled dough before adding the cinnamon and sugar adds moistness in a different way than if it’s all put directly into the dough.
  5. By day three most of the buttermilk tang was gone, and the two doughs tasted nearly identical.
  6. We prefer a bit more filling in our Cinnamon Rolls and the caramel-like flavor of using a mixture of sugars.
  7. We were all in agreement that the BBA rolls were really, really good. No complaints about them at all. They were good enough that if the other rolls hadn’t been around, the BBA rolls would have been gone in a jiffy. That said, the BBA ones were the last to go.

Although the BBA Cinnamon Buns were good, I’ll be sticking with Mom’s recipe for a while longer. You can find her recipe below.

As always, a huge thanks to Nicole of Pinch My salt for instigating the BBA Challenge. I’ve enjoyed every recipe so far, and most of them I’ll be turning to again in the near future!

Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls (long) (printer-friendly recipe)

makes 18-20 rolls
7 cups of flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 package instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
8 tablespoons of butter, margarine, or shortening, at room temperature
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 – 2 cups lukewarm water, more as needed
butter, at room temperature
brown sugar
granulated sugar
In a mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, mix flour, sugar and yeast. Add salt and stir.
Using a spoon, or paddle if using a mixer, mix in eggs and butter. If using mixer, switch to dough hook and add 1 1/2 cups of water. Continue to add water as necessary until dough cleans the sides of bowl and just barely cleans the bottom. Dough should be tacky, but not sticky. Knead for about 8-10 minutes with the mixer, 10-12 minutes by hand or until the dough passes the windowpane test.
Choose a bowl which can hold the bulk of dough when doubled, spray with oil, and place the dough inside. Mist the top of the dough with oil, cover with plastic wrap or lid and place in refrigerator overnight.
The next morning, remove dough from refrigerator and bowl to counter. Divide in two, cover and allow to sit for about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Roll half of dough into rectangle (about 12″ x 16″) and spread with a thin layer of room-temperature butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon, brown sugar, then granulated sugar to taste.
Roll up starting from one of the long ends. Cut log into slices about 1 3/4 inches thick. Repeat with second half of dough.
Place rolls, cut side down, in greased 9″x13″ pans. Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes.

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Stop Wasting Your Cheese on Crackers

Because it really belongs on pie. Specifically this pie. Well, crostata really, because it’s not actually in a pan. That’s one of the great things about pie; it doesn’t have to be baked in a pan. Another is that it can combine truly unique ingredients and still work beautifully!

Everyone in this household loves cheese. By this I mean we travel to our local wine & cheese shop —conveniently owned by the father of one of my daughter’s friends!— and allow him to ply us with cheese. Trips to his shop tend to take the better part of an hour, in part because he likes to ask questions about our favorites and then make even more recommendations from the answers. Every cheese in his shop is available for sampling. Every one. No kidding! To his credit, we always leave with at least a pound of cheese.

After one such visit we walked into our home bearing a half pound wedge of White Stilton with Mango and Ginger. White Stilton is cousin to blue, but without the mold introduced. We found the cheese to be a perfect dessert by itself and quickly came up with excuses to snack on it. A somewhat hard cheese, it’s delicate and a bit crumbly, the flavor somewhat yogurt-like and sweet, pairing beautifully with fruit. We’ve tried white Stiltons with cranberries and with apricots. Both were good also, however the mango-ginger combination is a clear winner. Luckily, after the continual snacking and with the unseasonably warm weather this year extending summer produce, just enough of the cheese remained for this crostata.

I used a pie crust, just rolling it right out like I would for a pie:


As you can see, I used almond meal giving it a less creamy texture than frangipane usually has. If you use almond flour or pulse the almonds and sugar (very carefully and not for too long!), a creamier texture will result.


The frangipane was spread onto the dough, leaving about a two inch border.



Now it’s time for the nectarines and Stilton. Then fold the crust up around the filling; pleating the dough helps to hold it in place. A light sprinkle of sliced almond finishes it off beautifully.


After a short bake in the oven:


Nectarine and White Stilton Crostata (printer friendly recipe)

Your favorite pie pastry (enough for one single shell pie)
1/2 cup Almond Flour
3 tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 large Egg
3 tablespoons Butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon Dried Thyme
2 pinches Cinnamon
1 tablespoon Flour
3 medium Nectarines, sliced into segments
1/8 teaspoon Ginger
1-2 tablespoons Granulated Sugar

2-3 ounces white stilton (plain or with mango and ginger)
Sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 375F.
Toss nectarine slices with ginger and 1-2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.

Roll crust as you would for a pie. You may find it easiest to just roll this on parchment or on a cookie sheet so the crostata can be transferred with minimal effort.
Combine frangipane ingredients in a food processor until creamy.
Spread frangipane on pastry, leaving a two inch border. Arrange nectarines in concentric circles on top of the filling, and crumble the stilton on top of the fruit.
Fold the pie pastry over onto the filling, pleating it as you go so that it lies flat. Sprinkle with sliced almonds. Transfer crostata to sheet cake pan.
Bake at 375F for 20-30 minutes, until crust is golden and fruit is tender.

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Crumpets and Tea (Cake)

Sunday was spent in a short rash of baking. I do realize today is Tuesday, but this is how life happens, yes? Our Sundays suddenly becoming Tuesdays? Anyway, as I was saying, I spent time baking on Sunday.

First it was the crumpets, which aren’t really baked, of course, but somehow they do seem like a baked good. I tried the crumpet recipe from A Bread a Day. Because I wouldn’t have time to let the batter rise Sunday morning, and because I’m inherently lazy, I made the batter Saturday evening, allowing it to rise and then whisking it into the fridge without adding the baking soda.

Sunday morning the chilled batter had continued to rise and was light and fluffy. In went the baking soda, leaving the batter with a nice poofiness. The four english muffin rings, which I stumbled upon in a thrift shop sometime ago, were filled about halfway, and after a short while out came the lovelies crumpets! Every once in a while, I am truly astounded by the fact that simple ingredients can yield such a productive and scrummy result. These two are actually Monday’s breakfast. All the rest of the batch were quickly gobbled up in a flurry of sighs and jam.

Sunday afternoon was for the Chardonnay Cake with an Almond Sugar Crust from Always Order Dessert. Rather than using Chardonnay, my wine of choice was the end of a bottle of Prosecco frizzante that was languishing. And although not my usual choice, because the kitchen counter was already home to plums, nectarines and bananas, rather than weighting it down with even more fruit, I used what was on hand, a healthy amount of orange extract, to take the place of the orange zest and orange flower water. It’s definitely a hit, although the zest would have rounded out the taste a bit, and we’ve been eating it with homemade lime curd. Yum!

Laundry List

1. I have three pears which must be eaten or used today. Two are Abate Fetel and one, a Packham. So now the great debate. Fresh, or perhaps a galette? Or maybe a pear pastry? The trouble is that Baking Bites posted a recipe for Chai Snickerdoodles yesterday, and I’d love to try them. We love snickerdoodles!

2. And just because a portion of my life will now be taken up by this, yours should be also: Winter of Our Discontent: The Impeachment and Trial of John F. Kennedy by Harry Turtledove and Bryce Zabel.

3. I still have yet to begin a book given to me last Monday by the lady who works the desk at my local P.O. The book: Murder Suicide by Keith Ablow. I guess that’s what I’ll be doing next. I don’t think I’d feel so guilty -after all, I’ve borrowed books from friends before- however I’m a speed reader, and I barely know the lender.

4. Today I’m wearing BPAL‘s Queen of Sheba. From their site: A woman of exquisite, unearthly beauty, profound intelligence, wit, and exceeding wealth, the Queen of Sheba – called Bilquis by the Muslims and Makeda by the ancient Abyssinians – traveled by caravan to Solomon’s realm seeking proof of the king’s reputed wisdom. Bearing gifts of exotic spices, a veritable mountain of gold, hearty camels and precious stones, she presented herself to the king and, bearing her heart to him, asked him a series of challenging questions, and was ultimately convinced of the truth of his wisdom, knowledge and judiciousness. In the end, the great king and queen conquered each other’s hearts and fell breathlessly in love: the perfect marriage of equals. Her scent is a bounty of golden honeyed almonds and a whisper of African and Middle Eastern spices.