Monday, April 14, 2014

Cream Cheese Kolache

 Cream cheese what? No worries, about a week ago, I had no idea what a kolache (or "kolacky") was either. My music history class is doing presentations on composers from the Romantic Era, and my group was assigned Dvořák. When we determined what each group member was going to do, one of my designated tasks was bringing in a Czech dessert to symbolize Dvořák's homeland. (This really didn't do us any good grade-wise, but totally earned us endless love and admiration from the rest of the class.) 

When I researched Czech sweets, "kolache" came up over and over again. They are essentially small rolls with centers that have been hollowed out and stuffed with some kind of sweet filling (although they can also be made larger and cut into slices). I went with a cream cheese filling that's almost like cheesecake, and its richness complemented the fairly simple roll well. 
 These are pretty dense, and from what I read, they should be this way; you're not going for a brioche texture. That said, they're crazy addictive, especially warm out of the oven, and they are just sweet enough to feel indulgent yet totally appropriate for breakfast. We served them during first period, and they were much appreciated by our classroom full of sleep-deprived teenagers.

Cream Cheese Kolache
(adapted from The History Kitchen)

1 package active dry yeast (¼-ounce/2¼ teaspoons)
1 cup warm milk (105 to 115°F)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
6 tbsp granulated sugar 
1 tsp salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
About 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
Egg Wash
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp cream, milk, or water
Cream Cheese Filling
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar or more to taste
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

In a small bowl or measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup milk.
In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with the remaining milk, butter, eggs, sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Blend in 1½ cups flour. 
Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a workable dough (it will still be fairly sticky).
On a lightly floured surface or in a mixer with a dough hook, knead the dough until smooth and springy, about 5 minutes.
Place in an oiled bowl and turn to coat.
Cover with a kitchen towel or loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled in bulk, 2 to 3 hours, or in the refrigerator overnight.
Punch down the dough, knead briefly, cover, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1¼ hours.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease the sheet. Punch down the dough, knead briefly, divide in half, form into balls, and let stand for 10 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough ½ inch thick. Cut into 2½-inch rounds (or the size of your choice). Reroll and cut out the scraps.
Place on parchment paper-lined or greased baking sheets about 1 inch apart, cover with a towel or plastic wrap greased with cooking spray, and let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the cream cheese topping: in a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Blend in the yolks, flour, and vanilla.
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F (350°F for a convection oven). Using your thumb or the back of a spoon, press 1 large, deep indentation into the center of each round, leaving a ½-inch wide-rim (I used a shot glass to do this). Brush the edges with the egg wash.
Spoon about 1 tablespoon topping into each indentation.
Bake until golden brown or the center of the dough registers about 180°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
Kolache are best eaten on the same day they are made, but can be covered with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or in freezer for up to 3 months.

  • -makes about 36 - 2.5" kolache
  • *Note: The history of this pastry is actually interesting and fairly complicated; check out the recipe's source for a detailed account.    :)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Brazilian Chocolate Poke Cake ("Bolo Nega Maluca")

 One Saturday afternoon this past August, I was standing over the counter with my grandmother in her kitchen in Brazil. We had a chocolate cake, still steaming from the oven, in front of us; she instructed me to poke the cake all over with a fork, and then pour on a warm, sticky glaze. With a touch of chocolate sprinkles, our "afternoon snack" was ready. We set it down on the dining room table, and with the whole family constantly coming in and out of the house, it didn't live to see the next day.
My takeaway from this little experience was that infusing an incredibly light, fluffy chocolate cake with syrupy fudge is always a good idea. A "poke cake" is (perhaps quite obviously) one that has been, wait for it, no way, poked and then had some kind of sauce poured over it; this becomes like a glaze that also makes the inside of the cake wonderfully moist and indulgent, without being overly complicated.
This is the type of cake you always want to keep around for munching on or serving up with cups of coffee. Chocolatey, rich (yet somehow an acceptable snack), and easy to whip up in a matter of minutes? I'm in.
 Brazilian Chocolate Poke Cake ("Bolo Nega Maluca")
(recipe from my grandmother)

for the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8" square cake pan.
 Sift together dry ingredients. Combine all ingredients in a blender; blend until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. While the cake is baking, make the glaze.

for the glaze:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup milk
chocolate sprinkles, for decorating

Combine all ingredients except sprinkles in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stirring constantly, simmer until thickened into a sauce.
While the cake is still warm, poke all over with a fork or a wooden skewer. Pour the warm glaze over the cake and decorate with chocolate sprinkles.
Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

*Note: The recipe's title, in Portuguese, is actually kind of racist and not that nice. That said, it's how everybody refers to the cake, so pick your battles, I guess...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mint Chocolate Chip Muffins

 When it comes to holidays, I'm a giant food nerd. Valentine's day? Chocolate is a must. Christmas cookies? Count me in. The only thing that kept me from baking a pie on Friday (3.14, Pi Day, get it?) was that I didn't get home until eleven, and even I'm not a big enough pie fan to put myself through a midnight baking session without a particularly pressing reason.
  So with St. Patrick's Day around the corner, I felt something festive was necessary. While you're much more likely to find my friends and I sitting in math class tomorrow than bar-hopping, we can celebrate anyway, can't we?
 When I tried to think of a list of green foods, the first thing that came to mind was mint chocolate chip ice cream. This worries me slightly, because (1) I feel that the appropriate reaction would have been to think of spinach or kale or even broccoli, and (2) mint chocolate chip ice cream isn't even naturally green to begin with, as it gets its vibrant color from copious amounts of food dye.
 Nevertheless, mint chocolate chip ice cream it was. The issue was that I really didn't have time to be cooking custard or waiting for ice cream to churn, and I wanted something I could throw in a plastic bag and share with friends at school. So I took my favorite muffin recipe and threw in some ice cream flair. And the result was a batch of Shamrock-green, minty little cakes that are great any day of the year.
Mint Chocolate Chip Muffins
(adapted from this base recipe)

 3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
                                                    1 teaspoon salt                                                    
 2 eggs, room temperature preferred
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons mint extract (you may have to adjust this based on the strength of your extract)
1/2 teaspoon green food coloring (again, adjust based on strength and desired color)
1 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate chips
coarse or pearl sugar for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Spray 15 muffin cups with non-stick spray or line with muffin liners. Set aside.
In a large bowl, gently toss together flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until all dry ingredients are combined. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until combined. Mix in milk, oil, vanilla, mint extract, and food coloring. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix everything together by hand with a wooden spoon. Avoid over-mixing. Gently mix until all the flour is off the bottom of the bowl and no big pockets of flour remain. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Pour batter into prepared muffin tins, filling all the way to the top. Top with a sprinkle of coarse or pearl sugar, if preferred. Bake at 425F degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and continue to bake for 18 minutes until tops are lightly golden and centers appear set.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes in pan before moving to cooling rack.
     -Makes 15 muffins

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ultimate Nutella Mousse

 If you hadn't already realized it, I have a bit of a thing for Nutella. It basically takes the greatest food ever (chocolate) and mixes it with hazelnuts to make the creamiest, sweetest, most indulgent topping for just about anything. 
After a while, slathering the chocolatey goodness on various forms of carbohydrates gets a little old. I love finding ways to incorporate my favorite foods into desserts, and this mousse does just that. 
It has (theoretically) two ingredients. Two ingredients! Mousse!! Okay, so it may be a bit of a faux mousse, but it plays the part pretty amazingly. It's fluffy and creamy and kind of makes you want to eat the whole bowl. Top it with homemade dark-chocolate-covered strawberries, and this 5-minute dessert just got classy. 

Ultimate Nutella Mousse
(adapted from Bakers Royale)

9 oz. Nutella
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
about 6 strawberries
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips 
1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Place Nutella and espresso powder in microwave safe bowl. Heat on low for 10 second intervals until mixture is thinned a bit. Stir to incorporate the espresso powder. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
Whip 1 1/2 cups cream until soft peaks form (be careful not to let it reach stiff peaks). Gently fold whipped cream into Nutella mixture. The mousse will be soft. Fill a bowl (roughly 1-quart capacity) and cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Once the mousse is chilled, whip the remaining 1/2 cup cream with the sugar until soft peaks form. Spread over the mousse, and top with chopped hazelnuts.
In the microwave or over a double boiler, heat the two chocolates separately. Dip the strawberries in the dark chocolate and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet; drizzle with white chocolate (I used a piping bag). 
Refrigerate strawberries for 1 hour, or until set; use as topping for mousse. 

*Note: This is really more of a concept than a rigid recipe; feel free to adapt it as you like!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

French Apple Custard Cake

 Describing anything with the word "French" adds a certain connotation to the phrase. This varies depending on the situation; French fashion is considered chic, French music is much admired (deservedly so), and let's not forget the beauty of France itself. When it comes to food, French cuisine is often thought of as not only delicious, but also fancy and super complicated to prepare. French pastry chefs have the reputation of being... exacting, to put it mildly.
 This French apple cake goes against everything you probably think of at the mention of French desserts. You won't spend hours folding egg whites or piping frosting, and this doesn't involve an ingredient list as long as the history textbook sitting on your desk (or maybe that's just me...)
  This batter is whipped up in a matter of minutes, and the most work you'll have is the quick chopping of some apples. The thin batter and abundance of fruit create a super moist cake that is almost custard-like, making this perfectly acceptable either as an afternoon snack or as an impressing dessert. If you're going with the latter, I like to add a drizzle of salted caramel sauce and a scoop of this earl grey ice cream. Because let's be honest, doesn't that make everything better?
French Apple Custard Cake

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.
Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it's coated with batter. Scrape the mixture into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it's evenish.
Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren't any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.
Serve with caramel sauce, ice cream, whipped cream... or all on its own. Whatever floats your boat.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Nutella-Stuffed, Browned Butter, Salted Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

As a baker and food blogger, it's important for me to always be coming up with new recipes and flavor combinations to try. Whenever I'm lacking inspiration, my friends are awesome at helping me out - obviously they get the added benefit of plates of the desserts of their choices...
Their pieces of "advice" have led to some pretty great desserts. Recent favorites have included crème brûlée, pumpkin bread, and chocolate truffles... apparently my friends have varied tastes in sweets!
My best friend tends to be very specific in her requests - I don't mind this (hello, it makes my job here about a million times easier, as I'm not good with choices), so she's gotten to the point where she simply sends me the link to a recipe. This was my favorite ever.
These cookies in particular were made for her in return for a favor she did me a long time ago (because I was too lazy to make them sooner and she was too indecisive to send me her choice). We've since forgotten what the favor even was, but she certainly didn't forget the batch of baked goods I owed her. When she showed me the recipe, I laughed. And then I got super excited about making it.
These are insanity in the form of a cookie, and I mean that in the greatest way possible. Imagine a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Now swap in browned butter for regular; throw in three types of chocolate chips; sprinkle the tops with sea salt; oh, and stuff them with Nutella.
Not only are these just about the most indulgent cookies ever, they're also the most delicious. My friend was super happy to get a box of these handed to her, and I may just have found a new favorite dessert.
Also, these are giant. As in, the size of a jar of Nutella.
Nutella-Stuffed, Browned Butter, Salted Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 jar of Nutella, chilled in refrigerator
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. The butter will begin to foam; whisk constantly. After a couple of minutes, the butter will begin to brown on the bottom of the saucepan; continue to whisk and remove from heat as soon as the butter begins to brown and give off a nutty aroma. Immediately transfer the butter to a bowl to prevent burning. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
With an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, vanilla, and yogurt until combined. Add the dry ingredients slowly and beat on low-speed just until combined. Gently fold in all of the chocolate chips.
Chill dough for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Once dough is chilled measure about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball. Flatten the dough ball very thinly into the palm of your hand. Place about 1 teaspoon of chilled Nutella in the middle and fold dough around it; gently roll into a ball — it doesn’t have to be perfect. Make sure that the Nutella is not leaking out of the dough. Add more dough if necessary. Place dough balls on cookie sheet, 2 inches apart and flatten with your hand very slightly.
Bake the cookies 9-11 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown. They will look a bit underdone in the middle, but will continue to cook once out of the oven. Cool the cookies on the sheets at least 2 minutes. Sprinkle with a little sea salt. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets after a few minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.
  -Makes about 18 cookies.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Earl Grey Ice Cream

 Seasons have always been a bit of an issue for me. I can't ever really get the timing of my feelings quite right - I'm in a beach mood in the middle of winter, and I've been known to sleep with a comforter in August. This used to be quite the problem, especially when it came to clothing; every year, my best friend (and/or my mother) had to yell at me to stop wearing boots in the spring or put on a coat in the fall. I'm telling you, teenage problems are so real.
Over the years, I've learned to embrace my lack of harmony with seasonal shifts, especially when it comes to food. Why not have soup in the summer, or fruit salad in the winter? Who says smoothies have to be a summer thing, and who made up the crazy rule that gingerbread is meant only for the month of December? Life needs a little spontaneity, right?
I'm of the belief that ice cream is a year-round food, just as enjoyable when you're curled up by a fireplace as when you're sitting by the pool. This one is creamy and just sweet enough, perfect for pairing with a fruity dessert. (I served mine with a French apple cake, recipe coming soon!) That said, it actually does include a little winter touch; the earl grey is a flavor you're probably used to getting in a steaming mug, and having it in ice cream is a little mind game totally worth playing.
 I'm a fan of earl grey tea in just about anything sweet (because everyone knows I'm actually an old lady at heart), but this ice cream is by far the best I've ever made. Winter or not.
Earl Grey Ice Cream
(slightly adapted from Gimme Some Oven)

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup loose earl grey tea leaves (from about 6 tea bags)
5 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, warm the milk, cream, and sugar over medium-heat, stirring occasionally. Once the milk is steaming (but not boiling), remove pan from heat. Place the tea in the pan, cover and steep at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and vanilla until frothy. Once the milk mixture is re-warmed, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, and quickly whisk in until combined. Repeat 2-3 more times with more of the milk mixture, then gradually pour in the remainder of the milk mixture into the egg yolks and whisk quickly until combined.
Return the new milk/egg mixture to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan constantly until the mixture thickens to a custard and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
Immediately strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove tea leaves and any bits of egg, and then refrigerate until completely cooled (this can be done fairly quickly over an ice bath, or in the freezer). Then freeze with an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions (mine took about 20 minutes), until it's the consistency of soft serve ice cream.