Friday, April 27, 2012

Simple Brown Sugar Cake

Ahem. I'm feelin' sassy today so I'll share one of my food pet peeves with you. I know I'm weird and frequently self righteous, but just hear me out on this one. Stop adding "guilt-free" or "you won't even know it's healthy!" or "surprise ingredient!" as modifiers to recipes. Just stop.

True that, mug, true that.

You shouldn't feel guilty about eating. That's just not a good mentality to have. And I don't appreciate recipes trying to trick me into "eating healthy" or assuming that I won't be able to tell the difference between a normal brownie and one with prunes in it. That's insulting. We are capable of making our own decisions about our own bodies...we're not two year olds who need to be slipped veggies. Did you know that if you type the word "guilt" into the search bar of foodgawker, you'll get 368 hits? Think about that. 

Desserts made with butter and sugar and eggs are not "sinful" or "indulgent". Dessert is dessert is dessert. Take it for what it is and enjoy it in moderation. There is nothing secret about this cake. I will tell you up front that there is butter and shortening in it. I never use shortening. But hey, you gotta live a little. And let me tell you, this cake is absolutely fantastic. In my opinion, best thing I've made in a while. And I didn't feel guilty eating it at all. 

Brown Sugar Cake
adapted slightly from Chocolate and Carrots
 Just so you know, this makes a lot of cake. So don't freak out.
  • 1/2 pound butter
  • 1/2 cup crisco
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°.
Cream the butter and crisco together.
Add the sugar and beat until creamy.
Add the eggs and beat.
Sift the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture and add milk and vanilla.
Bake in 2 rectangular or square pans for an hour. I used an 8x8 and a 9x13.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 powdered sugar, sifted
Melt the butter over the stove and add the brown sugar.
Boil on low heat for 2 minutes.
Add the milk and stir until boiling.
Remove from heat and cover slightly.
Add the powdered sugar and stir.
Pour and spread quickly over the cakes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Giveaway! Focaccia with Tomato, Garlic, and Caramelized Onions

Hey guys, sorry it took me so long to post this, I've been kind of swamped with work lately. But I will never abandon you. So....I was sent a free cooking tool by a company. Does that make me a sellout? I hope not. 

It's one of these guys. A Handheld Mandoline Slicer from OXO! I wouldn't have agreed to review it if I didn't already like OXO's stuff. We've had a potato peeler and tea kettle from them forever, and they're really nice and durable. And I recently acquired a bench scraper, which is also wonderful for chopping. Chopchop. You have to be careful not to cut off your hands. They're all very sharp tools. Except for the tea kettle of course.

This is my lil' buddy who lives on my desk. 

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to use my new, sharp toy for. Caramelized onions sounded like a good idea. But what to do with them? French onion soup was too labor intensive (at least for the time being). So I had a good ol' fashioned facebook poll and had people decide for me! Focaccia it is, then. The mandoline helped sooo much, cutting the onion really thin. It would have taken so much longer for them to caramelize if I had to cut them by hand. Unfortunately, I learned you can't cut a tomato with a mandoline. Too squishy. The focaccia ended up being amazing and flavorful, and I have my nifty little slicer to thank! 

So I would like to share an OXO Mandoline Slicer with you! It's small, slices in three different thicknesses, and can be placed over a pot so the pieces of whatever you're slicing fall right in. Enter my giveaway, please? It's for freee. Just leave a comment on this post and some way for me to contact you. Also, if you like me on facebook, leave a separate comment and I'll give you another entry. Contest closes May 5th. May the odds be ever in your favor!

