Lemon & Pineapple Sage Chess Pie

Lemon & Pineapple Sage Chess Pie

The history of the chess pie is debatable. Many contribute its origin to England, but those who have lived in the south their entire lives know it is as southern as peach pie.

To describe the many variations of chess pie that I have tasted, I would sum up the experience as a pecan pie without the pecans, and in their place, a little bit of cream. Just like a pecan pie, chess pie is one of the easiest pies you can make. Almost impossible to muck up.

A flaky tender crust sits at the base of the custard-like filling. And because the filling is so neutral, you can flavor the pie with almost anything.

Chess pie is sometimes referred to as buttermilk pie or vinegar pie.

For my summer version, I went with lemons and fresh pineapple sage from the garden. The custard is made using fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. I add in pineapple sage by seeping cream with it and using it throughout the recipe.

This recipe comes from my mom’s favorite community cookbook and gets an update. Here is another recipe that I did the same thing with.

I always make my own pie crust because the taste is so much better than store-bought. A ratio of half butter and half lard is my preference for fat. You are your own baker, so use any recipe for a crust that you like or even use a premade one!

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Bourbon & Butterscotch Eclair Cake

Bourbon & Butterscotch Eclair Cake

I assume you are asking yourself—how is an Éclair Cake southern?

The cake itself is not southern, but its source is. For many of us southerners, especially older generations, beloved recipes were sourced from community cookbooks. A community cookbook is just that, a collection of local recipes submitted by locals and compiled by a local a organization (the Junior League is a popular source) or a church. Each recipe contains the name of the submitter and a blurb about the recipe. Readers will usually multiple variations for one type of recipe. You may find three different recipes for pimento cheese. And almost always the finished book is spiral bound.

In my childhood home there was one community cookbook that my mom sourced everything from: Dogwood Delights. You will notice that this book was put together by Atlanta’s Telephone Pioneers of America. My mom worked in Atlanta for BellSouth when I was a child. I remember going to the big city of Atlanta and eating at the Varsity on special days I was allowed to go to work with her.

Every time we made red velvet cake for Christmas, the book came out of the cupboard. Luckily, my grandmother was kind enough to give me her copy as a source of inspiration. So when I make red velvet cake there is only one place to go.


Often times when I am looking for a source of inspiration in a bake or covered dish I want to bring to my next family gathering I pull out my old, dusty copy.

For me, and for so many, community cookbooks are a conservation of history. A memento of time, experience, and culture of a community. Generations of experience are contained in-between two covers which makes for a great resource to young and old cooks alike.

Although community cookbooks provided a wealth of information to homemakers and small town cooks (because they were popular long before the internet), so many of the submissions lack direction. If you are experienced baker or cook like me, it is no problem to fill in the gaps but not every person in the kitchen has that experience. For those who do not know to cream together your butter and eggs when making the batter for a cake, the gaps can be tricky.

My intention is to not only preserve the recipes so many southerners rely on, but to update them into a modern form. By update I do not mean changing the dish into something totally different, I mean raising it into its adult self.

Let this first recipe be the example. I found this recipe by thumbing through and liked it. As I mentioned before, there were about 10 different versions of the cake listed.

A picture of the original recipe
As you can see, this recipe calls for a bunch of premade items. Instant pudding, frozen whipped cream, etc. An update is simple, make everything you can from scratch…within reason. I will not be making homemade graham crackers.

I made a homemade bourbon butterscotch pudding out of homemade caramel, a homemade ganache for the top, and a homemade whipped cream. The southern in me felt the need to splash in bourbon instead of rum for the butterscotch.

Ta-dah! This community cookbook submission is brought into the 21st century.

Go out and find your own community cookbook. A good place to start is an old bookstore or my favorite—a yard sale.

A fork full of finished cake

Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

Bananas Foster Monkey Bread

Travel is the best way to draw inspiration in life. For me traveling means exploring the food of the city I am visiting. I spend hours of research mapping out my food journey to ensure I eat only the best the city has to offer. Oftentimes the result is overindulgence over a short period of hours.

Two weekends ago I found myself in New Orleans. One of my favorite southern cities of all time. I am lucky to have family in Louisiana which gives me more than enough legitimate reasons to explore the land of endless sugar cane fields. If you have never visited, I strongly urge you to add NOLA to your short list of destinations. Wrought with history and culture, the French influenced city has no shortage of things to see and do. Live music in every bar, towering historical buildings, and more voodoo shops that you can stand. I have been many times yet I have never seen the same thing twice.

Louisiana a state that is know for the origin of Cajun cuisine which is heavily influenced by Creole cooking with French technique. Technically, Cajun food did not start in Louisiana, but through immigrants who eventually settled in the state. And yes, there is a large difference in the Cajun and Creole, which I plan on breaching in a later post.

For now I would like to spend a little bit of time focusing on the Creole and French side of the state. The city folk, those in New Orleans, cook Creole food, unlike the country folk who cook Cajun. Since I spent time in the city, everything I ate could be considered Cajun—even the non-Cajun food—and here is why:

If you have ever visited New Orleans it is easy to see that the town is a culmination cultures created through the settlement of immigrants, which is still occurring today. There are more restaurants that a visitor could reasonably conquer, all of which are a different—even if only slightly. Restauranteurs present patrons with their interpretation of local food, adding in their own influences and ideas. This is a practice that has been occurring in NOLA since before my time. The food of our ancestors is not the food of our towns as we now know them.

A world-wide known dessert is the perfect example of the evolution of the food in NOLA. Bananas foster was created in New Orleans at famous New Orleans restaurant Brennan’s by Chef Paul Blange. Today you can still visit Brennan’s and try the food that has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards. The recipe was created in 1951 and even published by the New York Times in 1957. The concept is simple: smother ripe bananas in butter, sugar, and liquor then set it aflame.

Although widely considered a traditional southern dish, by no means it is so in the literal sense of the word. The recipe was not contemplated until the mid 20th century. When comparing so many dishes that are said to be traditionally southern, bananas fosters is much younger than say hoppin’ john, which can be dated back to the 19th century.

This dish epitomizes both Southern and Louisiana cuisine, ever progressing into new fare that features a nod to the past. So why not draw inspiration from a City and State that has drawn culinary inspiration from it’s inhabitants, landscape, and visitors, and create something totally new from already known and loved recipe (also my husband begged me to make monkey bread, so the idea was streamline).

Many recipes call for canned biscuit dough. I believe that fresh is best, so my recipe makes the dough from scratch.

If you draw any inspiration from this post or recipe, I hope you take the idea of bananas foster and add it into a something to create a brand new dessert…or savory dish. I would love to hear about what you come up with!

The finished loaf turned out from the pan

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

My Favorite Cake Pop Shop in Savannah: Sweet Whimsy

HAVE YOU ever had famous cake pops? I have and I am never going back.

Unfortunately for me, I did not discover the professional (and television worthy) cake pops of Sweet Whimsy Shop until this year. I assure you, I have eaten my weight in cake balls to make up for lost time.

As a licensed cottage bakery, Sweet Whimsy Shop has been providing the Savannah area with unique and artful cake pops for some time and eventually made a star studded appearance on The Late Late Show. Impressively, Sweet Whimsy’s TV debut happened only three short years after opening shop doors.

Owner and master creator Becca Aronowitz quit her full time job as a middle school teacher in 2012 to begin her journey as a bakery owner. Her background in art has served her well.

“I’ve always loved creating, in any form, and I think I identify more as an artist or maker, than a baker specifically. I began taking after school art classes as a 7 year old. I have degrees in art education, and I was an art teacher for several years,” she explains.

The result is a bakery that focuses on ensuring each resulting product is a work of art. As far as cake pop art goes, she’s Andy Warhol.

Aronowitz takes the time to hand sculpt each and every cake popsicle before decorating them by hand. The attentive attention to detail is what sets her art on a stick aside from all other cake pop makers around the lowcountry. Each finished contoured, compact cake is worthy of the Louvre.

To create the luscious lollipops, Aronowitz mixes the perfect ratio of tender, moist cake with homemade frosting.

“I’ve always been committed to using scratch-baked cake & frosting for my cake pops. Many cake pop makers use boxed mixes and canned frosting, but I believe my creations should taste as good as they look, and if you’re going to make something as labor-intensive as a cake pop, shouldn’t it be worth consuming?” Aronowitz elaborates.

Using the correct amount of cake and frosting is extremely important. Too little frosting and the cake pop will be dry, crumbly, and difficult to shape; too much frosting and the resulting goodies will be overly sweet and taste only of icing.

Sweet Whimsy Shop has it down to a science. Every single lolli has a tender, slightly moist center that reveals itself upon chomping down on the crunchy outer shell of the treat. The cake itself melts in your mouth, allowing the flavoring of the pop to flood your palate.

After the cake and frosting is mixed, Aronowitz portions out each ball of cake. Then the cake ball is individually hand sculpted before being dipped into a chocolate shell.

I ask Aronowitz how she comes up with each inspired design, and she tells me, “Most of my ideas and designs are created in response to client requests. Sometimes a client will present a photo of a cake pop design she’d like reproduced. If that’s the case, and it’s not one of my designs, I try to customize it to avoid copying and I credit the original creator whenever they can be identified. Sometimes the client has a theme or general vision, and I try to create a cake pop collection that will coordinate with the theme, or realize the vision.”

For my set of cake pops, I asked that she make anything she felt like making. Aronowitz designed and delivered the cutest set of avocado, llama, taco, and cactus cake pops. The avocados are the newest addition to Sweet Whimsey’s portfolio.

Past designs have included anything from a thanksgiving turkey to taxi cab. I even found cake designed to look like a margarita glass on her website.
Inside each of my personal pops were the shop’s signature flavors, Yummy Vanilla Cake and Decadent Chocolate. Aronowitz told me that the vanilla and chocolate are the most popular flavors. The chocolate was my personal favorite.

Customers have the choice for a mix-in of sprinkles or candy into their design. Kiddie Party Mix is a vanilla cake with rainbow sprinkles layered in and the Chocolate Rainbow Explosion features chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles.

Reese’s peanut butter cups fill the Vanilla Reese’s and the Double Chocolate Peanut Butter includes chocolate with peanut butter and mini chocolate chips. My next order will definitely test out one of the Reese’s inspired creations.

I ask Aronowitz if Sweet Whimsy offers any other special flavors. “I also offer seasonal flavors, like Green Velvet for St. Patrick’s Day. During September, October, and November, I offer Pumpkin Spice. It’s made with real pumpkin and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and it’s so good! Cozy Gingerbread was introduced this winter, after a test-taste vote during one of my pop-ups in November. I can also do custom flavors, like the Blonde Velvet I made for a friend’s wedding. It’s a red velvet recipe but made without the dye; I like it better that way!”

Sweet Whimsy Shop is constantly designing and creating, like any true committed artist. The success of the cottage shop has pushed Aronowitz to expand to other mediums.

“Cake pops are still the majority of what I make, but I am slowly expanding to include other small, very cute treats. The focus will always be on edible art that is whimsical, created with precision, and great-tasting. I have figured out how to do that very well with cake pops, but the vision extends further,” she says.
To be expected, just as much detail and finesse into all of her new treats and flavors.

If you take a peek at her instagram, @sweetwhimseyshop, you will find chocolate covered Oreos (with decorations of course), rice crispy pops, and many other brilliantly designed and decorated confections.

Original article is here.

White Chocolate Mousse Tart + Pink Peppercorn Strawberry Sauce

White Chocolate Mousse Tart + Pink Peppercorn Strawberry Sauce

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope your day is filled with joy and love–even if that means cuddling your dog a little extra.

I did not plan on posting for Valentine’s Day. That all changed when I watched the latest episode of Kids Baking Championship. I watch almost any baking show available.

On the last episode, the challenge was to create a tart with crazy ingredient. Pink peppercorns were one of the ingredients given to use. So, laying in bed, watching these kids kill it in the kitchen I thought, “I can do that!”

Strawberry, chocolate, and a little spice from peppercorns just seemed like the perfect Valentines combination. So the stars aligned, and this recipe would be the perfect one to post on Valentine’s.

Also, I knew my husband would love it. Two birds, one stone.

The tart itself is nothing crazy–simple dark chocolate pate sucree (crust) sits on the bottom with a swirled airy white chocolate mousse to full it. The crazy comes in with the sauce for the top, cooked down fresh strawberries with pulverized pink peppercorns.

Pink peppercorns work perfectly with fruit because they are much more floral than normal black peppercorns. They also have less of a peppery bite.

Finished tart ready to be served

This is not a beginners recipe so as always I want to give you a few tips to help:

  • Creating a light mousse only takes a few ingredients and proper technique. You use both meringue and whipped cream. To create a perfect meringue use room temperature egg whites and ensure there is not even a fleck of egg yolk in the whites.
  • Folding is how your incorporate meringue and whipped cream into the chocolate. Folding is not like whisking or stirring. To fold you gently cut down the middle of your mixture with a spatula, then fold over one half of the mixture over the second half. Repeat until everything is blended.
  • Always chill your tart shell before rolling it out, fit the shell to the tart pan once cooled, and also chill again before baking it once it is fit into the tart pan. This will prevent shrinkage.
  • Always poke holes with a fork in the bottom of the tart dough to prevent it from puffing during baking.

A close up of the tart

Chai Milk Cake

Chai Milk Cake

Being able to bake a cake is the cornerstone of becoming a good baker–especially an at-home baker. But if you are anything like me (I have been baking since my teenage years), you may feel as though you have baked every type of cake there is. After enough time you start pulling away from baking the same old cakes, and bake new and exiting things. At least until a new and exciting cake idea comes along.

A few weeks ago I read about the idea of a milk cake and was thrilled – I found a cake I have never made before.

The concept is simple. Much like a tres leches cake, you bake a dense cake then soak it in flavored milk. The result is half custard, half super moist cake. The milk mixture for the soak is similar to that of a tres leches, but you take the time to flavor the cream by heating it up and steeping it.

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Like many of my recipes, you can steep the milk with anything. Any tea, honey, cinnamon, vanilla–the list is endless.

Within the last year I have started to like chai tea. The spicy flavors of chai tea steeped in the milk soak would be the perfect balance to a sweet and sticky cake. I carried the flavor of the chai tea into the topping for the cake.

Again, this cake would pair well with many toppings, whipped cream, caramel, and most fruits. I chose to make a fig, apricot, golden raisin compote to keep with the theme of warm winter flavors.

After testing the recipe out, I served it at a quaint little dinner party last weekend. I normally find fault in my own baked goods but could not find much fault in this cake. The cake did not last through the weekend.

Finsihed soaked cake topped with compote

 

Lemon & Cream Cheese Babka

Lemon & Cream Cheese Babka

I will be the first to admit that I am not a professional baker. I have baked for many, many years, but am in no way at the level of professional. I have just as many bad days in the kitchen as good ones.

This is especially true when it comes to yeast. Yeast is my kryptonite.
Anytime I go into the kitchen with plans to bake yeast risen bread, I am fully prepared to have the bake come out wrong. The silver lining is that you can always learn by messing up.

This past weekend may have been my worst weekend in the kitchen to date. I decided to challenge myself by attempting a Babka. A Babka is a traditional Jewish sweet yeast risen bread that is swirled with chocolate or cinnamon. The bread dough itself is basically a brioche dough. Technically speaking, it is medium of the difficulty of yeast breads.

Three days and four attempts is what it took to get this recipe right. I threw out two doughs and one finished loaf before the fourth and final loaf came out soft and pillow-like. So you do not make the same mistakes, I wanted to share what I learned from my experience. What else is a blog good for?

