Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

I decided to prepare this month's Daring Bakers challenge while I was home for Thanksgiving break. This way, I had several more assistants, and many more mouths to feed!

While I enjoyed making and consuming this recipe, its richness demanded minuscule portions. I don't usually remark on a cake being too sweet, this one seriously meant business. If I were to make this another time, I might frost between the cake layers with a lighter, whipped cream icing, and cover it in the caramelized butter frosting, which was very intense (albeit in a good way).

This month's hosts include Dolores, Alex, Jenny, and gluten-free expert Natalie. The recipe comes from Shuna Fish Lydon at Eggbeater.

Caramel Cake

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

1.Preheat oven to 350F
2. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. (I used a 9 x 15 inch jelly roll pan)
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.
4. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.
5. Sift flour and baking powder.
6. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}
7. Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.
8. Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it (In the jelly roll pan, this cake needed 20 - 25 minutes to bake).

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

1. In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
2. When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.
3. Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Caramelized Butter Frosting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

1. Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.
2. Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

For decoration, I drizzled the top of my cake with melted bittersweet chocolate.

Thanks, Daring Bakers, for another delicious recipe! Check the rest of the blogs out at

Monday, November 24, 2008

Baked Chocolate Doughnuts

As previously mentioned, last weekend my friend Ashley and I bought a huge (1 lb.) chunk of bittersweet Callebaut couverture chocolate at Whole Foods. Our intention was to create chocolate lava muffins! but a busy weekend and several filling meals obstructed this plan. Instead, I chopped the block (roughly) in half on Sunday morning, and we went our separate ways.

Ashley made this amazing (looking) Pain au Chocolat, while I gradually agonized over recipes for a week. On Saturday morning, I had finally decided on chocolate baked yeast doughnuts.

I have a confession to make. These did not turn out as well as I had hoped. However, I'm writing about them since (a) I think you ought to be aware of my failures, (b) the pictures look yummy! and (c) most of all, I think these have promise, and plan to make them again with several alterations, of which I will make note.

Baked Chocolate Doughnuts
Adapted from Heidi's recipe at 101 cookbooks

1 1/3 cups warm milk, 95 to 105 degrees
1 packet instant yeast (if you want to use active yeast, dissolve it in 1/3 cup of the warm milk first)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour (the original recipe calls for 5 cups. I cut it down to 4 because I was adding some cocoa powder. This was TOO MUCH FLOUR. So I'm reducing it to 3 cups here, and more can be added if necessary.)
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted. (I put the chocolate in the microwave for 20 seconds, removed, and stirred until smooth.)
1 teaspoon salt

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together. Add milk, eggs, and melted, cooled chocolate.
2. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt, and instant yeast) in a separate container. Gradually add to wet ingredients, stirring by hand, until fully combined.
3. Beat the mixture with the dough hook attachment of an electric mixer, on medium, for several minutes. Add more flour if too wet, more warm milk if too dry. Ideally the dough should "pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl and eventually become supple and smooth."
4. Place the dough into a warm, buttered bowl. Allow to rise for 1 hour. (TIP: I think I've said this before, but my favorite place to let dough rise is in the microwave. I put a damp towel in for thirty seconds, then remove. One dry towel goes over the dough, and the damp, warm towel goes on top of that. Then I put the whole container into the microwave and UNPLUG IT because you never know who might mess with it accidentally.)
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Roll out until 1/2 inch thick. Cut the doughnuts! I do not have a fancy doughnut cutter, so my assistant and I used a glass and an empty cream soda bottle.
6. Allow the doughnuts to rise for 1 more hour (I use the same method as the first time).
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the doughnuts for 7 minutes or so. They should be slightly under-cooked! I also baked the doughnut holes for about 3 minutes each.
8. Glaze. I used Alton Brown's chocolate glaze recipe, substituting 1 Tbsp honey for the corn syrup, and it was delicious! Beware, though, it will make twice as much as necessary and you will be continually tempted to stick your finger in it, eat it with a spoon, pour it over fruit...

As I mentioned above, I think the problem with my doughnuts was too much flour. Next time, I will start low and work my way up. I'm also going to try adding slightly more butter and sugar, to increase the richness of the dough. I will let you know how that goes!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Basics Part II: Chocolate Cake

I have several recipes for chocolate cake filed away, some from family, others from blogs, still others I've created on my own, or adapted. I discovered this particular recipe when I was searching for a simple and easy way to make chocolate cake: no buttermilk, no beaten egg whites, and no difficult methods. I was living in an apartment I hated, with no electric mixer or quality measuring tools. My need for dessert was pressing. This cake saved me.

I originally baked this in an 8-inch square pan, and drizzled it with a simple glaze. Most of the pieces I cut went straight into the freezer. This, I reasoned, would prevent me from consuming the entire cake in one sitting. As it turns out (lamentably), this perfect concoction is also delicious frozen. I may have to fashion it into cakesicles one day soon.

Perfectly Simple Chocolate Cake

The recipe I give here is with sour cream chocolate frosting, as pictured.

