Monday, November 30, 2009

Peanut Butter Pie

Is there a limit to the number of peanut butter and chocolate recipes I can post?  I just can't get enough of that flavor combination.  If you feel the same way, you'll like this pie. The mousse is fluffy and creamy, and the crust adds some crunch; in between, just a little bit of chocolate...  you might even want more.

The crust is from the ICE class I took in August.  It has baking powder in it. I'm not sure I've ever put baking powder in pie crust before.  I've been reading the book Bakewise the past few days, and learning lots about leavening and flours, but so far only on their role in cakes, not pie crust.  But Nick Malgieri claims that the "baking powder encourages the dough to puff slightly while baking so that it presses into the hot pan bottom and bakes through evenly, preventing an underdone bottom crust." I like the result.

Oh, and this is my favorite pie/pi plate!  See the 3.14159 on top?  The numbers around the edge are the digits of the number π, well, all the digits that fit anyway.  π is irrational, so the digits go on forever, with no repetition.  On the base of the plate is a huge blue π symbol.  Isn't it adorably geeky?  Love it!
And thank you Ana and Makisha for all your help!

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Foodie

Are you trying to decide what to buy for your favorite foodie for the holidays?  Here are some of my favorite books and kitchen items.  What's on your holiday wish list this year?

Beater Blade:
I love my beater blade!  Not only does it scrape the sides and the bottom of the mixer bowl for you, it really mixes the batter better (and faster).  Be sure to get the appropriate beater blade for your particular mixer model.

My Favorite Cake Pans (and baking pans in general):  Chicago Metallic
I love them, so does Cooks' Illustrated.

Lemon juicer:
Gets a ton more juice out than does squeezing alone, I love it.

Cake Leveler:
You can use toothpicks and a regular serrated knife to split or level cake layers, but this is often even easier.  And only $2.95.


Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker 

Emile Henry Mixing Bowls
Good sizes, heavy and durable, beautiful, and super easy to wash.

Cake Stands:
I have all three sizes, they're gorgeous.

Emile Henry Pie Plates:
I especially love everything in figue.

Food Processor:
I use this constantly to grind nuts.

Parchment Paper Rounds
Sure, I could cut out circles from my rolls of parchment paper, but when I'm baking 5 things at once with flour flying, these are a whole lot quicker!

Jesse Steele Aprons:

The cutest aprons I've ever found (though, to be honest, I usually go with the old jeans and sweatshirt covered in flour look. 


Julia Child book, My Life in France (or DVD)
I just finished reading this book a few weeks ago. Inspirational.

Dorie Greenspan's Baking:
Great all-around baking book, good for all levels.

Pierre Herme Chocolate Desserts
My hero, Pierre Herme.  Great inspirational cookbook, perfect for those who want
more of a challenge while baking.

Still haven't found what you're looking for?  How about a gift certificate for a cooking class at King Arthur Flour (VT), Institute for Culinary Education (NYC), or Culinary Institute of America (NY, CA)?  (Find more info about the ICE pastry class I took here, here, and here.)  Michael's also offers cake decorating classes at most locations.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ok, this post is short and very sweet:  I know I just did a pumpkin bread post not so long ago, but it was so yummy I had to try it in cupcake form.   Terrific!  Perfect complement to the fluffy cream cheese frosting.  And so quick and easy!

Here's the recipe again.  It makes 2 loaves, or about 36 cupcakes, or about 120 mini-cupcakes  (I made 1 regular loaf, 1 mini-loaf, 24 mini-cupcakes, and 6 regular-size cupcakes; update:  another time I made 72 mini-cupcakes and 12 regular-size cupcakes).

Pumpkin Cupcakes (adapted from here)

1 can (about 2 cups) canned pumpkin (or homemade pumpkin puree)
3 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup Canola oil
4 eggs
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray muffin pans with baking spray.

Combine pumpkin, sugar, water, oil, and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you'll be using a hand mixer).

Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and cloves.

Slowly mix in the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin tins - each one should be about 2/3 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean (minis should take about 10 minutes, but keep an eye on them). Cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then tip each cupcake over, so it's on its side to cool completely.  Frost cupcakes when they are completely cool.

This cream cheese frosting is a little thicker and a little sweeter than this.  The more powdered sugar you add, the easier it will be to frost - but too much powdered sugar, and it's too sweet.  It also seems that the environment plays a role too - if your kitchen is warm, you should probably refrigerate the frosting for an hour or two before piping.

Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Martha Stewart)

16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 sticks butter, room temperature, in small pieces
3-4 cups powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese on medium speed for several minutes, until creamy.  It's hard to get out all the lumps, but keep beating!  

Add vanilla.

Gradually add butter while beating on medium speed.  This will take several minutes.  Turn up to high speed for 30-60 seconds; frosting should be smooth.

On low speed, add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time.  If the frosting is stiff enough to pipe, you can use it now, but depending on the temperature in your kitchen, you may want to refrigerate it before using.  

If it's too stiff after refrigeration, just mix again for 30 seconds or so.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gluten-Free Almond Tart

Last week I finished reading My Life in France Julia Child.  Although I had to shield my eyes during certain parts (every mention of bones crushing or blood gushing or really any too-in-depth meat discussion), it really was an inspirational book.  All I could think of was how much fun it would be to write a cookbook someday.  Now I've written a book before, a math book, and I never thought I'd be doing it again anytime too soon, but a cookbook seems much more exciting.  Julia was so scientific about all her recipe-tasting, much more so like a baker than a cook.  I'm constantly wishing I had the time and money to make certain recipes over and over again with slight tweaks and alterations here and there.  Just last night I made cupcakes out of my pumpkin bread recipe and spent a long time comparing that recipe with another recipe I have for pumpkin cupcakes.  It's still not fully clear to me how a quick bread recipe fundamentally differs from a cake recipe (in terms of ratios of flour to sugar and the amount of fat, etc); quick breads are typically both denser and drier than your average layer cake or cupcake, but there are very moist loaf cakes out there...  It's probably the mathematician in me, but I can't imagine a better way to spend an afternoon (or a whole week!) than finding a definitive answer to this question.  Plus, I really should have answers to questions like these when I teach my baking course in January.  So you should expect lots of fascinating investigative baking projects in the hopefully near future.  And maybe a book, but that's a long way off yet!

Currently I'm reading another book written by a professional chef, a pastry chef this time.  Now maybe I'm being overly harsh, having just finished Julia's book, but this current book irks me.  I don't expect a pastry chef to apologize for her abundant use of butter and eggs and cream, but there are a lot of great reasons to be a vegan, and doesn't a vegan deserve a tasty baked treat too?  I can understand that a pastry chef may decide not to offer any vegan goodies, but to be annoyed that someone would even dare ask about vegan options seems kind of ridiculous to me.  I'll post some of my vegan recipes soon, but in the meantime, here's a treat for the gluten-free folks out there who also deserve some tasty treats.

It's kind of a combination tart/frittata.  Except that I don't like frittatas (even though it's fun to say), and I like this.  It's not too heavy, and it has a great lemon flavor to it.  It's also great with homemade vanilla ice cream, though what isn't?

Recipe (from New York Times):

4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup sliced almonds, more for garnish
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 tablespoons butter
Powdered sugar, for garnish

Heat oven to 400F. In a bowl, combine eggs, sugar, salt, ground almonds, cream, sliced almonds, lemon zest, and juice. 

Melt butter in an 8-inch ovenproof skillet over low heat; when foam has subsided, add almond mixture to pan, tilting pan to distribute batter evenly. Continue to cook tart on stovetop until edges just begin to set, then put pan in oven and finish cooking, about 10 to 15 more minutes.

When tart is done, put it in broiler for about a minute or until just golden on top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and sliced almonds. Serve.  It's great with vanilla ice cream!

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cupcake Party!

Here's a great idea: have a cupcake party!  Sound silly?  Really, it'll be fun.  It's a lot cheaper than a night on the town, you can nurture your creative side and catch up with friends, and it's hard not to have fun while baking and decorating cupcakes.  I recently did a cupcake workshop with a dozen students at my school, and though they had homework to do and papers to write, everyone just relaxed and had fun for a few hours.  Huge dose of stress relief!

So invite some friends over, and tell them to bring along a hand mixer or two, some muffin tins, some sprinkles, maybe some M&M's, a jar of Nutella perhaps...  Pair up, and make your cupcake batters.  Then just keep filling and baking those cupcakes.  Stick the muffin tins in the freezer or outside in the cold to cool off between rounds.  A dozen of us made well over 200 hundred cupcakes in just a few hours.  Once the batter is done, start making frosting while keeping a watchful eye on the cupcakes. When the frosting is done and the cupcakes are cool, put out all the frostings, sprinkles, and other decorations, and get creative!

At our cupcake event, we made 4 kinds of cake:  peanut butter, chocolate, graham cracker, and brown sugar; 3 frostings:  brown sugar cream cheese, vanilla frosting (in 4 colors), marshmallow.  We also made chocolate ganache for filling the cupcakes and caramel to fill or drizzle over the cupcakes.  But 2-3 varieties of cake and frosting is plenty, especially for a smaller group.  Here are a couple recipes to get you started.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

S'mores Bars and Other Things That Make Me Smile

I love to make complicated multifaceted desserts, the kind that require careful planning and preparation, the kind that will definitely impress the crowd.  But it's also great to just be able to quickly toss a few ingredients together and still get the delicious aroma of fresh baked goods wafting out of the oven and through the house.  Plus, the child-like simplicity of a brownie or S'mores bar can't help but make me smile.  Here are some other things that always make me smile:

Puppies, especially my dog Tsuki

Little girls on Halloween

A beautiful sunrise over the ocean

A happy baby

And, p.s., here's something that definitely makes me smile:  did you know that marshmallow fluff is vegetarian? Hooray! Jello was the first meat product I gave up when I was little. I couldn't believe gelatin was an animal product. In my 17+ years of vegetarianism, though, gelatin is the only meat product I have ever ingested (knowingly anyway). It's everywhere! Infuriating...

S’More Cookie Bars (adapted from Baking Bites)

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
12 ounces chocolate chips (or 2 giant-sized Hershey's chocolate bars)
1 1/2 cups marshmallow fluff (not melted marshmallows)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with baking spray. I usually use a glass pan.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined. Press about 2/3 - 3/4 of the dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan.

Scatter the chocolate chips evenly over the dough.

Spread the marshmallow fluff over the chocolate chips - this is harder than it sounds as the fluff wants to pull up the chocolate chips. Luckily this is the hardest step of the whole recipe. You can replace the chocolate chips with 2 giant sized (bigger than king-size) Hershey's chocolate bars which are heavier and therefore more stable under the fluff.

Scatter the remaining dough in clumps across the top of the chocolate chips. Don't leave any big gaps.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned.

Cool completely before cutting into bars (though I think they are best still warm and gooey).

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pumpkin Bread and Vanilla Ice Cream: Simply Delicious!

A student of mine last year sent me pumpkin bread all the way from DC as a thank you for writing letters of recommendation for grad school. I'm not sure I had ever had pumpkin bread before, but I loved it! This pumpkin bread is also wonderful - deliciously moist, even days after it's made and even after it's been frozen (although most cakes are great after being frozen). It's also super easy and quick, and it makes 2 loaves. What more could you want?

In keeping with the deliciously easy theme, this vanilla ice cream is the first ice cream I ever made in my ice cream maker. I went with the easiest recipe in David Lebovitz's book since it was our first adventure (the ice cream machine and me, that is). It was, without a doubt, the best vanilla ice cream I've ever had. By far. I immediately began dreaming up all sorts of interesting variations I could make: fudge and peanut butter swirls, chunks of chocolate cake, raspberry ripples, .... but that's for another post.

It's seriously very hard to express just how easy and incredibly delicious both the bread and the ice cream are. Make them immediately!

Pumpkin Bread Recipe (adapted from here)

1 can (about 2 cups) canned pumpkin (or homemade pumpkin puree)
3 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup Canola oil
4 eggs
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray two 9" x 5" loaf pans with baking spray.

Combine pumpkin, sugar, water, oil, and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you'll be using a hand mixer).

Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and cloves.

Slowly mix in the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans. Bake for 60-65 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then cool on rack.

Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe (from David Lebovitz)

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste*

Pour 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan, and add the sugar and salt. Warm over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from heat, and add the remaining milk, cream, and vanilla bean paste.

Chill thoroughly in the fridge. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. In my Cuisinart, it's ready in about 25 minutes with a perfect soft gelato-like texture. It gets much harder in the freezer.

*You can use a vanilla bean instead of the paste, but I find the paste easier. If you use the vanilla bean, split it lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds into the saucepan; drop the vanilla bean pod in as well. Remove the vanilla bean (before freezing) when you take the mixture out of the fridge; reserve for another use.

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