Sunday, January 29, 2012

Blondies Have More Fun

Okay, so the title of this post is almost groaningly inevitable. But when I brought these in to the office on Friday, a surprising number of people asked, "What's a blondie?" I explained to them that it's basically a brownie but without the cocoa powder and with brown sugar. How sad that we live in a world where more people don't know about blondies. Anyway, last weekend I knew I had a busy week ahead and that I probably wouldn't have time to bake on Thursday night, so I made these confections from the Amy's Bread cookbook and put them in the freezer. They were quite simple to make, and the batter was absolutely the most gorgeous ochre color (and yes, I went on Wikipedia to find the exact correct shade of Brown that the batter was. That's how beautiful.) The color didn't quite hold throughout the baking, but it's okay, because these blondies were off-the-charts good. Chewy, super-rich (make sure you have a glass of milk or water on hand), but not too buttery or greasy. These were the most popular thing I've brought to the office since I started Baked Goods Friday six months ago - they were gone by noon, so I guess that speaks for itself! You can find the recipe here - I, of course, left out the walnuts - and be sure to spread the gospel of blondies.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Cupcakes of Chicago

So last weekend, I went to Chicago for a business trip to the American Economics Association conference. I am obviously qualified for such things, because I took Principles of Economics pass/fail and I passed (barely). It felt cool and exciting and grown-up to go on a business trip in a new city, and even though I spent most of the time in the sub-sub-sub-basement of the Hyatt Regency trying to sell books to economists, I did get to explore Chicago a bit. And I loved it! It’s totally charming. With the brilliant blue sky and the balmy weather (balmy for Chicago in January, anyway), it seemed like the whole city was welcoming me. When I was walking in Millennium Park, there was a large group of pre-teen girls who appeared to be on some sort of class trip sitting on a wall and getting filmed for the news, yelling on the cameraman’s cue, “HAPPY NEW YEAR! WE LOVE THIS WEATHER! WE LOVE CHICAGO! WE LOVE FOX NEWS!” Okay, so maybe not totally charming.

Obviously, when one goes to a new city, the most important thing one must do is check out the local cupcake scene. I got some recommendations from my officemate Katy, last seen being awesome here, as she went to University of Chicago. Unfortunately, I had very limited time – I usually had to grab a cupcake from whatever place was nearest to the Hyatt during my lunch break – and the places she suggested too far away. But I wanted to give them a shoutout anyway, because I’m sure they’re delicious. Molly’s Cupcakes and Twisted Baker, we shall meet again.

But what about the cupcake places I actually did get to visit? The first one was called Sarah’s Candies, so even though it wasn’t technically a cupcake store (or even a proper store at all – it’s a storelet located in the Macy’s inside the old Marshall Field’s building), I had to go in! Like almost all cupcake emporia, it was aggressively feminine, which was ironic in this case since this branch of Sarah’s is located in the men’s undergarments section of Macy’s. The clerk was very friendly and she definitely wanted me to get one of those Customer Loyalty cards, but I declined because I don’t live in Chicago. The flavor selection was pretty limited, and I decided on a black-and-white cupcake ($3.00 plus tax), where the one side of the cupcake was white cake with white icing and the other was chocolate with chocolate icing. I wonder how they do that! (the cake, not the frosting). Anyway, the cake was fluffy and delicious, light as a feather. The chocolate side of the icing was fine, nothing to write home about, but the vanilla side was very disappointing. It was way too sweet, to the extent that you could taste the grains of sugar. It was the only non-buttercream-frosted cupcake in the store, so I can’t generalize about the quality of their frosting, but the vanilla icing kind of ruined what was otherwise an enjoyable, if unremarkable, cupcake experience.

The other cupcake place that won the coveted Closest to the Hyatt Regency Award was Sugar Bliss, on North Wabash Avenue. According to their Web sit, they “specialize in gourmet cupcakes” which are “extra moist” and “decorated with our signature Sugar Bliss bloom,” the petal design you can see in the photo above. They had a lot more flavors than Sarah’s, as well as a more neutral brown, blue and pink color palette. Plus, they have mini cupcakes, which are a cupcake reviewer’s best friend (and a cupcake vendor’s favorite rip-off device). For $1.50 each plus tax, I treated myself to a chocolate mint and a chocolate caramel cupcake. I also shared them with my new pals over at the Columbia University Press booth, to see what they thought. We were in agreement that the chocolate mint was the more interesting of the two, with a bold, intense mint flavor in both the cake and the frosting, plus the wedge of peppermint patty on the top. I waited to cleanse my palate before trying the caramel, but they did not, so I’m going to discount their opinion on that one. Oh well, not everyone can be a professional. Neither the chocolate cake nor the frosting made a particularly strong impression on its own, but when I combined the airy cake with the velvety frosting with the chewy caramel wedge, the overall effect was quite pleasing. I would be interested in trying more flavors at Sugar Bliss.

So there you have it. I definitely want to go back to Chicago – probably not in January next time – and I’ll have to try the places that Katy recommended. Plus, I go to a couple of these conferences a year, so y'all can expect Cupcakes of Denver, Cupcakes of San Diego, Cupcakes of New Orleans, etc. in the future I was explaining my review process to my boss and he called me the Derrida of cupcakes (because I deconstruct the cupcakes). I kind of like that for a blog name…

Sunday, January 15, 2012

MSC Club: Mint (and Caramel) Filled Brownie Cupcakes

Martha Stewart Cupcake Club is back...on this blog anyway.  I have been absent for the last couple of months, but when Rachel of Simple Girl posted a chance for people to pick new flavors, I jumped on it.  I really enjoy being part of baking groups and I wanted to get back connected to this one, so I got to make a pick.  

I chose Mint Filled Brownie Cupcakes from page 122-123 of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes.  I really like a cupcake where there is a little surprise in the middle and I have had my eye on these for a while.  While I was in the store buying peppermint patties, I saw rolos and thought that they would also go well in the cupcakes.  My little one and I had a great time making these together.  These are a great pre-school baking project.  We mixed the batter and he had a great time pressing the candy into the cupcake tins.  We made half with peppermint patties and half with rolos and I enjoyed both.  

The mint ones infused the brownies withe a nice mint flavor throughout and the caramel ones had nice caramel chunks studded throughout (I used two rolos, but I think I would use three in the future).  The brownies had a nice texture, between fudgy and caky and were definitely chocolatey.  

I hope everyone enjoyed baking along with me.  I look forward to seeing how everyone else's turned out.  I am looking forward to next month's raspberry swirl cheesecake.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bundt Cake

This cake is so awesome because it tastes just like a chocolate chip cookie but in an elegant cake form.  And it is parve (no dairy) so you can serve it after a meat meal.  Of course, the orignal recipe calls for butter and milk, but I substituted margarine and soy milk and it was still delicious.

The base of this cake is actually Dorie Greenspan's Brown Sugar Bundt Cake, which has nuts and fruit mixed in.  However, the brown sugar base is a lot like a chocolate chip cookie batter in cake form, so it made sense just to replace the nuts and fruit with chocolate chips (although you could probably keep the nuts if you like that kind of thing).

Here is the recipe, with my changes:
Chocolate Chip Cookie Bundt Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
225 g / 8 oz unsalted margarine, at room temperature
2 cups lightly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup soy milk, at room temperature
12 oz chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9- to 10-inch Bundt pan.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately - add the flour in 3 additions and the buttermilk in 2, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix only until the ingredients are incorporated and scrape down the bowl as needed. Turn off the mixer, and with a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.

Bake in the center of the oven for 60 to 65 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. If at any point the cake is browning too fast, cover the top loosely with a piece of foil. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding, then cool to room temperature on the rack. Finish the top of the cake with a dusting of powdered sugar. 
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