Saturday, December 31, 2011

Holiday Cookie Redux

First round of holiday cookies
It turns out that I got so excited about my gingerbread trees with lemon icing, I forgot to talk about the other cookies I made for the holidays!

I made a new kind of swirl cookie, trying to top last year's orange-nutella pinwheels. I instead made Alton Brown's Chocolate Peppermint Swirl Cookies, but they weren't quite as good. The peppermint candies get too hot in the cookie and the carmelized sugar can overbake the cookie itself.

The chocolate crinkle cookies, or what my family always called "wagon wheel cookies," is just a recipe I make every year.  I absolutely can't celebrate December without them.

The best cookie, pictured up in the right corner, almost bland looking, may have been the best one!  Since it is a tweak on a Martha Stewart recipe, I'm including it here for your baking pleasure.

Cranberry Pistachio Icebox Cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup pistachios, shelled (measure after shelling)
3/4 cup dried cranberries


Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Beat butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and beat until combined. Stir in pistachios and cranberries.  Divide dough in half.  Form each half into a log, either a round or triangular shape.  Chill several hours.  Slice dough crosswise slightly thicker than 1/8 inch. Reshape if needed. Bake at 350 degrees on parchment-lined baking sheets until firm, 12 to 14 minutes.  DO NOT OVERBAKE!  The color will not change drastically when they are done. 

Looking Back at 2011

Resolutions are made to be broken!  In my case, resolutions are made to be gleefully ignored, stomped on, and tossed out the window the minute something shiny comes along.  So this will not be my wrap-up post detailing how I fulfilled my 2011 Culinary Resolutions.  Nope.  Move along.  Nothing to see here.

Okay, wait, come back.  Just for a bit.  Let's talk about what I did accomplish, what I've learned, and what tasty treats I've unleashed onto the world in 2011.  (That's more like it!)

Favorites of 2011
I went with a top 5.  I couldn't exclude any of these recipes, all of which were made for the first time in 2011.  These are JennyBakes approved, five-star, guaranteed recipes.  Each numbered item links directly to the recipe, so click away!

1. Gramercy Tavern's Gingerbread
I realize I just posted about this, but it was seriously good.  This is why holiday baking posts are so difficult; I find something we love that I have to make again, and I run out of space to make new desserts.  Add this one to the repeat pile!

2. Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll Pancakes
These were amazing and quite a visual treat, but the real reason they were on this list is that I started hearing about them at work.  One student said a professor talked about them in class, and another professor came into my office to thank me for the recipe.  (Hi friends!)  You know pancakes are good when they get brought up in music theory class!

3. Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies
Ha!  When I first started this blog post, I realized I never ever blogged these, which explains why you see an early 12/31 post for Christmas cookies.  This was another recipe that I heard about for days after I brought them to work.  There were theories that I used fancy butter (nope, I always buy the cheap generic stuff!), and when I shared the recipe I got weird reactions like "I'll never be able to make them like you."  People.  Don't be afraid of baking.  They are just sugar cookies with stuff in them. 

4. Red Wine Chocolate Cake
The second recipe in my top five from the Smitten Kitchen blog (seriously excited to own her cookbook when it comes out!), and another cake with rave reviews.  In fact, this might be my personal favorite of the list.  I loved the way the red wine elevated the chocolate, and the texture of this cake was also fantastic. 

5. Rosemary Shortbread
I first tasted this at a work function (we have a lot of people who love to cook!), and I hearby apologize to shortbread for thinking I didn't like it.  This recipe proves me wrong.  I can still taste it ....

Oh how I've learned!
I may not have learned about fondant like I'd planned, but I did get a chance to meet a local chocolate maker and play with his chocolate in recipes.  That was a highlight of the year!  I also did a lot more alternative baking - vegan, gluten-free, and trying to make things set up with agar-agar.  I hope I can keep challenging myself to be more adept at those kinds of recipes, since there seem to be an increasing number of people who identify with those dietary choices.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gramercy Tavern's Gingerbread

Gramercy Tavern's Gingerbread
Half of the recipes I mark to make later are from Smitten Kitchen, but I can't help it, that blog is amazing!

You can find the recipe to Gramercy Tavern's Gingerbread on the Smitten Kitchen blog, but I have a few things to say about it.

  1. Make sure you heat the Guiness (stout) and molasses in a pan at least twice as big as the liquid.  Bringing those to things to a boil isn't the problem, but prepare for great fizzing explosions when you add the baking soda.  I destroyed an oven mitt on that step.
  2. Do everything you can to grease the pan.  I listened and did butter + nonstick spray + flour and still lost a few chunks.  Those chunks were chewy and amazing, but there has to be a way to get it out cleanly.  
  3. MAKE THIS TODAY.  You won't be sorry.  The end.

Daring Bakers December 2011 - Rye Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Rye
Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

This was my first foray into sourdough bread making, and unlike most Daring Bakers months, I knew I could not procrastinate and make something the last day.  I actually began the starter, affectionately named Gertie, on the 16th or so.  I could post a picture of her here, but she is very sensitive to how she looks.  Just picture a gloppy, bubbly, tan mass, and there you go.  (Sorry, Gertie).  If I had been a better sourdough starter mother, I would have remembered to feed her after I baked her first loaf, but I failed.  It is just as well; this bread wasn't my favorite ever, but it is more of a taste thing.  I'm pretty sure the result is what I was looking for.  You can find the recipe on Jessica's blog, where there are also recipes for country wheat sourdough, and an interesting looking gluten-free variety with brown rice flour.

The second part of the challenge was to make something to put on a toast version of our bread.  With the cold weather and lots of time spent indoors during the holidays, Nathaniel and I had been craving Welsh Rarebit anyway, so even though I didn't challenge myself on that part, it was still delicious!  The dark, smoky, murky flavors of the Welsh Rarebit, created by the Worcestershire and ale, is a perfect pairing with a sourdough like this. 

Welsh Rarebit
I use Alton Brown's recipe, kind of. I was horrified at the idea of using cream instead of milk, when almost every recipe you'll find uses milk. There is already so much fat with the cheese and butter, that I just couldn't do it. With the milk, this recipe is quite rich, so I just can't imagine it any richer.  He also only called for 4 slices of toast, but this easily smothered 8 thick slices of the rye sourdough. 

JennyBakes Take on Alton Brown's Welsh Rarebit

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup ale
3/4 cup milk
8ounces (approximately 2 cups) shredded Cheddar
2 drops hot sauce
8 slices toasted rye bread

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to brown the flour. Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until smooth. Add beer and whisk to combine. Pour in milk and whisk until well combined and smooth. Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth; this will take 4 to 5 minutes. Add hot sauce. Pour over toast and serve immediately.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays!

2011-12-16 Christmas Luncheon 007
Whatever holiday you celebrate, or if you simply enjoy your time with family, I hope you have a wonderful time!  Best wishes for 2012....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Inside of birthday cake
Every Christmas Eve, we celebrate a birthday. Not Jesus! Nathaniel! His old standard used to be the mint chocolate chip roulade cake from Baskin Robbins, but as there aren't any left around these parts, and he is married to someone who likes to bake, I have done some experimenting the last few years.

This year he asked if I could also make the ice cream part. Usually I wimp out and buy good ice cream from the store - Ben & Jerry's, Haagen Daaz, whatever I know is good. After all, I've not had the best luck in ice cream making. Too icey, too eggy, too solid, not enough flavor, and so on. I was thinking back to the one time I was happy with what I made - the hazelnut gelato from the Ciao Bella book. I decided to make two kinds of gelato, and stack this cake high. One is the typical mint chocolate chip, and one is the reverse of that.

I started with the plain base and the chocolate base in the Ciao Bella book. After they had chilled, I stirred in 1 tbsp creme de menthe and 1/2 tsp peppermint extract into each (this sounds like a lot, and was a lot more than the recipe called for, but honestly I wouldn't have wanted any less!). When the ice cream maker started sounding like it was working hard, I dumped in whichever bits I was adding (chopped semisweet chocolate or mint chips). Then I put the mixtures into the same cake pans I'd baked the cakes in, to make it easy to put together.

This was delicious! It looks a bit unfinished, because I didn't ice it at all, but taste-wise it didn't need it. I used the Black Magic Cake recipe I found randomly online, and it was great.

Birthday Man and Mega Cake

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Green Olive and Gruyere Loaf

Inside view of No Knead Bread
I have tried making no-knead bread before, but was unhappy with the overly crusty nature of it. I've taken to watching Martha Bakes, despite the feeling that she could have been more original with her name. I mean, come on Martha. JennyBakes? Barbara Bakes? We've all been around, baking, longer than you. But anyway.

She had a bread episode where she made this marvelous looking green olive and gruyere no-knead bread, elegantly referred to on her website as "Olive and Cheese Loaf." It is DELICIOUS. A little salty. If I make this again I might rinse the olives more. It worked great, although I baked it in a springform, lacking a dutch oven pan I could put in the oven. Why can't it just go in a bread pan? I'm not sure....

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gingerbread Trees with Lemon Icing

Gingerbread Trees with Lemon Glaze
If you've never had gingerbread and lemon together, you are missing out.  I love fresh gingerbread with lemon curd, and I wanted to try the combination in a cookie for the holidays.  I had seen a gingerbread tree cookie recipe on Martha Stewart's website, where she had these elegant lines of lemon icing with the clear sanding sugar, so I copied the idea!

I used Bakerella's gingerbread cookie recipe, because I originally planned to make the cute snowman heads.  I deemed them too time-intensive, this time around.  (They are SO CUTE though, please click on snowman heads to check them out!).

Since Martha gave me the idea, I used her lemon icing recipe.  These were a big hit! Definitely the best cookie recipe of the 2011 season.

Sunday, December 04, 2011


Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars with a Salty Pretzel Crust
I blame the internet, again, for forcing me to make cookies when we already had Thanksgiving dessert laying around. And just like half the time, it was the couple at Two Peas and Their Pod who were to blame! Check out the recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars with a Salty Pretzel Crust that they posted over on They are salty, sweet, and chocolatey - a perfect treat.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Cranberry-Glazed Pumpkin Pie

Cranberry-Glazed Pumpkin Pie
Not someone who could just make one dessert on a holiday, even with only two of us, I snagged another recipe to try from the Thanksgiving recipe index over on The Bitten Word. The flavors are what drew me in - of course gingersnap, pumpkin, and cranberry are all holiday flavors, but together? Hmm, had to try it. (Suddenly, I am taken back to 2009, when a recipe with a similar idea drew me in, and I made the pumpkin spectacular pie. It also was a bit disappointing).

Disappointing? Well, yes. Part of it may be my failure, and possibly a lack of experience with home baked pumpkin, which I think has more moisture than canned. So while the edge of the crust was scorching, the middle still jiggled a bit. But I knew I had overbaked my pumpkin flan (see previous post) and didn't want a repeat of that! So I may have taken it out too soon. Then adding what is basically a homemade cranberry sauce to the top probably heated up the slightly undercooked area twice. Cutting a clean slice was a challenge. I also ran out of walnuts because I had to make the crust twice - the first time I read the amount of butter as 4 oz instead of 4 tbsp, which would have been a hot mess if it had ended up baked that way. So while I didn't have any walnuts to top the pie, I could still taste them cleanly in the crust, which was a nice antidote to the sweetness of everything else.

I think I'd need to try the recipe again before labeling it a failure. Honestly, I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie straight, so I liked the idea of an unusual crust and a tart topping. It did look pretty in the pan too.

Cranberry-Glazed Pumpkin Pie


  • 8 ounces gingersnaps, crushed (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Filling and Toppings
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (8 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a food processor, pulse the gingersnaps with the walnuts until finely ground. Add the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the pumpkin with the brown sugar, honey, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt, ground cloves, eggs and heavy cream. Pour the pie filling into the crust. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the crust is deep brown and the filling is just set around the edges but still slightly jiggly in the center; cover the edge of the crust with strips of foil halfway through baking to prevent burning. Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the orange juice with the water, granulated sugar and flour and whisk until smooth. Add the cranberries and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the liquid is thickened and glossy and the cranberries just begin to burst, about 5 minutes. Carefully pour the hot cranberry glaze over the pie and refrigerate until well chilled. Sprinkle the walnuts on top of the pie just before serving.

Make Ahead

The pie can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Spanish Thanksgiving Feast 2011

Spanish Thanksgiving Feast Since we don't eat meat, Thanksgiving is always a fun adventure in cuisine we might not have tried before.  In 2009, we played with Native American ingredients.  2010 saw the first attempts at making tamales and other Mexican treats.  While Spain isn't far from Mexico, I'd been dying to try making paella. Armed with a paella pan actually purchased in Europe that I borrowed from a co-worker, I tackled the following menu:

Mushroom paella
Pumpkin flan

I had this sangria recipe before, at a friend's house, probably for one of the international dinner nights she hosted.  I remember going there one day after work to drink the leftovers.  This sangria is not kidding around!  Orange juice, lemonade concentrate, brandy, triple sec, sliced lemon, orange, and lime, and maraschino cherries floating around in there.  I made it Wednesday afternoon and let it chill over 24 hours, which is essential for a good sangria.  The wine I used was a pretty full-bodied Bordeaux from Chateau Bel Air.  I know, I should have used Spanish red wine, but I had this on hand and it worked great.

The sangria recipe includes some optional ingredients - sugar, which I added because of all the citrus elements, but I don't really think it needed it.  It also says you can serve it with carbonated water, but I wanted it to drink more like wine and less like fizz.  I think that was a good decision.  I think if I had not cared about making it husband friendly, I might have made it more Thanksgivingesque by pouring cranberries into the glass.  Even if they wouldn't add flavor, they would look pretty!

Then on to the paella.  I had never made paella, largely because I kept reading that it isn't paella without the pan.  I'm lucky to work with a bunch of librarians who are also foodies, so when I sent out an e-mail asking if anyone had a paella pan, I was not disappointed.

Mushroom Paella
As far as following the recipe goes, the first change I had to make was to find a substitute for chicken stock.  I originally purchased vegetable stock, but ended up using mushroom to really emphasize the flavor of the mushroom.  I do think that is why the saffron color is not as vibrant as it is in many paella pictures I've seen, since mushroom stock is around the color of beef stock, and tends to muddy up the color.  Taste-wise, the decision was a good one.  The recipe also called for ham, which I obviously wasn't going to use.  We had recently tried these field roast frankfurters, a vegan meat substitute, that were reminiscent to me of polish sausage I'd grown up eating.  While it might look like hot dogs in there, which would be unappealing, the flavor was much more complex.  I think having a protein in there really made the dish more of a meal and less of a side.  (After all, traditional paella is usually chock full of seafood and meat).  Since we go vegetarian but not vegan, I was still able to add the butter and manchego at the end.  You can't see them in the dish, but the final creamy and glossy texture is definitely due to those two ingredients, and the cheese adds an incredible flavor dimension.

Pumpkin Flan
The last recipe for the meal was a pumpkin flan. Is there anything more Spanish for dessert?  I had several different recipes bookmarked, one which called for cream cheese, but then on the 2011 Thanksgiving recipe index put together by the guys over on The Bitten Word, I found a newly published recipe for individual pumpkin flans from Bon Appetit. 

The recipe is great, flawless even.  This baker, on the other hand, is incredibly flawed.  I had exactly enough sugar on Wednesday night to make the caramel, so of course I completely destroyed it.  My brave and calming husband Nathaniel went to WalMart on Thanksgiving day to buy more sugar, and I tried it again.  And... again.  I finally figured out that I was being too timid; that the sugar really needed to be cooking on medium-high to get to that amber color without too much crystallization.  Or it could be that as I scrubbed the burnt sugar out of the pan the second time, I gave an edict to the evil kitchen god of caramel, my nemesis.  Whatever, it worked the third time, and the custard mixture was all ready to go in the fridge.

Unfortunately, that isn't the last time I was thwarted.  I was so worried I'd underbake that I overbaked these a tad.  You can see that above in the little dots.  So they ended up tasting a little eggy and not quite as creamy as they should have.  Definitely bake these closer to the 20 minute time than 25, I'd say.  And maybe remove them from the water bath earlier than I did.  Still, you could taste the subtle pumpkin and steeped spices, which paired nicely with the caramelized sugar, a light and not too sweet ending to a Spanish Thanksgiving feast!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Baking your own pumpkin

Sugar Pumpkin 
I've always wanted to try baking my own pumpkin, and finally got around to it this year.  There are plenty of sugar pumpkins for sale, so I just bought a cute one and brought it home.  I found recipes online where people suggested a baking/roasting temperature of anywhere from 300-450.  The part that made me skeptical is that all of them including roughly the same amount of baking time.  They can't all be right!  I picked somewhere in the middle and split the pumpkin in half (not easy using my dull knives; really need to get them sharpened), and put it cut side down on the cookie sheet.

Cooked pumpkin
As you can see, I probably let it go too long. The shells were completely hard and sunken in, and there was some sugar-char on the edges. Still, I scooped it out and stuck it in the fridge, forgetting the very important step of pureeing it before adding it to recipes. That just made it more difficult to incorporate into my recipes. Next time I'll know better. The color was definitely less intense than the canned pumpkin I can find in the stores, and that makes sense, considering that many of the canned "pumpkin" you find is actually squash of a different variety (usually hubbard, I think). Here's to actual pumpkin in pumpkin dishes! Stay tuned for how I used it. I still have half the pumpkin left after using it in two recipes!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Ultimate Pumpkin Waffles

Ultimate Pumpkin Waffles
I woke up this morning with pumpkin waffles in my head, although I'd never made any before.  The version in my head was quite decadent with candied nuts and whipped cream, but I did not have those things (veiled reference to So I Married an Axe Murderer, you have to see that movie if you haven't!). 

