Posts Tagged ‘dessert’

The 96th episode of Good Eats originally aired in December, hence the Christmas cookie theme. I say, however, that Christmas cookies deserve to be eaten at any time of the year, and March seemed like a perfect time to crank some cookies out of my kitchen. First up?

Sugar Cookies

This is a recipe that I actually made years ago (maybe in 2005?) for Christmas at my parents’ house. It was the first Christmas Ted spent with my family and I remember decorating the cookies on Christmas Eve prior to Ted’s arrival. My brother and I were going to head to Christmas Eve mass with our parents, and we somehow ended up with two martinis in our systems prior to church. Let me just say that mass was a little more entertaining than usual, and I ended up with very brightly (and abstractly) decorated cookies. The cookies were a hit then, so I knew they would be good when I made them this time around. This recipe begins by sifting together 3 C flour, 1/4 t salt, and 3/4 t baking powder.

Also, in a small bowl, combine 1 egg and 1 T milk.


Wet ingredients – egg and milk.

Oh, and place a sheet pan in the freezer. Next, in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together 1 C butter and 1 C sugar until light and fluffy.

Slowly add the wet ingredients to the mixer until mixed in.


Wet ingredients added to mixing bowl.

Then, slowly add the sifted dry ingredients on low, mixing until the dry ingredients are incorporated and the dough forms a ball.

Divide the dough in half, patting each half into a flat slab. Wrap the dough in plastic or wax paper and place it in the refrigerator for two hours.


Dough, divided into two equal slabs, and ready to head into refrigerator.

When you are ready to cut out your cookies, sprinkle your work surface with powdered sugar (Alton prefers sugar to flour because flour causes the dough to develop more gluten). Roll the dough to 1/4″ thick, lifting the dough every so often to be sure it isn’t sticking; I found that I needed quite a lot of powdered sugar to keep the dough from sticking to my counter.

Remember that frozen sheet pan from earlier? Place it on your rolled dough for 10 minutes to re-chill the dough before cutting.


Cold sheet pan placed on top of rolled dough.

Use cookie cutters (FYI Alton likes plastic ones) to cut cookies from your dough, transferring them to parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for four minutes at 375, rotate the pans, and bake them for four to five more minutes. I found that my cookies needed a little more time than this. Let them cool completely on racks before frosting.


Cookies, after baking.

This sugar cookie recipe is fantastic. The dough comes together super quickly and is very easy to work with. The resulting cookies are crispy on the outside and slightly tender on the inside, and they have a rich, buttery flavor. I highly recommend this one! Oh, and how should you decorate said cookies? With Alton’s recipe for royal icing, of course! See below.

Royal Icing

If you are looking for a way to decorate your sugar cookies, look no further than Alton’s royal icing recipe. To make his icing, beat four egg whites or three ounces of pasteurized egg whites (I used pasteurized egg whites) with 1 t vanilla, using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer.

Gradually add 4 C of sifted powdered sugar until you have a smooth, lump-free icing.

Divide the icing among small bowls, adding coloring as you desire. As far as coloring goes, Alton prefers powdered food coloring because it lasts the longest and has no additives. I only had liquid food coloring, so that is what I went with.


Royal icing, divided and colored.

Frost your cookies and let them sit until the frosting has set up. Oh, and if you end up with a bad color, Alton recommends adding cocoa powder until you have covered it up.


My decorated sugar cookies.

This icing could not be easier to make and it sets up beautifully. Since royal icing is thin, it can be a bit messy to deal with, but it looks and tastes great. This is a fool-proof royal icing recipe that pairs perfectly with Alton’s sugar cookies. I threw a bunch of my frosted cookies in the freezer for later enjoyment, so you can always make these ahead.

Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies

Last in this episode was Alton’s recipe for chocolate peppermint pinwheel cookies. I actually made this recipe years ago also, but for a cookie exchange when I was in graduate school. I remembered liking these cookies then. These cookies start with a batch of Alton’s sugar cookies.

Divide the sugar cookie dough in half (it is best to do this by weight), and place the dough in two bowls.


Dividing sugar cookie dough in half by weight.

One half of the dough will become peppermint dough, while the other half will become chocolate dough. Add 1 t vanilla to one of the bowls of dough, and add 1 t peppermint extract to the other.

To the peppermint dough, add 1/2 C crushed candy cane (or peppermint candy).

To the dough with vanilla extract, add 3 ounces of melted unsweetened chocolate (you can melt it in the microwave, stirring until melted).

Use gloved hands to mix the peppermint and chocolate into the two doughs. Additionally, add 1 egg yolk to the peppermint dough, mixing it in by hand.


Crushed peppermint and egg yolk added to dough with peppermint extract.

Chill the two doughs for five minutes. Roll out the two doughs to 1/3-1/4″ thick rectangles, using powdered sugar to keep the dough from sticking. You want your chocolate rectangle to be slightly longer and thinner than your peppermint rectangle. Place the chocolate dough on a non-stick mat or a pliable cutting board (I rolled my dough out on a non-stick mat, so I wouldn’t have to transfer it).

Place the peppermint dough on top of the chocolate dough, pressing the doughs together.


Peppermint dough placed on top of chocolate dough and the two are pressed together.

Use the edge of the non-stick mat or cutting board to roll the doughs into a log. Wrap the log in wax paper and refrigerate it for at least two hours.

