Sunday, February 27, 2011

Daring Baker's February Challenge: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

I loved this challenge because there were one 100 million ways to do this, so many different flavor combos.. At first I thought berries for valentine's day, but then everyone would do it.. then I thought coconut and pineapple.. Erm, no, still no. Then it hit me.. I had done a post back in october about the Harry Potter butterbeer, so I decided to make a butterbeer panna cotta. I loved it!

So here is the recipe:

Panna Cotta Base

1/2 cup  brown sugar
1 tablespoons water
2 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
1 3/4 heavy cream
3 sheets gelatin


1. In a small saucepan over medium, combine the brown sugar and water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook, stirring often, until the mixture reads 240 F on a candy thermometer. (Please be careful when cooking sugar, the burns are dangerous)
2. Stir in the butter, salt, and 1/4  cup heavy cream. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

3. Once the mixture has cooled a little, stir in the rum extract. (Don't use real rum, uncooked alcohol doesn't taste very pleasant in a drink that isn't supposed to taste like it!)

4. Heat up the rest of the heavy cream. Meanwhile, bloom the gelatin sheets in ice cold water.
5. When the heavy cream comes to a boil, dissolve the gelatin sheets in it and pour into the brown sugar mixture.
6. Whisk very well then set into mould or cup. Chill for 8 hours in the fridge before topping with gelatin base.
Gelatin Base
1 can cream soda
2oz water
4 oz sugar
4 gelatin sheets
  1. Pour cream soda into a bowl and stir to release some carbonation.
  2. Bloom the gelatin sheets in ice water.
  3. Boil the water with the sugar till it dissolves, then add the bloomed gelatin and stir.
  4. Add gelatin mixture to the soda and whisk to combine.
  5. Pour on top of the set panna cotta and refrigerate till set for 5 hours.

Florentine Cookies Recipe
2/3 cup (160 ml) (150 gm) (5.3 oz) unsalted butter
2 cups (480 ml) (160 gm) (5 2/3 oz) quick oats
1 cup (240 ml) (230 gm) (8 oz) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) (95 gm) (3⅓ oz) plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) dark corn syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1½ cups (360 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) dark or milk chocolate
Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F (190°C) (gas mark 5). Prepare your baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.
  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from the heat.
  2. To the melted butter add oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Drop a tablespoon full, three inches (75 mm) apart, onto your prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your tablespoon, or use a spatula.
  3. And here are my own plating versions:
    This one is with a roasted banana on top of the cookies.

And to celebrate the Harry Potter Butterbeer Phenomenon...
And a little sneak peak at Stardust's Favorite Photographer Josh Wong: He was just in the World of Harry Potter and took some amazing shots... Enjoy:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guess who's Blogging about StardustCakes!!

Linda Kaye's Partymakers just launched a new Blog.. their company is fantastic at providing the best Children's birthday Parties in NYC. They have parties at the Circus, Police Museum, American Museum of Natural History, and their Famous Bake-a-cake parties. They take care of everything for you so you don't have to. I was featured in one of their first posts!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Afternoon tea with Portuguese Pao de Leite

Famous all over the world, especially in Hawaii: the Portuguese Sweet Rolls or as we call them, Pao de Leite. I love them for breakfast with a little butter and ham. They are great. My favorite place to get them is the Pao de Milho Bakery in Ironbound, NJ at 149 Oliver Street Newark, NJ 07105-2006
Their baked goods are all amazing and I recommend all of them! I was there this weekend and got inspired to make the bread at home. This is my version of the Portuguese sweet bread, with a little hint of vanilla and lemon.
My little kitten Penny wanted to join us for tea with the portuguese sweet bread..

Friday, February 18, 2011

The truth about Shari's Berries

Valentines came around and you probably got flowers, chocolates, a box of chocolate dipped strawberries.. you name it. Well, I was excited to get a box of the famous Shari's Berries, they come very well packaged with a lot of Styrofoam to make sure your berries arrive intact. It even has a beautiful bow which I now use on my head.
They looked delicious despite the non-existent green stem which they advertise on the beautiful photos on their website. I noticed there was a little red bleeding on the bottom of one strawberry but I thought that was just normal.

I took my first bite into one.. and gasp.. the acidity of rotting fruit just attacked my mouth. I look at the half eaten strawberry in my hand and see that it is bruised and starting to mould. I spit it out and grab another... the EXACT same experience. One more, last try.. YUCK. They were all rotten.

I called customer service who apologise and tell me they will send me another box within 2 working days. I say thank you and eagerly wait for my good batch of strawberries.

I receive my second box of strawberries. I see one the strawberries is incredibly ugly, it's a twin strawberry oversized, but dipped in chocolate anyway. I take a bite out of it. No sourness this time, but no flavor either. It's a white un-ripened strawberry. Better than the sourness right? I fetch for another strawberry and the same acidity fills my mouth. Yuck! It's moulding. I try one more... and guess what.. it was SOUR AND MOULDY! Unbelievable right? I cut open the last 3 berries which were all in the exact same rotting condition.

So what did I learn from this experience? Don't trust advertising and photos used to advertise. I will not be purchasing these berries again or any other Shari's products. If you've had a good experience with them GREAT, if not.. don't bother. Make your own at home or purchase them from a trusted local boutique. Try Godiva, the price is worth it when they taste perfect!

Tiramisu Secrets

My husband's favorite dessert.. He's half Italian and swears mine is the best he's had..

Tiramisu- it literally means pick me up, and that's what you get after a few bites of this delicious dessert. I like mine drenched in coffee and Kahlua. I think desserts should always have a lot of alcohol.. it adds so much flavor! I like presenting mine in a coffee cup, I think it adds a little twist to it. And to take it up another notch I pair it with some coffee shortbread cookies, so you really feel like you are enjoying your coffee and a cookie.

Tiramisu is a dead-easy dessert to make, I am sure all of you have a recipe for it (and if you don't find your favorite here, my tips for whichever recipe you are using are the following:
1. Allow the sponge/ lady fingers absorb as much coffee liquid as possible.
2. Allow the tiramisu to age a 2-3 days (trust me, much better results)
3. Add a little Kahlua to the coffee mix
4. Make sure you whip your heavy cream (if your recipe calls for it) to stiff peaks to prevent the cream from liquifying.
5. Use pasteurized eggs since the yolks are raw.
6. Make sure you make a very large batch so that people can have thirds (trust me.)

Coffee Shortbread Cookies Recipe

2 Tablespoons Coffee Powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/4 cups butter (room temperature)

1. Preheat oven to 325F
2. Dissolve coffee powder in vanilla.
3. Mix the flour, salt, cinnamon together
4. Beat the butter and sugar together till whitish in color and very very soft. Don't skip or rush through this step or your cookies might not bake as well.
5. Add the coffee vanilla mixture.
6. Gradually add dry and fold just until incorporated.
7. Gather dough  into a ball. It won't hold together very well and that's ok.
8. Place dough between two sheets of parchment paper or silpats, using a rolling pin roll dough out to 1/4 inch.
9. You can dock the dough with a fork  at this time or for aesthetic purposes just use another pan to bake on top. You don't want this cookie to grow too much.
10. Place the dough on a cookie tray and remove the top silpat/ parchment paper carefully.
11. Bake for 10 minutes.
12. Place another piece of parchment on top of the cookie dough and a cookie tray on top of it. Push down to let out all the steam (be careful! Wear protective mits or keep arms clear, the steam can burn.) Place back in the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.
13. Remove the parchment and the cookie tray from the top of the dough and allow to bake the last 10 minutes. Don't overbake the cookie, it should be soft when it comes out of the oven.
14. As soon as it comes out of the oven, use a knife to cut the cookies into thin strips. Don't move them from the cookie sheet. Then allow the dough to cool before trying to separate the cookies.
15. And after all that work, you have yourself a delicious cookie.
Feel free to play around with this recipe, add different spices to it instead of cinnamon. Or sprinkle something on top of the cookies after they are baked, or a glaze. Play with your food!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentine Treats

I Love Valentine's Day.. Red Pink and White go so well together! And the shape of a heart is lovely too.
One of my favorite valentine treats are heart shaped linzer cookies.. I adore linzer cookies.. my favorite.. so turn them into a heart and that makes it all the better.

Here's my favorite recipe for
Linzer Cookies
110 grams hazelnuts
260 grams all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
227 grams  butter, room temperature
135 grams granulated white sugar, divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large  eggs

Confectioners' (Icing or Powdered) Sugar for dusting
Strawberry Jam, as needed

1. Place hazelnuts, flour, cinnamon, salt and a TBSP of the sugar in a food processor and grind till fine.
2. Cream butter and sugar till fluffy and creamy.
3. Add vanilla and eggs to the sugar-butter mixture.
4. Add the dry ingredients and mix till combined (don't overwork the dough, you want it crumbly)
5. Wrap up the dough in plastic wrap and press it together, shape into a flat rectangle.
6. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350F
7. Roll out dough onto lightly floured surface. Roll till about 1/4 inch thick and use cookie cutters to cut out desired shapes, using a smaller cookie cutter to cut an opening in the centre of the cookies for your 'red window'.
8. Refrigerate cut out dough on the cookie sheet for about 10 minutes.
9. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden in color. (Don't over bake, remember cookies harden as the cool so they should come out of the oven soft.)
10. When the cookies have cooled, top one non-centre-cut cookie with jam and press a cut-centre cookie over it.
11. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (don't worry about the sugar on the jammy window, it will be absorbed by the jam within 5 minutes and you'll have a perfect red window)
12. Give to your valentine and wait for the hugs and kisses to come!!

