Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gingerbread Loaves with Lemony Glaze

About a week before Christmas every year, I make the mistake of thinking that I have the whole gift thing under control. I settle down and start to enjoy the Christmas parties and decorations…..until my neighbor stops by with a “small gift” for me, and I start scrambling to come up with something for her and the few

others that I’ve forgotten in all the holiday fuss. That’s when I’m grateful for those marvelous oven-safe paper baking pans. They are the perfect container for a small loaf, whether it’s pound cake, fruit cake, gingerbread or whatever little cake you’re inspired to bake. Just let it cool, wrap it in plastic and tie it with a red ribbon. It’s 

the perfect “little gift”. Here’s a recipe for one of my favorite little loaves – a gingerbread cake made with lots of fresh ginger and topped with a lemony glaze. Merry Christmas to all!!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Austrian Wreaths

Also known as Mandelkranzchen, Austrian Wreaths are one of my favorite Christmas cookies. The dough is made with lots of butter and ground almonds and spiced with ground cloves and cinnamon. Unlike many nut-based doughs, this one 

is relatively easy to work with, and the cookies retain their shape well. I like to put lots of sliced almonds on top of the cookies, so that they have that random casualness of a home-spun wreath. Feel free to use whatever jam or preserves you 

like for the filling. I like raspberry preserves, but sour cherry or apricot would also be delightful. The dough can be made up to a month in advance and frozen (well-wrapped), an option which allows you to enjoy these cookies throughout the holiday season and even into the new year. Click on Read More below for the recipe. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ganache-Filled Pink Peppermint Macarons

The Christmas season is officially upon us, and I’ve turned my attention from pies to cookies (in between decking the halls, wrapping presents, etc.). I’ve always loved the tradition of baking cookies for the holidays, and still make some of the same favorites I’ve been baking for over 30 years. There’s a swirled butter cookie, for

example, that I pipe out in assorted shapes, dip in chocolate and sprinkle with nuts. Then there are the confectioners’ sugar-dusted Russian tea cakes I make every year – classics that are found on many a holiday cookie tray. And chocolate krinkles – you know, the white ones that crack during baking, exposing the moist chocolate 

centers. But it’s always nice to add a new cookie to my holiday repertoire. This year it’s a Ganache-filled Pink Peppermint Macaron, which is both festive and delicious. These cookies also freeze extremely well, so you can make them up to a month ahead. I’ve made macarons using different methods – French, Swiss and Italian 

meringue – and for me the one that works best is the French type. But instead of making it in the classic way (i.e., whipping it to soft peaks and adding the sugar gradually until the meringue is glossy and stiff), I make it the way many pastry chefs do today: I hand whisk the egg whites with the granulated sugar just to combine, and then whip the meringue at medium speed, gradually increasing the speed to high, until the meringue is stiff and glossy. This makes a very strong and stable meringue, and produces a beautiful macaron. This cookie just may become one of your holiday favorites, too. Happy holidays!! (Click 'Read More' below for the recipe.)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Perfect Pumpkin Pie with Maple Whipped Cream and Sugared Pumpkin Seeds

Thanksgiving is all about tradition. In terms of dessert, everyone has their own idea of the perfect ending to the big meal, but one pie seems to trump all others on this day, and it’s pumpkin. Whether the pilgrims ate any on that big day lo those many

years ago I’m just not sure, but there’s no denying that pumpkin pie is the one thing that Americans love to eat on the last Thursday every November. I try to keep things fairly simple when I have 85 different side dishes to prepare, so I generally use

canned pumpkin puree for the filling (Libby's is my brand of choice). If you’ve got a pumpkin hanging around from Halloween by all means roast it, but my guess is your guests won’t detect much of a difference between canned and homemade puree by

the time pie-time rolls around. What follows is a version of the classic, topped off with a lovely Maple Whipped Cream and a few Sugared Pumpkin Seeds -- a delicious dessert that you and your guests can really be thankful for. I wish you and your families a happy Thanksgiving from the bottom of my heart and may all your cooking and baking efforts this year fill your home with intoxicating aromas and a cornucopia of love.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Ultimate Fluffy, Buttery Dinner Rolls

Thanksgiving dinner is one of those meals that requires some serious organization and advance planning, particularly if you’re cooking for a crowd. I think it’s nice when you can get guests to bring along something, whether it’s a side dish, pie or even a condiment. If you can con someone into bringing the turkey then you’ve got

 it made. Then you can focus on all the other goodies and put together a smashing meal without sending yourself to the nervous hospital. The more things you can prepare in advance, the better, even if you have to freeze them. Freezing is not a dirty word, by the way – it’s done ALL THE TIME in professional kitchens,

particularly in pastry shops.
            Though I usually try to avoid eating bread during dinner, on Thanksgiving I throw my sensible eating plan out the window and eat a little bit of everything. And there’s nothing quite like a fluffy, warm roll spread with good butter to complete a meal. Luckily, my copy of a new book, Della Fattoria Bread by Kathleen Weber, just

arrived. In it there’s a recipe for a dinner roll that’s an ideal accompaniment to a grand feast. The yeast dough is enriched with eggs and butter, and the rolls are topped with the poppy, sesame or fennel seeds or dehydrated onions. I topped some of them with Maldon sea salt, which ended up being my favorite. You can make these up to a month ahead and freeze them – wrap them in foil and store them in a plastic freezer bag. Defrost them at room temperature, and then warm them up in the oven before dinner. I like to serve them with a good French butter, such as Plugra.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pecan Bourbon Cheesecake

It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and it’s time to start thinking about what to make for the big feast. I firmly believe that Thanksgiving dinner is the time to go for broke in the calorie department – recipes

from Cooking Light just will not do. (Save them for the next day.) Full fat, over the top, and lots of food, that’s what Thanksgiving dinner should be. For dessert, I favor pies, pumpkin and pecan for sure, and perhaps a lemon meringue for the lemon

lovers in the crowd, but occasionally I like to throw in a slightly non-traditional dessert, such as this Pecan Bourbon Cheesecake. It’s rich, yes, but you only need a sliver, and it will complement your pies very nicely. I use Demerara sugar for

the cake, a slightly crunchy light brown sugar that has a lovely flavor. If you have trouble finding it, feel free to use Turbinado (aka “Sugar in the Raw”) instead.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

I'm Back!

 I admit it: I’ve been bad. It’s been a little over a year since my last post to this blog. But I have a suitcase full of excuses at the ready. First and foremost, I was working on my next book, which will be published in the fall of 2015. As you can imagine, cookbooks are a lot of work and eat up a good deal of time. There’s shopping, testing

(sometimes multiple times), writing and, finally, propping, styling and photography. Next the manuscript needs to be edited, copy-edited and proofed. Phew – I’m exhausted just thinking about all that work. The good news is that my book is almost done and I’m ready to get back to blogging on a regular basis. Thanks for bearing with me.

There are some wonderful new cookbook releases this fall, including a long-awaited book, The Baking Bible, from my friend Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is the most meticulous baker and recipe writer I know. Her recipes are not only wonderful, they are also foolproof. Rose has a real knack for including every important detail in her

recipes, taking the guesswork out of the baking process and ensuring success every time. Glancing through The Baking Bible, my only quandary is deciding which recipe to make – I want to eat them all. The recipe  that caught my eye this time is the one for Rose’s Coffee Crumb Cake Muffins. Baked in a Texas size muffin pan,

these individual coffee cakes are incredibly tender, and each has a hidden ring of apple inside. Ideal for a weekend brunch or afternoon snack with a cup of Joe or tea. They also freeze well, so make a double batch now and have them on hand for the holidays.