Archive Page 2

01
Feb
13

When life gives you Meyer lemons, make pound cake. Maybe.

Tis the season for Meyer lemons galore

Meyer lemons. The name alone sounds delicious. I say this at the risk of being stoned by pastry chefs, but methinks they’re a bit overrated. The zest is surprisingly bitter, and the sweet flavor, while nice, isn’t as bright as a typical lemon. But these were on sale at Whole Foods (8 for $3), and I’m a sucker for a bargain. You can also find them cheap at Trader Joe’s right now.

After some initial waffling on what to do with an entire bag of lemons, pound cake began calling my name. But I was conflicted about which recipe to try. The Martha Stewart one had mixed reviews (confirmation that Martha isn’t perfect). The other recipes I came across, no critical mass of user reviews. In the end, I took my chances on this recipe from Tide and Thyme because it uses sour cream, which I’ve found helps make for a moister cake.

  Meyer lemon pound cake

The result was a very sweet, slightly bitter pound cake that was borderline too buttery. (I found 2 sticks of butter to almost be overkill for one 9″ x 5″ loaf—despite the origins of the name “pound cake” stemming from “a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, etc.”). The cake does turn out moist, especially with the lemon syrup saturating it. I screwed up the frosting, which is why this looks bald compared with the Tide and Thyme photo.

PS: I ended up using 6 lemons for this recipe, although you could get away with using fewer than that.

25
Jan
13

A respectable shortcut for apple dumplings

This is my first time out trying a recipe from Trisha Yearwood’s Food Network show. The country music star focuses on rib-stickin’ Southern home cooking. In the opening credits she says that everything’s home-cooked, but her recipes actually tend toward semi-homemade. Example: these apple dumplings, which use store-bought buttermilk biscuit dough for the pastry. Although I’m not opposed to store-bought shortcuts, I felt a little misled.

One reason I tend to stay away from using Pillsbury-type doughs (with the exception of the pie crusts) is that they’re best eaten straight from the oven. Wait an hour or so and they’ve usually already hardened, amplifying their fake buttery taste. That, and I wince when the can pops.

Trisha Yearwood's apple dumplings

Before these semi-homemade apple dumplings went into the oven, they were languishing in a buttery bath.

I decided to try this recipe anyway, swayed by the overwhelmingly positive reader reviews. But a few questions plagued me. Would the pastry soaking in the butter fluids actually cook, or remain factory-made pastry mush? Would the fake-butter taste from the pastry overwhelm the finished product?

I’m relieved to report that these turned out quite tasty, despite the slightly repulsive butter bath they baked in (I just about halved the recipe for 8 dumplings). The Granny Smith apple softens inside, a nice contrast to the crunchy cinnamon-dusted tops. The leftovers even held up the next day (stored without the butter sauce).

Trisha Yearwood's apple dumplings, from the oven.

After baking. The bottoms do bake through, thankfully.

PS: Turns out Tricia’s in good company when it comes to semi-homemade apple dumplings. Pioneer Woman makes a variation on these using Crescent Roll dough and Mountain Dew (recipe here), if you like your apple dumplings with a caffeine kick.

12
Jan
13

Pioneer Woman’s strawberry oatmeal bars, a decidely unhealthy treat

Sifting through the user ratings on this strawberry oatmeal bar recipe, you might be misled into thinking that these are good for you. But take a closer look at the ingredients. Nearly 2 sticks of butter and a cup of sugar—that doesn’t even include the sugar in the preserves. While I clearly embrace sugar in my diet (a lot more than I should), these bars turned out too sweet even for me.

Pioneer Woman's strawberry-oatmeal bars

Tasty but not likely to be good for you, apart from the oats.

While it’s not a healthy recipe as-is, there are easy modifications that could make it more like a granola bar and less like a dessert: swapping out the white flour for whole-wheat pastry flour, maybe. Adding flaxseeds or nuts could also up the health ante. But this was my first time making them so I tried none of the above. I did, however, add a handful of toasted coconut flakes. I also substituted raspberry-apricot preserves, since I didn’t have any strawberry in the house.

Pioneer Woman’s show is compulsive viewing: partly because of her laid-back sense of humor, and partly because her family’s ranching lifestyle gives us a glimpse into a completely different world. But bear in mind that her recipes tend to be rich (and portioned for a small army) because (1) she’s got 4 kids, and (2) her family can afford to eat like that. They’re doing hard labor on a regular basis around the ranch. Meanwhile, many of us sit at a desk for at least 40 hours a week, and the likelihood we’re going to burn down a barn or round up cattle anytime soon is low. So I’ve made a mental note to bear that in mind when attempting her recipes, and adjust accordingly.

08
Jan
13

The automat is due for a comeback. Cakes and pies on demand, people!

"Automat" by Berenice Abbbott, 1936.

Utterly fascinated by this photo titled “Automat” by Berenice Abbott, 1936 via Wikipedia.

02
Jan
13

Lemony delights, homemade and store-bought

Happy 2013! As the holidays come to a close and the dreary weather settles in, I’ve found myself gravitating toward citrus desserts lately–particularly lemon. Weird and fascinating fact: even though lemons are acidic, your body metabolizes them as alkaline. So you could argue that these desserts are compatible with your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze from Giada De Laurentiis

My New Year’s resolution: learn to hold the camera straight.

First off are these lemon-lime ricotta cookies, a slight modification of a Giada DL recipe. I added lime zest to the icing rather than just lemon zest. Simple enough to make, these don’t require any fancy equipment beyond a mixer. These eat like tart little cakes, nice with tea or coffee. As you mix the icing, feel free to add more lemon juice and zest than the recipe prescribes, but make sure to taste as you go. Also, stick with juicing your own lemons. The stuff from the bottle has a bite to it (probably from oxidation) that fresh lemon juice doesn’t.

Trader Joe's lemon bars

Rarely are commercially made lemon bars tart enough, but lemon juice is the first ingredient in these bite-sized ones from Trader Joe’s.

I don’t see a need to ever make lemon bars again after trying these little gems from Trader Joe’s. They’re not that high in sugar (5 grams each), wonderfully tart (making me wonder if TJ’s cheated by adding citric acid–nope, just lemon juice), and all you do is defrost them from the freezer. If you’re serving them to guests, you may want to re-dust them with powdered sugar right beforehand. That part didn’t survive the defrosting totally intact.

Trader Joe's lemon & triple gingersnap ice cream

Judging from the font on the carton, this lemon and triple ginger snap ice cream is Asian-inspired.

Lastly, Trader Joe’s lemon and triple ginger snap ice cream is the frozen treat equivalent of lemon-ginger tea. And it doesn’t shy away from that ginger bite. Spooning into a cluster of gingersnaps makes me feel like I’m hitting paydirt. While ice cream doesn’t rank as high up there for me as cakes, pies, or cookies, this stuff makes a worthy sugar fix. Especially if you toss the random chocolate chip cookie in there as a garnish.

16
Dec
12

A genius creme brulee imposter

Easiest, most delicious pudding recipe I've come across in a long time.

There are a number of reasons I’m digging this burnt caramel pudding recipe. (And apparently lots of other people are too: it won the “Best Pudding” award on Food52.) One is that I rarely attempt puddings, custards, or crèmes of any kind (caramel, brulee) because they can be time-consuming and I usually end up scrambling the eggs. But the Food52 directions are really clear, so even someone prone to baking disasters like me can manage this.

Second is the simplicity of the ingredients. This recipe calls for heavy cream, 1/2 vanilla bean, sugar, egg yolks, water, and salt (optional). Basically, the same ingredients you’ll find in a classic creme brulee. The only challenge was finding the vanilla beans at a price I could swallow. Turns out that Trader Joe’s has them in 2-packs for $4.

Burnt caramel pudding, pre-baking.

Right before they went into the toaster oven. BTW if you want to avoid spillage, add the water after you stick them into the oven.

Oh yeah, these turn out amazingly delicious—caramel fans will find that the combination of creaminess plus burnt-sugar taste (which pervades the pudding instead of just sitting on top, a la creme brulee) takes your taste buds to many happy places.

You’re really supposed to bake these in the oven, but I went for the toaster oven instead. The tops ended up browning (within 15-20 minutes, I think?), which turned out to be a good thing, forming a darker brown crust. Once I realized the tops were too close to the upper heating coils, I stuck a piece of foil loosely over the ramekins for the rest of the baking time.

They were still jiggly/slightly liquid in the middle when I took them out of the oven. After refrigeration, there was just a tad of liquid at the bottoms. Next time I do these I’ll leave them in a bit longer.

Burnt caramel pudding, closeup.

The scrapings from just half a vanilla bean (split among 4 ramekins) go a long way.

11
Dec
12

Sweet Streets of NY, Day 4: Tricked-out cookies & panettones to cap things off

On the last day of our NYC trip, we had a half day to hit a few more food places before heading back to DC. Here’s what we picked up for the bus ride home:

The chocolate chip-walnut behemoth from Levain.

Levain Bakery, Upper West Side

After JDang mentioned that Levain’s cookies were so good that her friend in LA asked her to schlep $100 worth back (that works out to 25 cookies), we realized we needed to try them on the last day of our visit.

For those of you who balk at a $4 cookies, know this: these are as heavy as rocks, so pound for-pound, I doubt they’re that much more expensive than Mrs. Fields’ cookies from your mall food court.

IMG_0454

We decided to walk from our hotel on East 29th all the way up to West 74th. We took Fifth Avenue most of the way, which gave us to the opportunity to check out some of the stunning holiday windows. After a quick detour through Central Park, 40-odd blocks later, we came upon a tiny basement shop. The compact space (with no table to sit at, be warned) was inversely proportional to the heft and hype behind these supersized cookies.

So, were they worth the long-distance trek? I like a good cookies, but these weren’t spectacular enough to merit the hype. Here’s why: (1) Levain doesn’t offer a plain chocolate chip—you can only get chocolate-chip walnut. Walnuts in cookies, blech. (2) The soft texture of the cookies makes them eat more like brownies than cookies. (3) The double chocolate chocolate chip may send you into sugar shock.

If you do try them, get them to share.  Much like the Cheesecake Factory cheesecake slices, you’ll be hard-pressed to finish one on your own in a single sitting.

Welcome to Eataly, panettone heaven.Eataly, Chelsea

I don’t meet many people under the age of 50 who are as into panettones as me and Mr. X-sXe. I think it may have to do with the stigma of fruitbread, even those these are nothing of the sort.

Panettones are oversized, buttery brioches (don’t tell the Italians I said that) studded with dried fruits like orange peels and raisins. Don’t worry, they don’t usually include nuts or any of that day-glow dried fruit weighing down your typical doorstop fruitcake. If you want to test drive a panettone, you can get a small one at Whole Foods (or large one at Trader Joe’s) for around $5. And if you don’t like it, you can always turn it into bread pudding or French toast.

At Eataly, we came upon a huge display of panettones ranging from $15-$50+. We took home two kinds, a peach one and a chocolate-hazelnut one. The peach one was the moistest panettone we’ve tried to date, but a bit stingy with the dried peaches. The chocolate-hazelnut one has yet to be broken into—I’ll update this post after we try it.

Related Posts:

Day 1 Spoils

Day 2: The Sugar Binge Continues

Day 3: More Donut Gluttony, and a Gourmet Take on Hostess

04
Dec
12

Sweet streets of NY, Day 3: More Donut Gluttony, and a Gourmet Take on Hostess

These may be some of the best donuts ever to cross your lips. Starting at 9 o’clock: the coconut cream, pistachio, creme brulee, and tres leches.

