Archive for May, 2011

May 27, 2011

Tangy Drink Turned Tasty Dessert

Summer heat may bring about many cravings for those finding themselves with a sweet tooth… ice cream, popsicles, and maybe a tall, cool glass of tart lemonade.  Or, better yet, strawberry lemonade.  The average high in DC this week has been about 93 degrees with humidity that could cause even the most poker-straight hair to go completely Hugo Reyes.  Needless to say, refreshing treats have been on my mind.  With a craving for something tangy and little inspirational help from those tantalizing McDonald’s commercials, these strawberry-lemonade cupcakes were born.

These muffin-like cakes were sweetened up with a tart, bright burst of strawberry-lemon curd filling.  The citrus-y sweet cupcakes turned out great and were shared with many.  My favorite reaction of any of the tasters was my friend Claire’s, who after biting into the cake exclaimed, “That filling tastes just like strawberry lemonade!”  Sounds like a successful recipe if I’ve ever heard one.

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Inspired by: Strawberry Lemonade

Strawberry-Lemon Cakes

Adapted from Gail Wagman’s “Strawberry Cupcakes,” Cupcakes Galore

1 cup chopped strawberries                2 eggs

1 tablespoon honey                            ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons lemon juice                  2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

zest from 1 lemon                                ¾ cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter             2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 cup milk                                             1 teaspoon baking soda

recipe yield: about 18 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cupcake pans with paper liners.  Place finely chopped strawberries in a small bowl with honey, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and lemon zest.  Set aside to macerate.

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl containing the butter.  Gently melt the butter over low heat, remove from stove top, and allow to cool slightly.  In a medium bowl, combine the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice and the milk.  Add the eggs, breaking apart the yolks slightly, as well as the vanilla extract.  Mix in cooled, melted butter.  Whisk all ingredients together and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda.  Form a small “well” in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the butter-egg mixture into the well.  Mix ingredients together until just combined.  Gently stir in the macerated strawberry mixture until strawberries are dispersed throughout the batter.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake papers until each is about ¾ full.  Place pans into the oven and bake cupcakes for 17-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool on racks in pans for about 10 minutes before removing from pans and allowing to cool completely on racks.

Strawberry-Lemon Curd

Adapted from pumpercake‘sPineapple-Lemon Curd

6 egg yolks

zest of ½ lemon

1 cup seedless strawberry pulp*

¼ cup lemon juice (2 lemons)

½ cup sugar

2 ¼ tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup unsalted cold butter

-recipe yield: about 2 ½ cups

In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, lightly break apart egg yolks with a small whisk.  While whisking, add in the zest, fruit juices, sugar, salt, and cornstarch.  Place saucepan over medium heat and, using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, constantly stir mixture for 4-6 minutes, or until it thickens up to the point where it coats the spoon and holds its shape when you run your finger across the spoon.

At this point, immediately remove the saucepan from heat.  Constantly stirring, gradually mix in small pieces of butter, allowing each piece to dissolve into the curd before adding the next piece.  Once all the butter has been added and the mixture is smooth, transfer the curd to a small bowl and continue to stir until it has cooled.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the curd so that the curd doesn’t develop a skin.  Store cooled, covered pineapple-lemon curd in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

*To make strawberry pulp, place clean, fresh strawberries into a food processor and pulse until fully broken down.  Transfer ground strawberries into a mesh strainer and allow pulp to strain through into a clean bowl.  To help pulp fall through strainer, use a small whisk.  Discard any seeds or rough pieces remaining in the strainer and use only the smooth, seedless pulp.

Strawberry-Lemonade Buttercream

Adapted from “Lemon Kissed Buttercream Frosting,”
The Cupcakery Blog

This is a very versatile buttercream recipe that can be prepared and presented in a couple different ways.  Depending on your preferences of sweet vs. tangy, the amount of curd added can be adjusted or even omitted all together.  The curd can be swirled, marbleized, or fully combined into the buttercream.

½ cup unsalted butter                 3 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice           1 tablespoon whole milk

1 teaspoon lemon zest                1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½-¾ cup reserved strawberry-lemon curd (recipe above)

In large bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Drizzle in lemon juice and zest and beat well. Gradually add sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating on medium speed and scraping sides of bowl often.  After sugar has been incorporated, continue to beat the mixture while drizzling in vanilla and milk. Beat at medium speed until homogeneous.

At this point, the buttercream can either be piped onto the cupcakes or combined in the curd in some way.  For a homogeneous strawberry lemonade frosting, beat curd into the buttercream until combined.  The curd can also be gently swirled into the buttercream with a spatula before being piped onto cakes.  To create a marbleized effect, fill the pastry bag on one side with buttercream and on the other side with curd so that they’re somewhat separated in the bag.  Pipe the frostings out as normal and the two together in the bag will create pretty ribbons of color.  Swirled or marbleized cupcakes should be served immediately, or the milk may start to lump and look curdled due to the acid in the juice.

May 22, 2011

Macaron Mess, Part II: Macaron Success!

It is with great enthusiasm that I share with you today the news of my recent triumph over the anticipated (and dreaded)  French macaron!  You may remember my recent post involving my previously unsuccessful and all-around sad attempts at the temperamental cookie, as well as my promise to keep practicing, researching and attempting to master the art of the macaron.  Luckily, this is one of those instances where my more obsessive-compulsive traits came in handy, and after another week or so of reading up, gathering a few more materials, aging another couple pairs of egg whites, and picking apart the brain of the brilliant blogger/baker/creative mastermind, Heather (aka Ms. Sprinkle Bakes), I was finally able to pop out a couple batches of some pretty successful macarons.  Hooray!

I came to realize that I’d had a pretty good idea of what I was doing during the first few attempts, and with a few little tweaks to my original game plan, I found victory.  Victory, in this case, comes in the form of smooth, crispy, eggshell-like crusts, soft and meringue-y cookie center, and beautifully flourished “feet.”  One of the most crucial (and ridiculously simple)  changes I made had to do with the temperature of the oven.  After describing to her in painful detail every step I took in preparing my macaron batter, Heather’s first suggestion to me was to use an oven thermometer to test the true temperature of my oven.  I immediately bought the tool and came to find out that my oven is an astonishing 20 degrees hotter than its stated temperature says it should be.  This, most definitely, played a part in my failed cookies.

Convinced that I had jinxed myself the first time by previously making the filling before the macarons (incorrectly) baked, this time I focused only on the macaron batter and didn’t think twice about making a filling until they (hopefully) baked up correctly.  My first successful batch was just a simple white macaron.  In the spirit of celebration, I whipped up a rum-infused chocolate-black cherry filling to pipe in between the lovely little cookies.  Having been too nervous to sprinkle anything atop the unbaked batter, I instead brushed the top of the cookies with a little simple syrup and dusted them with some chopped cocoa nibs.

Just in case this batch had been a fluke, I made one more batch using the exact same techniques and adding a touch of green food coloring to the batter.  To my amazement, this batch worked out just as beautifully.  Using the extra pistachio paste I had leftover from my semifreddo, I made a pistachio buttercream for the filling, and used the same simple syrup brushing method to sprinkle some chopped nuts on the top of the assembled cookies.

By no means am I claiming that my macarons turned out perfect or that I’ve mastered the process, but I do feel pretty satisfied with the cookies I’ve been able to crank out so far.   I’m not sure if the oven temperature was the only flaw in my previous attempts, as I made a few other changes in the steps taken to achieve my final product, but I’ve formulated a (rather long) list of all the helpful tips and tricks that I’ve gathered along the way for anyone looking to make their own macarons.  I will continue to practice and possibly add to this list, but for now, I feel confident in saying that if these precautions are taken and the steps are followed meticulously, you’re bound to find the same success that I eventually did!

  • Invest in an oven thermometer.  As stated above, I found out (after a few failed batches) that my oven was much hotter than the temperature set.  While these cookies are too fragile to withstand such high heat, they also won’t bake up properly if the heat is too low.  Get to know your oven and it’s true temperatures before attempting your macarons.
  • Keep your almond flour in the freezer.  I always keep nuts in the freezer in order to keep the oils from going rancid, but for some reason I never thought to apply  this rule to my almond flour.  Not only will it keep the natural oils in the ground almonds from spoiling, but freezing the flour will also keep it from turning into a paste when you further grind it down.  So simple, but makes all the difference.
  • Use super-superfine sugar.  I normally buy Domino brand superfine sugar that comes in a skinny cardboard box.  When my first couple batches of macarons didn’t come out, Ms. Sprinkle Bakes inquired about my SF sugar and suggested that I might have gotten a bad box.  The fact that it comes in a cardboard box makes it susceptible to moisture.  If the box gets set into even the tiniest puddle of water on the counter, the sugar can be ruined.  I found another brand of superfine sugar that’s meant for dissolving into iced tea and is sold in a plastic container.  I double checked that it was pure SF sugar and nothing else and gave it a little zip through the food processor before using it to create my meringue for the macs.  I highly suggest being extra cautious in the quality and condition of your SF sugar!
  • Pulverize, pulverize, pulverize.  Grind up all of your dry ingredients to the finest powder you can possibly achieve.  Even the superfine sugar can benefit from a good run through the food processor.  Combine both the cold almond flour and the powdered sugar together in the food processor before grinding it down in order to keep the almond flour from becoming almond butter.  If the almonds start to separate from the sugar in the food processor, turn it off, fluff the powders together with a fork, and combine again.
  • Sift, sift, sift.  Sift the ground almond-powdered sugar mixture two or three times before sifting it (again) into the meringue.  Discard any and all excess almond bits that don’t make it through the sifter.
  • Beat the perfect meringue. The meringue should reach stiff peaks before the dry ingredients are incorporated, but not so stiff that the eggs start to separate in chunks.  Try beating on medium speed instead of high speed and checking the meringue frequently to make sure the mixture holds its shape and isn’t runny, but doesn’t appear too dry and over-whipped.
  • Fold carefully. When it comes to combining the batter, one fold too few or one fold too many can mean misshapen, cracked, or foot-less finished cookies.  Regardless of what anyone else said about starting with quick folding strokes, I’ve found long, gentle strokes are the best way to slowly but surely incorporate your batter to the perfect consistency, to the point where the batter falls from a spatula in shiny, smooth “ribbons.”
  • Line and prep insulated aluminum cookie sheets.  I read that the best pans to bake macarons on are insulated aluminum sheets (not non-stick), and after testing out this theory for myself, I most definitely agree.  The cookies baked up on these sheets were the most evenly cooked and the all-around best ones.  To line the cookie sheets, I tested both silpat mats and parchment paper and was pleased with the results of both, but would suggest parchment paper.  The reason for this is that I found it very helpful to trace 1-inch circles onto the paper to use as a guide when piping the batter onto the sheets.  This will help to create perfectly round, evenly sized and shaped round cookies every time.  Space the circles about an inch and a half apart.
  • Use a pastry bag and tip.  Using a pastry bag and tip will help the batter to pipe out smoothly into perfect little disks.  Using a pastry bag and tip will also help you to test out the consistency of your batter, as batter that just starts to ooze out of the tip of the filled pastry bag is the correct consistency.  If it does not, it is too stiff and hasn’t been folded enough.  Squeeze the batter back out of the bag, give it another fold, and try again.
  • Dry out your batter.  Once the batter has been piped into round disks on the sheets, tap the sheets on the counter-top to help get rid of any air bubbles and then allow the sheets to sit a room temperature for 15-30 minutes.  This will help the batter to create a shell on the top of the disks, and when the cookies are placed in the oven, the heat will help the bottom of the cookies to rise and form the little feet, while the dried shells will stay round, smooth and intact.
  • Rotate your pans. Being overly-cautious, I was hesitant to open the oven enough to rotate the cookie sheets halfway through baking, but found that it does make a huge difference in helping the macarons to bake evenly and the feet to flourish nicely around each cookie.

