Saturday, October 25, 2008

Updated Pittsburgh Eatery Map

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I've edited my "Places to Eat and Buy Food in Pittsburgh" map. I've added some new places I like and removed some places that closed or changed hands. Remember, this list is personal, not comprehensive.

I leave for Paris tomorrow! We have tons of plans. Here are a few definite ones: We're having lunch at Le Jules Verne and dinners at Le Violon D'Ingres and L'Entredgeu (among other places). We're going to the Salon du Chocolat. We're going to some markets, cookware and serveware stores, and cookbook stores. We're going to Poilane, Pierre Herme, Sadaharu Aoki, Berthillon, Eric Kayser, and however many bakeries/chocolate stores I can cram in.

I'm planning to spend a good chunk of time just walking around. It's supposed to rain, but I don't really mind.

I've behind in the blogging- I have some funny stories about making restaurant reservations in French, and pictures of quiche lorraine, Peter Reinhart's cinnamon rolls, and two kinds of pumpkin muffins.

I will try and take plenty of pictures. See you when i'm back from Paris.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sour Cream Fudge Cake w/ Peanut Butter Frosting

Chocolate Cake w/ Peanut Butter Frosting

Chocolate Cake w/ Peanut Butter Frosting

What makes a good birthday cake?

When I was a kid, I didn’t want a fancy, elaborate layer cake. I wanted a cake with Gumby on it. I wanted my mother to make the same lemon and german chocolate cake recipes over and over again. I ogled grocery store cakes adorned with neon-colored sugar roses and ballerinas, and I obsessed over a Cinderella cake complete with tired looking buttercream pumpkins and delicate figurines.

The mid-twenties birthday lacks the magic of a childhood birthday. In fact, if you live alone and far from home, birthdays can seem quite selfish. Casual mention your own birthday at work or in public can be misinterpreted as a scheme for free food, swag, and personal validation. Consequently, you get in the habit of either hiding your birth date, or telling anyone who will listen that you want NO gifts, NO parties, and certainly NO cake.

I rarely get cake these days. I’ve had my share of practically non-existent birthdays- the sort of birthday where you’re too busy reheating leftovers and rushing out the door for a five hour rehearsal to think about cakes and singing.

A good birthday cake doesn’t have to look or taste good (though it’s certainly a bonus if it does). In my opinion, birthday cake success is dependent on how, where, when, and with whom the cake is eaten. I asked a number of my friends to recall their favorite birthday cakes, and most of them said the majority of their cakes had been "average." So what makes an average cake spectacular?

My friend Anusha said: I like when it's something that is special for me...I love oreos, so an oreo anything cake is AWESOME. I also like when there's some deep tradition in it-like we got the same cake for YEARS for my sister's birthday."

My friend Peter said while he was on the Atkins Diet, his wife made him a cake out of frozen blueberries and cream. It wasn't exactly a cake, but it was "so completely insane" that he loved it.

One of my best friends turned 25 last week, and since he is worth celebrating I made him a cake. I picked out this Sour Cream Fudge Cake with Peanut Butter frosting from The Cake Book because it looked simple and good. We lit candles, sang, and ate huge, sprinkle-topped slices from the pan. The frosting consistency was a little strange, but nobody noticed.

For me, a good cake should rekindle memories of candles, singing, tradition, family, friends, and childhood wishes. It should reflect its recipient, and be given with the best intentions. I’ll turn a blind eye to stray eggshells, neon-colored frosting, or lopsided layers if a friend takes the time to make me a cake.

Sour Cream Fudge Cake
adapted from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup hot water

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13 pan and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.

3. Put the chocolate in a medium stainless steel bowl and place over a pot of barely simmering water. Heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside to cool until tepid.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium high speed until well blended and light. At medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla extract until blended. Add the chocolate in two additions, mixing until blended. At low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the sour cream in 2 additions and mixing until blended. Add the hot water 1/3 at a time, mixing until blended. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, stir the batter a few times to ensure it is blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

5. Bake the cake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack.

6. Frost the top of the cake with peanut butter frosting. Serve the cake from the pan, cutting it into squares and sprinkling with sugared peanuts (or chocolate sprinkles). Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural or low sugar.)
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup whole milk

1. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the peanut butter and butter at medium speed until well blended and smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla and mix until blended. At low speed, gradually add the confectioners' sugar in 3 additions, alternating it with the milk in 2 additions. Beat at low speed until creamy, about 1 minute.

2. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie

Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie

Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie

I tried another pie recipe from The Modern Baker. It calls for chopped pecans, which I omitted for budgetary reasons. The crust was something of a disaster; I made two batches and the first was too wet to work with. Next time i'll be more watchful when adding the egg/water mixture.

This pie is relatively light- it uses 6 tbsp of butter in the crust as opposed to 9-16 (and I never use the whole batch) and buttermilk instead of cream or condensed/evaporated milk.

The recipe was for a 10 or 11 inch tart (I can't remember), but I only had a 9.5 inch tart pan. Luckily, the pan was large enough to accommodate the filling.

The pie was pretty good, but I prefer the Butternut Squash Pie I made earlier in the month.

