Monday, May 31, 2010

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Adventure

Little did I know earlier this week that I was going to make two different pineapple upside down cakes.   However, I was not satisfied with my first attempt and knew that I could do better.  In addition, I had left over pineapple from the first one and making a second cake just seemed fitting.  This week has been a big week for me.  Two pineapple upside down cakes, med school graduation and lots of friends moving.  I still am in a little shock that I actually graduated med school.  (*Not that I was close to not passing.)   I know I worked hard for it, but I don't feel like I have adequate knowledge still.  There is still so much work left to be done.  For a moment though, it is nice to think that I have finished some of the process and I am trying to enjoy my few weeks off before residency starts.  Anyways, back to Pineapple Upside down cake.  I am going to do a side by side comparison of the two cakes I discuss what I could have done better in each cake.  The cakes will be discussed in the order that I made them.

Cake #1- Pineapple Upside-Down Cake from William Sonoma Cookbook

For the Topping
-- 1/2 fresh pineapple, peeled
-- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
--3/4 cup firmly pack brown sugar
For the Cake:
-- 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
-- 1 tsp baking powder
-- 1/4 tsp salt
-- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
-- 2 large eggs
-- 2 tsp vanilla extract
-- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
-- 1 cup granulated sugar
-- 1/2 cup whole milk

Directions for Cake #1
1. Preheat the Oven to 350 F.  Lightly coat a 9 inch round cake pan with vegetable oil spray.  (I always coat my pans with butter)
2. Cut the peeled pineapple crosswise into slices 1/2 inch thick.  With a paring knife or small cookie cutter, remove the core from each slice.  Cut the pineapple rounds into half moons and set aside.  (I bought pineapple from HEB that was already peeled for the same price)
3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the brown sugar and stir until small bubbles appear, 2-3 minutes.  Remove the mixture from the heat and pour into the prepared pan.  Arrange 7-8 pineapple halves in the pan in a circular pattern.  Set the pan aside.
4. To make the cake, in a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg to distribute the leavening and splice evenly.  Set aside.  In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla.  Set aside.
5. In a stand mixer fitted with the  paddle attachment, beat the butter until pale and fluffy.  Gradually add the granulated sugar and beat for 2 to 3 minutes longer.  Slowly add the egg mixture, beating after each addition.  Spoon half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, stir, add half of the milk, and stir again.  Add the remaining flour, stir, and then add the remaining milk.  Continue stirring, scraping down the bowl as needed until the batter is completely smooth.  Do not overmix.
6. Pour the batter on top of the pineapple slices in the prepared pan, spreading it evenly.  Bake until the top of the cake is lightly golden and the center springs back when touched, 35-45 minutes.  Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a platter and scrape the remaining juices over the top of the cake.  Let cool slightly and serve warm.

Cake #2- Pineapple Upside-Down Cake from Anna Marie Sims.  Given to me by aunt.

1 Yellow Cake Mix
1 Vanilla Instant Pudding- small (or just buy a yellow cake mix with pudding included)
1 1/3 cup water
1/2 cup oil (Canola or Vegetable) 
3 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla extract
6 Tbsp Butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 14.5oz Can Sliced Pineapple, drained

Mix cake mix, pudding, water, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract together until well mixed.  Grease and flour cake pan(s)-- your choice based on cake mix options.  Melt butter in saute pan.  Add brown sugar then slice pineapple.  (Mixture may appear too thick before pineapple is added-- ok).  Pour sugar mixture into bottom of pan(s)-- arrange pineapple.  Add cake batter.

Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes (or per cake mix instructions).  Test with toothpick to determine readiness.  When ready, remove from oven.  Let cool about 10 minutes.  Loosen edges with butter knife.  Put plate or platter on top of cake pan and flip.  Use fork to remove any topping mix left in pan and put it back on cake.

*Notes on this recipe:
1. I buttered the cake pans with 1 tbsp of butter prior to pouring the sugar mixture into the bottom of the pans.
2. I added the brown sugar to the melted butter i n the saute pan and allowed the mixture to come to a bubble.  This process took 2 to 3 minutes.  Instead of placing the pineapple in the saute pan as the instructions say, I poured the brown sugar mixture into 8 inch pans and then arranged half moon shaped pineapple pieces in the cake pan.
3. I used two 8 inch cake pans and baked each cake close to 40 minutes at 350 F.

