Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch Cookies

 Cookies seem to be everybody's go-to dessert, and are definitely what I most often am asked to bake. If you think about it, they're perfect in so many ways: they're easy to make in big quantities; there are a million and one variations on the original sugar cookie; and, they please just about everybody. Oh, and (in case you didn't know), more often than not, they're delicious.
Certain cookies also tend to make people nostalgic. Everybody has that one recipe that brings back childhood memories, be it chocolate chip cookies made from a refrigerated tube of dough or decorated Christmas sugar cookies.
 Every time my dad's side of the family gets together for the holidays, it's pretty much our mission to bake as many kinds of cookies as possible. We've had our great moments and our not-so-edible, but I guess you could say this tradition instilled a certain cookie adventurism in me.
 As soon as I saw this recipe in a book my friend gave me for my birthday, I knew I had to try it - Cap'n Crunch cereal, in a cookie? With peanut butter?
 As it turns out, this little combo is a fantastic idea. The cereal gives a great crunch to the soft, chewy cookies, and the peanut butter and cinnamon manage to be perfect together. As a plus, eating sugary breakfast cereal inside of a cookie totally makes anybody feel like a 5-year-old again.
Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch Cookies
(slightly adapted from Coolhaus Ice Cream Book)

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnmon
2 1/2 cups sifted pastry flour, or 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups Cap’n Crunch cereal

In a large bowl, mix brown sugar with butter and whisk to combine. Add peanut butter and whisk to combine. Whisk in egg and yolk, one at a time, then whisk in vanilla. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.
Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture, mixing until just combined. Add cereal, mixing until evenly distributed. Be careful not to overmix or overcrush cereal. Refrigerate dough for at least 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325F, with racks in lower and upper thirds. Line two half-sheet baking pans with parchment paper. Form dough into balls about the size of whole walnuts. Roll each in the cinnamon sugar mixture before placing 2 inches apart on baking sheets.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until edges are light brown and centers are still soft; don’t overbake. Immediately transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Let cool before serving.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Blueberry Buttermilk Brown Sugar Bundt Cake

 When I was about eight years old, my parents and I drove to Massachusetts to spend the 4th of July with our friends. We planned a fun weekend, stocked the fridge with the makings of quite the barbeque, and bought plenty of glow sticks to wear at night.
   On the 4th, after our little backyard party, we walked up the road to an open field and settled in in our lawn chairs to watch the fireworks. (Side note: it still amazes me that for some people, this is an everyday occurrence; in New York, the most we can do is climb up a fire escape to get to somebody's roof and watch fireworks. This is probably illegal. I will forever be jealous of the small-town life.)
   Just as the fireworks started, our friends' dog started to bark uncontrollably. It took us all of two seconds to realize that we were about to be hit with a rainstorm emitting from the sprinklers on the field. That night, we walked back to our friends' house soaking wet, but it's a moment we still laugh about every 4th of July.
    This year, I'm spending the 4th at Westminster Choir College, where I'm doing a voice program for a couple of weeks; it's great here, but our cafeteria food certainly doesn't compare to the homemade picnic lunch my parents will be putting together. So before I left home, I made this cake as my own little celebration of the start of summer. It's light, moist, not too sweet, full of fresh blueberries, and topped with a thin, almost crunchy glaze. I think I just found myself a new favorite tradition (with quite the tongue-twister recipe title).
Blueberry Buttermilk Brown Sugar Bundt Cake 
(adapted from Food Network Magazine)

For the cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries (about 1 pint)

For the glaze:
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
4-5 tablespoons milk

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a nonstick 12-cup Bundt pan. Whisk 3 cups flour, the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat 2 sticks butter, the brown sugar and vegetable oil in a bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, at least 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low; beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the vanilla. Add about one-third of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk; beat until almost incorporated. Add another one-third of the flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk. Beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until just combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat 30 seconds. Finish incorporating the flour by hand to avoid overmixing.
Toss the blueberries with the remaining 2 tablespoons flour in a small bowl. Spoon one-third of the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle in half of the blueberries, then top with another one-third of the batter. Scatter the remaining blueberries on top and cover with the rest of the batter; smooth the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour, 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool 30 minutes in the pan. Run a small sharp knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert onto the rack to cool completely. 
Meanwhile, make the glaze: Whisk the confectioners' sugar, butter and 4 tablespoons milk in a bowl; if the glaze is too thick, whisk in up to 1 more tablespoon milk, a little at a time. Pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Double Chocolate Strawberry Tart

Some situations simply have no shortcut. The work you put in is the result you get, and in most cases, this makes sense; I'm not going to ace a test without studying, get into college without filling out a million and one pieces of paperwork, or learn my arias without spending a few hours sitting at my piano.
But every now and then, life decides to be awesome and throw you a shortcut curve-ball just when you need it. A few weeks ago, when I was in the middle of studying for finals and having late-night rehearsals, I discovered this tart.
 The truth is, baking is deceptive. It seems so complicated, with countless steps (and steps within steps) to a recipe, but the truth is, when it comes to fairly straightforward desserts like this one, you look at the recipe and follow it. It's as simple as that - for real. I promise. You can make this dessert, even if you've never measured out a cup of sugar before in your life. No worries, I'll hold your hand.
 This crust is a breeze to throw together in a food processor; the filling can be whipped up even more quickly; and, within a few minutes, you have a tart that's picture-perfect. Not to mention ridiculously delicious.
 Double Chocolate Strawberry Tart
(adapted from Baking Bites)

1 prebaked chocolate crust (recipe below)
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
7 oz (1 container) marshmallow creme/fluff
4 oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
16 oz fresh strawberries 
2 tablespoons strawberry jam (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, whip together cream cheese and marshmallow fluff until smooth and well-combined. Blend in the melted and cooled dark chocolate, followed by the vanilla extract, and mix until the filling is a uniform color.
Trim the strawberries and thinly slice.
Fill tart shell with chocolate cream, spreading it evenly, and top with a layer of fresh strawberries. If desired, mix the jam with a teaspoon or so of water, microwave it for 30 seconds to thin it out, and brush it onto the berries for a shiny finish.
The tart should be served shortly after adding sliced berries. (To make the dessert in advance, refrigerate the filled tart and add the berries right before serving.)

Chocolate Shortbread Tart Crust
1 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cold

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Pulse to combine.
Cut butter into several pieces and add to flour mixture. Pulse until mixture is sandy and butter is well-incorporated.
Pour crumb mixture into a 9" tart pan. Press firmly up the sides and into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.
For a baked crust, bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, until firm. Allow to cool completely before filling.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie

The older I get, the more I realize how fast time goes by. This may seem ridiculous coming from a teenager (17 as of this week!), but it's true. My friends and I are shocked that the school year is ending so quickly, and while we're excited for all the fun plans we have for summer, it's also kind of terrifying.
This past year has been by far the busiest, most stressful of my life; but it's also been the greatest. I had a great time with my friends, got to know my teachers better, had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places, and became more involved in music.
I also watched the seniors at my school go through the crazy college application (and audition, for those pursuing music) process, and the idea of really starting that (and not just talking about it) can be a bit daunting.
That said, I'm excited to see what lies ahead, and wow I just realized how cheesy this post got. Anyway, right now I'm focusing on celebrating the start of summer, no matter how much German diction I have to learn, or how many application essays I have to write!
This dessert is perfect to kick off a season of fresh, bright flavors. The tart lemon curd and berries are a perfect contrast to the creamy, sweet vanilla ice cream, and it's all nestled inside a crunchy, almost cookie-like pie crust. And hey, what isn't better with toasted meringue?
(Shout-out to my best friend's mother for the recipe - it's quickly become one of my absolute favorites!)
Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie
(slightly adapted from Epicurious)

For the lemon curd 
2 large eggs 
2 large egg yolks 
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter 
1 cup sugar 
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel 
Pinch of salt

For the crust 
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans 
1/4 cup sugar 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted 
3 cups vanilla ice cream, slightly softened, divided
1/2 cup chopped berries of your choice (I used raspberries)

For the meringue 
4 large egg whites, room temperature 
Pinch of cream of tartar 
6 tablespoons sugar

For the lemon curd
Whisk eggs and egg yolks in medium bowl. Melt butter in medium metal bowl set over large saucepan of simmering water. Whisk in sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt; gradually whisk in egg mixture. Whisk until thick and thermometer inserted into curd registers 178°F to 180°F, about 8 minutes. Transfer to small bowl. Press plastic wrap on top of curd; chill 4 hours.  

For the crust Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix pecans, sugar, and butter in medium bowl until moistened. Press pecan mixture onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish (mixture will be crumbly). Bake until crust is lightly toasted, about 12 minutes (crust will slip down sides of dish). Use back of spoon to press crust back into place. Cool crust on rack. Freeze crust 30 minutes.
Dollop 1 1/2 cups ice cream over crust; spread into even layer. Spread lemon curd over ice cream; freeze until firm, about 2 hours. Dollop 1 1/2 cups softened ice cream over lemon curd; spread into even layer. Cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

For meringue Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in medium bowl until frothy. Beat in cream of tartar. With mixer running, gradually add sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Spoon meringue over pie, spreading to seal at edges and swirling decoratively. Freeze pie until ready to serve.
Using a kitchen butane torch, toast meringue until golden in spots; or, place pie in a preheated 500°F oven or broiler until meringue is golden in spots, watching to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. (Seriously, watch it the entire time - it can go from raw to burnt in a second.) Cut pie into wedges; serve immediately.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Perfect Banana Bread

 It deeply annoys me when people title their recipes "the best," "the greatest," or even "perfect." Who proclaimed your food the most wonderful ever created? You and your official declaration committee? Let's get real, there's a 99.99% chance your chocolate chip cookies are nothing particularly mind-blowing.
If you notice my own recipe title, you may choose to call me a hypocrite. That's kind of valid in this case, but hear me out.
Banana bread is one of those sweets that most Americans have grown up eating. Everybody has their own "secret" family recipe they swear by, and the variations on the basic formula are endless. However, my parents don't bake at all, ever, so I've spent the past seven years trying to find my perfect banana bread recipe. This is soft, fluffy, incredibly moist, and studded with slivers of dark chocolate (hi there, in case we haven't met, chocolate is kind of a necessity in my kitchen).
Thanks to a college road trip that took me and my dad through Boston, we stumbled across Flour Bakery and Cafe. (Okay, I won't lie to you, I googled "best bakery in Boston.") The place is adorable and wonderful and full of delicious pastries, and it's because of Joanne Chang's beautiful book that I got my hands on this recipe. So thank you, Flour, for helping me create my own family tradition.
 Perfect Banana Bread 

1 2/3 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (230 grams) sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (100 grams) canola or other flavourless oil
3 1/2 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 1/2 cups or 340 grams mashed bananas)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate disks, roughly chopped (or chop up a dark chocolate bar)

Position the rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 325°F (165°C). Butter and flour a 9x5" loaf pan.
 In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes for the stand mixer, and about 8 minutes for a handheld mixer; or until light and fluffy.
With the machine on low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Do not pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn't deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding the oil should take about 1 minute.
Add the bananas, creme fraiche/sour cream, and vanilla, then continue to mix on low speed just until combined.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and chocolate just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible and the chocolate should be evenly distributed.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until golden brown on top and the cake springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer.
Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes; flip bread out of pan and allow to cool completely before slicing.
(Note: I feel that I should follow standard recipe rules and advise waiting until this has come to room temperature to taste it. However, if you were to accidentally have a piece warm out of the oven, I'd be pretty proud.)

Friday, May 2, 2014

From New York to New Orleans!

instagramming cakes all day every day
 There are a lot of great aspects to baking for events. For me, it's a ton of fun to go back and forth with whoever is throwing the event and figure out the perfect desserts for the occasion (and in the case of cakes, how best to flavor and decorate them). I think that the greatest part, though, is getting to feel like in some small way, I'm helping somebody celebrate. Last year, I had a sweet sixteen, and while the bakers who made the cupcakes, the people who set up the chairs before guests arrived, and the DJ's assistant weren't there during the party, they were all a part of my celebration in some way. So, I like to think that even though I'm not at some of the events my cakes go to, I'm actually contributing a little bit to their fun.
  My friend's dad is a caterer, and a few weeks ago, he asked me to make cakes for a dinner he was cooking for; it was for a couple who was moving from New York to New Orleans. They wanted three cakes centered around the theme of their trip, somehow tying in the NOLA flag and Mardi Gras colors, but the rest was basically up to me. We played around with some flavor combos, and one long night later, I had three pretty cute cakes.
Given that they were leaving New York, I figured the big city had to be represented in some way. There's nothing more symbolic of here than the "I Heart NY" logo, so I traced white chocolate shapes and painted them with gel food coloring.
 This cake was the most interesting of the three in terms of flavor - it was made up of layers of spice cake, filled with Meyer lemon curd and frosted with vanilla buttercream (as were all of the cakes).
The next cake was supposed to represent the flag of New Orleans. I'm all for gold accents, so I kept the borders simple and used edible spray paint and glitter to glam up the white chocolate fleur-de-lis. This was definitely my favorite of the three cakes!
Flavor-wise, this cake was pretty simple, but I'm sure it was also the most popular; it was a chocolate cake with whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache filling layered with fresh strawberries.
The final cake was so much fun to make. All I was told was to include Mardi Gras colors, and the rest was up to me; so I made more white chocolate shapes, this time a crown and two eye masks, and painted them gold. I sprayed the entire cake with edible purple spray paint (seriously, this stuff is awesome), and threw in a bright green border to make it pop. The cake flavor was pretty simple, but it was a yummy combination: vanilla cake with a mixed berry cream filling.
  I'm still learning when it comes to cake decorating, and there's a lot that could be improved about these, but I had a great time making them. It's easy to get totally wrapped up in this kind of thing, and although I don't even know the names of the couple, I'm so glad I got to be a little part of their goodbye! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cream Cheese Kolache

 Cream cheese what? No worries, about a week ago, I had no idea what a kolache (or "kolacky") was either. My music history class is doing presentations on composers from the Romantic Era, and my group was assigned Dvořák. When we determined what each group member was going to do, one of my designated tasks was bringing in a Czech dessert to symbolize Dvořák's homeland. (This really didn't do us any good grade-wise, but totally earned us endless love and admiration from the rest of the class.) 

When I researched Czech sweets, "kolache" came up over and over again. They are essentially small rolls with centers that have been hollowed out and stuffed with some kind of sweet filling (although they can also be made larger and cut into slices). I went with a cream cheese filling that's almost like cheesecake, and its richness complemented the fairly simple roll well. 
 These are pretty dense, and from what I read, they should be this way; you're not going for a brioche texture. That said, they're crazy addictive, especially warm out of the oven, and they are just sweet enough to feel indulgent yet totally appropriate for breakfast. We served them during first period, and they were much appreciated by our classroom full of sleep-deprived teenagers.

Cream Cheese Kolache
(adapted from The History Kitchen)

1 package active dry yeast (¼-ounce/2¼ teaspoons)
1 cup warm milk (105 to 115°F)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
6 tbsp granulated sugar 
1 tsp salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
About 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
Egg Wash
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp cream, milk, or water
Cream Cheese Filling
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar or more to taste
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

In a small bowl or measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup milk.
In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with the remaining milk, butter, eggs, sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Blend in 1½ cups flour. 
Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a workable dough (it will still be fairly sticky).
On a lightly floured surface or in a mixer with a dough hook, knead the dough until smooth and springy, about 5 minutes.
Place in an oiled bowl and turn to coat.
Cover with a kitchen towel or loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled in bulk, 2 to 3 hours, or in the refrigerator overnight.
Punch down the dough, knead briefly, cover, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1¼ hours.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease the sheet. Punch down the dough, knead briefly, divide in half, form into balls, and let stand for 10 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough ½ inch thick. Cut into 2½-inch rounds (or the size of your choice). Reroll and cut out the scraps.
Place on parchment paper-lined or greased baking sheets about 1 inch apart, cover with a towel or plastic wrap greased with cooking spray, and let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the cream cheese topping: in a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Blend in the yolks, flour, and vanilla.
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F (350°F for a convection oven). Using your thumb or the back of a spoon, press 1 large, deep indentation into the center of each round, leaving a ½-inch wide-rim (I used a shot glass to do this). Brush the edges with the egg wash.
Spoon about 1 tablespoon topping into each indentation.
Bake until golden brown or the center of the dough registers about 180°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
Kolache are best eaten on the same day they are made, but can be covered with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or in freezer for up to 3 months.

  • -makes about 36 - 2.5" kolache
  • *Note: The history of this pastry is actually interesting and fairly complicated; check out the recipe's source for a detailed account.    :)