Posts Tagged 2009 baking project

Holiday Desserts – Julia Child’s Pear Tart

Pear Tart

A delicious blast from the past.

Last Sunday I had my book club over for an afternoon of Julia Child, chatting, and food. We were reading Julia Child’s memoir, “My Life in France,” about Child’s first years in Paris and her education at the Cordon Blue Cooking School. Back in July when I watched Julie and Julia I had the bright idea that I should have the book club over in December and make lunch from “Mastering The Art of French Cooking.”

I have to say, I was so focused on making the lunch that I actually didn’t read all of the memoir (okay, I stopped at page 70). And I had no idea that the recipes in “Mastering” were so damn labor intensive – I wanted to make a sauce to go with my chicken, but I didn’t have the four hours that it would require. I read somewhere (and I can’t now remember where, otherwise I would link to it) that Child’s techniques reflected classic French restaurant cooking – her laborious methods reflect the technique of a restaurant chef rather than those of a home cook. I believe it.

Even if looking through the Mastering the Art of French Cooking transports me back to the 1950s, I was surprised at how great all the food was. The butterflied chicken, bathed in butter and tarragon, was delicious, and the cauliflower, cooked in cheese sauce and spread with bread crumbs, was one of the most perfect things I’ve had in a long time.

But I was really surprised at how much I loved the dessert. It seemed so staid and boring – a poached pear tart with a sugar cookie crust and frangipane (almond pastry cream) filling. But the simple flavors were perfect. I poached the pears in a wine syrup flavored with cinnamon and spices, which made them sweet and spicy and even more pear-like than before. The almond cream was sweet and creamy and paired perfectly with the pears. And the cookie crust was crunchy and sweet and fresh. It was a perfect dessert.

Really, this Julia Child person really knew what she was talking about. And some classic things – even if they feel stuffy, actually are classics for a reason. The only problem I had with the tart was that the pears were a little too big to fit in the tart shell – I guess pears were probably smaller in Julia Child’s time.

Pear Tart 2

So yeah, my pear slicing skills are not so hot.

Recipe: Julia Child’s Pear Tart


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Holiday Desserts: Pumpkin Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Walnuts

Pumpkin Cake 2

Pumpkin cake, covered with cream cheese frosting and candied walnuts. Trust me, it looks messy, but it tasted great.

You know on Project Runway how the judges criticize the designers for “over-thinking it?” Like, a designer thinks so hard about their “statement” that they end up sending something down the runway covered with ruffles and bows and leather that’s really forced?

Well, I totally do that with desserts.

For me, when I know I’m going to a party, and I really want to bring something great, I’ll spend hours thinking about it. Cake, pie, chocolate, fruit, cream, frosting – there are just so combinations of deliciousness. But when it comes time to actually bake, I’m so paralyzed by thinking about all my options that I can’t decide.

This pumpkin cake was a dessert I ended up making because I couldn’t make up my mind. It was Thanksgiving morning, I had overslept, I had a couple hours before I had to leave for my Thanksgiving potluck, and I still couldn’t make a decision. “Fine – fine,” I thought. “I’m just going to make a pumpkin something.”

I randomly chose a pumpkin cake recipe that I had all the ingredients for. I topped it with cream cheese frosting, but with half the amount of cream cheese the recipe called for, since that’s all I had. And, since I wanted a decoration, I candied some walnuts, ground them in the food processor, and patted them onto the cake.

It may have been a cake borne out of necessity, but I got lucky. It was fantastic. Well, actually, the cake itself was just okay – I found it a little bland. Next time I might spice it up fresh ginger or rum or something to give it a little pep.

But, man, the frosting? Fantastic. It was a random stroke of luck, but the halving the amount of cream cheese made the frosting incredibly light and creamy – the cream cheese was more of a tangy undernote than the main flavor. It actually reminded me of the vanilla frosting of Georgetown Cupcake, which has a slight tang I always suspected was cream cheese.

And the candied walnuts? Also fantastic. In fact, it was the combination of the crunchy, salty-sweet walnuts with the creamy, tangy frosting that was the reason this cake was so good.

