Friday, May 15, 2015

National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!

Have you heard the news? It's National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day today!

I had no idea there was a whole day dedicated to my favorite food. In honor of this unexpected party, let's bake up a few of my favorites: double chocolate chip cookies, the All-American tollhouse version and, for the gourmet in all of us, a whole wheat rye version that will knock your socks off. (Who needs socks in May anyway, right?)


A couple of pointers:
  1. Bring your unsalted butter to room temperature, along with your eggs, before mixing. Everything comes together better this way
  2. If you want taller, fluffier-looking cookies, refrigerate your dough for at least one hour before baking (I know, right after I tell you to bring it all to room temp first. Trust me!)
  3. For uniform cookies, use a tablespoon or cookie scoop to dole out the dough. Then, roll it into a ball and gently flatten it with 2 fingers on your cookie sheet. Don't roll longer than a few seconds or you're undoing all that chilling you just waited for
  4. Eat your cookies warm. Bake them 8-12 at a time, allowing 3 per person and keep the rest of the dough in the fridge for up to a week. Making the effort to bake them in small batches makes alllllllll the difference. There is NOTHING like melted chocolate on the tongue, especially with a wee bit of vanilla and salt supporting the flavor
That's all for now. Love y'all to bits and chips!

xox,

A.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week: An Emotional Thank You



Warning: grown up content and language. I’m getting heavy with this one.
On December 14, 2012 in a town that essentially was a small town, a young man walked into an elementary school and shot 20 five-and six-year-old children and 6 teachers. That day, Lulu was in her first preschool in Richmond, Virginia, another small town. I’ll never forget the impact of that day. Ever.
My husband and I were signing the escrow papers on our first home that afternoon and rather than toast with champagne, we cried. We cried for the families waiting in the fire station to find out if their children would be delivered to them. We cried for the families who still stood there as we signed. The families who would never again see their children. Ever. Their precious treasures. The babies they made with their own flesh and blood or that they adopted with all their hearts. The ones they fought for. The little ones they spent every day working for, educating, loving, cuddling, reading to, teaching how to brush their teeth and tucking in at night. Those parents wouldn’t be tucking their children in that night. We were inconsolable and could not imagine their grief and anger.
Being a parent changes everything.
The world has changed, too. We’ve moved to another small town, only to have an acquaintance’s daughter assaulted on her own elementary school campus. To have our niece’s high school shut down for two days due to bomb threats. To have our almost-five-year-old daughter trained in emergency drills with a far different meaning than the earthquake drills that scared the bits out of me when I was a kid.
It’s teacher appreciation week. And, of course, we appreciate you guys for teaching our kids how to read. To pee in the right place. To get along with others. But, every day when I hand my precious child off to the teachers of her school, I silently thank them for keeping her safe. For loving her in my absence. For caring enough to frame the lockdown drills as standard safety protocol. Most of all, I thank them for being willing to put their bodies between my child and an assailant, the way those teachers did in Newtown, Connecticut that cold day in December. 
 How do I say thank you for that? 
There is no little teacher’s token big enough to express my gratitude and my emotional investment in these individuals, although I’m sure I’ll give them some such token anyway.
To Mia, Leslie, Jessie, Beth, Connie, Gigi, Erin, Lisa, Jody and Claudia and every person who works in the schools our daughter has attended, THANK YOU doesn’t say it. And, not to take away from the gravity of my sentiment here, but I sure wish cake said it. I could do cake!
I’m also thankful for all the teachers who don’t work with my child. My mom – an amazing 5th/6th grade teacher who changes lives every day. My cousin Erin who is a no-nonsense, super-sharp teacher with wings of awesomeness. My friend Ali who found her path almost by accident, but the teens she basically mentors are so fortunate that she did.
There are more of you than I can mention in a blog post.
I love and thank you all. 
xox always, 
A.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Chocolate Tea Cake

You may have noticed I have a penchant for tea. In fact, I have never had a cup of coffee and enjoy a nice, strong cup of tea with milk every morning. But it's the idea of the afternoon tea snack that really strikes me. One is supposed to take a few minutes in the late afternoon to pause. Perhaps reflect on the day and ready oneself for the evening. To sip a dainty cup of tea, a pick-me-up sized cup, if you will. Enjoy a bit of cake. GENIUS!

This cake can really be made for anything from lunches to parties. In fact, I made two loaves and had planned to freeze one when my sis in law called with her back out and I dropped one at her house. Both were gobbled up that day. 

A good tea loaf is sturdy but soft: something you can carry around while letting the dog out the back door. Or, you can plate it, pile on some whipped cream and put your feet up while watching, say, The Good Wife on DVR. If you're feeling really fancy, slice it on the diagonal, top with coffee ice cream and a good caramel sauce and finish with a raspberry or pinch of good sea salt. Guests will sing your praises, if they can get the words out!

xox, 

A.

Chocolate Tea Cake
1/2 C butter, at room temp
1-1/2 C sugar
3/4 t salt
2 t vanilla
1 t baking powder
1 t espresso powder (optional)
2/3 C best-quality unsweetened cocoa
3 large eggs, at room temp
1-1/4 C flour (fine ground for pastry is good if you have it)
3/4 C whole milk
2/3 C best-quality chocolate chips, divided

1. Preheat your oven to 350 and butter a loaf pan. 
2. Beat the butter and sugar until light, about 3 minutes. 
3. Add the salt, vanilla, baking powder, espresso powder and cocoa and blend. If it looks clumpy and like cookie dough, don't worry. Go to step 4. 
4. Add the eggs one at a time, blending thoroughly with each addition. 
5. Add half the flour and mix. 
6. Add the milk and mix. 
7. Add the rest of the flour and blend until smooth. 
8. Stir in 1/3 C of the chocolate chips. 
9. Pour the batter into a pan and top with the rest of the chocolate chips. 
10. Bake 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. 

Cool, unmold, slice, eat.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Apple Blueberry Crisp


Oh, hi!

Like most of you, we're moving pretty fast over here. But never too fast to bake something up.

Did I tell you I've been writing for Red Tricycle? Add to that I got this amazing copywriting job developing social media posts and editing web copy for a really awesome preschool franchise brand. I went from full-time mom to full-time everything in 15 seconds. It's pretty rad and I'm loving every moment, no matter how much the busy-ness sometimes overwhelms me. I've started enough new chapters in my life to know that things that feel big and scary on day one soon seem rote and regular in no time.

In all this change, one thing never alters: I bake. I may not have as much time to blog about it, but I bake. It soothes my soul and calms my nerves. It pleases my people and makes my house smell like a home. You've heard most of this from me before, and, honestly, you've gotten the crisp part of this recipe before, too! Like many home bakers, I tend to make the same things over and over again, changing up one or two bits each time. This is no different.

My husband loooooves apple crisp. I think it's probably pretty high up there on his list of favorites because any time I ask what he'd like, it's usually his first request. Y'all probably know this, but apple season is in the fall. I tend to prefer baking seasonally, but when my husband and my dad are both asking for apple crisp on a spring afternoon, I go out and buy the sourest apples I can find. Sour apples like Granny Smiths always contrast nicely with a little brown sugar and the flavor explosion usually distracts my eaters from any mushy or less-than-perfect apple texture. Because we had a giant container of blueberries (are those in season? I see them everywhere but I thought they were fall, too), I added some of those and it made for a decidedly lovely early evening treat. The best part? I'll probably be making this late in summer with peaches, too. Butter, brown sugar and fruit - it doesn't get much better than this!

xox,

A.

Apple Blueberry Crisp
Serves 12
5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
2 C blueberries, washed and dried
2 T lemon juice
1/2 C brown sugar
1/4 C flour
1 t lemon zest

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

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Mix the flour, brown sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Combine the apple slices, blueberries and lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the flour/brown sugar/lemon zest mixture and toss to coat the fruit. Pour the fruit into a large casserole or baking dish and set aside.
4. Make the crisp. Blend the dry ingredients and then cut in the butter until the butter looks like small peas in the flour mixture. This does not have to be perfect. Any pockets of butter in the crisp become melty-heavenly-food-of-the-gods-good. Sprinkle the crisp over the fruit and even it out a bit. Again, no need for perfection here.
5. Bake at 350 for one hour or until the apples are tender when pricked with a knife or skewer.
6. Let cool about 20-30 minutes and then serve with giant scoops if ice cream.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Yellow Cake. Double Chocolate Frosting. Enough Said.



Life has been so hectic of late that it's hard not to take up a lot of blog space talking about it. But, this busy-ness has replaced a year of solitude and contemplation and is very, very welcome. Last February, when we moved to San Diego for real (we went back and forth between LA, SF and SD for about 9 months before settling here), I was a bit overdone from a year and a half of moving around. My friendships here have been slower in coming than they were in Virginia (where we were for only 8 months before the LA-SF-SD craziness began) and my confidence at making new friends has been, at times, shaky. There are, though, a couple of people who've made becoming friends so easy, it feels like we've known each other forever. Candice is one such person.

The first time I met Candice was in the sand box outside our daughters' classroom and I swear I looked up and saw the most beautiful brunette muse. She turned out to be the friendliest person I'd met in San Diego so far and one who has included my sometimes-shy family in everything from trick-or-treating to a beachside New Year's Eve celebration.

Candice is kind of like the little sister I never had - a little sister who's got it a lot more together than I do! She's an incredible hostess and entertainer who holds down a director-level job like it's no big deal. I mean, this woman can make a ridiculously impressive cheese platter and she'll just show up at a kids' play date after working all day with everything from gorgonzola to honeycomb. She's also a doting but firm Italian mama to two of the cutest, kindest towheads you'll ever meet. If that weren't enough, she's married to a gentle and funny surfer dude and, at her rawther young age, they've been an item for almost 20 years.

When I found out Candice's birthday was last week, well, you know what I did. I took out my favorite baking books and in Julie Richardson's Vintage Cakes (I know. You're thinking that I should just be blogging about baking all of her recipes because you see so many of them here. But, TRUST me. This book is solid!) found something I hoped would please parents and children.

We met "the Candices", as my husband and I call them, and our other favorite friends at Korean BBQ and after a feast of kimchee and steak, dived into these cupcakes like there was no tomorrow. The buttery, soft crumb was so surprising because these babies are pretty sturdy and traveled pretty well in the car. My made-up frosting (Julie's was a bit too ambitious for the time I had available) worked out well enough to share with you. Silky and creamy, the frosting definitely tastes of chocolate and cream, which, funny enough, is exactly what it's made from. Hehe.

Anyhow, I'm not sure if yellow cake and chocolate frosting is Candice's favorite, but it sure made our taste buds happy and made us all feel more connected. Which, really, is what this baking thing is all about.

Happy Birthday, Candice!

xox,

A.

Yellow Cake.
Makes 24 cupcakes or (3) 9" layers
1-1/3 C sifted cake flour
3/4 C plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
6 T unsalted butter, at room temp
2 C sugar
1/2 C canola oil
1 T pure vanilla extract
4 egg yolks, at room temp
3 eggs, at room temp
1/2 C buttermilk, at room temp
1/2 C heavy cream, cold

Line 24 muffin tins with pretty cupcake papers. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 350.

1. In a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt then whisk to ensure ingredients are well combined.
2. Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high until light in color and texture, about 5 minutes.
3. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the oil and vanilla and mix.
4. Add in the yolks and whole eggs one at a time, scraping down your bowl between each addition.
5. With the mixer on low, add in the flour mixture in three parts and the buttermilk in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape the bowl after each addition and don't overmix.
6. In a separate bowl (preferably chilled and stainless steel, but anything will do), whip the cream until soft peaks form.
7. Carefully fold the cream into the batter.
8. If you have one of those giant ice cream scoops, you can use that to scoop the perfect amount of batter into each cup. If not, use two spoons or one ladle to fill each cup 3/4 full.
9. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes. They'll be a bit browned on the edges.
10. Set aside to cool until room temperature.


Double Chocolate Frosting.
4 oz. milk chocolate
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 C cream, hot
5 C powdered sugar
1/2 C butter, at room temp
2 t vanilla
1/4 t salt

1. Heat the cream to hot but not boiling.
2. While the cream is on the stove top, break your chocolate into tiny bits and place them in a glass bowl.
3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it sit 2 minutes, then whisk until combined.
4. Sift the sugar and salt into your stand mixer.
5. With your mixer on low, add the chocolate mixture, butter and vanilla. Once it's all combined, turn the power up and whip until light and spreadable. If it's too thick, add a tablespoon at a time of cream. If it's runny, add 1/4 C powdered sugar at a time until it's spreadable.

You can either pipe or spread the frosting on. Sprinkles are optional but so much fun!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cheri's Coconut Cake


This post should really be called "Ode to my Mother." Here's the thing: without my mom (an incredible home cook who taught me everything I know), I would not bake. This blog would not exist. Lulu would maybe be a figment in someone else's imagination. My mom has formed and informed me. My mom. Beautiful California girl that she is. Elegant and clever and well-read. Catholic school girl turned "I'm with the band" woman turned 5th and 6th grade teacher. And who knows whether all of her transformations are complete. Perhaps, as she turns 70 this year, she will reinvent herself yet again and surprise us all. As she is wont to do.


If you'll indulge me, I'd like to share a little family history. My mom was born Cheryl Ann Walker somewhere in North Carolina (granddad was a Marine who flew fighter jets) but soon moved to China before landing in Beverly Hills, California at about three years old. Little Cheri ended up in convent school and later graduated from Immaculate Heart in Hollywood. Then, she surfed and flew.

My mom has always been a golden girl. A tandem surfer and and ocean lover, she spent all her time at the beach earning the nickname "Peely" for her constantly peeling nose. By this time, mom had a stepbrother who she nicknamed Teddy Bear Rug (this woman has a serious talent for clever monikers, silly songs and general word play) who also surfed and all her friends were the guys they surfed with. Gorgeous but accessible, sharp but impressionable, and infinitely classy, my mom was kind of like the Reese Witherspoon of her crowd.

Mom met my dad on a Continental Airlines flight in 1968. She was a stewardess. Yes, I know we don't use that term anymore, but they did then.  I believe his opening line had something to do with the Rolling Stones pin my mom had rebelliously smuggled onto her uniform collar, but it probably didn't hurt that my dad was as handsome as she is beautiful and he was always, always charming. Still is, darn it. Anyhoo, Dad wanted to move in with Mom but being the good Catholic she was, that wasn't going to happen. Much to both my grandmothers' consternation, Billy and Cheri eloped four months after meeting and soon had me, Erik and Adam, in that order.

When I was little, I thought all those now-classic-rock songs were about my mother. "Sister golden hair surprise...", "Blue jean baby. LA Lady...", and "We go to a party and everyone turns to see this beautiful lady that's walking around with me..." seemed to have been written, if not about her, then certainly for her, at least in my child's mind.
All the way back in October of 2014, my mom turned 69. And you know what she told us she wanted? A cake. That's all. Just a cake. Seems like a simple request to fulfill for a baker, right? Somehow between living 2 hours from my mom, an early November visit from my brother and his family (from Taiwan), Thanksgiving and then Christmas, this small gift never materialized. Sure, there were pies and cakes and all kinds of sweets for the holidays, but a special birthday cake for my mother did not happen. Shame on me!

I had to make this right. As spectacularly as I could. My mom's favorite is coconut cake (well, that or princess cake, but I traditionally make her coconut) and I've made many different recipes for her in the past. I've filled them with coconut pastry cream, buttercream, whipped cream. You name it. This time, I wanted a traditional cake with a light, fluffy filling/frosting. All I really had to do was swap coconut milk for buttermilk from the buttermilk cake recipe I posted last September, add coconut extract and a little fresh coconut garnish and it was, as my dad (they are not still married but great friends and happened to stop by. He really has a nose for these things) said, "better than Ralph's". For my non-California friends, Ralph's is a supermarket chain. My dad still knows how to make a girl feel special!

I hope you feel the way about your mom that I feel about mine. She has become my primary confidante, my greatest supporter and truest friend. I'm already planning her 70th and you'd better believe there will be cake!

xox,

A.


Cheri's (Better-Than-Ralph's) Coconut Cake
Makes one 3-tiered 8"layer cake
1 C butter, at room temp
1-3/4 C sugar
3 C cake flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 large eggs, at room temp
1 t vanilla 
2 t coconut extract
1 C coconut milk
Oven to 350. Butter and flour 3 9" cake pans and set them aside. 
1. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then lightly whisk them together to blend. 
2. In your stand mixer (or a separate bowl), cream the butter on its own first until it's fluffy and lighter in color than when you started. 

