Friday, May 27, 2011

Strawberry-Topped Buttermilk Panna Cotta

It’s a sure sign that summer can’t be far away when the first local strawberries of the season show up at farmers’ markets in New York City. What a difference between these and the over-sized, cottony brand-names ones from California! It pains me to buy those plastic-

looking berries (though they are great for making a tree centerpiece at Christmastime), and I really only do so when I’m desperate and local ones are out of season. I spotted some fresh-picked strawberries at the market today, along with beautiful pink stalks of 

rhubarb, and was struck by the urge to make strawberry-rhubarb jam. But since I featured a Strawberry Rhubarb Compote here recently, I decided instead to make one of my favorite desserts, panna cotta, and top it with the sliced berries. It’s a play on the 

classic strawberries and cream, and it makes a refreshing and delicious dessert. The panna cotta is made tangy with buttermilk (feel free to substitute milk or cream, if you like your panna cotta less tangy), while a vanilla bean gives it a fragrant endnote. I macerated the sliced strawberries with a little sugar and lemon juice, which made a saucy topping for the panna cotta. It’s a perfect ending to a spring dinner, with the promise of summer soon to come.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Milk and Cookies from a Master

I first met Tina Casaceli years ago when she was the director of Pastry Studies at the French Culinary Institute in New York. We were judging a pastry competition together, along with a few others, and had to taste over twenty different desserts in a span of a few hour. By the sixth or seventh one, we started to giggle a bit,  

trying hard to maintain our professionalism. By number twenty, however, we were downright punch-drunk. (I defy anyone to taste twenty desserts and remain sober.) Anyhow, from the moment I met her, I really liked her, and we’ve been fast friends ever since. Tina has since moved on to open her own business, an adorable 

cookie shop in Greenwich Village called Milk and Cookies Bakery. Here you can order milk shakes, brownies, sundaes and ice cream sandwiches, or have cookies with customized ingredients baked for you on the spot. Milk and Cookies Bakery is a huge success, mostly because Tina’s an incredibly hard worker and 

knows just how to run a small business (she grew up working in her family’s restaurant). Tina has also just released her first book, aptly named Milk & Cookies (Chronicle Books, 2011; $24.95). Full of comforting cookie and bar recipes from her bakery, it’s an irresistible book that you’re bound to turn to again and again. I was 

hard-pressed to choose a recipe to bake (so many were my favorites) but I was able to narrow it down to two, Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies. With a hint of maple flavor and bursts of sweet blueberry, Tina’s oatmeal cookies were chewy delishness. I loved them. I also liked the peanut butter cookies, but they were very tender and light, and I’m not accustomed to that. I think I like my peanut butter cookies dense and chewy, but you might prefer them this way. At any rate, I know you will love this book and its myriad recipes. You'll also love Tina, if you get the chance to stop by her charming bakery. Milk and Cookies Bakery is located at 19 Commerce St., New York, NY; 212-243-1640.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fresh Ginger Spice Cake: Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few

It’s a terrible thing when you make a mistake in a recipe and then that recipe is printed somewhere for the whole world to see. In a magazine, for instance or, even worse, a book. It’s happened to me more than once, I must admit, and it’s no good at all. Baking and 

dessert ingredients are not cheap, and when a recipe goes awry because of my mistake, I recognize it as a personal failure. When I was editing Chocolatier magazine, we occasionally printed a recipe that was missing an ingredient or had the wrong amount listed. 

Readers would inevitably call me, and I would explain how it happened and beg their forgiveness. My last book, The Cake Book, has an error in one of the recipes, and I’ve gotten several emails about it, so I thought this blog would be a good place to let the error 

and correction be known. The problem is in Fresh Ginger Spice Cake – to my horror, somehow, I left out the leavening. I’d like to call it a printing error, but that would be a fib. I have no clue how it happened, and all I can do is apologize and draw your attention to it. 

It’s a lovely, very gingery and very moist cake when you do add the baking soda, and makes a delightful accompaniment to a fresh strawberry and rhubarb compote and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. For a more polished look, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar or frost it with a cream cheese frosting. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Coconut Custard Pie For My Mom

Though deep down I have a sneaking suspicion that the Mother’s Day holiday is a conspiracy dreamed up by greeting card and flower delivery companies to drive business, I accept it for what it is – an opportunity to pay homage and say thanks to my wonderful mother, who’s always been there 

for me, cheering me on, through good times and bad. Since my mother is British (she’s from Abercynon in South Wales), she has always favored classic Brit desserts such as trifle, bread pudding and custard. In fact, she is known for her delicious bread pudding, which she claims is The Duchess of 

Windsor’s favorite recipe. (My guess is the Duchess wasn’t doing much cooking – she was too busy buying expensive jewelry shaped like reptiles.) Another favorite of hers, though, is also one of mine: Coconut Custard Pie, an American classic. The great thing about this dessert is that it’s so darned 

easy to make (once you get past the crust, that is). Just whisk together some eggs, sugar, milk and a few other ingredients, and your filling just needs to be poured into the pie crust and baked. I like to top the simple custard filling with sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkling of toasted coconut and, my 

secret ingredient, ground candied violets. It gives the pie a floral backnote and adds a little lavender sparkle to the white topping. So, Happy Mother’s Day to you, Mom, and to everyone else out there who’s also a mother. Mother’s Day comes but once a year, so my advice to you is this: Milk it for all it’s worth!