Sunday, September 26, 2010

Brickle Bars

Brickle Bars - made September 23, 2010 from Better Homes & Garden Cookies recipe book

This is a really basic brownie and very easy to make when you want to quickly throw something together. Top with Heath toffee bits (aka almond brickle) and chocolate chips and you're set. For that reason, my jaded tastebuds put this in the "they're okay" classification. Nothing wrong with them and people at work liked them but I guess since I've tried dozens or hundreds of brownie recipes, I have a pretty high bar for what would stand out in my mind when it comes to brownies. This is good but nothing really memorable for me. But they're a nice, basic, fudgy brownies and they look pretty. I used regular chocolate chips, not the miniature ones, and they worked just fine.

½ cup butter
2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup almond brickle pieces
½ cup miniature semisweet chocolate pieces

1. In a medium saucepan melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Using a wooden spoon, lightly beat just till combined (don’t overbeat or brownies will rise too high, then fall). Stir in the flour.
2. Spread batter into a greased 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with almond brickle pieces and chocolate pieces. Bake in a 350˚F oven for 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 16.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pearl Mae Oakley's Coconut Cake

Pearl Mae Oakley's Coconut Cake - made September 19, 2010 from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott

This is another recipe from Southern Cakes which has a whole section on coconut cakes. The recipe calls for making this as a 2-layer round cake but since my round cake pans are still packed in boxes and I haven't moved yet so they're not getting unpacked anytime soon, I made it as a 9 x 13" cake instead. My 9 x 13" pan isn't getting packed until the very last minute for this reason alone. You never know when I'm going to feel like baking a cake.

What I find a little odd about this cake is, for a coconut cake, there's no coconut in the cake itself. Instead, it's in the frosting. Therefore, in my mind, this is really a vanilla cake and you can choose to frost it with whatever frosting you want. I did make the frosting that's included with the cake and it didn't quite turn out the way I expected. I followed the directions to the letter and am baffled how this could be a frosting used for a layer cake. The milk/sugar mixture never turns into anything thick enough to be considered frosting or even icing. It has more of a consistency like a glaze. You don't typically "glaze" a 2-layer cake and expect the layers to hold. Adding all the coconut does give it some cover but it's not going to hold together like if you frosted it with a buttercream frosting or something of similar consistency. So I was very glad I made it as a 9 x 13" cake instead.

Nevertheless, the cake itself was quite good and makes a nice vanilla cake - good flavor and texture. I happen to love coconut so if I made this again, I would likely add some coconut to the batter and make it a real coconut cake. Regardless though, I have to confess, I like the coconut cake recipe from Mrs. Fields better.

Yellow Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs

Coconut Icing
2 cups sugar (or 1 cup if you are using sweetened shredded coconut)
1 cup milk
Butter the size of an egg (¼ cup)
About 3 cups grated fresh coconut or sweetened shredded coconut

1. To make the cake, heat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and use a fork to mix them together well. Stir the vanilla into the milk.
2. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with a mixer at high speed until creamy. Add the sugar gradually, stopping to scrape down the bowl, and continue beating until the mixture is evenly combined. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well each time, until the mixture is thick and smooth.
3. Add about one third of the flour mixture to the batter and beat well with the mixer at medium speed. Then add about half the milk to the batter, beating well. Continue beating as you add another third of the flour mixture, the remaining milk, and then the remaining flour mixture. Beat well until very thick and smooth.
4. Quickly scrape the batter into the prepared cake pans, dividing it evenly, and place them in the oven. Bake at 350˚F for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cakes are golden, spring back when touched lightly in the center and begin to pull away from the sides of the pans.
5. Remove from the oven, and cool the layers in the pans on wire racks or folded kitchen towels for 10 minutes. Then turn out the cake onto wire racks or plates, top side up, and cool completely.
6. To make the icing, combine the sugar, milk and butter in a medium saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring now and then, until the sugar dissolves and everything melts into a smooth, velvety icing, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the grated coconut and set aside.
7. To complete the cake, place one layer, top side down, on a serving plate, and spoon about half the icing over the cake. Place the second layer over the first, top side up, and spoon the remaining icing over its surface. Work slowly, allowing the icing to soak into the cake a bit. Continue spooning icing over the cake, allowing it to run down the sides as it will. Let stand for about 1 hour before cutting.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Caramel Witches

Caramel Witches - made September 18, 2010 from Fat Witch Brownies by Patricia Helding

Caramel and chocolate are probably two of my favorite flavor combinations. In a brownie, they're almost unbeatable. Except when they don't turn out. I had high hopes for this brownie and I thought it was a sure thing. But something went awry, either with the recipe, with me or both. From a recipe standpoint, it's very similar to the original Fat Witch brownie recipe so I felt like it should've turned out. But there just isn't enough chocolate in this brownie (and in the original recipe) to make it very chocolatey. Combined with the sweetness of caramel, it's a little bit too sweet and not chocolatey enough.

My part of the failure of these brownies is I didn't bake them long enough. I'm used to underbaking brownies to make them fudgy but that only works when there's enough chocolate in the brownie to set when the brownie cools. There's simply not enough chocolate in this recipe to set and offset the relatively high amount of butter. So they came out mushy. Combined with the caramel which is mushy to start with, it's just all mushiness. Fudgy is good. Mushy, not so much. Plus the caramel sank straight to the bottom and wasn't sandwiched in the middle like I had hoped not to mention it was a little thick and chewy (the caramel part, not the brownie itself).

Here's what I would do differently next time I make these brownies - and there will be a next time because I really want these to turn out:

1. Chill the bottom half of the brownie first so when you spread the caramel, it has a better chance of not sinking straight to the bottom when you bake the brownies.
2. Thin the caramels with more water or milk so they don't harden when the brownie cools or be quite so chewy.
3. Bake them longer.

Caramel Witches

14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon bittersweet chocolate chips
3 large eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans (optional)
½ cup unbleached flour
Pinch of salt
30 caramel squares
2 tablespoons lukewarm water

1. Grease a 9-inch x 9-inch baking pan with butter. Dust with flour and tap out the excess. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and mix until well combined. If desired, stir in chopped pecans by hand.
4. Measure the flour and salt and then sift together directly into the chocolate mixture. Mix until well combined and no trace of the dry ingredients remains.
5. Pour half of the batter evenly in the prepared baking pan; it will be about ¼” high. Set the pan aisde.
6. Unwrap the caramels and put them in a microwaveable bowl with the water. Microwave on medium power and check every 60 seconds or until the caramels have melted into a thick liquid. Remove the bowl from the microwave and let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk the caramel with a fork to get a consistent texture. Pour the caramel over the batter in the pan. Don’t go all the way to the edges and don’t worry about covering every spot. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, allowing the caramel to set.
7. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and spread the remaining half of the batter evenly over the caramel using a spatula. Let the pan sit for 15 minutes to come to room temperature before putting it in the oven.
8. Bake for 35 minutes or until the brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
9. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 1 hour. Right before serving, I suggest cutting 18 pieces since they are rich and satisfying!

Makes 12 to 18 brownies

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fat Witch Brownies

Fat Witch Brownies - made September 15, 2010 from Fat Witch Brownies by Patricia Helding

THESE are the brownies I initially wanted to make from the Fat Witch recipe book. These are the original Fat Witch brownies. I did an emergency run to Costco after work so I could get chocolate chips (and butter, sugar and eggs) so I'd be prepared for the plethora of new brownie recipes I plan to try from this book. What I found surprising with this recipe is the relatively small amount of chocolate used in proportion to the butter and the fact that the chocolate component comes from chocolate chips. I'm used to my better brownie recipes having an almost equal ratio of butter to chocolate and the chocolate is typically high-end baking chocolate, not chips. I didn't have high-end chips (Costco doesn't carry them) and didn't have time to pop over to Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table so I stuck with good old Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips in the massive bag from Costco.

Let me say this recipe is true to the Fat Witch brownies I've tried from Fat Witch bakery. The texture is fudgy and dense as a good brownie should be and the richness comes from all that butter. I hovered over the oven during the last few minutes as I didn't want to overbake these and they came out just right in terms of fudginess. The only thing I would probably play with in future trials is I wasn't wild about the flaking of the top crust. According to Shirley Corriher of Bakewise and Cookwise fame, that "meringue-like" flaking comes from beating the eggs and if you want to minimize it, you have to minimize the beating of the eggs once they're added to the batter. This recipe calls for beating the eggs from the first step and you keep beating the mixture as you add more ingredients. I'll have to figure out how to get around that. Some people like that flaking on top. I don't particularly care for it. Regardless, it doesn't detract from the deliciousness and richness of the brownie.

