Friday, July 30, 2010

The five-hour dessert

I think when I'm stressed, I bake more. That, and when I can't drive. So I'm blogging twice this week. Life in general has been stressing me out a bit, plus I've been sort of chained to my house. I got the new car, and I took it out on my time off when I wasn't busy eating, sleeping or working. Which left days off. Then, when I finally had time to drive, the car would die and need to be jumped. I actually had time to take it out the other night and drove it without killing it (!), and then it died when we stopped at the gas station for water. All signs pointed to needing a new battery, especially after it took 10 minutes to jump it. Turns out that battery turns seven years old next month. I think it was definitely time for a new one. Now I just have to get comfortable driving a stick shift. Sigh.

So on one of those days off when I was planning to drive, I took the day to bake with Aunt Betty. I like to have a couple days off in a row before baking with her, because we inevitably end up taking hours and make multiple things. Focaccia was on the list this time, and then we decided to pick out something from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, which Mom got me for graduation. I really want to try making macarons, but apparently those don't mix too well with humidity. So instead we settled on a chocolate napoleon. Little did I realize that it would take five hours....

First, though, the Joy of Cooking focaccia. This is my aunt's go-to cookbook, and she gave me one last year. I can see why, too, because the bread is yummy. It starts its life as pizza dough, but you let it rise longer and then put yummy toppings on top. We did one round of sundried tomatoes, parmesan and herbs and the other with olives, herbs and cheese. Pretty easy for some tasty bread!

Let's talk about this puff pastry for the napoleon though. Homemade puff pastry — don't ever do it unless you've got strong arms and lots of free time. Martha wants you to roll out the pastry six separate times, and since each cycle is actually rolling it out to a 20x9 inch rectangle twice, that's a lot of rolling. Lots of butter, too. See those layers in the picture, though? Yeah, we put those there. Through lots of rolling.

It turned out really yummy though. A nice chocolate custard, fixed by Aunt Betty after it wasn't thickening, a yummy glaze on top and I've made a napoleon! Aunt Betty said the last time she made it was 35 years ago. I think that sounds like a good time frame for the next time I make it! :)

My next day off, I didn't do anything, and it was great. I watched a movie (Serenity, finishing out Firefly — so good!) and read a book (Percy Jackson part 3...seriously some good stuff). The next day, though, was my most productive recently. Replaced my bank card, got a car battery, moved out of my old house and made cookies, all before work! The cookies were a recipe my friend Sarah gave me. This is the same Sarah who asked for vegan cupcakes for her birthday, so these are vegan Mexican chocolate snickerdoodles, a cookie she'd made before too. Seriously, though, easiest cookie ever. Tasty too, with a kick, because it had cayenne pepper in it. It's like eating a cookie and only about 10 seconds later realizing it was spicy. Definitely will be making these again.

My last dessert this week was a quickie last night — lime sherbet. I'm a huge sherbet fan...I think I like it better than ice cream. Blasphemous, I know, but I'm more of a fruit-flavored girl sometimes. I was surprised at how easy it was: milk, sugar, lime zest and lime juice. That's it. It tasted so much more natural than the store-bought stuff, so I will have to try some other flavors soon.

Well, off to bed for me! Have to make sure I get enough sleep to have time to work on my cake pops I've got in the works. Oh, and catch up on Project Runway! I already watched the new Jersey Shore :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes: A new leg in the cereal cupcake marathon, plus some yummy cookies

I know it's been a while since I've written. But it's summer, right? I'm allowed to take time off. At least that's what I tell myself. Anyway, with the trip to Chicago and work, my schedule got all off last week. So I blog now! Just because I haven't written doesn't mean I haven't been baking though, of course. You knew that though.

My plan was to have a bunch of cupcakes in Chicago and talk about those places, but the trip got cut short unexpectedly, so instead I made my own desserts. I did have one cupcake at Sweet Mandy B's bakery in Lincoln Park. It was a creamsicle cupcake, and definitely tasty. It was pretty fun to eat it in the bakery, t00, which was painted all in pastel colors and very dollhouse-ish. It's not a bakery that focuses on cupcakes, so not that many were available. Not bad for an orange cupcake though.

When I got home, I decided to make a cookie recipe I've been itching to try for a while now. I'm a huge fan of sesame seeds (sesame seed bagels are the only way to go! unless there's asiago too). I found a recipe for sesame cookies from Atlantic Kitchen while browsing and thought they looked really tasty. They called for white and black sesame seeds, though, and I hadn't found black sesame seeds until a recent trip to Dean and Deluca. On a side note, if I were a millionaire, I'd probably buy everything in that store. A-MAZ-ing. Anyway, armed with two colors of sesame seeds, I made these cookies. It called for three kinds of sugar: white, brown and vanilla. I didn't have a vanilla bean handy to make the vanilla sugar and didn't feel like waiting, so vanilla extract it was. The only way I can describe the flavor is that it tastes like fall. People at work were a little reluctant to try them, but ended up liking them. They're nice and chewy inside but the sesame seeds gave some crunch. Definitely on my list of things to make again.

