Monday, May 30, 2011

Orange Velvet Cake

Orange Velvet Cake - made May 28, 2011 from A Piece of Cake by Susan G. Purdy

As I'm now (I think) at least a dozen cookbooks past the halfway point for my baking challenge (finally!), I'm starting to get into cookbooks I've either never used, rarely use, or haven't used in a long time.  Which always begs the question, why do I still have it/them??  Not a new question.  But no matter, we slog forward anyway.  This is an old book and I have no memory of when and where I bought it or why but I must've been on either a cake kick or a Susan G. Purdy kick since I have multiple cake books and several cookbooks by Susan G. Purdy.  I've hardly made anything from this cookbook so I can't assess (yet) how good it is or not.

I still have oranges from my mom's orange tree to use up and there are many more oranges left on her tree so this was a good time to try out orange recipes.  My earliest memory of orange cake was in the 4th grade when a friend was bringing a sheet cake of orange cake with frosting to share with her class.  She gave me a sneak preview taste in the morning while we waited for the bus and to my childish taste buds, that was the best cake ever.  In retrospect, it was probably some kind of boxed cake mix with canned vanilla frosting but to my 9-year-old bad self, it was divine.  I've gotten infinitely more finicky about baked goods since then but I still have a soft spot for orange cake to this day.  Not orange pound cake (although I like that too) but cakey orange cake, like cake with the tender texture of a boxed cake mix but with the fresher (and better) taste of real oranges.  So I was both anxious and hopeful for this cake to turn out.

I don't think I baked this cake as long as I should have.  The texture was a bit dense so it was more pound-cake like (though not as heavy as a pound cake) rather than cakey-like.  The glaze or soaking syrup moistens the cake and makes the texture more dense so it wouldn't hurt to bake this cake for the full amount of time.  Nevertheless, I thought it turned out pretty well.  I only made a half recipe so it only came out to one layer which makes for a pretty flat cake.  But since it wasn't a fluffy texture, it was fine.  You wouldn't want a dense, two-layer cake.  I liked the flavor and even the denser texture.  Fresh oranges make a big difference in providing a citrus-y flavor.  The glaze sets once it cools and it complements the cake nicely.

1 ½ cups sifted cake flour (5 ¼ ounces)
½ cup sifted cornstarch (2 ¼ ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
½ teaspoon orange extract
Grated zest of 1 large orange
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon butter

Orange Buttercream
½ cup unsalted butter, softened but not melted
1 large egg yolk (optional)
Pinch of salt
Grated zest of ½ orange
4 to 4 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
5 to 6 tablespoons orange juice, or as needed

1.      Prepare 2 8- or 9-inch round cake pans: spread solid shortening on bottom and sides of pans then dust evenly with flour; tap out excess flour.  Preheat oven to 350⁰F.
2.      Sift together dry ingredients.  Set aside.
3.      In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and smooth.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Beat in the orange extract and grated zest.  Alternately add to batter the flour mixture and orange juice, beginning and ending with flour.  Beat slowly to blend after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl often.
4.      In a clean bowl with a clean beater, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry.  Stir about 1 cup of whites into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in remaining whites.
5.      Turn batter into prepared pans.  Level the batter, then spread it slightly from the center toward the edges of the pan so it will rise evenly.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, and the top is golden and lightly springy to the touch.
6.      While the cake bakes, prepare the orange glaze.  Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Set the glaze aside, but warm it just before using.
7.      When the cake is baked, set the pans to cool on a wire rack.  With a bamboo skewer or 2-tine roasting fork, prick holes over the cake.  With a pastry brush, paint the warm glaze all over the hot cake, wait a few minutes, and apply remaining glaze, dividing evenly between the two layers.
8.      Cool the cake completely, top with another rack, invert and lift off pan.  Fill and/or frost with Orange Buttercream.
To make Orange Buttercream:
1.      In an electric mixer or food processor, cream the butter until soft, then beat in the egg yolks, if using, the salt and grated zest.  With the mixer on low speed or pulsing the processor, add about ¼ cup of the sugar.  Beat smooth.  Alternately add the juice and remaining sugar, blending smooth between additions.  Scrape down sides of bowl.  Add more orange juice if too stiff.  Chill the icing to harden if too soft.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Orange Shrimp

Orange Shrimp - made May 28, 2011 from I Can't Believe It's Not Fattening by Devin Alexander

I'm always on the lookout for easy to make recipes of "real food" so that I'm not just injecting sugar into my veins with baked goods.  Since I'm back to work, I mainly cook on the weekends then just portion everything out for individual meals throughout the week.  It makes life and time management so much easier.  I usually like to bring my lunch if I'm not meeting friends or going out with coworkers for lunch so it's nice to be able to have some meals ready.  Plus the last thing I want to do when I get home from work at night is cook dinner.  Much easier to microwave something minutes after I walk in the door.

I have Devin Alexander's Most Decadent Diet Ever book and have made several good dishes from it.  Her recipes are straightforward and easy to follow for those of us who don't cook very much.  I checked this one out of the library in my effort to be less acquisitive and spendy.  On the heels of the Orange Chicken dish that turned out so well, I wanted to make Orange Shrimp this time, especially since my mom's orange tree is so heavily weighted with fresh oranges and I could use them for the juice.  They look like lemons but she assures me they're really oranges.

