Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Friendship Cake: The Starter

Yesterday I shared the Amish Friendship Bread recipe with you, and if you managed to make it through the entire post, "Thank You" for sticking by me.  During my 10-day wait for the Amish Friendship Bread Starter, I did a bit of digging around and came across another interesting entity: the Thirty Day Friendship Cake.  The name alone was enough to pique  my interest, not to mention how much less I was grossed out by the ingredients/process compared to the Amish Friendship Bread.  The flour-sugar-milk mixture I so disdainfully squished every day is replaced with a much tastier looking blend of brandy, sugar, and canned fruits.  Brandied fruit?!?!  Yes, please.

The starter for the cake is a sugary fruit-infused brandy, making the resulting cake (which contains pineapple, peaches, cherries, raisins, nuts, and coconut) a "Fruitcake in Disguise."  And I do love me some fruitcake!  The only downside of this recipe is the wait time:  30 days if you have access to a starter, or 50 days if you're starting from scratch.  The Friendship Fruit Starter takes 21 days to make, and Day 21 of the starter will become Day 1 of the Thirty Day Friendship Cake.  Make sense?  I won't overwhelm you with both recipes today, so only the Friendship Fruit Starter will be posted below.  Will you journey with me? 

Let's begin:

Friendship Fruit Starter 
Original Recipe Yield: 2 cups starter, 6 cups brandied fruit
From Allrecipes.com

15 oz. can pineapple chunks, drained (I could only find 20 oz. cans, so I *might* have eaten the extras)
15 oz. can aprioct halves, drained
15 oz. can sliced peaches, drained
10 oz. jar maraschino cherries, drained
1¼ cups brandy
1¼ cups white sugar

In a large glass jar (I used a 1-gallon jar, but a ½ gallon should do), combine drained pineapple chunks, drained apricot halves, drained sliced peaches, drained maraschino cherries, brandy, and sugar.  Stir gently with a wooden spoon.  Cover loosely (set lid on top but do not screw it down) and let stand at room temperature for 3 weeks, stirring at least twice a week.  Drain and reserve the liquid- This liquid is your starter for the Thirty Day Friendship Cake.  Fruit may be kept in the refrigerator for another use; you will be using new fruits to make the Thirty Day Friendship Cake.

So there you have it friends.  Seems easy enough, right?  I'll keep you posted on the progress of the starter...probably on Day 10 and Day 21.  Are you as excited as I am???

Monday, July 12, 2010

Amish Friendship Bread

Or: "How to Lose a Friend in 10 Days." 

Amish Friendship Bread has been around for quite some time, and it's become somewhat of a "love it or hate it" concept.  There several different (but still basically the same) recipes for Amish Friendship Bread floating around, but here's the general idea:

- You're given a baggie or container of yeasty, fermenting "starter" liquid
- The accompanying recipe comes with so many instructions/dire warnings that you begin to doubt whether or not you should be trusted with such a precious and finnicky "gift"
- Over the course of 10 days, you'll mix/mush/stir the liquid
- You "feed" the starter with additional ingredients twice during the 10 days
- At the end of the cycle, you divide up the starter and give portions of it away, keeping some for yourself--both to bake that day and to save to start another round

It's like a nasty little chain letter, and sooner or later you'll run out of friends who are willing to take on your Yeasty Little Beastie.  I've had to turn down accepting a starter twice now, but two weeks ago I was lucky enough to be given a baggie of starter as a "gift."  I couldn't exactly say no, so I kindly accepted and set the baggie on my desk for the rest of the work day.  More than once I peered out of the corner of my eye to spy on that bubbling bag of goo and make sure it didn't explode when I wasn't looking.  I'm not kidding.  This has happened to people.   As the starter ferments, the yeast produces carbon dioxide gas.  The starter bag expands as this happens, so every few days the bag needs to be opened to release some of the (very yeasty smelling) gas.

I'll admit--I was a bit (okay, a LOT bit) grossed out by the starter.  After all, it's a fermenting bag of flour, sugar, and MILK sitting on the counter for 10 days.  And if you take into account the starter you were given was made 10 days before from a starter that was made 10 days before, and so on, and so on...who knows how old that Bag 'o Goo is?  (Try not to think about that.)  It was a little off-putting, to say the least.  But...the concept has been around for ages, with starters being successfuly maintained and passed on for years between friends and family (think: sourdough).  As far as I know, there haven't been any *reported* deaths linked to the consumption of Amish Friendship Bread. 

[In case you're wondering: YES, it's safe.  The yeast consumes the sugar and lactose (milk sugar), producing carbon dioxide and lactic acid, which creates an acidic environment that's unfriendly to unwanted nasties and assorted critters.]

All kidding aside, the end result was pretty good.  Not knock-your-socks-off-this-was-totally-worth-the-ten-day-wait good, but still quite tasty.  It's sweet, moist, cinnamony, and faintly yeasty with the kind of flavor/richness you can't quite put your finger on--from the starter, of course.   Are you brave enough to try it?  I've posted the recipe below, along with a link to a recipe to make the top secret starter that supposedly ONLY the Amish know how to make.  Isn't the Internet a swell thing?

Recipe Notes:
  • I made mine in a Bundt pan because I discovered that my sparingly used loaf pans were rusty.  You could certainly make mini loaves as well. 
  • The recipe makes 2 standard loaves, so that you can give away slices of the finished bread along with the starter.  It does take some convincing for the uninitiated, so letting them sample the finished product goes a long way towards getting your friends to accept a baggie of starter.
  • If you want to maintain your own personal starter (i.e., you don't have any willing takers), you can adjust the recipe to make less starter.  On Days 6 and 10, simply add ½ cup of each ingredient instead of the larger amount called for in the recipe.  When all is said and done, you'll end up with three cups:  2 cups to bake with, and 1 cup to start the next round.
  • If you can't bake the bread on Day 10, stash the whole thing in the fridge to slow the fermentation to a near halt.  Don't refrigerate during your 10-day cycle though, because the yeast needs to be at room temperature to "do its thing."
  • Most Amish Friendship Bread recipes warn against freezing the starter, but I've done it successfully.  Freezing will put the yeast into hibernation, but shouldn't kill them off.  Simply thaw when ready to start the next 10-day cycle.
  • Yeast needs sugar.  Those bad boys eat sugar like no tomorrow, so don't be tempted to swap out the sugar with something crazy like Splenda®.  But...if you insist, then experiment with a 50/50 blend of Splenda® and sugar and go from there.
***If you haven't been given a starter, use THIS recipe to make one before continuing with the bread recipe below.  I've typed it out exactly from the copy I was given, with my notes in Italics.***

Amish Friendship Bread (makes 2 loaves or 1 Bundt)

- Do not use any type of metal spoon or measuring cup (no reason is given, but I presume it's due to the acidic nature of the starter.  You wouldn't want to keep your starter in a metal bowl, for instance)
Do not refrigerate (Don't refrigerate during the 10 day cycle, but you can hold the starter in the fridge if you can't bake on the 10th day)
If any air gets into the bag, let it out (I don't think it's really the air "getting in" as much the air/gas being produced that needs to be let out.  Still, press out as much air as you can before sealing up your zip top baggie)
- It is normal for the batter to rise and ferment

Day 1 - Do nothing.  This is the day you get your bag
Day 2 - Mush the bag (odd choice of verb here...I would've chosen "squish")
Day 3 - Mush the bag
Day 4 - Mush the bag
Day 5 - Mush the bag
Day 6 - Add to the bag: 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk**  Mush the bag
Day 7 - Mush the bag
Day 8 - Mush the bag
Day 9 - Mush the bag
Day 10 - Pour entire contents into of bag into a non-metal bowl.  Add: 1½ cups flour, 1½ cups sugar, and 1½ cups milk**  Mix well.

Measure out 4 separate batters of 1 cup & put each into a gallon zip lock bag.  Make copies of the recipe.  Should the bags not be given to a friend on the 1st day, put the date on the zip lock bag.  Keep starter bag for yourself & you will bake every 10 days.  The bread is good & makes a great gift.  Only the Amish know how to make the starter so if you give them all away, you will have to wait until someone gives back to you again.  (not really.)

**If you're not interested in sharing the starter with your friends (how selfish!), add ½ cup of each ingredient on Day 6 and Day 10.

Cooking Instructions:
Preheat oven to 325°F & add the following to the remaining batter in the bowl: (there should be about 2 cups batter)
1 egg
1 cup oil
½ cup milk
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1½ tsp. vanilla
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1 large box of instant vanilla pudding (5.1 oz or 6-serving size box)

Grease 2 large loaf pans.
Mix additional ½ cup sugar and 1½ tsp. cinnamon.
Dust the greased pans with half the mixture.
Pour the batter evenly into pans and sprinkle the remaining sugar/cinnamon mixture on top of batter.  Bake 1 hour.

You don't have to make it all in bread loaf pans.  Follow th same directions & use cupcake pans to make it crunchy all the way around.

Check back soon for more "Friendship" fun...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Anniversary Cake: Tips & Tricks

A month ago, I was commissioned to create an anniversary cake for my co-worker's parents.  He and his sister were planning an anniversary party for their parents (which they knew about), but he wanted to include a special surprise:  a small replica of their wedding cake.  Sounded easy enough, so I agreed to bake it.  Here's what I had to work with:

I was given a print out of this image, which was a little better than the scan I received by e-mail...but not much.  

I had a vague idea of what the original cake looked like. All the squinting in the world didn't help, but I did the best I could to create an "old school" wedding cake--garlands and all!  There wasn't any way to find out what flavor the wedding cake was without spoiling the surprise, so I was given free rein in the flavor department. Wedding cakes these days come in any flavor/color/shape, but 50 years ago white-on-white almond-flavored cakes were standard fare.  I wanted to stay as true to tradition as possible, so I kept the white almond cake and white shortening-based icing but opted to fill the cakes with a blend of lemon and Bavarian creme pastry fillings (found at many cake decorating or party supply stores, or online through Country Kitchen SweetArt).

White Almond Sour Cream Cake (Link)
- One batch of this batter will make two 6" rounds and two 10" rounds (the yields given in the recipe have never worked for me)
- It is easiest to split the recipe in half and bake one 6" and one 10" layer at a time, especially if you don't own two of each pan size.
- Cake may be baked ahead of time.  Once cooled, the cake layers may be tightly wrapped and frozen.  When ready to decorate, remove the cakes from freezer and allow WRAPPED cakes to defrost on counter.
- Level (cut those unsightly humps off!) and torte (split 'em in two horizontally) the layers for the best presentation.
- What to do with those 8 leftover egg yolks?  Stay tuned :)

Extra Special Buttercream Icing (Link)
- One batch of this recipe was enough to ice and decorate (but not fill) one 6" and one 10" round cake, both 4" tall.  
- Go easy on the heavy cream.  Start with 4 oz. (recipe calls for 6 to 8 oz.) and add more if needed, one Tablespoon at a time.
- Refrigeration is recommended for this icing, so if real estate in your chill chest is scarce, you might want to select a different recipe.

50/50 blend of lemon and Bavarian creme pastry filling (Link)
- How much filling to use?  Well...that depends.  Country Kitchen SweetArt has a handy chart, but those amounts are probably only valid for "regular" two-layer cakes and not the fancy-pants four-layer cakes we have going on here.  
- In case you're wondering, I used a scant ¼ cup between each 6" layer and a scant ¾ cup between each 10" layer.  
- A spring loaded ice cream scoop is mighty handy for portioning the filling.  Mine holds roughly ¼ cup, which makes the seemingly arbitrary filling amounts I listed above seem...less arbitrary ;)

Creamy lemon filling = YUM.
Creating an icing dam helps prevent "filling blowout" later.
A soft pastry brush is great for whisking away stray crumbs.

Here they are, all filled and ready for their icing coats!
The top tier (background) is a 6" round cake, while the bottom tier (foreground) is a 10" round.  The larger tier is set upon a cake base made by covering a stack of four cake cardboard rounds which have been taped together, making sure the corrugations are staggered for sturdiness.

 An old school wedding cake wouldn't be complete without garlands/swags/those hangy down thingys.  Wanna know the secret to great looking swags?

Use a garland marker.  
 These are pretty easy to find, and will only set you back a buck or two.  It's composed of two pieces of plastic and is easily customized by changing the position of the spiked strip along the slotted holder.  Perfectly matched garlands every time!

Here's a look at the (almost) finished product:
My co-worker (well, his sister probably) will have to assemble the cake at the party site.  I've marked off the top of the large tier using the separator plate under the small tier, so all they'll need to do is push the pillars straight in and set the top tier in position.  They are "Push-in Pillars," so no doweling needed.  Once the topper is on they'll be all set!

I think the final cake is pretty close to what the original wedding cake might have looked like...or at least it's close enough!  Finding a similar cake topper was a challenge, so I opted to go DIY and buy all the pieces separately.  The bride and groom figurine (harder to find than expected!) were purchased at a party supply store, as was the 2-piece pedestal they're standing on.  I created the floral arch with loose flowers I got during a sale at Hobby Lobby.  The flowers were twisted around each other to form a general arch shape, then secured with green floral tape.  Lots and lots of floral tape   :)

Hope you enjoyed this peek into all the behind-the-scenes stuff.  This is wedding cake #3 for me (well 4 if you count a Groom's Cake), and the experience has only reinforced what I dreaded to admit a while back:  making my own wedding cake is a BAD IDEA.  The time investment is immense, so I think I'll let the pros handle the job in January!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gluten Free: Brazilian Cheese Buns

Brazilian cheese buns.  They're like nothing you've ever experienced before:  a delicately crispy exterior gives way to a moist, chewy, hollow interior with a texture not unlike mozzarella cheese.  Light and cripsy, chewy and cheesy.  What's not to love?  But the best part?  They're gluten-free.  But don't let that stop you from baking these up for your gluten-loving friends!  These cheese buns are a welcome alternative to the standard dinner roll and are great snacking fodder.  They're best served warm, but leftovers crisp up marvelously in the toaster oven when that cheese bun craving strikes!

Find the recipe HERE on the King Arthur Flour website.

For a step-by-step tutorial, visit the post on KAF's Baking Banter blog HERE.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cupcake Hero::July

Yes, it's that time again.  The theme ingredient for July's Cupcake Hero event has been announced!  This month's Cupcake Hero will be guest hosted by Sharlene of small town oven, winner of June's Cupcake Hero::Blueberry contest.  Entry deadline is July 17th, so get your thinking caps on, folks.  

For more details, visit Sharlene's post HERE.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

All Through the Year Cheer: Independence Day

Here's the perfect treat to serve at your Independence Day festivities: Apple Pie Cupcakes.  It's apple pie a la mode, re-imagined.  Picture it: you're sitting on your back porch watching the fireworks, sweet iced tea in one hand and an apple pie cupcake in the other.  Plush vanilla cake, gently spiced apple filling, and a luxurious brown sugar buttercream make for a very nice snack indeed.

This recipe will be a part of the All Through the Year Cheer : Fourth of July event hosted by Brandy of Nutmeg Nanny and Faith of An Edible Mosaic.  Be sure to check out the ATTYC site for more details and to see the recipe round-up.  There's bound to be an excellent collection of recipes celebrating the Red, White, and Blue!

Apple Pie Cupcakes (makes about 30)
Cake portion adapted from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America 

Apple Filling:
4 Granny Smith apples
½ cup sugar
1½ tsp. apple pie spice
1 Tbl. butter
1 Tbl. flour

3½ cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
1 Tbl. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, diced & at room temperature
1 cup whole milk, divided
4 large eggs
2 large egg whites
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Brown Sugar SMBC (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Place paper liners into 30 wells of three muffin tins.

Prepare apple filling: 
Peel and finely dice the apples; you should have around 4 cups of diced apple.  Place apples in a large skillet.  Add sugar, apple pie spice, and butter.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until apples are soft and have released their liquid (about 5 minutes).  Sprinkle flour over apple mixture.  Stir well and continue to cook over medium-low heat for another 3-4 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool while preparing cupcakes.

Prepare cupcakes:
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add butter and ½ cup milk. Mix on medium speed until smooth, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, egg whites, remaining ½ cup milk and vanilla extract until combined. Add to the batter in 3 additions, mixing for 2 minutes on medium after each addition. Scrape down the bowl between additions.

Divide the batter evenly between the muffin tins. Bake for 16-20 minutes, or until cupcakes spring back when lightly touched in the center. Cool completely on wire racks.

Assemble Cupcakes:
Using a small paring knife, carefully cut a cone from the center of each cupcake.  Remove cone tops and reserve for another use (such as: quieting the kids, hubby, dog, etc.) Fill cupcakes with a spoonful of apple filling and with Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Brown Sugar Swiss Meringue Buttercream

1 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

Place the egg whites and brown sugar in a heatproof bowl; whisk to combine. Place bowl over a small saucepan of gently simmering water (double boiler set-up). Heat egg white mixture to 160°F, whisking constantly. The mixture will become thin and foamy as you approach 160°F.

Pour the heated egg white mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add a pinch of salt.  Beat on high speed with the whisk attachment for 7-9 minutes, until stiff peaks form and mixture has cooled. The mixture MUST be cooled to room temperature before proceeding.

Switch to the paddle attachment.  With the mixer running at medium speed, add the butter, 2 Tablespoons at a time. Allow the butter to incorporate before adding more. As you add butter, the appearance of the mixture will go from a fluffy meringue to a thin, cake batter-like consistency. Once all the butter has been incorporated, increase the speed to medium high and beat until an emulsion forms and the mixture has transformed into a thick & smooth icing. (How long this will take depends on the starting temperature of both the egg white mixture and the butter pieces, so be patient. Pay attention as the mixture is whipping--you'll hear a definite difference in sound when the buttercream is ready.) Add vanilla extract and beat on low speed for a minute or two to incorporate and to reduce any air bubbles.