Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sugarcrust Cake

Sugarcrust Cake - made March 22, 2015 from Great Cakes by Carole Walter
On the heels of the Snickerdoodle Apple Bread, I thought I would try out this Sugarcrust Cake that had a similar concept of sugar sprinkled on top. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as successful an experiment. The recipe book says the sugar topping would melt and form a glaze. Nope, that didn’t happen. It just stayed crunchy sugar in blotches. I was actually okay with that because I like a sugary crunch as a topping. I had the tiniest sliver when this first came out of the oven and I thought it was fantastic. Warm, buttery, awesome vanilla flavor and I loved the sugar crunch on top.

Then I had a more decent forkful later the same day when it had cooled and I wasn’t as enamored. The taste was still vanilla butter goodness but the texture seemed a bit on the dry side. It’s possible I overbaked it by a minute or two or didn’t beat the batter enough so it was on the dense side. Or both. Either way this was much better warm, to the point that if you make this, I suggest serving it warm from the oven or heating it up at the last minute before consuming.
2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (1 1/3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 cup superfine or strained sugar, less 2 tablespoons
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
1 large egg white

Sugarcrust topping
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9" x 9" baking pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  3. Cream the butter until smooth and light in color, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, taking about 4-6 minutes to blend it in well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Add the eggs and the egg yolk, 1 at a time at 1-minute intervals. Blend in the vanilla.
  5. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the dry ingredients, alternately with the milk, dividing the flour into three parts and the liquid into two parts, starting and ending with the flour. Mix only until just combined after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix briefly.
  6. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with the back of a tablespoon.
  7. Beat the egg white with a fork until frothy, about 20 to 30 whips. Spread about 1/2 to 2/3 of the beaten white on top of the batter, using a pastry brush. Discard the remaining white.
  8. Make the topping: combine the sugar, flour and vanilla in a small bowl. Using your fingertips, work together until well blended. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the cake.
  9. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the cake just begins to come away from the sides of the pan. The topping should be brown and form a glaze.
  10. Remove the cake from the pan and set on a wire rack to cool. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Snickerdoodle Apple Bread

Snickerdoodle Apple Bread - made March 21, 2015 from Cookies and Cups
On the heels of my last post where I said I didn’t feel like baking and you can’t tell since I usually have a backlog of 2 weeks’ worth of posts to put up so technically I can go two weeks without baking before anyone notices – yeah, the reason you don’t notice is once those 2 weeks are up, I’m usually back in the baking saddle once more.

As is the case here. I had an afternoon open last weekend when a friend couldn’t make our original plans so I ended up puttering around in my kitchen; that’s baking speak for “I made stuff”. Besides 2 cookie doughs and a cake (future posts – I’m backlogged again), I made this Snickerdoodle Apple Bread. This goes under the category of “why I’ll never give up sugar”. Also known as “why I’m not losing the last 10 pounds anytime soon. Or ever.”
That’s my lead in to say, this is feckin’ delicious. When I make quick breads, which is what this is, I usually make my banana bread. This time I deviated into apple bread territory. Just as with most quick breads, this has a cakey-but-more-dense-than-cake texture. Not as dense as a pound cake but definitely more heft than a chiffon cake. The flavor was great, accentuated by the chunks of apples in the bread, something I normally don’t care for since I usually don’t like “stuff” in my cakes or quick breads but given the softness and moistness not to mention flavor of the apples, it was a good addition. Plus, anything topped with cinnamon sugar, c’mon. That’s just utter goodness.
One tip to make this easier to take out of the pan without dislodging the topping as you definitely don’t want to turn this upside down to get it out of the pan or you risk losing more of the cinnamon sugar than you should. Instead, tear off a strip of parchment paper that’s narrower than the length of the pan but wide enough that you can lift the baked loaf out of the pan. Place it in the middle of the greased pan before you pour the batter in and fold down the ends of the parchment strip so they don’t flop into your batter. Pour the batter in and smooth, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar topping over it and bake. Once your quick bread is baked, let it cool for a few minutes, run a spatula around the sides to loosen then gently lift up by the parchment strip to set it on a wire rack and let it cool completely.
I had a slice of this when it was lukewarm and I was in there-goes-the-diet-and-I-don’t-care territory. Delicious, I tell you. The pictures are from when the quick bread was still warm so the inside might look a little gooey but it wasn't so much mushy as moist. I had a second piece the next day and yup, it was still just as tasty. Which meant it was a good thing I gave the rest away or I would’ve probably eaten the whole loaf. As it was, my parents liked it too and didn’t even demur on the sugar topping. Success.
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ cups flour
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tablespoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ cup milk
1 Granny Smith Apple, finely chopped
Cinnamon sugar topping
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with baking spray. Line bottoms and up the ends with a strip of parchment paper (for easy removal) and spray again. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together salt, baking powder and flour. Set aside.
  4. In bowl of stand mixer beat butter, both sugars and cinnamon for 2 minutes on medium speed, scraping sides as necessary. Add in both eggs and vanilla and continue mixing until smooth, again scraping sides as necessary.
  5. Turn mixer to low and add in flour mixture and milk in alternating additions, starting and ending with flour. Mix until just combined.
  6. Finally add in apples and stir until just combined and pour batter into prepared pan.
  7. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon for topping and sprinkle on top of batter.
  8. Bake for 50-55 minutes until bread is set and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes and then remove transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Texas Turtle Sheet Cake

