Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lemon filled Lemon Cupcakes

 Sometimes cupcakes are the best way to tell someone that they are special.  Filled cupcakes are the way to go the extra mile in that regard.  Filled cupcakes from scratch with homemade frosting always do the trick.  These are great for birthdays, parties, and just to say hey, you are awesome.  I urge you to make your lemon curd from scratch.  I have used lemon pie filling from a can for recipes before, but it is nowhere nearly as good as lemon curd from scratch.  After a couple of tries, you will be able to make this stuff in your sleep.  This was my first try with the Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but it was awesome.  You can pile this frosting high on your cupcake and not worry about killing anyone with a sugar overdose.  Its light and fluffy and contrasts nicely with the tart lemon.  It also pipes like a dream.

LEMON CURD FILLED CUPCAKES adapted from Martha Stewart Cupcakes

2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder (my cakes were a tad heavy, I might increase this to 3/4 were I to do it again)
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk (use buttermilk, it neutralizes the baking powder)

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Mix until just incorporated.  Plunk (yes, plunk, this batter is thick) into muffin pan lined with cupcake wrappers.  Fill the wrappers about 3/4 full.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes.

8 egg yolks plus 2 whole eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy pan mix the egg yolks and sugar together.  I read in Rose Levy Beranbaum's book The Cake Bible that mixing the egg yolks and sugar together helps to keep your curd from curdling.  No curdling equals no straining, which is awesome, because I hate straining.  After mixing the egg yolks and sugar together, add the lemon juice and mix together.  Heat over medium heat until mixture thickens to where it coats the back of the spoon.  Do not let the mixture boil or really even almost boil or you will have curdling problems too.

Once the mixture thickens, remove from the heat. Add the butter and stir until melted.  If curdling occurred (i.e. there are little bits of scrambled egg in your curd) strain through a fine mesh strainer.  For a long time I only had a splatter screen, which works but is kind of lame.  A fine mesh strainer is like $5 in the grocery store and makes my life much easier when I curdle my curd.

After straining, mix in the extracts.  If you prefer, you can use the zest from one lemon instead of the lemon extract.  I was out of lemons after the cupcakes so extract it was. The high amount of lemon juice in this curd recipe makes it very lemony with or without extract.

5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt (optional)

Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in a bowl and set over a pan of simmering water.  Cook until the sugar is melted and warm.  You do not want to feel any of the sugar grain when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

Beat the egg/sugar mixture on high speed with whisk attachment until soft peaks form and the mixture cools down.  Switch to paddle attachment if you have one.  Add butter a few tablespoons at time until all the butter is incorporated.  Add the vanilla and beat until smooth.
To assemble:
1. Take cooled cupcake and with a paring knife cut a quarter sized cone out of each cupcake
2. Pipe (or spoon) curd into each hole
3. Pile high with frosting! (I used the Wilton 1M tip)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Real Buttercream

My family (myself included) loves the Wilton crusting buttercream.  That buttercream, however, is made with at least half shortening.  Who knew shortening could be so tasty?  Most people though (my husband) do not have the extreme sweet tooth that the rest of my family does.  That is where this real buttercream comes in.  It does not overpower your cake with sweetness.  It tastes and decadent.  It pipes wonderfully.  It takes just a little more effort than Wilton's buttercream (the stove is involved) but the results are well worth it.  It is not as fluffy as meringue buttercream, but has just enough fluff.  You can find the recipe for this magical stuff online here.  Of course the recipe is from Rose Levy Beranbaum's book The Cake Bible.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Pavlovas with Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

I am so excited.  This was my first Daring Bakers' Challenge.  I have been following the Daring Bakers for awhile but never actually committed my self to joining.  But now I really want to stretch myself, and I figured the Daring Bakers are just the way to do it.

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

This challenge was a good one for me to start with.  I have made pavlovas before, but never chocolate and never with quite so many steps.  I usually just fill them with some lemon curd or lightly sweetened whipped cream and fruit.  These pavlovas are a rich and decadent dessert with a mousse and a creme anglaise sauce.  I added some sweetened strawberries to the finished product, which nicely accented the dark chocolate mousse.

I chose to make my pavlovas into cupcake shape, an idea I gleaned from the Martha Stewart Cupcake Book.  I thought they were so cute and made perfect individual servings.

CHOCOLATE MERINGUE (I doubled the original recipe to get enough cupcakes)
6 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder

Beat egg whites on high speed with the whisk attachment until foamy.  Add granulated sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until incorporated.  Beat until stiff peaks form.  Sift together the powdered sugar and cocoa powder into the egg whites.  Fold into the egg white mixture.

Line a standard muffin tin with cupcake wrappers.  Grease the inside of the cupcake wrappers and the top of the muffin tin.  Pipe or plop the egg white batter into the cupcake wrappers.  Bake at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 1/2-3 hours.  Remove from muffin tin an allow to cool completely.

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
grated zest of 1 average sized lemon
9 ounces 72% chocolate, chopped (I used 70% and only ended up using 8 ounces, I left one on the counter)
1 2/3 cups mascarpone
pinch of nutmeg (I additionally threw in a pinch of cayenne just for fun, it did not really make much difference)
2 tbsp Grand Marnier or orange juice (or if you are me, you have both and completely forget to use either one, where was my brain making the mousse?)

Heat up 1/2 cup of cream and lemon zest.  Once warm, add chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth.  Beat together remaining cream and mascarpone cheese until soft and whipped up.  This is where you should add the orange juice or Grand Marnier, but I spaced and forgot.  Mix the cooled chocolate in with the cream and mascarpone.

1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
6 tbsp sugar

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar in a bowl.  Combine the milk, cream, and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a bowl.  Remove from heat.  Pour about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the eggs and whisk rapidly to prevent curdling.  Add the egg mixture back to the remaining cream mixture.  Cook on the stove until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon.  Do not boil.  Strain if needed and then cool in the fridge for a few hours.

1 recipe crème anglaise
½ cup mascarpone
2 tbsp Sambucca (optional, I did not use this because I had no idea what it was.  Turns out it is an anise flavored liqueur that I do not have)
½ cup heavy cream

Whip up the heavy cream.  Mix the mascarpone and optional Sambucca in to the creme anglaise.  Fold in the whipped up cream.

To assemble final product:
1. Remove "cupcake" from its wrapper
2. Cut off the top
3. Pile some mousse, mascrapone cream, and optional strawberries
4. Place the top back on
5. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

White bread with Asiago Cheese

I have found that basically any bread that you add cheese to, especially a nice strong cheese like asiago, is awesome.  This bread is soft, yet a bit chewy.  It has a creamy mouth-feel.  I have head that description for bread a million times, but did not really understand what it meant until I tasted this bread.  It tastes great with just a little butter but is sturdy enough to make a sandwich with.

adapted from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice

21.7 ounces bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup powdered milk
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 large egg, cold
4 tablespoons melted margarine
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup Asiago cheese, shredded

Mix together the ingredients and half of the cheese until they come together.  Knead with a dough hook for about 6 minutes or until the dough passes the windowpane test.  Then knead by the remaining cheese in by hand.  You can knead the whole thing by hand if desired, but it will take more time.

Allow to raise 1-1 1/2 hours.  Shape as desired.  I made one into a boule and one into a loaf.  Both worked great although this is a soft bread, so the loaf ended up being my preferred shape.

Allow to raise again for about another hour.  Egg wash the top and sprinkle some of the shredded Asiago cheese on top of the loaves.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.  Simple.  Delicious.  The perfect thing to take to a party or barbecue or just to eat yourself.  The sweetened shredded coconut is an amazing surprise that adds just a hint of flavor but a ton of soft chewiness.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies adapted from Martha Stewart Baking
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups instant oatmeal
1 bag 60 percent cacao Ghiradelli chocolate chips

Cream together the brown sugar and butter.  Add in the maple syrup, egg, and vanilla.  Then mix in the cinnamon, soda, and coconut.  Add the all-purpose flour.

By hand, mix in the oatmeal.  You may need to use less oatmeal, depending on the dryness of the batter.  Finally, mix in the chocolate chips.  I added the whole bag because I love a high ratio of chocolate to cookie.  Feel free to reduce the amount of chocolate as desired.

Scoop into even tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 9-11 minutes.

*It helps if you don't get so caught up taking photos that you remember to set the timer and check on the cookies.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

This coffee cake is hands down my husband's favorite dessert.  His mother makes it each year for Christmas and her mother makes it each time we come to visit.  I make it for my husband for his birthday because he is awesome and this cake is truly delicious.

This is also hands down the easiest coffee cake in the whole world to make, provided you actually understand the directions.  You see, a long time ago, when I was just a girlfriend, I decided I wanted to make my now husband a birthday cake.  I asked him what his favorite was, hoping for a nice simple chocolate or something.  No.  Of course not.  His favorite was his mother's sour cream coffee cake.  Well, how, as just the girlfriend, are you supposed to compete with Mom's coffee cake?  But me, being me, thought I could give it a shot.  I called up his mother and asked for the recipe which she willingly gave me and explained all of the directions.  The recipe called for baking it in a tube pan.  I had no idea what a tube pan was, but rather than ask, I figured my mother would know.  Turns out, she did not know what one was either.  Its an angel food cake pan, but my mother and I never thought of that and instead turned to a tube shaped bread pan she had. Needless to say, the cake exploded out of both ends of the "tube" pan and I was left with a cinnamon cakey mess in the oven.

I eventually called his mother back and she explained to me what a tube pan was.  Ok.  Let's try this again.  This time I thought I had everything under control, the cake looked beautiful when I pulled it out of the oven.  With angel food cake, you immediately flip the cake over and since I was baking this cake in an angel food cake pan I figured you flip this cake intermediately over.  No.  It is a significantly heavier cake than angel food and it immediately came crashing out of the pan and I was left with a cinnamon cakey mess all over the counter.

At this point my dad comes through the kitchen and eats a piece of the warm mess off the counter and tells me that I can keep messing up this cake because it is really good.  And keep messing up I did.  I gradually got better and better though and now I make a pretty close version to my mother-in-law.  But really, if you are not trying to make this cake just like your husband's mother had been making it for the last 25 years, its easy and tasty.  Also, if you don't know what and angel food cake/tube pan is, you can look here.  Although, my husband's grandmother always makes it in a spring-form pan, so there are options.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

1 Yellow Cake Mix (do not get a cake mix with pudding in the mix, I don't know why, but it messes things up)
1 small box instant vanilla pudding and pie filling
8 ounces sour cream (1 cup)
2 sticks butter or margarine melted (I use margarine in this instance because you can not tell a difference flavor wise and it is cheaper)
4 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon (to me this seemed like a lot of cinnamon, but it works)
chopped walnuts (optional.  I never put these in because my husband doesn't like it that way)
Mix these together in a small bowl. I usually make a double batch of this topping because I like a lot of cinnamon.  I typically use more than one batch but slightly less than a double.  It's good on toast though.

Mix ingredients for the cake batter together.  The batter with be very thick.  Take 1/2 the batter and spread it in the bottom of a greased and floured tube/angel food cake pan.  (Flouring after you grease a cake pan is very important because it gives the cake something to grab as it climbs the sides of the pan).  Next sprinkle a healthy portion of the topping mixture over the cake batter in the pan.  Then spread the remaining batter on top of the cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Sprinkle more cinnamon/sugar on top of that last round of batter.  Finally, you marbleize the batter so that there are swirls of delicious cinnamon and sugar in the final cake.  I usually make s shaped swirls, but you can marbleize how ever you desire.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes.  Make sure a cake tester or toothpick come out clean, but you do not want to over bake.  Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

So Tricky!

Never have I put so much work into a cupcake.  Seriously.  My baby sister gave me Martha Stewart's Cupcake book for my birthday this past year.  I haven't really had the opportunity to try much out of it, but I flip through it at least once a week.  Those photos really inspire me to want to bake cupcakes all day and all night.  The only trick is, like many of Martha's recipes, they are complicated!

However, this past Sunday I had some time on my hands.  My husband had left for sunny California for business early that morning and I was due at my sister's for lunch and I was to bring dessert.  (I always bring dessert).  I decided on these Chocolate caramel filled mini cupcakes because my husband hates caramel and everyone else who was to be at my sister's loves it.

I did a quick read through of the recipe.  Ok, I had all of the ingredients. Sweet. (I am notorious for missing one or two things.  The concept of en mise seems to be totally lost on me.)  I figured the recipe would be fairly simple.  Chocolate cupcakes, fill them with homemade caramel sause, frost with really awesome chocolate frosting.  No problem.

For starters, they were mini cupcakes.  Which means a recipe makes like forty million cupcakes.  Since there would only be five us at lunch and my mini muffin tin only held 24 cupcakes, I immediately opted to cut the recipe in half.  The yield ended up being 24 mini cupcakes and 3 regular sized cupcakes.  Halving the cake batter was fine and halving the icing was about perfect, however, halving the caramel left me a little short.  But not to worry, that was not my only problem with the caramel sauce...

I followed the directions for making the caramel pretty much to the letter.  I do not like to do this, I prefer to tinker a bit with recipes, but cooking sugar is a tricky business, so I followed the directions.  I cooked the sugar to the recommended 360 degrees.  I was a little concerned because it kept getting darker and darker and darker and then in an instant, black.  Crud!  Well, I tried to salvage it and poured my cream in anyway.  It lightened up a bit, looking more like caramel.  But it smelled like burnt.  I don't know what possessed me but I then proceeded to pour my burnt caramel into my nicely hollowed out cupcakes.  Then I tried one.  Lo and behold, they tasted like chocolate cupcakes filled with burnt.  Gross.  At this point I had already made the frosting and had it on standby and had no time to make anything else.  What did I do, I dug all of the putrid caramel out of my cupcake shells and started over.  This time I only cooked the caramel sauce to 320 degrees.  It might have been a little light, but it tasted good.  In the end, the cupcakes tasted fine, but they had significantly less cupcake then intended.

Tricky but Tasty Chocolate Caramel filled Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart

Cupcakes:  yield 24 mini and 3 regular cupcakes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/8 cup Hershey's cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder (both the soda and powder are reduced from the original recipe, I have an unnatural fear of tasting leavening agents in my baked goods)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/8 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons peanut oil
3/8 cup very warm water (to activate the cocoa)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together dry ingredients and then add the wet ones.  The batter is very runny.  Pour into mini muffin tins.  Bake at 350 degrees for 11-12 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.  Using a paring knife, cut out the middles of the cupcakes to allow room for the caramel.  I found the cupcakes very moist, so I ended up doing a lot of digging.
Caramel Sauce
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream (crucial, without it the caramel will get hard in your cupcake)
1 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Heat sugar, water, and corn syrup together stirring occasionally until mixture comes to a boil.  Allow to boil undisturbed until temperature reaches 320 degrees.  Remove from heat and stir in the cream and sea salt.  Be careful when adding the cream, the hot boiling sugar likes to bubble up furiously when adding the cold cream.

Spoon caramel sauce into the cupcake cavities.  You may have to go back and top off your cupcakes, because the caramel sauce soaks into the cake which tastes awesome but uses a lot of caramel.  You can also throw some additional sea salt on top of the caramel at this point for more flavor.

5 oz milk chocolate,.melted (my family dislikes dark chocolate so I always have to use some milk chocolate)
4.5 oz semi sweet chocolate, melted
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/8 cup cocoa powder
1/8 cup boiling water
1 1/2 sticks butter (room temperature)

Beat together butter and sugar.  Mix together cocoa powder and boiling water.  Add to butter and sugar mixture.  Add melted chocolate.  Be sure that the melted chocolate has had a bit of time to cool, otherwise the frosting will be runny.  Beat until smooth.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Em!

Happy Birthday to my baby sister.  She is more than I ever could have asked for.

I was not especially fond of this seven pound squirming squealing bundle of joy when she first came home but over the years she became my playmate, confidant, and best friend.  I am lucky to have her.  I made her this completely stereotypical birthday cake because that is what she loves: Funfetti cake with crusting buttercream frosting and lots of roses.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Homemade Cheese and Pizza

I am not really sure what possessed me, but I recently got the bug to make homemade cheese.  My husband and I visited a dairy a few weeks back on the way home from his brother's graduation and I thought that the cheese that they made was absolutely divine.  Since I tend to find myself interested trying what I can make things from scratch, I thought cheese would be the perfect addition.

I looked around online a bit and found what seemed to be a fairly easy recipe for mozzarella cheese.  Perfect.  A nice soft cheese that tastes so much better fresh than in a block from the store.  Following the directions couldn't have been easier.  A gallon of whole milk, a little citric acid and rennet, a little salt and stretching and you have yourself some lovely homemade cheese.

My husband and I choose to use this homemade cheese to make some homemade pizza.  I have been struggling to find a pizza recipe that I really like.  The one from the Bread Baker's Apprentice is good, but takes two days to make and I rarely plan that far ahead.  My  mother had one, but oddly enough, it was too sweet.  Finally, I think that I have found my go-to.  Of course its from the Pioneer Woman.  I received her cookbook last Christmas from a former college roommate and decided to give it a whirl.  It was a good choice.  You can find it online here.  The dough was quick and easy.  It made enough for 2 pizzas so I was able to stick some in the freezer for another day.  It also baked up very nice and crispy, just what we look for in a pizza crust.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I have been reading about these delightful almond cookies for a long time on many food blogs.  They always looked amazing, but I had never had the opportunity to try them.  I mean, how awesome are meringue and almond shells with their soft middle sandwiching sweet buttercream or chocolaty ganache.  However, macarons have always terrified me to make.  They seemed far to advanced for me, better left to the hard core individuals.  I have heard many tales of runny batter and no feet (Feet on a cookie?).  And then there is the whole issue of pouring boiling sugar into whipped eggs as well as French vs. Italian Meringue.  Scary!  A few months ago I had tried making them from a random cookbook and failed miserably, exacerbating my fear of macarons.

But then I read a post from Mrs. Humble.  She explained everything in extreme detail with graphs and everything.  She had tested a ton of different ways and wrote of her findings.  It was amazing!  After reading her post, I felt like maybe it was something that I could conquer.  So I made my attempt. went ok.  Clearly from the above picture, some of my cookies did not turn out perfectly.  But, and its a big but, some did turn out.  I was so excited that I danced around the kitchen.

The biggest triumph though is that I learned.  I learned that some of my pans are too thin.  I learned that my piping skills need some work, but sticking to smaller circles work better.  I learned that the top rack of my oven bakes these cookies better than the bottom and I learned to let them cool before pulling them off the parchment lest their sticky bottoms remain attached. I also learned to turn the pan halfway through, unless I want macarons that slope downhill.

So I will keep trying at these delicious yet elusive cookies.

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