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the urban baker

the urban baker: May 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, May 31, 2009

The End of An Era

I was born in the house my mom currently lives in. My dad passed away two years ago and there were times that I thought, her living in that house, all by herself could be a little overwhelming.  She had talked about the possibility of moving, but kept saying she wasn't ready.  When her dog, Becky, of 15 years passed in April, she all of a sudden became ready.  She was no longer comfortable living "alone".

My cousin, a realtor in Manhattan Beach, hooked my mom up with a realtor in her neighborhood.  Within one week of the meeting, there was a for sale sign on my mom's lawn and an open house was scheduled for that first weekend.  The house sold in one day.  In this awful economy, none of us were prepared for how much needed to get done over the next 45 days (her escrow period).

We spent lots of time going through the house and all of the memories.  The more we cleaned out and packed up, the more my mom was willing to let go of. 
While I was photographing all of her furniture to put on Craig's list, my kids came in and said, "let's have a garage sale".  I don't really like garage sales.  They are a waste of time.  However, my kids really wanted to do it.  I gave in.  

Then they insisted we have goodies at the garage sale. I couldn't turn down an opportunity to bake.  For something like this, I usually like 3 variety's of baked treats.  I baked the first two and pretty much hit the wall.  

Eli requested Snicker doodles.  I was reading my Maida Heatter's Cookies book and found an Oatmeal Snicker doodle recipe.  I don't make a lot of snicker doodles and I find them a little bland.  The fact that these had oatmeal in them was appealing.  These were shaped more like a mound when baked.  I like a cookie like this that flattens out when baked.  I wasn't crazy about them.  However, everyone else really liked them.  We had so many left over that I packed them up in a huge bag and  sent them to school
with Eli the next day.  His classmates gobbled them up.

I decided to make some brownies to go along with them.   I wanted a recipe that had peanut butter in it. I had three jars of peanut butter in the cupboard all of which had about 1/4 to 1/2 cup each in them.  I found a peanut butter swirl brownie recipe in the Martha Stewart's Cookies.  Perfect!  I was able to make a delicious brownie and clean out my cupboard at the same time.  

The office girls at the kid's elementary school enjoyed the left overs the next day!

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Old Family Favorite

I have been making dream bars since 1990.  It is a recipe I discovered in my Rose Levy Beranbaum Christmas Cookie Book (still, one of my favorites).

Prior to making these I had had a bar similar to this one, called a "7 layer bar".  It had butterscotch chips and white chocolate chips plus other things.  And they were good, but I am not a huge butterscotch fan. When I came across this recipe I had to try them. They immediately were a hit.  I make them all year round and 75% of the time you can find some hidden in the back of my freezer.  They were always and still are included in my holiday baking which I have done every year since 1990.

What originally attracted me most to this recipe were the quality of the ingredients.  I use only the best chocolates (white, bittersweet and milk), however I have altered the recipe a bit.  I make more crust than the recipe calls for and I like to toast my pecans prior to baking.  

This book is worth the purchase just to have this one, very special recipe!


•2 1/3 C. cinnamon graham cracker crumbs
•12 tbls. butter
•6 oz each, white chocolate (lindt), bittersweet
chocolate (valhrona) & milk chocolate (lindt,                   ghirardelli or drost)
•3 cups pecan, toasted
•1 1/3 C. shredded coconut
•1 can condensed milk

1. Preheat oven to 350*.  Line a 10 x 15 jelly roll pan with heavy duty foil

2. Put butter on baking sheet and melt in the oven.  When melted, mix in graham cracker crumbs.  Spread crust evenly all bottom of the pan

3. Bake for 8 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven and scatter coconut on top of crust.  Then layer with 2 1/4 cup of pecans, chopped fine (keep the other 3/4 cup whole).  Then top with all three chocolates.  

5. Evenly, pour condensed milk over chocolate and try and cover as much as possible.  Top with remaining 3/4 C. whole pecans.

6. Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove baking sheet from oven and with a long, metal spatula, press mixture down so all layers meet one another.  Rotate the pan from back to front.

7. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes.  Check within 15 minutes to make sure  the nuts on top are not burning.

8.   Let cool.  Once cool, stick in fridge.  Let them get really cold prior to cutting.  These are good right out of the oven, cold or even frozen.  

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rocky Road Brownies

Eli, being a 5th grader, gets to share in many wonderful activities at school.  One such activity, I personally, was looking forward to was the "Shindig". The Shindig is basically a simulation of the Gold Rush Era.  The event takes place in the evening, on school grounds and the yard is set up like the "old west".  The kids sang,  square danced, played lots of card games and strutted around in their western attire.  

The food we brought for dinner had to represent the food that was eaten way back when.  We pot lucked it with two other families and my chore was the turkey chili and the cornbread.  We also had drummettes (from Feast from the East-the best!), cucumber salad, raw veggies and of course dessert.  I know, I know, they didn't have ovens back then.  But a party isn't a party without chocolate.

I had some homemade marshmallows in the freezer. Since we couldn't do S'mores, I opted to make S'mores type brownies.  After making those yummy brownies a few days back, I decided to try another recipe from The All American Cookie Book.  I found a recipe for Rocky Road Brownies that looked really yummy.

The recipe called for mini marshmallows and toasted walnuts.  I cut my chunky marshmallows into small chunks and replaced the walnuts, with some salted marcona almonds that I had in my pantry.

The recipe said to let the pan cool and then put in the fridge for an hour or until set.  If anyone out there decides to make these brownies, I would suggest letting them set in the fridge overnight.   For the Shindig, they were somewhat hard to cut.  I had only cut part of the pan of brownies. So, the next day, I pulled the pan out of the fridge, cut the brownies for the kids and they were easy peasy to cut.  Plus they were super delicious!  Hee Haa!!!

Eli, dressed in gear, with one of his all time favorite teacher, Mrs. Corleto!

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I had been looking for an excuse to make this coffee cake and was waiting for the perfect occasion. I finally found one.  A few of the families in the neighborhood had decided to get together on a Sunday to discuss "Middle School". Living in sunny Southern Cal has it's plus' and minus'.  Public education is not one of the plus'.  However a group of us devoted and dedicated families are trying to "make a difference" and we have all decided to ban together and enroll our kids in our neighborhood middle school.  After meeting with the Principal of the school, some of the teachers as well as some of the current local families, most of us are very excited about this new chapter in our children's education. 

This is the  Campton Place Coffee Cake from Sherry Yard's Desserts by the Yard cookbook.  This recipe is the perfect combination of ingredients.  The cake is so light (sour cream based) and the filling is FANTASTIC. I made this cake true to the recipe.  It called for peaches (I used frozen which worked perfectly well), but next time I would probably do it with either raspberries or blueberries.  There is cocoa powder mixed in with the filling which makes this extra special.  Next time, I may omit the fruit all together and make the filling with chocolate chips.  The base of this cake is one of the best I have ever had.  

The Sunday get together as well as the cake was a huge success!

Monday, May 18, 2009


Eli came home from a long day at school and after school activities and says, "oh Mom, we need cupcakes for tomorrow's class party".  It was 7:30p.m. and as I was putting the last dish away from dinner, I looked at him as if he had said instead, "tomorrow I am going to fly to the moon".

I was so exhausted and all I wanted to do was put on my p.j.'s, shut my bedroom door and watch some horrible reality T.V.  Instead of doing what I really wanted to do, I started shuffling through some of my new cookbooks.  There was no way I was going to make cupcakes.  Cupcakes, on a good day, are easy enough.  However, I was not about to make the cupcakes, create a frosting and decorate.  I needed something much easier than that.

I decided on a brownie recipe.  One of the things I love most about brownies is that they do not require a lot of gadgets.  In general, brownies consist of butter and really good bittersweet chocolate that gets melted over a pan of simmering water, sugar, eggs, vanilla and dry ingredients (flour, b.soda or b. powder, salt, etc).  