When ready to bake, slice the log into 1/2″ slices, placing them on parchment-lined sheets.


Dough sliced into rounds.

Bake the cookies for 12-13 minutes at 375-degrees, rotating the pans once during baking. Cool the cookies for two minutes on the baking sheets before transferring them to racks.

These cookies are chewy and dense, and have little pockets of crunchy peppermint. They are pretty and fun to make, and they definitely have a seasonal feeling to them. That being said, though, why is peppermint only popular at the holidays? Peppermint ice cream is one of my very favorite flavors, but you can only find it for a couple months each year. Anyway, these cookies are worth a bake, and, yes, you can freeze these too!


I have begun dabbling in cheesemaking, which has taken some of my time away from this project recently, but I aspire to get back into more of a regular rhythm with this blog. I have a long list of different things I want to cook/bake, in addition to this project, and I have to find time to do them all. Honestly, I should probably try to make one thing on my list each day, and maybe I could eventually catch up! With only two of us, I can only make so much food at a time, though. I did find occasions to make Alton’s sweet potato recipes from Good Eats, so here are my write-ups of those recipes.

Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes

I kind of had a negative perception of sweet potatoes until a few years ago. When picturing sweet potatoes, I would picture the classic sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping, which is a dish I just do not care for. Now, though, I love to use sweet potatoes in a variety of ways, including in a breakfast hash, as “noodles”, and as oven fries. Alton’s first use for sweet potatoes was a smashed form. For this recipe, place a steamer basket in a pot over a quart of water. I used my small steaming pot. Once you see steam, place 1 1/4 pounds of peeled/cubed sweet potatoes in the top of the steamer and cover the pot. Let the potatoes steam for 20 minutes.

Drain the water from the pot and dump in the steamed potatoes, adding 2 T butter and 1/2 t Kosher salt. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher to your desired consistency.

Finally, finish the potatoes by mixing in 1 chopped canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, along with 1 t of the adobo sauce.


Chipotle smashed sweet potatoes.

First off, this recipe could not get easier or quicker, making it great to make anytime. Second, this is a really tasty dish! I added a bit more adobo sauce and salt after tasting the finished potatoes, but that is just personal preference. The sweetness of the potatoes is a great match for the smoky heat of chipotles. I will make this one again. Actually, I think I will pick up some sweet potatoes when I head to the store today, and we will have these as a side dish in the next week.

Sweet Potato Waffles

It seems that post people strongly prefer either pancakes or waffles. Although I do like both pancakes and waffles, I’d have to say that I am a waffle person. On a recent lazy weekend morning, I made Alton’s sweet potato waffles. To make these, first sift together into a bowl 2 C flour, 1 T baking powder, and 1/2 t Kosher salt. You will also need to peel, cube, and steam (for 20 minutes) enough sweet potatoes to make 1 1/2 C of mashed sweet potatoes.


Peeled and cubed sweet potatoes, to be steamed.

In a second bowl, stir together 1 C milk, 1/4 C light brown sugar, 1 T orange zest, 1 1/2 C peeled/cubed/steamed/mashed sweet potatoes, and 1/4 C butter, melted.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until combined.

In a third bowl, beat 6 egg whites until you have medium peaks. Fold the beaten egg whites into the sweet potato mixture in three installments; the first installment can just be stirred into the batter to lighten it, but gently fold the second and third installments into the batter.

Dish the waffle batter (Alton recommends two scoops with a #20 disher) onto a preheated waffle iron, cooking for 5-6 minutes or until crispy.


Batter placed on heated waffle iron.

Top the waffles with butter, syrup, and toasted pecans, or whatever strikes your fancy.


A sweet potato waffle with butter, syrup, and toasted pecans.

These waffles were really good, but they do take more time and effort than typical waffles. Is the extra effort warranted? For a special occasion, I would argue they are worth the effort. The waffles themselves are lightly sweetened from the sweet potato and brown sugar, though I would not be able to identify the sweet potato in them from flavor alone. Their yellow hue, however, does give some evidence of their star ingredient. These waffles definitely have more flavor than your typical waffles, and I actually preferred them simply with some melted butter on top.

Sweet Potato Pie

Pumpkin pie seems to be a polarizing dessert, with people either loving or hating it. I really like pumpkin pie, but Ted happens not to care for it. Alton claims that his sweet potato pie is superior to pumpkin pie, stating on his web site that, “This pie is everything I ever wanted out of pumpkin pie, only without the pumpkin.” Begin Alton’s pie by steaming 1 1/4 pounds of peeled and cubed sweet potatoes for 20 minutes.

Place the steamed potatoes in a stand mixer, beating them on low speed with a paddle attachment until they start to fall apart. Increase the speed and beat them until fully mashed. Next, add 1 1/4 C plain yogurt, beating to combine.


Yogurt added to sweet potatoes, after mashing potatoes in mixer.

Mix in 3/4 C dark brown sugar, 5 egg yolks, 1/2 t cinnamon, and 1/4 t nutmeg, beating until incorporated.

The batter will still have some lumps.


Pie filling.

Pour the pie filling into a 9-inch pie shell placed on a sheet pan, and smooth the top of the pie with a spatula. Sprinkle the top of the pie with 1 C of chopped/toasted pecans and drizzle the pie with 1 T maple syrup.

Place the pie (on the sheet pan) in a 350 degree oven for 50-55 minutes, or until its internal temperature is about 170 degrees. Cool the pie for an hour before slicing.

For easy slicing, Alton inverts his pie onto a cutting board, removing it from the pan. He then slices the upside-down pie with an electric knife before returning the pie to the pan. Store any leftover pie in the refrigerator.


A slice of sweet potato pie.

So, how did Alton’s sweet potato pie fare in our house? I liked the pie, but not as much as pumpkin pie. Ted, on the other hand, preferred the sweet potato pie to pumpkin pie, though this still wasn’t one of his favorites. Alton’s pie is less sweet than pumpkin pie, and you really taste the tang of the yogurt. It does have a lighter, fluffier texture than a typical pumpkin pie, which I liked. I did also like the addition of toasted nuts and maple syrup on the top of the pie, and I could see that working well on pumpkin pie also. This pie was definitely good, but it wasn’t an all-time favorite in our house. If you have a household of people who do not care for pumpkin pie, this could be worth a try on your holiday table.


The 93rd episode of Good Eats is all about ways to utilize a variety of grains in the kitchen; wheat berries, bulgur, and couscous are the stars of the show. Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels that have not been processed. Bulgur, on the other hand, is whole wheat that has been cracked and partially cooked. Finally, couscous is actually not a grain at all, but a pasta that is often mistaken for being a grain because of its nutty flavor and usage in grain-like recipes. First up:  wheat berries.

Basic Cooked Wheat Berries

Alton first demonstrates his go-to method for cooking wheat berries, which can then be used in a variety of recipes. To begin, place 2 C of wheat berries in a large skillet, toasting them over medium-high heat until they begin to smell nutty. This toasting step is omitted in the online recipe, but certainly imparts more flavor in the finished wheat berries.

Place the toasted wheat berries in a pressure cooker, adding two heavy pinches of Kosher salt and 4 C of water, or enough to cover the wheat berries by about an inch.

Close the lid of the pressure cooker and bring it up to pressure over high heat. Decrease the heat and maintain the pressure for 45 minutes. If you have an electric range like I do, you may find that you have to adjust the burner temperature regularly to maintain pressure.


Pressure cooker, being brought to pressure.

After 45 minutes of cooking, release the pressure from your cooker. I had never cooked wheat berries before, so I was not sure exactly what a perfectly cooked wheat berry would look like.

I found the wheat berries to have a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy al dente texture. I took Alton’s recommendations and used my wheat berries to make the next two recipes in the episode:  wheat berry tapenade and mushroom wheat berry pilaf.

Wheat Berry Tapenade

The first way Alton suggests to use cooked wheat berries is in his wheat berry tapenade. For the tapenade, combine three minced garlic cloves, 1 C chopped Kalamata olives, 1/2 t Dijon mustard, and 1 t Kosher salt.

Stir in 1 C of cooked wheat berries, and serve the tapenade with crackers or toast.


Cooked wheat berries added to olive mixture.


Wheat berry tapenade.

We ate this as an appetizer one evening and both thought it was super tasty. In fact, we ate a whole bowl. This tasted like any great Kalamata tapenade, but with much more to offer in the texture department. The salty, briny flavor of the olives supplemented with the tang of the mustard paired well with the nuttiness of the wheat berries. I did end up adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to my tapenade, as I felt it could use a small kick of acid. This is a healthy and fast appetizer to make (once the wheat berries are already cooked), and I will be making it again very soon.

Mushroom Wheat Berry Pilaf

I can only assume that Alton is a huge fan of his mushroom wheat berry pilaf, as an updated version of this recipe appears in his newest cookbook. The biggest difference between this version and the updated recipe is that the updated recipe uses no rice. For the pilaf, heat 1 T olive oil in a large skillet, adding 1 1/2 C chopped onion, a pinch of Kosher salt, 5 minced garlic cloves, and 1 T butter. Stir after each addition.

Increase the heat to high and add 1 pound of sliced mushrooms (I used cremini), and 1 T soy sauce.


Mushrooms and soy sauce added to skillet.

Continue to cook the mushrooms until they have reduced by half, which will take a little while.


Mushrooms, cooked until reduced by half.

Once the mushrooms have reduced, add 1/4 C chicken broth, 1/4 C red wine, 1 C cooked wheat berries, 1 1/2 C cooked rice, 1/2 t chopped fresh thyme, 1 t chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 t chopped lemon zest.


Mushroom wheat berry pilaf.

We ate this as an entrée and both really liked it. For a vegetarian entree it had a lot of flavor and a variety of textures. The mushrooms and soy sauce give this dish a lot of umami flavor, while the herbs give it a nice freshness. The lemon zest comes through in this recipe in a big way, giving a refreshing, bright tang that really lightens everything up. Plus, this is another healthy, delicious way to incorporate whole grains. This is a fantastic recipe that could be used as either an entree or a side.

Bulgur Gazpacho

You had me at “gazpacho.” I absolutely love a spicy, tangy gazpacho, so this recipe piqued my interest right away.


Ingredients for bulgur gazpacho: cucumber, scallions, bulgur, cumin, tomato puree, tomato/veg juice, tomato, garlic, green bell pepper, balsamic vinegar, hot sauce, and Kosher salt.

Start by bringing 1 C of water to a boil with 1/2 C tomato puree; I did this in the microwave.


Water and tomato puree being heated to a boil.

Pour the tomato mixture over 3/4 C bulgur in a bowl, sloshing to combine. Cover the bowl with a plate and set it aside for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, add 1 minced garlic clove, 4 sliced scallions, 1 C seeded/diced cucumber, 1 C chopped tomato, and 3/4 C diced green bell pepper.

Next, stir in 1/2-1 C tomato juice (I used spicy V8), 2 T balsamic vinegar, 1-2 t hot sauce, 1/2 t cumin, and 1 1/2 t Kosher salt. Stir the gazpacho until combined and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour before eating.


Bulgur gazpacho.

Sure enough, we really enjoyed this recipe. Though this isn’t soupy, it does have the vibrant, zesty flavors of a gazpacho. Also, with the addition of bulgur, this gazpacho has enough substance to stand alone as an entrée. There is also a lot of texture to this dish, coming from the variety of vegetables and the bulgur. This would be a really nice summer entree or side dish.

Steamed Couscous

Couscous is something we used to eat a lot, and this episode made me realize it is something we should eat more often. Alton begins his couscous segment with his recipe for steamed couscous, which can then be used in any couscous recipe. To make Alton’s couscous, prepare a steamer basket by adding water to the bottom pan, keeping the water level a couple inches below the bottom of the top basket. Heat the pan, allowing steam to begin to form. I used my pasta pot.


Preheating steamer.

Meanwhile, rinse 2 C of couscous with water and turn it out onto a sheet pan. Sprinkle the couscous all over with Kosher salt.

Once steam has formed in your steamer, line the top part of the steamer with a damp kitchen towel and dump the couscous into the towel. Fold the towel over the couscous, forming a bundle. Place the lid on the steamer and set a timer for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, use tongs to lift the couscous-filled towel, dumping the couscous onto the sheet pan again. Drizzle 1/2 C cold water over the couscous, tossing.

Next, spritz the couscous with oil or non-stick spray, also lubing your hands. Rub the oil into the couscous for about three minutes, breaking up any clumps.

Once again, transfer the couscous back into the towel-lined steamer, folding the towel over the couscous. Place the lid on the steamer and steam the couscous for a final 10 minutes.


Couscous after final 10 minute steaming.

I have to say that this couscous method is the most labor-intensive one I have ever used. The resulting couscous was fluffy and lump-free, but I don’t think I would go to the trouble of making couscous this way again. I did what Alton did and used my steamed couscous to make his cherry couscous pudding, which follows below.

Cherry Couscous Pudding

Although I have eaten my share of couscous, I had never had it in a sweet application… until this recipe. For this one, heat 1/2 C whole milk, 3 T sugar, and 1/4 C dried cherries. Once warm, set aside for 10 minutes to steep.

After 10 minutes, add the pulp of one vanilla bean to the milk.

Pour the milk mixture over your steamed couscous (see above), stirring to combine.


Milk mixture poured over steamed couscous.

Add 8 ounces vanilla yogurt and refrigerate the pudding for at least an hour before serving.

Sprinkle individual servings of the pudding with cinnamon.


Couscous pudding, sprinkled with cinnamon.

This recipe was a real dud. It was dry and flavorless, but I think I know what the issue was. In the episode, Alton cooked his steamed couscous as written above, using the full batch of couscous to make this pudding. In looking at the online recipe, I see that it calls for only 1 1/2 C of the steamed couscous. This may be a first, but I think the online recipe may be correct, while Alton’s preparation in the episode resulted in a super dry couscous that was anything but pudding-like. I am somewhat tempted to make this again with only 1 1/2 C of couscous, as surely it would have better flavor and texture. Honestly, this is the first couscous recipe I have not liked, and I cannot recommend it as it was prepared in the episode.

Red Snapper en Papillote

When watching all of these Good Eats episodes, certain recipes really jump out at me. In this episode, the recipe for snapper en papillote was the one that made me super enthusiastic. I really loved the red snapper in a salt dome that I made way back in episode 10, so another snapper recipe made me excited. Unfortunately, the seafood store where I previously found whole red snapper has closed, so I had to turn to the grocery store; the fish monger was unable to get a whole red snapper, so I wound up with some other type of snapper (honestly, I don’t know exactly what it was). My fish was also not cleaned, so I had to do that myself, with a little help from my husband. If you do happen to be shopping for a whole red snapper, be sure to check the eyes of the fish, as true red snappers will have red eyes. If, like me, you cannot find red snapper in your area, Alton says you can substitute whole trout, tilapia, arctic char, or tilefish in this recipe. Regardless of the type of fish you use, for this recipe, a 1-2 pound fish will work best. Start by rinsing 1 C of couscous in cold water; sprinkle it with Kosher salt and set it aside while you prep the fish.

Prep the fish by rinsing your whole fish under cold water, scraping it with a knife to remove any remaining scales. Trim off all fins, but leave the tail intact. Pat the fish dry, including inside the fish, and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper, leaving a long overhang (the parchment needs to be large enough to fold over the whole fish). Place the fish diagonally across the parchment, sprinkling it all over (including inside the cavity) with Kosher salt and black pepper.


My whole fish, sprinkled with salt and pepper.

Place a handful of fresh oregano and parsley inside the fish, along with a few slices of lemon and red onion. You can stick anything extra under the fish.


My fish, stuffed with fresh oregano, parsley, red onion, and lemon.

Sprinkle the rinsed couscous all around the fish, along with 1 C of drained/quartered artichoke hearts, 1 C halved cherry tomatoes, and 2 t garlic. Place lemon slices and sliced red onion along the top of the fish, and drizzle everything with 1/2 C white wine. Finally, dab 1 T of butter along the top of the fish.


Couscous, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, garlic, lemon, red onion, wine, and butter added to fish.

Fold the parchment paper over the fish, creasing the three open sides of the packet. Staple the whole package shut, placing staples about every inch.


Parchment folded and stapled over fish.

Place the fish in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for 30 minutes.


Fish packet in 425-degree oven.

Once out of the oven, cut the parchment packet open and serve the fish.


Fish after cooking for 30 minutes.

Unfortunately, this recipe didn’t wow me as much as I hoped it would, but some of that may have been due to my fish, which was kind of “blah.” I am open to trying this again with a different whole fish. I did like that this recipe is a one-pan dinner with built-in sides of couscous and vegetables, and the fish was nicely cooked. My couscous did end up being slightly gummy, but the combination of flavors in the dish was great, and I did like the presentation. If you can get whole red snapper where you live, I think this might be a great recipe to try.

Salmon Fillet en Papillote with Julienned Vegetables

The second recipe in this episode is super easy and is made in individual servings, making it easily adaptable for any number of guests. As with the snapper recipe above, parchment paper is used here to create a pouch, but this time there is one pouch per person. Start with a fairly large rectangle of parchment, folding it in half. Use scissors or a knife to cut a large half-heart shape from the creased side of the parchment. Unfold the parchment to reveal your full parchment heart. Ahhh… takes me right back to 3rd grade.

On the right side of the parchment heart place 1/3 C carrot strips, 1/3 C fennel strips, 1/3 C snow pea strips, and 1/3 C leek strips.

Place an 8-ounce salmon fillet (skin side down) on top of the vegetables and season everything with Kosher salt, pepper, and 1/8 t ground coriander.


Salmon fillet placed on top of vegetables. Seasoned with salt, pepper, and coriander.

Place the wedges of a small peeled orange on top of the fish and sprinkle the whole mound with a “wee shot” of vermouth.

Fold the parchment over the fish, creasing the edge at the top of the heart, and folding the edge up. Go halfway down the length of the fold, make a crease, and fold again, sort of like sealing a calzone. Continue creasing and folding all the way around the heart, twisting the parchment tip and folding it under.


Parchment folded over fish and sealed by creasing/folding all the way around.

Place the whole packet in the microwave and cook on high for 4 minutes, or cook for 12 minutes in a 425-degree oven. Since there were two of eating Alton’s salmon packets, I opted, for comparison’s sake, to cook one packet in the microwave and the other in the oven. My microwaved fish was moist and flaking easily after 4 minutes, but my oven fish needed several more minutes to be cooked.


Fish after cooking in the microwave.

I found this to be a successful recipe, resulting (in the microwave case) in nicely cooked fish. The orange wedges paired nicely with the fish and contributed a lot of moisture, and the whole dish had just a hint of vermouth.


Salmon en papillote with oranges and vegetables.

Once again, this was a nice one-packet meal, as each packet included the fish and accompanying veggies. Plus, you can have this on the table in less than 30 minutes and it is healthy.

Ramen Shrimp Pouch

The third recipe in Alton’s series of pouch recipes is for shrimp lovers and is definitely a quickie that could be prepped any day of the week. As with the salmon pouches above, you can make as few or as many of these packets as you need to suit your number of diners. To make this one, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lay out a large square of foil for each diner. On the center of each foil square, layer in this order:  1/2 of a block of noodles from a ramen package, 2 T chopped dried mushrooms, 5 large shrimp that have been peeled and deveined, 2 T chopped onions, 2 T chopped scallions, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a pinch of Kosher salt.

Ball the foil up around the top of the shrimp, leaving a small opening at the top. Use the opening in each foil packet to pour in 1 T vegetable broth, 1 T mirin, 2 t soy sauce, and 1 t sesame oil.

Crimp the foil closed tightly, leaving a tiny steam porthole in the top of each packet. Place the packets in the preheated oven for 15 minutes; you may want to place them on a baking sheet, just in case they leak.


Shrimp packets in the oven.


Shrimp packet after 15 minutes in the oven.

Though I am not a shrimp lover, I thought this was a very clever and tasty dish. The shrimp were perfectly cooked after 15 minutes and you could taste all of the flavors in the pouch. I will say that some of my noodles were a bit chewy, so I would suggest breaking the noodles up slightly before putting them on the foil, and maybe adding a bit more liquid directly over the noodles. With a little tweaking, I think this could be an outstanding weeknight shrimp recipe.

Stone Fruit Pouches

Alton finished up his pouch cookery with a dessert. For each person eating, lay out a large double layer square of foil. In the center of each square, place 1/2 C crumbled gingersnaps, 1 quartered plum, 1 sliced apricot (8 pieces), 2 t sugar, 1 t lime zest, a pinch of Kosher salt, and 1 T cubed butter. I had no choice but to adapt this recipe a little bit, as it was certainly not stone fruit season when I made them. I opted to use mango and quince in my pouches.

Fold up the foil, leaving an opening at the top, and pour in the juice of half a lime and a shot of brandy.

Seal up the packets, leaving a tiny porthole. These packets can be cooked in a 500-degree oven or on a grill. If using a grill, they should be done in 10 minutes, or after 15-20 minutes in the oven. Serve the warm fruit with vanilla ice cream.


Warm fruit served with vanilla ice cream.

The gingersnaps almost caramelize, the fruit softens, and you taste hints of lime and brandy. I bet these pouches would be good with peaches or pineapple too, and they would make for a super easy prep-ahead dessert during grilling season. Yes, this is one to keep in your back pocket.

If last episode of Good Eats was all about cake, I suppose it is only fitting that this episode dealt with icing. Alton made the point that store-bought cake mixes are generally quite good, and, in fact, they are sometimes better than the cakes we can make at home. For this reason, a cake mix was used in this episode, and Alton used it to make two round layers. Once his cakes were baked, it was onto the icing.


One of my two cake mix layers.


First up, Alton made his version of buttercream. To make this recipe, you will need to have 10 ounces of softened butter, so you will need to set your butter out in advance. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 C sugar and 1/2 C dark corn syrup, bringing this mixture to a boil over high heat. When your sugar syrup has large bubbles, turn off the heat and set the syrup aside for a few minutes.

While the syrup cools, beat 4 eggs with a whisk attachment until they are thick and have lightened in color.

It is ideal to use a metal turkey baster to add the hot syrup to the eggs, as you can drizzle the syrup into the edge of the mixing bowl, avoiding the whisk (the syrup will solidify upon hitting the whisk). You will, however, want to oil your baster first by drawing vegetable oil into the baster, and then pushing it out again. Using your lubed baster, and with the mixer running on low speed, drizzle the hot syrup into the eggs, trying to get it in the space between the bowl and the whisk.

Continue this process until all of the syrup has been added. When all of the syrup is in, increase the speed to high and beat until the side of the bowl is warm, but not hot, to the touch; this should take about two minutes.


Buttercream after adding all of the syrup.

Next, piece by piece, slowly add your softened butter, only adding a new piece of butter when the previous piece has been completely mixed in. Your resulting buttercream should be smooth, creamy, and thick enough to frost a cake. The key word here is “should.” Mine was not. My buttercream had turned into sort of a broken soup at this point.

I attempted to save my buttercream by first heating it on the stove to get the tiny lumps of butter incorporated.

I then tried beating it again, and it was smoother, but it still was not thickening properly.


Beating the buttercream again.

I decided to try chilling it and beating it again, which resulted in a slightly thicker consistency, but it still was inadequate. My last hope was to try chilling it even longer, but this still did not solve the problem.


Beating the buttercream after chilling.

After working on this buttercream for a couple hours, I finally pulled the plug. My buttercream tasted fantastic – rich, buttery, and sweet, but it just was too runny. I did use it for a pseudo crumb coat on my cake, but it just did not work well. Oh, and did I mention that while I was having my buttercream fiasco, my dog decided to sample my cake? Yep, he took a bite right out of the side.


Using the buttercream for a crumb coat.

I have successfully made buttercream in the past, using a sugar syrup. The recipes I have had success with in the past have all used a candy thermometer and specific temperatures for the syrup. I wonder if my syrup was not hot enough, or if I did not add it quickly enough. I also wonder if my butter was too soft. After reading the online reviews of this recipe, I see that I was not the only person to struggle with this particular recipe. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother with this recipe again, as I know that there are other buttercream recipes out there that work, while this one did not for me. When all was said and done, I wound up frosting my cake with store-bought buttercream, which is just not the same.


Giving in and frosting my cake with store-bought buttercream.

Oh, but if you choose to make this buttercream and it works for you, you do also have the option of adding flavor. For chocolate buttercream, melt 4 ounces of chopped dark chocolate, letting it cool for a few minutes. Add the melted chocolate to the finished buttercream. For coffee buttercream, dissolve 1 t of instant espresso in 2 t coffee liqueur. Or, you can add any extract or food coloring of your choosing. Store buttercream in an airtight container with an additional layer of plastic wrap. If you make the buttercream in advance, bring it to room temperature and re-whip it before frosting your cake.


For his cake, Alton opted to make a ganache to use as a filling between cake layers. To make the ganache, heat 6 ounces of heavy cream with 3 T corn syrup in a small saucepan.

Add 12 ounces of chopped dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth.


Chopped dark chocolate.

Remove the pan from the heat and add 1/2 t vanilla extract.


Ganache after chocolate was melted and smooth. Adding vanilla off the heat.

Let the ganache cool before using. Spread the ganache between cake layers, using a spatula to spread it almost to the cake edge.

Unlike the buttercream, this ganache recipe was super fast and easy, and it tasted great. I typically use a regular frosting between cake layers, rather than a filling, but I really liked the contrast of dark chocolate between layers. And, if you refrigerate your cake, the ganache becomes fudge-like and dense, adding a level of richness. Oh, and my suggestion if you happen to have leftover ganache is to refrigerate it until set. You can form balls with the firm ganache, rolling them in cocoa powder or powdered sugar to form truffles. Or, you can just eat it with a spoon like I did.

Writing Chocolate

A recipe for writing chocolate was last in this episode. For this one, combine 1 C chocolate chips and 2 t canola oil in a microwave-safe container, stirring to coat the chips with the oil.

Microwave the chocolate for one minute on high. Stir the chocolate until it is completely smooth. For decorating, transfer the chocolate to a piping bag or a plastic bottle.

This recipe also worked very well and was super easy. It is certainly an easy way to add some writing to a cake. It tastes much better than the artificial writing icing you can buy in the store too.

Cake Assembly

Though not a recipe per se, Alton did go over some of his cake assembly/decorating basics.

  1. He opts for a lazy susan for cake decorating, placing it on top of an upturned cake pan.
  2. To level his cakes, Alton uses two wooden yard pickets, placed on their sides in a V-shape. He places his cake inside the V and slices along the top of the pickets with a bow saw blade.
  3. He also uses the pickets for splitting cake layers, turning them onto their shorter sides. Again, using a bow saw blade, he slices across the top of the pickets, slicing the cake into two layers.
  4. When frosting a cake, place the layers in the following order from base to top:  bottom of cake 1, top of cake 1, top of cake 2, and bottom of cake 2.
  5. When you have the filling between your layers, first frost the cake with a thin crumb coat of icing (about 1/4 of your icing) and refrigerate. This crumb coat will make it easier to apply a smooth layer of icing.
  6. When frosting a cake, apply more icing than you think you need to the top of the cake. Spread the icing, working out to the edges and down the sides. It is always better to remove excess icing than to add more.

Gold Cake

Cake is one of my very favorite desserts, and I would probably choose it over pie most of the time. The star of this episode is a gold cake, which is a relative of the classic pound cake. This recipe uses cake flour because of its low protein content, which results in a cake that is more tender. Alton also explained that he often prefers to use butter-flavored shortening when baking, as he thinks it gives more of a buttery flavor to baked goods than does actual butter. You can swap shortening for butter in any baking recipe, but you will need to make a couple of modifications because shortening is 100% fat, while butter is 20% water. This means that you will need to use 20% less shortening than the amount of butter called for, and you will need to increase the liquid in your recipe by 20%. Now, on to the cake.

Before starting this recipe, weigh the empty bowl of your stand mixer, noting the weight for later. In the stand mixer bowl, beat 140 g of butter-flavored shortening on low for about a minute.

To the beaten shortening, add 300 g sugar and a pinch of Kosher salt, and beat this mixture on medium for at least four or five minutes.

Next, with the mixer running, slowly add 130 g of egg yolks (about 8 yolks).

Once the yolks are incorporated, prepare your remaining wet and dry ingredients. In one vessel, combine 180 g of milk with 1 t vanilla extract.


180 g of milk with 1 t vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together 350 g of cake flour and 14 g of baking powder.

Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures to the batter by adding half of the flour, half of the milk, the remaining half of the flour, and the last of the milk.


The final cake batter.

Once you have a smooth batter, again weigh your mixing bowl. Subtract the empty bowl weight you took earlier from the weight of the bowl+batter, and divide this number in half; you now have the weight of batter you should have in each cake pan for baking. Using this number, divide the batter evenly between two greased/floured 9-inch cake pans (my batter weighed 1070 g, so I allotted ~535 g per pan).

Bake the cakes in the top third of a 350-degree oven.


Cakes in the top 1/3 of a 350-degree oven.

Check the cakes after 12 minutes of baking, rotating them if one cake is browning more than the other. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, which took about 30 minutes for my cakes. Let the cakes cool in their pans (on racks) for 10-15 minutes.


Cakes after baking until a toothpick came out clean – about 30 minutes.

Remove the cakes from their pans and let them cool completely.


Cake removed from pan.

Now, you could eat these cakes plain, or with whipped cream and fruit, but I did what Alton did and frosted them with his cocoa whipped cream (recipe below).

Cocoa Whipped Cream

To go with his gold cake, Alton made this cocoa whipped cream. You will want to make the cream once your cakes are completely cool. While your cakes finish cooling, chill the mixing bowl and whisk attachment of your stand mixer by placing them in the refrigerator. When the cakes have sufficiently cooled, place 2 T of cold water in a small saucepan and sprinkle 1 t gelatin over the water’s surface; set aside for 5 minutes.

Place the saucepan over low heat, just until the gelatin has melted.


Gelatin, heated until just melted.

Meanwhile, in your cold mixing bowl, beat on low 2 C whipping cream, 1 t vanilla, and 1/2 C cocoa mix (you could probably use any cocoa mix, but Alton used his Good Eats mix, of which I still had some).

Slowly drizzle the melted gelatin into the cocoa/cream mixture and increase the speed.


Cocoa mixture after all of the gelatin was added.

Beat the cream until it forms medium peaks.


The final cocoa cream, beaten until it had medium peaks.

Use the whipped cream to frost Alton’s gold cake, or any other two-layer cake.

We thought Alton’s gold cake and cocoa whipped cream paired nicely together. The cake is a bit of a dry, crumbly cake, but has nice buttery flavor.IMG_6269 The cocoa whipped cream is a nice alternative to traditional frosting, having a light, airy texture and being less sweet than many frostings, but it also necessitates refrigerating your cake.


A slice of Alton’s gold cake with cocoa whipped cream.

All in all, I would be more likely to make the cocoa whipped cream again over the cake. The cake had good flavor, but was just a bit too dry.

Sweet or Savory Pâte à Choux

When I was in elementary school, a different kid in my class was tasked with bringing snacks for the class each week. No-bake cookies with chocolate and oats were in regular rotation because they were easy to make and most of the kids liked them. My mom usually sent me with cupcakes or other (baked) cookies. One girl’s mother scored massive points with all of the kids (and probably made all the other parents feel like slouches), as she always made homemade cream puffs.

Personally, I have never made cream puffs or eclairs… until now. Baking and pastry are definitely two of my favorite things, so I eagerly whipped up a batch of Alton’s Pâte à Choux yesterday. Pâte à Choux is a pastry dough that is designed to make pastries that can be filled; therefore, when you bake the dough, it is supposed to only form one or two large bubbles, as opposed to the numerous bubbles desired in certain breads and such. In order to create these large bubbles in the pastry, steam needs to be created. Bread flour, and especially bread flour for bread machines, is ideal for Pâte à Choux because it has the highest protein content of all flours, which allows it to absorb more liquid; more liquid equals more steam production. To make Alton’s Pâte à Choux, combine a cup of water and 6 T butter in a pan. If you are making savory dough, also add 1 t Kosher salt. Or, if you are making a sweet dough, as Alton did in the episode, add just a pinch of Kosher salt and 1 T sugar.

Bring this water/butter mixture to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, weigh out  5 3/4 ounces of bread flour. I did not have bread flour for bread machines, so just used bread flour.

When the butter has completely melted and your liquid is boiling, add all of the flour, at once, to the pan.


Flour added to boiling butter/water.

Stir the flour into the liquid with a spatula until a paste forms. Decrease the heat to low and continue to stir the dough until all of the flour is incorporated and the dough is no longer sticky. Turn off the heat and transfer the dough to the bowl of a standing mixer, setting it aside until it is cool enough to touch.

While the dough cools, place four eggs and two egg whites in a measuring cup; the egg yolks will act as an emulsifier in the dough, while the whites will give the dough structure.

When the dough has sufficiently cooled, slowly add the eggs to the dough, keeping the mixer running. You want to continue adding egg until the dough hangs from the paddle attachment in a ‘V’ shape; for me, this required all of my eggs.


Dough after adding all of the eggs. A perfect ‘V’ shape off of the paddle.

At this point, you can use your dough immediately, or you can let it rest at room temperature for a couple hours before using. When you are ready to use your dough, prepare a piping bag with a piping tip; Alton did not specify which tip to use, but I used one that was about 3/8″ in diameter and it worked fine. Large Ziploc bags work well for piping too – just snip off one corner, insert the inside part of the coupler, place your desired tip on top, and screw on the coupler ring.


Ziploc bag turned into piping bag.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. If your parchment is sliding around, you can pipe a dollop of dough on each corner of your sheet pan, pressing the parchment down in the dough to keep it from sliding.

To make eclairs, pipe the dough into ‘S’ shapes, with the tail of each ‘S’ facing up toward you. With a wet finger, pat down the tails.

Alternatively, you can make cream puffs by piping the dough in concentric circle patterns, finishing in the center. Again, pat down any points with a wet finger.


Dough, piped into concentric circles for cream puffs.

Place the eclairs (or cream puffs) in the center of the oven, increasing the temperature to 425 degrees, and setting the timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake the eclairs for an additional 10 minutes. As soon as your eclairs/cream puffs are cool enough to handle, pierce them with a sharp paring knife to release excess steam.


Piercing a hot eclair to release steam.

Cool the pastries completely.

At this point, you can bag and freeze the pastry shells for up to a month, bag and store them at room temperature for a week, or you can fill them with a filling of your choice. To do as Alton did in this episode of Good Eats, make vanilla pudding, using only 3/4 of the recommended liquid.

Then, using a small star tip and a piping bag, poke a hole in each eclair/cream puff, filling them with the pudding until the pudding starts to come out the end. Chill the filled pastries.

To bedazzle your eclairs/cream puffs with chocolate, melt 1 C chocolate chips with 1 t vegetable oil in a double boiler. Dip each pastry into the chocolate mixture. Or, you can pour your chocolate into a squeeze bottle and decorate them that way. I opted for the dipping method.

If you do not plan to eat your eclairs right away, keep them refrigerated. I made a mixture of eclairs and cream puffs, ending up with 17 eclairs and 6 cream puffs. I stuck most of my pastries in the freezer for later use, but filled several yesterday.


Chocolate dipped eclairs.

I have to say that this is a great recipe. Not only are these delicious, but they are really super easy. My pastries turned out light, airy, and slightly crispy on the outside. The pastry itself was barely sweetened and each pastry had a perfect cavity inside for filling. The vanilla pudding was a super easy filling option, and the chocolate set up into a slightly crispy shell. This one is a keeper. For a different option, you could make ice cream sandwiches with cream puffs, splitting them in half. Or, you could make Alton’s savory Pâte à Choux, filling split puffs with a savory salad.


A cream puff, cut in half.

Funnel Cake

So, what else can you do with Pâte à Choux? Well, you always opt for funnel cake! To make this classic carnival/fair favorite, heat ~1 inch of vegetable oil to 375 degrees.


Oil, heating to 375 degrees.

Using a #12 piping tip, pipe Pâte à Choux into the hot oil in a circular pattern. Cook the pastry until it is golden brown, flip it over, and cook until the second side is golden.

Remove the pastries to a rack over a sheet pan and dust them liberally with powdered sugar.

My funnel “cakes” turned out more like funnel “straws,” but they were still quite delicious.IMG_6018 I found that the pastry was too thick for the #12 tip, though I had set my dough aside for a while. Still, my pastries were like eating little fried pillows with powdered sugar. These were definitely tasty, though not as pretty as they should be.