It’s been a great year and a half here, but I have made myself a new home.  Come check out my new digs and some exciting new things.

(I feel so fancy having my own name now)

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I’ve always thought of Baked Alaska as being the flamboyant member of the dessert family.  I mean, you do torch the darn thing.  But it is that very fact that can throw someone for a loop the first time trying it.  You think ‘oh, here is this hot flame near this dessert, it must not be ice cream’.  But then you dig in and boom! it’s ice cream!  See, kind of flamboyant.

Flamboyancy aside, Baked Alaska has a very long history.  It received its name when it was served for dessert at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York in honor of the newly acquired territory of Alaska.  It would be kind of cool if each state, along with the state bird and the state plant, had a state dessert.  I’m not sure what California’s would be, but I’m sure it would be something to include some of the wonderful fresh produce we are able to get here year round.

This isn’t a dessert you see too often on restaurant menus anymore.  Traditionally with sponge cake as the bottom layer, ice cream is then molded on top and covered in meringue that is then baked.  The challenge this month was to use the provided brown butter pound cake recipe for the base but we could make any flavor ice cream we choose.  Trying to think of what would pair nicely with brown butter pound cake as well as pulling from the abundance of fresh summer fruits, I chose to make a fresh fig ice cream.  You’ll hear more from me on fresh figs in the upcoming weeks, but the flavor of this ice cream surprised me.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, since I had never had a fresh fig until a few weeks ago, but the ice cream honestly tasted just like a Fig Newton.  It was sweet, but not cloyingly sweet, and while there is cream in the recipe, the texture was still reminiscent of a sorbet.

When all assembled this is quite a formidable dessert, and I made what I thought was going to be a mini version.  All that billowy meringue piled high atop fresh fig ice cream with a brown butter pound cake base.  I was quite impressed with my creation…until I cut into it to take pictures and realized that it looked like a miniature oompah loompah.  At least it tasted good.

Baked Alaska

Brown Butter Pound Cake

19 tablespoons (9.5 oz) (275g) unsalted (sweet) butter
2 cups (200g) sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3g) salt
1/2 cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
1/3 (75g) cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C and put a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan.

2. Place the butter in a 10” (25cm) skillet over medium heat. Brown the butter until the milk solids are a dark chocolate brown and the butter smells nutty. (Don’t take your eyes off the butter in case it burns.) Pour into a shallow bowl and chill in the freezer until just congealed, 15-30 minutes.

3. Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Beat the brown butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and then the vanilla extract.

5. Stir in the flour mixture at low speed until just combined.

6. Scrape the batter into the greased and floured 9”x9” (23cmx23cm) square pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula and rap the pan on the counter. Bake until golden brown on top and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

7. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge and invert right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Fresh Fig Ice Cream

Adapted from ‘The Perfect Scoop’ by David Lebovitz

2 pounds fresh figs (about 20)

1/2 c water

1 lemon

3/4 c sugar

1 c heavy cream

1/2 t fresh squeezed lemon juice

Remove the stems from the figs and cut each fig into eight pieces.  Place the fig pieces in a medium saucepan.  Add the water and zest the lemon directly into the pan.  Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the figs are soft to the touch, about 8 minutes.  Remove the lid, add the sugar and continue to cook, stirring often until the figs reach a jam-like consistency.  Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Once cool, puree the fig mixture in a blender with the cream and lemon juice.  Add more lemon juice to taste.  Chill this mixture thoroughly, or overnight.  Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the instructions.


8 large egg whites
½ teaspoon (3g) cream of tartar
½ teaspoon (3g) salt
1 cup (220g) sugar

Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on high speed in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar gradually in a slow stream until stiff peaks form.

Assembly Instructions

1. Line four 4” (10cm) diameter tea cups with plastic wrap, so that plastic wrap covers all the sides and hangs over the edge. Fill to the top with ice cream. Cover the top with the overhanging plastic wrap and freeze for several hours, or until solid.

2. Level the top of the brown butter pound cake with a serrated knife or with a cake leveler. Cut out four 4” (10cm) diameter circles from the cake. Discard the scraps or use for another purpose.

3. Make the meringue (see above.)

4. Unwrap the ice cream “cups” and invert on top of a cake round. Trim any extra cake if necessary.

5. Pipe the meringue over the ice cream and cake, or smooth it over with a spatula, so that none of the ice cream or cake is exposed. Freeze for one hour or up to a day.

6. Burn the tips of the meringue with a cooking blow torch. Or, bake the meringue-topped Baked Alaskas on a rimmed baking sheet in a 500°F/260°C oven for 5 minutes until lightly golden. Serve immediately.

