I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet
I opened the bottle of your vanilla extract last weekend to bake some cookies and the difference in taste is extraordinary." – Judy

Apricot Crumble – Tarte Crumble Aux Abricots

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Courtesy of David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen; Ten Speed Press; 2014

I grew up on apricots, both fresh and dried as well as apricot desserts. David had never had fresh apricots until he went to France, at which time he “got it” about how amazing they are when they’re baked. If you haven’t used fresh apricots in desserts, you’re in for a wonderful treat!

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England’s Lively Food Community

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My visit to Devon, Somerset and London, this last October was more exhilirating than I could have possibly anticipated. At times I felt a little like Alice; I too had tumbled down a rabbit hole into a world I hardly knew. How delightfully unaware I was about the burgeoning artisan food community of Southern England, and what fun I had learning many new and interesting tidbits about the region’s inhabitants, food, and local culture. My only regret is because I was speaking at a number of the events, I didn’t have my camera with me.

My hosts Janet and Dave went out of their way to introduce me to as much of the region and people as possible. And thanks to Colin and Carol Stanaway, my consummate hosts and guides in Somerset. I knew that Devon is largely rural and noted for its dairy products, most especially its rich clotted cream. I had driven through the area in 1986 as well as visited Bath and traveled through Somerset. But 1986 was light years ago when it comes to the specialty food movement.

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Chestnut Jam Tart

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Excerpted from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.

Chestnut Jam Tart
Makes 10 servings

Alice says, “A jam tart seems like a relaxed, simpler-to-make linzer torte, with an Italian accent instead of a German one. A jam tart is called fregolata in Italian, and it’s pretty and festive and giftable, too. I thought it fitting (and extra delicious) to swap the usual shortbread crust for a chestnut crust. The dough is quick to make by hand and is then pressed flat into a tart pan with no worries about the sides since the dough forms its own edge as it bakes. Any jam will do for the topping, but the prettiest and most flavorful are red fruits like cherry, plum, raspberry, blackberry, or even strawberry. The jam is topped with crumbled bits of dough and sliced almonds and pushed into the oven to do its own thing.”

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Viennese Holiday Pannetone

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Viennese Pannetone, is a molded cake filled with currants and only loosely similar to the Italian pannetone, which is a yeasted bread. What I love about this recipe is that it’s easy to make and it makes a lovely holiday gift for friends and family. It adds festive color and flavor to holiday feasts, afternoon tea and brunches. If you are making these cakes ahead, they do well with a little Kirschwasser (unsweetened cherry brandy), Grand Marnier or brandy sprinkled on them when they come out of the oven. Wrap them well and store in the refrigerator. Flavors develop nicely within a few days.

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Book Review: Flavor Flours

 

3D COVER. Flavor Flours

Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch

Whenever I need inspiration for a special dessert or a good cookie recipe, I reach for one of Alice Medrich’s books. When Flavor Flours came out I was excited to review it, but I had no idea how much I wanted and needed this book until I recently received a copy.

Alice Medrich is truly a culinary visionary and trend setter. As a young woman she lived in Paris and was given some chocolate truffles. Intrigued by the flavor and uniqueness of the confection, which was essentially unknown in the US at that time, she returned to Berkeley, California and made truffles for sale. The truffles she designed became known as “California Truffles.”

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Oat Flour Fruit Basket Cake

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 Excerpted from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.

Alice says, “Too simple for words: soft, tender layers of oat flour génoise are filled with preserves, whipped cream, and fresh berries. Team strawberry preserves with fresh strawberries, or pair them with apricot or peach preserves instead. In winter, swap the berries for diced bananas. It will be hard not to eat leftovers for breakfast—but there’s nothing wrong with oats and fruit for breakfast.”

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Oat Flour Sponge Cake

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Excerpted from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.

Oat Flour Sponge Cake
Serves 8 to 10

Alice says, “Oat flour turns a plain-Jane sponge cake into something elegant with the subtle but distinct flavors of butterscotch or toffee. The crusty edges I picked off my first oat flour sponge cake were delicious with my coffee.”

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Chocolate Oblivion Tart

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 Long before the California food revolution began, my mother was given one of these dazzling tarts as a gift. It was a predecessor of the exceptional chocolate desserts that emerged in the 1980s. We were impressed by the simplicity of ingredients and the deep, rich, creaminess of the tart.

At some point in the 1990s, the recipe was featured in Gourmet magazine, complete with raspberry coulis and a glaze, both of which are optional. It became a regular in my repertoire for special events, and when I launched my online business I featured it in my chocolate section.

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The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

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 Whether you are a seasoned home baker, a beginner or a professional, when a new book by Rose Levy Beranbaum comes out, pay attention! Rose is the undisputed Diva of Desserts, with ten exceptional books on baking, and a very popular blog, Real Baking with Rose. 

Her newest book, The Baking Bible, shines a welcoming beam of light on the best in the world of baking: Bread, cakes, pies, tarts, pastries, and confections.

Rose is known throughout the culinary industry for her meticulous attention to detail, her extensive research and testing of ingredients, and her precise instructions for each recipe she creates. She has raised the bar by encouraging home bakers to measure ingredients carefully by weighing them. She lists both the US standard system of ounces and pounds, and the International metric system, the preferred standard of most professional bakers, in each of her recipes, and she tests her recipes extensively so you don’t have to. Followed properly, her recipes are a no-fail proposition. This alone is reason for a standing ovation!

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Top Ten Foolproof Baking Tips from Rose

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Rose Levy Beranbaum is the undisputed Diva of Desserts. In her latest book, The Baking Bible, Rose shares her experience and expertise on baking, including The Golden Rules of Cake Baking. Here are her Top Ten Foolproof Baking Tips from Rose. There are many reason why I recommend The Baking Bible, but all of the tips and advice she offers are reason enough if you are a serious baker.

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Grismelli – Vanilla Scented Cornmeal Cookies

Grismelli-Cookies

Years ago Earl Darny was the pastry chef at Bay Wolf Restaurant in Oakland, one of my favorites in an area filled with amazing restaurants. Earl gave me this recipe saying, “This is one of my favorite cookies.” He later went on to open his own bakery.

I finally made them for the first time this afternoon; they’re fairly addictive.

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Conchas – Sweet Mexican Breakfast Bread

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Sweet Breakfast Breads with Flavored Shell-Shaped Toppings
From Yucatan: A Culinary Expedition by David Sterling
David says, “The Conchas I enjoyed on my first trip to Mexico many years ago still stand out as the benchmarks: gently sweet, yeasty dough–almost creamy–topped with crumbly, sugary caps in different flavors. None that I have tried since come close to that original ecstasy–except for homemade ones. “Conchas” means “shells” and refers to the characteristic pattern traced in the flavored toppings.”

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How to Make Perfect Cheesecakes

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 It’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t like cheesecake. There are several camps, however, regarding  which type of cheesecake is best.  Some of us like thick, satiny super creamy cakes; others like  drier, fluffier cakes. A third camp loves the savory version — no sugar but lots of delicious cheese — and yet another faction especially likes flavored cheesecakes — pumpkin, chocolate, blueberry — the list is endless. Finally, there’s a really big camp  filled with those devotees who love any version.  Just bring it on!!

Although cheesecake’s a snap to assemble, things can easily go south during the baking process. Cracked top anyone? Leaks dripped on the oven floor? Lopsided? Oh well…

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