Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cookie Time!

I can't believe it's been more than two months since I've posted. In the time I've been gone, I did cupcakes for a wedding, made a baklava cheesecake for Thanksgiving, and have a good headstart on my Christmas baking. A couple weeks ago was our annual church bazaar, which includes a bake sale. I have some cookies I make every year, but this year I became obsessed with making ornaments. Don't ask why. I didn't even own an ornament cookie cutter before this. But, I sure did go and buy one, and have a blast decorating the cookies.

The cookie and icing recipes are the same as the those I used last year for the trees I made.

I didn't have much of a plan going into these
cookies, besides having fun. Sorry about the reflecting light in the snowman and snow flake cookies; they were already packaged for the church when I remembered I wanted to take pictures!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Concord Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

I've been obsessed with making pizza lately; I've been tossing thin crust pizzas, to be baked at the highest temperature my oven will reach, with a different array of toppings at least once a week. After a visit to the Italian fest this weekend, and some of the best thick-crust pizza of my life, I decided I need to tackle a thicker crust. Then, at Hurley's Market at Indian Lake, I found some of the most beautiful concord grapes. I've been eager to get my hands on some concords to try this Smitten Kitchen recipe, but I couldn't resist a few changes. I didn't want that thinner crust she had. My favorite focaccia is a two-inch thick, well-herbed, well-oiled, lightly golden piece of carb heaven from a local bakery, and that was what I wanted to emulate, while still incorporating the sweet-savory combination of concords and rosemary.

I started researching focaccia recipes, while in the back of my head knowing two things from previous experience: I wanted a small amount of sugar in the dough (makes it delightfully addictive), and I wanted a cold-fermentation rise. My recent experience with thin crust pizzas has shown me how much the flavor and texture develop overnight in my refrigerator, and I was hoping that would translate equally well in focaccia. From there, I went to my two most trusted sources: King Arthur Flour, and Peter Reinhart. I made a smaller loaf, and a few other adjustments, including the addition of high gluten flour. One change I will try the next time is to increase the water; this creates a sloppier dough, but also yields light, airy holes, which this dough is lacking. In some ways, I think this dough is almost too tender, white-bready. I'm thinking about nixing the powdered milk, and replacing some flour with semolina.

Now, for just a second, I want to talk about sweet, salty, tangy brilliance that is the concord grape/rosemary topping on this lovely bread. I thought Smitten Kitchen's photos looked so good, and I was dying to try this combination that reminded me of the backyard growing up: grapevines on one side, and mom's glorious herb garden on the other. Once it started baking however, doubts began to set in. It smelled glorious, don't get me wrong. But, it also sort of smelled like grape jelly pizza, so I started to become skeptical. Don't be. Come on. This is like having your wine ON your bread, and not merely with it. Go. Get in the kitchen. Make this, before concords are out of season. If you prefer a thinner crust, please refer to the Smitten Kitchen link above!

Concord Grape and Rosemary Focaccia
makes one 8x8, delightfully thick bread

1 1/3 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. high gluten flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tbl. powdered dry milk
1 tbl. sugar
1 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 c. olive oil, plus additional
3/4 c. cool water
1 c. halved and seeded concord grapes
1 tsp. fresh rosemary (I like mine very finely chopped, almost to powder)
course sugar for sprinkling
kosher salt for sprinkling

Combine first nine ingredients in stand mixer, and knead with dough hook for 10 minutes. Grease glass bowl large enough for dough to double. Add dough to bowl, covering dough on all sides with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator overnight. (Mine was in for about 20 hours).

About an hour and a half before baking, remove dough from refrigerator. Line the bottom an 8 x 8 with parchment paper, and brush the paper and sides of pan with olive olive. Stretch and push the dough into the pan, deflating it as little as possible. Brush on more olive oil, cover with towel, and allow to come to room temperature and rise.

About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Right before baking, sprinkle dough with coarse sugar, kosher salt, rosemary, and grapes. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes. Enjoy the bizarre scents wafting through your kitchen. Try to let it cool before digging in.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hate OSU, Love the Cookies

Any person who knows me knows that I hate OSU, and especially OSU football, with a passion. It's pretty much the worst part of living in central Ohio. However, I have willingly joined a family of insane OSU football lovers, and am frequently subjected to screams when things go well, and curses when they don't. I am even the owner of O, S, and U shaped cookie cutters (the only alphabet letters I own, for those interested in purchasing me baking-related gifts).

Today, when asked to come up with a quick dessert to take to my sister-in-law's house for niece birthday love (I can't believe she's three!) and for the second half of the OSU game, these cookies seemed perfect. Besides, I did buy those red and silver sprinkles ages ago, and thought this was a good use. Although, I might have been mocked that this was my idea of a "quick dessert."

I have to admit, I'm particular fond of my buckeyes (really, the holes from making the Os), as well as the marijua--I mean, buckeye leaves on the helmets. The cookies made today's game well as the puzzle of Las Vegas we worked on diligently!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sweet, Boozy, Italian Happiness

Several weeks ago, I was thrilled to find that Miceli's, a Cleveland cheese maker, now has a comparatively inexpensive mascarpone (oddly, it's not featured anywhere on their website). I immediately bought it with plans for tiramisu. The wedding cakes I made (more pictures of that later) took precedence, though, and I only got to the tiramisu yesterday. I made a miniature, one layer tiramisu, using a 5' x 8' ceramic dish I have. I forgot to take pictures before we dug in after a dinner of wine, bread, cheese and veggies, so there are no pictures of the fully assembled, un-attacked dessert. Oops.

I used La Tartine Gourmand's recipe for lady fingers, but only made 1/3 of the recipe, since I was trying make a very small portion, and didn't want an abundance of cookies. I had a few leftover, however, and found I really like them! They are barely sweet, and a little dry, but pleasantly flavored. I didn't feel like doing the whole piping bag deal to make fingers, so I just used a small scoop, and made normal, round cookies. I based my tiramisu recipe off of David Lebovitz's recipe, but again, reduced it significantly. I wish I had used a smaller dish, or individual dishes like David's though, just so I could have managed another layer of lady fingers before running out of filling. The only other change I would make is in the rum/espresso mixture. It's supposed to be boozy, but I just found it too boozy. I think it's probably the rum--I'm not actually a huge rum fan, so next time, I'm thinking about using kahlua instead, to up the coffee flavor in addition to the booze.

Lady Fingers
1 egg, separated
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons flour
1 oz. sugar
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350. Whip egg whites with half of the sugar, until the whites form stiff peaks, gradually adding more sugar until it's all incorporated. Mix in the egg yolks. then sift the cornstarch and flour into the egg mixture, gently folding until just combined. Do not mix quickly or deflate the egg whites. You want fluffy here! On a parchment lined baking sheet, you can either pipe the batter into the traditional finger shape, or if you're lazy like me, just use a small scoop to make rounds. Space them a bit apart, since they will puff. Sift powdered sugar over cookies, and let it absorb. Repeat. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden. Let cool.

1/4 cup espresso (I used water and espresso powder)
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 tablespoon cognac (I used my baking buddy, Navan)
1 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
small pinch of salt
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 cup mascarpone
lady finger from recipe above
bittersweet chocolate for grating on top

Combine espresso, rum, and cognac, and set aside. Whip egg whites, salt and half of the sugar until firm peaks form. In another bowl, whip egg yolk and remaining sugar until thick and pale. Add the mascarpone to the egg yolk mixture, combining until smooth. Carefully fold in egg whites, in two stages, until completely combined. Spoon a small portion of egg mixture into the serving dish. Dip the lady fingers into the espresso mixture for a few seconds, and layer into serving dish. Feel free to break cookies to get a full layer of cookies. Spread cookie layer with egg mixture. Grate chocolate on top, and put in the fridge for as long as you can handle.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Peach Beehives

I've been so busy lately; baking, while it's happened on occasion, hasn't been of the photogenic variety. However, I think you'll find these worth the wait. Just back from vacation, I have 1/4 peck of Ohio's first ripe peaches of the season (from Hurley Farms at Indian Lake) sitting on my dining room table. One of Carolyn's favorite summer desserts is something her mom makes, called Peach Beehives. Like any time I try to duplicate something someone's mom makes, it comes with high expectations and the decision as to whether to simply recreate an identical dish, or to attempt making it my own.
Today, I decided to make this mom classic my own in small ways. I used my favorite pie crust recipe, sprinkled coarse sugar on the crust for extra crunch and sparkle, and added some booze to the sauce (always a way to reclaim any recipe as my own...just add booze!).

One of the most unique parts of this recipe is that the peaches are left completely alone. You don't season them, you don't peel them, or pit them. All that happens is that they are carefully encased in crust, exalting them in their peachy, peak-season glory. Most interestingly, somewhere in the baking process, the skin of the peaches all but dissolves. It's not tough or even noticible in the final product. I also love that single rivulet of pinkish peach juice that leaked out of the top and dripped down the side. It lets you know there is a lush, juicy treat waiting just inside that crispy crust.

I attempted to reduce the quantities in the various recipes I looked over, and ended up with an almost perfect amount of crust for two peaches (just enough extra to bake up scraps with cinnamon and sugar) by halving what I usually make for a single crust pie. The sauce is another story...I have a ton of it left. Good thing it's tasty enough to just eat off of a spoon.

most recipes use prepared crusts; I made 1/2 batch of my favorite recipe
2 peaches, washed and still damp
half an egg white (use remaining white and yolk in sauce)
coarse sugar

Cut the crust into 1/2" in strips, and wrap around the peaches, overlapping each strip halfway over the one before it, so it looks like a beehive. I found having damp peaches helped the crust strips stick to the peaches quite well. Press the strips firmly into one another, being careful not to squash or misshape them, but making sure they are well sealed. Place peaches on a parchment covered baking sheet. Brush peaches with egg white, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes until golden brown and pretty.