Like any other day with a good idea, the internet is my friend.  It is rare to find something that nobody else had thought of.  This is why I have not yet posted the red velvet pancakes in my head - they've been in other people's heads too!  In my searching, I came across an entire blog devoted to pumpkin waffles.  This blogger was not joking in her quest to develop a pumpkin waffle recipe!  I knew this was the one I had to try. 

You can find this recipe on the Pumpkin Waffles Blog,  But since U.S. Copyright Law says that recipes can't be protected, I'm going to go ahead and copy and paste it here.  The original blog has great photographs of the steps.  If you make it, please head over to his/her blog and let him/her know how much you liked it.  That's what I plan to do!  This recipe isn't too sweet, the spices are nicely balanced, and you can actually taste the pumpkin.

Ultimate Pumpkin Waffles, from pumpkinwaffles


• 1/4 cup light brown sugar
• 3 Tbsp. cornstarch
• 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
• 2 tsp. ginger
• 1/4 tsp. cloves
• 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg*
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
• 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and warm
*Grated and lightly packed into the spoon, use 1/2 tsp. Grated and loosely scooped, this is about 1 tsp. of nutmeg. If you have to use pre-grated, dried nutmeg, use 1/4 tsp.

1. Lightly oil the waffle iron with vegetable oil, and set it to the desired temperature.
2. Combine brown sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Whisk together to break apart the cornstarch. Add the remaining dry ingredients, and whisk to blend.
3. Separate eggs: yolks go in a medium sized bowl and whites get set aside in a smaller bowl.
4. Add pumpkin and milk to the egg yolks. Whisk to blend and set aside.
5. Whip egg whites with a hand mixer on high until stiff peaks form - about 1 1/2 – 2 minutes. Set aside.
6. Pour melted butter into the yolk/milk/pumpkin mixture. As you pour, whisk to combine.
7. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix them together until just combined. A little lumpiness is fine. That will smooth out when the egg whites are added.
8. Slide the whipped egg whites out of the bowl and onto the mixture you just prepared. Gently fold them in until no white bits are obvious.
9. Once the waffle iron is heated, you’re ready to pour the batter!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Secret Agent Cookies

Secret Agent Cookies 
These cookies have a funny little story from today, but I can't tell you what it is.

No really.  I mean, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

What I can tell you is that this recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod will not disappoint you.  The pumpkin isn't the prominent flavor, but this is a soft, delicious, fall cookie.  They call them gingersnaps, but they aren't that snappy - I'd call them pumpkin ginger cookies. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ginger Cookie Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwiches

Pumpkin Ginger Ice Cream Sandwich
It can't be fall in my house without making big soft ginger cookies.  This year I was looking for new things to try, and decided they would be perfect for ice cream sandwiches.  Their softness would hold up to freezing and still be pliable enough to eat with something cold inside.  I made the pumpkin ice cream from The Craft of Baking, because that is the recipe David Lebovitz cited in his blog post with a pumpkin ice cream recipe, and I own it!  This is the first time I've made ice cream that didn't turn to stone in the freezer, and is pleasantly pliable but not too soft.  It may be the lack of cooking, really.  The egg yolks are tempered but not cooked again on the stove.  Maybe that was a mistake in the recipe, but the taste is delicious and creamy and very very pumpkiny.  I did add a bit of pumpkin powder from the herb store in addition to the canned pumpkin, and I think it added a dimension of flavor.

I hear what you're thinking.  Pumpkin and ginger make sense for fall, but not ice cream sandwiches!  That may be true in most of the world, but here in South Carolina the temperature went back to the upper 80s today, so we are dying for cold treats.  I just wasn't ready to completely let go of fall!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Having finally wrestled a pantry full of canned pumpkin away from the guy who usually beats me to the store to buy it for his dogs, fall baking has been going full force in October!  First were the pumpkin cinnamon roll pancakes, which were amazing.  I made a gluten-free version of harvest muffins after a week of eating no wheat, but most of them were thrown away instead of consumed.  That's all I'll say about that!  I made another half batch of "real" harvest muffins later, which is something we have every year.

Still, I can't just make everything I always make just because we like it.  So I went looking for a recipe similar to the old Starbucks pumpkin cream cheese muffins.  I found this promising recipe on The Girl Who Ate Everything's blog, and these were tasty.  In fact, I think I prefer the pumpkin part to the harvest muffin pumpkin part (it could be the butter vs. oil difference; these have oil and were very tender).  I even skipped her streusel topping, but I'm sure that would add to the decadence.  I also didn't chill the cream cheese part for 2 hours, just mixed it with the powdered sugar and popped it in the freezer until I was scooping batter into the muffin tins.  It worked just fine without the extra time.  Also, I divided the recipe in half, because this recipe makes 24!  Even half made a good 14. 

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Source: Annie's Eats
Makes 24 muffins
Print Recipe

For the filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar

For the muffins:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree (see Note)
1¼ cups vegetable oil

For the topping:
½ cup sugar
5 tablespoons flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Note: A standard sized can of pumpkin is 15 ounces, just shy of 2 cups (16 ounces). You could open another can if you want and freeze the extra or just use one can which is what I did. The amount is so little I don't think it makes a difference in the final product.

To prepare the filling, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a medium bowl and mix well until blended and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a log about 1½-inches in diameter. Smooth the plastic wrap tightly around the log, and reinforce with a piece of foil. Transfer to the freezer and chill until at least slightly firm, at least 2 hours. The mixture will still be somewhat soft but firmer.

