Friday, December 5, 2008

Lucky girl

Today we have a guest chef, but he's only a guest on the blog. In our kitchen, he is a permanent fixture, often seen chopping, snacking, or stealing cookie dough as I slap his hands away. And although I'm the one with the foodie reputation around here, Ben has a little secret...

He cooks! And he is really good at it!

He usually takes over dinner duty one night a week (and is master of breakfasts on the rare occasion we have something other than cereal), and he doesn't take his dinner duty lightly. No mac and cheese or tuna casserole here. In the summer he is the resident grillmaster and makes a mean chicken breast. But he also has a secret signature steak rub, makes the most delicious Chicken Monterey ever, and will go on epicurious to try new recipes when he needs ideas. Swoon...

One of my recent favorites from Ben's dinner nights is Lentil and Roasted Garlic Soup with Seared Steak.

This soup is perfect for us. It's got lentils and sweet potatoes (mmm, sweet sweet potatoes) and it's topped with steak for the carnivores. I like mine sans steak, but I usually can't help sneaking a slice or two because it just looks so good.

We've changed the recipe slightly because buying garlic olive oil is easier than making it, and spinach is much more readily available to us than kale, but no matter what this soup reduces me to a blubbering happy mess.

Lentil and Roasted Garlic Soup with Seared Steak, adapted from Bon Appétit, March 2006

* 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon garlic olive oil
* 1 medium leek (white and green parts only), thinly sliced
* 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
* 7 cups (or more) vegetable broth
* 3 tablespoons soy sauce
* 3/4 cup red lentils
* 1 1/4 pounds yams (red-skinned sweet potatoes), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
* 12 ounces spinach
* 1 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-pound flank steak

* 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
* Chopped fresh parsley


Heat oven to 375. Drizzle olive oil on garlic and wrap well in foil. Roast for about an hour, until soft and delicious. Squeeze roasted cloves out of their skin, into a bowl.

Heat 1/4 cup garlic oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add leek and sage. Cook until leek is soft, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.

Add 7 cups vegetable broth, soy sauce and lentils to pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until lentils are almost tender, about 15 minutes. Add yams and garlic and cook until yams are tender, adding more broth by 1/2 cupfuls as needed to cover vegetables, about 10 minutes. Add spinach to soup. Simmer until spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon garlic oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper. Place steak in skillet and cook until brown and cooked to desired doneness, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to cutting board; let stand 10 minutes. Thinly slice steak.

Divide soup among 6 bowls. Arrange sliced steak atop soup. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hello, blog readers! Just wanted to mention that I am once again hosting a team for Baking Gals and this month we are sending treats to Steven, a young Marine who is deployed to Iraq. You should head over to the Baking Gals website and sign up so you, too, can send cookies, candy, or whatever to our troops!

It's fun! It's tasty! It makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside!

And for those of you who come to the blog just to look at the pictures, here are some cupcakes for you:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sometimes you don't wanna know

So, let's talk about Paula Deen for a minute. If you are not familiar with Paula Deen, she is a personality on the Food Network (and beyond) and famous for her southern home cookin'. And in her case, this means everything that she makes has a big heap of butter, mayo, or cheese added to it and she is not ashamed to fry things. Often her recipes look delicious, but...

Let me present to you a series of self portraits to illustrate my typical reactions to a Paula Deen recipe.

"Oooooh, that looks goooood."

"Oh my god. How much butter? Oh noooo."

"Errr, is this a good idea? Really?"

And then most of the time I just walk away, shaking my head and wondering how Paula is still alive.

Other times I get sucked in. Like with this Brown Sugar Pound Cake I found in my daily perusal of food blogs. I had to make it. It called my name. Actually, I think it called Ben's name. He's a sucker for things like brown sugar and caramel and when I saw the picture of this cake, all I could think was "Oooh, Ben might like that". So I gathered my arsenal of heart stoppers and got to mixin' and bakin'.

Now, I'm a believer in not knowing what goes into the most delicious foods. Like hot dogs. I know it's bad, but I don't wanna know. Don't wanna know what's in it, how it's made, how bad it is for me. Because if I don't know, it doesn't matter, and I can just enjoy. If you want to want to just savor the photo and the thought of this cake, stop here and gaze at the dripping sugary frosting and take a few minutes and dream happy cake dreams.

But if you want to know what made me say, "Oh my gahhhh, Paula Deen!" check this out:

Yes, that's 2 sticks of butter AND 1/2 cup of shortening. And a cup of granulated sugar and a whole box of brown sugar. Oh, and 5 eggs, just for fun. And that doesn't even count the 3 more cups of sugar and stick of butter in the frosting. Arrggg... arteries clogging, heart speeding up, and... done. But, with all that bad stuff it's bound to be absolutely delicious, yes? Yes.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake

Adapted from Paula Deen’s “The Lady & Sons Just Desserts”


* 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
* 1/2 cup shortening
* 1 16-ounce box dark brown sugar
* 1 cup granulated sugar
* 5 eggs
* 3 1/2 cups cake flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 cup milk
* 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 1/2 teaspoon salt


* 1 egg, beaten
* 1 cup milk
* 3 cups granulated sugar
* 1/2 cup water, room temperature
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
* 1 teaspoon white vinegar
* 1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and shortening, and add the sugars, 1 cup at a time, continuing to beat. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift flour and baking powder together in another bowl, and add alternately with milk to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Add vanilla and mix well. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 2 hours.

To prepare frosting, mix together egg and milk and set aside. Place 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar in a large heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until melted and brown. Slowly and carefully, add lukewarm water, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar. Mix egg with milk, and stir into sugar mixture. Add butter, vinegar, and salt. Cook to soft-ball stage (236 degrees F on a candy thermometer), stirring constantly. (A small amount dropped in a glass of water will form a soft ball. If you remove it from the water, it will flatten out.) Cool to lukewarm. Beat until creamy and spread on cake.

I sent this to work with Ben today, and he confirmed that it was indeed very heavy, but ohmygoshsogoodespeciallythefrostingmmmmmmm.... So, make this cake. Have a small piece. Savor it. Then have maybe another small piece. And don't think about the butter.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

As you may recall, I have baked in the past for Operation Baking Gals, and in this past round I signed up to host a team to send all sorts of baked goods to one of Ben's colleagues who is currently deployed to Afghanistan. The time period for shipping the treats ended a few days ago, and Dan has already started receiving boxes of goodies.

A big thank you to all the members of Team Sweet Dumpling for all their baking!

Some of the things heading to Afghanistan...

Malt ball and world peace cookies from Dana at The Go Lightly Gourmet

Snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies, and world peace cookies from Leah at All ABout Growing Up

Chocolate chip cookies and candy from Janet

A bunch of cookies from Donna that she baked with a great group of home schooled kids, as well as some hot drink mixes and paperback books.

Chewy cocoa cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, chocolate chip espresso bean cookies from Dalia

Gingerbread bars, chocolate chip cookies, and oatmeal raisin cookies from Katie and Abby from Pittsburgh

And peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies from Sandy at Got Stamps

As for me, I made the infamous Gooey Butter Cake, as well as some Mississippi Mud Bars.

The Gooey Butter Cake was absolutely heart-stoppingly delicious, as always. The Mississippi Mud Bars were pretty good, but the cake layer was a bit dry. I think next time I would make a batch of good, fudgy brownies as the base and add the marshmallows and fudge layers to that. And then I would eat the whole pan. Or maybe just half, because they're pretty sweet and the whole pan could kill me.

Mississippi Mud Bars

Cake Layer
3/4 cup butter
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
3 cups mini marshmallows

Fudge Layer
5 tablespoons butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup pecans roughly chopped

For Cake: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 13"x9" baking pan. In a saucepan over the stove, melt butter on low heat. With a whisk, stir in granulated sugar and cocoa. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla and salt until blended well. With a wooden spoon, stir in flour just until blended. Then, stir in pecans. Spread batter into pan. Bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle marshmallows in an even layer on top of the cake. Put the pan back in the oven and bake about 10 minutes until the marshmallows are golden and puffy. Cool on a wire rack.

For Topping: When cake is cool, make the topping. In a pan, melt butter and chocolate over low heat. Stir frequently until smooth. With a whisk, stir in cocoa and salt. Stir in cream and vanilla. Beat in confectioner's sugar. Pour over the cake and even out. Cool for about 8 minutes. Then, sprinkle the remaining pecans over the fudge topping. Cool completely and cut into bars.

The verdict from the troops?

I think they were happy.

Thank you so much to everyone who baked for Dan! And for those of you who missed out, you can always join in the the next round! Head on over to the Baking Gals website and check it out!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Que j'aime les macarons!

After my first macaron making experience, I've been wanting to make more. Last time I started simple, with vanilla macarons with vanilla buttercream and chocolate ganache. But there are so many possible flavors out there! So many! And so little time, especially with an energy sucking little bundle of joy who doesn't appreciate baking as much as he appreciates formula and being cooed at.

But with Ben home for a few days while Uncle Duck visits, not only do I have an extra mouth to feed treats to, I also have a bit of spare time with with extra baby-adorers in the house. An extra person to eat the treats AND hold the baby? Bake-a-palooza!

I've made several attempts to get Duck's opinion on what would be good to make, but he's pretty easy to please, so just about anything would make him happy. He did, however, mention that the macarons that I made before looked good. Aha! I was off and running with flavor ideas and we all agreed that chocolate macarons, half with vanilla butter cream and half with coffee buttercream, would be a great idea.

What do you think?

I used the same recipe for macarons that I had used before, with the addition of 3 tablespoons Valrhona cocoa to make them extra chocolate-y. And for the buttercream I used this recipe here. I split the recipe in half and scraped a vanilla bean into the vanilla batch and for the coffee flavor I dissolved 1 tablespoon espresso powder in the 1 tablespoon heavy cream that I added in.

And they were good. Fudgy but light and puffy and the buttercream was magnifique.

My mind is already racing toward the next batch and new flavors. Any suggestions?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

When life gives you ice cream...

...make ice cream sandwiches!

Okay, so maybe "life" didn't "give" me ice cream (although I wouldn't ever object to that). Perhaps the real story is that I made ice cream last night because our good friend Duck is visiting and I'm using the presence of an extra person in the house as an excuse to cook, bake, make things as much as possible. An extra mouth to feed? Yay!

After polling my consumers, I decided on white chocolate ice cream with dark chocolate chunks. I was leaning towards cinnamon ice cream, but I think I'm the only person around who thinks that sounds so good. I suggested white chocolate as something different but not too crazy and Ben voted on the addition of dark chocolate chunks. The result:

Despite me cooking the custard about 15 seconds too long and uttering a few curse words in the kitchen as it began to curdle, it turned out amaaaaaazing. Smooth and creamy and so delicious.

After we all tried it and proclaimed it "really good", I saw the dwindling supply of chocolate chip cookies on the kitchen counter.

Me: "Ben, what if I made ice cream sandwiches with the white chocolate ice cream and the leftover cookies?"

Ben: "Mmmmmm."

Me: "It shall be done."

The cookies were great, the ice cream was fantastic, the sandwiches...? We haven't tried them yet, but I have a pretty good feeling about them.

White Chocolate Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Chunks

(adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Dark Chocolate Ganache Ice Cream)
Yields about one quart

* 6 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
* 1 1/2 C heavy cream
* 1 C whole milk
* 4 large egg yolks
* 1/3 C granulated sugar
* 2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

1. Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring 3/4 C of the cream to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit a minute. Using a rubber spatula, slowly stir the cream into the chocolate until smooth.
2. Bring the milk and the remaining cream to a boil. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar together until well blended and slightly thickened. Still whisking, drizzle in about a third of the hot liquid to temper the yolks. While continuing to whisk, slowly pour in the remaining liquid.
3. Pour the custard back into the sauce pan and stir constantly, until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. The temperature should be between 170 and 180 degrees F, but not higher. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the custard into the ganache.
4. Refrigerate the custard until well chilled. Churn the mixture into ice cream following the instructions for your ice cream maker. Mix in the dark chocolate chunks in the last minute of churning. Put ice cream into a container and freeze until firm enough to scoop.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nostalgia: tastes like chocolate

When we were younger, my brother was the baker in the family. He didn't bake much and he didn't bake often, but he was the one whose brownies were requested and swooned over. And they were pretty good, I have to admit. However, as much praise as was lavished upon him and his brownies, I had a few of my own favorite recipes, too.

One of the recipes that I remember making on a regular basis in high school was the famous Neiman-Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies. Mmm, they were good. With about 8 tons of chocolate chips, a large quantity of grated Hershey Bar (and I had a real thing for Hershey Bars back then) and ground oatmeal, there was no way they could be bad. As I've moved on in my baking adventures, however, the recipe was forgotten/abandoned in my quest for newer, better, and different.

These days I have a new favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe that never fails me, but I've read here and there throughout the blogosphere about the Neiman-Marcus cookies and I was struck with a bit of nostalgia, and a longing for grated Hershey Bars. So I dug up the recipe and got to grating.

A few minutes into grating, though, I said to myself, "This bites. Hey! I'll use my food processor!" Ahh, the joys of being all grown up with fancier toys. Within minutes, voilà!

I also have to admit that I did not (gasp!) use a big Hershey Bar. I feel a little guilty and stuff, but the A) cookie making was a last minute decision and I don't keep Hershey Bars around the house, B) Hershey Bars are hard to come by in the Netherlands, and I could have gotten one at the commissary but that's a half hour away and generally more trouble than it's worth, and C) We had a couple bars of Ritter Milk Chocolate in the freezer and it is so so good. So, Ritter it was.

I also departed from the original recipe a little bit (I feel so ashamed! I couldn't admit any of this to my 10 years younger self! She would call me a snob!) by using chopping up some Ritter Dark Chocolate instead of using chocolate chips, because I never use chips anymore unless I can find fancy snooty gourmet ones.

Oh, and I chopped up some earless chocolate bunnies I found in the freezer because I was a little short on chocolate bars. They had been living there since Easter and I thought it was their time.

So with my food processed oats and chocolate and my snooty chocolate chunks, I set to work. But there was one more difference in my cookie baking adventure now compared to the good old days. These days I have assistants, an entourage if you will:

Not a one of them is very helpful in the kitchen, but they do enjoy the music I play while baking and the dancing around the kitchen. They might enjoy it more if I shared the cookies with them, but they can eat my cookies once they learned to grate chocolate bars for me.

The final cookie result...

And were they as good as I remembered?

I'd answer you but my mouth is full of cookies.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

She works hard for the money

Do you know what this is?

Here, I'll make it easier for you with multiple choice.

That is:
A) a cake, duh.
B) delicious.
C) my first paid baked good order.
D) All of the above

Correct answer: D

That's right, not only is it a delicious cake, someone actually PAID me to bake it. How cool is that? I'm going to frame my 20 euros as I'm on my way to being the Donald Trump of the baking world!

Ben called me on Thursday morning from work and informed me that I'm now famous. Huh? A woman that he works with (who doesn't even eat the treats that I send with him to work each week) came to him in a slight panic and explained that her grandson's birthday was the day before and she was wondering if I could bake a cake by the next day. Apparently she knew of my baking reputation and thinks my baked goods are gorgeous. Sweet.

So Ben called to ask. Hmmm. My previous plan had involved sitting at home with Wesley, watching some Sex and the City and relaxing a tiny bit because I didn't have to go anywhere or do anything for a change. It was going to be peaceful. Well, peaceful-ish. I do have a tiny baby that sucks all my time and attention. But still.

But baking? For money? I was giddy!

I gave him a bunch of cake options and she picked Caramel Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting from Cottage Living. I left of the pecan praline because I just didn't want it on there, and I decorated it with a milk chocolate caramel buttercream.


Caramel Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
MAKES: 1 (9-inch) 2-layer cake
PREP: 45 minutes
CHILL: 4 hours or overnight
BAKE: 35 to 40 minutes

3 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups light brown sugar, divided
1 1/4 cups butter, softened and divided
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1/2 cup evaporated milk
Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
Garnish: Pecan Praline

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans; line with lightly greased parchment or wax paper.

2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Place 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, 1/4 cup light brown sugar, and 1 cup butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed 5 minutes or until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture and 1 cup milk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating at low speed after each addition. Pour into prepared pans; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire rack. Place 1 layer on a cake plate.

3. Combine 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, evaporated milk, and 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cook (without stirring) until a candy thermometer registers 238°. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl, and beat 3 minutes or until thickened and easy to spread. Quickly spread filling over cake layer on plate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; chill 15 minutes or until set.

4. Spread a thin layer of Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting over filling. Top with second layer. Frost cake. Chill 20 minutes or until frosting sets, then cover and chill 4 hours or overnight. Let stand 10 minutes at room temperature before serving. Garnish, if desired.

Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
PREP: 5 minutes
CHILL: 35 minutes
COOK: 5 minutes

1/4 cup light brown sugar
10 tablespoons butter, divided
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of salt
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar

1. Melt brown sugar and 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat. Whisk in cream; blend well. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl. Cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

2. Place remaining 6 tablespoons butter and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth. Beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer running, slowly pour in cooled brown sugar mixture; beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating well after each addition until completely smooth. Chill slightly for a firmer texture, stirring occasionally.

Ellen's Chocolate Caramel Buttercream

1/3 cup cream
1/3 cup caramel bits, or chopped caramel candies
3 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa

1. Melt caramel with cream in a small saucepan, stirring until smooth. Put chocolate in a bowl and pour hot caramel mixture over it. Let stand 1 minute, and then stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

2. Mix sugar and cocoa in a bowl and set aside.

3. Beat butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Slowly add cooled caramel mixture and beat until smooth and fluffy.

*The frosting was sort of an experiment because I needed something to decorate the cake other than the pecan praline. I was going to make a chocolate ganache frosting, but decided at the last minute that it just wouldn't be quite right with this cake. So this is what I came up with and it was SO good. It was light and fluffy, much like a chocolate mousse. Ben and I both thought it was the best part of the cake. He took the leftover frosting for breakfast yesterday. He said it was lovely with his morning coffee.

Watch out, world. Ellen's got 20 euros in her frosting covered hands and she's off to spend it on baking stuff! My baking empire is growing, one spatula at a time.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes

Ben informed me recently of another bake sale at work and asked if I wanted to make something. Duh! I love bake sales! Free reign to bake as much as I want! No people saying, "Oh, I just can't. I'm getting too fat." And it's for a good cause! So as soon as the words "bake sale" come out of his mouth, my brain starts churning. What can I make? How many things should I make? Mmmm... cupcakes.

I've been wanting to make cupcakes for a while, because I haven't used my mechanical pastry bag nearly as much as I've wanted to. And cupcakes are great bake sale items. They're so pretty and little and tempting and delicious. People love cupcakes. I love cupcakes. Unfortunately, I love them so much I couldn't even begin to narrow down the field of flavors I wanted to explore. So I went to Ben, my baked goods taster and decision making hero.

I have a game that I play with myself when I can't sleep at night, or when I'm on long car trips, or when I'm not listening to people who are talking to me. It involves picking a category like ice cream, cakes, cookies, etc, and inventing new flavors. A while back I shared this game with Ben, and he will play along on occasion. Once he gets into it, he's pretty good. He came up with honey ice cream and several variations on it, which is now one of his favorite things to eat in the whole world.

Me:"So, if you had to come up with a cupcake flavor right now, what would it be?"

Ben:"I don't know..."

Me:"Come on... please? You know, cake flavor, filling, frosting, toppings...?"

Ben:(The wheels begin to turn) "I think I would want chocolate cupcakes. With caramel inside... and vanilla frosting."

Me:"Oooh, that sounds good."

And so it was.

I used Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake, filled the cupcakes with dulce de leche, and then topped them with vanilla frosting and Heath bits.

The verdict? Soooo goooood. Ben especially liked the frosting. I think we could have both eaten with a spoon. Oh, wait, we did do that. But we could have eaten a whole bowl of it if not for those pesky cupcakes waiting to be frosted.

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Fill cups 2/3 full with batter.

3. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

*I got about 24 cupcakes (plus a little left over batter that Ben volunteered to eat with a spoon), and used half of them for the Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes.

Dulce de Leche

1. Pour 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk into top of double-boiler pan. Cover and place over boiling water.

2. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour or until thick and light caramel-colored.

3. Remove from heat and whisk until smooth.

Easy Vanilla Buttercream (from Cooks Illustrated April 2007)

The buttercream frosting can be made ahead and refrigerated; if refrigerated, however, it must stand at room temperature to soften before use. If using a hand-held mixer, increase mixing times significantly (at least 50 percent).

Makes 3 cups


20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2½ cups Confectioners’ sugar (10 ounces)
1/8 tablespoons table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream


1. In standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds.

2. Add confectioners’ sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds.

3. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice.

* I beat my frosting a bit longer than it called for and it was wonderfully fluffy and creamy and delicious. I also used milk instead of cream and it was just fine.

Cupcake assembly

Using a small knife, cut a cone shape out of the top of each cupcake. Set aside. Spoon a bit of dulce de leche into the hole and replace the top of the cupcake. Frost. Don't eat too much of the frosting. Top with toffee bits. Eat lots of cupcakes, or quickly send them off to a bake sale so that you don't go into sugar overload and die a fat and happy death.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Operation Baking Gals - Round 4

If you’ve followed the blog at all you know that I’ve participated twice in Operation Baking Gals, and I’ve had a great time baking treats for deserving troops.

This month, I’m hosting a team! One of Ben’s colleagues is deployed to Afghanistan, and so I’m hosting a team on his behalf. He is a true lover of baked goods, and a genuinely good guy. If you’re interested in joining my team and sending off some treats between Oct 30 and Nov 10, head on over to Baking Gals to check it out and join my team.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cooking with Ben and Ellen, en France!

So, you go to stay with your parents in a lovely little gîte in the Dordogne region of France for a week. It's very relaxing, très beautiful. The region is known for it's foie gras (delicious!), goat cheese (delicious X 2!), and various duck products (Mmm....). It is, however, a little lacking in the nightlife department. What to do, what to do...

We shall do zee cooking en famille!

My love of cooking was passed down to me by two very foodie parents, so it seems only natural that visits with them are celebrations of food, and this visit I referred to more than once as foodapalooza. There were a lot of good meals, wine, cheeses, and desserts. And it was all great, but I thought since we were in France with fellow food lovers, we should take advantage and go all out.

We decided on duck because we're all about using what the area has to offer so after much searching and ooooohing at epicurious, we picked fig balsamic-glazed duck with pearl onion and pear hash with a romaine and mushroom salad on the side and chocolate honey mousse for dessert.

So we headed off the to local canarderie (is that a real french word? Maybe, maybe not) and the supermarché and came back and got to work.

Don't these magrets look merveilleux?

And the pearl onion and pear hash became shallot and pears because, honestly, shallots are always better. Trust me, we voted, and the overwhelming love of shallots in our family won.

The finished product:

As good as a real french bistro, less expensive and more fun!

Zee recipe, pour vous mes amis:

Fig balsamic-glazed duck with pearl onion and pear hash

Bon Appétit - January 2005

Servings: Makes 4 servings.

4 duck breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ripe pears, halved, cored, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 10-ounce bag pearl onions, blanched, peeled, halved
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), boiled until just tender, peeled, cut into 1 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

3/4 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup fig balsamic vinegar

Using small sharp knife, score duck skin in 1-inch-wide grid pattern. Season duck generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add duck; cook about 6 minutes per side for medium. Transfer to cutting board; tent with foil. Discard all but 1/4 cup drippings from skillet. Heat drippings in skillet over high heat. Add pears, onions, and potatoes; sauté until beginning to brown, 5 minutes. Stir in sage; season with salt and pepper. Transfer hash to bowl; cover to keep warm.

Heat same skillet over high heat. Add broth and vinegar; bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Boil until reduced to glaze, about 5 minutes. Season glaze with salt and pepper.

Divide hash among plates. Cut duck into 1/2-inch-thick slices; fan over hash. Drizzle glaze over and serve.

*We used shallots instead of onions, and I made my own fig balsamic vinegar by soaking some figs in vinegar for a while and then pushing it all through a strainer. Don't skip the fig balsamic vinegar! It was soo good that we were practically licking the plates. Okay, I may have actually dipped my finger in it and licked it once or twice, but that can be our secret, oui?

And let's not forget the dessert!

When we make this at home, it's the super-easiest mousse ever and so so delicious. Here, without a mixer, it's not quite as easy

But we all worked our arms on the whipped cream and found that it is still delicious, especially with a dollop of crème fraîche and a drizzle of honey. Mmmm!

Bon appétit¡

Monday, September 29, 2008

Supporting the troops times two

It's been a very busy baking week for me and a fattening week for soldiers everywhere. Sunday afternoon in the Sweet Dumpling kitchen there was a full scale battle being waged.

In corner number one, we have Bake Sale.

My mission: bake up as many treats as I can to send to work with Ben for a bake sale for his unit.

In corner number two, Operation Baking Gals.

This week is Round 3 for bakers all over to send treats off to deployed service members to brighten their day and say thank you (because what better way to make someone feel good than with boxes upon boxes of baked goods?).

I couldn't say no to either cause. So, it was time to get down and dirty (and chocolately, buttery, and sticky) in the kitchen. After much flipping through cookbooks and browsing my favorite food blogs, muttering to myself, smacking my lips and saying "Ooooh, that looks so good" more than a few times, I narrowed it down to three recipes that I would bake and then split between the two causes.

First, we had Brrrrr-ownies from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

and Coconut Caramel Pecan Shortbread that made me want to lick the screen over at Vanilla Sugar

But they weren't the stars of the show. Oh no. That honor goes to my very special Gooey Butter Cake. Oh yes, you heard me right. Gooey. Butter. Cake.

This is the one recipe I have that guarantees to make everyone in its path stop and melt into a puddle of "ohmygahhhitssogoodwhatisitsogoodsogoodahhhh". It will also probably be the cause of many cases of heart disease among my friends and family, so if you're watching what you eat, just plug your ears, close your eyes, and ignore how insanely bad for you these little slices of deliciousness are. And have another piece. At least you'll die fat and happy.

So here's the recipe. I tend to think of it as my secret weapon, but I've shared it so much already, and it's so easy to google, that I might as well put it out there. Hopefully my biggest fans won't read this and discover how insanely easy it is to make.

Gooey Butter Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 box yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1 - 8 oz. package of cream cheese
1/2 t almond extract
4 cups of confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease one 9x13 cake pan.

Melt butter. Empty cake mix into a large bowl. Stir melted butter, along with one egg, into the cake mix. Press mixture into pan.

In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, almond extract, confectioners sugar and the remaining two eggs. Beat for three minutes with an electric mixer set on medium high speed. Spread over top of the cake mixture in the pan.

Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown on top. Allow cake to cool. Eat. Eat some more. Mmmm. So good.

I know already that all three treats were quickly devoured at the bake sale, and I hope the troops on the receiving end of Operation Baking Gals enjoy them as much as the troops here did!