Tomato, Garlic and Caramelized Onion Focaccia

1 package dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 Tbsp sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp  oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 medium tomato, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 crushed garlic
1/3 cup (packed) finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp butter
In a medium bowl, stir together yeast, warm water, and sugar. Let rest until yeast blooms and bubbles form on top, about 10 minutes. Stir in flour, 1/4 cup oil and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead until dough is smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let rest in a warm place until dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Remove dough from bowl and press it into a lightly oiled 9- by 13-inch baking sheet until it touches the edges. Using your finger, poke holes all over the dough. Drizzle the dough with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Let rest until the dough becomes puffy, about 20 minutes.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add onion slices, cover and cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
Top the dough with tomato slices, caramelized onions, garlic, and Parmesan cheese.
Bake until the focaccia is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack. Cut into pieces and serve.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Secret Recipe Club - Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream

My 15 year old brother is a walking contradiction. He loves nothing more than a perfect lobster tail with drawn butter, a roasted beet salad, creamy tiramisu. But he equally loves instant ramen, Flamin' Hot Cheetos and Little Debbie Swiss rolls. He's skinny as a twig but eats a massive bowl of ice cream each night. 

Every time I come home he asks me to make him a cake. I say "Sure, what do you want?" "A box cake," he replies. I scowl, disgusted. "Ian, I'm not wasting my time making a box cake. You can make that yourself." This happens pretty frequently. Why doesn't he like real cake? Because I'm a people pleaser, I set out to make him something from scratch that he'd approve of. 

Since it happened to be Secret Recipe Club time, I found a great vanilla cake recipe on Jo-Anna's blog, A Pretty Life in the Suburbs. This is perhaps the best vanilla cake recipe I have found thus far. It's not dense and overly crumbly. Perhaps it has something to do with the procedure, which I haven't seen before (adding chunks of butter to the dry mixture instead of creaming it with the sugar). Instead of the cherry buttercream she made, I did raspberry. So, what did Ian think of the cupcakes? "Taste like a box cake." Mission accomplished. 

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Raspberry Buttercream

1 cup cake flour
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out, save the pod for something!
3 eggs
  • Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  • Add the butter in chunks, to the flour mix, then add 3/4 cup milk.  Beat on low for 1 minute.
  • Add eggs, and the remaining milk and vanilla.
  • Beat until smooth.
  • Pour the batter into approximately 20 muffin cups.
  • Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
  • Cool before frosting.
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
  • Sift icing sugar.
  • In a mixer, beat butter until soft and fluffy.
  • Add sifted icing sugar, and mix until well combined.
  • Add vanilla and raspberries.
  • Then frost your cupcakes after they have cooled.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Matcha Shortbread Wings

I've recently discovered the joy that is Steepster. It's like facebook for tea. There are reviews, discussion boards, places to keep track of the teas you've had and the teas you'd like to try. Even some trading and info on free samples! I'm going through one of my tea obsession phases, you see. It's not that I don't always enjoy tea, but there are times when I get more enthusiastic about it than usual. 

I think part of it is the element of service and community in tea drinking. I love carefully measuring, brewing, pouring, and seeing that turn into something unique and lovely. It's warm and comforting. On my spring break trip, since I couldn't bake but was dying for a way to somehow nourish people, I made tea. I yearned to facilitate, and I found a way I could. 

(In the background) On the left: Awkward family photo calendar. On the right: Actual family photo

So I've had these cookie cutters shaped like little wings that can hook on the edge of a teacup. Adorable, right? What better way to use them than to make little cookies with actual tea in them? Time to break out the matcha. The cookies are a pretty sage green with a subtle tea flavor in the back of your mouth. The dough is a deep forest color and much more powerfully flavored, so know that it will become more muted with baking. Add more tea if you'd like a more robust flavor. 

Matcha Shortbread Wings 

10 Tbsp butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar 
2 egg yolks
1 cup cake flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp matcha
2 Tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium mixing-bowl, cream together the butter and sugars with a spatula. Add the egg yolks and mix it in thoroughly.
In another bowl, combine the flours and matcha, and stir with a whisk to remove any lumps. Add to the butter mixture and beat it until combined, adding milk as necessary.
On a clean, lightly floured (or powdered sugared) surface, roll out the dough to about 1/2" thickness. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter or cut into squares. Place on baking sheets and bake for 5-9 minutes, or until edges are slightly golden. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy with tea!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chocolate Chip Hot Cross Buns

Small things that made me happy today:
- Seeing a naked hermit crab, still searching for the perfect shell
- Watching my father's fish that was born with one normal fin and one tiny chicken wing fin thrive amongst its other fishy counterparts. 
- Trying a kiwi berry (the texture kinda threw me off, but I'm glad I tasted it)
- Getting my hair cut for the first time since December and feeling all light and fluffy. 

Mm. So many moments that made me smile throughout the day. Another one of those moments? Being able to eat a warm hot cross bun for breakfast. It's so wonderful just sitting back and relaxing with a cup of tea and the spring sunshine, not having to worry about getting to class.

Hot cross buns are a Good Friday food (I just happened to make them that day, yay for learning!) studded with dried fruit and orange zest. Bleh. I am not a fan of what my mom calls "dead fruit". I am a person of simpler tastes (i.e. chocolate chips. Good ol' Nestle).  Well, I'm off to bed, hopefully to have another day filled with simple pleasures :) 

Chocolate Chip Hot Cross Buns 

adapted slightly from Butter

For the buns
3 packets instant dry yeast (21g, 3/4 oz)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup chocolate chunks or chips
For the glaze
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp hot water
For the crosses
60g white chocolate (2 oz)

To make the buns, combine the lukewarm milk, sugar and dry yeast in a small bowl. Set aside for 15 minutes. It should become frothy and increase in size.
Fit your mixer with the dough hook and put the flour and salt in the bowl of your mixer (if you don’t have one, you could do this by hand). Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the melted butter, lightly beaten egg and frothy yeast mixture, as well as the chocolate chips.
Turn the mixer on low and knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. My dough was a bit dry so I ended up adding a little extra milk. Place it in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel and set aside in warm place for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.
Line a large baking pan with parchment paper.
Once the dough has risen, knock it down and knead lightly. Divide the dough evenly into 15 or 16 balls and place them close together on the baking tray, in a 4 x 4 or 5 x 3 arrangement.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cover the hot cross buns with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 20 minutes.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant. While the buns are baking, prepare your glaze.
For the glaze, dissolve the sugar in the hot water.
Once the buns are cooked, remove them from the oven and quickly brush them with a few coats of the glaze.
To make the crosses, melt the white chocolate in the microwave in short bursts, stirring in between. Put the chocolate into a small zip loc bag or piping bag, snip off the end and pipe crosses across the chocolate chip buns.
Serve warm. Makes 15-16 hot cross buns.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Parmesan and Cheddar Mini Scones

I'm having a hot flash and my allergies are killing me. I had to run across campus to change into close toed shoes and pants for my chemistry lab. I've spent two class periods puzzling over Nietzsche. But none of that matters because...I got an internship!

I'll be working at a local magazine as an editorial intern. Besides assisting the editor, I'll get to work on some of my own small projects. I did such a happy dance when I got the e-mail. Hey, I just did another one right now, haha. It's such a relief to have plans set in stone, since I'm the kind of person to likes to know lots of details in advance. 

A friend gave me like, 1/3 pound container of parmesan cheese she had no use for. I'd heard of cheesy biscuits and things, but I'm really enjoying the scone making process as of late. These can be whipped up in an instant (I made them on the floor of my room!), and they're super flaky and tender. Yay. Just did another happy dance. 

Look at those layers <3

Cheddar and Parmesan Mini Scones 

1 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup (one stick or 1/4 pound) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (keep butter in refrigerator until ready to use)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup cold buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pepper, and cayenne.  Rub butter into the flour mixture using your fingertips (or use a pastry blender or two knives) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the the shredded cheddar and most of the parmesan (reserve about 2 tablespoons to sprinkle over the tops of the scones).
3. In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk and egg.  Pour buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon just until a ball of dough comes together.  Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surfaced and knead a couple of times (using a bit of flour if the dough is too sticky) just to bring the dough together.
4. Cut the dough into two equal pieces and flatten each piece into a circle, about 1″ thick.  Cut each circle into 8 triangles and move them to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Melt butter and lightly brush  over the tops of the scones using a pastry brush.  Sprinkle the scones with the remaining parmesan cheese.
5.  Bake scones in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown along the edges.  Let cool on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes before eating.  Enjoy warm or at room temperature.