Archive for February, 2010

Upcoming Pastry Classes At CulinAerie

Mom's Birthday Cake - Center


Some of you know that I started assisting cooking classes at CulinAerie, a recreational cooking school down on 14th street, back in December. Owned by two chefs and former L’Academie De Cuisine instructors, Susan Watterson and Susan Holt (aka “The Susans”), CulinAerie classes cover a wide range of cooking skills and techniques.

Having helped out at several classes by now, I’d definitely recommend them if you’re looking for a cooking class. The instructors are incredibly knowledge, the facilities are beautiful, and the classes are fun.

And if you’re looking for a food focused volunteer opportunity, I’ve loved assisting. Assistants help set up classrooms, prep, clear, and clean up. Really, the best part of it is getting to watch the class for free and being around other food people – well, that and you always get dinner after clean up. You can learn about CulinAerie’s assistant program by sending them an email.

I was excited to see that they have some baking and pastry focused classes coming up, so I thought I’d do a little blog shout out. I’m really sad that I can’t take any of these classes myself – how did my schedule get so crazy so quickly? I feel like all of March is full, and it hasn’t even begun yet.

Cake Making Classics
Instructor: Amy Riolo
March 6, 10:00am
Price: $85.00
Register here.

These timeless cakes are a “must” in anyone’s repertoire. Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, hosting an elegant dinner party or looking to learn something new, this lineup won’t disappoint. Menu: Amalfi Coast Flourless Chocolate Cake; Tuscan Fig, Walnut & Fennel Seed Torte; Lemon-Filled Coconut Cream Roulade; Citrus Cardamom Pound Cake.

Bread for Beginners: Fabulous All-Time Favorites
Instructor: Amy Riolo
March 13, 10:30pm
Price: $85.00 per seat
Register here.

Details: Imagine turning back the hands of time and enjoying hot, fresh breads in your own home. These delicious, easy recipes will prove that making hand-crafted artisanal breads is much easier (and more fun) than you think. Menu: Cinnamon-Pecan Rolls; Easy, No-Knead Italian Baguettes; Tuscan Rosemary Focaccia; Lemon Apricot Tea Bread.

Basic Cake Decorating: Construction and Design
Instructor: Monica Marshall
March 21, 2010, 10:30am
Price: $85.00
Register here.

Details: Learn how to level, fill, crumb coat and ice a round cake. Decorative techniques for the sides of the cake will include raking, applying crushed nuts and performing geometric star dot patterns. Shell borders, star dots and scripting will finish the top. Students will learn how to choose the right equipment to complete cake decorating projects at home, how to use a pastry bag and how to mix colors.

Happy baking!


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Weekly Roundup: Flattered Edition

Totally flattered - Cathy made the birthday cake I made for my mom. And she even improved it!

I love it when people tell me that they’ve tried the recipes from ModernDomestic – it’s one of the biggest thrills I can possibly get as a blogger. So I was really thrilled when Cathy of We Love DC and Constantly Cathy hit me up for birthday cake recommendations this week. She finally decided to make the almond cake with lemon curd and marscarpone frosting that I made for my mother’s birthday, and it came out great! She even had better success with the frosting (mine got kind of curdled) – she whipped the cream separately from the marscarpone and then folded it in at the end. It came out smooth and creamy – the way a good frosting should be. So not only did she try a recipe from here – but she even had better luck with it than me. There could be no better highlight to my week.

In other news, I’m over winter. Over it.

Recipes I want to try:

  • Britannia at Endless Simmer claims to not be big on baking, but his kumquat cupcakes look pretty damn delicious.

And in other news:

  • The Arugula Files is on vacation in Hawaii and she’s making me crazy jealous of the lovely food, setting, and weather! I was particularly interested in her post about rambutan – a fruit that kind of looks like a furry raspberry. I wonder how they’d be in a trifle – or a pie.
  • Confused about the difference between Dutch-processed and regular cocoa? David Lebovitz has an excellent primer. My problem with cocoa is that I read articles like this and I’m like “oh right, that’s the difference.” And then I promptly forget what the difference is and the next time I’m at the store trying to pick out a cocoa, I’m still in the dark. I need a cocoa cheat sheet.
  • Food & Friends is holding their annual Dining Out for Life event on Thursday, March 11th. You can find participating restaurants at Open Table, all of which will donate a portion of their proceeds to Food and Friends. It’s a really easy way to give money to a good cause.
  • The Washingtonian is hosting a Cupcake Cup. I guess the Post’s Cupcake Wars series really wasn’t the final word on DC’s cupcake scene. Via Best Bites.
  • Columbia Heights is getting a farmer’s market! I’m so excited – it’s opening June 5. Via DCist.
  • Loved this essay in the Washington Post about the power of the long, slow braise – and the recipes looked tasty too.
  • What do chefs and food writers have in common? Tim Carman cites 15 ways over at Young and Hungry.
  • One Bite at a Time faces an ethical food dilemma, one that I’ve faced many times – do you go for the $16 organic chicken? Or the $6 store brand chicken?

