My roommate normally doesn’t question my baking. She wakes up in the morning, stumbles into the kitchen, and is totally accustomed to seeing me hunched over the stand mixer or anal-retentively trying to make sure each cookie dough lump on a baking sheet is evenly sized and spaced. This morning, however, she piped up, apparently sensing something was amiss when she glanced over and saw me filling a bag to pipe icing.

“What’s the occasion?”

“I need an occasion to make mini cupcakes?”

“You need an occasion to pipe icing.”

Ravaging cherries.

The dialogue ended there because, well, I need an occasion in order to go the extra mile with my presentation. There’s no sense hiding my laziness, hungriness, impatience, etc, but because it was early (and I’ll attribute it to that, instead of my charming personality) I kind of huffed and puffed, claiming that there was no reason at all. Being a Colleen-Yoda and all, she grabbed a cupcake and laughed it off.

But there is a very real reason, or “occasion”, for my going pipe-icing crazy today. For those of you who don’t know (or care?), I’m studying for this crazy BEAST of an exam and am stressed about it. It’d be fine if I were one of those very fortunate people who can sit down to take exams like it’s the most normal thing in the world, but I’m another kind of person who, when they sit down to take an exam, completely blank on EVERYTHING and answer questions like a rock with hands for holding a pencil. [Insert more complaining, whining, and grumbling. I’ll spare you by letting you use your imagination.] The purpose of relaying this information is that a good kitchen project, one that would work for me and make me happy, was in order.

Behold the happy-making power of a mini-cupcake. Ooooh. Aaaah.

Vanilla Cherry Cupcakes

(Recipe adapted from Erin Does Cupcakes, originally Vanilla Peach Cupcakes)

Yields about 24 mini cupcakes

Note: I quartered the original recipe in order to significantly curb the final number of mini-cupcakes, and wrote out the recipe exactly as I made it. I always suggest clicking over to the original recipe, but in this case I especially suggest it if you want to make normal-size cupcakes!

Ingredients:

½ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup cake flour (not self-rising)

½ cup granulated sugar

Heaping ½ teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

¼ cup butter, room temperature, cut into ½ inch cubes

1 egg

¼ cup milk

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

(Optional: 1/8 teaspoon almond extract)

1/3 cup cherries, pitted and finely chopped

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line a mini-muffin tin with cupcake papers.

2. In a large bowl, or bowl of a stand mixer, stir together flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add butter and stir just until cubes of butter are coated in flour.

3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together milk, egg, and extract(s), until combined.

4. Add wet mixture to dry in three parts, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. After third addition, stir just until combined and fold in chopped cherries.

5. Fill each liner 2/3 of the way full and bake, in preheated oven, 15-17 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

6. Let cupcakes cool in pan at least 5 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Let cupcakes cool to room temperature before frosting.

 

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

(Recipe adapted from the Cupcake Project, originally Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting)

Note: Split recipe in half if you don’t plan on piping.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup powdered sugar (adding more or less depending on desired consistency)

½ unsalted butter, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

(Optional: ½ teaspoon almond extract)

1 tablespoon milk

Method:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until creamy, between three and five minutes.

2. Add extract(s) and milk, and continue to beat for another minute or so.

3. For a stiffer consistency, add more powdered sugar and beat until fluffy.

 

Happy belated Fourth of July! I tried my best to muster energy enough to research some sort of patriotic red-white-blue crazy concoction of a dessert but couldn’t manage it in the end. I tried to justify my lack of research by thinking that pancakes were just as patriotic as they come, and then the idea was thwarted by the fact that pancakes are not really an epitome of American cuisine – Swedish pancakes, anyone? Dutch pancakes? Crepes? Looks like I’ll have to find a different reason to make pancakes as an Independence Day treat.

Wait a minute! Did I really just write a short paragraph about needing to justify the making and eating of pancakes?! Who am I? When have I ever needed a reason? Psh, holiday, schmoliday and research, schmesearch. I really wanted to spend the day doing the things I enjoy most and leisurely making pancakes is one of my favoritest things in the world. I was able to try a new recipe using an ingredient I don’t normally think to use in pancakes (almond meal), to practice my flipping, to hone internal-pancake-browning timer, and, last but definitely not least, to eat copious amounts of sweetened coconut and almonds enclosed in a pancake. No part of this breakfast was very patriotic or American, but I heartily enjoyed every minute of it, thinking it was the best way I could think of to celebrate a birthday – in this case, America’s birthday.

I hope everyone had an awesome Fourth! Did you eat anything especially yummy or interesting? I’d love to hear about it!

Coconut Almond Pancakes

(Recipe adapted from The Nesting Project)

Yields 9 to 10 pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup whole wheat flour

¼ cup almond meal

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Optional: 1 heaping tablespoon yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

1 cup sweetened coconut (if using unsweetened coconut, add extra sugar to batter)

Method:

1. If using a cast-iron skillet, preheat over medium heat. If desired, preheat oven to 200 degrees F and line a baking sheet with foil – to keep pancakes warm after taking off the skillet and before serving.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt.

3. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, sugar, yogurt (if using), vanilla and almond extracts until frothy.

4. Fold wet ingredients into dry, mixing until just combined. Fold in coconut just until distributed evenly throughout batter.

5. Grease skillet and drop pancakes by the ¼ cupful, cooking 3 to 5 minutes (until bubbles form and edges look slightly dry) and flipping, then continuing to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until browned.

I’d recommend serving the pancakes as soon as possible, however, I tend to keep them refrigerated in a tupperware container up to 3 days, heating them up for breakfast on the go.

My relationship with oat bran started a little something like this, “Hi. I know we just met but I love you will you marry me?!” Oat bran responded with a resounding “yes!” and we rode off into the sunset, just like that. Happily ever after. Me ‘n my bag of oat bran.

I still love oat bran but we’re experiencing a little interpersonal cabin fever – I’m using oat bran for the same kinds of almost healthy breakfasty baked something-or-others, and oat bran is getting a little sick of my looking at it the same way, all day, every day. I’ll never get tired of oat bran on waffles or with yogurt, but it’s time to be a little creative. And add a little sugar. Whenever I run into any sort of problem, food-related or otherwise, my first attempt at resolving it involves copious amounts of sugar. If that doesn’t cut it, I resort to other methods, like actual problem solving and maturity.

In this case, sugar was just the cure. Brown sugar, to be exact, and lots of it. Not to mention butter. And chocolate. And almonds. I was thrilled to find a brownie recipe using oat bran and ending up enjoying the finished product a mite too much. The brownies themselves aren’t very sweet (somehow, even with all the sugar) but are intensely chocolate-y with an interesting texture from the oat bran and almonds. I ended up eating way too many of them in one sitting, enthralled by the bits of oat bran in a brownie setting. I’m not sure the people with whom I shared these brownies enjoyed them as much as I did, so you might want to evaluate your relationship with oat bran before trying this recipe.

 

Oat Bran Almond Brownies

(Recipe adapted from Freelance Muses)

Yields one 13 by 9 inch pan of brownie, but halves nicely in an 8-inch square pan

Ingredients:

1 cup, or 2 sticks, unsalted butter plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and put aside

2 cups light brown sugar, packed

¾ cup unsweetened baking cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

4 eggs

½ cup whole wheat flour

1 cup oat bran

1 ¾ cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

1/3 to ½ cup slivered almonds

Optional: 2 to 3 teaspoons sea salt

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a baking pan by lining it with parchment, with an overhand on at least one side with which to lift out brownies once baked and cooled.

2. Melt together 1 cup butter and brown sugar, either in the microwave or over the stove on very low heat, being careful not to burn the butter. Mix until combined and smooth, then take off heat.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine melted butter/sugar mixture with baking cocoa, salt, baking powder, and both extracts. Mix until well combined.

4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition.

5. Add both flour and oat bran, stirring just until combined.

6. Fold in chocolate chips or chopped chocolate.

7. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle slivered almonds over surface, then brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt, if using.

8. Bake brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, until top of brownies are dry and a cake tester comes out with moist crumbs attached.

9. Let brownies cool completely in pan, set over a wire rack, before slicing and serving.

Storage: Once brownies are cooled and sliced, keep covered at room temperature up to 3 days, or freeze for up to a month.

Almost every Thursday, for some time now, I’ve been posting recipes using different flours or flour alternatives, like almond meal, and calling it “Variety Flour Thursday” (the name isn’t wholly necessary, but I liked that it made my “variety flour” adventures sound more official). It started as a result of my wanting to branch out of the all-purpose flour bubble more often, to experiment with different flavors, textures and make me feel better about baking so much, health-wise. Up until this point, I’ve only made recipes either already featuring different flour or recipes that according to my research and prior experience I knew would turn out well using something other than all-purpose flour. There haven’t really been any shots in the dark, where I just did a crazy substitution to see what would happen and that thought made me a little sad, sad because I go through the world pretending to know what happens when I do certain things or make certain decisions or what happens when you either let someone go or welcome someone into your life. Sometimes you just don’t know how something you do will affect the world around you because there are always a million things you’ve never thought about and a million things that we can’t know ahead of time. You may have a good idea of an outcome, but life tends to throw things your way that never would have figured in your radar.

This is one of the ways, still in a relatively controlled environment, that I can let go and make crazy decisions just to see what happens. Luckily I’m armed with a little bit of experience, but it always ends up that the more you know, the more you become aware of how much you don’t know. I wanted to make some meltaway cookies. I have a TON of whole wheat flour in the pantry (due to an extremely generous room mate). Could whole wheat flour work in a meltaway, or would it completely destroy the idea of having a light cookie that simply, like its name implies, melts in your mouth? I took the plunge and substituted the entire amount of whole wheat flour for all-purpose, keeping the amount of almond meal in tact. Since whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid than all-purpose, I had to add about 2 tablespoons milk to the batter in order for it to come together. All well and good. I baked the cookies and found the bottoms browned more than usual for a meltaway, but that might be due to old, non-stick pans instead of my choice flour. The flavor? Meh. The cookies, when you substitute whole wheat flour, take on more of a thumbprint/shortbread texture, ceasing to be light and airy. Delicious, certainly, but not a meltaway.

I feel good, even though I didn’t get the end result that I wanted or expected, for branching out and taking a chance to see what happened. You learn by doing, right? All that being said, I wonder if using whole wheat pastry flour would give you the expected airiness of a meltaway? An adventure for another time. Now I know, for sure, from personal experience, that whole wheat flour is not what you should use for a meltaway. Included in this post is the original recipe from the blog, A Cup of Freck. I’d suggest following directions and using all-purpose!

Almond Meltaways

(Recipe adapted from A cup of freck)

Yields 30 cookies using a cookie scoop

 

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups almond meal, or almonds ground in a food processor

3 tablespoons amaretto liquor OR 1 teaspoon almond extract

Powdered sugar for rolling cookies (at least one cup)

 

Method:

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar.

2. Add salt, flour, and almond meal to butter mixture and stir until dough comes together.

3. Stir in almond extract.

4. Chill dough in fridge for one hour. During chill time, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a cookie sheet (if not using a non-stick pan).

5. Either using a cookie scoop or by hand, form tablespoon-size balls of dough and place on prepared or non-stick cookie sheet. The cookies will not spread much, so they can be placed as little as an inch apart.

6. Bake in preheated for 15 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, until cool enough to handle, and roll in powdered sugar then place on cooling rack. Once cookies are cool, roll again in powdered sugar.

Store cookies covered at room temperature up to 3 days.

 

Often people are criticized for being stubborn. Hey, I criticize myself for being stubborn. But being stubborn can have its perks. If I’m not a huge fan of a certain music, I’ll read about it, listen to it, research it, find out why other people like it, analyze my own negative feelings toward it, and try as hard as I can to appreciate at least one aspect of it. It’s a long, sometimes tedious and sometimes fruitless, journey but I end up with a broadened musical horizon and, in general, more reconciled with the world around me.

Same goes for food. I will try a food/ingredient in as many combinations as possible until I find a way to make myself truly enjoy that particular food/ingredient. Luckily, when it comes to food, there isn’t much out there I don’t enjoy already. Unluckily, one of the foods that I have a hard time enjoying is granola. WEIRD. Rolled oats? Heck yes. Any sort of nut or dried fruit? I’ll eat the entire bag in a sitting. Doesn’t matter what it is. I’ll love it. But the combination of all these ingredients in granola form? I’d probably pass.

I’ve been thinking about this recipe since reading it this winter, and finally got around to making it. You’re witnessing my first attempt at making granola myself, and I’m hoping that this cures my ridiculous granola avoidance. First observation, granola is mad easy to prepare. Second observation, granola smells AWESOME when it’s baking. Does all granola smell this amazing while roasting in the oven?

All in all, I ended up really enjoying the end product but can’t see myself eating it by itself. How do you eat your granola? I’m anxious to start putting it in things and see if I can’t love it by the start of next week!

Chocolate Almond Granola

(Recipe adapted from Food in Jars, originally “Cocoa Hazelnut Granola”)

Yields about 4 cups granola

Ingredients:

1 cup slivered or coarsely chopped almonds

3 cups rolled, or “old-fashioned”, oats

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

¼ cup neutral oil (I used canola only because it was what I had on hand)

½ cup cane syrup, maple syrup, or agave syrup (I used a maple and agave syrup blend)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. When I need to toast nuts for a specific recipe, I spread them out on an ungreased baking sheet and place them in the oven, while it’s preheating, for 5 to 10 minutes. Keep an eye on them, though, because nuts burn quickly.

2. When almonds come out of oven, all toasty and beautiful, mix with oats in a large mixing bowl. Add cocoa powder and salt, and then stir until all ingredients are coated.

3. Add oil, then using the same liquid measuring cup add syrup. Stir again until all ingredients are evenly coated.

4. Spread granola out evenly on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

5. When granola comes out of the oven, make a tightly packed granola mountain on baking sheet and let cool completely in order to get large chunks of granola.

Store granola in an airtight container at room temperature.

Mini Coconut Cakes

February 16, 2011

Do you ever have mornings when everything seems really arduous? Things like getting out of bed, turning on the coffee maker, letting go of your blanket even when you are sitting at the kitchen table trying to eat breakfast? I wanted to bake today, to share another new and exciting recipe, but kind of wanted the baked goods just to appear, and the recipe just to be typed, and oh look! I only have an hour and a half before needing to leave for work!

This recipe for mini coconut cakes makes my day. It’s simple, quick to prepare, doesn’t yield a ridiculous amount of baked good, and is almost infinitely adaptable. Instead of coconut, you could substitute ground almonds, or ground hazelnuts. I ended up using 1 cup unsweetened dried coconut and ½ cup ground almonds, but you could mix and match these ingredients exactly to your liking. Instead of lemon zest, I zested a blood orange and the cakes turned out beautifully. I love recipes that allow for you to be creative, personalizing your own treat exactly the way you want, or exactly the way your recipient would want. I could see myself making these over and over, bringing them to parties and picnics and all the other fun things that will happen when it isn’t so ugly and cold outside.

The only bad thing about this batch of cakes was that they browned quickly, because the only mini-muffin pan I own is a very dark, non-stick metal, so I would keep an eye on yours around the 13 minute mark and make sure you get the golden color they are meant to be instead of looking like they have a dark brown mini-cupcake liner. They are kind of interesting, though, in that the browned outside acts like a crust and the middle is still soft and decadent. That being said, they were delicious, and a great pick me up to motivate me for work.

If this recipe is of interest to you, I highly recommend making financiers. I made these over the summer and NONE of them left my apartment. Dangerously good.

Mini Coconut Cakes

(Recipe adapted from Bake! Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking)

Yields 24 individual cakes, made in mini-muffin tins

Ingredients:

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups unsweetened dried coconut (or 1 ½ cups ground almonds, or combination thereof)

4 egg whites, as close to room temperature as possible

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (I used blood orange zest)

½ cup, or 8 tablespoons, unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

About 2 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut and/or slivered almonds to adorn the tops of the cakes before baking

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and flour two 12-cavity mini-muffin pans. (Note: I totally forgot to prepare the pans, but mine are non-stick and the cakes turned out fine with just a little more care in removing them from the cavities.)

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, and coconut (and/or ground nuts). Set aside.

3. In a larger bowl, whisk egg whites and salt until combined, then whisk in the zest and slowly whisk in the melted and cooled butter.

4. Whisk in half of dry ingredient mixture, then fold in the rest with a spatula.

5. Split batter evenly between the 24 cavities of the mini-muffin pans and top with shredded coconut and/or slivered almonds.

6. Bake for 15 minutes in preheated oven, or until cakes are firm when pressed and deep golden in color.

7. Invert cakes over a cooling rack, then turn them right side up to cool completely.

Store cakes lightly covered for one day at room temperature. For prolonged storage, store cakes refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 more days. Bring to room temperature before serving/eating.

Bostock. What?

February 9, 2011

My kitchen has turned into an ocean of brioche. It’s everywhere, on the counter, in the fridge, in the freezer, in my bag to go to work, you can’t escape it. I’m trying to think of different ways to use this sliced brioche that is now a day old when I see a recipe for almond cream and a pastry called bostock. After reading about this treat, the only question I can ask myself is “How have I NEVER heard about this?!”

When you google “bostock”, you come upon the same thing with each result; people tried it in a bakery, or read about it, or heard about it, then asked where it has been their whole life, and then set about making it. I love this, how a pastry can come out of nowhere, surprise the heck out of you, then make itself a part of your life. Not to go off on one of my “beauty is everywhere” tangents, but food is sometimes overlooked when talking about cultures and life and sharing, and that’s a shame because everyone has very unique palates and dishes that feel like home, which can be shared even across language barriers. Okay, done.

In my research I learned that traditional bostock is dipped in almond syrup before being coated with cream and baked. Unfortunately, I found this after putting mine in the oven. Maybe next time.

The end product wasn’t pretty, because I decided to not follow instructions and not leave a border of bread around the cream, but my goodness gracious, it was good. So good, in fact, that I just wanted to stick my face in it, and then make a billion of them to give to everyone I know. Just when you think you could get bored of something, bostock comes along and saves the day.

Haha. Don't laugh. It's delicious.

Before signing off for today, I need to make a confession. Remember, yesterday, when I said that perhaps all the extra effort in brioche dough isn’t worth it? I’m officially eating my words, after sampling the brioche buns made with dough that needs crazy amounts of attention and ingredients. There is definitely a difference, and the extra steps are worth it if you have the time and energy. I’ll be posting that particular recipe on Friday morning! Be excited! And then be excited that I’ll talk about something other than brioche!

Almond Cream

(Recipe adapted from Baking, From my Home to Yours)

Yields 1 ½ cups almond cream

Ingredients:

¾ stick, or 6 tablespoons, unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup granulated sugar

¾ cup ground almonds (almond meal works as well)

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 2 teaspoons dark rum)

Method:

1. Using a stand mixer or a sturdy spoon, cream butter and sugar until smooth.

2. Add almonds and beat to incorporate them completely.

3. Stir in flour and cornstarch until flour disappears.

4. Add egg and beat mixture until homogenous.

5. Stir in vanilla extract (or rum).

Use immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days.

**Dorie says you can even bake this as a custard in ramekins, and I found that the almond cream spilled over the edges and baked into delightful almond cookies. The possibilities are practically endless, guys!

Bostock

Ingredients:

As many thick slices (up to and including an inch thick) of stale, day-old brioche, or challah, as desired

Almond cream

Method:

[Optional step: Toast a handful of slivered almonds on a baking sheet for 5 minutes in a 350 degree F oven.]

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Spread two or three tablespoons almond cream on each slice of bread, making sure to leave an inch thick border of bread. The almond cream spreads. [Sprinkle with toasted almonds.]

3. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cream looks set around the edges.

4. Eat!

I would not try to store bostock, because it is simple to make as needed and heavenly out of the oven.