Tag Archives: recipe

Baked Cinnamon French Toast

16 Apr

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I featured this inexpensive and fool-proof recipe in my college student’s guide to hosting Easter brunch. The article was published in today’s issue of The Daily Trojan, and you can access it online here.

As far as brunch goes, French toast is both a quintessential menu item and a source of frustration. Brunch should be relaxed and carefree, the epitome of a decadent hybrid meal between breakfast and lunch. Why spend time leaning over the stove, flipping individual pieces of bread, while your guests drink mimosas in the backyard? That sounds like no fun to me.

Baked cinnamon French toast is a delicious one-pan solution to this problem. The recipe can be assembled in less than fifteen minutes using ingredients you probably already have on-hand. 

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Even the most inexperienced cook can execute this impressive dish. Simply toast the bread, coat each slice with butter and cinnamon-sugar, arrange them in one pan, and pour the custard over.

Layering the toasts creates a caramelized, golden exterior and a moist and creamy interior. Cut into thick slabs and topped with fresh berries and maple syrup, this French toast would be an outstanding recipe to serve to family and friends on Easter Sunday.

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Recipe courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 16 slices (from a 1-pound or 450 gram loaf) white sandwich bread
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups whole or 2% milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Yields 8-12 servings.

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a small dish. Line two large baking sheets with foil. Place the bread slices on the baking sheets in one layer. Spread each slice of bread with 1 teaspoon of butter, then sprinkle each slice with one teaspoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Toast the trays of bread in the oven until the bread is golden, and until the cinnamon-sugar makes a caramelized crunch on top, for about 7 to 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and let the toast cool slightly.

2. Generously butter a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cut two slices of the cinnamon toast in half horizontally. Arrange the baking dish so that the longer side is horizontal to you on the counter. Place the bottom half of a divided slice of cinnamon toast in the upper left-hand corner, cut side facing left. Arrange the first full slice of toast on top of it, so that the upper crust of the slice meets the left side of the pan. Arrange six more slices across the top of the pan, crusts in the same direction, overlapping each slightly. Finish with the top of a divided slice of toast. Repeat with the second row, toasts facing in the opposite direction, starting and finishing with your second divided slice of toast.

3. Whisk the milk, eggs, salt and vanilla in a medium bowl and pour evenly over the cinnamon toast in the baking dish. Let sit for 15 minutes (or overnight, if you’re preparing this ahead of time) so that the custard absorbs.

4. Before baking, sprinkle any leftover cinnamon-sugar over the French toast. Bake for 30 minutes, until puffed and golden and until no liquid seeps out of the toasts when you nudge them in the pan. Cut into squares and serve plain, or with a dollop of yogurt and fresh berries, or maple syrup.

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Chocolate Crème Fraîche Cookies

27 Mar

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While I do not condone extreme diets, eating food made with fresh, uncomplicated ingredients is important to me. But until last week, my admiration and passion for traditional French pastry had prevented me from experimenting with healthy, unconventional baked goods.

In my opinion, no gluten, dairy, and wheat-free pound cake can match one made with good ol’ butter, sugar, and all-purpose flour. That being said, after stumbling upon so many gorgeous photos of cookies and breads using wholesome ingredients, I decided to try a naturally gluten-free morning muffin recipe. The results were less than stellar.

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What started as a hopeful undertaking turned into an epic baking fail. Shredded carrots and apple, golden raisins, and coconut and almond flours morphed into a gritty-tasting stump that crumbled in my hands. For a second, I debated sending the muffins to school with my little sister, but feared that my reputation as bake sale queen would forever be tarnished. Both demoralized and slightly amused, I embarked upon another baking project the next day, deciding to stick to what I know.

It had been a while since I had made a pure chocolate cookie, and these could not have hit the spot more. The recipe comes from acclaimed chocolate makers Rick and Michael Mast, the geniuses behind Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory in Brooklyn. While some chocolate cookies can be overly-rich and dense, the addition of crème fraîche gives these an ethereally-light and soft texture.

So as much as I like the idea of incorporating healthier baked goods into my daily meal rotation, I’ve learned that some foods are best in their simple, indulgent forms.

Recipe courtesy of Bon Appétit, February 2014

These cookies spread quite a bit while baking, so make sure to leave ample space between each one. 

  • 20 oz bittersweet chocolate (at least 70% cacao), chopped, divided
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream

Yields about 4 dozen.

1. Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven. Heat 8 ounces chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until chocolate is melted; let cool slightly. Reserve saucepan for melting more chocolate for glaze.

2. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and whisk together; set aside. Using an electric mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, beat brown sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs and crème fraîche and beat until just combined. Reduce speed to low and gradually mix in melted chocolate; reserve chocolate bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine; fold in 8 ounces coarsely chopped chocolate. Do not overmix. Cover and chill dough until firm, at least 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 350° F. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are set but centers are still slightly soft, 15–18 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 3 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

4. Melt remaining 4 ounces chocolate in reserved bowl set over reserved saucepan of simmering water. Let chocolate cool slightly, then dip or drizzle cookies with chocolate as desired. Let sit until chocolate is set.

Tangerine Sour Cream Pound Cake

12 Mar

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You learn a lot about people by looking at their bookshelves. My dad has a wall dedicated to jazz books, complete with a bronze sculpture of Miles Davis and miniature figurines of an orchestra. Another section of his library contains autobiographies of former U.S. presidents and books about economics and behavioral psychology. You could say that he’s a pretty eclectic guy. My mom collects coffee table books about fashion, art, and flowers, along with fiction novels by iconic French writers. She arranges them pristinely, each book a gorgeous jewel awaiting to be examined.

You can probably guess what my bookshelf looks like. My love for baking, photography, and writing has inspired an extensive cookbook collection. The cookbooks that I’ve acquired from my travels bring back vivid memories of brisk afternoons spent strolling through San Francisco, or the best scrambled eggs I ever ate while in Sydney. Whenever I read cookbooks from my favorite bloggers, I marvel at how the internet has allowed amateur cooks to become award-winning authors and photographers.

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I am always on the lookout for cookbooks from local bakeries and restaurants. Valerie Confections, a quaint bakery located in Echo Park, offers meticulous, French-inspired pastries and confections. Sweet by Valerie Gordon contains a wide array of gorgeous recipes, ranging from fancy celebration desserts to breakfast pastries and everyday cakes.

This pound cake is wonderful in its simplicity. Fresh tangerine zest offsets the sour cream’s richness and provides a bright, slightly tangy flavor. To finish, the cake’s golden brown crust is covered with a shiny tangerine glaze. Served alongside a cup of tea, this cake becomes a delightful breakfast or afternoon snack.

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Recipe slightly adapted from Sweet by Valerie Gordon

Because I prefer my baked goods less sweet, I eliminated one cup of sugar and chose not to soak the cake in syrup after baking. The cake was sufficiently moist and subtly sweet. 

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tblsp grated tangerine zest (from about 8 tangerines)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:

  • 1/3 cup fresh tangerine juice (from about 6 tangerines)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325° F. Grease a non-stick tube pan with butter or baking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix the sour cream, tangerine zest, and vanilla together in a small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

3. Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the dry ingredients, one cup at a time, mixing until just barely combined. Some streaks of flour are ok. Add the sour cream mixture and mix until smooth. Do not over-mix. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake for 45 minutes, then rotate the cake and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the top of the cake is cracked and golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack for 45 minutes, then invert it an allow to cool completely. To make the glaze, whisk the tangerine juice and confectioners’ sugar together in a bowl. Adjust amount of powdered sugar based on desired thickness of glaze. Pour over the cooled cake and allow to set completely.

My Favorite Banana Bread

25 Feb

When I first began baking, I insisted that everything I made was absolutely delicious. I fiercely defended my rock-hard pound cakes, puddle-shaped sugar cookies, and acridly-sweet brownies. Over time, I learned that one must accept failure in order to develop outstanding recipes. Few baked goods come out perfect after the first try, and even then, an experienced baker will elevate them from great to excellent. My tireless pursuit of the perfect banana bread taught me this invaluable lesson.

When it comes to classic American treats, everyone has different preferences. Through sampling countless banana breads, from bakeries and my own kitchen, I formulated an ideal version in my mind. A moist, fragrant loaf with a tender crumb and cake-like consistency, this recipe achieved my goal.

This bread appeals to banana purists. Beating the butter and brown sugar creates a light, fluffy texture and a nice lift to the crust. This technique yields an end product closer to a tea cake than a spongy, dense quick bread. Even though it’s wonderful plain, sliced thick and smeared with a dab of butter, I can’t wait to spice it up with chocolate chunks, nuts, and coconut flakes. Because even my perfect recipe offers infinite opportunities for improvement.

Recipe adapted from Donna Hay Magazine via Sweetie’s Home

Adding a handful of walnuts provides a pleasant crunch and toasty flavor.

  • 8 tblsp (1 stick) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups of mashed, ripe bananas (about 4 large bananas)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan with butter. Using a stand mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the honey and beat for another minute, or until thoroughly combined. Reduce the mixer to medium speed, and add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla extract and banana and mix until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and walnuts. On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until just barely combined. A few streaks of flour are OK.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then remove the bread and allow it to cool completely.

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Coconut and Dates

24 Jan

If you search “perfect oatmeal cookie” on Google, you will find millions of unique renditions on the classic recipe. Perfect means something different to everyone. Your personality, tastes, and interests influence your idea of a perfect date, concert, or meal, for example.

Generally, I find that cookie connoisseurs are divided into two groups: thin and crispy versus soft, thick, and chewy. These oatmeal sandwich cookies fall right in the middle–subtly crunchy and golden on the outside with a soft, almost fluffy center. The brown sugar lends a deep butterscotch flavor, spiced up with the addition of coconut flakes and chopped dates. When sandwiched together with a tangy mascarpone filling, these oatmeal cookies become a grown-up version of a favorite childhood snack.

 Recipe barely adapted from The New York Times

This recipe yields fairly large cookies. If you prefer more manageable, bite-sized sandwiches, I suggest scooping rounded teaspoons of dough.

  • 3/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tblsp honey
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tblsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped
  • 5 tblsp granulated sugar

For the filling:

  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 6 tblsp mascarpone cheese
  • 3 tbslp confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Yields about 36 cookies; 18 sandwiches.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread coconut flakes on a non-stick skillet. Over medium heat, toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly colored and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium-high speed until light. Gradually add the brown sugar and honey, then beat until very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl when necessary. Beat in vanilla.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and 1 tsp cinnamon. With the mixer set on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture until just combined. Beat in oats, dates and toasted coconut.

4. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together granulated sugar and remaining 2 tsp cinnamon. Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into balls, then roll balls in cinnamon sugar; transfer to baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between dough balls. For smaller cookies, reduce the size of the balls.

5. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Make the filling: Using the electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl. Sandwich about 1 tablespoon of filling between two cookies; repeat with the remaining filling and cookies.