Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Banana Date Muffins

Banana Date Muffins

Banana Date Muffins

I've been on a banana kick. These banana date muffins were well balanced and tasted as much of cardamom and nutmeg as they did of banana. They're great for breakfast! Try to use Medjool dates; there is a huge difference between good, unpitted dates and the small, hard things in most commercial packages.

I'd heard you can bake in Starbucks cups. It's rather fun.

Banana Date Muffins
adapted from Carole Walter's Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More

2 very ripe, medium bananas
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup very fresh, pitted, hand-cut dates (1/4 inch dice)
1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
1/2 cup very fresh dark brown sugar
1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Heat the oven to 375 F. Line 14 muffin cups with paper or foil cupcake liners.

2. Cut the bananas into 1 inch chunks and place them in a medium bowl. Mash with a potato masher or a fork. You should have about 1 cup banana pulp. Stir in the lemon juice and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, cardamom, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg. Toss the dates and nuts through the dry ingredients, separating the pieces of dates with your fingertips.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the tepid butter and brown sugar. Blend in the bananas, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla.

5. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the banana-egg mixture. Using an oversize spatula, incorporate the dry ingredients into the liquids by pushing them from the side of the bowl toward the center. DO NOT OVERMIX. It's okay if a few streaks of flour remain.

6. Portion generous scoops of the batter into the prepared pans using a no. 16 ice cream scoop (1/4 cup capacity.)

7. Bake for 25-28 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and the tops are springy to the touch. To ensure even baking, toward the end o baking time, rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Fantastic Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue PIe

This is the best lemon meringue pie i've had since elementary school. My best friend's grandmother Thelma would make pies and teach me about pinochle. I measure all lemon meringue pies against hers.

So many lemon meringue pies aren't worth eating: they're too sweet, too sour, soggy crusted, sloppy looking, filled with nasty yellow goop, or topped with weeping meringue.

I had a feeling this recipe would be good. I guessed that the use of gelatin sheets and Italian meringue would make the pie cohesive, easy to slice, and pretty to look at. The photo was gorgeous; I stuck it on the refrigerator and decided I had to try it.

Instead of the printed crust recipe, I used the graham cracker dough from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course. It's flavored with cinnamon, honey, brown sugar, and a little whole wheat flour. I thought it was a nice change that took an edge off the sweetness and made the flavor more complex. It stayed nice and crisp too. The lemon curd was nice and tart, and I love the Italian meringue! It's very fluffy and marshmallow-like.

Ironically, I made this right before all the folks from Daring Bakers posted their lemon meringue mini-tarts. It was a funny coincidence. I'd love to make this again soon. I'm going to try and get a blowtorch beforehand.

Nick & Stef's lemon meringue pie
adapted from The Los Angeles Times (
Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes plus chilling time
Servings: 8 to 10
Note: Adapted from a Nick & Stef's recipe. The dough makes enough for two pies. Half of the dough can be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to 6 months.

Sweet dough

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg
1/3 cup almond flour
3 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1. Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until it has a creamy consistency. Alternatively, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl using a hand mixer. With the mixer on, add the egg yolk until it is incorporated, then add the egg and incorporate completely.

2. In a separate bowl, sift together the almond flour, flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl slowly and continue mixing until the dough is thoroughly combined. The dough should be slightly sticky but not wet. If the dough is too dry and crumbly, add up to 1 tablespoon of water to moisten the dough.

3. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Shape each portion into a circle and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate one of the portions, and allow it to rest for at least 1 hour. The remaining portion can be frozen for up to 6 months. (For frozen dough, thaw in the refrigerator before using.)

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough into a circle slightly less than one-fourth-inch thick and about 12 inches in diameter. Gently drape the dough into a 9-inch pie pan, and trim off any excess dough so that the crust is flush with the sides of the pan. With a fork, prick holes all over the dough to allow steam to escape during baking. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack.

Lemon curd

4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh lemon juice
2 gelatin sheets
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2 -inch cubes
1 baked pie shell

1. In a large heat-proof mixing bowl (you should be able to set it over a large pan or stock pot of simmering water to form a bain-marie), whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon zest. Whisk in the lemon juice.

2. Fill a small bowl with water, and insert the gelatin sheets to allow them to soften. Place the butter cubes into a medium bowl and set aside.

