Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dreams of Blueberry Fields in the Summer and Buttermilk Biscuits...

Blueberry Buttermilk Biscuits

Lately I’ve been thinking back over the past years, and the way our lives shift so much from one season to the next.  Each season so unexpected in what it brings.

Two years ago, writing a blog wasn’t even a passing thought in my head, and now after almost two years of writing, baking and practicing my photography and food styling, these experiences have redefined my future goals and helped me discover what I’m passionate about.

And although it’s hard, I try not to worry that I’m arriving at this place later than I would like.  I try not to focus too much on the events in my past that I can’t change, partly because they can’t be changed, and partly because, even though I wouldn’t make certain choices for myself now – such as the college I attended and the major I picked – those experiences did lead me down a path that brought me to here.

And without even one of those decisions, would I still have traveled to China?  Met Jamie?  Started writing this blog?  Discovered my love for baking and photography?

Sometimes I wonder if every decision we make alters the path we’re on, or if ultimately, we’ll end up in the same place in the end.  I don’t think we would, though.  I think that every decision that changes the course of our lives, however small at the time, is immensely impactful.  Not knowing just how impactful they are, or will be, is intriguing.

Buying my first car my senior year of college.  My first kiss.  Graduating college and moving to China.  Independence.  Loving my life in China so much that I stayed for three years.  My first tattoo (still love).  Traveling to Tibet.

My first apartment back in the States.  Missing my friends and students.  Loneliness.  Sleepovers with my sister and niece.  My second tattoo (regret).  Moving to Indiana.  Working too much overtime.  The summer that felt like winter when my cat died.  Moving back to Colorado.

Meeting Jamie, during the summer of afternoon thunderstorms.

My first I love you.   Living with Jamie.  Road trips and exploring and cooking and baking and taking pictures.  Happiness.  Writing this blog.  Long days commuting to and from work.

Cake decorating class.

Deciding to turn my blog into a small baking business.  A new job after 10 years at my old one.  Hating my new job and feeling miserable almost every weekday for 6 months.  Seeing my grandparents for the first time in almost 20 years.  Finding the courage to quit my job for something else that made me happier.  Relief.

Renewed exercise regime.  Looking forward to another summer to come…

Blueberry Buttermilk Biscuits

Summer can’t come fast enough for me.  I’m longing for a little color on my arms and a few freckles on my nose.  I can’t wait for Saturdays spent picking berries and then baking something wonderful with the warm fruit.

When I Googled images of blueberry fields, I happened upon a website for a Bed and Breakfast in Maine, called Blueberry Fields Bed and Breakfast.  I feel like I’m meant to visit this place someday.  And I’ve always wanted to drive along the northeast coast, tasting fresh seafood, walking barefoot in the wet sand, visiting lighthouses in cute little fishing villages…  This place and I will meet someday.

I baked blueberry buttermilk biscuits for breakfast one Sunday, and we drizzled them with warm honey.  Although blueberries aren't in season yet, they still popped with flavor in the piping hot biscuits, a taste of warm summer days to come.  And who knows what this summer will bring?

Blueberry Buttermilk Biscuits

Blueberry Buttermilk Biscuits
printable recipe

·         2 cups all-purpose flour
·         ¼ cup granulated sugar
·         1 tablespoon baking powder
·         1 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
·         6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, diced
·         1 cup blueberries, fresh, or frozen and thawed
·         1 egg, lightly beaten
·         2/3 – ¾ cups buttermilk
·         2 tablespoons coarse Turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 450.  Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray or line with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Cut the butter in with a pastry cutter until pea sized pieces of butter remain.  Toss in the blueberries.  Whisk together the egg and buttermilk, then stir the liquid into the flour mixture just until moistened, adding a little more buttermilk if needed.

Drop large spoonfuls of dough (8-10) onto the baking sheet (or roll dough out on a floured surface and cut with a biscuit cutter), placing the biscuits 2 inches apart.  Sprinkle the tops with the Turbinado sugar.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.  Serve piping hot, with honey or jam on the side.

Yields 8-10 biscuits.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Desserts for Two...

Desserts for Two is a project I've been working on for a few months now, and every weekend, I've been experimenting with different recipes that make just two servings of dessert, for those times when you'd like something sweet to share with someone, but without all the leftover cake or cookies or pie to tempt you all weekend long.

