Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recipes of the Week: Spring Pea & Ricotta Torte and Rhubarb Curd Shortbread

Source: food52

I discovered this week's selections flipping through food52's inspired collection of recipes for spring, Spring Break!. These two dishes stood out not only because they look beautiful and fresh, but also because they scream spring. And with the Chicago weather questionable at best, I need a little more spring in my life.

The first recipe combines peas, ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, mint and lemon in what seems to be a very green and very creamy torte. Mmmm. Common misconception: tortes always have crusts. As this yummy looking torte proves, no crust, no problem.

Source: food52

The second recipe pairs a tangy rhubarb curd with a buttery, delicious spiced shortbread crust to create a stunning spring dessert. The recipe seems pretty labor intensive, but on the bright side, when you're done slaving in the kitchen you'll have a great treat to reward yourself with.

Can't wait to get in the kitchen and give these recipes a try!

Source: food52

Monday, April 25, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

Another week, another birthday.

For her birthday treat, my roommate, Lindsey, chose chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting, and I couldn't have been more thrilled. It had been a while since I made something chocolaty and delicious, and it was high time I got back to my chocolate roots.

I've got a go-to buttercream frosting recipe in my arsenal, but, at the time, no spectacular chocolate cake/cupcake recipe. Enter Martha Stewart. This cupcake recipe is the base for her adorable Hi-Hat cupcakes (which I am determined to make, by the way, I just need to get a candy thermometer first), and it could not be more delicious. The cupcakes are moist, but not overwhelmingly rich. Although, if rich is what you're going for, some good chocolate frosting would do the trick.

That's what I'm talking about

The recipe is pretty simple and straightforward, so I don't have any helpful tips or tricks to share. But for some extra flair, try serving the cupcakes topped with chocolate shavings in addition to frosting. Also, these would be great filled with a chocolate ganache or a raspberry filling. Go crazy.

Chocolate shavings add a little flair to an otherwise plain cupcake

Bon appetit!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting
Makes 12
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup water

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-lb. powdered sugar
1-3 tsp milk, cream or half and half

Preheat the oven to 350°F with rack in the center. Place chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl and heat in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring well after each interval. Stop once most of the chocolate is melted and some chunks remain. Continue stirring until all the chocolate has melted. The heat from the melted chocolate will dissolve the remaining chunks. If you microwave the chocolate until it is all completely melted, you risk burning it, which you really don't want to do because that means you have to toss the chocolate and start over again. For a quick tutorial on how to melt chocolate without the hassle of a double boiler, check out this video by Amanda & Merrill of food52.

Forget the double boiler. To melt chocolate, all you need is a microwave.

Set chocolate aside to cool. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Don't be afraid to let the two ingredients mix for a while, creaming takes time. I've found that creaming rarely gets explained despite being a very basic baking technique. This instructional slideshow is a great resource explaining the process in words and photos.

On low speed, mix in melted chocolate. Increase speed to medium and add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla and beat until creamy and color has lightened slightly, about 1 minute. Mix in sour cream.

On low speed, add half of the dry ingredient mixture, beating until just incorporated. Mix in water. Add the remaining dry ingredient mixture and beat until just incorporated.

Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. Fill each liner with enough batter to come 1/8 of an inch away from the top, about 1/3 cup. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until tops are firm and a toothpick/cake tester inserted in the center of cupcakes comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes.

Transfer to a cupcakes to a wire rack to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before removing. While cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting. 

Cream butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Add sugar gradually, allowing butter and sugar to come together fully before adding more. For a creamier frosting, add milk/cream/half and half by the teaspoon and beat on high, until frosting reaches the desired consistency. (Note: this recipe is intended for a two-layer cake, so you will definitely be left with some extra frosting).

Frost cupcakes and serve. To store, cover and refrigerate.

Source: Martha Stewart (cupcakes) & Bakerella (frosting)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Salmon & Asparagus Frittata

Source: SELF

In an effort to post more often, I've decided to add a new segment called Recipe of the Week. As the name suggests, I will post links to recipes on a weekly basis that I have either just tried or recently discovered and added to my cooking To-Do List.

