Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas chocolate OVERLOAD: Saffron-honey dark chocolates and Blackberry-cassis dark chocolates

Ah, the chocolate craze this Christmas started a few weeks back with ginger carrot dark chocolates and peppermint ganache and continued with no break in the storm through Christmas.  So. Much. Chocolate.

Left to right (bottom to top):
Peppermint candy cane dark chocolate
Blackberry creme de cassis dark chocolate
Caramel chai dark chocolate
Saffron honey dark chocolate

And they all came packaged in these little treat boxes:

Yes!  That's my "company" logo on it.  Okay, I don't really have a company, or really a business in which I make money at all.  But I do make desserts for other people.  I do have real clients and orders, so I wanted to have a name and logo.  I have to say, I'm pretty proud of my business name and logo, which is a play off my last name, pronounced like the feminine pronoun, "she."  Clever, no?

Anyways, back to the chocolate.  As I said before, So. Much. Chocolate.  There were so many people who I had to gift boxes to, in addition to my parents' co-workers, for whom they'd ordered chocolates from me.  The chocolates came out deliciously.  My personal favorites were the saffron-honey dark chocolates--the ones on the far right:

The saffron-honey ganache was just to die for.  I seriously had to restrain myself from eating it all before it made it into the candies.  The combination of saffron and dark chocolate was so rich and decadent, with the incredible fragrance of the saffron and the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  I've honestly found a new favorite chocolate flavor combination.

The other chocolates were hits as well.  (More so, especially, since saffron-chocolate is a bit "out there.")  The peppermint candy cane chocolate used the peppermint ganache recipe here for filling.  In the blackberry-cassis candies was blackberry jam and strong cassis liquor-flavored ganache, for an extra robust berry kick.  The caramel-chai chocolates were filled with soft lemon caramel and Darjeeling/cardamom flavored ganache.  (Quite reminiscent, in fact, of the chai sandwich cookies I posted about a few days ago.)

I am super relieved that Christmas is over, and I can give the chocolate work a rest for a while!  Up next is buttercream and cupcake overload for a birthday party this coming weekend.

Okay, I am off to figure out a way to make champagne pancakes for New Years!  Enjoy the chocolates, everyone.  The recipes for the blackberry-cassis and saffron-honey chocolates are included below.

Happy New Years!

Read on for recipes...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chai tea sandwich cookies

This Christmas was most definitely not a cookie Christmas for me.  Actually, I was up to my elbows with chocolate making, since pretty much everyone I knew (that I saw) received a box of chocolates.  But more on that later this week.  I did get around to making one kind of cookie, and, given my infatuation with sandwich cookies this year, of course it had to be another sandwich cookie.

Vanilla-cardamom cookies
with Darjeeling tea filling

The original spark of inspiration for these cookies came from leafing through Christmas Gifts from the Kitchen (by Georgeanne Brennan), a book that one of Richard's aunts gave me as an early Christmas present (of course with the string attached that she wanted something out of the book for Christmas this year).  Amongst the recipes that I'd flagged to try during my first flip-through of the book were these awesome-looking vanilla cardamom cookies.  But, these are not it.  For some reason, I wanted something more.  And nothing was more natural a companion to vanilla and cardamom than Darjeeling tea.  :-)

I was hugely lucky also that my roommate, Maria, had brought me some Darjeeling tea from Darjeeling, India! on her trip there last year.  Of course, being me, I had to find a way to bake with it rather than sitting down and enjoying a cup....

Anyhow, I hope that everyone enjoyed a very Merry Christmas!  Have a great final week to 2009!

Read on for recipe...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas cupcakes!

Last week, I did something completely uncharacteristic of myself: I baked cupcakes.

For anyone who knows me, you'll recognize immediately that baking cupcakes is soooo not me.  I'm not a cupcake girl.  In fact, I have a huge rant prepared about how cupcakes are NOT cute and mini versions of cakes.  No, cute and mini versions of cakes should still look like cakes.  Cute and mini versions of cupcakes should look like cupcakes.  But really, I should spare you all the rant.

And back to the cupcakes.  The other reason that I tend to steer clear of cupcakes is the same reason that I don't like making sugar cookies: the decorating.  There are just so many frosting colors involved!  And the thought of all those little bowls with all of those different colors of frosting, all of which have to be washed at the end of the decorating session, along with all of the spoons that you used to mix the different colors.  Just the thought of it is extremely exhausting to me.  (background note: I abhor doing dishes.)  So, the short of it is that I don't usually do cupcakes.  Mini cupcakes are my thing.

But, for some unexplained, crazy reason last week, I had the sudden urge to make cupcakes.  I think it was all of the peppermint ganache that I'd eaten.  Really, it was.  After making my molten peppermint chocolate cake, I ended up with a few cakes that were left uneaten.  At first, I didn't think that the peppermint ganache would be good after it had cooled and hardened inside the cake, but, upon trying one of the cooled cakes, it tasted really good!  So, why not put peppermint ganache in chocolate cupcakes?  yum yum!

Alas--there was a problem.  Mini-cupcakes just would not do in such a situation.  There just wouldn't be enough room for cake AND chocolate ganache in the mini molds, so full-sized cupcakes it would have to be.  And that's the story of how my Christmas cupcake extravaganza came to be.

Anyways, the cupcakes were super yummy.  The chocolate cake here is THE chocolate cake recipe I turn to for pretty much everything under the sun.  It's so moist, which is perfect here, because the peppermint ganache sort of melts into the chocolate cake and cools to form an amazing amalgamation of pepperminty-chocolatey awesomeness.  Top with a generous dollop of peppermint-schnapps-infused buttercream and some sprinkles, and you're golden.

Oh, and of course I made mini versions as well (not with peppermint ganache).  I mean, everything is better in miniature, no?

Read on for recipe... (this chocolate cake recipe also works well fresh-out-of-the-oven for molten chocolate cakes!)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

PotW: Buckwheat almond pancakes with cider-poached apples and Icelandic skyr

[last Pancake of the Week: Pumpkin sage pancakes with blackberry reduction]

Buckwheat almond pancakes
with cider poached apples
and Icelandic skyr

One of my favorite weekend rituals (besides making pancakes, of course) is getting tapioca tea from our favorite tea shop and then browsing the stacks at one of my favorite used bookstores, Bookbuyers, here in the South Bay.  It's been a pretty busy few weeks lately, so I haven't had the chance to do this, but finally this weekend, I made the excuse that I needed to go to the bookstore to look for potential Christmas gifts!  hehe.    Alas, what did I actually get at the bookstore but a book for myself: David Lebovitz's out-of-print Ripe for Dessert (brand-new, too!).  Merry early Christmas to me.

I absolutely adore Lebovitz's ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop, which is pretty much my bible for the summer months, so I was super-excited to be able to find one of his other books.  Flipping through it, I can't wait to try a bunch of the recipes!

Okay, so what does this have to do with pancakes, you ask?  Well, one of the first recipes in Ripe for Dessert is one for buckwheat cake with cider-poached apples, which immediately sounded like a great idea for pancakes to me.  And, what made it even better was that my roommate, who's Icelandic, left a container of awesome, awesome Icelandic skyr for me when she went home for Christmas, and the skyr, I thought, would be the perfect companion to buckwheat pancakes and poached apples.

Now, if you have never had Icelandic skyr before, I suggest that you go immediately to your local Whole Foods (which is where we've been able to find it) and pick some up in the yogurt section.  Skyr is technically a cheese, not a yogurt, but it's reminiscent of a yogurt and oh-so-thick and creamy good.  You must try some.  (And while this recipe uses plain skyr, if you want to eat it on its own, I recommend trying the blueberry.)

The buckwheat pancakes, while not the most appetizing color, are really fragrant and most definitely fill you up more than regular pancakes because they're so dense.  I'm not usually a syrup-on-pancakes type of girl, but syrup in this case is most definitely recommended.  Or do what I did and drizzle a bit of caramel sauce on top.  Or, even better, how about some British Golden Syrup?

Dan Jurafsky, writer of a great food and language blog, The Language of Food, was telling me that I must try some of this golden syrup, so I asked my friend, Lauren, to bring me some when she came back from Oxford!  I can't wait to dip into it, and I'm sure it would have been great on these pancakes, but I'm told that I need to make sticky toffee pudding, so that's what I'm saving the golden syrup for.  Yum nom nom.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this holiday week, everyone!  I'll be posting more Christmas treats, including cupcakes! and more chocolates for Christmas gift ideas.  Merry X-mas!

Read on for recipe...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Double the fun with peppermint ganache!

Really, what are the holidays without peppermint and candy canes?

Peppermint molten chocolate cake
with dark chocolate-dipped candy canes

Okay--don't answer that.  That was rhetorical (and yes, I do remember what my high school English teacher said about rhetorical questions being a sign of horrible writing, and I apologize).  :-)

Anyways, along with the ginger carrot dark chocolate candies, I made peppermint dark chocolate candies as a more traditional holiday flavor for Christmas treats and gifts.  You know, just in case people snuff at the idea of carrots in their chocolate.

Peppermint dark chocolate ganache candies

But what to do with all of the leftover peppermint ganache?  Ah, here's where the genius comes in:

Pop a ball of ganache in the center of moist chocolate cake, bake in souffle molds, and voila!  Instant molten peppermint chocolate cakes.  And oh my, were these good straight out of the oven.  I made sure to call my friend, Lauren, over in time for the cakes to finish baking, just so I wouldn't have to scarf these all down myself.

The chocolate cake was so rich when it was still hot, and then when you get down to the bottom, there's just a thick layer of melted dark chocolate ganache, laced with cool peppermint.  It was divine.

Ah, but back to the peppermint ganache:

I mean, do I really have to convince you that these were good?

Wait--damn rhetorical questions.

Read on for recipe for peppermint chocolate ganache...  (chocolate cake recipe now available here.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Xmas Treats!: Ginger Carrot Dark Chocolates

It's the Holidays!  Oh my--I do love the holidays.

The good cheer and benevolence on everyone's minds, the gathering of family and friends, the warm cider, hot fireplace, sparkly lights on the tree.  And best of all, Christmas treats.  :-)  (of course.)

Promptly after getting off the plane ride back from Taiwan, I was in the kitchen making the first of many holiday treats for the season: ginger carrot dark chocolate candies.

Okay.  Before you call me crazy, hear me out.  These didn't originally start out as ginger carrot chocolates.  No, originally, I set out to make pumpkin chocolates.  But, for some reason, I just couldn't get that idea fully formed in my head.  So then I remembered these wonderful ginger cookies from a few weeks ago.  Yum yum.  Which led me to making ginger truffle filling.  Then, as I leaned over the pot to smell the spicy aroma of ginger cooking in the cream, it hit me: these chocolates needed carrot.

And trust me, they are amazing.  It's weird to think that a traditionally savory ingredient works so well in candies, but they are the perfect finishing touch to these chocolates!  (The idea isn't all that out there, I suppose, since carrot cake requires lots of ginger flavor as well.)

The shreds of carrot in the truffle filling add a perfectly crunchy texture to the ganache.  And the mild sweetness of the carrots compliment the spiciness of the ginger so well.  Not to mention, eating these definitely make you feel less guilty about all that Christmas candy.  :-P

As with rosemary-lemon sandwich cookiespomegranate-basil cheesecakes, or pumpkin sage blackberry pancakes, I positively adore the fact that these unexpected ingredients like carrots, rosemary, basil, or sage work so well in sweets.  You have to believe me on this one.  :-)  (Or, try them for yourself!--and make sure to let me know what you think.)

Read on for recipe...

Monday, December 7, 2009

A personal update

Just wanted to let everyone know that some sudden family business has pulled me to Taiwan for the week, so I unfortunately won't be able to post as regularly scheduled.  I'll be back next Sunday, and, at that time, hope to make up for my neglecting of food with tons of holiday desserts.

In the meantime, there's some exciting news: my rosemary lemon sandwich cookie recipe made it onto! Okay, I don't know how exciting this actually is, but, as a relatively new blogger, this is quite the exciting development for me!  You can check out the site on HERE, or just jump direct to my post and recipe HERE.

