Archive for December, 2009


Best DC desserts from Washingtonian magazine

Here are the results from their January 2010 issue, based on diners’ report cards.

  • Hazelnut souffle w/ orange granite and orange-ginger sorbet, Adour
  • Deconstructed carrot cake, Tosca
  • Chocolate tart w/ caramelized banana, Corduroy
  • Cider doughnuts, 1789
  • Chocolate-coconut candy bar, Bourbon Steak
  • Chocolate cream w/ hazelnut sherbet and cocoa nibs, Trummer’s on Main
  • Zeppole w/ zabaglione, Assaggi
  • Salted profiteroles, Vermilion
  • Warm chocolate cake, J&G Steakhouse
  • Trio of creme brulees, Charlie Palmer Steak
  • Crepe souffle, BLT Steak
  • Lemon chess pie, Vidalia*
  • Blueberry crumble, Source
  • Key lime pie, Ray’s the Classics*
  • Vanilla ice cream, 2 Amys
  • Apple Tarte Tatin, Restaurant Eve
  • Lingonberry linzer torte, Hook
  • Napoleon, Citronelle

Lingonberry linzer torte, Hook

*Pitifully, these are the only ones from the list that I’ve tried. I didn’t enjoy the lemon chess pie at Vidalia. My friends and I split it–we all had a bite and were like, meh. But the key lime pie at Ray’s is darn good. It’s got a homemade graham crust that stays crispy. I intended to save half of my slice for Mr X-sXe, but then thought better of it and gobbled the whole thing.


Never met a macaroon I didn’t like

But I was disappointed by these from Starbucks, made by Chateau Blanc. Macaroons are supposed to be crispy on the outside. These are soggy, probably due to being transported from France, then languishing too long in the refrigerated case next to the tuna paninis.

Texture-wise, they have a nice heft and chewiness to them, if you can overlook the lack of crunch. With the exception of the raspberry, jam-filled macaroon (my favorite), the other fillings were mostly cream-based and somewhat lacking in flavor.

They’re $9.99/dozen, limited edition through the holidays. That’s what the advertising says, anyway. But at twice the price of the Trader Joe’s macaroons, might as well go for the Trader Joe’s. (Unless you like fruity macaroons. TJ’s only offers chocolate and vanilla. Read about ’em here:


On a baklava bender

I’ve had Saladelia’s pistachio baklava every day now for almost a week. It calls to me (taunts me is more like it) whenever I’m in Durham, NC. What makes it so good? Well, each flaky layer is honey-kissed, not honey-soaked. That’s key, because you still get that crunch you want from the phyllo and nuts. I tend to stay away from baklavas drowning in honey/syrup for that reason.

Saladelia’s version will convert those “Oh, baklava’s too sweet for me” types. Try it and tell me I’m wrong.


Croquembouche. Crisp in the mouth, delicious in the stomach.

Whatever you might say about the French (don’t get my dad started), there’s no denying that they know how to live. Take this traditional dessert, croquembouche, which translates to “crisp in the mouth.” It’s basically a  tower of cream puffs in a web of spun sugar. You crack the sugar with the back of the knife before serving it to your awestruck friends.

Food Network Magazine featured a recipe for making this from scratch in their December issue. They preface the recipe by saying it’s easier than it looks, which usually means it’s not. Sure enough, the recipe goes on for three pages and involves a pastry bag–already too complex for me.

Rather than trying to make cream puffs, you could buy some in the freezer case and do the spun sugar caramel yourself. I’ve included that part of the recipe below.

Full recipe here, courtesy of Food Network:

Caramel recipe to create web of sugar:

3 cups sugar

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 cup water

Directions: Mix the sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Don’t stir. Uncover and boil, swirling the pan, until the syrup turns deep amber, 20 minutes. Immediately dip the bottom of the pan into a bowl of ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking. Transfer the caramel to a liquid measuring cup and cool just slightly–it should still be hot and liquid.

Draw a seven-inch circle on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Partially dip each puff in the caramel, letting the excess drip off. Arrange the puffs around the circle. (Note: If the caramel hardens, microwave about 45 seconds.) Build the base of puffs, continuing to stack into a tower formation of smaller circles.

To get the “web effect” of spun sugar, dip the tip of a fork into the caramel and quickly wave it in circle around the tower to create a web of caramel strands. Repeat. (Make sure your working surface is covered in parchment paper, because this process can be messy.) Let set. Destroy web before eating. Voila!


Ketchup cake. Can someone try this recipe and let me know if it’s any good?

Because I thought I was culinarily adventurous. But not enough so for ketchup in my cake.

On second thought, tomatoes are technically a fruit, right? Plus, it’s only 1/2 cup ketchup, so it’s doubtful the flavor will evoke French fries.

The recipe’s called Canadian ketchup cake, which led me to believe that a Canadian had a eureka! moment after deciding to toss some pantry leftovers into their cake. Not so. It appears that this cake was created by Heinz for its Canadian centennial. Which seems like cheating, somehow.

BTW, red velvet lovers, don’t get too excited. Judging from the ingredients, it sounds like a spice cake with red food coloring and cream cheese frosting.


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons red food coloring
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
6 ounces brick-style cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups icing sugar



Preheat oven to 350°.

Grease two 9 inch round pans (parchment suggested).

Combine and mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg and ginger – set aside.

Combine and mix ketchup, water, and food coloring; set aside.

In a separate large bowl beat butter and brown sugar, then add eggs.

Now add in dry ingredients and ketchup mixture and beat on low until incorporated.

Then up speed to med-high for 1 minute.

Pour evenly into both pans.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Allow to cool before assembling and icing.


Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla on low until smooth.

Slowly add sugar, beating on high until fluffy.

Use icing between layers and on surface and sides of cake.

Recipe: From RecipeZaar, courtesy of *sugar n’ spice*


Afternoon Tea Chinois. Or, why am I a sucker for anything served on a multi-tiered plate?

In a perfect world, afternoon tea would be served every day. Imagine breaking at 4PM for your daily dose of crustless cucumber sandwiches followed by fresh-from-the-oven pastries. If only. In reality, afternoon tea is more of a special occasion thing–like when you want to take someone out and have hours to linger, without heading to the Melting Pot.

Here’s the spread from the “Afternoon Tea Chinois” at the Willard Intercontinental. Both the decor and the food were inspired by the terra cotta warrior exhibit currently at NatGeo. The Willard offers a good selection of Chinese teas, along with the more traditional standbys like Earl Grey. We had the green passion (fragrant, light) and the oolong tea (bitter, a nice complement to all the sweets).

I was curious to see how they’d do afternoon tea with a Chinese twist. Some places slap a few Mandarin oranges onto lettuce and call it Asian chicken salad. Would the Willard’s interpretation be as simplistic? (Excuse the poorly lit photo.)

Actually, no, but they could have taken it further, especially with the desserts. I enjoyed the finger sandwiches more than the sweet stuff–unusual coming from a sugar addict. The Asian-style chicken salad and Chinese eggplant ones were packed with flavor. A big plus: they offered us seconds on the sandwiches.

The middle tier held two scones per person. While the five-spice scones were pretty bland, the cranberry-orange ones delivered, the crunchy top giving way to a flaky center. They were served with a delicious lemon curd, Devonshire cream, and raspberry and orange marmalades.

Onto the dessert tier. It’s a little sad when the macaroon from the Trader Joe’s freezer case beats your house-made chocolate-hazelnut one. Oh well. The green tea meringues, spiced marshmallows and Chinese fruit petit-fours were also ho-hum. But I gotta give them credit for their Mandarin mousse sitting in an edible white chocolate spoon, if more for presentation than flavor. 

The tea is held in the hotel’s Peacock Alley–proof that this town is really all about spin. We were basically seated in a hallway off the lobby flanked by the corridor to the bathrooms and the doors to a ballroom. Hmm. While Mr X-sXe enjoyed the people-watching opportunities, I was distracted by the chilly draft coming in every time the hotel’s back doors opened (hey, it was 40 degrees today and I was freezing my tokhes off). Thank goodness for the extra sandwiches, which helped redeem my opinion of the Willard’s afternoon tea.


Stuff your face with cookies while doing good

Baking for Good lets you do just that, since 15% of proceeds go to the cause of your choice. Word is that their baked goods are very tasty. I’m particularly intrigued by the lemon and lavender shortbreads (below). They also do brownies, whoopie pies, rice treats and more, chock full of organic ingredients. Get your order in for the holidays! 


Gratuitous macaroon photo of the day

I read yesterday that sugar depresses the immune system and that your body only needs 8 grams a day, energy-wise.

On most days, I exceed those 8 grams by breakfast. This morning, I had Vanilla Almond Shredded Wheat. 11 grams of sugar per serving.

Then a raspberry fruit tart with lunch. Another 16 grams. So I’ve already had 3x the sugar my body supposedly needs. *Sigh*

I guess I’ll just have to stare at photos of desserts for the rest of the day, like this one from the book “I Love Macarons.” (Click for more info.) Crap, now I really want a macaroon.


Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”: Holiday episode

Here’s where to find the two desserts that were mentioned on this episode. I’m not an Indian pudding fan (maybe I’ve just never had it done right?), but I do like to bring home a panettone for the holidays. It’s a buttery, eggy Milanese bread with an airy texture, studded with dry fruits. Panettone reminds me of Challah, flavor- and texture-wise. You can find them in grocery stores for about five bucks, and they have a pretty good shelf life. I liked toasting up slices before serving. It’s also a great bread for French toast.

Panettone Milanese-Emporio Rulli

446 Magnolia Avenue

Larkspur, CA 94939

(415) 924-7478

Warm Indian Pudding-The Colonial Inn

48 Monument Square

Concord, MA 01742

(978) 369-9200


Mo’ better gingerbread recipes (Barefoot Contessa better watch her back!)

I wrote about Barefoot Contessa’s gingerbread here: I had modest success with the recipe, since I left out some vital elements (the raisins and candied gingerbread). The orange zest was a nice touch, but I’m not sure I’d try the recipe again after discovering the ones below. Sorry, Contessa, but you’ve been one-upped–at least when it comes to gingerbread.

Having been on a baking bender recently, I’ve had an epiphany: cakes made with oil turn out better than butter-based ones. Many pastry chefs like to begin their cake recipes by whipping together butter and sugar. But oil-based cakes just retain their moisture better (without making you resort to adding other fats, like sour cream). Plus if you use healthy oils, they’re not as bad for you.

Case in point is the two gingerbread cakes I made last week. One is a Splendora staff recipe, Allison’s ginger cake, and the one that went over the best with my tasters. Doesn’t look like much, but it was the clear winner. Two keys to its success: the oil (I used canola, not peanut) and the fresh ginger–much more potent than ground ginger powder–which made all the difference. (Click on the photo above for the recipe.)

The other is a recipe I tried by way of Smitten Kitchen. The caramelized apple topping is a great complement to gingerbread. Bummer that the cake in this recipe was too sticky, dense and clung to the roof of my mouth in a bad way. Plus, the flavor just wasn’t up to the Splendora cake. However, I’m proud that I managed to arrange the apple slices in a somewhat neat pattern. (Click on the photo below for the recipe.)

To sum it up: the perfect gingerbread cake is a combination of the Splendora cake base with the caramelized apple topping. That’s what I’m going to try next time. Stay tuned for the results.