Hot sun, summer in the City

Now, the summer is not a time to bake – well, no sane person would want to bake in a small, poorly ventilated kitchen in New York City. However, things like possible heat stroke don’t faze me.

This is because I have some tricks up my sleeve that make it possible to whip out a seemingly labor intensive dessert without much baking at all.

The key is to pick a recipe that doesn’t require a lot of time in the oven. Recipes with a short list of ingredients usually tend to spend less time in your oven. For example, I make a crumb cake that can be baked in a toaster oven and it takes from start to finish (inc. prep) 45 min. Yes, the recipe will be provided in another post. I need a picture first.

Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid recipes calling for cream based frostings – they will weep and wallow in the heat and all that careful watching of the beater will have gone to vain.

If you are going to use a whipped cream based frosting, make the frosting separate from the cake and only frost right before serving. Keeping everything chilled in the fridge helps. How to keep the fridge smells from your whipped cream? Why, cover with cling film of course!

The essentials to baking in the summer are:

• Keep it simple
• Keep it cool
• Stay away from ingredients that will melt if outdoors too long, like butter
and whipped cream
• Use fresh fruit as much as possible
• Sometimes, prepackaged cake is good in a pinch – especially for something like strawberry shortcake

Keeping the above in mind makes it a little less hellish to bake in the summer. I’m planning on baking something this weekend!

Stay tuned.


Inspiration hits!

Inspiration hit while doing research for a class assignment.

I read an article about Sugar Bakery and CafĂ© in Seattle, WA and the journey that the owner/baker Stephanie Crocker went through and thought “If she can do it, so can I.”

I think the main problem is just taking the leap – and this is true with baking as well. I have heard from friends countless times “Oh, nothing I bake comes out right.” or “I keep burning the outside and the inside is raw!” The key is to take that leap of faith and keep on baking.

There is something about making that scary first step, on your own, that turns that step into perpetual motion.

I think I’m going to take a page out of the book of Stephanie Crocker’s success and begin making those samples. It tough to put your heart on the line, but with every heartbreak you get stronger.

And who knows, maybe someone will fall head over heels for my baking.

Here’s to hoping!

You can track Stephanie’s journey at her blog sugarshop.blogspot.com.


Fruits of My Labor

Good Ol' Chocolate Chip Cookies

My super lemon bars

Chocolate Orange Sugar cookies

And hopefully...the first iteration of my signature cookie...something old, and something new. If it get's picked up, I will share the recipe

Busy Little Baker

I spent most of last night and some of this morning preparing different sugary, chocolaty, lemony items. Why would I do this when it's 85 degrees outside and humid as a rain forest in the monsoon?

Simple, I have an opportunity.

I have an opportunity to actually have someone other than a family member, or a friend, give me feedback on my baking. I know I make decent stuff, and most of the time I like it. However, having a professional either validate or castigate my baking is something that I haven't had a chance to experience.

Sometimes, it helps to be humble. That way you can learn and improve.

And now, the adventure truly starts.


Me Want Cookie!

Why do I bake? I think the reason is because I like to make people feel better. There is no denying the healing power of a brownie and just bringing baked goods to the office makes everyone a little less disgruntled.

I know everyone has a great recipe that they’ve conquered and made their own – mine is the chocolate chip cookie. It’s a variation on the Tollhouse® classic, but whenever I roll those babies out, they are gone before I can yell “Cookie!”


What makes mine special? I say what my friend’s husband says – that I make it with “lurve” and thus they are extra-good. Actually, it’s all in the technique.

To make a cookie that will stay chewy even after sitting in a container for several days (if they last that long) requires proper preparation.

The sugars and the fats need to be whipped till they nearly double in volume.

The dry ingredients need to be sifted together, separately from the wet ingredients.

Never underestimate the power of that ¼ tsp of salt – salt is a powerful preservative and it provides a balance in the flavor of the cookie.

Never over beat the eggs and butter – you’ll get a curdled mess

And when you mix the wet with the dry – don’t over do it. You want cookie dough, not spackling compound.

The actual baking of the cookie also lends to its texture.

Never over-bake. It’s better to leave off a few minutes and let the residual heat from the oven take care of the rest of the baking than to have burnt cookies.

If you’re like me and don’t have a fabulous convection oven, chances are that your oven has pockets of heat unevenly distributed. Rotate your cookie sheet so that you have a full-batch of evenly cooked cookies and not mush in front and charcoal in the back.

Remember – hot air rises. Don’t put your cookies on the top rack; always the middle rack.

If you follow the above, there’s a chance you’ll get a near-pristine batch. I still miss a few, but practice makes perfect!


Tarte Banane

Essentially a simple banana tart, I’ve never come across it here in New York. My first encounter with a tarte banane was in Mauritius, where my parents are from. The pastry was a perfect combination of French and local cuisine, with the rich buttery pastry crust and the simple banana fruit filling.

I tried to replicate it once when I was living on my own and not familiar with the appliances in my landlord’s kitchen. Let’s just say I forgot that gas ovens sometimes needed their pilot lights lit before working. Let’s also just say that I had the notion that one could bake a simple tart crust on the stove using a combo of a cast-iron skillet and a damp dish towel.

Needless to say, I nearly burned the kitchen down and my friend and I (who had come over to sample some nostalgia) ended up trying to remove all traces of hapless arson from the kitchen walls. We ended up going out for ice-cream and I haven’t attempted to make it since.

It just goes to show you that even someone who counts themselves as a pretty decent baker can have lapses in judgement.

Tip of the day: never try to bake something on your stove-top.


Makes you pucker!

So something that my friends and family seem to like me baking are my lemon bars. Not exactly the sexiest sweet treat – but there is something about the bright, concentrated flavors of lemon and sugar that drive my people crazy. I actually never thought that lemon bars would be so popular – I only started to make them because I liked them. And I usually bake things that I like to eat. Is that selfish? Maybe, but I *am* baking them gosh gang it!

The best part about lemon bars is that they are ridiculously easy to make. That being said, one can screw up the simplest lemon bar recipe.

I’ve had lemon bars in early batches where the sugar frothed to the top of the bar and made this interesting crunchy topping. (Not exactly what I was going for, but something to think about in a future iteration? Crunchy lemon bars?)

So what are some tricks to making a good batch of lemon bars?

Use a half/half mix of butter and shortening for your crust – makes the base rich without being too oily.

Mix your citrus – add some lime along with your lemon, gives it a spicier flavor. Yes, limes are spicier than lemons.

Use fresh if you can, or if you can’t make it half/half. Fresh ingredients always trump processed or preserved (unless you’re making Jam Crumb Cake, but that’s a different post).

Watch for browning! If you are usually scatterbrained, use a piece of tin foil to cover your bars so that the lemony color stays and you don’t get the crunch effect.

Crap. I foresee growing exponentially larger as the posting continues. Maybe I should think about making diet bars.

Eww. The moment I typed the above my mind revolted against the idea of a “diet bar.” The thing is, if you’re going to bake, you’re going to bake. I might try something lactose-intolerant-friendly or use less fatty ingredients in the future, but for the most part I am a firm believer of if you’re going to bake something chocolaty, sugary or rich – own it.


Baking Dilemmas

So here's the thing - with all the amateur bakers out there who want to break into the business, what chance do I have?

Maybe chance is something I shouldn't even think about, because chance is a fickle friend usually hampered by mood swings.

I think I'll go with gumption. That and the adoration of my friends and family and the hope that they will criticize my baking now and again so that I can get the best product out.

This blog will hopefully, consistently, document my trials and tribulations and fabulous recipes while I slowly beat, whip, crumble and bake my way to success.