Thursday, February 26, 2009

Birthday Cupcakes

Today is my mom’s birthday. I went to visit her on Sunday, and had planned to make her a special birthday dessert. But there are only so many hours in the day. And on Saturday, after tending to Ms. Ears’s needs (walks, training class, doggy playdate), doing some errands, making my TWD dessert, running six miles, and cooking dinner, I did not have it in me to bake anything. All I wanted to do was plop down on the couch and gorge myself with pasta – and I did. Seriously, just trying to train my dog is a task that would exhaust most humans. So instead of bringing my mom a fluffy birthday cake or fruit tart, I sheepishly handed her a Tupperware container with the Caramel Crunch Bars I made for Tuesdays With Dorie, knowing full well that they are not really her sort of dessert. She was cordial about it of course, but I could tell she was a little disappointed, which she expressed on her blog. (She did also say the bars were delicious, though very rich.)

I decided that I should bake my mom the cupcakes I had intended to bring as her birthday treat. The Food Network now has a magazine, and Costco sells magazines at a forty-percent discount, so I picked up a copy. The February/March issued featured an article on pastry chefs, accompanied with recipes by the chefs, which is where I found the recipe for Lulu’s cupcakes. They look, and basically are, like a Hostess cupcake, only these ones are made with real butter, cream, and Scharffen Berger chocolate.

They tasted as fantastic as they look. The cake has an interesting crumb: they are not very moist, but they aren’t dry and crumbly either. The unique texture could possibly be attributed to the large amount of chopped chocolate in the batter rather than the usual cocoa powder (which I threw in a dash of as well). It’s the perfect consistency to hold the delightful marshmallow filling piped inside. I gave these cupcakes a 10 for Deliciousness and a 5 for Effort. They were not necessarily difficult to make, however, there were four separate components to prepare and put together: cake, marshmallow filling, chocolate ganache, and icing. You can find the recipe, which I halved, here on the Food Network site.

Happy birthday, mom! I think these would have been a lovely birthday dessert for you. I promise to bake you something special next time I see you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TWD: Caramel Crunch Bars

This week Tuesdays With Dorie finished off a great month of baking with Caramel Crunch Bars. I was excited that this recipe contained one of my old favorite baking treats, toffee bits, which I had somehow forgotten about. I used to cut up Heath or Skor bars and put them in a basic chocolate chip cookie dough recipe instead of chocolate chips. The cookies were always a big hit; I don’t know why I stopped making them. This recipe was a great reminder.

The recipe called for the bars to be baked in a 9x13” pan, but when I read the Problems & Questions on the TWD site, other bakers said they would recommend a smaller pan, so I used an 8x8” and a 4” springform pan. I think a 9x9” pan probably would have been ideal, but the person I share a kitchen with thinks I already own plenty of baking pans, so I’m trying to make do with what I have. I didn’t put as much chocolate in the dough as the recipe called for, since there was so much chocolate on the top layer and the Heath bits had chocolate as well. The book suggests making ice cream sandwiches with these bars, so I made Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream to accompany the bars – they never quite made it into sandwich form.

I asked Mr. Penpen what he thought this recipe should rate for Deliciousness, and he gave it a 9. I had been thinking more like a 7 (a little too sweet for me), so its official D score will be 8. I gave this surprisingly easy recipe a 3 for Effort - for some reason I thought more layers would equal more work, giving it an EDR of 2.33. If I took the ice cream into account, the E score would definitely be higher.

Many thanks to Whitney of What’s Left on the Table for selecting these yummy bars. You can find the recipe for the bars on Whitney’s site, and if you can find the recipe for the ice cream on David Lebovitz’s site.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Monster Cuisine: Eloise visits Burgan

Mr. Penpen grew up with dogs, but none of them were really food-obsessed, so he has been a bit taken aback by Ms. Ears’s antics. (Yes, that is a half-pound of brazenly stolen cheese in her mouth – it took several adults and a foot-long rawhide bone used as a lever to pry the cheese from her clamped jaws.) I was not as surprised: my family’s Boxer, Burgan, is as big a chowhound as Eloise, so it’s what I’ve come to expect from dogs. Both of them make up for their naughtiness around food by being incredibly sweet, lovable dogs. We went to visit my mom and Burgan today, and despite their hyperactivity Mr. Penpen actually managed to capture a few pictures of the perpetual-motion pets.

Though the “cousins” did keep us company while we ate lunch, and while there was some drooling, luckily there were no food-thievery hijinx today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TWD: Devil's Food White-Out Cake

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe was Devil’s Food White-Out Cake aka “the cover cake.” This cake was actually the very first Dorie Greenspan recipe I made, long before I owned Baking. I had somehow come across this piece on the internet, which, of course, made me want to bake the cake. Since I had tried this cake before, I knew that it is scrumptious and I had planned to make a whole cake this time rather than a mini version, which I have taken to doing weeks that I’m not so enthusiastic about the TWD recipe. But then on Saturday I was eating some blood orange sorbetti from a local gelateria, and I was reminded how delectable blood oranges are and that I had recently seen a fantastic looking blood orange tart recipe over on Smitten Kitchen. Since blood oranges have a short season, not to mention they were on sale, the tart won as the main dessert of the week.

I couldn't skip two weeks in a row of Tuesdays With Dorie, so I went ahead and made a min version of the cake. How can anyone resist a rich, fudgy cake with marshmallow frosting? I certainly can’t.
I quartered the recipe and used two small springform pans (I think they’re a little over four inches). The cakes crowned a bit, but even after cutting the tops off, I was able to get three nice layers and plenty of crumbs. One of my favorite parts of this cake is the crumb coating. I am not the neatest cake froster, so I love that you just cover it up. I have decided that making mini versions of desserts is not really less effort than making full-size ones, and in some cases, such as beating a single egg white for frosting, it may be more. (It seemed to take the mixer a long time to froth the white.)

Regardless of the size, this recipe gets a 9 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3. Many thanks to Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater for selecting this wonderful cake. You can find the recipe on Stephanie's site, and to see what other bakers thought of this cake, check out the TWD blogroll.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Betting Top Chef

I skipped Tuesdays With Dorie this week. The recipe chosen this week was Floating Islands, and I am always willing to try baking a new sweet, but the preeminent dessert-eater of the household did not seem terribly interested, so I skipped it. Besides, I had a couple bets to pay off, and decided I should get started on clearing those debts. Every season, Mr. Penpen and I bet on the highly entertaining reality-TV cooking show “Top Chef.” There are no Vegas odds to it or anything: we watch three episodes, which we figure is about enough time to know the cheftestants and also little enough so there is a bit of a gamble involved. Then, right before the fourth episode, we write down our picks for which cheftestant will survive elimination the longest - a first choice and a back-up - on a piece of paper and reveal them. Then as soon as someone’s cheftestant of choice is eliminated, the other person wins and the loser is required to cook dinner for the winner. We have a back-up cheftestant to keep ourselves amused in case both our picks go out early in the season, and the prize for this bet is dessert. (We have a similar bet with “Project Runway,” but sadly, it doesn’t look like we’ll be doing that one for a while.)

Last season I was the big winner, with season-champion Stephanie as my top pick, and Mr. Penpen made me a delicious paella. This year I went down in flames: I had Radhika as my first choice and Jeff as my second. I have yet to make the dinner, but I have now cleared my dessert bet. I recently purchased a copy of Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth by Jill O’Connor, knowing it would be chock-full of decadent desserts Mr. Penpen would love, and, not surprisingly, he selected a recipe from that book. His choice? Adult S’mores. Not only is this recipe three layers of gooey goodness, it involves some pyrotechnics, in the form of a brulee torch – not to mention three types of booze. I asked Mr. Penpen if he thought I needed to make an entire 9x13 pan of s’mores (not out of laziness, but out of practicality: we weren’t having company and they do not transport well), and he immediately replied “yes.” He has worked hard to prove me wrong and has devoured a prodigious quantity of the s’mores.

The title of this book does not lie: you really do require a serious sweet tooth to consume treats such as adult S’mores, I can only handle a few nibbles here and there. This recipe gets a 5 for Effort and Mr. Penpen gives this an 8 for Deliciousness, giving it an EDR of 1.6. It's time to go watch "Top Chef" and for Mr. Penpen to eat some more.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Tart Belongs to You

I had such a great time cooking – and eating – duck for January’s First Thursday, that I decided to participate again this month. (I do confess, though, that while I was out on my evening run on Thursday, I wondered if the powers that be would really know what night I cooked my dish.) The theme for February was romantic clichés. Italian food? Champagne? I had to think about this one. When Mr. Penpen and I first began dating, we followed the standard early courtship ritual of going out to lots of fancy dinners and eating fancy foods like oysters, which are best known for their aphrodisiacal qualities. We still eat lots of nice dinners, however, now most of them are cooked by me and eaten by us in front of the television in our sweatpants with a mesmerized Weimaraner at our feet.

I have acquired quite a few cookbooks recently, and there is a bit of a backlog in their usage, so I wanted to find an oyster recipe from a book I hadn’t used yet. The first recipe I found was an oyster bisque from Cooking with Les Dames d'Escoffier, which sounded fantastic, but I couldn’t justify using three cups of heavy cream in a soup. I recently picked up a copy of the classic New York Times Cookbook at a local library book sale, and figured that a book, especially one sophisticated for its time, published in the sixties would likely be flush with oyster recipes. I was correct, and decided on Oyster Chowder, which would be suitable for a winter evening. It turned out to be an excellent choice: hearty but not too rich, and only slightly more time consuming than I like my meals to be when I start the preparation after eight o’clock. The chowder gets a 7 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 2.33.

I have to admit I cheated on the second component of the meal. First Thursdays are intended to be about cooking from books, not recipes that are “inspired by…” But this dish needed a side! And I had leftover Brie from my Super Bowl party and frozen puff pastry from before I even started this blog, so I went ahead and made a savory tart. I had seen a savory tart in a recent Williams-Sonoma catalog (I have since recycled the catalog and don’t remember anything that was on the tart except for egg) and another one with Camembert in America’s Test Kitchen’s Best Recipes of 2009. My savory tart had caramelized onions, Brie, and red peppers. I had told Mr. Penpen I would find a creative use for the leftover cheeses we had (two down, two to go), so this dish was a surprise that night. And what is more romantic than a surprise? Especially one with puff pastry and Brie.

Once again, I had a good time cooking and eating my First Thursday meal. If you want to see how others interpreted romantic clichés, there will be a round up on the Thursday Night Smackdown site on Monday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TWD: World Peace Cookies

I joined Tuesdays With Dorie in November, and the recipe this week, World Peace Cookies, was the very first repeat for me (spoiler: there is another in a couple weeks!). Since acquiring Baking in August, these cookies have become one of my very favorite things to fill my cookie jar with. To me, they are really the consummate chocolate cookie: crunchy, chocolaty but not too rich or sweet, and just small enough that you don’t feel guilty nibbling several in one sitting. Oh, and I like that you can divide the work over the course of two days. Since I often do not have a lot of spare time in the evening, I appreciate recipes that can be made one day and baked the next. And World Peace Cookies ship well. I once sent some to my mom and brother, and they thought they were fancy cookies from a bakery. I really can’t stop going on about the virtues of these cookies!

Having made these before, I really didn’t have any problems with the dough or the baking process. I tend to overmix cookie dough, and this is one of the times I believe it works in my favor, since a lot of the TWD bakers found the dough crumbly. This was the first time I’d baked World Peace Cookies with authentic fleur de sel, and though it was nice to be able to try them with the recommended salt, I didn’t find a huge taste difference.

After my effervescent praise of these cookies, it is only natural that this recipe gets a 10 for Deliciousness. It gets 3 for Effort, giving it an excellent EDR of 3.33. Many thanks to Jessica of cookbookhabit for choosing my very favorite - so far - Dorie recipe. You can find the recipe for World Peace Cookies on Jessica’s site and you can look here to see what the other TWD bakers thought of these cookies.