Dec 10, 2009

Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake

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Now really, people, how many baked goods can you honestly think of that can’t be improved upon by adding chocolate? Let’s do this.


If the jaunty name alone doesn’t get you fitting your stand mixer with the whip attachment right this second, then surely the mere concept of something called Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake will get you on board. A heavenly, tender angel food cake taken to the next level with miniscule shards of unsweetened chocolate is sheer brilliance, I tell you. Although, to be totally honest, I didn’t get the use of unsweetened chocolate at first. Why not bitterweet?, I mused aloud, as nearly all my musings are lately, often with unnecessary animated hand gestures, because I spend all my days with a tiny person clinging to my jeans. At first, I was doubtful of this unsweetened chocolate thing. Reeeeaaalll doubtful.


You should know that few things are etched in my memory like the time I was knee-high to a cricket and excitedly came across a huge bar of chocolate in a kitchen cabinet. I very quietly broke off a gigantic chunk of it before putting the rest back neatly in its place and creeping to the privacy of my bedroom to devour my find, only to discover that it tasted a whole lot like shoe polish or something equally as acrid and horrible. Coughing and choking and pawing the offending matter off my tongue with a Barbie dress, I thought surely it was a setup to deter young children like myself from stealing unauthorized chocolate. And that’s how I met unsweetened chocolate. So I was skeptical of this recipe. Would it be sort of awful or really awful or just plain weird? But I pressed on. I am quite the warrior these days, you know.


As it turns out, Rose Levy Berenbaum, she of all things genius in the baking world, was right. Again. Naturally. After tasting this cake, I slapped myself for ever doubting her. The unsweetened chocolate makes complete and total sense here. By nature, an angel food cake is a sweet, sweet thing, since it pretty much is just sugar, egg whites, air and a bit of cake flour. And an absolute thing of beauty. On a side note, I could make angel food cakes all day long and never tire of the etheral quality of the whole thing. The billowing meringue and gentle folding of the soft, weightless batter over itself in a quiet kitchen…sigh…it’s totally hypnotic. Om…..

So what was I saying? Oh, yes. Rose Levy Berenbaum is super smart again and angel food cakes are super sweet. And because of the high sugar content of an angel food cake, any sweetened chocolate, even a bittersweet one, would push the whole thing into cloyingly sweet territory. The bitter and sweet balance here is what makes this cake so incredibly craveworthy. And the addition of chocolate to the batter gives just the right amount of oomph to a cake that can so often be overlooked because it’s so light and neutral in flavor.

It’s the perfect dessert for this bridge time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You’ll find yourself passing it on your way through the kitchen and devouring half of it yourself in no time flat, via the “oh, I’ll just have a sliver” method. And don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. I can’t be the only one that keeps a crumb-covered knife in my cake dome.


But if you can manage to share this cake with others, it would be an awesome end to a fancier dinner party with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder. And with the beautiful way the finely grated chocolate is woven throughout the batter and how well this cake keeps, I could see making this recipe several times over and giving the cakes away as holiday gifts, wrapped in cellophane with a kicky little ribbon. But perhaps warn the recipient to keep the cake away from small children who might steal away to their bedrooms and eat the whole dang thing.




Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake

Adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Rose’s Heavenly Cakes

Use a good quality unsweetened chocolate here–lesser quality unsweetened baking chocolates are horribly waxy and fake-tasting. If you don’t have superfine sugar, just take regular granulated sugar for a spin in your food processor or clean coffee grinder (my preference). A box grater is the best tool for grating the chocolate and not getting it all over your kitchen. This cake doesn’t hold up well to sauces, but a nice dollop of unsweetened whipped cream is a perfect compliment.

Makes 1 10-inch cake, serving 8-12

1 1/2 cups superfine sugar, divided
3/4 cup cake flour, lightly spooned and leveled
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups egg whites, at room temperature (about 16 large egg whites)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 ounces fine-quality unsweetened or 99% cacao chocolate, finely grated and chilled

Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a 10-inch angel food cake pan. Also have an empty wine bottle or similar vessel at the ready for inverting the cake during the cooling process–you want the pan to be high above the countertop so air can circulate all around it as it cools.

In a small bowl, whisk together half the sugar, the flour, and salt until evenly combined. Sift the remaining sugar onto a piece of foil or parchment to make it easy to pour it into the batter.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Beat the egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Stop the mixer and add the cream of tartar. Beat at medium-high speed until the egg whites reach the soft peak stage. With the mixer running, slowly rain in the other half of the sugar and beat until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Beat in the vanilla.

Sift the flour mixture over the egg whites, about 1/4 cup at a time, gently folding in the dry ingredients after each addition, a few flour streaks may remain and that’s okay. Sprinkle in the grated chocolate and gently fold it in, until the batter is evenly speckled with chocolate (don’t forget to get all the way to the bottom of the bowl when folding–there is a lot of batter here!).

Spread a thin layer of the batter all along the sides of the pan, up to about half an inch from the top, so that the sides of the cake will be smooth. Scrape the rest of the batter into the pan, and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a wooden cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs (a metal tester will come out clean). The surface will have several deep cracks. Invert the cake onto the bottle and let it cool completely. Loosen the sides and center of the cake with a thin spatula. Unmold the cake and let rest until the top of the cake is no longer tacky, about one hour. Store the cake at room temperature in a cake dome or airtight container for up to three days, or up to ten days in the refrigerator.

Dec 8, 2009

Simple Rolled, Iced Sugar Cookies

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I love hearing little bits about people’s holiday traditions, don’t you? Whether it’s donning gaudy sweaters or midnight Mass or a certain brunch casserole, it seems like everybody’s got their something that makes them breathe deep and say to themselves, Okay, now it’s the holidays. For me, that’s baking up a batch of Heirloom Sugar Cookies. They just taste like Christmas to me. And I know I’m not the only one getting the sugar cookie itch this time of year. When I asked you to tell me about your favorite holiday cookies, the humble cut-out sugar cookie, decorated with icing and colored sugars, popped up again and again. It’s the kind of thing that everyone can agree on during the holidays–even those with pudgy, impatient little hands.


Though my Heirloom Sugar Cookies can be rolled out and cut for decorating with a little extra doing, I usually don’t gild the lily–buttery and delicate, they’re perfect just flattened into rounds and unadorned. But this time of year, everyone needs a sturdy sugar cookie recipe that is designed for rolling and cutting and rerolling and cutting some more, something that bakes up flat and crisp, a perfect canvas for frosting and glittery decors. You know, the kind of cookie you can play with, like a totally delicious, edible craft project. Perfect for gifting and impromptu holiday cookie parties of all sorts. If you’re feeling especially crafty, you could even make them into ornaments. Really!


Now, in my pre-toddler-rearing heyday, I could spend hours crouched over sheets of cut-out cookies with a piping bag, surrounded by little bowls of royal icing in a bunch of carefully blended colors, like some kind of deranged Martha disciple. And trust me, if I could dislodge this tiny person from the leg of my jeans, I would still be perfectly happy doing just that. But that sort of fanciful celebration of frosting is just not likely to materialize during this holiday season. Sad face.

However. I will be baking festively-shaped cookies no matter what in the name of holiday spirit, dammit! And baking sugar cookie cut-outs and not decorating them at all would be sick and wrong and just basically depressing. So instead of dealing with gel food coloring and a bunch of piping bag hysteria, I opted to go the elegant-and-sophisticated-by-way-of-doing-half-the-work route. And nothing looks more slick and elegant on a cookie than royal icing, which whips up in less than five minutes if you can get your hands on a package of endlessly useful meringue powder, which I recommend you do as soon as humanly possible. I love this stuff.


Just flood the surfaces of the cookies with plain white royal icing, wiping the edges of the cookies clean of any wayward icing as you go, and generously coat them with white jimmies, sanding sugar, or, like I did with my snowflake cookies (that doubled as Stars of David depending on which way you looked at them, two concepts in one!) a nice coating of sweetened flaked coconut that made them look extra snowy and added a nice flavor punch.


Wrapped in a big cellophane bag with a nice silver bow, these white-on-white iced cookies would make a perfect hostess gift–the kind of thing that people charge exorbitant amounts of money for and make the recipient ooh and ahh over your thoughtful generosity. Now that’s some holiday magic for you.


Simple Rolled, Iced Sugar Cookies

Working with the dough one half at a time will make it easier to keep the dough cool, making it easier to roll and cut clean shapes. The meringue powder for the icing can usually be found in gourmet groceries, kitchenware and craft stores. This icing recipe will make an icing that can be spread cleanly over the entire surface of a cookie; to make it thick enough to pipe, leave out the additional teaspoon of water.

Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on size

For the cookies:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the royal icing:

1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoons meringue powder (see note)
1/4 teaspoon clear vanilla extract (optional)
Various sanding sugars, jimmies, etc. for decorating

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light in color, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and almond extract. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl again. With the mixer on low speed, stir in the dry ingredients until the dough it smooth–it will be soft. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and pat it into a disc. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

When you’re ready to bake, position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly dust a work surface and a rolling pin with confectioners’ sugar or flour. Divide the dough in half (leaving one half covered in the refrigerator) and working with one half of the dough at a time, roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes with cutters and place them on the prepared baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time, rotating the sheet halfway through baking time, until the cookies just begin to turn golden on the edges, about 10-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for two minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cookies are cooling, prepare the icing. Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons water, meringue powder and vanilla, if using, until smooth. Beat on medium speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Stir in the additional teaspoon of water–the icing should be thick enough to be controlled, but still thin enough to spread cleanly across the surface of a cookie without leaving a track when spread. If necessary, add a bit more water to thin the icing.

When the cookies are completely cool, ice them with the royal icing and decorate as desired. Set the iced cookies on a wire rack to allow the icing to dry completely before storing in an airtight container.

Dec 4, 2009

Mrs. Braun’s Oatmeal Cookies

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While I’m pretty much always a sucker for a great heirloom recipe, this time of year really gets me into the spirit of seeking out recipes that have soul. The more hands that have passed over a recipe, the better. When I got to talking to my Gramma about some of her favorite recipes this past summer, the first one to come up was for an oatmeal cookie that was apparently so phenomenal, it sounded like it could cure all ailments. When her packet of handwritten recipe cards arrived in my mailbox a few weeks later, I was so manically happy to see that a card for Mrs. Braun’s Oatmeal Cookies had made it into the envelope. I turned out a batch just a few days later, and lo, they lived up the hype.


Now, there’s not a whole lot to hate on with oatmeal cookies in general. Butter, brown sugar, nubbly with earthy oats–who can’t get on board with that? Communists, that’s who. But this recipe does the norm one better–the addition of sweet, plump golden raisins and chopped walnuts that offer up their distinct flavor yet somehow nearly disappear into the tweedy depths of a richly caramel-flavored oatmeal cookie base.


I thought it so interesting that this recipe called for golden raisins. I mean, I can’t even remember the last time I bought a box of these things, if ever. The flavor of a golden raisin is so much more delicate than that if its winey black raisin counterpart. Plus, I find them to be plumper and more moist, which could be a reason for the cookie turning out so wonderfully moist and chewy–more of the liquid in the recipe goes to hydrating the dry ingredients and isn’t robbed by drier dark raisins. Just a theory here, but it works for me. If Mrs. Braun (pronounced brown) was still alive, I might ask her what she thought. But then, from what I’ve heard about Mrs. Braun, the mother-in-law of one of my Gramma’s friends, these oatmeal cookies were one of the more likeable things about her. So maybe I’d keep my questions to myself.


Another thing that I don’t usually use in cookie recipes makes an appearance here–shortening. Shudder. But alas, it does have its place in baking and it does turn out consistently chewy cookies. So I couldn’t shun it altogether. But I did tinker with the recipe a bit (please don’t come haunt me for this, Mrs. Braun) so it would cut back on the skeevy shortening and include some butter, the flavor of which is just unbeatable. I should note that for half a minute I contemplated buying butter-flavored shortening, but then I thought it might just be gateway fat into even scarier fat purchases–what would be next for me? Lard? Oleo? A very slippery slope, I’d say (pun absolutely intended).


