Monday, June 29, 2009

Hyperbole Cake

The "Ultimate." Isn't just saying that sort of throwing down a gauntlet? It's as if the one who claims the title of "Ultimate" sneeringly dares you to prove them wrong.

When I saw this recipe for The Ultimate Lemon Pound Cake, I just had to try it. My husband is a huge fan of lemon and pound cake. I have a recipe that he really, really likes, but what if they're right, and this one is better? I'd so be missing out!

I made the cake. We ate the cake. Verdict? Hmmmm, it might not be "The Ultimate," but it's sure up toward the top! Moist, lemony, and delicious. Can you resist trying it?

The (allegedly) Ultimate Lemon Pound Cake
- adapted from Lori Longbotham

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
2 1/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp. pure lemon extract
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1- Preheat oven to 300 F with a rack in the center of the oven. Butter and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan.

2- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together twice. Set aside.

3- Cream the butter and 1-3/4 cups sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed and add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the lemon zest and lemon extract.

4-Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1-1/2 hours, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes on a rack.

5- While the cake cools, bring the lemon juice and remaining sugar to a boil over medium high heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

6- Invert the cake onto a rack, and remove the pan. Poke holes all over the cake with a wooden skewer. Position the rack over a baking sheet and slowly pour the syrup over the cake. It will seep through the holes and into the cake. Let cool to room temperature. Decorate with fresh or candied flowers (optional).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ultimate Answer Brownies

I don't know why so many people are consumed with worry over the national debt, global warming, and assorted international crises. The answer to all these problems is evident - peanut butter and chocolate. Who isn't happier when eating peanut butter and chocolate? Well, my sister, but she can take care of her problems with chips and onion dip.

Seriously, if we could convince people around the world to just have one of these brownies per day - ta da - world peace and prosperity! Well, maybe not. But at least we'd have had the brownies to fortify us to face the bad news du jour. Dense, fudgy, deliciously topped with peanut butter cheesecake. What, me worry?

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies
- adapted from Bon Appetite

Brownie layer:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cheesecake layer:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup creamy (smooth) natural peanut butter (made with only peanuts and salt)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

For brownie layer:
1- Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Spray 9-inch square metal baking pan with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray; line bottom with parchment paper.

2- In a medium saucepan over low heat, stir chocolate and butter until smooth; set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

3- Using an electric mixer, beat sugar, eggs, and vanilla in medium bowl until very fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture on low speed, then beat in flour and salt. Spread batter in pan.

For cheesecake layer:
4- In a medium bowl, using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in cream, then flour. Transfer 1/3 cup cheesecake batter to small bowl and reserve. Spread remaining cheesecake batter over brownie layer.

5- Place chocolate in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on low power in 10-second intervals until chocolate begins to melt, then stir until smooth. Mix chocolate into reserved 1/3 cup cheesecake batter. Drop chocolate batter by heaping teaspoonfuls atop cheesecake layer. Using chopstick or wooden skewer, swirl chocolate batter in figure-eight pattern through white cheesecake layer.

6- Bake brownies until edges of cheesecake layer are puffed and center is set, about 36 minutes. Cool brownies in pan on rack. Cover; chill at least 1 hour.

Cut brownies into 25 squares. Serve cold.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Edible Hedgehogs

My daughter had a friend whose main attraction was that she had a pet hedgehog. It was adorable. She'd bring it over to play and they'd stroke it and watch it curl up into a ball or waddle its way across the lawn in search of lunch.

I was delighted with this pet. It didn't shed. It ate pests. And it was cute as a button. Who could ask for more in a pet?

The starting point for these cookies was the flavors. I wanted a cookie with almond, cherry, and chocolate sharing the flavor stage. And it had to be in a nice, moist cookie. After a bit of experimenting this is what I came up with. The tang of the dried sour cherries balances out the sweet hits of chocolate and the toasted almonds give wonderful crunch to every bite of delightfully moist cookie. Who could ask for more in a cookie?

I named these Hedgehog Cookies before I baked them, thinking that the almond slivers reminded me of a hedgehog's prickles. After they were mixed and baked, the almond slivers, for the most part, just lay hidden inside the cookie. But I'm keeping the name because they also are small and delightful in unexpected ways.

Hedgehog Cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup quick oats
12 oz. (2 cups) mini chocolate chips
1 cup toasted, slivered almonds
3/4 cup dried tart cherries, finely chopped

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2- In a small bowl combine the flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

3- In the large bowl of a mixer combine the butter and sugars. Beat till creamy. Add the corn syrup, vanilla extract, and egg. Beat till well incorporated.

4- Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Beat just till the flour is incorporated.

5- Add the mini chips and the cherries and stir till combined. Then stir in the nuts carefully by hand. You want to keep large chunks of nuts.

6- Drop Tbsp of dough onto the prepared sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake in the preheated oven 9 - 11 minutes, until the tops of the cookies are set and are just lightly browned. Don’t overbake.

7- Allow the cookies to sit on the cookie sheets for 2 to 5 minutes (the cookies continue baking on the sheets), then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container. Makes about 5-6 dozen (didn’t really count accurately as my family kept eating them as soon as they came out of the oven).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer Sun In a Bowl

As much as I love, love LOVE to bake, when summer starts to heat up, I start looking for different ways to put something sweet on the table without turning on the oven. My freezer is pretty well stocked with ice cream, so I was pleased to find a new, cool dessert in Ina Garten's new cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

It's a lovely, tangy lemon mousse. Just a little time with the stove and then it's refrigerator time all the way! You can put it into a trifle dish, individual parfait glasses, or, like I did, my fabulous $10 at a garage sale crystal bowl. Isn't it nice? And if you look closely at the rim, you can see that I do live in the land of tall evergreens. Also, if you're not from the land of tall evergreens, you might not know that gorgeous flower is a rhododendron, the state flower of Washington.

There, don't you feel all educated? Now go whip up some mousse to enjoy when the sun's beating down on you.

(Note: I'm listening to the rain beating down on my deck as I type this. This is Washington, after all. But on the plus side, that means I can bake today!)

Fresh Lemon Mousse
- Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

3 extra-large eggs
3 extra-large eggs, separated
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 4 lemons)
kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup good bottled (or homemade) lemon curd, at room temperature
Sweetened Whipped cream
Sliced lemon for garnish

1- In a large heat-proof bowl, whisk together the 3 whole eggs, 3 egg yolks, 1 cup sugar, the lemon zest, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook, stirring constantly witha wooden spoon for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the mixture is thick, like a pudding. Use a whisk when the mixture begins to thicken.

2- Take the bowl off the heat and set aside for 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, until compleltely chlled.

3- Place half the egg whites (discard the other half or save to stir into scrambled eggs or an omelet) and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed. Add the remaining f2 tbsp sugar and continue to beat until the whites are stiff and shiny. Carefully fold the beaten whites into the cold lemon mixture with a rubber spatula.

4- Place the cream in the same bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (no need to clean the bowl or whisk) and beat on high speed until the cream forms stiff peaks. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the lemon mixture. Fold in the lemon curd and pour into a souffle dish or your prettiest serving bowl. Decorate with sweetened whipped cream and lemon slices. Chill and serve cold.

Sweetened Whipped cream

1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the shisk attachment. Whip on medium and then high speed untilt he cream just forms stiff peaks. Spoon the whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Seduction Brownies

Wikipedia says about seduction that "the word seduction stems from Latin and means literally 'to lead astray'."

I don't know what it is about brownies. I just can't resist them. Cakey, fudgey, with nuts, without, frosted, glazed, or however they're tarted up, I am unable to walk away and forget about them. When I visit a food blog and a luscious brownie is posted, I don't groan and say, "Oh, no, not another brownie!" I drool over it, copy the recipe to my burgeoning brownie file, and then when the urge gets too strong, I bake them. And then, do I really need to tell you that I eat them?

I have an embarrassing number of brownies on the blog already, but don't get your hopes up. I'm not done. Not by a long shot. So if you're one of the "oh, no, not another brownie" crowd, just click along to another site. But if you're like me, a slave to wanton chocolate desire, bookmark this trollop. A luscious, dense, moist brownie, that teases from beneath a silky smooth layer of ganache. You know you want it.

Seduction Brownies
- adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz

1/2 cup (1 stick or 115 gm) unsalted butter
4 oz (115 gm) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup (200 gm) sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup (105 gm) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (65 gm) chopped and toasted walnuts or pecans

1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream
2 oz (60 gm) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1- Preheat oven to 325 deg F ( 160 C) with a rack in the center position. Butter an 8-inch (20-cm) square baking dish.

2- In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, then the eggs, and vanilla.

3- Mix in the flour and nuts, stirring just till incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

4- Bake for 25 minutes. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.

5- In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the heavy cream and chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and let it cool briefly, until spreadable. Either spread the ganache over the brownies while they're in the pan, or after you've removed them from the pan and cut them into 16 squares.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Squint And It Looks OK

One of the things that bugs me (aside from ill-fitting shoes and knives put away in the wrong slot) is putting up yucky-looking pictures on my blog. I must confess that I have a folder bulging with delicious meals and desserts that I've prepared but I am not eager to post as the pictures are either bleh or downright nasty. Like a proud parent sending her child off to the first day of school, I want my little blog to look it's best.

