Monday, December 16, 2013

Chocolate Pretzel Bacon Bark

In this Pinteresting world today, it's so easy to stumble upon a mouthwatering photo of some yummy treat, read the handful of oh-so-simple "instructions" attached and assume that your magic wand will give you the same result with zero effort.
This is a similar story, but with a wiser plot.  We do things a little differently around these parts, while some folks are baking cute gingerbread men cookies, we march to the beat of our own drum. 
Exhibit A:  
She called him Bojangles.  He may dance for you.
My sister flagged me on a Facebook dessert she came across yesterday.  Post passed and shared from person to person, there was no credit given to the original baker.  There was no reference to an actual recipe.  Just a cut/paste of jumbled together and vague "bag of this, dash of that" and an occasional actual measure to guide the would-be experimenter.
Some people with less experience would have just jumped in with both feet and just followed the leader.  I was distrustful as I read the recipe closer, finding some rather important details missing.  I also immediately knew the end result could be made better.
With bacon.
Not just any bacon.

To make a long story short, this past late summer my husband saw a foodie program wherein David Chang (from Momofuku) did an entire segment touting the glories of a down home man from Madisonville, Tennessee and his smoky mountain "cure".  In the program, the chef said that after he ate this bacon, he wondered what exactly he had been eating his entire life prior to this revelation.  My hubby chuckled and said, "life changing bacon?"  and promptly did research. 

There's a five week wait for this stuff when you order it, guys. 

David Chang wasn't blowing smoke.  He wasn't kidding.  It's that good.  Must eat to believe.

Anyway, we did the five week wait and I knew that my bacon needed to save this recipe from certain boredom.

Please accept the following recipe as a hopeful revision on the original "social media" version.  I added the details that I thought were pertinent.  Oh, and the bacon, too.

Chocolate Pretzel Bacon Bark

1/2 lb (two sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 of a 1-lb bag of thin pretzels (traditional salted) broken in pieces
16 oz of chocolate chips
Coarse Sea Salt (I used red lava salt from Hawaii)
3 strips of Benton's Bacon (or your favorite) cooked crisp, cooled, and chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Break up the pretzels into pieces and cover the lined pan.  You want a single deep layer, but few open spaces.  Break them up so that you don't see much paper except around the border of the pan a bit like this:

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Just when the butter starts to bubble, add the brown sugar.  Just let the sugar melt into the butter without boiling it for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stay with it now, because if left unattended this can become molten lava that hardens into a sugary wall of solitude.   When the butter no longer looks separated from the sugar, pour it over the pretzels in the pan as evenly as possible.

With protected hands, slide the pan back and forth carefully and gently to distribute and let the sugar mixture flow between the pretzel pieces.  Don't worry too much about coverage, because this will head to the oven and continue to bubble and level out.  Bake this sheet for 5 minutes.

Remove the sheet to a level spot and immediately sprinkle all the chocolate chips evenly over the surface.  Place the pan back into the oven for just under a minute.  The heat will be just enough to soften the chips.  Pull the pan back out of the oven and use a spatula to quickly spread the chips into one melty layer.  Immediately sprinkle with the chopped bacon (press in any bigger pieces) and just a quick flurry of sea salt.

Place the sheet on a heat proof pad into the refrigerator for at least one hour.  When ready to serve, break the bark up into rough pieces of your preferred size. 

This bark would be equally happy courted by a cup of hot black coffee or an ice cold stout beer.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Spanish Adventure: Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory

I recently visited Spain on a vacation with my family, having many adventures along the way.  One of my favorite towns in the southern region is Mijas, a lovely mountain pueblo spot where artisans tend to gather.  Pottery, painting, etching, food...and now, CHOCOLATE.

That's right, you can buy love.  In chocolate form.

Not only does Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory sell incredible cocoa based delights, coffee, and handcrafted ice creams, they provide workshops for their adoring fans to learn more about the nature of making chocolate into edible love.

You know me, I cannot resist an opportunity!  I dragged my sister kicking and screaming to the workshop.  Well, not really.  I didn't even really have to twist her arm much.  The quest for chocolate knowledge did not stop me from being touristy, however...
Admittedly an "after" photo.  The bag is full of "souvenirs".
A little history is in order about this Happiness Factory.  I didn't get to personally meet the founders but have learned a bit about them, and in internet conversation, they are so very lovely!

