Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Road Trip

Miss Chessman's Cakes is embarking on a new adventure.  A metaphorical road trip.  This inspired the blog makeover, and is inspiring me to explore baked treats from across the country.

Here's what happened.  I was sitting in a bookstore on Valentine's Day waiting for a friend and picked up some cookbooks to browse through.  Most of them baking ones were pretty mundane, but one caught my interest: United Cakes of America: recipes celebrating every state by Warren Brown, the author of Cakelove.  I didn't know anything about Warren Brown at the time, but have since learned that he is a pretty well-known baker, with a bunch of Cakelove bakery locations in the Washington, DC area and was host of the Food Network show Sugar-Rush.  UC of A is his new book, having been published in May of 2010.

In his introduction, he said that listening to people talk about their favorite home-town treats made him start thinking about what we bake and how we bake it.  What connects a cake with a state, is it history, heritage, crop production-based?  Warren embarked on a mission to find out what cakes (or really baked goods) places are known for and why.

I am piggy-backing off of his work and have decided to bake the United Cakes of America.  (I let him do the hard work and jumped then jumped on the bandwagon).  A la "Julie and Julia," I have purchased the cookbook and am determined to make every recipe in it.  Seems straightforward enough, right?  Fifty states, fifty cakes, one year, even giving me two extras to call in sick or lazy.  That would have worked if Mr. Brown hadn't decided to write about more than one cake from certain states, bringing his total number of recipes up to 71.

So here's the plan: I will bake every recipe in this cookbook over the period of a year and a half.  I'm going to aim to do one recipe every weekend (though I do reserve the right to be sick or lazy once in a while).  I will stick to the recipes as closely as I can (i.e. I'll cook the one with bananas even though I hate bananas), but I might make slight changes if I don't think it will change the integrity of the cake for reasons of personal taste or expense (i.e. I might change peaches to plumbs since I don't like peaches, but do like plumbs).  In the end, I will have baked 71 recipes, expanded my kitchen resources and made for some very happy co-workers, family and friends.  There are recipes in here that seem as simple as pie (ha!) and some that I can't even begin to understand the recipe.  But, like every road trip - it's an adventure!

Up first: Maine Whoopie Pies

Sunday, February 6, 2011

In preparation for a tea party a friend and I have in the works, I decided to test some recipes.  The one I did today was for tea cakes.  The recipe I used was from Williams Sonoma and called Lime Tea Cakelets.  It called for the mini cakes to be baked in a mini swirl pan, but they don't make a mini swirl pan, and neither does anyone else as far as I could tell, so I made it in my mother's bundt pan instead. 

Adjustments (of course): Besides the bigger pan, I also only had one lime, so I used the lime and then about half an orange.  The cake was VERY limey as it was, so I don't think I missed much on that one.  I also steeped to Earl Grey tea bags in the milk, assuming they were about a tablespoon filled each.  The thought of steeping tea in hot milk was absolute decadence to me, which made me wonder about my view of indulgence.  The cake had pretty much no tea flavor, but I don't know if it was just supposed to be subtle, or because of the bags vs. loose tea.  Come to think of it, we actually have loose Earl Grey here (at my mother's).  I made a pot of it last week and my 2 1/2 year old niece picked up a dried leaf and said, "I can eat this?"  We decided on no.  Or yes, but it might not taste good.  She eats basil off the plant though, so there's no telling what will work. 

The cake baked up quite nicely (in 40 minutes for the full-sized), and came out of it's pan nicely as well. Because it's Superbowl Sunday, we indulged and had dessert at around 4pm (which we later decided was tea), and will eat dinner during the game. The whit stuff is whipped cream because, well, why not have whipped cream when you can?  We pretended it was clotted cream.  We also looked up the recipe for clotted cream in the 1964 Joy of Cooking, but the first direction in the recipe was pretty much literally, "get a cow," so we stuck with whipped.  Recipe below the pictures. 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. Earl Grey tea leaves, steeped in 3/4 cup hot milk for 10-15 minutes
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten with 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract and grated zest of 2 limes
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

  • Have all ingredients at room temperature.
  • Position rack in lower thrid of oven and preheat to 325F.
  • Butter and flour wells of a swirl cake pan; tap out excess flour.
  • Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper; set aside.
  • Pour milk through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. Press liquid from tea leaves; discard leaves.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds.
  • Add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes; stop mixer and scrap bowl occasionally.
  • Add eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  • On very low speed, add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk and ending with flour; blend each addition until just incorporated. Scrape sides of bowl occasionally.
  • Fill wells in pan a little more than halfway.
  • Bake until cakes spring back when touched and pull away from sides of pan, 10-12 minutse.
  • Transfer to a cooling rack, cool to the touch and remove cakes from pan.
  • Repeat with remaining batter.
  • Dust with confectioners' sugar.
Serves 12

Adapted from Sweet Miniatures, by Flo Braker (Chronicle Books, 2000).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The "Healthier" Nachos

I invented healthier nachos.  Kind of.

I was making wonton crackers to dip in whatever amazing creations I was going to create in the Magic Bullet and I realized that there was no reason I could make nachos out of them.  And it worked!

To make the wonton crackers you buy pre-made wonton wrappers in the produce section of the grocery store (I like the round ones, though the square ones make a more traditional triangle chip).  Cut them in half and put them in a single layer onto a baking sheet that's been sprayed with cooking spray.  Then spray them again and sprinkle them with salt.  Bake them at 375 for between 5 and 10 minutes.  I haven't really mastered how long they have to cook for, so I check them after 5 minutes and then check every two minutes or so.  There is a very fine line between done and overdone, so when they begin to look brown all over, pull them out.

To make the nachos I overlapped a layer of chips on a baking sheet that I'd lined with parchment (so as not to have to scrape melted cheese off the pan later), sprinkled it with leftover 4-cheese Mexican blend I had leftover, put another overlapping layer on top and sprinkled that with cheese.  I baked the whole thing at 400 for about 4 minutes, though again, check that often so the cheese doesn't burn.

I had made a salsa-guacamole mix with the magic blender with tomato, avocado, cilantro, onion, scallion, jalapeno and green pepper, so I used that as a dip.

The chips were really good with the cheese and it's a much lower-fat alternative to corn chips, and better tasting alternative to baked corn chips, which I don't like.  And they're all flour, which is good for people who can't eat corn (like my dad).

I didn't take any pictures, but there will definitely be more in my future!  I've been toying with the idea of putting the wonton rounds into mini muffin pans and using them as mini bowls or scoops.  I'll let you know what happens.

3/7/11 - update
Here are some pics:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Magic Bullet

It was my birthday the other day and was given a Magic Bullet as a gift.  For those of you who don't know what the Magic Bullet is, you obviously don't watch as many infomercials as I do.

The Magic Bullet is a blender that does it all!

Actually, sarcasm aside, it kind of does do it all, and pretty well, at least as of day three of use.

So far, I've used it to make a sauce for the pulled chicken I made the other night, a peanut sauce for peanut noodles, salsa-mole (that's like salsa with avocados in it), and an edamame dip kind of thing.

It's an interesting little contraption.  My main concern at the moment is that it doesn't have a snow-removal attachment (we've gotten a little bit of snow recently.)  (That WAS sarcasm.)

Check back for more Magi'bullicious (I just made that word up) recipes.