Friday, December 26, 2014

Earl Grey Tea Bread

 Merry Christmas, my baking munchkins! I've been missing for the past month, mostly because I had seven concerts and two college auditions, among a million rehearsals to go to and applications to fill out. It rounded out what has been by far the busiest year of my life.
Whenever I feel like I need to take a minute to breathe and relax, I make myself a cup of tea. This is partly because I'm an old lady at heart, but also because tea is basically the lifeblood of any singer. Earl Grey is my favorite, and my love of it in desserts has been well-documented on here (hello chocolate chip cookies, eclairs, and ice cream). I love the flavor it brings to sweets, which is both complex and comforting.
This bread is perfect for a lazy weekend breakfast, or for that 5-minute mid-afternoon break between school and rehearsal. It's putting a sweet, creamy cup of tea in snack form, and I can't think of anything better than that. Go crazy and have it with a warm mug of coffee or tea, because why not? Caffeine is a good thing, my friends.
While I keep promising myself that my schedule will start to clear up and I'll have some time to slow down, I know it's probably not true. Which is okay, because in addition to being the craziest, the past year has been the most exciting ever. I can't wait to see what 2015 brings.
Enjoy!

Earl Grey Tea Bread
(adapted from Food Network)

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup cooled strong Earl Grey tea, divided
2 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides; coat well with cooking spray.
Whisk together the dry ingredients and orange zest.
Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, followed by 3/4 cup tea. Fold in the dry ingredients.
Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the bread comes out clean.
Whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup tea and the honey. Pour over the bread while still warm.
Let cool 1 hour, then remove the loaf from the pan and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Swirly Cheese Buns

Growing up, Christmases spent with my dad's side of the family were events I looked forward to all year. The week would be spent sitting around the tree, rarely doing anything other than reading, watching movies, and sneaking off into other rooms to discretely wrap presents. We also spent a lot of time every single day in the kitchen; by the time the 25th came around, my grandmother, my aunts and I had churned out enough varieties of cookies to satisfy all my older cousins (who, strangely enough, would still rather eat raw dough than wait for the cookies to come out of the oven).
Waking up Christmas morning, the house was always filled with the smell of my great-grandmother's coffee cake (which is the most prized recipe I have and will most likely never be making its way online), along with the sweet scent of cinnamon buns. Hers were small and not at all like what you can buy at a mall food court, but they gave me a fondness for small, swirly rolls.
Around this time of year, I always start thinking of those cinnamon buns. They are a sacred tradition to me and I don't ever make them before December, but until then, I have to find substitutes. Last weekend, I threw together this savory variation. The dough recipe is similar to that of a traditional cinnamon bun, but they are filled with lots of gooey cheese, along with some shallots and herbs for extra flavor. They might just have to join in for this year's Christmas breakfast.
Enjoy!
 Swirly Cheese Buns

for the dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm, plus 1 tablespoon for brushing the rolls

for the filling:
1 small shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups grated fresh Mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper

To make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, salt, pepper, and sugar. Mix briefly to combine. In a medium measuring cup, whisk the yeast into the milk to dissolve. Add the yeast mixture and the melted butter to the mixer and beat on low speed just until a rough dough comes together. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed for about 5 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic.
Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Shape the dough into a ball and place in the prepared bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together all of the ingredients for the filling. Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a rectangle measuring about 12×16-inches. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving about 1/2-inch border at the edge. Starting with a short side, roll the dough into a tight log. Cut the dough into 12 rolls, each about 1-inch wide. Place 6 of the rolls into each of the prepared pans, spacing them out evenly. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and gently brush it over the rolls. Cover the pans with plastic wrap and let rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 350 F when the rolls are nearly done rising.
Remove the plastic wrap from the pans, and bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes, or until they’re golden brown and the cheese bubbles. Serve warm.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

 As any high school student will tell you, senior year requires a lot of caffeine. From staying up late writing college application essays to running to rehearsals and club meetings, we all lead pretty busy lives. My friends and I have an odd obsession with pumpkin spice lattes - besides being overly sweet and artificial in a strangely delicious way, they provide us with the extra bit of energy needed to get through the rest of the day.
 This drink has a bit of a cult following. It's begun a "pumpkin spice" trend, which - with mixed reviews - has been popping up everywhere from donuts to burgers. (Pumpkin spice English muffins, by the way, are not highly recommended. Trust me on this one.) So why not cupcakes?
 These pumpkin spice cupcakes have a generous dose of caffeine themselves. The fluffy cakes have pumpkin, spices, and espresso powder in them; they're then soaked in coffee and topped with the lightest frosting ever. (This frosting is essentially whipped cream with a touch of sugar and cream cheese, but it's insanely delicious.) Top it off with a green straw, and there's your morning coffee.
Enjoy!
Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes 
(slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

for the cupcakes:
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
4½ teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
¾ cup canned pumpkin
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
¼ cup brewed coffee, for brushing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, both sugars and the vegetable oil until completely combined, making sure to break up any chunks of brown sugar so no lumps remain. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour mixture in two additions, folding with a rubber spatula until no flour pockets remain.
Divide the batter between the baking cups, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. While the cupcakes are still warm, brush the tops with the brewed coffee. Let each coat soak in before applying the next. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

for the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream 
cinnamon and straws, for decorating (if desired)

On medium speed, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixer with the whisk attachment until smooth and completely combined, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the heavy cream, scrape the sides of the bowl, then increase speed to medium-high and whip until stiff peaks form.
Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes, then sprinkle with cinnamon. Cut straws into small pieces and insert in frosting. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Coffee Cake Muffins

 As a little girl, Saturday mornings meant helping my dad make breakfast. It was usually either pancakes or French toast, and my "helping" meant accidentally splashing batter out of the mixing bowl or trying to decide whether a pancake was ready to flip or not. Even if breakfast was at 8 a.m. before swim practice, I always looked forward to that fun start to the weekend.
  Now, Saturday mornings often consist of my getting out of bed just in time to grab coffee to have on the subway ride to a voice lesson. This past weekend, I woke up early and whipped up these simple muffins. While they are about as basic as it gets, they're homey and fluffy and delicious. Maybe I'll make them for my roommates in college; but more likely, I'll be calling my dad to ask him for his French toast recipe.
  Enjoy!
Coffee Cake Muffins

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 1/3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
2 teaspoons cinnamon
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease 18 muffin cups, or line with paper liners.
In a large bowl, on the low speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Mix in the sour cream. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups.
To make the topping: In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, the pecans, and the cinnamon. Sprinkle the topping evenly (and generously) over the batter.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

FutureChefs!

Well hi there. Sorry for the temporary absence - I've had a busy few weeks with a variety of music-related things, but not to worry, recipes will be back soon...
Anyway, I have news. Big news. Crazy fun news.
Sophia's Sweets is in a book!!
FutureChefs is a compilation of 150 recipes from young chefs all over the world. I just received my copy yesterday, and it's a beautiful collection of photos and mouth-watering recipes, in addition to fun profiles on each chef.
My recipe is for the cookies pictured on the cover of the book - an indulgent variation on these old favorites, involving Nutella and raspberry jam. There's also a picture of me in front of my house, and one of my hands sifting sugar - super fancy y'all. (Actually, having a photographer come to my house to take pictures of me making cookies was one of the craziest "pinch me" moments ever.)
Anyway, the book is now available online! And, we will be having a little "Twitter party" with a bunch of the chefs sometime next month, where you can ask us questions and enter for a chance to win a copy of the book. Details to come!

Order your own copy here! The perfect gift for foodies of all ages. :)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Browned Butter White Chocolate Chip Cookies

 On the first day of my freshman year of high school, I was simultaneously more nervous and more excited than I think I had ever been. Coming from a tiny school where I knew the names of everybody in the building (and probably those of their parents, too), stepping into a school holding over 2,500 people every day was a bit of a shock. I knew hardly anybody, I got lost multiple times, and I feared that the next four years would be the longest of my life.
 It could only get better from there, and I quickly made friends and came to know and love my new teachers and classes. Days rushed by and blurred into weeks, months and years; and now, I'm a senior spending my Sundays writing college application supplements. It seems like five minutes ago that I was trying to write my first essay for an intimidating English teacher I was determined to prove myself to.
My friend who graduated this spring recently advised me to really appreciate every minute of this coming year, because it will go by faster than I realize. I know that in the blink of an eye, I'll find myself in my college dorm, looking back on this post and laughing at myself; and while I can't wait to start that new, exciting part of my life, I'm also trying to hang onto the little things I won't have anymore in a year. One of these being the ability to make delicious cookies for a school club meeting late at night, just because I feel like it - without getting lost trying to find my dorm's kitchen.
Enjoy!
Browned Butter White Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Joy the Baker)

                                                             2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
                                                                        1 teaspoon salt
                                                                  1 teaspoon baking soda
                               1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
                                                          1 cup packed light brown sugar
                                                          2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
                                                                    1 teaspoon molasses
                                                                1/2 cup granulated sugar
                                                                             1 large egg
                                                                        1 large egg yolk
                                                               1 cup white chocolate chips
                                                               coarse sea salt for sprinkling

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking soda.  Set aside.
Start by browning 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter.  In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Once the butter has melted completely, it will begin to foam and froth as it cooks.  The butter will also crackle and pop.  That’s the water cooking out of the butter.  Swirl the pan occasionally, and keep an eye on the melted butter.  The butter will become very fragrant and brown bits will begin to form at the bottom of the pan.  Once the bits are an amber brown, immediately remove pan from the heat and pour browned butter (bits and all) into a small bowl.  Leaving the butter in the pan will burn it.  Allow butter to cool for 20 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream remaining 1/2 cup of butter with brown sugar.  Cream on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the vanilla extract and molasses and beat until incorporated.
Once the brown butter has cooled slightly, pour the butter (brown bits and all) into the creamed butter and sugar mixture.  Add the granulated sugar and cream for 2 minutes, until well incorporated.  Add the egg and egg yolk and beat for 1 minute more.
Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that everything is evenly mixed.  Add the flour mixture, all at once to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until the flour is just incorporated.  Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and use a spatula to fold in chocolate chips.
Spoon batter onto a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap and wrap into a disk or cylinder and seal at both ends.  Allow to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Scoop dough by the two tablespoonful onto prepared sheets.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Be sure to leave about 2 inches of space between each cookie.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes of until cookies are golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes.  Serve warm or allow to cool completely. 
      -makes about 2 dozen cookies

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spiced Zucchini Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

 I'd like to take a moment to talk about mutant vegetables. Zucchini, to be more exact.
Around this time of year, food bloggers tend to start a trail of complaints along the lines of, "OMG, I can't even deal with how much zucchini is growing in my backyard and I'm so overwhelmed and it's taking over my kitchen and my life is really hard."
 The thing is, I live in New York City, where if your backyard is big enough to hold one small zucchini, you should consider yourself lucky. So I don't have a whole lot of sympathy.
Above is my dog, lying next to a zucchini we were given by a friend with her own little vegetable patch. Guys, this was one crazy zucchini - it was over a foot long. I didn't even know this ridiculous, genetically outrageous thing was possible in nature. Seriously, what?!
Regardless, I suddenly had a lot more understanding of the complaints popping up on my computer screen constantly, and I decided to tone down my own sass. And that's my life lesson for the day. (Is there even a lesson in there? I don't know. You're welcome anyway.)
This cake is crazy delicious. As in, way better than I ever thought a dessert based on a vegetable could be. (Although to be fair, that's pretty much the only healthy thing about it.) It's full of shredded zucchini, making it really moist, and it's studded with bittersweet chocolate chips. (These make everything better. We've been through this before.) I topped it with a quick cream cheese frosting made with both orange zest and juice (I used a blood orange, but you can use any kind), which adds a nice little pop of flavor to this summery cake.
Enjoy!
Spiced Zucchini Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Emeril Lagasse's Farm to Fork)

for the cake:
3 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)

for the frosting
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons orange juice
grated zest of one orange

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and grease an 8" square cake pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs until foamy. Add the vegetable oil, sugar, zucchini, and vanilla extract and mix well. Add the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and baking powder, and mix until well blended. Stir in the chocolate. Pour the batter into the pan, and tap it gently on the counter to release any air bubbles.
Bake until the cake has risen and is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 5 minutes; then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool.
Once the cake is completely cooled to room temperature, make the frosting. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in the confectioners' sugar, the orange juice and the orange zest. Add more sugar or juice, until it reaches the desired consistency. Spread on top of cake (if you'd like to frost the sides as well, double the frosting recipe).

Monday, August 11, 2014

Spicy Chocolate Brownies

 Last summer, my dad and I spent three days in Paris. He had been there several times in the past, so he told me that I could plan the trip as I wanted, and he would be happy to follow along. I made sure that we got to all of the usual tourist spots - the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de triomphe, etc. - but also planned our days around p√Ętisseries. I had spent years reading about food bloggers' adventures eating in Paris and had been making a mental list of places to go - so when I got three days to play with, I had to fit in as much as I could!
On our first day, we were walking down a narrow street on our way to lunch and were stopped by a man who offered us a chocolate sample from his little shop. It was a thin dark chocolate bark with chili in it - it wasn't something I would usually go for, but we were in Paris, so why not? Even though his shop wasn't one on my list, he ended up giving us one of the best chocolates we had ever eaten.
 This brownie uses that same combination of dark chocolate and spice. With cinnamon and a hint of cayenne pepper, the chocolate flavor is enhanced, and it makes for a brownie you can't eat just one of. These are more cakey than the usual brownie, but in this case it works surprisingly well; that said, if you want them fudgier, feel free to leave out about 1/4 cup of the flour.
  Enjoy!
Spicy Chocolate Brownies 
(slightly adapted from Food Network Magazine)

2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
2 cups brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 baking dish with butter.
Melt the 2 sticks of butter in a nonstick saucepan over medium-low heat; do not boil. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Add the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
Add the cocoa, flour, cinnamon, chili powder, salt, and baking powder and mix until smooth. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack before slicing.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Honey, Lavender, and Vanila Bean Ice Cream

 I got my first "real" job this summer. By "real," I mean doing something other than working as a camp counselor, which, as rewarding as it is, wasn't in my plans this year. Instead, I'm basically spending a couple of weeks doing secretarial work for a family friend who is a doctor; entering his patients' information into an online database and so on.
 While it's not exactly the most challenging job in the world, it's been surprisingly entertaining. Not only have I learned how to spell hundreds of last names I have no idea how to pronounce, I've had the Brandenburg Concertos on as background music more times than I'd care to admit. It also makes me smile every time I'm entering a baby's information, and the parents have listed five or six different emergency contact numbers. (The doctor says he's never once had to use an emergency number, much less six.)
 I try to make the time that I'm not working as "summery" as possible. Last week, I decided that a batch of freshly churned ice cream was in order.
  On their own, honey, lavender, and vanilla beans aren't particularly overwhelming flavors. But when mixed together, some kind of magical taste fairies make them incredibly warm and refreshing at the same time; put this together with smooth, rich ice cream, and you've got quite the summer afternoon ahead of you.
  Enjoy!

 Honey, Lavender, and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
(adapted from The Perfect Scoop)

½ cup good quality honey
¼ cup dried or fresh lavender flowers
seeds from 1 large vanilla bean (scraped out)
1½ cups whole milk
¼ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1½ cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks

Heat the honey, 2 tablespoons of the lavender, and the vanilla in a small saucepan.  Once warm, remove from the heat and set aside to steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan.
Pour the cream in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
Pour the lavender-infused honey into the cream through the strainer, pressing on the lavender flowers to extract as much flavour as possible, then discard the lavender and set the strainer back over the cream.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to avoid cooking, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.
Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons lavender flowers and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator.
The next day, before churning, strain the mixture, again pressing on the lavender flower to extract their flavour.
Discard the flowers, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: I used vanilla bean-infused honey, so if you happen to have some around, you can use that instead and leave out the fresh vanilla.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch Cookies

 Cookies seem to be everybody's go-to dessert, and are definitely what I most often am asked to bake. If you think about it, they're perfect in so many ways: they're easy to make in big quantities; there are a million and one variations on the original sugar cookie; and, they please just about everybody. Oh, and (in case you didn't know), more often than not, they're delicious.
Certain cookies also tend to make people nostalgic. Everybody has that one recipe that brings back childhood memories, be it chocolate chip cookies made from a refrigerated tube of dough or decorated Christmas sugar cookies.
 Every time my dad's side of the family gets together for the holidays, it's pretty much our mission to bake as many kinds of cookies as possible. We've had our great moments and our not-so-edible, but I guess you could say this tradition instilled a certain cookie adventurism in me.
 As soon as I saw this recipe in a book my friend gave me for my birthday, I knew I had to try it - Cap'n Crunch cereal, in a cookie? With peanut butter?
 As it turns out, this little combo is a fantastic idea. The cereal gives a great crunch to the soft, chewy cookies, and the peanut butter and cinnamon manage to be perfect together. As a plus, eating sugary breakfast cereal inside of a cookie totally makes anybody feel like a 5-year-old again.
  Enjoy!
Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch Cookies
(slightly adapted from Coolhaus Ice Cream Book)

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnmon
2 1/2 cups sifted pastry flour, or 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups Cap’n Crunch cereal

In a large bowl, mix brown sugar with butter and whisk to combine. Add peanut butter and whisk to combine. Whisk in egg and yolk, one at a time, then whisk in vanilla. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.
Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture, mixing until just combined. Add cereal, mixing until evenly distributed. Be careful not to overmix or overcrush cereal. Refrigerate dough for at least 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325F, with racks in lower and upper thirds. Line two half-sheet baking pans with parchment paper. Form dough into balls about the size of whole walnuts. Roll each in the cinnamon sugar mixture before placing 2 inches apart on baking sheets.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until edges are light brown and centers are still soft; don’t overbake. Immediately transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Let cool before serving.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Blueberry Buttermilk Brown Sugar Bundt Cake

 When I was about eight years old, my parents and I drove to Massachusetts to spend the 4th of July with our friends. We planned a fun weekend, stocked the fridge with the makings of quite the barbeque, and bought plenty of glow sticks to wear at night.
   On the 4th, after our little backyard party, we walked up the road to an open field and settled in in our lawn chairs to watch the fireworks. (Side note: it still amazes me that for some people, this is an everyday occurrence; in New York, the most we can do is climb up a fire escape to get to somebody's roof and watch fireworks. This is probably illegal. I will forever be jealous of the small-town life.)
   Just as the fireworks started, our friends' dog started to bark uncontrollably. It took us all of two seconds to realize that we were about to be hit with a rainstorm emitting from the sprinklers on the field. That night, we walked back to our friends' house soaking wet, but it's a moment we still laugh about every 4th of July.
    This year, I'm spending the 4th at Westminster Choir College, where I'm doing a voice program for a couple of weeks; it's great here, but our cafeteria food certainly doesn't compare to the homemade picnic lunch my parents will be putting together. So before I left home, I made this cake as my own little celebration of the start of summer. It's light, moist, not too sweet, full of fresh blueberries, and topped with a thin, almost crunchy glaze. I think I just found myself a new favorite tradition (with quite the tongue-twister recipe title).
   Enjoy!
Blueberry Buttermilk Brown Sugar Bundt Cake 
(adapted from Food Network Magazine)

For the cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries (about 1 pint)

For the glaze:
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
4-5 tablespoons milk

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a nonstick 12-cup Bundt pan. Whisk 3 cups flour, the baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat 2 sticks butter, the brown sugar and vegetable oil in a bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, at least 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low; beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the vanilla. Add about one-third of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk; beat until almost incorporated. Add another one-third of the flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk. Beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until just combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat 30 seconds. Finish incorporating the flour by hand to avoid overmixing.
Toss the blueberries with the remaining 2 tablespoons flour in a small bowl. Spoon one-third of the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle in half of the blueberries, then top with another one-third of the batter. Scatter the remaining blueberries on top and cover with the rest of the batter; smooth the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour, 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool 30 minutes in the pan. Run a small sharp knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert onto the rack to cool completely. 
 
Meanwhile, make the glaze: Whisk the confectioners' sugar, butter and 4 tablespoons milk in a bowl; if the glaze is too thick, whisk in up to 1 more tablespoon milk, a little at a time. Pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Double Chocolate Strawberry Tart

Some situations simply have no shortcut. The work you put in is the result you get, and in most cases, this makes sense; I'm not going to ace a test without studying, get into college without filling out a million and one pieces of paperwork, or learn my arias without spending a few hours sitting at my piano.
But every now and then, life decides to be awesome and throw you a shortcut curve-ball just when you need it. A few weeks ago, when I was in the middle of studying for finals and having late-night rehearsals, I discovered this tart.
 The truth is, baking is deceptive. It seems so complicated, with countless steps (and steps within steps) to a recipe, but the truth is, when it comes to fairly straightforward desserts like this one, you look at the recipe and follow it. It's as simple as that - for real. I promise. You can make this dessert, even if you've never measured out a cup of sugar before in your life. No worries, I'll hold your hand.
 This crust is a breeze to throw together in a food processor; the filling can be whipped up even more quickly; and, within a few minutes, you have a tart that's picture-perfect. Not to mention ridiculously delicious.
 Enjoy!
 Double Chocolate Strawberry Tart
(adapted from Baking Bites)

1 prebaked chocolate crust (recipe below)
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
7 oz (1 container) marshmallow creme/fluff
4 oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
16 oz fresh strawberries 
2 tablespoons strawberry jam (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, whip together cream cheese and marshmallow fluff until smooth and well-combined. Blend in the melted and cooled dark chocolate, followed by the vanilla extract, and mix until the filling is a uniform color.
Trim the strawberries and thinly slice.
Fill tart shell with chocolate cream, spreading it evenly, and top with a layer of fresh strawberries. If desired, mix the jam with a teaspoon or so of water, microwave it for 30 seconds to thin it out, and brush it onto the berries for a shiny finish.
The tart should be served shortly after adding sliced berries. (To make the dessert in advance, refrigerate the filled tart and add the berries right before serving.)


Chocolate Shortbread Tart Crust
1 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cold

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Pulse to combine.
Cut butter into several pieces and add to flour mixture. Pulse until mixture is sandy and butter is well-incorporated.
Pour crumb mixture into a 9" tart pan. Press firmly up the sides and into an even layer on the bottom of the pan.
For a baked crust, bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, until firm. Allow to cool completely before filling.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie

The older I get, the more I realize how fast time goes by. This may seem ridiculous coming from a teenager (17 as of this week!), but it's true. My friends and I are shocked that the school year is ending so quickly, and while we're excited for all the fun plans we have for summer, it's also kind of terrifying.
This past year has been by far the busiest, most stressful of my life; but it's also been the greatest. I had a great time with my friends, got to know my teachers better, had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places, and became more involved in music.
I also watched the seniors at my school go through the crazy college application (and audition, for those pursuing music) process, and the idea of really starting that (and not just talking about it) can be a bit daunting.
That said, I'm excited to see what lies ahead, and wow I just realized how cheesy this post got. Anyway, right now I'm focusing on celebrating the start of summer, no matter how much German diction I have to learn, or how many application essays I have to write!
This dessert is perfect to kick off a season of fresh, bright flavors. The tart lemon curd and berries are a perfect contrast to the creamy, sweet vanilla ice cream, and it's all nestled inside a crunchy, almost cookie-like pie crust. And hey, what isn't better with toasted meringue?
(Shout-out to my best friend's mother for the recipe - it's quickly become one of my absolute favorites!)
Enjoy!
Lemon Meringue Ice Cream Pie
(slightly adapted from Epicurious)

For the lemon curd 
2 large eggs 
2 large egg yolks 
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter 
1 cup sugar 
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel 
Pinch of salt

For the crust 
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans 
1/4 cup sugar 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted 
3 cups vanilla ice cream, slightly softened, divided
1/2 cup chopped berries of your choice (I used raspberries)

For the meringue 
4 large egg whites, room temperature 
Pinch of cream of tartar 
6 tablespoons sugar

For the lemon curd
Whisk eggs and egg yolks in medium bowl. Melt butter in medium metal bowl set over large saucepan of simmering water. Whisk in sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt; gradually whisk in egg mixture. Whisk until thick and thermometer inserted into curd registers 178°F to 180°F, about 8 minutes. Transfer to small bowl. Press plastic wrap on top of curd; chill 4 hours.  


For the crust Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix pecans, sugar, and butter in medium bowl until moistened. Press pecan mixture onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish (mixture will be crumbly). Bake until crust is lightly toasted, about 12 minutes (crust will slip down sides of dish). Use back of spoon to press crust back into place. Cool crust on rack. Freeze crust 30 minutes.
Dollop 1 1/2 cups ice cream over crust; spread into even layer. Spread lemon curd over ice cream; freeze until firm, about 2 hours. Dollop 1 1/2 cups softened ice cream over lemon curd; spread into even layer. Cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

For meringue Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in medium bowl until frothy. Beat in cream of tartar. With mixer running, gradually add sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Spoon meringue over pie, spreading to seal at edges and swirling decoratively. Freeze pie until ready to serve.
Using a kitchen butane torch, toast meringue until golden in spots; or, place pie in a preheated 500°F oven or broiler until meringue is golden in spots, watching to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. (Seriously, watch it the entire time - it can go from raw to burnt in a second.) Cut pie into wedges; serve immediately.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Perfect Banana Bread

