Saturday, March 31, 2012

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie Cake

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie Cake - made March 25, 2012 from Dreaming of White Chocolate blog

I have seen various versions of this around the blogosphere for the past few months, most having rave reviews and leading me to wonder "what am I missing?"  I like vanilla so I wanted to make it too.  And I did attempt it a few times, including my Valentine Sugar Cookie Cake that I made up on the fly.  The most common version was the Lofthouse Sugar Cookie Cake which contains cream cheese and butter.  The first 2 variations of the same recipe that I tried didn't include cream cheese so for my third attempt, I decided to stick to the more common version that had it.

Why was I trying so many (for me) times?  Because I have to admit, I was underwhelmed with the results of the cookie cake.  I liked the flavor but not the texture.  But so many people raved about them, not just liked them but raved about them, that I convinced myself I must've done something wrong on the previous tries.  And if I could just hit on the right recipe and technique, I too would rave.  I went with this version from Dreaming of White Chocolate's blog because her picture showed a fluffy, moist cake and that was what I wanted (click on the title above to go to her recipe).  What I hadn't liked about my previous attempts is they always seemed a little dry to me.  Part of that was my own perception - if it's made in a 9 x 13 pan and looks like a cake, it should be moist like a cake.  But it's meant to be a "cookie cake" and cookies aren't as moist and fluffy as a cake.  But still, I wanted a moist cake.

I followed the directions for the cake but made up my own frosting recipe.  I was a little concerned when I cut the frosted cake because mine didn't look fluffy like the Dreaming of White Chocolate blog picture.  It looked.....dry.  Gads.  Been there, did it again.  Once again, I had made a decent bar cookie but a slightly dry cake.  The only thing that really saved it was the frosting.  And I'm not even a frosting person!  So when the frosting is the best part of the piece, well, as I said, I was underwhelmed.

But wait, you know what you can do with a dry-ish cake?  That's right, pop it into the microwave for 10 seconds.  The frosting gets a little melty on top and the cake softens up to the perfect texture.  So I actually ended up loving these when they're warm to lukewarm.  So that's a good tip to remember: if you like the flavor of something but not the texture, try warming it up just a bit.  For cakes, I wouldn't go more than 15 seconds in the microwave, 10 seconds if it's got frosting.  Same with cookies.  I liked this warm but no, I wouldn't eat it at room temperature.

Vanilla Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2-3 cups confectioners' sugar (depending on the consistency you want the frosting to be)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1-2 tablespoons whole milk, as needed

Beat butter until soft and creamy.  Add 2 cups confectioners sugar and vanilla extract and paste.  Alternately add milk and confectioners' sugar until you have the desired consistency and taste.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Homemade Whatchamacallits

Homemade Whatchamacallits - made March 23, 2012 from Inside BruCrew Life's blog

Remember Whatchamacallits?  I used  to love these candy bars when I was a kid - crisp rice, caramel, peanuts and chocolate, a no-fail combo.  I don't know if they even make these anymore since I don't shop the candy aisle unless I'm buying them on sale after Halloween for brownie add-ins but I don't recall seeing them in recent years.  This recipe from the blogosphere caught my eye and the pictures looked so yummy, I had to try them for myself.  Click on the recipe title to go to the original recipe and blog.

I did modify this though; instead of caramel topping, I used dulce de leche and instead of making the chocolate topping, I melted some milk chocolate candy melts and enrobed bar-size pieces to make a more authentic-looking whatchamacallit bar.  After having tasted these, they were good but to make them a little closer to the original whatchamacallit bar, I would consider cutting back on the flour and adding more rice krispies to get the crunch.  Modified recipe below.

2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup dulce de leche
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup caramel bits
3/4 cup chopped peanuts, toasted
2 cups rice krispies

Milk Chocolate Candy Melts (I used Wilton's Premium)
  1. Line a 9 x 13" baking pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs, vanilla, dulce de leche and salt and beat on low until fluffy.
  3. Sift the baking powder and flour and slowly add to the butter mixture. Stir in the caramel bits, peanuts and rice krispies (in this order) by hand.   Batter will be thick.  Smooth top with small metal spatula.  Bake for 28 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
  4. Cut blondies into bar-size rectangles (your choice on how big or small you want them to be.  Melt candy melts over low heat, stirring smooth.  Spread over bars, using small metal spatula, encasing top and sides with the melted chocolate.  Set on wax paper and let cool until chocolate is set.

