Friday, December 28, 2012

Polish Holiday Sweet Bread


My grandmother was a talented baker. Making treats for everybody, especially for Christmas, Easter and weddings, was her vocation. She made this bread for both Christmas and Easter. She was Polish, so this recipe sort of is too, although I've never found anything quite like it in a book or through any online search. 

A sandwich made with this bread, thick slices of holiday ham and nothing else is one of things I most look forward to eating. Of course, my grandmother didn't really follow a recipe when she made it. Starting with the version lovingly documented by my aunt, I've made the bread successfully in past years. Still, it was finicky stuff and the stress of worrying whether it would turn out made the cooking process overwhelming.

This year, I decided to get rid of the guess work and develop a precise version of the recipe that anybody could follow. Yes, you need some tools and lots of time, but it works! It also tastes just like my grandmother's. The closest thing I can compare it to is babka, but I believe this uses more eggs, and we would never fill it with chocolate. The filling is amazing by the way, but I love the bread plain as well, without the jelly roll-like swirl. As I mentioned, the sweet bread paired with salty smoked ham is out of this world, but I also like it lightly toasted with salted butter for breakfast.

I don't think I've ever made a blog post with so many step-by-step photos, but in this case, I think they are useful. The recipe itself is also long and very precise, but once you do it, it's not a big deal. Enjoy! 

First some essentials: An instant-read thermometer (with my green scale in the background); active dry yeast packets and candied cherries.

Activated yeast should look this foamy; checking the water temp helps. 

 After adding 7 cups of flour. Dough will still be sticky and won't pull away from sides of the bowl.

Transfer the dough to a well-oiled mixing bowl. 

After rising for 3 hours in a dry, chilly kitchen. 

 The filled dough just before rolling it up.

And we're done!

Polish Holiday Sweet Bread
Inserting an instant-read thermometer into the center of the loaves is essential to avoid over or under baking the bread. A kitchen scale lets you quickly and accurately measure the flour, so I highly, highly recommend it. If a scale is unavailable, measure the flour as follows: Fluff up the flour in its container, then lightly spoon into a 1-cup measuring cup, taking care not to shake the cup; level with a knife; repeat, fluffing the flour every time. This method will get you as close as possible to the correct weight of flour. Either way, measure all of the flour into a bowl before you start adding it to the dough.

This bread tends to stick to the pans (sugar will do that) no matter what, so here’s the ultimate fix: Buy some nonstick foil (Reynolds--it’s right by the regular foil; you will love this stuff!) and line the pans with it. Coat with cooking spray (or oil) for extra insurance.

My grandmother used melted Crisco for the filling, however, I can’t see any advantage to doing so. As a compromise, I use half Crisco and half butter. If you don’t have shortening in your pantry, feel free to use all butter. The candied cherries are the kind used in fruitcake and are easy to find around the holidays, or online; do not substitute maraschino or dried. For the very detailed bakers, the flour I prefer for this particular recipe is either Pillsbury or Gold Medal, both unbleached, all-purpose.
Update: I read a trick in this Cookie Madness post about how to prevent fillings from separating from the bread. I will try it by replacing the melted butter/Crisco with 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water.

Yield: 2 (9” x 5”) loaves
Total time: All day, or around 8 hours, mostly hands-off

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT

Nonstick foil
Pastry brush
Instant read thermometer
Scale

INGREDIENTS

For dough:
3/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 3 chunks
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 packets (4 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (910 grams)

For filling:
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons Crisco
1 cup (loosely packed, approx.) dark brown sugar
3/4 cup (approx.) candied/glazed cherries, quartered or chopped
3/4 cup (approx.) toasted, chopped pecans

For egg wash:
1 large egg
Pinch of salt

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat the milk and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir frequently (do not boil; adjust heat if necessary) until butter is melted. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and salt and stir frequently until dissolved. Cool slightly.

2. Fill a glass measuring cup or small bowl with 1/2 cup of hot, but not steaming, water. Use instant-read thermometer to make sure water temperature is 110F to 115F. Add yeast and 1 tsp sugar and stir gently. Set aside until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, thoroughly whisk the eggs. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup of the cooled milk mixture. Add another 1/2 cup in the same manner, then slowly whisk in the remainder of the milk mixture. Fit the dough hook onto the mixer. With the mixer off, add 2 cups of the flour and the yeast mixture. Mix on low to medium-low speed until just combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Do this two more times, until you have added 6 cups of the flour. Add 1/2 cup of the remaining flour and mix. Dough should have an elastic, slightly glossy appearance; it should feel moist and sticky to handle, but not wet; it will not pull away completely from the sides of the bowl or form a ball. Add remaining 1/2 cup flour if necessary to achieve this texture.

4. Coat a large mixing bowl with canola cooking spray or brush with a light coat of canola oil. With floured hands, transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Place dough in bowl, then flip the dough over so that both sides are coated with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and drape a kitchen towel over it. Let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 2 to 3 hours.

5. Line two 9” x 5” baking pans with NONSTICK foil, dull side up, and mist with cooking spray; set aside. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 1 minute. Divide into 2 pieces. Return one piece to the bowl and cover with the towel while you work with the other piece. On a floured surface, roll dough into an approximately 9” x 16” rectangle, with the shorter sides parallel to your body. Use a rolling pin as well as your hands and knuckles, picking up the dough and stretching it gently as needed. It is difficult to roll this dough evenly, and there is plenty of excess, so trim a chunk off of each short end and trim any thick edges and corners to form your rectangle. Ideally, each loaf should weigh about 1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces), so you can easily trim about 6 ounces of dough off of each loaf.

6. Microwave the butter and Crisco together in a small bowl until melted. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the dough with about 1/2 the butter/Crisco, leaving a 1” border on the short side closest to your body. Sprinkle with 1/2 the sugar and rub over the dough to coat evenly. Sprinkle with half the cherries and half the pecans (use more or less filling, depending on how sweet and chunky you want it to be).

7. Have a small bowl of water at hand. Beginning with the short end of the dough furthest away from your body, roll it up like a jelly roll. When you get to the end, dip your fingers in the water and lightly coat the edge of the dough to seal the roll. Transfer to one of the baking pans, seam side down. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Cover both pans with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise until noticeably bulkier and filling out the pans, 2 to 3 hours.

8. Preheat oven to 350F. In a small bowl, whisk the egg and salt. Lightly brush egg wash over the dough with a pastry brush. Bake loaves side by side in the center of the oven for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325F and continue baking until loaves are deep golden brown and internal temperature reaches 180F to 185F on an instant-read thermometer, 20 to 35 minutes more. If you are using nonstick or dark-colored baking pans, place the pans on a large rimmed baking sheet after the first 30 minutes to avoid over browning the bottoms. Cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Use the foil to lift the bread out of the pans and cool completely. Peel off foil when cool enough to handle. Slice when completely cool, at least 2 hours.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Bourbon Balls


I made bourbon balls for the first time, and they became an instant classic. So delicious, so easy, so boozy. Bourbon balls, or sometimes rum balls, are a Southern thing, but now they're MY thing because I'll be making them every Christmas.

So here's what you do: crush up vanilla wafers and toasted pecans in a food processor, add sugar and cocoa powder, and bind it all together with Karo syrup and bourbon. Then roll in powdered sugar. They're not very sweet, but they sure do taste like alcohol. One last thing: they keep best in the refrigerator, but we like eating them at room temperature because the bourbon-y flavor is all the more intense.

Do you make bourbon balls? What's your recipe? Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Bourbon Balls
Adapted from Joy of Baking.

Makes 36 to 44 depending on size

1 cup (100 grams) toasted pecans
2 cups (220 grams) Nilla wafer cookies
1/2 cup (55 grams) confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons (15 grams) Dutch (or regular) cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt or up to 1/2 teaspoon to taste
1/4 cup bourbon
3 to 4 tablespoons light Karo syrup
Confectioners sugar for coating

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, finely chop the pecans, scraping down bowl and taking care not to turn them into a paste. Transfer to a large bowl. Add Nilla wafers to processor and finely crush. Add to bowl with pecans. Add 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, cocoa powder and salt to bowl; stir to combine. Add bourbon and 2 tablespoons of the Karo syrup and stir until thoroughly combined.

Transfer mixture to the food processor (no need to clean between uses). Add 1 tablespoon of the Karo syrup and process until ingredients become very finely chopped and mixture becomes a soft, sticky mass (the mixture will not form a ball) that you can easily roll into balls between your palms without crumbling. Add the extra tablespoon of Karo syrup as needed.

Shape mixture into slightly smaller than 1" balls and roll in confectioners sugar to coat thoroughly. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket with Beer Barbecue Sauce (and Oven version)


Updated December 17, 2012! I just made this old favorite in the slow cooker and loved it, so I thought I should bump the recipe up on the blog. Below you can read my old post from 2011, or scroll down for my new preferred method, as well as the oven version.

This was my first brisket ever, and I loved it. I had always thought of this cut as a flabby, frumpy roast, but it's far from it. For starters, this is the meat that's most often the choice for Texas barbecue. It's popular with slow cooker fans too, but I wanted a simple, oven-braised dish. What I found was that this cut of meat is highly forgiving, very lean, and perfect for low and slow roasting.


There are many, many recipes for braised brisket. It seems that everyone has their own favorite touch or recipe that they consider the best. I was focused on making the meat tender and moist with a savory, slightly tangy red sauce. I equated brisket to pork butt (scroll down for recipe), which is amazing after several hours in the oven wrapped in a tight foil packet. Both are tough cuts of meat that need slow, moist cooking to become tender.

After reading a ton of recipes, I went with what was probably the simplest one: you smother the roast with onions and celery and braise it in beer and Heinz chili sauce. It is so easy. The recipe comes from fiction writer Stacey Ballis, who I interviewed a while back about her latest book, Good Enough to Eat. The book includes this recipe, as well as the one for her excellent banana-chocolate chip muffins.

I also discovered an essential (in my mind) key to the brisket-making process, which Stacey and many other recipe writers (including the people at Cook's Illustrated) agree with: Cook the brisket a day ahead. Since the cooking process is so easy and requires minimal hands-on time, this is very do able. Refrigerating the brisket in its roasting pan overnight allows it to keep absorbing flavor from the cooking liquid, AND it allows the fat to harden, so you can easily skim it off. You want to remove all that fat because you're going to turn those juices into a wonderful sauce (don't worry, it's simple). Furthermore, it's very easy to trim the fat from a chilled brisket, and you'll be able to slice it without the meat falling apart, like it would when hot. Finally, you'll also get the opportunity to smother the sliced meat in your wonderful sauce and reheat it in the oven, so that every bit of meat is covered in goodness.

It's a great thing to cook, and I love that the recipe isn't complicated in the least. So, how do YOU cook your brisket? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.


Slow Cooker Brisket with Beer Barbecue Sauce
Very Loosely adapted from Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis

Look for “flat cut” or “first cut” brisket; it’s the leanest part of the brisket, and seems to be what is predominantly sold at markets. I like a mild-tasting lager for this recipe (I used PBR). If you only have 12 oz. beers that’s fine; just use an extra 1/2 cup of water.

Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS:

4 1/2 pounds (approximate) beef brisket, trimmed of as much visible fat as you want
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste or chili powder
Dried oregano
1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
12 ounces bottle Heinz chili sauce
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
16 ounces lager beer
2 medium onions, sliced thick
4 celery ribs, peeled and chopped

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Cut the brisket into 3 pieces, cutting against the grain. Rub the meat all over with salt, pepper, cayenne  or chili power and oregano. Don’t over do it with the salt, as the chili sauce will bring some salt to the mix.

2. Heat half the oil in a Dutch oven or large, heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Add one or two pieces of the brisket, whatever can comfortably fit without crowding, and sear until both sides are browned. Transfer to slow cooker and repeat with remaining brisket, adding more oil as necessary (meat does not need to sit in slow cooker in a single layer). Add beer to Dutch oven and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the pot. Add to slow cooker.

