Sunday, February 28, 2010

Classic Crumb Cake

A week ago I went to New Orleans to visit two close friends.  I had a blast!  It was my first visit to the city that is home to Mardi Gras. I was surprised by how much New Orleans reminded me of Houston too.  Maybe it is just the humidity?  My friend was a great host of the city.  We went on a boat tour of the Mississippi river, ate TONS of food and saw live music.  If you ever go to New Orleans, don't miss Cafe Du Monde.(  I don't think I have ever had better beignets and the coffee wasn't shabby too.  All and all, the weekend was great.  On Sunday morning, my friend's friends (that makes sense right?) hosts pot luck brunch.  I was excited to contribute to brunch with this Classic Crumb Cake from Martha Stewart's Baking Book.

Makes One 13 by 9 inch cake
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature plus more for the pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
Crumb Topping (see recipe below)
Confectioners' sugar for dusting (optional)

1) Preheat the oven to 350F.  Generously butter 13 by 9 inch baking pan; set aside.  Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside.
2) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl if need.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition.  Mix in the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture and sour cream; beat until just combined.
3) Spoon the batter into the pan, and smooth with an offset spatula.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter.  Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Before serving, dust with confectioners' sugar, if using.

*Crumb Topping
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons course salt
3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

Directions: In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt; cut in the butter using a pastry blender, until large, moist clumps form.  (Alternatively mix together in a food processor)  Topping can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

The learning issue for this entry is a technique "Cutting in Butter".  This is one of the steps of this particular recipe.  I remember the first time I saw this instruction in a scone recipe I was thoroughly confused.  Questions that I had were: "What is cutting in butter?  Do I really need a pastry blender?  What is a pastry blender?"

Above is a picture of the infamous pastry blender.  They are relatively cheap and can be bought for between $5 and $15 dollars.  Their function is essentially to "cut in butter" by blending a solid fat with flour to create a flaky dough.  In a recipe in which one "cuts in butter", the butter or fat ingredient (lard, etc) first and foremost must be cold.  The pastry blender then acts like a knife in slicing the butter into small pieces.  When baked, the dough then become flaky.  So this technique is ideal for scones, biscuits and other various pastry doughs.  It is also often used for pie crusts.  If you choose to not purchase a pastry blender (like myself), you can use a fork or two knifes to achieve the same effect.  However, be aware that this particular method takes a lot longer! 

This is one of the few recipes that I have made by Martha that was slightly disappointing.  The crumb did not taste right.  It was far inferior to the Crumb I made for the Cinnamon Crumb Surprise Bread that I made a couple of weeks ago.  The crumb adhere well to the cake beneath it either.  There needed to be a cinnamon sugar filling connecting the two or a much moister crumb topping.  The cake itself was moist and tasted good, but was nothing special for the amount of time it took to make this cake.  Without the pastry blender, the prep time was close to 50 minutes for this cake.  Overall, I give this Classic Crumb Cake 3.0 out of 5 stars.  People liked it at the brunch that I brought it to, but it could have been soooo much better!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chocolate Crackles

Several of days ago I went over to Chef Danny Jacob's house for a cooking lesson.  We set up an exchange in which I show him some of the things I have learned baking and in return, he teaches me some things about cooking.  Sounds like an amazing deal to me!  We made a seared salmon that was scrumptious with oven roasted purple fingerling potatoes and an arugula salad with pequillo peppers.  It was awesome.  My dessert pick was Chocolate Crackle Cookies from Martha Stewart's Cookie Book.  I made these cookies last spring at my parent's house with my younger sister, and I thought they were worthy of a remake for this particular occasion. 

Chocolate Crackles from Martha Stewart

8 ounces bitter sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar

1. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water stirring.  Set aside and let cool.  Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

2. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.  Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then the melted chocolate.  Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk.  Divide dough into four equal pieces.  Wrap each in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Divide each piece into sixteen 1-inch balls.  Roll in granulated sugar to coat, the in confectioners' sugar to coat.  Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

4. Bake until surfaces crack, about 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks.  Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Boy are these cookies are seriously good.  :)  I originally gave them 5 out of 5 stars last year when I first made them, but I guess my grading scheme is getting a little more stingy with all of the baking and this year I give them 4.7 out of 5 stars.  In other words, these cookies are still awesome and worthy of your time and effort.  These cookies taste more like little cakes in texture and density.  They are the type of cookies that you need people around to eat with you otherwise you may find that you have consumed them all.

The learning moment for today will be passed because I am behind on posting recipes and I am seriously tired.  Until next time!  :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Devil's Food White-Out Cake

As mentioned in a previous post, I went to Houston's central public library late last month. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to simply borrow books. On this book borrowing trip, I checked out Baking, From my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. I have been reading Ms. Greenspan's blog for months now and I have been dying to get my hands on one of her books. You can find her blog at She is quite well known in the baking world. Several years ago she teamed up with Julia Childs to write Baking with Julia. Anyways, the cover recipe to this book is this Devil's Food White-Out Cake. Out of respect to Ms. Greenspan, I will not post the recipe on my blog but you can find it at website I will mention later. I will simply put pictures of my attempt and discuss the recipe some. If you are interested in making this cake, you can find it on page 247 of Baking, From my Home to Yours or visit the following website at NPR.

Because I am not going to include the recipe, I plan on discussing some things I have been thinking about in regards to the science behind baking. As you guys have probably already gathered, I am interested in learning how to make cakes taste better and their presentation. I am going to research the effect of too much chocolate on a cake for this entry...because this is what I did the first time I made the cake. I know I am always mentioning my errors on this blog!  Haha!  You live, you learn and the second, third and fourth times are sometimes the charm.

Okay, cake talk first.

I had the help of some friends from college in making the icing. The icing in this recipe is different from any icing that I have ever made. It is almost marshmallowy and required whipping eggs, a candy thermometer monitoring a sugar water syrup over the stove and more whipping when the two mixtures were mixed together. I wish I had a Kitchen Aid mixer to do the whipping in this recipe instead of enlisting my friends biceps. It took a long time.  When we were done or what I thought was done I tried to ice the cake.  The icing wasn't marshmellowy enough...I think we needed to whip it more after added the caramelized sugar to the soft peak egg whites.  Maybe even 5 minutes more of whipping or some KitchenAid magic.  Nonetheless, the icing wasn't near fluffy enough and as you can see, my cake didn't look too much like Ms. Greenspan's.

The cake itself I made two times. (which I mentioned above) The recipe called for two types of chocolate (a melted bittersweet chocolate and semisweet mini chocolate chips). The first time I made the recipe, when it said to add the melted chocolate...I thought all of the chocolate was suppose to be melted down and added. Here I was wrong... which resulted a REALLY dry cake.  The second cake was incredibly melt in your mouth moist.  The antithesis...interesting.  The second cake overall rates at a 3.7 out of 5.  I have eaten better chocolate cakes but this one was darn good.  My biggest complaint was the icing was too sweet, but this may just as well be my fault in the end. 

After making this cake though, I was left with many questions.  One of the most prevent being why did the excess chocolate dry out the cake?

So I scavenged the internet to learn more about chocolate itself first. It only seems right to learn more about the ingredient near Valentine's day too right? My hopes were ultimately to see if the excess chocolate was really the reason why the cake was so dry. My findings were as follows:

Chocolate comes from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. See picture below:

According to Wikipedia (the source of all good knowledge :) ), people have been cultivating the cacao tree since 1100 BC in Central and South America. Now, I know what your thinking. When can I start growing my own cacao tree in my backyard? Unfortunately, cacao beans directly off the tree do not equate to chocolate. The cacao beans have a really bitter taste directly off the tree and first need to be fermented. (I think of beer immediately here). To do this, the cacao pods are harvested by hand from the cacao trees. In Central America, cacao trees produce buds year round. So this can be done on a continuous basis. The cacao fruits are opened and the pulp and beans are transferred to larger containers. The following website has a good picture of the start of the fermentation process: Cacao Beans Fermeting. Fermentation occurs when the pulp surrounding the bean is converted into alcohol by the yeasts present in the air and the heat generated by the box the beans are in. After fermentation, which takes 2-7 days, is completed, the beans are sun-dried. This takes 1-2 weeks. On larger plantation, the beans can be dried by an electric dryer. Once dry, the beans are ready for domestic consumption and are often shipped to cocoa and chocolate manufacturers. As of now the question mentioned above is unanswered, but the chocolate discussion will be continued on the next post.  Maybe I will find my answer between now and then. This topic will be continued in the next post.

Cinnamon Crumb Surprise

A couple of weeks ago, I  got a cooking lesson from a friend's chef friend. I was super exciting to get to see how a chef functions in the kitchen.  A real life one albeit too?  Stand aside Rachael Ray...  :) Anyways, it was dinner party in which we all contribute some money to buy the food and then help cook the food with the chef. How cool is that?  My friend who invited me to this awesome party asked me to bring a dessert.  Often what I make lately is highly dependent upon what I have lying around.  I had all of the ingredients for this recipe lying Cinnamon Crumb Surprise it was!  I found this recipe in one of the books I checked out from Houston's Central Public library, which is by the way one of my favorite places EVER now.  So many books to see...I had to eventually stop because my hands were filled to MAXIMUM capacity.  I had heard good things about Rose Levy Beranbaum.  This recipe comes to you straight from her Bread Bible.  Woo Hoo!!!

 ** (Please excuse the contorted edge of the bread in this picture. I accidently dropped part of this bread on the ground when I was moving it on the cooling rack! Still good though!)**
From Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible

Crumb Topping and Filling

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 cups walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsifted cake flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F 30 minutes before baking. Have an oven shelf at the middle.
2.Make the crumb mixture. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the sugars, nuts and cinnamon until the nuts are coarsely chopped. Reserve 1/2 cup for the filling. Add the flour, butter, and vanilla to the remainder and pulse briefly just until the butter is absorbed. Empty it into a bowl and refrigerate for about 20 minutes to firm up, then use your fingertips to form a coarse, crumbly mixture for the topping.

Apple Filling and Butter

1 small tart apple
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 plus 1/16 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3. Prepare the filling and mix the batter. Just before mixing the batter, peel and core the apple. Cut into 1/4 inch thick slices, and toss with the lemon juice.

In a medium bowl, lightly combine the egg, the yolks, about one fourth of the sour cream, and the vanilla.

In a mixer bowl, or other large bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low speed (#2 if using a Kitchen Aid, with the paddle attachment) for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and the remaining sour cream and mix until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium if using a stand mixer (#4 KitchenAid), or high speed if using a hand-held mixer, and beat for 1 minute to aerate and develop the structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the egg mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.

4. Fill the pan. Scrape about two-thirds of the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the surface. Sprinkle with the reserved 1/2 cup crumb mixture and top with the apple slices, arranging them in two rows of overlapping slices. Drop the reserved batter in large blobs over the fruit and spread it evenly, preferable with a small offset spatula. (The batter will be 3/4 inch from the top of the pan.) Sprinkle with the crumb topping.

5. Bake the bread. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the bread springs back when pressed lightly in the center. Tent loosely with buttered foil after 45 minutes to prevent overbrowning.

6. Cool the bread. Remove the bread from the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Place a folded kitchen towel on top of a flat plate and cover it with plastic wrap. Oil the plastic wrap. Loosen the sides of the bread with a small metal spatula, and invert in onto the plate. Grease a wire rack and reinvert the bread onto it, so that it is right side up. Cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours, before wrapping airtight.

I have decided that I need to include a more educational section to this blog.  To do this, I will include learning issues to each of these posts when I get the chance.  With an extensive background in science, I am trying to make sense out of why things work baking and cooking.  So as you can imagine, most of the learning issues will deal with the why.  Why do certain ingredients create such interesting phenomenon and tastes?  Today's topic is baking soda vs baking powder.  Can I substitute?  I have had this burning question for a while now.  It gnaws at the bottom of my stomach. ;)  Still after years of baking, I am amazed how desserts rise and change in the oven.

Baking soda aka pure sodium bicarbonate reacts with other components of the mixture to release carbon dioxide and then helps the dough rise.  Baking powder consists of sodium bicarbonate, cream of tarter (an acidfying agent), and a drying agent (most often starch).  In order to use baking soda, it must be combined with an acidic ingredient like yogurt, chocolate, buttermilk or honey.  The reaction between baking soda and the acidic ingredient produces carbon dioxide that expands in oven temperature.  The carbon dioxide is produced immediately upon mixing therefore baking soda only recipes need to be placed in the oven ASAP.  Otherwise, you will create a baked good that does not rise.  Baking powder, on the other hand, does not depend on the ingredients within your recipe to create an leavening effect.  The powder comes in two forms--> single acting powders and double acting powders.  Go ahead, run to your kitchen now.  Check out which form you have stocked in your pantry.  I found double acting powder listed under my store brand baking powder.  Crazy eh?  I never noticed this.  A single acting baking powder is activated by moisture CO2 bubbles start immediately and the baked good must be baked immediately.  However, double acting powders are a bit more forgiving when it comes to time.  Some gas is released at room temperature when the powder is mixed into your recipe, but the majority is released upon baking the of the dough. ( Baking Powder vs Baking Soda)

Okay, so after all of do you decide whether to use powder or soda?  It depends on the ingredients of the recipe.  Baking soda is often found in cookie recipes and shouldn't be used in other recipes unless countered by an acidic ingredient.  Baking powder on the other hand is more neutral and is combined with ingredients like milk.  It can always substitute for baking soda, but baking soda can't substitute for baking powder.  But in a pinch you can always make your own baking powder by mixing two parts cream of tarter with one part baking soda.

Informative enough?  Tired of reading?

This Cinnamon Crumb Surprise Bread disappeared before my eyes at the party.  Everyone had positive things to say about the recipe at the party.  I think the bread was good, but I am critical of my recipes as you know.  I give this recipe 3.5 out of 5 stars.  The bread was an excellent moisture and I loved the cinnamon crumb topping.  People could simply just eat the topping and be happy.  The topping is also versatile and could potentially be used in other recipes.  However the taste of the bread itself was a little plain.  Where are the firework's Rose?  The crumb was awesome but fireworks Rose, fireworks.  People were also surprised by the apple in the bread which was soft and tart as expected.  Overall, decent recipe but will probably not make again any time soon especially considering the amount of time and effort this recipe required.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Supernatural Brownies

As you can tell, I have been baking a lot lately. It is almost a last ditch effort of a desperate attempt to have a semi-normal life before residency starts. I know... I still have months before July 1st, but I feel the day looming. My match information has to be turned in within the next two weeks, and I really need to take a moment between now and then to make my final list. It is a bit nerve racking and I am ready for the whole process to be over so that I can move on with my life. For now though, I will bake and I will bake like there is no tomorrow. I plan on taking these brownies to the clinic I am working in this month for the nursing staff. It is always good to try to get on people's good side with baked goods right? :) The recipe I discovered on the Brownie Project blog.

Supernatural Brownies - adapted from Nick Malgieri from the Brownie Project

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
One 13×9x2-inch pan, buttered and lined with buttered parchment or foil

1. Set the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
2. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and turn off heat. Combine butter and chocolate in a heat proof bowl and set over pan of water. Stir occasionally until melted.
3. Whisk eggs together in a large bowl, then whisk in the salt, sugars, and vanilla. Stir in the chocolate and butter mixture, then fold in the flour.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, until top has formed a shiny crust and batter is moderately firm. Cool in pan on a rack. Wrap pan in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature or refrigerated until the next day.
5. To cut brownies, unmold onto a cutting board, remove paper, and replace with another cutting board. Turn cake right side up and trim away edges. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares.

The baking learning issue for today is the double boiler. Now, I do not actually own a double boiler. So melting chocolate can often be a challenge but not impossible. When I first started baking, I steered clear of recipes with the elusive double boiler...thinking that I actually needed one to do the recipe. Ha! The double boiler itself is essentially two saucepans that fit into each other. The bottom saucepan aka the larger one is partially filled with water and you bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, the top saucepan is placed on the lower one and the substance you are melting or heating is placed inside. Chocolate sauces, custards and the wax from candles can be made in a double boiler. I always create a makeshaft double boiler in my kitchen. I pick a small sauce pan and a glass bowl to go atop the sauce pan. Finding the right size glass bowl for the sauce pan is the trick. You don't want your glass bowl to actually touch the bottom of the sauce pan, but you also don't want you glass bowl to float in the water. So the bowl has to be able to shimmy into the sauce pan with the top portion of the bowl larger than the sauce pan. Does that make sense? There is a nice picture on another blog: Double Boiler Picture. I fill the small sauce pan with water and I place the glass bowl atop. have yourself a double boiler.

As for this recipe, I give it 3 out of 5 stars. The brownies were decent but you can do better. The pro's to this recipe was the fact that these brownies are incredibly simple to make. It is hard to screw them up. This is a lot coming from me...queen of incorrectly reading recipes. In addition, I liked how moist these brownies were in the center and the color of the brownies was ideal. The cons to this recipe was that the brownies were a bit overdone on the outsides after 45 minutes (which is my fault because I forgot how much brownies continue to cook after you take them out of the oven.) Second, where's the extra punch...what is making these special??? Where is the chocolatey goodness oozing out of the brownies? I leave you with this. If you have any recommendations on recipes for me to try, please send them my way. I am in the mood to bake. Bring it!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Double Thin Mint Ice Cream

So for Christmas, my little sister so graciously got me an AMAZING ice cream maker. I made pistachio gelato with her back in December, but I have been dying to use it since then. My freezer has been prepped with the bowl in it since early January. Second, I have Girl Scout cookies still in the freezer from last year that are calling my name saying things like: "Eat me! I am sooo good!". Third, I want to buy new Girl Scout cookies this year and you can't in your right mind buy new ones with old ones still lying around. So, I was surfing the web to find a way to use my Thin Mints and my new ice cream maker. I discovered this recipe on another blog, Erin Cooks. Her pictures of the ice cream are more enticing than mine if you really want to be sold on making this ice cream.

Double Thin Mint Ice Cream
Loosely adapted from the Ben & Jerry’s Sweet Cream Base #1 recipe originally published in the Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book.
Makes 1 quart
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
10 ounces of dark chocolate sauce
15 Thin Mints (one sleeve of cookies) crushed
1. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue to whisk until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream, milk, and peppermint extract and whisk to blend. Begin freezing the mixture according to your ice cream maker’s manufacturer instructions.
2. As the ice cream starts to come together in your machine carefully pour in the crushed Thin Mint cookies. Then allow the ice cream to finish the freezing cycle.
3. In order to add a chocolate swirl to your ice cream do not add the chocolate sauce directly into your ice cream churn. This will make the mixture appear muddy looking. Layer the ice cream and chocolate sauce in a freezer proof container. Start with a layer of ice cream. Then smooth half of the jar of dark chocolate sauce on top. Add another layer of ice cream, and finish with the remaining chocolate sauce. Freeze the mixture until it has hardened completely. Then when you scoop out a serving you’ll have noticeable layers of cookie ice cream and gooey sauce.
The learning issue today will be simple and sweet. How did people come up with this stuff? The dessert is first traced back to the Emperor Nero of Rome. He wanted his slaves to bring back snow that was mixed with honey and fruits to form a dessert. The tales surrounding the rest of ice cream's popularization are quite varied and almost legendary. King Charles I of England was said to have a cook who discovered the dessert and the king bribed the cook not to release the dessert's secret so that he would be the only one to have the pleasure of eating the dessert. There are tales of Marco Polo bringing ice cream over from China. From all of this though, what I gather is that an ice cream like substance was probably discovered at multiple times in history by various groups of people.

Ice Cream is often though referred to as an "American dessert". The ice cream craze in America really took off after Dolly Madison served ice cream at the inaugural dinner in 1812 and later the American Nancy Johnson in 1843 invented the ice cream maker. With this invention, the first ice cream plant was opened in 1851 in Maryland by Jacob Fussell. From there...we all know what happened to ice cream. It became HUGE!
This particular ice cream recipe is simple and makes darn good ice cream. My barometer for ice cream is not a good for cakes though. I am little lactose intolerant and I can only eat small amounts of ice cream. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this ice cream and give it 3.75 out of 5 stars. I would make this recipe again. Making ice cream with the ice cream maker...especially this recipe is easy as pie. However, I would make sure that I use Peppermint extract and not Mint extract the next time. No one at the super bowl party seemed to notice the slight spearmint initial taste. Mint extract is a combo of peppermint extract and spearmint extract. I thought you would not be able to taste the difference, but I could.