Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Rememberance of things past -- not just for madeleines...

I moved recently and while I was unpacking the million plus cookbooks that I seem to own, I came across my battered pink floral metal recipe box that I have had since I was eight years old or so. Every time I move, it moves with me even though I haven't used any of the recipes in years. I just can't seem to part with it.

Remember recipe boxes? Most were the size of a standard index card. The cards were often printed with "From the Kitchen of" then a blank space for you to fill in your name.

Stained recipe cards in no particular order are crammed into this box. I remember laboriously copying down recipes from anywhere I could find them and in some cases, cutting out the recipes from the back of the Hershey Cocoa Tin or whatever cake mixes we had on hand -- Duncan Hines cake mix seemed to be a favorite of my mom's judging from the recipe cards -- and gluing it on an index card.

Family recipes for cream puffs, ringalings, and buckeyes are in there but so are those recipes from my mom's depression era childhood such as Wacky Cake as well as recipes that were famous during my 1960/1970s childhood such as Sock-It-To-Me cake. Convenience foods were the mark of a modern homemaker then so cans of soup were used in casseroles and cake mixes as an ingredient were the height of sophistication.

My childhood was a bit chaotic and I can just see myself carefully transcribing recipes on each card and then alphabetizing each one. I even filled in how many servings the dish would serve. Order prevailed at least in this small area of my life.

The box also contains recipes from my two sisters -- just in case I forget what their writing looks like -- the "from the kitchen of" space is filled in with their names.

But no cards in my mom's handwriting. She was a busy mom to five kids who also worked full-time so I wasn't surprised but it did make me sad. It would have been great to have a few of her recipes in her writing and better yet, to have some of her commentary about the recipes.

I flipped through her favorite cookbook, the 1963 edition of McCalls, that became mine when she passed away, and found only one comment in the margin of a recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie that simply noted, "not good" and to use a recipe from advice columnist Ann Landers instead. She helpfully crossed out the recipe in the book and pasted a now very faded Ann Landers recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie from her hometown newspaper.


Later in her life my mom wanted to develop a family cookbook. She typed each recipe on her computer -- her word processor as she called it -- and assigned a name by each recipe of her three daughters so we could contribute recipes. The cookbook never came to be but I do have that list of recipes.

Looking at that battered recipe box made me think of my own daughter and nieces. And I felt a longing to write down in my still pretty legible handwriting some of our favorite family recipes. The ones I want them to remember and create for their own families -- the chocolate chip coffee cake I make at Christmas, those ugly peanut butter blossom cookies that they crave and even my mom's recipe for ringalings that I have made my own.

These recipes can't be found on any Internet cooking site or in cookbooks because they have been modified through the years just for my family and their changing likes and dislikes.

This longing became an actual to do after a recent visit to Omnivore Books in San Francisco for the book launch of the Omnivore's Recipe Keeper by owner Celia Sack.

I've long been a supporter of Sack's bookstore as my growing cookbook collection shows -- and this is yet one more reason to head to her compact shop that is chock full of all the latest cookbook releases as well as vintage goodies.

The name says it all -- this recipe organizer provides storage for your own hand written recipes, sturdy folders for tucking away that recipe you might not be ready to commit to but want to try, handy charts and in keeping with Sack's vintage book bent, charming vintage art.

And in an inspired twist that years from now might also be considered vintage, she has included handwritten recipes with commentary from some of the luminaries from the food world today including New York Times writer Frank Bruni and pastry rock star, David Lebovitz.

Now I have a better place for those stained recipe cards from my childhood as well as a place to write down my own creations (ipie!) for my daughter and other family members.

A Keeper indeed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pie it Forward: ipie in the Wall Street Journal!

"My father has Alzheimer's, these pies will go to his helpers as a thank you for all their help."

"The pies are for my husband........"

I received quite a few notes like these after my ipies (individual pies) were featured a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal. I had recently started shipping my little fruit pies out of my local area -- the SF Bay Area -- and that had caught the attention of a reporter at the WSJ.

What was also mentioned in the article was how I was inspired to create ipies during my mother's descent into Alzheimer's disease. As a result, part of the proceeds from ipie sales will be donated each year to the Alzheimer's Association.

I truly believe that my endless testing and researching of my little pies during that stressful time got me through it. And it helped me to honor the life of one talented baker.

So I guess I believe that pie is optimistic. I've started saying, "a mother, a daughter and a rolling pin, let's flatten Alzheimer's Disease." Of course I know what serious business this fight against Alzheimer's is -- but if I can fuel that fight with pie well, I'm going to do it.

Of course I was thrilled to have the attention and the resulting boost in business but what meant even more to me was the emails and notes I received from customers sharing with me a little bit about their journey with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. I was honored that they would share their stories with me.

Time to pie it forward.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Are you made for Fire and Ice?

There are many ways to cope when life gets you down.

Some people shop, some eat, exercise or talk on the phone. We all have our little ways we pick ourselves up and keep going.

Baking is of course one of my favorite ways to relax -- especially if I’m baking for someone else.

But I also have a tendency to buy lipstick. If my finances are in good shape, I might spring for an expensive slick tube of lip lacquer with a sexy French name from a high-end make up company. But a tube of lipstick from a drugstore brand can do the trick of a pick-me-up just as well as the expensive brand.

A glance into my makeup drawer reveals the evidence – dozens of tubes wait their turn by the makeup mirror. Nothing like snapping off the cover of a fresh tube of lipstick with its perfect point not yet marred to make me feel like life is still full of perfect possibility.

As the founder of Revlon, Charles Revson, famously said, “In the factory we make cosmetics, in the store we sell hope.”

I think part of the reason I buy lipstick is because it is one of the few cosmetics my mom used. She had beautiful skin and for years did without foundation. And I never saw her wear mascara or eye shadow.

But she always wore lipstick and she was loyal to one brand and one color for most of her life: Fire and Ice by Revlon.

I used to sneak into her bedroom while she was at work and slip on her high heels and smear her lipstick not so perfectly on my lips.

Revlon introduced Fire and Ice in 1950 when mom was a young woman of 21 who was about to be married. The color is red but not too bright of a red – what the efficient makeup counter sales women call a “warm” red.

But the Revlon ad slogan in 1950 said it best, “Are you made for fire and ice?” I’m sure my mom who was brought up in a very small Indiana town thought it was the height of sophistication.

A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to combine both my coping techniques of lipstick indulgence and baking.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog, my childhood home in Indiana had two beautiful cherry trees in the backyard. My mom and I baked pie after pie, cobbler after cobbler and put up many jars of jam with the seemingly endless fruit from these trees. These were sour cherries and while we thought they were wonderful to eat, we didn’t consider them to be rare.

When I moved to Northern California I quickly discovered that the local growing season for sour cherries is about two weeks long -- rare indeed.

This season I was lucky enough through my weekly (sometimes daily) patronage of a local farm stand to be notified when the local sour cherries arrived.

I quickly bought all they had and baked them into the pies I sell at the local farmers’ market. My customers who grew up in the Midwest and East Coast were as excited as I was to have them available.

After I had baked the last pie, I found that I had a few sour cherries left. I had been invited to a BBQ that same evening and wondered what I could make with so few cherries – I just couldn’t bear to waste any of them. They looked so beautiful in their white mixing bowl. In fact, they look like….well… fire and ice!

Whoa. The fire and ice image led me to ice cream which naturally, led me to David Lebovitz, ice cream master.

His cookbook, The Perfect Scoop, had just the recipe I needed, Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt. Super easy recipe with really just three essential ingredients – sour cherries, sugar and whole milk yogurt. I needed one pound of sour cherries but even though I had a bit less than that, I forged ahead.

The finished yogurt was just bursting with flavor – sweet and sour with a smooth finish. In other words, sugar, sour cherries and yogurt. I had a bit less than three cups and I had about 15 people I needed to share it with so I started looking for a perfect complement to the sour cherry yogurt.

Cherry and chocolate came to mind and I knew that I had to make one of my favorite and easiest chocolate cakes – Chanterelle’s Chocolate Souffle Cake from the cookbook by Lori Longbotham, titled, Luscious Chocolate Desserts. This recipe is adapted from Staff Meals from Chanterelle – the now closed and much loved NYC restaurant. The alternating layers of cocoa powder and confectioners sugar on top of the finished cake truly make the cake “stunning” as Lori described it.

The guests at the dinner party obviously thought so as I wiped up the remaining drips of yogurt and wiped away the chocolate crumbs. I think I had, as Revson used to hope his lipsticks would, "turn the right head and lend a touch of class."

Pucker up.

photos by Scott R. Kline

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Puff Mommy

As Mother's Day approached this year, my husband and daughter asked me what I wanted to do that day.

I must admit that I had forgotten all about Mother's Day.

Normally my siblings and I would spend a few weeks prior to the big day brainstorming for gift ideas for our mom. Then the men in our family would do the cooking and we would all gather for lunch or brunch.

Not having to do the meal planning or the dishes made it a very special day indeed.

My mom passed away in February 2009 and I know it is just a "Hallmark" holiday but I must say it is still very strange not to have a mom to honor on the second Sunday in May.

When I was a kid I used to write her mash notes of the roses are red violets are blue nature. When I was able to save up my pennies I would try to find the mushiest card I could find with as much glitter as possible on it.

But we have been without her now for numerous holidays and family gatherings. She missed my daughter's 18th birthday and she will miss her upcoming high school graduation. We couldn't share the good news of college acceptances or the still strange to me news of my daughter's latest tattoo.

And no matter what event we are gathering for, I always wonder what dessert she might have brought to share with all of us.

This year there are no plans to gather as a big group to celebrate the day. Several of those husbands are ah, shall I say, no longer welcome at gatherings and many of the kids are away at college.

But she was on my mind as my husband and daughter picked my brain for gift ideas. I started to wonder what dessert my mom might like for me to make for her on her special day. I have posted several stories about some of her signature desserts such as ringalings and buckeyes.

It occurred to me that there was one dessert I hadn't thought about in a long while -- cream puffs.

I did write about making eclairs for the first time and how I realized that they were really just a fancy cream puff! And I had to laugh when I had my first profiterole -- a cream puff with ice cream. And for $8! My mom would have laughed her head off.

You don't find many recipes for cream puffs in recently released cookbooks although they do seem to make a comeback every decade or so in cooking magazines.

But my mom made cream puffs often -- for Christmas, Easter Brunch or for a Sunday dinner. Using packaged convenience products like cake mixes were considered very modern in the 1960's and 1970's when I was growing up so my mom used Jello pudding mixes to fill the cream puffs with vanilla or chocolate pudding.

I wasn't particularly fond of them; I found the texture and taste to be a bit bland. And I was pretty sure my husband and daughter would turn their noses up at a dessert that looked like it was something served at a ladies tea. Give us a ringaling or buckeye instead.

But what if I punched up the taste a bit? I quickly considered and dismissed several filling ideas including green tea, coconut, lemon and coffee as too fussy.

When I finally decided on Nutella -- the hazelnut and chocolate spread that I consider to be one of the finest examples of European junk food -- I knew I had a winner. And Nutella is also a modern day convenience food -- another nod to my mom.

Since this quest was in honor of my mom, I used her cream puff recipe from her much thumbed through and splattered cookbook -- the 1963 edition of McCall's Cookbook.

This cream puff recipe is very simple -- just four ingredients: butter, flour, salt and eggs. And no elaborate technique or fancy pastry bags required. If you own a tablespoon and a saucepan you are in business.

The only change I made was to make mini puffs -- or little puffs as they are called in McCall's Cookbook. I used my smallest cookie scoop to place about a teaspoon of dough on my cookie sheet.

For the filling I made a vanilla pudding (or pastry cream) but added two tablespoons of Nutella to the warm milk mixture.

So on Mother's Day 2011 I had a bit of my mom with me as I munched on a cream puff as I headed out the door to a SF Giants baseball game with my husband and daughter -- the perfect Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Food Bloggers Bake Sale This Saturday in SF!

The date is fast approaching for the second annual SF food bloggers bake sale.

The bake sale benefits Share Our Strength whose goal is to end childhood hunger in America. Last year we raised $1650 for this cause!

This year the event will be held on Saturday, May 14, from 10-6 p.m. at 18 Reasons in SF. The organizers also hope to add a second location. Please see the official site for the SF bake sale for more information.

