Archive for April, 2010

Lemon-Scented Blueberry Cupcakes

Comfort. It’s the familiar smell of your boyfriend. It’s the first glimpse of home around the bend in the road. It’s the feel of a hot shower after a cold day.

It’s the look of butter sitting on the counter waiting to be part of something delicious.

It’s the sound of three friends, roommates, back together after months apart.

I spent the last weekend in Bethesda, Maryland visiting a roommate from college with another roommate but missing our fourth wheel. We’ve seen each other in the years since graduation but always for a dinner here, drinks there, never for any longer than a few hours. And while a few hours is plenty when you don’t see each other often, it’s never enough and it never feels the same as college. Until you spend a weekend together staying up late, shopping, people-watching, and, of course, judging everything from wedding dresses (One of us is engaged. It’s not me. Have no fear.) to how people are sometimes rude to servers at creperies. It’s that quality time when no one has anything better to do or anything next up on the long list for the day. That’s the feeling of comfort. Being with the people you love even if it’s in a place you’ve never been. I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend away to recharge.

When I’m home, comfort is everything I listed before. I know and love how Boy smells both when he’s freshly showered and when he’s just come from a run. (This smell I don’t love AS much and it’s a very VERY transient love but it’s a love either way.) I adore the sight of my parents’ home, especially in the spring when all the trees lining the street are the perfect shade of green. I’ve learned to savor the feel of a shower at the end of the day instead of rushing through one in the beginning.

I’m so used to the look of butter on the counter that when it’s not there I feel a pang in my heart and a new idea churning in my head.

I had been thinking about a berry and lemon cake for a few days but had no time to experiment. I’m glad for it though because I loved the recipe I found. These cupcakes were lovely and comforting and best of all can easily be adapted to whatever berry you have in your fridge or freezer. The lemon flavor is present in every way but perfectly complementary and by no means empowering. I’ll definitely be making/adapting these again!

Lemon-scented Blueberry Cupcakes
Adapted from myrecipes

Makes 12. Perfect for spelling “Happy Bday Pat” (or any other 3-lettered name/nickname).

Ingredients
Cupcake:
3/4 c fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed
1 1/2 c plus 2 tbsp flour, divided [set aside the 1 tbsp of flour for the blueberries]
10 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 c butter, melted
1 large egg
1/2 c buttermilk [or mix milk and vinegar]
1/2 c 2% reduced-fat milk
1 tsp grated lemon rind
Frosting:
1/4 c (2 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp  salt
1 1/2 c powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350. Line 12 muffin/cupcake cups.

Toss blueberries with 1 tbsp flour. Sift together remaining flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together melted butter and egg. Add both milks and lemon rind. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and stir just until moist. Fold blueberries into batter. Divide batter into prepared muffin cups.

Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes on a wire rack then remove from pan and allow to cool completely on wire rack.

For the frosting, beat everything but the powdered sugar and lemon juice with a mixer at medium speed until blended. Gradually add powdered sugar until just combined. Don’t overbeat. Stir in juice. Add coloring if desired.

Frost, garnish with blueberries if desired, and call it a day!

So fresh-tasting you’ll definitely want more than one!

– Sharlene

Coconut Cookies

[[ Btw, Full Circle is hosting a giveaway with Betty Crocker and Safeway. Tell Kimmie I sent you and go enter! ]]

This past month has been a bit of an exploration in my kitchen. I’m on research elective right now which means I don’t have much to do [read: study/cram] when I get home from work which hasn’t been the case for quite some time. It’s been a refreshing change of pace and it’s allowed me the liberty to try new things and make old favorites without having to sacrifice one for the other. I’ve been able to take my time to do things properly, read recipes several times through before measuring out the flour, allow butter to soften as it should. It’s reaffirmed my absolute love for baking, for the edible science experiment that only needs a few minutes before I can dig in. Instead of only enjoying the outcomes, I’ve begun to enjoy the process. Finances have been a bit tight around here in preparation for a couple upcoming trips that deserve every penny I can save so while my baking has increased my spending has – dare I say it – done the opposite. I’ve dugdeep into the dark, hard-to-reach corners of my refrigerator, cabinets, and cupboards to find ingredients I can use to satisfy my sweet tooth. I’ve searched, thought about, edited, and searched again for recipes to complement my supplies.

