Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Coconut Cream Bundt Cake

Coconut Cream Bundt Cake - made August 16, 2014 from Inside Bru Crew Life
I always give my friend Kendra a hard time whenever she bakes with a cake mix. She considers using box mixes like having a sous chef prepare the main ingredients for your use. I consider them the devil's playthings. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic but let's face it, I'm a baking ingredient snob. And I'm definitely skeptical about cheap grocery store box cake mixes coming up to - haha - scratch.
But every once in awhile I unbend enough to set my hifalutin' snobbery aside and try out a recipe that uses cake mix. After all, the Kahlua Cake is based on a mix and I like that well enough. I don't mind the texture of cakes baked from mixes; it's the taste that makes my picky taste buds shudder. But my theory is if you can add enough ingredients to mask the taste of the mix, you can come up with something decent that excuses dumping a box of Betty Crocker into a bowl. Ooh, see how that snobbery just rears its hoity-toity head?
That theory was proven out by this recipe from Bru Crew Life. I was heartened by the fact that you add sour cream (richness) and coconut milk (richness and flavor). The other ingredients make up a similar supporting cast as goes into the Kahlua Cake - pudding, eggs and oil - so that boded well. I did forego the coconut extract though in favor of vanilla. Much as I love coconut, I loathe coconut extract and its artificial flavor so I left it out since I never buy it and didn't have it on hand. The original recipe also called for glazing the cake with melted dark and white chocolates but I decided to amp up the coconut and instead went with a vanilla glaze topped with toasted coconut.
This cake turned out pretty well. It came out of the Bundt pan cleanly and the texture was soft and moist. I probably took it out a few minutes too soon but it was still fluffy and moist but not gummy. I liked the texture contrast between the soft cake and crispness of the toasted coconut. This is an easy cake to make and has a nice homey look to it with the sprinkling of toasted coconut over the glaze. Another exception to the box mix snobbery. Oh and I brought my parents a piece last weekend and they liked it so much they suggested I make this for my dad's upcoming birthday party instead of ordering from Nothing Bundt Cakes like we had planned. Which means this garnered their highest praise of "it's not too sweet".
1 box vanilla cake mix (15.25 oz.)
1 box instant coconut pudding (3.4 ounce)
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs
2 teaspoons coconut extract (I used vanilla extract)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut + extra for garnish (toast the garnish)

1 cup powdered sugar
enough milk for the desired consistency
  1. Place the cake mix, dry instant pudding mix, sour cream, extract, eggs, oil, and milk in a mixing bowl. Beat for 1 minute on low speed and 2 minutes on medium speed. Stir the shredded coconut in by hand.
  2. Spoon the batter into a greased 12 inch bundt cake. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then flip out onto a plate to cool completely.
  3. Whisk powdered sugar and milk until smooth. Add milk a teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. Pour over cooled cake and sprinkle with toasted coconut before glaze sets.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies - made dough August 9, 2014 from Lady Behind the Curtain
I’ve had this recipe pinned from Lady Behind the Curtain for some time now and I’m doing another purge through my pinterest boards to catch up. I’ve also been on a cookie dough making binge lately since I only have time on weekends to bake and work on my blog. Cookie doughs are so easy because they take almost no time to make and they repose in my freezer for whenever I need to bake fresh cookies the following day. No matter how late I work, I always have 10-15 minutes to bake a batch of cookies when I get home if I need them for treat bags the next day.

The discerning among you who’ll click on the post title to take you to the original recipe and see the pictures of those cookies will make the same observation as with the Dark Brown Sugar Coconut Oil Cookies of “uh, once again, your cookies don’t look anything like the originals”. And you’d be right. Sigh. I’m not sure what happened since I was pretty sure I followed the recipe correctly; it isn’t that hard. But, to my surprise, my cookies didn’t spread out like hers appeared to. At all. Since I make the dough into golf-size balls and freeze them right away, I bank on the heat during baking to spread the cookies out. I lost that gamble with the first batch and, not wanting to thaw the dough balls then flatten them, I just let it ride. The flavor is still the same, no matter the shape, and I thought these cookies were pretty good. They’re a standard oatmeal chocolate chip cookie but the additional of the toasted coconut gives them a little more sweetness and a bit more of the chewiness factor. Next time though, I would probably flatten them into thick (and large) discs to make them more cookie-looking instead of just a round dough ball that baked as is. Fortunately I don’t think their appearance mattered much as when I put them on a multi-variety cookie plate to bring into work one week, these cookies were the first to disappear.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar 
1 egg
1 teaspoon coconut extract (I used vanilla extract)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut 
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips
2 cups rolled oats
  1. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and coconut. 
  2. Beat butter for 30 seconds until creamy. Add the egg, extracts, and sugar; mix well.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix well. Fold in the chips and oats.
  4. Portion dough into golf-sized balls and chill for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place cookie dough balls on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dark Brown Sugar Coconut Oil Cookies

Dark Brown Sugar Coconut Oil Cookies - made dough August 2, 2014 from Averie Cooks
Another cookie from Averie Cooks that lured me into trying it because of how it looked on her blog. I’ve had good success with most of her cookie recipes coming out looking something like hers. But the discerning amongst you who click on the recipe title of this post to take you to Averie's post and pictures will want to tell me "uh, yours look nothing like hers." I know. At first I thought it was because I had baked them too long. In her recipe, she says to bake them for 8-10 minutes, preferring to go with the lower end as she assures that the cookies firm up as they cool. The first test cookie I baked still looked raw at 8 minutes so I let it bake for 12. It was still soft and gooey, not dry, but it didn’t look like hers; it had spread and smoothed out. So I baked off a full baking sheet of 8 cookies instead of just the 1 I did for the initial taste test. I almost took them out at 8 minutes but truly, they still looked raw in the middle. Not just underbaked but actually still cookie dough raw. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t take them out. So I left them in an extra 2 minutes and took them out at the 10-minute mark. They still looked a bit raw in the center but I reasoned that’s how they were supposed to be and, once cool, perhaps they would be as Averie had made them on her blog.

I waited for them to cool then took a bite out of one cookie. The taste was there and while the cookie may not technically have still been raw, it was still more mushy than gooey (trust me, there’s a difference) and it just wasn’t the texture I wanted. I ended up popping them back into the oven and baking them an extra 5 minutes. At this point, they didn’t look like the ones on her blog at all but the taste was still good and I preferred the texture much better. It’s possible my coconut oil was just a tad too runny so maybe that’s why mine ended up the way it did at 8-10 minutes and spread more than hers did. Or her oven is much stronger than mine. I don’t know. I still thought these were good cookies though and worth making again. It’s like a gooey chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips but with the brown sugar flavor. Only better. For anyone who’s not a fan of coconut, don’t let the coconut oil ingredient put you off. Coconut oil has a very subtle flavor to begin with and it’s largely, if not entirely, masked by the dark brown sugar in the cookie.
Baked for only 10 minutes - still a bit raw and mushy
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened (softened to the consistency of soft butter; not rock hard and not runny or melted)
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsulphured mild to medium molasses
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
  1. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine coconut oil, egg, sugar and beat on medium-high speed to cream until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
  2. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla, molasses, and beat to incorporate, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the flour, corn starch, baking soda, optional salt, and mix until just combined, about 1 minute.
  3. Using a medium cookie scoop, form mounds that are 2 heaping tablespoons in size. Cover with plasticwrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 5 days. 
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until tops have just set, even if slightly undercooked, pale, and glossy in the center. They firm up as they cool.
  5. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes before moving. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bakery Style Peanut Butter Cookies

Bakery Style Peanut Butter Cookies - made dough July 19, 2014 from Crazy for Crust
Remember how I say I'm kind of indifferent to peanut butter? I like it well enough but usually with some chocolate thrown in and even so, I could take it or leave it. I like a good peanut butter cookie as much as the next person but it's not like I keep a Top 10 list of outstanding peanut  butter cookie recipes like I do for chocolate chip cookies.
Hmm, well, I might have to start that list now. And this one would take the #1 spot. It's thick, it's chewy, it tastes great and it's not cakey as long as you don't overbake it. The dough is easy to work with and the cookie is just good. If you have any peanut butter lovers in your life, make these cookies for them then see if they'll wash your car for you. I'm thinking of trying that strategy out on my nieces. They love peanut butter. And my car is looking awfully dusty in drought-stricken California. But I digress.
For a little extra touch and because I like to signal what kind of cookie it is, especially for people who might have peanut allergies, I cut up some peanut butter cups and arranged them strategically on top of each cookie dough ball so there's no doubt this is a peanut butter cookie. I prefer that approach than sprinkling peanuts on it or using chunky peanut butter. We know how I feel about nuts in (most) cookies. If you want added chocolate, you can substitute half of the peanut butter chips for chocolate chips.
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1 package (about 1 2/3 cups) peanut butter chips

1/2 cup peanut butter cups, chopped into halves and quarters
  1. Cream butter, peanut butter, and both sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, about 2-3 minutes. Add egg, vanilla, milk, baking soda, and salt and mix until combined. Slowly add flour and mix until dough just comes together. Stir in Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips. 
  2. Scoop the dough into golf-ball size dough balls, press cut-up peanut butter cups randomly on the outside of each dough ball (embed into dough until they adhere but don't bury them completely) and chill for at least 4 hours. 
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Place cookie dough balls evenly spaced apart on the prepared cookies sheets. Bake 11-14 minutes until the bottoms start to brown. Cool about 5 minutes and then remove from cookie sheets.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Battle of the Texas Sheet Cakes

Vanilla vs Chocolate - made August 3, 2014
Last week I had a number of social occasions where I normally bring goodie bags – a couple of lunches, a couple of dinners and I was meeting a friend for hiking last weekend. But I don’t have the same amount of time to bake during the week that I used to before so I knew I had to do some prep ahead of time. That was easy enough in terms of making up cookie doughs to bake off at the last minute as well as baking brownies and cakes that could be cut into individual serving sizes, wrapped up and frozen. When I need a lot of baked goods but have a limited amount of time to make them, Texas Sheet Cakes are my go-to baked goods of choice.  Not only are they easy to make and, the way I make them, each recipe is good for a 9 x 13 pan, they can go a long way in filling multiple treat bags. This time around, I decided to do a battle of the Texas Sheet Cakes – Chocolate vs Vanilla. The handy part is I could make 1 recipe of the frosting and spread it over both cakes. I don’t like a lot of frosting so this was the perfect way to leverage a single recipe over two cakes in the time it takes to only make 1 frosting.

While I have several Texas Fudge Cakes I can play with and am agnostic about (they’re all good), this one for the Texas Vanilla Cake is my favorite of the vanilla ones I’ve tried. In fact, I like it so much that in this instance, to me, Vanilla won the battle of Chocolate vs Vanilla. And believe me, I don’t say that very often.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Company Summer Party

Company Summer Party - August 7, 2014
My company held their annual summer party last week. I normally don't go to these types of events as they're usually not my thing but since it was my first one, I decided to go experience it for myself.
1/4 of a Funnel Cake sprinkled with cinnamon sugar
It was at a fairgrounds that we took over and was set up with various activities for both adults and kids, from amusement park rides to Disney-like environments to water slides. And of course, carnival/fair-type food. I'm all about the food so okay, yeah, that was a big reason I went, at least for a little while.
1/4 of a Funnel Cake dusted with confectioners' sugar
The food was all set up in one section of the fairgrounds, various booths and tents with a wide selection of offerings, mostly deep fried. Again, the carnival ambiance which pretty much says deep-fried is mandatory.
My coworker and I did a first pass to peruse all the offerings and to make sure we were knowledgeable about everything at our disposal before we committed ourselves to actually consuming the calories. I didn't want to get overly enthusiastic about one food in particular then regret not having room later for something I might want even more. It's all about controlled, conscious gluttony.
I won't bore you with the (long) list of what I consumed but suffice it to say it was likely deep fried. Some I hadn't had in years (a corn dog), others I only enjoy at farmers' market type events (kettle corn) and a couple of things I'd never had before and was happy to try: funnel cake and yes, a deep-fried Oreo.
Caramel Corn

Seafood barbecue skewers
Deep-fried oreos have never crossed my food sphere before. I know it's possible to deep fry just about anything but I'd never consumed an oreo in this rendition. At the first warm bite, I was a bit skeptical over it. After all, one of the reasons I like oreos is for their crunchy texture. Deep frying them covered in batter makes the oreo inside soft.

Deep-fried Oreo
But halfway through the second bite, I decided it was good. The crunchy outside had the siren call of the deep fried and the inside of gooey Oreo flavor was nothing to be sneezed at. Sorry for the fuzzy picture below. I was taking the shot in bright daylight and it was hard to see whether it was focused or not when I hit the picture button. Apparently it wasn't.
A fuzzy pic of the inside of a deep-fried Oreo


Corn Dogs

Shaved Ice
The other thing I tried for the first time was from Frozen Kuhsterd - a mini doughnut ice cream sandwich. I had high hopes for it as I thought it was a cute concept. Unfortunately the concept was better than the reality. The coldness of the frozen custard (it had the texture of soft serve ice cream) altered the texture of the doughnut. I like my doughnuts light and fluffy - this one was more dense, almost like a bagel. Whether that's how the doughnut was originally made or if the frozen custard hardened it, I'll never know but it didn't suck me in as my newest foodie addiction. Thank goodness.

Mini doughnut sandwiched with vanilla ice cream
All in all, it was a fun hour or so and I enjoyed exploring the carnival food concept. One thing I really liked, regardless of how something tasted, was that the vendors plying their foodie wares all seemed like local small businesses. I love that we have events that patronize them and give them exposure for their business as well as giving them actual business. Warm fuzzies.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Caramelita Bars

Caramelita Bars - made August 2, 2014 from The Model Bakery by Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen
This is the second recipe I tried from the Model Bakery cookbook that I got for my birthday and the one I meant to make in the first place when I started melting caramel before I realized I didn't have enough oatmeal on hand. A trip to Target rectified that but unfortunately, this didn't turn out as well as the brownie had.
That's partly my fault. I wanted the oatmeal crumbly topping to crisp up a bit to provide more texture to the caramelita, thinking it would be a nice contrast to the smooth, sweet, melty/flowy caramel. But I miscalculated because in the time it took to crisp up the oatmeal topping, the caramel lost its flowiness. It didn't get hard but it wasn't drippy caramel decadence either. Instead, it was just....there. Darn.
The part that wasn't my fault is this wasn't all that flavorful either. I prefer caramelitas not only dripping with caramel but also have a brown sugar flavor or a brown butter undertone. This held neither. Again, it was just there. It wasn't bad and remember how picky my taste buds are. Most people would probably think these were fine. To me, they're just okay.

2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons water

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  1. To make the caramel: Stir the granulated sugar, water, and corn syrup together in a large heavy saucepan over high heat until the sugar has dissolved. Boil, without stirring, occasionally rotating the pan by the handle to swirl the syrup and washing down any crystals that form on the sides of the pan with a natural-bristle brushed dipped in cold water, until the syrup is smoking and the color of old copper, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low.
  2. Add the cream and stir until the caramel is smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool until tepid and thickened, about 1 hour.
  3. To make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 pan with aluminum foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  4. Whisk the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the melted butter and water until the oat mixture is moistened. Transfer about one-fourth of the mixture to a bowl; set aside. Transfer the remainder into the prepared pan and press it firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan.
  5. Bake until the crust is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and spread the caramel over the crust. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and pecans evenly over the caramel. Crumble the reserved mixture as evenly as possible over the top. Return to the oven and bake until the topping is barely golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  6. Let cool completely before cutting and serving.