Doughnut Plant, Chelsea store

Smitten with the Doughnut Plant cake donuts we tried at the Stumptown Coffee pastry case, we decided to head to the mothership herself to see what other flavors we could stuff down our gullets. We ended up at the Chelsea location (there’s another one in the Lower East Side). The funny thing is that there’s a Dunkin’ not far from the store where you can get a donut for less than $1. But why would you do that when you can pay $3 for the best donut you’ve had in your life?

Glowing Sign at Doughnut Plant

The décor makes you feel like you’re entering a Willy Wonka donut factory. Donut pillows on the walls, donut tiles on the booths, and a giant, glowing donut menu. The only part that falls a bit short is the donut display itself, where a sample of each of the flavors of the day were crammed into a small glass case. You kind of want to see them in their full glory on platters, or at least in a bigger display case, lined up like soldiers.

On this visit we had the pistachio, coconut cream, crème brulee “doughseed” (mini-donut), and a reprise of the Tres Leches (at Mr. X-sXe’s insistence). Unlike the other cake donuts we’d tried, the pistachio didn’t have any filling, which meant it was somewhat dry and uninspiring. The crème brulee, the flavor that piqued my interest in the Doughnut Plant in the first place, was good but not as sublime as I’d built it up to be in my head. The coconut cream was generously filled and fluffy on the outside. Delicious as it was, it still couldn’t touch the blackout cake donut, which remains my favorite.

There are many, many options to maintain your sugar rush at Empire Cake.

Empire Cake, Chelsea

That night we met up with a friend, JDang, who suggested checking out Empire Cake, which she’d passed on her walk to meet us. It’s a charming shop (but what shop filled with cakes and pastries isn’t?) on 8th Avenue. Their specialty, apart from custom cakes, are their gourmet versions of greatest hits from the possibly-soon-extinct Hostess, like the Ho-Ho (Swiss roll), Snowball, and Twinkie.

Imitation is flattery: a homemade version of the Hostess Snowball surpasses the original.

We tried a pink Snowball. It tasted like a homemade, less artificial version of Hostess’ own, one that doesn’t make you wonder about the chemicals involved in making it shelf-stable. But to be honest, we went to Empire Cake post-dinner, post-donuts with food fatigue, so our taste buds were maxed out for the day. You just might have to go there to judge for yourself.

Related posts:

Sweet Streets of NY, Day 1 Spoils

Sweet streets of NY, Day 2: The Sugar Binge Continues

01
Dec
12

Sweet streets of NY, Day 2: The Sugar Binge Continues

DoughtnutPlant-Stumptown
A rundown of the sweets we tried during our second day in NYC:
One of the things that made our stay at the Ace Hotel memorable (helping to make up for our jail cell-sized room) was the Stumptown Coffee in the lobby. For a habitual tea drinker, their brew’s perfect because it’s pretty mild, at least to my untrained coffee palate. Anyway, this Stumptown location offers an impressive case of sweet accompaniments: French macarons, fruit tarts, cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar, and these Doughnut Plant cake donuts.
Stumptown carries 4 flavors: the tres leches and blackout became our breakfast staples for the duration of our stay. The first time Mr. X-sXe bit into one, he actually paused to contemplate what had just happened to his taste buds. They’re that good. Each donut has a thread of filling running through it: condensed milk in the tres leches; bittersweet chocolate cream in the blackout. Sounds like overload, but it’s not because these aren’t nearly as sweet as your typical glazed Krispy Kreme—by comparison they taste healthy.
MomofukuMilkBar_CerealSoftServe
Though this place is tinier than a Manhattan studio apartment, there’s a constant stream of customers demanding their cereal milk soft serve—even on a windy 40-degree day. If I were Christina Tosi, I’d be applying for some kind of trademark protection. The soft serve tastes like what’s left in your cereal bowl after you’ve fished out the last soggy Frosted Flake. It’s served up with cereal crumbles, what tasted like corn flakes to me. The soft serve flavor was too reminiscent of milk from the jug for my liking, but I guess that’s the point.
Left to right: the compost, chocolate marshmallow, and blueberries & cream cookies

