Thursday, December 10, 2009

scenes from a busy fall trimester...

Here are just a few of the things I've baked the past few months. There's so much more than I just didn't have time or forgot to photograph -- sorry.

Practicing Palmiers at home for my Classic Pastry practical back in October. I blame the cheap butter.

Some sort of chocolate chip bar cookie... not for school. I honestly can't remember what they were or where the recipe came from.

Dutch Apple Galette, from first day of Pies and Tarts class.

Lattice Apple Pie, also from Pies and Tarts class.

Ungarnished but partially eaten Turtle Pie.

Chocolate Cream Pie -- a big hit with the kids at Thanksgiving.

Lemon Curd Tartlets (my favorite) and Fruit Tartlets.

This is actually from the first day of Winter Trimester -- Linzer Torte from Cookies and Petit Fours class.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Here's another goodie from my Classic Pastry class -- Napoleons.

I'd only had Napoleons once before, many years ago at the bakery of my best friend's mom. At the time, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. I don't know whether my tastes have changed or if this formula was more to my liking, but these were awesome. Three crisp layers of puff pastry with layers of diplomat cream in between, topped with poured fondant. Every single morning last week, I had half a Napoleon with my wake-up coffee and the second half mid-morning with my tea. It's a miracle I can still button my jeans!

Monday, October 19, 2009

goodies to go

Here is a better picture of the pastries, taken after I got home (using my usual camera and not my phone). Here's what the boys got to see and eat... the rest of the pieces of pastry ended up in a dining room at school.

pictures from class

Here are some pictures from my day in Classic Pastry class yesterday:

Above is the Jalousie I made. A Jalousie is made with puff pastry and is filled with frangipane (almond cream) and slices of apple.

Next is my Band de Fruit. Similar to an open-faced Jalousie, the Band de Fruit has a layer of pastry cream and is topped with strawberries, orange slices, raspberries and kiwi.

And last is my favorite -- the Pithivier. Between the two sheets of puff pastry is a smear of apricot jam and a mixture of frangipane and pastry cream. I love how it looks!

Friday, October 9, 2009

another friday, another french boule

This is to accompany tonight's dinner -- homemade Potato Ham Soup. I made the bread from Peter Reinhart's Classic Boule recipe.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

nick of time cranberry-white chocolate (and a whisper of oatmeal) drops

One of the perks of being a habitual baker is that I usually have a fairly well-stocked pantry. And even when it's not well stocked, there are usually enough odds and ends that I can pull something together in a pinch if necessary. Case in point -- this morning I received the call to send in a sweet goodie with L. for tonight's teen book group. After perusing my pantry, I managed to cull enough oatmeal, dried cranberries and white chocolate for this recipe from the King Arthur Flour site. I didn't have a ton of any of these particular ingredients so I halved the batch (just as well -- we have a lot of other baked stuff in the house already).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

poached pears

Something else I made in class -- poached pears. Although I love fruit, cooked or raw, I had never tried poached pears before. These were Bosc pears, poached in a syrup of wine, sugar, water and assorted spices. They were surprisingly good!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

blueberry muffins

The best blueberry muffin recipe yet! This one was from the King Arthur Flour website and is simplicity itself -- no spices, no lemon peel, no almond extract, just blueberries. I took the King Arthur Flour folks' suggestion and used Wyman's Wild Maine Blueberries instead of the whatever-brand frozen blueberries I normally use when it's not blueberry season. Wyman's blueberries are consistently sized (small) and this allows each muffin to have a nice, even distribution of berries. The muffins were moist and tender -- so good!

diplomat cup

One of the items I made as part of my practical exam last Sunday. This was one of several Diplomat Cups I made -- two layers of Diplomat Cream (equals parts Pastry Cream and whipped cream) with bits of poached pear in the middle, topped with a Chantilly Cream rosette and a chocolate filigree that I piped. Not the most beautiful specimen but the other filigrees got a bit smooshed in the box on the ride home.

on-the-fence brownies

Another in my quest for homemade brownie perfection (or "just like it came from a box" which is C.'s criteria for the perfect brownie). The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion features three different basic brownies -- fudgy, cake, and this one -- on-the-fence, for those who like something in between. I think they're wonderful -- nice rise like a cake brownie, but moist and fudgy too. And I love the extra boost of chocolatey goodness from the chocolate chips.

artisan boules

For the past few weeks we've been having homemade soup and home-baked breads for dinner on Friday nights. It's perfect for those evenings when the four of us aren't able to all sit down to eat at the same time. Here are a couple of boules I made from the master recipe in Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day.

trying to get caught up

I made this Whole-Wheat Zucchini Bread last month when we had a bumper crop of zucchini, including one 2 1/2-pound zuke. The recipe is from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book. It has all good stuff in it -- zucchini, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and grated lemon zest -- not to mention it's good for you. On paper, it's a wonderful bread; it was moist and flavorful, qualities one doesn't typically associate with whole grain baked goods. Sadly, for some reason it just didn't hit the spot for me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

busy not baking (much)

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. The last 2 1/2 weeks have been a head-spinner -- the boys went back to school, I went back to school, not to mention jury duty, soccer practices and games, pep band rehearsals and football games, school open house nights... that's just a small part of the list. Recreational baking has had to take a back burner, for the most part, for the moment. Once things settle down a bit I will be able to get caught up with posting some of the things I did find time to bake. Have patience...

Monday, August 31, 2009

birthday chocolate cupcakes for ann

Sometimes all you need is a wee taste of chocolate. Suzanne Lenzer wrote a great post for Mark Bittman's blog back in June in which she featured the legendary Maida Heatter's recipe for chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache frosting (adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts). I was so charmed by the accompanying photo that I filed the recipe away for later use.

Yesterday we belatedly celebrated my dear mother-in-law's birthday and I wanted to bake something chocolate for the occasion. Cupcakes were perfect because they are portion-sized, sophisticated-looking and easy to share (and transport). While the recipe was simple to make, I found the cake itself to be a little dry and not quite as rich as I had hoped -- thankfully the ganache picked up some of the slack. I decorated the cupcakes with more flowers (daisies, purple pansies and yellow rosebuds) from my stash.

Happy Birthday, Ann!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

garlic grilled bread and eggplant caponata

More grilled bread, more caponata! I made this to take along on our trip west to see James Taylor at Tanglewood (the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), although we ended up eating much of it at home the next day since it poured the evening of the concert and it was difficult to handle a large golf umbrella and a glass of wine and bread and caponata all at once.

Like the earlier grilled bread and caponata, these recipes were from King Arthur Flour's Bakers' Banter. This dough was made with garlic-infused olive oil and contained no cheese. It also had a higher ratio of semolina to flour which gave it more of a pita bread (without the pocket) texture -- chewier and less soft than the Asiago bread. Sadly, the garlic flavor was so subtle as to be barely discernible. I wasn't crazy about this bread and found myself wishing for the Grilled Asiago Rounds.

The eggplant caponata was very like the zucchini caponata I made before, just with eggplant instead of zucchini. The chunks were a little less defined (mushier) than in the zucchini caponata -- just a little different but still very tasty.

Friday, August 14, 2009

grilled asiago rounds and zucchini caponata

I made these grilled flatbreads outside yesterday during one of the drizzliest days we've experienced this summer. Not really how I planned it, but whaddya gonna do?

