Tuesday, September 25, 2012

So Long, Summer!

It's fall; I'm giddy.  This is no surprise to any of you.  I know.  I know some of you are with me and some of you are rolling your eyes and fantasizing about being somewhere tropical.  I'm not subtle and neither are you. 

Anyway.  It's fall.  But before I launch into all thinks apple-pumpkin-warm-spicy-good, I'll bid adieu to summer with a sweet homage to my favorite summer fruits.  I give you... the peach and blueberry crumble.  Sweet and tart and crispy and juicy and so, so lovely with vanilla ice cream.  The recipe from Barefoot Contessa was my inspiration, but I tweaked a bit.  Here's my version:

Peach and Blueberry Crumble

For the fruit:
2 pounds firm, ripe peaches (6 to 8 peaches)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fresh blueberries

For the crumble:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Peel the peaches, slice them into thick wedges, and place them in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, sugar, and flour. Toss well. Gently mix in the blueberries. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Spoon the mixture into ramekins or custard cups.

For the topping, combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and the butter in a bowl. Rub the mixture with your fingertips until it's in big crumbles, then sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the tops are browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Literate Baker notes:  I kept mostly true to Ina's recipe.  I used less sugar and more blueberries in the filling and eliminated lemon zest because I didn't want it to taste lemony.  I eliminated cinnamon from the topping for the same reason.

How much do you love square ramekins?
Bubbly good.  Don't forget the parchment paper!
Yes, that's homemade ice cream.  But that's another post.

Of course, I'm sure you now want these and peaches and blueberries are no longer in season.  Sorry.  I hear frozen fruit makes a pretty good crumble.  I'd allow it to thaw and drain off any excess liquid, maybe add a touch more flour.  Or you could do what I'm going to do--go pick apples and make an apple crisp.  As I said, it's fall, my favorite time of year to...

Keep it sweet.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Ready for My Closeup

Sorry I've been absent this week, darlings.  Turns out Cupcake Wars did come a'calling.  Of course, it's never as easy as all that.  There is a lengthy application and, no surprise, they want a video!

Despite having virtually no video experience, I armed myself with a camera, tripod, and macbook (thanks, Jim!) and figured out how to use them.  I give you the result, complete with clips from my lovely, albeit geographically challenged, assistant Sohug.

I have to say, I'm pretty impressed with myself.  Let's hope the folks at Food Network agree!  I promise I'll remember y'all when I'm rich and famous and I'll always...

Keep it sweet.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

If Cupcake Wars Comes Calling...

In between football games and school work, I spent some of this weekend catching up on my recorded episodes of Cupcake Wars.  If you haven't seen the show, bakers go head to head to make the tastiest and prettiest cupcakes.  The catch: there is a prescribed theme (a.k.a. "the big event" where the cupcakes are to be front and center) and a mishmash of mystery ingredients (some of which are inevitably strange).  Judges include the original cupcake queen Candace Nelson, discriminating French pastry chef Florian Bellanger, and a rotating guest specific to "the big event."  Zany host Justin Willman keeps time and makes wonderfully horrible jokes.

As with all such competitions, there are borderline absurd time limitations for each round.  Ingredients go flying (or are forgotten altogether).  Drama and wackiness ensue.  The winner gets to attend "the big event," cupcakes and tricked out display in tow.  He or she also gets to take home $10,000.

Since its debut, I've been watching the show pretty faithfully.  I know, for example, that Florian hates artificial extracts and is rarely impressed by red velvet.  Candace always far a clever turn of phrase for her critique.  What I haven't done, however, is think that I should be on the show in earnest.

Well, well, well... whaddaya know?  A quick google search reveals that Cupcake Wars is casting.  My credentials have been submitted and I shall wait with bated breath for the phone to ring.  Okay, not bated breath.  I do have a cake business, a blog, a graduate class, a hokey notion of running a 5K, and (oh yeah) a day job.  But still... I'll definitely be answering if they come calling.

