Saturday, April 30, 2011

Goodbye, April!

I haven't baked much this past week besides a small batch of chocolate chip cookies for my sister since tomorrow morning my parents and I are driving to Mount Airy, North Carolina, where I'll be spending 2 weeks with my beloved.  Keep on baking and I'll see you in May :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cinnamon Toasted Almond Biscotti.

I hope everyone who celebrated Easter had as lovely a holiday as I did!  Although last week's weather here certainly didn't feel like spring, my family and I began our Easter preparations anyway, hard-boiling and dyeing eggs, baking Easter egg bread, and buying Wardynski sausage for Sunday brunch.

Somehow it slipped my mind to take photos of our feast of brown sugar and mustard-glazed spiral sliced ham, roasted asparagus, smashed red potatoes and sauteed broccoli and cauliflower with shallots, everything smelled and looked too delicious. I did take pictures of the cutest little Easter baby I know, though, my adorable nephew :) 

Judging by many other blog posts I've read over the past couple of days, I know I'm not the only one who overate on Sunday, but I still wanted to bake yesterday.  The placek was almost gone, and the cupcakes had all been given away (luckily!)  There are still jellybeans in a glass bowl and chocolate bunnies sitting in a basket filled with plastic green grass, but those will last and be a reminder of the holiday.  I wanted to preheat the oven, crack some eggs, measure sugar and flour into bowls, stir things together and smell something baking.  So I made these biscotti.  Nothing indulgent, but enough to satisfy that sweet tooth after dinner. 

The original recipe states 36 as the yield - I must slice my biscotti on the very thin side because I easily had 48 when all was said and done.  No matter how thick you slice them, the scent of these baking is incredible, as is anything with cinnamon.  They're absolutely perfect with coffee or tea and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do :)

Cinnamon Toasted Almond Biscotti
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

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

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and extracts and set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almonds, cinnamon, baking soda and salt until well mixed.  Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and stir until a dough forms.  Divide the dough in half and knead slightly until it comes together into a soft dough, forming two 12" ropes and place them side by side on the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake until the tops are golden brown and slightly cracked, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let the logs cool for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board.  Slice into 1/4" to 1/2" thick slices and lay them on the baking sheet and bake in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes on one side, then 10 minutes on the other side.

Let them cool completely and store in an airtight container for a week.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Orange Cupcakes Filled with Orange Curd.

For some reason, orange and citrus in general, scream warmer weather to me.  I didn't realize it until I cut one of these open, but the slightly oozy orange curd reminds me of an egg yolk - perfect for Easter, don't you think? :)

I used the buttery orange cake and orange curd recipes from the Orange Grove Cake in The Cake Book by Tish Boyle.  I don't get to use this book as often as I'd like because it makes big layer cakes, cakes that would take my family a very long time to finish.  I decided to divide this cake batter into cupcakes (and a small 6" layer cake) and fill them with the curd.  Instead of the Swiss meringue buttercream recipe used in the book, I iced these with cream cheese frosting, which I think most people find more palatable anyway.

While falling asleep last night I decided to get kitschy with the decoration and go all-out green-dyed Easter coconut grass and M&M's to represent little eggs, but on any other occasion I would have whipped up some homemade candied orange peel, perhaps dipped in white (or dark) chocolate, to go on top.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Orange Cupcakes filled with Orange Curd
Cake and filling recipes from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle
3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2/3 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line a cupcake pan with papers.

Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one is added.  Mix in the orange zest, then the dry ingredients alternating with the orange juice and milk, mixing until everything is well incorporated at the end.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake pan, then bake until light golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, 15-20 minutes.  Let the cupcakes cool completely before filling and icing.

Orange Curd Filling:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
Grated zest of 1 orange
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
3 large egg yolks

In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together all of the ingredients and place over medium-high heat.  Bring the mixture to a boil and let it get thick.  Cook and stir constantly for 1 minute, then remove the pan from heat and scrape the mixture into a bowl.  Cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about an hour.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. confectioner's sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, mix the cream cheese and butter together until very creamy, then add the sugar, salt and vanilla extract.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

When the cupcakes have cooled, cut out small cones from the tops of them and fill with about a tablespoon of the orange curd.  Replace the cone tops, then ice with the frosting and decorate as desired.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gluten Free Sugar Cookies... finally!

I've been searching for a great gluten free sugar cookie for at least 3 years now - since my brother and sister-in-law got engaged.  I attempted to make engagement cookies in wedding cookie shapes, conjoined heart shapes, even little tiny hearts.  I could get them off of the baking sheets if I was incredibly careful but decorating was an entirely different story - they crumbled to bits and pieces at the merest sight of wet icing.  Quite disappointing, to say the least! 

I've literally dreamt about making gluten free Easter cookies now for about a month.  I'm not saying this recipe is perfect, but it certainly works.  I don't get along well with tapioca starch for some reason (I've always felt it leaves a slightly metallic aftertaste), but for now, this will do nicely.

My requirements while researching a gluten free sugar cookie recipe were pretty slim:  it had to call for separate gluten free flours, rather than a mix, and I had to have all the flours in my house.  We spend a lot of money buying gluten free flours and I couldn't justify going out and buying 2 or 3 more just for this purpose.  The only other requirement was that the recipe had to include a picture on the blog or site I found it from so I knew their structure was up to handling and decorating.  Luckily, I found this one at one of the best gluten free blogs out there - The Baking Beauties

They could be a little thicker and hold their shape better while baking, but I'm not complaining.  They're tender, buttery and delicious and if you're looking for a great gluten free sugar cookie, try this one!

Gluten Free Sugar Cookies
From The Baking Beauties
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg, vanilla and milk, then mix again until fully combined.

In a small bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, starches, gelatin, baking powder, salt and xanthan gum, then add this to the creamed mixture, making sure everything is well mixed.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours or up to 3 days.

When you're ready to cut out the cookies, take the dough out of the fridge to soften for about 10-15 minutes and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll out the dough on a rice flour-dusted surface (or on wax paper) to about 1/2" thick and cut out desired shapes, placing them on the baking sheet.  Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 8-12 minutes, depending on how thick your cookies are.  Let them cool completely before icing and freeze up to a month in an airtight container.

Decorate your heart away with royal icing or a simple confectioner's sugar frosting :)  I realize the dots on mine give them a chicken pox-look but I swear they look more appetizing in person!  Inspiration for the egg-chicks came from the lovely and talented Glorious Treats.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ricotta Honey Oatmeal Muffins.

These are light, springy muffins that go perfectly with tea or coffee for breakfast and brunch.  They reminded me of what graham crackers would taste like in muffin form, I suppose from the honey-oat combination, and they were delicious.

I hate to keep bringing up the weather but I wish it would just make up its mind already!  This past week had days near 60, but today it's been snowy and rainy.  But these muffins, warm from the oven, delivered just the right amount of comfort to help remind me that warmth will be here soon enough.  And only two weeks from now I'll be on my way to warm(er) North Carolina anyway :)

The original recipe for these gives 18 as the yield - I got 12 and I always get more cupcakes or muffins out of a recipe!  I also left out the orange zest because I didn't have any on hand, but feel free to add the zest of any citrus as well as any dried fruit or nut you'd like.

Ricotta Honey Oatmeal Muffins
Adapted from
1 large egg
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup honey
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup self-rising flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. and grease a 12-cup muffin pan or line with papers and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and ricotta cheese.  In another bowl, whisk the softened butter with the honey  until creamy, then stir in the ricotta mixture, oatmeal, baking soda and flour and stir until everything is just combined.  Divide the batter among the muffin cups and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let cool on a wire rack, then store airtight up to 3 days.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sedgemoor Easter Biscuits.

While on a search for traditional Easter recipes, I found this one.  I have to say, I like these more than the last batch of hot cross buns I made a couple of years ago!  They're called biscuits, but because it's a British recipe, this means cookie in America.  The dough is put together like a biscuit dough, however, and they come out with an amazing combination of chewy dried fruit and tender cookie. 

If you're looking for something new to bake this Easter, I highly recommend these.  The dough is a bit sticky but just make sure to use plenty of flour when rolling and cutting and you'll be fine.  If you don't want to glaze them, I think a sprinkling of turbinado or regular granulated sugar would also be pretty.  Although the recipe states 18 biscuits, I got 21 easily, and probably could have squeezed out a few more if I felt like rolling the dough another time. Since I had raisins on hand and they're much less expensive than currants, I just chopped them finely, but feel free to use currants instead.

Sedgemoor Easter Biscuits
Adapted from The New York Times
3/4 cup finely chopped raisins
2 tablespoons brandy
3/4 cup white wheat flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk

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

In a small bowl, toss the raisins and brandy together, then let the raisins sit for 10 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flours, spices, salt and sugar until everything is well mixed.  Cut the butter into the dry mixture until crumbly, then stir in the egg, vanilla extract and brandy-soaked raisins.  Stir until a smooth dough forms, then turn out onto a floured surface and roll to 1/4" to 1/2" thick.  Using a 2" cutter (or any shape you'd like), cut and transfer the shapes to the baking sheet and bake for about 18 to 25 minutes.  The biscuits should be golden brown around the edges.

Whisk the confectioner's sugar and milk together to make a thin glaze.  Brush the glaze over the warm cookies, then let them dry.  Brush the cookies again with a second coating, creating a shiny covering.  Let the cookies cool completely before storing up to 5 days.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sapelo Island Hard Time Cake.

Sometimes I take for granted what a luxury it is to bake.  Baking ingredients aren't a necessity like vegetables and fruit are for healthy, substantial meals.  Butter, sugar, flour, chocolate, nuts - these ingredients are an indulgence to keep in the cupboard and sometimes it takes an unfortunate instance to bring us back to reality.  It's not that anything earth-shattering happened but last night before bed I thought "Hmm, brown butter blondies with toasted coconut, dried pears and pistachios... "  So this morning I woke up, made a batch, portioned them into mini cupcake pans (because I apparently have to make everything miniature), put them in the oven and you know what happened?  The tops expanded and became crispy and dark while the insides sunk and were raw in the middle.  I couldn't bear to throw them away, so they're sitting on a piece of foil right now, waiting to be dealt with.  Blondie cake balls, anyone?

I didn't want to waste more butter, eggs, nuts and sugar today.  I figured I'd just stay frugal and bake this cake I remembered reading about when I first bought this book a couple years ago - no sugar, just 1 tablespoon of butter, and no eggs.  It's extremely easy to mix and put together and although it doesn't look as nice as I imagined my mini blondies to come out, the homey gingerbread-like taste definitely makes up for it.  I substituted 1/2 cup honey for half of the molasses and dusted the top with some powdered sugar, but it doesn't need it!  And anyway, how could you not want to make a cake that has this in the description?: "Cornelia Walker Bailey, author of God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man, remembers her mother stirring up a pan of hard time cake, creating a delicious and nourishing treat for her family out of what she had handy: molasses, flour, spices, a dab of butter, and an abundance of love." <3 :)

This cake was perfect for a rainy Wednesday with a cup of tea.  Lightly spiced, soft and comforting.

Sapelo Island Hard Time Cake
Adapted from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 cup molasses
1 tablespoon of butter, melted
1 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup warm water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly grease a 9" cake pan or square pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combined the flour, cinnamon and cloves and mix with a fork.  Add the molasses and melted butter and use a large spoon to mix into a smooth batter.  Stir the baking soda into the warm water and then add it to the flour mixture, stirring until you have a smooth and thin batter.  Quickly pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20-30 minutes.  The cake should be very golden brown on top with a slight shine and a toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean when it's done.

Let the cake cool on a wire rack or kitchen towel before serving.  Store leftover cake, wrapped in plastic, up to 3 days.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I had to get my chocolate fix in somehow ;) I added peanut butter and milk chocolate chips just to use up half of a bag I had in the cupboard, but feel free to add semisweet, bittersweet, white, mint chips, toasted walnuts or pecans, dried cherries, whatever makes you happiest!  I like to make these tiny for some reason but I imagine they'd make amazing ice cream sandwiches if you're feeling indulgent. 

I LOVE chewy cookies, especially when I'm craving chocolate and I found lining the cookie sheets with foil instead of parchment paper actually resulted in chewier cookies, but the trick is just to not overbake these.  Take them out of the oven as soon as they start to develop slight cracks on top if you want chewy, leave them in a tad longer if you want crunchier cookies.

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from my mom's recipe box
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips (or any add-in you want)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add in the egg and vanilla extract.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt then add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, stirring until almost completely mixed.  Stir in the chips or add-ins and mix until a dough forms.

Breaking off small pieces of dough, form rounds and place them about 1/2" apart on the cookie sheets.  Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until just set on top.  Let cool on wire racks, then store airtight for up to 3 days, but I guarantee they won't last that long :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Polish Easter Placek.

Placek (plah-sek) in Polish just means cake, but placek around Buffalo (and probably other cities with a high Polish population) refers to a sweet yeast bread topped with sugary crumble, with or without golden raisins served on Easter.  It seems like paczki have found their way around the blog world fairly easily (I assume because everyone has an obsession with doughnuts and things cooked in hot oil), but you hardly see placek, which is a shame!  Placek dough is a unique combination of a fermented yeast sponge (warm milk, yeast, a bit of sugar and flour) combined with a creamed butter, sugar, flour and egg mixture. Even though I've made so many other bread recipes over the years, the smell of yeast still reminds me of placek - every year when my mom would bring out the biggest bowl in the kitchen, I knew it was time to make Easter placek.

Although the representation of yeast breads on this blog isn't much, I love working with yeast a great deal, but the problem with bread is that it makes quite a bit and stales quickly.  Around holidays this seems to be an easier issue to tackle since more people are around to eat things.  I know Easter isn't for a couple of weeks, but I think yeast breads can seem daunting to people so it might be easier to spread the workload over a few days.  This bread can also be wrapped well and frozen, then taken out as necessary for eating and giving away, meaning it can be made ahead of time!

Placek is the kind of bread that begs to be spread with butter - it's not like a moist sour cream coffee cake.  It has a drier crumb, making it an even better partner to coffee or tea.  Traditionally, my mom always added sliced almonds to the crumb topping and golden raisins to the bread dough but I've also seen recipes without them.  Either way, I'm proud to present this placek recipe - a true family tradition I can't imagine an Easter morning without!

Easter Placek
2 cups milk, around 105 degrees to 115 degrees F.
2 packages active dry yeast, or 5 teaspoons
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups of flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk with the sugar and let stand until foamy, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir in the flour, then cover the bowl and let the sponge rise until doubled in size, 30 minutes to an hour.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of ground nutmeg
Zest of one orange or lemon
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups golden raisins

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs in one at a time and beat until fluffy.  Add in the salt, nutmeg, zest and 2 cups of flour, then beat well.  When the sponge has risen, add that to the creamed mixture along with the last 2 cups of flour and the golden raisins, then knead or use the dough hook on a mixer for 5 minutes, until you have a very smooth, elastic, sticky dough.  Using greased hands, place the dough into a large greased or buttered bowl.  Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled in size, an hour to 2 1/2 hours.  You can also refrigerate the dough at this point up to 3 days.  When you're ready to shape the loaves, let the dough come to room temperature first.

Crumble topping:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 2 cups sliced almonds

Cut the butter into the sugar and flour until it's fully mixed in and crumbly, then stir in the almonds.

When the dough has risen, use greased or wet hands to remove portions of it and divide it among 4 greased 9x5" loaf pans (or mini loaf and cake pans, as I like to do.  My mom tended to do 1 9x5" and 2 9" cake pans, it doesn't really matter, use what works for you!)  Divide the crumb mixture over the loaves, pressing in lightly (you will almost definitely have some left over, I always do and you can see how much I use.)  Cover the pans, then let the dough rise until doubled or until they're almost risen to the top.  

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. and when the loaves have risen, bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until golden brown on top.  Let them cool on wire racks, then invert them and cool completely before wrapping and freezing or keeping airtight at room temperature.  I won't lie and say there's an easy way to get these out of the pan without all of the crumbs coming off, but that's why the crumb recipe makes so much! 

Enjoy sliced and slathered with butter :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gluten Free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Today is my brother Andy's birthday!!!  We had a celebration for him over the weekend and he requested carrot cake again this year and I used the gluten free carrot cake recipe from last year, with a few minor changes as well as my go-to cream cheese frosting.  This is one recipe I feel like I have nailed down for good - I prefer this carrot cake over one with wheat flour any day and I urge you to try it this spring.  It would make a perfect dessert for Easter Sunday or any warm-weather occasion popping up on your calendar!

I took the recipe I found last year and decreased the amount of oil and sugar and I can honestly say neither was missed.  I also didn't add any coconut this year, just because I didn't have any on hand, but do feel free to add in 1 cup of it.  This amount of batter does make a bit much for 2 layers of cake, so you can make about 8 extra cupcakes with it, or just cut the recipe in half if you'd prefer.  But I promise you none of it will go to waste.  I love this cake and I hope any celiacs and non-celiacs out there will love it too!

Gluten Free Carrot Cake
2/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
1 1/3 cups potato starch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
4 or 5 large carrots, grated

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. and grease 2 8" or 9" cake pans as well as a cupcake pan (or line with baking papers.)

In medium bowl, combine the oil, sugars, eggs and water.  In a larger bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, potato starch, baking soda and baking powder, spices, salt and xanthan gum until everything is well mixed.  Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, adding in the walnuts, raisins and carrots and combine well.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 15 (cupcakes) minutes to 45 (cake layers) minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let cool completely on wire racks before icing.

Go-to Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
Pinch of kosher salt
1 lb. confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream the butter, cream cheese and salt together in a mixing bowl until very well mixed.  Add the sugar and combine, stir in the vanilla extract, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat for a few minutes, until very light and fluffy.