Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Meyer lemon-Lavender Pound Cake

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  Here it is: you know that you're in my good graces and that I am particularly fond of you when I bake you one of these:

Meyer lemon - Lavender Pound Cake
with lemon glaze and sliced almonds

Back in college, I was told by one of my favorite people in the world that this lemon-lavender pound cake was hands-down the best baked good I made, out of a multitude of choices ranging from elaborate fruit tarts to multi-layer cakes.  Since then, it's been my go-to cake for everything, from gift-giving to dessert for breakfast to days when I need a slice of therapy.  It's the cake I turn to when I want to impress.  I've even made mini petit four versions of it for this event, complete with hand-sugared lilac flowers.

Over the years, I've gone through several variants of the cake, finally arriving at what I think is the winning recipe.  This cake started out as a semi-dry teacake meant for enjoying over a cup of darkly-brewed English tea with just a dash of cream.  While I still like that version, I've since moved on to a pound-cake base, resulting in an extra moist cake that doesn't even require tea to enjoy (though it still goes excellently with tea!).

Then, a few years ago, I had a lemon pound cake home-baked in France and flown in to a conference by a French professor.  That lemon pound cake had this super lemon sugar glaze on top that contributed an added dimension of lemon goodness.  Though I don't remember in the slightest what the professor's talk was about, I've since adopted the lemon glaze for my pound cake, for that extra zing of flavor.

I must say that this cake indeed has a long history for me (rather, almost as long as I've been baking seriously).  I have to give credit to my across-the-street neighbor who gave me the first version of this recipe (and, unrelatedly, who makes some of the best spaghetti sauce I've ever tasted).

The lavender flowers I also dried myself, having flown them home from the Santa Monica Farmer's Market when I visited my best friend this past July (yes, going through security was... interesting, especially when they swabbed the salmon-chive spread I'd brought with me from Joan's on Third for explosive residue).  There's just enough lavender in this recipe to add the perfect flowery taste without being overwhelming, and the lemons and lavender are just such a great pair together.  I can literally devour a whole loaf of this myself in one sitting (consider yourself warned!) if I'm not careful.

Anyways, I hope that the person I made this for this past weekend enjoyed it immensely and understands how special they are to have received it!  :-D.

Read on for recipe...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

PotW: Meyer lemon ricotta pancakes with lemon curd and warmed blueberries

[last time's Pancake of the Week: Ginger-champagne pancakes with champagne-poached pears]

Meyer lemons!  Oh, how I adore you.

If there's one thing I truly miss about my childhood home, it's the huge meyer lemon tree that's in the backyard.  Our lemon tree (though it should really be deemed a bush, since it's no taller than I am) is quite prolific about producing lemons year round, so we were (and my parents still are) never short of lemons for use.  But, having moved out on my own now, I don't have the luxury of a reliable lemon tree, so when I stumble upon a large box of fresh meyer lemons at Costco, I am literally in heaven.

Given the score! of meyer lemons that have been sitting in my kitchen for the past week, our house has been filled daily with the delicious aroma of lemons in literally everything.  (case in point: mini lemon meringue tartlettes, anyone?) My skin even smells like lemons so much because I'm constantly zesting or juicing.  But who am I to complain?

Lemon-ricotta pancakes
with lemon curd and warmed blueberries

Anyhow, the inspiration for these pancakes came from seeing a Facebook post from my friend who had had lemon-ricotta pancakes somewhere in the Netherlands, and the combination just sounded so awesome that I needed to try them for myself.  The recipe here (adapted from ones around the internets) involves separating the eggs and whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks before incorporating everything else.  Though I've never made pancakes with this technique before, the results were so incredible and lighter-than-air that I'm most definitely going to have to experiment with whipped-egg-white-base pancakes more.

To go on top, I opted for even more lemon flavor! with a generous dollop of super, super yummy meyer lemon curd, which--honestly--I just eat straight out of the pot whenever I make it.  I've already made two huge batches of it within the space of a week, and I don't think this second batch will last much longer....

Then, to finish the plate, add some blueberries that have been warmed in the same pan the pancakes were cooked in, and you have an amazingly scrumptious breakfast that's quite reminiscent of summertime flavors.  It most definitely helped to infuse some sunshine into these rainy weeks we've been having here in the Bay.

Have a great start to the week, everyone!  (or, just eat lemon curd.  That's worked out pretty well for me, too. :-P)

Read on for recipe...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

David Lebovitz's Chocolate Orbit Cake (with Blackberry-Cassis Sauce)

Ah, the miracles of modern technology.  I don't care how much complaining and whining Ken Rockwell does about it, modern technology is an amazing thing.  Because, for one, it ended up with this cake:

Please, indulge me and allow me to elaborate.

I have this little ritual on weekends, which involves going and getting boba at my favorite tapioca tea shop in the area (and, because it's run by proper Taiwanese who know what they're doing with their boba, arguably the best boba shop in the Bay Area--write me if you want deets) and then browsing one of the most awesome used bookstores that is conveniently located on the same street.  Sometimes, even, you can find gems at said used bookstore, because they not only carry used books, but they also carry new ones (at a discounted price) as well.  So, I go and get my boba tea, and then I browse the bookstore, making the rounds from the comics section (to check if they have anything new for my Foxtrot collection) to the cookbook section (which eats up--pun intended--most of my time) to the NPR, book prize, and Oprah book club carts to the recent acquisitions and finally ending with random wandering of the entire store.

One fateful Friday night, as I'm looking in the "desserts" subsection of the cooking shelves, what do I see but a brand new hardcover copy of David Lebovitz's out-of-print, impossible-to-find Room for Dessert!  (Note: just a few weeks prior to this, I'd found his Ripe for Dessert book in the same place and snatched it up hurriedly.)  Yipee!  Ever since falling in love with his ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop, I've been hankering after his first two publications, and I was super excited to find this one to round off my search.  Then, as I opened the book to peek at the recipes inside, this is what I find:

"Hm.... that looks vaguely as if it says 'Davi....(mad scribble)"".' Could it be...?"

And, folks, this is where the awesomeness of modern technology comes in: With my handy-dandy iPhone, I snap that picture that you see above--all while kneeling in the "cooking" section of the bookstore--and log into Twitter and write:
@davidlebovitz is this ur signature??? Found @ a bookstore and am super excited to have a copy! (& a signed one?) http://yfrog.com/3lx7rlj
Of course I bought the book regardless, but not too long after I return home from the bookstore, I log onto Twitter to find:
@expectfailure Yes, I hope you bought it! (If it was reasonable...)
Yes!  This is why the 21st century rocks.  I mean, immediate confirmation from the brilliant David Lebovitz himself!  Suck on that, Ken Rockwell.  :-)

Anyways, suffice it to say that I was/am super excited about having the book, and not only do the recipes look super delish but also the forward and little anecdotes included make for a fun read.  Looking through the book, the first recipe that I immediately wanted to try was "Chocolate Orbit Cake," which really should be called "No-nonsense Chocolate, baked in the oven" because it really just is a super rich and ever-so-moist brownie with no flour.  And boy was it yummy!

To complement the cake (because, it's basically just chocolate, eggs, and butter--I'm not kidding), I pulled out some blackberry-cassis sauce I store in the freezer for occasions just like this one, and the tangy fruit of the sauce was perfect next to the intense and extra-dense chocolate-ness of the cake.  A few days later, I polished off another slice with some neapolitan ice cream, so I can attest to the fact that ice cream also goes really well with the cake, as I am sure that Lebovitz's own recommendation of creme anglaise would, too.

Read on for recipe...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Help Haiti! [Mini lemon meringue pies]

Update: A huge thanks to all who dropped by the bake sale and traded hugely appreciated donations for yummy treats.  Thanks also to all of the organizers of the sale and those who donated various delectable baked goods.  Remember--you can still make donations, and every bit helps: see info below!