There were some recipes we tried that didn't work so well - such as an Oatmeal Cookie Cupcake which was incredibly dry, dense and tough - so I've only shared here the ones that we enjoyed the most.

Inarguably, the easiest and quickest ones are the Chocolate Chip Cookie and the Dark Chocolate Chunk Brownie, which are both mixed up in one bowl and then cooked in the microwave for just a minute. 

I love these because they were so tasty, and yet so simple.  For my first try with the chocolate chip cookie, I used a whole egg and a pinch of baking soda, but I found that it resulted in something that was more like a cake than a dense cookie.  Still delicious, but for a less cakey cookie, I used only an egg yolk, eliminated the baking soda and decreased the flour just a little.

The microwaved recipes should be served warm, and are fantastic with a scoop of ice cream.

Next is what looks like an ice cream sundae, but is actually a cream cheese trifle, the Banana Split Sundae Cream Cheese Trifle.  With a salted graham cracker crust at the bottom and layers of cream cheese, whipped cream, bananas, strawberries, chocolate sauce and a cherry, this is a yummy dessert that you can whip up in no time.

The next one requires a little more time and finesse, but if you like Pots de Creme (also known as pot de creme, although I see it pluralized more often than not...) then this is worth the effort - the Salted Caramel Pots de Creme...

Dark brown sugar and a touch of molasses are what give the custard its caramel flavor, and to make them a little more fun, I baked them with a Cadbury Creme Egg right in the center.  Of course, the addition of the Cadbury egg means that these should be eaten warm, since chilling them will just make the egg too hard to eat with a spoon.

I've made a few varieties of pots de creme over the years, and I enjoyed them all with their luscious, silky smooth texture, but I have to say that my favorite will always be chocolate...

 And a couple more you might like from my blog archives...

Caramelized Banana Bourbon Ricotta Trifle
Chocolate Caramel Pots de Creme

Dark Chocolate Chunk Brownie
printable recipe

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 egg yolks (save the whites for another use)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons dark chocolate chunks or chopped chocolate, divided

Spray two microwave-safe ramekins, cups or bowls with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, combine the butter, sugars, egg yolks, 1/8 teaspoon salt and vanilla until smooth.  Stir in the flour and cocoa powder until moistened.  Stir in 2 tablespoons chocolate chunks.  Dough will be thick.

Press dough into the bottom of the greased ramekins.  Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon chocolate chunks and 1/8 teaspoon salt.  Microwave uncovered on high for 1 minute.  Let cool for 3 minutes to set up, then serve warm with a scoop of ice cream.

Yields 2 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen


Salted Caramel Pots de Creme
printable recipe

  • 2 Cadbury eggs, unwrapped (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350.  Set the Cadbury Eggs inside two small oven-safe ramekins or bowls.  Set the bowls in a baking dish, such as a loaf pan.  Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the brown sugar, molasses, cream and milk.  Bring just to a simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally.  Remove from the heat.  Drizzle some of the hot liquid slowly into the eggs, whisking the eggs to temper them.  Scrape the egg mixture back into the saucepan and whisk to combine.  Stir in the vanilla and salt.  Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove any bits of egg.  Divide between the ramekins, pouring the custard over the Cadbury Eggs.

Pour very hot tap water into the baking dish, so that it comes halfway up the sides of the bowls, being careful not to get any water in the custard.  Cover the baking dish loosely with foil and carefully set in the oven.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until the custard is set, but has a slight wobble.

Carefully remove the ramekins from the water and set on the counter.  Cool to room temperature for an hour and serve warm, or transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely before serving with a little whipped cream (note that if you use the Cadbury Eggs, you should eat the custards warm; chilling them will harden the eggs too much).

Yields 2 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen.

Chocolate Chip Cookie
printable recipe

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk (save the white for another use)
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans

Note: for a chocolate chip cookie cake, use a whole egg instead of just the yolk, and increase the flour to 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons).  Microwave for 1 - 1 1/2 minutes until puffed and cooked through.

Microwave times will vary.

Spray two microwave-safe ramekins, cups or bowls with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, combine the butter, sugars, egg yolk, 1/8 teaspoon salt, vanilla and cinnamon until smooth.  Stir in the flour until moistened.  Stir in 2 tablespoons chocolate chips and pecans.  Dough will be thick.

Press dough into the bottom of the greased ramekins.  Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon chocolate chips and 1/8 teaspoon salt.  Microwave uncovered on high for 45 seconds to 1 minute for a gooey cookie, or 1 1/2 minutes for a more well-done cookie.  Let cool for 3 minutes to set up, then serve warm with a scoop of ice cream.

Yields 2 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Banana Split Sundae Cream Cheese Trifle
printable recipe

  • 4 graham crackers, finely crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons cream or half 'n' half
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 4 strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 4 tablespoons chocolate syrup
  • whipped cream
  • 2 maraschino cherries

Getting Ready:

In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, salt and melted butter.
In a separate bowl, combine the cream cheese, cream, powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth.
Slice the fruit.

In two small glasses, jars or mini trifle bowls, press the graham cracker mixture (reserving 2 teaspoons) into the bottom of the glasses.  Top with half the cream cheese mixture, then half the sliced bananas and strawberries.  Drizzle with half the chocolate syrup.  Repeat with the remaining cream cheese, bananas, strawberries and chocolate syrup.

Sprinkle with the rest of the graham cracker crumbs and top with whipped cream and a cherry.

Yields 2 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cookies and Cream Icebox Cheesecake

Cookies and Cream Icebox Cheesecake

Living overseas, I was always excited to come across something that reminded me of home.  Across the street from the teachers' apartment buildings and the student dormitories was a little convenience store where we were sure to find plenty of Chinese junk food - crackers, red bean ice cream and orange vanilla popsicles, a few packaged baked goods and sandwiches (there was some kind of packaged "hamburger" made of mystery meat that I would not recommend trying for what might seem like obvious reasons...), and at least 30 varieties of instant noodles - but it was the chocolate and the Oreos that I craved, simply because they were so familiar.

Cookies and Cream Icebox Cheesecake

Dove chocolate bars, Oreos, Coke and Sprite could almost always be found, but cheese, quality peanut butter, chips and most processed American foods were a lot harder to come by.  And since I didn't bake much at the time, other than occasional batches of soft-as-butter peanut butter cookies, I ate the dark chocolate hazelnut bars and Oreos whenever I wanted something sweet.

An Oreo's best friend is a cold glass of milk, and I won't eat them on their own without it since I adore the way they get completely soft after soaking up the milk, but not so soggy that they break off while dipping and fall to the bottom.

Cookies and Cream Icebox Cheesecake

With these cookies on my mind, I impulsively made a cheesecake.  This pretty black and white cheesecake is surprisingly easy to make, since I baked only the crust not the filling, and thickened the lightly sweetened filling with a little unflavored gelatin before letting it finish thickening in the refrigerator (hence the name "icebox" cheesecake).

If you've never ruined a cheesecake before by water from the water bath leaking into the foil wrapped around your spring form pan while the cheesecake was baking, then you're lucky.  This has happened to me...  more than once.  But with this icebox cheesecake, there's no such fear, and you're guaranteed to have beautiful results.

It not only looked beautiful but tasted so creamy and light, not too sweet, full of crushed cookies.  It was like cookies and cream ice cream in a cheesecake.

Cookies and Cream Icebox Cheesecake

Cookies and Cream Icebox Cheesecake

·         15 Oreos, including the filling, finely crushed
·         ½ teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
·         4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

·         1 ¼ cups heavy whipping cream
·         1 envelope unflavored gelatin
·         ½ cup powdered sugar
·         2 eight-ounce packages cream cheese (1 pound total), room temperature
·         2 teaspoons vanilla
·         Remaining Oreos from the package (reserving 4-5 for the garnish) roughly chopped

Bake the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 350.  In a bowl combine the crushed Oreos, salt and melted butter, then press firmly into the bottom of an 8 or 9-inch spring form pan.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool completely.  (Turn off the oven, as only the crust is baked.)

Make the Filling:
Pour ¼ cup cream into a small microwave-safe bowl.  Stir in the gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes.  Microwave on high for approximately 30 seconds to dissolve the gelatin.

With an electric mixer, whip the remaining cream and sugar until soft peaks form.  Add the cream cheese and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 3-4 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until smooth and creamy.  Beat in the gelatin mixture until combined.  Gently fold in the chopped Oreos.  Be careful not to overmix the filling after you add the Oreos, or the crumbs will turn the filling gray, instead of the nice black and white contrast.

Immediately spread the filling over the cooled crust, cover with plastic and refrigerate for several hours, until set.  If desired, top with whipped cream before garnishing with the reserved Oreos (I just cut 4 Oreos in half and placed the 8 halves around the cake, scattering the crumbs lightly over the whipped cream).

Yields 8-10 slices.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

The calendar may say it’s the First Day of Spring tomorrow, and we’ve had a few lovely days this month, but the reality is that we’re still running a space heater at work next to our cubicles and we may still have another snowstorm or two before winter is officially over.  And the forecast is calling for more snow this weekend...

But when spring is officially here to stay, I’ll need to restock my supply of tanning lotion, since my legs have been hiding under leggings and boots for the last five months, and I don’t want to blind anyone with their shocking paleness.

This cake, though, welcomes spring with open arms.  Mint green and chocolate polka dots - what's not to love?  I adore wearing polka dots, so I loved the idea of dressing a cake in them, too.

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

I haven’t baked a layer cake in a few months, so on Sunday, I baked three layers of my favorite, dark chocolate, from-scratch cake and frosted them with cool and creamy, minty buttercream that I made with fresh mint steeped in hot milk.

Since most people would mix the chocolate chips or chopped chocolate right into the frosting, I thought a playful way to incorporate the chocolate chips would be with rows of chocolate chip polka dots on the outside of the cake (there are also some chocolate chips baked into the cake, as well).  And a few Andes Mints complemented the theme of the cake.

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

I took the cake to work on Monday and it seemed to be the perfect antidote to anyone's lingering St Patrick’s Day hangovers.  My coworkers must have liked it, because it was more than half gone before lunchtime!

My next layer cake will be for Easter, and I’m so excited – any excuse to make cake…

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

Mint Chocolate Chip Cake

Dark Chocolate Cake:
·         2 cups all-purpose flour
·         1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
·         ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I prefer Hershey’s Special Dark)
·         1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
·         1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         3 eggs, room temperature
·         1 cup milk, room temperature
·         ½ cup vegetable oil
·         1 tablespoon vanilla
·         1 cup boiling water
·         2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mint Buttercream:
·         Handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
·         ½ cup milk
·         2 ½ cups (5 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
·         5 cups powdered sugar
·         3 tablespoons meringue powder
·         1 teaspoon clear vanilla
·         green food coloring (I used Americolor – Electric Green)
·         mint extract, if needed

·         Semi-sweet chocolate chips
·         Andes Mints

Bake the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare three 8-inch round cake pans by spraying the bottoms only with non-stick spray.  Line the bottom with parchment paper, then spray the paper with the non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.  Mix on low speed for 30 seconds to combine then beat for three minutes on medium speed.  Scrape the bowl down and gently stir in the boiling water - the batter will be very thin.

Divide batter between the cake pans.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the batter (the batter is so thin that if you mix them into the batter, they’ll just sink to the bottom of the mixing bowl and not get divided evenly between the pans).

 Bake for 25-28 minutes until the center of each cake springs back when gently touched and a toothpick comes out clean.  Set the pans on wire racks and cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel.  Cool completely in the pans.

Make the Buttercream:
Place the mint leaves in a small saucepan and pour in the milk.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 1 hour.  Strain the milk and discard the mint leaves.  Set milk in the refrigerator until ready to use.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute to loosen it up.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar and meringue powder.  Gradually add the sugar to the butter, mixing on low to combine.  Add the vanilla, the mint-infused milk and the green food coloring.  Increase speed to medium high and whip for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.  If needed, add more milk to reach the desired consistency for spreading and/or piping, and add a few drops of mint extract if the mint flavor is too subtle.

Frost and Decorate the Cake:
When the cakes are completely cool, turn out of the pans and peel off the parchment paper.  Frost each cake layer then cover with a thin crumb coat of buttercream before frosting with the final layer of buttercream.

Decorate the cake by piping swirls of buttercream around the cake and garnishing with chocolate chips and Andes Mints.

Recipe and Design from Curly Girl Kitchen