Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chocolate-Dipped Macaroons

Last night I decided to make macaroons for my mom, who is going out of town for her annual two-week voyage to Michigan with friends (and my dad, for week one). She loves her some macaroons. (So do I). She's been kind enough these last several months to watch Chloe one day a week while I'm at work, which she loves doing, but I don't thank her enough for helping us save a little dough.

Anywho, I've seen a few macaroons on some cooking blogs I frequent lately and they looked easy enough, so I went for it. But first I had to decide whether I was going to go with a recipe that used sweetened condensed milk (which I LOVE), or none. I was a little wary, not gonna lie, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and go with a non SCM recipe. First I thought I'd go with Chocolate and Zucchini's recipe, not only because the author is French (I'm a Francophile) but also because she calls hers "Rochers a la Noix de Coco." Fancy! Ooh la la! But I ended up using a recipe by Baking Blonde. I've been drooling over her blog for months and have made her unbelievable Double Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies with great success (will have to make again to gorge on, er, blog about). I did make a few changes - I was crunched for time so did not chop my coconut in the food processor, I doubled the recipe, and I used almond meal instead of flour. Delicious.

Chocolate-Dipped Macaroons

4 large egg whites
1/2 tsp almond extract
2/3 cup sugar
4 tbsp almond meal (Trader Joe's)
1/2 tsp salt (I just did a couple of big shakes)
4 cups sweetened flaked coconut

1/2 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp canola oil

Bring eggs to room temperature by letting them sit on the counter for about an hour before separating (this will make it easier to separate). Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper. Place the egg whites in a medium bowl and starting at low speed, beat the egg whites until they begin to foam. As the foam continues to build, you can turn the speed to medium and then high. Beat until the foam forms stiff, glossy peaks. Add the almond extract as desired. Add the sugar, flour and salt and continue to beat until incorporated. Fold in the coconut just untili combined. Cover bowl tightly and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325. Spoon the batter onto the pan in rounded mounds. The batter should be of a consistency that a spoonful will stand as a mound 3/4-inch high on the pan.Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the cookies begin to turn a light brown color. Immediately remove the cookies and allow to cool on wire racks.

Melt the chocolate and oil in the microwave for one-minute intervals, stirring between heating, until melted. Dip macaroons in chocolate, put back on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and chill in the refridgerator until chocolate is set. Store in a cool, dry place.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mango Macadamia Crisp

I have a ton of cooking magazines filled with great recipes which I mark when I get the pub in the mail, but quickly forget about when I see other great recipes on the Internet. So this week I decided to go through all of my Cooking Light's, Gourmet's and the like, pull the recipes I like and recycle the rest. Pretty sure Michael thinks I'm wasting my time, that I won't actually make any of the recipes I've pulled, but today I proved him wrong, much to his delight. I made my first dessert from the ever-rising pile. And it was delicious. I made no changes to the original recipe other than to use frozen mangos from Trader Joe's (one bag) and I doubled the amount of macadamia nuts, mainly because I over estimated the amount of whole nuts that would make three tablespoons of chopped nuts, but also because I like macadamias. Next time I'd consider doubling the topping in full, just because it turned out so delicious. But really, it's great - and rich - as is. Or with a side of vanilla frozen yogurt.

Mango Macadamia Crisp
Source: Cooking Light, May 2005

1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
4 cups chopped peeled ripe mango (about 4 lbs)
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp butter, melted
Cooking spray

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp chopped macadamia nuts (I used 6 tbsp)

Preheat oven to 400. Combine 1/4 cup granulated sugar and cornstarch, stirring well with a whisk. Add mango, juice and two teaspoons melted butter, and toss gently to combine. Place mango mixture in an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray.

