Crumb-ly Cupcakes

So it was the late days of summer that are pretty characteristic of September here in Northern Virginia and I was feeling rather restless and not in a baking mood. But I knew I wanted to have something tasty as an after dinner surprise. A short walk away from our apartment is quite an interesting shopping center. No, not like a mall, more like a few streets lined with cafes, bars, specialty shops and chain stores. So I thought I would go have a look. I stumbled upon a little bakery called ‘Crumbs.’

Click the above photo to check out the Bake Shop Website

Click the above photo to check out the Bake Shop Website

The air conditioning hit me like a truck as I opened the door and it was so welcomeingly refreshing I took my time in the completely empty bake shop and admired every little cake they had in their display. But not all the cakes were so tiny. These cupcakes come in four sizes from tiny (bite sized) cupcakes to Colossal (a 6.5″ tall and wide cupcake). I picked up two different signature sized cupcakes.

cupcakes

Both were filled with a chocolate ganache, one was chocolate chip cookie, the other was marble. They were moist and everything you would expect from a gourmet cupcake. This little bake shop couldn’t come more highly recommended. According to their site, some of their bigger shops even offer coffees and signature sandwiches. While the one I went to didn’t have such a wide variety, I would certainly look into trying these different goodies!

Just a Bite… Of Good Reading

This book review has been a long time in coming. Remember when I picked up all those books at the library so many months ago? That’s okay, I barely remember myself. So you will have to bare with me as I stumble my way through this review. A review that wouldn’t have even been written if this wasn’t such a memorable cook book!

Gale Gand’s just a bite: 125 Luscious Little Desserts

Gale Gand and Julia Moskin

GaleGandBite

Her recipes are perfectly sized and fit for serving not just at parties but at any occasion. While she provides many ideas and tips for entertaining, her recipes are still accessible for home chefs who just want a unique treat after dinner. There is also a great variety of treats. From the classics you remember as a kid to ones that have great new twists. It is certainly a book I hope to pick up again in the near future and spend some more time with.

But another feature that I love about this book, or more, love about this author, is her website and the little snippets and recipes she provides. I know that I will be trying her Mint Chocolate Chip MeringuesSoon!

List of things that can go to hell…

As far as I am concerned, here is the list of things that can go to hell:

  1. Disposable Pastry Bags
  2. Reusable Pastry Bags
  3. Anything called a Pastry Bag

I’m sorry. I don’t normally vent my frustration in such a colorful (and public) manner, but after the debacle last night during my kitchen experiment I believe a touch of colorful language to be necessary.

I went to my local craft store yesterday afternoon (they have a really decent baking/candy/ pastry section) with the goal of picking up some new pastry tips and gel color to make some meringue roses (stay tuned for that post, it will be coming soon! HERE!). I came home with a bountiful load of goodies.

Goodies

I was especially excited to use the pastry tips with my new pastry bags. Usually I just use a gallon plastic freezer bag. They are cheap, flexible, easy to come by; what’s not to like!? But I thought with a pastry bag perhaps piping the meringue would be easier, or I would get better results (and I will admit, part of me wanted to look the professional part of baker). But these pastry bags were just not for me. Perhaps I got the wrong size, or wrong brand, but I couldn’t find one redeeming quality in these bags.

They were difficult to fill. They were difficult to pipe through. The re-useable bag was damn near impossible to clean. The meringue wouldn’t make its way down the cone and even gentle prodding caused a gush of meringue to come seeping out of the top of the bag, I had meringue not only all over my hands, but somehow up to my elbow as well. Now that I look back, it was probably pretty comical and I must give my partner all the credit in the world for not coming into the kitchen and bursting out laughing at the disheveled state of me and the kitchen, but calmly listened to me vent… before slowly backing out of the kitchen and leaving me to it.

I won’t be using these bags in the future and it will take a lot to convince me to give them another whirl. In the mean time, I have to find a use for 23 unused disposable pastry bags… and it won’t be making meringues.

Interesting treats at Olives

As I have said before, I am no culinary expert or master, but there are a few names in the culinary world that always stand out to me and I tend to take a second look. That was what first drew me to this next book by Todd English and collaborators at the Olives Restaurant.

The Olives Dessert Table: Extraordinary Restaurant Desserts You Can Make at Home

Todd English, Paige Retus, and Sally Sampson

Olives

I wanted to like this book… No. I wanted to love this  book. As an amateur baker, I know there are skills that are still just out of reach and will require far more dedication, practice and research still. Yet, I still felt as if this book would be  one more step in that progression, another source I could learn from and the closest I might ever get to learning from these professional chefs.

I was a little disappointed. Almost from the get go, the reader is made to understand that these recipes are made and executed for and by a professional kitchen and that one should not expect to achieve the same results. The components of each dessert are so intricate and intense that the average home cook may only look to achieve one component at a time.

That being said, there is a lovely little feature in this book if you can learn to love it and not be taunted by it. Next to certain recipes, you will notice a star, indicating that this recipe can be cooked and used on its own, or made in advance. I find this a very useful feature as, (just like the introduction warned), these dishes are complex and you could end up needing a whole day to figure it out. I also appreciate how this little indicator allows for individual flair and personality. It is nice to know you could take a 5 star element and use it to spruce up your favorite home recipe.

But you won’t be wasting any time flipping though  pages, that is for certain. In addition to the stars, there are also  multiple recipe repeats. Don’t you always hate it when a cook book tells  you to refer to a different page? Okay, so it isn’t that big of a deal unless you are trying to measure flour for a cake with one hand and trying to figure put the ingredients together for the frosting with the other. It certainly is handy to have it all there in front of you!

This cookbook is definitely worth a flip through, you will certainly be learning quite a few new skills by going through ANY of the recipes in this book, just don’t expect to pick it up 3 hours before your next dinner party and end up with a presentable dish!

Let’s Go! Let’s Go! Retro!

I wouldn’t really call myself Retro, maybe old-fashioned at times, but Retro seems to connote an idea of some coolness or fashion that has maybe gone out of style and is starting to come back in again. If that is the case, this next book couldn’t have been more properly named!

Retro Desserts: Totally hip, Updated Classic Desserts from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s

Wayne Harley Brachman

517546CGP2L._SX260_

If you have ever gone out on Halloween, or gone to a costume party, you know there is a group of people that enjoy dressing up, but tend to through everything together at the last minute. The end result is something deeply rooted in their memory, or some stereotype of a generation, profession, or lifestyle. These costumes are the ones that make us giggle and shake our heads in slight embarrassment for them, but hey! They are having fun so we have fun with them.

This is the feeling I got from reading this book! It is by no means supposed to be a historical treatise on the decades from the 40s through the 70s (although it does have some interesting little sections of how certain desserts got their cleverly confusing names and what hip movie and television stars were baking), it was certainly a fun little read. But that is about where the fun stops.

The suggestions seem improbable (No matter how good an Oreo is, I think my nephew would enjoy it more than any type of really fancy dinner party!), and the recipes seem somewhat uninspired. I don’t claim to be any type of expert, and yes, they are certainly updated classics, but they still have a feeling of being the same boring thing you had as a kid that you never really liked. Flavor combination is all about preference, and that being said, there were a few I would try, certainly the “Lemon Bars” and “Strawberry Chiffon Pie”.

In doing my research for this review however I must give a little warning. It seems there is a significant amount of people who have run into problems in the recipes. Having not had the opportunity to try anything out, I can’t say for certain, but hopefully I will be able to get my hands on a copy soon, and fully evaluate this disappointing statement.

It was an interesting read, I will say that much… but I also said as much for my Nancy Drew books in the 5th grade: Fun but predictable.

The Ploughman’s Lunch: Not your typical Sandwich

It has certainly been a while since I touched on any of those books I picked up at the library so long ago, and even though they are long returned to the library and I am many states away from them I can still remember them fondly and pass on to you only the best suggestions. This one here for example:

The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast

Brian Yarvin

PloughmansLunchCover9781558324138-300x266

What a book. Now, this one was certainly a stretch away from my comfort zone. Yes, I love to cook but my real preference is baking. There is not a single cake in this book, no cupcakes or even very many sweets really (the fried Mars Bar doesn’t count). This cookbook harkens straight back to “Full English Breakfasts”, lunches that could  make you swoon in anticipation or fear, (depending on the strength of your stomach and international bearings) and dinners you would expect to find in one of those traditional pubs you can only find after getting lost.

This book called out to me from the shelf, begging to be read. With bountiful, color glossy photos on every page and more text than a mere recipe would require, I knew it was worth a second look, and I wasn’t disappointed. I wouldn’t describe this so much as a cookbook, but more of a travel log with some recipes thrown in. (Truly the best kind of cook book if you ask me , especially when dealing with international/ foreign cuisine.)

The only thing I enjoy more than baking is traveling and learning about new places, peoples and cultures, and while I have never been to the UK, I am lucky enough to know people here in the states that have grown up across the pond and are willing to share some of their culinary favorites with me. It was interesting to see a recipe for baked beans when I had only ever tried them out of a can on toast, and the “mushy peas” just aren’t to be missed! You have to take my word on that one! Think, more substantial pea soup with the buttery, salty notes of a baked potato!

If you ever see this book flitting around in your local library, or peeping out of the shelves in the bookstore, I can’t encourage you enough to have a look. If nothing else, the anecdotes of Brian Yarvin will keep you interested from page one!

Petite Review for Petite Sweets

I wanted to love this book, I really really did. With a big move on the horizon to a smaller apartment (and fewer roommates) I wanted to find new and innovative desserts that I could whip up without having trays of cupcakes or terrine of trifle hanging around for weeks. I found this dainty book on my library binge:

Petite Sweets: Bite-Size Desserts to Satisfy Every Sweet Tooth

Beatrice Ojakangas

PetiteSweetsCover

The cover seems to boast these unique little treats, but open the cover and the recipes just don’t live up to the hype. From “Little Cakes” to “Pastries and Sweets”, the recipes are simple and easy to follow, but nothing you couldn’t find elsewhere.

A rose by any other name, right? For example, what Ojakangas calls the “Apricot Schaum Tortelets”, look very much to me like smaller puffier meringue nests, perfect for filling or topping and true to form, perfect for serving as bite sized desserts and a recipe I would certainly enjoy trying in the future.

That being said, my mother always told me, “If I didn’t have anything nice to say, not to say it at all.” This book has its upsides. It is encouraging that our favorite deserts can, in fact be paired down. They may not be new and different, but the classics will always remain, even in miniature. The concepts may not even be that unique, but the techniques you will find here are helpful and provide some what of a launching pad for more creative en devours.

This book may not have been all I wanted it to be, but it is a fine example of a starting point, a little push in the right direction for getting in the kitchen and whipping up your own sweet confections.