Happy Friday!

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“Does Anybody Like That?” Inexplicably Popular Desserts.

King Cake 5

King Cake. Loved. Reviled. Controversial.

I got some funny looks when I told people I was making King Cake last week. “Why would you want to make that?” was a common reaction, as was “King Cake – ugh, that’s kind of disgusting.” I also got, “does anyone actually like King Cake?”

Well, I do, but the only kind I’ve had is my own (I would bake it for the annual “St. Margarita’s Day Party” back when I lived in a group house, which was a St. Patrick’s Day/Mardi Gras themed party my roommates used to throw. And yes, there is a long story behind the name). But I did a little online research, and there’s a general sentiment that King Cake is as reviled as it is loved.

This, of course, got me thinking about how there are some desserts that are “classics,” but whom no one actually seems to like. You totally know what I’m talking about – like those syrupy, cloying chocolate covered cherries that you get in candy boxes. Who actually likes those? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone ever eat them, except by mistake.

I’d put on my list:

  • The really dry, hard petite fours that are covered in fondant.
  • Any dessert that uses a jello mold and contains pieces of cut up fruit.
  • Flourless chocolate cake. Okay, so maybe that’s a personal taste issue – I just never actually enjoy eating it.
  • Anything with marzipan.
  • “Classic” buttercream frosting (the kind that really tastes like whipped butter).

So, what about you? Are there any desserts that seems like no one likes – and yet never disappear? Or that you can’t understand why people like? I’m curious if it’s just me that thinks about this stuff.

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Food Blogger Happy Hour, March 3 at Vinoteca

Happy Hour Flyer March 3

Happy Hour time!

It’s that time again! Yes, food blogger happy hour time – next Wednesday, March 3 at 6:00 pm. And I’m super excited that it’s at Vinotecta (1940 11th St. NW)  one of my favorite happy hours in the District. I actually had my birthday party there this summer – and they gained my undying affection by throwing in a free bottle of Prosecco (yes, my undying affection is easily bought).

Also, DC Food Bloggers now have a Facebook Fan Page so we can have a virtual hang out space for the community. Are you a fan?

RSVP for the happy hour on the Facebook Page, so we can get a headcount.

And many thanks to the planning committee, who keep these things running:

Arugula Files
Beer Spotter
Biscuits and Such
Capital Cooking
Capital Spice
Common Man Eats
Dining in DC
Gradually Greener
Thrifty DC Cook
We Love DC

If you’re interested in helping plan, email me or leave a comment, and I’ll add you to the list.

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When Life Gives You Cookie Dough, Make Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

Lemon cheesecake cookies - the first of many sugar cookie experiments.

When life gives you lemons you’re supposed to make lemonade, but what about ten pounds of sugar cookie dough? The excess dough I had left over from last week’s TogoRun cookies presented me with quite a dilemma. As I’ve mentioned before, this dough failed to hold its shape, making it unsuitable for last week’s cookie project.

Since I rarely ever make sugar cookies – I usually find them too sweet for my taste – I turned to Twitter for ideas. The lovely Alejandra sent me this Real Simple article about creative uses for sugar cookie dough, which gave me the idea to make thumbprint cookies. I also had a lot of pre-zested lemons left over, and I already knew I wanted to use them for lemon curd. So I decided that, if life gave me lemon curd and cookie dough, I would make lemon cheesecake thumbprints.

I need to digress here for a moment, because you really need to know just how wonderful this lemon curd is. This is the third time that I’ve made this particular lemon curd using a recipe from The Cake Bible, and each time I make it I fall a little more in love. While some lemon curds can be cloying, this is tart and fresh, and really tastes of lemons. Mixed with cream cheese and a little sugar, it made a pungent, creamy, refreshing filling that was good enough to eat on its own.

My other little twist on these cookies is that I rolled each of the sugar cookies in orange scented sugar before baking them, which gave them a deeper citrus note and a nice sparkle. But in the end, the problem with these cookies was the dough – although I shaped them into little thumbprints and even froze them before hand, they still spread out like crazy and my perfect little indentations were lost. I ended up spooning the filling in circles on top of the cookies. Instead of perfect little thumbprints, they looked like a sugar cookie crossed with a lemon danish.

I can’t in good conscience call these thumbprint cookies, although that’s what they were intended to be. But they were still pretty tasty – I liked the tartness of the filling set against the sweet cookie base (which is still too sweet for my taste, but whatever). Were I to make these again I’d bake the cookies slightly less – the brown edges were crispier than I wanted them to be. And I’ll definitely be using the filling again – hopefully in proper thumbprints next time.

Only nine pounds of dough to go.

Lemon Cheesecake Cookies 2

Man, I'm going to be really sick of sugar cookies by the end of this.

Recipe: Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

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Weekly Roundup: Twitter Addict Edition

TogoRun 3

These cookies made my entire apartment smell like royal icing for days.

I’m becoming one of those people. One of those people who actually uses Twitter all the time. I found at least half of the articles from this week’s roundup on Twitter – a social media platform that I used to abhor. I actually have friends that I know primarily from Twitter – and I know more about them than I do about a lot of my good friends from college and high school. It was only this week that I realized that the shift from Twitter skeptic to Twitter evangelist had taken place when I kept on wanting a “take a break” Twitter feature like Gmail has, which locks you out of the account for 15 minute intervals so you can actually concentrate. Now all I need is an iPhone so I can tweet from the road, and the conversion will be complete.

In other news, I’m finished up my final cookie plate last night for Miss. Nonna, and my apartment has finally stopped smelling like royal icing from the TogoRun cookies. I’m already planning my next bake sale, but I don’t have anything concrete to hint at yet. It’s kind of nice to have a free weekend where I can bake whatever I want. I’m thinking of doing something with chocolate and orange – maybe a cake filled with chocolate orange ganache, maybe a re-do of the citrus cupcakes with a silk meringue buttercream made with orange curd. Maybe I’ll re-do the King Cake with a brioche dough and ice it with a lemon icing. Not sure yet. But I’m already getting excited about my baking ideas.

Recipes I want to try, as found from this week’s Internet perusing:

  • Cranberry orange scones, from one Bite At a Time. I’ve been hankering to make scones lately – especially since they’re not on my usual baking roster. These look lovely.

And in other news:

  • Crumbs Bakery, the NYC cupcake shop, is coming to DC – and before they even get here they’re bashing the DC cupcake scene. “We came down to [the DC] market four months ago and did a complete tour and hit every cupcake place,” Crumbs Co-Founder Jason Bauer says in a WaPo article. “Quite honestly, we weren’t impressed with anybody’s product.” Um, anyone’s? Way to sound like an arrogant jerk – and instantly turn me off to your products, dude.
  • We Love DC sums up the Twitter outrage to the Crumbs WaPo article, including a quote (or, um, tweet) from yours truly.
  • In case you didn’t catch it in the bottom of my interview with the fabulous Theresa Luongo Pinelli, Chief Sweetness Officer at Treet – you can get a free brownie at her stand at the Bethesda Central Farmer’s market this Sunday. Just say the secret word “Olympics” and the brownie is yours!
  • Metrocurean took Samuel Fromartz’s snowpocalypse bread baking challenge, and is falling in love with bread baking. Ah. Young love.
  • Also, Metrocurean (aka, Amanda McClements) was interviewed on NPR about macarons, which she thinks will be the next big thing in pastry. Go Amanda! Although why must such a difficult baked item become the next big trend? I can make pretty cupcakes, but macarons intimidate me.
  • This New York Times article about chefs who tweet has been making the Twitter rounds. Most of the DC chefs I follow on Twitter seem so nice! Those NYC chefs are so . . . angry.
  • Jane Black, the Washington Post food writer, takes a look at the future of food writing on her blog. And it’s not pretty.
  • Young and Hungry is excited that BakeShop has finally opened up a storefront in Clarendon. As am I. As am I.
  • Top Shelf reports that Spike Mendelsohn will be opening a pizza joint next to the Good Stuff Eatery in April. And I will probably make the trek over to The Hill come April. Mmmm . . . pizza . . .

Happy Friday!

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Theresa Luongo Pinelli Serves Up Tasty Treats at Treet

Treet 5

Theresa Luongo Pinelli, the Chief Sweetness Officer at Treet

Started in 2009, Treet is a DC-based online bakery that serves up comfort sweets done right – think fudgy brownie bites, melt-in-your-mouth petit fours, and luscious buttery cornbread. Theresa Luongo Pinelli, the pastry chef, owner, and creative force behind Treet, takes a simple, straightforward approach to her baked goods. ” I like things that taste good – something home baked that you wouldn’t make yourself,” she says.

