It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust not the filling. It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust…

Well, the filling is important too.  But in this post, just in time for Thanksgiving, we’re focusing on crust.

And a song that has been stuck in my head for weeks.

The following things top my list of fears: sharks, bears, spiders, making pie crust and fake hair pieces (don’t ask).  If I were ever to get caught in the storyline of Stephen King’s It, the fear scenario would include me in a mall with hundreds of those hair-piece kiosks while being chased by a bear toward a fountain filled with sharks as I tried to make a pie crust.  I don’t know where the spiders would fit in but they’d be there.

I’m proud to say that over the summer I conquered one of those fears.  And it isn’t the one about the fake hair.

During baking class we spent a week on pie crusts.  While we’d already learned the important “cutting-in” technique that combines the butter into the flour (snapping the butter and flour with your finger-tips), it was the discussion of pie-crust philosophy that helped make things click in my brain.

Butter is good for flavor.  Shortening or other 100% based solid fat is good for flakiness.

The deal with butter is that it isn’t 100% fat.  It also contains water.  Generally speaking, the higher quality the butter, the lower the water percentage.  Water plus gluten (by way of flour) equals chew.  So the goal with pie crust is to optimize both flavor and flake.

Which is where the vodka comes in.  And, I don’t just mean the cocktail I suggest you drink while making pie crust.  I’d heard about people who incorporated vodka into their pie dough and asked about it in class.  The instructor explained that the alcohol works as a sort of drying agent and the vodka is tasteless when it bakes-off.  So, the theory is that by replacing some or all of the water in a recipe with vodka the flakiness of the dough is potentially heightened.

This, I had to try.  I  replaced half of the water with vodka.  And went 100% butter.

The results of the trial were successful.  Always one to follow the scientific method,  I tried it several more times across the summer, all with consistently flakey and tasty crust.

Even the next day.

The other thing that has helped to eliminate my fear of pie crust is that I’ve gotten over whatever prejudice I had in my head about using the food processor to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.  Pie crust is pretty easy by hand.  It’s a snap with a food processor.

So my friends, do not fear those holiday pies!

Soundtrack: Do I really need to spell it out?

Pie Crust

adapted from Cooks Illustrated

this makes a double crust


  • 2 1/2  (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 20 TBS (1 pound 4 ounces or 5 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen
  • 1/4 C (2 ounces) vodka, chilled (I keep a bottle in the freezer for this and the impromptu Moscow Mule)
  • 1/4 C ice water


  1. Process flour, sugar and salt in food processor until combined.  If you decide to go old school and do this by hand, whisk together ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Scatter butter in processor bowl and pulse  until butter cuts-in and is reduced to pea-to-lima bean size.  You want visible pieces of butter.  If doing by hand, using the tips of your fingers only, snap the butter into the flour, shaking the bowl every once in a while so that the larger pieces rise to the top.
  3. Sprinkle-in all of the vodka and half of the water, pulse so that the dough starts to come together.  If the dough is dry, add-in the remaining water one TBS at-a-time until the dough barely holds together–it’s okay if you have crumbly pieces you don’t want an actual dough.  If doing by hand, sprinkle vodka and half the water over the flour-butter mixture and, using clean hands, gather the dough together, working gently adding in the remaining water as needed.
  4. Whether working by hand or processor, dump dough out on to a floured surface.  Split it in half and  push each half into a 4-inch disk (still okay, in fact it’s good if the dough barely holds together.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour before rolling-out and proceeding with your pie.





The pink peppercorn rides again

In the course of my holiday baking each year, I like to make a couple of different kinds of shortbready-sably type cookies.  And each year, I like to try out something a little different.

This year, by different, I meant really different.  As in, peppercorny different.  In fact, I think that’s where it started.  At some point during my planning, TD always asks the same question: “you aren’t going make anything pink peppercorny are you?”

Why yes, yes I am.

If you don’t know about TD and pink peppercorns, you can catch up here.  A couple of years ago I had some success with raspberry and pink peppercorn macarons so I thought it might be fun to translate that into a sable.

I added in some white chocolate chunks and accessorized with bright pink sanding sugar for a little pizzazz (yes, I just said pizzazz).

The results were interesting.  While not for everyone, I thought they were a complex, if not festive addition.

