Monday, April 14, 2014

Pie Social and chocolates

Sunday was the 2nd annual Pie Social, a competition to benefit the San Francisco Community School. There's a band, pie tasting, and lots of auction items. The judges are all local experts from the food industry.

The Verdi Club ballroom

I entered last year and it was a lot of fun! Although I didn't win, I did make it into the top ten. So I figured I'd give it a try again this year. I baked my go-to favorite pie, Bourbon chocolate chip pecan, with an added twist: bacon! I used both cooked chopped bacon in the filling, as well as bacon fat instead of butter. It gives such a smoky, salty flavor that complements the sweet filling well. I also added a bit of maple syrup. Yum!

my pie: Bourbon Bacon Pecan
Pie tasting- over 30 varieties!

We arrived at the Verdi Club to enter in my pie, actually 2 pies, one for the judges and one for tasting. The event had a band, refreshments, auction items to bid on, and lots of pie! There was actually another entry just like mine. And I thought I was being so original!

The judges hard at work
Slicing up all those pies!

I'll be honest, since this is a fundraiser for a school, there were tons of kids running around like crazy. I wasn't such a fan of that, so we spent most of the time outside. I just wanted to know who won! So after a lot of waiting, I went to check on the results, and they had already announced the winners, and I wasn't one of them. Too bad! I think I'll stick to cupcake competitions in the future.




After it was over, we explored the neighborhood a bit. We found a cute chocolate shop and factory, Charles Chocolates. They offer tours and tastings during the week, but we just bought some chocolates to take home. And a meyer lemon pate de fruit that I ate right there in the shop.


They were all so cute and delicious! We got a honey bunny, a fleur de sel caramel, an espresso ganache, and a passion fruit heart, my favorite. We also bought a bag of hazelnut truffles to share with our friends. Super yummy! I love discovering new treats, and I'll definitely go back for the tour soon. So even though I didn't win the pie contest, I still went home with a prize.








Friday, March 28, 2014

King cupcakes

The other day, my friend asked me to make cupcakes for her company, King.  I've made King cupcakes before, but those were of the Mardi Gras variety. These are different. These are for the company's IPO! We all know King for its games, most famously, Candy Crush Saga. It's super fun and addicting. I've been thinking about making Candy Crush cupcakes, so this is a good introduction for me.

I made one dozen vanilla gluten free cupcakes, topped with yellow frosting, orange sprinkles, and the King logo. I thought they turned out quite well! And everyone at the company loved them.


To make the logos, I used yellow candy melts to pipe the design. I first printed out a scaled version of the logo, then placed it under a sheet of wax paper so I could trace it. Worked like a charm, once I got the candy melts to the proper consistency. While it was still wet, I sprinkled orange sanding sugar on top, since the company's colors are orange and yellow. Then I let them dry, and placed them on top of each cupcake.


To make the cupcakes gluten free, I used Cup 4 Cup gluten free flour. I found it at Whole Foods! It was super easy, and really is a cup for cup substitute. The consistency of the batter is a little different, but the end result is still light and fluffy.

This was a fun challenge and I got to practice my piping skills. Maybe now I'll be inspired to tackle a more complex cupcake. Or maybe I'll just go back to playing Candy Crush.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy Macaron Day!

So, today is apparently national macaron day. You know I'm a sucker for any food holiday, so I of course made macarons! Now, I've tried many times to make these little suckers, with varying results. They're so beautiful in pastry shop displays, so perfect and jewel-like, that I strive to make them at home. But so far, no luck.

Biscoff and lingonberry jam macarons

Not satisfied with the results, I kept looking for a better recipe. Most have you "cure" the piped macarons before baking them. It's usually a lot of work. So when I came across a new recipe from none other than my favorite Martha Stewart, I was intrigued. The cover of the March issue of Living magazine was stunning, so I was determined to try. And what do you know, perfect! I literally squealed when I opened the oven door. The recipe was easy and effective. Leave it to Martha! I kept it simple and made vanilla shells and filled them with either Biscoff or lingonberry jam. So perfect I will always use this recipe from now on.

Biscoff and lingonberry jam macarons

I've also made the Bouchon Bakery recipe three or four times, with varying results each time. Usually at least half of the batch comes out cracked. Still delicious, but not so pretty.  It's frustrating to follow the exact same instructions and get different results.

hazelnut macarons- apparently I like stacking them
vanilla macarons

However, the macarons at Bouchon Bakery are exquisite! Bigger than most, and in so many fun flavor combinations, they're always churning out new and exciting options. They even enrobe them in chocolate!

I like to try macarons at different local pastry shops, and Tout Sweet is one of the best. Since they're pretty pricey, I usually just get one or two with a cappuccino or cup of tea. It's the perfect mid-afternoon treat.

salted caramel and Earl Grey macarons

No matter if you make them at home or buy them in a shop, macarons are a wonderful indulgence. And they're often gluten (and guilt)- free!








Monday, March 17, 2014

Luck of the Irish!

