Baking TM_BK_SPICEC_AP_004

I was eight years old when I attempted to make spice cookies for the first time. I remember the day vividly. A snowy December day when my sister, brother, and I were all on vacation from school, stuck at home while our parents were at work. I started getting restless from watching Christmas movies all morning when I decided that I would bake. With no parental supervision, it was the perfect time to have the kitchen all to myself and get the mess cleaned before anyone returned home. With the kitchen left unguarded, I felt confident in trying a recipe from scratch.

But I was only a young girl. Still used to opening a box and adding eggs or oil and thinking I baked a masterpiece. Baking spice cookies was one of the times that I ventured away from the comforts of Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines and started from scratch. I dug through a drawer to pull out my mother’s recipe books. I sat on the floor, thumbing page after page trying to find a cookie recipe that interested me. Couldn’t do chocolate chip — I knew we didn’t have the chips. Oatmeal raisin was never my cookie of choice. But that’s when I came across spice cookies. That seemed interesting and different! I got up off the floor and started to get out the mixing bowl. MORE

Baking TM_BK_HAZEL_FI_001_1

What does the word “hazelnut” bring to mind? Do you automatically recall the famed stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth chocolate and hazelnut spread?

You’re not alone. Most people think of Nutella — the popular chocolate and hazelnut spread — when hazelnuts are mentioned. That, or in my case, the Ferrero Rocher chocolate candies my mother always received in her Christmas stocking from my grandmother, despite not caring for the confection. This treat consists of a whole roasted hazelnut with a hazelnut cream, dipped in milk chocolate and chopped hazelnuts and wrapped individually in gold paper. Decadent much? MORE

Baking TM_BK_FIGS_FI_001

As summer begins to make way for the cooler months ahead, many bakers aren’t just looking forward to autumn, the time of all things pumpkin and cinnamon-sprinkled. We also know that precious figs are in their prime in September, finding their way to farmers markets and into our kitchens.

For those of us who can summon the willpower to not devour each and every fig we bring home — and truly, eating a fresh fig in the peak of the season is possibly best way to taste the warm, sweet days of summer — we can reward ourselves with the next best thing: baking with figs. MORE

Ingredient TM_IN_TOMFRUIT_FI_003

When you think of the famous, history-changing Supreme Court cases, what comes to mind? Brown v. Board of Education? Roe v. Wade? Miranda v. Arizona? How about Nix v. Hedden? Instead of debating over segregation, freeedom of choice, or the due process of law, this particular case was over the issue of tomatoes being a vegetable or fruit. The Nix v. Hedden case, the most heated battle of the Supreme Court in 1883, was between a tomato importer — Nix — and the New York Import Authority, Hedden. Nix was suing Hedden for taxing his tomatoes as vegetables. He argued that they were really fruits (which were, conveniently, tariff-free), and, therefore, were exempt from taxation.

Of course, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably already been told that tomatoes are actually fruits. But what makes the tomato a fruit and not a vegetable? Botanically speaking, fruits are the mature ovary (flowering structure) of plants. Fruits are designed to house and protect the seeds of the plant. Vegetables, on the other hand, are the edible portion of a plant. They are classified into different groups based on their structure like roots (carrots), bulbs (onions), or leaves (lettuce). Therefore, a plump, seedy tomato is really a fruit, but technically, so are pumpkins, peppers, and squash. MORE

Baking TM_BK_SHORTCK_FI_001

As a child, the turning of the calendar page to June meant that a visit to see my grandmother and aunt in LaFayette, NY would be around the corner. My mother and I would pack a suitcase, wave to my father and German Shepherd Sasha as we pulled out of our driveway in southeastern Virginia, and began what seemed like the longest car ride ever up north, peppered with Phil Collins cassette tapes and quick fast food meals eaten in the car.

The reward at the end of the 9-hour drive, thankfully, would be my grandmother’s strawberry shortcake. She would pick the berries in the morning while we were driving up and bake the subtly sweet biscuits in the afternoon. We would arrive shortly before dinnertime, and after having a light meal, she would step away to make fresh whipped cream. Then the shortcakes would be served.
MORE

Forgotten Foods TM_FF_DEATHFOOD_FI_001

Oh, how many of us yearn for a simpler time and place? A time before cell phones, when people couldn’t always reach us. A time before the Internet, when we didn’t accidentally read Game of Thrones spoilers on our Twitter feeds (I’m still bitter about the Red Wedding). A time before Nicki Minaj, when all of the beez were free.

You know that wholesome time I’m talking about – that time when little children would sit around, eagerly waiting for someone to die so they could eat funeral cookies.

Lest you think I’m romanticizing the past, allow me to offer this selection from an article entitled “Scotch Funerals,” published in 1883’s The Living Age:

My grandfather…always had one or two of his grandchildren awaiting his return from any burial he attended, who were often not disappointed in seeing the coveted morsel produced from his pocket and having it shared among them.

If only today’s children knew what treats they were missing out on, they might do like children of yesteryear and eagerly await the death of others!
MORE

Bookshelf

Chocolate Without Compromise

Vegans deserve decadent desserts, too – and a new book is here to help

by

TM_BK_VEGCHOC_AP_001When I was in high school, my best friend was a vegan. She subsisted primarily on rice, beans, fruit, and the vegan cookies her mom baked in giant batches every weekend. Any time there was a party, she’d bring a plate of these cookies to share. They were overly sweet, weirdly gummy, and not at all appealing to anyone who wasn’t devoted to a strict plant-based diet.

Happily, things have changed a lot in the world of vegan desserts over the last 20 years, in large part thanks to Fran Costigan. She has been working as a vegan pastry chef and baking instructor for more than two decades and is known for desserts that satisfy in a way that’s better for you and for the planet.

In her recent book, Vegan Chocolate (Running Press, 2013), Costigan serves up a luscious array of vegan truffles, cakes, cookies, pies, puddings, tarts, and drinks. Of the recipes I tried, not one felt like a sacrifice or compromise. They were universally delicious and were a pleasure to make, because I could taste freely throughout the prep process without worrying about raw eggs in the batter. MORE

DIY TM_DY_ANIMAL_FI_003

I’ll admit it. When I moved into my new apartment this year, along with my sheets, coffee mugs, and suitcase, I toted along a value-sized tub of animal crackers. It was the kind you could find at your local wholesale club, weighing in at over two pounds, and it didn’t even last three weeks.

Even as a grown adult, I still haven’t grown out of my love for this hallmark childhood snack. I like them plain, dunked in tea, or dipped in peanut butter, but while I was noshing on my latest tub of animal crackers, I noticed something I didn’t like: the ingredient list. Enriched flour, soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin…for such a simple snack, I was surprised to see such a long list of unnecessary and unnatural ingredients. To think that the miniature animals I had so lovingly craved were actually filled with chemical additives was appalling. That was when I began thinking of trying my hand at making my own.
MORE

The Larder TM_TL_COOKIES_FI_001

There is no holiday tradition I love more than the baking and sharing of cookies. Most of the year, I do my best to keep the sweet treats at bay, but during December, all bets are off. I make at least half a dozen varieties and hand them out to my friends, neighbors, and family members.

My first cookie of the season is always a basic roll-out sugar cookie. The recipe comes from an old family friend. It’s easy to make, can stand up to repeated rolling, and holds its shape during baking. I like to decorate them with a simple shake of colored sugar or sprinkles, but the truly ambitious can employ frosting as well.
MORE

Baking TM_BK_NANIAM_FI_001

The first morning of a recent business trip to British Columbia, I walked into a bakery for coffee and walked out with coffee and a fascinating treat called a Nanaimo bar. I took a bite. I was a goner. Along with the butter tart, the Nanaimo (pronounced Nuh-NIME-oh) bar is one of the great Canadian sweets, a 3-layer chocolate-and-vanilla cream confection that puts the drab brownie to shame. The genius of the bar lies in its contrasting flavors and textures. A nubby cocoa crust is iced with cool, smooth vanilla cream which is in turn capped with a thin layer of melted chocolate. The recipe first appeared in a 1952 hospital auxiliary cookbook under the name “chocolate square” and while no one is sure who invented it, or where, the town of Nanaimo takes the credit. I spent the next four days of my trip sampling Nanaimo bars everywhere I went, which was easy because they are ubiquitous, the chocolate chip cookie of British Columbia. For the record, if you’re ever in Victoria, Bond Bond’s bakery made the best Nanaimo bar I tasted, although the Nanaimo bar at a Vancouver Starbucks was pretty terrific. MORE

Gluten Free

Gluten-Free Holiday Treats

Flour-free cookies for sensitive Santas

by

Gluten free Christmas cookiesI recently decided to go gluten-free and, most of the time, it doesn’t really bug me. I don’t mind skipping the starchy foods I used to rely on for the easy quick-prep meals that characterized my diet. Of course, there are those little things I miss now and then, like whipping up a plate of fluffy pancakes on Sunday morning, or sinking my teeth into a really good slice of crispy thin-crust New York pizza.

But at this time of year, I’ve found myself only missing one thing: Cookies. When Thanksgiving ends and the holiday season officially begins, seemingly earlier than the year before, the pumpkin pies and cranberry scones disappear in favor of brightly decorated reindeer-shaped sugar cookies and wide-eyed smiling gingerbread men.

If you’re anything like me, you may be worried that your family won’t want to give up their usual holiday cookies in favor of gluten-free treats that you can enjoy. But here are some delicious alternatives everyone will love—so make sure you have extras! MORE

Bookshelf

Not Your Mama’s Cookies

Win a copy of Hedy Goldsmith's new cookbook, Baking Out Loud

by

When it comes to home baking, I tend to be utilitarian. I can turn out a serviceable loaf of banana bread, am fairly comfortable with basic yeast doughs and make a mean oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. However, once I stray beyond my familiar territory, things often go sideways.

It’s not that I’m not interested in more adventurous baking, I simply haven’t had much luck when I’ve tried things like homemade Oreo-style sandwich cookies (the filling separated and tasted like a grease slick) and many-layered cakes (never has a baked good so resembled the leaning tower of Pisa). And while even the ugliest disaster can still be delicious, it’s nice when you find that sweet spot of both visual and palatable success.

Knowing this, you’ll understand that I approached Hedy Goldsmith’s Baking Out Loud with both excitement and a little trepidation. Goldsmith is a pastry chef based in Miami, Florida, who is known for making over-the-top versions of familiar treats (like Twinkies and Cracker Jacks) and her glossy, beautifully photographed first book contains many of the items that have made her famous throughout the South. MORE