3. Add chili sauce and garlic to slow cooker. Fill the jar of chili sauce about halfway with hot tap water, close the bottle and shake vigorously to loosen remaining sauce; add to slow cooker (liquid may not completely cover the meat, but it should cover the highest piece about two-thirds of the way; if not, add more water). Place onions and celery over the meat. Cook on HIGH for 4 hours, or until meat is slightly tender when pierced with a fork, but not falling apart. After 2 hours, reverse positions of the pieces of brisket, so that any piece on top is now on the bottom.

4. Transfer meat to a cutting board and cool. Slice against the grain and transfer to a 2 1/2 to 3-quart baking dish. With a slotting spoon, scoop out about half the onions and spread over the meat. Pour the cooking liquid through a strainer into a large bowl, reserving solids. If making at least 6 hours ahead of time, cover loosely and refrigerate until fat separates and forms a solid layer. Skim it off with a large spoon. If you don’t have time to wait, use a fat separator or place the bowl in a bigger bowl or roasting pan filled with ice water. Stir occasionally until very cold, then place bowl into freezer until fat solidifies.

5. Transfer cooking liquid to a medium saucepan and add reserved solids (onions, garlic and celery). Puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened to desired consistency (I aim for a thick gravy). Pour as much as you want over the meat and onions in the baking dish and reserve the leftovers for serving or another use. May be done up to this point one day ahead.

5. To reheat and serve: Preheat oven to 250 F if meat and sauce are at room temperature or hot. If meat and sauce are cold, preheat oven to 300 F. Cover baking dish with foil and bake until heated through, 30 to 45 minutes. Serve right away or lower oven temperature to 200 F for up to 30 minutes.


Oven-Baked Beef Brisket
Adapted from Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis, and buoyed by lots of recipe research.

Requires overnight refrigeration; Serves 8 to 10

This recipe calls for what is technically a half brisket. It should weigh in between 4 and 5 pounds (mine was 4.25). If you only have 12 oz. bottles of beer, that's fine; I had pint cans in the fridge, so that's what I used. Heinz brand chili sauce isn't required, but I figure it's the classic choice. I served this with braised greens and caramelized onions and whole wheat beer bread (recipe coming soon!).

4 1/2 lb. beef brisket, untrimmed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper
Dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
2 onions, sliced
4 celery ribs, chopped
12 oz. bottle Heinz chili sauce
16 oz. beer (lager is a good choice; nothing too bitter)
1 to 2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar

Day One: Preheat oven to 350 F. To a large roasting pan, add enough water to equal a depth just under half an inch. Rub brisket with salt, pepper, cayenne and oregano according to your taste. Although this thick piece of meat requires a good salting, don't go crazy, as the chili sauce will contribute a lot of salt to the dish. Rub some of the smashed garlic over brisket, place in roasting pan fat side up, and tuck garlic cloves around and under the meat. Cover brisket with sliced onions and celery and pour chili sauce on top. Bake, uncovered in the center of the oven for 90 minutes.

Reduce oven temp to 300 F. Take roasting pan out of oven, and add the beer and 1 Tbs of the vinegar. Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil. Return to oven and cook until the meat is very tender, 3 to 4 hours (mine was done in 3.5 hours). Brisket is done when you can stick a fork in the center and pull it back out feeling no (or very little) resistance. Cool partially covered at room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day Two: Preheat oven to 300 F. Lift brisket out of pan and place on cutting board. Skim the hardened fat off the top of the cooking liquid in the pan. Pick all the veggies off the top of the brisket and add to pan. Transfer the contents of the pan (all the cooking liquid and vegetables) to a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat the sauce, stirring often, until it loosens up and is warmed through (do not boil). Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. At this point, you may want to add 1/4 cup to 1 cup water to thin the sauce to your desired consistency and ease blending. Taste and add additional vinegar if desired.

Trim all visible fat from the brisket and slice against the grain. Transfer meat to 9 x 13-inch (or similar) baking dish. Pour sauce over meat. Cover with foil and bake until meat is heated through, 30 to 45 minutes. Serve immediately.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cowboy Cookies from The Daily Cookie


One of my favorite bloggers of all time just wrote a cookbook, and it's really great. Anna of Cookie Madness has been posting recipes of not only cookies but tons of other desserts on a near daily basis for years. I consider her a baking authority and definitely a cookie authority.

I was really excited to get her book, The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life. Once I delved into it, I couldn't stop blabbing about how impressed I was. I've got to be honest: My eyes pass over a lot of cookbooks every year, and it is rare that one shows me much of anything that I haven't already seen a million times. But The Daily Cookie is packed with cool stuff that actually feels new and original!


The first recipe I tried was the Cowboy Cookies. It was one of those days when I was determined not to make a trip to the supermarket and use up ingredients I had in the house. I was tempted to try the hazelnut mocha cookies, the Easy Cafe au Lait Brownies or the No-Bake Peanut Butter Bites, but Anna mentioned that the Cowboy Cookies were one of her favorites, so I went with it.

These are meant to be big, Texas-sized cookies, but I'm lame and made them half the recommended size. They were still large, and I don't think anything was lost due to the tweak. My husband's comment was that the buttery, crisp edges tasted almost fried. The cookies are not greasy; I assure you he meant that as a high compliment. The centers are chewy, and it's just an all-around great recipe. And I have to warn those of you who aren't scared of raw cookie dough:* this one's utterly addictive.

One last thing about the book, it's really fun to read! Anna found an event from history or holiday of some sort (my birthday is "national hermit day") and tied that day's recipe to the event. Tons of research went into the book, and you'll learn a lot of cool facts. There's also a color photo of every single treat. Love it! It's now Christmas cookie baking time, so if you get one new book this year for inspiration, it needs to be this one!

*This blog does not recommend eating raw cookie dough, but what you do in private is you own business.

Cowboy Cookies
Adapted from The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life by Anna Ginsberg

Makes 24 large or 48 medium cookies

2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup toasted and chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed sweetened flaked coconut
1 2/3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F and place a rack in the center. Have ready 2 ungreased baking sheets (I used insulated nonstick baking sheets, but any kind should work).

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with handheld electric mixer), beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add both sugars and beat until very light and creamy, about 2 minutes.   Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Continuing on the lowest speed, gradually add flour mixture, then add the oats. Stir in pecans, coconut and chocolate chips.

For large cookies scoop scant 1/4-cup-sized balls of dough and place on cookie sheets 3 inches apart. Press dough down to make 1/2-inch thick rounds. Bake one sheet at a time until edges are lightly browned and centers are just set, 12 to 14 minutes. For medium cookies, scoop about 2 level tablespoons dough and roll into balls. Place on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and chill 15 minutes (this keeps the smaller cookies from spreading too much). Press dough to form 1/2-inch thick rounds and bake one sheet at a time (keep 2nd sheet in refrigerator) for 11 to 12 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack and cool completely.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sweet Potato Biscuits


This is a really good and EASY recipe for sweet potato biscuits. Even better if you have some leftover sweet potatoes handy. You can use any kind of sweet potatoes--I roasted some with ancho chile powder for a side dish, making extra so I'd have enough for this recipe. If you have Thanksgiving leftovers, whether mashed or roasted, sweet or savory, they should work fine.

What makes this recipe so easy is that it calls for melted butter. Typical biscuit technique, on the other hand, requires you to work very cold chunks of butter into the dry ingredients--a bit more work in my book. Also, you also don't need any buttermilk or cream (things I don't always have on hand), just a little regular milk.

The recipe comes from Serious Eats, and the only change I'd recommend is reducing the amount of sugar (this is reflected in my version below). If your potatoes are already sweetened, don't use any sugar at all.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Adapted from Serious Eats
Eliminate the sugar completely if your potatoes are already sweetened. To make these biscuits a savory accompaniment for soup or baked ham, I'd use 1 tablespoon of sugar. If you want them sweet, use 3 tablespoons.

Makes 7 (2 1/2-inch) biscuits

1 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes (use roasted, baked, boiled, whatever)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
1 to 3 tablespoons sugar (see recipe headnote)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine sweet potatoes and butter. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add sweet potato mixture to flour mixture and stir until combined. Add milk and stir gently until a thick dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat into a thick disk. Roll or pat dough into a 3/4-inch thick circle and stamp out biscuits with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Re-roll dough scraps and stamp more biscuits until you've used all the dough. Bake until biscuits are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minute. Transfer to a rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.




Friday, November 16, 2012

Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream (The Best!) & Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake from Cook's Illustrated


This is the birthday cake I made for myself a few weeks ago. It is a simple yellow cake made with buttermilk, but the best part was the fluffy chocolate frosting. It's crazy good. I'm calling it the best, because it's the best for me. There are plenty of different types of chocolate frosting, and different ways to make it, but this is my favorite. It's light, fluffy and smooth in texture with deep chocolate flavor. It's incredibly easy to work with too.

To arrive at this dreamy version, I cobbled together two recipes from a blog I really enjoy, Sweetapolita. She also loves fluffy, whipped-to-the-heavens frosting. This is a very easy American buttercream, but what makes the flavor is top-notch chocolate that's melted and beat into the butter and powdered sugar base. I wrote all about what I used in the recipe headnote, but you can make the same frosting with different chocolates (milk, white), depending on what you want.

UPDATE NOV. 12, 2014:  I found an even better yellow cake! It's from the wizards at Cook's Illustrated and appeared in their magazine in 2008. It's meant to have the flavor and texture of a boxed cake without the weird, chemical twang. I absolutely love it, and I've included the recipe below with a few tiny tweaks of my own. The image above the cake recipe is of the Cook's Illustrated cake, frosted with the Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream.

The cake itself was great. It is from the book Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne, but I got the recipe from Cookie Madness, where it was used to make terrific cupcakes. It makes a 3-layer 8-inch cake; I have 9-inch pans, so I made two 9-inch layers and 9 cupcakes (filled 2/3 full). It baked up beautifully, with a fine, tender crumb. I think I would double the vanilla for a little extra oomph if I made it again. But, it's a great cake that keeps well for a few days in the refrigerator, and it's a very straightforward recipe.

Do you have a favorite homemade frosting? Tell me in the comments!


Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream
Adapted from Whipped Vanilla Frosting and Nutella Cloud Frosting by Sweetapolita. Makes more than enough to frost a 2-layer, 9-inch cake.

For the chocolate, I used a mixture of 3 different types I had on hand: Callebaut Dark Callets 53.8%, Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips 63%, and Ghirardhelli bittersweet chips 60%. I recommend keeping the chocolate in the 53 to 63% range if you want this exact version, but it would work with any kind of chocolate you like, including white.

I used a little more chocolate than the original recipe called for in my version below, to account for the chocolate that inevitably ends up on the spoon, on the spatula, on the bowl you use to melt it--so don't worry if you get chocolate all over the place. The melted chocolate does NOT need to be completely, totally at cool room temp. If it gets too cool, it will start to solidify; do not put it in the refrigerator, you'll have condensation, and it will seize.

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), at room temperature
2 1/4 cups (285 grams) confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark chocolate chips or chopped bars (see recipe headnote), melted and cooled slightly
1 to 2 tablespoons whole or 2% milk, IF NEEDED

Add butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium ("4" on a Kitchen Aid mixer) for 6 minutes, or until very pale, creamy and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and beat on medium for 6 minutes more. Add melted chocolate and beat on medium until smooth, light and very fluffy, 2 to 5 minutes. If during this final mixing, frosting seems too thick, slowly add milk, as needed (I didn't need it). Start frosting your cake right away--it spreads like a dream.


Cooks Illustrated Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake
I don't grease and flour the pans or use parchment. I have nonstick cake pans that I spray with Pam Baking Spray. The spray has flour in it, and it works. I love it! I increased the amount of vanilla extract (and I usually use double-strength extract) and added some almond extract too.
BAKING NOTE: The first time I made this cake the center did not appear set after 22 minutes. I believe that I over beat the egg whites and did not fully incorporate them into the mixture. Therefore, they separated during baking and formed a “wet” area in the center of the cakes, which firmed up when the separated moisture evaporated. I can't explain this in perfect scientific terms, but I think this issue led me to over bake the cakes by a few minutes. I've included instructions below to help avoid this problem.

Makes two 9-inch round cakes

2½ cups (10 ounces) cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon table salt
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) granulated sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract (optional)
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, at room temperature

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and knock out the excess (or skip this and coat pans with baking spray; see head note). Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar together in a large bowl. In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, almond extract and yolks.

2. In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at high speed (8 on a KitchenAid) until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should just hold a peak but mixture should appear moist, not stiff). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3. Add the flour mixture to the now-empty mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. With the mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape the whisk and sides of the bowl. Return the mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.

4. Using rubber spatula, stir ⅓ of the whites into the batter to lighten, then add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain (mix gently, but be sure the whites are fully incorporated). Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Lightly tap the pans against the counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

5. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs are okay, 20-24 minutes (Sides of cake will not pull away from the pan until it begins to cool so cake make not LOOK done, but it is; when you use a light-colored baking pan, the sides and edges will not turn golden; 24 minutes at the most). Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the cakes from the sides of the pan with a small knife, then invert onto a greased wire rack and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes again and cool completely on rack, about 1½ hours.




Thursday, November 08, 2012

French Onion Tart


A couple of weeks ago, we wanted to have really nice champagne brunch at home, so I made this tart. It's not overly decadent, so it was a great accompaniment to bacon and eggs. It's time-consuming, but some or most of the work can be done ahead of time.

Let me just tell you, it is divine. I want to make it again right now (but then I would be so boring!). The onions alone will blow your mind if you've never slowly caramelized a whole lot of onions the proper way. I only wish I invented this recipe, but alas, it's from Food52 (of course I made some tiny tweaks, but the original version was a wonderfully written recipe). While awesome for brunch, I ate the leftovers for dinner with soup. Eat it with anything you want at any time of day.


French Onion Tart
Adapted from Jennifer Perillo, via Food52.
This tart takes time, but it's not difficult, and the results are worth it. I will always make the dough the day before, so that's how I wrote the recipe. You can, however, do it all in one go. On the other hand, the onions may be made one day ahead as well, as far as step 3. Cover and refrigerate, and bring them to room temperature before continuing with the recipe so the tart filling isn't cold going into the oven. Also, be sure your butter is frozen, so it's easily grated. This is a great way to evenly distribute butter in pastry dough, rather than cutting it into chunks.

For the crust:
3/4 cups (110 g) whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp salt
few dashes cayenne pepper or 1/2 tsp paprika
2 ounces Swiss cheese, grated (1/2 cup tightly packed)
4 tablespoons frozen unsalted butter, grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 to 3 tablespoons cold seltzer or water
all-purpose flour, for rolling

For the filling:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 ounces Swiss cheese, grated (1/2 cup tightly packed)

1. To make the crust, add flour, salt and cayenne or paprika to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 2 or 3 times to combine. Add cheese and butter and pulse a few times until it forms a sandy-looking mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of the seltzer or water and pulse until dough starts to come together into a ball. If dough is still crumbly, add more seltzer, 1 teaspoon at a time, until dough just comes together. Turn out onto a work surface and pat into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days. If chilling longer than 30 minutes, let dough soften slightly at room temperature, to  make rolling easier (don't bring all the way up to room temp--it should be cool but pliable for rolling).

2. To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot on medium high. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Cover pot, reduce heat to lowest setting and cook until onions have cooked down and released their liquid, about 20 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 400 F. Remove lid from the pot and raise heat to medium. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste (keep in mind, you'll be adding cheese, which is salty). Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and very tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Stir in vinegar and transfer to a large bowl.

4. On a piece of parchment paper, roll dough into a 12-inch circle, dusting dough very lightly with all-purpose flour to prevent rolling pin from sticking. Fit into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Fold down sides of dough leaving a 1-inch high crust.

5. To finish the filling, add egg and cheese to onions and stir to combine. Add to tart crust, spreading filling to the edges with a rubber spatula. Bake until slightly puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack and serve.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pumpkin Kiss-Stuffed Molasses Cookies




This is a Pumpkin Spice Hershey's Kiss wrapped in a soft, spiced molasses cookie. It is awesome! I bought a bag of the pumpkin kisses at Target and started thinking about what I could make with them. I had a peanut butter blossom type cookie in mind, then a flash of inspiration hit. The pumpkin kiss is good, but really sweet. Perfect with the spiciness of a molasses cookie. I searched online for a version of what I had in mind, but came up with nothing. So I may have invented this, which is fun. 

Of course, there are recipes for cookies filled with Hershey's kisses, but not this particular combo. I have a great homemade molasses cookie recipe, but all that work PLUS wrapping the dough around kisses sounded awfully time consuming. So, for the very first time, I tried a store-bough cookie mix. It turned out great. Based on some internet research, I decided to add a little extra flour to keep the cookies from spreading too much. Even still, they must be very cold when they go into the oven. And as a good molasses cookie should, these stay soft (provided you don't over bake them) for up to a week, and they freeze perfectly. 

Pumpkin Kiss-Stuffed Molasses Cookies

Makes about 30 cookies

1 bag Betty Crocker molasses cookie 
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 large egg
About 30 Pumpkin Spice Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped
Turbinado or other coarse sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cookie mix and flour on low speed until combined. Add butter and egg and beat on medium speed until combined to form a thick dough. Wrap slightly rounded tablespoon-sized scoops of dough around the kisses. Shape dough into a slight peak around the top of the kiss and slightly flatten the bottom so the dough sits upright. Transfer to a zip top bag or any type of container or dish and refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put a few tablespoons of turbinado sugar in a small bowl. Take half the dough out of the refrigerator. Press into sugar, getting it to stick as well as possible and place on baking sheet. Bake until dough is set around the edges, 8 to 9 minutes (perhaps under baking slightly). Cool on baking sheet 3 minutes, then transfer to a rack and cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pan Roasted Shisito Peppers


Shisitos are small Japanese peppers, and they seem to be everywhere lately. I've seen them on multiple restaurant appetizer menus, whether the place serves Asian fare or otherwise. The flesh is thinner than a jalepeno, and the heat level is mostly mild. According to wikipedia, about 1 in 10 are spicy. It's kind of fun to bite into the occasional fiery one.

I found them at the farmers' market this year, and have been buying them a lot. They make for an easy side dish. I've seen them grilled, but it's super simple to put them in a hot, heavy skillet and cook them until they brown and soften. You can flavor them any way you want, but they would be delicious with nothing but sea salt. Have you ever tried shisitos?


Pan-Roasted Shisito Peppers
You needn't be precise here. It's nice if you can fit all your peppers in a skillet in a single layer, but cook as many as you want and season at will.

1 tablespoon canola oil or cooking spray
Shisito peppers (see recipe head note)
Soy sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Sesame seeds

Heat oil on medium-high heat in a large heavy skillet (such as cast iron) or coat generously with cooking spray. Add  peppers and cook, tossing occasionally until skin softens and browns. Add a few splashes of soy sauce (enough to thinly coat the skillet) and cook, stirring, until nearly evaporated. Transfer to a serving bowl. Add sesame oil and sesame  seeds and stir to combine.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Chewy White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies



Two cookie posts in a row! Have I totally given up on veggies and devolved into a mouth-foaming, crazy-eyed sugar fiend? Rest assured, that was not my fate. I love making cookies (or bars) for my husband to take when he travels for work. So portable. So delicious.

These are the ultimate version of this popular cookie (for me anyway!). I got the recipe straight off Serious Eats, a food site that offers up tons of original recipes every week for things I always seem to want to eat right this minute (by the way, I have no relationship with Serious Eats...I just like it). The writer of this recipe promised a soft-in-the-center, chewy-on-the-caramelized-golden-edges kind of cookie, and she definitely delivered. 


I love these. I forgot how good macadamia nuts are! A little pricey, but worth it. If you loved the Mrs. Field's or Otis Spunkmeyer version of this cookie back in the day. Make these! So much better. I wrote the recipe in my own words with the tiny minor changes I made, but check out the Cookie Monster column on Serious Eats for the original and more great recipes. PS, use really good chocolate (more on that below)!

Chewy White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
Adapted from Serious Eats
As far as changes go, I toasted the nuts (at 350F for 7 to 10 minutes, shaking once or twice), doubled the vanilla, chilled the dough (it must be very cold or it will spread more than you want it to) and made smaller cookies. Make them any size you want and bake a little longer, keeping a close eye out for any sign of over baking. I used Green & Blacks white chocolate bar, which is very tasty with little vanilla bean flecks. The gram measurement for the flour is based on Serious Eats' recipes which seem to use 5 oz flour per cup.

Yet another note: This is a really nice dough. I used some of it, minus the white chocolate and macadamia nuts to make some oatmeal raisin cookies, and they were awesome. I didn't measure anything; I add rolled oats, raisins and cinnamon until the dough was thick. I chilled it and baked until the edges were golden. They barely spread (flatten slightly for a rounder cookie) and were soft in the center, which I prefer.

Makes 24 to 32 cookies, depending on size

1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (73 grams) light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 ounces white chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and roughly chopped

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed until combined. Add flour mixture and beat on lowest speed until just incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add chocolate and nuts and beat on lowest speed until just combined or still in by hand if using a handheld mixer. Cover dough and refrigerate until very cold, preferably 2 hours or more.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place rounded-tablespoon-sized balls on parchment about 2 inches apart. Immediately return unused dough to refrigerator or freezer. If it is not cold, cookies will spread too much. Bake in the center of the oven until edges and bottoms of cookies are just barely golden, 8 to 9 minutes. If ever there was a cookie to slightly under bake, this is it. Cool on baking sheet 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough. 


Monday, September 03, 2012

Soft Peanut Butter Cookies


This is a great version of classic peanut cookies (with the mandatory criss cross, of course). You get a hint of crunch from chunky peanut butter, but otherwise they are tender, moist and very peanut buttery.

I modified the recipe from Flour by Joanne Chang. Her recipe makes huge, bakery-size cookies, but with this halved version you'll get about 32 tablespoon-sized ones. I also tweaked the amount of peanut butter slightly to keep this in line with other versions of the classic PB cookie.

Another thing I did that was not in Joanne Chang's recipe was to roll the balls of cookie dough in granulated sugar. This didn't add much in the way of texture (although it would if you wanted to try rolling them in turbinado, or another coarse sugar), but it did add a sandy layer of sweetness. I would say that step is optional. I also like a peanut butter cookie loaded with mix-ins, but when I want the classic, I think I'll be sticking to this version.


Soft Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang
Classic PB cookies require classic peanut butter. In other words, don't use the "natural" type, even if it says something like "no stir." I like Jif chunky, but smooth peanut butter will work too.

Makes 32 cookies

1/2 cup (114 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar, plus additional 1/4 cup for rolling dough (optional)
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (192 grams) chunky peanut butter
1 1/3 cups (188 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes (you can also use a handheld electric mixer and beat for about 8 minutes), scraping down bowl as needed. Add egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes. Add peanut butter and beat on medium-low speed until thoroughly combined, 2 to 3 minutes.

With mixer on low speed, slowly add flour mixture and beat just until dry ingredients are incorporated. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F and add remaining 1/4 cup sugar to a small bowl, if using. Scoop dough in slightly rounded tablespoons, roll into a ball and roll in sugar. Place on ungreased nonstick baking sheet (I used insulated baking sheets) about 2 inches apart. Gently flatten cookies by pressing with a fork to make a criss cross pattern. Bake in the center of the oven, 1 sheet at a time, until cookies are very light golden brown at the edges, 8 to 9 minutes, rotating sheet about halfway through. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. To store for longer than 24 hours, wrap tightly and freeze; defrost at room temperature.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Slow Cooker Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry with Peas, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free


I've been doing a ton of crockpot cooking this week for a magazine piece I'm working on. It reminded me of this recipe (not part of the magazine feature), which I've had waiting in the wings for the past two months. I realized right now is a great time to post it because summer and slow cookers are more compatible than we tend to think.

Slow cookers do not heat up your kitchen or require you to stand over a hot stove or grill. Yet your house will smell amazing, and you'll have a great meal with minimal effort. This recipe, in fact, is super-low effort. You don't have to brown anything--just toss it all in the crockpot.

Of course, you could use a whole cut-up chicken (remove the skin first if you want things to be healthier) and brown it for great flavor. You'll also get a thicker, rich broth if you use bone-on chicken. I'd brown the onions too if I was going to the trouble.

Or just follow the recipe below, and get a tasty, healthy dish with practically no fuss. With the bright, fresh flavors of lime, ginger and curry powder, it's ever-so appropriate for the season.

Slow Cooker Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry with Peas, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free

Serves 6 to 8

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon plus 2 teaspoons ancho chile powder, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cans (14 ounces each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup water
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 white or yellow onion, halved and sliced
2 cups frozen peas, thawed and drained
Lime wedges

Add sweet potatoes to slow cooker and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the chile powder and about 1/8 teaspoon of the salt. Add chicken, garlic, curry powder, ginger, remaining ancho chile powder and remaining salt to a large bowl; stir well to coat chicken with seasoning. Add to slow cooker. Pour tomatoes and water over chicken and stir gently, just to evenly distribute the liquid so that you keep the sweet potatoes on the bottom of the slow cooker. Layer the red bell peppers over the chicken, then layer the onions over the peppers (do not stir). Cook on high until sweet potatoes are tender, 3 to 4 hours, or low for 6 to 7 hours.

Gently stir chicken mixture. Add peas and stir to combine. Taste to check seasoning. Cover, turn slow cooker to WARM and rest 5 to 10 minutes to heat peas. Serve with plenty of lime wedges.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Tempura-Fried Stuffed Zucchini Flowers


I live for this recipe when zucchini blossoms are available in the summertime. I've been buying them at the farmer's market, but my Whole Foods occasionally has them too.


Tempura-Fried Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
Batter adapted from Jamie Oliver's recipe on foodnetwork.com.
The carbonation of soda water makes the batter light like tempura. You can use plain water, but it won't be quite the same. Read through the whole recipe before you begin--they are a lot of variables at play, so let your senses help you!

8 or up to 12 zucchini flowers
1 cup ricotta cheese (lowfat or regular)
2 ounces goat or feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil and mint or other leafy herbs
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2-3 tablespoons (as needed) soda water

Vegetable oil for frying

1. Carefully slit open the zucchini flowers and cut out the stamen inside the flower (they taste bitter). Wash the flowers and rest on paper towels to dry.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and herbs. Season with black pepper. Fill flowers with ricotta mixture, adding only so much so that you can "close" the flowers, gently twisting the tips to keep the filling contained. You may have leftover ricotta.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and black pepper to taste. Add 3/4 cup of the soda and whisk until flour is moistened. You want the batter to achieve the consistency of pancake batter (not so thin that it runs right off your whisk). Add additional soda water, about 1/2 tablespoon at a time as needed. Let batter rest 5 minutes to allow flour to absorb liquid and whisk again briefly until most lumps are gone.

4. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil (use the greater amount if zucchini flowers are large) to a heavy skillet (not nonstick) and heat on medium high until oil sizzles when you add a drop of the batter. Dip 4 to 6 flowers in batter one at a time, coating thoroughly, and add to oil (do not crowd pan). Cook until bottoms sides are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn with tongs and repeat on opposite sides. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate and drain. Repeat with remaining flowers, adjusting heat between medium and medium high to prevent flowers from browning too quickly. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream


I love these cupcakes! They are made by folding sweet, delicious chopped strawberries into a classic yellow cake batter. The cake is from Martha Stewart, and I will tell you that her cupcake recipes work GREAT in my experience.

The frosting is the simplest buttercream flavored and tinted slightly with more of those fresh berries, pureed in a food processor. It's the best buttercream I've ever had, at least in recent memory. It's so lovely and light textured. Pipes like a dream (not that my piping skills are awe-inspiring, but I'm happy with the results).

I've been obsessed with mini strawberry cupcakes since having some at my cousin's wedding in March. They were made by an Atlanta bake shop, and they were stunners. I actually emailed the owner and asked for her recipe OR any tips she might offer, knowing it would be totally remarkable for a bakery owner to give her recipe to some random lady in an email.

The owner replied so kindly, and did in fact offer a few tips. These cupcakes are as good as the ones at the wedding, and for me personally, even better (it's hard to beat freshly homemade cupcakes). I didn't make them immediately after the wedding because I wanted to wait for in-season berries from the farmer's market. On the first farmer's market day of the summer, I was there when they opened and got these:


And then I made these:



Try them and let me know if you love them as much as I do!

Mini Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream
Cupcakes adapted from MarthaStewart.com
My Chicago Metallic mini muffin pan has rather short and wide molds that don't hold much batter.  I've seen pans that make slightly larger, taller minis, and I think that is what most commercial bakeries use. If your pan has the taller/larger molds, you'll get a few less cupcakes, and you may not want to fill them right to the top as I did--go about 3/4 full instead. I believe this recipe would yield about 15 regular-size cupcakes. I haven’t tried it, but I would estimate about 20 minutes baking time.

Makes 44 mini cupcakes

3.5 oz cake flour (3/4 cup)
3.5 oz all-purpose flour (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 ounces unsalted butter (8 tablespoons), at room temperature
175 grams granulated sugar (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
6.5 oz diced strawberries (1 1/4 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a mini cupcake pan with paper liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, 3 to 4 minutes. Add vanilla, then beat in eggs on medium speed, one at a time, until incorporated. With mixer on low speed, add the flour in 3 parts alternating with the milk in 2 parts, mixing until just incorporated. Add strawberries and mix until just combined.

Fill prepared pan with batter, filling cups nearly to the top (remaining batter may rest at room temperature while first batch bakes). Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, 14 to 15 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter.

Strawberry Buttercream
By Julie O’Hara
I used a large food processor to puree the berries. As noted below, you will not need all of it. If you have a smaller processor or blender and can puree a smaller quantity, 1/3 cup of berries should give you plenty of puree. I love my extracts, and the strawberry will pump up the flavor a bit, but don't worry about skipping it.

6 ounces unsalted butter (12 tablespoons), at room temperature
12 ounces confectioner’s sugar (about 3 cups), sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon strawberry extract (optional)
3/4 cup chopped strawberries, pureed and used AS NEEDED (I used about 3 tbs)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until very light and fluffy, 6 to 8 minutes. Add extract(s) and beat until incorporated. Add 2 tablespoons of the strawberry puree and beat until incorporated. Add more puree in 1/2 to 1 tablespoon increments until frosting is the desired color and texture (light, airy and easy to spread or pipe). Use to frost completely cooled cupcakes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grilled Corn and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad


This is a pretty, delicious and healthy side for cookouts and potlucks. Make it now because it's really the best with fresh, sweet summer corn. I grilled the corn to give it smoky flavor, but sometimes corn is so tasty this time of year that you don't need to cook it at all (I guess it's technically "raw," but that's not a problem in this case!). Just cut it off the cob and add it to anything.

I created this recipe for a blogger recipe contest sponsored by Hodgson Mill. They make whole grain flours (really good ones), and also pasta. The very first homemade southern cornbread I ever baked was from a recipe on one of their bags of cornmeal, so they have a special place in my little cooking heart. They sent me a few boxes of their whole wheat pastas to try and use for developing a nutritious summer salad to share with friends and family.

I almost never accept products from companies because I'm rarely offered things I would actually buy or eat. However, I love whole wheat pasta, and using it in a healthy, summery side is nothing out of the ordinary around here. I can happily say I liked the Hodgson Mill pasta equally as much as my usual favorite brand

All whole wheat pasta is not created equal, by the way. The cheap ones are usually awful, and I like when I can actually taste wheaty flavor. It's perfect with the veggie-packed pasta dishes I tend to make. 

Just don't forget to cook it al dente. If you're not sure your pasta is al dente is probably isn't. Always test at least 1 minute before the shortest cooking time. If it's cooked just long enough so you can chew it, it's right. Grab your colander and drain. 

Wow, that sounded bossy. Sorry, but I feel very strongly about pasta cookery.


So. if you're still reading and you think my grilled corn pasta salad looks fabulously tempting, you can enter to win $25 worth of whole wheat pasta from Hodgson Mill. They can only ship to residents of the continental U.S. so my apologies to anyone beyond those borders. Here's how:

1) "Like" my pasta recipe on the Hodgson Mill "Summer Pastabilities" Pinterest board. I'm not sure if you can do this without a Pinterest account. If you don't have one, don't worry, and read on...

2) Leave a comment on this post telling me what your favorite summer side is.

3) I have no way of knowing if you "liked" my recipe on Pinterest, so we're using the honor system. If you have no desire to join Pinterest, just leave your comment and we'll call it good.

4) Comment by July 6, and I'll let you know if you won!

Grilled Corn and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad
Cumin and tangy lime vinaigrette pair perfectly with smoky summer corn fresh from the grill. You can make this dish in advance through step two and refrigerate up to four hours. Bring to room temperature before serving, then toss with the lime vinaigrette, cilantro and feta as instructed in step three.

Serves 6 to 8
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

3 large fresh ears of corn, shucked
Cooking spray
1 (10-ounce) package Hodgson Mills whole wheat bowtie pasta
1/2 cup drained sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, sliced
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced into half moons
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Few dashes cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 3 limes)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 4 ounces)
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. Coat corn with cooking spray and grill over direct or high heat until lightly browned in spots, turning occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, hold one ear upright in a wide bowl or baking dish and carefully cut the kernels from the cob. Repeat with remaining ears of corn. Discard cobs and set kernels aside.

2. Cook bowties to al dente according to package directions. Add sun-dried tomatoes to a large bowl, then top with the onion. When pasta is done cooking, drain and add to bowl (the onions will lose their raw edge when topped with the hot pasta). Add corn, cumin and cayenne and stir to combine.

3. Add lime juice and canola oil to a small jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously until emulsified (if you don’t have a jar, whisk together in a small bowl). Add to bowtie mixture and stir to combine. Stir in cilantro and feta. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Slow Cooker Chicken-Chickpea Curry, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free


I've been loving my slow cooker lately. The ability to cook once and have more than 3 meals worth of food (for 2 people) is incredibly alluring. A lot of slow cooker recipes involve some extra steps like browning meat, sauteeing vegetables or heating up the liquid, but not this one. When I came up with this recipe, I was in the process of moving (I have a  huge kitchen now--cooking is so much more exercise!), so I wanted to pile everything in the slow cooker as is and pretty much forget it. You do have to remember to add the beans and coconut milk towards the end, but I am okay with that.

For all the simplicity of preparation, I couldn't get over how much I liked this dish. I ate it three nights in a row with complete happiness. One last thing: You're probably used to seeing slow cooker recipes in the fall and winter, but I'm making a case for them in the summer: you do minimal work, you won't heat up your kitchen, and you can create leftovers for subsequent meals. Unless you're grilling, what else could be better when you want to get out and enjoy the glorious weather?

Slow Cooker Chicken-Chickpea Curry, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free
Use the spice quantities as guidelines since brands and tastes vary, however, you will need quite a lot of seasoning to flavor this big batch. I happen to like the flavor of commercial curry powders (I've been using McCormick), and I recommend using one in this dish. If you don't have garam masala, however, you can always toss in some combination of cumin, coriander, cardamom (it's strong, so use sparingly, maybe 1/8 tsp), ginger and cloves to get somewhere in the same neighborhood. Idli are soft, savory “cakes” made with rice flour and lentil flour. I buy frozen ones at the Indian grocery store, and they’re great for soaking up the juices from thick soups (like sambar) and curries like this. Any kind of rice, or even quinoa, would be great too.

Serves 6 (generously) to 8

2 2/3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2-inch piece fresh ginger, chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon garam masala
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup water
1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes (not unsalted)
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 white or yellow onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained if canned
Lime wedges
Rice or idli

In a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker, combine chicken, ginger, garlic, curry powder, garam masala, red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper. Stir to combine. Add water and tomatoes and their juice, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Stir gently to evenly distribute tomatoes. Layer the red bell peppers on top, followed by the onion (do not stir).

Cook on HIGH for 3 hours. Gently stir. If mixture is too watery, ladle out some of the liquid to reach desired consistency (mixture should be like a thick stew). Stir in coconut milk; add chickpeas on top of the other ingredients without stirring. Continue cooking until chicken is very tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Stir mixture and check seasoning. Serve with plenty of lime wedges and rice or idli.