3. Place the bowl with the lemon curd over a larger pot of gently simmering water to form a bain-marie. Cook the curd, stirring gently but constantly, until the curd begins to thicken and will lie on top of itself. Watch carefully to make sure the heat is not so hot that the eggs scramble. Immediately remove the curd from the stove, and pour the curd into the bowl with the butter. Remove the gelatin sheets from the water, wringing out any extra moisture, and add to the curd mixture. Gently stir the curd with a spatula to melt and incorporate the butter and gelatin into the mixture.

4. Pour the lemon curd into the prebaked pie shell. Cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, preferably overnight, until the curd is set.

Meringue and assembly

1 1/4 cup sugar
4 egg whites
1 lemon pie

1. Place the sugar in a medium saucepan. Add one-half cup water, and stir with the sugar until it is the consistency of wet sand. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook the sugar until a thermometer inserted reads 240 degrees. (The sugar will form a firm ball when a little is dropped into a bowl of cold water).

2. While the sugar is cooking, begin whipping the egg whites. Continue beating until the whites form stiff peaks, but be careful not to over-beat.

3. When the sugar is ready, immediately remove it from the heat, and pour it into a heat-proof measuring cup to stop the cooking process. With the mixer speed on low, carefully begin pouring in the sugar, watching that the sugar does not touch the wire beaters and splatter. Once all of the sugar is added, increase the mixer speed to medium, and continue beating until the meringue cools and is very fluffy.

4. Remove the chilled lemon pie from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Spoon the meringue on top of the curd with a rubber spatula, forming a dome on top of the pie. To toast the meringue (which is optional), use a small hand torch and lightly torch the meringue until it is golden brown. Serve immediately.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Banana Bread ala Nigella

Banana Bread

" fills the kitchen with an aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess" --Nigella Lawson

My first thought on seeing this comment was: what the heck is a fug?

fug (fŭg)
n. A heavy, stale atmosphere, especially the musty air of an overcrowded or poorly ventilated room: "In spite of the open windows the stench had become a reeking fug" (Colleen McCullough).
[Perhaps alteration of fogo, stench.]
fug. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved January 28, 2008, from website:

That definition is less than delicious, but this banana bread is! The recipe originates from Jim Fobel's Old-Fashioned Baking Book: Recipes from an American Childhood. It's one of the few banana bread recipes i've made that doesn't involve buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, or a similar dairy product. The rum-soaked raisins are sticky and sweet (you can't really taste the rum) and the bread is dense, moist and rustic with very simple, pronounced flavors.

This is the third banana recipe i've made in a short amount of time. I think we've finally run out of over-ripe bananas. Phew!

Banana Bread
adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess

scant 1/2 cup golden raisins
6 tbsp or 3 oz bourbon or dark rum
1 cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 small, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract
9x5 inch loaf pan, buttered and floured or lined with parchment or foil

Put the golden raisins and rum or bourbon in a smallish saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and leave for an hour if you can, or until the raisins have absorbed most of the liquid, then drain.

Preheat the oven to 325F and get started on the rest. Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium sized bowl and, using your hands or a wooden spoon, combine well. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Then, with your spoon, stir in the walnuts, drained raisins, and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture a third at a time, stirring well after each bit. Scrape into the loaf pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. When it's ready, an inserted toothpick or fine skewer should come out cleanish. Leave in the pan on a rack to cool, and eat thickly or thinly sliced as you prefer.

Variation: Replace 2 tbsp of the flour with good cocoa powder and add 4oz chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips.

Banana Cake with Fudgy Frosting

Banana Cake w/ Fudgy Frosting

Banana Cake w/ Fudgy Frosting

[UPDATE: If you are making this, I suggest adding 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the evaporated milk, then adding more if the frosting is too thin. I've made a few bad batches- all because I added too much liquid.]

I had a fantastic potluck last night. I contributed a mushroom tart and this banana layer cake. We also had miso soup, mac and cheese, vegetarian chili, tofu scramble with gorgonzola, sweet and spicy nuts, and three bottles of wine.

The last time I hosted a potluck I baked a recipe i'd never tried. It made me stressed, so this time I was determined to cook something familiar. I've made this cake seven or eight times and I knew it'd be fantastic. It has a frosting that I actually enjoy eating- it's rich, smooth, and has good texture even when it's cold. I have no problem piling it on.

The Weekend Baker is one of my favorite cookbooks. It gives weight conversions for all the ingredients and suggestions for preparing components in advance. I baked the cake layers two days early and left them on the counter in gallon-sized ziplock bags. I cut the bags away the night before and frosted the cake, then pulled it out of the fridge two hours before the potluck.

Everyone loved it. Liz said something like: "Lisa, how do you not make this cake all the time and get really fat?" I made an effort to post the recipe quickly because multiple people requested it.

The consitency of the frosting can vary depending on the chocolate and butter you use. I suggest under-measuring the milk, and if the frosting seems too thin try adding a little more butter. Sometimes my frosting is firm enough to pipe, but sometimes it isn't. I used unsweetened baking chocolate from Trader Joes and I really preferred it to normal Bakers squares.

Banana Layer Cake with Fudgy Frosting
adapted from Abigal Johnson Dodge's The Weekend Baker

For the cake:
2 2/3 cups (340g) all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (397g) granulated sugar
3 medium, very ripe bananas (397g total including peel), peeled
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup (85g) chopped walnuts, optional

For the fudgy frosting:
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/3 cups (298g) granulated sugar
1 cup evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)
6 tbsp (85g) unsalted butter, cut in 2 pieces
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp table salt

toppings: chopped toasted walnuts, other nuts, or toasted shredded unsweetened dried coconut.

1. To make the cake: position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 350F (180C). Grease and flour the bottom and sides of two 9x2 inch (22.75x5cm) round cake pans, tapping out the excess flour. You can also line the bottoms of the pans with parchment to ensure easy and clean removal.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk until well blended. In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer (or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment) on medium high speed until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until well combined. Add the bananas and vanilla and beat until well blended and only small bits of banana remain. Add the eggs two at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture will look curdled and a bit lumpy. Don't worry, it will all come together. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until blended. Add the buttermilk and mix just until blended. Add the remaining flour and mix until blended. Stir in the walnuts, if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly.

3. Bake until the tops are light brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of one layer comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pans to racks and let cool for about 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the sides of each pan to loosen the cake. Invert the layers onto the racks, lift off the pans, and let cool completely.

4. To make the frosting: While the cake is baking, make the frosting. Melt the unsweetened chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, evaporated milk, butter, vanilla, and salt in a blender; there's no need to blend at this point. If you think your blender might be too small, divide the recipe in half and make in 2 batches. When the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat and give it a stir. Scrape the hot melted chocolate into the blender. Cover with the lid and blend on high speed until the mixture darkens and is very thick, about 2 minutes. You'll also hear the engine working harder when the frosting is sufficiently thick, and it will appear to be barely moving in the blender. It will not be pourable. Scrape the frosting into a clean bowl and set aside at room temperature. When the frosting is cool, cover the bowl with plastic wrap until the cake is completely cool and ready to frost.

5. To frost the cake: Brush away any loose crumbs from the cake layers. Center 1 layer, top side down, on a flat serving plate. To protect the plate from smears during frosting, slide small strips of foil or parchment under the bottom of the cake to cover the plate. Using a metal spatula or the dull edge of a table knife, spread 1 cup of the frosting evenly over the layer. Place the second layer, top side down, on top of the frosting. Be sure the sides are lined up and then press gently on the layer. Apply a very thin layer of frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish the top with coconut or walnuts, if using. The cake is best served at room temperature.

The cake layers can be made in advance and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw before using. The entire cake can be prepared, covered, and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sugar-and-Spice Doughnuts



I took these donuts to a meeting this morning. One of the reference staff bit into one and mentioned that his grandmother used to make something similar.

My earliest memory of donuts comes from The Puzzle Place. There's an episode where Leon details the wonders of crullers. Somehow, after trying to con another child into not picking the cruller, he ends up not getting a donut at all (until the other children each give him a fifth of theirs made into some sort of franken-donut.)

After seeing that, I always picked cruller donuts if I could find them. Mom occasionally took us to Mayer's Bakery for treats, and if they were out i'd order a chocolate cake donut with frosting and pastel sprinkles. Our family also went through a fierce, brief donut phase when Krispy Kreme franchises first exploded all over Southern California.

There's only so much pleasure you can take from a too-sweet, chemically processed pastry that either came from a package or from SYSCO (the only sort of donuts I remember eating.)

These, I could grow to love. I almost wish I had a grandmother to make me donuts. Making these was satisfying, even though I overheated the oil a few times and smelled like a fry-shop during work. I love the feel of the dough after 20 minutes of kneading, the way the donuts puff when they hit the hot oil, and the way they spring back after you bite into them. People really loved them; there weren't any leftover and I saw some people eat four or five.

The ones I ate fresh from the fryer were the best. The spices were fantastic- the orange-flower water flavor is very strong in the raw dough but it mellows out in the finished product. I've submitted these donuts to the Time to Make Donuts event hosted by Peabody and Tartelette. A very fun challenge indeed.

Sugar and Spice Doughnuts
adapted from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course

1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup + 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 tsp ground mace (or nutmeg)
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp orange flower water
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil for frying

for the topping:
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cardamom

yield: 5 1/2 dozen doughnuts

1. To make the doughnuts, in a small saucepan, heat the milk until it feels warm, not hot, to the touch. Pour the milk into a small bowl and stir in the 1/2 tbsp sugar and the yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, the mace, and the salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, 3 tbsp of water, and the orange-flower water. On low speed, add the yeast mixture, egg mixture, and melted butter to the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Switch to a dough hook and knead the dough on medium speed until it begins to form a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, 18-20 minutes. Place the dough in a large greased bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

3. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Gently lift the dough up to allow it to contract slightly. Wrap it in plastic and chill it for 30 minutes to allow the dough to rest.

4. Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the topping in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray the paper with cooking spray. Cut the dough into 1 inch squares and space them 1/2 inch apart on the prepared sheet. Spray a second sheet of parchment paper and use it to cover the doughnuts. Place the tray in a warm place and let rise for 30 minutes.

6. Fill a deep, heavy saucepan halfway with oil and heat over medium-high heat to 375 F on a deep frying thermometer. Meanwhile, line a large platter or baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Once the oil is at the proper temperature, carefully drop the doughnuts into the oil in batches, leaving enough space between them so they're not crowded. Fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the doughnuts as they cook to the paper-towel lined platter. Always check the temperature between batches to allow the oil to come back up to 375 F. Once the doughnuts are cool enough to handle, but still warm, toss with the spice topping in the mixing bowl. Shake off any excess and serve immediately.

To make these ahead, follow the recipe up to the point of rolling out the dough and shaping them, then wrap them in plastic and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Take the doughnuts out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you plan to fry them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls

I thought about delaying some recent posts to have entries ready when school and work get busy. That plan fell through pretty quickly. I have trouble being patient when recipes and photos turn out well.

This is a fabulous recipe from Carole Walter's Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins and More. I've heard great things about this book and i'm looking forward to trying more recipes. The directions are very well written.

These buns are rich, fluffy, and stuffed with a really tasty cinnamon/sugar filling. I really loved it- the filling i've used before is just soft butter sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. I do wish i'd put more sugar glaze on these. It had a fabulous consistency (though next time i'd use milk, not water). Don't be intimidated by the multiple sets of directions- these aren't very difficult to make, especially if you measure out most of the ingredients in advance.

Simple Sweet Dough
makes 2 pounds of dough, enough for 1 large or 2 medium coffee cake
4 tbsp sugar
1/4 cups warm water (110 to 115 F)
1 package active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup milk
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract

Rinse a small bowl in hot water to warm it. Add 1 tbsp of the sugar and the warm water to the bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water. Do not stir. Cover the bowl with a saucer and let the mixture stand for 5 minutes. Stir it briefly with a fork, cover again, and let it stand for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until bubbly.

In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix on low speed the 3 cups of flour, remaining 3 tbsp of sugar, and the salt. Add the slightly firm cubed butter and continue to mix until meal-size crumbs form, 2 to 4 minutes depending on the temp of the butter. Stop the mixer.

Using a fork, in a separate bowl, mix the milk, egg yolks and vanilla. Add the milk mixture to the flour, along with the dissolved yeast, and mix on low speed for about 15 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix on low speed for another 30 seconds, or until smooth dough is formed. NOTE: this is a soft dough.

Lightly butter a medium bowl for storing the dough. Empty the dough into the prepared bowl, smoothing the top with lightly floured hands. Spread a thin layer of softened butter over the top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The dough may be kept in the fridge, tightly covered, for up to 3 days.

