Saturday, May 21, 2016

Almond Cream Cheese Shortbread Bars

At last, after days of chilly rainy weather, it's finally getting warm here, and summer is on its way.  This morning, before the day grew too hot, we (mostly my husband, though) dug holes for the trees we bought last weekend to try to fill in some gaps along the fence in our back yard.  Five trees in all - two smallish maples, two hawthorns, and a peach tree.  I'm hopeful that the peach tree will thrive, and in a few years, we might have our own peaches!  How fun would that be?

Once the maples and hawthorns along the side of the house grow, they should provide a beautiful, shaded pathway around the house, leading into the back yard.  There's so much work to be done outside, and the thought of it is overwhelming.  It will be a year, or two, before we can begin most of our plans which include a pergola over the existing patio and digging up the side yard to put down pavers to extend the patio.  I'm dreaming of outdoor suppers with twinkling lights strung overhead, flowers and vines climbing up trellises, an arbor over the path to walk through, and raised beds for vegetables with the sweet scent of tomatoes and basil on warm summer nights.

As the daylight fell tonight, Jamie built the first fire of summer in our fire pit, and we relaxed in the growing darkness until the air was chilly.  The only thing missing was s'mores.

We do, however, have these almond bars for dessert this weekend, which, given my deep love of almond pastries (and shortbread), I'm more than a little biased towards.  They are basically the best almond cookie bar you'll ever eat, and are so simple to make.

The buttery shortbread crust also serves as the crumb topping, and in between is a filling of cream cheese and sweetened almond paste, subtly flavored with a hint of cinnamon and bourbon.  The layers of crust, filling and topping melt together a bit, so that you can't quite discern one from the next just by looking at them, but when you bite into one, the salted buttery crust touches your tongue first, followed by the creamy almond filling and then the crumbly topping, and you fall a little bit in love.

Almond Cream Cheese Shortbread Bars

Crust and Topping.
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 8 ounces almond paste
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 and spray an 8x8 baking dish with non stick spray.

In a food processor, or with a pastry cutter, combine the crust ingredients until pea-sized pieces of butter remain.  Reserve one cup of the crumbs for the topping, and press the remainder of the crumbs firmly against the bottom of the baking dish.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the filling ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth.  Carefully spread the filling over the hot crust, and sprinkle the filling with the reserved crumbs.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the topping is a pale golden.

Cool completely before cutting.  Yields about 9-16 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, May 14, 2016

German Chocolate Bourbon Cupcakes

For our wedding almost two years ago (has it really been that long?) I made a German Chocolate Cake for the groom's cake (as well as four other cakes), with a little bourbon in the coconut pecan caramel filling.  By the time we finished the wedding dinner and the cakes were cut, I was too full to taste more than a bite of each, but I remember being thrilled with how they all turned out, and so happy that I'd made the decision to make them myself, even though the weeks leading up to our wedding day were so busy and tiring.  Even the caterer told me that my lemon poppyseed cake was the best lemon cake she'd ever tasted.

Maybe I was feeling sentimental, but last weekend, on Mother's Day, I recreated the German Chocolate Bourbon Cake in the form of these beautiful cupcakes.

The filling itself, I could eat by the spoonful.  Sweet and thick, with notes of brown sugar, vanilla, butter and bourbon, it pairs perfectly with the dark chocolate cake.  And if you don't mind making two buttercreams, it's nice to have the choice between salted vanilla and chocolate.

All together, though, the cupcakes are mouthfuls of bliss.

German Chocolate Bourbon Cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup sweetened coconut
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
In a saucepan, whisk together the cream, brown sugar and egg yolks until smooth.  Cook over medium low heat, whisking constantly, until thick and bubbly, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla, bourbon, pecans, coconut and salt.  Cover and let cool at room temperature for several hours.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, special dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with 20 paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt and baking soda.  Add the remaining wet ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Divide between the paper liners, and bake the cupcakes until risen and a toothpick comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes.

Vanilla Buttercream.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons milk
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until smooth.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder until combined.  Add the salt, vanilla and milk, and whip on medium high until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.

Chocolate Buttercream.
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons milk
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until smooth.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and meringue powder until combined.  Add the salt, vanilla and milk, and whip on medium high until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.

To assemble, use a cupcake corer to remove the centers of each cupcake.  Fit piping bags with large star tips and fill with the two buttercreams.  Pipe a swirl of buttercream around the edge of the cupcakes.  Spoon the filling into the center.  I also sprinkled each with a few toffee bits.

Yields about 20 cupcakes.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    Thursday, May 12, 2016

    Baking Powder Biscuits

    Biscuits are some of life's most perfect food, I think.  I've made this particular recipe for baking powder biscuits hundreds of times over the last 15 years, and I never tire of them.  They are fantastic however you eat them - spread with butter and honey, or homemade jam, with lemon marmalade and slices of ham for breakfast the morning after Christmas dinner, or my recent favorite, drizzled with pure maple syrup.

    I usually make them plain, but they're also amazing with cheese and herbs stirred into the dough.  The original recipe is from my old Betty Crocker cookbook, but over the years I've tweaked it here and there to suit me better, and I'm so pleased with the result.

    Baked at a high temperature, their golden brown crust gives way to a fluffy, tender center that's one of the best things you'll ever put in your mouth.  Hot from the oven, I brush their tops with melted butter and then serve them piping hot.  Sometimes I like to sprinkle the tops with a little freshly cracked pepper.  They can be dropped by the spoonful onto a baking sheet, but I like how they look when cut into pretty rounds, and while I know I sound like a baking nerd, I find it pretty exciting watching them puff up in the oven.

