ANNOUNCING: Change is part of life, and apparently, it's part of blogging, too. As of September 5, 2013, I'm merging The Virtual Goody Plate with Disco Mom Takes on the World and whatever else may henceforth spill from my fingertips (and kitchen), into one great new blog. I hope you'll join me there in exclaiming, "THIS IS AWESOMELAND."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dark Chocolate Layer Cake with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

This was the cake we had for Hazel's family birthday party. I had asked what kind of cake she wanted and she was very clear: chocolate cake with strawberry frosting. Sounded great to me, and of course it was a chance to try a new cake recipe. This comes from Marcy Goldman's A Passion for Baking, which I'm having about 80% success with, and really liking my odds.

One thing I loved about this cake is it includes both buttermilk and sour cream. So you know it will be moist and flavorful. Another thing I liked is it is so darn tall! It's at least half again as tall as a layer cake made with a cake mix. Both cakes rose above the edges of the 9-inch cake pans, and the final construction rubbed against the top of my cake stand glass dome. Definitely special birthday worthy. Made up the frosting myself.Dark Chocolate Layer Cake:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup sour cream

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 to 3/4 cup finely chopped/mashed fresh strawberries
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350. Generously spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line bottoms with parchment paper circles. Place on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet.

2. In a mixer bowl, combine butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and blend well. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet and mix, adding buttermilk and sour cream as mixture blends. Blend on low speed about 3 minutes, scraping sides and bottom once to incorporate all ingredients. Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake on middle oven rack 35 to 40 minutes, until cakes barely spring back when gently pressed. Let cool completely in pans.

4. For frosting, beat butter and sugar and add enough strawberries (with their juice) for frosting to come together. Whip well and add more strawberries until it reaches desired consistency. If too thin, add more sugar.

5. To frost cake, semi-freeze layers about 20 to 45 minutes for easier handling. Lay down one layer, flat side down. Frost. Top with next layer, bottom side up. Press down lightly and finish icing sides and top of cake. Garnish with sliced strawberries or chocolate shavings if desired. We served it with vanilla ice cream.

Here's what was left the next morning:

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sour Cream Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Daisies

I haven't been using cake mixes in my baking as much lately as I used to. Anne Byrn's The Cake Mix Doctor is an awesome cookbook for making special treats without too much work, and I have a few favorites I always go back to, like these sour cream chocolate cupcakes. It was my daughter's birthday so we took cupcakes in to share with her preschool class.

I'm not into fussy decorating. Sprinkles are usually good enough for me. I care about putting the work into making something taste good rather than look good. But we have a little cupcake cookbook - in fact, it's Ginger's favorite car reading - that gave me the idea for these simple marshmallow daisies - perfect for a spring birthday!And of course it was the perfect excuse to finally get the cupcake carrier I've had on my wishlist for years:
The preschoolers loved them - sugar topped with sugar and more sugar!

1 package plain devil's food cake mix
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
3 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

I made an orange buttercream frosting but you could make any favorite you like. Mine was 1/2 cup butter, about 4 cups powdered sugar, a few tablespoons orange juice, about 1 tsp orange extract, and food coloring.

24 gum drops
40 large marshmallows (less than 1 bag)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Combine all cake ingredients in mixing bowl and blend on low for 1 minute. Scrape sides, then blend on medium for a few more minutes until well combined. Pour into lined cupcake pans.

2. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until they spring back when lightly touched. Cool 5 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

3. For the frosting, beat butter and sugar. Add orange juice and orange extract until taste and consistency are right; add food coloring as desired.

4. For marshmallow daisies, first frost cupcakes. Work quickly so frosting doesn't harden or crust. Place a gum drop in the middle of a cupcake. Gently flatten a marshmallow so it's more oval than round and cut into thirds. Lay 5 marshmallow pieces around each gum drop like flower petals. Could NOT be easier!


Friday, March 27, 2009

"The One" Peanut Butter Cookies

Awhile back my friend Kat asked if I'd found a good peanut butter cookie recipe. She was getting frustrated with dry dough turning out even drier cookies, and I knew what she meant. The last few pb cookie attempts gave me crumble-in-your-hand shortbread type stuff, not what we were looking for. As Kat put it, "I want a cookie that will BEND!"

Well who doesn't love a challenge? I went hunting and found a few recipes online and in books. I carefully compared ingredients, and, when available, reviews, and decided this one sounded like a good shot.