Oh, one other note - the recipe calls for baking in a 9 x 9" pan. I used an 8 x 8" pan instead to make thicker brownies.

14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached flour
Pinch of salt

1. Grease a 9-inch x 9-inch baking pan with butter. Dust with flour and tap out the excess. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.
3. Cream the sugar, eggs, and vanilla together. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and mix until well blended.
4. Measure flour and salt and then sift together directly into the chocolate mixture. Mix the batter gently until well combined and no trace of the dry ingredients remains.
5. At this point, if desired, stir in any extras like walnuts.
6. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking pan and bake 33 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean or with only crumbs, not batter, on it.
7. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 1 hour. Cut just before serving.

Makes 12 to 16 brownies

Cakey Brownies

Cakey Brownies - made September 14, 2010 from Fat Witch Brownies by Patricia Helding

My friend Terri warned me ahead of time that "something" was coming in the mail for my birthday but it would arrive late since it wasn't going to be released until mid-September. Terri and I share a love of reading the same types of books and authors so I figured it would be something for reading. But lo and behold, when the package arrived from amazon, it was a brownie recipe book of Fat Witch brownies. If you've never had a Fat Witch brownie, they're rich, sinfully delicious and packed with chocolate and butter goodness. You can order them online from which is how I first tried them but I also visited Fat Witch Bakery when I was in New York and indulged in person as well :).

So you can imagine I was pretty excited to receive the cookbook, especially since I didn't even know it existed. I was anxious to try the original recipe for Fat Witch brownies but when I got home, I discovered I didn't have any chocolate chips. Ack. Normally it'd be unheard of for me not to have semisweet chocolate chips on hand but I'd been using up my baking ingredients in preparation for my upcoming move and hadn't been replenishing my stores. That was foolish. So I had to compromise and try this recipe for Cakey Brownies since I did have all those ingredients on hand and I wanted to bake something from the book.

I've already gone on in previous blog posts that I don't care for cakey brownies. I like my brownies dense and fudgy. I'd like to be able to say I liked this recipe. Unfortunately, I can say they're just "okay". It's probably my prejudice against cakey brownies but I didn't think these were that great. The chocolate tastes wasn't very pronounced and I didn't like the cakey texture. Not a good first recipe out of the book. Fortunately there are many more recipes in the book so keep reading for further updates.

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup whole milk at room temperature
1 cup unbleached flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

1. Grease a 9-inch x 9-inch baking pan with butter. Dust with flour and tap out the excess. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.
3. Cream the sugar and eggs together. Add the vanilla and milk and mix well. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and mix until well blended.
4. Measure the flour, baking powder and salt and then sift together directly into the chocolate mixture. Mix the batter gently until well combined and no trace of the dry ingredients remains.
5. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking pan and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean or with only crumbs, not batter, on it.
6. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 1 hour. Cut just before serving.

Makes 12 to 16 brownies

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gigi's Fabulous Caramel Cake

Gigi's Fabulous Caramel Cake - made September 12, 2010 from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott

I almost didn't want to make this blog post because this recipe turned into a half-failure and I hate when that happens. But failure and confession is good for the soul and I decided I needed to 'fess up. Not everything I make turns out but I learn from it for next time and that's all I can ask. For one thing, the cake itself lives up to its name and it really is fabulous. If you want a good vanilla cake, make this cake. Only don't make it with this frosting because that's the failure part. I'm not quite sure what I did wrong or whether it's the recipe or really me. I followed the instructions almost to the letter. The almost part is I substituted whole milk for the evaporated milk. I also only used half the frosting recipe since I was making this as a 9 x 13 cake and not as two round layer cakes. But I still don't think that accounted for the colossal failure that was my caramel frosting.

Here's the picture from the recipe book on what the finished cake and frosting are supposed to look like:

Lovely, isn't it?

Er, here's what mine turned out like:

Not quite so lovely, right??!? The frosting was thick and difficult to spread, even when warm, even after I added more milk. It was just grainy. I don't know if I overcooked it since it also turned out darker than in the book picture. But the true failure was in the taste test. While the cake itself was delicious, the frosting was like eating brown sugar out of the box. I'm not a big fan of frosting to begin with but, while I have a high sugar tolerance, even *I* do not make a habit of eating straight brown sugar and that's what this tasted like.

It wasn't a total loss as I now have a great vanilla cake recipe to use but next time, I'm going to pair it with a real vanilla frosting. But the main point I wanted to make by posting this is everyone has failures, myself included. I get some emails with people telling me a recipe they tried from my blog didn't turn out like mine - sometimes it's because they inadvertently left out an ingredient (Rhuwena forgetting the sugar in the pumpkin upside down cake), sometimes it's because they did a horrific substitution (margarine instead of butter - wah), or sometimes because they overbaked it. The point is - that's okay. Try and try again until you get it right. That's what I intend to do.

Yellow Cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 cup milk
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Gigi's Caramel Icing
One 1-pound box (about 2 2/3 cups) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
7 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the cake, heat oven to 325˚F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Combine the butter and milk in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat until the butter melts. Stir well and let cool to room temperature.

2. Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well. In a large bowl, combine the eggs and sugar, and beat well at high speed, scraping down the bowl often, until light yellow, smooth and thick.

3. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture, mixing only until the flour disappears. Add the cooled milk mixture and the vanilla, stir well, and divide the batter between the prepared pans.

4. Bake at 325˚F for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cakes are pale golden, spring back when touched lightly in the center, and begin to pull away from the sides of the pans.

5. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes on wire racks or folded kitchen towels. Then turn out the cakes onto wire racks or plates to cool completely, top side up.

6. To make the icing, have the cake layers handy and ready for frosting, so that you can spread the warm frosting quickly once it is ready. In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, evaporated milk, and vanilla. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir well and then adjust the heat so that the frosting boils and bubbles gently. Cook for 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

7. Beat the warm icing with a wooden spoon until it thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Place a cake layer, top side down, on a cake stand or serving platter. Quickly spread some icing over the top and cover it with the second cake layer, top side up. Ice the top quickly and then spread the remaining icing over the sides.

8. If the icing becomes too hard to spread, warm gently over low heat, add a spoonful or two of evaporated milk, and then scrape and stir well until the icing softens enough to spread again. Dip a table knife in very hot water to help soften and smooth out the icing once it is spread.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival

Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival - September 11, 2011, San Francisco, CA

2010 marked the 15th year of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival. It's held, appropriately enough, at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco and spans the course of 2 weekend days. This year it was September 11-12, 12 noon - 5 pm. Every year I always plan to go and every year, for one reason or another, I always miss it. Usually because I forget when it is. This year, I got a reminder from a post from The Chocolate Life and it even included a link to discount tickets. The event itself is free but you need to buy a ticket if you want to try any of the chocolate samples. And of course you do, otherwise why bother going?

Anyway, I planned to go, was reminded about it from the Chocolate Life post then promptly forgot about it again due to the crush of work I was under. But it seems I was meant to go when my friend Kendra emailed me a few days before the festival asking if I was going and she was forwarding another email from one of the vendors attending and this too also had a link with a discount code for tickets. How could I not go after that?

My friend Jenny lives up in the city so we arranged to meet at the ferry building and walk up to Ghirardelli Square from there. I'm always on the lookout for ways to be active and burn calories, especially as I was planning on consuming 15 samples of chocolate. We couldn't have had nicer weather that day. San Francisco was absolutely gorgeous. Temps were in the 70s (maybe low 80s), it was bright and sunny with a nice breeze from the bay and the sky was a beautiful blue. It was San Francisco at its finest.

Since I'd never been to the Chocolate Festival before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Just something with lots of chocolate. In that aspect, I wasn't disappointed. Essentially the "festival" was comprised mostly of vendors in booths, giving out chocolate samples and marking off the tickets once you'd been given a sample. There were also a few demos per day from chefs from local chocolate places as well as Ice Cream Sundae Eating contests. Unfortunately what I hadn't counted on was the sheer number of people who were there. We arrived around 1 pm and it was already crowded and growing more so as the afternoon wore on. The idea of chocolate sampling was great and we did get some good samples but there was also a lot of standing in line to get said samples.

