Happy Halloween everyone! We'll get to the creepy (and maybe somewhat gross?) treat I made in a moment, but first I wanted to tell you about the exciting day I had on Friday.
Shane's mom and I got on the road bright and early to make our way to a local Williams-Sonoma store where Ina Garten was signing copies of her new book! We knew the crowd would probably be huge so we got there about 2 hours early, and surprisingly, the line wasn't that big yet. We were probably about 200th at that point. As the hour of the signing approached, though, the line got longer and longer and longer.
To expedite things we were warned by several employees that Ina wouldn't be able to personalize books nor would she be posing for photos. As books were being signed, an employee took your camera and snapped a few shots and unfortunately, none of mine turned out great but still, the 3 hours we waited were more than worth it for the opportunity to meet the Barefoot Contessa. Even though they were trying to move things along, Ina looked up at each and every person, smiled warmly and said hello. She even thanked me for waiting in such a long line to see her. I don't think there's another tv personality I'd have been so eager to stand in line for, but I had no problem doing it for Ina. I absolutely love her show, her recipes and her approach to cooking.
I'm eager to begin making my way through her new book, which focuses on creating dishes that are elegant enough to serve when you entertain, yet still relatively simple, without long ingredients lists or time consuming cooking methods. I've been flagging a lot of the recipes, including this one for red velvet cupcakes which I'm excited to share today.
I've wanted to try making these brain cupcakes on Halloween for the past 2 years but I always chicken out. This year I wasn't going to let it happen. Hopefully Ina won't mind that I used her red velvet cupcake as the base for my brains :) The cupcakes come together easily, a pretty standard red velvet recipe utilizing cocoa powder as well as red food coloring. I've noted this below as well, but Ina makes giant cupcakes. I filled the tins almost completely (versus the 3/4 I would typically do) in order to match the yield the recipe indicates. On the plus side, the cupcakes do bake up instead of spreading a ton, though next time I make them I'll spray the top of the muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray as I did have to pry them off a bit.
I had some cream cheese frosting in the freezer already (my current favorite from Martha Stewart, recipe here) which I used so I didn't try Ina's recipe this time, though I'm sure it won't be long before I do. The process of coloring the frosting was purely a case of trial and error. I started with red gel coloring and a bit of brown. It still looked bright red to me so I added blue until it was more purplish and was a closer approximation to the color I guess brains might be. Then I piped it on in a squiggly pattern, attempting to dome the frosting in a brain shape.
We brought the brain cupcakes to our friends' house this evening where we're watching the Patriots game and handing out candy to trick or treaters. Everyone's tried a cupcake and they've received rave reviews all around. The cupcake itself is moist and light with almost a springy (in a good way) texture. This cream cheese frosting is to die for, and complemented the cupcakes perfectly. There probably aren't too many circumstances in which it's acceptable to make brain cupcakes, but I think these are the perfect creepy Halloween treat!
Red Velvet Cupcakes
from Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That, by Ina Garten
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder,
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon liquid red food coloring
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 muffin tins with paper liners (the recipe makes approx 15 large cupcakes, more if you make them smaller).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk the buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla in a 2-cup measuring cup.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 1 minute, until light. One at a time, add the eggs, beating well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and wet ingredients to the bowl, beginning and and ending with the dry ingredients (so, dry, wet, dry, wet, dry). Beat just until everything is combined.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared liners. (Note: Ina makes really big cupcakes - using a 2 1/4-inch ice cream scoop to divide the batter, almost completely filling the cups. You could definitely make them smaller, but I'd start checking around 20 minutes in the oven if you do.) Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
Makes 15 large cupcakes
I haven't made nearly as many Halloween-themed goodies as I'd hoped to this year, but I did manage to sneak in a few at the last minute. I saw the idea for these spider cupcakes first on Bakerella and while they're a bit creepy (I hate spiders!) I also thought they were cute. Plus, they included lots of chocolate sprinkles, which I just love. Technically, Shane tells me I can't call them spiders since they only have 6 legs, but I'm going with it anyway :) The spiders are really easy to make. Simply top a chocolate cupcake (I highly recommend this one) with chocolate frosting then cover the frosting with lots of chocolate sprinkles. The eyes are mini m&m's and the legs are black licorice. I couldn't find the wheel of licorice Bakerella used, so I just cut up Twizzlers, but I definitely think the legs look better/more realistic the way she did them. They'd be a great project to do with kids since they are so simple.
When I thought about what chocolate cupcake base to use for the spiders, my mind went immediately to this recipe for chocolate ganache filled chocolate cupcakes. I made them last month for my friend's baby shower and loved them, but never blogged about them because I didn't manage to get a good photo amidst the celebration. They are the perfect chocolate cupcake in my opinion - moist and tender but not too delicate or crumbly - and of course, full of rich chocolate flavor. When they first come out of the oven the center is warm and almost molten but as they cool it firms up to create a rich center.
Happy Friday everyone! I'm super excited because I'm off to see Ina Garten today - yes, the Barefoot Contessa is going to be in my neck of the woods signing her new book and I'm going to meet her! Can't wait to tell you all about it soon :)
Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Filling
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup (1 oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 cup hot coffee
3/4 cup (4 1/8 oz) bread flour
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the ganache filling: Add the chocolate, cream and confectioners' sugar to a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat in your microwave on full power for 20-30 seconds, or until the mixture is warm to the touch. Use a whisk to combine until smooth then put the bowl in the refrigerator until the ganache is chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.
To make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Place the chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl then pour the hot coffee over them and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Put the bowl in the refrigerator to allow the mixture to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl whisk the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda together.
Once the chocolate/coffee mixture is cool, add the oil, eggs, vinegar and vanilla to the bowl and whisk everything until smooth. Finally add all of the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk again until smooth.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Drop about one teaspoon of ganache filling onto each cupcake. Bake the cupcakes until they are just firm to the touch and set, about 17-19 minutes. Remove the pan to a wire rack. After 10 minutes, lift each cupcake from the pan and set it on the rack to cool completely before frosting.
Earlier this fall when there were rumors of a canned pumpkin shortage, I was thrilled to find quite a few cans at our local warehouse club. Of course, I stocked up so I could do plenty of baking even if I wasn't able to find canned pumpkin the rest of the season (a fear that never materialized). There's only one problem: like everything else sold at warehouse clubs, the cans of pumpkin are jumbo-sized. In other words, a single can of pumpkin lasts for 3 or 4 recipes (even more lately the way I've been scaling back all of the recipes I make). It would be easy to freeze the leftover pumpkin, but fitting things in our freezer is already like playing a game of Tetris so I try to avoid it whenever possible. Instead, the pumpkin goes into a resealable bag in the fridge and I bake pumpkin goodies like crazy until I use it all up. I have no idea how long I can safely use pumpkin I store in the fridge but I've been trying to work through it within a week and haven't had any issues.
I opened a new can of pumpkin to make the caramel pumpkin pie last week, and shortly afterward started scouring my cookbooks and the internet for new recipes to use the leftover. These cheesecakes are one of the desserts which that pumpkin wound up in. They're really quick and easy, and perfect for sharing since they're individually portioned. I found I had to swirl quite a bit to achieve a marbled look because the pumpkin batter is heavier than the plain, but these really do look wonderfully festive with the orange and white colors. This recipe doesn't include a crust and I don't know that they need one, but if you are so inclined it would be easy to make a graham cracker crust and press it in before adding the cheesecake batter on top (here's one I've used in the past).
One last note - I received quite a few comments/questions about the mini pie dish I used for my apple pie yesterday. I picked it up last fall at Crate & Barrel when they had the seasonal bakeware out. I haven't been into the store lately but I checked the website and it looks like they have the same dish in an orange/brown pumpkin color this year (find it here) for those who are interested.
Pumpkin Swirl Mini Cheesecakes
adapted from Fine Cooking
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
2 1/4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed until very smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the sugar, vanilla, and salt, and continue beating until the mixture is smooth (make sure it is free of all lumps), about 1 minute. Finally, add the eggs to the bowl, one at a time. Beat only until everything is just blended (overbeating at this stage may cause the cheesecakes to crack during baking).
