Category Archives: Food Gifts

Holiday Sugar Overload {CtBF} #MyParisKitchen

This the final December that Cook the Book Fridays will be cooking from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. That makes it a no-brainer that the holiday challenge this year must be the Christmas Cake aka Bûche de Noël.  Honestly, I can’t say that this cake was ever on my kitchen bucket list.  This time of year, I see them pictured in food magazines, Pinterest, and on the internet, but I’ve never been tempted to try a bite, much less try my hand at making one.  However, I offered to bring dessert this cake for Christmas Eve where there would be many more taste testers than in my house.

On first glance, the recipe is rather intimidating.  There are many components required.  However, a closer read shows that none of the steps are actually complicated.

Let’s start with the cake. This is a thin eggy genoise baked on a half sheet pan.  I wanted to make a smaller cake, but I was limited by the pans available.  So, I made the full cake, intending to just use half.  The batter came together easily in the stand mixer.  I used an “X” of soft butter to adhere parchment to the pan.  I think I should have also smeared butter along the edges of the pan too because when the cake baked, the edges curled up.

While the cake is still warm, you roll it up to cool (so it will remember the shape without stiffening).  In the meantime, a filling reminiscent of cannoli filling is mixed up: ricotta cheese, candied orange peel, finely chopped chocolate and a touch of sugar.  You also need to make a light orange syrup.  After an hour, unroll the cake and liberally brush it with syrup and then spread the filling evenly over the cake.  I only made half the filling and it generously covered about two-thirds of the cake.  Now, you roll it back up into a log.  At this point, I trimmed off the ends at the point where there wasn’t any filling.  I wrapped the log in plastic and let it chill in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I made a simple ganache, adding a little instant espresso powder (I don’t make coffee at home) and frosted the cake.  Because I made the cake smaller, I didn’t create any branches.  It looked quite “log-like”.  I stashed the cake bake in the fridge to wait for dinnertime.

Whenever I see pictures of bûche de Noël, it’s the adorable mushrooms that sometimes catch my eye.  I whipped up egg whites with sugar and cinnamon to make a meringue.  Then, I piped the meringue into mushroom caps and stems.  I might not have whipped the egg whites quite stiff enough because my stems weren’t very pointy.  After a long low bake, once the meringue cooled, I melted some chocolate and started to assemble mushrooms.  I carved a little hole under the cap, dipped a pointy stem into chocolate and glued them together.  Most of my mushrooms were rather top-heavy and didn’t stand up on their own.  However, it was easy enough to lay them around the log on the platter where no one was the wiser.

The bûche de Noël is an impressive holiday dessert!  Our friends, whose family is Swiss, announced that this version was not “the real way”.  They said bûche de Noël should be filled with chocolate mousse (and maybe that the cake should be chocolate).  I’m not sure that’s true as an Internet search didn’t turn up any rules.

I’ll admit that for Howard and me, it wasn’t our favorite sort of a dessert, but it was fun.  My favorite part was the mushrooms.  I snacked on the reject pieces for days.  The hint of cinnamon was lovely.

If you want to try out this version, you can find the recipe on page 319 of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.  To see how the other home cooks from Cook the Book Fridays made out, check out their links here.

In addition to a Yule log, I had a blast making packages of sweets for my local friends.  This year, I made white-chocolate dipped apricots (a perennial favorite), Mexican Chocolate Pecans (inspired by our recent trip to Mexico), Toffee Crunch (you know, the old standby with the saltines covered in toffee, chocolate and nuts), and another favorite Basler Leckerli.  I also sent homemade peppermint bark and miniature Chocolate Meltaway Cookies (newly named by my sister Jennifer) to my sisters.

Ready to be packed into bags

Ready for delivery!

 

Next week, healthier eating awaits….

Wishing you a Happy (and Delicious) New Year!!!!

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Inspirations in Ink: Food Gift Love

Cover art courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Cover art courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In the midst of my personal chaos of this fall, a gem of a book arrived in my mailbox. I was so excited to open up and start reading through Food Gift Love, a new debut cookbook written by the talented Maggie Battista, creator of Eat Boutique, a blog and on-line curated food gift shop.

Food Gift Love is filled with ideas for delicious food gifts to create in your own kitchen. I found myself bookmarking the recipes on almost every page. However, what makes this book stand out from others like it are the elegant, yet simple, packaging ideas that accompany each recipe. I didn’t realize that my drawer of extra bits of ribbon and my box of extra scraps of pretty paper can be elevated from “junk” to embellishments to decorate my food gifts.

Jars of homemade chutney with labeling inspired by Food Gift Love

Jars of homemade chutney with labeling inspired by Food Gift Love

Food Gift Love is organized into chapters that group the food gifts into similar preparations or shelf lives.

  • The introductory chapter lays out the basics about food gifts, packaging and gift wrap basics, and shipping tips. The basics also include a guide to creating an ingenious Traveling Cheese Tray and other potluck recipe suggestions.
  • Fresh Gifts offers food gifts that won’t last long. These recipes are meant to be prepared and shared immediately such as pesto, salad, soup, and homemade dairy products.
  • Pantry Gifts can be made in advance and stored for use in your own kitchen or for gifting – such as dried herbs and all manner of infused things: sea salts, sugars, oils, vinegars, and homemade extracts.
  • Candied Gifts include all sorts of special sweets including homemade candy, chocolate dipped things, and caramel popcorn.
  • Have you ever actually met someone who doesn’t enjoy Baked Gifts? This chapter offers a handful of new cookie, pie, crisp, quick bread, and other baked recipes to add to your repertoire. I can’t wait to try out the instructions for making your own custom gift box for conveying tarts or other pastries. I have way too much wrapping paper, so this looks like a creative use to reduce my stash.
  • Preserved Gifts snapshot the flavor of the season for enjoyment later with recipes for canned things such as jams and marmalades. I’ll revisit this chapter next year as we go through summer’s fleeting bounty.
  • Finally, Spirited Gifts provide glitter for the home bar (yours or a friend’s) with recipes for flavored syrups, cordials, and other cocktail mixes.

I am a veteran food gifter during the end-of-year holidays – during the year of hostess gifts as well. I always limited my vision of food gifts as something the recipient puts in to the pantry to be enjoyed later. I loved Maggie’s inclusive definition of food gifts which bring food brought to potlucks and other shared meals into the fold. She is so right that these are food gifts even if I previously thought of them in an altogether different category. I feel like this expanded way of thinking gives me license to dress up the presentation next time I bring a dish to share.

To celebrate my enthusiasm for this beautiful new book, I hosted a “Food Gift Love” party. Several of my friends came over for dessert and conversation. I prepared several of the treats from recipes in the book along with some tarts that weren’t. The spread included Sweet and Salty Pantry Cookies (page 152), a mini-ice cream sundae bar: vanilla ice cream topped with Maple Walnut Syrup (page 202) and Salty Dark Caramel Sauce (page 139), fresh fruit, a French apple tart, and a fig-frangipane galette. I made a few “pantry” items, also from the book, as favors to share the love when my guests went home.

"Food Gift Love" Party Guests

“Food Gift Love” Party Guests

All of the recipes I tried from the book are winners. The instructions are clear, and every one I tried worked without a hitch.

  • I love the crispy texture of the Sweet & Salty Pantry Cookies as well as the contrast between the sweet cookie dough and the salty pretzels mixed in. I used the called for shredded wheat, but I will vary the mix-ins in the future, making these cookies a great way to use up odds and ends of cereal in a delicious way.
  • Maple Walnut Syrup with its touch of bourbon is a grown-up version of the Smuckers jar of wet nuts my mom used to buy for the special sundae nights of my childhood. Toasted walnuts drowning in a thickened maple syrup are perfect on vanilla ice cream.
  • Salty Dark Caramel Sauce is another delicious topping for ice cream, or drizzled on top of a slice of apple tart. I’ve always been wary of working with molten sugar. The reassuring tone of the recipe walked me through and, next time, I’ll be confident and approach this recipe without fear.
  • I don’t think it matters whether you actually use Citrus Sugars or not. My house was filled with the heady fragrance of lime and lemon for days after I made this. Coming in the door was a joy. Of course, this sugar infused with dried lemon and lime zest can be sprinkled as a finishing touch on baked goods such as cookies, scones, or muffins, or could coat the rim of a refreshing drink.
  • On the savory end of the flavor spectrum, Orange-Fennel Salt is a twist on the infused sugar idea based on sea salt instead.
  • Homemade Granola, Your Way is my new go-to recipe for granola. I’ve made it twice, with different nut, seed, and spice combinations. Due to preferences at my house, I omitted the chocolate and dried fruit, but as the recipe name indicates, you can make this your own with your favorite combination of ingredients. I’ve tried pecans with cardamom and almond with ginger. For seeds, I like a combination of pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds. Usually, my one complaint about making granola has always been the constant stirring or turning as it bakes. The genius of this recipe is that the liquid ingredients are combined and heated, then poured over the dried ingredients which have been warmed up on the cookie sheet. At this point, one good mixing is enough and the granola bakes and then cools on the sheet. I love, love, love this recipe.

