The Boastful Baker

because every cook praises her own broth

July 16, 2012
by Melissa
0 comments

Jazzed up about corn.

Charred Corn SaladI’m not one to get jazzed up about a vegetable recipe. A dessert recipe, yes. But a vegetable recipe, not so much. I like lots of vegetables just fine and probably even love a few of them, but veggie recipes usually don’t move me.

Yet every summer when I start flipping through the cooking magazines that I have subscriptions to, I get excited about corn recipes. I do love summer corn, on or off the cob, so this excitement makes sense. More than anything though, I think it’s that the pictures of recipes with corn in them just look beautiful. They’re so colorful and evocative of summer.
Charred Corn SaladThis summer is no different and the current (July 2012) issue of Bon Appetit magazine had a recipe for charred corn salad with basil and tomatoes. As soon as I went to the grocery store again, I picked up a half dozen ears of corn so that I could create this salad for myself.
Charred Corn SaladThe Bon Appetit recipe instructed me to grill the ears of corn in order to char them. Because it was about 100° F that day and because I’ve been too lazy to use my grill this year (and possibly too lazy to even check to see if we have charcoal), I chose to broil them in the oven. I think I got a pretty similar charred effect with much less effort.
Charred and ready to turn into corn salad.I also opted not to make my corn salad with basil. Mostly because I forgot to buy basil when I bought the corn. Since the recipe already had lime juice in it, I decided to throw in some cilantro instead since I had that on hand. And while I was at it, I added a touch of cumin because it goes so well with lime juice and cilantro. In the end, I guess my charred salad is bordering on charred corn salsa. And I think that’s a good thing.

The recipe said to serve this at room temperature. I liked it best at room temperature, but I think my husband liked it better chilled. Either way, it was delicious and a perfect side dish for a miserably hot summer evening. It would probably be a nice dish to bring to a barbeque too!
Charred Corn Salad

Charred Corn Salad

Slightly adapted from recipe in July 2012 Bon Appetit magazine

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 ears of corn, husked
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 large tomatoes, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven’s broiler. Rub corn with 1 tablespoon oil. Broil, turning frequently, until corn is charred and heated through, about 5 minutes.
  2. Remove from broiler; when cool enough to handle, cut kernels from cobs and transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Mix green onion, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, tomatoes, lime juice, cumin and cilantro into corn.
  4. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lime juice, if desired.
  5. Salad can be assembled 1 hour ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

July 14, 2012
by Melissa
12 Comments

Remedy for a dearth of cake.

Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes

It’s recently come to my attention that I haven’t baked enough cake this year. I think my husband has been subtly mentioning this for months, but I apparently chose to pretend I didn’t hear him for months. I’m going to go ahead and blame our move late last year for the cake drought. When we lived in Williamsburg, it seemed like I needed to bake cakes for one reason or another pretty frequently. Now that we’re in Charlottesville, my husband is the only one other than me in need of cake (his office apparently isn’t aware of my dessert making ability). And as I just mentioned, I chose to ignore his pleas for months.

No matter what reason for the dearth of cake in our house really is, I’m now aware of the shortage and will consciously make an effort to up our cake intake for the rest of 2012. Starting with today’s batch of Red Velvet mini cupcakes.
Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes
Red Velvet cake was chosen today for no reason other than my realization that I haven’t made it in a couple of years. I also knew that I still had a giant bottle of red food coloring on hand from the last time I made it.

A few years ago I needed to find a good Red Velvet cake recipe for my sister’s wedding cake. I made a few batches of bland, tasteless cake and finally found the magic recipe in a well worn copy of a local cookbook my husband owned. By “local cookbook”, I mean the kind of cookbook often put together by churches or civic groups. This particular cookbook appears to be from a local community college’s culinary program. Wherever it’s from, their Red Velvet cake recipe is a winner.

Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes

Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe adapted from VVTC Cookbook

Makes about 40 mini cupcakes.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 stick margarine, softened to room temperature
  • 1 (16 oz) box powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line mini muffin tin with paper mini muffin/cupcake liners.
  2. To prepare the cake, mix buttermilk, vegetable oil, egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, vinegar and food coloring. Beat for 2 minutes (I used the lowest setting on my Kitchenaid stand mixer, but a hand mixer will work fine for this.)
  3. Add flour, sugar, baking soda and cocoa to wet mixture and beat for 2 more minutes.
  4. Spoon batter into muffin/cupcake tin. Fill each liner to about 2/3 full.
  5. Bake for about 10 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center of cupcakes comes out clean
  6. To prepare frosting, beat cream cheese and margarine together until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and continue to beat for about 5 minutes, until frosting is fluffy.
  7. Using a pastry bag and decorating tips, pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Or spoon it onto cupcakes if you prefer.

Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes
A few notes:

  • If you only have one mini muffin tin (like I do), gently scoop cupcakes out of tin with a teaspoon and place on rack or tray to cool. Repeat lining muffin tin, spooning batter and baking steps to bake the rest of the cupcakes.
  • You’ll have lots of extra frosting. Do what I’m doing and make a batch of cinnamon rolls. Top them with this extra frosting.
  • You could make regular cupcakes if you’d like. This recipe will make about a dozen of them.

May 23, 2012
by Melissa
4 Comments

A wagon full of strawberries.

Fresh strawberries

Fresh strawberries

Strawberry season is starting to wind down in my part of Virginia, but I took full advantage of it this year. Or as full advantage as a person with a small freezer can take.

Since I started canning a lot of food a couple of years ago, a trek to the strawberry patch to pick a TON of berries for jam and other canned goods has become an annual event for me. When I lived in Williamsburg, I could usually drag someone along with me to pick berries, but since I’m in a new town this year, I ventured out on my own (for some reason, my husband had no interest in tagging along).

I did a little web research and decided that an orchard/pick-your-own farm about 20 miles outside of Charlottesville was the best place for me to pick strawberries. So I took a Friday afternoon off, slathered on the sunblock (even though it was cloudy) and drove out to Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet.

Strawberry sign

Heading into the berry patch

The orchard is actually nestled in the hills (I don’t think they count as mountains) of Crozet. And the strawberry patch seemed to go on for miles. Even though there were a fair number of people picking berries when I arrived, I was never tremendously close to any of them as there were so many rows of strawberry plants. This is how I prefer to pick strawberries

Wagon in the berry patch

The farm provided wagons!

The morning before I picked berries, I was fretting about how I was going to pick lots of strawberries by myself. I figured that I would have to pick a flat, go back to the farm stand, possibly pay and put the flat in the car – and then start the whole process over again. Then I arrived at the orchard and found a fleet of wagons available for use in the fields. I didn’t have to haul berries back and forth after all!

I picked a wagon full of strawberries.

A wagon full of strawberries.

And since I had a wagon, I filled it with berries. I actually picked enough strawberries that I had to take 2 of the sides off of the wagon to get them back to the car.

32 pounds of strawberries

32 pounds of strawberries

I picked and paid for 32 pounds of strawberries and I’m guessing I probably ate another 3 pounds of them while I was in the strawberry patch. It’s impossible for me to resist a strawberry buffet.

My strawberry haul

Beautiful berries

You’re probably wondering what I did with 32 pounds of strawberries? Several pounds of them went straight into the fridge for us to eat all week. This year we ate them plain or with sugar or with vanilla pudding. And sometimes I ate them with Cool Whip. And sometimes my husband ate them with ice cream and chocolate sauce. We even soaked some of them in sugar and amaretto and used those as a topping for cheesecake.

You could also make strawberry shortcake. Last year I made ginger strawberry shortcakes. You can find the recipe in a guest blog post I wrote for Indie Fixx. One of my other favorite strawberry recipes is from an old Gourmet magazine. It’s a strawberry mascarpone tart. It’s amazing. And not that hard to make.

I should also mention that these strawberries were delicious enough (and cheap enough) that I went back for a few more pounds last weekend. The last of those are about to be gone…so I might have to drive out to the orchard again this weekend for one last round. Or maybe I’ll just pick cherries since those are ripe now too!

Strawberries

Ready to wash, slice and freeze

As for the other 30 or so pounds of strawberries, they’re in my freezer. They’ve all been washed, sliced and frozen. In my very full freezer, there are 75 cups of strawberries neatly measured into quart bags. Soon I will start using 4 or 8 cups at a time to make various jams and canned goods. Last year I made a variety of strawberry treats including: plain strawberry jam, vanilla strawberry jam, strawberry margarita jam (yes, there’s tequila in it), strawberry lemonade concentrate, strawberry sauce, strawberry lime sauce, strawberry rhubarb jam and strawberry balsamic black pepper jam (this is so much better than it sounds).

In addition to strawberry canned goods, I might make a couple of batches of strawberry ice cream or strawberry sorbet this year. But that won’t happen until I make some jam and clear a little freezer space for the ice cream maker bowl.

Mountains of strawberries

Mountains of strawberries

May 22, 2012
by Melissa
8 Comments

French bread and other delights.

Bread

Dark, crusty exterior

When we were in Paris on vacation last month, we were fortunate enough to be able to frequent Poilâne, a famous French bakery, nearly every day. Their shop near The Eiffel Tower was just a block from a metro stop on the metro line from our hotel, so most mornings when I was getting ready for the day, my husband would step out and pick up breakfast for us: croissants or pain au chocolat from either Poilâne or Pierre Hermé.

The Poilâne croissants were probably my favorite of the two – unbelievably flaky, better than any I’ve ever tried in the U.S. and not quite as heavy with butter as the Pierre Hermé croissants. Not that I didn’t absolutely adore those too – they were just much richer than the Poilâne croissants.