Left to right: the compost, chocolate chip marshmallow, and blueberries & cream cookies

Cookies
The lady behind the counter at the Milk Bar explained that the compost, chocolate chip marshmallow, and blueberries & cream are their top-selling flavors. All are buttery, chewy cookies, but we enjoyed the chocolate marshmallow the most. The cookies held up nicely after a bus ride home and a couple days sitting on our kitchen counter. You can attempt the recipe for the compost cookies here or order all of the cookies flavors online here.
MomofukuMilkBar_CrackPieCrack pie
I’ve tried Momofuku’s towering cakes before, but this was my first time trying their pie. The funny thing about their pie slices is that they package them individually in cardboard sleeves. The crack pie reminds me of a cross between shoofly pie and crème brulee, with a strong molasses taste from the brown sugar.  Due to the ooey-gooey richness, it’s hard to enjoy more than a few bites of in one go, even for those of us with a fiendish sweet tooth. You’ll want a very bitter mug of coffee to go with this.
Related posts:
Day 3 preview: We make the holy pilgrimage to the actual Doughnut Plant store in Chelsea, then cap the night off at Empire Cake, where you can get homemade versions of those Hostess cakes that are on the brink of extinction.
28
Nov
12

Sweet streets of NY, Day 1 Spoils

Some regard San Francisco as the gastronomy capital of America. But a recent trip to NYC affirmed for me that it takes the culinary crown—at least, when it comes to sweets (and yeah, that’s despite its lack of a Tartine). The thing is, whatever your obsession, NYC probably has a store dedicated to it. Take this place that sells only rice pudding. Or giant French macarons. That’s not even factoring in the dessert trucks.

Given the plethora of food oases, it’s easy to overdo it. Luckily we walked a lot during our visit, which helped alleviate the post-binge bloat. We managed to consume a plantation’s worth of sugar during our mere 4 days there. Here’s a rundown of our Day 1 intake.

Fat Witch brownies, Chelsea Market

These brownies didn’t strike me as anything special in the store—more like a gift-giving idea than anything. But I had a change of heart after we tried them back at our hotel. They’re rich yet not dense, so you don’t feel like you’re eating a chocolate brick. They’re probably my second-favorite brownies after the ones at Pret a Manger, which seem to have a tad more chocolate. The caramel was better than the red (dried cherry) flavor. BTW, I noticed on Fat Witch’s website that they’re one of Oprah’s Favorite Things, official seal of things the hoi polloi should aspire to blow their monetary and caloric budgets on.

Ronnybrook Farm apple pie milkshake, Chelsea Market

We stopped by for an apple pie shake, which even between my and Mr. x-sXe’s hearty appetites, we couldn’t finish. This thick apple-caramel concoction needed something to offset the treacly sweetness (and a wider, bubble-tea-sized straw to suck it up with). A side of salty pie crust to scoop it up would’ve been welcome. It felt like a sin to toss about a third of it away, but we wanted to reserve some pancreatic juices for post-dinner goodies.

Stand Burger toasted marshmallow milkshake, East 12th Street

Undeterred by our Ronnybrook fail, we headed to Stand Burger a few hours later. Mr. X-sXe has a thing for toasted marshmallow shakes, after being spoiled by the one at Good Stuff in DC. We got the small and polished off the whole thing quickly. Unlike Ronnybrook, Stand gets that you need a supersized straw for a thick shake. (Minor gripe: the actual marshmallow on top was stale.)

Related posts:

NYC, Day 2: a cornucopia of goodies at Doughnut Plant and Momofuku Milk Bar

NYC, Day 3: donut gluttony and a Hostess-inspired treat