Sunday, September 27, 2009


At my previous job I was involved in a little bit of a rivalry. Once my baking therapy became known, other bakers popped heads out of offices and cubes and joined the dessert party. There was the tall brunette Sales Rep who treated with "guilt-free" cookies and brownies, the short brunette Sales Assistant who brought in mouth-watering (less guilt-free) chocolate Babka's, and the brunette Director whose party-hosting frequency meant the rest of us benefitted from delicious homemade quick breads and cakes. It was with this Director that the friendly rivalry began, but I left the job before I could answer her zucchini bread bake-off challenge. We've since re-connected and swap recipes from one sweet-tooth to another. Last week I sent her my chocolate zucchini bread and she replied with her famous apple cake. How did she know that I suddenly had a half-bushel of apples to play with? It must have been fate.

After a beautiful Friday and Saturday, we were poured on all-day Sunday in New York. Not so fun for the half-marathon I was planning to run that morning! So instead of running myself into illness, my crew headed home from New Jersey with a suddenly free Sunday. I took a nap. I cleaned my apartment. I walked the dog in the rain. I caught up on bills. I watched The Rachel Zoe Project (for 3 hours). And then, with 2 hours before the Steelers vs. Bengals kick-off, I chopped up 4 apples and preheated the oven to 350 F.

This recipe makes a really funny batter, so prepare yourself -- you have done nothing wrong if it seems more like concrete than cake batter. The truth is, it bakes into a deliciously moist, coffee-cake-like treat, so follow the directions to a T. The only thing I might ever add would be a drizzle of caramel on top, but the cake is so rich with apple flavor that it stands alone perfectly (and stands warm under caramel ice cream just as well). I followed her advice and used a bundt pan instead of the 13 x 9-inch baking pan that I still don't own, and it's a pretty cake that my apples should enjoy being cozied into.

My bundt was divided into 4 equal parts and I sent them off into the world to be judged - the response was unanimous.

"A+++", "OMG soooo tasty!!", "Def a keeper!", "Where did you get the recipe??"

Well, the answer is I got it from a dear friend... and now I'm passing it on to all of you. Thanks Mary!

Apple Cake
From the Fireman's Cookbook

3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
3 cups apples, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Stir to mix thoroughly.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the apples, eggs, oil and vanilla. Stir until mixed well. Add in chopped nuts.

Pour the batter into a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan (I used a bundt pan, per her recommendation) and bake for 45 minutes (It took me an hour and 15 minutes for my tester to come out clean, so watch for doneness). Cool in pan at least 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

fall splendor

Well folks, I have an announcement. I thought I'd mastered my nemesis the homemade pie crust last month, but it was a lie. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have mislead you. I know lies are wrong and I had only the best intentions at the time. But tonight's fresh-from-the-orchard homemade apple galette proved me wrong.

With this chill we've been having in the city, a girlfriend and I put aside our Saturday afternoon chores and headed upstate to kick off fall with one of the season's most quintessential activitites: apple picking and apple cider and donut inhaling. We steered her car to Stuart's Farm in Granite Springs (Westchester County), New York, bought our apple picking bags and set off into the orchard to do some hard labor. Izzy lead the way through Macoun, Empire and Macintosh rows and we ended up with pounds of fruit that were begging to be baked into sweet delights.

After a lunch picnic in the field, a shop at the farm stand, and a quick stop to pet some friendly neighborhood horses, we rolled back to the city with lungs full of fresh fall air and hands full of produce. I planned a last-minute dinner party for four and decided to finish it off with a fresh apple dessert (it doesn't get more fresh than dangling from the branch hours prior!). Galette's had been on my mind since Deb posted this one last month, and with little time to prep I thought it could be the perfect time to try the rustic pie. Boy, was I right. The crust was perfectly flakey, the apple combination was super tasty, and did I mention the crust was flakey? I'm patting my back (and thanking Bon Appetit) for this one, and all that's left is one slice to treat myself for breakfast in the morning.

I may never use my pie pans again, at least not for fruit pies. I love how the crust looked so rustic, crimping and folding in all the right spots to keep the apple-y goodness inside. The secret to this recipe is the apricot preserves hiding beneath the concentric rings of apple slices. My friend called out exactly what it was, and we all agreed the pie is delicious. Worth 4 stars in my book... now I just have to go try the one at Chez Panisse to compare :)

Fall is here! Go grab a bag of apples and get to making this super easy and insanely delicious treat. Bonus: The thin apple slices and crust folds make it an impressive sweet for guests --- shhh, don't you dare tell them it only took you minutes to put together!

Apple Galette
Bon Appetit

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons (or more) ice water (it took me 5 tbsp's)

1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/8-inch thick slices (I used 5 apples of varying varieties)
4 tbsp. sugar, divided
1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
1/4 cup apricot preserves
Whole milk

Blend flour and salt in processor. Add butter and blend, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles course meal. Add 2 tbsp. ice water and blend just until dough begins to clump together, adding more water if dough is dry (I used a pastry cutter, old-school style). Gather dough into a ball, flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour.

Roll out dough between sheets of parchment paper to 1/8-inch thick round, 14 inches in diameter. Remove top sheet of parchment. Using bottom sheet as aid, transfer dough on parchment to large unrimmed baking sheet. Chill 15 minutes. (I didn't re-chill).

Preheat oven to 450 F. Combine apple slices, 2 tbsp. sugar, and lemon peel in medium bowl; toss to blend. Spread preserves over crust, leaving 1 1/2-inch plain border. Arrange apple slices in concentric circles atop preserves, overlapping slightly. Using parchment as aid, fold plain crust border up over apples, pinching any cracks in crust. Brush crust with milk. Sprinkle crust edges and apples with remaining sugar.

Bake galette 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 F and continue baking until crust is golden, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven. Let stand at least 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

healing pound cake

A friend of mine totally called me out this week for blog slacking... apologies! Busy at work + traveling + fall allergy season kicking in = less posting and more sniffling and stressing. Somehow in the past week it's turned into fall up here in the Big Apple. Suddenly there's that very real chill in the air that reminds you of leaves falling in Central Park, trench coats drawn up tight and cold mornings with big duvets in tiny apartments. It might be the best time in the city (other than spring and summer... and maybe that wintery stroll down the Poet's Walk in the Park). But there's nothing that makes me feel more like a New Yorker than being snuggled in a coat with the NY Times and a coffee on a park bench Saturday morning.

FINALLY it's the weekend and it was past time for me to bake a sweet treat for a friend of mine who is going through a rough time. She was the victim of a violent crime a couple weeks ago (don't worry, nothing Law & Order SVU-worthy but still God-awful) and while she's healing slowly, the whole ordeal served as a great reminder that we've all gotta be careful in this big city that we love.

So I hemmed and hawed over what to make for her (she hates nuts) and came up with something that should be pretty comforting. You can't get much more solid than pound cake, so I'm hoping this recipe is a winner. I saw it in Bon Appetit last year and have been waiting for a reason to make it, and to make a friend smile seemed like the best reason I could think of.

This cake is light and dense at the same time with a chocolate flavor that's anything but too much. It springs and bounces off of fingertips and is yummmmmmy! (I mean, I had to TRY it to make sure I was giving her something special!) Give it a try the next time your chocolate craving demands something a little more creative than brownies.

Deep Chocolate Pound Cake
Bon Appetit

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup sour cream (I used non-fat)
1/2 cup whole milk (I used 1%)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp. boiling water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used chocolate chunks)

Position rack in center of oven, preheat to 350 F. Butter and flour 9x5x3-inch loaf pan, tapping out any excess flour.

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl. Whisk sour cream and milk in a small bowl. Sift cocoa powder into another small bowl. Whisk in honey and 2 tbsp. boiling water until smooth. Cool completely.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in another medium bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in vanilla. Add cocoa mixture; stir until smooth, occasionally scraping down bowl. Beat in flour mixture alternately with sour cream mixture in 2 additions each until just blended. Stir in chocolate chips. (I just sprinkled mine on top, instead of incorporating into batter - but next time I'd add to the batter for a richer slice)

Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 8 minutes (it took me 1 hour 15 minutes). Remove cake from pan and cool.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

pb & ... chocolate chips?

My Saturday yesterday took a funny turn. One of those weekend days when you have plans upon plans to clean up and organize your life for the coming week but instead veer off course and find yourself late for your one commitment of the day. I spent the first half of the rainy day in the Genealogy room at the New York Public Library doing a little heritage research. Totally interesting stuff, and a funny people-watching crowd in that room. I fell into the work and got back later than planned with just enough time to do something before getting ready for a night out.