Raspberry, White Chocolate and Pink Peppercorn Sables

a play on Dorie Greenspan’s sable cookie


  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt
  • 2 large egg yolks, preferably at room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground pink peppercorns (I use a coffee grinder)
  • 3 heaping TBS freeze dried raspberry powder (I find freeze dried fruit at Trader Joes.  You can also find it on Amazon.  I also used the coffee grinder to pulverize the raspberries)
  • 8 ounces white chocolate chunks
  • Sanding sugar if you want to get fancy


Working with a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until it is smooth and very creamy. Add the sugars and salt and continue to beat until smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy, about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in 2 egg yolks, again beating until well blended.

Turn off the mixer, pour in the flour, raspberry and pink peppercorn powders.  Drape a kitchen towel over the mixer and pulse the mixer about 5 times at low speed for 1 or 2 seconds each time. Take a peek; if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of more times; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, stir for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist. If you still have some flour on the bottom of the bowl, stop mixing and use a rubber spatula to work the rest of it into the dough. (The dough will not come together in a ball — and it shouldn’t. You want to work the dough as little as possible. What you’re aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy dough. When pinched, it should feel a little like Play-Doh.)

3. Scrape the dough onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long (it’s easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log). Wrap the logs well and chill them for at least 2 hours. The dough may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

4. When ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and keep it at the ready.

6. Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each cookie, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top. Let the cookies rest 1 or 2 minutes before carefully lifting them onto a cooling rack with a wide metal spatula. Repeat with the remaining log of dough. (Make sure the sheet is cool before baking each batch.)


Cake Apple

I ran across this recipe on Sunday morning while perusing Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.

Simple and rustic, the batter in this recipe serves only to keep the apples together.  Dorie suggests using a variety of apples and, so I did, throwing in a granny smith, fuji, braeburn and even a honey crisp.

The only spring form pan I have is fit for a giant at about 10 inches.  For a deeper cake, I’d reccommend going with an eight-inch pan.

Perfect with a scoop of ice cream or drizzle of cream anglaise and caramel sauce, this gateau would be lovely for Thanksgiving.  Or a brunch. Or, just because.  One word of caution: this cake is so full of apples that the moisture begins to transform this baked good into a pudding by the next day.  So, I think it is best served that same day it is baked.

If you like this, you might like these

Russian Grandmother’s Apple Pie Cake

Misanthropic Hostess Apple Pie

Marie-Helene’s Apple Cake

as appeared in Around by French Table by Dorie Greenspan


  • 3/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 large apples of mixed variety
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 3 TBS dark rum (or sub-in 1 TBS vanilla extract)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (omit if not using rum)
  • 8 TBS (1 stick) unsalted butter melted and cooled


  1. Center rack in oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Butter 8-inch springform pan.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set springform pan on top of baking sheet.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Peel and core apples.  Cut into 2-inch chunks.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until foamy.  Pour in sugar and whisk for a minute to blend.  Whisk in rum and vanilla.
  5. Whisk in half the flour mixture until just incorporated.  Whisk in butter.  Repeat these two steps with the remaining flour and butter.
  6. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold-in the apples making sure each piece of fruit is covered in batter.
  7. Scrape mix into prepared pan and push around the apples until you have an evenish layer (evenish is Dorie’s word…this is why I love her so much).
  8. Slide the pan (still on the baking sheet) into the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife, inserted deep into the center, comes up clean.
  9. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes.
  10. Carefully run a blunt knife around the perimeter of the cake and remove springform, making sure to open it slowly so that no apples stick to it.



Lost and Found Panna Cotta

When we were in Montana, oh, back in December, my brother decided we needed to make a panna cotta for dessert on Christmas Eve.  I think it was one of two or three other desserts.  For six people and a toddler.  But, far be it for me to EVER stand in-between a family member and pudding.  There has been violence.

From the get-go we decided we didn’t want to un-mold the limber treat and so my brother added a ribbon of melted ganache to each pretty glass.

I’m not sure if it was the elevation, but while the panna cotta eventually found the lovely silky and slightly firm consistency that makes it so delectable, it took at least 12 hours to set in the fridge.  Maybe we should have just put it out in the snow to firm-up.

Obviously I’ve been hoarding this recipe for several months, though without intention.  Sometimes my reliance on spreadsheets and lists gets in the way of actually thinking.  Somewhere along the way a cut-and-paste error dropped this treat off my editorial schedule and it wasn’t until I found the pictures that I recovered this little corner of paradise lost.