3. Then, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the sugar and beat 3-5 minutes more, until the mixture is almost white and very pillowy. 

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating them fully and scraping the sides of your bowl after each addition. 

5. Add the vanilla and coconut extracts and beat quickly. 
6. Alternating in 5 separate turns, add the flour and mix fully, then coconut milk, flour, coconut, flour (ending with flour).
7. Pour the batter into your pans, evenly distributing and bake for 18-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool fully before frosting.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting
1 C unsalted (always) butter, at room temp
5 C powdered sugar
1/2 C coconut milk
1-2 t coconut extract
pinch of kosher salt

1 C shredded coconut, for garnish (I used organic, but will definitely use the sugary stuff next time)

1. Beat the butter in a stand mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. 

2. Add the sugar and mix on low until incorporated. 

3. Add coconut milk, extract and salt and beat until light and fluffy again. (Add milk 1 T at a time for smoother consistency, but you do want a sturdy frosting because with 3 layers, you don't want them sliding all over the place. Another solution for sliding cake is to frost, decorate and then refrigerate your cake so the icing sets nice and firmly. Then, let it sit at room temp 30 minutes before serving.)

4. Frost your cake and then sprinkle it with the 1 C coconut. Mmm. 



Monday, March 16, 2015

Irish Soda Bread

Ahh, it's the time of the year when we all get together to drink green beverages to celebrate the arrival of a Roman Catholic in Ireland. A Roman Catholic who would teach the Irish about the Catholic religion and basically force the Druids underground, divide Christians and wreak general havoc.

It's true! St. Patrick was Italian and he did convert thousands of Protestants and Druids to the Catholic faith. He was a charmer, that one. Probably funny and handsome. Possibly with lots of dark, Italian hair and gorgeous teeth. Okay, I may possibly have him confused with my handsome husband who happens to have been born on the day we celebrate St. Patrick's impact on the world. If you're wondering what any of this has to do with Irish Soda Bread, frankly, so am I.

Every year in March we start seeing lots of delicious Irish dishes like corned beef and cabbage (sorry, barf) and colcannon (less barf) all over the interwebs. But you know what's always delicious? Irish Soda Bread. While the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread (yes, that's really a thing) would like for us to know that anything besides flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk make it a "tea cake", I beg to differ. Sure, they have history on their side. But I have your taste buds' best interest in mind here, friends. And I have concocted something undeniably delicious, if you like bread.
And who doesn't like bread? Warm, doughy, delicious BREAD. It's the staff of life and all that!

The recipe is simple. The prep is easy. The bread is LOVELY. Make this one. Trust me.

xox,

A.


Irish Soda Bread
Serves 16

4 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1-1/2 t salt

4 T cold unsalted butter, cubed

1-3/4 C cold buttermilk
1 large egg, cold
1 t orange zest

1-1/4 C raisins, currants or other dried fruit
1 T flour

1 t cream or milk
1 T turbinado or muscavado sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set it aside.
3. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, soda, powder, salt) in a stand mixer on low.
4. Add the butter, also on low, until crumbly.
5. Whisk the buttermilk, egg and zest to combine in a bowl. Pour into the dry mixture.
6. Toss the raisins in the 1T flour to coat. Add them to the bread mixture.
7. Turn the bread out onto a floured board and knead 5-10 times or until it has a sturdy-soft-still cold texture. I know, that is not the easy part I promised you. But do your best. It'll turn out even if you get this part wrong.
8. Form the dough into a ball and place it onto your parchment-lined baking sheet.
9. Brush the cream on top of the ball of dough.
10. Sprinkle the sugar as evenly as you can over top.
11. Score the top of the loaf (this means take a knife and cut a shallow cross into the top. This gives the dough room to expand in the oven).
12. Bake 35-40 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped with a spoon.

Let is cool as completely as you can - about 30 minutes to several hours. Slice however you like and serve with butter, jam, clotted cream. Oh, heck, it's a giant scone. Let's make the most of it, Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread be... well, you get the idea.