April 30, 2016

Olive oil muffins

There's a restaurant, Maialino, in New York City that I've heard great things about.  I haven't had the chance to eat there but honestly, there are so many amazing restaurants in NYC that it's impossible to keep up.  
Specifically, I heard a lot about Maialino's olive oil cake and the recipe is available at Food52.  I remember seeing the recipe and being interested but ultimately passing on it because...well, it's hard to explain but in that moment, it seemed like almost too much cake.  It called for a lot of olive oil and I just thought it might be a treat best saved for eating out where you can savor a slice with your mate. 
I still haven't made it to Maialino but now I have a good idea what their signature cake tastes like, thanks to David Lebovitz!  Instead of cake, it's in muffin form (individual cakes we can justify eating in the morning - even better!), which is also how it's available at the restaurant.  It's just what I'd been looking for without realizing it - a small scale recipe!  Apparently, David had brunch there recently and the olive oil muffin made an impression on him so he took the cake recipe available at Food52 and reworked it into muffin form.  All I can say is...thank you, David!  
Now I totally get what all the raves are about.  These muffins are really good.  You might look at it and think it's just another muffin but truly, it exceeded my expectations.  They're moist and flavorful - with fruity extra-virgin olive oil and a flavor of orange, as the batter is infused with fresh orange zest, and a combination of orange juice and Grand Marnier liqueur.  You end up with a full-bodied cake/muffin that has a great mouthfeel in every bite.  My husband and I were both surprised by just how good it was. 
Baking the muffins in these paper muffin molds mimics how they arrive at the restaurant.  I love these baking cups and I'm seriously thinking I need to find a good bulk source because not only are they great to use in a practical sense, they make your muffins and cakes look pastry-shop ready!  The paper molds I used are slightly larger than the ones David uses so for a half recipe, I ended up with 3 muffins (instead of 4).  One made a perfect size for breakfast though you don't want to stop eating at all.  I can tell you they stayed lovely and moist the next day so next time I make these, I will bulk up my output.  

April 25, 2016

Almond croissants (and a chocolate version, too)

A few months back, my husband mentioned to me that he had a really good almond croissant from a patisserie near his workplace.  That got my attention.  So not long after that, when I spotted a recipe for "perfect almond croissants" from Chocolate and Zucchini, I quickly pinned it.
Making almond croissants involves: day-old croissants, almond cream filling, sugar syrup, and sliced almonds (chocolate version optional)
I have a pinterest account that I use mainly to pin recipes I spot online that I'd like to try.  I've actually managed to make quite a number of those recipes that I've pinned! In this case, I've been constantly reminded of this particular almond croissant recipe because I get a few email alerts daily saying someone has re-pinned or liked it.  
So the constant reminder became a call to action and I made a few almond croissants for breakfast over this past weekend!  I sometimes make a mock version of them using almond paste but actual almond croissants from a bakery start with day-old croissants.  These slightly dried out croissants are brushed with sugar syrup and filled with an almond cream filling.  The croissants are topped with a bit more almond cream and sliced almonds, then baked until the filling sets and the top and ends are crusty and golden. 
The best part?  Well, there's the essential reward of ending up with rich croissants encased with almond flavor for all us almond-lovers out there (texturally, the crusty edges are especially tempting).  Aside from that, these are a great day-ahead make-ahead.  Buy croissants and prep both the sugar syrup and almond filling the day before.  In the morning, slice the croissants, brush them with the syrup, fill them with the almond filling, and bake...you have fresh almond croissants for your weekend breakfast or brunch!
Now, when a chocolate option presents itself, I'm almost always inclined to go there. Just add some cocoa powder to the filling and tuck a tablespoon of chocolate chips inside for chocolate-almond croissants!
You can try both, like I did, and decide which version you prefer for yourself.  For me, I actually liked the traditional, or pure almond, one more.  It's rare that chocolate doesn't win out for me but once in a while, it can happen.
This was easy to put together and I'm certainly happy I tried it!

April 20, 2016

Orange-chocolate chip brioche bread pudding (for two)

Apologies for the long blog post title but I was feeling descriptive...
In all seriousness, I did make bread pudding a few days ago, for the very first time! Are you a fan of bread pudding?  I have to admit that it isn't something that appeals to me in general.  I've never really had it but my husband will order it on occasion when we're eating out.  Naturally, I've been curious and bread pudding's been on my mental list of things to try one day at home.
The time finally came to make it.  When I baked that loaf of brioche recently, I made sure to freeze a few slices so I could have some homemade brioche for my first bread pudding endeavor.  I wanted something simple so I looked up Mark Bittman's recipe, which is a basic one that doesn't involve a long soaking time or a water bath to bake the bread pudding in.  
I scaled down the recipe to make bread pudding for two, essentially, and I added extra flavoring in the form of fresh orange zest and a couple spoonfuls of miniature chocolate chips.  Orange and chocolate is one of my very favorite combinations so I didn't think I could go wrong, and honestly, it gave this simple brioche bread pudding great flavor. 

I'm definitely coming to you as a novice but my husband and I think this inaugural bread pudding turned out really well; and by that, I mean it was tasty!  
When I was putting this together, my initial impression was that I might have too much custard.  It quickly switched to a concern that I didn't have enough when the bread quickly soaked up the liquid.  In the end, the bread pudding turned out soft (not wet), with creamy centers and some slightly crusty edges (thanks to a little time under the broiler).  I've seen bread puddings at different ends of the spectrum - some far more broken down, rather wet in texture.  We like a more intact structure but I think you can adjust according to your preference by how large you slice your bread cubes, how much custard you use, and how much mixing you do.
For me, the burst of flavor from the fresh orange zest totally made the dish.  And the decadent goodness from the chocolate chips would be missed if it was not there.  We thought it was a winner, and I'm very glad I saved some of my brioche bread and made this bread pudding!

April 15, 2016

Cornflake oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

It amazes me that after more than 500 posts and all the recipes I've attempted in the last few years, there are still so many times I find myself saying/thinking, "this is something I've never tried before...".  I probably shouldn't be all that surprised but it's a constant reminder that there are endless things to explore and have fun with.  And it can be a very simple thing, like putting cornflakes into cookies!
We usually don't have cereal in our house.  My husband isn't a fan and the little guy is not into eating cereal in the traditional way - i.e., with milk.  He'll pretty willingly have it along side milk but not together.  So cereal isn't a morning routine but a few weeks back, I bought a box of cornflakes to make baked cornflake-crusted chicken.  I've wanted to make it for ages but never have cornflakes on hand.  I finally decided to just buy a box for the purpose and while my son has been enjoying occasional bowls of cornflakes with a side of milk, I had plenty left to experiment with...so why not make cookies!

You know what?  I kind of loved it.  Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with crushed cornflakes thrown in turned out to be a very good thing.  My family and I devoured our batch of cookies.  The cornflakes added a mysterious little crunch and slightly sweet-caramelized flavor that was really enjoyable. 
I found it's key to add the cornflakes and mix it fairly well into the batter so that the cornflakes break up and crush into small pieces.  In one of my cookie bites, I had a lone large piece of cornflake and I just thought it was too hard, too large somehow, while the crushed bits melded rather perfectly into the cookie.  

This was a tasty experiment.  Making use of my cornflakes was a great excuse to bake a batch of cookies! These have the whole chewy, crunchy, melty elements all taken care of in one.  Now that I've tried this, I'm eager to try it out with rice krispies instead of cornflakes. It's yet another thing I haven't done but have been curious about.  Honestly, there are endless reasons to make cookies, which is not a bad thing in my book!

April 8, 2016

Chocolate almond torte

I made a cake to celebrate a special anniversary!  Five years ago today, I hit "publish" on my first post on this blog and here I am today - still baking, cooking, learning, snapping, writing, and sharing here in my own small way.
Five years of anything seems like a big deal somehow.  In this instance, it means over 500 recipes and corresponding posts; it means a lot of playing in the kitchen, and a lot of learning (not to mention, eating).  
The beauty is I've barely scratched the surface though in the last 5 years, I've tried and learned so much.  This picky eater is no longer all that picky, and for that alone, I'm grateful. In the last year, there have been moments of blog fatigue but then something new I haven't tried, some craving, or a new recipe will inevitably spark my interest and I'm back at it.  This little blog continues to motivate me to try things out in the kitchen. That, in turns, creates moments and memories with my family as we sit around the table.  I love making food, like creating a blog post from nothing, and that is still true today, five years after I started typing.
Ultimately, I just feel very lucky - lucky to be able to indulge in my hobby.  I'm going to continue to be a student in the kitchen, cooking and baking away, reporting back on some of those experiences here for as long as the urge continues.

I'm also particularly thankful for my husband, to whom everything always sounds good.  He's always eager to eat what I cook up - regardless of how it turns out - and offer words of praise and encouragement.  The little guy must learn from dad because he's much the same way (at least when it comes to things he likes to eat).  And last but not least, thank you for spending a few moments here once in a while, looking around, maybe mentally comparing notes with me, and not taking me too seriously. To those of you who often share words of encouragement, I truly appreciate it!  
But wait...we need to cut the cake! The cake seems to be a bit of an afterthought today but it's symbolic for a celebration and I wanted to make one as the backdrop to this anniversary post.  And for this occasion, I made what I'm calling a "chocolate almond torte".  

Frankly, "torte" may not be the right word here.  To me, this cake looks like a torte, which I associate with small, short layer cakes featuring some kind of rich chocolate coating.  Tortes are usually rather rich, however, and while this cake is filled and coated with chocolate ganache (I choose to use a water-based one), the layers are actually sponge cake, which is quite light since there aren't any fats in the form of butter or oil involved.  This cake is flavored with cocoa as well as vanilla and almond extracts, and the layers were brushed with an amaretto syrup for added flavor and moisture.  I wrapped the cake in some sliced almonds and topped it with toffee bits. That's my way of saying, Happy Anniversary, this year. 

April 4, 2016

Buttermilk cake

One morning a couple of weeks ago, I clicked over to Southern Souffle and read Erika's post about buttermilk cake...
I read...and I was drawn into her narrative.  When I finished reading, I was feeling this mix of emotions - sad, glad, scared, frustrated, and all kinds of things in between. I wanted to comment on the post, tell her that her story affected me, but I sat there, not really knowing what to say.
I sat quietly at my desk for a while.  I was trying to wrap my head around her story but one thing was clear: it inspired me and I knew there was something constructive that I could do.  I could bake the buttermilk cake.  And that's what I did a few hours later that day.  
When my 10-year old son came home from school that afternoon, I told him about how I read this blog post that morning and it inspired me to make this cake.  I served him a slice, then I essentially read the blog post to him while he ate.  We had a good little conversation over this cake.  And when my husband came home, I shared a slice with him and told him how we came to be eating this buttermilk cake today.
So thank you, Erika, for sharing your story and for this delicious buttermilk cake recipe to go with it.  Food does so much for us.  And good food is ever more meaningful with a story behind it.


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