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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pumpkin Chai Macarons

Welcome to Fall!!!

The days and nights are finally getting cooler here on the central coast. This makes one feel more in the appropriate holiday spirit, as Thanksgiving is just around the corner. In honor of the season of cold noses being tickled by mugs of steamy chai lattes (or hot cocoas), I decided to play around with the combination of pumpkin and chai. 

As I hadn't played with macarons in a stretch, I thought, what better way to dive back in to experiments (which might be successful*).

The shell is where the chai flavor is coming from, and then the filling is the silky, mild pumpkin spiced buttercream.

I hope you can try it while it is the season!

The colors in these apples, pomegranates, Turks Turbans, and grape leaves capture so much of what I think of fall! Go jump in a pile of leaves. It's okay, I give you permission. :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sweet Pea's Vacation and Gluten Free Bread

This week is the harvest festival here in Arroyo Grande. On Saturday what seems like the entire town, turns out to see the parade of autumnal cheer. My mother, in particular, is very excited about driving a tractor in the parade. I hope to see you all there in a festive mood!

Not only is this week harvest festival, but it also lends host to my paternal grandmother's 80th birthday, my sister-in-law's 27th birthday, and last (and least) my vacation.

So what have I been doing on the first couple of my days off? Well, Sunday I kidnapped my mother and we drove 315.5 miles up to Elk Grove to visit my aunt (Sweet Pea Senior, side note, in the family I'm Sweet Pea Junior). Then yesterday we whirlwinded around town, going to Restaurant Depot, and The Nugget (one of my new favorite places). At the Depot we were searching for King Arthur Flours, and chocolates and quality ingredients in bulk. I'm guessing that they don't get much call for many of those items and so do not keep them in stock.

At The Nugget, I fell in love (don't tell my boyfriend). Think of it as a cross between New Frontiers and Whole Foods, and I believe that I don't have to describe it any more than that. Being so far up north, they carry different products than those stores I frequent down here. Of course, I stopped by the bakery department where I purchased two items. One was this gorgeous chocolate tulip cup filled with chocolate cake, chocolate ganache and raspberry jam. Then whipped cream piled on top, with chocolate batons and fresh raspberries. It was a showstopper, but as fond as I am of raspberries, I would have preferred more raspberry. The second pastry was a magic bar, which might be the inspiration for a new bar. Think of a seven layer bar, based on a brownie. Have I attracted your attention?

After leaving the Nugget (we spent 2 hours roaming the aisles), Mom and I departed for home, where we snuggled up into our own routines and wished for sweet dreams

Then some fun experimenting occurred!

If I didn't know that this bread was gluten free, I would probably assume that it was a type of quick bread. In fact, it tastes almost exactly like beer bread, it is just not as sweet, and instead of baking soda, I used yeast. Next time I would let it "ferment" in the fridge overnight.

Hmmm, I'm finishing up this post the day after the bread was baked, and it became dry very quickly. It tasted amazing straight out of the oven, but it definitely only has a few hours for a shelf life. I'm thinking it is the nature of the beast, but keep experimenting I shall. 

If any of you are interested in the recipe for this bread, please leave me a comment, and I will post it for you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Season of Pie, part 1

We are coming into the fall season, even though the temperatures outside seem steadily in the "high" area of the thermometer. Children are back at school. Apples are growing ripe, and riper. Cinnamon fills the air, at least where I'm baking.

The start of a new school year always beckons me to pie, especially those made of the autumnal nectar from childhood: apples and pumpkins. That, combined with more and more questions on whether or not I make new vegan items, or gluten free items, or low/no sugar items, yielded my usual routine to some experimenting, or some playing around. As with whenever I experiment, a success gives me an "on top of the world" feeling, while a failure gives me an Anne Shirley moment where I crash into the depths of despair.

Right now, as I type, I am blind baking an Oat-Nut crust which happens to be gluten free and vegan. The ingredients are rather simple: Gluten free rolled oats, toasted almonds, toasted pecans, cinnamon, salt, agave nectar, tapioca starch, coconut oil, and real vanilla.

Depending on how I like the crust, I will either tweak, keep or throw away entirely and start afresh.

If I keep, I plan on filling with pumpkin pie (made with pumpkin, almond milk, and agave) and an apple version, filled with Granny Smith apples.

Wish me luck!!!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Raspberry Ripple Muffin

Where have I been these last couple of weeks? Time goes by so quickly! Let's see...last week I started two new farmers markets. I'm now in Wednesday mornings in the Spencer's parking lot in AG, and Thursday afternoons in the Spencer's parking lot in Morro Bay.

The great thing about specifically the Wednesday market is that I can focus on morning pastries! After all, who can turn down a muffin or a scone on a nice market morning?

So that led me to decide which flavor of muffin to make. So many choices, but my mother had made this AMAZING raspberry jam with Rutiz Farm berries a couple of weeks ago, so my choice was pretty much made for me.

A Raspberry Ripple Muffin is  a layered pastry/cake/yummy goodness. At the bottom is a cinnamon and orange zesty rich cake background, then there is a ribbon layer of cream cheese lacing through , and of course, a spread of raspberry jam, topped off with streusel. How can you go wrong? Add some more fresh berries with your muffin and you have a gourmet meal at your fingertips.

Oh, and for the scone, I brought my Blackberry (boysenberry, specifically), Lavender, andEarl Grey Scone. Mornings are fun, especially on Wednesdays.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lavender Shortbread

Growing up, my mother was on the receiving end of a Victorian magazine subscription. Combined with that and frequent visits to the Dana Power House in Nipomo, I came away with a romanticized vision of the Victorian era. During that time period, it was not uncommon to incorporate edible flowers into many of their delicate confections.

Some of these edible flowers are roses, lavender, pansies (including Johnny Jump Ups), violets and even borage. These flowers can be crystallized and used as natural decorations to cakes and cookies.

I had wanted to create something accessible to the modern palate while still paying homage to the bygone era. Thus the quest for the cookie began. I had a general idea of what I had wanted, but I was worried about the strength of the lavender, because if you use too much, it tastes like you are eating soap....yeah, that sounds scrumptious.

What came of this experiment was a recipe which yielded a light, buttery, and amazingly crisp cookie with just a subtle taste of lavender notes, trailing at the tail end of each bite. I decided to finish it off with a drizzle of white chocolate to raise its elegance.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Current Happenings

It has been a couple of weeks since last I posted. What have I been doing? Taking a vacation?

While a vacation sounds nice, it is not what I've been up to. Last week my brother and sister-in-law came into town, and my mother threw them a couples baby shower. (I'm going to be an auntie! I'm so excited :D) It was done very nicely, and thanks to much help from friends, it reached a professional, magazine photo shoot level (at least to my eye).

The invitation was drawn by my mother:
Please note that relevant information has been left out or changed.

The menu line up was fantastic:
Pulled pork, roasted zucchini, asparagus, stuffed baby mushrooms, sausage, coleslaw, salad with raspberries and blueberries, and mom's homemade macaroni and cheese. Oh, it was gorgeous.

Of course, a meal isn't complete without dessert.....and that is where my contribution came in. Mom designed a "Milk and Cookies" bar. Cowboys, Monsters, Lavender Shortbread, Triple Chocolate Chunk, Triple Play (Chad renamed them "Cal Ripkin), Snickerdoodles, and of course, Chocobloc.

This party idea is so cute and refreshing, it makes me want to invite my friends over for milk and cookies. Who can turn down a cookie?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tuxedo Cake

     Over the weekend I was privileged to make a special order birthday cake for my       
friend Jean's dad.  Together we came up with the idea of doing a tuxedo cake, a very 
elegant choice for his special day.  I had been wanting to try my hand at making
this cake for a while now, so I was excited to have this chance.  The cake has
 has three components:  three layers of very moist  chocolate cake, whipped
 cream frosting and a chocolate ganache finish.

The three-tiered cake with it's smooth layer of whipped
cream.  Of course there is whipped cream between
each cake layer as well!

The chocolate ganache is drizzled over the chilled cake
so it sets up quickly with lovely drips.

I love the look of the finished cake with the contrast of the
white whipped cream and the chocolate ganache.   A
cake fit for a king, or a special dad.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cop Cookies-The Genesis of a New Cookie

A while ago I had an idea to create a pair of cookies
called cops and robbers.  While looking for inspiration for the
cop cookie, of course the first thing that came to mind is 
coffee and doughnuts

So, in between batches of caramel and biscotti,  I
played around with some cookie doughs,adding
coffee  and mixing in  chocolate covered cheerios
that looked like little donuts.

Cute little buggers.

After adding a few sprinkles to reinforce the donut theme,
I ended up with prototype #1, pictured above.
Prototype #1 looked a little strange, but more importantly,
didn't have much to offer other than being sweet.
Back to the drawing board.

I started thinking of other things associated with the police 
like this old black and white  police car.

It also came to mind that policemen are
often called "men in blue"

By the way, Do you know how the blue police uniform
came about?  Apparently it all started in London.  In 1829
they instituted the first modern police force and chose
dark blue uniforms to differentiate them from their military
which wore red and white uniforms at the time. New
York City was the first to copy this idea in 1853, with 
many other US police forces following suite.

NOW, back to the cookies...
I decided to take my original idea of a coffee
laced cookie and incorporate the black, white
and blue elements.  So, I nixed the little donuts and
added chocolate chips and white chocolate chips 
to represent the black and white police car and
dried blueberries for the 'men in blue'.
This was Prototype#2 and....it tasted good
but was flatter than a pancake.

After tweaking the flour and sugar ratios this week, I
came up with Prototype#3, which looks good 
and I think has a very nice and interesting flavor,
but I will let my customers decide whether the 'copper' is 
a 'keeper'.  I will have this cookie and many others available
at my stand this week.  And now for those robber cookies......

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Crazy About Vanilla

     I am absolutely crazy about vanilla extract.  So crazy, I have a whole closet full of the
 delightful elixir.  You see, I don't want to run out of it-ever.  And since almost all of my
pastries contain generous amounts of vanilla, the danger is real.  Not only do I need large
quantities of vanilla, I need it be really high quality, so-- I make it myself.

I use only Madagascar vanilla beans and vodka for my vanilla extract,
no sweeteners or other add-ins.  

I buy nice, plump vanilla beans in bulk

Then I cut up the beans, put them in glass jars and fill 'em up with vodka.
After steeping for several months I have a supply of wonderful
vanilla extract to use in my creations.

Soon, I hope to be able to offer my vanilla extract for sale at
my stand so others who are crazy about vanilla can enjoy it too!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Strawberry Celebration

     Since the Strawberry Festival was in full swing this weekend  in Arroyo Grande ,
we decided to have our own little mini Strawberry Festival at Rutiz Farms on Saturday.  There
were special deals on full flats of Jerry's pesticide-free strawberries and I offered homemade 
shortcakes topped with Jerry's Berries and real whipped cream.  The berry patch is peaking in
production right now so it is a great time to honor this luscious fruit!

Some of my amazing customers digging into their shortcakes!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake Photoshoot

Today I had the priviledge of providing some teatime treats for a photo shoot that took place at the Dana Powers House.   The theme for the tea was 'Let them eat cake" and the color of the day was most certainly pink.   I made a small coconut cake, some macarons and some white chocolate strawberries.

Pink roses from Judi's beautiful garden

My mom went and picked some strawberries at Rutiz Farms and
I drizzled them with a little white chocolate and sprinkled a
few with some coconut.  Jerry at Rutiz Farms has the best
strawberries in the world!

And here is where the adventure begins...
I like my cakes to taste good so I refuse to use fondant or 
Crisco frosting .  I frost my cake with cream cheese frosting
and then coat it liberally with coconut.  Normally, not a
problem because I keep them refrigerated.  Today, however
was a different story.  Today I learned that warm days and
cakes with cream cheese frosting aren't the best match.
As the shoot was getting set-up the sides of the cake
started falling- coconut and all.  We patched it up the
best we could but it was definitely not as pretty as
when it arrived.  Lesson learned!

I had made  edible white chocolate cameos which we didn't  end 
up using but I like how sweet and girly they look so I
am sure I will make them again for a future project.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mama Loves Blue

Mama loves blue.........

blue hydrangeas........

blue canning jars.........

blue fuzzy robes.........

a blue egg in a nest.....

So, for Mother's Day I made mama blueberry pancakes!

What makes these pancakes special is the fact that even though they are whole
wheat, they are not heavy,  they are super light and fluffy.  I
used fresh blueberries from Rutiz Farms to make them extra amazing.
This recipe is from the Clinton St. Baking Company cookbook and
I hope you love it as much as mama does!

Light N Fluffy Whole Wheat Pancakes
1 7/8 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
6 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter
6 extra large eggs, separated (the whites at room temp)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 cups blueberries (optional)
Sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl.
Whisk together the egg yolks, milk, melted butter and vanilla in a medium bowl.
Whisk the wet mixture and the dry mixture together until incorporated but still lumpy.
In an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until medium peaks.
Slowly fold the whites into the lumpy batter.
In a skillet over medium high heat, spray with nonstick oil, and scoop between 1/3 and 1/2 cup of batter into the pan. If you would like blueberries or other fillings, put them in at this point. Traditionally pancakes are ready to flip over when you see a lot of bubbles on the top, but with this batter it doesn’t make itself as apparent. Look at the rim of the pancake on the uncooked side. When it begins to have  a matte finish, the pancake is ready to flip.
Serve with maple syrup and butter, and ENJOY!!!