Sunday, November 27, 2011

Black Friday Pecan Bars

This year I have a lot to be thankful for, including spending Thanksgiving at my friends’ house. However, I didn’t want to miss out on leftovers so I skipped the Black Friday madness to stay home and make a post-Thanksgiving dinner, complete with pecan bars for dessert. These bars are delicious and taste very similar to a pecan pie, except they are a little less sweet because the filling is sweetened with honey instead of lots of sugar.

Pecan Bars
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Pecan Bar recipe
For the Crust
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, 
   room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
For the Filling
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (8 ounces) pecan halves
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Make crust: Put butter and brown sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in salt. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until fully incorporated after each addition. Continue mixing until dough begins to come together in large clumps.
Press dough about 1/4 inch thick into a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Pierce the dough with fork. Chill until firm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, while waiting for dough to chill, preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
Bake until golden brown, 18-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Reduce oven to 325 degrees.
Once crust is almost completely cool, begin to make the filling: Place butter, brown sugar, honey, granulated sugar, and heavy cream in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to boil, stirring constantly until mixture coats back of a spoon, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; stir in salt, nuts, and vanilla. Pour filling onto the cooled crust.
Bake until filling bubbles, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Use a sharp knife to cut into 1 by 3-inch bars. Bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week (I think they taste best the day after they are baked.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey Day Wine

I've spent almost a decade in the wine business, both on the restaurant side and as a wine salesperson where I'd sell wine to fine dining restaurants in the Bay Area and teach their staff about wine. It never fails that the day before Thanksgiving I have at least two friends text me from the grocery store or wine store asking what to serve for Thanksgiving.

I always suggest serving whatever wines you enjoy, it doesn't have to be the "perfect pair" with your meal. That said, here are a few readily available wines at different price points that would go well with your holiday dinner:

Maybe it’s because I worked at a French restaurant for nine years but I believe Champagne goes with everything. My go-to bottle is Henriot “Souverain” Brut Champagne ($34.99). I also like Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut ($18.99).  

A good Riesling is very versatile. I prefer a Kabinett style; Dr. Loosen “Blue Slate” Estate Kabinett ($19.99) is always a crowd pleaser.

Pinot Noir
As a general rule, I like more Burgundian style Pinots with my turkey. I’m a devotee of Joseph Drouhin wines, and the Gevrey-Chambertin ($49.99) is wonderful. I also like Domaine Serene “Evenstad Reserve” Willamette Valley Pinot ($46.99).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A New Thanksgiving Tradition

If you recall, this was the first year I went to the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. My best friend and I did our due diligence tasting as much food as possible before concluding that the “World Famous Pumpkin Roll” was our favorite pumpkin treat. 

No need to wait until the 2012 Pumpkin Festival (or sit in hours of traffic) to indulge in these rolls. They were selling the recipe for $1, by far one of the best purchases I made all year! I made a couple of modifications- I cut the ginger in half and replaced it with ground cloves as well as reduced the amount of chopped walnuts.
This roll is so good I think it may replace the traditional pumpkin pie at the Thanksgiving table this year. 
Pumpkin Roll
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 375º. Line a 15 x 10 x 1 jelly roll pan or baking sheet with wax paper. Grease and flour paper.  
Beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes; gradually beat in granulated sugar. Stir in pumpkin and lemon juice. Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, and salt. Fold into pumpkin mixture. Spread in prepared pan. Top with finely chopped walnuts.   
While the cake is baking, sprinkle powdered sugar onto a thin, cotton dish cloth (I use a flour sack). Bake for 13-15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. Immediately turn the cake out onto cloth and remove the wax paper. Starting at narrow end, roll towel and cake together into a spiral form. Let roll cool on a wire rack, unroll, and fill.
1 cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoons butter
6 oz. cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Combine powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Carefully unroll cake and remove towel. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake. Re-roll cake, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour, or you may freeze up to one month. I find that freezing the cake makes cutting it much easier.  
Don’t worry of the cake doesn’t look that pretty when you first put it in the refrigerator or freezer. The cracks in the cake will not be noticeable and the powdered sugar on the outside of the cake will absorb into the cake. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

DIY Cake Flour

If you’re like me and short on cabinet space, you can easily make your own cake flour out of two items already in your cabinet: all-purpose flour and cornstarch. 

For every one cup of cake flour needed, measure one cup of all-purpose flour and subtract two tablespoons of flour; replace with two tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift two or three times and, voilà, cake flour!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Most Expensive Cookie Ever

My niece’s birthday is coming up and I wanted to bake her some cookies to add to the care package I’m sending her.  Taylor, like her aunt, has expensive taste so I thought she might like the $250 Nieman-Marcus cookies. 
If you're not familiar with the story, legend has it that a women had lunch at Nieman-Marcus and loved the cookie so much she asked to buy the recipe. When she received her monthly statement she had been charged a whopping $250 for the recipe. The woman was so upset about the exorbitant cost she decided to send the recipe to everybody she knew. 

The $250 Cookie
Adapted Maida Heatter’s version of this infamous cookie
Yield: About 48 cookies
 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned (not instant) oatmeal
4 ounces milk chocolate 
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 packed cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 ounces (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) walnuts, in medium-pieces
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
Chop the milk chocolate into medium-sized pieces and place, along with the oatmeal, into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse for about 25 seconds, until the oatmeal and chocolate are almost powdered. Set aside.
In a large bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter until soft. Add both the sugars and the vanilla and beat until mixed. Beat in the eggs. Then add the sifted ingredients and the oatmeal mixture on low speed, scraping the bowl as necessary and beating only until mixed.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts (it will be a stiff mixture.)
Using a medium sized cookie scoop, place dough about 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets (the dough will stay together better if you pack it tightly into the scoop).
Bake two sheets at a time for about 14 minutes, reversing the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking to ensure even browning.
When the cookies are lightly colored and are just firm to the touch, remove the sheets from oven. Let the cookies stand on sheets about one minute before transferring them to a rack to cool.

And, in case you're wondering, I'm not sure if the recipe was worth $250 but they are pretty darn good. (I managed to eat four of them before I even finished my morning coffee.) If you like oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, you will love these. They aren’t too sweet and are crispy on the outside with a soft, moist center.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Girls' Night In

Last night a friend and I had a girls' night in, complete with a chick flick, cake, and red wine.  I’m a chocolate girl, she likes vanilla but everybody loves cookies and cream.
I normally decorate this cake with Oreo cookies but I wanted to show you how cute my gum paste flowers were.

This cake is super easy to make and reminds me of the cakes I enjoyed as a child. If you prefer to make cupcakes, this recipe makes about 24 cupcakes. Fill your cups 2/3 full, bake, rotating pans once, for about 20 minutes. Top cupcakes with chopped Oreo cookies.
Cookies & Cream Cake
Adapted from a recipe for One-Bowl Chocolate Cake I tore out of  a Martha Stewart magazine years ago
Unsalted butter, softened, for pans
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
3/4 cup warm water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*Oreo cookies, chopped (optional, see note)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (if you’re using non-stick pans, preheat oven to 325 degrees).  Butter two 8-inch round cake pans (2 inches deep); dust with cocoa. Sift cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add sugar. Beat on low speed until just combined. Raise speed to medium and add eggs, buttermilk, water, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Divide batter between pans. Bake until set ad toothpick inserted into the centers of the centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Turn out from pans. Transfer, faceup, to wire racks. Let cool completely.
Spread about 1 1/2 cups frosting onto top of 1 cool layer. Do a crumb coat over entire cake and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. Use the remaining frosting to frost sides first, dipping your spatula in warm water and wiping with a damp, clean towel before each stroke. Finish by frosting the top of the cake and decorating as desired.
Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
From Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes Book
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium. Add the confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed; after every two additions, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate frosting, then return to medium. Frosting will be very pale and fluffy.
Add vanilla and beat until frosting is smooth. 
*Note: You can chop about 8 Oreo cookies and put on top of the frosting in the middle of the cake and use additional whole cookies to decorate the top of the cake. However, this cake is delicious even without the cookies. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Press & Petals

Two items of note today. The first is an awesome mention on CakeSpy's website about my blog. The second is I finally got a chance to try my hand at making gum paste decorations.

I'll be baking a cake this weekend so you can see how the decorations look.