Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rose Garden Cupcakes

Whenever I bake a cake or cupcakes, it's not unusual for me to have a little bit of buttercream left over - since I'd rather make too much than too little and then run out partway through a project...  So I scrape all those leftover bits into labeled freezer bags and freeze them for another day.  When I noticed that my buttercream collection was taking up a little too much room in our freezer, I thawed out all those little bags, some with only enough for 1-2 cupcakes, and thought about what to do with it all.

I decided to use it as an opportunity to play around with a few different piping tips, and experiment with different "rose" designs.  Which was fitting since, after all, I had at my hands a potpourri of buttercream flavors and colors, and I thought all the different shades would look really pretty piped into different rose designs.  And for my "rose garden" of cupcakes, I even made little signs out of toothpicks and craft paper, so everyone at work would know what flavor each one was.

Realistic Buttercream Rose
First, there's the most natural looking rose, which you see in the photo above, piped in pink buttercream.  This can only be achieved with a rose tip, where one end is wider than the other.  Wilton #103 or 104 are a good size to start practicing with; 102 and 101 are pretty small and a little more difficult to use.  Or, for a huge rose, you could try using # 125, which I have, but have never used yet.  I used #103 for the one in this photo.

I learned the technique in a cake decorating class last summer, and as it was extremely helpful to watch the teacher demonstrate it over and over, I would recommend watching some video demonstrations online if this is a technique you'd like to learn.  The consistency of the buttercream for this type of rose is important, as it can't be too soft or it won't hold its shape, or too firm and the petals will look dry.  Practice, practice, practice!

Swirl Rose
The swirl rose is so easy, and very pretty.  I piped this style of rose onto many of the cupcakes pictured here, including the red peppermint and brown chocolate roses.  A large open star tip quickly achieves this look.  I tried a few, but Wilton # 1M was my favorite, and what I used in these photos.  Instead of starting at the outside of the cupcake and piping towards the middle as is typical for piping buttercream onto cupcakes (such as you might have done with the large, closed drop flower tip #2D), you start in the middle and pipe around to the edge, letting the buttercream fall onto the cake in one smooth motion.

Many types of rosettes can be piped with small to medium star tips (#16-22 for a few options), as you see in the cappuccino and cream colored buttercreams pictured.  Using a medium star tip, I tried the swirl rose technique with the cappuccino buttercream, although I didn't think the result was quite as pretty as with the large star tip.  You can even pipe lots of small or medium rosettes all over (a technique I really like for covering whole cakes as shown in my Orange Dreamsicle Cake, Pink Ombre Cake, and Mocha Rum Cake).

For Valentines, these would be so beautiful in ombre shades of white, pink and red!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cinnamon Cardamom Raisin Swirl Bread

Running errands with my mom was something that I remember disliking immensely as a kid, especially in the summer.  Our car, a green Chevy, was too hot for driving around in the South Carolina humidity, with plastic seats in the back that burned and stuck to the back of my legs.  The broken metal piping in the plastic upholstery poked out here, there, everywhere, stabbing my butt and legs wherever it pleased.

Standing around in department stores while my mom tried on clothes in the dressing room felt like torture.  To make those trips more interesting, my brother, sister and I would hide in the racks of clothes, which, needless to say, made my mom pretty mad.  Even if the trip was for something for me, like new shoes, I would rather have been home playing with my Barbies.  I had a need to please my mom, and I remember telling her I liked a pair of black shoes with bows that she had picked out for me.  But  when it came time for me to wear them to church, I dissolved into tears as I admitted how much I really hated the shoes, but hadn’t wanted to hurt her feelings.

Grocery shopping didn’t interest me, and trips to the bank, hair or nail salon, were equally boring.  The fabric store, where my mom would peruse patterns and pick out bolts of fabric for her sewing business was slightly more interesting, since I liked looking at all the spools of ribbon and thread and the cards of buttons and zippers, although even that lost its appeal after a few minutes.

But there was one trip that I actually looked forward to, when we stopped at a little bakery where my mom would buy our bread for the week.  They had a discount bin full of day-old bread, and after my mom had selected a few healthier choices for sandwiches, she would let us kids pick out a loaf.  Of course, without fail, we would pick the loaf of cinnamon raisin swirl bread with sugary white icing.

Those loaves made the best toast that I can remember eating, spread with butter, and then sprinkled with even more sugar (why kids are compelled to sprinkle sugar on toast and cereal that’s already sweet, I have no idea..)

One quiet Sunday this January, I had the urge to bake bread, and I knew it had to be cinnamon raisin swirl bread, with a hint of cardamom.  After steeping the raisins in hot milk to plump them up, I mixed up the dough and waited for it to rise.  And waited, and waited….  and waited some more…

To my disappointment, I realized that I had killed the yeast with the too-hot milk, and that the dough simply was not going to rise, no matter how long I waited.  I’m not one to give up, so I started over, this time carefully monitoring the milk with a thermometer until it cooled down to 115 degrees F, before adding the yeast.  And with my second try, I had a bowl full of beautifully risen, soft dough.

My favorite part of making this bread was kneading in the raisins then rolling out the dough, brushing it with butter and sprinkling it with a shower of sugar, cinnamon and cardamom, before rolling it up for its second rising in the pan.

The scent in the house while the bread was baking was heavenly.

It emerged from the oven fragrant and golden brown and we sampled a warm slice with some homemade grape pomegranate jelly I’d just made.  I didn’t miss the icing one bit.

The bread was fantastic the next day, toasted and spread with tart lemon curd.  And the following weekend, the last few remaining slices made a wonderful French toast for breakfast…

Grape Pomegranate Jelly

  • 1 1/2 pounds red grapes, halved or quartered
  • pomegranate arils from 1 pomegranate
  • juice and zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons pectin
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
In a stockpot, combine the grapes, pomegranate arils, lemon zest, juice and water.  Simmer over medium low heat, about 45 minutes to an hour, mashing occasionally with a potato masher, until very liquidy.  Pour the mixture into a food mill to separate the juice from the pulp and seeds.  Scrape the remaining pulp and seeds onto a piece of cheesecloth, tie into a ball, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible (wait until it's cool enough to touch to do this).  The fruit should yield about 2 1/2 cups of juice.  Discard the pulp and seeds.

Pour the juice into a clean stockpot and turn the heat up to high.  (Wear an oven mitt during this process to avoid splatter burns on your hand and arm.)  Sprinkle the pectin over the juice and stir constantly while bringing the juice up to a rolling boil.  Add the sugar all at once and return to a full rolling boil, continuing to stir constantly.  Once it's boiling, boil hard for one minute.  Stir in the butter (to reduce foaming).  Pour into clean, hot, sterilized jars and follow standard canning processes if canning for future use; or just refrigerate for consuming in the next few months.

Yields about 2 1/2 pints of jelly.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Cinnamon Cardamom Raisin Swirl Bread
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup (1 stick/8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 eggs, room temperature, divided
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
Place the milk and raisins in a saucepan.  Heat over medium heat until the milk is hot and the raisins are plump.  Scoop out the raisins with a slotted spoon, cover and set aside.  Add 6 tablespoons butter to the milk.  Stir to melt the butter and remove the milk from the heat.  Insert a thermometer into the milk and let it cool down to between 110 and 115 F.  Sprinkle the yeast over the milk mixture and set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 2 eggs and 1/3 cup sugar, vanilla and salt until combined.  Add the milk mixture and stir to combine.  Add the flour, a half cup at a time, stirring on low to combine.

Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead dough on medium speed for 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic and the dough slaps against the sides of the bowl.  If needed, add a little more flour so the dough isn’t too sticky. 

Grease a bowl with oil then place the dough in the bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until double in size, 1-2 hours.

On a lightly floured surface, dump out the dough and knead in the raisins.  Roll the dough out into a rectangle, the same width as your loaf pan and about 18 inches in length.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and brush over the dough.  Combine the remaining 1/3 cup sugar with the cinnamon and cardamom and sprinkle over the dough.  Roll the dough up, from one long end to the other and place in a greased loaf pan, seam side down.  Cover with plastic and let rise for one hour. 

