Archive for dessert

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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“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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For the Blizzard: Spiked White Hot Chocolate

Spiked White Hot Chocolate

Mmm, white hot chocolate. This is what I had for breakfast.

I’ve never seen a blizzard until today. Outside my window, the snow is practically falling horizontally because of the high winds. I can barely see down the street, and everyone’s steps, which they diligently shoveled yesterday, are already covered in snow again.

Some of my friends are braving the blizzard and going sledding later today, but I think I’ll stay cozy and warm in my nice little apartment. But, for all of you people who are venturing out into the winter wonderland, I have a recipe to warm you up when you finally come back inside – spiked white hot chocolate.

Now, white chocolate gets a bad rap, in my opinion. Yes, it’s not exactly chocolate – it doesn’t contain cocoa solids. But the mixture of cocoa butter, milk solids, and sugar is rich and creamy. Poor quality white chocolate will taste shockingly sweet, but good quality white chocolate is like eating a bar of vanilla. I love using white chocolate in frosting and mousse, and it pairs well with ginger, dark chocolate, and berries.

This spiked white hot chocolate is lovely for a cold snowy day like today – it contains no other sweeteners besides the chocolate, so it isn’t too sweet. And the rum brings out the vanilla flavor of the chocolate, and gives the drink just a touch of bite from the alcohol. It’s white chocolate at its best – and perfect to warm you up after a snow ball fight.

Spiked White Hot Chocolate
Makes one serving

10 oz whole milk
2.5 oz good quality white chocolate, such as Lindt, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs dark rum

Heat milk on stove until hot (but not boiling). Meanwhile, melt white chocolate in a medium bowl in the microwave (microwave on low in 20 second bursts, stirring between intervals, until chocoalte is melted and smooth). Pour milk over melted white chocolate, stirring until blended. Add vanilla and rum. Serve warm, garnished with whipped cream of chocolate shavings, if desired.

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For Your Super Bowl Party: Churchkey’s Caramel Corn

Stuck Kernel

I would totally go to the Super Bowl party that had this caramel corn.

Photo by Helga’s Lobster Stew, via flickr, used under the Creative Commons license.

I don’t like sports. Well, except the Olympics – and then mostly just figure skating and gymnastics, so I feel that doesn’t count. Granted, I like to go to a Nationals game now and again, but mostly for the opportunity to drink beer, eat Noah’s pretzels, and bemoan the number of my tax dollars that went into subsidizing a stadium that’s rarely half full.

So my friends and family may be a little surprised that, yes, I am actually blogging about what to eat at your Super Bowl party. I’ve only watched the Super Bowl once, and then only because I had relationship obligations. But now my life is blissfully sports-free, besides the occasional update on the Ducks football from my dad (which is quite fine).

Still, the Super Bowl is a time for parties and gatherings – and if you end up hanging out with a bunch of people in the kitchen, not watching the game and chatting, then what’s the harm?

This recipe for caramel corn comes from Tiffany MacIsaac, the fab pastry chef at Birch and Barley and Churchkey (she serves it up at Churchkey). But it’s not just any caramel corn – it’s mixed with salted cashews, toasted coconut flakes, and candied ginger, and coated in homemade caramel sauce. It’s a perfect Super Bowl treat – you can snack on this stuff all day. Many thanks to MacIsaac for sharing her recipe. It looks like a stroke of salty, sweet genius. In fact, if I went to a party that served this caramel corn, I might even agree to watch the game.

Caramel Popcorn
By Tiffany MacIsaac, Birch & Barley and ChurchKey

Note, I recently purchased a kitchen scale (such a great idea – so much easier just pouring stuff into a bowl and weighing, rather than scooping out all those damn cups), but for those of you without, there are a couple of online resources for converting metric recipes into cups. Check out this converter on Gourmet Sleuth, and also the ingredient database at Nutrition Data. If there’s great interest, I can test this out and come up with a conversion myself – just let me know in the comments.