Unfortunately I can't be there this year as the Palo Alto Farmers' Market reopens that day for the season and I will be there selling my little pies -- ipies!

Please come out and support this great cause and get a bit of sweetness for your efforts!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring is in the Air: Lavender and Lemons

The first market vendor I met on my first day selling ipies (individual pies) at the Palo Alto Farmers' Market was Charlie.

In fact, he was my first customer!

He is always willing to lend me anything I forget or to find something that will steady a wobbly table.

One morning he even gave me those heat packets that you can put in your pockets to keep you warm on those early, cold December mornings at the market.

I'm not sure why he had those packets though -- Charlie almost always wore shorts and a polo shirt no matter the weather. If he did pull out a jacket, I knew I was in for a very cold day!

Charlie Opper and his wife, Linda Barrett, own Cache Creek Lavender, a small organic family run farm located in Rumsey, California in the Capay Valley. In 1997 they began growing lavender and now sell fresh lavender flowers and their own hand crafted lavender soaps, creams and bath salts. All organic. They sell their products on their website as well as at several farmers' markets. You can read a bit more about them on the Palo Alto Farmers' Market website.

One slow morning at the market, I noticed that Charlie also had culinary lavender -- dried flowers that are safe to use in both sweet and savory dishes.

I was excited to try my hand at baking with lavender since it wasn't an ingredient I had grown up baking with -- so of course Charlie handed me a bottle, refusing to take payment.

Well, that has been quite a few months ago now but with the winter weather slowly giving way to oranges and lemons on my trees and the plum tree in full blossom, I began to consider what springtime treat I might create.

As I considered the ingredients in my pantry, I spied the culinary lavender in its cork topped bottle.

With all the beautiful lemons now available, I started my search for a recipe that combined lemon-lavender. Springtime allergies must have plugged my brain as well as my nose because I spent quite a few hours searching for a recipe on various cooking websites but nothing struck me as quite right. I was surprised by how many recipes called for lemon extract instead of fresh lemon juice.

Finally I came to my senses and started combing through my rather large cookbook collection.

And of course, right where I should have looked first is where I found the perfect recipe, Deluxe Lemon-Lavender Mail-a-Cake, from Flo Braker's most recent cookbook, Baking for All Occasions.

Braker gave the cake this quirky name because she developed this recipe for her mother -- she wanted a sturdy cake that she could mail to her mother for her mother's birthday.

Braker even gives instructions for how to package the cake for mailing!

The cake uses both lemon zest and lemon juice so it had that extra zing that I wanted. And the recipe called for a tablespoon of lavender flowers. The finished cake had a lovely texture and a heavenly scent.

After the cake cooled, I drizzled a lemon glaze over the top then dusted it with powdered sugar. The wet glaze really helped the sugar to set. I topped it all off with a few sprinkles of lavender flowers.

The cake tasted great that night but the flavors improved even more by the next day. And of course, as its name indicates, this is a great cake to pack up for a picnic or even to serve at Easter or a springtime brunch.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coconut: Beauty or Beast?

Coconut -- that much maligned ingredient seems to be having a do over or perhaps a makeover.

Oil, shredded, water, extract -- all forms of coconut seem primed for a comeback of sorts.

I first noticed coconut popping up in articles that proclaimed coconut to be the new trendy drink -- available now! -- on supermarket shelves.

Then articles describing that most Midwestern of desserts -- the coconut macaroon -- started appearing with recipes "from the archives". Recipes for coconut cream pie soon followed.

But I knew coconut was really having its moment when writer Melissa Clark wrote about coconut a few weeks ago in her New York Times Good Appetite column with the headline, "Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World."

An endorsement indeed!

I have found that most people either love or hate coconut. Although I'm a fan, my husband and daughter are not. So coconut desserts seldom make an appearance at our house.

But along with the spritz cookies on the cookie platter at our holiday gatherings were always coconut macaroons. When my mom passed away, my sister shouldered the responsibility for both the spritz and the macaroons so I feel obligated to have them at least once a year (what a hardship!).

I must admit though, those macaroons are lovely, large sugar bombs!

The typical ingredients in a coconut macaroon from the Midwest include sweetened condensed milk, sweetened shredded coconut, egg whites, vanilla extract and salt. Much like this recipe from cookbook author Ina Garten.

Sweet and simple indeed!

But really, with all those egg whites, a coconut macaroon is really just a meringue cookie. Is there a need for the sweetened condensed milk AND sweetened shredded coconut? Perhaps a less sweet cookie would continue to encourage a macaroon comeback.

In fact, in searching through some of the vintage cookbooks I own, I found that many older recipes for coconut macaroons used either sugar or powdered sugar instead of the condensed milk but all still used the sweet shredded coconut.

I had recently made the national dessert of New Zealand, lamingtons, which use dry (sometimes called desiccated) coconut. Perhaps I could swap out the sweet shredded coconut for the dry.

I continued my cookbook trawl and came upon just the recipe I wanted from the latest offering from blogger, cookbook author, ice cream expert, etc. etc, David Lebovitz's, Ready for Dessert.

His recipe adds a few more ingredients than the typical macaroon recipe -- honey and flour -- and substitutes sugar and unsweetened shredded coconut for the condensed milk and sweetened coconut.

He combines all the ingredients together in a large saucepan then dries the mixture out over low heat.

I didn't form my dough into small pyramids like he did but instead used my smallest cookie scoop to form small cookies. After they had baked and were cool, I dipped a few in bittersweet chocolate.

Even with the addition of the chocolate, these macaroons were far less sweet than the cookie of my childhood. Addictive really. I usually only ate one macaroon from the Christmas cookie platter but I ate two of these in a flash.

This coconut macaroon recipe from David Lebovitz's blog is similar to the one in his new book.

And best of all, several non-coconut lovers gobbled them up as well. Which makes me think that it wasn't the coconut they disliked, just the overwhelming sweetness of the cookies and perhaps even the gooey texture.

So I'm happy to say that coconut appears to have made a comeback -- even at my house.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Online Bake Sale for Japan!: UPDATE!

***update! we made more than $8,000! Thank you everyone! And high bid on ipies was $110! Thank you thank you! Pie people are very special people!***

(this is a post from my pie site -- the ipie store)

In Indiana where I grew up , baking was often the language we used to communicate with each other.

Owe someone an apology? Bake them brownies. Someone you know not feeling so well -- a nice pudding would make them feel better. New job? Baby announcement? Almost any occasion called for hauling out the mixing bowls and butter.

And now, if only I could bake ipies for the people of Japan to feed their hunger and their souls I would do it.

I can't of course but perhaps indirectly I can make it happen.

Well, you can.

ipie is teaming up with a growing list of food bloggers to raise money for Japan via an online bake sale.

The auction is the brain child of Sabrina Modelle who writes the tomato tart blog.

The bake sale will be held, auction style, on her website on March 30th. We will be donating to Second Harvest Japan, a food bank in Japan.

Sabrina has a list of participating food bloggers on her site. Although the auction doesn't start until March 30 -- Sabrina will be previewing what will be available.

So, please check out her site and on March 30, please bid on ipies or some other yummy goodie.

Here is more information about ipie and what I will be offering for the auction:

ipie will offer six ipies with either a classic apple filling or a pear honey filling.

An ipie is an individual fruit filled double crust pie about the size of a cupcake. I sell my ipies at the Palo Alto Farmers' Market and by special order.

I can't ship out of my local area but I would be happy to deliver them to you if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Please email me if you have any questions -- an email link follows the ipie photo.

Feel free to leave a comment or click here to email me!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brown Sugar Pound Cake: Why do you taste so good?!

I follow a short list of food sites and blogs. It's great fun to see what the trends are in SF, L.A. and New York. One of my favorites to follow is the food section of the L.A. Times newspaper. I really enjoy following the adventures of their test kitchen.

Each Friday they pick a cooking project for the weekend. In mid-February I was pleased to see the weekend project was a Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Caramel Glaze. This recipe was named one of their best recipes from 2007.

Like many people, I love caramel. So I'm always scanning cookbooks and blogs for recipes with caramel as a main ingredient.

One of my favorite recipes is the Caramel Cake with Caramelized Frosting adapted by the very talented chef Shuna Fish Lydon from (of course!) a recipe from Flo Braker.

This cake has incredible depth of flavor. But it isn't the quickest or easiest cake to bake. In fact, Shuna even includes a tutorial on her blog for those that want to attempt baking this cake. I took advantage of that tutorial when I made the cake for the first time for a baking challenge in 2008.

I never fail to get a request for this recipe when I make it for friends. And it never fails that most are a bit intimidated by the complexity of the recipe.

So after scanning the L.A. Times recipe I was pleased to see that it was a pretty easy recipe that didn't require an instant read thermometer and boiling sugar!

This recipe is based on one from Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations by Nancie McDermott.

And that reminded me that I also owned a "southern" baking book. But although I love the personal stories weaved with the recipes -- I hadn't baked anything from it because the author didn't specify how she measured her flour. A vital piece of information!

The book is Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories by Patty Pinner. And I was very excited when Pinner responded to a message about how she measures flour that I sent to her via Facebook with the answer I was looking for -- dip and sweep. I'm excited to try Pinner's version of Brown Sugar Pound Cake although it is slightly different from the L.A. Times version. She also has a recipe for Caramel Cake that I want to try.

And I was excited that Pinner has started a blog called domestic geisha where she continues to give her readers stories and recipes.

But back to the L.A.Times recipe -- it came together quickly and easily and was delicious. The only thing I would change next time I make it is to smooth the icing over the cake after I let it drip down the sides. The drips looked cool until they hardened then it just looked messy and uneven. The icing dries almost immediately so I used an icing spatula that I ran under hot water to even it out.

So not only was the cake delicious, but thanks to the L.A. Times test kitchen, I won't have to worry about giving a tutorial with the recipe.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From Dud to Stud: Ginger-Chocolate Cookies from Sunset Cookbook

Like many families during the holidays, we have a cookie exchange. I always make the family favorite -- Peanut Butter Blossoms -- as well as one new one. This year I made the Ginger Chocolate Cookies from the new Sunset Cookbook.

I have long been a fan of anything by Sunset Magazine. Growing up in Indiana -- Sunset Magazine represented all that was good and golden about California. I collect Sunset Cookbooks from the 1960s and am always thrilled when I find one for sale in my local used bookstore or library.

So I was excited when Sunset announced that they were coming out with their first cookbook in quite a while. And in what seemed like just a matter of months, it was in bookstores.

And what a beauty it is. I can't imagine how it was put together so quickly -- it has over 1,000 recipes and covers everything from artichokes to wine and everything in between.

I heard food editor Margo True speak about the new book at Omnivore Books on Food and was excited to try one of the cookie recipes for the Christmas cookie platter.

So imagine my disappointment when the Ginger-Chocolate Cookies turned out to be inedible. The recipe calls for 2.5 tablespoons of ground ginger. That's a lot but I forged ahead. I tested one before leaving for the festivities and found the ginger to be overpowering. I chalked it up to my wimpy Indiana taste buds and brought them anyway.

Unfortunately, the guests must have also found the ginger to be too much because most of the cookies were left on the platter and the rest were partially eaten and tossed.

And the taste wasn't the only thing that wasn't right with this recipe -- the entire recipe was difficult to make -- the dough wouldn't roll into balls and the dough was too sticky to flatten with a glass as instructed.

Normally I would make them again until I got the recipe to my liking but given that it was the holidays, I just didn't have the time. I must admit it put a damper on my enthusiasm for the cookbook.

But thanks to the first Bakers Dozen event of 2011, I was able to give them another chance.

The topic of the February meeting was Holidays Chapter Two and we were invited to relive the holidays by baking something we really loved, or didn't get to make or maybe make something we wanted to improve upon. We would all taste the goodies then in our meeting tell the story behind what we brought.

Well, you can guess what I decided to bring.

First I checked out the Sunset Magazine website to see if perhaps there was a typo in the recipe -- perhaps the amount of ginger was given incorrectly. I then sent an email to Margo True asking her the same question.

No response from True and the recipe I found online was identical to the one in the book.

Time to tinker! This time I made the cookies using only half the ginger -- 1.5 tablespoons. Still a lot but perhaps would give the cookies the zing editors intended but not be so overpowering.

I also used a tablespoon cookie scoop and flattened each cookie with the palm of my hand. Instead of rolling each cookie in sugar, I sprinkled course sanding sugar on the top of each cookie.

They were delicious. I could now taste the bittersweet chocolate that had been totally overshadowed by the ginger. And they were good looking as well!

I brought my beauties to the meeting and they were almost completely gone by the end of the meeting.

I must admit though that I was a bit embarrassed as I related my story about the cookies in front of the membership when I found that another baker was present that day and she was employed by Sunset Magazine in their test kitchen!

She was very gracious and mentioned that she did remember that particular cookie not being her favorite when it was being tested.

Whew! But I made a new acquaintance and now have a new favorite cookie that might get another chance at the cookie platter next year.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Brownie Walks Into A Bar: Alice Medrich's Latest Book!

Reliability in baking is everything. I own a LOT of baking books. And believe it or not, I actually use most of them. I tend to have favorite recipes that I rely on in each cookbook -- cookies from one, cakes from another.

But there are a few cookbooks that are my "go to" books for any baking occasion or baking question.

Any cookbook by Flo Braker or Cindy Mushet's Art & Soul of Baking fall into that revered category.

And now I think I might add one more cookbook to that short list -- the latest cookbook from Alice Medrich called, "Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy - Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. I love that title -- it's so very comforting.

Although I have certainly known about Medrich and her famed chocolate truffles that were the cornerstone of her long closed chocolate dessert shop, Cocolat, I've yet to own one of her seven (!) cookbooks.

Medrich has been baking and teaching for many years and like Flo Braker, worked with Julia Child.

I recently met Medrich when she spoke about her new book at Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco.

And as I listened to her speak, I felt I had met another kindred baking spirit. I also felt fortunate that her new cookbook contained updated versions of some of her classic recipes such as her famous bittersweet brownies.

Medrich is exacting as all bakers must be but also loves to experiment and think out of the box to come up with great tips and tricks. For example, I get annoyed trying to melt chocolate or butter over a saucepan of barely simmering water. I always seem to burn myself or feel like a klutz -- especially when I'm using an instant read thermometer.

Medrich has a great solution -- she uses a wide skillet with a bowl set into the simmering water -- so easy and it works.

And I love the tone of her writing voice -- for example, when she is talking about baking many trays of cookies at one time she says, "repeat the performance until you drop or all the dough is used up -- whichever comes first."

I also like how this book holds the novice baker by the hand but gives the more experienced baker new baking tricks.

Medrich's cookie book features about 15 brownie recipes. And each recipe seems to use a different mixing method. Sometimes she calls for using an electric mixer versus the usual mixing by hand or cold eggs or even to beat the eggs and sugar with the salt. All result in brownies with a slightly different texture. Leave it to Medrich to give even the humble brownie a bit of a twist.

I'm looking forward to trying them all.

But first up -- I had heard about her classic bittersweet brownies and this book features an updated version of that recipe. I was anxious to try it and I had my opportunity when the Super Bowl conveniently presented the opportunity to have a party.

And to add to the fun, we had guests visiting from the Midwest. When I grew up in the Midwest, we made our brownies from cocoa powder -- Hershey's cocoa powder. Those brownies were cake-like and definitely not fussy or fancy.

To make it a bit more even, I used Ghirardelli Chocolate -- bittersweet chocolate bars and their unsweetened cocoa powder. It was especially relevant given that we had taken our visitors to Ghirardelli Square the night before the party.

Medrich's New Bittersweet Brownies were a vision of crackly goodness and the Cocoa Brownies were smooth and fudgy.

I cut both pans of brownies into small squares and piled them high on two separate cake stands. I encouraged the guests to try both and let me know which one they preferred.

The result -- the cocoa powder brownies were preferred by all the Midwesterners and by most of the teenagers who had grown up in California. My daughter liked the Cocoa Brownies so much I made them for her birthday the following week.

I preferred the Bittersweet Brownies as did most of the adults from California. Although I will always have a soft spot in my heart and stomach for my own cake-like, cocoa powder brownie recipe from Indiana.

I guess I'll always have a bit of Indiana in me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

ringalings will return!

I know that photo is of a donut -- specifically an amazing chocolate donut with a rose water glaze from dynamo donuts in San Francisco -- but my next post will be all about cookies!

So check back in early February! I'll meet you back here!