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, voilĂ !

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.