Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Maple-Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies (and a tall glass of good news)

Gentle readers, it has been over a month since I last posted, and I do apologize. My excuses are good ones though, as I think you will agree. They number three (to be presented in three posts):

First: my boyo and I are moving! We got tired of the loud music and people throwing eggs at our door (no, this wasn't a Halloween thing, sadly), so we went looking. Folks, this is the market for renters - we found a beautiful condo with a waterfront view, for several hundred dollars less a month than we're paying now. The best part is the kitchen - I'll post pictures once we've fully moved in.

To celebrate our move to a better place (and one significantly closer to work, thankfully!) I give you Maple-Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yes, I finally jumped on the bacon-bandwagon and I cry to think of how long I resisted. I should have instead reasoned: "Bacon = good. Chocolate = good. Maple syrup on anything = good. Maple-Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies must logically then = AWESOME!"

The recipe is from Never Bashful with Butter, who is one of the funniest individuals I have yet to meet - seriously folks, I'm not going to bother reiterating the recipe here, because you'll enjoy her version that much more.

Stick around; news items 2 and 3 are coming up, and they're doozies!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cheesecake Topping

Oh sad! Autumn is nearly here and I'm already missing my summer fruit. Luckily, there are plenty of winter goodies to substitute - apple turnovers, pecan pie, .... pumpkin cupcakes? Now, see, I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin anything, but you wouldn't have guessed it from my cupboard. I had six cans of the stuff sitting around with no plans to use them and no memory of how I had acquired them. They're breeding I tellsya!

It seemed fortuitous then that I stumbled across this recipe by Peabody. Don't let the title (or her story) fool you - she's a right sweetie, and a hell of a good cook!

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cheesecake Topping (adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody):
Maple Cheesecake Layer:
* 9 oz cream cheese, room temperature
* 1/4 c granulated sugar
* 1/4 c brown sugar
* 6 tbsp real maple syrup
* 1 tsp maple extract
* 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
* 1 large egg

Pumpkin Spice Bread:
* 2 c all-purpose flour
* 1 tsp baking soda
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/4 tsp ground ginger
* 1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
* 1/4 tsp ground gloves
* 1 c pumpkin puree (plain, not the already made pumpkin pie kind)
* 1/2 c canola oil
* 2 large eggs
* 1 1/2 c granulated sugar
* 1 c chopped pecans, plus extra for garnish

Preheat oven to 325F.
Line the holes of a cupcake pan with cupcake liners. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the maple cheesecake ingredients; beat until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices; set aside.
Place pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat for about 1 minute, until fully combined

Add flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture and mix just until combined. Fold in the pecans. Spoon ~1/4 cups of the pumpkin batter into the liners, and indent so the batter is shaped like a cup. Spoon cream cheese mixture into the cupcake hole until one cm from the top of the liner. Garnish with chopped pecans, if desired.

Bake in preheated 325° oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Variants on Old Favorites

These were fun - I got invited to a party (Rock Band parties ROCK!) and was asked if I wouldn't mind bringing a dessert. Hee. Me? Mind? Good grief no. I wanted to spend more time decorating though, so I took a couple of favorites from the past (my blondies and brownies) and dressed them up for the occasion. Raspberries for the white chocolate, boyo's favorite, and I'd been dying to try out the chocolate-apricot combo I'd had on the cruise.

Because I was more decoration-oriented this time, I bought a couple jars of raspberry and apricot jam and strained out the seeds from the raspberry. After the blondies and brownies and cooled, I injected the jams into the middle, then covered the hole with a base of chocolate and bits of fruit, almonds, and chocolate designs. The overall appearance was nifty, and very, very tasty. My only objection is, at the time of making these I didn't have my mini cheesecake pan yet, so I had to use a muffin pan. The bulk of each goodie rather set off-balance the delicate decoration, but now I have my wonderful cheesecake pan I can fix this next time around. On the other hand, who's going to complain of too much brownie?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mini Lemon Mascarpone Cheesecakes

You'd think I liked cheesecake or something. Actually, I had a container of mascarpone that needed to be used, some extra lemon curd, and a love for my new mini cheesecake pan. Those three ingredients led to this tasty tidbit - a lighter than usual morsel with a refreshing lemon tang.

This will probably be my last cheesecake for a while - I've made other (boring, standard) cheesecakes that I haven't bothered to post here, and frankly, I'm cheesecaked out. I still have plans for that pan though; my birthday is coming up (ed: yea, in two months!) and I am plotting a big ole birthday feast. I have two companies and myself to feed, after all! If anyone has any suggestions or cravings, let me know in the comments and I'll add to my feeding extravaganza menu. I bet you can't wait (I know I can't!).

I used Trader Joe's lemon curd, but lemon curd is one of those recipes that's easy to make and gorgeous to taste.

Mini Lemon Mascarpone Cheesecake (minorly adapted from Diana's Desserts)
* 2 1/2 c graham cracker crumbs
* 1/3 c sugar
* 8 tbsp butter, melted
* 1 c blanched almonds, coursely chopped
* 12 oz cream cheese
* 1/4 c plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
* 1 tbsp lemon zest*
* 1/3 c mascarpone Cheese**
* 5 tbsp heavy cream
* 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
* 2 tsp lemon juice*
* 2 large eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 350F. Set mini cheesecake pan on a cookie sheet.

In a medium bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, butter, and almonds. Put a heaping spoonful in each cup and pat down with a shot glass.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, cream cheese and lemon zest. Mix until smooth. Add the mascarpone cheese and mix until just combined. Add cream, vanilla extract and lemon juice and mix until smooth. Stir in the yolks then transfer to a medium sized mixing bowl.

Wash and dry the electric mixing bowl. Using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream cheese mixture. Add batter to each cup leaving about 1 cm from the top. Bake at 350 degrees F (180 C) for 20-25 minutes. Let cool, then dollop a teaspoon of lemon curd on top. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mini Caramel Apple Pie Cheesecakes

I couldn't get apple pie out of my head. I tend to be naughty - I try to think of desserts that will poke at the boyo's weaknesses, even though I know he'd rather eat ... well, let's say "more wisely" tho I think "less funly" is more apt. My boyo loves apple pie. Pies of all kind, but give him apple and he won't even protest.

He also won't protest over cheesecake - remember those two from the cruise? Hmm, I thought. Could I possibly make him a dessert that is so in tune with his cravings, that he implodes from the tastiness? Hey, who can resist a challenge?

On top of that, I had a new pan I'd been dying to try: a mini cheesecake pan. Now, if the idea tickles your fancy, a word of recommendation - they're cheap, get two. I found myself taking way too long with the baking, just because I only had one pan in rotation. But, then again, I'm crazy and generally bake for 50. If buying pans for single projects isn't your thing (-cough-) you might be able to use a muffin pan .... but I really wouldn't recommend it. The cheesecake pan works because the bottoms come out, allowing you to push the cheesecakes up-n-out with very little hassle.

So. I'm going to give you guys options. There's the way I actually made the recipe, and then there are the tweaks. I'll add the latter in as notes so you can decide how you want to go, but let me just say, either way you go, YUM.

Mini Apple Pie Cheesecakes (adapted from Diana's Desserts)
* 2 c graham cracker crumbs
* 1/2 c granulated sugar
* 7 tbsp (3/4 stick/3 oz/85g) unsalted butter, melted
* 1/2 c pecans, coarsely chopped (tweak: my recommendation would be to omit the caramel swirl and caramelize the pecans instead before chopping them up)

* 2 large apples (I used fuji)
* 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
* 1 1/4 c granulated sugar
* 2 tsp vanilla extract
* 4 large eggs
* 1 tbsp cinnamon (or to taste)
* 1 tsp nutmeg (or to taste)
* 4 oz apple concentrate (or to taste)

Caramel Sauce (from The Food Network)
* 1 1/2 c sugar
* 1/3 c water
* 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 c heavy cream
* 1/2 vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Serve with:
Leftover caramel sauce

For Crust:
Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C. Place removeable bottoms in mini cheesecake pan.

Stir cracker crumbs, pecans and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Add melted butter and stir until evenly moistened. Spoon a heaping teaspoon into each hole and pat down using the bottom of a shot glass.

For Filling:
Peel, core, and finely dice the apples. Beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in large bowl until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reserve 2/3 c batter for caramel swirl; add apple concentrate and spices to the remainder, then gently fold in the diced apples.

Note: The caramel swirl is optional - the contrast on the top wasn't as strong as I was hoping and there was only a hint of caramel in the overall flavor. Caramelized pecans in the crust would do better if you're looking for a caramel punch... but if you're looking for subtlety, the swirl's the way to go (or hey, both!).

For Sauce:
Mix the water and sugar in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil uncovered until the sugar turns a medium brown, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Watch it carefully at the end, as it will go from caramel to burnt very quickly. Stand back to avoid splattering, and gradually add the cream and the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean (or vanilla extract). Simmer until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Let cool before using.

Note: I think this is what is called "dry caramel" and boy is it scary as all heck (mostly because I wasn't expecting it). As a warning - that water you're adding? It's going to evaporate and leave big chunks of hard sugar to very slowly dissolve. I would leave the water out entirely - just watch that pan closely!

To the reserved cheesecake liquid add spoonfuls of the sauce until it turns a light golden and is still fairly liquid. Make sure the sauce is well incorporated into the batter.

Pour ~1/4 c of apple cheesecake batter over each crust (about 3/4's way full). Drop by teaspoons the caramel batter into each cup and swirl around with a toothpick. Place the pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool before removing.

For those curious - he didn't implode. He did eat five though!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Alaskan Grandeur

Ok, I know you all are going to think me the greatest living dork alive, but on the cruise, surrounded by ├ęclairs and napoleans and mousse and tartlettes, can you guess what I found to be the most delicious, scrumptious, going-back-for-thirds dessert?

Soft serve.

That's right, chocolate-vanilla swirl soft serve ice cream. I hadn't had it since I was 10 and at McDonald's (which probably accounts for the time it's been since my last taste) but this stuff was nectar from the gods. Creamy beyond belief, sweet, and with the right speed of melty-ness so I could dip my cookie in the leftover soup.

So I gained a little weight. Who's asking? :P

I did remember you guys though, and dragged myself from the ice cream machine long enough to visit several of their restaurants and take pictures of our meals. The two of us made quite a spectacle: we'd get our food, and the boyo would pick up his fork expectantly.

"NO! Don't touch it, give it here" I'd say as I pulled out my camera.

"Do you have to take pictures of my food? Can't you take pictures of yours?" he'd grumble.

"What, are you starving?" I'd retort.

And of course he wouldn't be due to the 3+ course meals we'd have 3 times a day, so he'd hand over his plate and roll his eyes while I posed it. More than one waiter eyed me askance as I would photo the dish before even tasting. Unfortunately I only remembered to bring the camera a couple of times but I think I got the best meals we had anyway.

So! Onward for a food-recap of our trip. What better way to start a vacation than with a cold mai tai, complete with cherry and umbrella?

I don't normally get to eat fish (the boyo doesn't like the stuff) but while at sea I indulged almost every night. Here we have seared swordfish (which was as smooth as butter) with braised-pork lentils - I was tempted to go back a second night!

My dessert for the night was a chocolate napolean: dense chocolate cake with something crispy throughout, layered with caramel mousse and topped with a chocolate disk. I may have been spoiled by all the soft-serve, but this dessert sort of missed the mark. It was cold when it was served, straight from the freezer, so I missed any subtlety of flavors in the density and chill overall. Still - chocolate, crisps, and caramel! It can't be all that bad.

I didn't grab the boyo's plate in time to photo his dinner, but I did snag his dessert! This strawberry cheesecake looks as though it's about to launch into space, but it must have been good, as he didn't save me a taste. That's ok though, I didn't save him one of mine either!

Even had I not been indulging in three full meals a day, there's no way I could have finished this veal chop on risotto. I tried though, oh how I tried. How many times can I compare meals to butter and still get away with it? Honestly though, the veal was tender and salty (I love salt) and the risotto was thick and creamy. After eating this I was sooo full.....

...but not too full for dessert! This was a gorgeous, gorgeous idea that I plan to duplicate immediately. The tort had a dense shortbread crust that encased a chocolate custard studded with apricots and walnuts. OMGGOOD!

The boyo may hate fish, but lobster he'll partake of. Besides my veal chop I also nibbled on his lobster ravioli which were floating in a pool of tomato-ey cream sauce. It was good, but not as good as mine!

Do you see a trend here? Cheesecake with strawberries and a branch of hard caramel - he definitely has his favorite dessert. Can't say I blame him though, I'd wavered between my tort and the cheesecake before choosing - chocolate always wins!

We got an unexpected knock at our cabin door one evening and the porter delivered this plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries. It was a gift! we were told, but the name on the card was not familiar at all. We called the kitchen and they told us, oops! wrong address, go ahead and keep them. Woot, free strawberries. Now, for the $20 they probably cost someone, they didn't look too nice (the strawberries were a bit tired) but even full as we perpetually were, they tasted fantastic. I'd never had chocolate strawberries before, but they're a new favorite now!

What cruise would be complete without a midnight chocolate buffet? Not this one, that's for sure! I didn't take pictures of the actual buffet because the crowd was incredible, but there were beautiful chocolate statues stationed between tables with big "Do Not Touch, Not For Eating" signs. But, but, but, chocolate! If it's not for eating, what good is it?

Ok, I didn't eat everything. But I tasted it all and I had some definite favorites. Clockwise from top, we have a chocolate-raspberry mousse cake (good), brownie coated in white chocolate ganache and nuts (blah), chocolate strawberry (awesome!), and a rum cake coated in chocolate (favorite!!!)

And for our second plate of midnight chocolate: at top is a milk/white chocolate mousse with a raspberry-chocolate decoration (decent), right is a dome of chocolate mousse on a chocolate cake base (decent), and left is a chocolate cake with white chocolate ganache pooled in the middle (meh). To be fair, I was very full at this point but my favorite of them all was by far the rum cake. Expect to see some of those in the future!

For those of you who are thinking "Ok, those are yummy-looking, but I see no evidence of Alaska: I think you lie!" I have proof! Non-food evidence can be found here. Now, I know that I took much longer to post this than I promised (a month! Yuck.) but I have excuses and compensation! I started my new job all of one day after we returned from the cruise and have been plugging away pell-mell since. But, I haven't stopped baking - in the next day or so I'll have posts of delicious, wonderful cheesecakes and then you all shall forgive me my absence and love me once more! :)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mini Apple Pies

June marks my boyo's birthday, and there's nothing he likes more than apple pie. He's a pie kinda guy. -snerks- Ok, so, apple pie was the way to go, but I didn't want to make one big one, as we'd then have it sitting around the house to tempt us later (we're trying to cut back on the quantity of sweets around here). Since slices of pie are not at all portable, I decided to send his work pie miniatures.

A note for those of you admiring the lattice: I am a dork. For each of the 50+ pies I made that day, I hand wove the individual lattices. Had I been smart I would have made only one or two large lattices, then cut them up into the sized sections that I needed. Hey, weave and learn, yes?

This post also marks a momentous occasion: the retirement of my camera. It was old and tired, as evidenced by the 5 seconds it would need to take a picture (hold still... hold still... keep holding still... oops, I twitched, shot taken!). The decision to get a new one was brought about by another momentous occasion: me and the boyo's very first vacation together! We've gone on family visits before, but as enjoyable as they are there's always a certain level of stress involved. Plus, this past year we were moving at the same time, so things were at a new level of crazy.

Now that we're settled in and life is relatively calm, we are taking a cruise to Alaska! I'm excited to see the glaciers and (hopefully) wildlife, but you guys know me. I'll be taking pictures of the food. But, under the guise of admiring wildlife, we decided to purchase a new camera. The Canon PowerShot A590 IS slices, dices, makes chili and fries! ... well, ok, not those four. But so far it takes astoundingly beautiful and easy shots. I'm reading up on the manual so I won't have to plead with the eagles to hold still while I figure out which setting to use, but once I've got it sorted, look out Alaska!

So, I'll be gone for the next week. But when I return, expect a deluge of pictures and lots and lots of new oh-my-god-I-gotta-makes.

Mini Apple Pies

Dough (adapted from Simply Recipes):
* 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
* 16 Tbsp (2 stick) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 tsp sugar (increase to 3 tsp if for a sweet recipe)
* 4 to 8 Tbsp ice water, very cold

Start by cutting the sticks of butter into 1/2-inch cubes and placing in the freezer for at least 15 minutes (preferably longer) so that they become thoroughly chilled.

In a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar, pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse 6 to 8 times, until mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea size pieces of butter. Add water 1 Tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together, it's ready, if not, add a little more water and pulse again.

Remove dough from machine and place on a clean surface. Carefully shape into two discs. Do not over-knead the dough! You should still be able to see little bits of butter in the dough. These bits of butter are what will allow the result crust to be flaky. Sprinkle the discs with a little flour on all sides. Wrap the discs in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

* 8-9 med granny smith apples
* 1 tsp lemon juice
* 3/4 c sugar
* 1/3 c flour
* 1 tsp nutmeg
* 1 tsp cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp mace
* dash of salt
* 3-4 tbsp butter

Peel, core and dice the apples to 1/2" cubes. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and spices. Sprinkle over the apples and gently stir to evenly coat.

* 1 egg, beaten
* turbinado sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Remove both crust disk from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle some flour on top of one of the disks. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12 inch circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, use a metal spatula to check if the dough is sticking to the surface below. Add a few sprinkles of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking.

Cut out circles ~2x the size of your pan (I used a muffin tin; you don't need to grease it). Gently pat the rounds into the bottoms of the muffin tin, leaving the overhang (you may to need to do alternating cups first, then fill the other cups after the first round is finished, for room). Keep any scraps in the refrigerator.

Fill the crusts with the apples, until the top of the mound is ~1/2" over the crust. Dot with the butter. Brush the crust overhang with the beaten egg.

For lattice, roll out the second disk and cut into 1/3" strips. Weave the strips into one large lattice then cut off sections for each mini pie (you want the weave to be tight otherwise a lot of the moisture from the pie will escape). Carefully transfer the lattices to the muffin pan and pinch with the bottom crust to seal. Trim the excess, brush the remaining egg on top, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, rotating in the middle. You want the crusts to be flaky-golden, not pale, otherwise the bottom crust won't be cooked all the way. Check a couple times during baking and add time as you feel is necessary.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Food for Father part 2

Sorry to leave you in such suspense! Every time I went to post the second half of this post, my picture wouldn't upload, and really, what good is food porn without the pictures? But now, tada! The other half of my Father's Day package, long since consumed by now.

These are a variant on the petit fours I made earlier. I had lots of caramel and almond praline in the refrigerator, and I wanted to dip something in chocolate because I wanted to be sure the cake would stay fresh (but really, who needs an excuse to dip things in chocolate?) Dad loves almond, as a general rule - he eats them by the handful plain - so these are Almond Praline Petit Fours, dipped in chocolate.

In my opinion, the best part of this recipe was the cake. Subtly sweet and very almondy, I could have eaten it alone. Plying it with caramel and praline seemed almost like a waste, until you tasted the final product. The praline turned out to be essential, giving the overall texture a surprising crunch after biting through the stiff chocolate and soft cake. I snuck a few to keep for myself ;)

Almond Praline Petit Fours (makes ~20)
* 1 recipe Almond Sponge Cake (recipe below)
* 1 recipe caramel (recipe below)
* 1 c almond praline
* 12 oz dark chocolate, melted
* 12 oz white chocolate, melted

Almond Sponge Cake (adapted from Our Patisserie)
* 1/4 c milk
* 2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
* 1/2 c sifted cake flour
* 1/4 c sifted almond flour
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 3/4 c sugar
* 3 large eggs
* 3 large egg yolks
* 1 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 400F. Line bottom of jelly-roll pan with parchment so that the paper overhangs the pan at 2 opposite ends. Make cuts in corners so parchment lies flat.

Heat milk with butter in small saucepan until butter melts. Reduce heat to low, and keep hot, but do not simmer. Sift flours with baking powder twice. Return to sifter and set aside.

In large heatproof bowl, combine sugar, whole eggs, egg yolks and extract. Place the bowl in a pan of simmering water and whisk vigorously for about 1 minute until eggs are warm. Remove from heat, and beat at high speed until mixture has cooled, tripled in volume, and has the consistency of thick whipped cream.

Sift one-third of flour mixture over batter, and fold in gently by hand, using the largest spatula you have. Fold in half of remaining flour; then fold in the remainder. Pour the hot milk and butter into batter and fold well, scraping the bottom each time and bringing the batter up the sides of the bowl until you can no longer see traces of liquid.

Turn batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 10 minutes. The cake will have browned on top, and started to shrink from the sides of the pan. Cool cake in its pan.

Caramel (adapted from David Lebovitz)
* 1 can sweetened condensed milk
* pinch of salt
* 1 1/2 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425. Empty condensed milk into a glass pie pan and sprinkle salt over top (I like to use 1 tsp +, as I'm a fan of salted caramel). Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in a roasting pan. Fill roasting pan with boiling water to halfway up pie pan.

Place roasting pan in oven and bake for 1-1 1/2 hours, until deeply golden brown. Remove from heat and let cool.

Beat heavy cream until medium peaks form (tips droop when lifted). Gently fold whipped cream into cooled dulce de leche and mix until smooth.

Chocolate Designs
These look awesome, especially considering how easy they are. Line a pan with parchment or wax paper. Place 1 oz melted chocolate in a ziploc bag and snip off the very tip (you want a tiny hole or the designs won't look as intricate). Pipe designs onto prepared pan, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Place cooled cake in freezer and let sit 1/2 hour or until solid. Remove and cut in half; return to freezer until fully chilled.

Spread cooled caramel over one half of cake and sprinkle praline over caramel until thickly covered (reserve some praline for topping). Place other half of cake over caramel, sandwich style, and return to freezer again.

Once cake has been frozen, remove, and with a sharp knife cut into pieces. You may need to use the dip-and-wipe process (dip knife in hot water, wipe clean, cut, repeat). Return pieces to freezer while preparing chocolate.

Melt your chocolate (one at a time) and dip frozen cake squares. Scrape off excess chocolate from the bottom and place on a silicone mat or parchment paper. Before chocolate cools, sprinkle with remaining almond praline and top with a chocolate design.

If you want, you can temper your chocolate for a nicer snap. Tempering chocolate scares me, and while I will attempt it at some point, this was not the project to do so. For me, melted chocolate was fine.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Food for Father

Hold onto your hats: this post is going to be a doozy. Father's Day is still a couple weeks away but this year it falls in a busy month for me, and unfortunately my Dad doesn't live down the street for me to just give him a hug (much as I'd like to). So this year I was forced to plan ahead. I sound like a good daughter -- in reality, I'm a bad sister. You see, I had another reason for sending out my gift early; my brothers' birthdays came and went, and I completely forgot to remark on them. Oops.

So, in repentance, I overkilled. It was great fun though and I felt properly forgiven when they called to thank me and I could barely understand through the mouths-full. Nothing makes you feel more loved than a strong demand that you move closer :D

As I said, I overkilled. As such, I'm going to break the contents of the gift into two posts - these treats are to be savored. So! My first offering: Raspberry Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache and Raspberry Jam. MmmmMmmm. I've been on a macaron kick (like you hadn't noticed!) and as my parents had dutifully ooh-ed and aw-ed my pictures I figured it was fair they got a taste.

There's a little story to how these macarons came about though. I'd been eyeing the dried raspberry powder from L'Epicerie but didn't want to shell out the cash to try some. I resolved to make my own and see if it passed muster first. Drying raspberries isn't hard - they go straight from freezer to oven and sit there for a few hours at a reasonably low temperature (190 F) until all moisture is evaporated. The purpose is to completely dehydrate the raspberries, leaving only the concentrated pulp left for grinding. There are a few stipulations though: 1) The raspberries should be deep-frozen before baking, and 2) you shouldn't live somewhere with 100% humidity (yes, this again.)

Eighteen hours later (I started at 10am, gave up at 10pm and continued again for half of the next day) I finally had dried raspberry shells. Grinding them up in a coffee grinder produced a coarse-to-fine dark maroon powder that tasted strongly of raspberries. Good! This seemed usable. I set it aside for the designated weekend...

....and the day after completing the powder, received a package in the mail. Inside were two packages of dried raspberry powder from L'Epicerie, a gift from my boyo's work. Wonderful people, they are! Now, even if you live in 100% humid climate, the homemade powder will do in a pinch. But oh, the superiority of the bought. This stuff turned the air around it raspberry-y. It was fine as dust and light as a feather, and had none of the grittiness of the homemade to it. Better yet, a tiny amount imparted plenty of raspberry flavor, so there was no need to over-use.

Behold the comparison:

I admit, I used the bought. How could I not? I ended up making two batches though, as through my first batch I learned of the potency of the powder. Too much used and the raspberry became almost aggressive, while the texture turned jammy. I scaled back the amount for the second batch and was left with beautiful macarons that balanced white chocolate and raspberry perfectly. The first batch I ate myself ;)

Raspberry Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache and Raspberry Jam (adapted from LA Times)
* 1 c + 3 tbsp almond flour
* 2 c + 3 tbsp powdered sugar
* 4 egg whites
* 3/4 tsp cream of tartar
* 4 scant tbsp sugar
* 1 scant tbsp dried raspberry powder
* 1 White Chocolate Ganache recipe
* raspberry jam (I used my leftovers from here)

Line two 17-by-12-inch baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside (you may want to fold over the edges to keep the paper flat).

In a food processor, blend the almond flour, powdered sugar and raspberry powder for 1 minute. Sift the blended almond mixture directly into a medium mixing bowl. Set aside. (This can be made up to 2 days in advance.)

Fill a small saucepan halfway with water. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Place the bowl over the pot of hot water and whisk quickly until the egg whites reach 100 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove the bowl from the pot of water and whisk in the cream of tartar. Place it on a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip on medium speed for 2 minutes, then gradually beat in the sugar. Continue whipping for 6 minutes until the egg whites come to medium stiff peaks (tips droop only very slightly) and are shiny.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add egg whites to the almond mixture by gently bringing the flat side of a rubber spatula through the center of the egg whites and up the opposite side of the bowl, folding the dry ingredients over the egg whites. Repeat the same motion 50 times, turning the bowl a quarter turn each time.

Fit a pastry bag with a medium round tip (No. 4) and fill with the mixture. On the parchment-lined baking sheets, pipe 1.5-inch rounds (the batter will be slightly wet) by holding the bag at a slight angle and releasing small amounts of batter. Allow one-half inch between cookies; they will spread slightly.

Keep the piped cookies at room temperature, uncovered, for 1 to 2 hours. (This will help form a skin.) If in a high humidity area, place cookies in oven turned off but with oven light on. Remove cookies from oven and heat to 325 degrees, placing the racks in the center and lower shelves of the oven.

Bake the macarons for 12 minutes, reverse the trays on the racks and rotate. Bake 8 to 10 minutes more, or until firm and not wet. Cool on a rack.

White Chocolate Ganache (from
* 8 oz white chocolate, cut into small pieces
* 3/4 c heavy whipping cream
* 2 tbsp unsalted butter

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized stainless steel bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream and butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk until smooth.

Pair up cooled macaron shells to approximate size match. On one half spread a thin glaze of raspberry jam. Pipe ganache onto other half and gently sandwich together.

I had a lot of fun packaging them up:

But now the real question is, now that you know what's in the pink box... what's in the orange? Tune in next time.... (dundunDUN!)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tiramisu Macarons

I am a very happy baker. No, strike that, I'm ecstatic. Pardon me a moment while I toot my own horn: just look at those macarons! Smooth tops, not a crack in sight, and although not visible, deliciously chewy inside. And best yet, this is representative of the whole batch; there wasn't a cracked top among them. I could weep for joy.

"What happened, what changed??" I hear you ask. Well, what happened was I tried a new recipe style as well as a few tricks I'd read about since my last struggle. The difference was astounding, so much so I feared to breathe in case I should break whatever lucky streak I was on. One hundred macarons in (I bake for a hungry crowd) and I finally started to believe that it wasn't luck at all. Remember how I said once I'd found my perfect brownie recipe I saved it in a million places so I'd never lose it? This recipe is now joining the brownie recipe.

The idea (and renewed interest) for a tiramisu variant of macarons came from Losillewen, who made her own beautiful morsels but has been derelict in posting them (graduating and job hunting are no excuse!). Genius, Los, simply genius.

In lieu of ladyfingers, the macaron shells give form to the treat while imparting a mild almond crunch and delicate coffee flavor. The mascarpone filling is lightly spiked with rum and just barely sweetened. The decadent blend of flavors is topped off with a hint of dark chocolate, completing the list of tastes you look for in a dessert you shouldn't have. This is a more subtle dessert with few heavy ingredients, making it easy to enjoy more than one.

Tiramisu Macarons (recipe adapted from L. A. Times)
* 1 c + 3 tbsp almond flour
* 2 c + 3 tbsp powdered sugar
* 4 egg whites
* 3/4 tsp cream of tartar
* 4 scant tbsp sugar
* 1/4 c instant coffee (more if you prefer a stronger flavor)
* Mascarpone Filling (recipe below)
* 6 oz dark chocolate, shaved

Line two 17-by-12-inch baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside (you may want to fold over the edges to keep the paper flat). In a food processor or coffee grinder, grind instant coffee granules into powder.

In a food processor, blend the almond flour, powdered sugar and coffee for 1 minute. Sift the blended almond mixture directly into a medium mixing bowl. Set aside. (This can be made up to 2 days in advance.)

Fill a small saucepan halfway with water. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Place the bowl over the pot of hot water and whisk quickly until the egg whites reach 100 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove the bowl from the pot of water and whisk in the cream of tartar. Place it on a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip on medium speed for 2 minutes, then gradually beat in the sugar. Continue whipping for 6 minutes until the egg whites come to medium stiff peaks (tips droop only very slightly) and are shiny.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add egg whites to the almond mixture by gently bringing the flat side of a rubber spatula through the center of the egg whites and up the opposite side of the bowl, folding the dry ingredients over the egg whites. Repeat the same motion 50 times, turning the bowl a quarter turn each time.

Fit a pastry bag with a medium round tip (No. 4) and fill with the mixture. On the parchment-lined baking sheets, pipe 1.5-inch rounds (the batter will be slightly wet) by holding the bag at a slight angle and releasing small amounts of batter. Allow one-half inch between cookies; they will spread slightly.

Keep the piped cookies at room temperature, uncovered, for 1 to 2 hours. (This will help form a skin.) If in a high humidity area, place cookies in oven turned off but with oven light on. Remove cookies from oven and heat to 325 degrees, placing the racks in the center and lower shelves of the oven.

Bake the macarons for 12 minutes, reverse the trays on the racks and rotate. Bake 8 to 10 minutes more, or until firm and not wet. Cool on a rack.

Mascarpone Filling:
* 6 oz mascarpone cheese, softened
* 6 tbsp butter, softened
* 1/2-1 c powdered sugar (as necessary)
* 1/8-1/4 c rum

In a stand mixer, beat the mascarpone cheese until smooth, 1 minute. Add butter and rum and mix until incorporated. Slowly add powdered sugar to mixer, until filling is thick without being stiff. (The mascarpone should outweigh the sugar flavor.)

Update: one reader suggests less rum for a thicker filling - I've modified the recipe slightly to reflect their experience. Go slow and add in parts - you may not need all!

Match up fully-cooled macarons for size and shape. Pipe filling on bottom macaron and sprinkle with shaved chocolate. Place top macaron on chocolate and press lightly.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spiced Pecan Cupcakes with Whipped Caramel Filling and White Chocolate Frosting

I wanted to make a dessert without having to run to the store, so I took stock of my kitchen. I had chocolate, nuts (oh goodness, lots of!), various fruits, and a whole lot of sweetened condensed milk. I loved the walnut cupcakes from Chockylit's Cupcake Bakeshop and wanted to make something similar again.

Glancing back over my list of ingredients, three jumped out at me: pecans, white chocolate, and dulce de leche. Not exactly a spring dessert, but one that brings nothing so much as "golden" to mind for description. The end result was a combination of subtle flavors, gentle enough to savor but light enough that you could enjoy more than one (and the boyo did!)

I don't have a cross-section but the daub in the picture is the caramel filling, with the almond-praline topping from here.

Whipped Caramel (adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe):
* 1 can sweetened condensed milk
* 2 tsp sea salt
* 1 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pour sweetened condensed milk and sat into a glass pie pan and stir to combine. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and place in a roasting pan. Fill roasting pan halfway up pie pan with hot water. Bake for 1-1/2 hours or until caramel is golden brown. Allow to cool completely before continuing.

Whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Add 1/3 of whipped cream to dulce de leche and stir until combined, to lighten. Fold remainder of whipped cream into dulce de leche. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pecan Cupcakes (adapted from
~20 cupcakes / 350 degree oven

* 1-1/2 c flour (cake if you have it, otherwise all-purpose)
* 3/4 c sugar
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 1/4 c grape seed oil or vegetable oil
* 4 egg yolks (approximately 3 oz)
* 1/4 c water
* 1/3 c pecan butter
* 7 egg whites (approximately 7 oz)
* 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
* 1/4 c sugar
* 1/2 tsp cardamom
* 1 tsp cinnamon
* zest of one orange

In a food processor, blend 3/4 c sugar with orange zest until finely ground. Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices into the bowl of a standing mixer. In a medium bowl, combine oil, egg yolks, water, and pecan butter. Stir to combine.

On a low setting, start to beat the dry mixture and slowly add the wet. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until incorporated. Transfer mixture to another bowl. Wash and dry mixer bowl.

Whip egg whites with whip attachment on medium-high speed until foamy. With the mixer on medium speed, add cream of tarter and slowly add sugar. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.

Scoop about a third of the stiff egg whites into the batter and stir to combine. This should lighten up the batter. Transfer the batter to the egg whites and gently fold until there are no more streaks of egg white.

Scoop into cupcake cups just less than 1/2 full and bake at 350 F for 20-22 minutes.

White Chocolate Frosting (from Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Cake Bible"):
* 9 oz. white chocolate, melted, cooled to room temperature
* 12 oz. cream cheese, softened
* 6 oz. unsalted butter, softened
* 1 1/2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice, or to taste

Beat cream cheese in mixing bowl until smooth. Gradually beat in the melted and cooled chocolate until incorporated. Add in the butter and lemon juice last, beating well until smooth.

Once cupcakes have cooled, cut a cone out of the top and dollop enough whipped caramel to put it just below top of cupcake. Cut the tip off the cone and place it back on top of the cupcake. Pipe frosting over cupcake and sprinkle praline over top. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

One-Bowl Brownies

I wrestled with the title for this one. Other options included: "Perfect Brownies," "Oh-Too-Easy Brownies," and "Doesn't-Survive-The-Night Brownies." I also considered "You-Can't-Have-Any-These-Are-Mine Brownies." In the end I choose the name that best personifies the attraction to this recipe: it's chocolate, and it's easy. Oh boy, is it easy. I've made this recipe several times in the past few months, and every time they vanished before I could get a picture. Not that I had anything to do with the vanishing though.... not me!

I am a brownie fiend, but before this recipe I was terrible at making them. They'd always be too dry, too wet, or have the wrong balance of sugar and chocolate. When I finally did find this recipe, I promptly saved it in six different locations for backup, to insure I would never, ever lose it. Unfortunately, since then I've lost track of the original source and have no genius attribute the recipe to. Brownie god, if you're out there, please direct my thanks to your acolyte.

My requisite description of oncoming sugar-coma: I'm a fan of fudgey brownies, and these don't disappoint. A thin, crispy crust on top adds texture to the smooth chocolate beneath. It's a very flexible recipe, tolerating all sorts of additions and swirls. And best of all, from start to finish takes under an hour. My poor waistline.

Fudge Brownies:
* 1 1/2 c butter, melted
* 3 c white sugar
* 3 tsp vanilla extract
* 4 eggs
* 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
* 1 c unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1 tsp salt
* nuts, chocolate chips, or other additions to mix in (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9"x13" clear glass pan (clear is preferable to keep the edges from burning).

In a large bowl, blend melted butter, sugar and vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add the flour, cocoa, and salt and mix until smooth. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan (in California 30 minutes was plenty; in Washington I let them bake for 50. Allow for your climate. Also, if adding chocolate or something that would affect the consistency of the batter, add 5-10 minutes to the baking time). Let brownies cool, then cut into squares. Enjoy!

These are also very good with a ganache topping.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Apple Pie Blondies

Comfort food! I'm generally not a huge fan of white chocolate, but in this combo the overwhelming sweetness of the chocolate is tempered with the flavors of apple, cinnamon and nutmeg. The texture is different from a normal brownie - instead of fudgey cake, it's a moist almost-bread pudding studded with lumps of spiced apples and drizzled with a concentrated white chocolate-apple ganache. It's best cold - the flavors are much more intense and independent than when warm.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention - the recipe is a follow-up to this post, as per request from Losillewen (I got it posted! What's six months between friends? :)

UPDATE 2: Commenter Topher was gracious enough to pass on her recommendations after trying the recipe, so I've incorporated them below. The big change - the ganache recipe has been halved so that even if you love ganache you won't have it coming out your ears for a month!

Apple Pie Blondies (adapted from Tartelette's version):
* 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
* 8 oz white chocolate
* 2 eggs
* 1/4 c sugar
* 1/2 Tbsp vanilla
* 1 cup flour
* 3 medium Granny Smith apples
* 1 Tbsp cinnamon
* 1 tsp nutmeg

* 10 oz white chocolate
* 1/6 c apple juice concentrate
* 2 Tbsp butter
* 1/6 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350.

Peel and core apples; chop into 1/2" cubes. Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg over apples and stir to coat.

Grease and flour an 9"x13" inch square baking pan. Melt butter and white chocolate together in top of double boiler over hot water. When melted remove from heat and stir to blend well. Set aside.

Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and thick. Add white chocolate and butter mixture, vanilla and flour. Beat just until smooth. Add apples and mix in by hand, being careful not to overmix.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate for 4 hours then slice into squares.

Heat concentrate until boiling; remove from heat. Pour concentrate over white chocolate and let sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat butter and cream in a separate bowl. Stir concentrate and chocolate until smooth; add butter and cream and mix thoroughly.

Pipe ganache in a lattice pattern on top or spread across cooled blondies.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Raspberry-Lime Petit Fours

I've been to tea parties before, but lately I've had a strong craving to host my own. The boyo thinks I'm silly, but I've a tea set that's yet to be used and a desire to bake lots of little edibles. In fact, when I saw Jen's petit four post from Use Real Butter, I couldn't wait any longer. Raspberries were on sale and I had a couple of days off from work -- it was perfect timing. I'm just considering it practice!

Jen's recipe is for higher altitudes, but since I'm at sea level and already having various problems adapting my baking to the climate, I decided to piece together some well-known recipes for my own version.

I was expecting to have ~30 petit fours, but I ended up with over 100. Luckily, the boyo's coworkers were gratifyingly appreciative so there weren't leftovers to worry about, but you should scale the recipe accordingly if you're not feeding a small army.

Raspberry Lime Petit Fours
* 2 recipes Hot Milk Sponge (recipe below)
* 1 recipe Raspberry Jam (recipe below)
* 1 recipe Lime Buttercream (recipe below)
* 1 recipe Lime Syrup (recipe below)
* 2 recipes White Chocolate Fondant (recipe below)
* raspberries for garnish (washed and dried before use)

Hot Milk Sponge (compliments of Our Patisserie)
* 1/4 c milk
* 2 Tbsp butter
* 3/4 c sifted cake flour
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 3/4 c sugar
* 3 large eggs
* 3 large egg yolks
* 1 Tbsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 400F. Line the bottom of a jelly-roll pan (I just used a cookie sheet with sides) with parchment so that the paper overhangs the pan at 2 opposite ends.

Heat milk with butter in small saucepan until butter melts. Reduce heat to low, and keep hot, but do not simmer. Sift flour with baking powder twice. Return to sifter and set aside.

In large heatproof bowl, combine sugar, whole eggs, egg yolks and vanilla. Set the bowl in a pan of barely simmering water and whisk occasionally, until lukewarm to the touch. Now take off heat, and beat at high speed until mixture has cooled, tripled in volume, and has the consistency of thick whipped cream.

Sift one-third of flour mixture over batter, and fold in gently by hand, using the largest spatula you have. Fold in half of remaining flour; then fold in the remainder. Pour the hot milk and butter into batter and fold well, scraping the bottom each time and bringing the batter up the sides of the bowl until you can no longer see traces of liquid.

Turn batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 10 minutes. The cake will have browned on top, and started to shrink from the sides of the pan.

Raspberry Jam (compliments of my grandma!)
4 c raspberry (fresh or frozen)
4 c sugar

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the sugar in a oven-safe pan and heat for 15 minutes (heated sugar dissolves more easily.)

In a large saucepan mash the raspberries with a potato masher over high heat. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and strain out seeds.

Return raspberry juice to saucepan and bring back to a boil. Add sugar and boil for 5-7 minutes - remove from heat when thickened.

Let cool before using.

Lime Buttercream (compliments of Use Real Butter)
* 8 oz egg whites
* 15 oz sugar
* 1 lb butter, room temperature
* 1 Tbsp lime zest
* 4 Tbsp lime juice

Combine egg whites and sugar in a stand mixer. Whisk constantly over a bain marie until 140F is reached. Place on mixer witha whisk and whip until stiff. Turn down whip speed to 3rd and whip until cool to the touch -- this will take a while, should be cooler than your hand.

Change to a paddle and gradually add soft butter by tablespoons. Mix to emulsify. Once desired consistency has been reached, add lime juice and zest.

Lime Syrup (compliments of Use Real Butter)
* 1 c sugar
* 1 c water
* 2/3 c lime juice

Heat water and sugar in a pot until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and turn off heat. Let cool, then mix in lime juice.

White Chocolate Fondant
* 4 c powdered sugar
* 1/2 c water
* 1/4 c light corn syrup
* 1/2 tsp vanilla
* 1/4 tsp almond extract
* 5 Tbsp butter
* 1/3 c heavy cream
* 12 oz white chocolate
* food coloring (optional)

Combine the sugar, water, corn syrup and flavorings in a double boiler over medium heat. Stir until smooth, then add the cream, butter, and white chocolate. Stir until incorporated, watching that it doesn't burn. Add coloring to preference.

Make the sponge and cool completely. Slice into quarters and freeze, placing wax paper liners between sections. When frozen thoroughly, using a long serrated knife (a bread knife is ideal) slice each quarter horizontally. Return to the freezer until jam, buttercream and syrup are finished.

Heat jam until liquid (I did this in small batches). Using one quarter of the sponge, brush the bottom half with the lime syrup then spread the jam over the syrup. Spread the buttercream on the bottom of the top half of the sponge, and place over the jam (sandwich style). Brush the top of the sponge quarter with the syrup again, and refreeze. Repeat with the rest of the sponge.

Once the sponge sections have been sandwiched and completely refrozen, slice into 1"x1" squares (you may need to clean your knife several times during this process). Return to the freezer while you make the fondant.

Place a wire cooling rack over a cookie sheet and arrange the cake cubes about 1 inch apart from each other. The following process works best if the fondant is very warm and liquid. Using a ladle, pour the fondant over each cube, using a toothpick to smooth out any gaps. Garnish with raspberries before fondant cools.

Allow petit fours to sit for a few minutes and fondant to harden. Using a sharp paring knife, free the base of the petit four from the rack and place into a cupcake liner. The leftover fondant from the cookie sheet/rack can be reheated and reused - just make sure it's free of cake crumbs. Keep finished petit fours refrigerated until ready to serve.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lemony Cheesecake Pops

This is my first, and unfortunately, only post for the Daring Baker's challenge. I over-estimated the amount of free time I would have to contribute and therefore withdrew from their blogroll. It's a fantastic idea though and I hope to rejoin in the future.

That said, lemony cheesecake pops! I was a bit dubious at the prospect of a cheesecake-on-a-stick, but the end result turned out very nice. A couple of notes:

1) These are better frozen than refrigerated. After forming the balls and inserting the sticks, you'll find them too soft to dip if you don't freeze them first. Also, they taste much better frozen as as they warm up the textures become too similar and you lose the transition from chocolate to cheesecake. My ultimate preference was to roll them in something crunchy (in this case, candied lemon peel, although I tested roasted hazelnuts as well) then freeze them for a few hours before eating.

2) I had big problems scooping these out. I didn't want to overcook the cheesecake so I actually baked it ~10 minutes less than the recipe calls for. It tasted great, but each scoop would fall apart as I formed it. I ended up rolling them in my hands which led to messy fingers but nicely rounded cheesecakes.

Overall they tasted like a heavier version of bonbons -- one was more than enough. I probably won't make these again -- there wasn't enough texture variation to allow you to truly appreciate the cheesecake versus the chocolate. They are very decadent-looking though, and no-one on the receiving end would think of complaining. ;)

To make these lemony, I added 2-3 tbsps of fresh lemon juice and the zest of one lemon to the batter before baking. Recipe for the candied lemon zest can be found here.

Cheesecake Pops
Makes 30 – 40 Pops

* 5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
* 2 cups sugar
* ¼ cup all-purpose flour
* ¼ teaspoon salt
* 5 large eggs
* 2 egg yolks
* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* ¼ cup heavy cream
* Boiling water as needed
* Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
* 1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionery coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
* 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer set at low speed, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at lwo speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Lightly grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan). Pour the cheesecake batter into the cake pan and place in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchemtn paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionery chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

As I've mentioned before, I'm a chocoholic. The boyo doesn't understand it - to him chocolate is too heavy, too rich, too ... oh darn, I'm drooling. Needless to say, when I ran that poll, he agreed with the majority of you and voted (audibly) for fruit cupcakes.

But after all was baked and done, I couldn't get the mint chocolate cupcakes out of my mind. I love the mint-chocolate combo, but it is strong, and it's definitely not an overwhelming preference of the masses. So I pace myself - about one mint recipe every few months. It was due time though, and this recipe demanded to be made. The cupcake base is dense and fudgy, with a mint chocolate ganache filling you can smell a mile away. The peppermint buttercream isn't as light as the lemon, but it's much sweeter to counter the dark chocolate that permeates the treat. The garnish is an Andes mint sliced in half diagonally (using the dip-knife-in-hot-water-and-wipe-dry trick).

One thing I noticed when packing these up: compared to the angel food, these weigh a ton. They are indeed a very filling dessert - after taking the cross-section picture, I had to eat the subject (of course, mustn't waste!) and half that would have been plenty. It was absolutely delicious though and I still have the mint lingerings on my tongue.

Recipes are from Chockylit's Cupcake Bakeshop - I used this recipe for base then got the frosting and ganache recipes from here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lemony Angel Food Cupcakes

The vote has closed, and we have a by-and-far winner: Angel Food Cupcakes! I'm surprised, I was expecting the Mint Chocolate Cupcakes to win. I should thank you all for voting though, 'cos these wouldn't have been top of my list to make otherwise - the chocolate would have been. What can I say! I'm a chocoholic.

I've read descriptions of summer recipes that always include "airy," "light," and "melts on the tongue." Well, now I'm adding one to the list. Guys, this recipe is airy, and light, and melts on the tongue, and is more than that besides. The angel food is basically foam with a gentle lemon edge to it; the buttercream is rich with a gentle sweetness, but no weight. The overall effect is a fluffy bite that whispers lemon and sugar - the strawberry is by far the most substantial part of the dessert. If I were to hold a tea party (and it is definitely on my to-do list) these would absolutely be on my menu.

Recipe, recipe! There are several parts to this one: the angel food, the buttercream, a lemon simple syrup, and the strawberries.

Angel Food (adapted from Fresh from the Oven):

Makes ~30 cupcakes

* 1 cup cake flour
* 1 1/2 cup sugar
* 12 large egg whites, at room temperature
* 1 tsp cream of tartar
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 2 tbsp juice from 1 lemon
* 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
* 2 tbsp grated lemon zest

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

Whisk flour and 3/4 cup sugar in a small bowl, set aside. In a dry, clean electric mixer bowl, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add in cream of tartar and salt, and increase speed to medium high. Continue to beat, adding the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar is added and the whites are shiny and form soft peaks. Beat in the lemon juice, vanilla extract, lemon zest until just blended.

Sift the flour mixture over the whites, about 1/4 cup at a time, and gently fold it in using a large rubber spatula. Fill each cupcake liner almost full (a little over 3/4) and smooth the tops so they are flat and touching the liner on all sides (these cupcakes rise only a very little and tend to get malformed and oval if the tops have not been smoothed.) Bake until the tops are lightly golden and spongy to the touch, 20-25 minutes.

Remove from cupcake pan and let cool completely before assembly.

Lemon Simple Syrup (Candied Lemon Peel from The Kitchn - not a misspelling!):

Makes ~ 1 1/2 cups

* 5-6 lemons
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/2 cup cold water
* 2 cups sugar
* Superfine sugar (optional)

Peel the lemons with vegetable peeler, taking off long, thin strips (slice to 1/4 inch if yours - like mine - peel off in wider strips). Fill a medium sauce pan 3/4 full with water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the lemon peels and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then drain. Repeat, using the other 1/2 teaspoon of salt. This is softening the lemon peels and taking away the residual bitterness of the white pith.

Drain the peels for a second time and set aside. Add the cold water and two cups sugar to the saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. When the sugar dissolves add the lemon peels and simmer on low for 45-60 minutes. Watch near the end to make sure the sugar doesn't caramelize.

Immediately lift out the peels with a fork and let them cool on a piece of wax paper that has been sprayed with cooking spray. If you want to eat them as candy, roll them in superfine sugar while they are still wet. When they have cooled and dried put in a sealed container in the refrigerator, where they will last for quite a long time. The syrup can also be stored in the fridge and used for flavoring and sweetening.

Lemon Buttercream (from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible - best cake recipe book I've found yet. Recipe also here.):

Makes ~ 4 cups

* 6 large egg yolks (4 oz)
3/4 cup sugar (5.25 oz)
* 1/2 liquid cup corn syrup (5.75 oz)
* 2 cups butter
* 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
* 1/4 tsp lemon extract

Have ready a greased 1-cup heatproof glass measure.

Beat the egg yolks in a stand (or hand held) mixer until light in color. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan (preferably with a nonstick lining) and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a rolling boil. (The entire surface will be covered with large bubbles.) Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.

If using an electric hand-held mixer, beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream. Don't allow syrup to fall on the beaters or they will spin it onto the sides of the bowl. If using a stand mixer, pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks with the mixer turned off. Immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. For the last addition, use a rubber spatula to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure. Continue beating until completely cool.

Gradually beat in the butter and lemon extract. Place in an airtight bowl. Bring to room temperature before using; rebeat to restore texture.

Once cupcakes have cooled, place a small dollop of buttercream on the top and line the top with thin slices of strawberries (ADDED: after slicing the strawberries, gently pat down with a paper towel. You want them to be as dry as possible so they won't leak juice). Lightly brush strawberries with lemon syrup. Pipe buttercream on top. Brush small slices of strawberries with lemon syrup and use for garnish.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Praline Macarons with Dulce de Leche (now with full Technicolor documentation!)

Macarons are fickle, flighty culinary concoctions. On the one hand, they're wonderfully delicious -- the shells are crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside and melded together with a thick, rich sauce or ganache. Each bite melts on the tongue, leaving a sweet, nutty taste and a craving for more.

On the other hand, they're a pain in the butt to make.

They weren't always so difficult. While in California I had engineered a few different types, and had had an easy enough time that I didn't understand the pain many protested undergoing. Then I moved from moderate California to rain-everyday Washington and discovered just how touchy macarons can be. They don't like cold, they don't like heat, and they don't like humidity. 68 degrees with <20% humidity was perfect. Washington, with 55 degrees and 100% humidity, was a whole 'nuther ballgame.

You're supposed to leave the macarons out after piping and before baking for an hour or two to allow a skin to form. Macarons are essentially a meringue, so to maintain the smooth top of an ideal macaron you must have a hard skin in place when the baking bubbles start. The bubbles then have nowhere to go but out the sides, creating the desired "foot" effect. The purpose of leaving the macarons out for the few hours before baking is to dry them out enough to create the necessary skin.

Did I mention the 100% humidity?

Four hours out and the macarons were still sticky to the touch. I should have just left them overnight (couldn't have hurt) but I like to wrap up my baking projects in one day, preferably. The end result therefore was mixed: some were cracked on top but peeled away from the paper easily, others had perfectly smooth tops but disintegrated when moved, and still more turned out unblemished and photographable.

"Get on with it!" I hear you cry. Ok, well: the recipe is adapted from Tartlette's version, modified to work for more humid areas. I don't believe it'll fail given drier climates, but that's what small batches and lots of practice is for! By the third batch I'd gotten the hang of it, and had photographic evidence to document the step-by-step process, just because I love you guys. By the way, here are a few other sites I referred to for symptomatic fixes.

Some basic notes: I left my egg whites out for ~24 hours before using, but I have no idea if it made a difference. Also, before processing my almond flour, I lightly toasted it on a cookie sheet at 325 degrees for ~3 minutes. The idea was to eliminate as much extra moisture from the almond flour as possible before use.

UPDATE: While writing up this post I was commenting to my boyo about how much the humidity here had affected the general skin-forming time. A few hours later he came back to the topic with "Could you have used a hairdryer?" ..... That's not a bad idea. You'd have to use a low setting, and hold the dryer way above the macarons so the air wouldn't force the batter around, but it might work in a pinch. The other solution that occurred to me after (of course!) was to turn the oven on "warm," and leave the macarons in for a bit with the door propped open. This would have to be watched carefully though, so try it first on just one batch!

The Dulce de Leche is from David Lebovitz's site: it's awesome and I could eat it by itself (and did!)

Crushed Praline:
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1 cup unblanched almonds

Combine the sugar and almonds in a heavy saucepan. Place over medium heat to begin melting the sugar, and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon so the sugar melts and caramelizes evenly. Cook to a light amber color.

Scrape the praline from the saucepan and spread it about 1/4-inch thick on an oiled baking sheet or a marble surface. Let cool at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Break the hard praline into 1-1/2 inch pieces and place them in a bowl of a food processor and quickly pulse until finely ground to crumb consistency (any coarser and they'll break the macaron's skin).

* 3 egg whites
* 50 gr. granulated sugar
* 200 gr. powdered sugar
* 110 gr. ground almonds

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue. Do not over-beat your meringue or it will be too dry and your macarons won't work. Soft peaks were about right for me.

Pulse the almond flour in a food processor a couple times, then gradually add the powdered sugar until thoroughly combined. You don't want to turn the almonds into butter, but by adding the powdered sugar in parts you'll insure the almonds are finely ground and fully incorporated. The picture below shows a before-and-after.

Add the almond mixture to the meringue in two parts, folding the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that flows like magma or a thick ribbon. Make sure there are no lumps or streaks! Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small peak, give the batter a couple of turns.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with the batter and pipe small round onto parchment paper baking sheets. Sprinkle the praline powder over the shells. Let macarons sit out for a couple hours (or if need be, overnight!) until they are no longer sticky to the touch.

Preheat the oven to 315F. Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size (mine were just under 2 inches wide, so I baked for 15-17 minutes). Let cool completely. If bottoms are still sticky after cooling, move the parchment paper to a cooling rack and leave for a couple of hours (or again, overnight. I love humidity!). Sandwich them with the Dulce de Leche, collapse into a chair, and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Walnut Cupcakes with Apple Filling and Caramel Glaze

These had a middling effect on me. The idea spawned from leftover apple compote I'd made; it was too delicious to let go to waste, but too tempting to leave for myself. I'd been looking through Cupcake Bakeshop and was wowed by what I saw. When I came to her Walnut Cupcakes topped with Rose White Chocolate Mousse and Baklava, I said "Hold the phone!" (while wiping away the drool), "I should totally make walnut cupcakes for my apple compote!"

Chockylit, you are a culinary genius, but that cupcake recipe made the funkiest batter I have ever encountered. For a while there the texture resembled nothing so much as tar. Now, this should not be taken as a critique against the recipe, for dear god were those cupcakes good. I just have to add the note that if you hit a point in the recipe where the batter's so thick you can't stir, don't panic: you're doing it right.

That said, the combination of soft, mildly-sweet walnuts and buttery, caramelized apples was just gorgeous. Had I stopped there I would have been thrilled. But no! This cook stirred the pot one too many times.

To add the filling to the cupcakes, you have to cut a cone out of the top, dollop a bit of compote in the hole, slice the tip off the cone, and put the top back on. This leaves you with a whole lot of cupcake tips (yum!) and a bunch of mangled cupcake tops. I knew this in advance, and had intended on making a mild caramel buttercream to go on top. However, I started late, finished later, and by the time I was considering making a frosting it was 10pm and my kitchen was full of dirty dishes. And this was where I strayed.

Never, ever, EVER use a frosting recipe that says "5 minute" or "never fail" or calls for a ton and a half of powdered sugar. Unless this is your intent, you will end up with frosting that carves holes in your teeth with each bite. Any other flavor will be mercilessly beaten into obscurity. My four hour endeavor for delicate-and-delicious flavors was utterly trumped by the frosting's predominating flavor of SUGAR. Anything would have been better, but I was loving the walnut-apple-caramel idea without the energy to do it correctly.

So. Sorry guys, no recipe for you. I'm holding out until I can do it right, and not give you mediocre results. If you hate me now I'll understand, but remember that I linked the Baklava Cupcake recipe above and try to forgive me. In fact, you should take it upon yourself to make it just so you can flaunt in my face how good it is. I'll believe you. And I'll drool.

UPDATE: I've had a few requests since, so I'll relent and give you some of the recipe. The cupcake base is here, and I didn't change anything about it: just keep my notes from above in mind. The filling is a caramelized apple compote that is just oh-dear-god awesome -- recipe below. Now, regarding the frosting. Here is the recipe I actually used but as noted, I don't recommend it. This is more along the lines of what I intended: light, fluffy, mildly caramel. Oh well, next time!

Apple Compote (from The Los Angeles Times):
* 6 tbsps butter, cut in 1-inch pieces
* 1/2 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and scraped of seeds (I just used 1 tsp vanilla extract)
* 3 large or 4 medium Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 1/4 cup (light) brown sugar, packed
* 2 tbsps heavy cream
* 2 tbsps lemon juice

In a large skillet over a medium flame add the butter, vanilla bean and seeds, cook until the butter turns golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the apples, letting them caramelize on one side, then turn, about 5 minutes total.

Sprinkle the sugar and brown sugar over the apples and cook, turning occasionally to caramelize and soften the fruit, about 10 minutes. Add the heavy cream and continue to cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Remove the vanilla bean and put the apple mixture in a food processor, add lemon juice and pulse until smooth. Cool over ice, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (This can be made and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 week.)