Best Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles - made March 23, 2012 from Dessert Now, Dinner Later

I'm always on the lookout for a good snickerdoodle recipe.  My normal ideal cookie is thick with crisp edges, chewy middles, and great flavor.  Most really delicious-tasting snickerdoodles spread thin.  The ones that stay thicker are more cakey yet sometimes lack flavor from too much flour and not enough butter.  But if I had to choose, I would pick flavor over cookie thickness any day.  Snickerdoodles are also tricky because it's very easy to overbake them and then they'll not only be flat but dry.  So I'm a bit of an oven nazi, ready to pounce on the cookies to take them out when they're just barely past the "not doughy-raw" stage and before they're fully baked.  Remember, cookies will continue to bake on the hot cookie sheet even after you take them out of the oven.  This recipe, from Dessert First, Dinner Later (great name) makes a a very tasty snickerdoodle.  It was really good and although it still spread, the edges were crisp, the middles were chewy and the flavor was perfect.  Please click on the recipe title above to take you to the original blog I got the recipe from.

I made these cookies for dinner with my cousin and her non-chocolate-eating son whose moniker is Vanilla King because vanilla is his favorite flavor.  The cookies were a hit, judging by the 3 he ate after dinner.  Good thing I packed enough in the goodie bag for his parents too :).

Cast Party Wednesday

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Tarts

Chocolate Chip Cookie Tarts - made March 23, 2012 recipes adapted from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming with Melissa Clark (book #206) and Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim (book #207)

I still had my mini tart pans out from the Banana Coconut Tart so I wanted to make more tarts - cuz, you know, it would be so much effort to put those pans away in the cupboard instead of letting them sit on the counter.  Added bonus that I thought to combine 2 recipes from 2 more books in my baking challenge.  Plus I wanted to use up the last of the jar of dulce de leche from Williams that I could buy more.  So all the stars aligned to make this creation - a chocolate chip cookie tart with a layer of dulce de leche between crust and filling.  YUM.

Make the chocolate tart dough and chill for 20 minutes

Spread a layer of dulce de leche on the bottom

Cover with chocolate chip cookie dough

In 3 of the stages

Tart dough recipe makes 4 individual-sized tarts but there's enough cookie dough for 6 tarts (bake the extra in ramekins)

Bake until cookie filling is golden brown

This was pretty good.  Be warned, the tart shell is pretty dark chocolate so a sweet filling makes a nice complement for it.  If you went with a dark chocolate filling, it might be a bit much.  But I liked the combination with the dulce de leche and the chocolate chip cookie.  I underbaked it slightly and that made for a nice chewy texture with the filling.  In fact, I might prefer this chocolate chip cookie recipe as more of a filling rather than a standalone cookie.

Chocolate Tart Dough
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg yolk
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1.      In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar until combined, about 1 minute.  Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and beat on low speed until just combined.  Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form it into a disk.  Wrap and chill until firm, about 1 hour, or up to 3 days.
2.      Preheat oven to 325°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the tart dough to an 18 x 12-inch rectangle 3/16 inch thick.  Using a 2 ½-inch round cutter, cut out 24 rounds of dough and press them into mini muffin tins or 2-inch tart pans, trimming away any excess dough; prick the dough all over with a fork.  Chill the tart shells for 20 minutes.
3.      Spoon a thin layer of dulce de leche at the bottom of each tart shell.  Fill with chocolate chip cookie dough.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until cookie filling is golden brown.  Do not overbake.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Filling
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups chocolate chips

1.      Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2.      Mix the flour, baking soda and salt together and set aside.
3.      Beat the butter and sugars together with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute.  Beat in the egg and milk until they are absorbed and then the vanilla.
4.      Scrape down the bowl and beater and beat in the flour mixture on low speed.
5.      Fold in the chocolate chips by hand.  Spread the filling in the tart shells over the dulce de leche layer.  Bake as directed above.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

French Toast

Baby French Toast - made March 18, 2012 from Just a Bite by Gale Gand (book #205)

I almost made the bread pudding recipe from this book but I decided to do something a little different.  I managed to find challah at my Trader Joe's (they restocked, yay) so I'm not even going to pretend I didn't buy a loaf.  I love French Toast but rarely make it.  Probably because I rarely have breakfast food for breakfast and when I have it for dinner, I usually feel like pancakes or waffles instead.

