Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes aka When Blogs Collide

Writing a baking blog, I always get a thrill when friends regale me with tales of their baking exploits, which usually start out more often than not with something along the lines of, "I followed the recipe exactly! I don't know what happened!" I know baking can be intimidating, so I always encourage novice bakers to just take the plunge, and was more than excited when a friend and fellow blogger asked for my help tackling Hummingbird Bakery's pumpkin spice cupcakes and cream cheese frosting.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid I might not have been much help on this one.  Between needing to find a converted recipe from the original metric instructions, attempting to double it, realizing halfway through that one of the directions had clearly been omitted in the cookbook, and mangling a hand mixer beyond repair...well, as I've said before, let's just say that sometimes you really can be a lot less exact in your baking and still end up with a delicious end product.  Because these cupcakes were GREAT! Super moist and delicious, these cakes were definitely a hit.

Check out the recipe, more on Hummingbird, and Tanya's take on the international flavor of Halloween here at Parisian Spring.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oh Fudge

In a similar vein as whoopie pies, fudge may not be the most glamorous of desserts, but it's definitely one of those homespun standards that always manages to make it onto the dessert side of the table at family potlucks and always manages to disappear--piece by addictive piece. 

While this recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Fudge from Libby's is not exactly difficult, it IS time consuming.  The first step requires you to heat sugar to soft-ball stage (234-240 degrees, you will need a candy thermometer or the good old bowl-of-water test) while constantly stirring...and stirring...and stirring.  If your arm is cramping up and you're starting to sweat from the heat of a pot of boiling sugar, you're on the right track...keep stirring.  Before you get started you may want to crank up some tunes and crack open a bottle of pumpkin ale to help pass the time.  That's what helped me at least :) 

I do have a sneaking suspicion that the refusal of the sugar to reach soft-ball stage in a reasonable amount of time may have something to due with the fact that I had to use dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar.  Oops.  But I'd love to hear about your experience it if anyone else gives this recipe a try!  The fudge was still delicious even though I finally threw in the towel (the spoon?) while the sugar was still only at 220 degrees.  Shh, don't tell.

Spiced Pumpkin Fudge
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine
2/3 cup (5 fl.-oz. can) evaporated milk
1/2 cup pumpkin
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) white chocolate morsels
1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow crème
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with foil. 
2. Combine sugar, brown sugar, evaporated milk, pumpkin, butter and spice in a medium, heavy-duty saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly, for 10 to 12 minutes or until candy thermometer reaches 234° to 240º F (soft-ball stage).

3. Quickly stir in morsels, marshmallow crème, nuts and vanilla extract. Stir vigorously for 1 minute or until morsels are melted. Immediately pour into prepared pan. Let stand on wire rack for 2 hours or until completely cooled. Refrigerate tightly covered. To cut, lift from pan; remove foil. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Makes about 3 pounds.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Making Whoopie

Forgive the title; I couldn't help myself. 

With pumpkin spice season fully upon us, I couldn't wait to try out Martha Stewart's mini chocolate and pumpkin whoopie pies for a festive fall pumpkin carving party.  At first I thought it might be a little sadistic to bring pumpkin snacks to a pumpkin carving...but I got over it.

Although whoopie pies seem to be enjoying a surge in popularity recently--some even suggesting they are "the new cupcake"--I was shocked to discover how many of my friends had actually never even heard of whoopie pies.  "You're making pumpkin WHAT?" was the typical response.

If you are a whoopie novice, probably the best way to describe them is similar in concept to an oatmeal cream pie, but with cake instead of oatmeal cookies.  Some may try to tell you that a whoopie pie is a Moon Pie. They are NOT Moon Pies.  If you're getting technical, Moon Pies are commercial sandwiches of graham cookie and marshmallow creme dipped in chocolate whereas the whoopie is all cake and frosting.  I'd like to say that these whoopie pies were a total hit at the party, but there may have been an unfortunate forgetting-them-in-the-fridge incident.  Oops.  But *I* can tell you that they were delicious...I had about 6 of them.  Oops. 

For residents of the DMV, whoopies have officially invaded the area--get your fix from B. Hall, an area baker specializing exclusively in whoopie pies or also from pop-up baker Whoops! Bakeshop currently hawking pies at Mid City Caffe until hopefully opening a storefront next year.

A couple of notes: 1)  if you're using a dark metal pan you may want to reduce your oven temp. 2) Try to flatten your batter rounds a little bit as they tend to bake up rather than out. 3) These are MINI whoopie pies, people, so portion control on the batter.  Believe me, I know it's hard.  Or you could just get this whoopie pie pan from Williams-Sonoma.

Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
  makes about 20 sandwiches

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup canned solid pack pumpkin
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1. Prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

2. Place butter, shortening, and sugars into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add egg; mix until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in half the flour mixture, then the milk and vanilla. Mix in remaining flour mixture.

3. Drop about 2 teaspoons dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies spring back when lightly touched, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and let cool 10 minutes. Remove cookies from baking sheets and transfer to wire racks using a spatula; let cool completely.

4. Prepare filling: In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together cream cheese, butter and confectioners' sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg; whip until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

5. Pipe or spoon about 2 teaspoons filling on the flat sides of half the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, keeping the flat sides down.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Tour of Tiramisu

Next on my culinary tour of Italia, I couldn't wait to try out my go-to dessert, tiramisu, in its natural habitat.

While the origins of this trifle-like dessert are a bit cloudy (some even attributing its creation to a brothel where it was used to boost the energy of the clientel--the names does mean "pick me up" afterall...) the ingredients throughout the decades have remained the same: ladyfingers, eggs, marscarpone, coffee and liquor. Yes, please. 

My first taste was in Venice at the Ristorante al Teatro, adjacent to the Fenice Theater.  The food here was decent but I definitely recommend it on show nights for the added bonus of people-watching.  From their patio you have an excellent view of the local Venetians dolled up in their Italian finest for a night at the Fenice.  The first thing I noticed about the tiramisu (tiramisi?) in Italy was that it was typically served premade in individual dishes, rather than served in slab-like squares as if cut from a sheetcake a la the American style.  I found this particular version far too heavy on the coffee, leaving the bottom cake layers cold and soggy.  Otherwise I found the flavors to be well-balanced, if a little light on the liquor (No, I don't have a problem).

Unfortunately I don't have a photo, but my next tiramisu experience was in Florence, and was almost the exact opposite of my Venetian dessert.  I truly wish I had a picture, because the marscarpone filling was so heavy on egg yolks that it was in fact yellow.  Also served in an individual dish, this dessert came topped with about 1/2" of cocoa powder on top and, if you've ever had the unpleasant experience of eating plain cocoa powder, well, you can imagine the unplesant aftertaste.  Though I do remember that the cake wasn't soggy, I honestly can't remember tasting any hint of coffee or liquor as the eggy flavor was so overwhelming.  If you're a fan of custards, then this Florentine style tiramisu is definitely for you. 

While I'm glad I got to sample a taste of true Italian tiramisu, I think I'll be sticking to my own recipe for now.