I liked the Chocolate Chunk Brownie recipe in The All American Cookie Book (pg.130).  I had everything I needed in the house and they didn't require me to take out my Kitchen Aid mixer.  All can be done with a large mixing bowl, a whisk and a wooden spoon.  My kind of quick and easy solution when I wasn't truly up for the challenge.

The recipe called for walnuts, yet I am not a huge walnut fan.  I substituted toasted pecans.  I doubled the recipe (as Eli has 31 kids in his class) and made them in a 9 x 13" metal William Sonoma baking pan.  I have replaced all of my metal pans with this line of Goldtouch pans and I LOVE them.  My friend, Nancy, bought me my first one a while back and I have been hooked ever since.  

This is a really good brownie recipe.  Cakey, yet still slightly fudgy.  It is kind of the perfect base for any kind of brownie recipe.  I am going to make these again and substitute the chocolate chunks and nuts for some different winning combos.  Such as dried cherries and almonds, or even some of my dried orange peels, hazelnuts and some orange extract.  We shall wait and see what I come up with.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Teacher Appreciation Week!

Our school takes Teacher Appreciation Week very seriously.  Each day of the week is planned out on what the kids are expected to do to show their teacher's and the staff how much they are appreciated.  This past week was no different than any other year (we have been a Westwood Charter Family since 2003).

Although we partake in all the obligatory, daily givings, I still have to do my part and bake something special. I think it is now expected that I walk through those doors, early Monday morning with a plethora of multi colored boxes,  filled with treats for not only my kids specific teachers, but the office staff, the P.E. coaches, the art teacher, etc.  

Baking is my thing and I do it well, so why not share the love, wrapped in a tiny little box, tied with ribbon.

This year I made Walnut and lemon tea cakes from Carole Bloom's Bite Size Desserts.  I also made, from the same book, Toasted Pecan Shortbread Bites.  The third (cuz I always like things in 3's!) was a "Fantastic Fudgewiche" from The All American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett.  

The tea cakes were AMAZING.  However, the recipe called for lemon extract which I was out of.  So instead, I used orange extract and grated some orange zest into the batter.  This is going to be a basic batter for me and I will concoct a variety of combos for this tiny little bite of heaven.  The recipe called for a dusting of powdered sugar.  I decided to make a simple glaze instead.  I took 1 cup of powdered sugar and added 2-3 tablespoons of fresh squeeze orange juice (squeezed the orange that I had previously zested) and drizzled it over the little cakes.  They were a winner!

The Toasted Pecan Shortbread Bite were equally good. So far, this book, has not let me down.  I happen to love shortbread.  This was the perfect combo of butter and toasted pecans.  These will be a staple in my freezer.  I like to bake and have some stored for a rainy day.  These will be part of that secret stash!

The Fabulous Fudgewiches were okay.  This was the first recipe I had tested from this book.  The book is beautiful and the photos are inspiring.  Everyone liked this cookie except for me.  I liked the cookie part.  The dough was really easy to work with, yet I did not like the fudge filling at all.  I have some extra dough in the freezer and I am going to experiment with some other fillings.  Maybe a mocha filling or I do an amazingly delicious white chocolate ganache.  That could be the ticket.  Will keep you posted.

All in all it was a good week.  I do love all our teachers and they all deserve to keep their jobs.  Lord knows, I couldn't do what they do.  We all have to give them more credit for what they do, day in and day out.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Today was a really warm day.  Isaac's friend, Sean, came over after school and Isaac had mentioned that he wanted to do a lemonade stand after school that day. This meant that I had to bake.  This particular day was a very busy day and I really didn't have that much time to create.  

I realized at 2:15 (picking the boys up at 2:45)  that I had done nothing in the baking department.  Which meant I was not organized.  I had to do something quick and when I need something quick, I pull out The Cake Doctor Cookbook.  For those of you that are not familiar with this book, it is a great resource in a pinch. It's premise is that you take a basic boxed cake or brownie mix and "doctor it up".  Most of the recipes are decent, however they are on the "very" sweet side.

I raced through the book and found something that would allow me to use ingredients that I had on hand.
I made the Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars.  I actually had a box of cake mix in the pantry (the recipe called for a yellow cake mix, but I had a white and no one seemed to complain) and a brand new jar of smooth peanut butter.

I put the bars in the oven prior to getting the kids at school and by the time we were home and in the house, the timer went off.  I removed them from the oven and put them on a wire rack to cool.  

While the bars cooled, I cleaned the kitchen and made the lemonade.  The kids cleaned the lemonade stand and set up shop outside.  I used to have a high-end children's furniture company that I started in 1989. The company was called Little Folk Art.  I still dabble a little in it, but with the kids and lots of other distractions, it became difficult for me to balance everything.  

I made the lemonade stand for Eli and Isaac back in 2002.  I guess I should add Levi's name to the sign on the front of the stand!  He already gets the shaft being the third, don't want him to feel like he can't profit from this little entrepreneurial endeavor.

The lemonade stand was a hit.  The kids spent some time outside and made a little bit of money to put in their piggy bank!


 •ungreased 13 x 9 baking pan 

1 package plain yellow cake mix
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 stick of butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 12oz. package semisweet chips
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tsp. vanilla

1. Place cake mix, peanut butter, melted butter and eggs in bowl of mixer.  Blend.  Scrape down sides of bowl and continue to mix.  Reserve 1 1/2 cups for the topping.  Transfer the remaining crust mixture to the pan.  Using your fingertips, press the crust evenly over the bottom oft he pan.  Set aside

2. For the filling, place the chocolate, condensed milk, and 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy sauce pan over low heat.  Stir until melted.  Remove the pan from the heat an add coconut, pecans and vanilla.  Pour over the crust and spread evenly.  Crumble the reserved crust over the chocolate.  Place pan in the oven

3. Bake until light brown, 20-25 minutes.  Remove and let cool on rack.

4. Cut into bars.

You can modify.  Sometimes I add almonds and cherries.  I was going to add my candied orange peels, but I didn't think that would fly with the kids.



Monday, May 4, 2009

Celebrations and Cupcakes

Tomorrow is Ella's birthday.  Ella has been taking care of my kids since Eli was just a few months old (he is now 11 1/2).  My kids, as well as myself, adore Ella. Nobody takes care of babies the way she does.  She gets them to sleep when no one else can and she loves to bathe them and took such pride in how they smelled and what they wore.  Ella has a calm gentle way about her which resonates into every corner of our home. 

Her birthday lands on Cinco de Mayo.  This always makes the celebration and the prep all the more festive.  This year the boys wanted to make cupcakes. This was a good excuse to use my new cookbook, The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.

Although I wanted to make the Strawberry cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, I was out voted.  I will have to find another occasion to make that selection. We went with the standard vanilla cupcake with vanilla butter cream.  We also decided that the frosting should be "pink".   

When they came out of the oven I was a little disappointed that they didn't rise all that much.  I would have preferred a taller cupcake.  We all decided that they were good, not great.  We are going to pick a few more recipes from that book and give it a second and quite possibly, a third chance.  The book is a beautiful book, the photography, the design, the paper. All of the above attracted me to purchasing this book. Howeve, as of right now, the jury is still out.

I happen to love some of the recipes from Elinor Klivans cupcake book. Pretty much everything that I have made from this book is all very tasty.  

We will keep you posted on our progress with The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mini Blueberry Turnovers

I am enjoying Carole Bloom's cookbook,  Bite-Size Desserts.  I love making little morsels of goodness and do so often.  And now, having a book, dedicated to this genre is somewhat addictive.  I find myself flipping through the book which immediately inspires me to create.

When I read this recipe it seemed easy enough.  I had been wanting to make some kind of turnover for sometime, but for some reason never found the time. When I was pregnant with Eli, my first son, I craved anything with a cherry filling.  I would often find myself staring at the bakery case searching for the cherry desserts. Most of the time I had the will power to just stare.  Yet, still managed to gain 45 lbs!

I had everything in the pantry to make these triangular treats, so I went for it.  I made the dough the night before.  After the dough had chilled in the fridge, I decided to roll it out and cut it and let it sit, in the fridge(covered w/plastic wrap) on a parchment lined baking sheet, overnight.  When I woke the next morning the assembly was easy.

