Recently in Book and Cookbook Reviews category

Dave T’s Spinach Cake

spinach cake & ham

I don’t know when it took hold, it was well before I got here, but le Brunch is somewhat popular with a certain segment of the population in Paris. Unlike the Bloody Mary and Mimosa-fueled repasts I have fond memories of back in San Francisco, here, I don’t know if the concept really works. For one thing, Sundays are blissfully “sacred” and no one seems to want to wake up and go anywhere until—well, Monday. And the places that do serve brunch are pretty crowded with misfits who probably didn’t get to bed the previous evening, as well as the clad-in-black, chain-smoking bobo crowd.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do on Sunday morning is wait outside in the freezing cold, breathing second-hand smoke from a bunch of bleary party-goers, both of us desperate for coffee, while waiting for a table.

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Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding Recipe

spooning toffee

In my high school locker room, when the jocks congregated after winning a big game, they’d all jump around, yelling the word, “Sah-weet! Sah-weet! adding a big, tight, thumbs-up for emphasis, while jumping all over each other celebrating their victory.

While not as exciting as a group of sweaty, nearly-naked high school athletes jumping all over each other, I don’t know about you, but what turns me on these days is Sticky Toffee Pudding.

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Favorite Cookbooks & Recipes of 2008

Here’s a round-up of some of my favorite cookbooks and recipes that I presented on the site in 2008. A few are books that I’ve been devouring, and others are those I’ve been bookmarking recipes in, to make on the site in the upcoming months. All in all, the best of the year…

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When they start cloning humans, they’d better start with Flo Braker. One of my all-time favorite bakers, Flo wowed us with her previous books, including the all-encompassing The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. Her all-new book, Baking for All Occasions just arrived on my doorstep and I’ve been drooling over the recipes, like her Butterscotch Spiral Coffee Cake (wouldn’t that be nice to wake up to?) and Chocolate-Lovers Angel Food cake, which features the best of both worlds. I’ll be featuring a recipe or two on the site in the upcoming months. I can’t wait.

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When I was making my colorful quince tarte Tatin and writing up the post about it, I remembered my handy copy of The Flavor Bible. Even though I know everything in the world (or at least I think I do…), I leafed through it, looking for what goes with quince. And lo and behold, there’s a whole world of flavors out there, outside of my head! This culinary heavyweight, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, takes every flavor imaginable and searches for each and every possible flavor pairing. It’s a terrific reference and I’m happy it’s on my shelf, within easy reach.

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Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe with Salted Peanut Caramel

peanut butter cookies

I promised a bunch of holiday-friendly recipes this month, and this one is a doozy! Peanut butter cookies, filled with salted peanut caramel—do those sound as good to you as they do to me?

The recipe is from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet, who is one of America’s best bakers. Her name might not be on the edge of your tongue, but she’s been quietly rolling doughs, mixing up batters, and baking off custards in this book, which is an encyclopedic authority on baking that tips the scales in both the breadth of recipes, and the actual weight itself.

And I thought my soul was a bit weighty.

When I was asked a few months ago to write a quote for the book jacket, I rifled through the preview pages, bookmarking a slew of recipes I plan to make.

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Baked Brownie Recipe (with Altoids)

When I was in New York City in October I fell in love. Deeply and madly.

I’d swapped apartments with a friend and as I was leafing through her stack of new baking books, I became hopelessly smitten with one in particular: Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.

Baked brownies

And even though both my suitcases were dangerously over-packed (although my new iMac was more than worth the five minutes I spent charming the United agent so he’d waive the overweight surcharges), and I already quite a few other cookbooks wedged in there, I reasoned there was always room for one more.

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Chocolate-Dipped Florentine Recipe

chocolate-dipped florentines

Living in Paris, it isn’t always very interesting watching television, which I sometimes like to do during dinner. Sure there’s some great French channels, but I’m kinda lazy when I’m eating and prefer the English-language ones, which usually means CNN International.

So I often find myself flipping through cookbooks while I dine, glazing over the text and scanning the glossy photos. But when I came across this one, for Florentines, I stopped and bookmarked it right away. I’m always attracted to anything nutty, crispy, salty, or caramelized, and this recipe had them all. Of course, using ingredients that I usually have on hand doesn’t hurt a recipe in the popularity department around here, either.

sliced almondspowdered sugar

Crisp, caramelized almonds, just a few ingredients, and a wide swath of dark chocolate underneath. I ask you…what doesn’t this recipe have going for it? The recipe comes from Ottolenghi, a London-based restaurant that, frankly, I hadn’t heard of. But this cookbook is really gorgeous and makes me almost want to blitz across the channel and check it out. (Damn the exchange rate!) I have a lot of cookbooks and this one truly stands out. And when I saw the jumbo stack of Florentines stacked up on one of its pages, I couldn’t wait to share the recipe.