sugarsaltgranola

As we settled into the living room to enjoy our sweets, I did a “show and tell”, telling everyone how much I’m enjoying this book, pointing out which things we were eating came from recipes in the book. I also passed around samples of the favors.

We talked about how we envisioned using the Orange-Fennel Salt: “on everything” was the prevailing opinion, including roasted vegetables, chicken, and fish. The fragrance of the Citrus Sugar made everyone swoon. The Granola generated some excitement too as we brainstormed ideas on how to best package it to send to the college students whose mothers were among the group.

Stoked up on sugar and good company, guests departed with their favors in hand, and a few Pantry Cookies to share with their families at home.

If you’re a podcast listener and you’d like to learn more about the author Maggie Battista, I suggest you download her recent interview featured on Heritage Radio Network’s The Food Seen.

I’d also like to share the recipe for the Citrus Sugars for you to enjoy at home.

CITRUS SUGARS

Makes: 2 cups

Preparation Time: 25 minutes

You may juice citrus regularly but perhaps don’t realize what you’re missing: all the flavor from the peel.

Citrus zest brightens so many recipes but if you have citrus sugar in your pantry, you’ve got a wonderfully fragrant gift. Keep it tucked away for sprinkling on cookies, rimming the glass of a tart cocktail, such as my Margarita Mix, or gifting to your favorite baker or mixologist who will delight in the flavors of preserved sunshine.

This recipe is for a lemon-lime version but follow the fruit on your counter. I’ve used many combinations of orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit to great results. (It’s also easy enough to vary with other flavorings: I keep both lavender sugar and rose sugar on hand.) As a general rule of thumb, mix 2 tablespoons of dried zest or culinary grade flowers to 1 cup of granulated sugar, but this is a very forgiving recipe so, have fun with it. The flavorings are so pretty as is, but if using the floral sugars for baking, crush them in a grinder so the flavor blends into your batter well without big textural bits. If you don’t choose organic fruit, just make sure to scrub the peel well before zesting.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons (about 2 large lemons) lemon zest

2 tablespoons (about 3 medium limes) lime zest

2 cups granulated sugar

Special Equipment:

Microplane zester

Preheat the oven to 150° F (or the lowest possible temperature; some ovens only go down to 170° F).

Wash and dry the citrus fruit. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Over the lined cookie sheet and with a zester, remove the top layer of the skin of each citrus fruit, taking care to avoid any white pith. Measure the zest into tablespoon-size portions as you work. Once you’ve collected 4 tablespoons of zest, lightly move your fingers (or a fork) across the top of the zest to spread it evenly across the pan. Place in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, until the zest is fragrant and dry but not browned. (Don’t expect the aroma alone to signify your zest is ready; it should be crispy and dry to the touch.) Remove zest from oven and permit to cool for 2 to 3 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and the zest with a fork for 2 to 3 minutes or until well-combined and the sugar, and the air around it, is sweetly perfumed. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

GIFT WRAP

Supplies:

Vintage ribbon

Cut a piece of ribbon and wrap around the lid of the sealed jar a few times. Tie in a knot and trim the ends.

Text excerpted from FOOD GIFT LOVE, (c) 2015 by Maggie Battista. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Photo (c) Heidi Murphy.

Photo (c) Heidi Murphy.

A Plateful of Happiness Rating: 5 plates (out of 5)

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for being on the Food Gift Love Launch Committee. The opinions expressed about this book are 100% my own.