Cinnamon Buns
1/2 recipe (about 1 pound) Simple Sweet Dough
3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 tbsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp (firmly packed) dark brown sugar
2 tbsp lyle's golden syrup or light corn syrup
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tsp water, for egg wash
1 small recipe vanilla glaze, optional

1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator 1 to 1.5 hours before using.
2. Generously butter an 8x8x2 inch square pan. Line the bottom with parchment. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, using a wooden spoon, mix the butter, sugars, syrup, cinnamon, and salt until smooth.
4. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Gently knead six or eight times to coat with flour. Pat or shape the dough into a rectangle. Roll the dough into a 9x12 inch rectangle with the 9-inch side parallel to the edge of the counter.
5. Spoon dollops of the cinnamon filling evenly across the dough, making three rows across and two rows down. Using a small offset spatula, spread the filling evenly across the dough, leaving a 1.5 inch border on the far edge. Lightly brush the border with the egg wash. Starting at the side of the rectangle closest to you, roll the dough tightly. Pinch the seam well to seal the flap. Roll the log back and forth a few times to seal the layers. With your hands, gently stretch the log until it measures about 12 inches.
6. Cut the log into 9 1 1/4 inch pieces and place them cut side up in the baking pan, spacing them evenly, three rows across and three rows down. Press the tops of the buns gently to even the surface.
7. Cover the pan with a tea towel and set it in a warmish place to allow the buns to rise until puffy and almost doubled, 45 to 60 minutes.
8. Fifteen minutes before baking, position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
9. Gently brush the tops of the buns with egg wash. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. If the buns are browning too quickly, lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top to allow the center of the buns to bake through. Remove the buns from the oven and allow them to sit for 15 minutes. While the buns are cooling, make the glaze.
10. To remove the pan, cover it with a cooling rack, invert the buns and carefully lift off the pan. Remove the parchment, then cover the buns with another rack and turn the buns top side up. If the buns have risen unevenly during baking, gently press the tops to level them. While the buns are still warm, drizzle the glaze over the top by dipping a small whisk or fork into the icing and waving it rapidly back and forth over the surface of the buns.

Store at room temperature, tightly wrapped in foil, for up to 3 days. Heat before serving.

Vanilla Glaze
2/3 cup strained powdered sugar
2-3 tsp very hot water
1 1/2 tsp light corn syrup
1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract
few drops lemon juice
pinch of salt

Place the powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Add 2 tsp of the hot water, the corn syrup, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until smooth. Add 1 additional tsp hot water or more as needed to make a thin glaze.

*Make this just before using, or keep it warm in a bowl of hot water (it gets crusty very quickly.) You can also substitute milk or cream for a richer, whiter glaze.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Nigella Lawson's Snickerdoodles.

Nigella's Snickerdoodles

I love it when my roommate borrows my cookbooks. I get to sample treats I might never make myself and I don't have to wash any dishes!

I'd passed over this recipe before, thinking oh i've made tons of snickerdoodles already. When Kim said she'd made snickerdoodles, I was surprised to see these donut-hole looking things on the table. They actually taste quite a bit like donut holes when they're fresh from the oven.

They're definitely satisfying, given the minimal effort that goes into making them.

adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 baking sheets, lined with parchment or greased

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt, and set aside for a moment. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the 1/3 cup sugar until light in texture and pale in color, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Now stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth, coherent mixture. Spoon out the remaining sugar and the cinnamon onto a plate. Then, with your fingers, squeeze out pieces of the dough and roll between the palms of your hands into walnut sized balls. Roll each ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and arrange on your prepared baking sheets.

Bake for about 15 minutes, by which time they should be turning golden brown. Take out of the oven and leave to rest on the baking sheets for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Variation: replace 2 tbsp of the flour with cocoa to make "chocodoodles."

Ginger Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Ginger Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Ginger Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

When a batch of cookies goes awry, sometimes it's the recipe's fault. Other times, it's your fault. Well- at least your equipment's fault.

Once, I took a batch of these gingersnaps to my friend's office the same day one of his coworkers did. Even though we used the same recipe, our cookies looked and tasted nothing alike. It was clear we approached things very differently; he mentioned spending time in Whole Foods searching for "packed brown sugar."

There are so many variables involved in cookie baking: technique, baking time, temperature, equipment, ingredients, cooling understand them, you must bake lots of cookies.

