Friday, December 16, 2011

Rummy Eggnog Cookies

The cookie baking season is upon is. Between the parties, cookie swaps and giving of homemade gifts, the opportunities to show off one’s cookie baking skills are ample. My own favorite Christmas

recipes include jam-filled Linzer cookies, snowy almond crescents, chocolate sandwiched butter cookies, and classic vanilla and chocolate checkerboard squares. And then there are my Rummy

Eggnog Cookies, which I consider to be the quintessential holiday treat. Nothing says the holidays like boozy eggnog, after all. These nutmeg-infused squares of shortbread are sandwiched together

with a creamy filling spike with dark rum (though they are equally delish flavored with brandy, Cognac or bourbon). They are a stellar addition to any cookie tray or assortment, and may just become a holiday tradition of your very own.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pecan Raisin Bread

In my younger days, when I had more time, I baked bread quite a bit. I love the process – the slightly sour smell of the yeast, the physical mixing and kneading of the dough, waiting for the dough to puff up, and finally, finally, that beautiful, fragrant golden brown 

loaf of crusty fresh-baked bread. These days, I don’t bake bread very often; I consider it a treat, a small luxury that time allows. I have many bread books that I love and use, but my newest favorite is How To Make Bread (Ryland, Peters & Small, 2011) by Emmanuel 

Hadjandreou. I’ve mentioned Hadjandreou on this blog before, when I shared his recipe for Pains aux Raisins. I like his method of repetitive short-duration kneading followed by a 10-minute rest. It’s doable, but still gives you the flavor development that’s so 

crucial to good bread. This time I made Hadjandreou’s Pecan Raisin Bread, which contains a small amount of whole wheat flour along with chopped pecans and golden raisins. A little crushed fennel seed would also be a welcome addition, I think. The bread is delicious, with a beautiful crust and slightly sweet and nutty flavor. I soon realized that the small loaf the recipe yields was just not enough. It can easily be doubled, though, so I suggest you make yourself two small loaves. It’s also great toasted, slathered with European butter and a little spoonful of fig preserves. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Warm Chocolate Soufflé with Pistachio Crème Anglaise

No doubt about it, soufflés get a bad rap. They are generally regarded as fussy, temperamental and prone to failure, and home cooks avoid them like the plague. Most people wouldn’t dream of

 making them for, say, an intimate dinner party for eight. In my mind, though, they are the ultimate dinner party dessert, for the following reasons:

            ͻThey can made up a day in advance (up to the point of baking).
            ͻThey are very easy to prepare.
            ͻThey are served in their own ramekins, so no slicing or spooning out is required.
            ͻTheir presentation is dramatic, and is bound to elicit lots of ‘wows’.
            ͻAlmost everyone loves them.

Since dark chocolate and pistachio is a favorite flavor combo of mine, I opted to make a warm chocolate soufflé served with a pistachio custard sauce. The cold sauce is served alongside the

 soufflé, and poured into its center at serving. The key to a successful soufflé is serving it straight out of the oven – dawdling to admiring your work is not recommended. Once served, the rich, warm center of the soufflé melds with the cold, fragrant sauce, creating an unforgettable texture and flavor. Make sure to use a high-quality chocolate here, as there’s quite a bit of it in this recipe. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

Ordinarily, I exercise restraint in self-promotion. Yesterday, however, I was honored by Cooking Light magazine (ironic, non?), and I feel compelled to share this exciting news. The Cake Book was included in Cooking Light’s top seven baking books of the past 25 years! Gads! Knowing there are so many great baking books out there, I recognize this as a great honor, indeed. Check out the article here, and read about the other six books – I am in very good company (congratulations to my dear friend Carole Walter, whose book Great Cookies also made the list). I sincerely thank the editors of Cooking Light, and wish them all – along with you, loyal readers of this blog – a wonderful, gluttonous, very happy Thanksgiving. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Warm Chocolate Panettone Bread Pudding