This is a snapshot of only part of my mom's orange tree

A close up of some of the oranges
Despite the yellow color on the outside, inside they're appropriately orange, sweet and full of juice. Perfect to use in cooking and baking, not to mention drinking "straight". This recipe couldn't be easier to put together.  I added some chives for garnish and flavor but overall, this was a simple, summery dish.  Much healthier than a breaded-chicken version (I'm a sucker for Panda Express' Orange Chicken) so you can indulge and get summer-shape ready at the same time.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup 100% orange juice (not from concentrate, preferably no pulp)
1 ¼ pounds 21-25 count shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil spray
2 teaspoons crushed garlic

1.      Put the cornstarch in a medium bowl or measuring cup.  Whisking constantly, add enough orange juice to the cornstarch to form a paste.  Whisk in the remaining juice and continue whisking until the cornstarch is completely dissolved.  Set aside.
2.      Season the shrimp with salt and pepper.
3.      Place a large, nonstick skillet over high heat.  When hot, lightly mist the pan with the spray and add the shrimp in an even layer along with the garlic.  Cool for 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until the shrimp turns pink and is no longer translucent.
4.      Pour the orange juice mixture over the shrimp, gently stirring it until the sauce has thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Brown Butter Cookies

Brown Butter Cookies - made dough May 21, baked May 27, 2011 from Tried and True Recipes from (book #114) is where I got the recipe for Best, Big, Fat, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies and it was my go-to recipe for chocolate chip cookies for awhile.  Until I made the browned butter version of Alton Brown's Chocolate Chip Cookies and that became my latest go-to recipe - at least for now.  But still, has some very good recipes.  The issue is sometimes there are so many recipes for the same type of cookie and the reviews can be really mixed, depending on the recipe, the baker, their tasting audience, etc that it's hard to tell which ones are good, bad or truly great.  I bought their cookbook as it presumably lists their top reviewed recipes in the hopes of having them do some of the weeding out for me.  (For the record, the recipe for Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies is in this book.)

Since I'm having this newly rediscovered love of brown butter, I couldn't resist choosing this recipe to try out.  It's a fairly simple butter cookie recipe but the brown butter adds the extra flavor.  I made a half recipe with this one too and omitted the nuts.  I was curious to see how this compared to Bakewise's Butter Cookies.  I made this recipe ahead of time, chilled it in the refrigerator before putting in the freezer then baking it off the day I needed it.  The recipe calls for browning the butter all at once and reserving 1/2 cup for the frosting.  Since I wasn't going to bake or frost the cookies the same day I made the cookie dough, I only browned just enough butter for the cookie dough then browned the butter I needed for the frosting.

Oh my.  This is one rich but good cookie.  Don't underbake it too much or it'll be too gooey.  But don't overbake it either.  It has a rich brown butter taste and it was almost like eating a chewy, rich, buttery chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips or a dark brown sugar/toffee/caramelized cookie.  Not for the calorie conscious but definitely for the browned butter lovers.  I left off the browned butter frosting for the taste test cookie as it already has plenty of flavor but I'd be curious to see if the sweetness of the frosting cuts some of the richness from the butter cookie.  It's an entirely different taste and texture from the Shirley Corriher Butter Cookie recipe but also good in its own right.

2 cups butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup hot water

1.    Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.
2.    Heat butter over medium heat for 5 minutes or so, until it turns nut brown in color.  The foaming and bubbling is part of the browning process, but watch it carefully so that you don’t burn the butter.  Remove from heat, and cool slightly.  Reserve ½ cup of the butter for the frosting.
3.    Pour remaining browned butter into a large mixing bowl.  Beat browned butter with brown sugar until the butter is no longer hot.  Mix in eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Beat thoroughly.  Mix in flour and chopped pecans.  Drop tablespoons of dough onto ungreased baking sheets.
4.    Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until light brown around the edges.  Cool.
5.    In a medium bowl, mix the reserved ½ cup browned butter with 2 teaspoons vanilla, confectioners’ sugar, and hot water.  Beat until smooth, and use to frost cooled cookies.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Sugar Cookies

Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Sugar Cookies - made May 22, 2011 from Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri (book #113)

I've baked a few recipes from this book and it's well worth having.  The recipes are varied, the directions straightforward and they generally come out pretty well.  My only "problem" with it is there are so many good-looking recipes in it that I always have a hard time choosing only one at a time to make from it.  I almost made the Orange Dream Cookies from it and plan to get to that one someday but this time around, I went with this recipe to use up the last of my buttermilk.  I've seen variations of this sugar cookie in various recipe books.  Because of the ingredients list, I was expecting something soft and cakelike.  Sure enough, even the dough was more like a stiff cake batter or a very soft cookie dough.  I chilled the whole thing in the fridge first before I even scooped them into dough balls for the freezer.  Otherwise I think they would've been too soft to hold a round shape.

I made up the cookie dough last Sunday before I went back to work so I had the dough balls ready in the freezer to be baked at a moment's notice whenever I felt like it.  Normally I don't really like cakey cookies.  I've said before, if I wanted cakey, I'd make a cake, not cookies.  But I have to admit, these weren't bad.  I'd classify them more as a cake in cookie form than my idea of a real cookie but they were pretty tasty.  Like little vanilla cakes rather than sugar cookies.  They don't spread much but they do puff out.  Do not overbake these and err on the side of underbaking them.  Otherwise they'll easily become dry.  They're not that sweet and since they're cakey, they'd probably be pretty good frosted.  Top with your favorite vanilla frosting or any other type of frosting and eat the same day you bake them. Treat them like cakes and assume they'll dry easily if left too long.

You can see how cakey it is on the inside

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk

1.      Set the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 375⁰F.
2.      In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir well to mix.
3.      In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the sugar until combined, then beat in the vanilla.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition.  Lower the speed and beat in a third of the flour mixture, then half the buttermilk, and another third of the flour mixture.  Scrape the bowl and beater often.  Beat in the remaining buttermilk, then the remaining flour mixture.
4.      Scrape the bowl and beater, then remove the bowl from the mixer, and give the dough one final mixing with the large rubber spatula.
5.      Drop tablespoons of the dough 3 or 4 inches apart onto the prepared pans.
6.      Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, or until they spread and rise – they should be lightly golden.
7.      Slide the papers off the pans onto racks.
8.      After the cookies have cooled, detach them from the paper and store them between layers of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Browned Butter Banana Cake with Butterscotch Chips

Browned Butter Banana Cake - made May 21, 2011 from Absolutely Chocolate from the editors of Fine Cooking (book #112)

As summer approaches and more seasonal fruits become abundant, you might find yourself neglecting the ubiquitous, available-year-round banana and find them ripening faster than you can eat them because you've been indulging yourself on strawberries, apricots, cherries, peaches and other spring/summer bounty.  Never fear, that's what banana baked goods are for.  I've been going through a browned butter fixation lately and looking for recipes that use it.  I've made banana cakes before but never with browned butter and I wanted to see what that flavor combination was like.  So this recipe was perfect for experimentation with the overripe bananas I had hanging around.

The original recipe for this cake called for using miniature semisweet chocolate chips but I substituted chopped up bits of butterscotch chips instead as I like butterscotch paired with banana more than a banana and chocolate combination.  I haven't used this recipe book much (or at all) before but I remember looking through it when I first got it and finding a lot of good-looking recipes to try.  Then I stuck it on a shelf with more of its brethren and somehow forgot about it or never went back to it.  Hence once again why my baking challenge is good for me.

This cake was delicious - the brown butter complements the banana, although the banana flavor is more dominant, of course.  But it does have a subtle caramelized flavor.  I love the butterscotch chips as more of a complement rather than a contrast which is what I think chocolate chips would've been.  I'm glad I made the substitution.  The texture was cakey and moist, actually similar to my banana bread recipe but a bit more cake-like.  It's not too sweet either.  Overall, thumbs up and a great way to use overripe bananas.

8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter; more for the pan
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup finely mashed ripe bananas (2 medium bananas)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
7 ½ ounces (1 2/3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pan
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
2/3 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips (I used butterscotch chips)

1.      Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Butter and flour a 10-cup decorative tube or bundt pan.  Tap out any excess flour.
2.      Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Once the butter is melted, cook it slowly, letting it bubble, until it smells nutty or like butterscotch and turns a deep golden hue, 5 to 10 minutes.  If the butter splatters, reduce the heat to low.  Remove the pan from the heat and pour the browned butter through a fine sieve into a medium bowl and discard the bits in the sieve.  Let the butter cool until it’s very warm rather than boiling hot, 5 to 10 minutes.
3.      Using a whisk, stir the sugar and eggs into the butter.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth (the sugar may still be somewhat grainy), 30 to 60 seconds.  Whisk in the mashed bananas, vanilla and salt.  Sift the flour and baking soda directly onto the batter.  Pour the chocolate chips over the flour.  Using a rubber spatula, stir just until the batter is uniformly combined.  Don’t overmix.
4.      Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly with the rubber spatula.  Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out with only moist crumbs clinging to it, 42 to 45 minutes.  Set the pan on a rack to cool for 15 minutes.  Invert the cake onto the rack and remove the pan.  Let cool until just warm and then serve immediately or wrap well in plastic and store at room temperature for up to five days.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken - made May 20, 2011 from This Woman Cook's blog

I loved how this looked on Christina's blog (click on title for the recipe on her blog) and it was just the kind of cooking I can do: mix stuff up, put in a slow cooker and leave it alone until it's done.  And now that I'm working, I also needed to figure out some simple, easy meals I can make or have ready when I get home from work.

As easy as crock pot cooking is, I rarely do it.  For one thing, I have the regular size which is rather largish for one person so when I do use it, it means lots of leftovers and eating the same thing in the future, even if I freeze some.  For another, invariably, whatever I make turns out soupy.  It might be tasty-soupy but soupy nonetheless and sometimes I just don't want soupy.  I end up eating too much rice to sop up the sauce. But I couldn't resist this recipe because I love orange chicken and it was so easy to make.  I'm glad I tried it because it was good and incredibly easy to put together.  It did come out a bit soupy and I tried to thicken it with a little cornstarch but there was still a lot of soupy sauce.  But that's okay as I figure I can always cook more chicken to go with the sauce. 

Oh, and how your sauce turns out is of course going to depend on the ingredients you use so use your favorite barbecue sauce (I used Trader Joe's Kansas City-Style Barbecue Sauce) and marmalade (I used Dundee Orange Marmalade - also from TJ's).  Thanks, Christina, for the recipe!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Charlie's Afternoon Chocolate Cake

Charlie's Afternoon Chocolate Cake - made May 18, 2011 from Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard (book #111)

There are many decadent-sounding recipes in this cookbook, accompanied by mouthwatering pictures.  The picture of this cake in the cookbook looks like the creamiest baked fudge so it was almost inevitable that I had to make it.  Notice the relatively short list of ingredients and how prominently chocolate figures into it.  To sound like a broken record, please use high quality chocolate on this one.  It'll make all the difference and render the calories worth it.  I used Valrhona - $2.99 for a 3-ounce package at Trader Joe's. I needed these to pack in goodie bags which is harder to portion out when you bake something in a round pan so I made this in a 9" square baking pan.

This has no chemical leavening and the instructions don't call for beating it a lot so I didn't expect it to rise much, if at all.  It spread into a thin layer in a 9-inch pan so next time I'd bake it in an 8-inch pan just to have it a little thicker. If you do that, be sure to adjust for the baking time.  I followed the recipe exactly with regards to the size of pan and the baking temps and times so I didn't even bother with the toothpick test on this one.  The chocolate set as it cools and it has a fragile texture but a great taste (from the "good" chocolate).  It was just a trifle too sweet for me so next time I'd use a darker chocolate than 60%.  I like my chocolate candy and truffles to be milk chocolate but chocolate baked goods to be a deeper, richer chocolate.  But this is a crazy-easy cake to put together so if you need to whip up something fast, this is a good choice.  If you do bake in a 9-inch pan, the thin squares would make a good base for a scoop of ice cream.  Just sayin'....

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces 60% chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour

1.      Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Spray the sides and bottom of a round 9-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Dust it with flour, shaking off the excess and set aside.
2.      Bring the butter to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir a couple of times to prevent it from burning.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate to the pan.  Stir the mixture until the chocolate is melted and smooth.
3.      Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until well combined.  Add the flour and mix well.  Add the chocolate to the batter and stir until the mixture is just combined.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
4.      Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 300⁰F and bake for an additional 8 minutes.  Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool completely in the pan.  Unmold and serve.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Diamond-Edged Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies

Diamond-Edged Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies - made May 17, 2011 from Bakewise by Shirley Corriher (book #110)

I'm still posting recipes I made last Tuesday - that was clearly a banner baking day.  Tomorrow is officially back to the working world for me.  I'm still behind by a few more blog posts of what I've made last week but I've written them up ahead of time so I can post them with a click of a button next week and hopefully it'll be enough to see me through the week.  I'd gotten used to baking and posting almost daily but once I exhaust my backlog posts, I'll have to scale back a bit until I adjust to a full-time working schedule again.  In the meantime....

Bakewise by Shirley Corriher gave me one of the best brownie recipes I've ever made.  Considering exactly how many I've made over the years (well over 150+), that's saying something.  So I had high hopes for this butter cookie.  Despite their simplicity or maybe because of their simplicity, good butter cookies are hard to find.  Some taste great but spread too much because they contain too much butter and some don't spread at all and are dry because they don't have enough butter.  I love plain butter cookies.  I'll even admit that, much as I scoff at "storebought" cookies and prefer to make my own, I love those danish butter cookies that come in the big tins every Christmas.  I can eat those like kettle corn, popping them in my mouth one after the other.  So much for portion control.

Given how good Shirley's brownie recipe is, I was willing to give this recipe as much optimism as possible.  The dough was very easy to work with, not too crumbly, not too greasy.  I only made a half recipe because I'm trying out as many recipes as possible this week so I was going for quantity of different recipes, not necessarily a lot out of each recipe.  I refrigerated it overnight and baked off what I needed for goodie bags the next day.

I love these cookies - they're awesome slices of butter goodness and the rock sugar or sugar crystals you roll them in before chilling and baking are a perfect complement both texture-wise with their crunch and taste-wise with their sweetness against the butter cookie.  For once, I don't advocate underbaking - these cookies taste best when they're baked properly for the right amount of time.  The edges will be crisp-crunchy like a good butter cookie should have and you don't want the middles too soft or mushy but with a uniform "snap" to them.  Shirley Corriher scores once again, not just with a good recipe but with one of the best versions I've tried so far out of any recipe for this cookie - that makes 2 for 2 from her book.  Oh, and it goes without saying to please use fresh butter - not something that's been sitting unused in the refrigerator for weeks or months.  You want to taste the sheer butter goodness.

ETA: forgot to add but someone reminded me - I substituted vanilla extract for the almond extract in this recipe and it was just fine.  I love almonds but not almond extract so I always automatically substitute vanilla extract wherever almond extract is called for.

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 2-tablespoon pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pure almond extract (I used vanilla extract)
2 large egg yolks
2 ¼ cups (9.9 ounces) bleached all-purpose flour
½ cup coarse or crystal sugar
1 large egg, beaten

1.   In a heavy-duty mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, salt and almond extract until light and creamy.  Add the yolks, one at a time, and beat with each addition, just to blend in thoroughly.
2.   On low speed, beat in the flour, scraping down the bowl twice.  Divide the dough into 4 pieces.  Roll each into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter.
3.   Sprinkle coarse sugar evenly on wax paper, the length of the rolls and about 4 inches wide.  Brush a roll lightly with beaten egg, then roll in sugar to coat well.  Repeat with each roll.  Wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
4.   About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, place a shelf in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375⁰F.
5.   Cover a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.  Slice cookies into 3/8-inch slices and arrange about 1 inch apart on the sheet.
6.   Place the baking sheet on the arranged shelf.  Bake one sheet at a time until the edges just begin to brown, about 14 minutes.  Allow to cool on the sheet for 2 minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Snickerdoodle Blondies

Snickerdoodle Blondies - made May 17, 2011 found on Sweets for a Saturday #13, from ArcticGardioStudio blog

1st try

I love snickerdoodles and when I saw this recipe for Snickerdoodle Blondies and the picture on Arctic Garden Studio's blog, I immediately bookmarked the post so I could go back to it later and make it.  This is essentially a snickerdoodle in bar cookie form.  It has the same sugar-cinnamon flavor and topping as a snickerdoodle cookie and is just slightly more cakey than the traditional cookie.  But that could just be in the baking.  On the original blog, what sucked me in was how dense and moist the bars looked.  Mine turned out to be more cakey.  It wasn't dry but I think I would've liked it better less baked.  Next time I'm going to cut the baking time.  The dough was also so stiff that it doesn't really smooth out during baking so if you put it in craggy, it'll come out craggy (an obvious lesson I learned).  But it tasted good so another good recipe from the Sweets for a Saturday link party.  Next time Imight add a little more liquid so the dough isn't so stiff, smooth the top better and bake it for less time.  Click title above for the original recipe and/or Arctic Garden Studio's blog.

ETA May 22, 2011 - okay, I really wanted to make these better so I tried another half batch yesterday.  This time I baked in a slightly smaller pan (6" by 9") and only baked for 20 minutes instead of 25.  The taste was the same (good) but I liked the texture much better this time around.  It was more moist, less cakey and more dense.  Still not as good looking a texture as on Nicole's blog but getting there.

2nd try came out much better

Friday, May 20, 2011

Devil's Food Cupcakes

Devil's Food Cupcakes - made May 17, 2011 from Mary Engelbreit's Sweet Treats Dessert Cookbook (book #109)

It's coming up on the end of my last week of time off and I'm almost done with my list of "Things To Do Before I Go Back to Work".  As you can tell, on that list, is "Bake as much as I can".  I got a fair amount of baking done on Tuesday and gave away the results to my former coworkers, some friends and my cousin.  It's been great being able to try more new recipes and I've also spent some time going through the cookbooks I have left to bake from and typing up the recipes I want to try from them.

I once went through a Mary Engelbreit phase some years ago and I think I got most, if not all, of her baking-related cookbooks.  All the cookbooks have nice layouts with pretty pictures and easy to follow recipes, not to mention being set against a backdrop of cheery Mary Engelbreit patterns.  So naturally I got sucked in (it doesn't take much).  I'm past the Mary Engelbreit phase now but surprisingly I've found some good recipes in her cookbooks.

I tried this recipe for devil's food cupcakes partly to use up some buttermilk and partly because I have yet to find a memorable devil's food cake recipe that I like.  And cupcakes can be the bane of my baking existence.  In my abhorrence of dry cupcakes, I tend to underbake them.  While they're not dry, underbaked cupcakes tend to be more dense than they should be and sometimes don't taste right.  So I haven't cracked the cupcake secret yet.  But I keep trying.  Someday I'll get it right. 

And this cupcake recipe is a good start.  The cupcakes were a nice deep chocolate thanks to Pernigotti cocoa and the texture was just right - cakey, fluffy, moist.  For once I think I took them out at the right time, although I was getting twitchy at the end and almost took them out too soon again. Even the frosting was good, much better than the one from the Chocolate Velvet Cakes recipe.  I only used a generous 2 cups powdered sugar, not 3 full cups, and it turned out fine.  Just add enough milk until it's the consistency you want for spreading.

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Pernigotti and it was perfect)
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups buttermilk

Easy Buttercream Frosting
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Food coloring (optional)
Sprinkles, mini M&Ms, colored sugar, etc, for decorating

1.      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line 20 muffin cups with foil liners.
2.     In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
3.     In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla.  On low speed, add the flour mixture alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each one about two-thirds full.
4.     Bake the cupcakes for 17 to 19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks.
5.     To make the frosting: In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer until very soft and light, about 3 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients and beat until smooth and fluffy.  Use immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed.
6.     If desired, divide the frosting among several bowls and tint it different colors with food coloring; leave one bowl of frosting white.  Ice the cupcakes generously with the frosting.  Before the frosting has set, sprinkle the decorations on top.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Three-Layer Lemon Bars

Three-Layer Lemon Bars - made May 17, 2011 from My Five Men blog, found on Sweets for a Saturday #16

It's time to try another recipe that I saw from Sweets for a Saturday.  I have a list a mile long of recipes I see linked up there every Saturday that I want to try but given I've got my own baking books to go through, I have to limit myself to trying a few here and there.  In the meantime, I bookmark the links, promising myself that I'll go back "someday" to try out all these wonderful-looking concoctions.

I met some friends for lunch and dinner on Wednesday and with both groups, my lemon bars have been a hit in the past.  This time around, I thought I'd try something slightly different for them and use this recipe that Betsy posted.  The picture just looked so good.  The basic ingredients are almost the same as in my recipe but mine doesn't have the glaze on top.  What could it hurt?

The main thing I changed from Betsy's posted recipe (click on the title at the top to go to the original recipe on her blog) was I baked the crust at 325 degrees instead of 300.  At 300 degrees, in the first 10 minutes of baking the crust, it seemed like the butter in the crust was only melting, not baking so I raised the oven temp slightly. During the baking with the filling, I lowered it to 315 for the first 20 minutes then back down to 300 for the last 20.  These got a little crusty and brown on top so it might've been better to stick with 300 degrees the whole way once the filling was added.  My glaze isn't showing up as white as Betsy's and that could be because I applied the glaze only a couple of minutes after I took the lemon bars out and they melted into the top.  If you look closely, you can still see the glaze but I think it would look better had they remained more uniformly white.  Next time I would let the bars cool to lukewarm then apply the glaze.

Overall, I really liked the taste of these lemon bars.  The glaze was a sweet offset to the tartness of the lemon filling and I actually liked the crust on top that was enhanced by the glaze to provide a bit of a texture contrast to the lemon filling.  The glaze was great - I like it better than sprinkling powdered sugar on top like most lemon bars have.  The bottom crust could've been baked a bit more before the filling was added so I'm posting how I would adapt this recipe below.  Otherwise this had great flavor.  It probably also helped that my lemons were from my aunt's tree so they were homegrown.  I'm looking forward to the day I can use my own lemons for this recipe.

In any case, I'm very glad I tried this recipe.  This is exactly why I keep trying out new recipes even for desserts I already have perfectly good recipes for.  You never know when you might discover something even better and come up with a new favorite. I want to make this recipe again with my modifications to see if it really is going to usurp my old lemon bar recipe.  I suspect it might.

½ cup powdered sugar
2 cups flour
2 sticks (1 cup) cold butter

4 eggs
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups sugar
Zest from 2 lemons
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon lemon extract

2/3 cup powdered sugar
Lemon juice

1.     To make the crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place the crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined.  Press into greased 9 x 13” baking pan lined with foil.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until edges are golden brown.
2.      To make the filling: Whisk filling ingredients together and carefully pour over hot crust in an even layer.
3.      Bake 40-45 minutes until nicely brown and knife comes out clean when inserted in the center.
4.      To make the glaze: whisk glaze ingredients together.  It should be thin enough to drizzle.  Let lemon bars cool to just a bit warmer than lukewarm.  Spread over bars and let set.  Cool completely before cutting.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chocolate Chunk Coconut Macadamia Cookies

Chocolate Chunk Coconut Macadamia Cookies - baked May 17, 2011 from The Buttercup Bake Shop  Cookbook by Jennifer Appel (book #108)

The last time I was in New York City, I went to every bake shop in Manhattan that I could conceivably walk to - and believe me, I can walk a lot when there are baked goods involved.  I'd heard about the Magnolia Bakery and its sister bakery, the Buttercup Bake Shop, and visited both.  At Buttercup, the best thing I ever ate was a slice of their red velvet cake.  When I came back from my trip, I bought several of their baking books which had been published by that time.  This was one of them.  I normally make coconut macadamia cookies as they're a family favorite but I decided to try the chocolate version of them with this recipe.  As I think of heading back to work, I also want to stockpile some cookie doughs to have ready in the freezer that I can bake off whenever I need them.  Some people advocate baking cookies and freezing them until needed but I prefer to freeze the cookie dough (already portioned into dough balls) and bake them off when I need them.  A freshly baked cookie trumps a freshly thawed cookie any time.

This recipe is fairly standard and easy to put together.  I did what I almost always do with cookies - I make the dough ahead of time, portion them into dough balls and put them in the freezer.  Then I bake them at least a day later, right before I need them.  This was part of a baking drop off at my old company so I baked them the same morning I delivered them.  I think they were barely cool before I piled them on a plate and brought them over.  As with all chocolate cookies, I actually timed this one in the oven since it's hard to tell when chocolate cookies are done since you can't go by how "brown" the edges look.  And there's nothing worse than overbaked, dry chocolate cookies.  I like to underbake mine just slightly so when they cool, they're nice and fudgy.  The quality of your cocoa matters since this is where the chocolate flavor comes from.  I use Pernigotti from Williams Sonoma but any high-quality cocoa should do.

