Category Archives: Dessert

Baking backlog

So for my birthday a few months ago Mr. R gave me this AWESOME new stand mixer.  Man.  How did we ever bake anything without it?  Truly a life changer.

So with the various holidays, weddings and babies I’ve celebrated over the spring (did I mention how busy the spring was?), this thing was put to good use!

On Easter (yes, yes I’ve been that slow with updating), I made a cake inspired by the Washington Post’s peep diorama contest.

If you look real closely and use your imagination, you can kind of see it bears a resemblance to peeps engaged in an Easter egg hunt!  Ha.

I honestly don’t remember what cake recipe I used, but obviously any kind will do.

I will, however, say that with my stand mixer I was able to try a REAL buttercream icing — one that is meringue-based, not just butter and sugar — and let me tell you, I will never go back.  This stuff is like heaven.  And I’m not even a huge cake person.

Here is an overview of the various buttercream icings with a tutorial on Italian buttercream.  I made a Swiss buttercream using this recipe.  Pretty simple with fantastic results.

I also had to give this thing a try on royal icing — which was always a huge pain with just a handheld mixer.  AMAZING difference.  The most beautiful royal icing I have ever seen, with hardly any of the effort of before.  Again, life-changing!

It made these Easter-themed sugar cookies a breeze!  Well…..sorta 😉

I also could not resist making a batch of cookies for the baby shower of a dear family member of mine.  I mean…how cute are they?

Here is my post on baking and decorating sugar cookies with royal icing.  The Wilton website is also a great resource, which is where I got the idea for the teddy bears.  Of course, theirs looks much better than mine!

Tonight I’m going to put the mixer to use again in making pizza dough for my favorite pizza with radicchio and onion-balsamic marmalade.  But this time we’ll cook it on the grill!  Yum, can’t wait!

-R

 

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Classic strawberry shortcake

According to the cookbook “Dishing Up Maryland” by Lucie Snodgrass, from where I have adapted this recipe, “In the South, strawberry shortcake is always made with biscuits rather than sponge cake; in this and many other culinary leanings, Maryland seems to side with the South over the North.”  Truthfully, I can’t imagine it any other way.  I could eat this strawberry shortcake for every meal of the day (but I won’t admit here how much I’ve already indulged in so far this weekend!)

 

Strawberry shorcake
serves six

1/2 cup sugar
2 quarts strawberries, hulled and cut in half
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
1/2 cup half and half
1 pint whipping cream

Optional:  2 stalks rhubarb, diced, 1 tablespoon pectin

While you make the biscuits, macerate the strawberries by sprinkling with 3 T sugar and placing in the fridge for about an hour.

Yesterday, I happened to have some rhubarb on hand so instead of plain strawberries, I made a quick compote by combining the rhubarb and strawberries in a saucepan with the sugar and a dusting of pectin, bringing to a boil and simmering until a nice, saucy consistency.  This was pretty awesome but pure, unadulterated strawberries are good too.

To make the biscuits:  preheat oven to 425.  Whisk together the flour, 3T sugar, baking powder, lemon and salt.  Combine butter in with your hands until mixture is crumbly.

Beat the egg together with the half and half.  Mix into the dry ingredients.  Dough should be very soft and pliable, but should not be so sticky you can not work it.  Add a bit more flour as necessary.

Turn out onto a well-floured surface and roll or press down with your hands to about a 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut into rustic squares and bake them on an ungreased sheet for about 10 minutes, until lightly golden brown.

Whip the cream, about 2T sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla until it forms soft peaks.

Split the biscuits in half and generously spoon strawberries and whipped cream.

Pause and take in this delicious moment.  Summer has begun!

