Hello! I’m back from a week in sunny Florida, where it didn’t feel like fall at all. But I have a surprise side story: while I was there, I made a quick side trip to New York, and the 6th Star Chefs International Culinary Congress. I didn’t intend to mix business with pleasure, but there was one reason why I couldn’t pass up this opportunity: Pierre Hermé. Any of you who have read my blog know that he has been one of my biggest pastry heroes and inspired me to go to pastry school. The master himself was at the congress to judge a pastry competition, and to give a pastry demonstration. It is extremely rare for him to make an appearance in the US, so when Bravo North America kindly offered me the chance to sit in on Hermé’s class, there was only one answer: YES!
October 12th, 2011 · 17 Comments · Cookies, Personal, Recipes, Travel
September 7th, 2011 · 25 Comments · Fruit, Personal, Recipes, Tarts
Taking a brief break from vacation recapping…just a few more stops left to cover! I swear I’ll finish my vacation scrapbook before summer is over!
I couldn’t not post about stone fruit season and the sunset-hued wave of fruits enveloping farmers’ markets right now. If you haven’t bitten into a ripe, outrageously fragrant autumn plum yet, do so. I have a soft spot for Elephant Hearts, but most any variety will do, including the increasingly odd-named hybrid cousins of plums.
Pluots, I can get behind (they’re a big favorite of mine). Or plumcots (essentially the same thing, a cross between plums and apricots). But some other mixes I find a little less mellifluous to my ear: aprium? peacotum? nectaplum? They just don’t have the same appetizing ring. It reminds me of when we went looking for a dog to adopt and discovered all these non-official cross breeds. I knew about goldendoodles and labradoodles, but the mention of shih-poos and whoodles just made me laugh. Not all portmanteaus are meant to be, at least to my ears.
August 30th, 2011 · 12 Comments · Cookies, Personal, Recipes, Travel
My second favorite Greek island would have to be Mykonos. This part of our trip was essentially fairytale Greece: sunwashed beaches, gorgeous white houses, unfailingly blue sky. Not to mention the Greeks’ fairly relaxed concept of time…meaning it’s pretty impossible not to feel mellow and lazy after staring at the ocean with lemonade in hand for a couple of hours.
August 18th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Cookies, Personal, Recipes, Travel
Hi all! A quick shoutout before I get on with my post – the lovely Deborah of Taste and Tell featured me in her Blogger Spotlight a couple weeks ago. Pop on over to visit her beautiful blog and see my answers to her interview questions!
Now we come to one of my absolute favorite stops on our trip – Santorini. It’s fabled as the quintessential Greek paradise, and justly so, as we discovered. Visiting as a daytripper is not the way to truly enjoy this island: you spend your day shoving around town along with all the other cruise-ship tourists trying to make the most of their brief time on short. We did our best to avoid the crowds, but still concluded that it’s best to come when you have a few days – or more than a few days – to relax into the mellow, unhurried pace of this Aegean idyll. Forgive my indulgence with the photos in this post, but really, there were too many to choose from.
Our last stop in Italy, and probably my favorite, was Naples. We didn’t actually spend any time in Naples, mainly because there were so many places just outside the city we wanted to see – the ancient city of Pompeii, Sorrento, and of course as much of the Amalfi Coast as we could fit in. Sorry Naples pizza, we’ll have to come back for you next time!
July 16th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Cookies, Personal, Recipes, Travel
Third day of our trip: Florence. This city claimed a soft spot in my heart since I first visited years back, and having only one day to revisit this city was not nearly enough time. Since Florence is inland, our cruise ship docked at the port of Livorno, about an hour and a half’s drive away. This was one port where the limitations of being on a cruise stung. After a whirlwind day of seeing some new sights and returning to old remembered spots, I still have a hankering to return to Florence. It’s like cozy college town, filled with some of the world’s most glorious art and architecture – and it’s next to the Tuscan countryside. How could you not want to spend weeks here? Nevertheless, we did our best to squeeze Florence into a day.
