Archives for category: Sweet Treats

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The holidays are a whirl-wind for everyone, but working in a bakery makes them even crazier.  I am always amazed how quickly October through December fly by, it is like boarding a roller coaster that continuously picks up speed and you can do nothing more but ride it out until the momentum abruptly stops after New Year’s Eve.  This was my third holiday season to work as a pastry cook and I am always simultaneously relieved and a little depressed after the season is over.  I am glad to catch my breath at work, but it is always a bummer not to be able to enjoy the holidays like everyone else does.  When you are in school, you gauge your year around semesters, finals, and breaks, my rhythm is now set by chocolate covered strawberries, pumpkin pie, bûche de Noël and the holidays that accompany them.

When it is all said and done though, the sugar/retail-crazed customers, long hours, irritated coworkers, paper cuts from handling too many pie boxes, and my managers’ high-expectations result in satisfaction of a job well done.

Luckily, we are closed on Christmas and I was able to enjoy time with my family and celebrate my baby’s first Christmas.  I cooked these scrumptious short ribs (which is becoming quite a Christmas tradition) and this tres leches cake (but with cranberry compote instead of peaches) and of course my dad’s frozen cranberry salad joined the party.

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We also indulged in a Swiss family recipe called kuechli, fried pastry dusted in sugar.  When my grandma was growing up in Missouri, she remembers her Aunts and Uncles making kuechli on their farm during the holiday season.  They gathered in the kitchen to knead and stretch rounds of dough over their knees into irregular circles before adding them to the frying oil where they would become golden and blistered until they finally dusted the finished pastry with sugar and enjoyed the fruits of their labor.

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My family made kuechli a few times when I was younger.  I mostly remember many people jammed into a not-so-big kitchen, getting flour and sugar all over the place, and reveling in the season and each other.  It was a lot of fun with a particularly tasty outcome.  It has been years since we made kuechli together, but while planning our Christmas day activities for this year, my sister suggested we make kuechli again.

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As with anything involving food and cooking, I was all in and my mom consulted my great-grandmother’s handwritten recipe to prepare.  And, as usual, I was curious to know more about kuechli than only my childhood memories held.  I found that if you just type “kuechli”  into a search engine, nothing comes up related to these fried Swiss treats.  After searching around and looking at the family recipe a bit more, I learned that these can also be called Fasnachtsküchlein (carnival cookies) or Chnüblätz (knee cookies), as they are traditionally stretched over the knee instead of rolled out with a rolling pin, and are often served at festivals or carnivals in Switzerland (their version of funnel cake I suppose).

As it should be, making kuechli was a group effort – my sister rolled the dough into thin rounds, I manned the frying, my niece made sure the hot pastries were liberally coated in sugar, and well…everyone else ate.  It was perfect.

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A belated Happy Holidays to all!  I hope you celebrated traditions old and new with your family and that 2013 brings much joy and peace.

Kuechli

Makes 24 7-inch pastries

Recipe from my Zulauf family and a page written by my great-grandma Zulauf

Note:  I wrote the recipe exactly as it was written my my great-grandmother.  I love how old recipes are written with such assumption and informality so I wanted to keep it as is.

4 eggs

2 tablespoons whipping cream

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Vegetable oil for frying

Granulated sugar for dusting

Beat eggs, cream, salt, and sugar with 2 1/2 cups flour until well mixed – the dough is quite soft.  Turn out onto a well floured board.  Knead lightly for five minutes until dough feels smooth on the surface.  Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.

Shape dough into a log and cut into 24 equal pieces.  Keep covered with clear plastic while you shape each cookie.  Roll out each piece on a well floured pastry cloth or board to make a randomly shaped circle about 7 inches in diameter.  Lift from cloths and with a soft brush whisk off excess flour.  Stack between sheets of clear plastic.

Heat about 3/4 inches oil to 325° to 350° in deep sauce pan  of 8 or 9 inches in diameter [Note: I used a 10-inch cast iron skillet which worked fine]; maintain temperature over moderate heat.  Push cookies – one at a time – down into fat and cook until a light golden color, turning once with tongs.  Drain on paper towels and dust with granulated sugar.

Serve at once or store in an airtight container at room temperature unto to 2 weeks, or freeze.  To refresh, spread on a baking sheet and warm 2 or 3 minutes in a 350° oven.

Berry season is in full swing!  I can never get enough of all the strawberries, blueberries, and especially raspberries.

The other day while I was making tiramisu at work, I thought it would be brilliant to combine this classic dessert’s silky, subtly sweet, mascarpone filling with my surplus of perfect summer berries.

Just a few tweaks here and there – nixing the coffee flavor in favor of refreshing raspberry via Framboise liqueur and replacing the usual garnish of cocoa powder for vibrant strawberries – resulted in a satisfying summer dessert highlighting the season’s finest.

Red, White, & Blue Tiramisu

Serves 6

Note:  To moisten the ladyfingers, you must make a simple syrup.  You will likely have some leftover and it can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one month.  This syrup would be great for brushing cake layers to add moisture and flavor.   There are two kinds of ladyfingers – hard and soft- for tiramisu you use the hard, oven baked, kind which can be found in the Italian or cookie sections of some grocery stores.

For syrup:

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

2 tablespoons Framboise (raspberry liqueur)

For filling:

4 egg, yolks and whites separated

4 tablespoons sugar

8 oz mascarpone cheese

3/4 cup raspberries

3/4 cup blueberries

12-14 ladyfingers (see note)

10-12 sliced strawberries

Make syrup:  Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir until all the sugar is wet.  Add vanilla bean seeds and pod.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, swirling the pan around once or twice to help dissolve sugar.  Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and let cook to room temperature.  Strain 1 cup of the syrup into a medium bowl and whisk in raspberry liqueur, set aside and save remaining syrup for a later use (see note).

Make filling:  In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar until mixture thickens slightly and becomes light in color.  Add mascarpone cheese and continue to beat until well combined.  Remove mixture to a medium bowl and set aside.  In a clean bowl, using whip attachment, beat egg whites at medium-high speed until they begin to get foamy.  With mixer still running, add remaining two tablespoons of sugar and beat until soft peaks form.  Add egg whites to mascarpone mixture and fold together until well incorporated.  Gently fold in raspberries and blueberries.

Assemble:  Dunk 6-7 ladyfinger into raspberry syrup until they soak up the syrup.  Arrange ladyfingers on the bottom of a 8 1/2- by – 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.  Top ladyfingers evenly with half of mascarpone filling.  Repeat with another layer of the remaining 6-7 ladyfingers soaked in syrup and  mascarpone filling.  Top with sliced strawberries.  Let dessert chill for at least 3 hours before serving.

Ready to keep traveling? Our first major stop in Italy was Florence, where we spent five days.  What a city!  While not all that big, Florence is busting at the seams with museums, gorgeous architecture, Renaissance history, art, swarms of tourists, and gelatoa lot of gelato.

We did everything you “should” do while visiting Florence.  We saw the David, the Uffizi Gallery, climbed to the top of the Duomo, and watched the sunset from the Piazzale Michealangelo.

Of course, one of my favorite moments in Florence was visiting the outstanding food market near the center of the city. I was in heaven!  Salame, Prosciutto, dozens of varieties of Pecorino cheese, vibrant fruits and vegetables, wine, olive oils, artisans making huge batches of fresh pasta, and every cut of meat you could imagine.  We bought some soft Pecorino cheese (by far the best and most unusual Pecorino I have ever had), robust Salame, crusty bread, and perfectly ripe strawberries.  We lugged our treasures to the Piazza della Signoria and ate in the shadow of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Overall, we found the food in Florence mediocre.  Granted, we could have just made poor decisions in restaurants, but we were never blown away by anything we ate.  The one exception to that would be the gelato.  Florence definitely boasted more gelaterias than any other city during our visit and they have it right.  The most memorable of all the gelato we ate was from a fancy cafe just of the Ponte Vecchio.  Besides gelato, this shop was stocked with all sorts of pastries and a lovely espresso bar, but we were immediately drawn to the gelato case.  Before I knew it, after shelling out more money that I ever have/will for frozen milk, I was the proud owner of a heaping cup of the most flavorful black cherry and pistachio gelato.  Quite possibly the best 8.50€ ever spent.

In memory of our favorite afternoon snack, I have adapted a semifreddo (semi frozen) recipe from the latest Bon Appetit.  No ice cream maker or euros required.

Pistachio and Cherry Semifreddo

Serves 10

Adapted from Bon Appetit June 2011

1 1/2 cups shelled unsalted pistachios

4 tablespoons sugar divided, plus 1/2 cup

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 teaspoon almond extract, divided

1 1/2 cups frozen cherries, thawed (about 6 oz)

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Line a metal loaf pan (approximately 9x5x3″) with 2 layers of plastic wrap, leaving generous overhang on all sides.

Grind pistachios and 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor until very finely chopped.  Transfer pistachio mixture to a small saucepan.  Add 3/4 cups milk; bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes.  Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl; strain, discarding solids.  Stir in 1/4 teaspoons almond extract; set pistachio mixture aside.

Puree cherries and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor until smooth.  Set a fine-mesh strainer over another medium bowl; strain, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible.  Discard solids.  Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and set mixture aside.

Whisk eggs, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium metal bowl.  Set bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water (do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch water).  Beat egg mixture at high speed until it triples in volume and an instant-read thermometer reads 170°, about 3 minutes.  Remove bowl from double boiler and continue beating until thick and cool, about 3 minutes.  Add one-half of egg mixture to both the pistachio and cherry mixtures; fold each just to blend.

Beat cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form.  Add one-half of cram to each of the pistachio and cherry mixtures; fold each just to blend.  Cover cherry mixture and chill in refrigerator.  Pour pistachio mixture into prepared pan; smooth top.  Cover; freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.  Gently pour cherry mixture over pistachio layer; smooth top.  Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

To serve, uncover semifreddo, lift from pan and invert onto a chilled platter; peel off plastic.  Slice crosswise.