Archive for March, 2011

When I found out that I was going to a wedding in New York, I was very excited! (Of course for the beautiful couple, but also for the bakeries!) I decided to take a day or two to run around eating baked goods, this is exactly what I have done the passed two days.  I started out Thursday morning at Baked in Brooklyn. I met up with one of my friends who lives nearby, we shared a chocolate chip cookie, some banana bread, and a fig pinwheel. I think it is safe to say that the pinwheel was my favorite at that stop and one of my highlights from the day. The pinwheel had a flaky crust, but not too crumbly, and the fig filling had just a hint of orange in it. It was perfect for a morning treat, not too sweet.

Next on my stop was a cookbook store in Tribeca called Joanne Hendricks Cookbooks. I walked up to the window, peered in at all of the beautiful old books, and realized it was closed. I forgot to call to make sure she was open before I went. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to go back in the afternoon, next time though I will definitely schedule that stop better. After  that, I walked a bit further to Once Upon a Tart in Soho for some lunch. I had a zucchini and tomato tart. I loved the way they arranged the slices, usually I place them with the cut side down, but they had them on end which allows the steam to escape (so I wasn’t soggy) with lots of veggies.

After lunch, I continued on to Francois Payard Bakery. Francois Payard is the author of one of my favorite, out of print, baking books from which I have made many things including lemon tarts, chocolate chestnut cake, and black and white sugar cookies. I walked in and stood in front of the case for several minutes gazing at my choices.

With the help of the server, I decided on a slice of an apricot pistachio tart. The base was a slightly sweet and flaky crust with a layer of pistachio mousse – that had wedges of fleshy apricot in it, and then a layer of apricot chiboust – pastry cream lightened with whipped cream or stiffly beaten egg whites (in this case I think the latter.)

Next on the list was Balthazar Bakery. I got a chocolate madeleine there and snacked on it on the way to the next stop. It was a nice treat but it didn’t blow me away.

At babycakes in the lower east side, I got a couple of cookies and was approaching the cash register when I impulsively ordered a tiny brownie. The brownie turned out to be my favorite at babycakes. It was moist and chocolaty with crispy edges. I really would have liked to get some more bite-size  brownies to take with me but I didn’t know how I would be able to eat them all.

I took a small break from walking and eating followed by dinner and yet another bakery, Billy’s in Chelsea. Having shared my first bakery experience of the day with a friend, I enjoyed sharing my last of the day as well. My friend got a chocolate chip cookie and I a slice of lemon pound cake. The lemon cake had a great texture, dense but still soft and super moist. All too often lemon cakes don’t taste like lemons but more like eggs. This one actually tasted and smelled like real lemons, so refreshing.

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Egg decorating

Yesterday morning, my friends and I decorated eggs for No-Rouz (Persian New Year.) We decided to try coloring them with onion skins. We collected red and yellow skins and soaked them separately in some water, so they were soft enough to wrap around the eggs. We also used some basil leaves for designs.

We tightly wrapped the eggs in red and yellow onion skins and then in (new) nylons.

We put the egg bundles in a pot of boiling water with some purple cabbage (in hopes to add a little more color.) When they were cool enough, we got to unwrap them!

I look forward to playing with other vegetable for color, maybe beets would result in a brighter purple?

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I am visiting some friends in Colorado. Yesterday we celebrated No-Rouz, the Persian New Year. The exact time of No-Rouz changes yearly in accord with the exact time of the beginning of Spring (This year it was in the late afternoon.)  We began by preparing the “Haft Sin.” or “Seven S’s.” As you might guess from its name, Haft Sin includes seven items that begin with “s”, however it is not exclusive to these items.

Our Haft Sin setting included the traditional seven:

Sabhez- lentil sprouts, symbolizing rebirth

Samanu- a sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence

Senjed- dried oleaster fruit, symbolizing love

Sir- garlic, symbolizing medicine

Sib- apples, symbolizing health

Somaq- sumac berries, symbolizing the color of the sunrise

Serkeh- vinegar, symbolizing patience

Plus some more recent additions:

Sonbol- hyacinth flowers

Sekkeh- coins, symbolizing wealth

Sohun asali- Sesame honey cookies

Shirini nokhod chi- Chickpea flour cookies with cardamom

Haj Badoom- Crispy almond cookies

Nargili- Coconut cookies

Ayeneh- a mirror, symbolizing honesty

Sham’- lit candles, symbolizing happiness and enlightenment

Tokhm e Morgh- decorated eggs, symbolizing fertility

Mahi-goldfish, symbolizing life within life

A book of Hafez (a highly respected Iranian Poet), and or the Qur’an

We prepared the Haft Sin setting together, each adding a little bit of the different items. After the sun passed over the equator and we had a quiet celebration, exchanged gifts, and gathered at the table for a traditional No-Rouz dinner.

We had sabzi polo – rice pilaf cooked with lots of fresh herbs and saffron, kookoo – a frittata like dish that is heavy on the greens and light on the eggs, maast – yogurt with shallots (a different variety than what we are used to in the states), and a tray of olives, mint yogurt, and naan khoshkeh – a crispy flatbread (literally “dried bread”) from Isfahan, and fish.

Sabzi polo:

3 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons salt
3 cups finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, young leeks, cilantro, dill, fenugreek)
3 spring garlic shoots*

2 Tbsp. butter, melted

1/4 tsp. saffron powder

Rinse rice thoroughly. Combine rice and boiling water (cover about 1″ above the rice) and soak for about 4 hours. Strain the rice. In a large pot, boil some water, add some salt and the rice, cook for about 5 or 6 minutes, or until the rice is tender but not to soft (you can 2 or 3 Tbsp. of yogurt to the water if you like). Strain.

In a large pot, place about 2 Tbsp. oil and 3 Tbsp. water add the spring garlic shoots, cut in half lengthwise and saute for a few minutes over medium heat. Layer rice and herbs on top of the garlic and cover with a clean cloth or paper towel and the lid. This prevents the excess steam from going back into the rice and making it mushy. Let cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes.

In a separate pot, melt 2 Tbsp. butter and stir in 1/4 tsp. saffron powder.

Stir a little of the cooked rice in with the saffron butter to use as a garnish. Mound the rice on a platter and decorate with saffron rice.

*For a potato version: replace garlic shoots with a potato or two, thinly sliced. Add a little salt and a touch of saffron while sauteeing.

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French Butter Cookies

A friend of mine lent me a couple of french cookbooks to browse through. My eye was caught by a recipe for butter cookies from Normandy in the French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Loomis.. I love french butter cookies, they aren’t too sweet and they melt in your mouth. I immediately got some butter out to soften, waited patiently, and made some dough.

The recipe has you roll the dough out and cut out cookies but I chose to form it into a log and slice them. I find there is less waste this way, plus its tidier in the kitchen. After the cookie dough had chilled, I took it out of the fridge, sliced it up, and popped the cookies into a hot oven.

The first batch I was a little cautious about overcooking so I baked them until they were just beginning to brown around the edges. I put the second tray in. While the second batch was baking, I snacked on one from the first. While it was tasty and cooked through, I decided that they were better off being a little darker and more flavorful. (The picture below is from the first batch that went in the oven, just to give you an idea of color.)

They are excellent with coffee, tea, and especially hot chocolate!

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This afternoon while I was at the store buying roses for a cake, I remembered how I had been missing them in my pantry so I got some extras. I picked up some pistachios also, thinking they would be a nice partner for the roses in a batch of cookies. I made some cookie dough adding the pistachios, rose petals, and a touch of white chocolate at the end.

I formed the dough into a couple of logs and chilled them for an hour or so, cut them up, and baked them.

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Lemon Rose Cake

I had a request to make something “springy” and since there still aren’t many fruits available, this is what I came up with. A white cake with quite a bit of lemon zest in it, rose simple syrup – for drenching, dried roses – for their petals, and Radiance Dairy cream – for fluff.

I brushed the rose syrup on the cake layers and spread some whipped cream on top….

I placed the second layer on the first, spread on some more whipped cream, and sprinkled it with rose petals.

Note: Next time I might add either a thinned preserve or some fresh fruit to the filling.

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C is for Cookie

Last weekend I was on a major cookie kick, starting with some chocolate chip cookies on Thursday. One of my good friends had an Art Show Opening on Sunday, a lucky excuse to bake some more. I made two kinds for the opening, lemon sugar cookies and chocolate sables.

The lemon sugar cookies were cut out in the shape of bones in honor of the main focus of her work, Max (a fantastic poodle.)

The chocolate sables were thin and crispy with irregular bits of molten chocolate. The dough, sprinkled with fleur de sel, was just sweet enough to balance the deep chocolate.

Having a hard time fighting the temptation to bake still more cookies, with no real excuse, I gave in on Tuesday and made a batch of makrouth. A Tunisian cookie made with semolina, dates, oranges, and olive oil. The end result somewhat resembles a fig newton.

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