Sunday, August 31, 2014

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bundt Cake

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bundt Cake - made August 24, 2014 from The Little Epicurean
I can call this "what I made when I was woken up so early by a 6.0 earthquake" last week. The epicenter was more than 80 miles from my house and usually I don't wake up for a little tremor but for some reason, I surfaced to consciousness at just the right time to feel the bed shake, think "I bet that was an earthquake" then drift back to sleep. Unfortunately I didn't sleep for very long after that. You just know that had it been a weekday, I could've slept for hours afterwards. But since it was the one day I had to sleep in last weekend, I was wide awake by 5 am. *eye roll*
So I figured I might as well put the time to good use. Normally I bake on Sunday afternoons for work the next day, not Sunday mornings. In the morning, I'm usually pressed for time. I have to get my workout in, shower, get ready for church and rush to get there on time (but I'm almost always late). But hey, when you wake up 2 hours ahead of schedule, that's enough time to make a cake. And, while the cake is baking, vacuum, sweep, change the sheets, tidy up, waste time on the internet and catch up on my blog. When I'm awake, I'm really awake.
Now you might wonder why I keep making stuff with peanut butter when I keep saying I'm indifferent to it. But remember I like it well enough when it's paired with chocolate and, amongst my friends, coworkers and acquaintances, apparently I'm an oddity because I'm surrounded by people who love peanut butter. Just love it. That's enough motivation for me, especially since I typically only eat a small taste test piece and give the rest away. I don't have to exert much willpower to limit my intake for anything with peanut butter.
Anyway, the pictures on The Little Epicurean look so professionally turned out that it was a no-brainer to try out the recipe. Unfortunately, mine didn't turn out as well as hers did. I did end up a little pressed for time after all (the cake took longer to bake than I anticipated) so I inverted it out of the pan while it was still a trifle too warm and too fragile. The cake came out mostly cleanly, meaning a chunk or two stuck to the pan that I had to patchwork over. After I came back home that afternoon, I glazed the fully cooled cake and did the peanut butter carefree (i.e. sloppy) drizzling over it. I was trying to be neat and precise about it but decorating just isn't my thing and I ended up free-forming it just a little too much.
The true test of the Bundt cake's appearance though was how the peanut butter inside turned out. There I made a mistake as well. The chocolate cake batter was less dense than the peanut butter batter. Subsequently, the peanut butter batter sank into the cake. With the inverted Bundt, that means the peanut butter was concentrated at the top. If you make this, I advise layering more than half the chocolate batter on the bottom of the Bundt before adding the peanut butter batter and layering with the rest of the chocolate. That'll give the peanut butter a fighting chance to stay somewhat in the middle.
As for the actual taste and texture of the cake, I loved the texture. Firm, moist, perfect pound cake texture. It wasn't that sweet (my parents would probably like this) so the addition of the chocolate and peanut butter glazes were a nice offset. I did cut back on the espresso powder to 2 tablespoons as I didn't want a strong coffee flavor to compete with the peanut butter or chocolate. A little espresso can enhance the flavor of chocolate but too much can overwhelm it. In hindsight, although it was the right move to cut back on the espresso powder, I should've increased the amount of unsweetened cocoa by the same amount to amp up the chocolate punch. But still, this was a pretty good cake.
Chocolate Cake
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder (can cut to 2 tablespoons if you wish)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (increase to 3 tablespoons if you're going to cut back on the espresso powder)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp fine sea salt

Peanut Butter Cake Filling
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Chocolate Glaze
4 oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 Tbsp glucose, or light corn syrup

Peanut Butter Glaze
2 Tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 -3 Tbsp whole milk
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
  1. Chocolate Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Generously butter a 10-cup bundt pan and set aside. 
  2. In a microwave safe bowl, heat unsweetened chocolate at half power at 30 second intervals.  Stir often.  Heat until chocolate is melted.  Set aside. 
  3. In a glass measuring cup, stir together instant espresso powder and cocoa powder.  Add enough hot water until liquid mixture measures 1 cup.  Stir until powders are dissolved.  Add milk and let cool.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  5. Add eggs one at a time, making sure egg is incorporated before adding the next.  Scrape down bowl as needed. Add slightly cooled melted chocolate. Continue to mix on medium-low speed until combined. 
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.  
  7. With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of milk mixture, then 1/2 of flour mixture.  Repeat, ending with the milk mixture.  Mix until combined. 
  8. Peanut Butter Cake Filling: In a medium bowl, cream together butter and peanut butter until smooth.  Add sugar and mix until combined.  Add egg and mix. 
  9. Fold in flour and salt.  Add milk and stir to combine.  Mix until flour is incorporated. 
  10. Cake Assembly: Add half of chocolate batter to prepared bundt pan.  Distribute peanut butter cake filling on top of chocolate layer.  Swirl with knife to spread out peanut butter batter.  Add remaining chocolate batter to cover peanut butter batter. 
  11. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean.  Let cool in pan for a couple of minutes before unmolding.  Let cool to room temperature on wire rack.
  12. Chocolate Glaze: Over a double boiler, melt together chocolate and butter until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in glucose.  Pour over cooled bundt cake.
  13. Peanut Butter Glaze: Stir together sifted powdered sugar, peanut butter, and salt.  Add milk and stir until smooth.  Add additional milk if glaze is too dry. If glaze is too thick, add additional sifted powdered sugar.  Drizzle peanut butter glaze over chocolate glazed bundt cake.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Chewy Glazed Lemon Sugar Cookies

Chewy Glazed Lemon Sugar Cookies - made dough August 9, 2014 from Lauren's Latest
I have a fondness for soft, thick, chewy cookies. Chocolate chip, chocolate, sugar, vanilla, butter, lemon, even peanut butter. Something to sink my teeth into. Literally. Which I got with this cookie. The dough was super easy to throw together although I must warn you if you portion out the cookie dough balls as generously as I did, you only end up with 7 cookies. I don’t normally mind doing small batch baking but 7 cookies didn’t seem like a prolific return for the investment of dirtying my Kitchen Aid bowl, spatula, cookie scoop, measuring cups and measuring spoons. But I won’t quibble. A soft, chubby, chewy cookie is a soft, chubby, chewy cookie.

To give it some extra lemon zing, I glazed it simply with a thick glaze of confectioners’ sugar and fresh lemon juice, just enough to coat each cookie thickly and set so you don’t have runny glaze all over your fingers when you eat the cookie. I loved the texture on these cookies. Only bake until the edges start to turn golden but the middles aren’t completely dry or cracked. If the middles are high, puffed, and cracked, you’ve overbaked them and they’ll be cakey and possibly dry. What I was less enamoured of though was the flavor. Because  the recipe calls for lemon extract, which I used, there was an artificial tang to them. I’ve baked cookies with lemon extract before and they’ve been fine but that artificial flavor was more pronounced in these cookies. Next time, I’m skipping the extract and adding more zest instead.
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar + an extra 2 tablespoons
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice (or however much or little for the desired consistency)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar together in stand mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in egg, vanilla, lemon extract and lemon zest. Scrape sides and mix again. Stir in dry ingredients until just combined. Scoop onto prepared sheets and flatten slightly with the bottom of a cup dipped in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake 8-9 minutes, cool 2 minutes and transfer to cooling rack.
  3. Stir powdered sugar and lemon juice together until smooth. Spread over top of each cookie and let set.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bakery Review: Village Baking & Coffee Company, Modesto, CA

Village Baking & Coffee Company - visited August 23, 2014
Last weekend I went out of town for a Hallmark ornament event (waves freak flag) in Modesto. As always whenever I go somewhere new, I look up local bakeries on yelp to see what I might go check out. Hey, we all need a hobby. In addition to baking, mine is trying out new bakeries wherever I go. It satisfies both my intellectual curiosity and my sweet tooth under the guise of "research". Yes, that's it, I'm doing research.

I got to Modesto pretty early, checked in at the Hallmark store then had a couple of hours to kill. So it was the perfect time to check out Village Baking. Since I'd left my house so early to get to Modesto before 8 am, I hadn't had breakfast yet.
Village Baking is pretty large for a bakery but they also double as a cafe that serves both breakfast and lunch. There is a plethora of display cases filled with baked goods, from breads to cakes to cupcakes and bar cookies to individual-size desserts. Needless to say, I went into sensory overload. In a good way.

Before I got too immersed in the sweet offerings though, I went with a breakfast order of pancakes and fruit with a side order of sausage. I ordered at the counter, paid for my meal and received a number on a stand which the server later used to track me down and deliver my order. The pancakes were decently fluffy and tasted good but I was disappointed in the syrup. It had the taste and texture of Aunt Jemima syrup from a plastic bottle. For someone used to maple syrup tapped from the trees of Vermont, it was a bit of a letdown. I actually ended up scaling back on the syrup and enjoying my pancakes without them. Fortunately the sausages were tasty so it saved my breakfast plate.
My breakfast order: pancakes and sausage
After breakfast, I allowed myself the sensory pleasure of perusing the display cases. Several times, the attentive counter people asked if they could help me but I demurred. I was full from breakfast so I knew I wouldn't be eating anything until later that afternoon and I wanted to choose wisely. Some moments just can't be rushed.

After indulging my visual senses for an appropriate length of time, I finally narrowed my selections down to 3: a Turtle Thumbprint Cookie, an individual apple tart and a larger-than-mini-but-not-full-size cake called Death by Chocolate. The name alone deserved a trial even though it was a larger size cake than I could finish by myself.

The cake was a bit expensive at $8.25 but greed governs the hold on my wallet and that hold loosened in the face of promised chocolate bliss. The bakery counter person packaged the cake in a separate box from the cookie and the tart which turned out to be a wise move. I had to leave the boxes in my car for half the day and it was almost a 2-hour drive back home so by the time I got back and opened my caloric treasures, the cake had softened considerably and was thinking about melting to punish me for its warm treatment in the trunk of my car.

I tried the Turtle Thumbprint cookie first. I had made something similar to it (Chocolate Turtle Cookies) for a holiday dessert party and I'm partial to anything chocolate and caramel. This had the same elements as the turtle cookies but I have to say, I like mine better. The cookie part of this Turtle Thumbprint was a bit on the dry side and was more of a crisp texture than a chewy one. It wasn't bad but it wasn't a standout for me.

Apple Tart
Then I got to the apple tart and boy, did my taste buds perk up. My jaded senses lost their cynicism and came to attention. It's still not quite the season for apples so the apples weren't particularly special but the outer crust and the inner crust holding up the apples were amazing. I can't describe it well enough to do it justice but it was like the perfect - and I mean perfect - meeting of tart crust and cake that got married and agreed on a 50/50 partnership. Sublime. The only thing I didn't like about the tart is the same thing I don't like about any bakery dessert with fruit. In order to preserve the appearance of fresh fruit, bakeries brush the fruit with an apricot glaze. It keeps the fruit from drying out and gives them a glossy appearance. That keeps them looking pretty but I've never cared for the taste of the glaze. Still, let's just say that while I probably wouldn't drive 90 miles just to go to a bakery (even I have my limits), if I ever happened to be in Modesto again, I'd make a point of going to Village Baking just to get the apple tart.

At this point, I didn't have much room for more than a bite (or three) of the Death by Chocolate cake. I had put it in the refrigerator to chill back up before I tried it which turned out to be the right thing to do. The cake is essentially fluffy chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse covered with a light(ish) chocolate ganache frosting. I'd repeat that but I'd probably gain another two pounds just typing out the words. It was good. Really good. I couldn't finish it so I ended up sharing most of it with my parents when I visited them the next day.
Overall, I'd give Village Baking and Coffee Company a thumbs up. Skip the pancakes unless you're going to bring your own syrup but they offer a great selection of baked goods and 2 out of my 3 selections hit the mark. A few days later, I'm still thinking about that apple tart.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

White Chocolate Snickerdoodle Blondies

White Chocolate Snickerdoodle Blondies - made August 16, 2014 from Sally's Baking Addiction
My nephew, Vanilla King, loves snickerdoodles. True to his moniker, he also likes white chocolate, although when he was younger and in a "I don't like chocolate" phase (at least I hope it was a phase and nothing permanent), we just called white chocolate "vanilla". True chocoholics will point out white chocolate is not vanilla but we're talking about a kid here. I can take some poetic license to get him to try a cookie.
Anyway, Vanilla King is a bit older now than when I gave him that nickname and he's since unbent enough to allow for M&Ms and Oreos in his treat consumption, both chocolate products, mind you. And I think he's stopped picking out the chocolate chips from chocolate chip cookies. You can imagine how much trauma that caused me.
Still, despite his progress towards embracing chocolate like anyone even remotely related to me should do, I err on the side of making his favorites whenever I meet him and his parents. This time I combined two of his favorites with this recipe. And I must say, this blondie strikes gold. It has all the goodness of a snickerdoodle cookie but with the ease of making into a bar cookie and for white chocolate lovers, it delivers on that too. While I'm not a huge fan of white chocolate per se, it works well in this blondie.
Although I like snickerdoodles in their "pure" form, I'd make these in a pinch for when I need treats to parcel out and don't have a lot of baking time. They're quick and easy to put together and they deliver on texture and flavor. As always (always!), don't overbake these. As with any snickerdoodles or blondies, if you overbake them, they'll become cakey and dry. I underbaked by a couple of minutes but once they had cooled, they had a nice, moist, "fudgy" texture. Super delicious.
2 1/3 cups (292g) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (150g) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (180g) white chocolate chips

Cinnamon Sugar Filling
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line a 9x9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough overhang on the sides to easily pull the blondies out of the pan and cut. 
  2. In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 
  3. Using a hand or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed in a large bowl. Beat for at least 1 minute until creamy. Add sugars and beat for 2 full minutes on high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl as needed. 
  4. Beat in the eggs and vanilla on high speed, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients until just combined. With a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula, fold in the white chocolate chips. 
  5. Spoon half the batter into pan. It will be a relatively thin layer, but try to spread it across the pan evenly. Combine the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle on top of them bottom layer, reserving 1 tablespoon for the top. Spread the remaining batter over top. Some of the cinnamon-sugar will mix into the top layer as you spread it, which is fine. Sprinkle the top with remaining cinnamon-sugar. 
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely for about 1 hour. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Restaurant Review: Pebbles Deli Cafe

Pebbles Deli Cafe - lunch on August 16, 2014
Last weekend I met my cousin Christine, her husband and their son, Vanilla King, for lunch. Christine was the one to discover Pebbles Deli Café and urged me to try it. It didn’t take much convincing, especially since she tagged me in a Facebook picture of a Bul Go Gi entrée they’d gotten on that initial visit. My favorite Korean food. I’m there.  
They have a 4-star rating on yelp and I didn’t know how crowded they would be at lunch time so we arranged to meet a little before 12 just in case. It turns out this precaution was unnecessary because when we arrived, surprisingly, the café was empty. There’s outdoor seating in a patio area but we opted to remain indoors and had the place to ourselves.

Bul Go Gi Sub on Dutch Crunch Bread
You place your order at the counter, pay for your meal, get a number, seat yourselves and they bring your food out to you. The service was fairly quick, more than 5 minutes but less than 10. I opted for the Bul Go Gi Cheesesteak sandwich, hold the onions – just marinated beef and cheese on a soft French roll. It was like a Korean French Dip but without the dip and with some seriously yummy, tender, flavorful beef. Normally I go sniffing around for French fries to accompany something like this but alas, Pebbles doesn’t offer fries. Instead, you can buy individual bags of chips as a side order like at Subway. In a rare moment of self control, I skipped the chips and just stuck to the sandwich. Which turned out to be a good thing because I ate every bite. It was good. Really good. The bread was soft, the aforementioned tender beef had the perfectly marinated flavor of a good bul go gi and who’s going to argue with cheese melted on top?? 
David's Special - turkey. ham and cheese

Bul Go Gi over Rice
The others enjoyed their entrees as well which again led to my surprise that the café wasn’t more populated during a Saturday lunch hour. A few more patrons came in while we were there but the place certainly didn’t get full. I can only assume it’s much more crowded during the weekday when workers from the surrounding office buildings come by. Hopefully they do a much more brisk weekday business than on the weekends because they’re a good option for lunch any day. The price points were a trifle high and akin to more chain-restaurant sit down places like Applebees, IHOP, Chili’s and Red Robin. My Bul Go Gi Cheesesteak sandwich was $10.95 for essentially just a sandwich. However, I’d much rather spend that kind of money on a small business than on a chain restaurant so I would support a place like Pebbles any day. And get a great meal while I’m at it.
Bul Go Gi Cheesesteak

My cousin and I

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Coconut Cream Bundt Cake

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

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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

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

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

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