Thursday, June 30, 2011

Buttermilk Cake

Buttermilk Cake - made June 24, 2011 from The Simple Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker (book #132)

I was in a hurry to use up buttermilk again before it expires.  Actually it was going to expire while I was in Barcelona so I had to bake with it before I left.  After I had the taste test slice, I wrapped up the rest of the cake and put it in the freezer to give away later.  The recipe says to bake this as two 8-inch round cakes but I just made it in a Bundt pan.  Easier to wrap up and give away in slices.  I actually went almost a full week without trying out a new recipe - imagine.  (I don't count the baking I did of cookie dough I had in the freezer to give away to friends since I'd already made those and tried them out.)  So I didn't plan very well with recipes to use this particular quart of buttermilk before it expires.  I hate wasting ingredients so I did a quick flip through of the baking books I had left in my baking challenge to come up with this simple butter cake.

It has a lighter texture than a pound cake or a typical Bundt cake since this wasn't meant to actually be a Bundt cake; I just made it one.  Regardless, it worked out pretty well.  Don't overbake it as part of the appeal is the moist cakey texture.  I liked the simplicity of this cake - the buttery flavor carries it and it's also another candidate to take along to those summer picnics but it's a bit more delicate than say, the Chocolate Swirl Cake, and falls apart a little more easily so don't cut it until the last minute before serving.  Actually, you should never cut cake until right before you serve it or else wrap each slice immediately in plastic wrap.  If you don't, the cut ends will dry out more easily. 

If you follow the original recipe to bake it into two 8-inch round cake pans, you can frost it but I liked it unfrosted because you can taste the goodness of the butter without any interference.  Because it's relatively plain, you can also dress it with summer berries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you're planning to serve to guests but choose flavors that complements it rather than competes with it.

2 ½ cups (250 grams) sifted cake flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, 5 to 6 inches from the bottom; preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Using a paper towel, grease the bottom and sides of two 8-inch round cake pans with solid shortening. Dust generously with all-purpose flour, shake to distribute, tap out excess, and insert 8-inch rounds of parchment or waxed paper.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together; set aside.
  4. Whisk eggs together in a small bowl.
  5. Pour buttermilk into a liquid measuring cup, add vanilla and stir to combine.
  6. Place the butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer.
  7. With the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until it is lighter in color, clings to the sides of the bowl, and has a satiny appearance, 30-45 seconds.
  8. Maintaining the same speed, add the sugar in a steady stream. When all of the sugar is added, stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue to cream at the same speed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture is very light in color and fluffy in appearance.
  9. With the mixer still on medium speed, pour in the eggs, very cautiously at first, tablespoon by tablespoon, as if you were adding oil when making mayonnaise. If at any time the mixture appears watery or shiny, stop the flow of eggs and increase the mixer’s speed until a smooth, silken appearance returns. Then return to medium speed and resume adding eggs.
  10. Continue to cream, stopping the mixer and scraping the sides of the bowl at least once. When the mixture appears white, fluffy and increased in volume, detach the paddle and bowl from the mixer.
  11. With the aid of a metal icing spatula, lift one-fourth of the flour mixture and sprinkle it over the creamed mixture. Stir it in with a rubber spatula. Then pour in one third of the vanilla-flavored milk, stirring to blend together. Repeat this procedure, alternating dry and liquid ingredients, ending with the flour. With each addition, scrape the sides of the bowl, and continue mixing until smooth.
  12. Spoon equal amounts of batter into each pan. Spread evenly in each pan, creating a slightly raised ridge around the outside rim.
  13. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the baked surface springs back slightly when touched lightly in the center and the sides begin to contract from the pan.
  14. Pace the pans on racks and let them cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Run a small spatula around the edges and invert cakes onto a rack ,peel off the parchment liners, and reinvert right side up. Cool completely.
Storage: wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. Cakes can also be frozen, tightly wrapped for up to 2 weeks.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Barcelona, Spain - a quick trip

My blog's been a bit quiet because I did a whirlwind business trip to Barcelona earlier this week.  And I do mean whirlwind - I think I was inflight longer than I was actually on the ground.  But it was a good trip and I accomplished what I needed to accomplish for work and then some.  Didn't get to see much of Barcelona though other than my hotel, the meeting area and a quick walk to the beach nearby when I first arrived to enjoy the sunshine and beautiful weather.  It was my first time out there but it definitely won't be my last.  I would love to go back on my own and explore the city someday.
The beach near my hotel - beautiful water on a beautiful day

However, knowing me and my penchant for taking pictures of food, I do have food pictures to share!  And I thank my work colleagues for their forbearance in me snapping pics of their dishes before they could eat it, lol.  Whenever I travel, I like to sample the local fare and what a country or region is known for.  Unfortunately I was so busy right up until the trip that I was very unprepared for what I should try in Barcelona and had to rely on my (Americanized) version of what I think Spanish fare is.
Chorizo with scrambled eggs & peppers over (yes) french fries

On the first night (I was only there for 2 nights), we tried tapas.  I was used to tapas being small plates that were passed around for sharing and expected bite-size portions of various dishes.  We ordered a tapas special that the menu said was suitable for 2 people but we ended up with plenty for the 3 of us who got together for dinner.

Iberian ham over sirloin and again with the french fries (they were good too)

One specialty I was told of was Jamon Iberico - slices of bread, rubbed with fresh tomato and served with paper thin slices of Iberian ham (which I guess is Spain's version of Italy's prosciutto).  It was quite good although the Iberian ham looked more like American bacon that wasn't crispy.  I had to peel off the fat first, mostly because I don't like the texture of non-crispy fat.  Not as salty as prosciutto and tasty.

Jamon Iberico

One dish I didn't get to try since my visit was so brief was paella.  My colleagues had tried it in the restaurants around our hotel before and they didn't recommend it so now I have another item on my foodie bucket list for when I return to Spain and that's to find good paella.  I also wanted to try churros y chocolate which my friend Jenny recommended but alas, I looked and there were none to be found.  It probably didn't help that I didn't arrive until Sunday, a day on which almost everything was closed and I forgot to change money at the airport so I was limited to whichever place would take credit cards.  So the stars were not aligned for me to do a lot of food exploring and tasting.  I'll have to be better prepared next time.

The funniest thing I found was at the airport when I was waiting for my ride.  At the little airport food market at the Barcelona Airport, I came across this.  I'm Filipino so you can imagine how much this made me laugh.  It looks like some kind of chocolate covered cookie and it came in milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate.  I brought a couple of the milk chocolate ones back with me but haven't tried them yet. I'm seeing my nieces in a couple of days and will share with them to see how we like it.

Other random food pics from the meals I shared with my colleagues - I had the risotto while the rest are their orders:

Mushroom risotto with lobster

Fish over tagliatelle noodles
Some kind of salad
Forgot what this was but it looked healthy :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Peanut Butter Bread

Peanut Butter Bread - made June 19, 2011 from Tate's Bake Shop by Kathleen King (book #131)

Really nice texture and flavor on this one

Catching up from last week's baking.  I didn't bake much after this recipe, partly because it was so hot and I was reluctant to turn on my oven and add to the heat.  Plus, believe it or not, I'm cutting back on sweets.  Hard to do when I'm baking up new recipes.  Cuz I have to taste test them and all.....

I'm not a big fan of peanut butter as a standalone flavor and, even paired with chocolate, I like it well enough but don't go into raptures over it like I would over, say, caramel or dulce de leche.  So why do I keep baking with it??  Well, you try buying one of those large 2-packs from Costco and see if you don't go looking for peanut butter recipes.  Just don't ask me to explain why I buy the large Costco packs in the first place.  I don't have a rational reason for everything I do, unfortunately.  I just bake.

The only thing I changed with this recipe is I added some mini chocolate chips to it, again because I mostly like peanut butter when it comes with chocolate. From the recipe, I figured this is more like a quick bread and would have a tight crumb and a texture similar to a pound cake.  I tried to time this bread but ended up taking it out just after 45 minutes (er, more or less).  It looked done and the toothpick came out somewhat clean, somewhat moist.  Really hard to tell because the top bakes up firm and doesn't really "spring" back when pressed like a regular cake would.

I tried the taste test piece while the bread was still slightly warm.  Remember when I said I'm almost indifferent to peanut butter?  Uh, this quick bread might change my mind.  It was quite good, almost what a peanut butter delicacy would taste like if a peanut butter cookie married a peanut butter cake and had peanut butter kids.  This was an almost perfect combination of the two.  You can taste the peanut butter like you would in a cookie but it had the tender crumb of a cake without being really cakey. It was a lighter texture than a pound cake but not quite the cakey texture of a box cake mix.  In essence, it's a quick bread.  I'm glad I added the mini chocolate chips as I think that added to the flavor but if you're a purist, you can leave it out.  Or add peanut butter chips.  I've had good luck with the recipes I've tried so far from the Tate's Bake Shop book and I'm glad this was no exception.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup salted butter, softened to room temperature
½ cup sugar
¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk

1.     Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan and set it aside.
2.     In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
3.     Cream the butter and sugars till they are combined.  Add the peanut butter and mix it in.  Add the egg and vanilla.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again.  Add the flour mixture.  Blend until combined.  The mixture will be dry.  Slowly pour in the milk and mix well.
4.     Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
5.     Bake it for 50 minutes or until the center springs back when pressed with a fingertip.
6.     Cool the loaf for 10 minutes in the pan and remove the bread from the pan to a cooling rack to cool completely.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Pesto Parmesan-Crusted Salmon

Pesto Parmesan-Crusted Salmon - made June 19, 2011 from The Most Decadent Diet Ever by Devin Alexander (book #130)

Summer bounty of basil

I've mentioned before that my basil plants are growing like crazy.  I suspect I'll be saying that a lot throughout the summer, right before I post about something I cooked with it.  And I'm pretty much going to use basil in whatever I cook, whether the recipe calls for it or not or else I'll never be able to keep up with the crop.  Plus, honestly, there's just something satisfying about harvesting the basil leaves, cooking with it and eating it mere hours or less later.  Now I understand why people garden.  I snipped off what I thought were a ton of basil leaves, trying to de-nude the plants and give myself some breathing room before they run rampant again.  I ended up with almost 60 grams of basil leaves or a very large, packed cupful.  Despite that, it was hard for me to tell that I'd actually trimmed the plants down much.  I did leave some of the medium to small-sized leaves but I got all of the large ones.  They'll probably spring back to size in the next few days, lol. (ETA: sure enough, 5 days after I made the pesto, my basil plants look the same as before I harvested the leaves for this recipe - ah, summer bounty.)

I took some liberties with this recipe to make it low carb and a more traditional pesto but I credit Devin Alexander for giving me the inspiration on how to dress up some salmon so I'm posting her recipe for anyone who wants to make it as she intended.  For mine, I left off the slice of whole wheat bread, added 1/8 cup of olive oil, omitted pine nuts traditionally found in pesto recipes and added enough chicken broth to make it enough of a paste to coat the salmon (about 1/8 cup plus 1 tablespoon of chicken broth).  I didn't forget the Parmesan cheese like last time either.

Half my basil patch before I harvested a bunch of the leaves for this recipe
Olive oil spray
Four 3 ½-ounce skinless salmon fillets, bones removed
Salt and pepper
1 slice whole-wheat bread
14 medium fresh basil leaves
1 medium garlic clove
1 tablespoon grated reduced-fat Parmesan cheese

1.     Preheat the oven to 400F. 
2.     Lightly mist a small nonstick baking sheet with spray.
3.     Season both sides of the salmon fillets with salt and pepper to taste.
4.     Tear the bread into large pieces and put it in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping blade.  Add the basil, garlic, and Parmesan.  Process until minced about 1 minute.
5.     Transfer to a sheet of waxed paper.  Place one fillet on the crumbs, so the side that had the skin is face up.  Press it into the crumbs to coat the bottom only.  Flip it and place it on the prepared baking sheet, crumb side up.
6.     Repeat with the remaining 3 fillets, coating them and then placing them side by side, not touching, on the sheet.  If crumbs remain, spoon them among the fillets, and then press them on.
7.     Bake, uncovered, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the fillets are pale pink throughout.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Flour

Chocolate Chunk Cookies - made dough June 14, 2011, from Flour by Joanne Chang (borrowed from the library)

I used chopped up Hershey Kisses instead of chocolate chips

At this point in my life and baking challenge, I like to think I've evolved enough that I no longer rush out and buy every new cookbook that comes out, like I used to do 129 baking books ago (and beyond - I still have quite a few more cookbooks in my collection to bake from).  Instead I rush to my library to see if they have a copy of it and check it out for a few weeks.  Sort of like a try-before-you-buy kind of deal.  It's really amazon's fault when you think about it.  Whenever I go to, they know I'm there and are savvy enough to serve up "recommendations" bound to tempt me.  I probably have "sucker" attached to my ID when I log on.  Based on my past buying behavior, they recognize what I'm going to be interested in and float all these new cookbooks I would've been just as happy not knowing about.  But once I know about them, there's no un-spilling the milk of that knowledge.  Flour by Joanne Chang, the same name as her Boston bakery, is one such book.  Never heard of Flour (the bakery or the cookbook) before until I saw it on amazon.  Suddenly flour was more than just a baking ingredient.  It was a recipe book.  With pictures.  Do I need to explain further?

As you might guess, there are a variety of recipes in this book and many to tempt me to try them out.  I chose her chocolate chip cookie recipe to test out however because I haven't done "comfort baking" with chocolate chip cookies since I tried out Alton Brown's (yummy) chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Time to try another version.  Lisa, from Sweet as Sugar Cookies, also tried them out in her quest for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe and she gave it a definite thumbs up on her blog the day after I had borrowed Flour from the library.  Seemed like as good a sign as any to try this recipe for myself.

I chilled the dough for the requisite 24 hours before I baked a test batch.  Normally I portion out the cookie dough and put them directly into the freezer but it occurred to me that freezing them isn't the same as chilling them to allow the flavors to develop.  So the fridge it was.  I baked a test batch and then put the rest of the chilled dough into the freezer for baking off later.  Hmm, I have to say, these spread a little more than I expected, considering I baked them on the convection setting of my oven.  Perhaps because they were only chilled instead of baked from frozen? 

In any case, my skepticism rose, especially since the raw cookie dough looked similar to the normal Tollhouse cookie recipe (which spreads too much in my opinion).  However, these tasted amazing.  They were really quite good.  I couldn't quite put my finger as too why but as a slightly warm cookie, they were delicious.  Although, of course, most cookies are if you eat them that fresh - but still, I'd give them points above many of the other warm cookies I've tried.  I baked off enough to bring down for my nieces' graduation and they lasted about a day and a half (we ate our way through the brownies first).  I normally don't eat cookies "that old" but I was curious enough to try a bite before they disappeared.  As you can guess, I was less enamored of them then.  They seemed sweeter.  Not quite dry but definitely not as moist as before.  So I would go back to my old habit of only eating cookies either 10 minutes out of the oven or no later than the day I make them.  Maybe even the morning after but that's pushing it.