French toast is easy to make but really good French toast is a bit trickier.  Start with your favorite bread.  The egg and cream mixture you soak it in can hide a lot of sins but if I don't like raisin bread, for instance, making raisin bread French toast isn't going to make me like it any better.  I like to cut my bread slices thick but be warned, if you do, you need to soak it a bit longer in the mixture and fry it over lower heat for a longer time to make sure it cooks all the way through.  Otherwise your French toast will be soggy on the inside while the outside can look done or be burned.

Gale Gand's recipe calls for cutting the crusts off the bread slices.  I did that for picture taking purposes of the finished product but truthfully, I don't believe in cutting crusts off bread.  It seems wasteful unless you do something else with the crusts.  Bread cannot be made without a crust so it should be eaten with it too.  I ended up soaking the crusts too and frying them separately because I couldn't bear to let them go to waste.

This was a basic French toast recipe.  It was good but I can't say it stood out in any way from how I normally make French toast which is with egg, low fat or whole milk, a little sugar and a little vanilla.  I think what was supposed to make this a little more special was the blueberry compote recipe that came with it but I didn't make that.  Butter melting over warm French toast was good enough for me.

8 slices store-bought brioche, challah or soft white bread
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup half and half
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1.     Cut the crusts off the bread slices and cut each slice into quarters to make squares, about 1 ½ inches on each side.
2.     Whisk the egg and yolk in a medium bowl.  Whisk in the salt, sugar and vanilla.  Gradually whisk in the half-and-half and the milk.  Pour the mixture into a shallow baking dish.  Working in batches if necessary, place the bread pieces in the egg mixture and let them soak, then turn them and soak on the other side.
3.     Melt the butter in a skillet until it is foamy and very hot.  Working in batches, brown the soaked bread on both sides.  Serve warm.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Banana Coconut Tart

Banana Coconut Tart - made March 17, 2012 from Sweety Pies by Patty Pinner (book #204)

Do you like the caramelized taste and soft gooey texture of the inside of a fried banana?  If you do, you need to make this recipe.  And bonus if you love coconut like I do because it adds a great chewiness to go with the gooey-liciousness of the banana filling.  The only thing I had trouble with was the tart crust.  I'm insecure about my pie-crust-making abilities so I followed the directions to the letter, including not adding too much liquid as the author warned the crust would be soupy if too much liquid was added.  But although I added a little more than 3 tablespoons of heavy cream, I don't think that was enough.  The dough held together when I gathered it into a ball and smooshed it together to chill but it fell apart when I tried to roll it out.  As in, it fell apart and mocked me.  So I gave up on rolling it out and ended up patching pieces together and smoothing the dough into each mini-tart pan.  It was filled with the banana-coconut filling so it turned out okay and you couldn't tell my Frankenstein job with the dough.  Plus it was nice and flaky and a perfect complement to the filling.  Thumbs up.

The pie crust recipe ended up covering 4 individual-sized tart pans and the filling recipe was enough for 5 so I made the 5th one crustless in a ramekin I normally use for creme brulee since it was approximately the same size and shallow depth as my tart pans.

Flaky Pie Crust
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup chilled vegetable shortening
3 tablespoons ice-cold heavy cream or evaporated milk, more or less as needed

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, slightly beaten
½ cup milk
1 ripe banana, mashed and peeled
1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

1.     Make the pie crust: Sift the flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl.  Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles a bowl of sweet peas.  Tossing the mixture with a fork, sprinkle in the cream or milk 1 tablespoon at a time.  Continue tossing until the dough holds together when lightly pressed.
2.     With lightly floured hands, loosely gather the dough into a flat ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
3.     Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.
4.     Make the filling: In a medium-size bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy.  Beat in the egg, milk and banana until smooth.  Stir in 1 cup of the coconut.
5.     On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until 1/8” thick.  Cut the dough into 12 circles about 1 inch larger than the mini tart pans you’ll be using.  Line the pans with the circles of dough and trim the edges even with the top of the pan.
6.     Spoon the filling into the shells and bake until the tarts are a light toasty brown, about 20 minutes.  During the last 5 minutes of baking time, sprinkle the remaining ½ cup coconut on a cookie sheet. Put in the oven with the tarts and let brown, watching so it doesn’t burn.  When the coconut is toasted, about 5 minutes, take out of the oven.  Take the tarts out of the oven and sprinkle the toasted coconut on top of each one.  Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Cast Party Wednesday

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bread Pudding "Cupcakes"

Bread Pudding "Cupcakes" - made March 16, 2012, recipe adapted from Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn (book #203)

A bit of a whackadoodle "bread pudding" when the custard doesn't go all the way to the bottom
Yes, that's right another bread pudding recipe.  I wanted to make another one because, let's be honest, I wanted an excuse to buy more challah.  But alas, when I went to Trader Joe's they were out of what I had bought before and only had a seeded version.  I didn't want sesame seeds in my bread pudding so I opted to go to a different Trader Joe's when I was in a different area the next day.  Only to be thwarted when I discovered this one didn't carry challah at all or else they were completely out.  I would've felt pathetic trying a third store for challah so I settled on buying a pack of brioche instead.  This one didn't look as tempting as the challah I had before so it was easy for me to let it sit, unmolested, on the counter to stale.

I did modify the recipe though as the original called for currants and brandy, neither of which I care for.  So I made it as a straight up bread pudding then added my own touch of cinnamon to give it a bit more flavor.  Unfortunately, while the addition of cinnamon was really good, this bread pudding didn't turn out as well as Dorie Greenspan's recipe.  I followed the directions as is but that meant the custard didn't soak down to the bottom of the "cupcake" so the bottom half was slightly dry bread while the top half was custard - you can see what I mean in the picture.  So I modified the directions below on what I think would work better so that the custard soaks all of the bread.  And the brioche I used?  Not as good as the challah.

5-6 ounces brioche or challah, cut into ¼” – ½” cubes
2 1/3 cups milk
2 large eggs
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.     Lightly grease an 8-cup cupcake pan (each cup 2 ½ inches in diameter) with soft butter and divide the bread cubes evenly amongst the cupcake cups, filling only halfway full and reserving the rest of the bread cubes.
2.     Heat the milk over medium heat until it just comes to a boil.  While the milk is heating, beat the eggs in a medium-size bowl.  Whisk in the sugar until the mixture is lemon colored, 1 minute.  Add vanilla and ground cinnamon. When the milk is hot but not boiling, remove the pan from the heat.  Temper the egg mixture with ½ cup of the hot milk, whisking.  Gradually whisk the egg mixture back into the hot milk in the pan.  Place the pan back over medium heat and whisk the entire mixture until it begins to thicken, about 2 minutes more.  Remove the pan from the heat, stirring constantly for another minute.
3.     Pour the custard mixture over the bread in each cup, completely covering the bottom half of bread cubes. Let custard mixture soak into the bread 5-10 minutes, then place the rest of the bread cubes to fill the top half of each muffin tin.  Gradually add more custard until all custard mixture is gone.  Let stand another 10-15 minutes.
4.     Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Place the cupcake tin on a baking sheet and place in the oven.  Bake until the cupcakes rise up and the bread cubes are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and place on a rack to cool for 5 minutes.  The mixture will fall slightly.  Run a small spatula around the edges and lift up the cakes from the bottom.  Serve warm.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Cake

Pumpkin Spice Cake - made March 14, 2012 from The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn (book #202)

The night I made this, winter weather had come back with a vengeance: rainy, cold, windy and cloudy.  Freakishly, I actually like that kind of long as I'm indoors and in my kitchen because that's good baking weather.  It's too cold to work well with chocolate but winter weather calls for something a little different so I made this pumpkin spice cake.

I've made no secret about being snobby over box mixes but I have to admit, this recipe warrants an exception.  Actually, Anne Byrn does a really good job with her Cake Mix Doctor books in coming up with recipes that use cake mixes as a base ingredient but the end result tastes much better than the original mix.  This was one of those.  You can't tell it's from a mix.  It's a nice, fluffy-textured pumpkin spice cake.  The frosting recipe makes a bit too much frosting for me but that's because I'm not a frosting person.  I didn't use the entire amount of powdered sugar called for in the recipe but just adjusted based on the taste and texture that I preferred my frosting to be.  If you're not a frosting person either, you could probably get away with making 1/2 to 1/3 of the frosting recipe.  Otherwise, make as is and pile that frosting on.

