Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Epic End of the Year Post

I have been an epic failure as a blogger recently and for that I apologize.  I blame NaNoWriMo.  You try writing a 50,000 word novel in a month and keep up with your cake blogging as well.

I have found some magnificent recipes over the past two months that I need to share here.

Monster Cookies:
To begin with, I made the most amazing cookies of all time.  They are from the Baked cookbook and are ridiculous.  They are called Monster Cookies, so I made them for Halloween.  I have made them once or twice since because they truly are amazing.  The Monster Cookies are oatmeal, peanut butter, chocolate chip, M&M cookies.  Yes, you hear right, all of those things go into one cookie.  And they are amazing.  They are not super sweet, especially considering what's in them, but they are gooey and chewy and chocolatey and delicious.

As we know, I have issues reposting recipes without permission, but luckily for your guys, everyone else in the world does not share my intellectual property concerns (damn librarianship!).  Here is a link to the recipe on someone else's site.

I will admit that I messed with the recipe a little when I made them the second time.  Shocking, I know.  But in this case, all I did was add Reese's Pieces, in addition to the chocolate chips, M&Ms and all the rest of the stuff.  They only made it more amazing.

The Salted Caramel Brownies
So, remember the Sweet and Salty Cake from a few months ago?  You know, my masterpiece as a baker. Well, it turns out that the Baked boys have a salted caramel brownie recipe that uses that same salted caramel.  So I made them.  And somehow I didn't take a picture, which is really too bad because these brownies are maybe the most amazing brownies I've ever had.

The recipe for these aren't actually in my cookbook, I think it's in the second book they put out.  I have the regular brownie recipe in my book though, and it turns out that to make the salted caramel brownies, you just put a layer of salted caramel in the middle before you bake them.  I had some salted caramel left over from when I accidentally set off my smoke detector three times in one night, so I thought I'd make them.

The reason this recipe is so good is less because of the caramel (which is admittedly amazing), and more because of the 11oz of high quality chocolate and five eggs.  It's actually the reason I am in the process of bankrupting myself with the purchase of Scharffen Berger chocolate.  It really is so much better when you start with a high-quality product.  Who knew?

Anyway, these are delicious.  I made them again in lieu of a birthday cake for a coworker.  They're pretty easy to make too, if you have a better knowledge of non-fire-inducing caramel chemistry than I do.  Or if you already have the caramel in your fridge.

Here's a link to the recipe on some other rule-breaker's website.

The Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies
So, it seems that I have no only been failing as a blogger recently, but also as a photographer, because I have no picture of these cookies either.  I can link you directly to a website for the recipe for this one though, so I think I get points for that.  These cookies were pretty amazing.  They had the consistency of brownies on the inside, but the firmness of a cookie on the outside.  I also used the better (Scharffen Berger) chocolate to make them.  Also, from my perspective, there is very little you can do wrong with melted 60%+ chocolate, cocoa powder, chocolate chips and crushed candy canes.

The only thing that's persnickety about this recipe is that you have to drizzle the baked cookies with melted chocolate and then put on crushed candy cane pieces.  That being said, it was a pretty easy recipe to make.  I found these to be great to keep in the freezer.  I had a last minute holiday party and was able to pull out a bunch of them and bring them over.

This is the picture from the Epicurious website.  Mine actually looked pretty much the same.

The Chocolate Peppermint Chanukah Cake
At Thanksgiving, when I was all high on cooking and praise, I volunteered to make a cake for our family Chanukah party.  Three weeks later, when it came time to make the cake, I was a little baked out, but I persevered!  I was in a peppermint mood (see above and below), and decided to recreate the Zivah Lily cake, which I actually now know is a Baked recipe, even though I didn't know it then.

I made the cake and peppermint ganache.  I used peppermint schnapps only in the ganache instead of a mixture of peppermint and creme de menthe.  For the buttercream icing, I didn't have the energy to make the recipe from the book (which I now owned), and so I cheated.  I am openly admitting this on the Internet too, so now everyone knows.  I had some icings from previous recipes in my fridge, so I mixed it all together, added some butter, more sugar, a bunch of schnapps, and a large amount of blue food coloring.  It actually came together quite nicely.  It was remarkably fluffy and smooth.

I put the cake together with the three layers of chocolate cake, a layer of buttercream, layer of ganache, and so on.  I frosted the whole thing with the ganache.  The ganache

Not really sure how this next part happened, but I applaud my family for their sense of architecture and balance.

The Peppermint Gift Boxes
Each year at the holidays I give gifts to some of the people who work in my school.  I strongly believe that by keeping the custodial and production center staff in sweets and treats makes my working life a far more enjoyable experience.  Usually, I make chocolate peppermint fudge and it goes over well.  One time I made chocolate-dipped candied grapefruit rind, but that didn't go too well.  Turns out not everyone shares my slight obsession with grapefruit.

This year, I went with the old standby of fudge, but kicked it up a notch by adding white and dark chocolate peppermint bark as well.  I also found some pretty silver cupcake boxes that were perfectly sized for the gifts.  I boxed them up and they were met with great acclaim.  I am happy to have done my part to keep people fat and happy this holiday season!

The Fougasse
In the French bread baking class I took in October, we learned how to make something called a Fougasse, which is basically a French focaccia.  You make it by making two balls of dough and forming them into teardrop shapes.  Then you put a bunch of garlic oil, blue cheese and rosemary on top of one layer and the second layer on top of that.  The you coat that with some more garlic oil and yummy stuff and then you snip it in all kinds of snazzy ways until it turns into a leaf.  It was actually pretty easy to make and tasted amazing.

This is the one I made in class:

And this is the one we made for Thanksgiving:

The Apple Pie
Remember in October when I dragged my friends apple picking?  We went to that place in the middle of nowhere and there was a lot of traffic and then I forced them all to take a wide variety of ridiculous pictures and somehow ended up getting a bunch of apples chucked at me as I stood there innocently.  My friends love me. (I know this because they continue to come apple picking every year as long as I organize it).

Anyway, you know that part that comes after apple picking when you get home and you have 8,000lbs of apples and you unload them all over your counter and then you kind of stare at them for a while.  And they stare back.  And you start imagining ways you can cook them and then you start imagining ways you can cook them without having to peel them because everyone knows that peeling apples is pretty much the worst thing ever?  Well, this pie came right about then.

Honestly, I don't remember how I made the pie filling.  It involved sauteing the apples with some brown sugar and I want to say either bourbon or spiced rum.  Spiced rum is likely, because that sounds like something I'd like better with apples.  I do know I used the best pie crust recipe in the world.  It's the Cook's Illustrated vodka pie crust recipe.  You put vodka in the crust because it does magic with the gluten content.  That's right, it's magic.  (Magic is what I call things like chemistry and math I don't understand).  Anyway, here's the recipe and some pictures of my beautiful pie.  Christmas weekend it finally got to come out of the freezer and get cooked.  It was delicious!


  • 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup cold vodka
  • 1/4 cup cold water

So, that's it for me in 2011.  I'll be back on track come the new year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Stop 28: Arizona Jalapeno Cheddar Cheesecake

Hey, remember a long time ago when I decided to make every recipe in a particular cookbook and blog about it?  Yeah, I'd forgotten about it too.  But look, here's a new post.  And it's all about cheesecake!

The cake for Arizona is a Jalapeno Cheddar Cheesecake.  I assume this is because southwestern cooking is known for having smokey and spicy things in it, like jalapenos.  This cheesecake was the most interesting cake I think I've ever made, not from the creation perspective, but more from the "when the heck would you serve this?" perspective.

I was going to a wine and cheesecake party (what's that you say, the best party idea you've ever heard of? me too), so I was all set with the where to bring it.  I'm still not 100% sure when I would serve it in "real life" though.  The thing is, it wasn't really sweet.  And it wasn't really savory.  It was the perfect mix.  

