Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Spice Cake with Blackberry Preserves and Cream Cheese Icing

My grandpa's birthday falls just a few days before Christmas.  And since I came back to North Dakota a few days prior to his birthday, I was able to make his birthday cake!

I had asked him what kind of cake he would like (or wouldn't like) and he gave me a few ideas of things he likes, but really told me it was up to me to make whatever I wanted.....  One of the ideas he gave me was for spice cake, so I started searching for spice cake recipes.

I found a recipe on that just seemed to click, even though it seemed an odd combination: Spice Cake with Blackberry Filling and Cream Cheese Icing.  See, my grandpa really likes spice cake, but he also really really likes blackberry and also likes cream cheese!  The recipe had good reviews, with nearly everyone saying they'd make it again.  So, I decided to give it a try!

I made a few modifications, however.....  With it being December in North Dakota, I couldn't find any fresh blackberries, and I knew frozen blackberries would be way too messy! So, I found a good (seedless) blackberry preserve and decided to use that between the layers instead.

Cream Cheese icing is one of my enemies, so I also decided to add toasted pecans to the sides of the iced cake.  After all, a mistake isn't a mistake if it can be hidden!  (Thank you, Chef Gronert for teaching me that!).  I just cannot seem to get cream cheese icing very smooth.... Guess I need more practice!

Grandpa pretending a candle from the table decor is his birthday candle.

Despite some issues icing the cake, most of which included me questioning and questioning why on EARTH I decided to use hateful cream cheese icing, I was pretty happy with the results of the appearance.

Thanks to my sister for photographing while I sliced the cake!

And my family was even more happy with the taste!  Although the combination of spice with blackberry and cream cheese does seem an unusual one (and a taste you can't really envision before you actually try it), it was delicious.  And I agree I would make it again!

mmmmm.... Cake with Kahlua 


For cake

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar

3 large eggs, separated

1 cup sour cream

For filling

3 1/2-pint baskets blackberries

1/4 cup sugar

**Note, I just used 1.5 jars of the Dickinson Spreadable Fruit Seedless Blackberry
For frosting

1 1/2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

5 cups powdered sugar (about 1 1/4 pounds)

2 tablespoons sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2-pint basket blackberries

Make cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Sift first 7 ingredients into small bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add brown sugar and beat until well blended. Beat in egg yolks. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with sour cream in 2 additions. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in medium bowl until stiff but not dry; fold into batter in 2 additions. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until top is golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake 10 minutes. Cut around pan sides; release pan sides. Cool cake completely on rack.

Make filling:

Mix berries and sugar in bowl. Mash fruit coarsely with fork. Let stand 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. **Note: I used preserves in place of this.

Make frosting:

Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in sugar, then sour cream and vanilla.

Cut cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Place bottom layer, cut side up, on platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over. Spread half of filling (about 3/4 cup) over frosting, leaving 1/4-inch plain border at edge. Top with second cake layer and 1 cup frosting, then remaining filling. Top with third cake layer, cut side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Refrigerate until frosting sets, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover loosely; keep chilled until 1 hour before serving.) Garnish cake with 1/2 pint berries.

Laura's Variation:
  • Simple Syrup: I used a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, with a splash of lemon juice, that was boiled and cooled to make a simple syrup. I soaked each layer with the syrup before adding the preserves, just to make sure there was enough moisture.
  • Pecan garnish: I toasted pecans in a low temp oven for around 10 minutes until they were fragrant. I then gently patted them on the sides of the cake after it was iced. I think next time, I may also add a sprinkle of nuts between the layers as well.
  • Blackberry preserves garnish: Instead of fresh blackberries, which I could not find, I piped little dots of blackberry preserves over the surface of the cake.
  • Chocolate writing: I melted some dark chocolate chips (I usually use Ghiradelli) and added a few drops of blackberry brandy to thicken the chocolate for piping. 
  • Assembly variation: I did crumb coat the cake and then do a second layer of icing, chilling between applications. I also added a reverse shell pattern around the top edge.
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Daring Bakers December 09: Gingerbread House!

The December 2009 Daring Bakers' Challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers' everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from the Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes. 

