Saturday, October 30, 2010

Better-Late-Than-Never Halloween Cookies

Halloween is here. I figured this out because I live next door to a Ricky’s store, which is known for its impressive selection of Halloween costumes. Kids have been lining up for days to nab the right costume before the parties start—they even one of those rope 

barriers outside with a store employee on duty to control the lines. When did Halloween get so popular? I mean, I loved the whole free candy thing when I was a kid, but I always sort of dreaded the costume part. So much pressure to come up with something

clever, yet fashionable and timely! And then there’s the whole house decorating program, which is driven by people watching too many Martha Stewart Halloween craft shows. Brownstone dwellers in my zip code have clearly been preparing for weeks, decorating 

their houses with skeletons, cobwebs, monsters and ghosts, in every imaginable permutation. Though I’ve been a little slow to embrace the Halloween spirit this year, I finally jumped on the spooky bandwagon and made some Halloweeny cookies. I made 

pumpkins, bats, black cats, ghosts and autumn leaves, but the options are endless, as there’s a huge selection of great Halloween-themed cookie cutters available. And if you don’t have any, you can just make free-form tombstones with semi-clever sayings on them, like “Yul B. Next” or “Myra Mains”.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Streusel-Topped Apple Pie

Apple season is in full swing, and there was an impressive variety on display at my local farmers’market yesterday—McIntosh, Macoun, Gala, Fuji, Northern Spy, Braeburn, Cortland and more. I succumbed, of course. It was a crisp fall day, just the right kind of 

day for using my bounty of apples to make a pie. I love apple pie in all its forms, from small, free-form galettes to a double-crusted pie with a cheddar crust to a classic caramelized tarte Tatin. But this time I wanted to make a crumb-topped pie, which reminds me of 

the ones my Mom would sometimes pick up from our local bakery when I was a child. Part pie, part crisp, this Streusel-Topped Apple Pie is relatively easy to make (no upper crust to deal with), and it has a wonderful crispy-crunchy texture that contrasts beautifully 

with its buttery apple filling. It takes a while to bake—almost two hours—but as it fills the house with that heady scent of cinnamon and apples, you’ll begin to appreciate that long baking time. Serve this pie slightly warm with vanilla ice cream.

Note: the recipe for the pie dough makes just enough for the bottom crust, without any scraps. If you want to decorate the edge of your pie with pastry leaves, which looks lovely, double the recipe and freeze any leftover dough. Brush the pastry leaves with eggwash before baking.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Toasted Almond Crunch Cupcakes

Ten years ago I wrote a book called Diner Desserts (Chronicle, 2000), which is a collection of recipes for some of my favorite comfort food-style desserts. I’ve been a lifelong diner fan, and over the years I’ve logged many hours hanging out in diners, eating pie, 

drinking coffee and gossiping with friends. I love the casual atmosphere and conviviality of the diner, and I love those rustic looking diner pies, the chocolate and butterscotch puddings topped with swirls of whipped cream, and the mile-high layer cakes. One 

of the cakes featured in Diner Desserts is a Toasted Almond Brittle Crunch Cake, layers of white cake frosted with an almond buttercream and sprinkled with a finely ground almond brittle crunch. It was inspired by the Good Humor Toasted Almond Ice 

Cream Bar—an iconic frozen treat and one of my top picks from the ice cream truck when I was a kid—and it’s delicious. I decided that this cake would also make a great cupcake, so I revamped the recipe a bit and turned it into a portable version of the original treat. 

The secret is to pipe the buttercream really high on the cupcakes, mimicking the look of the over-the-top-tall diner cake, and giving everyone the generous amount of frosting that they crave.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pecan-less Pie and Lunch with Michel Richard

I first met Michel Richard, the great French chef who is the proprietor of Citronelle and many other fine restaurants in the U.S., in 1993. I was editor of Chocolatier magazine then, and we had recently named Chef Richard one of the Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America. To honor the chefs, we were holding an awards ceremony hosted by Robin Leach (remember him? You know, Mr. Lifestyles-of-the-Temporarily-Rich-and-Famous?). The event was to be held at Tatoo, a splashy restaurant in New York, and I was assigned the 

task of picking Chef Richard up from Newark airport and dropping him at his hotel, The Essex House in New York. I found him--he was hard to miss with his full frame, bushy beard and smiling eyes—and we jumped into my rundown Saab and headed toward the city. We chatted about all sorts of things along the way, mostly food, and when we reached his hotel, he invited me along to a pre-arranged lunch with Andre Renard, Pastry Chef of The Essex House, an adorable and wonderful man who was also one of our 

Ten Best Pastry Chefs. The three of us had a very pleasant, occasionally hilarious, somewhat drunken lunch at Rene Pujol, an old-time French bistro in the Theatre District with a 60-and-over customer age demographic. (It has since closed, sadly—I always feel a pang of regret when these classic restaurant dinosaurs fall prey to a tough economy. I guess I just don’t like change, in general.) Anyhow, since that day I’ve been a huge fan of M. Richard. He is one of the few great chefs who was originally a 

pastry chef and, consequently, he has mastered the precision and technique of the unforgiving discipline of pastry as well as the shoot-from-the-hip, unfettered creativity of the savory side. He moves seamlessy between the worlds of sweet and savory. His book Happy in the Kitchen, which came out in 2006, is one of my favorites—it is pure genius. Over-sized and full of page after page of lush photos, Happy in the Kitchen is also full of wonderful recipes, the kind that you’ll turn to time and time again. Among my 

favorites are his Crisp and Creamy Bacon-Onion Tart made with crepe batter, and his vegetarian take on Steak Tartare, Leek Tartare. Another is a macadamia tart made in the style of a pecan pie, but with maple syrup instead of corn syrup, and a little bit of almond meal to add another dimension to its nutty profile. Chef Richard calls it Pecan-less Pie. I call it perfection. Serve it with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream or some whipped cream on top—it’s a certified winner. Just like Chef Michel Richard.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Makin’ Whoopie

Though the whoopie pie has not yet achieved the same popular status as the cupcake in this country, it certainly has a lot in common with it. Both the whoopie pie and the cupcake are made

of cake and frosting in individual portions, the cupcake with the frosting slathered on top, and the whoopie with it sandwiched in between two discs of cake. They are both uniquely American. And

kids—and adults like me—adore both. The classic whoopie is devil’s food cake filled with an American vanilla buttercream frosting, though you can find them in all sorts of delightful flavors, 

including pumpkin, lemon, vanilla and banana. Chocolate whoopie pies have always reminded me of devil dogs, one of my favorite childhood snacks. Obviously, though, they are far superior to that

pinnacle of commercially-produced, chemically enhanced treats (sorry, I’m just not a Twinkie girl). So, when you get the urge, go ahead and make some whoopie. Life is too short not to.