Sunday, September 11, 2011

Restless Baking

I was restless all weekend .. and when I'm restless I tend to bake. A lot. I've recently discovered the joy of really really good dark cocoa powder. The good stuff, not the stuff you find at your local grocery store. (I love ya Hershey but your cocoa powder is lame). I buy 5lbs at a time and a little bit goes a long long way because it adds such a depthness and richness to chocolate cake. When baking a chocolate cake with cocoa powder and not melted chocolate, you're going for a rich moist cake rather than a dense crumb cake.

The photos I'm about to post are SOOC (straight out of the camera). I apologize for some of the blown out photos. I was too lazy to cover up my windows to soften up the glaring light. I'm posting SOOC photos so you can actually see how dark the chocolate cake comes out all on its own. This recipe is also phenomenal in that it requires ZERO leveling. The cake bakes level. I kid you not. I've never had to level out this cake, ever.

SOOC cake3 SOOC cake1 SOOC cake2SOOC cake

Notice how dark and rich the cake color is .... I used a super basic vanilla buttercream frosting and the cake tasted like a cake version of an oreo. The crumb on this cake is to die for and it's super duper moist.

cake final

By the time I got finished crumb coating the cake, I didn't really want to add on anymore frosting so I piped some simple shell borders on the top and bottom of the cake and called it a day.

But I said I was having a bake-a-thon weekend, right? So I didn't stop there. I mean the damn oven was on, right? So I also baked a brioche loaf. Unfortunately I was also really hungry so as soon as the dang thing came out of the oven, I snapped up on lame photo and then proceeded to slice it up to eat. Speaking of which, I should make some french toast with the bread!


Finally, because things don't stop there ... I also baked up my famous soft chewy chocolate chip cookies. These are not my "normal" chocolate chip cookies in that I normally like one with more of a crunch factor. But for whatever reason, I was craving some super duper soft and chewy cookies. Like as though they were straight out of the oven no matter how many days the cookies have been sitting out on the counter. So I made these ... vanilla pudding cookies.

Again, I have to apologize for the blown out photos. I'm lazy, what can I say.

cookies on pan cookies on pan1 cookies on pan2

Cookies cookies1 cookies2cookies3 cookies4

If ya'll want recipes, let me know. I'll type them up so you can whip up a batch of chocolate cakes or chocolate chip cookies at your leisure. The cookies take all of 10 minutes to whip up and another 10-12 minutes to bake. So this is a no brainer if you're not the patient kind - like me.

Since you've asked ... here are the recipes for the cake and cookies! I hope you enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Cookies:

2 sticks butter at room temperature (leave them out for 15 minutes on your counter)
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 3.4 oz package of vanilla instant pudding mix
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugars until the sugar has completely incorporated with the butter. Add in the pudding mix, eggs and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix only until combined. Add chocolate chips and mix in the chocolate chips into the batter with a spatula or by hand.

Drop the a spoonful of cookies onto a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until slightly golden. Remove cookies and let them cool for 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Don't overcook these cookies. Take them out at 12 minutes. If you're making big ole cookies, then you'll need to adjust your cook time. Keep your eye on them because if they turn darker than golden you're not going to get that chewy soft consistency.

Chocolate Cake Recipe:

1 3/4 cup flour
2 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup strong black coffee that's been cooled
1 cup buttermilk at room temperature (if you don't have buttermilk, add 1 tbsp of white vinegar or lemon juice to your milk. Let it sit for 2 minutes and you'll have buttermilk)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 3 9" cake pans with butter and flour.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add all of the wet ingredients into the sifted dry ingredients. You don't need a mixer for this because the batter is very wet. Mix well until everything is incorporated. Divide into the 3 cake pans. I'm OCD so I weigh mine out, but you can go by eye.

Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pans. Bake for another 12-15. DO NOT OVERBAKE. A cake tester should have crumbs attached to it. As long as it's not undercooked, you're good to go.

Cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Then gently remove the cakes from the cake pan. As a word of caution, this is a super moist cake. So it will be sticky .... as in when you try to remove the cake, it will cling to whatever it touches. Be careful not to crack the cake.

Once the cake is cooled, use any frosting of choice. Then be prepared to be AMAZED at how rich and good the cake is.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lime curd is good for the soul!

I wanted to make lemon curd to make lemon bars ... but the lemons at the market weren't looking so hot and they were 3 for $1.99 whereas limes were 8 for $1.99.  I looked at the sad looking lemons and decided to make lime curd instead. 

I pretty much used the same recipe for lemon curd but upped the amount of zest since limes are less tart than lemons.  At least they are for me.  I love zesting citrus fruit cause it makes the whole kitchen smell so good!

The usual cast of ingredients when making curd - citrus, eggs, butter, citrus juice, zest and sugar.  Easy peasy.

Mix 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 stick of butter, 3/4 cup of lime juice (or lemon juice), 2 tbsp of zest (1 tbsp for lemon curd) in a double boiler.  Mix until the butter melts. 

In the meantime, lightly whisk 2 eggs.  Add about 4 tbsp of the warm lime mixture to the eggs to bring up their temperature.  Then slowly add the eggs to the double boiler.  Stir for about 20 - 25 minutes until the curd starts to thicken.  It should coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and bring it to room temperature. 

Pour the curd into a glass container and refrigerate.  It will keep for up to 2 weeks.  Lime or lemon curd never last that long in my household cause it's used for ice cream (lemon curd ice cream is insanely good), lemon or lime bars and it's always good on top of toast!

I save all my jam/jelly jars and reuse them for my kitchen concoctions. I'm seriously thinking about buying some canning mason jars so I can keep lemon/lime curd in my pantry so I can have them readily on hand whenever I want them ... even in the dead of winter. 

Since the recipe adapted so well from lemons to limes, I may even try grapefruit next time!

Husband's 35th birthday cake

So Monday was the hub's birthday and he has requested that I make him a chocolate cake ... with nuts.  So I'm not a big fan of nuts.  So I decided to incorporate them on the outside of the cake .... so I can opt not to eat them if I wanted ...

I ended up making a fudgey chocolate cake with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream filling and a chocolate ganache frosting on the outside ... all covered with almonds.  It's a three layer cake and we will be cutting into it tomorrow, so I'll photos of the guts of the cake tomorrow.  I had left over batter because I doubled my normal chocolate cake recipe so I could bake off a few cupcakes for my neighbor's kid (who is like a demon child that screams and throws temper tantrums at all hours of the day). 

cake on stand1 cake on stand cake birds eye

The chocolate ganache could have been smoother ... I could have toasted the almonds longer .... and I should have doubled up on the swiss meringue buttercream, but the cake itself has such a good moist crumb, I didn't want to over-do it with frosting.  Besides, I was also doing laundry and cooking off a few sides for the hub's dinner.  I'm so OCD and anal with cakes for people who order them for parties ... that I tend to shy away from perfectionism when it comes to baked goods for just us.  But it came out pretty smashing anyways, despite the fact that it was boiling hot in the kitchen from having my oven going all day and the buttercream was having a hard time holding up. 
cupcake3 cupcake2
With the leftover vanilla buttercream and chocolate cake batter, I whipped up a few cupcakes to share with neighbors.  There's nothing better than chocolate and vanilla.  Yum.

On a totally different subject ... the basil I started growing (from seedlings) have been thriving.
basil seedling basil growing basil growing1
They've sprouted and look so pretty on my window.  I'm also growing lavender as well.  Once they develop roots, I'll be replanting them into a bigger planter.  Till then, they're the cutest little budlings!
leaf in cup leaf root
Remember how I mentioned I like to "regenerate" plants?  Well, I've been growing this little pruned branch in a cup with only water for about a month.  Can you see the roots starting to grow?  In about another 2 months or so, I'll be able to plant him into soil. 

So much to do .. so little time.  Between trying to organize our home (still!) and tending to my plants .. I've been busy busy busy.  It doesn't help that work decided to block off xanga and a whole lot of other sites so I've been limited to accessing xanga at home.  And really, once I get home I don't like to sit in front of the computer; I mean .. I do that all day as it is!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another Tiramisu Cake and Failed Opera Cake

Congratulations to my friend Carol and baby number 2!  In honor of her new baby girl, the soon to be mommy of two asked for a pregger friendly tiramisu cake.  If ya'll remember, I had already made one for a previous baby shower, so the only labor involved was in the execution.  I didn't have to fiddle with the recipe at all like I had to with the previous shower cake.  As with the previous cake, I didn't make the traditional zabaglione sauce since raw eggs (even heated up) was a no no.  I also wanted to use only pasteurized cheese, so instead of running the risk with marscapone cheese, I used pasteurized whipped cream cheese for the same texture. 

Tiramisu by nature is a cocoa colored cake.  Lots of beige/tan/brown going on.  But since Carol was having a baby girl, I knew I wanted pink to be present somewhere in the cake - the question was how.  I also didn't want to make it look exactly the same as the previous cake. 

