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Archive for the ‘Desserts’ Category

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What is it about human nature that makes us willfully engage in activities that we are certain will have disastrous outcomes? That extra martini? Probably not going to make getting home (or remembering your bag) any easier. That cute guy reeking of Axe Body Spray? Probably not going to call you back. That inky black Prada bag with butter-soft leather that you simply couldn’t leave, because it felt like a baby being snatched from a mother’s arms? Probably going to feel like a bulldozer landed on your head when you see your credit card bill.

 

For whatever reason, the complicated and mysterious workings of our minds make it such that we do things we know are wrong with willful ardor. Such was my situation baking a long-forgotten favorite treat, Sticky Cinnamon Twists, over the weekend.

 

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Strange but delicious

Strange but delicious.... Blood orange gelato in a pool of extra-virgin olive oil with mint.

 

 

I am not a huge fan of fusion… or, rather, I think it has its limits. For those masochistic souls who, like me, have read the inimitable American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, you will recall the intentional absurdities of the characters’ dinner menus. An integral attraction in the mad carnival that Ellis creates is the nightly $300 supper of increasingly absurd food pairings, culminating in my favorite, the Cilantro Cheesecake. For those of us foodies with a wicked sense of humor, the cache of these unappetizing meals lent a bit of levity to an otherwise grizzly novel.

 

But, as usual, I digress… the point is that it didn’t take the macabre humor of American Psycho to turn me off of fusion. I’m just a bit too traditional for all of the new-fangled stuff that kids these days are coming out with.

 

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Cookies

Ever since Starbucks introduced their Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, I have been on a frenzied, manic quest for all things salted caramel.

 

I’ve fallen madly in love with Toscanini’s Salted Caramel ice cream (made into an ethereal affogato with espresso), as well as their Burnt Caramel ice cream, so when I came across David Lebovitz’s Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe with Salted Caramel, borrowed from Cindy Mushet’s The Art and Soul of Baking, I immediately cleared my calendar and made a date with a big jar of peanut butter.

 

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It's ironic.... this may be the worst picture I've taken, yet it's of one of the most delicious desserts.

It's ironic.... this may be the worst picture I've taken, yet it's of one of the most delicious desserts.

 

Each culture has its ‘thing’ that it does far better than the rest. Jews? We save money better than most. The Swiss? Nobody dots their i’s and crosses their t’s like the fastidious Swiss. The French? They have an uncanny knack for self-preservation when it comes to international conflicts. The Italians? Nobody does simple, rustic food as spectacularly as the Italians.

 

While I would most likely tip my hat to the French for overall cuisine, Italian food wins the award for turning a handful of plain, every day ingredients into something drool-worthy. The culture that brought us thin-crust pizza, Linguine alla Carbonara & Cannolis must be applauded for its prowess in turning the simple into something sublime.

 

While Italy has many popular culinary claims to fame, one of my favorite Italian dishes is the little-known Affogato.

 

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Cheesecake

 

It is a little known fact that one of my favorite movies is Gone in Sixty Seconds. I’m about as feminine as they come, but there’s something about Angelina Jolie & Nick Cage driving stick-shift, muscle cars that gets me… well… distracted.

 

Not only is the movie hot to watch, but I completely empathize with Nick Cage’s character, Memphis, when he speaks wistfully of ‘Eleanor’, a 1967 Shelby GT500 that he has never been able to successfully steal. He loves this car, craves this car, all the while it has caused him the most frustration and heartache.

 

This may be a sad excuse for an analogy, but I feel the same way about cheesecake. Making a perfect cheesecake that never cracks is a long-standing and frustrating goal of mine. The problem is the instability and delicacy of the ingredients of a truly noteworthy cheesecake. Most commercial cheesecakes are made with some sort of binder, usually flour, that gives it a bit more stability in the baking process. My cheesecake, and the ones that you probably remember as being the creamiest and dreamiest, are only made with dairy, eggs, vanilla, and sugar.

 

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Real, REAL Whipped Cream

 

Whipped cream makes your everyday coffee or cocoa after dinner special.

Whipped cream makes your everyday coffee or cocoa a special treat.

 

 

There is a relatively new commercial airing from Reddi Whip in which a diner customer is given the option between whipped cream made with hydrogenated oils or real cream. Guffawing, she, not surprisingly opts for the whipped cream made with real cream. This may not seem like satire to anyone else, but I find it darkly comedic that a pre-packaged confection, sprayed from a can with the use of nitrous oxide is being promoted as more “real” or “like homemade”.

 

It irks me to no end, the measures that the processed food industry has taken to convince us that desserts are not worth the time and effort to be made from scratch, which is, to put it mildly, a complete farce. The only thing even more bothersome than the deception is the success that they’ve had in convincing us that baking from scratch is laborious and antiquated, when in reality, it is anything but.

 

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These are marvelously lush and exceedingly easy to prepare individual cakes

These are marvelously lush and exceedingly easy to prepare individual cakes

 

Every once in awhile, you come upon a recipe so perfect, so simply and consistently outstanding, that it is virtually un-tweakable.

 

This recipe from Nigella Lawson’s acclaimed How to Be a Domestic Goddess is just such a recipe; I’ve made it countless times to stunning effect. The only reason I would have tweaked it would be for my own ego’s satisfaction and not because it would have improved it, which is why it comes to you essentially unaltered.

 

These little cakes are simple to make and splendid to present. The dense cake cracks open to reveal a cascade of luscious, oozing melted chocolate. Don’t worry, they are fully baked – the recipe calls for a heavier egg and fat to flour ratio than your typical cake, which keeps the center pudding-like, despite adequate time in the oven.

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