This page has moved to a new address.

the urban baker

the urban baker: March 2009

the urban baker

The Urban Baker is deliciously photographed blog about nourishing your family's soul through life in the kitchen. The recipes for fabulous savories and sweets are easily replicated and will inspire you.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


My friend, Lisa, suggested I join the cooking group, Daring Bakers.  I was kind of excited to bake on demand.  However, my first month with the group wasn't a baking project at all, it was "food".  Although I was just a little disappointed, I felt I had committed to the challenge and I had to follow through.  I have never made pasta so this was a difficult challenge for me.

Pasta Verde
•makes enough for 6-8 first course servings

2 jumbo eggs
10 oz.  fresh spinach, washed, rinsed dry and finely chopped
3 1/2 C. all purpose unbleached flour

Mixing the dough
Mound flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach.  Use a wooden spoon to eat together.  Gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of the flour from the sides of the well into the liquid.  The well sides will collapse as you work.  Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off.    It will look lumpy.

Using the scraper, scoop up all the pieces and knead.  Once formed into a ball use the scraper to remove any bits from the work surface.  Knead for 3 minutes. It should be elastic and sticky.  If too sticky, use more flour.  Continue to knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.  Wrap in plastic wrap and let relax at room temp for 30 minutes. to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
With a regular length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time, keep unused dough wrapped.  Flour work surface.  Stretch dough rather than press down and push it.  Shape into a ball and roll out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc.  As it thins out, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled up dough from the center.  Unroll, turn the disc and quarter turn and repeat.  Do twice more.

I used the pasta attachment to my Kitchen Aid Mixer.  However, if you don't have that, I found a really good video on Martha Stewart. com.

For the Bolognese Sauce and the Bechamel Sauce I used a traditional lasagna recipe that I have been making for the past 20 years.  It is from Cook's Magazine, March/April 1988 issue.  I love this recipe and so does everyone else that eats it.  It is so light and so yummy.  

Bolognese Sauce
1 onion, chopped
1/2 carrot, chopped
1/2 celery rib, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 T. butter, unsalted
1/2 lb. ground pork (however I use turkey)
1/3 C. dry white wine
1/3 C. heavy cream
1/8 t. grated nutmeg
2 C chopped tomatoes

1.  Melt butter and saute meat until cooked through
2.  Add onion, carrot and celery and cook until tender, approx 5 mins.
3.  Add garlic and saute for 1 min.
4.  Add wine, deglaze bottom of pan and simmer until reduced by half.
5.  Add heavy cream and nutmeg and simmer until thickened, about 5 mins.
6.  Stir in tomatoes and juice
7.  Cover and simmer for 2 hours.  Season with salt and pepper to taste

Bechamel Sauce
3 T. unsalted butter
1/4 C. flour
2 C. whole milk

1.  Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat.  
2.  Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute.
3.  Gradually whisk in milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  
4.  Reduce heat and season with salt and pepper.
5.  Simmer for 20 mins until thickened

Grate 3 ounces of Parmesan cheese

To Assemble:

Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 10" x 13" pan.  Place a layer of pasta, then a layer of Bolognese, then a layer of Bechamel, then sprinkle Parmesan cheese over that.  Repeat 2 more times.  

Heat oven to 400*F.  Loosely cover with foil and bake until warmed through, about 25 minutes.  Remove foil and put lasagna under broiler until golden brown, about 5 minutes (watch it or it will burn).  Let 10 minutes before serving.

Note:  I usually double both sauces.  I like to make an extra one and freeze it for another dinner.  Enjoy!

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande.  They have chosen Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lots of Love

We were having our cousins over for dinner and I was craving something really chocolaty for dessert.  I searched through some books as well as the internet and I ultimately found the perfect slice of heaven! Fran Bigelow's Deep Chocolate Torte. What mostly attracted me to this recipe was that it was from Fran's chocolate shop in Seattle. If you ever want a really special treat, order a box of chocolate or some of her fudge sauce.  It is a special indulgence. 

