Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's great to be eight

While I may have issues with January, one part that makes me really happy is Brianna's birthday.  I can't believe she turned 8 today! It seems like just yesterday that she was a tiny baby, and now she's even past the little girl stage. While she's changed so much, one thing that hasn't changed at all is her favorite cake--chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.  Both the cake for her party on Sunday and the cupcakes for school today were very chocolatey, though she surprised me by asking for vanilla filling for the cake.  (It ended up being really good!)  

Somehow in the midst of all this chocolate cake baking, I managed to find time for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  As luck would have it, it was another cake!  Jennifer of Cooking for Comfort picked the Nutty, Chocolatey, Swirly Sour Cream Bundt Cake for us to make this week.  It still had some chocolate in it, but I figured the vanilla cake would be a nice change from everything else.  I was originally going to bake it on Saturday, but that day got eaten up with a trip to IKEA and some subsequent assembly.  (One down, two to go!)  B's birthday party was at lunchtime on Sunday, so it was Sunday evening before I finally got to tackle the bundt cake.  

This cake was easy to mix up--it uses the creaming method, with sour cream for the dairy/liquid.  The batter is layered with the swirl ingredients--batter, swirl, batter, swirl, batter.  I left a few things out.  I skipped the orange zest in the cake batter, since I wasn't in the mood for orange (and didn't have any to zest, as it turned out).  For the swirl, I used brown sugar in place of the granulated sugar called for in the recipe.  I kept the cinnamon and mini chocolate chips, but skipped the dried fruit and nuts, as they would have resulted in complaints from one or both of my children.  I couldn't pass up the chance to use my new bundt pan again, and the amount of batter was just right for that pan.  I started checking the cake at about 50 minutes, since I'm still getting used to this new pan.  I pulled it out of the oven at 65 minutes.

The verdict?  I liked this one, but the cake was just a tad dry.  I may have overbaked it slightly, but it kept testing not-done in the middle--confused by the swirl, no doubt.  And I'd actually prefer it with nuts instead of the chocolate chips.  I don't like cinnamon with chocolate, but I love it with pecans.  Of course, B&G love anything with chocolate chips, so they thought it was fine as is.  About half the cake went to the daycare on Monday.  When I picked up Gillian today, I found an empty container and a note thanking me for the yummy cake. =)

If you'd like to give this one a try, and come up with your own version of the swirl, you can find the recipe on Jennifer's blog.  To see how everyone else fared, check out this week's Links.  

Some pics of my 8-year-old birthday girl Brianna, then and now.  Where does the time go?  How do they get so big so fast?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A real zinger

January is a tough month sometimes.  The holidays are over.  The weather isn't the greatest.  (Although I've been happy to see some gray skies here--we really need the rain.)  For me, personally, January brings up some difficult memories, though those are tempered by the fact that Brianna's birthday is at the end of the month (she's going to be 8--how did that happen?!).  A number of years ago, my family decided that since January isn't always much fun, we'd rename it and make it our own.  So now we celebrate McMahonuary.  (My maiden name is McMahon--you know, like Ed McMahon; the h and o are silent.)  We don't have any specific traditions, we just do little things for each other to make the month easier to get through.  I got several texts at midnight on 1/1--not wishing me a happy new year, but a Happy McMahonuary! =)  One of my sisters often sends me chocolates from home.  Last year another sister got custom m&m's made for all of us.  (Yes, they fit McMahonuary on an m&m.)  Just little stuff.

One thing that always brightens my mood any time of year is yellow flowers, but it's a bit early for my favorites.  Luckily, January is a great time for another yellow favorite of mine, lemons.  This is prime time for all sorts of citrus.  My favorite grocery store, Central Market, is even celebrating with Citrus Fest.  I went to a class over the weekend and got to sample lots of desserts made with different types of citrus, demonstrated for us by the wonderful cookbook author and blogger David Lebovitz.  (more to come on that later this week)  That really put me in the mood for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Lemon Poppyseed Muffins, picked by Betsy of A Cup of Sweetness.

I love making muffins for breakfast, since they're easy enough for the girls to do a lot of the work.  We had our usual division of labor--Gillian did dry ingredients, while Brianna handled the wet stuff.  We started off with B rubbing the lemon zest into the sugar.  I put it in a bowl with the flour, salt and leavenings and handed it over to G to whisk together.  B is getting much better at cracking eggs--she did the whole thing by herself this time, with out breaking yolks or adding eggshell to the bowl.  She whisked as I added the sour cream, melted butter, lemon juice and vanilla to the eggs.  Then I took over for combining the wet and dry ingredients, which were quickly folded together with a rubber spatula.  I scooped the batter into my muffin pan (prepped with baking spray with flour) and baked the muffins for 18 minutes.  Once they were out of the oven, I whisked together lemon juice and powdered sugar and let the girls drizzle the glaze on top of the warm muffins.  (B got to do most of them.)

The verdict?  We all really enjoyed these.  You may have noticed that we left out the poppy seeds--the girls made some interesting faces when they tasted them plain, and requested that we skip them.  The lemon glaze really makes these muffins wonderful--nice and tangy.  The muffins by themselves taste rather plain; they need the shot of fresh lemon in the glaze.  They lasted all of two days around here.  I definitely think we'll be making them again, and I want to try them with Dorie's suggestion of jam in the middle.

If you'd like to give these a try for yourself, head over to Betsy's blog for the recipe.  And to see what everyone else thought, check out this week's Links.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Short but sweet...and chocolatey

The verdict?  These chocolate madeleines were pretty good, and were certainly a hit with the girls.  I'd like to try them again when I have time, not chilling the batter as long, or maybe not at all.  My madeleines came out rather flat, and I'd like to see if I can get them to have more of a bump, so maybe I can actually fill them with something.  (I didn't have any fluff anyway.)  I did like the combination of cake and ganache glaze.

If you'd like to try these, Margot has the recipe on her blog.  To see what the other TWD members thought of this week's pick, check out the Links.  Since it's been a while, I leave you with new pictures of my resident goofballs. =)

Monday, January 10, 2011


So, does anyone else still have their Christmas tree up?  We always leave it up until after the 6th (gotta have the 12 days of Christmas!), so this past weekend was my target for putting everything away.  I really meant for us to get to it yesterday, but it just didn't happen.  I had to work all day Saturday, meaning Jamie was stuck with the girls by himself all day, and he was mostly out of commission all weekend anyway, due to the lovely seasonal cedar pollen.  It didn't help that Brianna and Gillian were both trying my patience mightily on Sunday.  So there's still stuff all over my living room and around the tree, making it kind of hard to take it down.  At this rate, it may be a several-day project like putting it up was.

But while we're on the subject, did you get any good Christmas presents?  I did!  I accidentally found out about one of them several weeks before Christmas, and then had to wait to get to use it.  My in-laws got me the fabulous Heritage Bundt pan that I used to make the cake in this post.  My mother-in-law also made me some lovely new aprons featuring food designs.  They'll make a nice change from my old one--they're in such pretty colors.  (I try to remember to wear an apron whenever I'm in the kitchen, since I'm a bit of a klutz and always seem to end up wearing some of the ingredients...)  I also got Classic Home Desserts from Jamie, which has a great forward by Dorie Greenspan.  And with some of my Christmas money, I picked up a copy of Baked Explorations.  I think I may spend the rest on a pain de mie pan.  =)  

I had a hard time deciding what to make first in my new pan, but finally settled on a tried and true recipe from Cook's Illustrated, the Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake.  One thing I really like about this cake recipe is that it uses natural cocoa powder, since I prefer that to Dutch-processed.  (The alkalized stuff always seems to me to have a weird aftertaste.)  The cocoa is bloomed in boiling water to really bring out the chocolate flavor.  Some bittersweet chocolate gets melted in the boiling water, too--I used a mix of El Rey 58% and 70%.  Some instant espresso powder is added as well, to give the chocolate flavor an additional boost.  Once the chocolate mixture is cooled, sour cream is whisked in. The cake batter is made with the creaming method. The butter is creamed with brown sugar (which adds moisture and flavor compared to white sugar). Next eggs and vanilla are beaten in. Then the dry ingredients (flour, salt and baking soda) are mixed in alternating with the chocolate & sour cream mixture.

I realized as I was doing the final mixing that there was more batter than would fit in my new pan. The recipe calls for a 12-cup bundt pan, and the heritage pan is only 10 cups. So I pulled out one of my little 3-cup pans for the rest of the batter. I filled both pans about 3/4 full. The smaller pan took 30 minutes to bake, while the larger one needed 50 minutes. I let the cakes rest in the pans for about 10 minutes before turning them onto racks to cool completely. In the past, I’ve added a chocolate glaze on top, but this time I wanted to really show off the shape of the cake, so I simply dusted it with powdered sugar once the cake was completely cool.

The verdict?  I've made this cake several times, and it's always fabulous.  My main issue with most chocolate cakes is that they're not that chocolatey.  No such problems with this cake!  It's not often that I find a cake I'm happy to eat without any sort of frosting or glaze. =)  It was a big hit with everyone else here, as well.  (I made it while Jamie's parents were here so they could help us eat it.)  As I expected, I love the shape of the cake in this pan, too.  I can't wait to make some other ones.  

If you'd like to try this recipe for yourself, you can find it here if you subscribe to the Cook's Illustrated website.  I also found it here on food.com.  

Cool new foodie aprons! =)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Crackly new year

Second post of the year, and it's another Wow.  As in, wow, I can't believe Tuesdays with Dorie has been going for three years!  And even more crazy is the fact that I've been a part of it since week seven.  I've skipped a few things along the way (though not that many), but have made the vast majority of the recipes chosen so far.  I didn't do so well in December, though, and I'm trying to get off to a better start for the new year.  To kick off the month and the year, Laurie and Julie picked our recipe, Midnight Crackles (in celebration of the new year starting at midnight =) ).

I decided to just make half the recipe, since we're still trying to finish off the last of the Christmas cookies.  The cookie dough is pretty straightforward to mix up.  The only change I made was to skip the cinnamon and cloves in favor of some dried ginger, since I don't like cinnamon with chocolate.   Also, based on the experiences of others, I shortened the chilling time for the dough to just half an hour.  It was still a bit challenging to form the balls of dough, since the dough was a bit crumbly.  But I got it done.  I ended up with 21 cookies, which I baked for 10 minutes.  

The verdict?  I'm still trying to decide on these. I mean, they're good.  (They have lots of chocolate, after all.)  But they're not my favorite chocolate cookie.  Right now I think that title goes to the Alice Medrich chocolate chunk cookies (one variation of which you can see here).  They were still eagerly eaten at work, though. =)   I also couldn't taste the ginger at all.  If I try these again, I'll probably add some finely chopped crystallized ginger to the dough.

If you'd like to give these a try, the recipe can be found on the Tuesdays with Dorie site.  To see what everyone else thought of these, check out this week's Links.   Happy anniversary, everyone!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New year, old stuff

Wow.  Welcome to 2011.  I had grand plans for blogging in December, and toward the end of the months, things just got away from me.  (Especially with the cookies--my apologies to my friends for not finishing the Saveur cookie baking project.)  But it's a new month and a new year, and I'm starting fresh.  I've been trying to decide what I want to accomplish this year.  2008 was my first year of blogging--lots of TWD and Daring Bakers.  2009 was the year of bread--starting with getting ABin5 for Christmas (08), challenging myself with Baking Your Own Bread, making croissants, starting the BBA Challenge.  2010 was the year I tackled sourdough, from Crusty Cheese Bread to Panettone.  So far I only have a few things on the slate for 2011.  I want to learn to temper chocolate.  It's one of the few techniques that really scare me.  But hey, if I can handle caramel without fear, I can do chocolate, right?  The second thing was inspired by my friend Kayte.  Last year (and again this year, I think), she has strived to use the things she already has, rather than buying new stuff.  I'm not going to say that I won't buy anything new, but I really do want to make use of the many, many baking & cooking books that I already own.  The third thing is to get back on track with baking my own bread.  Last year, I still did more of it than most people, but it got pushed to the back burner a lot due to timing.  I want to get better organized with it this year.  

So this post is about two of those things, anyway.  (No chocolate yet, sorry.)  Baking more bread, and using stuff I already have.  What helped me bake lots of bread in the beginning was Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  No-knead bread, using dough that you mix up, let proof for a couple hours, then stick in your fridge and bake when you want.  I pulled the book off the shelf, and looked for a recipe to get started.  (I actually did this last week.)   Semolina is a favorite of mine, and I realized that I'd never made the Semolina Bread recipe because I didn't have durum flour.  But thanks to a couple orders from King Arthur, I'm now well-stocked.  One reason that I stopped doing the ABin5 method is that the 6-quart dough container just takes up too much room in my fridge.  So I decided to scale the recipe to fit in my 4-quart container (which is the same height but a much smaller diameter).  

I do most of my measurements by weight these days.  The full ABin5 recipe calls for 2 pounds of flour, which is roughly 900 grams.  Two-thirds of that is 600 grams.  I did 200 grams of durum flour and 400 grams of bread flour (I wanted chewy bread in this case).  Two-thirds of the water is 2 cups, or about 450 grams.  I used 10 grams of instant yeast and 14 grams of kosher salt for my adjusted recipe.  I measured everything directly into my dough bucket (more about that here) and mixed it with my handy dough whisk.  The dough spent a couple hours on the counter, then went into the fridge for the night.  That was Wednesday.  Thursday morning before work, I took half of the dough and formed it into a batard.  I let it warm up and rise on a sheet of parchment on my peel for about an hour.  Then I dusted it with flour, slashed it, and baked it for about 35 minutes.  For the first ten minutes of the baking time, I covered the loaf with a disposable aluminum pan instead of pouring water into a steam tray.  

The verdict?  This bread was excellent with some garlic butter, and paired nicely with our pasta dinner Thursday night.  I'd forgotten how easy the whole ABin5 process is.  I'm definitely going to be doing more of it.  I love making bread with lots of different techniques, but this one is great for getting something baked & on the table quickly.  The rest of the dough was baked the next morning, shaped as a Dragon Tail Baguette (sorry, no good pics--will do some next time), and was served with bean soup for dinner.  Overall, the results were better than I remember, probably because I'm so much better at shaping now, even with wet doughs.  I kind of wish I'd made a full batch, since this only made two loaves, but there just isn't that much room in my fridge right now.  And hey, that means I can try something new that much sooner! =)  

If you'd like to try your hand at no-knead bread, head on over to the ABin5 website.  If you're new to their technique, this is a good place to get started.  If you like what you see, buy the book.  And if you're a little crazy and want to start baking all your own bread, join in the BYOB adventure.  To see lots of other yummy bread and other yeasted treats, check out Yeastspotting!