As for the filling, (per usual) I did not want to take the traditional route. My husband’s grandmother gave me a some homegrown lemons. Her lemon tree yielded for the first time this winter. Lemon is the perfect pick-me-up during the cold months when we lack sun and fresh ingredients. I juiced and zested them, combined them with softened cream cheese, then rolled the mixture up into the dough. My poor husband had to go to the store to get me more cream cheese after I threw out my third attempt.

The finished loaf is delightfully sweet, with a hint of tang. I think a glob of raspberry jelly would adorn a slice of fresh baked lemon cream cheese babka perfectly.

Several slices of lemon cream cheese babka sitting on a wood tray

What I learned throwing out three batches of babka dough:

Batch one and two:

  • Always check your yeast. Yeast will last in the fridge, but of course not forever. Instead of wasting your time making an entire batch of dough to only realize that it will not rise, take the first 5 minutes and make sure the yeast you are using is alive. It is simple, always bloom your yeast in warm water or milk (depending on the recipe). If it sits for 5-10 minutes and it is not bubbly…your yeast is bad. If it is bubbly…it is living!
  • Make sure your ingredients are not cold. If you know you are baking with yeast, set out your eggs, flour (if you store it in the fridge), etc in advance to ensure it is they are room temperature. Cold items will slow down the growth of your yeast. Just like a warm environment will speed up the yeast’s growth.

Batch three:

  • Kneed your dough for longer that you think. Let me explain: Written recipes have various times for kneading dough with a stand mixer. Truly you can only tell when a dough is ready by touch or sight. Just because a recipe says knead for 5 minutes, does not mean that dough will be ready to rise after 5 minutes of kneading. It is easiest to tell when a dough is ready by kneading it by hand. If that is not you (me either), then you must look at your dough to see if it has been kneaded enough. If the recipe says the dough should “pull away from the bowl and form a soft smooth dough”, then make sure it does just that. Otherwise your finished bread will be more like cake than bread.
  • It often takes longer than the recipe says to let your dough double during a rise. Each home and each region is different. For example, I live in the deep south where it is humid. So during the summer it may take less time for my dough to rise. Right now it is dead of winter, and it took a bit longer for my dough to rise to double. My house was very cold. The moral of the story–watch your dough and only move on to the next step when the dough has actually doubled. Do not simply let it sit for the time designated in the recipe.
  • This is babka specific. Some methods call for slicing your rolled up dough down the middle then twisting it. Next, you stuff it into your bread pan to allow it to rise. The finished loaf has exposed filling on the top. The slicing method works great for certain fillings, but not all fillings. Cinnamon sugar or chocolate are ideal, cream cheese is not ideal to cook exposed to the heat of your oven. For my version I used a different method, I did not slice the dough. I rolled it up then twisted it together before placing it in the loaf pan. This way the filling stayed inside of the bread without being directly exposed to the heat of the oven. Consider the method of babka rolling you want to use based upon the type of filling you stick in your babka. Literally you can stuff anything inside a babka, sweet or savory.Upclose picture of the inside of the lemon swirrled babka

For more recipes click here.

Salted Caramel Filled Kouign Amann

Salted Caramel Filled Kouign Amann

My latest Connect Savannah food feature on The Topiary Cake Design (I will post the article this week) reminded me just how much I love to bake. So this week I told myself I would get back into the kitchen and practice what I love.

I am not going to sugar coat it–I have been slacking in the blog/baking/cooking department. The holidays drained me, especially considering how much of an introvert I tend to be. I truly have no excuse considering my Christmas decorations and house have been cleaned since the day after Christmas. Truly, I have just been lazy.

Going back into the kitchen needed to start with a bang. I have been baking since I was young, so an intermediate pastry recipe would be a great challenge.

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For those who do not know the difference in pastries verses regular baked goods let me explain. Unlike cakes, breads, or other common baked goods, making a pastry refers to a very specific type of dough or baked item that is created using a sweet dough. For example, when you make a pie crust for a pie, you are making a pastry. Other common pastries include croissants, eclairs, macarons, profiteroles, tart shells, and Kouign Amann. The dough for making a pastry is commonly made with flour, fat, sugar, and water, which you can see is very different than the dough for making a bread. The tricky part in making a proper pastry comes with the type of pastry for which you opt—for example croissants require a process called lamination. Lamination is the folding in of cold butter to create layers. It takes many hours and proper technique to succeed.

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You may be asking, what the heck is a Kougin Amann? By far it is one of the most delicious pastries put on this earth. Originating in France, the time consuming bite sized croissant and brioche cross is made with a ton of butter, which is to be expected with a French pastry. The end result of folding cold butter into your dough (laminating), then slicing it, coating it in coarse sugar, and smashing it into muffin tins creates a sweet crunchy flaky palm sized treat. The best part, the technique of using a muffin pan leaves a large hole in the center of the pastry, perfect for filling your Kougin Amann with anything you desire.

My selection was salted caramel. The butter used to create the layers of your Kougin Amann bring saltiness to the pastry, so why not complement the overall flavor of the baked good by amplifying its qualities with a salty-sweet filling.

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I will warn you, this recipe is not for a beginner. It takes patience and love to get through the process. I do not want to discourage anyone from trying the recipe, I truly hope you are inspired, even beginners, to try this recipe out. The only way to learn is to try. I could probably fill a dumpster with the amount of baked goods I have thrown out due to trying. You have to start somewhere.

 

 

Maple & Burnt Cinnamon Cakes

Maple & Burnt Cinnamon Cakes

After reading the title, you may be asking yourself–what the heck is burnt cinnamon? When I first heard of it, I thought the same thing. Of course I was curious to know what it tasted like, so baking time ensued after a short deliberation on how to use it.

I will say this–making burnt cinnamon is one of the easiest things ever. You literally take a cinnamon stick, place it on a sheet pan, and torch it with a brulee torch. Voila! You have burnt cinnamon.

Charring the outside changes the flavor of the cinnamon. It mellows it out and adds roasted chocolatey notes. It only changes the flavor slightly, so you can use it in any recipe that calls for cinnamon.

I am hooked. I will probably forever char my cinnamon before adding it to a recipe.

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After it is charred you can grate it yourself, or steep in it milk to transfer the flavor. For this recipe I did both.

Since the air is so crisp and cool out, completely unlike the low country, I wanted to use a few falls flavors. Do not get me wrong, I love pumpkin but I wanted to stay clear of it as a fall flavor. Maple seemed ideal, and would be easy to impart into any recipe as the sweetener.

I created these tiny cakes by baking them in a maple leaf cake mold. You can bake the batter in any miniature cake mold or bake the entire cake in a bunt cake pan. I recommend a bunt cake pan, if you go big, because the batter results in a denser cake.

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Blueberry Pie & Lemon Cookies

Blueberry Pie & Lemon Cookies

The end of summer inches closer day by day. Although I am ready for cooler days, I will not miss the beautiful bounty that summer brings. So as of late, when I bake, I find myself leaning towards the best fruits of summer. You cannot argue with the proposition that lemon and blueberry are some of the best summer fruits.

Although I am not the biggest fan of fresh blueberries—it’s a texture thing–I love the way they taste baked into something. Lemon is the perfect counterpart to balance the sweet fruit. The southerner in me always leans towards making a pie or cake, but when I make something so large, my husband has trouble eating all of it. A simple solution is to make something smaller: cookies. To meet in the middle, I created cookies that taste like pie using all of the best ingredients of summer.

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A few tips for making better cookies:

  • Be careful not to overwork your dough, if you do your cookies will become tough.
  • To prevent overworking the dough, mix together your ingredients until they are just together.
  • Never kneed your dough.
  • To prevent cookie spread, chill your dough before baking. This allows the butter to harden back up.
  • Parchment paper is the perfect way to prevent your cookies from sticking to the pan.

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