Sunday, November 27, 2011

pumpkin pie bars

This one is an oldie but a goodie for me. I clipped the recipe many years ago from Kraft's Food and Family magazine and have made it many times.

Pumpkin Pie Bars
(from Kraft Foods)

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup cold butter
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal, uncooked
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used walnuts because that's what I had)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
15 oz. pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 T pumpkin pie spice*

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13 x 9-inch pan with foil, with the ends of foil extending over the sides; grease foil using pan spray.

Mix flour, 1/4 cup sugar and all the brown sugar in a medium sugar; cut in the cold butter using a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the oats and nuts.

Reserve 1 cup of the oat mixture; press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes.

Bottom crust before baking...
... and after.

Beat cream cheese, remaining sugar, eggs, pumpkin and spice with mixer until well blended.

*If you don't have pumpkin pie spice, feel free to substitute a mixture of equal amounts of  cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice (or use whatever proportions and whichever of those spices you prefer).

Pour the mixture over crust...

... then sprinkle top with reserved crumb mixture.

Bake for 25 minutes, then cool for 10 minutes.

Use the foil overhang to lift the dessert out of the pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely before cutting. Cut into 24 bars to serve.

I love making these in the fall -- the creamy pumpkin custard marries well with the chewy sweetness of the oat/nut streusel and the buttery bottom crust. It's terrific for a little pumpkin pie fix!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

it's apple season!

I made these cute cupcakes a few weeks ago, in celebration of the boys' return to school. The cake itself was from a mix (Wilton-approved Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge) that I happened to have on hand. The icing was the Chocolate Frosting recipe from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. I don't know what the problem was with my icing recipes this summer -- maybe it was just the increased warmth -- but they typically did not turn out well at all. I remember it being a fairly cool day, inside and out, and still the icing turned out soupy, about the consistency of warm pudding, even after refrigerating the icing for several hours before piping. It was such a disappointment. You can see that the icing in the photo doesn't look very sharp; I took this picture after chilling the iced cupcakes overnight. After about 15 minutes out of the fridge, the piped icing lost much of its definition.

For the toppers, I tinted some fondant with Americolor soft gel pastes -- Super Red for the apples, and Leaf Green for the leaves. I really love this product -- the colors turn out bright without using a ton of gel paste; I much prefer them to Wilton icing gel colors. I also painted on a little straight gel paste for some highlighting on the apples so they wouldn't look quite so flat. I love how they turned out!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

gourmet's pumpkin muffins (by way of smitten kitchen)

The boys' high school is holding a mini college fair today and the parent board sent out a call for baked yummies for the visiting college reps, so I searched for a seasonally appropriate (and easy) muffin recipe.  The obvious choice was pumpkin. I didn't feel like rolling the dice and risking the scorn of the dried fruit or nut averse, so this recipe totally fit the bill. Just pumpkin puree and spices in the batter and topped with cinnamon sugar... what's not to love?

Pumpkin Muffins
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

8.5 oz. all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/3 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
8.75 oz. sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Cinnamon sugar:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Place oven rack in the center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Combine flour and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk together. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs, 8.75 oz. sugar, salt, baking soda and spice until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Stir together ingredients for the cinnamon-sugar in a small bowl. Divide muffin batter evenly into the muffin liners, then sprinkle tops with the cinnamon sugar.

Ready to go in the oven! I used a scoop to divvy up the batter, but had to make two passes to use up all the batter.  In a perfect world, I'd have more scoops, in varying sizes.

Bake until golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool in pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then transfer the muffins to the rack and cool until warm or room temperature. Makes 12 muffins.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

summer birthday cake #3: america's test kitchen's devil's food cake with cream cheese frosting

C. requested a chocolate cake with cream cheese icing for his birthday. I selected the Devil's Food Layer Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. I have to say I no longer hang on to ATK's every word when it comes to baking, as I've had a few of their recipes not turn out well (including one which caused Team Awesome to blow our grade on the Baking For Health and Wellness practical).  No issues with the Devil's Food Cake but the Cream Cheese Frosting was really disappointing. It was too soft to work with in spite of being well-chilled. I know it's a cardinal sin in the cake business to even attempt using cream cheese icing in the summer, so I was already asking for trouble, but I believe this recipe was a bit wonky to begin with.  This morning I conducted a postmortem and compared the ratios with the cream cheese frosting recipe I ordinarily use (from the Philadelphia Cream Cheese folks). ATK's uses a quarter of the amount of confectioner's sugar that Philly's does, slightly more butter and includes a small amount of sour cream (which the Philadelphia Cream Cheese recipe does not have).  I really should've compared the recipes before making the icing and recognized that there might be a problem with the ATK recipe.  Baking is a science, so call this a failed experiment.

Icing failure or not, it was an adorable cake.  I enlisted the birthday boy, AKA fondant modeler extraordinaire, to create the figures for his cake.  My original idea was to model little schnauzers but he has more experience than I do with making dogs so I asked him if he might like to give it a go.  He suggested making something else entirely.  Recently he's been on a Pikmin kick so he created different figures from the game. He mixed the colors and modeled everything himself. Clearly he's the real artistic talent in our family. (Happy 14th birthday, C!)

The Wollywog squashing a blue Pikmin.
Different pellets, and a purple Pikmin carrying a marble.
Dwarf Red Bulborb

Friday, August 5, 2011

stracciatella ice cream

This is the first batch of ice cream we've made this summer.  When the warmer weather rolls around, I always intend to make lots and lots of ice cream, but I somehow put off pulling out the ice cream maker. It's really not such a big deal -- retrieve box from the cellar, put the bowl in the freezer overnight, mix up the ice cream base and chill, then spin in the machine.  But as with many things, I manage to procrastinate... I'm not sure we made any ice cream last year.  Anyway, C. suggested we make some chocolate chip ice cream, so when we got home from our annual Cape vacation, I set the above process in motion.

The recipe is from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. The base is a French-style (i.e. using an cooked egg custard mixture) vanilla ice cream (see the recipe on David's site here). Instead of using actual chocolate chips, which would have turned into hard little tooth-breaking rocks in the freezer, I made stracciatella or Italian-style chocolate chips by drizzling melted bittersweet chocolate over the ice cream at the end of the spinning process (scroll way down on this page to read how to make stracciatella) and then breaking up the chocolate bits as it cools and hardens. The tricky part is incorporating the hot melted chocolate into the just-spun and still very soft ice cream without rendering it all into a soupy mess. I found this really challenging (sometimes I really wish I had a couple more hands) and although there was a bit of melting, it refroze just fine.

I think this is the first time I've made a French-style ice cream outside of pastry school.  Before JWU, the idea of tempering a heated liquid into egg yolks would've petrified me, but now I've done it with such frequency that it doesn't require much thought. The egg custard base produces a much smoother, creamier ice cream than the easier Philadelphia-style ice cream (which uses an uncooked base and doesn't contain eggs). It is easily the best ice cream I've made at home thus far.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

summer birthday cake #2: flour's yellow birthday cake with fluffy chocolate ganache frosting

My darling and very easy-going husband requested a yellow cake with chocolate icing for his birthday this year so I decided to try a recipe I'd been eying for awhile: Yellow Birthday Cake with Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting from Flour by Joanne Chang.  The photo in the book looks delectable -- thick layers of yellow cake, filled and iced with light brown (thanks to the incorporation of lots and lots of air), super fluffy icing. As you might be able to deduce from the artfully-lit photo above, mine didn't exactly turn out that way.  The cake was fine -- a little dense, but moist enough for a scratch cake and not excessively greasy the way many scratch yellow cakes seem to turn out (not greasy = dry; moist = greasy). I followed the icing recipe to the letter, but it came out soupy. It was the consistency of cake batter -- imagine trying to ice a cake with that.  I can't quite decide what went wrong. Basically, you melt the chocolate with heavy cream over a double-boiler and let cool completely.  Then you whip the butter and cream that with confectioner's sugar, salt and flavoring. Finally you add the chocolate-cream mixture and whip 'til it lightens and thickens.  Easy-peasy, right? No. The most obvious culprit might be excessive warmth, but my kitchen wasn't particularly hot that day. I even went so far as to see if there were any corrections to the recipe posted on Flour's website, but nadda.

In the end, it was yummy, if very frustrating. It was impossible to ice and smooth, and very difficult to decorate. Chilling the icing before piping just made it go straight from wet to rock hard, so I gave up on that. I attempted to pipe buttercream flowers on the top, but they just sank under the soupy icing. Piping on a border was out of the question. Yuck. The peeps were very understanding and appreciative nevertheless and proclaimed it delicious. I have the sweetest family!

Monday, June 13, 2011

summer birthday cake #1: henri's chocolate cake by zoe bakes

People tease me when they hear that I bake my own birthday cake.  They think I have to bake my own cake, rather than want to bake my own cake.  But I spend so much time baking what others want, it's a treat to bake something of my choosing.

This year, I baked Henri's Chocolate B-day Cake (it's a Devil's Food Cake) topped with Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Malt Buttercream from Zoe Bakes. The cake itself is a recipe that I've turned to on a number of occasions, including here and here. Instead of baking it in a single 3-inch tall, 8-inch round pan and torting the cake, as Zoe recommends, I baked two layers in 2-inch tall, 8-inch round pans. The biggest reason for this was that I don't own a 3-inch tall 8-inch pan. Also, I didn't feel like torting the cake. But mostly the first thing. Instead of prepping the pans in the conventional manner (grease, flour and parchment), I brushed on the handy-dandy pan grease that's never ever failed me in the past few hundred times I've used it. Maybe this recipe has less fat or is too soft, or I just don't know why, but the corners stuck like a, well, like a really bad compound word. Next time, I'll be lining the bottom with parchment in addition to using the pan grease.

Broken cake aside (13-year-old C. thought the stuck parts made a fabulous breakfast, by the way), I spackled the missing bits with the Chocolate Malt Buttercream and moved on.  I was inspired by Zoe's decorating job on her site, but somehow my big dots looked like something less appetizing.  I think it's the brown icing that pushed the resemblance over the edge.  Luckily, it's a very scrumptious cake -- the cake is moist and tender and the icing is rich and chocolatey.  It's one of the rare cakes where no one leaves a glob of excess icing on the plate.  It's soooo good -- I love, love, LOVE this cake!

That's one cake down, and three more to go in our house this summer!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

cake balls

One of my internship goals is to come up with ways to use up the large amounts of cake trimmings we discard each week.  Every cake layer we bake gets leveled (so it's nice and flat) and the excess goes in the trash can.  My fellow intern actually created the goal for the both of us, which may explain why I have some ambivalence about what really can be done with the scraps.  As the owner pointed out, the cake may not cost anything for us to use, but any additional ingredients we employ to create a sellable product will.

Misgivings aside, the cake scrap goal remains, so I experimented with making cake balls out of my own cake scraps at home.  Basically you crumble up some cake, smoosh the crumbs with some icing, and pack the mixture into balls.  After freezing the balls (so they are firmer and easily to work with), you dip them in melted coating chocolate and let set. If you want to make cake pops, you follow the same procedure, but place the balls on sticks (I know, kinda obvious... duh).

I was rather unenthused about this whole experiment as I suspected that making cake balls is too labor intensive and costly a way to repurpose the cake scraps.  But... surprise, surprise -- the cake balls are YUMMY!  I used yellow cake with canned (sorry, I'm a busy girl) vanilla icing, and dipped them in melted Wilton Candy Melts.  I still don't know if they are a good fit for the bakery, but they'll make a delicious treat for my circle.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

a sneaker

While I was making roller skate number 1 last week, my darling 13-year-old son sat alongside and crafted a fondant sneaker.  He's amazing at modeling little objects -- he's also done a lot of work with Sculpey and modeling clay.

Love the bull's eye detail on the back!

Monday, April 4, 2011

a tale of one, two, three, four! roller skates

The bakery where I am interning recently took an order for a small tiered birthday cake and the customer requested a fondant roller skate topper.  So I've been working on one.  Or a few.

I did attempt number one just as a total first draft without consulting my boss for specifics; I just whipped it up in my kitchen in about half an hour. 

This is roller skate number 1.  I also made a little bow to go on the laces, but it looked funny so I removed it. I brought it into work and the owner loved it!  She suggested that we just tweak it a little and use it.  Somehow that day I was uncharacteristically optimistic and told her, "Nah... I'll make another one, better than the first!"  Easier said than done.  I made my second roller skate at the bakery and as I was lacking all the things I'm used to using -- my usual fondant, tools, lighting, workspace... it all went pear-shaped.  And it took a long time to make that disaster too. Ugh.

Roller skate number 2.  It looks like a clown shoe. The brand of fondant we had at the bakery dries much faster than what I use at home, so the surface looked all slouchy and wrinkled.  Satin Ice, I don't care how much the Cake Boss loves you... you made my afternoon a living hell.  The wheels are not attached because we removed them to dry (otherwise, they get kind of flat under the weight of the skate).  The one improvement I made was the addition of the tongue, which my boss had suggested. I hate, hate, HATE this one.

This weekend, I made two more skates at home.

This is number 3.  I liked it, although I thought it might be slightly too long for the 6-inch cake it's topping and I wanted it to have a little more height.  I tried to get cute with my exacto-knife and made some stitching around the top collar and the tongue, but it ended up looking kind of meh.

Number 4 -- my favorite; we'll see what my boss says.  I haven't attached the laces yet because I am thinking of putting them on after the wheels are attached, so the laces drape down the proper distance.  The toe of this skate is a little more contoured and maybe slightly less cartoonish than numbers 1 and 3.  I also made a variety of wheel sizes for this one (although they can go on any of the skates, really).

It's been an interesting and worthwhile learning experience, but I really hope I don't have to do another one, at least not for this particular cake!

Monday, March 14, 2011

irish soda bread with raisins and cranberries

I did a little holiday baking on my day off from my internship today.  St. Patrick's Day is later this week, but I won't have a lot of time to putter around in my own kitchen on that day so we're having our Corned Beef and Cabbage tonight instead.  And of course, I had to bake Irish Soda Bread too.  I don't really eat soda bread with the meal but usually have it with tea (or coffee!) during the week.

Typically, I make American-style Irish Soda Bread -- that is, I add caraway seeds.  I just like the way they make the bread taste, although I know they aren't to everyone's liking.  This year, however, I opted to try a new twist.  No caraway seeds, but (and this was an epiphany to me) the raisins and dried cranberries are soaked in Irish whiskey!  Tell me, what says St. Paddy's Day better than a little Jameson's in your soda bread?

I found the recipe on Serious Eats, and converted the recipe's volume measurements into weight because I prefer scaling my ingredients to washing a lot of measuring cups.  I also used dried buttermilk powder (I use Saco) rather than fresh buttermilk.  It's great stuff -- you add the powder to the dry ingredients and add the appropriate amount of water when you incorporate the wet ingredients.  Store it in the refrigerator and you don't have to worry about wasting half-used cartons of fresh buttermilk.  You can also substitute soured milk (1 tablespoon of white vinegar per 8 oz. of milk, stirred and left to rest for 5 minutes before using), but I think the buttermilk powder yields better results.

Irish Soda Bread with Cranberries and Raisins
(adapted from Serious Eats)

1/2 cup (2.25 oz.) dried cranberries
1/2 cup (2.75 oz.) raisins
1/2 cup (8 oz.) Irish whiskey (or hot water)
4 cups (17 oz.) bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (1.5 oz.) honey
6 tablespoons (2 oz.) dried buttermilk powder
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) water

Combine the cranberries, raisins and whiskey (or hot water). Cover and set aside to rehydrate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and dried buttermilk powder. Whisk to combine. Cut the butter into slices, then work it into the flour with your fingertips until it is fully incorporated. Add the honey, water and the cranberries and raisins with the soaking liquid. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the liquid is absorbed.

Flour your work surface lightly and turn out the dough. It will still be sticky -- try to avoid adding more flour. It's helpful to flour your hands and use a bowl scraper or a spatula blade to help you maneuver the dough around. Form the dough into a 6-8 inch disk about 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 inches high and place it on your prepared baking sheet. Cut an X in the top of the dough across the top, about 1/2 inch deep.

Bake at 375 degrees for 50-60 minutes, until the bread is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack. If you like a softer crust. cover the bread with a clean kitchen towel as it cools.
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