Oh and I did try again a couple of nights ago and baked these cookies from frozen dough and they still spread as much as when I baked from merely chilled dough.  A little disappointing.  It's possible my butter was too soft when I first mixed the dough (weather's been getting warmer here) but still, I would've expected chilling and freezing to have helped with that.  For now, I think I'll stick with my version of Alton Brown's recipe with browned butter chocolate chip cookies.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
¾ cup (165 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (140 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (150 grams) bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/ teaspoon kosher salt
9 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ½ ounces milk chocolate, chopped, about ½ cup

1.     Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined.  Scrape the bowl and the paddle again to make sure the eggs are thoroughly incorporated.
2.     In a medium bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, bread flour, baking soda and salt until well mixed.  Add the semisweet and milk chocolates and toss to combine.  On low speed (or with a wooden spoon), slowly add the flour-chocolate mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and then mix just until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed.
3.     For the best results, scrape the dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 3-4 hours) before baking.  When you’re ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350F.
4.     Drop the dough in ¼-cup balls onto a baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.  Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand.
5.     Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the cookies are olden brown on the edges and slightly soft in the center.  Don’t let them get brown through and through.  Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.
6.     The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.  The unbaked dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chocolate Swirl Cake

Chocolate Swirl Cake - made June 18, 2011 from Hershey's Chocolate Classics (book #129)

Came out almost completely cleanly

Tomorrow marks the first day of summer and it always brings to mind summer barbecues and picnics.  And to my foodie brain, picnic cakes.  You know, as in cakes that would be good on a picnic or road trip because they're sturdy, yummy and not too fussy or too delicate with frosting that can melt so they hold up in any weather.  I think picnic cakes are on my brain partly because a lot of the baking books I have left to go through in my baking challenge are cake-type books and partly because they're just easy to make quickly, portion out and give away.  Not at all because I go to a lot of picnics, lol.  I like outdoor eating as much as the next person but I'm super finicky about food getting spoiled underneath a hot sun not to mention ants and other insects also in attendance along with the human guests. 

I've had this little spiral-bound recipe book for ages.  The recipes are pretty simple and they were created out of Hershey's test kitchens so it advocates using their products.  This one calls for using chocolate syrup.  I'm not a big chocolate syrup fan and prefer hot fudge over my ice cream.  The chocolate syrup I usually bake with is Trader Joe's Midnight Moo, not Hershey's - it doesn't taste as processed (sorry, Hersheys).

Here's what the inside looked like

The coconut is optional in this recipe but I love coconut so I added it.  I also veered slightly away from the directions to layer the two batters on top of each other since that just sounded like it would make a two-tone cake rather than a swirled one.  So I put about 2/3 of the coconut batter first, all of the chocolate batter then the remaining 1/3 of coconut batter before swirling very gently with a knife. This baked in my oven for about 62 minutes before the toothpick came out just barely clean (a couple of minutes before there were still moist crumbs on it).  With this kind of cake you actually do want to get a mostly clean toothpick test, otherwise it might be gummy and underdone.

It came out of my Bundt pan almost completely cleanly, just had a couple of bits here and there of cake stuck to it.  That was probably due to the fact that I finally got a new nonstick Bundt pan more than anything else.  In any case, I tried a slice of this cake while it was still warm.  Oh my.  Good.  Great.  Awesome cake.  It had the perfect Bundt/pound cake texture or just a wee bit of a softer crumb.  But it was excellent.  I loved the coconut in it as part of the yellow cake to give it some chewiness and the chocolate part didn't overwhelm it.  There ended up being more chocolate cake than I expected, at least in the taste test piece I had.  But that was fine with me.  I'm glad I only swirled it slightly as I do like the distinct parts of the cake complementing each other without being too mixed in together.  For chocolate and coconut lovers, this is a perfect cake to bring to your next summer picnic :).

Close-up of one cut end

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs
2 ¾ cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup Hershey’s Syrup (I used Midnight Moo chocolate syrup from Trader Joe's)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup flaked coconut (optional)

1.     Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy.  Add eggs; beat well.  Combine flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda and the salt; add alternately with buttermilk to creamed mixture.  Combine syrup and 1/3 teaspoon baking soda.  Measure 2 cups batter into small bowl; blend in syrup mixture.
2.     Add coconut to remaining batter; pour into greased and floured 12-cup Bundt pan or 10-inch tube pan.  Pour chocolate batter over vanilla batter in pan; do not mix.  Bake at 350 F about 70 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.  Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan; glaze or frost as desired.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Frosted Banana Cake

Frosted Banana Cake - made June 11, 2011 from Indulge by Claire Clark (book #128)

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, including my own who would prefer non-chocolate desserts (no, I'm not adopted) so I timed this non-chocolate dessert for posting today.  I'm back from the trip for my nieces' graduation but am still catching up on posting last week's baking.

Can you tell I was on a baking frenzy on June 11? This was the fourth thing I baked that day.  I got caught off guard with overripe bananas again.  I could peel them and put them in the freezer until I was ready to bake with them but I wanted to try this banana cake recipe so I thought I might as well use the overripe bananas I had on hand immediately.  I'm still on a quest to find a banana cake recipe that'll make a banana cake similar to the one from my favorite bakery, Icing on the Cake, in Los Gatos.  I've made ones that had great taste but not the same texture as Icing on the Cake's.  So I continue to persevere.

This one is made with oil instead of butter so I thought it would be moist.  It also has dark brown sugar which I thought would give it a more caramel flavor.  It was pretty easy to put together and it made a one layer cake with a nice thickness.  The cream cheese frosting was also the perfect amount for it.  Overall, I thought this cake was good but I don't know that I would consider it spectacular.  I guess my expectations were too high and once again, I'm "too picky".  It didn't have the fluffy texture I was hoping for like the one Icing on the Cake's banana cake has and I thought it could've used a bit more flavor.  It had goodness but I was looking for greatness.  So I'm back on the hunt for the best banana cake recipe.  Or else heading to Icing on the Cake.

One last tip about banana cakes - it's one of the few cakes where I think it actually tastes better the day after you bake it.  I'm all about freshness of cakes but the additional day gives the time for the flavor to develop even further.  The taste test piece I tried on the day I made and frosted this was good but the sliver I tried the next day was even better.

6 ounces all-purpose flour, sifted
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
6 ounces dark brown sugar
2 medium eggs
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 ounces ripe bananas, mashed to a pulp
1 ¾ ounces pecans

2 ¼ ounces cream cheese
6 ¾ ounces powdered sugar, sifted
4 ½ ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¾ ounces pecans, chopped

1.   Preheat the oven to 325⁰F.  Grease a round 8-inch springform cake pan and line the bottom wit parchment paper or grease 10-12 muffin tins.
2.   Sift the flour and baking powder together.  Place the sugar, eggs and oil in a large bowl and whisk with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 4 minutes, until pale and fluffy.  Add the sifted flour mixture and the bananas and mix on low speed for 30 seconds.  Stir in the pecans.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan or muffin tins and bake for about 40 minutes for the round cake, 20 minutes for muffins, until the top springs back when pressed gently and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.  Leave in the tin to cool completely before frosting.
3.   For the frosting, combine all the ingredients except the pecans in a bowl and beat until pale and fluffy.  Spread the frosting over the cake with a palette knife and sprinkle with the chopped pecans.  Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Brownies - made June 11, 2011 from Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti and Fran Gage (book #127)

Now that the search box functionality is working again, if you were to search for "brownies" on my blog, that would probably render you the most prolific search results.  The majority of what I make seem to be brownies.  Can't help it.  Brownies are so easy to make and I love baking and eating them.  And the last recipe only made an 8" pan and I needed more than that to take to my nieces' graduation party.  So I looked for another brownie recipe to try.

You might have heard of Michael Recchiuti Chocolates.  He has a little store at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, amongst other places.  He came and spoke at my class graduation in Baking & Pastry Arts at the Culinary Institute of America in St Helena.  One of my classmates mentioned he was famous for his homemade marshmallows.  Not being a fan of marshmallows, I haven't ever tried them but that didn't stop me from acquiring his cookbook shortly thereafter.

This brownie recipe is interesting in that it has you melt half the unsweetened chocolate into the batter and then cut up the other half into chunks and basically add them to the brownie batter as you would chocolate chips.  I have to admit my skepticism with that plan.  I've tried unsweetened chocolate before and even mistakenly used them once as chips in a cookie recipe many years ago when I was a fledgling baker and didn't know any better.  Yuck.  It's bitter and there's no good mouthfeel to it at all, not even with the high end unsweetened chocolate.  So I skipped that part of the directions and instead, added my favorite Nutella crunch topping to dress up these brownies.  Overall, these were pretty good.  The brownies themselves baked to a nice thickness and they were fudgy-moist, all you can ever ask for from a good brownie.  Use a high-quality unsweetened chocolate and you won't be sorry.  These went over pretty well at the graduation party yesterday.

5 ounces 100% unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped, divided into halves
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter with 92% butterfat, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 cup (3 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 (6 ounces) extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, preferably Madagascar Bourbon
1 ¼ cups (9 ounces) granulated cane sugar

1.       Preheat the oven to 325⁰F.  Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper and liberally coat the paper and the pan sides with flavorless vegetable oil. 
2.       Put 2 ½ ounces of the chocolate and the butter in a medium stainless-steel bowl and set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter melt and are fully combined and the mixture is smooth.  Lift the bowl from the pot.  Set aside.
3.       Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl.  In another bowl, combine the eggs and vanilla extract and whisk together by hand until blended.  Whisk in the sugar.
4.       Whisk the egg mixture into the chocolate.  Add the flour and the remaining 2 ½ ounces chocolate to the batter and, using a rubber spatula, mix well.
5.       Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Spread it evenly with a small offset spatula.
6.       Bake on the middle shelf of the oven until the top gives slightly to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center of the brownie comes out with some batter clinging to it, about 30 minutes.  Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.
7.       Run a table knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the sides of the brownie, and then slide the brownie, still on the paper, onto a work surface.  Using a ruler to guide you and a sharp knife, cut into sixteen 2-inch squares.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Oreo-ized Brownies

Out of This World Brownies - made June 11, 2011 from Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard (book #126)

My beautiful nieces (I'm a doting aunt, they are beautiful inside and out, and there's no changing that adjective when I refer to them) are graduating from high school this week.  As part of my starting my new job, I asked for the 2 days off ahead of time so I could fly down to attend their graduation.  There's no way I could miss it.  Also as part of my role as the doting aunt, I always bake before I go down there and arrive with my luggage packed with chocolate and sugar.  Typically it's almost always brownies since they travel well and I like to think I've successfully passed on my love of brownies and chocolate to the next generation.

The picture for this in Sherry Yard's book looked so fudgy and moist it practically shrieked, "Me! Me! Bake me!"  Its official name is Out of This World Brownies and Sherry Yard includes a cute story about why she named it that.  I'm taking the liberty of renaming it to signify the "springtime" Oreo cookies I chopped up and added to it.  "Springtime" is referring to the liberty the Oreo cookie people took in having sunshiny yellow filling instead of the traditional white filling.  I would've preferred the white filling but this is what they had at Target when I went so this is what I'm using.  Actually I had originally bought these Oreos to make Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies, something I've been seeing all over the blogosphere lately but I needed brownies so I repurposed some of the package of Oreos to these.  The cookies will be a future experiment.  I have to admit, Oreos are another exception to my sweet tooth snobbiness against store-bought cookies.  I love Oreos.  I rarely buy them though and mostly when I'm going to use them in baking.

These brownies were quite good - perfect fudgy texture and all chocolaty goodness.  They deserve the "out of the world" moniker.  They were so good that I don't think the Oreos were really necessary.  These brownies would be perfectly fine plain without any add ins.  The taste and texture stand alone.  But don't be afraid to experiment either.  Oreos are almost never a bad idea.

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, chopped
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, preferably Scharffenberger, finely chopped (I used Valrhona)
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar

1.       Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and spray the foil with pan spray.
2.       Sift together the flour and salt and set aside.
3.       Melt the butter, unsweetened chocolate, and bittersweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl at 50% power for about 2 minutes or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.  Stir with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth.  Allow to cool to tepid (90⁰F).
4.       In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until fluffy.  Using a whisk, gently beat in the butter and chocolate.  Fold in the flour.
5.       Scrape the batter into the pan and place in the oven.  Bake, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through, for 25 to 30 minutes, until slightly firm to the touch and a crust has formed on top.  A toothpick will not come out clean.
6.       Allow to cool in the pan on a rack to room temperature.  Cut into 2-inch squares.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Banana Souffle with Molten Chocolate Center

Heavenly Banana Souffle Surprise - made June 9, 2011 from Spago Chocolate by Mary Bergin and Judy Gethers (book #125)

I'm getting into a (slight) groove of working full-time, juggling my workouts and fitting in a baking experiment here and there during the week instead of loading up the baking just on the weekends.  Although it definitely depends on the recipe and how quickly I can put it together and how much effort it takes.  Not to mention how long to write up the blog post.

Souffles are actually pretty easy to throw together and they typically have a short baking time.  It's important to have everything ready to go quickly once the whites are whipped up and your oven is at the proper temperature.  A souffle gets its airy texture from the stiffly beaten egg whites that get incorporated into the souffle base.  Done properly, they can be quite good but if you're planning to serve them to guests at a party, you need to time things carefully.  They're at their most impressive when you first take them out of the oven because they'll be high and lofty then.  But the more time that goes by, the more they'll deflate since once you take the heat away, the hot air that puffed up the egg whites will dissipate and your souffle will "de-puff" to a dismaying crater.

But, to some people's consternation (including mine), it's hard to eat a souffle at its literal peak because it's simply too hot.  So something's gotta give.  You can often get around this by deliberating destroying the puffiness (after everyone's admired it, of course) and cutting into the middle to drop a spoonful of whipped cream, creme fraiche or ice cream.  That'll help cool the inner heat bomb of the souffle while providing a hot/cold contrast in every spoonful.