The recipe is from King Arthur Flour's excellent blog, Bakers' Banter. It's not my first try at grilled bread, but it's definitely my most successful. What's better than moist cheesy bread, hot off the grill? Everyone raved about it! And it was so simple to make -- definitely going to make this one again this weekend. Alongside the bread, I served this Zucchini Caponata. The basil was from our garden -- it was fragrant and fresh tasting and we were happy to get to enjoy some of it before the bugs ate all of our basil plants to the ground.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

david lebovitz's roasted banana ice cream

This is another of David Lebovitz's recipes from The Perfect Scoop. The Traveler's Lunchbox posted a terrific interview with David a couple of years ago and included this recipe. It is sooooooo good -- I was standing over the sink scraping the dregs out of the ice cream maker bowl with a spatula because I just couldn't stand any going to waste. It's so simple to make -- you roast cut-up bananas with a smidge of butter and some brown sugar, then puree the resulting gooey goodness with whole milk, a skosh more sugar, vanilla, fresh lemon juice and a little coarse salt. Chill and then freeze in an ice cream maker (The Traveler's Lunchbox provides an alternate method using an immersion blender for those who don't own an ice cream maker). The ice cream is rich and creamy, surprising when you remember that there's no cream in the mix. There are endless possibilities for different variations -- looking at other blogs I see that people have added chocolate chunks, nuts, rum, raisins, even peanut butter. I love it as it's written -- it's summertime comfort food!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

oatmeal cinnamon chips cookies

I have a real weakness for oatmeal cookies. Maybe it's because I can tell myself that they aren't really naughty to eat, but are actually very healthy, like teeny disc-shaped bowls of oatmeal. I found this recipe on a bag of Hershey's Cinnamon Chips.

Texturewise, they resemble Oatmeal Scotchies -- thin, delicate and chewy. I don't love how fragile they are -- not great for gift giving or even storing for that matter. They are fairly light tasting, particularly when you take into consideration what I consider an almost ungodly amount of butter. And I love the caramel-tinged cinnamon chips. But all in all, they're really just an average tasting batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. It won't stop us from polishing them off lightning fast, but I don't think I will be making them again.

Monday, August 10, 2009

a pair of blue birds

C. and I had some fun this evening making these birds out of fondant. His previous fondant bird sort of melted in the fridge so I promised C. we'd recreate him. C. named his creation (on the right) "Birdy," after our late parakeet. I haven't named mine (on the left) yet; his predecessor was called "Morty." Any suggestions?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

birthday pupcakes

For as long as we can remember, our son C. has been crazy about dogs. At first we attributed it to a longing for a pet we couldn't have, as L. is allergic to dogs and cats. But two years ago, we found a breed that didn't trigger L.'s sneezes and headaches – miniature schnauzers – and we got one of our own. I thought that perhaps C.'s enthusiasm might lessen just a tad, but no – if anything, having Daisy in our lives has only intensified his zeal. For his birthday this year, two of C. and my common interests came together – we made dog cupcakes.

We consulted Karen Tack and Alan Richardson's wonderful Hello, Cupcake! Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make for instructions. Initially we planned to make cupcakes representing each of the breeds featured in the book – dalmatian, collie, beagle, bulldog and (of course) the schnauzer among them – but forces conspired against us and in the end, we decided just to make the West Highland terriers that are shown on the book's cover.

The Westies are made using a standard-size cupcake for the body/base and a mini cupcake (on its side) for the head. With the addition of some cleverly cut mini marshmallows and artfully applied frosting – voilà! You have yourself a cute little pupcake.

Tack and Richardson make it easy for the newbie decorator to master. They encourage the use of cake mixes and canned frosting, and give instructions on how to use ziplock bags instead of pastry bags to apply the frosting. C. found a recipe in the book that explained how to enhance the boxed cake mix by substituting buttermilk for water and adding an additional egg. He was eager to try it, so try it we did. Although the authors suggest using canned frosting in the book, I read on their website that recently there have been reader complaints about changes in the consistency of the store-bought frosting. Tack and Richardson now recommend that readers use the Almost Homemade Buttercream Frosting recipe in the book instead of the canned stuff. It's made with Marshmallow Fluff, butter (a lot of it!), vanilla and confectioners' sugar, and seemed simple to make so we tried that as well.

Although we made the cake using the modifications suggested by the authors, I really didn't feel like it tasted much different than if we had simply followed the directions on the box. Admittedly, it's been a very long time since I've eaten a boxed mix cake so I could be wrong. The Almost Homemade Buttercream Frosting tasted to me like sweetened whipped cream – buttery, but not excessively sweet. It held up OK, but (predictably) became runnier as it warmed from the heat of our hands. Next time, I will try adding a little meringue powder to stabilize it.

C. was a natural at decorating the cupcakes using the ziplock baggies, but I just couldn't get the hang of it. I ended up using a parchment bag and a small star tip for my frosting, which C. proclaimed was “cheating.” However, by the end I think he had to concede that the baggie method had its share of problems – the baggies would stretch or split from the pressure and it was often difficult and frustrating trying to gently squeeze frosting through the small cuts in the baggie (the cuts were to mimic the use of a tip). I really love the designs in Hello, Cupcake! but I think I would prefer to execute them using conventional decorating equipment.

The finished pupcakes were very cute – almost too cute to eat. C. ate the body of one last night but still hasn't brought himself to eat the head. I really hope that I don't end up with a container full of little Westie heads in my kitchen by week's end!

(Happy 12th Birthday, C.!)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

my kid takes kakes for kids

This creation is by my 11-year-old son C., who recently took a Wilton Kakes for Kids project class at our local Michael's store. He iced a single-layer Devil's Food Cake (recipe courtesy of Zoe Bakes) with ready-made icing and used icing tubes (all from Wilton) to decorate the cake. The design he came up with was badminton-themed, which is fitting because badminton is one of our favorite summer pastimes. First he added a leaf border using a leaf tip (obviously). He outlined the racket and the strings (including a contrasting logo) with a round tip, and filled in the handle with a star tip. The birdie was made using round and leaf tips to make the feathers and round and star tips for the red cork base. And finally C. added a blue bird that he modeled from fondant in class (a la Morty). Sadly, he wasn't feeling well after class so I stuck the cake in the refrigerator when we got home. By the time he was well enough to eat cake (a few days later), the little bird had suffered from being refrigerated. Fondant creatures + fridges = sticky, soft, squishy mess.

C. did an excellent job with his cake and I was really impressed with how he came up with his own design and used all the techniques he learned in class to execute it. I'm really looking forward to our next project -- C.'s birthday cupcakes!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

brownie truffle mousse cake

For L.'s birthday cake, he chose this cake from Nestlé's Very Best Baking site. Nestlé rates this recipe as "challenging," but I would say it's more laborious and time-consuming than challenging. (Although it becomes challenging if, like me, you don't read the instructions carefully -- I left out the flour on my first attempt -- don't ask how!)

The cake starts with a brownie base, which is then topped with a layer of chocolate ganache, followed by a layer of chocolate mousse. The sides of the cake are made with chocolate rolled wafer cookies (I used Pepperidge Farms Chocolate Creme Petite Pirouettes). Finally, the top is drizzled with some of the reserved ganache and garnished with cut strawberries.

As gorgeous as this cake was, it tasted even better! The brownie bottom was more cake-like (but dense) than fudgy, and was somewhat light on chocolate flavor. This was actually a good thing since the other layers were so rich. The crunch/chewiness of the wafer rolls added an interesting texture to the smoothness of creamy layers, and the flavor of the strawberries played nicely with the chocolate. Nestlé says the cake serves 12, but I think one could get away with smaller pieces than what is suggested. I cut the cake into fairly slim pieces -- 16 slices total -- which was just about right, given how rich and chocolatey the cake is. This cake is definitely one I'd make again to impress any chocolate lover. My birthday boy certainly loved it!

Friday, July 24, 2009

birthday blueberry muffins

My eldest turns 15 today. One birthday several years ago, he decided he would like blueberry muffins for breakfast and the tradition stuck. Occasionally his special day would fall during our vacation week and he'd have a blueberry muffin from a Cape Cod Dunkin Donuts instead of a homemade one, and the years we were home, very often the "homemade" muffins were from a boxed mix.

