Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

King Cake

February 16, 2012

I don’t observe Lent.  It’s hard for me to remember when Fat Tuesday is.  I’ve never lived in New Orleans.  I’ve never even been to a Mardi Gras celebration (except for once in 5th grade)!  But did I make a king cake this year?  Um, of course I did.  Will I have a Mardi Gras party?  I’m definitely considering it.

This is what I do, people!  I like to make traditional dishes for holidays I don’t even celebrate just because it’s festive!  I’m willing to take my entire evening to make a scary yeast risen cake dough just so we can have a multi colored sprinkled concoction to eat.  You know, on the Thursday before Mardi Gras.  I will myself to get through these recipes just because it’s…fun!

I also like tradition, you see.  And traditionally there is a fava bean or a plastic baby hidden inside the cake.  Whoever gets that in their piece must throw the party the following year.  This is also fun!  I thought I had fava beans, but I didn’t, and finding a small plastic baby is much more difficult than one can imagine.  So we are bean/baby less in this king cake.  I would be upset about this, but likely I will be throwing the party next year anyway.

King Cake (ever-so-slightly adapted from My New Orleans via The Today Show – because the Today Show is awesome)

I kid.  This cake is really not all that difficult to make.  It’s time consuming, sure, and a bit messy.  But, c’mon, it’s Mardi Gras!  You must make it.

  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110 degrees
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

For the cake, pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula. After the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it proof, or rise, for 1½ hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough between your palms into a long strip, making 3 ropes of equal length. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal. Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes. Once it’s doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon
  • Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars
  • 1 fava bean or plastic baby to hide in the cake after baking

For the icing, while the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, condensed milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more condensed milk; if it’s a touch too loose, add a little more powdered sugar. Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet. Tuck the fava bean or plastic baby into underside of the cake and, using a spatula, slide the cake onto a platter.


White Chocolate Brownie Hearts

February 9, 2012

I really wanted to post something super chocolatey this week.  It’s just the lay of the land around Valentine’s Day.  Chocolate this and chocolate that, and the more indulgent the better.  Not that I have anything against indulgence, let’s not kid ourselves.  But I’m about to tell you something about myself that I never thought I would admit here.

I don’t really like chocolate.

Ah!  Stop!  I don’t mean it!  Well, I don’t mean it completely.  Of course I like chocolate.  But…sparingly.  You know, in different types of cookies, or flavored with other things.  But a deep, dark, totally chocolate dessert?  I would likely pass for something else.  You know, for something fruity!  Or nutty!  Or honey-y!  Don’t hate me.

But if not completely chocolatey, at least make heart-shaped desserts, I say!  Because that’s still festive.  And these lovely brownies are still studded with chocolate.  And flavored with white chocolate, which isn’t chocolate at all, but I’ll throw it out there anyway.  They have balance.  And, hello, they’re hearts.  You’ll love them!

White Chocolate Brownie Hearts (adapted from Bakers One Bowl Brownies)

4 oz. good quality white chocolate

3/4 cup butter

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1/4 tsp. flaky sea salt (to sprinkle on top)

Preheat oven to 350.  Line a 9×13 pan with aluminum foil.  Spray the foil with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, in the microwave, melt together the white chocolate and butter in 30 second intervals, stirring each time, until completely melted.  Let cool slightly.  Whisk in eggs and vanilla.  Fold in the flour and 1/2 tsp. salt and mix well until fully incorporated.  Stir in the mini chocolate chips.

Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges are turning golden brown and a tester comes out clean.  Cool completely in the pan, on a wire rack.  Lift the aluminum foil out of the pan and using a heart shaped cookie cutter, cut out the desired shapes.


December 22, 2011

Growing up, we always used to celebrate Hanukkah.  Just over a month after Diwali festivities had dwindled, we would play with the dreidel, light imaginary candles on the imaginary menorah (we didn’t acutally have one), and eat a makeshift Hanukkah meal, all right next to the…Christmas tree.  Looking back, I see how strange this was.  Or really extraordinarily multicultural.  Or, really, just strange.

Either way, latkes would sometimes make the menu, often not.  Even though they are, in my opinion, the epitome of Hanukkah food, we never got them quite right.  They were too soggy, or too flat, or too oily, or didn’t have enough flavor.  And then we would always eat them with sour cream, straight from the tub.  Needless to say, the dreidel was far more festive.

But I brought Hanukkah back this year!  And I conquered the latke!  I realized that to make a good latke, you need a little faith…and a good recipe, and we finally have both.  These latkes were crispy and fluffy and not too potato-ey (which can be a problem), with the perfect Greek yogurt accompaniment.   Latkes are finally sticking around for yearly Hanukkah celebrations in this Indian household!

Latkes (slightly adapted from The New York Times)

The key to crispy latkes is to get as much moisture out of the potato, onion, apple mixture, as possible.  Even though this was not a part of the original recipe, after squeezing out the liquid from the mixture as much as I could, I tied my mixture-filled cheese cloth on a faucet to let it drain even further.  What resulted was the most crispy latke on the outside, but a pillowy soft inside.  I have made these several times now, and I have hung up my mixture to drain every time.  I’m assuming that it will work without this step, but why mess with a delicious, perfectly fried, non-soggy latke, I say.

1/2 cup whole or 2% Greek yogurt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon maple syrup

3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled and cored

2 medium russet potatoes, peeled

2 medium onions, peeled

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

Olive oil, for frying

1. In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, cinnamon and syrup. Cover and chill until ready to use.

2. Coarsely grate the apples, potatoes and onions. Put the mixture in a clean dish towel and squeeze to wring out as much liquid as possible.  Tie the dish towel onto a faucet to let the mixture drain further, about an hour.

3. When ready, squeeze the remaining juice out of the mixture and put in a large bowl.  Separate the mixture with a wooden spoon.  Working quickly, add the flour, eggs, salt, baking powder and pepper, and mix until the flour is absorbed.

4. Preheat the oven to 250.  Place a baking rack on top of a cookie sheet.  In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, pour in about 1/4 inch of oil. Once the oil is hot, drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the pan, cooking 3 to 4 latkes at a time.  Flatten the latke slightly with the spoon.  When the edges of the latkes are brown and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes, flip them. Cook until the second side is deeply browned, another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the latkes to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.  Place the latkes on to the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm until the rest of the latkes are fried.  Repeat with the remaining batter.  Serve with dollops of the cinnamon yogurt on top.

Last Minute Thanksgiving Ideas

November 23, 2011

One more day until the big feast!  I’m sure that you have your menus planned and everything is going exactly according to plan.  But juuuust in case you need any last minute ideas for side dishes, desserts, or even for breakfast the next day (early the next day, before shopping, of course), here are a few:

Appetizers and Side Dishes

Baked Rice Balls

Caramelized Onion, Basil, Tomato, Goat Cheese Quiche

Brazilian Cheese Bread

Cheeseless Mac and Cheese

Zucchini Ricotta Galette

Corn Muffin Stuffing


White Chocolate Cheesecake

Lemon Ginger Yogurt Tart

Fig Galette

Fresh Apple Layer Cake

Sweet Potato Pudding Cake

Pecan Cornmeal Cake

French Apple Tart

Breakfast on Friday Morning!

Blackberry, Almond, White Chocolate, Lemon Loaf

Pan de Mallorca

Almond Anise Biscotti

Carrot Cake Breakfast Bread

Barley Scones with Strawberry Balsamic Jam

Nutmeg Zucchini Bread

Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake Bread

Corn Muffins

Hope everyone has a lovely holiday!

Corn Muffin Stuffing (Stuffing Part 2)

November 21, 2011

Things I learned about the art of making stuffing:

1. Don’t be stubborn about not toasting your bread.  I obviously just wanted to stale my bread, thinking that this would result in a much more authentic stuffing.  I cubed up my corn muffins, spread them out on a baking sheet and stuck it in the oven to dry out.  While preheating the oven for a delightfully simple yet delicious apple tart (which will be posted tomorrow), I forgot about the cornbread.  I was just thinking that my kitchen surprisingly smells wonderful, when I realized that corn muffins were burning.  I took them out just in time.  And it turns out that toasting the muffins added a lovely crunch to the stuffing that I quite appreciated.  Toast the bread.

