Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Best Chocolate Cake. EVER.

So, funny story. A few weeks ago was my daughter Rebecca's third birthday. All along we'd talked about the kind of cupcakes she wanted for various birthday functions that week and we'd agreed on Oreo cupcakes for The Big Day. Then, just before naptime- when I was going to be baking said cupcakes- she announced that she doesn't want cupcakes. She wants a big cake. A "real" cake. Well, ok, it's her birthday and baking is baking in my opinion, so she went to sleep and I set out to find a chocolate cake recipe. I came across this. This is one of the first recipes I ever saved in my quest to start making food that didn't, you know, suck.

However, I noticed in reading through the recipe that it's intended to be made as a sheet cake. I don't have a sheet cake pan. I did, however, just receive 2 brand spanking new layer cake pans that were begging to be used. I read through some of the comments on the original post from The Pioneer Woman (By the way. I totally want to be Ree's internet Best Friend. In a completely elementary school note-passing kind of way.  "Dear Ree, do you want to be my friend. Please check yes or no. Signed, the geek in the back of the class, Laura") that said that this could be made into a layer cake. So off I went.

The cake came together very quickly. Simple and easy. I like that. I popped it into the oven, let it cool slightly while making the frosting, then read the directions again. It says to pour the warm frosting over the warm cake to let it kind of spread itself. Less work for me. Bonus.

However. I made this into a layer cake. Not thinking about the fact that a sheet cake pan would have sides to it (duh) I poured a tiny bit of the frosting onto the first cake layer, spread it around a bit then set the second layer on top. Then the fun began. I poured, nay, DUMPED, the majority of the frosting over the cake. Then I watched it trickle down the sides of the cake and a little bit onto the wax-paper-edged plate I'd set it on. (Wax paper to make cleaning up the edges of the cake a touch easier so it would look prettier when serving. Ha. Right.) Then I watched as chocolatey goodness ran, not just down the cake, not just down the plate, but all over my counter. It was a frosting flood.

So this:



actually looked more like this:

Do you see the frosting bits running down the wax paper, thus dripping onto my floor? What you can't see is the other side where it ran all over my counter.

which then, I'm afraid, turned into a bit huge kitchen mess that I left, in frustration, for my husband to clean up. (Thanks babe!) Before sighing and stalking out of the kitchen in a huff, I did lick the counter top. I admit it. Hi, I'm Laura, and I have a cake/chocolate problem.

Thankfully, this cake was worth the whole big mess. X 100 million. Brian's already asking when I'll be making it again. I will, as soon as I stop finding bits of chocolate frosting in the nooks of kitchen cabinet doors.

The Best Chocolate Cake in the Entire World
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Ingredients:

for the cake:2 cups Flour
2 cups Sugar
¼ teaspoons Salt
4 Tablespoons (heaping) Cocoa
2 sticks Butter
1 cup Boiling Water
½ cups Buttermilk
2 whole Beaten Eggs
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Vanilla

for the frosting:½ cups Finely Chopped Pecans
1-¾ stick Butter
4 Tablespoons (heaping) Cocoa
6 Tablespoons Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 pound (minus 1/2 Cup) Powdered Sugar

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°.

In the bowl of an electric mixer add together the flour, sugar and salt.

In a medium sauce pan melt the butter, then add in the cocoa powder. Mix together well. Pour in the boiling water, stirring together and let it simmer for about 30 seconds. Pour the cocoa mixture over the flour mixture and beat together.

In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk, beaten eggs, vanilla and baking soda. Pour this into the mixing bowl and blend until just combined.

Pour the batter into prepared cake pan(s) and bake about 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and set on a wire cooling rack to cool.

To make the frosting, melt the butter in a medium sauce pan, add in the cocoa, milk and vanilla and stir until smooth. Mix in the pecans and powdered sugar.

If using a sheet cake pan, pour the frosting over the top of the cake while it is still warm. If using layer cake pans, remove from the pans and once cooled, spread the frosting over the cake.

Source: The Pioneer Woman

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Coffee cake muffins

The finale in my series of muffins made for our local homeless shelter organization. I love muffins but I've got to tell you, I'm ready for some VARIETY around here! Unfortunately I haven't been home much in the last few weeks so I haven't gotten to make anything fantastic in a while. But soon, friends. Soon and very soon!

These muffins were, as you can expect, amazing. Unfortunately (for me) I didn't have the time to make the icing that is supposed to go on the tops of these heaven-sent little morsels but you can find the icing recipe here with the original recipe source, Brown Eyed Baker. I'm anxious to make these again, and this time do them right: with icing!



Muffin Pan on Foodista

Coffee Cake Muffins
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yields 12 muffins


Ingredients:
For the muffins
½ cup pecans
¼ cup  dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and softened
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


for the glaze
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons water


Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°. Prepare a 12 cup muffin pan by lightly oiling and set aside.


Place the nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are the size of sesame seeds. Scoop the mixture into a bowl and set aside.

Place the flour, granulated sugar and salt in the food processor and again pulse until combined. Sprinkle the butter into the food processor, on top of the flour mix, and puree again for about 8-10 seconds, or until the butter is the size of oats. Remove ½ cup of this mix and blend it with the brown sugar & nuts with a fork to make the streusel.

Separate ¾ cup of the streusel mixture and set aside to add to the muffin batter later.

Add in baking powder and baking soda to the flour mixture in the food process or and pulse until combined, about 5 seconds.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, egg and vanilla. Gradually mix in with the flour ingredients until just blended.  Add in the remaining ¾ cup of the streusel mixture until combined and the batter is slightly crumbly.

Scoop the batter evenly between the 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with struesel topping and press down lightly so that the streusel sticks.

Bake for about 18 minutes, rotating the pan half way through. They are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from muffin pan.

Serve warm.

Source: Brown Eyed Baker

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

The latest in my homeless shelter baking shebang and oh so tasty. This muffin looked and smelled very peanut buttery but the taste was more subtle than I was expecting. The texture was perfect, dense, but fluffy. Just like I think a muffin should be.



Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins
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Ingredients:
2 ¼ cups All-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ salt
2/3 cup brown sugar
6 Tbls. butter, melted and cooled
½ peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
¾ cup chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 375°. Prepare a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the butter, peanut butter, eggs and milk.

Gradually mix in the dry ingredients with the peanut butter mix until just combine. Gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the batter into the 12 muffin cups. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack, or serve warm.

Source: Annie's Eats

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pecans

Do you know how difficult it is to find a great recipe for pie to make for someone who hates pie? That was my job this Thanksgiving. My mom doesn't like pie most of the time, and really doesn't like crust. So what did she ask me to make this year? PIE!

I went on a search for a pie that was a little different than the traditional crust & filling and came across this lovely version. It was really good, although I had a bit of an oven snafu with the pecans and had to re-do them twice. We'll just say to watch them very carefully because they don't need longer than the recipe says to cook. Burnt pecans are so gross! (not that I would know this.....honest)

I really loved this, and I would easily make it again. The only major change I would make is it was a bit too nutmeg & clove-y for my taste. So next time I'll be a bit more easy-handed with those two. Otherwise, it was perfect. The cinnamon graham cracker crust was perfect!



Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pecans
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Ingredients:
For the candied pecans:
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups pecan halves

For the crust:
1 cup candied pecans
1 cup fine cinnamon graham
cracker crumbs
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Sweetened whipped cream for serving

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 350°. Prepare a sided baking pan with oil and set aside.


To make the candied pecans
Sift together the superfine sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg over a bowl. Rinse the pecans in a colander under cold water and shake them to remove excess water.


Toss the nuts in the sifted sugar mixture to coat, then place evenly on the baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the nuts are dry and the sugar has crystallized. Let cool completely before using.

To make the crust
Pre-heat oven to 325°.


Place 1 cup of the candied pecans in a food processor and puree until finely ground. Pour them into a bowl and mix with the graham cracker crumbs and butter until well mixed. Press the mixture into a 9" pie pan making sure the bottom and sides of the pan are covered. Set aside.

To make the filling
In the bowl of an electric mixer beat together all of the filling ingredients until well combined. Pour the filling on top of the crust.


Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Prior to serving garnish the pie with a few of the remaining candied pecans. You may also garnish with cool whip and sprinkled nutmeg.

Source: Williams-Sonoma

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snickerdoodle Scones



I can count on one hand the number of times in my life that I have eaten scones. The first time is a food memory that will forever be burned in my mind- it was awful! I mean really and truly horrible. So for years afterwards I assumed that scones were always supposed to be rock hard, dry and flavorless. Makes you want one, right? Then, about eight months ago I was at work and a co-worker brought in mini scones for us. I decided to suck it up and give them a try again and Oh! Not bad! Then a few weeks later I was at my favorite coffee shop and they had chocolate chunk scones. Oh yes. I need to make these. So when I was sifting through muffin recipes  and came across a few scone recipes, too, I thought "hey. Let's give it a whirl."

This scone was nothing like the dry, horrible one that scarred me for life. This was light and fluffy, and flavorful and perfect. Not to mention, it tasted like cookie. And as we learned from Gingerbread Muffins, I'm a big fan of cookie for breakfast. I'm already starting to concoct my own scone recipes in my head.

Snickerdoodle Sconesmakes 6-8 scones
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Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
¼ tsp. salt
6 Tbls. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup whole milk or heavy cream
1 ½ tsp. vanilla

For the topping:
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Directions:
Preheat oven too 400°. Prepare a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and set aside.

Mix together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter mix in the cold butter the mixture is crumbly and butter pieces are about pea-sized.

Add together the milk and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup and pour over the dry ingredients. Blend with a fork just until forms into a sticky dough ball. Knead by hand a few if needed.

Place the dough on the baking sheet and press into a disc 8-9 inches in diameter.

In a small bowl stir together the sugar and cinnamon to make the topping. Generously sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the top of the dough.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the dough comes out clean. Let cool, then slice into 6-8 wedges.

Source: Annie's Eats

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Banana Nut Muffins

When my mom offered to let me pick our muffin options for an afternoon of baking together the first thing I thought was "I've never made a banana nut muffin". I love, LOVE bananas. I have a slight addiction. Adding sugar, flour and butter just makes them all that much better, don't you think? :)

I kind of fudged this recipe a bit (as my mom would say) since I didn't realize until part way through mixing the dry ingredients that we didn't have quite enough banana. Instead of doing banana mush and banana chunks I just mashed everything. It was really good. They were very moist and delicious, however they would have just been that much better had I done it the way it was written. Next time. Very soon.



Banana Nut Muffins
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yields 24 muffins


Ingredients:

2 C. all-purpose flour
1 ½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
4 overripe bananas
1 C brown sugar
¾ C (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
½ C pecans, chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°. Line 24 muffin pan cups with paper liners and set aside.

Mix together the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, take 2 of the bananas and mash them into softened chunks.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip together the remaining 2 bananas and sugar at a medium-high speed for about 3 minutes. Add in the melted butter, eggs and vanilla and blend together.

Add in the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the nuts and remaining mashed banana.

Scoop the batter into the muffin tins, filling about halfway.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool some, then remove from muffin tins and either serve warm, or let cool completely on a wire rack.

Source: I had this recipe saved twice, one under the original Tyler Florence link and also found at The Novice Chef

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gingerbread Muffins

Yesterday my mom and I spent the afternoon making muffins for a local homelessness organization. Safe Harbor is a local program put together by the churches in the area. During the cold winter months the churches band together and each take a week to provide shelter and food for the homeless. They're served breakfast and dinner and a place to stay. The food is provided by volunteers and that's where I come in!

My mom volunteered to make breakfast this week since her church was the one providing and she asked if I would be interested in helping bake! Like I'm going to turn that down! We went through a good 20 recipes for muffins that I'd picked out and selected a few that looked the best. These little beauties were one of the first up!

They turned out amazing (we had one of each batch to sample. We couldn't send awful stuff to these people, after all :)) I filled the muffin tins much too full and all of them ended up flat and enormous and the tops smushed a little bit. But otherwise, gingerbread perfection! I kept thinking while doing the sampling that they'd be really good with just a light smidge of icing on them. Perhaps next time! The original recipe called for a peach glaze which we ended up leaving off. I can only imagine that'd be really good too.



Gingerbread Muffins
makes 18 muffins
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Ingredients:
½ C sugar
½ C butter
1 egg
1 C molasses
2 C flour
2 ½ t. baking powder
1 t. salt
2 ½ t. ginger
½ t. cinnamon
½ C buttermilk
½ C coca cola, apple cider or apple juice (I used coca cola)
1 t. brandy flavoring or vanilla extract (I used vanilla)

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 350°. Prepare 18 muffin pan cups with paper liners or grease well with oil. Set aside the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until it is fluffy. Beat in the egg and molasses until blended.

Sift together the dry ingredients into a medium bowl. Set aside

In another bowl, mix together the buttermilk, cocoa cola (or juice) and vanilla.

Gradually add the flour mixture into the mixing bowl, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, ending with the flour. Mix until combined.

Fill each muffin  cup only ¾ of the way full. Don't overfill! Trust me!

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack.

Source: Vintage Victuals

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chicken Marsala with Marsala Risotto

Chicken Marsala is one of my favorite dinners. I have two other Marsala recipes on my blog which I liked quite a lot, but every time I make Marsala I've thought to myself that something seemed to be missing. I finally decided to throw together something of my own and wow, this did the trick! It's exactly what I was looking for. Normally I serve chicken Marsala over some type of pasta, but I decided this time I wanted to try something a little different. I had some arborio rice in the cupboard that caught my eye and I thought to myself "I wonder what would happen if I used Marsala wine instead of white wine?" Ta-da! Marsala risotto.

Oh, and I realize it might be a tad redundant to have both onion and shalot in the chicken. That was actually done by accident, but this turned out so well that I included the recipe exactly as I made it.



Chicken Marsala
serves 4
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Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to ¼ inch thickness
½ C flour
salt and pepper
6 T butter
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 shalots, diced
¾ C Marsala wine
¼ C diced green onions
2 T chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/3 C heavy cream
½ C grated Parmesan cheese
½ C chicken stock
1/2 C chopped mushrooms (I used baby Bellas since it's what I had)
1 small yellow onion

Directions:
Pound the chicken until it is about ¼ inch thick. Set aside.

Heat oven to 200°, then turn to warm.

Chop the garlic, shalots and onion, set aside. Chop the green onion and mushrooms, set aside in a small bowl.

Melt 2 T of the butter in a large skillet, then saute the onions, garlic and shalots until they are soft. Remove from pan using a slotted spoon and set aside. Add more butter if necessary, then cook the chicken, about 3 minutes per side, until it is cooked through and no longer pink in the center. Once the chicken is cooked, place it on an oven-safe plate or pan and set it in the oven to stay warm.

Add the onions and garlic back into the pan, then add a touch more butter, the mushrooms and the green onions. Cook until tender.

Pour the wine into the pan and stir to deglaze, then simmer until reduced by about half.  Add in the chicken stock and heavy cream and mix. Mix in the Parmesan and stir until melted. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with the parsley, serve.

Marsala Risotto
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Ingredients:
1 C arborio rice
2 shalots, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 T butter
5 C chicken broth
1/4 C Marsala wine
1/3 C grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 C chopped mushrooms (I used baby bellas)

Directions:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then add the shalots, mushrooms and garlic and saute until they are tender. Add in the rice and toss to coat.

Pour the wine into the pan and stir constantly until the liquid is absorbed.

Add in the broth, 1 C at a time, waiting for the liquid to fully absorb before adding more. Stir pretty constantly.

With the last cup of broth, absorb the liquid half-way, then add in the cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted. Serve!

Source: an original Laura recipe