Browsing articles in "Frostings & Fillings"
Mar 22, 2011

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

In the past two and a half years, I have made this magnificent recipe for Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting exactly twice. The first time was when I was two weeks postpartum, in a state of incomprehensible exhaustion and its resulting delirium, and could often be found sobbing uncontrollably, vocally questioning why I had decided to have a child. The second time I made this carrot cake was on a recent Sunday following a Little C tantrum so epically demonic, it left me nearly sobbing uncontrollably and certainly questioning why I decided to have a child. You see the connection, yes?

If this unassuming-but-completely-perfect Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting recipe were actually my own, I think I would have to rename it Shauna’s Coping Carrot Cake and enter it in numerous baking contests, simply to spread the gospel of its balming properties. Between now and the day Little C moves outmyhouse, this cake may save me from the asylum. It is my saving grace, my touchstone. You need this cake in your life.

So like most great toddler tantrums do, this one actually began with me doing my child a huge, wonderful flippin’ favor. We had just arrived at the drugstore when Little C’s sparkling brown eyes fell on a small Cinderella doll of reasonable price, and when she asked for it in her tiny voice, even remembering to say please, I agreed. How dear of her to ask so sweetly! How polite! Well.

Fifteen seconds later, my darling little womb fruit also saw a toy cell phone (of which we currently house roughly 12) and when I rejected her request, I think I saw her eyes actually turn red and shoot fire. The scuffed linoleum of the Walgreens floor suddenly began to split open, a great fiery chasm appearing right down that weird aisle that has both tampons and adult diapers, reminding all women of the ticking clock that is their estrogen levels. Dread filled every cell of my messy ponytailed, yoga pants-wearing Mom Body. I had to get out of there, and FAST.

As the screech of a thousand possessed, razor-clawed vultures emitted from my child’s mouth and drew fearful stares from fellow customers, it became clear that whatever demon was setting up camp in her wee torso was immobilizing her. I was left with no choice but to throw her onto my back like a vermin-infested potato sack and leave my purchase of Tylenol 8 Hour (oh, the irony) for another time. (Although I’d like to think that if I’d accidentally shoplifted it in the fury, the Walgreens people would have told me it was on the house.) As for the Cinderella doll that had been merely a gateway to Armageddon, I made the game time decision that “Huh, maybe I shouldn’t reward this type of behavior?” and chucked the offending doll head-first into one of those Lucite bins where they keep all the purse-sized hand sanitizers on the way out.

After narrowly missing getting kicked in the face nearly half a dozen times while securing the tiny, convulsing beast into her carseat, I drove the excruciating 10 minutes home, the windows open to prevent her otherworldly-pitched screams from reverberating throughout the entire vehicle. The sheer volume! The, the intensity, people! In an attempt to reject every natural reaction to such psychotic injustice (read: completely flip out, scream back at toddler, drive off the side of the road), I channeled the Dalai Lama or Jesus or Cesar Millan or whoever, and called upon them all to help me endure the relentless insanity that was unfolding in the backseat.

Upon swinging the car violently into the driveway, I hauled the still-screaming child up the stairs to her very confused father who only got a psychotic mumbled answer of “F@#*&cinderelladolltoycellphone” when he shouted over the din to find out what had happened. Fifteen minutes later, Little C had passed out in her bed Sybil-style, and I was making this carrot cake. Welcome to my world.

And about this carrot cake, anyway. Awesomely enough, it comes together with an ease that oh-so-few things ever do. Your food processor will be your best friend here–you’ll grate the carrots, create an emulsion of your wet ingredients in it, and later, after a quick clean-out of the bowl, pull a dreamy cream cheese frosting together in it. It’s a simply beautiful, quietly spiced, perfectly textured iced sheet cake. Everything plays well with each other here–even the cream cheese frosting, which can so often overwhelm a cake with its richness, just lays calmly in a soft slick atop the cake. I just can’t say enough about it. Especially right now as I sit rubbing my temples, enjoying a hunk in the depths of my dark, quiet closet in lieu of a large glass of bourbon with a straw. I am so tired, you guys.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

This recipe is great halved and baked in an 8×8-inch pan if you don’t need to feed a crowd or stress.

