Baking with Bourbon

Before all my friends and family start hating me for my weird tirade on their children, I thought I’d take a step back and talk about this week’s culinary adventures. Last week, I tried my hand at a truly Mexican-American combination dish: Fried Chicken Mole and Waffles. This week, I went a little more traditional Americana.

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One of my coworkers is what I consider the definition of Southern sweetheart…with an edge. As I’ve made something of a habit of bringing baked treats in to work for notable (and some not-so-notable) occasions, when I found out her birthday was coming up, I couldn’t help myself.

I decided to make a cupcake that reminds me of her–something Southern, sweet, but definitely edgy. That’s how I came up with my recipe for Pecan Pie Cupcakes w/ Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting. I’ll warn you, when I say Bourbon, I mean mean Bourbon with a capital B!

The sweet, sticky pecan pie mixture caramelizes on the top, while simultaneously seeping into the airy, pillowy brown sugar cupcake. Then it hits you, the unmistakeable warming tingle of bourbon. Between the sugar and the booze, you may feel a little woozy for just a second. That’s to be expected.

All good food should make you take a moment. It should transport you from where you stand to another place, another time, another memory, or somewhere you’ve never been before. Good food should make you feel something–joy, love, nostalgia, whimsy, even fear or anger. In many ways, good food is a lot like a good book. If you close your eyes, and bite into this cupcake, here’s where you might go:

It’s Thanksgiving in the American South. It’s a joyful, wholesome family celebration. You’re a child, running around in a post-dessert sugar rush. In an effort to calm you, your grandfather sneaks you your first taste of bourbon. His hearty chuckle booms through the air. The drink stings a bit, but the warmth feels nice juxtaposed to the chilly winter air. You play for a bit longer, but as the night gets darker and the warmth continues to spread, you find yourself yearning for your bed. You climb into bed, feeling cozy and safe in a way that only children can. You nod off…

Then you open your eyes and you’re standing in your work kitchen, realizing that you actually grew up in Los Angeles, and were far more likely to be slipped a margarita than bourbon. But that’s the magic of it….

Pecan Pie Cupcakes w Bourbon Frosting

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Not Yo Abuelita’s Mole

Every once in a while I get an insatiable craving for Mexican food. Unfortunately, Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas aren’t known for their ability to really satisfy a California girl’s needs when it comes to South-of-the-border classics. When times get tough, sometimes a girl has to take her destiny into her own hands. But being the adventurous eater I am, I couldn’t help but put a twist on one of my childhood favorites, chicken mole.

Chicken mole is a classic Mexican dish–some even call it the national dish of Mexico–known for its symbolic representation of the mixing of European and Indigenous cultures.  In fact, mole may be one of the first international dishes of the Americas, mixing ingredients from the local land, Europe, and Africa. The base of the dish, however, is deeply rooted in the history of Mexico. According to legend, during the early colonial period, the archbishop was scheduled to visit the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla. Upon hearing of his arrival, the nuns of the convent went into a panic knowing that in their destitute state they had nothing to serve him. And so, as nuns often do, they prayed. They brought together what they did have: chili peppers, spices, old bread, nuts, and a bit of chocolate. They mixed it together and poured the sauce over an old turkey they killed for the occasion. It was well-worth the sacrifice, because the archbishop was smitten with the dish. Why wouldn’t he be? The deep, complex, spicy, sweet, nutty, smooth flavor of mole could win just about anyone’s heart.

So what’s the twist? In order to make my chicken mole suitable for the star-spangled table, I decided to combine it with a classic American dish–chicken and waffles! That’s right, I made Fried Chicken Mole & Waffles.

The crispy fried chicken, buttermilk-cinnamon waffles, and the rich mole paired perfectly with Mexican corn cake, plantain chips, and guacamole made in the mortar and pestle Anthony bought for our 1-year anniversary.

Fried Chicken Mole and Waffles

To top it all off, Anthony and I decided to have a plate-off to see who could make the food look completely and utterly irresistible. I think the results really speak to our personalities. Whose is whose? Let’s see if you can figure it out.

Plate #1

fried chicken

Plate #2

photo

Did you know: Mole is so synonymous with celebration that in Mexico, to say “to go to a mole” (ir a un mole) means to go to a wedding.

Holiday Cheer to my Rear (O Tannenbaum)

Part 2 – O Tannenbaum

My father was born in Germany, but to be quite honest, I know very little about my German heritage. Much of what I do know comes from the holiday dishes that my Oma artfully puts together every year. While duck, potato dumplings, and warm red cabbage make me a very happy girl, the true stars of the holiday season are Oma’s cookies. Every year for as long as I can remember, my grandmother has  baked cookies for Christmas. When I was a little girl, my Oma lived in New Jersey and each year when the package would come in the mail, my dad would gracefully cradle the package, open it up and give my brothers and I each one cookie–then hide the tin. I wish I was kidding. He would either hide it or place it so high up that we couldn’t reach it. Cookies were then used to reinforce positive behavior–like dog treats.

I remember staring up at the cookie tin with my brothers, drooling with desire and intent on finding a way to reach that treasure chest of sweet goodness. After painstaking planning and acute execution only a Weissenberger child could pull off, we’d manage to snag a couple from the tin. I’d take the tiniest bites possible, savoring every morsel, careful not to drop a single crumb. Then I’d wait, tummy full of sugar and guilt, for my dad to come home. He’d sneak into the kitchen, fully aware that being caught with the tin might mean he would have to share. We held our breath as he opened the sacred tin, hoping just this once he wouldn’t have a mental count of the remaining cookies. He always did.

“Who touched my precious….”
(Yes, this is a picture of my dad morphed with Gollum. I really need to work on my Photoshop skills.)

My mom, using skills learned only through year after year of working with small children, would calmly and patiently intervene: “They are just kids/It’s Christmas/Those cookies aren’t just yours/Learn to share.” Every year, it was the same thing until, finally, my mom explained the situation to my Oma. Graciously, she offered to make us each our own bag of cookies for Christmas. None of us are very good about sharing them.


This year when Oma asked me what I wanted  for my birthday, I could think of nothing I wanted more than some Almond Crescents–my absolute favorite of all the Christmas cookies. I cannot express the joy that came when I opened that tin to see the familiar crescents nestled in their neat bed of parchment paper. The crescent shape, according the research I did while writing this blog, is very common in German baking. Legend has it that when the Austrians defeated the Ottomans, they celebrated by making the crescent shape which adorned the Ottoman flag. If war had a referee, I’d call that “excessive celebration” – Unsportsmanlike Conduct. If you can’t spike a ball while staring down a defender, you shouldn’t be able to make such utterly taunting cookies.

 I imagine the flavor of these cookies to be similar to that of angel poop (angel poop would taste delicious since they only eat clouds and love). So if you ever wondered what angel poop tastes like, here is a recipe that I found online for these cookies. Note: This is NOT the recipe used by my Oma. Sorry, but I am my father’s daughter and I just can’t share that.

Ingredients:

1 c butter
3/4 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 t almond extract
2 1/2 c flour
1 c almonds; ground
confectioners’ sugar

Instructions:
Beat together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Blend in extracts. Mix in flour and almonds. Using about 1 T of dough for each, shape into logs and bend into crescents. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees F until light brown. While warm, roll crescents in confectioners’ sugar. Cool on racks and store in a tightly sealed container. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

A toast, to traditions that keep the soul fortified in this tumultuous world.

“Because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
~Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof)