Sunday, May 22, 2011

Razorback Velvet Cake with Berries

My husband's work place has had some visitors from across the pond, Brits, this week. So we were supposed to go to a game night with some of my some of his work friends to visit with all the newbies.  I decided to make a very Southern dessert to take over there.  Red Velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.  This cake has just a bit of chocolate added to it to give it the velvety texture it's known for and is dyed a deep Razorback red.  It seemed an appropriate choice to share with the British.  But I'm not going to lie, I was tempted to make scones and Banoffee pie and ask them if it was anything like the originals.  Unfortunately, my Love was not feeling too hot.  We stayed in.  And regrettably, I had already made a second cake to take to church.  Twin cakes.  Still coming up with something to do with the second cake.

My recipe is adapted from here, but it tastes a little different the way I make it.

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured~you can make your own with 1/4 cup of cornstarch inside your 1 cup measuring cup, filled the rest of the way with flour.) 
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk (I made some with almond milk and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar)
1 teaspoon apple vinegar  (even if you make your own buttermilk, add this too)
1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
Lots of Americolor Red until the batter is RED like an Arkansas razorback

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with baking spray. Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions.  Add the red food coloring until the desired shade.  Think of the grooms cake in the movie Steel Magnolias.

Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 22 (in an electric oven) minutes. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely.

Don't skimp on the sifting or you will end up with a heavy cake with clumps of cocoa powder in it. 

Make a batch of your favorite cream cheese frosting or vanilla buttercream.  I like the taste of the cream cheese frosting but I really don't like how mine isn't manipulatable like buttercream is so I guess I need to try some new recipes. 

Frost the cake per normal.  If you want extra complexity and beauty for your presentation, add some fresh berries to the middle and top of the cake.  This is also great for hiding frosting flaws as well as getting your daily dose of antioxidants!  Any berries you like are fine.  The original recipe calls for blueberries and raspberries, but you can use whatever you got the best deal on at your local farmers market.

On one cake, I took some of the crust I had cut from around the edge, crumbled it, and then patted it to the side of one of the cakes.  The other I added the berries to the bottom for a border.

I must say, very delicious indeed.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Double Oven Baking {Answered Prayers}

This post only has to do with baking in a round about way, but I still wanted to share.  And keep checking back, I'm make some pink anemones for an upcoming bridal shower cake tonight.

Last year my husband and I decided to start checking out homes to purchase.  We wanted a little bigger place with room to expand.  Anyone who has shopped for homes before can tell you how exhausting the task can be.  The joy of looking through photos of beautiful homes can be time consuming and daunting, particularly if, like most of Americans, you are on a budget.  We really wanted to live within our means, careful not to stretch ourselves too thin so we could still afford important necessities, like flour and sugar electricity. 

So after careful searching we found the PERFECT house.  A Georgia colonial style home with two big front porches on 10 acres, half it that forrest and the other a field enclosed by trees, and a creek running on the backside of the land.  It even had a mighty oak with a wooden swing in the front yard.  It was breathtaking.  We could have the garden we'd always wanted and chickens too!  (I may not seem it, but I'm a country girl.)  So we put a bid on it.  Nothing.  It was a foreclosure and our agent wasn't familiar with the process.  Eventually we gave up.  Turns out it was a blessing because of things going on with my husband's job, his paychecks were a bit irregular.  Of course, at the time it seemed like a curse.  Why God?!  It's perfect!  Don't You want us to have it?!  "No, I have other plans for you."  But, of course I have a hard time hearing Him.  (I mean look at me!  I still don't know what to do for a career!)

Then in January we found another house.  Not as perfect, but much closer to my husband's workplace and little closer to our budget.  It was almost a "cookie cutter house" to me though.  My husband felt this was the house God was leading us to, but I was unsure.  We decided to pray.  I said, to my husband and God, if I'm going to do the city limit house, it's gotta be amazing; it has to have a double oven.  The only way I'm giving up my chickens is if I can bake twice as much, twice as fast.  And this house didn't have one.  Didn't matter anyway because it sold.  But the builder for the neighborhood said, "I can do the same house on the street behind this one."  Okay...and a double oven?  "Yep."  Wow.  So we took it as a sign.  (We prayed for a bit too.)

