Friday, February 29, 2008

Boston Cream Pie, with a Twist

I really like the Boston Cream Pie recipe from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, mostly because that book contains a pastry-cream recipe with many, many variations. I've made nontraditional Boston Cream Pies with peanut-butter pastry-cream filling. This time, I tweaked the chocolate variation by adding some instant-coffee powder to make a mocha filling. I'm not sure exactly how much instant coffee I added, but I think it was around a tablespoon, or maybe a tablespoon and a half. It gave the pastry cream a really terrific mocha flavor. I should have been more mindful of paying attention to the amount of coffee I was adding.

One tweak here is that I didn't lighten the KA pastry cream with whipped cream, as their recipe specifies. When I've done that in the past, I've ended up with far more pastry cream than I can use. I can say for sure now that I prefer this pastry cream unlightened.

Leap Cakes

In celebration of Leap Day, I made a couple of cakes. For PLTI this week, I doctored beyond the Cake Mix Doctor. I jazzed up this cake (bottom photo) with rum, banana liqueur, and coconut. (No reports on how it tasted, although it smelled pretty good.)

Then I decided to try the Lemon-Ginger Bundt Cake (top photo) from the new issue of Everyday Food. All in all, I liked this cake, although the one I made baked with a weird air bubble that ran through two-thirds of the cake. Weird. I shared the recipe with a friend who has had no luck with it (twice, in fact). I need to make this one again to see if there's something amiss in the process.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lemon Layer Cake

This cake turned out tasting far better than I thought I was going to.

The recipe is from Better Homes & Gardens's New Baking Book. The Lusty Lemon Cake is three layers of cake, filled with lemon curd, then coated with a lemon-cream cheese icing. I was prepared to be underwhelmed. The cake layers weren't too lemony. The lemon-curd filling uses the weirdest lemon-curd technique I've ever seen. And the frosting lacked zip.

Somehow, though, when the parts came together, the cake tasted really good. I credit the lemon curd. No matter how weird the process for making it, the curd punched up the flavor of the cake. I think the cake layers and frosting can be tweaked for the better, too, but in the end this time, the final result was admirably serviceable.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lemon-Cranberry Cupcakes

These cupcakes are another recipe from Julie Hasson's 125 Best Cupcake Recipes. Pretty good, although I would be tempted to bump up the lemon flavor a bit with some extract or lemon oil. They are topped with a ginger-cream cheese frosting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day means baking. This year, I made two special things for Valentine's Day. First, there was a batch of Sprinkle Cookies from Mom's Big Book of Baking by Lauren Chattman. This is a pretty simple sugar cookie, with the dough rolled in a ball, then dipped in sprinkles before it's baked.

Then I made a batch of chocolate cupcakes. Having enjoyed Jill O'Connor's banana rum cake so much, I decided to try the Chocolate-Mayonnaise Cupcakes from her book Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. These cupcakes are awesome. The batter baked beautifully without oozing onto the top of the cupcake pan. I made a batch of plain buttercream tinted pink to frost them, then added some holiday sprinkles for the top.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Peanut Blossoms

I love Mom's Big Book of Baking. It's a Lauren Chattman book, and I don't think I've made anything questionable from it. Claire and I decided to make a batch of Peanut Butter Thumbprints from the book; instead of filling them with jelly, we used chocolate stars and kisses.

The dough is extra peanutty: It uses natural peanut butter, for one thing, and also contains a cup of finely chopped salted peanuts. I especially liked the ones we made with dark-chocolate stars.

Birthday Cake

Now the truth can be told. I once again had a mishap with my wife's birthday cake.

Despite the many good birthday cakes I've made for Karen, the ones that are remembered are the disasters, perhaps most famously the chocolate cake with a marshmallowy seven-minute icing. While stored in the fridge overnight, the icing (which perhaps hadn't set up properly during its seven minutes of whipping) melted. Holding the final result, the cake dome was like a bakery aquarium, with chocolate cake layers wallowing amid a sea of white goo.

I decided this year to rely on tried-and-true Best Birthday Cake from Lora Brody's Chocolate American Style. I've been making this cake as a three-layer event, but this time followed the recipe and made two deep layers that would be split to make four layers of cake.

Although I've made this cake a number of times, the bad birthday mojo struck. When I took the cake layers out of the oven, one collapsed entirely, and the other crumbled a bit coming out of the pan. Not happy.

What to do? Frosting corrects a multitude of sins, and this cake has a great white chocolate-cream cheese frosting. I patched it up, put some sprinkles on the outside and on top, and all was fine.

From now on, this is a three-layer cake.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Banana Rum Cake

I'd picked up a copy of Jill O'Connor's Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey last year, but hadn't made anything from it. While facing an ongoing overripe banana issue, I grabbed the book and saw a recipe that I realized I needed to make: Bahama Mama Banana Rum Cake. The cake came together just fine, and while it was baking, I made the Dark Rum Glaze to accompany it. The glaze, rich with butter, sugar, and rum, is poured over the warm cake and absorbed into it.

When the cake came out of the oven, I was a little apprehensive. There was a lot of glaze -- almost 2 cups' worth. I brushed a little bit on the cake, then some more. When fretting more about the quantity of glaze, I remembered the name of the book and thought that I might just as well get all the glaze on and in the cake. So I did.

Any misgivings I might have had disappeared the moment I tasted the cake. Surprisingly, despite the quantity of rum in the glaze, the cake isn't boozy at all. And clearly, it is super moist. I especially like the use of chopped pecans coating the bottom of the cake pan, then becoming the top of the cake.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Banana Cupcakes

Faced yet again with a bunch of overripe bananas, I made a batch of Banana Cupcakes using a recipe in Julie Hasson's 125 Best Cupcake Recipes. These cupcakes are finished off with a topping of Chocolate Fudge Frosting from the same cookbook. Pretty straightforward stuff, and a good banana cupcake recipe.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mardi Gras

My daughter Claire is in her first year of taking French. She announced last week that her class would be having a Mardi Gras party and that there would be lots of fun foods and snacks to eat during the party. After five minutes of her rhapsodizing, I asked, "Is this your way of letting me know I need to make something?" It's hard to put one like this past me.

Initially, she wanted to bring that old French favorite chocolate-chip cookies, but by the time the sign-up sheet got to her, someone else had already grabbed that one. So Claire signed up to bring snickerdoodles, another classic from the French pastry collection.

I knew I had a reliable recipe from Tish Boyle's The Good Cookie, although Tish calls her cookies Cinnamon Sugar Crinkles. My Cookie Day pal Ryan always makes a batch (or two) of snickerdoodles every holiday season, and Tish Boyle's is his go-to recipe.

So Claire and I made a batch of snickerdoodles, and by all accounts, the French class enjoyed them -- enough so that not a single cookie came home, at any rate.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Apple Bars

I'd made these Apple Bars with Oatmeal Crumb Topping to bring to the Groundhog Day party, but they finished baking only a half-hour before we needed to leave for the party. No time to cut them without destroying them, so they were saved for another day.

This handy recipe is from Allysa Torey's More from Magnolia. I've made it before and like it. The recipe is convenient and quick to assemble. It just requires a fairly long baking time (20 minutes to bake the crust, then 45 minutes after it's all assembled). When I make these bars, I always feel a little lazy because canned pie filling is one of the ingredients. I'm certain they'd taste better with a fresh apple filling. That will have to go on my to-do list for a future baking endeavor. One tweak I made this time was to add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the crust, which as written calls for just flour and butter.

Groundhog Day Party

Our friends John and Laura had a Groundhog Day party on Saturday. I volunteered to bring a dessert. I opted to make something easy to eat and that I hoped kids would like: a batch of Banana Granola Cookies (from Jill Snider's Cookies) and a batch of Butterscotch Bars from Cook's Country.

I'd made the Banana Granola Cookies once before. This batch turned out a little flatter. I also added some chocolate chips to the batter, a nice touch. I also frosted them with cream-cheese icing. The Butterscotch Bars were new. I found them to be extremely sweet; I ended up feeling glad I'd cut them into small squares.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Mocha Chip Cupcakes

Lost is back (if only for eight episodes), so Lost Lunch Fridays have resumed at work. To wrap up discussion on the season premiere, I brought along a batch of Mocha Chip Cupcakes, a Greg Patent recipe from Fine Cooking. When I make something really good from a recipe I've had for a long time but have never made, I inevitably end up wondering how I could possibly have bypassed the recipe for so long.

Although the cupcakes contain a little espresso powder, I didn't detect much coffee flavor. However, they are incredibly moist and chocolaty. These cupcakes are topped off with a chocolate-sour cream frosting.

Sweet Potato Pound Cake with Quick Caramel Glaze

I was overdue in making something for my colleague Chuck's birthday. Since I now feel beyond certain that I can't go wrong with Nancie McDermott's Sweet Potato Pound Cake, that's what I made. This time, I tried it with Quick Caramel Glaze. For the glaze, butter, brown sugar, and evaporated milk are cooked just to a boil. Then, confectioners' sugar and vanilla are added, and the glaze is quickly poured over the cake. This glaze sets up really fast, perhaps a bit faster than I was banking on. While the sliced cake looked as appealing as ever, the whole cake looked like it was slathered with spray-foam insulation.

P.S. You can follow this link to the recipe for this cake.

More Chocolate Chip Cookies

For this year's Parent Leadership Training Institute class, I've fallen down on my baking goal. I missed their first two weeks of class. This week, I made up for a bit of lost time with a batch of chocolate-chip cookies, using a tried-and-true recipe from Lauren Chattman's Mom's Big Book of Cookies. I had some leftover dark-chocolate M&Ms, so I used them in the cookies instead of chocolate chips.

I really like this chocolate-chip cookie recipe, but I tinker with the amount of flour in the dough. Generally, I like a cookie that doesn't spread as much, so I add up to 1/2 cup of flour to get a stiffer dough. It doesn't seem to affect the flavor of the cookies, and I end up with a cookie that I think looks better.