Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TWD: Cran-Apple Crisps

I admit it. I'm one of those people who totally judge a book by it's cover. If you were to look through my bookshelves, you'd find no less than 50 books that I've purchased over the course of my lifetime SOLELY because the cover art looked cool. I'm a super visual person... I can't help it.

Now, of those 50 or so books on my bookshelves that I bought solely because of their cool/weird/neat/different cover layout/artwork/title, I'd say approximately 10% of those I've actually read all the way through. Sure. I've attempted to read them all at some point or another. You'd pick one up and thumb through it and see my random bookmark around page 14 or maybe I'd make it as far as 62 (some probably a measly 6).

But, it doesn't stop at books. Oh, if only it did. I judge movies by their movie posters. Wine? Oh lord. Let's not even get into the wine and liquor discussion. I definitely have a certain aesthetic I look for in wine labels, which is why blind wine tastings are so important for me to discover good wines without the snazzy looking labels.

I don't really look at this sickness as a level of pretension, because we all do it to a certain extent. But, it's always interesting when you're surprised by something that doesn't look or sound that great to you, but then when you try it, it's amazing!

Enter this Cran-Apple Crisp. My Tuesdays with Dorie entry for today. On the one hand, I love apples. Love, love, love apples. Cranberries? Ehhh... I'll eat them, but they're not really my favorite. So, I was less than thrilled about this choice by Em The Repressed Pastry Chef. I thought. Okay, it will be good. but nothing noteworthy.

Holy crap, was I wrong! This was like one of the most amazing things I've put in my mouth (that's what she said). And I know... I know you're thinking I'm exaggerating, but I'm totally not. It's like an explosion of flavors. You get the tartness from the cranberries, the firm and sweetness from the apples, the syrupy-gooeyness from the dried cranberries and raisins, the homey-ness from the oatmeal, an unexpected exoticness from the coconut and a warm, fuzzy feeling inside from the cinnamon and spices.

Delicious. Even though it's not some 12 layer masterpiece with a zillion steps and it's not especially visually stunning, it is a deliciously simple dessert. Who knew that such simple components could yield such delicious results?

Dorie Greenspan, in my eyes, is the queen of the fruit desserts. I bow down.

Cran-Apple Crisps
recipe by Dorie Greenspan

Extremely easy. The recipe calls for either dried cranberries or raisins, but since I love raisins in cooked things, I added both.

I also upped the cranberries by a lot. I figure it couldn't hurt. And it didn't. And I used a lot more coconut than called for. If you're one of those who don't like the texture of coconut, I'd sub in some extra oatmeal to make up for the lack of coconut. But, you'd be missing out on the unexpected interest that the coconut lends to the dessert.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cranberry Scones

Call me many things... obsessive, selfish, crazy, alcoholic, self-obsessed even. Whatev. I'll admit it.. I'm a little bit of all those things. Am I working on correcting any of that about myself? Ehhh.. not really. It's all at healthy levels, I swear.  But the one thing for me, that I hope that I am NEVER described as... is uppity or snobby. That is the one thing in people that really drives me crazy. I mean, who am I to judge other people and think I'm better than them? Exactly.

As such, I try to avoid all possibly snobby-inducing situations. What are snobby-inducing situations you ask? Well.. sipping tea whilst my pinky is thrust out. Wearing hats to weddings. Having a dinner party with 14 different forks set out at each place setting. You know.. those everyday occurances for snobs. I'm never above heating the water for my tea in the microwave or getting drunk at weddings by doing shots at the bar next door everytime a slow song comes on (with the toast always... "here's to never getting married!") or breaking out the stryofoam bowls and plastic spoons for my chili at a get together... That's how I roll, baby. Class-less all the way.

So, it's only natural that I generally stay away from the scone. For me, scones fall into the pretensive food category amongst the likes of caviar, escargot, and petit fours. They were foreign to me. Until Starbucks bursted onto the scene, I'd never heard of a scone, I don't think. But as soon as I did... I immediately imagined them being eaten at high tea with some crumpets or some shit. Soooo not up my alley. I'll take biscuits and sausage gravy, please.

Back in 2008, I took a trip to Oregon with my mom. We ended up staying one night in Newport, Oregon (only because I wanted to check out the Rogue Brewery while I was there... YUM!) at this really nice hotel right on the beach, the Elizabeth Street Inn. We were on the elevator at the hotel, just after we had checked in and some other ladies were telling us about how in the afternoon they have warm chocolate chip cookies in the lobby and then one lady remarked rather emphatically about the scones at the free breakfast in the morning. "Oh the scones!" she said. "The scones are delicious!"

Scones, huh? A delicious scone? I couldn't fathom why she was so enthusasiatic about something as plain and boring as a scone.

So, of course, the next morning... I had to try a scone. And I'll be DAMNED if she wasn't right. I had a lemon poppyseed one and it was crumbly and sweet and unlike anything I'd ever had before. I've been searching for the right recipe that would give me the same texture as that scone. Some scone recipes are basically just biscuits. But, this scone... this was more cookie like. Harder, crumblier, and sweet.

Serendiptiously last week, I received an email from C&H Sugar. The email said that they wanted me to make something from their website's recipes and blog about it and in exchange they'd send me a $20 giftcard to help me with the expenses. How cool is that?

I eagerly hopped onto their recipe website and perused their recipes, trying to decide what to make. This proved to be a difficult task. I mean... it's a sugar manufacturer's website... all the recipes are going to sound amazing (doh!). But as soon as I saw this recipe for Cranberry Scones, I knew I had to try it. They turned out delicious! Crunchy and crumbly on the outside with a tender crumb on the inside. Delicious as is, with a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top or with a smear of jam. Not pretentious at all. In fact... dare I say... homey, even?

Thanks C&H!

Cranberry Scones
recipe by C&H Sugar

This recipe is easy. Usually biscuit recipes intimidate me, but the ingredients came together easily and turned out wonderfully!

Remember, these aren't supposed to be super sweet. They have just the right amount of sweetness that lingers on the tongue and makes you want to go back for one more little bit. Which turns into another bite, etc.

I think these would be just as good with raisins and maybe a little cinnamon thrown in. I'm including the butter-vanilla glaze recipe which sounds delicious, but I opted out of.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup C&H Pure Cane Granulated Sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter, sweet chilled
1 egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup cranberries, dried
1 tsp orange rind, finely grated (optional)
Butter vanilla glaze (optional, recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large mixing bowl sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender or the paddle on an electric mixer, cut in butter until mixture is the size of course crumbs. Add dried cranberries (and orange rind, if using) and toss to coat. Make a well in the center and set aside.

In a small bowl blend egg and buttermilk; add all at once to flour mixture. Mix until moistened. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead 10-12 times. Place dough onto a lined cookie sheet. Flatten dough into an 8" circle. Frequently dipping knife into flour, cut dough into 8 wedges. Separate wedges by 1". Bake 20-25 minutes. Place baked scones on a cooling rack. Let cool 5 minutes. Brush scones with glaze if desired.

Butter-Vanilla Glaze

1 1/2 cup C&H Pure Cane Powdered Sugar, sifted
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all glaze ingredients in small bowl.

Makes 8 scones.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Best Yellow Cake

There are few words in the English language that intimidate me, but in the baking world there are two: Yellow Cake. As soon as I hear the words yellow cake, I scoff. Not because I don't like yellow cake. In fact, I love yellow cake! But because yellow cake is my kryptonite.

I mean yellow cake, it seems simple, right? Yeah, I thought so, too. And then last summer, my brother Mike, chose a yellow cake with chocolate frosting as his Birthday cake. My first initial thought was to previous yellow/vanilla cakes I'd made in the past up to that point, Italian Cream Cake and Caramel Cake. Both delicious, but both made even more delicious by their fancypants icings. The "cake" wasn't the star in either of those recipes. I soldiered on and ended up presenting him with an awful cake for his birthday.

Since that day, I've stayed as far away as possible from the yellow cake.

Until a few weeks ago.

Here's the backstory. So, back in September I went to brunch with a couple friends. I may have partaken in a screwdriver (I mean, I am supposed to drink orange juice with my high blood pressure medicine) and the bartender might have mixed us up a couple of complimentary shots (and doh! It's rude to say no to complimentary shots. Everyone knows that!). By the time I left the restaurant, I was approaching the perfect buzz. But, it was only 2pm! Which meant one of two things: I could either walk home and go to bed and wake up with a wicked hangover at 7pm... OR I could call every friend I have in town and see if they wanted to meet up at a bar for a beer or two.

I think you know which option I chose.

So, I convinced (pretty easily, I gotta say) a friend to imbibe with me and we hit up a local brewery in town. I'm sucking down the Dos Perros and we're having a good time and one of his friends shows up to the brewery as well.

The night continues... we switch venues and apparently at some point in the night, the friend of my friend starts talking about his birthday... to which I (allegedly) (in my happy, drunken state) slur ever so eloquently... "oooo a birthday! I'll plan your birthday! hiccup!" (to which I'm told a week later when my friend reminds me that I emphatically insisted on planning his birthday that night). Which, brings up a good point... who in their right mind believes a drunk chick??? I mean... what universe are we in?

Anyway, as a staunch believer in the Hemingway code of  "always do sober what you said you'd do drunk" (don't even ask about the other things I've had to do), I offer up to make this dude a cake as a surprise. (Incidentally, the guy is super nice, so I didn't mind).

What cake do you make when you have no idea what the recipient likes and you can't ask him cause it's a surprise? You make a yellow cake with chocolate icing, my friend.

So, my arch nemesis and I come face to face again in the kitchen. This time, I came equipped with what appeared to be a surefire bet... a recipe from Deb of Smitten Kitchen. A recipe that she in fact named as the BEST Yellow cake.

I entered into the recipe with extreme trepidation. I almost went out and bought a yellow cake mix as a back up. But, I instead decided to just go with it. And thank God I did, because this cake is THE BEST YELLOW CAKE ever! It's moist and flavorful! It's super easy to make! I was thrilled! Hell, it was so good, I felt like it was my birthday instead! And so, I say thank you... Thank You Hemingway, for making me make good on my drunken promises (when I probably normally wouldnt have) and thank you Deb, for sharing this great recipe! You've saved my ass and I'll no longer cringe when someone utters "yellow cake" to me again.

Best Birthday Cake

This cake comes together easily and is really moist and tasty. I went ahead and made the cake exactly as Deb has it on the website, the chocolate sour cream frosting and all, and I have to say, I was not a fan of the frosting at all. Next time, I'll stick with my regular chocolate buttercream favorite: Hershey's. (If you DO use the Hershey's frosting DOUBLE the recipe to frost this 2 layer cake).

Yield: 2 layer 9 inch cake or a single 9x13 inch single layer cake.

4 cups plus 2 tbsp cake flour (not self rising)
2 tsps baking powder
1 1/2 tsps baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsps vanilla
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well shaken

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour two 9 inch cake pans.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs one at at time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack let cool completely (about an hour).

Hershey's Chocolate Buttercream

Like I said, double this recipe.

6 tbsps of butter, softened
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup Hershey's Cocoa (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat butter in medium bowl. Add powdered sugar and cocoa alternately with milk; beat to spreading consistency (additional milk may be needed). Stir in vanilla.

About 2 cups frosting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TWD: Sugar Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

Molasses. We have a love/hate relationship for sure. Let me try to explain it for you... One of my most favorite meals in the whole entire world is pancakes. When I was a kid, my mom would make us pancakes basically whenever we wanted. But, like so many food duos in our house (chips and salsa, bread and sandwich meat) we often had one but not the other. Sometimes we had pancake mix and no syrup and this wouldn't be noticed until the pancakes were sitting on a plate in front of you. Begging to be drowned in some Aunt Jemima.

My favorite subsitition is jelly/jam and if the pancakes had been cooked in enough butter, then I could eat them plain. But, a few times... my mom would try to pull out some kind of funky Bob White Syrup. It was kind of like a white molasses and I hated it. It WAS not pancake syrup. And to this day I have no idea what it really is (corn syrup, maybe? nasty hair product passed off as syrup? possibly). In any case, I was not a fan.

Honey? Yes! But Bob White Syrup? Molasses? Neither was I a fan of. Molasses has a bitter whang to it that I just can't get into. I LOVE brown sugar, so you'd think I like molasses. But... I cant get passed the bite. And blackstrap molasses? Holy Crap. Don't even talk to me about blackstrap molasses. I don't care how nutritional it is for you, there is no way I'm eating something that tastes, smells, and looks like tar. (Although, my mom does make granola with blackstrap molasses, and it's not so bad).

