Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Beantown Cupcakes and Johnny Notcakes

I think my cupcake obsession is complete. I am now entirely incapable of traveling anywhere without seeking out local bakeries for my cupcake fix. Such was the case on last weekend's trip to Boston when I got a double whammy of cupcake glory with stops at Cambridge's Sweet Cupcakes and world famous "T-shirt bakery" Johnny Cupcakes.

Just across the Charles River and down the street from that fancy school where you can't actually park your car in the yard (I checked), Harvard Square's Sweet is an adorable neighborhood shop conveniently located adjacent to the T's red line Harvard Square stop. Even before sampling a single bite, two aspects of Sweet immediately shot them to the top of the list among other cupcake bakeries that I've tried: a significant selection of flavors still left in the case even in the late afternoon and--BEVERAGES! Though it might seem obvious that cupcake customers could want a chaser for their cakes, you'd be surprised how many cupcakeries don't sell drinks at all, or offer a single incongruous choice like soda. In addition to coffee, Sweet offers a variety of cold beverages including milk, water and juice. One Sweet downside common to cupcakeries though is the small seating area. Sweet only has three tables that seemed to be occupied by people more concerned with staring out of the plate glass window rather than eating cupcakes. Ah, well.
Sweet's variety of cupcakes actually made flavor selection that much more difficult, but I'm sure you all can guess that I managed to narrow it down somehow :) In addition to everyday flavors Sweet also offers an unusually large number of seasonal and holiday flavors. People, these flavors are so unique and incredible. Chocolate Orange, Molasses Ginger and Chocolate Cranberry are just a few they have on offer for the fall season and the holiday menu kicks off this Friday, November 27th. With flavors like Gingerbread, Butterscotch, Eggnog and Chocolate Pomegranate it will be hard not to come back for more. I sampled the S'mores, Caramel Apple and, of course, Boston Cream Pie. Though the S'mores cupcake pretty much fell apart while eating (user error, I'm sure) I loved that it had the generous dose of graham cracker often missing from similar cakes. The Caramel Apple came with a spicy apple filling, caramel glaze and it's very own adorable stick just like the real thing. As for the Boston Cream, this is the moistest cupcake I have ever eaten. Ever. The chocolate ganache was a perfect compliment for this must-try Boston standby.

If Cambridge is out of the way on your trip to Boston, you can also stop by Sweet's Back Bay location. And don't shy away from bringing Fido--Sweet even has "Pupcakes" on offer for $1. At either location I'm sure you'll be pleased with the chic flavors and friendly staff at Sweet and I definitely recommend a stop if you're in the neighborhood (or even if you're not, it's totally worth it).
If you secretly (or not so secretly) suspect that you may have a cupcake obsession like me, while you are in Boston also make sure to stop by T-shirt boutique Johnny Cupcakes. For serious shoppers, Johnny's is nestled amongst the converted brownstones of Boston's trendy Newberry Street shopping district- 8 blocks of eclectic stores and restaurants. After copious amounts of window shopping at their online store, I was psyched for my first chance to step foot in one of their actual stores. An apparel company started from scratch (yes, that's a baking joke) by Johnny Earle/aka Johnny Cupcake in 1989, though this shop may look like a bakery, you'll be disappointed if you come in expecting actual cupcakes. Each of the cases is filled with limited edition t-shirts featuring Johnny's signature Cupcake-And-Crossbones design. The perfect combo of cutesy cupcake and edgy design, I picked up this little number for myself.
If you go:
Brattle St at Harvard Square
Boston, MA
Mon-Tues 11am-9pm
Wed-Sat 11am-10pm
Sun 12 noon-8pm

Johnny Cupcakes
279 Newberry St
Boston, MA
Mon-Thurs 11am-7pm
Fri-Sat 11am-8pm
Sun 11am-7pm

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cheesecake On The Half-Shell

"What is that?"
"Pumpkin Turtle Cheesecake."
"But what does that mean?"
"It's cheesecake you serve on the half-shell, duh."
"Juuuust kidding."

Though this recipe is actually called "Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake," I wasn't able to make the tasty pecan praline powder called for in the recipe that dusts the top of the cheesecake because I don't have a food processor (that's right people, I don't even own a blender). So, instead, I reached for my trusty go-to jar of caramel sauce, mixed a dollop in a bowl with pecan halves and used that to set off the layer of sweetened sour cream below and voila: Pumpkin Turtle Cheesecake. Or, as I've been calling it, Teenage Mutant Ninja Pumpkin Turtle Cheesecake.

Just as the term "Black Forest" is often applied to about any combination of chocolate and cherry, "turtle" has come to symbolize the delicious mixture of caramel and pecans. This is undoubtedly due to Nestle's Turtle candies, first produced by the Rowntree DeMet company in the 1920s, and made from simply caramel and pecan halves before being dipped in chocolate. The story goes that a DeMet's employee commented that the new candies looked surprisingly like turtles and the rest is history. Who knows.

All I know is that, if I've done my job, you'll now have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' theme song in your head :) But, believe me, this cheesecake is so good that your friends probably won't even mind that you're singing it to them as you serve up the slices.

Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup flour
3 8-oz pkgs cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbs flour
1 15-oz can pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 eggs
1 8-oz container sour cream
1 Tbs granulated sugar
Pecan halves (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. For Pecan-Praline Pieces and Powder, line a large baking sheet with foil and set aside. In a heavy skillet place the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, cook over medium-high heat, shaking skillet occasionally until sugar begins to melt. Do not stir. Reduce heat to low and stir in the chopped pecans; cook about 3 minutes more or until sugar is golden brown and pecans are toasted, stirring occasionally. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading with a wooden spoon as thin as possible. Cool. Break or chop the cooled praline into 1/4-inch pieces and set half of it aside. For Pecan-Praline Powder, place remaining broken pieces in a blender container or food processor bowl. Cover and blend or process until ground. Store in separate containers in refrigerator or freezer up to 1 week.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. For crust, in a medium mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed about 30 seconds or until softened. Add the 1/4 cup brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the 1 cup flour. Beat on low to medium speed just until combined.

3. Pat dough onto bottom and 1-1/2 inches up the side of 9-inch springform pan. Bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool crust on a wire rack while preparing filling.

4. For filling, in a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese, the 3/4 cup brown sugar, and the 2 tablespoons flour with an electric mixer on a medium to high speed until combined. Add the pumpkin, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Beat until combined. Add eggs all at once. Beat on low speed just until combined. Stir in the coarsely broken pecan-praline pieces, reserving the powder for the topping.

5. Pour filling into the crust-lined springform pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until center appears nearly set when shaken.

6. In a small bowl combine sour cream and granulated sugar. Spread over top of cheesecake.

7. Cool cheesecake in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Use a small metal spatula to loosen crust from sides of pan. Cool 30 minutes more. Remove side of the springform pan. Cool for 1 hour. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

8. Just before serving, sprinkle the Pecan-Praline Powder over sour cream topping in center of cheesecake and garnish with pecan halves, if desired.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pumpkin Crème de la Crème

And now, let the pumpkin posts continue! As promised, the fall parade of pumpkin spice recipes marches on even though we're now in that odd pumpkin limbo time between Halloween pumpkin-themed recipes and Thanksgiving pumpkin-themed recipes. Oh well, clearly I'm not concerned. I recently managed to get my hands on two more coveted cans of pumpkin and couldn't wait to use one for this Pumpkin Crème Caramel.

If you haven't had the pleasure of enjoying crème caramel before, the texture is very similar to a flan or custard, but it also comes with a built in bonus layer of delicious caramel sauce. The seasonal addition of pumpkin pie spice really adds warmth and blends perfectly with the creamy caramel. I'd also even recommend this as an alternative for friends or family that usually don't like pumpkin pie because it is much less sweet than pumpkin pie and the texture is also more dense. I'm actually completely guessing that these might be reasons people don't like pumpkin pie because, frankly, I find it incredulous that these people even exist.

Also don't be intimidated by the pomegranate seeds used as garnish. If you've never used a pomegranate before, let this be your first opportunity. Since this was my first time trying pomegranates I was similarly terrified to tackle what some believe was the true "forbidden fruit" and now I'm addicted to the tangy-sweet seeds. Food blogger Gimme Some Oven has a great tutorial on how to open and seed your pomegranate completely mess-free and, I mean, Web MD tells us that pomegranates are a major superfruit so really, what are you waiting for? You may be consuming the equivalent of 6 eggs, but you might as well fight free radicals with the power of antioxidants at the same time, right? Right.

Note: You can also modify this recipe by preparing it in two pie plates as opposed to individual custard cups if you prefer.

Pumpkin Crème Caramel
serves 8
1 1/3 cup sugar
6 eggs, beaten
2 5-oz cans evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp finely shredded orange peel
2 tsp vanilla
pomegranate seeds (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. To caramelize the sugar, melt the 1 1/3 cups sugar in a heavy-bottomed skillet over med-high heat, shaking the skillet occasionally. When the sugar starts to melt, reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring frequently, until sugar is golden brown. Remove skillet from heat; immediately pour sugar into eight ungreased, 6-oz custard cups. Quickly tilt to evenly coat bottom of cups.

3. Place cups in two 2-quart baking dishes. Whisk together eggs, pumpkin, evaporated milk, the 1/2 cup sugar, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Pour the pumpkin mix over the caramelized sugar. Place the baking dishes on the oven rack. Pour boiling water into the baking dishes to a depth of 1".

4. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the centers comes out clean. Remove cups from water. Cool slightly on a wire rack. Cover and chill for 4 to 24 hours.

5. To serve, loosen edges of custards with a knife. Invert a dessert plate over each custard, turn cup and plate over together. Scrape any remaining caramel that remains in the cup onto the custard. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired.