Entries tagged with “Baking”.

When Cindy Mushet and her daughter Bella came to town to talk about Cindy’s new book, Baking Kids Love, I couldn’t resist asking them to come by my house and do some baking with my own kid. My 7-year-old does like cooking with me, but, with a professional in the kitchen, I wondered if we could take on a more challenging project than usual. And we did. I wrote about it here on Al Dente Blog, along with the recipe for the meringue cookies the kids whipped up and piped into Halloween-style “rattling bones and fingers”. The cookies can be made into any shape you like, though — alphabet letters seem like a natural favorite. Here’s a little video showing some of the highlights of our after-school cooking lesson. It struck me that it’s always easier to learn new techniques with experienced helpers — even when one of them is only in middle school.

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I don’t think I’ve ever met cookbook authors work as hard to connect with their audience as Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, authors of “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day” and, now, “Healthy Bread In Five Minutes A Day.” The very focus of their new book, in fact, came from the deluge of reader questions they got about making no-knead bread with whole grains.  (I remember being stunned by the volume of questions on that topic I got myself after writing about their first book. I passed every question along to Jeff and Zoe, and every one was answered.) I’ve watched the past year as they’ve answered reader questions via blog and Twitter… but, on Monday (Nov. 2), you can interact with them the old-fashioned way, on their book tour.

Zoe will sign books at the University of Washington Book Store at 7 p.m., and Jeff will be a guest at Foodportunity.

 I talked with them about “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes A Day” for Al Dente, and you can read the story here. One bit of news: They’ve got a third book in the works now, on pizzas and flatbreads from around the world.

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honore2I wrote in Sunday’s Seattle Times about American macaroons vs. French macarons, as different from each other as Julie was to Julia.

I am a sucker for the easy, agreeably chewy coconut macaroons, as I’ve talked about here and here and here, but fooling around with egg whites and piping bags for the fancy French version was a great deal of fun. So was the chance to run questions past one of my baking heroines, Dorie Greenspan, and to talk with Seattle’s own Neil Robertson and  Franz Gilbertson. Greenspan noted that, although macaroons and macarons don’t have much in common, “the coconut cookies that we know as macaroons do have a French cousin, congolais or rochers a la noix de coco, both made with coconut, sugar and egg whites.

“There are centuries-old recipes for French macarons that look nothing like the modern treats although they use essentially the same ingredients. The early macarons (like macarons Nancy or even Mme. Blanchez’s macarons from St. Emilion) were flat, soft, crackle-topped almond cookies often made by nuns.

I suspect there are masters theses on the word’s origin just waiting to be written or found, but in the meantime, here’s my very brief look at the treats. While it is hard to make perfect macarons, I found it not difficult to make imperfect ones, which are quite satisfying all on their own.

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A few years ago, I profiled a prizewinning pie-baker as she sought her 25th contest ribbon at the Puyallup Fair. Carol Lagasca was entering the contest with her sister, Barbara Dodenhoeft, and I tagged along for the excitement. I thought my heart would stop a couple times on the way:

As the sisters approached Puyallup, a blinking road sign warned of “fair congestion.” The parking spot Dodenhoeft found just minutes from the entry line was declared off-limits by a guard. The flaggers in the $5 parking lot the next block down tried to wave her toward the far end precious minutes away.

“Can’t we park here? We have pies to enter!” Dodenhoeft exclaimed.

They made it to the entry line with seven minutes to spare.”

I returned to the fair’s Home Arts Pavilion this year, but, this time, as one of the judges. And the stress I felt was just the same, when I hit traffic and panicked that I might miss the deadline. I think I took the job doubly seriously, remembering how it felt to be in the audience, watching and waiting as the hours — yes, hours — ticked by, trying to pick up hints from the judges faces and the disappearing bites of pie.  I wrote about the judging debate and the winning recipe here, on Amazon.com’s Al Dente, where I’ve been a reader for some time and will now be a regular contributor. (It feels like a P-I reunion on that food page, meeting up again with former collegues Leslie Kelly and Tracy Schneider.) And, having now seen two sides of the contest, I think I need to practice my Art of the Pie skills and see if I can ever dream of being a competitor.

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unbleached cake flour

Longtime readers know that my go-to cake recipe is the “Tender White Cake” on the back of the Queen Guinevere cake flour bag. I love that brand from King Arthur Flour enough to mail-order it in bulk, as it’s not available in stores, but I’ve always been taken aback by this note on the bag:

“Despite our reservations about chemicals, this flour must be bleached to set the proper ph absorption, tolerance and adaptability for cakes.”

This is, after all, a company that prides itself on never bleaching its other flours. And, bleached flour is banned in the European Union. But bleaching has been a given in U.S. cake flours, essentially part of the term’s definition, credited with giving cakes a finer texture and more even rise, a better ability to hold moisture and distribute fats.

But now, something new’s in the works. King Arthur Flour has developed an unbleached cake flour, and it’ll start showing up in grocery stores across the country in September.

How exciting is this? Enough that there are already 600+ comments on the blog entry talking about the flour’s debut.

“(W)e really care about offering the highest-quality product free of unnecessary chemicals, and our cake flour has been the one product in which we compromised our unbleached stance,” spokeswoman Allison Furbish wrote when I asked about the new flour. “We wanted to change that,” or at least offer an alternative, as the Queen Guinevere flour will stay in the catalog.

I told Allison that I’d always thought it was impossible to make an unbleached version of the low-protein flour. (more…)

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Fellow dessert lovers, who among us has not wondered about the technical differences between a crisp and a crumble, a galette or a buckle? Enter Rustic Fruit Desserts, a collaboration between James Beard winner Cory Schreiber and Portland baker Julie Richardson, a book whose usefulness is clear straight from the introduction, where the authors describe each pastry-fruit iteration. (A galette? It’s a free-form tart that does not require a pan. A buckle has cake batter poured in a single layer, with berries added to the batter.)

In summer’s heat, flipping through the pages of their seasonal desserts makes me want to load up on ingredients for Raspberry-Red Currant Cobbler or Stone Fruit Slump. The recipes are straightforward, but irresistable– a bite of ginger here, candied rhubarb ribbons there, flavor combinations like plum and vanilla, peach and caramel. 

 The pair will be in town Wednesday, July 29, for a Cooks & Books event, with the exceptional Neil Robertson cooking up their recipes. They answered some questions in advance via e-mail, including my unusually impolite inquiry about whether the “rustic” of their title could properly be considered a code word for “ugly”. (Read about that in my Christian Science Monitor post here.)

Here’s what they had to say. And if you want to nibble on more than just their words, tickets to the event are online here:


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cupcake sprinkles

The big new Capitol Hill branch of Cupcake Royale opened July 22 with free babycakes for everyone who stopped by to say the magic words: “Legalize Frostitution!” After visiting for the pre-opening party, tasting more of the revamped recipes I wrote about a while back, and seeing the jumbo mixers and the 15-rack oven in the back kitchen, I think they’ll be prepared for the crowds descending on the pretty place. (Early bird note: The store will open for business at 6 a.m., and it’s at 1111 E. Pike St.)

Cupcake Royale

I liked viewing the five-foot-high stained glass cupcake in the entryway, the candy-colored chairs and the chocolate-bar brown tables designed by Roy McMakin. I got to chat with the folks from Shepherd’s Grain, who are providing the Washington state flour that’s helping the cupcakes go locavore. But, mostly I enjoyed the chance to see how the experts frost a cupcake in CR’s trademark swirl, using a spreading knife and some basic wrist action.

Cupcake Royale How To Frost A Cupcake


Here’s a video to show you their techniques — we saw a few examples, using slightly different methods, but all with the same polished results. (Even on the last example on the video, where the froster — what a great job title! — is repairing my own clumsy first attempt.) For those of you who aren’t in the area, or who prefer baking at home, we also have a recipe for the shop’s new vanilla cupcake, scaled down for the home baker, which CR owner Jody Hall kindly shared. (The Medosweet dairy products would be tough for the home cook to find, and if you’re not in Washington you probably want to substitute your own local brands to follow the money-where-your-mouth-is ethos, but here’s how it’s done in these parts.)