To make the muffins, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line muffin pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda; whisk to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree and oil. Mix on medium-low speed until blended. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.

To make the topping, combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl; whisk to blend. Add in the butter pieces and cut into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two forks until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. I always get inpatient here and mix it together with my hands so that it looks like the texture of wet sand. I know you aren't supposed to do it this way but I'm impatient. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill until ready to use.

To assemble the muffins, fill each muffin well with a small amount of batter, just enough to cover the bottom of the liner (1-2 tablespoons). Slice the log of cream cheese filling into 24 equal pieces. Place a slice of the cream cheese mixture into each muffin well. You want to put the cream cheese lower than you think because it will rise a lot during the baking process. Divide the remaining batter among the muffin cups, placing on top of the cream cheese to cover completely. Sprinkle a small amount of the topping mixture over each of the muffin wells.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving. I like them warm, cold, and room temperature.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Smitten Kitchen Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Red Wine Chocolate Cake
Here I continue my salivating over Smitten Kitchen - her beautiful pictures and enticing recipes that I'm never sorry I tried! I had just been given a bottle of red wine at work, and knowing how I never drink more than a glass, I came across her recipe for red wine chocolate cake. I knew I had to try it.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake
What does red wine taste like in chocolate cake? Well I think you'll be surprised when you try it (DO try it). Rather than it being winey or adding a fruity twinge to the cake, it creates similar magic to coffee or coke in a chocolate cake - liquid but not dairy, so the chocolate just comes through. It tastes... like chocolate. Unaltered. Delicious.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

Pumpkin Cinnamon Bun Pancakes
I've had this recipe bookmarked for a week or so, but that was still TOO LONG TO WAIT for these amazing pancakes. Head on over to RecipeGirl for the recipe and step by step instructions for Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll Pancakes.  You will not be sorry.  These should be required for fall!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Daring Bakers September 2011 - Croissants

Daring Bakers - Croissants
The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

I had actually made croissants before, from a different Julia Child recipe, and had a better result than I did this time around.  I'm not sure of the difference.  At one point I think I rolled out one too many times, but that should have created more layers, not the deflated croissants I ended up with.  The last time I also chilled between EVERY step, and this time didn't do that because the recipe didn't ask me to.

Oh yeah, also, I tried making chocolate croissant dough by substituting 1/4 cup of the flour with cocoa powder.  As you can probably tell by my attempt at a double chocolate croissant, it didn't exactly work out.  The dough was way too dry and never really recovered, and butter was poking through at every turn.  I wanted to try something new!  Perhaps I should have done it by weight instead of volume.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rosemary Shortbread

Rosemary Shortbread
My co-worker has brought rosemary shortbread to two library functions and my reaction has been a little like... hmm, but I don't like shortbread. But that smells really good. Oh god, I guess I DO like shortbread!  I begged the recipe off of her, and it can be found on, and also below.

I'm not really convinced I have been converted to the shortbread fan club (don't tell the Scottish contingent of my relatives), but this particular shortbread is delicious.  The combination of sweet with the savory rosemary is compelling, and confuses your tastebuds enough to go back for more.  Do I like this?  Yes I do! I used rosemary from my garden.

Sorry for the dim picture.  I made this batch for a friend who had hit a milestone in her dissertation process, and sent it off the next morning.  It is too bad she doesn't live closer, because she loves shortbread, and this is best fresh out of the oven.

 Rosemary Shortbread
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons mild honey
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Garnish: small rosemary sprigs
Special equipment: parchment paper

Preheat oven to 300°F.
Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and rosemary in a bowl.
Mix together butter, honey, and confectioners sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at low speed, then add flour mixture and mix until dough resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Gather dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Knead dough until it just comes together, about 8 times. Halve dough and form each half into a 5-inch disk.
Roll out 1 disk (keep remaining dough at room temperature) between 2 sheets of parchment into a 9-inch round (trim as necessary). Remove top sheet of parchment and transfer dough on bottom sheet of parchment to a baking sheet. Score dough into 8 wedges by pricking dotted lines with a fork, then mark edges decoratively. Arrange rosemary sprigs (if using) decoratively on top of dough, pressing lightly to help adhere, and sprinkle dough with 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar.
Bake shortbread in middle of oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Slide shortbread on parchment to a rack and cool 5 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a cutting board and cut along score marks with a large heavy knife.
Make another shortbread with remaining dough.

Apple-Cream Cheese Bundt Cake with Praline Glaze

Apple-Cream Cheese Bundt Cake
When I saw this recipe in Southern Living, I knew I'd be trying it out! We live close to apple orchards with a wide variety just over the border in North Carolina, so it easy to have an abundance of apples. I bought a 1/2 bushel (what was I thinking) and so far I've made two dehydrators full of dried apples, and this cake. It isn't quite as delicious as my Grandma's, but there is a lot going on in this cake - nuts, apples, spices, cream cheese swirl, and praline glaze. Something for everyone.

Apple-Cream Cheese Bundt Cake
Recipe from Southern Living September 2011


    1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
    1/4 cup butter, softened
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 large egg
    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    1 cup finely chopped pecans (I was cheap and just bought the little 1/2 cup bag in the baking aisle)
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1 cup granulated sugar
    1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
    2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 teaspoon ground nutmeg Since mine was freshly ground, I used about half this.
    1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
    3 large eggs, lightly beaten
    3/4 cup canola oil
    3/4 cup applesauce
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    3 cups peeled and finely chopped apples (about 1 1/2 lb.) I used Mutsu, and it only took 2 to get to three cups!