Even though it was a last minute decision, the cake was still a hit at the Thanksgiving party. Next time I just may want to start it in advance, since the presentation was a bit, shall we say, slapped together. But, as Tim Gunn says, I made it work.

Pumpkin Cake 3

A slice of cake. Man, that bottom layer is way smaller than that top layer.

Recipe: Pumpkin Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Walnuts

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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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Pie Time: Chocolate Cream Pie

Chocolate Cream Pie 3

Nothing healthful about this little baby.

I’ve had very little cream pie in my life.

The pies of my childhood were mainly of the fruit variety – and when I say fruit I mean apples. My mother was cursed with children who were very picky eaters, and the only pie we would tolerate was the apple kind. On the whole, we are not a pie family.

But I wonder what would have happened if my mother had offered us a piece of the chocolate cream pie I made this weekend. Unlike apple pie, whose fruit filling has a veneer of healthfulness (at least, if you’re a kid), everything about this pie screams “dessert:” a chocolate crumb crust, filled with a silky chocolate pudding filling, and adorned with mounds of whipped cream and chocolate curls.

I was ambitious with this pie – I actually made my own chocolate wafer cookies from this Smitten Kitchen recipe, and then ground them into crumbs for the crumb crust. The wafers may have been more trouble than they were worth – about a third of them burnt, and, while they tasted fine, they lacked that intense, chocolatey, slightly salty flavor of Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers, which I usually use for a crumb crust. For those of you who want to try to make your own wafers, my one piece of advice is to freeze the dough log before you slice it into cookies – I chilled mine in the refrigerator for the recommended one hour, but the dough was still way too soft to slice cleanly.

I ended up making the crust slightly too thick, but it was still satisfyingly crunchy. It was the perfect foil to the creamy, chocolate pudding filling, which had a rich chocolate flavor without being too sweet. The pudding is thickened with cornstarch, giving it a silky, light texture. The whole thing is topped with a layer of whipped cream, which I spiced up with a little Grand Marnier and cinnamon.

Now, you’ll notice this pie looks a little, shall we say, un-pie like. That is because I made this pie in a tart tin, rather than a pie pan. This was not my intention, but I broke my pie pan in the process of making this pie – let’s just say that balancing a glass pan on top of my coffee maker is not the most secure situation.

So, technically, you could call this a tart. But I think you should still think of it as a pie. Its simple, unpretentious, messy soul is much more pie like.

And whatever you call it, it’s delicious. I took this to a pre-Thanksgiving party, where it was promptly devoured.

Chocolate cream pie 1

Many thanks to my taste testers!

Recipe: Chocolate Cream Pie

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Pie Time: Caramel Apple Walnut Pie

Caramel Apple Walnut Pie

It's pie time.

It’s November. We’re officially in the holiday season. It’s cold outside (sometimes). And the fruits in season – apples, quinces, cranberries – are naturally drawn to pie. Nature, tradition, and expectation declare that it’s pie time.

So my November baking project will be focusing on pie. But not just any pie – festive pie. Holiday pie. Dare I even say it – party pie.

My first offering, caramel apple walnut pie, is a regular apple pie tarted up for the holiday season. I mixed roasted walnuts with the apple filling, added a layer of caramel on the bottom crust, and a drizzle of caramel over the top.

Because the caramel is so sweet, I decreased the sugar in the apple filling – giving the apples a nice tartness that contrasts with the sweet caramel. The crunchy walnuts give a textural contrast to the soft apples, and their slightly bitter flavor helps bring out the sweetness of the rest of the filling. Actually, if I were to make this again, I think I’d up the caramel content – make some more of it and drizzle it over the apples, not just keep it in a layer on the bottom of the pie.

Still, the pie crust was flaky and crisp, the apples were sweet and tart without being overpowering, and the caramel drizzled over the top looked rustic and inviting. Pretty good for my first pie attempt in quite some time.

Many thanks to my taste testers, Nonnka and Deborahdawn, who came over on very short notice Sunday to deal with an excess of pie.

Caramel Apple Pie - Slice

Hello, pie. It's been awhile.

