Thursday, December 23, 2010

MORE Christmas Sugar Cookies!

I've been having such a good time decorating sugar cookies. Practice really does make a difference and each time I make a new batch, I think my skills improve a little. So with this is yet another Christmas batch, but this time there are new adorable characters in my X-mas crew. Once again, I refuse to buy specialized cookie cutters to be used once a year, and then, frankly, put away for safe keeping and never to be found again. I began by sketching out my ideas and figuring out how many steps of icing and drying needed to be done.

I began by piping outlines to my little polar bears and penguins with black. In the second step, I flooded with white once the black icing was dry. As I was doing this, I decided there should be a frosty backdrop of snow and snow falling. While the icing is still wet, you can drop a second color in for a smooth effect.

The owls and birds were done the same way: start with brown, allow to dry, and move on to the next color. It really helped to sketch these out first, especially with the sparrows, because the shapes are a bit odd without conceptualizing the finished image.

Details like leaves, beaks, eyes and feet were added at the end.

Yes, Christmas polar creatures accessorize.

And after a troop of holiday animals made, I just started doodling messages like "Happy New Year" and random filigree work. Sometimes you need to doodle.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Feelgood Vegan Brownies

After last weeks' over the top, more-is-more cake, I needed to come back to something simple, classic, and just down right feelgood - as in the adjective, like in "wow, that cashmere sweater's so feelgood".  No? Whatevs.

This recipe is rich and fudgie but not too dense. You don't think it can be both fudgie and light? That's ok, you don't need to believe me. Just make it. This brownie is so good, I had two while sitting here. And you know what? I might have some more. I'm not even going to feel bad about it. In fact, I didn't even want to prejudice you by spelling out that these treats are vegan and also kind of guilt free (unless you care about carbs, in which case you do not belong here. Off with your head!). If I haven't sold you into making these yet: it's a one bowl mix!

Feelgood Brownies

2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp espresso powder dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup soy milk (if you don't have this on hand, just double the water)
2/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa & chocolate, baking powder and salt. Add in milk and espresso and stir until well combined. Do not worry about over mixing, you want to develop the glutens. Set aside.

Prepare your baking pan, either a 9x13 or 11x11 will do. I lined the pan with parchment paper to simplify serving and clean-up but greasing and flouring the pan will work just as well.

Now mix in oil and apple sauce and stir until well combined. Mix in walnuts and spread evenly into pan.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chocolate peanut butter banana time cake

What? Less isn't more. More is more. Especially when there's a birthday involved. Especially when it's my birthday. Yes, that's right, I made myself a birthday cake. Of course I'm allowed. I only turn 21 again once a year! I absolutely insisted on making this cake and in no way does it reflect on the attention and love given to me by my most wonderful friends in the whole world (Ahem, you can relax now. You know who you are). So grab a glass of milk, and try this cake: Chocolate cake, cream cheese peanut butter frosting, banana filling. Oh yes, and chocolate peanut butter ganache glaze. 

Many years ago I fell in love with a cake from a bakery called Plusko's. This bakery just kills me. It's too out of the way for me to frequent very often, and when I do, they're always sold out of this cake. Call ahead, you say? That would just be way too easy and I like to be challenged. There's this little old lady (she weighs 90 lbs soaking wet),  who sits behind a gigantic wooden desk, the size of a sports car, doing the books. Literally. She's writing with a number 2 pencil in immaculate cursive onto ledger books. Just the old-school factor alone makes this place pretty cool. The cake, however, the cake makes it awesome. It was a moist and airy chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting and fresh banana filling that I can just taste when I think of it.

This cake I made is a little reminiscent of that. The original recipe called for a softer chocolate cake with a cream cheese peanut butter frosting. Chocolate? Good. Cream cheese? Good. Peanut butter? Goood. Have you tried all three together?  Well let me learn you: it is VERY good.

I switched up the chocolate cake in the recipe for a stout chocolate cake recipe I've been obsessing over. The flavor definitely complemented the combination but the texture was slightly heavier than I would have liked.  If I were to make this cake again, I would stick to the original recipe (included below).

Of course, I made a few mini-cupcakes as testers. As a dutiful baker, you must always taste-test your cakes. And then try it with some frosting. And then with some bananas. And without bananas. And with bananas again.

I finally decided to throw in some bananas and I'm so glad I did. I only wish I had added more. It's a very prominent flavor, and even if you're not that into bananas, it really lightens up the cake and makes it so refreshing.

The cream cheese peanut butter frosting was insane. Just sweet, salty, tangy insanity. The consistency isn't very firm, however, so it's better to work with it chilled so you don't end up with a lop-sided, three-layer hot mess. Pour on some ganache just to really make sure your guests comprehend how serious this cake is.  I threw in a few chocolate leaf decorations on top because, well, the giant looming chocolate blob just wasn't enough for me.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Source: Smitten Kitchen

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch process
2 tspbaking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 9" round cake pans. Line the bottoms of pans with a round of parchment or waxed paper and grease that too.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk in the oil and sour cream until blended. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.
3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. Allowing the cakes to firm up in the freezer for about 30 minutes will make them easier to work with.
4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on your serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Chill the cake 2 hours to overnight to firm up the frosting.
5. To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze pour the glaze over the top of the cake, using an offset spatula to spread evenly to the edge so that the glaze runs down the sides. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups
10 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter

1. In a large bowl cream butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. Gradually mix in confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
8 ounces seims-weet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

1. In a double boiler, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.