Sour Cream Coffee Cake

March 26, 2011

I have to admit that I am a huge sucker for baked goods with sour cream in it. I think sour cream adds that creaminess and a tang flavor that contrasts nicely the sweetness of any sugary treats. This recipe was especially attractive for me since it makes 2 rounds of cakes; and freezes well for future use. I love being able to pull out a dish like this on a weekend when I am tight on time but I still would love the goodness of something fresh out of the oven. This cake was really delightful with its delicate crumbs and covered in crispy and crunchy streusel topping. I am even more impressed that it still retains all of its winning features after stored in the freezer. Happy Baking!

Adapted from The Best of American Test Kitchen 2008

Ingredients
Cake
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-3/4 cups sour cream
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Streusel
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup pecans, almonds, or walnuts, chopped

Directions

For the Streusel

Mix everything, except the nuts, into a small bowl. Crumble the ingredients using your fingers to resemble coarse meal. Add nuts, stir, and set aside.

For the Cake

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Adjust your oven rack to the middle position. Lightly oil 2 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable spray and set aside.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and ground cinnamon in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk sour cream, sugars, eggs, and melted butter together. Gently whisk the egg mixture into the dry flour ingredient in the large bowl until smooth (do not overmix).

Scrape the batter into the two prepared pans, and smooth top with rubber spatula. Divide the streusel into two, and sprinkle each half on top of each cake.

Bake until tops are golden or, a knife or a tooth pick inserted into the centers comes out with just a few crumbs attached, around 25-30 minutes. Cool the cakes on a wire rack for 15 minutes before serving.

If you choose to freeze one for later use, wrap pan tightly with saran wrap after sprinkling with streusel. It can be refrigerated up to 24 hours or frozen up to 1 month. Do not thaw frozen cake before thawing. Bake as directed, increasing the baking time to 30-35 minutes for refrigerated, or 40-45 for frozen.

Yield: 2-cakes, 6 pieces each


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S’mores Pops

March 23, 2011

I have been wanting to try making my own marshmallows for a while now. For a recent baby shower dessert-themed that I threw, I decided to try making them. I figured that if they turned out delicious; I would make them into S’mores pops and if they flop, well, I won’t need to tell anyone about the ehmm… kitchen failure!

As I was making them in the kitchen, my brother in law and I exchanged some texts, at which point he said something along… “Oh, those marshmallows would be good dipped in chocolate like at Melting Pot.” And when I mentioned this to Red, he came up with the idea of dipping these marshmallow cubes in chocolate and rolled them in graham cracker crumbs! Wow! These guys had pretty genius idea, right? Portable s’mores; how about that? The marshmallows were easy to make (just ignore the stickiness); and I used meringue powder to substitute for the egg whites–and they were yummy. The s’mores pops were even better. Happy Baking and eating!

Ingredients
For the Marshmallows (Adapted from Gourmet, December 1998, as seen on Smitten Kitchen) ~ Yield about 96 1-inch cubes

About 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar (cane sugar worked just fine)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites/reconstituted powdered egg whites/meringue powder (I used later)
1 tablespoon vanilla (or other choice of flavorings)

For the S’mores pops (Yield: 20 pops – double or triple recipes as needed)
20 candy sticks (from Hobby-Lobby or Michael’s)
4 oz of melting chocolate
1 cup of graham cracker crumbs

Directions

For the Marshmallows

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan. Dust bottom and sides with some confectioners’ sugar until thoroughly covered.

In a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold cold water, and let stand to soften. I used my standing mixer bowl.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan, cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of cold water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved.

Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture in the large bowl, stirring until gelatin is dissolved using a wooden spoon.

With a standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about six minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer.

In separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters beat egg whites (or substitutes) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla (or your choice of flavoring) into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan (you will not get everything out, just work quickly to get as much as you can).

Sift 1/4 cup confectioners sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to one day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up one corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and ease onto cutting board. With a large knife or oiled pizza cutter trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallow into roughly one-inch cubes. Sift remaining confectioners’ sugar back into your now-empty baking pan, and roll the marshmallows through it, on all six sides, before shaking off the excess and packing them away.

For the S’mores pops

Insert a candy stick into one cube of marshmallow.

Put chocolate in a microwave/heat-safe glass bowl. Melt chocolate either in 50% power setting in microwave for approximately 3-4 minutes; or on top of a double boiler on the stove.

Dip the bottom half of marshmallow into chocolate.

Roll the bottom part on graham cracker crumbs.


Baby Shower Dessert Party

March 20, 2011

Recently, I hosted a dessert theme baby shower for a friend and co-worker. After a lot of discussions on theme and menu, we agreed on having a dessert and drink shower for a small group of her co-workers. There were only two desserts that she requested: carrot cake or cupcakes and lemon bars; and  I was basically left to go with the rest of the menu. I wanted to take more pictures of the party; but really ran out of time but here are a few pictures of the desserts I made. I thought that this was really a fun idea for a baby shower.

