Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cherry-Almond Bars

Do you have any of those friends that are "like Martha"? Their houses are perfect, they throw great dinner parties, and they always bring a terrific dessert to the annual department Christmas lunch?

This recipe is from my Martha-like friend. I made them to give as part of my end-of-the-year teachers gifts and (how handy!) I was able to use up the cherry preserves I bought for the Opera Cake.

I forgot how de-lish these are. Honestly, of all of the baked goods I've made since starting this blog, these might be the absolute best. Thank goodness I'm giving them away, I can hardly stay out of them.

Almond-Cherry Bars

1/2 C. butter
10-12 oz. white chocolate chips (*I used real white chocolate since that's what I had on hand)
2 eggs
1/2 C. sugar
1 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C. coconut
1/2 C. cherry jam (*I used cherry preserves)
1/2 C. sliced almonds (*I used slivered almonds chopped up a bit)
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Grease and flour an 8" square glass pan (*I used metal.) Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup of chips. Let stand and do not stir.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Add sugar slowly. Stir in chip mix. Add flour, salt, and almond extract. Mix just until blended. Spread half the batter in pan. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden (*I baked for more like 30 minutes - I don't know why it took longer, maybe the metal pan? just make sure they're starting to brown a bit on top).

Meanwhile, stir remaining chips and coconut into remaining batter. Set aside.

Heat cherry preserves in microwave for 30 seconds. Spread over warm crust. Gently spoon batter over jam, spreading to edges. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 20-25 minutes until light brown (*I baked for 35-ish minutes. Again, bake until you start to see some browning on top and at the edges).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers: Opera Cake

This month’s Daring Baker’s challenge was a lightened version of Opera Cake. No dark ingredients were allowed, so the typical chocolate and coffee flavors were out. The flavors and colors were up to us, as long as they were light (think pastel).

I was amazed at the number of flavor combinations the other Daring Bakers came up with. I wanted to sample them all! You can check out their yummy creations at the DB blogroll. Bring a hankie because I guarantee you will be drooling.

My cake was cherry-almond-white chocolate flavored with a little raspberry liqueur thrown in. Because white chocolate was part of the base recipe I decided to go with a classic combo of cherry-almond. Aaaaand, since I didn’t have any Kirsch (have you ever priced that stuff? whew! cha-ching) I used Chambord as my liqueur instead.

The verdict? WOW! What a masterpiece! Forget layer cakes, I only want to eat fancy shmancy cakes like this from now on.

When I tasted the cake layers by themselves I thought... ewwww, too eggy tasting and I didn’t like the dry, coarse texture due to the almond meal. But, once doused with raspberry sugar syrup and sandwiched between all of that sweet, creamy buttercream and mousse, I thought it was perfect. The cake needed to be robust enough to balance the other components.

My buttercream came off without a hitch. I had my doubts halfway through, but I think that’s the nature of meringue buttercreams. Just when you think you’re going to have to 86 the whole batch, it comes together beautifully and faith is restored. I loved this buttercream! Here it is before I added a few drops of red food coloring to "pink it up" a little.

Here are the three layers coming together:

Thanks so much to Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, Lis of La Mia Cucina, Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, and Shea of Whiskful for hosting this month. This challenge rocked!

Because this recipe reads like a novel, I am only including the ingredient lists *I* used. For the original recipe in its entirety, and directions, you can visit Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice.

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 cups almond meal
2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. almond extract

½ cup water
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. Chambord liqueur
¼ vanilla bean, split, seeds removed, steeped in syrup until cool

1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ½ T. cherry puree (made with canned tart cherries)
3 drops Lorann cherry flavor
2 drops red food coloring
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
seeds scraped from ¼ vanilla bean
* I think I added some Chambord but I can't find my notes on the quantity. Maybe 1-2 tsp.

7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 T. Chambord

14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

approx. 3 T. Knotts Berry Farm cherry preserves (spread on second cake layer, after syrup)

I would do a few things differently if I were to make this again:
1. For the buttercream, I would add the vanilla seeds to the eggs before whipping (rather than to the sugar syrup before boiling). It seemed like half my little baby seedlings stuck to the the pan. *sniff*
2. I might grind my almond meal a little finer (mine was purchased rather than home made). Looking at the other daring bakers cakes, I think mine looked coarse in comparison.
3. I would bake the two cakes separately. The cake on the lower oven rack browned significantly more on the bottom than the upper cake.

Thanks for following along and see ya’ next month!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

TWD: Pecan Honey Sticky Buns

This week’s Tuesday’s with Dorie recipe is Pecan Honey Sticky Buns, from Dorie Greenspan’s book "Baking, From my home to yours". Madam Chow of Madam Chow’s Kitchen must have read my mind, picking this recipe. I was just thinking I need to get back to my cinnamon roll challenge. I’ve made 5 or 6 different recipes (it’s becoming a blur) in search of a recipe I can call my own.

Here are my lovelies ready for the oven (wow, did that just sound like the witch from Hansel & Gretel, or what, LOL?). That's the lowly end-of-the-log bun there in the middle front pan,poor thing:

For my sticky buns, I left out the pecans. I should have been daring and tried them, but just looking at the picture in the book made me think "blech!". Another change I made was to make half sticky buns and half "not-sticky" buns. I frosted the plain rolls with cream cheese icing while still warm from the oven.

The verdict? They tasted great and the filling was spot on. Dorie's "goo" topping is just about perfect. Next time I'll follow her instructions, though, and bring it to a boil first rather than just warming it (I was paranoid about the goo being too sticky). Notice mine ran all over kingdom come.

One criticism, and I had suspected this based on my previous batches, (and it's not really a criticism, more of a personal preference) but I feel that brioche is too fragile to stand up to the gooey topping. I think caramel rolls like this need a regular sweet bread dough. Now, the rolls I topped with cream cheese icing were downright addictive. I would stick with brioche for those. This is only my second time making brioche and it is a melt-in-your-mouth dream. I'm thinking maybe cream cheese danishes would be great with brioche. But anyway, I'm off on a tangent here.

It was a great challenge and as always, I learned tons. For one, I learned was that seven buns in a 9-inch pan is OK...

... but nine buns in a 9-inch pan is not OK.

Seriously, how did I get seven in one and nine in the other? LOL

See you next week, when it's brownie time again!

Makes 15 buns

For the Glaze:
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup honey *I substituted Lyle’s Golden Syrup
1-1/2 cups pecans (whole or pieces) *I omitted these
2 T. cream *this is my addition

For the Filling:
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the Buns:
1/2 recipe dough for Golden Brioche Dough (see below), chilled and ready to shape (make the full recipe and cut the dough in half after refrigerating it overnight).

Generously butter a 9-x-13-inch baking pan (a Pyrex pan is perfect for this). *I used two 9-inch round pans.

To make the glaze: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the brown sugar, butter, and honey to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. *(I only warmed this slightly past melting the butter.) Pour the glaze into the buttered pan, evening it out as best you can by tilting the pan or spreading the glaze with a heatproof spatula. Sprinkle over the pecans.

To make the filling: Mix the sugars and cinnamon together in a bowl. If necessary, in another bowl, work the butter with a spatula until it is soft, smooth and spreadable.

To shape the buns: On a flour-dusted work surface, roll the chilled dough into a 16-inch square. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, spread the softened butter over the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon sugar, leaving a 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Starting with the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months . . . . Or, if you want to make just part of the recipe now, you can use as much of the dough as you'd like and freeze the remainder. Reduce the glaze recipe accordingly).

With a chef's knife, using a gentle sawing motion, trim just a tiny bit from the ends of the roll if they're very ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into 1-inch thick buns. (Because you trim the ragged ends of the dough, and you may have lost a little length in the rolling, you will get 15 buns, not 16.) Fit the buns into the pan cut side down, leaving some space between them.

Lightly cover the pan with a piece of wax paper and set the pan in a warm place until the buns have doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The buns are properly risen when they are puffy, soft, doubled and, in all likelihood, touching one another.

