When in Napa. . .

. . . go to Bouchon Bakery!  Their baguettes are perfect, their macarons are enormous, and everything is delicious and lovely.  After finishing a conference in Napa (rough life, I know), I detoured up the road for pastries and some lunch.  This little fig tart was light and bright, though it could have been a little figgier for my taste.  Nevertheless, beautiful enough to share.

Over-the-Hill Cake

My friend Mark recently celebrated a very special birthday. He is a mammalogist who works with carnivores so I thought this cake with a bear chasing him over the cliff would be appropriate. A Davis buddy helped me execute this birthday cake project.

The cake was the “perfect party cake” from Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking book. Oh, what a perfect party cake it was. The recipe is a white lemon cake, but we replaced vanilla for lemon extract and made it into a vanilla cake.  It was firm but light, easy to work with, subtle, not too sweet, and extremely delicious. We used the swiss buttercream recipe from smitten kitchen and Bonne Maman apricot preserve in between the layers. The cake was 5 layers at its highest point.

The cake was covered in marshmallow fondant and topped off with an Anakin Skywalker action figure outfitted to look like Mark, a chocolate bear that just happened to be perfectly scaled to the action figure, chocolate truffle boulders, coconut spring snow, and custom made felt trees. Pretty fun birthday cake!

Summer Spite Pie

Since Little Miss did an entire post on how I never make pies, I made a spite pie last weekend for a BBQ using the beauteous blue Auberge pie plate that she rejected and Yuan so graciously gave me.  Eat your heart out Little Miss!

Here in Davis, summer is just around the corner and the farmer’s market bounty yielded some fat blueberries and sweet nectarines and peaches, which inspired me to revisit Mrs. Scott’s blueberry peach pie!  Growing up in East Hampton, I had the pleasure of having unfettered access to Mrs. Scott’s amazing baked goods.  I don’t even like sweets and seriously, I couldn’t stop eating anything this woman baked.  Oh, I couldn’t possibly eat this giant piece of cake, oh, where did it go? IN MY BELLY.  I actually used to go to her house late night to scavenge on her leftover desserts after her dinner guests had left. Whenever I see her, she always makes sure that she has my favorite banana chocolate chip muffins.  I love you Mrs. Scott!

But I digress, Mrs. Scott makes the best blueberry peach pie ever.  I attempted this pie two years ago, and while it came out pretty yummy, it was not the same.  This time, I actually called Mrs. Scott for her recipe and I now share this precious knowledge with our loyal readers!

For the crust, I used Dorie Greenspan’s Good For Almost Everything Pie Dough and combined 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 2 1/2 sticks of frozen unsalted butter (cut into tablespoon pieces), and 1/3 cup of frozen vegetable shorting (cut into four pieces) in a food processor until the butter and shortening were crumbly and pea-sized.  Then I gradually added about 6 tbsp of ice water while pulsing until the dough stuck together.  I split the dough in half, wrapped the dough disks in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for about a hour.  I rolled out the dough disk between some floured parchment paper until it was about 1/8 inch thick, fitted it into the pie plate, tightly plastic wrapped it, and froze it – mostly because I didn’t have room in the fridge, but I think it made the crust extra flakey.   I rolled out the second dough disk into another 1/8 inch thick round, wrapped it and put it in the fridge for a hour.

Mrs. Scott’s Blueberry Peach Pie

  • 4-5 peaches and/or nectarines (cut into pieces)
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 tbsp minute tapioca
  • 2 tbsp butter

Mix fruit, sugar, and tapioca in a bowl and let it stand for 15 min.  Turn it into the pie crust and dot with butter.

Moisten the edges of the bottom pie crust and cover with the top pie crust.  Seal the edges and cut four slits and a middle circle into the top of the pie.  Brush top with egg wash, sprinkle some sugar on top then bake in the oven for 50-60 min until the crust is golden brown in a 400 degree oven.  Let it cool down to room temperature and serve.

Bjorn made homemade peach ice cream to accompany my beautiful pie.  And while the pie wasn’t quite as good as Mrs. Scott makes it, apparently everyone at my BBQ loved Mrs. Scott’s pie as much as I do because this is what the plate looked like within 30 minutes of me putting it on the table.

Thanksgiving 2010!

