Sunday, January 31, 2010

Not Quite SMS: Butterscotch Ice Cream

This was another week where I started out with every intention to make the Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe, Melissa’s Butterscotch Pudding, selected by Jennifer of Maple ‘N Cornbread, then changed my mind by the end of the week. You can find the recipe here on Jennifer’s site and stop by the SMS blogroll to see what the rest of the group thought of the pudding. I like butterscotch pudding, but I am currently in cutback mode* and decided that the pudding would be an unnecessary temptation. I think pudding is one of the few desserts that I like better than Josh, probably because you cannot pair it with ice cream, and he eats ice cream every single day. I make a lot of the ice cream he eats, too, but I can’t always keep up. Anyway, because of the SMS selection, I was finally inspired to try making Butterscotch Ice Cream, which I had printed out the recipe for from Smitten Kitchen in May 2009.

The recipe for the Butterscotch Ice Cream can be found here. There is an optional two teaspoons of bourbon in the recipe, which I did not use because I did not like the flavor of actual alcohol when I made butterscotch pudding for Tuesdays With Dorie. The instructions, per usual, on Smitten Kitchen are very clear, though there were a couple things when making the butterscotch that went a little differently for me. The recipe says to “…stir the brown sugar and butter over medium heat until butter is melted, sugar is dissolved, and mixture is bubbly, 3 to 4 minutes.” My sauce took much longer, I didn’t time it, but it must have been somewhere in the range of 12 minutes. It also says to whisk the butterscotch mixture until smooth, and though I exhaustively whisked, I still had some little sugar chunks. I decided to not spend my morning obsessing over the chunks, which magically disappeared when the butterscotch was combined with the warm ice cream custard.

The ice cream was well worth the slight anxiety it caused, it really is a spectacular ice cream. I have made brown sugar ice cream several times and love it, and this is like that amped up. Josh ate some with cookies last night, but it really stands on its own as a dessert. The ice cream rated a 9 for Deliciousness and a 3.5 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 2.57.

*Cutback mode occurs when I have done something silly such as weigh myself or eat too much Chinese food, or in this case, a combination of both, and try to eliminate some, not all, treats and eat more healthfully. Some of these healthy changes inevitably affect Josh’s meals (though I try to not let them too much), which he is not always happy about, and this time prompted him to suggest we start training for a marathon, so I wouldn’t have to worry as much about my calorie-consumption. We must have both been on a runner’s high from the ten miles (in beautiful weather) we’d just run ‘cos I agreed to do it. We haven’t decided which marathon it will be, but it will definitely be on the West Coast and in either May or June. The idea of running 26 miles in just a few months is slightly daunting, but in my opinion doable, as we have kept our weekly mileage between 28 and 30 miles a week since our last half-marathon in July and the weather is just going to get nicer. And now that I’ve blogged about it, there is the accountability factor.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TWD: Cocoa-Nana Loaf

Last week Tuesdays With Dorie made almost-candy bars and this week we pretty much made cake. The official name of the recipe is Cocoa-Nana Loaf and it is in the breakfast section of the book, but I think the amount of sugar and chocolate in it qualifies it as cake. Not that any of this stopped me from eating it for breakfast, though I had to add some Clementine oranges and yogurt (non-fat plain yogurt complements it beautifully) in order to feel okay about eating something so chocolaty before 10 AM. On day two of this bread, I decided two things: I like it better in the afternoon and also chilled, which I thought gave it a nice fudgy texture.

I made just a few little changes: I subbed in three tablespoons of yogurt for butter (I do this a lot with quick breads and happened to have a stick of butter with three tablespoons missing), reduced the white sugar by a quarter cup, and replaced ¼ of the total flour, which was two cups, used with whole wheat flour. I considered leaving out the chocolate chips since there was so much cocoa powder, but Josh voted for them and I’d specifically told him to buy them earlier that evening, so they stayed. It seemed to take forever to bake (an entire episode of “Project Runway” plus an episode of “Models of the Runway”) and I might have overdone it just a touch.

