Friday, November 26, 2010

Apple Pie

When I made my first apple pie, I used basically this recipe for the filling, and everything turned out perfectly. That was five or six years ago. I made a few more apple pies since then, but they all turned out pretty gross, to the point where no one wanted to eat them. Mostly it was a problem with the crust, and undoubtedly my focus on that part of the pie made me neglect the filling. In any case, it's been ages since I've tried to make a good pie, but when a pie-making contest was announced for my ward this past Monday, I was motivated to try again (and if it turned out well, I could contribute to Thanksgiving at my sister's).

I mulled it over, and decided that to try to fix the crust would be the best approach. I thought of all the reasons I didn't like pie crust, and determined that (aside from the time I attempted to create a whole-wheat crust-- which you should probably never do) the problem was always that it tasted dry and flavorless. I thought of the crusts I've made for quiche, and how they are flaky and buttery and wonderful. And then I realized butter might just do the trick! Up until that point I'd been using Crisco (and off-brand Crisco at that), so I decided to opt this time for the more flavorful and much-easier-to-work-with option.

Another thing that helped was that I let myself relax. If the pie didn't turn out, that was fine. If it didn't win, that was fine. Don't follow a recipe, just go with your instinct. Luckily I had that background of attempts to build on. In any case, it turned out perfectly. It didn't win, because the winner's crust was crumbly and interesting and amazing, but I heard I had the best filling. And it was the best (read: only) apple pie at Thanksgiving when I made it again yesterday. So I'll keep trying with the crust, and then the pie really will be perfect someday! Hey, I can dream.

Too late for Thanksgiving, but this will work well for Christmas, or for any day of the year, really.

Apple Pie
filling modified from some clipped-out recipe I found when I was fifteen; crust modified from Good Housekeeping

Crust
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
a couple of pinches of salt
3/4 (one and a half sticks) of butter/ vegetable equivelant (or shortening, if you want to go the traditional route)
water

1. Mix flour and salt.
2. Get your butter out an hour or two beforehand to make sure its soft, or leave it on top of the oven while its preheating (but not for too long, or it will melt). Do not microwave the butter!! Not only does it make it too liquidy, but it separates the parts. Just make sure your butter is soft, because if it's too hard, it will be difficult to work with.
3. Cut the butter into little chunks (about 1T each) and plop into the flour mixture. Work in with a fork or pastry cutter until the chunks are considerably smaller, then work in with your hands. This will guarantee the butter is worked in properly.
4. Add water, a tablespoon or two at a time, and work it in. Use your hands to tell when it's ready. The dough should be a little past the point where it's just coming together. Work into a ball.
5. Separate the ball into two parts, one ever so slightly larger than the other. The larger ball will be your bottom crust. Pound and roll out the larger ball into a circle and drape over a 9-inch pie or cake pan lightly dusted with flour on the bottom. Pour in filling.
6. Repeat process with smaller ball. Drape over top of pie, pinching sides together, making the edges look fluted if you so desire. Cut a few slits in the center of the top crust so the filling can breathe and seep as it cooks. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon-sugar if you like.
7. Place a cookie sheet under the pie to catch any drippings. Put in oven pre-heated to 425 degrees. Cook for about 40-45 minutes (this will depend on your oven, of course). Pie will be done when the crust is golden brown and apples are tender.

Filling
6 medium red delicious apples (not too tart, not too sweet)
lemon juice (it's better if you use the bottled kind in this case, that way you're not limited to what a lemon will give you)
2 T flour
3/4 c white granulated sugar
pinch or two of salt
2 T cinnamon
1/2 T nutmeg

1. Peel the apples (I found that using a peeler, and not a knife, makes this part far less tedious), cut out the core (make sure you get off all the hard parts of the seed center), and cut into little chunks about the size of a section of your finger (you know...where the joints separate...nevermind). Do it one apple at a time, and sprinkle with lemon juice after each to prevent browning of the apple pieces.
2. Mix the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The original recipe called for far less cinnamon and nutmeg, so if you don't like flavor, reduce it all you like. Actually, the measurements I gave you for those two ingredients are more of my estimate. You should go more by what you think smells and looks like enough.
3. Pour the "spice mix" into the apple chunks, and mix up with your hands (or a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Don't bruise the apples.). Pour the mix into the pie crust, and don't forget the leftover goop at the bottom of the bowl!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gluten Free Thanksgiving

Every since I did my challenge last year, I've tried to be conscious of that (rather large) group of people out there who love to eat, but are limited by food allergies of various sorts. Anyway, so since Thanksgiving is coming up (and even though I don't know if there's anyone that reads my blog that has needs like this), and everyone has something to be grateful for (like regular foods that don't set off your allergies), I thought I'd direct you towards a couple of blogs that have highlighted gluten-free Thanksgiving foods. Enjoy!


Both those bloggers live gluten-free lives, so all (or nearly all) their stuff fits that profile, so you can be safe just searching their blogs for a particular food.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I'm glad this blog has been going for over a year now :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Black Bean and Pumpkin Chili

Last night I had some of the best homemade soup I've ever tasted. What surprised me was that it had so many things I usually hate in food (ironically, I'm one of the pickiest eaters you'll ever meet): chili powder, tomatoes, onions, and pumpkin. Don't get me wrong, all those ingredients are perfectly fine for adding flavor or visual excitement, I just don't like to eat them. Anyway, all of my preconceived notions flew immediately out the window when I tried this soup my friend (not sister) Megan made. It was delicious! I even went back for seconds (and wouldn't have been opposed to thirds...).

I asked Megan to send me the recipe (sorry, no pictures), as well as the changes she made, so here it is for your enjoyment. This is a perfect fall soup/chili, so get on it!

Megan says: "So I actually used a green pepper because the yellow peppers at the store were gross. Also I only used a small can of chicken broth (cause that's all I had) and then added about a half a can of water. I also added more salt at the very end to add more flavor."

Black Bean & Pumpkin Chili
From Taste of Home
Serves: 10 (yields about 2.5 quarts)

1 medium onion, minced
1 medium sweet yellow pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cans (15 oz each) black beans, rinsed & drained
1 can (15 oz) solid pack pumpkin (make sure it's not the pumpkin pie kind, just the pumpkin puree) Megan also says she isn't sure that hers wasn't pie filling, but at least it wasn't spiced.
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large skillet, saute the onion, yellow pepper & garlic in olive oil for about 2 mins. Add the ground turkey and cook until brown. Transfer to a 5qt slow cooker/crock pot; stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until heated through.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Madeleines

A couple of months ago I found a madeleine pan at DI (huge thrift store) for $2. Ever since then, I've been wanting to make the yummy-looking scalloped French cakes. Are they cakes? I think they are.
Madeleines
Anyway, this morning I finally got around to it. I gave them to a friend of mine who needed them, but not before my roommate and I tried one (that's the good thing about making not cakes for people-- you can have some and they will never know). They were very lemony, soft, airy, moist, and otherwise delicious. There are a couple of kinds of food I usually have trouble with, and one of them is French pastry. So if this counts as pastry...I'm finally getting the hang of it!

The key flavors in madeleines are butter and lemon, but the key ingredient is egg. The eggs have to be whipped into lighter-than-air goop, otherwise you won't get the airiness. The recipe calls for 4 minutes of high-powered whisking, but since I'm still using my muscles to mix things, it was a little harder to do, and I was worried that they wouldn't be fluffy enough. But I think all this manual labor is paying off, because I got the egg pretty frothy (and my upper arms have been a little sore lately from it all...yay?).
Adding butter to the froth
As for the butter, I'd completely forgotten to restock when I was last at the store, so I used tub butter (or margarine, whatever), and microwaved it (there's a recommended process for the butter in this recipe to melt it on the stove for a while, allowing it to become golden and "nutty," then straining it) and it still turned out okay! I also didn't think there was enough lemon in the zest, so I also squeezed in a bit of the juice (plus I'm focusing on not wasting, so win/win) into the batter, which made it better. Yep.
Zested lemon
Also, the batter only made enough for barely 11 madeleines instead of 12, but I found out after they cooked that it's because I probably put way too much in each form/mold/whatever.
Filling the pan molds
Anyway, now for the recipe. I don't remember where I got it, and usually I'm really good about writing it down, but a good guess would be Smitten Kitchen, or maybe Tartelette. Check 'em both out.

Classic Madeleines [Madeleines Classiques]
adapted from Patisserie Lerch, via Paris Sweets

3/4 cup (105 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking soda
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon to zest a lemon, you basically use the skinny bumpy part of your cheese grater to scrape off the rind. The grated rind is the part you use. Check out the picture if you don't know what I'm talking about.
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces; 70 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Sift together the flour and baking powder and keep close at hand. Working in a mixer fit with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until they thicken and lighten in color, 2 to 4 minutes. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla. Switch to a large rubber spatula and gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Cover the batter with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal, and chill for at least 3 hours, perhaps longer–chilling helps the batter develop its characteristic crown, known as the hump or the bump. (The batter can be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.)

2. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). If your Madeleine pan is not nonstick, generously butter it, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. If the pan is nonstick, you still might want to give it an insurance coating of butter and flour. If it is silicone, do nothing. No matter what kind of pan you have, place it on a baking sheet for easy transportability.

3. Divide the batter among the molds, filling them almost to the top. Don’t worry about smoothing the batter, it will even out as it bakes.

4. Bake large madeleines for 11 to 13 minutes, small ones for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and golden and spring back when touched. Pull the pan from the oven and remove the cookies by either rapping the pan against the counter (the madeleines should drop out) or gently running a butte knife around the edges of the cookies. Allow the madeleines to cool on a cooling rack. They can be served ever so slightly warm or at room temperature.

Let Them Eat Cake

As promised, here are some tips on making your cake as near to perfect as I've been able to get it from dear old me:

1. Line your pan with wax paper or parchment paper. Grease both below and above the paper. This will make it so your cake comes out nice and clean and never sticks. And you just peel off the paper, it's so easy. This is especially important for softer or fluffier cakes.

2. Let the layers cool completely. By this I mean you should probably put them in the freezer, but only if it's a soft cake! If you have a really hard cake (why would you?) don't do this. But generally I like to freeze my cake for about twenty minutes prior to frosting. It just makes it alot easier to work with. You can leave it in the pan or not.

3. Level the layer(s) before frosting. It makes your cake a lot easier to frost because you don't have gaps where the flat part of the top layer meets the dome of the bottom layer. Plus your top layer won't crack because it's uneven. Get a long, serrated knife and level off the top of the bottom layer so that it's flat enough. It doesn't have to be perfectly flat.

4. Shape the cake. Obviously you only do this if you're making a special shape (heart, star, monkey, whatever) or if you're like me and you burn the outer edges of the layers. Use a long, thinnish knife for best maneuverability, especially if you're making a circle.

5. Before frosting, line the outer edge of your plate/platter/whatever with strips of wax paper or parchment paper. Try to layer them so that they overlap a little on the edge. When you're done frosting the whole cake, pull them out at an angle so that frosting goes with it. Now your plate is spotless! (This took some practice for me, and I still mess up sometimes.)

6. Don't use a butter knife to frost. I've found that the best thing to frost with is a rubber spatula, preferably one of the smaller kinds. If you don't have one of those, then any other wide, flattish tool will do just fine. It's a lot easier to frost large areas, and I find that fewer crumbs end up in the frosting. Plus the finish is a lot smoother. Perfect!

7. If your cake is really soft, do a crumb layer of frosting first. I find that this isn't always necessary, but it does help if your cake is crumbly, or if you just want to be a perfectionist, or whatever. Put a thinnish layer of frosting on your cake (it should have crumbs in it, if not, you don't need to do this) and let it refrigerate for a few minutes. Then take it back out and finish frosting, and no more crumbs will get mixed in. Ta da!
P.S. I have no idea why my pictures have been so grainy/pixelated lately. It's quite bizarre.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dark Chocolate Cake

Last week was my friend/neighbor/home teacher Eric's birthday. So to thank him for being all of those things (yes, even the neighbor thing, because I really do have to borrow cups of milk sometimes, and neighbors are so obliging), and to wish him a happy birthday, I decided to bake him a cake.

I have several cakes on my list of recipes to try, and this one was next. It's a dark chocolate cake recipe I pulled from Martha Stewart's website. After this experiment, I don't think I trust Martha Stewart anymore (there, I said it. Now all the Food People can lynch me). Why? Well, a lot of reasons. Maybe she just doesn't have a dinky basement kitchen with a terrible excuse for an oven at a relatively high altitude. Because I really don't think my exchanging part of the semi-sweet chocolate required for the 100% stuff I found at the farmer's market really should have made that much of a difference, and I don't know what else it could be!
Black label: The Good Stuff.
The batter turned out to be more like dough, even after adding a little extra buttermilk, and beating the mixture as hard as I could (who needs an electric mixer? I'm getting buff!).
Cake Dough?
Anyway, the edges and bottom of each cake layer burned (I made it a three layer cake instead of a two layer one, and no, I don't think that created a problem because the dough was still very stiff). I was quite sad. But I was able to try out a bunch of things that will make your cake look pretty (I think I will do a separate post on those tips, so look for that in the future), and they worked pretty well. I did end up wasting the edges of the cake by cutting them off, though, even though they were burned. I just wish that hadn't happened, especially after I spent the money on the chocolate (hoo boy).

I'm also trying to find uses for leftover ingredients, so I don't have to waste as much. I have a whole half carton of buttermilk left (pancakes? waffles? biscuits?) and a ton of frosting (cupcakes? cake?), so that should be fun for me :)

If you're curious about how the cake ended up tasting, Eric and my other friend Kevin (the two who tried the cake while I was around) say that it is delicious-- way better than boxed mix cake, and you'll need a gallon of milk to get through a small slice. I sort of wish I'd been able to try some, but I think it's weird to ask for part of what you just gave someone. And it was such a tiny cake in the end... But hey! At least I got all that extra frosting, right?
Decorated with almond slivers to make it pretty, and distract you from the fact that it is half the size it's supposed to be.

Dark Chocolate Cake
from Martha Stewart

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans -I'm in the market for free Dutch Process cocoa, just fyi!!! But if you don't have generous donors, go ahead and use regular cocoa, that's what I did
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted -Or mix in some darker stuff if you can find it, and if you feel up to the richness!
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
Dark Chocolate Ganache (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350. Butter two (or three if you're like me and you wanted a second chance after the other cake) 8-inch round cake pans; dust with cocoa, tapping out excess. Line bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer (or your Governator arm strength), beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition; beat in chocolate and vanilla. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in three parts and buttermilk in two, beginning and ending with flour mixture. -Like I mentioned earlier, I had to add extra buttermilk and my "batter" still turned out like soft bread dough...weird)

Divide batter between prepared pans; smooth tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes -Mine only had to cook for about 30 mins, and like I said, they burned! So keep a close eye on them, especially if your batter ends up like mine did. Cool in pans 15 minutes; run a knife around edge of each pan, and invert cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely. -I usually refrigerate/freeze my cakes pre-frosting for about ten to fifteen minutes so they're nice and firm for the frosting process, but that was probably a bad idea in this case, because the edges got nice and hard-- as in too hard to allow for a cake I was giving to someone else.

Set a rimmed baking sheet upside down on a work surface -Yes, thank you Martha, that seems excessive. But go ahead if you want to. Place one cake on sheet, and spread top with 1/3 of ganache. Place second cake on top, and spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Using two wide metal spatulas, carefully transfer frosted cake to a serving platter.

Dark Chocolate Ganache

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

In a large saucepan, bring 2 cups heavy cream, 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to a boil. Remove from heat; add 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped, and let stand, without stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk just until combined. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until spreadable, about 1 hour. -You can pop it in the freezer to speed up the process, but make sure you keep a VERY CLOSE eye on it so it doesn't get too hard, especially around the edges. This WILL happen. Trust me. If you neglected it (hum...like me...) and it gets a bit too hard, let it sit out for a while, or maybe put it in a warm area until it softens. But don't let it soften too much, or you've begun a vicious cycle.

P.S. Please pardon the grainy pictures. Even with my super-fancy $100 Cosco camera that serves me so well, I live in a basement with no light, and it was after dark anyway. So there.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last night we were all hanging out at my sister Megan's, and she made these de-licious pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (way better than store bought, although maybe not as big) in honor of fall. And since I haven't actually convinced anyone to actually be a guest blogger, here is simply the recipe.

Pumpkin Cookies
from Megan, who got it from her old friend Candice

1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin (plain canned or smooth pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie mix!)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour

optional: chocolate chips

Cream shortening, sugar, vanilla and eggs. Add pumpkin. Mix dry ingredients and add to pumpkin mixture. If desired, add chocolate chips.
Pumpkin and chocolate
Drop onto cookie sheet with spoon or size 40 ice cream scoop.
Sweet-smelling dough balls
Bake at 350 F for 10 to 15 minutes. This recipe works fine at high altitudes.
Golden.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Strawberry Thyme Shortbread Cookies

I've been wanting to make these cookies for over a year, but never got around to it because it involves something I've never done before, and frankly was afraid wouldn't work for me-- drying strawberries. It sounds easy enough, right? Well, it wasn't. And it didn't turn out the way it was supposed to. But I went ahead and used them in the dough anyway, even though it was more a strawberry mush, rather than the dried strawberry chips I was expecting.
The ingredients

Also, I'd like you to know that it requires a lot of patience to pull fresh thyme leaves off without getting any stem (nobody likes to be picking sticks out of their teeth). Yes.
Thyme twigs

This blog is all about making do with what you have sometimes, and this recipe was no exception. I used a cup and plastic wrap to roll out the dough, since I have no rolling pin to speak of (though I have mentioned I'm in the market for a nice French one).
Waiting to be rolled out

Since I don't own a cookie cutter (and may not until years from now, unless it's in a goofy shape like a ghost maybe), I tried all number of lids in different sizes until finding that the lid to the cooking spray actually worked perfectly. It even had a tiny hole in the top to vent the air as I pushed down into the dough.
Cutting cookies (notice the outlines of all the other lid cutouts I tried...)


Chilling the dough

Anyway, I'm glad I finally made these, my kitchen smells like buttery spice and my fingers smell like thyme.

Dried Strawberries and Thyme Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies (depending on the size of your cutter)

1 cup strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
1 stick butter (113gr) butter at room temperature
1/4 cup (50gr) sugar
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups (188gr) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
pinch of salt
1/2 tablespoon of milk

Preheat your oven to 250F.

Place the strawberry slices in one single layer on a parchment paper line baking sheet and let them dry in the oven for about one hour. Let them cool completely. Chop the dried slices in small pieces and set aside. (I was out of parchment paper and had to use tin foil instead. Maybe that was part of the problem? But still, they shouldn't have been mushy...)

Turn the oven to 350F.

In a stand mixer (or by hand, this dough is very easy to mix), beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour, thyme, dried strawberries, pinch of salt and the milk and beat until the ingredients are just started to come together.

