Monday, December 10, 2012

‘Tis the Season Eggnog Cheesecake

Oh, Eggnog! For most of the year I don’t give it a thought, but when those holiday decorations start going up and the Christmas tunes start playing, all of a sudden I begin to crave that thick, rich, boozy treat. And, inevitably, it starts to find its way into my desserts. 

Eggnog is the meeting of nutmeg and booze, and what a meeting it is. To capture the essence of eggnog, the nutmeg absolutely must be freshly grated – don’t use that pre-ground dead stuff in a jar  – and the booze can be dark rum (my fave), brandy or bourbon, as you 

prefer. Here I’ve featured the combination in a rich cheesecake that’s idea for a holiday dinner. The crust is made with cinnamon graham crackers, and is just the thing for the rich eggnog filling. The trick to achieving a perfectly textured cheesecake – creamy and 

very smooth – is two-fold. First, once you’ve made the cake batter, pass it through a fine-mesh sieve right into the crust. This ensures there won’t be any little globs of undissolved cream cheese in the cake. Second, place the springform pan into a slightly larger pan to insulate it from the water bath. With this trick, you’ll never have another soggy crust. So, go ahead, indulge a little. ‘Tis the season, after all.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holiday Chocolate Pot de Crème

Chocolate Pot de Crème (“pot of cream”, en Français) is one of my all-time favorite desserts, chocoholic that I am. Rich – very rich – and ultra-creamy, I think of it as chocolate pudding on steroids. It 

makes an indulgent and festive dessert for a holiday meal, especially when served with a flavored whipped cream (a must to cut the richness of the custard). I like to top it with coconut, peppermint or 

cacao nib whipped cream. For the coconut cream, I just infuse hot cream with unsweetened coconut (about 2/3 cup for 1 ½ cups cream) for 20 minutes or so, then chill and whip with some sugar. For the peppermint cream, just add a bit of peppermint extract along with some sugar

before whipping. For the cacao nib cream, give it the same treatment as for the coconut cream, using ¼ cup nibs for 1 cup cream. For the pot de crème, do use a really good chocolate, such as Guittard or Valrhona – it makes all the difference!

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Gingersnaps rank among my favorite all-time cookies, even though I generally only make them around the holidays. But this year I got a jump on things and made a batch before Thanksgiving, so I wouldn’t have to share them with anyone (sorry, I know that 

sounds stingy).  I like my gingersnaps to be more on the ‘soft’ as opposed to ‘snappy’ (i.e., crisp) side, and so I bake them just until they are browned around the edges. If you prefer a crisper gingersnap, bake them a few minutes more, until they are evenly 

browned all over. For the sugar topping, you can use a coarse raw sugar (Turbinado or Demerara), but I prefer to use organic evaporated cane sugar, which is available in most grocery stores now, because it has a finer texture that melts as you eat it. Crumbled up, these homemade gingersnaps also make a wonderful crust for pumpkin cheesecake. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pumpkin Muffins from The Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

The long awaited Bouchon Bakery cookbook is out, and it does not disappoint. Written by Thomas Keller and his acclaimed executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, this 400-page book is big and beautiful, with lots of color photos of luscious baked goods and the two chefs, in relaxed settings, working their magic. This image is in sharp contrast to the precise formality of Keller's kitchens. 

When I was lucky enough to take a tour of the $9,000,000 Per Se kitchen a few years ago, I almost felt like I was in a church or a library; you could hear a pin drop, the staff working efficiently and quietly without the banter that I was accustomed to during my days in professional kitchens. The place was also so spotless you could 

eat off the floor (though that would probably be frowned upon). But back to the book: Bouchon Bakery is full of Keller’s personal anecdotes and memories. He recalls, for example, “I first made cake at my mother’s side. It was a Duncan Hines cake mix, but the frosting was homemade. Just to be with my mother in the kitchen 

was special, since she worked long hours to support us. I loved licking the beaters to get every bit of frosting. Those moments were precious.” The book is divided into chapter on Cookies, Scones & Muffins, Cakes, Tarts, Pâte à Choux, Brioche & Donuts, Puff Pastry & Croissants, Breads, and Confections. There are lots of recipes I 

want to make, but I started with a seasonal one, jumbo Pumpkin Muffins. They were moist, tender and very flavorful, filled with an ultra-creamy and not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting. Just right for a grande snack, Bouchon-style. I heartily recommend the muffins, and this wonderful new book, which is already a best-seller.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Classic Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Not sure how it’s possible, but in the three years I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve only made chocolate chip cookies twice. Once I made Chocolate Marble Chunk Cookies, one of my favorite recipes, and another time I featured Monster Chocolate Chunk Macadamia Nut 

Cookies. But never have I made regular old chocolate chippers (or, in this case, chunkers). It’s interesting to me how different these cookies will turn out by employing only slight variations in technique or in the original Toll House recipe. In this version, for 

example, I chilled the dough overnight and then scooped it out using a 1 ½-ounce scoop. This made for thick, soft cookies as opposed to thin, crisp ones. Not chilling the dough and cutting down the flour by 1 to 2 tablespoons will make for a thinner, 

crisper cookie, if that’s your preference (I am not firmly in either camp; I love both, depending chiefly on what’s within easy reach). For a super-soft cookie, you can use melted instead of softened butter. I like these cookies because they have some bulk, but I also 

appreciate the merits of  a thinner, crisper cookie. I like to use Guittard chocolate pistoles in the dough, because they are the ideal sized chunks, and they produce a nice clean cookie because you don’t have those tiny shards of chocolate you get from chopping the chocolate. And, because I love pecans, I added some of those, too. To have freshly baked cookies at the ready, shape the dough into a log, wrap it well and freeze. Then simply slice off pieces of dough and bake cookies whenever you get that urge we all know so well…

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sour Cream Apple Crumble Bars

Apple season is in full swing, and farmers markets have a full array of beautiful apples  Northern Spy, Honeycrisp, Gala, Cortland, Macoun, Braeburn, Cortland and more. Each has a slightly different taste and texture, but all are crisp, juicy and delicious. Lured by 

their bright red color, I went for the Gala apples, which have a mellow flavor and juicy yellow flesh. I usually buy tart Granny Smith apples for pies, because their robust flavor really shines through and stands up to the pastry. I decided to make my 

favorite apple bars, a recipe that’s in my cookie book, The Good Cookie.  The bars are anchored by a pastry crust, and topped with an apple filling enriched with sour cream. The secret ingredient, though, is a little apple juice concentrate, which heightens the  

apple flavor. If you want, you can make your own concentrate by reducing apple juice until it has a syrupy consistency. Serve the bars warm, topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or whipped crème fraiche.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fudgy Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting

There are times when I crave something sweet, simple and, preferably, chocolate. At these moments, nothing fits the bill as perfectly as brownies. I like mine fudgy, as opposed to cakey, and I don’t mind a little adornment, like a glaze or frosting. This week I 

decided to get back to basics with a brownie topped with peanut butter frosting. The brownies are made with lots of bittersweet chocolate (I used Guittard, one of my favorites), and a touch of brown sugar for a caramel flavor. The frosting, which is mixed by 

hand, is mostly peanut butter with a little softened butter, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. The brownies must be cool when you frost them, and need to be refrigerated for at least an hour before cutting, ensuring that you’ll get perfect brownie squares. I suggest you bring the brownies to room temperature before serving, for the best texture and flavor, though they’re still pretty darned good right out of the fridge.  I like Jif brand peanut butter best, but any non-natural type will work.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Vintage Cakes

I have a lot of cookbooks, some of which are sent to me for review, and most of which I buy because I just can’t help myself. I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to cookbooks – I try to fight my obsession, but it’s never easy. I rationalize my purchases by reasoning that I’m 

“building a collection.” And since I live in a New York apartment, I’ve run out of book shelves to hold these books, so they can be found under sofas, beds, and in just about every closet or storage cabinet I have. Frequently cookbooks tempt me with alluring 

photos and fonts, but the proof of the pudding always lies within the recipes. I’ll try one, maybe two recipes, and if they don’t shine, I’m done with the book and it’s destined to live out its days gathering dust bunnies under a sofa or donated to my local Housing Works 

charity. Recently, however, a publisher sent me a book that I can wholeheartedly endorse. Vintage Cakes (Ten Speed Press, 2012; $24) by Julie Richardson is billed as a “confectionary stroll down memory lane,” and it delivers just that. Julie Richardson, owner and 

