Monday, March 31, 2008

The magic of streusel AKA crumb toppings.

Apple Cheesecake Bars.

Crumb top.

I don't really plan to make things that have similar attributes at the same time, it just happens. For instance this past week I received the book Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More by Carole Walter from Amazon so that I would never run out of ideas for brunch on Sundays. I decided early Saturday to make one of the first recipes in the book, Butter Crumb Coffee Cake. Looked easy, sounded delicious, and the streusel recipe was intense. I mean, there was a TON of it. And I LOVE streusel, any crumb topping.

Then I remembered about these apples that have been sitting on my counter for a week and a half. I promised myself I'd use them for Easter and never got around to it, so I knew they were almost past their prime, and I'd better use them sooner rather than later. Looked in the fridge, saw a couple packages of cream cheese and then thought "apple cheesecake!" A bit of Googling and I found myself a nice recipe for apple cheesecake bars - that just happened to include a nice recipe for streusel on top. I followed the recipe to a T, except I substituted Tom Sawyer's Gluten-Free Flour for the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe and omitted the oats in the topping (my brother's fiance is a Celiac, her mother wanted me to try this flour. IT IS GREAT! For anyone with wheat intolerance. Try it out for sure.)

Anyhoo, blah blah. Here are the recipes!

Butter Crumb Coffee Cake adapted from Carole Walter's Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More



2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups AP flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put the butter in a heavy saucepan and heat until almost melted. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt in a small bowl, and add this to the butter and stir until the mixture forms large crumbs. At this point I put the whole pot in the fridge until the batter was ready.

2 cups AP flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes and softened
1 large egg
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and spray a 10-inch springform pan with baking spray or line the bottom with parchment paper and generously butter the sides and bottom.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and cut it in until the mixture has a very fine crumb texture. In a small bowl combine the egg, milk and vanilla and then add this to the butter/flour mixture, and stir until it is thick and well combined, about 1 minute.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top out. Then take your streusel out of the fridge and make big clumps of it in your hand, then crumble it on top of the batter, scattering it evenly over the entire thing.

Bake in the preheated oven until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean, about 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool completely, then take the ring off the springform pan and serve! I like to keep this under a cake dome, seems to stay fresher that way.


Apple Cheesecake Bars found on this blog and modified slightly.

2 cups AP (or gluten-free) flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (I used dark brown mm)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.

Combine the flour and sugar until there are no more lumps of sugar left. Add the butter and mix until the butter is nicely distributed throughout. Press this into the bottom of the pan. Bake until it is golden, about 15 minutes.

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (again I used dark brown)
1 cup AP (or gluten-free) flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

Combine the sugar and flour, and then cut in the butter until coarse crumbs form. Set aside.

4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger (I added this)

Stir the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger together, then pour over the apples and stir well to combine.

Cheesecake Batter:
2 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons Amaretto (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)

Beat the cream cheese and sugar until lump-free. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the Amaretto or extract and beat on low speed until everything is incorporated.

When the crust is out of the oven, pour the cheesecake batter on top, smoothing to the edges. Then top with the apples, and then finally, the streusel. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cheesecake batter looks set. Chill thoroughly, cut into bars, and enjoy!

Apple Cheesecake Bars.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Anniversary Cake.

Chocolate Chip Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream.

I've been baking. Just not blogging.

Anywho. Today my sister Laura and her boyfriend Morgan are celebrating two years together. Aww young love is the best, right? Really though it gives me the excuse to bake something a bit fancier than normal so whatever. She requested a chocolate cream pie (I made some chocolate cream tartlettes, recipe to come soon), but I really wanted to make something I could write on top of. AKA a cake. She's not a huge cake fan, but he'll eat anything. So this might seem a rather generic cake, but it tastes much more than generic.

Chocolate Chip Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream. Cake recipe found on some website somewhere and modified muchly.

Chocolate Chip Cake:

¾ cup chopped semisweet chocolate (not chips, they'll sink. Mini chips might work, though.)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
¾ cup sour cream
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
Combine the sour cream, milk and vanilla. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg, and mix until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the flour and sour cream mixture, alternatively beginning and ending with the flour. Fold in the chopped chocolate.
I used two round 8-inch cake pans here, and it was pretty perfect batter-wise. You could probably use one 9x13 for a sheet cake or 1 10-inch round cake pan. Bake until golden brown around the edges and risen in the middle, or until a toothpick comes out clean when tested in the middle of the cake. My 8-inch cakes took about 25 minutes.
Vanilla Bean Buttercream
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
4 to 6 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup half and half
Beat the butter until very smooth and creamy. Add the extract and paste, and mix to combine. Add the sugar a cup at a time, and adding in the half and half when it looks too dry. Taste for sweetness as you go, adding more sugar if you need to. Mix on high speed for about 3 minutes until very light and fluffy.

Ice the cake any way you wish! I garnished this with chocolate chips on top and some chocolate hearts I made with melted chocolate.

Chocolate Chip Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bored Baking.

Shortbread Squares.

I really have no idea what prompted it but last night around 11:30 I went downstairs to the kitchen and started pulling out butter, sugar, and flour and made this shortbread. It may have been the weather, it may have been my boredom, or knowing that I didn't have to be up early this morning. Whatever it was I'm glad I did it because this is my favourite shortbread recipe. Growing up my mom's favourite cookie was shortbread always, always. And really what's better than eating butter and sugar, combined with JUST enough flour to hold it all together and a pinch of salt? I love shortbread because it truly displays baking as more than just the sum of its parts.

Plus it happens to be the best accompaniment to coffee or tea. Or orange juice, or milk, or water...

Shortbread recipe adapted from "Tartine" by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Shortbread dough:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, VERY soft. (Should have the texture of mayonnaise when mixed in bowl)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons AP flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
1/4 cup granulated sugar or superfine sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 6x10-inch glass baking dish. (PS I used an 11x7 'cause I don't have a 6x10. Came out fine.)

Place the butter in a mixing bowl. Add the salt to the butter and mix well with a spoon or paddle attachment so that it dissolves completely before the other ingredients are added in.

Sift the flour and cornstarch together on a piece of wax paper or in a small bowl. Add the sugar to the butter mixture and beat until it's just combined. Then add in the flour mixture and stir until just a smooth dough forms.

Pat the dough evenly into the prepared baking dish. The dough should be fairly thin in the dish - no more than about 1/2 inch thick. Bake until the top is slightly golden, but the center is still light, about 30 minutes. Let cool until warm to the touch.

Sprinkle the sugar on top of the baked shortbread and shake the dish to coat the entire surface. With a paring knife, cut into desired pieces. Let cool completely and then remove the square or rectangles from the dish. The first is always the hardest to get out so obviously just eat that one yourself. This recipe says the cookies last for 2 weeks in an airtight container but mine are almost gone already. They are that good.

Shortbread Squares.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Use What You've Got : Carrot Cupcakes.

Carrot, Golden Raisin, Orange, Pecan and Coconut Cupcakes.

It hasn't stopped snowing now for at least 48 hours. And it gets tiring. All the shoveling, winter driving, making sure you have enough gas in your car in case you get stuck in a ditch somewhere.

So generally when I don't have to go anywhere during this time of year I don't. (basically I become a hermit) Actually, it's March now right? Usually this happens around January or February but you never know here in Buffalo. We're going through quite the storm and it will be (TECHNICALLY) spring in two weeks. But to get to the point I don't exactly have the nerves to get in my car and drive to the store to get stuff when I need it when baking. I use what I have.

I really dislike when people on recipe sites ( coughcough) make a recipe, then rate it with 5 out of 5 stars when they substitute every ingredient for another ingredient... it's hardly the same recipe anymore! However cooking and baking are about using what you've got ultimately in my opinion. Cooking moreso, but when it comes to add-ins in baking I say why not. Therefore in this carrot cake I used pecans, not walnuts. I used melted butter, not canola oil or some fancy walnut oil (like one recipe I came across called for.) So here is my version of carrot cake. Loosely based on the one from Elinor Klivan's book "Cupcakes."

Carrot, Golden Raisin, Orange, Pecan and Coconut Cupcakes.

Cupcake batter:
1 cup AP flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup canola or corn oil (used melted butter, as mentioned. came out lovely.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 cup finely grated carrots
3/4 cup golden raisins (I'm sure you could add whatever you want here if you're not a raisin fan. I considered dried cranberries and/or apricots for example.)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (pecans IMO)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. and line a 12-cup muffin pan with papers.

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon onto a piece of wax or parchment paper and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until smooth and thick, about 1 minute on high speed. On low speed mix in the oil or butter, vanilla, orange zest until blended. Mix in the flour, carrots and other add-ins here and blend until just combined.

Fill each cupcake paper with about 1/4 cup batter and bake until the tops are firm and a toothpick inserted in the middle of each one comes out clean, about 28 minutes. (I think mine took about 24. Check early, they burn easily.)

Cool the cupcakes completely on a wire rack.

Orange Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting:
(These would be totally rad with just regular cream cheese frosting also I'm sure. I had to use up some coconut stuff that was in the freezer.)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 cups icing sugar
1 cup sweetened flake coconut
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth and combined. Then add the vanilla and powdered sugar and beat on medium until well blended. Add the coconut and orange zest.

I liked these to be kind of home-y looking. I originally used a star tip to pipe the frosting on but it reminded me too much of a bakery I used to work at so I got my little icing spatula out and swirled away. Have fun with the garnishes on these. (I considered making these carrot sprinkles from Cupcake Bakeshop but didn't have enough time.) I used a toasted pecan half and toasted coconut that I then whizzed up in the food processor until it was a bit finer. I absolutely love these cupcakes and I hope you do too.

Carrot, Golden Raisin, Orange, Pecan and Coconut Cupcakes.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Basic Gluten-Free Baking.

Berry Pavlova.

My brother's fiance is a Celiac. Meaning she can't have anything with wheat in it. That means no cakes, cookies, muffins, waffles, pasta, anything with wheat in it. Whatsoever.

As long as they have been dating, I've used this opportunity to do some gluten-free baking. It's not as hard as it might seem. Mostly I stick to naturally flourless things, such as meringues, flourless chocolate cakes and cookies, though sometimes I do venture into various flours and substitutes (chickpea flour, almond flour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum). When I heard they were coming for dinner the other day, I immediately though of a pavlova. They remind me of spring and summertime and we all need some of that here right now.

I was introduced to the pavlova by one of my favourite cookbook authors Nigella Lawson. This is a variation on her recipe from Feast.

Berry Pavlova.

Pavlova recipe adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

Meringue base:
8 large egg whites
Pinch salt
2 1/2 cups superfine granulated sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon Amaretto (I use this in place of vanilla extract in everything gluten-free that I make)

Whipped cream topping:
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar

Fruits of your choice (I used blueberries, raspberries and blackberries!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Then add the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until it's all incorporated and stiff peaks are formed. Fold in the cornstarch, vinegar and Amaretto (or extract) and then pour this onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, forming about a 10-inch circle in diameter, smoothing out the top. Put this in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees F, then bake for an hour to an hour and a half, or until there are cracks around the rim. Then turn the oven off, open the door and let it cool completely.

You can try to take this off the parchment and put it on a platter, but I find it easier to take a platter, and then INVERT the pavlova onto it, and then peel off the parchment. Meaning the bottom of the meringue is then the top, where the cream will go.

When the pavlova is completely cooled, whip the cream and sugar until soft peaks form, and dollop generously over the meringue. Then scatter the fruit (or pile, in my case) all over the cream. This is a messy dessert, but it's SO delicious and fun to eat. Great show stopper also, if you're looking to impress someone special ;)

Berry Pavlova.