Category Archives: Baked Goods

The Best Brownies We’ve Ever Had (Recently)

Because she’s our designated cookie baker, Santa brought Pookie The Gourmet Cookie Book for Christmas. It’s a fun book that serves as a tour of all the cookie trends over the last 60 years, and after flipping through it Pookie decided the first recipe we should try from it is Gianduja Brownies. The description in the recipe said they would be the best brownies we’ve ever eaten; considering the ingredients included Nutella that gets melted with the chocolate and butter, and ground hazelnuts that get stirred in with the flour, we thought it sounded very hopeful that they would be that good.

January 7 2011

Alas, they weren’t that good. They were a tiny bit off texturally, and the flavor was just… not outstanding. They were okay, getting described as “like something someone else would bake — you know, when you have a friend who bakes differently than you,” and “like a cross between a high-end Tastykake and something you’d get at a hotel,” and “I guess they’re getting better the more I eat them.” When you have to psych yourself up to enjoy eating a brownie, it’s time to cut the brownie loose and move on.

So we moved on to our current favorite brownie recipe, Martha Stewart’s peanut butter swirl brownies. This is a recipe that we first tried when we discovered that Martha Stewart’s chocolate gingerbread is not good, so it’s clearly a solid backup plan. Are they the best brownies of all time? Probably not. But right now, in January 2011, they’re the ones we like best.

The Makeup Brownie

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies (from Martha Stewart’s Cookies)

For the batter:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for the pan
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

for the filling:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F). Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhang. Butter lining (not overhang).

2. Make batter: Put butter and chocolates in a heatproof medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water; stir until melted. Let cool slightly. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

3. Whisk granulated sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs, and whisk until mixture is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture; stir until well combined.

4. Make filling: Stir together butter, confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, salt, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth.

5. Pour one-third of batter into prepared pan; spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Drop dollops of peanut butter filling (about 1 tablespoon each) on top of batter, spacing about 1 inch apart. Drizzle remaining batter on top, and gently spread to fill pan. Drop dollops of remaining peanut butter mixture on top. Gently swirl peanut butter filling into batter with a butter knife, running the knife lengthwise and crosswise through layers.

6. Bake until a cake tester inserted into brownies (avoid center and edges) comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly in pan, about 15 minutes. Lift out; let cool completely ion a wire rack before cutting into squares. Brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to three days.


Filed under Baked Goods

The Best Cookie Recipe We’ve Tried Yet That Lets Us Use The Pre-Crushed Peppermint We Got From Bakers Catalog

When you’re sitting there in the middle of the early-November holiday wasteland, where all you want is for it to be Christmastime, but you’ve still got an entire month before you can even scratch Thanksgiving off the list, you can fall prey to things that wouldn’t normally entice you. Like, say, pre-crushed peppermint from Bakers Catalog. We are not normally especially pepperminty people, but how could we resist? Of course, as soon as we had a bag (or two) of peppermint just sitting around waiting to find cookies to adorn, we were on the hunt for recipes to use it up.

Choco Peppermint Crinkle Detail

Our first contender* was “Chocolate Chip and Peppermint Crunch Crackles” from Bon Appetit. Thanks to the peppermint being pre-crushed, this recipe was insanely simple, and yielded cookies so utterly delicious, so cakey and not-too-sweet-chocolatey, so hint-of-peppermint perfect that we’re almost ready to close the field and declare them the winner straight out of the gate. Sure, we haven’t tried any other recipes for our peppermint, but we highly doubt there’s anything that can top these.

Choco Peppermint Crinkle2

–8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
–1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
–1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
–1/2 cup finely crushed red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies
–6 1/2 tablespoons sugar

–3 large eggs
–2 teaspoons vanilla extract
–1 teaspoon peppermint extract
–1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
–3/4 teaspoon baking powder
–1/4 teaspoon salt
–1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

–Coarsely crushed peppermints
–Powdered sugar

Combine first 3 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Stir over low heat until chocolates melt and mixture is smooth. Remove pan from heat. Mix in finely crushed mints and 6 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Cool mixture to lukewarm, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Whisk eggs into chocolate mixture, 1 at a time, then whisk in vanilla extract and peppermint extract. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl to blend. Whisk flour mixture, then chocolate chips into chocolate mixture. Cover batter and chill until firm enough to shape, at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using 1 generous tablespoonful for each cookie, roll dough between moistened palms into 1 1/4-inch-diameter balls, then arrange on prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until puffed and cracked on top but still soft to touch in center, about 11 minutes. Let stand on sheets 5 minutes. Press coarsely crushed mints onto tops of cookies or sprinkle with powdered sugar. Transfer to racks; cool completely. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight between sheets of waxed paper in refrigerator.)

