Sunday, March 30, 2008

Perfect Party Cake

I've been haunting the Daring Bakers for a few months now, and finally got the chance to join this March! How lucky for me that my first challenge was a cake, as I'm a big fan of layer cakes! This months challenge was hosted by Morven at Food, Art and Random Thoughts and I'm really thankful to her for choosing a Dorie Greenspan recipe because I hadn't been introduced to Dorie's baking before. I bought the great book Baking From My Home to Yours and have already made pudding and cookies from her along with this cake! 

The recipe uses egg whites only, which produces a really white cake. The cake has lemon extract and juice in the icing and batter, as well as raspberry preserves between the layers. Dorie and Morven both agree that playing around with this cake is a great idea. So since creativity was allowed, I switched it up as many of my fellow Daring Bakers did. 

Yum Yum Kiwi

I decided to use lime instead of lemon in both the icing and batter, and used fresh kiwi as the fruit between the layers. The original recipe also alludes to using fresh whipped cream instead of the meringue buttercream in between the layers so I went with a variation of that as well. 

Have fun in there pans!

I decided to make a mini cake because I didn't want to waste the ingredients on a cake that would loose its deliciousness before it could get finished. So I cut the recipe directly in half and it worked out perfectly. 

Making the meringue buttercream was definitely more involved than any other icing I have made, but it is now officially my favorite frosting. I was expecting it to be heavy, and too sweet, but I loved it and probably could have eaten a bowl full. 

Of course the day I decide to complete the challenge happened to be the day that a family friend and his wife decided to drop by my house. 'How perfect' you might think, someone to feed the lovely cake too! Well, when your family friend happens to be a French born pastry chef who specializes in cakes, the tension level rises a few notches! After I made the meringue buttercream, I gave him a taste, and much to my surprise he was very impressed! He said he was going to change his own recipe to include the lime juice because he liked it so much. What a compliment! 

So after baking the cake and slicing the cooled layers in half I began to assemble my mini masterpiece. I made some homemade whipped cream, and then folded in some yummy lime curd to go along with my lime flavoring in the cake and buttercream. The first layer got topped off with the lime whipped cream, and then the next got a layer of buttercream and lots of kiwi. Another whipped cream filled layer and then the whole cake was iced with the buttercream. 

In hindsight I wish I had put kiwi in between all the layers, and since the whipped cream and buttercream both had a lime flavor, I could have omitted the whipped cream and just used buttercream. But it still tasted delicious! 

I will definitely make this cake again, and again, and I've already thought up several other flavor combinations that I'm going to try out. 

All Rights Reserved 2008 © Books and Bakes

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cookies for Shannon

It's not every day that one of my good friends sets off on a treasure hunting expedition. 

In fact there has never been another day, and probably will not be another to follow. But this Friday is that one day in my lifetime, so I figured Shannon deserved some Peanut Butter cookies before he headed off to the Dominican Republic to salvage millions of dollars worth of treasure! 

He's a boat captain, who's vessel has been contracted to take a the recovery team down south and help them to haul up the goods. He has such a fabulous life!  I'm his favorite ex-girlfriend who loves to bake, making his life that much more fabulous! He has been stuck down in Miami for weeks waiting to set out, and I've been promising him cookies the whole time. So it was time to put out and bake this boy some of his favorites. 

I like my peanut butter cookies thin and crispy, and although I've tried others, the recipe my mom used when I was a child is still my favorite! The recipe dates back as far as my moms mom, so I'm a third generation baker using this one! I'm passing it on, as all good recipes should be!  

Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup Butter
1/2 Peanut Butter
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1 egg 
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 cup Flour 

Preheat over 350º 
Cream peanut butter and butter together
Beat in sugar and brown sugar 
Beat in egg
Add vanilla
Stir in baking soda, salt and flour 
Arrange teaspoon full sized cookies on baking sheet
Press cookies down with floured fork
Bake until firm, about 10 minutes 

Be safe Shannon, watch out for pirates (seriously!) and bring me back a barnacle like I asked! Miss you already! Hope you enjoy the cookies! 

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

A chocolate combo the Easter Bunny would be proud of!

Not to long ago I was scouring Target (as I often do) and I found myself in the Easter Candy section. I'm a big fan of Easter, and I wish that, at 29, I was still on the Big Bunnys list. There's nothing like a basket full of cellophane grass hiding lots of little candy pleasures. Why do kids get all the good stuff?
As I reminisced of Easters past while wandering around the candy aisles, I discovered mini Cadbury Eggs. Now since I'm a fan of the normal sized version, how could I pass up this pop em in the mouth bite sized buddy. I bought a dozen, and a week and a half later I bought another dozen. I hadn't exactly finished the first dozen, but I had experienced a moment of baking genius that made the second batch an important purchase. 

I love chocolate, there's nothing for it. Slathered in peanut butter, worn by strawberries, happily encasing some York peppermint goodness, or simply covered in lint and found at the bottom of my purse – it's all delicious! So the ultimate chocolate cupcake has been on my mind for quite some time. 

I already had the perfect icing, my Great Aunt Dorothy's recipe that is to die for. I could eat it by the mixing bowl full if my teeth wouldn't threaten to fall out! The cake part was what seemed to be eluding me. But then it struck me, while chopping something that was not choclate the other day, that I already had the perfect concoction which I usually cover with peanut butter icing. It's a Barefoot Contessa recipe that is fantastic. So there you have it, Ina and Aunt Dorothy, two of the greats coming together to create my perfect chocolate cupcake. 

But… how to push it over the edge, you know, into "to die for" territory. That's where the eggs come in! It dawned on me, why now nestle on of these Cadbury buddies down into the batter and see what happens.

And guess what happened… HEAVEN HAPPENED!! 

These are the best chocolate cupcakes that I have ever tasted! Normally I wouldn't share my Aunt's recipe because it's been in the family for so long, but I got permission to because everyone deserves to bask in the glory that is this PERFECT CHOCOLATE CUPCAKE!  Even without the egg I can tell it's honey! I thought about taking a picture of what the inside of the cup looked like with the egg in there, but it didn't look like much, so I'm sparing you the boring inside of a cupcake photo. Just know that it adds the most fantastic dimension to these cakes! 

All you have to do is push the (unwrapped ;) egg into the batter. I made the rookie mistake of pushing the egg all the way down, making contact with the liner. I would recommend letting it float a bit more, as the chocolate stuck to the paper and pulled one of my taste testers in two. This batter can support the weight of the egg, so it won't fall all the way down if you don't push it. I tried two different versions, one where I covered the egg in batter, and another where I did not. It didn't seem to make any difference at all in the look or the taste, so don't bother. 

If you're a fan of chocolate, but cannot handle overly sweet things, this combo is great for you as well. The cake is chocolately, but not insanely sweet. 

I'm normally not one to toot my own horn, but I have to say it… "Toot Toot!" 

Alright, enough blogging, I'm going to eat another cupcake! 

Chocolate Cupcakes 
from Barefoot Contessa at Home

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended.

Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). ** If you're up for it, put the Cadbury Eggs in at this point.** Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Great Aunt Dorothy's Chocolate Icing

4 tablespoons Cocoa
1 1/2 cup Confectioners Sugar
2 sticks Butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 to 3 tablespoons Hot Coffee 
Cream the butter, sugar, cocoa and vanilla together. Add coffee and whip for 2 minutes, or until it has reached you desired fluffiness. If you want the icing a bit thinner, add in a little more coffee. 

All Rights Reserved 2008 © Books and Bakes

Rice Cakes and a Lexus

I've been reading back through what I have finished of my book, to make sure that I am, in fact, heading in my intended direction. It's a daunting task, and one that I've been putting off for quite some time. It was satisfying seeing those 172 pages come rolling off the printer, until of course I realized that this number confirmed my worst fear — I am not writing nearly enough. So indeed, it is time to kick this novel into high gear. If it's ever going to win a Nobel and a Pulitzer than it has to reach completion, and it's never going to get written on its own. 
The book has a bit of an odd format, one that I'm hoping a publisher or editor will not want to change. It roams back and forth between journal entries and chapters, giving the real moments and then true insights of the character in question. As you may or may not know, the book is about a young woman suffering from depression, while trying to find the strength to love herself enough to put an end to her desperate need for a husband/man. The journal entry that I am going to share is set well into the book at a time where Eddie, the main character, has finally reached a place where she can laugh at herself. I laughed, and so did my mother and father, so hopefully you will enjoy it as well. 

I find it highly amusing that no matter how much progress I have made when it comes to moving away from being desperate for a man… it always seems to creep back in every once in awhile. And it’s always when I think I’ve finally licked the damn thing.
I’m driving up I 81N after a visit to a friend who lives down in Roanoke. I hadn’t had breakfast, so I was munching on some rice cakes on my way back home. They were the mini kind, so one could fit in your mouth with just a hint of difficulty. I was in the left hand lane, as always, and I was coming up on a man in a Lexus. I guess for some reason I felt that the back of his head suggested that he was good looking. Just as I was about to come window to window with him, I froze with a mouth completely full of mini rice cake. I didn’t want to appear as if I was eating, because god forbid an attractive man in a Lexus motoring along I 81N see me chewing. Unfortunately for me, the majority of my rice cake was causing my right cheek to bulge. The right cheek of course being the one that this man was going see.
Luckily my sense of self worth was not dashed all over the highway, and I was in fact able to continue driving past the man in the Lexus. No I do not know if he was attractive, because of course I couldn’t look at him!
Even more luckily, I was able to instantly laugh at myself. I mean really, what was I thinking? Did I expect the possibly attractive man in Lexus to be so captivated with just the right side of my face that he would follow me home and confess his undying love for me. Or maybe if he was on an urgent errand and could not pause now to confess, maybe he would write down my license plate number, and beg the local authorities to give him my information. Of course the car is registered to my father, so he would end up thinking I was married, and then not pursue me!
Oh my god! I live in a movie. It’s exhausting. But thankfully it seems to have taken a turn from drama to comedy!
Sheesh :)

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Joy Luck Club

This is quite possibly one of the best paragraphs I have read in my entire life. It is words at their finest, strung delicately together by a true artist. 

Standing perfectly still like that, I discovered my shadow. At first it was just a dark spot on the bamboo mats that covered the courtyard bricks. It had short legs and long arms, a dark coiled braid just like mine. When I shook my head, it shook its head. We flapped our arms. We raised one leg. I turned to walk away and it followed me. I turned back around quickly and it faced me. I lifted the bamboo mat to see if I could peel off my shadow, but it was under the mat, on the brick. I shrieked with delight at my shadow's own cleverness. I ran to the shade under the tree, watching my shadow chase me. It disappeared. I loved my shadow, this dark side of me that had my same restless nature. - From The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan 

What an absolutely enchanting way to relate such a typically forgotten discovery. I think tomorrow morning I will spend some time getting reacquainted with my shadow - it seems its been to long. 

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Constant Companion

Just wanted to give a shout out to my constant writing companion, my paperclip pig. 
He sits here with me, day in and day out, just waiting to offer up a hand dandy paper fastener in case I should ever need one. And if not, he happily sits in his bathtub whilst blue paperclips rain down on him, and he smiles. He just smiles that sly pig smile of his. 
I think everyone should have a paperclip pig to cheer them on each day. Especially a clean little pig like this one! 

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Friday, March 7, 2008


My mom and sister both have Celiac disease, which means they have an intolerance to Gluten, which is in pretty much everything! And my other sister has a dairy allergy! So macaroons are great because they don't have any flour or dairy in them. 
I found a new recipe the other day and figured I would try them out this morning. Normally I would post the link, but I actually wouldn't recommend this one to others trying to make good Macaroons. They were too eggy and some of them baked up more like cookies than Macaroons. 
The recipe called for dried cranberries, but I decided to substitute mini chocolate chips instead because I love chocolate and coconut together! Of course macaroons are simple to make, you just mix everything in a bowl and then make them into little mounds of triangles, and bake em up. 
They taste good, but they aren't a pretty as I would have liked. I won't be serving them to my French baker friend who is stopping by tomorrow, but I will be feeding them to my allergy filled family! 

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hello birdy

Just another snip it from my book Shoo Elephant… Shoo. 
See if you can figure out what's going on!

I sat on the edge of the cliff wondering why there was only one pink kangaroo amongst all the green giraffes. Figuring I might as well go down to the savannah floor and go ask that kangaroo why he was all alone, and hmm… in Africa, I pushed off from the cliff edge and floated peacefully down to the ground below.
“Hi Merwoman Eddie!” a giraffe called from somewhere off to my right, prompting me to look down at my feet as I waved a feathery hand in salutations to my long neck friend. Right before my eyes, my legs seemed to fuse without any pain, or sensation at all, and then scales sprouted out in various shades of pink and purple.
Quite immediately I knew that the pink kangaroo was mine, as its pink color matched my tail perfectly, and was waiting patiently for me on the other side of the savannah. I walked, despite my mermaid appendage, through the high grass and towards my roo, and covered what had seemed like miles in mere moments.
As I stood next to my roo, petting his feathery head, a small bug flew by my ear ringing loudly. I swatted it away, and watched as a bird winged its way to me. It settled down on my arm and opened its mouth and started ringing at me. “Funny bird,” I said, “why are you ringing and not singing?”
My kangaroo looked up at me and said “Because Shannon is calling, you goosey mermaid you!”
“Oh okay!” I said. I took a hold of the bird and lifted it to my ear and said “Hello?”
“So you are alive!” Shannon’s voice echoed through the bird.
I smiled and said “Yes birdy, I am,” in a groggy voice.
“Birdy?” he said, “did you just call me birdy?”

All Rights Reserved 2008 © Books and Bakes

Chocolate Bread Pudding Cupcakes

In my constant search for the perfect cupcake I was directed to this great blog CupCake Bake Shop not long ago and I have been ravaging her recipes for awhile now. I found this one amongst her greats, which the blogger herself says is a cupcake that she's enamored with. So I had to give them a try. 

I had a get-together to go to Wednesday night for the season finale of one of my favorites shows, Project Runway, so I figured I would take these along with me. It's definitely a more involved recipe then most, but I'm pretty sure it was worth the trouble, I'm still on the fence about their amazingness. 

I decided to go ahead and make the homemade toffee, as was recommended. Unfortunately it never quite became toffee, but seemed to remain in the in between stage, and somewhere closer to thin, small pieces of caramel, once I had attempted to chop it up. It tasted good though, so that's all that counts in the baking world. 

The recipe calls for a loaf of challah or brioche, which I could find neither of at my grocer. I think it's just because I went shopping so late at night and all the good bread was gone, but nontheless I was breadless and attempting
 to make a bread pudding cupcake. So the nice lady in the grocery store bakery directed me to a frozen loaf of challah that I could rise and bake myself. Well why not! I'm a baker, I'm making the toffee, why not the bread too! It baked up just fine, and soon found it self chopped up and coated in chocolate cream. 

The batter actually grossed me out a little bit once it was all put together, in look alone, not because of what was actually in it. First I had to boil some cream and milk with cocoa powder in it, and no matter how closely I watched it, both required boilings boiled right over and all over the stove. 

More chocolate gets added, and then some egg yolks and sugar. Unfortunately I wasn't thinking ahead when I made myself an 8 egg-white omelette - I have a cake to bake that requires 8 egg whites, while these took 8 yokes. If only I had thought to save those whites! Ugh! Anyway, all that gets poured over the bread to soak, and then lopped into the cupcake pan. 

I love simple icings, which this recipe required. Just whipped cream, that's it. And who doesn't love fresh, homemade whipped cream? I admit that these cupcakes are delicious, but like I said before, I'm undecided on whether or not they were worth all the effort. I will make them again, but hopefully I'll be able to buy a loaf of bread, and I'll definitely be buying toffee rather than making it. 

Here's the recipe. You'll have to scroll down because this blog doesn't allow for one recipe per page. 

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cookie Press

I got hungry around lunch time today, as um, I guess most people do, and decided to make a sandwich, which was simple but good. Sometimes you just can't beat a bologna and cheese on rye! As I attempted to leave the kitchen a moment or so after I had made my sandwich, I could swear my oven gave me a dirty look. I haven't had a chance to bake anything in the last week or so, and I knew my Kitchen Aid mixer and Silpats were feeling neglected. So I decided to pump out some easy press cookies really fast just so I could face my appliances again without feeling guilty. 
I love my cookie press, there's something so satisfying about a batter gun pumping out perfectly shaped cookies at darn near light speed. I don't really care all that much about my right to bear arms, but I'd certainly care if the Second Amendment included my Cookie Gun! 
It's such a simple butter heavy recipe that only takes minutes to throw together. Of course it calls for regular granulated sugar, but I keep all my baking sugar happily infused with vanilla beans, so I think that makes these cookies extra yummy. 
I still remember back when my mom began teaching me to bake, and how she always told me how important measuring flour was. She explained that you never want to pack your flour, so you should always use a spoon to fill your measuring cup, and then use a knife to even out the flour and then smoothly scrape the extra powder off the top. Every time I do it I remember her advice and smile. 
This recipe makes about 7 to 8 dozen cookies, but they are relatively small, and easily popped in the mouth whole without the need to take a bite. If you have a cookie press and want a simple recipe, here's a great basic one: 
  • 1 1/2 cups butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (I'm not a fan of almond extract, so I just use 1 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract instead)
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Preheat oven to 375º
- Cream butter and sugar
- Add milk, egg vanilla and almond extracts - beat well
- Stir flour and baking powder together, then gradually add to creamed mixture - mix until dough is smooth
- Do not chill - fill cookie press and have a go at it!
- Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges
- Eat! 

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