All posts tagged: dessert

walnut stollen

Walnut Stollen for the Holidays and Every Day!

Last December I checked Germany’s Dresden Stollen Fest off my quirky bucket list. Long before watching a 6,332-pound bread ride through Old Town in a horse-drawn cart, I’d consumed this sweet baked good. A yeast bread, stollen usually refers to the sugar-dusted, dried fruit- and almond-studded masterpiece that I saw paraded through the streets of Dresden. In spite of the presence of dried fruit and its popularity at Christmastime, don’t confuse stollen with fruitcake. It is a sweet bread, not a cake, and has several versions including mohn or poppy seed and the ground walnut that I grew up eating. In Germany this bread dates back to the 15th century but it didn’t appear as a Christmas treat until 100 years later. In my case it feels as though I’ve always known and loved this sweet. While my mother was not a big fan of the kitchen, every holiday season she would break out her baking pans and make several loaves of the soft, sweet and buttery “nut roll” or stollen. For someone who claimed …

stack of cookbooks

The Annual Cookbook Review: Books to Give, Get and Gobble!

Although I write and buy books and cookbooks, I am always amazed by the tremendous number published every year. Who does cookbooks? Celebrities, celebrity chefs, musicians, athletes, bloggers, restaurants, farmers’ markets . . .. The list goes on and on. With so many new books on store shelves—and seemingly more coming out each week—it’s tough to know which ones will satisfy and which will leave you hungering for something more substantial. To help separate the filets from the hot dogs, the Bordeaux from the Two-Buck-Chuck, it’s the annual cookbook review! Included this year are baking books, a cocktail guide, vegetarian, Italian, German, Mediterranean and English cuisines as well as several food writing books and a graphic novel-like book. Happy shopping, reading and cooking! The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) If you want to learn the proper way to mix, bake and decorate a myriad of cakes, pies, tarts, cookies, breads, pastries and candy, reach for The Baking Bible. Perfect for bakers of any skill level, this comprehensive, IACP Award-winning cookbook …

cinnamon pie crust sticks

Cinnamon Pie Crust Sticks Like Nana Used to Make

A few weeks ago I attended a food journalism conference where editors told the assembled writers, “No more grandmother stories.” Everybody has a grandmother. No one wants to hear about her anymore. The timing couldn’t have been stranger. Just that morning, while wandering around Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, I came across something that I hadn’t seen or thought about in years, something that reminded me of my paternal grandmother, whom I also hadn’t seen in years and about whom I’ve never written. A relic from early childhood, they were strips of pie crust dusted in cinnamon sugar. At the Market they were called “cinnamon sugar pie fries.” When I was a little kid, they were ‘scraps of leftover pie dough that Nana had decorated with cinnamon sugar and baked.’ Now I think of them as cinnamon pie crust sticks. Unlike many food writers, I don’t have charming stories of baking with my grandmothers or mother. By the time that I was old enough to whisk eggs or roll out dough, my maternal grandmother was gone …

slice of peanut butter pie

Perfecting Peanut Butter Pie

Growing up outside of Pittsburgh, I always assumed that peanut butter pie came from my part of the country. Every picnic my family attended and almost every restaurant where we ate offered a version of this rich sweet. Some bakers made it with a classic pie dough. They spooned the no-bake filling into the crisp crust and served the dessert at room temperature. Others lined their pie pans with graham cracker, shortbread or Oreo cookie crumbs, added the peanut butter mixture and refrigerated or froze the pie before serving. Each type—crunchy yet velvety or crumbly, hard and cold—had its diehard fans. The variations didn’t end with crust and consistency. Toppings ranged from chopped peanuts, shaved chocolate, cocoa powder or more cookie crumbs to whipped cream, chocolate glazes, or, my least favorites, overly sugary caramel, banana or strawberry sauces. No matter what differences existed, people gobbled up this dessert. In spite of my home turf’s love of this pie, Western Pennsylvanians cannot claim it as one of their own. Peanut butter pie has its roots in …

peach puff

Got puff pastry and peaches? You’ve got dessert!

It’s probably no surprise that a lot of my recipe ideas come from travel. Unusual ingredients that I’ve tasted, signature dishes that I’ve tried and local recipes that I’ve acquired all influence my cooking. Although I gravitate to far flung locations, I do find inspiration closer to home. A perfect example is this spring’s obsession with puff pastry and stone fruit. A few Saturdays ago I went to Philadelphia to meet up with an old friend. Since I’d done something extraordinary and actually arrived early, I popped into a little bakery selling pastries and a small assortment of breads. What better place to kill time than in a food shop? While the almond croissants and pain au raisins looked lovely, what caught my eye were the “apricot boats,” glistening ovals of puff pastry topped with halved apricots and pearl sugar. So simple. So elegant. Why didn’t I ever think of doing that? Anything that easy and enticing I had to make. First, though, I should have a taste. So, with a box of apricot boats …

