Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pumpkin Pancakes

It's pumpkin season! I love pumpkin. I mean, not as an actual vegetable, but as an element to baked goods. I've already made a couple of batches of pumpkin bread: one for the parents of a new baby, and one that was intended as a gift but I didn't get it shipped in time, so we had to eat it (...darn.).

Saturday morning, I wanted something other than cereal for breakfast, so I thought I'd make pancakes. Then, I decided to try to improvise some pumpkin pancakes - and it worked! These are so yummy - not too spiced, and sweet enough that you don't need toppings (but not so sweet that putting syrup on will make your teeth ache). My 2-year-old likes them, and I love them! I made another batch this morning, mainly to have for dessert. They are a lovely little snack.

Pumpkin Pancakes
makes 15 3-inch pancakes, give or take a few (it's hard to count when you're eating them as you cook them)

1 cup Bob's Red Mill 10-Grain Pancake Mix (your favorite pancake mix will probably work here, as long as it requires you to add more than just water)
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
approx. 1/4 tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1 egg
approx. 3/4 cup milk (you can add more or less depending on your preference)
1/3 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp oil or melted butter
1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1. Mix all the ingredients together, being careful not to overmix. A few lumps are okay!

2. Heat a heavy non-stick skillet over medium heat. Melt some butter in it or spray with cooking spray. Let the batter rest while the skillet heats up.

3. Drop the batter onto the hot skillet about 2-3 Tbsp at a time. This batter won't make the traditional holes, letting you know to turn it, so you'll have to play with it a little. But it puffs very nicely to make up for it.

4. Turn the pancakes over to let them finish cooking. Then eat them. Yum!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Deconstructed Summer Berry Dessert

I don't have any photos of the finished dish because I took it to a work party and it disappeared too quickly, but this is one of my all-time favorite desserts. It sounds a little weird, but you'll just have to trust me!

Part of what makes it so great is that it's terribly, terribly easy, and endlessly customizable. This makes it perfect for a party, especially if you're trying to please dieters and non-dieters; everyone ends up loving this.

So, here we go: it's not so much a recipe as a guideline. You're going to end up with chunks of frozen graham-cracker crust, some whipped cream, and berries (or other fruit, as you wish). You (and your guests/friends/family) get to assemble them as you choose.

To make the crust, you'll need:

1 packet of graham crackers
3/4 (6 Tbsp) stick of butter, melted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Turn the graham crackers into crumbs. A food processor works great for this, or you can put the crackers in a zip-top bag and bash them with something heavy. I used a rolling pin before I got my food processor. You want to get the crumbs relatively fine, without turning too many of them into dust, but it's really not critical.

Put the crumbs into a pie tin. (NOTE: an old-fashioned metal, beat-up-able pie tin works best here. Pyrex works, of course, but it will be a LOT harder to get the crust out.) With a fork, mix in the sugar and cinnamon. Pour the melted butter over and dampen all the crumbs with it. Then, start pressing the crumb mixture into the pan and up its sides. Use a flat-bottomed glass or measuring cup to get it smooth-ish and nicely compressed. Put the crust in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

Once it's frozen, use a fork to pry it out of the tin and break it into chunks (no bigger than bite-size). You can do this in advance and keep the chunks in a zip-top bag in the freezer (I don't know exactly how long it will keep in there, but I've kept it in there for months.)

To make the whipped cream, you'll need:

Some whipping cream (very cold)
Some sugar
Some vanilla

(I'm being vague with the quantities here because you can just whip enough cream for one serving for yourself (see above, why I keep the crust chunks for months in my freezer) or for a whole party. And the ratios are not all that important with this recipe, anyway - if the cream is unsweetened, the berries and the crust will pretty much cover it up. For 1 cup of whipping cream I would probably use up to 2 Tbsp sugar and up to 1 tsp vanilla, which would probably serve 4-6 people with this dessert.)

In a cold bowl, with cold beaters (not strictly necessary, but it makes everything go faster), mix the cream, sugar, and vanilla on low speed until combined (about 5 seconds). Turn the speed up to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until you're ready to use (don't wait too long or the whipped cream will deflate).

For the berries, you will need:

An assortment (or not, as you choose) of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries (or any other berries you want to add!). For 4-6 people, a pint of each would suffice, probably.

Wash the berries and make sure you get rid of any that are moldy or otherwise gross. Cut any big strawberries into halves or quarters, so they are roughly bite-size. Set them out in separate bowls. (If the strawberries are too tart, you can toss them with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and let them sit a half-hour or so - they'll get nice and juicy.)

