Baking has always been a challenge for me. Not necessarily because it is hard, although it is that, but because it takes a lot more time and patience than I am usually willing to accept. Unless you’re making something very complicated, cooking a meal usually provides “instant” gratification. Baking, well, it just takes time; but the gratification is so much greater.
I have been in the kitchen alongside both of my parents since I was very young. One of my favorite things to do when I was little was to sit on the floor and use the salad spinner to dry the lettuce. Let’s be real, I still do this. My mom also had me making pie crust at an early age. She says I had the perfect little fingers to make the perfect pea-sized crumbs of shortening and flour. My fingers aren’t that much bigger now, but the action of making the perfect pea-sized crumbs isn’t quite as exciting any more. But maybe this is why I love crust so much…it’s always been my favorite part of any pie.
When I was in middle school, my three best friends and I began a Christmas tradition that lasted many years. We would meet at “our” Starbucks, and we would exchange gifts with each other. From what I can remember, these gifts were almost always handmade. One year someone made us each a purse out of placemats. I remember another time getting a framed photo of my face photo-shopped over Hermione Granger, arm in arm with Victor Crum… I’ll just leave it at that.
Another one of these friends would make us the most beautiful cookies each year, specially wrapped in cute boxes. These were no chocolate chip cookies–these were work of art. I remember one cookie in particular she made that looked like a window. It had two sugar cookies put together, but the top cookie had cutouts, and inside the cutouts she had melted Jolly Rancher candies to make them look like stained glass. Genius.
This friend is Jennifer. She has always loved to bake, to try new flavors, and create something uniquely her. Right now she lives a few states north, but she continues to inspire me in my life, my faith, and my food.
I needed her help this week to get ideas for a baby shower I was helping host. We decided on a coffee bar themed shower, and I already had the cake planned, but I needed ideas for another sweet treat. The cake, by the way, was the same recipe I used for the ultimate birthday cake. I used a frosting recipe I found for basil mascarpone buttercream. It sounds a little funky, and it is, but the basil is very subtle, and the mascarpone in the regular buttercream is very light and delicate. It was lovely but maybe not for everyone.
Jennifer inspired me to try making biscotti. I knew she had been experimenting with different kinds recently, and so I asked for some of her favorite recipes. I ended up making lemon-pistachio biscotti dipped in white chocolate and almond-orange biscotti dipped in dark chocolate. They were both incredibly good and also fairly easy! To come full circle, they just take a lot of wait time. You bake the dough in logs, let it cool fully and then slice it. After slicing it, you cook them again on each side to get that crunchy, biscotti texture. These are great to make and keep around for a while–they keep very well in an air-tight container. Biscotti are a great template for a variety of ingredients and combinations.
So keep your eyes and ears open, because maybe sometime in the future Jen and I will open up our own shop. And you will want to get in line. (also, check out her new blog at bakedandrisen.com. she’s amazingly talented!)