Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Classic Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

 Being interested in a career in the culinary world, it's often easy to get caught up in all of the new, inventive flavor combinations and techniques. My favorite thing to do is add my own twists to classics, but this week I was reminded that sometimes it's important to go back to basics!
 I got an "emergency" phone call one night last week, from a friend of my cousin's, who needed a last-minute box of goodies for her boyfriend (a certain unnamed cookie company messed up her bouquet order delivery date). With the liberty to fill a box with whatever I thought he would like, plus the excitement of an early-morning delivery of a box of sugar to the gym where he works, how could I say no?
I made my choices pretty quickly - this guy likes chocolate, so brownies (salted, of course!) were a given; and who doesn't like peanut butter? Cookies it was. I wanted something additional that screamed "birthday," so I decided to go with a classic, rainbow-sprinkled red velvet cupcake. Until I realized I didn't have a go-to recipe!
  I went back to a few different recipes I've used as a basis for variations in the past (did you know red velvet cake and orange marmalade are a match made in heaven?!), and was able to find a great one I hadn't made in years. It's my favorite, and I think it's a wonderful go-to.
 The cupcake is tender, fluffy, and not too sweet. The frosting provides a great sweet touch, and is the perfect consistency for spreading or piping simply (if you want to get crazy with the decoration, just add in a little extra sugar to get a thicker mixture). So, emergency missing recipe crisis averted - on to the next twist!
All packed and ready for delivery!
Classic Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
(from Food Network)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with a handheld electric mixer. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.
Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
                                                        1 pound cream cheese, softened
                                                              2 sticks butter, softened
                                                             1 teaspoon vanilla extract
                                                          4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.
Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes. Decorate as desired.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

If your Pinterest feed is anything like mine, you're probably being bombarded by pumpkin-scented, spice-filled, warm-out-of-the-oven everything. You might be looking forward to gingerbread or even next spring's fresh fruit by now, but if you're like me, you're excited to take any opportunity to bake up something that's even slightly reminiscent of a pumpkin spice latte (because let's be honest, those are the greatest drink in the world, and nobody should even consider having coffee in any other way, ever).

In my opinion, these rolls (or buns.. what's the difference between cinnamon rolls and cinnamon buns?) bring together the best of fall baking. They're incredibly light and fluffy, and the dough has a light pumpkin flavor. (The pumpkin in the dough does make it hard to roll out due to how soft it is, but get through it and you will be rewarded.) The generous amount of cinnamon sugar swirled in brings in the perfect amount of sweetness and spice, and the cream cheese frosting provides a nice contrast to the sweetness of the swirl.
It all comes together into one pillowy, warm, indulgent breakfast/lunch/dinner/dessert/snack/anytime food, and I promise one bite of these will make you excited to pull on a sweater and curl up by a fireplace. My friend declared them the best thing I've ever baked, and I just might have to agree with her.
Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, to be divided
1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk, warmed (but not over 116 degrees)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (from 1 .25-ounce or 7 gram envelope yeast)
3 1/2 cups (440 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/4 cup (packed) (50 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (6 grams) table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cups (160 grams) pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
1 large egg
Oil for coating rising bowl
3/4 cup (packed, 145 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons (5 grams) ground cinnamon
4 ounces (115 grams) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons (30 ml) milk or buttermilk
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make your dough: Melt your butter and set aside to cool slightly.
Combine your warmed milk and yeast in a small bowl and set aside. After five to seven minutes, it should be a bit foamy. If it’s not, you might have some bad yeast and should start again with a newer packet.
In the bottom of the bowl of an electric mixer combine flour, sugars, salt and spices. Add just 1/4 cup (or two-thirds of; leave the rest for assembly) of your melted/browned butter and stir to combine. Add yeast-milk mixture, pumpkin and egg and mix combined. Switch mixer to a dough hook and run it for 5 minutes on low.
Scrape mixture into a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 1 hour in a draft-free place; it should just about double.
While it is rising, line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans (8-inch round should work too, as does an 8-inch square) with parchment paper and butter the sides of the pan and the paper.
Assemble buns: Scoop dough onto a very well floured surface and flour the top of it well. With a rolling pin, roll the dough to an approximately 16×11-inch rectangle. Brush reserved melted/browned butter over dough. Stir together remaining filling ingredients and sprinkle mixture evenly over dough. Starting on a longer side, roll the dough into a tight spiral. It’s going to make a mess because the dough is crazy soft and some stuff spills off the ends; don’t sweat it. It will all be delicious in the end.
To cut cinnamon rolls without squishing their pretty spirals: With a sharp serrated knife, using absolutely no pressure whatsoever (only the weight of the blade should land on the dough) gently saw your log with a back-forth motion into approximately 1-inch sections. When a soft dough like this is rolled, it tends to grow longer, which means that you’ll have the option to either make more buns (say, 18 instead of 16) or just cut them a little larger (in generous inches).
Divide buns between two prepared pans. You can sprinkle any sugar that fell off onto the counter over them. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and let rise for another 45 minutes.
If you’re doing this ahead of time, you can now put them in the fridge overnight. In the morning, leave them out for an hour to warm up and finish rising.
15 minutes before you’re ready to bake them, heat the oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, you can make the glaze. Beat your cream cheese until it is light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Drizzle in milk until you get the consistency you’re looking for, either thick enough to ice or thin enough to drizzle.
Finish your buns: Remove the plastic and bake buns for 25 minutes, until puffed and golden and the aroma is perfection. Transfer pans to wire cooling racks and drizzle/spread with cream cheese glaze before enjoying, preferably while still warm.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Classic Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