First, is Jason Godwin, who happens to be English and originally from a small town called Glossop.  He's lived in Spain since 1992, performing feats of internet techie software grandeur as well as real estate software.  He and his lovely girlfriend Eli, (a lass from southern Ireland, Clonakilty, County Cork to be exact) decided in August of 2011 to open this chocolate factory in Mijas.  They opened their doors in March 2012  selling their delights, having then opened the downstairs cafe in March 2013.  Business seems "grand" from where I stand!

I was literally overwhelmed with cacao magic while on site.  Some of the best shots of this cozy spot are brought to you by Trip Advisor, courtesy of the owners.
Photos of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory, Mijas
This photo of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory is courtesy of TripAdvisor Photos of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory, Mijas
This photo of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory is courtesy of TripAdvisor Photos of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory, Mijas
This photo of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory is courtesy of TripAdvisor Photos of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory, Mijas
This photo of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Now aside from the never-ending possibilities of flavor profiles, the folks at Mayan Monkey Mijas (yes, please do click that link for more eye candy!)  really know and love their craft. 

We were in the petite and delightful hands of Natalie, (also English from Brighton!)  who didn't just set us loose in the chocolate factory, but brought out a real cacao pod to show us exactly where our love affair begins.  These crazy fuzzy beans turn into the waxy confection that we know and love through a very detailed process.  Natalie was kind enough to help us understand that location of that  pod has as much to do with flavor as a grapes to wine.  Not unlike your favorite coffee beans!  We were able to taste single varietal, no-sugar added chocolate from Venezuela, Mexico, and my very favorite, Papau New Guinea.  I must confess, there is a HUGE difference, and if you ever have the opportunity to do this type of tasting, I suggest that you run, don't walk.  If you aren't convinced of the fun we had, get a giggle at me in my hairnet, with Lil' Natalie beside me.

Natalie (left) and me, delirious, (right.)
After a perfect explanation of the history of chocolate, Natalie indulged us with tastings and demonstrations for how those heavenly tempering machines worked, and how to load up a chocolate bar mold from that molten, perfectly tempered streaming chocolate.  We were able to flavor our bars with whatever organic and lovely ingredients we liked!  Just a few examples:  dried rose petals, pistacios, almonds, chili powder, dried fruits, coconut, and many other wonderful choices. 

I must tell you, bacon was not a choice. 

I tried to bring Natalie over to the dark side, however, she remains skeptical.  Aside, European bacon is not what we here in the USA think of as bacon, so in her defense I can see why she would be unconvinced.  Perhaps in time Jason, Eli and Natalie will sit around one night, having too much sangria, and will get all "crazy American" and give it a test run?  After all, when I explained my smoked cocoa brownies, Natalie's interest was indeed piqued.  There is hope...

I made three bars:  one TRUE white chocolate with rose petal, dried strawberry, and pistacio, secondly a milk chocolate bar with salted almonds, and thirdly a dark chocolate with cranberries and chili powder.  Their chili has some heat, let me say.

Either way, we were given some secrets of setting our bars in the freezer for just a moment, to develop a near shell, before moving them into a top secret refrigerator for a little longer.  The rest of the setting time occurs in a climate controlled "room temperature" and were lovingly wrapped by Natalie for us to pickup later in the day.

Here is another great Tripadvisor image from our "playground":

Photos of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory, Mijas

This photo of Mayan Monkey Mijas Chocolate Factory is courtesy of TripAdvisor

It's important to mention the SOURCING for Mayan Monkey's ingredients.  They believe in organic, pure ingredients, and obtaining their chocolate from fair trade environments.  This isn't Nestle, folks.  This is a Happiness Factory with a conscience, and they appreciate the beauty of real, unadulterated ingredients going into their product. 

Their blends are ever changing.  Just to name a few:  Masaman Dark Chocolate with creamed peanut, cardamom, and cinnamon.  a Mijas Blend with local Mijas honey, fennel, and citrus.  I cannot give away all their secrets, but I can say that Jason and Eli are after my very heart with their adventurous and creative take on flavoring chocolate.  NO FEAR! 

I can say without reservation that if my life brought me to Mijas in a permenant way, I would spend at least half my time working for Jason and Eli, if they'd have me.  I can think of nothing else I'd like to work very hard at...and if they should ever dare to enter the Amercian market for chocolate, I hope indeed they ring me up. 

If in Spain, PLEASE try to visit lovely Mijas.  It is located in Malaga province in the south, not at all far from the sea.  There are beautiful people in that mountain town, and I am thankful to have stumbled upon Jason and Eli's lovely shop to add to my list. 

Thank you Mayan Monkey Mijas! Let me know if you ship to the USA!!! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Brandywine Campfire Brownies

We had an unusually cool summer here in Ohio this year, with many of the days more like early fall than dog-days heat.  I am not complaining about this in any way.  I don't do "hot" and I really wilt in humidity.  When the temps are mild like this, I find myself daydreaming of campfires and wine.  Chocolate and s'mores.  Going to bed and waking up with smoky hair and refreshed spirit.
I've been trying to make a dessert out of this feeling for many months now.  I've been talking about it to my hubby for over a year.  As I have mentioned before I've been inspired to return to my kitchen by a sweet friend of mine and so I quit talking about it and started the experiment, in order to prove that I've still. got. it.
The result I put before you is my spin on a s'more, er, or a brownie.  S'mownie?  No.  It's elevated.  Come on up with me!
First I needed to see if these two could play together.

Cocoa, meet Applewood.
That's right.  We're going to infuse cocoa powder with apple wood smoke.  This little trick works on a lot of different base ingredients as I learned in my experiments.  More on those possibilities at the end of this post.
You don't need to do this for a good brownie. But I bet if you want to raise a brownie to a place where you could make all your friends say, "OMG what is IN THIS?" while their eyes widen, you should try it.  My instructions will not overpower your brownie with bacon-like heaviness in the smoky department, but rather heighten and enhance the chocolate and berry flavor to a new level.  Think of it as subliminal smoke.  You can intensify the level of smoke in a few ways which I'll share with you later.  For now, let's get to square one.  I'd like to thank my friend Chef Shawn Guffey, graduate of Johnson & Wales University, for helping me discover this simple-anyone-can-do-it method for cold smoking ingredients.
We did this outside at the grill to keep our smoke alarms from going off, but if you have a fab vent hood over your stove and want to tempt fate, go ahead and do it inside.  (no no no don't!)
Soak a portion of apple wood chips in a bowl  of warm water for about 30 minutes.  I used about a cup or so of chips. 
While soaking, assemble your tools: 
  • a stainless still bowl, a stainless steel strainer that fits well on the bowl with room below for the chips (they can't touch, only flirt)
  • a layer of coarse cheesecloth doubled to fit inside the strainer,
  • a small cast iron skillet,
  • aluminum foil doubled and ready to cover the strainer
  • the recipe's required amount of cocoa powder plus a tablespoon to account for the amount that may stick to the cheesecloth
While the grill  or grill burner heats up, spoon the cocoa into the cheesecloth lined strainer.  Make the layer as even as possible, and let the cocoa climb up the sides of the strainer.  The more surface area the smoke has to grab onto the more flavor you will have. 


Have this set up and standing by, as once we achieve smoke, we'll move fast.
Heat up the skillet and add the chips.  We started ours on the gas burner beside the grill and spread the chips around the hottest parts of the skillet.

    Why wet the chips if we are just going to blaze 'em up?  Well, soaking is going to help us create even heat as the chips dry out, and water is a great conductor of heat.  Each chip will be able to evenly heat, with out a hot spot here and a cold spot there.  Soaking also rinses away some impurities and dust you just don't need.  Heat these up for a while (time depends on your heat source) and you'll see they steam, then dry out and hiss a bit.  Then they'll be very dry and it won't take much to catch them alight.

    Dry Chips, Wisps of Smoke
    Now, you may need to help your chips with a match or lighter to get the flames.  Just get one chip to catch and they will all obediently follow.   Be ready for phase two with that stainless steel bowl and your prepped cocoa hammock.  At this stage we just moved the pan to the grill which was not heated, but safer than lighting chips over a gas burner...

Once all the chips are ablaze, extinguish them quickly and make sure you're smokin'!

    OK, I think we're ready!

