Chasen's Banana Shortcake
An Excerpt from the Introduction
Do you remember the last time you opened an exquisite box of chocolates? Untying the ribbon, lifting the lid, peeling back the wrapping, and gazing at them? Their different shapes and colors lie before you, and you want to take a tiny taste of all of them, to see which one you want to eat first. It makes you feel happy. It makes me feel happy. Every time.
Valerie Confections was started with that experience in mind, devoted to creating handmade chocolates that are both beautiful and delicious, each one a gift. Stan and I started the business in 2004 in our apartment with six flavors of toffee, a box that we called our Debut Assortment, and it’s still one of our biggest sellers. The first Christmas was crazy. In the pre-online-shopping era, we took orders by fax and phone. Our small dining room was curtained off for packaging; the second bedroom was the office. I made family meals for us and our two part-time employees as we all tied ribbons around boxes late into the night...
Before we started the company, we had an abstract idea of who our customers would be, but now they are our friends. We have families who stop by our market booths every week, and we get to see their kids growing up. And we have people who order our chocolates as gifts every year, for whom we have become a part of their holiday tradition.
Over the years, just as often as people have asked for recipes, they’ve come to me for advice. They want to find out how they can do what I’ve done, where I went to school, and how I became a chef. Well, I’m a self-taught home baker, and I don’t consider myself a chef. However, in a very real way, I was trained by all my favorite chefs, because I used their cookbooks to teach and inspire me. I started with a passion for learning, a willingness to experiment, and a stack of cookbooks. And I’m lucky enough to have turned my passion into a career.
I wrote this book to share some of what I’ve learned and, hopefully, to inspire you to feel confident in the kitchen. To make jam, or chocolates, for the first time. To attempt something that you haven’t tried, or to revisit something you’ve done before with a new perspective. And to approach baking with a sense of adventure and possibility so that after spending some time with these recipes, you’re able to expand not only your repertoire but also your understanding of the techniques and flavors involved, and start creating your own recipes--and telling your own stories through food...
I have tried to write the recipes in this book in the most approachable, nontechnical way possible in the hope that that simplicity will allow you to use them often. The array of desserts is large, so every season and occasion can be filled with delicious homemade treats. You’ll find cakes for celebrations, refreshing sorbets, cookies, chocolates, and pies for any time of the year. There are jams and granolas to satisfy your desire for a homemade breakfast, and you can make petits fours and scones for afternoon tea. I’ve also given mix-and-match components for cakes and pies so you can create hybrid sweets to your liking. Make your own signature dessert and see what happens.
(Mexican Wedding Cookies)
When I think of Christmas cookies, this is the first cookie that comes to mind. I started gifting these in my late teens and I still receive requests from old friends eager for a delivery of snowballs near December 25. This recipe also works well with pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts, if you prefer those flavors.
makes 36 cookies
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups (10.13 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4.4 ounces) roasted almonds, finely chopped
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla paste and mix until combined. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing until thoroughly combined. Fold in the almonds.
2. Turn the dough out onto a cool surface and divide it into 3 portions. Form each one into a disk. Wrap individually in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill for 1 hour.
3. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line two large heavy baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
4. To form the cookies, break off a piece of chilled dough approximately the size of a measuring tablespoon, roll the dough between your palms into a ball, and place on the lined baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between the cookies. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until the bottom of the cookies is slightly golden—lift one of the cookies with an offset spatula and check to be sure. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets on cooling racks for 5 minutes.
5. Put the remaining 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl. Drop one warm cookie at a time into the confectioners’ sugar and roll until it’s completely covered in sugar, then shake off any excess and put on a cooling rack. Let cool completely.
Storing: The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Excerpted from Sweet by Valerie Gordon (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Peden and Munk.
From a childhood love of sweets, Valerie Gordon developed a lifelong passion for baking. After spending her formative culinary years working in restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles, she opened Valerie Confections with her partner, Stan Weightman Jr., in 2003. Valerie has been featured in Vogue, House & Garden, Newsweek, InStyle, USA Today, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine
, and The Splendid Table
, and on Unique Eats on Cooking Channel. Valerie and Stan live in Los Angeles with their two children, August and Lee.
For a price & to purchase Sweet