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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


A few exciting things:

First of all, I bought a food processor this weekend!  I guess this now means I need to make my own pie crust when I make pies from here on out.

Secondly, a few weeks ago I looked at my coffee table and realized that I had a growing stack of unread cooking magazines that I had picked up over the previous few weeks (Everyday with Rachael Ray, the Food Netowrk Magazine, Cooking Light, and Martha Stewart Living, to name a few).  I sat down with the magazines and started reading through them, punching web addresses that interested me into my web browser to look at later.  I was particularly looking for something to bake at that time and also for potential new cookie recipes to try out for the holidays.  I came across a story about something called finger limes and was intrigued.  These limes are skinnier (and appear much smaller) than regular limes, and are known for their pulp, which looks like caviar (and can range from green to pink-ish).  They are, according to the website, an Australian fruit that was recently imported to the United States.  I wanted to order the finger limes immediately, but didn't really have a use for them (other than an idea for margarita or key lime cupcakes) - and I couldn't justify ordering 25-35 finger limes for myself.  But at Thanksgiving dinner I mentioned the finger limes, and to my surprise, not only had my aunt heard of them, she was also interested in getting some.  So, with someone to share them with, I ordered them that night when I got home.  They haven't shipped yet, but I am anxiously awaiting their arrival!

I found this picture online (not on the website that I linked above) and I love that it shows the
shape of the pulp as well as the variations in color of the pulp
Lastly, I received an email from Bon Appetit today and another one from the kitchn (entitled "Homemade Gifts: Our 10 Best Sweet & Savory treats") earlier in the week with exciting new recipes for cookies, treats, and food gifts.  Then, I got a few more recipes from Martha Stewart from her favorite cookie swap recipes.  Twenty-nine recipes in all.  Plus a recipe for a gorgeous cake, but I'm not even including that.  Stay tuned for some of those recipes to make an appearance over the next few weeks...I'm pretty sure I'm going to have some of the happiest doormen in Manhattan come Christmas-time...

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Last weekend my friend asked me if I had ever made tiramisu before. Turns out its her favorite dessert (you learn something new every day!) and she wants to learn how to make it. The truth of the matter is that I have tasted tiramisu before - and enjoyed that bite or two - but I find it too rich and I'm done after those one or two bites.

Despite the fact that it's not my most favorite dessert, I decided that it would be a great idea to make it together.  First of all, happens to be that my mom loves tiramisu.  Secondly, I'm not one to shoot down a baking challenge!  So, we put a date on the calendar to make a tiramisu. We divided up the shopping list, and planned to meet at my apartment on the Sunday afternoon of Thanksgiving weekend to make a tiramisu.

Tiramisu is an Italian dessert made from mainly mascarpone cheese and ladyfingers, with some coffee flavored liquor and cocoa powder (and a few other ingredients). Although I seem to remember tiramisu having cinnamon in it, I looked up several recipes and none of them call for cinnamon.  My mom confirmed that there is, in fact, no cinnamon in tiramisu.  Silly me!

Since I usually bake alone, I was looking forward to the company in my (very small, although decent-sized by Manhattan standards) kitchen. I figured a bottle of wine - Italian, of course - would make the afternoon more fun, yet my presentation in two days is not done, so we skipped the bottle of wine and set out to make a tiramisu!

We used a tiramisu recipe I found online - one by Giada De Laurentiis from Food Network - without reading the reviews first (oops!).  We used a pan a bit smaller than the one the recipe called for and we still ran out of lady fingers.  We also used up the espresso-rum dipping mixture by the time the first layer of lady fingers had been dipped, but had all the ingredients on hand to make more of that mixture (but not enough lady fingers).

                                 Layering the lady fingers                 Covered in Chocolate Shavings


All in all, I think the tiramisu came out well.  In the future, I'd definitely make a double batch of the espresso-rum mixture, buy extra lady fingers (and not soak them in the mixture too long), and 1.5 times the cheese mixture.  Or just use a smaller pan.  But if any of you have a family recipe for tiramisu, I'd love it if you'd pass it along...

Cranberry bread

When I went to the grocery store a few days ago to pick up the ingredients for the pies for Thanksgiving (which were, by the way, a huge hit!), I grabbed a bag of fresh cranberries.  I didn't have a recipe in mind for them, but I figured I'd come up with something.  I remembered a cranberry bread that I had made a while ago, and decided that that was the perfect use for the bag of cranberries now sitting in my fridge.  The last time I made it, I made it as a large loaf, however tonight I decided to make mini loaves, because, well, anything miniature is just way cuter, right? 

I love how the tartness of the fresh cranberries is counteracted slightly by the sugar on top.  I don't have turbinado sugar (as the recipe calls for), so I used some cake decorating sugar for the sweetness and the crunch.  I also added about a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the dry mixture, because I love cinnamon.  There was one little problem - I had no milk in the fridge (well, I had one that was past it's expiration date, but smelled fine, but I didn't want to risk it), but I (surprisingly) had buttermilk in the fridge, so I used that instead.  The batter was a little too thick, so I added another splash of buttermilk (about 1/8 cup).

The batter yielded about 6 mini loaves in the mini loaf tin that I have.

I think the cinnamon (besides making my apartment smell fantastic) added a nice touch of flavor.  The cranberries were tart, as expected, but I don't think the buttermilk gave it any extra tartness.  That being said, I would still make it with milk in the future (I assume that the thickness of the batter is related to my using buttermilk and not regular milk).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving pies

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Despite my desire for a long holiday weekend like the rest of the world gets (or at least it appears to me that the rest of the world gets a 4-day weekend), it didn't happen.  Thus, I am forced to again repeat my dart-from-work-to-the-subway-to-the-train-to-my-aunt's-house-shove-Thanksgiving-dinner-in-my-face (though this year I get to avoid the rush-back-to-the-city-so-I-can-get-a-decent-night's-sleep-before-going-back-to-work-early-Friday-morning part of my) routine of Thanksgivings past...only this year the first half of that will be done while carrying two pies and trying to maneuver around Grand Central station while keeping said pies intact.

In my family, almost all the holidays are divided up between my mom, her sisters, and my grandmother. Thanksgiving has been - for as long as I can remember - my aunt's holiday.  This year I offered to bake the pies (in the past, one guest insisted on bringing pies from a bakery she thought made the best pies.  The rest of the guests disagreed.  But since she won't be there this year, I offered to bake).  The request for pies this year was simple - pumpkin and blueberry - although the biggest request was for homemade whipped cream.  To quote my aunt's email, she said "HOMEMADE whipped cream (with the emphasis on homemade)."  (An aside: for those of you whom have never made homemade whipped cream before, it is quite easy.  All you need is a kitchenaid, a hand mixer, or a whisk and some really good upper arm strength.  Oh, and the ingredients: cold whipping cream, sugar (to taste), and I like a few drops of vanilla extract.  Add ingredients to a bowl.  Whip until peaks form.  Congratulations, you've just made homemade whipped cream!).

But back to the pies, the request was for one pumpkin pie and one blueberry pie.  As I'm sure you can imagine, November is not blueberry season, especially in New York, so I had to adjust the pie by substituting frozen blueberries for the fresh ones the recipe called for.  (I did manage to find fresh blueberries, at $2.50 for 4 oz, but I had no idea if they'd be good or not, so I bought 2 containers to mix in with the frozen berries.)  I also wanted to make the crusts from scratch, but during my recipe search I came across a few recipes that called for a frozen pie crusts, so given the fact that my week leading up to Thanksgiving was swamped and I don't have a food processor (I know...surprising, right?  But Manhattan kitchens leave a lot to be desired in both storage space and counter space), I used frozen crusts for both pies.  If you have the time, counter space, and a food processor, here's a pie-crust-from-scratch recipe.

To be completely honest, I hate making something for the first time and bringing it to someone's home, having never tasted it before.  Brownies and cookies aren't that big of an issue, because I can taste one before I bring them, and no one will know (there will just be one fewer cookie/brownie on the platter).  Cakes, pies, and breads are a little different.  When making a cake, I'll sometimes make a mini cupcake with the batter to taste it without having to cut into the cake.  I'll bake a mini roll out of bread dough to see if it's tasty and if it rises well.  But, with the exception of baking a mini pie (and I don't have mini pie tins), I didn't know how to test the blueberry pie.  So I did the next best thing - I baked a blueberry pie on Monday night to test it out.  The flavor was great, but it seemed to take a little longer to set up than the recipe said.  Here's a picture of the "demo" pie, as I've been calling it:

I don't know if it was that ther recipe didn't call for enough corn starch, or if I made a mistake by not thawing and straining the frozen blueberries before folding them in, but 2 hours after I poured the filling into the crust, it was still quite runny.  I let the pie sit overnight, and the middle was just as runny as it was the night before (the edges set up a little more overnight).  So, I learned two lessons from this: (1) while it may be more work for me, doing a test run before bring my baked goods elsewhere (or serving them to others) is a good idea, and (2) when I make this pie for Thanksgiving, I now know what I need to do.  And in the mean time, I also have a great blueberry sauce for vanilla ice cream!  Tuesday night, I decided to try out my hypotheses, and made a second "demo" pie - I added an extra 1/2 tablespoon of corn starch to the water-corn starch mixture, and I also thawed and strained (most of) the frozen blueberries.  Lastly, I didn't fill crust with the entire mixture, and have some leftover filling (blueberry yogurt for breakfast?).  The second pie set up much better:

Though still a little runny, in this version, there is no soupy
puddle where the slice is missing, so that's a big improvement!

The Thanksgiving blueberry pie was even more of a success (thanks to my test runs on Monday and Tuesday).  I followed the pumkpin pie recipe although I did add some extra spices, as people on the website recommended.  I added an extra half teaspoon each of ground ginger and cinnamon, and added a splash of nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice.  I also needed to bake it for an extra 10 minutes.  I used deep dish pie crusts for both of the Thanksgiving pies, and this time I had extra filling for the pumpkin pie.

Now the pies are all baked and cooling, getting ready to be packed into - what I can only hope are sturdy-enough - boxes for their trek to Thanksgiving dinner.  Fingers crossed that they make it through a half-mile walk to the subway, the subway to work, two subway trains from work to Grand Central, the crazy hecticness of Grand Central on Thanksgiving, and the 50 minute train ride home! 

Here are the finished pies:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chocolate cake with mocha buttercream

Today is my grandfather's 85th birthday!  It should come as no surprise to you that I offered to bake a cake for the occasion. 

Earlier this year, in June, I baked a cake for my grandparent's 60th anniversary.  When talking to my mother and aunts about what to bake for that amazing milestone, I was told one thing: chocolate.  Well, maybe it was two things (since the day of the anniversary party was also my aunt & uncle's anniversary): chocolate and carrot cake.  See, I have an amazing recipe for chocolate cake (at that party in June it was filled with whipped chocolate ganache and an icing that I was not quite blown away by, and therefore prefer to never make again) and another one for carrot cake.  They also happen to be the two recipes that I don't share; they are my secrets...

However, when it came time to decide what to make for my grandfather's birthday, that one thing came to mind again: chocolate.

This time, I went back to the original.  The recipe I had gotten from a cooking class I took years ago, tweaked with a few of my own touches, with the original icing -- homemade mocha buttercream.  Now, admittedly, I am not a huge fan of buttercream, but this homemade stuff is delicious.  Once the cake is iced, I lick the spoon.  And then the spatula.  And then the whisk....well, you get the picture.  It's just chocolate-y and coffee-y enough to give the flavor without overwhelming.

A few icing stars with mocha chocolate beans on top, and the cake is done!
Happy 85th Birthday, Poppy!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chocolate Guinness Cake

I know what you're thinking..."Two blog posts in one day?!"  You must think I'm insane.  Baking two very different things in the very same day....does she have all the free time in the world?  Well, no, I don't (still have papers to write, etc), but I've been thinking about baking this cake for almost a week.  Last Sunday, I was talking to a friend of mine, and she mentioned a chocolate Guinness cake.  I don't remember exactly how it came up (probably related to the dessert menu at the bar she's planning on opening soon!), but it stuck in my head.  I was part skeptical and part intrigued.  I'm pretty sure I googled the recipe on my phone on my way home from dinner that night. 

I found this recipe by Nigella Lawson for the chocolate Guinness cake.  But she's British, and all of her ingredients/directions are British or by weight, or both.  Of course, she puts all of the conversions on her site, but remember that free time that I don't have much of?  So, yeah, I didn't want to do all of the conversions.  I stumbled upon another blog that I sometimes visit, and they had Nigella's cake but - miracle of miracles - it had "normal" measurements.  So I made that one...

I love how the white icing on top of the dark choclate cake is supposed to look like a frothy head of foam on top of a pint of Guinness (similar to the white chocolate ganache on top of the cappuccino brownies I made recently that is meant to look like the milk foam on top of a steamy mug of cappuccino).  I think this cake would be absolutely adorable as cupcakes.  I might even be tempted to take off the cupcake papers and stick them into glass cups to make them really look like a "glass of Guinness."

At last...Pumpkin Cakelets!

My new cakelet pan arrived a day early (sadly, arriving a day early meant I had to wait an extra day to use it).  But I made the pumpkin spice cake (I halved the recipe and adjusted the spices - extra cinnamon and ground ginger) this morning in the new pan.  One problem - I overfilled the cakelet cavities a little, so the first batch of cakelets have rounded/domed bottoms...but regardless, check out how cute they are!

Turkeys, acorns, maple leaves, & pumpkins

Monday, November 7, 2011

A prelude to Thanksgiving

I have a confession.  I don't love Thanksgiving.  I honestly have nothing against it, it's just not one of my favorite holidays.  It might be compounded by the fact that for the past 6 years I have worked on Thanksgiving (and the Friday afterwards), left the office frantically running to try and catch my train, made it late to Thanksgiving dinner, and then had to turn around and come back to the city so I could get up early Friday morning to go back to work (not to go Black Friday shopping, which I dream about experiencing, just once, but I digress).

Another confession?  I don't like pumpkin pie.  Or pecan pie, either.  But I'm pretty sure it's the pumpkin pie spice that I don't like.  Which brings me to my third confession...

I bought pumpkin pie spice yesterday.  Even though I don't like it.  I just saw it in Trader Joe's and I thought to myself, "I should buy pumpkin pie spice."

Yet, when I saw this adorable pan on Williams Sonoma's website, I just had to get it.  I figured it would be great when filled with a spiced pumpkin cake.  I ordered it and, according to the email I got from them today, it should be here in 3 days!

(Picture from Williams Sonoma's website)
The last time I made this recipe, I made it into cupcakes, and the time before that, I made a bundt cake.

Stay tuned!