1/4 c butter
1 egg yolk, plus the half of the white you didn't use on the peaches (farm fresh if you can)
1 tbl cream
1 tbl Navan (vanilla cognac)
a few drops vanilla bean paste
1 c powdered sugar
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Cream the butter with an electric mixer, then add the egg yolk, beating until smooth and fluffy. Add cream, Navan, and vanilla bean paste, continuing to beat until completely smooth. Add the powdered sugar 1/4 c at a time, fully incorporating each portion before adding the next. If one wanted a thicker sauce, one could add more powdered sugar...but I liked it exactly how it came out, smooth and spoonable! Place under or over beehives right before serving, preferably while the peaches are still warm.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


There are a couple of wonderful, crazy people in my life who are entrusting to me their wedding cakes. The first wedding, in August, is one of my nieces. The second wedding, in November, is one of my friends I've known since I was a kid. I decided to have both couples over last weekend for cake tasting! It was a bit of an undertaking, making seven cakes, but I've learned quite a lot already (parchment paper makes everything easier, cakes take longer to bake than I remember, white chocolate makes frosting very hard when chilled, champagne flavoring tastes more like bubble gum than bubbly, mango cake is a terrible, terrible idea). I had asked both brides to give me flavor ideas, and they both gave me general ideas, but nothing specific, so I ran with my own ideas.

Here are the flavors I ended up with:
  • vanilla cake with raspberry butter cream
  • mango cake with mango curd and white chocolate-key lime frosting (cake-FAIL, frosting-good)
  • pumpkin cake with bourbon cream cheese frosting
  • strawberry cake with vanilla champagne butter cream
  • chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache, chocolate mousse and white chocolate cream cheese frosting
  • vanilla cake with raspberry filling and swiss meringue butter cream
  • chocolate and vanilla cakes with chocolate ganache and vanilla butter cream
I can't think of much else to say, except that it was a huge amount of cake, and even after forcing cake off on both couples to take home, my coworkers still enjoyed the remains all week long. I haven't been informed of final decisions by the brides and grooms just yet, but I think the over all favorite was the pumpkin cake.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bagels, Glorious Everything Bagels

The first time it occurred to me to make my own bagels was back when stupid Panera increased their costs to something like $1.09 for their "cafe" bagels, which are the non-fancy flavors. I was really annoyed. Then, in November, one of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, posted the recipe for Peter Reinhart's Bagels. That was in November, and I promptly began acquiring necessary ingredients I didn't already have, like high gluten flour, and non-diastatic malt powder. Those of you in NE Ohio might not be aware you possess a rare and beautiful gem in the plaza at Chapel Hill: you have access to Mr. Bulky's. On a recent trip up and down their spice aisle, I found the perfect ingredient for my dream everything-bagel: dried, minced, roasted garlic. Smelled heavenly. Then, a couple weeks ago, King Arthur Flour sent me an email about making my own baby bagels. Ok, muses of baking, I get it. I'll make the damn bagels already.

I have to admit, Smitten Kitchen's lengthy instructions on bagel making intimidated me, and made me feel like I needed a ton of time to make my own bagels. So, Saturday afternoon was reserved for baking. I got up and went to the farmer's market before heading to work in the morning, was home by 1:15, and made a spectacular lunch that involved arugula from the market. Then, amid the gray, rainy weather, I ended up snuggled on the couch with my sweetie, catching up on missed episodes of Bones. And then I fell asleep. I woke up in time to grill out for dinner, but my bagel preparation time had rapidly faded. I quickly reviewed both recipes, and took the best from both worlds...or something. I wanted to fully prepare and shape the dough before bed, so that they could be boiled and popped in the oven in the morning with as little to-do as possible. Peter Reinhart's bagels gave me that option (KA's requires shaping and a 90 minute rise in the AM). The steaming step in the KA recipe also would have required me to dig our my veggie steamer. So I stuck with Reinhart's recipe, but with proportions closer to KA's recipe. What? There is nothing in the world two people need with as many bagels as 8 cups of flour would produce! I still ended up with 8 rather hearty sized bagels. Here's my recipe, but you should really educate yourself with the links above before trying to follow my guide!

1 cup high gluten flour
1/8 tsp instant yeast

1/2 cup cool water

Combine and let sit, covered, for at least two hours.

3 1/2 cups high gluten flour
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast

1 tbl non-diastatic malt powder

1 1/2 tsp
salt 1 cup warm water.
another 1 1/2 tbl non-diastatic malt powder for boiling

Bagel Topping:
one egg white for washing
Whatever you want. My combo: toasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried minced roasted garlic, and kosher salt.

Combine above bagel ingredients, and all of the sponge in electric mixer. On low speed, knead together for about 8 minutes. The dough gets nice and smooth, with all the flour incorporated. It's a little sticky when pinched, but mostly nice to touch. I weighed the dough, and I had 1117 grams of dough at this point. Because I'm a little obsessed, I played with it a little, until I determined that I liked the size the bagels would be if the dough were divided into eight. Or, approximately 138g each. Yes, I live in the US and my scale could weigh in ounces. However, I have an English degree, and think dividing pounds into ounces is annoying. Grams are more convenient for the mathematically challenged.

So, I divided and weighed my eight smooth balls of dough, punched holes in the center and stretched them to look like bagels. I laid them on a parchment-covered, cooking-sprayed cookie sheet, and covered them with a damp towel, while I wrote this. Probably about 20 minutes. (Seriously, the cooking spray is important, even on parchment. One of mine got very stuck in a place I apparently missed). Then, I tried the float test. You place one of the bagels in a bowl of water. If it floats within ten seconds, it's ready to be stuck in the fridge, over night, or even for a couple days. Mine didn't even try to sink, it just bobbed pleasantly on the surface. This was a definite change, since I tried floating one when I first formed the bagels, without a rest period, and it sunk like a tiny Titanic. Yay. If at first yours don't succeed in floating, let 'em rise another ten minutes, then try again. Since mine were floating, I went ahead and combined my bagel-topping for the morning, and went to bed.

This morning, my refrigerated bagels were so cute. They had puffed, and all but lost their center holes, leaving large dimples behind. I know I don't usually take and post pictures throughout the process, but I couldn't pass up a photo op of these chubby blobs of bagel dough.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a deep, wide skillet, filled with about 2" of water, add 1 1/2 tbl non diastatic malt powder. This is what makes bagels shiny and taste bagel-y. Bring water to a boil, and add as many bagels as comfortably fit (my skillet only held three. I wanted smallish bagels, but my 138g bagels turned into normal-sized after all their rising and boiling). They float and only end up partially submerged. Boil for 1-2 minutes, then flip over and boil for another 1-2 minutes. In all my bagel homework, I learned that the longer you boil, the chewier the texture. Since I like a chewy bagel, mine boiled for about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes per side. I didn't have my stopwatch on me, so that's a guess. Boil them in batches until you're done. Since the camera was out anyway...

Sprinkle the same, greased, parchment papered cookie sheet they were on before with semolina flour to prevent further sticking. If you don't have semolina, corn meal might be a good alternative? Or nothing? I'm not sure they'd stick, but I used the semolina, since I had it. Here is where recipes diverged big time. Peter Reinhart says to top your bagels, and bake for five minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees, and bake for five more minutes. KA says to bake for 20 minutes, then top with seeds, cover loosely with foil and bake for five more. Yikes, that's quite a disparity in bake time, especially since both recipes are making bagels smaller than mine! Because I really hate the taste of burnt sesame seeds and garlic, I started by baking mine, naked, on the middle rack, for 7 minutes. I then rotated the pan 180 degrees, and baked for 7 more minutes. They were obviously getting cooked, but they were not golden, so I gave them another 5 minutes. The color was coming. I pulled them out, brushed them with egg white and sprinkled them with topping one at a time. You have to move fast, because the bagels are hot, and you're using egg white. You want a thin coat of egg white, not scrambled eggs on top! Once all bagels were topped, I put them in the oven for 2 minutes, then covered them with a piece of foil for another 4 minutes.

I only let them cool enough to snap some pictures before breaking into my first one to try it plain. The bottom was golden and crunchy, the entire outside just slightly crisp. They were definitely not as dense as the bagels I'm used to, but I liked that about them. They certainly tasted bagel-y, so I achieve my goal. I quickly spread a couple with cream cheese, capers, chive and red onion, and topped with smoked salmon. Yum. My only complaint is my own fault--I definitely used too much salt in my topping, so they were a little over-salty, especially with capers and smoked salmon.

I can tell you'll I'll be making them again soon, with a variation: my favorite bagel of all time is a slightly sweet, honey-whole wheat bagel, served with honey butter. Since I am officially done with classes (I finished my last final ten minutes ago!), I think my baking time might increase over the next couple weeks!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cherry Pie-let, Redux

During a conversation with my mom about my new-found interest in (read: obsession with) all things wine, she commented that it's a good thing I don't have as many hobbies as most of my family members. My family is composed of crafters and artists: leather work, needlework, painting, clay modeling, woodwork, crocheting, knitting, quilting, sculpting, scrap-booking. I merely commented that my interests primarily lie in consumables. I hate dusting, and don't collect much of anything (unless, of course, you count all those shelves in the basement with bakeware, cupcake liners, and sugar sprinkles for every occasion...). However, as I was making these pie-lets, with their tiny lattice tops, I decided that baking and cooking are my crafts.

The cherries have been sitting in the freezer since last summer, and are from Hurley Farms at Indian Lake. I know I don't have too many blog posts here, so it seems a little absurd to post another Cherry Pie-Let entry. So I won't talk any more. I'll just let you enjoy the pictures. These are what I usually mean when I say pie-let. If you watched the brilliance that was Pushing Daisies, you might also know them as Cup Pies. If you haven't ever watched the show, you should. Go. Click that link. I'm going to go have some pie, myself.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Novices in Napa Valley

Just because I want a record for myself, and a few other people have asked, here is a sampling of the wines we had in California. The list isn't complete, of course, but it's got some of wines we really liked! The ones I starred were definite favorites.

River Terrace Inn Bar
This is actually the hotel where we stayed and had our first local wine. We also had what Carolyn decided was the Best Soup Ever, a roasted red pepper bisque. Overall, we'd definitely stay at the hotel again. It was a short walk to downtown Napa, a beautiful hotel, and the front desk was
endlessly helpful to the clueless when it came to scheduling things to do. The photo is the view from our balcony.

2007 Hangtime Pinot Noir
(Carneros - Napa Valley)*

Bounty Hunter Wine Bar (

Bounty Hunter is one of those places billed as "where the locals go." And it's true. I think there were only one or two other tables of touristy people. We were actually seated at a community table with a couple obviously on their first date. the best thing I overheard: "Where do you see yourself in 3 years? Married with a bunch of kids?" The guy sputtered around for a second before ordering another class of Malbec. We had lots of meat, as this is a BBQ joint. I'd go back.

