Thursday, February 24, 2011

The big one (well, one of them, anyway)

About a week ago, I was having a conversation with (my 4yo daughter) Gillian as we were in the car on the way to the daycare.  I asked her if she knew that she was going to get to stay home with me on Monday (Presidents Day, the 21st).  "Yes! That's my day off!"  "Do you know what else it is?"  "Is it your birthday?"  "Yes, it is.  How old do you think I'm going to be?"  "100?"  Thanks, kid.  =)  

So yes, this past Monday was my birthday.  While I'm not quite 100, it was one of those birthdays with a zero at the end.  When I told Gillian which one, she insisted that we count from 1 to 40, just because she could.  Again, thanks. =)  I didn't really have any special plans for the day, in part because I knew Gillian would be home with me all day.  We went to Costco (and G was very disappointed in the lack of samples on weekdays), and did some baking.  

I was thrilled to get lots of wonderful birthday wishes from family and friends.  My family knows me well--my in-laws sent a baking-themed card, my sister Kate & her husband Jeff sent a gift card to King Arthur Flour, and my Dad and Judy sent a gift card to Sur la Table.  Time for some shopping! =)  (I already have my eye on this pullman pan. Though I still don't understand why they don't just sell the lid with it...)  The big question everyone kept asking, though, was who was making my birthday cake?  

There are two answers to that. The Friday before my birthday, one of my bankers made a cake for me and brought it to work.  It was one of my all-time favorites, yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  She was a little worried that I wouldn't like cake from a box mix.  My thoughts on that?  Any cake that someone else makes for me is awesome!  Plus, who doesn't like box yellow cake?  =)  It was fantastic.  

I also made cake for myself on Monday.  Gillian helped a bit with stirring and licking beaters. =)  Unlike the rest of my immediate family, I prefer vanilla cake with my chocolate frosting.  Since I was in the mood for raspberry filling, I decided to make white cake, since I think it works better than yellow for that.  My go-to recipe for white cake is in one of the first baking books I ever got, The Cake Bible.  It's the White Velvet Butter Cake.  One of the great things about making white cake instead of yellow is that I got to get some of the egg whites out of my freezer. =)  For the filling, I got to use more egg whites, since I made my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream, flavored with raspberry.  And I went the easy route for the frosting--I can probably make the sour cream-chocolate frosting in my sleep, I've made it so many times now.  I like lots of layers, so I sliced each of the 9" layers in half so I had four layers of cake with filling between them.  I didn't want to mess with decorating, so I just swirled the chocolate frosting on the top.  Brianna and Gillian insisted it needed something more, so we added some multicolored non-pareil sprinkles.

The verdict?  Well, that's kind of a silly question, since I made it with flavors that are my favorites.  Honestly, though, I might change the frosting next time.  The raspberry buttercream was fantastic with the texture of the cake.  The chocolate frosting was a bit heavy for the whole thing.  I might have to try it with chocolate buttercream for the outside next time, or maybe a milk chocolate ganache glaze.  It was still very tasty, though, and was eagerly eaten by everyone here.  

If you'd like to try making the White Velvet Butter Cake, you can find the recipe here.  The Sour Cream-Chocolate Frosting is in this post of mine.  And the Swiss Meringue Buttercream is in my post on Dorie's Perfect Party Cake.  (I added about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of raspberry fruit butter to the buttercream to flavor it. Raspberry jam should work as well.)  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Moody blues

I know I'm really in a grumpy mood when not even chocolate helps.  Unfortunately, I've been in this grumpy mood for the past couple of weeks.  I really need to do something to shake it.  I almost wanted to skip this post, but I haven't written about the last couple of Tuesdays with Dorie recipes (though I did bake one of them).  Yes, it's guilt that's really getting me going here, but at least something is moving me in the right direction.  You know things are really bad when not even this lovely Valentine's gift from my husband really broke through my bad mood:

That means it's time to bring out the big guns--chocolate with peanut butter.  I'm not ashamed to admit, I have a bit of a Reese's addiction. =)  (We're even coming up on my favorite time of year, when the Reese's Eggs are out!)  And I found a way to work it into my TWD assignment.  This week's recipe?  Chocolate Oatmeal Drops, picked by Caroline and Claire of Bake with Us.  That's right, no peanut butter in the original recipe.  But several of my Twitter buddies commented that they weren't that excited by these cookies.  I figured, what the heck, it can't hurt to throw in some peanut butter chips along with the oatmeal to liven things up!  

The cookie batter is pretty easy to mix up.  I just made half the recipe, since we already had lots of chocolate treats around here.  First you melt together butter, brown sugar, bittersweet chocolate and a bit of water.  (I used the microwave.)  Once all of that is melted and mixed together, you whisk in a egg.  I also added a bit of vanilla, in place of the cinnamon called for in the recipe.  (I don't care for cinnamon with chocolate.)  Next, you stir in the dry ingredients--flour, cocoa powder (I used natural), baking soda, and salt.  (I kept the full amount of salt even though I halved the recipe.)  Finally, you mix in rolled oats, and in my case, the peanut butter chips.  (85 grams, which is about half a cup.)  The batter isn't very stiff; it's more like brownie batter than most cookie batter.  I used my #40 disher to scoop it onto parchment lined baking sheets, and baked the cookies for 11 minutes.  I got 21 cookies from my half-batch.

The verdict?  I really liked these with the peanut butter chips.  The cookies are very chocolatey, and the oatmeal adds some nice chew.  They were a big hit at work.  One of my bankers said they were (the latest) best thing I've ever brought.  I think he was exaggerating because it was almost lunchtime, though. =)  Still, the compliment definitely improved my mood a bit. 

If you'd like to give these a try, you can find the recipe on Caroline's and Claire's blog.  To see what everyone else thought of these cookies, check out this week's Links.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sharing the love

Happy Valentine's Day!  I wasn't actually sure we were going to survive the weekend leading up to it.  This isn't really a big holiday for me and my husband.  I like to get a card, at least.  But my birthday is in a week, and I'd much rather have J make a big deal about that. =)  For the kids, however, Valentine's Day is a much bigger event.  This is the first year that Gillian has really been old enough to address the cards herself.  It was an all-day ordeal.  Finally, she was done writing the names, and just had to fold them and put stickers on them.  She commented that she didn't have enough stickers for all of them.  I looked over and discovered that she was only about halfway through, and she'd put anywhere from two to five stickers on the ones she'd completed.  I had to walk away--at that particular moment, I'd had too much of the whole process to find it funny.  But J convinced me otherwise.  After all, she is only four. =)

I thought I was going to end up baking something for Brianna's class party.  But I didn't get the email asking for contributions until after work one day last week, and everyone else had already volunteered.  A couple weeks ago, though, I found some really cool foil heart cups at Target (above), and I really wanted to use them for something.  I decided some teacher gifts were in order, for B's classroom and afterschool teachers, as well as the teachers at the daycare.  The question was what to make.  The insert with the cups suggests that they're good for cupcakes, jello or brownies.  I decided that brownies would be the way to go, since they're my favorite, and are also the thing most likely to survive transport by my kids.  

I generally go for fudgy brownies, like the ones I made last week.  But a few weeks ago, I tried a Cook's Illustrated recipe that I'd been meaning to make for a while, their Chewy Brownies.  Unfortunately, for that batch, I didn't bake the brownies long enough, and they were a bit too soft in the middle.  They were decent when chilled, but I'd been meaning to try again to see if I could get the proper chewy texture.  

I love the fact that the recipe can be made in a single bowl, with a whisk and a spatula.  You start by whisking boiling water into cocoa powder and espresso powder.  The recipe calls for Dutch-processed cocoa, but I prefer the natural (non-alkalized) kind.  Since there isn't any leavening that would be affected, I went with the natural kind (just regular old Hershey's in this case).  Next, unsweetened chocolate is whisked in until melted.  Melted butter and oil are next--the oil helps with the chewy texture.    Also contributing to that are the 2 egg yolks that are added along with 2 eggs.  Vanilla and salt are added for flavor.  Finally, sugar and flour are mixed in.  To add additional chocolate flavor without affecting the texture, chopped chocolate is stirred into the batter at the end.  I used Ghirardelli 60% chocolate chips.  

I scooped the batter into 18 of the heart cups that I'd sprayed with cooking spray, filling them halfway.  I had a bit of batter left, so I put that into a 6" round cake pan that was lined with non-stick foil.  The cups were placed on a large baking sheet, and I ended up baking them for 23 minutes.  The round pan wasn't filled as deep, and only took 20 minutes.  I made sure to cool the brownies completely.  I cut the 6" round into quarters so we could all sample it for dessert (with some whipped cream and cocoa syrup).

The verdict?  I was very happy to achieve the proper chewy texture this time.  I really liked the flavor and texture of the brownie we ate.  The espresso taste seemed a bit strong to me.  I'm wondering if that's because I substituted the natural cocoa powder.  I may cut the espresso powder back to just a teaspoon next time.  There will definitely be an next time.  =)  I really hope the teachers enjoy these, too.  

If you'd like to make these brownies for yourself, you can find the recipe here, on the Cook's Illustrated site.  (You have to be a subscriber, which I find to be totally worth the cost.)  It was originally published in the March 2010 issue.  I also found it online at Brown Eyed Baker.  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Comfort me with cocoa

So much has been going on, I don't even know where to start.  (And much of it has been very frustrating, and I don't want to depress everyone.)  Life has been crazy, and busy--I didn't bake anything at all for a week and a half!  I just couldn't find the time or energy.  With all this craziness, I was craving something comforting.  And chocolate. =)  So last night I finally made brownies (these, my favorite) and took them to work today to share.  But for home, I went with hot chocolate.  I did share the hot chocolate as well, but just with Jamie, since I made it an adult version by adding a bit of dark rum.

I don't use an exact recipe, it's just something that I've developed over time, similar to what I posted here.  (One thing I changed is that I melted the chocolate in a bit of boiling water first, before adding the rest of the ingredients.)  Since the hot chocolate isn't overly rich, I like to top it with some whipped cream.  This time I also added a drizzle of some yummy cocoa syrup that I made.  Mmm, dessert in a mug.

Hot chocolate definitely hits the spot on a day like today, when it's obviously winter, even here in Central Texas.  Or like last week, when the temperature wasn't above freezing from Tuesday morning until Friday afternoon.  On Friday morning, we even had this:

..which my Texan children thought was a lot of snow.  =)  Can you believe that we had a snow day for that? Of course, there was ice under the snow.  Plus way too many people around here who have no idea how to drive on snowy/icy roads.  Actually, I had to work, but we opened late.  UT was closed, so J got to stay home with the girls.  By Sunday it was 70ยบ again, which it had been the previous weekend as well.  Gotta love Texas weather. 

Speaking of Sunday, we spent part of it doing this: 

Sadly, the game didn't have the outcome we would have liked.  Maybe we should drown our sorrows in some more hot chocolate. =)  

So, which do you prefer, hot chocolate or hot cocoa?  It's definitely hot chocolate around here.  But the syrup was made with cocoa, and I really like the way it turned out.  It's really easy to make, too--boiling water, cocoa powder, sugar, a pinch of salt and a bit of vanilla.  Since the cocoa powder is the star, I broke out my stash of Scharffen Berger cocoa.  The syrup has a pretty intense flavor without being overly sweet, unlike the chocolate syrup we usually buy.  It makes great chocolate milk, too.  If you'd like to try it for yourself, check out the latest issue of Bon Appetit.  There are a bunch of great recipes from Alice Medrich.  I like that she usually uses natural cocoa powder, since that's my preference as well.  You can find the recipe for the cocoa syrup in this recipe for Stout Floats.  Enjoy!