Preheat the oven to 350.  In a small bowl, whisk together the last egg with a teaspoon of water.  Brush over the bread.  Bake for 40 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.  Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Yields 1 loaf. 

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Banana Caramel Cream Pie for Two...

Bananas, instant vanilla pudding, 'nilla wafer cookies and cool whip were the stuff of the most wonderful dessert imaginable...  or so I thought as a kid.  And while a simple banana pudding with ready made ingredients has its place - it certainly held a place in my heart for a long time - this dessert is none of those things and yet everything at the same time.

There are no wafer cookies in this dessert, rather a flaky disk of homemade pie crust, baked right in the bottom of the jar.  Topped with sliced bananas, homemade vanilla custard, caramel sauce, freshly whipped cream and little pinch of kosher salt, it's the more sophisticated cousin of that beloved banana pudding that all our moms served us time and again.

In my efforts to have dessert once a week without having so much leftover, I'm trying to make more recipes that just make a couple of servings, so I created this recipe for two servings of pie in jars.  If you'd like to make a whole pie, I've included instructions for that also.

I feel like I've been neglecting this blog lately, not posting as often or writing as much, but things have been so busy lately that I just haven't had as much time to devote to it.  I'll do better, though, but for now, I will say goodnight to all my faithful readers and those just dropping by ...  :)

Banana Caramel Cream Pie (for Two)
printable recipe
  • prepared pie dough
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 2 tablespoons caramel sauce
  • freshly whipped cream
  • caramel sauce (homemade or store-bought)
  • pinch of kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350.  Roll out the pie dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut circles of dough slightly bigger than the bottom of your jar.  (save the rest of the dough for another use)

Press the circles of dough into the bottom of the jars.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.  Cool completely.

To make the custard (you may want to make it a day ahead so it has plenty of time to chill), combine the milk, sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan.  Heat over medium low heat, just until hot to the touch but not boiling.  Slowly stream about half the hot milk into the egg yolks, whisking the yolks to temper.  Scrape the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan.  Whisking constantly, cook for several minutes until very thick like pudding.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter (if making a larger amount of custard for a whole pie, the seeds of a vanilla bean steeped in the milk would be even better than extract).  Pour the custard through a mesh strainer into a bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap, right against the custard, and refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight.

Thinly slice the banana.  Place half the banana slices on top of the baked and cooled pie crust in the jar.  Drizzle bananas with half the caramel.  Spoon the chilled custard over the bananas.  Top with whipped cream, drizzle with the rest of the caramel and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt.  Enjoy right away or refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

Yields 2 servings.

Whole Pie Instructions:
To make this recipe into a whole pie, you will need to prebake your pie crust first in a pie pan and cool (it's best to "blind bake" an unfilled crust so that it doesn't shrink up).  Prepare the custard as directed above, but make 3x the amount (to use a vanilla bean instead of extract, simply scrape the seeds from half or a whole vanilla bean into the milk before starting, then proceed as directed, being sure to chill thoroughly).  Use 3 bananas (tossed with a teaspoon or two of lemon juice to prevent browning while the pie chills) and about 1/2 cup caramel sauce.  After assembling the pie, let it chill for a few more hours to be sure the custard is set before slicing.  Top with the whipped cream right before serving.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Three words which, on their own, are already the beginning of something pretty fantastic.  Put together, they make a dessert like no other.  Dark and moist sponge cake full of brown sugar and soft dates, sweet caramelly toffee sauce….  served with ice cream, of course.

I’ve wanted to try making sticky toffee pudding for a while and spent a few hours one day researching various recipes.  My research left me a little confused as there are so many schools of thought on the “correct” way to make the pudding.

And who am I to judge who’s right and who’s wrong?  I’m not an expert on English puddings, so as long as it tastes good, right?  Well, maybe.  I think that in some cases there definitely are ingredients and methods that can make or break the authenticity of a recipe.  Jamie and I make our own versions of curry dishes and other Ethnic cuisine based on what ingredients I can find and how much effort I feel like putting into the dish since some of those “authentic” recipes tend to be overly complicated and time-consuming.  And I’m sure that in the end, even while it tastes good, it may not be considered absolutely authentic.

But this is one of the fun things about cooking.  It doesn’t always have to be precise.  It doesn’t always have to be what someone else considers correct.  Sometimes, it’s just about making something homey and delicious and having fun while doing it.

Life has too many rules, anyway, so try breaking a few in the kitchen.  It’s fun and opens up new ways of cooking and baking that you may not have considered before.

Tired of wearing black, white, navy blue and gray to work (my winter “uniform” seems to be black leggings and boots, with a dress or skirt and top – although very conveniently, the leggings double as pajama bottoms when I get home), I was feeling rebellious against the rules of fashion the other morning, too, since we finally have a few days of relief from the single digit freezing cold temperatures we’ve experienced this past week.  So I put on a dark pink summer dress, thinking I could “winter it up” with a sweater and some brown boots.  And in spite of not wanting to adhere to the winter vs. summer clothes rules, it really was too summery, although it would have been appropriate for early fall or late spring but not dead of winter.  Soooooo, I changed into a black and white striped dress I’d forgotten I had, although of course that meant I also had to change my boots and sweater, and I ended up back in an all black/white outfit.  Well, I tried.

After all my ruminating over the rules of a proper sticky toffee pudding, in the end, I scrapped my research, including the recipe I had pieced together from about a hundred different variations and just used the recipe in a cookbook Jamie gave me.  Jamie actually made the dessert that Friday night – something he rarely does since he has more interest in tasting than baking – and I liked watching him mix up the batter, bake it in the ramekins and then make the toffee sauce.  We halved the recipe so we would only have 4 little servings, and the only thing I didn’t like about the recipe was that it’s not the simplest to cut in half with some of the measurements as there are a lot of “3/4” quantities, but again, it’s not a recipe that requires absolute precision, so it all worked out.

We ate the pudding warm from the oven, and with the hot toffee sauce and cool creamy ice cream, it was delectable.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
printable recipe

  • 1/4 cup pitted and finely chopped dates
  • rounded 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 tablespoons boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • heaping 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • rounded 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
toffee sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • heaping 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch of coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease 4 custard cups or small ramekins and place on a baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine the dates, baking soda and boiling water.  Let stand for 10 minutes.

With an electric mixer beat the butter and brown sugar for 3-4 minutes.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Stir in the flour, baking powder, salt and date mixture until moistened.  Pour batter into the ramekins.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the brown sugar and cream.  Cook for about 5 minutes, whisking constantly, until sticky and syrupy.  Stir in the vanilla and salt.

To serve, invert the ramekins over a plate to unmold the warm pudding.  Spoon the sauce over the pudding and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Yields 4 servings

Recipe slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma Home Baked Comfort.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

White Wine-Braised Rabbit and Artichokes with Herbs and Lemon

On a chilly Friday evening, I went out in search of something for dinner.  I drove to a meat market that I hadn’t been to before, but whose website advertised a pretty wide variety of a few more unusual selections, such as goat and alligator.  The store is in Aurora – and I’m never thrilled with any errand that takes me to Aurora by myself since almost every crime that I hear about on the news for the Denver area takes place in Aurora.  Not to mention the local pedestrians there with a death wish who randomly amble across busy intersections no matter who has the right of way or how many cars are just feet away from hitting them.  But I let my quest for something-different-for-dinner overcome my misgivings and went in search of meat.

With the intention of buying a whole duck or a duck breast for that night, I ended up bringing home two rabbits with no real plan of how to cook them, although I thought it might involve braising since we were also planning to braise some artichokes.  After thawing the rabbits and looking them over, I swallowed my hesitation at butchering what I kept picturing as the cute little bunnies that run around outside our condo (come to think of it, they seem to have a death wish too, as they're continually darting in front of my car at the last possible second), even though these ones were already dead.  So then I Googled videos of “how to butcher a rabbit”, and began cutting.  It wasn’t so bad, and I felt strangely primal.  Really, it should be no different than butchering a chicken, but somehow, it was a little more distasteful.  Anyway.

I still remember the day my cat Oreo brought me a dead rabbit that she had caught and killed.  She dropped it at my feet and began purring and rubbing against my legs.  I, of course, burst into tears and told my mom what had happened, who informed me that Oreo meant it as a present for me and I shouldn't be mad at her.  It took me a few years after that, though, to come to terms with the whole food chain business, as it hadn't yet occurred to me that the cut up hot dogs I loved in macaroni and cheese actually came from a living animal before they made it onto my plate.

After the meat was all cut up, I lightly browned the pieces in olive oil then simmered it in our Dutch oven in a broth of chicken stock, white wine, herbs and a little lemon (to keep the artichokes from turning brown), and then made some rabbit gravy for our garlic mashed potatoes with some of the flavorful braising liquid.

I enjoyed the braised artichokes, and we've cooked them just about every way you can - grilled, roasted, steamed, braised - but I have to say that sometimes the quickest and easiest method is the best, and for us, it's a simple method of steaming them in the microwave which continues to be my favorite time and again (method included below).

It’s been years since I’ve tasted rabbit; the only time I can ever remember eating it before was in the Sichuan Province in China, and the dish was so spicy that I couldn’t even discern what meat I was tasting.  So I was curious as to how this would taste, and Jamie and I found that it was very similar in flavor and texture to turkey.  There really wasn’t much meat on the bones, and what was there was very lean with no connective tissue to break down, so next time, I might try battering and quickly frying them as I imagine that would go much easier than frying chicken (been there, done that, NEVER again).  Those little rabbit pieces would probably fry up fairly quickly, though.

After we finished, I picked the rest of the meat off the bones, chopped it up with some celery, mustard and mayo for a rabbit “turkey” sandwich spread.  And if I didn’t know better, that’s what I would have thought I was eating!

Simple Steamed Artichokes
printable recipe
  • 1-2 artichokes
  • olive oil or butter
  • garlic powder
  • coarse salt and cracked black pepper
  • water
Clean the artichokes by cutting off the stem so they sit flat.  Cut off the top 1/3 of the artichoke, then trim the pointed ends off the leaves.  Spread the leaves out just a little.  Place the artichokes in a microwave-safe glass bowl or dish.

Drizzle each with a little olive oil (about a half tablespoon each) or place a small pat of butter on top.  Sprinkle generously with garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Pour a little water in the bottom of the dish, about a quarter inch.

Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap.

Microwave on high for 8 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes then serve warm with your favorite dip or aioli.

Yields 1-2 servings per artichoke

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen


White Wine-Braised Rabbit and Artichokes
printable recipe
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 rabbits, thawed, cut into parts
  • coarse salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons flour 
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 3-4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 fresh artichokes
Place a Dutch oven on the stove over medium heat.  Heat the oil until it shimmers.

Season the rabbit generously with salt and pepper, then dust lightly with flour.  Working in batches, lightly sear the rabbit in the hot oil, about 2 minutes each side.  Place the seared pieces on a plate and cover with foil.

Add the onion, carrots and celery to the pan and cook for 7-10 minutes, until softened and beginning to brown around the edges.  Add the white wine to the pot to deglaze the bottom and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits.  Stir in the stock, garlic, mustard, herbs, lemon and butter.  Nestle the rabbit pieces into the liquid.

Cut the stems off each artichoke then cut each artichoke in half (vertically) and clean out the purple, prickly leaves and the fuzzy choke from the middle.  Place cut side down on the rabbit pieces.

Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low to simmer for about an hour, until the artichokes and rabbit are tender.

If making gravy, melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of flour.  Whisk the flour/butter mixture until smooth, and cook for 3 minutes.  Ladle some of the hot broth from the dutch oven into the skillet, about a half cup at a time, whisking to smooth out the gravy.  Continue whisking in hot broth until the gravy has reached the desired consistency.  Reduce heat to low until ready to serve.

Yields 4-6 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen