Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite Cookbooks of 2009

Favorite Books of 2009

To send the year off, I thought I'd share with you my favorite baking cookbooks of 2009. These are the books I turned to again and again this year for inspiration and great recipes. Any of these books would be a wonderful addition to your cookbook library.

1. Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Emily Huntsman- is THE best cookbook for layer cakes! Every cake in this book (except for the wedding cakes) requires 3 8-inch cake pans. I use these from Wilton. There is not one cake I've tried in this book that I didn't like - recipes like Triple Chocolate Cake, Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Icing, and Peanut Butter Chocolate cake (made into cupcakes).

2. Martha Stewart's Cookies - when I posted my 12 days of Christmas Cookies, I realized that most of the recipes I used came from this book! These cookies were fantastic and I'm looking forward to trying more recipes from this book (just not anytime too soon - I'm "cookied" out!) Try the Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Crackles, Pecan Tassies, Jam Thumbprints, Lime Meltaways, Lemon Shortbread, and Chocolate Cream-filled Cookies.

3. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Hertzberg and Francois - wonderful artisan breads like the basic boule and semolina sesame bread. They have a new book out, but there are still so many I want to try in this one!

4. Classic Stars Desserts by Emily Luchetti - so far I've tried the Cream Cheese Swirled Brownies and the Lemon Bars. You know a recipe is good when the recipe pages are covered in flour and butter stains. That's what the lemon bar recipe looks like! Might even give Ina's lemon bars a run for their money!

5. Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Lewis and Polofito- Consistently good recipes that work and are delicious and a bit different. Recipes I've tried this year and some I've made over and over are Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins, German Chocolate Cake, Lemon Loaf, Coconut Snowball Cupcakes, and Rootbeer Fudge Bundt Cake (made into cupcakes).

6. Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan - I've only scratched the surface of this book. I'd have to say not every recipe is a slam dunk, but the Fruit Galette, the Perfect Party Cake, and the Brownie Buttons were very good.

7. The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz - a must-have cookbook for homemade ice cream, gelato and sorbet. Try the Rice Pudding Gelato or the Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream.

8. American Pie by Peter Reinhart- I haven't blogged about the recipes in this book, but we often make homemade pizzas at home. I've tried the Napoletana and the New York Style Pizza Doughs and they are both fantastic!

I'd love to know which baking cookbook is your favorite! Happy New Year! I'm looking forward to sharing more of my baking experiences with you in 2010!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

1 Day 'till Christmas - Orange Almond Macaroons!

December 2008 113
If you like almond paste, you'll love this cookie! It's time to relax and enjoy the weekend!

Orange Almond Macaroons
from Patrick Lemble via Martha Stewart

2 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus more for rolling and coating
1 pound almond paste
Zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with nonstick baking mats; set
aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 1 egg white and almond extract. Add confectioners' sugar and almond paste; beat until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add orange zest and orange liqueur; beat to combine, about 1 minute.

Lightly dust work surface with confectioners' sugar. Turn dough out onto work surface; roll into two 3/4-inch-thick logs, about 18 inches long. Cut each log crosswise into 30 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.

Lightly beat remaining egg white. Coat each ball with egg white and roll in sugar, tapping to remove excess; transfer to prepared baking sheets. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Pinch each piece of dough with three fingers to form an irregular pyramid shape. Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2 Days 'till Christmas - Chocolate Crackle Cookies!

Chocolate Crackle Cookies

These are soft and chewy like brownies and so delicious! Add some instant espresso powder if you like a hint of coffee in your chocolate.

Chocolate Crackle Cookies
from Martha Stewart's Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light-brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup granulated sugar

Chop bittersweet chocolate into small bits, and melt over medium heat in a heat-proof bowl or the top of a double boiler set over a pan of simmering water. Set aside to cool. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and light-brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add melted chocolate. With mixer on low speed, alternate adding dry ingredients and milk until just combined. Transfer the dough to a container and chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 2 hours.
Combine the confectioners and granulated sugars in a bowl. Use a small cookie scoop to scoop out dough and drop them into the sugar mixture, rolling to coat. If any of the cocoa-colored dough is visible, roll dough in confectioners’ sugar again to coat completely. Place the cookies 2 inches apart on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake until cookies have flattened and the sugar splits, 12 to 15 minutes.
Transfer from oven to a wire rack to let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

3 Days 'till Christmas - Triple Chocolate Biscotti!

Triple Chocolate Biscotti

Triple Chocolate Biscotti
adapted from
Makes about 30

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate baking chips (I omitted these in the batter, but melted them and used for drizzling on top)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment. Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then vanilla. Beat in flour mixture. Stir in semisweet and white chips. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared sheet in two 10- to 11-inch-long strips, spacing 3 inches apart. Using wet fingertips, shape strips into 11- by 2 1/2-inch logs.
Bake logs until tops are cracked and dry and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes; cool 10 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 300°F. Transfer logs onto work surface (I use a large wooden cutting board). Using serrated knife, gently cut warm logs crosswise or on a diagonal into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on prepared baking sheet. Bake biscotti until just dry to touch, about 8 minutes. Turn biscotti over. Bake until top is dry to touch, about 8 minutes. Cool on sheets.

Monday, December 21, 2009

4 Days 'till Christmas - Pecan Tassies

Pecan Tassies

Mini, bite-sized pecan pies with a butter and pecan crust. These are simply irresistible.