Happily, the half butter-half shortening combination worked beautifully. These cookies came out moist and chewy with beautifully crisp edges and an almost lacy landscape, and kept fabulously on the counter. For the the two days they stuck around.


Mrs. Braun’s Oatmeal Cookies

The unbaked dough freezes beautifully–just scoop the portions onto a sheet pan, freeze until solid, and toss the frozen dough balls into a big ziptop bag. Bake them straight out of the freezer for just a minute or two more than usual. Pack as many golden raisins and walnuts as you like into these cookies–the amounts are just a suggestion.

Makes about 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups old-fashioned or rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Generous 3/4 cup golden raisins
Generous 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk in the oats and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the shortening, butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients until almost fully incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts until the batter is well-blended.

Drop the batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake one sheet
at a time, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the cookies are nicely browned, about 10-12 minutes. Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Nov 30, 2009

Tartine’s Pumpkin Pie

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What a weekend, people! I am still reeling over my 27:11 finish in my first 5k race yesterday (Top 10 in my age group?! Who am I?). Our Thanksgiving Day was fantastic–Baby C discovered the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV and spent the better part of the morning stomping her feet, kicking and clapping her hands after seeing the Rockettes perform for the first time. I spent the morning going for a long run and then cooking and baking our contributions to the fabulous holiday meal we had with old friends later in the day. Both dishes we brought with us were borrowed/stolen from the cookbooks of two of my favorite places in San Francisco–the unbelievably dreamy buttermilk mashed potatoes from Zuni Cafe (oh mah gah, make these at your earliest convenience, please and thank you), and the brandy-spiked Pumpkin Pie from Tartine Bakery.



In the Piece of Cake Recipe Box, you’ll also find a recipe for a Pumpkin Tart, which I made a few Thanksgivings ago and it’s also a completely fabulous addition to any holiday menu. But really, this latest pumpkin pie recipe couldn’t be more different from the tart. I remember falling in love with the first pumpkin tart because it changed my mind about the concept of pumpkin pie–it had the most mellow pumpkin flavor and was delightfully sweet and I still have a soft spot for that tart. But lately I’ve been drawn to less sweet desserts, and Tartine’s recipe for pumpkin pie fits the bill–the earthy flavor of pumpkin is front and center here, with a lovely undercurrent of gentle spices, the barest sprinkle of brown sugar, a glug of brandy adding sparkle, and a healthy amount of heavy cream to round it all out. This is The Full Monty of pumpkin pies–more about true pumpkin flavor, lush and full, than it is about a candied or caramelized filling.


A word about pie crust here. I love making pie crust, really I do. I know it comes together in a snap with less than five ingredients and there’s really nothing difficult about it, per se. But even the snappiest processes become laborious when you have a tiny person hanging onto your jeans. And since our Thanksgiving plans came together sort of last minute, I didn’t have extra time to plan ahead. So a store-bought crust was my friend on this day. I find most store brands to be waxy and heavy in the mouth and basically vile, mostly due to a whole lot of creepy ingredients. But there is a brand called The French Picnic that’s a perfectly lovely, all-butter crust that comes out nice and flaky and saves the day when you just don’t have the time or desire to make a scratch crust and so I totally recommend it.


On this day, however, even a store-bought crust couldn’t quell my manic state. I didn’t pay attention to how much the dough had warmed up before it went into the oven to prebake, so my awesome crimping job pretty much disappeared in the oven, but the filling more than made up for the amateurish-looking crust, and let’s face it–anything can be saved with a healthy blob of freshly whipped cream. With a hot cup of coffee, a slice of this pumpkin pie was a great little button on an All-American Thanksgiving feast, satisfying the sweet tooth just so without pushing anyone into rolling-on-the-floor with gluttony territory. Baby C gave it a solid endorsement by eating half a slice in short order, and I gave thanks that the child finally ate a serving of fruit that day.



Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from Tartine

For the crust, use any pie crust you like, homemade or store bought, and consult the source for how to partially bake the crust (you want it to look dry and pale, but not browned, with no dense or opaque areas). For a good store-bought crust, I recommend The French Picnic, which can be found at places like Whole Foods and gourmet grocery stores. Make sure the pie shell is well-chilled before going into the oven for prebaking. The sugar in the recipe can be adjusted for your sweet tooth with no effect on the setting of the filling.

Serves 8-10

1 10-inch, single-crust pie shell, partially baked and cooled
2 cups pure pumpkin puree
3 large whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/4 teaspoon regular ground)
1/8 teaspoon ground white or black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Position an oven rack the center position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, eggs, egg yolk, cream and brandy until well-blended. In a small bowl, combine the borwn sugar and spices. Whisk the spiced sugar into the pumpkin mixture.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake until the filling is set but wobbles ever so slightly in the very center when jiggled, about 60-75 minutes (the filling will set further as it cools). Let the pie cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with lots of freshly whipped cream. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Nov 25, 2009

Nubbly Bran Muffins with Golden Raisins and Cranberries

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So I suppose I really should be posting about something indisputably festive today, like the jazzy, brandy-spiked pumpkin pie recipe from Tartine that we’ll be devouring tomorrow. But well…I’m not. At least not yet. With so many drool-worthy blog posts out there all decked out in Thanksgiving finery, I feel like a total buzzkill sharing a recipe for bran muffins with you on Thanksgiving Eve. I mean, if you think about it, even the phrase bran muffins sounds a little like that sad little trumpet noise that sounds when something falls flat in a slapstick comedy scene. Wuhn-wuhhhhnnnn. Right?! But I assure you, dear readers, that this particular bran muffin recipe is anything but wan, and in fact it may be just the thing for the mornings surrounding Thanksgiving, when you need a little jolt of nutrition to help you prepare for, or recover from, the feeding frenzy.


These muffins made their way into my repertoire recently because I’d been on the hunt for something delicious and hearty and infinitely portable. Something that would indeed break the fast first thing in the morning with my beloved coffee, but not leave me too stuffed. And the reason I was searching for such a breakfast item is because I have officially gone off the deep end and am in the midst of training for my first half marathon which, if all goes as planned, I will be running the first week of February. This is all true. And in the spirit of giving, I should let you know that you may be getting more information about this in coming weeks than you really want.


Anyway, now that that completely insane proclamation has been made, let’s get back to the muffins, shall we? It’s no secret that bran muffins run the gamut of taste and texture. Which is to say that they can have a very bad taste and texture not unlike that of a corrugated cardboard box, and they can also be found with such a great taste and texture that surely they must contain very little of the healthful ingredient after which they are named, in addition to so much additional fat and sugar that you may as well just go for the cherry cheese Danish, for crying out loud.


This bran muffin recipe strikes a nice balance, more or less a metaphor for how I like to approach my diet in everyday life. Lots of good fiber in the form of bran cereal and whole wheat flour, and a fat gram count made quite moderate by a good amount of plain yogurt in the mix instead of just lots of oil or somesuch. On the other hand, there is a (relatively) small amount of white flour and butter in the batter that ensure good flavor and texture.


Add in a nice studding of cheery bits of golden raisins and dried cranberries that peek out like little jewels among the nubbly tops, and you’ve got yourself some morning fuel that’s fit for preparing for any kind of marathon. Whether that marathon involves running or the sport of eating.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Nubbly Bran Muffins with Golden Raisins and Cranberries
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Swap out the dried fruits for anything that you like–currants, dark raisins, dried cherries and apricots would all be good here. For the cereal, you want to get for Kellogg’s All-Bran, and look for the “Original” variety that looks like twigs, not the bran buds. You can substitute lowfat or nonfat yogurt for the whole milk, though the muffins won’t be quite as flavorful.

Makes 12 muffins

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon water
2 1/4 cups All-Bran Original cereal
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large whole egg
1 large egg yolk
2/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalte butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 cups plain whole milk yogurt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or lightly grease the tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the raisins, cranberries and teaspoon of water in a small microwave-safe dish. Cover with plastic wrap and cut a steam vent in the plastic. Microwave on high for 45 seconds, and then let the bowl stand, covered, until the dried fruit is plump and softened, about 5 minutes. If necessary, blot off any extra water with a paper towel.

Process only half of the cereal in a food processor until very finely ground, about one minute, and set aside.

Whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt in a large bowl, and set these aside as well.

Whisk together the egg, egg yolk, brown sugar, maple syrup and vanilla until well-blended. Whisk in the melted butter to combine. Stir in the processed and unprocessed cereal, and let the mixture sit until the cereal is evenly moistened, about 5 minutes (it will be lumpy).

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold gently to blend–do not overmix. Fold in the raisins and cranberries. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan using a standard ice cream scoop, leaving the batter in rounded mounds (this will make for prettier muffins).

Bake until the muffins are deeply golden and a toothpick inserted into one of the center muffins comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes more before serving. Store completely cooled muffins at room temperature in an airtight container for up to two days.

Nov 20, 2009

Thanksgiving Ideas and Giveaway Winner!

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Oh, you guys. You know, I was genuinely curious to hear about your favorite holiday cookies when I threw the question out there for the cookie cutter giveaway. But I’ve gotta say, I never expected to have all your answers get me so excited for the holidays. I absolutely loved reading all your responses and will be thinking about all the great inspiration you’ve given me as I start planning this year’s cookie tins. A big hooray! goes to the randomly selected winner of the Ann Clark holiday cookie cutter gift set…

Lisa, who said “My favorite holiday cookie is the sugar cookie.”

Simple and to the point, Lisa. I like it! Contact me at pieceofcakedesserts (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address so I can send the set your way. And also so we’ll all know where to go and greedily expect lots of adorably decorated sugar cookies.

After hearing about so many of your favorite holiday treats and so many stories that go along with them, I know you’re not dealing with a shortage of good ideas as we head into the holiday baking season. But because I want to return the favor of all your holiday baking inspiration and because I’m a Type-A list-maker, here are some suggestions for a great Thanksgiving dessert table from the Piece of Cake kitchen. Enjoy!

Chewy Apple-Oat Bars with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. An apple pie-oatmeal cookie-cheesecake hybrid. If you have a problem with that combination, there’s something wrong with your soul.

Caramel Crumb Bars. Because nothing says holiday eating like butter, butter, butter and sugar in various forms.

Cheese Cake from Denmark. Made with firm-ripe Bosc pears or sweet, crisp apples like Fujis or Honeycrisps, this is like no other cheesecake you’ve ever had before.

Apple Cider Pudding Cake. An easy and unusual recipe that results in a tender, moist apple-studded cake that creates its own dessert sauce, with a layer of pebbly streusel on top.

Plum Crumble Tart. This tart screams fall. Easy and so pretty. Make it your own by swapping out the plums with other firm-ripe fruits and adding different spices.

Lemon Bars. One of my personal favorites. Light, sweet-tart, and completely refreshing. The perfect button on a big, elaborate meal.

Espresso Brownies. The only recipe from the Piece of Cake kitchen that has a mix involved, and I wholeheartedly endorse it. With a few extra pieces of flair, the chocolate lovers in your holiday crowd will think they were made from scratch, and your sanity will be saved with this quick and simple but totally decadent recipe.

Pumpkin Tart. Because it’s Thanksgiving, for crying out loud!

Nov 14, 2009

Maple-Pecan Shortbread

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To continue our conversation about flavors that spark debate, I don’t think I’m way off base to add maple to the list, am I? For example, I implore you to show me the person who goes painstakingly pricking the bottom of each chocolate in an assorted box in a mad search for the maple-filled one (oh, don’t tell me you haven’t done the same seeking out a vanilla buttercream or caramel). Of course, I do think there are occasions where the deep, distinct flavor of maple can really shine, beyond the weekend breakfast table. And there’s no better time than November (ahem, right now) to incorporate some maple into your life, like in some buttery, crunchy Maple-Pecan Shortbread Cookies.

This recipe takes the familiar shortbread and gives it a little something special. Well, really two somethings–a studding of earthy pecans and the rich flavor of real maple syrup. That pancake syrup that’s been rolling around in your refrigerator door won’t do the trick here. You want the real deal, dark amber maple syrup. The grade you choose depends on how much maple flavor you want. I wanted just a hint, so I went with Grade A, but Grade B or C would be great for the real maple lovers out there.


I was inspired to do a maple cookie recipe not specifically because of some insane hankering for maple, but because I was dying for a logical reason to try out some of the coo-worthy cookie cutters that arrived on my doorstep last week. The upholder of Americana that is Ann Clark Ltd. got in touch with me recently, and really, I can’t think of a more adorable family business than hand-crafted cookie cutters that come from Vermont. As I type this, I’m just now realizing the maple-Vermont connection. Interesting that I chose to try out their maple leaf cutter first. Huh! How about that. Further evidence that raising a toddler causes you to operate subconsciously about 75% of the time.


Anyway, shortbread cookies of all sorts are the just the thing for this time of year. Simple to make with ingredients you probably have on hand right this very minute, and the perfect accompaniment to that afternoon mug of tea or coffee that keeps you pushing through the day, even when the day is seemingly turning to night at, like, 3:00 in the afternoon. Also, we’re not fully in holiday baking season just yet, so it might be nice to have a quick little baking project that doesn’t involve the all the production of the more intricate holiday cookie recipes that will be taking over our kitchens before we know it. And in honor of said holiday cookie extravaganzas, the good people from Ann Clark have sent me an adorable Holiday Cookie Cutter gift set to giveaway to one lovely reader! Hooray!


The set includes five big cutters–a star, a snowflake, a Christmas tree, a snowman and a reindeer. That’s a whole lot of cute holiday cookie-making going on!

All you have to do to enter to win is to leave a comment answering this question:

What’s your favorite holiday cookie?

**Contest has ended!**

Comments for the contest will be closed on Thursday, November 19th at 8:00 pm PST. Winner will be chosen at random and announced this Friday, November 20th. Good luck!


Maple-Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

To add some extra maple kick to this recipe, use 1/4 teaspoon maple extract in place of the vanilla, and use some maple sugar flakes (found at natural foods stores) instead of turbinado sugar for sprinkling on the cookies (with more ground pecans) before baking. To simplify the cutting process, shape the dough into two logs (each about 8-9 inches long) instead of a disc, before refrigerating. Slice the logs into rounds about 1/4 inch thick before brushing with the egg and sprinkling on the pecans and sugar mixture.

Makes about 2-3 dozen, depending on size

1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw), for sprinkling
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Begin by finely chopping the pecans in a food processor. Scoop out 1 cup of chopped pecans and place them in a large bowl. Give the remaining 1/2 cup pecans a few extra pulses to grind them even finer. Place these very finely chopped pecans into a small bowl and mix in the turbinado sugar with your fingertips to combine. Set aside.

Into the large bowl with the 1 cup of chopped pecans, sift together the flours and salt and whisk all to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed. Beat in the maple syrup and egg yolk and vanilla until well-blended. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, stopping when the dough just begins to come together and clear the sides of the bowl–better to undermix than overmix here. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, kneading once or twice if necessary to ensure there are no dry pockets and the dough is evenly mixed. Shape into a disc (or logs for slice-and-bake cookies–see note) and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 1/2 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and lightly flour a rolling pin. Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thick, and cut into desired shapes, gathering the scraps and rerolling as necessary until nearly all the dough is cut (see note for slice-and-bake cookies). Place the cookies on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush the cookies lightly with the beaten egg and sprinkle generously with the pecan sugar. Bake until lightly golden on the edges and bottoms of the cookies, lifting one slightly to check underneath for doneness, about 12-15 minutes. Rotate the sheets halfway through baking. Cool on the baking sheets for a minute or two before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.

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