The book is full of other interesting, and compelling recipes. There’s one for Kosheri, a side dish made with lentils, rice, and vermicelli, that I’m dying to try. There’s a twice-baked Chocolate Fudge Cake that’s up the next time I have guests for dinner.

pre-baked Florentines

These crispy Florentines are super-simple to make, requiring just a few ingredients mixed together and baked. Who doesn’t love that? The authors mentioned that it’d be permissible to slather one side with melted chocolate, like traditional Florentines. The cookies were indeed fantastic without it—but it’d be a shame to pass up an opportunity to put chocolate on something now, wouldn’t it?

florentines

Chocolate-Dipped Florentines
20-25 cookies

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (Ten Speed)

I cut the original recipe in half since I wanted smaller cookies, but otherwise followed the recipe pretty closely. I added a few grains of salt, but thought I knew better and tried using a small metal spatula to spread the Florentines. But their suggested fork method worked better. You can put the cookies pretty close to each other on the baking sheet as they don’t spread during baking.

  • 1 large egg white, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (50g) powdered sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup (130g) blanched sliced almonds
  • a good pinch of flaky sea salt
  • grated zest of half an orange*, preferably unsprayed

1. Preheat the oven to 300F (150C).

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush very lightly with neutral vegetable oil.

3. In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients.

4. Keep a small bowl of cold water and a fork near where you’re working.

5. Dip your hand in the cold water before lifting each portion of almonds, and place heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of the batter evenly spaced on the prepared baking sheet.

6. Once you’ve covered the baking sheet, dip the fork in cold water to flatten the cookies as much as possible. Try to avoid having many gaps between the almonds.

7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown. Exact time will vary based on how large your cookies are. The authors recommend lifting the bottom of one with a metal spatula to check and see if they’re cooked through. If they’re not brown across the top and bottom, they won’t be agreeably crispy.

8. Let cookies cool, then lift with a thin metal spatula and place them on a cooling rack until crisp. Continue baking all the cookies on the same baking sheet. (I found no need to re-oil it between uses.)

Store Florentines in an airtight container until ready to serve.

To Coat the Cookies with Chocolate

To coat one side with chocolate, melt a few ounces of chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate in a clean, dry bowl, stirring until smooth. Use a brush or metal spatula to coat the underside of each cookie with a thin layer of chocolate. Let cool in a cool place or the refrigerator until firm. Once firm, store Florentines in an airtight container at room temperature.

More Recipe Notes:

  • You can temper the chocolate if you’re not going to eat them within a relatively short period of time, if you want to avoid the chocolate ‘blooming’. Or just dip and cool them a few hours before serving time.

  • *I didn’t have any orange zest so added a few drops of orange oil, which worked perfectly.

  • When Twittering, I realized that these cookies are gluten-free.

  • Heidi did a beautiful post with photographs featuring Ottolenghi’s Red Rice and Quinoa Recipe.

  • Visit the Ottolenghi website for more recipes and information about the restaurant.

  • I’d planned to test baking the Florentines using my silicone baking mat, but had such good success with parchment paper I didn’t want to take any chances. If you do try it, let me know how they come out.

  • Favorite Baking Books

    It’s that time of the year, folks, when everyone’s thoughts turn to baking. Coincidentally it’s when the new crop of baking books are released, just in time for the sweet surge. This has been a pretty interesting year for cookbooks as the trends seem to be returning to books geared towards home bakers and cooks. Thankfully in my opinion.

    Although some of these books were written by pastry chefs, all are geared towards the home cook. I’ve been making notes in each of them which desserts I plan to try in the upcoming months and I hope to share them with you as well.

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    Demolition Desserts by Elizabeth Falkner

    The long-awaited book from pastry chef Elizabeth Falkner, Demolition Desserts show how this very talented San Francisco baker breaks down classic desserts, and reconstructions them into whimsical, yet sophisticated presentations.

    Although at first glance these look complicated, I envision many of these recipes being adaptable and great on their own. Tapioca with Concord Grapes is one winning combination I’m eyeing.

    But there’s also simple Citizen Cake bakery classics: Chocolate Chip Cookies, Sticky Toffee Cupcakes, and puffy marshmallows which get dipped in a thin layer of dark chocolate at her bakery. If you’re not afraid to tackle some projects in the kitchen—and many recipes aren’t all that complicated—Elizabeth’s book is a wild, wacky ride through the world of modern baking.

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    Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

    When Alice Medrich releases a new book, it’s always a special event. And I’ve never made a recipe of hers that didn’t go instantly into my ‘winner’ category.

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    Chez Panisse Gingersnap Recipe

    gingersnaps.jpg

    During my interview at Chez Panisse, as I sat across the table from Alice Waters in the main dining room at the restaurant, she asked me, “What do you eat at home?”

    Since I’m not exactly convincing when lying, I told her.

    “I eat popcorn, mostly.” And continued, “I’m a restaurant cook. I don’t have time to eat at home.”

    (Although I did conveniently omit the fact that it was microwave popcorn…)

    In spite of that, or because of my chutzpah, I got hired and worked at Chez Panisse for a long time. What nailed it for me and endeared me to Alice, years later, wasn’t her politics or her philosophy on cooking. It was when I told her, “I really like to drink coffee leftover from the morning, with milk in it, that’s been sitting on the counter all day.”

    And she said, “Me too.”

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