So, I kept remembering these as spice cookies, instead of molasses cookies. And then I'd read the title again... DRATS! Molasses. I persevered and bought my first ever bottle of molasses. I wanted to be wooed. I wanted to like the molasses, despite the funky-ass smell that it imparted to the whole batch of dough. I cautiously licked one of the beaters before throwing it in the sink. Ehhh... not as bad as it smelled, but I didn't go after the other beater (and that should tell you something about the dough, I prefer dough to cookies most of the time).

I baked a couple up (the rest I'm saving in the freezer for a special occasion or something) and loved the way they turned out. Flat with cracks all over the top. The taste? Spicy and yet, not too spicy. The molasses flavor is practically gone (thank goodness) and all that's left is a chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside spicy kick to your tastebuds. They are really good! And, dangerous, because since they aren't overwhelmingly sweet, you could easily get carried away and eat a bunch of these at at time. Yikes! Be careful.
Sugar Topped Molasses Spice Cookies
Recipe by Dorie Greenspan
Chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie by Pamela of Cookies with Boys.

These cookies are simple to make. I omitted the pepper (I'm not a black pepper fan in general), and added vanilla (I can't bake something without it having vanilla or almond extract. It's a thing with me). The dough is quite sticky (dang molasses), but if you refrigerate it as instructed, you should be okay.

I didn't want crispy cookies, so I didn't flatten my dough balls out at all and they ended up flat and chewy. Cookie Texture Perfection in my book.

Recipe found here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Filling and Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Sure, being witty and intelligent are important attributes. It's also nice if you're kind-hearted and dependable. All good things. But you know what the number one most valuable personality trait or characteristic is? Go ahead... think about it... I'll entertain you with a story while you formulate your guess.

Earlier this week... my office had a new copier installed. This was one of the happiest days of my professional life. Seriously, if you've never had a shitty copier, then you have no idea how lucky you are. The next time you walk by the copier... give it a little love tap and a thank you. Because, the copier may seem to be the meek and unforgettable piece of office equipment... but, don't you test it, because it can and will go postal on your office at any given moment and render your entire office into a frustrating, unproductive hell-hole in which you think you will never see the light of day again.

So, yeah, I was pretty psyched about the new copier installation.

The IT dude that did the install was kinda cute. Not like Eric Bana/Mike Fisher smoking hot-cute. But, more like a Jim Halpert cute. Which... I'll take. So, anyway... he's in the office for awhile and I'm helping him figure out something about our network and I'm not even really paying attention to him. All I can think about is how freaking excited I am at the prospect of having a copier that might not give me nightmares and wake me up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. And then... at some point, I look at him and I think... "huh. This guy looks familiar." So, I stare for awhile.. trying to place him...

Is he a regular at my local bar? Ehhh... doesn't seem like it would be his scene.
Is he a friend of a friend of a friend? Possibly.

And as I'm staring at him and trying to place his face, I start thinking... "huh. this guy is pretty cute." And then he looked up at me and caught me staring at him with a studied look and I blurted out the next possibility...

"You look familiar... did you do our last copier install?"

And as soon as he smiled and said yes... I realized what a dumbass I am.

You see... our last copier install was like 2 years ago. Oh wait, actually, he corrected me... it was 2.5 years ago. So, the fact that I remembered him from 2 years ago (my bad, make that 2.5 years ago) is like male-speak for... "crazy-stalker-desperate bitch" type. (Which... let's be honest... suits me to a tee).

So, I tried to downplay it... Tried to engage him in copier talk and I really, ultimately just crashed and burned.

Which brings me to the initial question I posed... the most valuable characteristic or personality trait... is being able to flirt effectively.

The past couple of years, it's been brought to my attention that my flirting skills are quite shitty. Like... if someone else gets the ball rolling first, I can usually hop on for the ride and get a little flirty back. But, when I'm trying to initiate the flirting? HA! Forget about it. It turns into an awkward mess of mispronounced words, mumbling, and broken eye contact. It's not pretty, folks. Not pretty at all. And I'm sad to say that it's actually something I've been working on and yet... I'm still operating at the speed of a 45 year old virgin. I mean, at this point, I'm thinking she could probably out-flirt me. It's THAT BAD.

So, what's a girl to do? I've tried practicing. I've tried advice. I just can't get the hang of it and the more I think about it, the worse the flirting becomes.

If only I could let my oven do the flirting for me. You see, if, in the cute copier dude story above, I had had a piece of this cake lying around and instead of mumbling on about stack bypass trays and paper jams I just said, here... have a bite. I'm sure I could have sealed the deal. Because, really... how could you resist a girl holding a piece of cake? Until I can figure out a way to carry around various baked goodies without A. jacking up the lining of my purse and B. coming off as some crazy baker chick who carries around baked goodies that, rumor has it, is laced with a sedative so that she can drag you off to her condo and when you wake up you've got a paint brush in your hand and she's thanking you for "volunteering" to help her paint her kitchen. I think I'm going to have to continue to work on the flirting. Because, all I need is to become *that* girl as well. Dammit!

The good news? Is this cake will hopefully make you forget how god-awful you are at flirting and make you realize that a good slice of cake can make you feel better about almost anything. I made this cake a couple of months ago (eek! I know! I've been in a blogging slump lately, but I'm coming back, I promise) for my friend Ash's birthday. He had a party at his house and I of course baked a cake and brought it along.

The week prior to the party, I was hanging out with Ash and I sneakily asked him (while he was drunk) what kind of cake he likes... he said chocolate. Actually, he went off on some diatribe about weird cake flavors and frostings, but all I remembered the next day (well, of course, I was drunk, too) was chocolate.

The cake was a hit. People are always impressed when they find out that you made a layer cake, and then even more impressed when they find out that it's entirely homemade. And, while, I agree... boxed mixes have their place in the culinary world, when it's a friend or family member, someone you care about... take the extra effort and bake them a cake from scratch. It might not turn out as moist as a boxed mix, but it's definitely full of more love and the recipient will be touched that you went out of your way for them. Sure, it's messy and takes time, but it's worth it, because your friend/family member is worth it.
Chocolate Velvet Cake with Vanilla Filling and Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from recipes from: Southern Living and Hershey's

This cake is easy, moist, and delicious. Actually, it's almost too moist. I made a 2 layer cake and then attempted to slice the cakes in half to make a 4 layer cake. My layers came out in pieces, so I had try and smush everything back together. Not pretty. And it made for an equally ugly slice. So,I suggest you just leave it at 2 layers. The cake itself is light but flavorful. I love that it uses only brown sugar, which I think lends itself to a moister, richer flavored cake.

I wanted to lighten up the chocolate in the cake so I decided to whip up a basic vanilla filling to go between the layers instead of chocolate frosting. I think it worked. But feel free to fill the cake with whatever frosting you desire.

The outside of the cake I frosted with my all-time favorite chocolate icing. Hershey's One Bowl Chocolate Buttercream. Easy and delicious. It's like a bowl of chocolate bliss. I topped the cake off with a few chopped pecans and called it day.

Chocolate Velvet Cake

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 16 oz package of light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 8 oz container of sour cream
1 cup hot water
2 tsps vanilla extract
<>Grease and flour 3 8 inch cake pans (I used 2 9 inch pans) and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt semisweet chocolate morsels in a microwave safe bowl at high for 30 second intervals until melted. Stir until smooth.

Beat butter and brown sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer, beating about 5 minutes or until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Add melted chocolate, beating just until blended.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to chocolate mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Gradually add 1 cup hot water in a slow, steady stream, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in vanilla. (Makes about 8 1/2 cups of batter).

Spoon cake batter evenly amongst greased pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pans and let cool completely on wire rack.

Vanilla Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup (maybe more) of milk (I used heavy cream)
2 to 2 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar
Splash of vanilla
pinch of salt

Mix butter with a hand mixer until smooth, slowly add in milk and sugar while mixing. Add more confectioners sugar or more milk to get the desired consistency. Finish with vanilla and salt.

Yield: Enough to fill 3 layers of a 9 inch cake.

Hershey's One Bowl Chocolate Buttercream

This is a half recipe. Since I used a different frosting for the filling, I only needed enough frosting for the outside of the cake. This recipe yields one cup. If using this recipe for your filling, I'd double recipe, at the least.

3 tablespoons of butter, softened
1 1/3 cup of confectioners sugar
1/4 cup Hershey's cocoa
1/4 cup of milk (I used cream), maybe more
1 tsp of vanilla

Beat butter in a medium bowl. Add confectioners sugar and cocoa alternately with the milk, beat to spreading consistency (additional milk may be needed). Stir in vanilla.