Caramel Popcorn
By Tiffany MacIsaac, Birch & Barley and ChurchKey

3/4 cup popcorn kernels
300 grams salted cashews
200 grams toasted coconut flakes
1/4 cup candied ginger, minced
1000 grams granulated sugar
350 grams water
45 grams butter

1) Cover the bottom of a saute pan with a thin layer of oil (about 3-4 TBSP) and pour in the kernels in a single layer. Cover with foil and place over a medium heat until you hear them start to pop. At this point, shake the pot and continue to cook until all corn is popped.

2) Sift out pieces of kernels. Place popcorn in a bowl and add the cashews, ginger and coconut.

3) In a medium pot, cook the granulated sugar and water to a medium caramel. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Pour over the popcorn mix and use a heat proof spatula or metal spoon to stir. All the popcorn should be coated. Pour onto a silpat or 2 cookie sheets that have been sprayed or buttered. While still hot, sprinkle with a heavy amount of salt. Kosher is fine but a sea salt like Maldon or Fleur de Sel is best. Once cool, store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

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What’s Your Favorite Romantic Dessert?

Strawberry Panna Cotta 2

Strawberry panna cotta. Yes, it's pink, but is it really romantic?

Valentine’s Day, as I’m sure I’ve said before, is a silly holiday. No one I know actually knows its origin (I think it has something to do with St. Valentine . . . . and also letters . . . and maybe something about him being in jail. And that’s all I know without the aid of Google), and it’s difficult to see it as anything but a commercial opportunity created by greeting card companies (and, um,  possibly food bloggers).

But it’s certainly made me think a lot about food and romance lately, and what makes a good romantic meal. This weekend I did some research on “aphrodisiac” foods, to see if I couldn’t come up with some kind of Valentine’s-day themed dessert menu, but all my ideas seemed inauthentic and unforgivably cheesy. After all, why should I suggest that you make something with chocolate and figs, both of which are supposedly “aphrodisiac” foods, if neither ingredients mean anything to you?

Romance is so particular to each couple and their history, inside jokes, and personal tastes, that a “romantic” meal will be different for everyone. If you met the love of your life in a Krispy Kremes, a “romantic” dessert might be homemade doughnuts served with different dipping sauces. If you both love chocolate, then maybe you should make that chocolate cake from the cover of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. Or if you’re both wine lovers, maybe the way you want to end your romantic meal is with a nice glass of champagne (although Lemmonex’s champagne pear cupcakes might be a nice way to end a meal too).

So, I’m curious – do you and your partner have a “romantic” dessert? And what’s the story that makes it romantic to you?

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What’s the Most Interesting Dessert You’ve Had From Another Country?

Indian Candy

It was so . . . silvery . . .

My coworker, Elpis and Justice, just got back from a trip from India, and she brought back some Indian candy to the office. I haven’t tasted that many Indian sweets – besides the rice pudding that’s standard in Indian restaurant lunch buffets. So I was really interested to try the confections Elpis brought back.

But I was a little taken a back when I saw that the entire candy was coated in edible silver. I’m generally not a fan of edible metals in desserts. Once I got a cupcake at the Red Velvet Cupcakery that was topped with a tiny piece of edible gold, and the slight metallic taste set my teeth on edge. On the other hand, after seeing photos of the Indian wedding Elpis attended, where beautifully beaded saris and jewels abounded, the silver coated candy didn’t seem all that out of place.

The candy was interesting – some of the pieces had almonds and spices, and they were wrapped in what looked like some kind of nut favored covering. It was much sweeter than American candy, which usually goes for flavor contrasts (like sweet and sour, or sweet and salty). But, in general, all I could taste was the metal.

But this made me think about how desserts differ from food culture to food culture, and also change over time. What’s the most interesting dessert you’ve from another country? Was there anything you loved that you didn’t expect to like? Anything that you hated?

Indian Candy Box

Candy box.

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Also For Your Snow Day: Hot Chocolate

hot chocolate

Hot chocolate - perfect for a snow day too!