Also, if you're looking for holiday treat ideas, these cookies make great Christmas gifts and are super-robust for shipping cross-country!  Check out the original chocolate versions HERE or another spin: a seasalt and caramel sandwich cookie which will totally surprise your tastebuds.

Anyways, I hope that you all will have a great week.  I'll try to post if I can, but with everything that needs to be done here in Taiwan, I'm not sure I can promise anything.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Simplicity: Seckel pear with vanilla sugar

Two words: Thanksgiving detox.  Okay, make that four words: Halloween and Thanksgiving detox.  After a month of nonstop candy and another month of lavish, rich dinners, I just crave something incredibly simple.

Seckel pear with vanilla sugar

"Simple" is actually a term that my roommate has pretty much banned me from using in the kitchen, namely because she argues that my definition and idea of "simplicity" is a far cry from anyone else's.  Especially after doing dessert catering jobs, whipping up a spontaneous pie (pie crust from scratch.  ALWAYS.) or a batch of chocolates or a stack of pancakes on the weekends is simple to me.  But I guess her argument is that that's not simple for the average college/graduate student.  So hence the Stephanie-specific ban on using "simple."

I think this dessert here would most definitely fit under my roommates idea of "simple" because it's nothing but a juicy, ripe pear and lightly flavored vanilla sugar.  And sometimes, that's all you need.  The vanilla sugar adds the perfect hint of crispy sweetness and fragrance to an already-incredibly-flavorful fresh pear, which is surprisingly elegant in its pure simplicity and cleanliness of flavors.

Trust me, this is the perfect antidote to the past two months of total overeating overload.  What's more, I think I've earned the right to use the word "simple" again.

Read on for recipe...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

PotW: Post-Thanksgiving Pancakes (Pumpkin-Sage with Blackberry Sauce)

[last Pancake of the Week: Apple pie pancakes]

Did everyone have a good Thanksgiving?

I cooked Thanksgiving dinner at my best friend's house in L.A., and it was a blast.  She told me that I had to feed seven people, and true to form, I made enough food to feed twenty.

Thanksgiving 2009

Grapefruit, poached pear, goat cheese, candied pecan mixed herb salad
Corn egg drop soup
Spicy shrimp-stuffed mushrooms
Rosemary roasted chicken
Mayonnaise lemon pepper salmon
Chicken beer gravy
Mashed potatoes
Cranberry-pomegranate sauce
Carrots vichy
Green beans with dried cranberries
Roasted potatoes with figs and thyme
Butternut squash and wild rice
Apple pie
Pumpkin pie
Vanilla bean ice cream

Then, the next morning, my best friend requested pancakes (yes, even after all of that food).  She said she'd seen all the ones on the blog, and she MUST have some.  I wanted to do something light to compliment the previous night's Thanksgiving feast and yet still incorporate some of the lingering Thanksgiving flavors.  Hence, pumpkin-sage pancakes with blackberry sauce!

Yes, yes, I know.  This is already the third pumpkin pancake that I've made this year!  And, honestly, I was going to quit after two. (Pumpkin maple chocolate chip pancakes and Brown butter pumpkin pancakes)  However, it was insisted upon that I make pumpkin pancakes, and friend's requests is the mother of invention (hm... somehow I don't think the saying goes that way...).  Thank heavens though that I found a huge box of gorgeous blackberries at the market and had a bunch of fragrant fresh sage leftover from Thanksgiving dinner!

I tell you --these pancakes were the perfect post-Thanksgiving breakfast.  No heavy creams or overbearing chocolate.  Just light, airy berry syrup on dense and moist pumpkin pancakes with a hint of sage to carry over the fall flavors from the previous night's dinner.  Yum, yum.

Okay, I promise this will be the last of the pumpkin pancakes for this year!  Now that the holiday season is fully upon us and I am allowed to blast Christmas music out of my speakers, I must bid adieu to these autumn flavors and move onto winter and Christmas flavors!  Hm... peppermint pancakes?  We shall see...

