Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vanilla Spice Crumb Cakes

It's steady snowing away outside today, so it's definitely a good day to curl up with a hot beverage and a good book or movie with these DELICIOUS muffins! This is another recipe from the book Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos, and boy, is it a good one! They're called crumb cakes because they're similar to crumb or coffee cakes, but you bake them up as muffins. I thought they'd be good as I put the batter into the muffin liners as I got a little lick of the batter, but these muffins greatly exceeded my expectations!

The flavor of them is absolutely delicious, and in my opinion, a perfect balance of sugar and spice. The original recipe used nutmeg, but I used cinnamon since I didn't have any and I definitely recommend using cinnamon whether you have nutmeg or not! The vanilla bean gave them a nice vanilla flavor, and of course, those lovely looking vanilla seeds spread throughout. And the texture was nice and soft and fluffy. I think these might have just become one of my favorite muffins! I was a little skeptical because the recipe only used an egg white, and I never really see that too often in recipes (usually when a recipe only uses part of an egg, it uses the yolk), but they were so delicious, and hey, the egg yolk is the one part of the egg that contains fat and cholesterol, so I'm not complaining that the recipe didn't include it! Especially being as I ate 3 of the 4 muffins, 2 of them in quick succession! Ack! Maybe them being so delicious isn't such a good thing, ha ha. :)

Vanilla Spice Crumb Cakes (Adapted from Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos. No copyright infringement intended)
The recipe stated it made 3 jumbo muffins, but I made regular muffins and got 4.

  • 1 piece of vanilla bean (about 3 inches), or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used cinnamon, and like I said, I really recommend it!)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • White of 1 medium egg (I actually just used the white of an extra large egg, since that was what I had)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease only the bottoms of 3 jumbo muffin cups and set muffin pan aside. (I thought these directions were rather curious. I'm not sure what the purpose is, but I just used paper/foil liners and it was just fine. As I said, if you're using a regular muffin tin, you should get 4).
  2. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise by slicing down one edge with the tip of a sharp knife. Open the bean and scrape the seeds into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the granulated and brown sugars to the bowl and mix well with a fork. Add the flour, salt, and nutmeg (or cinnamon), and mix with a fork until well combined. Add the butter and mix with the fork, or with your fingertips, until the mixture is crumbly (I quickly found out that fingers definitely work best). Set aside 1/4 cup of the crumb mixture for the topping.
  3. Place the buttermilk and baking soda in a small bowl. Whisk in the egg white until it is well blended. Pour the buttermilk mixture over the remaining dry ingredients and mix with a fork until just combined.
  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, dividing it evenly among them. Sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture evenly over the batter and press in lightly with your fingertips. Fill the empty muffin cups halfway with water to prevent them from scorching.
  5. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes (She must have a magic oven or something. I baked regular-sized muffins and they weren't done until about 20 minutes).
  6. Cool slightly in pans and then remove to wire racks. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cakes can be wrapped in foil and placed in a plastic freezer bag for up to a month or store any leftovers (which I doubt there will be) wrapped at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chocolate Cake with Caramel Frosting

It's my dad's birthday finally, so here's the cake I've been talking about! :) I actually did end up baking something between the Strawberry Muffins and now, but they disappeared before I had a chance to blog about them! But I'll definitely be making them again and blog about them then...because they're chocolate chip cookies, they're delicious, and they're LIGHT! Yup, a delicious, better for you cookie. But for now, back to the cake.

This is possibly my favorite cake, and it's my dad's favorite too! The cake recipe is my go-to chocolate cake. It's incredibly moist, one of the moistest I've ever had, delicious, and best of all, it's a one bowl cake! All you have to do is put all the ingredient in a bowl and mix for about 30 seconds and bam, it's ready to go! It's actually so moist that I accidentally overbaked it slightly and it was still good and moist! And the frosting is just to die for! The only drawback to the frosting is that it's kind of gooey, and so it ends up running a little bit down the sides of the cake. Both of these recipes are from allrecipes, and some of the reviewers for the frosting said that they added some powdered sugar to make it more spreadable, but the flavor is so perfect by itself that I would hate to add sugar and make it too sweet! So instead just pop it into the refrigerator until the frosting sets and it's completely fine (just make sure to take it back out of the fridge after it sets, because if you leave it in too long, the frosting will get grainy). Anyways, on to the recipes!