If you like this, you might like these

Coconut Panna Cotta


It was Christmas Eve, I’m sure John Denver and the Muppets were involved.


Orange Panna Cotta

adapted from Gale Gand via


  • 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 4 cups heavy cream, or a combination of cream with milk or buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 wide strips fresh orange peel (orange part only-no white pith)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise


  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let soak 10 minutes (do not stir).
  2. Meanwhile, heat the cream, sugar, orange peel, and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar. As soon as it simmers, turn off the heat and add the gelatin mixture, stirring to dissolve the gelatin. (If the gelatin doesn’t completely dissolve in 3 minutes, return to the heat and warm gently until dissolved.)
  3. Strain the mixture into a pitcher to remove the vanilla bean and orange rind. Pour the mixture into 6 to 8 ramekins or dessert cups, or into 1 larger dish. Chill, uncovered, at least 3 hours (or maybe a good 24 hours in our case).
  4. To unmold, dip the cups in hot water for 10 seconds, then turn the panna cottas out onto dessert plates (or, simply serve in the cups or by the spoonful). Shave some chocolate curls onto the top of the panna cottas and serve with the orange supremes.


A tardy popover post

During the few months in-between finishing undergraduate and beginning graduate school, I lived a double life.  By day I worked at a Jewish pre-school in Century City (my Bruin Woods experience gave me entree into a world where I had neither the educational or religious background).  By evening I was a cocktail waitress at Lawry’s the Prime Rib in Beverly Hills.  For someone like me, a budding sociologist and generally nosy person, Lawry’s was a ridiculously fascinating place to work.  In fact, this post is an entire week late because I had trouble narrowing down my stories.  In a nutshell, Lawry’s is a huge, always busy restaurant that could easily provide the entire plotline for one of those ensemble multi-plotted movies like Love Actually or New Years Eve.

Lawry’s  also serves giant hunks of meat.  Giant.  Like another Los Angeles institution, In-and-Out, the nearly singular mainstay of Lawry’s menu is a variety of cuts of…you guessed it…prime rib.  Like a good traditional English Sunday Supper, the prime rib is served with something called a spinning bowl salad, an array of deliciously cream-laden vegetables and, yorkshire pudding.  Here is where today’s post comes in.

Somewhere along the way, my mother began serving prime rib for Christmas Dinner.  Along side it, she also serves popovers–essentially, individual yorkshire puddings.  If you’ve never had yorkshire pudding or popovers, they are hollow, steam filled almost pancake-like treats.  They look fancy.  But, if you have the equipment and a little self-restraint (do not, under any circumstance, open the oven door while they are baking), are actually very east to make.

These photos are, in fact, from last Christmas and, the chef at work is, my mom.  But, with Easter just a few days away and the popularity of Easter roast, these would make a lovely pairing.

Returning to Lawry’s I can’t resist sharing one story.  Probably the first among many in future posts.  The vast majority of patrons to the bar at Lawry’s are there to have a pre-dinner beverage. Even so, Lawry’s, and thus, the bar, had its share of regulars.  Every Sunday just as dinner service began, a couple came in for drinks before going down to supper.  He would order two double vodka and tonics in rapid succession.  He would then order a third.  Each week it was the same routine.  His wife/girlfriend/caretaker would excuse herself from the table, secretly pull me aside and ask that the third double be a single.

The obvious play to get a buzz before dinner wasn’t what made this couple remarkable.  Nor was the secretive partner behavior.  I was, after all, a waitress in a bar.   That the man was in a wheelchair also lacked notability.  I’ll give you a hint.  His wheelchair was gold.

As clueless as I was and still am, this didn’t even make much of a difference to me until a certain movie came out that caused quite the stir.  And even THEN, it wasn’t until I read an article in Vanity Fair about the movie (of course, I didn’t see the movie) I realized that for the better part of six months I’d been serving none other than Larry Flint.

I’ll tell you, if I had known who he was from the get-go, I would never have lightened up his drinks.


We were all holiday music all the time at that point.  I only know one Easter-related holiday song…here comes Peter Cotton Tail hoppin’ down the bunny trail…hippity…hoppity…


I’ve used this recipe for years.  It’s on a hand-written card from my mom and the credit is to Sunset Magazine.


  • (makes 6)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 C flour
  • 1 C whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 TBS melted butter


  1. Combine eggs, flour, milk and salt, pepper and melted butter.  Whisk until smooth.
  2. Refrigerate batter for at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat over to 425 degrees.
  4. Generously coat popover cups with butter.
  5. Place pan in oven for 3-5 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and turn down heat to 374 degrees.
  6. Remove batter from fridge, whisk and quickly add batter to hot pan.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes.  (the following is a direct quote from my mother’s notes: DO NOT open the oven while baking.  Bad things will happen [sad face]).
  8. Remove from oven and release the popovers.
  9. Can be  made a day in advance, cooled and stored in an airtight bag.  Reheat at 375 degrees for 5 minutes.

Curiously Peppermint Brownies…a mash-update

I knew that I wanted to include my take on the famous Altoid Brownie in this year’s batch of goodies.  However, it wasn’t until I encountered these festive beauties that inspiration hit on how to make them holiday worthy.

Don’t get me wrong, the original recipe is lovely.  I just happen to prefer my own brownie recipe…with baby chunks of chocolate added.

After cutting the truffle-like treats into roughly 1X1 inch squares, I dropped each into a mixture of peppermint sprinkles and powdered sugar.  Slightly pink and smelling of (curiously strong) peppermint, these little cadeaux will be included in my holiday baking for years to come.


Handel’s Messiah.  This piece of music (in its entirety) is easily my favorite holiday tune.  As a child we would see a production of it at the local college nearly every year.  As a college student and into graduate school, I would play this on my Walkman (yes, Walkman) on loop throughout final.  Now, starting the  Monday after Thanksgiving, the Messiah is my most oft played playlist.

Second favorite holiday album?  John Denver and the Muppets.

If you like this, you might like these

Altoid Brownies 

THE Brownie

Holiday Altoid Brownies


  • 1 package peppermint Altoids, pulverized (I used my mini-prep)
  • 16 TBS (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 18 ounces bitter or semi-sweet chocolate chopped in or chips
  • 2 C granulated sugar
  • 2 TBS cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 eggs, room temp
  • 1 TBS vanilla
  • 2 C flour
  • 12 ounces mini chocolate chips
  • peppermint sprinkles (I found mine at Bristol Farms, also available here)
  • powdered sugar for dipping (2-4 C)


  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Line a 9X13 inch pan with parchment and butter both paper and sides of pan.
  2. In a heavy-bottom saucepan, melt butter over low heat.  Once melted, add chopped chocolate.  Let sit for 2-3 minutes and whisk until smooth.  Set aside an allow to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt.
  4. Whisk-in eggs one-at-a-time.  Whisk in vanilla.
  5. Fold-in cooled chocolate and butter mixture.  Fold to combine.
  6. Sift flour over bowl of batter and gently fold until the flour is just incorporated.
  7. Add mini chips and fold a few more times to incorporate.
  8. Transfer to pan and into the oven.  Bake until an inserted skewer comes up with fine crumb (35-45 minutes).
  9. Remove from oven and allow brownies to cool completely.  I like to like them sit over night and settle.
  10. In a large ziplock bag combine peppermint sprinkles (to taste) and confectioner’s sugar.  Seal bag and shake for even distribution.
  11. Cut brownies as desired.
  12. Gently emerge a couple of cut brownies-at-a-time into the sugar mixture.  Gently shake-off excess sugar.  Store in air-tight container.


Piece of pie!

I’ve made my fear of pate brise no secret. I blame certain family members who suckled me on the crust of incredibly flakey and light pie crusts during my formative years.  As a result, I will generally do anything I can to avoid making pie crust.  This has included, using passable proxies like shortbread or graham cracker to just baking a cake instead.


TD asked for an apple pie to go with the Gobbla’ Cobbla.’  And since I knew they he would be recruited to roll about 250 Schweddy Balls earlier in the day, I had no choice but to acquiesce.  I began with Dorie Greenspan’s Good for Almost Anything Pie Dough.  Her recipe calls for a mix of very cold butter and shortening.

It also uses food processor…which made it a winner in my book.

I cheated just a little and when it was time to form the two disks of dough for refrigeration, I rolled-one-out, fit it to the pie dish and then put it in the fridge.

