Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Some of everything...

We are officially moved into our house, and after all the packing, box lifting and stair climbing to move our things out of our third-floor condo, the garage, and the storage unit into our house, I'm more physically exhausted than I remember being in a very long time.  And there are so many projects to do at the house, I feel it will be a while before we have a truly restful weekend there.

It's exciting to fill the house with our things, to finally relegate the brown bachelor sofa to the basement and to imagine the possibilities of making the space work perfectly for our needs.  I have turned the front living room into my own personal studio, which thrills me.  I have my sewing machine, photography equipment and art supplies all set up and ready to use at a moment's notice, with no need to stash them away in a closet after I'm finished with a project.

We have a pantry now, the bottom one-third of which is filled with my baking and cake decorating supplies.

My beautiful black iron bed is dusted off from its years in storage and sitting prettily in our guest room, ready for our first guests.

And we have an actual master bedroom now, with two closets.  I feel like such a grown-up all of a sudden.

We're talking of painting over Christmas break, as I have realized that, in fact, no, I cannot live with walls painted in a color called "brown teepee".  I'm thinking of a pale grey paint throughout the house, with white stripes here and there.

And just maybe this weekend, we'll get a real Christmas tree.

Instagram Photos:
1.  Pumpkin doughnuts with pistachios.
2.  Contemplating all the change.
3.  New t-shirt from Dress Corilynn.
4.  Taking a break while moving to check out my new bathtub.
5.  My man all dressed up for the office work party.
6.  Stripe inspiration.
7.  Lazy days over Thanksgiving weekend.
8.  First cup of coffee in the new house.
9.  First cake baked and decorated in the new house.
10. Favorite bow belt.
11. Waiting.
12. Sunlight in a coffee shop.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Almond Cake with Banana Cream Filling

Almond chocolate chip cake was one of my wedding cakes, and I might even say it was my favorite of the five cakes I baked.  I have always adored cakes and pastries flavored with almond extract.

When I was growing up, my mom baked a lot of almond desserts since it's a popular flavor for Danish pastries, so my love of almond pastries began early on.

I think a lot about my family this time of year, and the Christmases we've spent together, although in recent years, it's becoming less and less frequent to spend the holidays with family when we all live so far apart.

Christmas is my favorite time of year, wherever we are.  I love the lights, the sparkly decorations, warm gloves and boots, hot chocolate, romantic snowfalls and cozy evenings spent at home.  I've felt a bit cheated out of the holiday this year, what with our moving from a condo to a house, and I haven't even been able to give a second thought to decorations or baking yet.

We are moving into our house tomorrow, though, and just maybe, we will go to the woods and cut down a real tree for Christmas this year.

For something a little different with this cake, I filled the cake layers with banana cream, which nicely complemented all the almond in the cake and buttercream.

To finish the cake, I sprinkled the top with toasted coconut, and I love the sweet crunch it adds.

My kitchen is officially packed, and I couldn't bake anything right now if I wanted to, so the next thing I make will be from the new Curly Girl Kitchen.

Until then...

Almond Chocolate Chip Cake

banana filling
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 - 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
For the filling, whip all ingredients until smooth and creamy; refrigerate until ready to fill the cake.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Goat Cheese and Chive Biscuit Breakfast Sandwiches

This week, we're leaving our first home, our one-bedroom condo where he made me pancakes the morning after the first night we spent together, where we said I love you for the first time, where we started our married life together.

We've outgrown the condo, and it's time to move on, so we're buying a house.  I don't want to stay here, and yet, I'm so sad to leave it behind, this chapter of the first five years our lives together that's about to close.

We close on the house on Tuesday, and the condo on the 19th, when someone else will make this her home, and maybe even find love herself while living here.  I like to think we're leaving good serendipity behind.

I didn't know last Christmas that it would be the last Christmas we would celebrate here.  Or that the last cake I baked in our familiar oven would be the last one I would bake here.  And as happy as I am over the prospect of a bigger home to grow into, I'm grieving over the one we're leaving behind, where we've created so many beautiful memories.

I've been overwhelmed with emotions these past few weeks, and it doesn't take much to make me cry lately.  In the midst of all this, I find myself wanting something comforting, homey and familiar, like biscuit sandwiches for breakfast.

Goat Cheese and Chive Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • handful of chopped chives
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, cold
  • 2/3 - 3/4 cup whole milk
For biscuit sandwiches, fill them with crisp bacon, slices of avocado and sunny side up eggs.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and chives.  Cut 6 tablespoons of butter and the goat cheese into pieces and sprinkle over the flour mixture.  Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter and cheese in until pea-sized pieces remain.  Refrigerate while you preheat the oven.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Add the milk to the chilled flour mixture and stir with a spoon just until a shaggy dough forms; the dough should just barely hold together.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1 inch thick.  Cut into biscuits with a 2-inch biscuit cutter and place 1 inch apart on the baking sheet.

Bake at 450 for 12-14 minutes, until risen and golden brown.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and brush over the hot biscuits.  Serve piping hot.

Yields about 12 biscuits.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Espresso Dusted Chocolate Shards

Coffee and chocolate is a timeless combination of flavors.

A love affair of bitter and sweet.

A consummation of what defines a day's inception and conclusion, for many.  For me, at least.  Coffee in the morning, and a piece of dark chocolate after dinner?  Yes, please.

One of my aunts has a piece or two of dark chocolate with her coffee every morning.  I start my days with eggs, but trading those in for chocolate instead is pretty tempting.

My chocolate espresso cake with cappuccino buttercream has been one of my most loved cake recipes I've tested on friends and coworkers, so I always know it will go over well when I make it.

This time, though, I wrapped the cake in thin shards of dark chocolate that I melted down, sprinkled with salt and espresso powder and let harden again.  The result was quite stunning.

Aren't the bokeh flecks of salt on the chocolate so pretty?

It's funny, but every time I mix up this particular cake recipe with the boiling water, I'm astonished at the thin-ness of the batter, as it looks like little more than chocolate soup poured into cake pans.

And yet, somehow, it turns into cake...

Chocolate Espresso Cake

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, special dark cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-3 tablespoons cream or whole milk, if needed
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • espresso powder
  • coarse salt
  • finely chopped nuts, if desired

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.  Spray the paper with non-stick spray.

In a the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients and mix gently on low speed for one minute, then on medium speed for two minutes.  Batter will be very thin.

Divide the batter between the pans.  Bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Set the pans on wire racks, cover loosely with clean kitchen towels, and cool completely.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and espresso powder until smooth.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, mixing until combined.  Add the vanilla and whip on medium high for 4-5 minutes, until very light and fluffy, adding the cream or milk as needed for desired consistency.

Frost the cooled cakes with the buttercream.  Before the buttercream crusts over, decorate with the chocolate shards.

Lay a piece of parchment paper on a large cutting board or the back of a baking sheet.  Melt the chocolate and spread into an even, thin layer over the paper; the chocolate should be about 1/16 of an inch thick.  Sprinkle with the espresso powder, salt and nuts or anything else you like.

Refrigerate for 3-4 minutes, just until the chocolate begins to thicken up, but is still soft.  Drag a knife through the soft chocolate in the size and shape of the shards that you want to decorate your cake with.  If you don't score your chocolate, you can also just cut or break it into random shards, but I wanted mine to look more uniform, which is why I scored it while it was soft.  Refrigerate until completely solid again (this can be done a day in advance as well).

While the chocolate is very cold and hard, and working quickly so the heat of your hands doesn't melt the chocolate, decorate your cake with the chocolate - it will easily lift off the parchment paper.

For a pretty holiday presentation, tie a bow around the cake.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pumpkin Pots de Creme

With all the desserts I bake, you may have wondered why I've never shared a recipe for just plain pumpkin pie, and the reason is, simply, I don't like pumpkin pie.  I'm not sure what it is, exactly, that I don't like, but it just doesn't interest me, so I never eat it at Thanksgiving.  And with all the other tempting desserts to taste during the holiday, I don't see the point in wasting time on pumpkin pie.

However, I do love pumpkin in many other desserts, so in lieu of pumpkin pie, I've created a recipe for Pumpkin Pots de Creme.

These little pots de creme may appear to be rather plain, but the creamy custard is as soft as silk, and each luxurious mouthful melts into a silken pool of pumpkin and spice on your tongue.

The dark chocolate chips add a pleasantly bitter contrast to the sweet custard, and if you'd like even more textural contrast, you could serve the pots de creme with a plateful of buttery shortbread cookies.

For Pumpkin Maple Pots de Creme, substitute 1/4 cup pure maple syrup for the brown sugar.

For Chocolate Pumpkin Pots de Creme, add 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate to the custard, and warm everything in a saucepan over medium-low heat to melt the chocolate before pouring the custard into the ramekins for baking.

Pumpkin Pots de Creme

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • pinch cloves
  • pinch nutmeg
  • dark chocolate chips, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 300, and place four small ramekins or custard cups in a baking dish.

In a bowl, whisk together everything, except the chocolate chips, until smooth.  Divide the custard between the ramekins.  Pour hot water into the baking dish so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins, being careful not to drip any water inside the ramekins.

Bake the custards for 25-30 minutes, until they appear set around the edges but slightly wobbly in the centers.  Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool for one hour, then remove ramekins from the baking dish and chill in the refrigerator for about 4 hours, or overnight.  Garnish with chocolate chips and serve chilled.

Yields 4 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Raisins and Toasted Pecans

Sweet potato casserole has always been my favorite side dish at Thanksgiving.  I make mine the way my mom always did, with a sugary pecan streusel topping, and never with marshmallows.

I love sweet potatoes, and we eat them every week, usually roasted whole in the skin to concentrate their natural sweetness, then split open and drizzled with a little olive oil or butter, and seasoned simply with salt and cinnamon.

These mashed sweet potatoes are a wonderful, healthy alternative to the sugar-laden casserole we're all used to seeing at the Thanksgiving table.  With just enough butter and milk to add a touch of richness, they're barely sweetened with a little raw honey or pure maple syrup, and spiced with warm fall spices like cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

The raisins, mashed with the sweet potatoes while they're piping hot, become delightfully soft and plump.  But the real secret to the indulgent flavor of these potatoes is in the vanilla and maple extracts.  Adding a few drops of maple extract gives the illusion of sweetness, without adding any sugar.

The potatoes are finished with a sprinkling of chopped, toasted pecans, and I dare say, they are just as satisfactory as the traditional casserole.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Raisins and Toasted Pecans

  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons raw honey or pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • pinch cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or seasoned to taste
  • pecans, toasted and chopped

Preheat the oven to 425.  Rub the sweet potatoes with the olive oil, wrap each in foil, and place on a baking sheet.  Roast for about an hour and 20 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft.  Unwrap the foil, let the potatoes cool for 10 minutes, then peel off and discard the skin.

Mash the potatoes by hand in a large mixing bowl with the butter, milk, raisins, honey/maple syrup, vanilla, maple extract and spices.  Sprinkle with the pecans and serve.

The potatoes can also be prepared a few days in advance, placed in a baking dish, and rewarmed in the oven before serving.

Yields about 6-8 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Happy Thanksgiving

Since neither of us have family nearby, we spent Thanksgiving with friends, and I offered to bring the pies.  I made pecan pie, which is always one of my favorites.  Every year, I make it just a little bit differently than before, and this time I added a splash of whiskey to the filling and topped it off with dark chocolate ganache.  It was absolutely fabulous.

We also still had a few jars of jam left from the wedding, so I made mini almond peach tarts which turned out so beautifully, with their sweet peach filling perfumed with almonds, and buttery, flaky crust.

Wherever you spent your Thanksgiving, and whether you shared the day with family, or friends who are like family, I hope it was a cozy and wonderful day.

Pecan Pie with Ganache

all-butter perfect pie crust, 1/2 of recipe

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 3 ounces cream
  • crushed pecans

Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface then transfer to a deep dish pie pan.  Fold the edges under and crimp them to make them look pretty.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, salt and whiskey until smooth.  Stir in the pecans and pour the filling into the crust.

Bake the pie at 350 for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 300 and bake for an additional 45 minutes or so, until the filling seems to be set.  During the last 15 minutes of baking, jiggle the pan ever 5 minutes; when it barely wiggles when you shake it, the pie is done.

Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours.

Finely chop the chocolate.  Warm the cream in a small saucepan over medium low heat, just until it begins to bubble around the edges.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  Let stand for 3 minutes, stir until smooth, and pour over the pie.  Sprinkle with crushed pecans.  Let cool completely before serving.

Almond Peach Tarts

all-butter perfect pie crust, full recipe
  • 1 cup almond pastry filling (found on the baking aisle of most grocery stores)
  • 1 1/2 cups peach jam (or any flavor jam you like)
  • 1 egg, plus 1 tablespoon water
  • sliced almonds
  • coarse sugar

Working with half the dough at a time, roll out to between 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick.  Use a fluted pastry cutter to cut the dough into 5-inch squares.  Roll out the scraps of dough and cut decorate shapes, such as leaves, pumpkins, acorns and turkeys.

In the center of each square of dough, spoon 1 tablespoon of the almond pastry filling and 1 1/2 tablespoons peach jam.  Fold up the corners of the dough to make a little tart.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water.  Brush each tart with the egg wash, and top with the decorative cutouts, brushing those with egg wash, too.  Sprinkle with the sliced almonds and coarse sugar.

Continue rolling out the dough and making more tarts until you've used up the ingredients - you should be able to make about 12 tarts - divide them between two pans for baking.

Freeze the tarts on the pans for at least 30 minutes, but better for a full hour.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake the frozen tarts for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack, then serve warm or at room temperature.

Yields about 12 tarts