I like this cookie - the richness of the chocolate is offset by the sweetness and chewiness from the coconut and complemented by the macadamia nuts.  Wonder of wonders, I didn't even mind the nuts in these cookies and you know I hardly ever like nuts in my cookies.  Macadamia nuts are the rare exception though as long as the cookie is thick and chewy or fudgy.  I don't think I would feel the same if this had been made with almonds or pecans (and I love those too - just not in cookies)

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups (2 2/3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ to 2 cups semisweet chocolate chunks
1 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts, unsalted
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

1.      Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2.     In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
3.     In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugars until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs and mix well.  Add the chocolate, milk, and vanilla and incorporate thoroughly.  Add the dry ingredients and beat well.  Stir in the chocolate chunks, nuts and coconut.
4.     Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chocolate Velvet Cakes

Chocolate Velvet Cakes - made May 16, 2011 from Petite Sweets by Beatrice Ojakangas (book #107)

I think these were meant to be the same as red velvet cakes but without the red food coloring.  The basic ingredients are the same as in a red velvet, including the cocoa powder for the chocolate flavor and the buttermilk.  The white vinegar in addition to the buttermilk is a bit unusual since typically, the buttermilk has enough tang without adding more acidity.  Fortunately, that's offset by the baking soda.

I like the concept of little bite-sized desserts and am always on the lookout for stuff to serve at dessert buffet parties.  You can enjoy one little dessert and move on to the next offering for something different.  Or, if you like it, you can have another one without doing too much caloric damage.  Just don't have 20.  I'm a believer in portion control and I'm also a believer in having a little of the real thing rather than a larger portion of a low-cal, low-fat version (unless you actually like that stuff - I usually don't).

The recipe says this makes 24 mini muffin size cupcakes.  In my 24-mini-muffin pan, I filled the cavities almost to the top and still had enough batter left over for a small ramekin.  Depending on the size of your mini muffin pan, you may get slightly more than 24 mini cupcakes.  Don't overfill these or you'll end up with muffin tops spilling over and you don't want that since these are little cupcakes, not little muffins.  They're also harder to get out of the pan if the tops overflow since the cakes are more fragile than muffins.

I really liked these mini cakes.  They weren't too chocolatey and their texture was light and moist at the same time.  They're perfect as a bite-size since they're also a little fragile.  I think if they were a larger size, they'd fall apart more easily.  They were so good that you can easily serve them without frosting as well.  I wasn't overly impressed with the frosting on this one but that could've been my fault.  The flour & milk mixture was supposed to be chilled.  I put it in the refrigerator to cool but I think I added it to the butter mixture too soon and the butter got a little warm and tried to separate.  I put the whole thing back in the fridge after I mixed it in and beat it again once it really was chilled.  I also added almost half a cup more powdered sugar in an attempt to get it to bind better.  But to no avail - the frosting still looked like it was going to melt even though it was literally chilled.  Definitely not a smooth frosting.  But the mini cupcakes were good so if you have a vanilla frosting you like better, use that instead.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Vanilla Frosting
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
1 cup powdered sugar
8 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.      Preheat oven to 350⁰F.  Coat 24 miniature muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray or line with miniature paper liners.
2.      Cream butter and add the sugar; beat until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and mix in the cocoa.  In a small bowl, mix the flour, salt and baking soda.  In a 1-cup measure, mix the buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla.
3.      Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk mixture.  Beat until batter is smooth and fluffy.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, dividing equally.  The batter will come nearly to the top of each cup.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cakes feel firm when touched in the center.  Remove from the oven and cool.
4.      Make the frosting: In a small saucepan, combine the flour and milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened.  Cover and chill.  In a medium-sized bowl, beat the sugar, butter and vanilla until thick and light.  Add the chilled flour mixture to the creamed mixture and blend until smooth.
5.      Frost each cooled cake and garnish with nuts or mini chocolate chips or sprinkles if desired.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mocha Cream Cheese Brownies

Mocha Cream Cheese Brownies - made May 16, 2011 from The Fearless Baker by Emily Luchetti

I'm cranking through my to-do list this week to get ready to go back to work next week.  Took my car in for servicing, got a car wash (and promptly got rained on on my way home - awesome), got the batteries in my watches replaced (they both decided to die at the same time - further awesomeness), and am hitting the baking.  You'd think I'd focus solely on the baking books I have in order to further my baking challenge instead of getting distracted by whatever new cookbooks I can check out at the library.  But like any shiny new object, this newly released cookbook by Emily Luchetti caught my eye and I couldn't resist checking it out and thumbing through it.  I earmarked a few recipes to copy and bake in the future.  For now, I'm going with this brownie recipe as something straightforward to make and a good addition to the goodie bags I'm making for friends this week.

Both the brownie batter and the cream cheese batter are almost equal in amount so you can conceivably make this as a two-layer brownie.  But I followed instructions and swirled the two batters instead although I mostly swirled the top layer and kept the bottom brownie layer mostly intact.  This didn't have the extraneous addition of nuts or even chocolate chips and I liked the idea of just a straight brownie.  Since I'm not a big cream cheese fan, I also liked flavoring the cream cheese batter with coffee.  I used espresso powder instead of instant coffee granules and I dissolved them in the vanilla extract first before adding to the cream cheese batter.  It just blends better in the batter that way and you don't have to worry about the granules getting concentrated in one part of the batter or not melting appropriately.  I ended up baking mine for 40 minutes (every oven is different) - the cream cheese part hadn't quite set but the brownie part was done.

