Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Here is my second installment of The Baking Buddy. Keep sending your questions! If you are wondering about something, most likely other bakers are too.

Question: I notice in your recipes you often call for nonstick spray. Is there a brand you prefer? Can I use the specialized ones that contain a grease and flour, all-in-one?

Answer: When I call for nonstick spray I am referring to the products like Pam – in the original formulas. Sometimes nowadays they will say something like “made with Canola oil” and that is fine. Just make sure they are the “plain” ones. I do not like the butter flavored ones or the olive oil ones, and of course, we do not want o use ones that are flavored with garlic! As far as the other sprays you referenced, I am assuming you are talking about products like Baker’s Joy. While many bakers seem to like these products, I do not. I think they leave an odd, gummy, floury residue on my cakes that negatively affect their fine texture. If I am very concerned with sticking, you will see that in my recipes I will call for coating the pan with nonstick spray and adding a layer of parchment on the bottom of the pan. If I call for this, it is because it is necessary for your cake to unmold flawlessly. Or, occasionally I do coat a pan with flour. Just make sure to knock out any excess. There is one breakfast cake in my new book where I coat the pan in coarse sugar. It makes a sweet, crunchy crust.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Day in Florence, A Day in Rome

If you visited the blog a couple of weeks ago, you know that I recently returned from a trip through France, Italy, Greece and Turkey arranged by the Thomas P. Gohagan & Company, out of Chicago. This installment is about a couple of days in Italy, specifically the days I spent in and around Florence and Rome.

Our boat left Nice, France and sailed overnight to Livorno, a port outside of Florence. We would spend the morning walking around the area of the Duomo, near the museum that houses David, which we would visit later in the afternoon. The shops around the area feature all kinds of sweets and treats like huge mounds of gelato in every imaginable flavor.Here are some fruit and nut cakes, dense and rich. These keep very well and make great holiday gifts.

After a few hours of strolling we had built up our appetites, which were about to be thoroughly satisfied. We took a bus a short distance out of town, up into the hills to Villa Viviani. This lovingly restored, stately home is now a space used for functions such as private parties, such as ours. We strolled through the gardens to a glass-walled tent where our hostess and organizer, Elaine Trigiani awaited.

I know Elaine through the IACP (International Assoc. of Culinary Professionals). She lives in Tuscany and had arranged for our afternoon at this villa. It began with a guided sensory tasting of three Tuscan olive oils. She is a certified olive oil taster and her presentation was as delicious as it was educational. We learned about olive oil harvesting and production, about sensory evaluation, reading labels and health benefits as well.

Then we rested briefly in an adjourning garden, overlooking the city.....

and enjoyed fresh squeezed blood orange juice, prosecco from the Valdobbiadene and an array of antipasti:

Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino di grotta with honey, ricotta from Seggiano, Tuscan salami with wild fennel seeds, chicken liver crostini, and a special Sbriciolana - a salami from the Sienese black and white heritage pigs. We continued with oil-preserved baby artichokes, sweet cippolini onions, v

fritters of vegetables and zucchini blossoms, pat├ęs, salumi and prosciutto of Pratomagno carved to order.

Then it was on to a proper meal inside the villa.

We began with a porcini mushroom risotto with mint,

then papardelle with wild hare.

Onto some fabulous white beans drizzled with spicy, peppery Tuscan olive oil, and a main course of Tuscan steak, Norcia roast pork loin, and roasted potatoes and tomatoes that were so concentrated in their flavor, they were almost unbelievable. Even though they had been drizzled with oil and herbs and roasted, they tasted as though they had just been plucked off the vine. With vegetables this fresh, you could literally taste the earth. They were startling in their intensity.

Along with the meal we enjoyed a fabulous chianti. The Renzo Marinai wine is organically produced in Tuscany, but available in the U.S..

It was one of those wines that was just so easy to drink, that held its own alongside they food, yet never overpowered. I am told it is available in the States. We finished off with a chocolate zuccotto. None of us had any stomach room left – but we were not going to miss out. We made room. We then finished with Vin Santo (a sweet wine) and the classic accompaniment of Biscotti di Prato.

Here are some other pictures of the villa, inside and out. I could imagine a wedding there…..

That evening we sailed to the port of Civitavecchia, outside of Rome. While we did tour the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Church of St. Peter in Chains, I want to bring you the culinary highlights.

I was looking forward to our visit of the famed Campo de Fiori green market, and it did not disappoint. As we approached, the view was of a bustling scene.

It seemed to be made up of about half tourists and half locals, buying produce and a few flea markety items.

There were larger, very permanent looking vendors with refrigerated cased featuring cured meats and cheeses.

Fraise de bois, the tiny potently flavored strawberries were abundant; those are pomegranates behind them.

There were tomatoes of all sorts, including these squat, ridged Casalino. The aroma emanating from this stand was intoxicating.

Mushrooms were plentiful, as were tender, small cippolini onions and large purple tinged artichokes.

Several vendors offered a salad mix, which I thought was brilliant. I know we have similar products in the U.S. but these somehow seemed fresher and more creative in their blends and presentation. They just begged to be purchased, brought home and put on the table immediately.

A few things I hardly ever see stateside are these fabulous multi-colored lettuces

and zucchini blossoms in such profusion.

We then boarded buses and drove outside of Rome to the ancient (400 year old!) L’Archeologia Restaurant for a five course lunch. Here we are entering the restaurant where we sat outside under large umbrellas:

We started with a plate of roasted and fresh vegetables, fresh buffalo mozzarella and Colonnata fat bacon crostini.

Next was a soup, "etrusca style". The pasta course was so simple, yet so delicious – a very typical, classic dish. Just a bit of pasta tossed with some of the cooking water, bits of Pecorino and ham.

Here is the "recipe" as it was given to us: "Cook strangozzi (thick spaghetti) in boiling salted water. In the meantime prepare a soffritto (garlic lightly fried in oil) with diced ham and add a few drops of white wine. Add the pasta when it is cooked and cook together for 1 minute. When it is served on the dish, grate a little bit of Pecorino cheese on top".

We went on to Argentinian beef filet with ceps mushrooms and mixed fried vegetable fritters , concluding lunch with fresh fruit and tiramisu. Now, let me tell you that I was so stuffed and so uninspired by the dessert, that I almost didn’t have any….boy would that have been a mistake. It was a truly well executed rendition. Very light on the palate in taste and texture. I was so busy eating, I forgot to take a picture.

Join me on my next installment in a week or so, on the Greek Honey tasting I conducted on board Le Diamant. As you can imagine, this was a trip of a lifetime for both David and me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Roland Mesnier - White House Pastry Chef

Many years ago, (perhaps 12?), I was lucky enough to be invited into the White House to spend a day with the pastry chef at that time, Roland Mesnier. It was a remarkable day, for so many reasons. His kitchen was so much tinier than I had expected and yet the level of work was so much more than I had ever dreamed. He was famous for never making the same dessert twice during his 25 years in service to our First Families. The day I was there he was prepping for a State Dinner and the frozen strawberry bombe, in the shape of a strawberry, was to be accompanied by a lemon compote that I will never forget.

Cases and cases of lemons were carefully peeled and sectioned. Each lemon section was painstakingly cleaned of any membrane and these were poached in a sugar syrup. The result was a sweet yet tart compote, so incredibly refined and unexpected. At the time I was writing a cover feature of him for Chocolatier magazine (which has now morphed into Dessert Professional). If you can get a hold of a copy, it is very interesting reading, which some great pictures.

Years later he participated in a public television holiday pledge special that I was taping. That day we made a buche de Noel together. The smell of chocolate on the set was intoxicating. His version was fairly modern with outsized chocolate deer and pine trees set about the display platter. The pledge special is still in rotation, so try to catch it. It should begin airing soon.

Just this week he was in my neck of the woods, appearing at UMASS, where he gave a talk about his professional life, which began at age 14. The morning of that birthday he came downstairs to find a cardboard suitcase packed for him. His family was poor, there were many children, and that was his time to make it on his own - and he never looked back.

I brought him a copy of my new book (above) and in the pic below we are discussing the finer points of making parisian style macarons. (PS: he Does like to age his egg whites, preferably for 10 days for best results). Anyone who has made these knows they can be picayune, and this was one of his best tips. There are two recipes in my new book for this type of cookie. One is a Pistachio and one is a Raspberry Rose. Sort of red and green for Christmas (OK I'm stretching a bit here, but they always impress).
Below is a pictures of my daughter's macarons, here in Espresso Creme Fraiche and Pistachio. You can see more of her work on her site, Shellco. If you are in the NY-Metro area, give them a call for a holiday order. Tell her I sent you:)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Interview and Book Giveaway

Want to win a book? Check out this Blog... This is my 3rd book with Justin Schwartz; he is a great friend AND editor. He has posted a Q&A he did with me and is offering as book giveaway. There are some great recipes that will take you through all the winter holidays. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Welcome to a new blog feature, The Baking Buddy. I write recipes with the intent of being instructive and comforting to the home baker. I try to anticipate questions that might arise when following a recipe and hand-hold through my words. Feel free to write in with Your questions and I will answer then on my blog. Email your questions to They can be questions about my recipes, or baking in general. I hope to help you enjoy your time in the kitchen and help you get the best possible, most delicious results from your baking efforts! Check the blog for The Baking Buddy entries frequently. By the way, many of these questions are discussed in my new book Unforgettable Desserts (Wiley) as well. Many of these questions have been sent to me via email from readers throughout the years. I will be posting the answers that I think will be the most helpful for most bakers.

Question: I love chewy cookies, whether they are chocolate chip or oatmeal. It seems like sometimes they remain chewy and sometimes they turn crispy, even when using the same recipes! How can I ensure that my cookies remain chewy every time?

Answer: This is a great question because it is one I hear a lot – and the answer is Timing! Cookies are the smallest baked goods that we make and they are very time sensitive. Thirty seconds to 1 minute too long in the oven and a potentially chewy cookie will become a crispy one. So the first thing to pay attention to is the timing. There is residual heat on your baking pans and cookies will continue to “bake” even once they are pulled out of the oven; we must take this residual heat of the baking pans into consideration. With this is mind, if you want chewy cookies, you should remove cookies from the oven when the edges are firm but the centers are still soft. They will firm up tremendously upon cooling. If you have the extra time, bake a couple of cookies alone on a baking sheet, time them, let them cool and assess the results. Then you can fine-tune the baking time for the rest of the batch. Also, you will notice that in my books I always bake cookies on half-sheet pans with rims and use parchment paper. After writing entire books on cookies, I believe these pans give the most evenly distributed heat; they are sturdy and do not warp and will last forever with good care. Also, the parchment paper plays a key roll, beyond easy clean-up and a nonstick surface. If you have left the cookies in the oven too long, you can easily grasp the parchment paper’s edges and slide the paper, along with cookies, carefully onto a cooling rack. In this way you will immediately remove the hot pan (the residual heat source) and cease any further “baking”.

The baking sheet pans that I prefer can be found at Williams-Sonoma, among other resources.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Book Party at Magnolia Bakery

The evening of my Baking and Blogging event (see below), we continued the festivities with a Book Party. Magnolia Bakery on Columbus has a private party space that was just right for our group. Above is a pic of the entrance; we were setting up for the party. Just like the morning event, this was made possible by Driscoll's. Here is a pic of me with Marc Cervantes, a berry grower, and Kim Kulchycki, the Marketing Manager.
Below is a pic of me and my gorgeous daughter, Ravenna. She and her boyfriend, Alvin Blanco, own Shellco, a wholesale bakery that provides bakery products to many high end caterers, hotels and stores in NYC such as Dean & Deluca and the W Hotels.

Here are two pics of our dessert table. The strawberry and blueberry tartlets are bite-sized versions of full sized tarts in the book. The small square cups hold a champagne-cassis mousse that is made in a ring mold in the book...I wanted to make it easy for party-goers to sample them all!
There are also Pistachio Butterballs on the raised pedestal dish and the square cookies to the right are one-bite version of the hazelnut linzer cookies filled with Nutella - all from the book, Unforgettable Desserts (Wiley, 2009), of course.

Champagne and sparkling water flowed for the guests. The pics, once again, were taken by our photog, Peter Doyle.
Here below are my girls! Left to right my daughter Ravenna, me, and then Frederika Brookfield and Katie Levine, both my PR gals and right-hand women from Bon Appetit magazine.

Here are some close-ups of the desserts:
David Leite came when the party was in full-swing. I recently made his olive oil cake, and it was divine.
More pics of the about an aerial view?
Indulging in one more....And last but not least, the folks that made this happen. Below right is Laura Baddish of The Baddish Group. I have been working with Laura for over 1o years and I love her like family

Then here below left is my editor Justin Schwartz. He gave me my first book deal with my The Wedding Cake Book, which is still in print, and this is our 3rd book together....XOXO Justin! That's his pretty GF Jen.

Email me when y'all bake from the book. I would love to hear about your baking adventures and pics are a plus! I'll put them up on the blog.