Sunday, November 29, 2009

Experimental Birthday Cake

Rebecca: We must be the only bloggers not posting pumpkin recipes.
Sarah: That's because pumpkin is gross.
Rebecca: True.

So if you were wondering why we weren't posting pumpkin recipes, there's your answer.

And now a story: last November, came time for my friend Melissa's birthday. I gave her the choice of a couple of cakes, and she picked one that had a meringue topping. I was still pretty skittish about meringue at the time, and that combined with my ghetto baking made for kind of a disastrous result - namely, an undercooked cake, topped with meringue...that had a heat coil imprint on it from being too close to the top of the oven. Oy.

So for Melissa's birthday this year, I wanted to make a simple but delicious cake, and thus I tried a little experiment. I didn't have a recipe off the top of my head, and so I just looked up "birthday cake recipe" on Google and picked the first result. (Okay, not the first - the first was from AllRecipes, which is wonderful but I worried would be too hit-or-miss for someone else's birthday cake, and the second was from Wilton, so I picked the third result.) It came from Smitten Kitchen, and the author claimed that it was, in fact, the BEST birthday cake. So that was a pretty tall order to live up to.

One thing that I really liked about this cake was how tall it grew in the oven. This is great if you are trying to make a layer cake, which I was! Unfortunately, I am a layer-making moron, so despite the obliging height of the cake, I still only ended up with three layers, and one was cracked. C'est la vie. The actual taste was not quite what I look for in a yellow cake - it was a little too heavy and dry. Then again, I'm probably too used to the Duncan Hines stuff, and who knows what sort of crap they put in their mix to make it taste like that. All in all, I would say it was pretty good.

The frosting was even better. It was easy to make, easy to spread and pretty-looking. I made a crumb coat but I didn't actually need to; the frosting spread evenly and beautifully. Plus, it tasted really good. My suitemates and I were eating it out of the bowl, and one of them commented that it tastes like ganache (only it doesn't have all that heavy cream!)

I thought the cake looked a little boring, so I added some powdered sugar around the edges. Classay. I don't really know what it tasted like altogether, since I gave it to Melissa, but I did get to try the frosting with pieces of the layer that had fallen apart, and I was quite pleased with the result. Definitely better than last year's birthday cake!

Yellow Cake Recipe

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Frosting Recipe

15 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso (optional, but can be used to pick up the flavor of average chocolate)
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the chocolate and espresso powder, if using, in the top of a double-boiler or in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted. (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave for 30 seconds, stirring well, and then heating in 15 second increments, stirring between each, until the chocolate is melted.) Remove from heat and let chocolate cool until tepid.

Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments until desired level of sweetness is achieved.

Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. This should not take more than 30 minutes. Should the frosting become too thick or stiff, just leave it out until it softens again.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Easy Yummy Chocolate Cookies

One of my favorite blogs is the
King Arthur Flour Blog. They make lots of things that sound really good and they have amazing step by step pictures of all their recipes, so you know if you are doing something wrong. They also often highlight new products, many of which I want, but haven't yet given in to buying.

When I saw these cookies on the blog, I knew I had to make them immediately. They looked sooo good. However, since my husband doesn't like chocolate, I needed an excuse. My community is donating baked goods to families of hospice patients and I am sure that they will love these cookies.

The dough of these cookies was really stiff and they didn't spread very much in the oven. When I opened the oven after 10 minutes, I was sure the cookies weren't done, but I took them out anyway, and they actually were. They are really soft when they come out, and they get firmer as they cool. They were really good, although I think I should have used fewer chocolate chips -- it seemed like there were too many for the dough. When I make them again, I will use 3/4 of a cup of each kind of chip. I also want to try these with white chocolate chips, but I didn't have any. I also didn't have espresso powder, so I used instant coffee and it came out well. It really boosted the flavor, and it did not taste like coffee at all.

You can find this delicious recipe here and don't forget to check out the blog post about the cookies (where you can find the amazing pictures).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Adventures with the Ice Cream Maker: Ben & Jerry's Got There First

Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream by Ben & Jerrys has always been one of my favorite ice cream flavors. You see, I am not a big fan of stuff in my ice cream, since I don't generally like to bite on hard chunks while eating it (exceptions were made for this ice cream, since it is just too good), so Chocolate Fudge Brownie is perfect because it has the brownies in it, but they are soft.

I decided to make my own, since it is still very warm here (80 degrees in November -- WHAT?!?!). I used Philadelphia Style chocolate ice cream (no eggs, no custard to make, which saves time) from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. Then I made a box of Ghirardelli brownie mix and allowed it to cool. Yes, I could have made them from scratch, but I had the mix, so it was just easier. When the brownies were cool, I cut it into small squares (really, really small) and also crumbled some up and I put it into the ice cream in the last minute of churnning. In retrospect, I think I put the brownies in a bit too early, because many of them turned into crumbs, instead of staying in chunks, but it was still delicious. The brownies were still soft even when the ice cream was frozen, and the whole thing had an intense chocolate flavor that was almost over the top (but not quite).