1 cup flour (all purpose or whole wheat pastry)
1 cup sugar (white or turbinado)
1/4 cup butter or margarine (I use Earth Balance)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup coffee (optional--if you omit the coffee, use 3/4 cup buttermilk)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Melt the chocolate in a pan with the butter. Let cool.
3. Combine sugar, coffee, and buttermilk.
4. Add egg and vanilla, then chocolate mixture.
5. Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt) together and add slowly.
6. Pour batter into greased 8" square pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until toothpick/knife inserted into center comes out clean

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

1/3 cup butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup sour cream (TIP: I usually use fat-free for this, and find that it tastes just as good! This goes for most dairy--milk, yogurt, or sour cream--found in recipes.)
2 tsp. vanilla
2-3 cups powdered sugar

1. Melt butter and chocolate in saucepan over low heat. Allow mixture to cool.
2. Stir in sour cream and vanilla.
3. Slowly add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, and beat until frosting is smooth and spreadable.

Over at Method, my friend Ashley has made some gorgeous vegan Pain Au Chocolat (chocolate croissants) with one half of a big hunk of bittersweet chocolate we purchased this weekend. Check them out, and stay tuned for my own recipe (coming this weekend)!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Earth Muffin Family & Friends II: Deep Dish Veggie Pizza

All right, so I missed the Daring Bakers challenge last month (Pizza Napoletana, hosted by Rosa). To compensate for my ineptitude, I thought I'd share another pizza recipe with you. This is an oft-requested family classic, and one of my father's specialties.

The majority of my favorite memories with my father (also known as "Papa Earth") involve food: licking a sample of his frosting from the beater while he made one of us a birthday cake, or being instructed in the art of some trivial food preparation, such as the proper construction of a lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise sandwich. It seemed to me, as a child, that he would often deliberately leave partially-prepared food out to tempt us. The plate of shredded mozzarella, or the bowl of resting cookie dough, would taunt us from its hallowed place on the counter, and if we dipped our fingers into these forbidden stores, Dad would always materialize suddenly, shouting "GET outta there!"

Now, of course, he feeds a little scrap of almost EVERYTHING to our dog, a relatively new addition to the family, whom everyone spoils. Their relationship is one of ever-increasing intensity; sometimes I think my father's scorn hurts Apollo's little canine heart more than it ever did ours.

Everyone who knows my family is familiar with the (in?)famous "Daddy Cookies," a recipe handed down from his mother, and a Sunday afternoon tradition at our house since I was little. Dad calls these his "spiritual observance," only half-joking when he admits to not feeling at peace if he cannot make them. I will save those for another post.

Though less well-known, his pizza recipe is just as mind-blowingly good. Once, while visiting, I created a somewhat healthier version, a whole grain, deep-dish concoction full of vegetables. Luckily, Dad is always ready to try something new, standing over my shoulder and providing (sometimes unheeded) suggestions until I have to swat him away with whatever kitchen utensil is most handy.

Deep Dish Veggie Pizza

Part 1: Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

To make this less heavy, I tried using whole wheat pastry flour, which is just made from white wheat instead of red. Because it's meant for lighter baked goods, it doesn't develop gluten as well, so that might not have been the best choice for holding all of the vegetables in this recipe. Regular whole wheat flour would be just as tasty, and probably more structurally sound.

1 package active dry yeast
3/4 cup water
1 tsp sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp olive oil

1. Dissolve yeast in water with sugar, mix in flour & oil.
2. Knead for 5 minutes or so. Let rise for 1-2 hours.
3. After first rise, spread into greased pan (I used Pam, in a 9" cake pan). Use the tongs of a fork to pierce the bottom of the crust. Cover with towel and allow to rise for approximately 15 minutes.

Part 2: Veggies

1/2 zucchini
1/2 yellow squash
1 carrot
7 brussel sprouts
10 green beans
1/2 head of broccoli
10 cherry tomatoes
1/2 bag fresh spinach

1. Peel vegetables if necessary, and dice.
2. Steam all but tomatoes, and spinach. I cooked the spinach separately, with some water, and left the tomatoes raw. (TIP: When you're baking something in the oven, you might want to leave the vegetable components slightly undercooked, or "al dente," so they don't become mushy in the final dish.)
3. Mix vegetables, and add spices as desired. (I used basil, salt and pepper.)

Part 3: Sauce

This is the part that's really up to you. I flip-flop between preferring a chunky and a smooth sauce. Dad usually goes with smooth, and he's agreed to share his super-secret sauce recipe with you.

1 can tomato sauce
onion powder
garlic powder
parmesan cheese

1. Add varying amounts of ingredients to taste. This sounds daunting, but I start by adding a dash of each, then tasting. You can't go wrong by starting small and working your way up. The nice thing about this recipe is that, for those of us who don't regularly cook, onion and garlic powders are cheaper, less perishable alternatives to buying onion and garlic whole, which tend to go bad if you don't use all of them. That said, I do advise you to buy garlic, which keeps longer, because it increases the deliciousness of almost all foods by 40-60%! I made that statistic up but you get the idea.

Part 4: The actual pizza!

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
2. Pre-bake the crust for roughly 5 minutes.
3. Fill the crust with sauce, vegetables, and cheese, in whatever order you desire.
4. Bake for 6-8 minutes.