Texas Turtle Sheet Cake - made March 15, 2015, recipe adapted from About a Mom
I have to confess, I’m starting to lose steam on baking. Usually I “just do it” without giving it much thought beyond what ingredients I have in my pantry (usually all of what I need), what recipes I finally am going to try after having pinned them forever ago and what occasions I need them for or people I need to give them to. It’s just habit to bake now.

But I’ve been busier than usual lately, not just with work but with the non-baking aspects of my life (yes, those aspects do exist) so when I start feeling like I “have” to find time to bake, it takes the fun out of it and hovers dangerously into becoming a chore. Despite my baking fiendishness, the biggest reason I’ve never done it as a job is I didn’t want to turn something I love into a job. So I bake only when I feel like it. Mostly.

So when I don’t feel like it, my blog goes quiet for longer periods. You might not have noticed since I usually have a backlog of posts to put up and I can get away with posting every 2-3 days, sometimes more often. So it looks like I’m baking all the time but actually I’m just catching up.
Anyway, after the weekend visit to my sister’s and being on the road for hours, being behind on the errands I normally run on weekends when I’m around, looking at my overflowing laundry basket and the paper clutter that breeds on its own during the week (seriously, how does that happen??), I confess I didn’t feel like baking. Just didn’t want to do it. Was too tired, was burned out, what have you.
But, like muscle memory that automatically knows what to do even when you’re on auto pilot, I found myself in my kitchen. I swear I thought I was just tidying up but somehow I found the spark of inspiration to try out this sheet cake recipe. Before I knew it, I was lining a 9 x 13 pan with aluminum foil, bringing out my medium heavy saucepan to boil butter and buttermilk together and by the time my oven had preheated, I was popping a cake into the oven. That just goes to show how easy this recipe is even if you don’t really feel like baking.

Of course the baking part was just the first step. While the cake baked, I made the frosting and after I took out the cake, I spread the frosting over the hot cake which melted it slightly into the cake. If you want a more stiff frosting, use the full amount of confectioners’ sugar. If you like your frosting to err on the side of glaze and be less sweet, cut back on the confectioners’ sugar. The more sugar, the more the frosting will “set”.

You want to sprinkle the toasted pecans over the frosting before the frosting sets so they’ll adhere better. Same with the chocolate chips. I used salted caramel from Trader Joe’s to bring it all together but you can always make your own from scratch if you prefer. As cakes go, this was delicious, especially eaten while still slightly warm, the frosting is a little runny and the toasted pecans have a nice crunch to provide a texture contrast to the soft cake while the salted caramel provides an added gooey factor. I had a piece when I first made it and another one the next day. It wasn’t as good the next day because the pecans weren’t as toasty-crisp after sitting on top of the frosting and being covered by the salted caramel overnight. But remember that I have really picky taste buds.

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 tablespoon espresso powder dissolved in 1 cup water
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk

Chocolate Frosting
1/4 cup butter
4 tablespoons buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Turtle Topping
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup salted caramel sauce, for drizzling
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and granulated sugar.
  3. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup butter, 1/3 cup cocoa powdered and 1 cup of espresso. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
  4. Pour into prepared dry ingredients. Mix on medium speed until combined. Add eggs and the 1/2 cup buttermilk. Mix on medium speed until combined.
  5. Pour into prepared baking pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
  6. Frosting: in a medium saucepan, combine 1/4 cup butter, 4 tablespoons buttermilk and 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  7. Remove from heat and use a wire whisk to gradually mix in powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Pour warm frosting over warm cake. Sprinkle immediately with toasted pecans and chocolate chips. Drizzle with salted caramel.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Casa Grande Mexican Restaurant - Reno, NV

Casa Grande Mexican Restaurant - lunch on March 14, 2015, 4-star rating on yelp
We visited my sister and her fiancé at their new house last weekend. The drive took several hours so by the time we arrived, unloaded the car, fawned over their dogs and drove to the restaurant, we ended up having a mid-afternoon lunch. Which worked out pretty well as the place was almost empty and there was plenty of room for our party of 6.
Even if it had been busier, Casa Grande is rather spacious so it could easily accommodate large crowds. The interior is broken up into several large eating spaces and we had the luxury of being the only occupants in one of them.
Fresh, warm tortilla chips - mmmmm
Spinach Enchiladas
 My sister and her fiancé had already eaten here to scope out the restaurant ahead of time for our visit. Plus they’re aficionados of Mexican food so we could trust any place they took us to would serve good food. No exception this time either.

I don’t remember what everyone ordered but the portions were generous and by all accounts, everyone’s entrees were pretty good. I gorged on ate more than my share of the warm tortilla chips that arrived before our meals so I didn’t have a lot of room for my shrimp fajitas but what I had was tasty.
Shrimp Fajitas
Service was excellent and our wait server was very accommodating, bringing over special house sauces by request that were spicy. My sister has more adventurous taste buds than I do and, like my mom and my nieces, has a high tolerance for spice so if you like spicy Mexican food, this is a good place to visit. Price points are in the $12-$18 range for most of the entrees and, according to two of my lunch companions, apparently they make a mean margarita.
Blended Margarita
Margarita on the Rocks

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Red Velvet Sheet Cake

Red Velvet Sheet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - made March 8, 2015, adapted from Taste and Tell
Considering how much I love the simplicity of sheet cakes and the flavor of red velvet cake, it’s almost surprising that I haven’t made a red velvet sheet cake until now. But let me make that up to myself with this recipe from Taste and Tell.

As truth in advertising regarding sheet cakes, this is very easy to mix up. I used a red food gel from amazon instead of my usual Schilling red food color and got a beautiful dark red from the gel, even using less than 2 tablespoons as the recipe calls for. Huh. I may never go back to Schilling again.
Messy knife cut
The original recipe called for adding oreo cookie chunks into the cream cheese frosting but I decided to skip that add-on and keep it a pure cream cheese frosting. There are times when I like a texture contrast which I know the oreo cookie chunks would’ve provided. But this didn’t seem to be one of those times. For sheet cakes, I want nothing to interfere with my mainlining, er, eating the cake. I loved the smoothness of this cake with the smooth creaminess of the frosting so I’m glad I went with my baking instincts on this one.
Cleaner knife cut - wipe the blade clean before each cut
I did modify the recipe to increase the cocoa powder for more chocolate flavor. I was afraid using only 1 tablespoon of cocoa wouldn’t be enough chocolate punch and I’d just be left with a red-colored cake. So I increased the cocoa powder by 2 tablespoons and decreased the flour by 2 tablespoons to keep the amount of dry ingredients the same. Cocoa powder tends to be an “I’m gonna suck moisture out of anything you add me to” ingredient so I went a little more generous on the buttermilk to ensure I wouldn’t get a dry cake. You know how I sneer at dry cakes.
This is a good cake for a crowd if you need something simple and easy to make. The only painful thing with cutting a red velvet sheet cake topped with pale cream cheese frosting is the red crumbs can get everywhere and make knife cuts look sloppy. I’m somewhat on the uptight side (ha, my friends just fell out of their chairs laughing) and like things to look decently presentable so with every cut of the knife, I scraped the crumbs and frosting off the knife and wiped it down with a wet paper towel so I could make another clean cut. If you don’t, the red cake crumbs from the previous knife cut will just spread themselves with abandon as you cut the rest of the cake. Sloppy. It took way too many paper towels to keep wiping the knife to make clean cuts but the cut cake slices looked better so it was worth the little extra effort.
1 cup butter
1 generous cup buttermilk
1 7/8 cups flour
3 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