Here is the ice cream recipe:

Chocolate Ice Cream (Philadelphia Style)

2 ¼ cups heavy cream

6 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together the cream, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking frequently, until it comes to a full, rolling boil (it will start to foam up). Remove from the heat and whisk un the chocolate until it’s completely melted, then whisk in the milk and vanilla. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend for 30 seconds, until very smooth.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Baking with Dorie!

So, as those of you who read this blog — hell, as those of you who have come within hearing range of me in the last month — know, I was signed up to take a master class with Dorie Greenspan at Dalton. This was pretty much the most exciting thing to happen to me, ever. Dorie is the hero of the Baking Sisters! She even has her own tag on our blog!

The inimitable Dorie Greenspan, as photographed by a highly imitable photographer (me, not that you would really want to imitate my carefully studied "blurry" technique)

In the newly renovated Dalton cafeteria, I was paired with a lovely woman named Linda, who is incidentally a Brown alum. I think that I was the more experienced baker, which made me relieved — I had thought that everyone was going to be an expert! But we made a good team.

We baked the French Yogurt Cake from page 224 of Baking from My Home to Yours. We were quite spoiled; the ingredients were all measured out for us, and the lemons were all pre-zested. Actually, to be honest, zesting is one of my favorite things to do, but luckily I was not deprived of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE step — namely, rubbing the zest and sugar! According to Linda, who studied science, we were "infusing" the sugar with the citrus' oils. Hmmm, I will take it from her.

The cake was simple but yum. When I went home, I made a regular lemon pound cake glaze for it (just lemon juice and confectioner's sugar), even though she suggests a marmalade glaze. We didn't have an marmalade, but I thought it tasted good anyway. I prefer a prominent lemon flavor, and I think the glaze added to it. The cake seems very versatile; you could have it for breakfast, brunch, dessert, whatever, you can top it with all sorts of glazes, you can serve it with fruit. It's a good recipe to have around.

Our cakes before they went into the oven

My cake after it came out of the oven

Dorie also made Tarte Noir. There was neither time nor equipment for the whole class to make it, but that's okay with me since I've made it about a million times. Everyone seemed really impressed that making something so elegant-looking and delicious could be so easy.

I learned a lot of things at the class. Here are some of them:

1) All this time, I had been folding incorrectly. I always thought folding just meant gently scooping the batter up with a spatula and then sort of dragging it through. Turns out you are supposed to turn the bowl a quarter of the way each time, and scrape the batter from the sides.

2) If you are making pie dough in a mixer (as opposed to a food processor), you should add the ingredients in opposite order. This is especially useful advice for me, since I currently don't have a food processor in my possession at school, though I'll probably get one for next year.

Dorie telling us about a chef who makes cookies with one hand literally behind his back. She used this anecdote as an illustration of the importance of adding ingredients in the right order. Also, to demonstrate the inferiority of American butter. Long story.

3) To make pie dough come together, blend it with the heel of your hand. This is some technique that has a French name, but don't ask me what it is because I wasn't taking notes.

4) To make dull ganache shiny again, use a hairdryer! Dorie had made miniature tarte noirs (tartes noir?) for the whole class, and they were DELICIOUS, but when they came out of the fridge the ganache was dull. So...

And voila! Shiny and ready for whipped cream!

This was such a wonderful experience for me. I wish that Rebecca could have been there to share it with me, but I know she was there in spirit! Dorie Greenspan is such a warm, friendly and genuine person. She didn't even seem put off by all my geeky fan-girling, and patiently signed my cookbook as well as labels for Rebecca and my friend Allison to paste into their copies. Plus, best of all, she has been to this blog! So, Dorie, if you are reading this now, it was wonderful to meet you! Thank you for many delicious memories!

Me with Dorie- eyes open

Me with Dorie- eyes closed

French Yogurt Cake Recipe

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds (or, if you'd prefer, omit the almonds and use another 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup flavorless oil, such canola or safflower

For the Glaze:
1/2 cup lemon marmalade, strained
1 teaspoon water

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch loaf pan and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk together the flour, ground almonds, if you're using them, baking powder and salt.

Put the sugar and zest in a medium bowl and, with your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the yogurt, eggs and vanilla and whisking vigorously until the mixture is very well blended. Still whisking, add the dry ingredients, then switch to a large rubber spatula and fold in the oil. You'll have a thick, smooth batter with a slight sheen. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cake begins to come away from the sides of the pan; it should be golden brown and a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes, then run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Unmold, and cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.

To Make the Glaze:
Put the marmalade in a small saucepan or in a microwave-safe bowl, stir in the teaspoon of the water and heat until the jelly is hot and liquefied. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the cake with the glaze.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hostess-ish Cupcakes Part Deux: Halloween Edition

I know, I know — Halloween is for candy. But could it hurt anyone to eat some cupcakes as well?

I don't think it could. Freshman year, I organized cupcake decorating for my whole dorm on Halloween. We had candy corn, sprinkles, jelly beans, Reese's cups, M&Ms, Hershey's kisses, green and orange frosting...pretty much everything you need for the perfect Halloween cupcake. Since then, I've gotten more professional (/neurotic) in my baking, but cupcakes still seemed like a tasty Halloween treat. But how to make them appropriately Halloween-y?

As longtime readers will know, we love Hostess-style cupcakes from Crumbs Bakery, and I decided that this would be perfect for multiple reasons. 1) These are DEVIL's food cupcakes; appropriately ghoulish for Halloween. 2) They are from EVIL Crumbs. 3) I would make them with ORANGE squiggles/filling, so that they would be orange and (nearly) black, the signature colors of Halloween.

I decided to use different recipes than Rebecca did, because hey, experimenting is fun. Mine was a joint effort between Baking Bites, What A Dish! and the ever-reliable AllRecipes. The reason for this was because I thought the Baking Bites cupcakes looked very delicious and not too tricky, but the filling required a strainer, which I don't own, and the chocolate glaze looked nothing like a real Hostess cupcake. So I just searched for "homemade Hostess cupcake" on Google Images, selected the picture I thought looked truest to life, and used that recipe from What A Dish!, which had the glaze from AllRecipes.

My thoughts:

The cupcakes were super-moist and yummy. There were only two things wrong. One was trying to melt the chocolate with the boiling water; mine definitely spent a little time in the microwave, but I probably should have used smaller pieces of chocolate. The other was that they didn't bake very well in the allotted time; I would recommend leaving them in for at least 18-20 minutes. But whatever, no one likes a dry cupcake. They also looked very appealing, which is important (though not that important at a Halloween party where everyone eating them is drunk). They are a rich brown color, almost red — perfect for Devil's Food!

The frosting was low-maintenance, though it melted a little in my hot hot room and I had to add more confectioner's sugar to stiffen it. It was fine, nothing special. However, I'm grateful that it was very easy to pipe. I'm new at piping, and last year when I made a birthday cake for my friend Emily I definitely ended up with what Jen at Cake Wrecks would call poo spirals. I was extremely pleased with how the squiggles came out — just like a real Hostess cupcake, but orange! I also have to say that filling the cupcakes was extremely satisfying. It was fun to squeeze the bag, watch them bulge and then pull it out at just the right time. Sadly, I didn't get a good picture of the cupcakes cut open, but I will definitely be filling more cupcakes in the future.

The glaze was truly spectacular. It definitely lives up to its "satiny" name. It was incredibly easy to make — I just popped the ingredients in the microwave for 30-second increments instead of melting them over a double-boiler. It was beautiful to look at, simple to spread, and delicious to eat!

All in all, I would say these cupcakes were a success. How do I measure that? I brought them to a Halloween party, and people said, "Give me a shot and a cupcake!" That's right — they were on the same level as the alcohol!

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream (low fat or full)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2-oz dark chocolate
1 cup water, boiling

Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly grease two 12-cup muffin tins.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by sour cream and vanilla extract.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Add half of flour mixture to the butter mixture, followed by the sour cream and vanilla extract, followed by the addition of the rest of the flour mix. Stir well between each addition and mix until no streaks of flour remain.
Stir the cocoa powder and the dark chocolate into the boiling water (easiest in a large measuring cup). Pour chocolate water into the rest of the batter and stir until uniform.
Evenly distribute batter into prepared baking cups. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the cakes spring back when lightly pressed. (It’s fine if you can’t fit both trays into the oven at the same time, just wait until one batch finishes before putting in the second pan)
Turn cupcakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting and filling.

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt

In a mixing bowl, combine butter, confectioners' sugar, milk, vanilla and salt; beat until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Insert a decorating tip into a pastry or plastic bag; fill with cream filling. Push the tip through the top of each cupcake to fill.

Blogger's note: I added four drops of red and four drops of yellow food coloring to make it orange.

Satiny Chocolate Glaze:

3/4 cup chocolate chips

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a double boiler over hot, but not boiling water, combine chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup. Stir until chips are melted and mixture is smooth, then add vanilla. Spread warm glaze over top of the cupcakes. Make a squiggle with the frosting.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What to do with Leftover Halloween Candy

So, this year we had no tick or treaters. Not one. We live in an apartment complex, so we figured we would get some and bought a bunch of candy. And then no one came to our door. Since we are not going to eat a whole bunch of candy by ourselves, I was trying to figure out what to do with it. I remembered last year seeing a leftover Halloween candy bundt cake on Baking Bites, and I decided to go for it.

This cake was really easy to make -- put a bunch of ingredients together, fold in the candy and you are good to go. We used Milk Duds, Whoppers, and Kit Kats because that is what we had, but I imagine you could use anything. I also didn't have a bundt pan (no idea where it went), so I made it it a tube pan and it came out fine. You can see the candy swirled into the cake, although a bunch of it did melt into the cake. It was good, although nothing totally amazing.

I was also glad I could make this because one of the blogs that I follow, the Food Librarian, is making 30 bundts in 30 days to celebrate national bundt day, so I thought I would bake along too. My pictures of the whole cake didn't come out that well, but in case you want to see the finished cake, here it is:

You can find the recipe for the cake here, from Baking Bites.

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