The recipe calls for a corn chip crust, which follows the same general idea of a cookie crust, but with corn chips instead.  It was pretty ingenious, and tasty.  The filling was an interesting mix of chopped jalapenos (for which I totally asked the guy working at the bagel shop for plastic gloves so I wouldn't make the same mistake I made the last time I tried to chop jalapenos and then couldn't put my contact lenses in without crying in pain for two days), shredded cheddar cheese, cream cheese, and, well, sugars.  There was turbinado sugar, white sugar and brown sugar.  So it was sweet.  But it was savory.  And a little bit spicy.  In actuality, it was kind of awesome.  

You bake it in a 9x13" dish, which made the serving a little bit odd.  Since I was bringing it to a party, I decided to cut it and plate it up before going.  I topped each piece with a slice of fresh jalapeno, which Brown recommended to let people know what was in it.  That part didn't seem to work, but it looked cute.  It was met with great esteem as well.  By the people at the party, my brother, my mom, the guy who works at the bar who ate half the container I had with me.  My father wasn't a big fan, but you can't please everybody all of the time.  I think I would make the recipe again, maybe for a brunch.  Or a super bowl party.  If it wasn't so aesthetically confusing, it might go well with chili.  In any case, this one's going in the recipe box.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Gravy (and the rest of Thanksgiving in photos)

I know I'm a few weeks late with this and everyone is now onto thinking about other holidays, but I needed to talk for a few minutes about my Thanksgiving gravy.

My Thanksgiving gravy was AMAZING.

Gravy has always been a bit of my arch nemesis on Thanksgiving because I do a dairy-free t-day and everyone seems to write recipes filled with butter and cream.  I decided to forgo everything I read and just go with my own knowledge and experience.

When I grill my turkey, I put it in a roasting pan (this is because without a roasting pan your grill will catch on fire.  Trust me on this one.) and then fill the pan about a third of the way up with apple cider.  As the turkey cooks, I refill the cider once or twice.  The turkey steams in the cider and tastes even more delicious.

What I did to make the gravy this year was to take the neck, giblets and heart and put them in a saucepan covered in a mixture of water, boxed mushroom broth and fresh apple cider.  I don't know the exact amounts, but it was enough to more than cover the meat.  Then I brought it to a boil and let it simmer.  For a long time.  At some point I added some leftover chopped onion from the day before and a bunch of thyme that was also leftover.

When we cleaned out the second turkey, I added the innards from that one and more of the same liquids, brought it to a boil and let it simmer again.  For a long time.

When I took the turkey off the grill (early, of course, because my turkeys are always done early), I took out the innards I had been cooking and added the liquid from the bottom of the pan, which was now apple cider and turkey grease.  It was delicious.  I strained the liquid through a mesh strainer and syphoned off most of the fat.  I used the ice cube trick my grandma taught me.

Once it was strained and defatted, I put it back in the pan and whisked in about two tablespoons of flour.  Then I let it simmer again.  For a long time.

Eventually, as it was getting close to time to eat, I added about a tablespoon of cornstarch.  I now know, from watching Paula Deen, that I should have whisked the cornstarch into something cold and then added that so it wouldn't clump, but because I didn't know that, I just whisked extra hard to get the clumps out.

I let it simmer until it was time to eat and it was delicious.  It was a little bit sweet from the cider and a little bit salty from the meat and the consistency was outstanding.  I was very proud of myself.  I might have eaten some on pasta two nights later, but I'd never tell...

The gravy creation:
This glamorous picture was taken early on in the gravy-making process.  Don't I look adorable?

I cleaned up for the grease-syphoning part.

And lacked confidence for the flour-whisking.

Here are some other fun turkey-day highlights:
My absurdly adorable nieces trying on their turkey hats
The turkey was tender enough to fall off the bone before carving.

Some of the sides (i.e. what we use the oven for on Thanksgiving)
This awesome chocolate pumpkin no-bake thing my chocolatier brother concocted.
Walk on the beach post-meal, pre-dessert (that's the dog, not the Loch Ness Monster, though I can see the confusion)
The answer to the question of whether I had a good time on Thanksgiving.
(Though I swear one of those was for someone else.)