Go-To Chocolate Cake (Adapted from allrecipes)
Makes one 9x13 inch cake (or a 2-layered 9 inch cake)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup cold brewed coffee
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan. (I put a parchment paper round into 2 9-inch cake pans and then buttered the paper rounds as well as the side. Unless you have cake pans that have at least 2 inch sides, I wouldn't suggest using 8-inch cake pans because the cakes really rose to the top of my 9-inch ones).
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, and oil. Mix just until smooth. (Cake batter will be really thin, so don't freak out!) Pour into prepared pan/pans.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes (only about 25-30 for 9-inch pans), or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans and then remove and cool the rest of the way on cooling racks.

Caramel Frosting
(Adapted from allrecipes)
I upped the frosting just a little bit and it made a nice thick layer of frosting. I'll put the original measurements in red.

  • 3 cups plus two tablespoons packed light brown sugar (2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream (1 cup)
  • 1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (1/2 teaspoon)
  • 10 tablespoons butter (1/2 cup [8 tablespoons]) (I used salted butter and I think that's really important for this recipe. If you don't have it, I'd put about a teaspoon of salt in)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans, optional (I don't like nuts in my frosting, so I omitted)
  1. In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the brown sugar and heavy cream and bring to a rolling boil. Boil one minute. Add the baking soda and boil one more minute. Remove from heat and add butter but DO NOT STIR!! Let the mixture cool (I store in the refrigerator).
  2. Beat the mixture well with an electric mixer. Stir in pecans, if desired. (If your frosting is still really runny, store in the refrigerator until it thickens up some. It will still ooze slightly. If it starts running on your cake, as I said, store the cake in the fridge just until set and then take it out so that the frosting doesn't get grainy).
Then frost the cake and enjoy! =)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Strawberry Muffins

Yesterday my dad brought home from Costco possibly the most beautifully plump, richly red strawberries I've ever seen! We actually have a strawberry patch in our backyard, and it does grow pretty red, delicious strawberries (and most importantly of all, organic), but ours never get nearly as big as these, and these possibly also are even more red than the ones we get from our backyard! I really was itching to make something like strawberry shortcakes or this recipe from Diana's Desserts that's been on my 'To Bake' list for a while now, but there's only 5 days until my dad's birthday now, and I definitely don't want two cakes in the house at once! So instead I decided to make breakfast with them, and decided on muffins.

These muffins were good. Though I have to admit that they weren't as sweet as I like (monster sweet tooth, yeah? ;) ) But the bites that had lots of strawberry in them were quite delicious! I might have even put more strawberries in. I was actually worried that they would be dry because the batter was quite stiff. I even had to put an extra splash of milk in because I was having trouble incorporating the flour. But they were perfectly light and fluffy. Though the parts of the muffin that had strawberry in them were just slightly moist and soggy, but I expected that. It also might have had to do with the fact that the strawberry bits were still wet from when I washed them when I put them in the mix. If you make this recipe, you might want to pat your strawberry pieces dry first before adding.

Beautfiul red strawberries!

Oops...couldn't resist! x)

Strawberry Muffins (Adapted from allrecipes)
The recipe says it makes 8, but I made 3/4 of the recipe and still got 8. So with this full recipe expect to get 10-12.

