Friday, December 19, 2008

TWD: Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

Ok, so this post is WAY late, and I've already missed another TWD assignment for this week.  But, I have an excuse!  Every year my mother-in-law and I get together to bake Christmas cookies.  Well, I had to save this recipe for the day we were to make our cookies!  Plus, I was hoping the stuff I ordered on would arrive in time to make the cookies, so I could make cute little snowflake sugar cookies.  But, no such luck.  However, this cookie recipe was so wonderful, I will definitely be making snowflake sugar cookies using Dorie's recipe soon!  Everyone in my family who was over for cookie-making agreed that this recipe was the best sugar cookie recipe!  The pictures are of my little cousin, Ella, after decorating her sugar-cookies.  I used a special cookie-mold pan to make these.  The pan made the cookies come out really thick and chewy-cakey, which was really a delicious texture and flavor!

Thank You Milwaukee Cupcake Queen!

I want to say thank you so much to Sandy over at and FancyFlours!  I randomly was selected as a winner of a $100 gift certificate to, thanks to a contest Sandy was hosting.  I got pretty excited by all of the cool stuff I could order on this website, I actually had to delete a bunch out of my cart, because I went way overboard.  I will definitely be shopping their site again!  Here is a picture of all of the items I purchased with my gift card.  I paid a little over my gift card amount, but it was worth it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Iron Cupcake: Chocolate with a Twist!

This Iron Cupcake challenge was more challenging than you might think with an ingredient like chocolate!  While chocolate is very easy to incorporate into a cupcake, it's not quite as easy to be original, because your mind has to get passed the typical pairings for chocolate.  My initial thought was peppermint chocolate, because I love this combo.  But, after a few other combination musings I decided on orange-chocolate.  It is during this time of year that you really start to see those delicious chocolate oranges that give you the satisfaction of smashing something.  Also, I have memories of my mother always including an orange in the bottom of my stocking for Christmas.  She did this either to A: continue the tradition of fruit as a Christmas present, from back in the day when fruit was virtually unavailable during the winter or B: she needed something to fill the space to make it look like we had more presents.  I think it was A.

Honestly, these cupcakes are amazing, and I don't usually toot my own horn.  I will safely say that these are the best cupcakes I have ever made.  Anyway, this is a competition, so please vote for me here.  I could win the following fantabulous prizes:
-an original work of art from Betty Turbo
-a pair of cupcake earrings from Lots Of Sprinkles
-a piece of artwork from Cakespy
-limited edition cupcake pincushions by Moda Home, complements of Sweet Cuppin Cakes Bakery and Cupcakery Supply
-Head Chefs by Fiesta Products
-Hello Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson
-sponsored by 1-800-FLOWERS

And, without further ado, let me present you with my recipe for this month's challenge!

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes (Adapted from Martha Stewart's Chocolate Cupcakes):

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
Zest of one large orange
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons orange blossom water + 1-2 tablespoons for topping baked cupcakes
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons cream

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners.
2.  Into medium bowl, sift together cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add orange zest and mix.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, then beat in vanilla and 1-2 teaspoons of orange blossom water..  With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with sour cream and beginning and ending with flour.  Mix in 2 tablespoons of cream.
3.  Pour batter into cups, filling each 3/4 full.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
4.  Cool in pan 5 minutes.  Brush tops of cupcakes with more orange blossom water; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then spread with orange-chocolate chip buttercream frosting (recipe follows).

Orange-Chocolate Chip Buttercream (adapted from Wilton's buttercream recipe):
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of 1 large orange
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (approximately 1 lb)
2 tablespoons cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips, chopped into small pieces

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer.  Add vanilla, orange zest, and orange blossom water.  Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed.  Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often.  When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry.  Add cream and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Mix in small bits of chocolate chips.  Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

TWD: Linzer Cookies

This week we made Linzer Cookies for our Tuesdays With Dorie baking endeavor.  They were much simpler than I had anticipated!  They were also very delicious!   It was actually perfect timing, because I had left over hazelnuts from the linzer-based wedding cake I made in the previous post, as well as raspberry preserves left over from that same cake!  I was so happy to not waste anything, for once!  It seems I often have left over ingredients that I forget about and when I do remember them, it is too late!  Not this time!  Thanks TWD!  By the way, if you can't tell, the windows are turkeys.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wedding Cake!

Ok folks, here it is, the reason I have been so lackadaisical about photographing and beautifying my other posts.  The day after Thanksgiving a friend of mine got married.  Many months ago she had asked me to make her wedding cake.  After making my brother-in-law's wedding cake, I swore to myself I wouldn't do anymore.  But, somehow, I found myself saying yes to her.  This was only the second wedding cake I would have ever made, not to mention I have no formal training in this area.  On top of all that I am a bit of a perfectionist, and I am very hard on myself.  This makes making wedding cakes a very stressful thing for me.  However, the adrenaline rush after it is all over and the feeling of utter relief is worthwhile in some ways.  I changed the way I was going to decorate this cake about 5 or 6 times (at least), and didn't settle on this design until 2 days before the wedding.  Her wedding was fall-themed, and this cake ended up going perfectly with her decor.  The bottom tier was a cake I invented based on the Linzer torte, a hazelnut spice cake with a raspberry filling.  The middle tier was a pistachio cake with a chocolate ganache filling, and the top tier was a repeat of the bottom flavor (as that was the couples' favorite).  I also made an additional sheet cake that wasn't decorated that was a plain cake with chocolate ganache filling, and I used the caramel butter frosting from the Daring Baker's Challenge!  The cake tasted delicious, and I think everyone enjoyed it.  However, I made way too much, and there was plenty left over.  Again I say, I will never make another wedding cake again!  We'll see how long that lasts . . . The cake was topped with chocolate fondant on all three tiers.  The bottom and top tiers were covered with marbled chocolate shingles.  The middle tier was covered in ribbon and fondant balls covered in copper luster dust.  The white roses were made from white chocolate.  The flowers on top of the cake are real (except for the white rose).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

TWD -- Twofer Thanksgiving Pie

I am definitely late posting all of my blogs this month, but there's a good reason.   There's also a good reason why I didn't put much effort into the presentation of this pie as well as my Daring Baker's challenge this month.  That reason will be posted shortly.  Anyway, I made this pie for Thanksgiving.  We had to tell my grandma not to bring her typical array of pies (pumpkin and pecan) because I was making a pie for my blog.  I think she understood.  This pie is, as the name implies, two for one -- pumpkin and pecan pie combo.  It was really pretty good!  I'm not a big pumpkin or pecan pie person, but I did enjoy this pie.  I made a couple of changes, due to a lack of certain ingredients (also caused by the object in the post that I will soon divulge).  Instead of using dark rum, I used Brandy, and instead of cream I used 1/3 + 1/6 cup of milk and 1/3 + 1/6 cup of butter.  If you're interested in making this recipe, check out Dorie Greenspan's Baking book.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Daring Bakers -- Caramel Cake=delicious!

I am posting a day late for this month's Daring Baker's Challenge.  It was really a great challenge.  Not only do I LOVE caramel, but this recipe was absolutely delicious (especially the frosting).  I loved it so much that I used the frosting recipe for an additional sheet cake for the wedding cake that I made (which I shall reveal shortly).  Unfortunately, I did not care so much about the presentation at the time I was making this recipe, as I previously mentioned, I was too wrapped up in worrying about presentation for the wedding cake.  Thank you to our wonderful hosts this month: Alex of blondie and brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food, and to help out with the alternative Daring Bakers, Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.  The woman leading the pack this time was Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater.  The recipe for the caramel cake and its delectable frosting comes from Shuna Fish Lydon as published on Bay Area Bites.  The Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels (which I have yet to try and make) are a recipe from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111.  And now, the moment you've been waiting for, the recipe:

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

10 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F.
Butter one tall (2-2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.
In the bowl of  a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth.  Add sugar and salt and cream until light and fluffy.
Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl.  Scrape down bowl and increase speed.  Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.  
Sift flour and baking powder.
Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients.  When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time.  Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients.  (This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making.  It is often employed when there is a high portion of liquid in the batter).
Take off mixer, and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform.  Turn batter into prepared cake pans.
Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan.  Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes.  Your own oven will set the pace.  Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean.  Cool cake completely before icing it.
Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small, stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand.  Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush.  
Turn heat to highest flame.  Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water.  Caramel will jump and sputter about (NO JOKE!).  It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.
Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers (obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it).

