Monthly Archives: January 2013

Happy Cake: Tiramisu Birthday Cake

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I love birthdays.  I love them so much that I don’t celebrate just one day — I prefer to recognize birthday week and sometimes (ok, most of the time) birthday month. The day after my birthday, I’m usually already planning next year’s celebration. If you ask me what my favorite holiday is, I’ll answer with “my birthday.”  But it’s not just my birthday that I love; I just love birthdays in general. Having a day (or in my case, a week, a month) dedicated to celebrating one person’s life is an idea that I can get behind. Add in presents and cake, and… well, it’s just so good.

Tomorrow, my big brother will be turning 33. On Monday, I drove the two hours home to Columbus and spent the day preparing a birthday feast. Andrew is by far one of favorite people to cook/bake for. For one thing, he’s not picky. He’s also appreciative and never short on compliments. When I asked him what dessert he’d like for his birthday, he answered, “Whatever you want. You’ve never made anything I didn’t like.” He got a lot of awesome brother points for that comment.  Still, I wanted to make him something he’d love.  One of his favorite desserts is Tiramisu — I’ve made for him before, and didn’t really want to repeat myself, so I decided to try mix it up a bit. Enter this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Bingo.

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Birthdays and delicious food have always gone hand in hand for me. My mom likes to tell the story about how I used to say “Happy Cake” instead of “Happy Birthday.” Sounds about right. Another birthday treat was always sugared cereal.  We never got to have the good cereal at my house – it was all Grape Nuts and Raisin Bran, but on our birthdays, we got to pick out one box of whatever kind of rot-your-teeth-dessert-for-breakfast-cereal we wanted. It was glorious. My mom (an excellent cook) would always make us whatever we requested for dinner, and she always made a cake.  Mom is a great cook, but she’s never really enjoyed baking nearly as much, so homemade cookies and cakes were not something we got regularly. I guess that is one of the reasons that birthday cake was always so special. One year, I think it was Andrew’s 11th (ish) birthday, my mom made a chocolate cake. She had the two layers out on the counter, cooling, and had left the room. My little sister, who was probably about 2, saw the cake and made the reasonable decision to eat a giant handful out of each cake. The cake was still fine, of course, my mom fixed it right up, and by the way she positioned the layers, it looked like someone had taken a giant bite out of it which everyone seemed to get a kick out of. My dad started referring to it as a “mega-byte” and thought he was sooo clever). Andrew couldn’t care less what his cake looked like as long as it tasted fine, and everyone got a good laugh out of it.  Everyone except for me. I was outraged. Who does that?! How could she ruin the cake for everyone?! And how come just because she’s only 2, she gets away with it?! The injustice of it all! Ridiculous. I’m still trying to get over it.

Luckily,  this year my sister was able to wait until the proper time to dig in, and I think she even used a fork.

The cake turned out great, but the best part of the day wasn’t actually the food – it was getting to spend another birthday with the best big brother ever and my wonderful family. True to form, I’m already planning next year’s cake.

Tiramisu Birthday Cake
recipe taken from Smitten Kitchen, made by me

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Cake:
2 c. cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
10 Tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. buttermilk

Espresso Extract:
2 Tbsp. espresso powder
2 Tbsp. boiling water

Espresso Syrup:
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. white sugar
1 Tbsp. Kahlua (you can also use amaretto or brandy)

Filling and Frosting:8 oz. container mascarpone
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate (or mini chocolate chips)

Decoration:
cocoa powder
chocolate covered espresso beans (the store was out of these, so I actually used chocolate covered cacao nibs)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9×2 inch round cake pans.

Cake:
Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for 3 minutes. Add eggs and egg yolk one by one. Beat for about one minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Beat on low, and start and end with the dry ingredients. Pour batter evenly into the two prepared cake pans.

Bake 28-30 minutes.

Cool on a rack for about 5 minutes and then invert on to wire rack and cool until room temperature.

Espresso Extract:
Bring water to a boil. Mix water and powder together in a small cup and set aside. (You will use this for the syrup and the frosting)

Syrup:
Stir water and sugar together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Pour in a small bowl and stir in 1 Tbsp of the espresso extract and 1 Tbsp of the liqueur. Set aside.

Filling and Frosting:
Whisk together in a large bowl the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla and liqueur.

With a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Stir a little bit of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture, and then fold in the rest.

(note: I’m so in love with this frosting that I plan on putting it on pretty much everything I make from now on.)

Assembly:
If the tops of the cakes are too high, you can use a serrated knife to even them. Place one layer right-side up on cake round or plate. Using a small spoon, soak the layer with about 1/3 of the espresso syrup. Spread enough mascarpone cream over the cake to cover it and top with the chocolate pieces.  Put the second layer on a counter, of over a shallow pan to catch the drips and pour half of the remaining syrup over it. Turn the layer over and put it soaked side down on top of the first cake layer. Soak the top with the rest of the syrup.