Now, here's the fun part: let your guests assemble their own! Put out each component in its own bowl and let people take as much as they choose of each. If I know I have serious dieters in the crowd, I will also put out a bowl of reduced-fat Cool Whip so they don't have to undo the work they've done just for a treat.

The crust is also great by itself, or with just the whipped cream. It's a nice, cool dessert if you're in the mood for something other than ice cream.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Striped Baby Hat

My wonderful, wonderful boss is having a baby boy next month, so of course I had to knit him a little something. I'm trying to be on a yarn diet -- with fair-to-middling success -- and baby hats don't use a whole lot of yarn, so I decided to make this one a stash-buster. I'm so glad I did, because this might be my favorite baby hat ever! I just love the different blues and the pop of red. There's a good chance I'll make one for my own son, if my friends and family stop having babies long enough!

I didn't really use a pattern, per se - it's just a simple roll-brim hat. This is approximately what I did:

Using 12" size 6 or so circular needles, and DK-ish yarn (you may adjust this, of course, depending on the yarn you have, the needles you have, and how tightly you knit):

Cast on 64 stitches. Join and knit in the round, changing the yarn color as you wish, until the hat is about 5 inches long.
Place 1 marker every 8 stitches.

Begin decrease, switching to DPNs when you need to:
*K6, K2tog* all the way around. (56 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K5, K2tog* all the way around. (48 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K4, K2tog* all the way around. (40 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K3, K2tog* all the way around. (32 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K2, K2tog* all the way around. (24 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K1, K2tog* all the way around. (16 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K2tog* all the way around. (8 sts rem)
Knit the next row.
*K2tog* all the way around. (4 sts rem)
Move the remaining stitches to one needle, and knit 2-3 rows of I-cord.
Bind off by running the yarn tail through the stitches and pulling tight. Weave in all your ends and you're done!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Whipped Cream

My best friend from college is having a baby girl this fall, and she was in town for her baby shower a few weeks ago. I got to make the cupcakes, which was a lot of fun! The theme was cowgirl - thus the little pink cowgirl hat you see in the picture - and of course I decided they had to be pink!

The cupcakes are the Snickerdoodle cupcakes from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book, but without the cinnamon. They were lovely and light, and yummy. I think I baked them a little too long, but no one else seemed to notice! The frosting is just whipped cream with sugar, and then some strawberry puree folded in. So simple, and nice and fresh for a summer shower!

I had lots of fun playing with the decorations. I'd wanted to do little cowboy boots, but my local cake decorating store was out of candy molds for them. So I went with hats and fondant flowers. It's been too long since I played with fondant for a relatively low-pressure event -- I usually use it to cover wedding cakes. So it was a lot of fun to make these easy little flowers, and then dust them with luster dust to make them sparkle.

Vanilla Cupcakes
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes
makes 28

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups milk

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together both flours, baking powder, and salt (or whisk them together, which is what I did).

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bwol as needed. Beat in vanila. reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternting with two additions of milk, andbeating until combined after each.

3. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester insterted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer pans to wire rack to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

Strawberry Whipped Cream

about 2 cups whipping cream, very cold
about 2 Tbsp sugar
about 1 cup strawberries

Puree the strawberries in a food processor. Strain the puree through a fine-mesh sieve to get the seeds out.

Using an electric mixer (or just a whisk!), whip the cream and sugar together until stiff-ish peaks form (or however you like it). Fold in the strawberry puree (as much or as little as you like). Pipe onto the cupcakes and enjoy!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, as good as they are, the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies aren't my favorite chocolate chip cookies. These are. I stumbled upon the recipe on epicurious a few years ago, and they've been my favorites ever since (I just looked, and apparently I added them to my epicurious recipe box more than 10 years ago! I didn't think it had been that long...). I love the way the dough smells, I love the scent while they're cooking, and I love the taste. They're simple to make, and the dough freezes well -- I put the dough balls on a cookie sheet in the freezer until they're hard, and then pop them into zip-top bags for long-term storage.

These are so good that I don't actually have any pictures of the finished product - I made them for our babysitter before she left for the summer, and the few that we didn't give her got gobbled up in short order. So you're just going to have to trust me that they are that good. They are just a bit crisp on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside -- truly chewy, in a way that non-oatmeal cookies just can't accomplish.

One of the key ingredients in these cookies is nutmeg. While these cookies are good if you use pre-ground nutmeg, they really come alive with freshly-grated nutmeg. It's worth buying a nutmeg just for this recipe, in my opinion (and a Microplane grater, if you don't already have one). And I admit that I don't actually measure the grated nutmeg when I make this recipe; I just grate it right into the batter and eyeball it.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Bon Appetit, via epicurious
Makes about 50 cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar (I usually use a combination of light and dark brown sugars)
2 eggs
1 3.4-ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 to 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) chopped walnuts or pecans (or some of each)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place parchment paper on 3 cookie sheets.

Beat butter in large bowl until light. Gradually add white and brown sugars and beat mixture until fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add pudding mix, vanilla extract, baking soda, water, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Mix until well blended. Mix in oats, then flour. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop cookie dough by large rounded spoonfuls (or use a #40 disher) onto parchment-paper covered cookie sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies appear dry and tops are lightly cracked but soft when pressed, about 10-12 minutes (do not overbake!). Cool cookies 5 minutes on cookie sheets, then transfer to racks and cool.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rosemary-Parmesan Almost No-Knead Bread

I cannot believe I waited this long to make this bread. This is Cook's Illustrated's Almost-No-Knead Bread, and it is so good and so easy... I've already made it a second time. And I bought a six-pack of beer to keep on hand so I can make it again. And I'm plotting variations.

It takes a little while from start to finish - between 11 and 20 hours - but you don't have to do anything for almost all of that time. Seriously - I think I spent about 10 minutes doing actual work on this bread.

I think I'll be making bread weekly from now on.

Almost No-Knead Bread
from Cook's Illustrated

15 oz (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp instant/rapid-rise yeast
1-1/2 tsp table salt
7 oz (3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp) room temperature water
3 oz (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp) mild-flavored lager (CI recommends Budwiser, I have Henry Weinhard's Blonde and was quite happy)
1 Tbsp white vinegar
(optional: 4 oz finely grated parmesan (about 2 cups, packed tightly) and 1 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary leaves. If you use them, add them with the flour in step one.)

1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl (preferably glass). Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (that's why I like a glass bowl - the plastic wrap sticks better!) and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours. Protip: write the 8-hour time and the 18-hour time with a Sharpie right on the plastic wrap. Then you won't have to remember when your countdown started.

2. Lay a 12- by 18- inch sheet of parchment paper inside a 10-inch skillet and spray the paper with cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10-15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges to middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest (or second lowest) position, place 6- to 8- quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with lid (mine is only 5.5 quarts and it works fine) on the rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees (my Dutch oven is only 5.5 quarts and can only go to 450 degrees, so I set the oven to 450 and everything worked fine). Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhand and lower into pot (let excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20-30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
Note: both times I made this, the bottom of the bread got way overdone -- it was scorched. Next time, I think I'll reduce the oven temp to 400 and see what happens.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

Oh, Cook's Illustrated, you've done it again!

These really are amazing chocolate chip cookies. Big and chewy, with a TON of flavor. Toffee and chocolate and yum. And they only take a few more minutes than the usual Toll House cookies.

This is dangerous.

It's so simple, too -- just a little more brown sugar than the standard recipe, one fewer egg white, and - swoon - browned butter. It's the strangest thing -- as you stir the unmelted butter into the browned butter, you can smell toffee, even though there has been no sugar involved yet. It's wonderful.

I made two batches in as many days -- one for us, and one to send to a family friend who recently started treatment for breast cancer.

I think they'll cheer her up!

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Cook's Illustrated

1-3/4 cups (8-3/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
14 Tbsp (1-3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (preferably dark brown)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips (Cook's Illustrated's preferred chip is Ghirardelli 60% cocoa, and I agree)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional - I did not include these)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18"x12") baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly, until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1-3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny.

4. During one of the rest times, whisk flour and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside.

5. After final rest, us a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough a final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

6. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 disher). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

7. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through cooking. Transfer sheet to wire rack; cool for as long as you can stand it before diving in.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes

I love having a special breakfast on Saturdays. That's what we did growing up -- Sunday mornings were too busy with getting ready for church, but Saturdays were special. When my brother and I were little, that was the day Mom got to sleep in, and Dad made breakfast for us -- usually pancakes. We loved it when Dad made pancakes, because he would make special shapes for us -- letters for our names, Mickey Mouse, that sort of thing. I'm sure they tasted good, too, but as long as they were unusual shapes, I'm honestly not sure we'd have noticed!

These pancakes won't make good letters, but they are really yummy. And they are quick and easy to make, as long as you remember to mix the oatmeal and buttermilk the night before! You can mix the dry ingredients the night before, too, but that's not critical.

My husband puts molasses on them, but molasses are not my thing -- I top them with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Just for kicks, this time I tried whipping the cream by hand instead of with a mixer. I wanted to see how long it would take and if it would practically make my arm fall off. I was pleasantly surprised -- it took maybe 5 minutes, and while I wouldn't want to whip large quantities daily, it wasn't hard. And I had a lot more control over how whipped it got than I do in the mixer. It somehow feels less "wasteful" for just a small amount of whipped cream, even though I still dirtied a bowl and a whisk.

Like most pancakes, these are hardly sweet. By themselves, they are on the plain side, even with the cinnamon and vanilla. But dressed with a little sweetness, they really shine!

Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes
adapted from Julia

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Combine oats and buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, add eggs and mix to combine. Mix in melted butter and then vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. Combine dry and wet ingredients, making sure they are all incorporated.

Preheat a griddle or nonstick skillet (on my electric stove, medium heat is perfect, after the first batch). Spray with cooking spray or oil. Spoon batter on, about 1/4 cup for each pancake.

Here's the tricky part: you'll have to play with the heat a little to get these perfect. They don't really form the bubbles that most pancakes do to tell you when to flip them. And the first batch is always weird -- don't let that throw you! With a little trial-and-error, these will be perfect (and they're pretty good even when they're not perfect!).

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

I know that pumpkin bread is usually more of a fall thing, but I had a hankering for it now. Also, I'm going to be making a lot of it this fall -- more on that later -- and I wanted to do some final recipe tweaking before then.

For some reason, my mom didn't make quickbreads very often when I was growing up. I don't know why; she baked plenty of other things, but not very many muffins or quickbreads. So I'm not certain I had pumpkin bread at all until probably after college, when I got this recipe from my mother-in-law.

I'm so glad she introduced me to it, because I practically lived on the stuff after my son was born. We went through probably 6 loaves in the first month of his life, and I consumed most of it. I was up at all hours with this tiny person who didn't sleep very long, and nursing every 3 hours, and I was hungry ALL THE TIME. Pumpkin bread was appealing because it was yummy, easy to eat one-handed (with a wee baby boy in the other hand), and ready to eat at any time of day -- no cooking or thawing required. And it has pumpkin in it, right, so it's not totally bad for you...

So pumpkin bread is my go-to food for new moms, and I've got 3 babies due this fall! My boss, my best friend from college, and my sister-in-law (I'm going to be an aunt! Yaaay!) are all pregnant, and due within a 6-week period. I'm going to be baking a lot of pumpkin bread this fall, so it was time to finish tweaking. (Oh, and I guess it's time to ramp up the knitting as well!)

Over the years, I'd made a couple of adjustments to this recipe -- reducing the oil (by HALF! It called for a whole cup. Insane.), coating the pan with cinnamon-sugar -- but nothing major. However, when I was eating so much of it after my son's birth, I noticed that it had a metallic flavor. And that the spices really could use a little more oomph. Reducing the amount of baking soda got rid of the metallic flavor, and including allspice helped with the spices. But it was the addition of just a little vanilla that really made this bread a winner -- this batch is definitely the best yet, and I think I'm happy now to let this recipe stand.

Pumpkin Bread

3 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg (I always use freshly-grated nutmeg -- I don't want to be a snob about it, but it makes a big difference!)
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 15-oz can of pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2/3 cup water
Cinnamon-sugar (optional - 2-3 Tbsp)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease 2 loaf pans (or 2 muffin tins) and coat with cinnamon-sugar.

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly (a whisk will be fine -- you don't need a mixer). There will still be a few lumps.

Divide batter between pans. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack.

Monday, May 4, 2009

My First Sock

I've been wanting to try sock-knitting for a while now, but a previous attempt failed and I needed to find the right way to learn. I thought about taking a class, but the cost always turned me off. Then, I found Silver's Sock Class. It's a totally free step-by-step tutorial, with pictures and everything. Perfect!

So this weekend, I cast on my first sock. I'm afraid that I don't remember what yarn this is -- I bought it a couple of years ago for that first ill-fated attempt, and the labels have gotten lost along the way.

It's lovely yarn, though. I'm excited to see how this sock develops!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

S'mores Brownies

So, after the s'mores cupcakes didn't taste so s'more-y, I was going to make another batch. But then I remembered this s'mores brownie recipe (well, I re-stumbled upon it - it was open in one of my many browser tabs), and decided to try that instead. I was on my way to trivia, and making dinner, and I just didn't have time to fuss with cupcakes and frosting. I was in such a hurry that I completely forgot to take pictures until after I got home from trivia, which is why the light is so bad in these photos (just go look at the pictures in the link up there, Joy's are much better than mine!). They were easy to make, and it's fun to crunch up the graham crackers and then put the big marshmallows on the batter.

Verdict: Well, they're brownies, so you know they're good. But I didn't get any s'more-y flavor from these, either, unfortunately. But they were still brownies, so all was not lost! These ended up very cakey (much cakier than Joy's, from the photos) and a little on the dry side. I think I'd like to try the concept again with a fudgier brownie recipe, and I'll probably add more graham crackers. Also, I wonder what it would be like if I covered the top in mini marshmallows, like you do for sweet potato casserole? Hm. Lots of possibilities here!

Oh, and you know that after two s'more baked good failures in one week that we had to make actual s'mores. I am the queen of stovetop s'mores. And it was good to finally get that s'more flavor.

S'mores Brownies
from Joy the Baker
makes 12-15, depending on how big you like your brownies

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs
1-1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup graham cracker, roughly crushed with your hands
12 big marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9×13-inch baking pan with 2-inch-high sides. Combine first 3 ingredients in small bowl. In a microwaveable bowl, combine butter and chocolate. Microwave on 50% power at 20- to 30-second intervals until just melted and smooth, stirring frequently.

Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Stir in warm chocolate mixture, then dry ingredients. Fold in graham crackers. Pour batter into prepared pan. Dot with 12 large marshmallows. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 30-40 minutes.

Marshmallows will be browned and puffy but will deflate as the brownies cool. Cool for at least 20 minutes, then slice with a sharp knife, cleaning the knife with hot water if it gets too messy and sticky. Serve or wrap individually in wax paper for storing.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

S'mores Cupcakes Experiment

So, when we do coffee hour at church, I almost never bring just one thing. I like to give people options. And I've developed kind of a reputation, which I have to uphold! So coffee hour, when I do it, almost always involves cupcakes. They're so easy to do in large batches (well, the mini ones are, anyway), and everybody loves them.

I was looking at Chockylit's (sadly defunct) Cupcake Bakeshop for inspiration, and saw her s'mores cupcakes and knew that that was what I wanted to make. But I didn't want to make her recipe for them, because I didn't have time to make the little graham cracker crusts for like a million mini-cupcakes, nor did I have time for homemade marshmallows (although I plan to try my hand at marshmallows, someday). So I went exploring online, and found a LOT of s'mores cupcake recipes. Many of them are made with chocolate cake, which I didn't want -- chocolate isn't really the dominant flavor in s'mores.

So I looked for graham cracker cupcake recipes, intending to put milk chocolate chunks in them, and do some sort of marshmallow frosting. I found the recipe below, and it looked great - lots of graham crackers in there. I found a lot of frosting recipes that used the same basic concept as the one I used (below), so I was set!

The cake batter made me a little nervous as it was coming together -- all those crumbs made for a kind of curdled-looking batter. And I'd doubled the recipe, so I really needed it to work out! As you see, the cupcakes baked up beautifully, and they smelled wonderful in the oven.

The frosting also gave me some pause -- I've never put marshmallow creme in frosting before, and it definitely changes the consistency. It's hard to explain - it seems softer and looser than regular buttercream, but it has more structure at the same time. It made it hard to know when to stop tweaking (I usually just add a little more sugar and a little more water/milk until my frosting is "right").

Verdict: these were definitely yummy (my neighbor LOVED them, said they were the best thing I've ever baked), but I didn't get much "s'mores" flavor out of them. The main flavor I got was "sweet." The cupcakes weren't graham-y enough, which is kind of frustrating given how much graham cracker went into them! The frosting didn't taste marshmallowy at all, although that was probably my fault for adding too much powdered sugar.

I want to try these again, but next time I think I'll add chunks of graham cracker to the batter, and maybe make a streusel-type topping out of graham crackers, too. I will also make a swiss meringue buttercream-type frosting, which should taste more marshmallowy, and I think I'll try to toast it!

S’mores Cupcakes
Adapted from How To Eat a Cupcake
Makes just under 5 dozen mini cupcakes

For cupcakes:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 11 grahams)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 cup milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks

For frosting:
7 oz. marshmallow creme
6 Tbsp. (3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
approx. 3/4 pound confectioner's sugar
1-2 Tbsp. water or milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix flour, crushed graham crackers, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and milk and beat until batter is almost smooth. Fold in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into cupcake papers, filling cups about 2/3 full (I use a #60 disher for mini cupcakes). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean . Remove from oven and cool.

Make frosting: beat butter and marshmallow creme in standing mixer until combined. Add powdered sugar and water until a nice, fluffy consistency.

Frost cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with grated milk chocolate or graham cracker crumbs.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

My husband and I are filling in for coffee hour at church tomorrow -- one of my favorite things to do! I love baking for an audience. The only thing I don't love about baking for coffee hour is that you have to make a lot of whatever you're bringing; I usually bring about 200 pieces. On the one hand, it's nice to have an opportunity to make more than one recipe. On the other hand - whew, it's a lot of work! Especially since Trevor works on Saturday afternoons, so I'm toddler-wrangling while I bake.

Peanut butter and chocolate is one of my favorite combinations ever, and has been practically my whole life. And these are really good peanut butter cookies! They're lovely and crisp on the outside, but soft on the inside, and the chocolate and peanut butter chips are soft little pockets of flavor.

These cookies are pretty easy, too, although they do have the added step of rolling them in sugar. I used superfine sugar, but I think I'll use regular granulated sugar next time -- I like the look of the bigger crystals.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Smitten Kitchen
Makes approx. 4 dozen

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature (smooth is what we used, but I am pretty sure they use chunky at the bakery)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup chocolate chips

For sprinkling: 1-2 tablespoons sugar, regular or superfine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter and chocolate chips. Place sprinkling sugar — the remaining tablespoon — on a plate. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (I used a #60 disher) into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, about 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart. Using a fork, lightly indent with a criss-cross pattern, but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Almond Cheesecake

Cheesecake is sort of a tradition in my family. My father-in-law makes heavenly cheesecakes, and he makes them for all sorts of events. He is known for his cheesecakes. He made our wedding cake (and lots of other peoples' wedding cakes, too). He doesn't do New-York-style cheesecakes -- he does chocolate cheesecakes. Chocolate orange, chocolate raspberry, white chocolate cherry, chocolate Kahlua espresso with hazelnut crust (my personal favorite), and others. They're creamy and just to die for.

So it was a while before I ever tried making a cheesecake. It just seemed like it was his arena, and he did it so well that why should I even bother? I eventually got over it, but I make different types of cheesecakes than he does. I certainly don't feel the need to attempt chocolate, but I like a good New-York-style cheesecake -- it's a different beast than the ones my father-in-law makes.

What I'm about to say next might be a little blasphemous in my family: I like this cheesecake even better than my father-in-law's cheesecakes.

Oh, it's close, there's no doubt. I love that chocolate Kahlua espresso and its hazelnut crust. But I love this almond cheesecake. It's so light and creamy, and almondy all the way through. And it's so insanely easy to make. (That's one of the nice things about cheesecake - you don't have to mess around with frosting.) It's like almond paste in cheesecake form (it doesn't get any better than "almond paste in _____ form" with me. I wish almond paste were good eats straight out of the can!).

Anyway, make this. Make it soon. You won't regret it.

Almond Cheesecake
from Bon Appetit, via epicurious.com

Note: The original recipe calls for sour cream and blackberry toppings. I don't really feel the need for them on this cheesecake, but I've done them in the past. I've also done just a simple berry coulis spooned over the top. You can also swirl some coulis into the filling, which is really pretty. Whatever makes you happy!

For crust
1 8-ounce tube almond paste
6 whole graham crackers (about 3 ounces), broken up
1/2 cup whole almonds (about 2 1/2 ounces), toasted, cooled
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For filling
1/2 cup sugar
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature
3 large eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Make crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Set aside 1/2 of the almond paste for filling. Combine remaining almond paste, graham crackers and almonds in processor and grind finely. Add butter; process until moist crumbs form. Press over bottom and 2 inches up sides of 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Bake until crust colors, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Make filling:

Wipe out processor. Blend sugar and reserved almond paste in processor until mixture resembles fine meal, about 1 minute. Add half of cream cheese and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Add remaining cream cheese and process until smooth. Add eggs, cream and almond extract and blend until just combined.

Pour filling into crust. Bake cake until just set in center and beginning to crack at edges, about 40 minutes. Chill cake uncovered until cold, about 1 1/2 hours.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lime-with-Bite Cupcakes

You can't tell from the picture, but these cupcakes are TART. Almost too tart for me. I made them for my friend James' birthday, and James loves citrus with a bite -- I made him tart lemon cupcakes a couple of years ago, and now it was time to try lime. The trick is, there aren't really any recipes out there for extra-tart lime baked goods other than key lime pie. So I had to figure it out myself. The lemon ones I did a couple of years ago were also no good as a starting point -- I'd used a doctored cake mix family recipe, and no one makes lime cake mix.

So I found a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that used a good deal of lemon zest and juice in the batter, and substituted lime. I used a little bit more zest than it called for, too, since lime is generally a subtler flavor than lemon.

The cake was good, but nowhere near tart. So once the cupcakes came out of the oven, I poked holes in them with a toothpick and poured a little glaze over, glaze made of lime juice with a little sugar. That made the cakes about as tart as I could get them without making like a million test batches -- I don't want to mess with the chemistry of baking that much.

But it's the frosting where you can really get zingy. There's a lot less chemistry in frosting -- with American buttercream, it's just a matter of tweaking for taste and consistency. So this frosting is really, really tart. James loved it, as did a lot of my friends. If I were making this again for myself (and I probably will, because I love lime), I would make it a good deal less tart, because that's my preference.

One other note - I had planned to fill these cupcakes with lime curd, but I ran out of time. So I incorporated some of the lime curd into the frosting. I've done this before, and I love the flavor of it. It's probably not strictly necessary, but lime curd is SO GOOD that I like putting it everywhere.

Lime-with-Bite Cupcakes
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
makes 24 cupcakes

For cake:
3 tablespoons lime juice (from about 2 large limes)
2 tablespoons lime zest (from about 2 large limes)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
18 tablespoons (2-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar

For glaze:
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with papers.
  2. Mince lime zest to fine paste (you should have about 2 tablespoons). Combine zest and lime juice in small bowl; set aside to soften, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Combine lime juice mixture, vanilla, and buttermilk in medium bowl. In small bowl, gently whisk eggs and yolk to combine.
  4. In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, cream butter and sugar at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes; scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Reduce to medium speed and add half of eggs, mixing until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Repeat with remaining eggs; scrape down bowl again.
  5. Reduce to low speed; add about one-third of flour mixture, followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until just incorporated after each addition (about 5 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture. Scrape bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Scrape into prepared pan.
  6. Bake until tops are golden brown and wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into center comes out with no crumbs attached, about 20 minutes.
  7. Let cool 5 minutes, still in pan. While cooling, mix together 1 tablespoon sugar and 3 tablespoons lime juice. (I stuck mine in the microwave for about 20 seconds to get the sugar to dissolve.)
  8. Poke holes in the cupcakes with a toothpick or skewer. Pour about 1 teaspoon of glaze over each cupcake, while the cupcakes are still hot.

Lime Curd
adapted from Martha Stewart, via chockylit's Cupcake Bakeshop

4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, strained
1/2 teaspoons gelatin
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
7 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons powdered sugar
  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 tablespoon lime juice. Let sit.
  2. Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and citrus juice in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat. Immediately stir in gelatin mixture. Stir in butter, piece by piece. Pour through fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap (press the wrap onto the surface of the curd), and cool in the refrigerator until cold, at least 2 hours.
  4. Whip together cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold cream into the chilled curd.

Tart Lime Frosting
makes more than enough for 24 cupcakes

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 pounds confectioner's sugar
1/2 recipe lime curd (above)
approx. 1 cup lime juice
approx. 14 small TrueLime packets(optional)
  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter until soft. Add about 1/2 pound of confectioner's sugar. Beat until incorporated.
  2. Add some lime curd (approx 1/2 cup). Beat until incorporated.
  3. Add some lime juice (approx 2 tablespoons). Beat until incorporated.
  4. Add approx. 1/2 pound more confectioner's sugar. Beat until incorporated.
  5. Keep adding lime curd, lime juice, and confectioner's sugar until the consistency is where you want it.
  6. If you want to bring the TART, add TrueLime packets until your mouth puckers.

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