Frankly, it's perfect. I think this is as good as a peanut butter cookie can get, and that's pretty good. I had a hard time not eating them all. And yes, they were bendy, at least the first few hours. After that the outside hardened up a bit, and by the next day they were crunchy, but not stale by any means, and with a little zap in the microwave (or a dip in chocolate milk), they were back to bendy. And the flavor cannot be beat.
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 and put rack in center of oven. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour through salt); set aside.

2. In an electric mixer bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add the egg and combine, then add the peanut butter. Reduce speed to low, add the flour mixture, and beat until incorporated. Stir in the peanuts.

3. Form the dough into 1 1/2 inch balls. Roll in the remaining sugar and place on a baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Using the back of a fork, gently press the cookies to form a crisscross pattern. Bake 12 to 16 minutes or until just golden. Cool on racks. Makes 2 dozen cookies

Recipe from Real Simple, September 2005

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Georgetown Cupcake

Have you ever seen someone else living your dream? And doing a better job of it than you would?

In 2008 baking sisters Katherine and Sophie switched careers from fashion and finance to open Georgetown Cupcake, DC's only "cupcakery", and they have done an amazing job. I'd heard the cupcakes were delicious, that the line goes down the block, that they sell out if you don't get there early. So I went prepared.

My friend Julia and I took our 2-year-olds while our 4-year-olds were in preschool. We got there 10 minutes after they opened and found a miraculous parking spot around the corner. I hadn't been to Georgetown since I was a teenager and was reminded how darn cool it is there. And the cupcakes!

Every day they have the regular flavors and then daily flavors. They use top, top notch gourmet ingredients and you can really tell. Yes, they look amazing, but the proof is in the first bite. And the second, and the third. And then I realized I'd inhaled the whole thing when I should have been nibbling and savoring. Good thing I got another. The entire place is teeny. One table, a wall of products, and a counter of cupcakes. That's it. We got there not a moment too soon, in time to snag the table, and as we tried to decide a line formed behind us and started to go out the door.
We ordered five between the two of us (some to take home), and got easily talked into the half-dozen deal.

Top row: chocolate hazelnut, peanut butter fudge, chocolate3

Bottom row: chocolate banana, chocolate2, lemon berry

Ginger and I started with the chocolate banana. That's the one I inhaled, though she got a few bites too. I couldn't believe that cupcake, and that frosting! Something to shoot for, though I can't imagine ever making something that good
As we ate, the place filled up even more, and the line got longer. Phone orders started coming in, and the three black-clad girls working the counter were flying around.
Red's always wanted to own his own business. I would love to bake for a living. Georgetown Cupcake was inpsiring in more ways than one. But for now it was just the best cupcake I've had in a long time. We'll be going back again soon.

Sneaky Bean Treats

Every few months I get so fed up with my picky-eating kids that I go hunting for new ideas. The thing is, for every "kid-friendly" recipe out there, there are some kids that will love it. The kids in my house like about 25% of the new things I put in front of them, but of course I never know which 25% they'll go for, so I have to suck it up and accept my odds. Usually that means the path of least resistance, but sometimes I do branch out and give something new a shot, hoping against hope they'll take a bite and smile.

Along the way I've accumulated a small collection of kid-food cookbooks. The other day I took The Toddler Cafe off the shelf, seeking inspiration for an afternoon snack. I think its claim - "Fast, Healthy and Fun Ways to Feed Even the Pickiest Eater" - is a bit over-confident, but it does have some yummy stuff and clever ideas in there. And the design, layout and pictures are beyond fabulous.

So I took their recipe for Toddler Truffles - little sweet balls made from a black bean based cake, tweaked it a little to fit my taste and pantry contents, and voila! Sneaky Bean Treats! They're awesome; in fact, they turned out more goody and less snack than I expected - basically like brownie balls - so I decided to serve sliced apples for a snack and save these babies for after-dinner dessert!

1 (15 oz.) can black, white or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup finely ground nuts
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 T butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
2 eggs
2 tsp orange zest, optional
Powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8x8 inch pan; set aside.

2. In a food processor, combine beans, nuts and cocoa powder. If your processor is big enough, mix the whole batter in there. If not (mine is small), use an electric mixer for the rest. Add butter, sugar and brown sugar; beat to combine. When fully blended, add the eggs and zest, if using, and blend. Pour mixture into prepared pan.

3. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until firm and edges are slightly crisp. Baking time will depend on oven and type of bean used so start checking at 35 minutes. Cool and cut into small cubes or take a spoonful and carefully roll into small balls in your palms. Dust with powdered sugar. Freeze for a frozen treat or store covered up to 5 days in refrigerator. Makes about 24 balls.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mexican Chocolate Cookies

In case you don't know, or can't tell, I've got a thing for spiced chocolate. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong culture and era, but luckily there are ways to get it here. I love Jacques Torres' "Wicked" Hot Chocolate, cinnamon chocolate cake, and the Ginger Chocolate Cookies I tried awhile back. My favorite homemade hot chocolate has a cinnamon stick, pinch of cardamom and pinch of cayenne.

So these spicy sweet cookies had immediate appeal to me before I even made them, and of course afterwards as well. They are moist and chewy the first day but hard and crunchy the next, so just be prepared for however you like them. I made these for some friends; the husband LOVED them, the wife was indifferent. Just depends on your palate. But they are certainly attention-getters, and I adore them.

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60-70%), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Dash of black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350. Place chocolate in small glass bowl; microwave on HIGH 1 minute or until almost melted, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cup; level with knife. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, black pepper and red pepper; stir with a whisk.

3. Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended, about 5 minutes. Add egg; beat well. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla; beat just until blended. Add flour mixture; beat until just blended. Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray, parchment, or silicone.

4. Bake 10 minutes or until almost set. Remove from oven; cool on pans 2 minutes until set before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 2 dozen using a 1 1/2 inch cookie scoop.
Per cookie: Cal 80, Fat 2.9g, Chol 10mg, Sod 35mg, Prot 0.7g, Fiber 0.1g

Recipe from Cooking Light, December 2007

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chocolate Carrot Cake

Last weekend we went to dinner at a friend's house and I asked, as indifferently as I could manage, if I may please bring dessert. When she answered yes, I went to task to choose and narrow until I found just the thing to try. It came down to S'mores Cheesecake, Coconut Cream Filled Dark Chocolate Cupcakes, and this Chocolate Carrot Cake. I'm sure I'll make the others sometime, but I was just in the mood for this one.

The instructions say to use a 10-inch springform pan. I only had a 9-inch so I made the batter, measured the volume (about 8 cups) and decreased by 1/10 (about 3/4 cup). It was not exact but it worked. The middle was slightly underdone; I was afraid of scorching the edges so I didn't want to push the cooking time. So the center sunk slightly but it also meant that when it was cooled and sliced, the center was super rich and fudgy. No one complained.

The instructions also say to slice the cooled cake horizontally, to make 2 layers, to which I ask, "Then why didn't you just have me make two layers?" I've tried before to horizontally slice cake, and it can be done but it's just asking for trouble. So I froze it for about 20 minutes first but when I started to try slicing, I could tell the cake wouldn't hold up. So I tossed that idea and just frosted it as is, one thick layer. The cake is so rich that you really don't need frosting in the middle.

I'm sorry there are no inside pictures. The problem with a cake is that taking a slice out is noticeable, and I was too self-conscious to take my camera to the dinner party to get a shot. But it was brown, it was tender, moist, rich and very delicious. The flavors are all chocolate and orange, the texture is all carrot cake with the carrots and walnuts. The frosting is super creamy. I didn't have half-and-half, only heavy cream, so I used that. Wow, really amazing. One guy at dinner exclaimed, "This is REAL comfort food!"

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
Zest of 1 orange, finely minced
1/2 cup orange juice
2 T cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups finely shredded carrots
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 oz. semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 to 6 T, or as required, half-and-half

Finishing Touches:
Finely chopped toasted walnuts
Shredded carrots
Mini chocolate chips
Marzipan carrots (store-bought), optional

1. For the cake, preheat oven to 350. Generously spray a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray and line with a circle of parchment paper. Place pan on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

2. In a mixer bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add brown sugar. Blend in eggs, vanilla, melted chocolate, orange zest, and orange juice, scraping bowl often to ensure nothing gets stuck in the well of the bowl. Fold in cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Then fold in carrots, chocolate chips, and walnuts and stir to make a smooth batter. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

3. Bake until cake springs back when gently pressed with fingertip, about 50 to 60 minutes.

4. For frosting, cream the cream cheese and stir in the melted chocolate, butter, confectioners' sugar, and half-and-half to create a soft frosting. Whip frosting on medium speed of mixer 1 to 2 minutes to increase volume.

