Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Winter Fruit Crisp

Have you ever read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? In case you haven't, it's a pretty incredible memoir of a year the famous writer and her family spent living on the land doing everything from farming to slaughtering animals to baking bread daily. While some have a love-hate relationship with it (read the reviews. People can be brutal!), I actually learned a ton about what is in season when and how to maximize seasonal produce. The book is filled with recipes and while this is not one of them (although there is probably something similar), the seasonality and of-the-land qualities of the book inspired me to make a winter fruit crisp. Well, that book and the fact that our Aunt Camille sent us a gorgeous box of red apples and pears from Harry & David last week. Thanks, Aunt Camille!

I am certainly not the first person to combine apples, pears and cranberries. I'm pretty sure my culinary heroes have all done it. But, this simple rendition with a little cardamom for warmth and rich vanilla ice cream to balance it all out is a happy, tummy-warming treat perfect for an evening by the fire. It travels pretty well, too, if you'd like to take it to a family holiday meal or a party. This little gem passes my ultimate holiday dessert litmus test: it tastes even better as breakfast the next day.

It's the holidays. I'm feeling warm and fuzzy all over. Posting this makes me think that perhaps one of you will bake it for your family and they'll have the warm fuzzies, too. Because, really, this season is all about connection, love and light. All of which I wish to you.

xox,

A.

Winter Fruit Crisp
The Winter Fruit:
3 red apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3 green apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 C cranberries, washed and dried
1/2 C brown sugar
1/4 C flour
3 T fresh orange juice
2 T sugar
1 t orange zest
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t cardamom

The Crisp:
1 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 t kosher salt
3/4 C oats
12 T unsalted butter, chilled and cubed

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a medium casserole dish (mine is about 9"x11"). 

Prepare the fruit. Here's what you do - put everything into a bowl and gently toss until the fruit is coated in the sugar and flour.

Make the crisp. Pour the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Cut the butter into the dry mixture until the butter bits are pea-sized and fairly well incorporated.

Pour the fruit into your casserole dish and sprinkle the crisp mixture over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Remove, let cool for 20-30 minutes and serve warm with, of course, vanilla ice cream. Or, if you can find it, use cinnamon ice cream. I'll be thinking of you as the warm crisp and cool ice cream hit your mouth and fill it with wonder. Enjoy!!!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread


Happy Holidays to you!

It's my very favorite time of year: cookie exchange season! Normally, I make a molasses ginger spice cookie, but I was feeling very chocolate, so I turned to Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery Cookbook where I discovered the most delectable recipe for chocolate shortbread (and then modified it, because, well, I am me). From there, I went wild with ganache, peppermint sticks, you know, whatever I could find! Let's chat more later, but for now, here are some delicious, soft, chocolatey treats to enjoy!

xox,

A.



Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread

The Shortbread
1-3/4 C plus 1-1/2 T flour
1 C plus 1-1/2 T cocoa (use fine quality like Valrhona if you can)
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
8 oz. unsalted butter
2 t kosher salt
3/4 C plus 1 T sugar

The Ganache
4 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
2 T butter
1 T cream

2-3 peppermint sticks, crushed

Make the cookie dough. Whisk the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Cream the butter until light, about one minute. Add the salt and then the sugar and cream together another 2 minutes, until fluffy.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter in 2 additions, scraping the bowl between additions. Roll the dough into a ball and then flatten it out to make a disc. Refrigerate 1-24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325. Roll out your dough to about 1/8" thick and, using cookie cutter shapes, cut out your cookies. In this case, I refrigerated the dough in logs and simply sliced them, but shapes are SO much prettier!

Bake in batches, about 15 minutes per batch. 

Let cool.

Make the ganache. Melt the butter in a high-density saucepan on very low heat. Add the cream and heat until hot, but not boiling. Add the chocolate and let sit one minute. Stir until fully blended.

If you haven't already, crush your peppermint sticks (or candy canes) by placing them into a plastic baggie and either rolling over them with a rolling pin or just hitting them against your counters or floors until they're in tiny pieces.

Spread each cooled cookie with ganache and immediately sprinkle peppermint candy dust over them. Let them set about 20 minutes (at least) and up to 2 days. Serve with hot tea or, if you're really feeling decadent, hot cocoa. Merry, merry!














Friday, December 5, 2014

Buttermilk Doughnuts

Does anyone else feel like the world is spinning extra fast this holiday season?

Nothing gets me grounded like creating a kitchen project that fills the house with warm, toasty, sweet scents and, of course, fills our bellies with the comfort and nurturing one can only get from homemade goods. Thank goodness, then, for my doughnut-loving nephew and his birthday a few weeks ago. Just as the holiday season was kicking off, we were celebrating this young man turning thirteen and knocking us out with his sharp wit and grown-up sense of himself. For example, when pressed to complete his very first tackle football season (his dad was an all-star footballer in high school and the kid got his aptitude), he looked me right in the eye and said, "Auntie, I'm the person who wants to help people up, not knock them down." That shut me right up. He followed that up with a firm, but gentle man sentence: "I'm not willing to play". Oh, where does the time go???

Rather than cake, I wanted to make the nephew his favorite treat: doughnuts. His favorite are chocolate, mine are buttermilk. Today, we'll talk buttermilk and later this month, I'll post the chocolate.

While I most definitely consider myself an expert doughnut eater, I'm not an expert doughnut maker. Honestly, I have a healthy fear of hot, bubbling oil and am always quite anxiety-ridden over how long to leave things in there. Like, I look at it and it seems done, but is it really? And if it's uncooked on the inside, I can fry it again, but that makes for an oily texture and pretty disgusting flavor. Essentially, unless I fry things perfectly, I've wasted the ingredients, the oil and my (very precious) time.

I sought out an expert doughnut maker and discovered Elinor Klivans who happens to have written a cook book called "Donuts". She gives all the technical advice I needed to execute perfectly fried, delicious doughs and offers tons of suggestions on prettifying them, too. For this recipe, we're keeping it simple, which is always my favorite place to start.

Before beginning, you'll need a few pieces of special equipment if, like me, you don't own a deep fryer:
1. an 8+ quart stock pot
2. a candy thermometer
3. a doughnut cutter

Buttermilk Doughnuts with Cinnamon Sugar

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cranberry Pear Ozark Pudding Cake

Did you think I'd gone missing? It's been over a week since I last blogged and I missed you guys!

Last weekend, we had our new friends Brandy and Toya and their daughter Jasper over for brunch and, naturally, I wanted to serve something sweet. The thing about serving sweets at breakfast is that I always feel there should be balance. For example, if I've made cinnamon rolls, we'll also have scrambled egg whites with spinach or something like that. Maybe it's because a former yoga client of mine told me to always eat protein before I ate dessert (keeps you calmer and less insulin is released or something. I'm not a scientist and neither is he, so, we're winging it out here in CA) or maybe it's because I was literally called "fatty" in 4th grade (not that that left a mark or anything), but I do like to balance my sweets with lots of veg and protein. For this occasion,  I made a main course called Strata at Toya's suggestion - and, boy was she right. Cheesy, toasty, eggy, and chock-full of vegetables, I want to blog about that another time, so today let's just talk about the cake.

The pudding cake recipe comes from Julie Richardson's Vintage Cakes where she shares its purported history. Apparently first lady Bess Truman served it to Winston Churchill, so, while it's a simple cake, it's got a lofty history. There was nothing in Ms. Richardson's book that suggested one serve it at breakfast, but with all the fruit, I thought, why not? She suggests dried cranberries but I adore the tartness of fresh, plus it's November. Also, she makes hers in a 10" iron skillet and while I definitely recommend that for presentation, I only have a 12" skillet and that would have just made for an overly thin mess. It's easy to see why this is called a pudding cake because it's moist like a giant under-baked cookie. One thing I'll change the next time around is that I won't add the almonds into the batter. Toya and her husband Brandy disagreed with me there, but, it was too much almond for me. I'm putting the recipe exactly as I made it below, but I do recommend perhaps a bit less almond.