I’m off my game this week. I am a whole three days late in posting this for Cake Slice AND I have no pictures to show for it. I blame bad lighting.

But I also feel like I was slightly robbed with this recipe. I’ve never had tres leches cake and honestly, it never really appealed to me. I have had a strict anti-soggy baked good policy, and this definitely fit that bill. But recently I had started to come around to the idea of this cake. I can’t really knock something until I’ve actually tired it, right? Plus, I’ve read rave reviews of tres leches cake from others.

But I think I was gypped. This cake wasn’t bad, but I think I had my expectations set a little too high. The cake was much heavier than I expected, and yes, I knew that it was soaked in no less than three different kinds of milk. I had envisioned a much airier texture. And while I didn’t have anything against the addition of lime zest, I think a spice, like cinnamon or nutmeg, would have rounded out the flavor better.

Since I don’t want to end things on a down note, here is a cute picture of my cat Rocky that I snapped the other day.

As always, you can check out the other Cake Slice bakers here.

Stay tuned for some more successful baking projects later this week.

I totally just realized that I completely spaced and forgot to include the recipe.  I blame Comcast for screwing with our internet service this week.  The recipe is now added at the end of this post, so now you really have to excuse for not helping tortoni make a comebake.

I love learning about obscure desserts that aren’t talked about anymore.  Some desserts seem to get their 15 minutes of fame (ahem…cupcakes) and then they just fade into the background to make room for the next Big Thing (ahem, ahem…donuts…but oh how I love you).  But I always wonder why a particular dessert doesn’t stick around when others have stood the test of time.

I came across this article about holiday desserts through the decades last year.  The point was made clear that some desserts just don’t have staying power because, well, they are downright disgusting (although I’m sure someone loved mock plum pudding for what it was back then).  But if you think about it, the everyday desserts that are still popular today are the ones that are simple and timeless…yellow cake with chocolate frosting, pumpkin pie, chocolate chip cookies…simplicity never goes out of style.

But I ramble.

What can be even more fascinating is figuring out a recipe’s origin.  I first learned about tortoni when my mom forwarded me a recipe that had been featured on the Merc’s website.  The pure nature of it sounding Italian made me start Googling and I quickly came across this NY Times article.  Its origins can be traced back to the 1890s – yes, the 1890s – but it was most popular in the US in the 1950s, when it was most commonly sold in little paper cups.  But its heyday is long gone and now it is near impossible to find out much about this gem of a dessert.

It’s ice cream…but not.  It has all the makings of ice cream – cream, eggs, sugar – but they are taken apart and reconstructed in a way that creates a light and airy dessert that, when frozen, has a most distinctive texture.

The simplicity of the four ingredients also make this one heck of a versatile dessert.  The traditional dish uses crushed amaretti cookies for the crust and vanilla or almond extract and marsala in the mousse/cream itself.  But I also see this paring very well with some crushed graham crackers and some fudge ripple stirred through it.  Oh…or how about crushed Nilla wafers and strawberry (or any berry!) puree mixed through it for a look that resembles sorbet a la Baskin-Robbins.  I know you know what I’m talking about.

I chose to make mine in a springform pan and served it sliced, like any regular old cake or pie.  It lends it a more sophisticated air, imho, but I can most definitely see making it in little cupcake liners for ease of portability and serving in the future.

Either way, I’m pretty stoked to have learned about this out-of-fashion dessert and am determined to start its resurgence.  Cause anyone can make a comeback – just look at Michael Jackson.

Biscuit Tortoni

I adapted this recipe from two different sources, but most came from this recipe.

4 c crushed amaretti cookies (I ground some to fine crumbs and left some in bigger chunks for a more interesting texture)

3/4 c sugar

3 eggs, separated

1 t almond extract

1 t marsala

2 c heavy cream

Line a 9 inch spring form pan with parchment paper.  Sprinkle the bottom of the lined pan with half of the amaretti cookie crumbs and set aside.
Combine the sugar and 3/4 cups water in a meduim saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cook until the syrup reaches 230 degrees on a candy thermometer. 

While the syrup is cooking, whip the eggs whites in a stand mixer until they for stiff peaks.  Whisk by hand the egg yolks in a small bowl, until they are fluffy.  Gently fold the eggs yolks into the whipped egg whites in the mixer bowl.

When the syrup has reached 230 degrees, turn the mixer down to low and slowly pour the syrup into the egg mixture.  Increase the speed to medium-low until the mixture starts to cool slightly.  This is to ensure that the egg yolks don’t cook.  Once it has cooled to room temperature, add in the almond extract and marsala. 

Whip the cream in a separate bowl and then fold into the egg mixture. 

Spoon the mousse mixture into the prepared pan.  It will come right up to the top of the pan.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining cookie crumbs.  Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 8 hours, or over night.

To serve, run a knife under hot water and run around the inside of the pan to release the tortoni from the sides.  Remove the ring from the spring form pan, slice and serve.  Enjoy!

I want to tell you about our recent trip to Belize, so there’s a post coming on that.  But today I want to share yet another pie with you.

Wait! Please don’t click away. I’m not going to get on my soap box again about how easy this pie dough is or the fact that you really should have pre-rolled pie dough ready in your freezer for pie-inspired moments (am I the only person that has those?).  Nope.  Instead, I need some help.

You see, I had high hopes for this pie.  I got the inspiration after having some wonderfully fresh blueberry-basil lemonade at the SF Underground Market I went to way back in March.  The combo stuck with me and I was re-inspired by all of the locally grown blueberries that have been inundating the farmer’s market recently.

Lemon and blueberry wasn’t a problem – that is old hat.  However I was unsure about how to get just enough basil flavor into the filling without the pie tasting like an herb garden or having to pick out little bits of basil. I settled on a cooked pie filling thinking infusion would be the way to go.  But I think in my fear of imparting too much basil I didn’t go far enough.  I cooked whole basil leaves with the blueberries and then picked them out before pouring it into my pre-baked pie shell.

But hindsight is 20/20 and now I’m thinking that if I had chopped the basil small enough it would have released more of that fresh, crisp basil flavor and the chopped pieces would have been unnoticeable by my loyal pie testers. I had also considered steeping the basil leaves in some boiling water and then using said infused water in the cooked blueberry mixture. But what are your thoughts? I am open to your well-educated suggestions.

It was a great pie nonetheless, so if your farmer’s market or local grocery store still has blueberries consider this a perfect opportunity to make pie.

Lemon-Basil Blueberry Pie
Adapted from ‘The Pie and Pastry Bible’ by Rose Levy Beranbaum, via

This pie had lots of potential.  It wasn’t near as lemon-y and basil-y as I would have liked.  Adding some lemon zest to the cooked blueberry mixture would amp up the lemon flavor, as would combining lemon zest and sugar in a food processor prior to adding to the cooked mixture.  I’m still unsure, however, of how to amp up the basil flavor without having to dig around to pull out leaves or leaving pie eaters picking basil leaves from their teeth.

3-2-1 pie dough, half recipe
4 cups fresh blueberries
½ cup and 2 T water, divided
4 basil leaves
2 T cornstarch
½ cup sugar
2 t lemon juice
A pinch of salt
1 ½ cups whipped cream
Make pie dough as directed here.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line the prepared pie tin with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until you can easily lift the foil from pan.  Bake another 8-15 minutes until golden brown.  Set aside to cool.
For the filling, measure out 1 cup of blueberries and place them in a medium saucepan with the ½ cup water and 4 basil leaves.  Cover and bring the mixture to a boil. In the meantime, combine the cornstarch and 2 T of water and stir to combine.
When the water has reached a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for three to four minutes, until the blueberries begin to burst and the sauce thickens.  Continuing to stir, add the cornstarch mixture, sugar, lemon juice, and salt.  Simmer for a minute more.  Remove from the heat and quickly add in the remaining 3 cups of blueberries.  Pick out and discard basil leaves. Pour the mixture into the cooled pie shell and allow to sit at room temperature for at least two hours.  I found there was a little too much liquid and drained some off.  Garnish with whipped cream if desired.
A garnished pie can be refrigerated for up to two days.

Back before I started baking like there was no tomorrow I remember reading about a baker’s tip to making the best, flakiest pie crust.  It was one of those tips that, when discovered, bakers can’t help but share.

You know the types of tips I’m talking about.  It is either one that is so simple it makes you smack your forehead while saying ‘why didn’t I think of that!’, or so ingenious you bow down in honor because it seriously just saved you hours.  Well, maybe not that much time, but you get the picture.

The particular tip I am talking about is in reference to the type of liquid you add to pie dough.  Instead of adding just water to your pie dough of choice, this tip suggested adding half water, half vodka (!) with the idea being that when you bake the dough, the vodka will evaporate, creating an even flakier crust.  I know, ingenious, right?

