Archive for March, 2008


Over the course of this blog, I’ve made no secret that I love Cooks Illustrated. An embarrassing number of the recipes I’ve discussed come from their magazine and cookbooks. When I want to try a new dish, I check the CI recipe first. Why not? Even if it isn’t exactly what I’m looking for, they discuss the goals for each recipe so clearly that at least I’ll know that their recipe isn’t right for me. But often it is. I’ve made hundreds of their recipes, and about half of those have been the best version of that dish that I’ve ever eaten. Most of the rest have still been great. There’s a very few recipes that I haven’t cared for, but even most of those can be attributed to personal taste. Their Northern Cornbread wasn’t near sweet enough for me (or Dave), but they made up for it with their All-Purpose Cornbread, which is the best I’ve had.


But there’s no excuse for this pound cake. I made it the first time a couple of years ago, and it didn’t turn out quite right. I had such faith in CI and I was so used my oven overbrowning things that I was convinced the problem wasn’t with the recipe. I tried the same recipe (different oven) recently, but it didn’t rise much at all. I was exceedingly careful with the recipe – I tested the temperature of the butter before starting, and checked the temperature of the oven with an oven thermometer. Still, I decided that the error must have been mine, especially because the recipe was designed specifically to be foolproof. So I tried again. Same result.


See this picture from their website?


This flat (they call it “bad”) cake is exactly what mine looked like. CI states that a “flat and dense” pound cake will result if the butter is too warm and the batter is overbeaten. But I took the temperature of the butter before starting! And I followed the mixing times and cues in the recipe!

And, by the way, I’m a good baker. And I was careful. I’m blaming the recipe.

It’s missing an ingredient which is in most other pound cake recipes that I’ve seen – baking powder. However, I’ve seen a few blog entries with reviews for these pound cakes which have called the cakes dry. I did not want a dry pound cake. I wanted a rich and tender and buttery and moist pound cake.

And I already had a rich and buttery and dense pound cake. So I didn’t want to start with a whole new recipe. And there was another thing holding me to this recipe – the batter is possibly the best I’ve ever eaten. Ever. And this is from someone who makes chocolate chip cookies just for the dough. I think this batter may be better than cookie dough. I didn’t want to lose that.


So I tweaked the recipe I’d been using. I simply added ½ teaspoon of baking powder with the flour.

And, oh my gosh, if this isn’t now a completely fantastic dessert. Every bite I took of this adapted pound cake was delightful. It’s buttery, it’s tender, it’s not a bit dry, and it’s not a brick of cake. The best part was the top crust, which was all of those things plus caramelized. I’m considering adding an additional ¼ teaspoon baking powder next time, but it’s not really necessary. I’m perfectly happy with this cake as it is. Just don’t trust the original recipe.


Classic Pound Cake (from Cooks Illustrated January 2007)

Makes one 9 by 5-inch loaf

CI note: As directed in the recipe, the butter and eggs should be the first ingredients prepared so they have a chance to stand at room temperature and lose their chill while the oven heats, the loaf pan is greased and floured, and the other ingredients are measured. Leftover cake will keep reasonably well for up to 3 days if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature.

Bridget note: Add baking powder with the flour! ½ to ¾ teaspoon of it. I also added the seeds of one Tahitian vanilla bean with the eggs and vanilla extract.

16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold, plus extra for greasing pan
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¾ cups cake flour (7 ounces), plus extra for dusting pan
½ teaspoon table salt
1¼ cups sugar (8 3/4 ounces)

1. Cut butter into 1-tablespoon pieces and place in bowl of standing mixer; let stand at room temperature 20 to 30 minutes to soften slightly (butter should reach no more than 60 degrees). Using dinner fork, beat eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla in liquid measuring cup until combined. Let egg mixture stand at room temperature until ready to use.

2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter 9 by 5-inch loaf pan; dust pan liberally with flour and knock out excess.

3. In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, beat butter and salt at medium-high speed until shiny, smooth, and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to medium; with mixer running, gradually pour in sugar (this should take about 60 seconds). Once all sugar is added, increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture is fluffy and almost white in color, 5 to 8 minutes, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once. With mixer running at medium speed, gradually add egg mixture in slow, steady stream; this should take 60 to 90 seconds. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl; beat mixture at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes (mixture may look slightly broken). Remove bowl from mixer; scrape bottom and sides.

4. In 3 additions, sift flour over butter/egg mixture; after each addition, fold gently with rubber spatula until combined. Scrape along bottom of bowl to ensure that batter is homogenous.

5. Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until golden brown and wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 70 to 80 minutes. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes; invert cake onto wire rack, then turn cake right side up. Cool cake on rack to room temperature, about 2 hours. Slice and serve.


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rice pudding


While I was visiting my family in New Mexico last week, I came across a recipe for rice pudding. My mom and grandmother said that they liked it, but sister said she’s never cared for it, because it’s…rice. For dessert. I had never tried it, but I wanted to make a dessert (without guar gum or anything else weird) that my gluten-intolerant grandmother could eat, so I gave rice pudding a try.

And it was good, but it was definitely…rice. For dessert. That ain’t right. My mom and grandmother liked it. My dad was unsure at first, so he scooped out just a few spoonfuls for himself and then came back for more after he established that it was good. I seemed to be the only one unconvinced on the rice pudding. It had a lot of good traits – sweet, creamy, a bit nutty. But you know what else it had? Grains of rice floating in it. That ain’t right.


Simple Stovetop Rice Pudding (from Cooks Illustrated September 1996)

Serves 6 to 8

CI note: We prefer pudding made from medium-grain rice, but long-grain is perfectly acceptable if that’s what you happen to have on hand.

Bridget note: I used long-grained rice.

¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup medium-grain rice (white), or long grain white rice
2½ cups whole milk
2½ cups half-and-half
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1¼ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Bring 2 cups water to boil in large, heavy-bottomed pot (at least 3 quarts) or small soup kettle (4 to 5 quarts). Stir in salt and rice; cover and simmer over low heat, stirring once or twice until water is almost fully absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add milk, half-and-half and sugar. Increase heat to medium-high to bring to simmer, then reduce heat to maintain simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until mixture starts to thicken, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent sticking and scorching, until a spoon is just able to stand up in the pudding, about 15 minutes longer.

3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Cool and serve at room temperature or chilled. (Can be covered with plastic wrap on surface of pudding and then refrigerated up to 2 days.)

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banana walnut pancakes


Ack, I haven’t updated in a week. I suck. In my defense, it’s been a busy week, full of family and babies and eating out, then a flight home to friends visiting from out of town. Good times. And really, when I get to spend time with these guys, there’s no complaining.



Ah, nephews, they’re so easy and fun. If I can’t get the baby to stop crying within a couple of minutes, I hand him over to one of his parents. I can play with the toddler during his bath, and then discreetly escape after he poops in the tub. Easy cheesy.

But now, I’m back in Philadelphia and the visiting friends have moved on, so it’s back to my old ways of cooking too much and trying to avoid eating too much.

I started with banana walnut pancakes to use up an old banana Dave hadn’t gotten to while I was out of town. I love pancake variations – the classic blueberry is my favorite, and apple, pumpkin, and banana are all good. The bananas add a nice flavor to the pancake, and the walnuts provide a satisfying crunch. The flavors are a great match for a drizzle of maple syrup.

Banana Walnut Pancakes

Makes sixteen 4-inch pancakes, serving 4 to 6

1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups milk
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 large eggs
2 large bananas, mashed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1. Whisk lemon juice and milk in medium bowl or large measuring cup; set aside to thicken while preparing other ingredients. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to combine. Stir in walnuts.

2. Whisk egg and melted butter into milk until combined. Make well in center of dry ingredients in bowl; pour in milk mixture and whisk very gently until just combined (a few lumps should remain). Do not over mix.

3. Heat 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes; add 1 teaspoon oil and brush to coat skillet bottom evenly. Pour ¼ cup batter onto 3 spots on skillet; sprinkle 1 tablespoon blueberries over each pancake. Cook pancakes until large bubbles begin to appear, 1½ to 2 minutes. Using thin, wide spatula, flip pancakes and cook until golden brown on second side, 1 to 1½ minutes longer. Serve immediately, and repeat with remaining batter, using remaining vegetable oil only if necessary.


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raspberry bars


I’m a big fan of raspberries. I like them fresh, and in cheesecake, and as a sauce for other desserts. My wedding cake was chocolate cake with raspberry mousse. And because I like raspberries so much, I’m often disappointed by raspberry bars – there’s not enough raspberry flavor. When jam is the only source of fruit, the bars seem dry and the raspberry flavor is overcooked and muted. This recipe solves this problem in the simplest way – adding real raspberries.


These bars are wonderful and addicting. The raspberry flavor is bright and fresh without being too tart. The shortbread base is buttery and tender, but stable enough to support the cookie. And the streusel topping is crunchy and pretty. Plus, there’s oats in the topping, and that makes these cookies healthy. A half cup of oats offsets 18 tablespoons of butter, right?


Raspberry Streusel Bars (from Cooks Illustrated September 2005)

Makes twenty-four 2-inch squares

CI note: This recipe can be made in a standing mixer or a food processor. Frozen raspberries can be substituted for fresh; be sure to defrost them before combining with the raspberry preserves. If your fresh raspberries are very tart, add only 1 or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to the filling. The bars are best eaten the day they are baked but can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days (the crust and streusel will soften slightly with storage).

Bridget note: I prefer walnuts in this recipe.

2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12½ ounces)
2/3 cup granulated sugar (about 4¾ ounces)
½ teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons, cut into ½-inch pieces and softened to cool room temperature
¼ cup packed brown sugar (1¾ ounces), light or dark
½ cup rolled oats (1½ ounces), old-fashioned
½ cup pecans (2 ounces), chopped fine
¾ cup rasberry preserves (8½ ounces)
¾ cup fresh raspberries (3½ ounces)
1 tablespoon lemon juice from 1 lemon

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. (If using extra-wide foil, fold second sheet lengthwise to 12-inch width.) Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, granulated sugar, and salt at low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With machine on low, add 16 tablespoons butter one piece at a time; then continue mixing on low until mixture resembles damp sand, 1 to 1½ minutes. (If using food processor, process flour, granulated sugar, and salt until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter 16 tablespoons butter pieces over flour mixture and pulse until mixture resembles damp sand, about twenty 1-second pulses.)

3. Measure 1 ¼ cups flour mixture into medium bowl and set aside; distribute remaining flour mixture evenly in bottom of prepared baking pan. Using hands or flat-bottomed measuring cup, firmly press mixture into even layer to form bottom crust. Bake until edges begin to brown, 14 to 18 minutes.

4. While crust is baking, add brown sugar, oats, and nuts to reserved flour mixture; toss to combine. Work in remaining 2 tablespoons butter by rubbing mixture between fingers until butter is fully incorporated. Pinch mixture with fingers to create hazelnut-sized clumps; set streusel aside.

5. Combine preserves, raspberries, and lemon juice in small bowl; mash with fork until combined but some berry pieces remain.

6. Spread filling evenly over hot crust; sprinkle streusel topping evenly over filling (do not press streusel into filling). Return pan to oven and bake until topping is deep golden brown and filling is bubbling, 22 to 25 minutes. Cool to room temperature on wire rack, 1 to 2 hours; remove from baking pan by lifting foil extensions. Using chef’s knife, cut into squares and serve.


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