In the meantime, I've given myself the following to-do list:
  1. Figure out exactly how much cayenne should go into a spicy chocolate cake batter.
  2. Buy a fun apron so I can look super cute (but professional) on camera.
  3. Practice smack talk in the mirror.
  4. Never forget to...
Keep it sweet.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Pepperidge Farm Fest

When you need a cookie on the quick, it's hard to beat Pepperidge Farm.  So many flavors, just the right amount of indulgent.  So when I saw the "I Ate Ever Variety of Pepperidge Farm Cookie" headline on Slate, I couldn't resist.  It's a great article, as much about the history of the cookies as it is about which flavors are the most awesome. You should read it.

Literate Baker WARNING: Reading this story will likely make you crave cookies.  If it's mid afternoon and you're feeling sluggish, this craving will consume you.

I'm with the writer--Chessmen are the best.  Not homemade shortbread, but buttery enough to feel legit.  With an iced coffee or (ahem) a diet coke, they're the perfect little pick-me-up.  And what do you know, the convenience store on campus stocks them!

They're even cute.

120 calories well spent.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Honey of a Tart

Theoretically, this post is about baking with lavender.  In reality, it's about a chocolate honey tart.  How did that happen?  Well, it all started at the Ithaca Farmer's Market...

Surrounded by beautiful plants and planning my first real garden (with help!), I got a bit carried away by the herbs.  Not just thyme, but lemon thyme as well.  Basil and curly purple basil.  And lavender.  I've never tried to grow lavender, but the thought of it made me feel very French.  I picked out a pretty one, with visions of lavender shortbread dancing in my head.

Immediately, I began trolling for lavender recipes.  The Chocolate-Honey Tart at Epicurious caught my fancy.  There was only one problem.  My little lavender plant was no where near flowering.  Undeterred, and with a dinner party on the horizon, I decided to try the tart anyway, upping the honey and adding some honey roasted almonds in lieu of the lavender blossoms.

I don't know if it's the fact that I've been on a honey kick lately or what, but this tart was killer.  So rich, so chocolatey.  Silky smooth, but with the crunch of both crust and nuts.  Oh, and I doubled the crust.  Because double the chocolate graham crackers is always a good idea.  It was so good, I don't think I'll even attempt the original version when I have blossoms to bake.

Here's my (minor) adaptation:

18 whole chocolate graham crackers
9 tablespoons room, divided and at room temperature
3 tablespoons honey, divided
1 cup whipping cream
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 c. honey almonds (see below)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 10-inch diameter tart pan (you could use a springform pan, too) with removable bottom with nonstick spray. Grind graham crackers with 6 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons honey in processor until fine crumbs form. Press crumbs evenly onto bottom and up sides of prepared tart pan. Bake until set, about 12 minutes. Cool. Sprinkle all but a few of the almonds on the bottom of the crust.

Bring cream and remaining tablespoon of honey just to boil in small saucepan. Add chocolate and stir over low heat just until melted and smooth. Add cocoa powder and remaining 1 tablespoon butter; stir until melted and smooth. Pour chocolate mixture into crust, making sure to keep nuts evenly distributed.  Sprinkle remaining nuts over the top.

Chill at least one hour before serving.  Serve cold or allow to sit at room temperature up to 30 minutes to soften.

Honey Almonds:  Combine 1/2 cup sliced almonds, 1 tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons honey, and a pinch of salt in a small skillet.  Cooke over medium-high heat until almonds smell toasty and honey is a fairly thick coating, about 8 minutes.  Spread on parchment paper to cool.

Making the honeyed almonds is a little bit of a hassle, I know.  But, really, they make the whole tart.  In addition to enhancing the honey notes in the chocolate and crust, they provide crunch and a hint of salt.  The result is like a super sophisticated candy bar.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.  When my lavender finally comes in, I'll have to find a new way to...

Keep it sweet.

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