Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A New Year, A New Start

... for this blog.

When I began Made With My Own Two Hands in 2008, I was about to turn 40 in the coming year and was contemplating applying to pastry school, a move I had backed out of 15 years prior. I had been writing another blog for 4 years already, one that was more reflective of all my non-baking interests; MWMOTH was to be a blog strictly about my experiences in the kitchen and at school. Eventually, I stopped posting on my personal blog and devoted my full attention (or as much as I could spare while attending school and interning) to MWMOTH.

My baking began as a childhood interest that allowed me to experiment and express my creative side in a way that I felt I was skilled. My blogging is the extension of a lifelong love with writing. Since graduating from pastry school and spending some time considering what it would mean (or not mean) to be a professional baker, I've realized that, while I continue to love baking for pleasure, I in no way enjoy baking for money. Over the past year, I've returned to my writing, and recently realized that the expression "made with my own two hands" is as appropriate when referring to my writing as it is when talking about my baking.

So going forward, Made With My Own Two Hands will include writing on my other interests as well. I'll still post the stuff I bake from time to time. I look forward to being able to share more of myself here. Thank you for joining me.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Cream Buttercream Frosting

St. Patrick's Day is a particularly special day in our house, not just because of my darling husband's Irish heritage but also because 50% of the people in our household are named Patrick. So come mid-March, the Irish tunes go into heavy rotation, the Irish-style brews and corned beef fill our fridge, and my mind turns to chocolate stout (cup)cakes. 

This recipe by TrialAndErin is fantastic: the cake is incredibly tender and moist, and the frosting couldn't be easier to make. For the greatest enjoyment, turn a blind eye to the amount of butter you're using. Then again, it does make 2 dozen cupcakes so (amount) of butter divided by 24 is... never mind. 

I made a few adaptations to the recipe. First off, I have yet to make this recipe with Young's Double Chocolate Stout as suggested (though it is a terrific beer -- my gateway chocolate stout, in fact, twenty-some years ago). I have used Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and O'Hara's Irish Stout in the recipe -- both with great success.

Secondly, I have underage folk devouring these cupcakes so I substitute Baileys (non-alcoholic) Creamer (I call it "Faileys" for Fake Baileys) for the Irish Cream called for. Remember that unlike the beer in the batter, the frosting doesn't get cooked. It doesn't taste exactly like proper Baileys, but it approximates the flavor and is still pretty dang good. (I like to pour some in my midday coffee and pretend that I'm a bad girl.)

I have a little tweak for mixing the cocoa powder with the beer and butter that I think works a bit better at avoiding lumps than the original instruction. First off, it's imperative that you sift the cocoa powder. Next, rather than adding the cocoa powder to the simmering beer and butter, I very slowly whisk the beer and butter mixture into the cocoa powder. It will be very thick and paste-like when you start, but doing it this way minimizes any cocoa lumps. I also let the resulting mixture cool for 10 minutes (it's quite hot) before adding it to the egg mixture and proceeding with the rest of the batter, as I don't want to cook the eggs or activate the baking soda prematurely.

Lastly, I recommend that when you check the cupcakes for doneness, pull the cupcakes from the oven when there are a few crumbs remaining on the toothpick. If you wait until the toothpick is completely clean, the cupcakes with be overbaked and on the dry side. And remember to rotate your pans halfway through the bake time and check multiple cupcakes (in different areas of the pan) for doneness. If your oven is anything like mine, the heat (and cooking time) can vary in different spots.

Making green fondant shamrocks with a tiny heart cutter.

Cut a heart in half down the center and voilĂ ! A stem.

In summary: the whole clan LOVED these cupcakes! The stout lends a (predictably) yeastiness to the cake that's really pleasing and the frosting is sublime. I don't consider myself a cake person and yet even I was a wee bit weepy when they were all eaten. Confession time: there was a little extra frosting left after icing the cupcakes so a few days later I baked up a single-layer chocolate snack cake and slathered on the leftover frosting. When you're Irish, St. Patrick's Day never has to end. Erin Go Bragh!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Muffins

These were for my darling husband's turn at hosting his office breakfast. I selected the recipe with his chocolate fanatic boss in mind, but alas, he was traveling that day and didn't get to partake. It's from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My House to Yours, and is one I've made before. However, I think that in the past I may have adapted the recipe but forgotten to write down my tweaks. I remember the muffins as being super dense with loads of chocolate-y goodness, but this time I felt that the chopped-up chunks were not plentiful enough. Next go round, I think I'll double up on the chocolate chunks and throw in a handful or two of mini chocolate chips to ensure that no bite is without ooze. You can find the recipe here, at Epicurious.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Homemade Granola

A couple Christmases ago, my crafty sister-in-law made granola to give as family gifts. I had never really thought about making my own granola, but hers was so tasty we quickly gobbled it all up. Since then, I've been on the prowl for a great granola recipe, but with some specific criteria, chief among them being that I didn't want to use refined sugar in my granola. Shockingly, this is not a simple task. Although one might think of granola as being a healthy, earthy-crunchy type snack, many of the recipes I found contained either white or brown sugar, or a surprising amount of added fat.

Cooling in the pan

Eventually, I found this simple recipe from the Joy of Baking site. It's sweetened with maple syrup and contains just 2 tablespoons of canola oil. And it's really easy to make. The most laborious part was gathering and scaling out all the ingredients! You just mix all the dry ingredients (except for the fruit) together, and mix the wet ingredients together and pour that over the dries. Mix well, spread out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 325 degrees, stirring once every 15 minutes or so, for 45 minutes. Let cool, add the fruit, and eat (or if you're me, eat, let cool, eat some more, add the fruit, and eat even more). I used slivered almonds in mine and wheat bran, not germ, because that's what I already had. And I learned that pepitas are the same thing as pumpkin seeds (smartphones and Wikipedia are super useful when you're standing in Trader Joe's wondering why there are no raw shelled pumpkin seeds, and what are these pepitas anyway?)!

Speaking of Trader Joe's they have this nifty packaged mixture of golden raisins, dried cranberries, cherries and blueberries that I added to my granola  a no-brainer for me!

With fruit added!

The granola is scrumptious; I particularly love the contrast between the toasty, crunchy oats and nuts and the tender bits of fruit. I also love that it's lightly sweetened, which really allows the natural flavor of the ingredients to shine through. This recipe can be endlessly adapted and I'm looking forward to trying other combinations of flavors.
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