  • 1/4 cup canola oil (I used vegetable)
  • 1/2 cup milk (As I said, I used an extra splash. If you're muffin batter is stiff as well, put another little splash of milk in)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I added a little brown sugar. If you like your muffins sweeter, I'd probably put in a lightly packed 1/4 cup brown sugar)
  • 1 3/4 cups flour (I put in slightly less flour. I advise to subtract 1/4 a cup and just put in 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a small bowl, combine oil, milk, egg, and vanilla. Beat lightly. In a large bowl mix together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cinnamon. Toss in chopped strawberries and toss to coat with flour. Pour in milk mixture and stir just until combined.
  3. Fill muffin cups. Bake for 25 minutes (I don't know why it says to bake so long. Mine were ready at about 19 minutes), or until the tops bounce back at the touch (or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). Cool 10 minutes and remove from pans.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Caramel Mousse

I stumbled upon this recipe in a book called Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos. I found possibly my favorite vanilla cupcake recipe on one of my favorite blogs called Cookie Madness, run by Anna, and she said that she had gotten the recipe from this same cookbook. I thought it would be worth checking out since I always bake in small batches since really it's only me and one other person in my house eating the sweets! But when I looked it up on Amazon, I found a lot of the reviewers said that there were errors in the book, so I discarded the idea of getting it. Yet a couple days ago when I was in the library, I happened to find it and decided to give it a try anyway. Once I discovered this mousse recipe, I knew I had to try it!!

This recipe didn't quite have the texture I like in a mousse; it was actually pretty much just caramel whipped cream, but it's still very delicious! If any of you guys have never made a homemade caramel sauce, I don't know what you're waiting for! I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated when I first tried to make homemade caramel, but it's actually very simple and SO much better than anything you can get in a store! (And I know that there are packaged caramels in the picture...admittedly, they're just for decoration.) Anyways, do give this recipe a try. You can use it in a multitude of other recipes, or even use it as a topping for cupcakes, pies, cheesecakes, or whatever!

Caramel Mousse (Adapted from Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos. No copyright infringement intended)

For the caramel sauce:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  1. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring with a fork (or whisk), and cook until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, swirling the saucepan frequently, until the sugar syrup is golden amber in color, 7 to 9 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually add the cream, stirring slowly and carefully- the caramel will sputter when the liquid is added. The sugar will seize and harden. Return the pan to the heat and continue cooking until the sugar melts again, about 2 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Makes about 1/2 cup.
For the mousse:
  • 1/2 cup cold heavy cream
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons caramel sauce (I ended up adding more to taste. I recommend starting out putting in the 3 1/2 tablespoons and tasting the mousse and then adding more caramel sauce if you wish.)
  1. Place the cream in a chilled mixing bowl with a chilled whisk attachment/beaters (she recommends using a hand-mixer since the recipe is small, but I used my KitchenAid and it worked just fine). Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes.
  2. Beat in 3 1/2 tablespoons caramel sauce and mix until well blended, 20 to 30 seconds. (Taste the mousse and add more caramel sauce to taste if you wish). Serve immediately or place in small bowls and wrap with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Makes 2 small servings.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Extreme Vanilla Cupcakes

Even though I had a major disappointment before I made these, the resulting cupcake was awesome and definitely made me brighten up! I first stumbled upon the recipe on a blog called justJENN recipes, under the name "VERY Vanilla Cupcakes," but I made a few changes from the recipe that warranted the name "Extreme!" These cupcakes are chock-full of vanilla in three forms: extract, vanilla milk, and, in with my change, vanilla bean. In Jenn's original recipe, she used vanilla sea salt, but since I didn't have any, I decided to substitute vanilla beans instead.

Anyways, the disappointment had to do with the mini little nut & party cups I was planning on making these in. I've seen them used in multiple blogs and being as I've never made mini cupcakes, the prospect sounded incredibly fun! I found Wilton nut & party cups at Michael's and was excited as I opened the package. I thought they'd be great, especially for someone like me since they stand up by themselves and don't require a mini cupcake tin, something that I don't have. But lo and behold, when I opened the package, they had a wax coating on the inside!! ARGH! Those can't go in the oven! I was so upset, particularly so because the packaging didn't even mention that they had a wax coating and were unsafe for baking. So I had to drag out the ol' regular-sized cupcake tin and paper liners. Definitely not as exciting.