    Baking Powder Biscuits

    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 4 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
    • 2/3 - 3/4 cup cold, whole milk or buttermilk
    Preheat the oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

    In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Use a pastry cutter to cut in 6 tablespoons butter until crumbly.  (If you want to add grated cheese and/or herbs, add those now.)  Stir in the milk just until moistened and use your hands to gather it up into a craggy dough, but don't overwork the dough.

    On a lightly floured surface, gently pat the dough out to 1 inch thick.  Cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter (my preferred size is 2 1/4 inches) trying to cut as many biscuits as you can the first time, then gather up the scraps and cut those as well (the scrap biscuits don't bake quite as prettily, but are always tasty).  You should be able to cut about 8-9 biscuits.

    Place on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 13-15 minutes.

    Melt the remaining two tablespoons butter in a small bowl and brush over the tops of the biscuits as soon as you take them out of the oven.  Serve immediately.

    Yields 8-9 biscuits

    Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    Saturday, May 7, 2016

    Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cake

    Standing on a stool next to the kitchen counter, watching (and persisting in trying to help) my mom mix up cookie dough, pie crust or bowls of frosting was one of my favorite things.  My brother and sister and I would always remind her - as though she could forget - to save enough for us to lick the bowl, spoons and beaters, but just in case, we'd sneak as many spoonfuls as we could get away with before any of the dough actually made it into the oven.

    With tomorrow being my first mother's day, even though I haven't done much worthy of noting yet, other than growing this little baby boy inside me for the last five months, I've made this cake for everyone who looks back as fondly as I do on those memories that helped to establish their love of baking.

    This cake is completely decadent with a full three pounds of cookie dough, three layers of pound-cake-esque chocolate chip coconut milk cake, and vanilla bean buttercream.  I garnished the sides of the cake with chocolate chip swags (chocolate chips are one of the easiest ways to decorate a cake if piping isn't your thing), and salted cookie dough balls on top.  Of course, a cold glass of milk is absolutely essential.

    Happy Mother's Day!

    It should be noted that this cookie dough is made without eggs or leavening, so you'd be disappointed in the results if you tried to bake it into cookies.  This cookie dough is meant to be eaten raw.

    Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cake

    • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
    • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
    • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 4 eggs
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk
    • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
    • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 1 cup shortening
    • 4 cups powdered sugar
    • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
    • 2-3 tablespoons cream or milk
    • extra chocolate chips (both regular size and mini) for garnishing the cake

    Preheat the oven to 350 and grease three 8-inch pans, then line the bottoms with a circle of parchment paper.

    In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar, cream cheese and butter on medium speed for 5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.  Beat in the vanilla, and the eggs, one at a time, beating for a full minute before adding the next one.

    In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the coconut milk, starting and ending with the flour.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

    Divide between the pans, spread the batter out to evenly cover the bottom of the pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely in the pans, on wire racks, covered loosely with clean kitchen towels.

    In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and shortening for 1 minute until smooth.  With the mixer on low, stir in the powdered sugar and meringue powder until moistened.  Add the vanilla bean paste and the cream/milk, then increase speed to medium high; whip for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.

    Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
    • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
    • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
    • 2/3 cup brown sugar
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
    • 1/3 - 1/2 cup whole milk
    • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
    • 1 cup chopped pecans

    In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars for three minutes.  Scrape the bowl down and beat in the vanilla.

    In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and espresso powder.  Add the flour mixture to the butter, mixing on medium low to combine, then add the milk, until the dough is moistened, but still very thick.  Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.

    A food scale is helpful for the next few steps so you can portion out the dough evenly.  Weigh out 8 ounces of the dough, and divide into 8 one-ounce balls to garnish the top of the cake.  Set in the refrigerator until needed.

    You'll have about 40 ounces of dough remaining - divide into two 20-ounce portions.  Take a cake pan (the same size that you baked the cake in) and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.  Press one 20-ounce portion of dough into the pan, using your hands to press it out as evenly as possible.  Set another circle of parchment paper on top of the dough, and use the bottom of a glass to smooth the dough out completely.  Turn the pan over to remove the disk of cookie dough and set aside.  Repeat with the other 20-ounce portion, so you have two cake-sized disks of dough.

    Place one cooled cake bottom side up on a cake pedestal or cardboard cake circle.  Set one of the disks of cookie dough on top of the cake (after removing the parchment paper).  Repeat with the rest of the cake and cookie dough so that you have three layers of cake filled with two layers of cookie dough.

    Frost the cake all over with a thin crumb coat of the buttercream, then chill for about 20 minutes.  Finish frosting the cake and smooth the buttercream all over.  Garnish the top of the cake with the eight balls of cookie dough, and press the chocolate chips (pointed side in) around the cake for decoration.  Finish the cookie dough balls on top with a sprinkling of salt.

    Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

    Saturday, April 30, 2016

    Coming September

    Today's cake is as close to my heart as a cake could get, because it's the gender reveal cake I designed for my own baby to come this September.  And as you can see, my husband and I are having a boy!

    Now that we know the sex, I've commissioned my husband to paint the nursery so I can start decorating.  I love to decorate our home.

    For the cake, I kept the design monochromatic with all black and white except for the blue-tinted buttercream inside.  Three tiers of chocolate cake are filled with the blue buttercream, and then frosted with a simple crumb coat of vanilla buttercream.

    I rolled out white fondant very thin, and cut it into a variety of baby clothes.  After they dried and hardened a bit, I outlined the pieces with a black edible food-coloring marker, then strung them back and forth across the cake tiers, like clothes swinging in the breeze on clothesline.

    With the cold, snowy spring we're experiencing - and yet another snowed-in weekend that has us eating waffles for breakfast today and snuggling under a blanket watching the Cooking channel - I'm so looking forward to the warm summer, and then, of course, fall, when our baby will make us a little family of three.