Monday, August 26, 2013

Teatime Lavender Cupcakes

 Lately I've been loving using herbs and teas in sweets. From earl grey ice cream to rosemary shortbread, the idea is all over - and these cupcakes are a great example. A while back, I bought a big bag of "culinary lavender" for these shortbread cookies, and I've been trying to find other recipes to use it up. I've had my eye on this one for a while, so I decided to finally try it out.
 These are the perfect way to infuse some flowery flavor into a baked good without making it seem like a bite of perfume. A little bit of lavender is ground up into the sugar, and then sprinkled on top (use a sprig of lavender to garnish if you have it). The icing was interesting because it's kind of a take on royal icing - just egg white and confectioner's sugar. It's very sweet, but in a thin layer it's a nice contrast to the cake.
  These are perfect with a cup of tea in the afternoon. Or for breakfast, because ya know... it's tea. Kind of.
Teatime Lavender Cupcakes
(from Cupcakes)

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried lavender flowers (safe for culinary use)
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
1 cup self-rising flour
2 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 egg white
lilac food coloring
dried or fresh lavender, for decorating

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, then line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
Put the sugar and lavender flowers in a food processor and process briefly to combine. Tip the lavender sugar into a bowl with the butter and beat together until pale and fluffy.
Beat the eggs into the butter mixture, one at a time, then sift in the flour and fold in. Stir in the milk, then spoon the mixture into the muffin cups. Bake for about 18 minutes until risen and golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To decorate, gradually beat the confectioners' sugar into the egg white in a bowl, then add a few drops of food coloring and stir to achieve a lavender-colored icing. Spoon the icing over the cupcakes, then top each one with a sprig of fresh lavender (or a few bits of dried lavender). Let icing set before serving.
   -makes 12 cupcakes

Sunday, August 25, 2013

TWD Rewind: Cheese and Tomato Galette

 For a while now, I've been trying to get back into Tuesdays with Dorie. It can be annoying at times, often having other people choose what I should bake this week, but ultimately I find that it makes me try new techniques and recipes that I wouldn't have attempted otherwise. So, while I try to catch up, here's an old recipe I missed a few months back!
 Sometimes, the group's chosen recipes can even turn out to be unexpected favorites. Like this galette.
 I made it expecting something kind of boring - like a classed-up pizza. It turned out to be absolutely delicious - I made the crust with white whole-wheat flour, which made it a little more substantial, and it has a lovely crunch from the cornmeal in it. The cheeses mix together really well, and pair perfectly with ripe summer tomatoes.
 It's perfect for a summery lunch or a light dinner alongside a salad, and it will definitely be made all the time!
As always, the recipe can be found in Baking with Julia, or here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fig and Almond Cake

 Sometimes you get to a place, and you know. You know that that place is special, and you have to be there. That one day, somehow, you're going to live there, and it's going to be amazing. This view of the city is skewed, sure, due to the fact that you're probably on vacation at the time, but the feeling is real all the same.
 That's exactly how I felt about Paris. When I was in Berlin and London a couple of weeks ago,  I loved the cities and thought they were beautiful. But when I got to Paris, something was different - it felt, somehow, like that was where I should be.
 Maybe it was the city's beauty, or the pastry school I visited where I was surrounded by young bakers like me for the fist time, or the meals out with some great people, or the hours spent walking around with no particular destination. Either way, it was perfect. And I need to go back.
 Coming back to New York has been a bit of a shock. It's been fun seeing friends, sleeping in my own bed again, and even getting ready for the start of the school year - but I miss Paris. I miss walking along the river at midnight on the way back from the Eiffel Tower, trying to learn phrases beyond "Bonjour!" and "Merci!" in French, and searching for the city's best bakeries.
 So until I can go to Paris again, I'm trying to bring some parts of that vacation into New York life. Yesterday, my friend and I walked 70 blocks through the city, from the financial district all the way up to midtown, to get used to it all again and see what tourists are so fascinated by. I've been spending time online, looking at more Parisian pastry schools and apartments for rent. Most importantly, I'm trying to recreate some of the wonderful food we had there.
As a way to ease myself back into the kitchen, I wanted something simple (before the eclairs I'm working on today...). My dad saw this recipe in the newspaper and begged me to make it for him - so I figured why not. And it was great.
A moist almond cake, slightly crunchy from the almonds ground at home (don't skip this step), is studded with sweet, ripe figs sprinkled with sugar right before baking. The figs and sugar become almost jam-like, and this cake is just as delicious as it is lovely to look at.
So maybe I can't live in Paris. But I know that I can bring some of its great qualities into my own life, with the help of some sugar and maybe a lot of butter.
Fig and Almond Cake

4 tablespoons butter, melted, plus butter for greasing pan
1 cup natural raw almonds (not blanched)
1/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling (I used sparkling sugar for sprinkling)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
12 to 14 ripe figs

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9" fluted tart pan or pie pan; set aside. Put almonds and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor and grind to a coarse powder. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt; pulse to combine.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, melted butter, honey and almond extract. Add almond mixture and beat for a minute until batter is just mixed. Pour batter into pan.
Remove stem from each fig and cut in half. Arrange fig halves cut-side up over the batter. Sprinkle figs with sugar and bake for 30 minutes, until golden outside and dry at center when probed with a cake tester. Cool before serving.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tastes of Paris

I just got home from 3 and a half wonderful days in Paris. I was so busy trying to pack in a million different things into those days that I didn't have any time to post, but here are just a few of the sweet moments from the trip.

Our first view from the bridge near the apartment 
Eric Kayser's famous "cereal bread"
The Eiffel Tower glittering at night
Shakespeare & Co (where I bought my first "Mastering the Art of French Cooking")
Pastries at Angelina
L'As du Fallafel, of course
"Breakfast" from Ladurée, eaten by a lovely pond before going to the L'Orangerie museum. 
A giant Pierre Herme macaron for comparison (we liked Ladurée's better)
View from the Arc de Triomphe
Quite a bit of pastry supplies shopping that almost made my suitcase explode
Maison Stohrer's famous "love well," a pastry cup filled with vanilla cream which is then brûléed. 
Fouquet's dark-chocolate-covered marshmallows 
Pastries from Lenôtre
A little "chocolate tour" we went on
Patrick Roger (M.O.F.) makes beautiful chocolates that look almost like marbles. 
Puyricard's lovely boxes of chocolates
Those were insanely delicious (as were Maison du Chocolat's "rigoletto noir"). 
Pastries and super rich hot chocolate at Carette...
A pain au chocolat and my first choquette. 
I had been to Paris when I was 8, but I was too young to appreciate it. This trip made me fall totally in love with the city, and I can't wait to go back as soon as possible. 
We spent a lot of time doing my little pastry tour, as you can see- I wanted to try as many of the famous bakeries and treats as possible! We also did a bit of sight-seeing, and a lot of walking - we basically walked all day, every day. I still can't believe how much we squeezed into a long weekend. We also took an afternoon to look at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, which was impressive and is definitely being looked at seriously by my parents and I... But more on that later. :)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Berlin: Sugary Blogging

Today was such a fun day, starting with my very first German pretzel (which, incidentally, came from a subway station, but was delicious anyway).
My parents and I went to Ka De We, Germany's oldest department store and home to a great gourmet section! I bought way too much chocolate (you know, for gifts...)
For lunch, I met up with Erica of Cannella Vita! We found out we were both in Berlin and decided to finally meet in person. She's just as sweet and talented as she seems, and it was so much fun to make "real" friends with an internet friend. 
We went out for Japanese crepes, which were delicious. I tried the banana Nutella (because why not have Nutella as much as possible). 
I finally found someone who understands my need to take pictures of every edible thing I see! I think my parents were relieved to see I'm not the only one...
We also went on a Berliner-seeking adventure, and finally found them at the same chain I got them from yesterday. 
We walked around the Gallerie Lafayette for a little bit to check out their gourmet section. When I met up with my parents again, we tasted the Gallerie's macarons...
And then went to a church nearby, where you climb 253 steps to get to an amazing view at the top. 

Tomorrow, get ready for castles! (Because ya know, I'm obviously a German princess. Except for not. But I can pretend.)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Chocolate Swirled Cheesecake

My Brazilian family members are a tricky crowd to cook for. I guess any family has its picky eaters, those who stick to essentially the same three meals every day and are uncomfortable going outside of those lines – but my family seems to have quite a large number of them. The week after my sweet 16, we had at least 15 people coming over to our house for dinner every night, often more, and I was generally in charge of dessert. I stuck to something that could be baked in one pan and required little assembly – my biggest success was this Nutella cake. One night, I decided to make a cheesecake, per request of my cousin.
Oh boy, I should not have told Brazilians that that was what I was making. I immediately got wrinkled noses and reactions like, “Really? Cheese in a cake? I’m gonna go get some ice cream…”

Nevertheless, I powered on. I made a classic New York cheesecake batter, mixing melted bittersweet chocolate into a portion of it and swirling that in with the plain batter. To keep with the chocolate-vanilla theme, I left behind the traditional graham cracker crust and instead used crushed (gluten-free) chocolate chip cookies. The result? A creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, insanely delicious double-flavored cheesecake. Even better when served with homemade chocolate sauce! All of my relatives except for one absolutely loved it. I think I’ll call that one a win and move on.
Chocolate Swirled Cheesecake 
1 3/4 cups crunchy chocolate chip cookie crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar 
Pinch of salt 
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
2 pounds (four 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature 
1 1/3 cups sugar 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 
4 large eggs, at room temperature 
1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Butter a 9-inch springform pan—choose one that has sides that are 2 3/4 inches high (if the sides are lower, you will have cheesecake batter leftover)—and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil; put the pan on a baking sheet.  
Stir the crumbs, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. (I do this with my fingers.) Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don't worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn't have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.
Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
Put a kettle of water on to boil.
Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and lives up to the creamy part of its name, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition—you want a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream and/or heavy cream.
Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in the roaster pan.
Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, just to make sure that nothing has been left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and separate about a third of the batter. Stir the bittersweet chocolate into this smaller portion of the batter.
Scrape the vanilla batter into the springform pan. Dollop the chocolate batter over the top and swirl the two together with a thin knife or skewer. The batter will reach the brim of the pan. (If you have a pan with lower sides and have leftover batter, you can bake the batter in a buttered ramekin or small soufflé mold.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top will be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven's heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.
After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.
When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.