Well, hello! You’ll never guess what I’ve been up to over the past couple weeks. Okay, I’ll just tell you. That baby boy? The Inside Baby that was making me huger and more miserable by the minute? He finally decided to make his entrance into this crazy world two weeks ago and it turns out he’s been making up for giving me a massive ongoing case of heartburn for the past nine months and a myriad of other aches and pains by being an absolute Superstar Outside Baby. Nursing well, even sleeping well, he is the stuff of newborn dreams, I’m telling you. I will be sure to share more stories and photos as the weeks go on and we get into a groove around here.
But in the meantime, I wanted to take a quick minute to share some tips with you about a recipe from Pure Vanilla. Turns out, at the exact moment Sir Baby was making his entrance, the fabulous folks at USA Weekend published a lovely piece on the cookbook and the recipe for Creamy Vanilla Rice Pudding. And as a bit of press in a national publication is wont to do, it’s garnered some attention and filled my inbox with e-mails from enthusiastic home cooks: some raves about the recipe (thank you, I love you, too!), some polite questions about substitutions and technique (many thanks to you, too, for wording your thoughts so nicely), and, of course, a couple standout notes from a few people for whom the world has seemingly ended due to their pudding not setting (oh, Internet, you vex me so).
At any rate, all the correspondence left me with me with a serious case of rice pudding on the brain (related: having a newborn also gives you a serious case of Rice Pudding Brain–coincidence?). So I gave into the craving and whipped up a batch the other day (you know, for quality control), and while working through the recipe, I realized that to the inexperienced, a traditional, eggless rice pudding recipe like the one in Pure Vanilla can be tricky to master, and we all know what I stickler I am for giving you clear, concise recipes that work. So in the interest of always being Your Kitchen Pal, I thought I’d lay out a few tips to lead you to rice pudding success, and point out a couple things that are listed in the recipe, but might benefit from further emphasis or clarification.
Psst. Over here! Hi! Peeking out from behind the curtain of Thanksgiving weekend! Is it time yet? Can we all start baking like deranged, totally inspired people?
I seriously hope so. We’ve been holding out too long, my fellow kitchen elves. I have so many recipes clipped and bookmarked, it’s ’bout to get crazy up in here. Let’s do this!
To kick things off, I thought I’d pull out a video from the archives that has me rattling off my baking pantry essentials. It’s basically a top 10 list of a bare bones bakers’ arsenal that will allow you to make pretty much whatever, whenever with craveworthy results (minus leaveners like baking powder and soda–now’s a good time to buy fresh boxes of both). Here’s the rundown:
1. All-purpose flour. Obvi.
2. Granulated sugar. The cornerstone of many a great baking recipe.
3. Cornstarch. The baker’s magic ingredient. See video for evidence.
4. Eggs. Large, please.
5. Unsalted butter. So you can control the salt in recipes. Also, because salt is a preservative, unsalted butter is most often fresher than its salted counterpart.
6. Salt. Table salt is just fine, fine sea salt is great. Flaky, coarse salt (like Maldon) is divine for finishing and adding crunch.
7. Dark brown sugar. Same price as light brown, major flavor points.
8. Vietnamese cinnamon. You’ll never go back to plain old ground cinnamon. Trust.
9. Pure vanilla extract. I keep two varieties: one basic, all-purpose supermarket vanilla, one fancy for vanilla-forward recipes.
10. Instant espresso powder. Bumps up chocolate flavor, big time.
Know what’s super fun? The influx of emails, tweets, comments, and Facebook messages I’ve received from folks working through the recipes in Marshmallow Madness! in recent weeks–lots of sweet stories and photos of fluffy, puffy successes that warm the cockles of my heart. ‘Tis the season for homemade mallow making and gifting!
But I’ve also gotten some requests for a few marshmallow-making tips and troubleshooting help for the recipes, which I also happen to love. Happy to help. For those new to mallowing, it is most certainly wacky, leaving plenty of room for self-doubt and simple mistakes. But don’t freak out! It’s just sugar! Everything will be okay. Keep in mind that the following tips refer specifically to recipes and techniques in MM, but some will cross over into any homemade marshmallow recipe you might try.
I totally get the glory of the drugstore candy aisle at this time of year. Trust me, friends, I do.
(The bag of Reese’s Pastel Eggs in my basket at Walgreens today proves my point.)
(Giant Reese’s Pieces, people, OMG GET SOME.)
But in spite of all the readily available, totally craveworthy store-bought candy that’s only available at Easter, there’s still room to blow minds and influence people with some seriously amazing homemade treats. And I can’t think of too many other things that will make people think you’ve really gone off the deep end and into a Sea of Martha quite like making your own marshmallow peeps. From scratch. I know!
Of course I had to address this very topic in Marshmallow Madness!, and recently I had the chance to shoot a few marshmallow-y how-to videos with the incredible folks at CHOW. Click the image above to check out our latest installment on making your own fluffy, puffy chicks and other mallow shapes, and get ready to let your crafty self run wild.
I want to understand you, Black Friday shopping people. Really, truly, I do. Perhaps its laziness, or my general fear of waiting in line, or the fact that I really just don’t like a whole lot of people up in my personal space. But there is nothing–NOTHING–about shopping over Thanksgiving weekend that appeals to me. The mere thought of navigating the Target parking lot right now makes me want to set up camp on the couch, swaddle myself in a blanket and cry a little. This is also why, despite the fact that we had a small family Thanksgiving this year–just the husband, Little C, and myself–I cooked for approximately 15 people. Because I am also afraid of leaving the house to go to the grocery store. I know! I got issues.
But Thanksgiving gives way to loads of holiday baking inspiration, and I’ve already begun pulling some recipes together for you, totally perfect for this year’s holiday cookie tins. I was all vintage-aproned and fa-la-la-la-la! this morning, until–insert record needle scratch here–I realized I was out of brown sugar. In my world, this is sort of like the dreams I’ve been having where I suddenly realize I’m eight months’ pregnant and I’ve been drinking heavily the entire time. Add to that my stance against heading to the grocery store this weekend, and it was time for some serious Kitchen MacGyvering.
Making your own brown sugar is dead simple, and about 1 zillion times more flavorful than the ready-made kind. And it just might save your whole day. Or at the very least, prevent another dreaded trip to the store.
Back when I was a newly obsessive baker (and making tacky Us Weekly-candid-celebrity-photo-influenced fashion choices), the cupcake boom was just starting. So like a lot of food bloggers, I was all up in the cupcake recipes. And I still do love a great cupcake—I sort of don’t trust people who turn their noses up at them or call them passé. But the big difference between my early baking days and now (aside from the fact that I’ve learned that having my bra straps peeking out from my tank tops is actually not cute AT ALL) is that I’ve grown to understand that cupcakes are quite a different animal from their big sister, the layer cake. Whether you find them irresistible or not, the cupcake is here to stay, friends. Embrace it! Here’s a few of my favorite tips for great cupcakes:
I tend to underbeat the batter just a touch less than I would for a layer cake during each stage of mixing. Because cupcakes are smaller, I love it when the cake is a tad denser, when they yield to the tooth ever-so-slightly when bitten into and hold their shape throughout eating. This is not to say as dense as a pound cake, but more compact than, say, a cake mix might produce. Incorporate some air into the butter and sugar, a bit more with the eggs, and of course scrape down your bowl occasionally to ensure everything is blending smoothly, but avoid overbeating at any stage. Beat as slow and as little as possible once the dry ingredients are added to avoid activating the gluten in the flour and toughening the cake.