Stop the mixer and finish mixing the dough with your hands on a work surface.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out cookies with your desired cookie cutter and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until just golden brown around the edges.

Supposed to be good with Strawberry Ice Cream.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gluten-Free Expo

Next weekend is the Gluten Free Expo. I want to go, because since my challenge last year, I've been interested in solving the mystery that turned out to be Gluten-Free Cooking. There will be demonstrations and free samples, and I think it will be fun!
Would anyone be interested in attending with me? $6 only.


Monday, September 20, 2010

A Wonky Sort of Cake

For Megan's birthday, I made her a chocolate peanut butter cake-- or rather, a chocolate sour cream cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting and a chocolate peanut butter glaze. Man, that sounds cool. Anyway, it turned out tasting better than it looked, for many reasons, but OH it was delicious. Even the aforementioned sister (who actually loves dark chocolate, but doesn't much care for cake...I was wrong) loved it.
Caaaaake....
Anyway, it was my first three-layered cake, which is really no excuse for the shape, but rather because I didn't have a third cake pan, so I used a Marie Callender's pie tin for the top layer. Also, since I was making it in a tiny kitchen with limited time (meetings, etc starting at noon, and I was leaving for Megan's right after them), so I sort of sped through the various chilling processes, and my frosting "crumb layer" was actually the only layer (not to say the frosting wasn't piled on thickly anyway). And the glaze chilled for about 4 hours (during all those meetings I mentioned...), which is about 3 and a half hours longer than it needed to, so it was a nice hard chocolate shell (read: a rock-hard shell that had me freaking out a bit and rapping on it with my knuckles to test it's strength), but luckily a ride in the hot car to Springville softened it up and everything was fine in the end. Phew!

It occurred to me that some of you (crazy) people out there might not believe that I actually make the stuff I post, so I tried to take a few "in the process" shots this time. Unfortunately the lighting in our basement kitchen is terrible, so these don't look very good. But I've incorporated them in all the same!
The inner workings.
Now, without further ado, the recipe:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
from Smitten Kitchen, who took it from the book "Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes"

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanut brittle (I skipped this and so did Smitten)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cakepans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper. Somehow when I read this, I read it as "butter and flour the paper," which is something that you do sometimes. Anyway, it didn't really need to be done I suppose, but I like that there was absolutely no stickage, so I'm going to recommend you do it, but it's apparently not necessary.
Pans waiting for batter (minus the pie tin)
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.
Vinegar makes the batter bubble, which makes the cake airy. Cool!
3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (although mine only needed to cook for about 28 minutes, but our oven is a little weird), or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. These cakes are very, very soft. I found them a lot easier to work with after firming them up in the freezer for 30 minutes. They’ll defrost quickly once assembled. You’ll be glad you did this.

4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Making a crumb coat of frosting–a thin layer that binds the dark crumbs to the cake so they don’t show up in the final outer frosting layer–is a great idea for this cake, or any with a dark cake and lighter-colored frosting. Once you “mask” your cake, let it chill for 15 to 30 minutes until firm, then use the remainder of the frosting to create a smooth final coating. Once the cake is fully frosted, it helps to chill it again and let it firm up. The cooler and more set the peanut butter frosting is, the better drip effect you’ll get from the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze.

5. To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Simply pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving. Decorate the top with chopped peanut brittle.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups
I have a few words to say here. First of all, I hate that cream cheese always comes in 8-oz packages, I've yet to see a 10 oz one. So I had to buy two cream cheese things, and I know I'll never use the last of it, because I don't eat that kind of cream cheese. Also, I had tons of frosting leftover, so in theory I could've only gotten 8 oz and it would have been okay (but then, of course, you'd have to alter the amounts of the other ingredients. I'd say probably 3 oz butter, 1/2 c peanut butter (unless you want it more peanut buttery) and maybe 4 1/4 cups of sugar. Of course, I only had about that much sugar anyway, because a certain person living with me loves to eat my food the day I buy it, and I didn't quite have enough sugar. Hmph. But if your frosting is too runny, add more. If you ran out, the chilling will hold it together, so no worries. Also, I must emphasize once again, HAVE YOUR BUTTER (and cream cheese) AT ROOM TEMP before mixing. I know I say this all the time, but it really does make all the difference (especially when making frosting)! Also, if your cream cheese is softened (and not zapped in the microwave), it makes it easier to mix, and the frosting less chunky. Such was my problem, because I didn't have time to let it sit out. Alas.

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out) Hey ho, I had the store brand and I did just fine!

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or broken into pieces, like I love to do
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup I sure wish corn syrup came in smaller containers than they do. Anyone need any?
1/2 cup half-and-half I used heavy whipping cream because it came in a smaller package and was cheaper, but that's just me.
1. In the top of double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

Another note: Smitten says this cake is rich, and I scoffed at that, thinking of how much I love chocolate and all that. But she didn't lie! It seriously is. Mostly it's the frosting that's rich (though incredibly delicious), but still, keep a glass of milk nearby. A very LARGE glass.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Oreo Bonbons

My sister Megan got these for her birthday last week from a friend. She let me try a couple (thank you!) and they were delicious. Megan said other people that tried them said they were too rich after only one, but she was popping them in her mouth over and over. Of course, our family is known for our high tolerance (read: appreciation) for good chocolate, except for one sister, but we won't go there right now. Anyway, keep a glass of milk handy in case you're one of the less tolerant folk out there. Actually, I vote using dark chocolate instead of the milk or semi-sweet (I can't quite tell, the cookie center is so dark) used on the bonbons in this picture.
Oreo Bonbons
from Megan's friend Kristin

1 package Oreos cookies
8 oz cream cheese (left out to get soft)
almond bark or chocolate melted with crisco or butter

1. Grind Oreos in food processor.

2. Add cream cheese until thoroughly mixed. It will look a little like cookie dough.

3. Roll into 1" balls. Freeze one hour.

4. Coat with melted almond bark or chocolate.

5. Store in fridge. Eat. Yum!

Lesson #1

You should probably follow the suggestions that say "keep frozen" and "do not thaw"
Or else don't forget that you left them on the counter to soften them up.

Note: This is not a personal experience, but rather that of my roommate's. Luckily the dough was still good after exploding over night, and we all had a good laugh. And good cinnamon rolls :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Caprese and Adventures with Artisan Salami

Yesterday we were hanging around at my sister and brother-in-law's house, and my other sister and her husband made caprese for us all. I didn't actually have any, because I rather hate the taste of tomatoes (trust me, I know it's sad, especially for someone who loves Italian food), but they looked delicious, and were super easy to make.
You slice the tomatoes and sprinkle ground thyme, salt, and pepper onto the slices. Then you place a leaf of fresh basil on top of the spiced tomatoes, and finally place a mozzarella ball (they come in a little tub you can get in the cheese section at your grocery store) on top of it all. Done!
Also last night, we attempted to eat some of the artisan salami I'd gotten for free from Creminelli for taking a survey on their packaging. I was actually really excited. Now, to be honest, I eat very little meat for health reasons, but I was willing to try this salami. I mean, really, how often do you get to sample artisan salami? That's right.
Cacciatore, Sopressata, and Wild Boar salamis
So I opened the package and was a little surprised to see two hard white blobs connected with string. Salami, what?
Then my sister Megan piped in and reminded me about a guy she'd seen on tv (and told me about only a few days before) who made "fancy" meats, and left them in a room to be covered in mold, because that made them fancier. So I ran to the computer to see if I could find anything that would shed some light on how to eat the "meat" I'd been given. I went to the Creminelli website and read about how their excessively fine meats were made in the Italian tradition (read with a stuffy voice and wave your hand around in a sophisticated manner), and that the moldy casing could be removed simply by allowing the meat to rest at room temperature for about twenty minutes, then cut off the tip and slice down the edge, peeling the casing as you went. All well and good, but when I went back downstairs and attempted this, the white "casing" could not be persuaded to separate from the rest of the meat. I also discovered that while I was researching, Megan had eaten a bit of the meat (I don't think she ever told me how it tasted), white mold included, much to my amazement, despite the fact that the "fancy" meat guy on tv had served his meat moldy, with the expectation that consumers would eat that part also. Yuck. I tried to convince my niece and nephew that they didn't need to eat any moldy meat, despite the fact that Mommy had just done so. The smell of very old gym shoes began to permeate the air. I stopped sawing at the meat and sniffed at the white powder rubbing off on my fingers. Yes, it was indeed eau de gym shoe. Needless to say, I was frustrated and a little put out that we didn't get to try any artisan salami, and it all ended up in the trash. Despite Creminelli's insistance that their artisan salami never goes bad, I am convinced that I got a bad bunch. Otherwise, how can people eat that? Call me uncultured, but Gross. Capital G.

Sorbet...As Promised!

This summer, I constantly craved fruity ice cream. I never actually got any at the time I was craving it, but that's okay. I read up on sorbets, and the importance of the balance between water and sugar in your sorbet, so that it isn't too icy or too sticky, but just right on all accounts. I looked around for a berry sorbet recipe I could make, but most of them called for various types of alcohol (because alcohol lowers the freezing point and keeps it from getting too icy), and since it wouldn't be cooked (and therefore burned off), I kept looking for an alcohol-free one. I finally found one from a blog called The Hungry Mouse. I substituted raspberries for the blackberries, and made it when I was visiting my parents in California (they have an ice cream maker, and I, alas, do not). The prognosis? So delicious. But very expensive to make, so I'd recommend acquiring berries from a local vine if possible (free!). But definitely make it, it's very easy and very tasty.


Raspberry Sorbet
from the Hungry Mouse (more and more detailed pictures of each step on here)

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup water
24 oz. fresh blackberries
2 Tbls. fresh lemon juice

1. Combine sugar and water in medium-sized saucepan.

2. Set the pot on the stove over high heat. Whisk occasionally until the sugar dissolves.

3. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let it boil for about 2 minutes, just to be sure that all the sugar is dissolved.

4. Remove the pot from the heat. Cool the mixture to room temperature, then put it in the fridge or freezer and chill it completely through.

5. When your simple syrup is completely chilled, you’re ready to make your sorbet. Grab your blackberries/raspberries/whatever and pick through them to get rid of any that are bruised or moldy or whatever.

6. Put about half of the berries in the blender and
about half of the chilled simple syrup.

7. Puree on high for about 30 seconds, or until the berries are completely liquified.

8. Strain the berry mixture.
Set a strainer over a large bowl. Pour the berry mixture through the strainer.

9. It’ll be fairly thick and there will be lots of seeds, so stir it with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to push it through.
Push the berry pulp through the strainer with your spatula to squeeze out the last of the liquid.

10. Blend and strain the remaining blackberries and simple syrup. Then pour the lemon juice into the strained mixture. Stir to combine.

11. Because you chilled the simple syrup, your mixture should still be fairly cold. Pour it into your ice cream maker. Process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Hungry Mouse says for their Cuisinart model, that means processing for about 25 minutes. For whatever model my parents have, it was closer to 40.

12. As the mixture processes, it’ll get thicker.
When it’s done, it should be about the texture of soft ice cream.

13. Transfer it to a freezer-safe container. A loaf bread pan works very well.

14. Smooth out the surface. Press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface, then pinch it tight around the edges of the pan. Put into the freezer for at least few hours (ideally, overnight), until it’s completely frozen. It should be firm, but still very scoopable. If it's still soft and mooshy on the inside, like mine was, let it freeze a bit longer, unless you have hungry family members breathing down your necks, wanting their fruity frozen dessert.