-R

Red velvet cake with cream cheese icing

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Honestly, I’m not much of a cake person but this holiday really does call for for it, no?  Red velvet cakes, enjoying a resurgence of popularity, were popping up all over the internet over the past few weeks, and I had to give it a try. Besides, I needed something to use my 2 pounds of homemade cream cheese…

I’ve made red velvet cupcakes before, but was a little less than satisfied with the results.  I’ve never quite understood the purpose of an artificially red cake with a hint of chocolate, but not enough to actually taste it.  Traditionally, the acidity of the cake ingredients are supposed to react together, bringing out the anthocyanin, a natural red pigment found in chocolate.  Food coloring is almost always used in addition, however.

So I scoured various publications until I came across a recipe that included what I consider a sufficient amount of chocolate.  It deviates some from tradition, but it’s got the essentials.

I was also inspired by this cake decorating tutorial, which seemed simple enough with spectacular results.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting
Recipe from Fine Cooking

For the cake
2 sticks (1 cup) plus 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 (1-lb.) box light brown sugar (about 2-1/4 cups)
3 Tbs. red food coloring
2-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1-3/4 cups buttermilk

For the frosting
1-1/4 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
2-1/2 sticks (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (2-lb.) bag confectioners’ sugar (about 7-1/4 cups)

Preheat oven to 350 and coat 2 cake pans with butter, sprinkling flour on top.

Sift together 3 cups of flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Cream two sticks of butter with brown sugar, vanilla and food coloring, first on low speed to combine, then raise the speed to high until mixture is aerated and pale, about two minutes.

On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, until fully combined.

On low speed, add one-third of the dry ingredients and half of the buttermilk.  When combined, add a second third of the dry ingredients and the remaining buttermilk.  Finally, add the remaining dry ingredients.

Spread batter evenly between the two cake pans and bake for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cream cheese frosting

I followed the basic recipe posted with the cake, but since I was using homemade cream cheese, I had to make some significant adjustments.  Namely, I needed a lot more sugar to compensate for the extra creaminess of my cheese.  Um, a LOT.  I’m kind of embarrassed to even say how much.  And as you can see from my droopy roses, it still was not quite stiff enough to pipe.

So, I would recommend using store-bought cream cheese, or perhaps try the cooked curd method, if you are worried about aesthetics.  But if all you care about is taste, the consistency shouldn’t matter too much — in fact, in my opinion good-tasting icing and decorating icing are kind of mutually exclusive.

Anyway, to make a basic cream cheese frosting, beat the butter, cream cheese and vanilla together until aerated and light, then gradually add the sugar on medium speed until it reaches desired consistency and sweetness.  You can also add a bit of meringue powder to stiffen it up as well.

Cake assembly

Here is a good video tutorial on assembly and frosting a four-layer cake.

Basically, the first thing you want to do is make sure your cakes are even and flat across the top.  Use a long serrated knife to level things out if not.  Reserve any resulting crumbs.

Then, take your serrated knife and draw a line around the side of the cake, to serve as guidance.

Split the cake into two layers along this line you have drawn, reserving any crumbs.

Repeat with the second layer.

Stack each of the four layers on top of one another, with a generous portion of icing between each one. Make sure the cake remains level.

When the cake is stacked, take about a half cup of icing and “spackle” it on to make a crumb layer.  This seals the crumbs of the cake.  It’s okay if some crumbs are visible through this layer.

A cake spatula is a very useful tool for this!

Smooth on more icing on top of the crumb layer to your liking.

Then decorate!

As mentioned above, this icing was NOT conducive to decorating.  The roses just did not want to hold their shape.  I would love to try this again with a stiffer icing, however, because making the roses was not difficult at all.

Making polka dots, drop flowers, stars, leaves or curlicues is actually quite simple with the help of a basic set of Wilton tips and a pastry bag — they’re not too expensive and  can make any simple cake look impressive.  They work great on cupcakes and cookies too.

If you have reserved the crumbs, you can apply them right on the cake.  Or cut it into shapes!

The verdict?

Well, in spite of my early skepticism, and my general lack of enthusiasm for cake — even I will admit this one was pretty good.  It was perfectly moist.  It had a delicate chocolate flavor that did not overwhelm.  And I do love cream cheese frosting, especially when it’s homemade!

I would definitely make this cake again!

-R

 

 

 

Cupcake bake-off

It’s a holiday weekend so why not spend your day off (er, “day on”) by making something fun and delicious?  Yesterday Mr. R and I had a cupcake bake-off, he with a most rich and decadent chocolate ganache recipe, I with a health-ified, veganized version from The Kind Diet.

How would they compare?

Recipe One:  Georgetown Cupcake’s Chocolate Ganache Cupcake

Georgetown Cupcake is the overpriced, over-hyped cupcakery of TLC reality show fame.  Spare the $3 per cupcake and make them in your own kitchen.  If you like chocolate, you need to try these.

They are kind of ridiculously rich, the cake is perfectly moist, and the icing — well, can you really go wrong with ganache?

I won’t bother re-typing the recipe as it is available here, but I will add a few pointers (that I have learned the hard way myself):

-Always use high-quality ingredients.  With cupcakes like these, do you really want to skimp?  Choose the highest-quality vanilla, chocolate and flour possible.
-Always sift dry ingredients together through a fine sieve, no matter what the recipe, before mixing in wet ingredients.
-Check that your leavening agents (baking powder, soda) are as fresh as possible, otherwise you will not get an adequate rise.
-Speaking of which, leaveners don’t necessarily work together arithmetically — don’t assume you can just double or halve recipes to get the same results.  You can try, but I won’t promise anything…
Here is a good post about making ganache icing.

Not gonna lie, these cupcakes are awesome.  But they’re not something you can handle more than every once in a while.  So if you need a chocolate fix but want something a bit lighter, try these:

Recipe two:  Alicia Silverstone’s Favorite Cupcakes

Makes up to 12 cupcakes (made eight for me; I fill them pretty full).

*Note about substitutions: This recipe recommends soy or hemp milk for this recipe, as coconut and almond milks may be too thick, and rice milk too thin.  Non-dairy milks do not react with leaveners in the same way that real milk does, thus the addition of ACV.
**Also note that soy has estrogenic properties and its production is harmful to the environment.  Choose organic soy products if possible and consume in moderation.  Like with cupcakes :).

For the cupcakes:

2/3 cup non-dairy milk of choice
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup agave nectar (honey would also work)
1/3 cup safflower oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch fine sea salt

For the icing:

1/2 cup earth balance butter
1/2 cup agave nectar or honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Optional:  1/2 cup soy milk powder

Preheat oven to 325 and line a muffin tin.

Combine the milk and vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for about five minutes, until it starts to bubble.  Stir mixture if necessary.  Add the agave nectar, oil and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.

Gradually combine the wet and dry ingredients and stir until mixture is smooth and all lumps are gone.

Pour batter into muffin tins and bake for 18-25 minutes, until cupcakes are springy and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting.

To make the icing, cream the butter and agave nectar until very smooth.  Add the vanilla extract.  Gradually add the cocoa powder on low speed.

I found that my frosting was pretty thick at this point, and didn’t really need the soy milk powder, which helps to stiffen the icing.  If yours is quite runny and you want it thicker, add the soy powder gradually until you reach desired consistency.  I ended up adding a couple tablespoons but didn’t need the full 1/2 cup.

Top with some vegan gummies.  Just because they’re fun :).

The results

So how did the vegan cupcakes stand up to the ganache cupcakes?

Well, as it turns out, you can’t really compare the two.  And nor should you.  They serve completely separate purposes.  The vegan cupcakes were surprisingly VERY delicious, but at the end of the day, are an entirely different food than the rich ganache cupcakes.

If you want something sinfully delicious, the ganache recipe is a must.  But if you want to feel slightly less guilty about your indulgence, definitely try the Kind Diet cupcakes — they were surprisingly satisfying and I found myself still craving them when I woke up this morning (yeahhh….I ate one for breakfast, I won’t deny it).  The cake was delicately sweet and moist.  I also like that it makes a small batch.  Do you really need 20 cupcakes sitting in your kitchen, taunting you all week?  No!

