Feb 22, 2010

Homemade Graham Crackers

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Well. I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided that few things are more frustrating than spending exorbitant amounts of time and dirty dishes making something from scratch and then realizing that, all things considered, you actually prefer the stuff from the can (I’m looking at you, enchilada sauce). But despite the possibility of such a situation, I always get an unnatural charge out of making typically store-bought things from scratch. There’s just something nerdily satisfying about finding a way to take familiar things to some other-worldly level that makes you think that perhaps you’ve never really had the real thing at all (see also: marshmallows, ice cream). Such was the case with these homemade graham crackers.


I started thinking about homemade graham crackers forever ago, and bookmarked it in my mind at a time when my brain was supple and unfettered enough to be trusted to hold long-term thoughts. And then I had a baby, and forgot all about doing something as crazy as making homemade graham crackers. But then toddlerhood came along, and graham crackers became akin to currency, and I suddenly thought to shake the dust off that old idea to try making them from scratch. Also, my latest trip to Miette Patisserie here in San Francisco left me completely unable to shake them.


Have I mentioned how obsessed I am with Miette? Stepping into one of their shops is like being enveloped with design inspiration, everything from the cupcakes to the wallpaper, much in the way that going into an Anthropologie store renders me hypnotized and despising every home furnishing I own, and overcome with the need to replace them exclusively with items from that place. Kitschy lamps! Vintage fabric drapes! Delicate tea cups on display!


And then I remember that I have a tiny bull living in my personal china shop and I’ve found it pointless to even hang drapes at all and that all potentially breakable items in the entire house live crowded on our fireplace mantle at an un-Little C-friendly height and I cry a little. At least when I go to Miette I can come home with something that is still inspiring, but edible, as to not need precious placement in our house. And one of my recent purchases were their utterly addictive graham crackers.


At seven bucks a pop for a short stack, naturally you’d hope Miette’s graham crackers far surpass the store-bought variety that comes in those brown wax-papery sleeves. And lo, they do. The thing is, they’re not really like any graham cracker I’ve ever tried–these are intensely buttery with the most incredible snap, and not at all crumbly or dry. The flavor here is complex with earthy whole wheat flour, dark brown sugar and a touch of honey and cinnamon that reminds you that, oh yes, this is supposed to be a graham cracker.


What’s more, I can’t think of anything more versatile that’s come out of the Piece of Cake kitchen as of late. I wholeheartedly recommend them for ice cream sandwiches and s’mores–they’re even more sturdy than the kind you’d buy at the store and hold up well to freezing and long-term storage, a total workhorse cookie, if you will. Of course, they’re also perfect for just plain eating with a glass of cold milk or some tea from a pretty little mug, like my single Anthropologie-esque teacup that I keep on lockdown when not in use. Just an idea there for you.


Homemade Graham Crackers
Adapted from Miette Patisserie, San Francisco

The key to getting the crispiest cookies with an awesome “snap” is to roll the dough very thin–try for as close to 1/8 of an inch as you can. This is a very buttery, soft dough–be sure to chill it completely before rolling and then again chilling the cut cookies well before baking them, otherwise they will be maddeningly difficult to work with and will spread during baking.

Makes about 4 dozen 2 1/2-inch cookies

2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I like stone-ground organic flour)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I like the punch of Vietnamese cinnamon)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat it to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Whisk together flour, wheat flour, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter and brown sugar, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, and beat in the honey. Stir in dry ingredients on low speed. Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat it into a disc, wrap well. Refrigerate until firm but still pliable, about one hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out very thin, about an 1/8-inch thick (you can gather the dough scraps and reroll as necessary). Cut out cookies with a 2 to 3-inch cookie cutter and place on the prepared baking sheets, a dozen per sheet. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar if desired. Chill the cut cookies on the sheets for at least 15 minutes before baking. Bake 14 to 16 minutes until golden. Let the cookies set for a minute before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for a week or more.

Feb 18, 2010

Bittersweet Hot Fudge

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Motherhood has smacked me upside the head in so many ways. Some of them involve being surprisingly close to institutionalizing myself. Others, however, are actually really lovely in the grand scheme of things, and I don’t just mean those moments where I’m suddenly so overcome with love for my child that I want to smooch her and squeeze her until she pops. I’m talking about a new appreciation for the little things, the simpler the better. Like how Little C has started patting my back while hugging me. A glass of wine after she goes to bed and the house is straightened. Time to shave and wash my hair in the shower. And a dish of vanilla ice cream drowned in the most flippin’ fantastic bittersweet hot fudge that comes together in mere minutes. Ahhh…it’s the little things.


Although to be fair, this hot fudge sauce is not a small thing. No, it is pretty major. It’s sort of unassuming in the preparation, though the nearly three-quarters of a pound of chocolate that go into making one batch (I first mistyped that as “bath”… hello, subconscience) of the stuff might tip you off that you’re doing something epic.

All that needs to happen to enter into this chocolate sauce nirvana is to melt said chocolate together with a knob of butter while you warm some cream and corn syrup on the stovetop, and then whisk it all together and BAM!


Hot fudge as it is meant to be: Thick and rich, and deeply, darkly chocolatey, becoming almost chewy on contact with cold ice cream. With the one-two punch of phenomenal flavor and hearty texture, it’s almost a misnomer to call this a hot fudge “sauce”–melted chocolate truffles is more like it. And the bittersweet edge makes a pairing with vanilla ice cream so perfectly balanced, you may never want to have another dessert again. As Oprah might say, “Life chaaaaang-iiiing!! Life changing, life changing. Life. Changing.”



Bittersweet Hot Fudge
Adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper

For the bittersweet chocolate, I use 60% Ghiradelli chips rather than bar chocolate because it’s more economical and have been perfectly happy, but whether you go with bars or chips, go for a premium brand–you’ll get a much more moan-inducing final product.

This hot fudge sets up firm when cold, like a refrigerated truffle, so you need to rewarm leftovers to make it pourable or spoonable again after chilling. The original recipe says to rewarm it gently over simmering water, but I’ve thrown the whole jar into the microwave for a 15 second zap and with a quick stir it comes back to life beautifully.

Makes about 2 cups

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use 60% Ghiradelli chips and am perfectly happy with them)
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons extra if needed
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the chocolates and the butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Melt them in the microwave on medium power for about 3 minutes, stopping to stir the mixture often. When it is fully melted, set it aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup of cream, the corn syrup and the vanilla. Bring them to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as it comes to a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for 2 minutes. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until the hot fudge is smooth. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream if needed to thin it out a bit.

Serve warm immediately, or pour it into jars for storing in the refrigerator for about 10 days.

Feb 12, 2010

Blood Orange Panna Cotta

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In relation to my number of years on Earth, I have probably worked more jobs than anyone else you know. I’ll provide just a few examples. Upscale stationary shop girl. Nanny. Celebrity interviewer. Envelope stuffer. Makeup artist. Lecturer on random topics. Law office helper girl. Movie and TV extra and stand-in. Newsroom intern. Workout place counter girl. Proofreader of office supply catalogs. The list is insane and endless. Now, to be clear, this does not mean that I am a workaholic–no, far from it. My wacky patchwork of a resume absolutely comes from the sometimes practically negative length of time spent at each place. Apparently, for quite some time I reversed the old adage to say, “Winners always quit”.


In truth, I didn’t quit every single job flippantly. No, each quitting would have me all wound up with ulcer-level angst in the days leading up to it. As much as I may have wanted to leave each job, I never really wanted to let anyone down. Except for the time I left a job in the fashion of asking to be fired. I’d been trying to let them down for months.


They’d even issued me a corporate “Back on Track” plan, a document which encouraged me to stop letting them down by a certain date lest I be fired, which only made me try to let them down harder. And at the expiry date of the “Back on Track” plan, they still didn’t fire me, so I was forced to point out the calendar date to my manager and inform her that it was clearly time to fire me. Which she did, after a very, very long and befuddled pause. True story.




There was also the time I was fired without my knowing. This was in college, a part-time job that had me calling up a recurring list of delightfully chatty old people and asking them to donate their blood for their platelets. I actually really liked that job, so much so that I was there right up until Spring Break. My boss, a no B.S. type named Judy, asked when my school break was, I told her. Done annnnd done, right? Um, not quite.


I left town for a week for vacation, blissfully unaware that she’d scheduled me for extra hours since I wouldn’t have classes that week. Apparently they had a rule that if you didn’t show up for work for three days without calling, you were automatically fired. Which I found out when I showed up all tanned and ready to work the Monday after Spring Break and was informed that I’d been fired three days earlier. Further evidence that college students don’t actually live in the Real World, even if they have a part-time job in it. I was all, “Hel-lo, Judy! It was my Spring Break!” Ha. That one still makes me laugh.


But there was one job that will always hold a special place in my heart and on my demented resume. And no, I’m not talking about motherhood (a job that’s schooled my quitter behind in reality–there’s no way I can get outta this gig). Several months before moving to San Francisco, with my pre-motherhood pluck and a whole lot of emphasis on my food and recipe obsession and writing background, I landed the most amazing opportunity to write recipes for Joe’s Restaurant in Venice, California. Had my ambitious, brilliant and almost annoyingly successful husband not gotten a job that moved us up to San Francisco later that year, I’m sure I’d still be there at Joe’s in the late afternoons, all scrappy for hours so I could experience the energy and artistry of the place, learning volumes about food, wine and the amazing dishes they turn out of that tiny, Michelin-starred kitchen.


When I left Joe’s, I made sure to take note of a few recipes that I’d bookmarked among the hundreds of splattered, crinkled pages in the restaurant’s archives. I could prattle on all day about the fabulous savory dishes at Joe’s, but some of the desserts would probably make you cry with joy. I’ve been wanting to tell you about this Blood Orange Panna Cotta recipe for ages, and with my citrus obsession in full swing, it’s the perfect time to finally get to it. That, and the fact that Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and this would be the absolutely perfect button on a romantic meal a deux, or even just pour un, because you’re worth it.


Panna cotta is one of my very favorite desserts, even though it amounts to little more than gelled cream. So simple, so right. The addition of the bright, sweet-tart juice of blood oranges really makes the dish here. And the color, people! The color! So beautiful. I served mine with a little extra dollop of unsweetened whipped cream because, you know, more is more, and could not have felt better about the whole experience. Oh Blood Orange Panna Cotta, I wish I knew how to quit you.



Blood Orange Panna Cotta
Loosely adapted from Joe’s Restaurant in Venice, California

Serves 4

1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
3 tablespoons cold water
1 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small bowl and let soften for five minutes.

Pour the blood orange juice into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce by half, about five minutes. Pour the reduction into a small bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

Give the saucepan a quick rinse and dry and set it back on the stove. In it, place the cream and sugar and warm it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, just until it begins to simmer–do not boil. Meanwhile, heat the softened gelatin in the microwave on high heat until it’s melted, about 15 seconds. When the cream is ready, whisk in the melted gelatin and vanilla until the mixture is smooth. Pour the cream mixture into a metal bowl set over an ice bath. Stir until cool to the touch. Whisk in the buttermilk and the reduced blood orange juice. Pour into four custard cups or ramekins set in a large shallow dish. Chill until set, at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.

When the panna cotta is set, unmold by dipping each dish in a pan of warm water, nudging the edges of the panna cotta from the dish with a thin knife if necessary, and invert them onto serving plates.

Feb 9, 2010

Caramel Cupcakes

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Woo-hoo! Thanks for all the well wishes and shout-outs about that half marathon business I told you about the other day. The race itself was a success. I had wanted to finish in under 2:15, and made it in 2:05, so I’m really happy with that. For once, I didn’t hurt anything, and I only cried three times (from joy, not misery)–at the start, crossing the finishing line, at the halfway point when I saw my friends, mom and husband cheering like crazy people as I passed, with my Little Coach C perched high up on her daddy’s shoulders. Waaahhhhh. It was a great experience all around. I highly recommend running more miles than is really necessary with several thousand other insane people before lunchtime.

And then shoving caramel cupcakes into your face when you’re done.


This combination is nothing short of dynamite, people. Now, I like a chocolate something as much as the next guy–when the chocolate craving hits, don’t get in my way because I will cut you. But at any other time, whether my sweet tooth is already awake or not, I am a sucker for all things vanilla and/or caramel. At a cupcakery, I will always go for the vanilla cake/vanilla frosting combination first. I feel like you can always tell how good a bakery really is by their vanilla cake and icing–with such a pure, uncomplicated flavoring, the quality of the ingredients and technique can’t hide. I’ve been forever searching for the magical recipe that would become my go-to vanilla cake in the Piece of Cake kitchen. And guys, my epiphany has arrived in the form of this completely perfect Vanilla Buttermilk Cake.

It’s just so lovely and balanced, all things considered. Perfectly tender. Moist but not sticky. Light but not preciously so. A velvety, tight crumb, but not at all dense. And thanks to the buttermilk, the level of sweetness is so right on and the notes of the vanilla are heightened.

