You know that concept of the bucket list? The list of things you feel you simply must do before you cash in your chips? Well, last week my list got slightly shorter. Finally, for the first time in my life, I visited New York City. Along with my husband and sons, we spent five days immersed in all it had to offer. Unequivocally, we had an extraordinary time. From the chaotic traffic, to the distinctive sounds and smells, to the beauty of the architecture and the diversity of the crowds, to all of the remarkable food, I must say I loved it.
What did we do? A better question might be what didn'twe do. Of course, we had to visit the Statue of Liberty (and, as expected, she was glorious), just as we had to take in the view from the top of the Empire State Building, gawk at the neon spectacle of Times Square, and ponder the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center.
We strolled through Washington Square, paid our respects to Central Park, and swooned over the vibrant contents of MOMA's galleries. We managed to make two visits to the Strand Bookstore--that historic catacomb of towering shelves, snugly packed with volumes of every description. We walked and walked and walked. Then we walked some more.
One afternoon, a quiet excursion into St. Patrick's Cathedral offered respite from the churning street for a few minutes and we lit a candle there for my late father in law, Grandpa Joe. With my husband as our chief orienteer, we negotiated the subway, marveling at the freedom it allows (what heaven it must be to be unencumbered with the need for a car).
And, of course, we sampled NYC's culinary wonders. From a shared slice of the Stage Deli's classic, gargantuan, and profoundly dense cheesecake, to Magnolia Bakery's moist and homey cupcakes vs. Crumbs Bake Shop's hefty jumbos, to Francois Payard's delicate French macarons (his beautiful little bakery in Soho is pictured just below), to bialys from Kossar's, the delights just kept presenting themselves.
We sipped fizzy chocolate egg creams while sharing a delicious knish in Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop. We compared the fluffiness of a slice of Lindy's cheesecake to the creaminess of a slice from Junior's Restaurant (Junior's won, in my opinion). If I had a dime for every steaming hot dog my husband and sons bought from street vendors throughout the week I could buy my own cart and set up shop on the next corner. From stem to stern, Manhattan lived up to its reputation as a foodie's paradise. We had great dinners at a lively Cuban restaurant, an Italian hideaway, and an upscale burger joint (appropriately named 5 Napkin Burger) that literally produced the best hamburger I've ever tasted.
All in all, it was a rich introduction to a city that I hope to visit again and again. What did I adore the most? Well, the Brooklyn Bridge was a huge highlight and something I would have been quite sad to miss. Late on Friday afternoon, the four of us walked across the bridge on its wide wooden foot/bike path, high above the traffic. (I think it's a remarkable thing that there is neither a fee to cross this iconic bridge nor a lurid gift shop at its entrance to exploit the pocketbooks of the tourists who flock to it like medieval pilgrims.)
My kids gaped with astonished amusement as I recited to them Hart Crane's famous poem about the bridge as we strode along. I know few poems by heart, but that's one of them. The meaning of its lines can be clear as mud, but the poem reads like music nonetheless. Here's my favorite one of the eleven stanzas:
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars, Beading thy path--Condense eternity: And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
To me, that magical and shadowy image sums up not just the grace of the bridge, but the magnificence of this enormous city.
Clearly, I'm still processing the whole luscious adventure. And, having been absent from my kitchen for an entire week, I naturally felt the need to bake. Thus I present today's recipe from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, by Allysa Torey and Jennifer Appel, which I came across in the Strand Bookstore and promptly purchased. Cookbooks often make the finest souvenirs, yes?
I needed to change this recipe just a smidgen, because I didn't have buttermilk on hand. In its place I used half a cup of plain Greek yogurt mixed with half a cup of 2 percent milk. Also, I decided to make 12 jumbo cupcakes vs. 18 regular size. And, I sprinkled a pinch of grated dark chocolate onto the top of each cupcake before they went in the oven. (Don't panic when your cupcakes sink in the middle as they begin to cool off. That's supposed to happen. It's part of their charm!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners for either 12 jumbos or 18 regulars.
For the cream cheese filling:
3/4 lb. full-fat cream cheese, not softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
For the cupcake batter:
1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil.)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup 2 percent milk (Or, use 1 cup buttermilk, as original recipe called for.)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. finely grated dark chocolate
In a medium or large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add in the egg and vanilla, and beat well to blend. Stir in the mini chocolate chips. Transfer this mixture to a small bowl and set aside. Clean the paddle attachment and the mixer bowl.
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the large bowl of your mixer, again using the paddle attachment, blend the oil and sugar on medium speed for a couple of minutes. In two parts, add in the dry ingredients alternately with the yogurt-milk and vanilla. Beat until well blended.
Using a portion scoop, if you have one, spoon the chocolate batter evenly into the paper-lined cups. Top evenly with the cream cheese filling. Sprinkle grated dark chocolate over each.
Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean. Use care not to over-bake them, or the edges will come out kind of dry (I think I over-baked mine by just a few minutes). Cool the cupcakes in the pans set on a rack for at least 15 minutes before removing them from the pan to finishing cooling on the rack.
Just like cheesecake, they taste best when they're not warm.
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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
If you'd like to know a bit about me please click here, or look for the tiny photo of a pink cupcake topped by a strawberry, further down, in the "About me"section. You can also reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . . .
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JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
Copyright 2009-2016, on original content and photos, Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal. Please contact me at email@example.com for permission if you'd like to reuse any of my photos or my content. Please consider informing me if you link to my blog--I'd love to know. --Thanks for visiting!