Friday, February 20, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Scones

 One of the pluses of auditioning for conservatories is the traveling. I've gotten to know a few new cities, and little weekend trips to schools feel almost like a mini vacation (once you forget the stress of the audition itself).
 On a recent trip, we spent the night at a DoubleTree hotel. This hotel gained my endless admiration, because not only does it serve guests warm chocolate chip cookies, but its shuttle from the airport has a giant picture of a cookie on its side. I believe the 3-year-old sitting next to me was almost as excited as I was.
 This week, I had a couple of days off between trips, and all I wanted was to get back in my kitchen. So, inspired by those fabulous chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chip cinnamon scones were born. I've never been a huge fan of scones, because they're often dry and pretty tasteless, but these are something special.
Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Scones

2 cups all purpose flour
⅓ cup sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, cold and cut into small pieces
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cups chocolate chips
Cinnamon Glaze
1 cup powered sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the four, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Whisk together.
Add cold butter. Using a pastry cutter or two forks (or your fingers), cut butter into flour mixture, until butter is broken up into small pieces the size of large peas. The mixture should look sandy.
In a small bowl combine vanilla extract and milk. Pour mixture into dry ingredients.
Mix until the dough starts to come together and pull away from sides of bowl. Add in chocolate chips, stir until combined.
Pat dough into a large disc about ¾ inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut disc into 8 wedges. Place wedges on prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 15-17 minutes, until the scones are lightly browned. Transfer scones to a wire rack to cool.

Cinnamon Glaze:
In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon milk. Mix until glaze becomes a smooth, pourable consistency. Add additional milk a teaspoon at a time to thin glaze as needed.
Drizzle glaze over cooled scones. Allow glaze to set before serving.
Note: If your dough becomes too dry, add in a few extra teaspoons of milk. If your dough is too wet, add in an extra tablespoon of flour.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Whipped Cream

 As an opera singer, I receive endless feedback from other musicians. As my coach said to me recently, "Being a singer is like constantly wearing a sign that says, 'Criticize Me!'" It's very easy to get wrapped up in desperate thoughts: They don't like my voice! But my voice is a part of me - that means they don't like who I am! I should just give up and go to medical school instead!
While it's important to simply ignore all this every now and then, it's also essential to recognize that everybody listens for different traits in a voice. One musician may be looking for a high, light soprano, while another may want a dark, dramatic mezzo; and this doesn't make either person wrong. 
 I'm quickly learning that no matter how intently I listen to recordings or how often I practice, there's simply no way to make everyone happy.
 With dessert, however, it's another story. Chocolate mousse is about as crowd-pleasing as you can get; it's rich, creamy, and chocolatey enough to satisfy that craving you've been having all week. Whipped cream is the perfect partner in crime; add in a swirl of puréed raspberries, and you've got a Valentine's Day dessert anyone will fall in love with.
 Chocolate Mousse
6 ounces (170g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 ounces (170g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60ml) dark-brewed coffee
4 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup (170g), plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons (30ml) dark rum
1 tablespoon (15ml) water
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat.
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the yolks of the eggs with the 2/3 cup of sugar, rum, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise. (You can also use a handheld electric mixer.) This took me closer to 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks within the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick. Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff, then the vanilla.
Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume.
Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

 Raspberry Whipped Cream

1/2 pint (about 1 cup) fresh raspberries, plus more for garnish 
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar, plus more to sweeten  
1 cup heavy cream 
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place raspberries in the bowl of a food processor; process until smooth. Pass through a fine strainer; discard seeds. Sweeten with sugar, if desired.
Combine cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl; whisk together until soft peaks form. Gently fold in raspberry puree to form swirls.

Top servings of mousse with dollops of whipped cream; garnish as desired.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Chewy Chocolate Meringues

     Young chefs are all about pushing culinary boundaries and breaking the rules. I think it's wonderfully fun when food's external experience leads the taster to expect something far from what's actually within; from a colorful 4th of July flag cake to shockingly tasty Earl Grey eclairs, playing around with expectations versus reality is what keeps things interesting!
     Upon first glance, these cookies appear to be traditional chocolate meringues, light and airy and crunchy. As soon as you take a bite, however, you realize that the inside is chewy and rich and incredibly tasty. I took these to a New Year's party, and they were the perfect culinary start to 2015.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, crazy, delicious year!
Chewy Chocolate Meringues
(slightly adapted from Bakerella)

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a clean, dry heatproof bowl, whisk together egg whites and sugar. Set over, but not touching, simmering water in a saucepan.
Whisk constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and remove from heat.
Beat the eggs on high using a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat until stiff and glossy.
Sift cocoa over the meringue. Sprinkle chopped chocolate on top.
Fold together gently with a spatula until combined.
Use a scoop to drop even amounts of batter onto prepared baking sheets about two inches apart. (I used a 1.5" scoop and got about 2 dozen cookies.)
Bake for about 8-9 minutes. Rotate the pans and bake for another 8-9 minutes, until the cookies are puffed and have a few cracks.
Transfer the cookies, leaving them on the parchment paper, to wire racks to cool.

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.

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.
 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.
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.
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.