2. When in doubt, add more seasoning.  Stuffing is a weird, tricky beast.  You have all of these competing flavors, but you just may not have enough salt.  And there is absolutely no way to tell!  Because you try everything separately, but never together.  Especially when you have raw eggs mixed in!  Season the sauteed veggies, and the roasted potatoes, and the egg mixture.  Because otherwise, you have a whole lotta flavorless stuffing, which is just bad news bears.

3. If you are vegetarian, don’t add fake sausage.  It turns purple.  A very off-putting purple.  I mean, just don’t do it.

4. I still don’t get stuffing.  I just don’t understand it.  And though my first taste of it, and my first attempt at making it was successful, it’s just a bunch of random things thrown in a casserole over soggy bread.  But that’s exactly why it’s completely brilliant too!  How can it not taste great?!  So as long as everything on its own is delicious, your stuffing will probably be too.

Stuffing (adapted from a-many google searches on stuffing)

1 recipe corn muffins, cut into small cubes and toasted for 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven

3 tbsp. butter, plus more for greasing the casserole dish

1 onion, diced

3 stalks celery, chopped into the same size as onions

1 apple, cored and diced

1 tbsp. fresh thyme

1 sweet potato, seasoned with salt and pepper, roasted and diced

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

2 eggs

1/2 cup cream

1 1/2 cups veggie broth

Place the cubed and toasted cornbread into a large bowl.  To it, add the cranberries, pecans, sweet potatoes, and parsley.  Stir to combine.

Preheat the oven to 375.   Grease a large casserole dish with butter.  Over medium heat, melt the 3 tbsp. butter and sautee the onions and celery until soft and lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt, pepper and thyme.  Add the apples and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add the mixture to the cornbread.  Stir to combine.

Whisk together the eggs, cream and broth.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour over the cornbread mixture and stir until everything is well coated.  Pour everything into the prepared casserole dish and bake for about 40 minutes until the top is nice and toasty.

Gulab Jamun

October 27, 2011

I’m about to tell you about this recipe where just 1 of the ingredients takes 3 hours to make.

Hello?  Is anyone still out there?

Let me back up.  Happy Diwali!  Diwali may mean fireworks and candles and new beginnings to some folk.  To me it means, make all the food you can…from scratch.  No shortcuts for Diwali; only the most traditional.  So I picked my favorite Indian sweet, that was decidedly the most time consuming to make, cleared my schedule for the day, made it, devoured it, and wished that I had made another batch of the 3 hour ingredient, because we all wanted more.  So I made it again the next day.  Because it’s Diwali, after all.

Don’t you worry, friends.  I’ll give you a short cut recipe for when you do try this.  Because you should most definitely try this.  Think of this as reversed doughnuts: an unsweetened dough dropped in a sugar syrup with a hint of rose and saffron, in order for it to get all soaked up, served warmed.  Sounds divine, doesn’t it?  Make the short cut version – it will be tasty, I’m sure.  But try the real deal during Diwali – it’s supposed to be that way.  A very happy new year to all!

Gulab Jamun (adapted from here)

As much as cardamom is considered an Indian spice, and even though I love it in my spice cookies and breads, I don’t really care for it in my Indian sweets.  But if you prefer that punch, add 1/4 tsp cardamom powder to the dough and knead it in.

For the shortcut version, use dry milk powder instead of the mawo.  Mix the dry ingredients together and then gradually add milk until a dough forms.  You can follow the remaining instructions after that.