Recipe: Caramel Apple Walnut Pie

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Pumpkin Beer Ice Cream

Pumpkin Beer Ice Cream 1

The last of the beer ice creams.

We’re at the last of the beer ice creams from this weekend’s ice cream making extravaganza. And I saved the best for last, because this final offering – pumpkin beer ice cream – was definitely my favorite. And science will back me up – I had an ice cream taste test with Elpis and Justice and her out of town guests this weekend, and this was their favorite one of the bunch as well.

I made this beer ice cream with Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, which I bought because it promised “a full bodied brown ale brewed with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg.” In other words, it already sounded like it was on the path to dessert land (more importantly, it was available at the Whole Foods across from work).

Now, from the few pumpkin beers I’ve tasted – and after reading Capital Spice’s excellent notes from their pumpkin beer tasting last week – I can safely say that pumpkin beers run the gamut from the extremely pumpkin-y brews to those that merely “suggest” a pumpkin flavor. The Punkin Ale was a nice mid point – it was sweet and pumpkin-y, but not overwhelmingly so, with malt and spicy notes.

I modified a Williams-Sonoma recipe for regular old pumpkin ice cream, but halved the pumpkin, cut down on the cream, and added the beer. The beer gives the ice cream a hit of malt and spice, with a slight bite from the alcohol, and the pumpkin custard brings out the pumpkin flavors of the ale. Set against the creamy sweetness of the custard, it’s a lovely combination. This ice cream is like eating a creamy, spicy, slightly alcoholic pumpkin pie filling. But I think I like this more than pumpkin pie.

Like I said, ice cream is my great weakness.

Pumpkin Beer Ice Cream 2

You are my favorite. Yes. You.

Note: I have no idea why the original recipe directs you to mix the vanilla and the pumpkin together and let it sit for three to eight hours. I’m sure there are good reasons behind this step, but I really don’t care to know what they are. I added the ingredients at the end, like a normal person, and the final ice cream tasted fine.

Pumpkin Beer Ice Cream

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Chocolate Stout Ice Cream

Chocolate Stout Ice Cream

Part two of the weekend beer ice cream extravaganza.

Ice cream is a forbidden item on my grocery shopping list. If I buy it, then chances are it will be gone the next day. Dryers, Ben and Jerry’s, even the cheap stuff from Safeway – it doesn’t matter. It’s one of those few, special dessert items where I lack any semblance of self control.

I’m hoping that I can get some people to come over next weekend and polish off the rest of this beer ice cream sitting in my freezer. Although, next weekend might be too late. The next installment in my weekend of beer ice cream madness is almost gone.

My second batch of beer ice cream, after the peach and strawberry lambic sorbet, revisited the chocolate/stout flavors I used in the Guinness Oreos. But this time I took my commenter’s advice and used an actual chocolate stout – Brooklyn’s Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout, to be exact – as the basis for the dessert. The beer really calls out to be used as a dessert item. It’s lovely stuff, but it was so rich and dark, with prominent chocolate notes, that I could barely drink a bottle on my own.

I used this David Lebovitz recipe for milk chocolate Guinness ice cream as a jumping off point for my ice cream. I made only minor changes – substituting the chocolate stout for Guinness, and cutting down on the sweetness by using half milk chocolate and half bittersweet chocolate.

The final ice cream has a rich, sweet chocolate flavor that’s accented by the yeasty flavor of the beer. Flavor wise, I loved it – you could taste the stout, but it didn’t overpower the chocolate – it was nicely balanced. But I had some problems texture-wise; the chocolate didn’t quite incorporate with the custard, and the ice cream had a slightly silty texture. While not entirely unpleasant, the ice cream didn’t have that perfectly smooth creaminess that I hoped to achieve. And I’m really not sure what went wrong – although I suspect I may have cooked the custard for a tad too long.

Still, I would make this again in a heartbeat. Chocolate, chocolate stout, cream – what is there not to love? It’s a recipe that deserves to be perfected. Now if I could only find someone to take the rest of this batch off my hands.

Chocolate Stout Ice Cream 2

That beer should really be sold in the "dessert" section of the grocery store.

Recipe: Chocolate Stout Ice Cream

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Strawberry and Peach Lambic Sorbet

Strawberry and Peach Lambic Sorbet 2

The first of several beer flavored ice creams.

I went a little crazy this weekend. A little beer crazy, to be exact. See, ever since I decided that my October project was going to be desserts and baking with beer, I can’t stop thinking about it. Every time I go on the internet and see a new dessert recipe – mousse, pie, custard – I wonder, “can I beer that up?”

This weekend, it was beer ice cream. On Friday night, rather than going out and braving the rain, I stayed in and made batch after batch of beer ice cream. Let me tell you, there are few better ways to spend a Friday.

Based on the comments on my last beer baking post – Guinness Oreos – I decided to try to make a sorbet using Lindeman’s Pêche lambic, which I chose purely because one of my friends in college was forever drinking Lindeman’s lambic beers (and because it was available at the Whole Foods near my work). My original idea was to pair the peach lambic with a peach puree, but, since peaches are entirely out of season, I couldn’t find any. I thought at least I’d be able to find some peaches from Chile (therefore committing a deep crime of unseasonal dessert making), but I couldn’t even find those. So I committed a different crime of unseasonality, and paired the peach lambic with strawberries (from California) instead.

I was worried that having too great proportion of beer to fruit would prevent the sorbet from freezing, but the final product was a little weak on the beer and strong on the strawberries. Part of this, I think, was my choice of beer – the Lindeman’s peach lambic is very sweet and very mild – too mild, I think.  The other problem was the strawberries – I think if I had used peaches it would have brought out the lambic’s flavor more. Instead, the strawberries overwhelmed the lambic – it tasted mostly like a regular strawberry sorbet.

My question for all you beer lovers out there is this: do you have any good lambic suggestions for a re-do of this sorbet? As I’m a beer novice, I’d love your help.

Also, because I know some of you are thinking it – it wasn’t until I had done all my shopping and was safely at home on Friday that I realized I should have just made a sorbet with hard cider. There are great hard ciders out there, and I could have mixed it with a non-alcoholic cider to make a lovely sorbet. If only I had thought of that before I started shopping. Oh well. Maybe next weekend.

Peach Lambic and Strawberry Sorbet 1

Not perfect, but not bad either.

Recipe: Strawberry and Peach Lambic Sorbet

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October Baking Project, Take One: Chocolate Guinness Oreos

Guinness Oreos 1

These were meant to be.

A couple weeks ago I attended a “Blogtoberfest” meeting – the brainchild of the Orr Shtuhl, the Young and Hungry Beerspotter. The idea behind Blogtoberfest is to inspire DC bloggers – foodie and otherwise – to write about beer this October. Not just odes to craft brews — which is a little hard to do if, like me, you’re not a hard-core beer fanatic — but our personal stories about beer, food, and culture.

While I was certainly inspired to think about beer and culture (and will have an upcoming post on that subject), what I really pondered after that meeing is how I could bake with beer. What is the intersection between beer and pastry? Beer and dessert?

And with that, my October cooking/baking project was born – baking with beer.

This is actually a tricky little project, as this is new territory for me. I don’t know beer particularly well (besides my favorite brews), and I tend to stay to tried and true flavor combinations in my baking projects. There is, shall we say, an ample opportunity for grossness. But also, I think, for greatness. We shall see.

My first project uses Guinness, which is an easy one – there are recipes for Guinness cake all over the place. Buzz Bakery is celebrating Octoberfest with Guinness cupcakes, and the Internet Food Association featured a lovely Chocolate Stout Cake as one of their “food porn” photos. But I didn’t just want to make any old cake – that seemed too mundane. No. I wanted cookies. Specifically, I wanted to see if I could make my own boozy version of the handmade upscale Oreos that Tim Carman poo-pooed on the Young and Hungry blog.

Ever since I saw those cookies, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Think of it – smoky chocolate cookies enclosing a layer of chocolate and Guinness buttercream frosting. It may be too “upscale” for some, but I think that’s a cookie experience worth pursuing.

After a great deal of searching, I finally found a chocolate shortbread cookie recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but left out an egg and substituted some Guinness. I made the filling through trial and error – I tried to adapt a Martha Stewart chocolate frosting recipe, but had much better luck going with my own instincts and coming up with my own recipe. Recipe testers – take note: make sure the Guinness is at room temperature before you add it to the frosting! Otherwise very bad things will happen. Very, very bad things.

In general, I was pretty pleased with these cookies. I’m not sure if the chocolate cookies really needed the Guinness flavoring – the flavor doesn’t come through very well in the final cookie and it ultimately seemed unnecessary. But I was very pleased with the chocolate filling – it has a nice smoky, chocolatey, sweet thing going on that I really liked. The Guinness really added something to the frosting, which I can’t say for the cookies.

Many thanks to the good people of the Adams Morgan Listserv, who took these off my hands. Bake sales might be banned in New York City, but it seems that baked goods are still very popular in the good old District of Columbia. People of Adams Morgan – you give me faith that there is still a place for baking in modern society.

Guinness Oreos 3


Recipe: Chocolate Guinness Oreos

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Updated Tuna Noodle Casserole

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Tuna noodle casserole for the 21st century.

What would American cuisine would be like without processed foods? Would grilled cheese be so popular if it home cooks couldn’t use pre-cut slices of American cheese? Would we eat pudding if it hadn’t been for Jello? Would we be a country of mac and cheese eaters without Velveeta?

One thing I’m sure of – tuna noodle casserole would never have risen to such prominence in American food culture were it not for the Campbell’s soup company. The company heavily promoted casserole recipes using canned soups during the Great Depression as quick, filling and economical meals, including the now-famous tuna noodle casserole. I can see the appeal – mix together some canned cream of mushroom soup, cooked noodles and canned tuna, bake, and dinner is served.

That was not my experience with tuna noodle casserole, which is why I can’t imagine this dish ever becoming popular without processed foods to cut down on the prep time. After making the thing from scratch I can safely say – tuna noodle casserole is a pain. This has actually been my complaint about all of the casseroles I’ve made for this month’s project – without the processed foods, they are time-intensive little suckers.

Granted, this tuna noodle casserole could have been easier to make, but I wanted it to taste really good. This is the one casserole I made this month where I didn’t take health into account; instead, I invited some friends over to help me finish the thing off. In fact, some of of my friends now suspect I have a secret plan to fatten them up, but I swear it’s not true. I’m just tired of healthy casseroles.

I used a couple of recipes as a basis for this casserole but made alterations to suit my own tastes. This casserole was gussied up with sauteed garlic, onions, and mushrooms; a cheddar, Parmesan and white wine béchamel; fresh basil; and pesto and Asiago cheese bread crumbs.

I liked this combination of flavors so much that the tuna ended up being a distraction. I loved how the cheesy, wine-y béchamel enhanced the flavors of the sweet onions, pungent garlic, and earthy onions. I loved how the crisp, herbal flavor of the basil sang in the dish. I loved how the salty, savory, crunchy bread crumbs contrasted with the soft and cheesy noodles. But the tuna? Even with all these other ingredients, it just tasted fishy – and not in a good way.

If I were to make this again, I think I’d omit the tuna, and rename this as a cheese, onion, and mushroom casserole – I might even make it with macaroni and say that it’s a twist on your standard mac and cheese. But, like I said before, this recipe was a lot of work, so I’m not sure when that day will come. Between sautéing the vegetables, making the béchamel, boiling the noodles, coating the bread crumbs in butter, and baking the casserole, we’re looking at a four pan recipe – and that doesn’t even account for all the chopping and cheese grating that goes into this.

So that’s it. It’s the last day of September, and the end of the casserole project. Am I sad it’s over? A little. Really, these month-long projects mostly teach me that there’s so much I have yet to cook – I didn’t make moussaka, or lasagna, or a Gourmet version of green bean casserole. So much left to cook, so little time.

And speaking of time, maybe next month should be quick recipes – I certainly need a break after all these casseroles.

Tuna noodle casserole - 2

And yes, in case you're wondering, those are apple slices in the background leftover from my epic apple baking weekend.

Recipe: Cheesy Tuna Noodle Casserole With Mushrooms, Onions, and Wine

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