Wednesday, January 27, 2010

When friends come to town...foodie friends :)

 My dear sweet friend whom I have known for...well...many years lives in Santorini, Greece. She is a wonderful chef, a fabulous masseuse, and an all round great gal...please meet Phenix!

This year she is launching her SaFooWi tours...Santorini Food and Wine tours. You can pay one price and stay 10 days...dine in all the best restaurants, tour the local wineries, take Greek cooking classes by Phenix and ME :) Stay in traditional cave houses that have been renovated from an old monastery, lay on the black sand beaches, sail in the Aegean Sea and generally have the time of your life in one of the most picturesque places in the world! The price is reasonable the the maiden voyage is in May of this year so if you are interested please write to me and I will give you more info...

Dontcha just love it when your foodie friends come around and you have an excuse to cook things you have been thinking about but never get around to doing cuz your life gets in the way???
So Marty has a new house and wants us all to come see and visit with Phenix so she says, "bring some finger food, it's an afternoon affair". Well, can I just buy some chips and dip and leave it at that??? NOOOOO.... I get some fresh crab and make these insane crab cakes with homemade chili-lime aioli and savory biscotti (which I wasn't a fan of...) Kenny made very tasty and fun lettuce wraps with wild shrimp, fresh ginger and jalpeno that surprisingly went perfect with the aioli that I had made...
and then I made the killer... dulce de leche cookies that I saw while surfing around on this blogspot... I got the original from "form my home to yours via" but right in character...I couldn't just do her recipe I had to expand on something that was already delicious...
The original recipe looked fine but I thought what if I put chocolate chips in there...or maybe some toasted pecan pieces... or or or... get where my head goes!
I go to the store to purchase what I thought was chocolate chips and the dulce de leche and while on the bakers isle I see next to the chocolate chips... HEATH TOFFEE CHIPS!!! Yah baby!!! Toffee chips in an already caramelly, buttery, gooey filled cookie... oh yeah!
So as I am making the wonderfulness... I taste the batter and it needs just a little something... vanilla I see is missing in the recipe so I look in my cabinet and see my coveted Tahitian vanilla... this I save for very special desserts and sweets... it was not only perfect in these cookies but it added an extra dimension of flavor that I didn't expect...folks asked me if there was coconut in them and some asked if there was peanut butter in them and another asked if there was cinnamon in them...nope! Just that incredible vanilla. Amazing what a good vanilla can do to brighten up flavors!
So here is the recipe with my changes... have fun and try not to eat too many of these... they are caloric indeed!! I ate 6!! ;)

   Dulce de Leche Sandwich Cookies
 recipe from Baking: from my home to yours and
 modified by chefany :)

 makes 30 sandwich cookies
 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup store-bought dulce de leche, plus more for filling
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp Tahitian vanilla or pure vanilla
2 large eggs
½ bag Heath toffee pieces available in the baking isle
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the upper third of the oven.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  
In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until just softened and broken up a bit.  Add the 3/4 cup dulce de leche, brown sugar and granulated sugar.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate.  Then add the vanilla.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients all at once.  Mix only until the flour is just incorporated.  By hand stir in the toffee pieces being careful not to overmix.
 Spoon the dough onto the lined baking sheets using a heaping teaspoon of dough for each cookie.  The dough will be soft and this might be a bit messy.  Leave 2 inches of space between each cookie for the baking spread.  
Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes.  The cookies will be honey brown with a light crust, but still very soft when they come out of the oven.  Let them rest on the cookie sheet for a minute or two before removing to cool.  
Once the cookies are cooled completely, spread them with dulce de leche and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt if you like. I used fluer de sel from France…  Keep well wrapped for up to four days. If they keep that long…these things are very addictive!!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Icing and decorating cakes...too much fun!

Teaching cake decorating can be tedious since it really takes lots of practice from the students and this I can not do...however, there are so many ways to decorate a cake and so many different types of cake that with a program like ours we get to cover lots of colorful and tasty decorated cakes. Some of which are better served as desserts and others make wonderful special occasion cakes.
This cake for instance is the best in the height of strawberry season. We are so lucky to live in California that I can get strawberries all year round but this time of the year they are not optimum in taste or quality. BUT for teaching purposes we must use what we have so remember to buy in season and buy as local as you can....I am all for stretching those boundaries when needed, after all we should have variety in our diet and not all of us live in the produce wonderland that I do...but I try to avoid buying produce from other countries since we have no idea what chemicals are used in those countries on the food they produce. But that's just me...
Anyway, here I have a couple of examples of the fabulous cake styles that I teach.

First, is the strawberry cream cake made from a vanilla chiffon cake, soaked with a grand marnier cake syrup and filled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream and also iced in vanilla whipped cream. Since we did this right after Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday I decided to dedicate the cake to him...all in the name of demonstration :)

Again I used several ways to coat and ice the sides of a square cake so it looks a bit odd but you get the idea...I have one cake to demo several different techniques... I do what I can.
Next we have the Diplomat cake from Chef Bo Friberg's book The Professional Pastry Chef.
It is also a chiffon filled with pastry cream (custard), raspberry jam and iced with pastry cream and sliced almonds. Then lines are piped on the top of each marked out slice with an almond macaroon paste that is made of almond paste, sugar, and just enough egg whites to pipe it out in a strand. Then the entire cake is put into the oven and baked until the almond paste is toasted and so are the almonds on the sides.
Then you fill in the sections with sliced fruit and glaze the entire top of the cake...both beautiful and yummy too!!

Isn't it PURRRRDYYY????


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Three ways to finish a German Chocolate cake

The first was was suggested by our illustrious French baking instructor... the 4.5cm ring mold.
It must be 4.5 cm no more no less...!! This is the French method remember... in reality if you have a spring form mold it will do just fine...
We made 6" cakes and cut each one into two layers. The mold was measured in centimeters so was just a bit bigger than the cake which was just what I needed to pull this French thingy off well.
I started by using the cardboard cake circle, placing one of the cake layers in side the ring. I then piped some of the chocolate buttercream (Italian meringue style) around the outside of the cake but inside of the mold! I piped rings of buttercream up the side of the metal mold. I then spread some of the yummy caramel, coconut, pecan filling on the cake layer and then placed the next cake on top of that. Pressing it down slightly so the buttercream filled the sides of this cake too. Then I piped a bit more buttercream around the edge of the cake to make sure it was all filled in. Then came the topping and this is what you see here... I then put the cake in the freezer for about an hour to let the buttercream set up a bit.

When you heat the ring slightly and then slide it up off the cake, the sides have a perfect smooth edge...better than you can do by hand...but you need the rings and the time!
The next way was the traditional iced cake. I just hand iced this one using an icing spatula on the sides of the cake and then piped boarders around the bottom and the top.

and finally I cut the cake into three layers putting filling in twice and then iced the cake completely with the chocolate buttercream. My class needed to practice their piping so I did several different boarders and a rose too! Not my usual type of decorating but the class liked the demo!

All righty then! NOW...ta da... for the side by side comparison of the three different techniques! Please vote for your favorite :)

Super smooth Frenchy style, rustic hand iced or the elegant way too much piping, thus too much icing technique!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Nostalgia...Mom's best Cheesecake recipe and story

Being raised in the suburbs of San Francisco in the 1950's just after the war was something right out of
"Father knows best".  Mom in a dress and heels every night to cook dinner. Dad in a suit for work each day and coming home with a martini waiting for him to relax with in front of the new television. Their little girl with a long blond pony tail and saddle shoes wearing a little apron in the kitchen with Mom making dinner or dessert. After years of memory lapse, I realized that most of my time in the kitchen with Mom was baking things...DUH! When you think about it... I have been baking most of my life. The best things I remember my mother making were her "famous" cheesecake, and her pies although she made cakes, cookies, brownies and the like. The reason I didn't think about it for a long time is kind of a sad story but please understand it has been many many years since this occurred and I have done my grieving. I now just marvel at the unintended influence that my mother had on me when I was young. This is what took me years to figure out!
The story goes like this; life was good for me until the early sixties when I was around 11 years old. My Dad went into rehab for alcoholism and my mother drank to cover up her disappointment that our life was really NOT like the TV sitcoms. So by the time I was a teen both my mother and my father had drank themselves to death. I was 17 and left an orphan. I put the past behind me and began to live my life on my terms. I was very independent and thus found a family in the Hippie movement of the 60's. I moved to Santa Cruz in 1970, lived on a commune of sorts...and whenever we had our feasts or parties I made (surprise) the desserts, usually pies made from fruit grown on neighboring farms. I used whole wheat flour and honey and ate vegetarian. When some of the other habitants got a job at the local health food bakery, I became intrigued and ended up working there as well. Here I found my passion and my talent. Still I hadn't realized how I was influenced by both my mother and my grandmother. Although, I did remember my Mom's cheesecake and spent many years looking for one that reminded me of it but to no avail.
Jump to 1982. I have now begun learning the art of French and European baking. While working at this local shop with several other women we decided to have a gourmet potluck dinner. We each drew a course  out of a hat, all hoping we would be the one who got the dessert... but alas I did not. I did, however, offer to have it at my newly purchased house in Santa Cruz. At this point, I thought it wise to go to my half brother's house where I had stored my mother's belongings. I picked up her china, crystal and silverware. When I got home I unpacked the boxes and found my Mom's recipe box! As I was thumbing through the recipes I suddenly remembered the cheesecake and quickly jumped to the dessert section. These recipes were mostly magazine and newspaper clippings taped to 3"x5" cards with only a few handwritten or typed. When I got to the cheesecake recipe, it was not only typed but my mom had written on it. She wrote in pencil pointing to the word "Mom's" "SJ (she called me that, my middle name being Jane) that's me!" I got chills and then I cried, it was like she had been waiting all these 12 years for me to find this recipe. The memories came flooding back. The time we spent in the kitchen and how she taught me to make the proper pie crust and gave me the mixer attachments to lick when she made a cake.
Whenever I make this cake just the smell sends me back to the kitchen with her.
Please enjoy the recipe and as she wrote on the card by hand, "make for large parties, very rich!" and "it is the one I used to make for Christmas dinner every year". Enjoy and think of your Mom when making and savoring this creamy cheesecake.

Mom's Best Cheesecake

3 well beaten eggs
2 - 8 ounce packages of cream cheese (Philly style), softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract and ¼ tsp. almond extract (the secret ingredient)
3 cups sour cream
Graham Cracker crust (recipe follows)

Graham Cracker Nut Crust

Combine 1-3/4 cups fine graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and
1/2 cup melted butter

Reserve 3 tablespoons of the crust mixture for the top and press the remainder onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan. Bring crust only about 1 1/2 inches up the sides.
Cake base:
Cream the cheese with the sugar and then add the eggs one at a time, the vanilla and salt. Beat until smooth. Do not incorporate air by over mixing on a high speed.

Blend in the sour cream just until incorporated.

Pour mixture into the prepared crust. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs on top.

Bake in moderate oven at 325 degrees for 35 minutes or until just set. Cool slowly at room temperature. Chill for several hours or overnight is best. The filling will be soft. It’s a very creamy cheesecake. This cakes flavor and texture improve with time. Making it a few days before you need it is a desirable thing to do. It is very rich, serve small servings.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

cakes, cakes and more cakes!

OOOO weeee isn't that a pretty one! Everyone just loves the princess cake class...but not everyone loves the marzipan that covers it... I find that rather odd but American tastes are just not used to the strong pungent flavor of bitter almond. I, personally, love it! But whether or not they like to eat it they really enjoy working with it, creating these pretty roses, ropes and covering the cake in a thin sheet of marzipan.
The best marzipan is imported from Europe since they are the ones that cherish this confection and use it in many of their sweets. In Switzerland and I am sure other countries in that general area, they have whole stores devoted to nothing but marzipan candies. Anything can be made out of marzipan as I saw while traveling there marzipan made to look like fish, cheese, fruit, bread and characters of all sorts! It is quite an art.

Here we are happy to make nice roses to garnish our beautiful cake. They are made by hand petal by petal.  Then after the cake is iced with huge amounts of whipped cream you cover it with a thin layer of rolled out marzipan.

Then you smooth down the marzipan and garnish it with a two tones rope and pink roses...gotta love it!

AND then you eat it!! Soft tender vanilla chiffon filled with creamy vanilla bean custard and seedless raspberry jam and piled high with fresh lightly sweeted whipped cream... and then there is the coating that if you, like it or not... have to admit it is awfully darned pretty! Fit for a princess :) or a prince... they like roses too...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

And now for something completely different!

Since I have set this blog up for basically educational purposes...mostly about baking... I thought I might add this interesting festival I attended today...not only educational but tasty too!
Of course only a very small portion will be about baked goods... one cookie to be exact...but! I got wonderful photos and ate great tasting food at the... get this... FUNGUS FAIR! Yes, Fungus!

Every year our town has this event and it keeps getting bigger and bigger... I am posting pictures of the ones I could get with the name tags because I could never in my wildest dreams remember most of these names. The really cool thing is the labels tell  you whether they are edible, toxic or poisonous...

We ate mushroom lasagna, Matsutake mushroom soup, cheese infused with White Truffle oil from Oregon, shortbread cookies ( Hey here is the mention of a baked good!) with candy cap mushrooms and salmon cakes with Shitake mushroom duxelle and white truffle aoli....

and I bought some dried porchini mushroom and a box of porchini mushroom bullion cubes from Italy.
They had these very neat boxes where you grow your own mushrooms right in the box... they said you can get 4-5 crops in the one box and they had three varieties too... but I couldn't think where I could leave this box without critters getting into it and also I would have to cook a lot at home which to be honest... I teach night classes and I don't do a bunch of cooking at home during the week... so I didn't get it but I really wanted to!
Some of these mushrooms were very much like things you might see growing under the ocean waters...

And some looked like they came from outer space...

My friend said to me as we were watching a cooking demo with mushrooms that she thought "these fungus people are kinda like a cult with the mushroom clothing, mushroom arts and crafts, mushroom hunters and chefs" I laughed and then looked around the room to see people in mushroom pants and a guy with a mushroom cap on his head passing out samples of food with mushrooms and started getting scared... is she right? We were surrounded by fungus! Is that weird or what??? But ya know... they are very interesting things...fungus...not plant, not animal... grow from spores... very sci-fi when you think about it... look around your area and see if you have something like this and don't miss it! We know so little about the world around us and this is a great opportunity to learn about this strange ... thing... that grows all around us. Hey, have I been brained washed?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

And sitting on your other shoulder! Devils food :)

Ok for those who find the Angel's food just a bit to light, airy and benevolent, today we have Devils Food Cake with raspberry jam filling and ganache icing! Which is heavy, dark, rich and just a tad naughty!
This is the cake section that I teach at the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell, CA.
We are on day two and learning both about cakes and mixing methods but also about the many uses of ganache. On day one we made a batch of ganache to let set up for icing our cakes. While the cake then rests in the refrigerator, we make a fresh batch of warm ganache to pour over the cold cake. It sets up quickly so while you must encourage it over the sides of the cake, you must not spatula it too much or it will get streaky and have drip marks. I use a one to one formula for the ganache, chocolate to heavy cream and have the best success with a chocolate that is less than a 60% cocoa content.
We then learned how to pipe out filigrees using coating chocolate and placed them on piping we made with the drippings of the ganache.

We also made a traditional carrot cake but the thing they liked the best about that was making the little marzipan carrots by hand. They got such a kick out of it...
And if you would like more info on the school, you can go to their web page at or become a fan of their facebook fan page where you can see a lot more going on in both baking and cooking classes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blessing the new year...with angel food

Back in class last night and teaching the section on cakes, I found that my brain had taken a vacation too and had not returned to work as I had... but we managed to make three cakes of which most turned out very good. We made angel food cake, devils food cake (yes on purpose!) and the traditional carrot cake.
The cake to present the most problems was the angel food...
Several years ago, I attended a meeting of the Bakers Dozen in San Francisco and the invitation stated we all must make this recipe (on the invite) of angels food cake and bring it to the meeting where we would taste and discuss the differences and what made them different. 45 people made the same recipe and we had 45 completely different cakes on the table! I think that most recipes will come out differently when different chefs put their flair to them but baking is more of an exact science and I would expect at least a bit of commonality...but NO!
What I learned here was that angel food cake can be one of the finickiest cakes there is to make. It may be the simplest in ingredients (flour, sugar, egg whites basically) but the most complicated when it comes to how you incorporate those ingredients.
First, be sure your egg whites, bowl and whip are clean, clean, clean to get the maximum volume.
Second, they are best whipped at room temperature so I crack my mine the night before and leave them out overnight, don't worry the dangerous part is in the yolk with all the fat that can spoil.
Third, you must have a good deep angel pan or loaf pan with straight sides not a bread pan and NEVER grease the pan or use non stick pans... disaster awaits if you do!
Fourth, usually recipes have more sugar than the egg whites can hold into the meringue so divide the sugar in half and sift half with the sugar.
Finally, whip the egg whites to a perfect SUPER SOFT peak... in other words no peak at all but enough whip to have a bit of structure. I look for the peak to fall onto itself without leaving a just lays over and holds but doesn't actually peak. Then fold your dry ingredients and any flavorings you will use into the soft meringue. Bake it at a lower temperature 325F for about 50 minutes to one hour. Turn the cake upside down immediately after taking out of the oven.
Then for the difficult part... let it cool completely before carefully running a small sharp knife around the edge to loosen the nicely caramelized crust from the edge of the pan and it should fall out like a light soft brown pillow... mmmmm.....serve with cream and fresh fruit or cooked fruit compote.