Sunday, March 29, 2015

Havana Cupcakes

There are a lot of good recipes out there that are being overlooked by most home bakers for several reasons. A few of the reasons are exotic ingredients and special equipment requirements. However, this particular recipe was most likely overlooked due to the quantity. The original recipe makes 6 cakes, 8 inches in diameter.

Fiddling around with the calculator on conversions can get overwhelming, but I was so intrigued by the flavors I set out to convert this one. I finally worked to scale it down for about 1 1/2 dozen cupcakes.

The cupcake is made up of a chocolate sponge cake that envelops a nutty layer of hazelnuts and almond paste. The meld of texture and flavor is amazing. Fluffy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Chocolate, hazelnuts and almonds are tasty enough in the cake, but the fudge frosting is something to rave about as well. It reminds me of the type of topping you would put on brownies. Just swirl it on with the back of a spoon and it will settle smoothly on top of the cupcake.

Take note that the recipe does not include baking soda or baking powder, so the cupcakes do not rise like the standard. The liners can be filled close to the top without fear of spilling over.

Havana Cupcakes
adapted from Mastering the Art and Craft: Baking and Pastry

Ingredients/Nut Batter
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter plus 2 tbs
3 eggs
1/2 cup plus 3 tbs finely gnd toasted hazelnuts
5 oz of almond paste
1/2 cup 2 tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs bread flour
Pinch of salt

Ingredients /Chocolate Batter
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup finely gnd toasted hazelnuts
Pinch of salt
8 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients/ Devils Fudge Icing & Topping
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 stick or 1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup hot water
1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp whipped cream stabilizer
2 tbs sugar
18 whole hazelnuts or almonds

Prepare pans by greasing the upper edge of the cavities and lining with cupcake papers. The first batter to make is the nut batter. Begin by pouring the ground hazelnuts into a bowl. Then sift in the flour and whisk together. Set aside.

Fill a the bowl of a stand mixer with the sugar, butter, almond paste, salt and vanilla. Using the paddle attachment, beat the ingredients together on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Be sure to stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The end result will be a fluffy mixture that is light in color.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs together. Beat the eggs into the almond paste batter in 3 separate additions, running the mixer on medium speed for about 30 seconds each interval. Lastly, using a spatula, fold in the flour/hazelnut mixture. Set aside.

For the chocolate batter, whisk the salt and the ground hazelnuts together in a small bowl. Sift in the cocoa powder and cinnamon and whisk again. Set aside.

Pour the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whipping attachment, whip until soft peaks form.  At this point, continue to whip while slowly adding the sugar, until stiff peaks form. Stop the mixer and fold in the dry ingredients.  Lastly, stir in the vanilla extract. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a piping bag with a large tip and fill with nut mixture.  Quickly scoop out a heaping tablespoon of the chocolate batter and place into cupcake cavity. Repeat process for 18 cupcake cavities. Then pipe a complete circle of nut batter on top of the chocolate batter of the 18.  Lastly, scoop out another heaping tablespoon of batter, placing it on top of the nut batter.  Smooth the top, insuring that the nut batter is completely covered.

Place pans in oven and bake until top is smooth and springs back when lightly pressed, about 25-30 minutes. Be sure to rotate pans halfway through the baking process. Once baked, place pans on a cooling rack for 5 minutes then transfer cupcakes to a rack to finish cooling.

Start making the icing by adding butter, cocoa powder, corn syrup vanilla and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat at medium speed for about 5 minutes. Mixture should be very fluffy at this point. Stir in the hot water. Remove mixer bowl from stand and sift in 1/4 cup of confectioners sugar and stir with a wooden spoon. Repeat the process until all the sugar is blended. Adjust consistency to your liking by mixing in more confectioner sugar or hot water. Spoon icing on top of cooled cupcakes and smooth out with a spoon.

For the optional topping, whip heavy cream until thickened. Add stabilizer and sugar, then whip again until piping consistency is reached. Pipe a round shell on top of the center of the cupcake and then lightly press a nut on top of the whipped cream.

