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Friday, March 21, 2008

Cinnamon Chocolate Brownies

The other night, we rented a movie and were craving brownies with ice cream. So after dinner, I started to make brownies so they'd be ready for later. Ofcourse, I can't make it easy and use a recipe that I already know works, so I looked for a new, different brownie recipe. I had 6 ounces of ganache in the frig left over from the Smores Cupcakes, so I wanted to try to incorporate that into the recipe somehow. I decided on this one from Epicurious. About three quarters of the reviews were great - saying how moist and good they were, its now their favorite brownie recipe, etc etc. The remaining reviews were quite the opposite, calling them "not memorable," "a big disappointment," and some claiming, "I've had better brownies out of a box". I decided to make them anyway, despite the bad reviews.
Dan isn't a big chocolate fan.... as far as he'll go is brownies and reese's cups, so I left the ganache off the top. And since I had the leftover ganache I wanted to put into the batter, I altered this recipe slightly...

Ingredients for Cinnamon Chocolate Brownie:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped [or as I did: 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, & 6 oz. of chocolate ganache (see previous recipe)]
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced, room temperature [But I used only 3/4 stick of butter, the rest was in the ganache]
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts [I left these out]

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease an 8x8x2-inch baking pan then line with parchment paper. Grease parchment.
Mix first 3 ingredients in small bowl. In a separate bowl, stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until almost totally smooth. Add in the ganache (microwave for a few seconds first if necessary).
Stir until completely smooth, then turn off heat and let stand over water.
Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until mixture thickens and falls in soft ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes. [ This "soft ribbon" step didn't happen for me... it got very fluffy and foamy instead] Beat in vanilla. Stir in flour mixture in 2 additions, blending well after each. Gradually add warm chocolate to egg mixture, beating until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake brownies until top is set and tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes [Mine took 45!. Cool in pan on rack.

Initially, the result was.. odd. During baking, the brownies looked bizarre. Small bubbles in it, very light in color. And they took 10 minutes longer to bake than the recipe stated. But by the time they were done... well..The movie we rented was I am Legend.....SO not a brownie and ice cream kinda movie. So we skipped them that night. We did take a tiny sample right before bed and the taste was... strange. A little too cinnamony.. very gooey on the inside, but somehow very dry, and a strange crust formed on the top (other reviews had a similar crust). The crust was very light in color, as you can see in the picture, and was very very light in texture also - almost like foam. We covered it and went to bed, not knowing if we should throw them away or not.
The next night, it seems the brownies had changed quite a bit.

The weird crust was still there, but it didn't bother us - it was good in its weird way - added a slight crunch to an otherwise gooey brownie. The gooey part of the brownie got much better overnight, and wasn't dry anymore. I'm sure a reason for the very gooeyness of my brownies was the addition of the ganache which had heavy cream in it. The strong strong cinnamon flavor subsided significantly, and the result was a rich, chocolatey, fudgy brownie. Hmm, who'd have known. I really liked them, and even Dan did which was surprising as these were the chocolatiest things ever.

They were tasty, and very different than your traditional brownie, but I'm not entirely sure if I'd rush to make them again.

Monday, March 17, 2008

S'mores Cupcakes!

Yesterday was the St. Patrick's Day dinner with Daniel's family, and I wanted to bring a dessert. I tried to think of a recipe that would be appropriate for St. Patty's day... should it be green? Have bailey's irish cream in it? Shamrock shaped? In the end, I decided none of the above, and went for a random s'mores cupcake. I kinda made this recipe up as I went along... I took my crust recipe from my Bailey's Irish Cream Cheesecake to use as the bottom of my cupcakes. For the cupcake itself, I took my new favorite cupcake recipe, and added the rest of the crust mixture that was left over after filling the paper liners, (and then some more graham cracker crumbs for good measure). Topped it with chocolate ganache and toasted marshmallows and we were set...

Graham Cracker Crust for Cupcakes:
About a quarter of a package of graham cracker crumbs
Approx a quarter stick of butter, softened
1/8 C sugar

Combine all of the above ingredients until well combined.
Divide equally between 15 cupcake liners, and press firmly into the bottom of the liners.
Bake ~ 3 - 5 minutes at 350. Remove from oven and let cool.

Smores Cupcake Batter: adapted from Billy's Vanilla Cupcakes (see previous post)
The Remainder of the graham cracker crust crumbs (I had approx 1/4 C or a little less remaining)
1.25 C + 2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1.75 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 c Sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 C butter, room temperature (unsalted, cut into 1 inch cubes)
2 eggs
1/2 C whole milk (but we had no milk, so I used buttermilk!!!)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat to 325.
In bowl of electric mixer, combine flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder and salt, and mix on low to combine.
Add butter 1 cube at a time until coated with flour.
In a large measuring cup, whisk eggs, milk and vanilla. With mixer on medium, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition. But until ingredients are incorporated, don't overbeat.
Divide batter evenly among the liners with crusts, filling until ~ 2/3 full. Bake 17-20 min (or until cake tester comes out clean), rotating pans halfway through.
Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Chocolate Ganache: from The Baking Bible
(recipe scaled down by 1/3)
1/2 C heavy cream
2/3 Tablespoon butter
2/3 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 C semisweet chocolate chips.

Place semisweet chips in a bowl.
In a small saucepan, bring the first three ingredients to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Pour cream mixture over chocolate and let stand 5 minutes.
Stir until smooth, let stand 15 minutes or until ganache reaches desired consistency (it will thicken as it cools more)
[But after stirring, I only let it sit about 5 minutes before applying it to my cupcakes because I wanted it to still be drippy when I put it on)
Spoon ganache onto cupcakes, and smooth with a small offset spatula.

For the toasted marshmallows, since I did not have a culinary torch on hand, I lined a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and lined up the marshmallows on it.
With the broiler on low, put the cookie sheet on the top rack of the oven while keeping a watch on it. It goes from toasted to burnt FAST! After some ::cough:: slightly too toasted mallows, I had it right.
It was difficult to move the mallows from the parchment to the cupcakes, so I'm still trying to devise a better way to do this.


Well... on Friday, it was getting late and we didn't know what to do for dinner. Since we had just recently received our beautiful new food processor, we decided to give pizza dough a try. After all, the guy in the video made it look pretty simple! Now, I know this is not technically baking, but... its close! While Dan ran to Publix to get mozzarella, I started to put together the dough. The yeast poofed up perfectly and the dough came together pretty quickly. It was all going well until we had to roll it out. As we didn't have a pizza pan, a typical circular pizza pie was out of the question. We planned on rolling it out into a rectangle on our cookie sheet, but that didn't go so smoothly either. Initially, the dough was a little stickier that it should be. It stuck to the food processor bowl, the counter, our fingers, everything (besides our supercool silicone rolling pin! :) When we had added enough additional flour to get it to the correct consistency, we decided to just roll it directly onto the cookie sheet to avoid the complicated dough transfer (and subsequent tears). The shape that resulted from rolling it on the cookie sheet was more amoeba than pizza pie. But when it finally came out of the oven and cooled for us to eat it, it proved that it doesn't really matter what it looks like. It was pretty good! Thin, crispy crust. I just don't know how soon we'll be making another one from scratch... perhaps pizza is best left up to the pro's.

Pizza Dough from Cuisinart's Food Processor Instruction & Recipe book
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
2/3 c warm water
1 2/3 c all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp oil
Vegetable oil for the pan (I used olive oil)
1.5 tablespoons cornmeal for pan (but we used flour since we didn't have this)

Stir yeast and sugar into the warm water, and let sit until foamy - about 10 minutes.
Using the metal blade, put flour and salt in the work bowl and turn on machine.
Pour in the yeast mixture through the feed tube and process ~45 seconds, or until dough pulls away from sides of the bowl.
Add oil through the feed tube and process 60 seconds better.
If the dough sticks to the side of the bowl, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time, processing 10 seconds after each addition until dough leaves the sides of the bowl, but remains soft (we had to do this several times!).
Roll dough on floured surface into a circle, rotating and turning often so it doesn't stick. Roll it to a 15 " circle, or 10" circle (but we just oiled and floured a cookie sheet, and after rolling it out a few times on the counter, rolled it directly onto the cookie sheet.)

Preheat oven to 425. Bake the crust for 6 minutes (though we forgot to do this step, and it was still fine!)
Spread sauce on the crust to your liking, leaving outer edge exposed.
Top with shredded mozzarella, pepperoni & any additional toppings you may like.
Bake about 18 minutes, or until edge of crust is golden and bottom is deep brown.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rice Crispy Smorgasbord!

The first Quest on this blog, the quest for the perfect cupcake, has finally been completed..but I already have two more quests planned. The first, I need a better frosting recipe. Now, my frosting tastes wonderful, but I want one that is lighter and fluffier. One that doesn't look wet when I pipe it on to my cupcakes. One that I can make those pretty flowers with. But I'd also like it to be cooked (I think) so that it can sit out for a day or two and stay good. Ideally, I'd like it to look something like this.
The other quest, me and Daniel came up with about an hour ago. Actually, I suppose it would be more appropriate to call it an experiment, rather than a quest. We wanted to make two batches of the same recipe - one with good madagascar vanilla extract, and one with the imitation stuff. I know it tastes better, but we'd like to try them side by side and see how much of a difference it makes. For no real reason other than pure curiosity. It would have to be a recipe with a really simple flavor, so there would be nothing to mask the vanilla taste, like a plain sugar cookie, or shortbread, or... Mexican Vanilla Rice Crispy treats (thats how this topic came up). Sometime in the near future, I'll conduct this culinary experiment.
But for now, I'll show you what I did today. Daniel requested Rice Crispy treats, and being the angry baker that I am, I couldn't do it normally. I decided to do half the batch regular, and half the batch peanut butter. But while I was looking for a peanut butter crispy treat recipe, I came across one for Mexican Chocolate Rice Crispy treats that I just couldn't ignore. So, I decided to do one third regular, one third peanut butter, one third Mexican Vanilla. I scaled down the recipes, played with the proportions a wee bit, and left out the chocolate in two of the recipes because Dan isn't a giant chocolate fan. I did it like this...

Original Rice Crispy Treats adapted from the link above at Epicurious
1/6 stick of butter
1 1/3 c mini marshmallows
2 cups rice crispies

Line a 9 x 13 with parchment paper. Melt butter in saucepan on low. Add mallows & stir until totally melted. Remove from heat and stir in cereal. When cereal is fully coated, turn out into 9 x 13, taking up only 1/3 of the pan, leaving 2/3s empty. Pat down with rubber spatula.

Mexican Vanilla Rice Crispy Treats adapted from the link above at Epicurious
1/6 stick of butter
1 1/3 c marshmallows
1/3 tsp of cinnamon
1/3 tsp of vanilla
2 c rice crispies

Melt better in saucepan on low. Add mallows and stir until totally melted. Remove from heat, and stir in cinnamon and vanilla. Add cereal, and stir until coated. Press into the next third of the pan, leaving 1/3 empty.

Crunchy Peanut Butter Rice Crispy Treats adapted from link above at Epicurious
1/6 stick of butter
1 1/3 c mallows
1/2 c crunchy peanut butter
2 c rice crispies cereal

Melt butter on low. Add mallows and peanut butter, and stir until totally melted (this takes longer than the others, because of the peanut butter). Remove from heat and stir in cereal. Spread into the last third of the 9 x 13. Pat down. Allow to cool, then cut.

Total ingredients for everything:
6 c rice crispies
4 c mini marshmallows
1/2 stick butter
1/3 tsp vanilla
1/3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c peanut butter

Whew! Sounds like a lot, but the whole thing was very easy. It would have taken me a lot shorter if a small catastrophe hadn't happened in the beginning...

Luckily, I had Sadie to help me clean it all up. Within no time, we were back to mallow melting, and we were done.

The Mexican vanilla ones were very good, as were the peanut butter treats, but those were a little crumbly. Maybe next time, I'd add more marshmallows to those.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cinnamon Oatmeal Pancakes

After Friday's bakestravaganza, I took Saturday off from the kitchen to work at the candy store, but picked the whisk back up on Sunday morning. We had some buttermilk in the frig, so I decided to make Daniel some special Cinnamon Oatmeal Pancakes courtesy of & Gourmet magazine. I left out the raisins because Daniel isn't a big raisin enthusiast, and halved the recipe since there are only two of us.

Cinnamon Oatmeal Pancakes:
.5 cup old fashion oats
.5 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
A little less than 1 cup buttermilk
1 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, melted butter and vanilla, blend thoroughly. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix with the whisk until just combined. Don't worry if the batter is a bit lumpy. If necessary, lightly butter, oil, or spray your griddle or skillet. Preheat over medium heat or if using an electric griddle set to 350 degrees F. (If you want to hold the pancakes until serving time preheat your oven to 200 degrees F). Spoon 1/3 cup of batter onto griddle for each pancake, allowing space for spreading, and use a spatula or the back of your spoon to lightly press the batter into rounds. When the underside of the pancake are golden and the tops are speckled with bubbles that pop and stay open, flip over with a wide spatula and cook on the other side until light brown. Serve immediately or place in oven while you make the rest of the batch.

After Dan's quick run to Publix for eggs (I forgot I used all of them during the bakestravaganza), the pancakes came out perfectly. This version of the recipe made 6 decent sized pancakes. The oats & cinnamon were a nice subtle touch. These were soft and light, but not so fluffy. Nevertheless, I'd definitely make these again!

Mmm steamy!
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On Saturday, my first ever order for cupcakes was due. The birthday girl requested "purplicious" as a theme, so I obliged. Not really knowing what purplicious meant other than an excess of the color purple, I put different shades of purple everywhere I could. First, I made the batter using my new favorite vanilla cupcake recipe...

Billy's Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcakes
1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising*
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes (Room Temperature)
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

*Since the grocery stores in this area don't carry cake flour (and as far as I can tell, there are no specialty baking stores either) I make my own cake flour - For every cup of cake flour required, take one cup all purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons, plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat cupcake pans in nonstick spray with flour; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour. Consistency will be crumbly.
In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.
Divide batter evenly among pans, filling about 2/3 full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the frosting, I used Culinary Institute of America's recipe again:

Cupcake Frosting
Place 2 sticks butter (soft) in bowl of electric mixer.
Turn on mixer. Add 4 c SIFTED confectioners sugar. Keep speed on low.
When all sugar is in, add other ingredients:
2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1/4 c milk or heavy cream
Let mix for 5 minutes.

I placed light purple frosting on one side of the piping bag, and a darker shade of purple on the other to create a variegated color.

The result...
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And they were a hit, I was very relieved. The kids loved them, and were amazed: "they're purple on the inside, too!" The parents told me they were the best cupcake, and the best frosting they've ever had. My first order was a success!

But the bakestravaganza did not end there... after I cooked a beautiful dinner of lemon chicken and rice, I had to break in my brand new food processor that my mom bought us as a house warming gift. From Cuisinart's website, I found these Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies. I scaled the recipe down, since it was already 9:30pm, and I had no need for 3.5 dozen cookies.

Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies, from Cuisinart's website:
3/4 tablespoons instant coffee granules or instant espresso powder
3/4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon hot water
1-1/8 cups all-purpose flour
A little over half a teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
.5 cup unsalted butter, cut in 8 pieces, at room temperature
.375 (half way between a quarter and a half) cup firmly packed light brown sugar
.375 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup pecan halves (may be toasted) [though I left these out]
3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels [I used half semi-sweet and half bittersweet]

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine instant coffee granules, cocoa and water in a small bowl and stir to blend; reserve. Combine flour, soda and salt in a small bowl and stir to blend; reserve.
3. Place butter and sugars in the Cuisinart® Food Processor fitted with the metal "s" blade. Process until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Scrape work bowl and process 30 seconds longer. Add coffee/cocoa/water mixture, eggs and vanilla. Process 30 seconds, scrape work bowl. Process 20 seconds longer, scrape work bowl. Place flour mixture on top of creamed mixture, top with cooled pecans and chocolate chips. Pulse until flour, nuts, and chocolate chips are just blended in - do not over process - there may still be a sprinkling of flour showing, stir this in with a spatula.
4. Drop by rounded spoonfuls about the size of a walnut, 2 inches apart, on prepared baking sheets. Bake until golden, about 16 to 18 minutes. Cool slightly on baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

My cookies flattened out and spread a LOT. Perhaps I should have chilled the dough first, but I didn't feel like waiting until midnight to start baking. The result, though, was perfect. They were SO soft, lightly crisped on the outside. They just fell apart in your mouth. I definitely recommend this recipe, and will be going to Cuisinart's website in the future for other things to do with my new cool food processor.

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Happy Daylight Savings time spring ahead day!

Monday, March 3, 2008

The quest continues!

With all of this cupcake making, every recipe I had used for plain ol' vanilla cupcakes just seemed to be missing something. Either it was too dry, too light, too heavy, shrank in the tins, or didn't taste outstanding. None of them were bad but none of them were outstanding either. So the quest continued... until..I think.. yesterday.
I came across these cupcakes (not the frosting) on Martha Stewart's website. These cupcakes are supposed to be the recipe that Billy of Billy's Bakery of NYC uses. I scaled down the recipe using this online recipe conversion tool (which is very cool, by the way) since I had never tried it before. Next time, I'll probably make a larger batch - these were good. We resisted the temptation to eat them the first day, since almost all cupcakes taste better the next day, and they were great. Not light, not heavy - a perfect substantial weight. Buttery, moist, stable... and delicious.

For the frosting, I saw this instructional video on YouTube from Culinary Institute of America. I wanted to try to frost cupcakes a little differently, and was drawn in by how easy it looked to make this Begonia-like frosting. To ensure it would come out right, I used their recipe for frosting as well. I wanted to use purple and white, as the woman in the video shows it looking quite cute when you use white as well as a pastel color to make it look variegated like a real flower... but since I didn't use clear extract, it was more brown than white. So I decided to go whacky and make these orange and purple flowers. When I tried making the flowers, the consistency of my frosting was very very different from the instructor's. Mine was much less light and fluffy, and much moister and definitely did not hold up enough to come out looking like those flowers. Instead, I just changed tips and went back to my regular star-tip way of frosting. To my surprise, they still came out kinda cute looking. And the frosting... was great. Unlike the other frosting recipes I've used, this one was not overly sweet. It was much more mild in the sugariness department. I'd use this recipe again!

Here were my results:

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I'd still like to try to make those flowery cupcakes. Anyone know of a good light fluffy frosting recipe that would make this possible?


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