Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas cake and Christmas pup

Christmas cake: chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream
For Christmas, I got to make a baby's first Christmas cake for a very special baby, Sydney Mae. I decided to make another giant red bow because I'm really loving how my bows are looking lately. I like to make them hugely puffy (a quality, in truth, that's only desirable in a bow).

I added candy canes, which I made out of fondant, and a few holly sprigs (thanks again to the incomparable holly-making skills of my partner, Anthony).

I made the candy canes by rolling out to thin ropes of fondant, one red and one white, twisting them together, then rolling the twist out two meld the two ropes together. They looked freakishly realistic once they were dry.

Chris and I have adopted a seven-year-old Shih Tzu named Skippy and it took me no time at all to become completely obsessed with him.

I have this week off and I am already dreading having to go back to work because I will miss hanging out with my pup all day.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

two-tiered holiday cheer

first birthday cake with vanilla cake and nutella buttercream
This holiday cookie-themed cake was for Xavier John who turns a year old today. The cake was for his birthday but also for a cookie baking competition and party that his mother, Erika, holds every year during the holidays.

Anthony and I decided that since this cake was for the cookie party as well as a Christmas birthday, we would make blinged out gingerbread "cookies" out of fondant and decorate them with royal icing and gold dragees. We made Christmas tree shapes, stars, snowflakes, gingerbread men, candy canes and ornaments. They looked so real I wanted to bite right into one.

Anthony created the finishing touch in the form of a few of his lovely sprigs of holly that we tucked in next to the cookies.

lemon tarts with toasted meringue
I also made lemon tarts for Chris' Christmas party at work this past week. Fifty bite-sized tarts in crispy, buttery pastry shells. I was able to get the scalloped edge on the shells by cutting out the pastry dough with a scalloped cookie cutter. Yeah buddy.

For the filling, I used a lemon cream which is lemon curd but with much, much more BUTTER in it. The trick is to cook the eggs, sugar and lemon juice first, then let the mixture cool enough so that when you add the butter, it doesn't melt but emulsifies instead. Once you chill it, the mixture come together to form a very thick, buttery cream.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

the bent spoon

the bent spoon
The weather was so lovely this weekend, Chris and I trekked down to Princeton, NJ to listen to some choral music at the university, eat an amazing brunch at Elements and try ice cream from a business I've admired from afar for a long time now.

The Bent Spoon offers a selection of 16 flavors of ice cream which they display in gelato pans. The girl at the counter said that they spin their ice cream with very little air in it, just like gelato, by using a gelato paddle in their batch freezer. The result is deliciously smooth and intensely flavored. They focus on using local, seasonal ingredients and get all their dairy from a small dairy co-op. I'll let you know what the name is exactly once I find out. I e-mailed the owners and am waiting to hear back. Good NJ dairy is nearly impossible to find...

I was still stuffed from brunch so I ordered two sorbets, grapefruit and cranberry ginger apple. Both were pleasantly tart though a little sweet for my taste. I also wished the ginger came through a little more in the cran-apple ginger. I LOVE me some spicy ginger. Chris had coconut ice cream and chocolate hazelnut ice cream. Again, both were a little sweet for me, but overall delicious. I also asked for tiny samples of a pair of new fall flavors, pumpkin mascarpone and honey. The honey was hands-down the best flavor I tried.

The Bent Spoon also offers large and miniature cupcakes and a assortment of cookies and other baked goods. I settled on a mini vanilla cupcake and a chocolate chip cookie.

The cookie looks the way I want a chocolate chip cookie to look. Pockets of chocolate seep through from the inside and the center looks slightly cratered so you know it wasn't over-baked. When you break the cookie in half, you can see that they threw whole round chocolate pieces into the dough (the girl at the counter said they use Guittard chocolate) so that they melt while baking and form stratified layers of chocolate inside the cookie. YES. VERY TASTY. I thought the actual cookie part was, unfortunately, a bit bland. It did look beautiful, though, and was perfectly baked and yes, I ate the whole thing. Sorry Chris.

