Monday, July 30, 2012

Almond Vanilla Cookie Sandwiches


As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a slight mishap with the icing for the Cherry Coke Birthday cake.....  I accidentally doubled the amount of sugar necessary for the icing.  That mistake may not sound like a big deal (I mean, who doesn't like extra sweet icing?) but sugar does a great deal more in a recipe than simply sweeten....

Because there was too much sugar, the icing was runny & soupy instead of light and fluffy.  I didn't want to throw away the faulty icing and start completely over.  So, I decided the best course of action was to double the other ingredients & turn the batch of icing into a GIANT batch of icing.

After icing my birthday cake and the cupcakes, I was still left with a great deal of icing.  I froze some of it for a future baking adventure and used the remainder to make these cookie sandwiches.  While the icing does have some cherry coke & grenadine in it, the overall flavor of those ingredients is more subtle.  Cherry/almond and cherry/vanilla are classic flavor combinations, and these cookie sandwiches combine hints of all those flavors.

To create the cookies, I modified a snickerdoodle cookie recipe.  I removed the cinnamon from the original recipe and instead added vanilla and almond extracts.  The dough could further be adapted to include other extracts and flavorings or even citrus zests (I think lemon might be particularly nice).

The end result?  A slightly crunchy, yet chewy sweet treat with hints of vanilla and cherry.

p.s If you follow me on Instagram, you can see my unfortunate mishap while photographing these cookies. My reflecting board fell over and, of course, it landed in the middle of the icing :(  Oh well.... At least it happened at the end.

Almond Vanilla Cookie Sandwiches
makes approximately 30 cookies, or 15 sandwiches 

4 oz (1 stick) Unsalted Butter, softened
4.5 oz Granulated Sugar, plus additional for rolling
1 Egg
1/2 tsp Almond Extract
3/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
6.25 oz AP Flour
2g Baking Soda
Pinch Sea Salt
leftover Icing, as needed for sandwiching

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  Cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is fully combined, has lightened in color, and increased in volume

3.  Add the egg & extracts. Beat until combined.

4.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, soda and salt.

5.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix until just combined.

6.  Using a small cookie scoop (mine is a number 70, which is about 1 Tbl or 0.5 oz in capacity), make equal rounds of dough.  Roll each piece of dough in additional granulated sugar.

7.  Place the sugared dough rounds onto the prepared baking sheet.  Keep the dough in rounds if you prefer more chewy cookies (like cookies pictured in this post) or flatten if you prefer more crunchy cookies.

8.  Bake in preheated oven for approximately 10 minutes.  Allow to cool on baking sheet for 3 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

9.  Once cookies have completely cooled, pipe or spread icing onto the bottoms of half the cookies.  Top with remaining cookies.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cherry Coke Birthday Cake

I may have gone a bit overboard with this cake....  Both cake AND cupcakes?  But one is allowed that luxury on her birthday, right?

Some people find it strange that I like to make my own birthday cake.  It's an excuse for me to make whatever kind of cake I want without necessarily worrying about if other people will like it (not that I ever intend to eat the entire cake myself).  It is also a great opportunity to try out new recipes/formulas/flavor combinations.

Case in point, this cherry coke cake.

We took a fast day trip to Austin, TX at the end of June.  We needed to exchange some duplicate wedding gifts & visit some stores (i.e. mainly Ikea) we do not have access to where we live.  While at Williams Sonoma, I picked up a copy of "Edible Austin."  In that amazing publication, there was a recipe for a chocolate root beer cake.  Somehow, my brain jumped from root beer to cherry coke, and I was inspired to create a similar cake with a little less of the chocolate component & more of the soda flavor. And I wanted to incorporate homemade preserves.

Unlike many of my favorite food items, cherry coke and I do not have a long history together,  I didn't grow up drinking soda (or "pop" as we call it in the Midwest) and it wasn't until I went to college that I really developed a soda habit (Mountain Dew, unfortunately), particularly during finals seasons or stressful times.  After moving to South Carolina, my now-husband introduced me to the glorious cherry coke, which has now become one of my (many) weaknesses.

Cherry Coke is one of the things that helped me get through last years particularly strenuous school year of developing and teaching and overloaded schedule of college courses coupled with wedding planning.  It also is one of the first things I turn to when I feel a migraine beginning (something about the caffeine, plus the sugar, plus the bubbles).  But I try not to become too attached to it and currently I try to save it for "special occasions." Though, finding a restaurant with fountain cherry coke (or better yet, coke with grenadine) is a "special occasion" all its' own.

Since this is my "anything goes" birthday cake, I also allowed myself to experiment with a completely new-to-me icing formula.  Usually, I'm a fan of the swiss meringue buttercream (as I used on these cupcakes).  I like how fool-proof it is to make. I like how easy it is to use.  And I like how it tastes.  Unfortunately, my husband does not like how swiss meringue buttercream tastes....  And since I did not intend to eat this entire cake all by myself, I knew I needed to try something else.  At the same time, I didn't really want to use regular American buttercream.  Time for something new!

Over the past couple of years, I have occasionally heard (though, not seen or tasted) about icing that includes flour.  Flour?  In icing? Really?  A friend of mine once told me that the bakery where she worked, they used this "genre" of icing on many of their most popular cakes.  I started searching for "frosting with flour"& finally found a recipe from the Tasty Kitchen that looked like a winner!  Of course there would be some adjustments to make to the formula :)

Aside from accidentally miscalculating the sugar amount in the icing, having to adjust by doubling all the other ingredients, and having to make an emergency run to the store for more butter, I really like this icing.  It isn't as sweet or rich as other icings.  It was easy to work with when I assembled, iced & decorated the cake.  And my husband loved it!

For those of you not crazy about cherry coke or cola in general, this cake does not taste like drinking a cherry coke.  Despite all my attempts to add the flavors of cherry and cola into each component of the cake, it is mostly the cherry flavor that shines the brightest.  And I have found that the leftover cake, straight from the refrigerator, has more of the flavor I was initially trying to find than when I first tasted the cake.

One of the biggest compliments, I think, that can be bestowed upon anyone in the food production industry is a clean plate.  My husband's plate was completely clean after we finished eating cake on my birthday.  The following day, he brought the cupcake version of this cake to his office.  He returned home that evening with a completely empty cupcake container.  Good signs, indeed!  Now, when do I begin brainstorming for next years cake?

Cherry Coke Cake
makes two 8" cake layers (or approximately 24 cupcakes)
(note: if you want to make this cake more than 2 layers, I suggest portioning the cake batter into multiple pans & adjusting the baking time.  I'm not sure these cake layers would torte very well...) 

8 oz Unsalted Butter, plus additional for preparing the pan
0.60 oz Cocoa Powder
12 oz Cherry Coke (1 can)
11.30 oz AP Flour, plus additional for preparing the pan
11 oz Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Fine Grain Sea Salt
2 eggs
8 fl oz Buttermilk
1 tsp Cola Syrup (optional)
1 tsp Grenadine
1.  In a heavy sauce pan, heat the butter, cocoa powder and cherry coke until the butter melts & the mixture simmers.  Set aside to cool.

2.  Prepare two 8" cake pans by buttering them (I like to use the leftover butter wrappers from step 1), lining the bottom with a circle of parchment, and flouring the pans.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

3.  In a large bowl, whisk together the AP flour, sugar, soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, combine the eggs and buttermilk.  Once the butter/cocoa/coke mixture cools, add the optional cola syrup & grenadine.

4.  In the dry ingredient bowl, make a well in the center of the ingredients.  Pour in the cherry coke mixture & whisk to combine.  Add the buttermilk/egg mixture & stir everything together until just incorporated.

5.  Evenly divide the batter between the two cake pans & bake for 35 minutes (or until a cake tester comes out clean).  Cool on a rack.

Cherry Coke Soaking Syrup 
12 oz Cherry Coke
Coke Syrup

1.  Pour the soda into a sauce pan, heat over medium high heat & allow it to reduce by half.  Don't forget about it or you'll have quite the mess!

2.  Cool completely. Add additional grenadine & coke syrup to taste.

Cherry Coke Icing 
adapted from the Tasty Kitchen

2.7 oz AP Flour
8 fl oz Milk
8 fl oz Cherry Coke
16 oz butter, softened but still cool
14 oz Granulated sugar (NOT confectioners)
4 oz Grenadine (plus more to taste)

1.  In a saucepan, whisk the flour together with the milk and cherry coke.  Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it thickens.  The mixture should resemble thick gravy.  Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the sugar and butter on high speed until the sugar dissolves and the mixture lightens in color and increases in volume.  This process does take a while, so have patience!

3.  Add the completely cooled milk/flour/coke mixture to the creamed butter.  Beat until it resembles whipped cream.  The mixture may look curdled, but keep beating!  Add the grenadine.

4.  Taste the icing & determine if it has enough cherry flavor for your liking.  If it doesn't, add additional grenadine.

5.  Reserve at room temperature until ready to assemble the cake.

Cake Assembly
Cherry Coke Cake
Cherry Coke Soaking Syrup
Cherry Coke Icing
No-Recipe Cherry Jam from David Lebovitz made with sweet cherries (or a good store-bought cherry jam, like this one)

1.  Place one of the cake layers on a cardboard cake round on a cake turntable.  Use a toothpick (or cake tester) to gently poke holes into the cake.  Soak the top surface with the cherry coke soaking syrup.

2.  Spoon cherry jam into the cake and with a small offset spatula, spread the jam out to roughly 1/2 " of the edge of the cake.  Place some of the icing into a pastry bag (no tip is necessary) & pipe a dam around the jam to ensure that the jam does not later leak into the icing as the sides are iced.

3.  Gently spread a thin layer of icing over the top of the jam.  Be careful not to spread the jam onto the edge icing!

4.  Top with the second cake layer.  Repeat the poking & soaking process from step 1.

5.  Ice the top and sides of the cake, crumb coating, if you want.  Refrigerate if the icing starts to become soft.

6.  Transfer the cake to the serving pedestal. Using a pastry bag with a small round tip, pipe a dot boarder around the base of the cake.  Arrange 12 fresh cherries (with stems) over the surface of the cake.

7.  Serve the cake as close to room temperature as possible.  Leftover cake may be kept covered at room temperature for up to 24 hours, provided the room temperature isn't too warm!  

Cupcake Assembly
1.  Use a knife to cut out the center of the cupcakes.

2.  Brush the top & interior with the soaking syrup.

3.  Spoon cherry preserves into the center.

4.  Place the icing into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip & pipe a rosette of icing on the cupcake.  (I started in the center and ended on the outer edge.

5.  Garnish with a fresh cherry.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Confetti Cake Waffles with Ice Cream

4 things that I think are quite wonderful.......

1.  Waffles!  One of my favorite breakfast foods, and an item I use to only eat if I ordered it in a restaurant.  But now, we have a waffle iron!  Hurray for waffles at home!

2.  Confetti cake! Ah, there's nothing quite like the taste of confetti/funfetti cake (or cake batter) to remind me of childhood birthdays & licking the beaters clean of cake batter after Mom mixed the cake. Or, I've made this formula from scratch, including making the rainbow pieces (though, I'm not as picky when it comes to confetti vs rainbow chip vs funfetti).

3.  Ice Cream! Homemade... Store Bought....  French style, American Style, Gelato... I'm not sure I've ever turned down ice cream, except perhaps that terrible banana puddin' ice cream I mentioned in this post.

4.  Birthdays!  I love birthdays. It's always an excuse for cake (or special birthday dessert, if you're not into cake).

Who wouldn't love starting their birthday (or someone else's birthday) with Confetti Cake Waffles a la Mode for breakfast?  I certainly wouldn't mind!

 Ironically enough (or perhaps not), I'm starting out today-- which happens to be my birthday--just this way.  

And because cake waffles with ice cream, while wonderful, still don't make up for a traditional birthday cake, check back later this week for a peek at my actual birthday cake!

Confetti Cake Waffles
makes approximately 12 waffles, depending on size of your waffle iron 

3 eggs
1 cup Water
1/3 cup Vegetable Oil, plus additional for the waffle iron
1 box Confetti Cake Mix
Ice Cream

1.  Preheat waffle iron.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, water, and oil.  Add the confetti cake mix & stir to combine. Add additional sprinkles, if desired.

2.  Lightly grease the waffle iron with oil & portion waffle batter onto waffle iron.  Cook waffles until light golden. Note: I usually like crispy waffles, but these are better a little on the lighter and softer side.  

3.  Top with vanilla ice cream & additional sprinkles. Serve waffles with a strong cup of coffee (these are not for the faint of sweet tooth!)  Freeze any leftovers to eat frozen later or reheat :)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats

Brown Butter.  Those two magical words can drastically change the flavor profile of many things, both savory & sweet.  They kick things up a notch.

Heating butter past melting & liquifying until the milk solids themselves cook and caramelize, forming lovely brown bits in the bottom of the pan.  And the smell?  Fantastic!  Nutty!  Chances are that you have probably made brown butter before, even if it was an accident.

My first intentional experience with browned butter came during a Daring Bakers Challenge a couple years ago.  I don't even remember what the challenge was that particular month.... Due to my schedule, I didn't finish whatever we were challenged to make that month, but I did go so far as to make a browned butter cake.  From that point on, I have been hooked!

When I was teaching, I made it a goal to incorporate a few brown-butter-including formulas into  the curriculum.  I love to demonstrate the process of browning butter to a classroom of students who most likely hadn't before intentionally made brown butter.  I liked to see the amazement on their faces as the block of cold, pale butter (just butter, nothing else) turned to a golden melted state, and went beyond that stage to caramelize into something more akin to nuts or caramel in appearance & smell than to the simple butter with which we began.  Over my time teaching, more than once a student has asked if they should strain out the brown bits in the bottom of the pan.  No!  Absolutely not!  Color is flavor. And those brown bits are what makes brown butter so amazing.

Plain Rice Krispy Treats (or as I grew up calling them "Rice Crispy Bars") may not sound terribly exciting on their own, though I still adore them in their plain state.  I may even admit to liking the prepackaged ones you can find in the snack aisle of the grocery store, but shhhh!  It's a childhood thing, having packed lunches for 13 years of my life, sort of thing :)  

What happens if you take the plain butter from the original recipe & replace it with browned butter instead?  Magic happens!  Completely dresses up the 'ole Rice Krispy Treat and makes the flavor a little more "grown up" too.

makes 1 8x8 pan or about 16 squares

1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter
10 oz bag of mini marshmallows
5.6 oz Crispy Rice Cereal

1.  Prepare an 8x8 pan by spraying it liberally with pan spray.  Measure out all ingredients.

2.  In a tall, heavy duty pot, begin to melt the butter for the browning process.  During this process the butter may spit, so having a taller pan will help reduce the risk of burning yourself.  Once the butter has melted, it will become a bit bubbly or foamy.  Keep cooking the butter, gently swirling the pan occasionally.  The bubbles will begin to dissipate and brown specs will begin to form in the bottom of the pan.  Use your ears during this process, as the sound changes during each stage.  Allow the milk solids to come to a rich brown color (and give off their nutty fragrance), then immediately remove from the heat.

3.  Off the heat, stir in the marshmallows.  Stir with a heat tempered spatula until they have melted.  If they are not able to completely melt off the heat, return the pan to low heat and stir until everything is melted.  Remove from heat again.

4.  Stir in the cereal & keep gently mixing until each piece is completely covered with brown butter marshmallow goo.  Work quickly so that the mixture does not become too cold in the pot.

5.  Transfer the mixture into the prepared pan and press to slightly compact.  Spray your spatula with additional pan spray if it begins to stick to the surface.  Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Additional resources on brown butter: here and here

Saturday, July 14, 2012

German Chocolate Cake Macarons

I feel very blessed to have two grandmas (and a grandpa too!).  So many people I know never really knew their grandparents, nor spent much time with them.  I am really fortunate to not just have my grandparents, but to know them & have spent lots of time with them, though currently the time spent together is greatly reduced due to distance between where we live.