Maybe I should start getting concerned that the baking has taken on a life of its own when I have 2 hours to spare and my arm automatically reaches for my KitchenAid stand mixer. Truthfully, with as much use as its gotten since I bought it for myself 7 months ago, the thing has paid for itself in full. How did I ever get along without it? There's something so satisfying about the whirrr of the beater, and with my "found" two hours, I broke it out for a quick batch of peanut butter brownies.

My beach laziness might be the last bit of my Gulf Coast vacation that has stayed with me, because even with 2 hours I couldn't be bothered to go out to get any ingredients. So, the recipe had to be found in the pantry and my empty fridge. I started with Epicurious but quickly abandoned the 4-star recipes when I realized that I only had one egg. I switched search-tactics to include my one-egg handicap and found a fellow bloggers recipe that looked divine.

Turns out, it is :) I baked them off and put the pan in the freezer to cool while I threw on heels, smeared some lipstick and took off for the night, forgetting all about them until I got home at midnight, needed a sweet fix, and found my way to the freezer... yum.

Today I thawed them just enough and used a cookie cutter to get a perfect bite-sized circle (a creative idea I borrowed from my friend Emily). I finished them off with a little melted semi-sweet chocolate drizzle on top. Such an easy recipe and the oatmeal adds a nice texture. A definite winner that will satisfy even the most intense peanut butter/chocolate urge.

Peanut Butter Brownies
from Caitlin at the Alchemist Chef

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cream butter with peanut butter. Use a beater to mix in brown sugar, egg and baking soda. Mix in flour and oatmeal (on slow speed).

Spread batter into lightly greased 9 by 13 glass baking dish (I used an 8 x 8). Cook about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan and serve room temperature, or slightly warm.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

where the skies are so blue

So there I was... perfectly blue beach skies, white sand, a house > 400 sq. feet, and nothing to do for 5 days but read (for pleasure!), soak up the last bits of summer sun, watch the puppy doggie-paddle in the Gulf, and eat lots of (fried) seafood... and I just couldn't resist the urge. I mean, the kitchen was bigger than my studio! And there was counter space! And natural light! And an oven that could fit 5 pies in it if you wanted to. Unbelievable!

It all started when we hit up the grocery store for beach-week must-haves: Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, Cheerios, 3 pints of ice cream, grapes for mid-day snackin' and get-your-butt-out-of-bed-at-the-crack-of-dawn-and-get-to-the-beach coffee. We were strolling through the produce section when we spied huge bags of ripe bananas stuffed into a shopping cart. At $1.50 for 7, we HAD to buy them. If we didn't, where would they go! There wasn't even a question.

What's fun about baking at the beach house (as I soon discovered) is that it's a test of skill and substitution. Worried that the flour and baking soda in the pantry had been there since Hurricane Ivan, we grabbed replacements without a recipe in mind knowing they were banana bread staples. When we got back to the house and found a recipe, the substitutions began -- and I think the bread turned out better for them. Super yummy, and the perfect morning coffee pairing.

B-Hive Beach House Banana Bread
I have no idea where the recipes in this post came from since they were googled on a family members blackberry... but here they are (with substitutions in parentheses):

1 cup whole wheat flour (substituted all purpose flour)
1 cup flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk (substituted 1/2 cup vanilla Yoplait)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup chocolate chunks (I added, because... well it's obvious)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I added)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan (I used two smaller disposable pans that I found at the grocery - so perfect for gift giving! Why doesn't my deli in the city stock these?). Combine oil, egg, buttermilk, and vanilla. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt and brown sugar together. Add wet ingredients to dry in two batches. Mix until just combined.

Stir in mashed bananas, chocolate chunks, and chopped walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes in pan before serving.

A few days of beach bliss passed until we planned a super summery dinner for all. Let me tell you, there's nothing better than sitting on the porch swing, wine cooler in hand, watching a pink sunset fall into the ocean while steaks sizzle and corn steams on a charcoal grill. YUM. Unfortunately, we had nothing for dessert... :)

Lacking any butter in the fridge, I found a vegan recipe that matched the ingredients in the pantry and got to it, ending up with the perfect dessert for ice cream to melt into.

No-butter Blondies

6 oz. vanilla yogurt (I used plain Greek Fage yogurt)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp. canola oil
1 cup + 2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. molasses (I used cane syrup that I found in the cabinet)
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chocolate chunks
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a cast iron skillet.

Whisk together yogurt, oil, vanilla, and molasses. Add sugar and mix until combined. Mix together dry ingredients in a small bowl, and add to wet ingredients until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks and walnuts.

Pour into greased skillet and bake at 350 degrees until top is golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Serve warm with a generous scoop of ice cream on top.

