Thursday, October 31, 2013

Haunted House Cake

We have a little basket of Halloween candy on the counter - dark chocolate kisses, chocolate peanut butter cups and chocolate caramels - that Jamie's been nibbling on all evening while dinner is cooking.  Trick-or-Treaters don't bother climbing all the stairs in our condo buildings, so any candy we buy ends up being just for us.

I've been wanting to make a Haunted House Cake for a couple years now, and finally decided to take the time to make one.  The idea for this design is from a photo I saw on a cake picture gallery, and as you see, my design is largely inspired by that one.  I didn't care for the ghoul on top, though, so instead, I made a little graveyard with Milano cookie gravestones and pumpkins made from fondant.

One of my own design ideas to add to the cake was the gray pathway leading from the gate up to the house, but in the end, I'm not sure I actually loved that addition, and might prefer it without the path.  Either way, I thought it turned out totally adorable, and I took the cake to work today for our Halloween potluck lunch.

I might just have to challenge myself now to make a Haunted House Cake every Halloween!

Haunted House Cake

chocolate cake:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk or whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
orange vanilla bean buttercream:
  • 3 cups (6 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 4 tablespoons milk or cream
  • 2 teaspoons orange extract
  • orange and black food coloring
  • 3/4 cup orange marmalade
pumpkins, gravestones and dirt:
  • fondant, tinted orange
  • brown edible marker
  • small amount of buttercream, tinted green
  • Milano cookies
  • Oreo cookies

Bake the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray three 9-inch square and two 6-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, cocoa powder, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, oil and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes until well combined.  Scrape 2 cups of batter into each of the pans (the small 6-inch pans will be more full).

Bake until the center of the cakes spring back when gently touched and a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes for the thinner cake layers in the square pans and 30-35 minutes for the thicker cake layers in the small round pans.  Set pans on a wire rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely.

Prepare the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and vanilla bean seeds for 1 minute.  Add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, a spoonful at a time, mixing on low to combine.  Add the milk and orange extract and whip on medium high until very light and fluffy.

Remove 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream.  Color a very small amount green, about 1/3 cup gray, and 1 cup black.  Color the remaining buttercream orange.

Make the Pumpkins:
Roll the fondant into balls between your hands.  Press indentations around the sides using the side of a toothpick, and press an indentation into the top for the stem using any clean, blunt object, such as the end of a small pen or pencil.  Draw feathery brown lines along the indentations with your brown edible marker.

Assemble and Decorate:
Remove the cooled cakes from the pans.  Stack the square cakes, layering each with a thin layer of marmalade between.  Frost all over with a thin crumb coat of orange buttercream.  Stack the round cakes on top (I off-centered mine to make room for the gravestones), layering with more marmalade between, and frosted  with a thin crumb coat of orange buttercream.  Chill for 20 minutes to set the crumb coat and frost all over with a smooth coat of orange buttercream.  Chill for 20 minutes.

Fit a piping bag with a small round tip and fill with black buttercream.  Pipe the house, fence, trees, birds, etc.  Switch to a small star tip to pipe the border.  Spread or pipe the gray buttercream for the path and outline with black.

Cut a few Milano cookies in half and press into the frosting for gravestones.

Spread a thin layer of frosting onto the cake board around the cake.  Crush 6-8 Oreos in the food processor and sprinkle crumbs onto the frosting.

Decorate cake with the pumpkins.  Using a small star tip, pipe the green buttercream to make stems for each pumpkin, and a small round tip for the curly vines.

Recipes from Curly Girl Kitchen
Design Inspired by Cake Picture Gallery's Halloween Cake

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

English Muffins with Raisins and Dried Apricots

A few months ago, Sonia of the Italian food blog Oggi pane e salame, domani (Today Bread and Salami, Tomorrow) invited me to write a guest post for her blog, as she features a different guest post each week.

So I shared with her this recipe for homemade English muffins with raisins and dried apricots.  You can see my post here, translated into Italian, with the English version below.

In a few weeks, she will also share my follow up post, with a few "behind-the-scenes" photos of my approach to food photography.

The first time I ever tasted a poached egg, it was sitting prettily on top of an English muffin, with a few slices of ham and a generous spoonful of creamy Hollandaise sauce.  Jamie had made Eggs Benedict for breakfast, and I fell in love – both with him and the fanciest breakfast anyone had ever made for me.

And although as a kid I never ate an egg that was anything but scrambled or boiled, muffins of every kind were a staple in our home.

We rarely baked muffins from scratch, and most of the muffins I remember eating came from boxed mixes of lemon poppy seed, apple cinnamon or blueberry muffins.  With their sweet cakey-ness, I loved them.

But there were also packages of English muffins for toasting, either traditional sourdough that we’d spread with butter and jam, or cinnamon raisin topped with spicy apple butter.

One Friday evening not too long ago, I was flipping through a cookbook that I don’t often bake from since I create most of my own recipes, but a recipe for English muffins caught my eye.  Since the dough needed to be made in advance so it could rise overnight in the refrigerator, I mixed up the dough that Friday night in preparation for baking the muffins on Saturday morning for breakfast. 

For my own variation on the recipe, I decreased the salt quite a bit, as well as added dried apricots, raisins and cinnamon, which added so much wonderful flavor to the yeasty muffins.  I also found that I ended up with twice as many muffins as the recipe indicated, so there were plenty of leftovers.  They were more tender and soft than any store-bought English muffin I’d ever had, and I was so pleased with how they turned out.

I split them the traditional way – with a fork – and their craggy indentations were perfect for a spoonful of jam.  What a lovely breakfast for these cool autumn weekends.

English Muffins with Raisins and Dried Apricots
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 1/4 cups bread flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 2 packets active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal

In a saucepan, combine the buttermilk, apricots, raisins and cinnamon.  Heat over medium low heat until the temperature reaches 110.  Remove from the heat and stir in the honey and butter. (If the buttermilk appears to curdle, don't worry, it will all work out.)

Meanwhile, in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine 3 cups of the flour with the yeast, sugar and salt.  Add the buttermilk mixture and mix on low to combine, then knead on low for three minutes, adding the remaining 1/4 cup flour a little at a time to help keep the dough from sticking to the bowl.  Place the dough into a well-greased bowl, lightly grease the top of the dough, and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, dust the counter with a little flour and the cornmeal.  Gently roll out the cold dough to about 3/4 inch thick.  Use a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter to cut rounds of dough, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat.  Roll the scraps out and keep cutting until you've cut all the dough.  I was able to cut 16 muffins.  Cover the muffins with clean kitchen towels and let rest on the counter for 45 minutes until slightly risen.

Preheat the oven to 350.  (If you like, you can brown the muffins before baking for 30 seconds on each side in a hot, dry cast-iron skillet, but it's not absolutely necessary.)  Bake the muffins for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.  Let cool for a few minutes and then split with a fork before serving.

Yields 16 muffins.

Recipe adapted from Huckleberry, via Williams-Sonoma Home Baked Comfort.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Muffins

I've been feeling a little thinly stretched lately.  I know that over the next few months, once the most important decisions have been made for all the little wedding details, that everything will settle down again and the days and weekends won't feel so full.

But right now, today, I'm really tired.

My mind is trying to wrap itself around all those little details, keep my e-mails organized (not a good time for Yahoo to change its e-mail format on me, I'd like to add), remember who I've spoken to and about what, and all while still trying to take cake orders and manage my baking schedule.  It's becoming a little too much.

And yet...

Even though each cake order is just a little extra money here and there, it's something, which helps during a time when we are budgeting for the wedding.  I am just starting to wish that I could take on the role of creative director, and delegate the tasks I don't feel like doing to someone else.  But I am ingredient planner and shopper.  I am inventory and supply manager.  I am creative planner.  I am calendar organizer.  I am baker.

There's no other option than to do it all by myself, but I do understand why small, creative businesses fail.  The extra work (while also working another full-time job), the tedium, the cutting into my personal time on the weekends, and even lately, on the weeknights, too...  it all takes a little bit of the fun out of it.  It's been too long since I baked and decorated a cake just for the enjoyment of it.

