Thursday, May 27, 2010

How to be Popular at the Office

Have leftover Oreos® in your pantry that will never get eaten?  Crush some up and add them to your favorite white/vanilla frosting to top off a dark chocolate cake.  Or fold some cookie crumbs into lightly sweetened whipped cream for an out-of-this world filling.  People will go nuts for it.  I took some short cuts and used convenience products for this cake; use your favorite chocolate cake recipe (or box mix, if you prefer) and frosting.  This cake was destined for the break room at work, so I opted not to use the whipped cream filling since it would be sitting out on the table all morning.  Instead, I used THIS whipped icing mix by Wilton® (which you can buy at Hobby Lobby when those 40% off coupons are available!).  Be forewarned: one box is plenty to frost TWO standard 2-layer cakes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cookies 'n Cream Ice Cream

Or is it Cookies & Cream?  Cookies 'n Creme?  Cookies 'n Cream?  I don't think I ever figured that one out--and neither has anyone else, judging by the variety of ways I've seen those words in print.  We might not be able to agree on a single spelling, but there's no denying that this is one of America's top favorite ice cream flavors.  I can't think of any ice cream lover I know that would turn down a bowl of this!  Don't be fooled by the meager ingredients list, though.  Sweetened condensed milk fills in nicely for sugar and milk, streamlining the process while adding a uniquely delicious but difficult to identify flavor.  Keeping this egg-free (Philadelphia style) preserves both the color and the pure, sweet creaminess of the ice cream base, while the touch of vanilla rounds out the flavor. 

My method of incorporating the cookies might seem like extra work, but I have my reasons:
  • I have THIS 2-quart ice cream maker.  By the end of the freezing cycle the ice cream was practically jumping out of the top opening.  No way was there room for adding cookies without making a supreme mess.
  • The manufacturer or my ice cream maker recommends adding 'chunkies' no larger than the size of a chocolate chip.  Cookie pieces = definitely larger than chocolate chip.
  • Folding in the roughly chopped (I quartered each one) cookies instead of letting the dasher mix in the pieces keeps the ice cream more pristinely white. 

Cookies 'n Cream Ice Cream (Yield: about 2 quarts)

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
4 cups half-and-half (or 2 cups each heavy cream and 2% milk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
18 chocolate sandwich cookies, roughly chopped (a heaping 2 cups)

Place sweetened condensed milk in large bowl with a spout.  Gradually blend in half-and-half.  Stir in vanilla.  Place mixture in refrigerator for 2-3 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.  Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Meanwhile, place a large mixing bowl in the freezer.  When ice cream has finished churning, remove ice cream from machine and place into chilled mixing bowl.  Fold in chopped cookie pieces, then place ice cream into containers to continue freezing.

As a matter of personal taste, I prefer to let this ice cream sit in the freezer for a few days before serving it. Over time, the cookie pieces absorb some of the moisture from the ice cream, leaving them soft and cake-like rather than crunchy. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Strawberry Ice Cream

Is it just me, or is there something inherently friendly about strawberry ice cream?  Sweet, pink and unassuming, its bright summer flavor is kid-friendly without being "for kids" (retina-burning neon rainbow ice cream, I'm talking to you).  Ice cream can be a wonderful year-round treat, but it's the lighter/fruiter flavors I prefer in the warmer seasons (think citrus, berries, and mint).  Though the calendar doesn't say so, one look at the forecast will tell you summer has arrived early here in South Louisiana.  Perfect ice cream weather indeed.  Be on the lookout for more ice cream recipes in the next few weeks; there's lots more to come!

Strawberry Ice Cream   (Yield: About 1¼ quarts)

1 pound strawberries, fresh or frozen 
sugar - to taste, depending on sweetness of berries (¼ - 1 cup)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half
1 tsp. vanilla extract

If using fresh strawberries, wash and hull them.  If using frozen, thaw strawberries but don't discard the liquid.  Place strawberries (and any juice from defrosting) and ¼ cup sugar into a blender or food processor; puree mixture.  Taste, and add more sugar as needed.  I ended up using the full cup of sugar because my strawberries were very tart.  Pour mixture into a large bowl with a spout.  Blend in remaining ingredients.  Place ice cream base in refrigerator for 2-3 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.  Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Although lemon desserts remain high on the "tickles my fancy" list, the blueberry ones will always hold a special place in my heart.  Blueberries are plentiful in the Pacific Northwest, where I spent my childhood, and it was there that my love of all things blueberry was nurtured.  Muffins, pastries, yogurt, smoothies, ice cream,--you name it, I'll eat it if it's blueberry.  Artificially flavored?  I'll still go for it!  You'd think that with my unnatural fondness for blueberries I'd have more blueberry dessert recipes on my blog.  Sure, I could cite price and/or availablity as reasons, but the truth is they never last that long in my fridge for me to make anything with them!  My favorite way to enjoy blueberries has always been fresh, and as many as I can eat in one sitting.

I modeled the Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream below on the Orange Marmalade Ice Cream I made earlier in the year, adjusting the recipe to use the entire jar of blueberry preserves I purchased.  There's no better partner for blueberries than cheesecake, so I threw in a block of cream cheese to the mix and swapped out the half-and-half with milk to compensate for the added richness.  I made this ice cream for friends and family members twice in the past few weeks, and both times it received high marks in the flavor department.  Another plus: it doesn't freeze quite as firmly as most homemade ice creams, so it's scoopable and ready to go pretty much straight from the freezer!

Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream  (Makes about 1½ quarts)

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
8 fluid oz. whole or 2% milk
8 fluid oz. heavy cream
15.5 oz jar blueberry preserves or jam (about 1½ cups)
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Optional: 3 Tbl. amaretto (or desired liqueur)

Place cream cheese in a bowl (preferably one with a spout, if you're messy like I am).  Slowly whisk in milk until mixture is smooth.  Stir in heavy cream, blueberry preserves/jam, vanilla, and amaretto liqueur (if using).  Chill ice cream base in refrigerator for 2-3 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.  Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Classic Yellow Bundt Cake

Goodness gracious, this was one fantastic cake.  Firm, tightly crumbed, and packed with more butter 'n eggs than should be allowed, this simple yet flavorful cake is the perfect vehicle for sauces made from summer's bounty of fruits.  Picture it: a nice slab of this cake covered in strawberry sauce and--since there's not quite enough butterfat in the recipe--a big fat dollop of whipped cream. Or maybe lemon curd and fresh blueberries tickle your fancy.  Those would work quite beautifully as well, as would any number of sorbets.  My family made fast work of this cake, and oh how I wish I had more so I could try out more accompaniments!

Recipe Notes
  • Good news:  you don't need a fancy mixer (or any mixer at all) to make this cake.
  • Bad news:  you'll need a food processor.  A blender might work in a pinch.
  • Proceed with caution if you only have a 12-cup bundt pan.  High-rising, overflowing batters seem to be trend for me and my oven, so I (thankfully) chose to use a 15-cup bundt pan.  Use your judgement, and if it looks like too much batter for your 12-cup pan you can always make a few cupcakes with the excess batter.
  • I found this cake to be a bit on the sweeter side of how I like my cakes, but not unbearably so.  We served this with a sweet-tart strawberry sauce, which was a perfect foil for all that sugar.  Next time I might try reducing the sugar to 2 cups; hopefully the texture isn't too terribly adversely affected.  This recipe is from Cook's Country--a division of America's Test Kitchen, so this recipe has been tested and re-tested numerous times...and they might have already tried reducing the sugar and failed.  Those folks sure do know their stuff, but that won't stop me from trying to tweak it ;)
  • It's probably best that your guests don't know just how much butter is in this one.  Just serve smaller slices and load the dessert plate with fruits.  This cake is too good not to try!

Classic Yellow Bundt Cake  (serves 12 to 14)
From Cook's Country

3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
8 large eggs, at room temperature
2 ½ cups sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks), melted and hot

Adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly coat a 12-cup bundt pan with vegetable oil spray. (CAUTION: you might not need all of the batter.  I used my 15-cup bundt pan, and the finished cake rose to the top of the pan.  If you use the 12-cup pan, be on the lookout for overflow.) Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

Process the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a food processor until combined, about 10 seconds.  With the machine running, pour the melted butter through the feed tube in a steady stream, about 30 seconds.  Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

Sift one third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and whisk it in (a few streaks of flour should remain).  Repeat twice more with the remaining flour mixture and continue to whisk the batter gently until most of the lumps are gone (do not overmix).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Wipe any drops of batter off the sides of the pan.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Continue to bake until deep golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes (mine took 70 minutes), rotating the pan halfway through baking.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack.  Let cool to room temperature, about 3 hours.  After the cake has cooled, it can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Party Time Mix

Nothing says "Party!" like a big heaping bowl of Chex Mix®.  Or Chex® Party Mix, I should say.  Did you know that some lawyer-types have designated the term "Chex Mix®" for the ready-made bagged variety, while "Chex® Party Mix" is supposed to only refer to home-baked varieties?  I didn't.  At least not until recently.  In any case, I'm pretty sure most of you are so familiar with the tradition of baking up Chex® Party Mix during the holidays that you don't really need a recipe for it.  However, I've also recently learned that for some reason or another, the baked version is now being listed as an alternate means of preparation--taking back seat to the "Zap it in the Microwave" style.  Curious.  I don't have any microwave-safe bowls large enough to accomodate a batch of Chex® Party Mix, so I've never made it that way.  Anyone out there swear by using the microwave directions?  How does the texture compare to the baked variety?

Today I'm sharing with you my large-scale version of Chex® Party Mix, which I'm now dubbing "Party Time Mix" to do away with technicalities and the fact that I didn't actually use Chex® (oh, the horror!).  Gone are the nuts and bagel chips, but you won't miss them once you catch sight of the Goldfish® and cheese crackers!  I formulated the ratios of cereal with the intention of using up the entire three boxes of cereal, but feel free use all one type or change up the ratios.  The base recipe below will make a whopping 45 cups of snack mix, which fills three gallon-size zip-top bags.  I'd estimate that this would serve 45 people, but according to the nutrition folks at Chex® a serving size is half a then I guess 90?  Seriously?  I personally don't know of anyone who'd be satisfied with a half cup serving of party mix!

Unbaked mixes, waiting for their butter & flavoring bath!

You'll need a large roasting pan and three gallon-size baggies (I used a large foil turkey roasting pan); bake up one bag at a time, or do all three! It's up to you :)

Party Time Mix (Makes three 15-cup batches)

Dry mix:
14 oz. box toasted wheat cereal
14 oz. box toasted corn cereal
12.8 oz. box toasted rice cereal
6.6 oz. bag Goldfish® crackers-I used original (plain) flavor, but any would be good
3 cups cheese crackers
6 cups mini pretzels

Assemble mixes:  Line up three gallon-sized zip-top bags on your counter.  Into EACH bag, place:  2 cups toasted wheat cereal, 4 ½ cups toasted corn cereal, 4 ½ cups toasted rice cereal, 1 cup Goldfish® crackers, 1 cup cheese crackers, and 2 cups mini pretzels.  (You'll end up using the entire boxes of each cereal as well as the whole bag of fishies.)  At this point, the mixes can be stored in your pantry until you're ready to bake.

For EACH gallon-sized bag you'll need:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
4 Tbl. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. seasoned salt (I used Tony Chachere's® Creole Seasoning)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder

Preheat oven to 250°F. Spray a large roasting pan with non-stick spray. Pour one bag into the pan (save that baggie for storage of the finished mix!). Combine butter, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir. Pour over cereal and cracker mix, the mix thoroughly to evenly coat. Place in 250°F oven and bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool completely before storage.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lemon Bliss Cake

Pure bliss.  That pretty much sums up how I'd describe this Bundt cake.  Moist, bright, and refreshing--what's not to love?  Lemon desserts hold a very high place in my "Things I Like to Eat" hierarchy, that's for sure.  The inspiration behind this recipe comes from the recipe for East 62nd Street Lemon Cake by Maida Heatter, the "Grande Dame of Delicious Desserts."

Visit the King Arthur Flour Company website for the recipe HERE, and be sure to check out their Baking Banter blog for a step-by-step photo tutorial of this recipe.  I didn't follow the glaze recipe exactly--my two lemons yielded about ½ cup juice, so I used the full amount instead of the indicated cup.  The result was bright and lemony, without being mouth-puckeringly sour (the cake itself was fairly sweet).  Also, I used the reverse creaming method for mixing the batter...just because. 

Friday, May 7, 2010


Oh yeah.  That's right.  We've finally gone and done it.  My boyfriend and I have been crowned Cupcake Heroes for the month of April with our "Chocolate Moose" entry from the What's New, Cupcake? book.  So what if the winner was chosen by a Random Number Generator?  And so what if we had a 5 in 9 chance of winning?  A win is a win, and this one was EPIC!!!  Special thanks to Mike for selecting that particular cupcake for us to decorate for the contest.  Wouldn't you know that's the one design he absolutely had his heart set on making?  :)

Stay tuned for more Cupcake Hero news for the month of June, when *yours truly* will possibly be guest hosting the event.  Probably jumping the gun here, but I might already have a theme ingredient in mind.  Hats off to CB of I ♥ Cuppycakes! for being our gracious leader and humble Cupcake Hero host thus far!  We guest hosts will do our best to do you proud! 

Now for another fine pick by my sweetie from Hello, Cupcake! by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson (which we now own, along with What's New, Cupcake?-- thanks to him): 

Butterfly Cupcakes

Verdict: not as easy as the authors make it look.
 Sure, there's detailed instructions and pictures. But candy melts can be frustratingly uncooperative.  Guess there's a reason they're book authors and we're novices! :)

Incidentally, we made these last weekend--before the winner of Cupcake Hero was announced.  Though now that we've been declared winners, we just might have to make a few more selections from the books to commemorate the occasion.  Any special requests???

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lemon Sugar Cookie Bars

Given the choice between fruity/citrus and chocolate desserts, nine times out of ten I'll select the "not chocolate" option...especially if my other choice is a lemon dessert.  So it's only natural that I'd take the Sugar Cookie Bars I made recently and make a lemon version of it.  Since I didn't care for how chewy and raw tasting the cookies were last time (even baked for the full 15 minutes), I decided to do a longer 20 minute bake.  The bars definitely rose higher and had a more cake-like texture, which I liked--but not my co-workers.  Flavor got a thumbs-up, so next time I'll go for the middle ground and aim for a 17-18 minute bake time. 

Lemon Sugar Cookie Bars (Makes a 13 x 18" pan)

1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
grated zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 13 x 18-inch half sheet pan with non-stick spray (I lined my pan with foil, then greased the foil).

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add vanilla and mix well. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Add to creamed mixture and mix until just combined. Press evenly into prepared pan (it helps to use damp fingers). Bake at 375°F for 10-15 minutes (You could even go to 18 minutes if you prefer a less dense cookie) or until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool completely before frosting.

Lemon Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
pinch of salt
1 lb. (approx. 3¾ cups) powdered sugar
½ tsp. lemon extract
3 to 5 Tbl. lemon juice
yellow food coloring, if desired
yellow decorator sugar, if desired

Combine butter, lemon extract, and salt in mixer bowl. Using whisk attachment, beat until creamy and combined. Add about one cup powdered sugar, then mix to combine. Add 3 Tablespoons lemon juice and beat to incorporate. With mixer running at low speed, slowly add remaining powdered sugar. (You can add more liquid at this point, if needed). Once sugar has been added and mixed in, beat frosting on medium-high speed for 1-2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Blend in food coloring, if desired. Frost cookies, then top with sprinkles before cutting and serving. (For ease of cutting, I recommend placing the pan in the fridge for a quick chill to set the frosting.)

I also made a batch of the regular sugar cookie bars, which weren't as well received as either the lemon version or the less baked ones from last time.  Still, they didn't go to waste!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Doubly Peanutty Bars

Peanut butter fans, have I got the treat for you!  It's the ultimate in smooth, rich, chewy peanut buttery bar perfection.  Without any pesky "extras" to get in the way of your peanut butter enjoyment (though the addition of chocolate, peanut butter chips, or chopped peanuts wouldn't be bad either).  When that peanut butter craving strikes, raid that pantry for a few ingredients (that you probably already have) and bake up a batch of these Double Peanut Butter Bars.  You won't be sorry :)

Recipe Notes:
  • This recipe is a slight variation on one I made previously. It has a cooked peanut butter icing instead of chocolate chips and nuts, and I baked it at a higher temperature to speed things along (not to mention I had two other pans of cookies that needed the 375°F bake temp.).
  • Chunky things like chips and nuts might make it difficult to spread the icing around, so if you plan on adding any goodies, either add them to the base before pressing it into the pan or sprinkle them on top of the icing before it sets. 
  • When the bars come out of the oven, don't be concerned if they smell less peanut buttery and more...well, cake mixey.  Whether it was the overnight rest or the amazing goodness of the icing, the finished bars didn't have a hint of "from the box" taste. 
  • By all means, cut this recipe in half if you don't want to eat the whole pan by yourself  plan on feeding a crowd.

Double Peanut Butter Bars  (Makes a 13 x 18" pan)

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
cup oil
4 eggs
¼ cup water
2 (18.25 oz.) boxes white cake mix

See recipe below

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 13 x 18" sheet pan with foil and lightly grease.

Mix brown sugar, peanut butter, oil, and eggs until smooth and incorporated.  Add water and cake mixes, the mix thoroughly to combine.

Spread batter evenly in greased pan. You may have to get your hands involved, as it's the easiest way to smooth out the batter. Bake in a 375°F oven for 20-25 minutes, or until center tests done. Cool completely, then top with peanut butter icing (recipe follows).  Allow icing to set completely, then cut into small bars and serve.  (I cut mine into 64 bars.)

Peanut Butter Icing 
From Southern Plate

2 Tbl. shortening
2 Tbl. margarine (I used butter)
7 Tbl. milk
¼ tsp. salt
1½ cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup creamy peanut butter

Combine shortening, margarine/butter, milk, salt, and sugar. Bring to a rolling boil in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Once it reaches a boil, let boil for one to two minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and add vanilla and peanut butter. Beat until smooth and quickly spread onto cake.