Monday, February 27, 2012

Chewy Chocolate Chip Thank You Cookies

Tomorrow I am off to Australia for a couple weeks. Here you can go ahead and picture me doing a little happy dance...

I am very excited to see my brothers, and family, and old friends, and to have a nice little vacation to celebrate finishing my Master's (my last class is today!).

Of course, baking ties into this somewhere, and I know you were on the edge of your seat waiting to find out how...
A friend of mine is coming over to take care of the house and cats, and I thought he might enjoy some fresh homemade cookies as a small token of thanks. I found these ones on Pinterest, and adapted them to my liking (and based on the fact that I discovered that I - shock, horror! - only had about a cup of chocolate chips left in the pantry. Don't worry, they've been added to the grocery list for when I get back).

They ended up deliciously soft and chewy, and choc-full (pun intended) of chocolatey, nutty, M&M goodness.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Thank You Cookies
Source: The Girl Who Ate Everything
Makes about 2 dozen 3-3.5 inch cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I used 1 cup semisweet chips, and 1 cup m&ms)
optional: about 1/3-1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325°F.
Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of your mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together melted butter and brown and white sugar until well blended.

Beat in the vanilla, the egg, and the egg yolk. Continue beating until light and creamy.

Mix in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Separate the dough into halves.
Mix chocolate chips into half the dough with a wooden spoon. Mix the m&ms into the other half of the dough. If you are adding the nuts, separate the chocolate chip mixture in half again. Mix nuts into one of these halves.
So, now you've got m&ms...

chocolate chips with nuts...

and chocolate chips without nuts.

Roll the dough into balls about the size of large walnuts (in the shell) and place on a baking stone or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Really you can make these any size you want, you will just need to adjust baking time accordingly.

Bake for 20-22 minutes (yes, mine really took that long! Be careful to check your cookies throughout, all ovens bake differently, and I made mine pretty big), or until edges start to look golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack, and then try not to eat the entire batch at once.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Butterbeer Cupcakes

I will start by saying that I can guarantee you that this is only the first of what is sure to be many Harry Potter related posts. Settle in for the ride, because I'm a pretty big Potterhead. I also highly recommend reading the rest of this post with a British accent. You know, ambience and all that.

In the fall of 2011, the librarian at the elementary school asked me if I would bake something for the book fair. Before she could even say "book-themed," I had blurted out "Potter!" much the way that a deranged person might. She shook it off, and, while slowly backing away, looking somewhat frightened about my irrational level of excitement, endorsed the Potter-themed dessert idea.

Over the next couple days, I mulled over some ideas, including little snitch cake pops with gum paste wings and all (too fiddly for my limited time frame and busy schedule, although those will appear on this blog eventually...), treacle tarts (Harry's favorite), pumpkin pasties, cauldron cakes, and butterbeer cupcakes. I decided on the butterbeer cupcakes. A quick web search revealed that everyone and their 50 closest friends has a recipe for butterbeer cupcakes. I found one here at amybites, linked from (where else?) Pinterest.

These cupcakes were great. The cakes were pretty good, but the frosting...bloody hell! I could (and did) eat this stuff straight from the bowl. With a serving spoon or maybe a ladle. It made a lot of frosting, but that's ok, because anyone who makes this is in danger of eating it in a manner much like the cookie monster or some other kind of addict.

Source: amybites

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon butter flavoring (NOT melted butter)**
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup cream soda

**I didn't know that butter flavoring existed. But lo and behold, it does, and you need to use this here. You can find it near the vanilla and other flavor extracts. It has a unique flavor, and it's really what makes this recipe butterbeer-y (yes, that's a word).

1 11oz package butterscotch chips
1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup butterscotch ganache
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon butter flavoring
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 16oz package powdered sugar
splash of cream or milk (as needed)

Preheat your oven to 350° and line pans with paper cupcake liners.
Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Beat in vanilla and butter flavoring.
Alternate adding buttermilk, cream soda, and dry ingredients until incorporated, ending with dry ingredients. Do not overmix.
Fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full.
Bake 15-17 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cupcakes spring back when lightly touched.
Cool completely on wire racks.

Butterscotch ganache:
In a double boiler, combine butterscotch chips and heavy cream and stir until mixture is completely combined and smooth. Cool to room temperature (this is important. Have some patience - you really want this to be cooled to room temperature before you work with it).
Fill a squeeze bottle with cooled ganache. I used these, which can be bought at craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels.
When cupcakes are cool, insert squeeze bottle tip into the center of the cupcake and gently squeeze until filling just starts to overflow.

Buttercream frosting:
Cream butter in a large bowl until fluffy.
Add ganache, vanilla, butter flavoring, and salt, and mix until well combined.
Beat in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Beat well after each addition to make it nice and creamy.
Add cream or milk by the tablespoon if necessary to thin out the frosting.
Frost cupcakes and top with a drizzle of the ganache (I used a 1M tip).


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Red Velvet Redo - Mini Valentine's Cupcakes

Happy Valentine's Day!

I have more than 60 valentines this year, and I have never felt luckier. Which means that I got to make Valentine's Day treats for not one sweetheart, but in fact three classrooms full of sweethearts. And what do first graders like better than a hefty dose of sugar (especially in the middle of a school day, and in lieu of math)? Done deal as far as they are concerned.
After the red velvet fiasco of last week, I am happy to say that I was feeling brave enough to try again. I tried another recipe, which I will post here, and made red velvet mini cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

The kiddos were sufficiently thrilled to receive these little gems, and there are few things nicer than hearing "you are the best at making stuff ever," or "this is the most yummiest thing I ever ate in my whole life!"

So here they are. This red velvet recipe was considerably more successful for me than the one from last week. I used the same cream cheese frosting recipe that I always use, which can be found here.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Source: AllRecipes

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 fluid ounce red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar here, and they turned out great)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Line muffin tin with paper baking cups (I made mini cupcakes - this recipe yielded about 96 - yes, 96! - mini cupcakes).
Beat butter and sugar in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs, buttermilk, red food coloring, and vanilla.

Mix in baking soda and vinegar.
Combine the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in another bowl.
Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just combined.

Spoon batter into the baking cups. You want to fill them about 1/2 to 2/3 full.

For mini cupcakes, bake 12 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched (for regular cupcakes, this will be more like 20-25 minutes).
Cool on a wire rack.

Frost with cream cheese frosting (or frosting of your own choosing).

I piped on the frosting using... a jumbo french tip

and a Wilton 2D tip.

I decorated using jumbo heart sprinkles and these adorable teeny tiny little pink, red, and white heart sprinkles.

Enjoy! Feel the love!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ryan's Birthday and How Not to Bake a Red Velvet Cake

Last week we had a snow day. As usual, this meant about an inch or two of snow in my neighborhood (beautiful though that is), but closer to a foot or more in the northern tundra that composes the top half of our school district. I think for once, I can honestly say that I was more excited to have this snow day than your average six-year-old. Why, you might ask? Well, I had a cake to bake, of course!

My friend Chelsea asked me a couple weeks ago if I would bake the cake for her husband's birthday party...I was flattered and delighted, and agreed immediately. I had intended to bake the cake on Friday afternoon/evening after work, and finish it up on Saturday, the morning of the party. But thank the Snow Gods for their kindly contribution on Friday, because as events unfolded, it became clear that that plan would have had me still standing tearing out my hair in the kitchen at 3am.

The plan seemed so simple (famous last words)...

Bake red velvet cake.
Stand back and admire prodigious baking skills.
Crumb coat, refrigerate, rest on couch while cake chills.
Bake adorable red velvet cupcakes to accompany and supplement cake servings.
Stand back and admire baking skills again.
Pipe out chocolate decorations.
Pipe pretty cream cheese swirls on the cupcakes, frost the cake, add chocolate decorations.
Stand back and bask in oohs, aahs, and other exclamations of friends and family.

Let me tell you what really happened.

Step one. Bake red velvet cake. Easy, right? Well, I tried a new recipe. The mixing went well, and the baking seemed like it was going well until about 20 minutes in. That is when I started getting a whiff of a slight burning smell. Burning, you say? Yes, burning. It happens. Anyway, I checked on the smell, and sure enough, the cakes had overflowed, despite the recipe calling for 9 inch pans, which is what I used. It should have fit, right? That's what I thought too. I stuck some pans underneath to catch the overflow and let the cakes finish baking. When I removed my cake from the oven, it was clear that step two was clearly not going to happen.
Stand back and admire prodigious baking skills. Instead this was more like, stand back and try not to panic. Yes, it's already 3pm, and you know you're going to have to start over, right? (Picture me talking to myself, because this is where it starts). This is where step two morphs into push those aside, start another batch, and decide what to do with those ones later.
I assumed that the mistake was that I needed to put less batter in the pans. I thought they had simply overflowed, and that is what made them sink. So I mixed up more batter, siphoned a little off to bake separately, and put the rest into the pans. I stuck them in to bake and held my breath. I didn't open the oven, despite temptation, but waited like a Good Little Baker to see what happened. The timer went off. I took a deep breath, braced myself (suspenseful, right?), closed my eyes, and opened the oven door. No smell of smoke. Excellent. I peeked through one eye. Darn. I really had thought that I would have my gorgeous, spongy, perfectly smooth, slightly rounded red velvet cakes waiting for me there. Not so, my friends, I'm sorry to say. These ones had sunk too. Not nearly as badly, but they were still disappointing.


So I put these ones out to cool, slid the other ones back over from their place of exile on the other counter, and stood and stared at all four layers for an irrational length of time.
Sad, huh? Poor little sunken cakes...
I think it was less about the actual recipe than my lack of altitude adjustments. I usually don't make any, despite living at almost 7000 feet (about 2100m for my international fans). It's not usually a problem, but I am going to go ahead and convince myself that's why this cake fought me. Twice.

Now let me tell you something. I do. not. waste. cake. Period. Unless it is grossly inedible, it will get eaten, even if it is straight from a container in the fridge with frosting being swiped on each individual morsel. Besides that fact, I also didn't have any more red food coloring, or buttermilk, or milk for that matter. I only had two eggs left, and I plain old didn't want to bake another cake. Not in that mood.
So what to do with the seriously crater-ific first attempt? Well, they were a little like brownies, and I picked off a piece to taste it. It may not be pretty, but it was yummy. So I ended up cutting out little rounds and making mini cakes. I'm sorry that I didn't take any pictures of this process, but I was too busy muttering mild profanities under my breath and trying not to eat all the cake scraps. I had recovered enough to take pictures of the final product though...

And the second attempt? I decided that they were usable, if I cheated on the frosting in between the layers. Who doesn't like extra cream cheese, anyway?

Despite the hurdles, the cake turned out delicious. A little chocolatey, and very dark red (since I used dark cocoa powder), and slathered with a dangerously generous layer of cream cheese frosting. What's not to like? And I think the piped decorations turned out wonderful, don't you? Ryan is a big mountain biker, so of course this outdoorsy-themed cake had to include a little riding Ryan, complete with helmet and all.

Cake disaster successfully turned around. Well done me, I think. My wonderfully supportive family and friends did indeed allow me to enjoy the last step of the original plan. Thanks guys. My love to you all, and Happy Birthday Ryan!

Despite my almost-failures, I am going to include the recipes for those less elevationally-challenged.

Red Velvet Cake
Source: Food Network
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3 cups cake flour, sifted
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (I used dark, which makes the cake a darker color and gives it a slightly stronger chocolate taste)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon red food coloring
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Cream Cheese Frosting

Preheat the oven to 350°F
Butter two 9-inch pans (or spray with baking spray).
Whisk the flour, baking soda, and cocoa powder, and salt together in a bowl.

Beat the sugar, butter, and oil in your mixer (with a paddle attachment) on med-high speed until light and fluffy. This can take up to 4 minutes or so.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, incorporating in between.

Beat in the food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar.

Reduce mixer speed to low; add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Start and end with flour. Don't overmix here, you want to stir until the flour is just incorporated.

Divide the batter between the pans.

Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on racks.

Make the frosting.

Crumb coat, refrigerate, then frost again. Of course, a crumb coat is optional, but especially with a dark-colored cake like this one, it makes for a neater finish. I also line underneath the edge of the cake with strips of parchment paper so that I can decorate straight onto the cake stand.

While the cake was chilling, I piped out the chocolate decorations. I wanted some of these to sit flush against the sides of the cake, so, using the pans as a guide, I made a little curved cardboard...thing to pipe them onto. I covered this with parchment paper, and voilà! I had the perfect little curved-chocolate-decoration-maker-thing.

I made some trees, some mountains, a little mountain biker, and a Happy Birthday for Ryan. I free-formed everything but the biker (that I traced - I just drew it on paper and taped it underneath the parchment) - if you would rather plan these beforehand and trace the designs, that would work well too.