Friday, February 28, 2014

Almond Butter and Oatmeal Flourless Cookies

With a bag of almond meal still to use after last weekend's flourless almond torte, I came home from work one day inspired to bake hearty, chewy cookies full of oats and almonds.

The cookies are flourless, as well as being devoid of refined sugar, and are full of good-quality natural ingredients like raw almond butter, pure maple syrup, coconut oil, oats and almond meal, with plenty of spices and just enough bittersweet chocolate chips to get a little dark chocolate in each cookie.

The cookies baked up so soft and chewy, and days later, they are just as soft.  We've been eating a cookie or two after dinner throughout the week, and I will probably put the rest in the freezer to keep them fresh since we don't finish a batch of cookies very quickly.

At first bite, you might think they're not sweet enough, with only a little pure maple syrup to sweeten the whole batch.  But commercially prepared baked goods have conditioned us to think that food and sweets should taste sweeter than they really need to, and I find that the more I bake at home, the less I enjoy store bought sweets.

So without excess sugar, the flavors of the oats, almonds and spices are more singular, and these are cookies that I can feel good about enjoying.

Another aspect to enjoy about these naturally gluten-free cookies, is that the dough doesn't need to be refrigerated prior to baking.  It's a thick and sticky dough, and dropped by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet after mixing, it baked up into beautifully chewy cookies.

And the raw cookie dough is pretty good right off the spoon.

One Year Ago:   Ezekiel Bread
Two Years AgoOrange Curd Glazed Salmon with Lemon Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

Almond Butter and Oatmeal Flourless Cookies

  • 1/2 cup raw natural almond butter
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 1/4 cups almond meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350.  In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almond butter, maple syrup and coconut oil until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Scrape the bowl, add the extracts and the eggs, and beat for 2 more minutes.

In a bowl, combine the oats, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Add to the mixing bowl, mixing on low until combined; stir in the chocolate chips and almonds.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper.  Bake for 8 minutes, until slightly puffed and the edges are dry but the center is still a little gooey.  Cool cookies for 2 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Baked cookies can be stored in the freezer for several months in an airtight container.

Yields about 2 - 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Flourless Almond Torte

When I was little, I remember my mom making a Danish pastry called almond kringle, and I'm not sure if it was that butter-layered, almond-scented yeast dough or my own Danish heritage, but to this day, I have a weakness for almond pastry.

Danish kringle has an interesting history, and was introduced to Racine, Wisconsin in the late 1800s by immigrant Danish bakers, but it came to Denmark through German bakers from Austria at a time when the Danish bakers in Copenhagen went on strike.

The word kringle comes from the original pretzel shape in which they baked the pastry, and is also a symbol hung outside all Danish bakeries, although the pastry is now commonly baked in a ring.

It was my memories of that delectable pastry that inspired the almond torte I've made for you today.

While the making of Danish kringle is incredibly labor intensive, with rolling thin layers of butter between yeast dough, this torte is as simple a pastry as I could imagine.

I decided to make it flourless because I wanted to introduce the almond flavor in as many ways possible, with almond meal instead of flour in the batter, sweet almond paste as the sugar element, a hint of almond extract in the glaze, and of course, toasted sliced almonds sprinkled on top.

And although gluten free baking is not something I generally practice or have much experience in, this torte just happens to be naturally gluten free.

The batter is simple and elegant with just five ingredients of cream cheese, butter, almond paste, eggs and almond meal (really, six ingredients, though, if you want to count the pinch of salt).  With no leavening other than eggs, it bakes beautifully and surprisingly puffy, and then as it cools, the puffy cake-like texture settles down and condenses into a rich flat torte.

Since the torte itself is not very sweet, the sugary crusting glaze drizzled over the top adds a welcome sweetness, with the toasted almonds finishing it off with their warm nutty aroma.

Danish kringle is a beloved treat in Racine, Wisconsin, and there's a folk tale that goes like this:

Lars Larson was on his deathbed in an upstairs bedroom.  His doctor had said Lars would last for only a matter of hours.  Lars woke from a deep sleep and sniffed.  His wife must have just returned from the bakery, and the aroma of freshly baked kringles brought a spark to Lars.

He whispered, "If I could just have a taste of kringle before I die, it would make my dying sweeter."

Lars mustered every ounce of strength and got out of bed.  Slowly he made his way downstairs and into the kitchen.  There, he spied two kringles on the counter.  Just as he was reaching out to take a piece, his wife swatted his hand away.

"Stop that," she said.  "We're saving these for the funeral."

One Year Ago:   Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie Pie
Two Years AgoMeringue Cookies with Bittersweet Chocolate and Sea Salt

Flourless Almond Torte
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces almond paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Baker's Note:  Set out the cream cheese, butter and eggs an hour or two beforehand to let them come to room temperature.  To toast the almonds, spread them onto a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 5-10 minutes while the oven is preheating, checking them to make sure they don't burn.

Preheat the oven to 325.  Spray an 8 or 9-inch round spring form pan with non-stick spray and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, almond paste and salt for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each.  Stir in the almond meal until combined.

Spread the batter into the pan.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the torte is puffed and set.  Place the pan on a wire rack and start making the glaze.

In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup, water and almond extract.  Over medium/medium-low heat, bring to a boil, swirling occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  Keep the saucepan on the heat and whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth.  The glaze will begin to crust as soon as you remove it from the heat.

Remove the sides of the pan and pour the hot glaze over the cake, letting it drip over the edges a little.  Sprinkle with the almonds.  The torte can be eaten warm, after cooling for about an hour, but I think it's best cooled completely and eaten at room temperature.

Yields 10-12 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Roasted Brussel Sprouts Caesar Salad

The first time I tasted brussel sprouts, I absolutely loved them.  Jamie had braised them with bacon and apple cider vinegar and they were, quite simply, fantastic.  I also adore them roasted since the outer leaves get nice and crisp in a really hot oven while the center stays tender.

Those crispy bits are the best bites.

A few weeks ago, my sister texted me that she had seen a recipe for a warm brussel sprouts salad with bacon flavored croutons, and it was all she could think about.

And suddenly, brussel sprouts were consuming my thoughts, too.  You might think it's strange, this craving for a vegetable that tends to have such a bad reputation, but I really believe that if you don't like brussel sprouts, you must be cooking and eating them all wrong.  Try roasting them.  Really.  Add some bacon.  Or a little vinegar.  They're both quite nice.

While roasting the brussel sprouts with olive oil, smashed garlic and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, I cooked bacon until it was crisp, and then cooked thin chicken breasts in the bacon fat.

You'll find many variations of recipes for Caesar dressing if you go looking, but the basic formula is anchovies, egg yolks, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice, maybe with a little mustard, garlic and black pepper.  Typically, it's served on romaine lettuce with croutons and shavings of Parmesan cheese.

Ideally, the egg yolks and oil create an aioli (think mayonnaise), but personally, I've never had much success with homemade aioli, and it ends up just being overly oily.

So although I still add egg yolks for their creamy richness, I don't add any oil to my Caesar dressing, other than the little bit that comes in the metal tin of anchovies; instead I like to use a dollop of Greek yogurt and some buttermilk.  And in case you think you need to add salt to the dressing, please don't, since the anchovies and Parmesan cheese contribute more than enough salt on their own, and too much salt can quickly ruin a good dish.

The garlic that I roasted with the brussel sprouts made my dressing pretty special, with its lovely caramelized undertones and none of the bite of raw garlic.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad

  • 1 1/2 pounds brussel sprouts, stems trimmed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 2 large chicken breasts, butterflied into 4 thinner pieces
  • 2 ounces flat anchovies in olive oil and salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream or mayonnaise)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • coarse salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 400.  Cut the brussel sprouts in half and place in a single layer on a baking sheet along with the garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper.  Roast for 30 minutes, until tender and the edges are crisp.

Meanwhile, heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat and cook the bacon until crisp; drain on paper towels.  Season the chicken on both sides with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper and cook in the hot bacon fat until the chicken is browned on each side and cooked through.

To make the dressing, combine the anchovies, egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, Parmesan cheese, yogurt, buttermilk and the roasted garlic in a food processor and process until smooth.  Season to taste with black pepper.

Garnish the salad with the crumbled bacon and more Parmesan cheese.

Yields 4 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Speckled Chocolate Chip Cake with Ganache and Shaved Chocolate Vanilla Bean Buttercream

The night before Valentine's Day, I baked a special little cake for Jamie and me.  Three layers of vanilla bean cake with dark chocolate chips, filled with ganache, and frosted with shaved chocolate vanilla bean buttercream.

Just six inches in diameter, this cake is smaller than it looks, although still much more cake than two people could/should attempt to finish in a weekend.

Then on Friday, he surprised me with a delivery of red roses at my work, and I knew right away what I was going to do with a few of the flowers, something I've wanted to do ever since I started cake decorating.

Before the afternoon light faded and before he arrived home to take me to the ballet, I arranged a few of the roses and baby's breath on the cake for photos.  I was tempted to cut a piece right then, so that I could finish the photos with the same lighting, but I made myself wait, since I wanted to cut the cake with him that night for dessert after the ballet.  So I took the photos of the cut cake the next day, at the exact same time in the hope that the lighting would be consistent.  Can you tell that some of the photos were taken another day?

Next year when we celebrate Valentine's, he'll be my husband.

One Year Ago:   Chocolate Cream Pie with Raspberry Sauce
Two Years AgoOrange Poppyseed Muffins with Orange Curd and Mimosas

Speckled Chocolate Chip Cake with Ganache

·         1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, granulated sugar
·         4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
·         2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
·         2 eggs
·         ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
·         1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
·         ½ teaspoon kosher salt
·         ½ teaspoon baking powder
·         Pinch (about 1/16 teaspoon) baking soda
·         2/3 cup buttermilk
·         2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

·         3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
·         3 ounces heavy whipping cream

·         1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
·         ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
·         2 cups powdered sugar
·         1 tablespoon meringue powder
·         1-2 tablespoons milk or cream
·         ½ cup grated or finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (about 3-4 ounces)

Baker’s Note: For a standard sized cake (three 8 or 9-inch layers), double the recipe and prepare  as instructed.

Bake the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray the bottoms of three 6-inch pans with non-stick baking spray, line with parchment paper, then spray the paper as well.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar, cream cheese and butter on medium speed for 3-4 minutes, until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla bean seeds/extract.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour, stirring just until moistened.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Divide batter between the pans.  Bake cakes for 24-27 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel.

Make the Ganache:
While the cake is cooling, place the chopped chocolate in a bowl.  Gently warm the cream over low heat, just until it begins to bubble around the edges, then pour over the chocolate.  Let stand for 3 minutes, then stir with a spatula until smooth.  Set aside to cool and thicken at room temperature for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Make the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and vanilla bean seeds until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder.  With the mixer on low, add by spoonfuls.  Add the milk and increase speed to medium high, whipping until very light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.  Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Remove the cooled cakes from the pans.  Place one cake, bottom side up, on a cake pedestal or cake board.  Pipe a “dam” of buttercream around the edge of the cake and spoon half the ganache inside the buttercream.

Stack a second cake on the first and repeat with the rest of the ganache.  Add the third layer of cake, bottom side up.  At this point, you may want to stick a wooden skewer straight down the middle of the cakes to hold them in place while you frost the cake, as ganache is more slippery than buttercream and your cakes can slide around if you’re not careful.

Frost all over with a very thin crumb coat of buttercream; chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Finish frosting with the rest of the buttercream and store, covered, at room temperature.  If covered tightly, this cake will still taste fresh and moist for about five days.

Yields about 8-10 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Raspberry and Cream Filled Chocolate Glazed Doughnuts

Jamie took me to the ballet for Valentine's Day, specifically to see Cinderella, so when he asked for doughnuts last weekend, how could I possibly refuse?  Any man who willingly goes to see Cinderella the ballet deserves doughnuts.

By no means am I a doughnut expert, this being only the second time I've fried doughnuts (since I prefer them cakey or baked), so I was thrilled with how these turned out.  That white ring encircling the lovely golden fried dough was exactly what I wanted to see.

I filled them with a fluffy raspberry buttercream filling, although I think I would actually have preferred just the raspberry jam inside, and then drizzled them with a shiny chocolate glaze.

Doughnut making is quite a process, and sure, it would be a lot quicker and easier to pick up a box of doughnuts at the nearest bakery, but if you have the patience and desire to try making them, the pretty results speak for themselves.

One Year Ago:   Baked Mozzarella Sticks
Two Years AgoRosemary Garlic Parmesan Biscuits

Raspberries and Cream Filled Doughnuts with Chocolate Glaze

Step 1:  Make doughnut dough and let it rise (1 - 1 ½ hours)
Step 2:  Cut doughnuts and let rest  (30 minutes)
Step 3:  Make raspberry cream filling and begin heating frying oil
Step 4:  Fry doughnuts
Step 5:  Make chocolate glaze
Step 6:  Pipe filling into warm doughnuts and dip in glaze
Step 7:  Eat doughnuts!

Baker's Note:
After piping the raspberry cream filling into the hot doughnuts, it will, naturally, be quite runny and melty.  After the doughnuts sit and cool, the filling will eventually firm up again.  An alternative to the cream filling would be plain raspberry jam, which I think I would personally prefer, since the filling made the doughnuts a little too sweet for my taste, although Jamie loved it.

Yeast Doughnuts:
·         ¾ cup whole milk
·         3 tablespoons unsalted butter
·         1 package active dry yeast
·         1 egg
·         ¼ cup granulated sugar
·         ¾ teaspoon salt
·         ½ teaspoon nutmeg
·         2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
·         Vegetable oil for frying

In a saucepan, warm the milk and butter over medium heat until it reaches 115 degrees F.  Pour into the bowl of your stand mixer.  Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and let stand until foamy, 5-10 minutes.

Add the egg, sugar, salt, nutmeg and 1 cup of flour; mix on low with the dough hook attachment to combine, then gradually add the rest of the flour.  Knead on medium speed for about 4 minutes, until the dough is smooth, loose and sticky.

Dump the dough into a large, well-oiled bowl.  Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about one hour.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2 inch thick, using plenty of flour since the dough will still be very sticky and loose.  Don’t work the dough too much or it will become tough.  Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut rounds of dough; gather any scraps together and cut those into shapes also.  Place all the doughnuts and on floured baking sheets, cover lightly with towels and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

If you have a deep fryer, this next step should be simple for you.  If not, you'll need a large, flat-bottomed stock pot.  Fill 2 inches deep with vegetable oil.  Set up an instant read thermometer so that the end of the thermometer is not touching the bottom or the side of the pan, but resting in the oil.  Turn the burner on to just over medium heat and slowly heat the oil until it reaches 365 degrees Fahrenheit.

Use a large slotted spoon to gently place the doughnuts in the oil, working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan or reduce the temperature of the oil.  Cook for one minute on each side.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack set on a baking sheet.  Cook the remainder of the dough.

Yields about 12-15 doughnuts

Raspberry Cream Filling
·         ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
·         ¼ cup seedless raspberry jam
·         1 ½ cups powdered sugar
·         ½ teaspoon vanilla

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine all ingredients on low speed, then increase to medium and whip for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy; add a tablespoon or so of cream if the mixture is too thick, and more powdered sugar if too thin.  Cover and set aside until ready to pipe into the doughnuts.

Chocolate Glaze
·         ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
·         2 tablespoons whole milk
·         ½ tablespoon light corn syrup
·         1 teaspoon vanilla
·         2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
·         ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
·         ¾ cup powdered sugar
·         1-2 tablespoons warm water
·         Fresh raspberries, for garnish

In a saucepan, combine the butter, milk, corn syrup and vanilla and warm over medium heat until the butter is melted.  Reduce heat to low and add the chocolate, whisking until smooth and melted.  Add the cocoa powder, powdered sugar and warm water and whisk until smooth, then leave the pan on very low heat, whisking occasionally, until ready to use.

Cool the doughnuts on a wire rack set over a baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then poke a hole in the side of each to pipe in the filling.  Spoon the glaze over the top of each doughnut and garnish with a raspberry.  Enjoy warm, or let sit for a while to allow the filling to firm up and the glaze to set.

Yields about 12-15 doughnuts

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


When I thought of names for this blog a few years ago, Curly Girl Kitchen seemed to fit, because well, my hair.  My hair pretty much does whatever it wants most days, and this blog is just about anything and everything that I feel so inclined to bake, cook and share with you, although it does tend to lean towards sweet baking most often.

It used to annoy me, although I have learned to simply be amused, when people say things like, Oh, you must not even fix your hair, because it's already done for you!  Really, I don't have to fix my hair?  Gee, that must be nice.  If only it were true.

The 90s were unkind to my hair, and between the hair-sprayed bangs and the harsh drying effects of Sun-In and days spent lying outside resulting in a poof of dry frizzy hair fluffing around my shoulders, I wasn't exactly a picture of glamour.  I got it all chopped off my senior year, which I instantly regretted and dissolved into tears the second I left the salon.  It just so happened to be a few weeks before senior pictures, making it all the more regrettable.  It took years and years of more bad haircuts and even worse dye jobs to grow it out again with my natural hair color.  And ever since then, I've cut it myself - I just have a hard time trusting anyone not to butcher my hair.

The search will never truly be over for the perfect hair products and styling methods that lift my curls, give them volume with a lovely silky sheen and keep the frizz at bay, although on a very humid day, all bets are off.  I have to check the weather forecast before I even bother trying to straighten my hair, something I would never attempt on a rainy day.

Curly hair is naturally very coarse and dry, so the longer it gets, the more tangles I have to combat.  I never really get the satisfaction of brushing my hair, unless of course I want to spend an hour straightening it with a very hot, and likely damaging, flat iron, so I have to be satisfied with using my fingers or a wide comb to shake the curls into place.

My natural curl, as you see here, is achieved with more conditioner than you would think a head of hair could possibly absorb, followed by the barest of towel drying, a handful of curl mouse and a little more leave-in conditioner, then immediately and slowly blow-drying upside down with a diffuser.  By the time I'm done, my hair looks fantastic but my face is hot and sweaty from all that hot air.  But if I let it air dry while I walk around, it dries flat and frizzy, a strange combination.

Since I try not to blow dry it every time I wash it, I’ve discovered that I can achieve looser curls by washing it at night and letting it dry against my pillow, which means that every time I turn over, I have to remember, while half asleep, to lift my hair back up onto my pillow so it doesn’t dry flat and bedraggled against my head.  The result in the morning is a head full of soft, although somewhat uneven and unpredictable waves, that I can quickly bring into submission by touching up with my curling iron.

But in spite of all of this, I rather like my hair.

And Straight Girl Kitchen just really doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?