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Posts Tagged ‘dessert’

There’s something about the word cake.  I love that word.  When I hear “cake,” I may appear composed on the outside, but inside I have a response more akin to a werewolf.  At first, I think, calmly, Cake.  Then, in a singsong voice, Mmmmmmmm, cake!  Left unchecked, it devolves into a primal growl, Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!!  I don’t think I grow long fingernails and tufts of fur, but do (cake) werewolves ever really know?

The werewolf response is reserved for my ideal cake: tall, fluffy, tender, moist, with a thick layer of frosting or pudding in the middle, and another layer of frosting on top.  Boston Cream pie.  Tall and creamy Hummingbird cake.  Chocolate Blackout cake.

Tea cakes are so dainty, they don’t qualify.  That’s why I’ve relegated them to breakfast, where they’re perfect.  This Swedish visiting cake deserves a prize for it’s many lovely tea cake qualities.  First, it’s so easy to make, you can fit it in even on a busy morning.  I made this while getting my kids ready for preschool (which is saying something during “Teacher Appreciation Week,” where I have to cajole the kids into making six, count ’em, six homemade cards).  The cake is baked in a cast iron skillet and the results are delicious: lemony, almond-y, lightly crisp on the outside, soft and tender on the inside.  This is my favorite tea cake from Dorie’s cookbook, hands down.  And I assure you, when I eat tea cake, I’m very ladylike.  🙂

Thanks to Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs for selecting Swedish Visiting Cake.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 197 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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A few years ago, my father-in-law and I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies together.  Kind of a bonding experience, in its way, especially since he’s not the chatty type.  Just before we slid the first batch into the oven, I grabbed a spoonful of batter and stuck it in my mouth, as I’ve done since I was old enough to hold a spoon.

He stared at me in horror.  “Did you just eat the raw dough?” he asked.  “Yeah!  Want some?!”  I jabbed the spoon in his direction.  He recoiled as though I had just shouted “En garde!”

“I wouldn’t be caught dead eating raw dough,” he said.  He insisted on calling it raw dough, which somehow made it seem more threatening.

Now I looked at him in horror.  “I’ve never made a batch of cookies without eating several spoonfuls of the dough.  It’s the best part!” I said.

I’m sure at that moment we each felt an acute sense of pity for the other poor misguided soul.  My father-in-law, an infectious disease physician, has taken an oath to protect people from the nasty bugs that hide out in places like raw eggs, bugs just waiting to attack a defenseless gut.  He looks at raw eggs and pictures all manner of human suffering.

I, on the other hand, grew up in a household where our chocolate chip cookie recipe, taped to the back of the kitchen cabinet, had a little handwritten note at the bottom that said, “Remember to leave some dough in the bowl for mom.”  Whenever we cooked together, my mom and I would stand next to the bowl with our spoons and scoop out the perfect ratio of batter/chocolate chips.  And it wasn’t just cookies.  We’d swirl our spoons over the top of brownie batter or cake batter, ostensibly to “smooth it out.”  For years, I underbaked my cookies, brownies, and cakes, trying to hang on to some of that batter-y goodness.  And I still love desserts that have a soft and warm feel, like chocolate pudding cake or molten lava cake.

In any event, these chocolate brownies –Rick Katz’s brownies for Julia — made me think about my father-in-law, because when I tasted the batter, it was noticeably eggy.  For a 9×9 pan of brownies, 4 eggs is a lot.  I dare say, it’s too much.  Once baked, the brownies’ texture was all over the map.  The middle was soft, chewy and sticky.  The edges were browned and crisp.  The space in between, impossibly straddling the two extremes, was kind of chalky.  I much prefer Dorie’s quintuple chocolate brownies.  And, in my opinion, the Baked cookbook still has the all-time perfect chocolate brownie recipe.  Still, it didn’t keep me from “smoothing out the batter” just a bit more than was entirely necessary.  🙂

Thanks to Tanya of Chocolatechic for selecting this week’s recipe.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 91 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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This cocoa-banana bread exposed a serious flaw our new house.  And it’s not just a matter of taste, like ugly counter tops or bad wallpaper.  No, it’s the oven.  For all you inveterate bakers out there, you know this is a problem not to be taken lightly.

So, here’s the situation.  The oven has all digital controls.  I can’t just twist a knob to 375 degrees and walk away.  I have to program the temperature by pressing buttons.  That makes my oven sound hip and cool and futuristic.  It’s not.  It’s old, tiny, and poorly designed.  Because these very same buttons control the timer.

The cocoa banana bread cooks for 30 minutes, then it’s tented with foil to avoid over-browning.  So I program my oven, set the timer for 30 minutes, and go on my merry way.  After 30 minutes pass, I hear the timer, turn it off (as one will do with noisy beeping sounds), tent the pan, reset the timer for another 30 minutes, and go on my merry way again.  When the timer goes off a second time, I return to the oven to check the bread.  It hasn’t risen properly and it’s still more batter than bread.  Hm.  I set the timer for another 15 minutes, stick it back in the oven, and realize the oven is cool.  Not cool as in “groovy.”  Cold.

I bring all of my Sherlock Holmes powers of deduction to bear and realize, with sagging shoulders, that when I hit “clear” to stop the timer from beeping after the first 30 minutes, it also cleared the temperature to zero and turned off the oven.  Sigh.

My daughter wanted to take a bike ride through our new neighborhood so I put the bread back in and willed it to cook fast.  After another 20 minutes, I pulled it out even though it still left streaks on the tester.

After our bike ride, we came back inside to try the bread.  Chocolate and banana struck my husband as a weird combination, but think banana splits and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  They work.  This bread does, too, in flavor.  But the texture is unforgivably dry.  Every time I cut a slice, a shower of crumbs decorates my counters.  Days after we finished up the bread, I still found cocoa banana bread crumbs in various corners of the kitchen.

My 4-year-old, who never pulls a punch when it comes to evaluating my cooking, was spot on in her assessment.  I said, “Do you think it’s good?”  She said, “Yeah, it’s good.”  I said, “Do you think it’s really good, or just ok?”  “Just ok.”

Thanks to Steph of Obsessed with Baking for providing yet another reason to start shopping for a new oven.  You can find the recipe for this cocoa banana bread on her site or on page 46 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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We moved this weekend, and I made these chocolate oatmeal almost-candy bars a week before the move because I knew once in the new house I’d want/need to make some classic, comforting family favorites.  Moving into a new house makes me feel unmoored.  Even if it’s just across town, as my move has been, I’m still viewed as a stranger in the new neighborhood.  It’s not exactly like a man in a cowboy hat is going to ride over on his horse, furrow his brow, squint his eyes, and say, “You ain’t from around here.”  (Quite the opposite, in fact.  Two young children scampered up to our door and begged to play with our kids, followed by two lovely parents who invited us to brunch the following morning.)  But it’s a strange feeling nonetheless.

Then there’s the mental process of packing up all your stuff, purging what’s not worth saving, giving things away to Goodwill.  And the physical process of dragging boxes full of books that you’ve already read, and may not ever read again, but can’t bear to part with anyway.

But most unnerving is the psychological process of reviewing where you are in life.  As I paw through old files, old photographs, old letters, old clothes, and think about the time when they were important, and why they’ve now lost their importance (or not), and where I thought I’d be at this point in my life and where I am and how I got here and how I’ll get to whatever’s next, well, it’s all a bit exhausting.

Cooking provides such a beautiful and uncomplicated connection to the past.  I can bring all of my old, beloved recipes wherever I go, and it feels like home.  When we moved into the new house, I unpacked the kitchen boxes first.  I had to.  I needed to see my KitchenAid mixer, my cookbooks, my good knives, my roasting pan.

This first weekend in the new house, I made roast chicken with mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, blueberry pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, blondies, coffee cake.  Later today I’ll make challah.  It’s all part of making this house mine.  I want it to smell like my coffee cake.  I want to see my chocolate chip cookies cooling on the counter.  I want to create a life here for my family, one that’s warm, inviting, and comforting.  Cooking does that, effortlessly.

As for the chocolate oatmeal almost-candy bars, I still have a couple left in the freezer.  These bars aren’t decadent, but they’re good to have around, studded with crunchy peanuts, soft chocolate, chewy raisins and oatmeal.  I would suggest substituting almonds instead of peanuts and good-quality bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Coconut would be a nice addition, too.  Ok, back to the boxes.  Who knows what relics and treasures from my past lie in wait.

