Thursday, September 1, 2011

August 2011 Daring Bakers' Challenge: Candylicious!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

Aaaaaaand maybe I'll write more when I get a chance! For now, here are a few photos of my results. I made what I'm calling Toffee Almond Crunch Bars (untempered) and a variety of filled and unfilled molded truffles (tempered, albeit imperfectly). The filled truffles have things like homemade caramel sauce (totally delicious and my best EVER!), almonds, blueberries, and raspberry or blackberry jam. The unfilled ones are sea salted and basically amazing. All are dark chocolate (63% cacao).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Snickerdoodle Cupcake AWESOMENESS

As we all know, the mathematical formula of awesome (or MFA) states that at a rate of about 90%, one awesome thing plus another awesome thing will equal something totally wicked awesome that's probably going to melt your face off or at least be totally way better than just one awesome thing by itself. And better is ALWAYS better.

If you aspire to be any kind of chef or food-making person, it is very important to know and understand the MFA because baking, cooking, or really any kind of food preparation are all built on a foundation of awesome math. Check it:

Bacon=Awesome. Avocadoes=Awesome. Tomatoes=Awesome. Sourdough toast=Awesome.


Bacon+Avocadoes+Tomatoes+Sourdough toast=Totally awesome oh-my-goodness delicious BLAT sandwich in my stomach. Mmmmmm MM! (Yes, I actually just ate one. Go me. =])

Simple stuff, right? Now here's another one:

Cheese=Awesome. Garlic=Awesome. Basil=Awesome. Paprika=Fairly Awesome. Parsley=Ditto. French bread=Best thing. All that awesome stuff together=Effing AWESOME cheesy bread. BAM!

Why, you may ask, am I telling you all this (besides the fact that it's an incredibly invaluable lesson that can pretty much be applied to all areas of life and help you achieve ultimate all-powerful awesomeness and world domination)? Why, I tell you, because I just used this very same little equation to make something you'll-never-guess-what-adjective. ;)

Imagine, if you will a cupcake (obvious awesome) snickerdoodle (duh, awesome) combination. Does the picture in your mind look a-something like-a dis?:

Or like-a deees?

If not, then your imagination either sucks or is too advanced for this world (congratulations!).

Yeah. So these cupcakes were awesome. I made them for a very good friend's birthday, and they were a huge success. As in, I brought 30 of them to the party, and they were all devoured with the voracity of a thousand locusts. Every. Single. One.

People also asked me how I made them. Whenever people ask me how I made any of my baked goods, I'm always just a little bit tempted to with-hold my super magic baking secrets. Visions of grandeur and power flash before my eyes. I imagine clamoring mobs bowing at my feet, crying out hysterical pleas for my recipes. And then I realize that that would actually be kind of weird and annoying. Not to mention delusional and extremely unlikely to happen (still, please don't ever do that). So, anyway, here's your freakin' recipe:

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
(makes about 20 cupcakes)
2 1/4 c. cake flour (or 2 c. all-purpose flour + 2 T. cornstarch, well-sifted)
2 1/4 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsps. ground cinnamon
3/4 c. unsalted butter, room temp. (that's 1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/4 c. sugar
3 eggs, room temp.
1 1/2 tsps. vanilla extract
1 c. milk

Snickerdoodle Frosting:
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. shortening
28 oz. powdered sugar
1 1/2 T. cinnamon (half a T. is 1 1/2 tsps. ;])
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mini Snickerdoodle Toppers:
(you can afford to half this, if you feel like dividing an egg and are also a crazy person who doesn't want to have extra cookies. I mean, seriously, if you are then please just stop reading my blog and go buy some self-help books or something. In fact, forget I said anything. Make the recipe just like this. Have extra cookies! That is an order.)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened slightly
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. sugar and 2 T. cinnamon (mix in a small bowl and set aside for rolling cookie dough in)


1) Bake your cookies first. That way you can eat them all while the cupcakes are baking. Here is how:
a) Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
b) Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of your fancy robotic mixing device.
c) Mix your dry floury stuff into your creamy buttery stuff. You probably know what cookie dough looks like. Stop mixing as soon as the thing in your bowl looks like this.
d) Pre-heat your oven to 400°F (or, even better, 375° convection). Line cookie sheet with parchment paper or grease lightly.
e) Shape cookies into cute little 1/2" balls (a 1/2 tsp. is handy for this), and roll in cinnamon sugar mix. Flatten slightly between the palms of your hands (I think they come out most perfectly round this way). Bake about 6-8 minutes or until cookies just start to get golden and delicious-looking.

2) Now it's cupcake time! First, line your cupcake pans. (Trust me. Once your batter is ready, it's better to get it in the oven sooner than later.) If you want, pre-heat your oven to 350°F (325° convection). I usually wait until just before I pour the cupcake batter to save energy.

3) Sift together cake flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon (make sure your salt doesn't get stuck in your sifter). Set aside.

4) Using your fancy robotic mixing device, cream together butter, sugar, eggs (adding one at a time), and vanilla extract.

5) With your fancy robotic mixing device on a setting no higher than medium (or 3 on a Kitchenaid) alternate gradually add flour mixture and milk to your creamy mixture, ending with flour. Scrape the sides of the bowl down with a baking spatula inbetween mixing. Don't mix any longer than it takes to make the batter smooth.

6) Using a big spoon or pouring from a handy dandy liquid measuring cup, fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Firmly tap your pan against the kitchen counter a couple times to level the batter and liners and also to let any air bigger air bubbles rise out of the batter.

7) Bake cupcakes for 12-15 minutes or until the cake springs back to the touch. Let set 5 minutes before removing from the pan to cool on wire rack. Yes, you have to wait for them to cool ALL the way before you can frost them! You can do it. I believe in you.

8) While the cupcakes are baking or cooling, is a great time to make frosting. It's really easy. Pretty much just put all the ingredients in your mixer with the whisk attachment and mix them up. It works best if you cream the butter and shortening together and then add the powdered sugar gradually, scraping the sides of the bowl periodically.


I am quite done talking now. Listen to this awesome song that reminds me of *gasp* me!:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 2011 Daring Bakers' Challenge: Baklava with Homemade Phyllo

It's time for another Daring Bakers' Challenge post! Haha, I guess I haven't posted anything since the last one. I've been baking, though, of course. I'm always baking. Always cooking, too. I'm in the kitchen every single day. I really need to get better about taking pictures and posting when I do these things!
Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then using that homemade dough to make Baklava. I was super excited when I found out about this challenge because I had been interested in taking on homemade phyllo-making for a couple of years but not quite yet daring (or crazy?) enough to get started. Now that I've done it, I can say it is just about as trying as it sounds, but it is definitely (if you've got patience and passion for baking) a fun and worthwhile challenge to try out, and I'm very glad that I did.

Now this month, because I've got tons of pictures to share and not a lot of time left to post before the end-of-the-month deadline , which is *gasp!* TODAY (don't even get me started explaining all the things that have made me so last-minute posting..), I'm going to try doing things a little bit differently. Instead of writing out long ramble-y paragraphs of description, I'm going to give you a little photo-tour of the phyllo and baklava-making process. (Feel free to ask questions in the comments, if I miss some information along the way.)

But first, for those daring individuals out there who are interested in trying this out for themselves, here are the recipes I used:

Phyllo Dough
(for about 20 layers, in a 13x11" pan)
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. bread flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. + 3 T. water (plus more, if needed)
1/4 c + 2 T. vegetable oil (plus enough to coat dough before resting)
1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 c. melted butter for layering
1/4 tsp. ground saffron (optional, to mix in the butter)

Baklava Filling
2 c. blanched almonds (or pistachios, if you have them. I did not.)
1 c. walnuts
1 c. sunflower seeds
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

Baklava Syrup
1 3/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
a pinch of ground cloves
1 1/4 c. honey
1 1/2 c. water
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 orange peel

I didn't have blanched almonds, so I blanched and peeled them all myself. It took a while, but it was actually kinda fun in a "zen" sorta way.

Baklava filling ingredients ready to be all ground together in the food processor.

A quick whir, and the filling's all ready to go. Seriously, this was the easiest thing.

Baklava syrup dissolving and yummifying on the stove.

Syrup ingredients, minus the water and sugar.

Water, oil, and vinegar for the phyllo dough. Erica included a shot like this in her challenge post, and I thought it was pretty cool.

Phyllo dough ingredients in the mixer.

Phyllo dough being mixed. After this, I added a bit more flour to firm up the dough some. Then, I switched from the paddle to the dough hook attachment to knead the dough for about 10 minutes.

Phyllo dough just before I coated it with oil and put it into the refrigerator for two hours to rest.

A golf ball(ish)-sized portion of dough being floured up before I rolled it out into a layer of phyllo. It really is very important to use TONS of flour when rolling out the phyllo layers so that your dough doesn't stick to itself when you're rolling it out.

I thought you might like a size reference. I think in the future I will probably try using smaller portions to try and get more layers because I had so many scraps after I trimmed the phyllo to fit the pan.

Rolling.. It's best to use a long, wooden dowel to get smooth, thin layers. I didn't have one, so I washed up a length of PVC pipe and used that instead.

It got bigger! See?

MORE rolling.. My first few layers didn't turn out that great, but after awhile I developed a rolling technique that worked pretty well for me. This was probably a middle-ish layer.

The phyllo, several or more layers in.

Setting the pan over the phyllo in order to trim it up to size.

Trimming the phyllo with a pastry wheel.

The first layer of saffron butter and phyllo going in the pan.

Saffron butter for brushing between phyllo layers.

A layer of filling, probably about 7 layers of phyllo in.
(It looked a lot tastier in real life, but at this point it had gotten late enough that I had to deal with photographing in the icky kitchen light.)

THE TOP LAYER OF PHYLLO. This part felt SO GOOD. The rolling and layering took HOURS. I was relieved to tuck in the edges with a spatula and be done with that part!

Baklava all sliced into the traditional triangle shape and ready to bake.

Baklava in the oven. I baked it at 325 degrees, convection. (If you're using a regular oven, set it to 350 degrees.)

All baked and ready for syrup!

Just after I poured the syrup in.

In the morning two days later, the syrup was pretty much all absorbed into the baklava layers. (It's really only necessary to wait one night, but I wanted to allow more time for the syrup to be absorbed to make the baklava more tender and flavorful.)

A full-sized finished slice, ready to be eaten.

I decided to cut the baklava into smaller, bite-sized triangles for optimal cuteness and share-ability. Yum! =)

Yay! So there you go. Baklava is awesome to make. ...And I even have extras! :D

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Daring Bakers' Challenge May 2011: Chocolate Marquise on Meringue

I've spent the past two months trying to come up with just the perfect way to start up this blog. I've got so many projects and ideas to share that it's been hard to choose! Thankfully, I am forced by this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge to blurt out these first few lines and get this freakin' show on the road already. Woohoo! Here goes..

First off, I feel that I should probably explain just what the heck a Daring Bakers' Challenge IS. Well, it's a monthly baking challenge assigned to Daring Bakers of The Daring Kitchen. The Daring Kitchen is an online community of professional, student, or home bakers and cooks who want to try and share new baking and cooking projects with one another. At the beginning (for bakers) and middle (for cooks) of each month, a Daring Baker and a Daring Cook are chosen to host a top-secret challenge for their respective culinary realms. Everyone then has one month to complete their challenge (or challenges, if you happen to be both a Daring Baker AND Cook). After a specified date, they upload pictures and post about their completed projects, either on the Daring Kitchen website or in their blog, if they have one that is registered with the site to use (like this one is).

So that's that.. Sweet! Well, now that all those explanationings are taken care of, I'd say it's high time to commence the talking about food and drooling over sexy food porn! Yay! (This is already my favorite part, hehehe..)

The May 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Emma of CookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle. This is -awesome special thing- MY VERY FIRST Daring Bakers' Challenge! Weeehee! And I had such a very excellently fun and delicious time completing it. =]

The recipe is pretty darned long and includes four different components (marquise, meringue, nuts, and caramel), so instead of copy/pasting the whole thing, I'm just going to highly recommend that you check it out here. I used the half-recipe and still came out with tons of extra marquise, which is waiting in my freezer to be enjoyed sometime this month. (So you should come visit me! ;]) Additionally, I substituted the all the tequila for rum because it sounded like a way happier thing to have to finish up a bottle of. (Again, we should hang out, yeah?)

I had originally intended to photograph the entire process, but once I got started, I was so anxious to keep going, going, going, that I never ventured to search for the camera and start snapping shots until the end. Buuut I'm pretty sure these yummy little pics will more than make up for that (at least, I hope so):

As you can see, I got a little bit enthusiastic about experimenting with different ways of plating. Plating is something that I wish was covered more in the SRJC's Baking and Pastry Certificate courses. Supposedly, in Production Baking there will be some emphasis on it, which I am looking forward to. But I think the "savory side" (as we call the cooking realm at school) has a whole course devoted to it. I might have to take that class if I get the chance because I absolutely love plating, at least as much (and, admittedly, maybe sometimes more than?) tasting food. The thrill of making a pretty dish is -aughf!- I love it! It's like painting -with colours AND flavours. I'm finally an artist. My artistic medium just happens to be food. I could go on about this for several more pages, but I digress. Anyway, I've got this whole swell new blog for future baking-obsessed rants!

If you ever happen to make this (and, if you enjoy chocolate desserts and making fancy delicious things in the kitchen, you probably should), there are a few things I learned today about making Chocolate Marquise on Meringue that you might want to think about. I will post them in list format because it's one minute away from being two in the morning, my brain is getting tired of organizing sentences into neatly organized but interesting paragraphs, and sleep actually sounds pretty great (If you know me well, you will appreciate the small miracle-ness of that statement. If you don't, it's a small miracle because I have ADD and generally way too much curiosity-driven awake in me.):

1. MAKE THE CHOCOLATE BASE FIRST. I clearly remember figuring this out the first time I read the recipe a month ago. I'm quite certain I must've remind myself twice or thrice in the following weeks that this was probably a very smart order in which to execute the process. And yet. IIIIIIIIIIII... Forgot. =( Fortunately, everything was not ruined. Everything actually turned out fine. It just caused me to have to run frantically around the kitchen trying to make up the base in time, while the mixer whirred on for about half an hour (or more?) and slightly deflated my egg-sugar syrup mixture. I added an extra egg white, and that fluffed it right back up fine.

2. Don't cook the caramel sauce for too long after adding the heavy cream. While it's cooking, it seems like it's going to be way too thin, and you may be tempted to continue cooking it until it gets thick enough so that you can imagine drizzling it over a plate. I did this, and after an hour of cooling and waiting for the marquise to freeze (rhyming, yay!), the caramel had set up so much that I had to warm it in a bain marie to loosen it up again and stir in an extra dash of rum. Again, everything turned out fine and delicious. -I'm just not going to cook the caramel for as long next time!

3. If you blanch your own almonds, absolutely do not let them soak for too long, AND when they're done soaking, drain and dry them very, very well. Otherwise you will have a soupy almond sugar-spice mixture, to which you will have to add more sugar and spices to dry it up some.. and then you might realize that that actually doesn't work too well and have to instead strain your almonds before baking them. Yeah. I did that.

4. Don't make up more meringue than you're going to serve. Seriously, do some calculating before you whip up too many whites. After making the marquise you'll have plenty, but unless you're serving a lot of people, you reeeeeally won't need them all. -Or probably even close to all. A little goes a long way. I'm pretty sure there's a note about this somewhere in the recipe at the Daring Kitchen website that I probably read several times.

5. This recipe might sound incredibly long and daunting before you start out on it, but it's really not as scary as it sounds. It certainly sounded daunting to me, which is (aside from trying to gather ingredients on an unemployed and mostly broke budget) the reason I managed to put it off until the very last minute. I found that it's really not nearly as difficult as it sounds, is actually quite fun and rewarding (Mmmm!!), AND I managed to finish it in an hour less than the eight hours the recipe suggests it will take.

Taste-wise, the dessert turned out absolutely delicious. As Jenny of PurpleHouseDirt described in her challenge post, it is a very interesting combination of unlikely flavours and contrasting textures. The marquise is richly chocolate, yet so soft and light in texture that it doesn't overwhelm in the least. The cayenne and black pepper paired with the chocolate is odd but surprisingly tasty. It ties in amusingly with the sticky sweet/sour taste of the apple cider meringue (which, I must add, was super fun to toast). The caramel is -mmm!- I loved the rum flavouring. And, of course, the spicy roasted almonds and cocoa nibs add an essential crunch factor that really completes the dish.

Overall, I'm very happy with my results. I feel like I did a great job on time, taste, and plating. I definitely did at least as well as I'd ideally hoped to before starting, I learned a few things on the way, and I even came out with leftovers -a definite bonus!

Daring Bakers' Challenge May 2011 = Success! ^_^