Sunday, July 31, 2011

Easy Italian Bread

Okay, so the title is still "sort-of" of an alliteration, but I'm working on it. At least all the words in the title don't start with the same letter, right?

Right. Now on to better and more delicious things. To start with, my mom's famous spaghetti with clam sauce!

Alright, maybe it's not famous (to you anyway); but it's definitely yummy. And what goes well with yummy pasta?

Yep, you guessed it - Italian bread.

Now you see, my mom comes from a very Italian family. If you also come from an Italian background, you know what I'm talking about. The red stuff that coats your favorite pasta is called gravy, not sauce and so on. Even her maiden name sounds like it could be one of the types of Buitoni pastas - Orsini (seriously, doesn't that sound like it would look like orzo or Acini Pepe?).

So naturally, we like pasta in my house - a lot, and bread - lots of bread. So how could we have spaghetti with clams without any bread?!

Never fear I thought - I will make the bread! In reality though, there was considerable fear. Mostly my own fear of not meeting my family's (and my own) great expectations when it comes to good Italian Bread.

But - I happened to have stumbled upon a rather intriguing FoodGawker post that claims it's a "no fuss" recipe for bread. No fuss? No overnight starter? This I have to see.

The recipe comes from ShareMyKitchen, and it looks just like the Italian Bread my mom would pick up from Calandra's Bakery in Newark. So now a little bit of the initial fear has subsided, and I'm thinking "I can do this!" I hope. Otherwise, there's no bread in the house to have with maybe I am still a little concerned. Just a little.

But with only 5 ingredients - how hard could it be? I opted to make one larger loaf than split it into three smaller ones like the recipe suggested. Other than that I followed it to a T.

Pretty simple, longest step was just letting it rise for an hour but....

Ta - Da! Italian Bread in less than a few hours!

And may I say (I feel like I always do actually) that this is a STELLAR recipe?! Super easy, even for the most amateur (like me) bread bakers. If you are planning to have family or friends over for a pasta night, I would strongly suggest planning ahead just a bit so that you have enough time to make this. You can even have it still in the oven when they arrive, and casually remark "oh let me go get the bread out of the oven" and do a total shock and awe when they see you pull a Rustic, Artisan-esque bread from your oven.

There you have it, a super-cool (and simple!) way to impress your friends, and save you some cash. This is definitely more cost-effective than buying one of those loaves from the supermarket (and it tastes better too).

I hope you are inspired to have an Italian pasta night just to have a reason to bake up some bread! I know it definitely made a great addition to Mom's Spaghetti and Clams. Enjoy!

Quick Crusty Bread Via ShareMyKitchen
makes 3 smaller loaves or 1 large loaf

500 g all-purpose flour
370 ml lukewarm water
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

1. Sift together the flour and salt. Add the yeast.
2. In a separate bowl, dissolve the honey in the warm water.
3 Make a well in the flour and pour in the warm honey-water. Stir until you get a sticky dough (trust me, it won't look pretty, but that's fine. It looks pretty when it's done)
4. Sprinkle a little flour over the top and cover the bowl with a towel or foil. Let rise for about an hour in a warm, dark place. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 430 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle a little flour over it.
5. Carefully remove dough from bowl and place onto baking sheet (floured side up). Shape slightly into a loaf and place in oven.
6. Bake at 430 F for 15-20 minutes, then lower the heat to 320 F and bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack before slicing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wonderful Whoopie Pies

Has anyone else noticed I enjoy alliteration way too much? Wonderful Whoopie Pies, Cake Pop Conundrum, Battle Biscotti....maybe I should start working with other literary tricks for my titles.

Well, after this post I mean. ;)

As the name implies, today's post is about the fantastic treat that is the whoopie pie. Whether they originated in Pennsylvania or Maine really doesn't matter much to me; as long as they're delicious, I'm for them. Although, to be fair, my first whoopie pie WAS in Maine when vacationing with my boyfriend's family. Homemade, actually, by his grandmother, and I cannot express just how amazing it was. Oatmeal with Vanilla Cream, they were just so homey and delicious; though I never did manage to acquire that recipe.

So I thought I'd try them out for the first time this week, since I had an urge to be a little more adventurous than usual. And what better way to be adventurous than to test out a chocolate chip whoopie pie recipe from Tracy's Culinary Adventures? The men in my family only eat chocolate chip cookies anyway, so I figured I could get them to taste test these for me.

Warning: Making Whoopie Pies is uber fun and rewarding, but messy. Note whirlwind that blew through my kitchen.

