Friday, March 29, 2013

The Best Passover Cookies Ever

So remember back in my previous post when I said I wasn't really planning to make any new desserts this year?  Well, I just can't help myself...and you shouldn't either.  These are, hands down, the best Passover cookies I have ever tasted (and they rank up there with non-Passover cookies too).  A friend brought these to our seder and everyone devoured them in an instant.  It is great to have a recipe where people eat it on Passover and say how great it is, not just great for Passover.  Be sure to use really good chocolate, since that is the primary flavor of the cookies.  I also used matzah cake meal instead of matzah meal, since it is ground a little finer, but I think either would work.  The good news is that there are four more days of Passover, so you can make these!  You can find them on Martha Stewart's website.

Monday, March 25, 2013

New Passover Dessert: Chocolate Idiot Cake

The thing about Passover desserts is, when you find one that works, you really want to stick with it.  So many Passover dessert recipes are really terrible and you don't know until you bite into it, so when I find a good one, I tend to make it every year.

However, at the last minute this year, I decided I wanted something chocolate to go with our usual berry crisp.  I thought the best course of action would be to find a flourless chocolate cake that was not Passover in any way, and make it  for the seder.

After a short google, I found this flourless chocolate cake from David Lebovitz.  Since I trust the man with all ice cream, I figure he probably also knows cake.  And, since this cake is called Chocolate Idiot Cake, I figured the chances of screwing it up are small.  

This cake was very, very easy to make.  It is just chocolate, butter (margarine in my case), sugar and eggs and then you put it in a water bath.  The cake comes out creamy and very, very rich (and pretty flat, but that is par for the course).  A small slice does the trick and is a delicious chocolate end to the seder (and if you are having a vegetarian seder, I highly recommend a dollop of whipped cream).  You can find the recipe here.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Too Many Girl Scouts? Thin Mint Muffins!

Growing up in New York City, there were no girl scouts.  Finding girl scout cookies was like striking gold.  You never knew from year to year if you were going to get some, unless you happened upon a secret spot with girls from outside Manhattan selling the beloved cookies.  In college, I was a Hebrew school teacher.  One of the girls in my class asked if I would buy cookies from her.  Elated with finding the elusive cookie, I ordred four boxes.  The following week, the other seven girls in my class showed up with cookie forms and I ened up with almost 40 boxes of girl scout cookies.  Who knew that everyone was a girl scout?  Good thing I lived in a college dorm, where they were snapped up almost immediately.

Ever since then, I am more careful about my cookie ordering.  Since girl scout cookies are often delivered in the run up to Passover, I have to be careful not to order too many (let alone the fact that it is not good for my wallet or my waistline).  

This year, I ended up with an extra box of thin mints that I knew would not be eaten before Passover.  At the same moment, I happened upon this recipe from The Food Librarian.  This recipe chops up thin mints and sticks them inside a moist, chocolatly muffin.  I brought these too a work function, and even though they feel more like dessert than breakfast, they were snapped up.  I made some large ones and some minis, for people who just wanted to try them.

Check out this recipe here.  You could put all kinds of other things in the muffin base, if you don't happen to have thin mints lying around.

This is probably the last non-Passover recipe we will post here for a while.  I will probably make some of my standards, which you can find here and here.  I also plan to make this lemon mousse cake for Shabbat, when we are so over eating meat all the time and are looking for something dairy and delicious.  The Torta Del Re, made with matzah meal not flour, is also a great option (at the bottom of the post).  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review: Sugar Flower Cake Shop Cake Decorating Class

I know, I know, it's Pi Day! And it's near-sacrilegious to write about cake on Pi Day. But it's sacrilege I guess I'll have to commit.

Two Sundays ago I went to a cake decorating class at the charming Sugar Flower Cake Shop. I got the class as a Groupon and was very excited - though I consider myself a pretty good amateur baker, my decorating skills leave something to be desired. As I learned in the class' introductory speech from our instructor, Amy, Sugar Flower Cake Shop is all about local organic blah blah di blah blah. I kind of tuned it out because who in New York isn't into local and organic these days. But what I appreciated most was that apparently they only use buttercream, never fondant, because fondant tastes terrible. So we were off to a good start.

The lovely Sugar Flower Cake Shop

Amy and her assistants handed out squares of cake to everyone in the class. It was a vanilla cake with caramel filling, and the frosting was vanilla as well. I was lucky enough to be the only person at my table of six to get a perfectly rectangular piece (everyone else had one that had been cut from the side of the cake). Amy showed us how to hold our offset spatulas like a spoon, and instructed us to wipe the excess frosting off into a tub after every slather of frosting. This seemed excessively fastidious for me (after all, it's called a crumb coat - can't it have some crumbs in it?) but I guess it's a good habit to get in to for later, non-crumb coats. Once we had a good layer of frosting on our cakes, they put them in the fridge, and it was time to learn how to decorate! 

Amy taught us the correct angles for piping stars (large and small), shells, dots, filigree, writing, and so on. I found shells to be the most challenging. You have to hold your bag at a 45-degree angle, squirt, and then quickly move the tip to the right in order to make a thin tail. (This is assuming you're a righty, going left to right.) But it was a lot of fun to try. I was especially grateful for the tip that I should not fill my piping bag with more than a little frosting - I always overfill, and I never even realized it until now. It's a lot easier to control in small amounts, even if it's annoying to have to constantly refill it. The other major annoyance was that the frosting pretty much melted as the class went on, and became close to unusable towards the end. But Amy was adamant that buttercream should not go in the fridge, and I trust her - she's the expert!

After that, it was time for our cakes to come out of the fridge, so we could put on the final coating of frosting. This was the part I found the most challenging. Despite having the easiest piece of cake to deal with, mine took the longest to frost. I couldn't get the damned corners. Luckily, Amy was very helpful. "You can never have too much buttercream," she said, which is a fine motto for all areas of life, don't you think? Anyway, with sufficient slathering, I got the corners (mostly) covered, and got to decorating! You can see the fruits of my labor above. After we finished decorating, everyone got a box in which to take their cake home. Let's just say that my cake didn't last 24 hours in my apartment! 

I would recommend this class to any beginning cake decorator. It was totally full and so I didn't get all the personal attention I would have liked, but hey, it's a Groupon, what do you want. I feel like I learned a lot; plus, they sent all the people in the class a practice sheet for piping, so I can continue my cake-decorating education in the comfort of my own home.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cookie Butter/Biscoff/Speculoos...Whatever You Call It, It is Yum!

Cookie Butter.  Biscoff.  Speculoos. There doesn't seem to be a tremendous amount of agreement about what to call this spread, but whatever you call it, it is delicious.  It is a little spicy, a little sweet, a little cinnamon-y and a lot of yum.  There doesn't actually seem to be a lot of reason to cook with it, when you can just eat it straight from the jar or spread on toast, but I thought I would try something different.  

I always look for excuses to eat cookies for breakfast and scones are just a way of eating a cookie in the morning.  This scone recipe comes from King Arthur Flour.  It has a five star rating and recipes from that site with a high rating have never failed me.  I love the way they explain everything and lay it out step by step.  These scone were tender, with a great crumb and a sweet cinnamon flavor from the cookie butter (which I bought at Trader Joe's, by the way).  In the recipe, there is a glaze but I skipped it and just spread the cookie butter directly on the scones.  A tasty morning or anytime treat (and they freeze really well!).

You can find the recipe here.

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