Monday, January 31, 2011

The Traveling Baker: Northampton

I've always been one of those people for whom food is an integral part of any decent trip.  I love scouting out restaurants and bakeries, using the fact that I'm on vacation as a reason to eat whatever I want.  I'd probably plan an entire trip around food if given the chance.

This weekend, I visited a friend in Northampton, Massachusetts and did just that.  I ate my way through the town and loved every minute.  Since this is officially a dessert blog, I won't linger on the fish tacos and chile rellenos, or the guacamole that might have turned me into one of those people who likes guacamole.  I'll barely touch on the greek platter, piled high with hummous and tabouleh.  I'll resist the ode to Hollandaise inspired by the to-die-for Eggs Benedict chez Sylvester's.  I won't even expound upon my first taste of St. Andre, the cheese born of some insane person who decided plain old brie wasn't rich enough.  No, I won't mention those at all.

I will tell you about my two favorite sweets of the trip: the chocolates from Heavenly Chocolates and my ice cream sundae from Herrell's.

Heavenly Chocolates are just that--heavenly.  A beautiful case stocked with both the traditional and the exotic, it took a fair amount of restraint not to order one of everything. 

We settled on three: the honey vanilla with sea salt truffle, dark chocolate with marzipan, and a bacon caramel with sea salt.  The honey and vanilla flavors weren't very pronounced, but it was a lovely truffle nonetheless.  The marzipan was marzipan.  What's not to love?  And the bacon caramel... it was bacon-y.  The flavor was amazing.  There was actual bacon in it, which I liked more in theory that actuality.  Because it was a soft caramel, there was no way for the bacon to stay crispy.  The chewy bacon threw off the texture a bit.  Still, it was bacon and chocolate and I'd totally eat another.

At Herrell's, I entrusted my selection to local wisdom.  I was rewarded with the absolute perfect blend of sweet, salty, bitter, smooth, crunchy, and creamy.  Technically, it was Burnt Sugar 'n' Butter ice cream with hot fudge and toasted almonds.  Oh, and the whipped cream?  Real.  Really.  Sadly, I ate the entire thing before thinking about taking a picture.  Yes, it was that good.  It was also very small, so don't judge me.

Also not pictured is the cherry almond oat cake from a little cafe whose name escapes me at the moment.  It was a hearty scone packed with sour cherries and toasted almonds.  It completely reinforced my belief that cherries are seriously underrepresented in baked goods.  It also, when paired with a really good mocha, made the perfect snack for walking around and deciding where to eat lunch.

All in all, it was a wonderful culinary adventure.  I'll be living on yogurt for the next week to make up for it.  Happy trails, dear readers...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Savory Baker

I'd like to say that I'm adhering to my New Year's resolution of moderation.  More accurately, the start of the semester and other pressures have put a damper on my energy and inspiration for baking of late.  I have not forgotten you, dear readers, and promise all manner of tasty adventures in February.  After all, Mardi Gras, she is a'coming.

In the meantime, I will share one of my favorite non-dessert things to bake: vegetables.  Now, while they are not cheese, chocolate, or bread, vegetables are pretty awesome.  There are few I've met that I don't like.  Roasted, they're even better.

Most veggies that are not leafy greens like olive oil and a super hot oven.  Some of my favorites include squash (summer or winter), root vegetables, sweet peppers, and brussels sprouts.  This week, I did a mix of red onions, green peppers, zucchini, and eggplant.  All you need is a 1-inch chop; salt, pepper, and olive oil; and a 400-degree oven.  30-40 minutes, stirring a couple of times during the process.

These babies are fabulous warm or cold.  They are great alone, lovely with pasta, irresistible on a sandwich (cheese recommended, meat not required).  The only drawback?  A seriously stuck-on sheet pan.

Hint: an overnight soak in soapy water will do most of the work for you.

I do hope that you're all doing well and keeping warm this chilly January.  Chocolate love to come soon.  In the meantime...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Intimidated Baker: Cannolis

In theory, there is no dessert I'm afraid to make.  I feel that I have enough skill and openness to adventure that I'll try anything once.  In reality, there are plenty of sweets--things I love enough to order in restaurants or hunt down in bakeries--that I've never attempted.  Case in point: the cannoli.

I love a good cannoli.  The shell is light and crispy, the filling rich and smooth.  Really, what's not to love about any dessert made with cheese?  With just a sprinkling of chocolate chips or a drizzle of chocolate on the shell, I believe all of my prerequisites for a fabulous dessert are met.

I made the mistake of grocery shopping while hungry the other day and found myself seduced by this:

Actually, it was a package of two, but I ate one before I decided to write a post about them.  Although I sometimes find Wegmans to be hit-or-miss when it comes to baked goods, the cannolis are quite good.  This is especially true if you get them the day they're filled.

