Saturday, February 28, 2009

February Daring Bakers: Flourless Chocolate Cake with Pear-Caramel Ice Cream

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was a flourless chocolate cake. I chose to make mine with milk chocolate after hearing reports from some other folks that darker chocolate resulted in somewhat bitter cake. The flavor was tasty, but I unfortunately overbaked the cakes a bit and they ended up a little dry. If you end up making the cakes in a muffin tin, do keep an eye on them--they went from totally uncooked to dry very quickly.

The ice cream I made was from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. I just got a new ice cream maker, and I wanted to make something really different for the challenge. I ended up going with a pear-caramel ice cream, which was easy to make and really delicious. The texture was smooth and both the pear and caramel flavors came through very well.

I topped off the whole thing with Sherry Yard's creamy caramel sauce. This caramel sauce is tangy, creamy, and absolutely delicious! I love her recipes because they are very precise and always come out perfectly. The sauce complemented the chocolate cake and the pear-caramel ice cream very well. Just use a big pot to make it so that when the cream is added, the hot caramel doesn't bubble up over everything.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (adapted from Chef Wan)
Makes 3 muffin-sized cakes

91 grams milk chocolate
29 grams unsalted butter
1 large egg, separated

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water, stirring often, until the chocolate and butter are melted.
2. Set aside the butter and chocolate to cool. Spray three muffin cups with oil.
3. Place the egg white in one medium bowl and the egg yolk in another bowl. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed, being careful not to overmix.
4. With the same beater, beat the egg yolks together briefly to combine.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate and mix to combine.
7. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten, and then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks remain, being careful not to deflate the batter.
8. Divide the batter among the three muffin cups and carefully fill the remaining cups in the pan with about 1/2 inch of water. Place the muffin pan on a larger baking sheet and then put into the oven.
9. Bake until an instant read thermometer reads 140 degrees.

Pear-Caramel Ice Cream
(adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)
Makes a little under 1 pint

1 1/2 largish ripe pears, peeled and cored
90 grams (7 T) sugar
1 cup heavy cream
Pinch salt
A few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Dice the pears into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.
2. Pour the sugar into a large, deep saucepan. Shake the pan to distribute it evenly. Brush down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush.
3. Place the saucepan over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally to keep the sugar from burning. Do not stir. Occasionally, brush down and sugar crystals on the sides of the pan. When the caramel is a deep amber, carefully stir in the pear pieces. The caramel will seize up and harden, but just keep stirring and it will eventually melt again. Cook the pears for about 10 minutes, until cooked through.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in a splash of the cream, being very careful as the caramel may bubble up. Stir in the rest of the cream, along with the salt and lemon juice.
5. Let the mixture cool completely to room temperature, and then puree in a blender until smooth. Force through a strainer into a bowl with a pouring spout. You may want to strain the mixture twice to get it extra smooth.
6. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator until it is completely cooled. Freeze it according to the instructions for your ice cream maker.

Creamy Caramel Sauce (from The Secrets of Bakingby Sherry Yard)

1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 T light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream, heated to 100 degrees
1/4 cup full fat sour cream
1 T sugar
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt

1. Wash and dry your hands. Combine the water, 1 cup sugar, and corn syrup in a large saucepan. Stir them together with your fingers, making sure no lumps of dry sugar remain. Brush down the inside of the pan with a little water.
2. Cover the saucepan and place over medium heat for 4 minutes. Then, remove the lid, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Do not stir. The mixture should be very bubbly. When sugar crystals appear on the side of the pan, brush them down with a clean, wet pastry brush.
3. The bubbles should get larger as the sugar cooks. When the temperature reaches 300 degrees on an instant read thermometer, reduce heat to medium to slow the cooking process. Continue cooking until the caramel reaches 350 degrees, and then remove from the heat and let sit 1 minute, or until the bubbles have subsided.
4. Add the cream very carefully as it will bubble vigorously. Whisk to combine. Vigorously whisk in the sour cream, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. The sauce is tasty warm or cooled, and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Our hosts for February had this to add:
The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Be sure to check out all the other fabulous creations this month on the Daring Bakers Blogroll, linked to at the right.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies

These shortbread-style cookies are unusual but absolutely delicious. The recipe is from Pure Dessert, a cookbook I bought a while ago but never managed to actually bake from for a long time. I finally determined that the time had come, and selected this recipe, which I think was an excellent choice! Although it does have some pricier ingredients that aren't standard in most kitchens (buckwheat flour and cacao nibs), the recipe doesn't use too much of either, leaving you plenty left over for another batch of cookies or a different recipe. Or, if you have access to bulk bins, you can buy just a small amount.

The cacao nibs add a great subtle chocolate crunch to these cookies. They're not as intense as chocolate chips would be, and the small size means it's easy to roll out and slice the cookies. Even with the fancier ingredients, these are still just basically slice-and-bake cookies, which means they're really easy to pull together. The buckwheat makes the texture perfectly tender, and also lends an interesting flavor that will be very strong right after baking but fade over time. When I first tasted the cookies, I thought the buckwheat flavor was a little overpowering, but by the next day, I was totally addicted and couldn't stop eating these!

Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies (from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich)

1 1/4 cups (5.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (3 ounces) buckwheat flour
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cacao nibs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Whisk together the flours in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, and salt until smooth and creamy but not fluffy (about 1 minute). Mix in the nibs and vanilla. Add the flours and mix until just incorporated. Scrape the dough into a mass and, if necessary, knead it with your hands a few times so that everything comes together.
3. Form the dough into a 12 by 2-inch log. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough log into 1/4-inch slices. Place the cookies about 1-1/2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
5. Bake until the cookies are just beginning to color at the edges, 10-14 minutes. Cool on a rack. The cookies are tasty fresh but even better the next day; store cookies up to 1 month in an airtight container.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday: Blueberry Pancakes for One

If you want bacon and eggs, it's easy to make breakfast for one. With sweet breakfasts, it's a little more difficult. Cooking up a whole batch of pancakes for one person is a lot of work and reheated leftovers just don't taste as good later. This recipe is the perfect solution. It makes three medium-large pancakes, the perfect amount for a delicious stack of blueberry pancakes for one person. You can also add some fresh or frozen blueberries if you have them, or use a different blueberry sauce on top.

Blueberry Pancakes for One (inspired by Taste of Home)
Serves 1 (easily doubled or tripled)

1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup blueberry yogurt
1 1/2 tsp vegetable or canola oil, plus more for pan
Butter and Trader Joe's Wild Maine Blueberry Fruit Sauce, to serve

1. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, yogurt, and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
2. Add milk to thin the batter to your desired consistency. I prefer a somewhat thinner batter, but it's up to you.
3. Oil a hot skillet or griddle and use a 1/3 cup measure to pour out the batter onto the skillet, working in batches as needed. Use the back of your measuring cup spread out the batter so the pancake is not too thick.
batches as needed.
4. Wait for bubbles to form and break on top of the pancake, and then flip to cook the other side. Cover cooked pancakes with foil while you cook the remaining batter.
5. Serve with butter and blueberry sauce.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dilly Ricotta Bread

This is a delicious savory bread that's great with some soft goat cheese or a fried egg. The bread has a nice tight crumb that makes it perfect for creamy or liquid-y toppings (like the egg yolk in an over-easy egg). I especially liked it toasted. The dill flavor is subtle but tasty, so feel free to add more if you want a more assertive taste from the dill. Or, you could substitute another fresh herb such as chives. You might also try this with a soft cheese with a more assertive flavor than ricotta; while ricotta made a very tasty loaf, I didn't think it tasted "different" enough from a regular bread to justify the cost of the ricotta cheese.

The technique is an interesting one, pretty much the same as the Rolled Oat and Apple Bread that I posted about a while ago (and from the same cookbook). It's definitely a nice one if you don't have a mixer because it's almost no-knead, and the dough itself is wonderful to work with for the small amount of kneading that there is--nice and soft but not too wet. The recipe also calls for whole-milk cheese, but I couldn't for the life of me find whole-milk ricotta at the store. Does no one eat whole milk dairy anymore?! I had the same problem with finding normal, plain, unflavored, whole-milk yogurt in a non-enormous container the other day. Boo. But, the low-fat variety seemed to work out fine.

Dilly Ricotta Bread (adapted from The Art of Handmade Bread by Dan Leopard)

1 1/4 cups (300 g) water at 68 degrees
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/2 c (125 g) ricotta cheese
2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups (250 g) bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping T very finely chopped fresh dill
1 tsp olive or vegetable oil

1. In a bowl or pitcher, beat together the water and yeast. Wait for the yeast to get bubbly, and then stir in the ricotta cheese. In a large bowl, combine the two flours, salt, and dill. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and stir to form a soft, sticky dough.

2. Rub 1 tsp oil on the work surface (I used a big cutting board) and knead the dough 10 seconds, ending with the dough in a smooth, round ball. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and leave for 10 minutes. Remove and knead once more on the oiled surface, returning the shape to a smooth, round ball. Place it back in the bowl, cover, and leave 1 hour in a warm place.

3. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. Shape the loaf into a baton and lower it neatly into the prepared pan. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until almost doubled in height.

4. Preheat the oven to 410 degrees. Dust the top of the loaf with flour and bake 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 25-30 minutes, or until the top of the loaf is a shiny dark brown and the loaf has come away from the sides of the pan. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

Check out other awesome yeast-y goodies at YeastSpotting (round-up posted every Friday).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Salt and Pepper Cocoa Shortbreads

These are really fantastic little shortbread cookies that just melt in your mouth. The chocolate is just a little fudge-y (especially if you underbake them a teeny bit), and the salt and pepper add something really excellent. They don't taste savory at all--the salt and pepper just add that little je ne sais quoi. While salt is becoming a fairly usual addition to sweet recipes with chocolate or caramel, freshly ground pepper isn't so typical...given how good these cookies are, though, perhaps it should become the next fad! These are tasty just as they are, but I think mixing in some cacao nibs for a little crunch would be excellent as well.

Salt and Pepper Cocoa Shortbreads (from Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 large egg yolk
3/4 tsp fleur de sel or 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Sift the flour and cocoa together and set aside.
2. Beat the butter on medium-low speed until it is soft and smooth. Add the confectioners sugar and continue to beat until the butter is satiny. Add the yolk, salt, pepper, and vanilla and beat until the mixture is smooth. Add the flour-cocoa mixture in three additions, beating on low speed only until each addition is incorporated.
3. Turn the dough out onto a working surface. Roll the dough into a thick log, about 2-inches in diameter. Wrap in wax paper and chill at least 4 hours. The dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for 2 months.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment or aluminum foil.
5. Cut the log into 1/2-inch thick slices and place teh rounds on the baking sheet, leaving a little space between the rounds. Bake for 8-14 minutes, at which point the cookies should be set on top and fairly firm to the touch. A slightly shorter baking time will yield fudgier, softer cookies; a slightly longer baking time will yield crisper, crunchier cookies.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jane's Sourdough Pancakes

These pancakes are amazing: the texture is super light and the flavor is complex and tasty from the sourdough. I first had them at my Aunt Jane's house over Thanksgiving, and finally got around to making them myself. They may just be my favorite pancakes ever! In addition to the excellent flavor, the batter is very thin, resulting in thinner pancakes that are pretty much impossible to undercook in the middle. I'm constantly cursed by pancakes that are burning on the outside while the inside is still totally liquid...this recipe solves all of those problems!

I like these served simply, with a little softened butter and maybe some maple syrup, so that you can really taste the flavor of the pancakes rather than just using them as a vehicle for toppings. These are also pretty good frozen and reheated (in the toaster, until slightly crispy), which definitely isn't true of all pancake recipes. If you like these pancakes, don't forget to check out other awesome yeast-y goodies at YeastSpotting (round-up posted every Friday).

Jane's Sourdough Pancakes

2 cups flour
2 cups water
1/2 cup sourdough starter
Let sit overnight.

Remove 1/2 cup starter and either save it for another use or discard it.

2 T sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 T oil
2 eggs
1/2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 T water

Add all the ingredients except the baking soda to the starter, and mix well. Gently fold in the dissolved baking soda. Bake on a hot griddle or skillet and serve with soft butter and maple syrup.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Maple-Blue Cheese Roasted Banana Squash

I found this terrific recipe on Closet Cooking and the combination of flavors sounded really delicious. In reality, it's not so much a recipe as a complimentary set of ingredients. The squash is simple to cook up, and yet definitely makes for an impressive side dish. All the parts of this dish perfectly complement each other: the tender squash with slightly crispy bits, the creamy and tangy cheese, and the subtle sweetness from the maple syrup.

Just peel and cut up your favorite squash (I used banana squash, but you could use butternut squash or another squash that you prefer). Toss the cubes with olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. Roast the squash in a 400 degree oven until tender and browned. Transfer the squash to a bowl and toss with crumbled blue cheese. Drizzle with a bit of maple syrup, and taste for seasoning (depending on how salty your blue cheese is, you might or might not want to add a bit of salt). Enjoy!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Church Potluck Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I know, I know, who really needs another chocolate chip cookie recipe? But believe me, these babies are really fabulous. Unlike the thicker, doughier cookies that come from the back of a bag of Tollhouse morsels (which are also terrific cookies), these are thin, chewy, and chock full of chocolate chunks. You can, of course, use any mix of chocolates that you enjoy or happen to have on hand. I liked the blend of a really intense bittersweet chocolate and milk chocolate. The bittersweet chocolate gives fabulous flavor but isn't overwhelming, while the milk chocolate adds richness without making the cookie too sweet. These cookies are best the day they are made, as they start to soften pretty quickly.

I called these Church Potluck Chocolate Chip Cookies because, well, that's what I made them for. But, generally, these are really great for bringing to group events since they're already individually portioned and most everyone likes chocolate chip cookies.

Thin and Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies (adapted from Bleeding Espresso, original recipe here)

2 ¼ cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
½ tsp water
2 large eggs
7 oz. milk chocolate, roughly chopped
5 oz. intense bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, water, and vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time.
4. Add flour mixture and mix well. Add the chocolate and mix to combine.
5. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. Do not overbake; take out when just turning golden brown as they will continue to cook a bit after you take them out of the oven and if they’re cooked too long they get quite hard. Cool cookies on a rack.

I'm sending these cookies off to the Cookie Party at the Secret Recipe Club.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Silky Chocolate Pudding

After almost three years of graduate school, I was delighted to discover that our science library has a huge cookbook collection! One of the first books I checked out was The Essence of Chocolate, a book put out by Scharffen Berger chocolates, one of my most favorite brands of chocolate (though I have to admit that I used Ghirardelli in this recipe because it's what I had on hand!). This pudding is really easy to make and delightfully delicious. The texture is silky smooth, as the name implies, and the flavor is intense and chocolate-y. Some cacao nibs sprinkled on top add some nice texture, but the pudding is equally delicious served plain. The original recipe added vanilla at the end; I forgot, but the pudding was still fantastic so add some as you wish.

Since it's so chocolate-y and rich, this would be a perfect dessert for Valentine's Day, though it's simple enough to make anytime and not so rich that it needs to be saved for a special occasion. In a moment of inspiration, I also discovered that it's a pretty amazing ice cream topping as well. Yum!

Silky Chocolate Pudding (adapted from The Essence of Chocolateby John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg)
Serves 3-4

2 T cornstarch
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate (or a combination of semisweet and bittersweet chocolate)
Cacao nibs, to serve (optional)

1. Whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, and salt in the top of a double boiler. Slowly whisk in the milk a little bit at a time to avoid forming lumps.

2. Place the mixture over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl. After 15-20 minutes, when the pudding begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, add the chocolate. Continue whisking for 2-4 minutes until the pudding is smooth and thickened.

3. Strain the pudding into a bowl. Serve warm, or cover with plastic wrap (making sure that the plastic wrap touches the top of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming) and chill 30 minutes or up to 3 days. The pudding is delicious plain or with some cacao nibs sprinkled on top.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

This grapefruit yogurt cake has been adapted by a few bloggers from a recipe of Ina Garten's. I found it on Picky Cook and just had to give it a try since I love yogurt cake and I love grapefruit in baked goods. The result is amazing--awesome grapefruit flavor, perfectly moist from the simple syrup, and topped off with a delicious tangy glaze. The cake is a tad time-consuming since you have to make two glazes, but the results are well worth it. This is the perfect way to enjoy a grapefruit. ;)

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake (adapted from Picky Cook, original here)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plain non-fat yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
zest of three smallish grapefruits
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil

For the simple syrup:
1 T sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (from the grapefruits above)

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (from the grapefruits above)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with soft butter. Line the bottom with parchment paper and grease the parchment. Dust the pan with flour.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, grapefruit zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just incorporated. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it is all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

3. Make the simple syrup while the cake bakes. Pour the grapefruit juice and the sugar into a small pan. Heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

4. When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully remove it from the pan and place on a baking rack set over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the grapefruit-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Allow the cake to cool completely.

5. Make the glaze. Whisk the grapefruit juice and confectioner's sugar together until smooth. Drizzle over the cake.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Playing around with swiss meringue frosting

On Saturday, I posted about a happy hour that I organized with some friends from my PhD program. I came up with new frosting ideas for two of the cupcakes, and both worked out really well. Both are based on this recipe for strawberry buttercream from Martha Stewart. I spent way too long trying to get the original strawberry buttercream recipe to work, which it never did, but the variations below were very tasty. I made a full recipe of the Swiss meringue, divided it it half, and then added in my flavors; you could equally make a full recipe of either flavor by doubling the cream cheese or butter/vanilla bean (to frost about 24 cupcakes) or by making a half recipe of the Swiss meringue (to frost 12 cupcakes)

Swiss Meringue

4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar

Whisk together the egg whites and sugar in the top half of a double boiler. Place over boiling water and whisk constantly until the sugar dissolves and the mixture feels hot to the touch (about 160 degrees on a candy thermometer), being very careful not to cook the eggs.

Scrape into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on medium-high speed until voluminous white peaks form and the meringue is completely cool to the touch.

Hummingbird Cakes with Cream Cheese Meringue Frosting

Cream Cheese Meringue Frosting

1/2 recipe Swiss Meringue (see above)
4 oz. (1/2 package) full fat cream cheese

Allow the cream cheese to come to room temperature. Cut it into about 6-8 small pieces. With the mixer running, add it to the Swiss meringue one piece at a time, waiting until each addition is completely incorporated before adding the next piece.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

1/2 recipe Swiss Meringue (see above)
1 1/2 sticks (12 T) unsalted butter, softened
1 vanilla bean

Cut the butter into small pieces. With the mixer running, add it to the Swiss meringue one piece at a time, waiting until each addition is completely incorporated before adding the next piece.

Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and carefully scrape all the seeds out. Add the seeds to the frosting and beat with the paddle attachment until the frosting is light and fluffy. You can store the frosting in the refrigerator for a couple of days, but bring to room temperature and beat until fluffy before using.

Chocolate Cupcakes (from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)
I realized that I've never actually posted the recipe for these cupcakes on my blog, even though I make them all the time! They're super easy--just one bowl, no need to soften butter, and they bake up perfectly every time.

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c plus 2 T cake flour
1 1/4 c Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 1/2 c sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 large whole eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 c milk
1/2 c plus 2 T vegetable oil
1 1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c warm water

Preheat oven to 350. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the dry ingredients into a big bowl (flours, cocoa, sugar, soda, b. powder, salt). Whisk together; then add the eggs and yolk, milk, oil, vanilla, and water. Beat with electric mixer on low speed until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.

Divide batter among muffin tins, filling each 2/3 of the way full. Bake about 20 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Cool slightly, then remove from tins and cool fully. Makes about 24 cupcakes plus a little to spare.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Go America! Happy Hour

I'm in a PhD program in political science, and American politics is my area of study. This past Friday, four of us so-called "Americanists" got together to host an America-themed happy hour for our department. I did a days-worth of baking (fun, but exhausting...I could never be a professional baker!), and we also had American cheeses (including one of my very favorite cheeses, Humboldt Fog), American wine, and American beer. Here's what I baked:

Red, White, and Blue cupcakes
Hummingbird cupcakes with cream cheese meringue frosting (from the American South)
Martha Stewart's Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla bean buttercream (because Martha Stewart is the ultimate American baker/crafter/decorator/etc.)
Sourdough bread (in honor of San Francisco)
Chocolate chip cookies (invented in Massachusetts, and recipe from San Francisco chef Elizabeth Falkner)

All of these had components that I'd made before because I didn't want to screw everything up for a big crowd! So, I've linked to the original recipes in the list above, and I'll post later in the week about the two new frosting recipes I came up with (both based on a Martha Stewart recipe).

Fellow Americanist Peter and I pose with all the goodies; Devin was taking the photo and John was in search of a cutting board.

These Red, White, and Blue cupcakes were a crowd favorite, and they couldn't have been easier to make. First, I baked up a double recipe of Elinor Klivans' quick vanilla cupcakes (you can use 3 whole eggs in place of the egg and egg yolk when doubling the recipe). After they cooled, I whipped up two cups of heavy cream along with sifted powdered sugar to taste until the cream could hold its shape well. I mounded the whipped cream on the cupcakes and topped them off with fresh raspberries and blueberries.

Here are the cupcakes all packed up and ready to go in my trusty cupcake caddy.

Finally, here's a shot of the sunset from the window of our grad lounge...that's San Francisco in the background. I love living in the Bay Area!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sunflower Bread

This is one of my favorite breads I've made with my sourdough starter. It's nutty, not too dense despite the millet and buckwheat flours, slightly sweet, and absolutely delicious with cheese. Like most of the sourdough breads I've done, the recipe uses both sourdough starter and some commercial yeast, so the rising time is pretty predictable. The final loaf is on the small side (it served five for breakfast along with lots of other food), so if you want a larger loaf, you might want to double the recipe. The bread is pretty heavy on the sunflower seeds, which I liked, but I think you could reduce the amount and still get an excellent loaf.

You can use whatever interesting flours you have on hand to supplement the bread flour. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup millet flour, but let me tell you: if you want some millet flour, just go and buy some. I tried to grind up millet in my food processor, and it took forever to turn into flour. I only managed about 1/4 cup before I gave up, so I supplemented with some buckwheat flour I had on hand, with great results. The original recipe was sort of funny, with a mix of ounces, grams, cups, teaspoons, etc. I just went with the measures given, but if you don't have a scale, just add a large scoop (maybe a scant 1/3 cup-ish) of sourdough starter and adjust for liquid later.

Sunflower Bread (adapted from The Art of Handmade Bread by Dan Lepard)
Makes 1 small loaf

1 1/2 cups (200 g) bread flour (80%)
1/4 cup (25 g) millet flour (10%)
1/4 cup (25 g) buckwheat flour (10%)
1 1/2 cups (200 g) sunflower seeds, lightly toasted (80%)
3/4 tsp fine sea salt (2%)
2 1/2 T honey (20%)
3 1/2 oz. white leaven/sourdough starter (40%)
1 tsp instant yeast
6 T (100g) water at 68 degrees (40%)
Half-and-half, for glazing

In a large bowl, combine the flours with the sunflower seeds and salt. In another bowl or pitcher, beat the leaven with the honey, yeast, and water. Pour the liquid in with the dry ingredients and stir well until evenly combined, soft, and sticky. Add more water or flour as needed. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.

Rub 1 tsp oil on the work surface and knead the dough 10 seconds, ending with the dough in a smooth, round ball. Clean and dry the bowl, and rub lightly with oil. Return dough to bowl and leave for 10 minutes. Remove and knead once more on the oiled surface, returning the shape to a smooth, round ball. Place it back in the bowl, cover, and leave 1 hour in a warm place.

Lightly flour your work surface and shape the dough into a ball. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover with a towel. Allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours, until almost doubled in height.

Preheat the oven to 410 degrees. Brush the loaf generously with half-and-half (or milk, or a beaten egg). Cut a deep cross in the center of the loaf. Bake 25 minutes, or until the loaf is a deep golden brown, feels light in weight, and sounds hollow. (If the bread still isn't done after 30 minutes, lower heat to 375 degrees for the remainder of the baking time.) Cool on a wire rack.

Don't forget to check out other awesome yeast-y goodies at YeastSpotting (round-up posted every Friday).

These fabulous photos are courtesy of my friend Jessie.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Campanelle with Vodka Sauce

I bookmarked this recipe for pasta alla vodka from the Pioneer Woman Cooks last month, and I've been craving it ever since! I finally got around to making it, and I'm so glad I did! The vodka sauce is pretty much the best vodka sauce I've ever had. You can really taste the vodka, but it's not overpowering, and overall the dish is creamy and delicious. (Well, it would pretty much have to be considering what goes into it!) I couldn't find the cute ruffly pasta that Ree used in her dish, but I did find some cute campanelle pasta at the store that worked really well.

The pasta is amazing, and even better, it's really easy to make. The sauce cooks up in less time than it takes the water for the pasta to boil and the pasta to cook, so start the pasta first and then the sauce. If you don't time it perfectly, that's fine--you can either turn off the heat under the sauce and then reheat with the pasta once that's cooked, or hold the pasta in your collander (not in the water as you don't want it to overcook) while you wait for the sauce to finish. This makes a great meal with a simple salad and some good bread.

Campanelle with Vodka Sauce (from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, original recipe here)
Serves 4-5

1 pound campanelle pasta (or another favorite pasta)
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup vodka
1 can tomato puree (15 ounces)
1 cup heavy cream
A generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to serve

1. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the onions and garlic. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes, until nicely softened.
3. Pour in the vodka. Stir and cook for three minutes until slightly reduced. Add the tomato puree and stir to combine.
4. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the heavy cream. Allow to the sauce simmer, being very careful not to overheat. Stir in red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.
5. Add cooked pasta to the sauce, tossing to combine. Splash in a little water if the sauce is too thick. Make sure everything is warmed through, and then serve with more grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Be sure to check out some other delicious pasta recipes at Once Upon a Feast in this week's Presto Pasta Nights round-up, which will be posted this Friday.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

The lemon ricotta cookies from Giada de Laurentiis are soft and delicious. They have an excellent lemon flavor and a perfectly light texture from the ricotta. Giada describes the cookies as being similar to muffin tops, and she's exactly right. The original recipe includes a glaze for the top, but I thought these were plenty sweet enough without it. But if you'd like a slightly dressier, sweeter cookie, go for it by all means (just whisk together some confectioner's sugar with enough lemon juice to make a drizzling consistency). These will keep for a few days, but I think they're best the day they're made. I used Meyer lemons, but I think regular lemons would work just as well.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies (from Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites by Giada de Laurentiis)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
Zest of 1-2 lemons (depending how lemony you like your cookies)
3 T freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

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

3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice and beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.

4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough onto the baking sheets using about 2 T for each cookie. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges.