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Honey Cardamom Madeleines

A few Saturdays ago, I woke up and went through my normal winter morning routine: stay under the covers as long as possible while checking Twitter, the New York Times, and email on my phone. My bedroom is always freezing thanks to a weak radiator and two drafty windows, so it takes a lot for me to throw off the blankets and set my feet on the icy hardwood floor. There wasn’t anything groundbreaking on Twitter or in the news, but when I checked my email, I remembered I had to go to a potluck that night and had no idea what to make. There were no strict guidelines, just “bring a dish to pass.” I got out of bed and pulled five cookbooks off the shelf.

I flipped through each book and considered my options—casseroles, salads, cookies, cheesy biscuits—and settled on madeleines, small sponge cakes with just a hint of sweetness.  They are easy to make, but you do need a madeleine pan with the signature scalloped molds.

Madeleines are often flavored with lemon zest or rosewater, but I adapted a Dorie Greenspan recipe that called for warm spices like cinnamon and ground cloves. I added cardamom to the mix, because let’s get real, I add it to most baked goods. Continue Reading →

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Mexican Hot Cocoa

I went to the Renegade Holiday Craft Fair last month where dozens of Brooklyn’s most talented makers set up booths by the Williamsburg waterfront. Between marveling at adorable prints and sewing kits and vintage plates with dog decals, I bought a cup of Mexican hot cocoa from Chickpea and Olive. A whole cup of hot cocoa is usually too heavy for me, but Chickpea and Olive’s vegan version with soy milk was perfect. It had just the right amount of spice too: enough to warm the palate, but not overwhelming.

Inspired by that craft fair cocoa, I made my own version this afternoon with ingredients I found in my cupboard.

A few tablespoons of hot cocoa powder, some spices, and a splash of vanilla later, and I had my own batch of Mexican hot cocoa. You can too! You may have everything you need at this very moment. Continue Reading →

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Chewy Chai Caramels

I make caramels for Christmas every year. They started as a random addition to the dessert table but they’ve evolved into a tradition that has me hand-wrapping hundreds of little caramel squares late on Christmas Eve-Eve. I bring them to parties and give them out to friends and family in mason jars or tins decorated with poinsettias or snowflake patterns. I usually make them with vanilla and sea salt, but in preparation for this year’s batch, I experimented with a few new flavors.

Masala chai was my most successful experiment. The warm flavors of black tea, cardamom, star anise, and cinnamon mixed well with sugar and cream. Think chai latte meets chewy caramel.

To flavor the caramel, I simmered loose chai in cream and let it steep.  Continue Reading →

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Chestnut Stuffing

I don’t want to alarm you, but I have a piece of chestnut shell lodged under the nail of my right middle finger. It’s just an annoyance now, but the fact that it’s there speaks to my devotion to chestnut stuffing. I made it this past weekend for a Friendgiving celebration and have enjoyed it as a side dish for every lunch and dinner since. Does a chestnut stuffing with a side of Caesar salad make a well-balanced meal?

I love chestnuts in all forms—roasted, candied, pureed in soup —but my favorite is covered in herbs among cubes of bread. It’s one of my mother’s signature dishes, and if you want to serve up something a little different for Thanksgiving, it’s worth the potential nail trauma.

It’s an easy recipe that calls for a little manual labor. To prepare the chestnuts, you need to cut Xs all the way through one side of the shells. Roast them on a baking sheet for thirty minutes at 400°F, then let them cool a bit. Peel them while their still warm and make sure to remove the hard outer shell and furry inner skin called the pellicle. Continue Reading →

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake

“Mad Men” returned to television on Sunday night after a 17-month hiatus. An occasion such as this demanded cocktails, party mix, and of course, a cake. Pineapple upside down cake was popularized in the 1920s, but it seemed like the perfect dessert to serve to my guests while dressed like a 1960s housewife.

I chose a recipe from Simply Recipes because it called for ground almonds and I had half a bag sitting in my cupboard. Overall, it was easy to prepare, but I had to make the caramel topping twice. I didn’t let the first batch boil long enough on the stove and the sugar didn’t dissolve, so I let the second batch boil for the full recommended four minutes.

The pineapple slices fit just right in the pan.

And after pouring in the batter and baking for an hour and 15 minutes, the cake released from the pan the moment I flipped it over. It was a bit off center, but I was too terrified to move it.

This is what victory looks like:

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Chocolate, Rosemary, and Walnut Brown Butter Cookies

Ramsey and I tore through the first two seasons (and Christmas special) of Downton Abbey last week. If you haven’t been sucked in by Netflix or your local PBS station yet, it follows the lives of a British aristocratic family and their servants during everyone’s favorite early-twentieth century events (sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the Troubles, etc). It’s full of family drama, squabbling over inheritances, conniving footmen, and a whole lot of tea. Tea is consumed least three times in every episode, and depending on the time of day, it’s enjoyed with an array of beautiful sandwiches and pastries.

Few of us have time to prepare a spread of sandwiches, scones, and clotted cream to enjoy with an afternoon mug of tea, so my go-to accompaniment is a buttery, crunchy cookie.  That’s why I immediately flagged this recipe from The Kitchn. Butter, rosemary, and sugar? Perfect.

I followed the exact recipe from The Kitchn and had great results, but I wanted to try making a chocolate version. Truth: I liked the original, non-chocolate version more than the chocolate version I created. It didn’t let the rosemary flavor come through as much as I like. But! If you’re in the mood for a chocolate shortbread, give it a try. Continue Reading →

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Sunday Morning Sticky Buns

Are you frazzled from the holiday season yet?  You’re probably in a better place than I am. I’ve struck most of the to-dos off my list, but I still need to finish my Christmas shopping, buy a whole lot of candy packaging, and make twelve batches of sea salt caramels and marshmallows to share with family when I head upstate. I considered taking a vacation day to wrap candy this week, but things are way too busy at work. Also, the thought of using a vacation day to sit at my kitchen table and twist wax paper around caramels bordered on crazy, so I’ll just stay up until the extra late on Thursday night to wrap and watch Elf on a loop on TBS. Sleep deprivation, sugar, and Buddy the Elf are a recipe for victory.

When Christmas morning finally arrives, all I’ll want to do is collapse, but what better way is there to collapse than onto a couch with a sticky bun in hand? Even better, a sticky bun that’s easy to make and includes the flavors of the season, like citrus, cranberries, brown sugar, and lots (and lots) of butter. If you defrost your puff pastry overnight, this whole recipe should take ten minutes to put together, not counting the baking time.

It starts with mixing up some butter with brown sugar and orange zest.

Then, melt some non-zest-infused-butter, brush it on the puff pastry, and top with all sorts of delicious things.

Next, roll it up and slice it up. Continue Reading →

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Recipe Rookie: Marshmallows

I love any recipe that calls for boiling sugar. It’s beautiful to watch a cloudy pot of sugar and water become clear, bubbling syrup. If you let it begin to brown and add cream and butter, you can make caramels.  If you keep the temperature a bit lower and add it to softened gelatin, you can make marshmallows that will put the cylindrical Jet-Puffed versions to shame.

I decided to make marshmallows for the first time yesterday, and as I read over the marshmallow recipe I found on JoyofBaking.com, I exclaimed “I get to use my candy thermometer!” in all sincerity. Ramsey looked up from his book with confusion and concern for my mental state. It’s about the little joys.

As long as you have a candy/frying thermometer ($12 at your local kitchen store) and an electric mixer with a whisk attachment (hand-held or standing), it’s an easy recipe. It starts with boiling sugar, water, corn syrup, and a little salt. Continue Reading →

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Fresh Pumpkin Pie

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If I’m forced to choose between all of the pies that appear on the dessert table at a Thanksgiving dinner, pumpkin pie always wins out. I love the custard filling, and I find it difficult to pass up another vehicle for whipped cream during the holidays. My mind also rationalizes that it must be healthier than an apple pie because it has only one crust, conveniently forgetting the amount of sugar and cream required to make the filling.

I have attempted two pumpkin pies over the last month as part of my Pie and Manicure Sunday series, during which I bake a pie and get an very cheap manicure around the corner from my apartment. The first pie’s crust had some issues, and the amount of cream in the filling was overwhelming. I made the second one yesterday and I think I’ve found the correct ratios, but the cooking process was not without incident. More photos and a recipe after the jump Continue Reading →

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Christmas in Binghamton

I spent Christmas in Binghamton this year and took a few photos during my visits to the homes of relatives and friends. I forgot to grab my camera during our actual meals, but did manage to take a few photos of desserts and snacks. As a disclaimer, I should mention I cooked/baked/prepared nothing pictured here, but it was all delicious. More shots after the jump. Continue Reading →