November 28, 2012

Fig, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt Challah

This is it, guys. The end of November. The end of alleged "bread month" on my blog. And how many bread recipes did I post this month? One. Yep, one.

I couldn't very well let that be the case. So here it is guys, the final week of November, and I'm post my second bread recipe of the month in honor of "bread month". But oh, it's a good one for sure. It's fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah from Smitten Kitchen:


So I'm going to say something that's probably going to cost me a lot of readers. I've never been Smitten Kitchen's biggest fan. Blasphemy, I know, considering Deb, the blogger behind Smitten Kitchen, is considered a god amongst food bloggers.

But truth be told, I always thought she was a bit, well, overrated. Looking at smittenkitchen.com, nothing really stands out to me as incredible — I mean, don't get me wrong... the pictures, her recipes, her blog design — all of it is fine. But that's just it. Everything is simply that. Fine. Dare I say... average? In the golden age of bloggers and beautiful home-taught photographers (like Tartelette or Roost or Cannelle et Vanille or What Katie Ate), why is Smitten Kitchen the one blog getting all the credit?

But then I had the opportunity to hear Deb speak at Powell's, a local Portland bookstore. And that was when it (realization? understanding?) ran me over like a garbage truck — she was so warm, funny, and gracious, it was impossible to dislike her. Despite my initial skepticism, I was charmed. So I went home that night and read through her recipes and anecdotes. Flipping through her blog, I realized that warmth and kindness she radiated in person shines through in all her posts, something that is incredibly hard to do. I have to admire her for that.

I also came to the bizarre realization that I hadn't ever really cooked anything from Smitten Kitchen. Here I was, holding a grudge, and I didn't even really have much basis for it. Deb gets a lot of credit for testing, testing and testing recipes until they're perfect and foolproof. So if that's the case, how would her recipe for challah fare?


I chose to try Smitten Kitchen's recipe for challah because I'd always been a little bit scared of making bread. And challah isn't just any sort of bread, with its complicated braided shape and eggs in the dough. But I must say, this recipe really is foolproof. The loaf it produced had a moist and open crumb with beautiful swirls of orange-soaked fig:


As for weaving the challah braid itself, Deb includes step-by-step photos that make the process go by so much easier. Believe me, I'm not a craftsman at all — I don't know how to knit, sew, and I've certainly got no eye for patterns. To wit, last year, I took a hat-weaving class for kids (yep, it's a long story) and all the seven-year-olds in the class (yep, I was the only one above the age of 7 in the class) were able to weave their hats easily while the instructor spent most of his time walking me through the motions over and over again (and yep, my hat was still the worst one in the class). 

But with Deb's clear instructions and even clearer instructions, I was able to produce this beautiful braided loaf:


So yep, I get it now. I now know why everybody loves Smitten Kitchen and Deb Perelman. She's not a god, no no no — it's just that her truly foolproof, anybody-can-do-this recipes produce delicious and beautiful results that make you feel like a god. Or at least, that's certainly how I felt when I pulled this beautiful loaf out of the oven. Like a god. Of bread. 

I'm posting the recipe here, but you should really head over to her blog (or buy her cookbook) for step-by-step pictures of the challah weaving process. Because in Smitten Kitchen, I trust.

November 25, 2012

Kentucky Bourbon Butter Cake

Every so often on my blog, there comes a recipe that trumps all other recipes. This is one of them. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you...


Kentucky Bourbon Butter Cake.

What is Kentucky Bourbon Butter Cake, exactly? An incredibly buttery and moist buttermilk bundt cake, drenched in a boozy, sugary, bourbon whiskey glaze. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that this is one of the best cakes I've ever made. Every bite felt like it melted in my mouth — it's no wonder, with the cake's light, fluffy, and open crumb:


It's a known fact that Portland girls like their whiskey, so it's no surprise that this recipe comes from Julie Richardson, local Portland baker and owner of the very delicious bakery Baker and Spice. This past summer, Richardson recently released Vintage Cakes, a cookbook dedicated to updating old-fashioned recipes (some of which she found in a random box in her bakery's attic!) and turning them into timeless classics with updated ingredients and flavors.

Indeed, Richardson explains that this recipe is actually dates back to 60s, where it was recorded as the prize-winning entry at the 1963 Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in Platte City, Missouri. The 60s, hm? And here I was thinking that, in the year 2012, we were in the midst of some glorious food revolution since everybody seems to be such a massive foodie these days. Besides, I always thought that the 50s and 60s was the golden era of prepared food? TV dinners, canned food, cake mixes... eitherway, I was wrong. This bourbon butter cake completely debunks all that. Because seriously, this is it. If there's any one recipe to try from my blog (besides Tartine's Lemon Cream Tart, which I still fully endorse), this is it. You will not regret it. This cake will change your life.

I promise.

November 22, 2012

Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars

"Got any pie recipes?" A friend of mine asked.
"Nope, not a big pie person."
"What about cake?"
"Not too big on cake either."
"What are you making for Thanksgiving then?"
"I don't know."
"Aren't you a dessert blogger?!"
"Uh..."

That was an actual conversation that happened earlier this week. Because here's a confession folks. I am the world's worst dessert blogger. I'm not a fan of pie. I'm not a fan of cake. So what am I fan of? Cookies. Brownies. Bars. 

So this Thanksgiving, I'm not making apple or sweet potato pie, no, no, no. I'm making cookie bars:


That's right. I basically combined all my favorite desserts — cookies, brownies, and bars — into one obscenely delicious dessert. Booyah, baby, booyah. No pumpkin, no cinnamon, no Thankgiving spice. I am a heathen, I know.

But when I saw this recipe on Not Without Salt, I knew I had to give it a try. I'd never seen a cookie bar recipe that used cream cheese in place of butter before! The author explained that the cream cheese gave the bars a subtle tang. To be honest, I wasn't quite sure if I could taste the cream cheese. It was kinda overpowered by the copious amounts of deliciously gooey and molten chocolate in the recipe:


Yum.

Without further ado, the recipe. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 18, 2012

Triple Chocolate Truffle Tart


Guys, bread month is completely out the window. I totally dropped the ball on that one. But as I was looking through my November archives, I realized that about 75% of this month's post have been other things besides bread. In other words, I've had one bread-making post of the four I've published this month. Oops.

To be fair, the plan this weekend was to bake some challah. But as I started gathering ingredients, I realized I had nothing I needed for a loaf of challah. I did however have nearly two pounds of dark chocolate, two dozen eggs, and a carton of heavy whipping cream that was dangerously close to its expiration date.

All the ingredients I needed for this chocolate tart I spotted on Pinterest a few days ago... you know, the one I've been daydreaming about ever since:


My department is known in our company as being filled with foodies. And it's kinda true. Every single one of us has a big eating habit, with weekend plans full of eating at new restaurants and extravagant cooking/baking plans. To wit, two of my coworkers once spent 12 hours one weekend doing nothing but cooking dumplings of every variety. They dubbed it DumpFest 2012, implying that a marathon of this sort had occurred the year before. Now that's dedication.

This past week, I was actively not doing work, procrastinating on my daily activities by staring at this tart. One of my team leaders walked past my giant monitor and instead of reprimanding me, said, "Now that's a sexy tart. When are you going to make that and bring it in?"

I guess this Monday?

This tart is comprised of three-layers of chocolate: a crust made of chocolate graham crackers, a truffle-like interior consisting of nothing but cream, chocolate, and eggs, topped of with a shiny chocolate glaze:


It's a sexy tart indeed.

November 14, 2012

Baby Shower Challenge, Pt. 1: Secret Ingredient Red Velvet Cake


This past weekend, I accepted a challenge. The task at hand? Bake two cakes for my coworker's baby shower.

PANIC.

Okay, to be fair, I was asked to bake one cake. Red velvet, specifically. The second cake was because I wanted to show off. There, I said it. Well, kinda... okay, not really. Okay, so I chose to bake two cakes because I had something a little bit specific in mind. And it wasn't red velvet.

November 11, 2012

Bubble Top Brioche


So if you're a long time reader of my blog, you'll know that I've wanted to start segueing into baking bread for sometime now. I swore in this post and that post that I will make more bread... and yet still I avoided it. So I declared November bread month. This is it guys! This month, I will do nothing but bake bread...

Right?

Then I realized it was my blog's 1 year birthday. Did I reallllyy want to bake bread for that celebration? Seemed kinda lame... Oh, and then I bought some cute little mason jars at Sur La Table — clearly, a custard/flan was in order, right? And THEN I got recruited to bake cakes for my coworker's baby shower. You can see where this is going.

So it's now mid-November and I'm finally presenting to you my first bread recipe: bubble top brioche! Why the name bubble top brioche? Because the dough is baked in a muffin tin and expands out in the oven to produce bubble tops:


Pretty cool right? Admittedly, it's a little bit hard to use for sandwich purposes, because being baked in a muffin tin results in cupcake- (or mushroom-) shaped bread:


Not great for burger buns (believe me, I tried), but perfect for french toast the next morning. Nom.

This recipe is an oldie but a goldie from the Bon Appetit online archives. I was a little bit wary of the recipe at first  — a quick skim revealed that it was very time consuming, with multiple proofing, rising, and kneading times involved. Oh, and there's also a step where you have to chill the dough overnight. So let me warn you now: this is definitely not the kind of recipe you start late in the evening folks. But despite all this, the recipe was actually foolproof, producing beautiful, buttery breads that looked exactly like Bon Appetit's picture. To top it all off, slicing the bread open revealed a beautiful, bubbly, and fluffy crumb:


Epic.

So without further ado, I present to you the most foolproof recipe to get bakery-style brioche... enjoy:

November 6, 2012

Confetti Cookies for My Blog's First Birthday!

Guys, today is my blog's first birthday. Isn't that crazy? I've been working on this blog for exactly a year! Whatttttttt?!

In order to celebrate, I decided to bake the most festive cookies that I could find: Momofuku Milk Bar Confetti Cookies. Yep, you read that right. Basically Funfetti, but in cookie form:


Appropriate, since my love of baking was first discovered through that box mix. But before I share with you the recipe, I wanted to talk a little bit more about my blog.

A lot of people underestimate how hard it is to run a food blog. I feel like I've learned a lot of things in that year — some surprising, others, not so much. And so here it is, a roundup of the year's important lessons:

November 3, 2012

Lemon, Almond, and Yogurt Custard Pots


Confession: I am an online shopping addict. I'm the kind of person who has like, 50 items in their shopping cart at different websites. I never really buy any of it, save for the occasionally indulgence every few weeks or so. The shopping cart is really more of a wish list — things I lust for but will never really buy. For instance, I think I've had Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking in my Amazon shopping cart for about 2 years now.

But a few weeks ago, I went on a cookbook shopping binge. It was kinda crazy and indulgent — I bought all the cookbooks I had been coveting for the past few months. Most of them were bloggers' cook books: Sprinkle Bakes, Smitten Kitchen, What Katie Ate, and Small Plates & Sweet Treats.

Small Plates & Sweet Treats was an odd choice for me. Aran Goyoaga, its author, is a famous gluten-free blogger who runs the very beautiful Cannelle et Vanille. I am by no means gluten-free. I love flour, I love refined sugar, and I love everything that is absolutely terrible for my body. Call me horrible, but I'm kinda snotty when it comes to gluten-free baked goods — there is no way they'll ever be as good as a butter-filled, flour-packed, sugar-heavy baked good.

So why'd I buy the book, if I wasn't going to cook anything from it? Have you seen Cannelle et Vanille?  Aran is one of the most talented food photographers out there. Her cookbook is evidence of this — I bought the book simply hoping that it would serve as inspiration for my own photography.

But I was surprised, flipping through Small Plates & Sweet Treats. The recipes actually sounded, well, delicious! Roasted brussel sprouts, quinoa, pear, and crispy chorizo salad? A swiss chard, pear, and gruyere tart?! Gimme some of that!

My heart stopped though, when I saw a recipe for meyer lemon, almond, yogurt, and custard pots:


It's everything I want in a dessert and more. I love flans and custards. It's weird, because I seldom bake them, but they're probably one of my favorite desserts. 

This recipe is quick and easy, yielding tart, flavorful pots of custard. And the fact that it's gluten-free? Didn't even notice. I was surprised at how creamy the custard texture is. The almond flour in the recipe simply gives the custard a subtle, nutty touch. I'll definitely be making this recipe again in the future.