Sunday, April 27, 2008

When in doubt, cover it in chocolate

I'm really lucky.  I have a husband who likes to dance.  When we were planning our (rather small) wedding, Jamie mentioned that one of the things he wanted us to include was a "first dance."  My response to that was something along the lines of "that's fine with me, but you need to learn to dance."  I had taken a few ballroom dance lessons in college, but Jamie didn't have any similar experience.  He really enjoys music (both listening and, in the past, performing), so he was open to the idea.  We managed to find a local chapter of what is now USA Dance here in Georgetown that hosts monthly dances with a different lesson (foxtrot, rhumba, waltz, etc) each month.  More than six years later, we're still active in the group, though we don't get as many opportunities to dance or practice these days (two small children will do that to you).  

The USA Dance organization is not-for-profit and the local chapters are run by volunteers.  One of the things that people contribute is food for the refreshments table at each dance.  With my love of baking, I almost always bring something.  For one thing, it's a way for me to make a larger batch of something and not have it around the house for too long.  =)  So when I learned that this month's Daring Baker's challenge was Cheesecake Pops, I knew that they would be perfect for this month's dance.  Which happened to be today, the 27th.

The April challenge was selected by by Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell.  The cheesecake pops are from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor.  This recipe was certainly a neat idea.  First you make a New York-style cheesecake.  Then you insert lollipop sticks into small portions of the cheesecake, dip them in chocolate, and decorate them with your choice of toppings.  What's not to love? =)  

I've made cheesecake a number of times, but this was rather different from my usual recipe.  I prefer a more creamy cheesecake made with as much sour cream as cream cheese (my favorite is from Rose Levy Beranbaum).  The cheesecake batter was very easy to mix together, especially since I used my stand mixer.  Once the batter was in the pan, it went into a water bath and into the oven.  I read a number of comments from other DBers that they had to bake the cheesecake much longer than the 35-45 minutes indicated in the recipe.  My experience was the same--I finally pulled it out at about 70 minutes, and it was just barely beginning to brown in a spot or two.  I let it cool to room temperature and then put it in the fridge overnight.  

Unfortunately, I wonder if I overbaked it, because I had a lot of problems when I went to scoop the cheesecake into balls.  It was very tasty, but the balls kept trying to fall apart.  I finally ended up just dipping my disher in hot water after every scoop and did the best I could. Actually, once I dipped them in the chocolate and decorated them with sprinkles, they looked pretty good, even though they weren't very uniform.  I guess you can't go wrong with covering something in chocolate.  =)  They were quite a hit with the dance crowd this afternoon--I got many very nice compliments.  Now I just have to figure out what to do with the rest of the cheesecake in my fridge--I made about 30 good-sized pops, but I still have almost half the cheesecake left.  

Cheesecake Pops
Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan) (I did end up using a springform, since it was the only 10-inch pan I had, so I just wrapped the outside in heavy-duty foil), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes. (Mine ended up taking about 70 minutes.  I checked it every 5 minutes after the initial 45 minutes and took it out when it was just barely beginning to brown in a couple spots.)

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls (I used a #40 disher and dipped it in hot water after each scoop) and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours. (I froze mine overnight.)

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely.  (I dunked the pops, but spooned chocolate over the tops of them to make sure they were completely coated, including around the stick.)  Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

TWD: Bill's Big (or Small) Carrot Cake

I've really been enjoying playing around with the Tuesdays with Dorie recipes. Most of them are things I really want to try, but the quantities are just too much for us to eat. Okay, we probably could finish them off, but I'm not sure it would be a good idea. And the people I work with won't thank me if I make them all gain lots of weight. =) Over the past few weeks, I've decided that I like making things in miniature. This week was the first time since I started making smaller versions that the recipe was for a cake. Thanks to Amanda of Slow Like Honey, this week's offering is Bill's Big Carrot Cake. Of course, I used this as an excuse to go buy myself a couple of cute 6" round cake pans.  =)

Even after my purchase of the new pans, I wasn't sure if I was going to make the cake. I like carrot cake, but I don't love it. And I've had a rough few days--I keep thinking about my mom (yesterday was one month since she died). And while I'm glad I made something for A Taste of Yellow, it brought up lots of memories. I'm usually okay with that since so much time has passed, but I've been a lot more emotional lately. And of course my daughters manage to pick up on that and act up in various ways, making it that much worse.  

But last night I decided, "What the heck, I'll do it.  I have Tuesday off this week, so it doesn't matter if I stay up late."  And the funny thing was that once I got started mixing, I started to feel better.  Since I was using my new pans, I only made one-third of the batter. Fortunately, most of the ingredients were easy to divide that way (and for the egg, I just beat a second egg a bit and measured out what looked like about a third of it).  Jamie and I both despise coconut (my children will never taste it unless they get it somewhere outside this house), so I left it out and instead just left in the original amount of raisins.  I also did something a bit different with the carrots.  My favorite carrot cake recipe from Fine Cooking uses finely chopped carrots (pulsed in the food processor with the metal blade--really easy) instead of shredded ones.  I like how they blend more evenly into the cake batter that way.  And I already had some finely chopped pecans in my freezer (rather than coarsely chopped ones), so in they went.  Since I was making a small amount of batter, I also skipped the stand mixer and mixed the batter with a whisk and a spatula.  

My cake layers took about 30 minutes to bake.  Once they were done, I let them rest in the pans for 5 minutes and then turned them out onto racks to cool.  I always line my cake pans with parchment (even when the recipe doesn't say to), so they came out of the pans with no problems.  At that point it was almost midnight, so I figured they would be fine overnight and went to bed.

On to the decorating...  I didn't use Dorie's recipe, though the one I used is close.  It just has a lot less sugar, since I don't like really sweet frosting.  I also flavored mine with vanilla rather than lemon.  I decided to cut each of my layers in half so I would have four layers in my cake.  I like piping (even though I don't think I'm that good at it), so I planned to frost the sides as well as the top (unlike in the book) and add a border of some sort.  As I was falling asleep, it occurred to me that the cake would look cute with carrots piped on top (Mary had the same idea--very cute).  I made half a recipe of frosting, and tinted a little bit of it green and orange. However, by the time I finished filling the layers and frosting the sides and top of the cake, I didn't have anything left to pipe with.  So I made a bit more--have you ever tried to make a small amount of something in a stand mixer?  =)  It's not easy--I should have just pulled out my hand mixer, but by the time I realized that, I was pretty much done.  In the recipe below, I've listed the total amounts for everything I used.

I really like how the whole thing turned out.  And it's quite tasty, too.  I usually make carrot cake with currants rather than raisins; I liked the flavor of the raisins in this, but their size made the cake a bit harder to cut neatly.  

Bill's Big Carrot Cake
(Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

Yields 4-6 servings

For the cake:
2/3 cup (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped carrots (about 3 carrots--cut them into 1 inch pieces and then pulse in the food processor with the metal blade until finely chopped)
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup moist, plump raisins
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 large egg + about 1 tablespoon beaten egg (beat a second egg in a small bowl and measure out about 1 tablespoon; discard the rest)

Getting ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 6-x-2-inch round cake pans. Line the pans with parchment and grease the parchment. Then flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To make the cake:
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, and raisins.
In a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together with a whisk until smooth. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Add the flour mixture and mix only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently fold in the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

For the frosting (mine, not Dorie's):
11 ounces cream cheese, room temperature, cut into pieces
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  With the mixer again on medium speed, add the cream cheese a piece at a time, beating well after each addition.  Once all the cream cheese is in, reduce the speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar and vanilla, scraping the bowl as necessary.  Use the frosting to fill the layers, then frost as desired.

This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. It can also wait, at room temperature and covered with a cake keeper overnight. The cake is best served in thick slices at room temperature and while it's good plain, it's even better with vanilla ice cream or some lemon curd.

The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it's firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another sort of cancer survivor...

As soon as I saw a post mentioning the LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow event hosted by Barb at winosandfoodies, I knew that I wanted to participate.  I'm not a cancer survivor myself, and unfortunately this isn't the story of someone close to me who is.  Instead, I'm one of those who had to find a way to survive after having my life ripped apart when someone close to me died of cancer.  

In early 1992, I was a junior in college.  That spring, my fiance, Nate, was diagnosed with ocular melanoma--a rare malignant tumor in his eye--shortly before his 20th birthday.  He went through various treatments to kill the tumor.  We graduated the following spring, got married two weeks later, and moved to Seattle where Nate was going to grad school.  (I ran screaming away from more school at that point and got a job, but that's another story.)  Everything seemed fine; Nate went in for checkups every 6 months.  Then, in the early fall of 1995, before he was due for his next doctor appointment, he noticed that something seemed wrong.  He went in for various tests, and it was quickly discovered that the cancer had returned, and had spread throughout his liver.  He went through chemo, but what we didn't realize at the time, especially being in the middle of everything, was that the prognosis was very poor.  Nate died on January 22, 1996, at the age of 23.  I was about a month away from my 25th birthday.  

Cancer sucks no matter how old you are.  So why all the emphasis on our ages?  With everything that Nate and I went through, it was apparent that no one knew what to do with us. There's plenty of attention given to pediatric cancer and cancer in older adults, but not much to cancer in young adults.  Fortunately that's changed somewhat in the past 12 years, thanks to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.  Lance was 25 when he was diagnosed with cancer.  His story has definitely increased awareness for young adults with cancer.  You can find out more about the LAF Young Adult Alliance here.

As for me, I would definitely call myself a survivor.  Today I have a wonderful (second) husband and two beautiful children.  Sure, there are times when I can't help but think that I wouldn't have my current life if Nate had lived.  And as time passes, I sometimes feel like I'm the only one who remembers Nate--it's not exactly the sort of thing you can bring up in casual conversation.  So I'm glad to have the opportunity to tell a bit of his story here so others will know.  

For my taste of yellow, I chose some lovely lemon cookies from Dorie Greenspan and decorated them with yellow sugar.  Yellow makes me think of spring, and thus of hope and rebirth.  "To love is to risk losing.  To lose is to risk finding something new.  The cycle of the heart: birth, death, rebirth.  Therefore, before my heart turns to stone, I will re-enter the cycle, and make up my mind again to risk living." (From Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving Hold Fast and Let Go by Molly Fumia.)

Lemon Sabl├ęs
(from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1 ounce) confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature (mine were still pretty cold, didn't seem to be a problem)
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
yellow decorating sugar

Working in a small bowl, using your fingers, rub the lemon zest into the granulated sugar until the sugar is moist and very aromatic.  Set aside.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and very creamy.  Add the lemon sugar, confectioners' sugar and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute.  The mixture should be smooth and velvety, not fluffy and airy.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the egg yolks, again beating until the mixture is homogenous.

Turn off the mixer.  Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and the counter from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each pulse.  Take a peek--if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple more times; if not, remove the towel.  Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough and the dough looks uniformly moist.  (If most of the flour is incorporated but you've still got some in the bottom of the bowl, use a rubber spatula to work the rest of the flour into the dough.)  The dough will not clean the sides of the bowl, nor will it come together in a ball--and it shouldn't.  You want to work the dough as little as possible.  What you're aiming for is a soft, moist, clumpy (rather than smooth) dough.  Pinch it, and it will feel a little like Play-doh.  

Scrape the dough out onto a smooth work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long; it's easiest to work on a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to help form the log.  Wrap the logs well and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours, preferably longer.  (Chill the log inside the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels to keep it round.)

Getting ready to bake:  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  

Remove a log of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it on a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Sprinkle the entire surface of the log with decorating sugar and press it into the dough so it adheres.

Trim the ends of the roll if they're ragged, and slice the log into 1/3-inch-thick cookies.  (You can make these as thick at 1/2 inch or as this as--but no thinner than--1/4 inch.)  (I used a serrated knife to cut the dough, rotating the log after each cut to keep it round.) Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between them.

Bake the cookies for 17 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the midway point. (Oops, I always forget to do that.) When properly baked, the cookies will be light brown on the bottom, lightly golden around the edges and pale on top; they may feel tender when you touch the top gently, and that's fine.  Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest a minute or two before carefully lifting them onto a rack with a wide metal spatula to cool to room temperature.  

Repeat with the remaining log of dough, making sure the baking sheet is cool before you bake the second batch.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

TWD: Marshmallows

I'm not sure exactly what it is about marshmallows that makes them so appealing.  Maybe it's that they remind us of childhood.  I don't think I've met a kid yet who doesn't like them.  Mine are no exception.  I've never seen anyone inhale marshmallows as fast as my toddler, Gillian.  I didn't even get any pictures of her, she ate them so fast.  =)  I wouldn't call them a favorite of mine, and yet I still can't stop sampling.  Of course, it helps that I made chocolate ones, and I pretty much love all things chocolate.  

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe comes from Judy of Judy's Gross Eats.  It was an interesting experience.  I've made meringue before, and worked with hot sugar syrup and gelatin, but I've never put them all together.  It wasn't an unqualified success, though they turned out okay.  I was fine making the syrup, using my usual setup with my digital thermometer checking the temp.  

I was fine beating the egg whites.  Things got interesting when I went to add the syrup to the egg whites.  Despite my attempts to pour carefully, I still ended up with some beads of sugar around the inside of the bowl and some strands attached to the whisk.  

No big problems, though.  I added the gelatin (the plain stuff sure does smell nasty) and beat the heck out of the whole thing.  I read in the P&Q post that some people had trouble with the mixture deflating when other flavorings were folded in.  To try to head that off, I thought I'd try whisking some of the marshmallow fluff into the chocolate/cocoa mixture to lighten it.  

Then I added it to the rest of the marshmallow mixture and folded it in with my balloon whisk.
It mostly worked, but I ended up with a few solid bits of chocolate in there.  

And when I transferred the marshmallow stuff to my prepared pan (I used non-stick foil coated with cornstarch), I think I spread it out too much.  If I do this again, I'll try using an 8" square pan instead of a sheet pan so they'll be thicker.  

All in all, I'm glad I gave these a try, even if they didn't turn out quite the way I wanted them to.  It's one of those great things that make people go, "You made what?!" since it doesn't occur to them that you can make something like marshmallows at home.  I'm not sure that I'll do it again soon, but who knows...

(from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

About 1 cup potato starch (found in the kosher foods section of supermarkets) or cornstarch
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 1/4-ounce packets unflavored gelatin
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar

GETTING READY: Line a rimmed baking sheet -- choose one with a rim that is 1 inch high -- with parchment paper and dust the paper generously with potato starch or cornstarch. (I used non-stick foil instead of parchment paper.)  Have a candy thermometer at hand.

Put 1/3 cup of the water, 1 1/4 cups of the sugar and the corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar is dissolved, continue to cook the syrup -- without stirring -- until it reaches 265 degrees F on the candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.

While the syrup is cooking, work on the gelatin and egg whites. In a microwave-safe bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the remaining cold water (a scant 7 tablespoons) and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until it is spongy, then heat the gelatin in a microwave oven for 20 to 30 seconds to liquefy it. (Alternatively, you can dissolve the gelatin in a saucepan over low heat.)

Working in the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in another large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until firm but still glossy -- don't overbeat them and have them go dull. (I added the other tablespoon of sugar to the whites as they were being beaten.)

As soon as the syrup reaches 265 degrees F, remove the pan from the heat and, with the mixer on medium speed, add the syrup, pouring it between the spinning beater(s) and the sides of the bowl.  (I transferred the syrup to a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup to make it easier to pour.  I should have warmed up the cup somehow, because the last of the syrup cooled too much and stuck to the cup.  I would have oiled it to avoid that, but wasn't sure that was a good idea with egg whites.)  Add the gelatin and continue to beat for another 3 minutes, so that the syrup and the gelatin are fully incorporated. Beat in the vanilla.  

Using a large rubber spatula, scrape the meringue mixture onto the baking sheet, laying it down close to a short end of the sheet. Then spread it into the corners and continue to spread it out, taking care to keep the height of the batter at 1 inch; you won't fill the pan. Lift the excess parchment paper up to meet the edge of the batter, then rest something against the paper so that it stays in place (I use custard cups).  

Dust the top of the marshmallows with potato starch or cornstarch and let the marshmallows set in a cool, dry place. They'll need about 3 hours, but they can rest for 12 hours or more.

Once they are cool and set, cut the marshmallows with a pair of scissors or a long thin knife. Whatever you use, you'll have to rinse and dry it frequently. Have a big bowl with the remaining potato starch or cornstarch at hand and cut the marshmallows as you'd like -- into squares, rectangles or even strips (as they're cut in France). As each piece is cut, drop it into the bowl. When you've got 4 or 5 marshmallows in the bowl, reach in with your fingers and turn the marshmallows to coat them with starch, then, one by one, toss the marshmallows from one hand to the other to shake off the excess starch; transfer them to a serving bowl. Cut and coat the rest of the batch.

SERVING: Put the marshmallows out and let everyone nibble as they wish. Sometimes I fill a tall glass vase with the marshmallows and put it in the center of the table -- it never fails to make friends smile. You can also top hot chocolate or cold sundaes with the marshmallows.

STORING: Keep the marshmallows in a cool, dry place; don't cover them closely. Stored in this way, they will keep for about 1 week -- they might develop a little crust on the outside or they might get a little firmer on the inside, but they'll still be very good.

LIGHT CHOCOLATE MARSHMALLOWS: Melt 3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and stir in 2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Reduce the vanilla extract to 1/4 teaspoon, and after the marshmallow batter is mixed, fold in the chocolate mixture with a large rubber spatula. (I tried to lighten the chocolate mixture with some of the meringue before folding it back into the rest.  I used my balloon whisk for the folding.  I totally forgot the vanilla, but they were still good.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cupcakes for Daddy

Jamie's birthday was actually Friday, but we always grocery shop on Friday nights, and I didn't have a chance to make anything before then.  It worked out better to wait until today anyway, so Brianna could help.  She wanted to make cake, but it would take us forever to eat, so I convinced her that cupcakes would be better.  And hey, we got to buy new cupcake liners and sprinkles!  There was no question what flavor they would be--"Chocolate with chocolate!"  Fortunately, that's Jamie's favorite as well as Brianna's.  =)  And Gillian didn't complain either.  (My favorite is vanilla cake with chocolate frosting.)

For the cupcake recipe, I turned to my trusty source, Cooks Illustrated.  I made a couple of small modifications to the recipe, and they turned out great, as always.  I had a bit more trouble with the frosting.  I originally wanted to do something light, like a chocolate whipped cream, but my chocolate/cream mixture broke.  So I dumped in some powdered sugar, unsweetened cocoa and a bit more melted chocolate along with a pinch of salt and beat it all together.  I'm not going to give the recipe, since I'm not sure I could duplicate it (or if I should), but it was decent.  Edited:  Okay, so Jamie thought the frosting was great--he really liked the texture.  So I'll have to see if I can get it to come out the same way again.  =)

Super Chocolatey Sour Cream Cupcakes
(adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used El Rey Bucare 58.5%)
1/2 cup (1.5 ounces) dutch-processed cocoa (I used Valrhona)
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
3/4 cup (3.75 ounces) all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used 1/2 teaspoon double-strength)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat you oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard-sized 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Place the butter and chocolate in medium heatproof bowl. Heat the butter and chocolate in the microwave for 2 minutes on 50% power. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted, microwaving for additional 10-second bursts if needed.  Whisk in the cocoa powder and espresso powder. Set the mixture aside to cool until just warm to the touch.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in a small bowl to combine.

Whisk the eggs in a second medium bowl to combine; add the sugar, vanilla, and salt and whisk until fully incorporated.  Add the cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Stir in about one-third of the flour mixture until incorporated, then half the sour cream. Alternate stirring in the remaining flour and sour cream, ending with the last third of the flour.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin pan cups. (I use a #16 disher for this.)  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.

Cool the cupcakes in the muffin pan on a wire rack until they are cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove each cupcake from the muffin pan and set it on the wire rack. Cool the cupcakes to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Lemon Cream Dreams (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe has the longest title yet.  =)  The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart is brought to us by Mary of Starting From Scratch.  I love all things lemon, so I figured this would be a winner.  I was right--wow, is the filling delicious!  I was a bit taken aback, though, by the large amount of butter in the finished 9-inch tart (almost a pound between the crust and filling).  Since we're still recovering from the butterlicious frosting on the Perfect Party Cake, I wanted to find a way to cut back on this one a bit.  

Since I've joined Tuesdays with Dorie, I have repeatedly been intrigued by the miniature versions of just about everything that have been made by the members of this fantastic baking group.  I gave it a try with my mini Gooey Chocolate Cakes, but they weren't much too look at. (yummy, though!)  This time I wanted to come up with something tasty and cute with the added benefit of a small portion size.  I think I succeeded, except for the whole portion thing--it's really hard to stop with just one.  =)

I'm glad I read the experiences of some of the other TWD bakers before I started.  Since a number of people had a hard time getting the cream mixture up to temperature, I made sure that I used a metal bowl.  

I’m not sure mine got all the way to 180 degrees.  It definitely got over 165, but I didn’t get a look at the final temp because it thickened all of a sudden and I was whisking like crazy to make sure it didn’t scramble or anything.  

I strained it into my blender, let it cool a bit, and blended in the butter.  Even before chilling, it was pretty thick.  

I've made tart dough and other pastry quite a bit, so I didn't have any problems with that part of the recipe.  As always, Dorie's instructions are quite detailed and descriptive.  I had to experiment with how long to cook the mini tarts, but I think they turned out pretty well.

I'll definitely be making these again.  Brianna has already asked me if I can make them in orange. 

The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Mini Tarts
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

The recipe for the lemon cream can be found here, in Dorie Greenspan's column for Serious Eats.  I made a half recipe, which only took 6-7 minutes to thicken.

For the tart dough:

1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple times to combine.  Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in--you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.  Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.  When the egg is in, process in long pulses--about 10 seconds each--until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds.  Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change--heads up.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

At this point, I divided the dough in two portions (about 6 1/2 ounces each) and froze half for a later use.  I divided one portion into 12 pieces (about 1/2 ounce each).  I pressed the pieces into the 12 cups of a mini muffin pan.  I froze the dough in the pan overnight.  

The next day, I preheated the oven to 375 degrees F.  I removed the pan from the freezer and placed it on a baking sheet.  I loosely covered the pan with foil.  I baked the tarts until they started to look dry and a bit puffed, about 13 minutes.  I then removed the foil, pressed the crusts back down where they had puffed, and baked them until browned, about 8 minutes more.  I transferred the muffin pan to a rack to cool completely.

Stay tuned...

...for the Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart.  I got the lemon cream made on Sunday and baked the tart shells this morning, but I just don't have enough time to finish my post before I have to leave for work.  So check back this evening for Mini Lemon Cream Tarts.  In the meantime, head over to Tuesdays with Dorie to check out the blogroll and see what everyone else has done with this delicious recipe.  

Sunday, April 6, 2008

TWD: Gooey Chocolate Cakes

Better late than never.  =)  I finally got a chance to try my hand at the Gooey Chocolate Cakes on Thursday, but it's taken me several days to find the time to post about them.  

Since we spent the whole week trying to eat our way through Perfect Party Cake,  I didn't really want to make a lot of something else.  I read about mini cakes on one of the other TWD blogs, so I thought I'd give that a try.   It worked quite well.  The recipe is very quick to make.  You melt together butter and the chocolate of your choice (I used El Rey Bucare, which is 58.5%).  In another bowl, you whisk together eggs and sugar, and then stir in flour, cocoa (I used Scharffen Berger, yum) and salt.  Then you gently stir in the butter/chocolate mixture.  I used my #70 disher to deposit the batter in my mini muffin tin.  Seven minutes is all it took to turn the batter into tasty morsels with a brownie-like exterior and a gooey middle.  I'll definitely be making this one again, maybe full-size next time.

Gooey Chocolate Cakes
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

3/4 oz (about 3 tablespoons) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 oz (1 1/2 tablespoons) unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger)
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used El Rey Bucare 58.5%)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 large egg, at room temperature (mine was actually still pretty cold)
1/2 large egg yolk, at room temperature (see above)
3 tablespoons of sugar

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Spray the 12 cups of a mini-muffin pan with baking spray (I used Pam for Baking).  Put the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Sift the flour, cocoa and salt together.

Put the coarsely chopped chocolate and the butter in a bowl and heat in the microwave for about a minute on 50% power.  Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir until they are melted – you don’t want them to get so hot that the butter separates.  Heat the mixture in additional 10-second bursts at 50% power if necessary.  

In a large bowl, whisk the egg and yolk until homogenous. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and, still using the whisk, stir (don’t beat) them into the eggs. Little by little, and using a light hand, stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake the cakes for 7 minutes. Transfer them, still on the baking sheet, to a rack to cool for 3 minutes. (There is no way to test that these cakes are properly baked, because the inside remains liquid.)

Line a cutting board with a silicone baking mat or parchment or wax paper, and, after the 3-minute rest, unmold the cakes onto the board. Use a wide metal spatula to lift the cakes onto dessert plates.  Serve with ice cream.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

No gooey chocolate for me... (yet)

It looks like I'm going to miss out on this week's recipe. I really hate to, since I missed last week as well. But life is just not cooperating right now. After being in Pennsylvania all last week for my mom's funeral, it's taken me all weekend to get things back on track. Well, as back on track as I can manage at the moment... I was totally down to the wire finishing my DB cake on Sunday and I just ran out of time and energy. I hope to make the Gooey Chocolate Cakes (picked by Leigh of Lemon Tartlet) later this week, since they sound really yummy. =) By next week life should be a bit more back to normal.  Be sure to check out the rest of the results from the Tuesdays with Dorie group!