Evaluation of the recipes:
Cake #1 aka the William Sonoma Cake: 3.0 out of 5 stars.  I underbaked this cake first off.  So it was too gooey and I was unable to move it to a cake platter.  So I honestly think I need to remake this cake before I give a full evaluation.  The cake in my oven needed probably 45 minutes of solid baking at 350F.  The cake was slightly deceiving in the fact that the top of the cake looked so done and the remainder of the cake, especially the center, was so not done.  So summary...cake was so so.  I even threw out some of the left overs because I wasn't excited about eating it.  This is rare for me.  I almost always finish the cake I make.  :)

Cake #2 aka the cake from my Aunt: 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Despite my aversion to using box cake mixes period, this easy to make cake was significantly better tasting than Cake #1.  It was moister, richer in flavor and the pineapples melted in your mouth.  The cake crumbed in your mouth.  People who ate this cake had extremely positive things to say.  I will definitely make this cake again.  (especially because it was so easy!) It took me less than 15 minutes to prepare prior to putting it in the oven.  This is a rare occurrence. 

Verdict: Cake #2 wins!!!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I finished all of my work for medical school last week.  Now, all I have to do is fill out a couple of forms prior to graduation.  I can't believe that I graduate in less than 2 weeks!  Instead of finishing the forms during the past couple of days.  I choose to go to the lake this past weekend and drive to San Antonio to see my family.  As I write this entry, I am sitting on my parent's couch watching TV.  Ahhh...the life!  Amidst this free time, I choose to go shopping and of course, bake.  I picked this chocolate chip cookie recipe.  This recipe is  from Baking Illustrated from the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine.  The neat thing at about this book is the fact that is goes through a series of reason and taste testings to evaluate the ingredients in the recipe. (Perfect for a science nerd like me!)

For the recipe and evaluation of the recipe...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Noodle Soup

I know it has been a long time since I last wrote.  I have been out of the country in China and just got back to the US a couple of days ago.  The food was so different in China.  I can't even begin to describe the flavors and tastes that I experienced during the last 5 weeks.  Several entries will be dedicated to China's food.  I want to spend more time learning about their food.  I desperately looked for a cookbook in English while I was in China.  Alas, no success.  I now will scour the internet for books on their food.

My first entry about China will be about one of my favorite meals.  I will discuss all of the weird foods I saw in another entry.  I happened to stay in the city of Xi'an one more day than I originally anticipated.  A full day of wandering the city and exploring, sweet eh?  Xi'an is a city in central China that served as the capital of many previous dynasties.  Prior to my trip to China, I had never heard of the city.  However, Xi'an is actually quite big (+8 million aka two times the size of Houston).  The reason Xi'an has become a hot spot for tourists now is not because of the historical significance of the city, but because of what was found a mere 35 years ago in Xi'an.  In 1974, farm workers digging for a well in the countryside began to find weird things like arrows and broken pieces of pottery.  At first they discounted their findings to be mere junk, but the more stuff they found during the digging the more significant the findings became.  The farmers had actually stumbled upon the tomb of the First Emperor of China from the Qin dynasty.  Within the tomb, the legendary Terracotta warriors were present.  Throughout China's history, legend had told that the first emperor was buried with a life size army and a river of Mercury.  Below is a picture of one of the life size warriors that I took a picture of while I was in Xi'an.  None of the warriors were found intact and each had to be put back together.

Back to food, Xi'an has a large Muslim quarter and for lunch, I decided to explore it.  I found a restaurant with pictures (key in China) and sat down to order.  I decided that I would have what the lady in the next table over was eating.  My inability to learn any Chinese while on the trip was quite astounding.  I found myself resorting to pointing and pantomiming frequently to describe my order at restaurants.

As I sat and waited for my order.  I watched the chef prepare the meal.  This section of China has more noodle makers compared to Eastern China.  The noodle makers are extremely impressive to watch.  One minute you are watching them roll out a simple flour mixture and the next you are watching them fling noodles into creation by folding and flinging the dough.  My mouth must have been close to the floor as I watched this process.  It's magic I tell you.

Less than 5 minutes later, the owner of the restaurant brought me a bowl of noodle soup.  The first thing that popped into my head was, "Am I in the movie Kung Fu Panda or what?"  Haha.  It's funny how you try to make an unusual meal normal in your head.  As I sat down and ate the noodles clumsily (but much improved since the beginning of the month) with my chop sticks, I realized that I have been missing out on awesomeness.  I don't know whether dry noodles from the grocery store will ever be the same.  The fresh noodles slide into your mouth and are more complex tasting than their dry counterparts.  I slurped up the soup by bring the bowl to my mouth.  Unlike in the US, slurping is not considered to be unladylike in China.  However, I don't know whether I want to take notes on manners from the Chinese on everything.  It is not uncommon to hear a grandma hock a lougie right next to you as you walk down the street.  Mixed with the soup what what I thought was beef, green onions, onions and lots of spices that I don't know the names of.  However, I may not be the best judge when it comes to the meat.  I almost ate dog in one of the Hutong restaurants in Beijing because I thought it was beef.

Can I find noodle soup here in the US?  I sure hope so.  If nothing else, I want to learn how to make noodles now.  It's on my cooking bucket list.  Will I be able to fling the noodles like the noodle maker?  Highly unlikely.  I think I will be lucky if I manage to keep the noodles from sticking to the cutting board. 

                                              Above is the restaurant from the outside
I can't wait to write more about my adventure in China and the strange foods that I encountered, and I promise soon that I will write more about the cooking I am doing here at home.  Talk to you soon, Cristina

Fudgy Pudgy Brownies

I lost a bet.  Big surprise, right?  I shouldn't EVER bet.  It is just not a good idea.  I almost ALWAYS lose whether it is nickel betting on dog races or betting who is going to win the Super bowl.  You can almost always bet against me and win your money.  Anyways, I was at the Rodeo watching the wagon races and I picked the wrong wagon.  My payment was Brownies.  I don't consider this much of a payment actually.  :)  I made these Fudgy Pudgy Brownies from Rose Levy Berbenbaum new cake book.  

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons walnut or pecan halves
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces fine quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 ounces fine quality white chocolate containing cocoa butter, chopped
3 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, preferably bleached
pinch of salt


Special Equipment: One 8-inch square baking pan, wrapped with a cake strip, coated with shortening, line with two pieces of crisscrossed parchment paper, attached to each other by a thin coating of shortening, the coated lightly with baking spray flour

Preheat the Oven: Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F (300 if using a Pyrex or dark pan)

Toast and Chop the Nuts: Spread the nuts evenly on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, to enhance their flavor.  Stir once or twice to ensure even toasting and avoid overbrowning.  If using walnuts, turn them out onto a clean dish towel and rub them in the towel to remove as much skin as possible.  Using a chef's knife, chop the walnuts or pecans in four batches so that they are no larger than 1/4 inch.  Discard any skin.  Note: To avoid creating excess nut dust, do not use the food processor.

Melt the Butter and Chocolates: In a double boiler oven hot, not simmering water, melt the butter, unsweetened chocolate, white chocolate, and cocoa, stirring often.  Scrape the melted chocolate mixture into a large mixing bowl.

Make the Batter: Whisk the sugar into the melted chocolate mixture until incorporated.  Whisk in the eggs and vanilla until the mixture becomes thick and glossy.  Add the flour and salt and stir only until the flour is moistened fully.  Stir in the nuts.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly with an offset spatula.

Bake the Brownie: Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the batter has set up 1 inch from the edge and the toothpick inserted one inch from the edge comes out almost clean.  An instant read thermometer inserted in the center will register 190 F.

 These name of these brownies says it all.  The brownies are quite fudgy and will make you really pudgy upon massive consumption.  I love how moist these brownies are and how you can taste the chocolate melting out of them.  Overall, these brownies get 4 out of 5 stars in my opinion.  I think the brownies that I made in February were better than these, but these were still quite good and worth baking.  I made these brownies in March despite the date that they will be coming out on my blog.  I apologize for the delay in this post, but I have been out of the country in Asia.  I will try to post some information about my trip in upcoming posts.  I hope you enjoy making these brownies.