I realized after writing up my ideas on what to bake on a snow day, that I forgot the most obvious snow day sweet – hot chocolate! From what I can gather from Twitter, many of you have already been out and about this morning, and I’m sure you’re freezing (I, on the other hand, stayed up until 3:00 am last night watching Hulu and woke up . . . well, let’s just say I haven’t been outside today yet). So here’s some delicious hot chocolate recipes to warm your soul, and fingers.

  • Have you read David Lebovitz’s book “The Sweet Life In Paris?” Well, one of my favorite chapters was the one on the hot chocolate in Paris and Lebovitz’s search for the “perfect” cup. I haven’t tried his recipe for rich, intensely chocolatey chocolat chaud, but I want to.
  • White hot chocolate – I actually like white chocolate (I know, I know, it’s not real chocolate. I don’t care), so this white hot chocolate recipe from Martha Stewart looks tempting. Although I might spice it up with some fresh ginger, to cut down on the sweetness. Or rum.
  • It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of mint and chocolate desserts, and this peppermint hot chocolate from Michael Chiarello looks lovely. It uses peppermint schnapps, so it’s for grownups, but I don’t have a problem with that.
  • This Mexican hot chocolate recipe from David Guas also looks good. I bet putting an actual vanilla bean in the hot chocolate is delicious.
  • And, finally, a recipe for spiked hot chocolate from Emeril, that adds bourbon or brandy to the regular hot chocolate mix. Um, this may be the one I need to make tonight – especially if I can corral some friends into coming over. I wonder if the liquor store near me is open in the snowstorm.

Happy snow day! Any recipes for hot chocolate you want to share?

Hot chocolate 2

Mmmmm . . .

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David Guas Talks About His New Cookbook, New Orleans, and Desserts With The “Granny” Factor

David Guas, Pastry Chef, author, stove-top pudding lover. Photo courtesy of simoneink.

David Guas’ new cookbook, DamGoodSweet, practically drips with sugar. The down-home, unfussy New Orleans style desserts like sweet corn cake with root beer syrup, lemon doberge cake, and pecan and brown butter ice cream are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. But Guas’ book also overflows with memories; each recipe is accompanied by a story of his life growing up in New Orleans. The recipes don’t just give directions – they document the bakeries, stores, and local food vendors of Guas’ youth, a landscape that hurricane Katrina permanently altered.

Guas moved to the DC area from New Orleans 11 years ago, after working as a pastry chef at Windsor Court Hotel, to open DC Coast. He served as the Executive Pastry chef for Passion Food Hospitality restaurants until 2007, overseeing the desserts for Ten Penh, Ceiba, and Acadiana. Guas left to form his own consulting company, DamGoodSweet, in 2007. Faithful readers will remember that one of his consulting projects was developing the cupcakes for the Red Velvet Cupcakery. Guas is currently looking to open his own bakery – appropriately named the Bayou Bakery – although he has yet to find the perfect space.

Guas sat down with ModernDomestic last week, where we talked about nostalgia baking, desserts with the Granny factor, and what he likes to cook with his two sons.

MD: How did you end up working in pastry?
DG: I’m an “accidental” pastry chef. I applied in the kitchen at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, and all they had open at the time was in the pastry department. After some persuading, the master pastry chef decided to hire me, but only if I wouldn’t make him regret his decision.

MD: Once you got your foot in the door – at any time did you think you’d move back down into the kitchen?
DG: That was my mindset in the first couple months. But the next thing you know, I started getting pushed around shift-wise to a lot of different shifts, and I was always finding something new and interesting to learn in that department. The executive chef at the time was Jeff Tonks and he took an interest in me. Before I knew it I was collaborating on the menu with the executive pastry chef and playing around with desserts at home. Jeff offered me a position to open his restaurant – DC Coast in the summer of ’98.

MD: How would you describe your approach to cooking?
DG: The way I cook in the book is the way I like to eat – you can dive into a bowl of pudding, or a not-so-sweet, nontraditional red velvet cake. It’s a pretty true marker of how I consider myself as a person – these are down home and any-day-of-the-week kind of desserts. They’re not overly fussy. It’s a break from that à la carte mentality of component desserts – where you got your main dessert with a sauce and a crisp and a tart. The style of the restaurants I came from was fussy.

But with the economy, more people are cooking at home, and they really don’t cut out desserts because they’re trying to save money. If anything you need it more so now than ever, because it tells you that everything’s going to be okay. I call it the granny factor. There’s a lot of desserts that have the “G” factor.

MD: “Nostalgia” desserts are pretty trendy these days – do you think they’re here to stay?
Nostalgia never went anywhere. It was masked by other fancy things. That’s the beautiful thing about what those type of desserts are – they’re going to stand the test of time. The restaurants that aren’t struggling as much right now are those ones with mid price points, that know where their products come from. A great example is Elevation Burger – they fry their fries in olive oil, and the burgers are delicious. You know where the beef comes from. I don’t mind paying for that.

MD: Do you ever bake with your kids?
DG: All the time. We’ll do the simple things, like cookies and brownies on the weekend. Anther thing I do is stove-top puddings. They actually adore my chocolate and banana pudding.

Banana pudding, a favorite in the Guas household, from DamGoodSweet. Photo by Ellen Silverman.

MD: How did Hurricane Katrina influence the book?
DG: That was the motivation – I wanted to get the stories [of New Orleans] down for my two sons, and to document the restaurants and the sweet shops.

MD: Are there any bakeries in the book that aren’t there anymore?
DG: Lawrence’s Bakery [also called Mr. Wedding Cake], and McKenzie’s Bakery. Mr Wedding Cake – that was right near my dad’s office, and McKenzie’s was pretty much everywhere around the city. McKenzie’s closed, but not because of the storm – but Lawrence’s did.

MD: Do you have a favorite bakery in DC? I ask this partially for my own purposes – I really want to find a good bakery in the DC area.
I don’t go to a lot of bakeries, I really don’t. If I want brownies and I don’t want to make them myself I’ll go to Artisan Confections. Saturday only he makes these Valrhona brownies that are the bomb. And he does chocolates too.

But my entire neighborhood wants me to open a place. We have Randolph’s and Heidelberg’s, and they are what they are. They’re not going to change, and they’re not going anywhere. But I bring a youthful energy to desserts.

MD: So what’s the current plan for the Bayou Bakery?
DG: Bayou Bakery plans haven’t changed, it’s just a matter of finding a space. I talk to my broker every day now. I’m looking for a turnkey operation, and those are hard to come by.

MD: Any recipes from the book you plan to sell?
DG: One hundred percent of them. We’ll have king cakes during carnival – everything. It’s my opportunity not to do the à la carte stuff.

MD: One more question – where do you like to eat in DC?
DG: I love Brasserie Becks – I love going there and getting a beer and some mussels. I love the salads. I love sitting at the bar at Ceiba or Ten Pehn. Black Salt – Jeff Black’s restaurants, is really close to our house – just across the chain bridge. Phenomenal food, great product, great menu.

Cup custard (yum), from DamGoodSweet. Photo by Ellen Silverman.

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Holiday Desserts – Double Chocolate Mint Tart (And An Unfortunate Event)

Double Chocolate Mint Pie

It did not arrive at the party this way.

There are some desserts that you make to please, and there are some desserts you make to impress. Lately, I’ve been wanting to make the latter kind. It’s finally the holiday season, the time for fancy desserts – in fact, given my current baking inclinations, holiday desserts are going to be my December baking project. But last weekend my desire to impress was thwarted by my general clumsiness – well, that and some new jeans that are a little too long, and a pair of stilettos.

So there it is, above – a double chocolate mint tart. A chocolate cookie crust, filled with chocolate ganache, topped with a layer of white chocolate mint mousse, and drizzled with chocolate sauce. It was my own creation, which I was taking to one of the many pre-Thanksgiving parties I attended this year.

Too bad I tripped on my walk to the metro carrying this tart – in classic Jenna fashion, I fell flat on my face, arms and legs akimbo (I trip like this at least twice a year, if not more). My tupperware container flew from my hands and landed upside down, several feet away. One passer by stopped his bike, exclaiming in a worried tone “Oh my god – are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m okay,” I replied. “But I don’t think my dessert is okay.” After all, bruised knees will heal. I could not say the same for my tart.

Most of the tart ended up on the roof of the tupperware container, and I was able to scrape the filling back into the tart shell when I got to the party. But folks, it was not the same. Instead of lovely layers of cookie, ganache and mousse, everything was mixed together – more like a trifle scraped into a tart pan.

It wasn’t all bad – even in its uncomposed state, the tart was pretty delicious – in fact, it a hit at the party. Part of my problem with a lot of chocolate desserts is that they’re too heavy, so intensely chocolatey that I can only eat a couple bites. But this is a chocolate dessert that doesn’t overwhelm – the intense chocolate ganache layer and the rich chocolate sauce is offset by the creamy, minty, white chocolate mousse. The crunchy chocolate cookie crumb crust is the perfect foil to filling – in fact, every time I make a crumb crust, I fall a little more in love with them.

I guess that’s another point in this dessert’s favor – it was suprisingly resilient, even in the face of klutziness. But I really want someone else to make this for a holiday party – so it can be served in its proper, impressive fashion.

And if you do, I suggest you save your stilettos for another night.

Double Chocolate Mint Pie - Post Flip

It arrived this way.

Recipe: Double Chocolate Mint Pie

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Buttery Caramel Ice Cream

Buttery Caramel Ice Cream 2

God. I love ice cream.

An ice cream maker isn’t just a kitchen tool – it is a path to dessert freedom. Think about it – can you think of a dessert that is more adaptable than ice cream? Because ice cream (and yes, I’m using it as a generic term here for any frozen, churned dessert, including gelato, sorbet, and sherbet) is essentially just a liquid frozen in an ice cream maker, it is incredibly versatile.

Flavors that can only serve as accents in a cake – like citrus, nuts, or fruit – work perfectly well as the main flavor in an ice cream or sorbet. Because ice cream doesn’t rely on sugar for structure, like a cake does, it’s much easier to control the amount of sweetness in your ice cream. And you can mix pretty much anything into ice cream (within reason). I can have my mint ice cream with some cookies, fudge, chocolate chips, brownies, or anything else good-tasting that I can think of.

Suffice it to say, I love my ice cream maker. And I was very excited to use it to make David Lebovitz’s salted butter caramel ice cream this weekend, although I wasn’t ambitious enough to make the caramel praline mix-in that the recipe called for.

Now, I had originally intended to make this ice cream to go along with my caramel apple walnut pie, which seemed like a natural accompaniment. However, the ice cream wasn’t quite set up when my taste testers arrived, so what I served them was much more akin to caramel sauce.

In retrospect, I think fate was trying to tell me something with the soupy ice cream, because I actually don’t think this ice cream is the right accompaniment to my pie. The ice cream is incredibly rich, with a deep, luscious toffee flavor – and it’s so good on its own that it overwhelms the pie. The subtle sweetness of the pie crust and the tangy interplay between the apples and the caramel gets lost in the richness of the caramel ice cream. Next time, I think I might try the pie with a lighter ice cream, like ginger or vanilla.

No, this caramel ice cream is a big, bold ice cream. It’s deep caramel and butter flavors are rounded out with a bitter, burnt sugar undertone. It deserves to be the star of the dessert plate. I actually think it would be very good in a sundae, topped with some chocolate sauce, caramelized hazelnuts, and whipped cream. But it’s also quite fabulous on its own.

Get the recipe for Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream over at David Lebovitz’s blog.

Buttery Caramel Ice Cream 1

Slightly melty, yet no less delicious.

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