Monthly Archives: February 2011

Everyday Cakes

You know what I’d like to bring back?

Tea time, and not the golf kind. Those British are on to something. I mean, I’m not the biggest fan of tea unless I’m sick–I’m much more of a debilitating coffee addiction kind of girl. But the tea time ritual itself, that’s what I want. Because you get to take a break in the middle of the day and socialize. And more importantly, you get to eat cake. (Or at least you do in my version of tea time).

The best coffee/tea-time cake is deliciously simple. Butter, sugar, eggs, and flour, maybe a little flavor, (I am all about almond!), or jam filling. Everyday cakes are truly spectacular without the fuss. Unfortunately these kinds of cake don’t always satisfy as an after dinner dessert. They shine much more brightly mid-day, shared with a friend or two over coffee and tea.

Which is why we need to bring back tea time. And while we’re at it, afternoon siestas. I would advocate for brunch too, another excellent reason to make one of these cakes, but it is already a recognized and well-practiced tradition.

In conclusion, everyday cakes are a largely ignored yet glorious treat. I’m a big fan and you should be too. So I’m going to share with you three fabulous cake recipes that I made on a whim and was ever so glad I did!

Keep reading…

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Filed under Breakfast, Cake, Italian, Recipe

Home cooked meals

My sister Denise came home this past weekend from college. And since dorm food is often less than satisfactory, I was determined to make her a home cooked meal. Not to mention, it is so much more fun cooking for others than just for yourself.

I’d like to take a moment and talk about ciabatta. It is a pretty excellent bread. It can also be infuriating because the dough is so wet and sticky it is difficult to work with. So difficult that your first batch sort of looks deflated and you have to make another batch just to prove you can do it right, which you do. Then after sampling bread from the two batches you find they’re both quite delicious and now you have twice as much bread! At which point you forgive the ciabatta and become friends again.

But back to dinner. Although I love all sorts of food and cuisines, whenever I haven’t had Italian in a while, I crave it like crazy. It is my ultimate comfort food, and best when cooked and shared with others.

So we made homemade pasta, to go with my Nana’s famous tomato sauce recipe. We even figured out how to shape them into bowties/farfalle. It was a tremendous success.

Lastly, because a fabulous dinner is best followed by a fabulous dessert, we made a chocolate cake. The same one, in fact, that I made when I learned I could, with great effort, whip egg whites by hand.

And so, we made our cake and ate it too. Of course, my sister took dusting her cake with powdered sugar to a whole new level.

Then proceeded to eat it within the outline of the sugar. If you know Denise, you wouldn’t be surprised by this. Then again, maybe this is just what inhaling too much sugar does to your head.

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Filed under Bread, Cake, Chocolate, Italian, Savory

Pine nuts, cannoli, and figs, oh my!

A couple weeks ago, I held a taste testing party for my cousin and some of his friends. I made Italian cookies to practice and test out recipes for the bakery, and they ate said cookies and provided feedback. Wine was also part of the deal, naturally.

But first, let’s rewind to 48 hours earlier when I began this adventure in the kitchen. It started at my favorite grocery store which has almost any ingredient I could ever need, Italian or otherwise, and so inexpensive! It is a horrible enabler to my grocery shopping addiction.

In any case, I made my mother’s almond biscotti recipe, which I cannot seem to make without getting extremely frustrated. I cannot begin to fathom why this recipe just doesn’t cooperate with me. It’s not that anything goes wrong either, they just aren’t perfect. Grr. The pine nut cookies on the other hand, those were fun, if not very, very sticky. The cookies themselves are a chewy macaroon made with almond paste. Delicious. I skimped a little on the pine nuts, but those little buggers are expensive!

And oh the fig cookies.

These were big winners.

Then of course, there were cannoli. You can buy pre-made shells if you’re short on time, and then you just mix ricotta and powdered sugar until creamy, then add in your flavor, in my case, orange and cinnamon. Easy peasy.

Of course, even with all this baking I had three pounds of leftover ricotta cheese. So later that week I made ricotta and polenta cake full of honey and ricotta muffins, which were barely sweet but fascinatingly good. I think I was photographed out by this point because I documented neither item. However, ricotta is such a wonderously versatile cheese that I have a long list of ricotta desserts to try out, so this will not be the last you hear of it.

Of all the treats I made for the evening, I was most proud of my rosemary bread. It turned out better than ever before.

It was just divine. Most especially with butter. (Obviously). Unfortunately, I have since let my rosemary plant die. Oops! I don’t know how I will ever start and keep a garden.

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Filed under Bakery, Beer and Vino, Bread, Cookies, Fruit, Italian, Pastries

Croissant Heaven

We finally got to finish our croissants in class! Last week we made our laminated doughs, but because class was canceled during the storm, we were unable to actually shape and bake them. Lucky for us, our teacher put the doughs in the freezer so that come Monday we could finish what we had started and no dough, and more importantly butter, would go to waste. As you might have read, I had ended up making my own croissants during the storm because I was afraid we would not have this opportunity. I’m so glad we revisited them in class though, because I learned how to properly and most deliciously roll them out (and stuff them with chocolate!)

Ok so check this out. In the process of rolling out a croissant, you cut and stretch it out like a little Eiffel Tower. Just in case you needed a reminder as to the origins of what you are making.

And then you roll them up to look like little armadillos. Adorable.

These things turned out more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I was so proud, and once again grateful to be taking this class. We learn so many things I never would have thought of, let alone picked up on my own. I don’t think I could have ever made croissants like these just following a recipe. I learn much better from watching and doing.

So the croissants were a big thumbs up. But the real winner of the evening/morning breakfast was the chocolate rolls. Oh my God.

Apparently the crescent shaped croissants are supposed to be just plain, while the stuffed ones are shaped into rolls. Which is smart if you think about it because then your chocolate is portioned out evenly throughout the entire thing, rather than just in the very center. We used these little chocolate sticks made specifically for this purpose. I also used like five sticks per roll instead of just one or two–but I feel no need to justify that, you know you would’ve done the same.

Maybe it was the many chocolate sticks, or just inattention to portioning the dough, but my stuffed croissant rolls were ridiculously huge. I only now wish I had made them smaller so they could have lasted longer. I had only one chocolate roll for breakfast the next morning before sharing the rest, and I can’t seem to get it out of my head. There was a perfect amount of chocolate between layers and layers of flaky, buttery, phenomenal pastry. I’ve been craving it like crazy ever since my first bite! I absolutely have to make these again soon, if only for my own sanity.

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Filed under Breakfast, Chocolate, Pastries

Blizzard Baking: Part Five

I can’t spend a full day baking and NOT make bread.

In class last week our teacher raved about this bread she once had that used the spent mash (grains) leftover from the beer making process. As luck would have it, one of the girls in my class visited a brewery last weekend and went home with a gigantic tub of the stuff. She quickly became everyone’s friend when she brought it to class to share.

So those of us who wanted to got to bring home some of the pungent, (in a good, beer-y kind of way), soggy grains. You use them as you would a regular soaker, where you soak whole grains of all sorts in water before mixing into your dough so you don’t have little crunchies in your bread.

They say beer is liquid bread, and probably for many reasons, but it makes sense since both are just fermented grain. The carbon dioxide and alcohol dispelled by the yeast give beer its bubbles and fun-factor and bread its rise and flavor. And when you combine the two? Well, you get really dark, flavorful bread that will make the most excellent breakfast tomorrow.

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Filed under Beer and Vino, Blizzard, Bread, Whole Grains

Blizzard Baking: Part Four

I love snow.

It’s awfully fun to play in, though less fun to shovel.

But shoveling is an excellent way to work off all these croissants.

I’m striving to strike a balance here between excessive snow and excessive butter.

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Filed under Blizzard, Pastries

Blizzard Baking: Part Three

Turns out it’s really hard to capture a blizzard on camera.

But it’s even harder to resist eating another one of these brownies.

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Filed under Blizzard, Chocolate, Pastries