Thursday, December 31, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes

At Christmas time, it is customary to recognize the door men, elevator men and handy men of your apartment building with a nice card and extra monetary incentive to keep them doing such wonderful work throughout the year. I was introduced to this custom last year, my first winter in Manhattan.

But since money is generally tight, and especially so around the holidays, last year I decided to gift a big batch of baked goods to accompany our handwritten cards and the cheer Mike had so nicely included.

Last year, I sent down a lot of decorated sugar cookies. This Christmas, I didn’t decorate one sugar cookie.

Not one.

Right along with money, time has been a little tight as well.

So, this year, I decided on red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

I was debating how to top the cupcakes, so I presented Mike with two designs. Hands down, he chose the red sprinkles.

They were beautiful. They did not take on that commercial-looking red-hue.

Instead the red was a deep, natural red.

I was beginning to wonder if the cupcakes had gone over well taste-wise.

But my fears were resolved as Fernando, the wonderful elevator operator who returns me to my safe haven each night, greeted me and thanked me many times over for the “red muffins”.

“I had many,” he said with a smile.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

After the Snow Storm

We braved the snow storm getting to and from dinner. It was bitter cold. Our clothes were soaked.

Jackets, gloves, hats, scarves and shoes were left in the entryway to dry.

Looking at our shoes side-by-side made me smile.

DBGB Dinner

Mike and I will not be spending Christmas together. We have actually never spent a Christmas together in the, almost, four years we have been dating. But this year is proving to be the hardest.

Besides the excitement of Christmas morning and the gift giving, we will also miss out on sharing dinner together. I'm not sure if you've realized this by now, but food is a big deal in my life.

So we decided to make reservations at a restaurant we have both been extremely excited to try - DBGB Bar & Restaurant. A restaurant with an extensive beer menu, comfort foods like sausage and hamburgers sounded like a perfect fit for the two of us.

The restaurant has an open kitchen and we were seated right in front of the pastry kitchen, which was an added bonus. I swear I did not tell them I work at Gramercy. We made our beer selections, our food selections, our dessert selections.

As an appetizer, Mike had the matzo ball soup and we shared one of the sausage selections. I can't remember the name of the sausage, only that one of the ingredients was pig's head (this took some convincing on Mike's part), and it was served over cream mashed potatoes. And it was delicious.

For my entree, I ordered a burger on a brioche bun, with pig belly, arugula, cheese and tomato. It was served with perfectly crisp french fries, presented in a little brioche baking pan. My meal was phenomenal - I loved that the burger was not enormous, the actual burger was 6 ounces, so I could really enjoy all the flavors.

Mike ordered two sausages as his main meal. Again, I do not remember all of the ingredients, but one was spicy and the other was a little smokier. He let me taste a bite of each - the spicy was my favorite. Mike did not want to take a photo of his food, an extra step before digging in, which is why his photo is blurry. But you get the idea.

We probably would have been just as happy to skip dessert, but I feel that it is important for me to try desserts at some of the better restaurants in the city. Research. All in the name of research.

We did, however, decide to split a dessert. We settled on a chocolate mocha ice cream sunday, with brownies, chocolate chip cookies and whipped cream. We enjoyed coffee on the side.

After a filling meal, it was time to venture back outdoors, into middle of the snowstorm.

It may not have been a traditional Christmas dinner, but it left me with the same feelings - warmth, comfort, fullness and love.


Last week in the kitchen, there was some extra brioche up for grabs. I was just about to leave, so I wrapped up a few slices to take home with me for a special treat for breakfast the following morning.

I placed two slices in the toaster, on the lowest setting so as to just warm the bread, and felt a slight twinge of guilt. I used to make a batch of bagels every weekend for Mike, which would provide a yummy, homemade breakfast throughout the week.

But life has been incredibly hectic, not unlike most of the previous year, but especially so around the holidays.

Pop! The brioche was ready. I prepared the warm slices just how I like them, with a thin smear of Nutella. I served them to Mike with his morning coffee.

And what happened? He fell in love - with the brioche and Nutella that is. He wanted to know how much brioche was left. Only two pieces. Enough to make it to the weekend.

So in between laundry, cooking, cleaning, baking, shopping and wrapping this weekend, I prepared a loaf of brioche just for Mike. A special treat for the groggy mornings ahead.

I used the recipe from school which I thought was amazing when we made it in class. I'll go ahead and ruin the ending by saying that it does not even compare to Gramercy's version.

Have you ever made brioche at home? The dough is amazingly beautiful. I do not have a dough hook, so I just used the paddle for my Kitchen Aid.

It is kind of a sticky dough when the ingredients are first combined and placed in the mixer for about twenty minutes.

Just before the dough is ready, it begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and climb up the attachment.

When it is finished in the mixer, it is transfered to a bowl where it will begin fermentation. Just look how beautifully silky the dough is!

Now it has to double in volume, which took about two hours due to the chill in the air. It is then transferred to the refrigerator, where the fermentation is slowed and the butter becomes solid again. I let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning I shaped the dough and placed it into a parchment-lined loaf pan. Again, it had to rise until doubled in volume. This only took about an hour since the kitchen was already warm from baking.

Once it was properly risen, I gently applied an egg wash and popped it in the oven. The baking brioche filled the apartment with the warm, comforting scents of yeast and butter.

Once the top was properly browned, it was ready to cool.

Mike ran out to pick up a few things for me at the store so I did not have to face the snow. He was rewarded with fresh-from-the-oven brioche with Nutella.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Peppermint Cake Truffles

Christmas is a season of giving and sometimes the unexpected gifts are the most fun of all.

That's why I spent last weekend preparing 75 sweet little peppermint cake truffles for the staff at my mother's elementary school. I stood in line at the post office for 45 minutes during Monday's lunch break - with the intense smell of sugar and chocolate making me hungrier with each slowly passing minute.

I took this photo just before I taped the box shut and hoped they would arrive looking just as pretty.

Flavors: Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, peppermint chocolate glaze and candy striping

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gingerbread Cupcakes

These mini cupcakes were a belated 25th birthday gift for my friend Victoria.

When I first moved to New York and was having difficulty adjusting to city life, Victoria and I would go on “Cupcake Crawls”. We would select 5-6 bakeries to visit in an afternoon, where we would sample a staple flavor plus one specialty flavor. We are tough cupcake critics and we made the disappointing discovery that there are few good cupcakes in the city.

Hoping my version would fare better than some we had tested, I presented mini gingerbread cupcakes, with a dab of vanilla icing and a sprinkle of red sprinkles.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chocolate Espresso Cookies

It is officially the Christmas season. Thanksgiving has come and gone; now is the time for hanging lights, drinking cocoa and finding the child within.

But, after three days spent serving as a juror on a tough case and delivering a thoughtful, but difficult verdict, I was left feeling a little uneasy and not buying into the Christmas bustle of the city.

So in between laundry, tidying and cleaning (Valerie was visiting for the weekend!), I decided to clear my head with a batch of chocolate espresso cookies.

There is just something so comforting and peaceful about the gentle whir of the KitchenAid; something magical about the way such simple ingredients come together to create something extraordinary.

They looked especially festive under my mini-cake stand, which displayed the cookies beautifully.
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