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Posts Tagged ‘Baking’

Crowd Pleasing

Well now this is just embarrassing.  Another chocolate post?  Have I no shame?  I looked at my Recipes page and about one third of the dessert recipes up there involve chocolate.  This from a woman who doesn’t crave chocolate.

My excuse?  Chocolate is a crowd pleaser.  If you show up at a dinner party with a cheesecake or a blueberry pie, there’s a chance someone in the crowd doesn’t like cheesecake or has a “thing” about blueberries (for the record, these people mystify me).

But bring something chocolate, and people will swoon.  And, in my book, if you go through the effort of making dessert, you want people to swoon.  So, like a guy to his favorite t-shirt, I come back to chocolate again and again.

I baked these cookies over Memorial Day to accompany an ice cream sundae bar my mom put together.  They are the perfect sidekick: small enough that no one will feel guilty grabbing one to go with a sundae, yet so addictive that people will ending going back for more.

Technically, these are cookies, but they almost have the consistency of a brownie: slightly cakey, rich and bursting with chocolate flavor.  In other words, crowd pleasers par excellence.

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After a prolonged absence from Proof of the Pudding, I am back (one year from the day I started this thing!) and ready to blog. Why the prolonged absence?

Well, first there was the wedding. Now, I’m not one of those ladies who has been planning her wedding since she was 7. In fact, I kind of thought I might never have one. But even the most low key of brides finds herself inundated with “To Dos” in the month leading up to the big day. And thus…any time to blog essentially evaporated. (For the record: Happiest night of my life so far. So, so wonderful.)

Then, the Friday after the wedding, my grandfather passed away. He was an honorable, passionate and loving man with an insatiable appetite for knowledge and an endless supply of compassion and love. His death didn’t come as a surprise; he was 95 and suffered from Alzheimer’s, and he had been ill for quite some time. But loss is never easy, regardless of whether or not you have time to prepare for it. We all miss him tremendously.

And then there’s the fact that I work in business and financial news. In Washington. Which means my work life has been capital “C” crazy lately. Nothing like an economic meltdown to add some spice to the workplace.

But I couldn’t let the one year anniversary of my blog go unnoticed. This blog has been such a wonderful outlet for me, and through it I’ve “met” so many interesting fellow foodies and learned from their food adventures. Over the next few months, this blog will be taking a bit of a different turn. I’ll still post recipes and stories of my kitchen trials and tribulations, but I want to broaden it out to cover broader food issues as well. I promise not to bore you — that is if I haven’t lost you already!

But before said shift takes place, here’s another recipe to add to your collection. It’s yet another recipe adapted from Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life, one of my favorite dessert cookbooks, and boy is it a winner. Brown butter, vanilla bean and almond? Swooooon!

Thank you all for your comments, links and feedback over the past year. You’ve made writing this blog so much fun, and I can’t wait to see how the site develops over the next few months!

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Pile of Muffins

*chirp, chirp*

*chirp, chirp*

Are those crickets I hear? Yes, the blog has been a little…how shall we say…”quiet” lately. Believe it or not, I have been cooking. But I’ve also been working and planning and traveling and…well, lots of other “-ings.” And all of those other th”ings” have thrown the proverbial wrench in my plans to blog. Drat.

I realize I may have entirely lost anyone who, at one point or another, read my blog. Alas, that would be very sad indeed. So in the hopes of recruiting people back to POTP, I give you…Homemade English Muffins.

English Muffin

Remember when I made that sourdough starter all those weeks ago? Well, I found an excellent use for the leftover starter, replete with Nooks and Crannies. Oh. Yes.

The recipe is super easy, as long as you have a starter going (and if you don’t, starting one is super easy too). I made my muffins with 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 regular flour because, well, you know me. I likes me some whole grains.

So my apologies for my absence — both on this blog and all of yours. I assure you that once I’m a Mrs. in less than two months (!!), the nooks and crannies between my blog posts won’t be so large…

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I have five words for you: strawberry white chocolate buttermilk cake.

Is there really anything more to say? Well, maybe two more words: whipped cream.

I was tempted to call this “strawberry shortcake” — it looks like one, right? — but I would be lying. Technically, a shortcake is more like a biscuit or scone, which is made by cutting butter into some dry ingredients and then stirring in a liquid like buttermilk or cream. The resulting shortcake is flaky, buttery and dense.

But this cake is none of those things. It is fluffy and light, redolent of vanilla and cocoa butter. It is, perhaps, the best white cake recipe I’ve found.

As chocolate lovers and baking know-it-alls will be quick to tell you, technically white chocolate isn’t chocolate at all (maybe that’s why I like it so much). White chocolate is basically just cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids, so when melted and added to a cake, the cocoa butter helps to keep the cake tender and only subtly flavors the cake. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you probably wouldn’t be able to detect the white chocolate flavor at all.

So consider this cake the “little black dress” in your baking arsenal. You can dress it up or dress it down; you can dress it any way you want, really. Given that it’s May (almost June — how did that happen?), I think right now it goes perfectly with sweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche and fresh strawberries. But like a classic black dress, it’s a cake that never goes out of style.

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I often think about what it must have been like to grow up in my dad’s house when he was a kid. By all accounts, there were always homemade baked goods on the counter. Always. His grandmother, a Hungarian immigrant and known to everyone as Gram, lived with him growing up and, well, although I know she had a bedroom and frequented other rooms in the house, I think she pretty much spent most of her time in the kitchen, baking and cooking and baking some more

From what I hear, there were cheese pockets and coffeecakes (“Oh, we were never without coffeecake,” my grandmother has told me) and muhn cookies and pies. Seeing as Gram grew up sleeping on a dirt floor in Hungary and made her way here at 13, formal “recipes” weren’t really part of her vocabulary. Over time, she worked out her own recipes, but more than anything she developed a feel for how recipes worked. She could throw together a pie or dessert without really thinking about it.

I recently came across a stack of Gram’s old recipes, written in barely legible chicken scratch, a Yiddish/Hungarian/English hybrid, most of it phonetic. Some day I will make and post those recipes — promise — but I need to work out the ingredients and measurements and, well, I’ve been a little busy. You know, planning a wedding and stuff.

Though my Hungarian great grandmother surely never used rhubarb in her cooking — and I know the words “sponge pudding” never grazed her lips — this rhubarb sponge pudding is the sort of “thrown together” dessert I picture someone like her baking. It’s almost effortless, and you can have it together and in the oven while you make dinner on a lazy Sunday. With recipes like this in my arsenal, I just may have baked goods lining my counter constantly too.

Edited to add: I stand corrected!  My aunt has informed me that Gram did, in fact, cook with rhubarb and made a wonderful strawberry rhubarb pie.  Who knew!

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A Small Smackerel

Many years ago, when I first started collecting recipes, I allowed my obsessive compulsive tendencies to run wild and began to organize the recipes by type: entrees in one folder, desserts, vegetables,  and appetizers their own folders.  As the collection grew, I began to divide the recipes into subsets of those categories, separating the chicken recipes from the fish recipes in the entree folder, and clumping together the cakes, pies, cookies and so on in the dessert folder.  What can I say — I like to create order in a world driven by chaos.

But then my collection grew.  And grew.  And grew.  And before I knew it, dividing desserts among cakes, pies, cookies and custards didn’t really do the job.  “Cake,” for example, could describe any number of recipes — layer cake, cheesecake, coffee cake, fruit cake.  Imagine having to sift through a disorganized pile of all of the above.  Perish the thought!  So I started grouping those recipes together as well.

(If you’re wondering, no I don’t group my underwear by color.  I’m not *that* crazy…or at least I’d like to think I’m not…)

Needless to say, I have amassed a rather large and unwieldy recipe collection.  I think it’s safe to say I will probably never get to half the recipes in those folders, as organized as they may be.  But one sub-subset that I love and have yet to bulk up with recipes is the “snack cake” section.

Ah yes, the snack cake: perfect for when you want a nosh of something at, say, 3:30pm, when dinner is hours away but your stomach gets the rumbles.  In my opinion, a good snack cake should be more substantial than a coffee cake, less sweet than a cupcake but less wholesome than a granola bar.  I like snack cakes with some texture: maybe some nuts or bits of chocolate, or some oats or dried fruit.

I have a handful of these recipes, but recently I decided I wanted something new and merged a few recipes to come up with my own: chewy banana-oat snack cake with coconut.  I basically threw together three of my favorite ingredients — bananas, oats and coconut — and hoped the result would be equal to or greater than the sum of their parts.  It was.

Chewy, sweet and filling, this cake is just the thing when all you need is a little nibble — a smackerel, as Winnie the Pooh might say — to make the afternoon hunger pains go away.  But you don’t have to stop at a smackerel.  Sometimes my appetite is as big as my recipe collection, and the only way to bring that into order is to turn a small smackerel into a cake-filled afternoon feast.

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Ah, patience. Laboratory chemists, kindergarten teachers, intergovernmental negotiators, driving instructors: these are people with freakish levels of patience. But for some of us, patience can be an elusive trait. The idea of waiting and working — politely and diligently — with few immediate results seems far too tortuous.

But if you want to bake, you need patience. You need to carefully measure ingredients, wait for ingredients to bake and often — much to my dismay — wait for the cake or bread or baked good du jour to cool. Oh, the cooling…requiring so much patience and self-restraint, and sometimes, I just don’t have it in me.

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This Ukranian honey cake, for example, is so subtly spiced that you really need to let it cool for all the flavors to come together: the floral honey, the toasty coffee, the spicy cinnamon. But when the cake emerges from the oven, its surface craggy and golden and slightly sticky, you’ll want to cut off a slice right then and there — just a little one, to see if it came out okay…

Wait it out, though, just a little. Patience can be challenging, but in this case, you’ll be rewarded.

One quick housekeeping note: To those who read this blog, you also have amazing patience. Between planning a wedding and working like crazy, I’ve been a little…how shall we say…inattentive lately. My apologies, truly. And now I will ask you to have even more patience, as I’m headed to Asia for two weeks! I’m literally writing this as I pack…. I promise a full report of my culinary adventures in Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong when I return. So thank you for your patience :).

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