World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Sugar High Friday

SHF/IMBB – Cookie Swap


It’s a party this month for the annual Cookie Swap!  IMMB and SHF are jointly  hosting the mega-event via Alberto at Il Forno and Jennifer at Domestic Goddess.  Aren’t they just the sweetest?

The key to eating a black and white cookie, is to get some black and some white in each bite.  "Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate."  so says Jerry Seinfeld in a now classic episode of the show.

‘Black and Whites’ are the quintessential New York deli cookie.  The Upper Eastside’s William Greenberg Bakery  began making these delights in the late 1940s and maintains the tradition today.  They have a cakey domed base and vanilla and chocolate frostings. Zabar’s in NYC makes a killer version. There are many versions–the best I can tell you is to stay away from the plastic wrapped versions. My mother made her own version of these cookies and called them ‘Half Moons’ which I think is far more creative than the former name.  According to a 2001 NY Times article, Molly O’Niell explains, "Outside New York, cookies with black-and-white icing are cookies with black-and-white icing. In Boston, where they are called half-moons, and in the Midwest, where they are known as harlequins, they are considered ordinary and have been around, say most bakers, "forever."

In this spirit I have re-created the cookie and have a new name, ‘Black & Tans.’  This speaks to my love of this flavor combination and my Irish heritage. Chocolate on one side and on the other, peanut butter a perfect marriage.  Sophisticated, comfort food no matter which way you decide to eat it.


This recipe is a hodgepodge creation.  The cookie base is from the current issue of Gourmet.  I found the icings to be well, quirky.  It may be my distaste for frostings that have a heavy confectioner’s sugar taste combined with the overly sweet tones of light corn syrup.  What’s wrong with buttercreams?!  I say mask that confectioner’s sugar and so I did.  Purists will say that this is more of a frosting and it’s missing a sheen.  But it’s my version and I don’t think you’ll complain at all.

Cookie Base

Gourmet Magazine, December, 2005

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg

Prepare cookies:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 large baking sheets.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a cup.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then add egg, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and mixing just until smooth.

Drop rounded teaspoons of batter 1 inch apart onto baking sheets. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed, edges are pale golden, and cookies spring back when touched, 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to a rack to cool. Note:  Although not indicated in recipe these can be prepared a day ahead.  Store in tightly sealed container.

My Peanut Butter Frosting

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

2 1/2 tblspns unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1/4 cup half and half

Mix peanut  butter and butter together with a hand mixer.  Gradually blend in the sugar and half-and half.  Blend until fluffy and light.  Can be prepared a day or two in advance, tightly wrapped, and refrigerated.  Allow to come to room temperature before using.

My Chocolate Frosting

1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa such as Periginotti

2 1/2 tblspns unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1/4 cup half and half

Mix cocoa and butter together with a hand mixer.  Gradually blend in the sugar and half-and half.  Blend until fluffy and light.  Can be prepared a day or two in advance, tightly wrapped, and refrigerated.  Allow to come to room temperature before using.

Assemble cookies:
With offset spatula, spread peanut butter icing over half of flat side of each cookie. Starting with cookies you iced first, spread chocolate icing over other half.

Tagged with Cookie Swap, IMBB, SHF, Peanut Butter

SHF #13 – Jacques Torres Mudslides


October’s SHF, #13, hosted by Kelli over at Love’s Cool, was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make, well, as it relates to baking anyway!  What chocolate-themed sugar indulgence should I share with all of you?  Well, after tossing and turning in my sleep, I decided to bake a standby in my kitchen.  Now this is no standard standard this is a brownie and a cookie all wrapped up by one of my favorite food fantasy guys–Mr. Chocolate himself, Jacques Torres.  A while ago I read that since he only bakes them on Saturdays people line up an hour or two at his Brooklyn pastry shop before they are due to come out of the oven. 

Now bear in mind that this is a rich cookie–in taste and price.  There’s so much chocolate in these it will please the fussiest chocoholic out there.  I made these and shared them with my favorite office folks and now I have several orders. My time for them is I’ve sent them out to buy the ingredients as payment.  It’s simplicity and intensity all in one–and that’s heaven!

Jacques Torres’ Chocolate Mudslide Cookies

This recipe originally appeared in the New York Times.

Makes 20 cookies.

1 1/2 cups unsweetened chocolate, in chips or chunks

8 cups bittersweet chocolate, in chips or chunks

3/8 cup unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

5 eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cup walnuts (optional).

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Melt the unsweetened chocolate and 4 cups of the bittersweet chocolate over a double-boiler (a simple double boiler can be set up by putting a metal bowl over a simmering pot), stirring periodically.