We took a quick detour first to Pisa to get a look at the Leaning Tower. No, we didn’t do the “pretend you’re holding up the tower” trick shot, although every other tourist seemed to be doing it. The Tower was beautifully clean – our driver told us it had just undergone a thorough cleaning a couple months ago. Certainly much nicer looking than in some older photos where you can clearly see it blackened by pollution.
The Cathedral next to the tower.
Overlook of Florence – so pretty. You can see Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge) to the left and the huge red dome of the basilica to the right.
Another view of the city and the Tuscan hills beyond.
Statue of Dante Alighieri outside the Basilica de Santa Croce. Looks like the kind of brooding artiste who would write the Divine Comedy, yes? Well, apparently this wasn’t what he looked like at all: he had a rather ordinary face, but likely the Italians preferred a more heroic image for their immortal poet.
Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi Gallery. I love the colors of the buildings, all rainwashed ocher, umber, and siena – the colors of Tuscany. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any photos of the art inside the Uffizi, but believe me it’s one of the world’s great repositories of art – you could easily spend an entire day there.
Facade of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – look at the beautiful multicolored marble panels. The enormous dome of the Cathedral is another of my favorite historical engineering achievements. It measures almost 144 feet across and it’s a staggering 463 steps to the top – we didn’t have time for the climb on this trip, but the last time I went, the view was worth it.
A model of the city in one of the central piazzas – complete with a little Duomo. I really enjoyed just wandering around the streets of Florence – it’s more compact and accessible than Rome.
Some marzipan fruit in a patisserie window; they do love their marzipan over there. The leaves are a cute touch.
And that was it! Sigh. We really could have used at least one more day here, but the rest of our itinerary awaited.
No, I didn’t eat any marzipan fruit in Florence; I ate a lot of gelato instead, because if you only have three days in Italy you should squeeze as much gelato into those days as possible. I didn’t want to offer up just ice cream recipes from my vacation, though, so here’s one of my favorite cookie recipes.
I have to admit this recipe is a bit of a cheat as well; florentines actually don’t originate from Florence. Some stories have them coming from Austria, but the most common story is that were invented in France, as a tribute to the visiting Medici family from Florence. So there’s your connection, however tenuous.
Even if they aren’t a local Italian treat, you should still try florentines at least once: they are a cinch to make, and they are as addictive as potato chips; in fact, hubby calls them “candy chips”. They are basically baked-crisp caramel sprinkled with almonds and drizzled with chocolate; sweet, buttery, chocolatey, and nutty all at once. Many florentines are coated on one side with chocolate; I like to make mine very thin and crisp, but you can modify yours simply by cooking the batter longer on the stove to thicken it even more, or thinning it out with a little extra cream. These florentines also make excellent toppers for a bowl of ice cream…or gelato.
Next stop Naples…and the Amalfi Coast.
- 1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/3 cups sliced almonds
- 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 374 degrees F. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside a 3-in round cookie cutter.
- Combine butter, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Melt together over medium heat on the stove, stirring occasionally.
- Add flour and stir to combine.
- Add cream and salt and stir to combine.
- Continue cooking until mixture comes to a boil. Add the almonds and stir to combine.
- Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and moves around the pan as one mass. Remove from heat.
- Drop tablespoons of batter onto prepared cookie sheets, 4 to a sheet (the batter will spread out quite thin so space out the batter). Flatten batter with a wet hand or back of a spoon.
- Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, until edges are brown and centers are golden. Remove sheets from oven and use cookie cutter to "scoop" the batter back into a circular shape (use the edge to move the batter - do not press down like cutting out a cookie).
- Cookies will begin to harden in moments. Let finish cooling and hardening on wire racks before removing from parchment.
- To finish: Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Drizzle melted chocolate over the cooled florentines. Let chocolate set before serving.