Sunday, November 25, 2007

One Potato, Two Potato...

Boy, this was challenging! I wasn't sure how my bread would turn out but as you can see from the photos, I managed to get through the November Daring Baker's Challenge in one piece. Honestly, I was semi-panicking throughout the process because my dough was soooo soft and sticky and hardly manageable that I almost threw in the towel (and threw out the dough!) half-way through. But, like any other Daring Baker would, I trudged along, determined not to quit and actually, my curiosity on how the dough would turn out got the best of me (thank goodness). I decided to make a black olive foccacia and some mini loaves, and to my amazement, the end-products were delicious! I've never baked a potato bread (or tasted one) before so I really did not know what to expect. What I got however was worth all the hard work and perseverance. Thanks Tanna of My Kitchen In Half-Cups, for thinking up this month's Potato Bread challenge! (If you'd like to try your hand at this recipe, click here).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cupcakes For Two?

Yes, I know there's only one cupcake photographed but trust me, I did make enough cupcakes for 2-4 people today. I just didn't take a group shot of them. You see, I finally made something from a cookbook I was given some time last year called Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos. It's perfect for those of us who may have a craving for say, vanilla cupcakes with coconut cream cheese frosting, but don't want to deal with baking a dozen of 'em and having to eat more than one, goodness forbid! This basic vanilla cupcake recipe yielded 4 cupcakes and not only were they a cinch to whip up but they were also just right for me as I'm running awfully low on both sugar and flour these days! Anyways, I added some cream cheese frosting and topped the cupcakes off with some unsweetened, organic coconut flakes that I found at Whole Foods the other day. Be as creative as you'd like, or as non-creative because these actually tasted quite delicious plain too. Happy baking!
Vanilla Cupcakes With Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Small-Batch Baking):
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temp)
1/2 cup AP flour, sifted.
1/4 cup buttermilk (at room temp)
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Yolk of 1 large egg (at room temp)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (make sure you have placed a rack in the middle of the oven beforehand). Line a muffin pan with 4 paper liners.
2. Combine the buttermilk and baking soda in a small bowl and stir to mix. Whisk in the egg yolk and vanilla.
3. In a medium-size bowl, place the flour, sugar and salt and whisk to blend well. Add the butter and half of the buttermilk mixture. Using a hand-held mixer on low speed, beat until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture is lightened and has slightly increased in volume (about 45 secs). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Pour in the remaining buttermilk mixture and beat on medium speed until well blended (about 20 secs). Scrape down the side of the bowl again if necessary.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, dividing batter evenly. Bake about 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cupcake comes out clean. (The tops will just begin to brown).
5. Remove the muffin pan from the oven and place on wire rack for 10min; remove the cupcakes from the pan and place them on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
Using an electric mixer, mix 6 ounces cream cheese with 1/2 cup butter butter (both should be at room temp), until smooth. While still mixing, gradually add 3 cups of powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until well combined. Once the mixture is a smooth consistency and the cupcakes have cooled you can frost the cupcakes. Addition of coconut flakes is optional of can also top it off with chocolate shaving, nuts, or anything else you'd like.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I Am Thankful For...

all of you who have visited my humble food blog and have left me such supportive and sweet comments. Today I'm fortunate enough to be spending the Thanksgiving holiday with the people I love and I hope you will do the same.
Enjoy your day!
P.S. : If you have some free time this weekend (and you're not too stuffed), give this delicious gingerbread cupcake recipe a try. It's from Peabody's website and it totally "tastes like fall!" (a direct quote from my boyfriend after he took a bite). I topped the pumpkin cream cheese frosting with some crystallized ginger. Enjoy! (Click here for the recipe).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pre-holiday Baking: Snickerdoodles

With Thanksgiving and Christmas (yikes!) just around the corner, I've been thinking more and more about baking cookies and which ones I'd like to make and give away as gifts. So today I tested out a Snickerdoodle recipe. Now I've tasted this cookie before but this was the first time I've ever actually made Snickerdoodles. The recipe, which I found in a cookbook called Simple Joys of Friendship is quite simple and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and bake. The end result is a cookie that is soft, slightly chewy, slightly sweet, and one that goes perfectly with a hot cup of tea. The cinnamon flavor of the cookie made my boyfriend think of Apple Jacks Cereal when he tasted it. Though not the most exciting cookie appearance-wise, the Snickerdoodle is quickly becoming one of my favorite tasting cookies and I'm definitely going to include this one for my holiday baking.
Snickerdoodles (yields 3 dozen cookies)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 and 1/2 cup plus 2 T. sugar divided
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
2 and 3/4 cup AP flour
2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. baking soda
2 T. cinnamon

directions: (preheat oven to 400 degrees F)
1. Cream together butter, shortening, 1 and 1/2 cups sugar, eggs and vanilla.
2. Blend in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.
3. Shape dough by rounded teaspoonfuls into balls.
4. Mix remaining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
5. Roll balls of dough in sugar/cinnamon mixture and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
6. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.
7. Remove immediately from baking sheet to cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Childhood Treat Makeover

