April 7, 2011 § 3 Comments
After a couple of months of floating around, sort of doing one thing, starting another, the rest of my life until the start of school in September is all but laid in stone. Plane tickets are bought, apartment secured, various bureaucratic forms being sent in. It’s a little surreal — at the start, the idea of having a whole year seems so long and then I got swept up and suddenly I have it all planned out down to the last day. It seems I have a thousand documents open at once: draft articles for my new column, writing samples for journalism seminars, and finally, I’m pouring through past journals, filled with fiction stories and trying to edit, but failing that because well, they’re not really fiction and I’m not really ready to see an editor.
My spring is filled with half-thoughts, ideas that will be realized simply because I have deadlines that need to be met. Meanwhile San Francisco seems to be similarly indecisive about what time it is. The blazing hot afternoon softly melts into evening at the top of my hill. Dogs that I often trip over dart around the dusty paths and I pass the same people over and over again as I complete the sixth mile repeat. There’s something eerie at the shorelines blurring by as I run, at any second in time a different shore of the bay appears across the crosshatch of streets. As the sky darkens, a couple of lights begin to appear among the houses, outlining the city in gold. And then the wind comes out in full force, bringing runners to a standstill, burning the skin with frosty gusts.
The end-all-be-all in non-poetic language is that I am leaving for Prague in about two months, right after the Taste of Mendocino Public Tasting (follow @tasteofmendo), which I strongly urge you all to attend here in San Francisco. It’ll be packed full of wine tastings, food vendors and haystacks and promises to be a good time. Kind of like a weekend away in the country, just a bit more condensed and uhhh…it doesn’t require you to actually leave for the country.
These cornmeal shortbread are a bit of a rustic take on shortbread. I would recommend using superfine cornmeal, though the recipe doesn’t specify. We loved the grainy texture of the cornmeal but could have done without the couple hard crunches. Finally, the recipe says to pipe the dough into spirals using a pastry tip. My dough came to a thick, normal shortbread consistency, that absolutely would not have supported being piped through anything. So, I used the roll and cut method, which worked just fine.
Adapted from Saveur
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
21 tbsp. (1/2 lb. plus 5 tbsp.) butter, softened
2 egg yolks
Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add butter and egg yolks. Use your fingers to work the butter and egg yolks into the dry mixture until you get an even crumb. Turn the crumbly dough out onto a clean counter and knead into a soft, smooth ball. Place the ball of dough back into the bowl and cover with a clean damp cloth for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 300°. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Lightly dust a clean work surface. Roll out to dough to a 1/4-inch thick. Cut out cookies using shapes of your choice and place on parchment paper. Bake cookies for 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden browned. Transfer cookies to racks to cool.
March 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
Commitment is a funny thing, and one most of my friends know I’m notoriously bad at. Something about not having options at all times scares me, and then finally I get my heart set on something and decide I need a concrete, definite plan of execution. For instance, I’ve dabbled in planning for the Vancouver, Oakland and Whidbey Island marathons over the past two months. I’ve accelerated and decreased training accordingly (albeit, probably more like arbitrarily). And then this weekend I decided it was time to buckle down and actually commit, I looked up the Western Pacific Marathon — the plus being that I wouldn’t have to fly to it — and signed myself up. And then, just to blow your socks off on my commitment levels today, I also signed myself up for a new CSA box, which shall remain unnamed for now, and committed myself to at least 4-weeks of farm fresh produce delivery. I know 4-weeks may not seem like a very large commitment to some, but hey, it’s huge for me. Since I can hardly seem to stay in one city for more than a couple of months, it seems silly to commit to a year’s worth of fresh produce anyway.
Sometimes my indecisiveness pays off in the form of several baked goods in the place of one. We went up to Lake Tahoe this weekend for skiing. I spent most of my childhood on the hill racing through off-course gullies, dodging trees and occasionally getting stuck in the fresh powder. I remember protesting the suggestion of joining the ski team because why in the world would I want to spend all my time on the slalom. I spent the rest of my time eating candy bars and Oreo brownies and drinking hot chocolate in the lodge with my instructors or my parents. Real food was a big time no-no during my time on the slopes. Actually, I think it was a big no-no for most of my childhood come to think of it, as my pre swim practice snack was often two Snickers bars in the locker room. Get that image of a chubby pre-teen out of your head right now, my metabolism was like a race horse back then. But despite the fact that most of my life skiing has revolved around junk food, when I think ski hill now, I think homely and hearty whole grains.
I made this loaf cake with graham and whole-wheat flour, 3 yams and 2 tablespoons of butter. It is incredibly moist, verging on being a bit too moist, and good toasted with a bit of peanut butter even four days after it was made. I feel healthy eating it even with the sprinkling of chocolate chips on top. Sure, it’s not for everyone (my little brother stood around in the kitchen making faces while I was making it) but it’s one of those recipes that is really guilt free. The cookies are whole-wheat chocolate chip and can be found here. The last and first time I made them, I quickly swore they were my new favorite cookies. This time, they were perfect the night of and hardened after a day, losing the chewiness I usually look for in chocolate chip cookies. Will have to work on that because I love the deep nuttiness the whole-wheat flour brings.
Yam Loaf Cake
Adapted from Kim Boyce’s Sweet Potato Muffins
3 small yams
1 cup graham flour
1/2 whole wheat flour
1/2 white flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
pecans, semisweet chocolate chips and tablespoon extra brown sugar for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roast yams for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until they’re tender when pierced with a fork. The bottoms should be dark and the juices should be beginning to caramelize. Let cool and peel. Puree in a blender with the buttermilk and yogurt. Add the egg and melted butter and mix thoroughly.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Fold together the wet and dry mixtures, being careful not to over mix.
Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. Scoop in batter and top with a sprinkling of brown sugar, pecans and semisweet chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour
February 27, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m not one of those bakers that will make ten batches of things before getting them right. That’s not a statement of perfection; rather, that means I’m not going to whip up batch after batch of macaron batter to finally, haphazardly, get the highly-sought after feet on one tray of cookies. I wish I was that dedicated. Realistically, I’ll likely make two batches before giving up. I read descriptions of that process like this and can only be in awe of the dedication and say that this is probably why I am not pursuing a career as a pastry chef.
I’m coming up on a year since my whole life at college seemed like it was falling apart, and while I’m not sure I can realistically say that I am much closer to figuring out what I want to be in life, I can say that I am in a much better place than I was last spring. Sometimes I wonder if I was meant to be sitting on the kitchen floor at home watching cookies fail this spring, whether I was meant to be planning a trip to an Italian farm this summer, instead of frantically applying to the next prestigious internship, what I would be doing this year if things had worked out a little differently. But sometimes I think about how great it was to have an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate all the things in my life that were making me unhappy at the moment, even if that opportunity came with realizing that I was more unhappy than I had ever cared to admit.
Sure there are certain aspects of school that I really miss. I was sitting in a UCLA dining hall the other morning, for that Sunday morning brunch when everyone is in a weird daze and it’s likely that a quick and thorough scan of the room is necessary before choosing a table because of some awkward encounter the night before, and realized that I really missed recapping the night before over dining hall bagels. I missed walking around in Nike shorts 24/7, compulsive trips to the local froyo shop, the little things. And then there are the huge things that I don’t miss at all.
During that time last year, I spent a lot of time with my hallmates in the kitchen down the hall from our rooms, making cakes and cookies and the insane salted caramel bacon brownies, which I think are still the item of my blog with the most search-engine hits. Now as I’m setting up the lighting in the dining room, it’s easy to forget that this started out as me baking out of a dorm kitchen. It’s kind of comforting to have your progress over the past year very well documented; it makes you feel like you’ve already grown up even when you’re freaking out about having to be a grown up.
Speaking to growing up, a bunch of childhood seems to come up in the form of dishes as I’m rooting through items to use in photoshoots. Like these shot glasses I picked up on an obscure beach in British Columbia before I knew what a shot glass was. I made vanilla panna cotta when I got home from LA this evening, pictured alongside cranberry-cocao nib florentines. And yes, I made the florentines twice but not more than that.
The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies. I actually used a recipe from Joy of Cooking for the florentines, as I thought an almond version looked more traditional that one using rolled oats.
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (one packet) (15 ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups (720 ml) whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
1/3 cup (80 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
Pour the milk into a bowl or pot and sprinkle gelatin evenly and thinly over the milk (make sure the bowl/pot is cold by placing the bowl/pot in the refrigerator for a few minutes before you start making the Panna Cotta). Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
Pour the milk into the saucepan/pot and place over medium heat on the stove. Heat this mixture until it is hot, but not boiling, about five minutes. (I whisk it a few times at this stage).
Next, add the cream, honey, sugar, and pinch of salt. Making sure the mixture doesn’t boil, continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and honey have dissolved 5-7 minutes.
Remove from heat, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into the glass or ramekin.
Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Add garnishes and serve.
February 19, 2011 § 4 Comments
I think I was pretty close to crying yesterday walking home from the metro station with the rain pouring down, my hood soaked through and my iPod carefully hidden in a waterproof pocket, because I’ve lost one or two already to sudden rainstorms. Also, I seem to have gotten in the habit of disembarking streetcars in relative franticness after a few too many uncomfortable encounters with creepy people sitting too close to me. I mean, whatever happened to polite people, and spring…spring weather please?
I made these cookies that were perfect for spring and now spring has gone into hiding. I know, I know, I’m not going to get very much sympathy from most people. By the way, have you seen this yet? Sure, we’re probably not making any friends talking like that but you admit we’re cute right? Right?
But so anyway, my point was that it’s pouring and I’m about to head out to the gym, kicking and screaming, and I think I’ll bike on the top floor, so that I can look out over the rooftop, outdoor swimming pool and remember all those late nights I spent at swim practice in the morning rain, wishing the lightning would just come out already so that I could get out of the water, but it never coming and practice finally ending and having to start my homework on the long drive back into the city. Well I guess that makes my current situation sound a little better anyway.
Okay seriously, the new journal starts now, I literally cannot manage to stay on one topic for more than a couple of sentences. Let’s get to the point:
I’ve been experimenting with black pepper as part of an article that I was writing, which you can find here. This was my favorite recipe of the ones I tried — lime-black pepper cookies. I know it sounds a bit strange, but give it a shot. You barely taste the black pepper itself at all but what it does is enhance the lime flavor so that what you get is a zingy, zesty pop. All in a little sugar cookie. If spring had a taste, this would be it.
You can find the recipe for black pepper lime cookies on the Chicago Tribune Website here. I did add a brush of a simple glaze made of freshly-squeezed lime juice and confectioner’s sugar on top, along with a couple of twists of the pepper grinder.
Also, I have recently revamped my Twitter account and to follow all my inane thoughts, all you have to do is click here.
February 15, 2011 § 2 Comments
I haven’t been in the kitchen much thèse days. There are a thousand reasons why but the main one is that I feel like I am doing a thousand things at once—going to work, training for a marathon, planning vacations, writing in several different publications (like this) and constantly switching the language on my computer while becoming increasingly frustrated that my English keyboard doesn’t have accent buttons and my French spell-check corrects my English words and automatically adds accents to words like “these.” I made whole-wheat almond scones because their picture looked almost exactly like the almond scones I used to love (and still crave) from Martha’s Coffee, and then decided I couldn’t eat any, and then proceeded to completely forget about them until my dad had eaten them all for breakfast. So when I made these ginger sandwich cookies, I stashed a couple of them in the fridge for their photoshoot, which I finally got around to after a week of chocolate tastings, cook showcases, bakery anniversary parties and street food festivals.
To say I have two celeb-chef crushes would be a bit misleading as a.) They are both pastry chefs and b.) I have never seen them on TV yelling at a contestant. One of them is Emily Luchetti, former pastry-chef at Stars and current pastry-chef at Farallon — which has a wonderful $6 appetizers before 7 p.m. bar deal by the way — who made a dinosaur themed birthday cake for me once, complete with dinosaur sugar cookies walking across the top. Queue childlike adoration here. The other is William Werner, the man behind the Tell Tale Preserve Company, who will be opening a shop on Maiden Lane here in San Francisco later this spring. Unfortunately, I brought home a mystery jar from him the other day at work and opened it late Saturday night…hmm incredibly sweet vanilla spread?
My mom and I hung around the kitchen counter for a bit, poking spoons into the glass jar and trying to figure out what to do with it. The sweetness definitely needed something with bite to counteract it. So after a bit of rummaging around in the Stars Desserts cookbook, we came up with gingersnaps. Therein came the second perplexing situation: figuring that the spread had more than enough sugar, I decided the cookies should be just barely sweet. I halved the sugar in the recipe — white and brown — and added a generous amount of chopped, uncrystallized ginger, and made teaspoon-sized gingersnaps that were…not at all lacking in sweetness. I couldn’t even imagine twice the amount of sugar going in them. Emily, what gives?
Anyway, presenting spicy gingersnap sandwiches with vanilla custard. Please forgive the free-flowing, information-spewing text. I think it’s time for me to start keeping a journal again, it seems I am incapable of reflective thought without one.
Adapted from Classic Stars Desserts
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 firmly packed brown sugar
8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/3 cup dark molasses
generous amount of chopped ginger (use fresh if you have it)
In a bowl, stir together the flour, spices, baking soda, salt and pepper. Set aside. Combine the sugars and butter in a mixing bowl and cream until smooth. Add the egg and beat until mixed then beat in the molasses. Add the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Use a teaspoon to shape each cookie and flatten the balls slightly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes for chewier cookies and 14 minutes for crisp cookies. Let cool, then sandwich together with your favorite filling (if you like).
December 29, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I’ve been sitting on a lot of trains lately, and planes, yet have thankfully avoided the snowstorm that has taken over several European cities and made travel virtually impossible. I’ve been to Christmas markets across the continent, drinking various traditional forms of mulled wine and tasting Christmas cookies of all varieties. I feel traveled and Christmased out before, really, the festivities have even started. It’s hard to reconcile the constant moving around with sitting on the floor next to the Christmas tree, which seems to shrink in size ever year, rattling the presents with my brother, trying to figure out what they contain in the days before Christmas morning. Instead, I am trodding through the snow and the slush and the fog in Austria and Hungary. The snowstorm has descended like a blanket across the cities, the skies are a deep white and the tops of historical landmarks — kings’ palaces, tombs — seem to disappear under the mist.
While I remember going out running in a sports bra and shorts at home on Christmas day last year, here I have been wearing two scarves and a fur hat since the beginning of November. I’ll be wishing in the New Year at whatever restaurant table we can get a seat at in the hustle and bustle of the Venetian holidays. While I am immersed in the pastry tasting and Picasso-viewing, I am also eagerly counting down the days until I get home; my blogging will be scarce until mid-January but rest assured I am drinking plenty of espressos and writing non-stop in these fabulous leather-bound journals I purchased from a very pleasant Italian woman who has been making books for 15 years. I wish you all very happy holidays and leave you with my favorite gingerbread cookies, which I remember pulling out of the oven in Paris just as the 4-year old twin boys living above me started a snowball fight with their dad in the courtyard outside my window. When I went out, the dad began pelting me with snowballs and before I knew it I was fully engaged in a battle of minuscule and huge snowballs (depending greatly on who was doing the throwing) punctured with squeals of “Ah, je suis touché!” It’s these simple joyful moments that remind us how special the holidays are for us all.
Adapted from The Christmas Cookie Book by Lou Seibert Pappas
½ cup butter (113 g)
½ cup sugar (115 g)
½ cup molasses (120 ml)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 cups flour (330 g)
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Cream together the butter and sugar until light. Mix in the molasses, cider vinegar and egg, beating until smooth. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon. Add the dry mixture to the flour mixture and mix until blended. Scrape the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap and chill for two hours until firm.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough until 1/8-inch thick. Cut out cookies using decorative cookie cutters and place cut cookies on trays. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned on the edges. Let cool completely on racks.
Ice cookies using a pastry bag and tip. Icing can be made by simply combining food coloring, water and powdered sugar until you reach the desired color and consistency.
November 26, 2010 § 2 Comments
First off, a huge, predictable and excited “it just started snowing here!” declaration. The only thing better than hat shopping in Paris is hat shopping in snowy Paris, because, you know, that makes your purchase all the more justifiable.
Secondly, another super excited announcement: This month, I was the host of Sugar High Fridays, an event started by Jennifer, the Domestic Goddess, wherein every month a blogger picks a theme and we all bake to it. I chose November’s theme which was “Desserts with a Hidden Surprise” and I am posting the roundup today!
I had some lovely contributions…delicious and elaborate cupcakes, cakes and even donuts, which I am sharing here today. Thank you to everyone who submitted something!
Mr. and Mrs. Swan Meet the Swans made Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with a Cheesecake Truffle Surprise, topped with Pumpkin Pie Frosting and Sweet Cinnamon Sprinkle.
Lisa from Life From Here made Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling.
Ryan from Ryan is Baking made Peanut Butter Buttercream Filled Double Fudge Chocolate Cupcakes: rich dark chocolate cupcakes filled and frosted with a fluffy, creamy peanut butter buttercream and topped with chocolate sprinkles and half a Reese’s cup.
SilverMoon from Dragon Musings made Rainbow Cake for her daughter’s fifth birthday. It’s a white iced cake, with vibrant colours in the batter.
Sara from CaffeIna made bomboloni alla Nutella, Italian filled donuts.
Natalie from Seattle Lunchbox made banana-filled butterscotch cookies: classic cookie dough, but with warm, gooey banana and the sweetness of butterscotch.
Jackie Ruins the Cake made Pumpkin Rolls: It may not look very pretty, but it’s pumpkin and it has Nutella in it, therefore it is delicious.
Katie Rose from Level 2 Mommy made these homemade Hostess Cupcakes. The title says it all but they are chocolate cupcakes covered with chocolate ganache with a vanilla cream filling hidden inside.
Fun and Food Cafe made Chocolate Cake with Avocado Frosting: Layered Chocolate Cake is good, but unlike your regular cake, this one is a healthier alternative with a layer of Avocado frosting and slivered almonds adorning your chocolate cake. The frosting is so good, you’ll never guess it has Avocados!
For the challenge I made shortbread cookies with two different fillings: crushed pistachio with maple syrup and chocolate covered hazelnut. You can’t tell from the pictures what’s inside (I had to rush the cookies off to class) but that’s part of the point no?
October 11, 2010 § 1 Comment
Sometimes when I start feeling stressed out, I walk down to the Seine and sit by the river, on the cobblestones by the ridge — conveniently ignoring the dirt and the grime and the smells that I know, from my many runs in the early morning, come from the drunk and the homeless. Sometimes I bring a book — currently L’Etranger by Camus, which I have read in English and am now starting in French, one chapter a day — other times my iPod and then sometimes I just sit on the benches right by Notre Dame and watch the kids with dreadlocks do tricks in their rollerblades. Sometimes I buy a crèpe on the way, the kind with the eggs and ham and cheese, but that is only when I go immediately after class gets out and I really have nothing urgent to do. I wouldn’t say going there helps me think, in fact at times just sitting there seems a bit pointless. But it does help, even late at night, to tear myself away from the computer screen and the endless life plans and just do something that has nothing to do with the future. That really has nothing to do with anything at all.
This city does strange things to you. It makes even the most practical of us poets. It makes even the nicest person want to curse the living daylights out of American tourists who walk up and down every single street with their noses buried in their maps. It makes you want to smile when you see leaves dying for the winter, because oh, the trees are planted in such pretty rows in the Jardin Luxembourg. And it makes you long to break the Parisien routine sometimes, because really, every city has its routine from the rush hour Metro traffic to the way people drink their coffee to the greetings on the street. Ça va? Ça va. Et j’aimerais de la crème avec mon café s’il vous plait. Sure, I’ve learned to drink my coffee black, with one cube of sugar, but I’ve been walking around like a zombie with a headache after too many espressos.
Tomorrow, our class takes a trip to the Academie Française, where the 40 “top” scholars in the country meet weekly to discuss the French language. Together these writers, political men and other notables decide which words make it into the French dictionary and which do not. For instance, they were the ones who decided that words such as hamburger, cookie and brownie (just kidding!) existed in the French language. They were also likely the ones who decided on the pronunciation of the words, which seems to require French vendors to look at you askance whenever you pronounce the word in English. Not that I ever have much of an occasion to say the word cookie (cooo-kee) in French.
I actually made these cookies when I was home in San Francisco and am just now posting them. They are chili chocolate chip cookies that you roll into logs and simply slice off. Nice and easy with a light cinnamon-y flavor and an after-kick of chili, I thought they could have done with a bit more pop so feel free to up the anti. Actually I take that back. I appear to have lost the recipe in the move but you’ll be the first to know the minute I find chocolate with a kick out here.
October 9, 2010 § 1 Comment
I made something today (smiles). I don’t really know what to call it. I think that is the reason I am having such a hard time starting the paragraph. You see, I took the kilo of apples à cuire, which I purchased at the market for 1 euro, peeled them, loving how the skin came off easily in long curls, and tossed them in the stove pot. I took a couple spoonfuls of my leftover dulce de leche and a couple more of butter and added them to the pot. And hovered over it, smelling the air above it anxiously, as the mixture simmered and bubbled and boiled. I ate a cup of stewed apples then, just plain and simple, and set aside the pot while I prepared the shortbread.
I stood by the open window, looking out at the courtyard through the lacey curtains, my hands in the metal bowl, gently crumbling the cold butter into ground hazelnuts. When I felt the need for sweetness, I added an arbitrary cupful of sugar and a light drizzle of maple syrup. And then I padded the dough into a fluted tart shell, setting aside a quarter of it for the topping, brushed the top with the stewed apples and crumbled the remaining dough on top of it all. I had no idea, putting my creation in the oven, what it would result in. Would the apples soak through the shortbread? Would it cook through? Did I add enough flour? I had no idea beyond the feel of the dough in my hands.
It browned, to a crispy, golden hue. The apples turned to jam — a thick, tart layer with a hint of cream from the dulce de leche — between two layers of nutty, buttery shortbread. Except it’s less like shortbread and more like those little nutty cookies you make at Christmas-time, covered in powdered sugar. The crumble top crunches when you bite into a slice and then the soft texture of the apples takes over. The bottom holds up, but just barely, as you lift a slice from the pan. And for a moment, I feel like I have achieved something today.
And then I am taking a slice back to bed, where I am working on a million projects at once, trying to straighten out applications, travel plans and my life after Paris.
September 27, 2010 § 1 Comment
I think it is finally fall over here; the skies are overcast, it drizzles occasionally and I’m huddled up in my apartment in wool socks because I’m sick. Lovely. In fact I think we have skipped fall altogether and gone straight to winter. Which is unfortunate, because fall happens to be my favorite season of the year. I love walking to the crunch of the leaves underfoot, swerving a bit out of my way to make sure I step on that leaf that looks particularly brittle, breaking out my vast collection of scarves, which could probably represent every country I have ever been to, and bursting into the house on a really windy day, feeling that first initial blast of warm air on your face, and then the opposite cold burst when you step outside again. Back home, it means street blocks turn into pumpkin patches full of straw mazes and colorful pumpkins and squash every shade of orange, yellow and purple. Local coffeeshops start serving their seasonal flavored lattes — the cinnamon, the pumpkin which gradually merge into the peppermint and eggnog flavors of the holiday season. Cakes become denser, most fresh fruits slowly disappearing from the table to be replaced with spices and caramels.
But fall doesn’t seem to be much of a season over here. Indeed, as I spent the weekend in London, I toured various displays of Christmas trees, snowy animal decorations and hundreds of sets of Christmas china and ornaments. Glitter of every color seemed to sparkle in the windows of the department stores. Churches beckoned people dressed in their best clothes inside on Sunday morning, as we took a stroll along the Thames. For me, fall has a bit of a rustic charm, the charm of things changing, but that intermittent period where you aren’t quite sure where the change is leading. And when your surroundings are changing so dramatically, you long for your food to bring the warmth and comfort that you had taken for granted all around you during the summer. Fall is above all else a time for the homemade, a time for the nostalgic, a time for incorporating the warm with the simple.
The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. The challenge was to made decorated sugar cookies with the theme of September. We were provided with a recipe for sugar cookies and a recipe for royal icing. I chose to make mostly bells, as the church bells have played a major part in my life this September. I live and go to school right by Notre Dame so my day passes according to the ringing of the church bells — once at the demi-heure and then according to the time on the hour. Sticking to the theme that baking in fall months ought to be warm and rustic — aided along by the fact that I simply could not find food coloring at any French supermarket — I decorated my church bells with dulce de leche instead of royal icing. I would love to decorate with royal icing one day, perhaps around Christmas.
Basic Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Peggy Porschen:
Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4″ Cookies
200g / 7oz / ½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz / 3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose / Plain Flour
200g / 7oz / 1 cup Caster Sugar / Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp Vanilla Extract / Or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Cream together the butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg until well combined. Add the sifted flour and mix until a sticky dough forms.
Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch). Refrigerate for a minimum of 30mins. Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F . Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies. Leave to cool on cooling racks. Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.
Decorate with Dulce de Leche
By David Lebovitz