Storytellers Blog Circle – Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Storytellers Blog Circle

 

Hi everyone! This post is part of the Storytellers Blog Circle series, a monthly collection of posts by a group of Offset artists. Every month, each of us chooses one of our photos and gives you behind-the-scenes info about it. At the end of each post, click the link to the next artist in the circle and follow it all the way around. Enjoy!

         Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/8, 1/125 sec., ISO 200. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.

         Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/8, 1/125 sec., ISO 200. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.

For this month, I chose this very simple photo of chocolate crinkle cookies. Since these cookies have a strong holiday bend to them I wanted to invoke a peaceful, happy, cold but cozy winter morning atmosphere in the photo. I imagined a winter wonderland with a thick blanket of snow and a clear, cold sky outside with brighter–than–bright sunshine streaming in through a window on the left. The powdered sugar on the cookies reinforced the snow idea (at least subconsciously) and, as usual, I used one strobe and a large softbox to create the lighting for this shot. To make the cookies look like they were sitting in bright sunlight I made sure to have lots of contrast between the highlight- and shadow areas.

In my mind these crinkle cookies strike an interesting balance between rustic and elegant and I mirrored that feature in my prop choices. Both the surface and backdrop are simple and rustic but the white pedestal dish adds a touch of elegance. (The dish is actually meant to be for soap, but I think it worked well for the cookies here).

Both the scalloped rim of the pedestal and the draped brown cocktail napkin on the plate added movement to the shot and kept the scene from looking static.

In retrospect I could have taken a bite out of the cookie that's lying on the surface to add an element of action but of course it's too late now. Oh well. :)

The recipe for these cookies is surprisingly easy and simple, you can find it here: Real Simple magazine.

Now continue around our circle and head on over to our founder and leader, the super talented Andrea Moffatt!

Storytellers Blog Circle – Mulled Apple Juice

Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/5.6, 1/125 sec., ISO 50. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.

Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/5.6, 1/125 sec., ISO 50. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.

Hello everyone! I'm very excited to be part of this month's edition of a wonderful new project with some of my fellow Offset artists: The Storytellers Blog Circle. All members of this circle are incredibly talented visual storytellers and are extremely passionate about their work. In our blog circle posts each of us gives you behind–the–scenes info on one of our photographs with the goal of teaching and inspiring our audiences. At the end of our posts we each link to the next member in the circle so you can follow along! 

So here we go. For this month I've chosen a photo of mulled apple juice that I took a few weeks ago.

I am not a documentary photographer in the sense that I almost never document existing food scenes, instead I create each scene in my studio from the ground up. For this photo I wanted an almost monochromatic color palette and very subdued light to create a quiet, peaceful and reflective, late fall atmosphere.

I started with a small wooden crate that I turned upside down and set on a black table. The set is backlit (with my trusty strobe) and I controlled the light with lots and lots of flags to create a dark and almost gloomy look and feel. The linen bag acts as a "tray" for the drink and symbolically elevates it from the wood surface. In my mind the bag also fit well into the story because it could have been the bag in which the apples had been brought home.

To tell the viewer that the drink they see here is apple juice I added fresh apples to the scene and to make it look as if I had just cut the apples I dunked the knife blade in a jar of lemon juice – definitely a minor but in my view still important and very noticeable detail. 

A few freshly picked fall leaves added to the fall atmosphere and also helped keep the surface from looking too naked. I rearranged the leaves and apples a few times until I felt that there was a smooth and natural flow in this scene that helped guide the eye into the frame. 

Lastly, I dropped the cinnamon stick in the glass to tell the viewer that this is a spiced drink and – equally importantly – to give me something to focus my lens on.

If you're interested, find the recipe for this delicious drink here: BBC Good Food – Mulled Apple Juice.

Storytellers Blog CIrcle

Now continue around our circle and head on over to Johanna Hood, who is a master at capturing beautiful and genuine moments in the life of her children and those around her. Very inspiring work!   

Honey-Glazed Roast Pork with Pears and Cranberries

Recipe: I got the inspiration for this recipe from Saveur magazine but changed the ingredients a bit based on what I had in the house. Instead of apples and cider I used pears, cranberries and pear juice and it turned out quite tasty!

Photography and Styling: I initially had planned a very dark set for this shoot because I was afraid the pork would look gray and gray looks best when lit only minimally but it turned out that against the blue rim of the plate the meat took on a (much more appetizing) pink hue that I thought would look better in a more cheerful atmosphere. So I removed most of my flags and ended up with a fairly bright and happy scene. The sauce is an important (and in my opinion the most delicious) part of the recipe and it would have been invisible if I had poured it over the meat so I gave it its own small pot instead.

Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/5.6, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.


Ingredients:

  • 1 pork tenderloin, tied
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 long sprigs rosemary
  • 3 long sprigs thyme
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1⁄2 cup pear juice
  • 2 pears
  • 1/2 cup whole frozen cranberries

 

Directions:

  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Season the pork with salt and pepper and place in a roasting pan.
  • Drizzle the honey over the pork, then lay rosemary, thyme and butter on top.
  • Add the onions to the pan, then pour the pear juice into it and bake until the middle of the pork has reached 120 degrees F., about 35 minutes.
  • Peal, core and quarter the pears and add them to the pan along with the cranberries and continue baking until the pears are tender and the pork is golden brown and has reached 160 degrees F. in the center, about 30 minutes longer.
  • Take the roasting pan out of the oven and let the pork rest for 20 minutes, season the juice sauce with salt and pepper and serve.

Garlic Broccoli with Bacon and Polenta

Recipe: Winter is coming and this recipe is a good one for a cold and frosty weeknight. It's quick, easy and delicious!

Photography and Styling: I was going for a cold, dark winter evening atmosphere here. The "table" surface is a wooden crate turned upside down and sitting on a black table. I kept the light from getting anywhere near the table with bunches of flags and let it hit only the wooden surface. The pine cone added to the wintery feel of the photo and the different–sized glasses added interesting shapes to the composition.

Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/5.6, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.


Ingredients:

For the polenta:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • freshly cracked black pepper

For the broccoli:

  • 6 slices thick–cut bacon
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 12 ounces baby broccoli, stems trimmed
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth

 

Directions: 

For the polenta:

  • Add water and salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  • Slowly whisk in the cornmeal.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until thick (20–25 minutes).
  • Take off the heat and stir in the parmesan.

For the broccoli:

  • Cut the bacon into 1-inch pieces and cook in a skillet until crispy.
  • Take the bacon out with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • Add the garlic and briefly cook in the bacon fat until fragrant.
  • Add the broccoli to the skillet, then add the chicken broth.
  • Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down a bit and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid has evaporated and the broccoli is tender.
  • Add the bacon back to the broccoli.
  • Sprinkle pepper over polenta and broccoli and serve.

Mushrooms and Sage with Grilled Bread

Recipe: This delicious appetizer comes from Martha Stewart and is perfect for fall. I had never combined sage and mushrooms before but they go together wonderfully. The recipe calls for sherry vinegar, which I didn't have, so I just substituted actual sherry. Along with the mushrooms you make a sage–buttered grilled bread and that bread is worth making all by itself, it's so good!

Photography and Styling: Once again I wanted to create a warm, sunny, late afternoon fall mood here with lots of shadow/highlight interplay. I lit the set from the side and from a low angle so that the mushrooms produced some nice, irregular shadows on the rim of the serving platter. The half–eaten piece of grilled bread made it look like someone was actually in the process of eating the food and to tell the reader that fresh sage is an important ingredient in this recipe I included some fresh leaves in the composition.

Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/5.6, 1/125 sec., ISO 250. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.

Chai–Spiced Apple Tarte Tatin

Recipe: Another tarte tatin! I know I just had a pear one a few posts ago but in case you can't get a hold of ripe pears this apple version is a great alternative. The basic recipe comes from The New York Times but I added my chai spices to it (cinnamon, clove, ginger, cardamom and black pepper). Serve it by itself or with whipped cream, it's very delicious!  

Photography and Styling: This is a fall dessert so I went for an afternoon, outdoorsy fall atmosphere here. This tart is not quite as pretty as the pear one so instead of showing the whole thing I cut slices and added more props to build out the scene a bit more. To get different–sized circular shapes I lined one plate with a larger one and made the third element a cup with a small saucer. The coffee surface looked terribly dead without the bubbles so I made some with my trusty little eyedropper.  

Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/7.1, 1/125 sec., ISO 320. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.


Ingredients:

  • 6–8 large Granny Smith apples
  • 6 tablespoons butter, very soft
  • ⅔ cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

Directions:

Head on over to the NYT for directions. Just mix all the spices together and sprinkle them over the apples after you've laid them into the pan and before you drape the pastry over them.

Be careful when you turn the tart out, there is a lot of very hot syrup in the pan.

Roasted Cauliflower and Radicchio Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts

Recipe: This salad is fantastic both as an appetizer and as a side dish, try it with roasted tilapia fillets. The recipe comes from Gourmet via Epicurious.

Photography and Styling: I mixed rustic roughness with modern elegance in this set and while that doesn't always work I think it did in this case. The wood surface is an antique barn door whose individual boards are held together with rusty metal bands and I included one of them in the composition; it looked like the spine of a book to me that gave the photo a partial frame. I didn't tear the individual radicchio leaves apart because I like them arranged in kind of a rose pattern. To create an inviting, sunny fall afternoon atmosphere I lit the set straight from the back.

Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/7.1, 1/125 sec., ISO 400. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.

Eggnog Pecan Chocolate Pie

Recipe: It's never too early in the season to break out the eggnog, if you ask me. Of course stores don't sell it yet but it's very easy (and much tastier) to make your own. I drank some of my latest (pumpkin pie spice–flavored) batch and baked the rest into the filling of this chocolate-drizzled pecan pie that sits in an espresso-chocolate crust. Even though there isn't a whole lot of eggnog in it, the creamy, pumpkin pie–spicy taste comes through quite clearly and works wonderfully with the crunchy and delicate nuts. Perfect for the Holidays and any other time of the year. Find the recipe below.

Photography and Styling: I thought both the texture and the colors of this pie worked well with the rusty metal surface, which is the lid of an antique trunk. To frame the pie, and to add straight lines to contrast the round shape of it, I sat the pan on a folded piece of brown fabric. The knife implied action, suggesting that someone was just about to cut a slice. I lit the photo straight from the back to get a nice shine on the chocolate pools and drizzle and I let the bottom of the frame go uniformly dark to create space for text.

Nikon D600, 105mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/4, 1/125 sec., ISO 200. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35" x 58" Hensel Softbox.


Ingredients:

For the eggnog:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup rum

 

For the crust:

  • 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2.5 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

 

For the filling:

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup eggnog
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1.5 cups roughly chopped pecans

 

For the chocolate drizzle:

  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

 

Directions:

For the eggnog:

  • Heat the milk to a low simmer in a saucepan.
  • While the milk is heating up, whisk sugar, spice and egg yolks until they are lighter in color than they were when you started.
  • Take about 1/4 cup of the hot milk and quickly whisk it into the sugar/spice/egg mix.
  • Repeat the previous step two more times.
  • Transfer the milk/egg mix into the saucepan.
  • Stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, bring the custard to a low simmer and keep simmering until it is thick enough to just coat the back of the spoon. Don't let it come to an actual boil.
  • Let the custard cool completely.
  • Stir in the cream and the rum.

 

For the crust:

  • Mix the vinegar and the milk. Set aside.
  • Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, espresso, sugar and salt, then cut in the shortening and the butter.
  • Pour the milk/vinegar into the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a ball.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

 

For the filling:

  • With an electric mixer, beat eggs and syrup until well combined.
  • Add in sugar and salt and continue to beat until well combined. Let the mix sit for 5 minutes.
  • Add eggnog and butter and beat until you have a homogeneous mix that has a light caramel color.
  • Put the mix in the fridge until the crust is ready.

 

Continue with the crust:

  • Roll out the crust between two sheets of plastic wrap and fit into a greased 9-inch pie pan.
  • Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then remove it from the oven. Keep the oven running at 375 degrees F.
  • Add the pecans into the crust.
  • Take the filling out of the fridge and if it partially separated briefly whisk it by hand to combine.
  • Pour the filling into the pie pan almost to the top (if you have a little more than that, discard the excess).
  • Return the pan to the oven and bake until only slightly jiggly in the center (about another 30 minutes).
  • Let cool completely.

 

For the chocolate drizzle:

  • Chop the chocolate very finely and heat in a bowl over a pot of simmering water.
  • Drizzle over the pie and let cool.
  • Keep the pie in the refrigerator and serve cold.

Spiced Pear Tarte Tatin with Crystallized Ginger

Recipe: I saw this tart on the Williams–Sonoma website a long time ago and always thought that something so pretty must be difficult to make. But it turns out that it's actually quite simple; all you need is a 10-inch cast iron pan and an oven. The tart tastes every bit as good as it looks and you can serve it by itself, with creme fraiche or with whipped cream.

One word of caution about this recipe though: there is a lot of burning–hot syrup in the pan after it comes out of the oven (and after you have let it sit as instructed) and I was lucky that that syrup landed on the countertop and not on my hands when I turned the tart out. To be safe, I recommend that you pour any excess syrup into a bowl before you turn the tart onto a plate, you can pour it over the tart after that.

Photography and Styling: I shot this tart in natural light just because I was in the mood to do something different (99 percent of the time I work with strobe light). I positioned the set in front of a small south–facing window in the early afternoon of a partly cloudy day and hung a white curtain in front of the window for diffusion. The tart itself was so pretty that I thought the set needed only minimal propping for support; just a large knife, a napkin and a few plates on which the slices would be served. I used my 60mm lens instead of my usual 105mm so that I could keep my camera on my tripod (with the 105mm I would have had to go higher up than my tripod allows me to).

Nikon D600, 60mm Nikkor Micro Lens, f/5.6, 1/2 sec., ISO 200. Diffused, natural light from a south-facing window.