Thursday, August 29, 2013

DOUGH: A District Bakery

So, let's cut right to the chase, shall we? We all know I've been slacking around here a little bit and, as I mentioned in my last post, it's for a very good reason because I'd have some exciting news to announce. Am I publishing a cookbook? No. Am I pregnant? No. Am I getting married? Well, yes, but that's not it. I'M LAUNCHING A BAKERY!

As you may have heard in the the news lately, lots of us in Washington, DC and elsewhere were affected by sequestration cuts requiring us to take several days of unpaid furlough leave. And while you might think that the time period while you're losing 20 percent of your income might not be the best time to open a business, I couldn't just sit around one day per week without making the best use of my time. I'll still be working my full time gig for now, but this bakery will allow me to explore my passion for baking and the joy I receive from baking for others, as well as filling the gluten free niche in the DC market.

Salted Caramel Brownie Creme Sandwiches

That's right--DOUGH is an exclusively gluten free bakery!! Although there are lots of bakeries in town catering to those with gluten free diets, many offer just a single option often mixed in amongst regular, glutinous baked goods (a dangerous risk for those with serious allergies). DOUGH will offer an entire bakery's worth of my favorite recipes like Brown Sugar Bourbon Peach Pie, Chai Latte Cupcakes, Chocolate Fudge Poptarts, and even a gluten free version of one of my favorites--French Madeleines!

Cardamom Cranberry Pear Scones

So, where can you get your hands on the goods? You can already order online from anywhere in the US through our website and for locals we're also going to be selling at two pop-up shops hosted at Tabula Rasa on Saturday, September 21st and Sunday, October 6th from 11am-3pm.

I'm so thrilled about this endeavor as a way to express my creativity and give back to our local community, and I hope you'll join us for the journey!

If you go
Tabula Rasa
731 8th St SE
Washington, DC
9/21, 10/06 11am-3pm
Metro: Eastern Market

Check us out

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Smoky Almond Peach Tart

I know, I know. It's been over a month since my last post and, it's true, the Cupcake Avenger has been a
little neglected lately but I can tell you that it's for a very good, exciting reason that I'll be sharing with you all soon--so stay tuned! In the meantime, I bring you this beyond amazing summer tart.

I can't believe it took me so long to make this tart, as it is such a complex combo of flavors and--AND!--it's made entirely in the food processor. 30 minutes from start to finish and you have this elegant tart to use up some of your bountiful summer peaches and (if you're like me) one of the 3 canisters of smoked almonds in your pantry that you keep forgetting you already bought before buying yet another canister of smoked almonds.

I adapted this recipe to use reduced fat vanilla wafers, cream cheese and sour cream (boring, I know) so feel free to do the same knowing that you won't be sacrifing any flavor, or go right ahead and go all out on this tart, it will be delicious either way.

Creamy Peach Tart with Smoky Almond Crust
     from Food & Wine

2 cups vanilla wafer cookies (5 oz.)
1/2 cup smoked almonds
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
2 firm, ripe peaches, peeled and cut into thin wedges 

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a food processor, combine the vanilla wafers with the almonds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar and process until fine. Add the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Press the crumbs into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the side of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes, until the crust is set.   

2. Meanwhile, wipe out the food processor bowl. Add the cream cheese, sour cream, egg and 2 tablespoons of the sugar and process until smooth. Pour the custard into the crust and bake for 15 minutes, until set. Let the tart cool slightly and transfer to the freezer to chill, about 15 minutes. 

3. In a bowl, toss the peaches with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Arrange the peaches in 2 concentric circles over the custard. Remove the ring, cut the tart into wedges and serve

Monday, July 1, 2013

Martha Monday: Hearty Blueberry Muffins

While I have to admit that I usually prefer my baked goods to be heavy on the decadent ingredients that
make them oh-so-tasty, every once in awhile it's not so bad to have a pure, healthier baked treat that really allows all of the natural flavors to shine through. Not to mention, I have a pantry full of whole-wheat flour and wheat germ that I wasn't really sure what to do with : )

I actually reduced the brown sugar in this recipe to 1/3 cup with no issues, and you could try replacing the oil with applesauce or banana puree to cut down on fat content as well--though I have to admit that the hint of tropical flavor coming through from the coconut oil in this recipe is really delightful.

At 135 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 2 grams of protein per muffin, these little cakes make a great afternoon snack to fill you up and keep you going til the end of the work day. Or anytime really, these muffins are awesome! :)

Hearty Blueberry Muffins
     from Martha Stewart
     makes 12-14
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup virgin coconut oil, melted, or safflower oil
2 large eggs
8 oz fresh blueberries (about 1 1/2 cups)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Whisk together flours, wheat germ, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together brown sugar, yogurt, oil, and eggs in another large bowl. Add yogurt mixture to flour mixture and gently mix until just combined. Fold in blueberries with a rubber spatula.

2. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Transfer muffins to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Apricot and Basil Shortbread Tart

Seasonal Amazingness. I think that's actually what this dessert should be called. I'm usually aghast at the
poor quality of produce at my local grocery store, but on my last shopping trip I happened to notice some perfectly ripe, large, unblemished, in-season apricots taunting me from amongst the smashed apples and moldy broccoli (seriously). Along with some fresh basil from the gardens of those of you lucky enough to have yards or balconies with direct sunlight (grumble, grumble), this tart makes for an elegantly refreshing taste of early summer.

Herbs seem to be having a moment lately. Infusing everything from cookies and ice cream to cocktails and liquors, herbs add a hint of je ne sais quoi particularly when enriching the flavor of sweets and desserts. I have to admit I was a little wary of the basil-infused pastry cream called for in this tart, but I am now a believer. Yes, it does taste like basil, but in the most amazing way.

Also amazing about this dessert is the crust. Though it's technically a shortbread, it's not the bland, sandy, rock hard crust you're imagining. Made with a unique combination of powdered sugar, egg yolk and potato starch, this crust was soft and tender and probably my favorite component of the entire production.

A couple of notes: This recipe calls for a 14x2" tart pan, but you could easily adapt it for a 9" round tart pan as well and baking for 40 minutes. Similarly, the recipe actually makes more than enough pastry cream and nearly too much crust, so feel free to adjust or adapt this recipe to make several mini tarts instead.

Apricot and Basil Shortbread Tart
     From Food&Wine

Pastry Cream
1 cup whole milk 
5 tablespoons granulated sugar  
1/4 cup packed basil leaves with stems 
2 large egg yolks  
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large hard-boiled egg yolk  
1 stick plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter  
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1/4 cup potato starch 
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt 

6 apricots (1 1/4 pounds), halved 
3 tablespoons granulated sugar  
1/3 cup apricot jam, melted 
1. In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of the milk with the sugar and basil; bring to a simmer. Remove the milk from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes. Remove the basil and squeeze any milk back into the pan; discard the basil.

2. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 1/4 cup of milk with the yolks and cornstarch until smooth. Slowly whisk the egg yolk mixture into the warm milk; bring to a simmer over moderate heat, whisking constantly until very thick, 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter until melted. Scrape the cream into a bowl. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until chilled, 2 hours.

3. Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a 14-by-4 1/2-inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom with nonstick cooking spray. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the hard-boiled egg yolk with the butter and sugar at medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, potato starch and salt and beat at low speed until just combined. Using lightly floured hands, press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the side of the tart pan. Refrigerate the crust for 30 minutes, or until chilled.

4. Bake the crust for about 25 minutes, until golden. Transfer the crust to a rack and let stand until cooled, about 1 hour.

5. Increase the oven temperature to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the apricot halves cut side up on the paper and sprinkle all over with the sugar. Roast for about 20 minutes, until the apricots are tender and lightly browned. Let the apricots stand until completely cooled, about 30 minutes.

6. Unmold the crust and transfer it to a serving plate. Using a small offset spatula, spread the cream evenly in the crust. Arrange the apricots on the cream, cut sides down, and brush with the melted jam. Cut the tart crosswise into strips and serve at once.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Homemade Doughnuts (Yes You Can!)

Having tried my hand at every other passing dessert fad--pie, cupcakes, macarons--it was really only a
matter of time before I broke down and made an effort at crafting my own homemade doughnuts as the craze sweeps through town. Right off the bat, I'll tell you that homemade doughnuts are both easier and harder than you would think. Easier in that deep frying is very intimidating but actually SIMPLE if you invest in an accurate thermometer, and harder in that it takes a loooooong time, plus you have to deal with that eternal prima donna: yeast.

Add to that, there are approximately 9, 537 doughnut recipes which claim to be "THE BEST EVER!" I even purchased three different cookbooks devoted exclusively to doughnut recipes, and each book espoused a completely different recipe and method. So. That being said, if you think all of this might already be a little much for you, you can still have delicious baked doughnuts at home with half the hassle. But, I encourage you to take the yeasty doughnut plunge, because it was totally worth it.

I have to say, I loved these doughnuts. They were tall, thick and--my favorite part--chewy. If you're more of a Krispy Kreme fan, this is probably not the recipe for you. But, if you like your fried dough to have a bit of chew, then you should definitely give this one a whirl. Also, having subsequently tried a recipe using less flour, these doughnuts were also considerably stronger and easier to handle, so they might be a good option for beginners.

Have you ever had one of those "Ah ha! Why did I never think of that before?!" moments in cooking? That definitely happened to me with Top Pot's doughnut recipe and their description of using a pan of boiling water to create a proofing box out of your oven. Pure. Genius. If you don't actually have any "warm, draft-free" areas in your home and always have trouble getting yeast doughs to rise, this will change your (baking) life.

Overall I was thrilled with these doughnuts and plan to make them again, though you only have to read about the recent difficulties encountered by Zeke's DC Donutz to understand one of the big downsides of doughnut making--you may want to open a window

A few notes: You absolutely need a thermometer for these doughnuts to work. You don't need anything fancy, and the candy thermometer you bought years ago, used once for fudge, then lost in the cabinet will work just fine. I also recommend any type of steel or metal implement for transferring the doughnuts from the baking sheet to the oil--a metal spatula, offset spatula, or some other heat-resistant implement that you can dunk directly into the oil is ideal. When transferring the doughnuts to the oil, try to shake off as much excess flour as possible, as it's these particles that can pop and burn, leading to a fire. Finally, I would recommend halving the frosting recipe unless, well, you really ingest doughnuts purely as a glaze delivery mechanism :)

Raised Glazed Ring Doughnuts
     makes 12-14, plus holes
     From Top Pot

3 Tbs (four 1/4 oz/7 g packets) active dry yeast
1 cup very warm water (about 105 degrees)
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbs
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground mace (optional)
2 tsp salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for rolling/cutting
1/4 cup vegetable lard
 3 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Canola oil, for frying

1. Whisk the yeast, water, and 1 Tbs of the sugar together in the work bowl of a stand mixer and set aside for 5 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, mace (if using), salt, and 4 cups of the bread flour. Set aside.

3. Add the shortening, egg yolks, and vanilla to the foaming yeast mixture. Mix with the paddle attachment on low speed for 1 minute, to break up the shortening. Add about a third of the dry ingredients and mix until blended on low speed, then repeat with the second third of the dry ingredients.

4. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining dry ingredients, mixing on low speed until no white spots remain each time, adding additional flour as necessary, until the dough is dry enough to clean the bottom of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and knead for 2 more minutes. (It should be smooth like bread dough, but still a little tacky).

5. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet sprinkled with 1 Tbs flour, shape into a flat disk 6 inches in diameter, dust lightly with flour, cover with a dish towel and set aside.

6. Create a proofing box in your oven: Bring a large kettle of water to a boil. Pour 8 cups of the boiling water into a 9x13 inch baking dish and set it on the floor of your oven. Place the sheet with the covered dough on the middle rack of the oven, close the door, and let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

7. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll into a roughly 12 inch circle, about 1/2 inch thick, with a lightly floured rolling pin. cut into 12 doughnuts, flouring the cutter before each cut. (re-roll the dough for additional doughnuts). gently transfer the doughnuts and holes to two baking sheets sprinkled with 2 tbs flour each, arranging them at least 2 inches apart, and let rise in the oven (with new boiling water), uncovered, for another 30-45 minutes, until doubled in size.

8. Using a candy thermometer to measure the temperature, heat oil (at least 2 inches deep) in a deep fryer, large pot, or high-sided frying pan over medium heat to 350 degrees. when the doughnuts have doubled, carefully place a few in the oil, taking care not to overcrowd them, and fry for about 30 seconds. (Note that the doughnuts will look more brown when they're done than they do in the oil). Carefully turn the doughnuts and fry for another 20-30 seconds, then transfer to a cooling rack set over a layer of paper towels to cool, rounded side up.

9. While the doughnuts are still very warm, dip the rounded side of each into the warm glaze. let dry on cooling racks, glazed side up, for 10-15 minutes.

Simple Chocolate Icing

4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tsp light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs hot water
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted

1. Place the confectioners' sugar, corn syrup, salt, vanilla and hot water in a alrge mixing bowl. Using a whisk, blend until the mixture is smooth and all of the sugar has been incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula if necessary. Add the chocolate, and stire to combine completely. If the icing seems too thick, add more hot water a teaspoon at a time.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sucré, New Orleans

This month I finally got to take my first trip to The Fiancé's hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. Along with meeting family and friends, and marveling at the historic and unique architecture, I couldn't wait to try out all of the famous local foods. In addition to the obligatory gumbos, crawfish, poboys, beignets and King Cakes (yes, I may have sampled all of these and more, don't judge), when researching a bakery to visit, Sucré came up again and again.
While I wouldn't call it a "traditional" New Orleans bakery, the treats at Sucré have an overwhelming French influence, which IS traditional New Orleans :) Along with delicate patisserie desserts, gelato, and cupcake, Sucré also specializes in artisan truffles, chocolate bars and--of course--macarons.

In addition to the traditional almond, vanilla, pistachio and chocolate flavors, Sucré also features seasonal and New Orleans-flavored favorites I'd never seen before such as carrot cake, white chocolate lavender, bananas foster and pecan pie.

With plenty of tables and an assortment of teas, coffees and drinking chocolates, Sucré is the perfect stop after an afternoon of shopping on Magazine Street, or for a little taste of Paris in the bustle of The Big Easy. Can't make it down south anytime soon? Sucré delivers!

Wish I'd been able to try the S'mores tart--comes heated in its own miniature skillet!

More truffles than you know what to do with. Luckily there's a handy flavor guide

If you go
3025 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70115

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mango Souffles with Coconut Lime Creme Anglaise

Since my local climate could never be mistaken for anything approximating "tropical," it's always a little
surprising to me that mango season falls in the spring--a time of year more often featuring blustery rain than the warm tropical breezes I associate with mango.

Luckily I was able to take advantage this year and indulge in a taste of the tropics with this souffle recipe and the previously unbeknownst to me Ataulfo mangoes I came across at Whole Foods--a small, oblong, yellow mango known for its thin pit.

I don't know why I always waltz into complicated recipes as if nothing could possibly go wrong, thinking that foods with finicky reputations must just be flukes of poor recipe nature. Macarons, for example. Though whole books and classes revolve around the exact technique to achieve their footed perfect domes, I was still surprised when my last batch turned out flat and chewy.

Ataulfo Mangoes

Similarly with these souffles. Thrilled to see tall, fluffy custard towering out of its ramekin when I opened my oven door, I found myself yelling "Noooooo!" just moments later as they slowly collapsed. C'est la vie. These souffles were still delicious, and I would love to be able to give you some tips right now about how to keep your own souffles from falling, but a quick internet survey will give you thousands of supposed hints all essentially coaching you to "whip the egg whites as much as possible--but not too much!!" Right.

I'd also like to say this experience will cause me to be more cautious the next time I embark on an ambitious baking project, but I doubt it :)

Mango Souffles with Coconut Lime Creme Anglaise
      from Food52

3/4 pounds ripe mango flesh, roughly chopped
5 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons melted for the ramekins
1 tablespoon superfine sugar, plus some for dusting the ramekins
2 tablespoons rum
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk (any fat percentage works)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 egg
1/8 cup granulated sugar
pinches of salt
3/4 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
finely grated zest of 1 lime (about 1/2 a teaspoon) or more to taste

1. For the crème anglaise: Prepare an ice bath, place a small bowl inside of it and set aside.

2. Put the egg, sugar and a pinch of salt in a medium sized bowl and whisk until pale and thickened, about 3 minutes.

3. Bring the coconut milk and cream just to a boil, then pull it from the heat and slowly drizzle it into the egg mixture, whisking all the while to temper. When fully incorporated, return it to the pan used to heat the cream, place it over a low-medium heat and stir constantly until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 4-5 minutes. Pass the crème through a fine meshed strainer (to catch any of the egg that might have started to coagulate) into the bowl set inside the ice bath. Stir frequently until cooled to room temperature. Add lime zest to taste and reserve.