In addition to the desserts I listed below, her family made dessert crostini with ricotta spread, sliced strawberries and balsamic vinegar glaze and baked brie with apricot jelly, sugar cookies and Italian fried cookies (I have no recipes for those).  For drinks, we had coffee, iced tea, cold soft drinks, and bottled water.

Here are the desserts I made:

Carrot Cupcakes and Cream Cheese Frosting with Royal Icing Yellow and Purple Pansies


Chocolate Truffles

S’mores Pops (recipe coming up soon, I promise–these were divine!)

Lemon Bars (No pictures)

Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipster (No pictures)

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies (No pictures)


Chocolate Scotcheroos

March 16, 2011

I have amazing co-workers, and I really mean it. A few weeks ago, our group had to cover some super early morning meetings, like 5 and 6 o’clock meetings *blah* and we couldn’t really get away from them. There are three of us who were responsible to do these, and between the two of them, they volunteered to cover those early slots for me so I didn’t have to disrupt my daughter’s morning routine. Isn’t that amazing? One of them actually took  all three of my morning slots three days in a row. When I asked him what was his favorite treat, he said chocolate scotcheroos. I was glad to bake these for him and brought them to work. He was kind enough to share with the rest of the people in the office, but happy to have four big pieces himself.  I really don’t think I need to “review” this recipe… if you have had them, you know how addictive they are! 🙂 Happy baking!

Adapted from Mrs. Sullivan

Ingredients
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
6 cup rice krispies cereal
1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
1 cup butterscotch hips

Directions
Place corn syrup and sugar into 3-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to boil.

Remove from heat, stir in peanut butter. Mix well. Add cereal, stir until everything is well coated.

Spray a 13x9x2 baking pan with cooking spray. Press mixture into the pan. Set aside.

Melt chocolate and butterscotch chips together in large 1-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Spread evenly over cereal mixture. Let stand until firm. Cut into 2×2 inch bars when cool.

Yield: ~24 bars


Praline Cookies

March 8, 2011

In honor of Mardi Gras, Red’s office sponsored a food day with a Mardi-Gras theme. First of all, I have never met a group of folks who love to eat as much as they do.  They have awesome food days, especially around Christmas time. I used to wander around and sample all of the goodies especially since I also contributed to it :-). I especially love it since I get to unload all of my baked goods with them. It really came in handy when I took my Wilton classes last year; all of those cakes didn’t go to waste! 🙂 I wanted something portable that Red can take to work and Red, the self-proclaimed cookie monster, wanted “some sort of cookies” that can fit into the theme. I thought these praline cookies while may not be the official Mardi Gras dessert, still sort of fit into the Southern team.

The cookie base is what I would call a perfect cookie dough; it is not sticky, or too crumbly or too wet. It just has the right consistency to be scooped into small balls, and baked beautifully into rounds of cookies. They spread just enough (not too much, not too little that you have to press them down with a fork!) into these perfect little brown cookies. I actually love them without the praline topping, although the topping really heightened the flavor. I caught myself munching on the un-frosted cookies–and told myself to stop. They were delicious. This may be my new favorite cookie. I also decided to make pecan pralines using the leftover topping, and yum… they were delicious. Happy Baking!

Adapted from From Martha Stewart Living, February 2000

Ingredients

1 -2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 -1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups light-brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream, plus more if necessary
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 cup pecan halves, toasted and broken into large pieces

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and 1 1/2 cups light-brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla. Beat until fully combined. Add dry ingredients, and beat on low speed until combined.

Drop batter in rounded teaspoons onto ungreased baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake until firm and barely golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies from pan to wire rack.

In a small saucepan, combine remaining 1 cup light-brown sugar and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add confectioners’ sugar, and whisk until smooth. (If frosting thickens, thin with cream.) Add pecan pieces. Place cookies on a cooling rack over a lined baking pan. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon praline mixture onto each cookie.

Yield: 3 dozens of cookies


What’s Baking: Triple-Chocolate Espresso Brownies

February 23, 2011


My brother in-law sent me a text one afternoon asking me for a brownie’s recipe. Of course, I quickly suggested Ina’s Outrageous Brownies which won a lot of nods from my crowd. I warned him that it makes a ton. When Red heard that we were talking about brownies, we just realized that since we loved these Outrageous Brownies so much, I have never really felt the need to try any new recipes. However, his text got me thinking about brownies so much that day, I ran to my stack of cookbooks and quickly saw this recipe that I just had to try This brownie was chewy and chocolatey, with a hint of espresso, which I loved. The smokey coffee really enhances the chocolate flavor. This brownie is slightly less moist and much less cakey than the Outrageous Brownies; and even closer to fudgy. They were also very rich; therefore the recipe recommended smaller pieces for serving.

Our What’s Baking Group Challenge is hosted by Dunne from With a Cherry on Top, with a theme of “Baked with Love”.  I think first of all, nothing says love more than home cooked meals and homemade baked goods. This fudgy and chocolatey espresso-hint homemade brownie recipe definitely fits the bill! Happy Baking!

Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Ingredients

5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1-1/2 tablespoons instant espresso, or coffee powder
3 large eggs
1-1/4 cups (8.75 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoons salt 1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour

Direction
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray 8-inch square baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Fold two 16-inches pieces of foil-length wise to measure 7 inches wide. Fit one sheet in bottom of greased pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan (overhang will help in removal of baked brownies). Fit second sheet in pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.

In medium heatproof bowl set over pan of almost simmer water, melt chocolates and butter, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. Whisk in cocoa and espresso powder until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

Whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in medium bowl until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk warm chocolate mixture into egg mixture; then stir in flour with wooden spoon until just combined. Pour mixture into prepared pan, spread into corners, and level surface with rubber spatula; bake until slightly puffed and toothpick inserted in center comes out with small amount of sticky crumbs clinging into it, 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan using foil handles. Cut into 1-inch squares and serve. (Do not cut brownies until ready to serve; brownies can be wrapped in plastic in plastic and refrigerated up to 5 days).

Yield: (64) 1-inch squares


Chocolate Cream Pie

February 13, 2011

It seems like as soon as we hit the month of February, we’re surrounded by chocolate.  I definitely want to take advantage of it by baking something chocolatey! (Not that I need any reason really to bake, as my friends have probably noted!) Nothing seems to say “love” or “Valentine” like chocolates, so here comes the Chocolate Cream Pie. One thing that I would like to make a note is that recipe highly recommends good quality chocolate like Callebaut semisweet and unsweetened chocolates or Hershey’s  Special Dark and Hershey’s unsweetened. I chose the later, because I didn’t have access to the gourmet store that carries Callebaut.

This classic diner pie, with its luscious chocolate cream topped with light whipped cream sitting on a bed of cooled Oreo crumb crusts is really a special treat… whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day tomorrow, or any other occasions that require that special treat that you may not normally take the time to make. This light, airy and very chocolatey dessert was a perfect treat for our house! Happy Baking!

Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Ingredients
Chocolate Oreo Cookie Crumb Crust
16 Oreo cookies (with filling), broken into rough pieces, about 2-1/2 cups
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Chocolate Cream Filling
2-1/2 cups half and half
Pinch Salt
1/3 cup (2.3 ounces) sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
6 large egg yolks, room temperature, chalazae removed
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whipped Cream Topping
1-1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled, preferably pasteurized organic
1-1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Directions

For the Crust

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. In bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, process cookies with fifteen 1-second pulses, then let machine run until crumbs are uniformly fine, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, place cookies in a large zipper-lock plastic bag and crush with rolling pin). Transfer crumbs to medium bowl, drizzle with butter, and use fingers to combine until butter is evenly distributed.

Pour crumbs into 9-inch Pyrex pie plate. Press crumbs evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie plate. Once crumbs are in place, line pan flush with large square of plastic wrap and use spoon to smooth crumbs into curves and sides of pan. Refrigerate lined pie plate 20 minutes to firm crumbs, then bake until crumbs are fragrant and set, about 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack while preparing filling.

For the Filling

Bring half and half, salt and about 3 tablespoons sugar to simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon to dissolve sugar. Stir together remaining sugar and cornstarch in small bowl. Whisk yolks thoroughly in medium bowl until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Sprinkle cornstarch mixture over yolks and whisk, scraping down sides of bowl, if necessary, until mixture is glossy and sugar has begun to dissolve, about 1 minute. When half and half reaches full simmer, drizzly about 1/2 cup hot half-and half over yolks, whisking constantly to temper, then whisk egg yolk mixture into simmering half-and half (mixture should thicken in about 30 seconds). Return to simmer, whisking constantly until 3 or 4 bubbles burst on surface and mixture is thickened and glossy; about 15 seconds longer.

Off Heat, whisk in butter until incorporated; add chocolates and whisk until melted, scraping pan bottom with rubber spatula to fully incorporate. Stir in vanilla, then immediately pour filling into baked and cooled crust. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of filling and refrigerate pie until filling is cold and firm, about 3 hrs.

Just before serving, spread or pipe whipped cream over chilled pie filling. Cut pie into wedges and serve.

For the Whipped Cream Topping (~ makes about 3 cups)

Chill deep bowl and beaters of electric mixer in freezer for at least 20 minutes. (If freezer is too crowded to fit bowl, place beaters in bowl, fill bowl with ice water and chill on counter). When bowl and beaters are well chilled, dump out water and dry thoroughly).

Add cream sugar, and vanilla to chilled bowl. Beat on low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium and continue beating until beaters leave a trail, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and continue beating until cream is smooth, thick, and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 seconds for soft peaks or about 30 seconds for stiff peaks. If necessary, finish beating with whisk to adjust consistency. Serve immediately or spoon into fine sieve or strainer set over measuring cup and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.