Suzi's Blog

Cookbook Review: Cake Balls by Robin Ankeny and Charlotte Lyon

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Recently I posted a recipe for Oreo Truffles. A friend put one near my mouth and announced, “Eat it.” He did not say I would like it, because he knows me and my mild chocolate addition.

For that treat, you pulverize Oreo cookies, mix with cream cheese, form into balls, dip into melted chocolate, refrigerate, wait — and you do have to wait, folks — and then indulge.

Sometimes things just happen by chance. Suzen had finished off the last Oreo Truffle — at least I admit my addiction — and I was off to scout new cookbooks. And there, on the shelf, is this very modestly sized book titled Cake Balls: Amazingly Delicious Bite-Size Treats by Robin Ankey and Charlotte Lyon of the Cake Ball Company.

Here’s the idea. Make a cake. Make icing. Don’t ice the cake. Crumble it. Add in the icing and mix with your fingers — licking your fingers here would be a violation of the health code but I’m going to let you proceed on your own honor. More or less.

Back to that cake crumb and icing mix. You now have this sticky mixture that is dough-like and yet moist. Use a cookie scoop or your hands to form bite-sized balls. Roll them into perfect spheres. Freeze them for 2 hours. Dip in melted chocolate and decorate, if you desire, with more chocolate, nut, sprinkles, … The potential here is endless.

Cake Balls comes with full instructions and their personal recipes for cakes and icings:

  • Basic chocolate, vanilla, and yellow cakes
  • Basic chocolate, vanilla, and cream cheese icings

Use those foundations, and you get, what else, a basic cake ball. But you can go so much further with the decorations:

  • Toffee bits or chopped up Snickers bars
  • Chopped Andes mints or ground up candy canes
  • Ground up cookies [gingerbread, chocolate wafers, …]
  • Cut up dried cherries or other fruit such as dried apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Pistachio, walnut or pecan halves, placed on top and glued in place with a thick dollop of ganache
  • Milk chocolate and coconut for a German Chocolate feel
  • White chocolate and silver sprinkles for a wedding cake effect
  • Stripes of dark chocolate anointed with cinnamon

Cake Balls presents with excellent, beautifully styled photos that will both inspire you and serve as a roadmap.

You can do this. Your kids can do it. You can make the cake balls in advance, freeze them, and then let a herd of kids dip and decorate. It’s a perfect kids’ party idea. Just do it outdoors on a wooden table that you can hose down.

No, Suzen has not seen this book yet. I’m saving it as a surprise. I just don’t know quite what to say to her to begin our cake ball adventure. Perhaps:

“Wanna get your hands dirty?”

Or:

“About those Oreo Truffles, the ones you finished off without me? Since you owe me…”

I need a script writer.

Cookbook Review: The Ginger & White Cookbook by Tonia George, Emma Scott, & Nicholas Scott

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Northwest of downtown London is Hamptead and there you will find Ginger and White, a neighborhood establishment that is a “child friendly coffee shop serving artisan espresso coffee, British sandwiches, salads, and breakfast.”

There are a couple of things in that self-description to note. First, Ginger & White is child friendly, but also adult friendly too. For the kids, there is hot chocolate and muffins. For adults, espresso and so much more.

Second, they specialize in British food, that is the very particular contemporary British style we are all coming to love. The firm’s founders — Tonia George, Emma Scott, & Nicholas Scott — have taken their brick and mortar experiences and put them on paper. The Ginger & White Cookbook has just been published this month and you should hunt down a copy for a search and inspiration. Take some time and you’ll become a devotee of new British casual food.

Let me tell you why.

It’s a coffee and espresso shop, so the very first four pages are about how to make a perfect espresso. I know. Why bother? You can drive or walk to Starbucks, right? Yes, but, and this is the truth, Suzen and I do buy Starbucks coffee but we have a home espresso machine and our home version is much, much better than anything anywhere. Beyond the coffee, we have a specific technique that matches the one in this book, and the technique works. You do need to tamp the coffee correctly in that basket, and pull the shot just so long. Steaming milk sounds like a simple thing to do, but you can get awful results and a tragically messy kitchen if you don’t have the technique down just right. That technique is here.

Once you have your espresso, you need something to eat for breakfast. Here are some very Ginger & White ideas:

  • Toasted Banana Bread with Vanilla Cream Cheese, Rhubarb, & Raspberries
  • Spicy Baked Beans with Red Bell Peppers, Chorizo, & Feta Cheese
  • Mini Frittatas [Cheddar with Thyme and Caramelized Onion, Salmon with Onion and Anchovy]
  • Fried Duck Eggs with Blood Sausage and Sourdough Croutons

If you go to Ginger & White for lunch, you can dine on:

  • Smoked Mackerel, Fennel & Chickpea Salad
  • Corned Beef, Red Onion & Potato Salad with Anchovies and Capers
  • Ham Hock Potato Cakes with Minted Peas, Shallows and Parsley Cream
  • Spiced Butternut Squash & Coconut Soup
  • Fish Stick, Lettuce & Tartar Sauce Sandwich
  • Coronation Chicken Sandwich [with yogurt, mayonnaise, korma paste, mango chutney, honey and butter]

If you want to just go to the counter to take home something sweet, then your options include:

  • Gluten-Free Almond & Pistachio Cake
  • Mini Gooseberry & Elderflower Sponge Cakes
  • Caramel Croissant Bread & Butter Puddings
  • Coffee & Walnut Triple Layer Cake [a British staple!]

If you read the recipe titles, and if you have book open and can gaze at the pictures, you are stuck by how familiar and yet somewhat distant it all seems. The ingredients are mostly the same, perhaps not that korma paste, but the combinations are just, well, different. They reflect contemporary British food style and history. There’s chutney in many of the recipes and coconut in that butternut squash soup — all reflective of the deep intertwined history of the British Empire and India. This aspect of the history is gloriously enriching.

And there are the little things that the gardening-mad British created and we can cherish. Minted peas and parsley cream.

The recipe titles tend to be long because, thankfully, these dishes are collaborations of flavors and textures that take just a little extra effort but yield magnificent rewards. Take that Toasted Banana Bread. It comes with, not just cream cheese, but vanilla cream cheese: cream cheese + yogurt + vanilla bean paste + powdered sugar. It’s a very clever idea and perfectly mated here with raspberries, who have their own distinctive tang.

That’s the “perfected genius” of Ginger & White. These are really simple dishes, ones you might consider comfort food. The simplicity is not lost in the Ginger & White versions, but some extra ingredients and effort here add a dimension of distinctive elegance that you will instantly appreciate.

So, look for a copy of The Ginger & White Cookbook. It is published by Mitchell Beazley, an imprint of Octopus Publishing Group. You can, of course, find Octopus books online, but you can also find them in lovely neighborhood book stores where the owner has an eye out for the best in cookbooks. These are.

Oh, the Vanilla Cream Cheese works with blueberries, too. 24 X 7.