5. If you are highly confident, split cooled cake horizontally. Frost bottom generously an docver with top. If middle is sunk or you're annoyed with this extra step, don't attempt the split. Either way, frost sides and top and garnish with walnuts, carrots, chocolate chips, shaved chocolate, or whatever.

Recipe from a little booklet called Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate! by Marcy Goldman

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Banana-Walnut Chocolate-Chunk Cookies

So after almost, but not, buying Martha Stewart's Cookies TWICE in the bookstore, and reading rave reviews on various food blogs, I decided to get it from the library. That night I went through it page by page, noting the sticky corners where previous readers had placed their page markers, and had a preliminary list of 35 mouth-watering delights I wanted to try immediately. But it was late, so I went to bed.

The next morning my 2-year-old came to me and said, "Mommy, I want to make cookies with you." Which means, "Mommy, I want you to make cookies so I can lick the beaters." Whatever, I was anxious to delve in. I hadn't been to the store so I had to find a recipe I had everything for. I scanned the list waiting for inspiration. Oh, man. Banana-Walnut Chocolate-Chunk cookies - PERFECT!

I have a handful of recipes for ripe bananas I'm waiting to try; it's nice to have a few options to choose from rather than making the same banana muffins all the time, awesome as they are (I'll have to post those soon.) These gooey, chunky treats are honestly an exact cross of banana bread and chocolate chip cookies. The texture is all cookie, and of course there's the chocolate. But the banana flavor is strong and sweet, and while I don't usually prefer walnuts, they really are perfect in this setting.

The recipe calls for chopped dark chocolate. Honestly, one does not always have the time or desire for this extra step, so use chocolate chips if you want. But there is something so recklessly decadent about taking a good quality dark chocolate bar and a big knife, and breaking and chopping it all up into random pieces. And of course it's awesome when you bite into a big one.
Same with the coarse salt. One may not have it on hand, so use regular salt. But I happened to have coarse, and let me tell you, it was worth it. You can really tell the difference. It's small but profound details like these that take this cookie from being really, really good to absolutely gourmet. Not only that, but this recipe has also earned a new label - "healthy-ish." It'll go on things that have whole grains, lower fats, alternative sweeteners, fresh fruit, or are otherwise slightly healthier than your average goody. Bon appetit!

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (1 large)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch chunks
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 375. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone. Whisk together both flours, salt and baking soda in a bowl.

2. Beat butter and both sugars in an electric mixer on medium until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add egg and vanilla; mix until combined. Mix in banana. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in oats, chocolate chunks, and walnuts.

3. Using a 1 1/2-inch cookie scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies until golden brown and just set, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack; let cool completely.

Makes 3 1/2 dozen plus a big spoonful of dough for the hubby

Look at that big chunk in the front cookie - don't you just want to bite the screen?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


We get together with my Mom about once a week. Sometimes we just hang out at her house or ours and sometimes we go on a field trip. Last week we visited Fran's Cake and Candy store in Fairfax, because, you know, I needed stuff. Fran needs a sign outside, and maybe a better website, but other than that she's got the goods.
I've never delved into commercial tiered cake-making, or mass bulk candy molding, but if I ever wanted to, Fran's got my back. There were cake pans and cookie cutters of every shape and size.

Need colored candy melts or flavored pastry filling? Fran is here for you.
Also cake toppings and decorations for every occasion, both edible and not, cookbooks, packaging and boxes, ingredients, tools, you name it.

I walked out with a piping tip and bags (for a filled cupcake recipe I want to try), glucose (for a cookie recipe I have that calls for it but I'd given up on ever finding it), some Easter cookie cutters, muffin papers, birthday candles, some 1-lb. cookie boxes (trying to move away from the paper-plate-and-tin-foil thing - taking suggestions) and a bag of cinnamon baking chips which I had to ask about and she went and scooped me some from her secret stash in back. Here's a picture Hazel took of Fran herself while bagging my stuff:
So I'm a little better stocked now, thanks to Fran, and if I need something else, I know where to find her.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins

So what's a mom to do when her 3-year-old comes to her at 3:30 in the afternoon and says, "Mom, I want to make something," and you've already made cookies and pancakes that morning and every bowl and measuring cup is dirty in the sink? Wash some dishes and make muffins. Duh.

