Hello readers, hope you’ve been enjoying your summer! I was in Europe for two weeks in June, visiting France and Italy, if the photo of cannoli ice cream above didn’t give you a clue. I’m still going through vacation photos and making tons of ice cream in the last few weeks in an attempt to hold on to that lovely vacation buzz. Below, a few favorite snapshots from our time in Rome.
Click here to jump to recipe (in case you don’t want to scroll through vacation photos)
I haven’t been to Europe, and Rome, in eight years. The last time I went was on my honeymoon, so it was a bittersweet yet fulfilling experience to come back to one of my favorite cities in the world. Bittersweet since I realized how long it’s been since I’ve visited, but so fulfilling since it was pretty much just how I remembered it (quite hot, unbelievably photogenic, and intoxicatingly lively), and now I was able to share it with my family. Since several of my family members hadn’t been to Rome before, we did have to make the obligatory rounds of the tourist hotspots, but what I love about Rome is that all their most famous attractions are so amazing, it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen them before; you’ve amazed all over again each you see them. Also, around the corner from every major attraction is a quiet, winding alleyway with little shops and cafes to explore. You don’t have to feel lost amongst the crowds all day.
Back to the famous Piazza Navona. This photo was taken around 8 in the morning – can you believe there were so few people? The best tip for beating the masses is, of course, to wake up earlier than everyone else. I kind of expected that by 8 the place would already be filled with even-earlier-risers who’d risen before dawn, so I was pleasantly surprised! Luckily, our hotel was literally minutes from the piazza, so it was easy to get there.
The view from our hotel – we had the top floor suite with its own balcony. There’s nothing better than being outside as the sun goes down and the air finally starts to cool, and you can see all the tables outside the restaurants start to fill up with people. Evenings in Rome are the best. Despite its closeness to Piazza Navona, the hotel was tucked away down a quiet street – another example of Rome’s seemingly magicial geography – so it was pleasantly peaceful while being conveniently located. A list of all the places we visited is at the bottom of this post before the recipe.
We also enjoyed quite a bit of luck at the famous Trevi Fountain: I also expected that since we didn’t get there right at sunrise that we’d be fighting to get through all the other tourists here, but it was surprisingly open when we arrived mid-morning. We were able to get right up to the edge of the fountain and sit for photos, and throw that all-important coin over the shoulder in with no issue. Our local guide was also shocked at the lack of crowds and said the gods must have been smiling on us. Perhaps that was true – as we were leaving I could see the brief window of quiet ending as a large group arrived at the fountain. Sometimes despite all your vacation planning, you can just get lucky! Or maybe it was the coin I threw in last time.
I love wandering the streets, especially in the early morning before it starts getting really warm.
At the bottom of the photo: the masses. We didn’t make it there until midday so we didn’t beat the crowds here. Still, the Colosseum is never unimpressive. Since we went with a local guide who pre-purchased group tickets, we were able to skip the majority of the line and got inside almost right away. With several young kids in our group who were close to melting down in the noon heat, there really wasn’t any other way we’d want to do it. I’d suggest the same if you go; the thought of standing in the (very) long line for tickets under the blazing Rome sun is not how you want to spend your precious time there!
There’s no shortage of restaurants and cafes inviting you to dine alfresco, but I think if you’re looking for some authentic good food, seeing pasta being handmade in the window is a good sign. Pasta e Vino sells their handmade pasta and uses it in all their dishes as well at their restaurant.
You can choose your pasta and the sauce, which is fun. This is the fettucine gricia, with crispy bacon, pecorino cheese, and black pepper. Pasta e Vino is in the Trastevere district, so wander around and explore this beautiful neighborhood before or after dinner.
There’s always something beautiful to photograph in Rome.
We also did a pizza making class for the kiddies and look how my daughter’s turned out! (She had some help from the pizza chef in shaping the heart). The pizza was also very tasty; I’d recommend Jazz Cafe for some excellent food and some good music too – they do play jazz in the background!
No visit to Rome – actually no day in Rome – complete without some gelato. We visited as many as we could possibly fit in, but I do have a soft spot for Giolitti, since I visited it the last time I was here. The shop is still the same, with the gleaming dark wood counters, the pastry cases full of desserts, and the long line for gelato. The combination above is straciatella and black cherry – a favorite of mine and just as good as I remembered.
Although it was hard to not eat just gelato while we were in Rome, we did squeeze in some other Italian desserts like tiramisu and cannoli. A really tasty cannoli from a bakery we just happened to walk by is the inspiration for this cannoli ice cream, made with ricotta, vanilla, and cinnamon, and studded with mini chocolate chips, pistachios, and pieces of cannoli shells. The most common traditional fillings for cannoli are chocolate chips, pistachios, and candied orange peel; I skipped the orange peel but if you feel like it you can add some in.
I was actually lucky enough to find cannoli shells at my local Italian bakery, but if you can’t find them, you can also use ice cream waffle cones as an easy substitute. You can, of course, also make your own cannoli shells – I don’t have the metal tube molds but that might be a future project!
Since there’s no cooking required for this ice cream, it’s super quick to put together and easy for a hot summer day when you want to imagine you’re on a Roman vacation. Ciao Roma, it was wonderful to visit you again!
I was lucky enough to visit Bloom Chocolate Salon, the tea room inside Dandelion Chocolate‘s new 16 St factory, shortly after it opened. Dandelion Chocolate’s massive new expansion has been eagerly anticipated by craft chocolate fans in the Bay Area, and while the sparkling new space is impressive in every aspect, for many foodies the best part is Bloom. This salon located inside the factory is a wonderful homage to the cafés and salons of Europe, and an entirely new way to experience Dandelion Chocolate.
The exterior of the new factory in the Mission. This 107-year-old building has been extensively renovated to house all the machinery used by Dandelion to sort, roast, and process cacao beans and turn them into bars of chocolate. If you’ve been to their original Valencia St. shop, you may have already seen some of this process, but with this new space, Dandelion Chocolate will be able to increase their current chocolate production by 1o times.
Look at the row of melangers on the main factory floor. These machines grind down roasted cacao beans with sugar to form a smooth paste, which is then tempered and formed into bars. To see so many of these all going at once makes you realize that there’s going to be a lot of chocolate being made here. It’s an impressive leap forward for Dandelion Chocolate, and apparently one that’s been needed for a while, as their bars have been consistently popular ever since they’ve opened. You can see most of the factory and the other spaces in the building, and learn about the chocolate making process, on Dandelion Chocolate’s factory tour. Or, if you’re in Bloom, you can also step through the back door and see the factory floor as well. Dandelion did a lovely job of putting the actual process front and center for customers to see.
The retail portion of the factory features the familiar wall of chocolate bars and other treats similar to their Valencia St. store.
There’s also a small café space that sells Dandelion’s signature pastries and chocolate drinks, including their brownie bite flight and their European style drinking chocolate. There’s limited counter space or you can get your drink to go.
After touring the rest of the factory, I got to sit down and experience the centerpiece of the place, Bloom. The elegant interior is a unique confluence of classic European cafe design and Dandelion’s modern San Francisco aesthetic: brass fixtures, burnished mirrors, brick walls, warm wood. I love all the thought that went into creating such a clear and striking aesthetic for this room. It’s relaxing and luxurious place to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate on a sunny afternoon.
The menus at Bloom. Along with a full selection of chocolate drinks, coffee, and tea, Bloom also offers a breakfast menu which includes items like chocolate granola, brûléed brioche, and cake for breakfast, and a teatime menu in the afternoon. Since we was there after lunch, we got the teatime menu.
Since I’m a big fan of teatime, I had to try Bloom’s afternoon chocolate tea service. Bloom presents a sampler of five sweet and savory bites all made with various Dandelion chocolates, served with tea or their hot chocolate. The treats are all modern takes on traditional French pastries, and all very chocolatey, of course. If you and your dining companion both get the tea service, they come on a tiered serving stand in classic teatime fashion.
A cup of Dandelion’s hot chocolate to prepare you for all the chocolate to come. I couldn’t pass it up even knowing how much more chocolate I was going to consume. I will say I did feel a bit of a chocolate buzz at the end, but that’s probably because I had had a cup of hot chocolate, shared the afternoon chocolate tea, and had the ice cream tasting afterwards as well! See the following photos documenting my journey:
Citrus macaron with chocolate cremeaux, cacao pulp, Meyer lemon, and mint jam. I know for some the pairing of chocolate and citrus might seem odd, but this macaron will absolutely change your mind. It’s a perfect juxtaposition of bright, tart lemon and velvety, rich chocolate. The cacao pulp adds an extra subtle grace note of creaminess.
Cut (or bitten, I think, in my eagerness!) open to show the inside. One of the most thoughtful macaron flavors I’ve come across in a while.
Petit chocolate soufflé served in a copper pot. This was another one of my favorites. The presentation is adorable – I want those little pots for myself! – and the soufflé is perfectly puffy and crisp on the outside, while soft and just short of melting on the inside.
The server does encourage you to eat this first when it’s served, while it’s still warm. I’d highly recommend that instead of spending too much time taking photos!
Profiterole filled with Earl Grey pastry cream. I never say no to a cream puff, especially when it’s as perfectly constructed as this:
Look how perfectly it’s filled. The Earl Grey in the cream is pretty subtle, but it’s satisfyingly dense and velvety, pretty much the platonic ideal of a teatime bite.
Almond raspberry napoleon made of puff pastry layered with chocolate almond cream and raspberries. This combines so many of my favorite pastry elements: flaky dough, creamy filling, and fresh fruit.
Egg salad tea sandwich with capers and dill on sourdough rye with cocoa nibs. I like how they figured out how to work chocolate into a savory nibble – and a teatime classic, no less. Altogether this collection of five treats is an eloquent and quite delicious statement on the many forms chocolate can inhabit.
The look of someone about to seriously indulge. Kudos to Bloom for a beautiful presentation.
Besides the chocolate tea, Bloom also offers a three course ice cream tasting that also features Dandelion chocolate. I was lucky enough to be able to try that as well!
Root beer float with housemade root beer soda and cocoa nib ice cream. They actually bring the glass with ice cream to the table and pour the root beer over it tableside but I didn’t realize what they were doing so I missed the shot! Here’s the final float; I’m not a big root beer drinker but my companion loved it.
This was the highlight of the Bloom experience for me – a perfectly conceived and executed dessert. Dandelion Chocolate’s take in the iconic It’s-It ice cream sandwich puts their chocolate ice cream between two chewy oatmeal cookies. A layer of chocolate ganache on top gilds the lily, and the cinnamon ice cream over cookie crumbles elevates it to full dessert status. I’d happily eat this every day this summer.
I also really enjoyed this imaginative take on the banana split: caramelized banana bread with cherry ganache, chocolate ice cream and a peanut tuile on top. This wouldn’t be out of place at any fine restaurant in this town. I loved it. In my opinion, you don’t want to miss the ice cream tasting, and the portions are big enough that you can share.
Thanks again to Dandelion Chocolate for inviting me to their wonderful new factory and salon. Their chocolate has long been a part of what makes San Francisco’s gastronomic culture so unique and delicious, and I’m thrilled that they continue to grow and expand. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. And, I’ll be back for brunch at Bloom.
