March 31, 2010

On passover pies and some baking gospel.

Posted in Baking, Holidays, Pie, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:06 pm by Dani

It all began saturday. I was babysitting for a family I’ve worked for before. Babysitting is a great gig–good pay, in cash, and (depending on how pleasant the family is) you get dinner out of it too. Sure, usually it’s the other half of the grilled cheese the kid wanted but didn’t end up eating, but still. And hey, I like grilled cheese.

Grilled Cheese

Yum. I mean, really. YUM.

I arrive at this home, and the mother opens the door. Once pleasantries were exchanged, we wandered into the kitchen where a huge paper bag was sitting on the table. She says to me, “You like to bake, right? [I assume she’s seen me facebook about baking] Well I made this really great almond pie and it was a huge hit. The recipe is on facebook, and here are all the ingredients.” I look inside the bag, and lo and behold: everything I need to make a pie! She included pre-made crusts (2 of them), almonds, sugar, corn syrup, and honey. She also said that before I leave I should take butter out of the fridge too. Wow.

Amazing, right? So thoughtful. Now I’m really excited to make this pie except….it’s passover! Crusts are NOT kosher for passover. Before I’ve even put my purse down I’ve started thinking about how to work around this. Sure, there’s corn syrup in the pie, but not all jews avoid corn syrup. And anyway, I can substitute honey or sugar water if I’m baking for a jew-crowd. But this crust thing was a problem.

Well, I figured the crust out, and my sister had a baby shower to which I could bring the pie. I had all the ingredients! The trifecta of baking is complete!

Lets review:

THE TRIFECTA OF BAKING:

1. Have somewhere to bring the completed product. It’s no good making a beautiful cake if no one is going to eat it. Have some event to bring it to. Not that I’m not guilty of aimless baking from time to time…but this is why I LOVE holidays!

2. Have a plan (or have your recipe). Know what you’re going to make. This is especially true if you’re going to be making something up, or altering something to the extreme. For example, when I made my girl scout cookie cupcakes, I had it all written out. What frostings, what cakes, how many. Everything. I knew exactly what I was going to be changing before I stepped into the kitchen.

3. Have all the ingredients. If you’ve ever been in the middle of a complicated recipe and realized you were an egg short, you know. Never get caught with a missing ingredient once you’ve started. The only exception is if you’ve accounted for this in the planning stage, and you know that something is going to have to rest and you’ll have time to run to the store.

Almond Pie

Almond Pie

Crust:

4-5 sheets matzah

1/3 cup butter, softened

3 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp brandy

1. Preheat oven to 350. Run matzah through a food processor with brandy. Let sit for 5 minutes.

2. Add cocoa and sugar, and mix using food processor. Matzah should be pretty fine, at this point. More coarse than matzah meal, but fine enough to press into a crust. Add softened butter and process until the texture is consistent throughout.

3. Grease an 8″ or 9″ pan, and work the mixture into a crust. it might crumble a little–that’s okay as long as you work it until it holds together. If it really refuses to hold together, add some more butter, just beware adding too much butter prematurely.

4. Bake 10-15 minutes.

Filling:

1 pie crust

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup*

1/3 cup butter melted

1/4 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup sliced almonds toasted

*For passover, 1/2 cup corn syrup can be substituted with 1/2 cup honey or you can heat 1/2 cup water and dissolve 2 tbsp sugar into it. Either way. Just remember that you also have 1/4 cup honey in the recipe, so if you go the honey route it’s a total of 3/4 cup honey.

1. Leave oven at 350 degrees. Mix eggs in large bowl with whisk. Stir in sugar, corn syrup (or substitute), melted butter, honey, and almond extract. Mix well with whisk. Stir in almonds last.

2. Pour mixture into crust. Bake 45 minutes.

3. Optional. Decorate with whipped cream!

Note that during the rest of the year, a pre-made crust will work just fine. I don’t usually use pre-made crusts unless I’m in a rush, but soon I’ll post cookie crust directions! You can make your own graham cracker crusts and it’s really easy.

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March 19, 2010

On themed parties and cupcakes.

Posted in Baking, Cake, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:02 am by Dani

This past weekend, a good friend of mine celebrated her 26th birthday with a little blast-from-the-past party: kindergarten themed! Of course, little ol’ me volunteered, well actually insisted on making the deserts. My original plan was a layer cake: plain yellow cake with chocolate ganache and strawberries. I made 1/3 of a batch of yellow cake to see how it would taste, and was heading out to the market to purchase chocolate, when I saw the cutest little girls in green vests outside my market. That’s right, it’s GIRL SCOUT COOKIE SEASON.

Girl Scouts

Adorable

What a better way to celebrate childhood than with some girl scout cookie themed cupcakes! So here was the plan:

4 types of cupcakes, each in the theme of a girl scout cookie:

  • Tag Along: Chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting
  • Thin Mint: Chocolate cake with mint frosting
  • Lemon Chalet Creme: Yellow cake with lemon frosting
  • Shortbread Trefoils: Yellow cake with sugar vanilla frosting
Cupcakes

Completed Cupcakes

First, the cake. For the yellow I used Paula Deen’s basic 1-2-3-4 cake recipe. This cake recipe is a standard, crowd pleasing southern cake that every Louisiana grandmother makes for her grandchildren’s birthday.

I love Paula Deen’s desserts, even if they are a little butter heavy. This, however, I do not endorse:

But, I digress.

Lets talk cake first:

This is Paula’s recipe. Just a few notes: I made this cake twice, and it seems the key to a moist and fluffy texture is to (1) sift the flour once before you measure it (make sure you sift directly into the measuring cup) and then once you’ve got your 3 cups, sift it again. Also, (2) 6-8 minutes is a minimum creaming time in my opinion. I creamed the butter alone for a good 5 or so minutes with my hand mixer, then for at least 10 more minutes once I added the sugar. THIS REALLY MAKES A DIFFERENCE. Don’t be lazy. My shoulder was only burning a little by the time I finished, but it was worth it (if anyone wants to buy me a stand mixer for my birthday, I’d basically love you forever). Also, I added a little almond extract. I couldn’t taste almond, per se, but it gave it a little indiscernible kick. I poured the batter into a cupcake pan, filling each hole about 2/3 of the way. Cupcakes always cook faster than cakes, so I checked on the cupcakes at 10 minutes, and every few minutes afterwards. Check by inserting and removing a toothpick from the center of a cupcake. When it comes out clean you know it’s done (about 15 minutes cooking time total) and you can remove the cupcakes and let them cool.

Trefoil Cupcake

Trefoil Cupcake = White cake + sugar vanilla frosting

For the chocolate cake I used the recipe on the Kroger Baking Cocoa can. I am personally a big fan of recipes that are found directly on the products. There is an exception: recipes that refer to each ingredient according to brand. It irritates me on principle, and I try to steer clear of these. But the recipes where the only brand is the product on which the recipe is found tend to be great. The makers want to really highlight their ingredient, which means the recipe will taste great, and since the recipes are meant for the average every day grocery shopper they tend to be really simple. So here it goes:

Chocolate Lover’s Cake:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

2 cups sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 sticks margarine (I used butter, also 2 sticks usually means 1 cup, in case your sticks are differently sized)

1/4 cup Kroger Baking Cocoa

1 cup water

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

Blend sugar and flour in a large bowl (I sifted them together). Combine 2

sticks margarine (I used butter), Kroger Baking Cocoa and water in a saucepan: bring quickly to a boil. Pour over flour mixture and mix well. Add buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and baking soda, mix well. Next pour into the cupcake pan, filling each about 3/4 of the way, and baked for about 15 minutes. Do the same process with the toothpick, and be careful not to over cook any of these cakes.

Thin Mint Cupcake

Thin Mint Cupcake = Chocolate cake + mint frosting

Now you’re ready for frosting!