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Sunday, January 29, 2012

My great grandmother's coffee cake

I should start this with a disclaimer: This recipe is a family secret, and I have been sworn to secrecy.  BUT....I baked it tonight for breakfast/brunch tomorrow morning, it's in the oven right now, and my apartment smells awesome.

This cake makes an appearance at almost every family holiday meal (with the exception of Passover, and that is simply because it's not kosher for Passover) - baked by my grandmother.  Originally, years ago, my aunt copied over my great grandmother's handwritten and annotated recipes (what I would pay to see her originals!) and gave them to my mom, my grandmother, and my other aunt in a binder.  When I make this cake, I always think about my great grandmother Rose, whom I called Nanny Rosie, whom I was lucky enough to know (and remember). 

Me as an infant with my maternal grandmother, maternal great grandmothers
(Rose and Sadie), and mom
(please excuse the flash)
Inside the cake are layers of cinnamon-sugar and golden raisins (I usually use regular raisins but opted today for golden ones instead).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Moustache cookies

My cousins, my sisters, and I have a running joke about moustaches.  I am not sure when it started exactly, or why it started.  It was way before my cousin participated in the "Movember" fundraiser.  This past Channukkah my clever sister found stick-on moustaches for my cousin as part of his gift.  So when I came across this, I knew I had to buy it.  Odd to be planning almost a year ahead -- and odd item to plan on brining to the family Channukkah party -- but I just had to have it.

Then I thought about all of those "photo booths" that are popping up at weddings.  I haven't been to a wedding with one (shocking considering the number of weddings I've been to), but I've seen pictures of my friends in them.  My favorite props are the ones with the smiles and moustaches on a stick (it sounds weird, but you know what I'm talking about, right?).  A friend of mine purchased them and brought them to a recent party.  We took a few photos.

So I had the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) to buy some cookie sticks (basically glorified lollipop sticks) and bake the moustache cookies onto sticks -- then I'll have props for photos -- plus a lovely snack!  Stay tuned for the finished product!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Olive oil and maple granola

This recipe came into my email box last week.  I was intrigued.  I've had olive oil in a few non-savory recipes (have you ever tried olive oil gelato?  Heavenly!), but it still holds a place in the savory column for me.  I looked at the recipe and it's (raving) review, and saved the recipe for another day.  Of course, I tweaked it.  A lot.  Partially because I didn't like some of the ingredients (coconut, pecans), partially because I couldn't find some of the others (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds), and partially because I wanted to add a litttle something and I needed to replace the nuts.  And of course I halved the recipe (roughly), because that's apparently what I do.  But in all honesty, I don't need 7 cups of granola sitting around my apartment.

So my substitutions: I added roughly chopped almonds in place of the pecans, and mixed in some dried cranberries about halfway through the baking process (I didn't want them in the whole time, since I was afraid they'd get burnt, dried out, or both).  I have to say that the flavor of the olive oil, with the crunch of the granola, and the tart chewiness of the dried cranberries is awesome!  I may have turned myself into a granola fan after all these years...

Olive Oil and Maple Granola (this is my version; check out the original version here)

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup, roughly, raw almonds roughly chopped
3/8 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Just over 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300F.

Mix together oats, almonds, maple syrup, olive oil, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Spread on a rimmed and lined baking sheet.  Bake for 30-45 minutes (mine took about 38 minutes) until toasted.  Mix in dried cranberries when about 5-10 minutes left.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

30th Birthday mini cupcakes

My friend turns 30 on Monday, but she's celebrating a few days early.  The plan is to start with appetizers and drinks at their apartment and then go out for a night on the town.  I offered to bake (naturally), and my friend asked for either cupcakes or cookies.  I confirmed with her what I (thought I) already knew -- that mini cupcakes are just way cuter than regular-sized ones (well, aren't they?!), and decided to go with mini cupcakes.  I figured since it was a special occasion, I'd go with an extra-festive look - chocolate mini-cupcakes in silver foil papers with vanilla buttercream, with silver fondant "30s" and garnished in silver sugar and dragees.  Who cares that silver is the 25th anniversary color?

