Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Peanut Butter Blossom Cupcakes

I had chocolate buttercream leftover from the cake balls so I decided cupcakes were in order.  I love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter so I found a peanut butter cupcake recipe in a cookbook my sister gave me for Christmas.  I love those peanut butter blossom cookies (the ones with the Hershey Kiss on top), so I created something similar with these cupcakes.  I had some mini peanut butter cups in my baking stash so I plunked one into the batter before baking.  The cake was nice and light, but best of all it was peanut buttery.  The peanut butter cup in the middle and the chocolate frosting really pulled it all together for a fantastic combination.  The cupcakes were pretty tasty even without the chocolate frosting on top.

Just so we're clear, I think the title is a little misleading.  These treats look like cupcakes, but they are a little more dense and cookie-like than cupcakes.  They're a deliciously large version of the peanut butter blossom cookies.

Peanut Butter Blossom Cupcakes
Adapted from Cupcakes and Muffins

4 Tbsp (half stick) butter, softened
Heaping 1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (I used creamy because that's all I had)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
Generous 1/3 cup milk

16 mini peanut butter cups, unwrapped
Chocolate Frosting (leftover from Cake Balls)

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line two 12-hole muffin tins with 16 paper liners.  Place the butter, sugar and peanut butter in a bowl and beat together for 1-2 minutes, or until well mixed.  Gradually beat in the eggs, then add the vanilla.  Sift in the flour and baking powder, then fold them into the mixture, alternating with the milk.  Spoon the batter into the paper liners.  Place a peanut butter cup into each muffin cup and push down until the top of the candy is just below the top of the batter.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until well risen and golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Once cooled, frost the cupcakes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coconut Cake

Whenever we have dinner with my in-laws, I usually get to be in charge of dessert.  Easter was with them last year, and I was just coming off four weeks of the Wilton cake decorating classes.  Since I had made and decorated so many cakes recently, I didn't want to make another one for Easter.  However, I had buttercream leftover from my decorating classes that were springy colors.  I didn't want to waste the frosting so I off I went to bake another cake.

I decided on Baking Illustrated's Coconut Cake.  They recommend using cream of coconut instead of coconut milk because the fat content in coconut milk varies so much between brands.  This was the first time I had set out to look for cream of coconut, and had a heck of time finding it.  So here's a tip for you:  Look in the ethnic food section and the drink mixer section in your grocery store.

Between the cake batter and the frosting, the recipe uses the contents from one can.  UNLESS, you screw up and forget to add the sugar and don't remember until the cake's been in the oven for 15 minutes!  Then you'll end up using a second can to make up for your mistake.  Oops!

This cake was moist and coconutty and I would definitely make it again.  I wasn't a big fan of the coconut frosting on it's own, but when you eat it with the cake it was good.

Coconut Cake

For the cake:
1 egg
5 egg whites
3/4 cup cream of coconut
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
12 Tbsp (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, softened, but still cool
2 cups packed sweetened shredded coconut
Green food coloring, optional

For the frosting:
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks) cut into 6 pieces, softened, but still cool
1/4 cup cream of coconut
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the cake: adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with butter and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. 

Beat egg whites and whole egg in large measuring cup with a fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with fork until thoroughly combined.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

With the mixer still running, add 1 cup of egg mixture. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup egg mixture in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.)

Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown. Cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after 20 minutes). Do not turn off the oven if you are going to toast your coconut.

Cool the cakes on wire racks for about 10 minutes then loosen the cakes from the sides of the pan with a paring knife, invert the cakes onto racks, then reinvert them so the top sides face up; cool to room temperature.

Coloring the Coconut (optional):  If you want to make the coconut look like grass, you can put the shredded coconut into a large bowl with a few drops of green food coloring.  Mix until all the coconut is even and the desired color, add more food coloring if needed.  If you go with this option, do not toast coconut.

Toasting the Coconut (optional): While cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet.  Toast in oven until coconut is a mix of golden brown and white, about 15-20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature.

For the Buttercream: Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl. Set the bowl over a saucepan containing 1 1/2 inches of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.  (Note that this temperature is not hot enough to eliminate the unlikely presence of salmonella bacteria in the eggs.)  Remove from the heat.

Transfer bowl to the mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticking, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. Beat in cream of coconut and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue beating at medium-high speed until well combined, about 1 minute.

To Assemble the Cake: Cut the cakes in half horizontally using a long serrated knife so each cake forms 2 layers. Put a dab of icing on a cardboard round cut just larger than the cake. Center one cake layer on the round. Place a large blob of icing in the center of the layer and spread it in to the edges with an icing spatula. Hold the spatula at a a 45 degree angle to the cake and drag it across the surface to level the icing. Repeat with remaining cake layers. To ice the sides of the cake, scoop up a large dab of icing with the tip of the spatula and spread it on the sides with short side-to-side strokes. Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut. Then press the coconut into the sides, letting the excess fall back onto a baking sheet.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bolognese Sauce

Before making this, I'd never eaten bolognese sauce.  I refuse to make spaghetti and tomato sauce because I'm not a fan.  Maybe I've only had blah-zay sauces, but in any case, I refuse to make it.  I'd heard really good things about bolognese sauce in general so I thought I would see what the fuss was all about.  Let me tell you, this sauce was fabulous!  The flavor is so complex that I don't even know how to describe it, but it's really good.

Bolognese sauce does take some time to make, but it's mostly inactive time on your part.  I definitely recommend you spend an afternoon with bolognese on the stove because this was so worth it!  This recipe makes a ton so there is plenty to freeze.  I used some of the leftovers to make Bolognese Lasagna which turned out really well too.  And since the bolognese is already made, it may be one of the quickest lasagna's you'll ever make.

Bolognese Sauce
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Don’t drain the pasta of its cooking water too meticulously when using this sauce; a little water left clinging to the noodles will help distribute the very thick sauce evenly into the noodles, as will adding an extra 2 tablespoons of butter along with the sauce. Top each serving with a little grated Parmesan and pass extra grated cheese at the table. 

6 Tbsp unsalted butter (I used 4 Tbsp butter & 2 Tbsp bacon grease)
1/2 small onion, finely minced
1 small/medium carrot, finely minced
1 celery stalk, finely minced
3 Tbsp tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lb ground beef, or combo of 3/4 lb ground beef and 3/4 lb ground pork 
1 tsp salt  
2 cups whole milk  
2 cups dry white wine (such as sauvignon blanc, an oaked chardonnay is not recommended)
2 cups chicken stock
1 parmesan cheese rind (removed from the wedge, cheese grated for serving)
2-28 oz cans crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes and crush by hand (avoid the ones packed in puree)
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped fine

Heat butter in large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion, carrot, and celery and saute until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. Make a bare spot in the pan and add the tomato paste. Let it caramelize for about 2 minutes, then stir together with the vegetables until thickened and red. Add half the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground meat and 1 teaspoon salt; Stir the meat until the garlic and vegetables are incorporated. Do not brown them. Crumble meat with edge of wooden spoon to break apart into tiny pieces. Cook, continuing to crumble meat, just until it loses its raw color but has not yet browned, about 4-6 minutes. The meat should be very fine without large or medium chunks.

Add milk and bring to simmer; continue to simmer until milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, 30 minutes. Add wine and bring to simmer; continue to simmer until wine evaporates, 30 minutes longer.  Add chicken stock and bring to simmer; continue to simmer until stock evaporates, 30 minutes longer.

Add the rest of the garlic, the crushed tomatoes with juice, and stir well, then bring to simmer; Add the parmesan cheese rind and push it just below the surface (this will add flavor so use salt sparingly to taste until the end.)

Reduce heat to very low so that sauce continues to simmer just barely, with an occasional bubble or two at the surface, until liquid has evaporated, about 4 hours. When the sauce is done, carefully discard the cheese rind. Finish with the parsley. If desired, finish with a splash of olive oil, or butter. Adjust seasonings with extra salt to taste. Drain pasta from water, and return pasta to its own pot. Then add sauce to mix together with the pasta. Reserve some sauce to pass at the table.

Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several days or frozen for several months. Warm over low heat before serving.