Our first sample was "Traditional Toffee" from the Goodytwos Toffee Company. The great thing about a place like the festival from a consumer standpoint is you can sample treats from places you'd never heard of before. From a vendor standpoint, it's a way to reach a potential market you might not normally get. Many vendors had their actual wares for sale so that if you liked the sample, you could also buy it.

We also tried the chocolate hazelnut caramel truffle bars (mere slivers actually, literally) from Sterling Confections - pretty to look at and good chocolate but it didn't quite stand out to my jaded chocolate taste buds.

My personal favorite of the day were the Milk Chocolate Macadamia Laceys from Desserts on Us. I love lace cookies (similar to Florentines) but they're a pain to make so I never make them. Desserts on Us not only had great cookies but they gave out whole cookies as their sample, not cookie bits.

Not pictured but we also tried: Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes (mini cupcakes, very mini) from Eat My Love for You, a mini hot fudge sundae (hold the whipped cream and cherry on mine) from Ghirardelli Chocolate, and Spiced Almond Caramel Corn from CC Made.

I discovered I was more of a chocolate lightweight than I thought. By the 6th or 7th sample, both Jenny and I were ready to call it quits. Turns out we can't consume that much chocolate, even though some of the samples were literally one-bite-sized. Learning for next time if I go again - share a 15-sample ticket with someone. We ended up lining up in the long line for the Ghirardelli Chocolate booth and using up the rest of our sample tickets for packaged Ghirardelli chocolate squares that we could dump in our purses.

All in all, it was a fun day but I have to admit, I'm not sure this is something I'd go to every year and I don't know if I've missed all that much by not attending any of the first 14 years of the festival. It was just too crowded and beyond lining up to get samples from the booths, there didn't seem to be that much entertaining entertainment. There were some wine and chocolate pairing happenings but I don't drink and I've never been a fan of eating contests, ice cream sundaes not withstanding. If there hadn't been so many people, I might've been interested in going to some of the chef demonstrations but honestly, it was so crowded (and I never cease to be amazed by people who can and do wield unwieldy strollers through massive crowds) that it killed any desire to linger too long. What made the day enjoyable and worthwhile was the great weather and the fact that Jenny and I can talk a mile a minute about any and everything so it was a great bonding experience and fun in that respect. So it was a good friendship day and a good chocolate day. I guess you can't ask for anything more.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Red Velvet Cake - Southern Cakes

Red Velvet Cake - made September 6, 2010 from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott

This recipe is very similar to my friend Diane's red velvet cake recipe and came out just as well. The texture is soft and fluffy and it has a nice flavor, especially considering there's only 2 tablespoons of cocoa for the chocolate component. Use a high-quality dark cocoa, not an insipid grocery story brand. I use Pernigotti's from Williams Sonoma.

A key to good red velvet cake is not overbaking it. Actually that's key for any cake. Part of the flavor is having that moist and tender crumb. Normally I like to pair red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting but the frosting accompanying this recipe was also identical to Diane's so I thought I'd try it since I'd skipped it when I had made her recipe. I'm not a big frosting person though so I probably can't really rate this with any kind of expertise. It was good but I only had the barest minimum on there. I added the coconut to the frosting for texture but omitted the nuts.

I like this cake and probably will make it again when I'm in the mood for red velvet. Next time, I'm switching back to the cream cheese frosting though. Just as a matter of taste preference.

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons cocoa
One 1-ounce bottle (2 tablespoons) red food coloring
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or white vinegar

1. To make the cake, heat the oven to 350˚F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans generously, and line them with waxed paper or kitchen parchment. Grease the paper and flour the pans.
2. Prepared three separate mixtures for the batter: Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl and use a fork to mix them together well. Stir the vanilla into the buttermilk. Combine the cocoa and the red food coloring in a small bowl, mashing and stirring them together to make a thick, smooth paste.
3. In a large bowl, beat the butter with a mixer at low speed for 1 minute, until creamy and soft. Add the guar, and then beat well for 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl now and then. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one, until the mixture is creamy, fluffy and smooth. Scrape the cocoa-food coloring paste into the batter and beat to mix it in evenly.
4. Add about a third of the flour mixture, and then about half the milk, beating the batter with a mixer at low speed, and mixing only enough to make the flour or liquid disappear into the batter. Mix in another third of the flour, the rest of the milk, and then the last of the flour in the same way.
5. In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar and stir well. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to quickly mix this last mixture into the red batter, folding it in gently by hand. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans.
6. Bake at 350˚F for 20 to 25 minutes, until the layers spring back when touched lightly in the center and are just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans.
7. Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks or folded kitchen towels for 15 minutes. Then turn them out on the racks or on plates, remove the paper, and turn top side up to cool completely.

Coconut- Pecan Icing

1 cup milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

1. To make the icing, combine the milk and flour in a small or medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking or stirring often, until the mixture thickens almost to a paste, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and scrape it into a small bowl to cool completely.
2. Meanwhile, beat the butter with a mixer at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the sugar in thirds, beating well each time, until the mixture is creamy and fairly smooth. Add the cooled milk-and-flour mixture and beat for 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides now and then, to combine everything well. Using a large spoon or your spatula, stir in the vanilla, coconut, and pecans, mixing to combine everything well into a thick, fluffy, nubby icing.
3. To complete the cake, place one layer, top side down, on a cake stand or a serving plate, and spread icing on the top. Place the second layer, right side up, on top. Frost the sides and then the top of the cake. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or more to help the icing set.

Cast Party Wednesday 


Snickerdoodles - BHG

Snickerdoodles - made September 3, 2010 from Better Homes & Gardens Cookie book

My cousin Christine's son, Jason, doesn't like chocolate. So when I hosted them for Monopoly night (yes, I lost - defeated by a 5-year-old and his mom, I may never be able to hold my Monopoly-playing head up again), I had to come up with a non-chocolate, no-nuts dessert (he doesn't like nuts either). Snickerdoodles was a logical choice as it's an easy cookie dough to make ahead of time and I thought Jason, like most kids, might like rolling the dough balls in the cinnamon sugar. Plus it's pretty much a vanilla cookie and he does like vanilla.

I have several snickerdoodle recipes on tap but I thought I would try a new recipe this time. It has the same basic ingredients as most snickerdoodle recipes, the key one being cream of tartar, but this one had a slight twist in that you beat half the flour in with the butter before adding the rest of the ingredients. I think that's the only cookie recipe I've tried so far that called for such a thing. Normally, in cakes and cookies, you add the flour last and don't beat it a lot once it's added so you don't develop the gluten in it and make it tough. Only in products such as bread do you work the flour a lot (or knead the dough) to deliberately develop the gluten and come up with chewy bread. In cookies, however, you usually don't and I have countless recipes warning against overmixing. But, ever obedient to a recipe, at least the first time I make it, I followed the instructions exactly.

The cookies came out pretty well. We had them once they had cooled slightly (taking a Monopoly break) and the edges were crunchy and the middles were soft. I thought these were pretty good. I sent the rest of the cookies and unbaked cookie dough home with Christine and Jason but I forgot to take a picture of the cookies for my blog so I "had" to make them again the following day. My parents don't normally like chocolate either (although my mom - and dad - have been known to enjoy Godiva truffles on occasion. Not See's though as they claim it's too sweet.) so snickerdoodles are also a good choice for them. I baked another batch, following the same recipe and same instructions. This time though, for some reason, they struck me as a little too sweet. I don't know why or how my taste buds changed in less than 24 hours or if it was because I had the cookie the next day while it was at room temperature so I could really taste the sweetness. In any case, these are still good but be prepared for the sweetness.

½ cup butter
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed about 30 seconds or till softened. Add about half of the flour to the butter. Then add the 1 cup sugar, egg, vanilla, baking soda and cream of tartar. Beat till thoroughly combined, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the remaining flour. Cover and chill about 1 hour or till dough is easy to handle.
2. In a shallow dish, combine the 2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the sugar-cinnamon to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
3. Bake in a 375˚F oven for 10 to 11 minutes or till edges are lightly browned. Remove cookies; cool on wire racks. Makes about 36 (only if you make them really small. They made 15-16 normal-sized cookies to me).