Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mama Question: Cookies for a Bake Sale

Today a Muse-y mama wrote to her beloved little West Coast Muse and asked about cookie ideas...

I need to bake some cookies or bars for the St. Bernadette Bake Sale that runs along with the 'largest rummage sale" in the valley.
Need to bake this afternoon.....any ideas?
Love you

XOXO Love you too Mama!! You are definitely on the right track with cookies or bars. While the WCM loves to make fussy desserts, a bake sale is not the right place. Cookies can be a great medium for creativity and going gourmet. Shortbread recipes, for example, are an easy vehicle where simple technique meets a world of delectable possibilities. While we definitely support doing something that's easy to execute, push yourself to create a new and fun flavor profile. Wow those rummage salers!

The Muses did a quick chat and picked out a few of our fave recipes. These are our suggestions.

  • Ina Garten's Lemon Bars. We are not just suggesting lemon bars...we're suggesting Ina Garten's lemon bars. Oh we love you, Ina!
Also, we have to give lots of cred to the cookie queen, Martha Stewart. You should definitely peruse her delicious cookie recipes to see if something strikes your fancy.

Hope that helps!

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The Muses are in a daydreamy kind of mood these days. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s summer and life on campus is a bit dead for the WCM. Maybe it’s the heat getting to the ECM’s head, despite the fact that this weather is her natural habitat and she should be OK with a forecast calling for “oppressive” heat and humidity. Regardless, the Muses are daydreaming....and what else would they dream about but desserts? Duh.

During an email correspondence related to opening up a pastry shop, the Muses debated what kind of shop they would want. WCM suggested to ECM that perhaps she should have a shop like the beloved Miette.

Admit it – you had a smile on your face while watching that video. How could you not?

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that this bakery is really the stuff that the WCM’s dreams are made of. She would want a calm space, walls covered with thick grey and white stripes, each pastry made with complete perfection, and Coralie Clément playing in the background.

But the ECM says - why have that, when you could have THIS instead?!

Yes, we all know that the ECM is a big kid in a small adult’s body. What she really wants is a rockin’ bakery with rule-breaking desserts, spontaneous dance parties, and hand-written signs.

Sigh. Girls can dream, can’t they?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Belated Meatless Monday: Brussels sprouts that taste good (no bacon required)

For those of you who believe that Brussels sprouts taste best with bacon, we’re with you.

However, it’s not a necessity (try as my husband may to win that argument with me). And in fact, you can make Brussels sprouts taste good without a drop of animal fat coming anywhere near the skillet.

Don’t believe me? Read on, and then get busy cooking!

Photo stolen from The Kitchn. Thanks. (recipe however is not's an ECM original)


1 container/bag of Brussels sprouts (about a pound, a little less), washed and ends trimmed
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter, plus a little more for later
½ tablespoon salt, plus more to taste later
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste later
1 cup vegetable broth


Heat a large skillet/sauté pan over medium heat, and add the butter. Once the butter has melted (do not allow it to start frothing and sizzling away), add the shallots. Allow the shallots to cook for about 7-8 minutes, until they’re softened and slightly translucent but not brown.

Add the Brussels sprouts, salt, and pepper. Saute the Brussels sprouts for about 5 minutes, until their outer leaves start to brown a bit. Add the vegetable broth and turn the heat down. Allow the Brussels sprouts to simmer for about 12-15 minutes, until the broth has reduced and the Brussels sprouts are tender (you should be able to easily poke them with a fork, but you most definitely do not want them too soft). Add some more salt and pepper to taste, and a smidge more butter if you prefer.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tips for Converting Recipes to Gluten Free

Recently, the West Coast Muse got an email from her aunt asking for help on baking for her gluten-free son.

Here is a list of his food allergies:
All Corn & Soy bi-products
All tree nuts & peanuts
Seafood and Fish
Follow a Gluten Free diet - No Wheat, Rye, Barley , Oats & Malt.

I am looking for some new Gluten Free recipes.
I have discovered that baking with Gluten Free Flours have been my greatest challenge.
My common complaint is why are my cookies are flat!
Also, the cookies and cakes have a grainy and/or gritty texture.

OMG! Poor kid! Ok being allergic to gluten would be bad enough - as a pastry chef, I would be devastated if I couldn't eat gluten. However, being allergic to nuts is far worse. When I moved to France, the first thing I did was ask the people I was living with if they owned peanut butter. They did not. So I brought an economy sized feeds-a-family-of-ten-for-a-year jar of JIF with me. I do not know what I would do with myself if I couldn't smear peanut butter on a bagel and coat it in cinnamon sugar. No more Mr. Goodbars. No GORP. Oh how the world is an unfair place!!

Alright enough about that, let's talk about answers to how to make some delicious gluten free things. It is possible. Grainy textures are part of the beast in gluten free baking because gluten is what holds everything together. It's like you're trying to build a brick house without mortar. This is where many people have told me "don't try to convert recipes, just make things that don't have gluten in them in the first macarons." Hogwash, I say, hogwash! I have a good bit of success converting recipes using the following techniques.

Converting Recipes to Gluten Free

I use the all-purpose gluten free baking mix from Shauna James Ahern (aka gluten free girl)

200 grams superfine brown rice flour
150 grams sorghum flour
50 grams potato flour
250 grams sweet rice flour
150 grams potato starch
100 grams arrowroot powder
100 grams cornstarch (you can substitute arrowroot here or add extra potato starch)

Converting recipes is pretty simple

  1. Substitute flour for the all-purpose gluten free baking mix
  2. Add 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum for every cup of flour
  3. Add an extra egg to the recipe
The addition of xanthan gum and egg will help bind the ingredients and make up for the lack of gluten. 

I have had good success with this method. I made Kim Boyce's Olive Oil Cake this way and it was delicious. Give this a try!

Baking Powder

Since he is allergic to corn you probably cannot use normal baking powder because it contains corn starch. Hain Pure Food sells a corn-free baking powder. You can also make your own baking powder by substituting 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar for each 1 tsp of baking powder. 

Also, as a random addition. This chocolate cake recipe is a-maaazing! I recently used it to make a wedding cake for 300+ people. You couldn't even tell that it was gluten free.

Good luck! There is hope, even sans gluten.