Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I love butter, part 1.

I had ten pounds of butter in my refrigerator not too long ago -- let's say, three weeks ago. I now have my last pound of butter sitting on the counter "coming to room temperature", even though my kitchen is so cold that it will barely yield to a poke when I wake up in 7 hours. It's been cakes and pies and cookies and buttercreams since Halloween, and there's no sign of it letting up until after Christmas. And even for a few days after, I'm sure that, even despite my complete exhaustion from baking, I'll feel possessed to unload all combinations of fat-sugar-flour on my siblings because how often do I really see them, right?? And how often do I have a house of people at the ready to dig into whatever comes out of the oven? Not so often. I cherish these opportunities.

So I'll be back at the market soon, with five bricks of butter cradled in the crook of my left arm, and probably holding a quart of heavy cream in the other hand. I think about what other shoppers must think, watching me juggle a glut of fat down the aisles. I'd probably want to throw up at the sight of this as an outsider, but so go the holidays. This marathon baking impedes my life in every which way, but I wouldn't want it any different. This time of year demands baked goods and I am happy to provide even when I have to wake up at 5:30am for the fifth day in a row to do so.

Luckily this week's Tuesday's With Dorie selection by Bungalow Barbara of sables is not just a deliciously buttery cookie, but a perfect addition to my holiday cookie assortment as well. I only baked off a dozen of these (and probably coated it a little too generously with egg yolk) so the rest of them will make an appearance in a couple weeks.

As a shortbread-style cookie, the butter really shines so it is important to use good butter. When you take a bite, you'll notice it has the perfect amount of salt to enhance the flavor of the butter and a not-quite-crumbly, but not-quite-soft texture that make eating just one cookie a major test in self-control and leaps and bounds more appealing than those crunchy Danish butter cookies in the blue tins (which I actually love -- memories, you know). I painted a bit too much egg yolk around the perimenter and perhaps left them in the oven a hair too long, but they were still sublimely delicious and melted on the tongue.

A log and a half sit in my freezer, eagerly waiting to be baked off and soon, two more batches of this dough will join them. It's hard to resist getting up every five minutes to shave a sliver off the log, but if I can hold off and wait for the cookies to bake and cool, the payoff will be worth it for me as well as everyone else in my life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Crust and plum.

I've always been a fan of the rustic. Modern, streamlined homes -- I find them cold and uninviting. Ergonomic Aeron chair? How about a painstakingly crafted cherry wood mud bench?? I picture exchanging wedding vows (that may or may not ever be recited to anyone) on actual leaves outdoors in a grove of trees rather than on a paisley or cornucopia-patterned carpet in a stuffy hotel conference room (not that there's anything wrong with that). And as much as I appreciate new flavor combinations and techniques in food, the way to my heart is through long braises, Old World comfort food, east and west, and handmade "imperfections". I will devour a 7 course tasting menu with all manners of French flavors and techniques, proclaim dish after dish as inspired, unquestionably pleasing, and maybe even the most delicious thing I have ever put in my mouth, but in the end, I will want anise-scented beef noodle soup in a stained plastic bowl, a craggy currant scone, or mushroom/pork soondubu over mixed rice with adzuki beans.

When I first came across Molly Wizenberg's plum crumble in late September on her blog, Orangette, there was no doubt I'd be trying this dessert out. The beautifully golden, nubby topping with the fruit juices oozing out from the sides called my name in its unevenly browned and family-style dessert splendor. Soon, I was hunting for the Italian prune plums that she touted so highly. As luck would have it, a week later at Gigi's Farmers' Market, located in the Americana at Brand in Glendale, I came across a basket of these plums from Ha's Apple Farm and nearly jumped out of my skin. My market-frequenting self had never noticed these prune plums before and had pretty much dismissed them as a variety that was nearly mythical in Southern California (much like sour cherries for making brandied cherries) but there they were, in the flesh, at such a newly established farmers' market! (I have since found these plums, as well as the French prune plums, at Ha's Apple Farm stalls at the Silver Lake, Hollywood, and Third Street Promenade Saturday markets.)

The recipe is ridiculously simple, and its appearance may convince you of that, but the end taste would not lead you to believe so. The fruit becomes so soft and yielding, ever so lightly sweetened with brown sugar, and given a gentle zing with both ground ginger and candied ginger. The real star of the show, however, is the crust. Fruit lovers may disagree because the plums shine too, but the crisp shell is buttery, crunchy, juice-softened, and plum-scented all at once. I've intended to make this with any variety of fruit, but with the Italian and French prune plums still readily available, I haven't yet been able to bring myself to stray. Many friends have had the chance to sample the crumble now, and even during a week when my kitchen was churning out a whole slew of desserts, this dessert has come out on top.

Creme fraiche isn't at all necessary as the crumble is so lovely in its unadulterated state, but with a dollop of tangy goodness, the dessert becomes a revelation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

All things fall.

Thanksgiving is just about a week away and I'm only now remotely getting into the swing of things. I think it's this "amazing" Southern California weather that has been keeping the excitement of the holidays at bay -- I don't know how Floridians don't just skip Thanksgiving and Christmas altogether and go straight to Memorial Day. I'm personally not a fan of the eternal mild summer we've been having and am loooooonging for the brisk air of New York City that was biting at my cheeks two weeks ago.

Driving through the valley over the weekend, I actually had a vision of brown, red, and orange leaves, dancing in the wind along the street and was startled by the realization that the last quarter of the year has been passing far too quickly and I had better get in the mood before my favorite time of year speeds by and it's January - ugh. The worst!

It's been a crazy packed month so far (when has that not been the case in recent memory??), so I've only now gotten a chance to delve into this month's Tuesday's With Dorie assignments, but nothing else says "holiday" quite like pumpkin even if I don't think it should be strictly reserved for fall months, and neither does Libby's! Britin of The Nitty Britty chose Dorie's All-in-One holiday bundt cake this month, and it's just what I needed to cook up some nostalgia for last year's Thanksgiving, and look impossibly forward to this year's festivities.

Full of apples and pecan suspended in a burnt-orange crumb, every bite was full of the omnipresent fall spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger (I decided to omit the cranberries). It was so moist and held together in such a way that I wasn't sure the cake was baked through, but it was indeed. Its loose crumbs were just masquerading as tight clumps. I find a lot of pumpkin loaves use oil as its fat, and unfortunately, you can usually taste that presence, however delicious the cake may be. This loaf had none of that staleness or mouthfeel. With the addition of apples to the pumpkin puree, there's no drying out this guy, even if it was in the oven for five minutes too long. In fact, I think the extended time allowed a nice crust to form, creating a lovely contrast between the tender interior.

There are some recipes that you turn to when you want to a recollect certain memories or feelings, and this is the perfect cake to remind you of all things fall. Thanksgiving dinner in 9 days -- I cannot contain myself!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In crumb we trust

Crumb muffins are hard to resist. Everyone loves the flour/brown sugar/butter combination, and it's difficult not to throw it on top of any baked good -- bread, seasonal fruit, coffee cake: it all works!

Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table chose this week's Tuesday's With Dorie assignment: Allspice Crumb Muffins. The batter was so easy and painless to make -- starting them post-morning-workout not only possible, but quite leisurely as well. Allspice was a unique touch to the muffins that isn't seen frequently. My car smelled like I had baked something savory!! The final product was a nice standard muffin with the kick of a bit of lemon zest and spicy fragrance, topped with the aforementioned delicious crumb topping. Although I won't bow to any altars of these muffins, it was satisfying with a cup of coffee and a cold, rainy morning.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Piece of my tart.

The only tart I was familiar with growing up was the shortcrust pastry filled with vanilla custard and topped with out-of-season fruits lacquered by a saccharine sweet, congealed substance that is ubiquitous at all Chinese bakeries, but seen most often at Sheng Kee establishments (I am a Norcal girl, after all). It was never that good, but my relatives somehow saw this is as a light and delicious confection (those Asians can't stomach anything too rich) featuring fresh fruit (!!) so that, along with the Mango Mousse cake, made appearances frequently. This was my first experience with tarts, and I really saw no reason to revisit this dessert as I got older. Maybe that's partly because tarts, being the more sophisticated cousin of pie, were more common on menus at nicer restaurants and bakeries than the Applebee's and Chili's that littered our suburbs, but I would still probably pass up a crumbly shortbread crust in favor of a flaky pie crust any day.

Fast forward several years and I'm at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Their banana cream pie has a reputation that precedes it, but it's really a tart and not so much of a pie. It's delicious at any rate, and that was the day I decided, "Maybe tarts aren't so bad."

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection of the Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart by Carla of Chocolate Moosey was much like a Snickers bar in tart form, and who doesn't love a Snickers bar. The advantage of baking a tart is the ease with which one can press the crust into the pan. There's no rolling of dough or flouring of surface necessary -- just press it in and send it in to the freezer to firm up. I had never made caramel in a skillet before, but it was actually really simple and worked out well.

The ganache was the trickiest component of the tart because it was unexpectedly liquidy even though I measured out the heavy cream as instructed. I tried to thicken it by adding more melted chocolate, but was still worried about the consistency of it even after I put it in the fridge for 40 minutes. It all came together in the end, and didn't ooze too much when I cut into it. I didn't leave the tart out at room temperature as Dorie advised, for fear of the tart melting into a puddle, but all was as it should have been at first bite. Rich, decadent, salty, sweet -- everything I look for in a dessert. And everyone else loved it too.

Tart-love may never replace pie-love, but this high-low combination of Snickers filling + highfalutin tart crust puts up a strong fight.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

So many choices!!

I'm one of those people that given too many options, I can never make a decision. Particularly at a good brunch, bakery, or cocktail bar, mulling can take upwards of a very long while. It isn't such a good time for people I'm with, and I feel the pressure of their anticipation (which is usually self-imposed), so I end up making a sudden selection and prepare myself for the consequences.

Last week it was at Tavern where, naturally , I insisted to the waiter that the table was ready to order, but also asked him to come to me last. Frantically, my eyes scrolled down the menu once more. Brisket hash? Bananas Fosters pancakes? Chorizo and eggs? Monkey bread, or the selection of 3 pastries from the larder??? The night before, I was no doubt being pulled in a million directions at Copa d'Oro in Santa Monica. Do I go with my current favorite, the King de Bahia, in all its cachaca-elderflower-passionfruit-jalapeno glory, something aromatic like the Centro, or request something off the menu by their talented bar staff? Maybe this is a reflection of how I live life -- unable to make decisions about simply the little things, let alone the major matters, and it is an unfortunate condition indeed.

Luckily, this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is endlessly adaptable. Julie of Someone's In The Kitchen selected Flaky Apple Turnovers, and of course I was tempted by all the late summer fruit at the Hollywood Farmers' Market and couldn't decide among classic apple, pear ginger, or peach ginger, so I ended up making all three kinds.

Though several members had trouble with their dough, I felt that the recipe really was quite manageable, and didn't give me any problems, save for the rather rapid softening of the dough because of the heat. I probably should have added more sugar to the fillings, and perhaps a little more fresh, minced ginger to the peach and pear varieties, but the final product was so delicious. I brought them to work, of course, and the scent of the little pockets reheating in the toaster oven drove my coworkers insane. Some people stood fast and refused any for the sake of their diets, but nearly everyone gave into at least half, with some reneging their request for half in favor of a whole after the first bite. The crust was really a vision of flakiness and such a sturdy yet tender vehicle for delicious summer fruit that I'm sure will become my new go-to turnover/pie crust/cornish pasty recipe.

It's difficult to pick a favorite, but maybe I'll say the pear as the spiciness of the ginger was most apparent. Or the peach with it's O'Henry sweetness. Or maybe just the apple because it reminds of the beautiful chaussons aux pommes in Paris?

Ah, I won't be changing anytime soon -- and with this recipe, I really won't have to.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The colors are a-changing!!

Summer, as Angelenos know it, has only recently gotten under way. People all over the country may herald its arrival with their Memorial Day bar-b-ques and balmy nights, but our unbearable heat has only been consistent over the past couple of weeks, and is sure to surge at least twice more before Halloween. Oh, Indian summer, is our idea of the season, but this morning at the Hollywood Farmers' Market, I caught glimpses of what the rest of the country is likely experiencing -- oranges, yellows, dark greens, oh my!

As much as I love stone fruit, and squeal when the first cherries and apricots appear, I wait on the edge of my seat for fall. Signs announcing the last week for Flavor Kings or Flavor Grenades have been displayed at the stands lately, and at Top Notch Produce, mango-flavored nectarines and white peaches have been replaced by Asian pears and green grapes. Other stands that have been solely featuring samples of drupes are now offering Fuji and Gala apple chunks -- the avocado and cherimoya stand is even giving away free mini-apples to try. The boys at the stand where I get my favorite eggs (whose location I still won't reveal) have made it known that fall is really their season to shine as most stands sell similar fare to theirs during the summer months, so soon their tables will be overflowing with squash and lesser-known varieties of potatoes.

The reds, yellows, oranges, and sometimes purples of heirloom tomatoes have colored the market beautifully for a few weeks now, and today, I saw pumpkins at a couple stands. Maybe it was the relative emptiness of the pathways due to the Labor Day exodus, or the hazy glow that blanketed the skies from Station Fire overflow, but with the sighting of the pumpkins, tears nearly welled in my eyes and it really felt like fall was upon us. Sleepless nights and the futile search for the cold spot on a sweat-flecked pillow are still ahead for us, but at least we know where we can get a taste for turning leaves, billowy breezes, and crisp mornings. Apple pie will soon be made!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back in the swing of things.

I've been so busy.

No, really. I know it seems like that's my most common declaration, but the past several weeks have been one event after another. Starting with July birthdays, there has been hardly a second to breathe. My sister's visit early on meant lots of goodies were to be baked, to throw her off to the fact that a good friend of her's was flying me up to be a part of her birthday festivities, and I would be bringing up treats then too, of course (the ruse was a triumph, by the way).

Subsequent weeks were filled with more baking (that I'll hopefully get to on here, though we all know how that goes), much needed visits from out-of-town friends, getting acquainted with new ones, and the beacon of my calendar since January: a trip to Paris, Barcelona, and London (that I'll hopefully touch on as well).

The hectic schedule hasn't quite died down, so it was a blessing that this week's Tuesday's With Dorie pick by Karen of Something Sweet was Applesauce Spice Bars. It isn't the most exciting recipe in the Greenspan tome, but it is reliably delicious and whips up with minimal effort and time. I was so pleased that no stand-mixer attachments had to be dug out, and I looked upon the 9x13 pain with relief this week, as opposed to the disdain I normally feel. The caramel glaze (though a lovely and necessary touch) was the most arduous part of the recipe, but that was not even so bad.

It wasn't a week for variation, so aside from omitting the raisins, the recipe was followed quite strictly -- and I did include some brandy as I had a tiny bit left from the two pounds of cherries I have soaking in the liqueur right now. It's hardly noticeable, but I think it adds a certain intoxicating aroma. The resulting cake is moist and simple, and though at first bite I thought, "That was good, but a taste is enough", I somehow found myself going back time after time for slivers -- slivers that add up to quite a substantial piece.

An easy recipe that keeps you coming back for more. Could there be a better welcome back recipe?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A big kid brownie.

Katharine Hepburn first struck me as something special since I first saw her in "Woman of the Year". Her poise,confidence, and talent translated in every subsequent film I've seen her and she had a regal quality about her that made me feel like she could be a queen living among the masses. With the selection of the Katharine Hepburn brownies by Lisa of Surviving Oz, I was nearly in disbelief that she could also be such a bakestress that so many people could still recall the sumptuousness of her brownies. But, of course, she would a marvelous baker, too, though. What couldn't the woman do??

Brownies have always been one of those not-a-craving-but-I'll-eat-them-if-they-are-in-front-of-me kind of treat for myself, however, if I were have a signature brownie recipe, it would be much like this one. Coffee granules enhance the taste of the chocolate and cinnamon adds a bit of a "What's that flavor I taste??" puzzlement once it reaches the tongue. And nuts! Ohhhhh ,nuts! Some people hate nuts in their brownies. I am not one of those people. The more nuts the better, is what I say. Perhaps I would want it to be every so slightly loftier, but as an adult brownie, it was just right.

Thin, soft, and without too much flour -- words to live by.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A pleasing perfection.

I, like many Tuesdays With Dorie bakers, am the resident baker at work. I unload treats onto my coworkers weekly (sometimes twice or three times a week, depending on the events of the weekend) to declarations of both love and hate. Love, because who isn't enraptured by a soft, warm cookie or bite of salted caramel-laced chocolate cake? Hate, because I feed their addiction to sweets and treats that may just end up on their hips and thighs without a little self-control. I am both their doting grandmother and drug pusher.

It didn't start out this way because Gelson's or Bristol Farms used to be the office go-to, but it has become assumed that I will bake something for everyone's birthday in the office/immediate store. Not that I dislike this role at all, even though since we've moved our offices to the rear of not one, but two stores with a larger sales staff than before so my baking pool has nearly doubled. I take great pride in paying attention and being able to recollect someone's favorite dessert, so when the occasion arises to demonstrate that, yes, I care enough to make exactly what you love on the one day of the year that you can claim as your own without any protest from others, I am excited for the task.

Now Rachel -- she's grossed out by fruit. Don't even think about coming near her with an orange. Milk chocolate? Perfect. Milk chocolate and caramel? Heaven.

Clarissa -- a nut-embedded cake with nutty filling, cream cheese frosting, covered in toasted nuts.

Sarin -- happiness is yellow butter cake with milk chocolate frosting, just like they do it at the supermarket!

Most of these Tuesday's With Dorie bakers will feel the same way, I'm sure, and I by no means think I am the only fairy godmother of baking. There's just something about homemade baked goods that create a warmth inside of people and the satisfaction we get from being somewhat responsible for that virtual hug is its own wonderful feeling.

Julio's birthday was not too long ago. He likes simple cakes that aren't too sweet, but beyond that, I didn't have much to work with. He would have been perfectly happy with an unadorned pound cake or coffee cake, but as it was his birthday and he does so, so much for us everyday, a celebration cake was in order. Because Dorie's Perfect Party Cake was selected by Carol of mix, mix...stir,stir this week, my decision was made. Lemony cake with a bit of raspberry filling and fluffy frosting? For his tastes, it sounded quite perfect.

Because others had had less-than-lofty cakes, I followed Dorie's tips to a T: new can of baking powder, room temperature eggs and buttermilk, finely grated zest... Still, the cake didn't rise so high. No matter -- it was still sturdy and halved easily. I used my favorite D'arbo brand raspberry preserves even though it wasn't seedless, but it isn't at all cloying which is even more vital in my opinion. The frosting whipped together like a dream too. It was shaping up to be a pretty low stress baking assignment.

The end result was a glorious white cloud, though I omitted the coconut too. It didn't feel like it was necessary, and probably wouldn't add it again unless my frosting job was horrendous. The taste was straightforward and satisfying, but not an immediate groan-inducer. It is an undeniably pleasing cake, however, and I found myself sneaking back to the kitchen for slivers more times than I probably should have. The cake didn't have the decadence of chocolate or caramel that creates a fervor among so many people, but for others, that type of cake is much to rich. Though Perfect Party Cake may not be everyone's favorite cake, no one can refuse it either.

Except for maybe Rachel.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

NYC, day 1

My normal baking successes/woes/queries/general musings will be interrupted with a few tales from my glorious trip to New York a few weeks ago. Blogging about meals isn't my normal cup of tea (idle Yelp account of, oh, probably two years - case in point), but I savored too many delicious bites in those five days to let them go unrecognized. This way, I'll actually be able to recollect where I enjoyed so many tasty morels and not draw a blank anytime a friend asks me where to go as I sometimes do now in LA.

I hit the ground running Saturday morning after a quick nap Saturday morning, after arriving...Saturday morning (it was a very early arrival), with brunch at Shopsin's General Store at Essex Street Market. Cousin Albert was in the midst of cramming for NYU Law finals and wasn't about to waste time trekking to Brooklyn, and Shopsin's was on the short list of my good friend, Lindsay, so that selection killed a few stones for both of us. Not a short wait by any means, but slightly shorter than anticipated, we ended up sidling up to the bar. This meant prime seating for the brother-sister-father bickering show that is essential to the Shopsin's experience. Hearing so many stories about people being thrown out of this place, and being an awful decision-maker given too many options, the ordering process became an anxiety -ridden chore. Sweat beaded in places that shouldn't be sweating as I engaged in the age-old tradition of just plain ordering. Ultimately (and without mishap), I decided on a Sneaky Pete while Albert humored his appetite with the gumbo in addition to the Jewboy sandwich. All of the dishes were fine, but I don't think any could be considered a signature dish by the establishment. We probably should have gotten the hamburger soup or mac 'n cheese pancakes, but my memory completely escaped me when confronted with the anthology of options. Our dishes were tasty, but not particularly remarkable.

Cousin Alb and I parted ways as he had to get back to his regularly scheduled programming of studying, but I wandered about, picking up a pistachio cupcake from Sugar Sweet Sunshine (of which I only ate half), a potato rosemary slice from Grandaisy in Soho, and then eventually headed uptown to meet up with my working friends. As I was already on the Upper West Side, I thought a detour to http://www.bouchonbakery.com/at the Time Warner Center was in order and picked up my first TKO and a pistachio macaron. I sound a bit like a glutton, don't I? Yes. I agree.

Dinner later that night was at a place I had been holding out for ever since reading about it on Serious Eats: JG Melon. Those pictures, along with the one accompanying their feature on the apple sour cream walnut pie shortly thereafter were embedded in my memory and I had to have them both. The dream became reality that night after a short wait in the cramped bar area. I think we were jostled between the jukebox side of the walkway to the stool side at least 25 times during our wait, but it was all worth it. We ordered the burgers medium and they were cooked to perfection -- maybe even a little more on the medium rare side which I was quite content with. The bun was so soft yet completely held up to the meat and its juices. I would liken it to a big hug around a beautiful patty of ground meat. The cottage fries were completely addicting, and even after all the sweets I had consumed that first day, I allowed myself to indulge in the pie.

Sigh. There we were. Three good friends catching up over such a great burger, delightful rounds of deep-fried potato, and a fabulously rich pie. A great end to a first night in a beloved city.

Rectangles and squares

I don't know what's wrong with me.

Despite all the wonderful things that are baked in rectangular pans, there's always this feeling embedded in my being, somewhere between the vertebrae in my neck (I know, because I feel that area tense up) when I think about baked goods in 9x13 form. I have a deep affection for bread puddings, cobblers, and coffee cakes whose recipes frequently call for 9x13 pans, but in my mind, they are all improved exponentially by simply being baked in other pans. Ramekin, Bundt pan, deep dish pie plate -- all are better!

It's really an awful prejudice. I mean, why would one ever discriminate against a baking pan?? The size usually feeds more people, and it all boils down to ratios anyway -- with a little math, you could just adjust the proportions, use a different dish, and it would taste just the same. What more could you want?! It really doesn't make any sense! And I don't even have a problem with using 9x13s to bake drumsticks!

I have to make a conscious effort not to throw out recipes when the first line reads something along the lines of "Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease 9x13 pan." I obviously realize it's completely unreasonable to shudder at the thought of the confines of four walls, two parallel sides of the same length perpendicular to two other sides of the same length, but I honestly cannot help it. Perhaps it was being exposed to too many ugly sheet cakes in my youth, with cloyingly sweet frosting and sprinkles applied with too heavy a hand. And, comparatively, isn't there something so majestic about layer cakes? When I think "sheet cake", I am attacked by images of linoleum and formica, whereas "layer cake" brings to mind fluffy clouds and sunshine - seriously.

Unfortunately, the "a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square" rule applies to baked goods too, and I often find myself not quite sneering, but wrinkling my nose at square pans. That was the case this weekend when I previewed this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe for Cinnamon Squares, selected by Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures.


Do I have to??

It turns out, this was the perfect recipe for this weekend as I had already been working on a few baking projects and the last thing I wanted to do was wash more dishes and turn on the mixer. The recipe comes together so quickly and you get all the pleasure of a buttery cake without any beating of the butter!! It reminded me a lot of coffee cake -- with a shiny coating of chocolate frosting that I wasn't really so excited by (I'm just not one of those chocolate frosting people) -- and as coffee cake, I gave myself to go ahead to have some for breakfast! The edges were a little, shall we say...firm?, but it was perfect as you made your way towards the center. I think I'd add some excitement in the form of nutmeg and nuts next time, but it was a nice informal, yet dependable cake.

As usual, I brought it in to work for more people to help with it, and though it started off slow with only 1/4 of the cake gone by 1pm, it finished strong by being mostly devoured by 4:30. Thank goodness I momentarily got over my mild disdain for sheet cakes -- without me, those skinny, fashion types would never reach a respectable daily caloric intake! Turn your back and they'll polish off an entire cake!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unfortunately, well done.

It was my own fault.

My mind has been in a million places lately, and I ignored my better judgment and kept this week's Tuesday's With Dorie recipe from Kelly of Baking With the Boys in the oven for quite a bit longer than I should have. By now I should have learned to check cakes far earlier than recommended in a recipe sometimes, but I was neglectful this week, and it showed.

What could have been a resoundingly perfect, delectable slice of bread, according to this week's Ps & Qs was just "okay" in my book. The edges were rather hard, and the innards didn't taste particularly strong of mango, but I'm sure I kept the loaf in the oven for too long. Those moist bits surrounding the fruit always throw me off!!! The taste wasn't bad at all, and I didn't think there was too much ginger, but I'm crossing my fingers that a day tightly wrapped on the counter will soften up the crust and deepen the flavors.

Only time will tell...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A pick-me-up kind of cake

It's been a whirlwind week and a half. I paid a long overdue visit to New York where I unfailingly consumed a shocking number of calories in the name of "research" from Grandaisy pizza bianca slices, baked goods from Baked in Red Hook, Momofuku Milk Bar, Levain Bakery, Two Little Red Hens, Jacques Torres, and Bouchon, as well as wholly enjoyable meals at Egg in Williamsburg, J.G. Melon, Barbone, and, of course, Momofuku Ko. I allowed myself to taste every delicious bite set in front of me, and especially ones I sought out, as I attempted to counter their effects with many, many steps on the streets and avenues of the city.

As soon as I returned, it was time to bake as I missed a birthday during the trip with several other birthdays upcoming, as well as this week's Tuesday's With Dorie selection of Tiramisu Cake by Megan of My Baking Adventures. The weekend was full of butter, flour, sugar, and eggs, combining to create banana cake cream cheese frosting, butter yellow cake with bittersweet chocolate frosting, red velvet cake sans food coloring, and then this. The tiramisu cake was definitely the most time consuming of the bunch, but the end result was well worth the effort. It tastes exactly like tiramisu in cake form, and save for a little dryness in the cake (how does that happen with all that espresso syrup??), and the alcohol curdling the frosting (didn't look so good, but boy was the mascarpone frosting tasty!), it was a wonderful cake. Tweaking will have to be done next time to achieve perfection, but it was a recipe that I may not have tried on my own.

This is the kind of recipe I joined Tuesdays With Dorie for.

beautiful photos courtesy of Casey Chang

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A solid choice.

Bread pudding may just be my favorite type of dessert. As children, my siblings and I were never really exposed to American desserts, save for the New York cheesecake that came with the meal at Charlie Brown's (it was a ridiculously good deal!) Maaaaaybe we would try some pie at my dad's annual company picnics at Marine World, but occasions were normally celebrated with cakes from Chinese bakeries in the area like Sheng Kee (something in the vein of taro cake or mango mousse when those came into fashion). We never even really considered ordering dessert at dinners out because it was well known by my sisters and I that dessert was just not going to happen.

When I started going out to meals with friends in high school, bread pudding was just never an appetizing name so anytime that showed up on the menu, my brain wouldn't even register that the dish existed on the menu. Granted, our options were limited the Elephant Bar, Chili's, and Applebee's where mud pies and skillet desserts dominate the dessert menu, but I really cannot recall seeing bread pudding on any of the chain restaurant menus available to us. How did I even know something called bread pudding existed then? I don't know. Perhaps it's just selective memory, but at any rate, bread pudding did not equate tasty in my mind.

And then pumpkin bread pudding happened.

For Thanksgiving 2006, I made a meal of sides and dessert (because roasting a turkey seemed daunting, and the sides are the best part of them meal anyway!), but didn't want to go with a traditional pumpkin pie. A recipe for pumpkin bread pudding popped up from Epicurious and because a self-proclaimed bread pudding dissenter actually loved this rendition, I decided to give it a go. It was so much easier than a pie could ever be, and so delicious to boot. The combination of bread, dairy, eggs, sugar, and of course pumpkin was beyond what I ever thought. I was a convert.

Bread pudding has since been ordered for dessert at countless meals, almost never displeasing. (Is it me, or is the dish nearly ubiquitous now?) When I saw that the Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding was selected by Lauren of A Baking Blog there was no doubt in my mind that I would be participating in this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe. A Dorie bread pudding? That's pretty much a guarantee for success.

The resulting dessert was delicious, but I may have been hoping for more. I dried out challah in the oven before pouring the custard mixture on top (though I don't know I would call it custard as Dorie does - it was just so thin!), omitted the raisins because people are notoriously picky about their presence in desserts, and added walnuts, because - let's face it - walnuts and chocolate are like peas and carrots. Perhaps I just favor non-chocolate bread pudding to the chocolate variety, or maybe I would have loved some banana lodged in between the bread cubes, but it didn't blow my mind. I do think that it tastes better on the second day, chilled, however, and maybe even the third -- I'll have to evaluate the situation when I get to work later. With a dollop of whipped cream.

Dessert for breakfast? All in the name of research.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Slightly tardy, completely worth it.

This cake made me nauseous every step of the way.

Opening the bag of amaretti for the first time, a bomb of almond odor overtook my senses. I honestly thought I was going to vomit right then and there, but, miraculously, I held fast. I resolved to make every recipe for Tuesdays With Dorie this month (the line-up has been pretty awesome, am I wrong?), and so that I would do. The chocolate was chopped, the almonds were on hand, and I had plenty of heavy cream. I forged on, and it was absolutely the right decision.

It's a strange and fortunate coincidence that Holly of Phe/MOM/enon picked Dorie's 15-Minute Chocolate Amaretti Torte this week, because that's really all the time I could stand to be in the kitchen. Having been attacked with food poisoning 24 hours earlier, I couldn't ingest food or look at food, let alone talk or read about it. Candles had to be relegated to the closet and music had to be silenced. Almond is such an intoxicating fragrance when it is welcome, but completely overwhelming -- and nauseating -- when it isn't. I left the kitchen during the short time it was baking, came back to take it out of the oven and so very reluctantly returned to turn it out.

I was much improved the next morning and made the glaze and almond whipped cream without a problem before taking the torte to work. No longer nauseous but still having no desire to try the cake, after several "Mmmmm...this is so good!" responses, I took a sliver and made a composed bite with the cake, cream, and crushed amaretti. It was bliss. I'm a nut fanatic in general and love texture in my baked goods, so the inescapable almondiness in each bite on my tongue and in my nose was pure joy. Though I'm not usually a fan of flourless chocolate cakes, the generous addition of almonds and amaretti made the torte divine.

I'm a little disappointed that I wasn't up to having a full slice, but I rest assured that this recipe will be turned to again, no doubt.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It's about time.

March 26, 2009 started off like many days. I'm sure I woke up abominably early like I always do, shuffled to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and went bleary-eyed to the gym (without my Shuffle, as that was lost/stolen the week before). I probably showered and made my default breakfast of reconstituted steel cut oats with bananas, walnuts, and copious amounts of cinnamon and nutmeg, and then prepped my lunch for the day, and also dinner because I get out of work later.

Once at work, it's likely I brewed myself a cup of some kind of fruity tea that I picked up last time I was at Target. Not that I'm particular fond of fruity teas, but it the sampler pack was appealing during my last visit for some reason. Around 11:15, Eddie, our UPS guy, bangs on the back gate 5 times, like clockwork. It's my unofficial job to respond to his pounding so at once I jumped out of my seat to answer the back door.

"So what'd you buy?", was the first thing that came out of his mouth.

"Mmm...nothing?" Was this a trick question? Were we engaging in friendly banter already??

"Well, you must have bought something. This big box is for you."

"Mmmm...are you sure? I don't know what it could be."

"Well, let's open it!" He grabbed his box cutter from his chest pocket and sliced open the packing tape with three deft strokes, as if he did that for a living.

I rustle around some of the packing paper in the box and then I see it.


You're kidding!

For me?!

Yep. That box within the box, emblazoned with "Kitchenaid" -- that was for me. And I was beyond surprised.

Who could have gifted me with something so generous and completely appropriate?? My sisters, of course, and later I find out that all of the friends I first texted about my new prized appliance contributed to the mixer as well! I felt so sheepish, but though I may not have thanked them personally right away, my elation was undeniable.

Now on to the bigger question -- how should I christen such a bold specimen? I wanted to pick something that made use of its full potential so something requiring lots of beating was in order, and after much deliberation, pound cake was the decided winner. Only a couple weeks earlier, Deb at smittenkitchen had posted about a cream cheese pound cake with strawberry coulis and as someone who cannot ever deny the elegant simplicity of pound cake, how could I better de-virginize the new object of my affection than with something as age-old as that?

I impatiently waited for my butter to soften one mild Saturday morning and then when I finally poked my finger into the square to test its softness and there was a gentle give, my heart beat a little bit faster. I dumped the butter in the bowl and let the stainless steel paddle attachment steadily build up speed and the rest was magic. My butter has never been fluffier. I've always been very patient with the creaming process, but I don't think I ever fully understood what "light and fluffy" meant when describing creamed butter until now.

The addition of cream cheese was a bit of an unorthodox touch, but I could not have been happier with the result. The crackly top was a welcome textural contrast to the fine, soft grain of the interior. And then the strawberry coulis lended the perfect sweetness and acidity to the comfortingly rich cake. I've mentioned my soft spot for Sara Lee pound cake before and with this slice, a wave of memories rushed back once more. I could be happy eating this every day for the rest of my life.

And also obese.

Eh -- it's a give and take.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nearly a disaster.

My love affair with pie has established itself pretty recently , with the advent of making my own pie, but before that, my disdain for those creations of gelatinous mounds of fruit and sugar glopped between flavorless sheets of dough (or atop just one sheet) would be temporarily forgotten with the appearance of pumpkin, pecan, or banana cream pie.

My first experience with pumpkin pie was at Montesorri when Teacher Rosie decided to bring some in as a festive almost Thanksgiving treat. Having been exposed only to Chinese dessert soups of sugar water with wood ear and jujubes, or red bean pastries (nothing against red bean - still love it!) until then, the pumpkin spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg was at once heaven in my mouth. It probably wasn't a particularly velvety or harmonious pumpkin pie, but I don't think my palate was very advanced back then.

Pecan pie was probably purchased by a family member as an attempt to bring some American tradition to our typically Chinese Thanksgiving of hot pot at our family's restaurant. After a meal of flank steak, tripe, fish balls, beef balls, lamb, tofu, wild mushrooms, and dandelion greens thrown into a gurgling pot set upon a butane range in the center of the table, what would be a more appropriate dessert than pecan pie?? I was groomed to love nuts by my mother's preference for Thrifty's Butter Pecan ice cream (purchased so rarely, but if there were an ice cream choice to be made, that is what it would be), so I had no complaints.

The story of banana cream pie -- I have no idea where it begins. Could it be digging by the forkful into a foil pan encased, plastic lidded specimen from the grocery store in a classmate's kitchen? Or was the fluffy cloud of meringue calling my name at Nation's on Jackson after getting my driver's license, and therefore, buying food without parental supervision? Wherever my first banana cream pie was, one bite and I was hooked. If it's on a dessert menu with bread pudding, I am in turmoil with that decision, often ending in the selection of both treats. How I can I deny either of you???

I am a big fan of the Tartine banana cream pie, with its caramel and chocolate layers, but Amy of Sing for Your Supper picked a strong contender for this week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe. I feel like a proud mother forced to pick a favorite between her children. One is decadent with all the flourishes and undeniably delicious if a bit fussy. The other is straight-forward, with a little surprise spice, not overly sweet, just comfortingly good. It depends entirely on your mood really.

I made this on Sunday and so trusted Dorie that it tastes best when just assembled that I orchestrated a whole impromptu dinner around it. Having held up the meal with Jamie Oliver's milk-and-lemon roast chicken (a 5 pound chicken takes A BIT more time, to say the least), I rushed to finish the pie and didn't make it so pretty. Talk about gelatinous -- the pastry cream was so dense! Whisking it was nearly impossible as it just created curdled chunks. My eyes were in disbelief and I was about to throw in the towel and throw it out, but I took the advice of Mike and thinned with some heavy cream along with nuking it in the microwave a few times. After a lot of muscle, the pastry cream wasn't looking too bad, so the pie was assembled and though it looks afright, it was terribly tasty. I do love pumpkin pie so the cinnamon and nutmeg hints were quite alright with me. Most importantly for me, the crust did not shrink at all this time like it has done in the past, looking like the impact of a custard tidal wave has washed away the crust wall. It may have been religious chilling of the dough every time I worked with it and right before I stuck it in the oven, or making sure my pie weights of beans and rice reached the absolutely top of the crust, but either way, a triumph!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Regret averted.

And I almost wasn't going to make this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe!!

My Sunday started off unimaginably slow yesterday -- I didn't wake up in my own bed at the normal 7 o'clock hour and didn't make it to the farmers' market by 8 and didn't finish all of my errands by 11. Productivity didn't really start until 1:15 as I briskly did my walk through of the market while most vendors were packing up and then ambled through Pavilions with 4 pounds of butter in my arms. I'm sure everyone thought that maybe I was Paula Deen's long lost Asian daughter, but Land o' Lakes for $3?! You would stock up too.

I finally took a look at this week's selection of Coconut Butter Thins by Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch when I got home, and upon reading "macadamia nuts", "lime", "coriander", I was turned off. I had no desire to run out to the store for more ingredients, so I decided nope! Not this week! And then I read the P&Qs. The reviews are pretty difficult to tune out. "Perfect." "Amazing." "Top 5 Dorie recipes." With a groan, I headed to the kitchen.

Sweetened coconut was on hand, and I could have substituted pistachios or pecans for the macadamias, but Dorie's comment that nuts were not at all necessary was encouraging so I omitted them entirely. Lemon it would have to be as lime wasn't readily available. I was a little wary about the pinch of coriander, but with a deep breath, made myself do it.

The finished cookie was (as everyone said it would be) absolutely delicious. Definitely not the most attractive cookie because of the strange way they spread, but the proof is in the taste. I have a soft spot for Danish butter cookies, and these reminded me of them a bit, especially the kind you find in Solvang -- a little bit coconutty, adding more texture than the variety in the blue tins, and lot of butter. The lemon was a nice touch and not overwhelming at all, and I really couldn't taste the coriander at all. I pride myself on my self-control of late, but these cookies were testing every ounce of restraint. They're unassuming, little ugly things, but when you bite into one...

They are greater than the sum of their parts.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A different way of celebrating.

I look forward to St. Patrick's Day every year. Sure, it is some bastardized holiday that has become more an occasion to drink until obliteration than one celebrating the man who rid Ireland of snakes, but as much as I enjoy a well-made Irish coffee, my love for Irish soda bread runs deeper. That, for me, is the true highlight of March 17th.

I can still remember the first time I tasted this bread because the day was marked with a car accident on the streets of San Francisco. My sister and I had stopped at La Farine in Berkeley on our way into the city for morning buns and there was Irish Soda Bread sitting on the shelf, over the shoulder of the baker. It was a variety I had heard about, but had never tried and there it was in front of me. It was the perfect day to take a chance on something potentially phenomenal (it was La Farine, after all) so I went ahead and had them throw one in the bag too. The morning buns, however sugary and messy to eat, were devoured in the car before we crossed the Bay Bridge, but the loaf we saved for a more leisurely moment. This leisurely moment came much later in the afternoon - only after our car was hit full on by a car coming down those hills of the city without stopping for its red light! No one was injured, but our plan of spending a beautiful, bright, and sunny day in the city window shopping and relaxing was shot and instead, we were shuttled back across the bay by the tow truck driver and waited at the Carl's Jr. across the street from the mechanic while insurance was dealt with.

I should qualify this deep affection as one for the American Irish soda bread -- slightly sweet with raisins and, undoubtedly, caraway seeds!! I love the flavor of rye that it gives and it probably tricks my senses into thinking the bread is healthier than it actually is. Left to my own devices, I could probably finish a 10 inch loaf before lunch time.

Last year I made the Cook's Illustrated recipe with raisins and caraway seeds and I brought some delicious white cheddar and Granny Smith apples to accompany it. This year, I decided to try a different recipe, but incorporated elements from last year's pick -- most notably, baking the bread in a dutch oven and brushing it with melted butter to give it a nice crust. I decreased the amount sugar, and also the baking powder because, as this is a soda bread, it doesn't quite make sense to me to use so much of another leavening agent.

The result was a more scone-like than bread-like soda bread. I love a good scone, so this texture I don't mind at all, but I think next year I'll revert back to the basic Cook's Illustrated version for something more reminiscent of bread. It wasn't at all necessary, but I bought some rich Kerrygold Irish butter to go with the bread and it was heaven in my mouth. I think you could slather some Kerrygold on a shoe and it would be delicious.

I'm thinking about incorporating this bread into my regular repertoire seeing as how I just can't get enough of the taste, but I also kind of like how it is only associated with one particular holiday for me. As my last fix was a fairly recent, I'm not itching to devour another loaf just yet, but give it time. I'll be feenin' soon!! And then I'll have some real decisions to make.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Prelude to summer.

I love my Sunday ritual of going to the Hollywood Farmers' Market. Rain or shine, I am always there at roughly the 8 o'clock hour, regardless of whether I slept at 9:30 pm, or 4:30 am the night before. People are amazed at my stamina when I tell them after the third drink of the evening that I'll still be in attendance at the market the next morning, but it's an event I look forward to all week, and brings me a sense of calm and everything-is-as-it-should-be if only in the hour that I'm there, half zoning out and half taking in all the colors and aromas of the season.

It's Los Angeles, so the market is blessed with a wide array of produce every week, and I have golden beets within reach without fail while my cousin in Manhattan has to search five different markets in different areas for them. Sadly, I'm sure many Angelenos (myself included) take this amazing selection for granted and overlook so much of what's available. I'm guilty of this offense when it comes to berries. Not so much strawberries as it wouldn't be unusual for me to pick up a half flat some weeks, but I have never once gone home with any of those tiny globules of blueberry or blackberry goodness - until now. They don't run cheap which is a major deciding factor in my decision of whether or not I really need them that week (especially after having spent $5 on a dozen of my favorite eggs, and $4 on a pound of Empress dates, and another $4 on 5 pieces of pita bread), but this week's Tuesday's With Dorie selection by Sihan of Befuddlement seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally give in and pop my berry cherry.

Coffee cake is one of my weaknesses with it's characteristic streusely topping, and the blueberry crumb cake sounded like it's close cousin. I have to admit, though, I was slightly disappointed at first bite. I had made it the day before, and when I finally tried it a day and a half later, it didn't induce the same kind of response as, say, Dorie's apple pie. Also, the cake took much longer than the 55-65 minutes for the knife to come out clean, and when it finally did, I think the cake was a tad dried out. (Those slits in the crust are from all the testing I did! Hideous, but necessary.) And the berries (blueberry with a smattering of blackberry) -- they could have definitely been sweeter, so it was a slight disappointment for my first berry-buying occasion.

It wasn' t all bad though -- the big crumb "crust" was my favorite part, as well as that of most of my coworkers' and when I finally decided that microwaving may save the cake, I found the butteriness in the crumbs so much more enhanced, and with the accompaniment of a berry tea, an utterly good midday indulgence.

Even though I was less than thrilled with my first taste, others were still very enthusiastic. It was devoured so quickly that I was a worried the innards wouldn't get a chance with the camera lens. Still, I would do things differently if there is a next time -- berries + sugar = good idea before summer, even in California, and don't be fooled by a seemingly wet batter after your gut tells you it's ready. Near fatal flaws!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sitting and being.

It has been nearly four years since my first (and last) visit to Paris and I feel the itch bad. At that time, I had traveled to several European countries before, and was studying abroad in Siena, Italy for a few months, but France had still eluded me. Maybe we were trying to be non-traditional when in 1994 my family and I took a jaunt around central Europe with other family friends, visiting Italy, Austria, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia -- those just aren't the typical countries one visits their first time in Europe. I'm so thankful for the experience though, however we may have spent more time staying up late in hotel rooms and sleeping on the tour bus than relishing in the magnificence of the Innsbruck ski jump.
At 22 years old, it was time. I decided not to walk at commencement, and instead planned a trip to Greece right after the program in Siena ended, followed by a stop in Nice for a couple days just to see what the South was all about, and finally, nearly a week's stay in Paris. It was as wonderful as can be imagined, indulging in breakfast pastries daily, sitting at a cafe for hours, wandering the narrow streets of le Marais. With my host who was an old co-worker friend that was then teaching English in the city, we avoided the tourist path and did what I have grown to love when vacationing anywhere -- just sitting and being.
This week's Tuesday's With Dorie assignment was chosen by Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction and it is just the kind of cake that tastes best on a Parisian sidewalk with an afternoon tea and a blanket of sunshine. I made Girl Scout cookies all last week, so not having to pull out the mixer again was also so appealing. Like many other bakers, lemon marmalade was nowhere to be found (although I did find lime and lemon-lime marmalade, but was not turned on by the idea of lime) so I went with the King Kelly orange marmalade of my childhood. Maybe not the best of the lot, but it reminds me of my dad's buttered wheat toast (Wonderbread was forbidden in our household) with marmalade every time. I only have a 9 x 5 loaf pan, and as early reports said, the loaf didn't rise much anyway, I thought it would have looked a little flat in my slightly-larger-than-the-recipe-called-for pan and switched it to two mini loaf pans instead. I tented the loaves with foil as they darkened quickly so the coloring ended up quite nice.

The result is simply lovely. Not heavy to begin with, but the citrus and yogurt cut any greasiness the cake may have (I reduced the oil to 1/3 cup anyway). And the almond flour adds a little something to the texture that makes you want to eat every tiny crumb that falls loose from each slice.

I just went to the kitchen and had another slice. It is even better today than yesterday, just as Dorie said it would be. God bless her heart!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In disguise.

Another sister's visit, another busy weekend.

I'm over the moon whenever my sisters come to visit, but I'm always left entirely exhausted. There are always so many places to eat, treats to try, people to see, and events to attend as it's such a short "vacation" for them and they need to pack as much in as possible, but there goes any chance of a relaxing weekend, or even a full night's sleep... (It's my own fault -- I can't sleep past 7:30am nearly ever, even if they're in my bed fast asleep until noon because we have nothing scheduled until brunch!)
So I go about my business, visiting the Hollywood Farmers' Market, or going to Griffith Park, and when I return, they're still asleep. I'm so jealous.

Last week it was pizzas and dreamy off-the-menu bourbon cocktails at Riva, followed by spicy pork tacos from Kogi, the Korean taco truck that is taking the city by storm, a return to Venice in the morning with brunch at Gjelina (BLTs with fried eggs are completely underrated), drinks and exploring LACMA, more Korean food at Chunju Han Il Kwan topped off with coconut cake and more drinks downtown, dim sum in the AM in Monterey Park, taro and almond milk tea with boba, and pineapple buns (containing no pineapple, by the way) from the Chinese bakery next door.
This week, as soon as Liz and I picked up my sister from the airport, we indulged the infamous Father's Office burger (arguably, not a burger, but that is neither here nor there) and they're absolutely addicting sweet potato fries. I've been on the edge of my seat, waiting for the return of the Zoe Nathan brunch and this week was it so we braved the line at Huckleberry for their homemade English muffin topped with La Quercia prosciutto, gruyere, and a poached egg, finished off with pesto the most brilliant shade of green. An hour later, it was time to seize the rare opportunity for Persian food (my friends aren't huge fans) at Shamshiri Grill on Westwood, and then a break in the clouds as my sister attends a wedding!!! (I know eating isn't as miserable as I make it out to be -- there are many people for whom this is more food than they eat in a week.) The evening commences with drinks, and more drinks clear across town, with a late, late night snack of hash browns and sauteed string beans (trying to keep it somewhat healthy). Preserved vegetable, dried pork, and vinegary savory soy milk and Chinese crullers start off the next morning, followed by hot-out-of-the-oven pineapple and red bean mochi buns.
Though we know our stomachs have no need for more buttery brioche style breads, when the rare instance arises that they are still warm to the touch, all bets are off.

We had a an Oscar-viewing party to go to later that evening, which is when I decided it was time to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie assignment, from Whitney of What's Left On The Table was Caramel Crunch Bars. I have to admit, I wasn't particularly excited about this pick. I like chocolate and toffee as much as the next person, but something about this recipe didn't speak to me. It was, however, the perfect on-the-fly treat to bring to our gathering. Not because you could make some clever Academy Award pun to name it, but because you could literally just slap it together. Whip up the cookie layer, press it into the pan, off into the oven it goes. It wasn't the prettiest of creations (maybe as a result of my hurried assembly), so I still didn't have high hopes for it, but once we finished dinner, and everyone took their first bite, and then another, we knew it was trouble. Caramel and salt pair as if they were soulmates, so the saltiness of the base balanced the richness of the dark chocolate and toffee layers beautifully. Next time, I would cut down on the amount of chopped chocolate in the cookie layer, or leave it out entirely. It was tasty, but not completely necessary, and for me, blurred the definition between the cookie and chocolate layer. I might add some chopped almonds on top in the future though, as that was all that was missing to create a delicious Almond Roca bar!
All in all, it was an enjoyable weekend, despite the sometimes laborious nibbles. And anyone who doesn't think one can tire from eating has clearly not spent some time with my family. We welcome new dining companions though -- more people means we can try even more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Joining the Tuesdays With Dorie group was on my mind long before I joined. I can't recall the first time I heard about the group, but it was probably not long after I learned about its namesake and discovered the wonder of her recipes. Korovas, cocoa chocolate chip cookies...they all made my mouth water, and delving deeper into this Dorie Greenspan, I found her book "Baking: From My Home to Yours" and became entranced with the cover photo of the Devil's Food White Out Cake. I'm sure the cover photo alone has won over many people who have been on the "What baking cookbook should I buy?" fence, and it was our good fortune that Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater picked this cake for this week's assignment.
I've only made one other "Celebration Cake" of Dorie's (Bill's Big Carrot Cake) and was so excited to finally try another!!

Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

It started off so well, but I'm not sure if it was the batter sitting around for 20 minutes after having been prepared as I had forgotten to preheat the oven (what experienced baker does that?!), but despite having tasted delicious, the cake didn't rise too much. The beauty of this baking community is that you can share your results and figure out if it was the recipe's error, or if you just screwed up royally. Thankfully, I had read enough Ps&Qs to know that a low rise wasn't uncommon for this cake. Kudos to the food stylist for the book, because he/she made it look towering.
My second challenge was the marshmallow frosting. This was my first attempt at this kind of frosting, although I had made the marshmallow topping for smitten kitchen's s'mores pie awhile back, but this time was really unsuccessful. I had read on the boards that pasteurized egg whites would work (even though the carton says "not suitable for meringues"), but I really should have done the work to separate actual eggs. It achieved a marshmallow taste, but not a fluffy yet firm texture. In fact, when the frosting fell from the weight of the cake layers, it didn't look so hot. In the photos, you can't even really tell that there is frosting between the layers! And thank goodness the cake is meant to be covered in cake crumbs!!

Regardless of the presentation, it was a tasty cake. The fourth layer of cake that was crumbled to decorate the outside yielded far too many crumbs, so I've been eating it one delicious spoonful at a time. I actually prefer this unadulterated layer of cake over the frosted version (or that may just speak volumes about the state of my frosting). I may try this recipe again, just because the cake is so tasty, and maybe trade out the marshmallow frosting for something like...cream cheese? Mmmmm...I can just taste it now...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bringing back Winter

Out-of-towners always tell me how lucky they think I am living in Los Angeles. "Such great weather! I would love it!", they say. I'll admit that the climate facilitates such activities as riding bikes from Santa Monica to Hermosa Beach, or hiking in Temescal Canyon, or dining al fresco, but c'mon! Do I really need to be wearing my summer clothes in the dead of winter (as I did last week)?? Honey, living here for seven years...you're going to start missing the seasons. Why can't it just be brisk for a solid month??

We finally had a good rain before the weekend and I was elated. Showers are the closest thing to Winter we have in these parts and I loved every minute of it, and even though it kept me from finally getting back to Griffith Park after my month-long absence, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, hosted by Heather of Sherry Trifle, was the Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread and was most appropriate for summoning the warmth of winter. With our near nonexistent winter this year, any taste of the holidays is welcome, and this recipe brought me back to that.

This was another easy recipe to put together, and as Chinese New Year dinner was only the night before, I had lots of ginger on hand already. I decided to omit the crystallized ginger as I wasn't sure my coworkers would be game for that much spiciness, but I feel like with the ground and sugared ginger, the flavor was just right. The cake definitely wasn't too sweet and the chocolate icing was also a big hit although from the photos, you can probably see that the sugar didn't dissolve all the way for some reason. Not the best in terms of appearance, and I don't know what it is -- The mild sweetness? The single tier construction that makes people think it isn't as indulgent as a multi-layered cake? -- but this cake was devoured so quickly.

In a couple more weeks, it'll probably be a consistent 80 degrees until June gloom, and it just doesn't feel right to pull this recipe out on post-sunbathing afternoons, but next October...watch out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The savory side of baking

I do lots of baking, by the normal person's standards, and especially during this time of year, but virtually all of it is sweet. Cakes, pies, cookies, muffins...these are never unusual in my repertoire, but it takes something like Tuesdays with Dorie to "force" me to bake something savory. I don't know what it is -- I've just always erred on the side of sweet from childhood on.

Soy milk sweetened with sugar, or with the addition of green onions, preserved pork, pickled greens, and a drizzle of vinegar and chili oil? Sweet, of course!

A flaky, curry chicken or Chinese BBQ pork mini-pie, or a flaky egg custard tart? Dan ta! (No brainer!)

Brioche french toast with bourbon-pecan topping, or red flannel hash with a poached egg on top? Okay...these days, that decision is a little tougher -- I can't pick a winner.

Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake was the host of this week's recipe, and she picked Savory Corn & Pepper Muffins, thankfully, because I probably never would have made this recipe if someone hadn't. Typically me, I prefer the sweet Yankee style of cornbread (may be because I was first exposed to this kind of cornbread first and most frequently) and the additions of any savory ingredient always perplexed me.

Cheese? Jalapenos? Why would you do that??

This recipe came together so quickly despite the chopping of the extra add-ins, and although I feared something went wrong when my perhaps-not-room-temperature-enough buttermilk was mixed with the butter (lumpy, bumpy substance), everything turned out just beautifully. Next time, I think I may even add more black pepper, jalapeno, red pepper, and cilantro, as I felt like those flavors could be more pronounced. I would absolutely serve this at dinner, or as an accompaniment to a yummy hash or egg-based breakfast.

I think maybe my salted-sweet-leaning allegiances are now giving way to a finer appreciation for things savory. What is this world coming to?