Making changes, Taking chances.

Baking

August: the month of love

August is a month of many celebrations.  Birthdays, anniversaries and lots and lots of dessert.  Given we are in the holiest of months – Ramadan – the first celebration of yesterday saw the replacement of the traditional birthday cake with the uber traditional Arabic “knaffeh“.  Now there are many variations on this rich and syrupy dessert and many will strongly argue for the reasons behind the deliciousness of the version they prefer.  You typically lean towards one base.  It is an intriguingly patriotic type of dessert.

Yesterday, we celebrated with both versions, known as “kheshneh” (rough) and “na3meh” or (fine) in English.  This is because the family is not unified in its love towards one.  You can see the patriotism point I was making!  The difference between these two is in the dough.  Both are assemled similarly: a base of cheese – wonderfully soft and melted when warm – covered with a thick layer of dough, topped with crushed pistacios and drizzled with an incredible amount of that sugary-sweet gooey syrup.  The ” knaffe kheshneh” has a hair-like dough tinted a bright orange color with a bit of a crunch.  The “knaffeh na3meh” has more of a compact rich dough that is soft, more buttery and more indulgent.  You can see where my allegiance goes!

Knaffeh Kheshneh

Knaffeh Na3meh

Most Arabic desserts are similar in their construction.  I also brought home some of the delicious desserts that are triangular in shape, known as “mtaba2”.  This consists of a phyllo dough filled with cream or cheese and once again topped with crushed pistacios and drizzled with that famous syrup known as “atter”.  These are an absolute favorite of mine.

Mutaba2 or Triangles (my creatively inventive English name!)

Happy Birthday dad.

Still a few more celebrations to go…stay tuned for more sugary love!

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Meet the French “cookie”

This blog seems to be unintentionally morphing into a photo-baking blog.  The purpose after all was to discover myself and the things I enjoy and these two pasttimes (baking & phography) are certainly ranking on the top of that list.  After all, opening my own bakery has always been a dream.  If I do not tire of this amateur side-profession I am currently pursuing (as I typically tend to), perhaps it is time to reawaken the sleeping beauty that is my dormant business plan and to reactivate those ideas.

As a departure from the American baking I have done over the past few weeks and in memory of my recent days in Paris, I decided to try my hand at the famous interpretation of the French “cookie” – the Madelaine.

France’s incredibly popular Madelaine is a scallop-shaped tea cake that is in fact nothing too out of the ordinary – just a light, buttery, spongy yellow cake easily identified by its unique shape. But, as is the case with most French foods, there is no doubt a charming history to accompany this delicacy. 

There are several different versions surrounding who made the first madeleines and why. In one version, Madeleine was a young servant girl who had been requested to create a special treat for Stanislas Leczinski, the deposed king of Poland who had sought refuge in France in the 17th century. Special cakes were supposedly made to soothe the spirits of the poor unwanted king and when asked who had baked these wonderful delicacies, she gave him her name and so he decided to name them after the young maiden: Madelaine de Commercy. It is said that Stanislas was so fond of these madelaines  he sent a dozen to his daughter Marie who was married to King Louis XV.  Madelaines were hence popularized by the nobility in Versailles and have grown to become of mass appeal.

In a different version of the story, another girl, also aptly named Madeleine created the special cakes in the shape of a scallop to feed to pilgrims making their way to Saint Jacques’ burial site. The scallop shell was a sign of protection which has long been associated with Saint Jacques in France.

Whatever the true origins of this treat, both stories carry much whimsy and evoke strong history.  Today, Madelaines can be found in most French or Parisian bakeries or patisseries and while they started as a basic lemon-flavored cake, they have evolved to many different flavors and colors: pistachio, chocolate, orange…  Most famous for them is Fauchon, the fabulous French brand.

My Madelaines – fresh out of the oven.

They turned out to be just perfect.  Spongy, buttery and bursting with flavor from the lemon zest.  Unfortunately this batch produced only 10 large-sized Madelaines.

Note to self to double the quantity next time! 

Bon appetit! 


A birthday surprise

The vanilla cupcake has become a regular staple in our kitchen lately.  I baked my third batch in 2 weeks the night before last.  These were particularly special because I was finally able to reward H for her 1-year of patience waiting for the cupcakes she had requested, but even moreso because I turned it into a surprise belated birthday given I had missed her celebration when I was in Beirut last month.  The look on her face was priceless and rewarded the giddyness I felt all day yesterday as I plotted and schemed and purchased candles and gifts to set everything up. 

H’s favorite cupcake – the vanilla frosted vanilla – happy birthday! 

On other fronts, life has been good to me lately.  I am exhausted this week due to much lack of sleep but work has been good, I’ve been managing my workload valiantly and juggling a healthy balance of work and life.  On matters of the heart, we recently started video skype sessions that i never imagined would be such an amazing way of bridging the distance.  I have grown to love those sessions and him more. 

I feel blessed and grateful for so much.  Thank-you God.


A baking disaster…

I baked again yesterday.  What a disaster that turned out to be and it’s driving me nuts because I cant figure out what went wrong.  I decided to make cookies as a refreshing change from the cupcakes Ive taken to baking lately.  I settled on a classic chocolate chip cookie with walnuts.  They turned out to be flat and crispy at the edges, so far from the moist, dense, chewy chunky cookie I envisaged.  They tasted incredible but looked absolutely awful.  Why didnt they rise!?

Chocolate Chip cookies – ready to enter the oven

First batch out of the oven – a flat disaster!

My first reaction was that I had made the cookie dough drops too big and they therefore had no room to grow so I spaced them out more and shrunk the cookie dough drops for the second batch and surely that helped…

Second batch – defined cookies but still flat!! 

but the BIG question remains: why didn’t they rise?  Why did I end up with cookies that were chewy on the inside and crispy around the edges?  Why did they look burnt when they tasted incredible?

Is it something to do with the chemistry of the baking soda with the moist ingredients?  Did I over mix the batter?  If any bakers out there have any knowledge of what I did wrong, please let me know!

The faliure of these simple cookies was a blow to my (amateur) bakers ego.  I will not let this go until I have produced the perfect chocolate chip cookie. 

Ideas, suggestions and comments are very welcome.


Making changes, taking chances

In honor of my blog theme, I am thrilled to announce that I am the proud new owner of a professional Nikon D90 camera!  This purchase brings me great joy because I can finally pursue one of my favorite pastimes: capturing moments.  I must admit that despite the fact that I secretly enjoy being the subject of a camera, I take genuine pleasure in hiding behind a viewfinder, with the lens as my window to the world, constructing the perfect frame and making a memory.  I have always been the friend in the circle that ‘remembers’ her camera (dont know how one could forget it!) at special occasions, while travelling and even on an everyday basis.  I feel somewhat privileged because I have access to so many memories made over so many years that immediately grant me a memory advantage over others.  Through the photos I have taken I feel as though I have frozen moments in time. 

I am enjoying playing with my new toy.  Here are a few photos I took using the D90 after baking a new batch of cupcakes last night.  Once again, vanilla frosted vanilla cupcakes.  I love the crispness and color of these photos vs those of my last baking post.  They breathe more life.

Freshly baked

With vanilla frosting

Frosted with sprinkles

Vanilla frosted cupcakes ready to eat!

What do you think of the photos?

I am loving the exploration of these two interests and am committed to pursuing them further.  I am signing up for a professional photography class in early August.  In the meantime, I will continue to experiment with my baking and to take beautiful food pictures.

I’d also like to take a moment to say please forgive the negativity of my last post.  I was feeling deflated after my dental procedure and the overall stress of my week.  I will no longer let silly things pull me down and my new motto is the old cliched adage that where there’s a will there’s a way.  Today we had our first Skype call.  Long-distance may be trying but it’s not impossible.  After all, the best things in life require the most work.  Or so he says. *smile*


Summertime and the living is easy…

This has turned out to be exactly the weekend I needed.  Restful.  After the travelling of the past two weekends, and the stressful meetings of last week, my mind, body and soul finally got a chance to rest.  Not as much as I would have liked but enough to feel somewhat renewed.  I noticed earlier this afternoon that alot of my weekend has happened in twos.  I sat by the pool both yesterday and today, watched two movies and had a burger twice (me! the junk food hater!) – Gourmet Burger & Shake Shack.  I cant believe I lived in New York City for 4 years and was oblivious to the existance of Shake Shack!  Yum! 

Being a stickler for efficiency and a self-confessed loser at wasting time, this weekend has been particularly rewarding because I was able to rest AND be extremely efficient… I managed to cross three things off my to-do list that have resided there for at least 3-4 months:  1. I finally renewed my drivers license (over 2 months expired!)  2. I finally hung up the three frames I bought months ago (beautiful! love my new bedroom) and 3. I FINALLY baked those cupcakes for H! (a year late request!). I havent baked in a while and this morning reminded me how much I enjoy the process and the rewards of seeing raw ingredients transform into heavenly delights.  I must say that these are probably the best tasting cupcakes I have made.  I made a few changes to the frosting that kicked up the yum factor significantly.

(Vanilla cupcakes fresh out of the oven)

(Frosted and decorated)

Now here’s the bummer.  My intention with these cupcakes was to surprise H at work.  The always reliable H who picks up the phone without fail and answers BBM messages faster than you can believe happened to have a busy day today!  I could neither reach her through messages or by phone and after much effort and patience, my baby bro received a special cupcake delivery that put a huge smile on his face!  At least I managed to tickle someones tastebuds!  What this means however is that point 3 above is back on the to-do list!  Whether or not I had to bake them for H, this is definitely something I want to further enjoy and explore.  Look out for more baking experiments and lots of photos.