The not-too-sweet cake also creates the perfect canvas for toppings of all sorts, from traditional buttercreams to more sugar-heavy icings that might cause your molars to ache on a sweeter cake, like my great grandmother Ruth Enzenbacher’s other-worldly caramel icing. All hail the dark brown sugar gods, this whole thing just got real.


Now, my memories of my great grandmother, who passed away when I was about 7, are fuzzy at best. I do remember her halo of silver white hair, soft cheeks and totally impressive salt and pepper shaker collection. But if this icing recipe of hers is any indication of who she really was, then I can also add to the list of character traits no-nonsense and the ability to turn out something showstopping out of the most humble ingredients. This icing comes together in less than five minutes on the stove top with a wooden spoon, just butter, sugar and a touch of milk and salt–it’s a beautiful thing.


But don’t let the easy prep fool you here–this caramel icing waits for no one (I am not sure if this was also true of my great grandmother). It may come together in minutes, but you have seconds to work with it before it sets up. Which is why I have no photo of the icing technique for you, which involved forgoing a spatula and instead dipping the tops of the cakes in the hot icing with a quick swirl before flipping them upright. I sort of felt like I was rescuing children from a burning building while icing these cupcakes–“Go, go, go!”–but the faster you can work, the more evenly glossy and gorgeous the icing sets up.


However, the fury of icing the cupcakes was totally worth it in the end. I cannot tell you how delicious the results were. Just like the madness of working up to the half marathon and then rocking it so hard. And can I just say how much I love it when I’m writing and a dorky metaphor just sort of falls in my lap like that?



Caramel Cupcakes
(Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Caramel Icing)
Cake recipe adapted from Sky High

Make sure the cupcakes are completely cooled, cold even, before icing them. If they are the slightest bit warm, they will tear when you turn them over to dip them in the hot icing. If the icing begins to harden while you are working with it, just set it over a medium flame and stir it for 30 seconds or so until it loosens up again.

Makes about 18 iced cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature

For the caramel icing:

1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into a few chunks
Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Place an oven rack to the center position and preheat the it to 350 degrees. Line 18 cups of 2 muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together, the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and turn the mixer on low. With the mixer running, gradually drop in the butter pieces and mix until the texture is uniform and the bits of butter aren’t discernable, about 2 minutes. With the mixer still on low, begin slowly pouring in the wet ingredients. When all the wet ingredients have been added, crank the speed up to medium and mix until the batter is light and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Portion the batter into the muffin tins and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched, 20-25 minutes. Let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then transfer them to a a wire rack to cool completely.

When the cupcakes have cooled, make the icing. Put the dark brown sugar, butter and salt in a medium saucepan, and melt them together over medium heat, stirring often. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the milk and vanilla. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dump in the confectioners’ sugar all at once and beat with a wooden spoon until the icing is thickened and smooth. Quickly ice the cupcakes by holding each by the base and dipping the tops in the hot icing, rolling them slightly to coat evenly. Turn them quickly upright so the icing will even out while it’s still warm and will set smoothly. Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Feb 6, 2010

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread

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So what are you guys doing this weekend?

Because I’m running 13.1 miles on Sunday. On purpose. With several thousand other crazy people. Send drugs now.

In preparation, I am doing what is probably the best part about running a race–carbo-loading via copious amounts of perfectly crusty, homemade whole wheat bread with lots of butter. What, butter isn’t a carb, you say? And carbo-loading is so 80’s? Oh, you just hush. I’m running a flippin’ half marathon this weekend.


You may remember me mentioning something about this half marathon business a few months back, when I said that you may end up hearing more about the whole thing than you really wanted to know. I figured that with all the training being such a big part of my life, some of the details would eek into this space. But that hasn’t really happened. I’ve saved all the complaining about the whole thing for other lucky friends and family members. And I’ve done a lot of complaining. It’s been hard, harder than I thought.


Since the weekday “short runs” became as long as the weekend “long runs” were in the early weeks of training, it’s been tough. Not because my endurance wasn’t there–it’s amazing how quickly the body adapts to such crazy activities; I’ve had many a tearful “Rocky” moment throughout this whole experience–but because I’ve had to do all those weekday runs with a busy toddler who really doesn’t want to be in a stroller that long anymore. Pushing that behemoth of a running stroller full of whining, restless kid on a drizzly, windy San Francisco day when your running legs have seemingly abandoned you is the sort of thing that makes you unable to think of nothing but every other thing you’d rather be doing at that moment. Ugh.


On the plus side, I am fitter than ever and fit comfortably back in my pre-baby pants. I have also acquired new talents such as handing off sippy cups and snacks and fetching teddy bears that get violently chucked off the side of that aforementioned stroller without breaking stride or slowing my pace. Valuable life skills, people. Clearly, bread-baking is a much more practical skill. I think I will switch to bread baking after Sunday. So much for those pants.


Not that making this particular bread requires much skill at all. It’s one of Jim Lahey’s fabulous recipes, the guy who has incredible, actual bread-baking skills and has made his amazingly simple No-Knead method accessible to all of us who have none. I stirred together the dough in seconds one evening and had fresh, crackly, crusty whole wheat bread all set for the gorging less than 24 hours later. I barely had to do a dang thing to achieve such carb zenith. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to get such big results with no effort. It’s a beautiful thing.



No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Bread:The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

Back when I made the original, all-white-flour version of this bread, I found it desperately needed more salt, so I added it here. Also, I followed the ratio of bread flour to whole-wheat flour that Lahey suggests–increasing the whole wheat flour will result in a denser loaf, but experiment and see if you like it. I also needed to add more water then the 1 1/3 cups listed (about 1/4 cup more) to get the dough to the right consistency–you want it to be quite wet and sticky before the first rise.

2 1/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees) water
Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, and yeast. Add the water. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, adding a bit more water if necessary. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, at least 12 to 18 hours.

When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. Dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour if it’s sticky. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise again for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled and when you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression–if it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, position a rack so that the pot will be centered in the oven, and preheat it to 475 degrees. Place a covered 4 1/2-to-5 1/2-quart cast-iron pot (such as a dutch oven) in the center of the rack.

Use pot holders to carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Be careful!–The pot is very hot. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue baking the whole wheat bread until the loaf is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly before slicing.

Feb 2, 2010

Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt Cake

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You guys.

Well.

So.

Hmmm.

Clearly, there is nothing else to say, except THIS CAKE IS STUPID DELICIOUS.


The recipe for this behemoth of a baked good I like to call a Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt cake is from a charming little bake shop in Los Angeles called Buttercake Bakery. Remember when I told you about my recent sippy cup-free weekend down in LA and how Sara and I got into some serious cupcake sampling? Well, one of the bakeries we stumbled into was Buttercake, and as luck would have it, the owner Logan was there that day and naturally, Sara is friends with her. (If you ever go somewhere with Sara, you will find this is often the case.)

Anyway, this isn’t the kind of place where you’ll find crazy novelty flavors like Green Tea Yuzu buttercream or giant celebration cakes draped with wacky shades of fondant and loaded with dynamite. No, this place is all about turning out comfort desserts like those fantastic signature recipes of churchgoing Southern women and then doing them one better.

Take this completely insane cake, for example. If you are in search of an absolute celebration of butter and chocolate, well, then, my friend, I think we’ve arrived at your personal Mecca. The batter for this cake is like a lighter version of a pound cake, rich with butter and vanilla, craveworthy all by its lonesome. And that’s before you fold in the chocolate chips. Oh, no, you heard me right. And. And!

Then you take out some of the chocolate chip-studded batter and whisk into it in an obscenely chocolatey syrup that gets all swirled into the mix and bakes up like fudgy brownie cake tunneling through the whole thing. If I was anymore serious I would be a heart attack, people. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

The resulting cake is the sort of baked good that comes up every once in a great while here in the Piece of Cake kitchen, which is to say that I had a major crisis of conscience upon tasting it. Half of me wanted to disappear into a dark corner of the garage with the cake stand and a fork so I could mow the whole thing in private. The other half knew I shouldn’t hide this light under a bushel–a Bundt cake epiphany as glorious as this was meant to be shared with the world. In the end, I gave a nod to the latter, swiftly lopping off half the cake for my husband’s office, leaving a mere half the cake for me to have my way with while doing the former. But you do what you want.



Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt Cake
Adapted from Buttercake Bakery and the Los Angeles Times

Use the butter wrappers to grease the pan before dusting it with flour. And as much as you’ll want to devour this cake ASAP after baking, give it a couple hours to really cool and rest out of the pan before serving–the flavor and texture is well worth the wait. This cake stays extraordinarily moist for days on end kept in a cake dome at room temperature.

Serves 12 to 16

2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Valrhona)
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli)

In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar, the cocoa powder and corn syrup with 1/2 cup hot water. Bring just to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Set aside.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the remaining sugar until light in color and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat in the remaining vanilla.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat in a third of the flour mixture just until the flour begins to disappear into the batter. Beat in half the milk. Beat in another third of the flour, then the rest of the milk, and finish with the remaining flour until the batter is smooth. Stop the mixer and gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Scoop out a third of the batter into a medium bowl, whisk in the chocolate syrup and set aside. Pour another third of the batter into the prepared bundt pan and smooth it with a spatula. Pour the chocolate batter into the pan evenly over the first layer. Finish by pouring the last third of the vanilla batter over the top. Lightly swirl the batters with a wooden skewer or knife to give a “marble” effect–a continuous figure-8 motion while going around the pan works well.

Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back lightly when touched, about 60-70 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Invert the cooled cake onto a serving platter and dust lightly with powdered sugar before serving if desired. Store any leftovers in a cake dome at room temperature for 4-5 days, maybe more.

Jan 29, 2010

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tarts

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Oh, people. I just had the most glorious weekend down in LA with my best girlfriend, while my husband dutifully (and might I add very successfully) took care of our offspring back home in San Francisco. And let me tell you—it was really something. 48 hours of food, drink, laughter, and lots of Southern California sunshine that makes dining al fresco the order of the day. As soon as I stepped off the plane, Sara and I got to work. We don’t believe in the sort of ladylike lunching that involves a few lettuce leaves and a single prawn on an antique plate. No, our thing is more of a salad-plus-truffled pizza-plus-cupcakes-and-lots-of-wine-in-lieu-of-water sort of situation.


So now that I’m back to reality, I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite lunching with girlfriends dishes, which is to say the kinds of foods that only need a little pile of lightly dressed mixed greens and lots of well-chilled white wine on the side, and still leave room for some slightly tipsy, giggly cupcake sampling afterwards. These tomato, goat cheese and caramelized onion tarts fit the bill perfectly.


This recipe comes from the always awesome, rarely mark-missing Ina Garten. Oh, Ina. Why do your recipes and your delightful East Hampton estate (with an entire adjacent house dedicated solely to cooking and entertaining) have to be so flippin’ perfect? As my friend Lauren (a fellow Ina fan and trained chef in her own right) likes to say, “Okay, Ina, we get it. You have lots of special dishes. Golf clap.”


These tarts are another winner from Ina’s Back to Basics cookbook, also known as the thing I’ve keeping under my pillow for the past couple months. With a base of flaky store-bought puff pastry, there’s no other way to describe this recipe than having lovely layers of complex, fantastic flavors.


Edgy parmesan gives dimension to a pile of sweet, deeply caramelized onions scented with fresh thyme, creamy goat cheese is balanced with slabs of fresh tomato that become juicy and intense during baking, and ribbons of basil give the whole thing a bright finish. If you can think of a more heavenly combination, save for bittersweet chocolate and salted caramel, then please report to me.

If you’re not having girlfriends over for lunch anytime soon, these tarts would also make for an excellent light supper (call them fancy pizzas instead of tarts and they become more like dude food) or a perfect first course for a dinner party. However you serve them, just remember the bit about lots of white wine on the side—in all cases, it’s the right thing to do.



Tomato, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tarts
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

Use whatever tomatoes look good in the market–I used a fun smaller variety from a local farm and put a few slices on each tart, but if you can only find big Beefsteak-type tomatoes, just put one thick slice on each tart.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions, about 2 large
3 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 package (17.3 ounces) puff pastry sheets, thawed but still cold
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces goat cheese, plain or herbed
1 large tomato, cut into 4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices
3 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves

Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are limp and the skillet is nearly dry. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned.

Unfold each sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it lightly to an 11-by-11-inch square. Using a six-inch-wide saucer as a guide, cut 2 circles from each sheet of puff pastry, discarding the scraps. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry.

Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, score a circle 1/2 inch inside the edge of each pastry–be careful not to cut all the way through. Prick the pastries all over with the tines of a fork and place them on the sheet pan. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the grated Parmesan on each round, staying inside the scored border.

Place 1/4 of the onion mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edges. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the onions. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart (or several if using smaller tomatoes, see note). Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil ribbons, salt, and pepper. Scatter the remaining grated Parmesan over each tart. If the pastry has warmed up significantly during assembly, chill the tarts for 15 minutes in the refrigerator before baking. At this point, you can also wrap the sheet pan in plastic wrap and chill the tarts until you’re ready to bake.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm.

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