Due to the incredible easiness of this recipe, the bread was definitely worth trying (anytime I can simultaneously make dinner and mix up batter without either suffering is great) and I have enjoyed it, but next time I have aging bananas I will likely make something else. Like Dorie’s Classic Banana Bundt Cake – love that one! This recipe rated a 7 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3.5. Many thanks to Steph of Obsessed With Baking for giving us an excuse to have chocolate for breakfast. You can find the recipe here on Steph’s site and visit the TWD blogroll to see if the other bakers enjoyed the chocolate/banana combo.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

SMS: Black Bottom Brownies

I completed every recipe selected by the Sweet Melissa group in 2009. After the group’s holiday break I was excited to start up again at the beginning of the year, but then the second week of January I did not make a pie with the chocolate pie crust chosen that week. I got as far as the dough, and then just didn’t really feel like making a pie, so I didn’t (I still have pie dough in my freezer, which means I really should either make a pie very soon or cut my losses on the dough). Josh wisely reminded me that I do not need to pressure myself to make the recipes for both my baking groups every single week and I should skip a week here and there if it’s not something I want to make.

The Black Bottom Brownies chosen for Sweet Melissa Sundays this week would definitely be a recipe I’d deem skip-able, as it has been well-documented on this blog that, though I don’t mind making them, there is not a huge demand for cheesecake around here, and we received some very yummy brownies in the mail from this round of Secret Baker. I happened to have exactly two ounces of cream cheese in my refrigerator, though, which would probably otherwise go to waste and is enough for one-eighth of the Black Bottom Brownie recipe, so I forged ahead.

The one-eighth of a recipe (which is not as ridiculously small as it sounds – I have made many quarter recipes in the same five-inch pan) yielded four good-sized brownies and took about forty-five minutes to bake. The cheesecake layer was disproportionately smaller than brownie layer, which was the desirable outcome in this household. I had a couple bites and didn’t taste much cheesecake, just lots of chocolate and sugar! Josh enjoyed one while he was watching football this afternoon and is wondering how they’ll be with ice cream later tonight. He rated these brownies an 8 for Deliciousness and I gave them a 2.5 for Effort, giving them an EDR of 3.2. Many thanks to Cynthia of the Baking Therapist for hosting this week and getting me to use an ingredient that otherwise would have been thrown away. The recipe can be found here on Cynthia’s site and be sure to stop by the SMS blogroll to see more brownies.

Buttermilk Sponge Cake with Cranberry-Raspberry Preserves and White Chocolate Frosting

*Sweet Melissa Sundays will be up later: it has been made, but not photographed!

My birthday is January 5th, and I don’t want to grumble too much about something I cannot change, but it’s really not the ideal time of year to have a birthday. I mean, the holidays are completely over and everyone is tired of celebrating and spending money and eating decadent food – by the 5th you ready to get back to a normal (and probably even healthier and more practical than the rest of the year) routine. I’ve always thought it would be lovely to have a birthday later in the year, you know, to break up the presents and monotony of everyday life, have an excuse to take a long weekend. When I was younger I thought summer would be nice, but then last year I noticed there are no office holidays between Presidents’ Day and Memorial Day, so maybe sometime in that window. We went out to a nice dinner and I had to have cake, of course, which came a few days later when we had more time and fewer desserts in the house.

Josh volunteered to make me a birthday cake and naturally I couldn’t turn down an offer to have someone else make baked goods for me! I’m sure I don’t acknowledge this as often as I should, so now is a good time to: Josh is extremely helpful in the kitchen. He doesn’t take on a lot of projects himself, but he is always willing to chop vegetables or grate cheese or any other task delegated to him – not to mention step in and save me when I’ve gotten in over my head. I didn’t let him off easy with the birthday cake and chose a multi-component layer cake, which even had homemade fruit filling.

The cake I selected was Buttermilk Sponge Cake with Cranberry-Raspberry Preserves and White Chocolate Frosting from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes. It has all the qualities I look for in a birthday cake (light, fluffy cake, fruit filling, and butter cream frosting), but slightly different twist: cranberries in the filling and white chocolate in the frosting. I don’t enjoy copious amounts of white chocolate, just on occasion, but this was an excellent use for it and it sweetened the buttery icing beautifully. The slightly tangy cranberry-raspberry preserves also turned out great (though I think they would have been even better with fresh cranberries, not dried – next time) and were the perfect antidote to the sweet icing. The only problem with this cake? It did not stay fresh very long and, even with just a half recipe, we did not consume it before it turned slightly moldy, which was only about three days. I rated it a 9 for Deliciousness and a 1 for Effort – since I didn’t really do much, giving it an EDR of 9!

Josh made a half-recipe in two six-inch cake pans, but I am including measurements for a full cake.

Buttermilk Sponge Cake with Cranberry-Raspberry Preserves and White Chocolate Frosting from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes (Printable Recipe)

2 ½ cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
9 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottoms of the three ungreased 9-inch round cake pans with a round of parchment or waxed paper. Do not grease.

Sift together the flour, 1 cup of the sugar, and the baking soda. Set aside.

In a large clean mixer bowl, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until frothy with an electric mixer on high speed. Slowly add the remaining 1 cup sugar and continue whipping until soft peaks form.

In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla until well blended. Spoon one-fourth of the whipped egg whites on top of the buttermilk mixture, then sift a third of the dry ingredients on top. Fold gently until just a few streaks remain. Repeat two more times, then add the remaining egg whites and fold in gently. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared cake pans.

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden toothpick stuck into the center of each layer comes out clean. Transfer to wire racks and let the cakes cool completely in their pans for at least one hour, before turning out. Run a blunt knife over the rim of the pan. Carefully peel off the paper liners.

To assemble the cake, put one layer, flat side up, onto a cake stand or serving plate. Spread half the Cranberry-Raspberry Preserves over the cake, leaving a 1/4-inch margin around the edges. Top with the second layer; cover with the remaining preserves. Finally, put the third layer in place and frost the sides and top of the cake with the White Chocolate Frosting.

Cranberry-Raspberry Preserves
3 cups fresh raspberries or 12 ounces frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed completely, with juices reserved
1 cup dried cranberries
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup orange juice, preferably fresh-squeezed
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 one-inch piece of vanilla bean

Put all of the ingredients except the vanilla bean into a heavy nonreactive saucepan, preferably enameled cast iron. Split the piece of vanilla bean lengthwise without cutting all the way through. With the tip of a small knife, scrape the tiny vanilla seeds into the saucepan. Toss in the bean pod, too.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat slightly and continue to boil until the preserves visibly thicken, 15 to 20 minutes. To check for thickness, place a spoonful on a glass or china saucer and place in the freezer to cool for a few minutes. If it is ready, it will leave a clear path when you drag a finger through it and will not run. If necessary, boil several minutes longer and then retest.

Remove and discard the vanilla bean pod. Let the preserves cool completely, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use. They will keep well for up to two weeks.

White Chocolate Frosting
3 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
3 egg whites
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

Melt the white chocolate in a microwave oven on low power for 20 to 30 seconds, until the chocolate is soft and shiny; it will not look melted until you stir it. Set aside to cool. (You don’t want the warm chocolate to melt the butter.)

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water to make a thick paste. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to cook over medium-low heat without stirring, washing any sugar crystals down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush, until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 238 degrees F on a candy thermometer.

Put the egg whites into a large mixer bowl, set the mixer at medium speed, and beat for about 30 seconds. Gradually pour in the sugar syrup in a thin stream, being careful not to pour it onto the beaters. Raise the mixer speed to medium-high and whip until the meringue has cooled to body temperature, which will take several minutes.

Gradually beat in the butter a few tablespoons at a time, then add the melted white chocolate and beat until the frosting is smooth and fluffy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

TWD: Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is Chocolate Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars. And they don’t just have oatmeal and chocolate: they also have peanuts and raisins, giving them extra candy bar gooeyness. For some reason I had it in my mind they contained coconut, which would have been a delicious addition, but Josh doesn’t like it and I was counting on him to consume the lion’s share of these bars (I could tell from the name and number of ingredients they were more his type of snack than mine).