Because the cream cheese batter is equally predominant, this is not a brownie you want to serve warm as it'll be too gooey.  Let it cool to room temperature and even chill it if you want to give it more of a cheesecake texture.  I love the chocolate part of this brownie and didn't mind the cream cheese part - the mocha flavoring definitely helps the cream cheese go down easy.  But next time I'd probably do a better job of swirling both batters together so there's not such a huge swath of cream cheese all at once in any given piece.  If you like cheesecake, swirl as little as you please.  If you don't, swirl away.  As always, use the best quality chocolate you can (I used Lindt) as that'll make a big difference in how these taste.

Chocolate layer
9 ounces dark chocolate (58 to 62% cacao), chopped or broken into 1-inch pieces
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Large pinch of kosher salt

Coffee-Cream Cheese Layer
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.       Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter.
2.       Chocolate layer: Melt the chocolate and butter in the top half of a double boiler.  Stir and scrape the side of the saucepan occasionally with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is smooth and evenly melted.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
3.       In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until smooth.  Stir in the melted chocolate, then the flour and salt and mix until well blended.  Turn the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with the spatula.
4.       Coffee-Cream Cheese Layer: In another bowl, mix the cream cheese with the sugar until smooth.  Add the eggs and stir until combined.  Scrape down the side of the bowl with the rubber spatula.  Stir in the instant coffee and vanilla until everything is well blended.
5.       Using a rubber spatula, spread the cream cheese mixture on top of the chocolate layer, then run a table knife through the cream cheese to swirl it into large white ribbons throughout the brown batter.
6.       Bake, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownie comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.
7.       Let cool to room temperature, then cut into 16 (2-inch) or 9 (3-inch) squares.

Also linked to:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Espresso Coffee Cake

Espresso Coffee Cake - made May 14, 2011 from Caprial's Desserts by Caprial Pence (book #106)

In case you've ever wondered why I seem to have so much time to bake and blog about what I'm baking and thought, "Doesn't this woman ever work??", wonder no more.  I've been taking an extended sabbatical since I left my job late last year.  Besides traveling, walking literally miles and miles, exercising, baking, gardening and reading everything I can get my hands on from my local library, I have been looking for a job...sort of.  Okay, I haven't been looking that hard really since I was in no hurry to go back to work and was fully prepared to enjoy all of 2011 at my leisure.  But sometimes you just find the right opportunity or it finds you.  Or both.  I just accepted a job offer last Friday and will be heading back to work in a little over a week.  It's been an awesome 6 months but alas, I can't retire quite yet so it's back to work I go.

In addition to getting all the normal pesky errands and chores taken care of (take in the car for service, get some pants tailored, get the batteries replaced in my watch, weed the garden....again, declutter and do a Goodwill dropoff, laundry, cleaning, yada yada) and fun stuff of cramming in dinners and lunches with friends, I have 8 days of madly baking left!  Not that I won't be baking for my new office and new coworkers once I start working again but I won't have the time I do now to experiment in my kitchen and further my baking challenge.  So it's game on this week.  I'll have to pace my postings or else I'll end up posting 2-3 times a day for a week then nothing for the first few weeks at work.  But let's see how much I can bake this week.  I've already got lunches and dinners planned with friends that will entail goodie bags and I've given my former coworkers a heads up that I'll be doing my last baking drop off to them next week.  Then I switch allegiance to the new company :).

First in the line up is Espresso Coffee Cake.  I only made a half recipe and baked it in an 8 x 8" pan. Normally when you think of coffee cake, you think of streusel on top of a vanilla butter cake.  This is a little different in that it doesn't have streusel but it does have an espresso glaze atop an espresso and vanilla cake.  As you can tell from the picture, it rose up and cracked straight down the middle so the glaze rushed into that space.  Aside from that though, this was pretty good cake.  It had the right texture and was moist.  The glaze wasn't too thick which, as a non-frosting person, I like.  Surprisingly the espresso taste wasn't that strong, considering how much espresso is actually in it.  I don't like or drink coffee but I like coffee-flavored baked goods so this was just right for me.

1 ½ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups sour cream
¼ cup instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons hot water

Espresso Glaze
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk

1.     Preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Grease a 9 x 13” pan; set aside.
2.     To prepare the cake, place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl often until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, followed by the vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add about half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add about half of the sour cream and mix well.  Add the remaining dry ingredients followed by the remaining sour cream, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition.  Combine the instant espresso powder and hot water in a medium bowl, add about a third of the batter, and mix well.  Spread about half of the plain batter in the prepared pan.  Top with the espresso batter, and then cover with the remaining plain batter.  Bake until the cake slowly springs back when touched lightly in the center, about 45 minutes.  Let cool for 5 minutes before glazing.
3.     To prepare the glaze, dissolve the instant espresso powder in the vanilla extract.  Place the powdered sugar in a bowl, add the espresso mixture and the milk, and mix well.  (If it’s too thick, add a bit more milk.)  Pour the glaze over the cake and spread it out to the edges.  Serve warm.