Tag Archives: Baking

Goat Cheese Swirled Brownies

**This recipe made the Foodbuzz Top 9 today!  Thanks to everyone who enjoyed it enough to click BUZZ!**
At the end of my last post I mentioned that you had these to look forward to:

Goat Cheese Swirled Brownies

I threw a baby shower for my friend, Summer–who is expecting a little girl–and I wanted some of the desserts to be girly and pink.

I made an assortment of desserts, but my absolute favorite were the Goat Cheese Brownies! Continue reading

“Dorthy’s Cookies”… a.k.a Chocolate Crinkles

Although winter in Minnesota is usually quite harsh—piles of snow deeper than I am tall, and temperatures that would make even an Eskimo cringe— this particular winter has been anything but normal. Its the end of December and it is nearly 40 degrees outside…at 10 pm! I’m not complaining…no sir-ree…in fact, I wish every winter was as mild!
Not everyone agrees with me, though.  Most people that live in Minnesota look forward to the snow and the cold, and all the “joys” that winter brings. Snowmobiles, snowshoes, skis and snowboards… all useless. But, with the absence of snow, it seems there is also an absence of Christmas Spirit.

Christmas is only a few days past, and already businesses have taken down their lights, trees are no longer shining, and parents are wishing the holidays would fly by so they could send their kids back to school.
I suppose I also associate snow with Christmas. A part of me wished for a white Christmas (although, a very small part). And that same part of me was (maybe) disappointed when it didn’t turn out that way.  Christmas just isn’t Christmas unless it’s white outside.  It’s also not Christmas without Dorthy’s Cookies.

Dorthy's Cookies

You see, Dorthy was a little, old lady—one of my grandma’s friends.  She had one of the kindest hearts, an amazing love for her family, and an incredible talent for baking.  Dorthy was always baking something for someone, and she was famous for her chocolate cookies.  My mom told me she called them macaroons (which they weren’t), but I don’t remember that.  For as long as I can remember, my family always just called them “Dorthy’s cookies”, and they were a hot commodity.  She would pass them around at church and often give pails of them out as gifts.  I remember one of the last times I saw Dorthy, she was attending my cousin’s wedding.  She wasn’t in good health but she had a smile on her face and lots to say (Dorthy also had the gift of gab).  Earlier in the morning the little kids at church had celebrated their First Communion and she told me she had baked 12 pails of cookies so each kid could have one.  That’s just how Dorthy was.  She loved everyone and showed that love with cookies—fudgy, chocolate cookies, rolled in powdered sugar…to be specific!

Every year, Dorthy’s cookies made an appearance on my family’s cookie tray.  And every year, they were scarfed down as soon as they were set out.  That is, until Dorthy passed away.  Once she was gone, so were the cookies.  My family had the recipe, and apparently my aunts tried to make them…but they never turned out the same.  Then, one year I asked mom for the recipe.  It was scribbled down on a dirty little note card.  The directions were very vague and the ingredients were smudged.  No wonder they never turned out!  I tried finding them online, but had no luck.  Then, one day, around Christmastime 2009, I was using “stumbleupon”…and as I clicked the button, Dorthy must have been smiling down on me.  There were her cookies!  They were called Chocolate Crinkle cookies and apparently were actually Betty’s cookies (Betty Crocker).

I was so excited.  I called mom and told her I’d be making Dorthy’s cookies for Christmas. That night I mixed the batter together and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  The next day I baked them…and they were perfect!  Christmas was complete!

It’s funny how a cookie can mean so much to a family, but it’s true.  They really do.  And this year was no different.  In fact, a couple weeks ago, as I was mixing up the dough (a double batch) my sister stopped over.  When she saw the dough being mixed, her eyes got huge!  She begged me to bake a pan early, so she could have a couple.  One pan turned to two pans, and then my brother stopped over…and they were gone as soon as I took them out of the oven.

These cookies are definitely something special…

Aside from putting the cookies on the cookie plate this year, I also included a package of them in the gift baskets I made for my family.  I even got my niece involved, and she helped roll them in the sugar.

We celebrate together on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas day I recieved a text message from my brother that said:  “I ate all of the cookies you made by myself.  Please make me more.”  …and that makes me smile.  I’m sure Dorthy would be happy too!