Whisk 1 – 1 1/2  Tbsp of the left over espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone filling according to your taste. Ice the sides and top of cake. Sprinkle cocoa powder of the top and decorate with chocolate covered espresso beans.

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Forced Cuddling and Chocolate Oatmeal Milk Stout Cake

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My dog, Stella, and I have a nightly routine. It begins when I get into bed. She is usually already there, curled up at the top of the bed on the pillows. As soon as I get in, she immediately gets up and moves to the foot of the bed. This is actually probably what she should be doing, but instead of just going to sleep with her nicely at my feet, I start talking to her — asking her why she doesn’t like me, and despite lots of pleading and patting the empty space next to me, she doesn’t budge. So, then, we start what I like to call “forced cuddling.”  Since she won’t come to me, I move down to the foot of the bed and basically drape myself over her like a blanket. I tell her how cute she is and how much I love her, and she squirms and makes some unpleasant sounds. She puts up with me way longer than she should, but somewhere around 6 or 7 squeezes, she wiggles her way out of my grasp and crawls under the bed. Only then do I give up and go to sleep. The best part, though, is always that when I wake up, Stella has moved from her hiding place under the bed and is sleeping next to me like a human with her head on the pillow next to mine.  As long as I leave her alone, she always comes back.

I imagine that my routine would be basically the same if I were going to bed with an actual man instead of a dog.

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For this week’s dessert, I was thinking of something I could make using ingredients I already had at home. I have a few bottles of Left Hand milk stout (one of favorite beers), so I decided to make some sort of cake with it. My friend told me that I should make a milk stout oatmeal cake, as his mom apparently makes the best oatmeal cake. Oatmeal cake? I’ve never heard of it. But I love oatmeal in desserts, so it sounded like a good idea to me. Naturally, I made coffee icing to go on top. Oatmeal, coffee, chocolate, beer… 4 of my favorite things all combined in a slightly weird but super delicious cake.

I sort of winged this one – but I pretty much just used a combination of this chocolate oatmeal cake recipe and this one from Left Hand Brewing Company.  For the icing, I meant to make this, but I ended up doing some crazy things to it and the finished product was… interesting.

Chocolate Oatmeal Milk Stout Cake with Chocolate Coffee Frosting

Ingredients

Cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 c. Left Hand Milk Stout
2/3 c. cocoa powder (I used dark chocolate)
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. white sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 2/4 c. flour
1 c. old fashioned oats
1 3/4 c. boiling water
2 eggs
$1/4 c. sour cream

Frosting:
1 stick butter
3 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. cold coffee
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla

  • In a large sauce pan, melt the butter, milk stout, and cocoa powder. Let cool.
  • Mix together dry ingredients
  • Put oats in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let sit for 10 minutes until soft
  • Once cool, mix beer/butter/cocoa mixture into the dry ingredients and beat for 1 minutes
  • add eggs and sour cream, beat for 2 more minutes
  • stir in oatmeal
  • pour into two greased and floured 9 inch rounds. Cook at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes
  • cool in pans for 10 minutes and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely

Frosting:
What you should  do is whip together the butter and cocoa.  Add sugar, vanilla, and some coffee. Continue to add coffee until you have the right consistency.  What I did was mix everything together at once, and then continued to add more of various things until it sort of worked. It ended up looking pretty awesome, but wasn’t a good consistency. Just a plain, delicious chocolate icing what probably be just as good if not better.

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Great Expectations and Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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I do my best thinking late at night. I come up with the greatest ideas and plans — everything just seems simpler and clearer when in the comfort of my own warm bed. It starts out small. I think, “I should get up early tomorrow.” I think about how much better I would feel if I got up an hour earlier and took the dog for a jog. I picture myself awake and happy and running like a champ through the park with Stella at my side.  Since I will have gotten up early, I’ll actually have time to do my hair and put make up on. And since I will have gone for a run, naturally I’ll be able to fit into my skinny jeans, and those will go great with the new blouse I just bought and maybe I’ll actually accessorize! In my head I’m so skinny and stylish. Then I start thinking about all the healthy food I’ll eat. I plan my breakfast of oatmeal and a nice salad for lunch. I tell myself that I won’t drink any soda, and I’ll stay away from the vending machine. When I get to thinking about dinner, I realize that I’ll need to go grocery shopping in order to make the elaborate meal I planned. I imagine myself gliding through the organic section and buying lots of produce. Then, while I’m picking out something organic and trendy, a tall, handsome, single rich man suddenly asks for my opinion on which organic trendy thing he should buy. I’m sweet and charming and tell him that I would obviously buy this one because it is the best, and he smiles this brilliant smile and tells me how thankful he is that he ran into me. And then because I actually put on make up in the morning and can fit into my skinny jeans, I feel confident and beautiful and strike up a conversation with him about food and wine and current events. Of course he finds me irresistible and asks me if I’d like to have a drink with him later that evening, because obviously he can’t  possibly wait until the weekend, and of course I say yes. Then we get married and have babies and live happily ever after.