This week's recipe comes to us from SELF magazine. The recipe caught my attention for two reasons: 1) I love salmon, and, 2) the flavor combination of asparagus, potatoes, onions, red peppers and salmon struck me as odd. Obviously I had to try it out, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The flavors work really well together. Try adding some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano before putting it in the broiler.

The best part about this dish: it keeps really well in the fridge for several days and tastes great hot or cold. A great recipe for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Source: SELF April 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Carrot Cake

My love affair with carrot cake began during my sophomore year of college when I lived in my sorority house. Every night we had a different dessert, but my favorite was always the carrot cake. At the time, I was convinced it was the best thing I had ever tasted. Later I discovered it was just Sara Lee... Super gourmet.

That same year, I discovered this recipe and carrot cake and I made our relationship official.

So, as you can imagine, I was pretty psyched when my friend, Emma, requested carrot cake for her birthday baked good. I had such a great time decorating the cake that I think it ended up being more of a treat for me than it was for her.

With carrots, pecans and golden raisins, this cake is irresistible and the sweet, creamy frosting is the perfect complement. Not that I'm surprised, the recipe comes from Paula Deen, the queen of butter. The woman knows her stuff. Interestingly enough, there is no butter in the actual cake.

One tip: keep a close eye on the cake while it's baking and check it often to see if it's done. It's very fickle in terms of baking time. I've had trouble with under/overcooking pretty much every time I've made it.

Happy Birthday, Emma!

Bon appetit!

Carrot Cake
Serves 12-16
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 cups freshly grated carrots
1 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup golden raisins

8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
16-oz. box powdered sugar

Pecan halves
Green, red and yellow food coloring

Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Cut out circles of parchment paper and fit inside cake pans. Butter and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and mix. Add vegetable oil and eggs and mix thoroughly. Mix in carrots, pecans and raisins.

Divide batter evenly between the two pans and bake cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Remove cakes from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the outside of each cake to separate it from the pan. Place a wire rack on top of each cake pan and flip so that the cakes come out of the pans and onto the wire racks. Jiggle each pan to loosen the cake. Remove parchment paper circles. Let cool completely before frosting.

While cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Combine cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whip until smooth. Add vanilla and mix. Slowly incorporate powdered sugar, mixing between each addition. Occasionally wipe down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Place one cake on the platter or stand you plan to use. Using a serrated knife, level off the top of the cake so that it is flat (note: if your cake is already flat, disregard this step). Frost the top of the cake. This will be the frosting between your two layers, so add more or less depending on how much frosting you like.

Place the second cake on top of the first, making sure the two are properly aligned. Then, apply the crumb layer. After the crumb layer is dry, apply the smooth outside layer. Save some frosting for the decorative elements.

For a 3D look, add more frosting in the center of the carrot than on the sides

To decorate, place pecan halves around the base and the top of the cake. Combine a portion of the leftover icing with red and yellow food coloring to make orange frosting. Using a pastry bag or a Ziploc bag with the corner cut off, pipe on four carrots facing the center of the cake. Combine another portion of the icing with green food coloring and pipe on the stems of the carrots. Crush pecans in a food processor and apply to the outside of the cake using your fingers and a spoon.

Decorating this cake is time consuming, but it pays off!

Source: adapted from Paula Deen's Kitchen Classics

Monday, April 4, 2011

Red Velvet Rose Cake & Cake Decorating Tutorial

A few weeks ago, we celebrated my sister Shelby's 18th birthday, an occasion which obviously called for an awesome cake. Shelby chose red velvet, which I was excited about because it's one type of cake I've never made and have been wanting to try for a while. So, I consulted Bakerella, my go-to resource for cakes, and found a great recipe.

For those of you who are not familiar with red velvet cake, it's a type of chocolate cake made with cocoa powder and lots of red food dye, which gives it its signature crimson color. Red velvet cake is traditionally paired with cream cheese frosting.

A few months ago, I had noticed a beautiful cake on foodgawker that caught my eye because it was covered completely in icing roses. I had been itching to try the technique ever since and it seemed like the perfect way to make the cake really special. Most icing roses are made using buttercream frosting because it is less creamy than cream cheese frosting and tends to hold its shape better, but I scoured All Recipes for a cream cheese frosting recipe that was recommended for piping and found one that seemed promising.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with the results. The cake was amazing. It was incredibly moist and the perfect shade of red. The frosting was deliciously creamy, but still managed to hold its shape, and making icing roses turned out to be really simple. All you really need is a pastry bag equipped with a large open star tip. I found the instructions on how to make icing roses slightly confusing, so I decided to include a quick video tutorial on how to assemble a pastry bag and make the roses, see below. I hope this is helpful!

Happy Birthday, Shelbs!

Thanks to my mom and Shelby for all the baking and photography help.

Bon appetit!

Red Velvet Rose Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Serves 12
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups oil, I used canola
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz. red food coloring
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

4 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Large pastry bag
1M tip (or any other large open star tip)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans.

Lightly stir eggs in a medium bowl with a wire whisk. Add remaining liquid ingredients and whisk until blended. Set aside.

Combine all the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Mix with a wire whisk until combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix on medium-high until completely combined, about one minute.

Divide batter equally among the two cake pans (I like to pour all my batter into measuring cups to see how much I have and then divide it exactly, but obviously not necessary). Drop pans onto the counter from about 3-inches up to release any air bubbles. Repeat twice.

Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

To remove cakes from pans, first, run a knife around the perimeter of each cake to separate it from the pan. Place a layer of plastic wrap on top and a wire rack on top of the plastic wrap. Holding the pan and rack together, flip so that the cake comes out of the pan onto the rack. Jiggle the pan to loosen the cake and remove. Wrap cake in plastic to retain moisture.

Allow cakes to cool completely on wire racks. While you are waiting, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix. Gradually mix in the confectioner's sugar. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes prior to using. Keep any frosting you are not using covered in the fridge. 

Place one of the cakes on the plate or platter you intend to use. Using a large serrated knife, level off the top of the cake so that it is entirely flat (note: if you already have a flat cake ignore this step). Apply a layer of icing to the top of the first cake. This will be the icing between your two layers, so with that in mind apply more or less icing depending on how much frosting you like.

Place the second cake on top of the first, making sure the two are properly aligned. Then, apply the crumb layer. A crumb layer is a thin layer of frosting you apply to a cake to hold in the crumbs, so that the final product is beautiful and crumb-free. Wait for the crumb layer to dry before applying the icing roses.

Apply a crumb layer to lock in any stray crumbs for a beautiful, flawless final product

To apply the icing roses, assemble the pastry bag, fill with frosting and make the roses as directed in the tutorial video below. Do not put too much frosting in the pastry bag at a time, as your hands will warm it and it will not hold its shape well, aka sad droopy looking roses.

Icing Roses Tutorial from Casey North on Vimeo.

Begin with the circumference of the cake. Start in the center of the rose. Apply constant firm pressure on the pastry bag and begin to loop around the center point tightly. Try to finish each rose in the same place, e.g. at the bottom of the cake. You will do a different number of rotations around the center depending on the size you want your rose to be. I did two rotations.

If you're unhappy with how a rose turns out, just scrape it off, smooth the icing and start over again. I suggest playing around with the roses on a sheet of wax/parchment paper before starting to work on the cake.

When you're done with the circumference, repeat the process on the top of the cake. I recommend placing the first rose in the center of the cake and working out in a circular fashion. If you are left with some dead space when you finish. Try filling the space with a swoop of frosting going in the same direction as the nearest rose.

Refrigerate the cake as soon as finished to ensure the roses hold their shape. If refrigerated, this cake is good for several days after it's made.

Source: adapted from Bakerella (cake), All Recipes (frosting) & I Am Baker (icing roses)