Wednesday, January 27, 2010

With A Passion--Foodie Journal Review

Like most angsty teens, I was pretty into journaling during middle and high schools. Now I'm much more likely to splurge on expensive blank notebooks with the best of intentions and then pretend not to notice them gathering dust sadly on the bookcase. Also, when I was little, one of my favorite activities was to use these pretty, blank notebooks to "create" my own cookbooks inspired by those I amassed from the local library. Recopying all my faves thematically into these notebooks, I guess this is how you come to make chicken fran├žais and almond pilaf for your parents at age 15.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I came across this neat new line of "Passion" notebooks from Moleskine to help categorize all the passions in your life. No more scribbling the name of that fabulous wine onto the back of your napkin, or trying not to throw away that amazing recipe on the scrap of an envelope. In addition to recipe and wine notebooks, there are also journals for all the favorite music, wellness, books and film in your life.

How are these different from just any other journal you ask? Accessories, my friends. Inside the gorgeous, embossed, black leather covers for the Recipe Journal you'll find 240 blank pages as well as food calendars, conversions, themed sections (appetizers, cocktails, etc), stickers and ingenious little pockets to hold notes, restaurant cards, wine labels or whatever you can think of. I'm not much for organization, but with these customizable notebooks you can't help but keep track of all your favorite foodie info just the way you'd like it.

Unfortunately these aren't on sale on my side of the pond yet but that may not keep me from shelling out a few pounds to get one from these retailers offering them on exclusive presale right now.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pie in the Sky

Sometimes I get carried away. I'll be the first to admit that this pie is pretty much over the top. But in honor of National Pie Day (January 23rd!), I mean, why not go all out? Like five layers of flaky pie crust, sweet banana, dulce de leche, mile-high meringue madness. I've been wanting to make dulce de leche for awhile now, especially since I discovered that it can also be made in the oven rather than the typically prescribed method of boiling unopened cans of condensed milk in a pot of water for 3 hours. Because it can explode. I'm serious.

But, in just one hour, you can have your very own delicious vat of creamy, caramely goodness without the risk to your health or kitchen. It's great to have a jar of this stuff on hand for other uses like ice cream topping, fruit dip, eating by the spoonful out of the jar, you know, whatever.
Next time I make this pie I might try it with a graham cracker crust and possibly whipped cream instead of meringue. If you do go with the meringue, only whip it to you desired thickness. I like my meringue thick and, like, borderline marshmallow consistency so, if you don't prefer to feel like you're biting into a sponge, only beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Also feel free to use more banana and slice into coins rather than lengthwise if you prefer a bigger banana flavor. Ahem.

Dulce de Leche Banana Meringue Pie
1 recipe of your favorite pie crust or one refrigerated crust
2 14-oz cans sweetened condensed milk
3-5 ripe bananas
3 egg whites
3 Tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pour condensed milk into a glass pie plate or baking dish (stir in a little fleur de sel if you have it) cover tightly with foil and place into a larger baking pan. Fill with warm water half way up the pie plate and bake 1 hour or until browned (will resemble a dark butterscotch color).

2. Cool to room temperature. In the meantime prepare and bake desired pie crust.

3. Once dulce de leche has cooled, whisk or stir until smooth. Slice bananas as desired, using some to line the bottom of the pie crust. Pour dulce de leche over the bananas and top with remaining bananas.

4. For the meringue, whip egg whites until very foamy. Gradually beat in sugar. Add salt and vanilla and whip to desired thickness. Top pie with meringue and, if desired, toast with a kitchen torch or under your oven's broiler.

Monday, January 18, 2010

And The Winner Is...

After a great response over the past two weeks, I am happy to announce that Deedles is the proud new owner of the Valentine's Day cupcake kit by Meri Meri, adorable pink decorating sugar, a Wilton decorating tip and a Betty Crocker cookbook of 100 (count 'em, 100!) cupcake recipes!