I know that many of you who read this blog aren't local in the area, but please bear with me.  The Stanford Alpine Project, a group of geologically-minded Stanford students, is having a bake sale tomorrow morning (Tuesday, January 19) to benefit the Haiti earthquake relief efforts.  All of the proceeds of the sale will go to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti--the only standing hospital left, and these donations will be matched by Stanford Hospital as well.  If you are near Stanford at all tomorrow, please drop by the foyer of Building 320 (Geocorner) from 9am to noon, pick up a yummy baked good, like these mini lemon meringue pies, and help this important cause!

Even if you aren't in the area, you can also help by donating directly online to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital: http://www.hashaiti.org/C1a_w1.html.  Please, please, if you can--make a contribution!  Or organize your own local bake sale... and try these mini lemon meringue pies, which are little bites of scrumptious heaven.

As a California native (with relatives and family in Taiwan), I totally understand the power and disaster that earthquakes can bring.  We ourselves are overdue for a Big One here in the Bay Area, so while we can, let's help those that have been affected by these forces of nature.

Read on for recipe...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fight holiday withdrawal! Gingerbread-champagne sandwich cookies

January is such a grey month of blech.  After all of the excitement of the string of holidays from Halloween, through Thanksgiving, and December, and New Year's, January always feels like such a let-down to me.  But, to perk up these short days that feel so ridiculously long and that have been giving me an early case of bad spring fever, I decided to bring back some of the tastes of the holidays.

Gingerbread-champagne sandwich cookies

And yes, the sandwich cookie craze continues.  I mean, what else are you supposed to do with leftover gingerbread men dough?

It was nice to have a bit of holiday-nostalgia with these cookies, and the combination of ginger and champagne just works so well.  I think I was on a ginger-champagne kick that weekend, since I also whipped up my ginger-champagne pancakes with poached pears a few days later.

These sandwich cookies were a bit different from the shortbread-based ones I've been whipping up lately in that the gingerbread is really more chewy than crunchy.  But, the textures were still nice!  I did make the mistake of over-filling these a bit, so they did turn out a little difficult to eat, but the mess was definitely worth it when you get the powerful taste of brut rose complimented by the spicy kick of the ginger.

Anyways, looking forward to this long weekend we've got coming up--maybe I can finally get some time to escape and stretch my winter-cramped legs.  :-)

Read on for recipe...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rose and Basil-Dark Chocolate Macarons

I'm back! from my conference this past weekend, and does it feel good to be back in the kitchen again!

Okay, but before we get to those bite-size pieces of deliciousness, allow me to catch you up with what I've been up to for the past week.  (If you're interested--otherwise, skip to the food pics, I won't take offense.)  This past weekend was the annual national conference for my "day job," and all the linguists of the States (and elsewhere, too) flocked to the sunny Baltimore, Maryland.  This was a particularly big weekend for me, because I had my first talk at said national conference, and it was in a special session organized by the leaders in my subfield.  So I had myself pretty much shut up for the past couple of weeks working on the talk.  Once *that* was out of the way, I tried to see a bit of the city.

Bokeh at Baltimore's Inner Harbour

Unfortunately, we were in a pretty dead area (with no convenient transportation available), and the pub food that was so ubiquitous around the conference area was just downright horrid.  So, no fun food news to report from the weekend.  But, I did get to go to the Walter museum, and on the way, we checked out America's first cathedral/basilica, which we randomly ran into.

The Walter museum was actually one of the best parts of the weekend!  There were awesome exhibits of 16th through 18th century Italian art, arranged in chronological order, so that you could really get a sense of the development of styles throughout the centuries.  This one was a particular favorite of the group of linguists I was with:

Allegory of Grammar
Laurent de la Hyre, 1650

Anyways, despite it being fun to be around all of the people from my field, it is nice to be back in (warmer) California--and back in the kitchen (read: not eating gross, oily, fried bar food every day).  I was so glad, in fact, that I decided to use up the leftover egg whites in my fridge by making macarons (most definitely the antithesis to pub food).