1 batch mawo (recipe to follow)

1 cup all purpose flour

scant 1/2 tsp. baking soda

ghee, oil, or a mix for frying

1-2 teaspoons rose water

5-6 strands saffron

3 cups sugar

2 cups water

Knead together the mawo, flour and baking soda (and cardamom, if using) until the dough is completely smooth.  Form tablespoon-size balls.  Roll each ball until it’s completely smooth – no cracks should be on the surface of these balls.  Heat ghee or oil until it reaches 350 degrees.  Fry the dough balls, about 4-5 at a time, until they are golden brown.  Drain on a paper towel.

Combine the sugar and water in a medium pot.  Heat on medium heat until sugar is completely melted and dissolved.  Turn the heat to low and add the rose water and saffron.  Turn heat off.

Add the fried dough to the pot with the sugar syrup.  Transfer everything to a serving bowl and let it sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours, to let the dough soak the sugar.  You can serve this at room temperature, or slightly warmed.

Mawo (recipe from here)

1/2 gallon whole milk

Heat the milk, in a non-stick pan over medium high heat.  Stir occasionally until it comes to a boil, and then turn the heat to low/medium-low.  Keep an eye on the milk as it thickens.  It will need a stir every 20 minutes or so, to make sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, or burn.  Eventually, after about 2 hours, there will be minimal liquid left.  Keep stirring until you have a very dry mixture.

It will start by looking like this:

And will end, about 3.5 hours later, looking like this:

Cake Pops

June 9, 2011

I know that cake pops are all the rage.  They’re all over food blogs, and now coffee shops and bakeries have shown them the love too.  I know they’re pretty and all, but I simply don’t get it.  I don’t understand the appeal.  Is it because it’s a two-bite treat?  Is it because it’s sweeter than a normal cake?  Is it because it’s on a stick?!

But the thing is, these are exactly the reasons why I don’t understand cake pops.  Wouldn’t you just want another cake pop after you eat one just because it’s so small?  Wouldn’t you think that it’s slightly excessive to dip a bite of cake, covered in frosting in melted chocolate and then eat it?  Isn’t using a fork easier??

This is what I figured out: it doesn’t matter!  People like cake pops because they’re just so cool!  It’s just a trend right now and just like in other trends (read: shorts with tights), you gotta just go with it – no explanation necessary.  Not surprisingly, I bit the bullet and made them.  In a big way, I might add.  With the help of my artistic sister, who possesses the patience and aesthetic eye that I will never have, I made a cake pop bouquet!

Oh man, the combinations you can do with this!  You can have any color of white chocolate coating on the rolled ball of cake!  You can try an endless number of cake flavors!  You can decorate the cake pop like animals or vegetables or even minerals!  The bouquet part has so many choices too!  And to top it all off, it just looks pretty.  I may not understand the pops, but I’ve become a believer.

Cake Pops

Like I said, there are about a bazillion different combinations you can use for cake pops.  I made half batches of a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and a pumpkin cake with a buttermilk icing.

The cakes were delicious before they were rolled into pops.  I’m not sure about after because I was just too busy staring at my bouquet.

My sister filled an empty vase with styrofoam blocks so that the pops would sit at different levels.  Then she filled it with colorful candy and then cut flower petals out of origami paper.  She then managed to put a hole right in the center of the flower so it sat right under the cake pop.  Impressive, I know.  I ate the leftover cake while watching her do all of this.

As for making these cakes into pops, refer to Bakerella, who happens to be the Queen of (cake) Pop(s).


December 17, 2010

Yes, friends.  I went there.  I wanted to make something unique for this time of year.  Something spectacular, if you will.  So I turned to the most trusted dessert source I could think of: the French.  They love these things called “croquembouche” over there.  Essentially, filled cream puffs, dipped in caramel and tacked onto a cone to make the whole thing look like a tower.  I, honestly, just really loved the name…and the fact that I would be making cream puffs with a sweet and silky ricotta filling.  How could this not be delicious?

Sure, it would be tasty, but why build a tower?.  What’s the need for this?  What’s the point of going out to an arts supply store and buying a styrofoam cone, just so you can use toothpicks to stick cream puffs onto it?  The point, I soon found out, is that you will be a holiday hero for making this!  First of all, to be clear, they’re not just cream puffs.  They’re cream puffs covered in caramel.  Like a ring-spun halo of caramel.  Which increases its value ten fold.  Second of all, it’s on a cone, people!  You end up with this cream-puffy looking tree with caramel dripping and oozing all over it.  It really does look kind of spectacular.  Are you as excited as I am?!

