Archive for the 'baked goods' Category

cardamom hamantaschen cookies with kumquat walnut jam

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

No, that’s not a typo. Hamantaschen is a hybrid Hebrew-Yiddish-Persian word referring to cookies traditionally eaten by Ashkenazi Jews on the holiday of Purim. The holiday commemorates a particular, yet familiar, refrain in Jewish history: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!

The longer version of the story involves the credulous yet powerful King Ahasuerus, his courageous Jewish wife Esther and the king’s evil, power-hungry prime minister Haman.

Read more at…

weirdo cookies

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

weirdo cookies

Sometimes I find myself itching to bake something. It usually happens over the weekend, thank the gods. When else would I have time to search the web for a good recipe for whatever I’m hankering for, prepare the ingredients (is there a law of nature which states that butter softens more slowly when you’re dying for a cookie?), get out the measuring cups and spoons, bowls, pan, whisk, follow the recipe, wildly diverge from the recipe, spill flour and sugar all over the kitchen counter, bake, cool, and finally, load the dishwasher, clean the counters and ponder mopping the floor. Believe me, just writing that ridiculous run-on sentence is nearly as exhausting as actually doing everything it describes.

Still, there’s something primally satisfying about the alchemy of baking. Think about it… a cookie is so much grander when you’ve made it yourself. Moreso when you follow the recipe only loosely, exchanging one ingredient for another, and adding in yet others. What happens when you leave out half the sugar? Replace it with honey? How about oat flour instead of wheat? Sometimes you wind up with a gloppy mess. Other times a tasty treat. You might create a Mona Lisa (OK, maybe Warhol’s soup can) or Frankenstein. It’s the definition of flying by the seat of your pants. Exhilarating. (Really!)

The main thing to remember is to keep the ratios more or less the same. If you remove a wet ingredient, replace the moisture you’ve lost. The same rule applies to dry ingredients.

These cookies are the fruits of a windy Sunday afternoon and a hankering for homemade chocolate chip cookies. I made two versions of this cookie, one with chocolate chips and the other with candied rangpur lime peel. As it turns out, I rather preferred the latter.

weirdo cookies

These cookies are loosely based on a gluten-free recipe from Elana’s Pantry. My goal was to make wheat-free chocolate chip cookies. I wound up with oat flour-cornmeal-cardamom-rangpur lime peel cookies. Pretty tasty ones too.

1 cup whole grain oat flour
1 cup almond flour made of blanched almonds
1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 TBS light brown sugar or evaporated cane juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

10 TBS melted butter
1 TBS vanilla extract
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 egg

a handful or two of candied rangpur lime or other citrus peel

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients except the citrus peel.
  • In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients.
  • Add the wet mixture into the dry ingredients in thirds. After adding a third of the wet ingredients, mix until almost absorbed. Repeat with the remaining thirds.
  • Add in the candied citrus peel and combine.
  • Drop the dough onto the baking sheet by the tablespoon and flatten each one.
  • Bake for 10-20 minutes. Ten minutes for a more tender cookie, twenty for a crisper one.

seasonal fruit with shuna

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

I’ve been to a few of Shuna’s cooking classes, and they’ve all been fun and enriching. Shuna has an intuitive, visceral understanding of the foods she works with, which she attempts to convey to her students. More than just teaching how to make pavlova, Shuna teaches students why egg whites behave the way they do and how to tell when poached rhubarb is ready by the way it looks and sounds. A class with Shuna is always a full sensory experience—be ready to taste, smell, and touch ingredients. Similarly, the end of the class heralds a feast of all the sweets prepared during class, and then some.

Aside from its tasty end, my favorite part of Shuna’s classes is listening to her always fascinating discussions on fruit, eggs, sugar. Just the other day I found myself quoting some of Shuna’s strawberry facts to a friend visiting from abroad. It seems I learned a thing or two.

[Click the photo to watch the seasonal fruit class slideshow.]


Click here for my write-up of Shuna’s pie dough class.

pumpkin spaghetti squash goat cheese tart

Thursday, December 7th, 2006



These are before and after photos of the pumpkin spaghetti squash goat cheese tart I made the other day. You can tell that one is an improvement over the other because it’s got a nicer hairstyle and better make up (that was subtle… think about it).

I love spaghetti squash. When you’re a kid, the idea that you can eat strands of al dente “spaghetti” that comes from a gourd is very exciting. I’m not sure why, it just is. “Oooh! Spaghetti from a squash that feels like spaghetti when you eat it!” Even as an adult, you never quite get over it.

I had recently bought some small pumpkins, which—with their velvety soft texture and distinctive flavor—struck me as an interesting foil to the spaghetti squash. Some fresh goat cheese would add richness and tang. I had considered chopping the pumpkin into chunks and tossing it with the spaghetti squash and cheese, pasta style. In the end, I decided to bake the whole thing as a tart, which turned out pretty well, I think.

I like the way the rich creaminess of the pumpkin pervades the tart, while the crunchy spaghetti squash provides contrasting texture and body. The goat cheese provides playful sparks of lively flavor (I might include bits of goat cheese within the batter next time). I used bacon fat to grease the tart pan, which added a lovely smoked flavor (you could substitute butter for a vegetarian version of this dish). As an afterthought, I arranged fresh thyme sprigs on top. Like the Dude’s rug, these really pulled the whole thing together.

Note: I’ve always sliced spaghetti squash lengthwise prior to baking. This time, I tried slicing it widthwise instead, following the advice of an article on cooking spaghetti squash. What a difference! The squash is easier to cut (less surface area) and the baked halves are more manageable when combing out the flesh.

pumpkin spaghetti squash goat cheese tart

1 baked spaghetti squash
1 1/2 small baked orange pumpkins
salt and pepper to taste
ground allspice to taste
1 egg
a bit of flour
2/3 lb soft goat cheese or feta cheese
bacon fat or butter
fresh thyme sprigs

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.
  • With a fork, scrape out the spaghetti squash into a bowl. (You might want to chop the spaghetti squash strands into large bite-sized pieces. I think it might be easier to slice the tart that way.)
  • Scoop out the pumpkin flesh into the bowl, season, and mix. Taste and correct seasoning.
  • Add an egg and combine. Add a little flour to soak up the excess liquid. Mix. You want to stiffen the batter a bit.
  • Crumble in the cheese and mix, reserving a little cheese to distribute on top of the tart.
  • Grease a tart pan with bacon grease or butter.
  • Transfer the batter to the tart pan and smooth the top, so that the batter is even throughout.
  • Distribute pieces of cheese on top, then decorate with thyme leaves.
  • Bake for 35 minutes or until slightly browned.

Serves 6

pie dough with the eggbeater

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

Pies are all about the crust, which is to say they’re all about the dough. Well, not really. At least half the fun is eating the gooey sweet fruit that fills the buttery cavern of your pie. But the best filling in the world won’t save a poor crust, turning an otherwise tasty pie into an abject failure. Knowing this, and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I signed up for Shuna’s pie dough class in Berkeley. Let me tell you, having been to that class, I now recognize all the horrible errors I had previously thought were standard pie-making protocol.

For example:

  • Fancy, high-fat, European style butter isn’t necessarily better. If you do use fancy butter, cut back a bit on the amount you use (six ounces rather than eight is a rule of thumb).
  • Processing the dough until it forms a ball is a very bad idea. If your dough has formed a ball, your crust will be be tough.
  • Roll your dough from the middle outwards, not from the edge.
  • Once a crack, always a crack. If your dough starts cracking as you begin to roll, the cracks will stay and grow. To fix the crack, gently mush together the cracked dough back together with the blade of your hand.
  • Rotate pie dough frequently when rolling so as to avoid it sticking to the work surface.
  • Lightly rolled dough produces a light crust. A large, fairly heavy rolling pin is preferable, and easier to use. It requires less physical effort on your part, resulting in a flakier crust.
  • Use a whole lotta beans. When baking blind, fill the entire shell with beans.

These are just a few salient points. By touching the dough at various stages of processing, listening to it (a dough that makes lip-smacking noises is not only rude, it’s way too wet), tasting it blind-baked and non-blind baked, I began to see pie dough as its own unique creature. A professional pastry chef is a dough psychologist, gently coaxing the dough to wellbeing while working through its potential for multi-faceted neuroses. Warm pie dough is insecure, resulting in a melted, self-conscious crust. Over-working the dough results in an aggressive, tough pastry. A dough might look perfectly well-adjusted in the mixing bowl, but do anti-social bits of flour and butter lurk at the bottom?

The ingredients themselves have their own unique personalities. Flour must be aerated and weighed. Butter must be kept as cold as possible and chopped coarsely. Water must be absolutely ice cold. Understanding the behavior of each ingredient—and why it behaves the way it does—is just as important as understanding the whole. A pastry chef is both scientist and artist.

After all you learn about pie-making, Shuna’s pie is magic. How can flour, butter, sugar, and water produce such ethereal flakiness? And how do crunchy apples become sweet, buttery velvet in your mouth? To me it’s alchemy.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Creative Commons License