In two weeks, we should be homeowners, God willing.  All I can do is fantasize about what it will be like to have TWO ovens.  TWO!  I can do twice as many sugar cookies at once!  Eight loaves of chocolate babka!
Sixty macarons!  A whole wedding cake!  You get the picture.  I'm so excited and yet still fearful it won't come true.

I've been challenged lately to have faith in God's promises, even if I can't see them materializing.  Case in point: what I'm going to do career wise.  But the house is materializing.  I can see it.  It's almost finished.  There are walls, rooms, and flooring (most of it anyway).  And just a few months ago, it was just talk.  The point is, God provides, not always when you want Him to and obviously, not always the way you ask, but He provides.  So, if I begin to lose some of the huge faith depsoits I normally shell out for everyone as I go through the struggle of a new career please help me to remember this post.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

April Showers Bring May Flowers...{Wedding Sugar Cookies}

This was supposed to be posted last week but blogger was down.  I've got a lot of blogging to catch up on!

If April showers bring May flowers then what do May flowers bring?  June weddings!

I love weddings.  The flowers, the dress, the CAKE, the favors that are shaped like little cakes!

I wanted to be a do it yourself bride, but I had so many people telling me it was going to be too hard and too much stress that they talked me out of it.  I wish they hadn't because there are so many ways to save time and money far enough in advance that you have no worries.  Dang it.  I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off the last 48 hours, having to remind people what to do and where to be.  Oh well, I still have my prince.

So if you want to save some time, money, and still add your unique touch (or you want someone else to do it for you) to a wedding reception or a bridal shower, here is a lovely idea.

Purchase a wedding cake cookie cutter.  I got my from a local craft store, but you can purchase yours from many online shops.  It was 99 cents.

Mix up and  bake your favorite batch of sugar cookies or other decorating cookies, along with a batch of royal icing. 
It's easier to assemble everything you'll need from the start.
Then begin decorating!  My favorite decorated cookie was this plain white one I added embelishments to.  My dress was actually ivory so I might add a bit of tan if that is the case for you, depending on the shade of the actual cake. 

Fun, huh?

The undecorated cookies can be stored after baking in the freezer for a month.  Just thaw completely on cooling racks before decorating.  The decorated cookies can keep well packaged for 2 weeks.  Also, I stuck some in a plastic container for a week in the fridge (accidently) with some cupcakes.  I had to eat it when I opened it.  They tasted fine.  The icing was still just as pretty and the cookie seemed to be the same softeness.  Just make sure your refridgerator doesn't add condensation to the top of your plastic lid covering them and you should be ok. 

Happy decorating!  And happy 2 year anniversary to my best friend and my prince. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

French Macarons~Gluten Free Recipe

Most Americans are familiar with macaroons.  But the macaroon is not the same as the macaron.  The American version is a cookie sized sweetened coconut cake made, naturally, with plenty of flaked coconut.  They are pretty tasty but they aren't overly pretty.  The French version, however, is made with egg whites and ground nuts, often almonds, and is very pretty.  They can come in any color and unique flavors like lavender, cardamom, citrus, rose, raspberry, and more.  That's not even counting the endless fillings, my favorite being ganache. 

The best part about a French macaron?  They are gluten free; perfect for my mommy.  Oh and because of the color/flavor combos, they are lovely on a dessert table.

They were supposed to be finished with the recipe up by Saturday morning, but...I got behind, heck I just stayed behind.  I made a plain version Saturday night, but they were lack luster.  I couldn't remember my normal recipe so I used another one from Martha Stewart.  Maybe it was the recipe, maybe my egg whites sat out too long or not long enough.  Whatever the reason, they were all wrong. Not pretty.  (They still tasted good though.)

So, I got up on Mother's day and whipped up a chocolate version once I found my original recipe scribbled on a sticky note (I also believe I first found this on Martha's site, but I can't find them now).  Perfection!  Smooth tops, airy and chewy centers.  LOVE! 

But the first time I ever made these was not exactly perfection.  I tried to make shortcuts in the process, hoping to cut down on what I felt was idle wait time.  Now that I understand what happens when you make shortcuts with these cookies I can share it with you.

