tuesdays with dorie: brown butter and vanilla bean weekend cake

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I adore vanilla beans— wrinkly, unassuming pods opening to reveal moist, fragrant MAGIC. I buy vanilla beans in a three-pack glass tube at Penzeys spices, a Wisconsin-based company known for their progressive politics and their delicious herb and spice blends. They stock an impressive array of baking spices and extracts, too (and you can shop online if you don’t live near a store). I was running low on vanilla beans after a recent experiment making homemade vanilla almond milk, so G and I traveled to our nearest Penzeys on Saturday to stock up.

Dorie’s simple cake is a perfect treat on these grey winter afternoons and evenings in the Great Lakes region. I’ve sampled slices with cups of tea and mugs of cafe au lait, and I prefer the tea pairing. A well-steeped early grey is the perfect accompaniment to these satisfying cake.

What I most loved about baking this cake: listening to the cheerful bubbling of the butter as it boiled and browned. Happy noises yielded a gorgeously nutty and fragrant butter.

I added a splash of amaretto, per Dorie’s suggestion, and while I can’t quite taste the distinctive flavor in the finished cake, I do sense a greater depth of flavor.

We have half a loaf left, just enough to last us through the rest of the work week.

Happy January, friends!

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check out my fellow baking bloggers at Tuesdays With Dorie.

Tuesdays With Dorie: Gingerbread Bûche de Noël

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This year, Christmas is more melancholy than most, as G’s family experiences the first Christmas after his mother, my sweet mother-in-law, died from cancer at the end of May after a year-and-a-half journey with the disease.

My grief, muted and tolerable in the ensuing months, hit like a polar vortex these past few weeks. When the acute sadness washes over me, I give in to tears, and allow myself to feel the weight of an incredible loss, and the journey to that loss. As anyone whose life has been touched by cancer can attest, that journey is filled with unexpected turns, moments of hope, and, in our case, an irrevocable loss.

And so it was with a heavy heart that I donned my holiday apron, fired up my mixer, Blossom, and undertook Dorie’s gingerbread Bûche de Noël. I found comfort in the many steps, from making pralined pecans, to baking and rolling the cake, to creating the marshmallowy Italian Meringue frosting. I recalled last year’s Christmas creation–a chocolate peppermint ice cream cake baked in my vintage tree shaped pan, reminisced about our last Christmas all together, and looked ahead to spending time with my in-laws.

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We ate, talked, drank, shared gifts, and found joy and comfort in being together, despite our shared sorrow.

My mother-in-law loved decorating for Christmas, and writing thoughtful notes in personal cards sealed with stickers. My father-in-law carries on these traditions.

The Bûche de Noël, also known as a yule log, symbolic of the large logs that generate warmth and light during long December night, was the perfect dessert for this long season of darkness.

Here in Wisconsin, daytime is short, and sunshine eludes us many days. And still, we celebrate the light…life…love.

Happy holidays to you and yours, whatever celebration you honor.

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Tuesdays With Dorie: The Rugelach that Won Over France

 

 

 

 

 

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I have a thing for mini chocolate chips.

Specifically, Ghirardelli mini chocolate chips.

They’re not easy to find, but I’ve lucked out at the Ghirardelli Outlet Store (a chocolate wonderland I pass on trips to my parents’ house in Michigan), Meijer stores (where I shop when I visit my parents), and now, Woodlake Market (a gourmet-ish grocery store I visit occasionally).

These chips have the right balance of sweet and bitter, and hold their tiny, cute shape in baked goods.

They were perfect in this week’s recipe, Rugelach. The chips nestled in with the other filling ingredients (sweetened coconut, toasted pecans, and chopped dried cherries), sticking inside the faux puff pastry (made with cream cheese and butter).

I love that these treats are only lightly sweet, a pleasant change from typical holiday baking. And their diminutive size is at once charming and dangerous. My husband offered threatened asked if he could eat the entire batch.

Dorie suggests filling the dough with any number of sweet or savory fillings. I’m eager to try a savory version with hot chili pepper jelly tucked away in our pantry. These might be the perfect food to cheer on the Auburn Tigers as they take on the Wisconsin Badgers on New Year’s Day. I may live in the Badger State, but I spent six years (and much student loan money) earning my PhD from Auburn, so I cheer “War Eagle” instead of “Go Bucky”!

 

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Head over to our group blog, Tuesdays With Dorie, to find the list of bloggers who baked these delightful treats.

Tuesdays With Dorie: Cranberry Crackle Tart

Did you know that Wisconsin, where I’ve lived and learned to call home these past seven years, leads the country in cranberry production? I’ve never visited a bog–they’re a good drive from where I live–but I gladly purchase Wisconsin fruits when they arrive late in the farmers’ market season.

Beyond the typical Thanksgiving side of homemade cranberry sauce (which makes a killer topping for a Wisconsin aged cheddar sandwich), I’ve baked quick breads, cranberry bars, and tossed berries to my puppy to snack on. I’ve never baked a cranberry tart, and I was skeptical of Dorie’s recipe for Cranberry Crackle Tart. Nevertheless, I baked it alongside more traditional Thanksgiving pies like pumpkin, pecan, and apple.

The pie is simple to make, especially if you choose Dorie’s press-in sweet tart dough as a base. I made homemade strawberry jam a few days in advance, so on Thanksgiving morning I only needed to make the meringue and bake the creation. Cutting corners, I set my covered bowl of egg whites in a bowl  of hot water. They were still less than room temperature and took forever to set up into the desired soft-peak stage.
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The tart was a beautiful addition to our dessert buffet, and was the sleeper hit of the holiday. At least two family members asked for the recipe, and many commented on the perfect interplay of sweet, buttery crust, with tart berries, subtle sweetness from the jam, and a chewy meringue cap. What a delight! And a reminder to never doubt the wisdom of Dorie.

Happy belated Thanksgiving to my fellow American readers. I hope your table was filled with favorite family foods, the chairs occupied by agreeable loved ones, and the house echoing with laughter. IMG_7390

Tuesdays with Dorie: Palets de Dames

IMG_0020_2Late August 2008, one year into working at my still-new job, living in a still-new state, I joined Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD). The baking blog community comforted me and kept me company during a lonely time of adjustment to said new life. I remember weekend baking binges and Tuesday evenings sifting through photos and finding words and stories to create blog posts about cookies, cakes, tarts, and puddings. I wrote my last TWD post in November of 2011, a time of busy happiness, of wedding planning and professional milestones.

I return to the kitchen, dust off Blossom (my pink KitchenAid mixer), tie my apron strings, practice my minimal French and start Baking Chez Moi. I fill this new blog space with stories, photos, and deliciousness. I find my way back to the art and craft of baking, and, more importantly, writing. (You can read my previous baking adventures at bliss: towards a delicious life).

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Last Saturday, after helping friends harvest the last leafy greens from their garden before the coming cold, I cracked open Baking Chez Moi and studied the first recipe for the baking group: Palets de Dames. I mixed together the dough and tucked it in the refrigerator to chill. On Sunday morning, I boarded the poetically named Hiawatha Express from Milwaukee to Chicago, where I met my mom, who traveled via a less-poetically named train from Michigan for a quick overnight visit. Our destination: The Spice House.

I was going to meet Dorie.

I’m a proud bibliophile who devours books, particularly fiction, non-stop. I’ve met many authors at bookstore readings, academic conferences, and University lectures. But I’ve never been quite as excited to meet an author. Most books feed my mind, and perhaps trigger an emotional response. Dorie’s books have quite literally fed me and my loved ones on occasions as diverse as ordinary weekdays and once-in-a-lifetime weddings.

Mom and I arrived at the SIMG_0025_2pice House at dusk, and joined the crowd inside the cozy shop. Within minutes we were sipping Korbel sparkling wine and eating Chocolate Linzer Cookies and Vanilla Sables and assorted truffles as we waited to see Dorie. And then there we were, and she was every bit as charming and approachable as I had imagined. We chatted and she signed my book, posed for photos, and kissed my cheek. This forty-year old woman was having a serious fangirl moment.

Dorie spoke to the crowd about her process writing the book and her editor’s insistence on a macaron recipe. As she spoke of her recipe testing and commiserating with fellow culinary genius Pierre Hermé, I drifted back to my trip to Paris in 2010. I remembered all of the sweet treats I savored from Pierre Hermé and Ladurée and Poilâne. I thought of the bag of almond flour nestled in my cupboard, purchased this Summer when I dreamed of macaron.IMG_0021_2

As I pull these stories together, I think of my mom, who baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies throughout my childhood. Who always baked homemade birthday cakes–and still bakes a multi-layer German chocolate cake in early March every year . Cooking and baking, languages of love.

I think of my grandma, who gave me Baking: From My Home to Yours, the original Tuesdays with Dorie master text. My grandma, who signed up for the University sponsored ten-day trip to Paris I co-lead, and willingly accompanied me to every chocolate shop and patisserie on my must-visit list our last day in the city.

I think of the cookbook authors and fellow bloggers who have shaped my culinary journey from tentative cook to confident, creative innovator, eager to keep learning.

My small kitchen contains multitudes.

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Palets de Dames satisfy with subtle sweetness and softness, and promise to be a favorite of my husband Gregg’s–he prefers soft cookies, while I crave a bit of crunch or chewiness. These delicate and simple cookies pair beautifully with a cup of darjeeling on a cold November evening, and are a snap to make, especially when you have the dough chilling in the fridge.  IMG_0029_2