Thank you to all who entered and Tweeted the contest, please continue to follow along with The Cupcake Avenger and stay tuned for the next great giveaway!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Return of the Puff Pastry

While I'm pretty bad about buying random ingredients that I only use infrequently, I'm equally bad about using up their leftovers whenever I'm through with that one recipe (an entire bag of dry kidney beans when I only need a single stupid bean for a King Cake, for example). I think I'm just bad at planning ahead and forget until it's too late that I should plan several menu items in advance instead of just getting overexcited about that one exotic recipe I can't wait to try. Too many times have I washed reserved egg yolks down the drain only to curse myself later for not planning a single custard, cream sauce, or carbonara instead.

But not this time! With a decent amount of puff pastry and almond paste left from the aforementioned King Cake, I was excited to try out the two main ingredients in a new way.

If you do decide to try out last week's recipe for King Cake, don't despair at the lonely scraps of puff pastry and sad looking half can of almond paste left over on the countertop--there are ENDLESS possibilities to use these up. Particularly since one can of almond paste cost me $6.99 I wasn't about to see that one go to waste.

Puff pastry is particularly versatile; equally suited to sweet or savory dishes, this stuff is a blank canvas limited only by your imagination. For a quick treat, dust with cinnamon sugar, cut into strips with a pizza slicer and twist for cookie-like spirals (just bake according to package directions). Equally, roll out and cut with a large biscuit slicer and fill with your favorite stew for mini pot pies. Seriously, this stuff is great for anything you can think of.

In order to use up both the pastry and the almond paste, I essentially made some miniature King Cake cookies. To add more almond flavor I first rolled some of the paste into the dough before cutting it out into small rounds. For the filling I blended the almond paste with cream cheese and mixed with cinnamon sugar before sandwiching a dollop between two rounds, ravioli-style. If you try this out, all amounts are approximate so feel free to experiment!

Almond Puff Daddies
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed, or leftover scraps
1/2 can almond paste
2-4 oz cream cheese, soft style or softened
2 Tbs cinnamon sugar
Splash of almond or vanilla extract optional

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl cream together almond paste and cream cheese. Stir in cinnamon sugar and extract, if using.
3. Roll out puff pastry on a floured surface. Break 1/4 cup of the almond paste into small pieces and dot over half of the pastry. Fold uncovered portion of the pastry over the covered portion and roll into a rectangle until incorporated.
4. Sprinkle sugar over dough and, using a glass or biscuit cutter, cut out an even number of circles. These will shrink while baking so use a larger cutter than you think you will need.

5. Place a spoonful of filling onto half of the rounds, cover with the remaining rounds and seal tightly. Brush tops with egg or milk if desired.

6. Bake 12-15 minutes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

King For A Day

For some reason, growing up I always assumed that the Twelve Days of Christmas fell during the twelve days preceding Christmas. Oops, I guess I just didn't listen to the lyrics of the song very well. Maybe it was just wishful thinking to get all those geese a-laying and golden rings before Santa even came. However, the Twelve Days of Christmas are actually a medieval tradition marking the time right after Christmas and ending on Epiphany--today!--January 6th. In Christianity, Epiphany itself marks the beginning of the celebration period lasting through February and culminating at Mardi Gras--although most of us are probably satisfied with all the stress, celebration and gift-giving that goes into the holiday season, let alone all this celebrating afterwards.

For me, I just look at it as an excuse to extend all the great food-eating of November and December into the new year. Because Epiphany is the celebration of the storied Three Kings, last year I made my own version of Mardi Gras' famed King Cake. This year, I'm super excited to make my first Galette des Rois--the version eaten on this day all over France.