You know how reading a recipe the entire way through is like baking rule #1.  Well, I didn’t and so, when I went to prepare the filling I realized the Ms. Greenspan calls for quick-cooking tapioca.  Quite possibly the single baking-type ingredient I did not have in my pantry.  Undeterred, I jumped over to my cooking and baking bible, the Joy of Cooking and perused their apple pie recipes.  This is when I discovered a recipe that cooks the apples before putting them into the pie.  Intrigued (and having all the ingredients), I jumped in.  The core of the idea (ha) is to saute the apple chunks in butter until nearly cooked.   I like an apple pie with lots of apples and so, adjusted the filling recipe up.

Then they cool.

And only THEN do they go into the chilled pie-crust.

At this point, I still had very little faith in my pie baking skills and so, went rustic on the crust.

Oh but wait…what is this I see before me?  A pretty gorgeous pie with what certainly looked like flakey crust.

After enjoying our Gobbla’ Cobbla’ and martinis, the moment of truth was upon us.  A few cautious cuts and the resulting piece looked like a presentable piece of pie.  Then I took a bite.  My reaction was to employ an expletive involving a reflexive verb, a number larger than one and a day of the week beginning with T.  Was this it?  Had I finally stumbled across the holy grail of apple pie?  Just to be on the safe side, we conducted further research the next day.  In fact, the picture below was taken the next day.

I fully intended on making this pie again before posting the recipe.  Sadly, time has not been on my side.  And so, I leave it to you dear readers to vet what I think might just be a very excellent pie recipe.


New Mumford and Sons

If you like this, you might like these

Russian Grandmother’s Apple Pie-Cake

Tarte de Pommes a la Normande

Misanthropic Hostess Apple Pie

adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough and Joy of Cooking’s Apple Pie II recipes

For the Crust

Ingredients (this is for a double crust)

  • 1 1 /2 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 10 TBS frozen unsalted butter cut into 1/2 TBS sized-pieves
  • 2 1/2 TBS frozen vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pievs
  • 1/4 or so of iced water


  1. Place flour, sugar and salt in the food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse to just combined the ingredients.
  2. Drop-in butter and shortening and pulse only until both are cut-into the flour–think un-even bits ranging from to pea-to-orzo sized.
  3. Pulsing the processor on-and-off, add about 6 TBS a little at a time by pulsing and repeating.  Then, use a few longer pulses to incorporate the water into the flour.  Big pieces of butter in the dough, are fine (and encouraged).  If needed, continue to add water a few drops at-a-time until the dough sticks together when pinched.
  4. Scrape dough out of processor and onto a floured surface.  Divide the dough in half, form two disks (or cheat like I did and roll-out one and place it in a deep pie dish).  Wrap everything in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour before using.

For the Filling

  • 4 LBS apples (I used a mix of Granny Smith and Fiji)
  • 4 TBS unsalted butter
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 TSP ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 TSP salt
  1. Peel and core apples, cutting as desired (I used a rustic chop with pieces about the size of large almonds).
  2. In a very large skillet or pot, heat butter over high heat until sizzling and fragrant.
  3. Add apples and toss until glazed with the butter.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium, cover tightly and cook, stirring often. until the apples are softened but still slightly crunchy.
  5. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon and salt.
  6. Increase heat to high and cook at a rapid boil until the juices become thick and syrupy (about 3 minutes)
  7. Immediately spread the apples i na thin layer on a baking sheet.  Let cool to room temperature.

To Assemble and Bake

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
  2. On a floured surface, roll-out your bottom layer of dough.  Be sure to turn the dough often.  Gently place dough into the pan, do not stretch dough.
  3. Fill with apples and place in fridge while rolling-out second crust.
  4. Roll out second crust.
  5. Remove filled-pan from fridge and trim the edges of the dough so there is about 1/2 inch overhang.
  6. Center the second piece of dough over the pie and press it against the bottom crust.
  7. Trim the top crust to overhand just slightly over the bottom crust.
  8. Pinch the crust (or roll up) to create a sealed edge.
  9. Cut vents for steam and brush with egg wash if desired.
  10. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes until the crust is a rich, golden brown.
  11. Let cool and then sit for at least 4 hours before cutting.




This will show those berry-American flag cakes who’s boss

So, did you volunteer to bring dessert to the annual fourth of July [insert you choice of event here]?  Did you maybe slack a little with the sign-up?  Maybe you were distracted by the return of True Blood or the College World Series.  And, in your distraction, did your next-door-neighbor or maybe your Aunt Janet steal the decorated-by-berries-to-look-like-an-American-flag cake, pie or tart slot?

Well then, I have a party cake for you.  Five words: pistachios, limes, angel food cake.

Still with me? If you’ve never made angel food cake, you need to try.  It’s really fun.  And this one starts with 10 egg whites (Hint: use the yolks to make ice cream).

A little cream of tarter will help to stabilize the meringue.

As will a little sugar.  Follow the instructions and repeat after me: one tablespoon at-a-time.

As you may have guessed at this point.  Or maybe you already knew.  Angel food cake gets its light and airy texture from a volumous and glossy meringue.  And this meringue?  Is decorated with lime zest.

The tenatious texture of the batter and the need to be really careful when transferring to your tube pan (so as not to deflate the whole mess) may have you momentarily wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into.  Not to worry.  You’ll see.

See, I told you the cake would turn out.

And here is the fun part–the cake cools…inverted.  If you are using a tube pan like I did, it probably has some handy little spikes that allow you to invert.  If not,  a bottle should work.

While the cake hangs-out, it’s time to attend to the pistachios.  I hand-shelled the ones in this recipe.  It took a long time. Then I learned that you can buy pistachio “meat” at specialty and health food stores.  I found them at Sprouts.  So, pistachios get a nice fine chop.

And then those zested limes?  The juice is made into a syrup.

And this is when the angel food cake gets dressed to party.  Paint on the syrup, smush-in chopped pistachios.  They’ll stick, I swear!

The original recipe calls for a little simple glaze, but, I love the green of the pistachios and didn’t think this cake needed anything more.

Light and refreshing with just enough zing from the lime to make you pucker a little and enough crunch from the pistachios to add intrigue.  Now, whose having us over for the fourth?


Did you know that Pandora has a Kate Spade channel?

4th of July Partay Cake

aka Lime Angel Food Cake with Lime Glaze and Pistachios, yawn

Bon Apetit, April 2010



  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups superfine sugar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Lime syrup and lime glaze:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted raw pistachios (about 2 ounces), finely chopped in processor
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Special equipment: 10-inch-diameter angel food cake pan with 4-inch-high sides and removable bottom (do not use nonstick pan)

For cake: 
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Sift flour, 1/2 cup superfine sugar, and salt into medium bowl; repeat sifting 3 times. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites, lime peel, and vanilla on medium speed in large bowl until frothy (mixture may turn neon green but color will change when remaining ingredients are added). Add cream of tartar; increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle 1/3 of flour mixture over whites and gently fold in until incorporated. Fold in remaining flour mixture in 2 more additions just until incorporated. Transfer to ungreased 10-inch angel food cake pan with 4-inch-high sides and removable bottom (do not use nonstick pan); smooth top.

Bake cake until pale golden and tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 38 minutes. Immediately invert cake onto work surface if pan has feet, or invert center tube of pan onto neck of bottle or metal funnel and cool cake completely.

Using long thin knife, cut around cake sides and center tube to loosen. Lift out center tube with cake still attached; run knife between cake and bottom of pan to loosen. Invert cake onto rack, then turn cake over, rounded side up. Set rack with cake atop rimmed baking sheet.

For lime syrup and lime glaze: 
Combine sugar and 3 tablespoons lime juice in small saucepan; stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Brush syrup all over top and sides of cake. Immediately press pistachios onto top and sides of cake, pressing to adhere.

Stir powdered sugar with remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice in small bowl until smooth. Drizzle glaze over top of cake. Let stand until glaze sets, about 10 minutes. DO AHEAD: Cake can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and store at room temperature.

Transfer cake to platter; cut into wedges and serve.


(insert your favorite nut here) toffee

If, by some remote chance you happen to be my Aunt Kris, please stop reading now.  Every year about this time, TD and I wait in hungry anticipation for a package with a Santa Maria, CA postmark to arrive so that we can demolish the wrapping and dive into the tin of my Aunt Kris’  homemade almond toffee.  More than once TD and I have nearly come to physical blows over the last little crumbly bits stuck to the bottom of the bag (because really, what says holiday season more than boxing for caramelized sugar detritus).

