Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Make Mine Malt

Malted milk is a powdered food product made from a mixture of malted barley, wheat flour and powdered whole milk. Originially developed as a nutritional supplement for infants by London pharmacist James Horlick, it eventually became popular for its flavor and was the star ingredient in the classic American malt shake. Malt has a slightly sour, earthy flavor that works well with sweets and desserts. When I was a fresh-faced student at Smith College, one of most popular treats at the campus eatery was a Dusty Miller, a hot fudge sundae generously sprinkled with malted milk powder. The crunchy, earthy granules pair well with chocolate, giving it a malty endnote. Here’s a recipe for dark chocolate cupcakes topped with a silky chocolate malt buttercream and garnished with Whoppers, chocolate malt candies. Whoppers aren’t quite as good as I remember them when I was 12, but they do make a nice garnish that says “malt.” 

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It’s All in the Bouké

Bouké is a very special new-ish wine. It’s special not only because it’s wonderful, but also because it was created by my good friend Lisa Donneson. Lisa and I met on the tennis court--we belong to the same club in Brooklyn Heights, NY--and I have long been impressed by her intelligence and fierce curiosity about, well, everything. I bumped into Lisa on the street one day and she told me she had just earned a coveted Diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. Next thing I knew, she had launched a wine company called Bouké in 2007. Bouké is produced on Long Island, and Lisa has partnered in this venture with Gilles Martin, a French-born winemaker who has worked in many of the world’s finest wine regions. Lisa’s goal is to “satisfy the tastes of an emerging generation of American wine drinkers who share her belief that wine should be an everyday pleasure for the senses.” The Bouké line includes a white (my favorite, it’s a floral blend of 43% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Gris, 17% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Gewurztraminer); rosé (a fruit-forward, stainless steel-fermented blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot); red (a full-bodied blend of 35% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah and 5% Petit Verdot); and the newest member of the line, Bouquet dessert wine. Bouquet is a fortified wine that is a blend of 96% Gewurztraminer and 4% Chardonnay. Its color is white gold, and the wine has notes of orange, ginger, passionfruit, lychee and rose, a fruity-floral counterpoint to its crisp acidity and 17% alcohol content. Bouquet should be served chilled, obviously, and is an ideal accompaniment to desserts, biscotti and petits fours or savory foods such as foie gras and semi-soft cheeses. It also makes a great gift for dessert lovers, who will have ample opportunities to enjoy Bouquet. To learn more, visit Lisa’s website at

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cup of Cheer

Eggnog—alcohol-free, of course—was one of my favorite after-school treats when I was a youngster. Ok, so I was a little weird. I’d whip it up in the blender, using just raw eggs, milk and vanilla extract. Looking back, yes, that was kind of gross, but I was blissfully unaware of the dangers of salmonella, and enjoyed every nourishing sip. Today I make a safer, richer and much more spirited version of this classic holiday beverage. I cook milk, eggs and sugar together as a custard, then enrich it with some real cream and fortify it with some good bourbon. I do love Kentucky bourbon and, after all, it’s been a REALLY tough year, so we could all use a cup of good, strong eggnog. Happy holidays, everyone, and let’s hope next year’s a great one for all of us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Raspberry Palmiers: A Lesson Learned

I’ve been baking for a long time (let’s say 30 years or more—as you can probably tell from my youthful appearance, I started VERY young). Despite this, I still experience my share of baking screw-ups. Things don’t always go perfectly in the kitchen, even for me, Tish Boyle, baking genius (it’s not polite to laugh here). Case in point: Recently I had an inexplicable urge to make some palmiers (a.k.a. elephant’s ears), but I wanted to do something a little different with them. I started off by making a quick and excellent puff pastry dough; the recipe is from my book The Good Cookie. I then rolled the dough out, one-half at a time, using granulated sugar instead of flour on my work surface. Rolling sugar granules into the dough makes these pastries sweet and gives them a beautiful golden color. All run-of-the-mill, routine palmier stuff so far. It was here that I decided to wander off the reservation and spread a thin layer of raspberry jam, seeds and all, over the dough. Yummy, right? Yummy, maybe, but all hell broke loose when my pretty raspberry-filled palmiers hit the oven. As they baked, the high-sugar raspberry jam bubbled up and pushed the dough out, uncurling all my perfectly formed, lovely little palm leaf pastries. To salvage the situation and all my hard work up to this point, I simply pushed them back together before I flipped them over to finish baking them. Not so easy with piping hot jam scalding your tender fingers, but, hey—nobody ever said pastry was easy, right? I'm giving you my straight Palmier recipe, sans the raspberry jam filling, but the photo above is of my hard-fought Raspberry Palmiers. My new motto, as far as palmiers go, is “keep it simple.” Stick to sugar and maybe a little cinnamon, if you want to go wild.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cinnamon, That American Spice

I went to cooking school in Paris in the mid-80's, and I have great memories of that time in my life. I frequently think of one of our French chef instructors, Claude, who had strong opinions about food and was quite funny. He hated cinnamon, and referred to it disparagingly as "that American spice." Not sure where he came up with that idea (it's native to Sri Lanka, for Pete's sake), but I'm happy to be associated with such a lofty and fragrant ingredient. Cinnamon is a wonderful holiday flavor, so I decided to make a Cinnamon Gelato to go with sweet oven-roasted pears for dessert recently. For the gelato, I simply took a plain gelato base and infused the milk with eight cinnamon sticks—the sticks have more flavor than powdered cinnamon and won’t turn the gelato a muddy brown color. The gelato remains cream-colored, so the intense cinnamon flavor is a real surprise when it hits your tongue. Paired with roasted pears or apples, it makes a simple, elegant and very flavorful winter dessert.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Slightly Salty Almond Toffee Crunch

Toffee is one of my all-time favorite confections, probably because it combines some of my favorite flavors: buttery caramel, toasted almond, and chocolate. It’s one of those recipes, however, that requires your full attention while you’re making it. I made the mistake of casually calling my mother while I was making this batch, and realized that I had forgotten to chop the chocolate. So I poured the toffee out and chopped the chocolate in record time—luckily the toffee was still hot enough to melt the chocolate nicely. Next time I'll wait until the toffee's done before phoning up Mom. I recommend that you read the recipe through at least once, and have all your ingredients measured out and prepped before you begin. Coarsely chopped, this slightly salty toffee also makes a great topping for or addition to vanilla ice cream (add it during the last minute of churning) for Almond Toffee Crunch Ice Cream.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Macaron Madness

French macarons have become extremely popular in the past few years. They're not quite as popular as cupcakes, though, probably because the perception is that they're a little more difficult to make (which is really not true). And, after all, cupcakes are an American creation, while macarons are have a French pedigree. But I love how versatile macarons are, how many different flavors one can conjure up, and how supremely light they are. Here's a simple coconut variety, made with organic unsweetened desiccated coconut, which you can get at health or whole food stores. By the way, if you prefer to buy them--and they make a great holiday gift--my friend Florian Bellanger, owner of Mad Mac, makes the best, along with a great selection of madeleines (

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Great Strawberry Christmas Tree Centerpiece

Christmas is rapidly approaching, and it's always nice to plan to do something a little different for the holiday table. Recently I worked on a food styling project for Driscoll's strawberries, creating a Christmas tree centerpiece using whole strawberries and a Styrofoam cone (don't use floral foam--it's carcinogenic!). I secured the strawberries to the cone using toothpicks, and scattered sprigs of fresh mint between the berries. I used a mango slice, cut into a star shape, for the top. I think it's lovely--just make sure you get beautiful strawberries. By the way, the photo above was done by super-talented food photographer John Uher (

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gingery Pumpkin Ice Cream

Pumpkin is an extremely versatile vegetable--it works well as the featured ingredient in desserts as well as it does in savory dishes. Which is a good thing, because as much as I love pumpkin pie, it can get a little predictable after a while. Here's a gingery pumpkin ice cream which I paired with a simple bourbon-laced caramel sauce and toasted pecans. You can use fresh pumpkin puree, if you want. Choose smaller pumpkins, which are sweeter than the big ones (but not the very small decorative ones). Cut them in half and remove the strings and seeds. Place them cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet and add about 1/4 inch water to the pan. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 400 degrees F. until tender. Halfway through baking, turn them over and drizzle them with melted butter. Roasted pumpkin is so good this way, you may even decide to skip the ice cream and eat it as is. It also makes the base for excellent soup.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Charleston Tradition

During the eighteenth century, many Scots settled in North and South Carolina. There's a Scottish word, 'sussy', that means 'to care', from which a Charleston tradition developed. The tradition is to give an unexpected gift, called a surcee, to friends and relatives. The custom still flourishes today, and The Charleston Cookie Company ( offers an outstanding collection of sweets to send s surcee in style. The small company was started in 2003 by a passionate baker, Judith Moore, and has since developed into a thriving business.

I recently tried their White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies (pictured above) and Candy Cane Brownies. The cookies are packed with dried cranberries and white chocolate chips in a brown sugar cookie base, while the brownies are extra chocolatey with a hint of peppermint. Other standout items include Double Fudge Chip, Mini Key Lime, and Peanut Butter Cookies, Double Fudge Chip and Cappuccino Brownies. They also have a selection of whoopie pies and a range of gift baskets to choose from. So celebrate a little bit of Charleston this holiday season by sending someone you love (or just like a little) a sweet surcee, Southern style.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Bark You'll Want to Bite

Nothing generates as much consternation for home cooks as the notion of tempering chocolate. People avoid it at all costs. No small wonder—chocolate is expensive, and it’s somewhat demoralizing when things go wrong during the tempering process, which can be a matter of making the chocolate just a few degrees too warm or too cool. Recently I was working on a project which required me to devise an easy method of tempering for home cooks. I consulted a friend, Dennis Teets, who worked in R&D for Hershey’s for many years, and who is a bona fide expert on tempering and the science of chocolate. He suggested a very simple, streamlined method. It requires no ‘seeding’ or ‘slushing’, or anything remotely messy, and is simply a matter of assiduously monitoring the temperature of the chocolate and adding a small amount of grated chocolate when the chocolate cools to 87 degrees F. It’s the easiest method I’ve ever used, and is practically foolproof (emphasis here on practically). I like to make homemade chocolate nut bark around the holidays to give out as small gifts or bring along to holiday parties. I break it up and nestle the shards into cello bags, and tie them with a red or green ribbon. Though I prefer my bark with just nuts in it, you can also add chopped dried fruit such as cranberries, cherries, candied orange peel or apricots, or toasted pumpkins seeds, coconut or whatever strikes your fancy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cranberry Conundrum

There's no question that cranberry sauce is a necessary component of Thanksgiving dinner. This tart, bright condiment is the perfect counterpoint to bland turkey. The only decision here is canned or homemade? I actually had a good friend from college who insisted on having cranberry sauce from the can, complete with the raised rings from the sides of the can (which verified from whence it came). The beauty of homemade cranberry sauce, though, is that it can be made days ahead and doesn't take more than 10 minutes to make. And it's miles above the canned variety (sorry, Ocean Spray folks--nothing personal). My version has lots of ginger in it--fresh and crystallized--and a hint of orange. The toasted pecans give it some crunch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Pleasures of Pumpkin

The countdown to Thanksgiving is officially on. I'm not cooking this year, so the pressure if off me. No frenzied planning, list-making or blitz-shopping. I am, however, making a few pies for desperate friends who are cooking, but are somewhat dessert-challenged. Pecan and lemon meringue pies, chocolate caramel tarts, whatever the request, I'm happy to oblige (though I am not taking any more requests). Thanksgiving is all about tradition, and everybody has their own vision of what the perfect meal should be. It's not time to get really creative with dishes or try new recipes out for the first time. Even if you keep it really simple, let's face it, preparing this meal is arduous. But, for those among you who are looking for a dessert that's a little different, I am offering up an alternative: Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Ginger-Pecan Crust. The recipe works, trust me. Traditional? No. Really, really good? Yes. And the Sugared Pumpkin Seeds are addictive....

P.S.: The beautiful photo above was taken by the uber-talented food photographer (and my good friend), John Uher ( Thanks, John.

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust

Makes 12 to 16 servings
Special Equipment: 9-inch diameter x 2 3/4-inch high springform pan

Ginger Pecan Crust:
1 cup (4.3 oz/121 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1.9 oz/54 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (1.2 oz/33 g) pecans
1/4 cup (1.4 oz/40 g) chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz/113 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon (15 ml) cold water

Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling:
1 cup (240 ml) pumpkin puree
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 pounds (567 g) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (3.5 oz/100 g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (3.8 oz/108 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon (.26 oz/7 g) cornstarch
4 large eggs

Sugared Pumpkin Seeds:
1/2 cup (2.5 oz/70 g) hulled raw pumpkin seeds
1 large egg white
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (.88 oz/25 g) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Sweetened Whipped Cream

Make the crust:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch diameter x 2 3/4-inch high springform pan. Cut an 18-inch square of heavy-duty aluminum foil and wrap the foil around the outside of the pan. Set the pan aside. 2. Place the flour, sugar, salt, pecans, and ginger in the bowl of a food processor and process until the pecans are finely ground. Add the butter pieces and process until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add the water and process until the mixture starts to come together as a dough. Press the dough into an even layer over the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Bake the crust for 25 to 30 minutes, until it is just beginning to brown. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Make the filling:
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese at medium-low speed until creamy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Gradually add the sugars and beat until blended. Add the pumpkin mixture and mix until blended. Add the cornstarch and mix just until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
6. Scrape the batter into the cooled crust. Place the wrapped pan in a roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan so that it comes 1 inch up the sides of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake in the water bath for 70 to 80 minutes, until the center of the cake is set, but slightly wobbly (the cake will set completely as it cools). Remove the cake pan from the water and immediately run the tip of a paring knife around the sides of the pan to prevent the top from cracking. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool the cake completely.
7. Refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving.

Make the Sugared Pumpkin Seeds:
8. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Place the pumpkin seeds in a small bowl. In another small bowl, whisk the egg white just until frothy. Add just enough of the white to coat the pumpkin seeds. Add the salt, sugar, and cinnamon, and toss well to coat the seeds.
9. Spread the coated seeds in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake, tossing them occasionally with a metal spatula, for 15 to 20 minutes, until they begin to dry and color. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely. With your fingers, separate any clumps of seeds. Store the seeds in an airtight container for up to a week.

To serve:
10. To serve, cut the cake with a thin-bladed, sharp knife, wiping the knife clean between each cut. Garnish each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of sugared pumpkin seeds.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Almond Joy

Chocolate-Covered Almonds are among my favorite confections, second only to Chocolate Almond Bark. Coating fragrant toasted almonds with smooth bittersweet chocolate is a really good idea. Tossing them in a mixture of cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar makes them that much better. I like to bundle a bunch of these crunchy sweets in a small cello bag, tie them with a bright ribbon, and give them to friends as a treat. It also makes a nice little bribe when you need something done badly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake, Cream on Top

Yesterday I had a food styling job which required me to create a Christmas tree out of strawberries (I'll post a picture of it sometime in December). After completing the project, I had about 4 pounds of fresh strawberries clogging up my fridge, so I thought I'd make one of my favorite comfort desserts, Strawberry Shortcakes. I love the contrast of the tender, crumbly shortcakes with the juicy, flavorful berries and the billowy whipped cream. Ok, so maybe it's not a typical fall dessert, like, say, apple pie, but boy, is it good. Every component can be made ahead (the shortcakes the day before, the berries and cream up to 8 hours before) and assembled just before serving.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I Heart Macarons

I just received the book I Love Macarons (Chronicle Books, 2009) by Hisako Ogita, and it inspired me to make macarons for the first time in a long time. It is a charming little book (only 80 pages) which outlines in great detail the method for making perfect French macarons every time. It also offers lots of flavor ideas and options as well as recipes for various fillings and desserts to use up those leftover egg yolks. The book includes lots of step-by-step photos as well as images of brightly colored macarons in a rainbow of flavors. Since I love pistachio, I opted to make pistachio macarons with pistachio buttercream (I used my own recipe for the buttercream). The batter color lightens as it bakes, so next time I would add a little more food coloring for the shells (though I really don't like neon colors, so I'd rather err on the side of making them too light than too dark). Next up--how about pumpkin macarons with cinnamon buttercream for Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Absolutely Chocolate (and Peanut Butter)

I've been a fan of Fine Cooking magazine since their first issue fifteen years ago. It's come along way since then--it's a lot slicker-looking now, with better photos and glossier paper. But it still has the same great tips and high level of detail in each recipe. Now they've released an excellent chocolate book, Absolutely Chocolate: Irresistible Excuses to Indulge (The Taunton Press, 2009). The book includes info on how chocolate is made, how to choose the right chocolate for baking, when to use cocoa vs. chocolate, how to decipher labels, and much more. There are 125 recipes, which include layer cakes, tarts, pies, muffins, cookies, brownies, candies, sauces and even hot chocolate. The recipe I picked out to test-bake combines two of my favorite flavors: dark chocolate and peanut butter, a culinary match made in heaven. The tart turned out to be pretty heavenly, too.

