Modern Pastries

Where food and photos seamlessly blend

Exams and Latin Men

Today marks the first official day of my two week vacation from school. After a week straight of exams, I was ready for a break. Although yesterday I didn’t go to classes, I couldn’t really count it as vacation since I had to go take one final exam. It was an SAT-like test, and mandated by the government. So although I have absolutely positively no use for this test, I had no choice but to wake up early on my Saturday to complete it. And let me tell you, it was quite the new experience. Since all seniors of Guayaquil were taking the exam, there were different locations each person was assigned too. Most of the locations were public schools and universities. I ended up at a public school called Juan Montalvo.

So at 8 am I lined up outside of the school, my papers and passport in hand. There were far more people than I expected, and I was quite nervous. It’s not that I don’t trust the people here, but, as a foreign female I always have to be cautious. When I passed the security check point, I stuffed my passport deep into my purse and followed the crowd. We walked down into a big courtyard where we had to wait. Close behind me was a guy who, of course, was more than happy to help a confused gringa. Latin men have their reputation for a reason. They’re very confident, and very very smooth. So a word from the wise: Always always proceed with caution. Moisés, that was his name, was actually very helpful. He was curious about why I was taking such an exam, when I wasn’t even completely fluent. We chatted while we had to wait to begin the exam. He was also unapologetically flirtatious, telling me I had the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen. Latin men, or so I’ve come to discover, have an obsession with light eyes since a majority of the people here have brown eyes. In fact if I had a dollar for every guy here who commented on my eyes, my piggy bank would be very full. I’ve decided to enjoy it while I can, since men in the states aren’t as forthcoming with the compliments.

Until yesterday, I’d never seen a public school here in Ecuador. It was a shock to say the least. And I didn’t think much could shock me after spending this much time here. Walking into the classroom I couldn’t help but think of how comfortable my life has been. It looked, and felt, a lot like a jail cell inside (not that I’ve ever done jail time). Everything was concrete, and there were no windows. The desks were old and metal. Many of them looked as if they’d been thrown out a window. The wall facing the hallway looked eerily like the front of a jail cell. It was all metal bars, with a heavy metal door that slammed with such authority that it made me jump. And that was it. Other than the student desks, and one for the teacher, the classroom was empty. I’m so used to classrooms filled with computers, equipment, and trinkets that I forgot how rare that is.

Luckily I survived the ordeal, and took a well deserved nap afterwards. So now my vacation has officially begun! And to make things even better, my mother will be here in less than a week!!! The past three months have seemed like an eternity without her and I’ve missed her dearly. I don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t able to call her everyday. My time in Ecuador is going to make living at college seem like a piece of cake.

P.S. Here are some photos from a special ceremony we had at school. It’s a graduation requirement where every student must swear to the Ecuadorian flag. But, being a foreigner, I wasn’t allowed to swear so instead I had to say “I do not swear. but I respect you”. I was an escolta, or escort, for the flag bearers. This was based on grades and is a big honor here in Ecuador. There was even a brunch for the nine of us afterwards.

The Chemistry of a Cookie

Many people perceive baking as an art form, but in reality it’s really more of a science. Yes there are definitely many elements of art in the baking I do.  The presentation and appearance of the product is always very important. But the actual process of baking is all chemistry. I think this is what draws me most to creating things in the kitchen. If you think about it, there’s really only a few basic ingredients used in baking. But when you change the amounts, and pairings, butter eggs and flour can turn into a million different things. 

Cookies, for example, come in all different types and textures. Specifically chocolate chip cookies. It’s surprising the number of variations you can find from just one simple dessert. Many people have different preferences for what they like, for example a chewier or crunchier cookie. These different textures and types all come from the ingredients, and amounts, used. 

This past weekend I attempted to bake my mother’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I’ve made it many times before, but here in Ecuador they always come out a little different. And by different I mean not perfect. And an imperfect cookie is not something that I want, ever. The most frustrating part of the whole situation is that what comes out of the kitchen, ultimately, represents my abilities as a baker. These cookies are other people’s impressions of me. And I am definitely here to impress. So after a disappointing end product, I went back to try to figure out what I did wrong. 

What I found was that it didn’t really have anything to do with me (a relief) and more to do with the sugar I was using. The white sugar here in Ecuador is less refined, resulting in a larger and coarser sugar crystal. The brown sugar is also slightly different. It too was coarser. Another thing I noticed was that it was much lighter in color than brown sugar found in the states. This, I concluded, must mean there was a much lower molasses content. And without an adequate amount of molasses, the moisture level of the cookie suffers. And this is where my problem was. My chocolate chip cookies had ended up quite dry and crunchy, not because of over baking, but because of the change in the sugar. 

Another theory I had, although not confirmed, was that the gluten content of the flour here may have been higher than normal All-Purpose flour. The flour also comes pre-mixed with baking powder in it, so that could have easily affected the outcome as well. 

I’m determined to figure out exactly how to overcome these little obstacles while I’m here. I’d like to try to figure out how to use these differences to my advantage. But if all else fails, I’m requesting that my mother fill a suitcase with sugar and flour when she visits in October. And hopefully airport security doesn’t ask too many questions… 

An Overdue Update

Modern Pastries has been a bit of a ghost town lately, and I apologize for that. Ecuador, and my new high school, has been keeping me very very busy. Also, my opportunity to bake has diminished. This is mainly due to a lack of free time. My other problem though is that I don’t have my kitchen. Here, in the house that I’m staying in, the kitchen is very different from what I’m used to. There’s no oven, no KitchenAid, and a limited supply of baking ingredients on hand. I miss the luxuries of my kitchen at home more than anything. It’s been so hard not being able to create and post things regularly. I will be visiting the states in December though, and I have lots planned for that month.

Adjusting to my new life here has been challenging, but interesting. Going from a small college town, to know living in a city of 3.2 million people was not something I was completely prepared for. I no longer have my own car, and even if I did have a car here I wouldn’t be able to drive. Ecuadorian are notorious for their driving, and lack of rules/laws for the highway. Although there may be lines separating lanes, they are invisible to any and all drivers. Being a passenger is nerve wracking enough, so I know without a doubt that I never want to be behind the wheel here.

Going back to high school also came with its own set of challenges. Some days I wonder why I gave up my summer vacation to start school all over again. So while I could be tanning on the beach with my friends, I’m instead sitting at my desk completing homework for physics, and math. Don’t get me wrong, I truly love the school here and the experiences I’m having so far. The students were so welcoming and very nice. I’ve been able to go out and experience the culture of Ecuador and South America in new ways. My spanish has also been improving greatly, and I can’t believe how beneficial all this will be when it’s over.

Classes here are very relaxed here, which was something I wasn’t really expecting. There are many days when I don’t have a certain class because the teacher simply never shows up. Other days, all classes are cancelled so that students can prepare for upcoming events. For example we hardly had any classes for a whole week because that upcoming Saturday was the date for the “school olympics”. Instead of learning or being productive we made decorations and hung out all day. For this reason I’m very glad that I’ve already graduated and that this year, academically speaking, isn’t very important.

My time in Ecuador has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. I hope that soon I’ll have recipes and photos to share.

Italian Sodas

Soda5

Now that the weather is warm and summer is getting closer, I’m feeling like I’m running out of time. In just 33 short days I’ll be graduating high school, and in 41 days I’ll be leaving for Ecuador. After July 5th I will be living and attending a school in Guayaquil Ecuador until March of 2015. I decided two years ago that after my graduation I wanted to take a gap year to study spanish. Frankly I can’t believe it’s already been two years and I’m actually doing it. When I started this blog I knew I only had a limited time to bake and create everything my heart desired. Modern Pastries won’t end when I go to Ecuador, but it will certainly slow down. The main reason is that there’s not an oven where I’m going. Which is kind of a problem. So while I may not be posting many baking recipes for awhile, I can promise there will be many unique Ecuadorian dishes making an appearance.

I don’t think it has really sunk in yet that I only have 41 days left in my own kitchen. I’ve spent so many of my weekends this past year mixing, creating, baking, and photographing in this one corner of my house. If it weren’t for the creation of this blog I’m not sure any of that would have happened. Like I’ve mentioned before, It was from the encouragement of an admissions representative from Geneseo that really got this whole thing started. It’s hard to believe just 9 months ago Modern Pastries didn’t even exist. It really has become a huge part of my life.

I created this blog not only for my own enjoyment, but also for a school assignment. As a senior at Potsdam High School, each student must complete a “Senior Project”. This can be anything under the sun from creating a blog, to running a marathon. The criteria is that you spend a considerable amount of time completing it, and you present your final project to a panel of judges at the end of the year. The presentation is where most of the grade comes from, although the quality and effort of the project itself is definitely a factor. At the beginning of this school year I was struggling with deciding on a project. My problem was that I had too many ideas and just couldn’t pick one. The suggestion of a blog was perfect. It was something I could work on all year, slowly building it up, and have an awesome end product to present. I’ve already started working on my presentation, which will take place on June 16th at 8:00 am. I’m really quite excited to show my site off and show how far it’s come in just 8 months.

So now that it’s finally warm here, I’m breaking out some nice summer recipes. After making the hibiscus shortbread cookies last week I also made a Hibiscus syrup. I stuck it in the fridge while I waited for inspiration on how to use it. That inspiration ended up coming to me yesterday while on Pinterest. I saw a picture of some Italian Sodas, which I knew would be the perfect recipe for it.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever had an Italian Soda. But I had also never had a soufflé until I made my own. I don’t tend to make things that I’m familiar with. That’s too comfortable. I like making things that are brand knew and may go wrong. It’s almost like a challenge for me, conquering a recipe on the first try. These Italian Sodas are no real challenge though. All the ingredients are staples (I hope) in every kitchen.

All you need for these beautiful drinks is sugar, water, fruit, club soda, half & half, and ice. It’s really that simple. The sugar, fruit, and water is cooked and condensed to make a simple syrup and then everything is mixed in a glass. This makes it a very versatile recipe since you can make your simple syrup any flavor you’d like. Pretty much any fruit will work, and you can even get creative by using fresh mint. Anything you can infuse into a simple syrup can be made into an Italian Soda.

 

 

Simple Syrup

Ingredients-

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-2 cups of fruit (or a handful of mint/hibiscus/etc)

Directions-

  • Heat water and sugar in a pan until boiling
  • Add fruit (or other ingredient) and let simmer for 5-10 minutes
  • Remove from heat and allow time to cool
  • Strain mixture and store it in the fridge

 

Crystal Clear Ice Cubes

Ok, I realize having a recipe for ice cubes is really weird, but I’m a perfectionist and didn’t want to use the cloudy ice cubes our freezer spits out. This really only matters if you’re trying to take photos, like me, or really really want to impress the people you’re making these for. Although I have to warm you, there’s probably no one out there who really cares about the clarity of ice cubes more than me.

To make crystal clear cubes all you need to do is boil your water. Twice. Boil once, let it cool. Then boil again. After you’ve boiled the water add it to the tray while it’s still hot, but not hot enough to melt the plastic. Freeze for a couple hours and voila, perfectly clear ice cubes.

 

Italian Soda

Ingredients-

  • Ice
  • Simple syrup
  • Club soda
  • Half & half

Assembly-

  • Fill glass with ice
  • Pour in about one shot of simple syrup
  • slowly pour in club soda
  • Pour in a couple tablespoons of half & half

 

 

 

 

 

Hibiscus Infused Tea Cookies

Hibiscus1

There’s really nothing I love more than working with interesting ingredients. In fact it’s sort of my motto with my blog, to use interesting ingredients for new twists on basic confections and baked goods. This motto has led to my life as an ingredient hoarder. It’s actually quite serious, with an overflowing pantry as one of the many side effects. Many of my recipes need at least one unusual ingredient that I have to go out and buy. Things like rose water, matcha, and fleur de sel salt can be difficult to find in a small town with limited grocery resources. Luckily Potsdam has one saving grace, and that’s the Potsdam Food Co-op. This little gem has saved me on many occasions. I was able to find rosewater here, and it’s where I always go to get whole vanilla beans and dried herbs and spices. I really don’t know what I’d do without it.

My obsession has led to many wonderful gifts. My mother gets me gifts like sea salt from the Bahamas and similar items from her vacations. The most exciting gift thus far has been a bag full of dried hibiscus flowers all the way from Senegal, Africa. They came from a friend, who actually was my first babysitter. I’m not sure if she realized how wonderful a gift they were. It’s slightly embarrassing, but I get so excited about thinking up ways to infuse new ingredients into a recipe.

Since I have a whole bag, I’ve decided to make a few different things with them, starting with tea cookies. To infuse the flavor of the flower I’ve steeped them in the butter, as well as grinding them into the sugar. Since hibiscus flowers aren’t readily available, you can use whatever flower or spice you’d like. I would suggest dried juniper, lavender, or rose petals.

To explain the flavor of hibiscus is difficult. It’s like trying to describe the taste of a fruit. There’s a sweetness to it but also a slight tartness, almost like a lemon. The cookie itself is simple and buttery, but then there are bursts of tart fruitiness when the hibiscus bits hit your tongue.

Infusing Butter

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 3-5 dried hibiscus flowers (or whatever ingredients you’re using)

Directions:

  • Heat butter over medium until it comes to a simmer
  • Turn heat to low
  • Add hibiscus flowers
  • Let sit for 10-15 minutes

*to taste test, dip a spoon in the butter and then in sugar. This will give you a better idea of how the flavor will come out in the actual recipe. If the flavor isn’t strong enough, continue to infuse until desired result is achieved.

 Hibiscus Sugar

Simply crush up a few hibiscus petals until fine and mix with sugar. Exact amounts are not important. Let this sit for a chance to infuse and then bake with it or use for finishing touches. Can also be done with any other herbs or flowers. The longer the mixture sits, the more the sugar will infuse with the flavor of the ingredient.

Hibiscus3

Shortbread Tea Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup infused butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon crushed hibiscus
3/4 teaspoon salt
Hibiscus sugar for sprinkling (optional)

 

Directions:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg and beat until incorporated.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together both kinds of flour, salt, and crushed hibiscus.

3. With the mixer on low, gently add dry ingredients into butter mixture. Mix until ingredients are well combined and a stiff dough is formed.

4. Wrap dough tightly in the plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 375°. Line baking sheets with silpat mats or parchment paper.

6. Remove dough from the fridge and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out small circles and place on cookies sheet.

8. Sprinkle with hibiscus sugar.

7. Bake until cookies are just golden at the edges, about 10 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on wire racks. Store cookies in an air tight container for up to 4 days.

 

 

 

 

A Switch to Savory

Although I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I’m ashamed to say I hardly ever cook. And I’m sure this disappoints my mother since cooking has never been her favorite thing to do. I think we might actually both have the same problem. She spends so much time baking that the last thing she wants to do is make dinner. Baking may not be my job, but I prefer to spend my time in the kitchen whipping up souffles and cream puffs rather than steak au poivre. (not that we would ever get that fancy on a weeknight in this house) So in the spirit of Mother’s Day this year, I cooked my mom dinner. And (almost) everything was savory.

This was a big weekend for me in more ways than just Mother’s Day. Clarkson University’s Graduation was this Saturday which meant some very long workdays. Friday night I was serving the all-important trustees until midnight. From there I got about six hours of sleep before I was back at work bright and early Saturday morning. From 7:00 am until 8:00 that night was crazy, hectic, breakdown inducing, classic catering. There were a minimum of (what seemed like) 15 different events going on at the same time all day. I went from serving a breakfast, to serving a lunch, to cleaning up all the other mini events, and finally to the post graduation party tent. And to make the craziness even crazier, I had 9 different bosses pulling me in 9 different directions. There are some people who really aren’t meant for managerial positions. Boss J was one of those. He was also a sexist jerk who refused to listen to a thing I said. He truly did not know what he was doing, which is typical of most of our managers since they don’t usually work events. The most aggravating thing was that whenever he wanted to talk to me he would bark out orders, but look the other direction and speak to, literally, the wall. Luckily I work with some amazing people that make up for the less than enjoyable ones.

So Sunday morning I woke up with sore feet and an aching body, but ready to cook. I went grocery shopping and did all of my prep work. Dinner consisted of grilled Moroccan chicken with fresh Tzatziki sauce, Greek orzo salad, and blackberry cabernet sorbet. The sorbet is absolutely, positively delicious. The cabernet compliments the blackberries perfectly and I think it may be the best combination to hit sorbet since forever. Seriously, make this sorbet, you won’t be sorry. It’s really impressive sounding and tasting so it’s the perfect thing to serve this summer if you’re hosting a dinner party.

The Moroccan chicken was equally as delicious. It was slightly spicy, but was balanced out with the Tzatziki sauce. The whole dinner was perfect, and it was nice to finally be able to eat some of the Summer dishes that we’ve missed so much. So to all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day.

 

Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet

 

Ingredients-

1 cup sugar

1 cup mid-range Cabernet Sauvignon

1 1/2 pounds fresh blackberries, pureed and strained well

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

 

Directions-

Stir sugar and Cabernet in small saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil 1 minute. Transfer syrup to large bowl. Chill until syrup is cold, about 3 hours. Working in batches, purée blackberries and juice, the cold syrup and lemon juice in a blender until smooth. Strain into another large bowl; discard seeds. Process the berry mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer sorbet to container; cover and freeze until firm, about 6 hours. 

Note- The key to a really good sorbet is small ice crystals. To achieve the tiniest crystals possible, it’s best to chill your mixture well before churning it. At least an hour or two in the fridge.

 

Paris By Mouth

Needless to say much of my Parisian vacation has centered around pastries and baking. I’ve made sure to visit and taste test as many Pastry shops as possible. Thanks to blogs like Paris By Mouth and David Lebovitz I’ve had an excellent guide for where to go and what to try. In case anybody is interested in visiting Paris or is planning to in the future, I’ve made a list of my favorite places and suggestions below. (photos included of course)

Descriptions from top to bottom, left to right-

1. Cafe Creme: I’m not a coffee drinker at home but here, where coffee is truly an art form, I’ve been thriving on it. We typicall stop a few times a day at various cafes to enjoy coffee and recharge. I don’t recommend any cafe in particular since there are so many of them and they’re all so good.

2. Pastry display at Pierre Hermé: This is a must visit if you want to enjoy the fine art of pastries. There are many to choose from and they’re out of this world.

3. Our selection from Pierre Hermé: A coffee mousse tart, a lemon and wild strawberrry mousse tart, and the infamous Ispahan.

4. The Ispahan: This particular pastry is what Mr. Hermé is most known for. He created it himself when studying and working at Ladureé.

5. Deconstructed Ispahan: Rose pastry cream with Lychees (exotic fruit) surrounded by raspberries and sandwhiched between two rose macarons.

6. Mille Feuille Fraise at Ladureé: Mille feuille, when translated, means one thousand leaves. The pastry is layers of caramelized puff pastry, and light strawberry pastry cream. I’ve wanted to make one for a few months now and this was my first time trying the dessert. Ladureé is another very famous pastry shop. This is more of a sit down place though, where as Pierre Hermê is a grab and go.

7. Gelato from Amorino: Ever since my trip to Italy I’ve been obsessed with gelato. Amorino is a chain that can be found all over the world (mainly in Europe). They have some of the best gelato I’ve ever tasted and are famous for how they present it. If you order a cone they scoop the gelato to look like a rose.

**Although not found in Paris (or even Italy!) the best gelato is from Capogiro. This is a small gelato company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Definitely the best gelato in the entire world. Trust me.**

Typical Tourists

As much as I’d like to imagine that I’ve assimilated into Parisian culture and look like a local, I realize that’s sooo not the case. I’m the typical tourist, and I can guarantee that any Paris local can spot me coming from a mile away. Although I’m visiting parts of Paris that many tourists don’t see or aren’t interested in, I am visiting all of the typical tourist locations. The past couple of days have been spent walking all over the city, going from the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and various parks like the Champs Elysees. I love walking around the city and recommend that everyone explore Paris this way. It’s really the best way to find unique shops and cafes that are tucked away and hidden between the tiny streets.

Yesterday, my sister’s sixteenth birthday, we took the train to Versailles. This is when we really let our tourist flag fly. What was supposed to be only a 35 minute trip by train ended up taking almost three hours. Unfortunately the train system is not as simple to navigate as the Metro. We got on the wrong train and went about 45 minutes in the opposite direction. When we realized that we may not be on the right train we asked the only other people in our train car (four police officers) how to get to Versailles. They chuckled and informed us that we were not on the right train at all. We got off at the next stop and they were kind enough to escort us to the correct train that would bring us back to the station we wanted. When we finally made it back to the station in the city we disembarked and walked to our new train. After two minutes though I realized that yet again we were headed in the wrong direction. We stood dumbfounded looking at the map in the train car, trying to figure out WHERE we had gone wrong. Three men with accordions realized our predicament and told us to follow them after the next stop. Hoping the third time would be the charm, we followed our accordion playing friends to our third and final train. From there it was smooth sailing and we arrived (much later than we had expected) at our destination.

So although I may try to blend in with the locals and hide my blatant tourist appearance I’m accepting of the fact that it’s almost impossible. The map in my hand and nikon around my neck will always give me away.

 

 

Description of photos starting at the top and going from left to right:

1. waiting area for the metro

2. Street performer near the Notre Dame. He was dancing with and bowl of goldfish on his head. I have to give him credit for being creative, and not killing the goldfish. (yet)

3. Another performer, by the Sacre Coeur Catherdral. He was standing on a railing at first bouncing a soccer ball between his feet. His moves were quite impressive given that he was standing in such a precarious place. And if the railing wasn’t impressive enough, he then proceeded to climb the lamp post with the ball on his head and then continue with the dribbling while hanging from the top.

4. Me in front of G. Detou, a baking and pastry ingredient store frequented often by my favorite Parisian blogger, David Lebovitz

5. Beautiful fountain located in Luxembourg Park

6-11. The gardens of Versailles. Everything was absolutely gorgeous and it was a beautiful warm day which made enjoying the gardens even easier.

“In” and “Out”

After resting in our hotel room for a bit we ventured out and explored the area we’re staying in. Our hotel is just outside the city in a neighborhood called Gallieni. We headed out in search of something to eat and came across an outdoor market. I’m a sucker for outdoor markets, I just love the atmosphere and the personalities of the vendors. There were fresh fruits, fish, and of course, cheeses. At the end of the market was a long line of people at a storefront. Everyone was walking out with wrapped up baguettes ad pristine white boxes. In this situation one can assume that any bakery with a long line of locals is a very good bakery. We waited in line and of course we weren’t disappointed once we got inside. Behind the clear glass counter were rows of perfect little pastries. Among the many on display were lemon tarts, chocolate tarts, berry tarts, chocolate eclairs, nutella eclairs, napoleans, and mille feuille. When we got up to order I began my lesson of what is “in” and what is “out” in Paris. Speaking English (especially in this non-tourist part) is definitely out. I was trying to order a tomato pastry tart for lunch and as soon as I stumbled over the French pronunciations the woman behind the counter rolled her eyes and walked away. She quickly returned though with an english speaking employee which was very helpful, but it was obvious she was quite annoyed. I wasn’t all that offended and honestly felt a little bad. I took only about half a year of french in eighth grade so I don’t know any more than the average tourist. Although store owners deal with English speakers, it is clear that some really don’t enjoy it.

As for what’s “in” in Paris-

  • making out in public (whether it’s  outside a quaint cafe, or while riding up an escalator, couples are all over each other)
  • man purses aka “murses” (I happen to love them, very useful)
  • public transportation (Paris is currently having a little pollution crisis so public transportation like the metro is very much encouraged. This is what we’re using all week and it’s quite easy to figure out, the only downside is the occasional stench of urine…)

Here are some of the pictures I promised. Just a few to start, and most of them are from walking around the Seine. It was beautifully sunny this afternoon and warm enough for just a light jacket or sweater.

 

Springtime in Paris

Spring break is finally here and I’m officially in Paris. Our flight was saturday night so we arrived here sunday morning. I’m beyond excited to be here, mainly due to the fact that France is the mecca of baking a pastries. A few months ago I looked up everything and anything pastry related. So of course on my “must visit” list are a few baking supply stores. Every girl need a madeleine pan from Paris right? 

This isn’t actually my first time visiting Paris. Six years ago I took a trip with my dad and sister to Germany. It was our first European vacation and we toured all around Germany and Belgium. I even was able to convince my dad to get up at three a.m. one morning so we could drive the 6+ hours to Paris. It was a fairly short day, I think we only spent about 12 hours in the city, but we covered a lot of territory. While sitting at a cafe, breaking for coffee, we talked about coming back in the spring of my senior year. We joked about how cool it would be for my sister to spend her sixteenth birthday in Paris. Well, it’s six years later and here we are, back in the City of Light. My sister will turn sixteen on Thursday and I’m sure it will be a birthday she won’t soon forget.

Pictures will be up soon. I’ll try not to tempt you with too many food/pastry photos…

Key Lime Tart and a Little Vacation

I really can’t believe I’ve gone so long without baking. Frankly, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed these past few weeks and haven’t had enough time to bake or spend any time in the kitchen. Although I’ve really missed it, I’m not really complaining. My absence was partly due to a wonderful family vacation to the Dominican Republic. So for the week break from school, I was tanning and drinking rum punch instead of baking and photographing. The Dominican was the perfect escape from winter with perfect weather and the most beautiful beach and crystal blue waters. The resort we stayed at was Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach and I highly, highly recommend it to anyone planning a trip to the Dominican. The resort is run by Europeans and most guests are Italian or Spanish speaking. There were a few french and even fewer English speakers. That was my favorite part though since I was able to practice my Spanish and brush up on my grammar and speaking. The employees were always eager to help, most of them being very charming Latin men… The food was absolutely amazing and I was in heaven with all of the fresh fruits. Every morning there was a feast of coconut, papaya, maracuya, pineapple, and melon. The custom bellini station with fresh fruit juices was also a nice plus. I’m not sure I mentioned this before, but the drinking age there was 18 so I was able to reap the benefits of the true all inclusive experience.

The other reason for my absence, one which I’m not as thrilled about, was work. Most of my baking and blogging is done on the weekend since I’m at school all day during the week. Unfortunately this is also when I work. The past two weekends have been completely booked up with various jobs. This past weekend I had the pleasure of working 27 hours between Friday and Sunday. And It’s completely my fault. I have the tendency to overbook myself and I’m naive enough to think I can handle everything I take on. My biggest mistake was agreeing to photograph an all day event on Saturday and also work a buffet for catering that evening. So Saturday ended up being a very very long thirteen hour day of work where I went home completely drained. And on top of that I had to work Sunday too, a day I expected to have off, catering a buffet for a hockey game. Although I may complain now, I know that in three short months, when I have to go off to Ecuador, I’ll miss it dearly.

For my first time back in the kitchen I’m making something very classic and very comforting. Key Lime Pie. Or rather a tart. As some of you may know this Friday is Pi day, 3/14. Since my baking reputation emerged freshman year I’ve always been expected to whip up something for the occasion. I never minded though, and I always looked for an excuse to bake for class. Freshman year I went the classic route, bringing in a pumpkin pie. Sophomore year I was a little more creative and whipped up a dark chocolate and sea salt caramel tart. Junior year I went back to the classics and made a lattice top apple pie. So I guess if I’m keeping up with the pattern, this year has to have a modern twist. With that in mind, I decided on a lime curd tart with coconut whipped cream. it’s a recipe from my absolute favorite blog, Pastry Affair. I stumbled upon Kristin’s blog through foodgawker and have been reading it religiously ever since. She has gorgeous photos and wonderful, creative recipes that I just can’t seem to stay away from.

*note: In one of the pictures you can see part of my beautiful new cutting board. It was actually custom made for me by my former track coach Mr. Kaiser, who has recently started doing custom woodworking. After seeing my blog he offered to make me a cutting board and I was beyond thrilled. It’s very well made and is sure to make future appearances in upcoming posts.

Lime Curd Tart with Coconut Whipped Cream

from Pastry Affair

Yields 10-inch round (or rectangular) tart

Lime Curd
1 cup (225 grams) granulated sugar
Zest from 2 limes
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (120 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
4 tablespoons (58 grams) butter, cut into small squares

In a double boiler, combine the sugar and lemon zest. Mix together with your fingers until fragrant. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.

Whisking constantly, cook the mixture until it thickens, about 10-15 minutes (you should be able to make tracks in the mixture with your whisk). If the curd is not thick enough, continue stirring and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes before whisking in the butter until smooth.

Chill the curd in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more before using.

Tart Crust
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (65 grams) powdered sugar
8 tablespoons (115 grams) cold butter, cubed
1 large egg
2-4 tablespoons ice water

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flours, salt, and powdered sugar. Mix in the cubed butter (or cut in with a pastry blender or with your hands) until the dough resembles coarse sand. Mix in the egg and 2 tablespoons water. If the dough is still too dry to come together, add more water by the tablespoon until it does.

Press dough into a tart pan, taking care to keep the dough an even thickness. Stab the bottom several times with a fork so the dough will bake evenly in the oven. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes to firm up before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Bake the tart shell for 15-18 minutes, or until it is lightly colored and the shell feels dry to the touch. Cool completely before filling.

Coconut Whipped Cream

14 ounces (414 ml) full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)

Chill the coconut milk in the coldest part of the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight, taking care not to disturb or shake the container. The coconut milk will separate with the white liquid on top and the clear on the bottom. Once cold, flip over the can, open it, and carefully pour the clear liquid into a small container to save for another purpose, such as smoothie making (if you get too much of the clear liquid mixed with the white cream, the coconut milk will not whip up properly. Put the coconut milk back in the refrigerator and wait until it separates to try again). Place the thick, white coconut milk into a mixing bowl and beat in the powdered sugar. Continue whipping the coconut milk on high for 5-7 minutes while it increases in volume and gets soft peaks. Beat in the vanilla bean paste.

While you can use the whipped cream immediately, I find that it sets up a bit better if chilled in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

The coconut whipped cream will keep for several days. If it separates in the refrigerator, whip briefly before serving and it will come back together.

To Assemble
1 cup coconut whipped cream (lightly sweetened whipped cream or even cool whip can be substituted)
Lime zest, for garnish

Spread lime curd evenly in the tart shell. Using a spoon, dollop the whipped cream randomly over the tart and swirl in with a butter knife. Garnish with lime zest, if desired.

A Heart Full of Love

 

heartcookie3

   Valentine’s Day has always been a big deal in my house. It’s my mother’s absolute favorite holiday and she always made sure the house was fit for a visit from cupid himself. She’s kept every single heart art project my sister and I have made since we started school and displays them all around. In fact, we have so many Valentine’s day decorations that they fill up two plastic storage totes. And naturally, the totes are bright pink. I’ve often made fun of my mother’s obsession but in the end I really have to thank her. Raising us as a single mother, she taught me that Valentine’s Day isn’t about having a boyfriend or a man to buy you chocolates. It’s about buying yourself chocolate and showing everyone around you a little extra love.

This year Valentine’s Day had been all about baking for me. All week I couldn’t wait for the weekend. I was on a mission to make the most beautiful sugar cookies for the ones I love the most. I was inspired to paint with royal icing after watching a youtube video. It gave instruction on how to achieve beautiful hand painted flowers. I knew a crisp white background with bright pink flowers would be the perfect decoration for some heart shaped cookies. They were truly a joy to make and I fell in love with the finished product. The bright pops of color are just what my kitchen needed. The actual process is a little slow and painstaking so if you don’t have a ton of patience you may not want to go this route. The chocolate sugar cookie is so delicious that it really could do without all the fancy frosting work. I’m sure no one would be disappointed after tasting them.

For a great tutorial on the icing technique I used click here.

Chocolate Sugar Cookies

(from Lilaloa)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup cocoa
  • 3 cups flour

Method

Cream butter, shortening and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add baking powder and salt and mix again. Stir in the cocoa until well blended. Add flour 1 cup at a time. It will be really soft and look all wrong, and you will want to add more flour, but DON’T DO IT.  From here put it into the fridge and allow it to chill for at least an hour. Roll out on lightly floured surface. Bake at 375 F for 6-8 minutes.

Royal Icing

(from Lilaloa)

Ingredients

  • 4 tsp dried egg whites
  • 1/4 cup of room temperature water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (or 1/4 tsp cream of tartar)
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar

Method

Mix water and egg whites in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Let stand 3-5 minutes. Add lemon juice or cream of tartar, whichever you choose. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time and mix on medium just until combined. The resulting icing should also be about stiff peak thick. From here you can add small amounts of additional water to reach your desired icing consistency.

A Little Latin Flair

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I consider myself to be very lucky in many aspects of life, especially when it comes to my family. I have the unique privilege of having a second family in Ecuador. Years ago when my father was in high school, he hosted an exchange student through AFS. Oscar was from Guayaquil Ecuador and stayed with my father in Tupper Lake for an entire school year. Coming from a very large city to a tiny town was quite the experience for Oscar. After he went back to Ecuador, he kept in contact with my family and the relationship has blossomed ever since. Oscar has two daughters, both of which have been visiting the states since they were little. They are both fluent in English and have attended college in the states. Through our unconventional family, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador myself. I’m eternally grateful to both Oscar and his wife Kerly for everything they have exposed me to. Thanks to them I have experienced latin culture in a way I never could have by myself. This past summer with Kerly I was able to volunteer at a hospital and see nearly every part of Guayaquil, delivering medicine and assistance to the impoverished. I cannot thank her enough for those experiences, since they have completely changed my life.

This past Tuesday, one of Oscars daughters, Beverly, celebrated her 22nd birthday. Since she goes to college so close to us, we decided to have a little birthday party for her. I immediately knew what I would make her for a cake. This is a cake that I have been enjoying since I was little. When the family would all come to visit, Kerly would make this cake for my sister and I. We would have little parties while they were here even though it wasn’t truly our birthday. I can remember watching, mesmerized by Kerly’s movements in the kitchen, and the smooth flow of spanish rolling off her tongue. Adding drops of food coloring to the frosting was how I learned to count in Spanish. Even when I started traveling down to Ecuador we still made the cake together. Since this recipe reminds me so much of Kerly and Ecuador I knew that a little taste of home would be perfect for Beverly.

The cake is an Orange Vanilla base that’s then split and filled with Manjar, and finished up with a meringue frosting. Manjar is Ecuador’s version of Dulce de Leche sauce. It’s quite thick, and is sold in the grocery store in jars. Typically it’s used in desserts, but it’s also used to spread on bread or cookies for breakfast. My sister and I both LOVE the stuff so we make sure to pack multiple jars in our suitcases to bring home. Since Manjar can’t be purchased in the states, a homemade Dulce de Leche or store bought would be fine.

I was very nervous when making this cake since it’s the first time I haven’t had Kerly at my side helping me. Also, baking in Ecuador and baking in the States is very very different. For one, the flour in Ecuador comes premixed with baking powder. This made it difficult to decide how much baking powder to add. Also, the cake doesn’t rise very much and stays pretty dense. I’m not a huge cake lover but this one is incredible. I highly recommend it.

 

Ingredients

  • 5 cups of flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 3 sticks plus 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. beat the butter until creamed
  3. Then little by little add the sugar. Mix well until completely combined
  4. Next add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition
  5. Mix the flour and baking powder together
  6. Mix the vanilla into the orange juice.
  7. Add the flour and orange juice, little by little, to the butter, alternating between the two. Make sure to start and end with the flour mixture.
  8. Butter and flour two 9 inch baking rounds
  9. Evenly divide the batter and baker for 50 minutes, or until the center is no longer wet.

Note: Slice the layers in half if you would like to add a Dulce de Leche filling.

 

Meringue Frosting

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

 

Method

  1. Heat the water and sugar on the stove
  2. Boil until mixture becomes slightly thick
  3. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks
  4. Slowly pour the hot sugar into the egg whites while whipping them
  5. Add the lime juice
  6. Color frosting if desired and decorate

 

 

 

 

A Study of Soufflés

I have always thought of soufflés as a dessert that only the truly seasoned pastry chef can make. The perfectly light as air texture seemed unattainable to me and in the past I stayed away. In fact, soufflés are probably one of the easiest desserts out there. They require only a few ingredients and take only a short time to prepare. They’re perfect for a dinner party since I can pretty much guarantee anyone you serve them to with be incredibly impressed.

Although perfect for impressing guests, that’s not the reason I made them. This year I’m taking an advanced studio art class. At the beginning of the year we were instructed to come up with a concentration that we would incorporate into all of our projects for the rest of the year. My choice of a concentration in food photography received a fair amount of skepticism from my peers and teacher. Although my teacher supported my choice, I knew that she wasn’t completely sure how I would pull my idea off. I’ve always believed that food photography hasn’t gotten the appreciation it deserves. People don’t always see it as an art form, or the effort the photographer puts in to their work. These soufflés are one of my many projects that I’m working on this year. I wanted to create a series of black and white photographs that are actually kept in color. With these two soufflés, Vanilla Bean Greek Yogurt and Dark Chocolate, I was able to successfully transform these simple desserts into a work of art.

 

 

Vanilla Bean Greek Yogurt Soufflé

  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 3 Tbsp All Purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tarter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Butter and sugar for ramekins
  • Preheat oven to 375 F
  • Butter six 6oz ramekins.  Coat inside ramekin with sugar and knock out excess.  Set on baking sheet.
  • In a large mixing bowl whisk together yogurt, egg yolks, flour, salt, vanilla bean, and vanilla.  In a medium bowl or in your stand mixture, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy…then gradually pour in the sugar and whisk until firm, but soft peaks form…just don’t whip so hard you break the whites.
  • Add 1/3 of egg white mixture to the yogurt mixture and incorporate well.  Then carefully fold in another 1/3…then the remaining.  you want to keep as much volume as possible.
  • Divide evenly into ramekins.
  • Bake on tray for about 15 minutes, until evenly risen and lightly browned around the edges.

Dark Chocolate Soufflé

Ingredients (make 4 soufflés):

·         140g dark chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt 70%)
·         3 tbsp. sugar
·         90 ml double cream (1 tsp = 5 ml)
·         3 eggs at room temperature (separated)
·         1 tbsp. vanilla extract
·         Pinch of cream of tartar
·         Butter at room temperature for greasing ramekins
·         Sugar for coating ramekins (about 1 tbsp.)
Preparation:
·         Butter 4 ramekins and coat inside with sugar. Preheat oven to 350F.
·         Combine cream, sugar, chocolate and vanilla extract in a heavy, medium saucepan. Stir over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and cool down a bit.
·         Whisk egg yolks into chocolate mixture.
·         Using electric mixer beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form.
·         Fold whites into chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Remember to do it gently and slowly. Do not overdo it.
·         Pour the mixture into ramekins filling them nearly to the top (leave about half centimetre). Bake for about 15 minutes.
·         Serve immediately

 

Snow Day Scones

As a child there’s no better news than “snow day” news. Even as a high school senior I still get excited for snow days. Of course for much different reasons than I did back then. Now a snow day translates to a baking day. An opportunity for me to have the kitchen to myself and blog to my heart’s content. I think today was quite possibly the best snow day I could have asked for since it turned my already 16 day winter break into a 17 day break. Nothing like easing back into school with a short four day week.

Also, I have a little bit of a confession. I made these scones about a month ago with the purpose of making a blog post but I never followed through because I was unhappy with the quality of my photos. I’m a perfectionist. And I’m pretty sure that started the day I was born because as a little girl I can remember throwing away half finished art projects or drawings because they weren’t “perfect”. I’ve also been a perfectionist in the kitchen since day one. If the end product doesn’t look good, it’s out. I won’t serve it/show it to anybody no matter how good it may taste.

The problem last time was my lighting. I tried to work when it was a clear sunny day and that was just a big mistake. My photos were washed out and just lackluster. And so into the trash they went. The photos, not the scones. The scones were absolutely delicious and possibly the best scone I’ve ever eaten. And I do have some scone experience under my belt since I spent two weeks in Ireland two summers ago. I know that doesn’t make me an expert, but at least maybe an expert in training?

Ireland was a truly beautiful place filled with truly beautiful scones. Before the trip I had never really had a TRUE tea scone. You know the kind that are rich and buttery, dotted with currants, and jam and clotted cream on the side? Well I fell in love, and for the next two weeks I gorged on the traditional Irish scone. I would also never advise anybody to do that, due to the fact that scones are laden with butter. The Irish certainly weren’t know for being healthy. 

This recipe is tiny, it only makes 6 at most so don’t be afraid to double it. They’re very close to the irish scone although not exact. You can add currants or raisins but I prefer the purity of the plain scone. Plus if they’re plain they’re perfect vessels for homemade jam. That’s precisely what I did since this past summer I made strawberry jam from local berries I picked myself. I also have homemade blueberry jam which my mother and sister made from wild blueberries from our camp. Either way you prepare them or dress them, they’re fabulous. You simply can’t go wrong.

Adare Manor Scones

adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for work surface
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 425°. Whisk baking powder, salt, and 1 1/2 cups flour in a large bowl. Add butter and blend with your fingertips until pea-size pieces form. Add milk and sugar and mix with a fork until a shaggy dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and gently knead until dough just comes together, 3 or 4 times.
  • Gently pat dough into a 1-inch-thick round. Using a 2-inch round biscuit cutter or inverted small glass, cut out scones. Gather scraps and repeat, patting out and cutting to make 10 scones. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.
  • Bake scones until golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Doughnuts and Interviews

Today has been a very exciting day and start to 2014. As I type this I’m actually being filmed for the local news. About a month ago I was nominated by my art teacher to be an Arts All Star for 7 News. They asked me if  they could come film and interview me in my kitchen for the piece they would be featuring me in. I of course said yes, because who doesn’t want their fifteen minutes of fame? So this morning has been kind of a blur for me.

I had a very difficult time figuring out what exactly I wanted to make for this very special occasion. Of course whatever I made had to be impressive. I debated for a long time before I finally came up with the idea of doughnuts. These aren’t any old doughnut though. They’re lavender doughnuts with a Wildflower Honey glaze. I know, it sounds kind of weird. But believe me when I say that lavender and honey is one of the best flavor combinations out there. The lavender I used was in fact the actual flower. I picked up some dried lavender at our local food co-op and it was so incredibly fragrant. When I started to bake with it this morning the kitchen was filled with the scent. Now, lavender is supposedly a very calming scent, but it wasn’t having much of an effect on me. I was quite stressed this morning, making doughnuts for the first time and expecting the local news to be arriving any minute. Maybe not the best time to make something new, but hey, it’s not everyday you get featured on the news.

Also I want to apologize for the lack of photos. I was only able to get a few of the end product because I was just so busy making them and getting myself ready. And then when the 7 News guys came I kind of had to abandon the photo taking.

interview

(My interview will air Thursday the 9th at 10:00 on channel 7 news)

Lavender Doughnuts

  • 3 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup whole milk, heated to 110˚F
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for the work surfface
  • 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of crushed, dried lavender
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Vegetable oil, for frying (or canola)

1. In a medium bowl, dissolve 2 tablespoons of the yeast in 3/4 cup of the warm milk. Stir in 3/4 cup of the flour to create a smooth paste. Cover and let rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes.

2. Combine the remaining warm milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the flour mixture along with the sugar, salt, vanilla, lavender, and egg yolks. Mix until smooth. Turn off the mixer and add 1/2 cup of the remaining flour. Mix on low for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and mix until it becomes incorporated, about 30 seconds. Switch to a dough hook and, with the mixer turned off, add more flour, about 1/4 cup at a time. Knead the dough on medium speed between additions until the dough pulls completely away from the sides of the bowl and is smooth and not too sticky. It will be very soft and moist, but not so sticky that you can’t roll it out. (You may have flour left over.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours. (don’t worry this won’t kill the yeast)

3. Line a baking sheet with a lightly floured dish towel. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/2 inch thick. With a doughnut or cookie cutter, cut out 3-inch-diameter rounds with 1-inch-diameter holes. (Note: If making filled doughnuts, don’t cut out the holes.) You can re-roll the scraps and cut out additional holes.

4. Place the doughnuts at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rest in a warm spot to proof until they almost double in size, 5 to 20 minutes, peeking every five minutes. To test whether the dough is ready, touch it lightly with a fingertip. If it springs back immediately, it needs more time. If it springs back slowly, it is ready. If it doesn’t spring back at all, it has over-proofed, in which case you can punch it down and re-roll it once.

5. While the doughnuts are proofing, heat a heavy-bottomed pot with at least 2 inches of oil until a deep-fat thermometer registers 360˚F (182°C). With a metal spatula, carefully place a couple of doughnut holes or doughnuts in the oil, being careful not to crowd the pot. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes per side, until light golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on a wire rack over a paper towel, and let cool slightly before glazing. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts and holes, keeping the temperature consistent.

Honey Glaze

  • powdered sugar
  • honey
  • whole milk

Now there aren’t really exact measurements for this part since glazes can be done many different ways. To get the consistency you want I suggest simply adding small additions of each ingredient and mixing until the desired consistency is achieved. I prefer a thicker glaze personally, which would involve a greater amount of powdered sugar.

Candied Lavender  (this is what I garnished them with)

  • dried lavender
  • egg white (beaten)
  • caster sugar

First, separate one egg and put the yolk to the side. Beat the egg white just enough to break it up. With a pastry brush, brush the lavender with the egg whites. This part is messy so don’t worry about it and just do your best to lightly coat each piece with the egg white. They will clump together. Now as for the caster sugar, if you don’t have any ( or have no idea what it is) don’t worry. All caster sugar is, is really finely ground granulated sugar. So you can easily make your own with a food processor. Now that your lavender is brushed with egg white, you want to sprinkle the caster sugar over it. Make sure each piece is generously coated and don’t be shy with the amount you use. After all of your lavender is coated, set it aside to dry. This will take about 30 minutes to an hour. Once it’s all dry you can break up any clumps with your fingers. Sprinkle sparingly on donuts, this is more for looks than anything else.

Maple Caramel Lattes

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I can still remember the first time I had a latte. I must have been about 9 or 10 and boy did I feel fancy. I was visiting my dad in Texas for christmas and loving the warm weather. My dad had to meet someone at Starbucks and so he took my sister and me with him. While he had his meeting we got our first manicure and shared our first latte, eggnog to be exact, right next door. I had no idea what a manicure even was at first and when I figured it out I was in heaven. I can remember getting my nails painted pink and the manicurist adding little flowers on my thumbs. So in just one day I became hooked on manicures AND Starbucks.

These lattes are actually made from the left over syrup from the Buttermilk Waffles recipe I made yesterday. Since I had some extra I decided to be thrifty and make two blog posts out of one sauce. They’re perfect for any occasion and measurements can be easily altered for a big group or just a few friends.

Basic Latte

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup ground coffee (French or other dark roast)
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 2 cups of whole milk

Directions

Brew coffee and set aside. Heat the milk on the stovetop until it begins to steam. Then take an immersion blender and blend the milk until foamy.

Maple Caramel Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 5 to 6 drops imitation maple extract
  • 3-4 tablespoons of maple syrup

Directions
Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar. Whisk until sugar melts and mixture is thick and boiling, 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in cream. Bring sauce to boil, whisking often. Boil until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon and is reduced to 1 cup, whisking often, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in coarse salt and extract. Can be made 1 week ahead. Cool, cover, and chill.

Assemble Lattes 

  • Put a couple spoonfuls of the syrup at the bottom of the cup
  • Add a shot of espresso (or two)
  • Pour in steamed milk
  • Add a spoonful of whipped cream if desired

Buttermilk Waffles

waffles

Now that the craziness of Christmas is behind me I’ve finally had the chance to spend some time in the kitchen. Having three million other things to do wasn’t the only reason I hadn’t been baking. I was also waiting, ever so patiently, for my new waffle maker that I had asked for. Our current waffle maker has seen its last days and needed to be thrown out. It never seemed to cook the waffles evenly. And it also made thick fluffy waffles which just isn’t my thing. I prefer thin and crispy which is exactly what my new Cuisinart waffle press delivers. Among the other christmas gifts was a beautiful black walnut cutting board and two boxes of antique dishes which are sure to make an appearance soon.

I made these waffles a couple months ago for a friend after she spent the night. They’re perfectly golden brown with a crispy outside and soft inside. They taste as good as they look which is always a plus. The last time though I only put butter and maple syrup on them, and since they’re so perfect I felt they needed a more beautiful topping. So I saved the recipe for another day when I had the time to properly dress them.

If you haven’t had enough sugar over the past few weeks from gorging on christmas cookies and various holiday sweets then you should definitely make this Maple Caramel Sauce to accompany the waffles. It’s absolutely delicious and oh so perfectly sweet. Those who were lucky enough to try it claimed it was life changing. Now I’m not so sure about that, but I can promise that’s it’s very very tasty. I also drizzled whipped cream over them although I added very little sugar to that, only about a teaspoon full. I also only whipped it for a short time to keep it creamy. Either way you dress these babies they’re delicious so go healthy with some fruit compote if you’re feeling the need to do a little cleansing or pile on the sugar if you’re not.

Buttermilk Waffles

adapted from Fifteen Spatulas

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups whole buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 7.5 oz all-purpose flour (1.5 cups)
  • 2.5 oz cornstarch (1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tbsp sugar

Directions:

  1. Separate the egg yolks and whites, and beat together the egg yolks, buttermilk, vegetable oil, and amaretto to combine.
  2. Whisk to combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Combine the leftover egg whites with the sugar, and whip to stiff peaks (if you lift the beaters straight out of the egg whites, then invert the beaters, the egg white should stand up on its own as a stiff peak).
  4. Stir the buttermilk liquid into the flour mixture (make sure the batter is still a little lumpy), then fold in the egg whites, being careful not to deflate them.
  5. Pour the batter into a preheated waffle maker and cook for about 3-4 minutes.

Maple Caramel Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 5 to 6 drops imitation maple extract
  • 3-4 tablespoons of maple syrup

Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar. Whisk until sugar melts and mixture is thick and boiling, 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in cream. Bring sauce to boil, whisking often. Boil until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon and is reduced to 1 cup, whisking often, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in coarse salt and extract. Can be made 1 week ahead. Cool, cover, and chill.

Snowflake Sugar Cookies

Everybody claims to have the best sugar cookies recipe ever. And hey, maybe in their opinion it is. But there are so many different ways to make sugar cookies that it’s impossible to name one single recipe “THE BEST”. This one really is the best for decorating though. I promise. It’s the perfect cookie for working with royal icing and has a great chewy texture and taste.

I was introduced to this recipe when I took a cookie decorating class a few months ago. It was great because I had never really worked with cookie decorating before and I had always wanted to know how to get the look of perfectly smooth frosting. The basics are really pretty simple which I’ll elaborate on below.

Before I found this gem though I was using my mom’s recipe. It wasn’t very good to say the least. It has a crumbly texture and the cookies never really kept their shape. Also they just didn’t taste as good as these do. Mom I’m sorry but your recipe has been banished, and I promise it has nothing to do with you.

The perfectly smooth top

To achieve this look you need two things: Thinner consistency royal icing and a dehydrator. Now I realize not everybody would have a dehydrator on hand so there is a loophole. If you have lots of time and patience you can let the iced cookie dry overnight. I was lucky enough to have someone let me borrow their dehydrator. The icing should be about the consistency where when you drizzle it in the bowl it takes about 10 seconds to sink back in. It’s a little tricky to get this exactly right so I would suggest maybe watching a few youtube videos so you can see the process done. (I use youtube ALL the time for this sort of thing) Once you have your icing you should ice a border and then fill in the center. Then, quickly, gently shake your cookie in a horizontal plane. This smooths the frosting making it so perfect. If you have a dehydrator you can now put them in. Personally, I wouldn’t leave them in for more than 20 minutes and that should be plenty to set you base.

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Piped Decorations

Piping is also pretty easy and there’s not a whole lot you need. If you’re familiar with piping bags and tips then it should be no problem to pick up. I used a wilton size 2 piping tip for my designs. The consistency of the frosting this time should be pretty stiff but not so much that you can’t get it out of the bag. I got a little creative with dragees and sprinkles but even just plain icing looks stunning.

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Vanilla Sugar Cookies
from Lilaloa 1 cup slightly softened butter

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 extra large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 (or 4 1/2 cups) flour

Cream the butter and both sugars together. If you have any brown sugar lumps, you should crush them up or pull them out. They make weird dents in your baked cookies. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix thoroughly. Add the salt and baking powder and again with the mixing of the dough.

Before you add the flour, let’s have a little chat. Different altitudes need different amounts of flour. Differences in humidity will the change the amount of flour you should add. Is there a storm coming? That changes things. Add only 3 cups to begin with. Then add additional flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough is no longer sticky and holds together. (This happens at about 4 cups of flour for me…except in the winter time when it happens at 3 1/2 cups flour.) That’s when you should stop if you are going to chill the dough, or just wait for another day to bake it. If you are going to roll it out right away, add another half of a cup of flour so it will be thick enough to move from rolling out surface to your baking sheet.

Bake at 350F. If you roll to 3/16″ thick, bake for about 7 minutes. If you roll to 1/4″ thick, bake for about 10 minutes.

As Luck Would Have It

Ironically, Friday the 13th has turned out to be an incredibly lucky day for me. I was all too pleasantly surprised this morning when I checked my blog stats and saw that there were many visitors from all over the world. I was awestruck by the sudden boom of international views and couldn’t figure out what had spurred such an event. As I scrolled down my stats page I saw something truly beautiful. Under the column that shows me where people are finding my blog (i.e. twitter, facebook, etc.) I saw Foodgawker listed!

Foodgawker, for anyone who is not familiar with the site, is a place where bloggers can submit photos of their recipes and links to their blog. Many of the recipes I use I get from here since a majority of them are from blogs. I prefer to get recipes from blogs because I know nobody would post a recipe that doesn’t work or turn out well. I’ve been avidly using the site for about 2 years now and I absolutely love it. There’s even an app which makes it easily accessible from just about anywhere.

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photo 1 (1)

It’s not a piece of cake getting published on their site though. They are notoriously picky about which photos make the cut. Many times photos are tossed aside for not being bright enough, sharp enough, or interesting enough. This was the third time I had attempted to submit a photo and I didn’t really have any big expectations. The fact that I did in fact get published though is a huge deal. I was over the moon with excitement mainly because it’s such a huge honor and also because this means lots of new traffic for the blog. Already at only 11:00 I’ve had 29 visitors from Foodgawker alone.

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