Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blueberry cupcakes

Pretty purple cupcakes

I've had two things in the kitchen for the past month or so that I've been itching to use. One is a few more bags of blueberries in the freezer from our berry-picking expedition last month. The other is two sets of really nice, professional-grade, extra-large pastry tips (a few of them so big that I still haven't found a coupler to use them with, and I have an extra-large coupler already). Those two things finally came together yesterday, in some most unusual cupcakes.

Now, let's be clear -- these aren't muffins (though they did end up with a little bit of a sugary crust on top that's reminiscent of muffins). These aren't your typical white cake base with blueberries thrown in. Oh no. These are BLUE. Well, alright, they're more like purple, but that's the color you get when you mash up blueberries. I suppose I could've food-colored them to death to make them actually blue, but the natural color is pretty, so I left well enough alone.

The berry flavor of the cake is pretty subtle, but the frosting adds a nice hit of flavor to balance it all out. I actually tried filling them, too, using some leftover blueberry puree... um, bad idea. It was drippy, counter-staining carnage. It might still be a good idea, but you'd need to either thicken the hell out of it with cornstarch first or else just use some jarred blueberry preserves. I'll also lay a little of the blame on the fact that I'd never tried to make filled cakes before, so I don't exactly have the technique down. Ah, well. After one disastrous-but-still-tasty test cupcake, I decided to leave well enough alone with the rest of them.

Blueberry puree Fresh-baked cakes

Blueberry Cupcakes
Adapted from The Casual Baker

About a pound of blueberries

1 c butter
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c blueberry puree
2 c + 2 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
6 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/2 c blueberry puree
Few drops vanilla
2 1/4 c confectioners' sugar

1. Place the blueberries in a saucepan with a little bit of water. Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top (use your own judgment, based on how tart your berries are). Cook until the berries soften and become a tickened sauce. Cool slightly, then puree with a stick blender or in a regular blender or food processor.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar.
3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the milk, vanilla and blueberry puree.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.
5. Dump the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and beat until blended.
6. Fill muffin cups (greased or lined with papers) about two-thirds full.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let sit 5 minutes, then depan and let cool on a rack.
8. Beat together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and blueberry puree until thoroughly combined. Beat in the sugar, adding more if needed, to crease a smooth frosting.
9. Frost cupcakes with a knife or pipe with a piping bag and large tip.

Om nom nom

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Corn pancakes

Corn pancake

Sometimes, a recipe just falls into your lap and cries out, "make me, make me right now!"

The other day, my boyfriend went to a dinner party, and of all things, he decided to bring me back corn -- two ears of leftover, already-cooked corn. What am I gonna do with this? No idea.

And then, Smitten Kitchen posted this recipe. And as I looked down at the sad little heap of leftover chow fun I'd been about to dig into for breakfast, I knew that it was fate. Pancakes, you would be mine.

I looked at the recipe, and then I wasn't so sure -- "I know I don't have any cornmeal," I thought. "Probably no buttermilk, either." But amazingly, I did have some buttermilk tucked away in the back of the fridge that was actually still good, and as for the cornmeal, well, while I'm sure the pancakes would've been even better with it, I used oat flour instead (got almost a whole bag to use up still after making granola bars) and they were still really tasty.

Corn Pancakes
From Smitten Kitchen
2 tbsp butter, plus additional for brushing pan
3/4 c kernels cut from an ear of sweet corn
1/8 tsp salt plus a pinch
1 egg
1 1/4 c buttermilk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 c flour
1/4 c cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

1. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add corn kernels and saute until slightly browned. Remove kernels to a bowl and wipe out pan. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the corn.
2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and remaining salt in another bowl.
3. In the bowl with the corn, add the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and sugar and whisk together. Dump in the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined but still lumpy.
4. Heat up the skillet and brush with butter. Ladle in a quarter-cup of batter or so per pancake. When they're dry around the edges, flip them over; cook until golden on both sides.



Didja ever have one of those recipes that you look at and think, "oh, I should make this... but now is not the time, I don't really have the time to make this," and then you keep thinking that for months? The recipe just keeps taunting you, every time you think of making something, "y'know, I haven't made that yet, and I keep thinking I should make it ... but not today, I don't have the time today." For me, this recipe has been babka. Ever since I made pierogis a while back, I've been thinking about this recipe, how it would be nice to get more in touch with my culinary roots ... but it's yeasted. Yeasted means waiting all day for dough to rise, and I just haven't had it in me. Until now, anyway.

This recipe reminds me a lot of cinnamon bread, and like cinnamon bread, I was kicking myself later for following the recipe -- it seems like they never tell you to roll the dough out very much, and then, you just don't get enough layers of filling. It was even more pronounced with this recipe, 'cause the filling layer was really thick -- my boyfriend said that eating this sort of reminded him of a chocolate-filled doughnut, except not creamy. It's still pretty tasty, but next time, I'd definitely roll the dough out way larger, so when you roll it up, you get more, thinner layers.

Filling the dough Fresh out of the oven

From The Bread Bible
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c warm water
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
3/4 c warm milk
3 eggs, room temperature
4 c flour
1-2 tbsp butter, melted, for brushing dough

3/4 c sugar
1/3 c flour
3 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp butter, cut into pieces

1. Pour the warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the top, then sprinkle on a pinch of the sugar. Let stand until foamy.
2. Whisk together the butter, the rest of the sugar and the salt, vanilla, almond extract, milk and eggs. Add in 1 cup of flour and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the yeast mixture.
3. Add in the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until a soft dough is formed.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky. Be certain that the dough remains soft.
5. Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn it over to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
6. Meanwhile, combine the filling ingredients in a small bowl and crumble them together.
7. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll or pat it into a 10-by-12-inch (or larger if you prefer) rectangle and brush with melted butter. Spread the filling on top, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Roll up the dough into a log and pinch the seams together. Holding one end, twist the dough six or eight times to make a rope. Grease a tube plan and place the rope of dough inside, pinching the ends together and patting it so it's even in the pan.
8. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 45 minutes.
9. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 40-45 minutes, until the loaf is browned, a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
10. Let stand 5 minutes in the pan, then depan and let cool on a rack before slicing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010



Here's a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of many amateur bakers: "phyllo dough." But fear not -- it's not as bad as it sounds, not at all.

Granted, a lot of Web sites make it sound scary, what with their damp towels and their dire warnings not to let the dough get dry, or overmoist, or really anything at all, 'cause surely, you will ruin it, they seem to imply. But I found that really, all you have to do is thaw it in the fridge overnight, then be careful -- unroll it gently, and use a light touch when peeling the sheets apart and laying them down in a stack.

I will say one thing about this recipe -- it takes a while. Plan on a few hours the first time you make it, 'cause you can't really rush such a delicate dough, not to mention that we're talking about a bajillion layers to put together here. But if you take your time, it really isn't all that hard to make baklava (you don't even have to make a dough!), and the reward is well worth the time.

Layering the baklava

Adapted from Allrecipes
1 16-ounce package phyllo dough sheets
1 pound nuts, chopped small (your pick -- I use just walnuts, but almonds and pistachios are also traditional, and feel free to mix them up)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 c butter (at least -- have a full pound handy, in case you need more)
1 c water
1 c sugar
1/2 c honey
1 tsp vanilla

1. Put the water and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a boil so the sugar dissolves. Add the honey and vanilla, then simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Mix together the nuts and cinnamon.
3. In another bowl, melt the butter. Brush some onto the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13 pan. Set the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Layer the baklava as follows:
      - Place 2 sheets of dough in the pan. Brush butter on top. Repeat this 4 times.
      - Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the nuts over the top. Add 2 sheets of dough. Brush on more butter.
      - Repeat the above step until you're out of nuts. You should have about 8 sheets of dough left. Layer these 2 at a time until it's all in the pan.
5. Score the baklava into pieces for serving, taking care not to cut all the way through.
6. Bake for about 50 minutes, until golden and crisp.
7. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava. Let cool.

Monday, August 9, 2010

S'more bars

Smore bars

Here's a fun fact for you: Aug. 10 is National S'more Day! What a good excuse to make s'mores or, if you can't be out in front of a campfire that day, the next best thing -- s'mores in cookie form.

The trickiest part of these was working with Fluff. I must be the only person in America whose mom never bought Fluff when she was a kid -- I wasn't really big on marshmallows, so I guess that's why I never got a Fluffernutter in my lunchbox. So today was actually my very first experience with Fluff, and I have to say, I can see the kid appeal -- so sticky, so sweet, so like a marshmallow but without that dusty exterior or super-firm-chewiness. The culinary appeal, though... well, I can see why it's called for in this recipe, 'cause regular marshmallows just don't give you the right gooey-from-the-campfire texture, but it's a bit of a pain to work with -- it's sticky as hell, somewhat of a challenge to measure (I finally just gave up and eyeballed it) and spread out in the pan.

But it was worth it, 'cause these things are delicious. Treat yourself to a pan in honor of National S'more Day, or any other day, really, 'cause who'd ever turn down s'mores?

Crushing crumbs Crust in the pan
Chocolate bars in the pan Fluff layer

S'more Bars
From Baking Bites
1/2 c butter, softened
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 c flour
3/4 c graham cracker crumbs (you could use a food processor if you have one -- I put them in a freezer bag and crushed them with a rolling pin)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 big Hershey bars, plain chocolate (the 4.4-ounce ones)
1 1/2 c Fluff

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream together the butter and both sugars. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
3. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, graham crumbs, baking powder and salt. Pour into the first bowl and beat on low until combined.
4. Line an 8-by-8 pan with plastic wrap and press about a third of the dough into the pan. Use the sides of the plastic wrap to lift the pressed dough out of the pan and move it into the fridge to chill (even a few minutes will help make it easier to work with).
5. Line the pan with a piece of parchment paper that comes up the opposite sides of the pan, then grease the uncovered sides of the pan. Dump in the rest of the cookie dough and press it into the pan.
6. Top with the chocolate bars side by side, then spread the Fluff over that. Pull the rest of the dough out of the fridge, peel off the plastic wrap and lay it over the top.
7. Bake 30-35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool before cutting.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Buttermilk honey bread


Don't panic! Wait, come back!

Seriously, I don't know why people freak out so much about making bread. Homemade tastes a million times better than anything you can buy at the grocery store, and while it's harder to make it than to shell out a buck and change, it's totally worth it and not that hard.

Really, there are two main tricky points when it comes to making bread. First is yeast. They're scary little beasties when you don't know what you're doing with them. But they're less scary when you have a thermometer (meat, candy, whatever, anything that can take the temperature of a liquid that you're going to put in food). Just get your liquid, whatever the recipe says to use, measure it out and pop it in the microwave for maybe 20-30 seconds. Then, stir it around with the thermometer a bit, then read the thermometer. You want 105-115 degrees. If it's 120 or so, that's still alright, 'cause it'll cool down a few degrees while you're grabbing the rest of what you need: yeast, first of all (usually active dry, in the little pouches), and sugar, 'cause sugar is yeast food, and if you don't feed them, they won't do anything.

Right, so, warm water or milk, check. Sugar, however much the recipe tells you to use (usually from a pinch to a teaspoon), grab that, sprinkle it into the bowl. Yeast, open the little pouch (or however many pouches/teaspoons the recipe calls for) and sprinkle that in the bowl, too. Grab a spoon and stir it all around a little bit. A few little yeasties will probably stick to the spoon, but that's alright, no big deal. Now, back away. Go do something else for about 10 minutes. The best thing to do is probably to get together the liquid ingredients for your bread, whatever else is supposed to be mixed with the yeast.

Ten minutes later, it should be all foamy, like this:

Proofed yeast

If it isn't foamy, throw it out, get some new yeast and start over -- yeast does go bad sitting in your cupboard, and yours probably has.

The other tricky part about making bread is actually having the time to do it. Bread recipes take a long time, 'cause the dough must be left to rise at least once, if not two of three times, depending on the recipe. Don't skimp on the rising time -- it does a lot for the bread's flavor. Do, however, read the recipe before you start to make sure you have enough time to get it done.

This recipe makes a very neutral-flavored, all-purpose sort of bread. If you want a yeastier, more rustic flavor, there are plenty of more traditional recipes out there, most of them without buttermilk.

Buttermilk Honey Bread
From The Bread Bible
3/4 c warm water
1 tbsp (one packet) active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar

1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp salt
6 c flour, either all-purpose or bread flour

1 egg
1 tbsp milk

1. Proof the yeast: Pour warm water into a bowl, add sugar and yeast, stir, let stand 10 minutes.
2. Put the butter in a large bowl and melt it in the microwave. Immediately add the buttermilk and whisk to combine. Stir in the honey, then the salt.
3. Mix in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until combined.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes, until it comes together into a smooth, uniform ball.
5. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to coat both sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour or so.
6. Punch down the dough (you don't have to actually punch it, but if you have aggression to get out, go ahead). Turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it into two portions, forming each into a loaf shape. Put each into a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise again 30-45 minutes or until doubled.
7. Whisk together the egg and milk and brush over the tops of the loaves. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes, until loaves are nicely brown, pull away from the sides of the pans a bit and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. De-pan and cool on racks.

Granola bars

Granola bars

There are two reactions I love to hear from someone I'm baking for. The first is "wow, this is awesome!" The second, which comes much more rarely, is "you made this? I didn't know you could make this?"

I was thinking the other day of things that I could make for a friend of mine who's a new mom. Usually, I make a lot of things that tend to be not-so-good for you -- in fact, I'm known more for chocolate-chip cookies among my friends than anything else. But chocolate's probably not that great for nursing moms, 'cause they probably shouldn't have a lot of caffeine. But what would be good for a nursing mom? Foods you can eat with one hand while holding the baby with the other. Foods that are actually sort of good for you, to keep her strength up and the baby's, too. But something that's actually tasty.

Then it hit me: Granola bars. They're tasty snacks, and they're sort of good for you, too, with grains and fruit and nuts. Perfect. And they got the second reaction from the new mom: "You made granola bars? I didn't know you could make those. I thought those just came from factories." (Well, usually they do... but why buy something processed and full of chemicals when you can make it and know what's in it? Wait 'til I get around to making Twinkies -- I'll have to remember to send her some. :) )

Granola Bars
From Smitten Kitchen
1 2/3 c quick oats
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c oat flour (can be found in the health-food section of the grocery store, or substitute oat bran or wheat germ, or grind up some oats in a blender or food processor to make your own)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (or more, to taste)
2 to 3 c dried fruits and nuts (your choice -- I used raisins and slivered almonds)
1/3 cup peanut butter or another nut butter (optional -- I left this out)
1 tsp vanilla
6 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 c honey, maple syrup or corn syrup
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tbsp water

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8 pan in one direction with parchment paper, letting it go up the sides. Lightly grease the parchment and the rest of the inside of the pan.
2. Stir together all of the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts.
3. In another, bigger bowl, whisk together the vanilla, butter, liquid sweeteners and water.
4. Pour the dry stuff into the wet stuff and stir (adding the peanut butter if you're using it) until everything's moist and crumbly.
5. Spread the mixture in the pan and press it down, hard, a lot, so it's really packed down good and tight. (You can use a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap to avoid getting your hands all sticky.)
6. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until they're brown around the edges and a little bit browned on top.
7. Cool completely on a rack before cutting, overnight if you can, or in the fridge. (If they're not totally cool, they won't cut cleanly. If you're in a hurry, you can also pull them out of the pan a few minutes after they come out of the oven using the parchment sling -- that'll help them cool faster.)