Happy Valentine's Weekend!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Restaurant Week at Artisanal

I love restaurant week, why? Discounted Dining at some of the best places in the city. This time I tried Artisanal. I'm sure you've heard of their numerous cheeses.. they have a wide selection of hard, soft, young, old, smelly, pleasant, everything cheesy!! And if you stop by in February they have their Cheesy Fondue Month.. 28 different fondues.. Amazing and gooey-licious!

So here's what we had.. the amazing gougeres. I'm sure you've seen these before.
Gougères are a classical preparation often served at wine tastings in France. The puffs are made from a savory pâte á choux, or cream puff dough-flavored with cheese. They are best served hot out of the oven, offering that creamy-dough gratification. And, if you don't add the cheese, the puff is a base for a dessert just like profiteroles. (Recipe below)
The gougeres

Then  a Daube of Beef with Spaetzel. The best part was the Spaetzel

And a Mushroom Risotto. Yum.. but the best part was still...

Dessert!! a Chocolate Marquise with crunchy Hazelnut Feuilletine in the centre. It was delicious but it was such a tiny slice.. I am watching my figure but I do love dessert!! More please!

And then it came.. petit fours.. Madelines with powdered sugar and mini brownies.. well.. the brownies were a little floury for my taste but the madeline was impeccable!

I give this restaurant week menu a 3 out of 5 stars.
And as promised here is a recipe..

 Gougeres Recipe by Thomas Keller

1 cup water
7 tablespoons (3-1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Pinch of sugar
1-1/4 cups (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1-1/4 cups grated Gruyère (5 ounces)
Freshly ground white pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil. Add all the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium, and stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes, or until the mixture forms a ball and the excess moisture has evaporated (if the ball forms more quickly, continue to cook and stir for a full 2 minutes).
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle and beat for about 30 seconds at medium speed to cool slightly. Add 4 eggs and continue to mix until completely combined and the batter has a smooth, silky texture. Stop the machine and lift up the beater to check the consistency of the batter. The batter in the mixing bowl should form a peak with a tip that falls over. If it is too stiff, beat in the white of the remaining egg. Check again and, if necessary, add the yolk. Finally, mix in 3/4 cup of the Gruyère and adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch plain pastry tip with the gougère batter. Pipe the batter into 1-tablespoon mounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between the gougères as the mixture will spread during baking. Sprinkle the top of each gougère with about 1/2 teaspoon of the remaining grated cheese and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until they puff and hold their shape. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. And bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes. When the gougères are done, they should be a light golden brown color. When you break one open, it should be hollow; the inside should be cooked but still slightly moist. Remove the pans from the oven and serve the gougères while hot.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cheesy muffins for my Black and Yellow team

If you're rooting for the steelers.. there is still time to prepare this tasty snack.. Assiago Cheese muffins.
They are like pop overs but the cheese won't actually let them pop over..
These beauties are backed right in a muffin pan, no liners necessary.. Make these right before party time so they are still warm when you dig into them. Guests will love them, even if they aren't rooting for Steelers. (Recipe yields about 15-18)

6 eggs (warmed to room temperature)
3 1/2 cups milk (warmed to the touch)
4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
4 cups shredded Assiago cheese (or any other cheese you like)

  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. Mix all dry together.
  3. Whip eggs at high speed till very fluffy and pale in color.
  4. Reduce speed to low, gradually add milk in a stream.
  5. Add dry ingredients and cheese.
  6. Let batter rest for 1 hour.
  7. Heavily pam or oil a Muffin tin. Fill cavities all the way to the brim.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes, reduce temperature down to 375, then bake for 30 minutes till golden.
    Enjoy warm!
This dough freezes well and can be warmed slightly in a microwave.

40th Birthdays Popping up Everywhere

Litterally, this year I've already had 4 40th Birthday Cakes.. and it is only February! Keep them coming, I enjoy making them. Here are the two latest cakes.. all for 60 people!
Name: Groovy 40s
Personality: Stardust’s signature chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, enrobed in fondant.

Name: Chique 40′s
Personality: Red velvet cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, patched with  whimsical fondant diamonds and accents.