By the way, we had a nearly hysterical discussion in which we all tried to figure out where the Ozarks are. I was wrong. Brandy was right. I am humbled by my ignorance of the terrain in my own country. Let's leave it at that. 

Anyhow, please make this one. It's easy to put together and really unexpected and different. Excellent warm with fresh whipped cream, it would also love a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and it will also stand alone extremely well. We had a great time eating it up with our new friends and we know you will, too. It's a winner.

xox,

A.

Cranberry Pear Ozark Pudding Cake
2 large pears, peeled, quartered and cored
1 C flour
1 t baking powder
1 t ginger
1/2 t salt
4 T butter, at room temp
1 C sugar
1 large egg, at room temp
1 t vanilla
1/2 C slivered almonds, toasted
2/3 C fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
1 additional t sugar, set aside

whipped cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 10" springform or cake pan.

Finely chop one of the pears and thinly slice the other. Halve 3 or 4 cranberries and set them aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, ginger, salt into a bowl and whisk them together. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until just blended. Add the egg and vanilla and blend on medium another 5 minutes, until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl once a minute or so. Set your mixer on low and add the flour mixture. Blend. It's going to look like cookie dough.

Fold in the chopped pear and roughly chopped cranberries (not the halved ones) plus about 1/4 C of the almonds. Once blended, pour the batter into your pan and spread evenly throughout.

Fan the sliced pears in a wide circle and add your halved cranberries in the center. Sprinkle with the additional 1 t sugar and the remaining almonds.

Bake 35-40 minutes, until set. It'll still be wet-looking. That's fine. In fact, it's an asset.

Serve warm with freshly whipped cream. Mmm.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Slow Cooker Oatmeal

Oh, hi. It's October. And I'm still talking about pumpkin. And, you know what? In November I can pretty much count on talking about pumpkin then, too. Because, it's fall. And pumpkin is the original harvest vegetable. At least, when I think of a September/October harvest and a veg that keeps really well through a long winter, pumpkin is like old faithful. It takes a loooong time for these hardheads to go bad, making them perfect fodder for fall and winter baking and cooking.

As I was seeking out what other bakers have been doing with their harvest, I came across a sweet little blog called Sweet Anna's. I pretty much love everything about this blog. Miss Anna has even smartly developed a recipes tab complete with meal planning and shopping lists. I am humbled by her greatness and it is in that spirit that I very minimally edited her recipe for what she calls Pumpkin Pie Slow Cooker Overnight Oatmeal. She admits that her family likes things sweet, and I opted for a little less sugar. She uses pumpkin pie spice and I spell out which spices I used because, well, I love a lot of ginger and allspice and I don't want you to miss out!

Anyhow, you know how sometimes I tell you that a recipe is easy? Mostly, they are. Some are pretty simple. Some are simple to those who know something about cooking and baking. And, then, some of them are truly Stacy-Hamilton-in-Fast-Times-at-Ridgemont-High-easy. This is one such recipe. I mean it. My four year old could put it together without much instruction.

This recipe makes me think of group ski trips - the kind where several families rent one house and one family is responsible for each meal. Or, one of those long winter weekends with kids when you don't want to have to cook every single freaking breakfast for pete's sake. Ooh! Or snow days. You could feed it to the kids all day long on a snow day. Hehe.

A few things to plan for:
  1. this recipe will take 8 hours in your slow cooker. So, plan to compile ingredients in your slow cooker bowl but not turn it on until before you go to bed, unless you want the sticky mass of burnt oatmeal on the bottom that I created
  2. this will be more oatmeal than a family of 3 or 4 can eat in one sitting. Plan to freeze 1/2 to 1 C at a time so you have individual servings later on. Or make this for a crowd when you have one over the holidays
  3. you have control of how sweet this one is. It can be syrupy like pumpkin pie or plainer like actual oatmeal. We went for the plainer so we could add pure brown sugar on top. Because, duh. 
  4. fyi, Trader Joe's has Irish Oats for less than you'll find them in the regular markets. And if you're a Costco member, try there, too. Once you eat steel cut oats, you may not ever want the mush of quick-cooking oatmeal ever again
Okay, that's it. I leave you to it. It will be spectacular. As are you.

xox,

A.

Pumpkin Spice Slow Cooker Oatmeal
Serves 8 
6 C filtered water
1 C vanilla soymilk
1-1/2 C steel cut oats
1 C pumpkin puree (remember that pumpkin I roasted?)
3/4 C raisins
1/2 C brown sugar (or up to 1 C if you prefer it sweeter)
2-1/2 t cinnamon
3/4 t ginger
3/4 t allspice
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t sea salt

Measure all your ingredients. Put them into the bowl of your slow cooker. Stir until well blended. Turn your slow cooker on low and leave it alone for 8 hours.

Top with butter, cream, brown sugar, cinnamon, sliced toasted almonds: really, whatever sounds good!

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Not-At-All-Spooky Halloween Cookie Party

Here's how this all went down: last Wednesday, Lulu had a play date scheduled with Charlie. Charlie and Lulu wanted a fun activity, so, of course, Little Miss Baker thought it would be fun to make Halloween cutout cookies and decorate them. After securing 4 adorably spooky cookie cutters at Williams-Sonoma, LMB rolled on over to her favorite cake supply store to see what cute decorations they might have. You might be able to guess, but at this point, I'm about $40 into this play date. As any good mother in San Diego County would do, I found myself at Target buying Halloween plates, napkins and, naturally, candy corn (for the kids!!!). Without a single phone call, this play date had clearly become a party.

Thank goodness Charlie's mom is so cool because we invited a small troop of the girls from Lulu's preschool to come by that very Wednesday and decorate some cookies. In perfect Halloween spirit, as soon as they arrived, the girls went through Lulu's closet and changed into dress up clothes - all of the princess variety (they are 4!). After running around our tiny very cozy condo for a while, they all sat perfectly quietly and decorated cookies like little masters. Each decorated one for herself and, if she had the patience, a few for her family. (Very bad iPhone photos below.) 

The best part of all this was what a great time we all had with, really, a minimum of planning and expectations. If only the rest of life went like this play date!

We have one week till Halloween. I strongly suggest baking up some impromptu fun!

xox,

A.

P.S. Cookie recipe is here. The glazes are after the photos.

P.P.S. My very talented friend Kate took far better photos than I and I will for sure be asking her to partner on a post in the near future. Stay tuned!
The setup.

Mise en place.


It's possible that not all of the girls waited until they got home to eat their cookies.

Look how diligently she's working. She's a pro already!

Because when we think Halloween, we think Elsa & Anna. Doesn't everyone?

Working it. In every way.

This one is mine. Can you see the sugar gloom in her eyes?



We really made the most of these Frozen rice paper decals I bought for Lulu's birthday last May. They're FINALLY all used up.


My favorite. Made by my friend Kate and eaten as soon as she left. What? I was trying to be respectful and not eat her art in front of her.

One pooped cookie decorator.
Cream Cheese Cookie Icing
Yields enough for 4 dozen cookies. Also, this one acts a bit like royal icing and makes a nice sticky surface for decorating.
1 T cream cheese, at room temp
3 T whole milk or cream, at room temp (this is going to make it much easier to blend)
1-1/2 to 2 C powdered sugar

Whisk cream cheese and milk together first and then add in the sugar and whisk until thoroughly blended and no lumps remain.

Gently spread a small amount on each cookie and decorate immediately.

Buttercream Icing
Yields enough to frost 4 dozen cookies.
This icing I make for my holiday cookies but it's fabulous for cakes, muffins, or anything else you can imagine frosting.
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
2 C powdered sugar
1 T vanilla or vanilla bean paste (if you want the flecks)
1/4 t salt

Whip butter for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add sugar and mix well. Add vanilla and salt and whip another minute or so.

This is a far thicker icing that you can add color to if you like. Or, smooth it onto a cookie and add any additional decorations immediately.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pumpkin Bread


You may have noticed it's October. Do you know what that means for a baker? Cooler weather, ovens on, spices and PUMPKIN!

We've been eating pumpkin everything at our house. Pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin fudge, and my very favorite (drumroll, please!) pumpkin bread. (Just a quick tangent here: we call a thing a bread, a muffin, a biscuit, but really it's cake: the sugar to fat to grain ratio makes it so. And may I say that cake is the most wonderful food in all the land.) A healthy slice of pumpkin cake bread on a cool fall day with a hot cup of tea or mulled cider, sitting by a fire in your jeans, socks and an oversized sweater creates the epitomal fall moment, n'est-ce pas? Je pense oui!

Lulu and I were at the Whole Foods and saw these cute little pumpkins hanging out by the butternut, spaghetti and kabocha squashes and we just had to buy one. This started a frenzy of oven-roasting, blending and baking several recipes (yes, there will be more from this pumpkin!). I used to make some of Lulu's baby food and pumpkin puree was a huge hit back then.

It's fall, my friends. The best season of the year to turn your oven on and try something new. If you have never baked before, this season is YOURS. And, so is this cake quick bread. It's easy to assemble, easy to bake, stays looking nice when you slice and serve it and it's way too easy to gobble up. You may find yourself spreading cream cheese on a slice or two or toasting it and smathering apple butter all over it. You can also bake it in a bundt pan, glaze the top (I'll include a recipe below) and serve it as actual cake with some whipped cream - or on its own! This one will travel well, keep well and freeze well. My equations make 2 regular loaves or one bundt cake, which I highly recommend, especially if you've been invited somewhere.

Keep in mind that it's pretty amazing to use fresh squash, but if you're a newbie chef, please don't do that. Open up a can and feel GOOD about that. You're amazing. This bread is amazing. You're a match made in heaven.

xox,

A.
Pumpkin Bread
(makes 2 loaves or one standard 10 C bundt cake)
3-1/2 C flour
2 t cinnamon
1-1/2 t baking powder
1 t nutmeg
1 t ginger
3/4 t kosher salt
1/2 t allspice
1/4 t cloves
1/4 t baking soda

First blend all those together and set aside. Then, read on.

1-1/2 C sugar
1-1/4 C dark brown (or regular brown) sugar
1 C canola or other light oil
5 eggs, at room temp
2 C pureed pumpkin
2/3 C buttermilk

If using pumpkin, slice your squash in half, scoop out the seeds and place face down on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for 30-45 minute (this will depend upon how much squash you're baking) until the pumpkin gives easily when pricked with a fork.

Once it's cool, scoop the pumpkin flesh out from the skin and puree in a blender or food processor until lump free. If you find this is not happening easily, add water in tablespoonsful until you get a nice, smooth puree. With a 3 lb. pumpkin, you'll have about 4-5 cups of puree, although you only need 2. Put the remainder in a freezer bag and stick it in the freezer for next months' pumpkin pies. See? You're ahead!

Preheat your oven to 350 and prep your pans by buttering and flouring them or by spraying them with baking spray.

Combine sugars, oil and 2 eggs until blended. Add remaining eggs and pumpkin and mix well.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and buttermilk in 4 total additions. So, you're going to add about 1/2 the dry mixture and then about 1/2 the buttermilk. Then, repeat.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan(s) and bake 60-70 minutes or until you feel the cake spring back when touched. If you're using a glaze (recipe below), pour the glaze on while the cake is warm, but not hot.

Vanilla Cinnamon Glaze
1-1/2 C powdered sugar
2-3 T milk
2 T maple syrup
1/2 t vanilla
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch of salt

In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together. Pour over warm cake. Let set at least 10 minutes and then slice away.