I haven't even carved a pumpkin this fall, which makes me sad.  It's one of my favorite things to do before Halloween.

I'm longing for a day at home, with nowhere to go and nothing to do for anyone else, the empty hours stretching out ahead of me like a cat lying lazily in the sunshine, fragrant black coffee and a plate full of freshly baked chocolate chip muffins.

One Year Ago:   Lasagna Soup with Herb Garlic Focaccia Bread
Two Years AgoSteamed Mussels and Carrot Streusel Pudding

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Muffins

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons coarse Turbinado sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with 12 paper liners.  In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and nutmeg.  Add the eggs, sour cream, oil and vanilla and mix until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips, reserving a few to sprinkle on top, if you like.
Spoon the batter into the liners and sprinkle the tops with the sugar and remaining chocolate chips.  Bake for 15-17 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Serve warm or room temperature.
Yields 12 muffins
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Little bit of Everything Chocolate Cookies...

I just love Saturdays at home.

With all the wedding-related activities the past few weekends - engagement photos, venue hunting and menu tasting - we haven't had a lot of time to relax lately.  It's all been wonderful and exciting, but I'm a little tired and in need of a day at home with some baking just for fun, and a few creative projects.

Jamie's been asking for pie - he really wants rhubarb, but it's not in season anymore - so I made a s'mores pie yesterday morning for dessert last night.  Salted graham cracker crust, chocolate cream, toasted meringue.  Mmmm.

And then...

While perusing some templates for save-the-dates, I realized there wasn't a single design where I liked everything about it, so I started thinking about getting a little creative and making them myself.  Inspired after sketching a few design ideas, I bought card stock, a rubber stamp and ink pad, photo corners, photo glue, and pretty twine.  I think they're going to be so pretty.

So my Saturday ended up being completely absorbed with the making of the save-the-dates, with the printing, cutting, stamping, glueing, more cutting, etc.  I worked on them until almost midnight.  What a long day.

One of my favorite projects I've done lately was to fancy up a plain canvas tote bag with fabric flowers and a little stenciling in black paint.  I loved it so much, I brought it along for our engagement shoot for a few of the photos.

My coworker and friend Talitha took the photos for us at Cheesman Park in Denver - didn't she do such a lovely job?  I'm so thrilled with how they turned out.

I thought these "Everything Chocolate Cookies" would go along with today's rambling post about the past few weeks, since I mixed in a little bit of whatever I had into the cookie batter - three or four kinds of baking chips, nuts and toffee bits, with toffee and sea salt sprinkled on top.  I have had repeated requests at work for these cookies since taking them in.

I saved some of the batter to bake fresh cookies for Jamie later in the week, but instead of spooning the batter onto a cookie sheet, this time I pressed it into ramekins to bake into deep dish cookies which we topped with ice cream.

One Year Ago:    Starburst and Skittle Birthday Cake
Two Years AgoBourbon Peach Galette

Chocolate Everything Cookies

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened "special dark" cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cream
  • 1 cup assorted chocolate chips, dried fruit, candy pieces and nuts (I mixed in semi-sweet chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and pecans, with toffee bits and flakes of sea salt sprinkled on top)

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.  Scrape the bowl down and beat in the egg and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture by spoonfuls, mixing just until combined.  Add the cream to moisten the dough.  Mix in the chocolate chips, nuts, etc.  Dough will be very thick; chill dough for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of dough 2 inches apart onto a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet, and flatten slightly with a spoon.  Bake for 8 minutes, until the edges are set, but the centers still look gooey.  While the cookies are hot, sprinkle each cookie with the toffee bits and flakes of sea salt.  Let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before carefully transferring to a wire rack; they will be soft, so move them carefully so they don't fall apart.  Cookies will finish setting up as they cool.

To bake in a ramekin for a deep-dish cookie, prepare and chill the dough as directed.  Spray ramekins with non-stick spray, press two heaping spoonfuls of dough into the ramekins and bake at 350 for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with coarse salt, toffee bits, a few chocolate chips, etc.  Cool for 10 minutes, then serve with a scoop of ice cream.

The dough can be refrigerated for about a week, if you only want to bake a few fresh cookies at a time each night.  Freeze leftover dough after a week.

Yields about 2 dozen single cookies or a dozen deep-dish cookies.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Doughnut Bread Pudding

One Saturday morning, after dropping off birthday cupcakes at a friend's house, and then soup and cheesecake for another friend who just had a baby girl, I tried to motivate myself to give the condo the badly needed cleaning, organizing, and laundry-washing day that it deserved.  As we were driving home, I was running through my check list of things to do, and Jamie said, "What about my doughnut bread pudding?"

A few days earlier, I had told him that I would make him doughnut bread pudding that weekend, and I'd completely forgotten.  In all my cake making and cooking for other people, I had (however momentarily) neglected to plan any dessert for us that weekend.  Which rarely happens.  We always have some kind of dessert on the weekends.

So with the laundry doing its thing, I picked up a few doughnuts, already having on hand the other ingredients, to make the bread pudding after dinner.

This is where I break my rule about grocery store doughnuts.  Usually, I regret buying anything other than a bakery fresh, perfectly light doughnut, and the grocery store selection usually doesn't have what I'm looking for in a doughnut.  But for bread pudding, I actually wanted doughnuts that were maybe ever so slightly stale, because they absorb the custard better.

If you thought bread pudding made with croissants was decadent, you'd be right, but this doughnut bread pudding was even more so.  Since the doughnuts are already covered in a sweet glaze, I only added the slightest amount of brown sugar to the custard.  An egg, a little cream and a pinch of nutmeg.  And a spoonful of liqueur.

And while this could serve two people, I just baked it in one ramekin and stole a couple bites while he finished the rest.  Have I mentioned how much he loves doughnuts?

One Year Ago:   Walnut Cranberry Puff Pastry Swirls
Two Years AgoBean and Ham Soup, Roasted Garlic and Cheesy Garlic Knots

Doughnut Bread Pudding

  • 2 plain glazed yeast doughnuts (one-day-old doughnuts work well)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon liquor, such as bourbon, whiskey, scotch, Grand Marnier, etc...
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons cream
  • whipped cream or ice cream

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray two ramekins with non-stick spray.

Cut the doughnuts into bite-sized pieces.  In a bowl, whisk together the egg, liquor, brown sugar, nutmeg and cream until smooth.  Drop in the doughnut pieces and toss until the doughnuts absorb the custard.  Spoon into the ramekins.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden brown.  Serve hot with freshly whipped cream or ice cream.

Yields 2 servings (or 1 large serving for a doughnut-loving fiance)

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Marzipan White Chocolate Footballs

A clear, cool blue Colorado sky is peeking at me through the nearly-bare tree outside my office window.  It's taunting me, laughing at the fact that I have to sit at a desk all day, instead of being allowed to experience the beautiful fall weather outside.

I can't hear the rustle of the red and gold leaves through the glass, but I can see them dancing across the street, having their happy little leaf party without me.

Football parties seem to be taking over everyone's Sundays lately, but I have yet to give up my own weekends for football.  Besides having so many wedding-related activities to do the past few weekends - visiting venues, meeting caterers, engagement photos - I can think of at least 67 things I would rather be doing with my weekends than sitting and watching football.

To my friends who like hosting football parties, you probably won't see me at your party.  For this, I do not apologize.

I can appreciate the game day snacks, though, and so I made these simple cupcakes for a coworker's football party they hosted on Sunday.  Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate peanut butter buttercream, topped with a simple marzipan football.  As pretty to look at as they are yummy to eat.

One Year Ago:   My Boyfriend Cooks, Too...
Two Years AgoThe Beauty of Everyday Things...

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

chocolate cupcakes:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
chocolate peanut butter buttercream
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk or cream
marzipan footballs:
  • 3 ounces marzipan
  • brown gel food coloring
  • 1 ounce white chocolate

Bake the Cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350, and line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt and baking soda.  Add the eggs, whipping cream, sour cream, oil and vanilla and mix until well combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Divide batter between the liners and bake for 17-19 minutes, until the tops of the cupcakes spring back when gently touched and a toothpick comes out clean.

Remove cupcakes from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel.

Make the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and peanut butter for 1 minute until combined.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and meringue powder.  With the mixer on low, add the sugar mixture by spoonfuls.  Add the vanilla, and increase speed to medium high, whipping for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy, adding the milk if needed.

Make the Marzipan Footballs:
Knead the marzipan with your hands until it is soft and pliable, then knead in a drop or two of brown food coloring.  Divide into 12 pieces, keeping them covered with plastic wrap until you're ready to use them.  Shape each piece into a football and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Melt the white chocolate according to the instructions on the package, then pipe the lines onto the footballs.  Refrigerate the footballs to set the chocolate.

Frost the cooled cupcakes and garnish with the footballs.

Yields 12 cupcakes

Recipe and Design by Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, October 21, 2013

Halloween Cupcakes

I feel like I'm always saying, I can't believe it's already August/September/October...  But the months and seasons do seem to disappear so quickly.  It's already snowed three times in Colorado.  This morning, I was regretting not wearing gloves as I scraped ice off my windshield.

And so, I'll say again, I can't believe that Halloween is next week.  Are you stocked up on candy yet?  We don't have to buy candy for trick-or-treaters since we've never seen any kids going door to door in our condo building, so any candy we buy ends up being just for us.

I brought home a pile of candy to make these Halloween cupcakes, though, so we have quite a supply of Oreos, Milanos and Hershey's Kisses on hand right now.

Personally, I can resist most candy unless it's chocolate, especially chocolate/peanut butter combinations, so the box of Reese's Pieces I bought to decorate the little owls didn't last too long.  And at my sister's house, she and her husband are always trying to bogart the Kit-Kats that show up in their kids' candy bags.

It was so fun to make a variety of designs, and while I had scribbled down at least a dozen more that I wanted to do, I limited myself to just these 7 designs.  The owls are nothing new, as I've been seeing this idea for a few years now and I'm not sure where it originated, but it was too cute to not include.

If I had to pick a favorite, it might be the fancy witch hat with her ruffly buttercream skirt or the mummy.  Which do you like best?

One Year Ago:   Melted Witch Cake
Two Years AgoI Dream of Apples in October...

Halloween Cupcakes

what you'll need...
  • cupcakes, any flavor
  •  buttercream, various flavors and colors (white for the ghost, mummy and eyeball /any color for the owls, witch and grave)
  • Milano cookies
  • Oreos
  • Reese's Pieces
  • Hershey's Kisses
  • Chocolate Sprinkles
  • Candy Eyes
  • Food Coloring
  • Piping Bags and Tips

1.  Fancy Witch Hat:  Pipe the ruffly buttercream using the large drop flower tip.  Attach a Hershey's Kiss to half an Oreo with a little buttercream, any flavor, and pipe dots around the edge of the hat.

2.  RIP Gravestone:  Cut the Milano cookies in half.  Pipe RIP onto the cookie gravestones and stick into the frosting.  Sprinkle with crushed Oreo crumbs.

3.  Mummy:  Use a flat tip to pipe white buttercream back and forth across the cupcake and press the candy eyes into the middle.

4.  Eyeball:  Frost with white buttercream, then pipe squiggly red lines from the center to the edge.  Press a candy eye in the center.

5.  Owl:  Place two Oreo halves, frosting side up, on the cupcake.  Add a brown Reese's Pieces for the eyeball.  Add an orange Reese's Pieces for the nose, and brown ones at the top for the eyebrows.

6.  Ghost:  Pipe white buttercream onto the cupcake with a large round tip, swirling it around to a point.  Add two sprinkles or candy sugar pearls for the eyes.

7.  Zombie:  Frost cupcake with white buttercream.  Add a candy eyeball, and make the other eye and mouth with red piping and chocolate sprinkles.

Designs by Curly Girl Kitchen