"Bake" covers all things sweet, in or out of the oven.

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The Morning-after Banana Bread – or how I can’t leave a perfectly good recipe alone


Just like my friend The Amateur Gourmet Adam, who posted about his recipe-tweaking habit recently, I’m not one to leave a perfect good recipe alone.  Even when it comes to something so simple, and so seemingly perfect, I rarely could stop myself from tweaking it a little.  At times the results my tinkering are disastrous – Dorie Greenspan’s perfectly innocent French Yogurt Cake recipe I played with yesterday was one, but that story’s for another time.  At other times, however, I ended up with something like this Banana Bread, which I think – rather ungrammatically I might add – is a more perfect version of an already perfect recipe.

I first saw the recipe at Deb’s delicious blog Smitten Kitchen. On it she said she got the recipe from our mutual friend Elise at Simply Recipes. Elise, in turn, got it from her friend Heidi’s ski friend’s mother Mrs. Hockmeyer.  The recipe was alarmingly simple.  First you mash up your banana, then stir in butter, egg, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Oh, yes, and flour.  By hand.  No fancy kitchen implements required.  That simple.

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Chocolate-covered peanut & sesame caramel bars

I guess I should just come out and admit it.  My name is Pim, and I just made a vegan an almost-vegan dessert – peanuts/sesame/rice puffs/palm sugar caramel bars, to be precise.  And I dipped them in chocolate – Valrhona Araguani 72%, because there’s nothing good that’s not made better by a dip in Valrhona Chocolate.  The results?  They are totally crack.  I tell you, they are.

Like many great discoveries in this world – Columbus discovering “India” par example – I came upon these morsels of unworldly deliciousness entirely by accident.  Last weekend being Chinese New Year and Valentines day all rolled into one, I was looking some kind of traditional, celebratory sweets to make for the parties I was attending.  For the New Year celebration in Thailand, we make a sort of caramel we learned from the Portuguese, probably in the 16th century.  We call it ga-la-mae, a telling bastardization of the word caramel.  Galamae was, however, not my favorite dessert, but it got me thinking about another celebratory sweets that is also a caramel base, but this one, called Grayasat in Thai, has added nuts, puffed rices, and sesame seeds.  Crisp, chewy, nutty, darkly sweet, and ever-so-slightly salty, all at the same time, now this would be the perfect dessert to celebrate with this weekend.

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Bergamot Madeleines


Let me start this post by saying I’m a madeleine snob.  A bona fide, unrepentant madeleine snob.  Don’t talk to me about those nasty little packets of “madeleine” by the cash register at your Starbucks.  They’re awful, with texture seemingly composed, somehow, of paraffin.  Those buckets of shell-shaped stuff masquerading as madeleines at Costco are not much better.  They taste as though they’re made of Twinkies – oddly spongy, overtly sweet and redolent of fake vanilla.  I don’t know what those pretenders are exactly, but I assure you they are *not* madeleines.

The perfect madeleine is elusive.  It’s hard to find even in Paris.  The problem is not that it’s hard to make.  As you will see after this post (and a little time in your own kitchen playing with the recipe) it is not the case.  Madeleines, even the perfect ones, are really quite simple to do.  The problem, rather, is that its perfection is fleeting.  It’s one of those things that are perfect minutes out of the oven, and then the quality erodes as the minutes tick by.  The nearest specimen to a perfect madeleine I’ve had was a plain madeleine, the classic, baked to order and served warm and crisp at the edges with coffee to finish a hearty meal at Alain Ducasse’s Aux Lyonais in Paris.  It’s been years, but it could’ve easily been yesterday.

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Alfajores – a holiday baking idea from The Foodie Handbook


Here's another recipe from my new book I'd like to share, and this is just the perfect time for it.  Aren't we all thinking about holiday baking these days?  Ok, if you're in Northern California you must be thinking freezing weather too – you've heard all the complaints on twitter I'm sure – so, what better than baking for an excuse to turn on your oven and warm up the house?

It will also be fun to do something slightly different than the usual sugar or gingerbread cookies, don't you agree?  I highly recommend these Alfajores, two buttery, crumbly cookies hugging the sweet dulce de leche (a sort of caramelized milk jam), your friends and relative will appreciate the novelty.  You may have to teach them how to say the name, al-fa-ho-res, but once they bite into these addictively delicious cookies, they won't mind one bit.

Don't let the fact that these cookies are so deliciously delicate – they seem to crumble under too
intense a gaze – deter you.  While being made, the dough is so easy to
work with it feels like Play-doh.

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The best fig tart, ever (a recipe from The Foodie Handbook)


I could also call it the easiest fig tart, ever.  Really.  It has an astonishingly small list of ingredients: a pie crust*, some luscious figs, with a hidden layer of frangipane, which, despite the fancy-sounding French name, is simply a concoction of toasted almonds, sugar, butter, and egg that you can make easily in a food processor.

The key to the magic here is the frangipane.  It’s one of those things that sound far more difficult and fancy than they really are.  My frangipane recipe came from the one in Michel Bras fantastic Notebooks of Michel Bras: Desserts. It’s basically equal quantity (by weight) of almond meal, butter, and sugar, with one egg to bind it all together.  That’s a truly fantastic recipe, and one so versatile I find a use for it in practically all my fruit tarts, from the summery stone fruits to the fall harvest of pears and apples.  Right about now, with melting soft and tantalizingly sweet figs make an appearance all over the place, you can make a fig tart with a base of this frangipane and it will turn even the most ardent fig hater into a lover. Read more »

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