Birthday Baking

January 30, 2010

A batch of crackly, awkward and unpleasant looking sour cream chocolate cupcakes emerge from the oven.  Ew.  How do I rectify the situation?  Well, perhaps with some cream cheese peanut butter frosting….

much better.

I was in Seattle the weekend of my friend’s birthday.  I try to never miss an opportunity to get into the kitchen and bake, especially now that I’m trying to be more health conscious and bake less as of the new year, and especially because I know I won’t be the one eating it all (well, maybe.  Let’s pretend that licking the batter off the spatula and eating mouthfuls of frosting by the spoon don’t count; shall we?).  Anyways, senior-itis is definitely taking over my mentality these days.  I spend the infamous national homework day aka Sunday browsing through blogs and baking chocolate peanut butter cupcakes and Dorie Greenspan’s pecan pie, blowing off all my homework.  My haven if there ever was one.

Now notice how the pecan pie is not pictured?  Yes, about that.  I’m sure it will taste just fine, but the pecans came out of the oven slightly burnt.   Ok, that was an understatement, the pecans looked like the members of the cast of jersey shore, put modestly, too tanned.  I made this for another friend’s birthday who likes pie.   It was really hard deciding what to make him.  In all honestly I don’t exactly know what he likes in particular. Usually for a special occasion, I try to make a person their absolute favorite dessert or flavor combination, however I do remember him requesting a pie once, and I was dying to get some use out of my new Dorie Greenspan cookbook so I went with her trusted pecan pie recipe.

When I gave him the pie today, he told me he had never had pecan pie before.  Seriously!?  I was pretty shocked.  I absolutely love pecan pie, especially ones with chocolate.  It’s something I have had every year for thanksgiving dinner since I can remember.  Then again, I am a total food snob, and at the ripe age of 18 have tasted everything from smoked tea eggs and Chou dofu in Taiwan,  Nato in Japan, Durian in Hong Kong, Fois gras in Napa and escargot in NYC.  Ok so I’m really spoiled when it comes to good food. When I was young, I skipped the mac and cheese and went straight for the salmon and brocoli on the kids menu. My mom prided her kids on being “good eaters”, and if we didn’t like something, well, her famous method was to feed it to us until we did.  (Hello Onions!) But to me, food has always represented cultural acceptance and worldliness.  I find it a total turn off when people scoff at food because it “just looks gross” and don’t give it a chance.  Ok, now I can totally see how one could be intimidated when going to dim sum and having bleached chicken feet put on your table.  But it’s more about the respect you show towards food, which in turn lends respect to the culture, I mean it’s not your fault if you don’t like the taste!

Ok, enough of my rant.  Let’s get down and dirty to these recipes!

I had a surplus of sour cream in my fridge that I wanted to use up, so I specifically looked for the recipe that called for the most sour cream I could find.  Here is what I found.  Ok, now comes the embarrassing confession time and  I’m dreading writing this, so I couldn’t find my coco powder and I went ahead and used a pack of hot chocolate mix.  Naturally right after they came out of the oven I stumbled upon my can of Ghirdelli’s coco powder.  Anyways, the hot chocolate mix has some sort of thickener in it, perhaps cornstarch and I think it affected the texture of these cupcakes just a tad.  I also only used one cup of coffee.

Devil’s Food Cake

from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book

Makes one 9” cake (or about 17 cupcakes)

For the Cake:

6 oz best-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely shopped

2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

2 2/3 cup sugar

1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup best-quality unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

¾ tsp kosher salt

2/3 cup sour cream

3 large eggs

1 1/3 cups hot strong brewed coffee

To Make the Cake

1. In the top of a double boiler set over simmering, not boiling, water, melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. When the chocolate is completely melted, whisk in the vegetable oil until smooth. Remove from the heat, but keep warm over the hot water.

2. In the bowl, of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix well.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream and eggs until smooth.

4. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, and mix until combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and mix until combined. add the hot coffee (or water) in a stream, and mix until combined. (Again, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.) The batter will be very loose.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans (or cupcake tins, I baked them for about 20-25 minutes). Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 25 minutes before turning out the layers onto the rack. Cool completely before finishing.

The baked layers may be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for 2 days. For longer storage, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze wrapped in plastic wrap and them aluminum foil for up to 2 weeks. Do not unwrap before thawing.

As for the frosting, I knew I wanted to make a cream cheese frosting.  This just looked so beautiful on Annie’s Eats.  It pipes beautifully!  I never buy frozen whipped topping, but luckily I found the ingredient in my freezer that no one had ever used.

For the frosting:

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

½ cup creamy peanut butter

3¼ cups confectioners’ sugar

1 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed

To make the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter and peanut butter until smooth.  Slowly mix in the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth and well blended.  Mix in the whipped topping until smooth and fluffy.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

I found these hidden gems at Trader Jo’s and bought them specifically because I knew they would look super cute on top of cupcakes.  But they still needed something…. maybe a pinch of coco powder; good thing  I found it after all!

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Blast from the Past

January 23, 2010

I knew I wanted to start my own baking blog from the time I was first introduced into the food blogging world.  Anticipating the start of my own site, I was a rampant baker and used my small digital camera to document every item produced in my kitchen, taking hundreds of shots of my cupcakes, cookies and cakes that I knew would one day be posted on my own blog.  However, now that I have my blog, I never look back or consider posting those old recipes I’ve made, however successful they were.  Maybe it’s the crappy lighting or blurry photography, or maybe it’s just because I can’t even keep up with posting my new recipes.  Well, today while looking through my iphoto albums, I was inspired to share some past photos and recipes of things I have made.  I do indeed have hundreds of photos sitting around serving no purpose!

Here is a brief excerpt of my baking, pre-rollininthedough.

Since I began baking, I have made a coconut cake every year for my mom’s birthday in October.  It’s her favorite, and I always try out a new recipe.  October of 2008, I was feeling ambitious and wanted to do something grand.  I found this recipe months before the date, and marveled over its impressiveness; I knew it was perfect.  However, when I read through the recipe, I was repulsed by the 10 sticks of butter called to make the entire thing.  I’ll repeat that: TEN STICKS OF BUTTER.  My family is pretty health conscious, so I tried to improve this buttery situation by opting out a few sticks from the cake batter.  Now I don’t quiet remember exactly what I did, but what I will tell you is to NOT do what I did.  If your going to make this cake, go ahead and make it with all its 10-sticks-of-butter-glory.  I followed the recipe for the frosting to a T and it turned out amazing.  Real vanilla beans.  As for my attempt to manipulate the fat out of this cake, well it had a weird flavor and dryness to it.  Looks impressive though….right?  I wasn’t confident enough to make a six layer cake, so I made it four layers.  I’m sure it will be amazing if it is done right.  Don’t mind if I just post a link, this recipe is super long: ultimate Coconut Cake

This next recipe is Dorie Greenspan’s Berry Surprise cake; a white cake with berries hidden inside, so when you cut it open the cake bursts with berries. This was a recipe done on a week of Tuesday’s with Dorie.  I fell in love with how this cake looked.  So pristine white, and berry beautiful 😉  One of my favorite blogs, Tender Crumb had one of the most beautiful interpretations of this cake which I was inspired to emulate.  I made this for my brothers surprise birthday party, so it seemed only fitting to make a Berry Surprise Cake. (I’m a corn-ball).  Known for over-doing it in the dessert department,  I also made ice cream sandwiches.  I can’t remember which chocolate chip cookie recipe I used (from the picture it looks like the NYTCCC), but I made two types of ice cream: strawberry balsamic and salted caramel.   What great flavor combinations,  if I don’t say so myself, these ice cream sandwiches were pretty dope 😀

To make the ice cram sandwiches, I let the ice cream thaw to room temperature, filled the cookies, wrapped them in plastic wrap and refroze.  Then about 30 minutes before consumption, I took them out of the fridge so they wouldn’t be hard as bricks.