Rose macarons
with dark chocolate-basil buttercream

Now that Christmas and New Year's are over, it's time to look forward to Valentine's Day!  (Yes, it's never too early for the next holiday, in my book.)  So, if roses are supposed to mean that someone likes you, and chocolates are supposed to mean that someone loves you, what about rose macarons with dark chocolate-basil buttercream?  If someone made these for me, personally, I'd probably hop into their arms with little hesitation.  ;-P

In all seriousness, though, the initial inspiration for these macarons did not come from thinking about Valentine's Day.  These are actually inspired by the movie, Like Water for Chocolate.  Now, if you haven't seen the movie yet, I highly recommend it!  We were assigned the film for a Spanish class that I'm taking this quarter, and so I watched it the night I returned from Baltimore.  Long story short, the film (based on the novel) is a long love story, punctuated by different foods that reflect the main character's various emotions throughout.  In one scene where she tries to woo an unrequited lover through her cooking, she makes this roasted quail with rose petal sauce that just looks downright divine.

Ever since then, I've been craving rose myself.  Then, a scoop of rose-vanilla ice cream from Ici in Berkeley today only helped to intensify rather than satisfy my craving.

When I was baking these, the whole house smelled of roses.  It was absolutely wonderful and fragrant!  To go with the macarons, I whipped up a quick dark chocolate buttercream, and to help balance the buttercream with the rose macaron, I added in some freshly-dried basil powder to the chocolate buttercream.  The basil, which you can't really place when you eat these, lends this great earthiness to the buttercream, which helps to keep it on the less-sweet side and compliments the flowery flavor of the rose perfectly.

Quite a nice way to unwind after a weekend of travelling, no?  :-)

Read on for recipe...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Candyland (Cupcake) Adventure (+vanilla cupcake recipe)

Welcome to Candyland!

Nostalgia central!  Oh man, I have such found memories of that game--how Lord Licorice was so scary and thinking how weird it was that "plums" were considered candies.  Or how I loved Queen Frostine and the Ice Cream Sea.  I mean, who wouldn't like to go to an Ice Cream Sea?!?

(bokeh = sprinkles of the photographic world.)

A few weeks ago, when I made my holiday cupcakes, I took some to my hairdresser, to whom I'm always grateful for for fixing my bangs (after I, out of impatience, give them a hideous trim).  Upon delivering the box of cupcakes, the entire salon stopped dead in their tracks as everyone oohed-and-aahed in jealousy.  And I was asked on the spot to do these Candyland-themed cupcakes for a one year old's birthday party.  Oh, and before I forget, here's wishing Aedyn another year as great as her first!:

Okay, so I've said over and over again that cupcakes just aren't my thing.  I mean, first of all, there's that whole spiel that I'm sure you all don't want to hear again about how cupcakes are not equal to "mini-cakes."  But then there's the whole decorating thing.  I'm the same way with sugar cookies (which is why you'll almost never catch me making sugar cookies).  All those different frosting colors equals all those bowls and spoons to wash.  I just can't do it.  But the minute I heard "Candyland-themed," I was DOWN.  There are just some opportunities that are way too cool to pass up.  Oh, that, and I'm a huge sucker for nostalgia.

I ended up making two flavors of cupcakes: chocolate and vanilla.  You'll find my chocolate cupcake recipe in the Christmas cupcake post here.  As for vanilla yellow cupcakes, I've actually spent quite some time trying to find the perfect yellow cake recipe.  More recently, I've tried the yellow cake recipe from The Cake Bible, and though it was good, the cake would shrink a bit after baking and pull away from the cupcake paper.  So that one was out.  Finally, I turned to Magnolia Bakery, whose red velvet cake recipe I absolutely adore.  And bingo!  These vanilla cupcakes were so moist and airy with a buttery texture and laced with just a hint of lemon (okay, the lemon was my addition).  And, another huge plus for these cupcakes because they used whole eggs rather than just egg yolks--and really, egg whites are useful, but I'd really prefer not to have to store so many of them.

To go on top, I made two types of buttercream: a heavier classic buttercream, made with egg yolks, and an Italian meringue buttercream, with egg whites.  Buttercreams, and especially egg white-based ones, continually amaze me.  Whenever I make Italian meringue buttercream, I always have to repeat the mantra (from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for you geeks): "Don't panic."  Because the trick to an Italian meringue buttercream is that, even if the mixture looks curdled after you add the butter, you should not panic.  Just keep whipping, and the whole thing miraculously becomes an ever-so-light and creamy frosting!  Yes.  Amazing.

