Entries from November 25th, 2009

Giving Thanks: Frozen Cranberry Nougats

November 25th, 2009 · 27 Comments · Candy, Cookbooks, Fruit, Recipes


Happy Thanksgiving to all! This is just a short update since I'm in Kansas about to celebrate the holiday with the family of the boyfriend. I just wanted to share a little concoction I whipped up before I left, while I was getting into the holiday mood.

Cranberries are inextricably linked to the holiday table, and when these jewel-bright lovelies made their appearance at the grocery I really wanted to make something with them.

I remembered seeing this beautiful creation in Johnny's Iuzzini's Dessert FourPlay and knew this was the time to try it out. This striking dessert is a frozen cranberry nougat topped with fresh cranberries poached with star anise. Formed in savarin molds, the nougats look like little holiday wreathes, or bowls of Christmas joy.

Nougat was one of the candies I researched for my candy book, and it was a intriguingly difficult candy to figure out, mostly because there are many different kinds of sweets called nougat around the world. Trying to categorize them categorize them into one or two basic recipes was a challenge. In the US, many people think of nougat as the creamy, sticky, gooey center found in many chocolates or candy bars. In Europe, nougat is most commonly known as a confection made from whipped egg whites and sugar syrup, that contains nuts and sometimes dried fruits, and is pressed into a dense, chewy slab. One of the most well known nougats in Europe is the French nougat de Montelimar, which is made with lavender honey and studded with almonds and pistachios. Nougat is also very popular in Italy and Spain, where it is known as torrone or turron.


Iuzzini's nougat is definitely based on the European style of nougat; it's made of honey mixed with whipped egg whites, and sprinkled with pistachios, almonds, and dried cranberries. The nougat mixture is then folded into some whipped cream, spread into savarin molds, and frozen. The resulting confection is light and ethereal in the mouth but retains the distinct nougat-like flavor. The wonderfully fragrant poached cranberries ground the nougat with their spicy richness, and add a gorgeous visual element.

What I really like about Iuzzini's recipes is how he develops the flavors in each element to create a complex tapestry of tastes. For examples, the nuts are candied first before being chopped up and added to the nougat, to add extra sweetness and crunch. Similarly, the cranberries in the nougat are soaked in Chambord first – nothing like a little liquor to signal the start of holiday celebrations, hm?

It was also fun to work with the silicone savarin molds – the frozen nougats virtually popped out perfectly formed, and I love the shape. I got mine at Sur la Table, and you could also find them online as well.

Unfortunately I didn't have time to type up the recipe before I left- let me know if you're interested in seeing it and I can post it when I return.

Meanwhile, do enjoy a happy Thanksgiving with your loved ones. I have a lot to be thankful for this year – some wonderful big changes, but I also try to be grateful for all the small everyday sweetnesses, like a call out of the blue from a friend, or having a recipe come out perfectly. Those are the little things that make me realize how lucky I am, and how thankful I am for all I have.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend!


Frozen Cranberry Nougats

makes (12) 2 3/4 round nougats (you can find 6-cavity silicone savarin molds in kitchen supply stores like Sur la Table. If you can't find them, Iuzzini suggests spreading the mixture into a baking pan lined with a silicone baking mat and cutting the frozen nougat into squares.)

Poached Cranberries

1 1/2 cups pure cranberry juice

1/4 cup star anise

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Cranberry Nougats

1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup dried cranberries

3 tablespoons Chambord

3/4 teaspoon powdered gelatin

2 large egg whites

pinch of cream of tartar

1/2 cup honey

2 cups heavy cream

For the cranberries: Place juice and star anise in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Add the cranberries and reduce heat to low. Poach until cranberries are tender but don't let them burst.

Chill cranberries in the poaching liquid before serving.

For the nougats: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread out pistachios and almonds on a baking sheet. Bake for about 7 minutes until they are hot but not browned or toasted.

Place sugar in a saucepan and mix with just enough water so it has the texture of wet sand. Cook over medium heat to 285 degrees F.

Add in nuts and stir until the sugar turns white and coats the nuts (you are basically candying the nuts).

Pour out nuts onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat and let cool completely.

Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the nuts for garnish. Place the rest in a food processor and process to ground coarsely. Do not turn them into powder – you just want them in smaller chunks that will be mixed into the nougat.

Place cranberries and Chambord in a glass bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Let cool and drain cranberries, reserving the Chambord. Chop the cranberries.

Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the Chambord. It will absorb the gelatin and then turn solid.

Place egg whites and cream of tartar in bowl of stand mixer and whisk at medium speed until soft peaks form.

Meanwhile, place honey in a small saucepan and cook to 250 degrees over medium-high heat.

Microwave the gelatin and Chambord for about 30 seconds until it has turned back into liquid.

With the mixer still running, pour the honey in a steady stream into the whites. Add the gelatin. Turn speed to high and beat until bowl and mixture have cooled.

In a clean bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks.

Fold the egg white mixture into the cream. Fold in the nuts and cranberries.

Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag and pipe into twelve Flexipan savarin molds. Level off the tops, cover with parchment paper or plastic wrap, and place in freezer overnight.

When ready to serve, unmold nougats onto dessert plates and top with poached cranberries.

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Gingerbread Cupcakes for a Special Birthday

November 21st, 2009 · 28 Comments · Cakes, Field Guide to Cookies, Recipes


Does anyone else have a noticeable uptick in friends’ birthdays around this time of the year? November to me is not just the month that marks the beginning of the holidays, but also the beginning of the birthday onslaught. I have my theories as to why (consider that Valentine’s Day occurs 9 months earlier…hmm…) but come November I always prepare myself for a blizzard of parties, presents, and birthday cakes.

Of course, one very special November birthday for me is that of the boyfriend (Fun fact: I have two sisters and both of their significant others have their birthdays this month as well. It’s a birthday barrage, I tell you!) I asked the guy what kind of cake he would like for his birthday and he replied, “Gingerbread!”

Naturally my guy is so awesome that he will actually pick a cake that’s seasonal :) Something dark, lush, spicy, and note-perfect for the holidays. Gingerbread has such a fabulously complex history as well – it was one of favorite cookies to research for my cookie book. The word gingerbread is a corruption of the ancient French word gingebras, and originally referred to preserved ginger, a costly and coveted spice during medieval times.


It wasn’t until the 15th century that gingerbread was used to describe cakelike concoctions made with treacle and flavored with ginger. This spicy treat evolved differently around Europe: in some countries gingerbread remained soft and cakelike, while in other places it morphed into a dough that was pressed into wooden molds and baked into crisp, intricately imprinted plaques. In England treacle was still used to flavor gingerbread, while in other places molasses and honey were substituted. The German city of Nuremberg became famous for its honey-flavored version of gingerbread, known as lebkuchen. Formed in elaborately carved molds, lebkuchen were true edible art. Over in colonial America, the use of carved molds slowly gave way to simpler tin cutters, leading to the gingerbread cookies best known in the US today. Gingerbread in cake form isn’t quite as well known here, but if you like a little spice with your sweet, this may just be your thing.

I was really itching to use my mini cupcake pan again, so the recipe turned into gingerbread cupcakes topped with a swirl of lemon creme chantilly and a bit of candied lemon peel. I love the contrast between the rich, spicy cake and the clean tang of the whipped cream – like fresh snow on Christmas firs. No two gingerbread recipes are the same – like the bakers of old, you can use your favorite combination of spices. I like a mix of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. A generous measure of brown sugar swirled with dark molasses gives the gingerbread its robust, heady sweetness and enticing brown hue.


Be sure not overbake these cupcakes, especially if you’re making mini ones. I also poured the leftover batter (once I’d filled up the muffin tin) into a loaf pan, which baked up into a really lovely, very moist little cake. Also, wait to frost the cupcakes until you’re ready to serve them, since the whipped cream can’t keep for very long outside the fridge and refrigerating the cupcakes will make them hard.

The making of these cupcakes also coincided with a package I received from Challenge Butter. Along with some cooking tools from OXO I got a selection of Spice Islands Spices that I was “challenged” to use to create a holiday dessert recipe. The spices turned out to be perfect for this gingerbread cupcake recipe! One can never have enough spices in the house, especially during the holidays – or a busy birthday season!

I hope you enjoy these little lovelies as much as the birthday boy did!


Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Creme Chantilly

makes about 30 mini cupcakes


  • 1 1/2 cups (210 g) all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) salt
  • 2 ounces (55 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (130 g) dark molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (115 g) whole milk

Lemon Creme Chantilly

  • 1 cup (230 g) whipping cream
  • 4 tablespoons (56 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 g) lemon extract

For the cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a mini muffin tin with cupcake papers.
  • Sift flour, baking soda, spices, and salt together into a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Combine butter and brown sugar in a stand mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  • Combine molasses and eggs together in a small bowl. Add to mixer and beat until combined.
  • Add flour mixture and milk in 5 alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until well combined.
  • Divide batter among muffin cups, filling about 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack.

For the frosting:

  • When ready to decorate, put whipping cream in a clean mixer bowl and whisk on medium until it begins to thicken. Add in the confectioners' sugar and whisk until soft peaks begin to form. Add lemon extract and whisk just to combine.
  • Scrape whipped cream into piping bag fitted with a small star tip and pipe swirls onto cupcakes.

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Vanilla, Mocha, Walnuts: Memories of Bundt Cake

November 13th, 2009 · 21 Comments · Cakes, Cookbooks, Recipes


Some of my earliest memories of baking at home involved my mom, a box of cake mix, and a bundt pan. Now, to be completely fair to my mom and cake mixes, she came over to America at the age of 23, newly married, entering a foreign culture, knowing almost nobody. I don’t think she had baked a cake before she moved to the US. A little less than 3 years later, she had me – and then she really had a family to take care of.

In learning to run her new household, my mom became a stellar cook – I’m one of those people who can’t wait to dig into mom’s cooking when I visit home. Although my mom cooked mainly Chinese food – she learned to make the dishes she remembered and enjoyed herself – she did make attempts to learn about American cuisine, with her renditions of spaghetti and hamburgers and even meatloaf showing up on the dinner table. And once she realized how much we loved the birthday cakes from the local bakery, she took it upon herself to replicate them using the brightly packaged cake mixes emblazoned with images of fluffy yellow cake and thick swirls of frosting.

I used to be fascinated by the cake mix boxes (perhaps an early sign of my interest in pastry?) and would study each flavor in detail until my mom impatiently told me I had to make a choice. Although she was willing to indulge our desire for cake, she did have her maternal concerns for our health. Thus, no overly rich or gooey cakes, meaning chocolate, fudgy, or caramelly flavors were usually nixed – the most outrageous flavor we could get away with was the rainbow chip flavor with multicolored chips sprinkled throughout a white cake batter. Also, she found the two inch layers of sugary frosting entirely too sweet and (rightly) unhealthy, so our cakes were never frosted.

I’m not sure where my mom picked up the bundt pan or why she started baking all our cakes in it, but it’s what I’ve come to associate with cake making at home. Whenever we wanted a cake, she would pull out the bundt pan, we’d put the cake mix batter together and pour it in the pan, wait impatiently for it to bake, and then watch my mom unmold it and dust the top with confectioners’ sugar (her concession for the no-frosting decree).


Those memories have left me with an eternal soft spot for bundt cakes. When I learned that November 15 is National Bundt Day,  I decided it’d been entirely too long since I’d pulled out the pan. This recipe, adapted from one of my tried and true favorites, is a rich combination of chocolate, coffee, and walnuts – a perfect fall palette, if I say so myself. It’s not too sweet (just like my mom likes it), and the mocha-nutty flavor makes a slice of this a lovely companion to a cup of coffee. It’s even better sprinkled with a bit of confectioners’ sugar (a la Mom) or a spoonful of chocolate sauce for the true chocoholic.

I also received a preview of a new, adorably-named cookbook Kiss My Bundt, by Chrysta Wilson, and didn’t have a chance to try the recipes yet, but with over 60 bundt cake recipes, including a Riesling, Honey, and Apricot Aphrodisiac cake and a Chocolate Bacon Cake, it’s definitely worth checking out! Wilson also sells her bundt cakes out of her Los Angeles shop – check out her luscious menu!

So I hope you celebrate National Bundt Day by baking up some sweet memories of your own!




Mocha Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake

adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours


2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup ground walnuts

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1/4 cup coffee

1 teaspoon espresso powder

1 3/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup milk, room temperature


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 to 10 inch Bundt pan, dust inside with flour, and tap out the excess.

Whisk flour, ground walnuts, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.

Combine 2 tablespoons butter, chocolate, coffee, and espresso powder in a metal bowl. Place over a pot of simmering water and stir until melted and combined. Remove from heat.

Combine remaining 2 sticks of butter and sugar in a stand mixer and beat with paddle attachment on medium speed for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy.

Add in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add in vanilla extract.

Add in flour mixture and milk in five alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on low speed after each addition just until combined.

Scrape about half of the batter into the bowl with the melted chocolate and mix to combine.

Pour the vanilla batter into the bottom of the bundt pan. Pour the chocolate batter on top. Use a knife to lightly marble the batter.

Bake for 65-70 minutes until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for about 10 minutes before unmolding.

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A Clafouti For Chilly Days: Apples, Cranberries, and Vanilla Bean

November 6th, 2009 · 17 Comments · Cakes, Custards, Recipes


A dear friend of mine just returned from Africa and brought me a wonderful gift: a literal bag of whole vanilla beans! Apparently vanilla beans are much less expensive in Africa (no doubt due to the vanilla bean powerhouse Madagascar) so thanks to my friend R I now own more vanilla beans that I thought I could bear to purchase in one go! Isn’t it great to have friends like that?

The vanilla beans (or, at least one of them, as I plan to luxuriate in my vanilla bean-plentitude for a nice long while) came in perfect for an apple and cranberry clafouti I made this week. Since we’re finally getting some fall-style weather here, I made a German apple pancake for breakfast the other week, a kind of pancake on overdrive made of eggs, sugar, and spiced apples that puffs up into a golden cloud in the oven. The boyfriend loved it, and I decided to translate it into a dessert version – in this case, some individual clafoutis made with Fuji apples, cranberries, and the heady sweetness of vanilla bean. (For more on my love for clafoutis, go here.)



These Fuji apples I got at an Asian supermarket were adorable – not quite ladyapple-sized, but small enough to cup in my hand, and faintly red-stippled chartreuse. Any sort of tart baking apple will work well with these clafoutis, like Granny Smith, but I really liked these scaled-down apples because it made the slices easier to fit into the baking dishes. (Btw, the dishes are by Revol, and I picked them at Sur la Table on sale – one of my favorite finds!)

Clafoutis are so simple to put together, that they’re a cinch to make even as a last-minute dessert on a chilly evening. Clafoutis can be fantastically light and airy when made with summer fruit, but the addition of stewed apples gives it a downright cozy twist. I scraped the vanilla bean seeds straight into the skillet to infuse with the melting butter, and perfuming the kitchen at the same time. The vanilla-scented butter give the apples a warm richness (If you look closely, you might see specks of vanilla bean in the photos). The cranberries add the puckery bright counternote to keep the clafoutis from being one-dimensionally sweet, and also continues the fall theme.

Although clafoutis can be eaten hot or cool, this one is definitely best straight from the oven, with a dollop of cinnamon-sprinkled whipped cream on top, maybe some mulled cider for accompaniment, and soft susurrus of autumn swirling outside the window.



Apple, Cranberry, and Vanilla Bean Clafoutis

Makes (4) 5 ounce clafoutis


3 eggs

3/4 cup milk

6 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 tart apples like Granny Smith

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 vanilla bean

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 cup dried cranberries


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 4 creme brulee dishes with butter and set aside.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add in the flour and whisk to combine. Add in the vanilla and whisk to combine.

Wash and peel the apples. Cut into 1/8 thick slices.

Place butter in a medium skillet and melt over medium heat.

Cut the vanilla bean open and scrape the seeds into the melting butter. Swirl to combine.

Add in the apple slices and toss to coat. Sprinkle the sugar over the apples. Cook for about 5 minutes until the apples have softened.

Fill each of the creme brulee dishes about halfway with the clafouti batter.

Divide the apple slices among the dishes. Do not overfill, about 8 slices or so should be fine. Sprinkle some of the cranberries on top.

Fill the creme brulee dishes with the rest of batter, to a little below the rim.

Place in oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the clafoutis have puffed up, the edges are golden, and the centers are just set. Do not overbake.

Remove from oven and let cool for a couple of minutes before serving. You can top with confectioners’ sugar or whipped cream if you like.

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