I don’t ever recall making Rice Krispies Treats when I was a kid. I think it’s because we preferred Captain Crunch and Count Chocula over the plain, boring rice puffs that snapped, crackled and puffed when you poured milk over them. Nowadays though, my preference to indulge in overly-sweetened cereal has pretty much diminished, and thanks to a recent sale at the supermarket, I found myself with a couple boxes of Kellog’s Rice Krispies in my kitchen. So when I came across this recipe from the New York Times on a revamped RKT, I was curious to give it a whirl. Interestingly, this new recipe upped the butter factor (2 entire sticks versus the 3 tablespoons in the original recipe), as well as increasing the amount of Rice Krispies (one 12 ounce box versus six cups). The new recipe also calls for caramelizing the butter (hence the name of the recipe!), which means you have to keep a close eye while melting the butter, being careful that it does not burn. I’m not the the biggest fan of RKT’s in the first place, but I still thought this version was pretty good. It certainly was easier to handle when placing the mixture into the baking pan and patting it down. The end result is a firmer, crunchier treat that has a nutty kind of flavor. I suppose if you are looking for the familiar, chewy texture that you get with the original recipe, you’ll be a tad disappointed with this one (that’s how my boyfriend felt). On the other hand, I brought some to work to get my co-worker’s opinions and found that most of them liked this version a lot more. Hmmm, go figure. Well, if you do give this recipe a try, I’d love to know your thoughts. For now, I think I’ll just stick to pouring my rice krispies into a bowl, slicing some bananas on top, and dousing it with some cold milk.

Caramelized Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats (The NY Times Oct. 31, 2007)

8 ounces butter (salted or unsalted, plus extra for the pan)
1 10.5 ounce bag marshmallows
1 12 ounce box of Rice Krispies cereal

1. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper or butter the pan well.
2. In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will metl, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Watch closely and stir often.
3. When butter is evenly browned, stir in marshmallows (if using unsalted butter, stir in 1/8 tsp salt). Melt and cook, stirring often, until mixture turns pale brown, then stir constantly until lightly browned but not dark, about 3-5 minutes).
4. Turn off heat, add cereal, mix well (use a silicone spoon or a spatula); scrape into prepared pan and press down lightly (if necessary, butter hands to press the mixture flat). Let cool, and cut into squares/bars.
Yields 30-50 treats depending on size you cut them

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Slice Of Nostalgia

It's amazing how such a simple recipe can be transformed into a dish that is so deliciously comforting, isn't it? That's what happened when I baked this classic rum cake the other day. You might have seen this recipe or baked it yourself at some time. Or perhaps it was a favorite in your household growing up like it was in mine. My mom baked this cake often and it reminds me so much of her and of my childhood. When I took a bite, all I wanted to do was curl up on my sofa with a big blanket, a glass of milk, and all the wonderful memories I could conjure.
Rum Bundt Cake
1 cup chopped nuts (toasted walnuts work nicely)
1 18 and 1/2 ounce yellow cake mix
1 4-serving size instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup cold milk (I used non-fat)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup rum (can use either dark or light)
1 stick butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup rum
Cake directions:
-Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
-Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan; sprinkle nuts on bottom of pan.
-Combine all cake ingredients, beat for 2 minutes w/electric mixer.
-Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour.
-Cool in pan; once cool, invert onto a serving plate and prick the top with a fork.
-Drizzle glaze over top of cake and use a brush or spoon to put extra glaze back on the cake.
Glaze directions:
-Melt butter in saucepan, then stir in water and sugar.
-Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
-Remove from heat and stir in rum (caution: the rum will cause steam--be careful to not burn yourself when adding the rum).
(note: you can make the cake 1-2 days before serving; in fact, it tastes even better the next day)!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

More Orange Treats

Maybe it’s because of my fondness for the color orange, but I’ve been baking a string of orange-oriented things lately. First there was the orange chiffon cake in October’s Daring Bakers challenge, then there were the chocolate orange cupcakes I baked for Halloween, and this time around, it’s orange brownies a la Food TV's Paula Deen. I first stumbled across this recipe on Deborah’s site, Taste and Tell. She made the brownies look and sound so delectable that I knew I wanted to make these for a dessert party I was having on Friday night. Of course with Paula Deen's recipes, there’s hardly ever any skimping on the butter, and these orange brownies were no exception. They were a big hit with my guests too--so moist, rich, gooey, sweet, and you guessed it, orangey! The flavor is intense but not overwhelming, and the cream cheese frosting, though not really necessary, makes these little goodies even more decadent. I thought the orange brownies make a wonderful dessert alternative to the traditional chocolate brownies or butterscotch blondies. Happy baking!

Friday, November 9, 2007

One Good Cookie

The first time I ever made these cookies, my boyfriend told me they were “the best” cookies I’ve ever baked for him. Wow. That’s a pretty powerful statement, isn’t it? Well, while I do agree that these World Peace Cookies from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets cookbook are quite high on the delicious- rating-scale, I don’t know if I agree that they are the “best” I’ve baked him. I mean, what about those chocolate chip ones that he raved about, or the oversized oatmeal raisins? Okay, a compliment’s a compliment and I will take them when I can! The bottom line is, these are indeed wonderful cookies. I made the dough early yesterday morning before work and baked up a batch later on that evening.
I hope you’ll like them as much as my boyfriend (and I) do.
Peace. (recipe here).

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Brownie Lesson

I recently acquired a copy of Alice Medrich's Chocolate and The Art of Low Fat Desserts and was eager to try out a recipe this weekend. The cookbook itself is quite lovely with beautifully photographed, mouth-watering creations that simply look, well, not so low fat. I wasn't sure where to begin with this cookbook as everything from the chocolate marble cake to the walnut truffle cookies sounded divine. There's even a few non-chocolate recipes in the book too like lemon bars and a cranberry tea bread (as in Christmas gifts)! So, I started where any good baker would: with the brownies. Alice writes that these brownies are "gooey" yet at the same time have less fat than your run-of-the-mill brownie. There are only 5 tablespoons of butter in the recipe (as opposed to perhaps 2 sticks of butter in the more traditional kind), and instead of using bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, Alice uses Dutch process cocoa powder. I was determined to bake a brownie that looked as delectable as the chewy-gooey brownie she had photographed in her book. Unfortunately, things didn't really turn out as I hoped. For one thing, my brownie was not chewy or gooey. It was more on the cakey side which is not how I like my brownies (I know there are many of you who like a cakey brownie, and that's fine, but not my preference). The brownie was also a bit on the dry side and though quite chocolaty in taste, didn't really have anything special in flavor for me. So what happened? Well, I believe I made a couple mistakes which, after reading more on the "art" of baking in the low fat ilk, makes more sense now. One thing I did was I cut back on the sugar. The recipe called for 1 and 1/4 cups of sugar and thinking I was making a wise decision, I used only 1 cup. Alice writes that sugar "contributes to moistness and moisture retention", and in a recipe where the fat is already lowered, the role of sugar becomes even more prominent. The second mistake I believe I made was to overmix the batter which can contribute to the tough texture of my brownie. Lastly, I think I overbaked the brownies. The baking time for these brownies ranged from 20-25 minutes and even though I baked for twenty minutes, it was still a bit too long for my oven. I have to say though, the brownies were not a complete failure. They are still okay if I don't think of them as a "brownie" but maybe as a chocolate tea cake. Plus, I learned quite a bit from my brownie misadventure. I learned that baking itself, whether low fat or not, truly is an "art" as well as a science, and the next time I attempt one of Alice Medrich's recipes, I better follow it to a tee!
Fudge Brownies (by Alice Medrich)
1 cup AP flour (sifted)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons butter (or stick margarine)
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
1 egg
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules or espresso dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; place oven rack in lower third of the oven. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Using a whisk, stir the first four ingredients together in a large bowl and put aside.
3. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and then stir in the sugar, mixing until combined (will be a grainy consistency). Next, add the egg, egg whites, vanilla, and coffee or espresso. Beat with a wooden spoon (approx. 40 strokes), scraping down the sides of the pan if necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix for another 40 strokes or just until mixed.
4. Pour mixture into the prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for approx. 20 minutes depending on your oven (as I mentioned, even 20 minutes was too long for me so you may want to start checking your brownies at close to 18 minutes--insert a toothpick into the center of the pan and if it comes out a little gooey, it's done).
5. Cool in the pan, on a baking rack. Once cool, grab the parchment or foil and remove the brownies from the pan. Cut into 16 squares.
notes: the brownies can be stored at room temperature, well wrapped for up to 2 days; can freeze them for up to 2 months.
calories per brownie: 134
fat: 4.6 grams