The next morning the kids woke to the smell of fresh pastries.  I saved a few for my mother-in-law and the left overs went to friends.  It was the perfect combination of fresh blueberry's, lemon zest and just enough sugar, but not too much.  These were best eaten the day that they were baked.  I loved this dough so much that I am going make another batch of dough and try and make homemade "pop tarts" for the kids. Those should be a big hit!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Chocolate Cherry Bundt Çake

Levi and  I like to go to the library on Friday mornings. We usually go to the one closest to our house. Since he as seen all the Thomas videos and has read all the Thomas books, I wanted to take him to the newly remodeled library in Westwood Village.  Today was the day.  We walked in and it was big and open and organized and had open big sections with lots and lots of books and a HUGE selection of Thomas videos. Levi was in heaven.   I had to explain to him that three videos was the limit.  He didn't like that rule.  After  he made his selection we headed over to the cookbook section.  

Over the past several months I have been enjoying David Lebovitz's blog.  So, when I stumbled upon one of his older books, Ripe for Dessert, I had to check it out.  Over lunch that day, I found just what I wanted to make.  I found, what he calls a "Cherry Chocolate Fruitcake".  I normally wouldn't make a dessert that has the word "fruitcake in it".  But, what I was attracted to was the chocolate & cherry combo.  One of my all time favorite combos. When I am feeling oh-so self indulgent (and on those rare occasions, skinny), I buy a loaf of chocolate-cherry bread from La Brea Bakery.  It is so good!  Try it toasted with a little bit of soft-salted butter.  The problem is, is that I can eat the whole loaf in one full swoop!

This is a very decadent, fudgy, delicious cake.  There is just enough cherries and the addition of chopped, toasted almonds makes this a cake worthy enough to put in my binder of "favorites".

I decided to make it even richer than it already is by covering it with a chocolate glaze.  This glaze was interesting because it was equal parts cream and water which was added to the bittersweet chocolate prior to melting.  I had never done that before.  The best part about it is there was left overs of the chocolate glaze. Think I may have to make profiteroles for tomorrows nights dessert!   Can't let a batch of chocolate sauce go to waste.


•1 1/2 cups dried cherries
•1/4 cup plus 6 tbs. rum
•1 cup walnuts, pecans or almonds, toasted
•1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
•1 1/4 cups flour
•1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
•1/2 tsp. salt
•1/2 tsp. baking soda
•1/2 tsp. baking powder
•10 tbs. unsalted butter, room temp
•2 cups sugar
•2 large eggs
•2 large egg yolk
•1 tsp. vanilla
•2/3 cup buttermilk

1. Soak the cherries in 1/4 cup rum for at least 4 hours.

2. Position oven rack in center of oven.  Preheat to 350*.  Butter a 10-cup bundt or tube pan.  Dust with flour

3. Chop the nuts, relatively fine, mix them with the chocolate chips, and set aside

4. Sift flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, baking powder

5. Beat the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.  In a small bowl mix the eggs and egg yolk.  Slowly add to the mixer.  Add the vanilla.

6. Stir in half the dry ingredients, then add the buttermilk and then the remaining dry ingredients.  Stir in the nuts and chips.

7. Pour batter in prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes (this is a really fudgy cake so make sure the toothpick comes out clean).  Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes.  Poke 50 times with a toothpick and slowly drizzle the remaining 6 tbsp. of rum over cake (I didn't do this cuz I knew my kids wouldn't like it).  Let cool for 30 mins more.  Then invert cake and serve.  Let cake cool completely.  I did not do this and a quarter of the cake just stayed in the pan.  So depressing!

8. Glaze with your choice of glaze.  I did the following:

•12 oz. bittersweet chocolate
•3/4 cup water
•3/4 cup heavy cream

1. chop the chocolate and put in heat proof bowl.  Add water and cream.

2. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat, stirring gently, until chocolate is melted and sauce is smooth.  Remove from heat and let cool.  You could add some more rum to this if you want... I didn't.

The photos don't do this cake justice