Though it might insult my Italian friends to say it, I’ve never been a huge fan of panettone, the sweet yeast bread from Milan that's so popular at Christmastime. It might have something to do with a press trip to Italy I went on years ago that was filled with endless 

tours of panettone and biscotti factories. The low point of the trip was a long presentation in a stifling room by an executive from one of the largest panettone producers. His English was not perfect (though admittedly far superior to my Italian), and he repeatedly 

pronounced the word “dough” like “dog” throughout his speech. One of my co-workers actually nodded off during the presentation, letting out a loud snort as he jerked himself back into consciousness. I still giggle at the memory. But back to the 

panettone. Though I love its subtle orange flavor and richness, I find it a bit dry. It’s not bad when dunked into coffee, but I’ve found a better alternative: using it as the base for a rich chocolate bread pudding. Originally conceived as a frugal way of using leftover or 

stale bread, bread pudding has since evolved into a sophisticated dessert. The basic bread pudding recipe calls for sliced or cubed bread, milk and/or cream, eggs and sugar. But I’ve gilded the lily by using panettone in place of plain bread, and added some melted 

bittersweet chocolate to make a rich and very chocolaty version. If you’re a panettone purist, you’ll no doubt be rolling your eyes in horror after reading this post, but if you’re like me, you’ll be happy you found a great reason to go out and buy your own panettone. Ciao!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chocolate Macarons

The Chocolate Show has been in New York for the past few days, so I thought it fitting to dedicate this week’s blog post to something that even chocolate purists would love: classic chocolate macarons. I don’t claim to be a macaron expert – I haven’t exactly 

perfected my technique, and chocolate macarons can be especially tricky for some reason. I prefer to make a French (as opposed to Italian or Swiss) meringue for my batter, which is a bit less stable. A pastry chef who worked for Laduree for several years recently told 

me to try making them with an Italian meringue, and to use it while the meringue is still hot. This, he explained, is very stable and gives you the added bonus of a shorter drying time for the piped macarons. I will try that next time, but for now, my slightly 

imperfect macarons will have to do. I sprinkled the tops of each with cacao nibs, which are a slightly bitter counterpoint to the sweet macarons, and add a pleasant crunch. The filling is a classic ganache, and can be tailored to your taste by your choice of the cacao percentage of your dark chocolate. Because the macarons are sweet, a high percentage chocolate is ideal here (around 70%), particularly if you want to maximize the chocolate punch.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Carrot Cake Cookies

Just in time for the holiday baking season, several new cookie books have hit the cookbook scene. I received a review copy of one of these recently, Cookies at Home With The Culinary Institute of America by Todd Knaster (Wiley, 2011; $34.99). It’s the latest in 

the CIA’s ‘At Home’ series, which features recipes for the home cook. It’s a big, beautiful book, filled with lots of full-page color photos and almost 100 recipes. The recipes lean toward the home-spun – nothing too complex here – but many of the cookies feature 

intriguing flavor combination (i.e. Pistachio Orange Biscotti and Sweet Potato-Pecan Pie Bars). The book includes all the classics, and even has a savory cookie chapter, which includes recipes such as Parmsan Taralles and Jalapeno Cheddar Zaliti. After flipping 

through the book a few times, I kept coming back to one recipe, though: Carrot Cake Cookies. What a great idea! These oatmeal-based cookies are loaded with all the goodies that are found in carrot cake – grated carrots, walnuts, raisins and cinnamon. There’s 

even some coconut thrown in for good measure. The cookies are sandwiched together with a lush and glossy cream cheese frosting, the icing on the proverbial cake. Or cookie. These cookies are quite delish, and may just be the star in your holiday cookie assortment this year.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Deep-Dish Pumpkin-Pecan Pie

When it comes to Thanksgiving dessert, I'm firmly in the pecan pie camp. And the pumpkin pie camp. And the lemon meringue and apple pie camp. A chocolate cream pie wouldn’t hurt, either – the 

more, the merrier, I say. When I am cooking for Thanksgiving, I always offer a selection of several different pie varieties. But cooking Thanksgiving dinner can be fairly stressful, so I am offering a

solution for the time-consuming multi-variety pie predicament: Deep-Dish Pumpkin-Peca Pie. With it, you get the creamy traditional pumpkin filling and just enough sweet, crunchy pecan

 topping to satisfy your pecan pie urge. The crust, possibly the most important part of a pie, is made with just enough shortening to make it flaky, and enough butter to give it a rich flavor, a happy

 compromise. The filling is a standard pumpkin pie filling, and since the pie is made in a deep-dish pan, there’s plenty of it. The topping is a simple mixture of pecans, brown sugar, Lyle’s Golden Syrup and vanilla, and bakes up into thin layer of sticky deliciousness. I might just eat this whole pie…