Chocolate-Glazed Peanut Butter Tart

Adapted from Absolutely Chocolate by the editors of Fine Cooking magazine

1 cup finely ground chocolate wafers
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 ½ cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon table salt
3 large egg yolks
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
½ cup creamy natural peanut butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Make the crust:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Have ready an ungreased 9 ½-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
2. In a medium bowl, mix the cookie crumbs and sugar until blended. Add the melted butter and mix with a fork until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Put the crumbs in the tart pan and use your hands to spread the crumbs so that they coat the bottom of the pan and start to climb up the sides. Use your fingers to pinch and press some of the crumbs around the inside edge of the pan to cover the sides evenly and create a wall about a scant ¼-inch thick. Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, until fragrant. Cool completely.

Make the filling:
3. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and salt to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, brown sugar and flour until well blended. Slowly add the hot milk, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and comes to a full boil, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and add the peanut butter and vanilla; whisk until well blended.
4. Pour the hot peanut butter mixture into the crust and spread evenly with a spatula. Gently press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the filling’s surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate the tart until cold, about 2 hours.

Make the glaze:
5. Melt the chocolate with the butter and corn syrup in a medium metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water) and whisk until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. Carefully remove the plastic wrap from the top of the filling. Drizzle the glaze over the filling and spread it evenly to cover the tart completely. Refrigerate the tart in the pan until the glaze sets, about 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chocolate with a Hump

The one product that really stood out in my mind at this year's New York Chocolate Show was the Al Nassma Camel Milk Chocolate, billed as the "World's First Camel's Milk Chocolate." Yes, it is made with camel's milk. (Who even knew that camels had milk?) And yes, you can buy a big, hollow chocolate camel to serve as the centerpiece of your child's Easter basket (talk about confusing). Or scatter some mini solid camels amongst the jelly beans. This unique milk chocolate is the brainchild of Martin van Almsick, a very pleasant German man who is the former manager of the Chocolate Museum in Cologne. You may well ask how this chocolate tastes. Well, it has a mild flavor that is slightly tangy. Not as tangy as yogurt, but tangy-er than cow's milk. In short, it's not bad. If you found yourself in the middle of the desert and found a piece of Al Nassma in your pocket (probably a little melty), you would most certainly devour it.

Al Nassma's product line also includes five 70-grams bars in these flavors: Arabia (flavored with local spices); Date; Macadamia Nut and Orange; 70 percent Cocoa; and Whole [Camel] Milk. The hollow chocolate camels are available in two sizes,130- and 730-gram. For more info, visit

Friday, October 30, 2009

NYC Chocolate Show 2009, Day One

Today I went to the Chocolate Show in NYC, where Dessert Professional magazine presented the Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America. These outstanding chocolatiers handed out samples at the Dessert Professional booth throughout the day (and will continue to do so for all three days of the show), allowing show-goers to get a taste of their craftsmanship and learn more about each company. The list included one of my favorite chocolatiers, Markus Candinas (his Elderflower bonbon is pictured above) from Verona, WI. His philosophy about chocolate is simple: “ We use the best ingredients, make our chocolates fresh, and use methodology that others have either not yet discovered or simply neglect to employ.”

The result is a small assortment of chocolates that are perfectly balanced in flavor and texture. I told Markus today that I suspected he was a perfectionist, and he reluctantly nodded. “Sometimes that can be a problem,” he said. Not for us, though! To learn more about Markus and his chocolates, visit The remainder of the list of Top Ten Chocolatiers includes: Jacques Torres (Jacques Torres Chocolates), Drew Shotts (Garrison Confections), Thomas Haas (Thomas Haas Chocolates), Jeff Sherpherd (Lille Belle Farms Hand Made Chocolates), Julian Rose (Moonstruck Chocolates), Norman Love (Norman Love Confections), Michael Recchiuti (Recchiuti Confections), Jin Caldwell (Ethel's Chocolate) and Pat Coston (2 Chicks with Chocolate).

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Craft of Baking

Karen DeMasco is my kind of pastry chef. Ever since I sampled a tasting of her desserts at Craft several years ago, I was sold (she's now the pastry chef of Robert De Niro's restaurant Locanda Verde in NYC). Her desserts are simple, and simply delicious. They are perfectly balanced, with an emphasis on flavor and elegance. Almost as exciting as her desserts is the fact that Karen has just released her first cookbook, The Craft of Baking (Clarkson Potter, 2009).After perusing the book, I immediately wanted to make everything in it. It was hard to pick one dessert, but I ultimately settled on a gorgeous chocolate tart, which is a perfect example of Karen's combination of style and elegance. You'll also find a multitude of uses for the tender chocolate sable dough, which is delectable. Cheers to you, Karen, for a wonderful book that I will undoubtedly use over and over.

Chocolate Custard Tart

From The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco

Chocolate Sable Dough:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons egg that has been well blended

Chocolate Custard Filling:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70%), roughly chopped
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (62%), roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Make the dough:
1. In a bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on low speed until there are no visible pieces of butter, about 3 minutes. Add the measured amount of egg and mix just until incorporated. Add the flour mixture in three additions, mixing each in completely before adding the next.
3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape into a flattened disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Bake the crust:
4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to an 11-inch round. Roll the dough onto a rolling pin, center it over a 9 1/2-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, and fit it into the pan, pressing the dough into the edges. With a paring knife, trim the excess dough right to the top edge of the pan. Prick the bottom all over with a fork, and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the chilled tart shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang, and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and pie weights, rotate the pan, and continue baking until the crust is fragrant and feels dry to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes more. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and let the crust cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees F.

Make the filling:
6. Combine the bittersweet and semisweet chocolates in a mixing bowl. Pour the cream, milk and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour about one-third of the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and very gently whisk together until the chocolate is melted. Add the remaining cream mixture and gently whisk to combine.
7. Whisk the eggs in a bowl until well combined. Pour about one-third of the chocolate mixture over the eggs and gently whisk just to combine. Return the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture, add the salt, and very gently whisk until smooth.

Bake the tart:
8. Filled the cooled crust with the chocolate custard. Carefully transfer the tart, on the baking sheet, to the oven and bake, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the edges of the custard are set and the center is slightly loose, about 30 minutes. Transfer the tart to a wire rack and let it cool completely. Remove the outer ring of the tart pan, and serve at room temperature. The tart is best eaten the day it is baked, but can be kept at room temperature, loosely covered in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pot Luck

Chicken Pot Pie could be the most soul-satisfying comfort food ever created. It's certainly right up there with Macaroni and Cheese, no doubt. I loved Swanson's rendition as a child (it was a treat my sisters and I relished when Mom and Dad went out for the evening), and I still like to make a down-home, double-crusted version when I have the luxury of time. When I don't, I make an abbreviated pie using frozen puff pastry. The filling's the same (and still takes some time to prepare, that's for sure), but the dramatic puff topping elevates the pie to a more upscale entree. The filling can also be made up to a day ahead, and actually benefits from some time in the refrigerator. And the frozen puff is always ready to go, tucked in the back of the freezer. So satisfy your soul as well as your palate with a pot luck dinner.

Chicken Pot Pie

Makes 5 servings

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 large potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 medium red onion, chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
5 ounces mushrooms, sliced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Milk or chicken broth, as needed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon lemon juice
A few splashes Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
¾ cup frozen baby peas
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg yolk, whisked with 1 teaspoon water

1. Place the chicken breasts in a Dutch oven or deep skillet and pour chicken broth on top. Add enough water so that the chicken is just covered. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat so that it is just below a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from broth and set aside to cool.
2. Add potato cubes to broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes and place them in a bowl, reserving broth in another container.
3. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the Dutch oven. Add the onions and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the diced carrots and cook for 2 more minutes. Add some of the reserved broth (about ½ cup) and continue to cook until carrots are tender, adding more broth if necessary. Add carrots and onions to bowl with potatoes.
4. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter in Dutch oven and sauté mushroom slices. Add to bowl with other veggies.
5. Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
6. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven. Whisk in flour and cook, while whisking for 1 minute. Measure out reserved broth and add enough milk or chicken broth to make 3 cups. Gradually whisk this into flour mixture. Add thyme sprigs and bring to a boil and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper until it tastes balanced (and good).
7. Add frozen peas and cook for a minute until they are heated. Add shredded chicken and veggies. Remove thyme sprigs (if you can find them). Spoon mixture into 5 oven-proof 8-ounce ramekins or casseroles.
8. Place sheet of thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out just a little to flatten folds. Cut sheet into 4 squares. Brush edge of casserole with egg yolk and top with puff square. Press edges against casserole and brush top with egg wash. Repeat with remaining puff and casseroles. Place pot pies on baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nuts To You!

I went with a group of my friends last night to see a great off-broadway show, Lizzie Borden. It was an off-beat musical that recounted the tale of the alleged nineteenth-century New England murderess, and it was a fabulous production, full of energy, spice, great music and singing. Before the show, we all met at the beautiful apartment of my friend Megan Kent (the branding guru) for wine and appetizers. To lessen the burden on our busy host, we all brought along an appetizer or two. I contributed some white bean dip and crostini and Spicy Caramelized Almonds, one of those unassuming little nibbles which are downright addicting. They're sweet, spicy and crunchy with notes of ginger, cumin and sesame. They can be made several days ahead of time, and keep for at least a week, so they're a good choice for a party, when you have lots of last-minute preparations. And it did cross my mind that they were an appropriate choice for pre-Lizzie Borden fare--sweet, yet with a spicy, dark side.

Spicy Caramelized Almonds

Makes 1 ½ cups

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ½ cups whole almonds, blanched*

*Note: If you can’t find blanched almonds, buy natural ones with the skin on. Plunge them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain. The nuts should easily slip out of their skins. Once they are blanched, toast them in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes to dry them out.

1. In a medium bowl, combine the salt, ginger, cumin, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar; set aside. Have a nonstick baking sheet ready.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts and cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant, but not colored. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup sugar over the nuts. Cook, without stirring, shaking the pan frequently to prevent burning. When the sugar starts to caramelize, stir the nuts so they are evenly browned and caramelized.
3. Immediately add the nuts to the bowl with the spice mixture and toss to coat them evenly. Spread the nuts out onto the nonstick baking sheet. Using a fork, separate the nuts as much as possible. Once cool, transfer to an airtight container. They will keep (if you can prevent yourself from eating them) for at least a week.

Monday, October 12, 2009


When I'm looking for a dessert that's quick to prepare and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, cheesecake's at the top of my list. It's creamy, rich, and the ideal medium for a host of flavors. One of my favorite cheesecakes is a simple, lemon-scented one topped with strawberries. No gooey cornstarchy gel topping, just sliced strawberries macerated in a little sugar. I also like to make this cheesecake in individual portions, in muffin cups. No slicing, no sharing. Bliss in a cup.

Strawberry-Topped Cheesecake Cups

Makes 12 servings
Storage: refrigerated, in a covered container, for up to 3 days.

Graham Cracker Crusts:
1 cup (4.2 oz/120 g) graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon (.4 oz/12 g) granulated sugar
4 tablespoons (2 oz/57 g) unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake filling:
12 ounces (340 g) cream cheese, softened
3/4 (5.3 oz/150 g) cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup (120 ml) sour cream

Strawberry Topping:
1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and cut lengthwise into quarters
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Make the crusts:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and sugar until blended. Stir in the melted butter. Divide the mixture among the muffin cups and using your fingers, pat it into an even layer on the bottom of each cup. Bake the crusts until they are very lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool the crusts on a wire rack while you make the filling. Make the filling:
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese at low speed until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat for another minute, until well blended. Blend in the vanilla extract, lemon zest, and salt. Add the eggs and yolk, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and mixing until well blended. Add the sour cream and mix until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir the filling a few times by hand to make sure it is smooth and well blended. Ladle the filling into the muffin cups, filling it to the top.
4. Bake the cheesecake cups for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops begin to crack and the centers are set. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool completely (the cheesecake cups will sink slightly in the center as they cool).

Make the topping:
5. In a bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
6. Arrange about 4 strawberry pieces, cut side down, on top of each cheesecake cup and spoon some of the remaining liquid on top. Serve the cups immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tish Boyle, (Former) Celebrity-For-A-Day

Yesterday I was thrilled to announce that I was the official "Author of the Day" on If you had clicked on then, you would've been able to share in my glory. If you visit the site today, you'll see the smiling face of the new celebrity du jour. Like Cinderella, I have now returned to the obscurity to which I'm so unfairly relegated (and to which I've grown so accustomed). But back to Cookstr. In a unique partnership with many of the best cookbook publishers, is a new online destination for a broad collection of recipes from some of the best chefs and authors, including James Beard, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Mario Batali, and dozens more. The site was founded by a team of seasoned culinary professionals whose philosophy is that good food starts with good ingredients, and that eating responsibly and deliciously is within everyone’s grasp.’s extensive database of recipes includes a wide variety of recipes for all skill levels, making it an appropriate source for professionals as well as amateurs. The site also includes biographies of each featured chef or author and superior proprietary search tools. So get cookin’ and visit soon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Heavenly Hostess

I am proud to say that as a child I had impeccable taste in desserts. Of the pre-packaged, ready-to-eat variety, my #1 favorite was the classic Devil Dog. #2 on the list, however, was that pinnacle of elegance, the chocolate Hostess cupcake, with its characteristic squiggle of white icing across the top. Without the squiggle, it would've been just a chocolate cupcake. But that wave of icing indicated it was a Hostess cupcake, with a cloud of cream filling hidden inside. Superb. Have you tried a Hostess cupcake lately? I hate to say it, but you might be just a little bit disappointed. The iconic snacks of our childhood just don't hold up to our fussy adult standards. Which is why I decided to do my own take on this memorable snack. My version features a chocolate fudge cupcake filled with a basic American-style buttercream. It's topped with an ultra-shiny chocolate glaze, and a signature squiggle of royal icing. The result is much prettier than the machine-made version and, dare I say, tastes a lot better. You can easily double this recipe (you won't have to double the glaze or the Royal Icing). The second time you make them, I guarantee you will. Serve these at your next dinner gathering and you are certain to be the Hostess with the Mostest.

Better Than Hostess Cupcakes

Makes 12

Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup alkalized cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream

Cream Filling:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Glaze:
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Royal Icing Squiggle:
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons liquid pasteurized egg whites
1 tablespoon warm water

Make the cupcakes:
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cupcake pan with paper cupcake cups.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend and set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed until light, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the egg, mixing well and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating them with the sour cream in two additions and mixing just until blended. Divide the batter among the cupcake cups and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pans set on wire racks for 15 minutes. Remove cupcakes to racks and cool completely.

Make the filling:
4. In an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat at high speed until, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and beat for another minute. Scrape the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain or star tip.

Fill the cupcakes:
5. Use a paring knife to cut a small X in the center of the bottom of each cupcake. Hold a cupcake upside-down, letting your fingers rest on the top of the cupcake (which is now the bottom). Poke the pastry tip three-quarters of the way into the cupcake and squeeze in some filling, stopping when you feel a slight pressure on the top of the cupcake. Repeat with the remaining cupcakes. Set the filled cupcakes aside while you make the chocolate glaze.

Make the glaze:
6. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Combine the cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the glaze is shiny. Dip the top of each cupcake in the glaze, tapping to remove the excess. Place the cupcakes on a wire rack and let the glaze set for 30 minutes. (You will have some glaze left over. Store it covered, in the refrigerator, for up to a week. The reason you make more than you need is that it’s easier to dip the cupcake in a larger amount.)

Make the Royal Icing Squiggle:
7. Combine all the Royal Icing ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on high for 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Scrape some Royal Icing it into a small parchment cone or a pastry bag fitting with a writing tip. Pipe a row of curlicues horizontally across the center of each cupcake. Serve the cupcakes at room temperature or slightly chilled. They can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Demel: A Touch of Vienna in the Heart of NYC

The other day my good friend Nick Malgieri and I went to Demel, the New York branch of the iconic Viennese pastry shop. The new shop is located among the retail stores at the Plaza Hotel, set alongside a soothing carp pond on the lower level. It is such an elegant setting, with luxurious banquettes, marble-topped cafe tables and glass display cases filled with beautifully decorated cakes and pastries. We sipped cappunccinos (or is it 'cappuccini'?), sampled many of the delicious classic Viennese cakes, and chatted with Jemal Edwards, the Executive Pastry Chef and one Dessert Professional magazine's Top Ten Pastry Chefs of 2009. Nick is writing an article on Demel for Dessert Professional, wanted to take some photos of the cake and shop, and I went along for the ride. Among the cakes we sampled was the famous Dobostorte, thin layers of vanilla biscuit sandwiched with chocolate buttercream and topped with triangles of caramel-coated shortbread. We also tasted the Fachertorte, layers of poppy seed paste, walnuts, apples and plums, all encased in short dough. The Viennese love their poppy seeds, and this cake is an example of an old-world classic. The Fragilite is a lovely pastry made with ultra-thin almond meringue which has been lightly soaked with rum and filled with a mixture of praline paste, chocolate and butter.