Another year, another turkey day!!  This year, we had a mix of old friends and family out in Davis for a super cozy holiday.  We had nine people sleeping in our tiny house, including my in-laws, who  along with Adam, provided us with lots of wine, and Little Miss’s baby brother, who is far from a baby.  Yuan was relegated to the unfinished basement.  Well, he volunteered I suspect because he was afraid that I would draw on him while he was asleep.  Thanksgiving is a well-oiled machine of sorts, as long as we don’t get distracted or have too much wine early in the day.  Little Miss declared that we did not need to menu plan and after some coordination on the shopping list and turkey transport,  Yuan, Little Miss and I threw together a holiday feast.  We have become somewhat set in our ways as our must-haves (mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, brussel sprouts with bacon, sausage stuffing, and turkey) have taken over the menu, making it hard for us to add new items.

Little Miss came out on Tuesday and we spent a day making desserts.  This year, we revisited the pumpkin cheesecake, tried the Normandy apple tart recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking book, and made a pecan pie.  We had never tried the pecan pie, and the results were semi successful – how does one not burn the crust?!?  Tasted yummy though.

This year, my cousin Nozomi, who goes to college on the east coast, came out for Thanksgiving.  Having grown up in Japan, she was deprived of Thanksgiving for the first fifteen years of her life and ever since first experiencing this wonderous food holiday seven years ago, it is her favorite!  Which is not surprising since we are related and she too loves food – she can eat an entire fish down to the bone, eyeballs and all.  This was also her first trip to California and she kept asking me if we could go see the “Full House bridge!”  Nozo inexplicably loves tiny marshmallows, and as soon as she arrived she demanded we make that “orange marshmellow thing,” so we did.

We had two turkeys this year for variety and it turned out great!  Everything cooked faster and we got to experiment.  Ms. Turkey was smoked by Yuan on the grill all afternoon and Mr. Turkey was roasted in the oven after spending the night in the fridge covered in a tangerine salt rub then rubbed with a herb tangerine peel butter.  Mr. Turkey is on the left and Ms. Turkey (smoked) is on the right.  The turkey couple here in somewhat compromising positions…

They later worked it out and looked and tasted amazing on the table.

Yuan made a sauteed mushroom medley that Adam couldn’t keep his grubby fingers out of.

Nozo’s Thanksgiving dinner plate.  And yes, she ate ALL of it.

And while I never got a chance to sharpee Yuan, I did manage to give him a gorgeous sparkly hot pink pedicure while he was in a wine stupor on the floor.  Sooo pretty!

And Nozo got to visit her “Full House” bridge.

Epic Holiday Baking Day

December is like a month-long full moon for people who like to bake. We get a little…out of hand. It’s the perfect excuse to make those cookies and candies and sundry snacks we’ve been eying since the end of summer fruit season but couldn’t quite justify.

The below-depicted Epic Holiday Baking Day was suggested by my dear friend Erin, who is also a foodie and a fantastic cook. She could be an honorary asian if she wasn’t so nice and thus insufficiently prone to squabbling. Having grown up in a household that is chock full of bite size buttery temptation for the duration of the holidays, I enthusiastically agreed.

Evidence of a day well spent

Cranberry-Orange-Walnut Bread

You MUST try it. It is perhaps one of my all time favorite things to eat, ever.

Bar Nuts, courtesy of Union Square Cafe (courtesy of Saveur.com).

If you make these, which you should, skip the hazelnuts and be generous with the seasonings. Resist the urge to eat them by the fistful. The urge will be strong, but you’ll only end up with spicy sugar all over your face. Trust me on this one.

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate-Hazelnut Truffles

Gingersnaps!

These gingersnaps are easier than falling down, and unfailingly delicious. Their ingredient list is pure americana (read: cheap!).

Gingersnaps

  • 2 c flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 c Crisco
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c molasses
  • extra sugar for dipping

Mix all dry ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside.

In a large bowl, cream shortening with a hand-held mixer, add sugar and mix until combined and fluffy, 20-30 seconds. Add egg and molasses, mix until color is even and ingredients are well combined.

Add dry ingredients, mix until combined, then cover and chill for a while. You want the dough to be firm enough to handle, so anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight.

Roll dough in to 1″ balls, roll each in sugar, place about 2″ apart on baking sheet(s). I like to line them with parchment paper first, for easier clean up, but these work just as well without.

Bake at 350 for 11 minutes for a softer cookie, 12 for a crispier cookie. They will be all puffed up and soft and look very underdone when you take them out of the oven, but they will flatten out and crisp up as they cool.