Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wild West Cupcakes--Sprinkles, Phoenix

These cupcakes aren't really that wild, but they are from the West, which is kind of a big deal for me because I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually been west of the Mississippi.  So, in addition to seeing the sites on a recent trip to Arizona, I obviously had to check out what the area had to offer by way of cupcakes.  Luckily for me there was a Sprinkles location just down the street from my hotel! I didn't plan it that way, I swear...
I decided to sample 4 flavors--Red Velvet (I always try to get a Red Velvet as the control cupcake whenever I'm visiting a new shop, how scientific of me), Banana, Cinnamon Sugar and S'more. And not just any S'more apparently, but a S'more cupcake designed by Gossip Girl herself Blake Lively.
Blake decided to sport her best gladiator skirt and Christmas bow for the occasion
I joke, but this is actually a great initiative, as all of the proceeds from the S'more cupcake go directly to Oxfam. That's right, 100%. So how does it taste?  At first bite, I honestly thought this was the best S'mores cupcake I'd ever tasted. Ever. The marshmallow topping wasn't too sticky and the graham cracker crust was still crunchy.  Then I got to the middle.  Or, should I say, bit into a mini Snickers bar worth of pure chocolate.  It was so unexpected, out of place and overwhelming that I honestly thought it was a mistake. I even went to the Sprinkles website to double check; lo, and behold their description: "S'more is a graham cracker-lined Belgian dark chocolate cake filled with bittersweet chocolate ganache and topped with toasted marshmallow frosting."

Ok, I know what you're thinking, "Ganache? What's the big deal? That sounds great!" In theory yes, in practice this cupcake is filled with essentially three truffles-worth of straight chocolate. It was so solid I literally lifted the entire chunk out with my fingers and set it aside.  So, not to rip this cupcake apart (pun intended?) because all of the proceeds go to an excellent cause, but just a forewarning for anyone else hoping to check out this cupcake while it's still on offer until February 2nd.

As for the other flavors, I was pleasantly surprised to get consistently good results from a cupcake chain. I absolutely recommend the Banana for anyone who is a banana nut muffin fan--the flavor is phenomenal.  The Red Velvet was about standard--the frosting was too sweet for me but the cake was super soft.  Finally, I was really excited about the Cinnamon Sugar because it was a flavor I hadn't tried before, plus the super helpful salesman let me in on a little tip: pop it into the microwave for 15 seconds and it's just like a warm snickerdoodle! Genius.

I absolutely recommend Sprinkles if you're passing through the Phoenix/Scottsdale area or any of their other locations nationwide (Yes, we also have one in DC, shocking). Sprinkles routinely offers a charity cupcake so don't fret if you missed out this time, and you can find future offerings here. No Sprinkles in your area? They deliver!

The celebrity S'more, chilling in the desert before "the ganache incident"

If you go
Sprinkles Scottsdale
4501 N. Scottsdale Rd.
Scottsdale, Arizona 85251

Monday, January 9, 2012

Martha Monday: Gingerbread Raspberry Linzertorte

If you have the Martha Stewart Pies and Tarts tome that was released this past spring, you may recognize this as the Gingerbread Raspberry Snowflake Tart featured on page 276.  What you will not recognize on my tart are any snowflakes, as 1" snowflake cookie cutters seem to be non-existent in the DC area. So you get a Gingerbread Raspberry Daisy Tart, I hope that's ok.

Ever since the arrival and immediate cracking open of my copy of this cookbook, the Gingerbread Raspberry Tart stood out to me as visually striking, and quickly became one of the recipes at the top of my to-do list.  This is an excellent winter or holiday tart, not only because of the snowflakes (er, snow daisies?) but also because of the interesting gingerbread twist on the classic holiday linzertort.

I have to admit however, although the tart is visually appealing, I and some of my coworkers thought the flavors in the gingerbread were off.  Personally, I found it much too salty and next time would maybe add nutmeg and increase the brown sugar.  If you're a big fan of molasses however, you may like the recipe just as it is.  Either way, the tart was still good, just not quite what I expected.

A couple of notes: When rolled out, the gingerbread dough cracks and breaks very easily, I recommend using a knife or bench scraper to loosen it from the countertop before transfering it to the tart pan or baking sheet.

For my tart I just used store-bought raspberry jam because I didn't feel like spending $20 on raspberries to make my own.  If they happen to be on sale in your neck of the woods, I've included Martha's jam recipe below and it's very easy.

Gingerbread Raspberry Snowflake Tart
  makes one 10-inch tart

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
2 egg yolks (1 egg white reserved for egg wash)
1 1/4 cups seeded raspberry jam (jarred, or recipe below)

1. Sift flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and salt into a bowl.  Add sugar; mix on medium-low speed until combined.  Add butter; mix until combined, about 2 minutes.  Add molasses and egg yolks; mix until dough just comes together, about 30 seconds.

2.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out two-thirds of dough to a 12-inch round, 1/4 inch thick.  Fit into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  Spread jam over shell; refrigerate about 30 minutes.

3. Roll out remaining dough to a 10-inch round, 1/4 inch thick.  Transfer round to a parchment-lined baking sheet; refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.  From round, cut out dot shapes with metal pastry tips, and snowflake shapes with cookie cutters (if desired, reserve snowflake cutouts and sprinkle tops with sugar.  Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees).  Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

4. Lightly beat egg white; brush rim of tart shell.  carefully slide dough round over shell; press edges to adhere.  Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

5. Preheat over to 375 degrees.  transfer tart to a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, 50 minutes to 1 hour.  let cool completely on a wire rack.

Raspberry Jam
  Makes about 2 cups
18 ounces (4 cups) fresh raspberries
2 cups sugar

1. Stir together 3 cups raspberries and the sugar in a medium sauce pan (off heat).  Let stand 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until berries begin to give off their juices.

2. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Skim off foam.  reduce heat; simmer, skimming foam occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in remaining raspberries; simmer just until berries break up, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Let cool completely. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours, or up to 1 week.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I Resolve or, Carpe Cupcake

Well, it's that time of year again. You know, the beginning. That time of year when the interwebs explode with retrospectives and resolutions--when we wake up to a new year full of dewy-eyed hopes of accomplishments yet to come. Or just a hang over. :)

The past couple of years I've shied away from posting my new year's baking resolutions because I knew I would be traveling for at least half of the year and didn't want to set myself up for failure, or be pressured to squeeze in baking projects simply because I'd resolved to.  But, in looking back over those years, I realized that I actually managed to accomplish many of my baking resolutions anyway (see: French macarons and conquering my fear of yeast).

So, while there's a good chance I could be on the road again for much of 2012, I'm not letting that hold me back from plunging into exciting new baking projects for 2012. So, without further ado, I resolve...

To Finally Use The Ice Cream Maker I Got For Christmas A Year Ago

Jeni's Smoked Tea and Plum Pudding ice cream
For Christmas this year I was thrilled to get the Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams cookbook which is chock full of the most amazing ice cream recipes you could imagine.  Now I have no excuse not to get down to business. I mean, with flavors like Brown Butter Almond Brittle ice cream and Grapefruit Hibiscus frozen yogurt, how could you not??

To Try My Hand At The Fauxnut Trend

That's right, fauxnuts. Faux Doughnuts, get it? :) Simply a baked version of the usually fried treat, these cakes are catching on everywhere as a healthier alternative to deep fried dough.  Though, depending on the ingredients you use, I'm betting that baked doughnuts aren't really much healthier.  I'm also dubious that baked doughnuts can live up to the real thing but I can't even tell you how excited I am to try out these baked Red Velvet Doughnuts...

To Make Bread From Scratch...Again

So, I made bread in 2011. Once. It was...mediocre.  Baking bread from scratch was one of my resolutions for last year because I am terrified of yeast. It's temperamental, it's complicated, it's time consuming...but I'm convinced that the sense of accomplishment at the end of it all is rewarding enough to give this one another shot. Baguettes, perhaps?

To Make Glorious Homemade Marshmallows

Display of marshmallows in Paris. photo by Initiales JB

 Ok, I know this isn't technically baking. The last time I was in Paris there was a shop at the end of the street where I was staying that had the most amazing multicolored display of huge marshmallow bars in antique glass apothecary urns and  I knew then that I just had to try my hand at making something similar.  That was in 2009. Here I am three years later, but better late than never right? 

So that's it for now.  Now that I have committed my resolutions to paper (to screen?) we'll see if I am more or less likely to accomplish any of them.  What are the big cooking or baking projects you hope to accomplish in the new year?