Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things of which my conscience doth approve

There are certain things about my childhood that I find absolutely terrific. For instance, these costumes. (How cute are we?)

Also terrific is the fact that, when I was growing up, eating leftover birthday cake for breakfast was an entirely acceptable happening. That, I think, was an excellent call on my mom's part. Unfortunately, nowadays I have this wretched little grownup shoulder angel that disallows that kind of indulgence. Breakfast, he tells me, should be something wholesome and responsible--oatmeal, for instance.

Don't get me wrong; I like oatmeal a lot. I actually discovered that fact when I had it for the first time, in college. Yeah, college; no lie. That was the same year that I discovered bran flakes, Brussels sprouts, flax seed, and a variety of other traditionally hated things...and loved them all. Maybe it was some kind of wildly effective reverse psychology, but Mom never fed us any of that when we were kids.

Now, my own as-yet-nonexistent children no doubt WILL be force-fed oatmeal, along with all other kinds of healthy foods. (Because I love them. The kids, I mean...not the foods. Though I do love those. Different kind of, you know what I mean.) But I do like to think that compromises are a good thing at times (remember the Monster Cookies?), and if the oatmeal can come in cake form every once in a while...shoot, who am I to balk?

THIS is one of my new absolute favorite recipes: Spiced Fruit-and-Oat Bread.

The pictures I got aren't the best. Seriously, "in person" this was such a huge, pretty loaf. But, anyway...

I love quick breads for a number of reasons. They're...well, quick. They're virtually fool-proof. And there's something really warm and homey about them. comfort food, I guess. And, if we're honest, they're sort of an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. A much healthier, shoulder-angel-approved kind of cake. But cake nonetheless.

This makes a hefty loaf, and I very much recommend lining the loaf pan with parchment paper, so you can just lift it out instead of trying to turn it onto a wire rack. Also, pleasepleaseplease let the loaf completely cool before you cut into it. It's truly 35.2 times better the next day (as are most quick breads).


Spiced Fruit-and-Oat Bread
(Adapted from "Oatmeal Breakfast Bread" in Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours")
 ¼ cup packed brown sugar
 ¼ cup chopped pecans
 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
 2 tablespoons oats
 2 large eggs, at room temperature (I used an egg and two egg whites)
 1¼ cups unsweetened applesauce
 ⅓ cup vegetable oil (I used 2 tablespoons)
 ¼ cup buttermilk
 ¾ cup whole-wheat flour
 ½ cup all-purpose flour
 ¼ cup sugar (I used Splenda)
 ½ cup packed brown sugar (I used half brown-sugar Splenda)
 1½ teaspoons baking powder
 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
 ½ teaspoon baking soda
 ½ teaspoon salt
 ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
 pinch of ground cloves
 1 cup old-fashioned oats
 ½ cup dried cranberries and raisins (I used a crazy mix of crans, raisins, golden raisins, and blueberries)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. Set aside.
2. In small bowl, whisk together the eggs, applesauce, oil, and buttermilk; set aside.
3.In large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cloves. Stir in the oats.
4. Using rubber spatula, gently stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Stir in fruit.
5.Spoon batter into pan; sprinkle with topping, and press down lightly so it sticks. Bake 45¬–50 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out (mostly) clean. (Don’t overbake!)
6. Cool cakes in pan 10 minutes; then carefully turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Autumn Additions

Late autumn is here in full force. I know this because (a) defrosting my windshield is once again a morning necessity, (b) my furry boots and scarves have emerged from the depths of my closet and are now on my person, and (c) I'm using a LOT of pumpkin and cinnamon in my baking. And pecans. And rum.

Also, there are insane amounts of birds on our front lawn. See?

That really has nothing whatsoever to do with autumn, or cupcakes, for that matter. But it's weird, and I found this picture stuck in with my autumn cupcake photos (which is odd in itself, since I don't remember taking the picture, and I have NO idea how it wound up in a file of cupcake pictures). Huh.


Moving on.

This week was a cupcake crazy week...meaning, lots of cupcakes. There were the usual culprits (meaning chocolate and peanut butter and Reese's cups thrown in the mix...heaven help us if they ever stop producing those things).

They're fun, aren't they? Chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting, and butter-yellow cupcakes with milk chocolate buttercream. And sprinkles, which somehow add to the goodness.

Anyway, like I said, autumn means special cupcake flavors. This is my newest creation and absolute favorite cupcake of the moment. It's a crazy moist pumpkin-rum cupcake with cinnamon vanilla buttercream, topped with toasted pecans and cinnamon chips. Oh. My. Goodness.

Want some? Yeah, me too.

Oh, and lest I forget (and in the inexplicable event that pumpkincinnamonpecanrum amazingness isn't your thing), I also made these:

Dark chocolate cupcakes with cherry buttercream. And a chocolate-covered cherry on top. Because it's cute.

What to do with lemons...and chocolate...and other miscellaneous goodnesses

These...are lemons. In their natural (straight from the grocery store) state.

These are lemons after I'm done with them. (Don't worry; I"ll spare you the trauma of posting pictures of the shredded, squeezed, mangled lemon carcasses.)

I feel like this needs a caption like "Dad??"

Anyway, then there are these guys. Cocoa and peanut butter. Together, as they always, always should be.

Lemon cupcakes, meet chocolate cupcakes.

Buttt...they're still a little naked. Gotta dress 'em up.

Chocolate buttercream:

And Reese's cups:

Lemon buttercream...and raspberries:

Heart eyes? Yes.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Overload? Ehh...

Moderation is supposed to be a mark of mature character. I do not have a mature character. Obviously.

Case in point: these cookies.

For some time, my dad has been asking me to make chocolate chip cookies for him to take to work. I think this is a friend-making tactic…or a ploy to get on his boss’s good side. Not sure which…maybe both. But anyway, I had some free time and all the ingredients, and decided to “git ’er done,” as they say.

I started with my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe…and…er, then things got a little out of control.

It started out okay. First I dumped in a few handfuls of semisweet chocolate chips. Pretty standard. But the whole time I was stirring them in, I kept glancing over my shoulder at the open cabinet—specifically, at the orange bag beckoning, Siren-like, from the middle shelf. Ah, the sweet call of Reese’s cups. Ohhh…why not? Out they came. I chopped and dumped and stirred them in. Goooood. And, yes, perhaps I should’ve stopped there, but then there was the other orange bag: the peanut-butter M&Ms. Those simply could not be ignored. In they went.

Result: diabetes in cookie form. SO worth it.

By the way, please not that it is simply way more fun to eat cookies out of a Cookie Monster/Elmo bowl. (Yes, I do have these in my house. Yes, it is because I bought them. Yes, that was intentional. Do not judge me.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Props to Vanilla

Some things in life are sadly underappreciated. Bowls, for instance. Never, ever have I heard anyone gush, "Man...bowls...that was such a good idea!" or "That's the best thing since bowls!" Huh.

Also, vanilla.

Vanilla gets a raw deal with the whole "just vanilla" and "plain old vanilla" thing. It's sort of gotten the reputation for being more the absence of other flavor(s) than a flavor itself, I think. Which is unfortunate.

Now, I realize I may sound just a taaaad hypocritical right now. Chocoholism and all. So I'd like to publicly acknowledge my usual avoidance-of-things-merely-vanilla on this blog and the fact that chocolate (especially in Reese's cup form) gets a lot more love around here. To somewhat even things up, I'd like to devote this post to showing you how stinking good vanilla alone can be. (Yes, this was also motivated by the fact that I had an $8 jar of vanilla beans sitting in the pantry needing to be used. Whatever.)

So. This recipe is modified from this site. And it is soooo good. Here you go:

Vanilla Bean Loaf with Lemon Glaze

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal (I got mine at Trader Joe's)
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, insides scraped, pod discarded
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt
2 large eggs, 2 egg whites
3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or you could use orange juice, or just milk, if you want)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch loaf pan; set aside.

Whisk together flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, sugar, applesauce, eggs, egg whites, vanilla beans, and vanilla. When well blended, gently whisk in dry ingredients, then oil. Batter will be thick and shiny.

Spoon into pan. Bake about 45 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.

To make glaze, whisk together powdered sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle over top and let set before serving.


Friday, August 6, 2010

One cake, two cake, red cake, blue…well, you know

I made the mistake a while back of buying a buttercream-scented air freshener for my car. Those durned Yankee Candle people are too good at their job; the thing smelled so real it made me ravenous for cupcakes every time I went anywhere. (I wonder if this would work with bacon-scented air freshener?)

Once the buttercream smell wore off, I went with a safer option: “Ocean Breeze” or something like that. It’s nice. Except that I’ve been baking and transporting so many cupcakes the last few weeks, the car STILL smells like frosting—the real thing this time. Oy. Seriously, I think the interior may just about be permanently infused with the scent by now. (Want to come ride with me? Ha.)

It’s been quite the variety, too—cupcakes in every shape and color and size: baseball team cupcakes, wedding cupcakes, birthday party cupcakes. I admit, I enjoy the diversity; it’s fun putting my “creative” hat.

Anyway, because it’s been a while since my last post, and because I’ve got quite a few pictures to show you, I’ll get to it. Thus (drumroll, please), I present to you…cupcakes. A lot of them.

This first set was something new for me: cupcakes for a baseball team. They requested the team logo in edible form, so I busted out the fondant and went to work hand-cutting the little suckers. See?