Find Dorthy’s recipe HERE.

Cake-tastrophe Averted! “Building” a Wedding Cake

Oops...

Have you ever had such high hopes for something, that you don’t even consider the end result will be anything except for everything you ever imagined?   It happens to me a lot.  Especially when I’m decorating cakes.  I get these fabulous ideas, grandiose even, but sometimes when I start working on them…the ideas just don’t materialize.  It’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing or that I don’t have the skills or technique, but sometimes things just don’t work out.  …At least the way I want them to.

The above cake, for example, came out all busted up when I turned it out of the pan.  I greased the pan with butter, put parchment paper on the bottom and even greased that too.  It didn’t matter.  There was nothing, short of insane amounts of frosting, that would save this cake.  Luckily, the recipe had made enough batter that I had plenty left over for 2 more 6″ cakes…and this small crisis was really no crisis at all.  Instead, I had leftover cake scraps to share with my family and co-workers.  Everyone was happy.

It made me laugh, actually.  Earlier in the day I had been watching an old episode of “The French Chef.”  Julia was making sugar syrup and caramel.  I can’t remember the exact details now, but I do remember she made a mistake.  Instead of freaking out and throwing everything into the garbage she simply looked into the camera and said,

“If you’re not ready to fail, you’re not ready to cook.”

She went on to share tips on how to turn your failures into something that you had not necessarily intended, but were proud of anyway.  This way your guests would have no idea that your failure was not your intention…does that make sense?

Anyway…back to the cake.  This cake was a mini-wedding cake for one of my co-workers.  She wanted a pumpkin cake (recipe) with cinnamon brown sugar buttercream.  The only thing I was told was that it should be simple and incorporate trees and nature.  That left a lot of room for my mind to wander and it was getting a little overwhelming.  I had so many ideas…but no idea if they were the right ones!

I thought about doing pulled sugar leaves…that didn’t work out (pulled sugar is NOT easy!!!  Instead we ended up with giant leaf lollipops).  Then I thought about making gumpaste leaves and flowers, but I wasn’t really feelin’ it.  So the other day when one of my other co-workers stopped by my house to get some Chinese Lanterns to use in the flower arrangements, I asked her if she had any ideas (see her website here).  I told her I wanted to do some sort of a tree topper but wasn’t sure what direction to go in.  We brainstormed a little bit and walked around my yard collecting branches and twigs.  Since she was doing all the flowers for the wedding she said she’d make a topper to go along with all her arrangements.  It turned out incredible!  The wedding is tomorrow and its taking place in a really awesome stone barn that is about 100 years old.  It’s decorated with a fall theme, using all sorts of things found in nature during this time of year.  When I delivered the cake today I just couldn’t get over how beautiful it was!

The cake went together rather quickly and I had no other issues (tutorial coming soon!).  I was glad, mostly because I didn’t have a lot of time to do this cake and was trying to fit it in.  I was only asked about a week ago but I really wanted her to have a beautiful cake…so I made it all work :).

Piyush helped me deliver the cake today.  I was really nervous about it because the whole cake is buttercream…and buttercream is temperamental.  It also is very easy to completely wreck the decoration of the cake.  One harsh turn or one quick stop…the cake could be damaged beyond easy repair.  The place we were taking the cake to was about 30 miles away, with curvy roads,  so it was kind of a scary ride.   We made it though!  I didn’t even have to touch anything up!  I packed it in a box with towels around the cake stand to keep it from moving, and then I prayed.  Oh man…did I pray!

I tucked extra frosting and tools in the bottom of the box too.

And here, my friends, is the finished product (there will be some additional flowers tucked in around the base of the cake topper and probably around the cake as well):

How awesome are those stone walls behind the cake?!

Edited to add:

Here is the final cake, I just thought I’d share!

Brooke's wedding cake! (Thank you Brooke, for supplying me a picture!)

Potato Rolls: Bring on the Buns!!!

In my last post I mentioned saving the water that you boil your potatoes in to use for making bread.

I didn’t know if I would have time today to show you want to do with it.  I had some serious cake baking that needed to get done and even though I’m a super duper multi-tasker I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew (haha!).  Well, I got into a cake bakin’ groove and figured that whipping up a quick batch of buns would be no problem.  I love baking bread.  I would even go as far as to say that I love baking bread more than I love eating bread…and that says something! 🙂

My grandma R. makes fabulous bread.

Grandma R., the ultimate bread baker.

Some of my earliest memories are of her taking the rolls out of the oven,  slathering them with gobs of butter and homemade strawberry jam, and giving them to us kids to eat.  And man…did we eat!  Back then I never paid any attention to grandma’s bread baking process, and to be honest all I really remember is having to wait FOREVER for the dough to rise.  FOR-EV-ER.  But as I got older my impatience subsided…kind of… and my interest in baking began to increase.  I asked grandma for her bread recipe.  She said the recipe was her mother’s, and that she’d love to teach me how to make it.  So one day while my cousin was home from college for Christmas break, grandma came over and taught us both how bread dough should feel when you’ve added enough flour.  She taught us how to shape the rolls and loaves and most importantly, how to make cinnamon rolls!   This post isn’t about that recipe though.  I’m sure sometime I’ll share it on this blog, but today is not the day.  This post, instead, is about a little bit of information grandma told me a couple weeks ago.

Mom had brought grandma and grandpa over for the day and while I was baking grandpa his lavender chocolate macarons (he loves those things!), grandma was looking though some old magazines I had.  There must have been a recipe or something that caused her to remember, I’m not sure. She told me that when her mom made bread she sometimes would save the water that she boiled potatoes in and added it to the dough instead of milk. She didn’t have the recipe, but gosh, would she like one.  Thanks to the magic of Google, I was able to fulfill her request.

Potato water, with all it’s starchy goodness, really adds some nice moistness to the dough.  The rolls came out pretty light and they tasted like little pillows of pure bliss.  One note, if anyone decides to try this wonderful recipe, you should only refrigerate potato water for about 24 hours.  If you keep it any longer it may sweeten and really mess with the taste of your bread.   Another quick note I have about bread baking is that anyone can do it!!!  It’s so easy and really doesn’t take a lot of time at all.  Less than 75 cents for a loaf of bread sounds pretty awesome too, doesn’t it!?

The Recipe

Potato Dough Rolls (adapted from The Kitchn)

(I made 12 big rolls.  This could easily make 15-20 though)

  • 1 cup boiling potato water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 cups flour (I used closer to 5 1/2)

Directions

  • In a big bowl whisk the boiling potato water, 1/2c. sugar, salt butter and zest together and let cool.
  • In a separate, little bowl combine the warm water, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and yeast. Let it sit and mingle for about 10 minutes or until foamy. (*note* when adding live yeast to warm water, make sure the temperature of the water doesn’t exceed 140 degrees F.  It’ll kill your yeast.  Also, I usually skip this proofing step and throw all my wet ingredients together first and then add the yeast, sugar and flour.  I’m just a bread bakin’ rebel, I guess.  I’ve never had problems doing it this way but someday I’m sure my yeast will have entered into retirement and my bread won’t rise properly.  So if you don’t want to risk it…proof it!).

Proof (haha) that my yeast is good!

  • In a large bowl whisk the potato water mixture and the yeast mixture together. Add the eggs and 2 cups of the flour. Whisk well, then stir in the other 2 cups of flour with a wooden spoon. The dough should be a little on the sticky side.  I didn’t knead it, and instead left it sit on the counter for a couple hours to rise.  The original recipe said to cover and refrigerate it, up to several days.  That’s a good idea…but I want it now!  I’m all about the instant gratification.
  • When you want to bake them, shape into balls and place side by side in a greased 9×13 pan (I used a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper). Coat hands lightly with flour to roll. Let’s talk about shaping the rolls, quick.  I want to show you Grandma R.’s way of doing things.  Grandma pinches off a piece of the dough and quick sets it in a bowl of flour.  Don’t roll it around in there, you just want a little extra so the dough won’t stick to everything.  Then she makes a circle with her thumb and her pointer finger.  She simply pushes the dough through the hole.

view from the top

view from the bottom, after the dough has been pushed through

This creates something called a “gluten cloak”…and that’s exactly what you want!  You’ll get a nice smooth roll with the untidy ends tucked underneath.  Put the rolls on the cookie sheet or in the pan and then lightly press down on them.  This will also help with the shaping.

  • Let rise, covered until doubled.

ready to rise!

Ready for the oven

  • You may want to brush with milk or cream before baking, or a mixture of egg yolk and milk or water to create a shiny roll.  I don’t do that, instead I brush each roll with ghee when it’s done cooking, not before.

ghee = Indian style clarified butter. Use real butter if you don't have this little jar of awesomeness in your pantry...it'll do the trick.

  • Bake at 375°F for about 20 minutes, depending on size of rolls.  **Oops!  I didn’t read this part of the directions.  I baked mine at 350 degrees F for about 17 minutes.  They turned out fantastic!**

After all that cake baking…

bottom layer crumb-coated!

I realized I hadn’t eaten anything all day except a couple tastes of frosting and cake batter….quality control, you know? I was super excited to take a shower and sit down to a glass of tea and 1/2 a roll smothered in strawberry jam…

I deserved it! 🙂

After I scarfed down my roll, my brother called.  He and his wife stopped over for a little while.  My nephew, Nathan, was with them too.  I haven’t seen him in a long time and I couldn’t believe how cute he’s gotten!  Here, take a look…

Michael with Nathan

I was too busy taking pictures of Nathan that I didn’t catch anyone eating the rolls, but I assure you..rolls were eaten (Piyush had 3 in one sitting!).  And they were enjoyed by all!

Macarons for My Husband

I love macarons!  I’m not talking about those coconut things people always make for Christmas either. Those are Macaroons, and they are okay, sure, but they don’t even hold a candle to the French Macaron!  The french macaron is a dainty, chewy little piece of heaven.  After one bite your life will be changed.  You will never want another cookie again!  You think I’m kidding, I’m sure, but I most definitely would not kid about Macarons!  They are my favorite cookie because they taste so yummy but also because they are a pain the ass to make.  Is that weird?  I don’t know.  I love the challenge.

So often when you make macarons something goes wrong.  The tops crack and they look weird with no feet or the shells get a funny bump on the top of them.  The shells might look grainy or maybe the cookie isn’t as chewy as it should be. I’ve tried so many ways to make macarons and I think I have finally found what works for me.  I really liked BraveTart’s recipe.  It works for me and even allows me to throw in extra ingredients too.  I often forget to add the salt (oops) but I haven’t noticed that it affects the taste or the success of the macaron.

The Recipe: (adapted from BraveTart)

4 ounces (115g) blanched almonds or almond flour, or whatever nut you like
8 ounces (230g) powdered sugar
5 ounces egg whites (144g), temperature and age not important*!
2 1/2 ounce (72g) sugar
the scrapings of 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp (2g) salt

*I find that using egg whites that are a couple days old and brought to room-temperature give me the most consistent results.  I’ve used fresh whites that were still chilled before too.  Sometimes they work great, most of the time my shells crack.   I also noticed that after I pipe the macarons,

letting them sit for about an hour really helps to prevent cracking.  The meringue gets a little dry and this helps the macaron keep its beautiful smooth top (and bottom).

I bake them at 300 degrees and hope for the best.  Usually I sit by the oven watching them for the first minute.  I can usually tell if they’ll crack or grow little feet by then.  This is what you want to see:

See how the shell is rising? There is a little fluffy part at the bottom? That fluffy part is what you want, it's called the "feet"

So the other day Piyush told me that he wanted some macarons.  We made a deal.  If he cleaned the cat litter box, I would make him any flavor macarons he wanted.  He loves chocolate ganache so he chose for me to make him chocolate macarons with dark chocolate espresso ganache.  They were delicious but the coffee flavor was way too strong for me.

I made the basic macaron recipe and added a couple spoonfuls of cocoa powder to the almond flour.  I didn’t add any food coloring to the shells because I figured the cocoa would give it a decent tint—and I was out of brown food coloring.  I made the ganache by melting chocolate with some espresso and heavy cream on a double boiler.

They didn’t turn out as smooth and pretty as I would like but right in the middle of mixing everything up I got some phone calls and had to figure out our home insurance stuff, so the macarons were neglected when they needed me the most.

Gosh, owning a home is a lot of work and it’s confusing too.  We changed insurance companies and whoever I spoke with at the mortgage company last month gave me the wrong department and fax number to have the new binder sent to.  We called a few times to verify everything was received and  that our new insurance company was on file and we were assured it was all correct.  WRONG! Although they received the binder and had it on file, the department that needed it never received it so our previous insurance company was paid a tremendous amount of money for a policy that didn’t even exist anymore.  We had to get the refund and figure everything out.  Annoying!  It’s fixed now and I’m glad that we realized what happened before we leave the country next month!

Piyush, happy to be eating Macarons after work!

Oh, the other thing about Macarons… even if the shell cracks and they don’t look as pretty as you’d like, they still taste better than anything you’ve ever tasted!

What a Beautiful Baking Day!

I love this crisp weather. It’s absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, the crispness in the air also means that snow will be here sooner than later. That makes me sad. But the snow isn’t here yet, so I’m going to do my best to enjoy autumn as long as I can! I love everything about autumn. I love pumpkins, colored leaves, apples and baking! Man, do I love baking. During the summer I still bake, but I never feel completely inspired.  I just don’t feel like turning on the oven inside when it feels like an oven outside.  Yuck.  But now that the days are in the high 60’s and low 70’s, and since I had to work all weekend long, I thought I’d bake my co-workers a Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake.

This cake is really moist and has a really good flavor.  Some would say it was because of the pumpkin—who doesn’t love pumpkin?—but I would disagree.  I think it’s the browned butter, baby!

To make brown butter you just take regular butter and drop it into a skillet (I prefer my cast iron for this) until it foams up and turns a golden color.

The butter will eventually melt entirely and the foam will subside quite a lot.  Brown butter isn’t just for baking though.  Have you ever made scallops and finished them with a butter bomb?  I recommend it!  Sear them nicely then toss in some butter with a couple sprigs of thyme stuck in it.  Finish the scallops by “poaching” them in the butter.  I don’t know if poaching is the right word, maybe basting would be better?  Anyway, they are delicious!

Back to the cake! This recipe is a keeper, but the only thing I would do differently is to bake it in multiple pans, maybe 2 or 3.  I just used one 9″ x 3″ cake pan and it takes forever to bake this way!  It will bake all the way through but I noticed my layers were a little more “doughy” than I’d like.  Some people love “doughy” though, so do what you want!

I decorated the cake really quickly using a Cinnamon Brown Sugar Buttercream.  This stuff is delish.  I don’t really have a recipe for this but I think I had seen it somewhere.  I just don’t remember!  I just make a regular buttercream, adding some brown sugar and cinnamon.  You have to cream the butter with the sugar though or else the frosting will be really grainy.

Before I left for work I cut a slice off to keep at home for Piyush.  The night before he had been begging me to cut into the cake (before it was even frosted).  He said the house smelled so good he just wanted to eat it!  I told him no, so then he asked me if he could eat the cake scraps?  I told him I didn’t level the cake so there were no cake scraps.  I wish I took a picture of his reaction.  He was so disappointed and tried to talk me into not taking the cake to work and leaving it for him.  For someone that insists he does not like sweets, he sure doesn’t like to share them!

I ate one bite of the cake, the pointy end of Piyush’s triangle piece, and it was indeed amazing.  I sliced the rest of the cake and took it to work.  It was gone in 5 minutes.  I’m not even joking.

Pumpkin Brown Butter Cake

(adapted from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter; more for the pans
  • 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 can pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk

Directions:

  • Make the brown butter (see how earlier in the post) and set aside.
  • Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt and cloves in one bowl.
  • Combine the two sugars and add in the eggs.  Cream together.  Add in the buttermilk and whisk it until its all combined.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and start mixing.  Slowly drizzle in the brown butter until everything is combined nicely.
  • Pour batter into greased pans that have the bottom lined with parchment paper (this makes it a million times easier to get the cake to slide out of the pan).
  • Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven.  I had to bake mine for over an hour but that was because I poured all the batter into one 9″ x 3″ pan.  Use a couple shallower pans and you should only have to bake it for around 45 minutes.
  • Cool the cake and then frost it with whatever you choose!

I’ve got all sorts of frosting left over…so be prepared to see some pumpkin spiced macrons.  I think those sound amazing!