Tips and notes:
1. Dutch processed or regular cocoa is your choice. The recipe does not specify but I used Dutch.

2. Whipped egg whites do have a tendency to deflate as they sit, so act quickly.  The other option is to make half a batch and do 9 cupcakes at a time.  The nut batter can sit in the fridge while the first batch bakes.

3. There will be some nut batter left over, but the baked result is chewy enough to make for a good filling in a brownie or cookie as well, so feel free to experiment with what is left.
                               **LAST YEAR: Biscotti Aloha**

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Alfredo Bread

My grandmother used to always make homemade bread.  Since I only eat plain bread when making sandwiches, homemade bread seems hardly worth the effort. Yet my attitude changes when I start considering making a more flavorful loaf such as this one.

This bread does have the added flavor of Alfredo sauce, Parmesan cheese, basil and parsley.  It is perfect for an Italian dinner and a nice change from garlic bread.  As you can see from the picture above, there is lots of cheesy goodness in this loaf.  I found it hard to hold off until dinner.  As it baked, it did release an ethereal scent throughout the house.  I got very hungry and impatient for it to finish baking. In addition, letting the loaf cool was even harder.

The next time you are in the mood to make bread, you may want to try this one.  There are only 2 sessions of rising time, totaling 1 1/2 hrs.  Forming the bread is basically the same method as a jelly roll, so it comes together pretty easily. This recipe makes two 9x5 loaves.

Alfredo Bread
adapted from Fleishmanns Yeast

1/4 cup Alfredo sauce
2 1/4 cup milk
2 tbs softened butter
3 tbs sugar
2 packets yeast (original, not rapid rise)
5-6 cups bread flour
1 tbs dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
2 tsp salt
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Fill a saucepan with the milk and place over medium heat. Let heat up to a temperature of 100-110 degrees. Remove from heat.  Stir in sugar and yeast. Set aside until the surface becomes foamy.  This should take about 5-10 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the salt and 2 cups of flour.  Pour in the yeast mixture and add the butter.  Mix with beater blade until evenly distributed.  Continue to add the flour in 1 cup increments, mixing after each addition.  It should reach a soft dough stage once the 5th cup of flour has been blended in.

Take a medium size bowl and oil the interior and set aside.  The next step is kneading the dough.  If using a mixer with a dough hook, run your mixer on medium low speed for 4-5 minutes, adding flour a little at a time if needed. In order to do this step by hand, start by dusting a flat surface with flour. Place the dough on the surface and knead by hand for about 8-10 minutes.

Form dough into a ball and place it in prepared bowl.  Flip over to make sure surface is covered with oil.  Cover bowl lightly and set in a warm place to rise until doubled.  This should take about an hour.  During the rise time, prepare two 9x5 inch loaf pans by greasing the interior and set aside.

After the first rise is completed, remove the dough and punch down.  Place it back on the flat, floured surface and cut in half.  Put one half back in the bowl and keep the other half on the surface.  Roll out the half into a rectangle measuring 9x18.  Spread 2 tablespoons of Alfredo sauce on the surface of the rectangle.  Then sprinkle the dough with 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  Follow that with a sprinkle of 1 1/2 tsp of dried parsley and then 1/2 tsp dried basil.

Starting with the short end, roll dough tightly into a cylinder, tugging the dough slightly after each turn. Pinch the end with the under lapping part of the dough and tuck in the short ends, pinching the same way.  Place the loaf seam sides down in the prepared pan.  Lightly cover this loaf and then prepare the second piece of dough the same way.  Let both loaves rise for another 30-40 minutes.  At the halfway point, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Once the loaves have completed the rise, place in oven and bake until golden brown on top.  Bake time is about 30-40 minutes.  Loaves are done when hollow sound is made when tapping on top.  Place pans on rack to cool for about 10-15 minutes then invert on rack.  Invert again so loaves are in upright position.  Let cool completely before slicing.

Tips and Notes:

1.  Do not worry that there is not a border left when topping the dough.  My loaves did not split at the seams when baked, so the dough border is not required.