    French Macaron Shells

From Martha Stewart’s “French Macaroons”

1 cup confectioners sugar

¾ cup almond flour

¼ cup superfine sugar

2 egg whites, aged & room temperature*

small pinch of cream of tartar

-recipe yield: about 17 filled macarons

Trace 1-inch circles onto parchment paper and line cookie sheets with the paper.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse together the confectioners sugar and the almond flour until further ground into a fine powder and thoroughly combined.  Sift the powder at least twice through, discarding any clumps, and set aside.  Clean the food processor and blade, and then use it to further grind down the superfine sugar.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Add in the cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks have just formed.  Gradually add in the ground superfine sugar and continue to beat on medium speed, frequently turning off the mixer and checking for stiff peaks.  Once stiff peaks have been achieved, sift in the almond-confectioners sugar mixture.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold ingredients together without deflating the meringue.  Batter is properly folded when it falls from the spatula in shiny “ribbons.”

Fill pastry bag with cookie batter.  Pipe circles of batter onto parchment-lined sheets using the traced circles as guides.  Lightly tap trays on kitchen counter to release any air bubbles in the batter.   Gently press down with your finger any little peaks on the surface of the cookies that may have formed from piping.  Allow trays to sit at room temperature for 15-30 minutes so that cookie batter can dry out.

When cookies have dried, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and insert one sheet of cookies into the center rack of the oven.  Rotate the pan after 5 minutes of baking and allow cookies to bake for an additional 5 minutes (10 minutes total).  Remove from oven and place onto cooling rack.  Replace oven temperature to 375 degrees, wait about 5 minutes for oven to reheat, and then reduce temperature to 325 degrees when inserting next sheet of cookies into the oven.  Repeat this process for each sheet of cookies.  Let baked cookies cool on trays on cooling racks for 10 minutes before carefully removing them to be assembled with filling.

Optional Ingredients:

gel food coloring

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup water

topping of choice (chopped cocoa nibs, chopped nuts, kosher salt)

If choosing to dye the macaron batter, the food coloring should be added to the batter just after the dry ingredients have been sifted in but before any folding has taken place.

To add a topping to the top of the baked macarons, a simple syrup is needed to bind the topping to the cookies.  To make a simple syrup, simple combine equal parts sugar and water into a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow the liquid to come to a simmer.  Remove from heat when all the sugar has dissolved and liquid has formed a syrup, about 5-10 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.

Brush a small amount of cooled simple syrup onto top cookie of the assembled macaron.  Sprinkle on the finely chopped topping of choice and allow to dry completely before handling.

Rum Infused Chocolate-Black Cherry Filling

¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips          ¼ cup black cherry preserves

¼ cup cream cheese, softened                 1 teaspoon rum extract

Assemble a double boiler with a small glass bowl and melt the chocolate.  Once melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool.  In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until soft and fluffy.  Add in the cherry preserves and rum extract and beat until combined.  Pour in the cooled chocolate and beat until homogeneous.  Transfer filling to a pastry bag and pipe a small amount onto the bottom surface of macarons to sandwich the cookies together.

Pistachio Cream Cheese Buttercream

½ cup white chocolate chips

¼ cup cream cheese, softened

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup pistachio paste

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup confectioners sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream

Assemble a double boiler with a small glass bowl and melt the chocolate.  Once melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool.  In a large bowl, cream together the cheese and butter until soft and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add in pistachio paste and salt and beat until thoroughly combined.  Beat in the cooled white chocolate.  Gradually mix in the confectioners sugar while continuing to beat, and then drizzle in vanilla and heavy cream and beat until desired consistency has been achieved.

May 19, 2011

Crème Brûlée, The Cookie Way

My very close family friends, Judy and her daughters, Alicia and Katie, are huge supporters of my baking and the blog.  I actually spent a great deal of my adolescence playing ‘bakery’ (amongst other games) in their kitchen with Alicia and Katie when I would babysit.  One of our most memorable dessert-making experiences was the time we attempted Paula Dean’s “Chocolate Crème Brûlée.”  After watching Paula prepare the dish for a live audience on TV, Alicia insisted that we give it a try, quoting Paula throughout the entire process and reminding me that “we can do this!” and “not to fear the brûlée!”

When the recipe called for a touch of coffee liqueur, Alicia excitedly pulled out an unopened bottle of Tia Maria and handed it to me.  I told the girls that we could just skip to the next ingredient on the list, as I didn’t feel right using the liqueur, both because it was unopened and because I’m pretty sure the girls were both under the age of twelve at the time.  Alicia assured me that we were not only allowed to use the liqueur, but that we NEEDED to in order to make Paula proud.  Torn, I told the girls that if they called Judy and got her permission to open the bottle and use some for our brûlée, that that was the only way I’d allow it.  Alicia, being the older sister, strategically handed the phone over to little Katie who dialed her mother and proudly asked, “Mom, is it okay if we open the big bottle of liqueur from the pantry?”  Shaking my head, I was certain that I’d never be allowed to bake with the girls again.  Judy, dumbfounded I’m sure, backtracked and asked Katie why she wanted to open the bottle of liquor, to which Katie replied in a huff, “Not liquor, Mom.  Liqueur.”

Eventually, the confusion was cleared up and Judy was happy to grant us access to anything we needed for the recipe, resulting in some beautiful and delicious ramekins of chocolate crème brûlée and a silly story to be told and retold at every family gathering since.  In order to give Judy and the girls a big ‘thank you’ for the many lovely gifts for the kitchen that they’ve showered me with since Pumpercake’s debut, I wanted to pay tribute to our favorite story and send them something inspired by the yummy brûlée we made that day.  I decided on some sweet little brûlée-esque  cookies, complete with a dash of homemade coffee liqueur.  The vanilla bean cookies are ultra-rich and buttery, just as you might expect, and are finished with a dusting of sugar and a light brush of the kitchen torch (also a beloved gift from Judy and the girls a few years back).  Making them brought me right back to baking with my two favorite little girls…who, by chance, aren’t very little anymore.

Crème Brûlée Cookies

Inspired by: Crème Brûlée

Adapted from Abigail Johnson Dodge‘s “Burnt-Sugar Vanilla Butter Cookies,” Fine Cooking

½ pound unsalted butter              2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks

1 ¾ cups granulated sugar           3 cups all purpose flour

4 teaspoons vanilla bean paste    1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons coffee liqueur         2 teaspoons baking powder

-recipe yield: about 2 ½ dozen cookies

In a large bowl, beat butter until smooth.  Add in 1 ¼ cups of the sugar and cream together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Beat in vanilla bean paste and coffee liqueur until well-incorporated.  Add in eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift in the flour, salt and baking powder.  Gently mix on a low speed until just blended.

Refrigerate dough for about 10 minutes, just chilling it enough to slightly firm the dough.  Divide chilled dough into two equal parts.  Roll each half into a log and wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil.  Freeze the two logs overnight (or longer).

When ready to bake cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the logs from the freezer and peel away foil and plastic wrap layers.  Slice logs into disks about ¼ inch thick and drop each disk into a dish containing the remaining ½ cup sugar.  Place the disks, sugar-side up, onto sheet trays lined with parchment paper.  Leave at least 3 inches of space between disks on tray, as they will spread quite a bit while baking.  Bake cookies for 11-14 minutes.  Place trays onto cooling racks for 7-10 minutes to cool, then transfer cookies directly on racks.

Once cookies have cooled, dip the sugared side of each cookie, once again, in the remaining sugar.  Using a kitchen torch, melt the thin layer of sugar on the cookies.  Allow the hardened sugar on the torched cookies to cool before serving or storing.  Store cookies in between layers of parchment paper (the sugar will stick to other cookies without paper) in stacks in airtight containers.

Coffee Liqueur

¼ cup granulated sugar           ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup water                             ¼ cup vodka

2 ¼ teaspoons instant espresso powder

-recipe yield: about ½ cup

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water over medium heat and bring to a boil.   Reduce heat and allow liquid to simmer for 5-10 minutes, until sugar has dissolved and formed a syrup.  Remove from heat and stir in espresso powder.  Set aside and allow to cool slightly.  Stir in vanilla and vodka.   Cover and store in a cool place.

May 14, 2011

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies, Doctor Approved

When I was a kid, right around Christmas every year my mom would allow me to play “hooky” from school for one day, and instead of attending classes, I was to spend the entire day in the kitchen with her baking hundreds of Christmas cookies.  We called this day “Cookie Hooky.”  I’m not sure if her reasoning behind this day was to reward me for getting good grades and doing well in school, or if it was just her sneaky way of getting me to do the bulk of the work (my mother is a self-proclaimed baking-hater).  Regardless, I excitedly looked forward to Cookie-Hooky every year… almost as much as Christmas day itself.

We baked lots of different kinds of cookies, and eventually some of our recipes became family traditions that were requested each and every year, come Christmastime.  My brother’s favorites were always the “Cream Cheese Sprinkle Cookies,” a simple, yet scrumptious creamy vanilla cookie dressed with a pretty Christmas sparkle.  We made a double batch of these babies every year, per Jeffrey’s request.  Somehow, over time, our recipe was lost and a few Christmases passed by without the familiar luscious red and green sprinkled treats.  I’ve researched and played around with a few cream cheese cookie recipes, but nothing seemed quite right… until, out of the blue on a day in late April, my mom found the beloved recipe!  Just in time for me to bake up a few batches and experiment with some new flavors for my brother’s birthday in May!

The vanilla recipe, I knew wouldn’t need much tweaking, as it is simply magnificent just as it is.  As he also happens to be a lover of chocolate, I also baked Jeffrey a special batch of my own chocolate-version of his favorite treat.  The cookie doughs turned out beautifully, both of them deliciously sugary-sweet with the perfect touch of tangy-tartness.  After a few quick rolls in sugar of Jeff’s favorite color, bright “Superman-Blue,” the dough was sliced, baked, and shipped off with love to my amazing brother, who just recently passed his last set of boards and is, officially, a doctor.  I’m so proud of him and hope that these cookies help bring him back to memories of our Christmases together as kids, and I hope that they also play a part in the celebration of his birthday and this huge milestone in his life and his career.

Vanilla & Chocolate Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

Inspired by and adapted from: Mama Lew’s “Cream Cheese Sprinkle Christmas Cookies”

Vanilla Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies                                                    Chocolate Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature                    ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

8 ounces cream cheese, softened                                                     8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup granulated sugar                                                                     1 ¼ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract                                                                ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt                                                                                 ½ teaspoon salt

2 ½ cups all purpose flour                                                                  2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour

colored sugar for decorating                                                              1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

-recipe yield: about 3 dozen cookies (per batch)                               colored sugar for decorating

In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese until soft and combined.  Add sugar and cream together until no longer granular, about 5 minutes.  Beat in vanilla extract and salt.  Sift in the flour and cocoa powder (if making chocolate cookies).  Stir dough together until just combined, scraping down sides of bowl.  Refrigerate dough for about 10 minutes, just chilling it enough to slightly firm the dough.  Divide chilled dough into four equal parts.  Roll each part into a log and wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil.  Freeze the four logs overnight (or longer).

When ready to bake cookies, preheat
the oven to 325 degrees.  Remove the logs from the freezer and peel away foil and plastic wrap layers.  Roll the logs in colored sugars and press sugars gently into the dough to help them to stick.  Slice logs into disks about ¼ inch thick and place disks onto sheet trays lined with parchment paper.  Leave a couple inches of space between disks on tray.  Bake cookies for 14-18 minutes, making sure not to overbake.  Place trays onto cooling racks for 7-10 minutes to cool, then transfer cookies directly on racks.

May 12, 2011

Breakfast In “Bread”

There are certain things that I just always seem to have on hand at my apartment.  There are the things that you might expect a frequent baker to have, like a few rolls of parchment paper, a cupboard full of sprinkles in every color, and two or three (or four) pounds of butter.  There are things that you might expect a food-lover to have on hand that you probably won’t find, like basic snacks or munchies (I can’t buy potato chips… I’d just eat them all in the first day of purchasing them) or pretty much any kind of meat.  Then there are the things that I not only have on hand, but I have in a huge (and probably weird) abundance, like Rust-Oleum spray paint in “Heirloom White” (for all my recent DIY projects) and multiple 2-liters of my latest beverage addiction, Canada Dry Diet Green Tea Ginger Ale.

Another one of those items that I’m constantly stocked up on are breakfast foods.  Evan’s latest kick has been breakfast trail mix, but there’s also a plethora of powerbars, granola bars, fruit bars, and oatmeal that are readily available to munch on in the morning.  All of these options are great for Evan and I, especially on busy weekday mornings.  However, when we have out of town guests, like we did this past weekend, I like to have something homemade to offer them as well.  I wanted to create a (somewhat) healthy treat that combined all of the best qualities of my favorite breakfast bars in one yummy and home-y loaf.

I tried to make this recipe as healthy and protien-packed as possible by using whole wheat flour, oats, nuts, and lots of fruit.  I used a combination of sugar, splenda, and honey as well as margarine instead of butter.  This breakfast bread is delicious, satisfying, and a great way to start the morning.

Fruit, Nut & Grain Breakfast Bread

Inspired by: Fruit, Nut & Grain Granola Bar

Adapted from Jennifer Appel’s “Apple Pecan Quick Bread,”  The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

¼ cup dried cranberries                                           ¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup raisins                                                           1 tablespoon baking powder

1 cup peeled, chopped apple                                   ½ teaspoon salt

½ cup chopped pecans                                            2 eggs

½ cup quick oats                                                      1/3 cup margarine, melted

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour                                     2/3 cup orange juice

1/3 cup granulated splenda                                     2 tablespoons honey

-recipe yield: 1 large loaf or 2 mini loaves of bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease or line a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with parchment paper.  Bring about a cup of water to a boil and transfer hot water to a mug, along with raisins and dried cranberries.  Allow dried fruit to sit in hot water for about 5 minutes, or until plumped and re-hydrated.  Drain the fruit, discarding the water, and in a medium bowl, mix together the rehydrated fruit, chopped apple, chopped pecans and oats.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the whole wheat flour, splenda, sugar, baking powder and salt using a whisk.  Once dry ingredients are thoroughly combined and are lump-free, create a little ‘well’ in the center of the dry ingredient bowl.  This is where the liquid ingredients will be poured and mixed in to create the batter.