 It deeply annoys me when people title their recipes "the best," "the greatest," or even "perfect." Who proclaimed your food the most wonderful ever created? You and your official declaration committee? Let's get real, there's a 99.99% chance your chocolate chip cookies are nothing particularly mind-blowing.
If you notice my own recipe title, you may choose to call me a hypocrite. That's kind of valid in this case, but hear me out.
Banana bread is one of those sweets that most Americans have grown up eating. Everybody has their own "secret" family recipe they swear by, and the variations on the basic formula are endless. However, my parents don't bake at all, ever, so I've spent the past seven years trying to find my perfect banana bread recipe. This is soft, fluffy, incredibly moist, and studded with slivers of dark chocolate (hi there, in case we haven't met, chocolate is kind of a necessity in my kitchen).
Thanks to a college road trip that took me and my dad through Boston, we stumbled across Flour Bakery and Cafe. (Okay, I won't lie to you, I googled "best bakery in Boston.") The place is adorable and wonderful and full of delicious pastries, and it's because of Joanne Chang's beautiful book that I got my hands on this recipe. So thank you, Flour, for helping me create my own family tradition.
Enjoy!
 Perfect Banana Bread 

1 2/3 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (230 grams) sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (100 grams) canola or other flavourless oil
3 1/2 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 1/2 cups or 340 grams mashed bananas)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark chocolate disks, roughly chopped (or chop up a dark chocolate bar)

Position the rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 325°F (165°C). Butter and flour a 9x5" loaf pan.
 In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes for the stand mixer, and about 8 minutes for a handheld mixer; or until light and fluffy.
With the machine on low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Do not pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn't deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding the oil should take about 1 minute.
Add the bananas, creme fraiche/sour cream, and vanilla, then continue to mix on low speed just until combined.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and chocolate just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible and the chocolate should be evenly distributed.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until golden brown on top and the cake springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer.
Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes; flip bread out of pan and allow to cool completely before slicing.
(Note: I feel that I should follow standard recipe rules and advise waiting until this has come to room temperature to taste it. However, if you were to accidentally have a piece warm out of the oven, I'd be pretty proud.)

Friday, May 2, 2014

From New York to New Orleans!

instagramming cakes all day every day
 There are a lot of great aspects to baking for events. For me, it's a ton of fun to go back and forth with whoever is throwing the event and figure out the perfect desserts for the occasion (and in the case of cakes, how best to flavor and decorate them). I think that the greatest part, though, is getting to feel like in some small way, I'm helping somebody celebrate. Last year, I had a sweet sixteen, and while the bakers who made the cupcakes, the people who set up the chairs before guests arrived, and the DJ's assistant weren't there during the party, they were all a part of my celebration in some way. So, I like to think that even though I'm not at some of the events my cakes go to, I'm actually contributing a little bit to their fun.
  My friend's dad is a caterer, and a few weeks ago, he asked me to make cakes for a dinner he was cooking for; it was for a couple who was moving from New York to New Orleans. They wanted three cakes centered around the theme of their trip, somehow tying in the NOLA flag and Mardi Gras colors, but the rest was basically up to me. We played around with some flavor combos, and one long night later, I had three pretty cute cakes.
Given that they were leaving New York, I figured the big city had to be represented in some way. There's nothing more symbolic of here than the "I Heart NY" logo, so I traced white chocolate shapes and painted them with gel food coloring.
 This cake was the most interesting of the three in terms of flavor - it was made up of layers of spice cake, filled with Meyer lemon curd and frosted with vanilla buttercream (as were all of the cakes).
The next cake was supposed to represent the flag of New Orleans. I'm all for gold accents, so I kept the borders simple and used edible spray paint and glitter to glam up the white chocolate fleur-de-lis. This was definitely my favorite of the three cakes!
Flavor-wise, this cake was pretty simple, but I'm sure it was also the most popular; it was a chocolate cake with whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache filling layered with fresh strawberries.
The final cake was so much fun to make. All I was told was to include Mardi Gras colors, and the rest was up to me; so I made more white chocolate shapes, this time a crown and two eye masks, and painted them gold. I sprayed the entire cake with edible purple spray paint (seriously, this stuff is awesome), and threw in a bright green border to make it pop. The cake flavor was pretty simple, but it was a yummy combination: vanilla cake with a mixed berry cream filling.
  I'm still learning when it comes to cake decorating, and there's a lot that could be improved about these, but I had a great time making them. It's easy to get totally wrapped up in this kind of thing, and although I don't even know the names of the couple, I'm so glad I got to be a little part of their goodbye!