Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Julienne's Graham Cracker Pecan Bars


Sometimes I truly am the last to know.

One day a few months ago, Lulu and I found ourselves at a little neighborhood coffee stop called Zinc (now closed. Boo hoo!). We had stopped in for an after school snack and ordered a pecan bar and a chocolate chip cookie. We sat with our dog Fergie at an outdoor table and each tasted the cookie. Freshly baked. Solid flavor. Good. But then...

Then, we cut into the pecan bar.

(Pause for dramatic effect.)

Most pecan bars mimic pecan pie: shortbread crust, a custardy layer, floating toasted pecans. But the pecan bar we tasted that day at Zinc with its graham cracker crust and gooey-yet-crunchy center knocked our socks off. Literally, we had to walk home barefooted. (Wink, wink.)

I had to know what the heck these bars were made of. Finding no info on Zinc's site, I sought out a recipe or lead across the web and discovered, to my simultaneous joy and dismay, that these bars that originated at Julienne's in San Marino (practically next door to my mom's house in Pasadena) were all over the interwebs! Joy because so many have discovered them. Dismay because I would hardly be the first one to share them. But, it's no wonder these are as ridiculously blogged-about as they are. With a base layer of graham cracker cookie, a gooey layer of brown sugar custard and more graham cracker (the mystery ingredient that creates the toffee-like texture and flavor) and the topping of toasted pecans, these are an even tastier version of the classic pecan bar. These are perfect if you want to show up at a gathering with something new and different because despite their obvious popularity on the web, they're not a mainstream dessert. We've made them a few times: once with chocolate, and that was good, too. But I have to admit I prefer the buttery-caramelly-taste of the bars without chocolate. (A true first.)

Seriously, though, I can't praise these highly enough. You'll LOVE them.

xox,

A.



Julienne's Graham Cracker Pecan Bars
Originally posted by the LA Times April 5th, 2009
Yields 24 2" bars

Crust
3 C graham cracker crumbs
3/4 C butter, at room temp
1/4 C sugar
2 T flour

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and flour until well-blended.
3. Press the mixture firmly and evenly over the bottom of a 13"x9" baking pan.
4. Bake until the crust is golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Bars
2-1/2 C brown sugar
4 eggs
2/3 C graham cracker crumbs
1 T vanilla extract
3/4 t kosher salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 C pecans, chopped & toasted

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and eggs. Whisk in the graham cracker crumbs, vanilla, salt and baking powder until well-blended. Stir in the pecans.
2. Spread the mixture over the baked crust and return to the oven until the filling is golden on top, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and cool completely.
3. Cut into bars and serve.

P.S. When I said they were all over the interwebs, here's what I meant: The Kitchn has them. Someone called Megabite has made them. The LA Times has posted the recipe several times. And you can find them here, here and here. For Pete's sake, they even have Pinterest boards dedicated to them.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Very Best Basic Muffin Recipe


You know what I like? A recipe I can mess with. A recipe I can add and subtract things to. A recipe that will stand up to my culinary abuse and say "Give me more!". This recipe pretty much does just that. As long as you leave the wet and dry measurements (really, the butter & sour cream and the flour & baking powder) the same, you can add spices, cocoa, fillings, crumb topping, berries, peaches, banana slices, anything you can think of! What you'll get is a nice, soft crumb with a breakfasty cake mouthfeel.

Does everyone see her toes in the frame? This is what happens when we move the operation from the kitchen to the window for photos.
This time, my little helper and I couldn't agree on blueberry or chocolate chip, so, we made both by layering the individual muffins with the flavors we wanted. We dropped small scoops of batter (about 1-1/2 T) into the cups, added the fillings (a few berries or chips) and then dropped a little more batter (another tablespoon or so - use a 1T cookie scoop and on top and let be a bit overfilled) adding a few more berries or chips to the tippy top - which also helps to identify which flavor is which.