This year's birthday muffin recipe is the Our Favorite Blueberry Muffin from the King Arthur Flour site. It's a little different from many that I've looked at -- a little almond extract, no lemon zest, and the muffins are topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. They are very tender and light, and very fitting for a special birthday breakfast. Happy Birthday, L.!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

english muffin toasting bread

More fun with overproofing here. I thought I was being super watchful but I misjudged how warm my kitchen was and how quickly the bread was proofing -- it was ready a good 15 - 30 minutes earlier than expected and I was caught with an unheated oven -- doh! But enough about that; let me tell you about this bread!

I first read about the English Muffin Toasting Bread on the Baker's Banter last winter. I'm not sure what made me remember it now, but we were running low on bread and it sprang to mind. Much like English muffin batter, it's made from a very wet dough and contains both yeast and a smidge of baking soda for leavening. The inside of the loaf pan is dusted with stoneground corn meal. The result is a bread which, tastewise, bears a remarkable resemblance to an English muffin, but without the messy dance of flipping half-cooked batter and muffin molds on a hot griddle. When sliced and toasted, the bread's exterior is slightly crunchy and the interior is smooth and creamy. The crumb wasn't as open and craggy I was expecting, but that's probably due to the loaf's sinking in the oven. But the best part of this recipe may be the quickness with which one can whip up this bread -- a mere 90 minutes from start to finish! I'm looking forward to trying this one again -- I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

bread baker's apprentice's white sandwich bread

We're staycationing this week and (this is really unrelated) we've been trying to eat down our fridge and pantry (and stay out of grocery stores). We ran out of bread (all those sandwiches we've been making for our beach days!) and so I whipped up the white bread (variation 1 for those of you with the book) from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I was super-diligent this time and kept a close eye on the bread so that it did not overproof. Still, the loaves were not super tall -- I was expecting more oven-spring -- but they were a beautiful golden-brown and had a rich buttery flavor. This morning P. made fried egg sandwiches (with cheese and bacon) on toast from this bread. Yum! :-)

Monday, July 13, 2009

damn the anadama

The story goes that Anadama Bread was created when a crusty old New Englander came home after a long day's work to discover his wife Anna had run off and all that was left for his dinner was a pot of cornmeal mush and molasses. He tossed some flour and yeast into the slurry and baked it, cursing "Anna, damn 'er!" ("Anadama" to non-Yankee ears) all the while.

This is my first try at Anadama Bread (from The Bread Baker's Apprentice) -- I decided to give it a whirl after hearing great things about the results from BBA Challenge participants. Alas, I overproofed my loaves and they turned out rather sunken and flat. I can't win sometimes -- either my kitchen is too cold or too warm, depending on the season. I'm sure the Anadama will be great for our sandwiches today, though. Our crazy New England weather has finally cleared up after weeks of rain, so we're heading to the beach!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

obsessed with flowers

Ever since I began learning how to make flowers in my Wilton classes, I've become rather preoccupied with thoughts of flowers. Their relative size, color(s), shape, construction... it's all suddenly become fascinating to me. C. has been attending day camp for the past two weeks and during my 17 mile drive to and from camp twice a day, I passed hundreds of blooming day lilies, just as I was learning how to make Easter lilies in class. I've always loved those vibrant orange to copper-hued day lilies, so I made a bunch out of royal icing for my finale cake. I didn't end up using them for that, but they will undoubtedly make their way on to another cake this summer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

wilton course 3 finale cake

Today was the final day of my Wilton Course 3 class. It was also the last class of all the Wilton classes offered at my local Michael's, since I have already completed Course 1 and 2 and the Fondant and Gum Paste class. However, lest I get too big for my britches with all this cake decorating know-how, the cake gods made sure just about everything that could go wrong in my prep for today's class went wrong. A brief (and partial) accounting follows. My cake layers (I made extra) bubbled over in the oven, making a smoky, burnt mess, which I then had to chisel out (this happened twice!). My layers crumbled and/or broke (yes, every single one of them) when I removed them from the pans to cool. My crumb coats of icing were full of crumbs (which is supposed to happen), as were my final coats (not supposed to happen). By the end of my baking and frosting day yesterday, I was sick to death of this cake, and I hadn't even had class yet.