The cupcakes were basic: yellow cake, classic buttercream. It was the hand-cutting that really took a while. But I was happy with the outcome, and so were the boys (though I have to say, I think their team logo looks oddly like the starship Enterprise…but that could just be me).

Okay, moving on. Cupcake job #2 was also a first: an entire cupcake tower for my friend Marissa’s wedding. I had so much fun with these. (And my dad did an EXCELLENT job building the cupcake tower for me. Thanks, Dad!)

There were all different designs, and both regular and miniature-sized cupcakes (as well as the small cake at the top of the tower). Plus, I made four different flavor combos: butter rum cake with rum frosting, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate/chocolate, and vanilla bean cake with almond frosting. Mm.

Aaand, last but not least, job #3 (from just yesterday, actually): mini cake plus cupcakes for a little girl’s first birthday party. Cute stuff. Bright pink, purple, yellow, polka dots…yep, I like it.

There was a classic white cake with white buttercream—a small sized one just for the birthday girl. There also were two dozen miniature white cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, for the kids.

AND for the adults (this is my favorite part): two dozen white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream and raspberry filling, and a dozen lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream and whipped cream and fresh berries inside.

Oh. Man. {{ heart eyes for filled cupcakes}}

I mean, look at this:

I don’t usually eat too much of my own baking (I prefer to force them on give them to my neighbors and/or family members). But this is my exception. Here’s evidence.

And Mom helped.

And, because I haven’t offered any recipes in a while, here’s one of my favorites for you:

Classic Yellow Cupcakes
 1¼ cups sifted cake flour
 ½ teaspoon baking powder
 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
 ¼ teaspoon salt
 ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons white sugar, divided
 5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
 ½ cup buttermilk, room temperature
 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
 3 teaspoons vegetable oil
 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
 2 large egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.

2. Whisk dry ingredients and ¾ cup sugar together in large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and egg yolks.

3. In a third bowl, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; continue to beat until peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds. (Whites should hold peak but should still appear moist.) Set aside.

4. On low speed, gradually pour butter mixture into flour mixture; mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. On medium-low speed, beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds. Stir 1/3 of whites into batter; then gently fold in remaining whites until no streaks remain.

5. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 18 minutes. (Cake may still appear damp.) Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes; then cool completely on rack, about 1 hour.

Note: Makes about a dozen cupcakes.

Bakery-Style Buttercream
 ½ cup Crisco
 ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 ½ teaspoon butter-flavor extract
 ½ teaspoon rum or almond extract
 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
 milk

Beat Crisco and butter until very smooth and creamy. Gradually add sugar and extracts. Beat well until light and fluffy, adding milk (by the half-teaspoon) and/or more sugar as needed to reach desired consistency.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Baby animals and floral inspiration and whatnot

Now that it's finally made an appearance, springtime in Indiana, I've decided, is...amusing. Lovely, but amusing.

Picture this: a million and one days of COLD, and then, practically overnight, spring like they paint it in Disney movies: the brightest green fields and blue skies, flowers everywhere, and fluffy, big-eyed baby animals running amok. (Seriously. We've got bunnies, birds, squirrels, calves...even a pasture of lambs down the road.)

Sometimes I'm half suspicious that everything will suddenly bust out dancing and singing, "Sound of Music" -like. ("Spriiiing! Glorious spriiiing!" -- something like that.)

It's, like I said, very pretty...just sort of bordering on a spring parody. Which, like I said, amuses me.

Anyway...all this springtime-y-ness also means things like graduation open houses (which apparently are a big thing in the Midwest; who knew?) Last weekend I had two open house cakes to bake/decorate. The first one I didn't get a picture of, but it was a pretty basic sheet cake anyway (in DePauw University colors). The second one, though, I had been granted some "artistic freedom" with, and I decided that spring flowers were the inspiration.


This was a really fun cake to make, for several reasons.

(1) It was white chocolate, with white chocolate frosting, which means I got to make myself sick sampling the frosting. (This is a good kind of sick, IMHO, in case you were wondering.)

(2) I got to play with my "grown-up Play-Doh" (i.e., fondant) to make all the little spring flower cutouts. See (below)? (This was while watching the season finale of The Mentalist. Which could be another post entirely because of its awesomeness...except that it has nothing to do with baking. Though, come to think of it, neither does Chuck Norris, and I DID talk about him recently. Hm...)

(3) I LOVED making the tiny fondant flowers on floral wire to stick out of the top of the cake. It's an easy way to add dimension and height to a cake, plus it has sort of a jaunty, playful feel that I like a lot.

And (4) It was a combo cake and cupcakes, which I find fun, and I used pink icing for the cupcakes--which, yes, is girly, and, yes, makes me unreasonably happy.

They're fun, hm?

Close(r)-up shot:

So, all that to say that spring Yay. And congratulations on graduating, Sara and Will. So proud of y'all!