Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pumpkin Patch Cake

I’m a dreamer and not a doer; I accepted this sad reality decades ago. I can see beautiful works of art in my head, but my fingers can’t seem to translate that beauty into paint/clay/glass/cake.

Take my last cake decorating attempt for example. This Cake Wreck was for my nephew’s 16th birthday which we celebrated early during the day on Halloween.



I envisioned a Halloween pumpkin patch filled with fondant pumpkins, scarecrows, spooky trees, black cats, and trick-or-treating kids dressed as ghosts. But, sadly, I was doomed before I even started. The cake baked up fine, but then I tried a new recipe for Chocolate Fudge Frosting.

Bad decision.

The recipe was a simple mixture of sugar, milk, butter, chocolate chips. Ha! I don’t know what I did wrong, but my frosting seized and rapidly turned into a brick.



What happened!@#@? I bought my sugar, milk and butter to a boil and then removed it from the heat. I added the chocolate chips and stirred. Immediately the liquid butter separated from the chocolate and floated on top. I stirred and stirred, but the butter would not reincorporate. I finally poured off the butter, tossed in a few nuts and flopped the hardening frosting into a pan. A few minutes later it was as solid as a rock.

Paniced, I whipped up a batch of buttercream to frost the cake and then used my go-to ganache recipe for a chocolate coating to pour over the top. By now I was frustrated, disappointed, and I didn’t feel like starting on the fondant figures. So I slapped on a few mellow cream pumpkins I bought a Cracker Barrel, squirted on some buttercream vines and leaves, and called it finished.



But as always my family gushed over the cake and said it was very cute. I gotta love my family. They don’t care how it looks, as long as it tastes good.





Tuesday, October 27, 2009

DB October 2009 - French Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

French Macarons/Macaroons? Up until a few months ago I had never seen or heard of them (yes I have been living under a rock). Coconut Macaroons, yes, but not the French version. And then Ami S. at Daring Bakers selected them for this month's baking challenge. Oh, la, la. What a daring challenge.


Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, dark and luscious chocolate filling in between. Lovely.


But my first adventure in Macaroon land wasn't without some missteps.

The recipe all Daring Bakers were required to use is as follows:

Ingredients

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.


I thought a while about flavorings and decided on blackcurrant cookies (flavored using Twining's Blackcurrant tea) and semi-sweet ganache filling. I also didn't want to make a whole batch, so I cut the recipe in half. Question: just how do you split an egg white in half!#$#@ It kept oozing off the spoon!

Step one: beat the egg whites. I read somewhere that "stiff peak" egg whites should cling when held upside down. Looks clingy to me.


Next I added the dry ingredients (in thirds) to the egg whites. I had a little trouble incorporating the almond flour/sugar into the whites, and I think I over mixed the stuff. My egg whites started to deflate and look soupy. Poor little pink egg whites.

Next I piped the macarons onto the parchment paper. They spread a little, but the tops were smooth and shiny. They looked perfect to my macaron novice eyes.

Into the oven they went, first for 5 minutes at 200 degrees F, and then 8 minutes at 375 degrees F. When I took them out I was not pleased. 1) They did not rise, 2) the required macaron "foot" was hardly noticeable, and 3) they didn't look cooked.


Back in the oven they went for another 5 minutes at 375 degrees. But after 5 minutes I still was not happy with the end product. I tried to pull one off the parchment paper and it stuck like glue. Then I tasted it.

Yuck! It still tasted raw.

My first batch of French Macarons was a total failure. Into the trash it went.


For my second attempt I did a little more research.

On a blog called One Bite More I found a recipe similar to the Daring Baker's recipe, but it was already adjusted to a half batch. It also added a small amount of powdered egg whites to help stabilizer the raw egg whites. I also liked the fact that the egg white quantity was given in weight and not just number of eggs.

Macaron Ingredients (second try)

100g egg whites
2g powdered egg whites
50g white sugar
200g icing sugar mixture
110g almond meal


There were also a few additional step in the directions from One More Bite.

- The egg whites are microwaved for 10 seconds at medium power before you start to beat them. The post-microwaved egg whites didn't look any different (it does not cook them), but apparently this step evaporates a small portion of the water content from the egg whites. You do this instead of letting the egg whites age for three days.

- The almond flour is toasted in a 285 degree F oven for 10 minutes. Again this is done to remove excess moisture from the almond flour. I'm beginning to think that excess moisture plays a big part in macaroon failure. Hummmm, may be not the best cookie to bake on hot, humid New Orleans days.


Now in mortal fear to introducing moisture to my macaroon batter, I decided not to add any food coloring paste to this batch. "Better safe than pink", I said. I also skipped the blackcurrant tea. This time around I was shooting for plain almond cookies with chocolate ganache filling.

- The One More Bite directions also say to add all the dry ingredients at once and not in thirds like the original Daring Baker instructions. I dumped it all in a once, and I was much gentler in my folding of the dry ingredients into the egg whites. My batter ended up much stiffer this time (almost too thick). When I piped out my circles they didn't spread at all and the piping tip left little points on top of the cookies. I should have flattened the points with my finger, but I didn't think about it until later.

Here are my babies just out of the oven. Nice and puffy with pretty little feet. Those little pointy tops kinda irked me, but live and learn. I also baked them a little longer than necessary (5 minutes at 200 degrees and 12 minutes at 375 degrees), but after my first batch came out raw I didn't want to take a chance.


And no sticking this time, the cookies slid off the parchment paper with just a little push. And that, Grasshopper, is what happens when you over-bake.


So in the end I deemed my macaron adventure an almost-complete success. They were a little too puffy, a little overcooked, and those pointy tops just scream amateur. But all-in-all a fun and rewarding experience. I can't wait to see what the Daring Challenge is for November 2009.

Friday, October 23, 2009

TWD - Sweet Potato Biscuits

October 20th's assignment at Tuesday with Dorie (TWD) was Sweet Potato Biscuits.

We just got back from vacation today (Seattle, WA) and I threw these together to go with some chicken chili I picked up on the way home from the airport.


Because I was pressed for time I made “drop” biscuits instead of following the directions and rolling out the dough and cutting traditional biscuit circles. They looked wonderful, nice and plump with brown edges, but they tasted yucky. Granted, I’m not a lover of sweet potatoes, yams or pumpkin but no one else liked them either.

I don’t know what I did wrong, but this is my first flop from Dorie Greenspan’s wonderful “Baking: From My Home to Yours” cookbook.

May be I'll have better luck next week's cherry-cream cheese brownies.

PS: the chicken chili was great. Chicken breast, white beans, white sauce and mozzarella cheese. I may not eat regular chili again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

AB's "Puffy" Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’m always on the hunt for the “perfect” chocolate chip cookie recipe. Over the years I must have tried 20, 30, may be 40 different recipes. Recently I ran across Alton Brown’s “Puffy” Chocolate Chip Cookies and decided to give it a try.




Hummm. Mine didn’t come out very “puffy” looking. They tasted good and the edges were crispy and the center soft and gooey, but they definitely didn’t puff to any great degree.

I did make one slight modification and one major addition to Alton's recipe. I didn’t have any butter flavored shortening so I used regular shortening and added 2 teaspoons of butter flavor. I also added 3 ozs of finely grated chocolate. My moto: The more chocolate the better.


Here is the flour going into the mix...


And the chocolate chips being added. I used semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips and semi-sweet chunks.


Here is my niece, Amanda, doing her “I love chocolate” dance. She got her chocolate loving gene from our side of the family. Her Mom doesn't like chocolate. Have you ever heard such a thing!!!!


Here are the cookies hot out of the oven. There is a little "puff", but they flattend as they cooled. Sigh.


A closer look at the crispy edges and gooey center. And look at those lovely flecks of grated chocolate. Yumm.


So in the final analysis, the cookies were very good. They were intensely sweet and chocolaty, and they had crunchy edges and soft, moist centers. But if I had to make a choice, I think I still prefer the Neiman-Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. The Neiman-Marcus cookie has more bulk and dare I say, more puffiness.



The Puffy (Chocolate Chip Cookie) from Alton Brown

1 cup butter-flavored shortening (I used 1 cup regular shortening + 2 teaspoon butter flavor)
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used popcorn salt )
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used a mixture of semisweet and milk chocolate)

  1. Sift together the cake flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.
  2. Combine the shortening, sugar, and brown sugar in a bowl, and cream until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time to the creamed mixture.
  4. Add the vanilla (and butter flavoring). Increase the speed to medium and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Set the mixer to low and slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Stir until well combined.
  6. Using a spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.
  7. Chill the dough while the oven preheats.
  8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  9. Scoop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 per sheet. I used about 2 Tablespoons of dough for each cookie. Alton said to use a #20 disher (5 Tablespoons ??), but a cookie that size is just too big for me.
  10. Bake for 9 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the center is still pale. Alton said to bake for 13 minutes, but that is for his much larger cookie. My smaller cookies were done in 9 minutes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

TWD - Allspice Crumb Muffins

This week’s assignment at TWD (Tuesday with Dorie) was Allspice Crumb Muffins. Ahhh, nothing beats a fragrant muffin served warm from the oven.


The baking experience started out well enough, I mixed up the batter and streusel topping.


Then filled my muffin cups, and sprinkled the streusel on top.


I thought there was too much topping for the number of muffins, but I piled it all on anyway. Big mistake. This is how they came out of the oven...


I don’t know what I did wrong. Were my pieces of butter too large? The streusel sorta melted off the muffins and spread across the muffin pan. I had to cut the muffins apart and chisel the extra crispy parts of the streusel off the metal pan. I ate all the crumbs though, they were delicious.

So the Allspice Crumb Muffins were not a total success, but not a total failure. They didn’t look very pretty (not like Dorie’s) but the taste was very nice.




Allspice Crumb Muffins
From Dorie Greenspan's Baking From my Home to Yours

Streusel:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground allspice
5 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

Muffins:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular sized muffin tin. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Streusel:

  1. Combine flour, brown sugar, and allspice in a small bowl and sift them through your fingers to blend.
  2. Add the bits of cold butter into the dry ingredients and using your finger work the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is the size of small peas.
  3. Place the prepared crumb in the refrigerator to keep the butter cold.

Muffins:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, allspice and salt.
    Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps.
  2. In another bold whisk the melted butter, eggs, milk and vanilla extract together until well combined.
  3. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and with a rubber spatula, quickly but gently stir to blend. The batter will be lumpy.
  4. Stir in the lemon zest.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.
  6. Sprinkle some streusel over each muffin, then use your fingertips to gently press the crumbs into the batter. Note from me: Try to keep the streusel toward the center of the muffin. Don’t pile the streusel near the edge of the pan.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.
  8. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes.
  9. Carefully remove each muffin from its mold.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Wilton's Giant Cupcake Pan

A friend’s 13 year-old daughter asked me to bake her birthday cake.

ME!

I was so excited. I bake cakes for my family, but this is the first time (well may be second) that someone outside the immediate family asked me to bake a celebration cake.

Here it is.


Ashlyn was very specific, she wanted a giant cupcake as her birthday cake. I went to Wal-Mart to buy Wilton's Giant Cupcake Pan , but Wally-World wanted 30 bucks for the pan. So instead I went to Hobby Lobby and with my 40% off coupon snagged it for $18. (Call me frugal not cheap.) I also bought Wilton’s matching Jumbo Cupcakes Pan. Like the giant pan, the jumbo pan also bakes the cupcake in two parts. Don’t you just love matching stuff?


The information sheet that came with the Giant Cupcake Pan said that one box of cake mix wasn't enough to fill the pan, so I mixed up two boxes and filled the giant cupcake and three of the jumbo cupcakes. While baking, the batter overflowed the top of the pans so I probably should have filled all four of the jumbo cupcake wells instead of three. Oh well, live and learn. In the end I just trimmed off the tops of the cakes and munched for two days on scraps.




On Amazon a bunch of people have reviewed the pan, and some commented that the top and bottom sections do not bake evenly and the baked cake stuck to the pan. I didn't experience either problem. I filled the giant pan to capacity and baked at 325 degrees for 55 minutes (electric convection oven). The sides of the cake came out dark brown (like a bundt cake) but the insides were thoroughly cooked. At the party I sampled the top and bottom sections and both were fine. The top was slightly "dry" and the bottom was slightly "moist", so I just let people know ahead of time and they selected a piece according to their personal preference.

I also didn't have a problem with the cake sticking to the pan. I used Wilton's Cake Release and dusted with a little flour just to be sure. After removing the pan from the oven, I let it cool for three minutes and then flipped the pan over. The cakes slid out without any problem.

Next came the decorating. I did a search on the web, and found a few examples of decorated giant cupcakes. My absolute favorite was choo_silwhui's posting on flickr. I loved the colors and the daisies perched on one side. Too cute.

Here I am rolling out my gum paste and cut a few yellow daisies, some green leaves and confetti dots.


Then I started to ice my giant cupcake. Someone on Amazon recommended that you ice the bottom section before placing the top, so that is what I did. I piped one row using Wilton tip #12 (smooth round) and then a second row using tip 32 (fluted round).



Next I positioned the top.



I used the same Wilton Tip #32 and piped an almost continuous stream of teal icing around the top. After I finished I realized I didn't like my swirly icing job as much as I liked choo_siowhui's smooth top. I thought about scraping the icing off and trying for the smooth look, but in the end I left it the way it was.

Next I added the gum paste decorations. Sorry, I got into the groove and forgot to take pictures of my progress so here it is after all the decorations were added.


You might have noticed that the cake started out on a gold cake board and then switched to a glass platter. After I had the thing totally decorated I decided that the teal and yellow decorations clashed with the gold cake board. I don't like things that clash, so I carefully moved the cake from the board to the glass platter. I was lucky, no major catastrophes.

Finally I added a Happy Birthday and a few of the leftover flowers to the platter.



And here is the birthday girl, Ashlyn, blowing out her candles. I also decorated the jumbo cupcakes to match the cake. She really got a kick out of that.



Happy Birthday, Ashlyn.




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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rocky Ledge Bars


Martha Stewart’s Rocky Ledge Bars, or Chocolate Chip Cookies on steroids as I like to call them, are jammed packed with three kinds of chocolate chips, butterscotch, marshmallows and caramels. The only thing missing is nuts.

With all those goodies baked inside I would like to say they were fantastic, but I thought they were just okay. The butterscotch was a little overpowering (I'm not a big fan of butterscotch), and all the other tastes merged into one big blur of sweetness.

Here are the players: semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate & butterscotch chips, mini marshmallows, & caramels...



The batter all mixed up and going into the pan.



Just added the topping. Yummm, it sure does look good.



The finished product.



I baked them just a little too long (as usual). When I tested with a tooth pick the center was still damp so I baked it another few minutes. In hindsight I should have taken it out at the prescribed time. When the bars cooled they were a little hard.

So in the final analysis they were a nice treat, but nothing to rave about. Butterscotch with the dominate flavor, but if you are a fan of butterscotch you might just love these bars.