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."

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chai Spice Carrot Cake with Vanilla Bean-Cream Cheese Frosting

 It was my friend's birthday, and her husband was going to be out of town, so I was afraid she might not get a cake.  I emailed to ask him what was her favorite, and his response was immediate: carrot. 

Which is good.  Because I haven't made a lot of carrot cakes, so it was good experience for me.  AND also good because I just got a new workbowl for my food processor, and I'd been rip-roaring to use it!

When looking for the quintessential no-fail carrot cake recipe, I went straight to Baking Illustrated.  Sure enough, there was a recipe, two variations, two pages of explanation, and three pictures of "failed" carrot cakes, with notes on why they failed.  This, I knew, would give me a great cake.

So I was disappointed and a little torn when I read they make it in a 9x13 pan.  I was hoping for something a little more birthday-worthy, a layer cake.  I scoured the explanation to find out why and came up only with "ease" and "simplicity", not my top priorities when making a birthday cake.  So I cautiously strayed from the formula to make two 9-inch layers. 

The cake was delicious (I made the chai-spiced version.)  The frosting as well.  Though the frosting was slightly soft, and therefore maybe better on a rectangle than trying to spread around the sides of two layers darker than itself.  But I tried to hide those unsightly edges from the camera, for the most part, in the hopes of conveying the fabulousness this carrot cake is.  (And no, I didn't make my own marzipan carrot.  Got it at the local European bakery for a couple of bucks.)
 Chai Spice Carrot Cake with Vanilla Bean-Cream Cheese Frosting (print recipe)
Serves 10 to 12

Carrot Cake:
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 T ground cardamom
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound (6 to 7 medium) carrots, peeled
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups safflower, canola, or vegetable oil

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting:

2 vanilla beans, halved and seeds scraped
8 oz. cream cheese, softened but still cool
5 T unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 T sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) confectioners' sugar

1.  For the Cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray the parchment.

2.  Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

3.  In a food processor fitted with the large shredding disk, shred the carrots (you should have about 3 cups); add the carrots to the bowl with the dry ingredients and set aside.  Wipe out the food processor and fit with the metal blade.  Process both sugars with the eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds.  With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream.  Process until the mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer.  Scrape the mixture into a large bowl.  Stir in the carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through the baking time.  Cool the cake to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours.

4.  For the Frosting: When the cake is cool, process the cream cheese, vanilla bean seeds, butter, sour cream, and vanilla extract in a clean food processor until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down the workbowl with a rubber spatula as needed.  Add the confectioners' sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.

5.  Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan.  Invert cake onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, then invert it again onto a serving platter.  Using an offset spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the surface of the cake.  Cut into squares and serve. 

Recipe from Baking Illustrated

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Leprechaun Muffins

 Well I didn't quite get these up for St. Patrick's, did I?  But anyone who loves pistachios as much as I do won't mind because these are great any day of the year.  A delicious sour cream batter surrounding a rich sweet pistachio filling that, in every muffin, turns out like a little smile. 

I had to hunt this recipe down like a bloodhound.  See, when I made my Frozen Pistachio Tarts, I had to buy a 3-pack of pistachio paste.  Which means I had a whole lot of pistachio paste left over.  So naturally I started looking for recipes.  In the KAF forums I saw mention of a Leprechaun Muffin, which was achingly intriguing, but I couldn't find the recipe anywhere.  I finally figured out it was published in their own publication, The Baking Sheet, but not available online.  So I went and ordered myself a back issue and waited with great anticipation.

What a gem, too.  Not only did it have this recipe, but also a Pistachio-Chocolate Chip Pound Cake (using more pistachio paste, woo-hoo!), a Daffodil Cake (a yellow-and-white sponge cake flavored with orange), Tourtiere (French meat pie), Hot Cross Buns, and more.  It's a little expensive, but I'm seriously considering a subscription.

In the meantime, here's a freebie for you, for no pistachio lover should be without Leprechaun Muffins.

Leprechaun Muffins (print recipe)
Makes 16 muffins


1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

Filling (makes enough for two batches of batter):
1/2 cup pistachio paste
3 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 drop green food coloring

1/4 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts, optional

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with papers and spray the insides of the papers.  Put the extras in another tin or the same one after it cooks.