Caramelized Butter Frosting

12 T unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner's sugar, sifted
4-6 T heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 T caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste (I used Fleur de Sal)

Cook butter until brown.  Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.
Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.
In a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time.  When mixture looks too chunky to take more, add a bit of cream and/or caramel syrup.   Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated.  Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
(Makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels)

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 tsp fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 T plus 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 T unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer 

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil.  Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges.  Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water.  Cover and cook for about 3 minutes (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later).  Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more.  Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 350F.  Meanwhile, combine the cream and the ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan.  Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 350F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks.  Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful.  Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically, but not violently.  Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245F.  Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260F for soft, chewy caramels, or 265F for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it.  Pour the caramel into the lined pan.  Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper.  Peel off the liner.  Cut the caramels with an oiled knife.  Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse, flaked salt.  Add an extra scant 1/4 tsp of coarse sea salt to the recipe.  Or to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm.  Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in.  Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt.  Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla, add 1/2 tsp slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it.  Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel, discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce:  Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228F.  Pour it into a sauce boat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage.  The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or saucepan just until hot and flowing before use.  You can stir in brandy to taste.  If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream.  Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.

Iron cupcake: Cranberry!

This month's challenge for the Iron Cupcake was to incorporate cranberries into a cupcake.  I was rather excited about this challenge, because, well, cranberries go along well with desserts.  However, it was a challenge to come up with a creative flavor combination that others may not use.  I decided with all of the money that I am throwing down for holiday baking, along with making a wedding cake for a friend, that I would go with a flavor combination that I would enjoy eating, rather than worrying too much about creative flavor combinations.  The result was a Chocolate-Cranberry cupcake with a cranberry filling and a chocolate frosting with just a hint of cranberry.  They ended up tasting very good.  I think next time I would use a different chocolate cupcake base, as this particular recipe ended up being a bit dry.  Don't forget to vote here starting November 30th at noon.  I could win these great prizes:
- a pair of earrings from Lots of Sprinkles
-a piece of art from Cakespy
-Head Chefs by Fiesta Products
-Hello Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson
But, the combination of flavors was great!  Here's the recipe I used, so you can try it for yourself.  It's based on a recipe found here:

For the Cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cranberry juice (100% juice)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 tsp vanilla extract (I think I would use almond extract next time)
2 eggs
1/2 cup - 1 cup chopped sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  In a small bowl, whisk the cranberry juice, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.  Make a well in the dry mixture and add the cranberry mixture to the dry mixture.  Stir just until moistened, then using a spoon, beat in the eggs.  Add in the dried cranberries and beat with a spoon until mixture is smooth.  

Divide mixture evenly among 12 paper liners and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool.

For the Frosting:

4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons cranberry juice
1 tsp vanilla

Place the semi-sweet chocolate in a mixing bowl.  In a microwave-safe measuring cup, microwave the cream until it boils.  Pour the hot cream slowly over the chocolate and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.  Place bowl in the refrigerator and chill for 45 minutes or until it is very cold -- it shouldn't take more than an hour.  Don't chill too long or mixture will get too stiff.

When ready to frost, pull melted chocolate/cream mixture from refrigerator and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat until it fluffs up and becomes a bit paler.  Beat in the butter, then slowly beat in the sugar.  Beat in the cranberry juice and vanilla.  If mixture seems too stiff, add a little more cranberry juice.  

For the filling:

2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 tsp of salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup molasses (I would use honey instead next time, as the molasses was a bit overpowering)
1 tsp butter
2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped fine

1.  Mix together, thoroughly, two level tablespoons of cornstarch, half a teaspoon of salt, scant measure, and one cup of sugar.  Pour on one cup of boiling water and stir until boiling, then add molasses, butter, and cranberries.

2.  Mix together thoroughly, and let simmer ten or fifteen minutes.

Let cool, and then fill cupcakes using the cone method.  Cover hole with chocolate frosting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TWD: Kugelhopf

This is my first post as a member of the Tuesdays with Dorie blog.  I made this Kugelhopf to be eaten at our election night party.  I wasn't sure what to expect, as I had never had (nor heard of) Kugelhopf before.  Apparently the name refers to the type of pan that it is traditionally baked in, which resembles a Turk's hat.  I guess I expected more of a cake-like consistency, but this is a bread for sure.  It is somewhat similar to a brioche, but far less eggy (to me).  The recipe called for raisins, which I don't love, so I used Craisins instead.  The bread turned out beautiful, and while time consuming, it was very easy to make.  I think it would make an EXCELLENT base for a bread pudding!  I will have to try that next time I make it.

Check out what the other Tuesdays With Dorie bakers created here.

Election Confection!

Better late than never:

I wanted to honor and pay tribute to my favorite presidential candidate, and for me, what better way to do so than with a cookie!  These are my Barack Obama campaign inspired sugar cookies.  The royal icing wasn't cooperating this time as well as it had with my fall leaf cookies in my previous post.  But, they still got their message across and tasted good too!  

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Daring Bakers -- Bake like a real Pizzaiolo!

Before I start this post, I want to apologize for the photography on my page.  :(  What's worse is that I am the daughter of a pretty talented photographer (if you ask me), and the wife of a photography college graduate.  You would think I should have picked up some skills somewhere along the way.  Part of my problem is my camera.  The other part of my problem is that I tend to bake at night, and with the winter fast approaching, it's getting dark so early.  Therefore, I have no natural light to assist with ridding my photos of the blur.  Arrrrrrgh, I'm a perfectionist, and these pics just aren't cutting it.  Anyway -- on with the show.

This month the Daring Bakers challenge was to bake a pizza "like a real Pizzaiolo" which included tossing the dough into the air like a professional.  I wish it were just that easy.  Actually, the tossing part wasn't so bad.  I struggled when it came time to transfer the pizza dough and toppings into the oven.  My dough wouldn't budge.  I had to pretty much slop the whole thing down onto the pizza stone and just hope that some of the dough made it under the toppings.  I learned my lesson from the first pizza, and prepared the second pizza directly on the preheated pizza stone (quickly, mind you).  I guess a better solution would have been to properly oil and flour the area I was topping the dough on.  Oh well, I still have 4 more dough balls in the freezer to experiment with.

The pizza was very good.  The dough was thin in the middle, and chewy with a hint of crunch around the outside.  I topped our dough with homemade marinara from this Cooking Light recipe (it's wonderful and simple).  I precooked some turkey bacon that I crumbled on top of the sauce along with some caramelized onions.  Then I topped that with fresh mozzarella, turkey pepperoni and a sprinkling of oregano.  This pizza had delicious flavor!  I can't wait to make it again!  I wasn't very "daring" with my toppings, but I just love pizza, and I love the more traditional (American traditional) flavorings.

Check out what the other daring bakers did with their challenges here.

And, make sure you try it for yourself by following this recipe:

Basic Pizza Dough
(Original recipe taken from "The Break Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart)

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches in diameter)

4 1/2 cups (20 1/4 ounces) unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it's better with)
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) water, ice cold (40 F)
1 T sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1.  Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2.  Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough.  On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed.  If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too try add 1 or 2 teaspoons of extra water.

NOTE:  If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.  The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl.  If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour so that it clears the sides.  If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.  The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50-55 F.

3.  Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment.  Lightly oil the paper.
4.  With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE:  To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5.  Sprinkle some flour over the dough.  Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball. 

NOTE:  If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6.  Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil.  Slip the pan into a plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
7.  Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.

NOTE:  You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some dough for any future baking.  In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil.  Then put each ball into a separate bag.  Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months.  The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8.  On the day you plan to eat the pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator.  Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil.  Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour.  Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter.  Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil.  Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
9.  At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500 F).

NOTE:  If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan.  Do not preheat the pan.

10.  Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal.  Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles).  Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper.  Lay the dough across your fists in a vary delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce.  Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
11.  When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches in diameter for a 6 oz piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.
12.  Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE:  Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously.  No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13.  Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan.  Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

NOTE:  After 2 minutes baking, take a peek.  For an even baking, rotate 180 degrees.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pan to a lower shelf before the next round.  On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14.  Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer to a cutting board or your plate.  In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Bento Birthdays!

A month ago I stumbled across a blog featuring mostly bento box lunches.  I was instantly amused by the concept.  The first thing I thought of when I read about this Japanese trend was how much my mom would LOVE it.  My mom has always been one to snack, scavenge, and pick rather than feast or dine.  She loves little portions or samplings of food.  Her lunch bag consists of multiple little tupperware containers of snacky foods.  BINGO!  I had her birthday present -- I ordered it off of this website.  Once she got it, I decided that I should probably get myself a bento box.  However, seeing as though my birthday is only a little less than a month after my mom's, I didn't have to wait long.  My mother-in-law bought me a bento box set identical to the one I bought my mom, which was great, because I really liked the one I purchased for my mom.  So, without further ado, here are some photos from my first assembled bento box.  I didn't get fancy or clever.  I just appreciate the bento box for forcing me to pack small portioned lunches.  I had some Craisins, chili-lime cashews, turkey pepperoni, chocolate covered dried berries, mini salad with cucumbers and a molded hard-boiled egg.  It was surprisingly satisfying and filling!  I am learning to savor . . . maybe!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Birthday Cookies and Cupcakes!

My friend Julie had a baby shower recently and requested that I bring cookies.  So, I took the opportunity to continue my goal to make every single cookie in this cookbook!

I pretty much followed the recipe, however, I added baby-related embellishments using colored white chocolate.

Shortly after the baby shower, we celebrated my mom's birthday.  I wanted to make her fall cupcakes.  So, I used a recipe I found in the Cupcake Doctor cookbook for pear-ginger cupcakes with a lemon frosting.  They were pretty good.  I also made some more cookies from Martha Stewart's Cookie Book, I believe they are called "Umbrella Cookies" in the book, because she uses an umbrella cookie cutter.  They were absolutely delicious.  Very caky and moist with a good flavor as well.  Her recipe for royal icing worked out extremely well also.  The only thing I would do differently next time, would be to add some vanilla or other extract to improve the taste.  I had never used royal icing before to ice cookies, and I felt it was really successful.  I am eager to try it out again, and I already have a great plan!  Stay tuned . . . 

Last, but not least, I made Martha Stewart's snickerdoodle recipe from the same book I used for the previous two cookie recipes.  I embellished her recipe slightly, by adding Alton Brown's Caramel sauce as topping!  These cookies got rave reviews at our friend Paul's birthday party.  Snickerdoodles aren't my favorite cookie, but there were plenty of people at the party who said that Snickerdoodles were there favorite, and that these were the best they'd ever had!  Way to go Martha, as I am just a pawn in your game of delivering delicious cookies!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Iron Cupcake: Cheese!

Well, it doesn't seem like that long ago that I was racking my brains about how to incorporate basil into a cupcake.  This month, I had to ponder cheese.  The first combo that came to mind was a brie and fig cupcake.  However, and it's a little embarrassing since I consider myself somewhat of a "foodie", I don't like brie very much.  I wanted to make a cupcake that I would enjoy eating and that was clever as well.  I must admit, the cheeses I chose aren't the most daring cheeses, but I'd say that the combination I created is unique.  So, without further delay, this month I created a walnut spice cupcake with a caramel mascarpone filling, a pumpkin spice cream cheese frosting, finished off with a wedge of walnut brittle.

Just like last month, this is a competition, and you can vote for me, or other Iron Cupcakers if you must ;)  starting October 26th  at 12 noon central standard time by following this link.

These are the prize up for grabs:
-Cupcake earrings from Lots of Sprinkles
-T-shirt from Bakelove Bakewear
-Head Chefs by Fiesta Products
-Hello Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson
Sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers

You can make these cupcakes too, by following my recipe:

(An adaptation of Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake)
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 large egg whites
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place 24 cupcake liners into cupcake tins.
2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
3.  Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
4.  Put the sugar in a mixer with butter and mix with paddle attachment, or with hand mixer, at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light and fluffy.
5.  Beat in the vanilla extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
6.  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-egg mixture, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
7.  Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
8.  Distribute batter evenly into cupcake liners and bake for 18-20 minutes.

For filling:

1 container mascarpone cheese
1/2 tsp salt

1.  Mix all ingredients together until smooth.
2.  Using the coning method, fill cooled cupcakes.

For frosting:

8 oz cream cheese
1-2 cups powdered sugar (depending on your personal taste in sweetness level)
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1.  Mix all ingredients together, refrigerate, pipe or spread onto cupcakes.

For Brittle:

I used this recipe to the "t".

SPECIAL THANKS to hubby for always taking the photographs and making me look good!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers -- Lavash Dough

Well, here it is, my first Daring Bakers challenge -- completed!  This month we all made vegan crackers using lavash dough.  You definitely don't miss the dairy/animal products in this recipe!  It was delicious, and I tried it several different ways.

The rules were simple: follow the recipe provided for the dough, making sure that you remain vegan, and make a dip of your choice, also being vegan.

I chose to make half of the crackers savory and half sweet.  The savory crackers were topped with pizza seasoning, fennel, or sea salt.  The sweet crackers were topped with cinnamon or cocoa powder.  For the dip I made a jalepeno hummus from which was delicious, but spicy!  Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the hummus, because I wasn't satisfied with any of the photographs that I took that pictured the hummus.  :(  I also cheated and paired the sweet crackers with some icing that was not vegan . . . but it was good!

But, an even better discovery -- I later made a new batch of this delicious dough, rolled it out a little less thin and used it as pizza crust!  It was amazing!  I topped it with home made marinara, mozzarella, turkey pepperoni, onions, and yellow bell peppers.  Awesomeness!

Here is the recipe:

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

*1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
*1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
*1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
*1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
*1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
*1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
*Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1.  In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together in a ball.  You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2.  For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough:  Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed.  The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit.  The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled.  Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.


2.  For Gluten Free Cracker Dough:  The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky.  Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3.  Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size.  (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4.  For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough:  Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter.  Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour.  Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches.  You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax.  At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down.  Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes.  When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes.  Line a sheet pan with baking parchment.  Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment.  If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.


4.  For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper.  Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwhich the dough between the two sheets of parchment.  Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches.  Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper.  Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf.  Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salts, etc.)  Be careful with spices and salt -- a little goes a long way.  If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough.  You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking.  If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

6  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

7.  When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.  You can snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

First Iron Cupcake entry!!!

This month I participated in the Iron Cupcake Earth competition.  The challenge: incorporate basil into a cupcake.  Did I succeed?  I think so!  Basil is an ingredient that immediately makes me think of savory dishes, especially pasta.  So, I had to let my mind stretch a little to come up with a creative solution.  I think I may have eased myself into this competition by taking the easy way, paring citrus and basil.  After some back and forth about certain details of the cupcake, I decided on a strawberry pound cake with a lemon-basil curd filling topped with a lemon meringue frosting.  For garnish, I candied my own lemon peel and finished it off with a fresh basil leaf.  They were very good!  The basil was subtle, yet it added a nice complexity to the cupcake.  My perspective on the uses of basil is forever changed!

While this challenge is mostly for fun, it is a competition!  I could win the following AWESOME prizes:

HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, 

So, VOTE FOR ME by going to between September 28th and October 1st!

You can make these too!  Here's the recipe:

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sifted cake flour
3 cups sugar
7 large eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh strawberries

Sift together sifted flour (3 cups) and salt into a bowl.  Repeat sifting into another bowl (flour will have been sifted 3 times total).

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes in a stand mixer.  Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla.  Reduce speed to low and add half of flour, then all of cream, then remaining flour, mixing well after each addition.  Scrape down side of bowl, then beat at medium-high speed 5 minutes.  Batter will become creamier and satiny.  Mix in fresh strawberries.

Spoon batter into cupcake liners.  Bake for 15-18 minutes in 350 F oven until golden and a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool in cupcake pan.

Curd Filling:

5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
4 lemons, zested and juiced
1 stick butter, cut into pats and chilled
1-2 tablespoons fresh basil

Add enough water to medium saucepan to come to come about 1-inch up the side.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  meanwhile, combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium size metal bowl and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute.  Measure citrus juice and, if needed, add enough cold water to reach 1/3 cup.  Add juice, zest, and basil to egg mixture and whisk smooth.  Once water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place bowl on top of saucepan.  Whisk until thickened, approximately 8 minutes, or until mixture is light yellow and coats the back of a spoon.  Remove promptly from heat and stir in butter a piece at a time, allowing each addition to melt before adding the next.  Remove to a clean container and cover by laying a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd.  Refrigerate.


1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Place sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, and egg whites in the top of a double boiler.  Beat with a handheld mixer for 1 minute.  Place pan over boiling water, being sure that the boiling water does not touch the bottom of the top pan.  Beat constantly on high speed with electric mixer for 7 minutes.  Beat in vanilla and lemon zest.


You can get in on the action too, by following my iron cupcake link to the right!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fall cookies

Well, I thought I wasn't going to continue my cookie dough business until next year's season . . . but I have been encouraged and inspired.  I have been developing some "fall flavors" for my frozen cookie dough business "Half Baked" to replace the summer flavors (Lemon blueberry, orange chocolate shortbread, and lime coconut).  My first successful new flavor is a chewy chocolate peppermint cookie.  I am not sure what to name it as of yet, but I am open to suggestions!  Here is a photo of the baked version, though they are sold as frozen dough that is rolled in crushed peppermint.  They are delicious if I do say so myself!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Everyone's gotta start somewhere

For now, my blog is pretty blah.  Ok, it is very blah.  I started this blog after stumbling upon a few very interesting food-related challenges that all required a blog to join.  One of them is called "The Iron Cupcake" and the other is "The Daring Bakers' Blog".  I can't wait to begin the challenges and "spice" up my page so to speak!