Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year in Review

So, wow, I baked a lot of stuff this year! Some things I honestly don't even remember. Thank goodness I have this blog to remind me what I did with my year. I learned a lot. About baking. I still have a lot more to learn. But, there were definitely some high points in my 2009 baking adventures. Here are my favorites (and before you ask, there was NO WAY I could have picked only one in each category--too many delicious things):






Most epic failure:
  • The BAKED boys. You and your cookbook rock my kitchen. Bring on book #2!
  • Alton Brown. Every recipe of yours is made of win.
  • Martha Stewart. For a jailbird, you're ridiculously reliable.
  • Julia Child. I have a feeling my affection for you will only grow over the next several years.
  • My little brother Bill. I cannot thank you enough for making the most beautiful pie boxes the world has ever seen. You are a genius.
Thanks for sharing:
  • Priestess--if we lived near each other we would be an unstoppable baking/theatre force.
  • Pie Queen--why do we both work, again? Can't we just spend all of our days in the kitchen?
  • Mangled Dave--You are welcome in my kitchen anytime/all the time.
  • Mama Vogel--I want to be you when I grow up.
  • Smitten Kitchen--I wish I'd found out about your blog sooner. I am already a devotee.
  • Coconut & Lime--I wish I could write all my own recipes. That's astounding.

And what can you expect for 2010? Well, I'm going to continue learning. Including learning from professionals. mr. gave me a cooking class at Les Madeleines for Christmas. I cannot wait to see what they're offering and choose something wonderful to learn about. Everything they make is amazing. I'm also hoping to take a real cake decorating class. I can make things taste delicious, but I'm not yet as good with making things LOOK delicious. I will probably be making more cookies and small portioned desserts this year. Among other things, I'm trying to lose some weight, and eating half a pie isn't really conducive to that. So, I need to make things that I can share. Unless it's a special occasion, and then I'm pulling out the stops! I have a new cake stand and mr. bought a fancy new camera, and I'm ready to take some beautiful pictures of some beautiful baked goods!

First up: I've tried once, but it wasn't a complete success, so I'm going to try again: Salted Chocolate Toffee Cookies.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chocolate-Malt Stump de Noël

This recipe is NOT for the faint of heart. At all. BUT. If you have the mental fortitude...and a lot of time on your is completely worth the anxiety and stress that you will spend on it. Completely.

Let me start by saying: I am not an expert on chocolate. Nor have I ever made a rolled cake. Of any kind. So. Double risk for me.

Concerning the first issue, I didn't let the chocolate cool enough before adding the espresso to it and ended up with seized chocolate. Mr. kindly ran to the store for more chocolate. On the second try, I kept the two separate, added them separately to the cake mixture, and all was well. I'll know better for next time.

On the rolling issue, I just don't know what to say. Sometimes it turns out to be more like folding. If you saw Tyler Florence on the holiday Iron Chef America episode, you'll know kind of how it went for me. I may be a victim of my altitude yet again. Next time, I may mess with the cooking time. I think it just may have been *finger pinch* this much too dry.

Luckily, this cake has more layers to roll. So by the outside layers, I was actually rolling (not folding), with only some occasional cracks.

I kind of liked the way it turned out looking particularly stump-like with the flared out part on the bottom. The way a real stump flares out to its root structure.

And also, thank goodness for frosting.

I don't think you're ideally supposed to frost the top. You see, ideally, you should have a perfectly rolled cake with concentric circles visible from the top like a real stump. Obviously that didn't happen for me, so I frosted the whole darn thing. And did some "artistic" work in the frosting itself to make it look like bark.

Then I put the whole thing in the refrigerator for a couple of days while I did the rest of my Christmas baking.

I made a veritable field of meringue mushrooms as per Martha's instructions.

And put every last one of them on/around the cake because they were too cute to leave any off.

And gave the whole thing a final dusting of "snow".

I was prepared, given my difficulties with the rolling, for the cake to look terrible and possibly even collapse when I cut into it. Imagine my surprise, when I got these near perfect slices.

The chilling of the cake clearly helped it to really hold together.

And the taste...was delicious. The malt powder adds such a unique flavor. I don't know that the Malted Buttercream is something I would want to eat by the spoonful, but combined with the deliciously dark chocolate cake and the rich chocolate frosting, it was surprisingly light tasting. And complex. And I loved it.

No, I did not have sugared cranberries as part of my decorations. Next time. Because...

TGIP Rating--Chocolate-Malt Stump de Noël--KEEPER. I'm making it every year. And eventually my roll will be a real roll that I can show from the top with pride.

Next up: My baking year in review. A full year of baking and blogging gives me a lot to think (and blog again) about. Maybe I'll even choose a "Best of".

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies

I like gingerbread cookies. I do. They're not my favorite. But I like them. And I really liked this variation on gingerbread. The chocolate isn't overwhelming, it just adds a depth to the flavor. And I like that. I'm not ready to say I'll never make another traditional gingerbread cookie, but it's good to have this alternate in my arsenal. That said, I am not a fan of the rolled cookie. Drop cookies I can handle. Rolled cookies are just so high maintenance.

It's really a commitment. Once you start you have to stay the course and make it all the way through decorating. You can't just leaved a rolled cookie plain. And THAT having been said, it just may be worth the commitment to see this running gingerbread boy. He always makes me smile.

And look! I can finally share a BAKED recipe with you. Here's the link. Of course, mine aren't nearly as pretty as theirs. And I didn't try the mascarpone filling. Maybe next year. I did have a little trouble with the dough remains being crumbly when I tried to roll it out again for more cookies. Maybe I'm a victim of my altitude? It's certainly possible.

I bought these handy icing tools a while back but haven't had occasion to use them until now.

I thought I was buying them for my kids so they could help with icing cookies and cupcakes. Which is true. But it turns out I was also buying them for me. No more pastry-bag-claw! If you've ever held a pastry bag while you iced mountains of cookies or cupcakes, you know what I'm talking about.

My own personal cookie-decorating elves.

TGIP Rating--Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies--KEEPER

Next up: For Christmas, I'm making BAKED's version of a Bûche de Noël--a Chocolate-Malt Stump de Noël. Wish me luck. I'll need it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Key Lime Cheesecake

Yum. Yummy.

I don't have much else to say about this. Truly. It's easy. Much easier than it looks with all those steps you'll see below. It's waaayyy more delicious than the Key Lime Pie I made about a year ago. Each of the three layers has its own wonderful texture and flavor and they combine into a perfectly textured, perfectly tart and complex treat.

I was given the advice several years ago that cheesecakes should only ever be mixed by hand. That it makes for a more dense, less airy filling. I followed that advice exactly once. Too many sore muscles and too many blisters later, I realized that I could use my Kitchenaid for a shorter (and less strenuous) process, with just as delicious of a product. IMO. I just don't beat the crap out of it. I beat it until everything is combined and then STOP. This recipe calls for the filling to be put together in a food processor. Which, obviously, is even faster than the Kitchenaid, but I didn't really like that method. I felt like I had less control over what was going on in the bowl, and then when I realized there was still some liquid in the bottom, I couldn't really stir it all together like I can in my mixer bowl. So, that's the only thing I would change, if I were to change anything about this recipe.

Here it is:

Key Lime Cheesecake *or click here for printable version*
Bon Appétit | October 2006
by Jeanne Thiel Kelley

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Reminiscent of Sara Lee's 1950s-era graham-cracker and sour-cream cheesecake, this version features a thick layer of delicious sour cream atop the creamy filling and tart Key lime custard.

Lime custard

6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons fresh Key lime juice or regular lime juice
1 teaspoon grated Key lime peel or regular lime peel

1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 12 whole graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons fresh Key lime juice or regular lime juice
1 tablespoon grated Key lime peel or regular lime peel

1 16-ounce container sour cream

Thin lime slices

For lime custard

Whisk all ingredients in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until custard thickens and boils for 30 seconds, about 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally (mixture will thicken).

For crust
Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap 3 layers of foil around outside of 8- to 8 1/2-inch-diameter springform pan with 3-inch-high sides. Butter pan. Stir first 3 ingredients to blend in medium bowl. Mix in butter until moistened. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of prepared pan. Bake just until set, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Maintain oven temperature.

For filling
Place cream cheese, 2/3 cup sugar, eggs, lime juice, and lime peel in processor; blend well.
Spoon custard into crust; smooth top. Carefully spoon filling over. Set cheesecake in large baking pan. Add enough hot water to baking pan to come 1 inch up sides of cheesecake pan. Bake until almost set but not puffed and center moves slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir sour cream and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl to blend.

Carefully spoon sour cream mixture over hot cheesecake; smooth top. Bake until topping sets, about 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.

Run knife around sides of pan to loosen. Cool cheesecake completely. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Do ahead Can be made 2 days ahead.

Keep refrigerated. Release pan sides from cheesecake; transfer to platter. Garnish with lime slices and serve.

Oh, AND, I read some of the comments on the recipe and, based on those, decided not to cook it in a water bath. Instead, I put a pan of water in the oven beneath the cheesecake. It's the first time I've tried that and, lo and behold--no cracking! Miraculous.

TGIP Rating--Key Lime Cheesecake--KEEPER!

Next up: Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies. The BAKED boys are featured in the December issue of Food & Wine Magazine. As possibly their biggest fan this side of the Mississippi, I am compelled to try every recipe they publish.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Midweek Kitchen Confessions 27: How many...

...a friend asked me at a party last weekend how many different kinds of pie I've made since I started blogging. The answer is 28. That does not include tarts or freeform pies (galettes). But it does include epic failures.

And here's a bigger number for you: this is post number


Whew. That is a big number. It's been fun. I think I'll keep it up.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2-fer! Chocolate Mini Pies and Baked Bars

Well, not my greatest successes. But neither was a complete failure, either.

With the Mini Pies, I thought I could make a miniature version of this pie. I didn't think through a couple of potential problems. 1. Part of what makes pie crust so wonderful is when it's thinly rolled out and bakes up crispy and flaky. That's pretty hard to manage with tiny crusts. I suppose I could have rolled it all out and then used a biscuit cutter to cut the right size rounds and then tried (emphasis on the "try") to transfer those to the pan, but that just didn't seem feasible. So, I just used my hands to flatten and press little balls of dough into as thin of a piece as I could and pressed those into the pan. Pierced them with a fork and baked for 10 minutes.

They were fine, just a little thick. So, then, 2. I could only fit a small amount of chocolate pudding in them and the proportion of dough thickness to amount of chocolate pudding IMO. And of course, 3. I was making these for a party and you can't exactly put whipped cream on a plateful of mini pies and then cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the car and expect them to survive. So, I had to do the last step of prep at the party. Which is silly.

But the bigger problem was that this chocolate pudding, although a wonderful, easy recipe, is just a little too mild. I think it's great if you're just having chocolate pudding. But I've had second thoughts about my "like" of this as a pie filler. I think in a pie you need something more rich. And possibly more dense. I'm not talking about French Silk, that's a whole different matter. Sometimes that's what a person wants. And sometimes a person just wants a simple chocolate pudding pie. Which leads me to: give me your homemade chocolate pudding recipe! Whoever you are. I need it and you know you want to give it to me.

The Baked bars...I have a hard time saying this...because I'm such a fan of their book...but...I just didn't like them. I imagined them being like the Magic Bars I remember from my childhood, but...richer, denser, even more delicious. I don't know, maybe my backyard is shrinking. Or maybe it was the butterscotch chips. I imagine these bars would be delicious for somebody who really loves butterscotch.

I like it well enough, but I thought the flavor overwhelmed the rest of the flavors in the bars. They're not difficult to make. At all. And I suppose it's easy enough to change the proportions of semi-sweet chocolate chips and white chocolate chips, and thereby just leave the butterscotch out altogether. But part of me thinks if I ever make something like this again, I'll go with the original.

TGIP Rating--A resounding MEH for both

Chocolate Mini Pies--probably not worth the time or the effort of trying to improve on them. Next time I'm bringing a whole pie to a party, enough of this finger-food.

Baked Bars--maybe you'll like them (if you had the book, and could see the recipe), but I really didn't.