2.  To make the dough:  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between additions and stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl after each egg.  Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add to the egg mixture in thirds, alternating with the sour cream.  Beat in the extracts.

3.  To make the filling: Combine the pistachio paste, cream cheese, and sugar until smooth.  Add the flour, mix to combine, then beat in the egg, almond extract, and a drop of green food coloring, if using.

4.  To make the streusel: Combine the ingredients, mixing well with a fork or your hands.

5.  To assemble muffins: Scoop 2 T of batter into each of the wells of the muffin tins.  Spoon a Tablespoon of filling on top of the batter, then scoop another 2 T of batter on top.  The wells should be filled to just below the tops of the papers.  Sprinkle the streusel on top, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack for 5 minutes before taking the muffins out of the pans to finish cooling completely.
 Coffeecake variation: Butter and flour two 8-inch round pans or a 9x13 pan.  Spread half the batter in the prepared pans; spread the filling over it, and then spoon the remaining batter on top.  Sprinkle with the streusel, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack, or cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe from The Baking Sheet, Spring 2010

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Amendment to Lucky Rainbow Jell-O

 So right after posting the Rainbow Jell-o, I decided to make it again.  Some friends were coming for dinner on St. Patrick's Day, so I thought I'd try making it with end-of-the-rainbow chocolate gold coins in the bottom (leftover from Hanukkah.)  AND it was my big chance to make in the trifle bowl, which is PERFECT for showcasing its beautiful colors. 
It was awesome.  Everyone loved it - how can you not?  It's like Skittles in Jell-o form.  And the coins on the bottom worked great, too, and the kids had a fun time discovering them and eating them with dinner, and it didn't even have to count as dessert!

The other food was not really Irish, but Ed's cousin Heather brought her big black plastic Halloween cauldron and filled it with a yummy green punch, plus we were all wearing green, so it was a very festive evening.  Oh, and I invested in a nice shamrock cookie cutter, so we had shamrock sugar cookies and mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.  Happy St. Patty's!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lucky Rainbow Ribbon Jell-o

 We had some friends over to dinner a few months ago and this was the "salad" they brought (I had asked them to; I'd heard about their rainbow Jell-o.)  It's a family recipe, and in my friend Sheri's family, she made it clear, this dish is a "salad."  In fact, she only shared the recipe with me on condition I would file it under "salads."  Gotta love Utah.

But even more, gotta love this Jell-o!  Hello, this is like so pretty, and as long as you plan ahead a day or so, it is like so easy, too!  And really pretty fun to make.  I made it for Dinner Swap on Ginger's birthday, and certainly counted it as a "salad."
Another friend also made me realize what a perfect St. Patrick's Day treat this is - end of the rainbow and all that.  In fact, I had the thought to hide a gold-wrapped chocolate coin on the bottom - what do you think, would that work?  I'm not sure I'm going to make that happen this year, but maybe, just maybe, next. 

Also, at the risk of stating the obvious, you could do this with any colors for any occasion - 4th of July, Easter, baby shower, Christmas, Halloween (purple, green, orange), etc.

Rainbow Ribbon Jell-o (print recipe)

6 (3 oz.) boxes of Jell-o in rainbow colors - purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red (or any colors you want as your stripes)
6 cups boiling water
2 cups plain yogurt (we prefer Greek)
1 1/8 cup cold water

1.  Starting with the last color first (purple), dissolve each package of Jell-o in 1 cup boiling water.  Pour 1/2 cup of that into a separate bowl and combine with 1/3 cup plain yogurt.  Pour purple yogurt Jell-o into a clear glass serving bowl.  Chill to set in refrigerator, 20 to 25 minutes. 

2.  Add 3 T cold water to remaining purple Jell-o and pour onto first layer.  Chill to set at least 20 minutes.  Repeat with each flavor.

Recipe from Sheri Wadman

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi(e) Day

It's a must-post day for any self-respecting food blogger.  I refer you here for my thoughts on the matter.

I did make a pie today - four, actually.  It's my cooking day for Dinner Swap so I made four Icebox Key Lime Pies, in honor of both Pi(e) Day and St. Patrick's coming up this Saturday.  It's so good.

But the real Pi Pie come later this week.  Our friend's birthday is today, so to celebrate, they are having a pie contest party this weekend, and that's when I'll break out the big guns.  I've got it narrowed down to four:

Blueberry Slab Pie
Banana Cream Pie with Salty Bourbon Caramel (it's got a peanut shortbread crust!)
Black Bottom Pie with Gingersnap Crust
Upside-Down Banana Split Pie

Decisions, decisions...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dessert Club: Candy

 Oh it was a sweet, sweet Dessert Club in February.  On Leap Day we met to taste and share some devilishly delicious mouthfuls.  "Candy" was not my idea for February's theme.  Candy-making is a whole different realm from baking, and not one that I'm comfortable, or very interested, in.  But I did give it a go.  I tried Claire Robinson's New Orleans Bacon Pralines, but they ended up crumbly so I just threw them away.  Shame, it seemed like a good idea.  But things with thermometers make me nervous; it's just too delicate a process.

Which also seemed the general consensus since so many of Candy Night's offerings were truffles.  But I'm not complaining; everything was sooo good.

Chocolate-Covered Nougat & Peanuts 
 (like a Baby Ruth - and she TEMPERED THE CHOCOLATE - talk about love)

Double Dark Pistachio Fudge
(and the topping was a secret none of us could guess!)

Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur de Sel

Butterfinger Truffles

Vanilla-Orange Caramels with Candied Orange Peels

"Gumdrops for Grown-Ups"
(fruit gelee in three flavors: Pear-Cardamom, Rosewater-Saffron, Pink Grapefruit-Rosemary)

Spicy Passion Truffles
(with layers of flavor that smoke up your mouth - we decided to rename them Burning Passion - my personal favorite of the evening)

And the winner was...
Chocolate Raspberry Truffles

The winner received a new Maverick Digital Candy thermometer with a timer and lots of bells & whistles.  It was wrapped up to look like a huge candy.  Made me really wish my pralines had worked out.
 Aah, it was another fabulous and successful Dessert Club.  We stayed up extra late talking after the tasting had long ended.  DC is so great for us, on so many levels.  I hope it goes on forever and ever.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thin Mint Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

 Where the time goes.  How long I have been trying to put this post together.  How many freaking things have kept me from doing so. 

Pardon the mini therapy session here.  I am seriously baffled.  I have the same number of kids as a few months ago.  Same hours in a day.  Basically the same amount of stuff to do from week to week.  Maybe slightly lower energy levels (allergies are kicking my butt.)  But for some reason I have not been on top of this blog like before.  I know it doesn't matter that much to you, but it is ticking me off.  On to brownies, therapy is over.

Girl Scout cookie season!!!  Sing it with me - GIRL SCOUT COOKIE SEASON!  I know that probably if you've got a box of Thin Mints around, you are going to eat them.  Or maybe freeze half for a treat in the summer.  But if you happen to have extra Thin Mints - we only do because we both ordered cookies from different scouts without knowing it, and ended up with quite the stack of boxes! but even so, I ordered an extra box just for this recipe - you might consider making these luscious treats. 

I made them a few weeks ago while visiting my sister in Vermont.  They actually have only certain nights designated as dessert nights, so luckily I was there for one.  And here's me playing with the focus on my new camera.
 This is one happy Thin-Mint-Cheesecake-Swirl-Brownie eater.

Oh my gosh.

Thin Mint Cheesecake Swirl Brownies (print recipe)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped Thin Mint Cookies
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8 inch metal baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up two sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in sugar and bring to a boil, whisking frequently; boil 1 minute. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract and peppermint extract until combined, about 1 minute.
  4. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt; whisk until combined.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs until combined. Whisk in melted butter-sugar mixture until well combined. Stir in flour mixture until just combined,followed by Thin Mint Cookies.
  6. Spread half of brownie batter into the prepared baking dish, followed by cream cheese layer. Distribute the remaining brownie mixture in 8 dollops over the cheesecake layer and spread evenly. Swirl in with a knife or spatula.
  7. Bake for 24-28 minutes, until brownies and cheesecake are set. A knife inserted into the cheesecake mixture should come out clean and the edges will be lightly browned.
  8. Let cool completely in pan on a cooling rack before lifting out the parchment paper to remove the brownies.
Yields: 16 large brownies or 24 small brownies
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