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Friday
Jan242014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Watergate Cake (Pistachio Pudding Mix Cake)

The 26th is National Pistachio Day. How should you celebrate? I know, make Watergate Cake! (pictured above)

Or, make these fantastic pistachio cookies--one of my childhood favorites.

Lard: the comeback fat.

So you want a literary agent? Learn how to get one here. (via Jennifer Pooley)

I have been taking this free(!) class in knife skills, and have learned that my method of using a paring knife for EVERYTHING is simply wrong.

Exotic mango cream puff. You have my interest.

In case you missed it: chocolate covered cherry stuffed cupcakes.

Homemade vanilla coffee liqueur. I like it.

How to make crème fraîche at home. Seriously, even your brother could do it.

And for dessert...dark chocolate s'mores truffles.

CHOCOLATE COVERED CHEE-TOS.

OMG: Brandy Alexander Brownies.

The science of always having room for dessert.

Tuesday
Jan212014

Project for Kids: How to Turn Honeycomb into Chocolate

Choco-honeycomb

 

Here's a fun project for kids of all ages: how to turn honeycomb into chocolate. 

That's right: you can take honeycomb like this:

Image via Airah.org.au

and bing! make it into chocolate, like this:

Choco-honeycomb

Wow!

So, how do you do it? Well, to do it with the "bing" method featured above, you will need magic powers and probably a wand of some sort. If you don't happen to have these things around, all you need is a double boiler, a rubber spatula for stirring and spreading, some parchment paper, some chocolate to melt, and bubble wrap. Yes, bubble wrap!

Here, I will walk you step by step through the process so that you can do it at home. I got the idea for this fantastic project from a wonderful book: Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes.

You need:

  • parchment paper
  • a board or work surface
  • a rubber spatula
  • chocolate (approximately 8 ounces; more or less is fine)
  • a double boiler or a bowl suspended over simmering liquid
  • bubble wrap

Now that you have all of your supplies, let's get to work.

Choco-honeycomb

Honeycomb-lookalike chocolate

Step 1: First, set your parchment paper above a board or on a countertop. Set it to the side for the moment, you'll come back to it.

Step 2: Wash the bubble wrap thoroughly.

Chocolate honey comb

This may be the strangest thing you've found yourself doing in quite some time. Once it's clean, dry it thoroughly. Don't pop the bubbles! Place the dried pieces facing bubbles-up on your parchment paper.

Chocolate honey comb

Step 3: Melt the chocolate. I used a mix of white and dark chocolate morsels for a swirly effect. For instructions on how to melt chocolate, visit this post.

Chocolate honey comb

Step 4: Once melted, remove from heat. Choco-honeycomb

Now, gently spread the chocolate on top of the bubble wrap.

Chocolate honey comb

Spread it fairly thick: you don't want to see the shape of the bubbles beneath.

Chocolate honey comb

Step 5: Let it dry. This can take a few hours, or let it chill out overnight.

Step 6: Flip the pieces of chocolate so that the bubble wrap now faces up. Be gentle! Gently peel off the bubble wrap. Marvel at what you've created!

Choco-honeycomb

Step 7: I like to break mine up into chunks, put it on a plate, and ask people if they've ever turned honeycomb into chocolate before.

Choco-honeycomb

Do you think bees would like this treat? 

Monday
Jan202014

Tres Delicious: How to Make Tres Leches Cake

It's about time you learned how to make Tres Leches cake. Here's a recipe and step by step tutorial.

Sunday
Jan192014

CakeSpy Suggests: Craftsy Course Vintage Cake Design

Photo via CraftsyHave you ever wanted to make a vintage-looking birdcage cake?

Omigod, has Craftsy got a course for you! It's called Vintage Cake Design and it's taught by famed UK cake designer Lindy Smith.

OK, so maybe you'd never fantasized specifically about making a birdcage cake. But wouldn't it be cool if you could create cakes of the caliber of the one pictured above?

Believe me when I tell you this class will help you cake--er, make--it happen.

Listen, between you and me, I can write about cake design, cakes, and recipes, till the cows come home, but when it comes to creating intricately decorated works, I am not quite as confident. I know what fondant spacers are, and tools. But the ease of decorating doesn't come as easy to me as, say, watercoloring.

I knew right away when I started this course that Lindy knew what she was doing. Things I hadn't really considered, such as "polishing" the fondant to ensure a perfectly smooth finish, were presented in an informative way--she didn't assume a certain level of expertise, but at the same time, didn't simply dumb things down. I appreciated that. 

As she presents the various steps that go into this cake, something magical starts to happen. The project goes from completely inaccessible and daunting, something other people, people more talented than you do, to a number of manageable tasks.

It's not a matter of "make an amazing cake"--it's more a matter of, follow these steps, from embossing the baseboard to properly leveling and shaping the cakes to assembling using dowels to covering them with fondant and decorating with silhouettes and various layers...and after you've done all of these manageable tasks, you'll have this amazing cake.

And you know what? I think that even if you never make the cake (because honestly, I haven't yet, but I now believe I can, and that's pretty important), this course is absolutely worth the price. Because you'll pick up all sorts of tips for cake decorating that can be applied to other projects, including stenciling techniques, clever application of luster dust, what types of cake stack and shape well, and too many more little tidbits to name in one short blog post. 

So not only will you learn how to make a cake that will impress all of your friends, but you'll naturally and easily develop some skills that might just have you impressing yourself. Look, here's a cake made by someone who took the class:

Now that takes the cake, sweeties!

Oh, and lucky readers, Craftsy said that since I posted about the class they'd give my readers a totally sweet discount on the class. Lucky you!

Use this link to navigate to a 25% discount on the class: www.craftsy.com/ext/110813_jessie_vintage

Note: I'm not on a referral program or anything, so please don't feel like I'm selling you some cake version of Amway here--I just think it's a nifty course and Craftsy, a business I believe in and work for as a freelancer, was kind enough to offer the discount for my readers. Sweet!

 

Sunday
Jan192014

Get Shorty: How to Make Perfect Shortbread at Home

Shortbread

Do you want to make perfect, delicious shortbread? It's easy: find out how, here.

Friday
Jan172014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

I googled "unicorn pie" and found this image from Reading and Chickens.

I love being interviewed!

It is so true: the raisin has ruined the oatmeal cookie!

How to make homemade sprinkles. Awesome!

Want to see the world's largest eclair? Maybe it should be "longest"?

Twinkie trivia--good cocktail party banter.

All the different types of cooking pans: a guide.

Have cottage laws gone too far?

Secrets to making fondant taste...well, better at least.

Caramel apple crisp with oatmeal. Nom.

Whaaaa? Red velvet oatmeal???

That's more like it: red velvet cake shake.

Coconut pecan chocolate pie. I want it!

Because Valentine's day isn't too far away: chocolate covered chocolates!

Make me a fondant unicorn, please.

And as always, a reminder: my first book is still great. Buy it.

Thursday
Jan162014

Sweet to Eat: Caramels by Liddabit Sweets

Caramels

Are you hungry? A lot, or just a Liddabit?

Well, either way, Liddabit Sweets is well worth a look. This Brooklyn-based confection operation has a splendid roster of sweets, and a convenient Chelsea Market retail location where you can go in NYC and buy them all. And a book, so you can try some of their finest recipes in the comfort of your own home. 

Listen, most of these photos are from their website because whoever took their photos is better than me. Thanks in advance youse guys!

They make fancy, expensive homemade candy bars (they're expensive for a reason--check out their "candy bar economics" here). And brittles. And turtles. And honeycomb candy. And fancy caramel corn. But seriously, at this moment, we are here to talk about the caramels. 

Tasting them very quickly shows that these people know what they are doing, are confident in their abilities, but aren't afraid to have a little fun. 

So what makes their caramels so great? They're fancy, but not too fancy. They're still accessible to all sorts of palates, bringing to mind the nostalgia of those cubes of caramel, but tasting even better than your idealized version of them.

So what's on the caramel roster?

Everyone, at this point, has been exposed to salty caramel as a flavor, so it's hardly new. But it's delicious anew when you have a particularly toothsome specimen in your mouth, and Liddabit Sweets' version does just that. They have them plain, and chocolate-covered. Try both to see which you like better.

They do have creative flavors, too, that you probably have NOT seen before, such as stout gingerbread (stout the beer, not stout like Santa Claus), apple cider (like a caramel apple spice), beer-n-pretzel (sweet and salty!), and black truffle caramels made with truffle oil (the kind the special pigs find, not the chocolate kind). It's a good mix of high and low on the menu. 

And then there's my favorite, the fig-ricotta caramel. Oh, hi. When I tasted it, I was surprised by the flavor. It tasted figgy...but somehow not mellow. Creamy, yes, but with a little...something.

Well, I looked it up on their site, and as the description notes, 

Loaded with sweet bits of dried fig and touched with balsamic vinegar, these caramels are one of our most sophisticated treats. A delightful addition to a cheese plate, they're also great with a sip of port - or just on their own.

Dude! That's it! Vinegar!

Caramels

The vinegar is quite a brilliant addition to these caramels. It performs, flavor-wise, a similar function to salt, in that it takes away the "sweet and nothing else" characteristic that lesser caramels all too often posess. It also, similarly to salt in caramels, makes them intriguing and makes you lustful for another bite right away. I wonder if they make a special jumbo half-pound size of these caramels? 

If you are a caramel lover like me, I don't believe you will be disappointed by these unique sweets.

Liddabit Sweets, shop and look online here, or go to the retail location in the historic Chelsea Market.

Wednesday
Jan152014

Wedding Cakes from Bermuda Are the Coolest

Recently (as in today), Craftsy published a post of mine about interesting wedding cakes from around the globe. It features about 7 interesting cakes from far-flung locales, and in my opinion, it's a sweet way to do some armchair travel and learn about some unique cakes.

But I wanted to expand upon the tradition of Bermudese wedding cakes, because I found it so darned interesting. And, the cakes are so, so, pretty. That's them, above. The photographer, Sacha Blackburne, was kind enough to share some of her images with me, which is delightful, because as you can see, she's a really talented photographer and really knows how to capture the beauty of a cake. 

But on to the Bermudese wedding cake tradition. As you can see in the photo at the top, weddings are twice as nice in Bermuda, because there are two cakes. They are decorated in silver and gold, respectively, so you'll have to give me a moment here while I do some arpeggios and sing the "siiiiiiiiilver and goooooooooold" song from the TV special of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for several moments here.

(pause)

OK, I'm done. Back to the cakes.

The larger cake, sometimes referred to as the “bride’s cake,” is a large, often multi-tiered fruitcake-like confection covered with silver leaf, which I have read is meant to symbolize purity. Snazzy purity, that is! 

And, of course, the fruitcake is often made using rum from the region. 

A smaller cake, the groom’s cake, is a pound cake that is often covered in gold leaf. This is meant to symbolize wealth and prosperity. Once again: snazzy!

Photo via Sacha Blackburne

The traditional topping? No figurines of a smiling bride and groom here. The traditional cake topper is a real sapling, which is then planted by the couple as a symbol of their growing love and life together. Decoration including other vines, leaves, etc may accentuate this theme.

View the Craftsy post here.

Monday
Jan132014

Sweet Tarte: The Story of Tarte Tatin

Image via CraftsyI know, sweet readers, that you probably love a sweet story as much as me, so I thought I would tell you the tale of Tarte Tatin.

To the uninitiated, Tarte Tatin is an upside-down apple tart which is famous in France. It's upside down because it's baked with a slurry of apples, butter, sugar and some spices in a pan, with the pastry bottom on top. After it's baked, you flip the pan, and the yummy gooey stuff drips down on top of the apples to form a caramelly, buttery awesome apple topping on a pastry crust. It's easy and good eating, for sure. 

Among its many fine points, it's also largely viewed as a precursor to America's beloved pineapple upside-down cake. 

So how did the tart get its start? Well, one thing is for certain: the ones who made it famous in the 1880s were the Tatin sisters, Stephanie and Caroline, proprietresses of the Hotel Tatin, located about 100 miles south of Paris. 

How, exactly, the tart was developed depends on who you ask. There are several stories; I'll share a few with you.

Some say that it was a flub where sister Stephanie was cooking some apples on the stovetop and misjudged how quickly they were cooking. To try to chill out the fast-cooking pommes, she tossed a pastry crust on top and tossed the whole thing in the oven to slow the cooking. When she extracted it, the inverted tarte was well-received, and a new classic was born. In another similar variation, she simply forgets to put the crust below the apples so decides to put it on top and bake.

Other versions of the story make out Stephanie as a kitchen novice, accidentally assembling the tart in the wrong order before baking but deciding to go with it. Yet others include an unfortunate incident in which a tart is assembled and soon before baking, is accidentally flipped upside down, but she decides to go with it anyway.

If you've heard another variation of the story, or a slightly different version of any of the above, I'm not surprised. As I found out while writing my second book, The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Dessertsmany of the stories behind popular baked goods are like playing a game of telephone: they're slightly different depending on who tells the story. 

It's also probable that it wasn't an accident at all, but a matter of the baker following baking trends, since it's probable that the concept of upside-down desserts actually preceded the sisters Tatin. In his Le Pâtissier royal parisien, published in 1841, the famed pastry chef Marie-Antoine Carême had already referenced "gâteaux renversées" , or "reversed cakes", made with various fruits.

But to me, this is the most interesting part of the story: it wasn't even the sisters Tatin who made the tarte famous. In fact, it was a matter of word of mouth. 

Maurice Curonsky, a French author and gourmand, adorably nicknamed "the Prince of Gastronomy"was the first to famously revere the tart, referring to it in his writing as "tarte des desmoiselles Tatin". To the best of my high school French knowledge, "desmoiselles" is a more kind term than "old maids", but it does refer to their unmarried status. Word of the "tarte Tatin" spread, and this became its nickname--it had not previously been referred to by name like this.

Sealing the tarte's fame was the love of Louis Vaudable, an influential foodie and owner of Parisian restaurant Maxim's. According to the official Tarte Tatin website, Vaudable is said to have written "I used to hunt around Lamotte-Beuvron in my youth, and had discovered in a very small hotel run by elderly ladies a marvelous dessert listed on the menu under tarte solognote. I questioned the kitchen staff about its recipe, but was sternly rebuffed. Undaunted, I got myself hired as a gardener. Three days later, I was fired when it became clear that I could hardly plant a cabbage. But this was long enough to pierce the secrets of the kitchen. I brought the recipe back, and put it on my own menu under "Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin".

As the website continues, however, "Unfortunately, Mr. Vaudable was born in 1902, and the sisters retired in 1906. They died in 1911 and 1917, while Maxim's was purchased by the Vaudable family in 1932." So while it's a cute story, it doesn't quite line up. 

Nonetheless, the tarte did appear on the Maxim's menu, and became a popular favorite.

Today, you might not see tarte tatin on restaurant menus with great regularity, but it's a delicious and worthwhile experience to make your own. It's fairly simple--if you've ever made an apple pie, and if you've ever flipped a Pineapple upside-down cake, you're well equipped with all the skills you need. 

Happy Apples

Regarding apples: The French Calville apple is the specimen of choice for this recipe; however, if you can't find those, try Pippin, Cortland, or Gala apples. Interestingly, some older recipes call for unpeeled apples, though the recipe I suggest calls for Granny smith apples, cored and peeled. I have used Gala when I have made this recipe, but you choose your own bliss. You're not going to be wrong if you use Granny smith.

Regarding pans: You know, there actually exists a tarte tatin pan. But if you don't want to make the investment...go ahead and use an oven-safe skillet.

Regarding serving: Although old versions call for serving the tarte warm, by itself, go ahead and serve it with ice cream if you wanna (you probably do, right?). You won't regret it. 

Want a recipe? I will tell you, I have used the New York Times recipe pretty exactly, so I won't even try to adapt it here--rather, I will give you a link.

Find a recipe for Tarte Tatin here.

Have you ever tried Tarte tatin?

Sunday
Jan122014

Serious Eating: The Secret Life of Pie Town

Pie Town is a place on earth, people. And it's a very special place. I wrote a lovely profile on the town for Serious Eats, and I think you will enjoy it! Read it here.

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