1 18.25-ounce package plain spice cake mix
1 3.4-ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup pumpkin, canned or mashed fresh
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup water
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
3 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted, plus additional if needed
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1.       Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Lightly mist a foil-lined 9 x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2.       Combine all cake ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides as needed.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.  Place the pan in the oven.
3.       Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, 32 to 35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes.  When completely cool, frost with cream cheese frosting.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Oreo-Topped Chocolate Fudge Cake

Marcel's First Birthday Chocolate High and Fluffy on Top Cake - made March 12, 2012 from Death by Chocolate Cakes by Marcel Desaulnier (book #201)

I was meeting some friends from my old company for lunch and needed something to bring them that was easy to make after I got home from work.  Normally I don't make frosted cakes during the week because of the cooling and frosting time needed and I was late getting home from work and the gym that night.  But putting the cake batter together was easy enough as was the frosting.  And there's nothing simpler to make than a sheet cake.  I did improvise though and added the chopped Oreos as garnish for the frosting.  Otherwise the cake would've looked a bit plain.  Plus it depleted the package of Oreos I had on hand which meant less I would be eating and negating of all my exercise, haha.

Overall, I thought the chocolate cake was pretty good.  It had a good texture, not as dense as a pound cake but not as light as a chiffon cake.  I took it out of the oven almost the literal second between the toothpick test showing raw batter and then coming out almost clean.  I can't abide dry, overbaked cakes.  Use a dark cocoa to get good chocolate flavor.  For the unsweetened baking chocolate I used Scharffenberger.  If you go with the Oreo garnish, add the Oreos at the last minute before serving so they'll stay crisp.  Otherwise they'll soften.

5 ounces unsalted butter, cut into ½-ounce pieces, softened
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped and melted
1 cup whole milk
½ cup hot water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Very Fluffy Vanilla Frosting
4 cups (1 pound) confectioners’ sugar
½ pound unsalted butter, cut into ½-ounce pieces
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1.     Preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with foil and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.  Set aside.
2.     Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3.     Place the granulated sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle.  Mix on low speed for 1 minute; then beat on medium for 3 minutes until soft.  Scrape down sides of the bowl and paddle and then beat on medium for an additional 2 minutes until very soft.  Scrape down sides of the bowl.  Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating on medium for 10 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl once all the eggs have been incorporated.
4.     Add the melted chocolate and mix on medium for 15 seconds.  On low speed, gradually add half of the sifted dry ingredients; mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds.  Gradually add ½ cup of the milk and mix on low to incorporate, about 15 seconds.  With mixer on low, gradually add remaining sifted dry ingredients and mix for 30 seconds.  Gradually add the remaining ½ cup of milk and mix on low for 15 seconds.
5.     Slowly add ½ cup hot water and mix on low to combine, about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and mix on medium for 15 seconds.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the ingredients until thoroughly combined.  Transfer the cake batter to the prepared pan, using a rubber spatula to spread it evenly.
6.     Bake on the center rack in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes at room temperature.  Invert the cake onto a baking sheet.  Refrigerate the cake until needed.
7.     Frosting: Sift the confectioners’ sugar onto a large piece of wax paper.  Set aside.  Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle.  Mix on low speed for 1 minute then increase speed to medium-high and beat for 2 minutes, until soft.  Beat on medium for 2 more minutes until softer.  Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and mix on the lowest speed to combine, about 1 minute.  Add milk and vanilla extract and mix on low speed for 15 seconds until mixture appears moist.  Beat on medium-high for 2 minutes.  Continue beating until desired state of “fluffiness” is reached.
8.     Frost cake and sprinkle with chopped Oreos if desired.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Orange Cake a la Dorie Greenspan

Orange Cake - made March 10, 2012, recipe adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan (book #200)

(The 200-book mark - woo hoo!  The end is in sight.  I keep saying that but it's really true.  Maybe less than a dozen more cookbooks to go???)

My mom liked the Orange Bundt Cake I made a couple of weeks ago from the Susan G. Purdy recipe and wanted me to make it again.  But I have a hard time making the same recipe twice when I wanted to try other new recipes so I pseudo-compromised and went with this recipe from another Dorie Greenspan book.  This one came out more like a pound cake and she pronounced it "not as fluffy" as the one she liked.  Sigh.  So I may have to make her the other one again after all.  But this was still a good cake if you're looking for an orange pound cake for upcoming springtime picnics.