After much begging, cajoling and general harassment from TD,  I’ve finally  figured out how to make it myself.  But, don’t tell my Aunt Kris because while I may have cracked the crackle code, I still prefer hers.

Since the original maker of this crunchy delight is my Aunt Kris and not yours (unless you are my brother), she probably doesn’t send you any.  So, I’ll show you how to make your own.  And, if your name is Kris, perhaps you can start a holiday tradition by sending it to your niece and her husband.

I’m not sure where I found the original recipe but was able to hunt-down a comparable one on Sunset magazine’s website.  Do not be afraid of the candy thermometer.  If you find the need for a thermometer daunting, think of it this way: they sell them in grocery stores.  If normal people weren’t meant to use them, they wouldn’t have them out right next to the bamboo skewers and disposable muffin tins.  Would they?

This recipe starts with a heavy saucepan, said thermometer, sugar, butter and water.  Put items two through four into item number one and turn on the burner to medium.

While the sugar is working on its chemistry, go ahead and toast up some of your favorite nuts.  This year I made separate batches with pecans and almonds.  When the nuts are toasted and cool to the touch, give them a rough chop.  You can do it by hand, but it’s very quick in a food processor or mini-prep.

Now it is time to sit back and watch the pot boil.

And boil.  While you are waiting, make sure your pan and nuts are at the ready (yeah, yeah, that’s what she said).

Once everything is nice and golden brown and the smell nearly drives you mad with its buttery goodness AND the thermometer reads 310, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped nuts using a wooden spoon.  At first, the caramel will be angry but quickly calm down.

Now, take a deep breath and carefully, pour out the caramely, nutty, super-hot liquid into your pan.

Before the next step, the toffee needs a bit of a cooling-off period.  In my case, this means it is time to clean the burner (there may or may have not been a tiny little fire caused but some stray sugar with one of the batches.  But, I’m not talking and you can’t prove anything).

The final step starts with what all good final steps should begin with: chocolate.

Give it a chop and then into a double boiler it goes to slowly melt.  Once your toffee is cool to the touch and your chocolate is melted, spread an even layer of the chocolate over the surface of the toffee.  An off-set spatula works well for the job.  The instructions in the recipe below say to refrigerate at this point but I don’t.  I like to let the chocolate cool at room temperature so that it doesn’t bloom and give me gray chocolate.

With the chocolate set, the  real fun begin as you get to break-up the toffee (I do it by hand but a little hammer could be fun too).  This recipe makes a generous batch–which is genius because I predict only about half of every batch ever gets to its intended destination.

The great thing  about this recipe is that it will last a good month if properly stored.  This means that you can make this well in advance of the holiday push.  Of course, this also means that you will have it around the house…which is probably why my dentist owns my soul.

Nut Toffee

Slightly adapted from Sunset Magazine

Yield: Makes 1 pan (10 by 15 in.); 40 pieces (serving size: one 2- by 2-in. square)


  • 2  cups  pecan halves
  • 3 1/2  cups  sugar
  • 1 1/2  cups  butter
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  tablespoon  vanilla extract
  • 12  ounces  bittersweet chocolate
  • 2  teaspoons  fleur de sel (see Notes) or coarse sea salt


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Put nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, about 8 minutes. When cool enough to handle, chop roughly. Divide into 2 batches; chop 1 batch finely. Set both batches aside.

2. Put sugar, butter, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. When butter and sugar are melted, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden brown and measures 310° on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully stir in vanilla (mixture will bubble up) and finely chopped pecans. Pour into a 10- by 15-in. rimmed baking sheet. Let toffee cool until set, at least 30 minutes.

3. Chop chocolate and melt in a double boiler. Pour over toffee; with a knife or offset spatula, spread evenly. Sprinkle chocolate with roughly chopped pecans. Let sit 20 minutes, or until chocolate is cool but still a bit soft. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

4. To remove, gently twist pan to release toffee, then chop or break into chunks. Store in an airtight container.

THE Sugar Cookies

I’ll admit, as much as I love baking, I’ve always had a bias against the cut-out sugar cookie. As a child I would carefully study the pictures of beautifully decorated sugar cookies in my mom’s illustrated Betty Crocker Cookbook. However, my batches of never looked anything close to the pictures. They’d puff. They’d bake unevenly. They’d stick to the rolling pin. Cats looked like panda bears, flowers like clouds. So, I dropped them off my list.