While you're probably used to the American-style King Cakes that are made with yeast dough, iced, and doused in color sugar, the French Galette des Rois is the epitome of the classy French dessert--light and flaky puff pastry, a simple and luscious frangipane filling and a light dusting of powdered sugar is all it takes for this elegant celebration cake.
While the cake is in honor of the three kings, it also gives you the chance to be royalty for a day. When you make the cake, be sure to hide a dried bean in the filling--whomever gets the piece with the bean becomes the king or queen!
Galette des Rois
1/4 cup almond paste
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 pkg puff pastry, thawed
1 dry kidney bean
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbs powdered sugar, for dusting

  1. Mix the almond paste into a food processor or blender with about half of the sugar until well blended. Add the butter and remaining sugar using and blend until smooth, then blend in 1 egg, vanilla extract, almond extract, flour and salt. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter a baking sheet or line with parchment paper, and set aside.
  3. Roll out one sheet of the puff pastry into an 11 inch square. Keep the pastry cool, do not knead or stretch. Use a large pie plate, cake pan or frying pan to trace an 11 inch circle onto the dough using the tip of a small knife. Place the circle of pastry onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry. Refrigerate both sheets.
  4. Mound the almond filling onto the center of the pastry that is on the baking sheet. Leave about 1 1/2 inch margin at the edges. Press the bean down into the filling. Place the second sheet of pastry on top, and press down the edges to seal. Beat the remaining egg with a fork, and lightly brush onto the top of the galette. Prick several small slits in the top to vent steam while baking.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes. Do not open the oven until the time is up, or the pastry will not fully puff. Remove from the oven, and dust with powdered sugar. Return to the oven, and cook for an additional 12 to 15 minutes, or until the top is a deep golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  6. Lay a golden paper crown gently on top of the cake. This will be used to crown the person who finds the bean. Serve warm or cold. Make sure to tell everyone about the bean .

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cupcake Contest 2010

While I'm not usually one for New Year's resolutions, the decision one year ago to start this blog devoted to my love of cupcakes, candies, desserts and all things sweet is one resolution (and possibly the only resolution) I'm glad I stuck to. 2009 has definitely been a year of firsts for me: My first ever use of an actual pastry bag and decorating tip, my first homemade buttercream, my first experimentation with royal icing and my first donation of cupcakes to a charity event. But in honor of The Cupcake Avenger's first birthday celebration, I'd also like to kick off the "first first" of 2010. Get excited, because this one also shares a little bit of the joy with all of you.

Without further ado, I'd like to announce the Cupcake Avenger Inaugural Cupcake Contest!! Just in time for Valentine's Day you can win everything you need to create picture-perfect lovey dovey cupcakes for your honeybunny (or yourself, I won't judge) as well as a compendium of 100 easy cupcake recipes to keep you stocked throughout 2010.

First you will receive this oh-so-cute Valentine's cupcake kit featuring 24 Victorian inspired cupcake liners and toppers by Meri Meri.And just in case those adorable toppers aren't enough you'll also receive sanding sugar in Pastel Pink and a Wilton decorating tip--the first step to making your home creations look just like the professionals'.

But that's not all! You'll also receive a copy of Betty Crocker's Just Cupcakes: 100 Recipes for the Way You Really Cook. These recipes are great because they incorporate a lot of Betty Crocker products so you'll always have a quick, easy, great-tasting recipe on hand even when you're short on time or supplies.

Now, I know what you're thinking, "How could I ever win such an amazing gift package?!" Well, my friends, it's simple. For a chance to win, just leave a comment below telling me anything about cupcakes. That's it. Srsly. Just tell me why you like cupcakes, or the best cupcake you ever ate, or your favorite cupcake shop. The winner will be chosen randomly so, really, anything.

And--bonus! If you want to better your chances, just Tweet this contest for an extra entry. Now for the boring details.
1) In the comments make sure to fill in the e-mail or website portions so I have a way to contact you.
2) If you Tweet the contest, be sure to include @Cancemini4 so I can find you.
3) This will ship to you anywhere (even abroad) and will arrive in time for Valentine's Day.
4) You only have 2 weeks until the contest closes (midnight, January 16th 2010) So get commenting!