I made these for an Oscar party. They are simple to make (no baking required), but fancy enough to eat while watching the red carpet glitter or for any other occasion. (more…)
My story with sugar is long (my whole life long) and a bit convoluted. I was raised by hippies in the the 1960s. We lived on communes, as one did. Until I was about 7 it was really the only life I knew, so never struck me as unusual. It wasn’t until I started to attend school that I understood that my life in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont wasn’t the way the whole world lived. It was sugar that was the first and most profound indication. I’d grown up thinking (being lead to believe) that raisins and other dried fruits were candy. I was perfectly happy with this, until I went to kindergarten and someone produced a Twinkie from their Mickey Mouse lunch box. WTH is that? I was mesmerized and completely distracted by this sweet smelling cylinder of cake. I must have convinced that kid to give me a bite and there began my obsession. It became my life’s work to get more of it. This was no easy chore, considering all I had to trade were peanut butter and honey sandwiches. And when I say peanut butter, I mean the kind we ground ourselves and honey from our bee hives, on bread my Aunt Melissa made from wheat we milled. Today that sandwich sounds like heaven, but wasn’t so popular with those kids eating Ho Ho’s and Twinkies. Every once in a blue moon I’d score something sweet and be amazed.
Eventually in college I went through a naturally sweetened phase. I couldn’t exactly admit that my parents had been right to deny me all the sugary snacks, but I found myself pushing them aside for honey and maple syrup. This was right around the time I started to bake and was really curious about how to make baked goods that were delicious and had a wonderful texture, without sugar. There weren’t a lot of people doing this, not in a graceful way, and I didn’t have the skills to make the recipes up. I eventually went to culinary school to figure out the food science behind baking, with a notion that I’d retool pastry with natural sweeteners. But, their pantry was stocked with sugar and I was too impressionable to resist. I loved what the sugar could do. I was fascinated not only by it’s ability to transform flavor, but it’s ability to take on structure. When heated to just the right temperature I could make candies, both hard and soft, or spin it into gossamer threads. I didn’t really look back to honey and maple, except as a flavor, until I had my boys.
You guessed it. I didn’t let them eat sugar until they discovered it on their own. Yep, I did exactly what my parents had done, and I was a pastry chef. They were little and just didn’t need the sugar, then they got bigger and had a similar discovery that I went through. I wasn’t as hard core about denying them sugar and how could I be, since I worked with it all day. I think I struck a healthy balance and my boys ate their fair share of sweets, but all homemade and I think they didn’t have a Twinkie until they could pay for it themselves and they weren’t as impressed as I had been.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love sugar and all that it can do. I also love playing with honey, maple, agave and other natural sweeteners. They have some nutritional value, true enough, but more importantly they are amazingly delicious. Back in the day, when I was going to culinary school, everyone there looked at me crosseyed when I wanted to make meringue without sugar. Now there are many books on the subject and I am creating all kinds of gorgeous treats that even my folks would have allowed me to eat in my commune days.
These Tea Cup Rose Cakes have no sugar. NO SUGAR! They are also gluten-free (not an issue for me, but is for many of my friends and readers), Dairy-free (if made as the recipe was written, but I did use butter). And, they are delicious and so beautiful, no one will ever know they’re remotely healthy.
This year I added a little extra flavor power to this classic recipe. I made a triple batch to make sure I could send gift bags home after the seder. All the toppings were a hit, but the toasted sesame seeds with the milk or dark chocolate is my new favorite.
Every Passover I make this recipe from Marcy Goldman’s classic book A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking. When I was growing up I loved matzo with butter or my mother’s matzo brei, but as a dessert it never inspired me. Until my friend and co-author Jeff introduced me to Marcy Goldman’s recipe she calls: “My Trademark, most requested, absolutely magnificent caramel matzoh crunch!” Despite the main ingredient being matzo it satisfied my craving for a decadent dessert at Passover. The candy was met with rave reviews and is now part of our tradition along with the fruit pâtes. It really is magnificent and a bit addictive, which is why I save it for Passover! (more…)
30 years ago my dear friend, Sally, gave me a copy of Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts. At the moment neither of us realized how significant that gift would be in my life. It was way before Pinterest and the endless blogs filled with impossibly gorgeous recipes. Who am I kidding, it was before the internet. I had that one cookbook and a shitty student apartment kitchen to bake in. I made almost every recipe in the book and as a result learned how to make everything from cookies, cakes, pudding and even candy, but these brownies were the best thing in the whole book. I would splurge on really good chocolate, which meant something beyond Hershey’s. God only knows what brand it was back then, but I remember spending my entire food budget on chocolate, nuts and butter just to make them. I must have survived on rice cakes and peanut butter for the rest of the week.
30 years later it is still the only brownie recipe I make. I’m pretty good about not eating a bowl of cake batter or cookie dough, but these brownies are a different story. I’m powerless to their seduction, so I can’t make them often. (more…)
I can’t wait to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. I don’t want you to get the false impression that I follow any team in particular, or even the sport as a whole. I can safely avoid upsetting anyone by picking a side, since I have no idea who’s even in the game this year. I do love the clever ads and I’m a big fan of Bruno Mars. As is the case with most occasions like this, I’m totally in it for the food. My husband will make buffalo and “mahogany” chicken wings (recipes he only whips out for this event). My sons explained to me, in no uncertain terms, that I need to make bars, and they are not to be “too fancy.” They Fear I’ll show up with some girly, frilly, lacy dessert and be a humiliation to their dude-ness. Granted they are teens, so I am almost always an embarrassment. So, I layered up all the things I could think might be appropriate at a party dedicated to football, including potato chips, coffee, peanuts, and much, much more. Everything but beer. These treats are a bit inspired by the Momofuko Milk Bar Compost Cookies, but I took it to a whole new level with a rich chocolate topping. When my youngest son taste tested them he asked, suspiciously and with a full mouth, if I’d put a layer of mousse on top, which would have placed them in the realm of “fancy.” I did not, but the nutella ganache is very mousse-like and completely awesome. He had another one just to make sure.
A fact about me that not many people know, until now…I was a cheerleader in highschool (and middle school) for the football team. I had two qualifications that made this a more obvious fit than you might think, given my indifference to the game. I was a loud mouth and I was pretty coordinated, having grown up with a mom who owns a dance studio. I had no idea what was going on behind on the field and quite frankly I never really cared. But, when it came to the bake sale to raise money for the team, I was all about it.
Here are my “Not Too Fancy for the Super Bowl, but just fancy enough to make ME happy, Bars”. They are really simple to make, so if you need a last minute treat to bring to your Super Bowl Fête, these are perfect and decadent. Go Bars! (more…)
In the 1970s I lived in Westport, Connecticut and my best friend’s aunt owned a fondue restaurant. It was the hot spot in town for people to go on dates and it all seemed terribly sophisticated and romantic to my 13 year old self. I have to admit I’m a little disappointed to have missed the era when everyone got a fondue pot, or two, as a wedding gift. By the time I got married in the 90s, fondue seemed dated and reminded us too much of our parents. Luckily, most things that are worth while enjoy a comeback and I predict that fondue is on its way. Traditionally, fondue was nothing more than melted chocolate that was kept warm in a pot called a Caquelon, which was set over a sterno or other source of fire. My version is a ganache, which is thick enough to cling to the variety of treats dipped into it, but thin enough to stay liquid without the fire. I poured the ganache into individual ramekins so each person has their own “pot” of chocolate to dip into. You can set out an assortment of cakes, cookies, meringues, fresh and dried fruits for a larger party or a romantic Valentine’s Day with someone special. (more…)