Sunday, December 19, 2010

Finishing the Gingerbread House - Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all! Here is our finished gingerbread house!

To add on the roof pipe royal icing along the edges and attach both sides of the roof lining them up so they meet at the top.

Use something to prop up the roof so it can dry overnight. I used tins stacked up.

Before starting your roof set the pattern to follow. I use necco wafers, but you could use shredded wheat, chocolate wafer cookies, anything.

To start the roof tile work, pipe several rows of royal icing and then start sticking in the necco wafers. Do not cover the roof, because the royal icing will dry out before you get a chance to put on all the decorations.

Stagger the rows of necco wafers to complete the tiled roof design.

I use about 200 necco wafers per gingerbread house.

After you have finished the roof add all finishing touches. I added a wreath and a shell border along the roof edges.
I hope you have enjoyed this gingerbread primer and it has inspired you to make one this holiday season and it will become a holiday tradition for you as it is for me.

Happy Holidays!!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gingerbread House Primer Part 2

This was my gingerbread house for Rational Animal's fund raiser "Gingerbread Homes for Animals" at Chelsea Market December 2006. It was a home built for Bailey, my rabbit and Spot, my cat (I especially liked adding the loo) and I modeled it after a doll's house.

I participated in this fundraiser for 3 years. My first house was a scale model of the Dairy in Central Park to commemorate the Central Park Conservancy's 25th Anniversary and the event was held at the Dana Conservatory in Central Park. My third year I created a southwestern landscape out of gingerbread with a wild horse in the foreground.

The next step for the gingerbread house we are creating is making the base. I use cardboard cake circles glued together. I prefer a circle shape, because I have found that with a square or rectangle base the edges tend to sag eventually from the weight of the royal icing. You could also use foam core, masonite or wood. But don't assume the wood will hold up either. I used 3/4" plywood once for a large house and it too bended under the weight while I was moving the house and caused significant damage.

For this house I used 3 16" cake circles for the top and 4 14" cake circles for the stand. You need to elevate the base a bit so you can fit your fingers underneath. Just glue the same sizes together and weigh them down. When they are dried, glue the 16" circles to the 14" circles and weigh it down.

Once you have your base ready, make sure you have a work space set up with all your equipment. You will need your base, royal icing in a piping bag with a number 10 Wilton Decorating tip and extra to go on the base, gingerbread house walls, and the sugar shrubs and trees, plus if you like, a ribbon to go around the base.

Start assembling the base of the house by piping a line of royal icing on the edge of the side wall. Line up the edge of the wall with the front panel of the house.

You can use cans of soup to prop up the two walls.

Pipe another line of royal icing on the other side wall and line it up with the front panel. Pipe a line of royal icing inside the seems to reinforce the inside corners.

Pipe royal icing along the other two sides and attach the back panel. Adjust the sides to make sure everything is square.

Reinforce the seems of the next two inside joints. Let the royal icing dry for at least one hour or overnight if you have time.

Putting the house on the base is a point at which you need to make sure you will not have any interruptions, otherwise the royal icing covering the base may dry and then you will have trouble putting the shrubs around the base and attaching the ribbon.

Once you are ready spread the royal icing over the base with a spatula and smooth it back and forth to make it look like snow drifts. Make sure you spread it to the edges.

Line up your gingerbread house base where you would like it and press gently into the royal icing. Place your shrubs along the outside walls of the house and press gently into the royal icing.

Make sure you have left space on the front for your doorway and if you are going to lay down a path indent the royal icing before it dries so you can lay the path flush with the snow. Also put your Christmas tree on the wet royal icing to cement it into place.

Around the edge of the base pipe a thin band of royal icing to hold the ribbon into place. Gently attach the ribbon and smooth out any bumps.

To lay your path pipe some royal icing into the indented path space you made and then insert your tiles. I used broken Necco wafers.

To hide the seems, pipe decorative royal icing along the edges. I used a star tip to pipe this border. Then pipe any windows or decorations along the walls before you put on the roof. This will give you better access to the sides then when the roof is on. At this stage I let the base dry overnight before putting on the roof.

Have fun while you are making your house. Remember you can decorate it any way you like and there are tons of fun candies out there that would make great decorations. Candy canes along the seems are always good. Gum drops for shrubs and Gummy Bears for your inhabitants work well too.

Check back again for the final installment; attaching the roof and finishing touches!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Getting Ready for the Holidays - A Gingerbread House Primer, Part One

Christmas 2009 Gingerbread House

Getting ready for the holidays for me always means GINGERBREAD HOUSES!! I love making gingerbread houses and look forward to it every year. I have made over 400 houses in my life time. I even taught a PastryScoop seminar last year on making them, so when I was racking my brain about what to write about next on my blog, I thought about doing a series on making a gingerbread house. I hope you enjoy and try one yourself - Have Fun!

Getting Started

First thing to decide is the design. I decided on a basic A frame house. There are lots of books with templates already made up for more elaborate designs. The Joy of Cooking has a simple template which is great for a first gingerbread house. The next step is to create your templates and cut them out of cardboard.

Something that you can do ahead of time, weeks or even months before is to make some of the decorations. One of my favorite things to do it to make Christmas trees and shrubs out of molded sugar and royal icing. I use piping tips to create the shapes.

To make the molding sugar just take one pound of granulated sugar and stir in one ounce of cold water. The sugar will be like wet sand. Pack it into the mold and tap out. Let dry for 24 hours before decorating with royal icing.

Pipe green royal icing made from meringue powder (follow royal icing recipe on packaging for meringue powder) with a small star tip in circles around the base of the sugar mold. Continue piping circles up to the top and completely cover mold to create the appearance of a tree or shrub.

Lots of Christmas trees and shrubs. I'll be making several gingerbread houses this year. You'll need only one or two trees and about 20 shrubs.

This is just to get you started. Coming up next; cutting out the shapes and assembly. If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I'll answer or send me an email:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Friends & Peanut Butter Chocolate Dipped Pretzels

Friendship is something we often take for granted, but it is truly one of life's treasures we should cherish at all times. I am very lucky to count Arlyn Blake author of The I Love To Cook Book as a friend. Arlyn generously sent me a copy of her book published in 1971 recently. I instantly looked at all the recipes cover to cover and found a recipe for soft pretzels, which I made the very next day.

Since Halloween is upon us I thought what better than to dip the pretzels in white chocolate peanut butter ganache and then 61% chocolate followed by a sprinkling of crushed Reese's Pieces. Arlyn very graciously gave me permission to include her recipe on my blog. So make some friends and try out this recipe together or hand them out on Halloween and I assure you there will be a new following of fans on your doorstep.

Soft Pretzels recipe by Arlyn Blake

1 package of yeast
1 1/2 Cups of Warm Water
1/8 teaspoon Ginger
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
4 Cups Flour
1 Egg, beaten
Coarse Salt (Kosher)

Dough after kneading

Dissolve yeast in water, and stir in ginger. Add sugar and salt and blend in flour. Turn the dough out and knead on a lightly floured board until smooth. Cut off 12 to 14 small pieces of dough, roll into ropes and twist into pretzel shape. Arrange on very lightly buttered cookie sheets. Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle generously with coarse salt and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, or until browned.

I decided to make small straight pretzels so they could be dipped easily. The ones above are 5" long and were scaled in 1/2 ounce pieces which is about the size of a golf ball.

If you would like my white chocolate peanut butter ganache recipe, please send me an email. Otherwise just use some peanut butter and spread it on the pretzels then dip in chocolate. If you are not able to find a premium chocolate in the 60% range, just melt a bag of nestle toll house semi-sweet chips.

Go crazy and sprinkle on any topping, chopped nuts, M&Ms, chopped Butterfingers, you name it - Have Fun!!!! and Happy Halloween.

In Loving Memory Andrea Orlen

Andrea was a kindred creative spirit whose encouraging words always gave me strength from our days in Phoenix (our high school drama club) together at Dobbs until recent months when I promised to send a box of cookies to her in California so she could be my taste tester on a recent recipe experiment. Unfortunately I never got around to sending them. I took for granted that she would always be in my life. Andrea, you will be greatly missed.

Phoenix Meeting 1988 from top to bottom Melissa Fuller, Ri Bickel, Myself, Susan Orlando and Andrea Orlen

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pie, Pie, me oh my, a recipe for Sweet Potato Pie!!!

Thank you all for your feedback, requests and continued interest in my blog. As requested this bog finally has some recipes. I did a demonstration at The French Culinary Institute on Tuesday, August 24 and the subject was Pies. I created a Sweet Potato Pie recipe for the demonstration and am sharing it with you. I hope you find it as delicious as I did. I have been writing recipes for a professional kitchen for so long it is a bit of a challenge to convert it for the home baker so give me your critiques and let me know if the recipe is easy to follow. Also I have had some requests from people who could not attend the demo to post it on YouTube. I got the dvd from FCI and I will let you know as soon as I have uploaded it.

Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet Potato Pie Recipe

Yield - One 10" Pie

3 3/4 Cups (2 pounds, about 5 - 6 medium) Sweet Potatoes

(Roast them in a 300 degree oven until soft about 1 1/2 hours. You can do this the day before. Make sure the potatoes are cool when you are ready to make the pie filling.)

3 Eggs

1 Cup + 3 Tablespoons Light Brown Sugar

3/4 Cup Heavy Cream

2 oz Melted Butter, plus extra to brush inside pie shell

1/4 Cup Maple Syrup

1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract

1/2 Teaspoon Salt

1.Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Remove skins from sweet potatoes and puree until just smooth.

2. Whisk together remaining ingredients and stir in puree.

3. Brush inside of uncooked prepared pie shell (you could save time and use a store bought frozen pie shell if you prefer, just let it defrost in the refrigerator before using) with melted butter and pour in filling.

4. Bake pie on a cookie sheet pan in the middle of the oven for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours until a paring knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

5. Cool on a baking rack. Serve with whipped cream and grate a little fresh nutmeg on top, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Store in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic for up to 2 days or freeze for a later date. This would be fine in the freezer for up to 2 months, not that you would want to wait that long to eat it again it is so good.

Pie Dough Recipe

Yield - Two 10" Pie Crusts

3 Sticks of Cold Unsalted Butter

4 Cups All Purpose Flour

3/4 teaspoon Salt

1/2 Cup Very Cold Water

1. Cut butter into 1/4" cubes and keep cold in the refrigerator until needed.

2. Stir together flour and salt.

3. You can use either a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, a cuisinart pulsing a few times, a pastry blender, or a fork to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles sand.

4. Mix in the water until a dough forms. Divide the dough into 2 discs, wrap with plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of one hour before using. Best if made the day before. Dough can also be frozen for up to 2 months.

Please feel free to tailor the recipe to suit your tastes. You could add a little ground cinnamon or ground ginger if you like. Make sure you get sweet potatoes and not yams. Yams and sweet potatoes look similar, but yams are stachy and dry without much nutritional value whereas the sweet potato is moist and sweet and very high in beta carotene.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Mabel's Lobster Claw - Reveiw of the Kennebunkport, Maine Beloved Institution

Mabel's Lobster Claw - a Kennebunkport, Maine institution since 1953, where the Loves go every summer and so beloved by former President George Herbert Walker Bush that he hosted a dinner there for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel in the summer of 1992. I know I was there. Of course I was not at Mabel's, the restaurant was closed to the public. I was however on the lawn of The Green Heron Inn which is directly adjacent to the restaurant in a soaking wet swimsuit without a towel when the Secret Service SWAT team arrived in a screaching halt.

Lickety split they were on the roof of Mabel's, in the street stopping traffic and on the lawn directly in front of me. The overly serious officer in front of me had a machine gun in hand and ordered me not to move. I politely asked if I could please go inside the inn as I did not have a towel with me (literally 10 feet away) but he told me "Don't Move". SO I had to stand still on the lawn for the next 15 minutes as the motorcade arrived. I saw the President and Prime Minister Rabin go into the restaurant with their wives. After they were safely inside I was finally given permission to move (as if I posed such a serious threat to their safety standing there in my bathing suit).

The Duchess entree served with Butternut Squash

Considering it is a restaurant frequented by heads of state, one probably in visions something similar to the Four Seasons in New York. It is far, far from it. The interior looks like a time warp back to the early 60's. The counter just inside the front door is lined up with pies covered in mismatched scratched plastic pie covers. The tables are wooden with blue laminate inlays surrounded by wooden banquets or chairs well worn to actually being comfortable. There are also several outside tables which if you do not mind the hearty bloodsucking Maine Mosquitoes you can sit at.

Lobster Marinara
(don't let the picture fool you there is tons of lobster hiding under the linguine)

The meal starts with just baked blueberry bread and mini corn muffins that are so so good we always have seconds. Portions are generous so keep in mind that sharing an appetizer is a good idea, unless of course you have built up a substantial appetite braving the freezing ocean either swimming or sailing. The calamari is a huge plate of fist size tentacles with marinara sauce that you will definitely need more of it hits the spot so well. The stuffed mushroom caps are simply divine and you will not want to share at all. Entrees come with a choice of two sides and I usually opt for a side salad and the vegetable of the day which while we were there was butternut squash.

Calamari with Marinara Sauce Appetizer

The salad dressings change from day to day and my favorite was the horseradish dressing which was tangy without being overpowering. The coleslaw is refreshing as well.

Side Salad served with Horseradish Dressing

I tried three entrees during our 12 days in heaven on earth: Lobster Newburg, The Duchess and Lobster Marinara (which is not on the menu, but they made especially for me because last year I had the Lobster Fra Diavolo, my brother's favorite dish, and it was too spicy for my delicate stomach). There is an abundant bounty of lobster in every entree, but my favorite is the Newburg which is extra comforting on a cold Maine night. My Mother also tried the lobster stew, but ate it all without offering me a single bite, so I guess it was pretty darn good.

Table Setting with instructions on how to eat a lobster in case it is your first time!

Desserts are from the selection of pies or ice cream, which they also sell from the outdoor pickup window. The most decedant is the Peanut Butter Ice Cream pie served with the best hot fudge I have had in years (I might have to bribe them to get the recipe).

The Menu showing the list of Entrees

So now I have to spend the rest of the year dreaming and praying I will get back to Kennebunkport again next summer and be so lucky as to go to Mabel's Lobster Claw another 3 times. AMEN!

Baked Stuffed Sole
(My mother had this too and never offer me a bite, can you believe it!)

My Favorite - Lobster Newburg

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

James Beard Foundation Media & Book Awards - WE WON!!!

The James Beard Media and Cookbook awards were held at Espace on 42nd Street and 12th Avenue on Sunday May 2, 2010, a beautiful new venue which could seat 500 guests in one massive room. Projections were on the wall and the table settings reflected the blue lights sparkling. The French Culinary Institute's pastry text book The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts which I had helped Chef Tina Casaceli work on the photo shoots several times in 2008, was nominated. It was an enormous honor for me to be a guest of Dorothy Cann Hamilton, the founder of my school The French Culinary Institute.

We were seated at the best table in the room, directly under the podium. I was seated with teachers and friends from FCI; Dorothy, Nils Noren the Vice President of Culinary Arts, Judith Choate author of the text book, Chef instructors Kir Rodriguez, Joseph Jae Kim, Jurgen David, Melanie Miller from the marketing department, Christina Wang Director of Continuing Education and my mentor and Director of the Pastry Department Chef Tina Casaceli.

The evening centered on the awards with an added benefit of a stellar dinner created by previous James Beard award winning chefs. We started our dinner with Poached Asparagus with Perfect Blonde Vinaigrette created by Chef Gerald Hirigoyen from Piperade and Bocadillos in San Francisco. The event was hosted by Kelly Choi of Top Chef Masters and Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods. Luckily our book was in the category of Cooking from a Professional Point of View and was announced before the second course. Our competition was Araxi: Seasonal Recipes from the Celebrated Whistler Restaurant by James Walt and Momofuku by David Chang (a FCI graduate no less). I said a little prayer and crossed my fingers. "How exciting would it be to win?" And we did win!

Dorothy and Judith accepted the award and it was truly a testament to all the hard work of everyone involved. Working on the photo shoots for the book had been the learning experience of a lifetime for me and now a James Beard Award to boast about to boot! I must say my decision to attend The French Culinary Institute twelve years ago was the best decision of my life. I love what I do. I love my school and I love my continuing association with it.

The rest of the evening was spent enjoying the other courses; Second Course Redfish Courtbouillon with Brown Shrimp and Blue Crab Pearls by John Besh from New Orleans, Third Course Braised Short Ribs with Baked Ricotta, Pine Nuts, Black Olives and Crumbled Feta by Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles and dessert White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Morello Cherries and Cherry Sorbet by Karen Demasco of Locanda Verde in NY.

The table conversation was entertaining and Dorothy has a wealth of knowledge about the food industry. The most interesting tid bit of information she shared with us was that nominee Judith Jones for her book The Pleasures of Cooking for One, who was Julia Child's editor among many others, was also the editor who brought The Diary of Anne Frank to the world after many European editors had turned it down.

The evening will be forever one of the most memorable of my life. I even got to share my taxi home with Natalie Dupree.

The photo comes from the James Beard Foundation's website.