Although slightly intimidated (I mean, they make specific pans to make whoopie pies, and here I am, thinking I'll just make them the hard-core, no pans way) I was determined to succeed in this recipe, which wasn't as difficult as I thought it'd be. The dough...batter...whatever you want to call it, isn't too difficult to work with if you have a nice little ice cream scoop or melon baller. The key, I found, is to be really patient when getting the   batter (dough) onto the cookie sheet.

Pick the spot on your parchment-lined cookie sheet, turn over your scooper, and wait. Do not rush it or shake the scooper. You really want it to just fall out of it onto the sheet so that it retains a somewhat round shape. This is the one point where I am sure that a whoopie pie pan might come in handy, but people made these without pans before, so I see no reason to buy one if it's not absolutely necessary. I may be a little lazy when it comes to Cake Pops, but these don't take over three hours to prepare.

Success! Ah, there's nothing more satisfying to me than a recipe gone right. There were a few that were slightly misshapen, but that's what makes them homemade, right? Good eats are good eats.

SPEAKING of good eats, another word of caution for all of those who, like me, enjoy licking the spoon after baking. Although shortening makes these cake-like cookies moist and delicious after they're baked, it does make the batter taste like, well, shortening. Definitely not good eats, trust me. I hope I saved a few of you from my overly-eager mistake.

So, we flip - we pipe, and voila - whoopie pies! I guess you could just slab on some frosting as opposed to pipe, but piping is way more fun and looks great.

These were a smash hit at my house - Dad ate three in one night and even the picky-eater brother ate two. I think I ate about three or four as well, so this is a keeper, for sure.

My last suggestion when trying this out - don't substitute the shortening for butter. Seriously, I know shortening is kind of...strange, but it's key to how these cookies spread. It might make the unbaked batter taste awful, but the end product is to-die-for. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies
Via Tracy's Culinary Adventures

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp vegetable shortening (Crisco)
4 tbsp butter, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temp
(*Note, if you don't have buttermilk, put 1 1/2 tsp white vinegar in the bottom of the measuring cup and pour enough milk to reach 1/2 cup. Let sit for 10 minutes and presto! buttermilk! )
2 tbsp whole milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a separate, larger bowl, cream together butter, shortening, and both sugars, until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and buttermilk.
3. In a small bowl, mix together baking soda, vinegar, and milk. Add to the batter all at once with the dry ingredient mixture, and beat until everything is mixed and smooth. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. Use a small ice cream scooper/melon baller, to measure out spoonfuls of batter onto the parchment-lined sheets.  Leave 2 inches of space between each scoop, cookies spread during baking.
5. Bake at 375 for 9-10 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to brown and the cookie springs back when lightly poked with your finger.
6. Let cool for 10 minutes on the pan, then carefully remove to cool completely on a wire rack.

Chocolate Buttercream

1 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons heavy cream (I just used milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  Sift together sugar and cocoa powder.
2. Add butter and beat on low until crumbly, then add cream, vanilla extract, and salt.
3. Beat until fluffy.

Whoopie Pies on FoodistaWhoopie Pies

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mom's Perfect Pound Cake

Hello all!

So the other day I went with my parents to go visit Daisy (my dad's horse) and I had a great idea. The man who takes care of Daisy for us is named Dave, and he's a nice (albeit rough) old man who really does love horses. After having so much success with the Red Velvet Cake Pops, I thought I'd make a kind gesture and bring him one. Although a bit hesitant, Dave goes in for the big bite, and wouldn't you know it he loses part of the cake pop right into a bush! AND to top it all off, he jumps right in there and fetches it out and eats it!

I guess he liked it right?

So I thought to myself, 'poor guy lives all by himself, and he would probably love something sweet, and more than just a little cake pop.' I decided I'd make him a pound cake, since who doesn't love pound cake? Tons of butter, tons of eggs, tons of sugar = tons of fun. I go to search the internet for a recipe, but then my mom says "wait! I have the BEST recipe for pound cake. Let me get it; I've had it for forever."

At this point, I'm floored. My mom is not one for recipes. Ever. Even when she does quote-on-quote "use" a recipe, she usually deviates from it completely in all of a few minutes. So to hear that she has a pound cake recipe that she has kept for years was astonishing.

Do you see that little pamphlet? That's it. The recipe for "Perfect Pound Cake." This little booklet looks like its as old as I am, so now I'm really intrigued. For her to keep such a tiny little booklet like that for something as simple as a pound cake recipe (which I probably would have just searched for on the internet) makes me think that this is no ordinary pound cake.