To prepare topping, lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, three tablespoons of granulated sugar, brown sugar and ginger, stirring well. Cut in three tablespoons of butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles course meal. Stir in nuts. Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over mango mixture. Bake at 400 for 40 minutes or until browned.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Five Minute Ice Cream (aka Creamy Fruit Smoothie)

I've been wanting to make ice cream lately but don't have the time after work. I found a recipe on Allrecipes.com called "Five Minute Ice Cream" that looked easy enough. I played around with the ingredients to try to make it a little less bad for me (no heavy cream, etc.). It was the consistency of a smoothie when it was all blended, and it was freaking delicious, but I decided to hold out until it had frozen before I really went to town. It was good, but not creamy enough. (Maybe because I didn't measure out the fruit when I dumped it into the food processor). It kind of reminded me of Baskin-Robbins' Daiquiri Ice, which I haven't had since about 1987, when it was all the rage amongst my seventh grade class. (A search of the web indicates the original is no longer available! My 13 year old self is heartbroken). So to finish it off, I just added more liquids and drank it like a smoothie. A delicious, thick, can't-get-enough-of-it smoothie.

Five Minute Ice Cream
Source: this recipe found at Allrecipes.com

1 (10 oz) package of frozen fruit (I used 1/2 bag frozen raspberries and 1/2 bag frozen mango)
1/2 cup sugar (I used Splenda, and poured to taste)
2/3 cup heavy cream (I used 1/3 cup FF Greek yogurt and 1/3 cup low fat soy creamer, which was surprisingly delicious)

Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth (unless you like the fruit chunky in your ice cream). Put into freezer-safe container and freeze for a few hours until it hardens, or add more liquids and drink immediately.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Taco Salad with Edible Bowl

I am very behind on reading my magazine subscriptions. Except for US Weekly. I always find time for my celebrity friends. But Sunday night it was Michael's turn to put Chloe to bed so I read an issue of Family Fun magazine. Got it for free for subscribing to Parenting. It's a decent pub. Anywho, there was an article on kid-friendly salads, and while my kid is too young to find any salad friendly, the taco salad caught my eye. Mainly because the ingredients looked fresh and healthy and it required making your own edible bowls from tortillas. Sounded like fun. So I made taco salad last night. I didn't stick with the recipe, in that I didn't make the dressing (looked delish, but not so much with the taco meat I added - which kind of makes the salad look wilted and gross in my pics and in person, even though it was neither wilted nor gross) and I added more ingredients. It was a huge hit, and Michael commented several times on how good it was. Nice to hear for something so easy. I'll make this again, though next time I may substitute the ground beef for cubed chicken, and make the honey-lime dressing the actual recipe calls for.

Source: adapted from a recipe in Family Fun magazine, July/August 2008 issue

3 flour tortillas (6" diameter)
About half a head of iceberg lettuce
1 tomato, large dice
1 avocado, large dice
Handful of cheddar cheese
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup salsa
1 lb lean ground beef
Taco seasoning packet

Heat oven to 350. Microwave each tortilla under a damp paper towel for roughly 20 seconds - enough to make it soft and pliable. Put three ramekins upside down on a cookie sheet. Spray each side of the tortillas with cooking spray and lay on top of each ramekin, gently encouraging the tortillas to form a ruffled cup. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the tortillas are golden brown. Remove from oven and set right-side up on each of three plates. Let cool.

Cook the meat in a skillet. Drain if desired. Add seasoning and a bit of water if necessary. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, chop the lettuce and add it to a large bowl with all ingredients other than tortillas. Toss to combine. Put a generous amount of salad in each bowl and serve.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Dorie's Perfect Party Cake

I've been wanting to try a layer cake to see if I could make one that wasn't a lopsided mess, as they've always been in the past. I've also been into teaching myself to decorate with icing, so we invited our parents for dinner and I baked this cake. I bought a few tools to help the process go smoother than if I went about it as usual: baking strips to help with more evenly baked layers (no doming) and one of those thingies that cuts a cake in half horizontally, so I wouldn't have to use a knife. If it weren't for these two items, the cake would have been kind of a disaster. You'll see that with one of the cakes I didn't do so well with the cutting of layers, but that by the time I got to the second cake, I knew what I was doing, and that thingy was a godsend.

I was at a bakery a few weeks ago and saw a cake where they used Starbursts and icing to make little gifts on top of the cake, which was too cute not to do, even though it wasn't a gift-giving occasion. The cake as a whole was pretty time consuming, so I'll likely not bake again for a few weeks, but I'm really happy with the outcome. Just need to perfect the cutting of the layers.

The cake itself got rave reviews. It was a bit lemony for my taste, considering it's a white cake, but it was refreshing. In her original recipe, Dorie Greenspan does layers of raspberry jam and buttercream. I'm not a lover of layers of jam in cake so I did a raspberry filling that I found on this blog (so many good things here). Though I could not find the extract that the recipe calls for, so I had to work around that.

Perfect Party Cake
Source: Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk or whole milk (I used 1 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup whole milk, as I didn't have enough buttermilk)
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp pure lemon extract

For the Swiss buttercream:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about two lemons)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Fresh Raspberry Filling
Source: Good Things Catered
2 cups powdered sugar
Miniscule pinch of salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 tsp natural raspberry extract (I couldn't find this at three stores so I used some juice from the thawed raspberries
1/2 tsp butter flavor (sold at Michael's and I think the grocery store)
4 oz. fresh raspberries (I used frozen since I had them)

For decoration (optional):

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line the bottom of two 9" round cake pans with parchment paper cut to size, and spray with cooking spray. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full three minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beting on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating unil the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good two-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well-aereated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch. A thin knife inserted into the center of each cake should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about five minutes, then invert each cake, removing the parchment paper. Cool to room temperature right-side up.

To make the buttercream, put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about three minutes. The sugar should be dissolved and the mixture should look like shiny marshmallow cream (mine wasn't quite that pretty). Remove from heat. Strain mixture through a fine sieve to remove any scrambled egg (which I had plenty). Beat the meringue mixture on medium speed until it is cool, about five minutes. Add the butter, a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, six to ten minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle...keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice,waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, then the vanilla. You should have a shiny, smooth, white buttercream.

To make the filling, combine the shortening and extracts and beat on low until relatively combined. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and salt, then add to mixer while still on. Scrape down sides of bowl until thoroughly combined. Add raspberries and some raspberry juice (if you can't find the extract). Add water if needed to reach desired texture.

To assemble the cake, cut the two cakes into four layers either using a serrated knife or one of those cake cutter thingies I mentioned above (highly recommend for even layers). Pipe some icing around the diameter of the bottom layer to act as a dam for the filling. Fill with about one third of the filling. Top with another layer and repeat until you top the cake with the last layer, cut side down. With an offset spatula, cover the cake with icing, working it until it's smooth. Decorate as you see fit (Dorie covers hers with coconut). To do the Starburst gifts, unwrap each candy and place on a piece of parchment. Using a very small tip (number escapes me), pipe a cross on each one, then a little bow. Touching at the corners, move each candy onto the top of the cake.

Phew... long post.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Cupcakes

In my continued attempts to find a cupcake that I adore to serve at a bridal shower I'm hosting in September, I made Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cupcakes after reading several glowing reviews about the recipe. Admittedly, chocolate cake is not my favorite kind of cake, and I thought these were just ok. Just not that rich or substantial. Maybe I overmixed the batter, but upon taking them out of the oven, they deflated a bit. Good thing I made the glorious chocolate frosting that you see below.

Oh, the frosting. Normally I'm not much of a frosting girl, but I could have eaten the bowl (almost did) and would gladly refridgerate the cupcakes, remove the cake from the frosting, and eat the frosting by itself like fudge (might have done this).

Now, if you are used to making frosting, this recipe is nothing new. But I'm a novice in this area, as I've always just bought the jar of pre-made stuff. Plus, I'm trying to teach myself how to decorate cakes and cupcakes with help from Wilton booklets and YouTube demonstrations. So, it's possible that the pretty swirls make the frosting taste that much more delicious. Anyway, this'll be my go-to chocolate buttercream from now on. Just need to find the "Perfectly Chocolate" cake on which it can rest.

Source: Allrecipes

Yields: 24 cupcakes

2 cups white sugar (I used 1 c white and 1 c light brown)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's Cocoa Powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used natural apple sauce)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c boiling water (I used hot coffee, per the reviews on Allrecipes)

Heat oven to 350. Put cupcake liners in two muffin pans. Stir together sugar through salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil (apple sauce) and vanilla. Beat on medium speed two minutes. Stir in boiling water (coffee) - batter will be thin. Pour batter into liners. Bake 22-24 minutes until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Rich Chocolate Frosting

Source: Based on this recipe from Allrecipes

1 cup butter, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup baking cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Add enough milk until frosting reaches spreading consistency.