Friday, January 31, 2014

Homemade Red Velvet Fondant & January's Funny food Blogger Posts

Let's kick off this next two weeks of Valentine's posts with something unique shall we? Red velvet fondant. Wow.

Next week I'll be teaching a Valentine's themed cookie decorating class with the proceeds going to a good cause. One of the techniques I will demonstrate is covering and decorating rollout cookies with fondant. With a rare few exceptions I always make my own marshmallow fondant.  Once you have it down, the process goes quickly and is way more economical that store bought.

One of my favorite tricks for making fondant is to take a package of the many flavored marshmallows available now and make marshmallow fondant out of them. Pumpkin pie spice, key lime, lemon meringue, peppermint marshmallows all have flavor and color and  you can skip steps adding these in the creation process.

Store bought red velvet marshmallows probably exist somewhere but unfortunately nowhere in my vicinity this past weekend. So I improvised using regular marshmallows and scored!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cherry Pecan Espresso Ice Cream

Snowy wintery weather has never prevented me from craving ice cream. In the last months. We've been hit with several storms here in NYC. Take a look at our terrace last week. This was what we saw when we opened the door the next morning after the storm.

I actually like the snow and the cold. I just like weather in general. When the yen for ice cream came, I decided to make one with deep rich flavors.

This espresso flavored ice cream studded with tangy dried cherries and luscious pecans is so decadent but so worth it.

Now where did I put that snow shovel?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Macarons Mondays: Jasmine Macarons with Candied Aloe Filling

PEOPLE!!! Powdered flavors are my new obsession. I am in love love with how easy they can amp up French Macarons without risking footless blobs as a result. Anyone who has made macarons knows that adding any kind of liquid to the batter can risk unbalancing the recipe and producing misshapen, cracked and/or footless shells. That's why most bakers use powdered colors and flavoring in the shells. I know professionals who don't risk flavoring the shells, just adding colored powder.

Anywho, finding powdered flavoring for sale on the interwebs was a divine revelation for me. Where have I been? I ordered a few flavors to start. Most of the flower flavors I received seemed to call out for Spring baking but this Jasmine flavor seemed the right way to start. It's just elegant for any season. You can find them in a google search and there are even varieties of natural powdered flavors available. 

The packages recommend using a 1/4 teaspoon per batter. If you don't want your French macarons to taste like perfume DO NOT double the measurement like I did.  Perfume-y or not, these were still show stoppers.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Thomas The Tank Engine Cookies

Recently, it was the birthday of one of our favorite weekend guests. Train obsessed like other little boys, he's spent endless hours playing train games and looking at pictures of them in addition to watching real ones. At three years of age he can tell you what subway to take where and recites the stops in order. A little train genius that one and cute as a bug in a rug. His halloween costume this year? Yes, Thomas the Train. 

The request for these Thomas the Tank Engine cookies came from his mother for his third birthday party. I nervously rose to the challenge because I am not that gifted with decorating sugar cookies and don't at all consider myself a cookie artist. What some cookie decorators do freehand with a bag of royal icing, I usually cheat and use fondant or sugar accents. I was upfront with the cutie pie's mom. The detailed train cookie she originally wanted I wouldn't even attempt with out a Kopycake projector which I have yet to acquire and learn how to use. 

So the cookie planning commenced and since I've only peripherally heard of Thomas the Tank Engine (a casualty of a childless household) I asked for some guiding images. I agreed to the simpler ones, the "3" and the railroad crossing cookies because I could easily visualize how to do them and fall back on fondant accents. The face definitely scared me. But I wanted to push my comfort zone a little.  Still, I couldn't help but  think,  "What if the kids at the party didn't recognize the cookie is Thomas? "  I needed to chill. The party was for a bunch of three year olds after all. Anyway, my fear got blown away when mom and son came to pick up the cookies. "Thomas!" he exclaimed when he saw the face cookie. Whew! My work was done and now I am officially over my Thomas the Tank Engine cookie terror. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Allspice Macadamia Brittle

Most people's new year resolutions revolve on losing weight or going to the gym. This year I vowed to experiment more with candy making. Don't judge the life of a person with a baking blog hobby.  I probably should take an actual candy making class instead of improvising on the weekends, but who has time for that these days?

Last holiday season, I accidentally overdid it buying Allspice. So as a result I've been trying to work it it to different creations when I can like Allspice Fall Leaves Meringues and Cranberry Cream Cheese filled Allspice French macarons.

Snow-bound this past weekend beside a roaring fire, thoughts turned to warming flavors so I took one of the three jars of allspice I have out of the cabinet for a candy test drive. My first attempt was at allspice caramels. I over cooked the candy and they turned out hard as a rock. Big. Fail. However, this gave me the idea to switch to a brittle. Most people would have stuck with the caramels and then moved onto the brittle but I have candy making ADD.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Macaron Monday: Banana French Macarons with Espresso Rum Filling

This French macaron flavor reminds me of a tropical hot drink. A hybrid. Banana and rum evoke tropical breezes but the espresso and rum together remind me of warming up against chilly Winter air with a hot beverage laced with alcohol.

Banana, espresso, rum...what could be wrong? Nothing I tell you. This French macaron is packed with flavor and perfect to serve in summer or winter.

I used ground up freeze dried bananas from Trader Joe's in the shells for flavor. I have a rainbow of leftover buttercream flavors and colors in my freezer and I'm sorta on a mission to use them up. The espresso is the most abundant. I defrosted it and when blended with a few teaspoons of dark rum, it took on a whole other personality.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Five Shades of Grey Ombre Cake

Let me say first off. I have never read 50 Shades of Grey or do I intend to in the near future.  Although I am a voracious reader, I usually shy away from overhyped books.  Technically this cake has three shades of grey plus one black and one white layer. So five total.

It was my boss's birthday last week. Everything I needed to pull off a super cool graffiti covered cake idea was in the pantry of my Pennsylvania kitchen.  Great. Time to improvise. So the night before the birthday I pulled everything out of my NYC kitchen cabinets and tried to summon some creative idea. Unfortunately,  only some sad lack of ingredients were facing me on the counter. Food coloring and a lump of white homemade marshmallow fondant.

Think. Lora. Think.

In addition to being the owner of the media agency where I work, my boss is a world class photographer. I kept thinking black and white photography and I know it's abstract but this cake was born the night before out of my lack of decorating supplies and an overworked abstract imagination.

Forgoing the fondant, I worked the food coloring angle.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Barberry Chocolate Chip Spelt Biscotti

My husband, like most, views shopping as an evil necessity. I never expect him to accompany me and when in Germany I usually ride my bike to the supermarkets and take my time perusing and selecting items. Before we left Germany after the holidays, the last grocery trip  was a fast one because we went together and I always feel the supermarket sweep type pressure to get everything together as quickly as possible to prevent him from suffering further shopping torture.

I whizzed by these on the way to the checkout and despite risking furthering husband's discomfort, I backtracked, risked losing a favorable place in line and grabbed them to bring them home for further inspection.

I've heard of barberries but not tasted them. These were dried and had a great flavor. At first taste, they are tangy but they finish with a lovely burst of sweet flavor. So into the suitcase they went for further experimenting.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Macaron Mondays: Rum Vanilla French Macarons with Blueberry Preserves Filling

When visiting Germany, one of the items I always stock up on to bring back to the States are these little packets of flavored sugar. The vanilla sugar kind is the easiest one to find in the markets but occasionally I find different varieties like caramel sugar or this rum vanilla variety.

When making macarons, you add a small amount of fine granulated sugar to the meringue batter. Using flavored sugar is a great way to get flavor into the shells without compromising the batter with a liquid extract. It's just too easy to ruin it.

I replaced the sugar in the recipe with the flavored fine sugar in these packets and it worked like magic. I realize not everyone has access to this ingredient but it gave me the idea to buy a bag on finely granulated sugar and divide it up to experiment with flavoring it. It's now on the list.  Probably the easiest homemade version  is to put vanilla bean husks into a jar, add sugar and let it sit for some time to impart the flavor.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Candied Ginger Physalis (Ground Cherry) Cake

One of the best things about the Christmas markets in Europe  is stumbling upon stands that sell spices and dried fruits.  I always seem to discover something interesting there nestled among packets of the usual suspects.

In Holland I found this stand selling gorgeous exotic dried fruits and the best part was, everything was available for tasting.  Always drawn to the strange, I immediately gravitated toward these dried physalis, they were tangy and sweet, like sour golden raisins on steroids. After stuffing my face tasting everything else, I scurried home with my plastic bag full of these little tangy treats to dream up some deserving special baked good to showcase them.

Previously I've made a galette with fresh ground cherries but I had never seen dried ones before, let alone baked with them. I was intrigued. But what to pair them with?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Caramelized Onion Hummus Appetizer

Caramelized onions are like candy to me. My mother feels the same way and stirs them into her omelets and decorates sandwiches and salads with them. Sometimes when I visit her I just bring along a container of freshly caramelized onions and she receives it like normal people would a box of chocolates. I get it.

In mid December, the last weekend before we left for Germany for the holidays, we had a small get together at our house in Pennsylvania where I served appetizers and drinks. I still had some ingredients leftover from Thanksgiving including a large ziplock full of sweet onions cut into pieces.

Not really knowing where I was going with these onions, I instinctually threw them into a large frying pan to caramelize thinking the idea would come to me. It did.

I always have hummus ingredients on hand for any last minute visitors. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Macaron Mondays: Cookies & Cream French Macarons

Someone has to keep me out of the Dollar Tree. Really.  

My mom loves the place so I take her there once a week. While she is power shopping with the other seniors, I amuse myself with buying cheap props to style pictures for this blog, purchasing other things I probably don't need and trolling the food aisle for crazy powders to add to French macaron shells. Sometimes, I score. Amazing Hot Apple Cider French macarons were born this way.

I thought maybe maclightening would strike twice when I saw this powdered cookies and cream flavor. The manufacturer's intended purpose is to add it to milk to boost the taste. I was skeptical but of course I added it to the macarons shells anyway. Always worth a try.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Healthy Flax Seed Oat Bran Muffins

Holidays are over. Here's the obligatory healthy post. These are damn good though.

I was in Trader Joe's last month with my mom. She pointed out this recipe printed on a bag of Bob's Red Mill ground flax seeds. She buys flax seeds all the time and has always wanted to make the recipe. Daughter to the rescue. I had everything in my pantry to make these except oat bran. Mom to the rescue, who had a big bag at home. I measured out enough for the recipe and tucked it in my bag before returning to the city.

The following weekend up in my big kitchen in Pennsylvania, I threw a batch of these together and took them out to my mom the following Monday. She loved them and now and ate one at breakfast for as long as they lasted. I made more. Rinse and repeat.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Gold & Silver Lavender Fortune Cookies for the New Year & December's Funny Food Blogger Posts

So I'm ending and starting years with glitter. Some things will never change no matter if it's 1980, 2014 or 2050. Regardless, these homemade fortune cookies were a fun way way to ring in the new year with my German family.

In honor of the special occasion, I dressed them in evening wear, dusted them in silver and gold, flavored them with a bit of lavender extract and filled them with lovely, random, snarky and funny predictions.

Writing the fortunes can be a fun activity for the whole family, each member keeping theirs secret from the other. Only the baker knows all! I had Dr. B check a few I wrote in German and I wrote the rest in English.