But if you’re going to a party and want to impress your friends, bring the ganache :).

-R

Christmas recap

Greetings!  I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday.  As promised, here is a run-down of the recipes, successes and failures of our 2010 Christmas Eve dinner.

Appetizers

For this we just put out a plate of assorted cheeses.  The only thing that required any assembly was brie wrapped in phyllo.  Just stack 4 sheets of thawed phyllo, brushing melted butter between each one, place a round of brie in the center and wrap it together.  I baked this in my toaster oven for about 30 minutes, until brown and crisp.  Top with a fig spread.

Beverage

Beyond the usual beer and wine, I prepared some wassail in the slow cooker several hours before guests began to arrive.  Combine about two parts apple cider to one part cranberry juice — the amounts are not exact and depend on how sweet the juice is.  Just pour a gallon or so of apple cider into your slow cooker or stovetop, and add cranberry juice, tasting after each addition until it is the desired tartness.
Add a few cinnamon sticks, clementine or lemon slices, a bay leaf, a few cloves and balls of allspice.  Use a mulling ball or cheesecloth tied together with kitchen twine to hold the spices.   Simmer for a few hours and serve with some dark rum.

Main course

The centerpiece of this year’s dinner was a classic beef wellington — inspired by this spread in the latest issue of Fine Cooking.  I obviously did not try it but thought the assembly was kind of neat.

It first involves making a madeira sauce.  Mr. R  made the beef stock himself several days earlier.  It is quite simple but you do need to dedicate several hours of simmering on the stovetop, as well as a lot of room in your freezer.  I do think you could make the stock in a large slow cooker, however, if you don’t have the time to attend to a simmering pot all day.

Mr. R also made the paté, crêpes, and puff pastry from scratch.  Puréeing chicken livers is not a task for the faint of heart, but most of the guests were surprised that while they don’t normally enjoy eating internal organs, the paté meshed quite well with the beef.

The crêpes were not difficult to make and can keep several days, stacked between pieces of parchment paper.  They prevent the puff pastry from getting soggy.

Most recipes recommend purchasing frozen puff pastry, but I suppose Mr. R wanted to up the ante.  At the last minute he decided to give making it from scratch a try.  If you’re comfortable working with dough it isn’t hard, but again, it just requires a stretch of several hours to complete.  By layering butter between sheets of flour, the pastry will “puff” up during the baking process as a result of the steam created by the butter.  The butter must be soft enough to work with without melting, so the dough must be chilled for 30-60 minutes between each step.  Here is a video tutorial.

Assembling the beef wellington

The seared beef is wrapped in crêpes that have been spread with paté.

And then that is wrapped in the puff pastry.

It is kind of a two-person job…

The wrapped beef is then cooked according to instructions.

Side courses

I have made orechiette with roasted brussels sprouts and pecans before, and felt it would go well with the rest of our menu.  As before, I used significantly less cream, thinning with stock and wine, but this time I switched out the gorgonzola entirely for parmesan.

I also made mashed parsnips, loosely following this recipe (added some roasted garlic).  I have never cooked with parsnips before but kept hearing about how they are a healthier alternative to potatoes.  They look like white carrots and have a kind of peppery-sweet flavor.

I am not a huge fan of mashed potatoes to begin with, as they are so bland, and rather preferred the more complex flavor of parsnips.  But I guess some are just partial to their potatoes and so this dish didn’t make much of an impression on guests.

Finally, we made some pears stuffed with gorgonzola and hazelnuts, served on a mâche salad.  I thought these tasted good, but more like a dessert to me. They certainly looked pretty on the table, though.

Dessert

The centerpiece of our dessert table was a croquembouche, a traditional french tower of profiteroles (creme puffs) coated with caramel.  It wasn’t difficult but required some techniques that were new to me  — I’d definitely recommend watching the video that goes along with this recipe, which is the one we followed.

The profiteroles were totally different than any kind of sweet I’ve ever made — but I thought they were so cool!  I piped them right on a cookie sheet (didn’t have a half-inch tip so I just used the bag alone) and they magically came out of the oven all puffy.

I filled them with a small tip, and thought it was kind of difficult to gauge how much to fill them.  Luckily this recipe makes plenty of extra profiteroles and so there is room to make mistakes.

Mr. R and I made a bunch of different cookies.  I had been hoping to dedicate some space to each one but I have honestly lost track!  Here are some of the highlights:

Strawberry Tart Cookies — so good with homemade strawberry jam!
–  Rum balls — a hit with the kids, surprisingly

Chocolate chunk cookies with nutella –#4 on this page.  Instead of nutella, which we thought would be too chocolatey, Mr. R pureed hazelnuts until they made a paste.  Delicious!Spicy cheddar thumbprints — #24. These were an awesome savory cookie.

And of course, we served our ginger-pear pie — I really enjoyed it!

So all in all I would say our Christmas dinner was a success — now, however, it is time to detox from the sugar and butter overload and get back into a healthy routine.  Happy holidays to everyone!

-R

 

Day twelve: cherry pie

We are all familiar with that gooey, unnaturally bright red filling made of maraschino cherries, and to be honest, that’s really the only sort of cherry pie I’ve ever known.  So for our final installment of the Twelve Days of Pie, we transformed a classic favorite into something a little more real.

Using frozen cherries kept things simple — this recipe is definitely worth a try.

Ingredients
32 oz frozen cherries, thawed
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons tapioca
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon brandy
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons butter, cut into dice

1 egg beaten with water
Dough for 1 double pie crust

Toss all filling ingredients together except for the butter and set aside.

Roll out bottom crust and press into pan, then spoon in the filling.  Sprinkle diced butter on top.

Roll out top crust, cutting decorative shapes into center to vent if desired with a small cookie cutter.  We used a star shape, it being Christmas and all.

Crimp edges together and brush with egg wash.  Cut slits in top to vent if you did not already cut out shapes.

Bake in an oven preheated to 400 for 25 minutes.  Then turn temperature down to 350 and bake for another 40 or so minutes.

Yum!

I hope everyone enjoyed the Twelve Days of Pie as much as Mr. R and I enjoyed making them!   I must say, however, it will be a while before I want pie again…

Merry Christmas!

-R

Day eleven: ginger-pear pie

Unsurprisingly, pears are a close relative of apples and are one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits.  According to Bill Neal, they are frequently paired with ginger in southern recipes, which “produces a fruit pie that, when following a heavy holiday meal, doesn’t stifle or stuff.”  This pie is intended for dessert after a, uh, let’s say “adventurous” Christmas Eve dinner menu, so let’s hope that will be the case…

Ginger pear pie

Ingredients
6 cups sliced pears, about 2.25 lbs whole
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
Scant 2 tablespoons instant tapioca
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely minced crystallized ginger
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon tangerine or clementine zest
Pie dough for 1 double crust
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Method

Position rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 350.

Peel and slice the pears.  Mr. R. used an apple corer/slicer and then cut each slice in half a second time.  Place in a bowl.

Combine the 1/2 cup sugar, tapioca and salt and sprinkle over the pears.    Add ginger, lemon and tangerine zest.  As clementines are so abundant (and delicious) this time of year, we actually substituted those.  Stir or toss to coat pears completely and set aside while you roll out the dough.

Roll out half of dough and press into pan.  Fill the pan with fruit and drop in some chunks of butter.

Moisten edge of crust and cover with top layer, crimping the edges together.  Brush the top with egg beaten with water, and sprinkle teaspoon of sugar on top.  Cut steam vents.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or so, until crust is a golden brown.

As you can probably guess, this recipe is adapted from Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie.  I’ll let you know how it tastes after tomorrow night!

-R