I had high (haha) hopes for this banana souffle.  The picture looked so good in the Spago Chocolate baking book.  And looks-wise, mine turned out reasonably pretty.  However, my disappointment was in the texture.  I baked it for 11 minutes as the recipe directed and the tops got nicely golden brown so I thought all was fine.  Except once I cut into the crust, the souffle underneath was just....mostly warm egg whites.  Ugh.  And you can barely taste the banana flavor.  I tried leaving another batch in the oven for longer and that turned out better to get the proper souffle texture.  The melted chocolate in the middle was the best part but it overwhelmed the banana flavor to the point that you could barely taste it.  There actually seemed to be too much egg white for the small amount of banana souffle base.  I would recommend cutting the egg whites down from 5 to 4 and see if that's any better.  Now I remember why I don't usually make souffles (unless it's chocolate).  Just can't get into the texture.

1 large or 2 medium (5 ounces) ripe bananas
1 tablespoon banana liqueur or lemon juice
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
5 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Softened unsweetened cocoa powder
Sifted confectioners’ sugar

1.   Place the rack in the lowest part of the oven and preheat the oven to 400⁰F.  Brush six ¾-cup ovenproof soufflĂ© dishes with melted butter and invert so that the excess butter will run off.  Coat well with granulated sugar, tapping out any excess sugar.  Arrange the dishes on a flat baking tray and set aside.
2.   Puree the bananas and place in a large bowl.  Pour the banana liqueur over and mix well.  Set aside.
3.   In a medium bowl, using a whisk, whip the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until pale yellow.  Stir into the bananas and combine thoroughly.
4.   In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whip or beaters, on medium speed, whip the 5 egg whites until frothy.  Add the remaining sugar and the vanilla, turn the speed to high and beat until the whites are thick and shiny and hold their shape.
5.   Stir a little of the whites into the banana mixture to lighten, then turn the mixture back into the whites and fold through quickly and completely with a large rubber spatula.  Do not overmix.  Using a large spoon, spoon the batter into the prepared soufflĂ© dishes, half filling each one.  Divide the chocolate, place in the middle of the batter in each dish, and continue filling each dish to the very top.
6.   Bake 11 minutes.  The tops will be slightly firm and lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and sift a little cocoa powder and then confectioners’ sugar over the tops.
7.   Serve immediately.

Lark's Country Heart

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ways to use basil?

Blogging out of baking order again and this isn't even a baking post but a call for savory recipes that use basil.  My basil plants are thriving, thriving and doing more thriving.  Not that I don't love making pesto out of them but at some point I will be pesto'd out.  Last night I harvested some basil, chopped it up and added it to the topping of a whole wheat pizza.  Yum.

Tonight I harvested some more basil and did a quick stir fry with shrimp.  There isn't even a recipe for this - I just browned some minced garlic in a little olive oil, stir fried with shrimp and basil, added a little egg for scramble and brown rice plus a dash of soy sauce - voila, dinner.  That's about the level of my fledgling cooking skills so if you have any recipes for easy, preferably protein-focused dishes that use up basil, please share!

On another note entirely, I finally figured out how to make brown rice in my rice cooker.  Like any good Asian, I own a rice cooker.  It makes perfect white rice.  But whenever I've tried making brown rice in it, the brown rice is always still hard little pebbles of grain when the rice cooker says it's "done" and turns itself off.  A trick my mom taught me is to soak the brown rice for several hours first then cook it in the rice cooker, 2 to 1 (2 parts water to 1 part brown rice).  I tried it and it worked perfectly.  Brown rice is healthier, has more fiber and you get full on a lesser amount than with white rice.  I may never eat white rice again.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chocolate Revel Bars

Chocolate Revel Bars - made June 7, 2011 from Better Homes and Gardens Cookies (book #124)

Welcome to any new followers and thank you for all the comments on the various posts.  I may not be able to reply to all of them or follow everyone's blog but I do read all the comments and check out as many blogs as I can.

This is some kind of specially printed book as one half of it is an "Any Day Treats" cookie book and the other half, turned upside down and printed as the back half is a "Christmastime Treats" book.  This recipe is from the Any Day cookie book half.

This is another one of those crowd pleaser type recipes where it has a little something for everyone - oats, chocolate, nuts - and is made similar to the peanut butter fudge bars.  I have to admit though I was a little off my groove when making this one - I deliberately used a 9 x 13 pan instead of the larger pan the recipe specified but I discovered too late that I was low on semisweet chocolate chips so I supplemented my meager stash with Lindt and Valrhona semisweet chocolate bars.  Which would've been fine but instead of 1 1/2 cups or approximately 9 ounces of chocolate chips, I ended up using 12 ounces of chocolate, thinking I needed 2 cups instead of 1 1/2 cups.  Oh well, there's no such thing as too much chocolate, right?  Second inadvertent mistake is because I had these in the oven while I was working out, I didn't check on them until my workout was nearly done and by then, the bars looked a little too done.  Oops.  Clearly I need to get better at multi-tasking after a workday.