And guess what I discovered. If you use frozen blueberries that you have to thaw and then they're in some juice and you add that into the batter, the muffins turn a bluish green color while cooking - a perfect naturally colored treat for St. Patrick's Day! That's what you get when you cross a lemon and a blueberry.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 large egg
1 T grated lemon rind (from 1 lemon)
1 cup blueberries (from 1 cup blueberries)
Cooking spray
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400. Generously coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients through nutmeg in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.
3. Combine buttermilk, egg and rind; stir well with a whisk. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moist. Gently fold in blueberries.
4. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when lightly touched. Remove muffins from pan immediately, and place on a wire rack to cool.
5. Combine lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Drizzle glaze over cooled muffins.

Per muffin: 187 cal, 4.8g fat, 3.7g protein, 1g fiber, 30mg chol, 264mg sod

from Cooking Light, April 2003

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

I'm discovering there are oh-so-many ways to pair peanut butter with chocolate into something outrageously yummy. I took a BHG recipe and tweaked the ingredients here and there. When they came out they smelled like peanut euphoria but looked just too plain. Nothing a quick dip in melted chocolate couldn't fix!

I added a small amount of vegetable shortening to the chocolate; it gives the chocolate a sheen and helps prevent blooming when it cools. Don't add much - no more than a teaspoon - or else the chocolate will be too soft and you'll get a slight shortening taste, which you DON'T want. And if you're opposed to shortening altogether, leave it out.

This makes a stiff dough that doesn't spread much while cooking, so you have to shape it before it goes in the oven. If you want a rounded shape like a ball, make a ball or use a cookie scoop. If you want a flatter cookie , smash it with a fork or glass before cooking. I shaped each ball of dough into a patty using my hands before placing on the cookie sheet.

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped salted roasted and/or honey roasted peanuts
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or about 8 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 tsp vegetable shortening (optional)
1/2 cup chopped peanuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Beat butter and peanut butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for at least 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt; beat until combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in the flour. Stir in the oats and peanuts.

2. Place balls or discs of dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment or silicone. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to rest on baking sheet 1 minute before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

3. Place chocolate chips and vegetable shortening in a microwave save bowl and microwave for 20 seconds. Remove, stir well, and heat again for 20 seconds, repeating until chips are almost all melted. Stir until smooth. Do not overheat chocolate. Dip cooled cookies halfway in chocolate, allowing extra chocolate to drip off into the bowl. Dip in more chopped peanuts if desired.

Mmm...desired is a good word for these cookies.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pink Grapefruit Sandwich Cookies

I absolutely LOVE the invigorating taste and smell of grapefruit - it's my favorite hand soap or shower gel scent, and it's great to eat, especially paired with something sweet. So I really felt lucky when I happened upon this recipe on Martha Stewart's website. You hear of plenty of cookies made with lemon, orange and even lime. But I'd never had a grapefruit cookie, and that made it a must-try.

There's grapefruit zest and juice in the cookies, and more juice in the super pretty peachy-pink filling. Oh, and plenty of butter and sugar to balance it all out. After zesting it, just juice the whole fruit, and after making the filling drink whatever is leftover with your first cookie - WOWZER! I love the step that has you toss the fresh zest with sugar before adding to the dough - I think it helps distribute the zest and grapefruit flavor more thoroughly throughout the dough.

But while I've said before that Martha doesn't make mistakes, and I hold that that is almost always true, I've had to fix a few details in her recipe, like cutting the cooking time in half, and totally revamping the proportions in the filling. So here's my tried and true version for a truly unique winter citrus goody plate treat.

Grated zest of 1 Ruby Red grapefruit, plus 1/4 cup freshly squeezed juice
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
3/4 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large egg yolks

2 T unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2 to 3 T freshly squeezed Ruby Red grapefruit juice

1. Zest and juice the grapefruit. In a small bowl, combine zest with 1 T sugar; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. In an electric mixer bowl, beat butter and remaining sugar on med-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add egg yolks, and beat until combined. Beat in reserved zest-sugar mixture. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the juice, and beat to combine.

3. Turn out half the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, and shape into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate disks until firm, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out 2-inch rounds and place on prepared sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through if cooking unevenly. Allow to cool 2 minutes on baking sheet before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

5. Place butter and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl and mix slightly. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice and continue to beat until frosting is formed. Add slightly more butter, sugar or juice to taste and to desired consistency, beating well. Don't let it get too soft or runny. Spread 1 tablespoon filling onto flat side of cookie; top with another cookie, flat side down. Once filled, cookies can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Makes 2 dozen sandwiches

Friday, March 13, 2009

Black Forest Crinkle Cookies

These cookies are
I'm not sure what else to say, really. They're delicious. They're wonderful.

I left out the coffee granules but you could try it either way. Part of what makes these cookies so pretty is a double-roll in powdered sugar prior to baking so that when they crack the crinkles are well-defined. But personally I think one roll makes them pretty enough, and I'd rather use my calories to eat another cookie than to consume more powdered sugar.

I love trying new recipes so much that I rarely make the same one twice. But these little devils are on my very short list of cookies I will make again and again. Yum!

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 egg
(1 tsp instant coffee granules mixed with 2 T hot water)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup dried tart cherries (1.5 oz.)
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone.

2. Stir flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Melt butter in a second bowl in microwave or over low heat.

3. Add cocoa to butter, whisking until smooth. Stir in egg, coffee mixture, and vanilla, fully blending in each one before adding the next. Stir in flour mixture into cocoa mixture just until combined.

4. Fold chocolate chips and cherries into dough until evenly distributed. Shape into generous 1-inch balls (I use my trusty cookie scoop.)

5. Roll balls in powdered sugar once or twice, then arrange on prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until cookies are cracked, yet still soft - do not overbake. Let cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool. Makes about 2 dozen

from Cuisine at Home Holiday Cookies magazine, 2008

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hot Buttered Popcorn Bread

I don't know if it was the "Popcorn Popper" Read Between the Lions DVD we got from the library this week, or the big bag of microwave popcorn my friend Rebecca brought as a snack in our car last week, but when I saw the title of this bread, it called to me. I mean, bread that claims to taste like movie theater popcorn? Right on!

Making this recipe brought a lot of firsts for me. It was certainly the first time I'd made, or even heard of, popcorn bread. I also almost never bake with yeast. I had some bad experiences in the past, and the extra steps involved just mean extra opportunities to mess up a recipe. But I decided to give it another go. I had to go hunting through the backs of cupboards to find my mixer dough hook, and I think it might actually be the first time I've used it. And it was definitely the first recipe I've made from an amazing baking cookbook my friend lent me, called A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman. I just got it and am still going through it, but I intend to write a more thorough review once I've tried a few more things. I've already got my list.

So the bread turned out good. Fresh bread from the oven is always good. And then brushing on melted butter and salt while hot helps of course. But I think the things that kept it from being amazing were my fault, not the recipe's. In baking you have to develop a feel for things - the balance, the texture, the look of a batter or dough that's just right. Cookies are my strength; I can usually take a recipe and trust my instinct enough to tweak if needed. Cakes and quick breads too, sometimes. Pies and yeasties are another story. I just haven't made them enough, which is the whole point of this exercise and blog.

I think I added too much flour. And I knew as soon as I'd done it - D'OH! - but then what can you do? Then I overmixed it hoping the extra flour would mix in and make a nice soft baby's bottom dough but it was already past that point. I also think my baking powder was not optimal. It was at least 6 months old, and freshness matters (which I learned reading the introductory "Baking Secrets" chapter of the book while my dough was trying to rise against all odds.) Finally, despite her cool trash bag proofing room technique, I'm afraid my kitchen was just too cold for a good rise. It was springy outside so I had the windows open in the house, and it was breezey. In the future I may try making the dough through the first rise in my bread machine, which is nice and warm and protected.

So I think that was the main problem; it just didn't rise as much as I had hoped, both times, so the bread had a fairly dense crumb. But the flavor was great and while it mostly tasted like yummy white bread, there was a hint of popcorn, with the hulls providing a little texture and popcorny nuttiness. Super fun! And everyone gobbled it at dinner, especially since we never serve bread, and my experimental slow cooker spaghetti squash was disgusting. Summary of the day: live and learn.

5 cups popcorn (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup unpopped kernels)
1 1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees F)
3 3/4 tsp rapid-rise yeast
2 T sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 T real or artificial butter extract, optional
2 1/4 tsp salt
5 to 6 cups bread flour
1 large egg
Pinch each sugar and salt
2 to 4 T salted butter, melted

1. Spray 2 9x5 loafpans with nonstick spray and place on a large baking sheet lined with parchment. Alternatively, you can bake this bread in one big round free-form loaf on 2 stacked baking sheets lined with parchment (to avoid burning), like artisan bread.