With all the work and vacation planning, I've been a little behind in blogging. Rest assured that i'll give you more recipes soon!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Spiced Apple and Sour Cream Muffins

Spiced Apple and Sour Cream Muffins

These muffins from Kate Zuckerman's The Sweet Life did not last two hours at work. I almost wish i'd saved an extra one for myself. The recipe says to divide the batter evenly among 12 molds, but the batter yielded enough for 14-16. Kate has also made a note of this on her website.

The muffins were tender, nicely-spiced, and studded with moist chunks of sauteed golden delicious apples. The apples I picked up at the Oakland Farmer's Market were fantastic and held their shape well.

I'm trying to ease up on the baking before my trip. Paris in less than two weeks! Here's a map of places/eateries that piqued my interest. I have pages and pages of suggestions from friends/guidebooks/blogs, and i'm trying to narrow them down. I'll be leaving in plenty of unscheduled time too. When I vacation, my favorite thing to do is just walk around and look at things.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sour Cream-Apple Pie

Sour Cream Apple Pie

Sour Cream Apple Pie

With some teeth-gnashing and trepidation, I've been trying the Carnegie Library's copy of Nick Malgieri's The Modern Baker. This new cookbook focuses on time saving tools and techniques geared towards busy home bakers. Malgieri is an accomplished chef and cookbook author, so I had really high hopes for his latest (given its conceptual similarity to The Weekend Baker).

I've had trouble with some of the recipes, and i'm not sure why. It could be my oven, my technique, or my interpretation of the directions. It could be the writing, the layout, or the original test conditions. It could be the weather. Anyway, here are some of my notes:

The small typeface is hard to read. Granted, I prop my cookbook a few feet away and glance at it periodically, but this is the first time i've misread measurements while cooking.

So far, i've only tried the Raisin Spice Squares, the Irish Soda Muffins, and the Sour Cream-Apple Pie. The raisin squares needed extra baking time, and they weren't to my taste. They had a brownie-like texture, which was distracting given that they don't have chocolate in them. I found the raisin and molasses flavor overwhelming.

The Irish Soda Muffins were quick to assemble, but plain-tasting (I omitted the optional caraway). They'd be nice spread with jam, since they're not too sweet.

The Apple-Sour Cream Pie was phenomenal, despite some technical difficulties. My crust drooped over the edge of the pan on one side, and the streusel sank deep into the custard (which overflowed slightly). The bottom didn't brown as well as I would have liked, probably because it was frozen when I assembled the pie.

Luckily, the finished pie sliced perfectly and everyone loved it. The crust was really interesting- the edges were crunchy, but the bottom was spongy and cake-like. It was a nice complement to the apples and sour cream custard.

I am very curious to hear if any of you have tried recipes from the book and whether or not you've had success. I'm going to try a few more- i'll let you know how it goes. I'm reminded of the experience I had with the Tartine cookbook, where no recipe I tried turned out the way it was supposed to...

I'm going try some more recipes, probably pies for now since the first one was encouraging. This blogger had some positive experiences with the cakes, and has posted some photos.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Butternut Squash Pie

Butternut Squash Pie

Butternut Squash Pie Filling

This weekend, I decided to try David Lebovitz's recipe for Butternut Squash Pie. I bought a large butternut squash in the Strip District and defrosted a big chunk of leftover tart dough.

I really love the Rich Shortcrust Pastry Dough from this post. Even when rolled very thin, it stays flaky, delicate, and crisp. The base recipe is intended for savory tarts, but you can add 2 tbsp confectioners' sugar for sweet ones.

My tart shells were quite shallow; I ended up with enough filling for one 9-inch tart, three 4-inch tarts, and six 4oz ramekins (the original recipe is for one 10-inch pie). I baked the ramekins in a water bath until they were mostly set but slightly wobbly in the middle. They turned out well, though they'd be better with some whipped cream, ice cream, streusel, or sugared nuts sprinkled on top.

I'm not sure I prefer butternut squash pie to pumpkin pie, but it's certainly delicious and fall-appropriate. Like Lebovitz, I prefer this pie chilled (but i've always had an affinity for cold pumpkin pie).

Fall is my favorite season, and i've definitely caught the fall baking bug. You'll be seeing an assortment of apple and pumpkin desserts very soon...

Butternut Squash Pie
adapted from David Lebovitz's Room for Dessert
makes one 10-inch pie

2 pounds butternut squash (for about 2 cups pulp)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
4 eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extrct
1 tbsp brandy
one 10-inch prebaked pie crust

1. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and rub generously with butter.

2. Slice the squash in half lengthwise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and fibers from the cavity. Place the halves cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, until tender and fully cooked.

3. While the squash is baking, mix together the cream, milk, eggs, sugar, spices, salt, vanilla, and brandy.

4. When the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven and turn the oven down to 375F. Scoop out the squash pulp and add to the other ingredients. Mix until smooth in a food processor or blender.

5. Pour the warm filling into the pre-baked pie shell and bake for 30-35 minutes, until just barely set in the center. (I poured the filling through a strainer).