2016’s Books for Cooks

Yes, I’m squeezing in my seasonal list of books for cooks at the very last minute. This year I’ve got suggestions for readers, history lovers, bakers, spice fans, travel buffs and, of course, cooks. You won’t see any titles by social media darlings or celebrity chefs—if you read Kitchen Kat, you probably already know how to scramble an egg and you probably aren’t going to serve stuffed, roasted goat hearts at your next family gathering—but you will find a wealth of information, solid recipes and great gifts in this mix. Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders (Chronicle Books, 2015) A scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Gunders offers tips for shopping smarter, eating more of what we purchase and throwing away less food. She also provides recipes for making the most of what we have on hand; this includes dishes such as Sautéed Lettuce and Broccoli Stalk Salad. My favorite sections don’t include recipes but instead focus on portion planning, food storage and uses for leftovers and food scraps. Spend less, waste less …

gluten-free cinnamon stars

Tips for Cut-Out Cookies and Austrian Cinnamon Stars

Whenever I make the gluten-free, cut-out cookies Austrian Cinnamon Stars, I think of my late father. Although he was neither an ardent cook nor baker, every holiday season he and I spent at least one night in the kitchen baking and decorating cut-out Christmas cookies. The tricks he employed to ensure beautiful holiday sweets are ones that I use to this day. If making the aforementioned Austrian cinnamon stars and any other cut-out cookies possessing a soft, sticky texture, I refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. After mixing the ingredients for the cookie dough, I shape it into a ball, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Depending on the size and tackiness of the dough, it may need to stay in the fridge for a little longer or shorter. No matter what, it shouldn’t get cold and stiff. If it reaches that stage, it’ll be difficult to roll and cut. Another trick that my father taught me was that, to stop cookie dough …

What to Eat at European Christmas Markets

My mother used to claim that I inherited my wanderlust from her late father, a civil and mining engineer who worked and traveled throughout Latin America. If he was to blame for my “itchy feet,” that unceasing desire to roam the globe, then she bore responsibility for my passion for European Christmas markets. As a kid, I spent countless Saturdays following her through crowded church Christmas bazaars. Which faith sponsored the event never mattered. As long as it featured homemade pizzelles, kolaches, stollen or fruitcake, we’d be there. A curious kid, I wondered how my hometown’s holiday bazaars stacked up against those in people’s homelands. If I visited Germany’s Striezelmarkt, would ladies jostle and push for the last few loaves of nut-studded stollen? If I went to Poland, would people nibble on onion- and potato-filled pierogis as they shopped? What did people eat at European Christmas markets? For that matter, did they even have these seasonal fairs? Turns out that Europe is chocked full of cheery, outdoor, holiday markets. Along with decorations, crafts and jewelry, …

New Zealand’s Passion for Pavlova

At one time I thought of New Zealand as the land of extreme sports, flightless birds, Flight of the Conchords, magnificent scenery, Maoris, fine wine and the films of Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings. Then I spent last month in this island nation and learned of our shared passion for the meringue-based dessert pavlova. All pavlovas begin with a crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside meringue. The addition of vinegar or lemon juice helps the meringue to achieve its chewiness. So, too, does low, slow baking. Once the meringue has cooled to room temperature, lightly whipped cream and fresh fruit are heaped on top of it. Although berries, kiwi and mango are popular options, the traditional filling is passion fruit. Meringue, cream and fruit. That’s it. That’s all there is to “the pav.” It sounds like such a simple, uncontroversial dessert. Yet it’s not. For almost a century debate has raged over whether New Zealand or Australia invented the pav. Australians claim that Perth chef Herbert Sachse made the first at the Esplanade Hotel in 1935. Kiwis …

Revisiting Palmiers – Cinnamon Palmiers

I spent last week preoccupied with the age-old question of how to pack just enough clothing and books in a carry-on—a carry-on that can only weigh 15 pounds and that will be my only piece of luggage on this trip—for a month of traveling and working on another continent. My fixation meant that I fell a tad behind on sharing a variation on Kitchen Kat’s Lemon Palmiers. Forget what that alternate recipe was? As they say in Australia, which is where I’m headed, “no worries!” It is for cinnamon palmiers. Think back to July 21st when I posted a scintillating entry on the flaky, caramelized, French cookies known as palmiers. As you might recall, these treats derive their name from their palm-like shape; in French palmier means “palm.” Comprised of folded layers of puff pastry and sugar, which gives them their distinct shape, they’re a light and delicious little sweet. Palmiers traditionally feature just those two ingredients, sugar and puff pastry. However, as indicated in the previous post, you can spice them up with such …