On the Problems & Questions section of the TWD site, people seemed divided about liking raisins in these bars. Since I’m incredibly indecisive (and don’t always like raisins), I used half raisins and half dried sour cherries. I don’t think the type of dried fruit was as important as the bit of contrast and chewiness they lent to the middle chocolate layer, which was also supposed to have peanuts. I chopped up peanuts and then forgot to add them into the chocolate/fruit mixture, so mine were sprinkled on top. I made a half batch, which mostly fit in a 10x7 baking dish, plus one little ramekin. Dorie recommends testing the bars to see if you like them warm, so the ramekin was perfect for that. They’re good both ways! Oh, I thought the bars were a bit difficult to coax out of the pan, so next time I would make a parchment sling for easy lifting – they’re sturdy, so I’m sure it would work well.

I preferred the oatmeal layers and must admit to eating around the chocolate. Josh told me he’d eaten one like that today, too. We thought these treats deserved an 8 for Deliciousness and I gave them a 3 for Effort, for an EDR of 2.66 . Many thanks to Lillian of Confectiona’s Realm for a yummy selection; Lillian’s husband and sons are great food critics and it’s fun to read their reactions to the TWD treats. You can find the recipe here and visit the TWD blogroll to see what the other bakers thought of the bars.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lemon Walnut Sour Cream (Yogurt) Pound Cake

This week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays treat is Lemon Walnut Sour Cream Pound Cake. Since quick breads tend to be both quick to put together and disappear (in this house), I am always happy to try a new one. I’d been craving citrus lately, too, and it’s always more fun to satisfy cravings with baked goods rather than just plain fruit – I have been eating plenty of clementines, though. The recipe said that the baking time could be up to an hour and a half; I was planning to have this for breakfast on Saturday, and I figured that if I wanted that to happen, it would be best to make it on Friday night. The cake was a breeze to put together and I thought the batter looked particularly nice; it was a very silky pale yellow. The recipe called for two ingredients I didn’t have on hand: shortening and sour cream, so I substituted nonfat plain yogurt for both. The cake was probably not quite as rich as it would have been with the shortening and sour cream, but it was still very moist and had a nice sturdy crumb, so I think the substitutions worked fine.

Overall, I liked this cake a lot. I appreciated the addition of walnuts, they made the cake seem a bit more substantial and breakfast-like. Nuts, yogurt, and fruit – definitely breakfast! I would have appreciated a bit more lemon flavor. You could taste it, but it wasn’t quite as intense as I like. A while back the group made Melissa’s Orange Poppyseed Cake, which called for pulverizing an entire orange in the food processor, and that probably would have added the extra tang I desired. I think Josh liked it a little better than me, since he gave it an 8.5 to my 7.5 for Deliciousness. It’s my blog, so I’m going to go with 7.5 and a 2 for Effort, giving the cake an EDR of 3.75. Many thanks to Raeann of Basically, Baby Boots for a perfect mid-January recipe. You can find the recipe here on Raeann’s site and visit the SMS blogroll to see what the rest of the group thought of this treat.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TWD: Mrs. Vogel’s Scherben - FAIL

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is Mrs. Vogel’s Scherben, which is a deep-fried goody – a very bold selection for the second week of January when most people are attempting to eat healthy. I had never actually deep-fried anything until Sunday. I will happily scarf a side of French fries or crunch down crab wontons – actually, pretty much anything, as long as the frying is done by someone else and I don’t have to see all the oil. I wasn’t particularly excited about these cookies, but I figured deep-frying them might be the gateway to other fried treats. Like doughnuts. Josh gave me The Craft of Baking for Christmas, and there are several incredible-looking doughnut recipes in it calling my name. Anyway, it’s lucky that I tried these superfluous little snacks on a Sunday afternoon (my soon-to-be-posted birthday cake was made the same day), rather than attempted doughnuts for breakfast, because my first deep-fry experience was a disaster.

I totally burned the scherben! This week I really ate my words, rather than the TWD treat: just last week I was saying that my baked goods generally turn out nice and a few weeks before that I mentioned I had finally acquired a good candy/deep-fry thermometer. The oil was obviously way too hot when I threw the dough in, despite the fact the thermometer was not even at the prescribed 350 degrees. (If anyone out there can recommend a stellar thermometer, let me know. I’m sure it will pay given how many ingredients I’ve wasted in candy-making endeavors.) I turned down the heat and was going to fry up the rest of the scherben I’d cut, but the tray they were on fell off the counter and the dough landed on the floor. The good news? The frying part actually wasn’t scary, so there will be homemade doughnuts in my future. Many thanks to the uber-talented (not only is she a very ambitious cook/baker, her photos are stunning and she is a brilliant storyteller) Teanna of Spork or Foon for finally getting me to deep-fry something, even if it wasn’t very successful. The recipe can be found here on Teanna’s site and stop by the TWD blogroll to see some more attractive scherben.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

TWD: Tarte Tatin

Today is a special day for Tuesdays With Dorie: we’re celebrating the group’s second anniversary! January 5th is actually always a special day for me – it’s my birthday! In honor of the group’s anniversary, we were given the choice of two different desserts: a Tarte Tatin or Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday Cake. Though it was quite serendipitous that there was actually a dessert with the word “birthday” the very week of my birthday, I chose to make the tarte tatin since I had been eager to try one for a while. Besides, a while ago I absolutely had to have a copy of the book Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes and guess how many cakes I’ve made from it? If you guessed zero, you’re correct! Anyway, I selected a cake from it and Josh will be making it as soon as we manage to work through the (seemingly endless) backlog of desserts in our kitchen. I suspect that will be some time in February.

I was a little intimidated by the tarte tatin; it just seems like such a glamorous French dessert that you assume it must be terribly fussy and complicated. I don’t think I let the apples caramelize quite as long as I should have. I harbor a terrible fear of burning caramel and figured that the apples would attain more color once they had baked in the oven, but next time I would definitely leave them on the stove a bit longer. But, you know, the apples bathed in a whole stick of butter and ¾ cup of sugar, so the dessert was pretty much guaranteed to be good, even if not thoroughly caramelized. Based on the price and the word “French” on the box, I thought I had purchased fancy puff pastry at Whole Foods, but it was actually pie dough. It was still very buttery and flaky, though, and perfect with the apples. The December issue of Bon Appétit had a pear tatin with Brown Sugar-Balsamic Swirl Ice Cream, so I made the ice cream to accompany the tarte tatin (click here for the link to the ice cream recipe).

This recipe rated an 8 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 2.66. A huge thank you to Laurie of Slush for starting the group and, more importantly, keeping it going for two years. I am happy to have found a community of people who love baking as much as I do, and each week I am amazed at what a creative, talented, and inspiring group it is. You can find the recipe for the Tarte Tatin here and the recipe for the Cocoa Buttermilk Cake here on Laurie’s site. And be sure to stop by the TWD blogroll to see how the other bakers celebrated the group’s anniversary.

That’s last week’s chocolate cheesecake, which I made a little late and really did not have much to say about. Josh did enjoy it, though.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

SMS: Chocolate Creme Caramels

The Sweet Melissa Sundays group’s winter break is over and we’re back with Chocolate Crème Caramels, selected by the spirited and entertaining Jeannette of The Whimsical Cupcake. A few weeks ago Jeannette made a call for unattractive baked goods on her site and I told her I’d see what I could come up with. I generally don’t have too many disastrous baked goods (and if I don’t I’m too vain to photograph and post the evidence, though there were these cookies that looked nothing like the rest of the other TWD bakers’), but where I often have trouble is candy. Fortunately, I did not this time around, but last January (coincidentally my first post of 2009) when I made Fleur de Sel caramels, I completely burned the first batch beyond hope and posted a picture, so in honor of it being Jeannette’s week to host SMS, I am recycling that photo.

Though it felt like it took forever for the caramel to come to its prescribed temperature of 248 degrees (firm-ball stage), this was an easy and stress-free candy-making experience. Oh, and I did have to change pots in the middle of the process. I was making a half-batch and the caramel seemed to triple in size somewhere around 200 degrees, so I poured it into a larger pan in order to prevent overflow and a sticky stove. Aside from the pan size, the only thing I’d do differently next time is make them before the holidays rather than after, so I could share them with my family – they’re dangerously good! Although, then I would have had to individually wrap the caramels, so I guess it’s a draw.

This recipe rated a 9 for Deliciousness and a 2.5 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3.6. Many thanks to Jeannette for getting the group off to a great start for 2010. You can find the recipe on Jeannette’s site and visit the SMS blogroll to see what the rest of the bakers thought of this treat.