I made a big bowl of Ginger Oatmeal Raisin Cookie dough and experimented with each dozen I baked. I baked some batches for 10 minutes, and others for 12-16. I used different types of cookie sheets. I left some cookies on the sheet to cool and moved others to racks individually. I flattened the cookies to different thicknesses. I put little squares of candied ginger on some and left others plain. I fiddled with the oven temperature and oven rack position.

Eventually, I found my favorite combination: one inch balls of dough, flattened and garnished with ginger, baked on a parchment-lined half-sheet pan in the upper middle rack of my oven for 10 minutes at 325 F and an extra 2-3 minutes at 330 F, and cooled completely on the cookie sheet.

There's no guarantee this method will work for you. You probably have a different oven, different cookie sheets, different weather, and a different taste in cookies. I like mine crunchy at the edges, chewy in the middle, nicely golden, and well spiced.

I like this recipe. The cayenne pepper and ginger add a nice bite to an otherwise traditional, satisfying oatmeal raisin cookie.

Ginger Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
adapted from Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot
1 1/2 cups (223g) all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch cubes and chilled
2/3 cup (114g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (114g) sugar
2 tbsp candied ginger, finely chopped, plus more for garnish if desired
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
2 large eggs
1 tbsp whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups (170g) old fashioned rolled oats
1 1/4 cups (170g) raisins, preferably golden

1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda and set aside.

2. Put the butter, both sugars, the ginger, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne, into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. With the machine running, add the eggs one at a time, then add the milk and vanilla. As soon as the liquids are incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

3. Turn the mixer speed to low and add half the flour mixture. When it is incorporated, add the remaining flour and mix until no traces of flour remain. Stir in the oats and raisins. If you have time, cover the dough and let chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 3 days, before baking.

4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Scoop the cookie dough into 1 inch balls and put 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Use your palm to slightly flatten each ball, then sprinkle the tops with chopped candied ginger, if desired.

6. Bake the cookies until lightly golden brown, about 10 minutes*. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

*I pulled one batch of cookies at exactly 10 minutes and they were way under-baked. My baking time also varied depending on the type of cookie sheet I used. Wait until the cookies are no longer wet/shiny on top. They should be just golden at the edges. Bake them longer for a crispier cookie.

Banana Gugelhupf

Banana Gugelhupf

Banana Gugelhupf

I find bananas very motivational. You can buy them, ignore them, and then discover they're perfectly ripe for baking. Some of my favorite recipes involve bananas: Abigail Johnson Dodge's banana cake with chocolate frosting, Bill Granger's banana upside-down cake, Pichet Ong's banana bread, Flo Braker's banana cake with espresso caramel frosting...

I loved this banana gugelhupf from Kaffeehaus as soon as I tasted it. It's very delicate- that's not a word I usually associate with banana desserts. More often I call them hearty, comforting, rich, rustic, or indulgent.

Powdered sugar and heavy cream give this cake a very fine crumb that slices beautifully. The lemon zest makes the cake wonderfully fragrant and unique tasting. I'm tempted to try adding some lavender in the future, or a lavender glaze like my friend at Cookworm has used.

I wish i'd made this for an occasion; it makes me so crazy when I bake something fantastic and I can't find people to share it with. I gave huge pieces to a neighbor on the seventh floor and my old roommate's boyfriend, but there's still half a cake looking lonely on my counter-top.

adapted from Rick Rodgers' Kaffeehaus

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium bananas)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 F. Butter the inside of a 9 to 9.5 inch Gugelhupf mold or fluted tube pan. Coat with flour and tap out the excess. (I just used PAM.)

2. Beat the butter in a medium bowl with a hand held electric mixer on high speed until smooth , about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the confectioners' sugar. Return the speed to high and beat until very light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs, beating well after each addition.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside. In another medium bowl, whisk the bananas, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and lemon zest until the sugar is dissolved. With the mixer on low speed, one third at a time, alternately beat in the flour and banana mixtures, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, until the batter is smooth. Pour into the pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert onto the rack and cool completely. The cake can be made up to 1 day ahead, covered with plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Apricot Almond Bars

Apricot Almond Bars

Most of the recipes in The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook looked simple and fun, so I it out from the library. I'll try a few recipes and see how reliable they are.

The Strawberry Almond Bars sounded different than other bar cookies I've seen. They have a cocoa crust topped with jam and an almond meringue. I substituted apricot preserves and omitted the chocolate chips (I thought they'd make the bars too sweet and busy). In retrospect, I think strawberry jam would have tasted better.