By the end of the week, we had also tried their butter cookies (called punitions and cut into bunny shapes while were there as we arrived in Paris the day after Easter) and a boule of their dark, crusty bread.

The bread is rumored to be some of the best bread in the world – a claim that I won’t weigh in on as I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten any other truly famous bread. The majority of our loaf of bread actually made the journey back to the U.S. with us (in my laptop bag) and we continued to eat it for a couple of days after our return. It’s rare that a loaf of artisan bread will still taste good several days after purchase (and an 8 hour plane ride), but this bread did.

As for the punitions, they were wholly addictive. Not too sweet and plenty buttery, my husband and I may have eaten a small bag of them in one sitting. A Paris food guide that we brought on the trip, Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris, recommended that we try these cookies and Clotilde steered us in the right direction (in addition to the sentence in the book about them, there is an entire blog post devoted to punitions on her website Chocolate and Zucchini). We liked them enough that we carefully packed two small bags of these cookies into our carry-on luggage to give to family members upon our return. I hope they enjoyed them as much as we did.

If you’d like to read a little more about Poilâne, expatriate pastry chef David Lebovitz wrote a great post about the bakery late last year. In fact, this post was one of the main reasons I was thrilled to discover that we could easily visit one of the Poilâne locations on our trip. David’s post also links to several other articles around the web about this famous bakery and its fabulous bread.

Meanwhile, here are a number of photos I took of the various Poilâne goodies we ate and some that I just enjoyed looking at through the shop windows.

April 15, 2012 - Poilane bread.

Poilâne bread

Mmm...buttery goodness

Poilâne croissant

Apple pastries in the Poilâne window

Poilâne pastries

Fish boule in the Poilâne window

Fish boule in the Poilâne window

Poilane

Apple tarts and pain au chocolat

Pain au chocolat at Poilane

Pain au chocolat

Poilane window

More of the fish bread

Bread

A classic Poilâne boule

Poilane

View from above

Crabby croissant

Crabby looking croissant

May 6, 2012
by Melissa
3 Comments

The best French macarons in France?

Macarons!!

French Macarons!

Before we ever set foot in Paris, I knew that we would be headed to two famous French pastry shops, Pierre Hermé and Ladurée, to sample French macarons. Just in case you haven’t tried a French macaron yet, they are a meringue based confection (pretty much a cookie) customarily made with almond flour, usually found as two pieces sandwiched together with a flavored buttercream or ganache.

I tried my first macarons in the U.S. a few years ago and it’s hard to resist trying them whenever I go to a new bakery or pastry shop that carries them.  However, U.S. made macarons are rumored to be inferior to the ones actually made in France. And now that I’ve tried the French ones, I can safely say that this rumor is true. The French ones really are better. They’re better looking and better tasting. And talking about them makes me want to jump on the next plane to Paris for a few more of them.

While were in Paris, we were lucky enough to visit the Pierre Hermé shop in the 15th Arrondissement on four or five occasions as it was located just a few metro stops away from our hotel. The croissants and pain au chocolat from Pierre Hermé are fantastic and I tried my very first Canelé there as well – but the real reason any visitor to Paris (or London on Tokyo, since there are shops in those cities) needs to visit Pierre Hermé is to try a macaron. Or maybe to try 4, 6 or 8 macarons. I’ve seen pictures of the lines at some of the Pierre Hermé shops snaking out the door and down the street, but we were fortunate enough to never have to wait in line for more than a few minutes. But I would gladly stand in line in the street for these macarons.

We did visit Ladurée (and I’ve got pictures of those macarons to share later) but in my opinion, the Pierre Hermé macarons are better. The Ladurée ones are wonderful and way better than any you’ll find that were made in the U.S., but the Pierre Hermé macarons were just a little bit superior. And just a little bit more perfect looking.

We bought macarons on two separate visits and tried a total of five different flavors: chocolate, salted butter caramel, chocolate and caramel, milk chocolate with passion fruit and vanilla. Which one was my favorite? Vanilla. It was the most full of vanilla flavor thing I think I’ve ever eaten. The salted butter caramel was a very close second though.

Just to taunt you, here are more pictures of what I think might be the best French macarons in France.

Pierre Herme

Pierre Hermé Storefront in the 15th Arrondissement

Pierre Herme

Pierre Hermé Sign

Best macarons ever.

Chocolate macaron: Infiniment Chocolat Porcelana

Vanilla macaron

Vanilla Macaron: Infinement Vanille

Caramel Pierre Herme macaron

Salted Butter Caramel Macaron: Infiniment Caramel

Trio of macarons

Milk Chocolate and Passion Fruit Macaron - Mogador

Salted caramel Pierre Herme macaron

Another Shot of the Salted Butter Caramel Macaron