So off I go with testing out the recipe, beginning with the whopping 2 sticks of butter, 1 1/3 cups sugar, and 2 tablespoon vanilla extract.

Then we have what it looks like after the 4 (count it FOUR) whole large eggs.

I blend in the flour, baking powder, and salt, and we have one dense batter on our hands. Talk about pound cake - the filled pan is way heavier than I expected.. But, in it goes, into the oven at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. During which time my kitchen and all surrounding area becomes infused with the delicious scent of homemade vanilla pound cake: my new favorite.

Houston: we have pound cake. No problems in sight yet but I have yet to try and lift this out of the pan. Fingers crossed it's still pretty once I'm through with it!

Perfect? No. but pretty nonetheless, and most importantly: it's yummy, which I'm pretty sure is all Dad's friend Dave cares about. Sara Lee eat your heart out. ;)

Mom's Perfect Pound Cake:

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
4 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly grease one 9x5 loaf pan.
2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then beat in eggs, one at a time, followed by vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. On the lowest speed possible, beat in dry ingredients until just combined (and smooth).
5. Bake at 350 for 55-57 minutes or until toothpick inserted in deepest part of loaf comes out clean
6. Cool for 10 minutes in pan and then gently remove to cool completely on a wire rack.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Muffins are Just Ugly Cupcakes

As the name of the post implies, it's all about muffins vs. cupcakes today. The title actually comes from a t-shirt I own that has this neat little graphic of a cupcake and muffin arguing. The cupcake says to the muffin "muffins are just ugly cupcakes" and the muffin replies "cupcakes are haters."

I have to say I agree with both statements. The line between muffin and cupcake has blurred considerably since I was younger. I never liked muffins; they always made me want a cupcake. They were never sweet enough and they were (gasp) healthy: never what a young child wants to hear about a snack. But now, when I go to a coffee shop to buy a muffin, I am greeted with these "ugly" naked cupcakes, which are just about as bad for you (or worse) as real cupcakes without the frosting. Don't get me wrong; I love these new muffins. I think they're great, but it does make me wonder why cupcakes are "haters" and have been put on such high pedestals recently, what with shows like Cupcake Wars and DC Cupcakes. Why not Muffin Wars? Or Muffin Mania?
To add to my confusion, I wanted to make Banana Muffins today, after reading Brown Eyed Baker's Top Ten Muffin List yesterday. So I went to find a good Oatmeal-Banana Muffin Recipe (since I LOVE banana oatmeal) and wouldn't you know it - there's one for Banana Oat "Cupcakes" in one of my cookbooks! The caption reads "these cupcakes are so moist - they don't even need frosting!"

Don't need frosting? Oh, you mean like a muffin? Bananas, oats, honey...cupcake? Lies! Why? You got me swinging. Why not just call it a sweet muffin? No one says your muffin recipe has to be healthy - just because it has butter doesn't mean you have to call it a cupcake.

So now I am curious to see how these turn out. I happen to have these wonderfully overripe bananas anyway, so I may as well put them to good use before they end up in the trash.

The recipe calls for putting cupcake liners in the pan, but I refused to continue the charade that these were cupcakes. Instead I just greased the muffin pans really well, and set about baking these...cupcake-muffins? muffin-cupcakes? Let's go with muffin-cakes.

I'll include the recipe in full at the bottom of the post, but I just wanted to highlight some interesting points. This recipe truly is trying to be a cupcake, but for some reason wants to be a muffin as well.

Creaming butter and sugar? Point Cupcake
Mixing (not beating) in eggs and honey and bananas? Point Muffin
Adding dry ingredients to wet all in one shot? Point Muffin
Mixing until dry ingredients are just barely moistened? Point Muffin
Using cupcake liners? Point Cupcake

Final Tally = Cupcake: 2 Muffin: 3 - So far it's a pretty close game. 

But wait! What is that amazing scent filling my kitchen? It's so banana bread. Not Banana cake, but banana bread.

And look! These adorable little bite-sized treats look just like...well, hmm...that's a good question. Sort of like cupcakes, sort of like muffins - I'll have to go with muffin-cakes.

Whatever they are - they're FAB. Perfectly golden brown and with nice little bits of banana suspended throughout - these are definitely a make-again (and again).

Muffins are indeed just ugly cupcakes, although I think these little guys are rather cute, don't you?

Banana-Oat Muffin-Cakes makes 1 1/2 dozen
from Gifts for Giving

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas
3/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously (and I mean generously) grease two muffins pans.

2. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, honey, and mashed bananas, stirring well. In another bowl mix together the rest of the ingredients.

3. Stir dry ingredient mixture into wet ingredients; mix only until dry ingredients are just moistened.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for ten minutes in pan then carefully remove from pan and let cool on wire cooling rack.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Red Velvet Cake Pops

Hello all! I apologize; I know I said to check back the following day for photos and an update on the "Cake Pop Conundrum" but I ended up spending over three hours in the kitchen with these! For all good reasons though, don't worry. The question of "to dip, or not to dip" is solved my friends: to dip. Definitely dip.

I decided to use Bakerella's Red Velvet Cake Recipe for these cake pops, since this is my all time favorite red velvet recipe. It is actually the recipe that brought me to the realization that red velvet is one of (if not the) best cake out there, after carrot cake anyway. Naturally I forgot to buy any buttermilk, but I found this nifty substitution in the Cake Pop Maker Manual that says to mix 1 1/2 tsp of vinegar with 1/2 cup milk and voila: buttermilk.

Warning: making bite-sized red velvet cakes is dangerous. If you are like me, and have little to no self control when it comes to cake, I urge you to think wisely (but not too wisely, I mean they ARE uber yummy) when it comes to whipping up these little beauties. 

There were a few...mishaps, when getting these out of the cake pop maker (when isn't there a mishap in my kitchen?) but I decided to crumble these into a topping for the other pops. I will make one suggestion if you plan on using the cake pop maker: this is a super moist cake, and perhaps lowering the amount of vegetable oil in the recipe might make the pops easier to remove from the maker. They are just so delicate and delicious - so be gentle! 

I decided to be even more meticulous today with my pops: after dipping the sticks in the candy melts I stuck these puppies back in the freezer for 20 minutes. It made such a difference; I cannot express how much easier this was. But it could have been easier because I used Wilton Candy Melts instead of the ChocolatePro Chocolate, which I find to be way to thick for cake pops. From now on, its candy melts for me and my pops.

Look how cute they are! I'm telling you - candy melts are the way to go. The ones I made the other day with the chocolate had to be put in the fridge for almost 40 minutes to set up. These dried in all of ten minutes on my counter. Wilton has it right with the candy melts, just not with the Chocolate Pro Chocolate. Figures, since the Chocolate Pro Chocolate is a much bigger bag and more economical. It would just be too easy for it to work well with cake pops. 

These are absolutely my favorite type of cake pop. Red Velvet is just so rich; it's so nice to just be able to have a bite (or three!) of it without feeling like you have to make the entire cake and have it tease you on your cake stand until you inhale it all (not that I ever have...). 

So the conundrum is no more - dipping is great - if you use the right coating. But, if you don't want to dip, feel free to enjoy these little cake bites as is. :)

I've included Bakerella's recipe here for you all to enjoy, with slight adaptations for the cake pop maker and the substitute buttermilk. Enjoy!

Red Velvet Cake Pops - slightly adapted from Bakerella

1 1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 egg
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk OR 1/2 cup milk with 1 1/2 tsp vinegar added (let substitute sit for 10 min before use)
1 1/2 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 oz red food coloring

For coating: 
1/2 bag Wilton White Candy Melts
Red Velvet Cake Crumbs
lollipop sticks

1. Whisk egg and all liquid ingredients together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Whisk together all dry ingredients in large bowl.
3. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients, just until it's well combined with no clumps.
4. Pour roughly 1 tbsp of batter into each cake pop reservoir
5. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Carefully remove and let cool.

6. Use any cake balls that fell apart while removing to crumble into topping.
7. Put cake balls in freezer for 10 minutes. Melt Candy Melts
8. Dip lollipop stick in melted coating and put into cake ball. Put cake pops back in freezer for another 15 minutes to harden.
9. Dip cake pops in melted coating and tap gently to remove excess. Dip top of cake pop in cake crumbs and let dry.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cake Pop Conundrum

Sorry for the lack of posting everyone....but I had been waiting for a special present that finally came in the mail today....

The BabyCakes Cake Pop Maker!!

I know what your thinking, "wait, didn't she just get the Donut Maker?" The answer is yes, but this was free! Or at least it was with the Kohls' Cash my mom and I earned the other day shopping. Free Cake Pop Maker makes me a happy baker.

I have made cake pops the old-fashioned way (and by old fashioned I mean new-fashioned, since cake pops are a relatively new phenomenon in the blogosphere) where you bake an entire cake, let it cool completely, crumble it, mix in frosting, etc etc. It's a long enough endeavor to make even the most patient cake bakers antsy with anticipation. So naturally when I saw this, I thought how much more quickly the entire process can be done, which means more cake pops for me (which is always a good thing).

