Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts

02 November 2017

Halloween-y Marbled Cupcakes


I’d meant to make HHalloween spritz cookies again, but ... ehhh ... life. So I knocked together these Halloween-y marbled cupcakes using a box mix, canned icing, and liberal amounts of gel food color.

First, I prepared a Betty Crocker™ Super Moist™ Favorites White Cake Mix following the instructions on the back of the box. Then, I split the batter between two bowls and tinted each with liberal amounts of gel food color. (I chose to use black and purple, but in hindsight it’s clear orange or green would have made a sharper contrast against the black). I then spooned the batter into cupcake liners -- alternating colors as I went and then giving each cup a gentle swirl with a skewer -- and baked them according to the box.

When the cupcakes were cooled, I beat green food gel into a can of Betty Crocker™ Creamy White Rich & Creamy Frosting until I’d reached a Frankenstein-ish green. I iced the cupcakes with frosting, sprinkled them with green sugar for extra sparkle, and ... that was it, really.

I admit they’re pretty and I have been happy enough to nom a couple with a mug of tea, but they’re not as good as scratch-made. The Husband is not that keen on the canned frosting and keeps scraping it off before devouring the cake beneath!

Tl;dr: next time, when feeling lazy, simply buy cute Halloween cupcakes from the cupcakery.

12 October 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Sugar & Spice

October's Improv Cooking Challenge is all about sugar and spice (and everything nice). Since the local farmers markets and orchards are brimming with apples, I thought I would combine the three to make a spiced apple cake perfect for celebrating the autumn season. And then I thought I'd bake it in a bundt pan, because a bundt makes an effortlessly pretty cake and I am all about least effort.


I grated the apple using the largest holes on my box grater as the smaller holes just turned the apple into applesauce. As far as what kind of apples to use, I would say any cooking apple you enjoy would be fine in this cake.

While I used slivered almonds in this cake, I think finely chopped walnuts or pecans would give the cake a better texture. The slivered almonds were a little large and hard and kind-of dominated the mouthfeel of the cake.

But, almonds aside, this cake is good. Moist, sweet, and fragrant with spices ... it's something I'll be making often with my CSA share apples. It is equally tasty as a snack or as breakfast.

Apple Spice Bundt

Yield: 1 10-inch round

Ingredients

  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cored grated apple, peeled if desired
  • 1 cup slivered almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter and flour a 6-cup bundt pan.
  3. Mix the flour, baking soda, and spiced together in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. Cream the shortening and sugars together. Add the eggs and beat well.
  5. Add flour mixture and buttermilk, alternating. Add apples and nuts.
  6. Pour into bundt pan and bake for 1 hour at 350°F or or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  7. Remove from oven. Let stand 20 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Glaze, if desired, or eat. Will keep in a well-sealed cake tin for 4-5 days.

I chose to glaze my bundt with a simple spice glaze of 1 cup confectionary sugar, 2 Tbsp milk, and 1 tsp Penzeys pie spice blend. Because I knew it would take another hour or so for the glaze to set, I helped myself to a good chunk of cake before glazing so I wouldn't have to wait! Turns out the cake is equally good with or without the glaze!


For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





08 June 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Jalapeños & Cheese

After much indecisiveness, I decided to experiment with jalapeño and cheese corn muffins for June's Improv Cooking Challenge. Unfortunately, the first batch was nearly indelible -- astonishingly hot, much too dry, and a little tough. However, I tried again -- adding more liquid, reducing the amount of dried jalapeños, and stirring less -- and eventually arrived at a moderately zippy, tender muffin.


I used Cabot's Jalapeno Jack, a creamy cheese generously studded with fiery jalapeño pieces. It's a flavorful cheese, with plenty of spice, but doesn't set fire to the back of my throat. Really, though, any spicy semi-soft cheese you like will work in this recipe. Just as you should only cook with wine you like to drink, you shouldn't cook with cheese you don't want to surreptitiously nibble.

If you can't find plain kefir at your market, buttermilk or soured milk will work in a pinch. I used kefir simply because I almost always have a container of kefir in my fridge and running to the shop to purchase a container of buttermilk that would end up going off before I could use it up was just ... nope.



Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 3 oz canola, plus extra for greasing the muffin tin
  • 5 oz white whole wheat flour
  • 5 oz cornmeal
  • ⅛ tsp mustard powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tbsp dried crushed jalapeños
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 9 oz plain low-fat kefir
  • 4 oz whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 pickled jalapeño slices

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425°F. Brush a 12-hole muffin tin with neutral cooking oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, mustard powder, baking powder, cheese, crushed jalapeños, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the kefir, milk, oil, and eggs together.
  4. Fold the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, working swiftly yet gently to avoid tough muffins.
  5. Divide the mix between the 12 oiled muffin wells (they will be quite full) and top each with a jalapeño slice. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when tested.
  6. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Serve warm with whipped butter.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





25 May 2017

Lazy Blackberry Almond Bars

I came home from work Monday night in the mood to bake something Right Then That Minute. Since I had a bag of sugar cookie mix and a punnet of fresh blackberries on hand, I decided to whip up a batch of my tried-and-true generally-husband-pleasing blackberry bars. These bars are based on Betty Crocker's "Raspberry Streusel Bars" recipe, but I've steadily tweaked it over the years until it has become what you see below.


You don't absolutely have to warm the preserves, but it spreads much more easily on the hot sugar cookie base if you do. Otherwise, I find bits of the base get pulled up and mixed into the preserves as I try to spread it around.


Lazy Blackberry Almond Bars

Yield: 25 bars

Ingredients

  • 1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • ⅓ cup butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground mace
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup seedless black raspberry preserves, warmed until slightly runny
  • ¼ blackberries
  • ¼ flaked almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8-inch square baking pan with foil and brush with canola oil or spritz with cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine cookie mix, butter, flour, almond extract, cinnamon, mace, and egg until a soft dough forms. Press half of the dough into the bottom of pan and bake 15 minutes.
  3. Spread warm preserves over cookie base. Sprinkle with blackberries.
  4. Mash remaining dough and almonds together with a pastry blender until crumbs form. Scatter over preserves and berries.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes or until bars are golden brown.
  6. Cool completely then cut into bars and store in a tightly sealed container until needed. Baked bars will slowly soften, so eat within a day or two of baking.

16 February 2017

Improv Challenge: Chocolate & Chillies

It'sImprov Challenge Cooking reveal day for February, and this month's theme let us all get really creative with chocolate and chillies (aka chilies or chiles). Yum! I immediately knew I wanted to make some kind of cookie so it was merely a matter of thinking and experimenting until I found the recipe that seemed perfect for the challenge.

These cookies are loosely based on the memories of a bite-size chocolate and chili shortbread cookie I ate last year, but I went big with soft palm-sized drop cookies. I want rich, almost fudge-y, dark chocolate goodness, with just a touch of heat and spice. Something that would pair perfectly with an ice cold glass of milk and leave you feeling like maybe you'd been a little bit naughty. I wanted to flirt with decadence without crossing the line into chocolate overload. I think I mostly succeeded with this.

Chopping chocolate is a recommended stress reliever

Dark Chocolate & Chili Cookies

Yield:About 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • ¾ cup baking cocoa [King Arthur Flour Triple Chocolate Blend]
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chili chocolate, chopped [Lindt Chili Excellence Bar]
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chocolate, chopped [Lindt 85% Cocoa Excellence Bar]
  • Cinnamon sugar, if desired [Lindt Chili Excellence Bar]

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, cayenne, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in chopped chocolate.
  2. Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes, depending on how gooey you like your cookies. Immediately sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if using.
  3. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Let cool completely before eating ... if you have the patience! (The warmer the cookie, the more fragile it will be so handle with care).
  4. Cooled cookies will keep in an airtight container

Don't be surprised if these are gone in a day

The Husband thought these tasted a bit like "Mexican" hot chocolate, because they're very dark with just a hint of heat and spice, and was happy to scarf them down with mugs of tea. However, if you would like a properly spicy cookie, feel free to double the amount of cayenne. Also, these are fairly soft and crumbly cookies. Brilliant to nosh on (very morish -- so if you have a weakness for cookies, be forewarned) but not suitable for dunking in a cup of tea.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





20 January 2017

The Quick-Bread of Comfort & Distraction

I've been all snarled up in a nasty tangle of worry and doubt and grief these last few months. The future, I feel, has become untenable and I don't know what to do with myself. I feel restive and unsure, unwilling to make more than the most basic short-term decisions, and increasingly fatalistic. In short, I'm in a funk.

So, I bake (and donate and make plans to march). There's a comfort in baking, you know. To combine disparate ingredients into a delicious, cohesive whole. To know that wet ingredients go together this way and dry ingredients go together that way and science happens and we have something delicious.

For this particular Bread of Comfort and Distraction, I used King Arthur Flour's recipe for "Easy Whole Wheat Apple-Raisin Bread" which made a delicious quick-bread dense with fruit and nuts and fragrant with the scents of autumn (yes, I know we're in the grim heart of winter). All the ingredients were already in my pantry, so I can claim it was an economical bread. And, as it's made with white whole wheat flour, nuts, and fruit, I can also claim it's a nutritious one.


As I was sticking to ingredients I already had on hand, I used a medley of raisins, because why settle for golden raisins when you can have also have crimson and flame? I also used sliced toasted almonds instead of walnuts or pecans, because someone had eaten them. And, on impulse, I added three tablespoons minced crystallized ginger to the batter just before I poured it into the baking tin, because more ginger is better. And it was good, although it might have been more like spice bread than apple bread in the end. And I sprinkled the bread with both coarse white sparkling sugar and cinnamon-sugar, because I had both in my spice cupboard and thought "why not?"

All in all, it was a rather lovely loaf and my scavenging coworkers ate it down to the last micro-morsel. A few even asked for the recipe, so this is clearly a quick bread that bears repeating. And I suspect, in the coming months, I'm going to be doing a lot of comfort-and-distraction baking. Also marching. And donating.

27 September 2016

A Hankering for Cake; Or, a Cake Emergency Is Averted & there is rejoicing

I was experiencing a powerful hankering for cake, but didn't have the energy to commit to baking a full-size scratch cake, and then remembered the Duncan Hines Perfect Size Red Velvet Crush Heart-Shaped Cake mix kit I'd picked up on clearance just after Valentine's Day last year and put away for a "cake emergency." (What? You don't have cake emergencies? Get on with you!)

These Perfect Size cake mix kits are really quite a clever gimmick. In each kit, there's a bag of glaze or frosting mix, a bag of cake mix, and a twee little baking pan. You just add a bit of egg, butter, water, and milk and *ta-da* you're off to the races. Each cake serves 2-4 people, depending on appetite, and we did manage 4 servings from this heart-shaped one.

Threw on some red confetti sprinkles to make it look less homely. Did not succeed.

What did this red velvet cake taste like? Like a light, mildly chocolate sponge. The glaze was also only mildly chocolate-y, but quite sweet. Happily, the unsweetened whipped cream I served with this cake helped to balance out the sweetness of the glaze and we scarfed it down with big cups of tea. A quarter of the cake per person (or one ventricle, as The Husband called it) was the perfect sized serving -- cravings were assuaged without leaving anyone feeling uncomfy around the waistband.

Would I buy this cake mix kit again? Not the red velvet (the heart-shaped kit was a limited edition, but there's an all-season round version available), no, but I wouldn't mind trying the Perfect Size Strawberries and Crème cake mix kit (garnished with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, obviously).

21 July 2016

Improv Challenge: Peaches & Cream


I didn't plan on participating in July's Improv Challenge. Housebound, easily tired, and increasingly irritated by the tether that is my wound vac ... cooking just hasn't been my thing. But I'm getting bored with myself, you see. Boredboredbored. And so I thought "What the heck! I have dried peaches in the pantry, sour cream in the fridge, and nothing else that needs doing. Why not, at least, try? At worst, I exhaust myself, have a little cry, and need a lie down. At best, I am one step closer to convincing myself I am a Well Person now."

Briefly, I considered tarting up a basic scone recipes with peaches, crystallized ginger, and honey cream. But then I came to my senses and remembered I don't particularly like scones. I know, I know. Scones are something all bookish tea drinking Anglophiles should love. And I do love the idea of them. But I've eaten so many bad scones -- dry, bland, chewy, UGH -- that I've learned to avoid them at bakeries and cafes. And, more importantly, I've not had much luck baking them. So.


Muffins! Glorious, peachy muffins! I've adapted "Naomi's Apricot Nut Muffins" recipe from ApricotKing Orchards to use spelt flour, peaches, ginger, and almonds. I also soaked my peaches in a cup of freshly brewed Salada Green Tea "Immunity" (a blend of green tea, nectarine and peach flavors, spices, and herbs) instead of water, in an attempt to boost the muffins' peachiness. (Feel free to use any peach-flavored tea or just plain ol' hot water).

Peachy Spelt Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup diced dried peaches
  • 1 cup freshly brewed Salada Green Tea Immunity
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups spelt flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp grated orange zest
  • ¼ cup crystallized ginger
  • Sparkling (large grain) sugar, if desired
  • Sliced almonds, if desired

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the lower middle. Line a 12-count muffin pan with baking cups or grease the bottoms and halfway up the sides of the wells.
  2. Place peaches in a bowl, add hot tea, and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain.
  3. Cream together butter, sugar, and sour cream in your stand mixer
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and orange peel in a large bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to wet, mixing until just until combined. (Careful you don’t over mix as that can result in a tougher muffin). Gently stir in apricots and ginger.
  5. Fill muffin tin or paper cupcake cups. Sprinkle with sugar and almonds.
  6. Bake 18-20 minutes in the 400°F oven (if the almonds get too brown, tent with foil). Muffins are done when the tops are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle-most muffin comes out clean.
  7. Let the muffins cool in the muffin pan for 5 minutes, then immediately remove them from the pan. Let cool on a rack for another 15 minutes before eating.


As you can see, none of my muffins domed and a few have sunken centers. They're not under-baked -- the inside of the muffin in soft, fluffy, and moist-but-not-wet -- and my baking soda was new. While I was careful mixing the batter, it is still possible I over-mixed it. Also, in hindsight, I wonder if there wasn't enough leavening used? Perhaps I should have used used a 1:1 baking soda to flour ratio, even thought the original recipe used 1:2?

Anyway, while they're not as pretty as I would have liked, these muffins are still quite yummy. Nutty, just the right amount of sweet, and peachy. Even The Husband has been eating them! I thought for certain spelt would bet a big ol' NOPE from him, but I have been proven wrong. It happens.



06 June 2016

Fabulous Chipotle & Cinnamon Brownies

Just too much on my mind lately and sometimes, rather than tossing and turning in bed all night, it's easier to just get up with the birds and bake something.

And that something needs to be uncomplicated. Because while I am too wired for sleep, I am still not together enough to be trusted with knives or box graters. And something quiet. Because the last thing I want to do is wake The Husband and have him worrying about what I'm doing up and about in the wee small hours.

So brownies. Brownies are pretty much perfect.


To make these fabulous chipotle and cinnamon brownies, I started with a mix and then threw flavors at it until it seemed "right." My coworker had just hosted a taco bar party, so "Mexican" flavors were already on my mind. While I like the mild, mellow burn these brownies leave on the back of my throat, you might want to increase the heat by adding a little cayenne. I'm also kind-of curious to see how sriracha would work out, too, so if anyone wants to try that and get back to me ...

Even baked for 40 minutes, these are very dense, soft, almost-but-not-quite-gooey brownies. I think the bittersweet chocolate gives the commercial mix more complexity and depth, making for a more grown-up brownie. Warm, they're dynamite with a dollop of cinnamon ice cream, they're also pretty darn fine all by themselves at room temperature.

To make these chipotle and cinnamon brownies, prepare a brownie mix (I used a Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie mix) as directed on the box and then add:
  • ½ tsp ground chipotle
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Mexican vanilla (from the Penzeys bottle I've been hoarding since I realized they no longer sell it)
  • 2 oz coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (a bit of Divine 70% bittersweet chocolate leftover from Choctoberfest)
Bake and cool according to box.

Because The Husband hates cinnamon and I knew the very idea of spicy brownies would appall him, I made The Husband his very own pan of brownies by doctoring another mix with the zest of a large orange, 1 tsp orange extract, and 2 oz coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate. I was striving for a Terry's Chocolate Orange-esque brownie and my results weren't too far off. Of course, after I'd baked The Husband's brownies, I realized I could have just chopped up a dark chocolate orange and thrown that in instead of the bittersweet chocolate!

13 April 2016

Yumptious Tea Brack

Finally got around to baking King Arthur Flour's "Tea Brack" on Sunday. As I understand it, tea brack is the baking-powder-and-tea version of barmbrack, a yeasty bread usually served in Ireland at Halloween with different fortune-telling objects (a coin, a thimble, etc) baked into it. I'm still leery of yeast doughs, so this yeast-free version sounded perfect.


I used Barry's Gold Blend tea and Jack Daniel's Single Barrel (not Irish whiskey, but all I had on hand) to soak the fruit as I thought a little whiskey never went amiss with tea. The tea-and-whiskey soaked fruits were plump and yumptious. I used soft, vacuum-sealed fruits from Nuts.com because I find their products consistently good and quite reasonably priced for the quality I'm getting. I freely admit nearly as many dried plums (prunes) went into my belly as went into the cake! (I love dried plums, even back when they were still marketed as prunes and most often associated with grandmas and "regularity").

This cake is a little time-consuming, yes, but in a distinctly non-fiddly "do this and go away for an hour" way. I threw all my fruits together in a big bowl with the tea and whiskey, covered them with a tea towel, and then went off to tidy the living room. Then I assembled the dry ingredients in another bowl, got the egg out, and tidied the kitchen a bit. By the time the fruits were ready to go, I'd done enough that I felt truly accomplished for a Sunday morning.


As I lacked a 8" baking tin that was at least 2" deep, I used my 9" springform pan and wrapped the base in foil, just in case there were leaks. The cake rose up quite beautifully as it baked, but the walls of the pan were high enough to prevent spillovers. Baking tins I've seen in my English mother-in-law's kitchen seem to run much deeper than the ones I'm used to in America. I don't know why this is so -- perhaps because English cakes tend to be denser, fruit-based ones? But how does that explain the sponge cake?

But how does it taste? Heavenly. Moist, dense, fruity. Of course, I'm partial to fruitcake. And tea. And whiskey. People who do not like those things will probably not enjoy this cake. While a plain slice is perfectly delightful on its own, toasting it in a pan and then smearing it with good butter just brings it to a whole new level. Obviously, consume with tea (or whiskey!). Appropriate for breakfast, tea, or whenever you're feeling snacky. Remember, it's got fruit in it (And whole grains! And flavonoids!) so it must be good for you.

I'm tempted to make this tea brack at Christmas using a "Christmas" tea blend, cover the top with royal icing and pass it off as an easy Christmas cake. Seriously, I love the fruitcake recipes I use, but they each make cakes meant to be consumed by waaay more people than I know who like fruitcake. And there's no point telling me to freeze it, because even I (!) don't want fruitcake in July.

06 April 2016

Cookies for Orderly Cupboards

The addition of two bags of flour has caused my usually orderly baking cupboard to descend into chaos. Every time I open its doors to get out the walnuts or refill the sugar pot now, a partially used bag of dried fruit or chocolate morsels throws itself at me. "It's too crowded it here," they cry. "We don't know where we're supposed to fit! DO SOMETHING!"


So I turned a bunch of them into cookies! (Possibly not what they had in mind). I started with a Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix leftover from Christmas and just tarted it up with random baking add-ins. Because I used a lot of add-ins (too many?), I ended up with more cookies than cookie sheets. I just let the first pan cool on the porch after the cookies had been removed from it to the cooling racks and then re-used it, parchment and all, for the last batch.

These cookies came out pretty deliciously. I mean, they would have to be at least "okay" as the mix makes them mostly foolproof. The flavors and textures were quite good, although I think I would have preferred almonds to macadamias and a bit of orange zest wouldn't have gone amiss. Still, my coworkers kept telling me how delicious the cookies were, so what do I know?

Cookies for Orderly Cupboards

Yield: about 32 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 17.5 oz pouch Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup crystallized ginger chips
  • ⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped small
  • ½ cup unsweetened dried flaked coconut, crumbled between your fingers
  • 1 cup 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup unsalted raw macadamia nut pieces

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Line 2 half sheet pans (13"x18") with baking parchment.
  2. Place cookie mix, butter, and egg in your stand mixer's bowl. Attach bowl and flat beater to the mixer. Turn to Speed 6 and beat until a soft dough forms. Add in remaining ingredients and continue to beat until combined.
  3. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart.
  4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool cookies on pan for 2 minutes then transfer to cooling racks and allow to cool completely.
  5. Store cookies in a tightly covered container until needed.

23 March 2016

Can't Have Too Much Flour!

Last week, King Arthur Flour offered $3.14 shipping on all orders over $31.41 in honor of Pi Day and I, of course, seized the opportunity to stock up on flours! Oganic all-purpose and white whole wheat are my regular buys, but the Irish-style and spelt flours are new to me. I'm definitely looking forward to experimenting with them!

All the flours for me, for me ...

As far as I know, I'd never eaten anything made with spelt until I bought a beautiful loaf of spelt sourdough bread from Bantam Bread Company earlier this month. Ohhhh, that bread. Properly sour (and yet a little nutty) with a beautiful body that not only toasted up like a dream but, untoasted, still held up against even the juiciest, drippiest sandwich fillings. I've been day dreaming about that bread since I finished the loaf. Alas, I currently have no good reason to visit Litchfield!

Look at that beautiful bread! Omnomnom.

But that bread's the entire reason I now own a bag of spelt flour. No intention of trying to copy Bantam's sour dough -- that's well beyond my ken -- but I am looking forward to attempting to other things:

  • "Spelt muffins" (w/ the optional almonds & dates, because who doesn't love dates?)
  • "Cinnamon coffee cake"(seems more like a quick bread than a "traditional" coffee cake, but I won't know until I bake it!)
  • "Brown sugar walnut pennies" (never browned butter before ... irrationally excited by the opportunity)

I also picked up a bag of Irish-style flour which I think is the closest I'm going to get to the wholemeal flour called for in my British cookbooks without spending silly money at an British import store. King Arthur has a lovely-sounding recipe for tea brack I'd like to try out rightnowthisminute except I haven't any prunes. Nor currants. Nor ... raisins! How did I run out of raisins? What a sad matter of things.

15 March 2016

Best Beloved's Unbirthday Cupcakes

Imperial Sugar's recipe for "Caramel Easter Egg Filled Chocolate Cupcakes" showed up in my feed about a month ago and I was immediately smitten. The Husband's birthday was coming up -- forty on the first day of Spring, yo -- and they seemed like just the thing to celebrate with. I know a big honkin' multi-tiered cake is probably more appropriate for a fortieth birthday, but there's only two of us and there's a limit to how much cake I want hanging around ... even if it is for my best beloved. Also, cupcakes keep well and are perfectly tidy foods requiring neither plates nor forks to consume. Cupcakes are best, is all I'm saying.


But ... then I realized I'd over-planned his birthday (presuming it doesn't rain) and there was no way I'd manage to bake cupcakes (or anything else) and keep to The Secret Birthday Weekend Plan, so the lucky duck enjoyed them on his unbirthday weekend!

Alas, I couldn't find "caramel mini Easter egg candies" -- only the bite-sized Mini Cadbury Creme Eggs -- so that's what I used. And I didn't have unsweetened chocolate, so melted chopped up bits of 70% bittersweet baking bar and reduced the sugar by two tablespoons. And I didn't have quite enough canola oil, so made up the rest with melted butter. And ran out of all-purpose flour, so used about a half cup of white whole wheat. Really, I should have checked my baking supplies before I started cooking, but I always have all-purpose flour and canola oil on hand. Why would I run out?

Because I keep baking things, obviously. And my baking cupboard, while deep and generously stocked, is not a limitless Horn of Plenty. Although, thanks to #Choctoberfest and Imperial Sugar, I'm still pretty well stocked with sugar! And chocolate. But, mostly, sugar.


I over-filled some of the baking cups with batter and they, of course, overflowed the edges of the cup when baking, creating a very messy cupcake. To make them a bit tidier, I flipped the cooled cupcakes upside down and then used a round biscuit cutter to trim the excess cake away. They still weren't professional bakery quality, but looked (imho) quite cute when frosted.

My cupcakes are frosted with store-bought whipped vanilla frosting I tinted with a little yellow gel paste food color. At first, I thought it was too pale, but have decided I rather like the effect of the bold green and blue against the softer yellow.


The Husband was super-annoyed I'd double cupped these and thought I'd booby-trapped them because, seeing the striped baking cup, he thought I'd unwrapped the first cupcake for him and proceeded to bite right through the inner cup. Eep. Oh, I how laughed. Oh, how he glowered. And then very carefully unwrapped the rest of the cupcake.

The cake part of these cupcakes are very good -- light, fluffy, chocolaty-but-not-too-sweet, and with excellent crumb -- but I was less enamored with the creme eggs as they settled to the bottom of the cupcake whilst baking and glued themselves to the bottom of the baking cups. The Husband ate them all quite happily, but as the baker it bothered me. How to keep them from settling to the bottom?

24 February 2016

Whisky-Glazed Chai Shortbread

Before I decided a chai-spiced honey cake would be just the thing for February's Improv Challenge, I briefly flirted with a tea-flavored shortbread. I tried an Earl Grey-infused shortbread first and it was fine, but not quite what I was looking for, so I tried it again with a chai tea blend and it was better -- richer and more aromatic than the subtle Earl Grey version. Either version is easy enough to make -- essentially you're just taking a basic shortbread recipe and adding tea.


These are good cookies ... crumbly and buttery, as shortbread is wont to be, with the distinct aromatic flavors of chai spices and the gentler, more subtle taste of whisky. If you wanted to, you could easily make these "Irish" for next month's Saint Patrick's Day shenanigans by using a good Irish strong tea, like Barry's Classic, and Irish whisky.

Whisky-Glazed Chai Shortbread

Yield: 16 squares

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp chai tea (contents of about 5 tea bags) [Tazo]
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 Tbsp honey whisky [Wild Turkey]

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Spritz a 9-inch square baking pan with a little baking spray.
  3. Pulse the tea and flour in your food processor until the tea is in small pieces evenly distributed throughout the flour. Then add the sugar and butter and process until a crumbly dough begins to form.
  4. Pour dough out into the prepared baking pan and smoosh dough down with your fingers (or the bottom of a small glass) until it is spread evenly across the bottom of the pan. Using a serrated knife, score dough deeply to make sixteen squares.
  5. Bake the shortbread at 375° for 20 minutes, or until it's firm and golden brown. Remove pan from the oven, and after 5 minutes, turn the shortbread out of the pan onto a clean cutting board. Cut all the way through the score marks. Place shortbread pieces on a rack to cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the powdered sugar and honey whisky. Brush glaze over cooled cookies and allow to dry completely on racks. Will keep in a tightly covered container for a week or so.

18 February 2016

Improv Challenge: Tea & Honey

This month for Improv Challenge, our ingredients were tea and honey. Part of me wanted to find a savory recipe, because baking with honey scared me a little ... but this is a challenge, after all, and so I knew I should push myself to cook outside my comfort zone.


The original recipe for this cake, called "English Honey Cake," came from The Best Ever Encyclopedia of British Cooking (Lorenz Books, 2011). I've added tea to it, obviously, and tweaked the amounts a little because, honestly, the amounts of honey and sugar going into the original seemed a touch inordinate. While I wanted a sweet, moist cake I didn't want to create something that would taste overwhelmingly SWEET -- the kind of hummingbird-crack cake where you take a bite and you're done.


I used linden (basswood) honey in this recipe, but clover or orange blossom honey should also yield good results. Linden, which I find rather herbal-tasting when compared to clover or orange blossom, is just what I happened to have on hand. The Polish grocery I shop at stocks an astonishing variety of honey and I am slowly working my way through them (with some help from Google Translate).


Honestly, I wasn't sure how much tea to use in this cake. I knew I wanted a strong tea flavor so I ... basically just dumped in tea until the butter mixture looked "right." Turned out that was five teabags or about two tablespoons. The flavor was good -- think chai gingerbread.


You could probably use any spicy tea blend with this cake. For this particular bake I used Tazo's Chai Organic which is a yummy blend of black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and other spices and it worked out really well -- richly aromatic and flavorful. However, a blend like Tazo's Pumpkin Spice -- black tea, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, & pumpkin -- or Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice tea blend -- "an assertive blend of black teas, three types of cinnamon, orange peel, and sweet cloves" -- might also be quite fun to try.

Chai-Spiced Honey Cake

Yield: 16 pieces

Ingredients

  • ¾ unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp runny honey
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chai tea blend (about 5 teabags worth)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 8 oz self-rising flour

Instructions

  1. Grease and line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  3. Heat butter, ½ cup honey, sugar, and 2 Tbsp tea in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring regular, until butter is melted and everything is well mixed. Remove from heat and let rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Beat the eggs and milk into the cooled mixture. Sift the flour over the top and then beat in until smooth.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the 350°F oven for 30 minutes or until cake is risen, golden brown, and firm to the touch.
  6. Leave cake to cool in pan on a cookie rack for 20 min. Firmly grasp the parchment and use it to gently lift the cake out onto the rack. Allow to cool completely in the parchment.
  7. Put remaining 2 Tbsp honey in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat until honey is very liquidy. Brush over cake and allow to sit until needed.
  8. Remove parchment and cut into 16 squares.


Overall, I'm quite pleased with how this cake turned out. It's a light, spicy cake with a beautiful, rich, honey-brown color speckled with lots of attractive flecks from the tea -- almost looks like a seed cake -- and it smells wonderful. Pairs well with a big mug of unsweetened black tea and reminds me quite strongly of something The Husband's Grandmother Winnie would have kept on hand for "just in case." Definitely worth baking again. Thanks, Camilla, for suggesting February's Improv Challenge theme!




21 January 2016

Improv Challenge: Dough & Chocolate

The Husband really loves eclairs and profiteroles ... but only the "proper" kind that are filled with real whipped cream and not with pastry cream or whipped cream that's been stabilized with "something horrible." So when I saw that January's Improv Challenge called for the creative use of dough and chocolate I thought I'd try my hand at pâte à choux (sounds like "pat a shoe") and make the man some profiteroles filled with chocolate whipped cream.


Having watched six seasons of The Great British Bake Off, I'd seen enough cooks make pâte à choux that I was pretty sure I could handle it. I still read many recipes -- both online and in actual printed cookbooks -- before I decided I would be smart to just follow an established recipe rather than attempt my own amalgamation. In the end, I turned to King Arthur Flour's "Easy Mini Puffs" recipe. It worked like a charm and the forty (slightly misshapen) bite-size puffs have kept well, unfilled and ungarnished, in a sealed container on the counter for five days now.


I have been filling the profiteroles as needed with a sweetened chocolate whipped cream I made by combining heavy cream and instant hot cocoa mix in my 1 pint iSi Creative Whip. It's delicious -- light, sweet, and almost gently chocolatey.

Chocolate Whipped Cream Filling

Ingredients

  • ½ pint heavy cream
  • 2 pkts Swiss Miss milk chocolate hot cocoa mix

Instructions

  1. Whisk the heavy cream and cocoa mix together until the powder is completely dissolved.
  2. Pour into a 1 pint iSi Creative Whip. Screw on an N2O whipped cream charger cartridge and shakeshakeSHAKE.
  3. Can immediately be used to fill profiteroles or refrigerated until needed.

The profiteroles are garnished with an easy chocolate sauce I made by combining dark chocolate, whole milk, butter, and sugar. This sauce keeps well in the fridge, although it needs to be warmed a little to get it back to a pourable consistency.

Chocolate Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 oz whole milk cream
  • 1 oz butter
  • 1 Tbsp white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 2 oz good-quality dark chocolate (use at least 70% cocoa solids)

Instructions

  1. Heat the cream, butter, and sugar, in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the chocolate, stirring, until it's melted and smooth.
  3. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  4. Drizzle over profiteroles or refrigerate until needed.


Overall, I'm pleased with my first attempts at pâte à choux and profiteroles. Choux pastry is nothing to fear and I'm looking forward to making more (bigger) puffs in the near(ish) future. Thanks, Melody, for suggesting January's Improv Challenge theme!



09 October 2015

Choctoberfest: Chocolate-Raspberry Meringue Cookies


The generous folks at Imperial Sugar sent me a case of their extra fine granulated pure cane sugar for #Choctoberfest. In case you're not impressed by that, let me point out that a case of Imperial Sugar is forty pounds of sugar. Think of all the things I can create with that amount of sugar! Think of all the cups of tea The Husband can sweeten with the bits he "borrows!" Seriously though, The Husband likes his black tea sweet and too often I have gone to bake something only to find the bottom of the sugar canister coated with the merest scraping of sugar as "someone" has drunk up the rest. That's not going to happen now. Even he can't use that much sugar in his tea!

Astounded by Imperial Sugar's generosity, I decided to bake meringue cookies with their sugar as it's such a simple recipe -- not much more than eggs and sugar -- and I thought it would give the sugar a chance to shine. Sugar doesn't just make these meringue cookies sweetly delicious, but it binds with the egg proteins, increasing their strength and elasticity, creating the fluffiest meringue. Science!


While I've made meringue with regular ol' granulated sugar, it can give the meringue a grainy texture which is not terrible in something like Eton Mess, where the meringue is smashed up and mixed with many other ingredients, but I didn't want gritty cookies. Imperial Sugar doesn't seem to make a superfine sugar, so I just whirred the Imperial Sugar granulated white around in my food processor until it resembled fine beach sand. This doesn't take long to do and allows me to feel even more smug about my kitchen skills.


These cookies are a trifle on the large size -- I like a generous cookie -- so you might want to use teaspoonfuls instead of tablespoons if you prefer a more delicate and ladylike cookie. Also, you could mix some cocoa powder in with the chips and raspberries for a more chocolaty meringue.

Also, feel free to use semisweet or bittersweet (yessss) chocolate in these cookies. The Husband does not enjoy dark chocolate and I love The Husband and want him to be happy, so I stuck with milk.


Chocolate-Raspberry Meringue Cookies

Yield: Approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 large egg whites at room temperature
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 4 oz white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 1 oz freeze-dried raspberries
  • 5 oz milk chocolate morsels

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Position racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Using your fingers, gently break the raspberries so none remain whole, being careful not to crush them into dust. Set aside.
  3. Pour white sugar into your food processor and whir around until it resembles fine beach sand. Set aside.
  4. In the scrupulously clean and dry bowl of your stand mixer, use the wire whisk attachment to whip egg whites with cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla until the whites form soft peaks.
  5. Slowly add sugar, beating until stiff peaks form and mixture becomes very white and glossy.
  6. Gently fold in the crushed raspberries and chocolate chips, taking care not to deflate the batter.
  7. Drop mixture by tablespoonfuls on to the parchment paper.
  8. Bake for 1½ hours, rotating the pans from top-to-bottom and front-to-back halfway through baking.
  9. Turn off the heat and let the meringues cool completely in oven, about 2 hours.

If the cookies stick to the paper when you try to remove them then they are not baked properly. Reheat the oven to 200°F, put the cookies back in, and then turn off oven. Leave for about 2 hours and they should be fine.

These cookies will keep well in an airtight container on your kitchen counter for several weeks ... if they last that long!





Don't forget to enter the giveaway for fabulous Choctoberfest prizes!

08 October 2015

Choctoberfest: Dark Chocolate-Cherry Oatmeal Cookies


For today’s #Choctoberfest with Imperial Sugar recipe, I’ve used dried tart cherries, toasted slivered almonds, and bittersweet chocolate morsels in a scrumptious crisp-yet-slightly-chewy oatmeal cookie. Warm, crispy-on-the-outside-with-slightly-chewy-inside oatmeal cookie are my weakness. Freshly baked chocolate chip? Peanut butter? Snickerdoodle? Sugar? They’re all fine, but I don’t feel I NEED to eat them. But a warm oatmeal cookie? I go full Cookie Monster.

These cookies use a combination of brown sugar and white granulated Imperial Sugar. Brown sugar tends to make baked goods more moist and white makes them crisp so I thought using the two I might give me the combination of crisp-yet-chewy combo I craved. In this, I think I was quite successful and may try combining brown and white sugars in other chewy cookie recipes.

If you’ve not toasted almonds before, fear not for it is quite easy! Just heat your oven to 350°F. Lay the nuts on a cookie sheet in a single layer and bake 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are fragrant and golden. You do need to keep an eye on them, because they will burn, but stirring every few minutes seems to help with that. You can also toast almonds in a skillet, but I tend to burn them when I try the skillet method!


If you don't have access to white whole wheat flour, all-purpose is a fine substitute. I use white whole wheat simply because it makes me feel more virtuous and no-one I bake for can tell the difference between cookies baked with white whole wheat and all-purpose. They can spot "regular" whole wheat recipes from a mile away, though, and turn their noses up every time. Ugh. Picky people.

Anyway, to the cookies!

Dark Chocolate-Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup + 3 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅓ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • ⅓ cup dried tart cherries
  • ⅓ cup toasted slivered almonds

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Beat butter in a medium bowl at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add sugars, beating at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg, beating until blended.
  • Whisk together flour, cocoa, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Stir in chips, cherries, and nuts.


  • Drop dough by tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto parchment paper-line baking sheets.


  • Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets 2 minutes. Transfer to wire racks, and let cool completely.






Don't forget to enter the giveaway for fabulous Choctoberfest prizes!

06 October 2015

Choctoberfest: Bittersweet Raspberry Blondies


My first recipe post for #Choctoberfest with Imperial Sugar and I'm telling you how to make blondies when you're probably all expecting some decadent ooey-gooey chocolate explosion of a brownie. Well. Here's the thing -- I prefer blondies to brownies. Yes. I know. WEIRD. But, seriously, these blondies are vastly superior to your standard brownie, don't take any more time to make, and are just so fine! They're the perfect combination of a sugar cookie and a brownie -- dense and fudgy like a brownie, but the flavor is pure sugar cookie. The addition of almonds and raspberries make them seem extra fancy -- rich and decadent -- but they really are so easy to make and go down a treat with a cold glass of milk. Or big mug of sugary tea. Or tiny glass of dessert wine ...

Baking chips. Some for the blondies, some for my belly.

While I love blondies, I don't like them too sweet so when I threw this recipe together one afternoon I opted for bittersweet chocolate morsels instead of white (which is what I usually find in blondies) to try to balance the sweetness of the brown sugar and berries. I think I was successful, but these bars are still very rich, so feel free to cut them smaller than I did!

These are most delicious served warm so the chocolate is a bit gooey.

I used King Arthur Flour's white whole wheat in this recipe, but the same amount of all-purpose would work just as well. White whole wheat adds an air of virtuousness to these blondies, legitimatizing my tendency to scarf them down like nobody's business! Also, if you want to play around with it, I'm betting blackberries and pecans would make a tasty variation.

I did not line the pan with parchment the first time & it was pretty much impossible to remove the baked bars.

Bittersweet Raspberry Blondies

Yield: 16 bars (cut 4x4)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking spice mix [Penzeys]
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste [Nielsen-Massey]
  • ¾ cup bittersweet chocolate baking chips [Ghirardelli]
  • 4 oz fresh raspberries
  • ⅓ cup flaked almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease 8x8 baking dish and line with parchment paper so that there is a bit of overhang -- this will make it MUCH easier to get the baked blondies out later.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, or in large bowl with hand-held mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy.
  4. Add egg and vanilla. Beat until blended.
  5. Add flour mixture to egg mixture. Beat on low speed until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
  6. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Scatter raspberries and almonds evenly over batter. Bake until edges are golden brown and center is set, about 35 minutes.
  7. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Remove blondies from pan, cut into 16 pieces (4 rows by 4 rows) and serve.






Don't forget to enter the giveaway for fabulous Choctoberfest prizes!