Archive for March, 2009

March Shortbread Project, Take Four: Gateau Breton

Gateau Breton

Nigella Lawson's Gateau Breton. Not quite a shortbread, not quite a cake - and absolutely to die for.

This shortbread-ish recipe slips in under the wire as the final entry in the March Shortbread Project.

As I said at the beginning of the project, I had never made shortbread before I tried Michelle Obama’s Shortbread cookies, because I wasn’t a big fan of crisp, dry butter cookies. Still, I felt remiss in my baking and blogging duties, because I had gone through the entire without making a classic, round shortbread cookie that you cut into wedges. But I didn’t want to make a huge cookie that I didn’t want to eat.

I found the perfect compromise in Nigella Lawson’s “How to Be a Domestic Goddess.” Her recipe for Gateau Breton, a Brittany butter cake, is “a cross between a shortbread and a pound cake.” Really, I should have done it at the beginning of the month, because it could have bridged the February Pound Cake Project and the March Shortbread Project.

The cookie/cake is extremely simple, but absolutely to die for. The batter is high in egg yolks and butter, and the resulting cookie is sweet and buttery, rich without being overpowering. The texture is crumbly and soft – it reminded me of the texture of Nigella’s Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake, but denser. I can’t imagine why anyone would go back to eating classic shortbread cookies after tasting this cookie/cake.

I made a couple changes to the recipe. I added 1/2 a teaspoon of salt to enhance the buttery flavor of the cake, and I added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla to complement the sugar. I actually was extremely surprised that the recipe didn’t call for salt to begin with, since you usually add salt to enhance the flavors in baked goods.

I served this in my office, cut into thick wedges, but it would be a fabulous dinner party dessert as well. I would dress it up with berries and a dollop of whipped cream, and serve it with coffee.

Gateau Breton
“Adapted from How To Be A Domestic Goddess,” By Nigella Lawson


6 large egg yolks, 1 tsp reserved
1 tbs water
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus 1 tbs sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbs unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10 inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter the pan again.

After separating your eggs, take the one teaspoon of reserved egg yolk and mix with the water. This will serve as your glaze

Place flour in a mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and salt until combined. Add butter, yolks, and vanilla and stir until the dough comes together. It will be a deep golden color.

Scoop the dough into the pan and smooth out with lightly floured hands until it fills out the pan and is of uniform thickness. The top will be slightly lumpy. Brush with the glaze. Using a sharp knife or razor blade, slash the top with a decorative lattice or other design of your choosing.

Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to 350 and bake for another 25 minutes, until the top is golden and the cake is firm to the touch.

Remove cake from oven and place on a rack to cool. Cool the cake entirely in the pan. Invert the cake onto a plate and peel off the parchment, and then reinvert onto a serving platter.


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Weekly Roundup: Lost in the Fog Edition


Friday tulips.

It was a beautiful, foggy morning out here in Washington DC, made even more beautiful by the fact that it’s Friday.

Domestic Roundup

  • You can still pine about the loss of Domino over at Decor8.
  • DC Foodies announces a new feature: Foodie To Do Lists, a roundup of food-related events in DC.
  • In love with this idea on how to spruce up a damaged ceiling with billows of cloth. But I don’t think I’m quite artistic enough to make this work in the same way. Via Apartment Therapy DC.
  • Martha Stewart’s Cooking School has been nominated for a James Beard Award! Via, Martha Moments.

Happy Friday!

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How to Dress Up Grocery-Store Apples

Apple Raspberry Jam Tart

My favorite rustic apple tart needed some . . . help . . .

Some would say I read too much about food. I’ve read more about fancy dinners, seasonal entrees, and CSA produce than one person could ever actually consume. But while I constantly fantasize about shopping at the farmer’s market and growing my own food, time and budget constraints mean that I do almost all of my shopping at the Giant.

This means that a lot of the produce I get is . . . well, it’s not the greatest quality. It’s serviceable. But it can’t compare to what you can buy at the farmer’s market. Still, these are tough times and, honestly, most of my friends get their produce from the grocery store (besides Elpis and Justice, that is).

So what to when you’re stuck with a bunch of sub-par fruit that needs to be consumed? Especially if you live with Wonk the Plank, who is like a fascist dictator when it comes to ensuring that food doesn’t go to waste?

The last time Wonk was hounding me about wasting food, it was a large quantity of granny smith apples that we had had forever and were getting a little, shall we say, past their prime. I had intended to use them in lunches, but, in my fear that we would run out of fruit, ended up buying too many.

Usually, my go-to apple dessert recipe is a rustic apple tart. I like it because it’s unfussy and tastes excellent. But these apples needed a little . . . help. Since they weren’t exactly top quality, I wanted to dress them up in a way that would complement and enhance (and, let’s be honest, “mask”) their sub-par flavors. So I dug through my cupboard, looked at my options, and decided to coat my apples in raspberry jam.

This solution felt rather down-home to me, and not at all in keeping with the latest trends in cooking, which always call for the best possible ingredients. But it also worked – the raspberry flavor complemented apples, and the sweetness helped combat the overly tart flavor of the grocery-store granny smiths. I also paired them with a cornmeal pastry crust, which I am absolutely in love with now. The cornmeal adds a rich and savory note to the pastry, which is a lovely contrast with the sweet-tart filling.

Call it an apple-tart version of  using lemons to make lemonade.

Recipe for Apple and Raspberry Jam Rustic Tart with Cornmeal Pastry Crust

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What’s “Recession-Proof” in Your Budget?


Candy is "recession proof" for many consumers.

Photo by terren in Virginia via flickr, under the Creative Commons License.

According to this New York Times article published Monday, candy is one of those rare consumer goods that isn’t affected by economic downturns; consumers will still buy their chocolate bar in good times and bad. Like Wal-mart, bankruptcy attorneys, and booze, candy is a “recession proof” business.

Granted, the article didn’t distinguish between was the sales of mass-produced candies, like Hershey bars (mmmm) and tootsie rolls (eeeeeh), and fine designer chocolates that can cost upwards of four dollars for a chocolate bar (don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out the Whole Foods candy aisle and you’ll see what I mean). Will people still be frequenting stores like Sucre, in New Orleans, Marie Belle in NYC, or ACKC in DC? That remains to be seen.

But what really caught my attention wasn’t the news about candy – it got me thinking about my own personal “recession proof” items. Because despite tough economic times, there are some things I’ll always pay a little more for. Here, in no particular order, is my own list of “recession proof” items:

Jenna’s Recession-Proof Goods

Wine. Okay, I said these were in no particular order, but this is totally top of the list. I love drinking it, I love reading about it, and I love discovering good bottles that I can actually afford. Wonk the Plank probably thinks I spend too much on wine, but, well, what’s the point of living without being able to indulge in a glass of Sauvignon blanc?

Brand-name flour. I guess as an “indulgence” this is one only costs a couple of dollars, but after reading enough baking cookbooks that sing the praises of different types of flour and will spell out how the protein content and types of wheat differ among each brand, I try to get the good stuff. Usually, I buy Gold Medal or King Arthur flour.

Puffins. No, they are not the cheapest cereal – when they’re not on sale it’s around $5 for a tiny box of them that doesn’t quite last the week. But they’re high fiber, wheat-free and just sweet enough to be completely addicting. If I wanted to save money, I’d go back to eating oatmeal.

Nice Hair and Face Products. I’ve tried so many times to cut back in this area, and I always fail. Granted, it’s not like I buy $300 face cream, or anything, but I spend a relatively good chunk of change on my products. However, whenever I buy the cheaper stuff I always regret it and pay my penance in frizzy hair and breakouts. So I’ve stopped trying to get the cheaper stuff, because I always end up caving and buying my usual products before I’ve used all the cheaper items. It’s a vicious cycle.

Nice Jeans. I used to buy jeans at the GAP and Old Navy, where they would cost under $50 a pair. But that’s before my friend talked me into buying my first pair of Sevens – $145 later, I was in love. For me, that’s a huge amount of money to spend on a pair of jeans, but dear god, they just looked and felt so much better than my other jeans. I could never go back. I’d rather buy jeans less frequently, than buy more pairs of cheaper jeans that won’t look as good.

Wonk would tell you that there are more items on this list, and there probably are. But I’d rather hear about you: what will you never stop splurging on? What’s “recession proof” in your budget?

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March Shortbread Project, Take Three: Chocolate Chip Orange Shortbread

Shortbread Small

Orange chocolate chip shortbread. Simple, but perfect.

For the next installment of the March Shortbread Project, I made a rustic shortbread cookie studded with chocolate chips and flavored with orange peel. It didn’t look like a traditional shortbread cookie, which are usually shaped as narrow fingers, decorative squares, or thick wedges. Instead, this cookie looked like a regular drop cookie, with the same round and slightly lumpy shape.

I liked this unfussy shortbread – the crisp butter cookie married well with the soft and gooey chocolate chips, especially when they were right out of the oven. But this cookie was also a tease. When I see a drop cookie, I expect that it will be soft and chewy, with the texture of the classic Nestle Toll House cookie. I found myself disappointed that the texture of the shortbread drop cookie was crisp and crumbly, with a no-nonsense snappiness.

Still, as the week wore on and I was better able to accept this cookie for what it was, I found myself looking forward to them as an after-dinner treat. The chocolate-orange-butter combination is to die for.

I based the cookie on this recipe, but I made some changes. I omitted the orange extract, which I didn’t feel like buying, and upped the amount of orange zest to a full tablespoon. It may sound excessive, but you absolutely must add the full amount of zest – the orange makes the dough sing, and brings out the flavor of the chocolate.

Also, rather than adding a modest 8 ounces of chocolate chips, I dumped the whole 12 ounce bag in. After all, if you’re going to make a cookie with chocolate chips, why not go the whole hog? And this keeps me from eating the extra chocolate chips later (because you know that I can’t keep an open bag of chocolate chips in the house for long).

Shortbread Small 2

Chocolate Orange Shortbread
Adapted from Epicurious


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs grated orange peel
1 large egg yolk
3 tbs whipping cream
1 12 oz bag semi sweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, place sugar and orange zest and mix together until zest is evenly distributed throughout the sugar. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add yolk, then cream, and beat until combined. Add flour mixture and beat until dough comes together. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by the tablespoon full onto prepared baking sheet, gently pressing down on the top of each cookie to flatten. Space 3/4 inch apart. Bake 20 minutes, until golden. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

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Weekly Roundup: Creativity, Star Trek Chic, and Cheap Booze

Living Room

This is what happens when I make time to be creative - utter domestic chaos! But it was so much fun . . .

Happy Friday Modern Domestic readers, and welcome to the new Friday weekly roundup!

  • I’ve really been digging the weekly creativity series on Decor8. It’s inspired me to take on projects like Peeptown Cupcake, and to make more time for my creative endeavors. The series was only supposed to be 10 weeks long, but Holly’s thinking about extending it, and I think she should!
  • I’m not watching The Chopping Block because I’m afraid that I’ll get sucked into yet another reality show, and then feel the need to recap it. And believe me, The Real Housewives of New York City and Millionaire Matchmaker are already fulfilling my quota of stupid TV. However, the first two contestants to leave the show were DCites: Vidalia events coordinator Khoa Nguyen and his cousin Denise Nguyen. But they weren’t kicked off – they left because they realized that the cruel insanity of reality TV just wasn’t worth it. Best Bites has an interview with the pair.
  • It’s a new frontier in geeky decorating!  I couldn’t resist this New York Times article about original series Star Trek fans who spent months creating the perfect replica of Captain Kirk’s chair for their living rooms. It’s so geeky, and yet kind of endearing – I guess I have a soft spot in my hear for The Trek since Wonk the Plank is a big Next Generation fan. Although if I were going to replicate a chair (don’t get any ideas, Wonk!), I’d much rather do Captain Picard’s – it looks much more comfortable!
  • Are you looking to take an art class in DC this summer. Apartment Therapy DC has a roundup of local area art classes.
  • I am forever in need of cheap booze. Thank goodness for the latest recommendation from DC Foodies: Castillo de Monjardin Tintico that’s less than $10 a bottle!