I’ve kept this little tip tucked in that back corner of my brain for years (which says a lot because I have a horrible memory).  So I’m a little bummed that I’ve used that precious space on something that I’ll never need to use because this pie dough recipe is just awesome!  Bakers’ tips have their place, but there is no room for them here.

This time I made a tart shell and filled it with rich pastry cream topped with market fresh strawberries and blueberries.

Seriously, go make this pie dough.  I promise you won’t regret it.

Summer Berry Tart

Adapted from Ratio by Michael Ruhlman

For the crust, use half of the 3-2-1 Pie Dough recipe, which can be found here.

For the pastry cream:

8 oz plus 3 oz milk

8 oz cream

1 vanilla bean, split length-wise

4 oz sugar

8 large egg yolks

6 T cornstarch

2 oz butter

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Roll out half of the pie dough and press into a 9-inch tart pan with a removeable bottom.   Line the unbaked shell with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Remove the pie weights and continue baking the shell for another 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

For the pastry cream, combine the milk, cream and vanilla bean in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and let steep for 15 minutes.  Remove the bean from the liquid and scrape the seeds from the bean into the milk/cream mixture.  Discard the pod.

Combine the sugar and yolks in a medium bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined.

Fill a large bowl with ice water.

Combine the cornstarch with the 3 ounces of milk and stir to dissolve.

Over medium heat, bring the milk/cream mixture just to a simmer.  Drizzle a little of the warmed mixture into the egg yolks while whisking continuously to temper the eggs.  Slowly add the rest of the milk/cream mixture.  Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and add the cornstarch/milk mixture.  Continue stirring over medium heat until it just starts to boil and becomes very thick.  Immediately remove from the heat and dunk the base of the saucepan into the ice water.  Continue to stir until it cools slightly and add the butter.  Stir until melted.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the surface.  Refrigerate until completely cool.

When ready to assemble your pie, spread the cooled pastry cream evenly over your baked crust.  Top the pastry cream with berries of your choice.  I choose fresh strawberries, which I quartered, and fresh blueberries, but you can top with any fruit that is in season.  Enjoy!

I made this month’s Cake Slice cake in honor of the San Francisco Regional Passport Agency.

Why, you ask.

Well, the San Francisco Regional Passport Agency was able to issue me an expedited passport last Friday.  This was after realizing last Monday that my passport was missing and we leaving for our trip to Belize in less than a week.  Tears and panic were involved.  Not one of my finer moments.

Said passport is still missing, but its all good, becuase I have a new one now, all thanks to the San Francisco Regional Passport Agency.

I would have brought some of this cake with me to my appointment if I had the forethought.  I think the panic was still clouding my judgement.

If I had, the wonderful workers there would have enjoyed layers of vanilla rum cake and fresh mango mousse, topped with an etheral lime cream.  I made sure to have an extra slice, or two, or three, for them.

So, here’s to you, San Francisco Regional Passport Agency.

If you have time, don’t forget to check out the other Cake Slice bakers.  A copy of the recipe can be found here.

Disclaimer: there is going to be a lot of talk about pie here in the upcoming weeks.  I’ve been on a pie kick.  You have been warned.

I’ve come to the realization in recent years that I often value simplicity over other things in most situations.  It started small.  I stopped getting overly complicated drinks from Starbucks and now order a simple grande Zen tea, one tea bag.  Simplicity was what finally made me suck it up and switch to AT&T to get an iPhone.  If a 5-year old can figure out how to use it, clearly it must be simple.  So when I noticed that simplicity started to play a big factor into how I choose recipes, I just nodded and said to myself, ‘yep, that makes sense’.

Simplicity is also what drew me to ‘Ratio’ by Michael Rhulman.  Breaking basic recipes down to their simplest form – sign me up!  His pie dough recipe is a perfect example.  If you can remember 3-2-1, flour, fat, liquid, you are good to go.  Just add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon or two of sugar if you are making a sweet crust and ta da…you have pie dough!  This recipe comes together so easily and, because its a ratio, can easily be scaled up or down.

Have a few spare minutes in your evening?  Make some pie dough!  After chilling the dough, roll it out and fit it into one of those charming metal pie tins – you know the stash that your mom keeps under her oven from Marie Callendars?  Yeah, one of those.  Then wrap tightly in plastic wrap, stash it in a ziploc bag and throw it in the freezer.  Then! when you come home from the farmer’s market on Sunday with fruit so ripe you know it won’t keep more than a few days, you can pull out one of your prepared frozen pie shells, toss the choped fruit with some sugar and spices, into the oven it goes, and in no time you have freshly baked pie.