Next Up: Key Lime Cheesecake. I just happened to find key limes at the grocery store, so I figured I'd try a little something new.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pie-la-Palooza 2

I'm starting to think that my extended family's Thanksgiving feast should consist of nothing but desserts. We'd all have a lot more room for the fantastic pies, etc. that show up at our table if we didn't bother with turkey and stuffing first. Either that, or we need to just start with a dessert course around noon and then have the main meal when our stomachs settle, around 4. There were no less than 15 pies at this year's feast. Plus 3 pumpkin rolls, and three tubs of ice cream. It looks obscene, I know. It sounds obscene. It probably IS obscene. But, there are a lot of us. And I'm thankful that every single one of them is a part of my life. (not the pies, the people) (although, I'm terribly thankful for pies, as well!)

My contributions this year were the Pumpkin-Chocolate Tart you see on the left above,

Cherry-Chocolate Pie
(which the oldest says was better than the Pie Queen's Cherry pie--score!),

and Bourbon Pecan Pie with Cranberries (which the Pie King thought was too boozy (?!)).

I hope you all had a wonderfully Happy Thanksgiving and indulged in many delicious baked treats.

Next up: I'm going to try to make some mini pies. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bourbon Pecan Pie with Cranberries

I pity the cranberry. I truly do. It is much maligned. People think of this:

When they should think of this:

If less people were exposed to the first, the cranberry might not have been saddled with such a bad reputation all these years. I would like to "bring back" the cranberry. It is far underused in holiday desserts and other dishes. So, I was very excited to see this recipe involving cranberries, pecans, and BOURBON! My favorite! I wanted to give it a trial run before making it for Thanksgiving. And, success! It was delicious! I love the idea of toasting the pecans, it gives an extra boost of flavor. There is a LOT of sugar in this recipe. Enough that the pecans on top get nice and crispy with the sugar, almost like candied nuts. But that's a good thing. Cakespy said it best about the cranberries: "Adding a generous handful of tart cranberries (I know! Fruit!) to the Bourbon Pecan Pie worked on two levels: first, it tempered the extreme sweetness of the pecan-sugar-corn syrup mixture; second, it added a refreshing tang to the fiery, warming bourbon." And about the yourself (and me) a favor--buy good stuff. For novices, that means Maker's Mark, Knob Creek, or Buffalo Trace. Do NOT buy Early Times, Jim Beam, or, god forbid, Wild Turkey. You can really taste the bourbon in this pie--not the alcohol, the flavor of the bourbon. So, you need to use a bourbon that has a good flavor.

Bourbon Pecan Pie with Cranberries

1 single pie crust, blind baked (ingredients below)
1 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups pecans, lightly toasted
3/4 cup dried cranberries (I used apple juice-sweetened; if possible, use the least sweet version you can!)

Rather Thick Single Pie Crust (adapted from Martha Stewart)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1 tbsp. pcs., very cold
1/4-1/2 cup cold water


1. Prepare the pie crust. Put the flour, salt and sugar into a food processor and pulse once or twice. Add the butter and process until the mixture looks grainy. Then slowly, while pulsing, add the water until you can form the dough by pressing it between your fingers. Note: this can be done by hand as well. Decant the loose dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. Using the wrap, fold the loose dough towards the middle and press with the back of your hands to form dough. Wrap and chill for at least 4 hours before using. Dough can be made ahead for up to one week. Before you're ready to bake this pie, blind-bake the pie crust for about 10-15 minutes at 325 F.

2. Ready to make the pie? Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F., baby!

3. When you're ready to prepare the filling, put the corn syrup and brown sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.

Remove from heat and add the butter, bourbon and vanilla. Let the mixture cool, and then add the eggs and whisk until smooth (don't add the eggs while the mixture is still very hot, otherwise you'll have scrambled eggs!).

4. Fill and bake the pie. Arrange the pecans and cranberries on the bottom of the crust.

Carefully pour the filling over them (some will rise to the top, like magic!).

Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the filling is set; rotate the pan halfway through baking time. This pie allegedly serves about 8--however, what the recipe does not mention is that the 8 servings may be the same 2 people four times in one day.

As you can see above, I used dark brown sugar and dark corn syrup. I just think darker is better and more flavorful in most food situations. And, naturally, I used my own pie crust recipe. Because, damn, it's good. And look how flaky it is! If you haven't tried it yet, you should. Unless you're vegetarian--I'll work on that soon, promise.

TGIP Rating--Bourbon Pecan Pie with Cranberries--KEEPER! Needless to say, I WILL be making this for Thanksgiving. One of three desserts. I am very tempted (in my attempt to "bring back" the cranberry) to make the cranberry tart I made the very first time I made Thanksgiving dinner in my home (1995!), but one of the other desserts I'm making is this tart, and since I only have one tart pan---perhaps I'll make the cranberry tart for our Christmas Eve dessert-buffet-to-beat-all. And in the future--will I try this recipe with chocolate chips in place of the cranberries, for a CHOCOLATE Bourbon Pecan Pie? You bet your sweet bippy I will!

Next Up: Pie-la-Palooza 2!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mama Vogel's Rum Cake

Mama Vogel knows what it's all about. Liquor in desserts. Smart woman.

I have a long-term project (that I haven't yet started) of recreating the Italian Rum Cake from Sarno's Bakery in Los Angeles. My parents used to order their rum cake for special occasions and it is one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. But, sadly, no longer available. So, I need to figure out how to make it myself. There are a whole lot of pieces to the puzzle that have to be figured out one at a time. Then I have to put the whole thing together. I probably won't start on that until January. In the meantime...I saw a college friend at a party in Berkeley in September and told him my rum cake woes. A good move on my part, as he has all sorts of sources for rum cake recipes. This one is from Mama Vogel. A woman I'd love to meet someday. Because of this:

I am happy to share the recipe but with the realization that everyone will see what a fraud I am. It is made with a cake mix and with little extra doctoring. Can't get much easier than this. I would tell your friend that anyone who thinks they have to make something from scratch is just wasting their time and money. I also will share the secret that I begin in September to watch the grocery store ads. When I see a 'buy one, get one free' attached to any of the yellow cake mixes from the better known brands, I begin my stockpiling of mixes. I bake them in batches of 8 and then make a big pot of the rum glaze. Just ask Michael what the house smells like when I have this fully underway. There are also many stories related to the cake -- like one school not allowing the teachers to sample the cake until all of the students had left the campus for the day or the nurse who frowned on anyone imbibing but Steve found her wiping the glaze from the plate with her fingers and promptly licking them clean.

She bakes these in batches of 8, folks. Multiple batches of 8, from the sound of it. I admire such a woman. I can bake, but I can't bake like that. That takes will and fortitude. And a boatload of rum!

And here, with Mama Vogel's permission, is this wonderful family recipe:

Mama Vogel's Rum Cake *click here for printable version*


1 cup chopped pecans
1 box yellow cake mix (with pudding in the mix)
3 eggs
1/2 or 1/3 cup oil (according to the directions on the box of cake mix you use)
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup dark rum (80 proof)

Glaze (enough for two cakes):

1/4 pound butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark rum (80 proof)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease (use spray) and flour a 12-cup bundt pan. Sprinkle chopped nuts over the bottom of the pan.

Mix all cake ingredients together. Pour batter over the nuts and bake as directed on cake mix box (approximately 35-40 minutes). Cool and invert onto serving platter. Prick top and sides with fork.

Prepare glaze: Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Spoon and brush glaze evenly over the top and sides, allowing the cake to absorb the glaze. Repeat until the glaze is used up.

(literally dripping with glaze)

Yes, once again, I baked a cake that is essentially a dressed-up cake mix. Much like my Aunt Dorothy's beloved Wine Cake.

Which is exactly WHY I liked this recipe. I figured if I got such great results from that, why wouldn't it work just as well with rum?! This is a far cry from Sandra Lee--that, my friends, is a fraud.

At any rate, this cake is delicious. Rummy? Why, yes. Perfectly so. I love the pecans with the rum flavor. It's sort of spicy and warming and a little crunchy.

Yum. Mama Vogel apparently makes these for Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for her. She instructs further:

One secret I did forget to note on the recipe....... when putting the rum into the cake mix, I measure it kinda like a good bartender fills a shot glass...... pour it to the rim of the measuring cup and then keep pouring as you dump that into the mix. It probably gets about an extra quarter cup of rum when all is said and done and the secret to the extra moisture (and kick) in the final product.

THAT is a woman after my own heart. You are not a fraud, Mama. You are my hero.

TGIP Rating--Mama Vogel's Rum Cake--KEEPER! Rummy =Yummy.

Next up: Thanksgiving is almost here! I'm doing a trial run of this pie to see if it's good enough to make for my family.