Because they are akin to toddler currency and I always have them on hand, I used baby carrots for this recipe.

Be sure your cream cheese and butter are completely at room temperature before making the icing to get the best consistency.

For the cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon (I love Vietnamese cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grate nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound (about 6 to 7 medium) carrots, peeled (or an equal amount of baby carrots)
1 1 /2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus a little extra for adjusting the consistency of the icing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.

Fit a food processor with the shredding disk, and shred the carrots into it. Dump the carrots into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Wipe out the bowl of the food processor with a paper towel–don’t worry about getting it perfectly clean.

Place the bowl back on the processor, and place in it the sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. run the processor to blend throughly, about 20 seconds. With the processor running, pour in the oil in a steady stream. Blend 20 seconds more.

Stir together the shredded carrots and flour until evenly mixed, and make a well in the center. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir well with a rubber spatula until the batter is evenly mixed and no lumps of dry ingredients remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack and let the cake cool completely, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

When the cake is cool, make the icing. In the clean bowl of a food processor, place the cream cheese, butter, sour cream and vanilla. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary. Dump in the confectioners’ sugar and process again just until smooth, about 10-15 seconds. Be careful not to overwork the icing, as it will start to break down if blended for too long.

Generously ice the cake, cut into squares and serve. Tightly cover and refrigerate any leftovers.

Nov 19, 2010

Gingerbread Beer Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

Oh, friends. I’ve missed you guys! Sorry to go MIA there for a while, but I have a good reason. And that reason would be that I just finished catering a dessert bar for 200 people. Which meant creating nearly 600 wee pieces of various desserts and confections from scratch, as well as styling the table in such a way that it would be inviting and festive, but still support my personal crusade against the crazymaking TABLESCAPE. It also meant neglecting my child and challenging my husband’s wedding vows. And I will tell you all about it soon because it was a major, Oprah-esque, Life! Chaaaang-iiiiing! experience. But for now I extend to you a peace offering for disappearing on you during high baking season. It involves beer, chocolate and cake. I’m trying real hard to make it up to you, see?

This cake is really something special. The original recipe comes from Sky High, a Bible of celebration cakes that I’ve had on my nightstand more often than not, for pre-bedtime reading. It constantly inspires me, and its recipe for Gingerbread Beer Cake popped out at me like an eager toddler suddenly appearing at mattress level at 6:30 in the morning.

Hi!” this cake said. “Bake me, bake me, bake meeeee! It’s November and I am just so totally perfect right this minute, see?! I’m telling you–I! Am! Awesome! Do you hear me?!” And really, who can argue with that sort of relentless insistence? This recipe was the squeaky wheel of my week, even when I was elbow-deep in filling for 200 teeny-tiny whoopie pies.

Reading the epic ingredient list for this cake–with its dark beer, mounds of chocolate and ground mustard in addition to what might amount to the entire contents of your spice rack–may seem a bit crazy and all too much at first. But believe me when I say that the balance of all the bold flavors here is one of the more magical combinations I’ve baked up all year. For real. And if you’ve got any non-pumpkin pie people coming to your holiday gatherings (towards whom I cast no judgement–ahem, Communists–what?), this cake would absolutely be the perfect counterpoint for the dessert table.

Gingerbread Beer Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

This cake is a very versatile little number. The original recipe makes a three layer, 8-inch round cake, but I halved the recipe and made a smaller sheet cake of sorts in an 8×8-inch square pan and it was terrific (the baking time was increased by about 15 minutes because a sheet cake will be thicker than the rounds–just keep checking it). I’m betting the original amounts would work as a sheet cake in a 9×13-inch pan, too, for a larger crowd–check out my favorite pan size conversion chart for help. For cupcakes, I’d recommend doing a half cake flour/half all-purpose flour mix to make the cake a little sturdier, because it is a rather light, tender cake.

I used Guinness for my cake and loved the flavor, even though the author said a stout would be too heavy (rebel!). The author recommends a porter. I also used barley malt syrup instead of molasses because it’s what I had on hand, and thought it was perfection–I would make it the same way again. For the spices, don’t be afraid to play with the amouns a tiny bit to suit your tastes, but don’t leave out the ground mustard–the extra bit of crazy really makes for a gentle heat that’s just spectacular.

Makes 1 3-layer, 8-inch round cake

For the cake:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground mustard
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark beer or porter (see note)
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses (or barley malt syrup–see note)
6 tablespoons buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs

For the frosting:

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Scharffen Berger 70%–go for at least 60% cacao)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Butter the parchment, too.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, mustard, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the beer, molasses (or malt syrup), buttermilk and vanilla.
Set the bowl of dry ingredients on the mixer. On low speed, stir in about two-thirds of the beer mixture and the softened butter. Once all the ingredients are incorporated, crank the speed up to medium and beat until the batter is lightened in color and aerated, about 3 minutes.

With the mixer running, beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the remaining beer mixture. Fold the batter by hand a few times to ensure everything is well-mixed.

Pour the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake the cake layers for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the layers in their pans for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto a cooling rack and remove the parchment paper liners. Allow the cakes to cool completely, at least 1 hour.

To make the frosting, melt together the chocolate and cream (you can do this over a double boiler or in the microwave with 45-seconds bursts of high power). Whisk the chocolate and cream together until smooth. Let the chocolate cool considerably, until it thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is creamy. Scrape in the chocolate and beat again until the frosting is smooth and light, just about 3 minutes. Avoid overbeating, as the frosting may separate.

Place on cake layer flat side up on a serving platter, and tuck strips of parchment just under the edges of the cake to keep the plate clean. Dollop 2/3 cup of frosting on the first cake layer and spread evenly, right up to the edges. Repeat with the second layer. Place the third layer on top, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Let the cake sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving to allow the frosting to set up a bit. Keep leftovers in a cake keeper at cool room temperature or refrigerate them, letting the cake come to room temperature again before serving.

Aug 15, 2010

My Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake

I know this confession is a risky one, but I think our relationship can withstand such brutal honesty: Despite the chocolate-on-chocolate celebration of my latest posts, I can sort of take or leave chocolate. True story. I mean, I like chocolate, really I do–love working with it and putting it in my face on occasion. Because really, when a chocolate craving hits at certain, ahem, personal times, nothing but chocolate will do (holler if you hear me, ladies). However, I’d never be called a “chocoholic” or be gifted a mug that says something like “Ack! Don’t talk to me before I’ve had my morning chocolate!”, or whatever.

But even so, this here chocolate cupcake was so smack-the-counter good that they’ve become a Real Problem. Which is to say that my typical day of three meals and one dessert has basically inverted for the lifespan of these cupcakes. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve shared the recipe for the chocolate cake with you before–it truly is my go-to recipe that I’ve tweaked and amped up a bit from Martha’s original recipe over the years. Love, love, love it. But the frosting is a new thing entirely, a result of my newfound love and fascination with flour frostings. I needed a chocolate version of this frosting, and I needed it to be a very specific frosting situation. For this part-time chocolate lover, it basically needed to blow my mind with chocolaty perfection, but not be cloyingly rich or overtly decadent like so many other chocolate frostings.

I wanted a cloud of chocolate atop the rich cake and some deranged combination between the flavor of melted chocolate ice cream, chocolate mousse and the center of a 3 Musketeers bar. It took a few attempts to get there. But judging by the ferocity and stealth with which I hid the leftovers of this frosting in the depths of my refrigerator, I’d say it was a total success. And the marriage of the cake and the frosting–mmm, mmm! I’d consider converting to Chocoholism for a cupcake like this.

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

I get about 18 cupcakes out of this recipe, but you can stretch it to a full 2 dozen if need be. It also makes two great 9-inch cake layers. Using brewed coffee instead of just water makes the chocolate taste more…chocolatey. You can dissolve 1 teaspoon instant espresso in 3/4 cup hot water instead. Mini chocolate chips melt into the cake to make it extra rich and decadent.

Makes 18-24 cupcakes

For the cake:

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Ghiradelli or Valhrona)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee (see note)
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips (or regular chips, chopped fine)

For the chocolate flour frosting:

3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons premium cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Spray the top of the muffin tin with cooking spray for extra non-stick insurance, as these cupcakes can have a serious rise and can puff over the edges of the tin’s wells.

Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well-mixed. Fold in the mini chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (an ice cream scoop works well here), filling each cup no more than 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, whisk together the flour, milk, cocoa powder and salt until the mixture comes together to form a thick paste. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl, and press a sheet of plastic wrap right on the surface of the mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Cool in the refrigerator it for about 15 minutes, or until it’s cool to the touch.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the chocolate mixture until the frosting begins to lighten in color and texture, almost mousse-like. Beat in the melted unsweetened chocolate until the frosting is fluffy, smooth and well-blended. Frost cupcakes, and store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Jul 24, 2010

Pinkalicious Flour Frosting

With just one month left until Little C’s second birthday (I know! Don’t even get me started!), living with her is a lot like being roommates with Sybil. One second, she’s suddenly reaching critical mass in the produce section, the next she’s ceasing her dramatic wailing to sweetly chirp “Hello!” and frantically wave her tiny arm to a passerby near the bananas.

At any given moment of the day I can be found either rubbing my temples while witnessing another Little C tantrum while dangerously close to throwing my own, or cuddled under the covers with the sweetest baby girl in the world, reading book after book, all fuzzy on the inside as she squeezes in tighter to my side and makes a little game out of giving me little kisses after each page turn. It’s moments like the latter that make me come up with all sorts of ambitious ideas, like being inspired to bake pink cupcakes together after reading her favorite book for the 57th time this week.

Do you have little girls? Because if you do, you really should pick up this book, and be prepared to read it aloud. A lot. Pinkalicious is so super cute, about a little girl who turns pink, and then red, from eating too many pink cupcakes and can only return to normal after eating lots of green food. A great message about eating in moderation and the power of a healthy diet. And probably a lot of other noble things that I can’t be bothered to think about because after reading that book on repeat OH MY GOD I WOULD KILL FOR A CUPCAKE.

So like any savvy, creativity-fostering mother with a fever for which the only cure was
more cowbell
pink cupcakes, I declared we would make our own, together. Our cupcake baking activity was totally fun and great–a wonderful bonding experience. That is, when my child wasn’t reaching over to crank the mixer directly from 0 to 10 while I was putting the flour in or demonstrating an Exorcist-level flip out because I kept her from shoveling sprinkles into her mouth. Tender moments, I tell you. Tender. Moments.

So the cake recipe itself was my very favorite vanilla cake which I’ve told you all about before, but the most amazing outcome of this whole mother-daughter baking bonding experience was a frosting so out of this world, I’d eat it pink, white or dolloped on a rubber tire. This frosting is, quite simply, divine. And believe it or not, this revelation of a buttercream is made with flour. Seriously! Little C couldn’t believe it either.

Originally the topping for my Great Aunt Agnes’s beloved Red Velvet Cake, this frosting recipe was one of the first I copied while leafing through my Gramma’s recipes back in Illinois a few weeks ago. I’d been waiting for an excuse to try it ever since–it was all so crazy I couldn’t not give it a go, know what I mean? Basically it starts with a cooked flour and milk mixture, which is cooled and then beaten together with butter and an amount of confectioners’ sugar so tiny in relation to other buttercream recipes, you’ll think that there’s no way this could end well.

Except it totally does, people. The flour mixture helps to give the frosting the sort of body that you would normally get from cups upon cups of confectioner’s sugar (especially great if you’re serving it to kids), and when you whip it with the butter, it becomes almost the consistency of whipped cream–remarkably light and so fluffy you’ll want to dive right in with a spoon. Ethereal, just sweet enough and basically the frosting of dreams. Pinkalicious, if you will.

Fantastic Flour Frosting

Makes enough to generously frost about 18 cupcakes

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook the flour and milk together, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to bubble and thickens significantly. When it reaches the consistency of a paste, remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the cooled flour mixture and let the mixer run until the frosting becomes very fluffy and noticably lighter in color. It will be nearly the consistency of whipped cream.

Use the frosting immediately, and refrigerate any leftovers covered tightly with plastic wrap. Bring any leftover frosting to room temperature and whip again for a minute before using.

May 31, 2010

White Chocolate Cupcakes

Oh, White Chocolate. Poor, misunderstood, totally underestimated White Chocolate. Come here. I feel you. The awkward young teen in me (the one with the pointless “clear” braces and oddly shaped bangs, whose coltish gait made her fear all things athletic) pulls you to her AAA-cup breast to tell you it will be all right, that you have lots of wonderful qualities. And someday, even the most elite of the culinary community will come to embrace you and then wonder what took them so long. When that happens, don’t forget that I was always here, loving you all along, even when everyone was dissing you and saying you were so 80s.

In fact, I love you so much that I buy you in bulk, and sadly shake my head when I notice that the bins of your dark and bittersweet competition are always visited more than yours. But then, maybe that’s the problem right there. It’s sort of true what your haters say–you’re not really chocolate. You’re cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla, no actual chocolate in you to speak of. But you know what, White Chocolate? That’s not your fault. Your name is just a label. A label that some moron gave you as a way to categorize you for their own convenience. But one day you’ll graduate from high school and head off to college and be able to start fresh, and–wait, what? Oh.

So I was saying. Cocoa butter and vanilla is a lovely thing to be–at your best, you’re dreamy and creamy, a breath of sweet vanilla in every bite. I like to think of you as Vanilla Chips or Vanilla Bar, and use you in fabulous ways that break the monotony of having the dessert course be an endless cycle of chocolate and fruit-based desserts. And with recipes like White Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream to show off everything that’s great about you, well, you are a star.

Other than just being delicious, one of your most endearing qualities is your ability to play well with others. Like in this recipe, which satisfies my cupcake craving like none other. Coconut milk, of all things, is the secret, undetectable ingredient here that gives you even more sparkle in a cake that is so perfectly sweet, so moist, with a richness I’ve never experienced before in a white cake. Pairing you with cream cheese in a luscious buttercream is nothing short of White Chocolate Dynamite (which, coincidentally, would be an awesome moniker for me to use in a dance contest someday). I love you, White Chocolate. Thanks for being you.

White Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from The Craft of Baking

The original recipe says this recipe yields 14 cupcakes–I easily got 18, using a leveled 1/4 cup of batter in each cup (I used a standard ice cream scoop). I’m sure the white chocolate called for in the original recipe is meant to be chopped bar chocolate, but I had tons of high-quality white chocolate chips on hand, so I used them instead and everything turned out delicious. I also opted to add some confectioners’ sugar to the frosting, to stiffen and sweeten it up a bit, but it’s not necessary–add it only to your taste.

The cakes and the icing keep beautifully, tightly covered and refrigerated, for up to 3-4 days so these are great make-ahead cupcakes. Unsweetened coconut milk can be found in nearly every supermarket under a few brand names, usually in the Asian foods aisle.

If you can find them, white chocolate vermicelli (thinner, crunchier and much tastier than regular jimmies) make the perfect finishing touch for these cupcakes, adding crunch and extra white chocolate flavor.

Makes 18 cupcakes

For the cakes:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped bar or chips
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
5 large egg whites

For the frosting:

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 1/2 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped bar or chips
Up to 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, to taste (see note)

Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners, 12 in one and 6 in the other.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. When it’s just warm to the touch, stir it into the butter mixture on low speed, just until combined–it may separate a bit, but it will come back together. With the mixer on low, alternate adding the flour mixture and the coconut milk in three batches until well-blended. Transfer the batter to a medium bowl.

Clean and dry the bowl of the mixer. Whip the egg whites on medium high speed until they reach soft peaks, about 4 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter in three additions.

Fill the muffin cups no more than 3/4 of the way full with the batter. Bake one tin at a time until a toothpick just comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched, about 20 minutes. Invert the cupcakes onto a cooling rack, then turn them right side up and let them cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt together until light and smooth. Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler and cool until it is just warm to the touch. Scrape the white chocolate into the cream cheese mixture and beat to combine. Taste the icing and check the texture–if you like your icing sweeter and with a bit more body, add in some confectioners’ sugar. If the frosting is too soft to spread, refrigerate it for about 20 minutes and then whip it for 30 seconds before using. Ice the cupcakes generously and decorate as you wish.

The iced cupcakes can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

May 14, 2010

Apple-Frangipane Galette

Quick, guys! Make this galette before all the lovely warm-weather fruits really start parading into the markets, inspiring you and making apples seem a lot like my Mom Wardrobe, which is to say sad, hapless and completely boring. (It’s a problem, people. I don’t know what happened, really. But I can tell you that you will wrestle this pilly old cardigan from my cold, dead torso. I may dress in a manner that is as insipid as apples in May, but I am sort of in denial about the whole thing. I try to think of my clothes as the sort of shiny, happy green apples that still seem relevant, even as strawberries and rhubarb seem to be the order of the day. Lie to me.)

The good news about this Apple Frangipane Galette (because there’s really no good news side to the wardrobe thing, naturally) is that the apples really are just a jumping off point. Any fruity pie filling that you love and would normally put in a pie or tart (except strawberries, too much water) will probably work here. The magic, my friends, is in the frangipane.

I love me some frangipane, always have. It’s the irresistibly dreamy almond pastry cream that’s made with almond paste, the filling of so many decadent pastries and cakes. But until now, I’d never turned one out in my own kitchen. And now that I know I can make it in mass quantities in just minutes in the food processor, I may keep a jar on my bathroom vanity. Eating it will make you feel that pretty, I promise.

The frangipane is the secret weapon that turns something familiar into a next-level thing. When hidden beneath some fanned-out sweet-tart apples, it sort of bakes into the crust and melds with the fruit and adds a stealth layer of flavor that you just don’t expect when you’re faced with something as rustic and familiar as apples enveloped in pastry. I flippin’ love stuff like that. It makes new recipes worth trying, even those that seem like something you’ve had before.

And that brings me to the source of this recipe. It’s from the Great Lebovitz‘s latest recipe collection Ready for Dessert. I was so excited when my copy finally reached my doorstep, and my family was sort of relieved, too–perhaps I would then stop suctioning myself to the front window, practically licking the glass, in hot anticipation of the delivery. I started flipping and bookmarking as soon as I opened the box and this galette was in the oven less than two hours later. I may look a little out of touch in this pilly old cardigan, but I’m sure that’s got to be a new baking record.

Apple-Frangipane Galette
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert

Lebovitz’s headnotes indicate that you shouldn’t need to sugar the apples at all unless they are extremely tart; in that case you should sweeten to taste. I used Granny Smiths that definitely weren’t the most tart I’d ever had, so I skipped the sugar, but in the end wished I’d sweetened them just a bit. I might also add just a dash of cinnamon next time too–it was delicious without it, but I missed the flavor combination. Also, I used Demerara sugar for sprinkling and loved the toasty flavor and crunch, so I’m recommending it here, but you can use granulated or other coarse sugar that you like. As always with pastry-making, make sure your ingredients are as cold as possible before using.

Serves 8

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and chilled
6 tablespoons ice water

For the frangipane:

4 ounces almond paste, crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon rum, kirsch or Calvados (optional)

For assembly:

6 medium apples (3 pounds), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons granulated, Demerara or other coarse-crystal sugar

First, make the crust. In the bowl of a food processor (or in a mixing bowl with a pastry blender, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter pieces and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Add the ice water all at once and mix just until the dough begins to come together. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To make the frangipane, place the almond paste, sugar, flour and almond extract in the bowl of a food processor or electric mixer. Mix until the almond paste is in fine, uniform pieces. Add the butter and mix until very well-blended, then add the egg and the liqueur, if using. Mix until the frangipane is smooth (there may be a few tiny unmixed pieces of almond paste, and that’s fine–they’ll disappear during baking).

When you’re ready to bake the galette, position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

To assemble the galette, lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out into a circle about 14 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Spread the frangipane in an even layer over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Arrange the apples over the frangipane, either scattering them in an even layer, or arranging them in concentric circles. Fold the un-frangipaned edge of the dough over the apples. Brush the crust and filling with the melted butter. Scatter half the sugar over the crust and the remainder over the apples. Bake until the apples are tender and the crust has browned, about 1 hour. Slide the galette (still on the parchment) onto a wire rack to cool a bit. Serve warm or at room temperature, ideally the day it’s baked.

May 10, 2010

Chocolate Mint Squares

I really hope all y’all had a fabulous Mother’s Day. For me, it began with sleeping in until the heavenly hour of 8:30 a.m. and then waking up to a lovely gift of a seriously great cookbook and a pop-up card from Little C that was scrawled about with crayon and played a weepy version of “You Are My Sunshine” when opened. And because girlfriend can’t even let a commercial jingle pass without shaking a tail feather, I was also gifted an impromptu, twirling, giggly interpretive dance to the musical card and in no time was all what–there’s something in my eye, OKAY? Too much.

Since I was in a teary, slobbering pile before I’d even gotten half my coffee down, the husband (who deems a gift a true success when it makes the recipient tear up with sentimentality) obviously did an awesome job with the Mothers’ Day planning this year. Well played, indeed. Good thing I’d already made a pan of Chocolate Mint Squares that I was pretty sure he would inhale and declare awesome (I was correct).

You may remember me saying something recently about being in my Maida period. And if you try this recipe, I am sure I won’t be alone in this obsession. The base for these fudgy, minty, all around heavenly bars is similar to Maida’s legendary brownie recipe, the cellophane-wrapped ones she is known for toting around in her purse at all times and giving to whomever she happens to see. If that doesn’t make you fall in love with this woman, then you are an iceberg. The end.

But then you take her amazing brownies, spread them with a thin, but powerful, intensely minty buttercream frosting and a slick of bitter chocolate and the whole thing will blow you away. It’s like a brownie meeting a York Peppermint Pattie. Bliss, I tell you. The balance here is so strikingly delicious. At first, I thought it might all be too much–and make no mistake, these are indeed rich–but the ratio of fudgy brownie to creamy mint layer is so spot on, and with a shiny capping of crackly bitter chocolate (totally unsweetened, mind you, not bittersweet), they’re a taste and textural dream.

And even better, since the husband basically lost his ever-loving mind over these things, I’m feeling pretty confident that I now have a golden ticket the next time I lose my scruples or somesuch. Actually, with this recipe in my repertoire, I may have insured really excellent Mother’s Day gifts for my entire future. Boo-ya!

Chocolate Mint Squares
Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Great Book of Cookies

Don’t chill the brownies for too long after the mint layer is added–five minutes is all you need, just so the frosting isn’t totally soft. If it’s too cold, the bitter chocolate glaze will set before you can get it all spread evenly. These brownies are at their most awesome served chilled, or even frozen.

Makes 20

For the brownie layer:

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
2 eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour (I stirred the flour well, then spooned into the cup and leveled)

For the mint layer:

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the bitter chocolate glaze:

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Lightly spray an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with nonstick spray, and line it with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper (leave a bit of overhang on all sides), then lightly spray the parchment, too.

Being by making the brownie layer. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave, about 45 seconds on high. Stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until light and foamy. Beat in the sugar, salt and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture and beat on low just to combine. Stir in the flour by hand just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before icing with the mint frosting.

To make the mint frosting, beat together the butter, confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon of heavy cream and the peppermint extract. Add more cream, a few drops at a time, until the frosting is thick but easily spreadable. Spread the icing evenly in a thin layer over the brownies. Chill in the refrigerator for just five minutes, until the very surface is set.

Prepare the glaze by melting together the unsweetened chocolate and butter in a small bowl in the microwave, just about 30 seconds on high. Stir until smooth and pour the hot glaze over the mint layer, tilting the pan to coax it into place, and using an offset spatula if necessary. It will be a very, very thin layer.

Refrigerate until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes. Use the parchment handles to lift the brownie slab from the pan to a cutting board, and cut into squares. Chill the cut squares for a few hours until the glaze sets completely. Keep any leftovers in the fridge, tightly covered.


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