I took a small nibble from the cupcake icing and immediately knocked it off. I am just not a fan of that birthday cake frosting (butter, confectioner's sugar and milk). It's too sweet, too grainy and forms a weird hard shell on the outside when it sits too long. The cake was very moist, but again, I wished for a bit more flavor. Maybe they were using more oil than butter in their baked goods? Not really sure. It looked adorable, though.

Monday, November 28, 2011

two weeks in pictures

I didn't make this beauty. Anthony made it for a dinner party and I forgot to post my shots. It's a Bûche de Noël with mascarpone mousse, pecan dacquoise, gingerbread cake and chocolate glaze.

I made four batches of macs and these pics are from round one. I filled these with peanut butter ganache from a recipe given to me by a friend and former coworker (thanks Cassie!). The ganache was amazing.

I made more ice cream. And here is my very own idea for an ice bath. I cook with some random set of pots and pans I bought on sale at Macy's. The set came with large and small stock pots. I fill the larger pot halfway with ice and water, nestle the smaller pot inside and pour my hot ice cream base right into the small pot. ICE BATH! The smaller pot doesn't sink into the water because its handles rest securely on the sides of the larger pot.

And last but not least, a small first year anniversary cake for Cara and Chris. I tried to match the flowers from the original cake from last year but I ran into an issue with my florist. I ordered the flowers well in advance and let them know that they were for the top of a cake and needed to be in bloom. I also specified that I needed a light pink color. Here's what they gave me when I went to pick the flowers up today.

I had a back-up plan thankfully, but geez the stress. And for what it's worth, I would NOT recommend purchasing flowers from Exchange Place Florist in Jersey City.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

chocolate hazelnut sponge cake

This recipe was created by Elizabeth Faulkner for the October issue of Bon Appetit. I didn't finish it with the decorations because I was mainly curious about the techniques she used in the components. The cake was a traditional sponge cake which called for whole eggs and yolks beaten until light and fluffy, egg whites with granulated sugar and corn syrup beaten until frothy and cocoa powder and all purpose flour folded in at the end. I didn't like the cake that much. It wasn't a bad recipe, I just don't like sponge cakes. I hate cakes that need to be soaked with something like simple syrup (or as this recipe called for, straight up brandy) in order to make them moist.
The two layers of filling, a hazelnut ganache and a hazelnut mousse, were incredibly delicious. The ganache had no chocolate in it, which I found curious. Hazelnut butter, hazelnuts toasted and ground into a paste, replaced the chocolate and I loved the result. It was savory and rich and I want to try it as a bon bon filling as soon as possible. The mousse was terrific as well. I was thrilled that it didn't call for any gelatin in the mousse because I HATE gelatin in mousse. It ruins the texture for me.
What amazed me the most was how important it was to let the cake hang out in the fridge for a few days before eating it. I tried slivers of the cake the day I made it and each of the following two days. For me, it tasted best on the second day. The flavors came together and the mousse had time to soak into the cake and make it more soft and moist.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Charlotte Patisserie

I can't believe it's been almost 2 years now since I graduated from the French Culinary Industry. After graduation, only a few of my classmates went on to work in the culinary industry and no one yet has opened their own store front. That is until two weeks ago. Mike Lechowicz is the first person from my pastry class to open his own place. He named his French-inspired pastry and coffee shop Charlotte Patisserie because "Charlotte" sounds French but also means "apple pie" in Polish. Cute. His shop is on bustling Manhattan Avenue just steps away from McCarren Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Everything in the display case looked so delicious---cakes, tarts, macarons, danish, scones, croissants. Best of all, he brews Counter Culture beans in a shining La Marzocco espresso maker.

The shop's interior was lovely, all exposed brick and dark woods with stainless steal accents. Mike did the build-out himself and installed all the plumbing. He said the building used to be an All-State Insurance office, though he did such an amazing job with the space that you can't even tell.

