I decided the other day that I was going to bake something– not an uncommon occurrence, but this time I had a specific reason: to welcome new neighbors. The problem was, it was the middle of the week, which foreclosed the possibility of shopping for specialty ingredients, and I had to be careful to keep the recipe generally inoffensive. No nuts, in case of allergies. No really unusual spices or flavors (which foreclosed my peanut butter chili crisp cookies as an option). And they had to look at least marginally appetizing, since I couldn’t rely on my reputation for tasty baked goods to encourage people to try them.
I found a jar of raspberry jam in the pantry and decided to make thumbprint cookies– chocolate ones, since raspberry and chocolate is a fantastic combination. I did some digging into various chocolate thumbprint recipes, many of which seemed rather short on chocolate flavor, and finally found one with some unusual-seeming proportions, but which looked interesting. There’s relatively little butter, but the addition of melted chocolate makes up for it while adding a nice dose of chocolate flavor. While the dough starts off soft (and therefore requires thorough chilling before use), it shapes up nicely when cold and doesn’t crack too much when gently flattened onto the cookie sheet.
The finished cookies were really delicious– the cookie base was soft and tender, the jam added the perfect bit of tanginess and interest, and the chocolate garnish was a nice finishing tough. I will definitely add these to my recipe box!
Okay, I’m going to admit at the outset that I did not use golden syrup for this cake. What I did use was a double batch of maple syrup that I had spent two days trying to turn into maple cream, without success, resulting in my endless frustration, a blister on my stirring hand, and my firm belief that the maple syrup had somehow managed to convert too many of its sugars into invert sugar, thus preventing the crystallization that is crucial for the formation of maple cream. In any event, as I appeared to have a good four cups of invert syrup on my hands and no hope of maple cream, I couldn’t let it go to waste, could I? Of course not. So I made cake.
Two loaves of cake, actually, using a whopping 400g of syrup (plus more for glazing), which neatly used up the excess I had on hand. The recipe couldn’t be easier– you melt your syrup with additional sugar and butter, then beat in eggs, milk, and self-raising flour (I substituted regular flour with leaveners added), and there’s your cake batter, ready to bake!
I will note that my leavening ratio may have been a bit off– my cakes both sank in the center, which is often a sign of too much leavening (rises before it has a chance to firm up, then sinks back down)– or possibly it could’ve used a slightly hotter oven. Or maybe my inverted maple syrup had a different water content than true golden syrup. But the cakes themselves were moist and plushy, with a sticky sweetness that made it easy to try just a tiny bit more every time I passed them sitting on the counter,
It feels like everyone’s using chili crisp these days– the spicy, crunchy, garlicky condiment goes well with all different kinds of cuisines, adding punch to soups, sandwiches, pastas, and basically any other savory dish. But what about sweets? That’s what I asked myself when I spied some chili crisp peanut butter cookies in a Korean bakery the other day– could it really work?
Being, well, me, I opted not to buy a cookie, but to make one. Ever-so-slightly adapting a recipe from Zoe Kanan, I ended up with these– they’re soft, with slightly crisp edges (I may have underbaked mine, but better under than over), with a complex flavor profile that combines spice, umami, and the unmistakable echo of garlic that comes from the chili crisp. It totally works, though I’m glad I followed the instructions and made the cookies on the small side. I don’t think you’d want to eat a dozen of these in a sitting, but they are definitely interesting, tasty, and will earn you some points for creativity at your next cookie swap!
So, having made (and loved) my carrot cake jam, it was time to make macarons! They turned out absolutely delicious– the macaron shell was just “cakey” enough to really evoke carrot cake, with the almonds lending a nutty background. The filling combination– carrot jam and cream cheese frosting– was perfectly sweet and tangy at the same time. I know I say this a lot, but these may be a new favorite macaron recipe!
Going out for dim sum as a kid, we would always get egg tarts for dessert. They were my dad’s favorite, and since they came three to a plate I would sometimes split one just for the sake of having something sweet to finish off the meal. Back then I leaned more towards chocolate desserts, but as I’ve grown up my tastes have gotten more diverse, and I’ve learned to appreciate a flaky crust filled with smooth, silken custard– and I’m betting that if my dad ever gets to taste these, he’ll like them even better than the ones in the restaurant.
I admit that making a fully-laminated dough for the crust is a bit labor-intensive– certainly more so than simply making a flaky pie crust or a melted-butter tart crust– but the crust is one of the distinctive elements that makes these tarts a classic.
I actually made two different crust recipes, just to see which one I liked better, and while I’m only 95% sure that I noted the correct recipe to use here (oops!) they were both pretty tasty, so I’m comfortable giving you this one. It was a little tough to roll out but the flaky layers were perfectly crispy.
I used foil tart pans (these were perfectly sized), but you could probably use a regular muffin pan if you were so inclined. There’s enough butter in the dough that I wouldn’t worry too much about sticking.
For Lunar New Year this year, I decided to try my hand at making some childhood favorite recipes– in this case, almond cookies. Honestly, store-bought almond cookies were never my favorite– I remember them mostly being vaguely sandy and shortbread-y and only slightly almond flavored– but nostalgia compelled me to try making my own. And I’m so glad I did!
These almond cookies are crisp and buttery, melting away in your mouth and leaving behind a distinctive almond flavor (okay, that’s almond extract). I think I might try an egg-yolk-only wash on top next time for an extra-golden color, but aside from that they’re perfect. Also in their favor is the fact that you don’t need to soften your butter ahead of time, though chilling the dough is still necessary. And the shaping and decorating process is something the whole family can get involved in!
When my daughter decided that she wanted a Harry Potter-themed party, perhaps unwisely, I promised to make her whatever kind of cake she wanted… and she chose a three-tiered cake that looked like stacked spellbooks. Made of three different flavors of cake (lemon, chocolate, and marble). Iced in buttercream, not fondant. Oh, boy…
The toughest part was definitely going to be getting nice, smooth, flat book covers without using fondant. Not that I blame her– frosting is definitely tastier– but it was going to be difficult. I thought back to her Kitty House Cake, though, and decided that I would make the book covers out of graham crackers, which were naturally flat and smooth, and had some structure to them.
In order to keep the frosting as smooth and leather-like as possible, I decided to spread it onto a sheet of parchment paper– once spread, I pressed the graham crackers directly into it (for a 9×9″ square cake I ended up with eight crackers per side, plus two more for the spine), then pushed the frosting up over the edges so they would be colored on all visible sides.
Then I spread a bit more frosting on top to keep things sticky, placed my cake up against one edge of the “bottom” cover, and frosted it with white frosting to resemble pages.
Once that was smoothed out, I used the parchment to wrap the rest of the cover over and around it. Luckily for me, the width of the spine was just about the same as the height of the cake, so it worked out nicely. Since it was pretty chilly outside I then put the whole thing under a cover in my garage to chill down and firm up– necessary to be able to unwrap the parchment later without smearing. I will admit that the cakes, once frosted and crackered, ended up being a LOT larger and heavier than I’d anticipated…
I peeled off the parchment paper from each book and carefully transferred each cake to a sheet of cardboard– the bottom one was on a big cardboard presentation board, while the top two were on 8×8″ squares that wouldn’t show once stacked. I pushed drinking straws into the bottom two layers to support the weight of the cakes on top.
Then I stacked the cakes, slightly askew, on top of each other– and they held! They looked great! It was time to decorate. I used a grass tip to make brown fur on the Monster Book of Monsters, but the other two books were left smooth. To add some extra detail I made a batch of candy clay (more on that later) and rolled it out to make book spines, plus one frontispiece for the top book, which I painted with gold highlighter dust and vodka so the books would have legible titles.
And here’s the cake! I love it. Also, it was huge, so I was giving away cake left and right to the party guests, which I’m sure they didn’t mind one bit!
All in all, I think this experiment went well. True, I went through massive amounts of butter to make all the frosting (and the red was inedible due to the sheer amount of red food coloring I had to stir in to get it bright enough– note to self: use the “no taste” coloring next time), but the structure held, and the frosting-covered graham crackers were actually a nice extra treat to nibble on between bites of cake.
I’ll have to try this technique again, perhaps with a smaller cake next time!
To continue the Harry Potter theme, I baked up a quick batch of pumpkin pasties– basically mini hand-pies filled with spiced pumpkin purée. Previously when I’ve made pumpkin-filled desserts I have gone to the trouble of baking a pumpkin custard, basically a pumpkin pie filling, and then scooping it into whatever I’m filling (phyllo triangles, for example), but I was in a bit of a hurry with this one and it ended up tasting just fine, so I’ll give you the recipe as-is.
Not too sweet, these two-bite desserts have a nicely spiced filling and sparkle with coarse sugar on top. I actually like them better cold than hot– the pumpkin flavor seems to come through better that way– but they’re tasty either way!
In yet another dessert for my daughter’s Hogwarts birthday party, I decided to make miniature treacle tarts– treacle tarts are not only quintessentially British, but the first dessert that Harry eats at Hogwarts!
A moment later the desserts appeared. Blocks of ice cream in every flavor you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate éclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, Jell-O, rice pudding… As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families.
-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
These are made with a pate sucrée crust and a slightly non-standard filling– the recipe I used had a bit more cream in it than most other recipes I saw later (oops!), which I expect made it less gooey and more custardy in texture than is usual. Also I did have extra filling, which I baked in two small ramekins and enjoyed later with berries on top. Enjoy!
I’ve always loved the old-timey look of envelopes sealed with wax and stamped with a crest– they just look so important and mysterious at the same time. And while I’ve never had a reason to send a letter in such an envelope, an opportunity arose when my daughter decided to have a Harry Potter-themed birthday party.
As you may remember, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry receives a letter (many letters) from Hogwarts regarding his acceptance, and in the movie those letters are sealed with red wax.
While our party invitations weren’t paper invitations, we did have a Hogwarts seal (included in a fancy quill pen set she got for Christmas), and I was determined to use it. The solution: Cookies!