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Why Whoopie Pies Are Not the Next Cupcake

Cafe Blue Hills Tasty Treats

Are whoopie pies the next cupcake? I don't think so.

Photo by georgie_grd via flickr, under the Creative Commons license.

The New York Times is hinting that whoopie pies might be the next new big nostalgic baking trend, possibly displacing the cupcake trend. I had to give this one some thought, considering that the pioneering chockylit featured whoopie pies on her short-lived dessert blog, before disappearing  into the Internets. But Jezebel isn’t so convinced, and neither am I.

I’ve never had a whoopie pie, so I can’t judge them from a culinary perspective. They actually sound pretty tempting: two small chocolate cakes, sandwiched together with a cream filling of some kind – a precursor to the Oreo cakester.

And, although this sounds blasphemous, whoopie pies have some advantages over cupcakes. First of all, while I love frosting, too many cupcake shops pile on too much frosting for a dramatic visual effect, overwhelming the cake in the process. But because the whoopie pie is made from two pieces of cake sandwiched together with frosting, there’s a better cake-to-frosting ratio. It would also be harder to over-frost a whoopie because there’s really only so much filling one can stuff between two pieces of cake before the entire operation becomes unstable.

That being said, the idea that whoopie pies are the new cupcakes is going too far. Even if cupcakes are “trendy” now, they also occupy a large space in our collective nostalgic comfort food psyche that goes much deeper than mere trend. I would bet that every child in America—from San Franscico, to Kansas City, to Tampa—grew up eating cupcakes at birthday celebrations. We’ve all drooled at the packaged cupcakes in the pastry aisle of our local supermarkets. We’ve all seen, and probably at some time tasted, a Hostess cupcake. Cupcakes have been woven into our early childhood memories.

But whoopie pies are a regional treat, at best. According to the New York Times article, they were originally an Amish creation, and became a popular New England dessert, especially in Pennsylvania and Maine. But they aren’t ubiquitous – they are not the classic, standard childhood treat that is the cupcake.

And while the whoopie pies featured in the Times article are cute, they just aren’t as pretty as cupcakes—and it’s the cupcake’s immense artistic possibilities that are a large part of its charm. Just looking at the beautiful photos on Cupcakes Takes the Cake makes you realize that the cupcake is essentially a blank canvas which, with the aid of frosting, fondant, and sugar, can become anything imaginable. You can have cupcakes artfully decorated with shamrocks, you can make cupcakes shaped like roses, you can decorate cupcakes to look like the blood smattered smiley face pins in The Watchman. But whoopie pies, because the filling is sandwiched between two layers of cake, don’t have the same artistic possibilities. Sure, you can make them in different colors and flavors, but can you decorate them to look like Elmo? I think not.

No, the cupcake craze, if it’s going to end, isn’t over yet – and I don’t see whoopie pies posing any kind of a threat. Still, since I’ve never had them before, I believe they’ll be making an appearance at our next party. Now I just have to choose between this Epicurious recipe, or the one in the New York Times. Buttercream filling, or marshmallow fluff? Decisions, decisions.

What do you think? Is the cupcake craze at an end? Is the whoopie pie a serious contender to replace cupcakes? Have you ever made a whoopie pie?

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Domestic Blind Spot: Duvet Covers

For most of us (with the possible exception of Martha Stewart), despite having mastered many of the domestic arts, something falls through the cracks. Like one day someone suggests that you make a souffle, and you have to bashfully admit that you’ve never made one before. Perhaps you’ve always been too afraid to tackle pie crust, even though you’re a whiz with yeast breads. Even the best Modern Domestic has a domestic blind spot or two.

For me, it’s the duvet cover. I don’t have a method of putting on a duvet cover that doesn’t make me look like an idiot. Despite owning them for many years, the way I still put on a duvet cover is to lay out the cover, crawl inside with the comforter,  carefully lay out the comforter, crawl out, and give the comforter/cover a good shaking. Not only is it laborious, but it looks like I’m trying to build a fort in there. Above, you can see Wonk the Plank demonstrating my duvet cover method, or lack thereof.