2.  Do not pack in more toppings than noted, unless you want to form this into a pull apart bread rather than swirled loaves.  Pull apart bread is an idea, but the layers will present a problem with the alfredo/cheese filling sticking to the pan.  The cheese will form a crust on the pan that will be hard to clean. 
                                     **LAST YEAR: Lemon Tartlets***                                                 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Celtic Celebration Cake

With St. Patrick's Day coming up, I decided on something to celebrate the occasion. Ireland does have a rather rich history. I came across some very interesting facts, some you may know, some you may not. The famous ship the Titanic was built in Belfast. St. Patrick, the patron saint, was actually kidnapped when he was a boy.  Also, at one time the Shamrock was considered a rebellious symbol and Queen Victoria prohibited Irish regiments from wearing them on their uniforms.

Now, back to this cake. This two layer treat does have a jigger or two of liqueur combined with chocolate. The lighter layer includes white chocolate and creme de cacao.  The other layer is a combination of Irish cream and dark chocolate. The topping and filling is a fudgey chocolate recipe I used on another cake in the past, but ganache would also do quite well.  Regarding the texture, the cake is more on the fluffy side than dense and it is moist.

The inclusion of liqueurs in the ingredients does add a more decadent and sinful twist to something we already consider delicious--chocolate.  Also, I recognize St. Patrick's day as more as an adult holiday and this is a perfect fit.

Since this is like making 2 different cakes, you will need several medium size bowls. Also, a double boiler will need to be available for melting the different chocolates contained in this recipe.

This year you can have those cocktails or beer like you did last year.  However, pulling out this cake will mark the evening a little bit tastier and memorable for St. Patrick's day 2015.

Celtic Celebration Cake
by flourtrader

Ingredients/ Cake
2 oz  white chocolate
2 oz  unsweetened dark chocolate squares (Bakers brand)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup Irish cream and a little more for brushing on layer
1/2 cup clear (not dark) creme de cacao and a little more for brushing on layer
3 eggs
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter (softened)
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

(adapted from Southern Living)
3 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
2 tsp vanilla extract
1lb of butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare 2 nine inch cake pans by greasing the interior and then lining with parchment paper.  Then grease the surface of the parchment paper.  Lastly, dust the interior with flour and tap out excess.

Take out 2 medium size bowls. In one bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, 1 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp of salt. Repeat this process to fill the second bowl and set both aside.

Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vegetable oil by running the mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes.  Be sure to stop a few times and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Beat in one egg for about 30 seconds.  Repeat the process using one egg at a time. Measure out the batter and divide equally into 2 different bowls.  Place one bowl of batter in the fridge.

Set up a double boiler and melt 2 oz of white chocolate. Add the 2 oz of melted chocolate to the bowl of batter and 1/2 tsp of vanilla.  Stir until all is evenly distributed.  Then add one bowl of the sifted dry ingredients and creme de cacao.  Mix the batter until smooth and blend in 1/4 cup of milk.

Pour batter in one of the prepared cake pans and place in oven.  Bake until tester indicates done, which should be about 22-27 minutes. After 15 minutes of baking, remove bowl of batter from fridge and set aside. Once the cake is done, take out of oven and place on rack. Let cool in pan until sides of cake separate from edge of pan.  That should be about 10-15 minutes of cooling time. Then invert onto rack and remove parchment.  While still warm, brush creme de cacao onto the layer. The quantity is your preference.

For the other layer, set up your double boiler and follow the instructions in the above two paragraphs. This time you will be using the dark, unsweetened chocolate and Irish cream.

The instructions for the topping can be found in paragraph 7 and 8 in this link: Double Nut-drenched Chocolate Cake.  The only change is that the nuts were eliminated for this cake recipe.  Frost cake layers once the have completely cooled.

Tips and notes:
1. The word "dark" in the ingredient list for the chocolate was just to note the difference between white and regular chocolate.  While there is dark and bittersweet types of Bakers brand of chocolate, the unsweetened does not come in different degrees of chocolate.  This recipe uses the original, unsweetened type.

2. This recipe can also be baked as a marble cake by swirling the batters together in a 9x13 pan.

3. Feel free to experiment with the recipe. For instance, a 2 layer cream de cacao cake with a raspberry filling and white chocolate ganache coating is another way to go.  Since white chocolate is so sweet, just cut back 1/2 cup of sugar in your cake ingredients.

4. If using the fudge topping, I emphasize again (stated in the original link) that it sets up quickly.  You definitely do not want to tear your lovely cake with frosting that is too thick.
                         **LAST YEAR: Irish Cream Cookies**

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Pineapple and Macadamia Nut Tart

The weather has been quite dreary here.  It has been a foggy and rainy week, so I have tried to instill a little cheery sunshine by making this tropical tart.  However, that will not keep me from looking forward to St Patricks day and Easter - they mark the change in the weather and I am ready for it.

This tart features a filling made up of buttery macadamias.  On top, are juicy slices of pineapple laced with a rum honey mixture.  As it bakes, the juices cook down into the filling to create a delicious blend of flavor.  The rum/honey topping is added during part of the baking process.  This insures that just the right amount of flavor remains. Then there is the added bonus of the nutty crust.  So good that I am considering doubling it for next time.

The major part of the prep work is the pineapple.  However, the good factor is that pineapples yield a lot of fruit and there are no seeds or pits to deal with.

Pineapple and Macadamia Nut Tart
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, Issue 115

1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup or one stick cold butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup toasted macadamias
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt

1 tbs rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, room temp
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tbs plus 1 1/2 tsp flour
3/4 cup macadamia nuts
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Ingredients/ topping
1 medium pineapple (about 3 1/2 lbs) peeled, cored, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/8 inch thick slices
3 tbs mild honey
2 tbs rum
1 tbs flour

Start making the crust by placing the nuts and sugar in a food processor.  Then pulse in one second intervals, about 15 times. That number helps to insure that some crunch remains in the texture.  Add the flour and and salt. Process until the dry flour is incorporated.  Put the butter cubes into the mix and pulse again until the mixture starts clumping, about 8 intervals. Pour the egg over the top and pulse again.  The last session of pulsing will take about 5-6 one second intervals. The key is to have it all blended without over mixing.

Take a large piece of plastic wrap and lay on a flat surface.  Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to the plastic wrap.  Flatten the dough in a disc or rectangle, depending on the shape of your pan. Enclose the dough tightly in the plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.  The dough must chill a minimum of 2 hours, but you can also chill it overnight.

After the chilling time is complete, transfer dough from refrigerator to tart pan.  Press dough out with your fingers evenly, into the bottom only.  Do not press up the sides.  Once formed, freeze crust for 20 minutes. Also, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Start by grinding the macadamia nuts in a food processor until they have a coarse consistency.  Add the remaining ingredients for the filling and blend with processor for about 2 minutes.  The mixture should now be spreadable.

After the chilling time is complete, remove crust from freezer.  Empty filling into prepared crust.  Smooth out evenly onto the crust, taking care to leave 1/4 inch border along the edges.

Now, it is time to top the tart. Sprinkle 1 tbs of flour over the surface of the filling.  Then begin the process of the sliced pineapple overlay.  The first point is to only cover the filling with the fruit, which means that the original 1/4 inch border of crust remains. Starting from the outside going in, lay the pineapple slices in a concentric circle or rectangle, depending on the pan used.  It is best to put the end where the core was cut from facing inward and the other fanning outward.  Overlap the second row 1/2 inch on top of  first row and continue until the filling is completely covered.  Feel free to cut the pineapple to fit, which may be required as you get more towards the center.  You may end up with extra pineapple, but fresh fruit never lasts long in my house.

Place the tart in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.  As it cooks, the rum topping can be made.  Place the rum and honey in a small saucepan and stir.  Cook over medium high heat for about 2 minutes, then remove.  After the tart has baked for 20 minutes, rotate it and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.  If you notice the crust browning too much, cover with foil.

Once the 2nd baking interval is completed, remove tart and brush with half of the honey/rum sauce.  Place back in oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes.   Then transfer from oven to cooling rack.  Brush with remaining sauce and let cool completely before serving.
                                         **LAST YEAR: Mochaccino Cupcakes**

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Butternut Maple Blondies

These are not your regular bake sale blondies.  Instead, you will find that these are much more flavorful and reminiscent of something you would have around the Christmas holidays. A little off season since it is March, but just as delicious.  These bars are rich and spicy. Ginger, mace and cumin are often reserved for pumpkin pies, but this blonde recipe makes excellent use of them by pairing with butternut squash and white chocolate.

They have a moist texture, but are not too dense like a lot of bar cookies. I also like the fact that dark brown sugar is used instead of white or light brown and the touch of maple syrup.

There are two items that I found to be special needs for the recipe.  It calls for an 8x11 pan and I only had a 9x13.  Also, the preparation of the pan states to dust with Demerara sugar.  I opted out of the sugar dusting by using flour and adjusted for a larger pan by increasing each ingredient by 1/4 of the original amount.  The ingredient increase is not that easy on a few of the items and the 1/4 calculation is not exact but I was happy with the resulting height of the bars.

Butternut Maple Blondies
adapted from Sugar Rush

2 cups flour
3/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp mace
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 lb butternut squash/ halved and seeded
2 tbs maple syrup
2 eggs
2-3 tbs Demerara sugar for dusting the pan
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, cold and diced
6 oz white chocolate

The first step is to roast the squash.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place each half cut side down on the sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Remove and let cool completely.

While the squash is cooling, sift together the flour, cumin, ginger, mace and baking powder into a medium size bowl.  Then stir in salt.  Set aside.

Once the squash has cooled, set up a food processor.  Scoop out the soft interior of the squash, leaving the skins, and place in food processor bowl.  Puree for about a minute or until all is smooth.  Transfer squash puree to a saucepan and place over low heat.  Stir constantly while squash is simmering and let cook for about 10 minutes.  The puree should become thicker as it cooks, retaining less moisture.  Remove and let cool again.

Turn the oven down to a temperature of 350 degrees.  Butter the interior of an 8x11 pan and sprinkle in the Demerara sugar.  Shift and shake until the interior is coated with the sugar then invert and tap out the extra, just as you would if you were dusting with flour.

Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with the butter cubes and brown sugar.  Coat the cubes of butter with the brown sugar by tossing them together with clean hands.  Once all the cubes are coated, cream the butter and sugar together by beating on medium speed, scraping down the sides occasionally. Both ingredients should be evenly distributed and the mixture be very smooth after about 5 minutes beating time.  Add one egg and beat for 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides, then beat in the other egg.  Lastly, run the mixer on low and add the maple syrup and vanilla.  After about 2 minutes of mixing, stop and remove bowl.

Take the white chocolate and chop 4 oz into pieces and place in bowl.  Chop the other 2 oz and place in a separate bowl.  Set aside.

Using about a 1/2 cup of sifted ingredients to start, fold it into the sugar/butter mixture. Continue the process in increments until all the sifted ingredients are incorporated.  Then blend the cooled squash puree into the batter.  Lastly, add 4 oz of the white chocolate pieces and fold into the batter until evenly distributed.

Empty batter into prepared pan and smooth out evenly.  Sprinkle the remaining 2 oz of the chocolate pieces on top.  Place in oven and bake until tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes.  Cool in pan completely before cutting into squares.

Tips and Notes:

1. The surface of my bars were quite different than the picture shows in the recipe book.  The top is browner and chocolate is toasty colored on top.  Perhaps turning off the oven and letting it cool off and then turning on to 350 degrees and let is heat up may help.  Also, sprinkling the white chocolate on top at the halfway point of baking may allow the chocolate retain its white color. 
                                  **LAST YEAR: Pecan Pie Cheesecake**