Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bake-Over, Make Me Over

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?  yes
Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing?  yes
Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?  yes
Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure?  yes
Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?  yes
Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?  yes

The black bottom cupcakes have helped me to confront these Workaholics Anonymous questions, the yin-yang of the chocolate and vanilla peacefully urging me on to what I might one day call balance in my life.  In other words, I am coming to the slow conclusion that my life needs a make-over.  Which is not a fabulous conclusion to come to at the beginning of the school year when you are a teacher and work for a school whose #1 motto is "Whatever It Takes."  

It's been a while since I've written, or even looked at any baking blogs.  When I was a student and home all day sitting at my computer it was easy to find the time to write and take pictures and bake, but now that I've been sitting in meetings all day and writing lesson plans, it's a bit more difficult.  With all my emotional energy invested in my job, I am, sadly, losing sight of the beloved baked good, of the balanced black bottom cupcake. 

Which is why a bake-over was a good concept.  Sometimes I dream that I won't have any work on a weekend and I can just go home and bake.  Maybe one day I'll get to this point, but for now the "mandatory fun" of a scheduled bake-over seemed just what the Dr. ordered to help make me over into someone who was not work-driven (and, in case you were wondering, if you answered yes to any of the questions above, they do have Workaholics Anonymous clubs.)

Originally Chrissy's (of Cup O' Cake Designs) idea (a variation of the "bake-off," which has a competitive purpose), the "bake-over" is collaborative in nature.  While our husbands drank beer and more beer at a local brewfest, us girls made cheesy crackers 2 ways, peanut-butter chocolate brownies, black-bottom cupcakes, and jam thumbprints.  Woa!  The kitchen was pretty lucky that day, as were the revelers upon coming home and finding our goods.  As for work, at least the kind with which I am familiar, there was none to be had.  And, having a varied tray of yummy desserts and crackers for each person to take home is a major plus.

Chrissy's cheese crackers were decadent, and I couldn't keep my hands off the tray.  I particularly liked the chipotle ones whose smoky chile flavor was a nice compliment to the cheese.  These would be awesome for a party and you could probably freeze the dough ahead of time, then just defrost and cut out when ready to bake.  I also recommend toasting any leftover crackers.  They crisp up pretty quickly and result in the same heavenly salty crunch as when they come straight from the oven.  I know this because Chrissy was kind enough to let Linda and I sample some of the crackers while still piping hot, and because the toasted leftover crackers welcomed me home from work several nights this past week.

The brownies, baked by Linda, have a mountainous peanut-butter topping that literally melts in your mouth.  The underlayer is pure chocolatey goodness.  Even the wary brownie eater will enjoy these I think.  

Black bottom cupcakes were just as satisfying as Fooding Through Life promised they would be with the rich, cheesy creamy centers suspended in an ocean of deep chocolate.  These are satisfying.

As for the cookies, the ones I didn't burn came out well.  The centers bend a bit, sort of like the flexible Pepperidge Farm Verona cookies whose gelled center will stretch rather than break when bent in half.  It's a lovely texture and the sweet raspberry jam filling couples rather nicely with the lemony scent of its butter cookie surroundings.  

So, if you ask me to do something and I tell you I can't because "I have to work," just give me a gentle reminder that a Bake-Over might be a good idea.  

The Recipes

1.  Cheese Crackers
(Instructions courtesy of Chrissy)

1 Stick of Butter – at room temperature

2 Cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper


1. Preheat your oven to 325° and get out your food processor.

2. Throw all of those ingredients into the food processor and pulse until well mixed, about 10 times.

3. Dump the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and use your hands to bring it together forming a ball of dough.

4. If the consistency allows, roll the dough out into a very thin layer.  Maybe 1/8 inch.  If the dough is too loose to roll, toss it into the fridge for 15 minutes.

5. Once rolled out, cut the crackers.  You can use cookie cutters here if you would like fancy shapes, but I just used a pizza cutter for basic crackers. It’s your call.

6. Place the crackers onto a cookie sheet covered with foil or even better, a Silpat baking mat (if you don't have a Silpat I'm sure you could use parchment paper).

7. Bake for 11 minutes or until the crackers start to get just golden on the edges.
8. Place on a cooling rack until the crackers are no longer warm.

who got them from Baking Bites

Thursday, August 6, 2009

In Among Raspberries

Like the peaches, the raspberries have their bodies, too, bodies that, when ripe, willingly slide into my palm as I coax them from their branches.  I've been doing a lot of standing in among those berries, lately, letting the scheming branches slide down my legs as I wade into the middle of the strip lining my dad's driveway.  I don't seem to care about the scratches as I have my eyes on a thick, round berry or a whole cluster of them, taunting me to come closer.  It's kind of a meditative time, really, only I always have a bit of a problem afterwards, if you want to call it that.  Tupperwares full of berries! 

What to do with all of these raspberries, I haven't quite yet figured out, but I've got some ideas going.  I've been freezing them like mad, eating them on cereal, and offering them to everyone around.  I made ice-cream topping and raspberry jam (doughnuts with raspberry jam, bread and jam, peanut butter and jam toasts, raspberry jam tartlets...) and even had to let a slew of the little things go last night that were sitting, wet and moldy, in the bottom of their container.  
Here are a few recipes for you so you can attempt to deal with your own raspberries before they overtake your summer existence (If you are lucky enough to have such a problem.  If not, I recommend buying some from a farmer's market or pick-your-own place and making the problem for yourself!  It's certainly not a bad one to have.)

Recipe 1.  Raspberry Jams, Please

I have only made shelf-stable jam once (with my mother-in-law, who is a pro) and usually do not feel qualified enough to do it by myself.  If you're like me, however, have no fear.  You can make small batches of jam and store it in your refrigerator.  Frozen berries would work just fine.  

This recipe from Epicurious, is, as it turns out, your basic jam recipe.  When I was making it I had my computer out on the kitchen table with the recipe in it and my dad came in from outside, paused long enough to laugh at me for following a recipe, and said, in his "I know EVERYTHING" voice, (he actually admitted to this "fact" once) that of course all you had to do was boil equal parts fruit and sugar. Duh. In any event, I followed the recipe anyway, which, as you can see, calls for equal parts jam and sugar.  It came out beautifully.  I measured the berries before crushing them, as it says to do, then threw in a few handfuls of extra berries and the jam came out just fine.  I tend to like things a little less sweet, so next time I might try crushing the berries before measuring them. You  could probably also skip the sugar-warming step and be fine.  

Therefore, I suppose that if you have a know-it-all father like mine who is an expert on EVERYTHING (and therefore on jam, of course) you could save yourself the trouble of having to listen to him laugh up your recipe by using the following easy to remember in your head recipe:  

Basic Fruit Jam
Measure equal parts fruit and sugar.  Bring to a boil for 5 minutes or until gelled.  Ladle into glass jars (or use a wide-mouth funnel) and allow to cool.  Refrigerate until ready to use.   

Go ahead, give it a try.  Just be sure to memorize the recipe first.  

Dario, my Dad's kitchen mascot (he knows everything too), with my raspberry jam.

Here is the raspberry jam recipe I used from Epicurious.  If you would like to process the jam to shelf-stabilize it, you will need to click on the recipe title to take you to the link with the complete directions.

Old-Fashioned Raspberry Jam

from (2001)

Taken from 

The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving

by Eleanor Topp and Margaret Howard

1. Place sugar in an ovenproof shallow pan and warm in a 250°F (120°C) oven for 15 minutes. (Warm sugar dissolves better.)

2. Place berries in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a full boil over high heat, mashing berries with a potato masher as they heat. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

3. Add warm sugar, return to a boil, and boil until mixture will form a gel (see tips, below), about 5 minutes.

4. Ladle into sterilized jars and process as directed for Shorter Time Processing Procedure .

Recipe 2.  Easy Honey Doughnuts with Cinnamon-Sugar and Raspberry Jam 

It's best to fry these doughnuts while your eaters sit at the kitchen table waiting.  As they come out of the hot oil and get sugared, your eaters can fight over who is in line for each subsequent doughnut.  This recipe is from Martha Stewart, but I have changed the oil type (I just use canola).  To view the original recipe for "Cinnamon Honey Doughnuts with Raspberry Jam," click here.  You can also make the dough and refrigerate or freeze it before allowing it to rise.  To use, thaw and allow to rise before proceeding with frying instructions.  

  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons warm water, (100 degrees to 110 degrees)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for bowl
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3 cups canola oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar, for dusting
  • 1 12 ounce jar seedless raspberry jam

  • In a medium bowl, combine yeast with warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in honey, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, egg, milk, and corn oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir in salt and flour. Mix until dough appears smooth.
  • Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Line a baking sheet with parchment, and another one with paper towels; set aside.
  • Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead four to five times. Roll dough into a 10-inch circle, about 1/4 inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter or glass, cut dough into 2 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch circles and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet. Lightly cover with plastic; let rest in a warm place 20 minutes.
  • In a medium saucepan, heat canola oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 360 degrees. (Or, simply put some oil in the bottom of a large pot so it comes at least 1/4 inch up sides.  This is how I did it and it worked just fine.)  Working in batches of five or six, fry doughnuts until golden brown on both sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain BRIEFLY. Fry remaining doughnuts.
  • In a medium bowl, combine sugar and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Toss the doughnuts lightly in cinnamon sugar quickly after coming out of the pot and draining on paper towels.  Doughnuts are best eaten immediately after coming out of the sizzling oil!
  • Immediately serve the doughnuts with a dollop of jam on each plate, or with a bowl of jam to pass (this is what I did).  
  • How-To In Pictures
    1.  Milk is mixed with eggs, yeast, and honey. 
    2.  Flour is added and mixed. 
    3.  The doughnut dough, ready to be set in a warm place to rise.  
    4.  Cut circles of doughnut dough, ready to be fried.
    5.  A lonely smidge of doughnut dough serving as my Is the Oil Hot Enough? test.
    6.  My three snack doughnuts frying.  
    7.  When it is golden brown, one of the doughnuts is lifted out of the pan with a slotted metal spoon.  It will then be dried on paper towels and rolled in cinnamon-sugar.  

    8.  The doughnuts, ready to feed me for my snack.

    Recipe 3.  Raspberry Jam Tartlets

    I made this quick tartlet with some leftover tart dough I had frozen.  A dough that is slightly sweet works best.  

    Tart dough
    Raspberry jam

    You will need 1 12-cup muffin tin, preferably one that has shallow cups or a mini-muffin pan.
    Roll your dough out to a 1/4 inch thick.  Using a glass or biscuit cutter, cut out circles of dough that are slightly larger than each muffin cup.  Use dough scraps to cut out long strips of dough about a 1/4 inch wide or slightly narrower.  Fit each dough circle into a muffin cup and poke with a fork.  Pre-bake your shell (350 degrees) for about 12 minutes, or depending on tart dough directions.  Remove from oven and fill with raspberry jam.  Top with a criss-cross of the dough strips (cut to fit--see picture).  Finish baking (about another 12 minutes; jam should bubble slightly).  

    Recipe 4.  Hurricane Katrina Raspberry Ice-Cream Topping
    I started making fruit ice-cream toppings several years ago during Katrina (yes, as in the hurricane--I lived in Baton Rouge for a couple of years).  This was the scene:  my roommates and I (3 girls) had invited a house of our fellow teaching friends (3 boys--one of whom was to be my future husband) over for a couple of days to wait out the storm.  When our power went out we determined rather quickly that we had to start eating our way through the refrigerator and freezer, and one of the things we made was fruit topping with the frozen berries we had in our freezer for our melting ice-cream.  I have been making it with all different kinds of berries since, and it is quick and delicious.  My favorite combos:  strawberry or blueberry topping with vanilla ice-cream or raspberry topping with chocolate ice-cream.

    Berry Topping:
    In a small saucepan, mix together:
    Fresh or frozen berries (I've been using fresh raspberries lately)
    Freshly squeezed lemon juice (be careful with this and only add a little at first; otherwise, you will make the topping rather sour!)

    Simmer until berries are slightly thickened and the sauce has come together (they will not thicken up that much).

    My doughnut snack (yes, I ate three). 

    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Beer (and cake) For My Birthday

    Today is August 3, otherwise known as the joyous day of my birth.  This is the day I joined my parents and two sisters, making them all wonder what they had gotten themselves into.  I almost died a few days later and left them forever, but since I didn't, since I instead stuck around to cause years and years of headache for them (sorry, family), happy 27th birthday to me.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again:  The best thing about birthdays is cake.  Usually it's me making the cake for someone else, but yesterday I felt like the luckiest woman in the world when my husband baked me a Chocolate Stout Cake.  The cake turned out pretty impressively for a novice (he's been known to bake me a cake before on my birthday, but as cakes go, he has probably  made fewer than five).  Plus, making the cake gave my husband an excuse to go for a trip to the liquor store and ponder over the best stout for the job. The final winner?  A Young's Luxury Double Chocolate Stout.  Who could object to that? 

    I think my husband knows me rather well because when I got back from a hot run yesterday and his cake was in the oven, he had a mini glass bowl of batter for me with a little spoon in it. Batter=yum. Sister F take note. (Said sister has previously denied me fluffy, happy spoonfuls of poppy seed cake batter, fearful of her precious creation being ruined by the absence of a few spoonfuls of batter. Perhaps she just needs a little more experience to know that 1) it hardly makes a difference and 2) cake is made to be enjoyed?)  

    Chocolate Stout Cake

    This cake comes from the Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington, MA, but is on the Epicurious website.  This is a good cake.  It is what chocolate cake should be, particularly chocolate birthday cake:  dense, very moist, impressively large like an imposing mansion, (yes, this is, without a doubt, the mansion of chocolate cakes) and intensely chocolatey, with a chocolate ganache filling and frosting (ganache is just a fancy name for heavy cream mixed with melted chocolate until it glistens).  No one else claimed to be able to taste the stout in this cake, but I swear I could.  And then there is the addition of sour cream, whose tanginess is a perfect foil to the sweetness of the chocolate and the bitterness of the stout.  I'm not just saying all of these nice things because my husband made it or because it is my birthday cake.  If you have been searching for the perfect chocolate cake, I have a hunch your search might be over.  I think you will be rather pleased with the result.

    How-To In Pictures:

    The recipe

    The ingredients

    Making the Cake Batter:

    The butter is melted with the stout over the stovetop before it is mixed with the dry ingredients.

    Chocolate tower.

    Making the Ganache:
    Heavy cream heating up before chopped chocolate is whisked in.
    The iced and finished cake.
    Birthday candles in place and fired up, ready for my wish.

    All pictures courtesy of Brewfus Alewise.

    The Recipe:
    (I copied and pasted this from the Epicurious website; if you want to check out people's comments, click here for the link.)  Also, you can read about the cake from a brewer's perspective (my husband's) in a few days by clicking here
    • 2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
    • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
    • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

    • 4 cups all purpose flour
    • 4 cups sugar
    • 1 tablespoon baking soda
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 1/3 cups sour cream

    • 2 cups whipping cream
    • 1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped (Steve used Baker's Semisweet)


    For cake:
    Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

    Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

    For icing:
    Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours.

    Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.