Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Baked: New York Crumb Cake

Happy Easter to everyone! I hope you enjoy your day with family and loved ones. I am going to keep it short and sweet this week, as my kids are pulling on me to open yet another chocolate bunny to devour.... is it even 9 o'clock yet??  

This week's selection for Baked Sunday Mornings was New York-Style Crumb Cake. A perfectly scrumptious addition to our Easter morning breakfast. It was a snap to prepare, and it baked up beautifully. The best part was the heavenly aroma of cinnamon that filled the house. Delicious! A telling sign for me on whether a recipe is a keeper is how quickly it disappears off the table, and lets just say this crumb cake disappeared faster than the Easter Bunny.

Another fun thing about this week's selection was the clarification on the difference between crumb cake and coffee cake. Pay attention here, as this is very important....

Crumb Cake ≠ Coffee Cake

Who knew? I didn't know, and I have a lot of experience with both. I mean a lot. While I was pregnant with my second child I devoured whole (store bought) coffee and crumb cakes in single sittings. I didn't care what the topping or filling was. I would slather butter all over them and whistle happy tunes while they went down the hatch. I think at least 15 coffee and crumb cakes died this way. It was fantastic in a totally awful sort of way.

So, I was a little surprised to learn that New Yorkers are so very protective of their "crumb cake" identity. According to Matt & Renato (a native New Yorker) of Baked Explorations, there are three cardinal rules every New York-Style Crumb Cake must abide by. They are as follows: (1) A New York-Style Crumb Cake must contain boulder-sized clumps of crumb topping almost as thick as the cake itself, (2) A New York-Style Crumb Cake can never contain nuts in any form or fashion, and (3) A New York-Style Crumb Cake cannot contain a swirl of any sort, ever! If you abide by these simple rules, you can bake yourself one heck of a crumb cake, New York-Style.
    If you have a second, hop on over (pun intended) to Baked Explorations to see what my fellow members had to say about this recipe. 

    Happy Easter!

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Pirate Adventure!

    Ahoy, me hearties! I be baking up a cake for me wee buccaneer Ben. A bit of pirate booty to brighten up his birthday. Yo-ho-ho! 

    You gotta love a little pirate speak :) Well, my baby boy turned four last week, and all he wanted was a treasure chest cake. He is big into pirates these days, and he loves nothing more then to run around the house in his skivvies looking for treasure chests. Of course, his annunciation isn't the best, so it comes out more like "cheser chet." It took my husband and me a good couple of days to figure out what the heck he was asking us. The poor guy was so frustrated... all he wanted to do was find some bloody treasure. Instead, he got mom and dad staring blankly at each other (I can still hear the crickets chirping). I am a little surprised he didn't order us to walk the plank.

    To get inspiration for cakes I have never created before, I usually hop on over to Flickr to see examples of what the uber-talented cake artists there have done. I try to never replicate designs from other artists because I like to create my own work, and I respect the creative rights of others. However, there have been instances where I am so blown away by a cake that it becomes hard to think past it and create my own design (if that makes sense). Such was the case for this cake. I came across a perfectly executed treasure chest cake from the fantastically talented Rouvelee's Creations out of Melbourne, Austrailia.  I knew it would be perfect for Ben's cake pretty much as it was. I changed a few minor details, and I tried my hardest to do her design justice. 

    The cake didn't turn out as immaculately done as hers, but it was well received by the birthday boy and his guests. You can't really ask for anything more than that.

    I should mention that all the elements on this cake are edible including the hand-strung sugar necklace and bracelet. The mock jewels are good old-fashioned rock candy and Ring Pops (one of my childhood favorites).

    Unbeknownst to me, the biggest trill for the kids (after getting excited over the cake) were the chocolate coins. I really think Ben and the kids would have just been happy with a bag of coins for dessert, which by the way, I had to search all over town for. Who knew that St. Patrick's Day would completely deplete a town's supply of chocolate coins? I sure didn't.

    Anyway, it was a good day of merriment. We ate a little gruel, drank a little grog and had some swashbucklin' fun! Ah, to be a pirate for a day :)

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Sunday Baked: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

    Spring is in the air, my daffodils are blooming and Easter is just around the corner. What better way to get into the mood then with a little egg-shaped, red velvet, whoopie pie fun!

    I am still making up for lost time in my Baked Sunday Morning baking club. As I was flipping through the recipes I have yet to complete, I came across Matt & Renato's Red Velvet Whoopie Pie recipe and thought "hey, these would be fun to make for Easter." So, get your aprons on, and let's get crackin' (no pun intended).

