Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TWJ: Baking Chez Moi - Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

You may have noticed that I haven't done many Baking with Julia recipes lately.  I promise that I haven't given it up.  The thing is, the recipes for this month I was super ambivalent about, so I chose not to make them.  In case you are interested, the first was an upside down inside out Tiramisu, and the second was a European Rye.  The thing is, I have troubles with both of these recipes.  First, I LOVE Tiramisu.  But I want my tiramisu to be the real deal.  And I have a recipe for the real deal that is DIVINE (completely swoon-worthy), so creating a deconstructed version of this treat just does not interest me.  I want the bonafide amazing dessert. 

As far as the European Rye bread, the thing is, I don't actually care for rye bread.  Sad, to some of you, but true.  So why make this loaf?  For the experience, yes, but....  Just to be clear, I do intend to do more Baking with Julia recipes.  Just not these two....

Here we are then, with a Baking Chez Moi recipe.  Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake.  I personally haven't ever heard of something referred to as a weekend cake before.  Here is Dorie's explanation, "a simple, sturdy cake that will last the weekend, that can be put out to be nibbled by family and houseguests, that will be as good for a dessert as it will be for an end-of-the-afternoon snack or an end-of-the-morning tide-me-over."  Ah-ha!  Now I get it.  And personally, I love this idea!

This cake is super simple to make.  No mixer necessary, just some bowls and a whisk and spatula.  Now I have to admit, any time that a recipe says to "fold" I get a quiver of trepidation.  Folding is not my forte.  I have no confidence in this arena and tend to hold my breath and pray for the best each time.  Is there anyone out there that has any sage folding advice for me?  It always makes me nervous.  Luckily, the amount of folding in this recipe is minimal and I had success (I think). 

The flavors in this cake are simple and delicious.  Browned butter and vanilla bean.  Oh and rum or amaretto if you like.  (IF??)  If you have never used brown butter, you need to.  It adds a lovely nuttiness to the flavor of your dish.  You do have to be super careful when making browned butter.  Do not multi-task at this time.  This is very hard for me, as I often multi-task in the kitchen, but trust me.  You can't multi-task and brown butter.  The difference between lovely browned butter and yucky burned butter is a second.  And then you have to start all over!  Grrr.  So just stand there at the stove and focus on that lovely butter.  It is worth it and your dessert will thank you.  And quite honestly it doesn't take long at all to brown butter, it isn't like cooking risotto or something!   Oh, I used dark rum in my cake, but I think I'll try amaretto next....  YUM.

I would describe this as a pound cake, if someone didn't get the "weekend" cake concept.  They look similar and have a similar texture.  And like a good pound cake, you can heat this up in the toaster the next morning and have a special breakfast! 

You can find this recipe on pages 6-7 of Baking Chez Moi.

For insight as to what our other bakers thought of this recipe, go here and click on "LYL: Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake".  All of my fellow bakers list their blog addresses there for you to visit!  Who knows?  You might get inspired to join this group or to follow another of the great bakers!  I have!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Black-Bottom, Peanut Butter Mousse Pie

Right around the time that the clever girl's school let out for the winter holidays, my neighbor's son, C, had his 12th birthday.  The day prior to C's birthday, his mom delivered his new baby brother, baby A.  Since there was a lot of chaos around the time of C's birthday, the clever girl and I decided to celebrate his birthday right before school started up again.  According to his mom, C's favorite things are peanut butter and chocolate, so we made him a black-bottom peanut butter mousse pie! 

Once I found a recipe that I liked, it was super easy.  The problem with most peanut butter pie recipes is that instead of using PEANUT BUTTER (crazy idea, right?), they use peanut butter chips.  Yuck.  I mean, I should not judge, but I think they are more like peanut butter flavored wax, and why would you not just use peanut butter instead??  That is what I did.  Since I have never tried this recipe using the peanut butter chips, I am not totally sure as to what the filling is supposed to be like, but what I created was pretty tasty, I think!  I could probably reduce the amount of sugar next time, but overall, this is a delicious peanut butter and chocolate pie!

Black-Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie
adapted a lot from Epicurious
1 9-inch+ graham cracker crust (or make your own)
1 1/3 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 8 ounces)
2/3 cup plus 1 cup whipping cream, divided
2 TB light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
2 TB sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar (next time I will try using 1/4 cup)

Combine the chocolate chips, 2/3 cup whipping cream, corn syrup and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a microwave-safe bowl.  Heat in the microwave on medium until the chocolate softens, approximately 3 minutes.  Whisk the chocolate mixture until it is smooth.  Spread about 3/4 of the mixture over the bottom of the graham cracker crust,  It will be about 1/4 inch thick.  Refrigerate the remaining chocolate mixture, and place the crust with the chocolate in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Using the paddle attachment, mix the peanut butter, powdered sugar, and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla in a small bowl of an electric mixer until smooth.  Set aside.  In a separate larger bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup whipping cream and 2 TB sugar until thick but not holding peaks.  Fold into the peanut butter mixture in 3 additions.  Gently spoon the peanut butter mousse over the chocolate layer in the pie.  Chill for at least 1 hour, up to 1 day.

Before serving, gently heat the remaining chocolate syrup and drizzle over the top of the pie.  
Printable Recipe

 Super awesome big brother!

It was fun surprising C with his pie!  I hope it helped to make his birthday extra special!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

TWD: Baking Chez Moi - Granola Energy Bars

Today's recipe for Baking Chez Moi is Granola Energy Bars.  I was especially interested to try this recipe, as I have long searched out recipes for CRUNCHY homemade granola bars.  I recently found one recipe that I like, but am always up to try another.  This recipe uses a different ingredient - brown rice syrup, for binding.  This is the trouble with most homemade granola bars - they  just are not crunchy.  Dorie claims that brown rice syrup will do the trick and guess what?  She is right!  (As if we are surprised!!)  Though my regular grocery store did not carry brown rice syrup (What??  Devastated, truly devastated), I was able to find some at a more "natural" supermarket.

The thing is, I can't decide whether I like these granola bars.  I mean, I must like them, because I eat them up.  However while I eat them, I have a constant thought of "hmmm, do I really like these" going through my mind.  It may be that I am just not used to the taste of brown rice syrup.  Or maybe they need a bit more oomph or something, though I am not really sure what the oomph would be.  I used raisins and cherries in my bars, so there is good flavor there.  The cherries and raisins were both large though, so if I cut them in half there would be more bites with dried fruit.   Maybe I should have toasted the oats and almonds longer?? 

When you take these out of the oven, they are nice and shiny looking and you are supposed to press down on them with a spatula to help them stay tightly together.  I forgot this step, so I did have some crumbles when I cut the bars. 

Overall, I give this recipe a hesitant thumbs-up.  It is definitely worth another try, and besides, what else am I going to do with my jar of brown rice syrup???

If you are curious about this recipe, check out Baking Chez Moi, pages 328-329.  And be sure to visit the TWD blog and click on "LYL: Granola Energy Bars" to find links to other blogs in our group!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Groovy Tie-Dye Cake

On New Years Eve, we attended a 60's-70's party to celebrate a friend's 50th birthday!  I made the cake, obviously!  *wink*  We were on a rooftop bar, so some of my pictures are not great, but hopefully they are good enough to give you the idea of this fabulously groovy cake!

I started out with my new favorite white cake recipe, which is from Cooks Illustrated.  I used it back in June to make the clever girl's rainbow birthday cake and it worked out well so I figured it would serve me well as a tie die cake, too.  If you recall that cake, it was a rainbow in layers, so I split the batter into 6 thin layers of cake and stacked them up.  For this cake, I wanted all of the colors to be within the same two layers, so I had to use a different method. 

I still split the batter into 6 relatively equal amounts.  This was fairly easy because the batter (I made 1 1/2 recipes of batter, for a 10-inch cake) ended up weighing around 60 ounces, so I measured 10 ounces into each bowl.  Then I added food coloring gel to each until they got to be the color I liked.  Don't use liquid food coloring for this - it will add too much liquid to the cake and change the texture.  The gels work nicely, and with Ateco brand you really don't need much to get a nice vibrant color.    I then layered the colors into the pans, using the most of the bottom color, and then a bit less of each color on top of that.  The reverse was done to the second pan.  This is easier to understand with the photo below:

I started with red in the right bowl and gently smoothed it across the bottom of the pan, then used a bit less orange, then yellow and so on.  Gently smooth each color on the top of the one below, being careful not to actually mix them up.  When you get to the top color, the batter sort of looks like a dome, so I just jiggled it and tapped it on the counter a few times to sort of even it out, and hoped for the best.  I forgot to take a photo of the cakes when I got the out of the oven, but they miraculously ended up nicely cake-shaped!  

I made up a double batch of buttercream frosting (recipe below) and  pulled out a bit to use for between the layers.  I colored that icing red, as I thought white would look too glaring and divide the layers visually too much.  In order to get a good RED color in the icing, I made it as red as I could with the red coloring gel, then added a couple drops of brown.  The brown seems to take the pinkish hint out of the frosting and deepen the red color!  Yes!  The rest of the cake was frosted in white.

As you can see, when I stacked my cake, I stacked the top layer upside-down, so the BOTTOM of the cake is now the top.  This is the layer that started with red batter.  You could stack them however you want, I just thought this way would look cool. 

After frosting the entire cake white, I had to make the tie-die effect for the top!  I got my idea from the blog Bird on a Cake.  However, she had better luck finding decorating gel in rainbow colors than I did.  I found red, green and blue, but not the rest.  So I made some myself!!  I found a couple of different recipes online and went with the one for which I had the ingredients on hand, hoping for the best.  It turned out great!  This recipe uses lemon juice which I think is probably for spoiling  purposes but since I didn't actually store it maybe you don't need the lemon?  To me it was fine and added a nice little zip to the cake but if you don't want lemon flavor you could try it without!  I actually found that the homemade decorating gel worked and spread easier than the store bought one, so I will definitely be using this in the future.  I used to have some Wilton Piping Gel in a big tub but I find it kinda nasty and even though it doesn't have an expiration date it sort of scares me at this point.  Oh, and I just put the gel in ziplock bags and snipped a tiny bit of the corner away for piping.  This is not an exact method and a bit messy but worked fine for this application!  I digress.  You will find the decorating gel recipe below as well!

Anyway, put the piping gel on the cake in concentric circles.  Then, using a NEW natural fiber paintbrush (not the kind with plastic bristles from your kid's water-color set... Not that I know this from personal experience or anything...) gently spread the gel from the center to the edge.  You will have to clean off your brush a lot, so set a paper towel next to you.  I tended to clean off my brush after blue and green and then after getting to the edge.  So it went:
*wipe brush*
*wipe brush*
*wipe brush*

If you look at the Bird on a Cake blog, I think her tie-dye effect turned out better than mine, and besides her being more skilled at this than I, I think she also used a wider paintbrush than I did.  Mine was pretty narrow so if I did this again I'd probably use a brush that is closer to 1/2 inch.  And maybe I should put the color lines closer together or thicker in general.  However, I still think it turned out pretty cool!  Our friends really enjoyed the cake and it was an overall hit!

Here are the recipes:
White Layer Cake
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
alterations for tie-die in italics
makes 1 double-layer 9-inch cake (I made 1 1/2 recipes for a 10-inch double layer cake)

2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting pans
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple GEL food color.  (Liquid color will not be vibrant enough and could change the structure of the batter - too much added liquid)

Set oven rack in the center, and heat to 350F.  Butter two 9-inch round cake pans (10-inch round cake pans), line bottoms with parchment, butter parchment, and dust with flour.  (Weigh your empty mixing bowl).

Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into a 2-cup glass measure and whisk until blended.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt at low speed.  Add the butter and continue to beat until the mixture resembles moist crumbs.  There should be no powdery streaks.

Add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk mixture and beat for 30 seconds more.  Stop mixer and scrape the bowl.  Return the mixer to medium speed and mix for 20 seconds.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans.  (Weigh the full mixing bowl and subtract the weight of the empty bowl.  This is the weight of the batter.  Divide that number by 6 and this is the amount of batter you will put into 6 separate bowls.  Gently whisk several drops of gel color into each bowl.  The color of the cake will be the same as the color of the unbaked batter, so mix in enough color to get the vibrancy that you want.  Pour about 3/4 of your red into the first pan, and then pour in a tad less of each color on top, gently smoothing each color but NOT stirring.  Do the second pan in the opposite order.)  Use a rubber spatula to spread the batter to the pan walls and smooth the top.  (Jiggle the pans a little and tap on the counter a few times.)  Place the pans into the oven, at least 3 inches apart and 3 inches from the oven walls.    Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 23-25 minutes (35-40 minutes). 

Let the cakes rest in the pans for 3 minutes.  Invert onto wire racks, remove the parchment, and then re-invert onto a different wire rack.  Allow to cool completely.   

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
adapted from SavorySweetLife
makes about 2 1/2 cups frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, softened but not melted
3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 TB+ vanilla extract
3-4 TB milk or heavy cream

Beat the butter on medium speed in the bowl of a heavy mixer, using the paddle attachment.  Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn the mixer to your lowest setting until the sugar and butter have incorporated.  When the sugar and butter are incorporated enough that you can safely turn up the mixer speed without coating your kitchen in sugar, increase the speed to medium and add the salt, vanilla and 2 TB of milk/cream.  Beat for 3 minutes.  Add additional milk/cream if you need the frosting to be softer, or add additional if you need the frosting to be stiffer.    

Homemade Cake Piping/Decorating Gel
1/2 cup white sugar
1 TB cornstarch
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan.  Gradually stir in the lemon juice.  Add in the water and stir to combine.

Stir over high heat until the mixture boils and thickens, then color as desired (or divide into smaller bowls and color as desired).  Store the mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.  

If the mixture becomes too thick, add a tiny amount of water at a time until the gel reaches a better consistency.
In case you are wondering, yes, Mr. Clever Mom and I got our groovy duds on for the party.  

One of my girlfriends who is a true born-in-Texas girl came over to give me a nice bouffant hair-do!  I had no idea how to make my hair big so I had to call in an expert!  Sorry, no tutorials on that one!  Just use lots of hairspray and a teasing brush! 

Let's disco, baby!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

TWD: Baking Chez Moi - Gingerbread Buche de Noel

Our last Baking Chez Moi recipe for December is Gingerbread Buche de Noel!  It was actually scheduled for before Christmas, but I made it for Christmas and figured I would post it later.  Later ended up being today!  

The huge ginormous benefit to baking and posting after the post-date is you can see what other bakers thought of the recipe and what advice they might have!  Yeah!  So, thanks to that information, I made a few pieces of this recipe in advance, and halved the frosting amount.  Thanks, everyone!

There are four components to this cake:  The cake itself, which is a chiffon-style very thin cake that is rolled up' the filling, the frosting, and some pecan praline.  I  made the praline and the filling in advance!  This was fantastic since I made the somewhat crazy decision to serve this on Christmas.  The thing is, this is theoretically a perfect cake for Christmas, BUT there are lots of components so if you are making a big Christmas dinner (which we did) it makes getting the cake done a bit of a squeeze.  I got it done, but boy was I ready to be OUT of the kitchen that night! 

To further explain the cake, the actual cake part is a gingerbread flavor.  It is a very thin cake that is baked in a half-sheet pan and then rolled up.  In fact, it is rolled in a powdered sugar coated tea towel  as it cools so that it cools with the ability to roll up when the time comes.  Smart.  Before it is rolled for good (as in after it is cool and you are ready to actually put this cake together) you spread a filling of butter, cream cheese, cinnamon, vanilla, and a little of the pecan praline over the cake.  Then roll it up tightly, using a piece of parchment and a ruler and this fun pull-tug technique to make the cake roll nice and tight.  Again, smart.  That sits in the refrigerator a bit while you make a marshmallow frosting that is puffy and lovely.  Put a thick layer of the marshmallow frosting around the top and sides of the cake and then sprinkle on the praline pecans and you are ready!  

The magic occurs when you slice it.  Before hand, it just looks like this:
This is nice and everything, but once you slice it and you see all the rings, SUCCESS!!

This was really quite tasty.  I liked that the filling did not actually contain any sugar, as the cake, frosting and praline evened everything out.  And, (this is weird for a cake) but when i had another piece a day later, I thought that the flavors were actually more pronounced!  

So, overall a success!  I am not sure whether I would make this again, as there are lots of great desserts for Christmas-time.  But this was very tasty!  Dorie is right... This would be good if you just made it on some random day and then invited people over for cake and champagne. 

Oh, and there was an article in the Food section of the NY Times before Christmas that mentioned that this is the most complicated recipe in the book.  I did it!  Surely I will have continued success!!

Happy holidays, everyone!  I look forward to baking and crafting with you in the new year!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Salted Nut Bars

Holy-Moley!  These are some incredible cookies.  They hit all of the right notes for me:  salty, sweet, crunchy, soft....  Mmmm.  I could eat the entire batch.  And this recipe makes a TON of cookies, so eating the entire batch is a very bad idea.  Though, it might just happen, as I cannot seem to stop myself from opening the cookie bin and grabbing another one every time I am anywhere near my kitchen.  And since our house is really open and the kitchen is pretty much in the center, you could say that I am near the kitchen almost all of the time.  Very very dangerous.  Extremely.

To be honest, looking at the ingredients, I would not know that I would have this dangerous attraction to these cookies.  I'm not really one for butterscotch chips, to be honest.  But they make this cookie heavenly, trust me. Thank you to my mother-in-law who found this recipe and made it one year.  Well, thanks, I think....  I'll let you know after I eat an entire batch of these things!

Here we go...

The crust of this cookie is  made of flour, brown sugar, butter and salt.  Throw it all in the mixer bowl and mix until it is crumbly.

Dump the crumbly mixture into a parchment covered half-sheet pan (13x18-inch).  Spread it around the pan as evenly as you can.  Then place a piece of plastic wrap on top if it all and use something to roll it out flat.  (The recipe does not say to do this, but it is a fast, easy way to get it all out into the pan and evenly pressed down.  I used a large kids vitamin bottle for rolling.  If you get vitamins at Costco or Sams and have one of these giant bottles, this will work for you too!

Bake this at 350F for 10-12 minutes, until it is golden on top.  If you bake it too long, it will be too crunchy and very hard to cut when you get to the cutting point.  I baked mine for 10 minutes and could have probably done 11 but was nervous about getting to the "too crunchy" point.

In the mean time, measure out your nuts (4c) and set them aside.  Then make the caramel...  Butterscotch chips, butter, and corn syrup, melted together in a saucepan.  Again, trust me, the butterscotch chips are really good here!

Stir a lot to keep it from burning on the bottom of the pan, and to help the butterscotch chips melt.  Timing wise, you want to this to be ready just as you are taking the bottom layer out of the oven.

Pull the crust out and sprinkle the nuts relatively evenly all over.  Immediately pour the caramel over the top, getting it as even as you can.  Then back into the oven it goes, for another 10-12 minutes.

And it will come out looking like this.  Mmmm.  Let it sit on a rack for about an hour to cool.  You don't want them to be gooey when you try to slice them.  Cut them into bars about 1x2 inches.  Small is good with these.  Then you get to eat more of them over time.  I ended up with 98 bars, having 14 rows across the wide part of the pan and 7 across the top.  Obviously they were not quite all 1x2 inches, but that is okay with me!

Salted Nut Bars
adapted from The Baking Sheet, King Arthur Flour

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt

4 cups salted mixed nuts
3/4 cup corn syrup (I used almost all light, but ran low so used about 1 1/2 TB dark)
3 TB  unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips (I just dumped in the entire 11 oz bag, which was about 1 2/3 c)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a half-sheet pan (13x18-inch) with parchment paper, letting the paper go up the sides of the pan.

Combine the flour, sugar, butter and salt in a mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment.  Mix until crumbly.  Pat the mixture into your prepared pan.  For a fast method, spread out the mixture with your hand, then cover with plastic wrap and use some sort of small roller to roll it all out and pressing into the corners and edges.  I used a big vitamin bottle.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly brown.  Allow to cool for a few minutes while you start on the topping, and then spread the nuts over the top.

Combine the corn syrup, butter and butterscotch chips in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Allow to come to a boil, stirring constantly.   Boil until all of the butterscotch chips are melted.  As soon as the chips are melted, pour the mixture evenly over the nuts.  Do not let the mixture cool first, as it will harden and become impossible to work with.

Bake for another 10-12 minutes.  The longer you bake them, the more candy-like the caramel will become, less chewy.  You need to find your perfect spot of chewy with some crunch.  I baked mine for 11 min. and they were fine. 

Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack for at least one hour.  Lay a fresh parchment paper over the top of the pan and flip the pan over onto the counter.  Then flip it back the right way so the nuts are on top. Slice with a sharp knife into 1x2-inch bars.  Store in an airtight container.
Printable Recipe

You need to try this out.  And then call me so I can come over and "test" them for you...

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sugar Cookies!

When the kiddos have parties in their classrooms at school, I generally try to sign up to bring the cookies.  Besides the fact that I have a baking compulsion, I also prefer to ensure that my kids eat homemade cookies, not random store-bought cookies with strangely colored icing or other yuckiness.  This year was no different, other than the fact that since the clever boy is now in a Mother's Day Out program one day a week, I had two class parties to deal with - his and the clever girl's!  I thought sugar cookies would be the best plan - what kid doesn't like sugar cookies??

Now, I have found that sugar cookies can be a hard recipe to perfect.  Not that they are difficult to make, but that many recipes are just not what I want.  They are too crispy, too soft, too sweet, too....  You get the picture! This year I turned to my trusty Baking: From My Home to Yours cookbook, as I knew Dorie would not steer me wrong.  And she didn't!  Mmmm.  These cookies are the perfect sugar cookie in my opinion.  They are crisp on the outside but just a little soft on the inside.  They are buttery and delicious.  I did not want to do actual cut-outs with cookie cutters (even though I have a ginormous quantity of cookie cutters, especially Christmas ones).  To expedite things, I rolled the dough into a log and did slice-and-bake cookies.  Before slicing, I rolled the logs in Christmas sprinkles so the edges would be nice and festive, and I'd still have a nice surface for sprinkling vanilla sugar when they came out of the oven.  I did change one thing in Dorie's recipe, in that I added 1/2 teaspoon almond extract.  I just like that flavor, especially when combined with vanilla.  But you could leave it out if you wanted!  You could add some lemon or orange zest, or nuts or something too, or just leave them plain!  Because even if they are plain, they will make you smile!  Yum. 
You can find this recipe here, on Dorie's blog.  And it's in Baking: From My Home to Yours on pages 146-147.  It is a great baking book, if you have a desire to bake more!  I made a double batch of cookies and ended up with 85.  My logs were about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, I think.  These are easy, and if you do the slice-and-bake method, they are fast (except for the chilling time).  And a definite winner!  Even the teachers remarked about how delicious the cookies were! 

Any Christmas baking in your plans this year??