But there are times, and recipes, that I have to close my eyes, or squint, and hit the publish button because the recipe is so good and I can't bear to not share it with you. Today is one of those days.

Just in case any of you are suffering from the delusion that everything that comes out of my kitchen is a feast for the eyes, as well as the tummy, I'll talk you through the process of photographing this cake. Hopefully you'll have a laugh, then go bake the cake, because it's worth it.

I made this soup and realized the pictures were bland so I went to the store and bought the most beautiful pears I could find, just to take their picture to dress up the post.

After I'd done that, well, I couldn't just waste the pears. So I found a recipe that called for exactly two pears and I had all the other ingredients. But, hold the phone, it called for a cup and a half of vegetable oil. Euwwww- that's a lot of oil! Thankfully, from my low-fat cooking days, I learned that you can easily substitute up to 1/2 a recipe's oil with non-fat yogurt or applesauce. Since I had yogurt, I went with that.

The cake came out of the oven late at night. I had to have a slice to see if it was as heavenly as it smelled. Yes, it was. Divinely moist, tasting of pears with a hint of cinnamon. Then it was time to take pictures. The lighting was poor and I realized after I looked at the pics that I'd have to try again in the morning. But in the morning, the glaze was as wrinkly as a senior citizen in Florida without sunscreen. Not a good look.

So I thought, I know! Pears + caramel = delicious, so I'll drizzle some lovely caramel over the top. Well, drizzle would have been good if I hadn't overcooked the caramel to the consistency of shoe leather and had to press it onto the cake. Now my lovely cake looked like it was going to the prom in a caramel-colored duct tape prom dress with the slip showing. Tacky. I even tried to get some sexy, caramel dripping shots. It looked much more like something that would take out a filling than something sexy. DIY dentistry is not sexy.

But the good news was that sitting under the cake dome softened the caramel so that my teeth were no longer in danger. And it really was delicious. The recipe goes in my keeper file. Not the pictures, though.

Moist Pear Cake
- adapted from Taste of Home

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup non-fat, plain yogurt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 cups finely chopped peeled pears (about 2 medium)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp milk
caramel sauce (optional)

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. with a rack in the center of the oven. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

2- In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat eggs on medium speed. Gradually add sugar, oil, and yogurt; beat thoroughly. Combine the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda; add to the egg mixture and mix well. Stir in the pears and vanilla; the batter will be stiff.

3- Spoon the batter into the prepared tube pan. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate.

4- In a small bowl, combine confectioners' sugar and milk until smooth. Drizzle over the warm cake. Or, if you prefer, drizzle with caramel sauce. Cool completely.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cleopatra's Sorbet

As a small child I had an every-so-often friend. She was the granddaughter of our next-door neighbors and I only saw her when she came to visit, usually once a summer. We'd play hide and seek, running around the adjoining yards, getting grubby in the dirt, and playing wildly imaginative games.

The neighbors had a patch of large rhubarb growing and whenever the granddaughter visited, we'd play Queen of the Nile with the rhubarb. With her grandmother's permission we could pick the largest stalks and leaves of rhubarb and one of us would be the queen and the other would be the slave girl, using the enormous rhubarb leaves to fan the queen.

When we'd exhausted the play potential of the rhubarb and the leaves were looking a bit wilty, we'd take our fans into the kitchen and her grandmother would chop up the stalks, throw them into a pot with some water and sugar, and cook them into a disgusting looking stew. Disgusting looking, but divine tasting. That dish of stewed rhubarb was the highlight of the visit, something I looked forward to every year and mourned when the granddaughter stopped coming to visit.

This spring I was tremendously excited because the rhubarb that my daughter's father-in-law (shouldn't there be a shorter way of saying that - parent in law?) gave me last year survived the cold winter and was actually producing! My first year to cook with homegrown rhubarb. Yeah! What to make first? My list is larger than my rhubarb patch, so I'll have to save some of the projects for next year.

For starters, though, I settled on Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet from The Perfect Scoop (of course). It was a good choice. The sweetness of strawberries, the tang of rhubarb, and the delicious smoothness of the sorbet make this recipe go straight to the "keeper" file. So easy, refreshing, and delectable. Plus you can use those gigantic leaves to keep cool while you're cooking up the rhubarb.

Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet
- adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

12 oz (325 g) rhubarb
2/3 cup (160 ml) water
3/4 cup sugar
10 oz (280 g) fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1- Cut off the rhubarb leaves and trim off the ends of the stalk. Wash the stalk and then cut into 1/2-inch (2 cm) pieces.

2- Place the rhubarb, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender and cooked through. It will fall apart into stringy bits. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

3- Slice the strawberries and puree them with the cooked rhubarb mixture and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.

4- Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, 4 hours or overnight. Freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Birthday Brownie Cake

When I got together with my sisters a few months ago it was, in part, to celebrate our birthdays. A birthday celebration, of course, means a cake. Our birthdays are getting to have rather large numbers attached to them, and to combine all our birthdays and put that many candles on a cake would likely set off the smoke detector.

So we opted to use the occasion as an excuse to make a recipe that's been hanging around in the "I want to try this" pile of recipes. It's labeled as a cake, but really turns out like a brownie. A very fancy, upscale brownie that is decadently delicious. It was worthy of the occasion and well worth the effort.

Chocolate-Mint Brownie Cake

- adapted from Bon Appetit April 2003

2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (Optional)

6 oz good-quality white chocolate, chopped
3 Tbsp whiipping cream
3/4 tsp peppermint extract

6 Tbsp whiipping cream
6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chcolate, chopped

Chocolate curls, mint leaves, strawberry slices

White chocolate curls for presentation (optional)

For cake:
1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Butter and flour 8-inch square metal cake pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Butter and flour parchment paper.

2- Stir chopped chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from over water and set aside.

3- Using electric mixer, beat butter in medium bowl until smooth. Gradually add sugar and beat until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition. Beat in melted chocolate and vanilla. Add flour (and cinnamon); beat just until blended. Spoon cake batter into prepared pan; smooth top.

4- Bake cake for about 25 minutes, until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool cake in pan on rack 20 minutes. Run small knife between edge of cake and pan to loosen. Turn cake out onto rack; remove parchment paper. Cool completely.

For icing: Stir white chocolate and whipping cream in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Stir in peppermint extract. Spread icing evenly over top of cake. Place cake in freezer until icing is firm, about 30 minutes.

For glaze: Bring cream to simmer in heavy small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Cool chocolate until lukewarm but still pourable, about 5 minutes.

Place cake on rack set over baking sheet. Pour half of glaze over top of cake. Spread glaze evenly over top and sides of cake. Freeze until glaze is set, about 10 minutes. If necessary, rewarm remaining glaze just until pourable. Pour remaining glaze over cake; spread glaze smoothly over top and sides of cake. Refrigerate cake until glaze is firm, about 2 hours. Let cake stand at room temp. at least 3 hours before serving.

Transfer brownie cake to platter. Top cake with chocolate curls, mint leaves, or strawberry slices.

Monday, June 1, 2009

6 Egg White Solution

The sun is shining, the grass is green and growing, and I've been making ice cream. The freezer is usually stocked with at least four different frozen treats to choose from - it's a happy place. But in the refrigerator, life is not so sanguine. It's packed with egg whites. I can barely fit any food in because of all the little containers labeled "2 egg whites" or "5 egg whites." I know, I should freeze those egg whites promptly, but for some delusional reason, I'm sure that I'll get around to using them up quickly. I label them and consign them to a long and nasty life at the back of my fridge. My husband calls it my egg white Gitmo.

When thinking of what to do with egg whites, I always think of angel food cake. The only problem there is that it takes 10 to 12 egg whites, and it takes a while to collect that many egg whites and by the time I've gotten 12, the first 6 have gone bad. So I toss out the first 6 and optimistically hang onto the other 6.

Browsing through a cake cookbook, I found the answer to my dilemma. An angel food cake that only takes 6 egg whites. It bakes in a square pan like a snack cake, and as a bonus, it's self frosting! Trust me, you'll want to bookmark this one. It's so easy, you can have the kids make it, so light and delicious, you'll want to have it often, and it makes a perfect accompaniment to the ice creams you make with the yolks. If you are a not a fan of coconut, you could leave that off, sprinkle on finely chopped nuts, or spread with whipped cream before serving.

Self-Frosting Angel Cake
- adapted from The Southern Heritage Cakes Book

6 egg whites at room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup sifted cake flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup flaked coconut

1- Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Position rack in the center of the oven.

2-Beat egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt. Beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, 2 Tbsp at a time, beating until stiff peaks form.

3- Sprinkle flour over egg white mixture; fold in carefully. Gently fold in flavoring.

4- Pour batter into an ungreased 9-inch square baking pan. Sprinkle coconut over the top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan about 40 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cut into squares to serve.