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Happy Mothers’ Day and Fresh Strawberry Pie

13 May

I hope all of you moms out there are having a wonderfully relaxing day.  I am looking forward to spending this afternoon with my mom and the rest of my family.  As usual, the gathering is centered around food and I was asked by the lady of the day to bring two of my Roasted Chickens and to make her favorite strawberry pie.  Now I usually like to make multi-step, showstopping desserts, especially ones that include chocolate.  But when Mom asks for the tastiest, simplest strawberry pie known to man as her Mothers’ day dessert, the dutiful daughter must comply.  This is a recipe that has been in my mom’s repertoire since I was a child and she still frequently gets requests for it.  It’s great because it only calls for 5 ingredients and doesn’t require turning on the oven — perfect for a hot summer day.  Plus the pie is cool, fruity, and refreshing.

So what are you waiting for?  Whip one of these babies up and see if you aren’t licking the bowl for breakfast, too 😉

 

By the way, my kitchen was featured on the blog Danny’s Kitchen yesterday.  I am so honored to be chosen as the first guest for this feature on Danny’s site.  Be sure to hop over and see more photos of the space where I create my kitchen delights (and flops) and find out what kind of pet I have in my backyard…

 

Fresh and Simple Strawberry Pie

8 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened

1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar

8 ounces Cool Whip, thawed

1 pint (12 ounces) fresh strawberries, sliced and patted dry

1-9″ graham cracker pie crust

 

Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth.  Blend in the powdered sugar.  Fold in the Cool Whip and then the strawberries.  Spoon into the pie crust and garnish as desired.  Chill before serving, at least 4 hours.

 

Source:  My Mom 🙂

Tips for Successful Cakes

20 Mar

I have so many posts waiting to be written that I don’t know where to start!  I even have a few finished sewing projects to show you!!  I will start with something that is already photographed, though, and since I will have a few cakes recipes for you in the upcoming weeks, I will share some of my cake baking tips with you in preparation.  Some of these tips have been picked up from various internet sources, some from cake decorating instructors, and some from learning the hard way 🙂

I hope you will find these tips useful and if you have any good tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

P.S.  The cake photographed above was made a while back for my aunt’s mother-in-law’s 90th birthday.  I had the cake layers and frosting made up and then got food poisoning.  My wonderful mother came over at the last minute to finish assembling and decorating the cake and delivered it to the party.  Thanks again, Mom!

 

1.  Pan Preparation

Most butter or oil based cake recipes will instruct you to grease and flour your pans.  I don’t know about you, but I always get flour everywhere when I do this.  When I took a cake decorating class at a local community college a few summers ago, the instructor presented this brilliant technique.

 

Easy Peasy Nonstick Cake Pan Coating

1 cup shortening
1 cup all-purpose flour
 

Combine both ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly combined.  Scrape into an airtight, resealable container and store in the pantry.  Using a paper towel or pastry brush, spread a generous amount in cake pans to prepare for baking.

No need to shake flour in and then tap it out.  This also prevents that cake-y, flour-y mess on the outside of chocolate cakes.  This paste will keep stored in the pantry indefinitely (at least for as long as your shortening and flour would have been good for).

In recipes that call for buttering, lining with parchment, then buttering and flouring the pans, I have found that just a good coating of this stuff is sufficient.  But note that this paste should not be used for cakes that do not call for greased pans.

 

2.  Insure level tops

I do several things to make sure my cake layers are level.  First, I use insulating strips around my cake pans.  Wilton makes these and you can buy them at Hobby Lobby or Michael’s.  You can also use wet strips of dish towels wrapped in aluminum foil.  The theory is that by insulating the edges of the cake pan, the edges of the cake do not cook as fast, therefore, they will rise higher and be level with the center of the cake.

Rotate your pans partway through baking to make sure your layers bake and brown evenly.

Another tip I learned from my cake decorating instructor — press down gently on the top of your cake layers with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel immediately after removing them from the oven to level any high spots.