I always thought that this was the way duvet covers were put on. But I recently did a little research and found that there are much easier – and much more dignified – ways of putting on a duvet cover – methods that involve carefully folding the duvet cover over the comforter, or shimming the duvet cover over the comforter.

In fact, when I look back on it, the fact that I blindly accepted that this must be the only way to put on a duvet cover, makes me feel a bit like a modern jackass, blindly accepting knowledge for years that turns out to have been wrong.

Of course, I have many other domestic blind spots (gardening comes to mind), but this is one I have to deal with on a fairly regular basis, depending on how ambitious I get with the laundry.

What are your domestic blind spots? Is there something you’ve always meant to do in your home that you’ve never done? Have you overlooked a certain area of domesticity?

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Peeptown Cupcake

Peeps 3

The line goes out the door!

First of all, just a note that the Weekly Roundup is going to move to Fridays, so please look for it then.

So I did it, people. I submitted an entry for the Washington Post Peeps contest yesterday. It only took 28 hours of hard labor, $40 in supplies, and all of my available energy. Our apartment was so messy that Wonk the Plank and I could barely walk through the living room without stepping on foam-core board. And I almost bit poor Wonk’s head off when he scheduled us to go see a play on Saturday night – taking away from valuable Peep preparation time.

It took at least a day of brainstorming before I hit on my final concept. I went through lot of options – the Inauguration, the We are One Concert, a scene from a classic children’s book. But the concept I got the most excited about was recreating a local DC scene: Georgetown Cupcake on a winter afternoon. Wonk also decided to create a classic scene from The Watchmen.

I would go further into detail about its creation, but I’m just so exhausted. So without further ado I present: Peeptown Cupcake!

Peeps 2

Peeptown Cupcake on a busy Saturday.

Peeps 4

You can just make out the Washington Post article on the right, annoucing that Peeptown Cupcake won the WaPo Cupcake Wars.

Peeps close up

Another close up of the store.

Wonk the Plank went darker with his Watchmen peeps (check out the original scene here).

Peeps Watchmen

The photo shoot. Can you tell I don’t have any real photography equipment? I’m amazed I didn’t burn the couch down. And the original background I made didn’t work out, so I imrpovised a backdrop using the only thing large enough in our apartment – the couch slipcover.

Living Room

The peep photo shoot. Our apartment was a disaster zone.

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March Shortbread Project Take Two: Parmesan, Thyme and Walnut Shortbread Cookies

Parmesean Shortbread

Savory shortbread. Because the last thing I need right now is more sugar.

There are days when I can’t face another cookie. Sometimes it’s a baking binge that does it – I go on a rampage and we have cookies lying around the house for weeks, driving Wonk the Plank to the edge of insanity with the thought that they might be wasted. Sometimes it’s the excess of the holiday season – who wants a cookie after eating countless cookies and pastries at holiday parties?

Last week it was the parade of sweets at the office that did it for me – we violated our usual healthy office policy and went on an epic sugar binge (can someone say Girl Scout cookies?).  I didn’t even want to look at a cookie, let alone bake one.

So I decided to mix things up a little, and made a savory shortbread cookie for part two of the March Shortbread project. I found this recipe for Parmesan, rosemary and walnut shortbread cookies on Epicurious, which sounded easy, fast, and perfect as a before-dinner nibble. The only change I made is that I was out of rosemary, and substituted fresh thyme instead.

I realized as I was throwing these together that the recipe was shockingly similar to the Parmesan black pepper crackers I baked last December. Both cookies were made from a simple dough of flour and butter, flavored with Parmesan cheese and herbs. Both were crisp and buttery, a perfect foil for a creamy spread or a slice of cheese.

Parmesan, Thyme and Walnut Shortbread
Adapted from Epicurious


8 tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbs minced fresh thyme
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper


Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place walnuts on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes, until toasted. Remove from oven and finely chop. Let cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream your butter. Add the Parmesan and mix well. Stir in the  flour, thyme, walnuts, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Remove from bowl and place on a lightly floured work surface. With the palms of your hands, gently form the mixture into two logs, each one inch thick. Refrigerate for one hour or up to three days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice logs into 1/4 inch slices. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes, until golden at edges. Let cool on a wire rack.

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