    Glowing Embers Await Their Date
    Quickly put the strainer above the bowl, making sure the chips are below the strainer and there is air space between them.  IMMEDIATELY cap with the double layer of foil and tightly seal around.  If you see smoke escaping from your tub of smoky love, tighten it further.
    Cue Barry White.
    OK now carefully take that hot bowl with a heat resistant pot holder below it into a quiet place in the refrigerator.  We'll skip the science of how this works but the cold is going to help the smoke attach to that layer of cocoa.  Let this happiness go on for up to 8 hours. 
    When this step is done, proceed to the brownies recipe, using the cocoa as indicated below.
    Brandywine Brownies
    adapted from Cooking Light, September 2008 issue, Dark Chocolate Cherry Brownies
    3.4 ounces all-purpose flour
    1 cup sugar
    3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, smoked as indicated above
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup American Spoon Brandied Wild Blackberries* (strain seeds out if you prefer the smooth textured brownie without the little snap of seeds and chunkier fruit)
    1/3 cup water
    5 Tablespoons unsalted organic butter
    1 large egg, lightly beaten
    1 large egg white
    1/3 cup semisweet chocolate morsels or coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate
    *if you cannot access American Spoon Wild Blackberries, recipe follows for a quick homemade blackberry jam.  Make this a day ahead of the brownies.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper; coat with cooking spray.
  3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, level with a knife. Combine flour, 1 cup sugar, unsweetened smoked cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.  Combine brandied blackberries, 1/3 cup water, and butter in a small saucepan; bring to a boil.  Add preserves mixture to flour mixture stir well.  Add egg and egg white; stir until smooth.  Stir in semi-sweet chips.  Scrape batter into prepared pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-28  minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted comes out with a few moist crumbs.  Cool in pan on wire rack.  Garnish with vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche, fresh blackberries, and graham cracker cut into shape of your choosing with a sharp cookie cutter.
I am not paid to advertise, but the American Spoon company out of Michigan really got me hooked on their Brandied Wild Blackberries.  This is a luxury for me, and I would be happy to receive jars of this in my Christmas Stocking, Easter Basket, and any other giftable holiday. 

If you don't want to go the boozy route, try this simple recipe for a quick homemade jam.
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla (I use Mexican vanilla)
  1. Mash blackberries in a saucepan with a potato masher. Stir in sugar until juices form; place about 3/4 tablespoon blackberry juice in a small bowl and stir in cornstarch. Pour cornstarch mixture into saucepan.
  2. Bring berries to a boil, stirring often, until jam is thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in cinnamon, allspice and vanilla. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer jam to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled. Stir in lemon juice.
Notes on cold-smoking recipe elements
In my experiments and chats with Chef Shawn, a lot of ingredients we use every day can be put to the cold-smoke test.  Rethink your favorite recipes from the  kitchen and consider if smoke might like to play along.
I smoked raw all-purpose flour and cornmeal using hickory chips before making cornbread.  It was delightfully forward and reminiscent of cornbread on a campfire. 
Some elements that have an affinity for smoke:  salt, ingredients with fat content like butter, nuts, and even the humble marshmallow.  
To really ramp up the brownies, try smoking the salt and flour along with the cocoa powder.  You can also repeat the smoking process, making a new batch of smoldering chips and setting the same strainer of cocoa above it to intensify.  Since you are using cold smoke, heat shouldn't change your ingredient that could prevent it from behaving in your recipe.  The heat of the cooking may reduce the smoky end-result, so trial and error is encouraged.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Short (bread) and Sweet!

So simple.  Tastes like you slaved for hours.
If you wipe away the cobwebs and still read this humble little blog, you'll know that it has been a very long time since I shared a recipe with you.
Home with a four-year old doesn't leave me much time for endeavors in the kitchen that take more than about an hour since she has been out of school for the summer.
Baking is in my very soul and in not doing it, I feel like a cloudy day.
Some folks work out, some read, some go to concerts to catch some bliss.
I preheat the oven.
Well, a sweet friend of mine over here has always been a source of inspiration, a little happy voice nudging me in a whisper..."go play!"and over time, she's really become dear to me.
I have been thinking about getting into the kitchen all weekend.  Something subliminal and most surely coming from the south was calling me and telling me to MAKE time.
So I did.  I grabbed this recipe and got to step one:
In another life I eat this for breakfast every day, raw.
I decided to send her a quick message that I was baking today (to let her know that her magic was working) and lo and behold I immediately got an update that her second cookbook is officially in the works!  Timing could not have been better.  I am so thrilled for her, I cannot express.  The level of her creativity and drive to do what she loves is so very apparent.  It was a no-brainer to me that any publisher should want book #2 from her, but the green light really is cause for celebration.
The World Needs More Sprinkles.
To pull out my pom-poms I took step 2 of my dessert a step further and immortalized her moniker in heavenly jam:
I hope that she giggled aloud when she saw it.  I couldn't stop snickering with glee.
This eventually got smoothed out in an even layer (after making a special wish for her) and topped appropriately.
It is dangerous that shortbread dough is not dangerous to eat raw.
By the way.
I really wish someone would stand up and invent smellovision already, because I want everyone to know what fragrance comes with this oven shot:
If you look close enough you can see that some jam is bubbling=applause for SprinkleBakes!
Either way, I dedicate this long overdue post and shared recipe to my Sugar Sister.
Thank you for that southern breeze, friend.  Congrats!  You are awesome with sprinkles on top.
Raspberry Shortbread Bars
(adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa)
1/2 lb (two sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I love Mexican vanilla)
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 oz Smuckers brand Orchard's Finest "Lakeside Raspberry Cranberry Preserves"
2/3 cup granola (without dried fruit)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place butter and sugar in the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment and mix on medium speed just until combined.  With the mixer on low, add the vanilla.
Using a whisk, stir together the flour and salt, and with the mixer on low, slowly add to the butter mixture, mixing until it almost comes together in a ball.  Turn the dough out onto a board.  Lightly pat two-thirds of the dough evenly on the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan* and about 1/4 inch up the sides.  Spread with the jam (you can make someone special's initials with it too, make a wish for them before smoothing!) and leave a 1/4 inch border around the sides.
Mix the granola into he remaining dough with your fingers.  Break the dough into small bits and distribute it on top of the jam, covering most of the surface.  Sprinkle almonds on top.  Bake the bars for 45 minutes, until lightly browned. 
Cool completely and cut into 12 bars.  Eat one of these babies, hot, and you'll need a tongue donor!
*I used a lovely ceramic baking dish from my sister, but if you have the metal pan handy, I suggest lining it with a parchment sling to make removing the block easier before cutting. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Yes, I'm Still Here!

I'm still in the kitchen.  Sometimes.  Especially for birthdays.
I get help.
From box cake mixes.
Sweet Friends.
Coffee.  Lots and lots of coffee.
I'll be back soon, promise.

Monday, March 25, 2013


Hello friends,
Sorry I have not been active at Sweet Teeth.  I am making some changes that will allow me some focus time to continue my hobby here, but until then, won't you help me show appreciation for my inspiration, my mentor, and my Sugar Sister Heather Baird from SprinkleBakes?

I've nominated her for Saveur's 2013 Best Blog Award in the following categories:
Best Baking/Desserts Blog
Best Photography
To help, just cut this link and paste it in later as you vote:
Please click this link and join me in rushing the contest and sweeping the vote for Heather!
Heather has continued to inspire and astound us with her artistic flair and creative combinations that make our mouths water!  She's truly risen above the competition and I can honestly say there isn't a better sweets blogger out there.
She's also VERY cool.
And humble.
And deserving.
Thank you to all my sweet readers for helping in this way!
More to come from Sweet Teeth!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

If You Give A Kid A Cookie...

My time has not allowed me a fancy Valentine's Day post, but I wanted to share with you a baking moment that fits right in with Sweet Teeth...and possibly dentists everywhere.

My 3 year old had a playdate yesterday, and I set up a table with some simple sugar cookies and pink frosting, sprinkles galore and writing gels for them to embellish. 

Needless to say they had a great time, making cookies for every family member in their household.  My daughter really wanted to show her Daddy some love, and achieved the nearly impossible feat of putting an entire serving-size box of conversation hearts onto one cookie.  AND sprinkles.  AND writing gels.  AND M&M's.  I swear there is a cookie under this:

She REALLY loves her Daddy.
Happy Valentine's Day.  May yours be as sweet and cavity-free!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sweet Teeth Featured at Zanda Panda

Very excited that Sandy from Zanda Panda has featured my Khaleesi Dragon Cookies on her blog!