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy and add the eggs one at a time, blending until mixed.

Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the butter mixture and mix just until combined.

Add the melted chocolate and mix until combined and stir in the nuts and remaining chocolate pieces. Pour the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet or tray. Put the mixture into a refrigerator for 5 to10 minutes until slightly, but not completely, hardened.

Reverse the sheet or tray onto another piece of parchment paper on a hard surface. Use a knife to divide the mixture into 20 squares. With your hands, roll each of the squares into a ball and evenly space them on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets (leave room for them to spread).

Bake the cookies for 15 to 25 minutes, until crusty on the outside (they should still be gooey on the inside). Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before eating.

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SHF #12 – Nanaimo Bars – Canada


Happy Birthday! Sugar High Friday is a year old!  So in a small tribute to the event’s originator, Jennifer the Domestic Goddess I have selected a Canadian "custard" based recipe. Thanks to Elise of Simply Recipes for hosting this most indulgent event.

Funny how you eat something somewhere else and it’s a new taste sensation. This is exactly what happened last week when I had my first ever Nanaimo bar.  Or what I thought was my first. 

Growing up my mother made brownies often.  But on special occasions, dinner guests, a fundraiser or a special visitor she would embark on making a layered mint brownie.  Well, Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, let me tell you, those brownies we’re ‘outta sight’!

So there I am with my friend C, who grew up in Ottawa, at a local coffee shop in Banff, before starting off on the first leg of our road trip back to San Francisco.  You should try one of those, she suggests, points with eyes wide. It was two hours (and one black bear sighting) later before we could stop for tea to go with the bar.  Well, to cut the story short, WOW. 

Quick bit of background on the history of this bar.  It is strongly claimed by Nanaimo, Vancouver, B.C. and to have surfaced in the late 1950s.  Some say it’s a coal miner’s treat from 1930s brought over by settlers from Northern England.  Still other stories circulate that it’s from the Dutch settlers that came through in the early 1900s.  In 1986, a Nanaimo newspaper held a recipe contest to find the best of the best.

So it short there now appears to be many variations on the theme and as many thoughts on the origins of this recipe. My Boston-based mother’s recipe is simply a variation on this theme.  There are, to name a few, mint, espresso, cherry-almond and peanut butter. As it was too late to call the East Coast I just improvished as I didn’t have graham cracker crumbs.

While this is not a true baked or cooked custard as there’s no egg in the custard component of this recipe.  But there is a need for custard powder.  This appears to be some agreement out there that one should seek out the British brand Bird’s.  Being that Sam is enjoyng island life I decided that an equivalent American substitute was Jello pudding mix.  Thanks to the good graces of our host Elise at Simply Recipes for the wiggle room.

This coffee break sweet is not for the sugar intolerant–it’ll send you to the moon where you’ll float among the stars in the chocolate heavens. Oh but what a ride it is.

>>>>Continue to Nanaimo Bar Recipe>>>>>

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Stage 13 – SHF in Provence

Brulee Stage 13: Miramas to Montpellier; 173.5km/108mi

There’s mountains ahead and mountains behind but today it was flat. Starting out in Provence the race winds into the Languedoc Roussillon region with strong Catalan and Roman influences. The Pyrénées are ahead.  My only sorry today comes in seeing my young Spainard drop. Sigh. Valverde.  So many cyclists; so little time.  Girls if you aren’t watching by now you may want to check your pulse. 

The timing of this month’s SHF, hosted by Nic at Baking Sheet conincides with my Tour de French Food. My challenge was two-fold as not only did I need to use honey but the entry needed to also be centered on Provence due to the TdF. One of my favorite wine country eating spots is the girl and the fig.  This place is not only relaxing but the food is exceptional.  Sondra Bernstein has got to be one of the hardest working chef and cookbook authors out there.  Her food is very reminiscent of the Provence region as it mirrors the flavors of the Mediterranean or as they say, "country food with a French passion." 

Yesterday the riders ended up in Digne-Les Baines a center for lavender cultivation. I have a certain degree of confidence that the riders no doubt rolled by fields of lavender. So my entry works on manyy levels including a delightful dessert.

First, I know that cooking with lavender makes some wrinkle their nose.  ‘It’s like eating perfume.’ Mon dieu! C’est deliciuex! If used correctly it should lend a mysterious, almost citrusy flavor note. Please, only use lavender labeled as culinary lavender, which means it has been grown without chemical sprays and has no additives–think organic here!