Until a few years ago that is.

My mom, ever the friendly consumer, somehow talked the proprieter of a cooking supply shop in Bozeman Montana into giving her their commercial recipe. Let me tell you, this recipe changed my life. Whether it has changed for better or worse has yet to be determined. You see, this recipe creates such beautiful cookies that people will beg you to make them. So you will. Then, they’ll get bitter when it’s been a couple of months and you haven’t produced any more. These may well be as close to crack as you can get with legal ingredients combined in a legal manner.

The recipe is simple if not a little labor intensive. Lots of butter. Lots of flour. Fragile, flaky, crumbly cookies these are not. The recipe is designed to get the little buggers to hold their shape when cooked. And they will—if you are careful about your technique. As good as the recipe itself is, the way in which you prepare the cookies is what makes them truly successful. That’s right, sugar cookie methodology. For this reason, I’ve listed the simple recipe below and then annotated the crap out of it with my own tips.


Once you have the dough mixed up, abandon all you were ever taught about forming it into a ball and refrigerating. First you are going to roll it out. And THEN refrigerate it. So, grab a handful of dough and place in on a flat surface between two sheets of parchment.


Now, roll it out. I like a thicker cookie (less chance of breakage), so I roll to somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 inch. Do whatever works for you.



Now, go ahead and clear some space in the fridge and stack the rolled -out dough one on top of the next. Let the dough chill for at least an hour. I usually let it cool over night. Once the dough is chilled, cut out your desired shapes and you are ready to bake. Note-you’ll have lots of scraps. Just ball then together, re-roll them out between parchment and store in fridge until ready to cut out next batch.

If you are anal retentive like I am, you add in one more step before baking.

I cut all of the dough out at once, and stack the un-baked cookies on to a cookie sheet (with layers separated by parchment) and put them back in to the fridge. Then I begin baking.


Bake in the over for 12-15 minutes until the edges are just barely starting to brown.


What’s that you say? You want some to have sugar sprinkles? Okay, here is the super secret method to getting a ton of sugar sprinkles or sanding sugar on to the cookie. First, pour a generous amount of your selected decoration into a shallow dish.


Next, take a very cold un-baked cookie and place it front side down into the sprinkles.


Now, push the cookie into the sprinkles. Don’t be shy, the cookie should be cold enough that it doesn’t lose its shape. Flip cookie back over and then bake as directed. The results are usually pretty cool.


While we are sharing secrets, I might as well reveal what was until this very moment, my proprietary icing recipe.


Ready? You Sure? Okay. To a bowl of sifted confectioner’s sugar, add fresh squeezed lemon juice. Then mix until you get the desired thickness. Pretty mind blowing right? Of course you could also use water or any other flavoring.

I like to use a two-step decorating process (really, it’s because I’m lazy and don’t have the patience to make a border and then foundation frost each cookie). First, I ice the cookie. Then I decorate it.

To ice, I get the icing very then. Then I quickly dip the tops of the cookies.


I set the cookies on cooling racks and let the icing completely set up.


Once the first coat of icing is set up, the cookies are ready to be fancified. Decorate as desired (same icing recipe, just thicker).




And now you know all of my secrets.

THE Roll-out Cut-out Sugar Cookies

Makes about 6 dozen 3 inch cookies of 1/4 inch thickness


  • 6 C flour, sifted
  • 1 TBS baking powder
  • 1 TSP salt (I use kosher)
  • 2 C sugar (I use ultrafine)
  • 2 C unsalted butter (same as 4 sticks), softened
  • 2 large eggs, room temp
  • 2 TSP vanilla
  • Parchment paper
  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie cutters

In standing mixer, cream butter and sugar. While mixing, sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Once butter and sugar are creamed, mix in eggs one at a time. Add in vanilla. Decrease mixer setting to low and add in flour in 2-3 shifts. Mix until dough forms.

Roll out dough between parchment paper in three batches. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut dough into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes until just turning gold on the edges.

I’ve added some pictures of sugar cookies past just to show they work with any shape.

bees, butterflies and flowers

B is also for baby

And break a leg.  Ironically, the only year I made these since my employment for the enemy has been the only year the blue and gold have won.  I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to realize this but next year, my work colleagues are getting more gold and cough…cough…cardinal sugar cookies around the first week of December than they’ll know what to do with.