Vanilla Buttercake Recipe

makes 1 dozen

2 3/4 c. Shepherd’s Grain cake flour
2 3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. local egg whites
1/2 c. warm water
1/3 c. Medosweet sour cream
5 ounces Medosweet butter
3 tbs expeller-pressed canola oil
1 tsp Gahara vanilla bean paste

Line a cupcake tin with your favorite cupcake wrappers, and set your oven to bake at 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a mixer and mix on low speed. In a separate bowl, combine water and sour cream. Add vanilla paste and egg whites to this mixture and stir until combined. Add the butter, oil, and 1/4 of liquid mixture to your dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and gradually add the remainder of the liquid mixture in three doses, beating for 20 seconds after each dose. (Editorial note: Do you see now why it took 57 tries to develop the new recipes?) Scoop batter into wrappers. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until edges are slightly golden. Set cupcakes aside until they are cool to the touch, then frost ‘em up with real buttercream.

Cupcake Royale

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CupcakeWhen the woman who helped make Seattle a serious place for desserts sits quietly at a corner table of your  shop, pinching a bit of vanilla cupcake between her fingers, judging the angle of the crown and tasting the pink frosting, this definitive reaction is what you want:

“It’s yummy!” Sue McCown said. “If I may say so myself.”

McCown has more than the usual interest in weighing in on Cupcake Royale, because the pastry chef — you remember her Sex Lies, & Apricot at Earth & Ocean and her “hot cocoa” pasta at the short-lived Coco la ti da — is responsible for a serious makeover of the cupcake empire’s recipe. The creative perfectionist baked dozens upon dozens of batches of Cupcake Royales in recent months, joining owner Jody Hall’s quest for a moister, tastier cake. 

McCown kept careful field notes on the results of changing the recipe’s leavening by a fraction, or substituting dried buttermilk for fresh, or altering the order in which ingredients were mixed. Struggling with one crumbly impasse, she would wake up in the middle of the night, debating what to try next. Her landlord, hearing this, told her “It’s just a cupcake!”

“No,” she said. “It’s not just a cupcake. It’s a really good cupcake.” 


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Preparing "Uigher Pastries" from Beyond The Great Wall

Preparing "Uighur Pastries" from Beyond The Great Wall

I meant the third day of the United Way Hunger Challenge to be fish night. I figured I would try to get around the conundrum of fish being one of the healthiest foods around (once you avoid the pollutants and environmental landmines) but also one of the most expensive. Instead, I found myself in my first experiment in deep-fat frying. 

Searching through Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s “Beyond The Great Wall” for inspiration on spectacular dishes within limited means, I became hypnotized by the little vegetable-filled turnovers (”Uighur Pastries With Pea Tendrils”) the authors found in the Turpan oasis of China. The dough couldn’t have been simpler or more inexpensive — 22 cents worth of flour, water, and salt. The recipe called for a filling of peavines, but I decided against a trip to the Asian markets and instead used $1.15 worth of the chard that I had bought on my run to Trader Joe’s, along with a 25 cent onion and a bit of bulk cumin and cayenne and salt.

I made a batch of dough early in the afternoon, but by cooking time I was running into the dinnertime limitations I struggle with even when cost isn’t such a concern: Me needing to be around a sharp knife and a hot stove when time is short and the children are hungry. So I did this: I fed each one a banana (19 cents apiece). I fed the toddler, who we once nicknamed “BPB” (it sounded more polite than “bottomless pit baby”) a second banana. And I managed to remember that lesson I keep relearning, that cooking with kids is just another, more practical, version of playing with them.


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Stone Buhr flour

Stone-Buhr flour, which has long advertised that it uses wheat grown in the Northwest, went one better in January: Its “Find The Farmer” website now lets buyers see exactly which farms grew the wheat for each separate bag of flour. Stone-Buhr owner Josh Dorf blogged that he was inspired by the writings of Michael Pollan.


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