Monday, March 30, 2009

Health Food For Lazy People

In my married life I've progressed from barely being able to cook, to cooking almost everything my family eats. We've never been big on fast food restaurants, but I have bought pre-made foods to put in the freezer, either because I didn't know how to make the item, or because I wanted something on hand for when I was too rushed or too lazy to cook.

I have learned that there is a high price to pay for my laziness, though. Not only is the pre-made food more costly, it also usually comes stuffed with sodium, high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated fats, and assorted multi-syllabic preservatives. Although it might seem like treat food, that's really no way to treat my family.

When I was approached by POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and asked if I'd like to try their product, I was cautiously optimistic. I'd heard good things about it, but had never experienced it for myself. I was amazed. It tasted just like eating a pomegranate, but without the mess. I looked at the label, bracing myself for the ever-present high-fructose corn syrup. It wasn't there. The ingredients list says: 100% pomegranate juice from concentrate. Woo hoo! Healthy food for a lazy girl!

Not only is it pure juice, but they have done millions of dollars of research to learn all the health benefits of their juice. Tasty, convenient, and good for you. Better and better.

As I rolled the flavor around on my tongue, I tried to figure out how I wanted to play with this juice. Their website has lots of recipes to try, but what I really wanted to make was a sorbet, something that just said a loud and emphatic Pomegranate! This is what I came up with. It's awesome. Incredibly easy to make. Sweet, tart, tangy, and oh so refreshing. Plus you can feel good about eating it, because you know every single thing that went into it.

POM Sorbet

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 cup POM Wonderful juice

1- In a small saucepan combine the sugar and water. Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and set it aside to cool.

2- Combine the cooled sugar syrup with the lime juice and the POM juice in a bowl. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours.

3- Freeze the juice in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I don't try to fool people. I think honesty is a virtue, so I don't try to make people think I'm something I'm not. Ok, the under eye concealer, the hair color, and the push up bra don't really count, do they?

For some reason there are some people who think I'm some sort of cooking guru or baking wonder. Really the only thing wonderful about me is that I keep going, despite the many charred, brick-like, or tasteless food items I produce. Here's an illustration.

It started with leftover frosting from making these. It sat in my refrigerator for a while. I'd eyeball it every time I opened the fridge door, mentally reminding myself to make Twinkies to use up the frosting. After enough mental post-it notes had cluttered up my brain, I got around to making the Twinkies. Then I pulled out the frosting to use as filling. It was quite firm, so I let it sit at room temperature to warm up. It wasn't its creamy self, so I tried beating it with my hand mixer. Alas, that only made it curdle into butter lumps swimming in a sucrose bath. Ugh. (Slams curdled frosting back into fridge, says some very bad words, and rewrites all the mental post-it notes to say, "Make new batch of frosting.")

The curdled frosting sat in the refrigerator. Chilling it made no difference. It was stalwartly refusing to become light and fluffy again. I got cross every time I saw it lurking in refrigerator. I imagined it taunting me, that I would have to throw it away and waste all that butter and sugar. No! I will not be bested by ornery frosting gone south!

I took inventory. Basically, what I had in the bowl was butter and sugar. Well, helloooo, we're well on our way to cookies, aren't we? I beat in an egg, added a teaspoon of vanilla, threw in flour till it had a stiff consistency, tossed in a teaspoon of baking soda, then added coarsely chopped walnuts. Spoon onto cookie sheets, bake at 350 deg. F for 9 minutes, and voila! - Frookies (frosting cookies).

Since the first ingredient to this recipe is an indeterminate amount of frosting gone wrong, I won't bother to give you the rest of the recipe in detail. I just thought you might enjoy the story, and take courage from the fact that even an awesome baker like myself (snort!) has little kitchen mishaps (read: disasters) from time to time. And the take away moral of the tale is: if life hands you bad frosting, make cookies!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mental Summer

I'm getting sick of winter. March is having schizophrenic weather with multiple personality disorders. Hinting at summer one day, snowing the next. Gentle breezes teasing the bulbs to sprout and then pounding them with hail when they try to bloom. It doesn't help that the stores are stocked with shorts, tank tops, and bikinis. It just get me thinking longingly of summer.

Some people deal with this by buying a new bikini and making plans for the beach. Not me. I'm a firm believer that my gift to the world is never putting my body into a bikini again. Instead I make ice cream. (Hmm, now that I put those two things right next to each other, I wonder if there might be a connection. Naw!)

I've been making ice cream like crazy, blithely ignoring the tempests outside, creating my own inner, mental summer. It's a good and happy place. But along with the ice cream piling up in the freezer, I've got egg whites piling up in the fridge. What to do with egg whites? When I asked my daughter, she replied firmly, "Make an angel food cake!"

I also had on hand an abundance of Mayer lemons that I'd picked up at Costco. They're so rarely there that I can't pass them up when I see them. So, combining the two I made Mayer lemon angel food cake. Light, fluffy, moist clouds of cake, topped with a lemony sweet glaze. Perfect for a day when you're pretending you're in shorts and flip flops, rather than bundled up in a parka and a scarf....indoors.

Note: I paired this with Basil Ice cream thinking lemon, basil, and strawberries would be a perfect combination. I decided that I didn't love the Basil ice cream. It tastes just like basil, but I'm not sold that ice cream should taste like basil. Maybe a strawberry frozen yogurt would be better. Mmmm. Plus that doesn't generate extra egg whites to deal with.

Mayer Lemon Angel Food Cake
- adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten

2 cups sifted superfine sugar, divided*
1-1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1-1/2 cups egg whites, at room temperature (about 10 to 12 eggs)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1-1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 Tbsp Mayer lemon juice

1- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. with a rack in the center of the oven.

2- Combine 1/2 cup fo the sugar with the flour and sift together 4 times. Set aside.

3- Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the eggs made medium-firm peaks, about 1 minute. Withe the mixer on medium speed, sprinkle the remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar over the beaten egg whites. Whisk for a few minutes until thick and shiny. Whisk in the vanilla and lemon zest and continue to whisk until very thick, about 1 more minute. Sift about one fourth of the flour mixture over the egg whites and fold it into the batter with a rubber spatula. Continue adding the flour by fourths by sifting and folding until it's all incorporated.

4- Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, smooth the top, and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, until it springs back to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the pan on a cooling rack until cool. Remove the cake from the pan after it has cooled and place it on a serving plate or platter.

5- Combine the confectioner's sugar and the lemon juice, whisking until it's smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake.

Serves 8 to 10. Store covered at room temperature.

* If you do not have superfine sugar, just put regular caster sugar in a food processor and pulse it until the sugar is quite fine. Then measure as much as you need.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Muffin Madness

One of the things that makes me really happy is figuring out how to do something myself. Although I don't do it often, I can make my own yogurt, ricotta cheese, or play doh. I love that moment of discovery, when I figure out that I don't have to run to the store for something.

For years I've purchased English muffins at the grocery store, 6 of them snuggled up together in their plastic sleeve. I always assumed that it took some sort of special commercial machinery to produce them, with that divot around the middle that says, "cut here." A few weeks ago my daughter asked for help with English muffins. I started searching cookbooks and the internet for recipes and was amazed at the number of variations there were. Some said you had to have 8 individual rings to cook the muffins in. Some called for lots of baking powder. Some called for none.

On a couple of blogs I found tasty looking muffins that were made using the King Arthur flour recipe, so I tried that. Oh, my! The grocery store muffins are but a pale imitation of the beautiful, light, fluffy English muffins I got with this recipe. I've become so enamored with it that I've made 3 batches of them. They are heavenly fresh off the griddle and very possibly even better when cooled and toasted.

And that little "cut me" divot? It happens all on it's own when you flip the muffins on the griddle. I felt so proud when I saw them. I'd made real English muffins! (Pats self on the back and reaches for the butter.)

Note: I have a nonstick griddle and it was only after the second batch that I figured out the cornmeal was scratching up the griddle surface. If your pan or griddle is non-stick, I don't recommend sprinkling it with cornmeal.

Heavenly English Muffins
- adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) milk, warm
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) butter
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce) granulated sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 to 4 1/4 cups (17 to 18 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

Place the ingredients in the pan of your bread machine following the manufacturer's instructions. Use the "dough" or "manual" setting. After the cycle is complete, transfer the dough to a cornmeal-sprinkled surface and roll it out until it's about 1/2-inch thick. The dough will be very soft and a bit sticky. Sprinkle the surface with a bit of flour, if needed, to roll out the dough. Cut out circles with a floured 3-inch cutter. Re-roll and cut out the leftover dough. Cover the muffins with a damp cloth and let rest for about 20 minutes.

Heat a frying pan or griddle to low heat. Do not grease, but sprinkle with cornmeal. Cook four muffins at a time, cornmeal side down first, for about 7 minutes a side.

Check after about 3 to 4 minutes to see that the muffins are browning gently and are neither too dark nor too light; if they seem to be cooking either too fast or too slowly, adjust the temperature of your pan or griddle.

When the muffins are brown on both sides, transfer them to a wire rack to cool, and proceed with the rest. If you have two frying pans (or a large griddle), you'll be better able to keep up with your rising muffins. Yield: 16 muffins.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Young and The Yeastless

It's that time again. The Bread Baking Babes have taken on a new challenge and this one was a lot of fun. I have to admit that sometimes I look at our new recipes and gulp a bit when I realize it's going to mean a shopping scavenger hunt to find a weird ingredient (usually flour), or a couple of weeks of prep time prior to popping the loaf into the oven.

This month I didn't gulp at all. The recipe that Sara of I Like To Cook, our host kitchen of the month, gave us is really quite easy and calls for water, bread flour, and salt. Did you read yeast? I didn't type yeast. As leaven for this loaf you use 1/4 cup of leftover dough, called a "chef." It's a 2 day loaf, but worth the wait. For me it produced dainty loaves with a sturdy crust and lovely texture inside. And it's so much fun to make, I can't wait to try it again.

Check out all the other Babes (see the sidebar) and see what lovely loaves they've concocted, then try it yourself. If you make it and post it by the 29th, send a link to Sarah and she'll send you back a handsome Bread Baking Buddy badge to proudly display on your site.

Pane Francese
- adapted from King Arthur Flour, inspired by Joe Ortiz and The Village Baker

Early on the first day:

Creating the Levain
chef (1/4 cup leftover dough, or 1/4 cup sourdough starter, unfed)
1/4 cup warm, chlorine-free water
1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached Special Bread Flour (I used plain bread flour)

Let the chef soften in the warm water, then whisk out any lumps. Mix in the flour until yo8u've formed a stiff dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead it for 5 to 8 minutes. The chef (now called a levain) should be moist but firm. Place the levain in a bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rise in a warm place till doubled. This will take 5 to 6 hours.

Sometime after lunch:

Second-Stage Levain
All of the levain (from above)
1/2 cup warm, chlorine-free water
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Special Bread Flour

"Refresh" the levain by placing it in a medium-sized bowl, chopping it into small pieces, and adding the water and 1/2 cup of the flour, stirring till smooth. Add the remaining flour gradually to create a stiff dough. Knead the dough for several minutes, then return it to the bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rise for 3 to 5 hours, till it doubles in size. Punch down the risen levain, and reserve 1/4 cup as your next chef. (Let the piece ferment at room temperature for 3 hours, then wrap it in plastic and store it in the fridge. It'll develop a hard crust; that's OK.)

In the evening:

all of the second-stage levain (from above)
3/4 cup warm, chlorine-free water
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Special Bread Flour

Chop the levain into small pieces, and mix them with the water, stirring till they begin to dissolve. Add the salt, then 1 1/2 cups of the flour. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured or lightly greased work surface, and knead until the dough is smooth and satiny, adding only enough additional flour to keep the dough from sticking unbearably. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rise in a warm place for 8 to 10 hours (overnight).

The next morning:

Cut the dough into 2 pieces, and shape each piece into a round or oval. Transfer the loaves to a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, or to a floured banneton; cover with a heavily floured cloth, and allow them to rise for 2 to 3 hours, or until they're almost doubled in bulk.

Don't slash or glaze the loaves. Bake the bread in a preheated 450°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, with plenty of steam, or until they're a deep, golden brown. Yield: 2 loaves.


And now, the announcement you've all been waiting for.... the winner of the See's $25 gift certificate is.....(drumroll)...Elyse! Congratulations, Elyse! Please send me your full name and mailing address so we can get it right out to you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So Many Choices

See's Candies opened their first shop in 1929 in Los Angeles, California. My mother-in-law grew up in Los Angeles and one of her favorite places to go was the See's candy shop. She said the smell of chocolate wafted from it for miles around and it was heavenly. Her earliest memories of going to See's was for Easter treats. Mainly she and her siblings got jelly beans and such in their Easter baskets, but her parents took them to See's to pick out one nice piece of Easter candy, usually a chocolate covered marshmallow egg, for their baskets.

To this day, See's is still my mother-in-law's favorite chocolate and a treat for our family, too. When a nice person from See's wrote and asked if I'd like a box of chocolates to play with and blog about, it was a no-brainer to say yes. The only part that required brain cells was what I'd do with the chocolates when they came (besides eat them, I mean). Should I chop them up and stir them into brownies or add them to cookie dough? Maybe slice them and sandwich them between cookies? (Or just eat them. No, must restrain myself!)

When the chocolates arrived and I opened the box, I decided they were too pretty to chop up and hide. So I used them to garnish devil's food cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting (after sneaking just one from the box- mmm). I liked the idea of serving them at a party, so guests could pick their favorite chocolate and get a cupcake, too!

I must say that I had a lot of help with this project. I mean a lot. It seemed like everyone was eager to be a helper when there was an open box of chocolates nearby. And after I was done taking pictures, I had a lot of offers to help with the clean up. Lick the bowl? Check. Lick the spatula? Check. Help eat the chocolates? Check, check, check.

Thanks, See's for the fun treat! But, dear reader, don't be pouty that you're only looking at delicious chocolates, not eating them. I get to give away a $25 gift certificate to See's! If you'd like to win, leave a comment with your favorite treat from See's (or that you've never tried See's candies). I'll draw the winner over the weekend and announce it next Monday. And if you post a link for the contest on Facebook, MySpace, or on your blog, you can come back and leave a comment telling me about it for an extra entry.

Chocolate Box Cupcakes
- adapted from More From Magnolia by Allysa Torey

These are really good cupcakes. Light, yet moist, and very chocolatey.

2 cups cake flour
1 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter; softened
1-1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line three 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.

2- Sift together the flour, cocoas, baking soda and salt into a small bowl. Set aside.

3- In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until it's smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4- Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and the vanilla. After each addition, scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake papers, filling them about 3/4 full.

5- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Rotate the pans top to bottom halfway through the baking time.

6- Cool in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting
- also from More From Magnolia by Allysa Torey

This is my new favorite frosting. It's smooth, creamy, not too sweet, without the harsh edge that powdered sugar can impart to a frosting. It's a bit persnickety to make, but totally worth it for the creamy, dreamy taste and texture. I'm going to use it as filling next time I make Twinkies!

6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

1- In a medium saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk until smooth. Place over medium heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to bubble, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from heat, press waxed paper directly on the surface, and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

2- In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium high speed, beat the butter for 3 minutes, until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating continuously for 3 minutes, until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat well.

3- Add the cooled milk mixture, and continue to beat at medium high speed for 5 minutes, until very smooth and noticeably whiter in color. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes exactly (set a timer). Use immediately.

I had leftover frosting and put it in the refrigerator. I set up like a brick. It softens again at room temperature, but I haven't figured out yet if the creamy quality can be regained by beating it again.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

More Cake, Please

I promised you in the last post that I'd show you two cakes, so here's the second installment. I owed my daughter a "cake with berries" since her birthday last summer. This one fit the bill nicely. Delicious, buttermilk cake, layered with strawberries nestled in billowing clouds of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Honestly, could you resist?

The only problem with this cake was in the cutting. It was not tidy. When I attempted to cut neat slices, they turned into the leaning tower of cake, collapsing on the cake plates in a jumble of cake, strawberries and cream. Good thing it was so tasty - everyone overlooked the presentation and dug in with "mmmmmm"s of enjoyment.

Strawberry and White Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
- adapted from Desserts By The Yard by Sherry Yard

2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
3 oz white chocolate (Valrhona is recommended, but I used Guittard)
6 oz (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1-3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup creme fraiche
1 Tbsp sugar
2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered

1- Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Spray a 12 x 17-inch half sheet pan with pan spray and line with parchment paper. Spray the parchment.

2- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

3- Melt the white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl at 50 percent power in 30 second bursts, stirring in between. Be careful so that it doesn't burn.

4- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and 1-1/2 cups fo the sugar on high speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beaters and continue to beat for 3 more minutes, until light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Whisk 2 Tbsp of the whipped butter into the melted white chocolate until blended. Scrape this mixture back into the butter and beat on low speed until well blended.

5- Add the egg yolks in 2 additions, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

6- On low speed, add the buttermilk and flour mixture alternately in 4 additions. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

7- In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed with a hand mixer until they form soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar while you continue to beat on medium speed. Beat until the egg whites form stiff, glossy peaks. Fold half the egg whites into the cake batter, then gently fold in the rest.

8- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Using an offset spatula, spread the batter evenly over the pan. Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes. rotating the pan from front to back halfway through. Remove the pan from the oven. Allow to cool in the pan. Lightly spray the back of a half sheet pan with pan spray and cover with parchment. Invert the cake onto the parchment-covered tray, remove the pan, and peel off the parchment. (I didn't have two half-sheet pans, so I turned the cake out onto a cutting board.)

9- When the cake is completely cool, cut crosswise into 3 equal pieces. To get precise cuts, measure the thirds and mark with toothpicks before cutting.

10- Whip the cream, creme fraiche, and sugar together to medium-stiff peaks.

11- To assemble the cake, place the first piece of cake on a serving platter. Spread 2 cups of the whipped cream evenly over the top. Lay half the strawberries in the whipped cream and spread a little of the cream over the strawberries. Lay the second cake layer on top, and repeat with 2 cups more cream and the remaining strawberries. Top with the last layer of cake and spread the remaining whipped cream over the top. You can garnish with a few whole berries, if you choose. Chill until ready to serve. The cake can be assembled up to 4 hours ahead.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

February Cake

Have you ever been in a restaurant, chatting in a leisurely way with your dinner companions, occasionally forking up a bite of your dinner, and the helpful waiter whisks your plate away without even asking if you're done with your meal? I feel that way about February. What happened? Where did it go? I wasn't done with it!

I had a long list of things to make and bake in February and I don't think I got to half of them. I'll blame it on the silly, short nature of February. The poor truncated month is missing three days, so I guess I should have lowered expectations for February.

Two of the things I managed to get done in February were birthday cakes. I'll tell you about one today and one next post. The first one was for my son-in-law. My daughter met him when they were in high school and she had a very good feeling about this boy when she learned that he, too, felt the best way to eat Oreos was dipped in peanut butter. Yes, he's a peanut butter and chocolate man, through and through.

In our house the birthday tradition is the birthday boy or girl gets to pick their own cake and I'll make it. Well, now the son-in-law is included. Bonus marriage perk! Of course we went with peanut butter and chocolate. A yellow cake with peanut butter frosting between the layers and on top, chocolate frosting around the sides, and Reese's peanut butter cups crumbled on top. A very good cake to share, as it serves 12.

(My decorating skills are meager at best, but I had fun doing that piped border!)

PB & C Birthday Cake

Yellow Cake
- adapted from The Perfect Cake

3 cups (360 g) sifted all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks; 230 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1-1/4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
(6-.75 oz. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups)

1- Grease two 8 or 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds and grease the paper. Flour the pans and tap off the excess. Preheat oven to 350 deg. F with a rack in the center of the oven.

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

3- In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft and smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl several times.

4- With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the vanilla.

5-Divide the batter evenly between the pans. Smooth the batter and using a small, off-set spatula, spread the batter slightly from the center toward the edges of the pan so it will rise evenly. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or just until a cake tester comes out clean and the cake tops are lightly springy to the touch.

6- Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Top with a wire rack and invert. Peel off the parchment paper. Cool the layers completely before frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting

3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups powdered sugar
7-8 Tbsp milk

1-Cream together the peanut butter and butter until lightened.

2- Blend in the vanilla and salt.

3- Stir in the powdered sugar, a cup at a time. It will form clumps. Don't worry.

4- Add the milk, a tablespoon at a time, until the proper consistency is reached.

Chocolate Frosting
- adapted from The Perfect Cake

(if you make the whole recipe, you'll have leftovers to spread on graham crackers. You can halve the recipe, but it might make the outer frosting a bit skimpy. I would choose to go with leftovers. Which is why I currently have 3 containers of leftover frostings in my refrigerator.)

1/2 cup (1 stick; 110 g) unsalted butter, softened but not melted
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
4-4-1/2 cups (16 oz; 454 g) sifted confectioners' sugar
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
4-6 Tbsp heavy cream

With an electric mixer, cream the butter until soft, then beat in the salt and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add 1/4 cup of the sugar. Beat till smooth. Beat in the chocolate. Alternately add cream and remaining sugar, blending smooth between additions. Scrape down sides of bowl. Use only as much cream as necessary to reach spreading consistency.

To assemble:

1- Slice the cooled cake layers in half horizontally.

2- Place the first layer half on your serving plate. (To keep the plate clean, you can place strips of parchment paper beneath the edges of the cake. Pull these out after the cake is frosted.) Spread about 1/4 of the peanut butter frosting on the layer with an off-set spatula.

3- Place the second layer half on top. Repeat with the frosting. Repeat for the remaining layers.

4- Carefully spread the chocolate frosting around the side of the cake. Pipe frosting around the top edge.

5- Coarsely chop up the peanut butter cups and sprinkle them over the top of the cake.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lazy Girl Bakes

When people find out about my blog, they sometimes ask the question "Why do you not weigh 300 pounds?" Well, for one thing I don't eat all of everything I make. And then there's the combination of cheap and lazy.

For illustration: When I'm at a coffee shop I always scan the pastry display. If something looks really good, I then look at the price. Then I say to myself, "Oh, my gosh! They want $4 for a sticky bun? A single sticky bun? I could make a whole pan of them for that much." So the cheap part of me wins and I go home without the sticky bun.

At home, the thought of sticky buns has taken root in my mind and I can't shake it. Enter my lazy side. "It would take at least 4 hours before you got buns. You'd have to go to all that effort, make a mess in the kitchen, clean up the mess, and then you wouldn't get to eat buns for hours." So the lazy part of me wins and I put sticky buns on my "make some day" list and leave it at that.

Sometimes nefarious forces are at work to thwart both my cheap and lazy sides and conspire to make me pudgy. Recently Force A (my husband) gave me a new cookbook, Sticky Gooey Messy Chewy. Force B (the good people at The Pecan Store) offered to send me some pecans to try out. When my bag of beautiful pecans arrived I opened my new cookbook for a recipe that showcases pecans. What should hit me smack between the eyes but a mouthwatering picture of sticky...biscuits! That's right. All of the gooey, sweet, bready pleasure of a bun, but none of the yeasty waiting.

The pecans came as beautiful halves, so I took a picture to show you how lovely they were before I chopped them up to toast them. Always chop your nuts to the size you want before toasting, as that exposes maximum nut for delicious roasted flavor. They'll need a little longer to toast if you've stored them in your freezer (as you should, if you're not going to use them up quickly.)

I was so pleased with how the caramel turned out. I've always been a bit fearful of caramel, but following the directions gave me a beautiful, just right sticky-but-not-rock-hard caramel.

And then the biscuits. A snap to make. No yeast to fear or wait for. I was unsure that I had rolled them out to the right size. My rectangle was smaller than 9 x 13 -inches. But in the oven the biscuits rose, puffed, and melded together to fill the pan.

How was it, you ask? Oh my, if this blog had a soundtrack, right now you'd be hearing a sexy, smoky sax solo. They were amazingly good. Gooey caramel, roasted pecans, beautiful biscuits, all melded together into delicious morsels of dessert heaven. The kind of dessert you take a bite of and moan, even if you're not normally a moaner.

If you are on a diet, don't try them. It'll be your undoing. But if you think of trying them, be warned: you can't rely on your lazy side to rescue you here. If lazy side is saying "But I don't have pecans," you can just sit at your computer and order them (along with sauces, mixes, gift sets and candies). They'll come to your door. How much easier could it be?

Sticky Pecan Biscuits

- adapted from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Conner

Sticky Pecan Sauce:
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) frozen unsalted butter
1-1/2 to 2 cups cold buttermilk

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 stick ( 4 oz) unsalted butter, melted

1- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Spread the chopped nuts on a baking sheet and bake for 6-10 minutes, until they are golden brown and smell toasted (but not burnt!).

2- Take the nuts out and set them aside to cool. Adjust the oven temperature to 425 deg. F.

3- Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan with softened butter.

4- In a medium saucepan combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, and butter. Melt over low heat. When the butter is melted, increase the heat to high and bring to a gentle boil. Cook, uncovered, until the mixture thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. stir in the chopped nuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Set aside.

5- In a large bowl, sift together twice the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a coarse grater, grate 1 stick of the frozen butter into the bowl. Cut the other stick into 8 pieces and add to the bow. Using two table knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture. Blend until most of the mixture looks like coarse crumbs, with some of the bits of butter the size of small peas.

6- Make a shallow well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in 1-1/2 cups of the cold buttermilk. Use a fork to blend the buttermilk into the flour to create a soft dough. If the dough seems too dry as you are stirring it, add the remaining 1/2 cup buttermilk, a tablespoon at a time. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times to make sure it comes together. Pat the dough into a 3/4 -inch-thick rectangle. Using a knife or a bench scraper, cut the dough into 12 square biscuits.

7- Combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter and sprinkle with some of the cinnamon-sugar. Place the biscuits, evenly spaced, cinnamon-sugar-side down, into the pecan syrup-lined pan. Brush the tops (which once were the bottoms) of the biscuits with more melted butter and sprinkle with a little more cinnamon-sugar.

8- Bake the biscuits until golden brown and puffy and the sticky pecan sauce is bubbling around them, 17 to 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then place a large serving platter over the top of the pan and invert it. (I didn't have an elegant platter that size, so I used a jelly roll pan.) Remove the pan and allow the pecan sauce to fall around the biscuits. Use a small spatula to scrape any residual syrup from the pan onto the biscuits. Serve immediately.