    I feel as though I should confess that up until this point I was a total whoopie pie virgin. I had never eaten a whoopie pie let alone made one. However, I had on occasion imagined myself sitting at a quiet table in Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland, Main sipping coffee, reading the paper and indulging in one of their famous whoopie pies. In that moment, I could imagine what a whoopie pie should taste like. Ahh.... (big sighs).

    Aside from the fact that I had never consumed a whoopie pie, I feel as though I put a double whammy on this recipe before I even started. Why, you ask? Well, I am just not the biggest red velvet fan. It is sort of a confusing cake for me, and I am not talking about the whole cream cheese vs. Mary Kay frosting or pecans vs. walnuts debate. I am not even going to touch those. For me, it just sort of falls short. It's not quite chocolate, definitely not vanilla, and it has this subtle but unusual acidic kick to it. I know there are many devout fans out there with red velvet running through their veins, but for me, I am still not totally on board.

    Now, I do offer red velvet cake at The Great Cake Company, and I think it is a pretty darn good recipe as far as red velvet goes. It has a little more cocoa powder than your traditional red velvet cakes, and I think using a really good quality cocoa powder can make or brake the recipe. I am fortunate to live about ten minutes from Penzys Spices, a wonderful shop full of some of the best herbs, spices and extracts available. They offer a cocoa powder that works perfectly in my recipe, and I think it worked well in Matt & Renato's too. If you don't have access to Penzys, which I am guessing most of you do not, then try Valrhona or even Ghirardelli.

    In honor of Easter, I had wanted to make pink velvet whoopie pies, but of course I was almost out of pink food coloring. Instead, I used what electric pink gel paste I had left and fuchsia, which gave me an unappealing, purple-ish batter. Thankfully, it didn't matter in the end 'cause they still baked up red.

    Matt & Renato instruct you to place tablespoon sized drops of batter onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. This method works perfectly well for traditionally shaped pies. However, to get these guys into an egg shape for Easter (and to make my life a little easier), I made a template to go under the parchment paper. It was simple. All you need to do is trace an oval shape (I used a cookie cutter) onto a piece of paper. My cookie sheet allowed for six evenly spaced ovals.

    After the ovals are traced, place the parchment paper on top of the template. Fill a pastry bag or Ziploc bag with your batter, and fill the template. It is hard to tell from the photo, but I filled the batter a little thicker at the base of the egg then at the top. This way, if the batter spreads while baking, it will still maintain its egg shape. Make sure to refrigerate the cookie sheet for at least 10 minutes before baking to minimize spreading, and also be sure to remove your template from the cookie sheet before you stick it in the oven and burn the house down... :)

    My pies baked up beautifully in 13 minutes. They were wonderfully moist, and I loved that they had an ever so slight crunch on the outside, but were soft and tender on the inside. They were perfectly executed, but freshly cooled, they seemed to fall into the usual red velvet trap for me. They tasted sort of bland...

    Wait! Don't stone me yet!

    For some reason, I wouldn't give up on these. I sampled the cake a few different times over the next hour, and each time I would mutter to myself, "What is it with red velvet cake? I just don't get it!" ... and then ten minutes later I was back again. By the 6th or 7th time I went back, I started to realize that maybe there was something to these puppies because I simply couldn't stop sampling them. They seemed to be tasting better and better as they sat and as I ate. Almost a quarter of the cakes were gone before I realized I hadn't even slathered any cream cheese on them yet. Hmmmm? What in the world was going on here? Out came some leftover cream cheese icing (my recipe is pretty darn close to theirs so it is not quite cheating), and whoopie was made...pies that is. 

    Let's just conclude this rambling post with this... these were utterly delicious from top to bottom! The red velvet cakes were the perfect compliment (vessel) for the delectable cream cheese filling. I fell in like with red velvet cake today, but I fell in love with whoopie pies. They were a perfect combination and a wonderful Easter treat. I look forward to my next whoopie

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    MS Cupcakes Club: Chai Tea Mini Cupcakes

    "I'll have a grande, non-fat, Chai Tea Latte please...hold the foam." That's my order every time I go to Starbucks. It is always the same. I just can't get past their Chai Lattes. I am addicted.

    So, you can probably image that this week's selected cupcake was right up my alley. The prospect of finding bite-sized morsels of chai tea joy was very exciting, even better would be finding it in my inaugural week of this baking club.

    Unfortunately, I feel a little let down. While the aroma of these cupcakes eluded to my favorite chai drink (cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves), they lacked for me in overall flavor. They were also fairly dry. Only four tablespoons of butter, really? It didn't seem right to me at the time, and I am fairly confident it was the cause of the problem. I think the recipe needed additional fat (butter).

    As for the icing, it was entirely to sweet for my taste, and I like sweet. If I were to ever try these again, I would opt for a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream with a dusting of cinnamon. A much better suited accompaniment, I think.

    You know, I am going to shake this one off. It was my first recipe from this book, and I am going to assume that either I did something wrong (which is entirely plausible), or that I started on a bum week. It is possible that even Martha has a recipe I don't like every now and then, right? I hope to have better results next time.

    Please check out Simple Girl's blog to see her beautiful photos and to obtain this recipe. You can also check out the MS: Cupcakes Club blog to see what my fellow club members have to say about this month's challenge. I hope they had better luck with these than me.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    Sunday Baked: Carrot Coconut Scones

    Well, it is scones again this week and admittedly, I wasn't to eager to make these. It wasn't because it was another scone recipe (though I am eager to move on to something else). It wasn't the carrots either (I love a good carrot cake or souffle). It was the darn coconut. I just don't understand it. Yes, it adds moisture and flavor, but to me it's just all wrong. The flavor is fine, but the texture is so chewy and unenjoyable. I hesitate whenever I see a recipe calling for coconut, and I usually try to eliminate it if it is only acting in a supporting role. However, in the spirit of the baking club, I wanted to give the recipe a try as written. I was pretty skeptical about it though. Could I really enjoy coconut? It was doubtful.

    First of all, these are not your typical scones. Yes, they are comprised of the basic ingredients of a scones (flour, butter and milk), but it gets a little sketchy after that. Carrots and coconut? Rolled Oats? Really, a scone? A confused one, maybe.

    While I do question the categorization of these treats into the scone family, I don't question the fact that these little guys weren't so bad. They were light and flaky, and the coconut ended up to be not as distracting as I had imagined, though I could have done without it. In my opinion it was the citrus glaze that really brightened up the flavors and made these guys work. The funny thing was that my husband was away for the weekend and my three munchkins were at their grandparent's house for a highly anticipated sleepover (a house all to myself... Yahoo!). What does any self-respecting adult do when they find themselves alone with pastries and no one to share them with? Well, they eat the tops off all the scones and leave the carcasses to look all sad and withered on the plate. It wasn't pretty, but it was oh so enjoyable :)

    I have come to grips with the fact that just because there is a carrot in a recipe it doesn't mean it is healthy. So, while these may not have been the most nutritional of breakfast choices, I would have to say that after eating these with their carrots, oats and citrus glaze, I felt energized and ready to go on about my day.

    According to Baked Sunday Morning rules, I cannot publish this recipe for all of you. I can only try to make you drool. I respect this decision and encourage you to go out and by the book, you will not be disappointed, I promise.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Fat Tuesday: Rainbow Layer Cake

    Today is my sweet, fun-loving, adorable, stubborn, blue-eyed baby boy's 4th birthday. He has had a rough go of it lately... a broken leg, a never ending battle over potty training and the whole middle child thing rearing its ugly head. Yet, in the past week or so, he has turned a corner. His cast came off, the potty training beast has been tamed and well, we are working on the middle child thing (two out of three isn't bad). 

    To celebrate Ben's 'big boy' status, we are having his official pirate birthday party with the family on Sunday (treasure chest cake and all), but it didn't seem right that he didn't have a cake for his actually birthday too. I mean, you can't have a legit birthday without blowing out some candles. I guess I would have to make two cakes. Oh darn, 'cause I really hate to bake :)

    When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted on his birthday, he said a rainbow cake, and then proceeded to sing the rainbow song he learned in school for the next two hours...very loudly. How can they be so annoying and utterly adorable at the same time? Anyway, we are celebrating Ben's birthday rainbow style with this vibrant 7-inch tall rainbow layer cake. I had been wanting to make one of these for awhile, so I was pretty excited with his choice. Thanks, Ben :)

    I am almost exclusively a 'from scratch' baker; however, I knew that my white cake recipe would not be able to handle the food coloring and mixing that would be required to get the vibrant colors I needed. Instead I opted for Rebecca Sutterby's popular White Almond Sour Cream Cake recipe. I have had good luck with it when I have used it in the past, and it tastes pretty good. I knew it would work well for this type of cake.

