Monday, August 31, 2009

Free Cookies at the Islands Village Faire

As I've mentioned many times, a major goal of my baking endeavors is to share what I make with as many people as possible. This weekend, I was given the perfect venue for such promotion of my personal baking brand, and it was amazing.

Not far from Seattle is a set of secluded islands called the San Juans. I've been fortunate enough to spend a good deal of my Pacific Northwest time exploring San Juan Island, and this weekend I participated in their Islands Village Faire. Growing up in Connecticut, then living in New York City, I had never seen such an assortment of people (retirees hand in hand, young families with babies in brightly colored sarongs, fuzzy bearded men, girls in long flowy skirts who looked remarkably just like me) matched with such a sense of community; throughout the Faire, I experienced a heady mixture of peace, serenity, and overall goodwill to my fellow Islander. It was a beautiful thing. And since a major tenant of this Faire, in going along with the theme of community, was bartering, I was able to give away or trade off all of the cookies I had made, spreading the joy that I pompously believe comes with each bite of the cookies I make. I spent a better part of the week mixing batter for my favorite chocolate chip cookies and my Teff peanut butter cookies (the gluten-free kind), and after that hard yet gratifying work, sharing the fruits of my labor with friends and strangers alike was as different to me as it was fulfilling.


I'm looking forward to more opportunities to get my cookies out there, so to speak. The San Juan Islands Village Faire was a remarkable step in that endeavor.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Figs and Honey

Not long ago my boyfriend and I were invited to dinner at a friend's house, and as was expected, the feast that we enjoyed was full of fresh, local, flavorful ingredients. Our hosts are remarkable gourmets, and so I was not surprised when, as we were chatting before the meal, the dessert was casually explained as “a grilled fig dish with thyme and Gorgonzola that we've been dying to try.” I needed little more description before I, myself, was salivating toward dessert, and wondering how inappropriate it would be to suggest that I make the fig toasts before the main course, so that I could taste them to make sure they were “okay.” Instead, I held my tongue and patiently waited through the delicious main course. As soon as I brought the dinner dishes to the sink, though, my hostess beat me to the punch, exclaiming that it was time to start on the figs.

The recipe, from the Herbfarm Cookbook, is one that she marked and starred afterward; the dish was amazingly light and summery, but bold in taste (from the cheese and the honey). The sweetness of the figs and honey was offset by the Gorgonzola, but I ate a few honey-drizzled figs on their own, and I found them to be more than appetizing. This is a dessert I believe I would see at a fine restaurant, the toasts artfully arranged on fancy china with swizzles of thyme-soaked honey in decorative patterns on the plate. And to be able to make it with my gracious foodie hosts, and to enjoy it on their porch as the sun set on a beautiful August evening, was too sweet for words.

Grilled Figs With Thyme, Honey and Gorgonzola Toasts
From The Herbfarm Cookbook

¼ cup mild or medium-strength honey, such as clover or blackberry
6 sprigs fresh thyme
12 large ripe figs
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 baguette
6 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, at room temperature

Simmer honey in small saucepan, and add thyme sprigs. Let cool for 15 minutes or more while grilling the figs and bread. Start a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill or preheat a gas grill. Cut figs in half, and toss them in a small bowl with 2 teaspoons olive oil and thyme leaves. Set grill rack 4 inches from fire. When the charcoal is ashed over and glowing, or the gas grill is medium-hot, grill figs quickly until they are heated through but not collapsed, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter. Cut 24 1/2-inch-thick slices from the bread, and brush both sides lightly with olive oil. Toast bread on both sides on the grill away from direct heat. Spread Gorgonzola cheese on toast, and top with figs. Remove thyme sprigs from honey with a fork and discard, then drizzle honey over figs and toast slices. Serve at once.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cinnamon Sugar Plum Cake

There are time when I see a recipe that, for some reason, grabs my attention and will not let go until I finally just make it. This is only troublesome when I do not have any occasion to make something like a pie or a cake, since I'm not sure what I would do with a whole dessert sitting on my counter top (other than eat the whole thing myself, of course). So I decided that my co-workers would get to try this Cinnamon Sugar Plum cake this week, and I'm happy for them to try it.

I think perhaps I'm very susceptible to language and the power of suggestion that words can impart, because once I read “sugar plum” in the title of this particular recipe, I was hooked. After brief reflection, I realize that I'm drawn to the warm, Christmas-y connotations of sugar plums, and despite the fact that it is August, and plums are in season now, I simply could not let go of the term “sugar plum.”

And I'm glad that I did not. The cake is fairly simple to make, yes, but the flavors of cinnamon paired with sweet plum are absolutely heavenly, and certainly not season-specific. It is not too heavy for summer, nor is it too lemony for winter. I tried my slice with lemonade, on a warm evening on my balcony, but it would also be lovely with hot cider, sitting in front of the fireplace. The color that the cinnamon lends to the browned cake is also positively gorgeous, and an image that comes to mind when the term "rustic" is used: I could envision this cake on a heavy wooden farm house kitchen table, waiting to be devoured after a large lunch.

The cake also deepened my appreciation for the plum, a fruit I would never think to pick up at the farmer's market. Before buying a few, I did a bit of research on the plum; the plum is high in vitamin C and antioxidants, and there are over 2,000 varieties of plums, with over 100 available in the United States. When buying plums, look for ones that yield to slight pressure and are soft at the tips.

Cinnamon Sugar Plum Cake


1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
4 large plums (about 1 1/4 pounds), pitted, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter spring form pan. Whisk first 3 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in ¾ cup sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, then lemon juice and lemon peel, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in flour mixture. Spread batter in prepared pan.
Press plum wedges halfway into batter in circles, spacing slightly apart. Mix remaining 1 ½ tablespoons sugar and cinnamon in small bowl; sprinkle over cake. Bake until cake is browned on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cut around cake; release pan sides. Serve cake warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chocolate and Cherries, Sans Gluten

There are many mix-ins that one can add to a drop cookie recipe: chocolate chips are the first to come to mind, in a variety of cacao levels, then there are raisins and coconut and peanut butter chips and small candies and toffee bits and dried cranberry. Yet, I had not come across any recipes (that come to mind, at least) that called for dried cherries. Then I found this one, and I was initially intrigued by the addition of cherries to a chocolate cookie base, and further excited by the fact that the cookie is gluten-free. I am not, actually, gluten-free, but I know many people who are, and anyway, it's a great way to experiment with the slew of alternative flours that have taken up a permanent residence in my pantry.
I fiddled around with the original recipe a bit, and I came up with a cookie that I think is absolutely decadent. By allowing the cookies to bake a tad longer, the outside gets nice and crisp (of course, be careful not to burn the poor things) and the inside stays slightly fudgey and chewy, with a distinctly brownie-esque texture.

Gluten-Free Cherry Chocolate Cookies

½ cup Garbanzo Bean flour
¼ cup potato starch
2 Tbsp. tapioca flour
1 tsp Xanthan Gum
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch)
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp sea salt
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup dried cherries (Tart)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a large cookie sheet or line with parchment paper (see our website to order); set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients (garbanzo bean flour through salt); set aside.With an electric mixer cream butter (room temperature, not melted) with sugars, egg and vanilla until well-combined. Add dry ingredients gradually; mix only until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips and cherries. Roll dough into small balls and place on cookie sheet. Bake 12-13 minutes until puffed and cracked. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Baking To-Dos

I have a bit of a problem with to-do lists. The issue is not that I am forgetting important tasks or appointments, or that I never know what needs to be done around the apartment or picked up from the store. It is hardly that my life is not managed; the problem lies on the opposite spectrum, in that I feel, at times, that my life is micro-managed. I have task lists for absolutely everything, sprinkled everywhere that I would possibly be on any given day. There are scribbled Post-its on my desk, in my calender, and in my bag, hanging from the bulletin board, and next to my bed. I have a computerized to-do list, a list of books I must read, vacations I must take, and another list of long-term to-dos in a special notebook of mine. Everything is written down, even the things I know I will never forget: “Tuesday, cereal for breakfast.”

It goes without saying, then, that I also have a list of baking to-dos: “Desserts To Bake.” Like many of my lists, it seems to grow faster than I can cross items off, and it doesn't help when I pick up a new cookbook, and then go wild marking pages with even more Post-its.

Since I've been spending most of my baking time lately putting together older favorite recipes, I thought I would expunge myself of a portion of my baking to-do list, and let someone else have fun with some of the recipes that I may, or may not, try at some point in the future.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Zucchini Cake
from Bob's Red Mill Baking Book

1 cup white rice flour
1 ¼ cups white bean flour
2 tsp. Xanthan Gum
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
¾ cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 cups shredded zucchini
½ cup milk
1 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a tube pan or loaf pan.In a mixing bowl combine the first 8 ingredients (rice flour through cinnamon), set aside.In another bowl cream together the butter and sugar; add eggs one at a time and vanilla extract, orange peel and zucchini. Stir in, alternately, the flour mixture and milk (or water); add nuts and stir. Pour batter into prepared pan.Bake for approximately 1-1/2 hours; cool with oven door open for 30 minutes. Turn out and cool completely on a wire rack. May be served with or without frosting.

Hazelnut Butter Cookies

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup creamy unsalted hazelnut butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 12-ounce package semisweet mini chocolate chips (2 cups)

Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter, hazelnut butter, and both sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before shaping.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using 1 level tablespoon for each cookie, roll dough between palms of hands into 1-inch balls. Arrange 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are golden brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets on racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool. (Can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature.)

Peach Cobbler
from The Food Network

½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt
1 cup milk
4 cups peeled, pitted and thinly sliced fresh peaches (5 to 6 medium peaches)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Several dashes ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Pour the melted butter into a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, 1 cup sugar, the baking powder, and the salt and mix well. Stir in the milk, mixing until just combined. Pour this batter over the butter but do not stir them together.
In a small saucepan, combine the peaches, lemon juice, and remaining cup of sugar and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Pour the peaches over the batter but do not stir them together. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg if desired.
Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden-brown. Serve warm or cold.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Spicy Blueberry Streusel Bars

On a warm summer night, at a backyard party or barbeque, sometimes the least appealing thing on which to end the evening is a dessert that is dripping with chocolate or butter, heavy enough to capsize a rowboat. For these occasions, I find fruit desserts much more appealing; although I can never get enough of cobblers and crisps, I wanted to try something a bit different (and slightly more portable) for a recent potluck.

The original recipe for these blueberry streusel bars called for an even larger amount of cardamom than is suggested here, and these 2 tablespoons really, in my opinion, max it out. These bars are unique for sure, and the cardamom spice is what gives this cookie variant a hint of the exotic. And using fresh blueberries, there was little need, really, for any other flavoring. This is yet another dessert where the fruit takes the zesty reins, but this time shares the center stage with the spice found in the streusel topping.

Blueberry Streusel Bars

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ Tbsp. grated lemon zest
¼ cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries

½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.
2. Whisk the flour and baking powder together and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar. Cream with an electric mixer at medium speed. Reduce speed to low and beat in the eggs, then lemon zest, and lastly the buttermilk.
4. Add the flour mixture and stir with a spoon until fully incorporated. Turn the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread it to cover the bottom evenly. Arrange the blueberries on top in a single layer.
5. For the topping, combine the flour, sugar, and spices in a bowl. Mix well with a fork. Cut in the butter to form crumbs and scatter over the blueberries.
6. Bake about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.