Finding out someone’s favorite color doesn’t do much for me. “Oh teal? How interesting,” I say as I fall asleep standing up, collapsing into a heap and waiting for someone to kick me awake. But finding out someone’s favorite flavors is a different story. For my friend Michael’s birthday dinner, this past weekend, I texted his husband John to find out what kind of desserts he likes and John texted back: “He loves banana cream pie and pretty much anything peanut butter.” Banana and peanut butter: what a fascinating window into Michael’s soul! As I contemplated my own favorite dessert flavors (definitely anything almond; mostly because I grew up eating rainbow cookies which are made with almond paste), I started flipping through Karen DeMasco’s Craft of Baking–which was partially responsible for the crisp I just posted–and I stumbled upon the perfect Michael dessert recipe: Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream.
Wow, that’s a mouthful, but you have to admit it sounds good. I got the idea from the New York Times Cooking newsletter; Kim Severson was guest writing it for the day and she mentioned a trick she learned from our mutual friend Bill Addison who learned it from Nancy Silverton (how’s that for a game of telephone?). The trick is this: when making a cobbler or a crisp, brown some butter, scrape in the seeds from a vanilla bean and then stir the whole mixture in with the fruit. As far as ideas go, this is right up there with E = mc2. (How do you get the 2 up there? Where’s Einstein when you need him?)
I had the apples, I had the butter, I had the sugar, the vanilla extract, and even the cornmeal. Jimmy was coming to dinner (see here) and, with only an hour or two to prep, I knew there had to be dessert. So I yanked down Karen DeMasco’s newest book, The Craft of Baking, and followed her instructions for a caramelized-apple skillet cake.
Today’s the second day of Hanukkah and as much as I wish I could tell you that I’m frying latkes and spinning dreidels and unwrapping Hanukkah gelt in celebration, I’m actually sitting here next to a pile of cookbooks trying to figure what constitutes the Best of 2009. You see, many of my food blogging contemporaries–David, Deb, Eat Me Daily–have already offered up their take on what you should buy for you and yours this holiday season and now it’s my turn to separate the wheat from the chaff or the sour cream from the apple sauce (latke joke!). Are you ready for some hardcore gift-buying ideas? Come along with me.