Entries from November 4th, 2007

What Else Has Been Baking in the Oven

November 4th, 2007 · 21 Comments · Photography, Sweet Spots

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I thought I would take a moment to update my dear readers on what other food-related events have transpired recently in my life. First off, my second article has been published in Edible East Bay! You may remember that I toured Charles Chocolates’ new factory and store a while back; now the full story plus photos I snapped of the production line are in the Fall 2007 issue of Edible East Bay.

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This issue is filled with fascinating articles, from a history of cattle ranching in the East Bay to a profile of a local beekeeper and artisan honey maker, to a tour of Hangar One, an innovative vodka distillery on the little island of Alameda. Incidentally, Hangar One is where I went this weekend and where I took the top photo: they make the striking Buddha’s Hand citron vodka that Alice Medrich recommends for her Citron Vodka chocolates in her new book, and they also make an absolutely divine dessert wine:

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Just be careful when pronouncing that name aloud in polite company!

If you aren’t near a copy of this issue of Edible East Bay, they will soon post up electronic versions of the articles on their website. You can also read my earlier profile of Charles Chocolates.

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Second, I’m happy to announce that Sarah Phillips of Baking 911, one of the most comprehensive and helpful baking sites available on the net, invited me to contribute to her monthly newsletter. Sarah is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and a fabulously accomplished baker: I am amazed at the amount of information on her site, from recipes to step by step tutorials for making just about anything in pastry. I’m very pleased to be part of Baking911, and for the November newsletter I’ve created a recipe for a chocolate caramel pie – a wonderful addition to the holiday table!

In order to view the newsletter, you will need to become a premium member of Baking911. Membership is $24 a year, but Sarah is currently running a promotion where membership will only cost $14 if you join before the end of the year. Read here to see all the benefits of becoming a premium member. Even if you don’t join Baking911, I hope you still find it a useful baking resource – I’ve found many of her articles helpful when researching a recipe or pastry technique.

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Finally, the capper to a really lovely weekend: I got to see the advertising cards for Pâtisserie Philippe – with my photography on them! You may remember me rhapsodizing about Philippe’s peerless pastry; I recently did a photo shoot for his holiday line and now the Thanksgiving advertising card is out!

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There’s just something about the tangible realness of a photo on smooth, substantial stock that’s completely different from an image on a computer screen. If you have MooCards, you know what I mean. I have to admit it was quite thrilling to see my photos hung in the store windows and on the beautifully produced cards. I was also very relieved when Philippe told me he thought the pictures looked "like (he) wanted to eat them," – so glad I’d done justice to his creations!

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If you live anywhere near Pâtisserie Philippe, I urge you to pick up one of his desserts for Thanksgiving; I can personally assure you they are all fantastic. If you want a closer look, descriptions along with some more of my photos are on his holiday menu, and you’ll get a bonus peek at a shot I did of his Yule log!

You may have noticed the outrageously beautiful apple tart on the front of Philippe’s card; he gave me one to take home after the photo shoot and I ate about half of that! Check back later this week to see my humble take on this apple tart!

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Don’t Judge a Cake by its Pan – or Should You?

November 1st, 2007 · 19 Comments · Events

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About a month ago I got a very fun and exciting opportunity passed on to me by the awesome Amy of Cooking with Amy. Nordicware, the maker of those beautiful and whimsical bundt pans in which you can make a cake in practically any shape nowadays, was in the final round of its annual bundt cake recipe contest. The final bake-off was going to be held in San Francisco and they needed a third judge, which turned out to be…me!

Before you start wondering whether I put on my best Simon or Paula from American Idol impression, I’ll tell you that everyone, from Dana the Nordicware rep, to the other judges, to all ten finalists were super nice and friendly. Considering that the grand prize was $10,000 (did you hear that? I expect to see all my fellow baking bloggers out there entering next year!) the atmosphere was quite casual and relaxed. All the finalists had been flown out to San Francisco and got to stay here for a couple days for the bakeoff, and they all seemed as excited about getting a trip out to the west coast as a chance to win first place!

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I arrived at the professional kitchens in the morning as the first 5 contestants were finishing up their cakes. They were displayed, photographed for posterity, and then we judges got to sit down and dig in while the other 5 contestants baked their cakes. It was nice that the baking and judging were done in two rounds because the bakers all got more space to spread out in the kitchen, and we judges didn’t have to eat ten cakes at once!

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The theme of the contest this year was Holiday Bundts, and entrants were to create a bundt cake recipe celebrating one of ten American holidays. The finalists were each chosen to represent one of those holidays, so it was a sort of “best in show” final. The cakes were judged on several criteria, including originality, taste, texture, appearance, use of ingredients, and an essay. What, you thought all I had to do was eat cake? I was very impressed with the cakes, all of which were lovely and festive tributes to the holidays – really, it felt like I was celebrating a year’s worth of holidays in one afternoon! One interesting rule Nordicware had was that since bundt pans by their shape are supposed to create beautiful cakes on their own, contestants were discouraged from elaborate decorations on their cakes, and we judges were supposed to account for that during judging. I liked seeing how the finalists managed to decorate their cakes to accentuate the form rather than overpower it.

I’m sure you’re eager to see the finalist cakes for yourself and play judge, so here they are:

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Father’s Day: Daddy’s Double Espresso Chocolate Cake with Cappuccino Froth

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Easter: Lemon Lime Easter Cake

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Fourth of July: Ameri-candy Doodle Dandy Bundt Cake

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Halloween: Candy Corn Halloween Bundt Cake

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Mother’s Day: Meyer Lemon Baby Cakes with Candied Lemon Zest

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St. Patrick’s Day: Irish Whiskey Bundt Cake

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Christmas: Mint Mountains

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Thanksgiving: Caramel-copia Thanksgiving Bundt Cake

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Hannukah: Magen David D’Light Cake

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Valentine’s Day: Chocolate Cherry Bundt Cake

I’m sure you’ve noticed how gorgeously all the cakes were plated and styled – the ladies went all out! I believe the finalist who baked the Fourth of July cake even wore a red, white, and blue shirt to go with her cake! Many of the cakes also came with fancy accompaniments, like sauces, chocolate-dipped cherries, even chocolate-covered espresso beans!

You can get recipes for all the cakes here. So who won? I’m afraid I can’t tell you yet! Nordicware is revealing the winner on November 15th, so check back then. I’ll also let you know after the 15th what I thought of the winning cake as well as the other favorites. In the meantime, I’d love to know which one you like! Take a look at all the cakes, check all the recipes, and post your favorite – and see in a few weeks if you picked the winner! Hopefully these cakes might give you a new inspiration for your holiday baking. As for me, I had a great time judging, although I’ll admit it’s easier to be baking than to be trying to choose between ten different delicious cakes!

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