Pinelli didn’t always dream of being a pastry chef – she started out working in the corporate world, doing marketing in New York before she “hit a dead end” with her career. Pinelli had always loved to bake and entertain, and loved to throw massive and elaborate theme parties with her now-husband Vincent. “If we had a ‘white’ themed party everything would be white – white truffles, white wine, white cheese,” she says. In a day of “massive frustration” with her job, Pinelli realized that she had to make a change. During a brainstorming session with her husband she hit on the idea of going to pastry school, which would combine her love of baking, entertaining, and her retail background (Pinelli has an undergraduate degree in retail and consumer science from the University of Arizona).

Pinelli was an accomplished home baker, but she wanted to go to pastry school “to learn to fix things” that went wrong with recipes. Pinelli graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City in 2008. She worked seven days a week to complete her externship at 3 Tarts, a pastry shop in Chelsea, while also working a full-time marketing job. After she and her husband moved to DC for his career, Pinelli spent several months writing her business plan before launching Treet a little over six months ago.

Treet 4

Some of treets bite-sized treets.

While Pinelli prefers to make home-style baked goods – “I’m not a plated dessert pastry chef,” she says – her desserts are anything but mundane. “I believe you can play with texture and flavor in simple baked foods,” she says, an approach that shows in her playful, inventive take on classic American sweets. Take her “truffle shuffle” cookie, which pairs chocolate chunks and cloves for a flavorful twist on a classic chocolate cookie. Pinelli’s most “sentimental” menu item is her X-Ray Vision Carrot Cake with maple cream cheese buttercream, a recipe she developed before she went to pastry school. Her favorite menu item at the moment is an almond caramel bar, made with slivered almonds and a caramelized honey topping, solidified over a sable dough and sprinkled with kosher salt.

Pinelli also has a strong commitment to using locally sourced, sustainable ingredients at Treet. Pinelli only uses grass-fed milk and butter in her products, which she gets from Trickling Springs Creamery in Pennsylvania. She gets her free-range eggs from Waterview Foods, a local farm in Maryland. For Pinelli, using local dairy makes sense from both a business and culinary perspective. “The products are so much fresher and stay fresh so much longer – it enhances the quality of the product,” she says.

Treet 3

Treet's A-MAZE-ing cornbread.

While Pinelli has no plans of opening a storefront for now, there are many ways to get your hands on her “treets.” Pinelli takes orders through her web site,, and has a stand at the Bethesda Central Farmer’s Market on Sundays from 10-2. When the Clarendon Farmer’s Market starts up again this spring, she’ll be there on Wednesdays from 2-7. You can also buy her cornbread and desserts at Soupergirl, the lunchtime soup delivery service. And, at this Sunday’s Bethesda Farmer’s Market, you can get a free brownie in honor of the Olympics if you say the code word “Olympics.”

Now doesn’t that sound like a tasty treet for a Sunday morning? I certainly think so.

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What Was Your Biggest Baking Disaster? And How Did You Fix It?

TogoRun 2

A crisis, averted.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know that I spent most of my weekend making sugar cookies for my friend Deb’s work for Valentine’s Day. They were rolled sugar cookies, each in the shape of a dog bone (the company is named after a famous canine), and each was piped with the company’s name – TogoRun.

There was a narrowly averted disaster in my kitchen with these cookies, however, and it’s all my own fault. See, while I’ve tried many recipes for cupcakes, shortbread cookies, and pound cake, rolled sugar cookies are one of those items that I’ve overlooked – I don’t have a “go-to” recipe (well, I didn’t. But boy I do now). Actually, most of my cookie recipes come from Martha Stewart’s Web site, and I’ve usually had good luck with them. So I didn’t think twice when I decided to use this Martha Stewart recipe for my sugar cookies. I was so (blindly) confident that I even made up a bunch of batches of the dough last week and never even tested the recipe. Hey, it’s Martha. Of course it has to work. Right?

Oh, no. No. That was not the case. When I put my first batch of cookies into the oven this Sunday the dough swelled and puffed up, making the dog bones look more like large misshapen oblongs. Even though I froze the cut-out pieces of dough beforehand, the dough refused to hold its shape.

I had a genuine baking crisis on my hands.

I ended up frantically searching online before I came across this recipe for roll-out sugar cookies from The Kitchn. I was immediately soothed because a.) the post said that she had used the recipe for years, with good and consistent results and b.) the dough uses a mixture of cream cheese and butter, which sounded much more stable than just butter alone. I ended up running all over Adams Morgan searching for flour (yes, the Safeway on Columbia Road was still out of flour from the snowstorm!) and other ingredients Sunday afternoon, before mixing up the replacement dough.

In the end, it all turned out fine – the new recipe worked like a dream, just as The Kitchn promised. In fact, I think my near cookie disaster could almost become an After School Special for aspiring pastry chefs about the value of recipe testing. I will never blindly trust The Martha again.

But it made me wonder – with all that baking during the snow storm, did anyone else have any baking crises? Any particularly memorable baking disasters? And were you able to save whatever it was you were working on? Please share your disaster, or near disaster, stories!

Also, I’d love any ideas on what to do with all this leftover cookie dough!


I also learned a lot about piping frosting with these, but that's another post.

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King Cake: A Mardi Gras Tradition That Won’t Leave You Hungover

King Cake 4

Instead of going to a crazy Mardi Gras party, just have a piece of this cake.

Mardi Gras is one of those holidays I always want to celebrate, but when the day comes around I never actually do anything – kind of like St. Patrick’s Day. Yes, I’m sure that there will be plenty of late night celebrations in Adams Morgan tonight (my hood), but that’s much too intense for a happy hour girl like me.

Thankfully, even if you plan on staying in this evening, you can still avail yourself of Mardi Gras sweets. Like King Cake, the ring of simple brioche dough named for the biblical Three Kings. The buttery bread, topped with sweet icing and green, yellow and purple colored sugar for Mardi Gras, is perfect for breakfast or dessert. I like it lightly toasted, spread with butter, and sprinkled with a little sea salt.

The recipe comes from David Guas, formerly the Executive Pastry Chef of Acadiana, Ceiba, DC Coast, and TenPenh. His cookbook, “Dam Good Sweet,” chronicles the desserts and pastries from his childhood in New Orleans, and I couldn’t resist trying his King Cake recipe for Mardi Gras. Unfortunately, I think I over-baked the cake – it came out a little too dry for my taste. Next time I might try to use a regular brioche recipe and then just decorate it King Cake style. Either way, it makes some damn good toast – and is there a better way to celebrate a holiday than good toast? I think not.

King Cake 6

It kind of looks like a giant donut.

Recipe: King Cake

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Weekly Roundup: Snow and Cookies Edition

Cookie Plates

Can't really begin to tell you what I've gone through to make these cookies.

There’s been a whole snow-related drama that I haven’t really been talking about this week – the drama of the cookies. Now, as many of you know, I’m selling these cookie plates for Valentine’s Day – and this week was supposed to be the big week that I sent them out. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out when, exactly, I was going to make all these cookies – I couldn’t make them all at once, obviously, otherwise orders later in the week would be stale. And I was really proud of the schedule I drew up.

Enter the snow. Not only did the difficult traveling conditions and snow days completely change up my schedule, but the grocery stores were out of everything. Like eggs. And flour – yes, flour! I went to the Safeway on Columbia road Monday, and the only flour left was whole wheat – not cookie appropriate! The only white all-purpose flour I could fine was organic flour at Harris Teeter – I snagged one of the last few bags.

Of course, I’m very glad that everyone was baking up a storm during the snow days – ya’ll made some seriously tasty-looking baked goods. I just wish I had had the foresight to buy all my flour before the storm, that’s all.

Really lovely snow day recipes I want to try:

  • Tomato soup, simple and satisfying, from Sassy Radish.
  • Plum cake, another snow day baking experiment, from One Bite at a Time.
  • Bagels from The Indoor Garden_er (who, sadly, still had to go to work this week).

And in other news (both snow and non-snow related):

  • Lisa from Dining in DC is going to be a judge on the Travel Channels’ Food Wars this Sunday. Apparently the show has different chefs recreate an iconic local food item – and for DC, it’s the Jumbo Slice. You know, I really can’t argue with that. I’ll be at choir and making some epic cookies, but you can go cheer her on this weekend.
  • Over at Metrocurean Greg Engert, beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, shares good beers for cold nights.
  • I love Orangette, Molly Wizenburg’s lovely food blog. Wizenburg and her husband just opened up Delancey, a pizza joint in Seattle, which The Arugula Files visited this week.
  • Tim Carman at Young and Hungry takes a look at how supply chains affected restaurants’ ability to stay open during the Snowpocalypse.

Happy Friday!

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