Macaron Recipe:  Yields about 18 cookie sandwiches
3/4 cup of almond flour (finely ground almonds)
1 cup of powdered sugar
2 large egg whites
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar
3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup granulated sugar (I use more when making chocolate ones.)

For chocolate ones, use 1/2 cup of almond flour with 3 Tablespoons of cocoa powder

Let your egg whites sit out for several hours or overnight at room temperature to thicken.  My patisserie pastry books say this is how it's been done for years.  Not comfortable with it then use pasteurized egg whites (meringue and egg white powder is often pasteurized).  Then put them into mixing bowl with the salt and the tartar and begin beating on medium/high speed.  Slowly add your granulated sugar.  Beat until STIFF peaks form.  I say stiff because if you only do medium peaks then you have less room for error when you fold them with your almond mixture.  Add any color you like when the whites are stiffened.
While that is mixing sift your powdered sugar, cocoa, and almonds into a bowl.  Dump any larger bits that don't make it through the sifter into the trash or reserve for something else.  When the egg whites are ready, slowly fold them into your almond mixture until it is uniformly combined. 
Attempting to double sift.  Bottom sifter is too fine for almonds though.
Dump this.

Uniformly mixed.
Fit a pastry bag with a coupler and #10 tip and put the batter into it.  Alternatively, snip the end off of a large freezer bag.  Pipe circles about the size of a quarter onto parchment or silicone mat lined cookie sheets.  I leave my tip in the same spot and just squeze the bag until I reach this point.  The batter spreads as it sits on the sheet so they are bigger than quarter sized.  Space appropriately.

If your batter isn't spreading, you may have been too delicate in the folding process.  Squish up your bag a bit.

After all your cookies are piped, let them sit at room temperature for another 20-30 minutes.  This is imperative for successful, beautiful cookies.  It allows them to form a skin on the top which keeps the shape of the perfect dome when they bake.  Not doing so, as I've found, makes a tastey cookie, but not a dessert table worthy cookie.  See pictures below...
Lemon with lemon curd, chocolate with mint buttercream, vanilla
with vanilla buttercream, raspberry with chocolate ganache.
Whoops!  Inappropriately spaced!  After baking and cooling for
2 minutes, cut with a knife.  Don't cut your silicone though! 
The footings spread too much too.
Almost enough skin but you can see where it wasn't
fully formed, hence the creased look.
 While they are sitting, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.  When the skins have formed, place one cookie sheet in the upper thirds of the oven and the other one in the lower thirds.  Wait 1 minute and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.  Bake for 5 minutes, rotate cookie sheet positions, and bake 5 minutes more for a total of 10-11 minutes.  Reheat the oven to 375 for each batch that goes in.  Let the cookies cool for 10-20 on the sheets.  I've done less cool time but if you try to pull them off and you can feel resistence or the tops come off and the bottoms don't then likely, you didn't cool them long enough on the hot sheets and the insides are still wet and slightly under-done.  See pics...

Baked perfect.  Nice footings seen at the bottom.
Dope!  Stuck, and not evne a knife got them up.
What they should look like underneath.
Once the macarons are completely cooled you can add your favorite filling.  Just add a dollip or pipe a flower center on there.  I put milk chocolate caramel frosting in my chocolate ones and vanilla buttercream in my plain ones.  Then sandwhich a cookie with a dollip of filling with a similarly sized one without.  BE CAREFUL!  The tops are full of air so they are very delicate.  I typically put the cookies together by swirling one on top of the other with the filling on it.  Just like you would twist off the top of an oreo, to ensure even distribution.  If you smoosh one, give in and eat it immediately. 
Remember, the blue plain macarons were a different recipe with more sugar, more eggs and more almond flour.  So they didn't have proper footings (the bottom edges of the cookie) and were still wet after 12 minutes or longer.  This could also be because I didn't let the egg whites sit out long enough.  Still tasty!

Another note:
Almond flour isn't available at most local grociers.  I get mine from a CoOp.  It's not cheap.  About $13.50 for a 1 pound bag.  Alternatively, you can buy blanched slivered almonds in bulk and run them through the food processer until they are fine.  Almonds can be a bit wet so you may need to spread the flour on covered cookie sheets to dry in a humid free room or bake them at a low temperature oven for just a few minutes.  Bake the flour too long and you'll have toasted almond flour.  I was short on time and counter space so I didn't do this.  ~Side bar: soon, God willing, I'll have a big kitchen with a double oven and plenty of storage for all my baking and cooking items.  YAY!

The macarons freeze well.  Done it plenty of times.  I keep uneaten portions in the fridge too, sealed in a container.

Presentation Options:
You can put lollipop sticks in between the filling of the cookies as long as it's a thicker, stronger filling.  If your filling is sturdier when refridgerated, just put the sticks in at room temp and pop in the freezer for a few.  I also piped butter cream rosettes onto the blue ones so they would look neat from the side.  But they looked so lovely like that you most certainly could serve them that way, especially if you didn't like how you batch looked.

Don't let the grandeur of these petite cookies get in the way of your desire for them.  They aren't that hard and most everyone loves them.  Especially people who eat gluten free.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother's Day Ideas: Homemade, Vegan, Gluten free

Ah Mother's Day.  Mom's everywhere are look forward to this day each year to get breakfast in bed, chores done without asking, diamond jewlrey, and everyone getting along.  Wait.  I'm not a mom (yet), but I don't think any Mother's Day I've participated in has ever looked like a Norman Rockwell painting.  Does yours? 

Alright then, Mom might want a gold and emerald necklace, but realistically she's gonna get one made of macarooni.  But everytime you did that as a kid she loved it, didn't she?  So with the the economy tight, our wallets tight, and our gas tanks running on empty what are we gonna do?  That's right!  Macarooni necklace! Only, let's take that and make her something else, more, uh, enjoyable.  Here's a list of really awesome ideas:

Make her some sugar cookies.  Even if your decorating skills are lacking, they'll still taste amazing.  Especially if you try the chocolate sugar cookies here.  Spell her name out in them like below.  Then arrange the cookies into a cookie bouquet!  Neat huh?

Bake a loaf of chocolate babka.  This is really great for grandmas.  The word babka means grandmother in the original language.  (Directly it means old woman, but it's used as a term of endearment for grandmas.)  It's hands down the best sweet bread I have ever had.  Mom's not into chocolate?  Make cinnamon sugar filling instead.  This Jewish bread is traditionally served at Passover, but it's good for breafast any day.  Heck, it's just good.  Mom will be greatly impressed by the time and effort you put into making homemade bread.  It's my most requested item at Christmas time.

Make her some French Macarons.  Bonus, they're gluten free.  This is one of the things my mom is getting as she suffers from fibromyalgia and gluten free diets can assist in reducing the inflamation causing the pain.  These are trickier and take some helpful hints, which I will be happy to post shortly.  They have chewy centers and practically melt in your mouth as you eat them.

My mommy and me several years ago.

Make her a cd of all her favorite oldies that she used to jam out to you will when you were a kid.  My mom and I used to have pretend concerts to Heart albums.  I cherish those happy memories.

Create a card from cardstock to tell her how much she means to you.  It's really not difficult and you'll spend less than five bucks doing it if you already have some of the supplies on hand.  So what if it's less than gorgeous. Remember, honey, that macarooni necklace was no work of art either.
(Cards not yet made.  So behind this week!)

Whip up a batch of those scones I posted and package them with some yummy teas in a cute little basket with a decorative mug.  How cute would that be?  And, it's vegan!  It could easily be shipped and overnighted too.  Just saying.

Get her her favorite lotion from Bath and Body Works.  Then buy some flowers at the local farmer's market and arrange them in a vase yourself.  I did this last year for all the moms in my life and it was well recieved.  Wildflowers and daises are the easiest to arrange if you are worried about skill level.  Just snip the ends off and plop them into a vase with water in it.  Dress the vase up with her favorite color ribbon to make it stand out.  Tada! 

Cook her favorite meal.  She did it for you for years now it's your turn to show her you learned a thing or two since back in the day.  She'll appreciate not having to cook her own Mother's Day dinner, I promise.

The possibilites are endless.  Happy Mother's Day to everyone out there.  Make the best of the mom God gave you.  Hope it's a delicious day!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Teacher's Appreciation Day

God bless teachers!

Today is Teacher Appreciation Day.  I think almost everyone has been touched emotionally by a teacher in some way.  I've had several teachers who said some not so nice things to me or about me, and even they managed to make me a better student or person, if nothing more than to prove them wrong.  I've also had some really inspiring teachers over the years too.  Brave individuals who stood against what was wrong and instilled in us what was right.  No matter the teacher this is your day! 

I meant to write a tutorial on some cupcake cookie combos today, but alas, life got in the way and the sugar cookies aren't finished.  Maybe I'll get them all ready for the first day of school instead (naturally, I'll have to eat the ones I made now and redo them later--Whoops!).  I did manage to make some carrot cupcakes and some little fondant apples and worms (why are worms in apples associated with teachers?).  I'd like to dedicate them to my favorite teacher-in-training, Miss Putt.  One of my favorite people, in fact.  She has really worked hard to be an inspiration to the future minds of this nation.  I was going to drop these off for her to enjoy today at work, but she is at home trying to finish her thesis in order to be a real, live, grown-up teacher!
The cupcakes were leftover batter from a carrot cake made for a birthday.  If the top of the leveled carrot cake is any indicator, and I believe it is, of the inside of the carrot cupcakes, this is an awesome recipe.  
Look at all those chopped carrots!

He's smiling at you : D

So even if you don't have time to make something for the teachers in your life, maybe you could just drop them an sweet email or handwritten note, thanking them for all they do and all they put up with. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Chocolate Sugar Cookie {Recipe}

What's the closest thing to heaven on earth in food terms?  That's right, chocolate or chocolat or cioccolato, depending on the country.  It's important to know how to say and spell it in other languages so you can order it in the event of an emergency in say, Italy. 

I adore chocolate.  The richness melts in your mouth and lingers on your taste buds.  My favorite cake is a dark chocolate cake with milk chocolate caramel frosting.  Cookies are better with buds of chocolate morsels swimming in them.  Even coffee is better when made with hot chocolate and served with a side of my favorite chocolate waffles and chocolate maple syrup.  If you are one of the weird people like my husband that prefers any flavor to chocolate then this post is not for you.

These cookies will make you love sugar cookies all over again.  (I hope.)  Their rich flavor was accidental.  I wasn't paying attention...look something shiny!...I love rainbows.  Whoops!  Did it again!  So, I wasn't paying attention and I added more cocoa powder and sugar than I had originally intended.  The result was heavenly.  So perfect to me for a sugar cookie.  Sweet and bakes up perfectly with intricate cookie cutters (as long as the dough is chilled).  Perfect for say, Teacher's Appreciation Day, Mother's Day, Graduation Day, or "I deserve chocolate because life can be so vanilla".  All topics for future posts I hope.

So getting on with it:


2 cups of flour
1 cup of cocoa powder
1 cup of unsalted butter
1 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder (optional--see here)

As normal, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla, one at a time. Mix well after each addition. Mix dry ingredients a little at a time to butter mixture. Mix until flour and cocoa is completely incorporated and the dough comes together.  You can use your clean hand to help incorporate if needed.  Then roll it out between wax paper as previously mentioned here.  Refrigerate until firm. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven (or just a nudge less) for about 7-8 minutes.  Remember what I said about the lemon cookies.  The chocolate ones definitely taste better on the softer side.  Cool completely before decorating with your favorite royal icing recipe.

My unoriginal royal icing recipe: (also a mistake, but turns out it is yummy)

1/4 cup of water
4 cups of powdered sugar, measured then sifted
2 Tablespoons of meringue powder
Pinch of cream of tartar
1-2 teaspoons of clear vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with an electric mixer/standing mixer on medium high speed for 5 minutes.  After that you can thin it down using the 10 second rule and color it.  Keep it covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap at all times.  It crusts quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.

The teeny army of decorative touches to add to cookies.
Make them and tell me what you think.  Have a delicious week!  Stay tuned for some desserts for this busy week!

Not my most beautiful specimens but some of my most tasty!