This is a dangerous little pastry--it's incredibly rich, yet seems so light. While Nick was snapping a photo, in fact, I ate the whole thing. (He muttered something about me being "greedy, greedy, greedy," but I just couldn't help myself. It's a dog-eat-dog world, after all.) My favorite cake, though, was undoubtedly the Dorrytorte, a flourless chocolate cake with a sunken center. The sunken part is filled with a light chocolate mousse, slightly mounded. So simple, yet so delicious. I might have to try this one at home. Demel also has an extensive selection of chocolates and confections, all exquisitely packaged by hand in Vienna. If you have a chance, stop by Demel for a piece of cake and a coffee. It's not inexpensive, but it's much cheaper than a flight to Austria. For more info, visit

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Coconut Dream Pies

Eating or drinking something coconut-flavored--pina coladas, Almond Joy bars, coconut cream pie--always transports me to another place, another time. Usually it's a tropical resort, with friendly island natives catering to my every whim. Sort of like Gilligan's Island, with waiters. And speaking of Gilligan's Island, how is it that Mary Ann was able to whip up those beautiful coconut cream pies without having access to fresh cream? And where did Ginger get all that mascara? Ponder these and other questions while you enjoy these adorable (and delicious) Little Coconut Cream Pies. And don't forget to change into your bikini (I'll be wearing a one-piece with a substantial cover-up, for sure--that way I can eat more pie).

Little Coconut Cream Pies

Makes 6 small pies

Flaky Pie Crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks and frozen
3/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, frozen
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Coconut Filling:
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup coconut milk (not cream of coconut)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 3/4 cups sweetened shredded coconut (toast 1/2 cup of it for 7-8 minutes in a 350 degree oven--this is for the garnish)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whipped Cream Topping:
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the dough:
1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade and pulse on and off until combined. Scatter the butter pieces and the shortening, in large chunks, over the flour mixture. Pulse the machine on and off until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 6 tablespoons of the ice water and process until the mixture just starts to come together. (If the dough seems dry, add the remaining 2 tablespoons water as necessary. Do not allow the dough to form a ball on the blade, or the resulting crust will be tough.)
2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, divide it in half, and shape each half into a thick disk. Wrap the disks separately in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.
Roll out the crusts:
3. Have ready six 5-inch pie pans (not tartlette pans). Lightly flour a large work surface. Allow the dough to soften at room temperature just until it is pliable (about 20 minutes). Place 1 disk on the floured surface and sprinkle some flour over it. Roll the dough from the center out in every direction, flouring the work surface as necessary to prevent sticking. You want a round about 1/8 inch or slightly less thick. Cut out 2 6 1/2-inch circles from the dough and press each circle into a pie pan. Trim the edges of the dough with scissors, leaving about 1/2 inch of overhang. Tuck the overhanging dough underneath itself, pressing it onto the rim of the pan. Flute the edge by pinching the dough from the outside in a V shape with your thumb and index finger while poking the center of the shape with the index finger of your other hand from the inside. Repeat with the remaining dough and pans, gathering up the scraps and rerolling them as necessary to make 6 pie crusts. If you like, brush the edges of the crust with an egg yolk whisked with a little water.

Bake the crusts:
4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line each pie crust with a square of lightly buttered aluminum foil, buttered side down, covering the edge of the crust so that it doesn't get too brown. Fill the lined crust with pie weights, dried beans, or raw rice. Bake the pie crusts for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and foil. Prick the bottom of the crust well with a fork and bake the crust for another 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the bottoms are baked through. Cool the pie crusts on a wire rack.

Make the Coconut Filling:
5. In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well combined. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup of the coconut milk to form a smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining coconut milk and the whole milk. Place over medium heat and bring to a slow boil, whisking constantly. Remove the pan from the heat.
6. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot coconut mixture into the yolks, then return the yolk mixture to the saucepan. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Continue to boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until very thick. Remove from the heat, scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the butter pieces until melted. Whisk in the vanilla and 1 1/4 cups of the untoasted coconut (reserve the remaining 1/2 cup toasted coconut for garnish). Divide the warm filling among the pie crusts and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of each pie filling. Refrigerate the pies for at least 4 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.

Make the Whipped Cream Topping:
7. In an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment or beaters, beat the cream on medium-low speed for 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat until the cream forms stiff peaks.
8. Scrape the whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip. Pipe rosettes over the chilled pies and sprinkle with the reserved toasted coconut. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Tang's All Here

Years ago, buttermilk was what the liquid left over after churning butter was called. It was thick and rich and had little flecks of butter in it. Today buttermilk is made commercially by adding special bacteria (as opposed to random, kitchen-floor-type bacteria) to lowfat or nonfat milk. It gives the milk a thickened consistency and tangy flavor. I can't drink it straight, but I do love the flavor of buttermilk when it's combined with other ingredients. I decided to incorporate it into a subtly flavored lemon ice cream, adding it to the hot custard base just after it's made. The ice cream has a lovely tang, and pairs deliciously with fruit and berries.

Lemon Buttermilk Ice Cream

Makes 2 quarts

1 quart milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup lemon zest (from about 5 medium to large lemons)
2 large egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk

1. Combine the milk, cream and 1 cup of the sugar in a large saucepan. Add the lemon zest and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat.
2. In a bowl, whisk the yolks with the remaining 1/3 cup sugar until blended. Whisk about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture into the yolks. Return this mixture to the saucepan with the remaining milk and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture reaches 175°F on an instant-read thermometer (this should happen very quickly). Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk until blended.
3. Strain the base through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Place bowl in an ice bath and stir until cool. Cover bowl and chill for at least 6 hours.
4. Process in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Scrape the ice cream into an airtight container and freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chocolate Charge

There's something about an individually baked cake that is especially endearing. As a gift, it says that someone baked this whole thing just for you. Not for you to share--this little cake is yours alone for you to enjoy where and when you like. Wrapped in clear cellophane bags and tied with a ribbon, a miniature cake is an ideal way to say 'thank you,' 'I'm sorry', or 'congratulations.' It's amazing how something so simple will generate such a heartfelt reaction in its recipients. These chocolate cakes are the ultimate little gifts. They're packed with chocolate. A good amount of cocoa powder gives them a deep chocolate flavor, while slivers of bittersweet chocolate ratchet up the chocolate intensity. Sometimes I serve them with just a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar, other times I coat them with a rich chocolate glaze. Either way, they're simply delicious.

Individual Chocolate Buttermilk Cakes

Makes 6 individual cakes
Storage: in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Special Equipment: one 6-cake Bundt-lette pan

1 cup (4 oz/114 g) cake flour
1/2 cup (1.6 oz/46 g) Dutch-processed (alkalized) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks/6 oz/170 g) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups (8.8 oz/250 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (180 ml) buttermilk 2 tablespoons (30 ml) Kahlua (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces (113 g) finely chopped bittersweet chocolate or 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate morsels Bittersweet

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease the interior of a 6-cake Bundt-lette pan (it's best to use shortening here). Dust the molds with flour and tap out the excess.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed for 2 minutes, until very creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes, until the mixture is well blended and light. At medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
4. In a small bowl, stir together the buttermilk, Kahlua, and vanilla extract. If your mixer has a splatter shield attachment, attach it now. At low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in three additions, alternating it with the buttermilk cream mixture in two additions, and mixing just until blended. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir in the finely chopped chocolate or miniature semisweet morsels. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake molds, dividing it evenly and smoothing the tops.
5. Bake the cakes for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pan set on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
6. Invert the cakes onto the rack and cool completely.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut butter is an American staple. Europeans scoff at our attachment to this sticky brown substance, but, hey, French supermarkets sell quite a bit of Nutella (I should know, because I ate a ton of it when I was a poor culinary student in Paris decades ago), and the Brits dote on their Marmite, after all. God-awful stuff, that Marmite (my mother used to eat it on her toast). Anyhow, I still eat peanut butter now and then, and I love to incorporate it into my desserts, especially with chocolate. But here's one of my favorite pure treats, a classic all-American peanut butter cookie. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, they are chock-full of chopped peanuts and pure peanut butter flavor. I recommend you bake these on an insulated baking sheet, as directed, to ensure that the cookies don't over-brown on the bottom. If you don't have one, stack two heavy-gauge baking sheets--it will work just as well. And don't forget the ice-cold milk, to accompany them.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes 36 cookies
Storage: in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter (not the all-natural kind), at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped unsalted peanuts

1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
2. In an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment or beaters, beat the butter and peanut butter together at medium speed until smooth. Gradually beat in the granulated and dark brown sugars. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the side of the bowl between additions. Beat in the vanilla extract. At low speed, beat in the dry ingredients and chopped peanuts until blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 30 to 45 minutes, until the dough has firmed up.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an insulated cookie sheet. Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop, scoop 9 portions of the chilled dough onto the cookie sheet, spacing them evenly. Using your palm (wet it first, to prevent sticking), flatten each scoop so that each cookie is a 2-inch disc. Using a fork, making a cross-hatch indentation in the center of each cookie. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, until they are golden around the edges, but still soft in the center. They will firm up as they cool. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramel Espresso Buttercream

There are some really pretty cupcake liners available at cake decorating stores these days. The problem is, once you bake cupcakes in them, they lose their color completely or become grease-soaked and unsightly, and the premium price you've paid for them is all for naught. I am happy to say that Reynolds has just come out with a line of colorful, yet tasteful, cupcake liners that look great before and after baking. They're called Reynolds 'Baked For You' Baking Cups, and they were nice enough to send me some samples recently. I baked up a batch of my favorite cupcakes to see how they would hold up in the oven, and I was amazed by the results. The liners remained pretty and vibrant, with no fading or discoloring. This is a great product, period, and it comes in very chic patterns. Chic enough, even, for my fashionably flavored Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramel Espresso Buttercream. The liners will be available in grocery stores soon, so keep an eye out for them. In the meantime, you can buy them here:

Chocolate Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream

Makes about 30 cupcakes

Sour Cream Chocolate Cupcakes:
2 2/3 cups (11.3 oz/322 g) all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups (17.5 oz/500 g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1.4 oz/41 g) natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (160 ml) sour cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
10 tablespoons (5 oz/142 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup (160 ml) safflower or corn oil
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) ice-cold water

Caramel Espresso Buttercream:
1 1/4 cups (10.5 oz/300 g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (120 ml) light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 cups (4 sticks/1 lb/454 g) unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon (.1 oz/3 g) espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon (15 ml) hot water

Make the cupcakes:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Linetwo cupcakes pans with muffin cups.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs until blended. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla extract until blended. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the melted butter and oil together at low speed. Add the cold water and mix to blend. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix at medium-low speed for 1 minute. Add the egg mixture and mix for another minute until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Scrape the batter into the prepared muffin cups.
5. Bake the cakes for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a center cupcake comes out clean. Set the pans on wire racks and cool the cupcakes for 15 minutes.
6. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and cool completely.

Make the buttercream:
7. In medium saucepan, combine the sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, and salt. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, and increase the heat to high.
8. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, begin beating the eggs at medium speed while the syrup cooks to the correct temperature. When the sugar syrup reaches 225°F on a candy thermometer, increase the speed of the mixer to high. Continue to cook the sugar syrup until it reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer off, immediately pour about 1/4 cup of the hot syrup over the beaten eggs. Beat at high speed until blended, about 10 seconds. Turn the mixer off and add another 1/4 cup syrup. Beat at high speed for another 10 seconds. Repeat this process until all of the syrup is used. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl and continue to beat at medium-high speed until the egg mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes.
9. At medium speed, beat the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the egg mixture. Add the vanilla extract and coffee mixture, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat the buttercream until it is smooth and shiny, about 4 minutes. (The buttercream must be used at room temperature.)

Frost the cupcakes:
10. Scrape the buttercream into pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip and pipe a generous swirl on top of each cupcake.