I got the strawberry balsamic recipe from Tender Crumb blog as well: here

Salted Caramel Ice cream recipe:

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Adapted from David Liebovitz

2 cups whole milk, divided

1½ cups sugar
4 tablespoons salted butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the ice cream, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they’re floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

Spread 1½ cups sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later.)

Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it’s just about to burn. It won’t take long.

Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go.  The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. Stir in 1 cup of the milk.

Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F.

Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Finally, I’m going to share with you the first paid order I did; how exciting!  I remember slaving over these mini cupcakes all day.  It was so much work, but it was also well worth it.  I felt so accomplished and everybody loved these Chai tea and matcha green tea cupcakes (not pictured).  These were made for the Marin Chinese Cultural Association Asian scholarship dinner, so I went with tea flavors. Michelle from une-deuxsenses blog raved about this chai recipe, and I used a matcha cupcake recipe I created myself.  My first attempt at Swiss Merengue buttercream, it was glorious.  Recipe is here

A sample of past baking.  I can promise more is to come……

to be continued!

Seattle Chocolate Tour

January 20, 2010

I went up to Seattle this weekend to visit my awesome sister.  What a fun trip;  I got to see her hip hop group in concert, meet my pen pal and well-known blogging buddy Elissa from 17 & Baking, and take a Chocolate Indulgence Tour of the city.  And the tour is quiet accurately named, as one basically walks around a few city blocks visiting the most plush and swanky chocolate boutiques, indulging in an excess of chocolate.  From coconut cream pie, to cheesecake, to truffles,  I was not left hungry.  And as much as the calories pained my body, I highly recommend this fun experience.  Sorry about the funky lighting, I was in and out of shops!  Check it out…

Our First stop was the bar at the May Flower hotel where the bar tender took the group through chocolate cocktail making.  This right here is a combination of coffee liquor, dark chocolate liquor, and rum… perhaps something else.  Well, he topped it with rosted coffee beans and boy was it delicious.  Nothing like a shot of rum in the morning…

Next, we walked on to Dahlia Bakery

We were first treated to the famous triple coconut cream pie.  Now how is this chocolate?  well… the white chocolate shavings of course! ok so not super chocolate, but it was SUPER delicious.  YUM.

Next were chocolate crinkles that were chewy, gooey, rich and delicious

Next, we walked over the Caffe D’Arte, where we were served strong and dark chocolate mocha.

I also volunteered to help make latte art!

Next stop: Chocolate Box

This place has so much going on:  coffee bar, gelato, handmade truffles, confections, and bakery.

And of course we got samples…. ( more like a meal!)

Here is my mom enjoying an incredible chocolate enrobed gooey brownie.  so good!

chocolate cupcakes with a dark chocolate ganache filling and swiss merengue buttercream:

also, we tasted these dark chocolate lemon truffles that cut through the flavor and left a pleasant and unexpected taste

The group then walked down to Pike Place Market to the Confectional a.k.a. the place to get the best cheesecake

My favorite stop on the trip.  Both desserts served here were the bomb.  Now I’m a total chocolate fanatic, rich dark chocolate that is, but surprisingly y favorite thing happened to be this white chocolate raspberry cheesecake.

“HOLY SH*T.”

Next was a death by chocolate deliciousness, “sipping chocolate.”

Warning: this sip could kill

cloves and cinnamon make this flavorful and warming.  I couldn’t believe they even serve an 8 oz size.  One could be killed.  enough said.

cheesecake:

Next and last stop (thank god!) was Fran’s Chocolates at the new Four Seasons Hotel

More Chocolate.  I’m not going to lie… I took the last few truffles home, I couldn’t eat anymore!

As a bona fide chocoholic, it was awesome.

New Year’s Resolution

January 18, 2010

New Year’s Resolution:

1.  Blog more.

I’m trying not to bake as much after the holidays;  take a break if you will.  After a record-breaking butter intake in December 2009, it only seems fitting.  So I’m trying to eat right, stay healthy, exercise, and well… blog.  But less baking and more blogging doesn’t particularly make sense!  Well, I though about this, and there is more to blog about than just French pastry cream and butter pie crust.  My baking adventures are not limited to my own little kitchen.  I will still be baking, with a more health conscious approach  and also find fun things I can share with you all.