But like I said, the resulting cupcake was still great, so all was good. By the way, please excuse my crazy piping on the cupcake. This is really the first time I've ever seriously tried piping anything, so I know it looks a little ridiculous, ha ha! I just tried a regular swirl at first, but I didn't quite get the edges, so I went back and did some crazy shell-like border around the edges. Feel free to giggle, as I certainly did! But I had a lot of fun trying to pipe and I look forward to practicing and getting better!

Extreme Vanilla Cupcakes (Adapted from justJENN recipes)
I halved the recipe twice and only got 4 cupcakes, so it's safe to say that this full recipe will yield about 16 cupcakes.

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour (Again, I always use the all-purpose and cornstarch trick. See post below for how-to.)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla sea salt (I just scraped in some vanilla beans and used regular salt)
  • 1 cup vanilla milk (Jenn used Horizon Organic Vanilla Milk. I didn't have any, so just put a couple drops of vanilla into regular old 2%)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tin with paper liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and sea salt (or whatever salt you're using). Set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time until incorporated and then vanilla (and vanilla bean seeds, if using).
  4. Add milk, alternating with the dry ingredients until combined, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
  5. Spoon batter into prepared liners and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Jenn said in her post that she just frosted with a simple vanilla buttercream. Since I wanted to keep with the amped up vanilla theme, I frosted with a vanilla bean buttercream, yum!

Vanilla Bean Buttercream (adapted from, Oprah.)
(This recipe is enough to frost 24 cupcakes, so it'll be more than you need. Feel free to reduce the ingredients slightly.)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • (I also added in a little shot of vanilla extract! Yay, vanilla!)
  1. Cream the butter in a medium-sized bowl (or stand mixer) until very smooth. Add vanilla bean seeds and mix until they are evenly distributed.
  2. Add salt and milk (and vanilla extract, if using) and stir until combined (it probably won't come together very well being as it's fat and a liquid, but don't worry about it. It'll all come together once you add the sugar.)
  3. Sift the confectioners' sugar over the butter mixture and beat until perfectly smooth. If too loose, add some more confectioners' sugar. If too stiff, add some more milk.
By the way, as I was editing and adding text to my photo, I found this effect on Picnik:Ha ha!! Vanilla cupcake is all powerful! x)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake

I have been DYING to make this cake, and I was so happy that I finally got a chance to! This recipe is from the book Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan and I've spotted it on numerous blogs from those who participate in Tuesdays with Dorie or Daring Bakers. It looked so good, since I'm a fan of both lemon and raspberry. Since I was so eager to try it, I went ahead and made it even though it's less than two weeks until my dad's birthday, which I will be making another cake. So to make sure the cake got eaten up and that we didn't get burnt out on cake, I made just one layer instead of two.

My cake isn't very beautiful, so I apologize for that. It's why I opted for an up-close view of the cake when I took a picture. I'm novice to the extreme when it comes to cake decorating and I don't have a very good piping bag, so I'm going to look into getting a good one so I can start practicing! After I baked the cake, I realized it hadn't risen very much. It wasn't until the cake was cooling that I found these tips on making the Perfect Party Cake from Ms. Greenspan. D'oh! But that's okay, because the cake was still very good. One thing that I was super afraid of was that I wouldn't like the raspberry jam in the middle. I am an extremely picky eater and even if I like things individually, when they get put together, sometimes they don't sit quite right with me. And when I took a first bite, I was afraid that that fear had come true. Something about the butteriness of the frosting and
jam combination was weird to me. But the more I ate of the cake, the more delicious it became! Phew! Disaster avoided! The flavors compliment each other very well, but then I always think lemon compliments berry fruit well. I have quite a few notes about the recipe since I halved it and did a couple things differently, so make sure you read carefully! Also, if Ms. Greenspan herself happens to come across my post and does not wish this recipe to be posted, I will be happy to take it down.

Perfect Party Cake
Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan) (I made half of the recipe, just one 9-inch cake layer. The original measurements will be in red, my notes will be in green.)

For the cake:

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (2 1/4 cups) (I just used an easy substitute for cake flour: put two tablespoons of cornstarch into a 1 cup measuring cup and fill the rest of the way with all-purpose flour. Do this for every 1 cup of cake flour.)
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder (1 tablespoon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk or buttermilk (1 1/4 cups) (I used sour milk, a substitute for buttermilk. Put 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in a 1 cup measuring cup and fill the rest of the way up with milk. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Do this for every 1 cup of buttermilk. I also accidentally put in 3/4 cup, which would equal 1 1/2 cups in the original. Whoops! But I actually think in the end it helped my cake be more moist and less crumbly, so it wasn't necessarily a bad mistake!)
  • 2 large egg whites (4 large)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (1 1/2 cup sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (2 teaspoons) (I actually used more zest - note below)
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick [8 tablespoons])
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure lemon extract (1/2 teaspoon) (I didn't have any of this and I pretty much never use lemon extract so it wouldn't be worth buying it. I compensated by putting in more lemon zest.)

For the buttercream:

  • 3/4 cup sugar (1 cup)
  • 3 large egg whites (4 large)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature (3 sticks)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)

*** I read quite a few blogs who had made this recipe and the consensus was that there was only enough frosting to frost a thin coat on the cake. If I had actually followed
the halved recipe, I would have used 1/2 cup sugar, 2 egg whites, etc., but I wanted a nice layer of frosting, so I bumped it up. This is a swiss meringue buttercream recipe, and I follow the standards of 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons/half stick) of butter per one egg white (Ms. Greenspan's original recipe uses more butter). If you wish to make the full recipe and want to bump up the frosting as well, I'd advise you to follow the recipe: 1 1/4 cup sugar, 5 egg whites, 2 1/2 sticks butter, and the rest stays the same.

For finishing:

  • 1/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves, stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable (2/3 cup) (I actually didn't even measure. I just spread on enough to make a thin coat.)
  • About 3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut (1 1/2 cups) (I'm not a coconut fan, so I omitted.)

Getting started:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. B
utter two (I, of course, used one) 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To make the cake:
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 an
d 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 extract, 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 (this is something that I would normally advise against, but I think Ms. Greenspan knows what she's talking about, so I went ahead and did it). Divide the batter between the two pans (one pan if using my halved recipe) and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.

Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To make the buttercream:
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look
like shiny marshmallow cream (it actually shouldn't look like this yet, so don't be alarmed if yours doesn't). Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes (just feel the mixing bowl to judge; if it doesn't feel warm, it's good to go).

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again (it also may appear to be super soupy...again, just keep beating and it will thicken up!). On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To assemble the cake:
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with 1/3 of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about 1/4 of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the sam
e with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cook's Illustrated's "Perfect" Chocolate Chip Cookie

Man, this cookie was good! I'd say it comes about as close to perfection as a regular chocolate chip cookie recipe can come. I still don't think it beats my favorite cookie recipe of all time (a certain Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, which I will definitely blog about the next time I make them), but it's definitely super high up there on a scale of my favorite cookies. The recipe is actually very close to a chocolate chip cookie that I used to think was the best CC cookie I had come across, called the Best Big, Fat, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie, from Allrecipes. There are a few small changes, but the most noticeable one is the one that I think makes all the difference in these cookies and gives them a flavor that's out of this world: browning the butter. The brown butter in these cookies gives the dough the most unbelievably nutty, caramely, delicious flavor ever! The dough tasted kind of like Werther's caramel candies and I had a hard time keeping myself from eating it straight out of the bowl!

One thing that's super important to these cookies though is REFRIGERATION!! I said in my previous post that I always refrigerate my dough because it makes it so the outside of the cookie gets nice and crispy while the insides stay ooey, gooey, and chewy, since the butter in the dough has set and firmed up and therefore doesn't melt as fast and doesn't cause the cookies to spread out as much. This particularly holds true with this recipe. I baked a few right after I made the dough since I was eager to try the recipe and refrigerated the rest. The result was a HUMONGOUS cookie; it had really spread! It was good, but it was a little cripser and not as chewy as I like it. When the dough had set in the refrigerator, I baked a couple more and the refrigeration made a huge difference. The cookie didn't spread nearly as much, was a lot thicker, and was nice and crispy while still gooey on the inside, just like how I like them. It seemed like the caramel flavor of the dough came out a lot more in the refrigerated cookie.

Side by side view.Different thicknesses.

I had actually even found myself wishing that I hadn't put as many chocolate chips in so I could taste the delicious nuttiness of the browned butter more, so maybe next time I'll do that. I'm not allowed to post the recipe here, but I'll direct you to a blogger who received permission from Cook's Illustrated to post it. If you're a fan of the thick, buttery, chewy cookie, definitely give this one a try and you won't be disappointed! Recipe here.

Click on image for full size. I left the overall size of this one a little larger so you could see the cookie's delicious, gooey insides. :) By the way, the recipe calls for you to divide the dough into 16 portions, about 3 tablespoons each. I measured out each cookie with a tablespoon exactly 3 tablespoons each and I only ended up with 11. So if you want to get more out of the recipe, I might suggest scaling down to 2 tablespoons each. But I'm okay with it, as I love big cookies!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chocolate Espresso Cookies

Good afternoon! I hope everyone is doing well. Yesterday the new semester started at my school, but luckily today I don't have any classes, so what better way to spend it than making cookies? I'm not sure how I first came across this recipe, but it's from Epicurious and has a rating of a full four forks, and it certainly lives up to those four forks.

This cookie is intensely dark and rich and just delicious, and it gets rave reviews! Even my brother likes them, and he usually doesn't care much for sweets, so that's a great compliment! :) It contains two types of chocolate, semi-sweet and unsweetened melted and then mixed in and then semi-sweet chocolate chips mixed into the batter. This recipe contains many interesting elements to it that defy a normal cookie recipe. One of these elements is that it contains ground coffee in it. Usually recipes will call for instant coffee powder or maybe even a shot of brewed coffee, but these cookies contain actual ground up beans in them! Secondly, there's no creaming method. Instead, you beat the eggs with the sugar and coffee until it's light-colored, to the ribbon stage. The butter gets melted with the chocolates and then mixed in. And thirdly, the cookie "dough" actually comes out to be a batter. It looks like brownie batter and actually you could probably make these as brownies instead! One of the things I like about this cookie is that if you didn't know the recipe had coffee in it, you probably wouldn't detect it. You'd just taste a deeply, dark, rich chocolate, which is what a love about combining coffee and chocolate. I didn't change a thing from this recipe, except to omit the walnuts.

Chocolate Espresso Cookies (Adapted from Epicurious)

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups (1 12-ounce bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons finely-ground dark roast coffee beans
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup walnuts (I do like walnuts, but I just didn't want them in my cookie, so I omitted)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and grease 2 large heavy baking sheets. (I just used parchment paper.)
  2. In a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup chocolate chips, and butter, stirring until smooth, and remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat.
  3. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs, sugar, and ground coffee on high speed until very thick and pale and mixture forms a ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 3 minutes, and beat in chocolate mixture. Into mixture sift in flour, baking powder, and salt and stir until just combined. Stir in remaining chocolate chips and walnuts. (As I said before, the mixture will resemble brownie batter, so don't freak out that it doesn't look like traditional cookie dough!)
  4. Drop batter by heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto baking sheets and bake in batched in middle of oven 8 to 10 minutes, or until puffed and cracked on top. Cool cookies in baking sheets 1 minute and transfer to racks to cool completely. (I always put my cookie dough in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before baking. I really suggest you do that with this recipe too. Not only will the batter stiffen up and be much easier to handle, but refrigeration always helps to give cookies nice chewy centers and crispy edges.)
(By the way, I'm working on making sure I use natural light for my photos. The one of the cookies was taken in natural light while the (awful) picture of the batter (and all of the pictures from the Banoffee Pie recipe ) was taken in artificial. My camera's not that great, but I'm doing my best to take good pictures! :) Thank the lord for Picnik! )

Friday, January 8, 2010

Banoffee Pie

Hello to anyone who happens to be reading this, and welcome to my new blog!! I greatly enjoy surfing the internet and looking at other baking blogs and have been dying to start one of my own, so here I am! I've been baking from scratch for two years now, and I am completely in love with it. And of course, not to mention that it satisfies my monster sweet tooth! Here I simply intend to blog about my baking adventures and share great recipes. And what better way to start out the new blog then with a Banoffee Pie?

Banoffee Pie is an English dessert, and the name comes from the combination of the w
ords banana and toffee. The funny thing about this pie is that it actually doesn't contain any toffee at all. Instead, it's made by layering caramel sauce (which I guess counts as the toffee, in this case) and bananas in a pie crust and then topping with whipped cream. Believe it or not, I got the idea to make a Banoffee Pie from watching my favorite show: Lost! One of the characters, Charlie (who is indeed English), names Banoffee Pie as one of the things he misses most stranded on the island. I had never heard of this pie, so it intrigued me. After looking it up and realizing I had ripe bananas that needed to be used, I decided to make it. A lot of recipes I looked over used dulce de leche as the caramel sauce (sweetened condensed milk boiled until it becomes a caramel), but this recipe was a little different and had rave reviews so I went with it.

The pie itself was very good. The caramel sauce was particularly good. I really didn't change much from the original recipe except to add my own little bits of flair. And well, I must admit that I did cheat a little and used a pre-made pie crust simply because I didn't want to fool with making one. My notes and changes will b
e in green.

Banoffee Pie (Adapted from, and converted from metric i
nto U.S. cups)

For the crust:
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 1/2 cups digestive biscuits, finely crushed (These are a kind of British cookie. If you cannot find them in your grocery store, graham crackers or any kind of crispy cookie can be substituted.)
  1. Mix together the melted butter and the crushed digestive biscuits. Press on to the base and up the sides of a 9 in. pie pan (The original recipe called for a 19cm (7 1/2") loose bottomed cake tin. It kind of sounded like a springform pan, but I wasn't sure, so I just used a regular old 9 in pie tin and it worked out fine). Place in the fridge to chill whilst preparing the caramel.
For the caramel:
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar (Caster sugar is very fine sugar, and may also go by the name superfine. If you can't find it, you can measure out regular granulated sugar and put it in the food processor for a minute or two.)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 can (397g) NESTLÉ CARNATION Sweetened condensed milk
  • Couple pinches salt, maybe about 1/2 teaspoon
  1. Place the butter and sugars and salt in a heavy saucepan (definitely add salt to your caramel to keep it from tasting flat). Heat gently, stirring until the butter is melted and the sugars are dissolved. Add the contents of the NESTLÉ Sweetened condensed milk. Bring gently to the boil, stirring continuously, and cook until a smooth golden brown caramel is formed (The caramel will never become a dark amber color. You're looking for a very light tannish color. You'll know when it's done because it becomes much thicker).
  2. Spread the caramel over the chilled biscuit base. Leave to set in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

To assemble:
  • 4 bananas (I only ended up using 2 large ones, since that was what I had.)
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons French vanilla pudding mix
  • cocoa powder for dusting
  1. Place the whipping cream, sugar, and pudding mix (I like to add pudding mix to my whipped cream because it not only adds great flavor, but stabilizes the whipped cream and keeps it from weeping) in a chilled bowl and beat with a chilled whisk until peaks form.
  2. Slice the bananas and arrange them evenly over the caramel. Top with whipped cream and decorate with a dusting of cocoa powder and any remaining banana slices.