Thursday, July 28, 2011

Having my cake, and eating it too!

I’m just going to come out and say it: I made my own birthday (cup)cake.  It wasn’t for lack of offers from other people, or because I didn’t think anyone could do it properly, but more because I saw it as my chance to make something that I really wanted to make.  It gave me the opportunity to go through all of the recipes that I have saved from magazines, other blogs and cookbooks, and pick out something that was really “me”. 
There were many contenders for this honor, but in the end I settled on Chocolate Kahlua Coffee Cupcakes, from Samiwich and Addiecakes.  These did not disappoint.  Soft, moist, rich chocolate cake, with a Kahlua glaze, and topped with coffee frosting.  The most notable change that I made was that I didn’t make a buttercream frosting, as the original recipe called for, but rather a coffee mascarpone frosting.  It’s much lighter and fluffier, and so so good (and I don’t like buttercream frosting).  However, this frosting is pretty temperature-sensitive, and I spent a good portion of my party stressing that the frosting would melt and look terrible.  I ended up keeping them in Tupperware in a cooler with ice packs until after everyone had eaten, so they would be okay.  It worked like a charm.  They looked fine, and were a total hit.
I tripled the recipe, since I was expecting about 25 or 30 people.  However, when I was taking one tray of them out of the oven, some combo of the tray burning me, and it getting caught under the cooling rack, and me spazzing out caused me to tip over a whole tray of fresh-out-of-the-oven cupcakes, flinging them out of the tray and onto the counter.  Behold the wreckage:
I managed to salvage 5 of the 12.  Since they were so hot, they were really fragile, so I’m impressed that I got that many back from the accident.  Anyway, back to the tripling….if you triple the number of cupcakes, don’t triple the frosting or the glaze.  I may not have used enough glaze, but I probably had at least ¾ of a cup of it left over.  I would say a single batch of that stuff is probably enough, maybe a double if you are really going to drench the cuppies.  As for the frosting, at most I would double that recipe.  I had a TON of that stuff leftover.  I would say just make a double batch, or maybe a 1.5 batch. 
One more quick note about these cupcakes: since you don’t cook the Kahlua, the alcohol doesn’t really burn off.  It’s a pretty small amount of alcohol in the entire recipe, so maybe this isn’t anything to worry about, but if you want to make these kid-friendly, just skip the glaze.  Or just make some other kind of cupcake for the kiddos.
My only complaint about these was that they weren’t pink.  I added some pink sparkling sugar to the tops (which then bled into the frosting by the time I served/photo’d them), and the liners I used were a really girly pink and green plaid, so that made me feel better. 

Chocolate Kahlua Coffee Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes

6 Tbsp cocoa powder
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
½ cup milk, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature and lightly beaten
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup boiling water

1.    Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F.
2.    Combine the cocoa powder, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
3.    Add butter, milk, eggs and vanilla. Mix at medium speed for 2 minutes
4.    Add boiling water and beat to combine. Batter will be thin (fp note: really thin.  So thin that I was worried it wouldn’t set up in the oven. But it did, so don’t worry!)
5.    Evenly divide the batter into each cupcake tin and bake for 18-20 minutes. (fp note: since the batter was so thin, I found it easiest to pour it into a large glass measuring cup that had a pour lip thingy.  A big pitcher would work too.)
6.    Let cool before assembly.

Kahlua Glaze
¼ cup water
¾ cup sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp Kahlua

1.    Heat the glaze ingredients EXCEPT the Kahlua over low heat in a small saucepan.
2.    Continue to stir until sugar is dissolved
3.    When the sugar is fully dissolved, take the pan off the stove and stir in the Kahlua. Set aside.

Coffee Mascarpone Frosting
Source: Martha Stewart, with alterations by me

1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tbsp instant espresso (or more or less, to taste)

1.    With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk heavy cream until stiff peaks form. In another bowl, whisk together the mascarpone and confectioners’ sugar and instant espresso until smooth. Gently fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture until completely incorporated. Use immediately.  I piped mine on with a big round tip.  It’s pretty soft frosting, so I wouldn’t use a really fancy tip, but I have done a star tip before and it worked just fine. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nicely Different

I was at a wedding recently, and when someone asked me what my favorite thing to bake was, I answered, without pause, "cookies".  That's right, I love to bake cookies.  They are usually easy and quick to make, supremely portable, and there are so many varieties that you could never get bored with them.

I was going to a concert with friends, and I was looking for something fun to make.  I had this recipe for Mexican Chocolate Cookies saved in my googly reader, and I figured this was as good a time as any to try them out. And another plus was that I had all of the ingredients in my house, so I didn't have to go get anything special.

These cookies are pretty tasty.  I could have used a little more cinnamon, but I was happy with the results.  The cayenne pepper flavor is not immediately recognizable, but you will feel it after you swallow the cookie.  It's nothing crazy, just a little tingle in the back of your mouth that tells you that you just ate something spicy.  Good stuff.

If you are looking for something a little different than your average cookie, give this recipe a try. 

Mexican Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 32 cookies

5 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (i would double this in the future)
1/8 tsp instant espresso
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp confectioners sugar, for dusting (yeah, i skipped that part)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring until smooth. (fp note: you could do this in the microwave, but i always burn chocolate when i try to do that, so i say go with the double boiler) Cool to room temperature

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, espresso, baking powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. 
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), combine the sugar and softened butter, and beat until will blended. Add the egg, and beat well. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla, and beat just until blended. Then add the flour mixture, and beat until just blended.

Drop dough by level tablespoons (i use a little scoop with a release- makes this so easy) 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake 10 minutes, or until almost set. Remove from the oven, and let the cookies cool on the pans for 2 minutes or until set. Remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Just before serving, dust with confectioners sugar. (or just stick them all in a bag and run out the door because you're running late and don't have time for dusting)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Runners' Reward

I love making bread.  Just love it.  I love the smells that come out of my kitchen while it's baking.  I love kneading the dough.  And most of all, I love EATING the bread. 

I have made bagels before, so I kind of knew what I was doing this time around. It's not a hard process, just time consuming, and takes some definite planning.  For this particular recipe, you need a few hours to deal with it the day before you want to serve them, and then about another hour or so on the morning you want to bake them (at least that's how I did it).  It may seem complicated and time consuming, but I assure you, it's worth it.  These bagels are so good.  They have a great flavor, and the boiling-then-baking process gives the a wonderful chewy inside, with a crispy exterior. 

I made these for a girl's brunch (after a 4 mile run - hence the reward), and as you can see, I served them with the standard cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers.  They were gobbled right up, and some of the leftovers were sent home with the girls.  I've heard that you can freeze bagels, but I've never had them last long enough in the house to even think about freezing them.  This recipe says it makes 12 bagels, but I ended up with 13 regular ones, and one midget bagel.  I ate the midget before we ran.  It was delicious.

If you have the time to put in for these, please do so.  But, I know it takes a lot more time than most other baked good.  However, I can tell you that nothing about this is particularly hard, just a little time-consuming.  I have one note about rising time and temperature: my house is often on the cool side, so it can mean that dough takes a long time to rise.  Very often, to deal with this, I put the oven on "Warm" while I make the dough or sponge, and then when it's time to let it rise, I turn the oven off, put the dough in the oven, and keep the door closed.  That little extra bit of warmth really helps.  So keep that in mind if your house is cool like mine.

Source: "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart
Makes 12 large or 24 mini bagels

1 teaspoon instant (rapid rise) yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 1/2 cups water, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons malt powder, or 1 tablespoon dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar (fp note: i used honey, because it was what i had.  seemed to work just fine.)

To finish:
1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal or Semolina flour for dusting
Sesame seed, poppy seeds, kosher slat, rehydrated dried minced garlic or onions, or chopped fresh onions that have been tossed in oil (optional).  (fp note: i used a mix of poppy and sesame seeds, salt and minced dried onions.)

  1. To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a 4-quart mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.
  2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt (or other alternative).  Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining 3/4 cup flour to stiffen the dough.
  3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes. (or for 6 minutes by machine). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour -- all the ingredients should be hydrated. If the dough seems too dry and rips when you try to stretch it, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.
  4. Immediately divide the dough into 4 1/2 ounce pieces for standard bagels, or smaller if desired. Form the pieces into rolls.
  5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.
  6. Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Proceed with shaping the bagels in one of the two following ways:
    1. (A) poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and (B) gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots). (fp note: this is the method i use. seems easier to me.)
    2. Toll out the dough into an 8-inch long rope. (A) Wrap the dough around the palm and back of your hand, between the thumb and fore-finger, overlapping the ends by several inches. (B) Press the overlapping ends on the counter with the palm of your hand, rocking back and forth to seal.
  7. Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pans. Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and slip each pan into a food-grade plastic bag, or cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
  8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the "float test". Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.
  9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500 degrees with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda. Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.
  10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit. After 1 minute flip them over and boil for another minute. If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour. If you want to top the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water.
  11. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450 degrees and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown. You make bake them darker if you prefer.
  12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Who doesn't like pie?

I have grown to really enjoy making pie.  In the process, I am slowly getting better with pie crust.  I have a favorite recipe for an all-butter crust, and I am working to make it tender and flaky every time.  I am not, however, good at making the edges pretty.  I always seem to trim the edges too close to the pie plate, not giving myself enough room to crimp the edges properly.  They always come out looking a little wonky, but they still taste great.

I made this pie to take to dinner at my parents’ house.  I’m not entirely sure why I chose banana cream pie, other than I saw a picture of one and it just looked so good, I had to make it.  I found this recipe on Annie’s Eats, and, like everything on her site, it does not disappoint.  If you go to her site, you can see her recipe for pie crust, which I’m sure is great, but I used my favorite, which I printed below.  It is actually for a double-crust, so it will make twice as much as you need.  You can either halve the recipe or you can freeze the extra.  The recipe came from America’s Test Kitchen’s “Family Baking Book”. I decided to add a thin layer of dark chocolate to the inside of the crust, for no real reason other than my love of the chocolate/banana combo.  You certainly don’t have to do this, but if you do, it’s pretty easy.  I just melted a couple of ounces of dark chocolate in a double boiler, and then spread it in the baked pie crust.  I let the whole thing cool so that the chocolate could harden before I started adding the filling.  The end result was pretty darn tasty. 

Banana Cream Pie

For the Crust:
1/3 cup ice water, plus extra as needed
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen for 10 to 15 minutes

For the pastry cream:
2 cups whole milk (I used 2%, because that’s what we had, and it worked just fine)
6 large egg yolks
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter, cut into bits

3 ripe but firm bananas, plus extra for garnish

For the topping:
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.     Mix 1/3 cup of the ice water and sour cream together in a small bowl until combined. Process the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor until combined (add the pumpkin pie spice at this step, if using).  Scatter the butter pieces over the top about pulse the mixture until the butter is the size of large peas, about 10 pulses.
2.     Pour half of the sour cream mixture over the flour mixture and pulse until incorporated, about 3 pulses.  Repeat with the remaining sour cream mixture.  Pinch the dough with your fingers; if the dough feels dry and does not hold together, sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons more ice water over the mixture and pulse until the dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains, 3 to 5 pulses.
3.     Divide the dough into 2 even pieces.  Turn each piece of dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten each into a 4-inch disk.  Wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Before rolling the dough out, let it sit on the counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes. 
4.     Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Transfer the chilled dough to a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough into a thin round large enough to fit a 9-inch round pie plate. Carefully transfer the dough to the pie plate, trim the edges and use your thumb and fingers to crimp the edge. Cover with a piece of foil or parchment paper, and fill the pie plate with baking beads (dried beans or rice works too). Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the crust is nearly set. Remove the foil and baking beads and bake the crust uncovered for 5 more minutes, or until it is completely baked and light golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
5.     In the meantime, make the pastry cream. Bring the milk to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until well blended and thick. Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about ¼ cup of the hot milk to temper the eggs so that they don’t curdle. Then, still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat and, still whisking constantly, bring mixture to a boil. Allow to boil, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes before removing from the heat. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the custard is smooth and silky. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard and refrigerate until cold (this can be a day or two ahead).
6.     When you are ready to assemble the pie, peel the bananas and cut them diagonally into ¼ inch thick slices. Whisk the chilled custard to loosen it, then spread about a quarter of it over the cooled pie crust. Top with a layer of banana slices. Repeat, adding a thin layer of pastry cream and the remaining bananas, then smooth the rest of the pastry cream over the last layer of bananas.
7.     To make the topping, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream just until it starts to thicken. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat until the cream holds firm peaks. Spoon the topping over the pie filling and spread to cover the edges of the custard. Garnish with extra banana slices, if desired.  Slice and serve (this pie is best eaten the day it is made).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

By request

I love to take requests.  When someone tells me to just make “whatever I want”, I often find it somewhat overwhelming.  There are so many recipes out there I want to try, techniques to learn, the options are endless!  When someone requests something, it’s much easier for me to settle on a recipe (or two).

Friend A was coming to town, and had recently professed her new-found love for biscotti (which is weird, because she doesn’t really drink coffee, and it’s not really hot beverage season anymore where she lives).  She wanted me to make her some biscotti, and since I enjoy doing it, I was happy to oblige.  The only parameters that she gave me were that she wanted something with pistachio.  Well, I was going through my Google reader (seriously an awesome thing, if you follow lots of blogs like I do), and I found a couple of recipes I wanted to try.  Since biscotti are pretty hearty cookies, I knew if I made a lot of them, it would be okay because they wouldn’t really go bad.  And besides, the more I made, the more I could eat before I had to hand them over. 

In the end, I settle on two kinds:  Spiced Mocha, and Honey Pistachio Biscotti.  The spiced mocha were for my own curiosity, and the honey pistachio were because that’s what A wanted.  Both were good, but I definitely preferred the mocha ones.  The pistachio ones are not very sweet, which is okay, but I could taste the olive oil a little too much for my own liking.  If I make those again, I think I will add more lemon zest, and maybe use a different kind of oil. 

The only major changes I made were to the mocha biscotti.  I used regular all purpose flour, since I didn’t have whole wheat pastry flour (but I do have regular whole wheat flour).  Also, I didn’t have hazelnuts, so I used slivered almonds instead because it’s what I had on hand.  Come to think of it, I would bet that the pistachio biscotti would be pretty darn tasty if you made them with pine nuts.  Maybe I’ll try that some time.

Spiced Mocha Hazelnut (Almond) Biscotti
Makes about 30 small cookies
Source: Food Doodles

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or AP flour)
2 ½ tablespoons cocoa
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 small eggs or one extra large egg
1 tablespoon hot water
1 teaspoon instant coffee (I used instant espresso, because that’s what I had)
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts or almonds

1.     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2.   Toast the nuts for 10-15 minutes on a baking sheet in the oven. Remove from the oven and let cool while mixing the other ingredients.
3.     In a medium sized bowl, mix the hot water and coffee until the coffee granules are dissolved. Set aside. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Add the eggs and sugar to the coffee mixture and mix well, then add the dry ingredients. Mix until most of the dry ingredients are incorporated, then add the nuts and mix until fully incorporated.
4.     Scoop dough out onto a parchment lined and lightly greased baking sheet. The dough should be fairly sticky to the touch so wet your fingers and then shape the dough into one 15” log and press down to about 1” tall or slightly less as it will be larger once baked.  Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the top of the log is firm. Remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.
5.     On a diagonal, slice the log after cooling for just a couple of minutes into ½” slices and place slices on their sides on the baking sheet.  Return to the oven for 20 minutes until completely dry.  Cool cookies completely before storing in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Honey Pistachio Biscotti
Source: Liv Life

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups whole wheat four
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 large eggs
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.     In a medium bowl, whisk together the all purpose and whole wheat flours, the baking powder and salt. In a large bowl beat together the sugar, honey, eggs, oil, zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract until well combined. In batches add the dry ingredients until the mixture forms a dough. Stir in pistachios.
3.     Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead several times. Shape into a log about 10 inches long and 3 inches wide. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. With a serrated knife, cut ½ inch diagonal slices. Arrange on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the cookies over and bake the biscotti until golden, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

And, since you got a bonus recipe this round, I will give you a bonus story to go with it!  I bought the pistachios in a giant bag from Costco (I was with Friend A at the time).  When we were all done in the store, she wanted a hotdog.  I wasn’t hungry, but I did want to eat some of the giant bag of pistachios.  We sat at a table, I opened the bag, and then somehow (I think it was a flying monkey), the bag was knocked off the table, and landed, upside down, on the ground.  Three quarters of the bag ended up on the ground.  Feeling thoroughly embarrassed (A’s laughter didn’t really help), I found an employee, and told him that I spilled the nuts and maybe he wanted to send someone out to clean them up.  Unexpectedly, I ended up getting a whole new bag of pistachios, free of charge!!!  Of course, I did take some ribbing from the employees while they cleaned up my huge mess, but as far as I was concerned, it was worth it, and I deserved it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me; otherwise I would have taken a picture of the carnage.