4. For the Soufflés: Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the mango chunks, the 1 tablespoon of superfine sugar and the rum. Cook, stirring, until well softened and syrupy, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer the mango to a blender and process until very smooth, pour into a large bowl and reserve.

5. Melt the other 2 tablespoons of butter and brush it inside of six - 3” diameter ramekins. Dust the inside of each with a tablespoon of superfine sugar, dumping out any excess. Place the ramekins in the fridge to chill while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

6. Heat the oven to 375℉ and place a sheet pan on a low rack to heat.

7. Whisk together the 5 egg yolks, flour, and 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Whisk until the yolks have paled and the mix has thickened slightly. Set aside.

8. Place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring it just to a simmer. Whisk it into the egg-flour mixture very slowly, whisking all the while to temper the mixture. Once fully incorporated, pour the mix back into the pan used to heat the milk, put it back over medium heat and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, and whisk constantly until the mix thickens to the consistency of a pudding, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat, mix into the bowl with the mango purée and reserve. This is your soufflé base.

9. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl with a pinch of sugar. Beat with an electric hand-mixer on medium-high speed slowly adding the rest of the granulated sugar until the egg whites are white, glossy and hold soft peaks.

10. Spoon about 1/4 of the whipped whites into the soufflé base and whisk it in to lighten the mix. Gently add the remaining whites, and using a rubber spatula, softly fold them into the mix taking care not to deflate them.

11. Spoon the mix into the ramekins, leveling the top of each with a small offset spatula. Run your thumb inside the lip of each ramekin (this will help it rise evenly when baking), and place them on the heated sheet pan in the oven. Bake for 13-16 minutes (depending on your oven) until the soufflés have risen above the rim of the ramekins and are a light, golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little confectioner’s sugar. To serve, cut a hole in the top of each soufflé and pour in a few tablespoons of the coconut-lime crème anglaise.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Destination Donuts, Columbus

In the Washington, DC area dessert scene, it's no secret that doughnuts are the new cupcake pie macaron.
With no fewer than four new bakeries devoted exclusively to gourmet doughnuts opened already this year, as well as numerous restaurants in town jumping on the bandwagon, DC's First Annual Donut Fest, and even The Great Donut Derby bracket sponsored by Washingtonian Magazine, you don't have to go far for a doughy round of fried goodness.

Though we may be saturated in doughnuts here on the East Coast, from what I can tell this latest trend has yet to make the jump to the Midwest. On my last trip home to Columbus I was able to find one brave purveyor of artisan doughnuts making the rounds at local markets.

A self-described chef, food lover and tattoo enthusiast, Destination Donuts creator Heather Morris left a career in corporate catering to follow her passion and began this locally-sourced pop-up pedaling flavors like Lemon Curd and Cardamom Graham Crumb, Thai Peanut, Butterscotch and Smoked Sea Salt and--of course--The Buckeye.

Unfortunately Morris' schedule didn't bring her to Columbus' North Market while I was in town, but I was able to track down her wares at the newly opened location of The Hills Market on Grant Avenue. This small grocery is stocked almost exclusively with Ohio-produced wares and is a great foodie stop if you're passing through. We arrived early on a Friday morning and were lucky to sample Blood Orange and Lemon Blueberry out of the few remaining doughnuts. While I loved the strong flavor of the glazes, I have to say the doughnut texture was a bit dense for my taste, though still delicious.

While I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the next dessert trend sweeps through town, I'm content to continue sampling my way through the sea of unique doughnut flavors in the meantime.

If you go:
The North Market
59 Spruce Street
Columbus, OH 43235

The Hills Market
95 North Grant Avenue
Columbus, OH 43235

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Hunt for Red Velvet

Red Velvet is just one of those things. One of those dishes that live in infamy. One that, no matter how many
you try, just can't seem to capture the taste of the one you had that one time that was just "The Best." Your Grandmother, who made The Best Red Velvet. Your Mom. That Little Place Down The Street.

And yet, no one can quite seem to describe it. The exact flavors are elusive. Battles have been fought over cream cheese versus vanilla frosting. Ok, maybe not. But I wouldn't be surprised. All I can say is, this is The Best red velvet cupcake that I've ever made.

When The Fiancé originally asked for Tres Leches cake as his birthday dessert I was a bit apprehensive. I'd never made the cake before and, well, there were indeed a lot of "leches" involved. So when he changed his mind to red velvet instead I was momentarily relieved. Until I remembered the curse of The Best red velvet.

For me, what makes an ultimate red velvet is one that actually provides the red velvet flavor--distinct cocoa with a bit of bite from the buttermilk/vinegar combo--but is still light enough to maintain a bright red color. Let me tell you, it's a balancing act. I chose this recipe because it features cake flour, resulting in a softer crumb, but did increase the cocoa after cutting the recipe in half. People, it's perfection. Just saying.

All dressed up

If you're a real perfectionist, another baker's secret is to use clear, imitation vanilla for the frosting to keep a bright white color for ultimate contrast with the red cake. Make sure the bottle is distinctly labelled as "clear" or, like me, you'll just end up with another bottle of brown, imitation vanilla in your pantry. Enjoy!


Red Velvet Cupcakes
     slightly adapted from Annie's Eats
     makes 12 cupcakes

1 3/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 Tablespoon (1/2 oz.) red food coloring
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt; whisk to blend. 

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar.  Beat on medium speed until well blended. 

4. Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Let cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting
     frosts about 12
5 oz. cream cheese, chilled
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

2. Add in the confectioners' sugar and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat 2-3 minutes more.

3. Blend in the vanilla.  Frost cakes, cupcakes, and more to your heart's content!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Carrot Cake Rice Krispies Treats

Every year at Easter I try to find the perfect dessert to embody the beginning of spring, but for some reason
nothing really reminds me of the season more than a traditional carrot cake. As you can see, this is definitely not a traditional carrot cake.

I happened to come across the Carrot Cake Rice Krispie Treat recipe from a blog called Mallow and Co...yes, a blog devoted exclusively to rice krispies treats recipes. You're welcome. However, after recently reading  Deb Perelman's Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats recipe in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I decided to make a few alterations and came up with this recipe mash-up.

I realize some traditionalists out there may be wondering why you would mess with such a standard like the Rice Krispie Treat--it has been working like a delicious charm since 1939 after all--but let me tell you, it's worth it. Probably the most appealing aspect of this dessert is that it's so quick to make, so feel free to skip browning the butter in this recipe if you're in a hurry, but definitely give it a try if you have the time because it really adds a depth of flavor.

I was skeptical as to whether these treats would actually taste like carrot cake, but they absolutely do. Also be aware that the frosting recipe will leave a bit leftover, so just be prepared to find yourself smearing cream cheese frosting on anything in sight. Or maybe that's just me.

Carrot Cake Rice Krispies Treats
     adapted from Mallow and Co and Smitten Kitchen
     makes 1 8x8 or 9x9 pan

8 Tablespoons butter
1 10-oz bag marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dry carrot cake mix
6 cups Rice Krispies

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz cream cheese
8 Tablespoons butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.

2. In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.

3. As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth. Stir in the vanilla and cake mix.

4.  Pour in the cereal and fold together with a large spoon or silicone spatula. Pour into prepared pan and press firmly and evenly into the edges. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before turning onto waxed paper to frost and slice.

5. For the frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Slowly add the sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add in the vanilla and beat until smooth and combined.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Chocolate Stout Tiramisu

This year for St. Patrick's Day I wanted to try a recipe that kept the spirit of the holiday but was a departure from the standard Irish cream and whiskey-themed desserts we're all used to. Because let's be honest, how many of us actually drink Bailey's and Jameson on a regular basis anyway? Ok, don't answer that.

I thought this recipe's use of chocolate stout was a good way to pay homage to the Guinness we usually find this time of year, but with a modern twist. Let's just say the "good" things about this recipe ended there.

Considering this recipe broke two of my cardinal rules (1) no uncommon, difficult to find ingredients 2) the need to set in the refrigerator overnight) I'm not really sure why I decided to go ahead with it anyway. After a failure to locate Steen's Dark Cane Syrup anywhere in the DC metro area, I decided to substitute dark corn syrup for the cake portion of this dish and the baking failures just piled up from there. I could only find chocolate stout in litre-sized bottles...the cake was tasteless and too soft to dip in the reduction...the carbonation of the stout caused the reduction to boil over...the marscapone wouldn't get fluffy. After two hours of consternation and frustration assembling this turned out to be delicious.

While I absolutely recommend you use actual cane syrup if you decide to torture yourself with this recipe, if you have to make a few substitutions along the way--have faith, it will turn out better than you think. I suppose this is the result I get for trying to tamper with tradition, maybe next year I'll just stick to the soda bread.

Chocolate Stout Tiramisu
     from Food and Wine

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups dark cane syrup (such as Steen's)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
3/4 cup hot water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 cup chocolate stout or other stout
1/2 cup triple sec or orange liqueur
1/4 cup honey

4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
2 cups marscapone (about 1 pound)
Unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk the syrup, oil and egg. In a glass cup, stir the hot water with the baking soda. In 3 alternating additions, whisk the syrup mixture and soda water into the dry ingredients.    
2. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and let cool. Unmold the cake from the pan.  

3. In a saucepan, combine the stout, triple sec and honey. Boil until reduced to 3/4 cup, 8 minutes. Pour into a shallow dish; let cool.  

4. In a bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the mascarpone.

5. Cut off and save one-third of the cake for eating. Slice the rest of the cake 1/3 inch thick. Cut the slices into 3-inch pieces, saving the scraps. Dip the slices into the reduction and place in the bottom of eight 1-cup ramekins. Dip the scraps into the reduction and use to fill in the gaps. Spread 1/4 cup of the filling over the cake in each ramekin. Repeat the layering of dipped cake and filling. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

6. Before serving, let the tiramisu stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Sift cocoa powder over each ramekin and serve

Monday, March 11, 2013

Buttered Rum Shoofly Engagement Pie

The mention of Shoofly Pie, like apple butter, is usually something that results in raised eyebrows from those who haven't spent much time in the Midwest or, more specifically, around Amish country.

Essentially a molasses custard pie with a brown sugar crumb topping, this comforting late winter pie results from a combination of simple pantry ingredients coming together into what a friend  from Pennsylvania eloquently called "a sign of the end of winter, but before people were completely at ease. Nobody knew for a fact whether the weather was going to warm tomorrow or three weeks from now." The perfect harbinger of spring, but still decadent enough to warm you on a winter's night, this pie is tried and true...with a just a little modern twist in the form of a dash of rum. Don't tell the Amish. :)

This particular recipe came from  Ashley English's A Year Of Pies, which I received as a Christmas gift. A unique collection of seasonal pies, this book contains many twists on old classics and I can't wait to try recipes like Peaches and Cream Crumble Top Pie, and Chai Spice Apple Pie. While my new favorite pie crust recipe comes from The Homemade Pantry, I decided to try out English's recommended crust instead--I'd review it for you here but I forgot to add half the butter so...we won't talk about that. If I made this pie again I might actually decrease the rum just a little bit, as well as the salt. While they were perfectly complimentary flavors and a welcome update to an old classic, they were just a little bit over powering for my taste.

So, why is this an engagement pie? Well, no reason really except that it turned out to be the first thing I baked since becoming engaged!!! I just wanted to share that news with you, dear readers, and to thank everyone that has extended their well wishes to us, as you will likely be seeing a lot more from my future husband and taste-tester-to-be on The Cupcake Avenger. 

Buttered Rum Shoofly Pie

Basic All-Butter Crust (makes 2)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter chilled and cubed
3/4 cup ice water

Mix the flour and salt together in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or two forks, incorporate the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. slowly drizzle in the ice water, stir with a large spoon until the mixture begins to clump.

Transfer the dough onto a floured work surface and, using your hands, fold it into itself until all the flour is incorporated into the fats. The dough should come together easily but should not feel overly sticky. Divide the dough in half, shape it into two balls and pat each ball into a 1/2 inch thick disk. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp sea salt
8 Tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup dark rum
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
3 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare the crust and roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and fit it into a 9" pie pan. Trim the crust overhang to 1 inch and crimp decoratively. Place in the refrigerator.

2. Mix together the flour, sugars, spices and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or two forks, cut in the butter until pea-sized crumbs form.

3. Bring the water and rum to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Remove from the heat and pour into a medium bowl. Whisk in the baking soda and molasses.

4. Add the eggs beating well to combine, then stir in a little more than half of the prepared crumb mixture.

5. Pour the molasses mixture into the chilled pie crust and sprinkle with the remaining crumb topping. Set the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake 45 minutes, or until the filling is set.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Blueberry Lemon Cookies

As much as I enjoy the rich, indulgent, comforting baked goods that come along with wintertime and the holiday season, I have to admit that winter is wearing on me and I'm already aching for spring and summer.  

If you're also yearning for a taste of warmer temps, these supersoft, almost cakelike cookies are like a summer flashback in every bite.

For some reason my cookies didn't really spread out much at all. I know the temperature was accurate thanks to FINALLY getting an oven thermometer and realizing just how out of whack my oven is. So I plan to replace my baking soda and see if that helps. Just a warning in case your cookies come out flatter than mine--that's how they're actually supposed to look :)

These cookies only had the slightest hint of lemon, which was fine with me, but if you're a huge citrus fan you may want to increase the lemon zest or juice.

A couple of notes: Be extra careful when you're mixing in your blueberries, trying not to squish any if possible. Obviously they'll still taste great, but it kind of spoils the look and mouthfeel when you don't get that burst of fresh berry. Also try to distribute the berries evenly throughout so you don't end up with a bowl full of berries and no batter by the end. Not that that happened to me...

Blueberry Lemon Cookies
     from Baker Bettie  
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
3¼ cups cake flour
1½ cups blueberries

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, and beat after each addition.  Add the vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice and beat to incorporate. 

2. In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  With the mixer on slow speed, slowly add the dry ingredients into the batter.  Scrape down the bowl as needed and mix until incorporated.  Fold in the blueberries gently as to not break them.  

3. Allow the dough to cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to overnight.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Use a small scoop (about 1 tbsp size) and place rounded mounds of dough on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or foil.  Bake for 11-14 minutes until the bottoms look slightly browned (the edges should not brown).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Twisted Sisters Cupcakes, Virginia Beach

On my last trip to Virginia Beach I happened upon Just Cupcakes by a happy accident, and after seeing Norfolk's Carolina Cupcakery featured on TLC's Cupcake Wars, it inspired me to seek out just what other cupcake hotspots I could find on my latest trip to the beach.

While I didn't make it to Carolina Cupcakery, I did happen upon The Sweet Shack--a cupcake haven run by Twisted Sisters Cupcakes. The brains behind Virginia Beach's Best Cupcake of 2011 and 2012, The Sweet Shack is the storefront location of the Sisters' popular cupcake truck.
The Sugar Shack

In addition to a varied selection of cupcakes, The Sweet Shack also offers lunch service and is a great place to stop off for a sandwich, but good luck trying to make it out of there without trying a cupcake...or two...or four (don't judge me).

Part of the adorable lobby where you can enjoy your cakes

As for the cakes themselves I was definitely impressed. That day's selection featured candy bar-inspired treats like Snickers and Heath Bar cupcakes, and I chose an Almond Joy cake along with a Tiramisu and the Pumpkin Spice and Caramel Apple seasonal flavors.

I have to admit that the Tiramisu wasn't my cup of tea, as it's possibly the only cupcake I've had to scrape frosting off of in order to finish. The texture was simply too butter-heavy for my taste. BUT that seems to have been just one off note, as the other three cupcakes were delicious. The Almond Joy had actual flakes of coconut in the frosting, and the Pumpkin Spice was to die for with a creamy spiced filling.

It's easy to see why these sisters were voted best in VA Beach, and you should definitely make a stop off next time you're in town to sample a few of the 70+ rotating flavors. Also be sure to follow them on Twitter to get the low down on all their cupcake truck stops!

If you go
The Sugar Shack
2408 Princess Anne Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23456