2006 Dubois "Clos Margot" Chorey-Les-Beaune (Burgundy - France)
6 Lutea Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley – California) 2006 Expression Willakia Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)*
2006 Jus Soli Roots Red (Sonoma County - California)*

Wine Train
Although I wouldn't say we regret doing it, the Wine Train was not something I'd do again or recommend doing. It was boring, although the food was good. What they are really missing is information; there is no option to hear about the vineyards you are passing by on the slow-moving train, and the "Wine Expert" didn't seem interested in talking to us at all when we were in the tasting car. We tasted six wines before and during the wine train, and I don't have information about any of them. In trying to look deeper, I am pretty sure I tasted a riesling on the train that I later tried at a winery--since she didn't offer very much information, though, I don't know for sure. I definitely remember that we tried these:

(Edit: I responded to the comment left by Wine Train CEO Greg McManus in a personal email, but want to add for everyone's benefit that the Wine Train was not a negative experience! The food truly was delightful, and the wines we tasted were also good. Having already driven up and down State Route 29--the path the train takes--the day before, we were looking for a more educational experience, as opposed to a scenic one. If you are looking for a relaxing ride through Napa Valley, accompanied by unique and tasty food (like the orange-bourbon halibut I loved), the Wine Train would be ideal. However, for those interested in more history and fun stories about the area and the wine it produces, I would recommend a wine tour instead. Greg has responded to my email and agrees that they need to develop a method for communicating information during the train ride.)

2008 Robert Mondavi Winery Moscato D'oro (Napa Valley -California)
An elegant, intensely fruity wine with scents of spice and floral notes of orange blossom and rose petal. Rich and concentrated honeyed fruit flavors are enlivened with fresh acidity. Beautifully balanced, the wine resonates like a finely tuned cello, with a lengthy finish and sumptuous return.

2007 Margerum M5 Red Wine (Santa Barbara County - California)

This is dark, rich, and packed with berry and peppercorn. Truly delicious. Now for the more technical
data: 48% Syrah, 31% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 2% Counoise. Also included is 6% Genesis of M5 (a co-fermentation of everything but Syrah) and 1% UBER Syrah (a co-fermentation of all of the single vineyard Syrah).

2007 Ed's Red (California)

Enticing, satisfying and full-bodied, the 2007 A.D. Ed's Red is dark and densely colored, with aromas including plums, violets, white pepper and barbecued meat, while on the palate there are additional flavors of cherries,
blueberries, spice and licorice. The wine is 43% Syrah, 39% Zinfandel, 13% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, and comes from two areas in California: 44% Napa Valley, 56% Russian River Valley.

Hagafen Wines
Founded in 1979. Interestingly, all
of Hagafen's wines are organic and kosher. The tasting guide gave us information on the vineyards here, as well as on the background of the winery itself. Their wines have been frequently served at the White House since Reagan's presidency, and continues today with Obama. My favorites at this winery were the Cabernet Franc and the Riesling. Carolyn's favorites were the Sauvignon Blanc, and the Riesling, which is interesting because she hardly ever likes white wine.

2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc*
On the nose, our highly aromatic Sauvignon Blanc shows lemon, grape fruit, and kiwi. This crisp,
bracing, mouth-watering wine fills the palate with a well integrated mix of bright fruit, including lemon drops, limes, grapefruit, and citrus zest, with just a hint of tingly liveliness. Balanced and with solid structure, our 2008 Sauvignon Blanc works well with a variety of fish and lighter, roasted game dishes.

2008 Hagafen Estate Bottled Pinot Noir
This intense, extracted Pinot Noir shows ripe strawberry and cranberry, followed by roasted coffee, smoky black licorice and fresh, loamy earth. This full-bodied wine has a soft and silky structure coupled with spicy and complex strawberry jam, black cherry, and boysenberry that finishes with notes of roasted coffee and toasty cocoa.

2006 Hagafen Estate Bottled Merlot
Highly aromatic, showing dusty rose petal, cherry licorice, cinnamon, and cloves. Deep ruby-garnet in color, and a classic Californian “Right Bank” wine, this mouth-watering and long-finishing Merlot presents notes of black cherry, black licorice, roasted cocoa, and pumpkin pie spices, accented by silky tannins.

2006 Hagafen Napa Valley Zinfandel
This wine gives a rich combination of blackberry, boysenberry, and sweet oak on the nose. On the palate is a superb blend of cherry and black cherry, accented by anise, clove, and roasted cocoa. Firm, silky tannins work in concert with the long finish, giving a lower alcohol Zinfandel designed to be food friendly, especially served with barbequed or roasted meats or tomato-based sauces.

2006 Hagafen Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon
The rich, spicy nose of bakers’ chocolate and black cherry compliments the brooding and spice-filled black licorice, black cherry, plum and cranberry on the palate. The addition of 11% Cabernet Franc enhances the complexity of the wine, as well as adding to our trademark robust and silky mid-palate.

2007 Hagafen Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc*

The rich, spicy nose of red and back fruits compliments the brooding and spice-filled black cherry and tobacco on the palate. The addition of 4% Merlot enhances the complexity of the wine, as well as adding to our trademark robust and silky mid-palate.

2007 Hagafen Estate Bottled Syrah
On the nose, our Syrah shows aromas of red and black fruits. This inky, dark red wine fills the mouth with firm, meaty tannins, complementing a rich mix of cherry, black cherry, chocolate, and leather. With an extremely long finish, this well-structured Syrah begs for the accompaniment of food--
anything roasted and in need of a wine able to accent and deepen the experience of hearty meat dishes.

2009 Hagafen Estate Bottled White Reisling*

On the nose, our White Riesling shows aromas of tropical stone fruits, mandarin, and white peach. This bright, wine bursts in the mouth with a mingling of stony, sweet fruits, including apricot, papaya, mangosteen, and mango. With an extremely long finish, this well-structured White Riesling begs for the accompaniment of food--anything needing a slight hint of sweetness to offset spicy or succulent foods, including Thai, Indian, and Chinese cuisines.

Arger-Martucci Vineyards (

Founded in 1998. My favorite of all the vineyards we visited, because our wine expert, Fred, made me laugh and was high informative. He was very generous, and genuinely excited by the wines. Most
importantly, he wasn't put off by our novice questions, and managed to entertain as he educated. Of course, the poolside picnic, gorgeous mountain views and 75 degree weather helped. This tasting was more structured, where we sat together, and he lead us through the wines one by one. My favorites were the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Odyssey Prop Blend. The Odyssey, served to us with dark chocolate, was among the best wine I tasted the whole trip (though pricier than I usually spend on a single bottle of wine). Carolyn's favorites were the Iliad, the same Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Odyssey blend I enjoyed. We actually purchased four bottles here: the Iliad, the Viognier, Cabernet Sauv, and Pinot Noir.

2008 Arger-Martucci Vineyards Iliad
A complement to our proprietary red wine called Odyssey, this proprietary wine boasts elegance and refreshment!

2007 Arger-Martucci Vineyards Viognier* This aromatic Viognier has flavors of melon and peach with a touch of bananas that follow through on the palate. We believe this is our best Viognier ever from Arger-Martucci - a great wine to start a meal or simply sip on the veranda.

2005 Arger-Martucci Vineyards Syrah

Gold Medal Winner at the 2008 Orange County Fair! Incredibly rich in texture and taste, our 2005
Syrah gives off the classic white pepper bouquet with hints of black cherry and leather that linger on the palate.

2004 Arger-
Martucci Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon*
With hints of leather, tobacco and cinnamon, this Silver Medal Winner is drinking beautifully now, but has a solid structure which will allow for extensive cellaring.

2004 Arger-Martucci Vineyards Odyssey*
Described by Dr. Arger as chocolate velvet, complex layers of chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black cherry clearly demonstrate why our Estate Reserve is truly an Odyssey on the palate.

2006 Arger-Martucci Vineyards Dulcinea
The complexity of flavors on this popular dessert wine is quite remarkable with peaches, a touch of
tropical fruit, and a hint of nutmeg. Only six barrels were produced.

2004 Arger-Martucci Vineyards Pinot Noir
This elegant Pinot Noir has bright black cherry fruit with hints of black truffle and nutmeg in the bouquet, while on the palate the taste carries red plum and cherries.

Casa Nuestra Winery (

Founded in 1979. I sort of loved this winery, even though I didn't love any of the wines. It has a fantastic hippie vibe to it, with two gorgeous dogs roaming in and out of the tasting room, and walls covered in 60s era counter-culture posters. There's even a sort of shrine to Martin Luther King, Jr, with some Elvis thrown in. This is very much a family winery, and they produce fewer than 400 cases of many of the wines. The pours here were much less generous than the other wineries we visited, which was perfectly fine at this point in the day. Carolyn and I shared the tasting here. The Charbono was by far my favorite, as it reminded me of my grandpa's wine, medium-light bodied, but with a kick.

2007 Charbono Napa Valley Old Vines (Calistoga -
A traditional Italian variety – once widely planted in Napa Valley – Charbono has become rare. This vineyard is very old, very small, head pruned and located just a few miles north of our winery in Calistoga. The wine is medium –bodied and offers layers of red fruit with allspice and a soft finish.

2006 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley (St. Helena Estate - California)

This vintage is 100% Cabernet Franc and offers a full-bodied structure with bright fruit, hints of spice and mint followed by a pleasing finish. It will pair well with a variety of meats and sauces. This wine can be cellared for four to 12 years.

2007 Tinto (St. Helena Estate - California)
This wine is made from our field mix vineyard planted in 1992. In that year we planted nine varietals on 2.3-acres, in the likeness of our Oakville stand, adding a bit more Rofosco, Petite Sirah, Carignane and Zinfandel. This vintage offers lush, ripe dark blackberries and hints of nutmeg on the palate and a wonderful nose of plum and cocoa. It has great structure as well as serious cellar potential.

2006 Meritage Napa Valley (St. Helena Estate - California)

Our Meritage blend is similar to the wines of St. Emillion, in France’s Bordeaux region. All the grapes we used were grown organically on our estate, vintified individually and aged in French oak barrels. The final blend is: Merlot (69%), Cabernet Franc (9%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (22%), resulting in a full-bodied, well structured wine with flavors of blackberries and cassis. This wine can be cellared for four to 12 years.

2009 Dry Chenin Blanc Old Vines (St. Helena Estate - California)

Made from vineyards planted in the early 1960’s, this our 30th vintage offers a fabulous balance of fruit and acidity. Grapefruit and fresh melon flavors give way to a refreshingly clean and crisp finish. Pair this Chenin Blanc with a variety of foods such as creamy seafood dishes over pasta, green salads and even grilled meats. The cellar potential for this white wine is more than 20 years!

2009 off dry Riesling Old Vines
(St. Helena Estate - California)

We have only seven rows and the fence line of Riesling grapes planted on our estate in 1966. With less than 1% residual sugar (RS), it is a beautifully balanced wine with bright, exotic fruits and a racy acidity making the finish crisp & clean. Enjoy slightly chilled on sultry afternoons or all year long with spicy Asian dishes or smoked cheese and apples. Just like the mural (from our winery) that graces the label, we think this wine is out of this world!

2008 Symphony (Lodi Valley - California)
Truly a California native, Symphony is a grape variety which was created and recorded at UC Davis in 1948. It is a cross of Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria. This wine is bursting with an exotic floral bouquet, offers a clean mouth-feel and a lush, fruity finish.

Robert Biale Vineyards (

Founded in the 1930s. One of the interesting parts of this tasting was where we did it: in the cellar. Although it was a gorgeous day, Biale was being painted the day we were there, so we couldn't be outside. I enjoyed the story-telling of our wine expert here, who talked us through the vineyard's shady history as a winery during prohibition. Like many vineyards in Italy, where the founder was from, his vineyard produced a single grape: Zinfandel. With prohibition, the family would have been out of business. Like many normal, decent people of the time, the family made the decision to become criminals instead of destitute, and began selling their wine illegally, code named "black chicken." They were compelled to use a code name because the family used a party line phone to take orders. I might have been a little tipsy by this point in the day, and can only tell you that my favorite was pretty usual for my taste that runs toward blends: the prop red. They don't list any of their wines or tasting notes on the website, so you'll just have to take my word that the Zappa is the best. Since it's also the most expensive, I obviously have good taste! My favorite part of this tasting, though, was tasting the two Zins back to back, and noticing the differences in them.

2007 Napa Ranches Zinfandel
2007 Stagecoach Vineyards Zinfandel
2006 Zappa Proprietary Red Wine
2006 Royal Punishers Petite Sirah

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Homemade Croissants, Attempt 1

In May 2002, I was lucky enough to spend a couple weeks in France--mostly Fanjeaux, with a couple days in Paris. Many remarkable things happened there, and I met people who changed my life. And, like many people who travel to France for the first time, I was awed by the food. Fanjeaux is a middle of nowhere town southeast of Toulouse. It has one restaurant, a single stop light, a cafe that serves as the town bar at night, and a solitary bakery. It was at that bakery that I had my first true, not-from-the-grocery-store-in-a-plastic-container croissant. Then, I had my first with chocolate. And my first with almonds. Although I was living in a community during my time in Fanjeaux, I've always been an early riser, and I took great joy in my own quiet walks through the town early in the morning. Inevitably, the scent from the bakery would call to me, and I'd wander that direction.

As my baking skills have grown since then, I've always thought about how, one day, I'd learn to make laminated dough, and would find a way to replicate those croissants in my own kitchen. Having a new convection oven, I've been more inspired than ever to try out more complicated recipes. Yesterday, I found myself home for the day, with only household chores I was eager to ignore. I've collected many recipes for croissants over time. So many, in fact, I'm not sure where this one originated. I reduced the proportions, and followed directions amalgamated from several other recipes. The croissants that resulted were not quite the perfection of my memory--mostly, I think I needed additional turns of the laminated dought to create more layers--but the buttery texture, the lightness, pleased me for my first attempt.

Makes: 14 good-sized croissants

2 sticks butter, softened
2 tbl flour

2 2/3 c flour
2 tsp instant yeast (I used SAF Red Instant Yeast)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbl sugar
1/8 c water
1 c milk, warm
1/3 c half and half

1 egg
1 tbl water

Combine 2 tbl flour and butter, kneading until well combined. Shape butter into 4" square, wrap in foil, and refrigerate until firm.

In food processor, combine 1 1/3 cups flour in the work bowl and add the dry ingredients, including yeast. Pulse to mix. Pour the water, milk, and half-and-half through the feed tube. Pulse once or twice to moisten dry ingredients. Add the remaining 1 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup at a time, pulsing briefly after each addition. When the mixture forms a mass and begins to clean the sides of the bowl, pulse about 15 times. Mine was very wet--more like batter, so I added about another 1/3 cup flour. When that didn't help, I just went with it, transferred it into a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and stuck it in the fridge for a couple hours, where it firmed up nicely. Not to mention that it expanded into a pleasant smelling yeasty sponge. Put it in a bowl bigger than you think you need so you don't end up with a mess!

After a couple hours in the refrigerator, scoop the dough onto a floured surface, and press it into a square that will comfortably wrap the butter. Unwrap the block of butter and lay the block diagonally on the dough. Bring each point of dough into the center, overlapping the edges sufficiently, and seal well. With big rolling pin, roll the dough into a fairly large rectangle--I rolled to about 3/4" thick. If the butter breaks, let the dough and butter warm up a bit at room temp. If the butter is squishy, stick in the fridge for a bit. Fold the length of dough into thirds, as for a letter. Turn so that the open ends are at twelve and six o'clock. Roll again into a rectangle. This time, fold both ends into the middle and then close, as one would a book. Wrap the package of dough in a damp dishtowel, and stick in the refrigerator to chill for 1 or 2 hours.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I did the same series of fold as the first time one more time. I let it chill again, then folded in thirds one more time. Next time, I will probably do the book fold a third time, too. I want it REALLY flaky, though.

Each time you re wrap in the damp towel and refrigerate, it will rise some more. I know this is a "duh" phenomenon, given all that yeast. It still surprised me, though. Consider yourself warned.

At this point, I rolled the dough and cut it in triangles. I rolled 6 triangles into plain old croissants. To another four, I added a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and to the remaining four, chopped milk chocolate before they were rolled. I placed these onto cookie sheets, again covered with a damp kitchen towel, and refrigerated over night. This morning, I brushed the croissants with the water and egg mixture, sprinkled the sweet ones with coarse sugar, placed the cookie sheets of croissants into my oven (not preheated, because I'm lazy and figured they were cold, anyway), set on convection bake at 360 degrees. After 15 minutes, I rotated the trays. In another 15 minutes they were gorgeously golden.

We ate the chocolate ones immediately, hot from the oven with coffee. If not the quality of my first taste almost 8 years ago in France, they were certainly the best I've ever had in my own kitchen, or in this country, for that matter.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Espresso-Amaretto Creme Brulee

I'm still without my stand mixer, meaning that all desserts I've made recently have been those that don't require an electric mixer. Yes, I have an inexpensive hand mixer...but using it is so much work! Creme brulee is one of those desserts, however, that require shockingly little in the way of equipment. It is luxuriously smooth, completely decadent, and deceptively simple.

This recipe, while inspired by a recipe in Lou Seibert Pappas' Creme Brulee, is an adaptation to suit my preferences in flavor and ingredients, as well as number of servings. One of the adjustments I made is to include one of my most recent culinary discoveries: espresso powder. I hate, hate, hate the flavor of instant coffee, and cringe every time I see instant coffee granules dissolved in hot water in an otherwise promising recipe. King Arthur Flour recently ran a special on their "secret ingredients" and I indulged in this powder. Simply, it's amazing. It's smooth, with none of the rough aftertaste I associate with coffee granules. It just tastes like good coffee, powdered. As a complete aside, I think King Arthur has probably the best customer service of any baking catalog/website. They made a minor error in that same order, and when I called to see how to have it fixed, several unusual events occurred: 1. A real, live, human being answered the line, on the second ring. 2. She was genuinely apologetic for the mistake, and fixed it immediately. 3. They rushed shipping on the replacement item at no cost to me--I had the item about 36 hours after making the call. 4. The entire call lasted just over a minute.

Without further ado, what Carolyn calls my Best Creme Brulee, Ever.

Serves: 3 reasonable ramekins full or 2 large heart-shaped dishes

3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons espresso powder
a few drops molasses (literally, less than 1/8 teaspoon)
3 tablespoons amaretto
1 cup whipping cream

2-4 tablespoons raw sugar

Pre-heat over to 275 degrees. In medium sized bowl (I like a 1 quart measuring cup, because it making pouring into ramekins easier), combine egg yolks and brown sugar, whisking until the sugar is dissolved and the the yolks are creamy and thick looking. Add the espresso powder, the molasses, and the amaretto, stirring until well combined and espresso powder is dissolved. Add cream, and stir gently to avoid whipping air into mixture. Place ramekins into a baking dish, and fill baking dish with water, coming up at least half way up the sides of the ramekins. Divide the egg yolk/cream mixture among the ramekins. Place the ramekins in the water-filled baking dish in the oven for at least 25 minutes. If you are using deeper ramekins, it may take longer to make. The custard is done with it's set, but still wiggles in the center. Remove from over and let cool.

Before serving, top with raw sugar, and caramelize the sugar with a hand-held kitchen torch.

Please let me know if you decide to try the recipe! I like way the amaretto flavor comes through the coffee so clearly--a perfect combination. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts of torrone, marshmallows, and other candies. Once my KitchenAid is back in working order, I'll be making use of the egg whites accumulating in my refrigerator!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

We'll Resume Normal Programming Shortly

Well, a belated hello to 2010! I swear I've been baking--you just haven't heard about it. Early in December, as I began my Christmas baking, the unthinkable happened: my KitchenAid got sick. I say "got sick" because it's not dead, thanks to my mechanical engineer sister and brother-in-law. Or, they tell me my trusty steel blue buddy's going to make it out of this disaster just fine, perhaps better than new. However, there's been a lot of ordering parts, and losing parts, and breaking parts, and ordering more parts. So, umm, we'll be back to our regularly scheduled baking eventually.

Here are My Heroes, and my baby in pieces:

In the mean time, I've done a few things not normally seen here on A Scone's Throw. I bring you, breakfast for dinner!

For Christmas, I received mini tart pans and was eager to put them to use. These tiny quiches used left over mushrooms, onions and sausage, in a simple pastry. All I really did was make my standby pastry, and bake it for about 10 minutes. I then placed the cooked veggies and sausage into the shells, topped them with an egg scrambled with some (leftover) herbs, and topped with some cheese. I used white cheddar on mine, and Jarlsberg on Carolyn's...I differentiated them by sprinkling mine with a touch of red pepper flakes. They are sitting on top of a simple arugula salad dressed with white balsamic vinegar.

The drink on the side? A stroke of brilliance inspired by a local diner that I thought paired perfectly with breakfast for dinner: Crown Royal, orange juice, and a touch of maple syrup, topped with candied pecans.