Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers February Challenge: Chocolate Valentino and Pecan Praline Ice Cream

**Blog Checking Line: The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.**

In honor of Valentine's Day, our February challenge was a heart-shaped flourless chocolate cake with homemade ice cream. And we actually had ours for dessert ON Valentine's Day, which was full 2 weeks before the deadline! It was nice to get a challenge over with early in the month. When I don't, I feel constant pressure and guilt! Anyway, the chocolate cake was a cinch to make and tasted delicious. I love milk chocolate, so I used a comination of milk and semisweet. My husband and I both love pecan praline ice cream, so I went with that instead of vanilla. Such a delicious combo! Somehow, the two paired together had a slight, wonderful mocha flavor. It really was to die for. I didn't have a heart-shaped pan, so I cut the recipe in half and baked my cake in three 4" round springform pans. They might have looked like single servings, but the cake and ice cream combo was so rich, neither my husband nor I could finish ours. You know that's a winner! The only changes I will make next time--for there WILL be a next time--are to use an even greater percentage of milk chocolate (I love it) in the cake, and to toast the pecans for the ice cream.

Chocolate Valentino

16 ounces (1 pound) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry). With the same beater beat the egg yolks together. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F. Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Pecan Praline Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup packed light brown sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup chopped toasted pecans

In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, and brown sugar. Cook over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is hot and sugar has dissolved. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks together. Whisk in about 1 cup of the hot mixture, then return to the pan and continue whisking until well blended. Contine cooking for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Stir in vanilla and pecans and let cool completely. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's instructions. Pack frozen mixture into a container and put in freezer until solid. Makes about 1 quart.
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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Veggie Pizza

I don't think "Veggie Pizza" is a very good name for this little appetizer, but it is late and I can't think of a better one. Plus, that's what I googled in order to find the recipe, so I guess that makes it it's real name! I had this a very long time ago at a friend's party, and have been considering making it for several months. I took it to a church potluck this afternoon, and it got loads of compliments. Very refreshing and vaguely healthy! The original recipe called for crescent roll dough as the crust, and that is how I first had it. But I only like crescent rolls piping hot; I think they taste grody once they hit room temp. So I used frozen puff pastry dough instead. Regular old pizza dough would probably be good too, and maybe just a little more substantial.

Veggie Pizza

1 sheet puff pastry (or 2 cans refrigerated crescent rolls)
1 cup sour cream
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1 1-oz package ranch dressing mix
1/2 bunch green onions
1/2 bunch radishes
1 large carrot
1 head broccoli
1 yellow bell pepper
2 medium tomatoes, seeded

Roll your dough of choice out to fit in a jellyroll pan. Spray your pan with nonstick spray, place dough in pan, and poke it all over with a fork (I didn't do this and got hilarious results, although they were not amusing at the time). Bake for 10 minutes and set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, combine sour cream, cream cheese, dill weed, garlic salt, and ranch mix until smooth. Spread on the cooled crust leaving just a tiny border of crust around the edge. Chop all veggies and scatter them on top. I actually put all the vegetables except the tomatoes and the green parts of the onions in the food processor and pulsed them until they were chopped. I chopped the tomatoes and bottoms of the green onions separately and sprinkled them on last. Cut into 3" squares and serve.
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Tha Cake Slice Bakers, Challenge #5: Southern Coconut Cake

This is a few days late, but I'm so glad I went ahead and made this Southern Coconut Cake. Reason #1: I grew up eating cake made from a box mix, and while made-from-scratch cakes sound really good in theory, I find that most of the time, they aren't as moist or fluffy as box mix cakes. Taste-wise they are certainly better, but a lot of cakes from scratch are too dry and have a weirdly muffin-like heaviness. This cake was delicious AND supermoist AND light and fluffy; everything you want in a cake. Reason #2: This is the fourth cake I've made from Sky High by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. While all of them have tasted good, this is the first one that I actually thought was sooooo good, good enough to hang on to the recipe and dream of occasions for which to make it again. I highly recommend it!

Southern Coconut Cake
from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne

for the cakes:
5 large egg whites
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
2 1/3 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at warm room temperature
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottoms of three 8" round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a parchment circle and butter the circle. Put the egg whites in a bowl and whisk slightly. Add the 1/2 cup of milk and the vanilla and whisk to mix thoroughly; set aside. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
With the mixer on low, beat dry ingredients well in order to break up any lumps. Ad the butter and coconut milk on low speed and beat just to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg white mixture in 2 or 3 additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Divide the batter among the pans. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out and place on a wire rack to cool completely. To assemble the cake, place on layer--flat side up--on a plate. Cover this layer with 1 cup of buttercream frosting. Spread it evenly all the way to the edges. Then sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded coconut on top. Repeat with the next layer. Top with the final layer of cake. Frost the top and sides of the cake and cover with the remaining coconut. Chill the cake for at least 1 hour to allow the frosting to firm up.

for the cream cheese buttercream frosting:

12 ounces cream cheese, slightly chilled
1 stick unsalted butter, at warm room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifter after measuring
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
3 egg whites

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer and beat on medium speed until slightly fluffy and smooth. Add the butter 1-2 Tablespoons at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the confectioners sugar and vanilla and mix until fluffy. Set aside at room temperature. Combine the granulated sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan and heat slowly, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium heat, without stirring until the syrup reaches the softball stage, 228 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Meanwhile, place the egg whites in a mixer bowl and have the mixer ready to go. When the syrup is ready, turn the mixer on medium low and begin mixing the egg whites. Slowly add the hot syrup to the whites, taking care not to pour onto the beaters (it may splash). When all the syrup is incorporated, raise the speed on the mixer to medium high and beat the egg whites until the mixtures has cooled and stiff meringue forms. With the mixer on low, begin adding the cream cheese mixture by the spoonful. When all is incorporated, raise the speed to medium and whip until frosting is smooth and fluffy.

for the garnish:

2 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cinnamon-Sugar Banana Bread

When my little sister had her baby last year (Happy 1st Birthday Max!), our cousin Abbi went to visit her and made this delicious banana bread while mom and baby were napping. It has quickly become a favorite of everyone with whom the recipe has been shared. Here's the original recipe, although both my sister and I make tiny changes.

**These pictures aren't the BEST, but banana bread is kind of homely anyway. And I always bake banana bread in the same two pans, and I always regret it. Instead of real slices, I get these skinny banana bread fingers! Oh well.**

Abbi's Cinnamon-Sugar Banana Bread

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups ripe, mashed banana (about 4 bananas)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
melted butter

Mix softened butter, sugar, and bananas until creamy. Add eggs, vanilla, and sour cream; mix again. Add baking soda, salt, flour, and a dash of cinnamon, and mix until combined. Pour into greased loaf pans (2 large or 4 small). Sprinkle batter with more cinnamon. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. While bread is hot, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

**My sister and I add 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon to the batter, but don't sprinkle extra cinnamon on top before baking. When the bread comes out of the oven, we brush it with melted butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon-sugar instead of plain sugar. It probably tastes exactly the same either way!
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Monday, February 16, 2009

Sticky Buns from the Barefoot Contessa

For my birthday, I received the most recent cookbook from The Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics. It is such a wonderful cookbook. It is full of really simple, really delicious dishes. Like these sticky buns. They are so easy--only 6 ingredients!--and sooooo good. The recipe makes 12, but I halved it and made 6. And thank goodness! I really think that if I'd made 12, I would have eaten them all in one sitting!

The Barefoot Contessa's Easy Sticky Buns
from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, or the Food Network Website

12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
2 Tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a 12-cup standard muffin tin on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 12 Tablespoons softened butter and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Place 1 rounded Tablespoon of the mixture in each of the 12 muffin cups. Distribute pecans evenly among cups on top of butter/sugar mixture. Lightly flour your work surface. Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry with the folds going side-to-side. Brush the whole sheet with half of the melted butter. Leaving a 1-inch border on the puff pastry, sprinkle with half of the brown sugar, half of the cinnamon, and half of the raisins. Starting with the end nearest you, roll the pastry up tightly. Trim the ends of the roll about 1/2 inch. Slice the roll in 6 equal pieces, placing each in 6 of the muffin cups, spiral side up. Repeat with the other sheet of puff pastry and the remaining ingredients. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes only, invert buns onto the parchment paper, and allow to cool. If any of the topping gets stuck in the pan, just scoop it out with a spoon and drop it on the sticky buns.
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Monday, February 9, 2009

Hugs and Kisses

Instead of giving our friends and neighbors the standard frosted sugar cookies for Valentines Day, I thought it would be fun to give them Hugs and Kisses! Kiss Cookies (aka, Peanut Blossoms) have been a family favorite for as long as I can remember; I can't think of a Christmas when we haven't had them. The recipe comes straight off the back of a bag of Hershey's Kisses. How simple is that?! For the Hug Cookies, I wanted to do a chocolate cookie, so I started with the dough for Quadruple Chocolate Chip Cookies that I posted a few weeks ago (thanks again Tania) and simply left out the chocolate chips.

After baking the first 3 dozen cookies, I noticed a few problems: without the chocolate chips, the cookies weren't quite sweet enough; they didn't look as pretty as the Kiss Cookies; and, because the Hershey's Hugs are so much softer than the Kisses, they melted into little puddles atop each cookie instead of maintaining their nice, pointy tops. Finding solutions to these problems was fun; it made me feel like I work for Cook's Illustrated or something (what a dream!). Just like I did with the Kiss Cookies, I ended up rolling the Hug Cookies into balls instead of just dropping them on the cookie sheet. I also rolled them in granulated sugar before baking, which made them sweeter and a little sparkly. And I stuck the Hugs in the freezer before putting them on top of the hot cookies. Problems solved!!!

Kiss Cookies
from the back of the Hershey's Kiss package

1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
granulated sugar
Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 375. Cream shortening and peanut butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; beat well. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl; add to wet ingredients and mix until smooth. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar, place on ungreased cookie sheet, and bake 8-1o minutes. Immediately after removing cookies from the oven, press a Hershey's Kiss firmly down in the center of each cookie. Allow to cool completely.

Hug Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 small (3.9 oz) pkg. chocolate pudding mix
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Hershey's Hugs, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, sugars, and pudding mix. Add eggs and vanilla, blending well. Add dry ingredients and mix. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar, place on ungreased cookie sheet, and bake 8-1o minutes. Immediately after removing cookies from the oven, press a Hershey's Hug firmly down in the center of each cookie. Allow to cool completely.
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