It’s weird that none of these things ever actually happen.

So, I fall asleep happy and optimistic, and then I wake up 15 minutes before I’m supposed to be at work, and it’s all down hill from there.

I set myself up for failure with these great expectations, and yet I just can’t help myself. I’m probably not going to meet a ruggedly handsome, somewhat wealthy, highly intelligent professor who is also a lumberjack on the weekends (my dream guy – don’t worry about it) at the grocery store, and if I did happen to run into a handsome gentleman, I’m sure I would be wearing sweats and slippers and have a cart full of pizza bites, ice cream and beer, but oh well. Dream big.

You know what didn’t disappoint me today? These cookies:

Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Adapted from this awesome recipe from SimplyRecipes.com

Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 c. cinnamon chips
3/4 c. semi sweet chocolate chunks
3 c. old fashioned oats

Directions:
Brown the butter. It took me a bit to get the hang of browning butter at first, but now that I know how, I’m addicted. I love using brown butter in cookies, it adds a great nutty flavor. Melt butter over medium heat in a medium sized sauce pan. As you cook the butter, it will start to foam. Continue to whisk the butter, checking underneath the foam to make sure you aren’t burning it. Eventually, brown bits will begin to form and it will start to smell nutty. Once the brown bits form, remove from heat and transfer to a glass bowl to cool. While the butter cools, mix together your dry ingredients.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the brown butter with both sugars on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and the eggs, and mix for 3 more minutes.

Use a wooden spoon to fold the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Stir in cinnamon chips and chocolate chunks. Stir in oatmeal.

Place cookies on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet – about 2 inches apart – and cook at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

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Tart It Up

Um. Look at this tart I just made:

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Chocolate crust. Caramel. Toasted pecans. Chocolate ganache. Sea salt.
That is one sexy tart.

In general, I would say that I could be categorized as a “low maintenance” type of girl. I like football and beer; I’m not a fan of pink, sparkly things, I’d rather go to a dive bar than an expensive restaurant, and when it comes to getting ready, I need very little primping time.  I can get ready for work in 25 minutes or less – it’s actually a skill I’m very proud of.

But sometimes, I play the girl card and I take my time. I take an extravagant 30 minute shower, use a scented lotion, try one of those fancy face masks, and sit around in my bathrobe painting my nails.  I straighten my crazy hair, use an expensive anti-frizz spray, and take a ridiculous amount of time to apply my make-up. This past Friday was one of those nights. I didn’t have enough time for all of that, but I did what I could. My hair was extra straight and shiny, I put lipstick on, and shimmied my way into a little black dress. The dress was perhaps a little va va voom for the event I was going to, but the point is that I felt great. I felt pretty and sexy and sassy and fun. I didn’t find Prince Charming that night or fall in love, or even get a date, but I did feel beautiful. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

My trusty dictionary defines the phrase, “tart up” as: to adorn, dress, or decorate, especially in a flamboyant manner.

So, take a little extra time and feel beautiful. It’s worth it. So is this caramel tart.

Chocolate Caramel Pecan Tart
Adapted from Saveur.

Ingredients:

Crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. dark chocolate cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Caramel
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. sour cream

Plus about 3/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Ganache
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Sea salt to sprinkle on top

INSTRUCTIONS
crust: Heat oven to 350˚. Combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl,  cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in yolks and vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients. Press dough into a 9″ fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press evenly into bottom and sides of pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Once chilled, prick the crust all over with a fork and bake 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

caramel: While reading the comments on the Saveur post, I noticed there seemed to be a pretty heated debate on the right temperature to heat the caramel to.  It also seems like a good candy thermometer is key here. I have a pretty cheap one, but it worked just fine. I took my caramel off the heat at 340˚ as the recipe indicated, but ended up having to put it back on the heat once I added the cream until it reached about 360˚ to make it thicker and caramel in color.  That ended up being perfect. So, it seems like that as long you have a reliable thermometer, 350-360˚ will give you the right consistency.

In a heavy saucepan, whisk together sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 6 Tbsp. water.  Bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer inserted into the syrup reads 350-360°. Remove pan from heat and whisk in butter, cream, and sour cream until smooth. Pour caramel into cooled tart shell and let cool.

Toast pecans on a baking sheet in the oven at 425˚ for about 5 minutes (watch to make sure they don’t burn) Pour pecans on top of caramel and press down slightly. I set aside a couple pecan halves for the top of the tart. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Ganache: Bring cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Put chocolate into a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Then, stir slowly until smooth. Pour over tart and refrigerate until set, 4-5 hours or overnight. Sprinkle tart with sea salt, add pecan halves if desired. Slice and serve chilled.

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Full Disclosure

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

  • I am not a real baker. I mean, I am real as in I am a real person. I am a real person who bakes real food. I have no professional training whatsoever. I bake because it is fun and it makes me feel better.
  • I don’t always level my dry ingredients. Sometimes, I just make things up.
  • I googled “baking blog etiquette” the other day. I’m terrified that I’ll do something wrong. Apologies in advance for anyone I offend.
  • I will most likely talk way too much about bacon, my dog, how I’m not married yet, my lack of motivation, and booze.
  • I am a really bad speller. (In fact, spell check just told me that “speller” is spelled wrong.)

Once again, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Here is a picture of my dog. Just because. Get used to it:

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Bacon Makes Everything Better

2012 was not my year. I’m writing it off as a re-building year, and crossing my fingers that 2013 will be better. I’ve never been a big fan of the New Year. It’s cold outside, nothing really changes, I’m never motivated to work out with 2 feet of snow outside my window, and everything just… stays the same. But this year, I’m embracing the new year. After what I’ve been calling my “Dark December,” I’m in desperate need of a fresh start. So, as the new year begins, I’m determined to make some changes. For me, my mood always improves once I tie on an apron, turn on the oven, and grab my trusty eggs, butter, sugar and flour. First of all, it gives me something to do. I’m a wallower, and if left to my own devices, I will never leave my bed. Or, if I do manage to make it out of bed, I’ll park myself on the couch with a bag of chips and cry during Humane Society commercials or any commercial or TV program featuring senior citizens.

Dark December was mostly wallowing. There was a lot of fast food. There was a lot bad realty TV. There were a lot of tears. Luckily, I have amazing friends and family who knew the right time to stop by with ice cream, tissues, tabloid magazines and a pound of bacon. When I wasn’t making a permanent imprint in my couch or drowning in a pint of ice cream, I was baking away my feelings.

First, it keeps me busy. It might take me a while to force myself to do something, but once I can motivate myself to get into the kitchen, game on. Just going through the motions of measuring, pouring and mixing relaxes me and calms me down. Second, and most important, I get to create something delicious. I can take all that negativity and turn it into something that tastes good and makes people happy.

For Christmas this year, I received the Joy the Baker cookbook. I’ve been following Joy’s blog for a couple of years now, and adore it. I read the cookbook cover to cover like a novel as soon as I got it. My favorite part of course is the comfort food section. Although I have never met Joy, I’m pretty sure we would be best friends if ever given the chance. I’m pretty sure Joy would understand my Dark December – she would partake in some good old-fashioned man bashing with me, pat me on the shoulder, and then she’d tell me to snap out of it and we’d get in the kitchen and make some delicious, sugary concoction. Since this friendship exists only in my head, I had to do the baking part by myself. But with Joy’s comfort food section basically memorized, I was well prepared.

I started with bacon peanut butter cookies. I was a little skeptical about them – I’ve had bacon cookies before that just… weren’t great. As much as I love bacon, you can’t just throw it in a dessert and expect it to magically make it delicious. Bacon does that to many dishes, but desserts are a little trickier. You have to make sure the flavors actually go together and that you aren’t just tasting a big hunk of bacon stuck inside your chocolate cupcake. These cookies, however, are magic. Everything works together and the end result is pure happiness.

I’ve made these cookies 4 times in the last 3 weeks. It might be overkill, but it’s helped lift me out of my dark days and into the new year. Although baking my feelings is not a new concept for me, I’ve been doing it for a while now, I haven’t been doing it consistently. So, as 2013 begins, I’ve resolved to bake my way through it. A new recipe every week to go with what I’m sure will be a long roller coaster of emotions.

In 2012, my heart was broken. In 2013, with the help of my pantry, I’m going to repair it.

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies from Joy the Baker as made by me:

Ingredients:

10 pieces of bacon
1 1/2 cups natural creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cup plus an additional 1/2 cup of white sugar
3 teaspoons molasses
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
sprinkle of nutmeg (I just gave it a good shake – Joy’s recipe calls for fresh, which I’m sure would be better if you have it)
3/4 cup roasted, salted peanut halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place bacon on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake bacon until nice and crisp, about 15 minutes. While Bacon is in the oven, get started on your other ingredients. Cream together the peanut butter, 1 1/2 cup sugar, and the molasses for about 3 minutes. Once combined, add the eggs, baking soda, and nutmeg. Mix on medium for about 2 more minutes.

Once the bacon is done, crumble or chop it into small pieces. Fold the bacon and the peanuts into your mixture with a wooden spoon.  Place the other 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl. Roll the dough into large balls and roll in the sugar. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Flatten a little with a fork.

Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack.

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies(2)

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