The French seasoning blend herbes de Provence traditionally includes lavender, along with basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, sage, summer savory and thyme. The blend is great on poultry, fish or vegetables. Greek rubs for lamb often use combinations of lavender and oregano. Crème brulee translates as "burnt cream" in France.  It’s a custard, just like creme caramel or flan. Much like ice cream it has a custard base, but unlike ice cream, creme brulee falls into the "baked custard" category.  Although records suggest a 400 hundred year history throughout England, Spain and France, Americans are newcomers. We have Julia Child to thank for the introduction. Half the fun of eating this custard is in shattering the carmelized surface. Learning to prepare this dessert that presents itself as complex elegance is worthwhile as it is very simple to prepare at home.


Lavender and Wildflower Honey Creme Brulee

excerpted from the girl & the fig cookbook by Sondra Bernstein

2 1/4 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup milk

3 or 4 lavender springs or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried lavender plus lavender blossoms for garnish

8 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar plus about 4 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling

2 tablespoons wildflower honey

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the cream and milk in a saucepan and add the lavender. Bring to a boil and turn off the heat. Let the lavender stems steep for about 15 minutes or until the milk has a lavender flavor. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks, the 1/2 cup sugar, and the honey until smooth. Whisk into the lavender-cream mixture. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and skim off any foam. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Pour the mixture into 6 ramekins. Set the ramekins in a baking pan and add enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the baking pan with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes or until set. (test for doneness by jiggling the ramekins.)

Remove the baking pan from the oven and allow the ramekins to cool in the water bath for 5 minutes. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Before serving, sprinkle the tops with a thick layer of sugar and caramelize with a small torch or under a broiler set on high. Garnish each creme brulee with lavender blossoms.

COOK’S TIP:  Place the water bath in the oven first then place the ramekins in to the water bath.  This will help prevent water from sloshing into the ramekins potentially causing sogginess.

SHF #9 – Tart Tarts

Shf_lemontartBaking is a great stress reliever for me.  Lately I haven’t been doing a lot of it because I’m making every effort to be more considered about my eating. Let’s just say it involves points but I’m trying not to be manic about it all. With me if there’s sugar around it’s not around for too long. Last night after spending 2 1/2 hours in a rainy commute I decided it was time for some immediate kitchen therapy. 

I’ve been reading a lot of Caribbean and Nuevo Latino cookbooks lately so the idea of a lime or lemon tart sound luscious and tropical. The idea was to make a coconut macaroon tartlet with a lemon filling.  And never one to stop at one idea I thought that a lime tart would also be good.  Well, suffice it to say that in a short time the kitchen looked like a tropical storm passed through it. 

The lime filing recipe that I was loosely basing my idea on called for egg whites whipped to soft peaks. I couldn’t find one of the beaters so I thought, oh why not one. After 30 minutes of spattered egg whites I had to admit defeat and begin again.  Very defeating–it’s never happened to me before. I’m here to tell you one will not do it.  So after the egg and ego collapse I picked myself up and shortly I had one successful (lemon) and the other (lime) overdone but holding great future promise. 

As you can see in this picture I accidentally cooked a tart at 425 degrees. Yikes, Limetart_1 mama, that’s not a gentle temperature for an egg-white based filling!  It killed any height but the flavor was still very present. 

The lemon filling provided nice but overly tart taste and was a good contrast with the coconut.

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SHF#5-Puff Pastry

Shf5_feb As usual my confusion lead me to get so focused on the task at hand that I didn’t start out making chocolate croissants. Although those were wonderfully simple and tasty all by themselves. 

First the confusion was interwoven with trying to solve a time problem.  During college, in an attempt to woo a man I made my own scratch puff pastry which were then fashioned into chocolate croissants.  The croissants were flaky.  The man turned out to be a ‘puffster’.  Fast forward today and I didn’t have the inclination nor two days to make my own croissants so I started looking for shortcuts. 

Along the way baking.911 provided me with a basic understanding of the 7 main types of pastry.  Last summer during the Olympics I had an obsession with conquering phyllo–so what was the difference between phyllo and puff pastry? Turns out the main distinction is that puff pastry is rolled in butter thus the flakiest base or wrap going.  After baking phyllo looks like puff pastry but is only flour and water which to me is even more of a culinary baking wonder.

Puffpeper One of the shortcuts I found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, Pepperidge Farm puff pastry.  I know. I know.  It’s not made with butter but with (gasp) vegetable oil.  But my word this is delightfully easy and tasty.  I thought, "oh I have some eggs, cheese and great bacon from Fatted Calf and yes even some heavy cream I wonder how a puff pastry crust would turn out as a base for a quiche."   

Quiche Lorraine, so named for the region next door to the Alsace in northeastern France is traditionally served on May Day along with a roasted pig.  Invented in the 16th century in the the then-capital of Lorraine, Nancy.  The name derives from the German Kuchen or cake.

Funny I thought it was named after my Mom, who is named Lorraine.  This was her quiche recipe that I was following.  A whole region is baking my mom’s quiche.  I’ve taken liberties with the recipe using heavy cream instead of milk and of course puff pastry for the crust and the use of a Basque spice.  I think Mom would approve.

Quiche is a great dish to have in your kitchen apron pocket.  It’s simple elegance.  Brunch guests will be impressed.  Soon you’ll be doing variations of your own with whatever’s at the market or in your fridge–mushrooms, green chilis, olives, shrimp, spinach.  And yes, real men do eat quiche.  My Dad never turns away from Mom’s quiche although it has to be at breakfast.

So after making the quiche I realized I didn’t use sugar for this event.  I decided to wing croissants chopping up chocolate into rough pieces, plopping the bits at one end of a long 4" rectangle of puff pastry and rolling and twisting.  Voila mini-croissants.  I was on a roll I then made a half dozen chocolate with orange zest turnovers.  I began to imagine making savory and sweet turnovers. A new found shortcut to good tasting food–now that’s baking magic.

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SHF #4- Nuts for Pistachios

Xmas04_2 After a holiday feast the child in all of us yearns for something a bit sweet. This past Christmas after a lavish and dramatic (due to the fire in the oven) meal I set out a platter filled with pistachio chocolate chip biscotti, orange butter cream Florentines and homemade almond chocolate toffee. There was also a towering six-layer white cake with cranberry filling all dressed in coconut. But that’s another culinary adventure.

Nuts are a central ingredient for cooking and baking throughout the world. Dates stuffed with walnuts and almonds were one of the earliest prepared desserts. Sweet almonds are the central ingredient of marzipan for enclosing and decorating a cake. Pralines, burnt almonds cooked in sugar until caramelized remind me of the New Orleans French Quarter and pecan pie is as American as apple pie. Pale-green pistachios are luxurious and a bit exotic. As a child in the 70’s I would watch my mother’s hands turn red from the dye applied to the shell to hide blemishes. Today, due to more advanced harvesting and processing methods this market problem isn’t such a big worry so the nuts are kept natural. My mother would carefully parse out the pistachios over a period of time due to the high cost. As a child I didn’t appreciate the subtle but distinctive taste. Today that’s all changed.

In the Middle East pistachio nuts and cashews are often eaten as a mezze. In the Middle East, I’m told that at times they are sold flavored with rose water or lemon juice. Good-quality halvah, Turkish delight, baklava and nougat all contain pistachio nuts. In Italy, an ice cream called cassata combines three colors—usually brown, white and green. The most common flavors are chocolate, vanilla and pistachio ice creams. In many cultures the pistachio is said to have aphrodisiac qualities. In fact the Queen of Sheba ordered a harvest of the best trees grown in Assyria to be used for herself and royal guests.

Grown in California, Iran, Turkey, Italy and Australia, the nut belongs to the to the Anacardiaceae or cashew family. Other members of this nutty family include cashew, mango, poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac. The resin of the pistachio tree is collected and used in the making of turpentine. The bright green coloring of the pistachio is completely natural and comes from chlorophyll. In the marketplace the deeper green colored nut is an indicator of the highest quality and yields the best prices. Pistachios are typically sold roasted and salted.

According to growers, the nut is ripe when the shell usually gapes open at one end to expose the kernel. In Iran, according to Oxford Companion to Food, this state is termed khandan or laughing.

According to a recent Iranian Cultural Heritage News report, the pistachio crop represents the second most important non-oil export product in Iran after carpets. Comprising about 55% of pistachio production and over 60% of its export.

Biscotti, as if we didn’t know already, translates from the Italian as ‘twice baked.’ This particular recipe, and I’ve baked a lot of biscotti recipes, is, without question, remarkable. Call me a non-traditionalist but biscotti that breaks your front tooth is not what I’m seeking. Biscotti should be strong enough to dunk in coffee and still have a crunch. Based on the response after Christmas dinner and the many gift bags to friends this was a success.

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SHF #3- Jolly Good

Teacup I had a photo of these breakfast pastries but my digicamera is not cooperating.  They look like drop scones–nothing too sexy–but certainly tasty. The replacement image was "borrowed" from a groovy "tea shirt" shop online that has a number of worthwhile items. 