Thanks to Lillian of Confectiona’s Realm for choosing this week’s chocolate oatmeal almost-candy bars.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 114-115 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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We all have our favorite restaurants.  And we all have our favorite dishes at those restaurants.  As I’ve mentioned here before, my all-time favorite restaurant is Fore Street, in Portland, Maine.  It also happens to be my husband’s favorite restaurant, which is fortuitous.  Such things ensure long and happy marriages.

We do not agree, however, on what qualifies as Fore Street’s greatest dish.  For me, it’s definitely the warm chocolate souffle cake.  For him, it’s the tarte tatin.  The problem is, their menu changes every day, and you never know if the tarte tatin will be available.  Last summer, we stopped in at the restaurant one afternoon to inquire whether the tarte tatin would be on the menu that evening.  The host said she really didn’t know, but she’d check for us.  Two minutes later, out walks this short, furry, ponytailed, tattoed fellow.

“Were you asking about the tarte tatin?” he said.

“Yes,” my husband stammered, totally thrown by this turn of events.

“Do you want a tarte tatin tonight?”

“Yes,” said my husband, deer in the headlights.

“How about a tarte tatin with nectarines and golden cherries?”

“Yes,” said robot boy.

“Cool,” he said, and walked back into the kitchen.

Dave turned to the host and asked, “Who was that man?”

“Oh, I thought you knew.  That’s our pastry chef,” she said.

Dave walked back out into the street, shook off his trance, then did a little jig with joy.  “The pastry chef at Fore Street is making a tarte tatin with nectarines and golden cherries just for me!”  I let him celebrate for a minute, then reminded him that we have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old and no babysitter for that evening.  This reminder did nothing to dampen his spirits.  “It’s about time they tried the tarte tatin!” he crowed.

And they did.  My daughter still talks about the tarte tatin, and its accompanying scoop of apricot sorbet, to this day.  The other diners in the bar area that night probably still talk about the preschooler and toddler who shared their space for one surprisingly peacable hour of tarte tatin heaven.

Every year, at the end of the summer, I promise to make a tarte tatin for Dave.  And every year, I become daunted by the prospect of trying to create a dessert that has been done to perfection at Fore Street.  So it’s with great relief that I was tasked with making a tarte tatin for Tuesdays with Dorie to celebrate the group’s 2nd anniversary of baking together.  (It also, coincidentally, marks the first-year anniversary of my blog!)

This tarte tatin is something special.  I’m not saying it rivals the short, furry, ponytailed, tattooed guy’s version, but for a homemade tart using frozen puff pastry and store-bought ice cream, it is utterly delicious.  Oh, and I made it earlier in the day, then reheated it, which is expressly forbidden in Dorie’s marginal comments.  She says the tarte tatin must be eaten within the hour.  I believe that, but I can also promise that it’s extremely good after that hour has passed.  The apples were perfectly soft, with a rich layer of caramel flowing around them, all surrounded by a lightly crispy, chewy crust.  The ice cream is critical, and I’m already excited to make this again with homemade cinnamon or salted caramel or even just plain vanilla.

Thanks to our fearless leader, Laurie of Slush, for choosing this tarte tatin.  Tuesdays with Dorie members were torn between the tarte tatin and a cocoa buttermilk cake this week, so I actually had an option (and an out).  But I’m so glad I finally made the tarte tatin.  It will be a regular part of the dessert rotation here.  You can find the recipe here or on pp. 312-313 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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I made an executive decision this year on our Halloween pumpkins.  Instead of buying carving pumpkins (note the helpful use of the word “carving” in the name), I assured my family that they’d be much happier with pie pumpkins.  Sure, they’re a bit smaller.  Yes, they may take a bit more work to carve.  But we can eat them!  Think of the salty roasted pumpkin seeds and the baked pumpkin that will keep us flush with pies, breads, and pancakes for weeks!  My daughter’s preschool field trip to a pumpkin patch provided us with two lovely pie pumpkins, and that clinched it.  Let’s carve some pumpkins!  Fun family activity!

My husband laid out some newspaper, selected a sharp knife, and prepared to carve.  He applied some pressure near the pumpkin’s stem, and then some more.  The knife didn’t budge.  We tried a heavier, sharper knife.  No luck.  I briefly ponder the fact that pie pumpkins are good for baking precisely because they have a very thick layer of flesh: soft and tender when baked, but seemingly impenetrable by human hands when fresh.  After an alarming series of violent stabs in and around the exterior of the pumpkin, my husband abruptly stood up and marched into the garage.

As I gently explained to my kids that maybe it would be better to paint the pumpkins this year, Dave rounded the corner with his power drill.  My kids let out squeals of delight.  Now this was some good family fun.  Who knew a power drill could create such perfectly-sculpted facial features?  As tiny flecks of pumpkin flesh flew through the air, our little gathering would never be mistaken for a traditional holiday ritual, but my kids were giddy at the opportunity to take turns holding the drill.  And after all that, I got my baked pumpkin.

Much of the drilled pumpkin was used in this holiday bundt cake with maple glaze.  Dorie calls this an “all-in-one” holiday bundt cake because it includes so many classic holiday ingredients: pumpkin, spice, cranberries, apples, nuts.  It’s all there.  This is a lovely bundt cake, full of flavor, but I have one little complaint.  Because it calls for butter instead of oil, a choice that prioritizes flavor over texture, the cake was a tiny bit dry.  For me, having a soft, moist cake is more important than the extra dose of buttery goodness (though I adore buttery goodness), so next time I would substitute oil and/or applesauce for some of the butter.  For the same reason, I also wish I’d used fresh cranberries instead of dried.  The cake would have been great with those little gems of plump, juicy flavor (instead of the relatively dry, chewy texture of dried cranberries).  All in all, the elements are in place for a great holiday bundt cake, but it’s worth playing around with a few ingredients to make it your own.

Thanks to Britin of The Nitty Britty for choosing this all-in-one holiday bundt cake with maple glaze.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 186-187 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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I’ve made so many brownie recipes in my lifetime, there should really be a separate 3-ring binder to keep track of them all.  Ideally, my notebook would include all the recipes, ranked from best to worst, with detailed notes on why they succeeded or failed.  Otherwise, I’m at risk for making the same so-so brownies more than once, and that would be a darn shame.  Life’s too short for mediocre brownies.

At the moment, I have two reigning champions.  In the deep, dark, rich, fudgy, perfect chocolate brownie category, there’s the Baked brownie.  In the buttery, nutty, gooey, perfect blondies category, we have Bobby Flay’s blondies (which, unforgivably, I haven’t photographed or written about yet).

These cherry-fudge brownies with a sweetened whipped cream topping are dark, dense, and fudgy, studded with dried sour cherries.  The recipe calls for a hefty shot of black pepper — utterly unexpected and totally delicious.  I’ve been drawn into the sea salt frenzy this past year, whipping up batches of sea salt caramels, salted caramel ice cream, and even sprinkling a little extra salt on chocolate chip cookies before they go into the oven.  It was nice to give the old sidekick, black pepper, a chance to shine.

These brownies offered a nice change of pace, but they will not unseat my beloved Baked brownies.  And that’s a disappointment and a relief, both.  I find comfort in returning to a well-loved family recipe, the one written out by hand on an index card, spattered and stained, annotated, amended.  The Baked brownie may well become such a treasure.  And yet, I equally love the discovery of a new recipe that surpasses all other versions.

Cooking is a quest, for those of us who love it, with endless opportunities to improvise, experiment, rise and fall, succeed or fail.  It can provide immense pleasure as a solitary pursuit in the pre-dawn hour or as a bustling enterprise where one generation stands alongside another to learn the special touch or secret ingredient or, simply, to experience the pleasure of chopping, stirring, and mixing, elbow to elbow.  And when we all sit down together at the table, Virginia Woolf describes it best:

“Now all the candles were lit up, and the faces on both sides of the table were brought nearer by the candlelight, and composed, as they had not been in the twilight, into a party round a table, for the night was now shut off by panes of glass, which far from giving any accurate view of the outside world, rippled it so strangely that here, inside the room, seemed to be order and dry land; there, outside, a reflection in which things wavered and vanished, waterily.  Some change at once went through them all, as if this had really happened, and they were all conscious of making a party together in a hollow, on an island; had their common cause against that fluidity out there . . . Of such moments, the thing is made that endures” (To the Lighthouse, 97, 116).

Thanks to April of Short + Rose for selecting this cherry-fudge brownie torte and giving me a reason to pull out my dusty, but cherished, copy of To the Lighthouse.  You can find the brownie torte recipe on her site or on pp. 284-285 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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