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Monday, June 30, 2008

Cinnamon French Toast Cupcakes


I've just begun, but I'm already struggling to come up with wacky, fun cupcake flavors. This time around, I chose to do Cinnamon French Toast cupcakes. After struggling with a million combinations (maple filling, brown sugar frosting, vanilla cinnamon cupcake? or brown sugar filling, vanilla cinnamon cupcake with maple syrup frosting? etc...) I decided to just do a Vanilla Cinnamon Cupcake with a Maple Brown Sugar Frosting. For my cupcake recipe, I chose this one except I halved it.

Vanilla Cinnamon Cupcakes from
1 Stick Butter
1 C Sugar
2 Lg Eggs
1.5 C Flour
.75 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Tsp Salt
1/2 C Milk
.75 Tsp Vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.
Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and mix until fully incorporated.
Add eggs one at a time, beating after each. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together.
Combine milk and vanilla together. Alternately add the flour and milk mixtures to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Pour into a 12 well cupcake tin. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until lightly golden brown.

The cake was a tiny bit on the dense/dry side, but it was still very good, and it moistened up a bit with time.

For my frosting, I opted for this frosting. This frosting was really more of an icing than a frosting. In fact, I had to dip my cupcakes in the liquidy concoction since piping was totally impossible:

Because I could not cutely pipe the frosting on to the cupcakes, they looked a little blah. To spice things up a bit, I first sprinkled a little bit of cinnamon sugar on top. Then, I mixed 1 teaspoon oil with half a cup of chocolate and melted it to create writing chocolate. On a piece of parchment, I piped little swirlies and popped them in the freezer for a while. When they were solidified enough, I quickly removed them from the parchment and topped my cupcakes with them (be quick, or else they'll get too warm to work with!)

The end result was unique and tasty, but not my best cupcake so far. Anyone have suggestions for funky cupcake flavor combo's that sound too tempting to resist??

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Madeleine By Any Other Shape


Ahh, Shakespeare, so profound. I wonder if he knew when writing Romeo and Juliet that his literature would hold true in my kitchen so many years later. When Juliet tells Romeo: "Whats in a name? That which we call a madeleine by any other shape would taste as sweet." At least I think thats how it went...

As Daniel isn't a huge chocolate fan, he didn't enjoy the mini-tarts so much and since we bought a considerable amount of assembly-required furniture at IKEA the other night, I thought I'd make him something that he could really enjoy while he assembled two rooms worth of chests of drawers, side tables and a bed. He likes simple flavors, and things coated in powdered sugar. And since I've really been wanting to give that Star shaped pan we picked up a while ago another go, I chose a madeleine recipe. Who cares if my madeleines are stars instead of their signature shape? All the more cute, I say.

I looked for recipes for madeleines, and the common one seems to be a lemon madeleine with a lemon glaze. So, it turned out I chose an untraditional madeleine recipe for my untraditional shape. Are these even madeleines anymore? I'm not sure.

Vanilla Cinnamon Madeleines
adapted from


1 egg
1/2 C Granulated sugar
1/2 C Flour
1/16 Tsp Nutmeg
3/4 of one stick of butter, melted & cooled
1/4 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1/4 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

Preheat to 350.
In the top of a double boiler, whisk eggs and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture gets lighter in color - beating in as much air as possible. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Stir in the flour and remaining ingredients.
Spray your madeleine (or star-shaped) pan with non-stick spray and fill the wells to about 3/4 full with batter - Don't spread the batter out. Bake until they are lightly golden brown, ~15 minutes. Cool in pan for one minute, then remove to a rack to let cool completely.
Sprinkle in powdered sugar.
One of my baking souvenirs from Italy, a little powdered sugar shake, gets initiated into the kitchen.



Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Italia (Part Tre), and Mini Tarts

And now, for the conclusion to the Tour d'Italia: Edizione Gastronomia.

During our stay in Italy, we also made a day trip to the beautiful town of Siena. We got to climb the tower to get the most impressive view of the countryside you can imagine, visit the spectacular Civic Museum with some amazing Simone Martini paintings that was spectacular to see in real life, and we even got to see St. Catherine's head. Yes, St. Catherine's head. It is encased and displayed as a holy relic in the basilica of San Domenico, and we got to see it. After we had worked our appetites up thusly (sarcasm, I hope you caught that), we went to Nannini's.

I googled it, and its on all the lists of "Things to do when visiting Siena". It was great. The interior was so beautiful and classy in that old-timey way, and their famous Ricciarelli cookies (below) were no less beautiful and classy.
In fact, they were outrageous. The cocoa ones were not as good as the straight up, traditional, white almondy ones. They look hard, but inside that powdered sugary coating was a soft, flaky buttery inside that was absolutely to do for. I need to get my hands on a good recipe for these [(if anyone has one, I'd love it! :)]
Our day in Siena was wonderful, and was followed by a lunch at a vineyard called San Donato. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures, but if you happen to be around the Siena area and you are looking for a tasty, tasty easy to drink white wine, stop by and pick up a bottle. It is one of the very few wines in the world that I would buy for myself (we are not big wine drinkers... or anything drinkers for that matter). Their Vernaccia was delicious enough for me to buy a bottle, and add its fragile self to my already too heavy suitcase.

Back in Florence, there is one place we went for a quick snack quite often. If I had to sum up Florence in one bite, I'd do it here. Of course, there are a gajillion places in Florence called "Forno," it basically just meant bakery or bread shop. But there is ONE forno that is above all the rest. Its located right outside of the San Lorenzo Central Market. I know there are many different ways to get in and out of the San Lorenzo market, but one of these entrances leads to the block this Forno is on. Actually, its located right by Mario's restaurant that I talked about in the first post. So, if you're in Florence (which I hope you are), and you are on line waiting for a table at Mario's but you are too hungry to wait, leave someone on line waiting for your table and take the few short steps to this Forno:
If you see that sign, take a step in. If you then see a picture of Brad Pitt hanging by the doorway that leads to the back, you'll know you're in the right forno (the owner, one of the Innocenti, has an adorable crush on him). If you find yourself in the right forno, order a piece of Schiacciata:
That little piece of bread might not look that exciting, but I implore you, take a bite before you judge it by its humble appearance. Here, they charge you by weight. The small piece I usually got for breakfast was about this size, and ran 70 euro cents, and it is more than enough to hold you over. And no, it is not just a piece of bread. Its about an inch thick, with a crunchy crust exterior and a doughy beautiful fragrant soft interior. It is drizzled with their high quality tasty olive oil, and thats it, these simple flavors alone make it the best tasting piece of bread in Florence. I suppose it has something to do with the ingredients they have over there that we just don't have here (eggs that aren't from chicken-fed chicken so that have a gorgeous deep almost orangey color, the authentic olive oil, the un-over-processed and bleached flour, etc), but I know for sure that if I had 5 minutes to give someone a taste of Florence, I'd take them to Forno...not Vivoli for gelato, not Mario's for lunch, but here for a 3 inch by 4 inch piece of bread. Oh, how I miss it.

Finally, our stay in Florence was over. On Sunday morning, we packed up all our belongings and jumped on a bus to Roma, where we stayed for 8 days. After the approximately 3 hour bus ride there, we wheeled all of our luggaged down the cobble stone, pedestrian only street only mere minutes from the Vatican to our apartment on Borgo Pio. We helped each other lug our bags (newly heavy with italian leather pocketbooks, red wines and jewelry) up the stairs, dumped the stuff on our beds, and we were out the door. The weather was the best we could possibly hope for: warm, sunny, clear... the perfect atmosphere for a walking tour introduction to the city of Rome. We walked all over: past the Vatican, to the Piazza Navona where Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers is, past the pantheon and its busy piazza, through several other piazzas with more buildings I had been studying and oggling through textbooks for years. It was like a dream, honestly...too much to take in, in a good way. Finally, all 16 of us were hungry, and our knowledgeable professor and guide knew exactly where to take us:
where else, but Giolitti. Just thinking about it makes me want to weep, its been too long.
It was another old-timey, classy, beautiful establishment with a variety of pastries, granitas, coffee and espresso, and... wait for it wait for it... Gelato. And I mean that with a capital G. After my 26 days in Italy, I can say with a certain assuredness that Giolitti offers Italy's best Gelato. The last three days of our trip, me and two other girls vowed to come here for Gelato twice a day to get our fill before we left. Well, we fulfilled that promise to ourselves (in fact, they got both gelato and granita each time).
Some other offerings from Giolitti.
From my variety of flavor combinations, I found two to be the winners:
Cioccolato (chocolate), Mandorla (almond) and Nocciola (hazelnut) con panna. And:
Biscotti (Yes. Circle bites of crunchy chocolate biscotti mixed in), Nocciolato (chocolate hazelnut) and Cannolo Siciliano (cannoli) con panna, of course.

Ahhh, delicious. Our next exciting culinary adventure was when a few of us took a trip to the Jewish Ghetto for the signature fried artichokes. The restaurant we chose was one my professor recommended:
Da Giggetto.
And the famous artichoke?:
This is actually half an artichoke, but you can get the picture. It was delicious: crispy at the ends of the leaves and a bit of a soft center where the actual meat of the artichoke was. Very good. Different, but good.
For my meal, I had my first experience with Spaghetti alla Carbonara:
I had no idea what I was in for. For some reason, I thought that carbonara involved a red tomato based sauce, but boy was I wrong. It was the heaviest thing ever: combine creamy, thick, cheese, pasta, eggs, and pancetta... well, I couldn't even finish half of the thing, it was a monster. It was absolutely delicious, but fatal. I was happy, though, to have my first carbonara in the city that invented it.

Our nearly month long stay in Italy was nearly over. For our finale meal, we went to
Hostaria Costanza. Its located in what remains of the theatre of Pompey, and legend has it, this is where Julius Caesar was assassinated. We had a nice big table that sat all 16 of us students, my professor, and our tour guide from Florence. I took tons of pictures, partially because I was a little sad that it was all over, the whole trip was coming to an end. And also because the food was that good, and really pretty.
For the first course, I had this ridiculous dish:
I had never heard of it: Scarpelle. Its like a big manicotti, except made of crepe not pasta which is filled with ricotta and spinach and covered with some sort of tasty orangish/redish sauce. I can't even express how good this was.
Next up, secondo piatto:
Veal Saltimbocca. I normally don't eat veal for moral reasons that have been instilled in me since I was young, but the other options for second choice were not very appealing. Though morally unsound, this dish was quite the palette pleaser.
And for dessert (before walking to our final giolitti gelato of course):
Tiramisu, yeah, be jealous.

The final culinary thing I'd like to show you from Italy is terrific. I know a really witty caption would be perfect here, but... I'm at a loss.
...are lollipopes.

Finally, the end of my culinary coverage of my Italian voyage is here. Its a bit sad. I had an amazing time, but I suppose I'm glad to be back in the states. Hopefully, I'll find myself back in Italy someday so I can enjoy everything all over again.

Mini Tarts
Back in America, I've been doing a little bit of baking. I've decided I'm going to make small batches of things for the most part from now on. I always scale recipes down, but I think perhaps I'll do it even more so. First, there are only two of us here. If I bake less, we can try little samples of things to see if we even like them before I commit to a whole 9X9 of it. Then, if there is less quantity, less will be wasted if its a total disaster. And if its good, it'll go semi quickly and I can bake something else. :)

The first thing I baked in this small quantity was inspired by something I saw on FoodGawker, the new site that has come to fill the whole left by Tastespotting. I loved the way these shortbread tartlets looked over on Velvet Lava Cafe's blog. They were so cute, and I have loved the recipes of Ina Garten's that I have tried so far that I was dying to try something like this out.

The urge to make something in this vein was advanced even further by a problem I have. Yes, I have a confession, I have a certain problem in the kitchen. You see, I'm really not a fan of throwing food away. If I have a half eaten container of ricotta in the frig that is about to go bad, I will go out of my way to find a recipe that calls for just that. If I have a little bit of heavy cream left that is approaching its expiration date, I will bake something that requires it so that I don't have to throw it away. Its not the worst problem in the world, I know, but since Dan had purchased and used half of a container of pre-made frosting while I was away, I felt compelled to use it in something so it would not go to waste. Since pre-made frosting would never find a home on my homemade cupcakes in a million years (sorry, I'm a baking elitist) I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to use it up. But first, the crust. I halved Ina's recipe that was listed on Velvet's blog as such:

5 Tblspn butter
1/5 Tblspn sugar
1/2 of 1 egg
1/8 Tsp vanilla
.5 C + 1 Tblspn flour
1/16 tsp baking powder
Sprinkle of salt

Preheat to 350.
In one bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt together, and set aside.
In a different bowl, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix dry mix into the wet mix, and stir until just combined.
Take small spoonfuls of the sticky, sticky dough and place it into the wells in an ungreased non-stick mini-cupcake tin. With floured fingers, pretty down the center as best you can. With a spoon, spread the dough to go up the sides and try to create the best crust-shape you can, with a depression in the center. Mine were very thin on the sides and done very sloppily, and still came out of the tin ok. My half batch made 11.
Bake for ~14 minutes until they start to get golden-brown. Place tin on rack, and take a knife to see if the tarts are loose from the edges of the wells (mine were just fine, surprisingly!). Let cool.

I got a little ambitious and wanted to make a surprise filling in between the shortbread tart and the frosting. For 4 of them, I spread a thin layer of peanut butter. In 3 of them, I spread some strawberry jam that I had melted down.

Some filling poking out!

In the last four of them... well... I got very ambitious.
I wanted to do a twix-ish thing, with the tart as my nougat, the frosting as my chocolate, and this dulce de leche as my caramel.
Well, this was a pain in the butt. Some of the pain may be due to the super super small batch I made. I scaled it down so much that the original recipe went from 4 cups milk to only 1/4 C. It came together way quicker than the recipe said, probably owing some to the reduced quantity. But it was still a pain. It tasted OK, but nothing special. After taken off the heat, it got hard and unworkable real fast. And I didn't have a thick enough layer on the tarts to really taste significantly against the overwhelming chocolate frosting flavor.
Oh well! This particular recipe for dulce de leche is not something I'd try again.

For the frosting, I blobbed some of that pre-made stuff, added a teaspoon of espresso powder, and broke out the handheld electric mixer to make it a little softer, lighter and fluffier.


These were not spectacular. The shortbread crusts were quite good and crumbly, I'd try this again in another application. Thats all for now in this longest blog post ever!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Italia (part Due): Polpettine, Pesto, Gnocchi and Cannoli

Ahhh, Italy. So much to talk about, so little time. When people ask me, "How was it??" I feel like I have nothing to say. I say, "It was amazing, I had a great time". Then, I feel like I'm obligated to say a little more. After all, I was there for nearly a month, visited more sites than I would have thought to be humanly possible in that amount of time, and all I can say was, "It was awesome." I feel like a dweeb. Fortunately, pictures can convey a story much better than my overwhelmed brain. If someone asks me, "Did you have any real Italian pizza while you were there?," what says it better, "Yes, it was really good." or this:

I'd have to go with the latter. Fortunately, I took about 1300 or so pictures during my trip, so that when I try to tell my loved ones all about my time there, I don't have to sound underwhelmed by saying simply "Italy was great, we did stuff."
Anyway, back to the food. Pizza in Italy comes in little individual pies, like in the picture. At first, I was really intimidated by the size of the portion. Everyone told me not to worry about it, its a thin crust, you can easily eat the whole thing. But when they slapped that big pizza, the enormous plate struggling to contain it, I thought it was just too much for me to handle - I put the fork there for scale. Then...i started to eat it. Needless the say, it was absolutely delicious. Quite different from our pizza here: Fresh basil, less greasy, fresher ingredients, a simpler but much better taste. Before I knew it...well...


Yeahhh, I'm not sure where it all went. My thighs, perhaps, but it was worth it. It is much lighter than our pizza, and the thinner crust does make it easier to eat more than one slice, but there WAS a fair amount of, "I can't do it... I can't eat anymore... ok, maybe just ooone more half piece" heard from around our table.

Another one of my favorite days on this trip, gastronomically speaking, was our wine tasting at Salchetto in Montepulciano. We were taken down to see the barrels and given a little lecture in Italglish about how they grow their grapes, their choices for the wood for the barrels, etc etc. It was actually all quite interesting. The only other time I had done a wine tasting was at the Brotherhood Winery in New York, and since it was a few weeks before my 21st birthday, I wasn't allowed to take part. But come ON, I was only a few weeks away! My pride prohibited me from paying much attention to the rest of the day. So here, in the Tuscan countryside, was really my first experience like this.

Then, we were brought outside to see the vineyard.



Interestingly, the rose bushes on the end of each row have a purpose, not just to make the Tuscan countryside all the more irresistible. Whatever bugs or bacteria (I can't remember exactly, but something harmful to the plant) that threaten the vines, will attack the rose bushes first. So at the first sign of damage to the rose bushes, the people at the vineyard know to act before there is damage to the precious grapes. Cool, right?


Our little Italian man told us all about the grapes, and even showed us what little baby grapes look like which I thought was particularly adorable...


After our tour and lecture about the vineyard, we sat down to a beautiful lunch of meats, bread with delicious olive oil, & cheeses with honey that perfectly complimented their amazing wine.


I'm not even a big fan of red wine, but theirs were spectacular. Its the first red wine I think I could sit down to dinner with and actually enjoy. My absolute favorite was the Rosso di Montepulciano. Fruity, easy to drink. But that wasn't even their "good" wine. My second favorite was what they call their 2nd best, their Vino Nobile. And their crew that they take pride in was the Salco. All of them were quite delicious, and it was a lot of fun to learn how to taste properly.

By now, time was whizzing past. Our second cooking class was already upon us. Originally, our menu was Sformatino di Zucchine (Zucchini Flan) with a Pesto di Radicchio Rosso, but we shot that down opting for Polpettine Fritte (fried sicilian meatballs) instead.

The recipe for the polpettine, as provided by the school, is as follows:

Polpettine Fritte
"Secondo Piatto
Region: Basilicata
Serves 4


500 gr (17 oz) pork, minced
60 gr (2 oz) bread crumbs (very fine breadcrumbs, almost like a cornmeal)
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
50 gr (1.5 oz) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/2 onion, chopped
salt and pepper
30 gr (1 oz) raisins, coarsely chopped (we shot this down too...these didn't find their way into our polpettine)
30 gr (1 oz) pignoli (pine nuts)
oil for frying (we used sunflower oil)

Work together all the ingredients besides the breadcrumbs in a bowl. Take lumps the size of one egg, pass in breadcrumbs, fry in hot oil, turning once over to brown them all over. Drain on absorbent paper before serving."



They were quite good. The pine nuts mixed in added a nice little nutty crunch, and the breadcrumbs on the exterior, rather than mixed in like I've always known, was really different and delicious. I'd definitely make this recipe again at home for a variation on my traditional meatballs.

To go with our Polpettine, we made Gnocchi di Patate (Potato Gnocchi) with a Basil Pesto...

Gnocchi di Patate
"Serves 8
1 Kg (33 Oz) potatoes
350 gr (13 Oz) flour
2 egg yolks

Wash the potatoes and cook with the skin in salted water, then peel and mash them.


When the potatoes are cold, work on a table, and add the flour, salt and egg yolks. Form a type of dough without kneading too much.


Sticky. Add more flour if it is too sticky.

Roll out into pieces and cut the pasta into small pieces.


Make lines on the gnocchi by using a fork or a grater.


Once the gnocchi are ready, cook them quickly in salted boiling water (save) and once they float to the top, remove from the water and allow them to cool; cover with oil. Once it is time to serve the gnocchi, drop them in boiling water again and dress with the sauce. (which brings us to the sauce....)

Basil Pesto
"Serves 4 - 6
60 fresh basil leaves
60 gr (2 oz) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
60 gr (2 oz) Grana Padano cheese, grated (can't find this here... I used parmigian)
30 gr (1 oz) Pecorino romano cheese, grated
30 gr (1 oz) Pine Nuts
1 Garlic Clove
Salt to Taste

(I left this out the garlic both in the cooking class, and when I made it at home. Garlic does NOT agree with me, and the taste of the fresh basil is enough to carry this dish. Many people sampled it and agreed. In fact, the pesto is So good, and So easy to make, I've made it twice already since getting home!)

Rinse and pat dry the basil leaves.

[These are my cute little basil leaves from making it at home. In New York I found no problem finding a large amount of fresh basil, but here in Florida, I've gone to 3 stores so far, and haven't found any fresh basil, let alone large amounts of it. It was all dried and in pre-packaged packets. So, I bought a sweet basil plant at Lowe's which provided more than enough leaves for one batch of this pesto for considerably less money, was just about as fresh as you can get it considering I cut it off the plant right before using it, and now, I'll hopefully have new leaves in the future!]

Put in a blender the cheeses, pine nuts, and olive oil (and garlic if desired) and mix to creamy consistency.
Add the basil leaves; salt to taste. Mix pulsing in order to avoid heating the basil.

The leaves in the food processor. Good bye my precious leaves!

Put in a glass vase, covered by olive oil and keep refrigerated. (Lost in translation, a bit? I just stored it in a glass jar)

My cute souvenier nutella jar!

Use to dress fresh or dry pasta (good with potato gnocchi, fresh egg tagliatelle, dry Reginette, typical Trofie)."


Our second cooking class was not yet over. Last but not least, Cannoli Siciliani!!

Cannoli Siciliani
500 gr ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp cinnamon
100 gr confectioner's sugar
40 gr candied orange peel
30 gr bitter chocolate, chopped
chopped pistachio nuts

Press the ricotta through a sieve, or whirl in a food processor until smooth. Beat in cinnamon, sugar, and all the other ingredients. Refrigerate.


Cannoli Shells:
1 C flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
20 gr. lard
8 tablespoons marsala or white wine
Vegetable oil for frying

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, except the oil. Kneed the dough until smooth. Cut the dough into 4 pieces, make balls, and let sit for 30 minutes.


Take each ball, dust with flour, and start rolling it out with a rolling pin on a floured counter top. Cut out circles with a cookie cutter of 10 Cm, or take a rolling paste cutter to cut squares, and save the scraps.


Re-roll and re-cut with scraps. Center a metal canoli form on a sheet of dough, making sure not to let the dough extend longer than the form (the form must come out further than the dough). Roll one end of the dough over the top of the tibe, lightly brush the far edge of the dough with water, and gently roll up so the edges overlap. Press lightly to create a good seal so the shell won't open during the drying. Heat the oil in a pan to about 375 F. Gently lower the shells 3/4 into the hot oil.


They will puff up and turn golden brown in about 3 minutes. Drain the excess oil and set them on a platter. Cool them briefly before removing the tubes.


Scoop the filling into a pastry bag. Pipe the filling into each cannolo. Sprinkle with sugar.


The cannoli were quite tasty. They were different from any cannolo I'd ever had before. The filling was not nearly as thick as I'm used to, but they were definitely good enough to try and make again at home... in fact, I picked up a package of cannoli forms and the rolling pasta cutter from an Italian kitchen store while I was there :)

Ok signore e signori. That's all for part due of my Italy trip. I hope you enjoy the recipes I learned from my cooking classes and try them on your own!


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