So simple, so easy, you can sit back and bask in your awesomeness.

Spiced Peach Pie

Adapted from the pie dough ratio recipe in Ratio by Michael Ruhlman and The Essential Baker by Carole Bloom

For the pie dough:

12 ounces flour

8 ounces butter, cold or frozen, cut into small pieces

2-4 ounces ice water

½ t salt

2 T sugar

For the filling:

2 pounds ripe peaches

½ c firmly packed light brown sugar

¼ c all-purpose flour

¼ t ground cinnamon (I used Vietnamese cinnamon in this recipe, which added extra oomph)

¼ t ground giner

¼ t freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ ounce unsalted butter

1 large egg yolk

1 T heavy cream

To make the pie dough, combine the flour and butter in a large mixing bowl and using either a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour.  If using your fingers, you can rub the butter into the flour until you have pea-sized chunks.

Add the salt.  Add the ice water gradually and mix gently until just combined.  You want to minimize how much you knead the dough; it will become tough the more you mix.  Its ok to see little pockets of butter in the dough; that is what will contribute to a flaky crust when baked.

Shape the dough into two equal sized disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 15 minutes, or until needed.  When ready, roll one disk out on a well-floured surface, making sure it doesn’t stick.  When dough is the desired sized, gently fold the dough in half and then in half again (you should have a triangle shaped piece of dough) and transfer to the pie dish.  Gently unfold the dough and settle it into the pie pan.

This dough can also be rolled out, fitted into a pie tin, and then wrapped tightly in plastic to be frozen so you can have freshly baked pie when guests suddenly drop by.  Just pull the dough straight from the freezer, add your filling and bake.  Easy as pie.  Ok, that was a bad joke.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the filling, cut the peaches in half and remove the pits.  Cut into large chunks and place in a large bowl.  Add the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt to the bowl.  Mix gently to evenly distribute all ingredients.  Add the peaches to the prepared pie shell.

Cut the butter into small pieces and dot the peach filling with the butter.

Roll out the remaining disk of dough.  Using a decorative cutter, cut a few vents in the crust to allow the steam to escape.  Or use a knife or fluted pastry wheel to make a lattice crust.  Gently place the crust over the filled pie tin and trim the extra dough so there is only a ½ inch overhang over the sides.  Fold the top crust under the bottom crust so the two are sealed together and crimp the edges.

Gently whisk the egg yolk and cream together and brush the crust with the mixture using a pastry brush.

Bake the pie for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the crust is a golden brown and the filling is bubbling inside.

Remove the pie from the oven and let cool on a rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

When I was a kid, my parents used to keep a little tupperware of cinnamon-sugar in our pantry, to be used for the sole purpose of making cinnamon-sugar toast.  I would always steal whiffs of the scent from that little tub and was more than liberal with dusting the magical stuff on my toast.

So its no surprise that I love anything cinnamon-sugar related.  In fact, I am a firm believer that cinnamon-sugar added to anything instantly elevates it to cult status in my book.

Case in point…these blueberry muffins with donut topping.  Donut topping is just a fancy way of saying cinnamon-sugar topping, but I’ll go with it.  It takes what could be a healthy breakfast choice immediately to the unhealthy side of the spectrum – muffin tops dipped in melted butter then rolled around in cinnamon-sugar – but who is keeping score?  Not me.

Blueberry Muffins with Donut Topping

Adapted from ‘Baking For All Occasions’ by Flo Braker

Makes 12-15 muffins

For the muffins:

2 cups (9 ounces/255 grams) all-purpose flour

½ cup (3 ½ ounces/100 grams) sugar

2 t baking powder

½ t baking soda

½ t salt

¾ cup cold buttermilk

3 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 large eggs

1 t vanilla extract

1 ½ cups blueberries

For the dounut topping:

½ cup (3 ½ ounces/100 grams) sugar

1 ½ t cinnamon

3 ounces unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combined the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir to combine.

In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla and stir together.  Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.  Don’t overbeat until smooth – you want it to be slightly lumpy.  Gently fold in the blueberries

Using a 2-inch cookies scoop, fill each muffing tin ¾ full.  Bake until muffins are golden and spring back slightly when touched.  Let cool in pans 10-15 minutes, until they can just be handled.

To make the topping, combined the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and stir to combine.  Once the muffins have cooled slightly, dip the tops of each muffin in the melted butter and then roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture.  Place dipped muffins on a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve warm or at room temperature.  Muffins can keep at room temperature up to 2 days or frozen up to 10 days.

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