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Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Valentine’s Cookies

In Food, Recipes on February 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm

peanut butter hugs


My favorite cookie when I was a kid was the classic Peanut Butter Kiss my grandmother made, warm from the oven with the chocolate kiss on top still soft. Someone far more clever than I had the brilliant idea of subbing in Hershey’s Hugs—what Hershey’s describes as a Hershey’s milk chocolate hugged by sweet white cream—and adding some food coloring to the dough make Valentine’s cookies (hers were bright fuchsia and super fun).


I dialed it down a bit and added just a few squirts of red to the dough and then rolled them in red sugar leftover from Christmas baking. Also, you might notice from my photos that in a moment of a peanut butter addict’s overkill, I added 1/2 cup of peanut butter chips to my grandmother’s recipe. Go for it. Or don’t. (But I say go for it.) Finally, if you live near a Vons, Pavilions or Safeway supermarket, their generic Organics “O” Creamy Peanut Butter is my favorite for baking.

Peanut Butter Hugs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup organic creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup Spectrum All-Vegetarian Organic Shortening

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons whole milk

2-3 squirts red food coloring

1/2 cup peanut butter chips (optional)

Red sugar for dusting

36 Hershey’s Hugs, unwrapped


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat together peanut butter, shortening and granulated and brown sugars, and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat on medium until fully incorporated, about 1 minute.

With the mixer on low, add the food coloring and flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in peanut butter chips, if using. Shape the dough into walnut-sized balls, and roll in colored sugar.


Place on two un-greased cookie sheets, with about 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 8-10 minutes, switching cookie sheets between racks about halfway through. Remove from oven and immediately press a chocolate into the center of each cookie. (Cookie will crack around edges.)

peanut butter hugs

Using a spatula, move cookies from sheet to baking rack and allow to cool completely. Makes about 36 cookies.

valentine's cookies





Cookie Magic

In Food, Recipes on December 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t bake. It’s a well-known fact for regular visitors to this blog. And so you can imagine how overjoyed I was that this month’s theme for cooking club was a cookie exchange! When I think cookie perfection, immediately my friend Christine comes to mind. You may remember this plate of gorgeous cookies she left on my doorstep last Christmas. The woman has mad skills.

cookiesAnd so I took a page out of Christine’s ever pitch perfect book, and made a batch of White Christmas Dream Drops for last night’s cookie swap. They are heavenly bites of meringue, studded with white chocolate chips and crushed peppermint candy canes. They are exquisite. Better yet, even I can make them and they were a hit at cooking club. Take a look at the competition:


If I can get my hands on the recipes from the other girls, I will definitely share because they were all awesome. In the meantime, here’s the recipe for the dream drops. Before starting, make sure your eggs are at room temperature and that your oven is preheated. Otherwise, they’re a snap.

White Chocolate Dream Drops

Recipe from Sunset Magazine, December 2011

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup white chocolate chips

1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tbsp. coarsely crushed peppermint candies

Preheat oven to 250° F.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in a deep bowl with a mixer, using whisk attachment if you have one, just until soft peaks form. Add vanilla and salt. With motor running and mixer on high speed, pour in 1 tbsp. sugar and beat 10 to 15 seconds, then repeat until all sugar has been added. Scrape inside of bowl and beat another 15 seconds. At this point, meringue should form straight peaks when beaters are lifted. Fold in chocolate chips and 1/3 cup candies with a flexible spatula.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, using a bit of meringue at corners as glue. Using a soup spoon, drop meringue in rounded 1-tbsp. portions slightly apart onto sheets, scraping off with another spoon. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tbsp. candies.


Bake until meringues feel dry and set when touched but are still pale, 30 to 35 minutes, switching pan positions halfway through. Turn off oven, open door, and let cookies stand about 10 minutes. Let cool on pans. Store in airtight container for up to two days, though I doubt they will last that long.



White Christmas Dream Drops

In Food on December 18, 2011 at 9:20 am

Imagine coming home from a day of holiday shopping and parties to find an artfully decorated plate of cookies on your doorstep. Everything about this picture is RIGHT. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that the creator of this gift also makes spectacular Halloween costumes for her kids—her son was a blueberry pancake this year and her daughter a gorgeous bouquet of flowers—and is a former Vogue editor. The most delicious cookie on the plate (and the competition was fierce) was this White Christmas Dream Drop, currently gracing the cover of Sunset magazine. (One of the best kept secrets of the West Coast isn’t the weather, but the cookie recipes from Sunset magazine.)

Honestly, I can’t stress just how delicious these peppermint white chocolate meringue puffs of goodness are. And, they’re super easy to make. First you start with a whipped bowl of frothy egg whites.

Per Christine’s advice, we scaled back on crushed peppermint candy canes by about half.

After folding in the crushed candy canes and white chocolate chips, drop meringue onto parchment lined cookie sheets and bake for about half an hour.

Spread the love and deliver a plate of these to your neighbor’s doorstep, though you will definitely want to hide a few for the elf that made them.

Let Him Eat Cake

In Food on January 27, 2011 at 10:28 am

My husband married me with the clear understanding that ours would a cakeless union. I can count on one hand the number of cakes I’ve baked in my life. But sometimes in a marriage, expectations change and you suddenly find yourself standing over a double boiler whipping egg whites and sugar for your very first Seven Minute Frosting.

Coconut cake is our mutual favorite, and for other people’s birthdays we often order an exemplary version from Sweet Lady Jane on Melrose. For the inaugural run on a coconut cake of my very own, I consulted Martha, Alton, Epicurious et al, but in the end let’s cut the crap. Do I need to be splitting coconuts with a screwdriver? I do not. And if we’re going to be totally honest here, who do we really think makes the best coconut cake? I put my money on Paula Deen. When it comes to butter, sugar and more of both, Paula doesn’t disappoint. Her recipe for Jamie’s Coconut Cake uses a basic cake recipe, subbing in rich coconut milk for regular. (I saved the leftover coconut milk with the design of making a Thai iced coffee for an afternoon indulgence. I mean, if you’re going to go out in a caloric supernova, why stop at cake?) It’s a three-layer situation, which makes icing the thing a little tricky.

I love Paula’s method of poking holes in the cake with the end of a wooden spoon so that the sour cream-coconut filling really seeps into the cake’s layers.

What resulted was pure moist and rich coconut goodness. Even better for breakfast the next morning. Happy belated birthday, my love!

Next up: dealing with my frosting technique.

Flour Power

In Baby Love, Food on August 12, 2010 at 10:29 am

In the spirit of friendship, I won’t reveal the source but suffice it to say that if you should come across a recipe for Brown Rice Sandwich Rolls that purports itself to be “better than anything you can buy,” I’d take it with a grain of brown rice flour. It’s not that the resulting bread is bad. It’s just that it’s not that great. You know, it was perfectly fine but not mind-blowing. Maybe I’m just sore that I had to go to four stores (Whole Foods, Ralphs, Surfas, Erewhon—in that order) to buy $34 worth of assorted gluten-free flours, gluten-free rice milk and xanthan gum (note, if you need potato flour you WILL have to brave Erewhon and that whole freaky juice bar scene)…

And this in addition to all the ingredients I already had in the pantry (warm water, fine salt and baking soda, not pictured).

Still, I liked the idea of it—a high-fiber, high-protein gluten-free bread to send to school with Tiny G. And truth be told, Tiny G gobbled up a roll spread with hummus for dinner last night, so in a sense it’s a victory??? And as bread recipes go, it was pretty easy to make.

But I don’t think this is EXACTLY what Mr. Foodinista had in mind when I said we’d be having leftover grilled steak sandwiches for dinner…

And so, add to my tab the postprandial $19.27 that I spent on amazon.com for Kim Boyce’s new Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole Grain Flours, in hopes of using all those bags upon bags of whole grain flour staring at me from my kitchen counter. Boyce is a former pastry chef from Spago and Campanile, so I’m super excited to try her recipes. OR—if you have any favorites that call for brown rice flour, white rice flour, buckwheat flour, tapioca flour, potato flour, vanilla-flavored gluten-free rice milk and xanthan gum, I’m all ears.

Brown Sugar Almond Coffee Cake, How Come You Taste So Good?

In Food, Recipes on April 5, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I am immediately suspicious of anything billed as the “best.” As in, this is the BEST COFFEE CAKE I’VE EVER TASTED. (It was.) Which is why I encourage you to taste for yourself and arrive at your own hyperbole. This recipe comes from Macrina Bakery in Seattle and even for a distracted baker such as myself, the results were epic.

Brown Sugar Almond Coffee Cake

Adapted from Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook

Foodinista’s note: use a deep baking dish. The recipe called for a 9-inch square pan, but the coffee cake overflowed creating a royal mess in my oven and panic in the neighborhood as minacious burning aromas filled the Easter air. One bite of the cake, and all was forgiven.

4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

10 ounces (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ¾ cups light brown sugar

5 eggs

½ cup whole milk

2 teaspoons pure almond extract

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups fresh raspberries

1 cup whole almonds, coarsely chopped

Powdered sugar (Foodinista note: I didn’t use)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Oil a 9-inch-square baking pan

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Toss with your hands and set aside.

Combine butter and sugar in bowl of KitchenAid mixer. Using paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for 5 to 8 minutes to cream the butter. The mixture should be smooth and pale in color.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, milk, and almond and vanilla extracts and mix with whisk. Add small amount of egg mixture to bowl of creamed butter and mix on medium speed until fully incorporated. Continue adding small amounts until all of egg mixture is mixed into butter. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula and mix for another 30 seconds.

Remove bowl from mixer. Alternately add small amounts of flour mixture and buttermilk to bowl, mixing with wooden spoon just until all ingredients are incorporated. [Foodinista note: set aside ¼ cup of flour mixture and toss with raspberries to prevent from sinking to bottom.] Fold in flour/raspberries, taking care not to smash fruit. Pour batter into prepared baking pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle chopped almonds over top.

Bake on center rack of oven for about 1 hour, or until golden brown. Test center of cake with skewer. It will come out clean when cake is finished. Let cool for 30-40 minutes on a wire rack, then dust with powdered sugar and cut into pieces. This coffee cake will be fragile until completely cooled, so remove warm pieces carefully, using a pie server to left pieces out of the pan.

Sunny in Seattle

In Food, Out of Town on March 29, 2010 at 1:57 pm

After another gorgeous weekend in Seattle for Taste Washington, I have to wonder if it actually ever rains there. I have visited this fair city at least a dozen times without ever having seen so much as a drop. Is it a conspiracy to keep the rest of us out? As a counterattack on Seattle, I would like to wage my own conspiracy to kidnap Macrina Bakery—the whole damn place—and relocate it to Los Angeles. Then I could get fat on these multigrain raspberry muffins sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, to say nothing of a perfect pastrami sandwich smothered in melted fontina on a crusty Italian loaf. (Sorry, I gobbled it all before remembering to snap a photo.) Now pardon me while I walk over to my local bookstore to purchase a copy of Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook so I can dream of recreating some semblance of these heavenly muffins at home.

Late-Night Baking

In Food, Recipes on April 18, 2009 at 8:18 am


Last Saturday night—correction: early Sunday morning—when my husband and I were punching down dough for sticky buns in the wee hours, my husband turned to me and said, “well, this gives whole new meaning to ‘late-night baking.'” 

My husband, who has much more fortitude than I, had been enlisted to help me navigate my grandmother’s recipe for sticky buns that we were taking to an Easter brunch that following afternoon. It should be noted that what I had scribbled down was not really a recipe, but more of a suggestion of a recipe. My grandmother is one of those effortless and elegant cooks who has never consulted a recipe, and at the age of 90 still whips up a batch of these sinful sticky buns without a second thought to her perfect pink manicure.

I, however, am not a natural-born baker—I have neither the patience nor precision for baking. Which is why I had to consult a professional chef late-night to talk me off the roof when my dough wasn’t rising fast enough, and placed several panicked phone calls to my mother for reassurance—something that only happens in extreme cases of emergency. But the end results were positively stupendous. That said, it’s a LOT of work. Start this process the day before. Also, make sure you knead the hell out of the dough for the full 8-10 minutes. It helps both with rising as well as perfect texture.

Esther’s Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 24 rolls

1 3/4 cups sugar, plus 1 teaspoon, divided

½ cup hot water (105 to 110 degrees)

2 .25-ounce packages dry yeast

7 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

3/4 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

8 cups all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Buttercream Icing

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

1 1/2-2 cups confectioners sugar

2 tablespoons cold milk

Vanilla extract, to taste

Grease two 13 x 9 x 2 baking dishes. To activate yeast, mix 1 teaspoon sugar, yeast and water. Let stand until foamy, about 8 minutes. I used RiZE yeast from Whole Foods, and after much googling discovered, ironically, that it takes longer to rise than, say, Fleischmann’s. Frankly, I’d go with Fleischmann’s next time.


Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and whole egg, and slowly beat in ¾ cup sugar. Add cream, milk, butter, vanilla, salt, and yeast mixture. Stir in 8-9 cups of flour, and mix until dough is soft. 


Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and knead for 5 to 8 minutes, or until it’s smooth. Or knead it in an electric mixer, using the dough hook, for 4 to 7 minutes at medium speed. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to grease all sides, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and let it rise in warm place for 60 minutes, until nearly doubled in bulk. 

Mix one cup sugar and cinnamon. (I probably used even more than 4 tablespoons cinnamon, but it’s up to you.)

Punch down and let rise again until double. Divide dough in half. Roll out ½ of dough into a rectangle. Brush generously with melted butter. Sprinkle generously with half of cinnamon sugar mixture. Starting at 1 long side, tightly roll up each rectangle into log. Cut each log into 12 rounds. Place 12 rounds, cut side down, in each prepared pan, spacing evenly. 


Repeat with second half of dough. Let rolls in pan rise again, about 30-45 minutes.


[Note: at this point, rolls can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature for one hour before baking.]

Bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes.


Cool for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, to make buttercream icing, cream butter with an electric mixer [I use an immersion blender] and slowly blend in sugar and vanilla. When cinnamon rolls have cooled, frost with buttercream icing and serve slightly warm. 


The Skinny on Baking Sheets

In Food on April 2, 2009 at 4:53 pm


Yours truly is not a baker. I have neither the patience nor precision for it, despite my otherwise Type-A leanings. So when my friend Roy emailed me the following, I hadn’t a clue how to answer:

what’s the best way to go for baking sheets — e.g., stainless steel vs. aluminum, silicon pads, nonstick vs. regular, etc?

I did, however, know whom to ask. My friend Sarah used to work in the kitchen at Chez Panisse, and is an expert baker. Her advice (which I recall her sharing when I was putting together my wedding registry a couple years ago) is to avoid nonstick cookie sheets. She says:

I adore the baker’s half-sheets at restaurant supply stores,  or I believe from Williams-Sonoma 13 x 18 x 1 (aluminum). They are a terrific all-purpose baking sheet as they won’t bend or buckle due to their heavy weight. They can be used for roasting chicken or baking cookies. Silicon pads are great to have in addition for certain types of cookies as they won’t stick. I prefer using a Silpat to a nonstick sheet only because I tend to scratch the pan when cleaning….