Rear view

This morning, I somehow managed to transport the cakes to class without further damage. We spent the morning assembling the tiers and decorating our cakes with the royal icing flowers we had made and dried in advance. All in all, I'm satisfied with the results -- it isn't quite what I had envisioned but I'm mostly relieved that it's finished and we can finally eat it. :-) The cake is the Chocolate Fudge Groom's Cake from the Wilton site, iced with the Buttercream Icing (half shortening, half butter -- a compromise over the all-shortening Class Buttercream which I've been whining about since I started my first Wilton class back in February). It's a good combo -- I ate enough trimmings yesterday to know. The purple petunias were for C. -- I promised him a purple-themed cake a while back.

Flower detail

When I started my first Wilton class last winter, all I wanted was to learn a little something about cake decorating so I wouldn't make too big a fool out of myself when I did my cake classes at Johnson and Wales. I didn't expect to love it, or even be good at it. To my surprise, I found the classes to be really enjoyable and personally gratifying. As my mother-in-law said to me recently, "Those classes really worked out for you, didn't they?" As always, a million thank you's to Evelyn for being the best teacher an uncoordinated, unartistic person could hope for -- positive, supportive, patient and most of all, always good-humored. I am so grateful we crossed paths.

Monday, July 6, 2009

monday morning bagels

Do you want to know a secret? Homemade bagels are crazy easy to make. They're even easier than baking a batch of muffins (although they do require a wee bit of planning) and are far more impressive in my opinion. I baked this batch from Peter Reinhart's wonderful Bread Baker's Apprentice and topped them with a blend of coarse kosher salt, poppy seeds and toasted sesame seeds.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

garlic bread sticks

C. is a huge devotee of garlic bread sticks. And as a result, we've sampled many different recipes. Actually, I guess we're all fans, because we have a tendency to turn almost any individually sized baked good into some sort of garlic bread stick variation -- garlic pretzels, garlic biscuits, garlic knot rolls.

I bookmarked this recipe for the Bakers' Banter's Soft Bread Sticks a couple months ago. They compare them to Pizza Hut's bread sticks, which I've never had, but if these bread sticks are any indication, they must be very tasty. This recipe is a variation of BB's Blitz Bread (which I made last summer). The texture of the bread sticks is reminiscent of a focaccia, but unlike a traditional focaccia, these are super fast and super easy to make -- from start to finish in just a couple of hours. The bread sticks are light and have a little crustiness to them, thanks to a second turn in the oven, and are rather addictive. I actually baked them for C. to take to camp for lunch tomorrow but we couldn't help sneaking several. But no worries -- the recipe makes 3 dozen!

Monday, June 22, 2009

what a difference a year makes

Today is my dear husband's 44th birthday! For the occasion, I baked the same cake I made him last year -- Cook's Illustrated's Devil's Food Layer Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting. The difference between last year's cake and this year's are 3 1/2 Wilton courses.

Last year's cake

This year's cake

The whipped cream isn't as easy to work with as buttercream icing, but I think I did a decent job. I made the flowers in Course 2 and dried them for future use (I have boxes and boxes!). The leaves are buttercream icing tinted with moss green icing tint.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

red velvet package cake

This is the cake I decorated today in my Wilton Course 3 class. It's far and away my favorite of those that I've done so far. Underneath all that fondant is a Red Velvet Layer Cake (from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book) topped with Philadelphia Cream Cheese Frosting.
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