(*To be fair, we did try the peppermint on cupcakes, but that was in a kit from Bakers Catalog that included the peppermint. So that doesn’t really count, because it was all bundled up for us ahead of time. [Also, it should be noted that when you sprinkle peppermint pieces onto the frosting on a cupcake and then put the cupcakes in a cake dome, the peppermint melts. We… didn’t realize that would happen. And consequently, our cupcakes weren’t ready for their close-up when we would have been posting about them here.])


Filed under Baked Goods

Deer City

A few years ago, KtG considered what would be the proper term for what we are as stitchers (and now quilters). We’re not “artists”, because while we make a certain number of design choices such as linens and substituting colors, we never make our own designs. But given the amount of time we spend on any given project, the care we take to use the finest materials, and the standards we hold our work to, we’re also not “crafters”. KtG decided that we must be somewhere in the middle, and the term she suggested was “artisan”. I liked the sound of that. It implies I might occasionally strive for that mythical “museum-quality work” but clearly announces I hold no misconceptions of my own (non-existent) artistic ability. So keeping this “artisan” thing in mind, I present to you my latest finished quilt, “Deer City”:

Deer City 1

I had seen pictures of this quilt in all the blogger reports from Spring Market and with every picture I saw, I feel deeper and deeper in love with the muted colors and the sophisticated circle pattern. It seemed like a sign from the quilting gods when the pattern turned out to be a free download from Free Spirit Fabrics, but I was still a little trepidatious about the circular piecing. So it seemed like a bigger, badder sign from the quilting gods when one of our quilting magazines arrived in the mail with a picture tutorial of piecing quarter circles. At that point I had to order the fabric, right?

Blue and Red Circle

The fabrics are probably a bit trendier than what I’m usually drawn to, but I’ll worry about them going out of style later. For right now I love the how the super-trendy red/aqua combo is broken up by silvery grays, mustard yellows, and deep greens. And for right now I love how the super-trendy deer silhouette is balanced by the geometric patterns, and the little flowers. When it goes out of style, I’ll just have to put in the linen-closet for ten years, and then it’ll be retro cool. Or something.

Blue and Gray Circle

Starting the project was the hardest part. I’m not used to using templates, and it took a little trial and error to realize the convex half of the quarter-circle had one arm that was wider than the other. And pinning and sewing the first seam was like trying to speak a foreign language. The whole time I thought, “this will never work” and “I must be doing this wrong”, but then magically it popped into shape and was a perfect quarter-circle! Who knew!

The rest of the project was the very easy part. Being an artisan and not an artist, I just followed the picture, knowing it looked exactly how I wanted my quilt to look. (There was one exception to that — the pattern included some striped and dotted fabrics I wasn’t wild about, so I did actually substitute on a few blocks.) The entire top took just a few weeks to piece by hand. I suspect it’s actually easier to piece circular seams by hand than on a machine. Score one for hand-piecing!

Deer City 2

As much as I love hand-piecing, I’m all about the convenience of machine-quilting, so this puppy was handed off to Mary, The Long-Arm Quilter. I trust her artist’s eye implicitly, so I just told her to pick whatever pattern she wanted. She went with this big, loopy curlicue pattern that echoes the circles in the pattern and the flowers in the fabrics.

Green and Yellow Circle

Deer City Backing

I followed my cardinal rule of backing the quilt with my favorite fabric from the line, so I chose the dusty blue with brick red flowers for the backing. I loved the red geometric border that the sample quilt had, so I went with that on my quit. I went with the blue and red geometric for the binding, knowing it would look great with the border. It took a few hours of invisible-stitching to fully accept how the binding was looking with the backing, but in the end, I’m very, very pleased with the finished project!

Deer City Binding

So there we go, one artisan quilt! I did only the teeniest, tiniest bit of artistic thinking, but put the utmost of care into making sure the work was quality. In fact, this quilt top was that first that prompted this reaction from one of the staff at the local quilt store: “That’s your quilt? Hm. May I look at the back? [studies stitching from the back] Oh, this is very well done! Great job!” Hooray! I knew I’d arrived in the cool kid’s club in the cross-stitching community back in AZ when the framer would look at the back of the piece before the front, so I’m feeling very, very good about my quilting now!

Also, while on an artisan quilting run, I took a stab at artisan bread baking and check it out — it looks like crusty whole wheat bread!

January 10 2010

Here’s the thing about being an artisan — it’s so easy. The quilt and the bread were ridiculously easy. All either of them required were good materials, patience, care, and time. If you have those things but no artistic talent, the world can still be your oyster! (Provided someone else harvests the oyster. Heh.)

Posted by Pookie


Filed under Baked Goods, Quilting

Blog Post de Noel

How did you spend your New Years holiday? I spent mine separating eggs! At least, looking back on it, it seems that way. You see, thanks to a shortage of oven and refrigerator space, I wasn’t able to make the dessert I was planning on for Christmas, so we put it off a week, and had our yule log for New Years. Or rather, our Chocolate-Malt Stump de Noel.

I found this recipe during my usually desultory magazine flip-through when my latest issue of “Food & Wine” is delivered. It’s from the December ’09 issue, and despite being wildly unenthusiastic about food production during the last few months, I was still totally inspired to give it a try. I’ve never had a buche de noel, nor have I ever really yearned for one, but for whatever reason, this stump version spoke to me. So heading into the long weekend, I prepared for making it.

The first step for me was to check, when I got home early from work on New Year’s Eve, whether I needed to be making any cake components so it would be ready to eat the next evening. I read all the active parts of the cake and frosting recipes, neglected to read the “make ahead” instructions about what could be kept for how long before assembly, and decided it all had to be made in one fell swoop. That was my first mistake. But at least I did think to make my meringue mushrooms ahead of time.

Meringue Mushrooms

Having never baked meringues in my life, I did consult a recipe for assistance with this. I’m glad I did, too, because it never would have occurred to me that you pipe the stems and the caps of the mushrooms separately, then assemble them with a tad more meringue and bake until the “glue” is set. I would have just tried (and failed) to pipe mushrooms in one fell swoop, and would have gotten angry, cussed a lot, and declared that we weren’t having a stump de noel after all. So thanks,! You’re a lifesaver! Or at least a stump de noel-saver.

Makin' Mushrooms

So here’s how I made them:


4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar (if you don’t have that, just run regular sugar in a food processor for about 30 seconds)


Using a mixer with clean, grease-free beaters (or whisk attachment), and in a clean, grease-free bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. Then add the sugar in a gradual stream while still beating on high speed. Continue to beat until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks (about 5 minutes).

Position two racks in the oven to allow room for two sheets of meringues, and preheat the oven to 200 degrees (F). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit a pastry bag with a medium-large piping tip; I think the one I used was about 1/2 inch. Put most of the meringue into the pastry bag, reserving enough to pipe later as the “glue” in the mushroom assembly (about 1/4 cup), and then get to piping those mushrooms. For the caps, pipe circles about 2 inches wide and 1 inch high, and try to twist the pastry bag so you don’t end up with peaks on the top. If you’re like me and do end up with peaks, just smooth them out with your fingertip, dipped in water. For the stems, just pipe like a little hershey kiss shape, dolloping a base onto the tray, then just lifting the pastry bag straight up. Make more bases than you have caps, because they won’t all work out, and because you’re going to want to eat them.

Bake the caps and stems for 1 hour, or until they are dry and hard, rotating the trays once after 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, and using a pointed knife or toothpick, make a little hole in the center of the undersides of the caps. Put the reserved meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a fine tip (or in a sandwich bag with a fine tip cut from the corner), and pipe a small dollop into the hole. Then fit the pointy end of a stem into the hole, and put the mushroom, cap-down, onto a parchment-covered baking tray. Once they’re all assembled, return to the mushrooms to the oven for about 25 minutes, until they’re set.

After they’re fully baked, you can sift cocoa powder over the tops for decoration, and then either gobble them all up on the spot, or save for decorating your buche/stump de noel. I know it was touch-and-go there for me whether the meringues were going to survive an entire day while waiting for the cake assembly.

Dressing the Stump de Noel

So, New Year’s Day dawned for me with a platter full of mushrooms and the prospect of baking a stump hanging over me. I hadn’t read the recipe very carefully, so I had no idea what was in store for me. When I cracked open the magazine and really looked at it, I realized I had horribly miscalculated how much work was going to go into this thing. There are a lot of steps in this cake. A lot. But with no hockey but the dumb Winter Classic on TV, I decided to forge ahead, and set to separating all those eggs. (Counting the meringue, and the one broken yolk I had, this whole baking affair used 22 eggs. All separated. I don’t think I’d separated 22 eggs in all of 2009.)

In case you don’t want to follow the link to this recipe (again, it’s from the December 2009 “Food & Wine”, just to give credit where it’s due), here it is:

Ingredients for the cake:

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1/4 cup of hot water
1 dozen large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Malted buttercream and dark chocolate buttercream (recipe below)


1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheets and line them with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on all of the short sides. Butter the paper and dust with flour.

2. In a small bowl, whisk the 1 cup of flour with the cocoa and salt. In another small bowl, combine the chocolate and espresso. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg yolks with 2/3 cup of the sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk and beat at high speed until the yolks are pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture along with the vanilla. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl and the whisk. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on moderately high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and continue beating at high speed until the whites are glossy, about 2 minutes longer. Whisk one-fourth of the egg whites into the cake batter, then fold in the remaining whites until no streaks remain.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the melted butter with 1/2 cup of the batter; fold this mixture into the batter. Working in 2 batches, sift the cocoa powder mixture over the batter and gently fold it in. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading it out to fill the pans. Bake for about 18 minutes, until the cake feels springy and dry; shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Transfer the pans to racks to cool completely. Run the tip of a knife around the edges, cover with parchment paper and a baking sheet and invert; peel off the parchment on top.

5. Spread the Malted Buttercream over the cakes. Using a ruler, cut each cake precisely in half lengthwise, cutting through the paper; you should have four 6-by-17-inch strips of cake. Roll one strip into a tight coil, leaving the paper behind. Roll the 3 remaining cake strips around the coil in the same way to form a very wide, short jelly roll. Set the cake on a large plate, spiraled end up. Frost the outside of the cake with the Dark Chocolate Buttercream. Refrigerate until set, at least 8 hours. Decorate the cake with meringue mushrooms, cranberries and rosemary sprigs and serve, cutting the cake into wedges or horizontal slices.

Ingredients for the frostings:

5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4 cup malt powder, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of hot water
12 malted milk balls, crushed


In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are just warm to the touch. Return the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk. Add the vanilla and beat the egg whites at high speed until firm and glossy, about 5 minutes. With the machine on, whisk in the butter a few tablespoons at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, continue to beat until smooth before adding more butter. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream to a bowl and whisk in the melted chocolate. Beat the dissolved malt powder into the remaining buttercream, then beat in the milk balls.

(For the record, I omitted the malted milk balls.)

Stump de Fridge

The stump was too tall for my cake dome, so I had a bear of a time jury-rigging a foil covering for it that wouldn’t mess up my “artful” frosting.

Whew! That’s a lot of recipe there. Oh, it might not seem like it on paper, but dude. I think I used every single bowl I own. Making the cake batter was almost comical, how the steps just would. not. end. I was cool with beating the egg yolks and sugar, then adding the chocolate. And I was cool with folding that into the egg whites. But dude, the folding in the butter? That’s just crazy! Anyway, after what seemed like a lifetime of tempering and folding, the batter (which was delicious, I might add) was ready to bake, and I was ready to wish I’d made the frosting ahead of time. My recommendation if you try this recipe is to read all the notes about how you can make the frosting up to four days ahead of time, and to have someone else do the cleanup for you.

What I discovered about the frosting part of this project is that it didn’t take 8 hours to set, as the recipe suggests (I let the frosting chill in the fridge for about 2 hours before assembling the cake, and it could have been sliced right away, I think). Also, I didn’t have enough of the chocolate frosting to do much more than crumb-coat the outside of the cake. It barely hid all the cracks. I’m not sure that separating out more of the frosting to mix with the chocolate would be a good idea, though, because there was a perfect amount of the malted buttercream for the filling as the recipe is written. I dunno. My advice is to make more chocolate frosting. As it was, I didn’t have enough on the outside to do any artful fluting to create realistic bark to go with my realistic mushrooms.

January 1 2010

But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care that my stump wasn’t barkfully fluted. I don’t care that I reached the end of my rope when making the buttercream and didn’t mix in all the butter perfectly. And I don’t care that I didn’t have the recommended rosemary sprigs and used bay leaves to set-dress my cake instead. You know why? Because the cake is AWESOME. I have never made anything that looked this incredible. I am so delighted with it. I love it. When we got out the tripod and staged our stump de noel photoshoot, I was as giddy as if the Devils had just won a huge game. This cake was a total victory for me.

Furthermore, look how cool it looks sliced!

Slice of Stump

I had my concerns when I was handling the cakes that this would be dry, but it wasn’t. It was perfect. As adorable as it looked assembled, it tasted even better. It was a ton of work, with a bit of frustration, but was absolutely worth it. We managed to kick off 2010 with a bang, and so far, it’s been a great year!

[Posted by Schnookie.]


Filed under Baked Goods, Celebratory!, Fancy Dessert, Pommerdoodling, Seasonal, Special Events, You Don't See That Every Day

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Many years ago, Boomer treated all of her daughters to a weekend “boot camp” at a swanky dude ranch in California, where she and our dad had taken swanky vacations long before we were born.

Boomer at Alisal

For a little flavoring shot, here’s Boomer and one of the horses. Sadly, I can’t seem to find the picture of Boomer with the horse named Boomer; the staff at the ranch was very excited to pair the two of them up.

The day we flew in for our dude ranch weekend, we had a little time to kill between deplaning and being able to check in, so we swung through the town of Solvang, which Boomer remembered as having a really good stitching shop. It turned out that the shop was no longer nice at all, and the town was like some supremely crazy twilight zone, but in the course of our few hours killing time there, we did get to enjoy a plate of fresh ebelskivers. And when we found ourselves, a couple of years later, with gift certificates at Williams Sonoma, we decided we totally needed to buy that ebelskiver pan they were selling, so we could make our own. (Because no way, no how are we ever going back to Solvang.)

Smizing Over Ebelskivers

That’s a powerful combination of smizing and crazy eye right there.

Because I don’t like to rush into things, I spent a good deal of time contemplating the ebelskiver pan. Like, years. It sat in a box in the dining room during the kitchen renovation, and remained in that box in the dining room long after the renovation was done. You don’t want to just race willy-nilly into making ebelskivers. That’s something you have to be really ready for.

You can imagine Pookie’s and Boomer’s surprise, then, when I woke up on the first Sunday morning of my Christmas vacation, the world blanketed in beautiful snow, and announced that I was actually going to do it — I was going to make ebelskivers. The horror!

Making Ebelskivers

I had a new ebelskiver cookbook, thanks to a more recent gift certificate-spending trip to Williams Sonoma, and I picked the chocolate chip ebelskivers as my first attempt, taking into serious consideration the cookbook’s warning that it’s probably better to experience the whole process before trying to graduate up to making filled pancakes.

Making Ebelskivers

The recipe was very simple, pretty much the old waffle recipe I’d grown up with. It was a pancakey batter, lightened with beaten egg whites, and then with chocolate chips folded in. The recipe specified using mini morsels, but I didn’t have those on hand, and figured that the Schokinag baking chips I have would melt better, creating a sort of middle ground between “pancakes studded with little unmelted mini morsels” (as the recipe stated they should turn out) and “pancakes filled with molten ganache” (as I really wanted to be eating).


As it turns out, the cookbook I had seemed to think I was working with an ebelskiver pan with a larger cup size. And one without a nonstick coating. The first batch was a bit of a disaster, with the burning and the uncooked middles and the too much batter and the unnecessary buttering. The second batch was a tiny bit better. By the time I finished off the bowl of batter, I was beginning to figure this thing out.

Plated Ebelskivers

For the most part, my ebelskivers need a lot of work. If I was trying to sell these bad boys in Solvang, I’d have to do it at quite a discount, because no one in their right mind would pay full price for them. They were misshapen and maladroitly turned in the pans, but I think, if I keep forcing Pookie, Boomer and myself to have to eat plates of cute round pancakes, I might be able to get up to speed.