    You will need four 6-inch pans for this cake, first dividing the batter equally between four bowls to color, and then pouring it into prepared pans. I used Americolor brand Super Red, Egg Yellow, Sky Blue and a mix of Violet and Regal Purple to color the batter. Use as much or as little color as you desire keeping in mind that the color of your batter stays pretty true to the final color of your baked cake.

    While the cakes are in the oven, make your buttercream. I recommend using a recipe that holds color well, otherwise you may have a difficult time getting the colors you are looking for. Since this was for my kids, I opted for an American style buttercream instead of my favorite Swiss Meringue variety.

    Once the cakes are out of the oven and cooled, level the tops with a cake leveler or bread knife and start to fill. I typically make a dam of vanilla or chocolate buttercream around the edges of each cake layer before I fill. This is to ensure the filling doesn't seep out of the sides of the cake. However, when you cut into a cake that has one of these dams, you can see it in the sliced piece. Normally, it's not a big deal, but I thought it would take away from the rainbow effect. So, I instead opted to push the filling out to the edges of the cake being very careful not to get any overflow onto the sides.

    When the layering is all done, do a quick crumb coat to seal in any crumbs, and stick the cake in the refrigerator until the buttercream is firm to the touch. When it reaches this point, pull the cake out and give it its final coat of buttercream. Stick it back in the refrigerator and let the final coat of buttercream cool for a couple hours in preparation for decorating.

    At this point, you can decorate the cake as you choose. Our family is a sprinkle loving bunch. We put them on everything...waffles, pancakes, cereal, doughnuts, ice cream.....whatever. So, it wouldn't be a proper rainbow cake in our family without slathering it in rainbow sprinkles :) I think Ben is going to love it. I will try to post a picture of it sliced after we sing our happy birthdays to Ben!

    Happy 4th Birthday Ben! 
    It's your day to shine :)

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Sunday Baked: Nutella Scones

    I discovered Nutella about 15 years ago while I was backpacking through Europe. I was traveling with some college girlfriends on a no frills, cheap hostel stayin', bread and water eating adventure. Not my ideal way of traveling, but one of the absolute best trips I have ever been on, hands down. While we were in Venice, we stayed at a convent for a few days (yes, you read that right). The sisters there were sticklers for the rules and they adored their Nutella. This is where I had my first ever taste of this heavenly concoction. A rather unusual, but somehow appropriate place, I think.

    For those just joining me, I am currently trying to get caught up on the recipes I missed for my Baked Sunday Mornings baking club (since I joined late). I was excited to see one of my available recipe choices was Matt and Renato's rich and delicious Nutella Scones. The mere mention of Nutella brings back memories of Italy, and I can think of only few things that sound better to me than a Nutella stuffed chocolate biscuit with toasted hazelnuts.  Mmmm. Mmmm.

    Of course this did mean that Nutella was going to have to enter my home, which presented a bit of a problem. Our house was officially declared a 'Nutella Free' zone after my last pregnancy. Why you ask? Basically, I couldn't seem to keep the soup ladle out of the jar. It wasn't a pretty sight. Some people are this way with peanut butter... I just so happen to be a Nutella girl. I have leaned to accept it, and keep the delicious, heavenly spread at a distance, but I was flirting with potential disaster here. I had to be on my best behavior or my husband was going to have to intervene once again :)

    A key component to these delicious scones are the toasted hazelnuts folded into the chocolate dough. They add a wonderful textural element. However, if I make these again, I would opt for fewer nuts chopped into slightly smaller pieces.  Don't worry, I would never dream of leaving them out altogether... that would be so wrong!

    This recipe requires you to flatten the dough into a rectangle, spread the Nutella and roll. You then need to stand the roll on its end and flatten. Be careful NOT to overwork the dough through these steps, or your scones will end up like hockey pucks :) Stop once you see the dough starting to come together. It is OK if there are still bits of flour not incorporated into the dough as they will bake out in the oven. 

    I have only attempted scones one other time in my baking career, as I usually opt for other breakfast treats. For my taste these are a little too rich for morning coffee, but with an afternoon latte and my laptop they would be oh, so very nice.

    Check out the Baked Sunday Morning blog for Matt and Renato's delicious Nutella Scones recipe, or you could pick-up their book Baked Explorations.  It would be a great addition to any collection.