He also has access to a spacious backyard area where he plans to have outdoor seating along with wine and savory offerings in the near future.

So if you're in the Greenpoint area, definitely drop by and enjoy a cappuccino and a buttery almond croissant. Mike gets up at 4 a.m. every day to bake them fresh and I guarantee you'll love them.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

it's freezing out so I made ice cream

tarte tatin ice cream
rich vanilla bean ice cream base
salted caramel sauce
crunchy puff pastry nuggets
brown sugar-glazed apples
frozen heaven

Saturday, October 22, 2011

let's play ball

chocolate cake with vanilla bean buttercream
This was a birthday cake for the two-year-old son of a terrific friend and sous chef, Roger. Roger is an amazing pastry chef and an incredible chocolatier. You can check out his cakes and candies on his Playroom Dessert Company facebook page.

Roger contacted me this week and asked if I had time to make his son's birthday cake. The only specifications he gave me were that it should be 12" round, have chocolate cake and vanilla buttercream and have a sports ball theme. I wanted to do something colorful and dimensional because what kid wouldn't love that? I knew I got it right when I delivered the cake. Roger's son Danny saw it, smiled, and immediately tried to grab the baseball right of the top. Mission accomplished.

I would also like to take this time to say how much I appreciate having a great partner like Anthony. Anthony had to work this weekend so I did the majority of this cake solo. GEEZ. I'd forgotten how much longer it takes when you do everything yourself. Especially rolling out fondant, which he is always nice enough to do for me when we work together.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

mac practice

macarons with salted caramel filling

I'm a little out of practice with macs since I've been in a cubicle for the past five weeks, so I decided to break out the piping bag this weekend. I've shown the stages above: piped, baked, filled and, of course, eaten.

I want to make these again so that next time I can hide a tiny nugget of green apple pâte de fruit (fruit jelly coated in sugar---like those fruit slices you can buy in candy stores) in the middle of the filling. It will taste like a caramel apple then!

I had a life-changingly good macaron this weekend at Francois Payard Bakery in Soho. The outer shell was delicately crispy and the inside velvety soft. GO GET ONE NOW. I recommend pistachio, or if you're feeling Halloweenish, pumpkin.

fudge ripple
And you know I can't go a weekend without making ice cream. I kept it simple today. Vanilla ice cream with ripples of thick, fudgetastic chocolate. I liked it so much, I shot it on a bright pink background. Très jolie.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

picture time

vanilla cake with nutella buttercream
This darling ladybug-on-a-leaf cake was for a first birthday party. I snapped pictures as the cake came together so I could do a play-by-play for you.

So let's get started.

We built the ladybug's body using 3 ten inch cake layers, 2 six inch cake layers and lots of Nutella buttercream. After the cake chilled, I carved it into a round mound that Anthony thinly crumb-coated.

Next, we covered the body in fondant and airbrushed it red. While the body dried, Anthony formed the head out of Krispies and we covered it in black fondant.

We've found that it's nearly impossible to get a true black by coloring or airbrushing white fondant. We just keep a small tub of black fondant on hand instead.

The rest was simple. We assembled the body and head on top of cake boards I had cut into a leaf shape and tricked our little lady out with antennae, spots and lots of sugar flower daisies.

Anthony liked the daisies.

And I liked the cake scraps.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

short and sweet. and frozen.

tres leches ice cream
Creamy coconut ice cream. Crispy coconut and vanilla bean meringues. Squares of buttery cake soaked in coconut milk.

Chris's favorite cake also makes a stellar ice cream.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

savory and sweet

zucchini, potato and leek crostata
I was baking last week but not blogging. Chris and I went to a funeral on Saturday and I was feeling very introspective.

I made the tart, or crostata, pictured above, last weekend. Lovely, right? Chris kept driving me nuts by calling it a pizza. This is not a pizza. It is a savory crostata---a medley of vegetables baked inside a buttery pie crust. CROSTATA.

ricotta ice cream with caramelized pistachios
and chocoate ice cream

I finally made my favorite gelato from Rome. It came out so well because I've upgraded my ice cream machine to the Lello Musso Pola 5030 Desert Maker. It's HUGE, especially since it only churns 2 quarts of ice cream at a time.

