Monday, April 26, 2010


Those lovely hydrangeas are from the bouquet I carried as Maid-of-Honor this Saturday. My good friend, who is now married, put together a beautiful wedding and reception. The pretty flowers are only one of many examples of her good taste.

But before we could all revel in love-for-forever, champagne drinks, and oysters - a lot of work was done. A bridesmaid's job is not always an easy one.

Wedding preparations began the night before with all the bridesmaid's at the bride's home. This included the arduous tasks of watching wedding reality television (Bridezilla for example), eating snacks, and picking out jewelry.

The next morning we started early. We had just enough time to take a sunny walk to coffee before the crazy day began. Her charmingly nervous father drove us all to have our hair transformed and faces made-up. Somehow this took about 3 hours, and by that time it was off to the church. From that point on it was our duty to make sure her dress never got in her way, and that all she had to worry about was professing her never-ending love to someone. By the way, wedding dresses are so big and heavy! So hard to handle!

Successfully, she looked gorgeous the whole time, they kissed, and drove off to their party in a Rolls Royce. The rest of us got to take a limo with a crazy-man driver who got lost going to the reception, but all was well and we watched the new couple walk in the room to the Top Gun theme song. We had a great party in their honor, and we even took it out to a karaoke bar after everyone ran the reception bar dry. The groom made a fantastic end of the night speech to his new wife at the bar (it ended in a 'wife' chant), and then, finally, I got to go to sleep.

We were running on our breakfast meal all day until we got to the reception that evening. My stomach made a big growl during the ceremony, I thought about eating my bouquet. Luckily I had thought this might happen, and came prepared to try to feed my fellow bridesmaids the best I could that morning. I love having something fresh baked in the morning, and I thought scones would be sturdy enough to make us last a little while without starving.

To make things easy, I made the dough the night before and froze the cut pieces on a baking sheet. In the morning I put the frozen scones straight into the oven. If you do this bake them a little bit longer than in the directions, mine were a bit doughy in the middle after 10-15 minutes. I also served these with an orange cream I made. I took chilled whipped cream and whisked it with orange curd I had made earlier in the week. It is delicious on warm scones.

If you are interested, this is a great article about what different ingredients and techniques play a role in making  a scone "perfect"

Lemon Poppy-Seed Apricot Scones
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's posting of Cream Scones from America's Test Kitchen
2 c. Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbsp chilled, unsalted butter cut into cubes
1/2 c. chopped dried apricots
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
zest of one lemon
1 c. heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place dry ingredients into food processor (or bowl to whisk) and combine well. Either pulse (about 12-1 second pulses), or cut in butter, until it looks like coarse meal. Stir in your flavor additions until just combined.  If using a processor, transfer mix to a large bowl. Stir in cream until the dough forms (mine needed a little drizzle of milk, the dough should be somewhat sticky). Turn out the dough, and any flour bits onto the counter. Knead the dough until it all comes together into a rough ball, do not knead longer than 10 seconds. Pat the dough into an eight-inch round, cut the circle into 6 triangles. You could also pat it into a rectangle and cut squares or circles, but I particularly like triangle shaped food. If you like, brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with turbindo sugar. Place scones on parchment lined baking sheet, and bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned on top and cooked all the way through. Cool for about 10 min. before eating. Remember, they are delicious with orange cream.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Garden Treats

I was well fed this weekend. Starting with nettle ravioli at Cafe flora for a one year celebration, to a tiered tower of tea treats followed with Chartreuse-Champagne at the Sorrento hotel with fellow bridesmaids. That was just the beginning.

This bread was baked - Pain a l'Ancienne from Peter Reinhart

Ginger was chopped for cookies

I waited in line at the market for some of the season's first asparagus - it was worth while

Sunday, Seattle was at it's best with clear skies and seventy degree weather. After running around Green Lake, with lots of scantily clad Seattlites, I came home to get my vegetable garden started. Before tasty veggies could be put in the ground, I had a few hours of weeding to do. One purple flower in particular had grown a vast underground network of roots and bulbs all over the garden bed that needed clearing. After procuring a sunburn on my shoulders, and my arm muscles had stopped working, I took a little lunch break.

I like to have sandwiches for lunch like most people, especially when the bread is a cookie and the filling is ice cream. The ice cream sandwiches I made were so mildly sweet, they were almost savory enough to be considered appropriate for a meal. When I went to the market early for asparagus, there were two varieties of rhubarb available. An heirloom Victoria variety, greener and tangier, and the more common Canadian Red. I picked a few of each to make the ice cream with.

I was inspired by Not Without Salt's post last week with rhubarb ice cream, and I decided to make my own version. On a side note, check out the link to classes on her blog. I attended a Meriengues & Curds class taught by her last week, and I learned some new techniques and ate some wonderful desserts.

I smooshed the ice-cream between ginger-oat cookies, and it was the perfect reward for a long day in the garden. It also wet my appetite so I was more than ready for the trip my mouth would take to New Orleans at my dinner club that night (fried okra, so good!).

Rhubarb Ice Cream
1 c. whole milk
2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. honey
1-2 short branches of rosemary (Or 3 Tbsp dried)
1 vanilla bean
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in saucepan on medium heat, stirring to combine. After the mixture heats all the way through and begins to bubble on the sides, but not boil, take off of heat. Cover and let sit for about an hour. Put into the fridge to chill while you begin to make the rhubarb component.

3 c. chopped rhubarb
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
splash of bitters (optional)

Combine all in a saucepan at medium heat. Cover, and let the mixture heat up and boil for a few minutes. Take the lid off, stir, and let the mixture cook down a bit. After cooking for about 15 minutes, and the rhubarb has completely softened and is no longer in pieces, take off of heat. Put into fridge to chill completely.

After both the cream and rhubarb mixtures have chilled completely, take out of fridge. Strain the cream mixture into a large mixing bowl. Mix in the rhubarb mixture until fully incorporated. Freeze in your ice cream maker as instructed.

Ginger-Oat Cookies
1/2 c. unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 c. Optimum vegetable shortening
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. molasses
1 c. toasted oats (I put them in a cake pan in the oven for about 15 min. until golden)
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 c chopped crystallized ginger

In medium mixing bowl combine all dry ingredients and set aside. In a mixer, cream together the butter and shortening. Add the brown sugar and cream until fluffy. Mix in the molasses, then the egg and vanilla. Slowly add the dry ingredients until they are just combined. Add the crystallized ginger until just combined. Put the dough in a covered bowl and chill in the fridge overnight.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Make Friends With Figs

This past weekend I ventured to the land of hills and fog. The bay area has played quite a role in my upbringing and I always welcome a visit. I was born outside the east bay, and I still have extended family living in the area.

I have one particular memory of visiting my Aunt & Uncle in Oakland when I was about thirteen. At the time I had short spiky hair, with spots of blue. I was at my peak level of Green Day fandom, so I was quite excited to make a stop at Amoeba records in Berkeley and imagine the flourishing punk scene I was too young to participate in. On this same visit, my Uncle took us to the ice cream shop Fenton's that was near his home. When I walked in I saw they had the flavor Butter Brickle and I was ecstatic. At this same age, I was also a repeat-renter of the movie The Ice Cream Man starring Clint Howard. It was B-movie horror at its worst. A deranged ice cream man who makes decapitated head waffle cone sundaes and stores dead bodies in his freezer truck. Butter Brickle was his favorite flavor, and I think a weakness of sorts that played into the plot. Anyway, goofy thirteen year-old me devoured a tall sundae glass of Butter Brickle covered in some of the best caramel sauce I have ever had (seriously, my Mom would remember it too if I asked her).

I flew down south recently to attend a wedding within my boyfriend's family. It was for one of his favorite aunts (his Mom's little sister), and it was my first time meeting anyone on his Mom's side. The high points of the trip - staying in a classic San Francisco home looking straight at Buena Vista Park, 360 degree views of the city from the top of the De Young Museum Tower, watching a lovely wedding ceremony in Shakespeare's Garden, and more wonderful food, drink, and family than I could have ever expected.

Unfortunately there were a few low points too, including monsoon rains (I swear the whole bay had been scooped up and dumped back on the city) and some of the worst flight delays I have ever experienced. When the day was still young and I had no clue what was to come, I suggested (tricked?) my boyfriend and I brave the monsoon to visit Tartine in the Mission district. What started out as a carefree rainy trip for pastries turned into a very grouchy boyfriend and the two of us sulking underneath a convenience store awning wondering what to do with ourselves, or if our socks would ever be dry again. But what was a bad day in the past makes for a funny story to tell friends, right?

Of course what I remember most was the time at the wedding getting to know so many of my boyfriend's relatives. I was welcomed with smiles and treated to a whirlwind trip. Although, I also remember the dessert buffet and the Tartine Gougere fairly well.

I felt I couldn't go down there empty handed, so I brought a small gesture of thanks. I was inspired by a fig and almond bread in
The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Simple flavors that stand out on their own, but are not too overwhelming. I took the flavor combination and turned it into a toasty, warm, and almost shortbread style cookie. I wanted it to look rustic, but composed. I also made each cookie especially large, as each cookie was given as a gift wrapped up in tissue paper and twine all on it's own.

Figgy Cookies

3/4 c flour

1 c toasted sliced almonds

1/4 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt
1 stick softened unsalted butter

3/4 c chopped dried figs

whole dried figs

3 Tbsp Turbindo sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Blend flour and 3/4 c. almonds in food processor until almonds have been finely chopped, but don't turn them to flour. Add the sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Pulse until it combines and becomes a dough. Add the chopped dried figs, but only pulse one or two times until they are mixed in. Chill dough in fridge for an hour, or in the freezer for 30 min. While the dough is chilling, crush the remaining almonds slightly and combine with turbindo sugar in a cake pan. Once the dough is chilled, roll into balls. I made four very large cookies, 6 would make for a nice sized cookie, but you could make as many as 12. Roll each ball until coated in the almond-sugar mixture. Place on a piece of parchment on a cookie sheet. Make a large dimple in the middle of the ball, or if you are making smaller cookies only make a small indent. If you are making larger sized ones (4-6 total) place a whole dried fig, stem side up in the dimple. If you are making smaller cookies, I would slice the dried figs width-wise to make circles and place those in the center of the cookie. Bake in the oven 25-30 minutes. I baked mine until they were golden brown, but they were very soft to the touch. Take out to cool, and they will firm up.

Marshmallow Memories

This last weekend I helped my good friend celebrate the end to her time as a bachelorette. She and I met in the dorms at college, lived together throughout our time at school and I am now serving as a bridesmaid in her upcoming wedding.This Saturday night there was Thai food delivered to a Walrus themed hotel room, more cocktail ingredients present than guests, short skirts, loud laughs, plenty of dancing, and marshmallows.

One of my favorite things about my good friend is her sometimes very strange taste in foods. One of her most adored treats is a marshmallow– in any form. Our Sophomore year of college we lived together in a slightly beat up craftsman style house, although I might prefer to remember it as having character. It was college living. Our other roommate had plastered the walls with posters; Mr.Winkle hung beside Scarface. There was a now somewhat regrettable " Seventies Room" complete with a fleet of troll dolls to watch over the orange shag carpet. We could find treasures such as a quesadilla maker in the vast depths of our basement (this was culinary gold at the time). My friend and I lived in the attic of the house in rooms with slanted ceilings, we could only stand up straight in the middle of the room. I am only setting the scene for the many stories that I have from living in that creaky, cold house. That year I bought my dear friend a five-pound bag of mini marshmallows for her birthday. As you might imagine this over-sized bag of marshmallows felt right at home with us. Over a period of time, and not as long as you might think, they were devoured.

A celebration in honor of a marshmallow lover, demands a marshmallow treat (even though earlier this week while watching ODDSAC I silently told myself I probably shouldn’t eat toasted marshmallows agai
n). I decided to attempt the toasted marshmallow frosting made popular by Trophy Cupcakes here in Seattle. I wanted to have the marshmallow fluff top a cupcake that felt like warm sunshine (which we are so desperately lacking right now!). Peach pie cupcakes sounded like they would fit just that. I broke into my peaches I canned last summer, but I think any fresh fruit would do well in these cupcakes. I also tried to recreate the “crust” that Trophy makes in the summertime for their pie-themed cakes.

Peach-Pie Marshmallow Cupcakes

Makes 12 Cupcakes
For the marshmallow topping I followed the recipe by Jennifer Shea of Trophy cupcakes featured here. The recipe worked out very well, and I used a broiler to toast the topping since I don’t have a flame-torch. One note of advice, after a day or two the topping will loose its fluff and become more like a meringue and less like a marshmallow so I would ideally serve them the day they were made.

3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 c. Sugar
1/3 c. melted butter
pinch of salt

1/2 c. butter at room temperature

2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 c. sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla
3/4 c. buttermilk
2 c. peaches (or other fruit) diced into small pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put cupcake liners in a cupcake tin. For crust, combine all crust ingredients in a bowl until combine. Take about 1-2 Tbsp and roll into a ball and place in the cupcake liner. If you have a glass that fits, flatten the ball to fill the liner, or you could use your fingers to flatten them and set aside. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking power, and salt. Whisk to evenly distribute ingredients. In a stand-up mixer with a paddle attachment cream the butter for the cupcakes. Add sugar and cream with butter until light and fluffy. Add each egg, one at a time, and then add vanilla. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, with 3 separate additions each. Do not over mix. Fold in fruit, being careful not to crush the pieces. Fill each cupcake mold on top of the crust layer all the way to the top of the liner. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool before piping marshmallow frosting on in a swirl. I put them under the broiler on the top oven rack for thirty seconds to toast the topping.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring brings dessert with it

Last weekend I found the first rhubarb and green garlic of spring. Only one farm at the market had them both, and I took them gladly took them home with me. I had taken up the duty to make a dessert the next day for Easter at my parent's house, and I had a great idea in mind for my market purchase.

In my family, everyone's dessert tastes are a little bit different ranging from skittles to oatmeal cookies. At Easter dinner my Dad even brought up how much he loved it when his Mom would make him Mock Apple Pie. Only my Mom knew what that actually meant, and the rest of us were confused and slightly afraid as the recipe was slowly described to us.

Soon after Ritz crackers arrived in grocery stores in the 1930's, they began publishing a recipe for "Mock Apple Pie" on the box. This recipe has you make a pastry crust, crumble it full of Ritz crackers, pour a lemon-cinnamon-sugar syrup on top of it, place another pastry crust over top and bake. Apparently the concoction tastes like an apple pie, my Dad raved about it, I was fairly suspicious.

Anyhow, the dessert I did make pleased everyone, even my Dad. I wanted to combine a few different flavors: the first spring rhubarb, cheesecake to please, and rich brown butter. I think it turned out delicious, I like to make cheesecake in a thin tart, its heaviness isn't overwhelming. The brown butter was much more subtle than I had hoped, and the next time I would pipe very thick lines of it in the tart.

I used the recipe for a sweet cookie tart crust from Rose Levy Beranbaum's
Pie and Pastry Bible. Any standard recipe will work that you like to use. My tart pan with a removable bottom is 10 x 1 inch.

1.5 c. chopped rhubarb
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. orange liquor
zest of one orange
juice of one orange

Combine all compote ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat. Heat until bubbling, and then slightly lower the temperature. Stir occasionally until the mixture reduces to a jam-like consistency - about 15 minutes. Take off of heat an set aside.

Brown Butter
1/4 c. sugar
1 egg
4 Tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbsp butter

In a saucepan, melt butter on low-medium heat. Watch the butter after it has melted completely until it takes on a nutty brown aroma and color - there may be solids present. Take off heat, do not burn. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the sugar, egg, vanilla, and salt. Mix in the flour. After the browned butter has slightly cooled, whisk into the egg mixture and set aside.

Cheesecake Filling
4 oz. cream cheese softened
2 eggs
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 c. creme fraiche *(I made my creme fraiche at home, and it was very soft. If you buy yours and it is very solid replace half of the amount with heavy cream)

In a food processor, electric mixer, or medium mixing bowl cream together the cream cheese and sugar until creamy and well combined. Mix in the eggs and vanilla well. Blend in the creme fraiche until the mixture is uniform.

Pour the cheesecake filling into the cooled tart crust. On top of the cheesecake filling, pipe or spoon the compote into 2-3 circles tracing the outline of the tart crust, becoming smaller in diameter the closer to the center of the tart you come. Do the same with the brown butter filling, making sure to make very thick circles. If desired, run a toothpick from the outer edge of the crust to the center at various places along the crust edge to blend the different fillings slightly. Carefully place the filled tart in the oven, and bake 20-30 minutes until the filling has puffed and turned a golden color. Cool on a rack, and the filling will settle into the crust. Serve chilled or at room temperature.