I was super excited when I found out what the December challenge was going to be! I had thought about making a gingerbread house, but had decided that it was just too expensive and too much work to do for just myself.  With the challenge, though, I finally had a good excuse to make one!  Ironically, I ended up running out of time to make my house before I came back to ND, so I build my house there instead.

ready to cut

I hadn't build a gingerbread house since middle school, and even then, we used graham crackers over old milk cartons.  A link was provided to a Bob Vila website for gingerbread house building.  What a fantastic site!  I grew up watching Bob Vila's "This Old House" and "Bob Vila's Home Again" so seeing instructions for gingerbread "construction," complete with gingerbread "plans." I used the side gable plans for my house.

freshly baked gingerbread

I decided early on in my planning phase to limit the use of candy in my design. I wanted to practice my piping skills further and it was more cost effective to use less candy.  But I ended up using no candy, just the gingerbread, the icing and then cardamom for the path in the front of the house.

side view

All the piping took much longer than I had anticipated (and also many more batches of royal icing.... ).

back view

I used gelatin sheets for my windows.  And I cut a hole in my cardboard base in order to add battery-operated tea light candles inside the house once it was finished.

The front of the house

I spent many many hours on this house and I am so pleased with the results! I'm definitely making more gingerbread houses in the future!

More pictures will be up on my flickr in the coming days.  I plan to photograph in daylight as well, but I wanted the post to be up on the 27th :)

Okay, on to recipes..... I used Y's recipe for the gingerbread, mostly because I had all the ingredients.  I did use less water than the original recipe called for.  I also used a different royal icing recipe because the one listed for the challenge contained vinegar, which I did not have on hand.....

Y's Recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas 
1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]
1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.
2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.
3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.
4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]
5. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.
Royal Icing: {note, I did not use this recipe}
1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

  1. Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Joy of Baking Royal Icing Recipe: {I used this recipe instead} 

2 large egg whites
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups (330 gm) confectioner's sugar {note, I added more to make a stiffer icing for piping details}

  1. In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the lemon juice. Add the powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth. The icing needs to be used immediately or transfered to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.
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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Macarons.

I've been a bit discouraged about the topic of Macarons, especially after my multiple failures (can be seen here).   My love and curiosity about eating and creating flavor combinations for Macarons has stayed strong, only I had lost my confidence in the execution.

A friend gave me the most lovely book i ♥ macarons by Hisako Ogita for Christmas (it can be found here) and so I was inspired to give Macarons a try again.  Let me just say, I love the book!  It has just the sort of style and photography that I'd hoped to have when if I write a cookbook someday.  The photography, especially, is just gorgeous and shows every process step-by-step.

So, with a new macaron recipe, egg whites aged three days, and the aid of the more dry North Dakota air, I set about making macarons again.

And they were a success!! (mostly)

The feet developed beautifully.  I still ended up with a bit of a "hershey's kiss" on top and they are slightly more brown than I would have liked, but nevertheless much more of a success than my October attempts.

I created a candy cane cream cheese filling, using left over cream cheese icing from my Grandpa's birthday cake (post about that coming later) and some pulverized candy canes.  Some of the macarons were plain candy cane cream cheese filled, some were a combo of the cream cheese and melted dark chocolate, and some were just melted dark chocolate.  Beautiful and delicious!

I used gel food coloring, mixed with a little water to "paint" the tops of some of the macarons with Christmas imagery.  I actually coded the filings by what was painted on them (haha) because I'm just like that :)  The macarons without painting along with the ones painted with candy canes were just plain candy cane cream cheese filling. The wreath painted macarons were a combo of the candy cane cream cheese and melted dark chocolate. The trees were just melted dark chocolate.

My dad informed me after photographing these that if I'd only done one of the candy canes upside down, I could have had "joy" written out in the decoration. Oh well, next year.

Well, now that I've achieved (near) Macaron success, the next test will be if I can make these in South Carolina too.....  Stay tuned for more macaron adventures in the coming year :)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Memory: Christmas Bread

Gross! Terrible! Blech! Awful!

Those words are all ones I've used to describe my family's traditional "Christmas Bread."  As mentioned in my last post, I've got Scandinavian heritage.  Well, I've also got quite a bit of German in me as well....

