Saturday, July 30, 2011

First Place!

In anticipation of this weekend's Kids' Cake Decorating Contest at the local county fair, my daughter has been practicing icing cakes and molding fondant over the past couple of weeks. She was so excited to enter this contest that I wanted to make sure she was comfortable taking the necessary steps to produce the cake she had envisioned - a beach themed cake with a sharky twist.. it was a great idea. She and my son are obsessed with all creatures of the sea, especially sharks. They are always asking me to put on Discovery or National Geographic documentaries about sharks, sea creatures, prehistoric sharks, etc. which is really quite ironic because I have a phobia of sharks. Whenever I put on one of these shows, I run out of the room for fear that I'll catch a glimpse of one of these large creatures, razor-toothed mouth-wide open staring at me through the TV screen.

At the fair, she battled against 5 other contestants ranging in age from 7 to 14. She was the youngest. And when I say battled, I mean it. These kids were focused, serious and unwavering in their quest for the winning cake.. including my daughter. I so enjoyed watching her work at her masterpiece for an hour. And here it is:

Ribbon or not, she's First Place all the way in my eyes...

I've always wanted to make a cake mimicking the flavors of the Indian sweets I love so much. Cardamom, pistachio and rose are the predominant notes running through these delicacies. The sweets themselves are quite heavy and I thought a cake would be a lighter way to enjoy them.
So, I made a pistachio cake using real ground pistachios and topped it with a rose-cardamom buttercream. It was luscious and the perfect westernized take on the flavors of Indian desserts.

I also made a batch of chocolate chip cookies using almond paste to make it a little more interesting. Not that chocolate chip cookies need to be made anymore interesting, but I like to try new things in the kitchen and I thought the chocolate/almond combination would rock. Because of this addition, these cookies have all the cozy homey-ness of a chocolate chip cookie with the classiness of a macaroon.

And here is the recipe, If you'd like to try it:

Macaroon-y Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 3 dozen 2 1/2" cookies)

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cups light brown sugar
3 oz almond paste
2 eggs
1 T vanilla
2 1/2 cups All Purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
12 oz chocolate chips (6 oz milk & 6 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate, or any combination you like)
3/4 cup chopped almonds (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350F. In an electric mixer blend butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the almond paste until combined. Then add the eggs, one at a time until incorporated. Add vanilla and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda. Add this to the egg & butter mixture until just incorporated. Make sure to not overmix your dough. Fold in chocolate chips and almonds, if you are using them. Scoop 1/8 cup amounts onto greased or parchment-lined baking sheet about 2" apart so the cookies have enough room to spread in the oven.
Bake in the center rack of your oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Careful not to overbake; you want a chewy center and a crisp edge. Enjoy!

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