Saturday, November 29, 2008

Caramel Cake with the Daring Bakers


I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  I had a great time with all of my family.  I was really relaxed this year despite having 40 people over.  We had so much food.  In fact, we had a whole turkey left over which we didn't even carve.  My fridge is stocked with leftovers and several yummy pies which I am eating bite by bite right out of the pie plates.  I think this year could be the year that I gain a few extra pounds over the holidays.  It's just so hard to resist all of the delicious food.

Of course then there's the Daring Baker's challenge which came right after Thanksgiving.  Of course I had to be a procrastinator and was up finishing it tonight after 9 hours of work.  I am so tired so if this post doesn't make sense, forgive me.

This months challenge was a recipe form Shuna Fish Lydon for Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting.  Our hosts this month were Dolores from Culinary Curiosity, Alex from Brownie of the Blondie and  Jenny of  Foray into Food. And for those gluten free bakers Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go  lent a hand too.

I decided to halve the recipe and make cupcakes instead of one large cake because I really need more dessert around here just like I need a hole in my head.  Instead of lining my pan with liners I put in little squares of parchment.  I reduced the sugar slightly on the cupcakes and frosting after reading several posts about how sweet they both were.  Overall, my favorite part of this challenge was the frosting and let me tell you, I usually don't like frosting.  This one has a really caramely flavor from the brown butter and the caramel syrup.  It is absolutely delicious.  The cake was good too with a nice moist ,tight crumb.  I thought that it lacked a little caramel flavor.  I think next time I will  add a little more of the caramel syrup.

Overall, the challenge was quick easy and delicious.  I will be keeping that frosting recipe on hand for future use.  I can't wait to see what the Daring Bakers will have in store for us next month!

Caramel Cake With Caramelized Butter Frosting:

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan. Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.
Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Caramelized Butter Frosting:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

Overall, I think the frosting is a keeper, I will keep that recipe tucked away for another time.  the cake was alright but nothing to jump through hoops for.  It was a fun and easy challenge.  I can't wait to see what next month will bring!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Individual Apple Pies

Kristen's Food November 2008 109 

I can't believe that November is just about over and that Thanksgiving is next week.  Were does the time go?  I love that we have a holiday where we can be gluttons.  I am already dreaming about all of the yummy food.  We usually have so much food that we are eating Thanksgiving for about a week.  I can't wait for the mashed potatoes and roasted veggies and stuffing and pie and...the list could go on and on.

I will be hosting Thanksgiving dinner again this year which means 30+ people will be invading my house.  We will cook 2 huge turkeys and a ham, 20 pounds of mashed  potatoes, stuffing, yams corn, rolls, squash and probably about 8-10 pies.  I love pie.  My mom would make me pie every year for my birthday so I have an affinity for good pie.  In fact, as I am typing this, I am eating the pie from the pictures and boy is it good.

This pie recipe is great if you are having a small Thanksgiving and would like to treat everyone to their own mini pies.  Obviously it won't work for my large gathering unless I was a masochist and wanted to stay up all  night baking a million little pies.   It would work well for any leftover pie dough that you have and is a great late night snack.  All you need are some little pot pie tins or ramekins, I think some mini tart pans would also work great.  I used a 6 oz. glass ramekin which worked perfectly.  There is nothing fancy about this pie, just the traditional apple pie.  If you wanted to change it up a bit you could throw in some chopped up caramels and toss in a few pecans or use some orange blossom honey in place of the sugar with a little added citrus zest.  You really can individualize this pie.  So, if you have a hankering for some apple pie, give this one a go.

Individual Apple Pies

 Kristen's Food November 2008 112

Pie dough

3 cups flour, spooned and leveled

1/4 tsp salt

2 Tbs. sugar

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled butter cut into small pieces

Ice water

1.  In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt.  Add the shortening and the butter and cut it into the flour using two knives or a pastry cutter.  You want the pieces of butter and shortening to be about the size of peas.

2.  Once the mixture is combined, move most of it to one side of the bowl.  Pour a Tablespoon of water over the small bit of flour mixture and pull the dough together with a fork.  Try to work the dough very little as overworking it will cause the gluten to form and will toughen the crust.  Move the moistened dough aside and pull aside some more of the dry flour mixture and repeat until the dough is moist enough to be formed into a ball.

3.  Separate the dough into 1/2 cup size balls of dough, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

for each individual pie

2 granny smith apples

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp. flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

juice of 1/2 a small lemon

1 tsp butter cut into small pieces

for the glaze

1 egg yolk

2 tsp. heavy cream

sugar for sprinkling on top

1. Preheat the oven to 375°.  Peal, core and thinly slice the apples.  Sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss to combine.  Add the sugar, cinnamon and flour and toss to combine.  Set aside.

2.  Grease your ramekins.  Roll out one piece of dough at a time, you want the dough to be fairly thin as there is a large ratio of dough to apples.  Roll up onto rolling pan and then fit into the ramekin.  Trim the edges, leaving a little overhang.  Fill with the apples, you ant to mound up the apples as they will shrink down as they cook.  Top with the pieces of butter.

3.  Roll out a second piece of dough and either fit to the top of the pie or cut into strips for a lattice pattern.  If not using the lattice pattern, don't forget to poke holes in the top crust to allow the steam to escape.  Tuck the ends under with the bottom crust.

4.  Mix together the glaze ingredients and brush lightly onto the top crust.  Sprinkle with a little sugar.  Place on baking sheet to catch drips and bake for 30 minutes.  Cover the tops of the pies with foil and then bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until bubbling and cooked through.  Let cool before eating.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Triple Threat Brownies

Kristen's Food November 2008 094

Man, things have been so busy.  I feel like my life is racing out of control and leaving me behind.  All areas of my life seem to be disorganized.  It is amazing that I was finally able to get something up on my blog.  I apologize for my lack of posts.  I hope to make it up very soon.  It's not that I haven't made anything, it's just that I haven't had the time or energy to post it.  Hopefully that will all change here soon.  I would like to get a few great Thanksgiving dishes in here soon, so look for those soon.

Now, onto tonight's treat.  I have had this triple layer brownie in my mind for awhile now but have not had all of the ingredients on hand at one time, until last night.  These brownies were inspired by a triple layer mouse cake that I saw once on Martha Stewart several years back.  I thought it would be great to have 3 different layers in one brownie.  I was hoping for more of a distinction between the dark chocolate and the milk chocolate layers but even without that, they were still absolutely delicious!

The bottom layer is a rich dark chocolate brownie with bittersweet chocolate chips.  The middle is a creamy  milk chocolate brownie with Heath toffee pieces and the top layer is a white chocolate brownie with macadamia nuts.  I then drizzled the rich chocolaty layers with more dark chocolate.  What more can you ask for in one little brownie, it's got something for everyone.  These brownies are definitely a chocolate lovers dream.  Don't get overwhelmed by the list of ingredients.  As long as you have everything out and measured before hand the brownies will come together in a snap.

Triple Threat Brownies

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For the dark chocolate layer

4 Tbs. Butter

4 oz. dark chocolate

½ cup flour

2 Tbs. cocoa powder

¼ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ cup sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

½ cup dark chocolate chips

For the Milk Chocolate layer

4 Tbs. Butter

4 oz. milk chocolate

½ cup flour

2 Tbs. cocoa powder

¼ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ cup sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

½ cup toffee bits

For the white chocolate layer

4 Tbs. Butter

4 oz. white chocolate

½ cup flour + 2 Tbs. flour

¼ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ cup sugar

1 egg + 1 egg white

½ cup macadamia nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 13x9 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray, set aside. In 3 separate bowls, combine the chocolate and butter for each of the three layers. In another 3 bowls measure out the dry ingredients, excluding the sugar, for each layer.

2. Beginning with the dark chocolate layer, melt the butter and chocolate over a double broiler or in the microwave in 10 second intervals until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, then the eggs until well combined. Give the dry ingredients a quick stir and dump them into the chocolate mixture. Stir until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine. Pour into the bottom of pan and spread out using a slightly damp offset spatula.

3. Continue with the other two layers in the same manner. Be careful when pouring and spreading in the pan so that the layers stay separated.

4. Bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool in pan for about 1 hour then using the foil as handles, carefully remove the brownies from the pan and continue to cool in the fridge until well chilled, this helps when cutting. Cut into squares and drizzle with more melted dark chocolate if desired.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Homemade Ricotta

Kristen's Food November 2008 017

I saw a recipe  homemade ricotta a few months ago and it has been in the back of my mind as something to try.  Lately I've had this hankering for some lasagna and thought that this would be a great time to try my hand at cheese making.  As far as cheese go, ricotta couldn't be simpler.  It doesn't require rennet or any special equipment aside from some cheesecloth and can be made in about 15 minutes, from start to finish.  It can also be seasoned in a variety of ways from sweet to savory.  The ricotta turned out perfect with a soft slightly grainy texture and a very mild flavor that tasted great once salted.  I would love to make another batch and mix in some honey and toasted walnuts and spread on a toasted baguette or make a ricotta cake.  There are just so many options for this mild and versatile cheese.

For the lasagna, I added a little olive oil and some basil and rosemary to the ricotta for flavor.   I loaded the lasagna with roasted eggplant, zucchini, portobello mushrooms and carrots.  Topped the noodles with a homemade marinara and smothered the whole thing with a tangy provolone cheese.  It may not have been my husbands favorite, due to the veggies, but for me it was heaven and way better than any Italian restaurant.  I actually threw this whole thing together, including the cheese making in about an hour.  Not bad for a delicious meal that was almost completely made from scratch, next time I'll have to make the pasta too.

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Homemade Ricotta

From the NY Times

2 quarts milk, preferably whole

2 cups buttermilk

1.  Line a colander with 4 layers of cheesecloth and set in the sink or over a bowl.

2.   Heat the milk and buttermilk in a large stockpot over high heat stirring constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan, to prevent scorching.  When the milk reaches about 170° the curds will separate form the liquid.  the milk will look like a cloudy water with very small curds mixed throughout.  Turn off the heat and pour the mixture into the cheesecloth and let drain for about 5 minutes.  Then gather the edges of the cheesecloth and gently pull together to remove any excess liquid.  Do not squeeze unless you want a drier ricotta.  Let drain for a few more minutes and season to taste.