Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Festive New Years/Shabbat Treat

Are you looking for something delicious and festive, but not too heavy, to serve after Shabbat dinner this week in honor of New Year's Eve?  Look no further because this icy, apple treat is for you.  It is crisp and light, and can be made parve if you are kosher and having a meat dinner.

I am a big fan of Matinelli's sparkling cider.  I don't drink it that much but I saw it in the grocery store on sale, 2 for $5 and it seemed like a good time to make David Lebovitz's Green Apple and Sparkling Cider Sorbet, which I have had my eye on since I got the book.  

This sorbet was a snap to put together, as most sorbets are.  You boil the cider, sugar and some water together, then dump in some apples and let it all sit until the apples are soft.  The only hard part was pushing the apple mixture through a strainer, so that you got all the flavor and none of the lumps.  Then you are good to churn.    

The sparkling cider adds nice flavor to the sorbet, but that bubbly feeling is lost. Since the bubbles are half the fun, Sarah and I decided to put the sorbet in a glass with a splash of cider over it.  That way, you get the bubbles and the flavor and a festive, New Year's Look.

Happy New Year and Shabbat Shalom!  May 2011 bring you and your family many blessings.

Here is the recipe, from The Perfect Scoop:
Sparking Cinder and Green Apple Sorbet
4 Granny Smith or green pippin apples (2 pounds), preferably unsprayed
2 cups sparkling dry apple cider, with or without alcohol
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste

Quarter the apples and remove the cores and seeds. Cut the unpeeled apples into 1-inch chunks.
Combine the cider, sugar and water, and bring to a boil in a medium, nonreactive saucepan. Add the apples, reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer the apple chunks for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the apples steep until the mixture is room temperature.
Pass the apples and their liquid through a food mill fitted with a fine disk, or use a coarse-mesh strainer and press firmly on the apples to extract their pulp and all the liquid into a container. Discard the apple peels — they've given up their flavor at this point. Add the lemon juice. Taste and add more if you wish, since sparkling apple ciders can vary in sweetness.
Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacture's instructions.
Makes about 3 cups.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Seasonal Update on Parve Chocolate Cake

It has come to our attention that this parve chocolate cake is a big hit on our blog, but we posted it in our early days when we didn't include recipes. Anyway, we've updated the original post to include the recipe, woo hoo! We also made the cake for Shabbat dinner on Friday, with a little twist in honor of Christmas Eve - half a teaspoon of mint extract added to the frosting! Yummy! Don't use any more, especially if you're going to let it sit for a bit before serving, because the mint flavor intensifies as time goes on. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review: Cupcakes of L.A.

Hello from Los Angeles, where the Baking Sisters have once again reunited for a brief time, during which we have been baking (and eating) up a storm! One of our long-simmering plans for this vacation was to try out different kosher cupcake eateries in LA and see how they stacked up against one another. We picked the famous Sprinkles Cupcakes and the slightly less famous Famous Cupcakes, as well as our New York favorite Crumbs, and picked out one or two special flavors from each. Here are our impressions.

Sprinkles Cupcakes can be summed up in one word: overrated. We got a Chocolate Peppermint cupcake (a chocolate cupcake with chocolate peppermint frosting and peppermint bits sprinkled on top), which I assume is a seasonal flavor but looked like one of the most interesting that they offered. Our first impression was that cake tastes like nothing. The texture was fine, nothing special, but it was overwhelmed by the lack of taste. The frosting had a good sugar-to-butter ratio with pleasing amounts of peppermint but it couldn't disguise the fundamental weakness in the cake. Sprinkles may be the first known bakery to specialize in cupcakes, but we can't understand the lines out the door, and frankly, everything in the store from the $2.50 dog cupcakes to the sign on the door asking customers to keep it closed because it "preserves the freshness" of the cupcakes gives off an air of pretentiousness that no one needs in a cupcake shop. I'd say give Sprinkles a miss.

Crumbs is an Upper West Side transplant that is one of our favorites (shhh, don't tell our parents, they think Crumbs is evil because of the customer service, but I found the LA Crumbs people to be helpful and friendly). We got a German Chocolate cupcake, which was Sarah's mistake. She didn't remember the many many times we apparently made German chocolate cake for our dad (this is Sarah writing on Rachel's account in case you didn't get that) and didn't realize that German chocolate cake has coconut in it! Oh no! Anyway, this cupcake should probably be automatically disqualified for having coconut in it, but despite this glaring defect, Crumbs' frosting is always quality and their cake is very fluffy. At $3.75, the Crumbs cupcake costs 50 cents more than the others and is very large, so be sure to share it with friends or sisters.

Famous Cupcakes definitely has the chic cupcake shop look downpat, plus they had a bathroom when Sarah really really needed to pee, so major points for them. However, they are also owned by the vile Kardashians, whose faces are all over the shop, so those points get cancelled out. Guess we'll have to rely on old-fashioned metrics like flavor. Famous had lots of interesting choices and so we got two: the "Good Morning" cupcake (vanilla with brown sugar, cinnamon and graham cracker topping) and "Hot Chocolate" (chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting). The former was light and delicious, more like a muffin or a coffee cake (maybe that's why it's called Good Morning?), and it had a super-yummy cream cheese swirl on top, although said swirl and the accompanying raspberry were not interested in staying on the cupcake and kept sliding down the side The latter had the best flavor of any of the cupcakes we tried but the frosting was disappointingly buttery. Next time, I would get a cupcake with cream cheese frosting because the bit that we had was so tasty.

So in conclusion, we will not be weeping because Sprinkles and Famous are not in New York. (Menchie's frozen yogurt, on the other hand...) We had a lot of fun sampling them, though. If you have tried them, or any other local cupcake eatery, and you have your own opinions, let us know! What's the best cupcake that you've had recently?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Doing My Part to Help Pass the Bar: Part 1

You may remember my friend Brooke.  She has been mentioned a few times around this blog, most notably as the source of my mandelbrot recipe.  Brooke is studying for the bar for a second time, since she moved since she first took it. Those of you who are lawyers or who know lawyers know that studying for the bar is no fun, especially if you are also working full time, as Brooke is.

Last time Brooke was studying for the bar, we were living near each other and I was able to go and give her little pep talks in person.  This time, we live across the country from each other, and telling her to study via gchat doesn't always work.

So, I decided to motivate her to study by bribing her with cookies.  If she is very good, and does her studying like she is supposed to, instead of watching West Wing, she will get cookies.  If not, well...we won't go there.

Brooke's first care package contained two kinds of yummy treats.  First, since Brooke loves brownies and dark chocolate, I choose Dorie Greenspan's Bittersweet brownies.  These are chock full of dark chocolate and have a great, rich, fudgy texture.  I highly recommend these if you like dark chocolate.  The recipe is here, which I made without the raspberries. 

The second cookie was created because I found mint truffle filled hershey kisses.  Brooke loves mint and dark chocolate, so I knew I had to incorporate them somehow.  I had seen peanut butter cookies with kisses pushed into them, so I thought I would do something like that.  In the end, I decided on mint chocolate crinkle cookies with mint chocolate kisses.  These were delicious -- minty and fudgy, with good chocolate flavor.  The recipe called for them to be rolled in confectioners sugar and green sugar, which I did, but you can't see the green very well.  Either way, I highly recommend these cookies.  They were easy to make (my 2.5 year old helped out) and very, very yummy.  You can find the recipe here.

Brooke -- if you take a break from studying (a short one), let us know what you thought and if they got to you in one piece.  Good luck on the bar (leave her some love to help motivate her if the cookies don't work)!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Golden Lemon Cake for Nikhita

I find myself staring into the maw of my second semester of senior year, and you know what that means - time to find a job. If you were going to ask me very politely what I'm thinking about doing, you may very politely shut your mouth. It's not a nice question to ask a senior in college. I went to a career fair in October and it was the most dispiriting hour of my life. I even invented a drinking game. Take a shot every time someone asks you if you're a software engineer and then his face falls when you say you aren't. By the end of it, you'll be drunk enough to go the career fair and not come out of it believing that you're never, never going to be employed. Apparently, at the February career fair there's more variety, but only companies with massive hiring needs know that they have the funding to recruit at places like Brown at the beginning of the year, so the only people there are Web- or tech-related companies like Amazon or Facebook, do-gooders like Teach for America or the Peace Corp, and financial sector firms.

Which brings us to cake. I mean duh. My friend Nikhita recently received a job offer from not one but two financial firms, and in the end she picked the Big Bad Goldman Sachs. Exciting stuff! I promised that we would bake a congratulatory cake in exchange for my being her trophy wife and lounging around her apartment baking all day, since she'll never be in said apartment when she's working 27-hour days. Her parameters were that it not be chocolate and not be too complicated. Nikhita is a fantastic cook, inventive and intuitive, but she has no confidence in her baking ability. We decided on a simple Martha Stewart lemon cake recipe with whipped frosting, which I had originally picked out because it was golden, like the vast amounts of money Nikhita will soon be making.

I don't think we could have made a more perfect choice. This cake was a dream in every way. It was so easy to make, not to mention forgiving - I accidentally added an additional egg yolk and it didn't mess things up at all! It baked to a perfect even hue and not only came out of the pan whole, but remained whole when I placed one layer on top of the other. As avid readers of this blog know, that NEVER happens to me, so major points for the cake. The whipped frosting looked lovely, although I'm more of a buttercream kind of gal. But most importantly, a) it tasted amazing, fluffy and delicately flavored and b) it gave Nikhita the confidence to believe that she too can bake delicious treats. She said that she would try this recipe, which was always one of her favorites when we were in Cambridge together. We'll let you know how it goes!

The proud baker with her creation

You can find the recipe here. (We didn't make the candied lemons.) This is definitely going to become one of my go-to cakes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ethnic Flavor: It's A Menorah! It's A Chanukiah! It's...Cupcakes!

Time for a nerdy true confession: I've been dying to make this cupcake menorah ever since I saw it last December on the King Arthur Flour blog. Christmas has so many treats - peppermint bark, gingerbread men, nasty-ass fruitcakes - so why couldn't we have one too? This was the perfect solution: religiously relevant AND tasty, which is more than you can say for the Christmas food! Anyway, I prepared assiduously, buying special blue and white cupcake wrappers at Zabar's and exorbitantly expensive blue sugar at East Side Marketplace.

I used the recommended recipe, a KAF guarantee (although being a poor college student who had just shelled out five dollars for blue sugar, I was not using KA Flour). I'm not wild about their method, which involves beating butter into the dry ingredients instead of the usual butter-sugar-eggs-dry ingredients steps. That's not maligning the finished product, though; my complaint is more that flour gets everywhere when you're working with a hand mixer. But the finished cake was delightful, dense and moist. Also, I have to put in a plug for these cupcake wrappers. They're the kind where you don't even need a cupcake tin, you just stick 'em on a cookie sheet and bam, you're done. I was skeptical that something so magical could exist but let me tell you, these were the most evenly baked cupcakes I've ever made. The wrappers are as sturdy as they are pretty. They really get the job done!

But enough plugging. I made a simple buttercream - two sticks of butter, a bunch of confectioner's sugar, a dash of vanilla - and piped it on. With the blue sugar sprinkled on top, it ended up being almost overpoweringly sweet, so I was glad that the cupcakes themselves were more delicately flavored. All in all it was really adorable and fun and I think it will make a great holiday tradition!

Here is the link to the original KAF post about the cupcake menorah, and here's the recipe. I halved it and it was perfect for eight regular-sized and one jumbo cupcake. Have a great last night of Hanukkah!

Golden Vanilla Cake from the King Arthur Flour Blog


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour your choice of pan(s): one 9" x 13" pan, two 9" round cake pans, three 8" round pans, or the wells of two muffin tins (24 muffin cups). You can also line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers.

1) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.

2) Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.

3) Combine the milk and vanilla and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

4) Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

5) With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

6) Repeat this procedure with the second egg. Continue adding the eggs, scraping after each addition, until all 4 are added.

7) After the last egg is added, scrape the bowl once more, then beat at medium-high speed for 30 more seconds.

8) Transfer the batter to the pans of your choice. For layers, divide the batter among the pans. Smooth out the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a tablespoon.

For cupcakes, scoop by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tins.

9) Bake for 40 minutes for a 9" x 13" pan; 27 minutes for 9" layers; 24 minutes for 8" layers, or 23 to 25 minutes for cupcakes.

10. The cake is done when it's golden brown around the edges and just beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

11) Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool before removing it from the pan.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Shabbos Kallah Part 4: New Jersey Cake Cookies

When you've known a family for as long as the Rosenthal have known the Palmer-Shermans, some traditions are bound to accumulate, whether it's the yearly trip to the Big Apple Circus or just Shabbat dinner. Going to their house is always one of the most comforting and enjoyable experiences I have when I go home, in large part because of the routine. There's always a delicious fluffy challah, some meat that's so red it's practically still alive (only the Palmer-Shermans like their meat redder than we do), and some New Jersey cake. You may know it as checkerboard cake but since it comes from a kosher bakery in New Jersey, we've given it its own special name. Checkerboard cake often seems magical. How do they do that? we wonder as we examine the perfectly even alternating layers of black and white. Well, I'd tell you...but then I'd have to kill you. The next-best thing is making these cookies. And when I was thinking about what to make for the Shabbos Kallah, I realized that nothing could be more appropriate than these.

However, let me tell you that they are an enormous pain in my ass to make. When they make the New Jersey cake they have special pans that make just the right sized layers for stacking. (Okay, I told you.) But you have to do it by hand. And they must be as precise as possible or they will end up looking all wonky like the ones in the picture above. While it's somewhat satisfying to watch the tower go up, and while the finished product looked very impressive on a plate, I just don't think it was worth it. And that's really the bottom line. The dough is easy to make and they tasted like buttery, yummy shortbread cookies, but you could make buttery, yummy shortbread cookies that take a lot less time and effort - there were no particularly interesting flavors in here. So if you're trying to wow people with your baking skillz, or if you happen to be picking a recipe for a party that is in honor of someone who makes you think of checkerboard cookies, I would say save yourself the aggravation and make something else. This is extra-true if you've been baking for the last eight hours nonstop and this was the last thing you made, as was the case with me, so maybe I'm biased. With all those caveats, the recipe is here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ethnic Flavor: Sufganiyot (aka jelly donuts)

It's Hanukkah, Christmas' less sexy Jewish cousin! They've got the decorated trees, the beautiful music, the mass cultural dominance. Luckily, we have a couple of things going in our favor as well: the pretty candles, the best song ever written, and lots and lots of fried food! I'm actually amazed that we haven't achieved more mass cultural dominance, considering our mass culture's love of fried food. Chief among these are latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). I was invited to a Hanukkah dinner featuring a lot of really heavy Ashkenazic-type food, including of course latkes, and as resident baker I got commissioned to make sufganiyot! I just picked a recipe at random off the Internet and only later realized that it was by Joan Nathan, something of a doyenne in the world of Jewish cooking. I was glad it had that extra credibility because I'd never made donuts before and I was kind of nervous.

It didn't start out well. I'm almost as afraid of yeast as I am of dropping things in hot hot oil and having it spatter everywhere, so I knew donuts were going to be a challenge. I didn't really let the milk get sufficiently lukewarm before I yeasted it up, and I think I killed the yeast. So I dumped in another packet and let that bubble. By this point it was already 12:30 a.m., way past my bedtime (I'm a lame college student, I know). The rest of it went fine - really sticky dough before the butter was added, but that's to be expected - and I stuck it in the fridge.

The next morning I took it out and let it rise on the counter for a couple of hours, and I was glad that I did because it hadn't risen much in the fridge. I felt it was the yeast getting its revenge on me for killing its pals. The dough was very easy to roll out and cut, although I found that you only need one egg white to seal the donuts, so if you're using a fresh egg as I was instead of the whites left over from the yolks, keep that in mind. I let them rise for closer to 45 minutes but that's mostly because I got caught up in watching 30 Rock.

Then came The Frying. This was extremely scary for me - I still have little burns up and down my arms from when I deep-fried banana fritters when I was eighteen. I was very apprehensive about getting the right temperature, since I don't have a thermometer. I had to eyeball it, but I was helped along mightily by our smoke detector, which beeped its hellish beep as it informed me in its calm voice, "Fire. There is a fire." (This was the second time this had happened in 24 hours. The night before, I was simultaneously cooking rice and beans without the vent on, using a blowtorch for creme brulee - more on that later - and burning my Hanukkah candles. The smoke detector was not amused.) Anyway, I had to keep Ole Smokey happy so I didn't let the oil get too hot and I'm glad. The first two donuts I made were very dark, not burnt beyond repair but not donut color either. The rest were more successful. The tip I would offer those who are making these with a spatula is to flip the donuts over onto the spatula before you drop them in the oil, so that the flatter side is facing up. That way, when you flip them back into the oil the flatter side will be facing down, and it will be easier to pick it up with your spatula and turn it to the other side.

And how did my first foray into donut making actually taste? Well, not exactly like donuts. I'm pretty sure that the yeast continued to exact its yeasty revenge on me by not rising enough so it was denser than I would have liked but hey, c'est la vie. It still tasted very good, like a big solid funnel cake with raspberry jam inside! I don't think that I would make donuts just for a random occasion because I found them sort of stressful, but I'd definitely make them for Hanukkah next year, smoke detectors be damned.

Sufganiyot Recipe, adapted from Joan Nathan's The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen

  • 1 scant tablespoon (1 package) dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm milk or warm water*
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter or pareve margarine, softened*
  • Apricot or strawberry preserves
  • Sugar
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • *Use butter and milk if serving at a milk meal, and water and pareve margarine for a meat meal

  • Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the milk. Let sit to make sure it bubbles.

    Sift the flour and mix it with the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, egg yolks, and the yeast mixture.

    Knead the dough until it forms a ball. Add the butter or margarine. Knead some more, until the butter is well absorbed. Cover with a towel and let rise overnight in the refrigerator.

    Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch.

    Cut out the dough into 24 rounds with a juice glass, or any object about 2 inches in diameter. Take 1/2 teaspoon of preserves and place in center of 12 rounds. Top with the other 12. Press down at edges, sealing with egg whites. Crimping with the thumb and second finger is best. Let rise for about 30 minutes.

    Heat 2 inches of oil to about 375°. Drop the doughnuts into the hot oil, about 5 at a time. Turn to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Roll the doughnuts in sugar.

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