birthday number 2, take two

Someone was quite eager to get started. Before daddy even lit the birthday candles, Rivers was rehearsing for his shining moment. Having waited patiently for over a week to devour his birthday tart, until his cold disappeared, he was certainly practiced in the art of extinguishing a flame with the first breath. Too perfected for his mama to capture the reflected glow of the candlelight and his efforts without a relight.

Maybe we’ll do trick candles next year to slow him down a bit.
Daddy allowed Rivers the honor to (attempt to) cut his birthday dessert. And with the pie cutter in hand, he created a smiley face instead. “Eyyyyyeeee. Heaaaa.”

A few weeks prior to Rivers’ birthday I was racking my brain with what to do for his cake. His daddy’s birthday is not even a full month prior. Two winter birthdays can put a bit of a damper on creativity, especially since there is relatively no fresh (local) fruit, and this season they both needed to be gluten-free.  Good thing I have two chocoholics in the family!

Sometimes I don’t know if Rivers fully understands me when I speak to him, but during a brainstorming moment I asked if he would like a peanut butter-chocolate tart. His entire face lit up, eyes widened. He nodded steadily and calmly, letting the weight of my question sink. That settled that.

 

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{2014} looking back

09.14-NYCskyline-

This is New York City, the view from my (former) home subway stop. Having lived in the same apartment for all 3.5 years of my stay, I saw this view in every season, and being a pastry cook meant I saw it at all (odd) hours of the day and night.

This particular day was early autumn, Sunday, and one of the first actually cold mornings of the season. It was about 6:30am when my sister in-law, Bathsheba, and I ventured out on an experience that only crazy people or real foodies (or real crazy foodie people) would do. We left the warmth and comfort of our beds to wait in line for hours, shivering and holding our pee so that we could taste the original, the infamous, the one and only cronut09.14-NYCskyline209.14-bathshebaThis girl is kind of badass in every way, but waiting in the cold for hours just to taste a pricey weird dessert, well…she’s also a girl after my own heart.

09.14-cronutbox09.14-BashCronut09.14-cuttingcronutThe cronut flavor changes each month, so we actually ended up meeting a few other NYC residents who were returning to try October’s Pumpkin Spice. There are no other choices, it’s just whatever flavor the bakery makes that month.

The boys showed up in time for doors to open and the dessert purchasing to begin to eat. As we finished our indulgent breakfast an older woman approached our table and whispered, “Was it worth it?”  Still taking it all in, I immediately replied ” I don’t know.” She turned to a man by her side and said something about being glad they didn’t have to wait. Anyone can just walk into the bakery if they’re ordering anything besides cronuts.

Now that it’s been a few months, and I’ve been able to try some of the “imitation” cronuts out there, my answer has changed. It was totally worth it! The cronut from the Dominique Ansel Bakery had a very distinct flavor (beyond the pumpkin spice), and the experience of putting forth effort and then waiting patiently for a treat makes it that much more special to savor. Just my thoughts.

___________________________________

After dessert, we walked from SOHO to Chinatown for a much needed savory lunch, at a vegetarian dim sum place that we’d had on our list to try for almost as long as we’d been in NYC. Why? Because “good fortune” and “unicorn” were featured on the menu. And it was delicious!

Lesson learned. Never put off vegetarian dim sum, ever.

09.14-BW-HoldingHands09.14-BW-SOHO 09.14-BW-Rivers209.14-BW-Chinatown 09.14-BW-RiversCronuts, dim sum and an afternoon of flirting with the friendliest waitresses on the planet was too much for this kid.

One of my favorite days ever!

 

valentine’s day treat: apple {rose} tart

apple-rose-pie4

Valentine’s day is one of my favorite holidays. Okay, I love most holidays. Any excuse to decorate the house and make a large feast and plenty of sweets. Valentine’s day is great because it’s such a distraction from the bitter winter weather. Unfortunately it arrives so soon after Rivers’ big day and the lunar new year that it has become a very neglected holiday these past two years. Last year, busy with a newborn, it past completely undetected.

This season I managed a tart, but only by chance. The pear tart from the Tassajara Bread Book was the next on the list of my personal cookbook challenge. I’m trying to complete every recipe in the book by…a undetermined date. I open it whenever we need bread or something new to excite our tastebuds.

The author, Edward Esope Brown, is very laid back about his recipes so I figured subbing apple roses in place of sliced pear layers is not enough of a deviation that I can’t check it off the list. I followed the crust recipe, mostly. It had to be par baked instead of baked with the fruit. Making apple roses requires cooking (or dehydrating in a syrup) prior to rolling. I tossed a handful of white cheddar on the bottom, positioned the roses, brushed them lightly with a simple caramel glaze then baked the whole tart about 15 minutes, until the cheese melted. Rivers insisted on helping me, which realistically resulted in him fixing my hair while he was wrapped on my back. Occasionally he requested  bites of apple between tugs and knot-making or stretched his neck over my shoulder to inspect my work. What a life.

apple-rose-pie1Cored and cut into thin slices. Toss in sugar or syrup and optional spices.
{cinnamon, clove, cardamom, fennel seed etc}
Cook until soft and flexible.

apple-rose-pie2apple-rose-pie3Roll two pieces together then add larger slices until the desired size.

apple-rose-pie5Dig in like a cave woman, or …you know, use a knife a cut out a perfect pie piece.

Cocoa-Orange Zebra Cake

birthday-cake2

A thin orange frame protects a diptych of my youngest brother on his first birthday. To the right he curiously eyes a blue cupcake, arms outstretched. In the left photograph the cupcake has disappeared, leaving its sugary evidence smeared entirely across my brother’s face. Eyes closed and grinning from ear to ear, his neck is stretched to the camera’s face. The victor’s pose.

The first smash is priceless, which is why I urged myself to make Rivers’ first cake worthwhile. My son’s first birthday cake took six months to make, give or take a couple weeks. That sounds gross right? Okay, the brainstorming began six months ago, then there was the long testing phase in conjunction with note-taking and mathematics. I believe I did more math homework than actual baking.

I could have made life easier by simply making my tried-and-true chocolate cake recipe, only adding a dash of orange zest for “seasonal” flair. (Florida’s seasonal flair. Had I stuck to local and seasonal we would have ended up with snow cones.) Pastry is my passion, thus my gift, my labor of love to my son in celebration of his first year with us.

{A quick note about the cake}
It is definitely vegan and sugar-free, but not sweetener-free. There is plenty of maple syrup. I’ve experimented with cutting the sweetener further than this recipe, but found the results lacking richness. Fruit puree made the texture a little gummy. Like Goldie Locks, I think this one is just right. The texture is soft and light with a flavor reminiscent of Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Enjoy!

Cocoa-Orange Zebra Cake
{Vegan & Sugar-free}
Yields 2, 6-inch cakes

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil
1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 Tablespoon nut milk
2 Tablespoons orange zest (about two large navel oranges)

Oil and flour cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

In a large bowl, sift together flours, baking powder and salt. Divide the flour evenly into two bowls. Sift cocoa powder into one.

In a medium bowl, whisk together syrup, oil, vanilla and 1 cup nut milk. Combine the syrup mixture with the dry ingredients, half in one, half in the other. Mix the remaining 2 Tablespoons nut milk into the cocoa batter. Stir zest into the other. Batter should be smooth and very runny.

Spoon about 3-4 Tablespoons of orange batter into the center of each cake pan. Repeat with the cocoa batter, making a bull’s eye over the orange. Alternate the batters and repeat this step until no batter remains. The smaller each spoonful, the more stripes in the cake. (I got antsy and used large spoonfuls for the photo below)

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Cool completely before removing from the pan.

Cake should be delicate, soft and moist. Best chilled before cutting and assembling layers.

Fudgy Cocoa Frosting
{Vegan & Sugar-Free}
Yields about 3 cups
2 cups unsweetened and unsalted almond butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1/3-1/2 cup nut milk
1 1/2-2 teaspoons orange zest (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too dry, add additional nut milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Frosting will thicken somewhat when refrigerated, so additional nut milk may be needed before use.

zebra-cakebirthdaycake-candle

Hamantaschen

©fourwoodthinkingWhat to do when your best friend has a fever and playdate is cancelled? Stay home and bake cookies with mama, that’s what.

©fourwoodthinking ©fourwoodthinking

Jonathan has been out of the house this week on a much-needed trip to visit his parents. Most of his time will be spent in a hospital, which is no place for an antsy baby who considers a floor an all-you-can-eat buffet. Until next Thursday I am a single stay-at-home parent. I would be lying if I said it’s been all sunshine and rainbows thus far. The kid knows senses something is different. Any time I use the word “no” Rivers crawls around the house calling for daddy. The cat is no better, the way he scrambles up and down the stairs and moans uncontrollably at the front door. These two are almost like two peas in a pod.

Instead of a smile, I received a questionable stare the first morning I greeted Rivers. Usually his papa does a morning routine with the potty and diaper change before Rivers is handed off to nurse. On day one he pointed to the empty space in my bed, “Dada?” Since dada hasn’t returned yet Rivers is understandably more protective over me.  Having a bodyguard is wearing me out though. On day two I went to the bedroom for a pair of socks and woke up twenty minutes later to the little guy slapping my face with baby wipes. It troubles me that I have no memory of laying down. I just crashed like a fallen tree.

By day three we were in a rhythm. When he went down for an afternoon nap I decided to forget the chores and do something for myself. Write part of a blog post or start making cookies? I’m nowhere near finished with my Tassajara Bread Book challenge, but this seemed like a good day for familiar comfort sweets.

Hamantuschen are easy to find in NYC. Their triangular shape is basically everywhere, but nothing beats an old family recipe. This is my mom’s recipe, passed down from grandmothers.  Generally hamantaschen (Haman’s Hat) is made for the Jewish holiday of Purim, but we made them for almost every holiday when I was a kid. These require a bit more work than a scoop cookie dough, but I promise the slightly sweet dough is fail-proof. The rest is just fun. The trick to a perfect triangular hat is not to overfill the center and the firmly pinch the corners until they stick.

These are going to be so much fun to make in the future with Mr. Little Hands. Until then he can watch from the sideline and tell me all about the dreams he had while napping.

©fourwoodthinking

Hamantaschen 
Makes about 35, 3-inch cookies

2 eggs
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 c. fruit preserve, poppy seed paste or nut filling

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly oil baking sheets or prepare with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla.

In another large bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder.  Stir wet ingredients into the dry, until a stiff dough forms.  Gently knead dough, if needed, to fully incorporate ingredients. If dough is too sticky to roll out, refrigerate 10-15 minutes.

On a clean and lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness.  Cut dough into 3-inch rounds.

Drop 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Shape into a triangle by folding one side at a time or by pinching the three corners.  Bake 20 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

©fourwoodthinking

If these last two photos look vaguely familiar to some of you, good. My camera battery unexpectedly expired, so I pulled these from my old food blog.

piddling

©fourwoodthinking©fourwoodthinking ©fourwoodthinking ©fourwoodthinking

We’ve been piddling around the house, avoiding the chill outdoors, gorging ourselves with cookies (thanks mom!), stitching old projects and taking pictures when the sun actually peeks through the kitchen window.

Pssst, we’re also getting the house ready for a very special upcoming celebration. One that involves cake and a single candle.

whole-grain chunky chocolate bars

whole-grainchunkychocolatebars

As if I don’t bake enough at work, I’m in my kitchen calculating ingredients and whipping up recipes on days off. This was not the case when I was home full-time, but the projects I do at the bakery inspired me to dust off my old recipe books. I noticed that my old notes are stained and, in some cases, the pen ink is fading. It’s time to get organized, rewrite (or type) recipes and re-test a few to make sure they’re worth keeping.

First one down.
WholeGrain-Chunky-Bar2

WholeGrain-Chunky-Bar

Whole-Grain Chunky Chocolate Bars (Vegan)
Yields 16 squares from an 8×8 inch pan

2 Tablespoons freshly ground flax seed
6 Tablespoons warm water
1 1/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup canola oil, or melted coconut oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces melted semi-sweet chocolate
5.5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate bar, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
4-5 ounces chocolate for dipping (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8 inch square pan with parchment.

Whisk together ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a blender or food processor, blend oats until they become a flour. Place in a medium bowl and whisk in whole wheat flour, salt and baking powder.

In another bowl, mix together oil and sugars, then flax mixture, vanilla and melted chocolate until thick and sticky. Fold in dry ingredients slowly until just fully incorporated. Fold in chocolate pieces and nuts.

Press into parchment lined pan. Bake about 30 minutes.

Allow time to cool. Pull whole cookie out of the pan by the parchment. Cut into 16 squares. Once all the squares have fully cooled, melt the chocolate and dip the tops.

homemade essentials: ricotta

peachtart

Ricotta is not necessarily a staple in our home, but cheese is. Ricotta is traditionally made from the leftover whey of another cheese, but my stomach is very sensitive to the “recooked” version.  I’ve never had an issue with eating it fresh like this and I love how simple it is to make. It’s so mild and light that it can easy be substituted for mascarpone in the right dessert.

The tart featured is a half recipe from Vegetarian Times.   I made the entire crust recipe at once, but divided into two different days. Refrigerating the dough over night, then allowing it to come to room temperature before baking was no problem.

lemon juice

Ricotta
Makes about 2 cups of cheese {& 2 quarts of whey}*

2 quarts whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-4 Tablespoons lemon juice (about 1-2 lemons) or distilled vinegar

Line a sieve with a cheese cloth and place over a large bowl or pot.

In another medium pot, heat milk gradually to 180°F, stirring occasionally. Drop heat to low and gently stir in salt and lemon juice or vinegar. Do not boil, but keep mixture on low setting just until the milk begins to curdle. Turn off heat and allow milk to sit for about 10-15 minutes.

Ladle or gently pour milk through the cheese cloth and sieve. Leave for 1-2 hours, until cheese is slightly firm and the whey has drained into the pot. Refrigeration will help it firm up further.

{Whey is full of protein that can be added to smoothies, stock or bread dough. Note that whey contains most of the lactose, so if you’re sensitive be careful. You can always give it to plants or animals for a nutritional boost. }

ricotta1

{immediately set aside to drain}

ricotta2

{…after one hour}

peachtart{whipped with sugar and baked with fresh fruit}

red, white & blue popsicles

©fourwoodthinking

This Independence Day may be lack sparkling fire and boom of gunpowder, but not the holiday flair in the kitchen nor quality time with our bitty family. Last year we spent a lovely evening with friends at the waterfront, right on the Hudson River, watching the majestic and quite extravagant NYC firework display. We saw so many families, especially couples with babies. One actually slept through the entire show! We thought that could be us, but one year later reality has settled. The show will be noisy and late and, despite the fact that Jonathan and I don’t enforce a bedtime, our son does. He lets us know each night that he wants dinner between 7-8pm, followed immediately by a full night of rest. Why interrupt such a great thing? Instead, we hit the local farmer’s market for milk (for homemade yogurt) and fresh fruit to make popsicles.

It’s been too hot to bake, so we’re beating the heat with frozen treats, inspired by the strawberry popsicles from my girlfriend’s house. Just like her dad, I chose to mash the strawberries so that there would be chucks of fruit in each bite, rather than just juice. The blueberries should be blended very well so that the skins bring out that gorgeous blue tone. Um…I think I need another right now.

Happy Independence Day!

©fourwoodthinking

Independence Day Popsicles
Makes about 8 small popsicles

2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled
1 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup yogurt

{for a deep dark blue, only select the smallest blueberries. the insides are more of a yellowish color, so for the popsicles it’s best to have more skin.}

Mash strawberries in a large bowl until the largest chunks are pea-size. Evenly distribute strawberry mash in popsicle containers. Freeze for 15-20 minutes uncovered.

In a blender, blend blueberries until smooth. Take out the semi-frozen strawberries and layer 1 Tablespoon yogurt in each popsicle. Top them off with the blended blueberries. Insert the popsicle tops. Freeze overnight, then enjoy!

rhubarb sweet bread

rhubarbbundt

While most buyers are hawking the markets for strawberries, I try to collect all of the rhubarb I can before the brief season is over.  The tart stems are so versatile. I’ve tossed them in savory soups, sweet pies and jam. Certainly there is no spring that escapes without the fruity aroma of rhubarb bread in our kitchen. I love how each season it evolves, depending on the nuts, seeds, variety of fruit or shape of pan I use. One year it’s walnut and rhubarb muffins. Another it’s chocolate chip and rhubarb loaves. Today it’s poppy seed and rhubarb bundt cake. Ironically this was the initial recipe that jump-started my previous (food) blog, Sweet Inspire and will be the first I share here. The blog was mostly vegan, as is this recipe. Enjoy!

Rhubarb Sweet Bread
Recipe altered from Sweet Inspire
Makes 2 8×4 loaves, 24 muffins or a bundt cake

1 cup nut milk
1 Tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup canola oil or coconut oil, melted
1 ripe banana, mashed (about 3/4 cup)
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cup rhubarb, finely chopped
1/2 cup seeds or chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil desired pan(s).

Add together nut milk and vinegar in a measuring cup.  Set aside.

Whisk together flours, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, blend  sugar, oil, banana and vanilla extract.  The nut milk should appear somewhat curdled, like buttermilk. Add to banana mixture.

Combine dry ingredients into the wet and stir until just mixed. Fold in rhubarb and seeds or nuts. Mixture will be quite thick. Pour evenly into loaf pans, cupcake tins or bundt cake pan and bake accordingly.

Loaves or bundt cake- 1 hour
Muffins-20-25 minutes.