I’ve quite enjoyed it. My current “stop and smell the roses” lifestyle has made me want to drop out of medical school and become a pastry chef. A chocolatier, perhaps. I visited close friends in the City (that’s NYC for those of you from other areas of the world and as far as I’m concerned no matter where I live it’ll always be NYC) this past weekend and took them to my favorite chocolatier and chocolate shop. I spent $30 precious dollars on my version of gold: rich and luscious ganaches, macarons, light mousses, and crunchy pralines. It was worth every penny. Boy and my friend even made purchases despite their extensive “complaints” and comments about “developing diabetes” while I dragged them across town. To me, the experience alone is worth the trip. All the little chocolates lined up perfectly in their crystal-clear glass displays, some neatly positioned in decorative boxes with crisp ribbons, larger hand-crafted chocolate pieces that can only be described as artwork. And all you have to do is ask for a taste and a piece is handed to you with the daintiest pair of tongs and a smile at the other end of them, full confidence that you’ll fall in love and walk out with a bag full of happiness in the form of chocolate. The confidence comes from the freshness and the simplicity of their recipes. Cacao, cream, and a little bit of banana puree can somehow become the thing you crave for days after the fact cursing yourself for not snatching up a tray for yourself. So many flavors. So little time. Such shallow pockets. I’ll leave the chocolate up to the experienced chocolatiers in the city. For me, I’ll nibble on the treats I picked up and be perfectly satisfied with these cookies.

There’s something to be said for simplifying life down to the basics. Beauty in flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and one or two extra ingredients for some *pop.* Joy in only washing one bowl instead of bowls on top of sieves on top of measuring cups and spoons on top of a whisk and a wooden spoon. Satisfaction in sitting down to eat a bite of heavenly goodness that you set out to make less than an hour ago, knowing there’s still plenty of daylight for other accomplishments.

That’s what these cookies are to me.

They may not be my version of gold but they’re pretty gosh darn tasty and even more delicious when I think about how little effort went into making them. I had a few strawberries in the fridge that I wanted to use up so I slipped them inside and the result was the perfect hint of extra goodness. Try it if you can. No need to send any royalties.

Coconut Cookies with Strawberries
adapted from Saveur

Makes 24.

Ingredients
2 c sweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c sugar
1 tbsp flour
4 tbsp melted butter
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2-3 strawberries, chopped, optional


Instructions
Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix everything in a bowl. Moisten hands to help with rolling. Roll 24 little balls of coconutty goodness as pretty as you want them. If adding strawberries, press single piece into the center of the cookie and gather all the smushed out cookie to reform a ball around the strawberry.


Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. [Mine took a little over 20.] Allow to cool and then drizzle melted chocolate or vanilla chips all over the place!

See how easy that was? No go on and use up your leftover coconut.

– Sharlene

Chocolate Cake

Note: It’s a bit ironic but Whisk, where I got this chocolate cake recipe from, is having a contest for a set of lovely spatulas from Le Creuset here.

Indecisiveness + procrastination = Bad news bears.

Sometimes it’s not called procrastination and it’s really just being too busy to think. This was not one of those times.

We had talked about it for over a week. A friend’s birthday was coming up and she wanted to go out to dinner followed by a comedy show in our area. The tickets had already been bought and so all that was left was whether or not we wanted to bake her a cake for her birthday. Actually, the immediate answer was a resounding yes. I bake cakes for all my med school friends’ birthdays! The tradition started in second-year of medical school when Boy (who I was not officially dating at the time) asked for an ice cream cake the day of his birthday dinner (which had been thrown together the day of his birthday). I think he may have been joking. I had never even heard of a homemade ice cream cake. But we were on the verge of being something good so I spent the entire day looking up recipes and baking/freezing a mint chocolate ice cream cake. While it turned into a disaster of sorts on the way to the restaurant involving me and a roll of toilet paper, the cake was actually quite good. The ice cream had melted, giving the chocolate cake a moistness and a flavor that I have never been able to match otherwise. It was loved by all. And so I started making cakes for birthdays. So why would this one be different? I would make a cake.

Except this time, Boy wanted to help. See, I wasn’t great friends with the celebrant but he was and he and another friend had collaborated on a no-bake cake the year before. Even though I would be attending this party and could produce a cake on my own he wanted a hand in it so we went back-and-forth all week about flavor profiles, when we’d bake it, who’d be the head baker and the assistant (we bicker about these things), etc. And it finally came to the decision on Thursday that he would take the lead and I’d just be there to hand him the whisk and wipe his brow from time to time. Perhaps feed him a grape. Offer some encouragement.

Surprise surprise. Friday rolls around and he has no plans to bake a cake or even any idea of where to begin.

Surprise surprise. I began scrambling. I was already home from work, it was 4.30, dinner was at 8.15, I hadn’t yet showered and didn’t know what I was going to wear, but I needed to come up with a cake ASAP.

I came up with the heavenly combination of this cake with this frosting, halved the cake recipe to serve 8 people and not leave behind a ton of cake when we went from dinner to the comedy show, and decided to fill it with raspberry jam that was sitting in my fridge since I wasn’t sure how much frosting I would have.

Friends, the ridiculousness was all worth it. It was so delicious. Friend loved it. Other friend ate 3 slices. Cake was completely consumed according to the “No Cake Left Behind At the Restaurant” policy. It exceeded expectations. The cake was light and airy. Not too sweet and perfectly complemented by the other aspects. The frosting was just as light and airy as the cake itself and the raspberry jam pushed it right over the top. If ever you need a fabulous cake and have no time to go to the store, you probably have all these ingredients in your kitchen too. It’s a pretty awesome go-to.

ps. Boy did show up and help me frost in the end. He did all the writing on the cake as proof of his contribution.

pps. I am not a cake baker. My frosting skills are less than perfect and I have no offset spatula or proper cake stand [I know, I know]. Don’t hate on the less-than-professional cake. It tasted great and that’s always my number one priority.

Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling and Cooked Vanilla Frosting
adapted from Whisk and Tasty Kitchen

Ingredients

For cake:
1 1/2 c sifted cake flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
5/8 c unsweetened cocoa [1/2 + half of a 1/4 c measure – make it up]
1/2 c boiling water
3/8 c cold water [halfway between the 1/4 and 1/2 c mark – make it up]
1/4 c sour cream [original called for yogurt but this is what I had]
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
1 1/2 eggs [make it up]

For frosting:
1 c milk [2% is my staple]
5 tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c butter [2 sticks.. I know I know but you won’t get a mouthful of butter. I promise.]
1 c granulated sugar, NOT powdered

For filling:
1/3 c raspberry preserves [make your own or buy pre-made; try different flavors; go nuts!]

Instructions
Preheat oven to350F and line the bottom of 2 round cake pans with parchment paper.

Sift together cake flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Pour boiling water over cocoa, stir to combine, and refrigerate [to speed up the process] until lukewarm.

While waiting for cocoa to cool, beat butter using a hand or stand mixer in a large bowl until creamy. Add sugar and beat until light in color and texture, approximately 5-6 minutes. Whisk eggs slightly and add to batter. Mix until well combined, a couple minutes. Once cocoa is lukewarm, take out of refrigerator and stir in cold water, sour cream, and vanilla. Add 1/3 flour mixture and mix well followed by 1/2 cocoa mixture. Continue adding flour in thirds alternating with the remaining half of the cocoa mixture, mixing just until ingredients are combined.

Split among pans and bake 20-25 minutes. [You can rotate halfway through. I didn’t. But you can.]

While it bakes, make the frosting [or take a shower and get ready for dinner like I did].

In a small saucepan, whisk flour and milk over medium heat. Stir constantly until it thickens. [You’ll know when it does this. It comes together quickly once it starts.] Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Add vanilla.

While the milk mixture cools, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy with a hand or stand mixer. Add the cooled milk mixture and beat until it looks like whipped cream. [Neglected to take a photo. Sorry! Time constraints!]

To assemble: You know the drill. Place one cake on a stand of some sort, top with raspberry jam, then layer other cake on first cake. Frost like you mean it. With love.

It may not have looked professional but it sure tasted like a high-end cake.

Joy.

– Sharlene

Roasted Banana & Pecan Mini-Cupcakes

“I think you’ve outdone yourself this time.” – Boy

And I had.

Do you ever get into a rut? This week was my rut.

I was just sick of the same ol’ same ol’. I wanted different new different new! I wanted a change. Job/school, Boy, everything else. It was the same thing every day. I was tired of going to the hospital at a certain hour, eating lunch at a certain hour,  waiting for the clock to hit the certain hour so I could go home. (I’m on research elective right now so I don’t even have much interaction with other human beings. It’s awful lonely.) I was tired of coming home, cooking, eating in front of the laptop/television, and then continuing research. I was tired of eating leftovers for lunch the next day. I was tired in general.

So what did I do? I baked.

I had two overripe bananas and I decided that this time they wouldn’t be turned into pancakes (my usual go-to) or even bread (everyone else’s go-to so I have it often enough even though I don’t make it). They were going to be my change. They would bring me out of my rut.

I looked around the internet ahem-myfavoriteblogs-ahem for something to strike my eye but nothing really did. Breads and pancakes were rampant. I WANTED DIFFERENT NEW!

And then.. these cupcakes appeared. (Well, not really appeared. More like, I literally looked around my room and saw Martha Stewart’s Cupcake book, flipped through it, and saw these.) And while Martha has her own banana pecan cupcake, the idea of roasting my bananas was enough to pull me out of my rut alone. Making them tiny and adding the candied pecans I made earlier in the week? A stroke of genius.

These really are pull-you-out-of-a-rut-cupcakes. Mini-cupcakes are the perfect size for a pick-me-up without concern for thighs, abs, or chicken arms. And if you keep them in an airtight container in the fridge, they turn into a delicious cold treat when New Jersey decides to be over 90F in April and you haven’t turned on the a/c yet. Win!

Roasted Banana Mini-Cupcakes with Honey-Cinnamon Frosting & Candied Pecans
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Makes 48 mini-cupcakes.
[I halved this recipe so pictures will be half what you’d see if you make the full recipe.]

Ingredients
For cupcakes:
3 ripe bananas
2 c cake flour, sifted [or all-purpose flour + cornstarch!]
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 c) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 c sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

For frosting:
2 1/2 confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 sticks (1 c) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

For pecans:
See recipe here.

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400F. Place whole unpeeled bananas on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Peels will darken. It will smell divine. Remove bananas from oven and let cool before peeling. Reduce oven temperature to 350F.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a bowl, on medium speed with a hand or stand mixer, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Set aside.

On medium-high speed with a hand or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition, and scraping down the bowl as needed. Add roasted bananas. They’ll just fall apart. It’s glorious. Add flour in 3 batches alternating with the sour cream in 2 batches, just combining the ingredients before adding the next batch. Beat in vanilla. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter at a time until all incorporated. Divide batter among a pre-lined mini-cupcake pan. 3/4 full is ideal. Press 3 pecan halves into each mini-cupcake. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely.

While baking, make the frosting! On medium with a hand or stand mixer, combine all the ingredients until smooth. So easy!

To finish: When cupcakes are cooled, use your favorite tip or plastic baggie with the corner cut off to pipe frosting. Top with banana slices or a whole pecan. Eat a minimum of 5. Wash down with milk.

Smiles.

– Sharlene

Candied Nuts

I don’t like nuts.

Okay. That’s a lie.

I don’t usually like nuts.

If given the choice between a baked good with nuts or.. nothing, I’d go dessert-less. Even if I was craving chocolate. I just don’t like the crunch in my baked goods.

Sure, I can scarf down a bowl of cashews with the best of them. (By the way, my dad’s cashews and toasted/roasted/who-knows-what-he-does garlic? Wowza.) But other than cashews, I don’t really eat nuts.

Oh I also pad thai, including the nuts if they are present. I basically lick the bowl clean. YUM!

Anyway. Yeah. Not so much with the nuts.

But me and these nuts? We’re best friends.

How did that happen?!

Well if you really want the whole story read the whole thing. For the abridged version, only read what is in the brackets below (I stole this method from the missals in church. I hope that’s okay.)

I originally wanted to make this poppy seed lemon cake. I’ve been staring at it since Deb posted it in January. Doesn’t it look divine? Then with the springtime weather and my lemon/orange/all-things-that-smell-like-cleaning-products kick, I had to, HAD TO make it. And Deb gave suggestions for what to do with the 8 egg whites I’d have left over! Win! Because I didn’t really feel like making an angel food cake. It’s never really been my thing. Also, two cakes? For one person? That just seems overboard. So I looked over the recipes and settled on three, THREE uses for my to-be-yolkless egg whites including these here nuts.

One problem.

The sole bundt pan within my apartment was filled with a sour cream coffee cake my roommate had made for work last week.

*shakes fist and glares at cake*

What was I to do? It’s her bundt pan in the first place. (Why the heck don’t I own one?!) So, alas, no poppy seed lemon cake was to be made that day. I went grocery shopping for the week and didn’t buy poppy seeds or lemons Okay I bought lemons. I’m obsessed. But no poppy seeds! No hazelnut brown butter cake. No amaretti cookies. No nuts.

Nuts. (Get it?)

But when I got home from the grocery store and finished making dinner I just didn’t feel right. I had to bake something. But what? I looked around for the usual suspects. Chocolate chips? For cookies, muffins, or brownies even? Plain sugar cookies then? Maybe something with the lemons you bought for no predetermined purpose? Pecans? PECANS?! I HAVE PECANS?! I saw a recipe for pecans! Pecans I will make. Pecans I will shake. Pecans I will bake.

And so I did.

And now we’re best friends. One, because they gave me something to bake when I thought all hope was lost. And two, because they literally haven’t left my side since I made them. I carry them in baggies with me. (What? I needs snacks!)

[Abridged: The whole story was kind of pointless. These nuts are yum.]

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts
Adapted from smitten kitchen, originally from Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country

Ingredients
1/3 c dark brown sugar
2/3 c granulated sugar
1 heaping tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 lb walnut or pecan halves or whole peeled hazelnuts [I used pecans. Heaven.]
1 egg white, room temperature
1 tbsp water

Instructions
Preheat oven to 300F.

Sift together sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon and mix, making sure there are no lumps; set aside. Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add nuts, and stir to coat evenly. Toss nuts with sugar mixture until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together. [Or keep them in chunks for one-handed munching if, say, you’re using a mouse with the other hand.]

Addictive.

– Sharlene

Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies

A couple weeks ago I flew out to California for a cousin’s wedding (Hi Cousins!! I miss you!) and thought it would be nice to bring some baked goodies. I don’t see my cousins very often since we’re spread out all over the U.S. of A. and figured I could at least show off a bit (plus I had a hankering to bake and I jump at any chance to give away said baking after I pack away a few for me. I’m a one-for-you, one-, or two depending on the fat content, for-me kinda gal.). I already had all the ingredients on hand for these cookies (substituting toffee chips for actual bars) and so I whipped up a quick batch. They were so yummy and I was excited to hand them out to everyone.

Then.. FAIL.

I picked up my brother from our parents’ house to head to the airport. My uncle was over to hang out with my grandmother at the time and I brought up the cookies. Said uncle said he didn’t think airlines allowed you to bring your own food onto the plane. I replied that I thought it was just drinks like water bottles etc but the idea was already planted. On the way to the airport my brother, who loves toffee like a fat kid love cake except he’s skinny and doesn’t really like cake, proceeded to eat all of the cookies.

All.

ALL?!

Yes, all. And he was still skinny!

Bollocks.

So, cousins had no cookies to feast on. But my brother thoroughly enjoyed.

By the way? You can bring your own food.

Peanut Butter Toffee Cookies
adapted from Martha

Ingredients
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt [omitted because I used salted butter]
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 large egg
2 chocolate-covered toffee candy bars (1.4 ounces each), chopped [I used approximately 3-4 oz of toffee bits]

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl and armed with a hand or stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add peanut butter and egg; beat until smooth. Then with the mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture. Stir in toffee.


Roll balls approximately 1″ in size and then flatten slightly. Space balls [hahaha spaceballs!] 1 1/2 inches apart. For kicks, I sprinkled extra toffee bits on top and pressed them in slightly. Bake 14-18 minutes, turning halfway through bake time.

A treat in a jiffy! Get it?!

– Sharlene