But fortunately they survived my haphazard baking (in)attention and they weren't burnt or dry.  However, I would only classify these as just "okay".  Similar to how the peanut butter fudge bars were made, this has some of the cookie dough as a bottom crust, covered with a chocolate layer then topped with bits of the rest of the cookie dough.  Good in theory but in taste - just okay.  There's nothing wrong with it and most people would probably like it but bear in mind I'm very picky about my dessert calories.  Desserts should be more than just okay.  To make these better, I recommend adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to the oatmeal batter to liven up the flavor and possibly substituting a caramel or dulce de layer for the chocolate layer so you get more of a brown sugar/caramel oatmeal bar.  Otherwise, save yourself the calories.

Tops are a bit too brown

1 cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate pieces
1 14-ounce can (1 ¼ cups) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla

1.     In a very large mixing bowl, beat the 1 cup 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 brown sugar, eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and baking soda.  Beat till thoroughly combined, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.  Beat in the remaining flour.  Stir in the rolled oats.  Set the oat mixture aside.
2.     For filling, in a medium saucepan, heat chocolate pieces, sweetened condensed milk, and the 2 tablespoons butter over low heat till chocolate is just melted, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.  Stir in the walnuts or pecan and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
3.     For crust, press two-thirds (about 3 1/3 cups) of the oat mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking pan.  Spread the chocolate mixture over crust.  Drop the remaining oat mixture by rounded teaspoons on top of chocolate layer.
4.     Bake in a 350˚F oven about 25 minutes or till the top is lightly browned.  (Chocolate mixture will still look moist.)  Cool in pan on a wire rack.  Cut into bars.  Makes 60.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Golly Polly's Doodles

Golly Polly's Doodles - made June 11, 2011 from I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas by Marcel Desaulniers (book #123)

When eaten warm, the peanut butter center is molten

I'm blogging out of baking order to post this today because tomorrow, June 12, is National Peanut Butter Cookie Day!  Now the traditional peanut butter cookie we all know and love is the one with the cross hatches, sometimes sprinkled with sugar, and sometimes made with creamy peanut butter or crunchy peanut butter.  My personal favorite is made with chocolate chips because, heretical as this might be to peanut butter purists, I mostly like peanut butter only when it's paired with chocolate.  So I'm going with this peanut butter-flavored chocolate cookie with a dollop of peanut butter filling inside.  This may not be your grandma's peanut butter cookie but hey, we all have to honor cookies our own way.

The chocolate cookie dough was very easy to work with and shape around the filling.  It wasn't too sticky or too dry/crumbly but just right.  I ended up only getting 15 filling balls instead of 17 and even then, I ended with too much chocolate cookie dough.  You might want to double the filling recipe if you want to make these cookies as is.  I ended up getting creative and used the remaining dough to wrap around Hershey Kisses, chunks of Snickers and whole Oreo cookies, just to see how they'd turn out.  If you bake with kids, this is a good recipe to make with them and have them choose different "fillings" to put inside the cookie.  Once it's all wrapped around whatever filling you decide, it's hard to tell what's inside and part of the fun after baking them is discovering which one you got.

Note that the recipe says to bake these for only 6 minutes so don't take your eye off of them or they'll be overdone.  I was a little skeptical about baking them for such little time but it turned out to be perfect, at least in my oven.  The chocolate cookie was soft and when eaten warm, the peanut butter filling was molten.  This was like eating an upscale version of a peanut butter cup in cookie form.  The key is using a rich dark cocoa for the chocolate cookie dough so you get a deep dark chocolate flavor that's complemented by the sweeter peanut butter filling.

An upscale version of a Reese's peanut butter cup in cookie form

Doodle Dough
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces and softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Doodle Filling
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

1.     Preheat the oven to 375F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.     In a sifter, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  Sift onto a large piece of parchment or wax paper.
3.     Place the softened butter, ½ cup of the granulated sugar, and the ¼ cup peanut butter in the bowl of a stand electric mixer fitted with a paddle.  Mix on low for 1 minute, then on medium for 1 minute more.  Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.  Mix on medium-high for 1 minute.  Scrape down again.
4.     Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium for 30 seconds; scrape down again once they have been incorporated, about 30 seconds.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula or your hands to finish mixing the ingredients until thoroughly combined.  Chill the dough in the refrigerator while making the filling.  (Do not keep the dough in the refrigerator for more than 20 minutes; otherwise  the dough will be difficult to form into the desired shape.)
5.     Make the doodle filling: Place the ¼ cup peanut butter and the confectioners’ sugar in a clean bowl of a stand electric mixer, then beat on medium for 10 seconds.  Remove the bowl from the mixer, and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.  Portion 17 level teaspoons of the filling onto a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Roll each portion into a smooth, round ball.
6.     Using 1 heaping tablespoon, portion 17 pieces of dough.  Roll each portion of dough into a smooth round ball, then flatten each ball in the palm of your hand into a 3-inch-diameter circle.  Using your thumb, make a small indentation, then fold the dough around the filling and roll it into a smooth, round ball.  Roll the balls in the  remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar to coat.
7.     Place the Doodles on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart widthwise and 2 inches apart lengthwise.  Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven for 6 minutes, until barely firm.  (Overbaking will cause these cookies to become hard.)  Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.  Store in a tightly sealed plastic container.