8 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces butter
2½ cups powdered sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray..
  2. In a saucepan, combine the butter and the buttermilk and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the flour and cocoa. Stir in the sugar. Add in the eggs, sour cream, red food coloring, vanilla, baking soda and salt. Mix to combine.
  3. Pour the boiling butter/buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, a little at a time, stirring constantly. The batter will be very thin. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake the cake for 25-28 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add in the powdered sugar a little at a time. Beat for 2-3 minutes. Frost the cake. Cut into slices to serve.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Loaded Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Loaded Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough February 28, 2015 from Averie Cooks
Another recipe from Averie’s blog and one of the few where I have to admit I couldn’t get mine to turn out looking like hers. Which is too bad as how they looked on her blog is what sucked me into making them. They were nicely rounded and chubby not to mention moist looking.
I baked off a test batch to put into treat bags for some friends I was meeting for dinner one night. Halfway through baking, they were flattening at an alarming rate even though I had my oven on its convection setting. At the recommended baking time of 8-10 minutes, they were still raw in the middle and definitely flat. Erk. I left them in for a few extra minutes but then they browned more than I wanted before I rescued them. I had just enough for the cookie bags so I broke a cardinal rule and put them all in the bags without taste testing them. It was a minimal risk since Averie’s recipes are usually gold.
I did bake off one of the cookie dough balls later for my own taste test. This time I cranked up my oven to preheat to 375 degrees on the convection setting instead of 350. After baking for 5 minutes at the higher temp, I lowered the temp down to 350 and baked for another 5 minutes. It still looked too moist/wet but not raw so I took it out as I didn’t want it to get overly brown again.  When it cooled, the near-wet middle patches now just looked moist. Still not as rounded and chubby as Averie’s but, as I had hoped, it was delicious. Oatmeal cookies are naturally chewy but the addition of the coconut made it both moist and chewy, giving it really nice texture. Sometimes oatmeal cookies can be dry but the coconut added a nice chewy touch for moisture.
So now I’ve learned the trick with these cookies is to bake them at the initially high temperature for the first few minutes so the outside will set before the cookie spreads, lower the temp, take them out at 10 minutes no matter what they look like, and let them cool completely. Then enjoy.
1 large egg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup old-fashioned whole rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 heaping cup chocolate chips
  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine egg, butter, sugars and vanilla; beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined.
  2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the oats, flour, coconut, baking soda and salt; beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to keep the batter even textured and add chocolate chips. Mix just until incorporated, about 30 seconds.
  4. Scoop out golf-ball-sized cookie dough balls, wrap in plastic and freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. Place dough mounds on prepared baking sheet, evenly spaced apart. Bake at 375 degrees for 5 minutes, lower your oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake another 4-5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cookie Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookie Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough February 28, 2015 from Knead to Cook
I think I was in my cookie butter phase when I initially pinned these. They had such tantalizing promise when I first saw them on pinterest. It seemed like the best of both worlds, chocolate chip cookies and cookie butter. That was before I decided that cookie butter and chocolate don’t marry as well as I would like. It was also before I made the Speculoos Cookie Sandwiches and had a taste of what the homemade real thing is like.

To be fair, this wasn’t meant to be like the speculoos cookie sandwiches and was more about adding a different slant to chocolate chip cookies. It was good but I think I’m conflicted as I prefer more of a straightforward cookie butter flavor or a full-on chocolate chip cookie. If you like both, this is a good version to try as it is crisp at the edges and chewy in the middle. It even looks like a regular chocolate chip cookie so when you spring it on your unsuspecting friends without explanation of what it is *cough*, they might wonder at first “what’s different about this?”
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, slightly cooler than room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cookie butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips, more if desired
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugars until fluffy. Scrape down the sides, add cookie butter, egg and vanilla. Mix until just combined.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture and beat for 1 minutes. Add and stir, by hand, chocolate chips. Scoop into dough balls and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and space cookie dough balls evenly, leaving about 2 inches in between. Bake for 10-11 minutes or until golden around the edges.