The lessons learned were that I need to use less batter than the recipe specifies (or get a bigger pan), I should turn the pancakes with knitting needles rather than bamboo skewers, and I need to keep an extremely careful eye on the heat, because the nonstick pan gets crazy hot crazy fast. Until the kinks get worked out, I don’t think I’ll be making molten ganache-filled pancakes. We’ll just have to stick to chocolate chip.

[Posted by Schnookie]


Filed under Baked Goods

Where’s The Statler Cake?

The scene: our local grocery store, after work the Tuesday after Labor Day. It was a long day, and I wasn’t terrifically engaged with the task of meal planning for the week. As I wandered the aisles absently, out of the blue I was struck by the strangest inspiration. I needed to make Waldorf Cake.

September 12, 2009

Back when I was in high school and first started cooking, my one resource was our tattered old Betty Crocker Cookbook, fondly known in our household as “Betty The Crock”. When I was feeling especially fancy and ambitious, I decided to make this Waldorf Cake, which is an angel food cake filled and frosted with chocolate whipped cream. Yeah. Super fancy.

Waldorf Solid

Unlike when I was a kid, I made this angel food cake from scratch. I used the “Dessert Bible” recipe, which I’m too lazy to recount here. That said, I’m never above using angel food cake mix; that stuff is delish.

Waldorf Hollowed

Once the cake’s all baked and cooled, you lop off the top about an inch down, then hollow out a trench around the whole cake, leaving 1-inch walls. The best part about it is that you then get to eat all the tender angel food cakemeats that you’ve removed from the center.

Waldorf Filled

The chocolate whipped cream is nice and straightforward, just three cups of whipping cream, 1 1/2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, 3/4 cups of cocoa powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Whip it all up, fill in the trench, try to pack out the air bubbles, then place the top back onto the cake.

Waldorf Topped

Once the top’s patted onto the cake, you frost the whole kit and kaboodle with the whipped cream.

Waldorf Frosted

This cake is hilarious and delicious. It seems so delightfully Sandra Lee to be cutting tops off angel food cakes and slathering it all with whipped cream. And today was especially fun because as soon as I mentioned it to Boomer, she wondered aloud whether this was the cake her aunt made every year for her cousin’s birthday. Any cake that brings on a wave of “growing up in the ’50s in the Midwest” nostalgia is a good cake in my book.

Waldorf Sliced

I am so glad I made this today, because I feel like I’m 16 again and inordinately proud of my mad baking skillz. I should break out Betty The Crock a bit more often to try my hand at silly retro desserts. Ambrosia, anyone?

[Posted by Schnookie]


Filed under Baked Goods, Fancy Dessert

Christmas Cookie Test Drive

When I was a kid, making spritz cookies with the ancient cookie press seemed so special. I mean, cookies that required a little machine with all kinds of moving parts? How awesome is that? Somewhere along the line the ancient press kicked the bucket, leaving us without spritz cookies for years and years. So when Williams-Sonoma starting selling a fancy new version, we couldn’t resist giving one to Boomer for her birthday. I decided to take it for a test drive today, just to make sure it was in working order for when KtG comes to visit for Thanksgiving.

KtG had a press that we used a few years ago that was new and easy and foolproof. I figured this one would be similar so it would just be a hop, skip, and jump from no cookies to a kitchen full of Christmas-smelling cookies. I… was wrong.

Spritz Shapes

The dough was a snap to make and tasted delicious. That was no problem at all. The press, however, was a much bigger jerk than I was expecting! It was remarkably hard to fully depress the trigger, particularly with my hands covered it greasy butter cookie dough. The dough wouldn’t stick enough to the parchment paper sheets I usually use to make clean-up easier, so I had to ditch them and put the dough directly on the sheets. The process wasn’t working at all, and there was much swearing and tossing about of mishapen blobs that were supposed to be making wreaths and snowflakes. It was a bad scene. Finally Boomer stepped in and held the cookie tray in place while I pulled the trigger, and voila! Success!

Spritz Flower

Tray of Trees

After 12 minutes or so in the oven, out came some delicious-looking, delicious-smelling pre-Thanksgiving Christmas cookies. They’re not the world’s most delicious-tasting cookies (they really require one to be drinking tea by the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree), and they’re a totally pain in the ass to make, but as Boomer pointed out, they just look so much cuter than regular cookies, so it’s worth the trouble!

