I grew up in a small town that had one “fancy” restaurant reserved for special events. While I am not certain, I would guess that I spent most of my birthdays there as well as the birthdays of aunts, uncles, parents, and my brother. I’m sure my parents celebrated all of their anniversaries at this supper club. I remember it as the spot chosen for my final senior prom. It was located at a public golf course and had large windows overlooking the lush green golf course. On the weekends they had a piano bar that we would have to walk through to get to our table. I remember the feel of my tight patent leather shoes as we walked through the parking lot and the excitement of our upcoming dinner. It was here that I had my first encounter with a “dessert tray.” For a child that grew up on TV dinners and McDonalds, going to a restaurant of this caliber was thrilling. I felt that I had some idea of what it must be like to dine at a 4-star restaurant in NYC each time we ate here. The height of sophistication, I thought, was the desserts. I have to admit, I really don’t remember most of  the dessert choices very well. I believe they were always the same, which didn’t bother me in the least. The one that I loved the most was the rum cake. Looking back, it was likely made from a mix, but I didn’t care! It was soaked with rum and covered with ice cream, more rum sauce and whipped cream. It seemed the closest thing to an alcoholic beverage I was going to get at age 10. My grandmother would tease me that I would get drunk each time I ordered it.

So, this was the back drop to my making Dorie’s Rum Soaked Vanilla Cake. I shied away from using all of the syrup and I think I baked it too long (how do the rest of you deal with dry ends and not quite done middles?). But the flavor of rum transported me back to our local supper club and the feeling of a young child who felt she knew what it was like to be a grown up. Once again….thank-you Dorie.

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I continue to be in the process of recovery from an illness that has gone on for exactly three months today. Despite the ups and downs of my health, I have full days, lots of plans and try to keep to a schedule. My schedule today, among other things, gave me a full hour to reflect on the joys of Dorie’s Burnt Sugar Ice Cream. I imagined a beautiful post with photos, long stories about what ice cream has meant to me in my past, favorite local ice cream shops, and my family’s reactions to this recipe. Well, I just received a call from my oldest daughter, poor weather has cut short her school event, and I need to leave in five minutes to pick her up. Oh well, so much for any sense of structure or control in my life. And…so much for writing a prize-winning piece about Burnt Sugar Ice Cream.

That means I only have five minutes to wax poetic about all of the wonders of this week’s TWD selection. I LOVE making ice cream. I had a Donvier ice cream maker when they were REALLY wonky, an ice cream maker that required the addition of salt prior to that, and now a really excellent Cuisinart model that I believe was recommended by Dorie, herself, in an article in Bon Appetit. I have made fruit ice creams, sorbets, goat cheese ice cream, olive oil ice cream and still am considering Roquefort Ice Cream from David Lebovitz’s book. I have to say that the Burnt Sugar Ice Cream will remain on the very top of my list of favorites. The way I made it was salty-sweet (I added a bit more fleur de sel than was called for), so very, very creamy (why did that happen?), and just perfectly satisfying. This is a recipe I will go back to again and again. And, I hope the joy of this ice cream will once again remind me that ice cream is NOT difficult to make and worth every moment of anticipation.

It has been weeks since I have added anything to my blog. I continue to be recovering from my illness, and as I noted in my last post (I think), since I have been sick I have been repeatedly baking the same things or at least recipes that are very familiar. I have bags of my new favorite heath bar shortbread cookies in my freezer (the salty/sweet sable created by Dorie on her blog) and a fair number of Tish Boyle’s peanut bars…another favorite. I have been a part of two baking groups (TWD and Sweet Melissa Sundays) and have learned something about myself over the last few months. I have been fairly consistent about watching out for the recipe of the week on each baking site. I realized, however, that I find it difficult to take a recipe at face value. Several weeks ago, the Sweet Melissa’s recipe was carrot cake. Yum! I love carrot cake. However, I found it very difficult to just make the recipe that was in the book. Instead, I pulled out dozens of cookbooks, looked over the carrot cake recipes, compared them and then decided (ultimately) that I wanted to try the recipe in a different book. Since I was only going to be making one carrot cake (and likely not make another for months, I felt compelled to make the one that was going to be THE BEST). I felt guilty about this and then didn’t write up my experience.

So, when it was time to make this week’s TWD bundt cake, I felt worried I would never actually get to the point of making this cake, getting waylaid by other recipes. However, this recipe was unusual enough that I didn’t immediate see any points of comparison. I followed the recipe as laid out by Dorie, used almond meal rather than ground walnuts (I find them too bitter at times), and make the cake in two loaf pans rather than a bundt. It was….perfect. I loved the intensity of the mocha paired with the sweetness of the vanilla cake. It was really moist, not too dense, and perfect with coffee. Thank-you, Dorie, for another great recipe. I think I will be comparing other bundt cakes to this one in the future, which might get in the way of my straying too much from this recipe when other recipes are crying out to be tried.

