Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cupcake Disappointment

My friends and I were in New York last week and decided to seek out some famous cupcakes. Can I just say that I was totally disappointed? I had envisioned this cute, trendy bakery with amazing, melt-in-your-mouth cupcakes. What I found was a little run-down shop that is so small it made me almost feel claustrophobic, and the cupcakes were just average - like something you could find in any old bakery.

Needless to say, my tastebuds were craving some good cupcakes. I really wanted to make some red velvet cupcakes, because 1) I love red velvet cake, and 2) it's something I have never made before. I set out to find a good recipe, and I must say that I was very pleased with the one I found. It's from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and I was intrigued by the Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting. Doesn't that sound delicious? I have never thought to add cinnamon to my frosting!

The result was a rich, moist, slightly chocolatey red velvet cupcake. And the cinnamon cream cheese frosting? Yum! The combination of the two was amazingly good. I am a big fan.

I also made some yellow cupcakes with Cook's Illustrated Fool Proof Frosting. The yellow cake was moist and light. But the real highlight for me was the frosting. I just might have been caught piping some frosting into my mouth...that is...if someone had been around to catch me.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe from Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook
Makes one dozen cupcakes

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tablespoons red food coloring
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

Preheat oven to 325° F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Turn mixer to high and add the egg. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.

In a separate bowl mix together cocoa, vanilla and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add to the batter, mixing thoroughly until completely combined. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl, making sure that all the batter gets color.

Turn mixer to low and slowly add half of the buttermilk. Add half of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour. Beat on high until smooth.

Turn mixer to low and add baking soda and white vinegar. Turn to high and beat a few more minutes.

Spoon batter into a paper lined cupcake baking pan and bake at 325° F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center cupcake comes out clean.

Let rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

2 1/3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, cold (I used room temperature)
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Beat the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-slow speed until it comes together and is well mixed.

Add the cream cheese all at once and beat on medium to medium-high until incorporated.

Turn the mixer to medium-high and beat for 5 minutes, or until the frosting becomes light and fluffy.

Do not over-beat as the frosting can quickly become runny.

Classic Yellow Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Turn mixer to high and add the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated. Add the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, ending with the flour, mixing just until incorporated.

Spoon batter into a paper lined cupcake baking pan and bake at 350° F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center cupcake comes out clean.

Let rest in the pan for 10 minutes, then place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

Fool Proof Chocolate Frosting
Recipe from Cook's Illustrated
Makes 3 cups to frost one 9-inch, 2-layer cake

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
Pinch table salt
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 ounces milk chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

In food processor, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. Frosting can be used immediately and can be made 3 hours in advance. For longer storage, refrigerate the frosting, covered, and let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Everything but the Kitchen Sink Cookies

I was watching Martha Stewart the other day when she started into her baking segment. She had her plumber on the show giving DIY tips and had him help her make Everything but the Kitchen Sink Cookies (appropriately named for more than one reason). These cookies seriously have everything in them. Oats. Check. Chocolate. Check. Coconut. Check. Nuts. Check. Cranberries. Check. Toffee. Check. Pretzels. Check?

Yep, pretzels. I've never made cookies with pretzels in them. And now that I have, I still don't know what I think. It's...strangely...pleasant? Let me explain.

When I pulled the first batch of these cookies out of the oven, my husband and I both dug right in. Our initial reaction was that they were just all right. But being who we are, we kept eating more. And more. After about the 10th cookie each (ok, maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration...maybe) we realized that these cookies had grown on us. We liked them. They were different. Enjoyable for some reason that we couldn't quite put our finger on. Maybe it was the pretzels.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink Cookies
Martha Stewart

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup toffee bits
3/4 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate
3/4 cup dried cherries (I used cranberries)
3/4 cup roughly chopped pecans
3/4 cup roughly chopped salted pretzels

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and both sugars. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Stir in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, gradually add to the butter mixture; continue mixing until well combined. Add the oats, coconut, toffee, chocolate, cherries, pecans, and pretzels and mix on low until just combined.

Using a 2-inch ice-cream scoop, drop batter onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Press tops down with the palm of your hand to flatten cookies evenly. Transfer baking sheets to oven and bake until golden, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Streusel-Roasted Plums

Did I not tell you that my husband missed his calling in life? Well, he did. He has this amazing ability to look over a few recipes to get ideas, and then head into the kitchen and throw ingredients together until he gets what he wants. He's a natural.

We went to an Asian food market (which we love!) the other day and he headed straight for the plums. I thought he just wanted to eat them fresh, but when we got home he started whipping something up in the kitchen. What was he making, you ask? Streusel-Roasted Plums. It was pleasantly tart, sweet, salty, and crunchy all at the same time. Yum!

Streusel-Roasted Plums
Adapted from Bon App├ętit Magazine

5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, divided
5 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

6 large firm plums, halved, pitted

Preheat oven to 400°F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons brown sugar and lemon juice. Bring just to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves and syrup is smooth; remove skillet from heat.

Whisk remaining 3 tablespoons brown sugar, flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Cut in with back of fork until streusel begins to hold together. Mix in nuts.

Cut very thin slice off rounded side of each plum half (to create flat surface). Lightly press 1 tablespoon streusel onto cut side of each plum half. Place plums, streusel side up, in syrup in skillet. Roast plums until just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and preheat broiler. Broil plums until streusel is crisp and golden, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Place 2 plum halves on plate and top with whipping cream or ice cream, then spoon over syrup from skillet.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Freezer Jam

The other day I was browsing through some blogs when I saw these fabric jam toppers. I thought they were so stinkin' cute and wanted to print them out right then and there. But then I remembered that I didn't have any homemade jam to put the toppers on. Hmmm.

For obvious reasons, I decided that I needed to make some jam. I'll admit, I'm not a purist when it comes to making jam. I just don't have it in me to do the whole sterilizing, cooking, steaming thingy. When I was young, my mom would make peach freezer jam, and I loved it. Freezer jam - it's so fresh and light tasting - and easy. Perfect!

My husband loves strawberry jam, and I love peach jam, so I had to make both. Luckily we have a produce junction nearby that sells fruit cheap. And even more luckily there were still tons of jars at the store. Ball makes these jars with cute silver lids now and I'm a big fan!

There is a lot of sugar in jam. Did you know that? If you didn't, you might not want to make your own so you can stay ignorant of that fact.

And now we have strawberry jam. Lots of it! I got 6 8oz jars out of one batch (I made 2 batches).

And peach jam! I got 8 8oz jars out of one batch.

Sure Jell Freezer Jam

2 cups crushed strawberries, a little over a pint (3 cups crushed peaches, about 2 lbs, plus 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice)
4 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl (4 1/2 cups sugar for peach jam)
3/4 cup water
1 box SURE.JELL Fruit Pectin

Mix crushed fruit with sugar, and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir the pectin into the water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 1 minute. Stir the boiling water into the strawberries. Allow to stand for 3 minutes before pouring into jars or other storage containers.

Place tops on the containers, and leave for 24 hours. Place into freezer, and store frozen until ready to use.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pioneer Woman's Banana Bread

The other day Pioneer Woman posted this recipe, and I just so happened to have some bananas that were a little past their prime. I was pretty excited that I would get to use my bundt pan, since I've only used it a handful of times since my sister gave it to me for Christmas.

The bread was much more cake-like than other banana breads that I have made. The recipe didn't call for any nuts, and I know that some people prefer nuts in their banana bread (my husband included). It was very moist, and stayed that way for the remainder of the days that I munched on it. Delicious!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fruit Pizza

A couple of weeks ago we had a farewell party for one of our dear friends. He was being deployed to Afghanistan the next day and we all wanted to see him before he left. I wanted to make a special dessert for him, so I asked his wife what his favorite dessert was. She said he loves fruit pizza, so fruit pizza is what I made!

The recipe I used is one my family used to make when I was younger. I'm not sure where my mom got the recipe because the copy I have is handwritten and extremely vague. But I remember it being good, so I used it.

I wasn't quite sure on the cook time, and I'm still not sure. I couldn't really tell if the crust was ever done, and in the end I think I could have cooked it a little longer. My tip would be to cook it until it's starting to brown on top.

I also was unsure of the cream cheese topping, since my recipe just says to use equal parts of cream cheese and equal parts of whipping cream. I decided to beat the cream until it was whipping cream consistency, and then used a hand mixer to mix it in with the cream cheese, and added powdered sugar. In the end I think it turned out nicely. I also cut the pizza before adding the fruit for ease in dishing it out. Here's the awesome recipe I used!

Fruit Pizza

1 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

Mix all ingredients together and press into an 18 x 13 inch jelly roll pan, or 2 round pizza pans. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 325 degrees.

Equal amounts of cream cheese and whipping cream (I used 8 oz of each). Then add powdered sugar as needed.

Spread on crust when the crust is cooled, and then top with your choice of fruit toppings: kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mandarin oranges.