In a small bowl, lightly break apart eggs with a fork.  Whisk together melted, cooled margarine, orange juice and honey in with the eggs.  Pour this mixture into the ‘well’ of dry ingredients and gently stir until just homogeneous.  Do not over-mix the batter or the finished bread will be dry and tough instead of moist and airy.  Carefully fold the fruit, nut and oat mixture into the batter.  Pour batter into lined loaf pan and place pan on the center rack of the oven.  Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the bread comes out with a few moist crumbs.  Do not overbake.  Allow bread to cool in loaf pan on wire rack for 30 minutes before slicing or removing bread from loaf pan.

May 9, 2011

Turkish Java & Molten Lava

This past Holiday season, upon opening a Christmas card from a family that I’d gotten to know shortly after moving to the area, I was surprised to discover a gift card to their favorite place to get Middle Eastern food.  When Evan and I visited the little Lebanese restaurant, we were very strategic in placing our appetizer and entree orders and made sure to leave room for a dessert selection as well.  On impulse, I decided on a chocolate molten lava cake, mainly because the menu described it as being served alongside homemade  marshmallow cream.  Little did I know, although the pair was absolutely delicious, it was neither the lava cake, nor my beloved marshmallow fluff that would turn out to be the star of the dessert (as well as the entire dinner experience).  There was another component to this little dessert trio, and that was a dollop of an unbelievable pistachio and orange ice cream.  Sounds strange, a chocolate “Turkish Coffee” cake served alongside marshmallow, pistachio and orange flavors, I know.  But, when gathered onto one spoon, the combination of the different flavors, textures, and temperatures seemed as deliciously obvious as a pairing of spaghetti and meatballs.

This unforgettable dessert has very frequently been the topic of conversation between Evan and I since our visit to that restaurant.  Clearly, I had to recreate this dish, but very delicately.  There was no way I was going to tweak any of the perfect flavors in the slightest degree and risk compromising the divinity of this dessert.  I decided, instead, to deconstruct the assembly of the cake.  The result is what I’m calling a “semifreddo lava cake,” composed of a rich, spiced chocolate sheet cake wrapped around a pistachio-orange semifreddo creme.  The “hot lava” took the form of a hot-fudge sauce and was drizzled atop the dessert, and with the obvious inclusion of my favorite marshmallow frosting, the reconstructed dish was complete and just as euphoric as we’d remembered it the first time.

Semifreddo Lava Cake

Inspired by: “Molten Chocolate ‘Turkish Coffee’ Cake”

-Lebanese Taverna (Arlington, VA)

Mocha-Spice Sheet Cake

Adapted from “Mocha Cake,” Gourmet – August 2009

Rich and chocolate-y with a subtle hint of coffee and spice, this flourless cake stays fluffy, moist and soft when frozen… perfect for a semifreddo dessert.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

3 teaspoons  espresso powder

6 eggs, separated

½ cup granulated sugar, separated

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter and line a 13×9 inch pan.  Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl to melt the chocolate.  Before turning on the heat under the double boiler, dissolve the espresso powder by stirring it into 3 tablespoon of hot water.  Once dissolved, strain the espresso into to bowl of chocolate, turn on the heat, and melt the chocolate together with the espresso.  Once almost completely melted, remove bowl from heat, stir to melt completely, and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks, ¼ cup of the sugar, the salt and the cardamom until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 8 minutes.  Beat in the cooled chocolate.  In a separate bowl, beat the room temperature egg whites until they’ve reached soft peaks, gradually add in the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and continue to beat until the meringue just creates stiff peaks.  Gradually and gently fold the egg whites in small batches into the chocolate mixture.

Spread the batter as evenly as possibly (without deflating it) into the prepared pan and bake for 12-14 minutes, or until it has puffed and is dry and springy to the touch.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cover the cake with two layers of damp paper towel.  Let the covered cake rest for about 3 minutes, remove the towel (allowing the crispy top layer to peel away with it), and allow the cake to cool completely in the pan.  Once the cake has completely cooled, loosen the edges of the cake with a knife and invert onto a large cutting board or sheet pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Transfer the cake (still covered with parchment atop the cutting board) to the freezer for 2-3 hours for easy slicing and assembly.

Pistachio-Orange Semifreddo

Adapted from Tim Nugent’s “Pistachio Semifreddo,” Top Chef

This semifreddo is simply divine and can stand alone as a truly delectable dessert.  The flavors are amazing, but it’s the texture that makes this semifreddo so special.  Make sure to whip each layer of ingredients carefully as directed and fold as gently as possible for a beautiful, airy-light finish.

4 eggs, separated                               1 cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup superfine sugar, separated       zest from half an orange

1/3 cup pistachio paste*                      1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl and, over medium-low heat, whip together the egg yolks and ¼ of the caster sugar.  Continue to whip on a high speed until as much volume as possible has been achieved, about 5-8 minutes.  At this point, remove from heat and, while still warm, add the pistachio paste and gently swirl it into the yolk mixture.  Set bowl aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whip the room temperature egg whites until they’ve reached soft peaks.  Gradually add in the remaining superfine sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks have been achieved.  In small batches, gradually fold the stiffened egg white meringue gently into the yolk-pistachio mixture.  In a separate bowl, beat the cold whipping cream to soft peaks, add in the orange zest and juice, and continue to whip slightly until they’ve reached medium-stiff peaks (do not over-whip or the cream can turn into butter).  In gradual batches, gently fold the whipped orange cream into the fluffy pistachio mixture.  Once the semifreddo base has been combined and poured into properly lined pan (as directed below), allow to freeze overnight before serving.

*I made my own pistachio paste for this dessert, but it actually ended up being quite a bit of work and not as easy as the recipe makes it seem.  I would suggest just purchasing some pre-made pistachio paste and adjusting the amount of sugar in the semifreddo accordingly, as it may not be quite as sweet as my homemade paste turned out.

Hot Lava Fudge

Adapted from the Old Occidental Hotel’s “Hot Fudge Sauce,”  -Muskegon, Michigan

1 cup superfine sugar          1/3 cup cocoa powder          2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour              1 cup milk                             1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-recipe yield:  1 ¾ cups sauce

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and unsweetened cocoa powder.  In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine and stir together the milk, butter and vanilla just until the butter has melted.  Add in the dry ingredients to the milk mixture, constantly whisking.  Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth, about 5 minutes.  Remove from stove and transfer to serving cup or gravy-boat to allow to cool.  Refrigerate unused portion.   Leftovers be reheated in a double-boiler or microwave as needed.

For the marshmallow fluff, make a half-batch of my favorite marshmallow frosting recipe.


Once the sheet cake has chilled in the freezer, remove it and peel back the top layer of parchment paper.  Using a large loaf pan as a guide, trace onto the removed parchment paper the shape of the top, bottom, and two longest sides of the loaf pan.  Cut the shapes out of the parchment paper and arrange them on top of the sheet cake.  Using a sharp paring knife, slice the cake in the shapes of each of the parchment paper to (eventually) fit along the inside of the loaf pan.

Line the large loaf pan with two large pieces of parchment paper, allowing the paper to drape outside of the pan, creating “tabs” that can eventually be pulled up to remove the dessert from the pan.  Handling the cake very gingerly, place into the bottom of the lined loaf pan the slice of cake that fits accordingly and gently press it so that it’s lying across the entire bottom of the pan.  Place both long side pieces of cake into the lined loaf pan along the matching sides and gently press.  Pour the semifreddo base into the cake-lined loaf pan and cover the semifreddo with the final slice of cake fitting the very top of the loaf pan.  If the semifreddo doesn’t reach the top of the pan, slice this piece of cake to fit into the pan atop the semifreddo accordingly.  Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap and allow assembled dessert to freeze overnight.
To serve, remove the dessert from the freezer and lift the parchment tabs to loosen the dessert from the loaf pan.  Place plate or serving tray on top of loaf pan and flip to invert the dessert onto server.  Peel back the parchment paper.  Cut dessert into slices, drizzle the hot fudge, and spoon a dollop of marshmallow fluff on or next to the dessert or slices.  Serve immediately.

May 5, 2011

A Salty-Sweet & Crunchy Treat

When I first started pumpercake, I was overwhelmed by the immense amount of support from friends and family regarding the blog and my baking.  One of the most, if not THE most enthusiastic of those supporters is my mom.  Along with her loving support and pride in my new project, she also offered me a little suggestion for a dessert to try out… some sort of chocolate covered potato chips, inspired by the popular Neiman Marcus chips that she and I used to indulge in a little while back.  Although I thought her idea was great, I’ve been focusing so much on more extravagant and difficult recipes to challenge myself with (like those silly macarons) that I guess it just slipped my mind.  But, when it came time to think up a special something to make her for Mother’s Day, this simple and scrumptious salty-sweet treat was an obvious choice.

To make this quick and easy snack a little more special, I used blend of a few different types of rich chocolate that I knew she’d like and also added a little decorative chocolate drizzle and a sprinkle of coarse salt.  I decided that Pringles would be the potato chip of choice, mainly due to the shape of the chips and the container and the fact that I knew it would make for a super cute presentation.

Happy (early) Mother’s Day to all those wonderful moms out there!  I hope my ‘Mama Lew’ loves her little stack of treats and hope she knows how much I love her.

Chocolate Covered Potato Chips

Inspired by: “Chocolate-Covered Potato Chips”  –Neiman Marcus

There are no rules when it comes to the types of chocolate to be used for these.  I used the list below to make different blends and layers of flavor, but adapt the quantities and cacao content percentages to fit your taste.  If you plan on drizzling chocolate onto a covered chip, try using a sweeter chocolate paired with a less sweet type, using one as a base and one as a drizzle.

¾ cup chopped dark chocolate       ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup white chocolate chips            ½ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

about half a container of Pringles   kosher salt (coarse) for sprinkling

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl filled with the chopped dark and semisweet chocolate.  Remove the bowl of almost completely melted chocolate from the double boiler and stir to melt completely.  One at a time, coat half of the potato chips  with the melted chocolate by gently holding each chip with a pair of tongs, dipping the chip in the bowl, and spreading the chocolate with a spatula to evenly coat.  Place each covered chip onto parchment paper, sprinkle with coarse salt, and allow to cool completely.  Repeat this process with ¾ cup of the white chocolate (there will be less white chocolate coated potato chips than dark).

When the chocolate coated chips have been salted and completely cooled, melt the bittersweet chocolate and the remaining white chocolate in separate double boilers to be drizzled.  Drizzle the melted chocolate using whatever your preferred drizzling method is, mine being a pastry or zip-lock bag filled with the melted chocolate with the corner of the bag snipped.  Allow drizzled potato chips to cool (at room temperature or in the refrigerator) before stacking in between tiny squares of parchment paper and stacked back into their original tall container.  Store in the refrigerator to keep chocolate from melting partially onto other chips.

May 3, 2011

Macaron Mess, Part I

Up until this point, everything I’ve shared on pumpercake has been a story of recipe triumph and picture-worthy finishes.  It is a harsh reality that in the baking world, some stories do not end in success.  I feel as though it would be dishonest of me to share with my small, but loyal group of readers only the stories that end in the sweetest victory.  Now, I’ve been upfront with the fact that I am, by no means, a pastry professional and have had zero means of formal instruction in the kitchen, and it was inevitable that a recipe-flop was bound to take place at one point or another.  I was just really hoping that it wouldn’t happen at this point in the lifespan of my blogging career… barely one month after my first post.  But, then again, it was me who chose to take on the amateur baker’s worst nightmare, also known as: the French macaron.

Here was my thought process:  Cathryn, my sister-in-law, has a birthday coming up, and I wanted to bake up something special for her.  Cathryn is a terrific baker herself, my favorite of her specialties being her chocolate-peanut butter buckeyes that she whips up every Christmas.  Those bite-sized dreams could put peanut butter cups out of business.  I wanted to make her a batch of  something small with similar flavors modeled after her perfect candies, and I decided that this would be a good time to attempt French macarons.  Not to be confused with those swirly coconut chewies (macaroons), French macarons are tiny little sandwich cookies with an eggshell-thin crust, meringue-y cookie interior, and a variety of silky fillings to bind and sandwich the two cookies together.  And the feet, oh, the feet!  If all goes well, when the teeny tiny disks of cookie batter are piped onto sheet trays and placed into the oven, the heat from the trays pushes the top disks of the cookies up-ward, and creates, at the bottom of the cookies, pretty little flourishes called “feet.”  Now, macarons are notorious for being one of the most finicky and temperamental confectioneries one can attempt. The slightest blunder in over-folding, under-folding, or measurements (most recipes call for the ingredients to be measured in grams) can result it cracked tops, lava-like explosions, or lack of feet entirely.  A spin on Cathryn’s buckeyes, I decided I’d attempt  a chocolate macaron with a peanut butter filling to be shipped off to Cathryn and my brother’s home in Ohio.  And Cathryn, being a fellow baking-junkie, was sure to appreciate the time and efforts put forth to prepare for her the special cookies.

Chocolate batter

I studied and researched many a cookbook and blog for two weeks straight.  I bought the suggested brands of ingredients that work best, the correct size piping tip to use, and the specific type of cookie sheets that help the macarons to rise the most evenly.  I learned tons of tips and tricks to help the process go by super-smoothly, like exactly how many folds would incorporate the ingredients to the perfect consistency, and that I should age my egg whites for at least two days (I did mine for three!), and that tracing 1 inch circles onto your parchment-lined sheets helps to pipe symmetrical disks.  I gathered my ingredients, enough to make two batches in case the first ones didn’t work out, and planned every last step of the process a week ahead and set aside an entire day devoted only to these little buggers.

Regardless of my measuring and re-measuring and my sifting and re-sifting, my first batch of cookies were a nightmare, complete with lopsided feet and an inedible, raw center.  After quite a few tears and a little revamping,  I attempted a more simple, vanilla batch the second time around, and although this batch did turn out significantly better, they were nowhere near where they’re supposed to be.  In an effort to disguise their imperfections and also to make them a little more buckeye-like, I sprinkled the fragile little failures with some cocoa nibs and changed the peanut butter buttercream to a peanut butter and chocolate ganache.  I wrapped them in bubble wrap and dropped them off at the post office to be sent to the birthday girl in hopes that she won’t be too disappointed with what is sure to be a macaron mess by the time it reaches her.

Unfortunately, I have no recipe to share today… only a few sad pictures of my unsuccessful attempts during my adventure this past weekend.  But, I have made it my new mission to not only be able to create the perfect macaron, but to master the process.  I know, I know, I have a long way to go.  But, lucky for me, I’ve been able to get into contact with the ever-talented baker and blogger Heather Baird of the amazing Sprinkle Bakes, who has agreed to help me through this process and has already given me some words of wisdom, encouragement, and a few tips to start off with.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep you updated with my progress.  If there are any experienced macaron-makers out there who have any suggestions or advice for me, I’d love the input!  And although I’m too embarrassed to post any pictures of the first batch, there will be a day, hopefully not too far from today, where I hope to post them right alongside the pictures of my successful macarons.  But, until then, keep your fingers crossed for me!

To be continued…

*My more recent (and successful) macaron posts, including an extensive tip list and directions, can be found here and here.