I started by baking (way too many) mini chocolate cupcakes in silver foil cupcake liners.  I used a recipe I made recently - the chocolate fudge cake from the White Chocolate Truffle and Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake.  I made a new butttercream recipe this time because my "regular" buttercream recipe takes forever and makes WAY too much icing.  I rolled out white fondant and cut out several 3s and 0s, let them dry a little, and then sprayed the fronts and backs with edible silver spray.  I piped the icing using a large star tip, placed the "30s" in the icing of about half of them, and then in keeping with the silver theme, I used silver sugar and silver dragees to decorate all of the cupcakes.

Vanilla Buttercream (from, of all places, "Holiday Cake & Cookie Decorating for Dummies")

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1/4 cup milk
Food coloring, if you so choose

Beat vanilla and butter together in a large bowl.  Gradually add half of the sugar, beating well.  Add the milk.  Then add the remaining sugar.  Beat until smooth.  Add food coloring now (if using).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cake pops

Years ago I stumbled onto the blog/website Bakerella.  Before it got huge.  And a cookbook.  And a cake pop-making kit.  Before all that.  First, I made cake balls.  I even bought a little dough scooper, like an ice cream scooper but much smaller, and I used that to make these little truffle-y looking cake balls.  I never ventured into cake pops.  I'll be honest, part of it had to do with (what I presumed would be) increased frustration dipping them into the chocolate, and part of it had to do with the anticipated messiness of my hands after having to roll the "dough" into balls. 

Fast-forward to about a week and a half ago.  My friend's daughter is turning two in March.  Last year I made chocolate Elmo lollipops for her birthday party; this year I told my friend to let me know what she might want for the birthday party.  She was thinking that Elmo lollipops would be a good idea, but then she thought maybe cake pops, since her daughter is obsessed with the "birthday cake" ones from Starbucks.  So, I set out on a mission to perfect the whole cake pop-making process, so that when the second birthday party rolls around in early March, I'll know all the tricks I'll need to know.

Chocolate Elmo Lollipops from my friend's
daughter's 1st Birthday party, March 2011
From my understanding, the "birthday cake" cake pops are yellow cake and vanilla icing, dipped in light pink chocolate, and covered with some white nonpareils.  In the past, the cake balls I made were always red velvet (with cream cheese icing) or double chocolate (dark chocolate cake with dark chocolate icing) - with the exception of the one time I helped my friend make yellow cake (with chocolate icing) cake balls.  So I figured the natural transition would be to test out cake pops with red velvet cake.

Years ago when I had thought about making cake pops, I had bought a styrofoam block at the art store so that I had something to stand the cake pops up in when the chocolate dried (I didn't want them to have flat tops from resting upside down when they dried).  Miraculously, I remembered where I had put it at least a year ago, and took that out.  I had chocolate to coat the cake pops in as well as lollipop sticks at home, since I always have them on hand.  I always have a box of red velvet or dark chocolate cake and a container of icing on hand for cake balls as well.  The only thing hanging over my head was how I was going to make the actual cake ball to put on the stick for the cake pop.  While looking on Amazon at the Bakerella Cake Pop Kit and clicking on several links, I came across these adorable molds to shape cake pops.  I had to buy them in all 4 shapes.

Cake balls (and therefore cake pops) are quite possibly the easiest recipe to remember.....ever.  Whenever I make cake balls and bring them to an event, everyone asks me to email them the recipe.  I tell them to just get me a piece of paper, and i'll write it down for them.  Even after a glass of wine.  It's that easy.

Oops....I took too big of a bite and you can see the stick :(

Cake Pops (from Bakerella)

1 box cake mix -- any flavor you'd like - I went with red velvet
1 can frosting (16 oz.) -- pick a flavor that goes well with the cake flavor - I chose cream cheese
Candy melts/chocolate for dipping -- I find that dark and milk chocolate are easier to use than white chocolate
Lollipop sticks
Wax paper

Optional for decoration:
Other chocolate for drizzling
Candies for decoration
Edible ink pens


1. Bake cake as directed on box in a 9x13" pan.
2. Let cake cool completely, then crumble into a large bowl.
3. Mix the crumbled cake with the can of frosting.  Start by adding about 3/4 of the can of frosting, and add up to the whole container if you need (not all cakes will need the entire can)
4. Roll mixture into balls and place on wax paper covered cookie sheet. (Bakerella says it sould make 45-50; when I used my scooper, I get roughly 80) -- I like to keep mine in the fridge overnight, as I find they are easier to dip that way.
5.  Melt the chocolate in a bowl, a small amount at a time
6. Dip the tip of the lollipop stick into a little of the melted candy coating and insert into the cake balls (a little less than halfway).
7. Place them in the freezer for a little while to firm up -- Don't let them stay in the freezer too long, otherwise the chocolate may crack as the cake balls thaw (I put mine in the fridge for a few minutes and it did the trick)
8. Once firm, carefully insert the cake ball into the candy coating by holding the lollipop stick and rotating until covered. Once covered remove and softly tap and rotate until the excess chocolate falls off. Don’t tap too hard or the cake ball will fall off, too.
9. If you are using sprinkles or other decorations, apply them while the chocolate coating is still wet.
10. Place in a styrofoam block to dry.
11.  If using edible ink pen to write on the cake pops, use them now, then allow ink to dry.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sweet-and-spicy/smoky candied nuts

I had read about these candied nuts recently, and they sounded addictive.  Not that I need to make something that's addictive, but they were touted as a great gift, and I'm always looking for a good, lasts-a-while, homemade food gift.  Now, admittedly, I am not a huge fan of nuts.  I mean I love peanut butter (who doesn't?!), but eating nuts?  I can have a few, but then I'm done.  Surprising, then, that this is my second candied nut recipe in just over two weeks (last time I made these).

I had (most of) the ingredients here, including the bag of roasted and unsalted "fancy mixed nuts," which I had picked up specifically for this recipe.  I had a few changes to the recipe, both because I lacked the proper ingredients.  First of all, I had light brown sugar but no dark brown sugar.  I did, however, have molasses on hand, so I found a conversion and made my own dark brown sugar.  Secondly, the only paprika I had was smoked Spanish paprika -- I didn't have hot paprika or anything else I could substitute for it, so mine didn't end up being so sweet-and-spicy but were more sweet-and-smoky.  They were good but I'm planning on ordering some hot paprika tonight so that the next time I make these (I'm thinking for my not-yet-definitive-but-most-probable Superbowl party) they have a little kick. 

Of note, I baked mine for 30 minutes as the recipe indicated, but some of the nuts were a bit overcooked, despite the fact that I stirred them often.  Maybe it was because I used mixed nuts, so they were all different sizes.

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts
(from one of my favorite food blogs ever, Smitten Kitchen)

1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (the blog suggested upping it by a 1/2 tsp, I used about 1 and 1/4 tsp)
Generous pinch of cayenne pepper or hot smoked paprika (I used smoked Spanish paprika this time - I recommend using something with heat when you make it)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound walnut or pecan halves or whole peeled hazelnuts (I used a pound of mixed nuts)
1 egg white, room temperature
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix sugars, salt, cayenne/paprika, and cinnamon.  Make sure it is not lumpy and set aside.

Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff.

Add nuts, and stir to coat evenly.

Sprinkle with the sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated.

Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper (I used foil -- it worked just as well). Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into an airtight container, breaking up any that stick together.

*note: mine don't look like they do on Smitten Kitchen since I absentmindedly left out the white sugar when I made the mixture -- in copying it from the computer onto a piece of paper to bring into the kitchen, I appear to have glossed over that ingredient and didn't copy it down -- but I did sprinkle some white sugar over the warm, still tacky coated nuts, and it seemed to stick.*

Birthday cakes

My friend's birthday is next weekend, although we celebrated her birthday 8 days early with a group dinner out at an Italian restaurant last night.  Due to the size of our group, we chose family style option at the restaurant.  According to my other friend who made the reservation, we're going to choose the cheese course for dessert since "Also, they let you bring cake in case anyone wanted to make a cake :) :)."  No question there as to whom she thought would be willing to bake!

I narrowed the options down to four cakes, and enlisted the help of my friend who co-planned the birthday dinner with me.  She chose either the cannoli cake (after all, it goes so well with the Italian dinner) or another one.  However, I opted for the cannoli cake and another cake (simply because I had been wanting to make it for a while...there are chocolate stars coming out of the cake!).  Probably overkill since each cake recipe states that it serves 12-14 people and we're going to be 12 people total....and its after/part of a 3-course meal.  But details, details....

I started a few days ahead of time by making the chocolate stars that would adorn the White Chocolate Truffle and Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake.  The day of the birthday dinner, I set out to bake 2 2-layer cakes (4 layers total, each with 2 different icings/fillings) - that cake, and a cannoli cake called the Marvelous Cannoli Cake.  Another common theme throughout this blog: I don't make things easy for myself.

Here are the stars after I cut them out of the chocolate (but before I removed them):

Then, the cakes....Originally, I was going to revamp the cannoli cake recipe and bake the white cake from scratch (instead of using boxed mix), but I decided against it mainly because the white cake recipe I had said it made 2 8" layers (and I have 9" pans), and secondly, I couldn't tell if the cake would be the right consistency for the filling and icings.  I kept the Chocolate Fudge Cake as the recipe said.

Then came the fillings and frostings... 

For the cannoli cake, I made the ricotta filling first.  It called for 2 oz of finely chopped chocolate, but I used the mini chips that I had for the rest of the recipe.  It was a teeny bit softer than I'd expect, but I think it was due to the chocolate that I used - and it set up really well in and on the cake.  Then I made the mascarpone icing.  The consistency was COMPLETELY off.  It was crumbly and not spreadable.  I actually had to run out in the middle of the afternoon to buy more mascarpone and remake it (the second version came out much better) - although I only used about half of the milk that it called for (it was still a little runny with half the milk).

For the White Chocolate Truffle and Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake, I was in a rush when I assembled it, and was clearly not paying attention, since after going out and buying Amaretto for the cake, I forgot to brush the layers with it.  The white chocolate layer in the middle of the cake was thinner (height-wise, not consistency-wise) than I had wanted it to be, and the white chocolate whipped cream icing (when I made it, I did add a little Amaretto so that it had the flavor, along with the almond extract) was not as fluffy as I had hoped, but all in all it was great, but VERY rich.  Smaller slices next time!

Here they are being served at dinner, and sliced up.

 The cake slicer for the cannoli cake was better than the one for the chocolate cake, however, I only had this picture

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chocolate spoons

A few weeks ago I went to the baking store.  I have a routine when I go there.  It goes something like this: pick up the things I need/went there for, look around a little, leave with a tons of stuff I didn't intend to buy (in addition to the things I had gone there for in the first place)....and a substantial bill.  On my most recent trip, I had gone for some candy cups, some white and bittersweet chocolate, and a 1 inch pastry brush (all for the Chocolate-Mint Truffle Cups that I had wanted to make for the holidays but never got around to making).  I left with all that, plus more.  One of the not-planned-for purchases was a silicone mold in the shape of mini spoons.  They reminded me of those chocolate-dipped and decorated (actual) spoons that they used to sell in gourmet stores to mix into your coffee (do you remember those?).

Normally, I'm not one to wait to use a new purchase, although for some reason this purchase had been sitting in the bag since I bought it a few weeks ago.  Today, I had melted some chocolate for something else, and decided that while I was at it, I'd make some white chocolate spoons, too.  I thought they'd be fun to decorate, but being unsure of what to decorate them, I made a variety....then I made some in milk and dark chocolate!

And here they are all decorated, an assortment of dark, milk, and white chocolate spoons: