Archive for the ‘Cookbook fun’ Category


I don’t consider myself much of a collector, but if there was one thing I could easily amass it would be cookbooks. For me, getting a new cookbook is a process. First I browse the pages, admiring the design, layout and beautiful photography. Next I read it, cover to cover, before finally diving in to try out my first recipe.

I received several cookbooks for Christmas (yay!). My first experiment was with Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking. It’s a beautiful book that’s chock full of helpful base recipes, creative variations and fun background stories about her tastings and travels throughout the craft world. There are a lot of recipes that I want to try out here, but I started with Apple Fritters.

I was looking for an easy dessert for an ordinary weeknight and that’s exactly what this recipe is. We all know that anything fried is best eaten that same day, well, pretty much right away, like while it’s still hot – yum! This recipe makes just enough for 4-6 people and requires ingredients that you probably have in your pantry right now.

Pair it with your favorite ice cream and its fancy enough for a dinner party. Bon appétit!


Apple Fritters
Adapted from The Craft of Baking
Makes 8-10 doughnuts

¾ cup, plus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
¼ cup, plus 7 tablespoons of sugar
1 ½ teaspoons of ground cinnamon
Kosher salt
2 large eggs, separated
1 ½ teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup beer (pilsner or lager preferably)
1 large firm baking apple, such as granny smith, mutsu or crispin
Oil for frying (peanut oil is great but canola oil works just fine)

To make the fritters
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ¼ cup of sugar, ¾ teaspoon of the cinnamon and 1 teaspoon salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, butter and vanilla. Whisk in 1/3 of the flour mixture, then one third of the beer, alternating until combined in three additions. Whisk well to combine, then set the batter aside for 30 minutes to rest.

Peel core and slice the apple into 10, 1/8-inch thick rings. Spread out the rings on a plate. Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar with ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle over the apple slices. Let the slices sit for 20 minutes as they absorb the sugar.

In a wide, shallow bowl, mix together the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Fill a high-sided pot with 2 inches of oil and begin heating to 375 degrees F. Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and gently, but thoroughly, fold them into the batter.

Once the oil is ready, in batches dip the apple rings into the batter to coat both sides and fry, turning once, until the fritters are golden and crisp, about 3 minutes total. Drain them on a paper towel before immediately tossing them in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Serve warm.


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Sour cream-chocolate cake

Coming home to the arrival of a new cookbook is one of the best feelings. The crisp new pages, gorgeous photos, baking tips and tidbits – I can’t wait to jump right in.

Through Smitten Kitchen, I recently discovered Sky High, a book dedicated to modern American layer cakes. This book is loaded with simple and interesting triple layer recipes. I was immediately drawn to the recipe for a Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Peanut Butter Chocolate Glaze. This is a great oil-based chocolate cake recipe and the addition of sour cream makes the cake super moist. The peanut butter frosting is phenomenal and the chocolate glaze gives this cake a stunning finish.

I happen to have three 8-inch cake pans (which are required for all of the recipes in this cookbook). However, if you only have two pans, you can put 2/3 of the batter in one pan, and 1/3 of the batter in the second pan. The pan with double the amount of batter will need to bake longer (approximately 45-55 minutes) and once cooled, can be sliced in half with a serrated knife to form two layers.

Decorate the top of the cake however you like or leave it the way it is. The chocolate glaze will speak for itself. I candied some roasted peanuts and used them on top of the cake.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze

Adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes
Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake, serves 12 to 16

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

To make the cakes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and lightly flour the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper.  Carefully butter and flour the paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and whisk to combine them (or use the whisk attachment in a stand mixer). Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the three prepared cake pans. Bake the cakes for approximately 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 20 minutes before inverting onto wire racks. Let cool completely. If you can, I would recommend freezing (or refrigerating) these cakes before assembling by wrapping the layers very well in plastic. The hard, frozen layers will be a lot easier to work with during assembly as these cakes are a bit crumbly.

To assemble the cake
Place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top. Use a small amount of the remaining frosting to create a crumb coat which will lock in any stray crumbs so they don’t show through your frosting. Chill the cake for 15-30 minutes, then frost the cake completely with the remaining Peanut Butter Frosting. Chill the cake for at least 30 minutes.

To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely.

Remove about 1 hour before serving. Decorate the top as desired.

Peanut Butter Frosting

Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter (do not use all natural peanut butter)

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

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New York City is on fire right now! When you’re in the heat of summer, who wants to turn on the oven? I mean, I do, but I usually get in trouble for competing with the air conditioner. So instead, I turn my kitchen into an ice cream shop.

Whether you’re making gelato, ice cream or sorbetto, they are all a refreshing treat on a hot summer day. My friend Mary bought me the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto and I’m having a lot of fun exploring its recipes.

I love this gelato recipe because it’s so versatile. This particular combination was inspired by what I had in my kitchen at the time, which was fresh basil and a few pints of berries. Feel free to experiment with whatever is in your kitchen right now. For instance, substitute blackberries instead of raspberries or diced strawberries instead of blueberries. Make a blueberry or raspberry only recipe by doubling the below syrups. The sky is the limit!

It’s always great to prepare ice cream bases (and syrups) one day ahead of time, if possible, to ensure all of your components are as cold as possible before you churn. Make sure you set up your ice cream machine in a cool place. I actually churn ice cream in my bedroom because it’s the coolest room in my apartment and my galley kitchen tends to feel like a sauna in the summer.

Enjoy, and stay cool!

Berry Basil Gelato

Basil Gelato Base
Base recipe inspired by the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato & Sorbetto
Makes approximately 1 quart of gelato (enough to fill a home ice cream maker)

2 cups whole milk
Handful of fresh basil, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt

In a saucepan, bring the 2 cups of milk to a boil. Turn off the heat, add a handful (to taste) of fresh basil leaves and cover the saucepan tightly with plastic wrap. Let steep for 30 minutes. Strain out the basil leaves and pour the milk back into the saucepan. Add the cream to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.

Meanwhile, in a heat-proof bowl, mix the egg yolks, sugar and salt together until completely smooth and pale yellow in color.

When the milk mixture has reached a temperature of 170 F, or when tiny bubbles begin to form around the edges, temper it into the egg mixture by slowing pouring approximately half of the milk mixture into the eggs while whisking constantly (see tempering guide here). Pour all of the custard back into the saucepan and cook, stirring continuously over medium-low heat until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and reaches 185 F. Do not boil.

Immediately pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into a clean, cool bowl and let cool to room temperature, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Once cooled, cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight or until very cold, approximately 4-6 hours.

Blueberry sauce

1 pint blueberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons of sugar

Place the blueberries in a medium saucepan. Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice and toss until combined. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place the blueberries over medium-low heat and cook until the blueberries pop and soften and the syrup starts to thicken, approximately 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to a cool bowl, cover and chill until very cold, about 1-2 hours.

Raspberry sauce

1 pint of raspberries
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Combine the raspberries, sugar and lemon juice in a food processor or blender and puree. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a cool bowl and discard the seeds and solids. Cover and chill until very cold, about 1-2 hours.

Berry Basil Gelato

Basil gelato base
Raspberry sauce
Blueberry sauce

Combine half of the ice cream base with the blueberry sauce in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the blueberry mixture back to the basil base by whisking until combined. Whisk in the raspberry sauce until combined. Process the gelato according to manufacturer’s instructions (approximately20-25 minutes), then freeze for 4-6 hours before consuming.

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Blueberry pancakes at clinton street baking company

Not only is today Fat Tuesday, it’s Pancake Tuesday!  Or as some Catholics may call it, Shrove Tuesday.  Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because it was a way to use up rich food products like eggs, milk and sugar before the fasting season began.  I’m not saying that I believe in Lent, or fasting for that matter, but I sure love an excuse to enjoy great pancakes.

As some of you may know, the best pancakes I’ve ever had are at Clinton Street Baking Company on the lower east side in Manhattan.  They are perfectly light and fluffy with a crisp finish.  It doesn’t hurt that they serve them with a housemade maple butter, which is a combination of maple syrup and butter whipped together and warmed.

Lucky for us, Clinton Street Baking Company has a fabulous brunch cookbook where they have shared the coveted pancake recipe.  As you will see, the secret to this recipe is the separately whipped egg whites that are gently folded into the batter to create a light and airy texture, similar to a souffle.

NEIL’S Pancakes
Clinton Street Baking Company
Makes eighteen to twenty 3-inch pancakes 

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder, plus 1 teaspoon
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
6 large eggs, separated
3 cups whole milk
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 teaspoons unmelted butter for the griddle
1 tsp vanilla extract
2½ cups blueberries or sliced bananas and 1 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup confectioners’ sugar or cinnamon sugar for dusting
Maple Butter

To make the pancakes

Measure and sift all the dry ingredients into a large (preferably stainless-steel) mixing bowl: flour, baking powder, sugar, salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the yolks, milk, melted butter, and vanilla until combined. Whisk the wet mixture into the dry mixture. The result should be slightly lumpy, yet combined to form a batter.

Whip the egg whites in a medium mixing bowl until they reach medium peaks (soft in the middle). You can either whip them by hand with a whisk, or put them in the bowl of an electric mixer to whip. Be careful, you don’t want to overwhip the egg whites.

Gently mix half of the whipped whites into the batter with a large rubber spatula. Then gently fold the remaining half into the batter. Remember: this batter should be slightly lumpy and have large parts of egg whites not fully incorporated; it should look like whitecaps in the ocean with foam on top. (The batter will last a few hours in the fridge without deflating too much.)

Heat a griddle — either an electric griddle, a stovetop griddle, or a big flat pan — to 350 to 375°F. Grease the hot griddle with the remaining butter. Drop cup (approximately 4 tablespoons) of pancake batter on the griddle and cook to set. Add 1 tablespoon blueberries or sliced bananas and 1 teaspoon walnuts before turning the pancakes. Never add the fruit to the mix; always add the fruit to the pancakes once they’re on the griddle. When you see bubbles start to form on top, lift the pancake halfway up to see if it’s golden brown and crispy on the edges. If ready, flip the pancake.

When the pancake is golden brown on both sides, remove with a spatula. Repeat with the remaining batter and filling, cooking several pancakes at a time. Garnish with confectioners’ sugar for the blueberry pancakes, cinnamon sugar for the banana-walnut. Serve warm with Maple Butter.

Common Mistake
Many cooks don’t heat the griddle enough, which is why the first pancake is usually a dud. Make sure it’s very hot, then put the butter on. A teaspoon or tablespoon is fine. Use just enough so that the pancake doesn’t stick.

To ensure that the whites whip up to maximum height, clean and dry all of your utensils. Also, when separating, be careful not to get any yolk into the whites.

Note About Peaks
Peaks are “soft” when you put your finger in the whites and they fall over. Peaks are “medium” when you put your finger in and they drip over a bit and stand up. “Stiff” peaks develop when you whip the whites longer and they stay up.

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peanut butter pie with chocolate cookie crust

When you write a baking blog, it makes baking a top priority.  Beyond parties, I’ll take any little excuse to get in the kitchen and try something new, or perfect a classic recipe.  Last weekend, the Albany Travers came down for a visit and with an equal appreciation for sweet treats, they are great people to bake for.

As many of you know, I’m working my way through Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, a great Christmas present from santa. Next up is Peanut Butter Pie, one of my favorite desserts and Tom’s evergreen answer when I ask “what should I make tonight?”

This Peanut Butter Pie recipe is very easy, and I love the addition of hot fudge atop this cold treat. The combination of cream cheese and peanut butter make this filling a winner.

The chocolate wafer cookies can be difficult to find at grocery stores, but they are worth the hunt.  In NYC, you can get them at Food Emporium or Fairway (I know, I’ve search every major grocery store in NYC and NJ).

I made a few changes to the original Baked recipe to make this dessert pop even more. I definitely plan to add this one to my secret stash of Peanut Butter Pie recipes.

Peanut Butter Pie with Cookie Crust
adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
yield: one 9-inch pie

For the chocolate cookie crust
30 chocolate wafer cookies, or 6 oz (look for Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafer Cookies in the grocery store)
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the peanut butter filling
1/2 cup or 3 oz of semisweet chocolate chips
8 oz ream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsps pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

For the easy hot fudge sauce
6 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
6 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup

Make the chocolate cookie crust
In a food processor, grind the cookies to a very fine powder. You should have about 1 1/2 cups.

cookies in food processor

Put the crumbs in a bowl and stir in the sugar.

sugar and chocolate cookie crumbs

Pour the butter over the crumb mixture and mix until well combined. The mixture will feel wet. Turn the crumb mixture out into a 9-inch pie plate and press it into the bottom and up the sides. You can use the back of a large spoon to even out the crust.

chocolate cookie crust

Put the crust in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Make the peanut butter filling with chocolate bottom
Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave oven or in a double boiler. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate in a thin layer on the bottom of the chilled pie crust. Put the crust back in the refrigerator while you make the peanut butter filling.

Put the cream cheese, peanut butter, vanilla, and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium speed until well combined and completely smooth.  Set aside.

peanut butter filling ingredients

In a clean bowl, use the the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment to whip the cream until soft peaks form. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, with a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture until the mixture is uniform in color.

peanut butter filling

Pour the mixture into the prepared crust and refrigerate for at least four hours.

Make the easy hot fudge sauce

Place both chocolates in a medium heatproof bowl and set aside.

chocolate for hot fudge

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Add the corn syrup and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolates. Let the mixture sit for two minutes. Starting in the center of the bowl and working your way out to the edges, whisk the chocolate mixture in a circle until completely smooth. The hot fudge sauce, cooled to room temperature and covered tightly, will keep for three days in the refrigerator. Rewarm the sauce in a microwave oven on medium heat for 30 seconds, stir, repeat until the sauce is warm; or reheat it in a small saucepan over low heat.

Place a piece of pie on a large serving plate and spoon three heaping tablespoons of the warm sauce directly over the top of the pie.  Eat and enjoy immediately.

Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

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Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto

I love gelato.  Who doesn’t?

I never quite understood the difference between gelato and ice cream until I was given the fabulous Ciao Bella cookbook from my friend Mary, who has a fabulous cooking blog of her own – The Culinary Librarian.

As you may already know, the difference is fat content.  Gelato requires less cream and more milk, which also limits the amount of air volume in the finished product.  In comparison to ice cream, gelato tends to be more dense than ice cream and more flavorful.  I think it’s creamier too.

Both gelato and ice cream are very easy to make.  All you need is a home ice cream maker and a cold freezer.  I have the Cuisinart ice cream maker, which works well and is a popular models.

I’ve made several gelato recipes in this book  and loved them all.  I have yet to delve into the very popular sorbetto recipes that Ciao Bella is known for, but I plan to make that a top priority this summer once the weather is warmer.

Below is one of my favorite gelato recipes.  It’s great topped with a little hot fudge and fresh oreo cookies.  Buon appetito!

Cookies and Cream Gelato
1 quart of gelato

Cookies & cream gelato

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
2 oreos or chocolate sandwich cookies, finely chopped and frozen
3 oreos or chocolate sandwich cookies, coarsely chopped (with larger pieces) and frozen

To make the gelato:
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the milk and cream.  Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally so a skin doesn’t form, until tiny bubbles start to form around the edges and the mixture reaches a temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

Meanwhile, in a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.  Gradually whisk in the sugar until it is well incorporated and the mixture is thick and pale yellow.  Temper the egg yolks by very slowly pouring in the hot milk mixture while whisking continuously.  Return the custard to the saucepan and place over low heat.  Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and it reaches a temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit.  Do not bring to a boil.

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl and let cool to room temperature, stirring ever 5 minutes or so.  To cool the custard quickly, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water and placing the bowl with the custard in it; stir the custard until cooled.  Once completely cooled, cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Once the base is chilled, gently stir the finely chopped oreo pieces into the base.  Pour the mixture into the container of an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions (approximately 25 minutes).  Add the coarsely chopped chocolate sandwich cookies to the mixture 5 minutes before the churning is complete.  Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least two hours before serving.

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Sweet Serendipity cookbook

Sweet Serendipity cookbook

If you haven’t been to Serendipity in Manhattan, you’re missing out.  This adorable cafe and dessert paradise is flanked by a a quirky store that sells lots of fun chotchkies and can make the 2 hour wait worthwhile.


Famous for the frozen hot chocolate, which is amazing , Serendipity serves a wide variety of sweet treats and offers an extensive food menu.  I recommend going for lunch.  You can make a reservation in advance if you’re there to eat food (as well as dessert), and can skip the massive wait that many of us endure for a spoonful of these delicious desserts.  My brother Eddie brought me to Serendipity for lunch on my birthday before I moved to NYC and it was one of my all time favorite meals.  I recommend going light on lunch and heavy on sugar…

Lucky for us, Serendipity has shared its secrets with the world in its Sweet Serendipity cookbook, which includes their famous frozen hot chocolate recipe and much more.

Below is a favorite recipe of mine.  It’s an indulgent year-round dessert and may remind you of a summer s’more.  It’s great with or without the chocolate pecan topping.  Enjoy!

Mississippi Mud Cake

Mississippi Mud Cake
Serves 6 or more

For the cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cocoa
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups marshmallows

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 sticks butter, melted and cooled

To make the cake:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan.  Set aside.

Sift together the flour and cocoa in a medium bowl.  Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  On low speed, mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture.  Add the chopped pecans and the vanilla extract and continue to mix until combined.

Chocolate cake ready for the oven

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and bake on a rack in the middle of the oven for 25 – 30 minutes.  Remove the cake and sprinkle with the marshmallows, then return it to the oven and continue baking until the marshmallows melt and start to brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan, set on a cooling rack.

To make the chocolate pecan topping:
Sift together the confectioners’ sugar and the cocoa into a medium bowl.  Add the pecans, evaporated milk and melted butter and mix until combined.

Slice the cake into wedges to serve and drizzle topping over cake as desired.  Store loosely covered, at room temperature.

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