Instead of hosting a Christmas party this year, we decided that it would be simpler and therefore more fun to host a post-Christmas brunch. For some reason a brunch just seems less stressful than a full evening party– maybe it’s the fact that the foods are easier to prepare, maybe it just seems more casual… in any case, that’s what we decided to do. Of course, “casual” doesn’t mean “starving,” so of course I had to come up with an appropriate selection of sweet and savory goodies. And one of the first things I knew I’d be making was monkey bread.
Remember all of the candied lemon peel I had left over from my lemonade concentrate? I had to do something with it, so I decided to bake cake. Cake is always the answer. I decided to go with a pound cake, because I figured that the crumb would need to be fairly dense in order to support the chewy chunks of peel. And what’s a lemon cake without a lemon syrup to soak it in? And a glaze? Talk about gilding the lily…
The finished cake is incredibly moist and tender, and the syrup and glaze combine for a slightly crackly outer crust that immediately gives way to a melt-in-your-mouth icing, full of lemon flavor. While the cake doesn’t slice neatly– too soft and moist– it’s really delicious, and even better the day after it’s baked. Plus, due to the moisture and the glaze it’ll keep, uncovered at room temperature, for at least three days without drying out. Probably longer, but I didn’t have any left to check after three days!
I’m a sucker for pastry, especially at breakfast, so when I came across this recipe for King Arthur Flour’s Almond Puff Loaf, which promised a delicious, multi-layered pastry in only a few simple steps, I knew I’d have to try it out. It starts with a base that’s halfway between a biscuit and a pie crust, and it’s topped with choux paste to provide some serious puff. The process reminded me a little of the Gateau St. Honoré, but the finished product was very different– probably because of the different ingredient proportions.
I also decided to add a layer of almond paste between the two doughs, to really amp up the almond flavor– I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking to try this recipe, along with using apricot jam, which pairs perfectly with the almond.
So this is definitely the coolest kitchen gadget ever. It’s not high-tech, it doesn’t take up a ton of space, and it dates back to the late 1700s! My dad had one when I was a kid and I used to love turning the crank and playing with the resulting perfect spiral-cut apples. When I saw this one in a secondhand store for only $3.99 I knew it would be coming home with me.
So I was making pink biscuits to go with the pink molded salad— it was originally just a one-off so I would have something else in the photo, but then I was adding food coloring to the buttermilk when I decided that I’d inadvertently made the milk too pink. I had to add extra buttermilk until the color was right, but I ended up with twice as much buttermilk as I needed before I was done! Since I had all my ingredients out already I decided to make a double batch of biscuits, but to avoid repetition I decided to change things up a bit and make these sweeter for a more springtime feel! I added sugar to the dough, cut the second batch out in flower shapes, and put on a powdered sugar glaze at the end.
The biscuits didn’t hold their shape as well as I’d have liked, but they did end up being vaguely flowery-looking, enough so that I felt comfortable dubbing them “cherry blossom biscuits” (though I didn’t have any cherry blossom essence, so it’s just for looks, unfortunately).
One of the kitchen gadgets I use least often is the mini deep-fryer– it’s perfect for frying up a batch of chicken tenders, or an experimental batch of cronuts (I promise I’ll blog about those someday), but then you’re left with a bunch of oil you don’t know what to do with, and it’s a pain to dispose of, so I rarely go to the trouble. Still, once you’ve fried one thing, you may as well fry a bunch of things to avoid waste, so after my husband made some of the aforementioned chicken tenders that’s what I decided to do. But what to make?
I ran through the possibilities in my head, discarding some for being too involved, others for being too boring, and kept coming back to apple fritters. I love apple fritters, but almost never buy them because I invariably get distracted by the chocolate-covered old-fashioned donuts that are my favorites. But I’d faithfully bookmarked the recipe at some point, and when I came across it on my computer it was like fate was telling me that now was the time!
Gail Carriger is one of my new favorite authors, and for those of you who haven’t read Soulless (of The Parasol Protectorate series) or Etiquette and Espionage (of The Finishing School books), I suggest you go out right now and get them. They’re the perfect blend of light, frothy humor, pseudo-historical commentary, and plain old fun. Plus, Gail has a fashion blog that I thoroughly enjoy perusing, as it features many fun vintage and vintage-inspired looks. I even sent her one of my hats once, since her characters so clearly appreciate fine millinery.
So when I heard she was going to be in town for the launch of her latest book (Manners and Mutiny), I knew two things: First, that I was going to attend and meet her in person, and second, that I would bring cookies.
What kind of cookies, you ask? Pretty ones. Definitely pretty ones. Vaguely Victorian-ish, since that’s the era her stories are set in, and probably featuring items and/or characters from the books. When I was making the Spooky Mummy Cookies I deliberately set aside some of the dough to cut out some fancy plaque shapes, and froze the baked cookies in preparation for this project. When I was ready to get started, all I had to do was defrost and they were ready for decoration!
Not to imply that this wasn’t a complicated project– heaven forbid! It involved two different kinds of icings and several decorating techniques spread over two days, so let’s get started!