Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Cookies!!!

Merry Christmas once again.  This time, the blog is devoted to the Christmas cookies!!  It is tradition that my grandmother and I bake the cookies that are eaten on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  I look forward to this time of year, every year.  The time I get to spend with my grandma and grandpa, the QC of the cookies ... I mean come on, do you really think we can wait until Christmas Eve???

Every year there are specific cookies that have to be made:  Candy Cane cookies, My Nana's Icebox Cookies, Biscotti, and Bourbon Balls.  Here are the recipes for the each cookie - passed down through the family and made with love every time.

The Bourbon Balls seem to get stronger every year.  The Candy Cookies are the best part about Christmas.  The Biscotti are perfect with coffee or tea any time of the day.  And the Icebox cookies are the best tribute to my Nana.

Enjoy and happy baking!!

Grandma’s Anise Biscotti

6 eggs
1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp Anise
¼ tsp yellow food coloring
1 heaping tbsp baking powder

batter after 10 minutes of beating (frothy)
Preheat oven to 350*.  Beat eggs, sugar, coloring, and Anise for 8-10 minutes (until frothy) on high speed.  Add flour and baking powder.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper.  Pour the mixture on the sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.  Turn onto pastry board or hard surface (remove wax paper immediately).  Cut in ½ lengthwise and then into 1 ½” slices on the diagonal. 

Place back onto cookie sheet and return to oven for toasting (about 10 min.)

Heat chocolate in a double boiler with some karo syrup or butter and then dunk the cooled biscotti into the chocolate and let cool on a wire rack.

Gingerbread Men Cookies
(~ 21 doz. mini cookies or ~ 8 doz. regular size)

1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp cloves
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 c. sifted flour

1 c. shortening
1 ¼ c. brown sugar
1 large egg
1 c. molasses, slightly warm

1/3 c. hot water
1 1/8 tsp. baking soda

4 to 5 cups flour

Sift together in large bowl:

ground nutmeg
powdered ginger
sifted flour

Preheat oven to 350*.  Cream shortening and brown sugar in a mixing bowl.

Work flour mixture and shortening/sugar mixture with a pastry blender until light and fluffy.  Add egg, beaten, alternately with the slightly warmed molasses.  Blend thoroughly.

Now add the hot water with the baking soda. 

Stir in 4 or 5 cups of flour into the mixture (I used about 4 ½ c.).  Chill dough in fridge for 8 hours or stick in freezer for 2 hours until chilled.  Roll out a small portion at a time to 1/8 inch thick.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes on a cookie sheet.

Nana’s Ice Box Cookies

3 eggs
1 c. butter
1 c. sugar + 1 c. brown sugar
4 c. sifted flour
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 c. chopped nuts (walnuts)

Cream butter and sugars.  Add eggs.  Add sifted dry ingredients.  Stir in nuts.  Roll out dough into a log form, wrap in seran wrap, and freeze for several hours (at least 3).  When firm, slice and bake in 400* oven for 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Candy Cane Cookies

½ c. butter, softened
½ c. shortening
1 c. sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 egg
1 ½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ c. flour sifted
1 tsp salt
Red food coloring (8 drops)

Preheat oven to 350*.  Cream butter, shortening, sugar, egg, and extracts.  Sift flour and salt together and add to the mixture.  Divide the dough in half and add the red food coloring to half the mixture. 

Take a small ball from each half and roll into strips, braid them into twists and shape into candy canes and place onto the cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with a little sugar.  Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until slightly golden brown on the edges.

Bourbon Balls

1 box of Nilla Wafers, crushed into very small bits
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 c. walnuts, frozen and crushed
3 Tbsp. light Karo syrup
½ c. Bourbon (can use ¼ - ⅓c.)

Combine all into a large mixing bowl and combine until incorporated.  Roll into small balls, then roll into confectioners’ sugar.  Store in a tin container.

Reese's Cupcakes


The best time of year has officially arrived.  It has been a long time since I have posted, but I have been baking and saving up pictures to bombard the site.  My sister's birthday is December 21st and I was in charge of the cake.  She had a birthday party the 20th with 14 of her friends and I decided to make cupcakes.  Not cupcakes that I have made before, but a new recipe ... sort of.  I made my chocolate cupcakes and made a peanut butter frosting, topped with a mini reese's cup.  They were adorable and gobbled up!!

The frosting was creamy and peanut buttery, without overpowering the rich chocolate flavor of the cupcake.  It is a must try frosting - I promise, you will not be disappointed.

On another note, for her birthday cake, I made the same chocolate cake recipe with a white chocolate buttercream frosting.  It was a two layer chocolate cake with a ganache filling.  It was moist and rich from the ganache with a slightly sweet frosting that balanced the not so sweet cake.  The first attempt I made on the frosting did not work out at all.  For some reason the consistency was more gooey than fluffy.  I had to run to the grocery store with like an hour before we had to leave for the restaurant.  Thankfully, the second time around was a success!!  Unfortunately, since I was rushed, I do not have a picture of the cake.  But everyone loved it ... even the servers at the restaurant ... there was a little left over so we gave them the rest.

Enjoy these recipes and happy baking!!!

Chocolate Cake/Cupcakes
(adapted from Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake)
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water + 2 tsp. instant espresso granules

Heat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups with paper bake cups. Set aside.

Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. 
Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla in another bowl; beat with a mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes. 
In a liquid measuring cup, pour the hot water and add the instant espresso to the hot water, stir to dissolve.  Pour the water/espresso mixture into the batter and stir to combine.  The batter will be very thin. 

Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely.  

* For a 2 layered cake: grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely

Peanut Butter Frosting

(adapted from Ina Garten)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup milk (a little less or more depending on consistency)
Mix the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the milk and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

It has been so long since I have posted a new recipe and it saddens me.  However, I have a good excuse ... excuses.  First, we are redoing our kitchen so I cannot bake a lot.  Second, I have been going on job interviews, which has taken up a lot of my time.  But I managed to bake last night ... FINALLY!!!

The occasion for this cake is bittersweet because we had a going away lunch for a co-worker.  Sad to see her go, but she is moving on, so it was a little celebration, too.  I wanted to make her something because I appreciate everything that she has done for me during my internship and she is an awesome person!  What kind of cake should I bake for the occasion?  I had no idea.  Then I came across a great blog, The Pastry Affair, which featured a Red Wine Chocolate Cake ... umm, yes please!

I really wanted to try this recipe because it sounded so delicious.  She baked the cake in a loaf pan, but I decided to bake it in a 9" spring form pan and it worked out perfectly.  The cake is everything that she said it would be and I am so happy that I made it.  Everyone really enjoyed it, too, and yet was surprised by the red wine flavor/aroma.

The cake is so moist and soft and fluffy.  It is rich in both chocolate flavor and red wine.  You smell the red wine and taste it right away, but then it quickly disappears and leaves you with the rich chocolate flavor that lingers in your mouth.  You really don't need to frost it, actually I think that it might take away from the cake.  I served it with a light sprinkle of confectioners' sugar and it was perfect.  It is not sweet at all, which is great because I think it would conflict with the richness of the wine and chocolate.

It was hard for me to think of a "celebration"/"good bye" cake, but when I came across this recipe I knew it was the right one.  You have the wine and the chocolate in one bite, no need for a glass of wine or bubbly .... but you might want to have a glass of milk :)

I encourage you to make this cake, enjoy it, and happy baking!

Red Wine Chocolate Cake
(adapted from The Pastry Affair)

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
¾ cup red wine
¼ cup light sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325*F and prepare a 9” circular pan (I used a 9” spring form pan).
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Beat in the wine and sour cream (It might looked curdled, that is OK).

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to wine mixture slowly, mixing until just incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake bounces back slightly (begin to check around 40 minutes). Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Serve with a whipped frosting or sprinkle with a little confectioners’ sugar.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Is it a Chocolate Flourless Cake or a Fudgey Brownie?

That is the ultimate question.  It is supposed to be a chocolate flourless cake, but the end result is like a fudge cake ... I don't know how it works but I know that it tastes divine!

The cake is flourless and rich and dense and enveloped with a decadent ganache that, when set and slightly chilled, becomes a melt in your mouth, may i please have more piece of fudgey cake!!!

This recipe comes from Aaron McCargo on the Food Network.  I always try to change recipes to make it my own, but I have not messed with this recipe.  I would not know where to begin, nor would I want to try because it is perfect.

I will give you some pointers, though:

1.  make sure you have a spring form pan
2.  prepare the spring form pan by spraying it well and placing a piece of parchment paper on the bottom
3.  let it cool before turning it out onto another tray
4.  be patient when turning it out - the cake is finicky and will break if not careful

If you like rich, decadent, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate then PLEASE try this cake.  I cannot explain how good this cake is.  I make it at the restaurant and for catering events, too.  It is a winner!!!

Enjoy and happy baking!

Chocolate Flourless Cake
(makes one 8" circle cake)
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 stick cold butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • Chocolate Ganache, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch round spring form cake pan with nonstick butter spray and line bottom with parchment.
Put the chocolate, butter, vanilla and hazelnut liqueur in a large bowl on top of a double boiler. Stir the mixture frequently until combined and smooth. Remove the chocolate from heat and put the bowl into an "ice bath" to cool the chocolate. *Don't let the chocolate get hard, just cool enough.
Mix in the sugar and cocoa powder. Stir in the eggs and pour into the prepared cake pan. Put the cake pan on a sheet tray and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely.  Remove from spring form pan onto your serving tray and remove the parchment paper.  Pour the ganache over the cake. 

Chocolate Ganache:
Put the chocolate into a large bowl. Heat the cream in a small pot, over low heat, until hot to the touch. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Mix well with a rubber spatula until the chocolate melts.

The BEST Banana Bars EVER!

Today was a gorgeous day outside, perfect fall weather - sun shining, slight breeze, cool enough for a sweatshirt, just perfect.  Of course, to me, that meant I should bake something because I was in such a good mood.  Today was all about bananas ....

My mother brought home some over ripe bananas last week and I immediately put them in the freezer for a later baking date.  Her one request:  bake something for everyone at work.  OK, not a problem, I knew exactly what to make.  My grandmother's banana bars!  This is a no-fail, delicious, addictive recipe.

I grew up eating these bars and helping my grandmother make them is a very fond memory.  I can still picture them cut into bars and stacked on the oven, dusted with powdered sugar, waiting to be eaten ....

The aroma in the kitchen ... in the house ... is enough to get your taste buds watering.  There is nothing more homey then the smell of banana and vanilla wafting from the stove.  My kitchen still has that intoxicating smell from hours ago.  It has taken me all my strength to not eat it all!

These are traditionally dusted with powdered sugar.  However, for my mom's coworkers, I decided that a very thin cream cheese frosting layer would be a perfect mid-morning treat.

Without further yapping, here is the best banana bars recipe.

My Grandma's Best Banana Bars
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 cup scant flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
2-3 mashed bananas (over ripe the better)

Preheat oven to 350*F and prepare a cookie sheet.  Cream the butter and sugar.  Add eggs, sour cream, and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Add to the wet mixture until just combined.  Add in the mashed bananas.  

Bake on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve with either powdered sugar or cream cheese frosting*.

* Cream Cheese Frosting:
3/4 stick of Neufchatel cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Cream together the cream cheese and vanilla with a hand mixer.  Slowly incorporate the powdered sugar 1/4 cup at a time.  Spread evenly on the banana bars.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chocolate Mint Layer Cake

If you love chocolate and mint ... why not make a chocolate mint layer cake covered in rich chocolate ganache?  Go ahead ... I know you want to ... I did.

I made this cake for my sister's 14th birthday.  It is so rich and decadent and delicious.  The only thing that didn't turn out as perfect as I wanted was the filling.  I don't think I whipped the heavy cream into stiff peaks - that was actually my first time whipping cream.

The recipe comes from Taste of Home.  However, instead of the frosting in the recipe, I made a chocolate ganache.  I mean, what is better than ganache?  Not much.

I have been meaning to make this cake again and messing around with the filling some more.  I hope that you give it a try and happy baking!

Chocolate Mint Layer Cake
(from Taste of Home)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled (use a double boiler)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract
3 to 4 drops green food coloring

2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350*.  Grease and flour 2 – 9” cake pans.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in chocolate and vanilla. Combine milk and water in a measuring cup. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk mixture, beating well after each addition.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 24-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

For the filling: in a small bowl, beat the heavy cream until it begins to thicken. Add the sifted confectioners' sugar and peppermint extract; beat until stiff peaks form. Beat in food coloring. Place one cake layer on a serving plate; spread with filling. Top with second layer.

For the icing:  heat the heavy cream in a small sauce pan until the edges slightly start to bubble.  Pour over the chocolate chips and stir until all the chips are melted.  Let sit for a few minutes until the mixture starts to thicken.  Then pour over the cake

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot Cake ... veggies in a dessert?  Umm, actually yes, please!  I had never had carrot cake before my grandfather's birthday (his favorite) - but of course, I was up to the challenge.  Some recipes call for pineapple (eww) and walnuts (eww) and some don't.  Thankfully, my grandfather likes straight up carrot cake, no pineapple and no walnuts!!

You would think that a carrot cake would be healthy ... well healthier than other cakes ... but with the amount of oil, I think not.  After reviewing recipes, I decided to cut the oil in half because there is enough moisture from the carrots and it worked perfectly fine!

*One tip that I can give you is:  Grate the carrots very fine onto a towel and wring it out to get rid of the excess water in the carrots.  Too much water from the carrots + all the oil = soggy cake.

The cream cheese frosting is the same frosting I used on the Red Velvet cake for my sister's graduation.

My grandfather was my biggest critic and he really liked it.  It came out very moist and the carrots were grated so fine you couldn't tell they were in it.  Honestly, I'm not the biggest nutmeg fan, but it is essential in this recipe.

I hope that you try this recipe and happy baking!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients     (Cake adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
¾ cup canola oil
3 large eggs
3 cups finely grated carrots (make sure to drain the excess water)

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Spray and flour two 9-inch cake pans.

Grate the carrots over paper towels, cheese cloth, or kitchen towel.  Once grated, wring out the excess water from the carrots.  Or, put the carrots in a mesh strainer for at least 30 minutes (or overnight, if you have the time) or so to drain more water from the carrots. 

In a medium size bowl, sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  In stand mixer bowl, beat sugars and oil until blended.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add flour mixture to the wet mixture and stir to combine.  Stir in the carrots.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for about 35-40 minutes (start checking around 35 minutes) or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn onto the racks and let cool completely before icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Alton Brown)

16 oz. Neufchatel cream cheese
3 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (roughly 9 oz)

Sift the confectioners’ sugar and set aside.  Cream the butter and cream cheese together until combined, then add the vanilla.  Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar a cup at a time – sifting each cup into the mixer – and beat between each addition.

Strawberry Shortcake

I bet when you think of Strawberry Shortcake, you think of the little circular sponge cakes you buy at the grocery store with macerated strawberries and whipped cream, right?  Well I usually do, too.  That is what my grandmother has always done for us and it's very satisfying.  But how about a little twist?

This shortcake is not a circular spongecake, but a vanilla cake that is sliced in half horizontally with a homemade strawberry rhubarb compote spooned between the layers, topped with fresh homemade whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries.

The vanilla cake recipe is from the America's Test Kitchen Cookbook, and it is a different technique than a typical vanilla cake.  It is easy to do and results in a moist cake.  However, it doesn't rise too much so it is a thin cake.  I make this dessert at the restaurant and it is a big hit!

The strawberry rhubarb compote is very simple to make and doesn't take much time, either.  There is no exact recipe, so below the cake recipe I have written rough estimates to make the compote.  Since there is no correct way to make it, you can play around with ingredient amounts.

Enjoy and happy baking!

Vanilla Cake
(America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook)

Ingredients (makes 2 – 8” cakes)

1 3/4 cup cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
4 eggs (room temperature)
½ cup milk
1 tbsp vanilla
2 sticks butter (cubed, slightly at room temperature)

Preheat oven to 325*F and grease and flour two 8” pans.

Mix dry ingredients into bowl of stand mixer.  Combine eggs, milk, and vanilla in small bowl.  Reserve one cup of the mixture.  On stir, add butter pieces to the dry mixture until coarse crumbs form (like big sand granules).  Once coarse crumbs form, slowly add the reserved one cup liquid mix.  Beat on high for 1 minute, until the mixture is fluffy and light in color.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining the liquid mixture slowly.  Beat on high for another 15 seconds or so.  Divide the batter equally between the pans and bake 20-25 minutes (closer to 20 minutes) or until they are golden brown and the cake tester is clean.

Let sit for 10 minutes in the pan and then turn onto a cooling rack to finish cooling.
Strawberry Rhubarb compote
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

2 lbs. strawberries, hulled and sliced horizontally
2 or 3 stalks of rhubarb, cut in roughly 1/2" chunks
1/2 - 2/3 cup sugar 
2 - 3 Tbsp orange flavored liqueur (or more)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 ground cloves
pinch of salt 
1-2 Tbsp cornstarch

Hull and slice the strawberries into a bowl.  Add some sugar (roughly 1/4 - 1/3 cup) to macerate and set aside for about 15 minutes.  Cut the rhubarb into chunks.  Heat a skillet with oil to med-high.  Add the rhubarb and some sugar (roughly 1/4 cup) and saute until the rhubarb releases juices and softens (about 5 minutes).  Set aside.  Separate the strawberries from their juice and put the strawberries in a sauce pan on medium low.  Add the rhubarb and some orange liqueur.  Add the spices and salt and let simmer until the strawberries begin to get soft and the juices are bubbling.  At this point, add the cornstarch in a small bowl.  Spoon out a few scoops of the liquid from the sauce pan and stir to dissolve the cornstarch.  Add this mixture to the sauce pan and let simmer for a few more minutes to thicken up.  Let cool and add to the sliced cake.

Cake Truffles

I love the idea of cake truffles!  They are so fun to play around with, easy to make, and easy to eat!!  Several months ago, I was making a birthday cake and had left over cake (from all the trimmings).  I didn't know what to do - I didn't want to eat it all and I didn't want to throw the excess away - so I went to the internet for answers.  I came across several sites that used the excess cake to make cake truffles - AWESOME and YUMM.

They were so fun to make and such a hit that I made them for Valentine's Day at the restaurant (and a few catering events).  When you bite into the truffle, the cake isn't crumbly or light, but rich and fudge-like!!

Take your left over cake trimmings and form them into small balls (roughly a heaping tablespoon size).  If the cake is on the drier side, add some liquid to moisten the cake before forming into balls.  I had a chocolate cake, so I used some Kahlua to moisten the cake and add depth of flavor.  Once the balls are formed, put them in the freezer for 30 minutes or until they have hardened.

When they are ready, start to make the coating.  I made a chocolate coating then I drizzled white chocolate over the top for pretty design.  Use a double boiler to melt your chocolate and keep the bowl over the heat while rolling the cake balls, to keep the chocolate pliable.  When the chocolate is ready, roll your cake balls into the bowl (I use two forks to roll them) and quickly place them on wax paper to cool.  When the chocolate coating is dry, you can do another coating for a design if you want - like I said, I used white chocolate to drizzle over as the design.  You can store them in the freezer until ready to serve!

Raspberry Sauce served with the Truffle as a dipping sauce
I used the chocolate cake recipe from the Chocolate Cupcakes in the Hello Everyone post.


Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

A few months ago, I made my sister a Red Velvet cake for her graduation.  It was so much fun to make for 3 reasons: (1) it is my favorite cake (2) I got to use fondant for the first time and (3) it turned out really good!!!

When my sister turned 12, my family went to NYC to see Mary Poppins on Broadway.  Her birthday dinner was at Bobby Flay's, Bar American.  When they brought out her birthday cake slice, it was Red Velvet.  And it was delicious!  We actually were super excited to eat it because we had just seen the Throwdown show of Red Velvet cake against Cake Man Raven.  I don't know if this is the reason for her decision, but I will always associate Red Velvet cake with that night!

It took me a while to figure out the recipe I was going to use.  I was going to use Cake Man Raven's recipe (from Food Network) but I was looking for a recipe that didn't use that much oil.  I baked two sample cakes and had my sister decide which she liked better.  The winner was the recipe for Bakerella - which I ended up tweaking a bit to satisfy my health freak side (without telling my sister).  The cream cheese frosting is actually a combination of a few recipes but the base is from Alton Brown on Food Network.  I used Neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese because it has less fat, but still has that creamy texture everyone loves.

The cake base is two layers and the dome of the graduation cap is cake, too.  I just baked the dome part in an oven proof bowl.  The cap part itself is fondant, which was tons of fun to do!  The decorations are fondant, as well, but the icing around the cake base is straight up cream cheese frosting dyed blue for her High School colors.

The cake was so moist and rich, but not dense.  The frosting was a perfect balance.  I really hope that you try this recipe because I guarantee everyone will love it!!!!

Enjoy and happy baking!

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
(Cake adapted from Bakerella)

2 ½ cups AP flour, sifted
1 ½ cups sugar
1 Tbsp cocoa, heaping
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
2/3 cup canola oil
½ cup applesauce
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 oz. + splash red food coloring

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans.

Lightly stir eggs in a medium bowl with a wire whisk.  Add remaining liquid ingredients and stir together until blended.  Set aside.

Place all dry ingredients in the mixing bowl and whisk together.  Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix on medium-high speed until completely combined.

Pour the batter evenly into the cake pans.  To release any air bubbles in the batter, gently tap the pans on the counter a few times.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let them cool in the pans for about 10 minutes and then remove from pans to cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Alton Brown)

16 oz. Neufchatel cream cheese
3 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (roughly 9 oz)

Sift the confectioners’ sugar and set aside.  Cream the butter and cream cheese together until combined, then add the vanilla.  Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar a cup at a time – sifting each cup into the mixer – and beat between each addition.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Who doesn't like chocolate chip cookies?  I'm not sure, but I know that my family and friends love them!  I was perusing the internet one day and stumbled across a recipe for chocolate chip cookies called, "cheap and easy chocolate chip cookies".  I started craving cookies and decided to make them ASAP.  They were so simple to make, few ingredients, and they taste GREAT!

The recipe has no eggs or butter, just canola oil and molasses (for the chewiness, I guess).  It's a cookie dough eater's dream because there is no risk for salmonella (YUM!).  Anyways, the recipe said that for chewy cookies (yes, please) to bake for 6-8 minutes.  I noticed that the cookies were not spreading out like typical cookies, so when the timer went off, I didn't think they were done.  I ended up baking them for 8 minutes until I realized that they won't spread out because there is no butter in the cookies (duh).  The rest of the batch I baked for 6-7 minutes and they were very soft when they came out of the oven but firmed up slightly when they cooled.

The end result was delicious, brown sugary, chewy, addictive cookies.

I did a heaping tablespoon measurement for the cookies and got roughly 24 cookies.  They are the perfect 2 bite (or one bite, depending on your craving level) cookie ... and I always go back for seconds ... or thirds.


yields about 2 dozen cookies
Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
¾ cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp molasses
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp vanilla
2 cup flour, sifted
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ - 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Lightly grease a cookie sheet or use silicone baking sheets.

Using a stand mixer, beat together the sugar, oil, and molasses until well-blended.  Beat in water and vanilla until smooth (it does take a minute or two). 

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and mix well.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop by heaping tablespoons onto the cookie sheet (they do not spread out when baking).  Bake for 6-8 minutes for chewy, soft-baked cookies.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Raspberry Streusel Muffins

First of all, I would like to congratulate my sister for making her school soccer team and one of the team captains.  With that said, she works out every day and needs a good breakfast to get her going.  However, she doesn't like to eat right away and then runs out of time to eat anything filling enough before school.  And what does an awesome big sister (me!) decide to do? .... bake muffins of course!

She said that she wanted blueberry muffins - awesome, I could eat those every day if I had the metabolism.  Like any good muffin, the struesel topping is the star (or at least for my sister and I).  I had tried a cinnamon streusel muffin before - King Arthur Flour recipe - and my sister didn't like it.  So, I decided to use the left over crumble topping from the Pear and Ginger crumble dessert I made last week.

I found a recipe that had great reviews so I decided that I would try it.  Ok, my definition of trying a recipe is looking at the ratios of ingredients and then tweeking it with other ingredients.  So, I rarely ever try the actual recipe (major faux pas - that is not something I learned from my grandma!!).

I get up this morning ready to bake, have all the ingredients out and I'm mixing and measuring and I forgot to get the blueberries from the freezer.  I go to get them and .... ummmm, no blueberries!!  Great.  Thankfully I had about a cup of frozen raspberries left.  Needless to say, this recipe changed quite a bit from when I printed it offline.

The muffins puffed up beautifully and the aroma is soooo lovely.  The streusel is perfectly golden brown and acts like a cape of brown sugar, buttery delicousness over the muffin.  The muffin itself is so light and tender and moist.

Enjoy and happy baking!

Raspberry Streusel Muffins
Makes 12 muffins                               (adapted from All Recipes)

Muffin Ingredients

1 ½ cups AP flour, sifted
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1 – 1 ½ cup frozen raspberries

Streusel Topping

½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup oats
¼ cup flour
¼ cup butter, cubed
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch of cloves

Preheat oven to 400*.  Prepare the muffin tins with liners.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium size bowl.  Add the sugars.  In a measuring cup, add the oil, egg, milk (until it reaches the 1 cup mark), and vanilla.  Whisk and add to the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, lightly coat the raspberries with flour and gently fold into the batter.  Portion out the batter to the top of each muffin cup.  Gently sprinkle on the crumb topping – DO NOT press.

To make the crumb topping:  combine all of the ingredients with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse sand. 

Bake for about 25 minutes – the crumb topping will get golden brown and the toothpick will be clean.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Crumble Galore!

This past Sunday, my family celebrated my grandmother's birthday at a local family restaurant.  We have been going there since I was a little tike and we always get the same waiter.  A few weeks ago my grandma asked me to make her birthday dessert and she said she didn't care what it was as long as I did something for her.  And, of course, I was soooo happy to do that for her!

I started asking her tons of questions:  chocolate? cake? pie? favorite flavor? .... then I asked her if she would like a crumble.  She had no idea what I was talking about (what?).... I knew right then that I was going to do a crumble.

I think that crumbles are one of, if not the most, versatile dessert to make.  I love them because they are quick, easy, and delicious every time.  They are perfect for any time of the year - all you have to use is the fresh fruit in season and you're golden.  I make them at the restaurant a lot because they are the perfect, light dessert at the end of any meal.

Peach and Blackberry Crumble with Black Raspberry Ice Cream
You can substitute any fruit combination that you like and you can add or subtract spices from the crumble topping to complement the fruit.  A few crumbles that I have made are the following:

Peach and Blackberry
Peach and Raspberry
Pear and Ginger (my favorite)

The recipe that I am going to talk about is the crumble from my grandma's birthday: Pear and Ginger Crumble.  Although, I have added the recipe for the Peach and Blackberry Crumble because the filling ingredients are slightly different.

The fresh ginger in the fruit portion makes the dessert taste warm and spicy and gives off an intoxicating aroma.  The wonderful thing about crumbles is that the fruit portion has minimal ingredients - fruit, sugar, and a thickening agent (i use corn starch) - and the topping is super simple to put together with ingredients you always have!

With the peach crumbles that I make, I do not saute the peaches before I bake them.  However, I do saute the pears and fresh ginger together to soften the pears and meld the flavors together.  I find that sauteing the pears for about 10 minutes softens them enough, yet still holds their structure after baking so they are not mushy.  Another thing, I LOVE brown sugar, so I use brown sugar with just a pinch of granulated sugar to draw out the juices before I begin sauteing.  I use a lot of fresh ginger (about 2 tablespoons finely chopped) with the pears - for the warmth - but you can add more or less depending on your love of ginger.

