Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nice and easy.

This one's going to be kind of a quickie. With Christmas having come and gone, I feel a little spent. It seems to happen every year--all the anticipation and preparation for the holidays, and the next thing I know, it's over, and everything goes back to normal, and I'm wondering what just happened, like I didn't savor the moment enough. It doesn't help that I have to go back to work tomorrow--although it does help that this week will be a short work week with New Year's just a couple of days away! But what a reminder of how quickly time goes by.

Right before I left work for the Christmas holiday, my department had a cookie exchange. Each person was to bring 2 or 3 different batches of cookies to swap and bring home. I had never done this before, and apparently, there is a website devoted specifically to the cookie exchange, with rules and everything! I don't know if we necessarily followed any rules, but it was still fun, and next year I might try it with some friends. One of the cookies I decided to make were coconut macaroons. I love their almost crunchy outside and chewy inside--and how incredibly easy they are to make! I found the recipe in The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, which is based on NPR's food show (a fun cookbook to read!). This was my first time making coconut macaroons, and I wondered why I had never made them before. I'm considering making them again for an upcoming New Year's Eve party (and maybe dip them in chocolate!) so I can have time to savor the last moments of 2008 instead of spending them in the kitchen (although, I might be tempted to try a cheesecake brownie recipe I came across recently--which didn't look difficult

Coconut Macaroons
(adapted from the recipe for Sally's Coconut Macaroons from
The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper)
makes about 40 small cookies

2 large eggs
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
3 cups shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and grease the baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Beat the eggs in a large bowl with a wire whisk, then add the sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Whisk all the ingredients together until combined well. Mix in the coconut. Using a regular teaspoon (not the measuring kind), spoon mounds of coconut mixture onto baking sheet (or you can be a little fancy and pipe them on to the baking sheet with a pastry bag and star-shaped tip--but I didn't bother). Bake the cookies on the second to the top rack of the oven for about 20 minutes or until they turn a toasty brown (mine could have been just a little browner), then cool on a cooling rack. (So easy!)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

At last!

Standing in line, eagerly waiting to get in, I could peer through the window and watch as a worker lets what looks like deep, rich chocolate ganache cascade over equally decadent layers of chocolate cake. Witnessing such finesse, I knew I was in for a treat. A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I made a trip into San Francisco to visit the De Young Museum, and made a side trip to a bakery (the bakery was more of a highlight than the museum!). From the outside, you would not even know what it was--there are no signs, and it looks like an average quaint cafe characteristic of San Francisco, but once inside, it was unmistakable where we were. The glass case full of enticing pastries, cakes, cookies and breads, announced loud and clear that were at Tartine(!). As in, the Tartine, one of those elite bakeries that has a best-selling, award-winning cookbook bearing its name. The worst part of the experience was having to choose what to order--I wanted to try everything! In the end, I opted for a chocolate hazelnut tart, glazed gingerbread, and olive bread. I was not disappointed. And after one bite out of the gingerbread, I knew I had to find the recipe.

I am always on the hunt for the consummate gingerbread cookie recipe--one that would produce the perfect balance of taste and texture. I like my gingerbread cookies to be soft and chewy (though still holding its shape), and sweet and spicey (but one flavor cannot overtake the other). Tartine's gingerbread was everything I could have dreamed of in a gingerbread cookie. Did I just say dream?! You could say I'm a little enthusiastic about this gingerbread cookie. Searching for the recipe turned out to be easy--it was in the Tartine cookbook! But I had doubts about it--I could not believe they would they reveal their trade secrets.

The original Soft Glazed Gingerbread recipe from Tartine calls for some surprising ingredients. Freshly ground black pepper?! Cloves and cinammon are more typical spices for gingerbread, but black pepper? This made me hesitate, and I scaled back a little on how much to use. This was also the first gingerbread cookie recipe I've seen that calls for cocoa powder. Though it is not uncommon for recipes to use corn syrup (as the original Tartine recipe here does), I have an aversion to using it in my baking because of all the bad press regarding health effects it has received. In general, I prefer to use organic and more "wholesome" ingredients when possible, and I had to find a substitute that could work. I considered using honey instead, but when it came time to mixing the dough, I realized I was out! After looking through my pantry and refrigerator again, I only had maple syrup, so maple syrup it was. Instead of blackstrap molasses, I used a light molasses from Brer Rabbit, and instead of regular salt, I used sea salt. One bite of my own gingerbread cookie, and I knew this was it--this was the end of my search!

For my last post before Christmas, this is my gift to you, the perfect gingerbread cookie recipe. May you have a wonderful and joyous Christmas!

Gingerbread Cookies
(Adapted from the recipe for Tartine's Soft Glazed Gingerbread)
Tartine uses a patterned rolling pin to roll out the gingerbread, which gives the cookie an antique feel, and cuts them into sizable rectangles. I don't have a patterned rolling pin, so I cut the gingerbread out in the shape of teddy bears. This recipe makes about 32 teddy bear shaped cookies, each about 4".

1 cup (or 2 sticks) of unsalted butter, room temperature
4/5 cup of granulated sugar

3-3/4 unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
4 t. ground ginger
1-1/2 t. ground cloves
2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. sea salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg
1/2 cup light molasses
2 T. maple syrup

Mix together the dry ingredients (except the granulated sugar) using a wire whisk to remove any lumps. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter on medium to low until the butter is fluffy. Cream in the sugar. Scrape down the side of the bowl, then mix in the egg. Continue mixing on medium to low, adding the molasses and maple syrup. Slowly add in the flour mixture, until the ingredients are combined and the dough begins to form and stick together. Divide the dough in half and flatten each into a disk about 1 to 2 inches thick. Wrap the pieces of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When you're ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes. During this time, preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and line the baking sheets with parchment paper. Between two pieces of wax paper or parchment paper, roll out each disk to about 1/4" thickness, and cut out the dough into your desired shapes with cookie cutters. Transfer each cookie shape with a spatula onto the cookie sheet, leaving about 1" between each cookie. Bake on the top third rack of the oven for about 10 minutes, but this may vary depending on the size of each cookie. Cookies are done when the surface is smooth and slightly firm. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.

1 cup powdered sugar
4 t. water

Using a wire whisk, combine the powdered sugar with the water. If the mixture is too thick, add a little bit of water, 1/2 t. at a time. The glaze should be on the thick side, but thin enough to be brushed over the cookies.

After the cookies have cooled completely, brush the glaze over the cookies and allow the glaze to dry. Store the cookies in an airtight container.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

'Tis the season.

I've had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit so far this year. Maybe it's the influx of news about the state of the economy or just being caught up in the everyday distractions that life brings (like having car troubles, which happened to me on Tuesday). Our household also doesn't have a Christmas tree or anything--not that having a tree is what Christmas is all about, but it's always a nice touch. On Wednesday, though, my coworker gave me a snowman cookie jar. Well, actually, she made an "unfortunate" pick in a white elephant gift exchange and she didn't like it, so she gave it away to anyone who would take it--and I was that person. It's not the cutest cookie jar (I saw one today at Target that was much cuter), but for some reason, it kind of makes me happy thinking we now have a little snowman in our living room.

Of course, a cookie jar requires cookies. How perfect it is that this is the season for cookies! If you go to, they have a special "Twelve Days of Cookies" (of which yesterday was the last day!), and the cover of the December issue of Martha Stewart Living is an assortment of holiday cookies. (Yes, I admit that I have a subscription to her magazine! You can't argue that she does some pretty amazing stuff, though.) I noticed that the chocolate chip cookie doesn't seem to rank among the holiday cookies. I'm not sure why that is--maybe they're not special or pretty enough?

Instead of making one of the fancy holiday cookies, I decided to pull out a chocolate chip cookie recipe, adapted from Jacques Torres, the chocolate-master himself, that was published in the New York Times over the summer. I'd like to think it's a pretty special chocolate chip cookie recipe. Two components that make it stand out include the requirement to chill the dough at least 24 hours, which gives it a deeper flavor and a more "handsome" color (that's what the New York Times said). The second thing that makes this recipe unique is the emphasis on salt. Instead of being incorporated into the batter, sea salt is sprinkled on top as a finishing touch, which accents the other flavors.

The recipe calls for cake flour and bread flour. I didn't have either, so I used unbleached all-purpose flour. Jacques Torres also recommends using Valrhona feves (chocolate disks), which can be found at Whole Foods. Valrhona is very good quality chocolate, and some famous bakeries (like Tartine--I went there last week! More about that another time, though...) use their chocolate. I'm a believer in using good quality chocolate when I can, but I kind of didn't feel like going to Whole Foods to get them, so I used my trustworthy standby: semi-sweet chocolate chips from Trader Joe's. The cookies still turned out pretty special to me. And if you look close enough, they kind of sparkle, too.

(Oh, before I get into the recipe, I wanted to tell you that I set up my own Amazon store this week! You'll find the link to it on the left hand column. I thought it'd be fun to hand pick some things that I like (mostly related to baking and cooking, but also other items) and share them with you. I hope you'll check it out; I'll be updating it from time to time.)

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from the New York Times' adaptation of the recipe from Jacques Torres)
Makes about 18 cookies, each about five inches

3-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1-1/4 t. baking soda
1-1/2 t. baking powder

1-1/4 cup (or 2-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1-1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs
2 t. vanilla

1-1/4 lbs. chocolate chips (or Valrhona feves, as suggested)
sea salt

Sift the dry ingredients, except for the sugar, together in a bowl, and set aside. (Actually, when I did this the other day, I mixed the dry ingredients together with a wire whisk. Still turned out great.).

In another bowl, using a mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together. Once creamed, add one egg at a time, beating on medium-low speed, until incorporated well. Then add the vanilla. Slowly mix in the dry ingredient mixture on low until the dough comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl. Add in the chocolate chips and mix until the chocolate chips are evenly distributed. (If using the chocolate disks, be careful not to break the disks. I usually do this step by hand, even when using regular chocolate chips--gives my arms a good work out, too.) Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours (up to 72 hours).

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Take the cookie dough out of the refrigerator and let it stand for about 15 minutes. During that time, grease the baking sheets or line them parchment paper (or Silpat, if you prefer to use that). Shape clumps of dough into balls about two inches in diameter. Space each cookie dough ball about three to four inches apart, and sprinkle each with sea salt.

If using two baking sheets, bake on the top two racks in the oven for about 18-20 minutes, switching baking sheets on the racks about 10 minutes into baking. Keep a close eye on the cookies toward the end of the baking time, since it's very easy to overbake them! They should be done when the dough has spread and they are slightly browning. The cookies seem to brown a little more while cooling. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a cookie rack to cool completely.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Feeling rustic.

Think of all the wonderful fall fruits, and the apple comes to mind. Apples are a staple in my diet, and fortunately, though their season is in autumn, they're available year round. I love their crunchiness and their often striking shades of green and red. I also like that apples are full of anti-oxidants and vitamins. I couldn't tell you exactly what anti-oxidants do (something about free radicals), but I know they're really good for you and that's good enough for me. The ironic thing, though, is that I rarely make desserts with apples. Holding a peeler or a paring knife with an apple feels clumsy in my hands, and I can sit for an hour and have peeled maybe five apples at the most. I am a painfully slow peeler.

My friend (the same one who gave me the cupcake cookbook and the ride to the airport--she does seem to come up a bit in my posts) had extra granny smith apples, and asked if I'd like to try making something with them. Since she would be able to help with peeling the apples, we decided to try making apple galettes. Fortunately, we were able to use an old-fashioned apple peeler, which made peeling and slicing very easy. After assembling the galettes and taking them out of the oven, they looked so rustic, so charming. I felt, quite truly, provincial.

I found the original recipe from, but I added almond meal to the pate brisee
(this is the pastry crust) to add a nutty flavor. I did make some errors which I would correct the next time. I added a little too much water and didn't chill the dough before rolling it out, so it was too sticky. Because we were trying to use up the apples, the galettes were over-flowing, and the apple slices either dried up or didn't bake completely. Also, because we had so many apple slices, I was only able to leave very little room along the edges to fold over, which made the galette too delicate to handle. Nonetheless, even with my mistakes, the apple galettes turned out delightful.

Apple Galettes
(adapted from the recipe by Christopher Hill)
Serves about 10

Ingredients for the pate brisee:
1-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
couple of dashes of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
12 T. unsalted butter, chilled, and but into cubes (about 2 T. of butter for each cube)
2 T. of cold water (or more, as needed)

Ingredients for filling:
5 medium sized apples (granny smith, fuji, or other apples appropriate for baking); peeled, cored, and sliced
1/4 cup brown sugar (less if using apples that are naturally sweet, such as fuji apples)
1 t. cinammon
1 t. lemon juice (optional; can omit if using granny smith apples)
1/2 cup apricot preserves
whole milk
granulated sugar to sprinkle on crust

For the patee brisee:
- Combine the all-purpose flour, almond flour, and salt in a bowl with a wire whisk.
- Using a hand pastry, coarsely blend the flour mix with the butter. The butter should not be completely blended with the flour.
- Add the ice water, and gently combine by hand until the flour clumps together. If it is too dry, add very little ice water at a time.
- Create two round balls of dough, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about an hour.
- Roll out each ball of dough between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper to a flat disk, about 1/6th of an inch thick. Each disk should be about 11 inches in diameter (though the size may vary).
- Transfer the disks to a baking sheet by loosely rolling each disk over the rolling pin and then unrolling it onto the baking sheet. If using parchment paper, you can also keep the disks on the paper and transfer them directly to the baking sheet.

- Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.
- Combine the apple slices, brown sugar, and cinammon in a bowl. This can be done while the dough is in the refrigerator.
- Spread the apricot preserves over the surface of the disks of pastry dough.
- Assemble the apple slices over the apricot preserves, leaving a 1 inch border (this is better done in a single layer, with each slice facing the same way, in concentric circles; and NOT as I have it in my pictures).
- Fold the crust border over, and brush the crust edges with milk. Sprinkle the granulated sugar over the crust edges.
- Bake for about 50 minutes or until crust turns golden brown.
- After removing the galettes from the oven, you can use a large spatula to loosen the galette from the baking surface. After about 5 minutes, transfer the galettes to serving platters to serve warm or to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Waiting to inhale.

I know I'm too late for Thanksgiving on this one. I simply couldn't get this posted in time, what with work and going out of town to see my family, but I still want to share this one with you because they're so good and I still crave pumpkin goods even after Thanksgiving. Maybe you can use it for next year--or be a little nontraditional and make them any time of the year.

I tried making these pumpkin cupcakes
for a friend who was giving me a ride to the airport last week, and I loved how they made the house smell. I read somewhere recently that the first thing a person notices upon entering a room is the scent. Nothing beats the aroma that comes from the oven, which makes the home welcoming. It even creates a sense of anticipation, because it usually means something good is ahead--or at least there is the hope of something good! And nothing says "cozy" the way apple pie or chocolate chip cookies in the oven does, which no candle or air freshener can mimic. (I have a "Sugar Cookie" scented candle that really does smell just like sugar cookies, but it only leaves me unsatisfied.) Fortunately, the finished product here does not disappoint.

I was originally going to try to make these pumpkin cupcakes after Halloween from scratch. I mean, completely scratch--as in, gut and roast the pumpkin, scoop out and puree the flesh, etc. It didn't seem hard, and thought it'd be kind of cool to be able to say, yeah, I roasted the pumpkin myself. After all, my roommate had bought a pumpkin for Halloween, so why not make full use of it? Except, when I roasted it, the flesh turned yellow (not the nice orange hue you always see), it smelled really strange (I have no words to describe it), and it was extremely fibrous (fiber is good for you, but can you imagine taking a bite out of stringy pumpkin pie?). I learned that pumpkins from pumpkin patches are not ideal for cooking (if I had done my homework a little better beforehand, I would have known this). Thank goodness for organic pumpkin puree in a can from Trader Joe's.

So here it is, pumpkin cupcakes...with pumpkin from a can...after Thanksgiving...but they still smell heavenly.

Pumpkin Cupcakes
(Sadly, I don't remember where I got the original recipe so I'm not able to give credit where it's due.) Makes about 18 cupcakes

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinammon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
14 T. (or 1 3/4 sticks) melted unsalted butter (cool to about room temperature)
4 large eggs

1 15 oz. can of pumpkin puree

- Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and line the cupcake pan.
- Combine the dry ingredients, except for the sugars, in a bowl, and whisk together.
- In another bowl, use a whisk to combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter and eggs.
- Add the flour mixture to the the wet ingredients and mix completely; then add the pumpkin puree and mix until combined.
- Fill each cupcake well about 3/4 full and bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes. The cupcakes are done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

I had originally planned to frost these with a cream cheese frosting similar to what I had used for the carrot cupcakes, but after trying one, I thought they were great on their own.