Normally, I would prefer about 1/2t cinnamon in the blueberry muffins and an extra 1 t vanilla in the chocolate chip, but we left both out entirely for versatility's sake. And a few tips:
  1. When working with fruits, it often pays to use our layering trick above. This way the fruit doesn't get mushy in the batter and looks pretty when biting into the baked muffin
  2. Always maintain that flour & baking powder to butter & sour cream ratio and keep the egg or use egg substitute
  3. Add spices in by the 1/2 teaspoon. As my mom always tells me, you can add more spices in, but you can't take them out!
  4. See substitutions and a few ideas below

Anyhow, I dare you to make these and have them not turn out. These are silly good and lasted about 4 hours total!

xox,

A.

P.S. The chocolate chip muffins went way faster than the blueberry. Just sayin.


Basic Muffin Recipe
2 C flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
1 egg
1 C sugar
4 T butter, melted and cooled
1 t vanilla
1-1/4 C sour cream

1-2 T turbinado sugar for dusting the tops

(See substitutions and add-ins below)

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Whisk dry ingredients in one bowl.
3. Whip the egg with a whisk and add in the sugar, then the butter and vanilla. Add in the sour cream.
4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined.
5. Scoop batter into greased muffin tins or muffin papers and sprinkle with raw or turbinado sugar.
6. Bake 25 minutes or until nicely browned.
7. Let cool at least 15 minutes and then slather with butter and topping of your choice and eat, eat, eat!


For Blueberry Muffins add:
1-1/2 C blueberries
1/2 t cinnamon


For Chocolate Chip Muffins add:
1 t vanilla
1-1/2 C chocolate chips



For Cranberry Muffins add:
1 C cranberries, rough chopped
1 t orange zest

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Banana Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Icing


Okay, I know there is no cream cheese icing in the above photo. But my husband gave me this incredible bundt pan for Christmas and I just had to show off the gorgeous ridges it makes in a cake. Plus, now you know that this banana cake is sturdy enough to bake in one of these babies! Okay, here you go:

I have a habit of trolling the interwebs in search of pretty food pictures. I like certain websites a whole lot and I adore other food bloggers. Do you do this? My friend Noelle told me she feels like she should get rid of her cookbooks because these days she only looks up recipes online. I suppose I'm halfway there but I adooore my books. The other day I found this most delicious recipe for banana bundt cake on My Baking Addiction which I pretty much used to a "t", minus the buttermilk which I didn't have (see solution in the recipe). But, Jamie from My Baking Addiction made this one with chocolate ganache icing and I wanted a cream cheese topping. Baking bloggers to the rescue! Dorothy from Crazy for Crust had me covered with a delectable cream cheese icing (she calls it icing, but I think using melted butter gives it more of an icing consistency. Plus my cream cheese frosting is ridiculously thick and this is a nice, spreadable consistency).

A little bit about this cake: it is dense and moist as any good banana cake should be. This cake will remind you of the banana cake with cream cheese icing your mom put in your Snoopy lunchbox as a kid. The cream cheese icing is light and not overpowering. The yield will cover the top of this cake, but if you like more, double to recipe and cover the whole cake with it. 

Listen, we all end up with funked up bananas. And this is a fabulous alternative to banana bread. Eat up, my friends. Eat up.

xox,

A.

My Baking Addiction's Banana Bundt Cake
1 1/2 C bananas, mashed, ripe (this is about 3-4 bananas)
2 t lemon juice
3 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t sea or kosher salt
3/4 C unsalted butter, at room temp
2 C sugar
3 large eggs, at room temp
2t vanilla
1 1/2 C whole milk with 2 t white vinegar mixed in


1. Preheat your oven to 275. Yes, that low.

2. Stir the lemon juice into the mashed bananas and set them aside. 

3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Set aside. 

4. In your stand mixer, beat the butter 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat another 3 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl, lower the speed and add the eggs one at a time incorporating fully after each (and scraping down as needed). 

5. Alternate adding the dry ingredients with the milk in about 4 additions until fully blended and pour into your buttered-and-floured bundt cake pan (or 3 8" round cake pans). 

6. For the bundt cake pan, bake 1 hour, 30 minutes. For the round cake pans, check the cakes at 40 minutes and continue baking if needed. 

7. Remove from oven and place the cake(s) in the freezer one hour. Unmold your cake(s), set aside and prepare your icing.

Crazy for Crust's Cream Cheese Icing
3 T unsalted butter, melted & cooled
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temp
2 C powdered sugar (or 3 C for layer cakes)
Pinch of salt
2 t vanilla bean paste or extract

1. Blend the butter and cream cheese until fully incorporated.

2. Add the sugar and mix on low until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and mix another 30 seconds or so.

3. Add the salt and vanilla and turn the mixer to medium-high until the icing is fluffy and spreadable.

4. Spread the icing over the cake(s). Be aware that if you're making a layer cake, this icing will only over the tops of each cake, not the sides.

5. Pour a glass of milk, slice and ENJOY. xoxoxoxoxoox

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Shaker Lemon Pie

Is there anything better than the bright, fluorescent taste of lemon on a crisp winter afternoon? I think not. Pour a cup of Earl Grey and join me on this one.

Tasting lemon in January is like having a burst of summer, a ray of light, no, sunshine in your mouth. I'd read recipes for Shaker Lemon Pie (named for its creators, early American Shakers) for ages and, an avid marmalade lover, was curious about using the whole lemon in pastry. It sounded adventurous and naughty, a fabulous baking rebellion. As Meyer lemons are all over the place in winter, and as I had bought Allison Kave's "First Prize Pies" last summer but had yet to bake from it, I decided to finally try this delectable creation, her way.

Ms. Kave is my kind of baker: she's All-American with a twist. Her book is filled with interesting and delectable takes on pies we may think we know like Mexican Chocolate, Rhubarb Frangipane and an Avocado Cream Pie that could seriously deepen my love affair with avocados. I was beyond excited to try her Shaker Citrus Pie. 

The recipe reads almost like a nut pie: lots of sugar, 4 eggs, butter - you know, a sugary custard. The amazing thing is how the pith of the lemons will break down and soften in the macerating stage, a stage I neglected to allow to last long enough to make them the right kind of soft. A few things I learned in this process:
  1. Ms. Kave notes this in her book and it really is true: you really must slice the lemons as thin as paper. The best way I know to do that is with a mandoline
  2. While Ms. Kave calls for a 1 hour to overnight maceration period, I would heartily lean toward the overnight option. I macerated my lemons for 4 hours and the pith was still too prominent a texture to make this pie as divine as it should be
  3. Use Meyer lemons, if you can. Meyer lemons are sweeter and often have very thin rinds, so, you'll get most of the tough part off as you zest them
If you like lemon bars and marmalade, you will love this pie. Plus, it's super retro and you'll look quite hipster-ish bringing it to your next party or picnic.

If you attempt this beauty, please let me know how it turns out. Or let me know what you think of the idea of whole lemons in pastry. Or comment on the photos. Or tell me what your toddler did this morning. I love hearing from you!

xox,

A.


Shaker Lemon Pie
Serves 10

One Cream Cheese Pie Crust for a 9" Double Crust Pie
(this is my own creation based on Ms. Kave's measurements)
3C flour
4T sugar
1T cornstarch
1-1/2 t sea or kosher salt

1C butter, cold and cut into cubes
1/2C cream cheese, cold and cut into cubes
1T apple cider vinegar
2T ice water

In a food processor, process the dry ingredients in 3-4 pulses. Add the butter and pulse until blended. It will look very dry. Add the cream cheese and apple cider vinegar and pulse until blended. Now, it will look piecy and dry. Add one tablespoon of the ice water and pulse until the dough begins to make a ball. If it's still dry and piecy, add the second tablespoon of water. Remove from the machine, split half and roll into 2 balls. Flatten the balls into discs and refrigerate one hour, each.

Lemon Filling
2 large or 3-4 small lemons
2C sugar (one cup for Meyer lemons as the Meyers are sweeter)
1/2t salt
4 large eggs
1/4C flour
1/4C butter, melted and cooled

About 3T milk and 3T turbinado or other natural sugar, for glaze and decoration.

First zest the lemons and place the zest in a bowl. Then, slice the lemons paper thin, remove the seeds and, placing them into the bowl with the zest, cover them with the sugar and salt. Stir, cover and set on the counter overnight. Don't worry, sugar is a natural preservative so these won't spoil. Here's what this will look like before you cover it:
Then the next day you'll have something like this (Oops! A few stray seeds. Must grab those before pouring into the pie crust!):
Preheat your oven to 425 and roll out one disc of your dough to 11" in diameter. Carefully place in your pie plate. Then, finish the filling.

Whisk the eggs until blended and then carefully add in the flour. This may look clumpy which is fine. Just do what you can to whisk it smooth. Add in the cooled, melted butter and blend. Stir the egg mixture into the lemons and pour into your pie crust. Roll out the top layer and crimp the edges together. 

If you have extra pie dough and want to cut out shapes, it can make your pie look so pretty. 

Baste the top of your pie with the milk and sprinkle the sugar on top. 

Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, turn the pie and bake at 425 10 minutes more. Then, drop the temperature down to 350 (without opening the oven door) and bake another 35-40 minutes or until your crust is nice and brown and the center only just jiggles when shaken. 

Cool to room temperature and serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or just tea or coffee. This pie is richer than it looks so be aware that a little goes a long way. Mmmm.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year! & One Very Special Resolution

Happy New Year to everyone who reads this blog, has ever shared this blog and especially to those who comment on this blog. I truly love sharing this part of my life with you and you all deserve all sweet things in 2015.

Pictured above are tiny bites of my favorite Chocolate Ganache Tarte which I first shared with you in August of last year. Hehe. Delicious and rich, they were gobbled up by a bunch of fabulous Anthropologie Babes at the Carlsbad store's customer appreciation birthday event on December 11th (more on that when the store shares the professional pics, too). It was pretty awesome to be asked by Anthro to bake for their public event. I mean, I felt like a pro!

I've never much believed in New Year's Resolutions as one can hardly be expected to maintain anything for a whole year, but the past few birthdays (mine's in August), I've been focused on one particular thing that will change my world and I'm making that an actual resolution this year with actionable steps to make this more of a reality. The resolution? POSITIVE THINKING. I will become more positive in all areas of my thinking and I will let this happen every single day in all kinds of situations. Here's how I'm going to do it:
  1. Write out three things I'm grateful for every single day. If I miss a day, I'll make it up by thinking about the day I missed and mentally searching the day to find those things I was fortunate in. Then, I'll make note of them. (I'm using the Happy Tapper App on my phone.)
  2. Take care of myself to the best of my ability on any given day. My body needs exercise: I will do some. If I want flowers every week and my handsome husband is too busy to think to bring them, I will buy them for myself. If I need a professional house cleaning, I will budget for it and call someone. If I need a nap on a weekend, I'll ask for support with Little One and go lie down. Know what I mean?
  3. I will change my thoughts in the moment, every moment I remember to. I have this nasty, icky habit of telling myself how I could be better rather than telling myself I've done well. For example, the day I ran the Honolulu Marathon, I crossed the finish line disappointed with my time. No matter than I trained for the better part of 6 months, made a commitment to myself, flew across the Pacific, woke up at 3am to be at the starting line. None of that mattered because a man ran past me in Geisha clogs and I felt defeated. Woe is me no more, dammit! I ran a marathon! I've moved across the country twice in one year! I've grounded my family and helped my child adjust to a life of temporary instability! I am BAKER, hear me roar!
Under no circumstances will I be perfect at this. I'm sure I'll fall into negativity for periods of time and find myself having a lot of 'splaining to do. But there was a woman I once knew who used to say "Inside each and every woman is a piece of pure white velvet," meaning, there is a pure, untouched, good part in each of us. I plan to locate and advocate for the one inside myself.

Oh, and I'll bake. I'll be baking up a storm in 2015. I hope you'll be right here, baking with me and telling me all about it. Speaking of which, does anyone else have resolutions they're making? How do you plan to keep them?

LOVE!

xox,

Allison

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!