Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Daring Bakers September 2010: Sugar Cookies

I have always loved sugar cookies because I grew up with such superior ones. I'm sure everyone thinks the same thing, but I really do think my mom's sugar cookie recipe is the best one out there. They are tender, pillowy, sweet...but they don't hold their shape very well. I've always been under the impression that as far as sugar cookies go, you can't have it both ways. You either get delicious cookies, or cookies that hold their shape. Never both. And the frosting is the same way: you can have delicious frosting that is a bit on the free-form side, or really attractive, detailed frosting that doesn't taste very good. So imagine my amazement when I ate one of my beautifully (sort of) decorated Daring Bakers sugar cookies and found that it was (gasp!) quite delicious!

Our school district held a huge talent show/bake sale fundraiser last week, and I donated cupcakes and fancy-pants sugar cookies decorated with the school district logo. I've always been hesitant to use royal icing because I've heard it doesn't taste that great. But it was darn OK, if you ask me, and it really did make for lovely cookies. And people actually called to tell me how fantastic they thought the cookies were. A friend even told me she kept going back for more sugar cookies!

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

Basic Sugar Cookies
makes approximately 3 dozen 4" cookies

½ cup + 6 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
3 cups + 3 Tbsp All Purpose Flour
1 cup Superfine Sugar
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavorings you’re using. Beat until just becoming
creamy in texture. Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms. Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 1/5 inch. Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes. Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife. Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour. Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15mins depending on the size of the cookies. Leave to cool on cooling racks. Once completely cooled, decorate as desired.

Royal Icing

2½ - 3 cups powdered sugar, unsifted
2 large egg whites
2 tsp lemon juice

Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined. Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites. Beat on low until combined and smooth. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container. **The smaller amount of powdered sugar makes an icing that is good for flooding (filling in), while the larger amount makes an icing that is good for outlining. Use even more powdered sugar for writing.**

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Cake Slice Bakers, September 2010: Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

Autumn is by far my favorite season. So, even though it's coming a little earlier than I'd like this year, I still welcome it and all of the warm spiciness that it brings. Our final choice from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott, Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze, was the perfect way to say hello to Fall and good-bye to another wonderful cookbook. That's right. We're done with the controversial Southern Cakes, and will welcome a new cookbook in October (for the record, I loved Southern Cakes and will continue to bake from it regularly). We're also accepting new bakers, so if you're interested, email Katie at appleandspice{at}hotmail{dot}co{dot}uk and put "Cake Slice Member" as the subject. You have until October 20th to sign up. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what the new cookbook is, but if you sign up, Katie will let you know. I think I am safe in telling you, however, that we're all excited about it, that it won our vote by a fairly wide margin, and that it contains lots of different kinds of cake recipes. So if you're wary of baking a year's worth of triple layer cakes, don't be! The cakes in the new cookbook aren't scary or overwhelming--just delicious-looking!

Back to the apple cake. I made it for my dad's birthday and was very worried that it wouldn't turn out. Before you stir in the apples and nuts, the batter is basically the consistency of modeling clay. Very thick is actually an understatement. But is all works out! The cake has a wonderful, tender interior and a fantastic crust on top. Everyone loved the cake, ate second helpings, and snuck extra forkfuls throughout the remainder of the evening. There is an option to add spices to the batter, but I left it plain so that the apple flavor could really shine. And don't get me started on the brown sugar glaze. It looked beautiful and tasted amazing. Don't tell anyone, but when we got back home from the birthday dinner, I scraped every last bit of hardened glaze from the pot and ate it with a spoon. It was absolutely delicious. There was only one problem with the cake: it called for way too much oil. I didn't really notice it when the cake was fresh, but the few pieces that made it to day 2 seemed to get greasier by the minute. Since I will be making this cake again (and soon!), I plan to decrease the oil to 1 cup and add 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce to the batter. I might even decrease the oil to 3/4 cup and add 3/4 cup applesauce; we'll see.

This simple, rustic cake is the perfect way to celebrate the arrival of Autumn. And the brown sugar glaze doesn't exactly hurt.

Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze
from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott

for the cake:
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (or substitute unsweetened applesauce for some of the oil)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups finely chopped peeled apples
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts (I used pecans and they were much loved)
cinnamon and nutmeg (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs until pale and foamy. Add the oil (and applesauce, if using) and vanilla, and beat well. Add flour mixture and stir until flour just disappears. Add apples and nuts, and fold in. Scrape batter into a greased 9x13" pan, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Place the cake on a wire rack to cool. Glaze while warm, or right out of the oven, as I did.

for the glaze:
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons evaporated milk, cream, or half-and-half

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until mixture comes to a gentle boil. Cook for 3 to 5 more minutes. Spoon hot glaze over hot cake. Allow cake to cool completely before serving.
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Pie

I'm not a huge fan of blueberries, so I find it extremely odd that last year, I almost chose a lemon cheesecake with blueberry topping for my first SMS pick, and this year, I did, in fact, choose a lemon pie with blueberry topping for my second SMS pick! And both recipes were delicious! Melissa Murphy states in the foreward to this recipe that, "Blueberries really need to be offset by something tart to taste their best." I think that is the key to the success of the lemon-blueberry partnership: the brightness of the lemon balances the sweetness of the blueberry to create a truly satisfying flavor that isn't too sour or too cloyingly sugary.

My whole family loved this pie. The consistency and flavor of the pie filling reminded us all of lemon bars. It was firm enough to hold its lovely wedge shape when cut, but creamy and tender at the same time. I chose to use a different blueberry topping than the one called for in the recipe, but didn't stray too far: I used the recipe for blueberry topping from the cheesecake appearing later in the book. When I mentioned that I'm not a huge fan of blueberries, I should put a little asterisk by that and clarify. I'm not a huge fan of raw blueberries, but I do like them cooked. I just think it makes them taste better, plain and simple. The only thing I didn't absolutely adore about this delicious pie was the crust. I went ahead and followed the recipe, which called for all-butter pie crust, even though it has twice failed me. And the third time was not the charm, unfortunately. Every time I make this crust, it shrinks significantly while baking, even with the use of pie weights, AND it slumps. Shrinkage and slumpage are a bad combo! The bottom comes up, the sides come down, and there's only about an inch of crust left to hold all of that sweet, custardy filling. Luckily, the crust conundrum is an easy problem to solve; next time, I'll simply use a regular butter/shortening recipe. Another mouth-watering and easy winner from Melissa Murphy!

Thanks for baking with me this week everybody! And check out the Sweet Melissa Sundays blogroll to see who else participated.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Baguette Appetizer, 2 Ways

I'm a bread girl. I know that bread makes you fat, and I could still eat is all day long. *Contented sigh.* For book club last week, I decided to venture away from the sweets (gasp!) and try something savory. I had two recipes I'd been wanting to try, both of which called for a baguette, both of which completely disappeared by the end of book club. I'm already thinking of when I can make them again.
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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tart Cherry Crumb Cakes

Last weekend, I had the honor of helping to throw a 30th birthday party for my good friend . We set up long tables in the middle of a big field and ate fruit, cheeses, sweet potato fries, seafood, corn on the was a beautiful--and filling!--end to a lovely summer season. We ended the evening with these sweet little crumb cakes. Filled with spicy streusel and tart pie cherries, and topped with delicious vanilla bean ice cream, they were the perfect dessert for a rustic birthday celebration. To read more about the party, click HERE.

Tart Cherry Crumb Cakes
adapted from a recipe from Sophistimom
I had to triple the recipe to make enough cakes for the party, and ran out of sour cream before I had made all of the batter. In a pinch, you can use plain yogurt. And in a really, really big pinch, you can use vanilla or honey yogurt; just decrease the sugar to 3/4 cup.

for the cakes:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup + 3 Tablespoons sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sour cream
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups tart pie cherries, pitted

for the streusel:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
4 Tablespoons butter, softened

for the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
4 Tablespoons cream (may need more)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut six 4" circles out of parchment paper. Spray six mini springform pans (4") with nonstick spray. Lay a parchment circle in the bottom of each pan, and set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating and scraping down the sides of the bowl with each addition. Add vanilla and sour cream and beat until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until just combined. In a small bowl, combine all streusel ingredients. Mix with a fork or your hands until well-mixed and crumbly. Spread about 1/2 cup of batter in the bottom of each pan. Divide the cherries evenly among the six pans. Sprinkle a heaping Tablespoon of streusel over the cherries in each pan. Divide remaining batter among the six pans, and top with the remaining streusel. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out clean. Remove cakes from oven and let cool 5 minutes before removing from pans. In a small bowl, whisk together glaze ingredients. The glaze should be just thin enough to drizzle, so if needed, add more cream. Drizzle glaze over cakes and serve warm.
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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sweet Melissa Rewind: Cherry Almond Granola

I've always enjoyed yogurt with granola on top, but for the past few months, it has almost become an addiction! Every morning, almost without fail, I make myself a little yogurt parfait for breakfast. I've always just used store-bought granola, but making the Cherry Almond Granola from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book was so easy--and the results were so delicious--that I think I might have to start making granola from scratch all the time! The almonds and dried cherries are the stars of the show, with the former contributing a warm, nutty crunch and the latter, a bright, fresh pop of flavor. But the thing I like best about this from-scratch granola is that I know exactly what's in it, and I can easily change it to suit any whim. Different fruits, different nuts, different spices. I can't wait to try more combinations!

Thanks to Wendy of Pink Stripes for choosing this recipe way back when. You can find the complete recipe on her blog by clicking HERE.
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