Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pumpkin Black Bottom Cupcakes

Instead of venturing out tonight, the hubs and I are spending a comfortable and stress-free evening at home. Maybe I'm a fuddy-duddy, but there is nothing more delightful than kicking back in sweats, reading a good book and enjoying a bottle of good wine on a Saturday night. Besides, I didn't want to miss the entertaining parade of trick-or-treaters canvasing our neighborhood.

In keeping with the comfortable laid-back mood this evening, I wanted to bake something that wouldn't take much effort. David Lebovitz's Black Bottom Cupcakes was the perfect remedy for lazy baking. Seriously, this recipe is unbelievably easy to make! Using only a couple of bowls and mixing spoons, you will be rewarded with these impressive looking cream cheese chocolate cakes. I love how each cupcake has its own unique personality:
In keeping with the holiday theme, I tweaked the recipe slightly to create a pumpkin cream cheese filling. You can find the original recipe here, and I made the following adjustments to the cream cheese filling:
- reduced the cream cheese to 6 oz
- added 3 oz canned pumpkin
- added 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- added 3 drops of orange food coloring
I encourage you to try baking these super easy treats yourself. I promise that these cakes are better than anything that you'll find in a trick-or-treaters bag.
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chocolate Macarons (DB)

Thanks to this month's Daring Baker's Challenge, this was my first attempt at making macarons. I've assumed that these delicate European cookies were difficult and time consuming, so I never bothered to try making them at home. Besides, I'm fortunate to have Paulette Macarons within a short driving distance from mi casa. Paulette's macarons are works of art, and they are almost too pretty to eat (still, that hasn't stopped me from inhaling a box or two).
Confession time - I tried THREE times to make macarons using the recipe selected by our hostess Ami, and every attempt was a huge failure - ARGHHHH!!!! I had trouble getting the little "feet" on my cookies, and when cooled, they were as hard as rocks and pretty sad looking. I'm pretty sure that these failures were attributable to me and not the recipe, as the other DB'ers were sharing their picture perfect macarons using Claudia Fleming's recipe (which is included at the end of this post).

After taking a few minutes to swear like a sailor, I took a deep breath and decided to work with a different recipe. If this attempt didn't work, I vowed never to make macarons again. I went with a chocolate macaron recipe from David Lebovitz - the man has yet to fail me in the ice cream deparment, so I had faith in his recipe. The link to his recipe is here.

Voila - Macaron success!!!! The cookies had a nice crunchy exterior which gave into a nice chewy interior. The filling for these cookies is a simple bittersweet chocolate ganache.

I kicked back and relished in my macaron success with a plate of these sugary gems and a cup of tea.
from The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern by Claudia Fleming

Confectioners’ (Icing) sugar: 2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.)
Almond flour: 2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.)
Granulated sugar: 2 tablespoons (25 g , .88 oz.)
Egg whites: 5 (Have at room temperature)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.

2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.

4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.

5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.

7. Cool on a rack before filling.
Yield: 10 dozen.
The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Cherry Fudge Brownie Torte (TWD)

Chocolate, cherries, and mascarpone mousse - what's not to love about this Cherry Fudge Brownie Torte? This inspired recipe takes the flavors of a black forest cake to a decadent new level with a ultra rich brownie studded with kirsch soaked cherries and a light and creamy mascapone mousse. The flavor quotient is punched up with a healthy grinding of black pepper in the brownie base.
There has been a lot of baking happening in the Tender Crumb kitchen, so there was no way I was going to make a full sized torte. I halved the recipe, which was more than plenty for a 7 inch torte and a 4 inch mini-torte (pictured here).
Rich and flavorful, you only need a couple of bites to satisfy you sweet tooth. The punch of the black pepper and the not-too-sweet mascarpone mousse helps to balance out the richness of the chocolate brownie base.
Please visit April's blog, Short + Rose, for the recipe, and make sure to make the rounds with the TWD blogroll to see some inspired baking!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake (TCS)

After a year of baking some really delicious and TALL cakes from Sky High: Irresistable Triple Layer Cakes, The Cake Slice group has switched gears and has moved on to a new cake baking book. After a vote (we're so democratic, aren't we?), the group has chosen to bake recipes from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott. In the introduction of the book, Nancie shares the following:

"I invite you to take a little journey through this collection of Southern cakes. Perhaps you will come across some old friends and meet some new neighbors, since the South, like all the world, grows and changes every day, while still remaining essentially its same old self. I hope that while sampling these pages you will remember something about a cake you once ate or a person who taught you something about cooking and eating and the sacred nature of food."

I couldn't have said it any better.

Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake is the first recipe selected from the book, and it's a perfect recipe to bid summer adieu and welcome fall. Mind you, we have yet to cool down in Southern California, so I'll have to imagine the crisp, cool autumn weather as I enjoy this cake.

Cinnamony and buttery (3 1/2 sticks of buttery goodness --- this is not a typo), this decadent breakfast cake is total comfort food. I didn't have any raisins in the house, so I opted for mini bittersweet chocolate chips. I would recommend not shortchanging on the nuts, as it really provided and nice crunch and flavor to the cake.

Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake
from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott

For the Cake
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs

For the Cinnamon Raisin Filling
1½ cups light brown sugar
3 tbsp all purpose flour
3 tbsp cinnamon
1½ cups raisins
1½ cups coarsely chopped pecans
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, melted

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 13 by 9 inch pan.

To make the filling, combine the light brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl and stir with a fork to mix everything well. Combine the raisins and pecans in another bowl and toss to mix them. Place the cinnamon mixture, nut mixture and melted butter by the baking pan to use later.

To make the cake batter, combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Stir the vanilla into the milk. In a large bowl combine the butter and sugar and beat with a mixer on high speed until pale yellow and evenly mixed, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl to ensure a good mix. Add the eggs and beat for another 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl now and then, until the mixture is smooth and light.

Use a large spoon or spatula to add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir only until the flour disappears. Add a third of the milk and mix in. Repeat twice more until all the flour and milk mixtures have been incorporated. Stir just enough to keep the batter smooth.

Spread half the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half the cinnamon mixture over the batter followed by half the melted butter. Scatter half the raisins and nuts over the top. Spread the remaining batter carefully over the filling, using a spatula to smooth the batter all the way to the edges of the pan. Top with the leftover cinnamon, butter and nut mixture, covering the cake evenly.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown, fragrant and beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan. Place the pan on a wire rack and allow to cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before serving in squares right from the pan. The cake is delicious hot, warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Allspice Crumb Muffins (TWD)

I treasure the early morning hours, especially on the weekends. Most people I know do whatever they can to squeeze in a extra hour or two of zzzzz's. I happily buck that trend, looking forward to the quiet pre-dawn hours on Saturday and Sunday. Once I get a humongous pot of coffee going, I dive into the pile magazines and books that accumulate on my my nightstand and leisurely read the morning paper (which is a rare treat for me).

Dorie Greenspan's Allspice Crumb Muffin was a delicious bonus to my early morning ritual. The prep work for this recipe was mercifully easy (I didn't even need to bring out a knife!), and for that minimal effort, I was rewarded with this yummy breakfast treat. To top it off, the house was filled that wonderful smell of something delicious baking in the oven.
This was the first time that I've made a recipe that calls for allspice to be front and center. I think I've been missing out, I loved the complex cinnamon-clove flavor of this spice. The muffin itself is very moist, and the streusel topping provides nice slightly crunchy texture contrast. The addition of lemon zest is an optional ingredient in the recipe, but I thought it provided essential flavor to complement the spice.

I used large muffin liners for this recipe, and the recipe yielded 8 jumbo muffins.
Thanks Kayte of Grandma's KitchenTable for this week's TWD selection. Please visit Kayte's blog for this recipe, or better yet go get yourself a copy of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Split Level Pudding (TWD)

I'm back... after a month long haitus, I ready to get my blogging mojo on! September was an action-packed month for me, with various mini-vacations, classes and time with friends and family. Where do I begin...

- The hubs and I decided to do a series of mini-trips instead of one long vacation. The hubs attended a week long conference in Vegas at the Bellagio, so of course I had to tag along. Pool, spa, gambling, shopping, and tasty dining was on the agenda --- this girl definitely enjoys her time in Vegas, baby! We then trekked down south to San Diego to visit friends (thanks Lisa & Howie for your oustanding hospitality), then finished the road trip at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point.

- The SIL and her boyfriend were kind enough fly in from Jersey to house and puppy sit for us, and we were fortunate to spend time together before and after the trip...thanks Mel & guys are welcome anytime!!!

- I started a 10 week digital photography course at UCLA. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I DON'T about using my camera! My classmates are great and our instructor, George, has great passion for his art and his enthusiasm is infectious. I'm not sure that you'll see an improvement in my photos, but at least I'll know how the camera gear works!

- We capped the month with a trip up to Pismo Beach for the wedding of our dear friends, Teresa & Jim. I've been really gun-shy about sharing this... I had the priviledge of making their wedding cake and cupcakes. This was the first time I baked at this scale, and the experience was fun, exciting, and anxiety-filled! Once I get my hands on some pictures, I'll definitely share them with you.

Anyways, I'm happy to get back in the rhythm of blogging...

This weeks Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Split Level Pudding, was a perfect way to ease back into my baking routine. Simple and comforting, this recipe consists of a chocolate ganache base topped with a rich vanilla pudding. To be just a little decadent, I used vanilla bean paste instead of extract. I love seeing those beautiful vanilla specks in the pudding:

Dorie's recipe calls for the use of a food processor. Although it can get messy tranferring the mixture back and forth from the saucepan to the processor, you are rewarded with a pudding that has a wonderfully silky smooth texture. This technique was previously used with her chocolate pudding recipe, and I was blown away by the results.

Once you dig into the silky smooth vanilla pudding, you get a wonderful chocolate surprise:

The base is a soft chocolate ganache, and I ended up using a delicious Baileys chocolate ganache leftover from the wedding cake/cupcakes.

You can find the complete recipe at Garrett's blog, Flavor of Vanilla. Also make sure to visit the TWD blogroll to see more delicious versions of this pudding.

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