Transfer 2/3 cup of the batter to a small bowl. Use a rubber spatula to mix in the pumpkin, flour and spices until completely blended.
Use a small cookie scoop to divide the plain batter among the prepared muffin cups (about 2- 2 1/2 tablespoons per cup). Then use the scoop to add a dollop of the pumpkin batter to each cup (about 1-1 1/2 tablespoons per cup). Use a toothpick or small knife to swirl the two batters together to create a marbled look.
Bake for about 17-20 minutes, or until the centers of the cheesecakes are just set. Let the cheesecakes cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack. Once they reach room temperature, cover them and set the pan in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours (or up to 3 days) before serving.
This week's Tuesdays with Dorie was chosen by Emily of SandMuffin: all-american, all-delicious apple pie. When it comes to apples, I can really take them or leave them. Occasionally I'll slice one up and dip it in peanut butter, but they're not a favorite fruit around here. Baked apples, though - well that's an entirely different story. Give me a baked apple dessert any day - in fact, I'm pretty sure that if given the choice between a slice of chocolate cake and a dessert with warm baked apples, the apples win 9 out of 10 times. So, apple pie this week? Yep, I was excited.
Unfortunately, Shane came down with a cold last week and passed it to me so I was feeling a bit under the weather when I made the pie yesterday. My baking mojo was nowhere to be found and all attempts at pie crust were sort of a disaster. My dough was overworked and mangled, pieced together to create a shell for the apple filling. Since I'd made Dorie's pie dough two times in the past week alone, I used a recipe from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book this time, another favorite of mine which has worked beautifully in the past. I made a mini pie in my 6" dish using about half of the filling recipe, though I was quite liberal on the measurements. The only change I made to the recipe was to add lemon juice to the filling along with the lemon zest Dorie already called for. I baked my mini at 425 F for about 15 minutes then at 375 F for another 30-ish minutes, at which point the juices were bubbling up over the edges and down the side of the dish.
I always find it difficult to wait for fruit pies to cool a bit when they come out of the oven before cutting into them. They smell so good I just want to dig in! I did manage to hold out until this pie was just slightly warm, but after that all bets were off. A healthy "serving" of apple pie may or may not have spoiled my appetite for dinner :) Dorie's apple pie was definitely a huge hit - I almost always share what I bake, but this pie was all mine! Though I only used one variety of apples (Cortlands) for my pie, I thought the flavor of the filling was perfect with just the right level of sweetness and spiciness. And despite my issues with the crust, it still baked up flaky and delicious - the perfect complement to the apple filling. I think this pie would be equally delicious with a crumb topping and single crust and after seeing that a few of my fellow TWD bakers went that route, I'll likely give it a go soon, especially given the huge quantity of apples still in my fridge.
Many thanks to Emily for hosting this week! You can find the recipe for the apple pie on her blog here or on pages 300-302 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.
It was inevitable that this macaroni and cheese would be made in our house as soon as Shane saw its photo on the cover of the most recent issue of Everyday Food. He loves macaroni and cheese, and adding bacon to the equation only made it that much more enticing. Macaroni and cheese is comfort food to me, and I really wanted to hold off on making it until the first burst of chilly fall air arrived. Fortunately for Shane, he didn't have to wait long. Temperatures dipped into the 30's overnight last week and we had our first frost advisory - it was nothing if not comfort food weather.
I won't lie, I was a bit skeptical about this recipe when I read through it. Most of the macaroni and cheese recipes I've made (and loved!) start with a roux (typically a combination of butter and flour) as the basis for the cheese sauce. There's neither butter nor flour here. Instead, evaporated milk and eggs are whisked together before the cheeses are added along with a touch of spice. This sauce is tossed with the macaroni and bacon, and everything is baked for only 12 minutes in a very hot oven. The resulting mac and cheese is thick and creamy with great flavor from the winning combination of sharp cheddar and smoky bacon. The only thing missing is the crunchy topping so often seen on homemade mac and cheese, but to be honest, I didn't miss it much. I love how low maintenance this recipe is, and it's one that's sure to be a repeat here over the course of the long New England winter.
Three-Cheese and Bacon Macaroni
Everyday Food, October 2010
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons (about 1 large clove) minced garlic
3 large eggs
12 oz evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup (2 oz) grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup (1 oz) finely grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 475 F.
Cook the bacon in a small skillet set over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Add the garlic to the pan and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon and garlic to a medium bowl.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiled salted water for 6 minutes (the pasta will be undercooked). Drain, then add the pasta to the bowl with the bacon and garlic and stir to combine.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and evaporated milk. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, cayenne, nutmeg and the cheeses and mix well. Finally, add the macaroni/bacon mixture to the bowl and stir to coat the pasta evenly.
Transfer the pasta mixture to an 8-inch square baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray (a 2-qt baking dish would also work). Gently spread to form an even layer. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the sauce is just bubbling at the edges. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
I've baked a lot of pumpkin treats over the past few years, but I'll go out on a limb and say that these whoopie pies are probably my very favorite. I liked them so much that I decided to post them today even though I've seen them on several other blogs already over the past few months. On the off chance that there's someone out there who hasn't come across this recipe, I figured they were worth sharing because they are beyond delicious!
The cookies are really more like tiny cakes - soft, spicy and moist - that are guaranteed to fill your house with the scents of autumn baking while in the oven. Sandwiched between the cookies is a cream cheese filling, the perfect mate to pumpkin goodies in my opinion. They're a bit labor intensive, but not difficult at all, and so worth the effort. A few weeks ago our friends had an Oktoberfest gathering, and though I wasn't able to attend, I sent Shane with these whoopie pies and I heard that they were a big hit there too. I just opened a big can of pumpkin puree the other day to make a pie, and the leftover pumpkin is sitting in my fridge, earmarked for another batch of these whoopie pies. I think they'll be the perfect snack for the Patriots game on Sunday as we take on the Chargers :)
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
adapted from Baked by Matt Lewis & Renalto Poliafito (originally seen on Annie's Eats)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
3 cups canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Filling
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk the sugars and oil together. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined. Finally, gradually add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine completely.
Use a small scoop (or a large spoon) to drop rounds of dough (about 1.5-2 tablespoons each) onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. Remove from the oven, then let the cookies cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.
To make the filling, beat the butter on medium speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat to combine. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth.
To assemble the whoopie pies: Turn half of the cookies over so the flat side is up. Put the cream cheese filling in a disposable pastry bag and cut a hole from the end. Pipe the filling onto the flat side of the turned cookies. Sandwich with the remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so the filling spreads to the edge. Cover the whoopie pies and transfer them to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.
I have a serious issue when it comes to cooking/baking magazines - they're stacked up all over our house, I've run out of room to store them and I've got a backlog of issues to read. Clearly the last thing I need to do is buy more magazines. Yet, still, I am powerless to resist the lure of the magazine section when I'm in the store. Recently I was walking through BJ's and noticed some of the holiday issues were out, which upped the temptation factor by at least 5 (as if it weren't already high enough - our BJ's sells magazines for 20% off cover price, and who am I to turn down a bargain like that?). I started flipping through an issue of Fine Cooking, and came across this super simple recipe for Nutella fudge brownies. I couldn't wait to get home (with my new magazine, of course) and give these a try!
Here's the great thing about this recipe - you only need 3 ingredients. Seriously, just 3 - Nutella, an egg and flour. You can have these brownies in the oven in under 5 minutes, which makes them the perfect treat for an urgent craving. I also thought the recipe would be fun to share with Shane. Though I clearly make a ton of desserts, he rarely gets to partake in them as more often than not, they include ingredients he doesn't eat. Monday was Shane's birthday so these were just one of the treats I baked up with him in mind (he also requested the choco-buzz which I made earlier this year but haven't since revisited until now). I didn't start baking these brownies until after midnight and yet they were baked, cooled and wrapped within an hour - love it!
The next day I made the world's smallest birthday cake for Shane, sticking a candle in one of the brownies and singing happy birthday as I delivered it to him. We both enjoyed the brownies - fudgy, dense little bites of goodness! Even my mom, who declared before trying one that she "didn't like Nutella" was a fan. These are a definite repeat here. As much as I enjoy complicated recipes, sometimes you just want something quick and easy, and these certainly fit the bill. (You can scroll to the bottom for the recipe.)
In honor of it being Shane's birthday week, I finally wanted to do a recap of his last few races this year. Overall, it was a terrific season - Shane competed in his first marathon back in May as well as his first half Ironman in July (I recapped those races here and in this post if you're interested). He trained like crazy in the intense heat of the summer and into the fall - 6 days a week most weeks - and all of his efforts paid off with wonderful results in the last two events.
Back in early September Shane took part in the FirmMan half Ironman event in Narragansett, RI. The day started beyond early - Narragansett is about an hour from our house and we were down there in time to see a stunning sunrise at the beach.
Fortunately, by the time the athletes got started on the first leg of the race, a 1.2 mile swim, it was much lighter out. Conditions were cool - perfect for the athletes, but a bit chilly for spectators, especially with the ocean breeze.
Unlike the half Ironman in which Shane had competed in July, which started with a swim in Narragansett and then had the athletes bike up to Providence before finishing with the run there, this race was completed entirely in Narragansett. Following the swim, Shane hopped on his bike and completed the 56 mile ride through scenic Southern RI. Midway through his time on the bike, Shane's parents joined me to cheer him on. (Many thanks to his dad for several of the great race photos I'm sharing in this post.)
Finally, as if the swim and bike weren't enough, the race finished with a half marathon - that's 13.1 miles. To make the course that much tougher, the final half mile or so was run along the beach. Gorgeous scenery, but I can't imagine it was much fun for the runners, whose legs must have felt like jello by this point :)
Shane crossed the line in 5:45 and change, improving upon his first half Ironman time by nearly an hour! Right now he's planning to compete in the same two half Ironman events next year in the hopes of building up to a full Ironman in 2012.
Next on the schedule was the last marathon of the year. This past weekend we were up bright and early heading to Lowell, MA for the BayState Marathon. I've been told this is a popular race for runners who hope to qualify for the Boston Marathon, as the course was designed for speed and is very flat. Shane also hopes to qualify for Boston eventually, but that wasn't the goal this year. Rather, he hoped to finish the race sub-4 hours. Conditions were almost perfect for the runners. It was a gorgeous fall day - maybe a bit chilly at the start but once the runners were moving, they warmed up quickly.
One thing I've learned from attending so many of Shane's races is that some courses are more conducive to being a spectator than others. Sometimes it's really easy to see the athletes several times over the course of the race and others, you see them only when they start and when they finish. This marathon fell into the latter category. So, once I saw Shane off at the start, I walked over to the finish, which was actually inside the stadium of the Lowell Spinners baseball team, a minor league affiliate of my beloved Boston Red Sox.
The runners entered the stadium and then ran around the entire length of the warning track, before finishing in front of the Spinners' dugout.
I sat in the stands with Shane's parents, eagerly awaiting his appearance in the stadium. Luckily, he was easy to pick out with the bright orange hat he was wearing. We saw him making his way around the warning track a few minutes ahead of the 4-hour mark - he was going to accomplish his goal!
Shane crossed the line at just over 3:55 - nearly a half hour faster than his first marathon in May! They even had the jumbotron in the stadium turned on so you could see the runners cross the finish line. If you look closely you can see Shane in the left side of this photo.
So, that does it for this season. Congratulations to Shane for such a great year! He'll take a short break now from the intense training of the past several months, but before we know it, he'll be back at it again, preparing for next year. I am definitely looking forward to having him around more these next few months. If you've made it this far, kudos - make yourself some brownies to celebrate :)
Nutella Fudge Brownies
1/2 cup Nutella
1 large egg
5 Tbs. all-purpose flour
confectioners' sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup mini muffin pan with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the Nutella and egg until smooth. Add the flour and whisk just until combined. Distribute the batter evenly among the prepared liners.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few gooey crumbs attached. Move the pan to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then remove the brownies themselves to cool completely. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving, if desired.
Makes 12 mini brownies
This week's Tuesdays with Dorie was chosen by Janell of Mortensen Family Memoirs: caramel pumpkin pie. I've been baking with pumpkin like crazy around here (just wait until you see all of the pumpkin posts I have to share in the next few weeks!), but I haven't yet made a pumpkin pie, especially one that adds a rich and creamy caramel sauce to the mix. Though I generally scale back recipes (as you probably know), I made a full size pie this week for two main reasons. First, I'd stashed pie dough in my freezer and when I rolled it out I had just enough for a full size pie. Also, I've had a lot of trouble scaling back caramel recipes - they just never seem to work as well when I go mini. I emailed my mom to confirm she'd take a full-size pie off my hands. She quickly said yes, and I got to work.
Speaking of the caramel, this week was the first time I'd tried this particular method for making caramel. Dorie starts with only sugar in the bottom of a nonstick pan and slowly, as it is heated, the sugar melts and caramelizes. Mine took forever; I stood there staring at it for what seemed like ages, complaining to Shane that it wasn't going to work. Then, suddenly, it melted and began taking on a golden brown color. I was beyond excited, and it only got better from there. The color darkened, then the sugar bubbled and smoked before finally I added the cream, butter and apple cider and was rewarded with a luxurious, amber caramel sauce. My cream sat at room temperature for about 30 minutes before I added it to the hot sugar, so it didn't clump at all.
I raved about Dorie's crust when I tried it for the first time last week, and while I loved how easily it rolled out this week and its great flaky texture, it did shrink up on me quite a bit when I prebaked it. I wasn't particularly careful about handling the dough so I'll give it another try and hopefully have better results next time. Once you make the crust and the caramel, the rest of this pie is a cinch - simply whisk pumpkin puree, eggs, sugar, spices and finally, the caramel sauce, in a large bowl then pour them into the crust and bake. The edges of my filling puffed in the oven, but not the center, which made it look underbaked, but since it didn't jiggle, I pulled the pie out (at 50 minutes) and hoped for the best. As the pie cooled, the edges leveled out with the center so no biggie.
A few swirls of whipped cream were the final touch to the pie before I sent it home with my mom. I kept one slice for myself, and though I've never been a big pumpkin pie fan, I liked this one. My stepdad, who does love pumpkin pie, also loved this version. It's darker in color and more intense in flavor than traditional pumpkin pie with the caramel notes. It might not replace everyone's favorite pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, but it's a nice change of pace. Many thanks to Janell for hosting this week! You can find the recipe for the pumpkin pie on her site here, or on pages 322-323 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.
This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays was chosen by Karen of Karen's Cakes Cookies & More: fluffy coconut cake with passion fruit filling. In a move that won't surprise anyone who knows me, I waited until the last minute to make this cake. I was working as quickly as possible to put it together yesterday afternoon, racing against the clock to finish before I lost the natural light to photograph it. One of the nice things about this cake, however, is that it didn't have to be that way. Had I planned ahead, I could have made each of the individual components ahead of time and simply assembled the cake yesterday afternoon.
Speaking of components, this cake has three. First, there's the cake itself, a basic white cake recipe. I scaled back the recipe, making just 1/4 and baking the layers in two 4.5" springform pans. I wound up with extra batter, and discovered I'd overfilled the pans slightly when they overflowed (just barely) in the oven. Next time I'll probably either use three 4.5" pans or go with just two layers in larger pans (maybe 6"?). Sandwiched between the layers of the cake is a fruit filling. The recipe called for passion fruit, but I went with lime because as hard as I tried, I couldn't find passion fruit juice anywhere. Where the full recipe called for 7 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs, I used 1 egg yolk and 1 whole egg in my 1/4-sized batch to make the division of the eggs easier and it worked perfectly. The filling reminded me of curd, but unlike curd recipes I've made in the past, didn't include any butter. Finally, the entire cake is covered in coconut cream cheese frosting. I confess that I didn't use the frosting from the book as it called for cream of coconut, which I didn't have on hand. I turned instead to my go-to cream cheese icing from Martha Stewart (you can find the recipe here). The only coconut in my cake was the flakes I threw on after it was frosted.
I almost sat out this week since I was so short on time, but I'm glad I baked along to discover this white cake recipe. It is without a doubt one of my favorite cakes I've made - tender and moist, but with a tight, sturdy crumb - in one word, delicious! The filling was just ok for me, perhaps it would have been better with the passion fruit. Of course I loved the cream cheese frosting, I just wasn't sure it was the right choice for this cake. The components didn't work together as well as I'd have liked. I'll absolutely use the white cake recipe again though, maybe with a raspberry or strawberry filling (jam would be easy) and buttercream frosting.
Thanks to Karen for hosting this week! She will share the recipe on her blog today or you can find it on pages 96-99 of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. We're off to Shane's last big race of the year this morning - a marathon - and it looks like the weather will be perfect! Hope everyone enjoys their Sunday :)
This month Katie of Katiecakes chose snickerdoodle cupcakes as our selection for the Martha Stewart Cupcakes Club. I like snickerdoodle cookies a lot - what's not to like about cinnamon and sugar, right? - but I rarely make them, so I was excited about this pick. Even better, Kayte, Margaret and I had the opportunity to bake our cupcakes together via Twitter, which always makes things more fun!
Like most of the recipes in Martha's Cupcakes book, this one yielded way more cupcakes than I needed (28), so I scaled back to make just 1/4. The cupcake recipe is essentially a basic yellow cake with the addition of a healthy dose of cinnamon. I overfilled the tins (a nasty habit of mine, one I'm trying to break) so the edges of my cupcakes were a bit browner than I'd have liked, but otherwise they baked up perfectly. I'd sampled the batter, and while it was a yummy yellow cake batter, I didn't think it tasted like a snickerdoodle. After baking, however, the cinnamon flavor intensified and the cupcakes tasted just like the cookies they were based on.
Martha suggests a simple seven-minute frosting to top the cupcakes so that's what I went with. Seven-minute frosting is made by boiling sugar and water until the resulting syrup reaches 230 F then adding it to a mixer containing egg whites that have been beaten to soft peaks with a bit of sugar. The last step is just to beat the frosting until it has cooled down and stiff peaks have formed, which in theory takes seven minutes, hence the name. I've never timed it to see whether the name is accurate, but regardless it's one of my favorite frostings because it's so simple and quite delicious - the taste reminds me of marshmallows. The recipe called for piping caps of frosting on each cupcake, and though I tried several times, I couldn't achieve the look so I went with my standby, the 1M tip and piped a swirl. A dusting of cinnamon-sugar is the finishing touch on these fun cupcakes. They're a great fall treat!
Many thanks to Katie for hosting this week. You can find the recipe for the snickerdoodle cupcakes here.
There aren't too many things I fear in the kitchen anymore. I've tackled just about all of my phobias over the past few years (yeast, caramel, and frying, just to name a few). Whole chickens, though? Scary....very scary. Roasting a chicken doesn't seem like it should be difficult, but I can't even begin to tell you how many different recipes I've used in an attempt to master the technique. My main problem is my inability, even with a completely functional digital thermometer, to determine when the chicken is cooked properly. On more than one occasion I've pulled a chicken out of the oven, thinking it was cooked, only to cut into it after it had rested and find some not-so-cooked portions. I've tried to test the chicken by piercing it and seeing if the juices ran clear, but I found that often the juices would run clear and yet the meat near the bone wouldn't be completely cooked. Plus, if you pierce your chicken enough, all of the juices run out and you're going to wind up with dry chicken (never a good thing). I also lack any skills in butchering and always manage to mangle the poor chicken. I'm such a big fan of the flavor of roasted chicken, though, that I refused to give up on the hope that I'd eventually get it right.
I may be well on my way with this recipe. I've made this chicken not once, but twice, just this week - that's how much I love it. The first step in the process is, of course, to flatten the chicken. To do that you remove the backbone from your chicken with scissors, then flip it over and apply pressure to the breastbone to flatten. In an ovenproof skillet, you brown the bird skin side down, then flip it over and pop the pan in the oven to finish the cooking process. Because the chicken has been flattened, it cooks faster than it would had it been kept in tact. I've had much better luck determining doneness using my digital thermometer with the chicken flattened in the pan, and I've also found it so much easier to cut the chicken into pieces for serving. Most importantly, the chicken is flavorful and moist. This recipe includes two different sauces you can make to serve with the chicken and while they're delicious, I didn't make them the second time I used the recipe, and I still enjoyed the chicken a lot so I consider them optional.
Flat Roast Chicken
from Lucina Scala Quinn
1 whole (3- to 4-pound) chicken
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Place the chicken on a clean work surface, breast side down. Using kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone to remove (you can save it for stock if you want). Open the chicken's legs and spread the bird down flat, skin side up. With both hands, press down firmly on the breastbone to flatten. Pat the chicken dry then season generously with salt and pepper.
Heat a large ovenproof skillet (preferably cast-iron - I use my 12" pan, which has plenty of room for the bird) over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan. Place the chicken in the pan, skin-side down. Let the chicken brown without moving, about 3 minutes. Once it has browned, gently flip the chicken over so it is skin-side up. Transfer the pan to the oven.
Roast the chicken until it is golden brown and cooked through or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reaches 165 F. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.
Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and the remaining tablespoon of butter to pan, swirling to combine; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, the red pepper flakes, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cut the chicken into pieces and serve with the pan sauce and olive oil mixture.
For the past few weeks I've been professing my love for fall and all of its wonderful baking ingredients. It was, after all, October and in New England that certainly means fall is here. Wouldn't you just know it that Columbus Day weekend arrives and brings with it one last dose of summer? I guess I shouldn't be surprised - I think it snowed in October last year, so anything is possible! In any case, I'm housesitting for Shane's parents this week and since they're just a few minute walk from the beach, I took advantage of the summer weather by sitting on the warm sand for a few hours yesterday afternoon, soaking up some sun and listening to the ocean. It was a real treat. When I returned to the house, this terrific fold-over apple torte, selected for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie by Cakelaw of Laws of the Kitchen, was waiting on the kitchen counter, to remind me that fall is indeed on its way.
This week's recipe was actually written to include pears, not apples, and even though I bought a pear to use in my torte, it didn't ripen enough by the time I was ready to bake. There's no shortage of ripe apples on hand, fortunately, so I went that route instead. Baking a full-sized torte this week wasn't an option since as I said I'm down at Shane's parents' house and therefore don't have an outlet for sharing desserts. I used my mini 4.5" springform pan, filling it with 1/2 of the recipe for Dorie's pie dough. The filling for the torte is a combination of fruit (for me, the apples and dried cranberries, but in the original recipe it's pears, dried apricots and walnuts) and custard. I came this close to skipping the custard as I pretty much don't like it in any form except frozen as ice cream, but I always feel guilty not giving Dorie's recipes a try as written because she has definitely surprised me on occasion. Things got a bit tricky guessing how much filling to use in my mini - I wound up going with almost one diced medium apple and about 1/3 of the custard recipe. During the baking process it became clear I had overdone it with the fruit - the custard couldn't rise to cover it the way I think it should have. This became even more clear as I looked around at some of my fellow bakers' tortes this morning and noticed that mine didn't look like many of them. Still, I thought it was a pretty dessert - definitely unique, if nothing else.
The real treat this week was the discovery of Dorie's pie crust. Somehow in two and a half years of baking with the group I hadn't tried it, which I now realize was a big mistake as I really loved it. It came together easily and rolled out beautifully. I struggle with rolling out pie dough without cracking/tearing/etc. but had none of those issues here. Just as importantly, it was delicious - flaky and buttery and everything else you want from the perfect pie crust. As for the torte, it was good, but not a favorite. I didn't like the texture of the baked custard so I mostly ate around it, picking the fruit off and pairing it with the yummy crust :) As soon as that pear ripens, I'm making another mini - this time with dried apricots and none of the custard - and this time, I think it'll be perfect!
Many thanks to Cakelaw for hosting this week! You can find the recipe for the fold-over torte on her blog here or on pages 348-349 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.