2 ¼ cups (250 grams) cake flour, sifted
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
Grated zest from 2 oranges
5 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream (or use 2/3 cup crème fraiche and omit sour cream & heavy cream)
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
7 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.     Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350⁰F. Butter and flour a Bundt pan.
2.     Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.
3.     Toss the sugar and orange zest together in a large bowl and rub together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, beating until the mixture is pale and foamy, then whisk in the sour cream, heavy cream and vanilla extract.  Gently stir in the flour mixture by hand with a large spatula.  Fold in the cooled, melted butter until batter is smooth.
4.     Immediately spoon the batter into the pan and place in preheated oven.  Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean or with a crumb or two (but not moist batter or clumps of crumbs).  Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes in the pan.  Then invert onto a plate and let cool completely.
5.     Glaze with 1 cup powdered sugar, orange zest from 1 orange and enough orange juice to make a spreadable consistency.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chocolate Pancakes

Venezuelan Chocolate Pancakes - made March 9, 2012, recipe adapted from Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A. Young (book #199)

I got this book as a Christmas gift from a case you wondered why I'm adding a recently released cookbook to my baking challenge when I'm not supposed to be buying new cookbooks anymore.  She was smart enough to pick out a new book to increase the chances that I don't have it already.  Ha, that's thoughtful gift giving.  Notice how I'm rounding the corner to the 200 mark?  That's right, I'm almost done with this challenge.  I have a handful of cookbooks left to bake from and the end is in sight.  Until my next challenge, which I'm already thinking about.  But first things first.

The premise of this book is exactly what the title says: "adventures".  You won't find common ordinary ingredients or even typical recipes in this book.  One of the recipes I don't have in abundance, surprisingly, is for chocolate pancakes.  Not many even had chocolate waffles, which I discovered when I went searching.  So I had to try this chocolate pancake recipe.  The adventurous part of this recipe isn't the chocolate but the buckwheat flour.  I've never cooked or baked with buckwheat before so I wasn't sure what to expect.  It sounded healthier and I thought it would be a more nutrient-rich version of baking with whole wheat flour.  That may be the case but sad to say, buckwheat must be an acquired taste.  And after testing it out with this recipe, which called for buckwheat flour or spelt, I have no intention of acquiring that taste.  Erk.  The texture was fluffy but I couldn't get past the taste of the buckwheat.  As in, I literally couldn't eat more than 2 bites.  Yikes.  So I scrapped the rest of the batter.  I hate to waste food but I also don't believe in consuming calories that aren't worth it.

Yet, I was reluctant to abandon the recipe if my only objection was the buckwheat flavor.  What if I made it with whole wheat flour instead?  So that's what I did and the results were much more to my liking.  It's not an extremely chocolaty pancake but it was light and fluffy.  Don't overcook these as they do burn easily.  If you want to go into chocolate overload, melt some bittersweet chocolate and whisk into warm maple syrup with a pinch of sea salt then use as syrup.  That was part of the original recipe in the book but I opted to use plain syrup for these as I had them in the morning and even I couldn't face that much chocolate so early.

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted, slightly warm
1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1 large egg
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.    Whisk dry ingredients together.
2.    Combine egg, milk and vanilla.  Pour over dry ingredients and whisk lightly.  Add melted chocolate and whisk smooth.  Let the batter rest for 30 minutes.
3.    Heat griddle and grease with butter.  Pour ¼ cup portions of the batter into the hot griddle and cook over medium heat until bubbles form on the surface.  Turn over carefully and cook for another 1-2  minutes.  Serve warm.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Homemade Samoas

My version of Samoas - made March 9, 2012

It's that time of year again - you know, when little girls look at you as you exit Target or the grocery store, greet you with a sweet smile that's a mix of earnestness and shrewd sizing up of you as a potential customer while their parents benignly look on, appearing affable but with a glint of steel as "the look" is plainly in their eyes: "you're going to buy cookies from my kid, aren't you?"  That's right, it's Girl Scout cookie time.  Not only that, but Monday, March 12 marks the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts Associations - Happy Anniversary, GSA!


I have supported (and eaten) my share of Girl Scout cookies through the years, notably when my nieces were that cookie-pushing, er, cookie-selling, age plus for my friends' kids who are the GS age and they've done the same chant "would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?"  Are you really supposed to say "no"?  Well, I will confess I have said "no".  I know, I know, I'm made of stone.  But honestly, I'm one of the few people in the known universe who doesn't really like the taste of Girl Scout cookies. I mean, hello, I bake my own cookies.  And yeah, I include Thin Mints in the me-no-likey category.  I realize that invites a flurry of "are you crazy? what's wrong with you?" type of comments but I stand fast.  I like mint.  I like (milk) chocolate.  I don't like them together.  I don't eat chocolate immediately after brushing my teeth either for the same no-mint-and-chocolate-combo reason.  It's just wrong.  So I assuage my guilt-ridden conscience by donating directly to the local Girl Scout troops; rather than them making 25 cents from every box I buy, I donate what I would've paid for the box(es) of cookies to the local troops so they can have their pizza party or ice cream party at the end of selling season.  Or if I really can't withstand "the look" from adorable Girl Scouts and (maybe not as adorable but certainly more desperate) parents alike, I buy a few boxes and ship them to our troops overseas.  Presumably, Thin Mints, Tagalongs and Do-Si-Do's give them a taste of home so it's a win-win all around.

Now, back in the day when I used to eat Girl Scout cookies, Samoas were conceptually one of the two cookies I would actually eat (Trefoils being the other one).  Shortbread, chocolate, caramel and coconut - a no-fail combination in my book.  I have nothing against Samoas and applaud GSA for the concept.  A concept which I had to make as a homemade version of my own. I made it as a bar cookie version as no way was I going to take the time and trouble to make them as wreath-like cutouts.  Bar cookies were easier: bake the bottom layer of shortbread first, cover with a layer of honest-to-goodness fudge, a layer of caramel and top with sprinklings of toasted coconut. 

I cobbled this recipe together from a few different sources.  Bake the shortbread layer first since that's the bottom layer.  Let it cool slightly, just enough not to melt the fudge but you don't want it completely cool or the fudge layer won't adhere to it. Once you make the fudge, spread it evenly over the cooled shortbread.  Let it cool to room temperature then spread the caramel layer over it.  Before the caramel sets, sprinkle with toasted coconut.  Let cool completely then cut into small squares.  Then go exercise because this is a lot of calories.  But worth every bite.

Shortbread Layer
I used the shortbread recipe from the Twix Brownie Bars - click on the link to take you there

Fudge Layer

1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1.     Line an 8 x 8-inch square pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
2.     Toss chocolates, baking soda, and salt in medium heatproof bowl until baking soda is evenly distributed.  Stir in sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.  Set bowl over 4-quart saucepan containing 2 cups simmering water.  Stir with rubber spatula until chocolate is almost fully melted and few small pieces remain, 2 to 4 minutes.
3.     Remove from heat and continue to stir until chocolate is fully melted and mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan and spread in even layer with spatula.  Let cool to room temperature.

Caramel Layer
11 ounce bag Kraft caramel bits (I buy mine from Target, in the baking aisle)
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Melt caramels and heavy cream in a heavy saucepan set over low heat, stirring, until smooth and blended together.  Let cool slightly, stirring so it doesn't "set" in the pan.  Pour in an even layer over the cooled fudge, smoothing the top.  Garnish with cooled, toasted coconut on top before caramel layer sets.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Caramelized Apple Bread Pudding

Apple Bread Pudding - made March 3, 2012, recipe adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

I love Dorie Greenspan's cookbooks.  They're not only easy to follow but almost every recipe I've tried from them has turned out pretty well.  If you're a novice baker, this is a good book to have (click on the amazon link or book title above to read more about it).  I've never made a bread pudding before but for my first attempt, I knew I could play it safe and try a recipe from Dorie's cookbook and increase my chances of success.  After my half-failure with the Black & White Creme Brulee, I needed to stack the baking odds in my favor.

I haven't brushed up on my food history but I'm going to assume bread pudding was invented to make stale bread edible again and repurpose it back into good food, just like banana bread came into being because I'm sure some enterprising person was sick of all the overripe bananas they couldn't eat fast enough and had to do something with blackened bananas.  I never had bread pudding until a few years ago because it just didn't look that appetizing and I'm not normally a custard person anyway (except for creme brulee).  Fortunately, the first bread pudding I ever tried was very well made and I ended up loving it.  It's like French toast on steroids but better.

I've seen various recipes say the more stale the bread, the better, since it'll be soaked in a cream and egg mixture before being baked.  So I bought a loaf of challah from Trader Joe's last week and prepared to let it sit on my counter until it got stale (and hopefully before it got moldy).  That was the plan, anyway.  But I forgot the part where I love challah.  We made it in culinary school and it was the best.bread.ever.  So you can imagine my leaving that challah alone long enough for it to get stale wasn't really working out.  Fortunately, Dorie's recipe had a tip about how to "stale" the bread in the oven so after I'd eaten a quarter of the loaf already, I figured I'd better take the shortcut version or my bread pudding was going to miss its headline ingredient.  In my defense, that quarter of a loaf was consumed over the course of a week, usually after I had come from a run at the gym, so I had some resistance.  Still, I didn't like the challah's chances of survival to genuine staleness.

Since I had less bread than the recipe called for, I decided to make only a half recipe of the custard.  Ever try getting half an egg yolk and half an egg?  Yeah, it ain't easy.  I eyeballed the halfsies and mixed up the rest of the ingredients.  To shortcut time, I made the bread pudding mixture first to give it enough time to soak then I caramelized the apples.  I only had Granny Smiths on hand and those soften really quickly when cooked so it wasn't the best type of apple to use for this.  Next time I think Fujis would be better.

The trick to making anything custard-y with such a high proportion of eggs and cream is it must be cooked or baked slowly at a lower temp.  That will ensure the mixture will thicken and set with a more creamy consistency.  Too fast or too hot, and your mixture will break, the eggs will curdle and you'll end up with a grainy product.  I've made failed at enough custards to speak from personal experience.  Dorie's method alleviates the risk of graininess by having you bake the bread pudding in a water bath.  And it worked.  I layered the caramelized apples on the bottom then transferred the soaked bread mixture over it and baked in the water bath.  Overall, it was pretty good.  I do think, however, I should've had more custard mixture to soak the bread in.  Parts of it were like bread pudding and parts of it, mostly around the edges, were more like French toast.  Still tasted good and the apples were a nice touch.  However, they didn't caramelize like I had envisioned so I ended up bruleeing the top for a little crunch and color.  Next time I would make the full custard recipe and stop snitching bits of the challah before I made the bread pudding so I could have enough bread for a full recipe.

For the Caramelized Apples
3 medium apples, peeled and cored (Fujis or Galas work well)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

12 ounces egg bread, such as challah or brioche, preferably stale, sliced ½ inch thick

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
5 large egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.    Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking pan (preferably Pyrex or other glass or ceramic pan), dust the inside with sugar and tap out the excess.  Line a larger roasting pan with a double thickness of paper towels.
2.    To caramelize the apples: Cut each apple in half from top to bottom, cut each half lengthwise into 6 to 8 slices and then cut each slice in half crosswise.
3.    Put a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter and, when it melts, sprinkle over the sugar.  Cook the butter and sugar for a minute or so to caramelize but not burn.  Toss in the apple slices and cook, carefully turning the apples once or twice, until they are tender but not soft, 3 to 5 minutes.  Transfer the apples and buttery liquid to a plate.
4.    If your bread is not stale, spread it out on a baking sheet and bake at 350⁰F for 10 minutes to “stale” it. Cut bread into chunks and set aside.
5.    Bring the milk and cream just to a boil. 
6.    Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar. Still whisking, slowly drizzle in a quarter of the hot milk mixture to temper the egg mixture.  Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the rest of the milk mixture.  Add the vanilla and whisk to blend.  Pour the custard over the bread and press the bread gently with the back of a spoon to help it absorb the liquid.  Let bread soak in the mixture for about 30 minutes, pressing occasionally with the back of a spoon.
7.    Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325⁰F. 
8.    Put the baking pan into a slightly larger roasting pan and fill the roasting pan with hot water.  Place the caramelized apples in an even layer on the bottom and gently place the soaked bread over the apples, covering them completely.  Pour any remaining liquid over the bread. 
9.    Bake the bread pudding for about 1 hour and 25 minutes or until a thin knife inserted deep in the center comes out clean.  Transfer the baking pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

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