So, why haven't I ever tried to make cannolis?  Technically, I would need to buy those little metal forms for frying the shells, but I rarely let having to buy kitchen gadgets stop me.  No, cannolis intimidate me.  The thing is, I don't know why.  They don't seem all that complicated.  None of the ingredients are especially exotic or expensive.  It's just a thing.

Well, no more.  I vow to make a cannoli.  So there.  Anyone out there have any experience?  Good recipes?  Wanna come over for the Great Cannoli Experiment?  Conquer the fear and...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I've spent the weekend indulging my roots.  No, I'm not talking about my Cajun culinary heritage.  I'm talking football.  This weekend brought both the Cotton Bowl (featuring my hometown team of LSU) and the New Orleans Saints in their playoff bid.  I forget sometimes how much I like football.

Although I resisted the nacho/chicken wing thing, I did whip up a sweet treat during half-time.  In the spirit of the Last Hurrah Bars, I poked around the kitchen and pulled together some leftover bits and pieces.  Here's what I found:

Hmm... looks like chocolate s'mores!  That poor little snowman won't know what hit him.

Step 1. Assemble

Step 2. Melt (Although the microwave does not yield toasty goodness, the puff factor is fun.)

Step 3. Smush.

Step 4. Revel in gooey goodness.

Gourmet?  Not so much.  Yummy?  You bet.  Of course, I've never met a melted marshmallow I didn't like.  Put together in thirty seconds, I didn't even miss the second half kick-off.  Does that make it a couch-gate party?  I'm not sure, but it certainly does...

Keep it sweet.
Pin It

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three Colors, Three Times the Awesome

Day six.  I've baked nothing.  That may have more to do with bronchitis than personal resolve, but still.  In the meantime, I offer you the final installment of The Holiday Baker...

I know I've already professed my undying love for shortbread, but...  There may be a cookie I love even more.  I speak of the Italian tri-colored cookie, a.k.a. rainbow cookies, a.k.a. Neapolitan cookies. 

I'll be brutally honest.  These cookies are a bit of a pain to make.  The results, however, are so worth it.  Seriously.  So good.  And you end up with a ton of them.  And they keep well.  (Not that they'll last that long.)

The recipe I first used, and have stuck with, hails from my beloved

4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

Special equipment: a heavy-duty stand mixer; a small offset spatula

  • Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.
  • Beat whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.
  • Switch to paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.
  • Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
  • Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).
  • Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook.)
  • Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan, then line with wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.
  • When all layers are cool, invert green onto a wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax paper.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.
  • Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water.
  • Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
  • Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.
Literate Baker notes:  After reading some reviews, I decided to try adding the eggs together, rather than beating the whites separately.  Having tried them both ways, there is hardly a difference, so I firmly support eliminating that step.  I believe there should be one layer of apricot preserves and one layer of raspberry jam, so that's what I did.  Oh, and I only put the chocolate on the top this time.

I'm not sure how these cookies manage to be so rich and so light at the same time.  I'm not sure how I manage to eat ten in one sitting.  Maybe they're magic.  Or sprinkled with god-dust (ten points if you know that reference).  Anyway.  I wish I had some now.  For the record, thinking about already-consumed baked goods is a sub-par way to...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Last Hurrah Bars

Dear readers, it is with a heavy heart that I say, starting January 3rd, I will no longer eat anything.  Nothing.  Ever again.

Okay, that isn't true, but December was a little, let's say, out of control.  I am therefore resolving to embrace a bit more moderation when it comes to the baked goods.  I don't really want to bake less, so I guess I'll have to share more and dance more.  I can live with this.  I could also try to incorporate lighter desserts into the rotation.  We'll see about that...

Although generally not good for the psyche or in the spirit of moderation, I confess that I often embrace the "last supper" mentality.  Before entering a renewed commitment to (mostly) healthy eating, I seek out something obscenely indulgent.  Pizza or cheesecake, loaded fries or chocolate cake, I'm equal opportunity.

This week, I opted for a kitchen-sink type of creation.  Something salty and sweet.  Something creamy and crunchy.  Something to use up the holiday baking bits that didn't find their way into another concoction.  Dear readers, I give you the Last Hurrah Bar:

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 stick butter, melted
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 T sugar
1 bag butterscotch chips
1 bag milk chocolate chips
1 cup salted party nuts, chopped

Combine condensed milk and salt in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it becomes a golden caramel color.  Set aside to cool. 

From this... this.
Meanwhile, combine butter, sugar, and graham crack crumbs; press into a 13x9 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. 

Top with caramel.  Sprinkle chips and nuts evenly over caramel, pressing firmly to compact.  Return to oven and bake an additional 15 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before cutting.

One really shouldn't eat more than a small square at a time.  Unless, of course, it's a last supper sort of situation.  If that's the case, cut 'em big and eat several.  I'm going to need a really long barre every day for the next month to make up for them.  I wonder if my ballet teacher makes house calls?

It's a new year everyone.  Let's live well and laugh often.  Let's eat plenty and exercise lots.  Oh, and let's always...

Keep it sweet. Pin It