But OH what amazing ice cream. Absolutely as smooth as the ice cream I churned at Gramercy Tavern. I tested a basic recipe of vanilla and was amazed at the difference in quality between what i used to get from my old machine and what I got from the Lello. And best of all, it churns 2 quarts in a meager 20 minutes.

So I've gone a little mad over the last two weeks.

I've made a total of eight batches of ice cream: peanut butter with dark chocolate chunks, mint julep, Vietnamese coffee, vanilla bourbon, ricotta with caramelized pistachio, five spice pumpkin, olive oil and chocolate.

As I said, a little mad.

The chocolate in the picture was a recipe that included evaporated milk. I did not like the end result. It was chocolatey, but not as deeply, soul-piercingly chocolatey as I like.

The ricotta, however, also pictured above, was amazing. The caramel on the pistachios melts in the freezer, creating ribbons of bitter, lightly salted caramel running through the ice cream. I usually don't feel satisfied by a dessert that doesn't include chocolate, but it was different with this ice cream. Totally satisfied and wishing I had made a double batch instead.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

double deliveries

red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting
Anthony and I had two cakes this weekend and I thought this wedding cake would be the easier of the two. Boy was I wrong. It assembled easily enough, but because of a communication issue regarding the venue, we nearly had a cake wreck on our hands. The reception was outside.


Cream cheese frosting is not meant to hold up in humid, warm weather. We set the cake up outside and knew immediately we had to move it into refrigeration before the icing melted off. We rolled it on a cart through the restaurant's chaotic kitchen, over an uneven floor and to the walk-in fridge in the back. The only problem was that the fridge was used to store seafood in it and the cake would have absorbed the fishy odors. So we moved it again, back through the kitchen chaos and into a spare freezer. Drama. Stress. Deliveries are the worst.

vanilla cake with nutella buttercream
This Victoria's Secret bag was for Amanda, the bride-to-be. Really would have liked some black to go into this cake, but that idea got vetoed. We created the stripes with surgical tape and airbrushed on the color. I'd seen other people do a cake like this with strips of colored fondant they cut out and pasted onto the surface. It looks bumpy that way, and vaguely like railroad tracks for what I assume would be a sexy, pink train.

Monday, September 5, 2011

last taste of summer

ginger shortbread cookies with watermelon
and crenshaw melon sorbets
I've been hankering to make some ice cream sandwiches all summer, so I figured I had to do it this Labor Day weekend before the summer officially ended.

I wanted to use a crispy cookie just to see if I would enjoy it as much as I enjoy a traditional soft cookie. If I had made the cookie a bit thinner, I think it would have been enormously successful. Also, the cookie recipe called for crystallized ginger. I wish I had grated in fresh ginger because the crystallized ginger just wasn't intense enough for me. The sorbets, though, turned out beautifully---smooth and sweet with intense melon flavor.

chocolate gingersnap cookies with strawberry ice cream
These cookies were INSANELY delicious---chewy and spicy and dotted with chunks of melting semi-sweet chocolate.

I decide to stuff the cookies with strawberry ice cream. One problem, though. I don't like fruit-flavored ice creams because they always end up tasting, well, flavored and not truly like fruit. I would much rather eat a sorbet. But strawberry ice cream is a difficult flavor to abandon because it is part of the HOLY TRINITY OF ICE CREAM.

Chocolate. Vanilla. Strawberry. Or as it is sometimes labeled, Neapolitan.

When I was a kid, my parents used to buy a gallon tub of Neapolitan from Pathmark called "Whale of a Pail." Back then, that neon-colored strawberry was my favorite flavor. Partly out of sentimentality and partly because of the flavor's universal appeal, I decided to give strawberry ice cream another chance.

I went with a base recipe that used cornstarch instead of eggs as the thickening agent because I was hoping that the strawberry flavor would be stronger that way. The end product was good but not intensely strawberry enough even though I tripled the amount of strawberry puree the recipe called for. Arg. At least I have the cookies to drown my disappointment in.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

rock me like a hurricane

chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream
This cake was for a duel 3oth birthday party that was supposed to take place today. The party had to be rescheduled because of Hurricane Irene. We were half way through decorating when our client called us and told us the party was off---HURRICANES SUCK. Anthony delivered the finished cake last night. Jen, I hope you are eating it right now even though you had to cancel your party! Cake definitely beats the pants off of emergency canned goods.

The cake was an 80's Pac-man and Ms. Pac-man theme. Graphic shapes and bold colors are a cake designer's dream, so you can imagine how excited we were to work on this cake. The hardest part of the design was attaching the dots for the maze. We played some classic 80's tunes to motivate ourselves, talked about the new season of Top Chef Just Desserts and churned those dots out.

And here's a behind-the-scenes shot of the cake photo shoot. My ever-loving and eternally patient husband Chris holds all my "backdrops" (white posterboard!) for me and adjusts them as I bark orders at him. In return, I pay him with all-he-can-eat cake scraps. Not a bad deal, really.

Friday, August 19, 2011

a retrospective

s'mores cake
Layers of chocolate cake, marshmallow filling, chocolate fudge and graham crumb, all covered in toasted marshmallow frosting and a chocolate glaze. Yessiree. You remember this cake, right? I baked this cake for a wonderful friend and former coworker who wanted something special for her wife's birthday.

there is a season
I put my notice in at Gramercy Tavern this past week. I have worked there for a year and a half now, which is a long time for me. Since it was my first official pastry job, I've decided to share a few things that I've learned from my time in a restaurant kitchen.

You better have an end game. Working in a professional restaurant kitchen is nothing like baking at home. It's dirty, back-breaking work in a harsh environment with crazy hours, pitiful pay, and, in most situations, no benefits. Know what you want before you get into the business and try to reach your goal as quickly as possible. So here's my end game. I want an ice cream truck or shop down at the Jersey Shore. To get to that goal, I needed to work in a kitchen where I would have a chance to make large batches of ice cream every day. I have accomplished that goal and I am ready to move on. In the meantime, I will be doing some freelance graphic design work in order to fund my future ice cream business. Get ready everyone.


Gordon Ramsay sucks. Why is screaming and cursing at employees acceptable in a kitchen but not acceptable in any other form of work? Screaming at an employee does not make them work better or faster. Gordon Ramsay and a good majority of restaurant chefs out there are perpetrating the kind of behavior that does not belong in the modern day kitchen. I never in my five years as a graphic designer had anyone scream and swear at me when I made a mistake. Yet you would not believe the shocking stories I've heard from kitchen coworkers. Lobsters or utensils being hurled at their heads. Violent verbal abuse anytime they messed up. This has got to stop. Very few people can do something perfectly on the first try. Most people have a learning curve and I am grateful that my boss at Gramercy Tavern, Nancy Olson, understood this. No screaming, no throwing things. Just excellent instruction with firm and patient correction when needed.

Local. Seasonal. I never understood what a real strawberry looked or tasted like until I worked at Gramercy Tavern. They get their fruit from local farms that come to the Greenmarket in Union Square. The strawberries they use are less than half the size of the Driscoll behemoths I grew up with and most folks buy at the grocery store. These tiny beauties taste sweet, slightly tart and not in the least watery. I'm not trying to be snobbish or elitist about this. Strawberries grown locally and picked in season just taste better. My goal, whenever possible, is to buy from local farms and eat only what's in season.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

peachy keen

peach sorbet
I am working on something for next week that is a wee bit more complicated, so, since I was also on vacation this week, I decided to pick something simple.

I love sorbets because I don't like fruit-flavored ice creams. Dairy has a pervasive flavor that is always skulking about in the background, interfering with the taste of the fruit. I really am becoming more of a flavor purist every day. Fruit, sugar and little acid---that's all I want. A good sorbet should taste just like eating a perfectly ripe specimen of whichever fruit I choose to use.

This is the recipe Chef uses for peach sorbet at work. She has found that cooking the fruit and letting it sit overnight not only makes it easier to puree the next day, but also intensifies the fruit flavors.

peach sorbet
3 lbs roughly chopped ripe peaches (weighed after chopping)
12 oz sugar
12 oz water
2 oz lemon juice

Bring all ingredients to a rapid boil in a large pot. Transfer to a container and let sit overnight in your refrigerator.

The next day, puree thoroughly in small batches in a blender. Strain to remove any remaining pulp. Churn in an ice cream maker and enjoy.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


sour cream ice cream with blueberry swirl
I love this ice cream. The amount of fat in it is positively evil, but boy does that fat make it taste rich and exquisitely creamy. Best of all, this is hands down the easiest yolk-based ice cream I've ever made. There is no cream in this recipe because all the fat you need comes from the sour cream. Choose a good brand because it will drastically affect the taste of your final product. I used Organic Valley for its tangy deliciousness.

The blueberry swirl is nothing more than a quick and dirty version of a jam. Feel free to use any summer fruit you have a surplus of. This recipe would be equally delicious with peaches or cherries. If you use cherries, throw in a BAY LEAF while it cooks. Trust me. You'll love it.

zucchini bundt cake
I have an obsession with zucchini bread. Whenever I see a recipe for it that I've never tried, I have to bake it. It's a compulsion. I have tried at least thirty different recipes since I started baking. When I saw this recipe for a zucchini bundt cake in the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living, I cackled with delight. A new recipe! In a bundt pan! From Martha Stewart! A baking trifecta if I do say so myself.

The finished cake looked beautiful, but in all honesty, tasted bad. It was heavy and and the zucchini flavor didn't come out at all.

There's always next time, I guess. And, given my obsession, there definitely will be a next time. Bwahahahahaha.

sour cream ice cream with blueberry swirl
2 lbs. sour cream (full fat)
14 egg yolks
380 mL whole milk
8 oz. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt

Place the sour cream in a bowl with a strainer on top.

Bring the sugar and the milk to a boil.

Whisk the yolks together, then temper in the hot liquid a little at a time. Pour the mixture through the strainer into the bowl with the sour cream. Add the salt. Whisk all together until all the lumps are gone and the base is smooth.

Chill for at least four hours in your fridge.

Churn in your ice cream maker. Layer finished ice cream with dollops of blueberry swirl. Freeze at least four hours or overnight.

blueberry swirl
2 C. blueberries
1 C. sugar
pinch of cinnamon or cardamom

Combine all ingredients in a deep pot. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula.

Continue to boil for 6-8 minutes on medium heat, until berries are completely broken down and mixture has reduced.

Strain mixture and cool in fridge.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

taste of fall

sweet potato ice cream with toasted marshmallows
The heat wave this week had me planning to make several quarts of ice cream this weekend. I went with another recipe from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home. It's a fall recipe, but I had a rather large, leftover sweet potato in my fridge and an unexplained hankering for marshmallows, so I went with it.

I started by boiling cubed sweet potatoes in milk, then pureeing the mixture with my handy-dandy immersion blender. LOVE that thing. I then added the heavy cream, granulated sugar, dark brown sugar and molasses and brought everything to a boil. Next I whisked in the tiny bit of cream cheese that Jeni calls for in all her recipes, along with some cinnamon and sea salt. I then placed my base in an ice bath to cool and moved on to making marshamallows.

I used Alton Brown's marshmallow recipe, which my partner Anthony swears by. I bloomed the gelatin in my mixing bowl with some of the water. I then combined the rest of the water, the corn syrup, granulated sugar, vanilla bean and salt, and boiled the mixture in a pot until it reached 240 degrees. Once it reached the proper temperature, I turned on my mixer (fitted with a whisk attachment) and poured the hot sugar slowly down the side of the bowl. I let the mixer go until my marshmallow mix was lukewarm, then poured it into a well-greased half sheet pan.

Once the marshmallows set, I cubed them and indulged my inner pyromaniac by torching them until golden brown. It was hard to wait for them to cool before folding them into the ice cream. They tasted so good---crispy on the outside and meltingly gooey on the inside. I had to leave the kitchen because I kept snacking on them.

This recipe was a lot of work, but well worth it. I thought this ice cream tasted like the best pumpkin pie I've ever had. Chris even liked it, though marshmallows are probably number one on his most hated foods list (ricotta is a very close second). The best part is that I have a ton of marshmallows left over. I'm going to dig up some chocolate and graham crackers and have a s'mores party!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

T-Fuzz rollin'

baby shower cake with almond cake and blackberry buttercream
Crazy things happen when Anthony and I work late at night on a cake. We trash talk, start inventing ridiculous stories and generally have a lot of fun. When we began putting together the bear on this baby shower cake for my friend Marietta, we decided he needed a name. Chris, who sits in the living room and throws in wry comments while Anthony and I bake, came up with the winner.



He be gangsta y'all. You remember that black bear that was roaming around Newark a while back? That black bear was surely coming to find T-Fuzz because he wanted roll with his crew.

Now for the nuts and bolts. We made the bears' head out of rice crispy treats and his body out of cake so that his head wouldn't be so heavy that it would crush his body.

The block ended up being nine layers high and a perfect eight inch cube. I will be the first to admit that eight inches was just too big. I always have that problem, though, and Anthony always makes fun of me afterward when I can't fit the cake in my fridge, let alone lift the thing. In order to make sure that this giant Borg Cube of a cake was stable, we decided to insert a cardboard square halfway up the block and support the square with wooden dowels.

I also made a batch of strawberry macarons to bring to Marietta's party. Aren't they lovely?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

my ice cream idol

salty caramel ice cream
Thursday night I went to a book signing for Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home. Ohio native Jeni Britton Bauer has been making amazingly flavor-packed, rich and creamy ice creams since 2002. I first became aware of the brand when I did my restaurant project in school at FCI. I new I wanted to create a prototype for an ice cream business, so I began scouring the web. I found Jeni's website and fell in love. She is a former artist and you can tell from the presentation of the site and the design of the interior of her stores. I actually didn't get a chance to try her ice cream until a few months back. Dean and Delucca sells an assortment of her flavors, so I made my way down to Prince Street to get a taste. I tried the salty caramel and was extremely impressed by the creamy, rich texture of the ice cream and assertively bitter taste of the caramel. When I heard that she had a book coming out, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and learn her her secrets.

At the signing, Jeni explained the base recipe that she uses to make all her ice creams. She prefers to make cornstarch-thickened ice cream bases instead of egg-based custards because she doesn't want any of her flavors to be obscured by the eggs. Once the bases are made, she whisks in a small amount of cream cheese to give them a bit more body and richness. Brilliant.

As soon as I got my copy of her book home this weekend, I knew I wanted to make the salty caramel ice cream first. To start, I let the granulated sugar melt over high heat and caramelize before adding in the cream. I added the milk next. After it came to a boil, I added in the cornstarch and returned it to a boil. I then whisked in the cream cheese and sea salt and chilled the finished base over an ice bath. I spun the ice cream yesterday and Chris and I dug in immediately afterward. We loved this ice cream so much that I completely forgot to get a good picture of it before we ate it all. Below is all that is left of the salty caramel. You can see the stab marks from the fork that Chris attacked the ice cream with. Geez.

The book is beautiful and the recipes extremely easy to make. So go buy it! And while you get churning, I'm going to sneak back to the kitchen and lick up that last little bit of the salty caramel ice cream before Chris realizes there's still some left...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

bigger is better

mixed berry slab pie
Pie is the quintessential American dessert and perfect for this weekend's backyard barbeques. . But what do you do when you need enough pie to feed a crowd? I ran into this very problem on Saturday. I could have baked several pies, but I used this opportunity to finally try baking a slab pie instead. A PIE AS BIG AS A HALF SHEET PAN. Thirteen by eighteen inches of buttery goodness.

I used Martha Stewart's slab pie recipe in her baking handbook as a starting point, but I had to adjust it slightly because the pan I used was bigger. The dough rolled out beautifully, though, even when I had to roll it to such an obscene size. I made the dough the night before and let it rest and hydrate in the fridge overnight. I cannot emphasize the importance of this step. Your dough will seem a bit dry the day you make it, but letting it sit overnight in your fridge allows the water to seep into every part of the dough, making it the perfect consistency for rolling. It's like magic!

I filled this pie with a mix of blueberries, blackberries and cherries and covered the top with some of my precious chouquette sugar that I spirited back from my stage in France. I baked the pie for an hour until the crust was golden and the fruit filling had just started to erupt through the top. If you bake it any longer, you run risk of cooking the filling into mush and I CAN'T STAND THAT. I want to be able to tell what the filling is by looking at it. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone bakes an apple pie so long that they turn beautiful sliced apples into applesauce. PLEASE. Let's try to make pies and not pureed baby food.

I wish I could give you a picture of the inside, but I fear I cannot cut into it before it's served at the barbeque. Sigh.

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

mounds bar

flourless coconut cake
After my tres leche cake post, Lauren, a friend and former coworker, contacted me for the recipe. Lauren was temping in the Lucky Magazine art department while I was working there as a graphic designer. While at Lucky, she had the opportunity to move to France and teach English for a year, so she went for it. I remember being incredibly inspired and insanely jealous all at the same time. Anyway, when she returned, she brought with her a French boyfriend (!!!) and an amazing recipe for a flourless coconut cake, direct from said boyfriend's French mother. She offered to send me a this recipe in return for the tres leche recipe, and promised me that it tasted exactly like eating a Mounds bar. OH YEAH. Gotta have the recipe.

The ingredients included eggs, sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, whole milk and unsweetened shredded coconut. The sweetened condensed milk is sweet enough that you don't need to add any extra granulated sugar. And the three milks combined with the hefty amount of coconut make this cake's center extremely moist, just like the filling of a humble Mounds bar.

The recipe is fairly classic when it comes to technique. It calls for separating the yolks from the whites, beating each separately, combining the beaten yolks with the remaining ingredients, then folding in the whites (for all you pastry nerds out there, this cake method is called a separated egg foam). This method allows you to build structure in the cake even though you aren't using any flour and to give the cake volume even though you aren't using baking soda or baking powder to help it rise.

After I unmolded the cake from my loaf pan, I drenched it in bittersweet ganache. Now it REALLY looked like a Mounds bar. Tasted just like one, too.

for the cake:
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites, beaten into stiff peaks (I did this by hand since it is only 3 whites)
200 mL coconut milk
200 mL sweetened condensed milk
100 mL milk
125g unsweetened shredded coconut (I found this at Whole Foods in the baking aisle)

for the ganache:
8 oz. heavy cream
1.5 oz. corn syrup
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate chopped into small pieces (I used Guittard 55%)

Heat oven to 350º. Grease a loaf pan with butter (preferably) or Pam spray.

Beat the 3 yolks. Add the condensed, coconut, and regular milks. Mix in shredded coconut. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites, and pour mixture into pan.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour; while baking, cover with aluminum foil so it won't burn.
The cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool completely before unmolding.

While cake cools, make ganache by heating heavy cream and corn syrup over low heat until bubbling around the edges. Pour mixture over chocolate and whisk to fully combine.

Flip out cake onto a wire rack over a sheet tray. Pour ganache over top and allow to set. Transfer cake to a platter and serve. Keep leftovers in the fridge.