Sunday, January 30, 2011

Brown Sugar Angel Food Cake with Italian Meringue Frosting.

Everyone always tells me it's crazy to make my own birthday cake, no one does that, but I've been doing it since I started baking!  I don't see anything crazy about it - I can choose any flavor combination I want and I know it will always be delicious.

This year I chose to go all-out girly, pink, fluffy and light with a brown sugar angel food cake frosted with a swirly Italian meringue - not a tablespoon of butter in sight!  Since I tend to go either all light or all decadent, perhaps I'll save the chocolate ganache torte for Valentine's :)

The cake recipe comes from a book my sister gave me for Christmas called Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Hall Foose and I didn't change anything except omit the almond extract, only because I didn't have any in the house.  If you're an angel food cake fan, try it!  The brown sugar tempers the intense sweetness normal angel food cakes can sometimes have and lends a deeper, more caramel taste.

I knew I wanted a light and fluffy icing I could tint pink for the outside of the cake but all the seven minute frostings I've made end up with a hard crust on the outside after a few hours and since I wanted to make the cake a day ahead of time, I knew I'd need something different.  I also didn't want to make a heavy, greasy pound-of-butter buttercream.  I flipped through many cake books and searched the internet until I realized the cover of Dorie Greenspan's book Baking: From My Home To Yours has a cake with the exact frosting I was looking for on the cover.

This frosting recipe was a dream!  It wasn't overly sweet, stayed soft and didn't develop a crust.  I tinted it pink but my brain immediately imagines dozens of little cupcakes with this icing swirled high on top in a rainbow of colors for any occasion, sprinkled with adorable confetti and shapes to make them even more festive.

Brown Sugar Angel Food Cake
Adapted from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
14 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and have a tube or angel food cake pan ready.

Sift the flour, brown sugar and salt together onto a piece of waxed paper, removing any large lumps of brown sugar.  In an electric mixer, whip the egg whites on low speed until frothy.  Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed, and whip until the whites hold soft peaks, fold in the vanilla extract.

Transfer the whites to a very large mixing bowl and sift the flour and brown sugar mixture over the egg whites in 3 additions, folding gently after each addition with a large spatula.  Scrape the batter into the tube or angel food cake pan and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly golden on the outside and it springs back when pressed lightly.  Let the cake cool inverted in the pan completely, then run a thin knife around the outside of the pan and the bottom and carefully remove the cake.

Italian Meringue Frosting
Adapted From Baking: From My Home To Yours
1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Food coloring (optional)

Put the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and have a candy thermometer ready.

Place the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine.  Bring this mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes.  Remove the cover and let the syrup boil until it reaches 242 degrees F.  When the syrup is at 235 degrees, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed until they form firm, shiny peaks.  When the syrup is ready and the mixer still running at medium speed, drizzle in the hot syrup between the beaters and the side of the bowl.  Add the vanilla extract (and food coloring, if you like) and keep beating on medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 more minutes.  The frosting should be smooth, shiny and marshmallowy.

Perhaps I loved this cake so much because you can eat 2 or 3 slices of it without feeling guilty, and I did! :)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies.

In need of something chocolatey, gooey and delicious, I found this looking through recipes I've had printed out for a while and they're the perfect after-dinner chocolate fix if you also love the combination of chocolate and tart cherries.  I made the recipe as-is but next time I'd recommend chopping the cherries up so they're more evenly dispersed among the cookies.

Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies
Adapted from Cooking Light
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2/3 cup dried cherries
3 tablespoons chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

In a small bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a larger bowl, cream the sugar and butter together until well combined, then add the vanilla and egg and mix well.  Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, then when almost everything is combined, add the cherries and chocolate chips and stir until they're incorporated.

Drop the dough by small tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes, until just set.  Let cool on a wire rack but I do recommend eating at least one while still warm and gooey :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Molasses Oat Cookies.

Although this recipe comes from the Gooseberry Patch book called Autumn in the Country, it definitely still applies in the middle of winter!  It's a warm, soft and slightly spicy cookie studded with chewy raisins and crunchy toasted walnuts and I urge you to try it if you're a fan of any oatmeal cookie.  These are perfect for cuddling up with a cup of hot tea, coffee or milk on a cold January night and I'm pretty sure they've become my family's new favorite oatmeal cookie. 
I substituted regular raisins for the golden raisins called for and the nuts are listed as optional in the book, but in MY book they're a requirement :) If you do use the nuts, please toast them as it adds wonderful depth of flavor to the cookies.  I also reduced the baking temperature to 350 instead of 400 as instructed - I worried the molasses would burn and I'm glad I did - the lower temperature allows for a crispy outside and chewy middle.
Molasses Oat Cookies
Adapted from Gooseberry Patch
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup toasted and chopped nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream the shortening, eggs, sugar and molasses until light and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed.  While those are mixing, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and oats in a smaller bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix until almost combined, then stir in the raisins and chopped nuts.

Drop by small spoonfuls onto the baking sheets and bake until lightly browned on top and the edges, 8 to 10 minutes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Returning to normalcy...

I'm sure anyone that has loved ones who live far away know the feeling.  You get back from a visit and you have to go back to normal life again.  It takes small steps at a time - unpacking the suitcase is first on the list for me.  The sooner you do that, the easier it is to get back into the swing of things.  Then you have to get used to not being with someone constantly.  Not eating with someone else sitting across from you at every meal, going to the store alone, driving without someone in the passenger seat, watching a movie without someone by your side.  Long distance is tough, obviously.  But knowing something more permanent is in the future makes everything worth it.

When I arrived back home on Sunday, I found a box on the counter addressed to me containing my winnings from the Baking Bites Holiday Cookie Contest!  I was so surprised and delighted, thank you so much, Nicole!  It made coming back home a bit more bearable to receive such a lovely package:

(Cupcake apron, Kuhn Rikon pie and cake serving knife, Guittard semisweet chocolate, Guittard green mint chips and The Baking Bites Cookbook)

I made several additions to my cookbook collection during my visit to North Carolina and I look forward to sharing the recipes.  I baked oatmeal molasses cookies yesterday and the batch is almost gone!  If the sunshine ever shows its face in Buffalo again, expect pictures :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Orange and Toasted Almond Biscotti.

An important quality in most baked goods I choose to make is that they're good keepers.  Because unless I demand my family (and myself) eat about 6 cookies each or a quarter of a cake, there's just no way things get eaten within a few days.  This is part of why I make biscotti so often.  The other part is just because I adore the process of creating them - you make the dough, you form it into logs, bake it, slice it, bake again.  It takes decidedly more effort and time than a drop or bar cookie but I don't mind one bit.  (In fact, I find the process rather soothing but I used to get made fun of a lot for wanting to do the jobs in restaurants and bakeries that no one else wanted to do because I found them to be "soothing.")  Not to mention I'm addicted to coffee and tea and biscotti are THE perfect dunking accompaniment.

Anyway, if you happen to have a few oranges lying around the house that need using up before they get too wrinkly and dry (something that occurs often in my house this time of year), and a handful of sliced almonds, you can create this addictive and unique biscotti yourself.  Changes I made to the recipe were to omit the rosemary, as well as the egg wash and sugar on top before baking, but I'm guessing some people might want to omit the cornmeal as well or at least use finely ground cornmeal.  I used coarse cornmeal as called for and I looooved it, absolutely loved the nubby texture it added, but feel free to substitute finely ground cornmeal or just add another 1/3 cup all-purpose (or whole wheat!) flour.  These are tender (from a few tablespoons of nutty browned butter no less), just slightly sweet, and perhaps what makes them so addictive is their cracker-like quality because I can't stop myself from eating at least 2 at a time.  The original recipe says to bake this in one log, but I divided mine into two in order to get more, smaller biscotti.

In a few hours I'll be on a plane to North Carolina to stay with my beloved and some of my most favorite people in the world for 8 days.  See you in mid-January :)

Orange and Toasted Almond Biscotti
Adapted from Martha Stewart
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

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

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until it starts to foam, turn brown and smell slightly nutty, about 3 or 4 minutes.  Stir in the orange zest and let cool slightly.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  After the butter mixture has cooled, stir in the eggs and extract, then pour over the dry ingredients, stirring until almost completely mixed, then add in the almonds.

Form the dough into 2 (or just one, if you prefer) logs, each about 13" long on the baking sheet.  Bake until they're golden brown on top and firm when you press the center, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Let them cool for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board to thinly slice with a serrated knife.  Place the slices back on the baking sheet and reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F.  Bake for another hour to dry them out, turning the slices over after 30 minutes.

Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container.  These would last for a few weeks at least, but even someone with as much willpower as myself can't help nabbing a couple every time I pass them on the counter :)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Easy Spice Cake.

I'm a very lucky girl - I received quite a few cookbooks for Christmas.  I read cookbooks like novels which is probably why this is the first recipe I've made from one of the cookbooks I've had for almost 2 weeks now.  You see, it took me all of last week just to get through Nigella Kitchen, let alone cook from it!  Nigella's books tend to be on the wordy side though, so reading through the other books hasn't taken quite as long.  The second cookbook I read was Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri, a name most bakers should be familiar with by now.  My brother and sister-in-law gave it to me and joked after I opened it, saying "We'd never think of buying a light dessert book for anyone who didn't ask for one, Beth!"

I'm so glad I asked for it!  Even though this is the first recipe I've baked from it so far, I can't tell you how delicious this cake is.  It's a lighter (both figuratively and literally speaking) version of gingerbread - spicy, cakey and absolutely delicious, yet so light and fluffy at the same time.  The only changes I made to this were to increase the salt, spices (as per my usual) and I actually substituted a handful of dried, chopped cranberries for the 2/3 cup chopped pecans called for.  Although Malgieri says he prefers to use nuts as opposed to raisins because they "provide extra flavor and a bit of crunch," I didn't want crunch, I wanted comforting, soft, tart dried fruit.  Feel free to use any nut or dried fruit you'd like, I can't say there would be a bad addition.

Easy Spice Cake
Adapted from Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup toasted nuts, chopped or any chopped dried fruit you'd like

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and grease a 9x13" pan with baking spray and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until well mixed, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, waiting for the creamed mixture to lighten in color before adding the second one.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 of the applesauce, another 1/3 of the flour, the second and last 1/2 of the applesauce, and ending with the rest of the flour mixture.  Stir in the nuts or dried fruit by hand, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 35-50 minutes, (the recipe actually said 40 to 50 but I happened to check mine at 35 minutes to find it was definitely done) until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling completely before cutting into small squares.  (For the calorie counters out there besides me - these are about 108 calories per piece if you cut 24 squares - but that's with nuts.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mini Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies.

My mother, who doesn't have .01% of the sweet tooth I do, ADORES these cookies.  They have been in the family repertoire for as long as I can remember and come from a local church cookbook - the recipe has been cut out, saved, lost and found again but I actually have it memorized by heart now.  The ratio for shortbread isn't a difficult one to remember - generally for every stick of butter you have a cup of flour and 1/2 cup of sugar and this one is no different, along with the addition of flavorings and some mini chocolate chips.

The original recipe calls for 2 1/4 cups of flour, but I find 2 binds the buttery dough just enough.  It also instructs the cookies be baked at 350 degrees F, which I find a bit high for shortbread so I use 325 instead.  Although it does take slightly longer for them to bake, you end up with more tender cookies.

This recipe specifies a 4 dozen yield, but I rolled these into smaller balls to get 6 dozen cookies this time.  Hey, I'd rather have 2 or 3 smaller cookies than 1 large cookie, wouldn't you? :)

Mini Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from an old church cookbook
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 to 1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. and have a few baking sheets ready.  (No parchment necessary, these are buttery enough!)

Cream the butter and sugar together until well-blended and lightened in color, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the vanilla extract and salt and mix again until incorporated.  Stir in the flour until you almost have a ball of dough, then add in the chocolate chips and mix until the dough comes together.

Roll the dough into 1/2" to 1" balls, flattening with a fork dipped in flour or confectioner's sugar.  Bake for 12 to 17 minutes, until very lightly browned around the edges and the bottom of the cookies.  Remove to cooling racks and try not to inhale more than 6 at a time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Irish Oatmeal Bread.

How do we end up with the things we end up with?  I don't remember how I ended up with a container of steel-cut oatmeal, but I've been trying to use it up now for about a year and finally did so with this hearty, substantial, full-of-texture bread.  I was worried the oats would be too crunchy, that there wasn't enough liquid in the dough for them to cook - you can definitely tell there's something in the bread, but they soften just enough to have a lovely, almost nutty, crunch.  If you're a steel-cut oatmeal fan, (or if you like multi-grain bread in general since the oats reminded me of millet or sunflower seeds) I highly recommend making this since the oats don't dissolve into the bread as rolled oats or quick-cooking oatmeal would do.

I've actually had this recipe printed out since March and finally had the chance to make it to go along with a warm and comforting beef stew for dinner last night, but toasted and spread with jam the next morning for breakfast made quite a treat as well :) I halved it since I only had 1 cup of oats left, and in general I don't see the need to make two loaves of bread but I imagine it freezes nicely.

Irish Oatmeal Bread
Adapted from Cooking Light
Just over 1 cup of boiling water
1 cup steel-cut oats
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Pinch of granulated sugar
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees F.)
About 4 cups of flour (all-purpose, whole wheat, white whole wheat - I used all-purpose but feel free to use whatever you'd like)
1 large egg, beaten with a bit of water

Combine the boiling water, steel-cut oats, salt, butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and set aside for about 25 minutes to a half an hour, until cooled.

In a small bowl stir together the pinch of granulated sugar, yeast and 1/4 cup warm water and let sit for about 5 to 10 minutes, until foamy and then add to the cooled oatmeal mixture.

Add in 2 cups of flour and beat for about 5 minutes, adding another additional cup.  Take the dough out of the mixing bowl and start kneading on a floured surface, adding about a tablespoon at a time to keep the dough from sticking to your hands.  Knead the dough for about 8 minutes, until it's springy and elastic.

Place the dough in a larger greased bowl and cover with plastic.  Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about an hour.  (Or longer if it's freezing in your house, I let mine proof on the counter for almost 2 hours.)

Take the risen dough out of the bowl and press or roll it out into a longer rectangle, about 8" by 14." Roll up the rectangle tightly, making sure not to get too many air bubbles and place the roll in a greased 9x5'' loaf pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. while waiting for the bread to rise.  After it's risen and ready to go into the oven, brush the top and sides of the bread with the egg beaten with water to give it a beautiful and shiny finish.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown on top and hollow-sounding when tapped.  Let cool completely before slicing.