When choosing a frosting, think about the balance of sweetness and texture. One should compliment the other! If you have a very sweet and/or dense cake, think about a lighter, less sweet frosting, and vice versa. Thinking about balancing the overall sweetness of the cupcake can also guide you in deciding how much frosting to put on each cupcake. Another awesome way to add textural interest to cupcakes is with decorative toppings. Usually we think of a smattering of sprinkles as a way to make the cute even cuter, but it goes beyond the visual effect. Coarse sanding sugars, jimmies and the like don’t just look pretty, they add a nice crunch that plays really well with a fluffy, creamy frosting.
When I first starting obsessively baking in earnest, I was living in a breezy little apartment four blocks from the beach in Santa Monica. Newly married and childless, I slept past 8:00 a.m. more often than not and baked at all hours since I wouldn’t be woken at the crack of dawn by tiny feet pattering on the floors. I also wore way too many tank tops with my bra straps peeking out and had a thing for aviator sunglasses that were too big for my face. So it wasn’t all rosy. But none of this is actually my point.
My point is that when I first started baking, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of salt when whipping up sweets. Now I know that salt is my best friend in the kitchen, the Gayle to my Oprah. Sometimes salt plays a crucial role in the chemistry of a recipe. In bread baking, salt controls yeast growth and has a strengthening effect on the gluten in the dough. In pastry-making, it helps cut the oily mouthfeel of buttery doughs and encourages browning.
But mostly, salt is about making things more delicious. It’s the key to waking up flavors, creating balance and making desserts totally crave-worthy, giving everything that little edge that makes you take one more bite. For someone with a serious sweet tooth, I seriously have the hots for salt. And I love it so much so that I have three kinds in the Piece of Cake kitchen at all times. As your friend, I suggest you consider doing the same. Of course, all of these salts pull double duty for savory recipes, too. Here are my salty essentials.
Fine Sea Salt. This is what I use in place of table salt in my recipes. Most recipes, unless they specify kosher salt or another type of salt, use your standard-issue table salt where salt is called for. I like fine sea salt because it has the same level of saltiness as table salt, but without the sort chemical-y tinniness that regular iodized table salt can have. It’s an overall cleaner flavor. It’s also great for baking because it’s fine-grained, so it will fall easily through a sifter with your dry ingredients and it dissolves easily. Love it.
Kosher Salt. I think this kind of salt has kind of become trendy in the home kitchen because all the chefs on food TV shows tend to use it. And I don’t know about you, but I love to pretend I’m a TV chef when I’m alone in the house. Sometimes I even talk to myself. But that is neither here nor there.
Kosher salt has long been an essential in professional kitchens. It has a coarser grain than your typical table salt, and it’s perfect for picking up a big pinch with your fingertips and really feeling how much salt you’re adding to your food. Like the aforementioned fine sea salt, it also has a fabulously clean, non-astringent salty flavor.
Something really important to remember about kosher salt is that not all brands are created equal. Morton kosher salt, for example, is made in such a way that it actually ends up denser and twice as salty as Diamond brand kosher salt. Diamond kosher salt is the gold standard of professionals, and is often the kind with which recipes calling for kosher salt are tested. To use Diamond kosher salt in place of table salt, roughly double the amount. For Morton, use the same amount as you would table salt. For baking, kosher salt is best in recipes where’s there’s a lot of liquid, so you can be sure the large grains will dissolve.
Fleur de Sel. Another salty buzzword as of late, this is basically a fancy French way of saying “sea salt” (literally translated as “flower of salt”–ooh la la). Like so many things food-related, the French do this one just un petit peu better than the rest of us. Fleur de Sel is typically hand-harvested, skimmed off the surface of bodies of salt water. It’s a flaky, large-grained salt that has the most beautifully clean and complex salty flavor, an extra-special level above kosher salt. This is the kind of salt you’ll find in specialty shops in nifty little containers. It begs for special occasions. This isn’t the kind of salt you toss by the handful into pasta water, people. It’s the glamorous sort of finishing salt you see sprinkled on things like sea salt caramels and other high-end confections. It adds saltiness, visual appeal and a tiny bit of crunch. It makes you feel fancy. So dreamy, and the final essential in my kitchen’s salty trifecta.
sites i love
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.