It was one of my grandma's birthday this past week. Every time I remember celebrating Grandma's birthday, I remember German Chocolate Cake.  I use to help my mom make the cake, but once I was old enough (and once the baking bug truly took hold), I often was allowed to make the cake all by myself.  I even made an ENORMOUS multiple layer  full-sheet-pan-sized German Chocolate Cake for Grandma's 80th birthday.  What an undertaking that was!

The German Chocolate Cake recipe I use to use (taken right from the box of Bakers' Sweet German Chocolate) is a more labor intensive cake (or as I like to think of it, a labor of love).  The cake alone takes many bowls and tools.  Then, the traditional coconut pecan icing takes more time (and dishes) while being cooked on the stove.

This weekend, My family is having a party for Grandma at my parents' house.  Lots of family & friends will be there to celebrate.  I, however, will be celebrating from afar. I wanted to make something to commemorate the occasion. Something that would remind me specifically of Grandma's Birthdays.  

I didn't want to specifically make a traditional German Chocolate Cake.  While brainstorming what to make, I looked at the ingredients I had on hand, saw my container of almond flour in the freezer & immediately thought of macarons! I can't believe I have not done more macaron posts, because they are one of my most favorite pastry items to make.  And it had been way, way too long since I had made any.  I settled on chocolate macarons with the same coconut pecan filling used in traditional German Chocolate Cake.

These macarons are similar, but different to the inspiration cake. They're not quite as rich (though still every bit as sweet).  You still get to taste the cocoa and caramel-y/coconut-y/pecan-y flavor of the filling.  They're probably not something my Grandma would make, though she would probably eat them :)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the macaron shells took 
2 egg whites, and the filling took the 2 yolks.  
I love it when things work out that way :)  

Yields about 16 sandwiched macarons, depending on size.

81 g Almond Flour (not meal) 
138 g Confectioners' Sugar
12 g Cocoa Powder (I ALWAYS use Hershey's Special Dark cocoa for Macarons because it is a mix of natural & dutch process cocoa) 
Pinch Sea Salt
64 g (approximately 2) Egg Whites, room temp
21 g Granulated Sugar
3 g Meringue Powder

1.  Prepare a piping bag fitted with a round tip (like an #804).  Line 1 half sheet pan with parchment or a silpat.  If using parchment, dry guide circles, if you like.

2.  Combine the Almond flour, Confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, and sea salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Blitz to combine the mixture & make the particles smaller.  Sift the mixture into a bowl.

3.  In a very clean stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed just until frothy.  In a separate small bowl, combine the granulated sugar & meringue powder. The grains of sugar will help ensure the meringue powder does not get clumpy.

4.  Once the whites are frothy, reduce the speed of the mixer and sprinkle in the sugar/meringue powder mixture.  Turn the speed back up to high & beat until the meringue forms stiff peaks.

5.  Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the meringue.  Work quickly & fold only until the mixture forms a shiny mass & will hold ribbons.  Remember you can always fold more, but you can't take back folds!

6.  Test pipe a little of the mixture onto your prepared pan.  If the mixture, once piped, holds a peak (like a hershey's kiss) that won't dissipate when you bang the sheet pan on your counter, fold the macaron batter a little bit more before piping again.  When the mixture reaches the proper consistency, pipe all of the shells.

7.  Allow the macarons to sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes to develop a skin on top.  This drying process greatly depends on the humidity of the day.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F.

8.  Once the macarons have their skin, slide the pan into the oven, and immediately reduce the temperature to 300 F.  Bake the macarons for 9 minutes, then rotate the pan & bake for an additional 9 to 12 minutes, or until the macarons can be nearly peeled off the pan.  The residual pan heat once the macarons are removed from the oven will finish the baking process.

9.  Allow the macarons to cool completely before filling & refrigerating.

(adapted from Leite's Culinaria)
This will make more filling than you need for the macarons, but you really can't reduce the filling any further (or it become a little difficult to cook on the stove).  

2 egg yolks
5 oz can of Evaporated Milk
3.5 oz Granulated Sugar
0.9 oz Brown Sugar
1.5 oz unsalted Butter
Pinch of Sea Salt
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
3.5 oz Sweetened Coconut
2.75 oz Pecans, chopped (I prefer to chop the pecans myself rather than purchase chopped nuts, because I feel they have better flavor)

1.  If you haven't already, chop your pecans into very small pieces.  Combine the pecans and coconut in a medium size bowl.

2.  In a stainless steel saucepan, whisk together the yolks and evaporated milk.  Add the sugars, butter, and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture boils & thickens.  This process will take approximately 3 minutes (for a batch this small).

3. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the vanilla.  Pour the thickened mixture over the coconut & pecans.  Stir to combine.

4.  Chill the mixture, either over an ice bath or in the refrigerator, until it cools and thickens a little further.

5.  Place the mixture into a piping bag (no tip, just in case the filling clogs) & pipe the filling onto the bottom of a macaron.  Top with a second macaron & refrigerate a few hours before serving.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cherry Biscoff Ice Cream

I have nothing against store bought ice cream.  During the summers of my childhood spent partially at my grandparents lake cabin in Minnesota, I have many fond memories of my grandparents asking "Who wants to go to the store & get some ice cream?" 

We would travel on Highway 113 to the little, little store & see what kind of ice cream they still had.  The store was a popular destination for gas & minor groceries for our lake & the surrounding area, and they often ran out of "important" things (like ice cream).  We would agree on one flavor and then race back home to devour the entire container.  See, at the time, our refrigerator did not have a freezer.  So, you either ate all the ice cream at one time? Or, you let it melt into soup & eventually threw it away.  We usually opted to eat the entire container :)

But recently, I did have an unfortunate experience with store-bought ice cream.  What I really wanted was ice cream sandwiches, but alas, the store was sold out.  So I was trying to find a suitable replacement while gazing through the enormous amount of flavors in the freezer case.  I debated between a couple of flavors, but in the end Banana Puddin' flavor won.

Bad, bad choice on my part.  The banana flavored ice cream tasted so artificial and reminiscent of banana runts candy (not something I like).  And the supposed vanilla cookie pieces tasted as though they were lacking in sugar & heavy handed in the salt.  Such a bummer!

I am remedying this unfortunate store-bought ice cream situation by making some of my own instead.  Since we're still in the midst of unpacking, not all of my kitchen tools and equipment have been sorted out or have a specific home yet. While browsing this month's Martha Stewart Living Magazine, I saw an advertisement for a cream cheese ice cream recipe that did not require an ice cream maker.  Yes, I usually like to make a custard-style (otherwise known as "French-style") ice cream, if I'm going to be making ice cream at all, but this recipe for American-style ice cream piqued my interest. Especially since it didn't require an ice cream machine!

The original ice cream called for strawberries & graham crackers, but I decided to try cherries & biscoff cookies, two of my husband's favorite things, instead.

This ice cream recipe does require a bit of forethought...  Some ingredients are combined, then frozen for 4 hours, then the rest of the ingredients are added & the mixture freezes again.  But I can assure you that this ice cream is worth the wait!  We were even sneaking tastes before it froze completely!

Cherry Biscoff Ice Cream
adapted from Philadelphia

8 oz Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened (1 package)
14 oz Sweetened Condensed Milk (1 can)
1/3 cup Whipping Cream
1 tsp Almond Extract
1 1/2 cups Cherries, pitted & halved
12 Biscoff cookies, coarsely chopped

1.  Blend the cream cheese, milk, cream & almond extract together until well combined.  Freeze for 4 hours or until almost solid.

2.  Beat the cream cheese mixture until creamy.

3.  Blend the cherries in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Add the cherry mixture to the cheese mixture and mix well.  Fold in the chopped Biscoff cookies.  Freeze 8 hours or until firm.

4.  15 minutes prior to service, remove the ice cream & let stand at room temp.  Scoop and serve.