Monday, March 29, 2010

oh my banana cream pie...

I think its safe to say that Spring has finally sprung. The sun is shining, the monotonous brown is starting to change (slowly) back to shades of green and the temperature is mild and enjoyable with a warming forecast. The city of Chicago waits for this time of year, its almost a celebration when one can spend an afternoon outside without having to thaw out their face and fingers afterwards.

Happy to be outside today, I made my way to the grocery store and picked up the ingredients to what has become one of my top 5 BEST desserts. I spent the afternoon whipping up a banana cream pie. BUT, this was not your average banana cream pie; this magically delicious treat started with a graham cracker crust, layered with dulce de leche, bananas, more dulce de leche, more bananas and finally topped with vanilla whipped cream. ohhhh my.

Banana Cream Pie
graham cracker crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

mix together all the ingredients and press into 9 inch pie or tart pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

dulce de leche*
3-4 ripe bananas, sliced

vanilla whipped cream
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 tbsp confectioners sugar

Once the graham cracker crust has cooled spread a layer of dulce de leche over it. Layer it with half the sliced bananas , spread another layer of dulce de leche and top with the remaining bananas. In a stand mixer whip the cream until a soft peak forms. Stir in confectioners sugar and vanilla, once incorporated spread over the top of the pie. Chill for at least one hour.

*dulce de leche recipe found here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gourmet S'mores

S'mores, the good old campfire standby. Who can pass up on the perfect combination of chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers? While I usually take delight in Nabisco graham crackers, Hershey's chocolate, and Campfire marshmallows, I decided to glam the classic up by adding a little oomph to the ingredients.

The main upgrade to the combination was homemade graham crackers, a simple recipe. The grahams taste more like cookies than crackers, but they still have the delicious cinnamon and honey flavors that give graham crackers their distinct taste. After I made the graham crackers, I added in some warm marshmallows and a bit of dark chocolate Ghiradelli pieces and- viola!- a delicious, mature version of a S'more. I am still liking the mallow off of my fingers...

Homemade Graham Crackers
adapted from here, a recipe taken from Miette Patisserie in San Francisco

2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together flour, wheat flour, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and brown sugar for about 2 minutes in a bowl. Scrape down the bowl and beat in the honey. Stir in dry ingredients on low speed.
NOTE: the dough is very crumbly, so ball it up to make sure it all sticks together. Scrape the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat it into a disc, wrap well. Refrigerate until firm but still pliable, about one hour.

Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out very thinly, about an 1/8-inch thick. Cut out cookies with a cookie cutter and place on the baking sheets. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar if you like. Chill the cut cookies on the sheets for at least 15 minutes before baking. Bake 14 to 16 minutes until golden. Let the cookies set for a minute before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


raspberry shortbread bars. caramel crumb bars. chocolate sables with sea salt. carrot cake. mini white cupcakes with vanilla bean buttercream.

I spent all of Thursday morning prepping and baking for my big job. It was hectic trying to finish everything with minimal baking supplies - having to wash and rewash the same bowls over and over was NOT my idea of fun. Half way through baking my cupcakes I ran out of liners and had to go back to the store for a second time. A few glitches, but all in all it was an absolute success. The caterer even asked where the desserts came from and complimented me on my work!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Carrot Cake with Vanilla Mascarpone Frosting

So this is a very exciting week for me, I have my first ever PAID baking gig. I will be preparing all the desserts for my Uncle's open house this coming Thursday. I am making a variety of mini desserts including cupcakes, bars + cookies. I have never made carrot cake at home and they are part of Thursday's dessert menu so I thought I would use my day off to try out a recipe. I found a highly rated recipe on and then used the added suggestions from the various reviews. They turned out moist and full of flavor and I paired them a vanilla mascarpone frosting instead of regular cream cheese, it was perfect!


Mini Carrot Cake

4 eggs
1 1/4 c oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
8 oz. crushed pineapple
3 cups grated carrots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat together eggs, oil and sugars. Mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in pineapple and carrots. Bake (mini) 15-18 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Mascarpone Frosting
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/3 c mascarpone cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 cups confectioners sugar

Mix cream cheese, butter, mascarpone cheese and vanilla together until creamy. Gradually add in confectioner's sugar and whip until light and fluffy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

bake. chicago.

I have a new boyfriend, his name is Alex. He is ADORABLE with perfect dimples + dark hair at the ripe old age of 2. I met him a new(ish) bakery I've been wanting to try called Bake, located on North Ave. in the cutest little store front space. We went in late on Sunday afternoon each ordered a coffee and drooled over what was left in the cases, finally settling on a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake. As we went to sit down we were approached by the owner's son who was carrying his blanket and a sippy cup of apple juice. Alex happily showed us where his chair was and gave us both our assigned seats. I was told to sit in the chair across from him and my mom was left at a table by herself.

our chocolate peanut butter cupcake. delicious.

We soon dove into our cupcake and as we finished it Alex asked us where it had gone. I explained to him that we had eaten it all and with that Alex took off muttering "cupcake" over and over again. We assumed he was just bored of us but then we looked behind the counter to see a mini set of hands prying open the cold case. Alex was soon inside the case pulling out a white cupcake that was almost as big as his head (sadly I did not get a picture of this). He carried it all the way back to the table and put it directly on my plate where the wrapper of the first cupcake remained. This is when I was certain our future together would be a happy one. That little nugget sure knows the way to a girl's heart. I will definitely go back to bake and not just because I met my future husband + was given a free cupcake.

Check out bake here - it's a great space with wonderful sweets! FYI Alex is there on Sundays.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Semolina Butter Cookies

Sometimes the best baked goods can be whipped up from ingredients that are already in your kitchen. Feeling much too lazy to leave my apartment this weekend, I wanted to bake a delicious treat that could be made from what was already stocked in my cabinets.

These brown sugar butter cookies have a truly unique taste that basically consists of salt and butter. It may sound plain, but trust me, they taste wonderful. And in case you don't know what semolina flour is, it's a course, Italian-style flour that gives the cookies a gritty (but enjoyable) texture.


Brown Sugar Semolina Cookies with Sea Salt
Adapted from here

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling.

Cream the butter and sugar with a mixer on low until well combined. Add the egg yolk, then both of the flours, and then the salt as you continue to beat until the mixture just starts to hold together.

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and roll it into a log. Wrap with plastic wrap (not tin foil- it's too sticky!) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, until the dough is well chilled and firm enough to be cut into slices.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease a cookie sheet or cover in parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Using a sharp knife, the slice the dough into 1/4" slices, and put them on the cookie sheet with a couple of inches room between them. Definitely try to cut them as thin as possible; this will keep the cookies light and crispy when baked. Sprinkle the cookies with a little bit of sea salt, but not too much, as the salt flavor can easily overtake the cookie taste.

Bake until the cookies are firm but not browning, about 15-20 minutes. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for a moment before you remove them to cooling wracks.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blueberry Banana Snack Cakes

Vacation is just lovely, especially when you spend it baking in the sun. Until, of course, you realize you're 26 years old and still can't manage to apply enough sunscreen to avoid a wicked sunburn. God help my future offspring.

It's been a relaxing few days in Florida. It went from freezing to beautiful while I've been here. When I woke up this morning, I figured it was my day to bake because Nani Bird had cut out a recipe and left all the ingredients and utensils on the counter for me.

The cakes turned out really moist, and I think that they would also turn out really well as mini loaves. While I could not live without my KitchenAid stand mixer, I think that this recipe is probably best made with a hand mixer. While they look just like the blueberry muffins that Katie made, they really do taste more like banana bread with a dash of blueberry.

Blueberry Banana Snack Cake

1 1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 medium ripe bananas, mashed
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teapoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (thawed)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, combine sugar, butter, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy (1 to 2 minutes). Add bananas; continue beating until well mixed (1 minute). Add flour, baking soda and salt. Beat at low speed until moistened (1 to 2 minutes). By hand, stir in blueberries. Fill paper-lined cups about 3/4 full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"blood" orange scented olive oil cake.

As I was perusing through the grocery store today I was delighted to see blood oranges in the produce section. A sucker for anything blood orange I decided to buy some to use for an olive oil cake. These blood oranges even had "product of Italy" stickers on them so obviously I assumed they were going to be awesome.

However, it was a sad, sad disappointment when I sliced one open and saw no "blood" colored insides. I cut into the next one and the next one and finally the last one and NONE of them had any red coloring. I think I was scammed and I'm not happy about it.

Luckily, the cake was still delicious. It was wonderfully fragrant, moist and very quick to make (no mixer required). It did not have a strong olive oil flavor, if you are looking for a more prominent taste use pure olive oil.

If anyone finds some nice bloody oranges please let me know where!

orange scented olive oil cake
by Nick Malgieri: The Modern Baker

3 oranges (the recipes uses navel)
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch round pans and set aside. Zest oranges in a large bowl. Add eggs to the zest and whisk together. Gradually add the sugar and whisk until the mixture is light, about 1 minute. Whisk in olive oil, followed by the milk. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the olive oil mixture in three parts. Once combined pour into the prepared 9-inch pans. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Allow to cool before removing from pan.

If you have actual blood oranges serving this cake with a blood orange meringue or blood orange mousse would be amazing. We had to settle for whipped cream. wonk wonk.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

It was brought to my attention that I should try to master and perfect 5 "classic" cookies; what's considered classic may vary but I think chocolate chip, sugar, peanut butter and oatmeal raisin are definitely four traditional cookies found in almost every bakery. Accepting the challenge I spent two days this weekend testing out a recipe for old fashioned peanut butter cookies.

The first batch was good, the recipe I used had the perfect peanut butter flavor I was looking for and the right consistency, being crunchy but soft. The only problem was that I had made the cookies a little too small. I brought this batch to work and they were well received by everyone, one of my co-workers even proposed marriage as a result.

I made a second batch of these on Saturday. I doubled the size of the cookies this time using two scoops of dough and pressing them together. They came out absolutely perfect.

One cookie down, four more to go.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appetit

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup chunky peanut butter (using chunky PB is the trick to adding the perfect crunch)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix together flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl and set aside. Using an electric mixer fit with a paddle attachment beat together butter, peanut butter and vanilla until well blended. Beat in both sugars, add eggs one at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl after each addition. Gradually mix the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Using a dough scoop place dough 2 1/2 inches apart on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat. Using the back of a fork flatten the dough and form a crosshatch design on top of each cookie. Bake until cookies are golden brown on the bottom, 12-14 minutes. Cool completely and enjoy.