For decorations, I made four different cupcakes, plus an extra large one for the special birthday girl, inspired by different characters and areas of the Candyland game.  From left to right above, we have candy cane, lollipop, gingerbread, and gumdrops.  The lollipop flowers were so much fun.  Basically, I took these great organic fruit lollipops from Trader Joe's and piped yellow chocolate letters on the surfaces.  For leaves, I cut leaf shapes out of different colors of taffy and attached them to the lollipop stems.  My downright favorites, though, were the gingerbread men.  I actually didn't have cookie cutters, so I hand-cut all of the men out (each one's an individual!).  Then, I piped three dots of buttons, and in a stroke of genius (if I may say so myself), added a small sprinkle heart.  Because, come on, that just makes it way more cute.

I had such an awesomely fun time making this order of cupcakes.  Sometimes it's nice that I'm "self-employed" on a job-to-job basis so that I can just take the orders that I want to do.  Anyways, enjoy the yellow cupcake recipe below!  I'm off to a conference in the cold part of our country (*ahem*, east) for my "day job," so I will see everyone next week!

Oh wait--one more thing.  I wanted to share something I learned about cupcakes after making them a couple of times over the past few weeks:

The key to cupcakes is sprinkles.  Lots of them.  (I'm not kidding.)

And Collette Peters is right: luster dust does wonders.  :-)

Read on for recipe...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy 2010! Ginger-champagne pancakes with champagne-poached pears

[last Pancake of the Week: Buckwheat almond pancakes with cider-poached apples and Icelandic skyr]

Happy 2010!  This year is barely three days old, and it's already a whirlwind.  I spent NYE's alternatively baking cupcakes for a cupcake order this weekend and working on stuff for my 'day job.'  As such, I didn't get much celebrating of the new year in, but I did make sure to make some time on New Year's morning for some champagne-infused pancakes!

Ginger-brut rose pancakes
with champagne-poached Bosc pear,
champagne syrup, and dark chocolate

Okay, fine. Technically not champagne.  Technically brut rose.  But it's sparkly and celebratory, so it counts, okay?

The gentle hint of ginger with the champagne/rose was so fragrant, especially when echoed in the poached pear and syrup.  And, for a bit of extra celebratory, New Year's resolution-killing, a bit of melted dark chocolate drizzled on top.  I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions.  So there.  :-)

If you're looking for more ways to kick off your 2010 mornings, here are my three favorite pancake recipes from the past year.  I haven't been around blogging for so long as to have a whole round-up post, but I couldn't just let 2009 go without highlighting at least a few of these Pancakes of the Week.

from left to right:

Here's wishing everyone a yum-filled and  not-as-hectically-busy-as-mine year 2010!

Read on for recipe...

Chocolate Overload, addendum: Caramel Chai Dark Chocolates

A reader asked whether I'd share the recipe for the caramel chai dark chocolates from the Chocolate Overload post here.  I originally didn't post the recipe because I didn't write down what I did while I was making the chai chocolates, so I didn't have exact amounts.  But, I do have a pretty good guess from my memory, so Rebecca--this one's for you.

Chai tea dark chocolate ganache
(for Caramel Chai Dark Chocolates, I used some leftover store-bought caramel from another project.  For chocolate molding directions, check out the post here.)

6 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
4-5 Tbspn Darjeeling tea leaves
2-3 tspn ground cardamom
dash of cloves
a few grinds of fresh black pepper (white would work, too)
1 Tbspn butter
2 Tbspn Godiva chocolate liquor

1. Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Set aside.
2. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine cream, tea leaves, cardamom, cloves, and pepper. Stir and bring to a gentle boil, remove from heat, cover, and let steep for ten minutes.
3. Return the spice and tea cream to heat and add the butter. Bring to just barely a boil. Make sure the honey is completely dissolved.
4. Remove the cream mixture from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer over the prepared dark chocolate. Allow to sit for two to three minutes, then stir until the chocolate melts into the cream.
5. Stir in the Godiva chocolate liquor. Allow the ganache to set in the fridge overnight before use.