I baked a cake, and it deserves a blog post

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This photo was appropriated from The Brown Elephant’s twitter feed. You should follow them. And shop there. @HbBrownElephant

First, there’s an elephant in the room (and I don’t mean that photo)… It’s been a minute since I posted on this blog. You might think that a January 1 post is meant as a comeback, or that I’m making a resolution to bake and blog more in 2015.

Nope.

I’m not into making promises I can’t keep. But, I DID recently pay to have this domain renewed, and in light of that, plus a day off and a magnificent Pinterest fail, I thought I’d come off of my crafty sabbatical for a day and share my space cake with you.

It might be the only post of 2015. Maybe. But it’s worth it.

One day last spring, I saw a solar system cake on Pinterest and a theme for the annual NYE party was born.

A few weeks ago, I attempted to find said recipe, to no avail. But then I found this Jupiter cake, which seemed like a way better idea. On top of that, I collected all the necessary goods to make cake pop moons to orbit around Jupiter.

Yesterday at about 4:30pm I realized that all the ingredients were in metric and the battery on my kitchen scale was dead. Rather than do lots and lots of math while sipping leftover Eggnog, I ditched the Jupiter bit, made a big round cake covered in yellow frosting, and stuck cake pop planets into it with a jimmy asteroid belt.

This is what remained of the space cake when I woke up the next morning. No one ate the Earth. Because my party guests are respectful. The green blob is Africa, duh.
This is what remained of the space cake when I woke up the next morning. No one ate the Earth, because my party guests are respectful. The green blob is Africa, duh.

All things considered, I call it a space cake win. And not at all worthy of this list. Should you want to make your own attempt, here are the deets:

Fudgy Cake Pops (Modified from the cake pop pan package directions):

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used half a block of semi-sweet baking chocolate instead)
  • 1/2 C. butter
  • 3/4 C. sugar
  • 2 TB Cocoa
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 C. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • lollipop sticks
  • 24 oz. chocolate bark coating (I used more baking chocolate)

Directions (to make my whole space cake extravaganza, double the recipe):

  1. Preheat oven to 325-deg F. Grease and flour both sides of your cake pop pan. And don’t listen to any of that garbage on the Internet saying that you need a cake pop maker. That’s a glorified waffle iron – a uni-tasker that takes up way too much precious cupboard space. Don’t do it. Just get the pan.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  3. Add sugar and cocoa, stir until blended. Add eggs one at a time, stirring as you go.
  4. Add flour and salt, stir until blended.
  5. Fill each well of the bottom side of the cake pop pan with a heaping tablespoon of batter. Place the top side of the pan and lock into place. Bake 15-20 minutes.
  6. Cool the pan on a wire rack 2-3 minutes, and then transfer the pops to the rack. Meanwhile, pour the remaining batter into a round 8″ greased and floured pan. Bake approximately 50 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.
  7. Melt the remaining chocolate in a pan. Dip the top of the lollipop sticks into the chocolate and push halfway into each pop. The chocolate is like glue to keep the sticks in the pops.
  8. Frost, dip, or decorate as desired. I included Pluto, because, debates about its planetary relevance aside, why not have more cake pops?

Lemon Frosting (adapted from Betty Crocker’s cookbook):

Ingredients and Directions:

  • Blend together 2 C. of confectioner’s sugar with 1/4 C. room temperature butter
  • Stir in approximately 2-3 TB heavy cream and 1 tsp. lemon extract
  • Add a few drops of yellow or orange food coloring (because this is going to be the sun)

So the rest is pretty intuitive. Frost the cake when it’s cool, add your sprinkle asteroid belt, and decorate your planets, sticking the pops into the sun. The dusted black plate adds a star-studded stratosphere to the whole thing.

#winning, and Happy New Year.

 

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Scones, glorious scones

If I were stranded on a deserted island, and I could bring two things, one of them would be my recipe for Trail Mix Scones.  Now, I realize that there is not an overabundance of brown sugar and pumpkin seeds on deserted islands… I am simply trying to exemplify the importance of this scone in my life.

In fact, baking scones is one of the things I do best, and this quality makes it into every biography I write.

So, it is with great joy that I present to you my cherished recipe for Trail Mix Scones (although, it does make me a little nervous, since I often bring these to impress people at parties).  I originally came across the recipe in the Tribune several years ago when they did a special publication of favorite reader dishes from restaurants around Chicago.  The “Take a Hike Scone” is a schmorgeshborg of ingredients thrown together by the owner of the Bleeding Heart Bakery.  The result: magic.  I loved it instantly because it’s a vegan baking recipe that actually works and even tastes good (I was vegan at the time, and baking is perhaps the biggest challenge as a vegan chef) .

Since that time I’ve modified the recipe to my own liking, with one of the biggest differences being that I make it as a drop scone.  I mean, sure, you could be all fancy, roll out the dough, and cut it in triangles before baking, but honestly, skipping that step doesn’t affect the taste or texture one bit.  Needless to say, these beauties are a staple in our household, and dried cranberries are ALWAYS on the shopping list.

Trail Mix Scones

Ingredients:

  • 1 C. (2 sticks) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2-1/2 C. all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • 2/3 C. dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1-1/2 C. old fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 C. dried cranberries
  • 1/4 C. raw pumpkin seeds
  • 4 TB whole flaxseeds
  • 1-1/4 C. soymilk, rice milk or organic non-fat milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375-deg F. Using the dough hook, mix together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, and oats in an electric stand mixer on low-medium speed (*Note: the whole recipe can be mixed by hand, but your wrist will be mighty sore by the end).

Cut the butter into approximately 1-TB chunks and add to mixer while it’s running, until pea-sized chunks are left.  Add dried fruit, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds to mixture (*Note: I’ve tried tons of variations…. you can add nuts, coconut, sesame seeds, chocolate chips, raisins… the list goes on, but cranberries, pumpkin seeds and flaxseed is by far my favorite combination).  Add milk and mix until incorporated (dough will by slightly wet).

Scoop out approximately 1/4-C. of mix onto greased cookie sheets with two spoons.  Bake 25-28 minutes and transfer to cooling rack for as long as you can stand it.  Makes 12-15 scones, best enjoyed with a glass of milk or a bitter cup of Joe.

Words of Wisdom:

  • Don’t spend the money on fancy packaging and buy things like Craisins.  Visit your local mercado or fruit market and find the bulk section.  You can get the extras for this recipe for a third of the price this way.
  • You can use cooking spray to grease your cookie sheet, or parchment paper, but I’m not too keen on waste and cooking spray doesn’t cut it for baking since I switched over from Pam to a DIY Misto sprayer.  Best bet: invest in an expensive tub of non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening.  It rocks for greasing baking sheets, and has lasted me a year so far.

Piece de resistance: Dragon’s Milk Stout brownies

We tried this coveted beer a few days after Christmas, and, to be honest, Dragon’s Milk was just too much for me.  Not wanting to waste a reputed and expensive bottle of beer, I found this Milk Stout brownie recipe and adapted it to the ingredients in the cupboard and my own taste.

Not for the feint of heart, or the calorie counter, this decadent, sinful brownie was the perfect end to our New Year’s Eve beer tasting fiasco, paired beautifully with both Stone Imperial Russian Stout AND New Glarus Raspberry Tart.  It also marks the end of this delicious week on the blog.  Enjoy!

Dragon’s Milk Stout Brownies

Ingredients:

1 C. All-purpose flour

3/4 C. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. salt

6 TB softened butter

8 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate

4 eggs

1 C. granulated sugar

10 oz. flat Dragon’s Milk or other Milk Stout beer

1 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 deg-F.  Grease a 9 x 13 inch cake pan and set aside

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, and salt. Set aside

Melt butter and baking chocolate together in a double boiler over low heat, stirring constantly until completely melted.  You can use a regular pot, just monitor very carefully to make sure the mixture doesn’t burn. to the bottom of the pan.  Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, combine eggs and sugar in stand mixer bowl (or use electric hand mixer) and beat on med-high setting until fluffy.  Add melted chocolate mixture* to eggs and continue to beat until combined.

Slowly integrate flour mixture, and then add milk stout beer.  Batter will appear to be runny; that’s ok.  Pour semi-sweet chips into batter bowl and then pour entire batter into the baking pan*.

Bake 25-30 until toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean.  Cool completely before slicing and serving.  If desired, dust with confectioner’s sugar to make them extra pretty.

* DON’T LICK THE SPOON  Remember, the stuff in the pot on the stove is UNsweetened chocolate with pure butter; it does not taste good.  The complete brownie batter does taste good, but has 4 raw eggs in it.  Just wait until they come out of the oven.

 

Epic baking fail

As much as I enjoy that you believe me to be the queen of domesticity (…because, you do, right???), today I’m zero for two.

Here you see that I’ve overstuffed my slightly-smaller-than-standard loaf pan this morning with a delicious cranberry bread for Thanksgiving.  The lovely char smell now resonating through the house from the globs on the bottom of the stove are making me feel real good about myself.  I guess we’ll just have to eat this one ourselves and make another for “company”.  In spite of this miserable failure, this IS a great recipe:

Lauren’s Mom’s Cranberry Bread

Ingredients:

2 C. flour

1 C. sugar

1/2 tsp. each of baking powder, baking soda, and salt

3/4 C. orange juice

2 TB melted butter

1 C. cranberries (frozen, halved, and seeds rinsed out)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350-deg F.  Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add orange juice to melted butter and add to dry ingredients until well incorporated. Fold in cranberries (add chopped walnuts to batter, if desired). Turn into prepared loaf pan and bake at 350-deg F for 60 minutes. This loaf freezes really well.

Add to this failure my previous pat of on the back in processing our jack-o-lantern to make canned pumpkin for homemade breads and pies.  Apparently, the work schedule these days isn’t as conducive to pumpkin processing as it once was, and my brilliant idea to store the roasted inners at room temperature would (five days later) present itself as fermented, white-ish pumpkin goo.  I’ll spare you photo documentation of this, and instead offer you the plan B for “homemade” pumpkin pie.

Kitchen organization and visions of zucchini muffins

I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to kitchen organization. Take for example this shelf in the baking cupboard above. Yes, each item is poured into a clear glass container, and yes, Each clear glass container is labeled with a labelmaker.

What goes where is also exceedingly important. Everything has to be in a cupboard that’s accessible to what you’re doing. Cups next to the fridge, potholders in the drawer next to the stove, plastic baggies reachable with one hand to where I make sandwiches in the morning.
It took me five years to perfect the old apartment kitchen, and this one is twice as big with three times as many cupboards. I’ve rearranged twice already (much to Nancy’s dismay), and I just finished the third installment. Admittedly, it’s putting me in the mood to bake…

Record heat is the talk of the day on the Book of Faces, and all I can think about is hot, delicious zucchini muffins.
 
The thing is, there’s a delightfully cool breeze coming through the kitchen window, it’s reaching noon-time and still 74 out, and so while it seems crazy to voluntarily heat my kitchen to 375-degrees on the purported hottest day in five years, this run-on sentence is trying to say that I’m going to do it anyway.
 
 
Who could refuse this already defrosted shredded zucchini from last summer’s bounty??

Zucchini Muffins

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 C. applesauce
  • 1/4 C mashed banana (applesauce and banana can be substituted for 2 eggs)
  • 2 C. sugar
  • 3 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 C. vegetable oil
  • 2 C. shredded zucchini, unpeeled, liquid squeezed out
  • 3 C. flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 C. chopped nuts (optional)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375-deg F. Whisk applesauce, banana (or egg), sugar, vanilla, and veg. oil together until well blended.
  2. Stir in drained zucchini. Add flour, baking powder, salt, soda, and cinnamon and mix until well blended.
  3. Fold in nuts, if desired.
  4. Turn into greased muffin tins and bake 18-25 minutes or until pastry pick comes out clean
** You can also cook the batter in a loaf pan to make a bread. In that case, bake 45 min-1 hour
Makes approximately 20 muffins