tiny tomato cakes keep them guessing

sometimes, i like to have fun with desserts.  my favorite game is to make people guess what the secret ingredient is.  once, for thanksgiving, i made a pie with white beans; it was fun to watch as our guests ate the pie while trying to guess what type of squash i used.  there have been many such desserts coming out of my kitchen.  a favorite of mine is tomato cake because it always keeps them guessing.
a recent outing with the nashville food bloggers included a pot luck lunch.  as a pastry chef, dessert is always my contribution to a pot luck meal.  naturally, i decided to have a little fun and make them guess the flavor.  to see the complete recipe, click here.

 my skinny muffin pan from ikea.  it is a little tricky to use.  even though it is nonstick, you really need to grease and flour the cups to ensure the cakes come out intact.

 the best way to present them, wrapped individually and dusted with powdered sugar.

in my search for bakers twine, the kind i remember from childhood, red and white and hanging from the bakery ceiling in a metal stringholder, i came across some cotton yarn.  it works very nicely and is so much cheaper!

linzer cookies with fig jam

the whole repurposing craze has caught me.  i just love it-the idea of turning useless stuff into a money maker; i’m all about that.  honestly, i do like the idea of using things in a new or unusual way.  we hung a wire window planter box up on our kitchen wall.  ok, not exciting.  except we hung it upside down and use hooks to hang pots from it.  fascinating stuff, i know!  what does it have to do with cookies?  nothing.  it was the repurposing thing, i went off track here…
so, back to the story, as a tuesdays with dorie baker, i often make things i would not generally make for just the two of us.  it is often way more than we can eat.  sometimes i cut the recipe in half or freeze half.  for a recent baking challenge, we made a crostata.  it called for a rich, short crust that was loaded with almonds and sesame seeds.  since i wanted to make a smaller tart, i had a big ball of dough leftover and i froze it for another day.  a recent get together of local food bloggers seemed like a good time to use it since it would make wonderful bite sized linzer cookies.  read all about the tart and see the recipes by clicking here.

cookie cutters are something i collect; i have hundreds of them.  literally, hundreds.  this is an inexpensive set that i found while wandering through a local tjmaxx/homegoods store.  they are double sided so you can use the straight side or the fluted side-10 cutters for the price of 5!

to roll out little bite sized sandwich cookies, i used a pair of thin wooden dowels.  that is my secret for a consistent thickness and by choosing different sized dowels, i get the dough rolled out to the necessary thickness every time.

to cut the window of the top cookie in the sandwich, i pulled out a different set of cutters.  this is a larger set of straight circles made of metal.

 a quick sprinkle of sanding sugar gave the cookies a nice sparkle.

a small dollop of homemade fig jam was the perfect choice of filling for a dough studded with almonds and sesame seeds.

 finishing the sandwiches with the top cookie

all ready to go on my fancy vintage pressed aluminum serving tray-a treat fit for serving to food bloggers!  and by the way, i came home with an empty tray…

food styling 101 and a strawberry ribbon cake

strawberry ribbon cake
photo by lindsay of love and olive oil
styled by teresa blackburn of food on fifth
learning to use a digital camera can be challenging.  my suggestion, take a few classes.  seriously, check out community colleges or art schools and take a few adult/community education classes on digital photography.  personally, i took basic classes during last summer and then again last fall and having the knowledge of the different camera functions has made a world of difference in my photos.
even so, i am by no means an expert but at least i have a better idea of how to go about things.  just as tricky is making the food look good enough to eat.  another big challenge.  staging a shot, picking props, lighting and so on.  it helps if you have the chance to watch and work with a pro.  when i wrote my first book, i had the chance to watch a very talented food stylist during the photo shoot.  but watching wasn’t enough.  when i wrote my second book, i had to actually prepare all of the food to be used in the photo shoots.  even with all of that experience, it still wasn’t enough.  but that hasn’t stopped my from trying.  
then came an opportunity to take a class with a successful food stylist.  as a member of the nashville food bloggers, i learned about a workshop to be put on by local food stylist, teresa blackburn; i quickly signed up.  we watched in awe as she quickly arranged a salad in a plate.  sounds goofy doesn’t it?  but it was how she did things that made it so amazing to watch.  she arranged the salad, leaf by leaf, garnish by garnish.  a drizzle of dressing, addition of background props.  it all came to a beautiful shot.
well beautiful when taken with something besides a cellphone camera!  however, i think you get the idea.  and the next time i try to photograph a salad, i will know exactly how to arrange the components so that it looks good enough to eat! 
one of the other tricks we learned was how to make the perfect dollop of cream.  first of all, it has to be non dairy whipped topping.  something no pastry chef wants to hear…but the technique was so simple, that i will have to practice it till it’s perfect.  but even so, we all had fun smoothing it out, creating furrows across the top and then scooping out the perfect dollop.  
 everyone’s plate arranged on the table for a group photo
teresa liked mine enough to use it to demonstrate adding a whole berry so that it will not sink into the cream.  it was all good fun and informative.  hopefully, there will be additional opportunities like this-i love learning something new.   if you are interested in seeing more of the photos, the nashville food bloggers website has a complete album of the photos that lindsay took during the workshop 
since this was a class centered around food, we were all invited to bring along a snack to share.  i brought my strawberry ribbon cake and if you go back to the photo at the top, you can see how wonderful it looked by the time teresa styled it and lindsay shot it.  and as always, when i go to the garden on sunday mornings, i take a cake.  this time, i took the leftover strawberry ribbon cake and tried to use some of the tips and tricks to get a good photo.  it was a challenge.  the lighting in the garden wasn’t the greatest and i was unable to bring any props.  but i must say, i at least know how to go about this better.  
strawberry ribbon cake
makes 1 (8″) square cake
adapted from the cake bible by rose levy beranbaum
(sour cream coffee cake)
crumb topping

1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup nuts-your choice
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes

cake batter
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup strawberry preserves
powdered sugar

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour an 8″ square baking pan.  to make the crumb topping, place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to chop the nuts and continue pulsing until it begins to clump.  don’t over do it or it will be one large clump rather than free flowing smaller lumps.  set this aside while you prepare the cake.

in a small mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with 1/4 of the buttermilk and the vanilla, set aside.  place the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and with the machine on low, allow it to mix to combine the ingredients.  add the butter and the remaining buttermilk and mix on low to combine.  scrape the bowl and turn the mixer to medium and allow it to cream until a little light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes.  add the egg mixture in thirds and mix to combine.  be sure to scrape the bowl.  scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top.  spread the preserves evenly over the top of the cake.  add the remaining batter and carefully spread it evenly over the preserves-this is a little tricky so take your time. top it all off by sprinkling the crumb mixture over the top.  bake until a pick comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes.  turn it out and invert it onto a rack to cool completely.  just before serving, dust it generously with the powdered sugar.