If baking is Love made edible, then these Viennese whirls are my billet-doux to St. Valentine, himself – layers of homemade raspberry-rose jam and vanilla buttercream sandwiched between delicate melt-in-your-mouth Viennese cookies. Will you be mine, Valentine?
7 oz. confectioner’s sugar, sifted plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add rose water. Transfer to a small container (pass it through a sieve if you’d rather not have seeds in your jam). Leave to cool and set.
Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment. Using a 2” round cutter as a guide, draw 8 circles on each sheet of paper, spaced well apart. Turn the paper over so the pencil marks are underneath.
Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Sift in the flour and cornstarch and beat until thoroughly mixed. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle. Pipe 24 swirled rounds (not rosettes), inside the circles on the baking sheets. Refrigerate cookies for 15 minutes before baking (this will help cookies retain their shape).
Bake in the center of the oven for 13—15 minutes, until pale golden-brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make Buttercream: Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla until fluffy and smooth. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle.
Assemble: Spoon a layer of jam onto the flat side of 12 of the cookies and place jam-side up on a cooling rack. Pipe an equal thickness of buttercream over the jam and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Share the love.
With a natural design esthetic that falls along the line of Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch, it’s challenging to content myself with royal icing roses and buttercream doll cakes. I realize, however, as an utter decorating novice, I’m obliged to acquire the basic skills first. I’ll discover my particular decorating style once I’ve mastered gum paste pigs and delicate string work. Today, I’m struggling to learn a technique called “brush embroidery,” although the final product reminds me of porcelain rather than embroidery. I’ve learned much on my initial flawed attempt.
With my first cakes, I’ve been practicing rolled fondant. While I appreciate the smooth finish fondant delivers, I’m not an admirer of the lackluster, tooth-achingly sweet flavor. When served a slice of fondant-covered cake, I typically peel off the fondant before eating the naked cake. As a counterbalance to fondant’s sweetness, I came up with this minimally sweet walnut cake and tart Morello cherry filling; no fondant peeling needed.
Use your favorite vanilla buttercream recipe with this cake
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
⅓ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup buttermilk
½ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs beaten, room temp
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 jar Morello cherries in light syrup (available at Trader Joe’s), drained and dried on paper towel.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans. Whisk together flour, sugars, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in the oil, buttermilk, water, vanilla and beaten eggs until no lumps remain (don’t overmix). Stir in walnuts.
Pour batter evenly into pans. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a few moist crumbs cling to a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake. Cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn cakes onto racks and cool completely.
Fill cake with buttercream and a layer of Morello cherries. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream. Cover in fondant, if desired.
When someone learns I’m a chef and food blogger, one of the first questions is usually, “What is your specialty?” I’m never quite sure how to respond – Everything edible?
If I’m honest, I should respond that I’m really, really skilled at whipping up a batch of cookies somewhere around midnight because, well, it amounts to the almost nightly use of my oven. One bowl, a handful of ingredients, a sheet pan and, viola, late night sweet treats – to the detriment of my waistline.
Take, for example, these Lemon Verbena Shortbread cookies, last night’s recent addition to my “Cookies at Midnight” series.
He strode over to our brightly lit booth and asked if he could take our photo. He was a photojournalist snapping pics for a book called “A Day in the life of America”. The date was May 2, 1986 – the time, 3:40 a.m. Dressed in black with heavy eyeliner, we would erroneously be called “goth” today, but actually we were paying homage to Steve Strange and bands like Visage. “Of course,” we said. “Who wouldn’t want to take our photo,” we thought. We were young and invincible, a stylish knot of fashionable alternative kids huddled in Canter’s Deli slurping matzo ball soup in the wee hours before dawn. For us, it was truly just another Friday night – a ritual of underground clubs followed by a nosh at Canter’s. At that time of the morning, it was always an eclectic mix in their dining room – clubbers, rockers, blue collar workers, and the local older Jewish community unable to sleep – all there for a bowl of their rich chicken soup surrounding one humongous Jewish dumpling. Comfort in an unbreakable melamine cafeteria bowl.
For me, even 30 years later, matzo ball soup still conjures those early mornings spent at Canter’s. The book came out several months later – our photo disappointingly left on the cutting room floor. This recipe is dedicated to those kids in 1986 – intoxicated by life, in love with late L.A. nights and shimmering with uncontainable youth.
I prefer to make my matzo balls smaller and serve two per bowl rather than the classic single humongous dumpling.
4 large eggs, well beaten
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 cup matzo meal (such as Manischewitz)
2 carrots, cut into ½” rounds
2 celery ribs, cut ½” thick
1 small onion cut into ½” cubes
2 garlic cloves, smashed
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups shredded chicken
Salt and white pepper to taste
To make matzo balls, beat together eggs, oil, stock, parsley, zest, salt and pepper until combined. Fold in matzo meal and stir until fully combined. Cover and chill mixture.
Meanwhile, in a medium soup pot or Dutch oven (not too big – stock will need to be 4” deep to cook matzo balls), sauté carrot, celery and onion until softened but not brown. Add garlic, parsley, bay leaves, and thyme and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.
Remove the matzo mixture from the refrigerator. Moisten your hands with cold water and quickly shape the mixture into 8 smooth balls. As you form each ball, drop it into the simmering soup. Cover soup and cook for about 30 minutes longer, turning matzo balls over half-way through cooking. Cook until carrots are tender and matzo balls are fully cooked.
Remove garlic cloves, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs. Add shredded chicken and season well with salt and white pepper. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, divide matzo balls evenly.
I’m no longer a fondant virgin – I believe Mary Berry would say in her polite British way, “it’s a bit informal”
If she had requested 100 mini-tartlets, my answer would have been yes. But she didn’t. She wanted cupcakes, 100 of them – and a small personal cake for the birthday girl – all covered with piped ombré rosettes. Piped? Ombré? Rosettes? Another lucrative catering gig missed – my lacking skill-set convincing me to pass it up. This isn’t a case of false modesty – I bake tasty shit. I’m confident I could give her a mouthwatering dessert to remember, but…cake decorating? That’s its own animal – and one that I’m not familiar with. I’ve probably piped buttercream on 10 cakes my entire life and never-have-I-ever worked with fondant. Sure, I’d attempt it for a friend, but not for a paying customer – no way, José. I image being one of those horror stories on Cake Wrecks – “This first photo is the cute cake we found on Pinterest…and this scary mess is what the so-called professional caterer gave us!”
Ugh! So, after declining the catering job, I decided to school myself on how to prettify my tasty cakes and cupcake. It’s gonna take many hours of practice, practice, practice. The cake above is my first crack at fondant – not catering pro worthy, but a valiant first try.
My first lesson learned: Fondant does NOT cover a multitude of sins. Make sure your cake and buttercream are thoroughly smoothed and leveled – it will make a decided difference.
I’ve heard store-bought fondant is almost flavorless. With a bag of marshmallows and box of powdered sugar, it’s so simple (and better tasting) to make your own, although a bit sweet.
8 ounces marshmallows (4 cups not packed, or half of a 16-ounce bag)
2 Tablespoons water
1 pound powdered sugar (4 cups), sifted, plus extra for dusting
Food coloring or flavored extracts, optional
Place marshmallows and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute until the marshmallows are puffy. Stir the marshmallows with a rubber spatula until they are melted and smooth. If some un-melted marshmallow pieces remain, return to the microwave for 30 seconds, continuing to heat and stir until the marshmallows are entirely smooth and free of lumps.
Transfer melted marshmallows to the bowl of an electric mixer. With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, a little at a time adding more as the powdered sugar is incorporated. Continue on medium until sugar is fully incorporated and the fondant is smooth.
Scrape the fondant onto a work surface dusted with additional powdered sugar. Dust your hands with powdered sugar and knead the fondant until it loses its stickiness. Once the fondant is a smooth ball, wrap it in cling wrap and set it aside at room temperature until you are ready to use it.
If you want to add coloring or flavoring to your fondant, flatten it into a round disc, add your desired amount of coloring or flavoring to the center of the disc, and fold the disc over on itself so that the color or flavor is enclosed in the center of the fondant ball. Knead the ball until the fondant is a uniform color. To use, roll fondant into a large enough disk to cover the entire cake and transfer to cake, cutting away any overlap and gently smoothing fondant over top and sides of cake.