However, I did promise you that recipe  for the chocolate toffee shortbread from Christmas in my last post.  So easy and a great crowd pleaser.  I gave several bags away as gifts.

The Shortbread:
2 sticks softened butter
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups flour

Mix until crumbly. Press into 9×13 pan and bake at 325 for 30 minutes or until the top is just lightly browned.  Poke holes with a fork to let the steam escape.

Like This…

I then made Elizabeth Falkner’s sinfully delicious sticky toffee sauce.  This is easy and utterly amazing, I have yet to taste anything else like it.  Use it to fill cupcakes, top ice cream. layer in cakes or anything else, the possibilities are endless.  This sauce gives a decadent, rich, buttery and slightly salty flavor to anything it touches.  I knew I wanted to use it in this bar.

Sticky Toffee Sauce: (makes about 3/4 cup)

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of kosher salt

Use a medium sauce pan to melt the butter over medium/ high heat.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and add the brown sugar and cream, stirring just to moisten the sugar.  Bring to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes or until the thermometer registers 225 degrees F.  Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and salt and set aside to cool.  Can be stored in the refrigerator for three days.

I cooled the hot shortbread for about 10-20 minutes and then poured the sticky toffee sauce.

Make sure to spread it all over the surface, then refrigerate for about 20 minutes to set up

While the shortbread chilled, I melted about 2-3 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips over a double broiler, and added a few teaspoons of canola oil.

Pour the chocolate on….

definitely missing something…. to make it more festive I sprinkled gingerbread men on the surface 🙂

Chill the entire thing for about an hour to let it set completely.  You can take it out and slice it right away, then let it sit out because it tastes best at room temperature.

Perfect!

I happen to be up in Seattle at the moment visiting my sister and another special friend… I made her favorite cookies to bring up to her.  Look out for the recipes in my next post!

Christmas Baking

January 4, 2010

2009 was my family’s first real Christmas in a long time.  I don’t know why, but one year my parents decided not to get a tree and fuss over Christmas.  Well, this made me very sad.  Firstly, because Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday; I just love the music, gift giving and general spirit.  Second, because my birthday is on the 23rd of December and the celebration on Christmas itself is like a birthday present to me.  Third, well I wasn’t getting very many presents!  Anyways, my family hasn’t had a really traditional Christmas in quite some time, so I was pretty ecstatic when I learned we were getting a tree and hosting a Christmas dinner party.

Of coarse, I made dessert.  I had a request for a sugar-less dessert because of a health condition, so I came up with a seasonal fruit galette adapted from Martha Stewart.

I used a combination of organic pears, persimmons and apples, about three cups.  I mixed this in a bowl with 1 tablespoon on cornstarch, two teaspoons of lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt.

I put the filling in the center of a 14 inch round pie crust, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border, and then I folded the crust over the sides.  I mixed an egg yolk and a tablespoon of cream and brushed the edges so it would bake up with a nice golden/brown color.  The only sugar I used was a small handful to dust the edges of the crust.

I baked the galette for about 1 hour until the juiced in the center were bubbling (activating the cornstarch)   and the crust was golden brown.  I dotted the top with a bit of organic strawberry jam.

This was so delicious.  No one could believe that I didn’t add any sugar to the recipe.  It was the consumed within minutes after I put the dessert out.

Next, I made Martha Steward’s Sweet Potato Cupcakes.  These were great!  The cupcakes were soft, delicious and moist.  But perhaps next time I will use an actual frosting instead of her suggested toasted marshmallow and nut topping, even though I love using a propane torch to toast the marshmallows!  I never use the broiler, a torch is so much more fun.

Here is the recipe:

Double click the recipe to enlarge.

I whipped up some decadent chocolate toffee shortbread too.  Everybody loved this.  The recipe makes a 9×13 inch pan so I had a lot to keep and give away as gifts.  You really should make this, super easy and so good!  I’ll do another post with more pictures where I leave the recipe.

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!