Monday, August 22, 2016

Falconry, Owls and New Adventures

Many of you know from reading my baking memoir, Confections of a Closet Master Baker (aka My Life from Scratch), that my mother's nickname since childhood was eule (owl in German) and that since she passed, I wear the gold owl pendant she wore since I was born. It's no surprise that owls are kinda a big deal with me.

And if you've spent any time visiting my blog but especially my social media sites, you're saying to yourself, "Wait. Aren't you into all birds?" And you'd be right. I raise chickens and ducks and I have a close, personal friendship with a goose. When I was a kid, mom and I rescued abandoned Starling hatchlings and raised them to adulthood and then I rescued and released chickadee hatchlings here at Freegrace. My only gripe is that I thought we had something special, me and the hatchlings, but once they were old enough they just took off. They never write. They never call.

So when I received an opportunity to visit the new falconry in Woodstock, Vermont, to not only fly hawks but meet owls, I said, "When can I move in?" Even better, one of the most magical places on earth, The Woodstock Inn, is responsible for renovating the barn for this branch of New England Falconry and are single handedly responsible for bringing falconry to our neighborhood.

So if you're one of the many who read the magnificent book, H is for Hawk, we all know that falconry is on your bucket list. I not only got to cross it off of mine but I'm pretty sure that I'm now nurturing a deep and abiding love of falconry and know that it will be a regular part of my life. I'm sharing the video from my adventure at New England falconry with you so you can fly vicariously through me.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Heaven and H.E. Double Hockey Sticks Cake

I appreciate an impossibly tall cake. They happen to be in fashion now too. The official term is: Barrel Cake. But I liked tall cakes before they were cool or had a trendy moniker. As a matter of fact, I can't remember when I didn't like tall cakes because it means you get more cake.

It occurred to me that a favorite standard, the Heaven and Hell Cake, could stand for the tall treatment because it only seems right that the distance between the two should be realllllly far apart, hence a tall cake. 

If you aren't familiar, a Heaven and Hell Cake is layers of Devil's Food and Angel Food cake, sandwiched by peanut butter mousse. I like to work with a white cake that has a bit more structure than an angel food but that still has a lovely amount of moisture and delicacy to make the framework sound, so instead I make a white cake that utilizes the "paste method" wherein you start with all the dry ingredients in the bowl, add softened butter to create a sandy like texture and then you add the liquids. The result is a cake with lots of flavor and structure but still manages to be fine grained. In short, it's heavenly. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

"SURPRISE! You're a STAR!" Mousse Cake with mirror drip glaze.

If you have a favorite mousse recipe, you can feel free to adapt it to this technique. The following rule applies to ALL mousse cakes made with both the interior surprise AND the glaze: (1) whichever mousse you choose to use as the interior image mousse, it must be frozen solid in order to be handled properly (2) the mousse cake, once finished and ready for glazing, must be FROZEN and the glaze should register between 90-95ºF.

Before we get into the photo montage, let me just state unequivocally that you shouldn't use a traditional metal bundt pan for this cake. It won't unmold, at least not easily. So while the following does a good job of visually explaining how to make the surprise inside, if you use a metal bundt the real surprise is that it will NEVER RELEASE! Instead, invest in a silicone bundt pan like these. That's what I did after spending hours gently heating the sides of this bundt pan only to end up with soup. With silicone, you can just peel that sucker off the frozen mousse. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Everyone Gets a Chocolate Chip Cookie

Picture from Let Them Eat Cake taken by Tina Rupp

On this wonderful day, National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, I am posting the very first recipe from my book Let Them Eat Cake. This recipe, like all the others in the book, offers a traditional option, with all the butter bells and whistles, but it also includes a gluten-free option, a vegan option and a healthier option...because EVERYONE should get to eat a chocolate chip cookie on such an auspicious Thursday.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Creamy Artichoke and Heirloom Tomato Tart

I remember the exact moment I first tried an artichoke. It was in Jennifer Nunes' kitchen in Arlington, VA. We were in the fifth grade. Her mother set down a ramekin with melted butter. I'm half German, I am born to love butter. If this family enjoyed it melted, I could get down with that tradition. I just needed bread. But what Mrs. Nunes set before me wasn't bread, not nearly. Here was an alien flower, its petals topped with delicate spikes. I watched Jennifer pluck a leaf and dip the fleshy end into the butter then gently scraping the meat with her teeth. I followed suit, making sure that my introductory leaf cradled a healthy puddle of butter.

Monday, July 25, 2016

DEVIL'S CREAM PIE with a twist

Devil's Cream with an added layer of strawberry mousse.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Oreos. Who am I kidding? I'm still obsessed with Oreos. I went so far as to steal an entire package from my neighbors house and I've not matured enough to say I'd not steal again. I wrote a chapter in my baking memoir, My Life from Scratch, all about my Oreo capers and I finished it with the recipe for Devil's Cream Pie, a favorite in my Montpelier pastry shop.

From "My Life from Scratch". Illustration by Raymond Prado

I've updated the recipe a bit, adding alternatives so you can jazz up the intensely chocolate pie with strawberry or peanut butter mousse. But I've gotta say, it's plenty special in it's original state: Oreos, deep dark chocolate, and luscious Swiss meringue.

If you missed me making the Devil's Cream Pie on the Today Show, here's the video.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


I wonder how you feel about eclairs. What do you know about them? For example, right now there's something of a renaissance in Paris when it concerns eclairs. Fauchon's Cristophe Adam started a revolution by creating inventive designs and flavors on the slim, crisp choux bodies. He went on to open his own shop, L'éclair de Génie. You guessed it. It's all about eclairs.

One thing you have to know about baking this wonderful pastry is that they need to be crisp and a lovely golden brown. In order to stand up to the filling and still maintain a semblance of structure, you have to bake them until they caramelize. This is also crucial for flavor.

Want to know more? Well, it just so happens that I've got an online class on just the subject...and so much more! Here's a little preview.