Baked Spritz

And now I know for the next time I make them:
1. Have someone hold the tray while I press the cookies
2. Put the tray on a table instead of the counter so I get better leverage on the trigger
3. While the straight-up butter/vanilla flavor is good, it might be fun to try mixing in some peppermint oil or almond extract
4. Don’t forget to try the star shape

Let the Christmas cookie season begin!

P.S. I put some red sprinkles on some of the snowflake shapes to represent the danger of using a DSLR to take pictures of light-up Christmas decorations. After a week of letting the General dry out, we have established he is well and truly dead.

[Posted by Pookie]


Filed under Baked Goods, Cookie, Cookie, Cookie Starts With C

Wherein We Discover, Again, That Dorie Greenspan Is A Genius

Okay, if you like baking, or just looking at recipes for baking, or just looking at pretty pictures of baked goods, then you should own a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours. If you don’t already, you should zip down to your local public library to at least take a gander at it (I’m trying to get brownie points from Pookie for plugging public libraries…). For many years my go-to “I want to try a new recipe, so I’ll just riffle through this one book until I find something that strikes my fancy” baking book was Baking With Julia (also written by Dorie Greenspan), but Baking: FMHTY has completely supplanted it. In fact, my copy of Baking With Julie is now covered with cobwebs and spends its days bitterly getting drunk on cooking sherry and grumbling under its breath about what horrible fate it hopes befalls its usurper.

The latest recipe to support my faith in B: FMHTY is the “Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes”. A couple weeks ago we had lunch with Kristin at Artisanal, and for dessert we had an outrageously good Baba au Rhum. Immediately after getting home that day, I started looking around for recipes to make my own. I found one in, of all places, Baking With Julia, but it seemed overly fussy (on top of being a yeasted dough that gets soaked with rum, this version had a pastry-cream filling); instead, I set my heart on the “Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes” in my newer, favoriter book.

Rum Soaked Pound Cake 1

Dorie (since her cookbook and I are BFFs, I feel like we’re on a first-name basis…) describes these cakes in the introduction as having a texture like Sara Lee pound cake, and really, who doesn’t love that? I have never been very good at making pound cake (I either end up with soupy wrecks, or dry, sawdusty loaves), but if Dorie says the recipe will yield perfect Sara Lee-y cakes, then I’m game to give it a try.

The recipe is as follows:


2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
2 1/3 cups sugar
2 plump, moist vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved, OR 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
1 stick plus 7 tablespoons (15 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark rum

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 (F). Butter two 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-x-2 1/2-inch loaf pans, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. (Even if the pans are nonstick, it’s a good idea to butter and flour them.) Place the pans on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular sheets stacked on on top of the other.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Put the sugar and the pulp from the vanilla beans, if using them, in a large bowl and, working with your fingers, rub them together until the sugar is moist and thoroughly imbued with the fragrance of vanilla. (If you are using vanilla extract, add it later, after you’ve added the eggs.) Add the eggs and whisk them into the sugar, beating until they are thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the extract, if you’re using it, then whisk in the cream, followed by the rum. Continuing with the whisk or switching ot a large rubber spatula, gently stir in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions; the batter will be smooth and thick. Finish by folding in the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions. Pour the batter into the pans, smoothing the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. (As soon as the cakes go into the oven, make the syrup.) After about 30 minutes in the oven, check the cakes for color — if they are browning too quickly, cover them lightly with foil tents.

MEANWHILE, MAKE THE SYRUP: Stir the water and sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar melts, then bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the ehat and stir in the rum. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and let cool.

When the cakes test done, transfer them to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them and turning them right side up on the rack. Place the rack over a baking sheet lined with wax paper and, using a thin skewer, cake tester or thin-bladed sharp knife, poke holes all over the cakes. Brush the cakes all over with the syrup, working slowly so that the cakes sop it up. Leave the cakes on the rack to cool to room temperature.

Pound Cake on Cooling Rack

Seriously, could that be ANY easier? This recipe was so much fun because it turned out totally bad-assed, but was actually ridonkulously easy to make. You don’t have to cream anything, or even use use an electric mixer! And all the talk of the insanely perfect texture was just truth in advertising — I am in love with this cake. I may have gone with too light a touch with my pinch of salt, but that’s easily fixed next time. And oh yes, there will be a next time. Because not only is this version of the cake perfection (especially with a hot cup of tea), but Dorie has a handful of variations to play with, like lemon loaf cakes, orange loaf cakes, and candied ginger loaf cakes. I see a taste test in our future.

Rum Soaked Pound Cake 4

(Post by Schnookie)


Filed under Baked Goods

And I Get To Take All The Credit!

Within the last week I’ve had two separate people suggest cookie recipes to me (Patty suggested lemon-clove sandwich cookies, and Sarah wrote a post about chocolate cookies) but I’m still months behind on my cookie plans! Ages ago I saw a recipe for something called Pine Nut Tassies. I’d never made tassies before. I had, come to think of it, never even heard of tassies before. But they sounded so cool I couldn’t resist. I hacked into Schnookie’s epicurious recipe box and saved the link. And then I sat back and waited for the perfect day.

Today was that perfect day — just over halfway through a nice long vacation, a lazy summer Friday, everything is feeling like Autumn is really just around the corner. The active prep time on the recipe (which is from Gourmet magazine) said 1 1/4 hours but the instructions seemed really easy. Just make a simple butter cookie dough and line mini-muffin trays with this pastry-crust-like-material.

Whip up a caramel-ish filling with brown sugar, butter, and an egg then stir in pine nuts. Make sure, though, that you get the right amount of pine nuts. I forgot to remind my personal grocery shopper to read the recipe before getting the nuts, so I was missing 1 3/4 ounces of the little buggers and my personal errand runner had to zip back out for more.

Filling the shells with the sticky, gooey mixture made me feel like I was Sandra Lee making some ridiculously fussy recipe made from 99% crappy ingredients like pancake batter in a can and cherry pie filling and 1% stupidly expensive, hard-to-find items like rose soda. All I needed was the Semi-Homemade theme song, a bushel full of fake apples, and an over-the-top window treatment.

The funny thing about this, though, was that it wasn’t fussy. At all. It was fun and easy throughout the entire process. I never felt like I was tired of bending over muffin tins or tired of having sticky fingers from the filling.

The butter cookies were insanely easy to make and divide (helpfully leaving us with just the right amount of snacking dough, to boot).

The filling was simple and quick, and super-fun. I’d never made anything like it before and probably could have swirled it around for hours because the texture was fascinating.

And the cookies came out of the oven perfectly bubbly and golden brown after just 10 minutes.

The potential to be scalded with burning hot caramel was enough to scare us into doing the unthinkable — letting the cookies cool completely before trying them. Of course, that did force us to stop and smell the roses, or rather stop and arrange the cookies on the gorgeous new tray Boomer and Schnookie gave me for my birthday.

Sandra Lee would mostly layer the tray with silk flower petals first, and maybe a few pillar candles, and probably a giant faux-chandelier would be involved somewhere. But for me, it’s perfect.

Speaking of perfect, the cookies? Are delicious. The butter cookie crusts are, well, buttery! Buttery, and smooth, and bright. The filling is phenomenal. The caramel darkens the brightness of the crust, balancing it out beautifully. The pine nuts provide a nut-ish flavor but without the traditional nut-ish crunch and chunkiness. They also round out of the overall flavor with a finish that hints at something totally outside the realm of The Cookie Usual, but which manages to also be comfortable and warm


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

For Butter Cookie Pastry Shells:
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, on medium speed. Add egg and vanilla and beat. On low speed, add the flour until it is just incorporated. Split dough into halves and cool in fridge while making the filling.

2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbl butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups pine nuts (1/2 lb)

Whisk together sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and salt. Add pine nuts and stir.

Split one half of the dough into 12 1 1/2 tsp-sized chunks. Roll each chunk into a 1-inch ball and place in muffin tin. Using your thumb, press the dough along the bottom and sides of the muffin tin cups. (You will not need to grease the muffin tin.) Fill each shell with about a tsp of filling.

Bake until bubbly and golden brown. In my oven, this took exactly 10 minutes, although the recipe calls for 12-15. Place the tins on trays to cool for 10 minutes, first running a sharp knife around the edges of each cookie. After 10 minutes, remove the cookies from the tins and allow to cool completely on the rack.

The recipe says this will make 4 dozen cookies, but I only had enough filling for 3.


Filed under Baked Goods, Cookie, Cookie, Cookie Starts With C