head baker of Baker & Spice, a small-batch bakery and café in Portland, Oregon, baked and re-baked classic cake recipes from various old magazines and books, tinkering with the ingredients to update these classic confections for today’s palate. Some of the cakes that got my attention were: Butterscotch Cream Roll-Up, Jam Cake with Caramel Chocolate Ganache, Old Vermont Burnt Sugar Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting, and Banana Cake with Coffee Walnut Buttercream. The one that attracted my attention the most, though, was the Lemon and Almond Streamliner Cake, which Julie found in a 1967 issue of a publication called Baking Industry. There was no explanation for the name of the cake, which is a single layer buttermilk cake made moist with the addition of almond paste. It’s topped off with a very lemony custard that is silky smooth, owing to its having a healthy amount of butter in it. Thanks, Julie, I love Vintage Cakes, and I think you’re a superstar.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Brown Sugar Buttermilk Scones with Homemade Raspberry Jam

In the late afternoon, I often fortify myself for the remainder of the day by enjoying a cup of strong tea, along with a sweet of some sort (better than a shot of bourbon, I reason). Tender scones served

with homemade jam and good butter is my favorite teatime fare. I have to admit I don’t make jam or preserves much, but occasionally I get the urge, because it’s so much better than the stuff in the jar 

you buy at the supermarket. The scones, made with buttermilk, lemon zest and brown sugar, are very easy to make, as they are mixed up in the food processor before the final addition of

buttermilk is mixed in by hand. Try not to handle the dough too much at this point – it just needs to be kneaded gently a few times to come together before it’s rolled out. The raspberry jam, also flavored with a little lemon zest, is remarkably easy to make. You can even serve it warm, if you like, though it will be more like a sauce than a jam at this point.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake

Last Wednesday, August 15th, would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday, an event which was widely reported in the media. In honor of this occasion, I reflected on how Julia influenced my own life and career. As a child, I religiously watched her on The French Chef, just like every other cooking-crazed youth of my generation. As a teenager, I decided I wanted to go to Smith College pretty much based on my knowledge that Julia was an alumna. And after 

graduation, when I met Julia and her husband Paul at a party, I asked her where she thought I should go to cooking school. She suggested La Varenne in Paris, so that’s where I went (when Julia talked, I listened…). I met Julia a few other times. One year, the magazine I edited (Chocolatier), named her our Hall of Fame recipient (I mean, really, who could top Julia for this honor?). She came to the event and made a little speech, and I walked her around a bit, though she was a little shaky on her feet. A&E was filming, so we both ended up in the final two minutes of Julia’s biography program. What I loved most about Julia was her love for life, which 

she displayed so fervently through her love of food. She always seemed to be comfortable in her own skin, always ready to laugh, have a little drink and then something wonderful to eat. And when she made a mistake during one of her cooking segments, she didn’t take it too seriously – she understood that one little slip-up did not necessarily spoil the soufflé.

In honor of her birthday, I made a recipe that came from the TV series Baking With Julia. It’s a Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake, a simple recipe that suited Julia’s taste perfectly. Nothing too over-the-top, just a simple cake made with deliciously ripe nectarines and a layer of almond streusel. If I had remembered, I would’ve stuck a few birthday candles in the finished cake. But then again, I don’t think Julia was so big on gimmicks. For her, it was all about the food and, of course, the technique.  Thanks for everything, Julia – you’ll always be the best, in my book.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fresh Cherry Crumble Pie

The pie bug has officially bitten me, and while strolling through the farmer’s market yesterday some bright red cherries called out to me.  I do love cherry pie, probably because it reminds me of two of my favorite things: summer and diners. While I enjoy all forms of cherry 

pie  (from individual ‘hand pies’ to freeform galettes) my favorite is probably a double-crust country fair style pie. But when it’s hot out, I don’t necessarily want to be messing around too much with pie dough, so I opt for a simpler version of the classic: a crumble-

topped pie that half pie, half crisp. The crust is my basic pie dough, adapted from my book Diner Desserts, and has butter and shortening in it. The butter is for flavor, the shortening for flakiness. If you happen to be firmly in the pie-crust-made-with-just-butter camp, though, by all means just use butter (personally, 

shortening is my friend, and I’m not afraid to use a bit of it when necessary). The filling is a straight-forward one made with sweet cherries, sugar, cornstarch and a little lemon zest to boost the flavor. The crumble topping, which comes together quickly in the food processor, is made with slivered almonds, brown sugar, butter and a bit of cinnamon, a combination of flavors that works beautifully with cherries. Serve it with whipped cream, whipped crème fraiche, or vanilla or almond ice cream for a little slice of heaven.