After cooling my cake layers in the pans for 10-20 minutes, I turn them out (top-side down) onto parchment-lined cardboard cake boards and leave them there for about 10 minutes.  I then slide the cake and parchment off of the cake board onto the cooling rack to finish cooling completely.  This is a trick I discovered myself that makes the top super smooth and flat and the edges very square.

Using these tricks, I haven’t had to level a cake layer with a knife in a very long time.

 

3.  Crumb coat

If you have gone to all the trouble of making your cake beautiful and level, you don’t want stray crumbs in your frosting.  Once you have filled and stacked your layers, apply a thin coat of frosting on the sides and top of your cake then place it in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes or so to allow the frosting to set up.  This will seal in crumbs and make it less likely for them to escape into your outer coat of frosting.  This is especially important if you are frosting a darker cake (like chocolate or red velvet) with lighter frosting (like cream cheese).

 

4.  Don’t point out your mistakes

If you have gone through the motions to make a filled, frosted, and decorated layer cake, chances are you are much more talented in the kitchen than most of the folks who will be eating your cake.  So don’t point out the minor imperfections that you may notice about it!  Smile quietly and politely thank everyone for their praises about your divine creation 🙂

Golden Vanilla Purist Cupcakes

7 Mar

 

I have a new food blog crush — Scientifically Sweet — which presents delicious recipes with a scientific spin.  I was thrilled to learn that the release of a cookbook by the same name was imminent so I hopped over to Amazon and made a copy my own to satisfy my nerdy sweet tooth.  I was all set to cozy up on the couch with the book Monday night and plan which recipe I would try first, but my sweet little niece had other ideas.  Namely, ideas like a sleep over and playing dress up.

 

 

So once I got her off to school yesterday, I flipped through the 101 thoroughly and beautifully photographed recipes and decided my first victim would be the Golden Vanilla Purist Cupcakes with Vanilla Roux-Meringue Buttercream.  I am always on the lookout for the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe.  I am also a HUGE fan of Swiss Meringue Buttercream (or SMBC, for short).

SMBC is not as cloyingly sweet or greasy as American buttercream made with powdered sugar and shortening.  It also holds countless flavors and mix-ins beautifully.  And best of all, you can make it by remembering the simple mathematical ratio of 1-2-3.  1 part egg whites to 2 parts sugar to 3 parts butter.  I was intrigued by the recipe in this cookbook because it takes SMBC a step further by mixing in a vanilla roux, a step similar to that of an old-fashioned cooked frosting.

As far as the cupcake goes, the batter comes together easily with a one-bowl method and is smooth and silky.  The cupcakes rise significantly so be sure not to fill your cupcake liners more than half full.  The cake is fluffy and moist.  The cake releases neatly from the paper liners which I think is an important feature for a good cupcake recipe.

As for the frosting, it is very tasty.  It is silky smooth, creamy, gorgeous, and pipes like a charm.  I am not sure I will do this every time I make SMBC, but the extra step definitely takes the flavor and texture to a different level.  I will add vanilla beans to the roux next time to see if this will deepen the vanilla flavor.  I will also increase the salt a little to bring out the flavor a bit more.

Overall, my first recipe from Scientifically Sweet by Christina Marsigliese was a success, and I am excited to try many more creations from this gorgeous book.  I hope y’all like desserts because it looks like I might be on roll 😉

 

 

Golden Vanilla Purist Cupcakes with Vanilla Roux-Meringue Buttercream

Makes about 15 cupcakes
 
 
For the cupcakes: 
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cake flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup superfine sugar (I just pulsed my granulated sugar in the food processor then measured it)
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¼ cup full fat sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp pure canola oil
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup 2% milk, at room temperature
For the frosting:
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
  • 2/3 cup 2% milk
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1 tbsp pieces
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

 

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line 15 muffin cups from two standard muffin pans with paper liners and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift together both flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Attach the bowl to the mixer, add sugar and mix on low speed until evenly blended, about 30 seconds.
 
Add softened butter and beat on low speed for 1 minute. The mixture will become less dusty as the butter becomes coated with flour and broken down into small pieces. Increase speed to medium-low and continue to beat until the mixture resembles damp sand or fine bread crumbs, about 2 minutes.
 
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, yolk, sour cream, canola oil and vanilla extract until smooth. Add it to the flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until moistened, sticky and the batter begins to form webs along the sides of the bowl and the beater, about 20 seconds. With mixer running on low, gradually add milk and then beat on medium speed for 20 seconds. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and then beat on medium speed for another 15 seconds. Do not over-mix. The batter will be smooth, satiny and creamy-looking. Gently fold the batter a few times with a rubber spatula to incorporate any ingredients stuck at the bottom of the bowl.
 
Spoon or scoop batter into lined muffin cups, filling them no more than halfway full (these cupcakes will rise quite a bit). Bake until evenly browned on top, the cake springs back when pressed gently with your finger and a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Transfer cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
 

To make the buttercream, whisk together flour and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small 1 or 2-quart saucepan until evenly blended.  Gradually whisk in milk until smooth.  Place over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until it begins to thicken and nearly comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, while whisking constantly, until very thick and paste-like.  When it is ready, the mixture will resemble white glue and you should be able to see the bottom of the pan as you whisk.  This will take about 10 minutes all together.

Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and into a small bowl.  This serves to remove any lumps and it helps the mixture cool down faster.  Place plastic wrap directly over the surface and set aside to cool completely at room temperature.

In the heat-proof bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together egg whites, remaining 2/3 cup sugar and salt. Place the bowl over a pot with ½-inch of simmering water or a double-boiler and whisking constantly until the mixture reaches 162 degrees F (72 degrees C), about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until it is completely cooled. This will take about 7-8 minutes and the mixture will appear white and fluffy like marshmallow or shaving cream.

Do not begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral (not warm).   Reduce speed to medium and add the butter slowly, one tablespoon at a time. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until creamy and smooth, 1-2 minutes. The mixture will go from looking grainy and soupy to smooth, silky and glossy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

At this point the cooled flour/milk mixture will be stiff.  So, with a wooden spoon or spatula, beat it vigorously until it is smooth and creamy.  Add half of the cooled flour mixture to the buttercream and beat on medium-high until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Add the remaining flour mixture and vanilla extract and beat until whipped and creamy, about 1 minute more. Cover with a damp cloth if using shortly.

Frost and decorate cupcakes as desired.

Oatmeal Banana Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies

5 Mar

Please, add any missing ingredients for these cookies to your grocery list ASAP — you need to make them STAT!  They are like banana nut bread and chocolate chip cookies fighting and making up in your mouth.  And they are loaded with good for you ingredients — like bananas, whole wheat flour, and oats (and yes, a stick and a half of butter, too). 

 

 

Before you ask, yes, that’s milk on the rocks.  Growing up, my grandfather operated a large dairy farm.  We were only allowed to drink his brand of milk, whole fat of course, and always on the rocks.  And a big refreshing gulp of it was always followed by a loud and satisfying, “Aaahhhmmm!!!”  And truthfully, it still is, even if it is only in my head instead of out loud, even if the dairy farm has morphed into high dollar residential real estate, and even if the milk is 1% instead of whole fat.  My grandfather would like these cookies, and the next time I see him, I will take him a batch so we can dunk them in our milk on the rocks and say “Aaahhhmmm!!!” out loud together just like when I was a kid 🙂

P.S.  My grandfather grew, harvested, and shelled the pecans that went into these cookies.  He keeps my freezer stocked with several gallons every season.  How sweet is he?  See now why he’s getting some cookies soon?

 

Oatmeal Banana Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields 3 dozen

 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted (about 2 ounces)

 

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk together both flours, salt, and soda in a bowl.
2. Put butter and both sugars into the bowl of an electric mixer ­with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale. Reduce speed to low. Add egg and vanilla; mix until combined. Mix in ­banana. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in oats, chocolate chunks, and walnuts.
3. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or heaping tablespoon), drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 12-13 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cook­ies to wire racks; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days.

 

Adapted from How to Eat a Cupcake who adapted it from Martha Stewart’s cookie cookbook.

Weekend Round Up

18 Feb
 

Don’t you hate it when you finally have a day off and you still wake up at 6:30 AM?  Today is my first day off after 12 days straight of nursery rounds, office hours, and after-hours calls and I was looking forward to snoozing until at least 8!  Oh well.  I got up and ate my usual Nutella toast and decided to let y’all know the things I’ve been working on over the past few weeks.  I have to run out for a new pair of fabric shears today but hopefully after that I will get some of these unfinished projects wrapped up!

From the Sewing Room

Here are some of my current fabrics under construction:

 
This was my first time scanning fabric. I promise there isn’t a stain in the middle.
  This Marc Jacobs stretch cotton will involve this cute peplum — that’s all I’m telling you for now!  It’s ready to be finished now that my wonderful alterations expert, Lisa, helped me finish fitting it.
 
 
 

This stretch Tahari suiting has shades of fuschia, coral, and green on a peachy background.  I am practicing lining and seam finishes with this one.  I hope to wear it to work one day this week so I will show you pics when it is done.  Please notice my lovely fuschia serging thread.  I finally got brave enough to change the thread on my serger all by myself! 🙂

 
 
 

These dots have been underway the longest.  They are the skirt for my Bombshell Dress from the Sew Retro class on Craftsy.  I am having fitting issues with the bodice so I may go ahead and finish the skirt to wear until I can get some professional help with the bodice.

From the Kitchen 

On the cooking front, I made three really good recipes from the interwebs this week but didn’t have a chance to snap a pic of any of them.  The first one is a regular in my rotation.

 I like Tiny Urban Kitchen‘s method of steak preparation because it eliminates all the guess work.  While my husband is usually in charge of cooking the steaks in our house (he is the steak whisperer, after all), occasions arise where I may be called on to complete the task.  Enter steak prep method for the immensely OCD :O

 To accompany our steaks, I tried Ina Garten’s roasted asparagus.  It was perfect for a weeknight meal (and would also be a great low maintenance side for a big dinner party).  This is super easy and involves tossing trimmed asparagus with olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, and roasting on a pan at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.  There.  Now you don’t even need to click the link.

Photo look too good to be taken by me? You're right -- it's from Bo's Bowl.

Finally, I made Bo’s Bowl’s Strawberry Cream Cheese Muffins to use up some waning strawberries from the farmer’s market — delish!  I took the leftovers to the nurses at the hospital and they were gone within minutes.  Be sure to check out Bo’s blog — he also hails from the Heart of Dixie.

So that’s it for this week.  Stay tuned for a fully-loaded Mardi Gras recipe just for you in the next few days, as well as some fun Mardi Gras trivia.  Have a good Saturday!

Blue Velvet Birthday Cupcakes

9 Feb

A two-tiered blue velvet cupcake for the birthday boy. It looked much bluer in person. I'm still figuring out this lighting and photo editing business.

 
This past Sunday was the first birthday party for a very special little boy — Kristian, the one-year-old son of our very good friends and neighbors, Kenny and Larrica.
 
 
 
Kenny’s favorite cake is Red Velvet so anytime I get a chance to feed them cake, this is what I make.  Of course, this is what Kristian requested for his birthday party, too 😉
 
Instead of the usual red, Larrica wanted blue cupcakes to coordinate with the birthday theme.  She also requested a combination of mini and regular cupcakes.
 

This is a better representation of the blue color.

 
 

The cupcake spread.

Unfortunately, the birthday boy was tired by the time the cake-eating festivities commenced, so I don’t have any cute pictures of frosting covered hands and faces.  But I know Master Kristian will have plenty of opportunities to catch up on his Red (or any color) Velvet Cake indulging.

Not a happy camper 😦

This recipe has been passed down in my family at least from my great-grandmother. It is a permanent fixture at all of our holiday tables and sometimes we make it just because (like family supper this week).

To make the two-tiered cupcake, I leveled the top of a regular cupcake with a serrated knife. I then frosted it with a single layer swirl (Ateco 804 tip). I peeled the paper off the mini cupcake and pushed it down into the frosting swirl. I then swirled frosting on the top of it with the same tip. While I didn’t do it, you could add a small toothpick or dowel down the center before frosting the mini cupcake for added stability as it may be a bit wobbly.

Blue (or Red) Velvet Cupcakes

Yield: in this case, 2 dozen mini and 1.5 dozen regular cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 1/2 cups canola oil*
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) blue (or red) food coloring

For the cream cheese frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese softened
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
pinch salt
pecans for garnish, if desired

For the cupcakes:  Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease muffin tin or line with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), blend eggs and sugar until thick and yellow.  Mix in vanilla extract and vinegar.  Slowly blend in oil until thoroughly mixed.  Add half of dry ingredients to egg mixture, mixing until just combined.  Stir in half of buttermilk.  Mix in half of remaining dry ingredients until just mixed, then remaining buttermilk, then last of the dry ingredients, blending only long enough to combine.  Do not overmix.  Finally, stir in food coloring until evenly distributed.  fill muffin tins 2/3 to 3/4 full and bake minis for 9-11 minutes, regular for 18-20 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched and cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

For cream cheese frosting:  In bowl of stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter with paddle attachment until light and fluffy.  Mix in vanilla extract.  Gradually blend in powdered sugar until smooth.  If desired you may stir chopped pecans directly into the frosting if you are going to spread onto the cupcakes with a spatula.  If you plan to pipe, you may want to chill the frosting briefly before filling your bag and decorating.  Top the piped cupcakes with a whole pecan half or garnish as desired.  Or just eat it as is right there on the spot 😉

*The original cake recipe calls for a whopping 2 cups of oil.  When I make this as a layer cake, I follow the original recipe but I found that cupcakes made with 2 cups of oil left oily rings on the platter.  Reducing the oil to 1 1/2 cups doesn’t seem to adversely affect the taste of the cupcakes so I guess you could reduce it in the layer cake as well.  But if you’re eating Red Velvet, you’re not on a diet, now are you???

Chocolate Workshop Part One — Cappuccino Chip Crumble Muffins

6 Feb

This past Friday evening I attended a chocolate workshop at a local culinary school.  I should tell y’all that I’m a cooking nerd — I love studying the science of what happens in the kitchen — so this class was a blast.  Who doesn’t love cooking and having someone else clean up the mess?!?  I got to hang out with some cool folks, and I came home with 7 new recipes, 6 of which we tasted during the class–score!

Each person was assigned a different recipe to prepare and mine was the Cappuccino Chip Crumble Muffins from Chocolatier October 1996.  I will be posting each of the six recipes (with permission of the instructor) in the upcoming weeks as well as a bonus recipe.

These muffins are easy to assemble, delicious with your morning coffee, and received the husband stamp of approval.  While the original recipe yields 11 jumbo muffins, it will also make about 20 regular-sized muffins if you don’t have a jumbo muffin tin.

Enjoy!

 
Cappuccino Chip Crumble Muffins
Yield: 11 jumbo or 20 regular muffins

Crumble:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg*
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts, chopped
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Batter:
1 1/2 cups milk, divided
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg*
1 cup granulated sugar
9 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375F. Spray 11 jumbo or 20 regular muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray or line with paper liners.

Combine all crumble ingredients and blend with a fork (or your fingers) until crumbly. Set aside.

Scald 1/2 cup milk in small sauce pan. Remove from heat and stir in espresso powder. Pour into a medium mixing bowl, add remaining 1 cup milk, and set aside to cool completely.

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg*, and granulated sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Toss in the chocolate chips.

Whisk the melted butter, dark brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract into the cooled milk mixture. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Divide batter between muffin cups, filling each cup a generous ¾ of the way full. Lightly press about ¼ cup of the crumb mixture onto the top of each muffin (each cup will now be filled to the brim but don’t worry—you will have beautiful muffin tops!).

Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes then remove from the pan and cool completely.

Source: Chocolatier October 1996

*Nutmeg is one of the most disgusting flavors to me so I omitted it from the recipe with good results 😉