Saturday, July 23, 2011


I have a list. It's hidden, deeply entrenched in my mind, but always reappears the second I step into the plane at Charles de Gaulle airport, headed to New York or Chicago. You guessed it: it's my "things to eat in the few days I have before I go back to France" list. Often, I'm disappointed, because something just doesn't exist anymore, or I don't have time for everything.
Somehow, though, I always manage to have a sugar cookie. Preferably from Schnucks grocery store in Urbana, Illinois, and preferably covered in multicolor sprinkles (they better be purple and pink). Sugar cookies are my weakness. As long as they're soft and vanilla-infused – yes, artificial vanilla, but still – I go crazy.

So… take a sugar cookie. Put it in your pocket, bring it to an airport in the US, and head to a Cinnabon store. Are you there yet? Buy a Cinnabon, take your sugar cookie out of your pocket, and look for a magician. Get the magician to transform your sugar cookie and Cinnabon into a Cinnacookie. A two in one, unbelievable, why-didn't-I-think-of-this concoction.

 They call it bake-in-the-dark.

Or, stay at home and bake these. Pretty much the same result, except you can eat ten of them at once without anyone looking at you with a weird stare. Even that family over there with the jumbo boxes from Popeye's, pretending like fried chicken is better for you than cinnamon rolls.
If you make these in the comfort of your own home (or someone else's home, but you get the point), you get a great bonus as well: the smell of sugar cookies and the aroma of warm cinnamon that permeates the air for hours to come.

All you might be missing now is a private jet outside your door, but trust me, you'll be so entranced by your cinnacookies that you would miss your plane anyway.

makes approximately fifteen

for the cookies:
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. raw cane sugar
1/3 c. butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 TS vanilla extract
1/3 c. sour cream or crème fraîche
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole-wheat flour (or use only all-purpose if desired)
1 TS baking soda
1 TS baking powder
1/4 TS salt

for filling:
2 TB butter, softened
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 TB cinnamon

for the frosting:
4 oz. (approx 120g) cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. confectioner's sugar
1 TB milk

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg, sour cream, and vanilla extract and mix until incorporated. Slowly stir in dry ingredients until you can make a ball with the cookie dough.

On a floured surface, pat dough down (or roll it out, in which case you may want to chill it a little beforehand) into a rectangle.

Spread softened butter on top and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll dough up into a log and slice into 1/2-inch slices with a sharp knife.

Place on a baking mat or parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes. The cookies will not look done when you remove them from the oven--this is good!

Let cookies cool for five minutes while you prepare the frosting. Beat all ingredients together, and spoon over cookies.

Serve immediately or chill before serving, no longer than one day.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Whole Lemon (Tart)

How did your parents react when you used to start crying for a ridiculous reason?

In my case, if I started pouting about My Little Pony or crying when I really really shouldn't have, I often got the same response: "Would you like to bite into an onion to help you cry a little more?"

Barring the occasions when I would actually grab an onion and bite into it to prove that yes, thank you, I did need an onion and I feel much better now, it usually shut me up. The day I have children of my own, I'm thinking of reinventing the phrase…switching things around a little. Eating a raw onion isn't fun, but it sure is possible. Now eating a whole lemon…that's a pretty cool feat. Just imagine biting into the thick skin and tearing into the white pith. Delicious! Or just incredibly bitter. So bitter you just feel like spitting the whole thing out. I've never tried it—for once, I really haven't—but I can guess that unless you put a cup of granulated sugar in your mouth beforehand, it's probably not the most pleasant experience.

What happens when you take that same lemon, give it a whirl in a blender and mix it with other delicious ingredients (namely butter, sugar, eggs), and bake it?

Wait wait—could it even be possible that you would imagine spitting out a baked good? I can't recall the last time I did that. Well, maybe I can, and maybe it involved strange proportions of butter in a cake that ended up being a puddle of warm grease. That was a freak accident however, something akin to 30 foot waves, so you won't see me spitting out dessert anytime soon. And trust me—neither will you. Not with this tart, anyways.

If you're looking for a perfectly smooth, ultra shiny tart that dream storefronts are made of, head elsewhere (and leave more for me). The Whole Lemon Tart looks a little gritty, but like all things a little gritty, it packs some true flavor. Authentic tartness is what you're in for, rendered exquisitely palatable by a bit (quite a bit) of sugar. Perfect for summertime picnics, and especially perfect next time you're told to go eat a whole onion. Choose this instead, and act tough because you're eating a whole lemon.

Only crazy people do that.

Whole Lemon Tart
recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
serves 8

1 recipe tart dough (use your favorite)
1 medium-sized untreated lemon, rinse, seeded and cut into thin slices
1 1/4 c. raw cane sugar
scant 1/2 c. butter, cut into pieces
4 medium eggs
2 TB cornstarch
1/2 TS salt

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C. Butter a tart pan and press dough into pan. Partially bake with pie weights, approximately 15 minutes, until edges of dough start to become golden. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a food processor, mix lemon, sugar and butter and process until smooth. Add eggs, cornstarch and salt, and pulse until combined.

Pour into tart shell. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until center jiggles but looks like it's nearly set. The top of the tart should have a nice golden hue by now.

Remove from oven, let cool, and serve. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cherry-Almond Muffins

I was ultra-tempted to entitle my post "Bluffin' with my muffin"...and then realized I really needed to drop the Lady Gaga references before you all start referring to me as a "little monster" and begin to think I buy Lady Gaga stickers to decorate my pink glitter notebooks. Because I don't actually have pink glitter notebooks...or rather, I don't actually have Gaga stickers. That's more accurate.

In any case, if you don't feel like kick-starting your day with a little Bad Romance or Edge of Glory, grab a muffin instead. Muffins seem to have this magical aura about them. Imagining a muffin for breakfast evokes images of happy flufiness, warm aromas, and a mug of tea. Lounging around and picking apart a huge, cloud-like muffin is a way to ensure a great morning, for a lot of people--French and American alike.

Plus, a muffin is like a blank canvas that a/ you can eat and that b/ tastes good. Meaning, you can add whatever you feel like having and it becomes a perfect expression of all your food fantasies of the moment. Simple blueberries? Go for it. Nobody will look down upon you if you opt for chocolate and peanut butter (hey, this is a muffin, so it's healthy...or not).

For a team breakfast at work, I went the seasonal route and put fresh cherries to good use in cherry-almond muffins...with a marzipan center. Healthy? Half. Good enough. And perfect for breakfast purposes.
Cherries on their own: delicious. Cherries + toasted slivered almonds? Getting even better. Cherries, toasted slivered almonds, and marzipan? That's what I'm talking about when I mean perfect for breakfast. Or a midnight snack, or whenever, really.

Cherry-Almond Muffins
makes 15

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. raw cane sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole-wheat flour
1/2 c. milk (I used skim)
2 TS baking powder
1/2 TS salt
2 c. cherries, pitted and cut in half
1/2 c. toasted slivered almonds
1 TS almond extract
1/4 log marzipan, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.

Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time.

In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Add to butter alternately with milk.

Stir in almond extract, cherries, and slivered almonds.

Spoon into greased or lined muffin cups. On top of each, add a small ball of marzipan (or a huge one, but you get to decide how much indulgence you're looking for!)

Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool on a rack.