Read on for recipe...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Brown Butter Ginger Cookies + Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone!

In case you've been wondering, no, I haven't disappeared off the face of the Earth.  I've just been so incredibly swamped for the past week at my day job and then had to leave on my vacation to SoCal!  So for the past few days, I've basically been here:

Then, when I got to L.A. after driving down Highway 1, my friend informs me that I will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for seven people.  On the day BEFORE Thanksgiving!  (okay, to be fair, she gave me a week's warning... but still!)  So, today has been all about running around and shopping and baking desserts.  What a vacation, huh?  As much as I love cooking, part of me does wish that I could be back here:

Given the whirlwind that's been my past week and a half, I haven't even had time to post this recipe that I've been so excited about for a few weeks now: Ginger Sugar Cookies!  Now, this obsession all started this past summer when my good friend, Priscilla, introduced me to Bakesale Betty in Oakland.  I have to say--how I lived in the East Bay for practically all of my life and never knew about Bakesale Betty, I don't know!  It's such a cool storefront.  Basically, all they sell is a few types of cookies, seasonal pies (or strawberry shortcake in the summers), and coleslaw-fried chicken sandwiches.  That's it.  But they sell a lot of it!  And everything is so amazingly YUM.  Trust me, if you're in the area, you MUST go.

Anyways, Bakesale Betty has one of the best ginger sugar cookies that I have ever had.  And I'm not talking gingersnaps.  These are proper, large, chewy cookies of goodness.

Bakesale Betty ginger cookies

Bakesale Betty's ginger sugar cookies are not only the perfect balance of chewiness and sweetness, they also have huge chunks of crystallized ginger in them that make them truly ultra-gingery!  I recently got so obsessed with these cookies that within the course of three weeks, I drove the hour drive across the Bay to get a hold of these.  I also made sure to pack some for the drive down to L.A.

Inspired by Bakesale Betty, I decided to try my hand at ginger sugar cookies as well.  Now, I have to tell you that if you're looking for the Bakesale Betty cookies verbatim, these are not it.  But I would say that these brown butter ginger cookies are a great spin-off to the classic ginger cookie.

Brown butter ginger sugar cookies

The brown butter in these cookies add a rich, dark depth of flavor which couples nicely with the molasses.  And, I took a cue from Bakesale Betty and included chopped crystallized ginger in the cookies for an extra spicy kick.  Perhaps the most special thing about these brown butter ginger cookies is their shape: instead of being large and flat like many store-bought cookies, these are somewhat mounded:

I've found that this mounding is the trick to achieving that perfect cakey-chewy texture balance that you find in store-bought cookies.  You see, because they're big in diameter, store-bought cookies manage to be chewy and moist in the center despite their flatness, but if you try to imitate the same thickness at home with a smaller cookie, the centers just dry out.  So the solution that I've found is creating these mounded cookies, which allow and preserve the moistness in the centers.

So how did my ginger cookies stack up against Bakesale Betty's?  See for yourself!

 My cookies definitely weren't the same as Bakesale Betty's, but they most definitely helped to satisfy my ginger sugar cookie craving!

Here's wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving with plenty of amazing food!  Make sure to save room for dessert--or, do what I would and eat dessert first. ;-P.

Read on for recipe...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

PotW: Apple Pie Pancakes

[last week's PotW: Brown butter pumpkin pancakes with bourbon mascarpone cream]

Like pumpkin pie, apple pie is on my list of Staple Desserts of the Holiday Season.  I can't get through November and December without apple pie!  So, when I had a bunch of small home-grown apples to use up this week, I thought: what about apple pie pancakes???

Yes!  you CAN make apple pie into a legitimate breakfast.  :-P  (Not that I don't already when I have the real deal lying around.)

There's also no better accompaniment to apple pie than a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top of a hot-out-of-the-oven slice of pie.  But, my freezer was stocked to the brim with pumpkin cheesecake and coffee ice creams.  So, instead, these pancakes are super vanilla pancakes to make up for the lack of vanilla ice cream.

I caramelized the apples first before baking them in the oven with a sugar crumb topping, adding extra depth and sweetness to the flavor.  These pancakes were most definitely an ultra-indulgent way to start the weekend.  :-)

Read on for recipe...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pumpkin cheesecake ice cream

David Lebovitz scooped me (pun intended!) *again* today with his pumpkin ice cream post!  But alas, I made pumpkin cheesecake ice cream.  So there, Lebovitz.  :-P

I have a BUNCH of fresh pumpkin puree sitting in my fridge from this past weekend when I finally got around to cutting up my uncarved Halloween pumpkins.  But, in my excitement at having fresh pumpkin puree around, I suddenly became hugely indecisive over what to do with it all!  Pumpkin pancakes, of course, but that hardly uses up any of the puree.  Also floating around on my list: pumpkin pie, caramel pumpkin pie, pumpkin mousse, pumpkin gnocchi, pumpkin ginger cookies, pumpkin bread, etc. etc. etc.  Oh boy--I was, quite honestly, overwhelmed.

And then, my boyfriend, Richard, just had to go and say, "oh, cheesecake sounds good."  (Cheesecake always sounds good to him.)  So I added *that* to my list: pumpkin cheesecake.

When it finally came time to actually start making something, I suddenly didn't feel like making a whole cheesecake.  Yet, I had all the ingredients for cheesecake on hand.  And then a stroke of lightning!  (this is often how my baking adventures begin--I wait to be hit by inspiration.  Whether or not this is the most efficient method of food preparation, I'm not quite sure, but it seems to work. :-) )

Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream
with Gingersnaps

Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream!  Yes!  It's like cheesecake--except better.  I have to say, this is probably one of the creamiest ice creams I've ever made, with the cream cheese lending the ice cream an incredibly smooth texture.  Imagine cheesecake, but frozen.  Yup.  It's that dense.

The pumpkin puree and spices typical of pumpkin pie make for a surprising flavor profile in the cheesecake ice cream.  And, I most definitely recommend serving this with whole or crushed up gingersnaps to mimic cheesecake crust.  It's like a whole pumpkin cheesecake--in a bowl!  :-D

(well, it was full. *innocent eyes*)

Read on for recipe...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Drunken pear frangipane tart

David Lebovitz beat me to it today with his almond and pear tart post!  Then, the NYTimes Minimalist with this post on upside-down pear cake.  The whole world is going pear crazy, I swear.  (And, to my credit, none of their pears are drunken. :-) )

But with good reason.  Pears are good.  And, I subscribe to the belief that they can cure a sore throat.  So bonus to pears.

Anyways, I was so excited last week when I went to Costco for eggs and discovered boxes of beautiful seckel pears for ridiculously cheap!  These tiny little pears are so cute.  Kind of like what crab-apples are to apples, seckel pears are to pears.  (Yes, I rocked analogies on standardized tests.)  And who can't resist things in miniature?

This past weekend, I finally broke into my pounds of seckel pears.  So tender and sweet and juicy--really, I could just gobble them up as is.  But, no, no.  What would be the fun in that? :-)  So, I busted out the poaching liquid that I'd saved from making poached pears with rosemary pancakes and added a good half bottle of leftover red wine, since there wasn't quite enough liquid, along with some additional spices.  The resulting poached seckel pears were so flavorful and totally drunk with wine.  (Actually, as I was poaching, my roommate claimed she was getting drunk just on the smell of the poaching liquid. :-P)

Drunken seckel pear frangipane tart

The drunken pears were a perfect accent for the almond nuttiness of the filling, the sweet crispiness of the tart crust, and a hint of apricot glaze.  The alcohol came through in a bit of a whisper in the end of each bite, which was perfect.

I took the large, rectangular tart to a workshop for my day job, saving the small round one for personal devourment.  One participant of the workshop said to me afterward--and I quote--:  "You have truly attained proficiency in the grammar of high desserts."

Okay, that really cracked me up.  But it was an appreciated compliment nonetheless.  So, folks, here's the lesson: this tart may not look as pretty as its summer fruit counterparts, but, trust me, it is most definitely yummy.

Read on for recipe...