I’ve been having trouble keeping up with this blog. I write a second blog all about my traveling adventures, which feels more natural…easier. I’ve fallen behind in that one too, between my new job and few travel opportunities lately…well…but here it is, if you’re interested: Gypsy Feet
Anyway, J told me that my voice is different in that one. More conversational, less technical, more me. I guess that makes sense. I started that blog when I moved to Europe to share my stories with friends and family. As I write, I always imagine them as my audience. I’ve been back in the States for years now, but I still travel and share my pictures and stories. I never thought of that blog as a travel guide, though I do try to name restaurants and hotels I’ve liked so I can reference for myself on return trips. No, that blog is to share moments and memories.
When I first started writing this blog, I was trying to be more scientific. Having been inspired by some of my favorite baking blogs like Smitten Kitchen, Baking Bites, and a local bakery, One Girl Cookies who always share so generously and from whom I have taken many terrific recipes, I wanted to give back and share some of the great recipes I’d found, as well as some of my disasters! I was journaling for myself, as well as for others who might want to experiment with baking. But I think the science took over, the blog stopped being fun, and even though I’m still baking and photographing it, I haven’t been writing about it. All that is to say that I want to write more, and since I’m not traveling, I’m back at baking today. Below are some pictures of the treats I made this Christmas. Other pics and stories since my last posts will follow, I hope.
chestnut bundt cake
This is one of the desserts I made for Christmas. I had bought a can of chestnut puree, having developed a love for sweet chestnut desserts in France two summers ago, but I had no idea what to do with it. I wanted crepes with marron, but that doesn’t transport well for a holiday function, so I scoured the internet in search of inspiration. This cake appealed to me because it was gluten free (although it did contain both sugar and dairy). I had never experimented with gluten free baking and I’d been thinking about it a lot lately. I find I’m quite conflicted about my desire to bake delicious flour and sugar laden treats and a growing concern with the health risks of gluten. J has recently been helping me research it all a bit and he discovered that the detrimental effects of gluten have increased in the past 50 years because the way wheat is produced has changed. That which makes things more efficient often makes them less healthy or tasty (tomatoes, roses, apples, to name a few). J also discovered that there is now heirloom flour available…I haven’t tried it yet, but it does add another layer of interesting to this conflict. Anyway, here is the recipe for the cake, which was easy, moist, and so delicious. (The only downside is that some of the ingredients are quite expensive–chestnut puree and almond flour. You can make both of these yourself, cheaper I’m sure, but I didn’t have the time. Subsequently, I found both items at a local ethnic grocery store for a better price.)
adapted from: Kate at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/334798
300g/10.5 oz. confectioner’s sugar
400g/14 oz. sweetened chestnut puree
200g/7 oz. butter
7 egg yolks
300g/ 10.5oz ground almonds
1 good pinch baking powder
Add carefully without overbeating:
7 stiffly beaten egg whites.
Pour into a greased and floured baking tin or bundt mold. Bake for 60-65 minutes at 350F/180C. Gently sift over some confectioner’s sugar just before serving. Enjoy!
This is obviously more Christmas baking. J’s family is so sweet, and they invited us to Christmas Eve dinner, AND did all the cooking. So, naturally, I offered to bring dessert. (It sounds altruistic, right? The truth is, I was thrilled at the chance to bake for more people and to try new recipes! Luckily, they are willing guinea pigs.) I tend to go overboard…I don’t make just one dessert; I make four. In addition to the chestnut bundt cake, we had rosemary currant biscotti, whoopie pies with both orange spice and peppermint filling, and ginger snaps. The biscotti has become my traditional Christmas cookie. It’s my one holiday nod to my heritage, since I tend to dislike most of the Italian Christmas cookies. (Other than pignoli cookies, I find most of them too dry and crumbly.) Even biscotti isn’t usually my thing, but rosemary, oh how I love rosemary. Any chance I get to use fresh herbs in anything, I jump all over…and fresh herbs in dessert…that’s heaven. Funny enough, the recipe came from Katie Lee Joel (yup, Billy Joel’s third now ex-wife). She said they gave these as favors at their wedding–rosemary was frequently carried in the bouquet in Italian weddings to symbolize fidelity. Though their marriage may not have worked, her recipe definitely does:
adapted from: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paulas-party/wedding-biscotti-recipe/index.html
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup dried currants
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and rosemary. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer and a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, incorporating each egg fully before adding the next. Add the vanilla. and gently stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in currants.
Cut dough in half and shape into 2 logs. They should be about a 12-inches long; and 1-inch thick.
Bake until just starting to brown at the edges, about 35 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets. While the biscotti logs are still warm, cut each log into 1/2-inch wide slices on the diagonal. Place the slices back on the baking sheet (using 2 baking sheets if necessary to fit all the slices). Bake for 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven. Turn the biscotti over and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, until the biscotti are crisp.
Let the biscotti cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet(s). Serve when cooled to room temperature, or store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
I have to confess, years ago, living a very different life, I used to watch a lot of tv. Specifically, I watched a lot of Food Network. Times have changed, but I still count on FN to provide some solid basic recipes and therefore, I still subscribe to their annual 12 Days of Cookies that is published via email each December. A couple of years ago one of those recipes was for Alton Brown’s ginger snaps. I didn’t used to like ginger. How can that be, you wonder? Well, I didn’t used to like a lot of things. Isn’t that some of the fun of growing up? We learn to like new things. (Sushi, beer, coffee, olives…well, I’m still working on that one…right now I’ll only eat the really crunchy, green, fruity kind that hasn’t been brined, but hey, it’s a start!) Anyway, I’d had a bad first experience with ginger, having gotten a chinese meal from a food court in the mall. (Don’t judge, I was in high school!) I ate a large, round piece of ginger, thinking it was a water chestnut. It was bad. Really bad. Stringy, chewy, and spicy. I was scarred. But, alas, many moons passed and I met J, who loves ginger. He eats it pickled with his sushi, crystallized for a sweet treat, drinks it in his tea. So, I started tasting again, slowly and cautiously. Turns out, J has good taste. I like it all, and thus, ginger snaps for Christmas. They are chewy and spicy, and taste like winter. This recipe makes a lot if you make the cookies on the small side, so I only bake off a dozen or so for my holiday platter and freeze the rest in pre-measured scoops. Then we can bake up a half dozen any time we want all winter long! Yum!
adapted from: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/ginger-snaps-recipe/index.html
9 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
7 ounces dark brown sugar
5 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
3 ounces molasses, by weight
1 large egg, room temperature
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
4 ounces finely chopped candied ginger
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cardamom, clove and salt.
Place the brown sugar and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the molasses, egg and fresh ginger and beat on medium for 1 minute. Add the crystallized ginger and using a rubber spatula, stir to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until well combined.
With a 2-teaspoon sized scoop, drop the dough onto a parchment lined half sheet pan approximately 2-inches apart. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 12 minutes for slightly chewy cookies or 15 minutes for more crisp cookies. Rotate the pan halfway through cooking.
Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to stay on the sheet pan for 30 seconds before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with all of the dough. Store in an airtight container for up 10 days. If desired, you may scoop and freeze the cookie dough on a sheet pan and once frozen, place in a resealable bag to store. Bake directly from the freezer as above.
And last, and possible my favorite items on the tray…whoopie pies! I LOVE whoopie pies. I’ve made a ton of them this year, having found several terrific recipes in my One Girl Cookies cookbook. Theirs are better than any others I’ve tried to bake. This time around, I got bold and started making some changes. I substituted some extra cocoa for some flour because I didn’t think the cookie was chocolatey enough to stand up to the filling last time. I used their recipe for peppermint buttercream filling, but I used less sugar. But, before I added the peppermint extract, I divided the frosting in half. One batch became peppermint, but the other, I decided to play with a bit. I added some orange extract and some winter spices: clove, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. I have to confess, I’m not a big fan of fruit and chocolate. (I don’t think fruit should masquerade as dessert.) But this was a nice, subtle touch of festive winter to cap off a holiday meal. Notice how tiny they are in the picture. I did that on purpose, making them about 1/3 of the usual size so that we could all taste a little of everything. No recipe to post here…that one would require typing two pages out of my cookbook. Sorry folks. But I promise, that’s a cookbook worth buying!
This is the grapefruit olive oil cake I made after Christmas. We’d had so many cloyingly sweet desserts between my baking and all of the holiday events and gifts, that I wanted something tart to balance it. So, naturally, I made more dessert…but this time I went for citrus. I had gotten the Smitten Kitchen cookbook for Christmas and was anxious to break in my new recipes. Grapefruit sounded like a fun and unusual way to start. I ended up using the recipe in the book, but the one below is an older version, taken from Deb’s website:
Grapefruit Yogurt Cake
Adapted loosely from Ina Garten
1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (230 grams) plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup (200 grams) plus 1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon grated grapefruit zest (approximately one large grapefruit)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
For the glaze:
1 cup (120 grams) confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, grapefruit zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup grapefruit juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.
When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the grapefruit-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.
For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and grapefruit juice and pour over the cake.
Here’s hoping this post inspires all of you, and me!