Getting ready to bake: When the buns have almost fully risen , center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the sheet of wax paper and put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Bake the sticky buns for about 30 minutes, or until they are puffed and gorgeously golden; the glaze will be bubbling away merrily. Pull the pan from the oven.

The sticky buns must be unmolded minutes after they come out of the oven. If you do not have a rimmed platter large enough to hold them, use a baking sheet lined with a silicone mate or buttered foil. Be careful - the glaze is super-hot and super-sticky.

Golden Brioche Dough
Make the entire recipe, then divide the dough in half after chilling. You can freeze the other half for a later date, or make a brioche loaf or a second recipe of sticky buns out of it.

2 packets active dry yeast (each packet of yeast contains approx. 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch water
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

To make the brioche: Put the yeast, water and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit into the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can-- this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you're doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point, you'll have a fairly dry, shaggy mess.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You'll have a dough that is very soft, almost like batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap to the bowl. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the uncovered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Birthday Cupcakes

OK, raise your hand if you were like me and never had a school birthday party because your birthday was during the summer? (Aaah… come here… there, there, it’s OK) Ahem, anyway, nowadays the summer-birthday kids like my youngest get to have a “1/2 birthday” party at school. (Which is only right!) I missed my baby’s real ½ birthday, but thank goodness I didn’t miss out altogether, which would have happened here in another week.

I tried a new vanilla cupcake recipe, but honestly, I wasn’t in love with it so I’ll pass on posting the recipe. (Still in search of the world’s greatest vanilla cupcake... sigh.) For the icing, I used one of my favorites, by Michelle at Cakestrings.

It contains some shortening along with butter, so it’s lighter in taste and it’s not real sweet. There’s just one catch, and I apologize ahead of time if you’re in the no-trans-fat-allowed-ever camp (you might just want to skip this part because I’d hate for anyone to get upset) but this recipe doesn’t work as well with zero-trans fat shortening (this is true of many decorator icings that contain shortening.) I have heard that Wal-Mart brand shortening works , or there is “high-ratio” shortening that you can find at cake decorator supply stores.

Michelle P’s Buttercream

¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup boiling water
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup meringue powder
1 lb. sifted powdered sugar
2 ½ cups shortening or 1 1/4 shortening and 1 to 1 1/4 butter *(I use the shortening – butter combo)
1 Tbsp. vanilla
½ tsp. almond extract

Dissolve granulated sugar in boiling water. Add salt. Using the whip attachment, stir in meringue powder (yes...that much!!!) until moistened, and then beat on high until peaks form. Switch to the paddle attachment, and in the same bowl, right with the meringue mixture...add in powdered sugar, and then beat on high until smooth. Last, add in the same bowl with everything else, shortening and butter, and beat until smooth and creamy. Flavor with your choice of extracts...Michelle says she generally uses 1 Tbsp butter (if she did not use butter in the recipe), 1 Tbsp vanilla, and 1/2 tsp. almond extract.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

TWD: Quintuple Chocolate Brownies

This week I joined a weekly baking group called “Tuesdays with Dorie” (TWD for short). Members bake a weekly confection from the book “Baking: From My Home to Yours” by Dorie Greenspan and post about it on (surprise!) Tuesday.

This is a wonderful cookbook, with fantastic pictures and recipes alike. I highly recommend it! Believe it or not, I have a mammogram story to go with this book that I might share one of these days, lol.

This week’s recipe was Traditional Madeleines, chosen by Tara of Smells Like Home. You can find the recipe HERE.

Those bakers (like me) who don’t have a madeleine pan were given the option of baking a past TWD recipe instead. For me, it came down to choosing between The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart and the Quintuple Chocolate Brownies. I’m the only lemon fan in the house so brownies it was. Besides, how can I NOT bake a recipe with the words “quintuple” and “chocolate” in the title?

Mixing the flour, salt, and cocoa powder with the chocolate, butter, egg, and vanilla mixture:

The verdict? They had a rich, chocolate flavor and I liked the addition of the white chocolate glaze on top. They were a little more dense and fudgy than I like, though. My kids didn’t seem to mind, however, and took after them like they hadn’t eaten in two days. They were also a snap to make.

OK, confession time. My favorite brownies are from a (gasp!) mix. Actually, its two mixes, Betty Crocker Chocolate Chunk and Ghiradelli Double Chocolate, mixed together, prepared according to both package directions and baked in a 9x13-inch pan. They’re the perfect balance between fudgy and cakey and are nice and thick.

So, there you go… my first TWD post. Looking forward to next week’s recipe.

Quintuple Chocolate Brownies

For the Brownies:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 oz bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp strong coffee
1 Cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
6 oz premium-quality milk chocolate, chopped into pieces, or chocolate chips
1 Cup chopped nuts *(I left out the nuts)

For the glaze:
6 oz premium quality white chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, and salt.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add, in the following order, the butter, the two chocolates and the coffee. Keeping the pan over low heat, warm just until the butter and chocolates are melted-you don't want the ingredients to get so hot they separate, so keep an eye on the bowl. Stir gently, and when the mixture is smooth, set it aside for 5 minutes.

Using a whisk or a rubber spatula, beat the sugar into the chocolate mixture. Don't beat too vigorously-you don't want to add air to the batter-and don't be concerned about any graininess. Next, stir in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. You should have a smooth, glossy batter. If you're not already using a rubber spatula, switch to one now and gently stir in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. Finally, stir in the milk chocolate chops and the nuts. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out streaked but not thickly coated. Let rest for at least 30 minutes.

Turn the brownies out onto a rack, peel away the foil and place it under another rack-it will be the drip catcher for the glaze. Invert the brownies onto the rack and let cool completely.

Make the glaze:
Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the heavy cram to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Wait 30 seconds, then gently stir until the chocolate is melted and the glaze is smooth. Pour evenly over the brownies and spread to cover the entire surface. Refrigerate brownies for at least 20 minutes for glaze to dry, and cut into squares.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pure Genius

While I decide what to bake this week, I'll share this. Whoever (whomever?) came up with this idea is a genius in my opinion. I present to you, the "you-can't-binge-on-this-even-if-you-wanted-to" ice cream container:

(It still contains a whopping 270 calories, though.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Buttermilk Scones

I had a small-town Wyoming upbringing. (All towns in Wyoming are, by default, small towns.) Believe me when I say the state wasn’t very progressive or worldly when I was growing up. College brought me to Colorado, which was a step up, but my gang and I stayed close to campus mostly. Since graduating from college I feel like I've been trying to make up for culinary lost ground.

It’s funny how I associate certain foods with specific places and times in my life.

Scones take me back to when I lived in the San Francisco Bay area, fresh out of college. That’s the first time I had even heard of scones. I guess they were a bit sophisticated for my rural roots.

My favorite scones were from Fat Apple's, an East Bay restaurant & bakery. I wish I had one of their cranberry oatmeal scones right about now.

For my first foray into scone-baking, I tried the Buttermilk Scones from the Tartine cookbook. Tartine is a San Francisco bakery, so I thought it fitting. (BTW, I absolutely love this cookbook, the photography is wonderful and recipes sound delish.)

I suspect I overmixed the dough because I didn’t see chunks of butter like the recipe mentions.

The scones were still light and fluffy, though. They tasted like a sweetened biscuit. Not quite as sweet and tasty as Fat Apple's scones, but still good. I figured they would make a perfect base for strawberry shortcake, so I tossed my finished scones in the freezer until I have time to sugar some strawberries. (Update: they tasted awesome in strawberry shortcake.)

I'd like to try these again, but maybe a oatmeal raisin version. Anybody out there have a sweet oatmeal scone recipe you’d like to share? I’d love to see it.

Here's the recipe:

Buttermilk Scones
Makes 1 dozen *my pictures show a half recipe

4 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 C granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1c + 1 T unsalted butter, very cold
1 1/2 C buttermilk
1 tsp grated lemon zest
3/4 C Zante currants *I used raisins
melted butter and crystal sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 400F and butter a baking sheet.

Combine the currants with warm water and let sit for 10 minutes or until plump. Drain.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir to mix with a wooden spoon. Cut the butter into 1/2" cubes and scatter over the dry ingredients. Cut together, either with a pastry blender, 2 table knives, or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, but don't overmix. You want to end up with a coarse mixture with pea-sized lumps of butter visible.

Add the buttermilk all at once along with the lemon zest and currants and mix gently with the wooden spoon. Continue to mix just until you have a dough that holds together. You still want to see some of the butter pieces at this point, which will add to the flakiness of the scones once they are baked.

Dust your work surface with flour, and turn the dough out onto it. Using your hands, pat the dough into a rectangle about 18" long, 5" wide, and 1 1/2" thick. Brush the top with the melted butter and then sprinkle with the sugar. Using a chef's knife, cut the dough into 12 triangles and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the scones until the tops are lightly browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Five Cheesecakes, Two Winners

Two things happened recently. First, I started losing sleep wondering what set apart a “New York” cheesecake from other cheesecakes (I'm funny about what I lose sleep over). Second, I suspected the recipe used for the cheesecake pop Daring Bakers challenge a few weeks ago might have been better than my normal recipe. To top it off, there were a few other cheesecakes I’ve had on my “to bake” list.

Clearly, a cheesecake challenge was in order.

The recipes I used in my challenge were:
1. London Cheesecake from “How to be a Domestic Goddess” by Nigella Lawson (recipe here) - the only sour cream-topped recipe in the group. I thought this one had a real nice texture, more solid than the others, but I also thought the filling was just a little bland in comparison. The sour-cream top wasn’t thick enough to impact the filling.

2. Lindy’s cheesecake (recipe here) - this recipe was different in that it was baked for a short time at high temperature (500 degrees) then reduced to a low temperature of 250 degrees. You’ll notice this cheesecake looks a little different too. This cheesecake was the least favorite of all testers except one, who liked it the most (It was still good, just not the favorite). I personally thought it was a tad dry and had a noticeable eggy taste.

3. Junior’s cheesecake (recipe here) – it was very creamy and light and had a great cream cheese flavor. It was just a bit sweeter than the others. Because I ended up with a surplus of egg whites, I used only whites in this cake, although the recipe called for whole eggs and yolks. I wonder if that made a difference (might be worth another taste test someday). The cake was a beautiful ivory color.

4. Sour Cream Cheesecake by Alton Brown (recipe here) – I thought this one was the tangiest but it seemed the sour cream diluted the cream cheese taste somewhat.

5. Cheesecake Pop Cheesecake from "Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey" by Jill O'Connor (recipe here) – It was also very creamy and light and had a great cream cheese flavor.

The verdict? Junior’s and the Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey recipe were the overwhelming favorites. Both were creamy and had just enough zip to make the cream cheese flavor pop. Interestingly, these two cakes were the only two with flour or cornstarch added.

By the way, I now have an inkling of what New York cheesecake is. But I've decided it's not really important. Cheesecake is just plain delicious no matter how you tweak it. But, if you can shed some light, or you just want to talk cheesecake… please, feel free!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pineapple Upside Down Cake, a Blast from the Past

When I was a kid, maybe 12 years old, my mom bought a set of pots and pans at one of those “home parties”. I remember it was a big deal because it was “waterless cookware” and it was all the rage.

The thing I remember most about that cookware is that you could make pineapple upside down cake… in the skillet… on the stovetop!

Wonder of wonders! I was blown away by the mere thought of baking a cake anywhere but the safety of the oven.

I must have made that cake a hundred times back then. Sadly, I can’t remember making it since. Is it my imagination, or has this classic fallen out of favor? I never see anyone bring it to cookouts or the cakewalk at the school festival anymore.

As a tribute to days gone by, I made the “Fresh-Fruit Upside Down Cake” from the “Baking Illustrated” cookbook, using fresh pineapple. It tasted really good and I loved how the pineapple baked up a beautiful golden yellow.

By the way, I inherited that set of cookware (minus the skillet, dag-nabit!). If I had the skillet now I'm certain I’d still be making the stovetop version of pineapple upside down cake whenever I had the chance.

You can find the Baking Illustrated recipe --- here.

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sneak Peak

Here is a sneak peak of what's happening in my kitchen right now. I'm conducting my own little cinnamon roll and cheesecake challenges and will share the results as soon as my "research" is finished.

Looks more like an aerial view of Arizona than cheesecake, huh?


Monday, May 5, 2008

Not so Perfect Chocolate Cake


Has this ever happened to you? You’re cruising the web, or reading through a cookbook or magazine and you see some gorgeous confection. You think to yourself “I've got make that.” You imagine your loved one’s eyes rolling back in his head as he tastes your latest creation, thinking you must be absolutely brilliant to have come up with this masterpiece.

Then you actually make it and it turns out like crap.

Yeah, me too. This week, in fact.

Well, it wasn’t total crap, just not the taste sensation I had hoped for. And OK, I admit there’s a teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy chance it wasn’t the recipe’s fault.

Today’s adventure was Cook’s Illustrated “Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake”. My husband’s birthday cake, and thank goodness it was just our little family and not the whole brood to have to make excuses to.

Houston, we have a problem…

Firstly, the oven shut down mid-way through baking and refused to start in spite of my begging and pleading. My cakes were underbaked (see above). I told myself it would be OK, though. Aren't the ever-popular molten lava cakes just that? Under-baked cake?

(As an aside, let me just say that my next oven will not be a Whirpool Accubake.)

Ahem, anyway, the second problem was me accidently buying unsweeted chocolate rather than semi-sweet chocolate for the icing. D’oh!!!

Was the extra sugar the reason the icing was stiff and not soft and billowy? Or was it that I should just stay away from making ganache-type icings because I am unable to follow the instructions for stirring, blah blah, ice bathing, yawn, whipping, blah, blah, etcetera, etcetera? Maybe.

It wasn't all bad... I got a few cool pictures. Mmmm, a melted chocolate island in a sea of buttery sugar.

Well, here it is… (see… not even close to gorgeous). Will I try it again? Maybe. Or maybe I’ll stick with my go-to chocolate cake recipe which you can find -- here.

I'll leave you with a baking tip: if you’re like me, half the time you forget to take the butter out of the freezer to warm to room temperature. No prob! Just grate that baby, let sit for 5-10 minutes and it’s good to go!

Here's to tomorrow!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies

Mmmmmm… more cookies. I LOVE cookies, can you tell?

I recently made the “chunky peanut, chocolate, and cinnamon cookies” from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook, The New Classics. They’re like the humble chocolate chip cookies’ flashy, exotic cousin. Think Ginger versus Mary Ann.

Peanuts and chocolate have always been a winning combination in my book, but I wasn’t sure about the cinnamon. Turns out, the cinnamon is subtle, a background note that you can’t quite put your finger on. They’re quite yummy. Worth trying if you’re in the mood for something a little different.

They bake up beautifully... no disappointingly flat cookies in sight.

Oh, I almost forgot, I wanted to share one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. My Pampered Chef medium scoop (and no, I don't sell PC, I just indulge in a few pieces here and there.) It makes cookie forming a snap, especially for perfectionists who fret over misshapen and odd-sized cookie balls (not that I'm one... coughcoughsputter). One caution; don't use it with ice cream or real stiff dough. The tooth and cog mechanism tends to slip if your dough is too stiff.


Here is the recipe from Martha’s site:

Chunky Peanut, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Cookies

Makes about 5 dozen .
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Chocolate or vanilla ice cream, for serving


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Put butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Add sugars; mix 2 minutes. Mix in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips, peanuts, and vanilla with a mixing spoon until well distributed. Refrigerate dough until it is slightly firm, 15 minutes. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Space balls 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly. Bake until just golden, about 13 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. Serve with ice cream.