That day I also got a request for plain old chocolate chip cookies. I don't make plain things very often, so when I make them I always get the yummy surprise of how tasty chocolate chip cookie dough is. Mmmmm. I think my baking instincts have gotten better, because I took them out and they were perfect. Also a huge hit at work.

I made a couple other things too, but nothing super yummy that I haven't made before. But then I decided to make devil's food cupcakes for Kelly's birthday. She's a big Toy Story fan, so I made ones with her favorite dino on top. The cake has sour cream, which seems kind of weird, but it cuts the sweet just a touch and makes for a really tasty cupcake.

Then I created my own cupcakes. Kelly came over to help. My friend Taylor suggested I try more cereal cupcakes after making Fruity Pebbles ones, so these were Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I decided to make my favorite yellow cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen, as usual. I've had a hard time figuring out how much batter to put in cupcakes without them overflowing, because the cake rises a lot. This time I put two cookie scoops, and they turned out perfectly! Add some crushed cereal, a cinnamon icing and some cereal on top, and we have Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes. Wait until right before eating them to put the garnish of the cereal, though, because they get soggy sitting there. These were a hit too :)

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes

For the cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

This is half of her recipe, because otherwise you end up with a gazillion cupcakes. Mine made about 20.

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon cake flour (not self-rising)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
1 handful Cinnamon Toast Crunch, crushed into chunks

Preheat oven to 350°F. Put cupcake liners into tin.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated. Fold in crushed cereal. Put into prepared tins (like I said, I did two cookie scoops, which is like half full).

Bake until golden brown, which is generally a little longer than 15 minutes. Just watch it.

For the frosting (Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcake Book):
3 sticks butter, softened
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Ground cinnamon, to taste

Beat butter until light and creamy. Add powdered sugar about 1 cup at a time. After adding each batch, increase speed and beat heavily for about 10 seconds (this makes the frosting lighter). After all sugar is added, add vanilla and cinnamon to taste.

Frost cupcakes, top with cereal. Yum!

Also, last night my team won at trivia. It was fun! I've been going on Sunday nights when I don't work, but we haven't won yet. This time we did, and that means money. Woo hoo! My claim to fame: knowing that "Saludos Amigos" is the 1942 Disney film that's only 42 minutes long but still considered a featured animated film. If you know me well, it probably doesn't surprise you that I possess that knowledge :). And, on a final note, here's what Kansas looked like after a storm last week. Oh, Kansas summer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Baking for my parents: Mountain Dew cupcakes, pudding cake + ice cream, raspberry lemonade cupcakes and blondies

Well, the Taurus has officially been retired as my car. I now have my grandma's old car, which is a year older than my former car, but has less than half the miles. Sounds great, right? Except for the whole thing that it's a manual...and like I said last week, I can't drive a manual. I took this car out, and I'm great with all parts of driving except for starting. Kind of an important part. I know I need to just go sit out in a parking lot and just practice. Guess that's what I will be doing next week. Any tips are appreciated :)

To get the car, I went to my dad's place on the city lake of Council Grove to spend some time with him, Cathie and Drew. I had a three-day weekend, and spending part of it away was the perfect thing to do. I was celebrating my dad's birthday, too, so of course I had to bring cupcakes! My dad is a Mountain Dew addict and he kind of imparted that on me. I've been wanting to try this Mountain Dew cupcake recipe for a while, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. It's funny, because there isn't really that much Mountain Dew in them. It's much more lemon and lime juice and zests of the two fruits. When you're finished eating them, though, it really does taste like Mountain Dew.

It was great to be at the lake, though. When my dad got this place, it had wood paneling, shag carpet, all kinds of '70s nastiness. My dad's the ultimate handyman, and so far he's put in wood floors, completely redone the living room, leveled the patio, leveled the back yard, put in all kinds of landscaping...well, he's done a lot. He's still going to build a deck, paint the house, maybe build more rooms. It's a perfect place to just chill. It was perfect weather, especially in the shade of their trees. I got some reading done, some relaxing done, some TV-season-watching done, and some time spent with doggies done. I actually read a young adult book, probably the first one since I read Harry Potter. It was the first in the Percy Jackson series; I wanted to read it after seeing the movie. Definitely a good YA book, especially for people like me who love mythology. Pretty sure I read the whole book in one night.

I also made a second dessert for the weekend — my dad's favorite dessert of all time. Pudding cake. It's from an old 1979 Betty Crocker cookbook and totally confuses me in its chemistry. You mix a cocoa cake in the base, then sprinkle cocoa and brown sugar on top and pour hot water over it. When it bakes, somehow the top part becomes the solid cake and the bottom becomes something like a cross between hot fudge and pudding. Combine that with some homemade vanilla custard (made from the book that came with the ice cream maker) and we had one tasty birthday dessert. Happy birthday Dad!

After the lake, we came home (in the car I can't quite drive) to go to a cookout with Mom at my aunt's house. Mom was on her way through town from Denver, and we wanted to do a cookout. I decided to create my own cupcakes from a mashup of multiple recipes I'd tried. The ultimate goal was raspberry lemonade cupcakes. First, I made this lemon cupcake recipe, which is a nice, strong cake. Then I made a syrup out of raspberry lemonade concentrate and poured it into the cupcakes like in these cherry limeade cupcakes. It's a great way to get more flavor in the cake. For the icing, I made a double batch of Martha Stewart's buttercream icing, the recipe for which I now have memorized (3 sticks butter, 4 cups powdered sugar and vanilla...real healthy!). Half of it I mixed in lemon juice, lemon zest, a little bit of lemon extract and some yellow coloring. The other half I mixed in more of the raspberry concentrate. Swirl together and top with a raspberry and a candied lemon peel (which Drew made again!) and we got some pretty neat looking cupcakes. My family loved them too. :) I'll post the whole recipe below.

I had to get one more baking day in before I leave for vacation, so last night I made a really quick and easy recipe: pretzel M&M blondies. Have you tried these new M&Ms? They're wonderful! And so is this recipe. It has a total of seven ingredients and takes no time to throw together. Apparently blondies aren't a common thing, but in case you didn't know, they're basically brownies without the chocolate. I promise, it's a good thing! These are definitely worth trying.

For the rest of the week I'm headed to Chicago (and hoping to hit up as many cupcake places as possible!). I'll take pictures for sure. I can't wait!

Raspberry lemonade cupcakes

For the cake (From My Baking Addiction):
makes 24 cupcakes

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
lemon zest from two lemons
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the syrup (Adapted from Annie's Eats):
3/4 cup raspberry lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Set oven to 350° F. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extracts, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.

Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Place the batter into the cupcake tins. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Mix syrup ingredients. Poke holes in cupcakes (I use a bamboo skewer). Use pastry brush to brush the syrup over cooled cupcakes, repeating until complete.

Frost accordingly. I would post a recipe for my frosting...but I just added flavoring until it tasted good!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Red, white and baking (and a semi-fail!)

Well, I just finished my work week and have a three-day weekend. Woot! But now, like a crazy person, I'm still awake. Transitioning to be awake during the days is kind of tough. I got a lot of cleaning done this morning, and played with the cat, and made some cupcakes. So I suppose I did well. AND I cleaned out my trusty (or not-so-trusty, depending on the day) Taurus, which will no longer be mine, as of tonight. That's right, I'm getting a new car! Or, a different car, more accurately. My graduation present from my grandma was her car, because she doesn't drive any more. It's got roughly 70,000 fewer miles than my car and in pristine condition. Minor detail, it's a stick shift. Guess I'll have to learn on the fly. I'm getting a little sentimental about parting with the Taurus, but it's definitely got it's issues. My favorite? Sometimes, when I turn the left blinker on, the windshield wipers turn on. But the brakes are going bad, as is all of the wiring, and the steering shaft makes weird noises, and the engine does's time to retire that poor car. So I'm exchanging that car with my Dad today when I head to the lake, which I'm also excited about! No internet (except on my phone) and some downtime to just read and hang out. It's going to be nice. It's my belated Fourth of July, except without fireworks, which I don't like anyway, so it all works out.

I did my share of baking for the Fourth, including my very first semi-successful foray into cake pops. They might be the messiest things I've ever made. First, you bake a 13x9 cake, then crumble it up into a bowl, which isn't exactly clean. Then, you mix the cake with frosting, and the easiest way to do it is with (newly washed) hands. Then you roll the mix into little balls and stick a lollipop stick in. Then refrigerate and cover with candy melts. I had a few problems, mainly I've never worked with candy melts before and apparently you're not supposed to mix liquid (read: food coloring) in with them or it changes their consistency. Lesson learned. That, and next time I will make my pops smaller so they're easier to both decorate and eat. But I definitely need to practice them more, and it doesn't hurt that they taste so yummy too! :)

I made the pops for the actual Fourth of July, and then remembered I had Fourth of July cupcake liners that I had to use. After all, what good are fireworks liners after the holiday? At least, that was my reasoning :) First I made my good old faithful peanut butter brownie cups patriotism-style...meaning red and blue M&Ms with white sanding sugar. Seriously, if you ever need an easy dessert to make, these are it. Very little labor involved, and they're soooo yummy.

The other dessert I wanted to make was red white and blue cupcakes. I did something like that last year, but since then, I've gotten a lot better at baking...or so I thought. I tried a new white cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which is where my favorite yellow cake recipe is from. I tend to prefer yellow cake for some, white cake confuses me. Why isn't it yellow? It had plenty of egg yolks in it! Anyway, I had no idea how many cupcakes this would make, so I made the batter, split it into three parts, made the other two red and blue and had Drew help me layer it in. Well, the cups were a little too full, and we overflowed a bit in the oven. Baking semi-fail.

Some were salvageable, though, so I did a fairly limited amount of icing compared with what I normally do, stuck some sprinkles and an M&M on top and called it a day. It's really interesting to see the middle of these, because they kind of reflect on how cake batter rises. If you're interested, we put red in first, then white, then blue, layered flat. Hm.

So I'd say it was a fairly successful holiday of baking. Now, to go get some sleep.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

To either end of the spectrum: Fruity Pebbles cupcakes and vegan cupcakes, plus cheesecake and bars

It's been a busy week baking-wise for me, and I did something I've absolutely never done before: baked something vegan! On request, of course. I like cooking with eggs and dairy most of the time.

I've pretty much just been working recently, with a couple days off thrown in there. I'm counteracting all my baking by ramping up my gym attendance. I just joined a new one and have started going after work at like 6:30 a.m. It's the perfect time to go, because hardly anyone is there and if I just went home, I'd still be awake anyway. Might as well tire myself out so I can go home and fall asleep right away, right?

This week only half of my baking has been cupcakes...which is a step down from last week. I started by making triple citrus bars, something that had been on my dessert list to try for a while. Plus, I got a new zester, so I had to put it to good use! The bars had an animal cracker crust, something I'd never made before. Definitely didn't follow directions the first time and it was waaaay too butter. Try two, though, was fine. I had a lot of try two's this week. Anyway, these had orange, lemon and lime zest in them, plus orange, lemon and lime juice. Not my favorite bar dessert ever, but still not bad.

Before I took the bars into work, I stopped by a friend's house. He has cancer, and he's younger than me. I went to kindergarten with him, and school through eighth grade. He was my first crush ever. He was a runner. He's since gotten married and has an adorable boy. He has always been one of the healthiest people I know. He's not someone I keep in touch with regularly, but a mutual friend said people were coming over to see him before he finished his chemo, and I wanted to show I was thinking of him. I guess this is all part of growing up though; dealing with these horrible things.

My friend Sarah from work had a birthday this week, and I told her I would make her cupcakes for the event. She requested vegan, which is a pretty foreign concept to me. But I'm an avid watcher of Cupcake Wars on Food Network (big surprise, right?) and the most recent winner when she asked had been a vegan baker. I remembered I'd seen one of her recipes while going through my baking blogs, so I decided to try it: creme-filled chocolate orange cupcakes. With no dairy. Eek! Ultimately, the recipe wasn't that different from a normal cupcake, baking the cake with oil instead of eggs. It did introduce me to an unfamiliar oil, though. Coconut. It is not my friend. The consistency is strange to me and it took a take two to get it right. But a nice chocolate cake baked up, so whatever. Then I made orange butter-less buttercream to fill it, dairy-less ganache to top it and candied orange peel for a garnish. It might have been the biggest mess I've ever made in the kitchen, but ultimately worth it. They turned out tasty! I think I'll use this girl's recipes if I ever get a vegan request again.

On one of my days off, Drew and I had some good friends from school come over and eat dinner. For that, I made pink lemonade cheesecake, another sweet that had been tempting me from my bookmarks. Drew helped, and he actually candied the lemon peel all by himself. I can officially add that to his list of kitchen skills. I thought it was pretty tasty, too. Good summer dessert.

Then today, I was watching the newer episode of Cupcake Wars and got inspired to bake again. I was planning to make belated birthday cupcakes for my friend Nick at work, and I thought it would be a perfect time to use my Flintstones cupcake toppers from Bake It Pretty. So I decided to make Fruity Pebbles cupcakes...ya know, because it's the Flintstones cereal? So I made my favorite yellow cake recipe, mixed in some Fruity Pebbles, frosted them and dipped them in more Fruity Pebbles. I thought they were so cute! And not as ridiculously sweet as you'd think, either. Not bad for no recipe!

So now I will need to branch out. I'm thinking Cap'n Crunch cupcakes maybe? More vegan? Or cake pops... I will have to work up more courage to try those!
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