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

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no recipe apple tart

Tarte aux pommes

Can you bake without a recipe?  Most of you are probably shaking your head no…no, no, no, no.  You’ve all been scared off by that culinary truism that refers to cooking as an art and baking as a science.  I don’t think it’s true at all.  And I think most good home cooks who are afraid of baking are missing out a whole lot.  The same is true with bakers who religiously follow recipes.  If baking is rigidly following a recipe, you’re missing out on the improvisation, the play that makes cooking so much fun.

Of course, it’s true that you need to learn a few basic recipes.  Learn how to do a pie/tart crust, for example.  Any good food writer/blogger worth their salt can teach you one. Yes, I even have one in my book (which of course you must wait for.)  But once you have that, you can bake just about any fruit tart or fruit pies that your heart desires and you mind imagines.

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Boozy Bitter Chocolate Truffles, or, I DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR VALENTINE!


Nor do I want you mine.

I think it was that pink Rice Crispy Treats I was subjected to one sad Valentine that ruined it for me for ever.  Or perhaps it saved me.  Depending on your perspective.  In any case, if I saw another heart-shaped cookie or pink cake I might just scream and go sew black buttons over my eyes and then build traps for unsuspecting children or misguided lovers.  I just might.

But there is hope yet.  A distressed signal sent over Twitter to my crowd received in reply dozens of also-dissenting voices, reassuring me that, even in my most misanthrope moment, I am, alas, not alone.  In the dark, lonely corners of Twitterverse we plotted to bring down valentines.  “Do the Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic”, sang the Tweet-chorus.  “Cook everything that gives you gas”, cried a petulant – or perhaps flatulent – voice.  Another pointed to a gnarly – if absolutely delicious – Dim Sum staple, braised chicken feet. One even suggested a bottle of cheap booze and a hammer, I dared not ask why.  I supposed another that might do is that dish with a poetic name, Pissed-off Prawns, I ate earlier this week at Michael Chiarello’s new Bottega up in Napa.

Then an aha moment arrived.  What fun is bitterness without booze?  There you have it.  I’ll make chocolate truffles, dark and bitter chocolate truffles, and I’ll make it boozy.  Rum perhaps.  No, Armagnac, better yet, Armagnac with some prunes soaked in it.

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Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Bites


I've got a soft spot in my heart for first cookbooks.  It's not because my own first book  is coming out later this year, ok -not just because of that- but I love the earnest and unabashed enthusiasm that every writer put into their first project.  Cookbooks that come later in their career may perhaps be more polished, or even altogether far better, but they are often missing that je ne sais quoi that first books possess.

If you're a regular reader of Chez Pim, I'm sure you're a fan of my dear friend David Lebovitz's as well – you might even like him better, which is, of course, totally cool with me, just don't tell me!  And if you're a fan of his, you must also know that he's not only an über-blogger, but a prolific cookbook writer, with many successful books under his proverbial belt.  But the one that had my heart, and still does, is his first, Room for Dessert.  A number of recipes in that book have made their ways into my baking repertoire, and the book has coffee, butter, and molasses stains to prove that too.

The cookies I made last week is one of those recipes from this book.  He calls it Black and White Cookies, made with ground almond and bittersweet chocolate, rolled in powdered sugar.  These cookies are cute as buttons, and just about the same size too, absolutely the perfect size for just a bite or two of something bittersweet with your coffee.  I must also admit that I don't quite know how to leave a good recipe well enough alone, so I made mine with hazelnut instead of almond.  The effect was really quite lovely, sort of like Nutella cookies for grown-ups.

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Chocolate-caramel shortbread sandwiches


I've been in a bit of a mad search for the perfect sablé recipe.  I'm completely obsessed with the sandy French butter cookies from the north of France.  The best ones I've had came from a tiny bakery called Grain de Vanille in a little town named Cancale on the rugged Brittany coast.  That-little-bakery-that-could is small in size but not stature, as it is owned and operated by the Michelin-three-star chef Olivier Roellinger.  We haven't been back there in a couple of years, and I'm positively aching for some of those sablés (though chef Roellinger calls them Galettes de Cancale.) 

I'm not quite ready to share the sablé recipe yet, I've got a really good one now, but I'm not sure if it's the ultimate yet.  I'll share it when I get there.  Meanwhile, my mad search resulted in loads of perfectly delicious, buttery sablé cookies – albeit not quite the caliber of le Grain de Vanille yet – and I had to do something with them.  That's when this idea came to me.  Cookie sandwiches!  The obvious choice is chocolate ganache – who doesn't love chocolate ganache?  But I wanted to make something even more special.  Yes, and what about some gooey salted butter caramel – didn't the NY Times just claim that everyone now loves salty caramels?  (As for me, I've loved them for ages thank you very much!)

But filling cookie sandwiches with gooey, salty caramel turned out to be a bit of a design problem.  The caramel oozed out of the cookies before it had enough time to set.  So here's where the ganache came into play again.  I piped the ganache along the edges of the cookie, forming a levy so I could pour the caramel inside.  Topped with another butter piece of cookie, the sandwich is now ready to be devoured.  The caramel will still ooze out once bitten into, but by then I am beyond caring – and so will you, too. 

You can use just about any butter cookie or shortbread recipe you like.  If you need some place to start, Dorie Greenspan's "punitions", as interpreted by Deb of Smitten Kitchen, is a very good one. 

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The Thai paradox: or, how Thai fried bananas keep you thin


Everyone’s always talking about the French Paradox.  You know, the one about how the French eat all that fatty stuff, cheese, pasttries, and drink loads of wine but stay healthier than most Americans.  Well, there’s another paradox we should all be pondering.  We should call it the Thai paradox.  Oh, no, I’m not talking about the protesters occupying both of Bangkok’s international airports, simultaneously apologizing to stranded passengers for causing them "troubles" and hunkering down for the long haul, the country and her precarious economy be damned.  That’s not so much a paradox as children throwing a gigantic tantrum.  I’m also not talking about the one where the "democratically elected" ruling parties insisted on nominating the brother-in-law of the dude they had just thrown out of the country for corruption (and myriads of other unmentionable crimes, be they real or imagined) knowing full well that it would just exacerbate the tensions.  And so it did.  And so here we are.  A stand-off of epic proportion, the "final battle" as they are calling it.  How tremendously sad.

No, no, I don’t want to think of any of that.  I’d rather think about Thailand at her much happier times, about her much more precious assets than those supposedly stolen by the ousted PM Thaksin.  Yes, I’m thinking about the food, that intricate, delicate, and at times deliciously puzzling cuisine that is Thai food, the main cultural asset for which, I fervently hope, the tourists will return after this mess is over so they could see, feel, and experience the real face of my Thailand.


Let’s get back to the paradox in question, shall we?  You must be wondering what it could be.  Well, if you’ve been to Thailand, I’m sure you’ve seen all that deep-fried foods we eat.  It seems if we can toss just about anything in a little batter and fry that baby we’re happy to eat it.  Dip it in a sweet sauce or a spicy one.  Eat it wrapped in a fresh leaf of lettuce or by its own lonesome self.  Politely eat it off a plate or conveniently and unceremoniously dump ’em in a little paper bag for the road.  Yes, just about every snack-y street food-y stuff you get in Bangkok is deep fried.  Yet, look around Bangkok, you’d be hard pressed to find an obese Thai person.  We are a nation of people with the metabolism of a hummingbird.  Don’t hate us because we’re beautiful, we say: hate us because we can polish off this whole bag of deep-fried bananas and still be thinner than one of your thighs.  Ok, ok, I’m just kidding.  Well, half kidding. 

And, now, apropos of – not so much nothing as – a very bad joke, here I give you the recipe for Thai fried bananas, Kluey Todd, as we say on the streets of Bangkok.

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