Since none of the people attending the baby shower had any allergies, I used pirouettes to outline the cake.  This is especially great for people who can't frost a cake for their life.  While it didn't occur to me as I sketched out the cake, it definitely was apparent as I was assembling the cake.  Why hadn't I used this technique before?  It would have been a lifesaver when I was first learning to frost cakes!  It is however, time consuming and little on a tedious side because I had to trim each pirouette to varying heights.  They're finicky and delicate and a few of them crushed under my fingers. 

I used both the dark chocolate and hazelnut pirouettes.  After assembling, I realized I could have gone an extra step and tried to line up the lines on each pirouette to create a pattern, but realized I would have driven myself mad and decided it was for the best that I didn't attempt this after constructing the cake.  What if I smashed it out of frustration, you know? 

Gotta incorporate the pink somewhere, right?

For the recipe for the tiramisu, click here.

I also got a little creative and wanted to replicate an opera cake I recently saw.  It involves making a stiff batter, piping a pattern, letting it harden and then quickly pouring a sponge cake over the pattern to create a patterned cake.  Do you follow?  I know, who knew pastry was so freaking complicated, right?  I used my go to sponge cake recipe but realized that it was too ... uhm ... spongey?  It has a lot of holes in the cake, which accounts for that sponge like delicate texture.  Unfortunately, holes =/= pretty.  So I'll have to experiment with the sponge cake before actually adding it to my repertoire. 

Here are my sad attempts at making an opera cake.

Notice the spongey texture on the first photo?  I let the batter sit an extra 2 hours for my second attempt with butterflies as the pattern.  It came out better, but there are still holes.  You're supposed to make it super thin so that you can use it as the "skin" or "outside" of the cake.  Then you use whatever you'd like to fill in the center.  That's why the cake looks so thin. 

Anyways, after the enormous failure of my first swirly pattern and the spongey-ness of the second butterfly pattern, I was not in the mood to make the hazelnut mousse and chocolate ganache as planned.  So I whipped up some ice cream with a little gin (to prevent it from becoming insanely hard when frozen).  I hate it when ice cream desserts are super duper frozen.  You know?  The down side to this is that by the time I sliced the cake and tried to take a photo of it, it started to melt.  Like seriously melt.  Oh well.

A good 1/4 inch melted, as you can see in the first picture above.  You can't really tell as much from the aerial view.  It's cookies n cream ice cream, chocolate ganache ice cream and a thin layer of chocolate ganache on top for good measure.  All you need to do it add a little alcohol to each layer to prevent it from utter and total freeze over.  Notice there are no freezer burn crystal marks on the cake even though it's been sitting in the freezer without a top. 

There are a bunch more things to be make this month including a brilliant no fail cheesecake that doesn't crack (I've searched high and low for a non cracking, no fail cheesecake that does not involve meticulously checking on the status of the damn cake).  I like to throw the thing in the oven and let it do its magic.  And another tiramisu.  Both will be for my parents.  Because they don't believe I can bake.  Or at least they don't believe the photos I have been taking of my baked goods are actually mine.  I've always whipped up cookies and brownies but making cakes and cupcakes have been a gradual process, most of which I've developed in the past two years.  Perhaps it was always in my blood and I never paid any attention to it?  Besides, I'm a cook not a baker - at least in their eyes.  So they've asked me to make a tiramisu and cheesecake.  I'm growing tired of making tiramisu cakes!  I think I've inhaled a good amount of cocoa powder in these past few weeks from making tiramisu cakes! 

Anyways, more photos and recipes to follow including the brilliant cheesecake recipe.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spagehtti Scrubs

I've been wanting to get these bad boys for a while now, but I couldn't get past the "doesn't need detergent" business.  I would probably try to use some detergent regardless of what it says because I'm neurotic like that. I have to admit though that it does freak me out a little because it says really doesn't need much soap so I'm picturing an overflow of bubbles and such in my kitchen sink ... but I digress ....

The yellow one is made from corn cobs and is "coarse" and the pink one is made from peach pits and is "gentle".

According to the manufacturer:
Spaghetti Scrubs are highly effective cleaning abrasives made from corn cobs and peach pits. While their natural pedigree is great for the environment, Spaghetti Scrubs' true claim to fame is their ability to clean without requiring any detergent whatsoever. Of course, for heavy grease, you'll need a bit of soap. But Spaghetti Scrubs stay incredibly soapy, so you'll only need a dab.


Spaghetti Scrubs dry quickly and completely. Unlike a regular sponge which absorbs most of the nastiness it encounters, Spaghetti Scrubs are thin and far less absorbent. This prevents the bacterial growth (and stank) that accompanies a traditional sponge.
The unique design and shape of the Spaghetti Scrub allows it to tackle tricky cleaning jobs easily and quickly.
  • Corners? No problem. Just use a small portion of the scrub with the tip of your finger. 
  • Tight spot behind the kitchen faucet? Piece of cake. Thread the thin Spaghetti Scrub behind the faucet and shimmy it back and forth with both hands.
  • Tricky shapes like a whisk? No big deal. Simply roll the Spaghetti Scrub into a ball.
They supposedly last for months and are great for just about every piece of kitchenware including non-stick pans, enamel coated pots, anodized pots, glass stemware and silverware.  You just have to use the appropriate scrub for the job. 

They come in packs of two and run $9 a pack.  If they do last for several months, it will justify the cost (seeing as I toss sponges like it's nobody's business at the first sign of stanky stinky funk).  My kitchen sponges usually get tossed every 2-3 weeks and my regular sponges (for cleaning counters and such) get tossed once a month.  When in need they do get a nice cleaning through the dishwasher but that's a temporary fix for removing germs and bacteria. 

What do ya'll think?  Yay or nay?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Spicy Korean Pork

My favorite is pork, not beef, not seafood -- pork.  The hubs would take a nice piece of steak over all else, but I'd beg to differ.  I think the pig is the greatest animal of all.   I mean, it gives us bacon, right?  But there is one thing we both agree on, we both love spicy pork  - otherwise known as dweji boolgogi or jjeyuk bokkeum. 

It's best served with rice and perilla leaves alongside with dwenjang jjigae.  It's comfort food. 

I like mine spicy but with enough sweetness so you can actually enjoy it without having to gulp gallons of water. 

1.5 pounds of pork shoulder/belly thinly sliced
1 small onion
2 scallions
cooking wine
corn syrup
red pepper paste
red pepper powder
soy sauce
sesame oil
salt and pepper

Wash pork with cold water and pat dry.

In a bowl, marinate the pork with 1 tablespoon of cooking wine (mirin), 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper.  Let it sit while you make the sauce.

In another bowl mix 3 heaping tablespoons of the red pepper paste and 2 tablespoon of the red pepper powder.  Just as a guidance, I don't actually use measuring spoons.  I just use a regular spoon (not a teaspoon) for all my measuring.  Add 2 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of corn syrup, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1/2 tablespoon of sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of minced garlic.   Mix all together.

Slice up the small onion into slices.  Cut the scallions into long slices.  Set aside.

Heat up a large frying pan with some vegetable oil and let it get hot.  Add the pork and cook until you get nice color on the outside.  Add the onions.  Continue to cook until the pork and onion are fully cooked.  (I cook mine for about 10 minutes total but I adjust the heat throughout the process so I don't burn the meat).  At the last minute, add the scallions.  After plating, sprinkle on some sesame seeds. 

You can adjust this to taste.  For example if you like it less sweet, use less sugar.  If you like it more spicy, add more red pepper powder.  If you're opposed to using corn syrup (mool yut) then you can substitute grated pear or even apple sauce. 

Enjoy, it's one of the hubs' favorite dishes. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

M&M Cookies!

I had some mini m&ms that were being neglected, so I decided to make some m&m cookies.  Besides, I'm going to need my chocolate chips for some cookies I'm going to make next week. 

I had originally planned to use these for my christmas cookies.  They're great for christmas tree decorations and for snowman cookies.  But, they never made their appearance.  Better late than never, right?

Straight out of the oven.  Yum.  I always take them out when they're still soft and mushy.  All baked goods firm up as it cools.  Taking them out when they "seem" underdone ensures soft chewy cookies. 

Hurray for m&m cookies! 

See what I mean by soft and chewy?  Look at the inside!  Yummers!  These would be great with my rainbow cake, wouldn't it?

Recipe (adapted from Cooks Illustrated):
2 cups + 2 T flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 sticks butter at room temperature. 
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cups mini m&ms or 1 1/2 cups regular chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325ºF.
Mix the flour and baking soda together in a bowl and set aside.
In another bowl, mix the butter and sugars together for 3-5 minutes.  It should be well mixed and fluffy. 
Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, and mix.
Add the dry ingredients and mix just until the dough comes together.
Add in the chocolate and mix till evenly distributed by hand.  Don't do this with your mixer.  You'll crack the m&m's.
Take about a tablespoon of dough, roll it into a ball and place on a baking sheet.  I try to put the side with the most m&m's showing face up and I slightly flatten them with the palm of my hand.  Not too much, just slightly. If you want those big bakery style cookies, take 2 tablespoons of dough and repeat.
Bake for 12-15 minutes for big cookies.  8-12 minutes for small cookies.  My cookies took exactly 12 minutes. 
Let them rest for 5 minutes on a cooling rack.