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¡