Happy May! I’m making this balsamic strawberry brioche toast as a combination birthday sweet and Mother’s Day treat for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve already been indulged for my birthday and I’m maybe 85% sure there’ll be some kind of breakfast whipped up by daughter this Sunday for Mother’s Day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a little more dessert in between.
I was inspired after visiting Balsamic Vinegar of Modena at Pebble Beach Food and Wine this year to use their balsamic vinegar in a dish. What more classic combination than balsamic vinegar and strawberries, and what better brunch/dessert dish than fruit over rich brioche toast? I was also inspired by the Strawberry Soiree I also recently attended (see highlights on my Instagram), thrown by the CA Strawberry Commission. They have the enviable job of encouraging people to snack more on strawberries – I don’t need much convincing especially since we’re in strawberry season now.
Although strawberries are sweet, macerated in balsamic vinegar take on a new, almost savory richness that raises them to star dessert status. The longer you macerate them, the more intense the flavors will be – usually about half an hour is ideal with ripe strawberries, as any longer and the berries may start to fall apart. For that reason, it’s best to serve them right away too; if you’ve got the brioche ready, everything can be assembled at the last minute. A thick slice of toasted brioche with a dollop of whipped cream topped with balsamic vinegar strawberries makes for a perfect sweet brunch or dessert – and I’ve tried it both ways!
I haven’t made brioche in a while, so here’s mine in in all its golden fluffy glory. If you’re in a pinch, you can easily use brioche from your favorite grocery store or bakery, but brioche is pretty simple to make, and I find it a lot more forgiving than plain old water+flour+salt bread. Since there’s so much more moisture in brioche from the eggs and butter, it’s hard for not to come out delicious.
The brioche recipe is adapted from one of my old favorites, and it makes enough for two loaves of bread. Although many brioche recipes have you simply place the dough into the pan (and that’s totally fine), I like to divide my dough further into pieces and roll them up like I do for my milk bread – I like the final baked shape of the loaf made with rolls. Click the link to my milk bread post for more photos on how I roll up the dough.
Here’s a nice shot of the interior of the brioche loaf. Since the dough is so rich, one issue I have encountered is that the top of the bread will brown before the rest of the bread has finished baking. You can check after about 20 minutes and if it seems like the tops are getting dark already, you can tent foil over the top to protect it for the remainder of the bake time.
There’s almost nothing more delectable to me than pulling apart a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven piece of brioche, so don’t forget to try that even if you’re intending to use yours for toast! Wait until it cools completely before slicing it up for toast. And with the leftovers, you can make another lovely brunch dish: brioche French toast! I might need to document that next…
Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing moms out there!
Place the flour into a bowl, cover, and chill in the freezer for about 15 minutes. This will help keep the dough cool while you are mixing it and prevent the butter from melting.
Cut the butter into 1-in pieces and place in the mixer bowl. Beat with the paddle only until the butter is smooth and there are no hard lumps; do not overbeat and let it get soft and creamy. Place the butter in a bowl, cover, and store in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the dough.
Place the yeast, water and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a clean mixer bowl and let the yeast dissolve.
Add the ⅓ cup sugar, eggs, sour cream, salt, and chilled flour, and mix with the dough hook on low speed until all the ingredients are combined.
Knead the dough for about 5 minutes on medium speed until it forms a ball around the dough hook and is moist and sticky but not gooey or mushy; you should be able to form it into a cohesive ball.
Add the cold butter a few pieces at a time, letting them incorporate into the dough before adding more. Scrape the bowl down as necessary.
Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and cover. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hours.
When you are ready to make the brioche: Butter two 5"x9" loaf pans.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and scrape out on a floured surface. Cut into two pieces and roll out each piece into a rectangle about ½" thick. Cut each piece on the long side into five separate pieces.
Roll up each piece on the long side, pressing down firmly on the seam to completely seal it. Place these pieces into the prepared pans, five rolls to each pan.
Cover the pans with plastic wrap and place in a warm place. Let the dough rise until doubled, about 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the final egg with about a teaspoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the tops of the brioche with the egg wash, avoiding the sides of the pan (otherwise the egg will make your dough stick to the pan and it will rise unevenly).
Bake the brioche for about 25-30 minutes, until the tops are deep golden brown and the bottoms of the pans sound hollow when tapped.
Cool brioche on a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then unmold and let finish cooling. They are best eaten warm, but you can easily rewarm them in the oven or toast older brioche.
For the strawberries:
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and let sit for about 20 minutes to let the strawberries macerate.
Drain the strawberries, reserving the syrup.
Put the syrup in a saucepan and bring to boil until it begins to thicken. Remove from heat.
Beat the whipping cream in a stand mixer with whisk attachment until soft peaks form.
Slice and toast the brioche. Scoop some whipped cream on top of each slice. Top with some of the strawberries and drizzle some of the syrup over the strawberries.
Pebble Beach Food and Wine down in Carmel has long been one of my favorite food and wine events in the Bay Area. Amazing chefs, fantastic food, top-flight wines, and that gorgeous Pacific coast view make the experience hard to miss. Every year I wasn’t able to go I always end up reading the schedule of events and chef lineups enviously. This year, I was so excited to return to Pebble Beach Food and Wine 2019 as a guest of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. On Sunday, I went to the Grand Tasting and spent a few hours in gastronomic heaven. I hope you enjoy the following highlights of my favorite dishes from the event (it was hard to not choose them all!):
First treat of the day: while we were waiting in line for the tent doors to open, attendants came around and passed out servings of Humphry Slocombe’s latest flavor collaboration with Chef Melissa King, Mango Mojito ice cream. This flavor should be available in most Whole Foods stores starting in May. Also, passing out treats to people standing in line makes the wait so much more pleasant!
The beautiful interior of the tasting tent, filled with tasting booths from over 30 chefs and 100 wineries. Three hours disappear quickly when there’s so much good food and wine to try. I always manage about two circuits around the tent, the first round to make sure I get to see everything before something runs out, the second round to revisit my favorites before my stomach runs out of room!
Lexus, one of the primary sponsors of Pebble Beach Food and Wine 2019, had an entire New Orleans-themed section decked out to look like Bourbon Street. Alongside a passion fruit slushie hurricane, they served up some grilled oysters Rockefeller, spicy Cajun crawfish boil, and a mini muffeletta. That’s pretty much a meal in itself right there.
Bread pudding with bourbon pecan ice cream – second dessert of the day about 15 minutes in. It was really good, too.
Ceviche of bay scallops with avocado, aguachile, passion fruit, and cucumber by Chef Kelly McCown of The Kitchen in Sacramento. This reminded me of my trips to South America last year.
“Gujarati petis” potato with coconut, spring peas, garam masala, black garlic, and coffee liquor by Chef Ravin Patel of The Clayton in Sacramento.
Salt cod brandade with Kalamata olive, paprika, dill, and lemon by Chefs Rupert and Carrie Blease of Lord Stanley in San Francisco. This was sublimely good.
There were two impressively huge pans of paella from The Inn at Spanish Bay, one of my favorite hotels at Pebble Beach. This is the first, a Valencia-style paella with chicken and rabbit.
The other pan, a southern Andalusian mixta paella.
Oysters from Neal Maloney of Morro Bay Oyster Company. It was hard to move on from piles of freshly-opened oysters; I could have stayed there all afternoon.
Salmon tataki tostada with miso cured king salmon, yuzu, crunchy garlic oil, avocado-edamame puree, spicy unagi sauce, and radish, by Chef Alexander Ramirez of The Stillwater Bar and Grill in Pebble Beach.
Smoked duck breast with cherries, celery root, and toasted grains by Chef Brian Kearns of Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley.
Chef Burt Bakman offering up some amazing pastrami. It was meant for his pastrami sandwich on rye bread, but it was almost better on its own. How do you turn down freshly sliced, still warm pastrami from the chef himself?
Chef Ted Kim of Seoul Sausage in Los Angeles finishing off his kimchi fried rice balls.
One of the prettiest presentations of the event. Kobe terroir by chefs Sebastian Nobile and Obdiel Luna of La Bicyclette in Carmel.
Puffed pasta “nachos” with senise peppers and burrata fonduta by Chef Joe Sasto.
Caviar and crab arancini with smoked pea tendril pesto and preserved satsuma, assembled in your hand, by Chef Colin Moody of The Club at Pasadena in Monterey. I loved the “deconstructed” presentation of the dish.
Local halibut konbujime with foraged kelp by Chef Kyle Itani of Hopscotch in Oakland. So beautiful and unique.
Chef Ryan Mcllwraith of Bellota in San Francisco carving some gorgeous jamón ibérico de bellota. I need to visit this restaurant very soon!
More desserts at the very end. I loved these colorful strawberry and spring pea verrines from Driscoll’s.
Strawberry and duck pâté brioche toasts, also from Driscoll’s.
Passion fruit mousse with cookie crumbs, mango, and toasted coconut from Chef Telmo Faria of Uma Casa in San Francisco. I saw a lot of passion fruit at the event, which was lovely since it’s one of my favorite fruits.
Too much wine to properly list, but I couldn’t not include a shot of the Sauternes tasting, easily my favorite drink of the event!
Thanks again to Balsamic Vinegar of Modena for having me at the event. This was their first year at Pebble Beach Food and Wine 2019, and the representatives were very excited to share the love for this classic Italian product. Balsamic vinegar of Modena is recognized by the EU with a Protected Geographical Indicator, meaning it is produced in a specific region and has unique qualities which come from this region. If you’ve seen the blue seal on bottles of balsamic vinegar, that’s what it signifies.
The beautiful velvety, syrupy texture of balsamic vinegar and its complex, tangy sweetness make it a perfect complement for many dishes, from salads to fruit to cheese. I was inspired after talking to the folks at Balsamic Vinegar of Modena to make a little dessert of my own using balsamic vinegar when I returned home, which I’ll share in my next post. Until next time, Pebble Beach Food and Wine!
Happy April! April means Easter, and I already know what I’m making: these Easter chick cream puffs! This cute-food take on the classic cream puff uses lemon curd in the filling, which is also perfect because it’s Meyer lemon season. Also, I have to admit that inspiration struck when my daughter mentioned that her class would be incubating and hopefully hatching some chicks in their classroom as their spring science project. Adorable lemony chicks hatching out of their cream puff shells – could they be cuter than real life chicks? It’s a tough call.
When it’s Meyer lemon season, I pretty much always go nuts baking with them. The classic French lemon tart is one of my favorite desserts ever, and I also like putting the curd on my toast, or scones, or most anything. If you can’t find Meyer lemons, regular lemons will also do, but if they are available, I think you’ll appreciate the difference. Here in the Bay Area, I’m also lucky enough to have neighbors with Meyer lemon trees in their yards – another reason I love living here!
Once I made the lemon curd, I let it chill in the fridge while I made the cream puffs. Although the curd is great on its own, I folded some whipped cream into it to give it the body it needs to keep its piped shape in the puffs. The lemon whipped cream also makes a lovely filling for cakes; really, if you have some lemon curd, you likely won’t run out of ways to use it.
I had some chocolate pearls that made for perfect chick eyes, but you can also easily pipe them with a bit of melted chocolate. Orange icing for the beaks and you’re done!
Once they’re filled, you can store the puffs in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve them, up to two days. You can also store the baked puffs in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days until you’re ready to use them, so it’s really easy to either make these Easter chick cream puffs ahead of time, or make the components ahead of time and assemble them when you need them. I’m ready for them to brighten up my Easter table!
zest from 2 lemons (Meyer lemons if they are in season)
2 large eggs
½ cup (115 g) freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 ounces (138 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces, softened but not melting
1 cup (230 g) whipping cream
Pâte à Choux Dough
½ cup (115 g) whole milk
½ cup (115 g) water
4 ounces (110 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¾ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
4 + 1 large eggs, room temperature
For the lemon cream:
Create a water bath by placing a saucepan of water over heat to simmer and placing a metal bowl unto the pan so its bottom does not touch the water.
Combine the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers and add to the metal bowl.
Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.
Cook the mixture over the simmering water, whisking constantly, until the cream reaches 180 degrees and thickens. Keep whisking while the mixture is heating up to prevent the eggs from cooking.
Once the cream is thickened – you should be able to make tracks in the mixture with your whisk – take the cream off the heat and strain it into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Let the cream rest for a bit until it cools to about 140 degrees.
Add in the butter pieces a few at the time and combine on high speed. Once all of the butter has been added, let the mixture combine for a few minutes longer to ensure the mixture is perfectly smooth.
Once the cream is finished pour it into a container and let it chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour before assembly.
For the cream puffs:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Combine milk, water, butter, sugar and salt In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan and heat on medium high.
Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough should come together into a ball. Continue stirring for another 3-4 minutes until it is completely smooth and soft.
Transfer the dough into a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat to cool it down slightly. Add in four eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. The dough should be very thick and shiny but not liquidy.
Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1 inch plain tip. Pipe out mounds of dough on the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart.
Beat the last egg with a little water to form an egg wash, then brush lightly over the puffs.
Bake in oven for about 15-18 minutes, rotating halfway through. The puffs should turn golden brown and be dry to the touch. It's easier to underbake than to overbake; make sure they are dry before taking out.
Place sheet on a wire rack and let puffs cool before slicing in half. Pull out any underbaked bits still inside.
When you are ready to assemble the puffs, take the lemon curd out of the refrigerator.
Whip the cream in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form.
Fold about half of the lemon curd into the whipped cream until fully incorporated. You can save the rest of the lemon curd for another use.
Place lemon whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip.
Fill bottom halves of puffs with lemon whipped cream. Place top halves on top of the cream.
Use chocolate dots or icing to make the eyes, and orange icing to pipe the beaks. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
This apple rose frangipane tart is a perfect welcome to spring! I couldn’t think of a better time to try my hand at this popular and gorgeous tart technique. I’ve been wanting to make this for quite a while, but I felt like I had to set aside a good chunk of time to dedicate to rose-making. In reality, it was easier than I thought it would be; it definitely took a couple hours to figure out the best workflow for assembling the roses and to actually put them all together, but nowhere near as long as I thought. It also helps to make the tart shell and frangipane ahead of time; breaking down baking projects into separate tasks I do over the course of a couple days makes it easier to fit them into my crazy schedule! So don’t be intimidated – this is simpler than it looks!
It’s hard to choose between the before-baking and after-baking shots isn’t it? I like how after baking the apple slices curl and open even more like rose petals.
The tart crust is a traditional pâte sablée, and is filled with my favorite frangipane filling. It makes a perfect canvas for decorating with the apple roses. Although I made only a few full roses to make it look like they are blooming out of the background, you can make whatever design you like. As I noted above, it’s easy to make the tart crust and frangipane earlier, perhaps the night before, and bring them out when you’re ready to assemble the tart. I also got to break out my new square tart pan, which I totally love. It’s a fun change from my regular round ones!
A mandoline is essential for creating the uniform, wafer-thin apple slices. I have an older version of this one, but there are plenty of great options available today. The other critical step is softening the apple slices so they roll up easily without cracking. I found that slicing the apples one at a time was easier than trying to do them all at once; there’s less chance of them browning, and you can focus on doing a few slices at a time instead of rushing to use them all before they dry up.
Most individual apple rose tart recipes call for using strips of puff pastry or pie dough to roll up apple slices and form them into a rose shape. Since this is a frangipane-filled tart, it made more sense to use strips of rolled-out marzipan or almond paste (I used Odense, the brand most commonly found in grocery stores). If you’re skilled, I’ve seen some recipes where just rolled-up apple slices are placed in the frangipane filling, which is thick enough to hold them in place. Using marzipan to hold the slices does give you a bit more security though.
By the way, I totally forgot to take in-process photos of rolling up the roses – total oversight on my part! If you’re having trouble figuring out how to do it, a quick internet search should show you plenty of images. It’s surprisingly simple!
One of the challenges with making a large tart instead of the individual apple rose tartlets is getting the frangipane to fully bake without overcooking and burning the apples. Make sure to dry off the apple slices well as excess water can make the frangipane filling too watery and take longer to bake. Also, I covered tops of the apples with some foil to protect them from burning.
After about an hour of baking, this work of art came out of the oven. It’s almond-y and custard-y, both things I love, and just smells of spring. It’s been so lovely to see the sun around here after weeks of dreary weather, so this first day of spring really does have the feel of celebration. Everyone’s a bit sun-drunk and just smiling more than usual. I hope you’re having a beautiful first day of spring too!
9 tablespoons (128 g) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
½ cup (100 g)sugar
¾ cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
4 large red apples
Juice from ½ lemon
7 oz marzipan or almond paste
For the pâte sablée:
Combine flour and confectioners' sugar in a food processor. Process until combined.
Add in the salt and process to fully combine.
Add in butter and process in quick pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs - it should not be fully combined into a ball.
Add in the egg yolk and vanilla extract and process in quick pulses just until the dough starts to form larger clumps. Again don't let it fully combine into a solid ball of dough. If the dough holds together when you press some small pieces together, it's done.
Butter a 9" square tart tin with removable bottom.
Gently press the dough into the bottom and sides of the tart tin. You may have some dough left over.
Freeze the tart shell for 20 minutes before baking.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter the shiny side of a piece of foil and press it down over the crust.
Place tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, until crust is dry and lightly browned. If the crust has puffed up, press it down with a spoon or dough tamper.
Let crust cool on cooling rack.
For the frangipane:
Combine the butter and sugar in the food processor and combine until smooth.
Add the ground almonds and blend together.
Add the flour and cornstarch, and then the egg and egg white. Process the mixture until it is very smooth.
Add in the vanilla and almond extracts just to blend. The frangipane can be used immediately or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
For the apple roses:
Working with one apple at a time, wash and slice apple in half, discarding the core.
Slice thinly with a mandoline. Cut slices into halves and place in a microwave safe bowl.
Fill bowl with enough water to cover the slices. Squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice.
Microwave for 2 minutes on high.
Drain apple slices and pat dry between paper towels.
Roll out about 2 oz of the marzipan into a ⅛" thick rectangle about 2" high.
Lay apple slices down the long side of the marzipan so the curved tops of the slices stick out beyond the edge.
Fold the marizpan up to cover the bottoms of the apple slices, then roll up from one of the short edges so the tops of the apple slices form the petals of a rose. Press the marzipan together to seal the edges and hold the rose together.
Repeat with rest of the apples and marzipan. You should be able to get about four to five roses with the marzipan. The rest of the apple slices can be arranged around the roses.
To assemble the tart:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Fill the tart shell about three-quarters full with the frangipane.
Place the apple roses in the frangipane where you like. Fill in the rest of the tart with the rest of the apple slices.
Cover the tops of the roses with foil to prevent burning.
Bake for about 45-55 minutes, until the frangipane is puffed and golden.
This S’mores chocolate whiskey pudding tart served double duty this year – I made it for Pi (e) Day yesterday, and to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I’m constantly multitasking this days, so why shouldn’t my desserts as well? As if s’mores in tart form isn’t tempting enough, the added punch of whiskey takes this really over the top. Although I’m not much of a whiskey drinker, I’m happily surprised at how much I enjoy it in my desserts!
This s’mores chocolate whiskey pudding tart is adapted from a favorite cookbook of mine, Baked Elements by Matt Lewis and Renato, founders of the famous Baked bakery in New York City. The recipe in the cookbook is for a straight pudding, with graham cracker crumbs and marshmallow topping. I decided to make a tart crust out of the graham crackers instead and fill it with the chocolate pudding, with a puff of marshmallow-y meringue on top.
Baked celebrates quintessentially American desserts like brownies, bundt cakes, and birthday cake, so it’s not surprising they have a soft spot for pudding. I’m so used to falling back on my old reliable French chocolate ganache tart, that it was fun to make chocolate pudding again and re-experience the amazing, comforting texture of a perfect spoonful of pudding. Look how gorgeous the gleam of freshly made, silky smooth pudding is. Using a strainer is key; you want to make sure any little overcooked bits get caught and strained out. The two tablespoons of whiskey are definitely enough to be noticeable in the pudding, so use a good quality one that you enjoy: I used Glenfiddich. If you want to leave it out, it’s certainly delicious all on its own. But try it if you can; as I said even a non-whiskey drinker like me was surprised at how much it added to the pudding.
When you combine the chocolate pudding with the cinnamon-spiced graham cracker crust, it is remarkably s’mores-like. This is definitely a dessert that is much more impressive than its humble-sounding origins. Add in the marshmallow topping and you have a legitimate show-stopper for the dinner table. Although it’s fun to bring in the complete dessert to oohs and aahs, you can also keep the marshmallow meringue separate, spoon it on each slice as it’s cut, and torch it at the table – another memorable way to end dinner – or celebrate the St. Patrick’s holiday.
Whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day, Pi Day, or any other day, I hope you have the chance to try this tart out. It’s good enough to not need any particular reason to make and enjoy, other than it’s really, really good.
A mermaid birthday cake for a swimming party: every little girl’s birthday dream, judging from the popularity of mermaid parties lately. Although Isabelle’s birthday was in January, holiday craziness usually means we don’t end up having her birthday party until February. This year she was very clear on her desired party theme: she’d been to her first birthday pool party last summer and she wanted the same for her own party. Well, a pool party is all well and good in July, but holding one in the middle of winter is a different story.
Fortunately, we ended up finding an indoor (heated!) swimming pool with party facilities, and Isabelle got to splash and swim to her heart’s content, and even go down the water slide (Here’s the party location, for all you Bay Area parents). I’d say it was a big success, and will be hard to top next year!
Isabelle started kindergarten last fall, and I was completely shocked to realize last month that she’s already halfway through the school year. Once they’re in school, time really seems to zip by at warp speed. She has her little circle of friends that she loves seeing every day, she loves math and art, and she’s a bona fide reader now, as in she’s reading everything she sees, not just her homework. As a lifelong voracious reader, seeing my daughter “get” reading, and get into reading, has been one of the most satisfying parts of this parenting journey so far.
Isabelle’s got her first wiggly tooth (about to fall out any day!), and she’s just under chest height for me; every time she looks up and says she wants to be as tall as me I tell her wistfully that it won’t be much longer (I’m positive that some of the fifth graders at school are taller than me – yikes!) Swimming is still her favorite sport; if we had a pool I know she’d be in there every day. As someone who’s never been more than okay at swimming (meaning I won’t drown – probably), it’s also unexpectedly satisfying to see my daughter swim through the water like a fish – or a mermaid.
The birthday party was a little smaller this year, so I didn’t go as overhead with the sweets. Some of the party treats I made included: vanilla bean cupcakes with swiss meringue buttercream in a mermaid-y swirl of pink, teal, and violet; seashell macarons with pearly centers, and the mermaid birthday cake, of course. Isabelle is so used to both cupcakes and a cake for her birthday now, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get away with only making just one of them again!
The cupcakes are my trusted go-to recipe; although I really wouldn’t mind branching out, what the birthday girl wants, she gets, so it’s vanilla cupcakes all around at her birthday. I really enjoyed making the swirled frosting; although there are all sorts of fancy piping bags and tools now to make different frosting effects, I found the simple DIY method worked just fine. I split the frosting into three bowls and added food coloring to each one, then spooned portions of the three different frostings into one bag, making sure each portion was spread from top to tip of the bag. I twisted the bag shut, and when I started piping the three frostings automatically swirled themselves together. I did make more frosting than typical – 1.5x the recipe, just because I wanted to have plenty for each color, and there’s nothing worse than running out of frosting when you’re assembling and decorating your cake. The sprinkles are the Vintage Kitten medley from Sweetapolita’s sprinkle shop.
I used the same sprinkles for the mermaid birthday cake, a four layer vanilla cake made via the reverse creaming method. I was so focused on envisioning the ombre frosting for the outside, that I didn’t think to make the layers different colors as well. Thus no photos of the cut cake as it’s just all white cake and white buttercream. Since we had both cake and cupcakes, I always make a smaller 6″ round cake, as I don’t expect it to serve a whole party. I like to use 2″ high pans – this set actually has exactly four pans, which is perfect for this recipe. You can bake the leftover batter in a cupcake tin or loaf pan for extra snacking cake!
Here are links to some of the other items I used for Isabelle’s party:
The cake topper in the last photo below is from Etsy; due to a slip-up in my party planning it didn’t arrive until the last minute, so that’s why it doesn’t appear in the other photos. But it made it on the cake by party day, which is the most important thing. Happy 6th birthday to my little mermaid!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour four 6" round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Combine cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Add the butter and beat until a crumbly mixture forms, just starting to come together.
Add the egg whites one at a time, and beat to combine. Add the egg and beat to combine.
Combine milk and vanilla extract together in a measuring cup. Add to the mixer in three additions, beating well after each addition.
If you want to be precise, weigh the batter so you know how much to put in each pan.
Pour one-fifth of the batter into one of the prepared 6" pans. Repeat with the other 6" pans. You will have one-fifth of the batter left over. You can bake an extra layer or make some cupcakes!
Bake for about 24-28 minutes, rotating halfway. The cakes should be set and a skewer inserted in the center should come out with a few crumbs on it.
Remove and place on wire racks. Run a knife around the edges for easier removal. Let cool for about 20 minutes and then invert pans to remove cakes. Let them finish cooling before decorating.
For the buttercream:
Combine the sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.
Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F.
Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.
Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add the butter too quickly or beat too quickly or the buttercream may break.
When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. It may appear to separate briefly but continue beating and it should come back together.
Add in the vanilla and almond extracts and beat to combine. Add food coloring as desired.
The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.
To assemble the cake:
Level off cake layers if necessary. Place one cake layer on a cake board or cake decorating stand.
Spread some of the buttercream over the cake layer evenly. Place a second cake layer on top and spread some more buttercream over the cake layer. Repeat the process with the third layer. Top with the fourth layer.
Spread a crumb coat of buttercream over the top and sides of cake (see here for tips on doing a crumb coat). Refrigerate for about an hour to let the frosting set.
When you are ready to finish the cake, spread the rest of the buttercream over the top and sides of the cake with an offset spatula. Finish decorating as desired.
Happy Valentine’s Day! This roasted strawberry mousse tart was quick to disappear at my place – all that’s left are the photos now! After the heart brownie from two years ago, I was really waiting for an excuse to use this heart tart pan again. This time it was for a proper tart: a buttery brown sugar crust holding a layer of roasted strawberry puree and a pink cloud of strawberry mousse of top.
I’m super excited to share photos of Isabelle’s 6th birthday cake soon but had to stop and make this tart first. After the frenzy of birthday party planning and dessert-making, getting to leisurely put together one little tart afterwards was like kitchen therapy. I’ve also been inspired by all the gorgeous, elaborately decorated tarts and pies I’ve been seeing all over the blogs and social media lately, so I had to join in with my little contribution. It’s the true sign of a baker/food stylist: I’m at the store looking at flowers not to give to someone, but to find ones in the right shade to match my tart!
Unfortunately I discovered that the heart pan I used is no longer available and I can’t find a similar one online. It’s about 11″ across at its widest and 1 1/2″ deep; if you want to use a regular round 10″ or 11″ tart pan, that will also work, and you’ll have some tart dough and strawberry mousse left over.
The strawberry mousse is a simple blend of strawberries and whipped cream. I like to roast the strawberries to bring out their flavor, as the whipped cream cuts the intensity of the fruit. I’ve really liked how they worked out in other recipes like this roasted strawberry and marshmallow ice cream. As a bonus, if you’re looking for a way to use up any leftover strawberry mousse, you can either pour it into individual ramekins or cups, and chill them, or you can serve it right away. Although I like to use a little gelatin to firm up the mousse in the tart so it cuts more easily, if you’re serving the mousse on its own you don’t really need the gelatin. The fluffy, cloudlike texture is even better fresh.
I might make this in a graham cracker crust next time when it’s spring or summer. Either way, it’s a beautiful and simple dessert that I’m sure I’ll find myself making more often once we’re full into strawberry season. Enjoy!
12 tablespoons (165 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 cups (about 300 g) strawberries, washed and hulled
¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons (3.5 g) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water
1½ cups heavy cream
For the tart dough:
Combine flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a food processor. Pulse to combine.
Add in butter and pulse until butter is in pea-sized pieces.
Combine water, vanilla, and almond extract and drizzle over the mixture. Pulse to combine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs – it should not be fully combined into a ball.
Turn out mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk about 1 inch thick. If you have trouble making it stick together add a few more drops of water.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently press and form into the bottom and sides of an 11" heart pan, or a 10" x 2" round tart pan will give you some leftover dough. Make sure to spread the dough out and up evenly to prevent an overly thick bottom or sides.
Chill tart pan in refrigerator while preheating the oven to 375 degrees F.
Line the dough with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake tart shell for 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes more.
Remove tart shells from oven and let cool.
For the strawberry mousse:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Wash and hull the strawberries.
Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Sprinkle the sugar over the strawberries.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the strawberries feel soft and mushy and the juices are coming out.
Put strawberries into a food processor and puree until very smooth. You should get about 1 to 1½ cups of puree.
Reserve about ½ cup of the strawberry puree to spread over the bottom of the tart shell.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand until softened, about 2 minutes.
Heat in microwave for about 30 seconds to liquefy the gelatin. Don't let it boil.
Stir the gelatin into the pureed strawberries.
Whip the cream in a stand mixer with whisk attachment on high until stiff peaks form.
Fold about a third of the cream into the strawberry mixture to lighten it. Fold in the rest of the cream.
Spread the reserved strawberry puree over the bottom of the tart shell. Carefully spoon and spread the strawberry mousse filling over the top, and smooth out with an offset spatula.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight before serving.
Sad foodie confession: when I had my daughter six years ago, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the hyperactive Bay Area food scene anymore. When your bedtime is around 9 PM, and later when you have a toddler with a super limited palate of noodles, rice, and chicken nuggets, you end up with maybe a five restaurant rotation all within 10 minutes of your place.
When we managed to finagle nights out away from the baby, I’d always be overwhelmed by my uber-long list of restaurants I’d been wanting to try for the last several months, plus the constant announcements of all the new hot places that I didn’t even know had opened.
Chocolate bread pudding from Miller’s Rest on Avital’s Tendernob Food Tour
I mentioned this dilemma to Avital of Avital Tours last summer, when I was on one of her excellent San Francisco food tours. She said that quite coincidentally she was working on a date night version of her tours where she would plan a night out for couples and make all the reservations. A few months later, I got a note from her that Avital Date Night was going live!
I was excited to try it, because as a parent, who doesn’t want to feel taken care of on your night off? Instead of spending hours researching restaurants and trying to secure reservations, it’s all already done for you. You fill out a questionnaire with your food interests and preferences, and they craft an itinerary for you. Date nights can range from casual to formal, with one stop for dinner or a progressive-style meal where you go to several places with a course at each. For our date, we went casual with dinner in the Mission District of San Francisco.
The first stop on the itinerary was Clarion Alley, a little lane between Mission and Valencia Street where the walls are covered in painted murals. The Clarion Alley Mural Project invites chosen artists to take over a wall and decorate it in their style. Avital included a scavenger hunt-style activity to spot some of their favorite parts of the murals. It’s a nice way to get a bit of the flavor of the neighborhood and ease into the evening. It’s also just a few moments away from the dinner restaurant, so I really loved how Avital planned and mapped everything out so you don’t have to do any thinking. It’s like having an invisible tour guide.
The main event of the night was dinner at West of Pecos. This restaurant was a perfect pick: I’d never heard of it, yet I was immediately intrigued and excited to try it out. West of Pecos serves Southwestern/New Mexican fare: fajitas, enchiladas, tacos, all with updated flavors and presentations. We had a special custom menu for our dinner experience:
A bit like a “greatest hits” prix fixe menu. From what we had that evening, I would highly recommend the crispy maple glazed Brussel sprouts (amazingly addictive – I had to force myself to not spend my entire appetite on these!); their signature crispy taco (a thick, fried piece of flatbread) with carnitas, and cast iron fajitas with shrimp in a pineapple-cilantro marinade.
Although you are responsible for the cost of dinner (the Avital Date Night subscription only covers their planning and reservation services), Avital throws in a few bonus surprises to make your night more magical. For us, it was a tableside cocktail making activity. The house bartender came by with ingredients to make a cocktail of our choice, and let us muddle, shake, and stir. Then we got to toast with our own freshly-made cocktails – which were pretty tasty!
For dessert, there was no doubt that we would get the churros. Perfectly crisp and sweet, and paired with chocolate and cajeta sauces for dipping.
The last surprise of the evening was a last treat from Avital: after dinner sweets at the Sixth Course. I’d been meaning to visit this dessert place so again Avital created a great itinerary for the evening. This cute dessert boutique makes small batches of truffles, gelato, and gorgeous French pastries. Avital left us a gift voucher good for two truffles – a very sweet end to a very fun-filled evening. I also picked up a couple of mini cakes to take home, because they were too adorable to pass up!
Having been on Avital’s signature food tours and now her curated date night, I think she offers some fantastic food experiences that are cut above the rest. There is lot of creativity and a desire to go above and beyond the customer, which really shines through in the detailed planning and bonus surprises. I’d love for my readers to try this out, especially with Valentine’s Day around the corner, so I’ve teamed up with Avital to offer my readers a special promotion. Go to the Avital Date Night website and enter in ANITA50 for 50% off your first date. You can choose your subscription package: recurring once monthly, once a quarter, or just a single night out. The single night out is a great way to try out Avital’s services and see what she has to offer.