Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Baking

The fallback: Chez Panisse almond torte

"Chez Panisse Desserts"  almond torte When I don't have time to shop or produce an elaborate dessert (who am I kidding? I hardly ever make elaborate desserts), my fallback is inevitably the almond torte from "Chez Panisse Desserts" by Lindsay Shere. The book is a classic and includes illustrations by artist Wayne Thiebaud.

Butter, eggs, flour, vanilla extract, I've always got. And most of the time I keep some rolls of almond paste lurking somewhere in the pantry. 

That's basically it.

Time to mix up the batter: maybe five minutes, including dragging out the mixer and putting it back again and cutting a parchment paper circle for the bottom of the springform cake tin. It's important to beat the eggs in one by one.

Sometimes while the cake is baking (it takes an hour or so), I cut a snowflake stencil for dusting the powdered sugar on top. 

Oh, and you want to bake the cake ahead of time, so it has time to cool.

Easy. Easy as, well, not pie, but pound cake.

Everybody, everybody loves this cake. Thank you, Lindsay Shere. And happy birthday Chez Panisse, which celebrates its 40th anniversary later this month.

"Chez Panisse Desserts" by Lindsay Remolif Shere (Random House, New York, 1985, 341 pages, $17.95). Random House published a paperback edition in 1994, which is still in print and available online through the restaurant.  


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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo: Almond torte. Credit: S. Irene Virbila


Keeping cool in L.A.: Today is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day

Ice Cream Sand600

Whether part of the food truck scene or as a creamery's menu staple, ice cream sandwiches are a frozen treat geniusly invented to get the best of both worlds -- cookies and ice cream -- in the realm of sweets. Angelenos can get their fix from local producers with flavors, from classic to wacky, to satisfy a spectrum of cravings during summer's warm months. Or, as it so happens, on National Ice Cream Sandwich Day.

Beachy Cream: Made in small batches with local and organic ingredients, Beachy Cream’s ice cream sandwiches are made with a spin on names and flavors sure to fit the SoCal scene: Key Lime Cowabunga, Strawberry Surfer Girl, Surfin' Safari Chocolate Chip and Ginger Wipe Out. These tasty treats can be found on the streets of Malibu, at select stores and online. Beachycream.com

Father's Office: A recent addition to the menu, ice cream sandwiches are now offered at the Culver City location. Creations include the hazelnut and foie gras ice cream on oatmeal cookies and the buttermilk ice cream and raspberry sorbet on lemon shortbread. 3229 Helms Ave., L.A., (310) 736-2224, fathersoffice.com

MILK: The brightly colored sandwiches are made of fresh macarons and ice cream flavors such as grasshopper (mint chip), Thai tea, rocky road, coffee toffee and red velvet. 7290 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 939-6455, themilkshop.com

Sweet Rose Creamery: Located in the Brentwood Country Mart, the shop bakes its cookies on site daily, and ice cream flavors change regularly in accordance with what's in season at the farmers market. Classics include fresh mint with homemade chocolate chip and salted caramel while August's ice cream flavors include melon, summer corn, peaches 'n' cream and watermelon granita, among others. 225 26th St., Ste. 51, Santa Monica, (310) 260-2663, sweetrosecreamery.com.

More after the jump:

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A sure hit: espresso shortbread cookies

espresso shortbread cookies When I was writing a blog post last week re affogato and typing the word espresso over and over, I got a craving for Claudia Fleming's espresso shortbread cookies. So, of course, I had to make some. 

Whenever I've baked these, guests start off politely by taking just one. And then another. And another. Admittedly, they're not much to look at, but taste-wise, they’re irresistible, especially if you serve them with vanilla or coffee ice cream. The grit and the slight bitterness of the ground espresso beans seems to cut the sweetness of the shortbread. 

Fleming was pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern in New York when Craft's Tom Colicchio was chef there. The recipe comes from her 2001 book, "The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern" (Random House, New York, $40). 

Remember to start the dough early enough: It needs to chill for a couple of hours before rolling out (but you can always cheat by putting the dough in the freezer for a little while). She likes to sometimes dip the cookies halfway into melted chocolate. This I have not yet tried.

Yield: 2 dozen cookies 

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup ground espresso

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until creamy and smooth, about two minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. On low speed, mix in the flour, espresso, and salt until just combined. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Roll the dough between two sheets of wax paper to 1/4 inch thick (an 8-by-12-inch rectangle). Using a sharp knife, cut the shortbread into 2-inch squares and place them 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets (do not reroll the scraps). Prick the shortbread with a fork and bake until pale golden around the edges, 20 to 24 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. [UPDATED July 26 at 10:45 a.m. to correct baking time and size]


Critic S. Irene Virbila cools it with an affogato

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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: S. Irene Virbila /Los Angeles Times


Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila's Sunday dessert: lemon curd tart

Verbena edit 2 (1 of 1) Meyer lemons are thick on the tree by my stairs. I planted it a couple of years ago and it is thriving. Sometimes I make Moroccan preserved lemons from Paula Wolfert's recipe in "Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco," one of my most treasured cookbooks.

On this past gray Sunday when I was home working, I decided to make a lemon curd tart to cheer up the table. The recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of lemon juice, plus 4 eggs, a 1/2 cup of sugar and 6 tablespoons butter, all of which I had on hand. The only thing I needed (and it's optional to serve with the pie) was some Straus Family Creamery cream. But since I didn’t feel like going out shopping, I just used the crema Mexicana I already had in the fridge.

The recipe I always use is one from Times Food Editor Russ Parsons in his article The Smooth Simplicity of Curd. He’s developed the foolproof method for making the curd, which can sometimes be tricky. Read the article and he’ll explain. I think the trick is the cold butter.

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Trails Cafe: Grab a bite after your hike

Trails300 July marks the six-year anniversary of Trails Cafe, a favorite stop for Griffith Park regulars and out-of-town visitors alike. The cafe's ultra-small setting can be a baker's challenge, but this before- or after-hike stop still manages to pull off an efficiently run production. Its baked goods are made in house, from scratch daily. Scones, quiches, galettes, pies and cookies, with daily changing flavors, are on display in the cafe's windows for the indecisive to "ohh" and "ahh" at while waiting in line to order. Stumptown Coffee is a recent addition to the menu, and as of late, weekend specials include homemade ice cream. There are vegan options too. 2333 Fern Dell Drive, L.A., (323) 871-2102, thetrailslosfeliz.com.


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-- Caitlin Keller

Photo: Trails Cafe sign. Credit: Michelle Youssefzadeh

Paper or Plastik Cafe: More than just a cup of joe

The coffee condiments sit atop an old Deluxe television set amid the cafe's industrial setting with high ceilings, copper fixtures and a glass-paneled storefront. A joint venture between Anya and Yasha Michelson, along with daughter Marina, Paper or Plastik Cafe is a neighborhood coffee shop and the heart of a community hub.

The goods come from all over town; coffee from Intelligentsia Coffee and Ecco Caffe; pastries (homemade pop-tarts, pies, croissants) from Cake Monkey, Sweets for the Soul, Sweet Lady Jane and Le Pain du Jour; and a rotating menu of sandwiches and salads from Auntie Em's Kitchen and Breadbar.

There's even a playful ad campaign touching on the cafe's function as a multidisciplinary arts space.  With coffee as its core, the Mid-City cafe aims to serve the community as an artistic center, providing an outlet for visual and tactile performing arts.

5772 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., 323-935-0268



Vote, or else

A purse for your fortune

-- Caitlin Keller

Video credit: Paperorplastikcafe.tumblr.com

Guinness cupcake for Dad? Sugar Blossom Bake Shop has you covered

Tired of buying your dad beer for Father's Day? Why not switch up that tired tradition and buy him a beer cupcake instead? Thanks to pastry chef Lei Shishak at Sugar Blossom Bake Shop in San Clemente, you can do just that.

From June 10 to 19, Shishak will offer these rich, brown-and-bubbly little Guinness cupcakes, ready to serve at any family gathering featuring man-centric activities geared to celebrate paternity in its many-splendored glory. Yes, this year, being a dad matters. And beer cupcakes are the fresh-baked proof.

Opened about a year ago, Sugar Blossom is Shishak's homage to her favorite things: quality, all-natural ingredients and the tender, warming feelings that accompany a good sweet treat. After all, she dropped out of a fast-paced career in New York City finance to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Before opening Sugar Blossom, she was the executive pastry chef at Michael Mina's Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point.

That's pastry-chef street cred to be sure. And your dad deserves nothing but the best. Also, if you want to make these boozy dreamcakes yourself, Shishak has been kind enough to share her recipe after the jump. It hasn't gone through the Test Kitchen, but it looks good.

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It's National Macaro(o)n Day: Where to get some


Whether you spell the dainty French buttercream-, jam- or ganache-filled colorful sandwich cookies with one ‘o’ or two, today is National Macaro(o)n Day. And you don’t have to drop everything and hop across the pond to enjoy these treats at famous Parisian maisons like Ladurée or Pierre Hermé. Angelenos are in luck as there are plenty of macaron masters scattered throughout this city, offering a delectable collection of confections from the color –- and flavor -– spectrum, on its dedicated holiday … or whenever:

Jin Patisserie: Tahitian vanilla, yuzu and chocolate mint are a sampling of the distinct macaron flavors created by Kristy Choo at her Abbot Kinney storefront. 1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-8801, jinpatisserie.com.

Lette Macarons: Macaron enthusiast Paulette Koumetz and pastry chef Christophe Michalak offer what they describe as a kaleidoscopic selection of macarons at their Beverly Hills shop: Earl Grey tea, Sicilian pistachio, Colombian coffee. 9466 Charleville Blvd. at Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 275-0023, lettemacarons.com.

Hotcakes Bakes: A Parisian native, owner Elfie Weiss studied cuisson at prominent bakeries Gerard Mulot and Ladurée. Try the coconut, strawberry or S'more. 4119 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 397-2324, hotcakesbakes.com.

XT Patisserie: Pastry chef Xuan Ngo was born in Vietnam but grew up in France, baking his way to Los Angeles, where he perfected the macaron at Boule in Beverly Hills. Flavors like hazelnut, orange blossom and passion fruit are available online and at the South Pasadena and Larchmont farmers markets through Sugarbird Sweets. Xtpatisserie.com.

Bottega Louie: The long glass dessert case at the entrance of the establishment boasts an array of elegantly decorated pastries including beautiful, brightly colored macarons like the mandarin, cassis and salted caramel. 700 S. Grand Ave. L.A., (213) 802-1470; bottegalouie.com.

Little Next Door: The artisan marketplace features a boulangerie, and the Parisian-like ambiance is perfect for enjoying a macaron, or two. Cookie creations include dulce de leche, chocolate and raspberry. 8164 W. 3rd St., L.A., (323) 951-0487, thelittledoor.com.

La Provence: With locations in Brentwood and Beverly Hills, the café produces more than 10 flavors such as lavender, rose and pumpkin spice, to name a few. 8950 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 888-8833, laprovencecafe.com.

--Caitlin Keller

Photo: Macarons. Credit: Bernhard Winkelmann

Blessed be the biscuit bakers: Food editor Russ Parsons on 'Southern Biscuits'

Southern-Biscuits-Cover-02-330When was the last time someone served you biscuits at dinner? When was the last time you made them yourself? That's what I thought; me neither. But a really well-made biscuit is one of the finest things you can put in your mouth. And, perhaps surprisingly, they're pretty easy to make –- at least going by the ingredient list -– flour, fat, leavener and liquid; that's about it.

But as with any simple recipe, the trick is in the doing. Biscuits are technique-heavy, and they repay extensive contemplation. There aren't many people who have been doing that longer than my old friend Nathalie Dupree. The queen of Southern cooking, she started teaching at Atlanta's flagship Rich's Department Store back in the 1970s. Many books and television shows later, she's better than ever.

Her latest entry, written with Cynthia Graubart and photographed by Rick McKee, is "Southern Biscuits," and if you think you can't fill a 200-page cookbook with recipes for biscuits, then you haven't met Ms. Dupree. They're all here, with countless variations. There are simple recipes like what the authors call "Sturdy Dorm Biscuits" that almost anyone should be able to put together. And there are more involved recipes such as beaten biscuits. Traditionally, these were smacked 1,001 times with a rolling pin to develop a smooth dough (old-time households had biscuit breaks to help out). Dupree does it in the food processor -– with breaks when the machine starts to overheat (or as she describes it "to whine or stagger on the board").

Best yet, there are all kinds of tips and step-by-step photos to get you through those anxious initial attempts. I know what my next cooking project is going to be.

"Southern Biscuits" by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart, $21.99

-- Russ Parsons

Breaking news: Marijuana gives you the munchies

Our neighbors to the north have concluded that marijuana makes you hungry and gives you the munchies. The study out of the University of Alberta found that small doses of marijuana's active ingredient, THC, boost the appetite of terminal cancer patients.

Now, there's nothing funny about cancer. But there is something funny about the need to study this, am I right?

Researcher Wendy Wismer gets the joke. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence concerning marijuana's effect on the desire for food, a.k.a. the munchies, she said. But she defended her pilot study as being the first to be conducted under rigorous, double-blind scientific controls.

In other Canadian research news, drinking alcohol can be good for you. You might even call it "healthy": Two studies from the University of Calgary have concluded that moderate alcohol consumption can cut the risk of death from heart disease and stroke by up to 25% compared with people who don't drink at all. Apparently, the alcohol helps increase levels of "good" cholesterol, which in turn helps reduce heart disease.

We're going to reserve judgment on all these studies -- we will leave that to our brainiac colleagues who run our Health section.

But we will leave you with this recipe for midnight chocolate brownie bites from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles TImes


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.