I never even thought we were saying goodbye to the "year of the dragon" this year as well as the GOT premier coming up in March!

Check out Sandy's shout-out and her wonderful site of molds here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Guest Post: Abby Dodge & Giveaway!

A while ago I began flipping through Fine Cooking Magazine and finding great inspiration for my savory and sweet table.  Naturally I gravitated toward their Facebook feed for a more instant satisfaction. 

I noticed a fun feature one day, shortly before the holidays, where facebook fans could join in a live one-hour chat with Abigail Johnson Dodge, contributing editor.  The chat involved holiday baking questions.  In addition to picking Abby's brain, each question earned an entry to win Abby's newest cookbook, Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets published by The Tauton Press.
Aww!  How approachable is SHE?

photo © Winnie Abramson

I just wanted to ask Abby why my cakes are always dry.  So I did.  And she gave me some great tips...and shortly thereafter I found out I was one of the lucky giveaway winners!

photo © 2012 Miki Duisterhof
I started to do a little more research on Abby, and noticed the feature in Fine Cooking on Abby in her kitchen.  After dreaming about what it might be like to bake in her beautiful space, I thought I really should be sharing all this with my Sweet Teeth readers.  So, I asked Abby if she'd join me here for a guest post after I'd had a chance to review her book.  It all came together and we have Abby here today sharing a recipe from her cookbook - just in time to share for Valentine's Day!

Sharing.  Valentine's Day.  Hand-Held.  Love. 

Abby and I could not share this post without sharing the love and doing a giveaway.  Worldwide.

Read on to learn more about Abby, baking, and the prettiest looking Double Ginger Pavlovas I've ever seen!  Giveaway rules follow the recipe.

ST:  Tell me about #baketogether – what made you want to reach your audience this way and what is most rewarding about it?
AJD:  Baketogether began as a Twitter conversation amongst some friends/ bakers from around the globe. We all wished that we could be in the same kitchen and, well, bake together. What I love about this virtual bakers' kitchen is its way to encourage bakers of all abilities to try a new technique, stretch their creativity and, ultimately, put their own twists on the original recipe. I find it wonderfully rewarding to see so many different variations of my recipes!

ST:  Along with access via social media, you have opened your kitchen door to baking questions through your “Ask Abby” forum.  What are some of the most common questions you are asked by the home baking audience and what basic tips would you give to cover those answers?

AJD:  I encourage readers to reach out with any questions they may have. I'm honored to receive so many emails and I'm always happy to help. The questions range from fruit/flavor/baking pan size substitutions to troubleshooting recipe missteps. Over the years, the most discussed topic is about measuring ingredients. Everyone measures ingredients in different ways and this can and will lead to a wide variety of results - not all of them good. This is why I encourage bakers to use a scale for weighing their dry ingredients. I include weights in my recipes and if folks at home use those amounts, their results will be more consistent with mine and each time they make the recipe.
ST:  Can you cure me of my Hollow Macarons Disease?  I think I’ve tried everything.

AJD:  This is a complex question with no one simple answer. Here are two thoughts. Try them one at a time until you find success. 1) Macaronage needs to be just-so - the batter should flow like thick lava - or the meringue will have too much spring when it hits the oven. Solution: Watch some videos on this process and PRACTICE! 2) Like with all baking, the oven temperature needs to be just. For macarons, a too-hot oven can cause a puffed and harden shell and a cool oven can result in a underbaked shell with the center collapsing as it cools. Solution: buy a mercury oven thermometer and adjust the temperature dial as needed.
ST:  You love asking your audience to add their own twist to your shared recipes and take on their feedback.  What kind of things have you learned with this kind of interaction?

AJD:  I love reading about everyone's variations. Between the different flavors, shapes and pairings, I get an idea of what folks here and around the world like to see in their desserts. This input is invaluable as I strive to create even better recipes.
ST:  Tell us a secret.  Any dessert disasters?  Fess up!

AJD:  Oh.. of course I've had disasters - many of them, in fact - in both professional kitchens/bakeries, recipe development and in my personal baking! Like all mistakes, I think it's essential to learn and build from them and, honestly, I think my desserts have benefitted from those trials. It's what you make of them, right?A few years back, I was making an extra long buche de noel and I had concocted an extra long board to serve it on. Turns out the board wasn't sturdy enough and as I was carrying the beauty, the middle of the board collapsed and the whole buche nearly went two ends to the middle! Luckily, I saved enough of the cake and with the help of extra merinque mushrooms, wine goblets, whipped cream and a bottle of dark rum, I re-created a sort of tiramisu-meets-eton mess meats- buche de noel!
ST:  I found myself wishing every recipe in Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets had a photo to guide me.  What advice can you give me as I attempt those recipes without the visual safety net?

AJD:  Everyone, including me, wishes that every recipe could have at least one image but, most of the time, that isn't possible. That's why I go to great lengths to include as many visual and sensory clues for doneness throughout the recipe. This way, the reader has a clear "sense" of what to see, smell and taste along the way.
ST:  You were the founding test kitchen director at Fine Cooking Magazine and continue as a contributor there.  What did you learn in the test kitchen that you carry with you in every recipe?

AJD:  Great question. We touched on this a few answers up but it's worth mentioning again. When I develop and write a recipe, I always keep two things in mind. First is my reader: who are they? what do they like? what are they expecting? Secondly, I want my bakers to learn to trust their instincts and become empowered bakers. I always include sensory tips along with a range of time so that home bakers are judging doneness with their senses (see, smell, touch and taste) and using the timing as a guide.
ST:  I’ve found in the baking world that those deeply involved have strong foundations with relatives who taught them or baked with them as children.  Do you think there is a “Baker’s Gene” that perpetuates this?

AJD:  I'm not sure I'd call it a "Gene", it more like a passion. Regardless of when some is introduced to baking, they either love it or leave it.
ST:  Do you think this was a driving factor in your cookbooks that involve baking with kids?  What tips might you share about working with little ones in the kitchen?

AJD:  Working with kids in the kitchen is a mutually rewarding time - such quality time with delicious results! I tell people to include their kids in the baking/cooking process at a very early age. There are plenty of tasks that even very young kids can accomplish successfully. As they grow and their skills improve, they will become confident cooks and bakers and you will have shared wonderful moments of success and conversation that will be remembered for a lifetime.
ST:  Is there anything in the pastry world you find to be a huge challenge?

AJD:  I'm lucky that my career has been varied and I have trained in many areas of desserts and pastries. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm perfect at everything! Here's an example.. even though I've made countless detailed and intricate wedding cakes, I think I'm a lousy cookie decorator. Truth is, when I need decorated cookies for an event, project or even edible thank-you 'notes' (really), I turn to Gail Dosik of One Tough Cookie. We all have our strengths, right?
ST:  Valentine’s Day is coming up soon.  What essential ingredient says “love” to you?

AJD:  This Valentine's Day, I'm telling chocolate to step aside and make room for vanilla! I adore the heady scent of pure extract and I'm crazy for vanilla bean paste - all those zillions of tiny seeds are just too wonderful!
ST:  Speaking of “love”, what current or past cook/pastry chef would you most love to have with you in your kitchen today?

AJD:  This is impossible to answer! I have been very fortunate to have worked with many talented folks but, as there are so, so many wonderfully talented authors and chefs, past and present, that I'd be thrilled to work with, I just can't pick one.. it would be more like a hundred!
Well, I know that I'd love to have Abby in my kitchen overseeing my macaronage technique...but she's here now sharing another meringue-style treat for your Valentine's Day table!  Check out this recipe and ways to follow Abby for your own baking advice!
photo © 2012 Miki Duisterhof
Double Ginger Pavlovas
From Mini Treats and Hand-Held Sweets: Abigail Johnson Dodge
Makes about 5 dozen pavlovas

For the Pavlovas
1 cup (7 ounces) superfine sugar (see Kitchen Wisdom tip below)
5 teaspoons cornstarch
Pinch of table salt
1⁄2 cup egg whites (from 4 large eggs or 41⁄4 ounces), at room temperature
1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon vinegar (distilled white, white wine, or white balsamic)
3⁄4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Ginger Whipped Cream
1-1⁄3 cups heavy cream, chilled
2⁄3 cup (25⁄8 ounces) confectioners’ sugar (sifted if lumpy)
3⁄4 teaspoon finely grated
fresh ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups assorted, cut-up fresh fruit, such as kiwi, raspberries, pomegranate arils

With their tutu-like appearance, “pavs” are said to have been invented by either an Australian or New Zealand chef in honor of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Regardless of their heritage, I love the soft, billowy texture of these meringues—
so much so that I think I have included variations of this recipe in every one of my books. For this version, I’ve packed the mini meringues and whipped filling with ginger (crystallized and fresh). In keeping with this dessert’s “Down Under” roots, I top these bites with a slice or two of kiwi and a few raspberries, but any fresh, seasonal fruit will taste delicious.

Make the Pavlovas

1. Position oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment (nonstick liners don’t work with this recipe). For the best meringue volume, be sure to start with super clean equipment (see Kitchen Wisdom tip below ).
2. Put the superfine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl and whisk until well blended and there are no lumps. Set aside.

3. Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in the clean bowl. Beat with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until the whites are frothy, about 30 to 45 seconds. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the whites form firm peaks, 11⁄2 to 2 minutes. Continue beating while gradually adding the sugar mixture by tablespoonfuls. This will take about 3 minutes. When all the sugar mixture is added, stop the mixer, scrape down the sides, and add the crystallized ginger, vinegar, and vanilla. Beat on high speed until blended, about 30 seconds.

4. Using a 2-tablespoon mini scoop, arrange meringue mounds about 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Using the back of a 1⁄2-teaspoon metal measure lightly coated with water, make a small indentation in the center and about halfway down each meringue. Re-wet the spoon every few uses. Don’t worry if the meringues aren’t all perfect.

5. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F. Bake until the outside feels firm and the meringue moves only slightly when nudged with a fingertip (the centers will still be soft), about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. (The temp is so low there’s no need to switch placement of the cookie sheets during baking.) Turn off the oven and let the meringues cool in the oven for 1 hour, then move the sheets to wire racks and let cool completely. Carefully lift the meringues from the paper and stow in an airtight container until ready to assemble and serve.

Make the Cream and Assemble

1. Put the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until it’s thick enough to hold firm peaks when the beater is lifted, about 2 minutes. Add the grated ginger and vanilla and beat on medium until well blended.

2. Spoon or pipe about 1 tablespoon of the whipped cream into the center of each meringue and top with the fruit.

Do Ahead

• The baked and cooled meringues can be stowed in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day.

• The filled pavlovas can be assembled and stowed in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours before serving.


• Make the filling lemon: Spoon homemade or store-bought lemon curd into the meringue wells and top with fruit.

• Give it a flavor: Omit the crystallized ginger from the meringue and add 1⁄4 teaspoon pure peppermint oil along with the vanilla. Instead of using the fresh ginger in the whipped cream, add 4 table­spoons unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed style
is preferable for this recipe, but not mandatory). Instead of topping with fruit, sprinkle the piped cocoa cream with finely chopped peppermint candies.

Kitchen Wisdom-Superfine Sugar

If you can’t find superfine sugar at your grocery store, make your own by whizzing the same amount of granulated sugar in a food processor until the granules are pulverized. These finely ground sugar crystals dissolve quickly in whipped whites to make silky, sweet meringues.

Kitchen Wisdom -Why A Clean Bowl and Beaters Matter

To make sure you get the maximum volume from beaten egg whites, you need to start with a very clean bowl and beaters without any trances of grease. Put the whisk into the bowl, add a good splash of white vinegar, and fill with some warm water. Swirl the bowl to coat the whisk and the inside of the bowl. Pour out the vinegar water, rinse with fresh cold water, and dry thoroughly with a clean towel.

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Want a book of your own?
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Follow the Giveaway Rules for your chance to win a copy! 

Contest closed.  Congratulations Barb K! 
1.  Comment on THIS POST* with your own "twist" on Abby's Double Ginger Pavlova recipe.
2.  Want another chance to win?  Follow Abby on Twitter @abbydodge and leave a separate comment on THIS POST* telling me you did.
3.  Contest will close Friday, January 25th, 2013 at 9pm EST. 
4.  Giveaway is open to anyone with a valid mailing address.  Winner will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by email.  Winner will have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen.  *Please make sure your entry/comment leaves me a way to reach you!