As the title of the post implies, I had some concerns with these cake pops. Here's the first: I understand why the upper half of the cake pop is lighter than the lower part. It's because the cake needs to rise and the lower half has more contact and thus more time to brown. 

Science, I understand - I just don't care. I want the entirety of my tiny spherical cakes to be that beautiful golden brown, not just one side. 

But, as much as I dislike the color change, these are delicious. None of that mushy, under-baked texture you get when you bite into the Starbucks Cake Pop or the homemade ones with the frosting mixed in. Just pure, moist, tender-crumbed cake. 

Then, I prepare for the dipping. This is always the most difficult part of the recipe, but I took my precautions. I pre-dipped the lollipop sticks in melted chocolate to bind the cake to the stick. I thought this would be fool-proof...

Alas, there are always some casualties. This poor little pop started to slide down the lollipop stick even before  I finished dipping it. 

Did I mention that the cake pop maker comes with this nifty cake pop holder/stand? This beats the old styrofoam block by a long shot. I had made more than a dozen little cakes, so for the ones that did not make it to the stand, I made cake truffles instead.

So here is the conundrum my friends: these look adorable, but do not taste as good as one might think. The chocolate coating is too overpowering for the cake. Perhaps the coating is too thick, or it could be that there is less flavor without the frosting mixed in. 

So to dip or not to dip - that is the question. I (and my mom) enjoy these little cakes plain, but check back here tomorrow as I will attempt these little pops again with red velvet, and we will see how the flavor profile stands up to the vanilla candy coating.

If not, plain cake all the way! 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Battle Biscotti

As the name implies, this was a bit of a frustrating (but equally satisfying) baking experience. So it's one of my mom's friend's birthdays this week, and he absolutely loves biscotti. Naturally my mom suggests I should bake them for him, since it would be a good experience for me (good really means hair-wrenching I think). I've never made twice-baked cookies, so I figured why not?

Well, I can now name a few reasons why not. Really though, they were silly mistakes on my part. If you want to try out biscotti, please don't be intimidated by my frustrating experience.

First exasperating moment of the day: me forgetting that the food processor with the dough blade has an actual sharp blade in it as I go to pull out the dough and cut my finger open >_< . However, since my finger was still intact, I just slapped on a band aid and kept going.

Second exasperating moment of the day: this dough is THICK, and by thick I mean the most viscous substance I have ever worked with in the kitchen, Imagine the heaviest cookie dough mixed with the thickest gooey cake batter, and that's biscotti dough. I had to add an extra 1/4 cup flour just to make it come off my hands. Seriously, I could hold in in my hand and turn it over, and it would not fall off. The ensuing mess in the kitchen was not pretty. I actually had to stop taking photos after this one because I couldn't separate my fingers from the dough.

Final moment (and the most frustrating) - no one told me you couldn't substitute wax paper for parchment paper. What is even the point of wax paper then? If you can see where this is going, I used wax paper to line the baking sheet, and almost burned the house down. Mom was not happy.

BUT: I refused to lose this ensuing battle with the dreaded biscotti. So, my brother (the only defender of my baking blunders) offered to pick up parchment paper so that I could make a second attempt.

And would you look at that - we actually got something that looks somewhat like biscotti loaves! Ah, what a relief. But the battle was not yet won. The infamous cutting portion of the recipe was at hand, and all I could think about what my now beautiful cookie loaves crumbling under the blade of my knife.

Drumroll please...

Take that biscotti! I am the baker and I will not bend to your crumbly will. (Okay I promise that is the last lame comment I will make for the day. But this cookie made me feisty and I had to vent somewhere. I only have 2 followers anyway so it's not like it matters.)

I hope you all enjoyed reading my trials and tribulations, but I also hope it does not deter anyone from trying this recipe from DeliciousInspiration for Basic Biscotti. It really is worth it; they're awesome and look so impressive as a gift!

Basic Biscotti - Via DeliciousInspiration

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour (might need 1/4 cup more flour to make dough workable)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (my personal preference)

1. Sift together flour and baking powder in a small bowl.
2. Whisk together oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl.
3. Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients until it forms a stiff (and I mean really stiff) dough. Stir in any add ins.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and split the dough in half.
5. Form 2 logs the length of the baking sheet and flatten slightly.
6. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown
7. Let cool 30 minutes
8. Slice into 1/4 inch thick cookies, place back on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through.
9. Let cool completely.