I also made a really simple raspberry sauce, with fresh raspberries on the side.  To make the sauce; put a pint of raspberries and a few tablespoons of sugar in the food processor.  Process then put mixture through a fine mesh sieve.  In the end, you have a simple, smooth sauce for most desserts.  

We started out with cheese straws, some olives and some dried salami.  

Isaac fell in love with his new cousin, Jordan Zoey.  He could not get enough of her and can't wait to see her again.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Just a little something

Cinnamon Swirl Crisps

Today I woke up at 6:45 realizing that Isaac was going to a friends house in the afternoon and I had nothing for him to bring.  This was the first time he was going to his friend, David's, and we couldn't walk in empty handed.  125 Cookies was on my nightstand and when I opened it up, it turned to this page.  The best part about this recipe is that I didn't need softened butter.  I wanted to do something that wasn't going to take all day as Isaac had a baseball game at 10.  

This recipe was SO EASY.  The dough was so easy to work with.  It almost felt as though I was working with puff pastry.  I made the dough in about 4 mins, put in fridge for 15 mins.  Rolled it out, sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on it and rolled it up.  Put back in fridge for an hour, then sliced and baked.  They kind of taste like a palmier.  They were good in a pinch.

packaged and delivered!

I had some heavy cream in the fridge that was going to go bad at any minute.  I had been wanting to make caramels again and the cream almost gone bad was a good reason to try something new.

Both my brother and I love the Almond Royals from Sees.  I had been wanting to try and make something like this since the last time I made caramels.  I found a recipe on epicurious. I had saved the recipe on my desk top waiting for the perfect opportunity to make them.  Today was the day.  Eli was off at a paintball party, Isaac was at his new friends, Mitch was on a 50 mile bike ride in Solvang and Levi  slept.  The house was quiet so I decided to whip up a batch.

I changed a few things.  I added some unblanched almonds that I had slightly toasted (wanted the almond royal feel to them) and I used fleur de sal rather than  sea salt.

They are really, really good.  But, next time I would change a few things.  I would omit the salt all together. I don't think the caramels need it.  The recipe says to cook the caramel mixture until 255 degrees.  I would opt to cook it to 252, just slightly less to create a more chewy, softer candy.   I am not complaining, they are good, but I would alter just a bit.

Levi and I packed up a few bags of caramels for some friends in the neighborhood and he and I have a date in the a.m. to go for a walk.  Along the way we are going to leave little treats on some very special friends door steps.
Levi was anxious to taste


Thursday, March 12, 2009

After School Snacks

Both Eli and Isaac were having friends over after school and I wanted to make something that wasn't going to take all afternoon to prepare.  I am obsessed with this one book right now, 125 Cookies by Elinor Klivans.  I am obsessed with it because it is out of print.  I am now in my 3rd renewal from the library and I am trying to make as many things as possible from it before I have to give it back, for good!  

I have a few of her other books and happen to like most everything that I have made.  I have tried to contact the publisher as well as Elinor herself, but to no avail.  I have thought of accidentaly "loosing" the book, but that is a whole karma thing.  I just wouldn't be able to look at the book in the same way knowing that I may have obstructed a little old lady from making her favorite shortbread recipe for her grandchildren.  So, in the meantime, I am scanning the recipes that I want to save and baking the recipes that sound oh so yummy.

These are the D.C. Oatmeal Toffee bars.  I choose a bar because a) I had all the ingredients in the house and b) easy peasy!  One of my favorite candy bars as a kid was a heath bar.  I love California Brittle from Sees and I can never pass up an almond rocca candy.  Especially when the almond roccas get old and when you bite into them they are soft and almost chewy.  My Aunt Harriet always had these in a bowl in her living room. I always ate more than I should have.  My problem with candy, is that I cannot eat just one.  I have no self control.