Pecan Tassies
from Martha Stewart's Cookies
Makes 16

For the dough:
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone cheese (I substituted cream cheese)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the filling:
1 large egg
1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (you could probably substitute corn syrup)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the dough: Process pecans in a food processor until finely ground (you should have about 1/3 cup); set aside. Put mascarpone and butter into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until well blended. Add flour, ground pecans, and salt; mix just until dough comes together. Alternatively, stir together ingredients with a wooden spoon in a large bowl.

Roll dough into sixteen 1-inch balls, and press into bottoms and up sides of cups of mini-muffin tins. (I greased and floured the mini muffin tins just to be on the safe side. If your muffin pan is non-stick, you're probably safe.)

Make the filling: Whisk the egg, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, butter, and salt in a small bowl. Stir in pecans. Spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons filling into each muffin cup. ( I had extra filling which I baked in a heat-proof coffee cup - baker's treat!)
Bake pecan tassies until crust begins to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely in tins on wire rack. Unmold. Pecan tassies can be stored in single layers in airtight containers up to 3 days. (They can also be frozen.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

5 Days 'till Christmas - Decorated Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

Sugar Cookies

Personally, sugar cookies are not my favorite cookie. I do like them, but I prefer cookies with more pronounced flavors. I guess the people who love sugar cookies are in the same camp as those who prefer vanilla ice cream over any other. I think a great Christmas Cookie Tray could never do without beautifully decorated sugar cookies. They're so festive and colorful. So far, my favorite sugar cookie is actually called a butter cookie by the folks at Cook's Illustrated. Next time, I think I'll add a little almond extract just to satisfy my own curiosity. I used royal icing on these cookies and then added some sanding sugar. For more detailed instruction on decorating sugar cookies, visit Sweetopia , specifically the 10 second rule in this post to get your consistency just right. It makes such a difference in your decorating!

Butter Cookies
Makes thirty-six to forty 2 1/2-inch cookies
adapted From Cook's Illustrated, Published November 1, 2003.

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup superfine sugar (5 1/2 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter , ( 2 sticks) cut into sixteen 1/2-inch pieces, at cool room temperature (about 65 degrees)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature

1. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, about 1 minute longer. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.
2. Remove bowl from mixer; knead dough by hand in bowl for 2 to 3 turns to form large cohesive mass. Turn out dough onto countertop; divide in half, pat into two 4-inch disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until they begin to firm up, 20 to 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 weeks; defrost in refrigerator before using.)
3. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out 1 dough disk to even 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured board. Chill for a few minutes if the dough gets too soft and sticky. Meanwhile, repeat with second disk.
4. Working with first portion of rolled dough, cut into desired shapes using cookie cutter(s) and place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Repeat with second portion of rolled dough. (Dough scraps can be patted together, chilled, and re-rolled once.) Cool cookies on wire rack to room temperature.

Royal Icing

4 egg whites
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or lemon juice

Beat egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk until frothy. Add confectioners' sugar and beat for several minutes until fluffy and smooth. Transfer to containers and tint as desired. Add water a teaspoon at a time to achieve the right consistency. Keep covered as the icing will harden when exposed to air. Apply base color to cookie with the back of a spoon and use a toothpick or piping bag to apply decorations once the base color has dried a bit. Allow icing to dry several hours or overnight before packing or stacking.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

6 Days 'till Christmas - Gingerbread Men

Gingerbread Men
I found this recipe on The Food Network from Gale Gand. It's the same recipe I used for the gingerbread house last year (along with Gale's instructions for making and building the house). I've decided that this dough is much too delicious to use in a gingerbread house that won't be eaten. This year I made simple gingerbread men. The dough was softer than I remember from last year but I used lots of flour to roll it out and then transferred the rolled dough to the freezer on a cookie sheet before using the cookie cutters on them. Frozen dough is much easier to peel off your rolling surface then warm dough. They're almost too cute to eat...almost!

Gingerbread Men
adapted from Gale Gand and The Food Network

8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 1/4 cups cake flour
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Royal Icing:
3 cups confectioners' sugar, plus more as needed
2 egg whites

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and mix until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time until incorporated. Add the molasses and vanilla and mix.

Sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, cloves, and salt. Working in batches, and mixing after each addition just until combined, add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Shape the dough into a thick disk, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease 2 cookie sheets.

On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough in half and roll each piece out into a large 1/4-inch thick sheet. Cut out with cookie cutters and transfer to a silpat lined cookie sheet.

Bake until stiff and toast-y, about 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely.

Make the Royal Icing: In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the confectioners' sugar and egg whites together. Add more sugar, if necessary, to reach a spreadable consistency. Using a pastry bag with #2 tip or a squeeze bottle, decorate the cookies as desired. Let the icing dry 24 hours before storing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

7 Days 'till Christmas - Jam Thumbprints!

Jam Thumbprints

Jam Thumbprints
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, separated, each part lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup ground walnuts
Strawberry jam, for filling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put butter and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric
mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolk and vanilla, and mix well. Reduce speed to low. Add flour and salt, and mix until just combined. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours.
Stir together ground walnuts and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls; dip balls in egg white, then in hazelnut-sugar mixture. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press down center of each ball with your thumb. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven; press down centers again with the end of a wooden spoon. Return to oven. Bake cookies until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes more. Let cool slightly on sheets on wire racks. Fill each center with jam. Cookies can be stored in a single layer in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

8 Days 'till Christmas - Lime Meltaways!

Lime Meltaways

If you like lime, also try Lime Nut Buttons.

Lime Meltaways
from Martha Stewart's Cookies

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
Grated zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream butter and 1/3 cup sugar until fluffy. Add lime zest, juice, and vanilla; beat until fluffy.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add to butter mixture, and beat on low speed until combined.
Between two 8-by-12-inch pieces of parchment paper, roll dough into two 1 1/4-inch-diameter logs. Chill at least 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Place remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a resealable plastic bag. Remove parchment from logs; slice dough into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Place rounds on baking sheets, spaced 1 inch apart.
Bake cookies until barely golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. While still warm, place cookies in the sugar-filled bag; toss to coat. Bake or freeze remaining dough. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

9 Days 'till Christmas - Hamentaschen! or Apricot Triangles


This is a Jewish cookie, but I make them for Christmas!

from Gale Gand via The Food Network

For the filling:

2 cups finely chopped dried apricots

1 1/3 cups orange juice

2/3 cup honey

1/2 orange, zest grated

For the dough:

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup cold unsalted butter

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 egg white

1/2 orange, zest grated

Equipment: 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter

To make the Filling: Place the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until soft and the liquid is absorbed. Add water, if needed. Let cool.

To make the Dough: Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, egg, egg white, and orange zest. Add it to the processor and pulse to mix, being careful not to over mix. Divide into 2 disks and chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to 1/4-inch thick. Cut out 2 1/2 to 3-inch disks. (You can re-roll the scrapes to make more disks.) Place a disk of dough down and place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center. Pinch the disk in 3 places to form a triangular shape with the filling still showing in the center. They will look like 3 cornered hats. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Continue until all the disks are made.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

10 Days 'till Christmas - Peanut Butter Blossoms!

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Peanut Butter Blossoms

48 Hershey's Kisses Brand Milk Chocolates
1/2 cup shortening (I used softened butter)
3/4 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Granulated sugar for rolling

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.

2. Beat shortening (or butter) and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls (use a small cookie scoop). Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Monday, December 14, 2009

11 Days 'till Christmas - Orange Cookies!

Orange Cookies
This may be our family's number one favorite cookie. This soft, cake-like cookie tastes like Panera Bread's orange scones if you've had them. The orange icing is the best! The recipe make a lot of cookies, so cut the recipe in half if you'd like.

Orange Cookies
adapted from an old family recipe

5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup orange juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk to combine. Combine buttermilk and orange juice in a 2-cup measuring cup. Cream the butter and sugar, and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape the bowl as needed. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixtures starting and ending with the flour mixture. Drop by tablespoons or by a cookie scoop onto a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat mat or parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes or until the bottoms are just beginning to brown. Cool completely before topping with orange icing (recipe follows).

Orange Icing

3 tablespoons butter
3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar (1 pound box)
4 to 5 tablespoons orange juice (approximately)
1 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
a pinch of salt

Cream butter, orange zest and salt in a bowl with an electric stand or hand mixer. Add sugar gradually, alternating with enough orange juice to make frosting the right consistency for spreading.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

12 days till Christmas - Snickerdoodles! (and some news!)

I've been super-busy filling cookie orders for friends and neighbors. I don't have the time to write much, but I will share with you my favorite cookie recipes, letting the photos speak for themselves. I hope to have a cookie recipe each day for the countdown to Christmas. First up - the ever-popular snickerdoodle. Our Christmas tray would never be without these. See the recipe below from Martha Stewart's Cookies

I also wanted to remind you of the wonderful toffee I wrote about last year. On a whim, I entered the recipe in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette's Holiday Treats Contest and they chose it as one of four winners from a total of 80 entries! You can see the winners and their recipes here, but if you get the Post Gazette, please look on the back page of the food section of the December 10th issue. There is a huge photo of my toffee! It's delicious and the recipe can be doubled so you have enough for all your kids' teachers.

If you don't have time to make it yourself, you can order it from me via email. I have a new website listing all the things I can make for you. Some can be mailed, and some can't, but please inquire if you desire! My website address is

So put on some holiday music, bake some cookies, and try to enjoy these last days of "readying" for Christmas!

adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs

For rolling:
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and gradually mix in the flour mixture just until combined.

Stir together the 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon in a small bowl. Shape dough into balls. Using a cookie scoop makes sure they are uniform in size. Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar and place on a Silpat or parchment-lined cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. (Larger cookies will need more space between them.)

Bake cookies until edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

German Chocolate Cake

German Chocolate Cake
I made this cake for Amy's birthday (my sister-in-law). She had just finished her goal of running a marathon before her 40th birthday and she got it in just under the wire! Congrats and Happy Birthday Amy! One of her favorite cakes is a German Chocolate Cake so I took the opportunity to make this one. This recipe comes from the Baked Cookbook. And like all the recipes in the book, it rocks! I was planning to frost the entire cake, but then decided to leave the sides bare as they did in the cookbook. I didn't miss the extra icing at all. The only thing I did differently from theirs is to make a "well" around each cake layer with fudge icing and then filled that well with the coconut mixture. The authors only used the coconut icing between cake layers. I used the recipe for instant fudge icing from the Sky High cookbook for the sake of time, since that recipe is quick and delicious. I made a 1/2 recipe of icing and had lots left over. It can be frozen for weeks and then thawed and re-whipped.
German Chocolate Cake

German Chocolate Cake
from Baked, New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
Yield: 1 (8-INCH) CAKE

For the german chocolate cake layers:
2¼ cups cake flour
¾ cup dark, unsweetened cocoa powder, like Valrhona
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup hot coffee
1 cup buttermilk
1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2¼ cups sugar
5 large eggs
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled

For the coconut pecan filling:
1 1/3 cups shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1 1/3 cup toasted pecans, chopped coarsely

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.
Sift the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium mixing bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the coffee and buttermilk.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat to incorporate. The mixture will look light and fluffy.
Add the flour mixture, alternating with the coffee/buttermilk mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the melted chocolate.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack and remove the pans and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Spread half of the coconut evenly across the pan and place in the oven for 5 minutes or until the coconut begins to brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
In a large saucepan, stir together the sugar, butter, evaporated milk, vanilla, and egg yolks. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. After the mixture begins to boil and thicken, remove from the heat and stir in the toasted coconut, regular coconut, and pecans.
Place the pan over an ice bath (a large bowl filled with ice) and stir the mixture until cool.

Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface and evenly spread one third of the filling on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost with one third of the filling, then add the third layer. Trim the top, and frost with the remaining filling. The cake will keep in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 2 days.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Oatmeal Cranberry Pecan Cookies

Oatmeal Cranberry Pecan Cookies
Yesterday, I promised you another oatmeal cookie variation. Yesterday, in case you missed it, I made half the dough into Oatmeal Creme Pies. Delicious, but just as sweet as you would expect. Now onto the other half of the best oatmeal cookie dough - a little less sweet this time. It may not be a revelation, but just adding dried cranberries and chopped pecans turned these into my favorite oatmeal cookie of all time. And it almost makes them a health food! - you know whole grain oatmeal, antioxidant-rich cranberries and heart-healthy pecans. Fold the cranberries and pecans into the dough - as much as you think looks good to you - drop onto a Silpat-lined cookie sheet (a cookie scoop works nicely) and bake at 350 degrees F until they are golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes. For the master dough recipe, click here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oatmeal Creme Pies

Oatmeal Cream Sandwiches
When I was a kid, I remember eating Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies. I loved them. But I never gave a second thought as to what they might be made of. I'm older and wiser now. The ingredient list on those Little Debbie snacks is longer than my to-do-list at holiday time. The first ingredient listed on the label is corn syrup, then there are partially hydrogenated oils, TBHQ, artificial flavors, interesterfied palm oil (what?) and artificial colors. Why do you need to color a cookie with red and yellow food coloring? I get a perfectly brown oatmeal cookie without any of those. So compare these ingredients to the ingredients below. You can simply feel better about eating these once in a while and you'll think twice before buying anything from that "snack cake" aisle in the grocery store.
I baked half the batter into plain oatmeal cookies and filled them with vanilla cream filling. The cream filling makes them a fairly sweet treat. You'll have to come back tomorrow to see what I did with the other half of the dough. Could it be even better then these?

Oatmeal Creme Pies

1 1/4 cups butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats (I used the regular oats instead of the quick)

Preheat oven to 375°.

Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add egg and vanilla, beating well.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients in a bowl, stirring well. Add oats; stir well. Add to butter mixture; stir until well blended. Drop by rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes. Cool on pan 2 to 3 minutes. Remove cookies from pan; cool on wire racks.

Spread 1 tablespoon Cream Filling over each bottom side of half of cookies; top with remaining cookies, right side up.

Creme Filling
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, scraping bowl. Beat on high until light and fluffy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pork Potstickers with Sesame-Ginger Dipping Sauce - A Great Holiday Appetizer

Pork Wontons
I used to watch Alton Brown on the Food Network. If I hadn't, I probably would never have tried these potstickers. But sometimes it just takes watching someone else making something to realize, "Hey, I could do that!" Finding the wonton wrappers in the grocery store might just be the hardest part! (You can find wonton wrappers in the produce section of the grocery store in a refrigerated case.)

There are many ways to shape potstickers and this is how I assemble them...
1. Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of the wonton wrapper.
2. Fill a small bowl with water. Dip a pastry brush in water and brush along two sides of the wrapper. This will act as the "glue"
3. Fold the wonton in half, lifting the unmoistened sides over the filling to meet the moistened sides. Press the sides together with your fingers while trying to remove any air that is inside the potsticker.
4. Brush across the top of the folded potsticker and fold the two points over to make the little envelope shape.
Pork Wontons
Line your wontons on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Cover these with a damp cloth until ready to cook, or you can place them in single layers in an airtight container, placing plastic wrap between each layer. I don't recommend freezing them in a freezer bag because the "tips" of the shaped potstickers get brittle when frozen and will break off when jostled around in the freezer. You can cook the potstickers right from the freezer without thawing but I would add a minute or two to the cooking. This makes these little morsels perfect for a make-ahead holiday appetizer.

Pork Wontons
Carefully follow Alton's directions for cooking these and you'll get perfect potstickers with a nicely browned underside. Serve warm with dipping sauce and chopsticks. Delicious!
Pork Wontons
Perfect Potstickers
From Alton Brown's Good Eats, 2004
Makes 35 to 40 potstickers

1/2 pound ground pork
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons ketchup
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
35 to 40 small wonton wrappers
Water, for sealing wontons
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying
1 1/3 cups chicken stock or water, divided (I use water)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Combine the first 11 ingredients in a medium-size mixing bowl (pork through cayenne). Set aside.
To form the dumplings, remove 1 wonton wrapper from the package, covering the others with a damp cloth. Brush 2 of the edges of the wrapper lightly with water. Place 1/2 rounded teaspoon of the pork mixture in the center of the wrapper. Fold over, seal edges, and shape as desired. Set on a sheet pan and cover with a damp cloth. Repeat procedure until all of the filling is gone.

Heat a 12-inch saute pan (not a non-stick pan) over medium heat. Brush with vegetable oil once the pan is nice and hot. Just a thim coating of oil is needed. Add 8 to 10 potstickers at a time to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, without touching or moving the potstickers (this is important!). Once the 2 minutes are up, gently add 1/3 cup chicken stock or water to the pan, turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove wontons to a heatproof platter and place in the warm oven. Clean the pan in between batches by pouring in a little water and allowing the pan to deglaze, then wipe clean with a paper towel. Repeat until all the wontons are cooked. Serve immediately.

Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce
from Cooking Light

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

Combine all ingredients, stirring well with a whisk.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pumpkin Eggnog Pie

Pumpkin Eggnog Pie

It's almost Thanksgiving and I am headed over the river and through the woods to Grammy's house for Thanksgiving dinner. One of the things I'll be bringing is this Pumpkin Eggnog Pie. (Well not this particular pie because it's long gone, but I'll make a new one...) I've tried a few other pumpkin pie recipes but I always went back to the recipe on the Libby's Pumpkin label - until my friend Megan told me about this recipe. It's so smooth and creamy and delicious - yet still traditional for those traditionalists out there. It really begs for a dollop of whipped cream but this was only the dress rehearsal after all. For the big show there will certainly be plenty of whipped cream to be dolloped! Happy Thanksgiving!
Pumpkin Eggnog Pie

Pumpkin Eggnog Pie
adapted from Good Housekeeping

1/2 recipe Pate Brisee
1 15-oz can pumpkin (not pie filling)
1 1/4 cup eggnog (from a carton such as Land o' Lakes)
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
(or use 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice in place of the cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg)

Prepare pie crust and place it into a 9- or 10-inch pie pan and crimp the edges as desired.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In large bowl, with wire whisk, mix pumpkin, eggnog, sugar, spice, salt, and eggs until well blended. Pour pumpkin mixture into the pie crust. The mixture will come up to almost the top of the piecrust. (Any extra custard can be baked in a custard cup. It is done when the center no longer jiggles.)

Bake pie 60 to 65 minutes or until filling puffs up around edges and center is just set but not puffed. Cool pie completely on wire rack. Refrigerate until ready to serve or up to 1 day. Garnish each serving with whipped cream sprinkled with pumpkin-pie spice.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Italian Semolina Bread

Semolina Bread
Here it is...the final piece to round out the dinner party menu. In case you missed the other parts of the menu, check out the links...

Italian Semolina Bread (see below)

There was nary a crumb left on anyone's plate, and everyone helped themselves to seconds, so I'll call that a successful dinner! Even better was the fact that nothing on the menu was too difficult or time-consuming. If you weren't into bread-baking, you could pick up an artisan loaf from your local market and save yourself the trouble of making it yourself. But if you know about Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day, you'll know that you can make the dough a few days ahead and bake it up a few hours before your party. It doesn't get much fresher than that! The authors of that book have come out with a sequel called Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. It explains how to make whole grain and gluten-free breads the "5 minute" way. I'll be adding that book to my Christmas wish-list! You will need to use a pizza stone to get the best results.

Italian Semolina Bread
adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe can be doubled or halved.

3 cups lukewarm water
1 ½ tablespoons granulated yeast (1 ½ packets)
1 ½ tablespoons salt
3 cups durum semolina flour
3 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Sesame seeds for top crust, approximately 1 to 2 teaspoons
Cornmeal for the pizza peel
Cornstarch wash (see below)

Cornstarch Wash: Using a fork, blend ½ teaspoon cornstarch with a small amount of water to form a paste. Add ½ cup water and whisk with the fork. Microwave or boil until mixture appears glassy, about 30 to 60 seconds on high. It will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks; discard if it has an off smell.

Mixing and Storing the dough:
Mix the yeast and salt with the lukewarm water in your 5-quart bowl electric mixer bowl. Mix in the flours without kneading with the dough hook of your heavy-duty stand mixer until the mixture is uniform. The dough should be wet. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 14 days.

On Baking Day:
Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Elongate the ball to form an oval-shaped free-form loaf. Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel for 40 minutes.

Twenty minutes before baking time:
Preheat the oven to 450° F with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread. Just before baking, paint the surface with cornstarch wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and slash the surface diagonally, using a serrated bread knife. Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until deeply browned and firm. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustment in baking time. Allow to cool before slicing or eating.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sauteed Mushrooms

Sauteed Mushrooms
Sauteed Mushrooms and crusty Semolina Bread are the final additions to the dinner party menu. Serve these alongside the Grilled Filet Mignon, and Cranberry Walnut Salad. End the dinner with a Pear Custard Galette for dessert and this delicious coffee and you'll have the makings of one successful dinner party!
Dinner Party Menu

I'll post the semolina bread recipe tomorrow so come back and check it out!

Sauteed Mushrooms
Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
2-3 shallots or 1/4 cup red onion or scallions, minced
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
a splash of dry vermouth
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large skillet. After the butter stops foaming, add the shallots, sliced mushrooms and thyme springs and saute over med-high heat, stirring occasionally. Add some salt and pepper and cook until the mushrooms are slightly browned and caramelized. Add the vermouth and cook for a few more minutes while scraping the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. Remove the thyme sprigs before serving.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cranberry Walnut Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Cranberry Walnut Salad
I wanted to share with you one of my favorite salads. It's a quick salad that requires no chopping of veggies and can be on the table in no time. It's sweet and tart and just plain delicious. Toast up some crusty bread and have yourself and healthy and delicious lunch!

Cranberry Walnut Salad
Spring Greens Mix (I use Earthbound Farms)
dried cranberries
walnuts, crumbled with your hands
crumbled blue cheese

Place all ingredients in a bowl in the amounts you desire. Now that was easy!

from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar, or your favorite vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl. While whisking, add the olive oil, a little at a time, until the dressing tastes balanced. Toss with your salad and serve immediately.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pear Custard Galette

Pear Custard Galette
Some may think it's a bit excessive to have shelves and shelves of cookbooks. I haven't counted them lately, but I have somewhere between 50-100 cookbooks (and two more are on the way from Amazon). There are definitely some that I turn to more than others, but when I'm looking for a recipe to make that uses the ingredients I have on hand, it's great to have a variety of books to peruse. This was the situation: I had pears on the counter, and a single pate brisee crust in the freezer. I wanted a quick but impressive dessert to serve at a dinner party and this one fit the bill, perfectly.
Pear Custard Galette
The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home To Yours. It is a recipe that can use just about any fruit you have and Dorie suggests a few in her book. These in-season Bosc pears held their shape and tasted sweet and delicious. There are no added spices so you really experience the pure taste of the fruit itself. The recipe calls for assembling and baking the pear galette for a little while and then pour the custard mixture wherever there is room between pears and bake for a little longer for the custard to set up. Serve the galette while still slightly warm with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche on the side. I loved this dessert more than I thought I would and I can't wait to make it again.

Pear Custard Galette
adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Single Pie Crust (I use Martha Stewart's
Pate Brisee recipe)
2-3 tablespoons apricot or other flavor jam
about 2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs or vanilla wafer crumbs
8 ripe but firm pears
Coarse or granulated sugar, for dusting

For the Custard
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat to oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
Working on a well-floured surface, roll the dough into a large 1/8 inch thick circle. Using a pastry wheel or a paring knife, trim the dough to a 13 inch diameter circle. Using a cake pan or a pot lid as a template and the tip of a bunt kitchen knife as a marker, lightly trace a 9 inch circle in the center of the dough- this is the area for the filling.
With the back of a spoon or a small offset spatula, spread some of the jam over the circle- how much will depend of the jam flavor you want. Sprinkle over the crumbs, adding a little more than 2 tablespoons if you think you’ve got particularly juicy fruit. Put a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper over the dough and refrigerate it while you prepare the fruit.
Peel the pears, cut them into quarters or eighths if they're large and remove the core.
Arrange the fruit on the dough as desired, then gently lift the unfilled border of dough up and onto the filling. As you lift the dough and place it on the filling, it will pleat. If you’re not in a rush, freeze the galette for 15 minutes to give the crust a rest.
Brush the dough very lightly with a little water, then sprinkle it with a teaspoon or two of sugar. Bake galette for 25 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the fruit is soft.

Meanwhile, make the custard:
Whisk together the melted butter, sugar, egg and vanilla in a bowl; set aside until needed.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven (leave the oven on), and carefully pour the custard around the fruit. Depending one how much juice has accumulated and how much space you have between the fruit, you may not be able to pour all the custard into the galette, but even 2 tablespoons can give the right effect. Pour in as much custard as you can, then carefully return the pan to the oven.
Bake for another 12 to 15 minutes, or until the custard is set- it shouldn’t jiggle when you gently shake the pan. Cool the galette on the baking sheet on a rack for 10 minutes.
Very carefully slide a small baking sheet or cake lifter under the galette and slip the galette onto a rack to cool. The galette can be served when it is just warm when it has reached room temperature.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Prize-Winning Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie

Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie
Last month, I attended the Second Annual Pie Contest in Slippery Rock, PA, sponsored by my amazing mother-in-law (Happy Birthday by the way!) and a few of her neighbors. There were at least 25 pies entered in 5 pie categories - Cream, Fruit (except apple), Apple, Nut, and Custard.

Ellen and I both entered a pie. I baked a new recipe for pumpkin pie and topped it with whipped cream. It was pretty good but maybe a little too sweet.

Ellen found a recipe on Epicurious for this phenomenal Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie. I wish I had taken a picture of an individual slice. Imagine from bottom to top - vanilla wafer crust, a layer of vanilla custard, sliced bananas, a layer of peanut butter mousse, and garnished with bananas and peanut brittle for a little crunchy contrast in texture. After a while, the peanut brittle started to dissolve a little and looked like drizzled caramel on top of the bananas. It was unbelievably good! Her pie won the cream pie category! Congratulations Ellen! You rock!

Here are some photos from the day - notice the aprons hanging on the clothesline for decoration. It was a great time to socialize while eating lots of pie. We were all judges and rated the pies we chose to try by assigning a number from 1 to 5 in five categories including appearance, taste, originality, and crust. The organizers tallied all the ballots and the pies with the highest score won for each category. After the five winners were announced, there were several overall judges who again tasted each of the winners' pies and rated them again. The winner of this won Best of Show. The Apple Raisin Streusel Pie won the Best of Show this year. Each participant was given a handmade knitted dishcloth and each winner was given a handmade apron. It was a terrific day.
Pie Contest Mosaic

Now for some of the pies...Mixed Berry, Pumpkin, Strawberry, Apple Streusel, Pumpkin Meringue, and Coconut Cream just to name a few. How do you choose which ones to try? Try them all!
My creation

Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie
From Bon Apetit, May 2009
recipe courtesy of Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Vanilla wafer crust:
6 ounces vanilla wafer cookies
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons sugar

Vanilla pudding filling:
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 firm but ripe bananas, peeled, divided
3 tablespoons orange juice, divided

Peanut butter layer:
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned or freshly ground)
2/3 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
Purchased peanut brittle, coarsely chopped (optional)

For vanilla wafer crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in processor; blend until mixture resembles moist crumbs, about 1 minute. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish and press mixture onto bottom and up sides (not rim) of dish. Bake crust until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven; press crust with back of spoon if puffed. Cool crust completely.

For vanilla pudding filling:
Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt in heavy medium saucepan until no lumps remain. Gradually whisk in cream, then milk. Add yolks and scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; whisk to blend. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until pudding thickens and boils, about 5 minutes. Add butter and stir until melted. Spread warm pudding in cooled crust. Chill until filling is cool, about 1 hour. Thinly slice 3 bananas on diagonal. Combine banana slices and 2 tablespoons orange juice in medium bowl; toss to coat. Transfer banana slices to paper towels and pat dry. Arrange enough banana slices in single layer over vanilla custard filling to cover completely.

For peanut butter layer:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar in medium bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla, then peanut butter. Beat cream in another medium bowl until firm peaks form. Fold large spoonful of whipped cream into peanut mixture to loosen, then fold in remaining cream in 2 additions. Spread peanut butter layer evenly over bananas. Chill at least 3 hours.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Keep chilled. Thinly slice remaining banana on diagonal. Toss with remaining 1 tablespoon orange juice, then pat dry with paper towels. Arrange banana slices around top edge of pie. Sprinkle peanut brittle over bananas, if desired, and serve.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Zucchini Gingerbread

Zucchini Gingerbread
Here's a welcome departure from your typical Zucchini Bread. It's tastes more like gingerbread with a nice depth of flavor from the molasses and spices. The addition of healthy oatmeal gives it more substance, and it blends right in so you can't tell it's there at all.
Zucchini Gingerbread
My favorite way to eat it is toasted with some butter or cream cheese. It would also make a nice addition to the Thanksgiving dessert table. So if you're tired of the same ole zucchini bread, try this one. You won't be disappointed!

Zucchini Gingerbread
Adapted from this recipe on

2 cups finely grated zucchini
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup oatmeal
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup dark molasses
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon zest (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.In a medium bowl, combine the zucchini, salt and oats and let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes. In a separate large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and ginger. Add molasses, eggs, oil, vanilla, and lemon zest to the zucchini mixture and stir to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and stir to combine. Divide evenly between 2 greased 5 x 8 bread pans. Bake for about an hour or so until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans, then remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan
If you are the family cook, you need to have this recipe in your arsenal. It's a family favorite and easy to make. You can substitute your favorite jarred tomato sauce if you prefer, but I encourage you to try this super-easy sauce from scratch, using a large can of crushed tomatoes. Here are the cutlets as they should look after frying...
Chicken Parmesan
Panko breadcrumbs make a huge difference in the breading. They are found in the ethnic aisle of the supermarket and they're great to have on hand. Feel free to use only panko, only fine breadcrumbs, or a combination. I found that the combination works well to get maximum bread crumb coverage. Top the breaded and fried cutlets with a little sauce and some cheese and slide them into the oven to finish off. Serve with a green salad for a delicious and easy weeknight meal.
October 2009 092
Chicken Parmesan
adapted from The New Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated

For the Tomato Sauce:
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
For the Chicken Cutlets:
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenderloins removed and reserved for another use
3/4 cup panko Japanese-style bread crumbs
1/4 plain dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
olive oil for frying
For Finishing:
3/4 pound spaghetti or linguine
3/4 shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the garlic and oil together in a large saucepan until the garlic becomes fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, and spices and simmer at least 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Keep sauce warm until ready to use.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place chicken breasts on a cutting board between two sheets of plastic wrap. Using the smooth side of a meat tenderizer, pound the chicken breasts to an even 1/2 inch thickness. Pat chicken dry with paper towels.

Set up your breading assembly line by lining up three shallow bowls. Place the flour in the first bowl. Whisk the eggs with a splash of water in the second bowl. Mix together the panko, dry breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese in the third bowl.
Sprinkle the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper, then dip both sides of the cutlets in flour (shake off excess), then dip cutlets in the egg, then into the breadcrumbs, pressing the breadcrumbs on lightly with your hands.

Heat a 12" non-stick skillet over med-high heat with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil until very hot but not smoking (the chicken should sizzle right away after you add them to the pan). Add the chicken cutlets to the pan without crowding them. (You may have to do this in batches, wiping out the pan and adding oil with each batch.) Cook until the cutlets are a deep golden brown, then turn the cutlets over and cook the other side until nice and golden. Add oil if the pan seems too dry. Remove the chicken from the skillet and place in a casserole dish big enough to fit all the cutlets in a single layer.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente.

Top each cutlet with a spoonful of tomato sauce, then some mozzarella cheese, then a sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake in the oven, uncovered, until cheese is melted and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Serve on top of, or alongside, the spaghetti and sauce.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Favorite - Marzipan...

Chocolate Covered Marzipan
...chocolate covered marzipan actually. Inside this little box contains my very favorite treat. I'll tell you that it's not easy to find. I ask for it in every candy shop - even Godiva stores - and they never have it. But my wonderful husband always seems to find me some. And these chocolate marzipan hearts were the absolute best birthday present ever!

Chocolate Covered Marzipan
You can easily find marzipan - it's in the grocery store in the baking aisle (a common brand is Odense). And I suppose to cover some of it in chocolate would be easy enough, but this is one indulgence that I prefer to buy (or receive!) already made. Don't ask me why. I have no problem making my own yogurt, granola, or my own birthday cake. Maybe I'll make it someday. If you're interested in making your own, I found a recipe here.

Chocolate Covered Marzipan
Marzipan is essentially almonds ground to a paste with sugar and egg whites or corn syrup to act as a binder. It is used in candy and pastries such as petit fours. It can also be tinted and shaped into edible fruits and other shapes to adorn cakes. I first tasted marzipan in Germany when I was in college and traveled with friends around Europe. I fell in love when I tasted it. It's probably the reason I love these pinched orange macaroons so much - and the reason I named my blog Marzipan. If you happen to see it covered in chocolate, you've got to try it! What is your favorite sweet indulgence?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Apple Cranberry Muffins

The reason for the get-together: to plan the next get-together, of course. Do you need a better reason than that to invite the girls over? School is well underway and we're overloaded with housework, and homework, and after-school chauffeuring. But our girl-time is sacred. Time with the girls is the best stress-relief known to "mom". We discussed school activities and the swine flu (none of our families have had it - yet). We talked about movies and wine and books we've read. The more tech-savvy shared ideas for photo editing with the less experienced. And oh, the delicious goodies we had for breakfast - a delicious pumpkin tiramisu and these freshly baked Apple Cranberry Muffins. It was perfect! The next get-together will be a weekend get-away - a whole weekend of food, fun, shopping and crafts with the girls. I can hardly wait!

Apple Muffins
adapted from King Arthur Flour

Note : The next time I make these, I will try a lower oven temperature. My muffins were done before the recommended time and some were too brown on top.

1 cup (4 ounces) King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, divided
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 450°F (see note above). Grease and flour a 12 cup muffin tin and set aside.
Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy.
Add the egg and mix well; stop once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix in the buttermilk gently. (If you over-mix, the buttermilk will cause the mixture to curdle.) Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the apple chunks and cranberries.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar on top. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400°F, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Yield: 12 muffins.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Week in Review and Chocolate Espresso or Chocolate Mint Glazed Brownie Buttons

I had three baking appointments last week - woo hoo!
Here's the rundown:
Job #1:
A cookie tray for a post-season little league get-together. The request was for 3 dozen chocolate chip cookies and 3 dozen brownies. I decided to make these chocolate chip cookies and Brownie Buttons from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours Cookbook. I covered the brownies with a chocolate ganache glaze flavored with espresso powder. After baking 4 dozen, I realized they were a little difficult to get out of the pan, so I lined the rest with mini muffin cups - much better! (see the recipe at the bottom of this post)

Here's the cookie tray all filled. My friend, Susie, said there was not a crumb left on the tray. She especially loved the chocolate chip cookies and insisted I must have some secret of getting them to taste so good... but really, I just follow my own recipe!

Job #2:
Another friend has a daughter who was turning 13 and was having a slumber party to celebrate. She ordered a dozen vanilla cupcakes and a dozen vanilla-filled "hostess" cupcakes. The birthday girl loves pink... so I tinted the vanilla icing a pale pink,

and used some hot pink foil cupcake liners for the hostess cupcakes.

And finally, Job #3:
My soul sister at Joy Beadworks needed a birthday cake to celebrate 5 October birthdays in her family and needed to feed about 20 people. She wanted a tiered cake with all the names and the dates their birthdays fall on in October. The bottom layer is an 8" square triple layer chocolate cake (I omitted the cinnamon) with vanilla buttercream filling. The top layer is a 6" square triple layer vanilla buttermilk cake with chocolate buttercream filling. The icing all over the outside is vanilla buttercream. Even though my piping skills could use some refinement, the cake got rave reviews. But considering it was my first tiered cake, I'm pretty dang proud of it.
If you're interested in learning how to construct a tiered cake, look to Martha Stewart's directions in Baking with Julia in her recipe for Wedding Cake. The method works.

One year ago: Mint Brownies (a favorite!)

Brownie Buttons
from Baking, From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 16 (I tripled the recipe)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
Ganache glaze for topping (recipe below)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two miniature muffin pans, each with a dozen cups, and place them on a baking sheet. (Or line mini muffins cups with paper liners.)
Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside.
Melt the butter, chocolate and brown sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula and keeping an eye on the pan so nothing overheats or burns. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and cool for a minute or two.
Stir the vanilla and egg into the chocolate mixture. When the mixture is well blended, add the flour and stir only until it is incorporated. You should have a smooth, glossy batter.
Spoon the batter into 16 of the muffin cups, using about a teaspoon of batter to fill each cup three-quarters full. (I used my smallest cookie scoop.)
Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until the tops of the buttons spring back when touched. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 3 minutes before carefully releasing the buttons. Cool to room temperature on the racks. When the brownies are completely cool, glaze with chocolate espresso ganache.

Chocolate Espresso or Mint Ganacheadapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Polafito

6 Ounces / 170g Dark Chocolate (60 to 72% Cacao), coarsely chopped
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
 1 tsp espresso powder or 1/2 tsp peppermint extract

 1. Put the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk together the cream and espresso powder (omit espresso powder for mint ganache) in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil and pour over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for 2 minutes before gently mixing the chocolate and cream together until completely smooth.  For peppermint ganache, stir in the peppermint extract once the ganache is smooth.

2. Let the ganache sit for about 15 minutes.

3. If the ganache has cooled enough to become solid, microwave (for only a few seconds) or gently heat the ganache until pourable.


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