June 29, 2010 § 2 Comments
It’s not even July yet and I already feel like I know what people are talking about when they complain about DC summers. Afternoons spent standing in buses, in business clothes, sweat dripping down you certainly aren’t my idea of fun. I have a distinct feeling that by the time August comes around, I’ll be changing my outfits at least three times a day in pursuit of the ever elusive fresh and clean feel. But afternoons in DC aren’t all bad. Come the weekend, our house is all about the afternoon BBQs — or as East Coasters call them, cookouts — on the backyard patio. And the grill is finally working again, so there’s no more smoky kitchens while the boys try to prepare meat.
A couple of days ago, one of my housemate’s families came to stay and they prepared dinner, which was really nice of them. We were put in charge of preparing dessert. This was a near disaster — when we came home from the grocery store with all the ingredients at 11 p.m., only to discover we were out of eggs, we tried a faulty egg substitution that turned our cakes into dense, flat, pancakes. Definitely not the pretty layer cake we were hoping for.
But nothing that couldn’t be saved with a little (or a lot of) whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
The original recipe, from Martha Stewart, was for 34 cupcakes. We made two 8-inch cakes. Martha also suggested a strawberry buttercream frosting, which we nixed in favor of sweetened whipped cream.
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups finely chopped strawberries, plus small strawberries for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350º. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla mix until smooth and creamy. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add the dry mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with adding the milk. Finally, stir in the chopped strawberries. Top the cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Bake until the top is golden brown and the knife comes out clean.
June 28, 2010 § 1 Comment
A couple of days ago it was one of my housemate’s birthdays. You should know by now that the second I say “birthday”, you’re in for a really long story about everything that went wrong while making the cake that ends with, it actually turned out to be a beautiful and delicious cake. So if you would like to skip over all my ranting about this cake to the pictures, please feel free.
I’m absolutely positive that this is the best birthday cake ever — standard, vanilla yellow cake with chocolate frosting and colored sprinkles. Why? Because Deb at Smitten Kitchen said so. I’m also absolutely positive that you can do anything to this recipe, even get almost every single step wrong, and it will still come out utterly delicious. Why? Because that is exactly what I did.
It basically all came down to having none of the ingredients that the recipe required. I creamed the butter and the sugar only to find that my vanilla extract had magically disappeared from the kitchen. So this vanilla birthday cake quickly became cinnamon flavored. Then, I couldn’t find any baking powder even though I know, know, know, I had it somewhere. So in went extra baking soda and a cup of plain, non-fat yogurt. Then, as I was stirring in the 4 cups of flour, I started having even more doubts. The cake batter was thick, almost unstirrable. Frustrated I looked back at the recipe and realized I had left out all the buttermilk. And I had no buttermilk. So in went some non-fat milk and even more yogurt. After all this, the mixing bowl was overflowing and I had zero idea whether I would actually end up with a cake in the end.
I cooked the cakes in two batches and was mildly comforted when the first layer started to rise like a normal cake. I went out on a run and left my housemates in charge of taking them out of the oven when it was done. Surprisingly, both cake layers turned out beautifully domed and golden brown.
The icing issue was a whole lot simpler. I was planning on using chocolate buttercream frosting I used for my mother’s birthday cake but before I could start making it I happened upon the ingredient “3 sticks of butter” and I just couldn’t do it when it was written out like that in black and white. So I started with a smaller batch, with just a stick of butter and eyeballed the cocoa powder and icing sugar. Of course that made a miniscule amount of frosting so I ended up having to use about 3 sticks of butter anyway in order to frost the entire cake.
And now for the very predictable end of the story: the cake was great. The cinnamon flavor played well off the rich chocolate frosting and the cake layers were still slightly warm when served, which made it wonderfully homey. There is something very comforting about a standard yellow cake with sprinkles; it’s like celebrating your 5th birthday all over again. Except it was his 21st.
Best Yellow Layer Cake
Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
June 23, 2010 § 1 Comment
I have a confession to make: I can be very, very superficial. If things don’t look good, well I don’t like them. And so this post has been a long time coming, not because they weren’t good and not because they weren’t super complicated to make — because they were — but because they simply don’t photograph well. And I like pretty pictures.
We made these bagels for the same picnic in Dolores Park for which we made the lemon-scented pull-apart coffeecake. Our original plan was bagels and croissants but that seemed a bit ambitious, once we figured out that making croissants would require a sleepless night the night before. These bagels came out soft and chewy but were a bit bland as we left out the raisins. Next time, I would say to go for a stronger flavor than just a bit of cinnamon. I won’t repost the recipe here and it is quite long and Deb does an amazing job explaining every step (though we somehow managed to miss the retardation step and woke up the next morning to flat dough balls, billowing out in every direction on the tray). I like recipes like these that push you out of your comfort zone and prove that yes you really can make everything at home.
June 17, 2010 § 1 Comment
You would think, just based on this blog, that I would have no troubles cooking meals on a daily basis. It is a rare occasion for me when something goes really, really wrong in the kitchen. Sure, I’ve seen not-so-knockout cupcakes and cookies that spread a bit too thin, but I really don’t share the aversion to cooking of many of my teenage friends. But the last week and half have proven that cooking is a lot harder than it looks.
I have no problem with baking. I can roll out of bed and start making cookies in a heartbeat — and have done so on many occasions — but when it comes to actually cooking dinner, I’m dragging my feet. I find myself making all the excuses I’ve heard so many times previously and laughed at: I don’t have any ingredients, cooking will take too long, there is this friend I really want to have dinner with, Lucky Bar is having 50cent taco Happy Hour, it’s Ladies Night at the Melting Pot fondue restaurant and, my favorite one after starting work, I’m just too tired. So we have been in Washington D.C. for about a week and a half (though it feels like so much longer) and we have only managed to cook dinner twice. To put that in perspective, I have also made a cake and two batches of cookies. This week, all we managed to cook up was prosciutto tortellini. Last week, it was this spinach quiche. And then there was that time the boys made fried chicken and the kitchen fogged up with smoke for the entire night. But we swear we are cooking tonight, so be on the lookout for a dinner update coming soon.
In the meantime, here is a little taste of home. My baking and my parents’ fully stocked kitchen, with all the ingredients already there and no need for a frantic, last minute grocery run. The recipe will follow soon, as it is currently in a brown box being shipped across the country.
June 15, 2010 § 1 Comment
There are few things that feel more comfortable than afternoon picnics in your hometown, especially when surrounded by old friends. In fact, picnics are possibility one of my favorite activities and I don’t know why we don’t have them more often. A couple weeks ago, a friend and I snatched up a reunion brunch and decided to skip out on the popular brunch restaurants in San Francisco and hold our own little picnic in Dolores Park. It has been quite awhile since then, as it was the day before I left for New York City, but it was the perfect ending to an extended stay at home. We ate our homemade bagels, muffins, salad and fruit, and this wonderful lemon-scented pull-apart coffee cake on the grass before going to Philz Coffee, which makes every cup of coffee individually, for a full cream, no sugar Mocha Tesora.
You did read correctly that we made our own bagels for the picnic. But more on that later. The black horse of the spread was the lemon bread, which really stole the limelight. It is a yeasted loaf, made by stacking layers of sweet dough with lemon zest, butter and sugar. It billowed up in the oven, creating really pretty layers of sweet bread with a bright, sunny yellow punch. One bite of this and you will never look at ordinary cinnamon coffeecake again.
Lemon-Scented Pull-Apart Coffee Cake
Flo Braker, Baking for All Occasions, Chronicle Books, 2008
For the sweet yeast dough
About 2 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (2 1/2 fluid ounces) whole milk
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
For the lemon paste filling
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (3 lemons)
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
For the tangy cream cheese icing
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup (1 1/4 ounces) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Make the sweet yeast dough
Stir together 2 cups (9 ounces) of the flour, the sugar, the yeast, and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer; set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, add the water, and set aside until warm (120 to 130°F [49 to 54°C]), about 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract.
Pour the milk mixture over the flour-yeast mixture and, using a rubber spatula, mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Attach the bowl to the mixer, and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition just until incorporated. Stop the mixer, add 1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) of the remaining flour, and resume mixing on low speed until the dough is smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth, soft, and slightly sticky, about 45 seconds.
Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tablespoon flour and center the dough on the flour. Knead gently until smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons flour only if necessary to lessen the stickiness. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place (about 70°F [21°C]) until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step. While the dough is rising, make the filling.
Make the lemon paste filling
In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and the lemon and orange zests. Set the sandy-wet mixture nearby (the sugar draws out moisture from the zests to create the consistency).
Make the coffee cake
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Lightly butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. Or, lightly coat the pan with nonstick spray.
Gently deflate the dough. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle. Using a pastry brush spread the melted butter generously over the dough. Cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips, each about 12 by 4 inches. (A pizza cutter is helpful here.) Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture over one of the buttered rectangles. Top with a second rectangle and sprinkle it with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the zest-sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining dough rectangles and zest-sugar mixture, ending with a stack of 5 rectangles. Work carefully when adding the crumbly zest filling, or it will fall off when you have to lift the stacked pastry later.
Slice the stack crosswise through the 5 layers to create 6 equal strips, each about 4 by 2 inches. Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, cut edges up and side by side. (While there is plenty of space on either side of the 6 strips widthwise in the pan, fitting the strips lengthwise is tight. But that’s fine because the spaces between the dough and the sides of the pan fill in during baking.) Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place (70 °F [21°C]) until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 50 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for baking.
Bake the coffee cake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.
Make the tangy cream cheese icing
In a medium bowl, using a rubber spatula, vigorously mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk and lemon juice until the mixture is creamy and smooth.
To remove the coffee cake from the pan, tilt and rotate the pan while gently tapping it on a counter to release the cake sides. Invert a wire rack on top of the coffee cake, invert the cake onto the rack, and carefully lift off the pan. Invert another rack on top, invert the cake so it is right side up, and remove the original rack.
Slip a sheet of waxed paper under the rack to catch any drips from the icing. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the warm cake with the icing to glaze it. (Cover and refrigerate the leftover icing for another use. It will keep for up to 2 days.)
Serve the coffee cake warm or at room temperature. To serve, you can pull apart the layers, or you can cut the cake into 1-inch-thick slices on a slight diagonal with a long, serrated knife. If you decide to cut the cake, don’t attempt to cut it until it is almost completely cool.
June 10, 2010 § 1 Comment
Well, we are good and settled into Washington D.C. We are subletting a cute townhouse with a red front and green trim, right next door to Saxby’s coffeeshop. A couple oddities about the house first: front door keys seem to be nonexistent, as does hand soap in the bathrooms, the backyard is more of a concrete pit and there are strange paper flowers as décor in the front room. But we’ve been slowly switching things up a bit. Hand soap came a few days ago courtesy of a CVS trip and the Phillies flag hanging over my bed was quickly replaced with a California state flag. Other than a few minor roadbumps, the house is great and the boys are sweethearts* (though one of them, deemed the Georgetown cuddler by the others, has yet to arrive).
While everyone else has started work this week, Caroline and I have been bumming around the house and exploring the neighborhood. We’ve discovered great vintage clothing stores, Georgetown Cupcake and plenty of frozen yogurt and gelato shops. We’ve gone on an ill-fated trip to the grocery store and still have yet to cook dinner, despite the fact that neither of us are absolute disasters in the kitchen. We went on a run and somehow found ourselves jogging through the Arlington Cemetery. Oh, and then we met Ralph Nader at a book signing in Dupont Circle.
I’ve also spent a bit of time in the kitchen, exploring the baking options. It’s a good thing I brought most of my baking pans from college as well as most of the ingredients that were left over at the end of the term. Unfortunately, in a last minute panic over how many bags I had to squeeze into the car, I decided to leave the flour and sugar behind. This posed quite a few problems when I decided to make a cake yesterday morning. I picked this recipe for a nectarine golden cake from Sassy Radish. Except instead of nectarines, I decided to use blueberries, which I picked up Buy one get one free at the supermarket. Then realizing I had no white flour, I used ¾ cup of whole wheat flour and ¼ of almond flour. And with no white sugar in the house, it was all brown sugar. Sure the cake didn’t come out anything like the original, but it was delicious all the same.
Blueberry Golden Cake
Adapted from Sassy Radish, which in turn was adapted from Gourmet, September 2009
3/4 whole wheat flour
1/4 almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar, divided
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blueberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9-inch pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined. Spread batter evenly in pan, then scatter blueberries over top. Stir together cinnamon and remaining 1/2 Tbsp sugar and sprinkle over top. Bake until cake is golden-brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove side of pan and cool to warm.
Photo by Caroline Clark.
*Bill would like to make a correction that he is a thug and not a sweetheart.
June 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I have never been able to make up my mind about New York City. I alternate between loving it and absolutely hating the city. Going to school just over an hour from the city, it has always been my escape when life hits rock bottom. Maybe that’s why I associate the city with my life being disastrous. Throughout the last two years, the city’s high rises, peaceful museums (on the off days), and many shopping areas have provided the comforting assurance that there are indeed people in the world. This is a type of comfort the small town of Princeton never provides. Additionally, it has been the city of many adventures. I turned 18 in the city, attended my first musical and stayed a few nights with my best friend in the sketchy Chelsea Star Hotel, complete with neon yellow walls and metal doors. I’ve learned that I feel safer in parks packed with runners, wanderers and homeless people and streets where people put their garbage out at night and drunks (old and young, rich and poor) stagger around riding the roller coaster of life, than I do in pretty, pristine suburbs. New York City has made me realize there truly is a difference between urban and suburban and I could now never dream of living anywhere but a city. I need people, I need crowds and I need things to move, and fast.
The past few days were spent touring the city with my family. Despite all the times I have been here, I have never actually done any of the tourist activities in New York. We rode the Cyclone on Staten Island and topped the afternoon with ultra-fake vanilla soft serve. We climbed to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building after a dinner at Aldea. We went for a stroll in Central Park after a long dinner at Marea, the fancy coastal Italian seafood restaurant all the visiting San Franciscan cooks are writing home about. The first day, we walked twenty blocks for a taste of Momofuku crack pie and cereal milk soft serve (but ultimately chose the raspberry lemonade flavor) and the next day, another twenty for a Magnolia cupcake.
I now have a much brighter outlook on New York City, after discovering that it is not just a place to go to when you are unhappy. And with this many beautiful desserts around, it is hard not be happy when you’re there too.
Sicilian pistachio cake with candied kumquats and pistachio gelato at Marea.
Trio of chocolate cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip and vanilla gelato at Marea.
Cupcakes, one vanilla and one chocolate, from Magnolia Bakery.
June 9, 2010 § 1 Comment
Awhile ago I mentioned that my family had started baking our own bread. While I was home we made a couple loaves a week, the first being a molasses rye bread and the second a honey whole-wheat walnut bread. I can now honestly say that I do not think I will ever be scared of yeast again. It’s like a baby. Set it in a bowl with a little warm water and a sugar to consume and it will grow, flourish, and make beautiful, tall loaves of bread. To be eaten right out of the oven, still warm and slathered in butter. Bread is one of those wonderful foods whose smell just radiates the feeling of being home. I think it will be the first thing I make in my new house in Washington D.C. (I just moved in two days ago!).
June 4, 2010 § 3 Comments
Hello from New York City. I am surrounded by highrises and about to give you a little piece of sunshine. Just look at this picture and try to pretend it doesn’t make you happy. I accidentally got one of my feet in the first picture I took of this series and decided to take the rest with both feet in.
It helps that this is positively my favorite thing to eat. I have made this recipe quite a few times, each time with the intention of making a lemon tart. Somehow, the process never really gets that far along and I end up eating this lemon curd by the spoonful. Sometimes, I manage to save some to have on top of my toast for breakfast. But that’s as far as it ever gets. Maybe next time, I should think about making the tart shell first. But you and I both know that is never going to happen.
Recipe from David Lebovitz
Makes 1 cup (240 g)
1/2 cup (125 ml) freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, cubed
Place a mesh strainer over a bowl, and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt.
Add the butter cubes and set the pan over low heat, whisking constantly until the butter is melted.
Increase the heat and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to become jelly-like. It’s done when you lift the whisk and the mixture holds its shape when it falls back into the saucepan from the whisk.
Immediately press the curd through the strainer. Once strained, store the lemon curd in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to one week.