Scotland is home to heather, haggis, bagpipes, and scones. Pronounced “skon” in Scotland and throughout Northern England; or as “skoan” in the South of England. According to the Oxford Food Companion scones are a close cousin to bannock. In the beginning the tea cakes were leavened rounds of barley or oat flour cut into wedges and baked on a cast iron griddle or pan over an open tire. Some say the name scone comes from the place where the Kings of Scotland were crowned—the Stone (Scone) of Destiny.

Although a less sweet version was brought to the states by the English over 200 years ago they have now evolved into something between a biscuit and a muffin—the more sophisticated and sweeter cousin—and now start many an American’s morning or afternoon ‘cuppa’ tea break. Throughout England scones are often served with clotted cream, lemon curd or preserves–a welcome break in the afteroon.

Scones consist of flour, butter, eggs, leavening and a liquid usually milk, cream or yogurt. It is a quick bread that is simple and as Jamie Oliver quips “easy peasy”. Just don’t handle it too much or it’ll turn out tough and dry. If done correctly the interior should be light, flaky and soft.

In the cookbook Once Upon a Tart, bakeshop and café owners Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau share their secret to making good, flaky scones as “quick” and “cold”. Keep the butter from melting until it gets into the oven where the heat causes the dough to separate into little layers. They also stress not overworking the dough. This instruction is critical—did I mention that?

Note: If you want scones with crusty tops and bottoms place the scones close together on the baking sheet. For a softer consistency leave the scones on the baking sheet and lightly cover with a clean tea towel.

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SHF #2- Cider House Rules

Apple The challenge for me with today’s Sugar High Friday was not to bake an apple pie.  I worried that I would distinguish myself from the crowd.  So I took another route with apples and sugar with Apple Cider Pound Cake. A great fall interpretation of a kitchen classic.  Thanks for hosting Domestic Goddess!

Real cider, the dark fragrant kind—not the pale you-can-see-through-to-the-bottom-of-the-glass kind is fall personified.  I found it curious recently when I read a research statistic from, The NPD Group Inc, that stated that only 1.5 of Americans drink apple cider.  Some of my most vivid food memories growing up in New England are centered around crisp afternoons driving to apple orchards and of pressing fresh cider at Drumlin Farms. 

For the most part, apple “juice” is clear, amber-colored, filtered and pasteurized –it is found on the supermarket shelf. It does not need to be refrigerated before opening.  Apple cider is the cloudy, caramel-colored, and unfiltered pressed juice of apples. Also, all apple juice sold today as cider isn’t necessarily "fresh" cider.  Most juice sold in supermarkets is pasteurized, or heat-treated to destroy bacteria. Untreated juice is required to have a label saying so.

Countries producing cider fall into the temperate regions of the world. By the beginning of the ninth century, cider drinking was well established in Europe. Normandy, Brittany, Wiesbaden, the Basque region of Spain, Ireland and Britain introduced the craft of producing cider to America, Canada, Australia to name a few.

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Domestic Goddess has launched a new effort, Sugar High Fridays. I forget what the balance of the acronym stands for but the SHF sums it up enough. The first effort involves cooking with white chocolate. I’m a purist. I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate. It’s not really chocolate. At times it can be elegant particularly when paired with fruits. But next to the complex and sexy dark chocolate well, bah.

But I do like a group challenge so here I am with the only way that I do like white chocolate, Macadamia Nut White Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Macadamia nuts are a rich, buttery tasting nut. They are so high in fat and calories that I only think of them as very, very special occasion only type of eating. I associate macadamia nuts with trips to Hawaii. Every where you go throughout the islands there are huge displays of macadamia nut products, gift packs of dry roasted nuts, chocolate covered nuts, macadamia nut brittle and cookies.

Surprisingly Australia, is the world’s top producer, followed closely by Hawaii, Africa then Guatemala, according to a recent USDA report.

In the early 1900s a sugar plantation manager from the Big Island, visited Australia and was impressed by the beauty of the tree. He brought the seeds back to Hawaii where he planted them at Kapulena. For the next 40 years, the trees were raised primarily as ornamental trees and not for their fruit. It wasn’t until the 1950s and a lot of research hours later that were focused on cultivation did the nut reach commercial production.

Today most of Hawaii’s macadamia nuts come from the Big Island of Hawaii. The biggest commercial producer is Mauna Loa with the U.S. being the biggest consumers followed by Japan.

Photo credit: Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Associates

Recipe: Macadamia White Chocolate Chip Cookies

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