So...when I saw that this recipe  had crushed heath bar in it, I was sold.  Baking really is so very easy.  All it takes is a little organization and some preparation.  It isn't like cooking a meal.  So many more steps in making Coq au vin or even a pasta dish.  The chopping, the cutting, the pan frying.  Baking is a mixer, 5-10 ingredients and in less than an hour you have something really tasty.  Plus, your house smells oh so good.  

What made these bars so good is the combo of oats, pecans and the toffee pieces.  Just the right amount of chocolate, the oats add an earthiness and the pecans add the crunch.  If you can get your hands on this book or this recipe, I highly recommend it!

I always make my kids a "meal" when they get home from school.  So this day was no different.  My kids, except for Levi, inevitably come home with a full lunch box.  I threaten them, at least once a week, that I refuse to pack them another lunch and that if they want to eat, they have to get up in the morning and pack their own.  Well, 7:50 a.m. rolls around and they are doing what boys do best, nothing, and there I am, frantically packing something healthy in their lunch box.  

The first thing they say to me when they get into the car after school is "what's for snack".  Snack they call it.  It is a full on meal.  I always have something hot, some sort of veggie and always fruit.  They scarf it down as if they haven't eaten in a month.  Then they look at me and say, "what's for dinner".  

More and more I feel like a short order cook.  So many new ideas for more types of blogs!


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lemons & Blueberries

We had some friends over for dinner this past weekend giving me the perfect excuse to bake.  I opened my Nancy Silverton book and began my search for the tastiest treat.  I am on a mission to complete my challenge and entertaining is a great way for me to plow through the book.

My friend, Stephanie, doesn't really like chocolate. Can't imagine anyone not really liking chocolate, I can't live without it.  No, really, I CAN NOT live without it.  If I was deserted on a desert island and I was granted one provision, it would have to be chocolate!  Stephanie is one of my dearest friends and I wanted to give her something she would absolutely love.  

Couldn't decide between two yummy looking recipes. That week I had picked up some blueberries at the local farmers market.  So, when I found Everyone's Mother's Berry Cobbler (pg. 99), I had to make it.  I even had just enough buttermilk in the fridge for the recipe.  It is so satisfying using up perishable ingredients.  I love, love, love that feeling!  

The title of the recipe is deceiving.  This is not any "Mother's Berry Cobbler". Nancy may have recalled something this delicious from her mother's nightly repertoire, however,  I can not recall my mother or anyone of my friends mother's cobblers tasting this heavenly. Firstly , you have to take a whole vanilla bean, scrape out the seed and put the seeds and the pod in a pan with 1/2 stick of butter. You have to make a brown butter, which inevitably makes anything taste better.  After discarding the pod, you pour the brown butter in the baking dish and cover with the batter. Then layer with a fruit of your choice.   I am going to make this very recipe, all summer long, using a variety of fresh, seasonal fruits.  Yum, Yum!

The second recipe that caught my eye were the Lemon Picnic Tarts (pg. 262).  I also love a really tart, lemony dessert.  Although I had already picked out a "fruit" type dessert I was compelled to make these as well. These were super easy and delicious.  The dough was really easy to work with and rolled out so well.  When baked, the crust was light and flaky and the filling had the perfect amount of zest in it.  Not too tart and not too sweet.  It wasn't runny (like some lemon custard type desserts can be) and the whole tart held together when you bit into it.

I have leftover dough in my freezer.  My cousins are coming for dinner this weekend and I may have to make another version of these tarts.  However, will have to make some sort of chocolaty goodness to go along with them!

p.s.  both of these recipes are best eaten the day they are baked.  Happy baking!


Monday, March 9, 2009



The name hamantash, is commonly known as a reference to Haman, the villain of Purim.  They are also called "Haman's ears" or "Haman's hat".

I like holidays.  I LOVE Halloween and Thanksgiving and as I get older I appreciate, more and more, the Jewish holidays.  I was not raised religiously.  We went to Sunday school, celebrated Hannukah and always went to my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Herb's for Passover. Being the youngest of 7 grandchildren, even though I rarely found the hidden matzoh, I always seemed to get a 50 cent piece from my uncle Irv.  

 I never really understood the meaning of Purim until my oldest two boys were in Jewish pre-school.  Each holiday I would go to Children's Book World and buy one or two books relating to the specific holiday we were celebrating.  My kids still love  Queen Esther Saves her People and I still enjoy reading it with them.

With Purim around the corner, I wanted to bake for Eli's Hebrew school teacher.  I searched on line for a good hamantaschen recipe.  I found one at  I made the dough and opted to make the date filling.  I made a double batch of dough. However, when I went to make the filling, I only had enough dates in the house to make one recipe of filling.  I had a jar of really good figs, so made the second batch of filling with the figs.  

After baking the first batch with the date filling, I tasted one.  I wasn't in love with the taste of the cookie part.  The recipes calls for a lot of orange zest.  Orange zest is in both the filling and the dough.  In my opinion, way too much citrus.  If I were to make this dough again, I would omit the zest in the dough all together.  I would also cut the zest in half for the filling.

I had used up all the dough, but still had filling left over.  So I started thumbing through some of my cookbooks.  I went to Marlene Sorosky first and found what I was looking for.  I made the dough and it was really, really wet.  A texture similar to my Aunt Joyce's mandel bread recipe.  I figured I had to use the dough and I had to use the filling, I wasn't going to waste either!

After letting the dough sit in the fridge for a few hours I went to work on my second batch of "H".  This dough was not as good.  It was a little bland.  The epicurious recipe was richer and much more dense.  If I had to choose between the two, I would go with the first recipe but omit the orange zest.  

When all was said and done, I had dozens of Hamantaschen and I had to get rid of it.  Friends and neighbors came home that night to little bags of "Haman's ears" sitting on their doorsteps!


Monday, March 2, 2009

More with Nancy Silverton

I made a vow to myself that I would make everything in Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery book.  This is one "project" I plan on carrying through. 

This past week I made the Creme Fraiche Coffee Cake (pg.33), the Italian Dried Plum Tarts (pg 205), Chocolate Walnut Scones (pg.171) and the Chocolate Madelines (pg. 41).  I had some ingredients that I wanted to use up that were taking up too much space in my fridge.  I had a little creme fraiche and just enough sour cream to make both the madelines and the coffee cake.  

The coffee cake is a really good, basic coffee cake.  We have all made cakes like these (or most of you, at least those of you that do attempt to bake).  However this particular cake was so light.  Next time I would add some mini chocolate chips to the streusel (in my  opinion, everything tastes better with chocolate-even toast!).  Everyone who ate it , loved it.  I would make it again.  Actually, I have some orange simple syrup (left over from orange peels-see below) in my fridge.  I would make again and while the cake is still hot, soak the cake with the simple syrup.  Instead of dusting with powdered sugar I may make a simple white glaze, flavored with the orange syrup to frost with.  Add the chocolate and it could be a winning combo!
These muffins are laced with espresso powder.  Originally it sounded like a weird combo, but in actuality they were good.  Nancy (yeah, we are on a first name basis) suggested that you fill the muffin tin up to the top of the rim.  Next time, I would leave a little room at the top.  I don't particularly like when the batter over flows to the top of the muffin pan.  Too hard to pry them out of their little home.  So, if you plan to try these at home, try it my way and then let me know.  

Didn't really want them sitting around the house, so I sent them to work with my husband.  He said they disappeared very quickly.

I think I have said this before, I love making scones.  I love to make them and then freeze them and have them around morning, noon and night.  I like Nancy's scone recipes.  Ironically, her scone recipes do not contain eggs.  I think that is why I like them so much.
These are the Chocolate Walnut Scones.  I wanted to add a little something to them, not that they really needed anything, but what the heck.  So I made some candied orange peels.  Don't ask me why?  Just did.  I decided to chop a few of these up really fine and put them in the batter.  I don't know what they taste like without the orange peel, but they were delicious with the orange flavor.  Isaac had his final gymnastics competition last weekend and I brought them for the team to enjoy.  There were no complaints.

Candied Orange Peel

My kids love Madelines.  When ever we  stop at a coffee house they  inevitably choose the madeline over the big fat pastry in the display case.  I have not made madelines for over 20 years.  I have this vintage madeline pan and in retrospect I should have purchased a new and improved pan prior to tackling this challenge.  
This was not one of the better recipes in the book.  I feel the problem is two fold.  One being my archaic pan and the other being the recipe itself.  I need to work on this genre of baking.

My challenge continues....


February Celebrations!

February is a very busy month in our house.  My mom, Isaac and Eli all have birthdays and each one of them have to have their own special event.  I have always made a big deal over their actual birthday.  The day starts out with their breakfast of choice.  The table is set and we all sit down together, regardless if it is a school day or not.  This year Isaac (feb 13th) wanted chocolate chip pancakes and Eli (feb 24th) wanted Belgium Waffles.  The waffles and pancakes were adorned with candles and presents on the side.  Eli wanted Sushi for lunch (took he and Isaac out of school early) and Isaac was content staying at school.  He claimed he really didn't want to miss his "play" time.  I get that!!!  Dinner is their choice, which usually includes a friend or two and my mom.

They both opted for small parties this year.  Isaac wanted to take his 4 closest friends for Sushi and then have a sleep over.  I was thrilled!  It couldn't have been easier.  Upon returning from dinner, we all gathered around to sing and eat cupcakes.  They then settled in for a movie.  The 5 of them tried to pull an all nighter, but I just wouldn't have it.  I happen to love my sleep. After so many years of crazy birthdays, Isaac did say that this was one of his favorites.  Suits me just fine!

Eli turns 11

Eli also opted for a small party.  He took 7 friends, along with his dad, to a Paintball Park.  They started out at our house for lunch and snacks and then came back for cake.  Although this was the most low key of all of his birthday's, he kept hugging me and repeatedly said, "this was a great day, this was the best birthday ever!".  There is something to be said for keeping things small and intimate.

I was reading the blogsite (for the first time), Bakerella
who I am really loving.  Well, the day that I visited her site, I found this recipe for a 14 Layer cake
and I just had to make it for Eli's birthday cake.  Growing up, every Sunday, my dad and I would go to Weby's Bakery in Studio City.  Each week we would pick up an onion egg bread, sliced, some cookies and piece of seven layer cake, my favorite ( I tried to find something on line to show you.  will continue to search).  So, naturally, when I saw this cake, it brought back so many fond memories that I wanted to give it a whirl.  The photos here are inspired by Bakerella (her cake looks so much better).  The cake got mixed reviews, however it was so fun to make!

I decided to do a 12 layer cake.  I wanted the layers to be a little bit thicker, plus I didn't know how the layers would bake.  

Preparing the pans with butter and parchment.  I bought the pans at Smart and Final they come in a package of 10.  I just reused two from the first batch that I baked.  This really is a lot simplier than it looks.

I used more batter in each pan than the recipe calls for.  It worked out perfectly.

Here is where I would change things.  I, personally, have a better yellow cake recipe.  This one was good, but I like something a little lighter and flakier.  I will find that recipe and post later on.  I "hated" the center filling on this cake.  As you can see, it was really runny.  However, the buttercream frosting that she suggests for the exterior of the cake is pure perfection. This will now be my basic chocolate buttercream frosting.  It is delicious.  Next time, and there will be a next time, I will make a double batch of the frosting and use that between the layers.  I am looking for a reason to make this cake again, however with a few modifications.

You really cant go wrong with a white cake with chocolate frosting.  So good!