     Strangely enough, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies are one of my most often-requested treats. They aren't super complicated - essentially just a chocolate chip cookie with some of the butter subbed out for peanut butter - but they tend to strike a nostalgic chord in adults and teenagers alike. Somehow, the sweet & salty flavor combination and crisp texture remind me of my days in kindergarten, and in a week that includes standardized tests, late-night choir rehearsals, and college tours, sometimes that's all I really need.
   This is my favorite recipe, and while they aren't gooey, I think that's okay - but if you don't, just bake them for a couple of minutes less. The peanut butter flavor is definitely noticeable without being overwhelming, and you don't get any chunks of peanuts (again, if you do want these, just sub in chunky peanut butter). Best of all, these are tender, buttery and crazy addictive. I promise they'll take you back to your own kindergarten classroom, complete with crayons and nap time!
Classic Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 stick butter, at room temp
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with parchment or a baking mat.
Cream the butter and peanut butter on medium high for 1 minute.
Add sugars and beat at med-high for another minute. Add egg and vanilla and mix until smooth.
Add flour, baking soda and salt on low speed until thoroughly combined. Mix in chocolate chips (the
dough will be quite soft).
Chill dough for 15-20 minutes.
Drop the dough by the small scoopfuls onto a lined baking sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until edges are golden brown. For a crispier cookie, allow the entire cookie to brown. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
 -makes about 24 cookies

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bittersweet Brownies with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting

 Remember last week, when I mentioned something special I was working on? Well, this week was supposed to be pumpkin week here, but... life (and a pretty cool order that I'll tell you about soon) got in the way, and we're left with 2 pumpkiny recipes. But they're pretty great.
  I am slightly obsessed with anything "fall-flavored," from pumpkin spice lattes to cinnamon pancakes. I tried out something totally different with these brownies, and to my surprise, it totally worked.
 The brownies are dark, chewy, thin, and super chocolatey. They may be a new favorite, especially to use as a base for other variations. On top comes a cream cheese frosting mixed with pumpkin puree that is insane - it's sugar and spice and everything nice. (Too much? Sorry...)
 These are unlike any other fall treat that might be sitting in one of your Pinterest boards, and totally worth a shot - who knows, they might become a new Fall go-to for you, too!
Bittersweet Brownies with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting

Bittersweet Brownies
3 ounces (85 grams) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt (about 2 grams)
2/3 cup (85 grams) all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment, extending it up two sides, or foil. Butter the parchment or foil or spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. You can also do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula and scrape batter into prepared pan, spread until even. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free.
Let cool before frosting.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Chow)
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), at room temperature
1/4 cup pumpkin purée (not pie filling)

Place the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and whisk to combine; set aside.
Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until fully combined and smooth, about 1 minute.
Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the powdered sugar mixture, and beat until fully incorporated and smooth, about 3 minutes.
Turn the mixer to medium speed, add the pumpkin, and mix until fully incorporated and smooth, about 1 minute. You may need to add more powdered sugar to reach desired consistency.

Frost pan of cooled brownies. (You may have frosting left over. Just eat it with a spoon use it on cupcakes!) Refrigerate frosted brownies for about 15 minutes before cutting.
   -Makes about 20 brownies, depending on how large you cut them.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Plum Almond Tart

 You might have noticed I went missing for almost 2 weeks, which is unusual even for me. But I have a reason. See, I've been planning something supercalifragilisticexpialidociously fun for next week. Stay tuned....
 But meanwhile, this was made a couple of weeks back, when I could still go outside without having to worry about zipping up my boots and digging that old scarf out of the back of the closet. It used up some of our last perfectly sweet plums and was a great goodbye to summery flavors.
 It's very similar to this French Pear Tart, starting with a buttery crust, which is topped with a  creamy almond layer and crowned with the "star of the show," fresh fruit. The layer of almond cream puffs up in the oven and becomes a beautiful golden-brown that kind of makes you want to stick your face in the whole thing.
 I glazed it with a little bit of fig jam and water I boiled together, but this is really just for that bakery-style, shiny finish; a dusting of powdered sugar is just as delicious!
 This was the perfect dessert to finish off a summery meal, especially when paired with Olive Oil Ice Cream. I mean, come on - plums, frangipane, and creamy olive oil - how much classier can you get?! ;)
Plum Almond Tart
(adapted from Around My French Table; wording adapted from Writes 4 Food and Dorie Greenspan)

1 recipe sweet tart dough (recipe below)
About 5 sweet, ripe plums
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup almond flour (or almond meal)
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tsp. dark rum or 1 tsp. good vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fig jam (or other light-colored jelly), mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water

In a food processor, whirl together the butter and sugar until they’re well-combined and smooth. Add the almond flour; process to blend. Add the flour and cornstarch, process, then add the egg. Process briefly until the mixture is smooth and well-combined. Add the rum or vanilla and pulse just to combine. Scrape the almond cream into a container and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
Cut the plums into thick slices and set on paper towels to dry for a couple of minutes.
To assemble the tart, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or piece of parchment. Spoon the almond cream into the prepared tart shell and smooth the surface. Arrange the plum slices in a circular pattern on top of the cream, leaving a tiny bit of space between them to allow the cream to rise up and turn golden brown.
Bake the tart for 50 to 60 minutes, until the crust is a rich brown color, the almond cream is shiny and golden, and a cake tester inserted in the cream comes out clean. Remove the tart to a cooling rack and let it cool before lifting it out of the pan.
 Microwave the jam and water together just until bubbling. Brush onto cooled tart (or dust tart with pastry cream).
This tart is best eaten the day it is made.

Sweet Tart Dough
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.  Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely - you'll have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces and that's just fine.  Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.  When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds.  Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface.
Very lightly and sparingly - make that very, very lightly and sparingly - knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
Butter a 9" tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Don't be stingy - you want a crust with a little heft because you want to be able to both taste and feel it.  Also, don't be too heavy-handed - you want to press the crust in so that the pieces cling to one another and knit together when baked, but you don't want to press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly shortbreadish texture.  Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.  Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust.  Bake the crust for 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil.  If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.  Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.