September 23, 2014

September Strawberry Shortcake!

Farmer's Market Strawberries inspired me to search for a good strawberry dessert recipe. I like this one from Ina Garten (the "Barefoot Contessa") because it's simple and delicious. I added some fresh basil for added flavor and garnish, a trend that's now popular in France.

Strawberry Shortcake Recipe by Ina Garten

*2 cups all-purpose flour
*2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
*1 tablespoon baking powder
*1 teaspoon kosher salt
*12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
*2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
*1/2 cup cold heavy cream
*1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash
*2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and thickly sliced
*2 tablespoons Grand Marnier liqueur
*Whipped cream (sweetened with a little sugar)
*Fresh basil or mint (for garnish)

1.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2.) Sift the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder, and salt into the bowl
3.) Use an electric mixer with paddle attachment or mix by hand.
4.) Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. 
5.) Combine the eggs and heavy cream and then add to the flour mixture. 
6.) Mix until just combined. The dough will be sticky and lumpy.
7.) Place the dough on a well-floured surface. 
8.) Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough 1/2 to 5/8 inch thick. 
9.) Shape about 12 to 15 biscuits and place on the sheet pan
10.) Brush the tops of the biscuits with the egg wash, and sprinkle with sugar.
11.) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes.
12.) Toss the strawberries with 1/3 cup of sugar and the Grand Marnier in a medium bowl. 
13.) Serve a spoonfuls of strawberries over a shortcake.
14.) Top with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with basil or mint leaves.

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.

September 3, 2014

How to Make Caramel

Caramel is one of the great secrets of a pastry chef. It requires only two ingredients (sugar and water) and one technique (heating). Most people would be surprised to learn that caramel is really just burnt sugar. "Caramel" sounds so much more appetizing than "burnt sugar," although the French are very honest about "crème brûlée" which is custard with a layer of burnt sugar on top. 

Because of the special molecular properties of sugar, once it reaches a certain temperature the structure begins to change. The sugar changes color as it is burning and it becomes solid when cooled, like candy. 

Here's how to make caramel for use in other recipes:

1. Combine sugar and water. Place on the high heat.

2. Allow to boil for a few minutes.

3. You will notice that the bubble becomes more tightly packed.

4. Then the sugar will start changing color slightly.

5. At around 300° Fahrenheit, the sugar turns to caramel. Notice the change in color. Swirl the pan gently. Do not stir the caramel. 

6. The longer the sugar is heated, the more caramelized (burnt) it will become. For a traditional Tarte "Tatin" or other "Tatin" recipe, you will want to stop cooking the caramel around 350°- 360° Fahrenheit before the caramel becomes too burnt, as it will continue to caramelize during baking. Swirl the pan to even out the caramel color. Do not stir!
Ideal caramelization for a Tatin recipe.

7. When making caramel sauce, you can caramelize the sugar longer until it turns a darker color. Then add butter or cream. Be careful when adding the butter/cream to avoid splashing the caramel (to avoid burning yourself).

Keep in mind that the sugar continues to cook for a few minutes after you've removed the pan from the heat. 

Note of Caution: Do not stir the caramel! Stirring or splashing the caramel is dangerous because the caramel is so hot.

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.

August 28, 2014

Farmer's Market Late-Summer Plum "Tatin" Cake

If you like seasonal fruit desserts, here's the perfect recipe. The farmer's market in my neighborhood now has wonderful late summer plums. They're selling for $7 per basket of about 15 plums. It's a great deal and just the right inspiration for baking!

Farmer's Market Plums

"Plum Cake Tatin" Recipe
Recipe from "Barefoot in Paris" by Ina Garten
I love this recipe from Ina Garten (a.k.a. "the Barefoot Contessa") and highly encourage you to give it a try! Be sure to enjoy your Plum Tatin Cake with a dollop of crème fraîche. The cake is delicious served warm and also keeps well for several days.


6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter (room temperature) plus extra for greasing dish
10 to 12 purple "prune" plums, cut in half and pitted (or 6 to 7 regular plums)
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt


1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9-inch glass pie dish and arrange the plums in the dish, cut side down.

2.) Combine 1 cup of the granulated sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it turns a warm amber color, about 360 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Swirl the pan but don't stir. See how to make the caramel. 

3.) Pour the caramel evenly over the plums.

4.) Cream the 6 tablespoons of butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. 

5.) Lower the speed and beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the sour cream, zest, and vanilla and mix until combined. 

6.) Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and, with the mixer on low speed, add it to the butter mixture. Mix only until combined.

7.) Pour the cake batter evenly over the plums and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. 

Important Note: Be sure to put a rimmed cookie sheet under your pan to catch the overflowing caramel sauce. This will save your oven from needing a cleaning.

8.) Cool for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a serving plate. (If a plum sticks, ease it out and put it back on top of the cake.) Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.

June 17, 2014

Eastern European Charm and Ten-Layer Honey-Cake!

{Review of 20th Century Cafe}

20th Century Cafe (198 Gough Street, San Francisco)

If only Gough Street were paved with cobblestones and lined with vintage European cars, then the Old World ambience of 20th Century Cafe would be complete. When you walk into this cafe, you half expect the hostess to start speaking with a foreign accent. 

Visiting 20th Century Cafe is like a mini vacation, it's an escape to another world. You are far, far away from the typical grunge San Francisco coffee shop. By contrast, 20th Century Cafe has a gorgeous interior decorated with exquisite attention to detail. From the marble tables to the Art Deco light fixtures, everything is beautiful. The cafe also uses elegant porcelain cups and plates along with polished silverware.

The chalkboard of delicious options at 20th Century Cafe
20th Century Cafe specializes in Eastern European baked goods such as pierogi and strudel. Chef-owner Michelle Polzine was inspired by her travels through Budapest, Prague and Vienna, and she scoured antique cookbooks to find the perfect recipes. The cafe's friendly waitresses also dress to fit the part, in charming 1940s outfits. 

The bakery counter at 20th Century Cafe showcases a selection of Eastern European baked goods and pastries including house-made bagels, babka, pierogi, potato knish, Sacher Torte and linzertorte. The cafe also offers lunch specials such as Hungarian Chicken Salad Sandwich, Reuben Sandwich and Cream of Garlic Soup.

The pièce de résistance at 20th Century Cafe is the Russian Honey Cake (Krasinski Torte). This amazing ten-layer creation features a caramelized honey mousse alternating with fluffy genoise cake. Even though the cake appears indulgent, it's surprisingly light.

Russian Honey Cake (Krasinski Torte)

To make the Russian Honey Cake, the cafe uses exceptionally fragrant honey. When the baking staff first starting preparing this cake in their kitchen, they noticed that the caramelization process was attracting local bees. So now they only prepare the cake at night when the neighborhood bees are off duty.

20th Century Cafe specializes in classic Easter European tortes (layer cakes). On the day of this blogger's visit, the cafe was offering a hazelnut torte. This dessert featured layers of moist hazelnut cake alternating with delicate Seville Orange marmalade, glazed with bittersweet chocolate ganache and served with a dollop of whipped cream.

20th Century Cafe is a great place to spend some quiet time, read a book or catch up with friends, while enjoying a leisurely lunch or dessert and coffee break. Treat yourself to an afternoon spent in grand European style!

Please share your comments. To post a comment, click on the title of this post and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Look for the wording "Post a Comment" in tiny pink font.

Copyright © 2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved. 

May 30, 2014

Best Artisan Ice Cream in the 'Hood

{Review of Bi-Rite Creamery}

Cheesecake with Blueberry Swirl; Balsamic Strawberry; Mexican Chocolate
Bi-Rite Creamery, 3692 18th Street, San Francisco

Ah, summertime! Those glorious warm days of swimming in the lake and basking by the beach, cooling off with juicy watermelon and frosty snow cones, relishing wild amusement park rides and fluffy cotton candy at the county fair, wearing sundresses into the evening while fireflies flutter about. I've read about it in books but have never experienced it in real life (such is the weather during the months called "summer" in my hometown of SF).

Line for ice cream at Bi-Rite (photo taken in September, when it was actually sunny!)
Despite what you'd imagine to be a lack of demand, the foggy city of S.F. has some of the best artisan ice cream in the country. Perhaps this is how we console ourselves for bundling up in wool sweaters in June, July and August—by enjoying the refreshing iced treats of our summertime dreams. Take for example Bi-Rite Creamery, where you will find a line winding around the block even on chilly afternoons.

Bi-Rite offers exceptional ice cream, which is made by hand in small batches using Straus Family Creamery organic milk and fresh seasonal ingredients. Balsamic Strawberry is a favorite that's only available when berries are at their peak ripeness. Another signature flavor is Salted Caramel, which has a distinctive taste of burnt sugar. The flavor is so intense that you can tell the sugar was caramelized to the limit of burntness. I recommend trying some of the really unique ice cream flavors like Honey Lavender or Ricanelas (cinnamon with snickerdoodles).

What is your favorite flavor? Please post it below!

Bi-Rite's enticing selection of 20 seasonal ice cream flavors
Quote of the Day:
"When I'm no longer rapping, I want to open up an ice cream parlor and call myself Scoop Dogg." -Snoop Dogg

Please share your comments. To post a comment, click on the title of this post and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Look for the wording "Post a Comment" in tiny pink font.

Copyright © 2013-2014, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved.