Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

In the UK, pudding is a synonym used to denote the dessert course of a meal. When I served this dessert after dinner last night, I think my friends were a little confused by use of the word “pudding” for what is clearly a cake. I don’t think they were disappointed after tasting it though.

Sticky Toffee Pudding 3

I first had this pudding at the Schlafly Taproom in St. Louis and fell instantly in love. I have made it on several occasions since, usually in the winter months when everyone is less concerned about butter and sugar, but it’s good any and every time.

The cake is light, spongey and lovely. It’s almost magic how the dates dissolve into the cake during the baking process and become indiscernible from the rest of the ingredients. The toffee sauce though, is the real star of the show. I like to serve this dessert in a bowl, so everyone has a nice pool of sauce to be soaked up by the cake. I’m pretty sure you can spoon a brown sugar, butter, and cream sauce over anything and it would be incredible; but it’s especially good here paired with a light cake and freshly whipped cream. Enjoy!

Sticky Toffee Pudding 2

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Recipe from Daily Candy via The Schlafly Tap Room

Ingredients:

For the pudding

  • 1 lb. dates, chopped in food processor
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 5 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 lb. sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt

For the sauce

  • 1 lb. dark brown sugar
  • 1 lb. butter
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream

For the whipped cream

  • 1 c. heavy cream (or whatever is leftover from sauce)
  • 1 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with butter or non-stick spray.
  • Combine dates with hot water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add baking soda. Set aside to cool.
  • In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar on high speed for 3 minutes.
  • With mixer on low speed, add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla, flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • When fully mixed, add the dates and their liquid.
  • Pour batter into greased pan and bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean (30-45 minutes).
  • Cool on a baking rack before removing from the pan.
  • For the sauce, stir together the brown sugar, butter, and vanilla extract on low heat until blended and brown sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.
  • Whisk heavy cream into the brown sugar-and-butter mixture.
  • To make whipped cream: pour leftover heavy cream into a bowl and add powdered sugar and vanilla. Honestly, I don’t really measure ingredients in whipped cream, it’s hard to mess up. Using a hand-mixer (or Kitchen-aid, or whisk) whip until firm peaks form.
  • Spoon warm sauce over a serving of the pudding and top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Tangerine Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

Tangerine Cake
For my Dad’s birthday, I didn’t want to make him the same ole’ tired yellow/white/chocolate cake that everyone has. I wanted to make something that I really thought he would like.
For as long as I can remember, my Dad has leaned towards the tart, had a fondness for the sour, an affinity for the tangy. While limes are a big deal in his universe, tangerines are too. As a kid, I distinctly remember my Dad ordering tangerine-flavored snow cones, which I always found bizarre because, who doesn’t want Tiger’s Blood? (If you don’t know snow cone flavors, then you won’t get this. I’m not a psycho, I swear, it’s a cherry/coconut-based flavor!)
Harkening back to memories of tangerines, which just happen to be in season right now, my gut told me to go with that. Now to find a suitable tangerine cake recipe …
Tangerine Cake 3
I really, really love recipes that embrace the whole fruit. I’ve made an orange cake before where you blanch and blend the citrus fruit whole, and it turned out wildly successful, so, why mess with success?
Tangerine Cake 2
(What is that pattern on the plate, you ask? Oh that’s just the impression my hungry fingers made in the chocolate when I swiped them with abandon through the excess ganache fallen on the plate. Worth it.)

Flourless Tangerine Cake

Recipe adapted from The View from Great Island
Ingredients:
  • 3 large tangerines (or tangelos), to make about 1 cup of puree
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 3 cups almond meal/flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Chocolate Ganache (recipe follows)

Instructions:

  • Set oven to 350F
  • This is the most time-consuming part of the cake. Wash your tangerines and put them in a saucepan covered with cold water. Boil for 15 minutes. Drain the pan, refill with cold water, and boil again for 15 minutes. Then one more time, drain the pan, refill with cold water, and boil for 15 minutes. This boiling process removes the bitterness in the citrus skin.
  • Rough chop the tangerines and remove any seeds. (Tip: Do this in a bowl so you don’t lose any juice.) Put the tangerines in a food processor and process until completely smooth. You will likely have to stop and scrape down the sides a few times. You will die over the aroma that rises from the processor.
  • Set aside the pureed citrus.
  • Beat the eggs and coconut sugar until light and creamy. Fold in the almond meal, citrus pulp, and baking powder. Mix until combined.
  • Pour the batter into a greased (with coconut oil) 9″ pan (can use spring-form or whatever you have – I used a pie pan).
  • Bake for 50-60 minutes, until lightly golden and a toothpick, when inserted in the center, comes out clean.
  • Cool the cake on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan to finish cooling.
  • At this point, you can dust the cake with confectioner’s sugar, decorate with some citrus zest, or pour a bowl of cascading ganache over the top as I did. (Tip: The last option is strongly recommended!)

Chocolate Ganache

  • 12 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli bittersweet)
  • 1 tsp. coconut oil

Place both ingredients in a bowl and microwave for 30-second intervals, stirring each time until smooth and fully melted. You can also melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Pour the ganache over the warm cake, spreading to cover the entire cake. Devour immediately.

Tangerine Cake 5

Pumpkin Scones

Scones filter

My brother and I dedicated a good portion of this summer to the Harry Potter movie series. We called it our “Summer of Potter Festival,” and set out to watch every movie in the series over the course of about a month. When I’m having a dedicated movie night, I love to have relevant treats to snack on while I’m watching. So we drank a lot of British tea and ate a lot of popcorn and pumpkin scones.

We knew the festival would end eventually, but it was still sad when the day finally came. That doesn’t mean I can’t keep eating pumpkin scones though, right?

This recipe is from one of my favorite baking blogs and makes for totally scrumptious scones. My one deviation from the recipe was sprinkling the pecans on top at the end, rather than baking them into the scones. There’s just something I don’t like about nuts inside of baked goods … I need that crunch!

Pumpkin Scones with Brown Butter Glaze

Recipe from Joy the Baker 

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup, 6 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup buttermilk, cold
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

For the Glaze:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons whole milk

Preparation:

Place rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and all of the spices.  Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients and toss to coat.  Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, break the butter down into the dry ingredients.  Work quickly so that the butter remains cold.  Some of the butter will be the size of oat flakes, others will be the size of small peas.

In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract.

Add the wet ingredients, all at once to the dry ingredients.  Stir together until almost thoroughly combined.  Add pecans and stir until no dry flour bits remain.  Using a large ice cream scoop, scoop scones dough by the 1/2-cupful onto the prepared baking sheet.  Leave about 2-inches of space between each scone.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until browned slightly with dry tops.  You can insert a toothpick into the center of a scone to test for doneness.

Allow to cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze, in a small saucepan melt butter over medium-low heat.  The butter will begin to crackle and pop.  After the crackling subsides a bit, the butter will begin to brown.  Continue to cook until the butter smells nutty and the butter solids begin to brown.  Immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a small bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, browned butter, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of milk.  Whisk together and add more milk as necessary until your desired consistency is reached.

Generously drizzle scones with glaze.  These scones are best served within 2 days of of baking.

Note: Joy mentions this recipe makes about 12 scones, but I must have made mine quite a bit smaller because I got upwards of 2 dozen small scones. They were the perfect size in my opinion. That is, you don’t feel badly about scarfing 2 or 3 at once. I also agree with Joy that the scones are best within 2 days. They were still ok after that, but became oddly soft which I didn’t love.

Orange, Olive Oil and Chocolate Cake

Last week I was on vacation in Naples, Florida.

Sun, sand, copious amounts of seafood, and lots of cooking.

Every year we buy or make a key lime pie and have it for dessert at least twice during the week. Not being a huge fan of key lime pie myself (gasp!), I wanted to do something different this year. A dessert with a primary ingredient of sweetened condensed milk just doesn’t impress me. Go ahead, you can call me a snob.

I wanted to make something this year that really celebrated one of Florida’s greatest assets – the orange. So I did some research and found an incredible Olive Oil Orange cake recipe. The blogger I borrowed it from had just returned from a trip to Naples, Italy, and was inspired by the citrus fruit there as well. This cake uses an entire orange, rind and all, so it seemed a perfect match for my intentions.  I also really love olive oil in desserts. In fact, I started swapping out butter for olive oil in many of my cookies and cakes long before I realized other people were doing it too!

This recipe is really quite simple, just a bit time consuming in the beginning, but absolutely worth the extra effort. I halved the cake recipe, as there were only 5 of us and we were leaving very soon, so the recipe below will actually make a cake twice the size of mine. I did not, however, halve the frosting recipe. One of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time …

Totally beautiful and delicious dessert. Please let me know how you like it when (not if) you make it. 🙂

I realize the picture quality isn’t the best, but still, how good does that ganache look cascading down the sides of the orange cake?

Orange-Olive Oil and Chocolate Cake, with flaked salt
Makes one 8 x 3-inch round cake
Recipe courtesy of Desserts for Breakfast

For cake:

  • 2 medium-sized oranges
  • 2 1/3 cups (467 gr) sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups (350 gr) flour
  • 2 tspn baking powder
  • 1 tspn baking soda
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract
  • 2 tspn orange blossom water
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 Tbspn extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbspn fresh orange juice

For frosting:

  • 5 oz (142 gr) unsweetened chocolate
  • 8 Tbspn butter
  • 1 cup + 1 Tbspn (215 gr) sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract
  • flaked finishing salt
  1. Make the cake. In a pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Trim 1/2-inch from the tops and bottoms of each orange. Once the water is at a boil, submerge the oranges and cook briefly, about 1 minute. Drain the oranges, discard the water, and repeat the boiling, cooking, and draining two more times.
  3. Combine the blanched oranges, 1 cup (200 gr) sugar, and 4 cups water over medium heat. Cook for about 30 minutes while stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves and the orange rinds are fork-tender. Let cool until room temperature.
  4. Drain the oranges and remove the seeds. Reserving the cooking liquid for glaze.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 8 x 3-inch cake pan and set aside.
  6. In a bowl, mix to combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  7. In a food processor, blend the cooked oranges (including rind) until a chunky puree.
  8. Add the remaining sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, 1 tspn orange blossom water, and flour mixture. Process for 2 minutes until well-incorporated.
  9. Gradually drizzle in the olive oil and process until incorporated.
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out cleanly. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
  11. Meanwhile, mix to combine 2 Tbspn of cooking liquid, 1 tspn orange blossom water, and orange juice.  Remove the cake from the pan. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork and brush the liquid on the cake.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.
  12. Make the frosting. Chop the chocolate and butter and set aside.
  13. In a saucepan, bring the sugar and heavy cream to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6 minutes. Do not let the saucepan overflow.
  14. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate and butter until melted.
  15. Stir in the vanilla extract. Let the frosting cool completely, whisking occasionally during cooling. Once completely cool at room temperature, the frosting will be spreadable.
  16. Sprinkle the frosted cake with finishing salt.

Sparkly Candles and Chocolate Buttercream Must Mean It’s January

This month marks many birthdays in my part of the office. My own birthday is in a couple of weeks, but two of my closest co-workers have birthdays this weekend as well. So today I baked one of my favorite cakes and we had a little office celebration.

In addition to my cake, some cupcakes were also brought in from a little shop nearby called Sweet Revenge. This place is absolutely amazing and their frosting is divine. Anywhere that will pair a glass of wine with my cupcake is  tops in my book. The cupcakes we sampled today were Pure (vanilla), Dirty (dark chocolate), and a saucy little chocolate peanut-butter number.

Cupcakes are always a treat, but nothing can beat a homemade Barefoot Contessa cake. Nothing.

For this occasion, I went with my cake staple: a classic double-layer chocolate cake with buttercream chocolate frosting. After I had my ingredients and was ready to get baking, I realized that the only round cake pan I had was springform. I washed it and water starting leaking out the sides, so I had to turn to plan B. Cue in, my trusty square brownie pan. I ended up really liking the modern look of my square cake with the tall sparkly candles on top, don’t you?

Happy Birthday to all you January babes!

Classic Chocolate Cake w/ Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients

  • Butter, for greasing the pans
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups good cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • Chocolate Buttercream, recipe follows

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Buttercream:

  • 6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

New Year’s Day Italian Feast

My family exploits every opportunity to enjoy an outrageously special meal, so it comes as no surprise that we used New Year’s Day as a tribute to my grandparents heritage.

We spent hours and hours on Sunday evening prepping and cooking for our feast, which unsurprisingly began and ended with a platter of cheese. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of all of the goodies that we made, because frankly I was too busy eating them, but I’ll give a rundown of the menu for your reading pleasure.

To begin we put together a simple antipasto platter to nibble on as we cooked, it consisted of some of our favorite munchies: garlic-stuffed green olives, marinated artichoke hearts, homemade rosemary ciabatta (which my brother had slaved over the previous days), rosemary marcona almonds, genoa salami, and fontinella cheese. Unreal.

As we nibbled, we prepared the main courses of our feast: ricotta gnocchi and a family recipe for ‘Christmas Eve Shrimp’, which we didn’t get around to making until long after the intended day but enjoyed immensely nonetheless. This was the first time we made this family shrimp recipe, and WOW was it the best shrimp ever! I can’t give away the whole recipe, because it’s a family secret, but basically you cook raw un-shelled shrimp in a spiced tomato broth until the broth is reduced and the shrimp is cooked through. This method produces the most incredibly tender and succulent shrimp I have ever eaten. Ever. The texture was more similar to lobster than the shrimp I’m used to. Even if I had a picture, it wouldn’t do the dish justice.

The ricotta gnocchi was something my brother had been aching to make the whole holiday season and put a lot of care and attention into his homemade pasta dough. The result was well-worth the effort.

He created the dough for a very simple gnocchi (those are the best kind), then divided the dough into sections and rolled each out into long logs.

(my brother did the rolling)

When the log reached its desired length and width, he cut the dough into small ‘gnocchi-sized’ pieces.

Then we dressed these little dumplings in a simple tomato sauce with fresh basil and parmigiano.

(sorry the pic is a little fuzzy/dark)

The resulting gnocchi was light, pillowy and made for a wonderful sponge to soak up the tomato sauce and cheese.

We had a lot of fresh ricotta leftover from the gnocchi, so we decided to create some sort of dessert with it. When I say a LOT, I mean it, so we made lemon ricotta tarts with blackberry coulis  two ways. The first was in puff pastry shells and the second was a large tart with an amaretti cookie crust. I wish I had pics to share, but sadly do not. Use your imagination and believe me when I say, it was divine.

I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth saying again. It’s a good rule of thumb when you want to have a truly decadent meal, to both begin and end the meal with cheese. 😉

NYE 2011

Happy New Year! I can’t believe it’s 2012 – where did 2011 go? I have a few goals for the new year which (as most people are in early January) I’m very motivated to keep! Amongst them: better hone my writing skills, be more daring, be more kind, lose a few lbs, and go back to school for a higher degree! Lots to be thankful for and lots to look forward to.

As any good food enthusiast knows, it’s imperative to celebrate the closing of the ending year and beginning of the new with some amazing eats. And boy did I ever …

My New Year’s Eve dinner was an excellent 5-course meal at my family’s Country Club. We were greeted at the door with a flute of champagne and once seated, with an oyster shooter amuse bouche complimented with lemongrass foam and caviar.

The following courses offered several options for each and we tried to order different things so we could try it all. I took pictures of everything our table ordered and I’ll just tell you now that everything was totally delicious. For the appetizer course, we ordered the short-rib and foie gras bruschetta and the lobster tempura with a beurre blanc sauce.

Next came the salad/soup course, which was a refreshing palate cleanser from the foie gras. The plates we ordered from this course were the Frisee salad which was accented with quail eggs, truffle oil, and a parmesan crisp, all of which was enwrapped in a crisp bacon ring. The Antipasto salad was a beautiful pyramid of crisp grilled vegetables and creamy goat cheese. The Lobster bisque was velvety rich and topped with a salted whipped cream.

The entrees were typical delicious NYE fare – I ordered the filet mignon with roasted potatoes and tomatoes, mother and father enjoyed surf and turf with scalloped potatoes and brothers savored the veal chops with a trio of carrots and morrel mushrooms.

The dessert options were Bananas Foster and Chocolate Opera cake, both were divine but the latter stole the show. The bananas foster featured sauteed bananas, rum semifreddo and candied walnuts, while the opera cake alternated fudgy layers of dense chocolate cake and rich chocolate mousse, all of which was enveloped in a dark chocolate ganache dome and topped with edible gold, which let’s face, it has no flavor but definitely makes you feel special!

And now I’ll spend the rest of this month working off the calories consumed in the final few days of the previous year … Happy New Year!

Doughnuts: A Short History

Doughnuts are one of the culinary sweethearts of early America. The history of the doughnut is like a classic tale of Americana. It has been said, that the doughnut was ‘invented’ in the mid-1800’s by Dutch settlers whose cow accidentally kicked boiling water onto some dough and consequently discovered  a tasty golden brown delight. These settlers did not share their discovery with their homeland, and thus doughnuts became, like so many other things, inherently American.

These settlers did not invent the simple act of frying dough, in fact, this practice has been pleasing palates for hundreds of years. In Mexico, churros and sopapillas are popular treats, in Italy it’s zeppole, they make beignets in France, and the list goes on. Cultures all around the world know how delicious fried dough lightly dusted in sugar or iced heavily in sugar – let’s face it, anything that’s fried and topped with sugar is going to be delicious.

The treat at point in this post, however, is the classic American doughnut. It’s not recorded in certainty how doughnuts came to have their signature hole in the middle. Some say a sailor in tumultuous weather stuck his fried dough on the helm so he could use two hands to steer, others say it was the ruse of a cheapskate salesman who was trying to cut costs. I personally believe it came to be, simply as a satisfactory way to eliminate the sogginess from the middle.

Doughnuts had been consumed for at least a hundred years before becoming the beloved American treat of the 1930’s, when the notion of dunking doughnuts in coffee became a staple in pop culture. During WWII, Red Cross women (aka: Doughnut Dollies) passed out hot doughnuts to soldiers. And now here we are in 2011, and doughnuts are still an American favorite.

In fact, in the past few years, there has been a resurgence in the doughnut trend and specialty shops have popped up around the nation. The Cooking Channel even dedicated an entire show to this classic treat. I went to one of the shops featured on that show this past weekend in Manhattan called, Doughnut Plant.

I’ve been hearing a lot about this place lately and have been dying to try their doughnuts for years. Now that I have finally had my doughnut, I can say with some certainty that I will definitely be going back. What I love about this bakery is their new way of thinking about an American classic. They’re not afraid to play with flavors and fillings and even the classic shape. One of their signature innovations, is creating jelly donuts in a square form with a hole in the middle for more equal distribution of jelly than the classic round filled. You’ll find everything from fresh fruit flavors like cranberry and blackberry jelly-filled, to crème brûlée and tres leches.

I wanted to try both a yeast and a cake doughnut, knowing that I probably wouldn’t like the cake because of their typically dry nature. Don’t you just love being pleasantly surprised?

The Roasted Chestnut cake doughnut I tried was absolutely delicious. Very moist, flavorful, and tasted like the holidays. I really loved it. Afterwards, I immediately went to Whole Foods to buy some chestnuts for roasting. The Vanilla Bean yeast doughnut was unfortunately, only ok. I think I would have been happier with a chocolate icing topped one. That will be next time …

I nibbled and paid the cashier, nibbled and sprinkled my coffee with cinnamon, nibbled and found a seat.  I was perfectly content to sit in their sugary-smelling shop all morning, admiring the doughnut shaped pillows on the wall while sipping my soy cappuccino. I’m not embarrassed to say that my doughnuts had long since been devoured by that point.


Epicurean Tour of Los Angeles

A couple weeks ago I took a trip to L.A. to visit my brother. It was relaxing and sunny, and of course, very delicious. I made an effort to try as many places as I could while I was there, and see as many sights possible. The natural beauty in southern California is amazing – referring to the landscape and scenery of course, as L.A. is not famous for their naturally beautiful citizens … if you know what I’m saying 😉

[Sunset Blvd. at sunset]

On my trip I sampled food of all sorts – cheese and wine at the farmer’s market, wine and tapas, the most delicious Mediterranean chicken, burgers, lobster rolls, the list goes on.

One of the best meals on my trip, surprisingly enough (though probably not to the locals), was at Zankou Chicken, a Mediterranean fast-food type joint. It’s tough to do justice to the meal through feeble words, so you’ll just have to take my word (until you can try it for yourself) that it is the best chicken and lamb that I have ever eaten.

Another one of my favorites, was Aroma Cafe. The laid back atmosphere and fresh food felt so West Coast. We had a blue cheese kobe burger, lobster roll, and the best herb salted french fries I’ve ever had. Oh … and we also lunched alongside Michelle Williams. NBD

I spent some time in Pasadena and happened upon an old-time soda shop that has been featured on the Food Network called, Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain. The burgers and sandwiches were ok, the onion rings were pretty darn good, but the ice cream and chocolate soda was awesome!

The banana split sundae we got was HUGE, but you can see we didn’t have a tough time making a dent in it.

My brother had to work part of the time I was there, so one day I decided to borrow his car and drive myself to Santa Monica beach to see the sights.

I went to the beach, which was beautiful but cold! I’ve never been to a beach where mountains are within view, so it was quite a sight for me. There were some interesting characters around Santa Monica beach, but that’s to be expected at any tourist spot. I had read that there was some great shopping nearby, so I wandered over to the Third Street Promenade, which is completely closed off to vehicles, and shopped (and bought) around. By the time I was feeling accomplished and hungry it was late afternoon, so I strolled over to a nearby spot that had been recommended by a friend called, Fraiche.

It was about 4pm, so I ordered a cocktail, oysters, and mushroom pizza from the happy hour menu. ‘The Grape’ cocktail hit just the right spot, and the oysters were fresh and REfreshing. The mushroom and fontina pizza was filling and yummy.

Since I was on vaca, I decided to splurge a little and ended my early evening meal with something chocolate … The chocolate purse dessert was quite good – it was a chocolate ganache/mousse tasting concoction that was wrapped up nicely in phyllo dough and served like a present, accompanied by vanilla ice cream and candied walnut. My only wish, was that the chocolate had been warmer, that would have really put it over the top.

An additional restaurant that I visited, though didn’t take pics at, was AOC wine bar. The cheese, vino, and small plates at this small wine bar were all delicious. I strolled over to this place after spending some time (and buying some shoes!) at The Grove; it was the perfect pick-me-up. I had a delicious assortment of cheeses, the most memorable of which was a firm sheep’s milk variety from Wisconsin called Dante. All of that, paired with olives, figs, fresh bread, and nuts all paired well with the dry, fruity wine the bartender poured me.

Overall, the trip was a wonderful departure from my daily grind and I can’t wait to share details from my next trip.

Coconut Cake

A birthday in the office calls for a birthday celebration, and thus, a birthday cake! And who volunteered to spearhead the birthday cake operation? But of course, yours truly.

It all happened so fast I hardly knew what I was agreeing to … I could hear the words ‘yes, of course!’ floating through the air before I even realized that it was me saying it! Oi, me and my constant need to please through my cooking. Eh bien

After quickly deliberating on my subway ride home, I decided (sort of) what I wanted to make, and stopped into Trader Joe’s to pick up some ingredients. Even though I had some ripe purple plums in my fridge, perfect for a seasonal tarte tatin, I decided that a cake was just much more festive and immediately thought of my favorite chocolate cake with mocha buttercream frosting. Then I realized … there might be more people, than there will be slices of cake! So I needed to make a supplemental treat. I can’t have chocolate cake AND chocolate brownies, and I don’t have the time to make lemon bars or cheesecake squares. I decided on my go-to rich and fudgy brownies and a luscious double-layer coconut cake that I’ve been looking for a reason to make for something like 6 years now.

The coconut cake recipe I used is from one of my most trusted celebrity chefs, Ina Garten of The Barefoot Contessa. There are a few chefs I can always trust to provide me with fail-proof recipes, and Ina is one of them. I just finished reading Julia Child’s memoir, ‘My Life in France’, and realized that Ina reminds me a lot of Julia. (Don’t you love how I’m on a first-name basis with these famous women? ;)) They both have a deep, innate passion for food and employ a sort of scientific approach to cooking perfection, that not many others have the patience for. And of course, they have both been inspired for a lifetime by La Belle France, which comes across beautifully in their cooking and writing.

I made only minor modifications to Ina’s nearly perfect recipe below – swapping out regular milk for coconut milk, and nixing the shredded coconut in the actual cake and only sprinkling it on top. I usually like my cakes free of additions like nuts, fruits, etc., so that’s the reasoning behind the latter. Feel free to take or leave my revisions! The frosting is a cream cheese and butter frosting, so I had to rely mainly on feedback from others, as cream cheese makes me feel unwell, but based on co-worker reviews, it seems the cake was a really delicious success. Bon Appetit!

Coconut Cake

Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut (I actually didn’t add shredd

For the frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don’t be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

[The most light and pillowy dough I have ever folded]

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until just smooth (don’t whip!).

To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.