Just to be sure that I wasn’t truly insane with my awe of this French wonder (though, would anyone care if I was?), I also put out the extra cream puffs that were too big to put on the tree at a recent gathering.  They were the same thing, just not stuck onto the cone.  Sure, people liked the ones on the plate, but they gravitated towards the croquembouche.  “I want to try that,” they would say, even though they would be chomping on the plated cream puff at that very moment.  Sheer fascination with the cream puff tree.  And who can blame them?!  It’s a brilliant idea!  The French really do know what they are talking about.

Salty Caramel Croquembouche (original recipe from Fine Cooking magazine)

Because there are many many components to this dessert, and because I did not change a single thing from the original recipe, and perhaps because I’m slightly lazy, I’m linking it here.  Also, here is a step by step guide on how to assemble this fabulous fabulous dessert.

Ghughra (Happy Diwali!)

November 11, 2010

What could have possibly kept me away from my blog for this amount of time??  Well, celebrating Diwali in India, of course!  (well, that, and some pretty unreliable internet).

Growing up, Diwali never carried much significance in our household.  I would be fascinated by my parents’ stories of celebrating the new year in India with fireworks, and huge amounts of sweets and snacks, and hearing about the customs and traditions.  But celebrating Diwali in such a grand way in this part of the world seemed so far-fetched.  I wanted to relive the stories that my parents told me.  So…naturally…I went to India.

Diwali is the festival of LIGHTS!  It’s the new year!  It is supposed to be festive and colorful and loud and happy!  So this year, I got all of that, and more, by celebrating in India with my extended family.  Besides doing several designs of rangoli, and shooting bigger fire crackers than I would ever imagine for the 4th of July, we made many treats!  My favorite being the almond and cardamom scented pastry called ghughra.  The one that we made uses a traditional ingredient called mawa, which is difficult to find in the States.  I’ve included a recipe that uses a more readily available dried fruits – though equally delicious.

I’m not going to fool you about this one: it’s a tough recipe.  Just look at my attempt at the folded pastry below (mine’s the one on the right, if you can’t tell).  My grandmother shot me looks of disapproval as I tried to help with this process.  But it doesn’t matter!  Just make sure you seal the pastries completely, and I guarantee that the taste will outdo the look.

Moving from one food holiday to another, I’m now back at home preparing my list of Thanksgiving recipes, but until then, Happy New Year!

Ghughra (recipe adapted from here)
Ingredients for the stuffing

  • 1/2 cup dry coconut
  • 1 cup of coarsely ground almonds
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped figs
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped dates
  • 1 tablespoon cardamom

Ingredients for the outer crust

  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup ghee, clarified butter, or butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons of water

For dough: Combine the flour, ghee and salt in a bowl.  Work the ghee into the flour with your fingers until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.  Sprinkle water onto the crumbly dough and with your hands push the dough from the sides to the middle of the bowl to form a ball that holds together. Be careful to add only little water at a time, and not allowing the dough to become soggy.  Knead well with our hands until the dough becomes into a firm ball of dough.  Put aside, covered, ensuring that the dough does not dry out.

For stuffing: Combine all the ingredients for the stuffing until all the ingredients hold together. Divide the stuffing mixture into 20 equal portions.

To assemble: Divide the dough into 20 equal portions as well.  Roll out each portion into a 3 inch diameter circle.  Place a portion of the stuffing in the bottom half of the circle.  Fold the disc over into a half-moon shape and seal the edges, ensuring that the stuffing has not seeped out.  Twist the sealed edge, from one end to the other, for a fluted edge.

Repeat with the remaining dough and stuffing portions.

Fry ghughras in batches of 4-5 for about 4 minutes, flipping mid way.  The ghughras should be golden brown in color.