To the best of my knowledge, the christmas bread started with my German Great-Grandma, Irene....  Both my grandma and mom have grown up with it as well.  It is a staple at every Christmas Eve dinner.  Think white bread, spiced with cardamom, and filled with vile candied fruit.  Somewhat of a "fruit cake meets white bread" combo.  Gross.  Really, who meant for cherries to be green after all?

I've tried, really I have.  I keep wanting to like Christmas bread (it seems to be the "cool" thing to do), but alas, it stays terrible each time I try it.  Nearly everyone in my family, except myself and my Dad (who didn't grow up on the stuff) like it....

Well, this year, I decided to try something different.  I wanted to make my own version of christmas bread, only one that would taste better (at least to me).  Granted, the recipe needs tweeking, but in my humble opinion, it was better than the traditional  bread.

I took the scandinavian danish dough, spiced with cardamom, that I learned to make this past semester and left out the lamination process.

I added better candied fruit, which I brought back from Whole Foods (although I'd like to make my own next year, or at least my own candied citrus), along with some Marzipan, just because I like marzipan and it worked so well in the brioche I learned to make in class.

I spread the fruit and marzipan over the dough, then rolled it up and allowed it to rise more, before portioning it into cute little paper cups and baking it.

Now, there are a couple changes I would make in the future, which is why I probably won't give the recipe at this time....  Even though the candied fruit I bought is much better than the regular kind one finds in the grocery store, I prefer the taste of the cardamom-rich bread without too much candied fruit.  I might add a bit more fruit next time, and for sure more marzipan (mmmm).

I also had some yeast issues. My original recipe, the one made in school, called for "fresh yeast" but I knew there was no way I'd ever find fresh yeast around here.  So, I switched to dry active but I'm not entirely sure if my conversions from fresh to dry active were accurate. I think I need a bit more yeast next time.  The bread ended up extremely dense and really lends itself better to toasting than simply eating on its own.

Even though my family members (the ones who really really like the old version of Christmas bread) thought this version was very different from the "normal" kind, I like it!  And this way, I'm able to feel like I'm kind of participating in our family tradition of eating christmas bread, only now I'm not just choking it down.  No joke, I really use to have to force it down when my grandma would make sandwiches on it after Christmas!

I wish everyone a wonderful christmas!  I plan to post more about some of my family christmas traditions in the coming days as well. Currently, my Christmas is being spent a great deal quieter than usual because my hometown is experiencing a larger than normal snowfall, coupled with "near blizzard" conditions. So we're snowed in for the time being! We've even had to postpone our traditional extended family get together with my Dad's side due to the poor weather....   Oh well, more time for baking!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Memory: Krumkake

I've had all these Christmas-themed post ideas swirling through my head for the past month.  But then I've had some personal issues come up, so unfortunately I've been away.  I'm back with my family in good old North Dakota for the holiday season and am getting back into baking again.

The area I grew up in is full of people of Scandinavian descent.  I myself am largely made up of Scandinavian blood (with about 8 other different nationalities as well) and many of my childhood friends share similar lineage.  Every year since I was quite young, my friend Kelli and I have made a special scandinavian dessert called Krumkake at Christmas time.

For those not familiar with krumkake, it is a thin butter cookie that is cooked on a patterned double-sided griddle-iron, similar to a waffle iron, only much less deep.  The batter is cooked to a light golden brown, removed from the heat and then immediately rolled around a wooden cone-shaped tool.  They cool slightly on the cone and then are ready to be eaten!  They can be filled or dipped in chocolate, but we always just have them plain.

There really are not words to express the wonderful smell of krumkake as it cooks.  It also makes funny entirely unique squishy squeaky sounds as it cooks.   It is one of those desserts that define Christmas for me!

Tillie Olberg's Krumkake, circa 1925, as used by Kelli and Laura 

1 cup butter, melted
6 eggs
1 cup sugar
1-2 tsp Almond Extract
2 cups flour (approximately)

1.  Pre-heat the krumkake griddle
2. Melt the butter and let it cool slightly (so that it will not cook the eggs).
3. Beat the eggs with the slightly cooled butter, the sugar and the extract. Slowly add the flour
4. Drop teaspoons of batter onto the krumkake griddle. Cook until light golden in color. Remove from the griddle and immediately roll around a cone or wooden roller.

Note about the flour:
The batter consistency should resemble something like a thin pancake batter, so add flour accordingly. More or less may be required depending on humidity.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Key Lime & Coconut Cake: Practice Makes Perfect.... sort of....

I am nearly through with my finals!  Hurray!  Last Monday, as previously written, was my practical final in Intro to Cakes.  Earlier in the semester, we had to submit a cake, filling, and icing recipe with the intentions to make it for our practical.

I've been practicing and practicing and tweaking and tweaking my Key Lime and Coconut cake..... in all, I've tested the filling 4 times, the cake 3 times, and the whole assembly twice.....  {and I am so sick of key lime right about now!!}

For our exam, we had to make one 10" cake, but I've only got two 8" pans at home..... so my practice cakes were always smaller (but taller) and then included some cupcakes with the leftover batter. I left the cupcakes in the community area of my apartment complex, so I hope they were well enjoyed!

Despite all my practicing, I'm not going to lie, I was still pretty nervous for the actual exam!  So many people all doing projects at the same time.... Baking with different equipment than usual..... The worry that something catastrophic would happen!  Murphys Law does like to follow me!  So, I decided to try to cheat murphy by bringing some of my own equipment to class (my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer, my scale, my turntable) and some extra ingredients (just in case!)  I camped out, with my plethora of stuff and bundle of nerves, in a corner of the classroom and went to work!

Chef talking about some of the finished cakes. 

And, amazingly everything went well!  The coconut cake baked as usual.  The curd was a little less firm than usual, but not terribly. The Chantilly cream wasn't over worked (as it was a tish in my last practice version).  I didn't make a mess of my Toasted Coconut Garnish.  Best of all, Chef had good things to say about it.  Honestly, I believe it's the best work I've done all semester!  I guess practicing does pay off.

 Chef had to cut into everyone's cake to taste them and so the cakes couldn't be sold, as our cakes usually are.  So we were allowed to take them home.  I certainly didn't want any coming home with me because I still had the whole practice cake in my fridge.  I offered to give my classmates slices to take home because I also didn't want to just throw away my beautiful creation.

Then, disaster struck.....  It was one of those slow motion moments, as I was cutting pieces, I watched my cake slide off the turn table and land *SPLAT* on the floor.  Guess my cake had decided to become a Key Lime & Coconut UPSIDE DOWN cake instead.

Honestly, all I could do was laugh!  I've been afraid of dropping a cake all semester!  And here it was the final, right after grading, and my fear happened.  All I could do was laugh!  Honestly, I really did not care at all. Had it happened before grading, I'd have gotten a zero on the final and my emotions would have been much different.  I was just thankful.


makes 1 ten-inch cake (cut into 4 layers) or 2 eight-inch cakes (assembled into 4 layers) plus 9 or so cupcakes

227 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
460 g cake flour, sifted, plus more for the pans
14 g baking powder
2 g salt
238 g canned unsweetened coconut milk
48 g milk
386 g granulated sugar (divided into 374 g & 12 g)
6 g pure vanilla extract
12 g coconut extract
267 g egg whites at room temperature (approximately 8 large)

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Prepare cake ring and place on parchment lined sheet pan

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and set aside. Stir the milks together and set aside. Put the butter and 374 g of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment;  cream on medium speed until pale and fluffy, abut 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla and coconut extracts.

3.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in 4 batches, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour. Mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. set aside.

4.  Switch to a whisk attachment; beat the egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form. With the mixer on medium high speed, gradually add the remaining 12 g of sugar. Beat on high speed until the peaks are stiff and glossy, about 30 seconds.

5.  Gently fold the egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula. Scale into prepared cake ring, or cake pans lined with parchment. Smooth the top with an offset spatula. Tap the pan on a work surface to release any air bubbles.

6.  Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the cakes are golden and firm to the touch (some where around 40 minutes). Let cool before unmolding.

200 g granulated sugar
200 g water
50 g shredded sweetened coconut (angel flake variety)
coconut extract to taste, if desired

1. Combine sugar, water and coconut in a sauce pan.
2. Bring to a boil
3. Cool over an ice bath and strain out coconut pieces, if desired.

158 g egg yolks
253 g granulated sugar
153 g key lime juice (such as Nellie & Joe’s brand)
50 g lime juice
52 g heavy cream
131 g unsalted butter, chilled & cut into small pieces

1. In a heavy saucepan whisk together yolks, sugar, lime juice, cream, and butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes, or until mixture just reaches a boil (do not let boil).
2.  Strain curd through a fine sieve into a bowl.
3.  Cool curd its surface covered with plastic wrap, and chill at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

906 g heavy cream
85 g confectioner’s sugar
Coconut extract to taste.

1.Whip heavy cream with sugar to a medium peak.
2. Add coconut extract.
3.  Continue whipping to a most stiff consistency (may do final whipping by hand)

90 g Let’s Do®...Organic®  Unsweetened Organic Coconut Flakes
100 g shredded sweetened coconut (angel flake variety)

1. Preheat oven to 300° F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil
2. Toss coconut varieties on sheet pan
3. Toast approximately 18 minutes, stirring often
4. Cool
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Monday, November 30, 2009

Intro to Cakes Practical Final.....

And so it begins.....  Fall 2009 finals, beginning with a week of practical exams and then written exams and cleaning all the lab classrooms.  Please excuse my {potential} lack of posting during this stressful time!

And today's the day of my practical final in Intro to Cakes.  Wish me luck!  I've had quite a few ups and downs in that class, and here's hoping today turns out better!

Here's a sneak peek of what I'll be making.....  (Recipe and longer post coming soon)

Key Lime & Coconut Cake

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pumpkin or Pecan? or BOTH!

Hands down, Pumpkin Pie is my favorite at Thanksgiving time, (or maybe always, although Grandma's Rhubarb is pretty amazing in the summer time too....)  But, I live in the deep south now, and that means Pecan Pie country.

So, for my first Thanksgiving as a southern resident, I decided it was only fair to make both!  And let me say it was no small feat to make these pies (as well as the rest of the Thanksgiving Dinner) at A's house.....  It's most definitely a kitchen for two bachelors, which is fine because it suites them. But it means that when I come, I have to bring most all supplies with me.

I can never abide store bought crust.  I'm too fond of my Pate Sucree recipe. Yes, I know it's suppose to be for tarts, but it's so delicious for pies too!  I made my crust this past weekend and froze it.  Then I used it to keep my cooler cold on the drive up here.  I splurged last year on cute leaf cutters from Williams-Sonoma.  And I'm still happy I bought them!  They're just so cute :) Williams-Sonoma did change the varieties of leaves this year, but they're still lovely.

My Great Grandma Irene's pumpkin pie is famous in my family.  It has such lovely flavor and good spice (no store-bought pumpkin pie spice for her).  I always make her recipe verbatim.  Except this year, there were a few changes.....

I used organic pumpkin for the first time!  I recently saw the film Food Inc (I'll probably post more about that next week.) and have subsequently decided to buy as much local and organic as possible.....  The organic pumpkin has a slightly different consistancy than the Libby pumpkin puree I've used in the past.  I think I'd drain it through cheesecloth next time, or else add another egg to the recipe.  One super sad thing was that I forgot my nutmeg back at my apartment :(  So, I just added additional cinnamon and a little vanilla..... It was still okay, but I love the flavor of nutmeg and sorely missed it.  A did comment that the pie tasted more "pumpkin-y" than previously, but he liked it!

I've also dubbed this year as the end of Cool Whip.  I'm only slightly ashamed to say that I really really like Cool Whip.  I'm one of those people who can eat it straight from the tub. However, since taking my nutrition class AND watching Food Inc, I've decided it's probably better for my health to no longer consume it :(  Goodbye Cool Whip!  My mouth might miss you, but my body wont!

And then comes the pecan pie!  I did quite a bit of searching for the perfect pecan pie recipe, but finally settled on one in this month's issue of Gourmet Magazine.   It was delicious and gooey and yummy just like pecan pie should be.....  The only feedback so far was that the surprise addition of orange zest was out of place, even though it was just a small amount.  I think I've got to agree.  Sorry Gourmet!  Other than that, it was a lovely pie!  Oh, and I used a spoon to make the scalloped pattern in the crust.  I think it's a rather nifty unique pattern.

We at so much for dinner last night that we almost skipped dessert.  (Gasp, I know!) But we did end up eating small slices pumpkin pie.  Then A came up with the most wonderful idea for the pecan pie..... Why not eat it for breakfast!  I think we've started a new tradition.  A piece of pecan pie with a hot cup of coffee is an amazing way to start your day.

I think this above image is my favorite of the pies.  I'm contemplating making pie themed greeting cards for next year.  Any feedback on that idea?

And now for recipes:

Great Grandma's Pumpkin Pie

2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs beaten
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup milk or cream

1.  Mix all ingredients together.
2. Pour into a raw 9" pie shell.
3. Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes.  Then at 350 F for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife blade put in the center comes out clean.

Note: Because I forgot the nutmeg, I doubled the cinnamon and put in a splash of vanilla.....

Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie
Gourmet Magazine November 2009

3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup {spray measuring cup with cooking spray before measuring syrup}
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp grated orange zest {I'd omit this next time}
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
2 cups pecan halves

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang.  Crimp decoratively. Lightly prick bottom all over with a fork. Chill until firm in the freezer.
  3. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in corn syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt. Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl, then whisk in corn syrup mixture.
  4. Put pecans in pie shell and pour corn syrup mixture evenly over them. Bake on baking sheet until filing is set, 50 minutes to 1 hour. {it took a little longer than an hour for me}.
  5. Cool completely.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring Bakers November 09: Chocolate Orange Cannoli

I am still so stuffed from last night's Thanksgiving dinner.... Or maybe it's from the piece of pecan pie I had for breakfast this morning.  In all the busyness from last night, I nearly forgot that today is the Daring Bakers reveal day!

So, without further adieu, here's the November 2009 Daring Baker's Challenge: Cannoli

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural).

She writes:
Cannoli are known as Italian-American pastries, although the origin of cannoli dates back to Sicily, specifically Palermo, where it was prepared during Carnevale season, and according to lore, as a symbol of fertility. The cannoli is a fried, tube-shaped pastry shell (usually containing wine) filled with a creamy amalgamation of sweetened ricotta cheese, chocolate, candied fruit or zest, and sometimes nuts. Although not traditional, mascarpone cheese is also widely used, and in fact, makes for an even creamier filling when substituted for part of the ricotta, or by itself. However, cannoli can also be filled with pastry creams, mousses, whipped cream, ice cream etc. You could also add your choice of herbs, zests or spices to the dough, if desired. Marsala is the traditional wine used in cannoli dough, but any red or white wine will work fine, as it’s not only added for flavor or color, but to relax the gluten in the dough since it can be a stiff dough to work with. 

I'll admit, this challenge brought about one of my baking fears: frying.  I've got almost zero experience with deep frying, except for the doughnuts we did in class a few weeks ago.  And I'm also nervous about frying at my apartment because if there ever was a problem and I got hurt, I don't really know anyone who could help me! Ahhh!

I truly did plan on conquering the fear and having a friend come help me fry.  But when it came right down to it, Thanksgiving was looming so quickly that I ran out of time to try the frying.  So, I baked cannoli cups in a 350 F oven instead of frying cannoli tubes.  I'm kind of sad about this fact, but I do have left over dough (currently resting in my freezer) and I may try to fry some in the future.

I tried two different baking techniques, since I'm unfamiliar with cannoli dough and how it acts. One batch I baked inside my Williams Sonoma mini tart pan (with fluted edges) and one batch I draped over an upside down mini muffin tin.  Both were non-stick surfaces. The Williams-Sonoma pan seemed to work better, but in both cases, I overbaked them, unfortunately :(

Then, I made a sweetened Ricotta Cheese filling with orange and bittersweet chocolate. Additionally, I dipped the shells in melted bittersweet chocolate before filling them.

I've not really been a fan of ricotta cheese in dessert items--I always thought it belonged in lasagna instead.  But, this challenge may have won me over to ricotta in desserts!  The filling was so tasty!  I may or may not have squirted it from the pastry bag straight into my mouth.   shhhh....

A couple additional tips about the filling....  I ran out of time to properly drain my ricotta cheese before making the filling. Story of my life is having great intentions and not necessarily having the time to follow through.....  So, my filling was more liquid than I would have liked..... I chopped Ghiradelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips to add to the filling and I didn't chop all of them quite as finely as I should have. Some of the pieces were too big to fit through the star tip I used for piping. Still, it turned out pretty well and tasted yummy.

As Lisa mentioned above, cannoli traditionally contains Marsala wine.  I did have a bit of a time finding Marsala wine.  I'm not as knowledgable about wine as I'd like to be (but that will change next semester when I take "Intro to Wine" Hurray!) and had no idea that Marsala wine has a much higher alcohol content than most other wines.  So, I had to make a trip to a liquor store to find it.

In North Dakota, all alcohol is sold in liquor stores, nothing in grocery stores. I guess I've been spoiled by wine in grocery stores since moving to SC. I tried several stores before finally asking a store associate where I could find marsala and having them tell me I'd have to go to a liquor store or buy a "cooking grade marsala."  I wasn't so keen on buying the "cooking grade" so I went off in search of an open liquor store.  Liquor stores in SC have the oddest hours....  And I always seemed to go when they were closed.  But finally, last weekend, I found one that was open!  And they had Marsala!  Success!

If you've never used Marsala before, you may be surprised by it's lovely aroma, as I was. It has such a different smell than I had expected (although I'm not exactly sure what I expected).... somewhat sweet? I'm hoping to experiment more with it in the future.

Thanks, Lisa for a wonderful challenge! 


Lidisano’s Cannoli
Makes 22-24 4-inch cannoli
2 cups (250 grams/8.82 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Confectioners' sugar
1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.
2 Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.
3 Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.
4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.
5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.
8. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.
9. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.
400 g Part Skim Ricotta Cheese {should be drained in a cheesecloth overnight in the refrigerator if you don't procrastinate like me}
1/8 tsp cinnamon
Orange zest for garnish
1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine the (drained) Ricotta and the Confectioner's sugar and mix until just combined. Add in the cinnamon, vanilla bean paste, and orange extract.  Add the chopped chocolate.  
2. Fill a piping bag fitted with a large star tip with the filling and refrigerate until ready to pipe into chocolate-dipped shells. 
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Breakfast!

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year Thanksgiving is very different for me.  It's the first major holiday since I moved down South, and so I do feel a bit weird not being at home with my family. I could have gone, but I had such a terrible time getting back in October and I do start Finals next week.  So, I decided to stay and am subsequently in Columbia for a few days.  A has to work today, so we'll be eating dinner this evening.

Even though I'm missing my family today and all our normal traditions, I'm still very very happy to have started this chapter in my life and to be in pastry school finally. I'm so thankful this semester has gone so well and that I am able to spend Thanksgiving with A :)

One tradition my family does nearly every major holiday (like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter) is to have a family breakfast, which usually consists of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls, cut up fruit and some sort of egg dish.  I wanted to continue that same tradition, even though I'm far away, only kick it up a notch.  No more Pillsbury Rolls ever!

No offense, but I've learned to make some pretty incredible stuff while in school.  Now that my tongue has tasted the good stuff, it's hard to go back.....  So, we had New England-style Sticky Buns, some with pecans, some with raisins, some with craisins, and some mixed.  I made them in class a couple weeks ago and froze a few to save just for Thanksgiving.

We also had some organic orange slices, some Chocolate Brownie Drunken Strawberry Almond Brioche (which I'll be writing a post about soon..... I meant to do it last week but ran out of time), and some Earl Grey Tea, subsequently my favorite tea.

Ironically, my family didn't do their traditional breakfast this morning.  (I know, I gasped too!)  But since the feast of the day was to be hosted at their house for a change, I guess they've decided to switch it to another day.   Nevertheless, A and I had a great breakfast!

And now I'm preparing for our grand dinner later.  Let's just hope I don't screw up the turkey...... I've never made one before and my cooking skills are not nearly in the same realm as my baking ones. I'm almost wishing we were doing thanksgiving sushi like some friends of mine are doing....   At least the pies I've made will be good :)

Tomorrow is Daring Baker's November challenge reveal day!  And then after that will be a full re-cap of our Thanksgiving Feast.  :)

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apple Crisp

One of my all-time favorite desserts would have to include Apple Crisp. Although there are very few desserts that I do not like, apple crisp does hold a special place in my heart due to the fact that it's a dessert of my childhood.  I had company this past weekend, as A had switched days of working, so I decided to whip up apple crisp for dessert one night.  It's such an easy, yummy dessert to make.  And eating it is like eating a memory....

During my growing up years, my grandparents had a fabulous apple tree--one of those antique varieties that you really can't find anymore.  My parents house also has an apple tree, but for whatever reason, had some trouble with it during it's early years.

Sadly, my grandparent's tree was blown over in a horrific wind storm one summer when I was in middle school, so no more of those delicious apples.  However, my parent's tree has more than compensated!  Their tree produces mamouth amounts of apples.  I'm really serious!  Early in the season before the apples are even close to full development, they have to unload apples, just to keep the branches from breaking!

My mom has always made apple crisps, but one special occasion she makes it for is the anniversary of my dad's engineering company.  The company was started in the early 90s and it was a big step for my young family.  Every October, she would celebrate the company's anniversary by making a batch of apple crisp for everyone in my dad's office.  Well, the company has grown tremendously and now has locations in other cities as well.  But my mom still makes apple crisp!  People have come to expect and anticipate it each October and the number of batches has increased quite a bit.   She now uses one of my favorite tools to aid in preparation: the apple peeler/corer/slicer combo.

My sisters and I have helped serve the apple crisp as many years as our schedules would allow. It was really odd for me to not be there to help with it this year, although I know there were other years I wasn't able to go either.....  So, make my own apple crisp and serve it to myself , I must! I don't have a peeler/corer/slicer combo, so I made mine by peeling and slicing the apples myself.  I used granny smith apples, because I had them left over from another project, but really you can use whatever apple you like.  I like my apples to get soft but not mushy, so granny smith are good ones for me. I do wish I'd had some apples from my parents tree.....

I have a confession to make: I really don't use a recipe when making apple crisp.....  I just cut up apples, add some sugar and spices (cinnamon and nutmeg are great) and then a little flour for a thickener (just enough to coat the apples).  I used two apples this time, because I was not making a large batch.

I put the apple mixture in two small ramekins and then a small casserole dish.  The ramekins are just perfect for a small dessert.  And especially with apple crisp, which can look somewhat unappealing when it's scooped out of a larger dish, having individual desserts really does aid in presentation.

Then the apple mixture is topped with a streusel topping.  Seriously, I can just  eat unbaked streusel with spoon.  So tasty.  But, I will say that it is even better baked!  I make my streusel, again without a recipe (this is so out of my normal character), by mixing oatmeal with flour and brown sugar and then adding cinnamon and nutmeg and enough melted butter to moisten it.  I actually had leftover streusel in my fridge from making apple pie with a friend. So that went to good use.

Another one of my favorite kitchen tools  would absolutely have to include my Kitchen Aid Toaster Oven, which I used to bake this small batch of apple crisp. I really love my toaster oven, but I admit I was initially skeptical about toaster ovens in general.  Two years ago, when I was in college the first time, my roommate in my first apartment said one thing we had to have in our kitchen was a toaster oven.  I didn't really see a point to having one, because I thought a regular toaster was just fine, but then I realized the wonder that is that toaster oven..... so great for making toast, but also is fabulous when you're cooking for low numbers (like 1 or 2) and do not want to waste the energy of heating your entire large oven.  I would like to do more experimenting with baking in a toaster oven, but haven't had time yet. But I digress...

The whole thing baked in under 20 minutes, with the toaster oven set on 350, and wow did my apartment smell tasty during the baking.  Actually, I did get them a tish too dark on top, but the beauty of apple crisp is that one can pick the top layer off and no one knows the difference!  Actually one of my favorite parts of apple crisp is picking pieces off the top when it comes right out of the oven.

Apple Crisp really is best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (preferably vanilla bean).  But I didn't have that, so we enjoyed more of the apple flavor instead. A liked his so much that he ate his small ramekin portion and then proceeded to eat most of the small casserole dish too!  It is one of those desserts you don't feel quite so guilty eating because of all the fruit.  And really, you can use very little sugar  as well.

Yum, yum, yum!  I just might have to make more this weekend.....  Thank you Mom for making such wonderful apple crisps and inspiring me to make them too :)