The crumble topping is easy - oats, flour, brown sugar, butter, spices, salt.  I love to use cinnamon, cloves, and ground ginger.  I am not a huge nutmeg person, so I rarely add it. 

insert random thought here: I consider myself a health freak, so I try to use little to no butter.  But with crumbles, I have found, you NEED the butter!  It is just a necessity, just like there is no substitution for ganache - you need the heavy cream! 

Ok, focus, so the crumble - once finished - is just put on top.  DO NOT be tempted to pack it down onto the fruit!!  The smell in my kitchen on Sunday was amazing and reminded me of Christmas (my favorite time of year).  The crumble is best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

At the restaurant, I use individual ramekins for the crumbles, but at home I use one big ceramic baking dish.  The amount of fruit varies depending on the size of the fruit you are using.  You want the fruit to fill up to the top of the dish you are using (and mound the crumble on top) because it will shrink as it bakes.

Enjoy the recipe and mess around with different fruit and spices and let me know how the turn out!

*Note:  There will probably be crumble topping left over.  You can store it in an air tight container in the fridge for weeks.  When you want to use it again, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes.

Pear and Ginger Crumble
Crust Ingredients
1 cup, scant, AP flour
2- 2 ½ cups oats
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
1-2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger (or to taste)
Pinch of cloves
2 sticks butter, cold and cut into small chunks

Filling ingredients
Several small pears or roughly 8 large pears – peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
Large ginger bulb – peeled and finely chopped or minced (roughly 2 heaping Tbsp chopped)
Roughly ¼ cup light brown sugar
Few pinches of ground ginger and salt
2 tbsp cornstarch

Filling Preparation
Preheat oven to 350*F.  Peel, core and thinly slice the pears (can keep in lemon water while slicing them).  Toss the pears and brown sugar in a bowl, set aside.  Thinly chop and mince the ginger bulb.  In a large saucepan, heat a tbsp of butter and sauté the ginger for few minutes on medium.  Then add the pears and sauté until the pears have released enough juice into the pan and they are beginning to soften (about 10 minutes).  Then add some salt and ground ginger. 

In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and a few spoonfuls of the pear juice from the pan until the cornstarch is dissolved.  Add the mixture to the pan and let simmer for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly.  Turn of the heat, set aside, and prepare the crust.

Crust Preparation
In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, and spices.  Cut the butter into small chunks and combine in the mixture until incorporated with small chunks of butter. 

Or add the dry ingredients into a stand mixer and then add the butter until incorporated.

With a slotted spoon, portion the pears into the individual ramekins and pour the sauce equally into the ramekins.  Or pour the entire mixture into a big baking pan.  Then top the filling with the crust – DO NOT press the crust down.  Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.  Remove from oven and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Peach and Blackberry Crumble
Crust Ingredients
1 cup, scant, AP flour
2- 2 ½ cups oats
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
1-2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger (or to taste)
Pinch of cloves
2 sticks butter, cold and cut into small chunks

Filling Ingredients
Several large peaches (roughly 8) – peeled and thinly sliced
1-2 pints blackberries
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
Shot glass of Gran Gala (orange liqueur)
2 tbsp cornstarch

Filling Preparation
Preheat oven to 350*F.  Prepare the peaches in a large bowl and combine with the sugars and let set for 10-15 minutes to let the juices come out.  While waiting, prepare the crust.  Then add the Gran Gala and the blackberries to the peaches.  Toss in the cornstarch.

Crust Preparation
In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, and spices.  Cut the butter into small chunks and combine in the mixture until incorporated with small chunks of butter. 

Or add the dry ingredients into a stand mixer and then add the butter until incorporated.

With a slotted spoon, portion the peaches into the individual ramekins and pour the remaining sauce equally into the ramekins.  Or pour the entire mixture into a big baking pan.  Then top the filling with the crust – DO NOT press the crust down.  Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.  Remove from oven and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.