Be sure to let the bars cool completely before eating- they fall apart easily when warm, and you can't taste the individual flavors. I really liked the crust and the meringue topping, but i'm not too enthused about the recipe in general. Feel free to try it for yourself!

Strawberry Almond Bars
adapted from The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook by Barbara Grunes

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp almond extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Jam Filling:
3/4 cup strawberry jam, or other jam of your choice
1 tbsp water
1 cup white or semisweet chocolate chips (*I omitted these.)

Macaroon Topping:
4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups ground almonds
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp grated lemon zest
3/4 cup slivered almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Spray or grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.

2. Prepare the crust. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and cocoa until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes. Beat in the almond extract and flour until a crumbly dough forms.

3. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is set. Remove the pan from the oven and increase the temperature to 375 F.

4. Prepare the filling. In a small bowl, mix the strawberry jam with the water. Spread the mixture evenly over the crust. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the jam.

5. Prepare the topping. In a large bowl, using the electric mixer, beat the egg whites, ground almonds, sugar, almond extract, and lemon zest until frothy, about 1 minute. Carefully pour the almond mixture over the jam. Sprinkle the bars evenly with the slivered almonds.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until just firm to the touch and beginning to turn golden on top. Cool completely, then cut into bars.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Green Tea Pudding

Green Tea Pudding

Green Tea Pudding

Sometimes I try recipes for pleasure, and sometimes I try recipes for research. When I look at a recipe I usually think one of three things:

1. This looks delicious and I want to eat it.
2. I've never made this before.
3. This is a pretty photo and I want to make a pretty dessert.

I chose the green tea puddings from The Sweet Spot because I like green tea, I rarely make pudding, and I have a pile of gelatin sheets in the cupboard.

The puddings came out much greener than the ones pictured in the book. Food photography can be decieving; sometimes the dessert is executed differently in the photo than in the recipe. I often see visible change-ups in baking pans, cutting techniques, or ingredients.

This pudding recipe doesn't overdo the gelatin; the texture was very nice. The green tea flavor is very strong, so I don't recommend it if you aren't passionate about matcha. Do try and serve the puddings with a large dollop of whipped cream and fresh fruit. They are lighter than most panna cottas and extra richness, texture, and flavor makes them much more interesting.

I'd consider making the chocolate or raspberry pudding variations. While this dessert isn't my favorite (generally I hate anything with noticeable gelatin use), it's very elegant and easy to make. It'd be a good, light party dessert.

Green Tea Pudding
adapted from The Sweet Spot by Pichet Ong and Genevieve Ko

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 gelatin sheets, soaked in cold water until softened and drained, or 1.5 tsp powdered gelatin, softened in 2 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp matcha powder
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup diced mango for garnish
whipped cream, optional

Put the milk, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until bubbles begin to form around the edges. Add the gelatin and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let the mixture sit until it cools to room temperature.

Whisk the green tea powder and lemon juice into the gelatin mixture and continue whisking until the green tea powder dissolves completely (a hand blender makes this easier.) Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Divide among eight small serving bowls or cups and refrigerate, uncovered, until set, about 3 hours.

Garnish with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rocky Road Bars, and a Contest.

Rocky Road Bars

I never made an official New Year's resolution, but I do have some goals in mind. I'd like to try more new recipes. I'd like to learn more about photography. On a positive note, I'm swing dancing and running regularly and I'm happier than i've been in a while!

I'd like to offer a small challenge. I will bake and mail/give something to the first person who can correctly identify this food object in a comment. You can suggest types of baked goods (cookies, bars, tea cakes) or flavors (chocolate, nuts, fruits) you'd prefer, but please be reasonable. Leave an e-mail address so I can get in touch with you.

Franmag correctly identified this as a coconut grater. More specifically, it's a Kumyu (come-joo). It's very handy for Chamorro cooking. According to mom, my grandmother used to grate 16 coconuts 3 times a day to feed the pigs.

I'm thinking of making a little video on opening and grating coconuts. We'll see.

Birthday Gift

Monday, January 14, 2008

Baking Resumes This Week.

Pear Chocolate Pistachio Tart
Chocolate Pear Pistachio Tart

Chai and Burnt Sugar Gelato
Burnt Sugar and Chai Gelato

Dinner at Tinto was excellent, as was the pulled pork sandwich with garlic-loaded broccoli rabe from Dinic's.

I made another batch of Rocky Road Bars, and tomorrow I have plans to try the green tea puddings from Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot. I've also ordered several new cookbooks, so hopefully more posts are on the way.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Weekend in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Needs Eated is on a brief hiatus, if you haven't noticed. I'm in Philadelphia for the ALA Midwinter Conference.

Philadelphia is an interesting city that's full of culinary delights. Here's a sampling of what i've been enjoying:

1) Burnt Sugar, Chai, Heirloom Apple Marscarpone, and Toasted Almond gelato from Capogiro. Heirloom Apple Marscarpone was unbelievable. I'll try a few more flavors before I leave.

2) Coffee and a bagel sandwich from Mugshots. Their espresso is fantastic.

3) Simple, good Korean food from Giwa.

4) A plain croissant and a poached pear/chocolate/pistachio tart from The Metropolitan Bakery. I've heard mixed reviews about this bakery in the past. I thought the pastries were fantastic. I really appreciate that their tart crusts are crunchy on the bottom and the pastries are very well browned, as good pastries should be.

5) Some beets and feta, a smoked mozzarella and crispy prosciutto sandwich, and a good glass of red wine from Tria. It reminded me a little of 'ino and Cube.

6)A massive veggie burger with sweet potato fries and coleslaw from Sabrina's Cafe. They have great breakfast, brunch, and lunch offerings.

7) Some of a Belgian sugar waffle from Bonte. I didn't really care for it; the sugary crust was nice, but the waffle itself was overly dense like undercooked churro batter. I'm so picky about waffles.

Tomorrow i'm going to Tinto for a belated birthday dinner. There are many places I would have loved to try if I had more time: Remedy Tea Bar, Monk's Cafe, Scoop DeVille...

I will be eating pretty simply when I get back to Pittsburgh. For now, i'm enjoying myself.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Brother with Coffee Cake.

Brother with Coffee Cake

My brother decided to imitate my dad.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Blueberry Crumb Cake

Blueberry Crumb Cake

I'm pretty sure i've made every recipe with streusel from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From my Home to Yours.

I'm looking forward to returning to Pittsburgh, but i'll miss my family's enthusiasm for good breakfast cakes. This Blueberry Crumb Cake has been out of the oven for less than three hours and it's already more than half gone.

The cake batter was very thick- so much so that I thought the amount of liquid was a misprint. I didn't worry too much though; this cookbook is extremely reliable. I love the streusel- it's golden, crunchy, and rich with brown sugar.

The recipe lends itself well to alteration too. I used toasted almonds instead of walnuts (my brother has nut allergies) and orange zest. I'd love to try some of Dorie's suggestions for other fruits, like raspberries, cubed peaches, or apricots.

Blueberry Crumb Cake
adapted from Baking From my Home to Yours

For the crumbs:
5 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

For the cake:
1 pint (2 cups) blueberries (preferably fresh, or frozen, not thawed)
2 cups plus 2 tsp all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon or 1/4 orange
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 inch square pan and put it on a baking sheet.

To make the crumbs: put all the ingredients except the nuts in a food processor and pulse just until the mixture forms clumps and curds and holds together when pressed. Scrape the topping into a bowl, stir in the nuts, and press a piece of plastic against the surface. Refrigerate until needed. (Covered well, the crumb mix can be refrigerated for up to three days.)

To make the cake: Using your fingertips, toss the blueberries and 2 tsp of the flour together in a small bowl just to coat the berries; set aside. Whisk together the remaining 2 cups flour, the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the sugar with the butter at medium speed until light, about three minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, beating for about 1 minutes after each addition, then beat in the vanilla extract. Don't be concerned if the batter looks curdled- it will soon smooth out. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately, the flour in three parts and the buttermilk in 2 (begin and end with they dry ingredients.) You will have a thick, creamy batter. With a rubber spatula, gently stir in the berries.

Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and smooth the top gently with the spatula. Pull the crumb mix from the fridge and, with your fingertips, break it into pieces. There's no need to try to get even pieces- these are crumbs, they're supposed to be every shape and size. Scatter the crumbs over the batter, pressing them down ever so slightly.

Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden and a thin knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool just until it is warm or until it reaches room temperature.