2. For popcorn, pop the corn in a hot air popper. Pulverize it in batches in a food processor or mini chopper until you have 2 1/2 cups. It is very lightweight and will fly around!3. In a mixer bowl, hand-whisk water and yeast together and let stand 2 to 3 minutes to dissolve yeast. Briskly whisk in sugar, oil, butter, and salt. Blend well. Add ground popcorn and 3 cups bread flour and mix. Knead dough with dough hook on lowest speed of mixer for 6 to 8 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to form a soft, bouncy dough.

4. Remove dough hook, spray dough with cooking spray, and cover entire mixer and bowl with a large clear plastic bag. Let rise 60 to 90 minutes or until almost doubled.(This is one of Goldman's signature techniques. Spraying the dough prevents a skin or crust forming. Covering the entire mixer and bowl with a plastic bag forms a "home proofer", which in the baking industry is a walk-in sauna rising room for breads. It's humid and free from drafts, and it saves you from messing up extra bowls or sticky, floury tea towels you usually use for the first rise. She says to use clear trash bags obviously so you can see when the dough has doubled. The best I could find at Safeway was clear blue trash bags which turned out to be not very clear at all, so I cut a small hole and covered it tightly with packing tape for a window. I hope that wasn't why I had rising problems. She references Royal Bag in her Source Guide, but like I'm really spending $50+ on 100 bags! I'll just keep my eye out for them.)

5. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface and gently deflate. Divide dough in half and form into two loaves; place in prepared pans or form a ball and place directly on baking sheets for a free-form loaf.

6. Whisk egg and a pinch each of sugar and salt in a small bowl. Brush loaves with egg wash. DO NOT DISCARD EGG WASH. Cover loaves loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled, 45 to 60 minutes.7. Preheat oven to 375. Brush bread again with egg wash and dust with some corn meal. Place bread in oven; immediately REDUCE TEMPERATURE to 350. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes.

8. As soon as bread comes out of oven, liberally brush with melted butter. Let cool in pans 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack to cool completely. Free-form loaf can cool directly on baking sheets.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chunky Peanut, Chocolate and Cinnamon Cookies

I saw this recipe while flipping through Martha Stewart's Cookie book at Border's and it stopped me in my tracks. Genius. She is a genius. I had to try it immediately, and it was so, so worth it. Chunky, yes. Peanuty, chocolatey, and cinnamony, yes. Don't even question. Martha doesn't make mistakes.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

2. Put butter and peanut butter in an electric mixer bowl and mix on medium until combined, 2 minutes. Add sugars; mix 2 minutes. Mix in eggs. Gradually add in flour mixture; mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips, peanuts and vanilla with mixing spoon until well distributed. Refrigerate dough until slightly firm, 15 minutes.

3. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Space balls 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment or silicone. Flatten slightly. Bake until golden around edges, about 13 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool and serve with ice cream. Makes about 4 1/2 dozen with medium cookie scoop.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

31 Birthday Cakes

The other night we went to our friend's birthday party. I think 3-year-old girls are possibly the easiest people in the world to shop for because there are so many cute things they'll like. I picked up, and then went back and reshelved, at least four things at Target before seeing my favorite gift: a little chef's set complete with apron, hat, mitt, hot pad and dish towel. I couldn't help it. A bag of cookie mix completed the theme.When we got to the party, I was speechless when I saw the cake her mom had made. Even though I'm fascinated with Ace of Cakes, I am not a decorator. I can frost a cake, and I'll even do sprinkles or chocolate shavings, but I've never done much beyond. I guess I'm pragmatic; it seems a lot of work for something that's just going to be eaten.

But the castle cake inspired me. Shanna said she got it from this website. I still think most of those cakes are more trouble than they're worth, especially since something would go wrong and mine would fall apart or something. But I could do the french fry cake:It reminds me of that hamburger cake I used to gaze at longingly in the Baskin Robbins case. And actually the butterfly and pirate ship cakes are pretty awesome, too, and don't look too tough. I don't know. Hazel's birthday is coming up, we'll see what happens. I have a million cupcake recipes I'm dying to try. But these cakes and this website were just too good not to share.
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