    1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
    1/4 cup butter
    3 tablespoons milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cup powdered sugar


    1. Prepare Filling: Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended and smooth. Add egg, flour, and vanilla; beat just until blended.
    2. Prepare Batter: Preheat oven to 350º. Bake pecans in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Stir together 3 cups flour and next 7 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in eggs and next 3 ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in apples and pecans.
    3. Spoon two-thirds of apple mixture into a greased and floured 14-cup Bundt pan. Spoon Cream Cheese Filling over apple mixture, leaving a 1-inch border around edges of pan. Swirl filling through apple mixture using a paring knife. Spoon remaining apple mixture over Cream Cheese Filling.
    4. Bake at 350º for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 2 hours).
    5. Prepare Frosting: Bring 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 3 Tbsp. milk to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly; boil 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar until smooth; stir gently 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture begins to cool and thickens slightly. Pour immediately over cooled cake.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nutella Cake Balls

Nutella Cake Balls
Cake balls are a simple but delicious treat that my husband has been begging me to make for months.  I'm not sure who first came up with them, but I'm 98% certain it was a bakery that often had cake remnants that they were just throwing away.

The next time this happens to you - dump about the same amount of tasty frosting, mush together, form into balls, chill, and dip in some form of chocolate.  Decorate as desired.  Cake, transformed.  :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nutella Cupcakes

Nutella Cupcake
I don't have as much to say about these, except that you should try this recipe!

I wanted a chocolate cupcake recipe, but I wanted it to be more than just chocolate.  I entertained thoughts of chocolate peanut butter, and chocolate mocha, but those seemed too common.  (I know, what was I thinking?  Never enough chocolate.)

Then I stumbled across and the recipe for Nutella cupcakes.  I was sold!  The recipe on the site is more of a concept, and when it said to start with your favorite chocolate cupcakes, I used the recipe from America's Test Kitchen for ultimate chocolate cupcakes.  (I'm not linking to it because while it is free, you have to register each time, such a pain).  I'm not sure what I did differently but they were a bit dry and crumbly today.  Boo!  But once you gouge out the middles, fill them with Nutella, and top them with a frosting that is also half Nutella, who cares.  :)

Teal Velvet Cupcakes

Teal Velvet Cupcake
Don't adjust your set. They really are that color. Ack! Well, let me explain....

I was preparing cupcakes for my annual student workers meeting, and I had been foiled on every count for the non-chocolate cupcake. The store was completely OUT of pumpkin, both Thursday and today. Apparently this is not because people are getting excited about making fall desserts once we're past Labor Day, no. Some guy regularly comes in and buys all the cans to feed his dogs. *shakes fist* I really wanted to make pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting, but didn't want to go to Wal-Mart.

Another favorite is red velvet, of course, particularly here in the south. I had a bunch of food coloring on hand, everything but red. I decided that blue velvet would be cool (and possibly more appealing than neon green, which I also seem to have in abundance). Blue velvet! Like blue suede! Or like the horse story! I squirted an entire tube in, and ended up with more of a teal.

Well, teal isn't all bad.  They were for my music library student workers, and the two official decor colors for the music building are purple and teal.  I could say I did it on purpose!  Sure, let's go with that. It tasted okay, not too chemically (a clear sign I did NOT use enough dye, ha), and I decided to just go ahead and see what happened when I baked them.

As you can see above, that teal turned into a deep forest green with a few blue undertones.  I guess I can blame the butter, or the buttermilk.  That is not teal.  That is definitely not blue!  It is more of a.... okay, it is green.  And everyone knows you should not make food green that didn't start out that way.  It makes people think of mold and decay.  I could have started over, but as usual I had left my baking project until the last minute, and it was too late to turn back.

I thought about making some kind of atrocious icing color, maybe make use of those neon food colorings for once, but decided to just let the cream cheese icing be, and sprinkled a few candy pearls on top.

By the way, I used the red velvet cupcake recipe I found on the Brown Eyed Baker blog, which she in turn found in the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and was very happy with the texture.

I'm just not sure I can recommend the teal.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Grandma's Apple Cake

Frances's Apple Cake
I may have posted this before, but this is a recipe I've had in my life since I was born. My mother makes it, my grandmother, her mother, and her grandmother. I don't know where it comes from originally but at this point it is part of my own history, and I now share it with you.

Frances's Apple Cake
1/2 cup oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
5 cups apples, diced (I used jonagold, some of the first apples of the year!)
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts

This recipe came to me with just ingredients, but in general I mix the diced apples with sugar, then the beaten eggs and vanilla, then mix in the dry ingredients, nuts last. I often leave out the nuts or use hazelnuts instead.

Bake at 350F for 1 hour.

Sometimes I also add a generous sprinkling of cinnamon to the mixture, but it doesn't really need it. This time I did!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Double Chocolate Oatmeal Balls

Double Chocolate Oatmeal Balls
One day, when I was learning to temper chocolate, I started to do a Google search for items covered in chocolate. Google thinks it knows what you wanted, and started to suggest "Chocolate Covered Katie?" Hoping it wasn't porn, I clicked on the link, and discovered her healthy dessert blog. I scanned through the entries with sheer and utter skepticism, but the comments were consistently positive.

The recipe I kept looking at was for fudge babies (please click on her link for that recipe as well as her own variations), which she described as a homemade Larabar. I was looking for new things to eat for snack or breakfast that I could make ahead of time and wouldn't be bad for me, so I thought it couldn't hurt to give them a try.

I used walnuts, dates, a little handful of oats, a little vanilla, a pinch of salt, cocoa powder, and ended up adding a little agave since I was using drier dates than the brand she recommended. Then I formed the mixture into balls and stuck them in the fridge. I was surprised too. They don't taste overtly fruity like so many vegan things do, the lack of flour isn't a problem because you can taste the nuts in a good way. My addition of oats made every bite remind me of the double chocolate oatmeal cookies my Mom used to make, only these are much better for you, not to mention that I can only eat one at a time.

Gluten-free, vegan, and these could also easily be made raw with the omission (or different choosing) of 1-2 ingredients. But I just call them tasty.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Daring Bakers August 2011 - Dark Chocolate Truffles filled with Chili-Chocolate Ganache

Dark chocolate truffles with spices
The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

I was most excited because the challenge involved tempering chocolate, something I had never done by hand before. During my brief stint working at DeBrand Fine Chocolates in Indianapolis in 2001, we would make some garnishes out of tempered chocolate, but had fancy tempering machines that we just had to turn on. I went with the double boiler method, and after my candy thermometer decided my bowl shape/size wasn't conducive to candy making in the batch of sponge candy I torched (NOT PICTURED, haha, it was terrible), I decided to try to do it by feel. I know, this might sound crazy. Tempering chocolate is Very Serious Business. But I thought maybe it is more like baking bread, where the measurements are precise except for when they aren't, and it is more important to develop a feel for how the dough should feel, and make slight adjustments.

So shiny you can see me in them
My bonbons or truffles (I think I'll call them truffles since they are chocolate inside chocolate) ended up with that perfect shiny snap, so I feel like I am not completely wrong in thinking you might be able to temper chocolate by sense. I heated up about 2/3 of the chocolate until it was melted, smooth, and had started to heat up (definitely not even close to boiling). I removed it from the heat and stirred chocolate drops in until they stopped melting easily, then put it back on the heat for a minute or so until it got glossy again. I had a plastic mold, and through trial and error discovered that the easiest way not to make a mess of things was to drop some of the chocolate into each divet, swirl it around with a brush until it had coated the sides, and then chill it. The first batch, I tried doing it where you ladle chocolate over the whole mold and pour the extra back into the pot, and all I really made was a huge mess!

Inside of the truffle
For the insides, I made two kinds of ganache. One was a dark chocolate mixed with ancho chili powder, a sprinkle of cayenne, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. The other was a milk chocolate ganache with a little Irish cream. The milk chocolate took a lot longer to get to the appropriate consistency, so we ate most of it as a snack later that week.

The truffles were tasty. Shiny and a good snap as you bit in, very soft and smooth in the middle, with a little bite due to the spices. Now that I have more of a hang of it, I think it would be simple to do again.... simple but not cheap. Making chocolates is an expensive venture! I think I may use this method the next time I make such things as peanut butter balls, just to have a better finish on the outside. I usually just melt down bags of chocolate chips, but using a tempered chocolate will really class things up a bit. Next time I will also plan ahead better and order bulk couverture chocolate online. I couldn't find any in local stores, and did buy some off of a chocolate shop in Asheville, but I couldn't rely on them as a source (it isn't like they have that chocolate on their menu or anything!).

Friday, August 12, 2011

David Lebovitz's Gluten-Free Brownies

David Lebovitz's Gluten Free Brownies
Yesterday I was reading through the blogs in my foodie folder in Google Reader, and as soon as I saw David Lebovitz's recipe for Gluten-Free Brownies, I knew I had to make it. I had made the original recipe from Ready for Dessert, and liked what he said he did in replacing the flour. It involves cornstarch, and several of the comments to his post asked about replacing that. Apparently you can replace it directly with potato starch if necessary. I used cornstarch.

My picture doesn't look as dark or fudgey as his in the original recipe post, but I blame the bright noon sunlight. These might compete in my brownie files as our favorite brownie recipe. The best thing I can say about them is that you have NO IDEA they are gluten-free. No weird taste. No weird texture. It is a brownie through and through, down to the crackly tops that you need! It was the perfect recipe to use the rest of the chocolate I got from Mast Brothers, plus some chocolate chips. Instead of nuts, I stirred in additional chocolate chips, which I'm not sure I can recommend if you intend to eat an entire piece! Completely over the top.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Green Tomato Bundt Cake

Slice of Green Tomato Bundt Cake
Every once in a while I will make something that I'm not sure I'll like, and still can't decide after it is over if it was "good." This Green Tomato Bundct Cake, from Paula Deen on the Food Network, is one of those cakes. A friend of mine made this recipe a bunch last summer and swore by it (although she recommended skipping the glaze). I loved the concept; it seemed so southern to use green tomatoes in a cake! I kept thinking of it in the off-season but finally remembered to pull it out once I started seeing green tomatoes at the farmers markets again.

A lot of reviews claimed that nobody could tell these were green tomatoes! That it was so amazing and delicious and mysterious! My problem was that they were too obviously green tomatoes. They were so firm, even in a small dice, they hadn't developed enough sugar to absorb into the cake, and their tartness really stood out. The cake itself was delicious, the spices and nuts (and currants that I used) were heartwarming and would be perfect for fall.. without the green tomatoes.

It seems I have a verdict after all!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Breakfast in Sicily

Coffee Granita with Whipped Cream
Ever since I read Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons: Travels in Sicily on a Vespa by Matthew Fort, my imagination has been running wild. Breakfast of fresh, warm brioche buns, torn apart and dipped into chilly coffee granita, topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream?

In fact, this so captured me that for a while I was thinking about starting a new international breakfast blog, featuring the amazing meals you can only find other places. It turns out that several people are doing that already, so I will leave them to it, as long as they leave the Sicilian breakfast of champions to me.

Sicilian Breakfast
The coffee granita recipe I used came from the aforementioned travel book, but any recipe that makes granita the slow way would do. The slow way being pouring liquid into a shallow container and scraping it with a fork every fifteen minutes until you have ice crystals that are almost in a mush texture, finely separated and not liquid at all, but delicate. This is what separates Sicilian granita from other mass-produced flavored-shaved ice varieties. Also from what I've read, you can find many varieties of granita at breakfast in Sicily - fruit flavors for instance - but I can't imagine anything better on a sunny morning than coffee granita!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Daring Bakers July 2011 - Fresh Fraisiers (Mûrier?)

Daring Bakers July 2011 - Fraisier
Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

Fraisiers are named after strawberries, and if a blackberry is la mûre in French, it is possible that I've actually made a mûrier here, but I can't be certain.

One of my co-workers and fellow foodies brought me some lavender from some organic fields in Utah, the kind intended for baking and cooking with. I adapted the recipe to infuse lavender into the pastry cream, and it was quite fragrant. My final product is a bit messy, but only because a fraisier depends on gelatin for that firmness and I keep trying to use agar agar in place of it. The last time I used it I let it set up too much, resulting in a slightly clumpy end product, and this time I think I erred on the opposite side, and my cream didn't entirely ever set up.

I made the coconut version of the cake, a lavender cream, and fresh blackberries. That combination also makes up a perfume combination I wear a lot in the summer, so it was a bit surreal creating a dessert with the same flavor/scent combination.

At the end of the day, this was absolutely delicious. I am not a person who is bothered by the flavor/smell of flowers in my food - I have embraced rose in baked goods and candy for years. I'm not sure it would be for everyone!! But it seemed perfect for summer.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

Chocolate Cream Pie
Well, I can't really believe it, but this is the 5th anniversary of JennyBakes!

I'm on a brief break from work, with some vacation days to burn through before August 1 when it all rolls over, and today had a lazy day full of finishing season 4 of Brothers & Sister on Netflix and baking a pie. Now, most of the time, when celebrating such an event as a blogiversary, I of course would make something that I could serve to a lot of people. But I'm not going to be around a lot of people until next week, and ever since seeing this recipe for French silk chocolate pie on Serious Eats, I just haven't been able to get it out of my head. So today was the day, add sprinkles, and celebrate.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

French Broad Chocolates - Asheville, NC

Cold sipping chocolate
Imagine a serene chocolate lounge where you can sip chocolate drinks (or beer and wine, if you'd prefer), consume chocolate desserts, and munch on handcrafted chocolates. Imagine it has generous seating, vegan options, and is open as late (or later) than your favorite coffee shop.

It exists! I've been! The French Broad Chocolate Lounge in Asheville, NC, is it. Their extensive menu is amazing if not a bit overwhelming, since everything is chocolate. I was there on a very hot day and had the cold sipping chocolate, which blended dark chocolate, coconut milk, and an infusion of my choosing - I went with the chai one, and it was delicious.

In addition to their own chocolate creations, French Broad Chocolates sells artisan chocolates from a handful of small-batch producers. It is a place to go to more than once, in order to sample a wide variety of chocolatey treats.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cookbook Review - Sweet & Skinny

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Blackberries
When I first received a copy of Sweet & Skinny by Marisa Churchill, I will admit to being a bit skeptical. I have seen too many low-fat or low-calorie dessert cookbooks that take abundant advantage of tasteless items like Cool Whip Free and artificial sweeteners.

Instead, Marisa Churchill plays with texture and flavor and freshness and creates elegant, tasty desserts that you wouldn't even have to excuse to your guests.

I had my eye on several recipes in the cookbook that I plan to make at a later date, and was largely constrained by a feeling of seasonality, but damn if that pear and chocolate gingerbread upside down cake from the holiday section not call my name! The recipe I have dogeared to try in the not too distant future are the strawberry-black pepper meringues.

Deconstructed Key Lime Pie
I couldn't resist making two very summery, fresh tasting recipes from Sweet and Skinny. First I made the Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Berries. I used local blackberries I bought at a market in Brevard, NC, that were just dying to be treated with respect. I also finally accomplished my goal of substituting agar agar powder for gelatin with a good result. Gelatin is a pretty frequent ingredient recipe throughout the book to help with mouth feel without adding fat, but as a vegetarian I don't eat it. Luckily there are sea-vegetable substitutes.

The second recipe I made was the Deconstructed Key Lime Pie. I tweaked a few things there too, since I had a whole bottle of key lime juice, I went straight (and it was tart!). I don't miss the crust. Would anyone? I also just left the gelatin out of the egg whites for the topping, since I was going to be serving it right away.

I'm looking forward to making more out of this book, and adopting some of the tricks in some of my usual recipes.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Deepest Darkest Chocolate Cheesecake

Deepest Darkest Chocolate Cheesecake
After I saw Anne Thornton make this cheesecake on her new Food Network show Dessert First, I couldn't get it out of my head. As I was narrowing recipes down for my birthday, it kept rising to the top of my list, so I decided not to make "regular" cake this year, but to have cheesecake instead!

If you are looking to feature a particular chocolate, this is the dessert for you. I zipped up to Black Mountain Chocolate for another pound of dark chocolate to bake with, and used all of it in this recipe. It was completely worth it! After a few days in the fridge, we ended up leaving it out at room temperature to allow it to be as creamy and silky as it could be. The recipe doesn't instruct you to bake the cheesecake in a water bath, but the next time I make it, I definitely will. It would have been a little creamier and not suffered from cracks. I knew that, but decided to just do it as written first.

This was very chocolatey, very dark, and the glaze on top just makes it spectacular!

Another note about the recipe - I substituted graham crackers for the chocolate wafer cookies. I think chocolate wafer cookies must be a regional thing, because I see them in recipes all the time but have never actually encountered any myself. Once I tried substituting Oreos but they were far too greasy. Until I find these elusive cookies, I will just keep making graham crusts!

No need to wish me happy birthday; it was several weeks ago at this point, I'm just behind on blogging lately!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Red, White, and Blue Day

Red, White, and Blue!
Strawberry shortcake seems so patriotic. Only because strawberries are ripe around what we call independence day. For these cute shortcakes, I used Anne Thornton's recipe, with a few changes - I added chopped up mint and thyme from my garden into the dough itself, not just with the berries. I didn't have an orange, so I skipped it. And I didn't add nearly as much sugar as was called for to the fruit.

All the fruit and herbs in this recipe come from our garden! Earlier today, the blueberries looked like this:
From Gardening

How can you resist? As far as patriotism goes, one of my English friends pointed out that strawberries and cream is a rather English dish. Hehe.