Tuesday, June 22, 2010

German Chocolate Cake and a Giveaway!

I think my poor husband is often the victim of culinary imposition. I like something, so I assume he likes it too. Or he mentions that he likes something, and I love it, so I assume he really means that he loves it. We've had a few occasions where I discover in the middle of dinner that he doesn't particularly like what we're eating, and it will be something that I've made every week for years. All because I don't ask. Last year, I made my husband a Chocolate Malt Cake for his birthday because I thought he'd love it, and I'm pretty sure I made him Texas Sheet Cake for about 4 years in a row before that, because I love it and he's never said otherwise! This year, I decided to do something totally crazy and actually ask my husband what kind of cake he wanted. And all he wanted was German Chocolate Cake!

German Chocolate Cakes started making appearances back in the 1950's after Sam German created a mild, sweet baking bar for Baker's Chocolate company. After scouting cookbooks and the internet for a decent recipe and finding only "So-and-so's interpretation of a German Chocolate Cake," I decided to go to the source: Baker's Chocolate. The Baker's website has a few different "Original German Chocolate Cake" recipes, which is kind of funny. I have a thing against whipping egg whites, and a thing against layer cakes, so I opted for the plain old 9x13" version with frosting slathered on top, served right from the pan. Cakes made from scratch are so often not-great--they're either dry, dense, short, or bland--that even though I've made oodles of good cakes from scratch, I still expect bad results when I try a new recipe. This one shattered those fears once and for all! It was tall (like almost spilling out of the pan tall), chocolatey, and moist. It tasted better than a box mix and was almost as easy to prepare.

You can find the recipe for German's Sweet Chocolate Cake HERE, as well as the recipe for Coconut-Pecan Frosting, which is a treat all by itself.

We're hosting a fantastic giveaway over at Max and Ellie. CSNstores.com is offering one lucky reader a $60 gift certificate to any of their online stores. They have pretty much anything you can think of, including amazing cookware and my favorite, Le Creuset items, which happen to be on sale right now! Click HERE to enter the giveaway!
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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cake Slice Bakers, June 2010: Shenandoah Valley Blueberry Cake

The old adage of never judging a book by its cover applies perfectly to this delicious cake. An unassuming cake studded with blueberries doesn't sound very exciting (especially if you are used to eating box-mix blueberry muffins), and it doesn't look very exciting either (as evidenced by the rather boring photo above). But beneath the surprisingly flaky crust lies one of the best breakfast cakes I've ever eaten! Fresh blueberries and a simple butter cake batter combine to produce a cake that is moist and tender, with the perfect amount of wholesome sweetness. Many breakfast cakes, with their piles of streusel and crumble toppings, lean heavily toward the dessert category, but this blueberry breakfast cake was truly amazing unadorned. Thank you Southern Cakes for another hit!!

To read other bakers' experiences with blueberry cake, visit the blogroll HERE.

Shenandoah Valley Blueberry Cake
from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott

1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9" square or round baking pan. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat well until the mixture is smooth, 1-2 minutes. Stir in half the flour mixture, then half the milk, mixing just until combined. Repeat. Gently fold in blueberries. Spread batter in prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm straight from the pan.
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fresh Strawberry Tart

A few years ago, a friend who had moved away came back into town to visit for a few days. A bunch of us girls got together and had dinner at a little cafe downtown, and most of us ordered an amazing strawberry tart that was in the dessert window at the counter. I've been dreaming of strawberry tarts ever since! Inspired by that delicious concoction--as well as the giant strawberry tart on a billboard we pass along the highway every day--I decided to finally try my hand at making one from scratch.

My husband inherited lots of old issues of Cook's Illustrated from his grandma, and the July/August 2001 edition has a whole article on fresh fruit tarts. Since you pretty much can't go wrong with a Cook's Illustrated recipe, I decided to base my tart on theirs with only a few small changes. I used the crust and pastry cream from the recipe, and the results were wonderful. I overcooked the pastry cream just a little--although you couldn't tell AT ALL in the finished product--and I overbaked the crust just a tad, but otherwise, they were both stellar. One of the changes I made was lining the inside of the crust with semi-sweet chocolate after it baked. I knew we would never be able to finish the whole tart in one sitting, and I didn't want the crust to get soggy. The thin layer of chocolate kept it wonderfully crisp for a whopping 24 hours, and it was incredibly easy to do. When the crust was finished baking, I just sprinkled 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips inside, popped it back in the oven for 1 minute, and then spread the melted chocolate over the bottom of the crust with the back of a spoon. My other change came at the very end. A lot of strawberry tarts have whole strawberries all over the top, but that seems like it would be hard to cut and hard to eat. A whole strawberry is a mouthful all by itself, and a tart has pastry cream and crust in each bite too! So I sliced the strawberries instead. There was still plenty of strawberry flavor in each bite, and the tart was easy to cut and serve. I also skipped the glazing step at the end. I just didn't want to shellac my beautiful, fresh-looking tart!

The verdict: while I was downstairs cleaning up, my husband and kids were upstairs eating dessert and watching Superman II, and I heard a very clear, very loud, "Wow!"

Fresh Strawberry Tart
adapted from a recipe in the July/August 2001 issue of Cook's Illustrated

for the pastry cream:
2 cups half-and-half
6 Tablespoons plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
a pinch of salt
5 egg yolks with all of the stringy white parts picked off
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
4 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine half-and-half, 6 Tablespoons sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium, stirring frequently, until it comes to a gentle simmer. Meanwhile, in a medium heat-proof bowl, combine egg yolks, remaining 2 Tablespoons sugar, and cornstarch until thickened, about 30 seconds. When half-and-half has come to a simmer, slowly and steadily whisk half-and-half into eggs, then return mixture to saucepan. Heat over medium, stirring constantly, until thickened. This will not take more than a few minutes, so watch out! Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Stir completely. Place a piece of plastic wrap right on the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate until cold and set.

for the crust:
1 large egg yolk
1 Tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Whisk egg yolk, cream, and vanilla together in a small bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse flour, powdered sugar, and salt until combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. With food processor running, add egg mixture and process just until dough comes together in a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour. Roll chilled dough out into a 13" circle between sheets of floured parchment. Carefully transfer dough to a tart pan, pressing dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Trim the excess dough. If this completely fails, as it did when I made it, scrape the dough off the parchment, try not to eat it all, and press it into the pan like you would a graham cracker crust. Freeze for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line your frozen crust with a sheet of tinfoil and weigh it down with pie weights. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and bake 5 minutes more. Sprinkle 1/2 cup chocolate chips across the bottom of the crust, return to oven for 1 minute, then spread melted chocolate with a spatula or spoon. Refrigerate until chocolate is set.

putting it all together:
Wash, trim, and slice 1 pint of strawberries. Spread chilled pastry cream over chocolate in crust, then top with strawberry slices. Than eat it all up because it is sooooo good!
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Chocolate Orange Macaroons

I love easy recipes, and recipes don't get much easier than Melissa Murphy's Chocolate Orange Macaroons. Chopped semisweet chocolate, orange zest, coconut, egg whites, and sugar; mix, scoop, and bake. That is the whole recipe in a nutshell! And they were so tasty. Crispy on the outside, but oh-so-chewy on the inside.

Two tips for those wanting to make these delicious treats: mix thoroughly, and line your cookie sheets with parchment. See, even the tips are easy!

Thanks to Ellen of Blue Tree Green Heart for choosing this week's recipe from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. You can find the full recipe (although seriously, there's not much more to it!) on her blog HERE.
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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pictures of Cupcakes

**Sorry SMS'ers! Another week without the assigned recipe. Please accept these pictures as a token of my sincerest apologies.**

To find out how to make ridiculously cute cake plates like those pictured above, click HERE.
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