Every year, on this day, I make my most famous cupcakes: Chocolate Stout. If I had a signature cupcake, this would be it. I make them for St. Patrick's Day, for birthdays, for weddings, for whatever! It's a rich chocolate cupcake made with stout beer, in this case, Guinness Extra Stout. They're topped with a Bailey's Irish Cream frosting. The combo of flavors is phenomenal!

I make the same recipe every year, I've had it for longer than I can remember. But I'm interested to try different versions. Nigella Lawson has a chocolate Guinness recipe, and Robicelli's has a car bomb recipe that I've wanted to try ever since I got their cookbook a few months ago.




Every time I make them, I try to present them a little differently. Green cupcake wrappers, green frosting, or even green shamrock sprinkles! This year I went with green wrappers and gold sprinkles, just like the gold at the end of the rainbow guarded by a leprechaun. Maybe these cupcakes should be at the end of the rainbow instead!


Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi(e) Day!

Today, March 14th, is Pi Day. Get it? 3.14? Although I'm not great at math, I am great at baking! To celebrate, I thought I'd post a round-up of my favorite pies, both homemade and not.

My go-to pie, made every year, is my famous chocolate chip bourbon pecan pie. It's inspired by Derby pie, named after the Kentucky Derby, hence the bourbon. My version has a buttery crust, and a layer of chocolate chips under the sweet pecan and bourbon filling. Every time I make it for my dad, he requests more bourbon! It's his favorite, as well as my husband's and most of his friends. Seems like guys really like the boozy pie.



Then of course, there's always the Thanksgiving classic, pumpkin pie. I always try to add a little twist to the classic recipe, with maple syrup, extra cinnamon, or more bourbon. Hmmm, seems like bourbon always makes an appearance!


A close relation to pies are tarts. Usually just one crust, and more refined, tarts were the subject of a whole chapter in the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. Whether a simple chocolate ganache mini tart, a light and airy lemon meringue tart, a summery plum almond tart, or a rich caramel nut tart, there are so many ways to make tarts. Once the crust is made, the filling can be anything you have on hand or whatever fruit is in season.




When making a pie is too much work, you can always go out and get a slice. The most decadent and extravagant pies I've ever had are from Rockaberry, in Montreal. They are huge pies, tall and super rich. I always go for the most chocoaltey option, but their cheesecake variety pies and fruit pies are always amazing. This is why it's best to go with friends, so everyone gets a different slice and you can sample many kinds.



But then again, who said pies have to be sweet? There's always pizza pies! The best pizza in the country is by far Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona. When I lived there, we'd go often, usually waiting up to three hours in the scalding desert heat just to eat these amazing pies. After moving away I've been trying to find something to compare, to no avail. So I went back to Phoenix this summer, and got to enjoy it again. I wanted to buy 10 pies and take them home with me, but it's not quite the same as eating there.


So, does that get you in the mood for pies? Whether homemade or store-bought, sweet or savory, pies are always delicious.  And they can be helpful in learning math!



Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mardi Gras King Cake

Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Carnival! The time of year to let loose and enjoy yourself. And, time for delicious sweet treats!

Every year I make king cake. It's a bread-like cinnamon yeasted cake topped with a sweet lemony glaze and gold, green, and purple sprinkles. There are lots of different versions of this cake, some with a pecan filling, some with a cream cheese topping, but I like this version the best. It's adapted from a recipe by John Besh, a famous New Orleans chef.

Traditionally, there's a little trinket or plastic baby inserted into the finished cake. It's said that whoever gets the piece of cake with the baby gets to buy the next cake for the next Carnival party. Many countries have their own versions of king cake, and this one is from Louisiana and the Gulf Coast area. It's a braided round cake, and the sprinkles are always the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple for justice, gold for power, and green for faith.

Since I've made this a few times before, it was just a matter of finding the recipe and executing it. The dough was simple, kind of sticky but very elastic and rose up very well. I had a hard time rolling out the three ropes to braid them due to lack of counter space. But I managed ok. After a second rise, and a quick bake, the beautiful braid was done!


While the cake cooled, I whipped up the glaze, which is just lemon juice and powdered sugar. Getting the consistency right is the key. In fact, the first time I made the glaze it wasn't enough, so I made more to add on top after I had used the sprinkles. In fact, I've made this cake for so many years that I'm running out of gold, green, and purple sprinkles. Time for a trip to the cake decorating store!

Although I didn't have a plastic baby or fava bean to put in the cake, everyone enjoyed it anyways. It's a yearly tradition that I look forward to every year.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cupcakes for the Oscars

Last night were the Oscars, and we were invited to a viewing party at a friend's house. I of course offered to bring something sweet. So I made caramel popcorn from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook, and these super cute cupcakes.


I got the idea from Amy Atlas, whose party ideas are amazing. And since I love black licorice, it was easy! Red velvet cupcakes, topped with cream cheese frosting and gold sprinkles, with a licorice wheel on top to resemble a film reel. They were a big hit at the party!