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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Earl Grey Cupcakes: Fit for your Royal Wedding Party


I confess, I'm ridiculously excited about the royal wedding this Friday.  Maybe not get up at 4am excited, but, I've-got-my-DVR-all-ready-to-go-and-can't-wait-to-see-her-wedding-dress excited.  What can I say, I am from the generation of women who were little girls when we watched Princess Diana get married so long ago, and it made a lasting impact on us-- the pomp and pageantry and that huge white train.

If you are looking for a wedding-watching treat or are hosting an all-out bash for the occasion, you may want to try these delicious little cupcakes.  I was intrigued by the idea of what an Earl Grey cupcake would taste like so I thought, what better opportunity to try this recipe than during the week of the royal wedding festivities.

Well, I'm really glad I did, because I absolutely loved these cupcakes.  Basically you steep Earl Grey teabags in milk that has simmered.  When this mixture is added to the batter, it gives the cupcake a faint citrusy taste from the bergamot organge rind that is the signature flavor of Earl Grey tea and when combined with the almond extract, the result is a very pleasing mildly flavored cupcake.  When I first saw a recipe for Earl Grey tea in a cupcake, words like "bitter" and "overpowering" came to mind but nothing could be further from the truth. The taste reminds me a little of the Italian cookie called a Pignoli which is made with almond paste and pine nuts. If you don't like Earl Grey, you could easily substitute this recipe with your favorite blend.  These cupcakes are then topped with a sweet vanilla buttercream which I tinted with a little violet food coloring.  I'm definitely making these again-- it was nice to try a new flavor combination that I enjoyed so much.  These were sweet but not overly so, and I think they would be nice to take to a brunch or tea.

Note:  This recipe makes about 10-12 cupcakes, so if you are making these for a crowd, you should plan on doubling both the cupcake and icing recipes.  Also, the original recipe calls for using 4 Earl Grey teabags, but I used 3 teabags.  I was very happy with the flavor of my cupcakes so I will probably use 3 the next time I make these.

For the Cupcakes:


Ingredients:
1/2 cup milk (2% or whole), at room temperature
4 Earl Grey teabags (*I used 3)
8 tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup,  plus 2 tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 large eggs
3/4 cup, plus 2 tbs. self-rising flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to boil.  Remove from the heat and add the teabags.  Cover and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes, then discard the teabags.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is pale and smooth, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the almond extract, and the eggs, one at a time, mixing for a few minutes after each addition.

Sift the two flours together into a separate bowl.  Add one-third of the flours to be creamed mixture and beat well.  Pour in one-third of the infused milk and beat again.  Repeat these steps until all the flour and milk have been added.

Spoon the mixture into the cups, filling them about 2/3 full.  Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until slightly raised and golden brown.  To check they are cooked, insert a wooden skewer in the center of one of the cupcakes to see if it comes out clean.

Remove from oven and allow cupcakes to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before carefully placing on a wire rack to cool.  Frost when completely cool.

For the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:

Ingredients:
8 tbs (1 stick ) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup whole or 2% milk, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
few drops of food coloring, optional

Instructions:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, milk, vanilla extract, and half the powdered sugar until smooth- this can take several minutes if using an electric hand mixer.  Gradually add the remainder of the powdered sugar and beat again until the buttercream is smooth and creamy.  Add any food coloring, starting with one drop at a time, until your icing reaches the desired hue.

Adapted from Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery








Saturday, April 23, 2011

Coconut Cake with with Lemon Curd Filling


Making a homemade cake on holidays is a long-standing tradition in the South. I have many memories of going to my Grandmother's house when I was growing up on holidays and seeing the sideboard table in the dining room filled to overflowing with all of the homemade desserts my grandmother and aunts made.  Each one had at least one cake that they were "known" for and each one was a labor of love-- all were delicious.  I think about that a lot  when I'm baking and really think these women have a lot to do with my own love of homemade baking.  I wish I could go back now and tell my younger self to collect all of their recipes as some of them are lost to the ages despite my best efforts.  My Grandmother has shared hers with me and I will forever treasure them!

This coconut cake is one I made after I was newly married and now has become a tradition in our home for holidays. It is your traditional southern style coconut cake worthy of a holiday or a special occasion. It has a moist crumb and makes a three layer cake (my favorite kind-- they look so tall and impressive on a dining room table), a luscious lemon curd filling, and a marshmallowy 7-minute frosting.  The whole thing is covered with sweetened coconut so I love serving this at Easter.  It is time-consuming but all of the steps are easy.  I found the recipe for the cake in our local paper at the time, The Washington Post, and it tasted just like the cakes I remember from my childhood.  First, go buy yourself a large package of fresh eggs because you are going to need a lot for this recipe.** I will also put in the caveat about the eggs for the 7-minute frosting.  Because you beat egg whites in a double boiler, there is the risk that they do not cook as thoroughly as they do when baking, etc. so use very fresh eggs and either refrain from serving to the very young, immunocompromised or elderly people, or use pasteurized eggs.**   Also, if you don't have a microplane zester, I would highly suggest buying one before attempting this recipe if you want to save your sanity as you will be grating a lot of lemons and a microplane makes that job so easy!

Recipe for: Lemon Curd Filling
Make this the day before or at least 8 hours before you plan on filling the cake.  You will likely have leftovers which is delicious on toast, biscuits, scones, or cookies (or I'm sure you'll find a million delicious uses for this wonderful filling).

Ingredients:
12 egg yolks, at room temperature
3 tbs grated lemon zest
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut in small pieces

Instructions:
In a medium size saucepan, whisk in the first 5 ingredients until thoroughly combined.  Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly over medium heat.  Cook about 15-20 minutes until thick and bubbly (The original recipe says 20 minutes but I find that on my stove, that is too long, and at med. heat, the curd is very thick at about 14-15 minutes so stir constantly and keep an eye on this). Remove from heat and add butter, one piece at a time, stirring to incorporate.  Place in the refrigerator overnight until firm.

Makes 3 1/2 cups.

Recipe adapted from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook


Recipe for: Miss Essie Brazil's Three-Layer Coconut Cake


Ingredients:
3 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, whites and yolks separated
1 cup milk
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray three 9-inch round cake pans with baker's joy spray or grease and flour pans and line bottoms with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar for several minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time, incorporating after each addition.  Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk and incorporating after each addition, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed.  Use a spatula to stir in the coconut and vanilla extract.  Beating the egg whites really makes the cake light as a feather.  Its an extra step, but you'll see when you take that first bite that its so worth it!

In a separate bowl on high speed, beat the egg whites for several minutes, until they form stiff peaks.  In two or three additions, carefully fold the beaten egg whites into the cake batter.  Divide the batter among the 3 pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each layer comes out clean.  Transfer the pans to wire racks to cool for 10 minutes, then unmold the layers onto the racks to cool completely, discarding the parchment paper liners.

Recipe from The Washington Post


Recipe for: Seven-Minute Frosting:


Ingredients:
3 egg whites
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup cold water
1 1/2 tbs light corn syrup
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:
In the top of a double boiler, combine the first five ingredients and place over rapidly boiling water.  On the high speed of an electric mixer, beat constantly for 6-8 minutes or until icing stands up in soft peaks. Remove from heat, add the vanilla extract and beat about 1 minute more or until of desired spreading consistency.  Use immediately.

To Assemble the Cake:
Spread lemon curd over 2 layers of the cake.  Top with the third.  Spread 7 minute frosting all over cake until  completely covered.  Use sweetened coconut for the top and sides of cake to garnish before the frosting is set.  Enjoy! The cake is best served on the day its filled but it can be made one day before serving.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Bars


If you are looking for a special treat to make for your family for breakfast on Easter morning or need something to take to a brunch or get-together this weekend, this recipe for strawberry rhubarb crumb bars will be your best friend! This traditional coffee cake with a cinnamon crumb topping is taken to a whole new level with the addition of beautiful bits of ruby red strawberries and rhubarb.  I made this for the first time recently and my husband and I both loved it.  The buttery cake was perfect with the cinnamon brown sugar crumbs that were sweet with just a hint of salt.  The berries and rhubarb kept this cake nice and moist while adding additional sweetness.  I don't know about you but, but there is nothing worse than having a dry coffee cake that sticks in the back of your throat like its been left on a shelf too long.  Well, this coffee cake is definitely not THAT-- there is nothing dry or cardboard about it!

The original recipe calls for just plain rhubarb so you can make this with all rhubarb or all strawberries, for that matter.  I really enjoyed having a combination of both since its rhubarb season and plus I can't pass up a chance to use strawberries in a recipe since they are one of my favorite fruits. But, I may make this with all strawberries later in the year when rhubarb is out of season.  This recipe makes an 8x8 size cake so if you are feeding a crowd or taking this somewhere you may want to think of doubling it.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Bars

Ingredients:


For the Streusel:
6 tbs unsalted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt

For the Cake:
1/4 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 pound strawberries, cut into roughly the same size pieces as the rhubarb
1 tbs light brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray Baker's Joy or other baking spray on an 8-inch square baking pan. Or, you can also butter and flour an 8- inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides.  Butter and flour parchment and pan, tapping out excess flour.  I used Baker's Joy and my coffee cake turned out great!

2. Make streusel:  Whisk together butter, brown sugar, and salt.  Add flour and mix with a fork until large crumbs form.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

3.  Make cake:  In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup flour.  In another medium bowl, whisk 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy; beat in eggs, one at a time. With mixer on low beat in vanilla, then flour mixture.  Spread batter in prepared pan.  Sprinkle strawberries and rhubarb over batter and top with the streusel.

4.  Bake cake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes.  Let cool completely in pan.  Cut into bars.

Adapted from Everyday Food



Thursday, April 14, 2011

How to Make: Stuffed Artichokes


Artichokes can be an intimidating vegetable.  They're spiky, somewhat resemble a dinosaur, and can have some rather sharp and painful edges if you pick them up the wrong way.  Don't let their unfriendly exterior run you off, because with just a few minutes of effort you can have something truly delicious.  This is one of my family's favorite dishes and I have many memories of seeing these on the table at many family dinners and holidays.  This is one of those dishes that conjures up happy feelings of childhood when I smell it simmering on my stove-top-- that combination of artichoke, Parmesan cheese, and bread crumbs-- I don't know how to explain it-- its just artichoky.  This tough old vegetable becomes soft and succulent and infused with the taste of the cheese, garlic, and breadcrumbs by simmering it for an hour or so.  Then you put the platter of artichokes on the table and let everyone help themselves and  pull the topping and artichoke meat off with your teeth.  Enjoy this with some good crusty bread to mop up the garlicky breadcrumbs and the delicious gravy in the bottom of the pot. Yum, I guarantee you will like these even if you think you don't like artichokes.

Before you begin you will want to make the stuffing for your artichokes.  You may have to make more of this if you run out as you stuff the artichokes,but if you make too much you can use this mixture as a breading for chicken or shrimp, or a stuffing for mushrooms.  Just put it in a Ziploc bag and keep it in the freezer.

Ingredients for Breadcrumb Stuffing (enough for 3 artichokes):
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
1 cup grated mix of Romano and Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. garlic powder (or less if that is your preference, we like a lot of garlic in our house)
a drizzle of olive oil- don't drench the crumbs, just add a little for flavor.

Combine all in a large bowl.  Use your fingers to toss the ingredients until well combined.

Instructions on How to Prepare and Stuff Artichokes:
1. I usually plan on 1 stuffed artichoke feeding 2 people if this is served as a side. Plan on one per person if this is a main dish.   For this dish you will need a dutch oven or other braising pan, a cutting board, kitchen shears, and a good sharpened chef's knife.

2.  Rinse the artichokes well in cold water, taking care to try to rinse in between the leaves.

3.  Using your kitchen shears, snip off the pointed spiky ends of each leaf all over the artichoke.  Do the same for as many as you're cooking.



4. Using your chef's knife, cut off the stem near the base of the artichoke so that the artichoke will sit flat.  Save the stem.


5.  Use your knife to cut the pointed top off of the artichoke so that the top is also flat.


6. The artichoke should sit flat when you are done, sort of resembling a flower.


7. Take the stems, after you've removed them from the artichokes, and cut off the green pulpy outer exterior. The stem is really flavorful so we are going to cook these along with our stuffed artichokes.  Cut along all sides of the stem, including on either end until you see the pale white underneath.  Set aside.


8. Use your fingers to spread the leaves apart so there will be room for the stuffing.  Do this to both the outer and inner leaves.


It should look like this when you're done:


9. Put the artichoke in the middle of the bowl of breadcrumb stuffing you just made, and start filling in every leaf with the stuffing.  Get every nook and cranny.  More breadcrumbs= more flavor.  Make sure you pack some on the top too!


It should look like this when you're done:


10.  Put your stuffed artichokes in a dutch oven.  Place the stems in the bottom of the pot.  Pour several inches of water in the bottom of the pot and drizzle the tops of the artichokes with a little olive oil.  The drippings from the stuffing and olive oil will simmer and make a delicious gravy that the stems will simmer in.


11.  Bring the artichokes to a boil and then lower to medium low.  Allow to simmer for an 1- 1 1/2 hours or until it is easy to pull the leaves off the artichokes and its easy to pull the meat off the leaf with your teeth.  If this doesn't happen, and the leaves are still tough, that means they aren't done and need to cook a little longer.


Mmmmm, Enjoy!

Hearth and Soul Hop at Sunshine and Smile

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream


Hi all, I've missed blogging this week and realized that a week in internet land feels like a month in regular time. I came down with a nasty sinus infection so I was out of commission for awhile.  I know I'm sick when I have no desire or energy to be in my kitchen but after some good rest and antibiotics, I'm ready to be back at it.

As you may have noticed by the the recipes I choose for my blog, I'm a big citrus fan, especially when it comes to desserts.  These lemon cupcakes have been a favorite of mine for quite sometime.  They are very easy and always result in a request for the recipe when I bring them somewhere.  This recipe uses self-rising flour, which is pre-mixed to contain both salt and baking powder so it cuts down on the amount of measuring and mixing.  Short of using a box mix, it would be harder to find an easier from-scratch cupcake recipe.   The lemon buttercream is so good too.  It has just the right amount of tartness from the fresh lemon juice and zest balanced with the sweetness from the powdered sugar.  You can either let the color be its natural ivory from the butter and the sugar flecked with a hint of lemon zest or if you want, you can use a tiny bit of yellow food coloring to give it the pale yellow color you see in the pictures.


For the Cupcakes

Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. grated fresh lemon zest

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease or line 2 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth.  Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Combine the flours and add in four parts, alternating with the milk and the lemon juice and zest, beating well after each addition.  Spoon the batter evenly into the cups about three-quarters full.  Bake until the tops spring back when lightly touched, about 16-20 minutes.

For the Lemon Buttercream


Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
8 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Instructions:
Place the butter in a large mixing bowl.  Add 4 cups of the powdered sugar and then the lemon juice and the zest.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, until icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency.  If desired, add a few drops of yellow food coloring and mix thoroughly.  I used a few drops of Americolor Egg Yellow food coloring.

Recipe from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook





Friday, April 1, 2011

FFWD: Quinoa, Fruit, and Nut Salad


So, we're starting a new month of recipes for French Friday's with Dorie.  I always enjoy checking the website and seeing what the month will hold.  We all get to vote on a selection of recipes and then the winning recipes are posted right before the start of each month.  First up for April is this quinoa, fruit, and nut salad and it had one of the highest percentages of votes.  I admit, I voted for this recipe because it sounded intriguing and like something I would never make on my own.  I've come to find out that is one of the best things about FFwD (besides all of the great people I've met through the group), making a recipe that uses new and different ingredients and flavor combinations and seeing what happens.  

I have had quinoa before in restaurants but have never cooked it myself.  If you are unfamiliar, quinoa (prounounced "keen-wah") is a highly nutritious seed (not grain as I found out from Chef Pandita) with a slightly nutty taste that can be served hot or cold. This recipe combines a mixture of dried fruit, nuts and fresh herbs into the cooked quinoa.  I'm just going to be honest here and say I had major misgivings when I was steaming the quinoa.  Call me uncool or unsophisticated, I don't care, but I thought it smelled a little bit like what one feeds to horses.  Luckily, I knew that I liked quinoa in its finished form so I pressed on.  Thankfully, I did because the end result was really good.  I used a combination of dried cherries, apricots, and golden raisins for the fruit, but you can use whatever dried fruit you'd like.  Dorie also suggests using a combination of nuts so I used sunflower seeds and almonds.  I mixed in cilantro as my choice of fresh herb (Dorie suggests cilantro, parsley, mint, or basil but I have a particular love for cilantro and thought it would add a nice burst of flavor to the salad).  Finally, you toss the salad with olive oil, ground ginger, and lemon which was such a light and fresh dressing.  I may start making this as a salad dressing for other types of salads because it was delicious and took no time to put together.  

I enjoyed this dish and think it would be great for a nice luncheon or shower dish.  I liked how all of the flavors-- from the nuttiness of the quinoa and the sweetness of the fruit and the tang from the dressing and the herbs blended together so well.  As always, you can see what everyone else thought about this dish here. 


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