I’m Back

March 10, 2010

It has been more than a month since I have posted anything on my blog. I have been baking very little, having been sick for the last 5 or 6 weeks. I can honestly say I have not in any way been myself and I hope I am on my way back. I have, on occasion, been following the recipes and posts of other TWD and SMS bakers and have enjoyed imagining what the baking has been like. I must also confess that the main thing I have been baking over the last 6 weeks has been Dorie’s Sable variation that she wrote about in her blog after having visited Bretagne, I believe. Made with salted butter, cut up heath bars. and rolled in sugar, they have been one of the foods I have craved most during my convalescence. I have dough in my refrigerator right now, ready to be sliced when I complete this entry. If you haven’t tried them….well, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Really perfection.

So, with those cookies serving as the backdrop for the last weeks, I can say I was slightly disappointed with my performance with the thumbprints that were today’s TWD recipe. I had been thinking for some time how I wanted to make these. I finally settled on making them in mini-muffin pans to avoid spreading. I also wanted the jam to be well cooked, so I filled the cookies prior to baking rather than after. I think the mini-muffin thing would have been a great idea if I had buttered the pan. Since my pans are non-stick, I didn’t think it was needed, and I was wrong. I also thought the cookies were too nutty for my taste. I do think that using almond meal, rather than ground hazelnuts might have been better. Anyway, a reasonable first effort after many weeks and I look forward to more baking in the future. As LW says, “Bake on.”

It’s All About the Cookies!

December 22, 2009

Around Thanksgiving, when I saw that an upcoming TWD recipe would be pecan pie…I was thrilled. I  had thought that I would bake a pecan pie in November for our family celebration and would be ahead of the game when December 22nd rolled around. As it turned out, my family was adamant that I had to bake an apple pie and a pumpkin pie and I didn’t have the time or zip to add a third pie to the menu. So, that left me this week with the dilemma of baking a pie or not taking part in this week’s baking. Since I have felt as if I have been on the sidelines of TWD baking I really wanted to participate, but the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is really dedicated to…baking cookies. Up until today, I have made 23 kinds of cookies and I have several more to go before I pack them  up and give them to neighbors and friends as gifts on Christmas Eve. I didn’t see how a pecan pie was going to fit into my tight baking schedule. Then, I figured it out…Make the pie into cookies. One of my grandmother’s favorite cookies was a small pecan tart that she called “tea-time tassies.” I decided to take Dorie’s recipe and adapt it for Christmas cookie giving. I used a tassie dough from Tish Boyle’s cookie book (I wish I had used my grandmother’s cream cheese dough instead) and then made 1/3 of Dorie’s filling recipe for my tarts. The results were incredible. I loved the addition of coffee, cinnamon, and chocolate to the traditional cookie. With the small addition of the cream cheese dough, I think these will be part of my future Christmas cookie repertoire.

While I love experiencing aspects of life for the first time, I often find myself wanting to re-live joy-filled moments from the past. I will often seek out walks along the water to remind me of the joy I felt walking along the coast on the Isle of Skye and will re-tell the story of baby Isabel calling her sister “Do-Do” as a way to keep that moment close to my heart. I find that food will serve a similar purpose. I love cheese. While going to my favorite cheese store, I am searching not just for a good Cheddar or Beaufort, but an opportunity to reminisce about past trips to England or France.

This week, after making Dorie’s Sable, I found myself taking a wonderful trip down memory lane. Many years ago as I was discovering all things French, I happened upon a lovely little bakery in my town…Napoleon’s. This bakery had incredible croissants, shortbread (Sable), and Buche de Noel. I would go there as often as possible, and inevitably buy the sable, thick hunks of buttery shortbread enrobed in crunchy sugar. I have been on the hunt for a recipe that would bring me back to those days of eating Napoleon’s sables…days in graduate school, beginning to bake for myself, and dreams of future travels to France. This week, after making Dorie’s sables, I was able to finally connect with those memories. I LOVE these cookies. Whenever I want to remind myself of what it was like to be 25, I will bake a batch of Dorie’s cookies, smile about my life then, and smile more as I think of all I have now. Thank-you, Dorie!

Cranberry-Apple Crisp, Oh My!

November 11, 2009

I have to say, I just love the crisps in Dorie’s book. I was quite pleased to see this recipe as this week’s selection for the TWD baking group. What could be a better autumn fall Sunday night dessert than apple crisp? I followed the recipe fairly closely, but made the following changes: First, I really didn’t envision coconut in the crisp, so increased the oatmeal by 1/2 cup and omitted coconut. Second, I used 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, rather than all white. Third, I mixed the topping in a mixer to maintain the integrity of the oats, rather than using a food processor and lose the great oatmeal texture. And the results were…stupendous! My family was in apple crisp heaven (and continues to be as we eat some of the leftovers for most meals of the day). Thanks, Dorie for a go-to crisp recipe that will be used time and time again.