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Momofuku Milk Bar’s Incredible Chocolate-Chocolate Cookies

I generally don’t buy cookies – store- or bakery-bought ones almost always disappoint me, as homemade ones are so much better. Unless, of course, you are talking about cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar, where baking genius Christine Tosi whips up some pretty amazing treats. She has developed a 

cult following for her desserts – particularly her Crack Pie – and is now sharing her recipes in a new book. Momofuku Milk Bar (Clarkson Potter, 2011; $35) is a collection of recipes for the bakery’s favorite items, from savory to sweet. The book includes recipes for Momofuku classics such 

as the addictive Crack Pie, Compost Cookie, Cereal Milk Ice Cream and Kimchi and Blue Cheese Croissants. Christine Tosi’s road to baking fame began several years ago when Momofuku founder David Chang asked her to make a dessert for service at Ssäm Bar one night. 

Just like that, the pastry program at Momofuku was born, and Christina’s lighthearted desserts helped Ssäm Bar earn three stars from the New York Times and Ko two stars from the Michelin Guide. Soon enough, Christina and company opened their own bakery, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

One of my personal favorites among the Milk Bar repertoire is Tosi’s Chocolate-Chocolate Cookies, which are big, moist, really chocolaty and a bit salty. Like her Crack Pie, they are very addictive.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Citrus Olive Oil Cake

Having been to my share of olive oil tastings, I have come to appreciate the varying flavor characteristics of different extra-virgin olive oils, which can be as complex as the nuances in fine wines. They can range from peppery to pungent, or from bitter to fruity. 

Like wine, they can also be described as floral, grassy, rich, delicate, buttery, vegetal, or nutty. Choosing the right extra-virgin olive oil for a particular use is very important, especially when using it in a cake. To showcase one of my favorite olive oils, I decided to make a 

Citrus Olive Oil Cake, which uses 1½ cups of extra-virgin olive oil. I used a grassy, fresh-flavored oil, Galiga E Vetrice from O & Co, in my cake, which pairs well with citrus, but you may prefer a more fruity or floral oil, depending on your taste preference. The cake is 

very moist and subtly flavored, with a citrus endnote. The olive oil flavor in the finished cake is soft and buttery, not heavy-handed. The recipe was adapted from Team USA’s plated dessert entry at the 2010 World Pastry Competition, and I think it’s just lovely. I hope you do, too.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ohio Shaker Lemon Pie

I know it’s predictable and perhaps a little boring, but the fact is that The Joy of Cooking – the 1997 version, that is – is one of my favorite and most used cookbooks. You can find just about everything in it, the recipes always work (though there are a few 

typos here and there) and they are generally very good. Many of my good friends worked on this book, either contributing recipes or performing the mammoth task of copyediting it (kudos to copyediting genius Judith Sutton). One of my interns even worked 

on the book after leaving my dysfunctional nest at Chocolatier. Though there are plenty of good international recipes in The Joy, I find the American classics to be the best. Among them is the classic Ohio Lemon Pie, a.k.a. Shaker Lemon Pie. The Shakers are known 

for their wonderful pies (and furniture). Back in the day, lemons were considered to be a valuable commodity, so those thrifty Shakers figured out how to use the whole fruit in a pie. I love the frugality of this, and it reminds me of one of my favorite French 

desserts, Pradier’s Whole Lemon Tart, which he made for my cooking class during a demo one day, many years ago in Paris. But in Pradier’s version, the lemons are chucked whole, seeds and all,  into the food processor and transformed to a puree. In the Shaker pie, they are sliced thinly and macerated in sugar. Like Pradier’s tart, the Shaker Lemon Pie is not for the feint of heart. It’s got a serious lemon kick, which is why lemon fanatics love it so. Encased in a flaky-yet-buttery crust (my own recipe), this pie is downright irresistible. And you don’t have to be a Shaker from Ohio, either, to love it.