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By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Baking

Magnolia Bakery: 6 Ways to Ruin a Cupcake 

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Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes

© Courtesy of Magnolia Bakery
Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes

Last week, the confectionery geniuses at New York City’s Magnolia Bakery started offering their Sex and the City–approved cupcakes for national delivery. The company spent nearly two years testing out packaging before adding cupcakes to its lineup of cookies, brownies and bars already available online. (The cupcakes had a tendency to become less than pristine during the shipment process.)

 “I think my mother’s sick of me sending her cupcakes,” says Magnolia Bakery president Bobbie Lloyd. That’s not to say Lloyd will ever tire of America’s enduring dessert obsession. She served cupcakes at her wedding long before they became trendy. While Magnolia’s cupcakes can arrive literally overnight, Lloyd is happy to encourage baking at home. Here, she shares six mistakes that home bakers make when trying to create the perfect cupcake.

1. Skimming the recipe. Thoroughly reading the full recipe before getting started will help you avoid unwanted surprises midway through. Even as a professional baker, Lloyd admits to skipping this step: “There have been times where I’ve run out of vanilla extract, or sometimes my brown sugar will be as hard as a rock because I haven’t baked in a while.”

2. Using warm butter. Cupcake recipes often call for room-temperature butter, but what is room temperature? “For all intents and purposes, it should be 70 degrees,” says Lloyd, “but most people's home kitchens are too warm.” This is a problem if you want to make cupcakes from scratch, since butter is the leavening in those recipes. “When the butter is warmer than it needs to be,” she says, “you can’t whip it into the ingredients long enough, meaning the end result doesn’t come out as it should.” Her quick tip: If you take butter straight out of the fridge, then put it in the microwave on defrost for 10 seconds, it should reach the correct texture.

3. Forgetting to check the oven temperature. “Most home cooks never think to check this,” says Lloyd. It’s especially important when you’re working in a new or unfamiliar kitchen. “The first time I tried baking something in my new apartment, I burned a cupcake recipe I’ve been making for years. I went out and bought a thermometer, and guess what? The oven temperature was actually 75 degrees hotter than what I’d set it to!”

4. Substituting ingredients. Be careful how you alter a recipe. “A friend of mine once added cake mix instead of cake flour to a mixture of flour and baking soda, and her cupcakes ended up exploding in the oven!” says Lloyd. 

5. Watching TV instead of your cupcakes. It’s extremely easy to overbake cupcakes, so don’t lose track of the time. “If the recipe says 25 minutes,” says Lloyd, “go and test them in 20.” If the tester comes out clean at that point, go ahead and take them out to cool, since they’ll continue to bake for a few minutes outside of the oven.

6. Letting your cupcakes cool completely in the pan. After taking your cupcakes out of the oven, Lloyd suggests removing them from the pan after about 10 or 15 minutes. “The cupcakes will absorb too much moisture if you leave them in any longer,” she says. And soggy cupcake paper is never pretty.

Related: F&W's Best Cupcake Recipes
Beautiful Desserts
How to Make Layer Cakes
Best Pie Spots in the U.S.

Baking

Virtual Cookie Swap: Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs

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Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs

© Fredrika Stjärne
Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs

We’re excited to bring one of our favorite new holiday recipes to a virtual cookie swap hosted by the Food Network today. Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs—cocoa, coffee and pecans rolled together and dusted in pretty powdered sugar—starred in our December issue's retro Christmas party planner. They're a delicious addition to a dessert table, but they would also look beautiful piled into a tin for a real holiday swap. Food Network reached out to a range of fantastic food sites to share cookie recipe links, and you can check out the many offerings below. Follow the event on Twitter using #pullupachair.

Related: Christmas Cookies
Christmas Desserts
Christmas Recipes

ALL YOU: Pecan and Honey Diamonds
Oprah.com: Sugar Cookies
Gilt Taste: Momofuku Milk Bar's Holiday Cookie Recipes
Liquor.com: Drink in the Holidays
Cooking Light: Iced Sugar Cookies
MyRecipes.com: Ultimate Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Food52: Ginger Spiced Molasses Sugar Cookies
Cooking Channel: The White House’s Molasses Spice Cookies “Gingersnaps”
BlogHer: Triple Chocolate Almond Cookies
CafeMom: Marvelous Mini Apple Crisp Cookies
The Daily Meal: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Food Republic: Gingerbread Cheesecake Cookies
Food & Wine: Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs
EatingWell: 5 Tips for Perfect Gingerbread Cookies
Redbook Magazine: Candy Cane Cookies
Gourmet Live: Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies
AP/ J.M. Hirsch: Ginger Fig Crumb Bars
Fox News: White Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies
Epicurious: Italian Almond Cookies
Big Girls Small Kitchen: Cowboy Cookies
FN Dish: Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip-Bacon Cookies

Yahoo! Shine: Nutmeg Rosettes
YumSugar: Coconut Date Balls

Plus: Homemade Christmas Gifts

Entertaining

How to Set Up a Thanksgiving Pie Bar

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Tiffany MacIsaac's Holiday Pie Bar

© Neighborhood Restaurant Group
Tiffany MacIsaac's Holiday Pie Bar

Showstopping desserts can outshine buttery mashed potatoes and perfect stuffing on Thanksgiving. That's the opinion of Tiffany MacIsaac, who oversees the pastry program for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which operates Birch & Barley and Tallua in the Washington, DC, area. MacIsaac likes to put holiday sweets—in particular, pie—on mouthwatering display from the start so guests can admire dessert from the moment they arrive.

At Buzz Bakery in Alexandria, VA, she's now offering a DIY Pie Bar package that comes with two pies (like Chocolate-Bourbon Pecan and Classic Pumpkin), house-made ice cream, cinnamon whipped cream, caramel sauce and candied cranberries. Since Buzz doesn't ship its baked goods, MacIsaac shared these tips on how to set up a DIY Pie Bar at home.

1. Make it a group project. Guests usually ask the host how they can contribute to the holiday meal. You can plan a cohesive, pie-centric menu for Thanksgiving and delegate specific components to invitees. If one guest brings pumpkin pie, others can take on gingersnap cookie crumbs and caramel sauce, and non-cooks can be in charge of bringing beautiful cake stands. The display will grow into something fantastically unexpected as the guests arrive.

2. Don't pay for props. MacIsaac repurposes items from around the house for the display. A stack of books works as a pedestal; fallen leaves make an easy accent to scatter around the table; an old frame refines the look of a printed menu. Lighting is especially important. Everyone looks good by candlelight and the same goes for food.

3. Incorporate traditional fall flavors. During the holidays, people look for familiar foods. If you experiment with something new like salted-caramel cream pie, you can also offer a super-old-fashioned option like double-crust apple pie or upgrade a classic, as in a meringue-topped sweet potato pie.

4. Consider textures. You don’t want all mush or all crunch when it comes to a pie or the toppings you set out for guests. With the pie bar, everyone gets whipped cream, nuts, cookie crumbs, sauce.

5. Master the pie crust. Besides the logistics of setting up a dessert display, the most basic rule of a great pie bar is to make delicious pies, and that starts with good crust. MacIsaac likes a nice amount of salt in the dough to balance the sweetness of fillings. And she says you might want to add vodka, not to your glass, but to the water as you mix the dough. It evaporates more quickly, so you’re left with less moisture, which makes for a more tender, flaky crust. In a dough recipe calling for water, MacIsaac subs vodka for about 1/6 to 1/4 of the water.

 

Related: Thanksgiving Desserts
Thanksgiving Pies
5 Easy Ways to Ruin the Thanksgiving Turkey

Recipes

Towering Layer Cake for the Weekend

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Warning: Test Kitchen Tease snapshots may cause cravings, lip-smacking and an unshakeable desire to cook.

Layer Cakes from Seattle's Dahlia Bakery

© Grace Parisi
Layer Cakes from Seattle's Dahlia Bakery

This week in the Test Kitchen, Food & Wine’s Senior Recipe Developer Grace Parisi tested two unparalleled layer cakes from Seattle’s Dahlia Bakery. Dahlia fills its decadent chocolate cake (top right) with an irresistible bittersweet chocolate mousse and frosts the cake with a creamy hazelnut buttercream. Brown butter yellow cake (far left) provided a rich canvas for white chocolate mousse filling—spiked with a delicate amount of orange liqueur—and bittersweet chocolate frosting. These recipes will be published early next year, but this weekend, you can practice your baking skills on this super-delicious old-fashioned chocolate layer cake from Test Kitchen Supervisor Marcia Kiesel.

Related: Layer Cake Recipes

Thanksgiving Desserts

Thanksgiving Pies and Tarts

Cookbooks

The Only Bread-Baking Book You’ll Ever Knead

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Photography by Matthew Septimus

© Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Photography by Matthew Septimus

Celebrity restaurateurs such as Danny Meyer and Daniel Boulud have tried—without success—to supply their restaurants with the stellar baguettes baked by students at The French Culinary Institute in NYC. According to FCI’s founder, Dorothy Cann Hamilton, Air France pilots on layover have been spotted at the school's restaurant, L'Ecole, trying to stock up on the crunchy baguettes. Evidently, these cult 23-inch batons are a chore to procure.

As an alum of FCI's classic culinary program, I’ve had the pleasure of sampling bread from the baking courses. Then last week, an event previewing FCI’s third book, The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking, included some hands-on experience. We kneaded and shaped buttery brioche, sliced fanciful patterns in stretched fougasse (an olive-studded French bread similar to focaccia) and heard stories of 14-year-old starters—captured wild-yeast spores, which lend the distinct sour taste and aroma to sourdough. Most importantly, the evening ended with advance copies of the only bread-baking cookbook anyone may ever need.

Released by Stewart, Tabori & Chang this week, the comprehensive guide covers the FCI’s intensive 8-week bread-baking course in more than 350 pages. With dozens of recipes—including the famed baguette—the tome will appeal to anyone seeking total immersion in the art of bread baking.

News

Sullivan Street Bakery Occupies Wall Street

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Jim Lahey: an Occupy Wall Street Bread Donor.

By now you know, the Occupy Wall Street crowd isnt in any danger of starving. In Jeff Gordiniers excellent article in last weeks New York Times, a protester said hed gained five pounds in 12 days. Among the enviable food thats being served at Zuccotti Park: pastrami and corned beef sandwiches from Katzs deli, Ben & Jerrys ice cream and cookies from a former Birdbath baker (which means those are some good cookies). All the carbo-loading protesters have got some terrific bread to snack on, too. Sullivan Street Bakery owner Jim Lahey, who is gearing up to open both his University of Bread and his new Ninth Avenue bakery this winter, has been supplying the protesters with bread for three weeks now. Right now, the deliveries are overage loaves that get delivered around 3 a.m., but eventually Lahey wants to bake directly for OWS. Maybe he can create a special No-Knead No-Greed loaf.
 

Restaurants

Top 5 Trends in Restaurant Desserts

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Since I'm pretty obsessed with finding great desserts, I spend a lot of time examining pastry menus from all over the country. Here are some of the biggest trends turning up on early fall menus.

Upside-Down Cake Recipe

© Tina Rupp
Upside-Down Cake.

1. Black pepper. Salt continues to be popular, but now pastry chefs are experimenting with pepper, which adds a mild heat to desserts like tuiles, sablés and even cheesecake.

2. Brown sugar. Obviously brown sugar is nothing new, but now it's being called out as the title ingredient in pavlovas, tea cakes, pound cakes and cookies. This recipe for simple Iced Brown Sugar Cookies from Baked in Brooklyn is a great way to embrace the trend at home.

3. Chocolate crémeux. The French word just translates to "creamy." The silky, pudding-like dessert seems to be the new darling on pastry menus. For an Italian take on this classic, try this Milk Chocolate Cremoso recipe.

4. Duck fat, lard and foie gras. These fatty faves are adding a savory element to cookies, profiteroles and even s'mores.

5. Upside-down cakes. Pluot, peach, blueberry, black plum, and of course pineapple are some of the fruits starring in this easy cake. The most interesting fruit in rotation has to be tomato, seen at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon. Here's our recipe for the perfect upside-down cake.

Related: 30 Beautiful Desserts
Delicious Chocolate Desserts
Fabulous Apple Dessert Recipes

 

Baking

Mail-Order French Pastries

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The October issue celebrates France. Here, new U.S. shops and mail-order sources that let you taste exceptional French desserts the easy way.

 

Creme Brulee in a Jar

© Kate Mathis
Creme Brulee in a Jar

CRÈME BRÛLÉE

Dessert in a Jar: Petaluma, California–based Rob Waddell sells the silky dessert in three flavors. You'll need to blowtorch the top to get a restaurant-style crackly crust. ($40 for six 4-oz jars; sweetcremebrulee.foodzie.com).

MILLE-FEUILLE

Delicate Pastry: The layers of cream and puff pastry are too fragile to ship, so a visit to Olivier Dessyn's NYC shop is the best way to try his signature sweet. (552 Laguardia Pl.; millefeuille-nyc.com).

French Macarons

© Kate Mathis
Mail-Order Patisserie: Macarons

MACARONS

Champion Cookie: F&W editors tried macarons from seven bakeries and liked the ones from NYC's Macaron Café best: crisp but chewy almond-flavored cookies sandwiching intense fillings. Our favorite flavor: caramel. (From $15 for six; macaroncafe.com).

Pâtisserie Legend: Paris's Maison Ladurée, the pâtisserie credited with creating macarons in the early 20th century, finally opened an outpost in New York City, its first in the US. (864 Madison Ave.; laduree.fr).


CANNELÉS

Bordeaux-Born Cake: Gil Ortale has built his Philadelphia bakery business around a French regional sweet: the cannelé, a caramelized, fluted miniature cake with a custardy interior. ($25 per dozen; marketdaycanele.com).

Related:
The Best Paris Bakeries
Amazing French Dessert Recipes
A Vermont Bakery's Perfect French Tarts and Desserts

Baking

5 Ways to Ruin a Cake

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Here, Baked co-owner Matt Lewis explains how you can do wrong by his number-one passion in our new blog series called What Not to Do.

Malt-Ball Cake by Baked

© Tina Rupp
Malt-Ball Cake by Baked.

This is my relationship with cake: Cake is kind of my obsession, and I probably eat too much of it. I much prefer cake to cupcakes (the frosting/sponge/filling ratio is more to my liking), and I prefer cake for breakfast as opposed to a post-dinner sugar binge (cake goes extremely well with that first hit of coffee). I will eat almost any type of cake—but I really like dark-chocolate versions. As much as I want to love every cake, though, it's not always easy. Sometimes we do things to cake that we normally wouldn't do to things we love. Here, five ways to ruin a cake:

1. Put toilet-paper rolls in it. The disturbing trend of treating cake as a Michael's craft experiment is kind of gross and completely unappetizing. Do people actually eat cakes filled with chicken wire? Would the food world rise up if this trend started hitting other foodstuffs (i.e., salmon molded into the shape of your favorite cat, or pork chops twisted into a Prada purse)? Leave cake alone.

2. Experiment with food coloring. Perhaps I worry too much, but I think ingesting a cake that is neon red is not good for you—and I really do think some food colorings/gels add a slightly weird chemical-ish taste to cakes and icings (especially in large quantities). I love some of the natural brands, like India Tree, and I really appreciate the lighter shades that less food coloring imparts—they just seem more eatable.

3. Fetishize frosting. Bad cake cannot be covered up, and good cake should not get lost in mounds of frosting. Frosting should complement a cake, not overpower it in sweetness or in weight. By the way, icing shots are gross (think of salsa shots). Let's not encourage this trend.

4. Bake it to clean out the pantry. This goes for almost any recipe. Make sure you use fresh ingredients—baking soda and baking powder lose their potency over time, and old spices are ineffective and will impart an "off" taste. Also, if you are making a chocolate cake, make sure to start with a really good chocolate, since it is the star of the show.

5. Roast it. Most ovens are off by a few degrees at best, and wildly inaccurate at worst. Buy a cheapo oven thermometer to gauge your true oven temperature and adjust accordingly. Oven temperature is key to good baking. Overly hot ovens can cause cakes to be crispy on the outside and goopy on the inside, while your cake might not rise properly in a cooler oven.

Matt Lewis is the co-owner (with Renato Poliafito) of Baked in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He doesn't eat enough leafy greens. Oh, and he co-wrote two cookbooks: Baked: New Frontiers in Baking and Baked Explorations. He is currently very behind on his third book, due out in October 2012.

Related: Malt-Ball Cake Recipe by Baked
More Wonderful Cake Recipes

Baking

Greenspan’s CookieBar Launches Delivery

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© Courtesy of CookieBar.
WANTED: Joshua Greenspan spotted trafficking in deliciousness.

Author and baker extraordinaire Dorie Greenspan, with son Joshua, just started New York delivery for CookieBar, their pop-up series and online bakery service. Testing production on a seriously small scale, Joshua personally messengered orders in Manhattan last Friday and will continue in the coming weeks.

Just four signature flavors are available, but anyone who’s tried the crumbly, butter-rich pucks at one of the temporary shops in the last two years will be eager to order two dozen at a time—the approximate minimum. “We did favorites: World Peace; Espresso Chocolate Chip, really chocolate shard—it has pieces of hand-chopped chocolate in it; Sugar-Topped Sablés; and Coconut Limes,” says Dorie. World Peace Cookies are all Valrhona chocolaty and touched with fleur de sel, while the other flavors are tall, with smooth, browned edges that come from being baked in metal rounds. Here, Dorie and Josh delve into the real-world details of an artisanal food business and what legendary artist already scored one of the cookie deliveries. 

What’s the delivery process?
J: The minimum order is $48, but generally people have been ordering two-dozen cookies. They're $2 each, or $2.75 for World Peace.

D: And there's a $5 delivery charge, but you don't have to tip the deliveryman.

J: There was only one delivery where I actually had to go up four flights of stairs and knock on somebody's door and personally hand them a bag, so I'm not too worried about it.

D: You did have a delivery to a famous artist and you got to tour his studio.

Which artist?
D: LeRoy Neiman—he just had his 90th birthday. He did, and still does, a lot of sports paintings. I remember as a kid when the Olympics would show and he would do live paintings. They would say, “OK, back to LeRoy.” Somebody ordered cookies for him as a gift, so Joshua got to tour the studio and see 50 years of paint on the floor.

How did you work out packaging for such beautifully crumbly cookies?
J: What we learned is that we are still looking for packaging. We're looking at custom boxes.

D: You're straddling the need to protect the cookies and the fact that you want people to open the box and say, “Wow!” You also don't want people to open the box and see crumbs. We have these gorgeous designs for the most fabulous boxes you've ever seen, and no one says they're buildable.

Any pop-ups in the works?
D: We'll be at the NYC Wine & Food Festival at SWEET to benefit Share Our Strength on September 30.

J: The hope is that we'll also have something pop-up in September, maybe during Fashion Week, and at least one or two more times before the end of the year.

Many people dream of opening a food business. What’s it like so far?
D: There were so many times I thought, I'll just open a little cookie business. For anyone who bakes, it really is a dream, and then at some point you think, this is crazy. I won't do this. Then you have a kid, and the kid says, “You know, Ma, I always give your cookies to my friends, and they think you should open a shop.” And you think, I'm old enough to know better. We'll get the kinks out, but between the dream and actually getting the cookies out, it's a whole lot of practical stuff. It's good to have help, though. Thank you, Joshua.

(Orders for this week have to be placed today.)

Related: F&W's Best Cookie Recipes

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

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