Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Birthday with Dorie

Gillian's birthday was last Wednesday.  She's now 3.  Oh, boy, is she ever 3. =)  She's been working up to it for the past month or so.  As usual, while I remember Brianna being a handful at that age, Gillian is so much more so.  Three is an interesting age.  Her behavior ranges from infuriating to highly entertaining, sometimes in very quick succession.  It's hard to be serious sometimes when you're trying really hard not to laugh.  Gillian, on the other hand, seems to think that everything is funny, especially when I'm trying to be serious about something.  That's a lot of the infuriating part.  *sigh*

This year she's old enough to really understand birthdays.  The anticipation.  The presents.  The cake.  Oh, yes, it's all about the cake.  As is traditional in our family, she also got to pick what she wanted for dinner, which ended up being ravioli.  We had a couple friends over to dinner (they're sort of surrogate grandparents to the girls), and about every 2 minutes during dinner Gillian would ask if it was time for cake yet.  Like everyone but me, she requested chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.  (I prefer vanilla cake with my chocolate frosting.)  I also asked her how she wanted it decorated.  She said with purple, which was no surprise, since she recently decided that purple is her favorite color.  But then she surprised me and requested orange as well.  Hmm, purple and orange on top of dark brown.  Might be okay, might be garish, depending on how I approached it.

Then Brianna surprised me, by offering to share her princesses with Gillian.  For Brianna's third birthday, she really, really wanted a Disney Princess cake like she saw at the grocery store bakery.  I planned to bake her cake myself, though.  I searched online and was able to buy a set of princess figures (the same ones as the bakery used) for about $10.  Some of the best money I ever spent, since Brianna has continued to play with them and they've been washed and reused for all of her cakes since (see here for an example).  I had already planned to make a round layer cake for Gillian, so I wasn't quite sure how I was going to fit the princesses on that.  But it's rare for Brianna to offer to share, and I want to encourage that sort of behavior, so I figured I'd find a way to make it work somehow.

I planned ahead, and made sure I'd have the day off last Wednesday so I'd have plenty of time to bake cake.  Next up was to decide what cake to make.  The post for Brianna's birthday talks about my usual cake, which is from Cook's Illustrated.  I wanted to try something new, but that's always a bit of a scary proposition for such an important occasion.  =)  I started looking through my copy of BFMHTY, and found the recipe for Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake.  I threw the idea out to some of my baking friends on Twitter, and got positive responses.  The only difficulty was that the recipe calls for 9" round cake pans.  I have some, but they're not that great.  I did, however, get new 8" pans not that long ago.  Nancy very helpfully suggested that I could use the 8" pans and make a few cupcakes with the leftover batter.  I did some quick calculating (looking up the volume difference between 8" and 9" rounds) and decided that I should make 8 cupcakes and then split the rest of the batter between my 8" pans.  Since we're a bunch of chocoholics, I did add the optional melted chocolate (72% Ghirardelli) to the batter.  My layers took about 30 minutes to bake, and the cupcakes were in for 18 minutes.

Next up, frosting.  I'm not a big malt fan, so I knew I didn't want to make the frosting that was paired with the cake in the book.  Dorie is always helpful about giving other options, and one was for a ganache frosting.  Perfect.  I loved the ganache layer from the chocolate caramel tart a few weeks ago, so I decided to use it for frosting.  I did make one and a half times the ganache so I'd be sure to have enough.  Then I just had to figure out how to decorate with purple and orange.  I debated coloring white frosting for piping, then I had a great idea!  I had seen Halloween m&ms a few weeks before.  The colors?  Black, neon green, orange and purple!  (Yes, my candy dish now has a lot of black and green m&ms in it...)  I made a quick batch of cream cheese frosting to use for piping and added the colored candies for decoration.  The princesses got to adorn some of the cupcakes.

The verdict?  The cake was wonderful!  I'll definitely make that cake recipe again.  It was a hit with the birthday girl and everyone else (the extra cupcakes got decorated with some m&ms and were taken to school for G's daycare teachers).  I will change a few things next time, though.  The tartness of the cream cheese in the frosting wasn't the best match with the ganache.  The bigger problem, though, was that the m&m colors run when they come into contact with cream cheese frosting.  Oops.  Live and learn. =)  And the cream cheese frosting gets a weird texture if it's left out of the fridge too long.

You can find the cake recipe here.  And the ganache that I used for the frosting is part of this recipe.  (I used 12 ounces chocolate, 13.5 ounces cream, and 6 tablespoons butter.)

One last thing...  Besides chocolate and purple, Gillian also love monkeys.  Not sure where that came from.  The day before her birthday, I had the great thought to see if Build-a-Bear made monkeys.  Why, yes, they do!  So here's a picture of Gillian with her new best friend, Monkey Gina (thank you, Kayte):

p.s. My apologies to Erin, our TWD hostess for this week.  I haven't made the Sweet Potato Biscuits yet.  You can find the recipe on her blog.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What goes around, comes around

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe really takes me back.  Not to my childhood, as some other recipes do.  No, to the early months of this blog when I first joined TWD.  One of my favorite bloggers, Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table, is our hostess this week.  She picked Allspice Crumb Muffins.  The reason these take me back is that they're the second recipe that I made from Baking From My Home to Yours.  The first recipe was the Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake that I made the first week I participated.  My second official weekly recipe was the Almost Fudge Gateau.  But in between I was a rebel and made a recipe that wasn't an official pick. =)  You can read about it here.  I was in the mood for muffins, and I couldn't resist trying one of the great-looking recipes in my new cookbook.  I had to laugh when I was rereading that post this evening.  I don't remember the details, but apparently I was enduring some trial with Gillian at the time.  And hey, that's been true the last several days, as well!  *sigh*  I keep telling myself it'll get easier eventually.  It will, right?

Anyway, back to the muffins.  I really liked them when I first made them, but had a few issues.  The biggest was that the muffins spread a lot on top; the crumbs did too.  I've actually made the recipe several times, trying to remedy those problems.  I really love the flavor of these muffins--I seldom bake with allspice, and never just by itself, so they're an interesting change of pace.  But I needed to get them to behave themselves better.  It's actually been quite a while since the last time I tried.  In the meantime, I've made some other muffins and some other streusels, and I had some new ideas.

Previously, I've just played around with the streusel.  I tried freezing it first, thinking if it was colder going in it wouldn't spread as much in the time the muffins were baking.  Better, but not enough.  I also tried cutting back on the butter.  The crumbs were better, but the muffins still spread.  This time, I tweaked things with both the topping and the muffin batter.  For the batter, I reduced the amount of melted butter from 8 tablespoons to 6.  I also cut the milk down to 5 ounces (from 6).  At some point, I'd like to try adding some other flours, but I didn't mess with that for this version.  For the streusel, I cut the butter back slightly, 4 tablespoons instead of 5.  I also increased the flour to 3/4 cup, rather than 1/2 cup.  I stuck with my usual baking time of 20 minutes.

The verdict?  I think I've got it!  The muffin tops were perfect.  And the crumbs stayed put!  As I said above, I do want to try other flours, such as white whole wheat (or maybe spelt or kamut) for some of the all-purpose flour.  But I'm really happy with how this batch turned out.  And both Gillian and Brianna liked them.  Okay, actually Gillian was mostly interested in eating the crumb part and just playing with the rest of the muffin.  We're having issues with mealtimes, in addition to the behavior challenges...  Ah, the joys of the almost 3-year-old.  (birthday tomorrow! cake to come!)

If you'd like to try these for yourself, head on over to Kayte's blog for the recipe.  And check out the rest of the TWD blogroll as well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This one goes out to the ones I love

The families of food bloggers have to put up with a lot. =)  It's not too bad at my house, since I only blog baked goods and desserts, but it still affects things.  I'm fortunate in that my husband Jamie eats just about anything (no lima beans or coconut; I'm fine skipping both of those).  It think it's a bit more challenging for Brianna and Gillian, though.  They have to deal with me putting nuts in things.  And weird (to them) bread flavors.  I'm sure they'd love for me to just make ordinary things like chocolate chip cookies more often.

On the flip side, they have fun telling me that I need to take pictures of things. =)  And while they do complain sometimes, both of them will at least try just about anything.  Which is why I try not to push too much when they claim not to like something--at least they try it.  At Gillian's age, I think Brianna liked pesto more than ketchup (though she claims not to like it as much now; it's that control thing).  And how many 6-year-olds insist on having olives, hard-boiled eggs and blue cheese on their salads?  The only thing I can think of that Gillian claims not to like very much is "orange cheese," which means Brianna's favorite sharp cheddar.  I thought at first that it meant that she didn't like sharp cheese.  Nope, 'cause she likes sharp white cheddar just fine.  Go figure.

My children are probably spoiled when it comes to food, actually.  Unlike a lot of their peers (I suspect), neither of them will eat American cheese or jarred pasta sauce.  But they are typical kids in some respects.  While they love granola-type cereals and mini wheats, they also love cocoa puffs. =)  Box macaroni and cheese is another favorite (though we eat Annie's rather than Kraft because they like it better).  They'll eat as many marshmallows as I will give them to go with their hot chocolate.  And they love pudding.

They don't know it, but it's because I do appreciate how willing they are to eat different things and try new ones that I made this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  Garrett of The Flavor of Vanilla picked Split-level Pudding for us to make, which consists of vanilla pudding on top of chocolate ganache.  I'm not the world's biggest pudding fan.  I can definitely take it or leave it.  And I had to work this past weekend, which left me tired and not in the mood to make much of anything.  But I mentioned to Brianna and Gillian last week that the pudding was coming up, and I couldn't disappoint them.  They've been asking me for days when they were going to get to eat it.  So I finally got it made before work this morning and tucked it in the fridge for tonight's dessert.  I pretty much followed the recipe, except that I was lazy and just used a whisk rather than messing with the food processor.

The verdict?  It was a big hit, as I suspected.  I made the full recipe, so they'll get to enjoy it again tomorrow.  Jamie might try some later.  What I tasted on the spoon this morning was good, but I'll be happy to let the girls have mine. =)

If you'd like to try the recipe for yourself, head on over to Garrett's blog.  And head on over to the TWD blogroll to see how everyone else did this week.

Monday, October 5, 2009

There's a party goin' on right here

The next recipe for me in the BBA Challenge is Cranberry-Walnut Celebration Bread.  It's a bread reminiscent of the holidays, filled with cranberries and flavored with orange.  The picture in the book is of a lovely double braid.  But I just wasn't in the mood for that.  While I'll eat walnuts, I prefer pecans, and that tends to be what I have on hand in my freezer.  I loved the raisin bread that we made recently, but didn't really want another fruit filled loaf.  What I wanted was cinnamon rolls, or something similar.  So I decided to take that idea and run with it.

I started off making the dough according to the recipe.  I left out the orange extract and used buttermilk, since I actually had some on hand.  I kneaded the cranberries into the dough, but not the nuts.  After the first rise, I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured counter.  I rolled it out into a large rectangle (not sure of the exact size; somewhere in the neighborhood of 12"x16", I think).  I spread a couple tablespoons of softened butter over the dough, leaving a 1" clear border along one of the long edges.  Then I sprinkled a mixture of 3 tablespoons vanilla sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger over the butter.  I sprinkled chopped toasted pecans over the sugar.  Then I rolled the dough into a log, starting with the long edge away from the clear border.  I pinched the dough closed and then cut it into 15 pieces of equal width, using unwaxed dental floss.

I placed the pieces cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet (half sheet pan, 13"x18"), leaving a couple inches between them.  I sprayed the rolls with canola oil spray and covered them with a large piece of plastic.  I let them proof at room temperature until almost doubled in size (the rolls were starting to touch each other in places).  Then I baked the rolls at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes, until they were golden brown.  I removed them from the oven and left them on the sheet pan to cool a bit.  I drizzled the warm rolls with a simple glaze of powdered sugar mixed with a tablespoon or two of milk (sorry, no exact measurements).

The verdict?  There is no doubt in my mind that I'll be making these again.  They turned out great!  I should really bake with dried cranberries more often.  Brianna wasn't entirely thrilled--"When are you going to make something I like again? Like with chocolate chips?" (I'll let you imagine the whiny 6yo tone of voice...)  Gillian thought they were great, as did Jamie.  I admit, I'm sure I ate more of them than anyone else here.  Being of sound mind (and knowing that we couldn't eat them all before they got stale), I packed up a bunch of the rolls to take to Gillian's daycare teachers.  I got back an empty container and heard that they enjoyed them quite a bit. =)  I think these would be a fabulous addition to a holiday brunch.  One thing I would do next time is use a bit more ginger in the filling; bits of crystallized ginger might be nice along with the pecans.

Next up for me in the BBA Challenge is English Muffins.  The main group is well ahead of that recipe, but I'm baking along with the Slow and Steady sub-group.  Check out Nancy's blog for a round-up of everyone's cranberry breads in the near future.  And for this and many other wonderful bread recipes, check out The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  I'm also submitting this post to YeastSpotting.

Friday, October 2, 2009

LiveSTRONG Day 2009

Just a reminder, today is LiveSTRONG Day 2009.  Be sure to check out the wonderful round-up for LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow, hosted by Barbara of Winos and Foodies.  You can find my contribution here.