We ended the cooking fun with pizza one night for dinner. I broke out my Bisquick crust and treated the parents to my favorite Broccoli Rabe and Roasted Onions pizza (I know I keep mentioning it, but damn... it's THAT GOOD!) from Smitten Kitchen. Or... I tried to. A tip: don't ask for broccoli rabe in the South without expecting quizzical looks and stares. Since the 4 grocery-store workers I asked had never heard of chinese broccoli, I swapped it out for turnip greens (how very Southern of me) and added crumbled italian sausage for some protein. I made a pepperoni pizza as a back up but I think the 'rents actually preferred the bitter greens.

It was the perfect trip to end my summer. I could have used another week of relaxation (I swear I could feel the stress climbing up my back as I took the cab into the city from LGA), but my 5 days were little treasures.

Hope you all had a great holiday weekend! Back to my closet-kitchen and a brand new October Bon Appetit tagged with some must-do recipes (Hello, Chocolate Stout Layer Cake with Chocolate Frosting. How are you, Bubble Top Brioche).


Thursday, September 3, 2009

ny love story

This is going to be my first recipe-free post, so if you're game get ready -- I'm gonna share a secret with you: I'm a member of a very exclusive club. It's one of the city's finest and requires a lot of determination for membership. Dues are paid with early winter mornings, steamy summer afternoons and chilly evenings, and the benefits get better year after year. There are well over 300,000 of us in the city and though our personal achievements vary, we all share the same method of reaching our goals; by putting one foot in front of the other.

Got me pegged? I'm a New York City runner, and have been since I landed on the island about 5 years ago. Through marathon training (twice) and fitness running in between, it's been about the only stable thing in my otherwise crowded Manhattan life. Between 5 apartments in as many years (yes- five; no- I have no idea how that happened), 4 different jobs at 2 separate companies, 4 roommates, 2 serious boyfriends, countless dates and lots of new friends, running has been my constant comfort and escape from what I think has been a pretty fabulous (read: crazy stressful) NY existence.

But the real draw to membership in this club is unlimited access to Manhattan runners secret love affair: Central Park. I've mentioned the Park in previous posts, but it is truly the #1 thing that I love most about life in the city. I'm lucky enough to live half a block from it and it's the reason I'll be an uptown girl as long as I'm here. I love life downtown -- the East Village is great for nights out, the West Village is my go-to for amazing eats -- but there's no way I could live more than jogging distance from the beloved Park (I'm just not into long-distance relationships).

When you're sitting down to your morning coffee tomorrow, Izzy and I will be stepping out of the air conditioned Pensacola airport into thick Gulf Coast air to start my last bit of summer vacation (woooo 6am flight!). If being in my kitchen is where I'm the happiest, Gulf Shores Alabama is a very close second. It's where I spent childhood summers with charming Southern grandparents and endless white sandy beaches, and it's my favorite getaway destination. I'll never trade the feeling I get driving with the windows down, country music blaring, hair curling in the humidity from the airport to our beach house, but I've found my New York comparison -- how my breathing deepens, my shoulders relax, and my mouth curls to an involuntary smile the minute I step into the Park.

I'd bet money that most Manhattan runners feel the same way. There's something enchanting for us city-dwellers about getting lost in the greenery and finding our way with a skyscraper compass in the distance. I think that in a city of fast-walkers, fast-talkers, 4-inch stilettos and strong cocktails, the Park reminds us of that despite it all, we're the same. We all love throwing frisbees, feeling the grass of the Great Lawn between our toes, breathing (mentally) cleaner air, and sharing picnics and sunsets with friends and lovers.

And, hundreds of thousands of us love feeling rubber soles hit the ground as we fly over familiar pavement, share the same views, the same road, and the same simple movement.

So that's it, my secret club that allows a daily indulgence of happiness in Central Park (and helps clear my conscience after the occasional cookie-dough dinner).

Now that I've confessed my NYC love, happy Labor Day weekend! I'll be back in a week with treats and stories from south of the Mason-Dixon line.

P.S. To stay true to the theme of this blog, I did actually bake tonight - but nothing new. I got such great feedback from my last post that I baked a fresh batch (instead of packing like I should have) to surprise my Dad with at the beach. Note: after using both light and dark brown sugar in different batches for that recipe, I think dark produces prettier cookies!

P.P.S. That's me on the right, with the long blue sleeves, at around mile 24.5 of the NYC marathon.
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