April 7, 2010

On 2 kinds of truffles.

Posted in Baking, Bite-Sized, No-Bake, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:42 pm by Dani

About a month ago I made truffles for a friend’s birthday party. They were a smash hit, and I highly recommend making them for any event. They’re another example of a food that looks more impressive than it actually is. I didn’t alter the recipes when I made them, with the exception of excluding nuts, and I can’t imagine anything making them any better. So without further ado, the truffle recipes:

Alton Brown’s Chocolate Truffles:

(Note: This yields about 20 truffles, depending on how big you make them.)

10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

3 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon light corn syrup (I used dark and it still came out great)

1/4 cup brandy (I used chocolate liqueur once, and it didn’t taste as good. Stick with brandy.)

1. Place the 10 ounces of chocolate and butter in a medium size glass mixing bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Remove and stir, and repeat this process 1 more time. Set aside.

2. Heat the heavy cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the melted chocolate mixture; let stand for 2 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, stir gently until all chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth and creamy. Gently stir in the brandy (don’t be worried if it doesn’t combine easily. Water into fat = resistance. Just keep stirring).

3. Pour the mixture into an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

4. Using a melon baller, scoop chocolate onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

5. While its in the fridge, you’ll be prepping your work station for coating the truffles, but we’ll talk about that after I present the recipe for the next set of truffles.

The next type of truffles are….

Paula Deen’s Cookie Dough Truffles:

Note: this makes a whole heaping lot of truffles. The recipe says 5 dozen, but mine were a bit smaller so I easily had 75 truffles, even after munching on the batter prematurely. Keep this in mind and scale down accordingly.

1/2 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cup all-purpose flour

1   (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup semisweet mini chocolate morsels

1 cup finely chopped pecans (I excluded these)

1. In a large bowl cream butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy (5-10 min).

2. Add vanilla. Gradually beat in flour and add milk. Add chocolate morsels and pecans (or just morsels, if you’re me), mixing well. Shape into 1-inch balls. Place on waxed paper; chill 2 hours.

Now lets talk about coating truffles

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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.

March 30, 2010

On salvaging failures.

Posted in Baking, Cake, Holidays, Misc Musings, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:36 pm by Dani

This is the story of a cake. This is the story of an inedible, nasty cake. This is the story of making a bad cake good. This is a cake rehab story. So it goes.

Cake

My mommy’s birthday is on Wednesday, so for the passover seder sunday night (we did it a night early) she requested I make her a layer chocolate-strawberry cake. Easy thing for her to ask for; not so easy for me to produce. I spent days trying to find a cake recipe that worked, but when sunday came around, I had nothing. So I used the recipe on the potato starch box, which was a very last minute decision. It was also a complete failure.

It was extremely dry. I took a bite of the pre-assembled cake and I ran straight for a glass of milk, resisting the urge to drink straight out of the carton. My throat was on FIRE. I DO NOT recommend this recipe. I know I know, passover cakes are always dry. Well, use the boxed mix then. Don’t waste your time on a from-scratch cake that’s going to be gross anyway. Or if you have a great passover chocolate cake recipe, leave it for me in a comment.

“So,” you ask, “what did you do? Time was running out, you needed a cake, and all you had was a dry, spongey, brown block. How on EARTH did you salvage this atrocity???”

I couldn’t help thinking about the mexican favorite: Tres Leches cake. It is the polar opposite of my dry, gross, THING. What makes it unique is that a mixture of evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream is poured all over the cake, super saturating it.

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake. This is wet, not moist.

Drippy cake was not what I wanted, and condensed milk kind of freaks me out (it’s goopey!), so I did this to save the cake:

1. Combine approx. 1/3 cup whipping cream with 1 cup non-fat milk (or alternatively, 1 1/3 cup whole milk)

2. Fold a 2 layers of paper towel in half, twice, to make a cloth thats 1/4 the size of a standard piece

3. Cut cake so that it will be layers, each about 1/4″ thick

4. Soak paper towel in cream/milk. Squeeze out enough cream/milk so that it’s no longer dripping, but still saturated

5. Dab each layer with saturated paper towel. Don’t skimp, but don’t go overboard either. Make ganache and spread between layers. Skewer to keep stable.

If you’re unsure about the cutting into layers, ganache, or skewering steps, read this post. I talk about the basics of layer cakes. But, for those who are too lazy, I’ll do a quick, concise review at the end of this post. But first: frosting!

I had a multitude of fresh strawberries (and also a lemon tree) so I made Fresh Strawberry Frosting:

1 box confectioner’s sugar

1.5 tbsp unsalted butter

3 strawberries, chopped fine

1 tsp lemon rind (Your’e all thinking, I can just leave about the rind. Don’t. Trust me, it’ll be a million times better)

1/3–1 cup milk/cream/water

Combine all ingredients except milk/cream/water. Beat on high, slowly adding milk, cream, or water until the texture is smooth, yet thick. Tastes like candy! Yum.

In the end, no one knew my cake started out as a big hot dry mess. It wasn’t drippy, and the ganache helped to keep all the milk from sinking to the bottom. From epic failure to success: that’s what I call a good day.

Keep reading for layer cake basics. Aka, click me!

March 23, 2010

On future posts, and also a correction.

Posted in Baking, Celebrities, Misc Musings tagged , , , , , , at 11:32 pm by Dani

First, and most important: I’d like to retract what I said about Gerard Butler being Irish. I just saw a commercial for him appearing on The Ellen Degeneres Show and they discussed that he is SCOTTISH. My bad. Still hot though.

Also, things I’ve already made, with posts coming soon:

  • Donuts (with bacon)
  • Chocolate and Cookie Dough Truffles

Also next week is passover, which means I’m going to be posting some passover-friendly recipes that are AMAZING, and in some cases family recipes. I know I’m going to be making a passover layer cake for my mommy’s birthday, which is going to be a complete experiment since passover cakes tend to be really dense (not at all suitable for layers). We’ll see how that turns out…luckily Costco has some really nice strawberries right now, so if all else fails I’ll make her something strawberry and she’ll be happy.

So stay tuned; there are some exciting things around the corner–I plan on posting the donut shenanigans on thursday.

If you’re looking for some internet entertainment (get your head out of the gutter, I didn’t mean THAT) I suggest you peruse this website. It has nothing to do with anything I’ve talked about on this blog, but they have some cool posts about art that’s going on right now, especially guerilla art and advertising. Modern stuff.

March 21, 2010

On layer cakes and Oreo frosting.

Posted in Baking, Cake, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , at 1:46 am by Dani

A few weeks back I was watching the Good Eats episode entitled “The Art of Darkness III” The first recipe he talks about is for Chocolate Ganache. I had never before realized just how simple ganache is! Just bring together equal parts chocolate and creme. That’s it. No really, I promise. Don’t believe me? Watch it yourself:

That is it; I was hooked. I had to make something with ganache and it had to be immediate. So I went out and bought some prepackaged cake mixes (I’m usually very anti cake mix but the need for instant gratification overpowered the distaste for shortcuts) in white cake and devil’s food cake, a box of confectioner’s sugar, a box of Oreos, Ghiradelli’s 60% Cacoa chocolate chips, and creme. This is the result:

Cake

I'm into making things pretty. I only wish the frosting went on smoother.

What you’ll need:

(2) 8 or 9 inch round springform pans

(1) Serrated knife

(1) Electric Mixer

(2-3) Heavy Duty ziplock bags

(1) Pair Scissors

(1) Knife to spread with

(4) Long skewers

(2) Cake mixes, and any ingredients called for on the boxes

(1) Package confectioner’s sugar

(Approx. 15) Oreos

(10 oz.) Chocolate

(10 oz) Whipping creme

(1/3 cup) butter, room temp

(Approx. 1/4 cup) Milk

Optional: Food Processor, small pot, mixing spoon

1. Prepare both cake mixes, baking each in one of the springform pans. Chill them in the refrigerator.

2. Combine confectioner’s sugar and butter with hand mixer on high, add milk a little at a time until the consistency feels right. I’ve talked about this process before, and you’ll see it again because I LOVE FROSTING.

3. Put 6 Oreos into a ziplock bag, and crush against the counter or with the flat side of a knife. As fun as beating up cookies can be, please refrain from being too aggressive. If the bag breaks it’s not so fun to clean this up.

4. Add Oreos into frosting and set aside. Do not refrigerate.

5. Ganache time. Chop up chocolate either with a knife or food processor. Heat the cream barely to a simmer, and pour it over the chocolate. Let this sit for 2 minutes. As Alton would say, “Just walk away.”

6. If using a food processor, pulse it 2 or 3 times, or until the creme and chocolate are combined completely. If using a spoon to mix, quickly stir until the same blend is achieved.

7. Lets return to the cakes. Use the serrated knife to even out the tops, and slice through the cakes parallel to the bottom of the pans, to create 2 thinner layers out of each cake. I used the Betty Crocker mixes, and they held together great.

8. Pile up the cakes while the ganache it is still warm and liquid-y. Pour about 1/4 of the ganache over the center of the bottom layer, and spread it around, avoiding the outer 1″. Place the second layer over this, and repeat with the 2nd layer, then again with the 3rd. Over the 4th layer also add ganache, but this time spread it all the way out, and also coat the sides of the cake.

Cake Innards

Cake Innards

9. Use the 4 skewers to stab the cake from the top all the way through, evenly spaced, to keep the layers from sliding around as the ganache sets.

10. Refrigerate for a few hours, or until ganache is stiff and cake is solid.

11. Now you can frost the entire cake with your Oreo frosting, and use the rest of the cookies to decorate. I suggest filling a plastic bag with the frosting and cutting of 1/2 inch from the corner, and using this to pipe the frosting over the cake before trying to make it smooth with a knife, and putting the leftover frosting in the last bag and cutting off a much smaller tip to decorate. This is how I decorated, but you can let your imagination run wild.

Top of cake

Stay tuned for my next layer cake: Mommy requested one for her birthday, which happens to be passover. Should be interesting.

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!