Chocolate Mint Cupcakes with Marzipan Shamrock Tops

I’m not one to make green or Shamrock-covered sweets in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. If anything I might end up with a loaf of Irish soda bread and be done with it. But this week I’ve been spending time with elementary-aged kids, and they wanted nothing more than a bright and cheerful dessert for what they were calling “Leprechaun Day.” So green cupcakes it was. What can I say: welcome to the USA, where the population has their own, only slightly vaguely Irish way of honoring St. Patrick.  2017_03_15_Bruah040

I went with a straightforward Mint Chocolate Cupcake recipe from the Food Network. It calls for chopped up Andes chocolate mints in the batter. This addition really makes an otherwise standard cupcake recipe shine. The frosting was not what I would usually make (as it calls for a cup and a half of marshmallow cream!), but it ended up being a soft and pleasantly tasty topping. Perfect for an after-school treat.

The only substitution I made was to use unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa instead of regular cocoa powder. It went nicely with the mint flavor.

The leaves were created by rolling out marzipan that I dyed green with gel. I used the tops of fluted round cookie cutters to help with the leaf shape. It’s not a perfect job, but it worked in a pinch.

Recipe Credit: Food Network 

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 Stars. The messiest part is adding green gel to the marzipan.

Recommended For: Andes Mint Lovers, People Who Wear Green on Saint Patrick’s Day

Not Recommended For: St. Patrick Purists

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Banana Bread and Miso Butterscotch Trifle For 2

 

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I appreciate the casualness of a trifle. It is created by simply stacking 3, 4, or maybe even 5 elements in a glass bowl a few times over to create a pretty and tasty final product. Traditionally a British dessert, the internet is full of versions that transcend the normal custard/sponge cake/fruit/jam combination. You have lots of room for improvisation with a trifle- it allows you to have a certain freedom that isn’t always available when making more specific desserts. (As long as you have properly cooked your cake/bread, puddings/custards, and various other pieces in the first place, layer away however your heart desires). This is also THE dessert to make when you thought you were baking a cake for a dinner party but the cake fell or you don’t have time to frost and decorate the final product. Nothing makes for a better use of an ugly cake.

Enough about using cake as a base, as my version calls for quick bread instead. After making 2 loaves of banana bread the other day, I decided to use part of a loaf for my own individual-sized trifles. I also had a strong urge to bake with miso, mainly because I had purchased a rather large bag of shiro miso the other week. So this trifle is both banana-and-umami heavy, perhaps not for everyone but try it if it sounds like your sort of thing.

Banana and Miso Butterscotch Trifle for 2 

Note: this trifle does not contain a pudding or custard, making it slightly drier than other versions. (It shouldn’t be an issue with the whipped cream and butterscotch, though.) If you’d like to add a pudding layer, I say go for it!  

1/3 loaf banana bread, cooled to room temperature and cut into 1 1/2 inch slices (*recipe below)

8 teaspoons of Miso Butterscotch Topping (I used the recipe from Christina Tosi in Lucky Peach)

Homemade Whipped Cream (I like mind unsweetened, but feel free to add a bit of sweetener if you’d like)

1 banana, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preparation:

Start with 2 wide rimmed glasses (I used rocks glasses from my bar set). Cube the slices of banana bread. Take enough bread cubes to cover the bottom of one glass.

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Top this banana bread layer with a heaping teaspoon of miso butterscotch. Add a few slices of banana to rest above the butterscotch layer. Next add a heaping tablespoon of whipped cream and spread evenly over the bananas.

Start this process all over again with a layer of banana bread cubes, a teaspoon of miso butterscotch, banana slices, and a tablespoon of whipped cream. Repeat with one more layer if you have enough room. Finish off the trifle with a tablespoon of toasted chopped walnuts.

Repeat the same steps with the other glass. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Banana Bread (adapted from Epicurious) 

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed ripe banana

3 tablespoons yogurt or sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (plus additional butter for greasing the pan)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

1/4 cup shiro miso

Preparation:

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine the mashed banana, yogurt, miso, and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until fully incorporated, 1 minute.  Add the banana mixture and beat for 30 seconds. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches and stir on low until just mixed together.

Bake for about 50 minutes.

 

 

 

Even More Cookie Time: Triple Ginger

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Sometimes you need to pose with a Poinsettia. (But careful, aren’t they slightly poisonous?) 

December doesn’t exist in my head until some kind of ginger spice cookie is ready for eating.

Last year I baked this recipe for Molasses Krinkles, which was enjoyable, but it didn’t seem to be the cookie I loved from previous years. I think I’ve finally located the version that I love. The difference? Lots and lots of ginger: the dough contains chopped crystallized ginger, minced fresh ginger, and a healthy dose of ground ginger to top it off. Just my style. I would even consider measuring out heaping teaspoonfuls (or 1/2 teaspoonfuls) of the spices listed, if you want an extra kick.  This cookie is pure heaven warm from the oven. It also stays softly chewy for a few days, especially if you only keep it in the oven no longer than the suggested 15 minutes.

One caveat: the previous Molasses Krinkle recipe that I made did have a nice texture thanks to the shortening. Maybe I need to combine the best of both worlds and adapt the recipe? Next year it is!

Recipe Credit: Epicurious

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars.

Recommended For: Cookie Lovers and Their Friends

Not Recommended For: ?

Cookie Time Continues! Multigrain Chocolate Chip

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Helloooo buckwheat flour. Not everyone’s cup of tea but it works for me once in a while. Yes, the items shown in the image above are cookies- promise. Sugary ones, too. These will make sense when you want a cookie but feel really, really bad about it. I’m a complete sucker for anything that tries to infuse healthy elements into not-so-healthy foods. (ex: grated carrots in canned tomato soup, a scoop of barley flour in buttermilk pancakes) Does it work? Eh, probably not. Although maybe it’s better than snacking on wonder bread and processed cheese sandwiches on a daily basis?  I say yes to that.

Despite having a solid dose of whole grain (whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour, and kasha), these do have a normal amount of sugar. They have sugar, salt, and butter galore. No sense in making them pretend-health-food-cookies, right?

At first I thought the flavor was a little too hearty, but I grew to love them after the second cookie. (one must always try a new cookie twice, just to be sure.) Definitely make sure to sprinkle a little flaky sea salt on these babies- the added salt infusion really goes with the whole flavor.

Another tip would be to let the dough refrigerate for a day or so. I baked two batches: one the day of, another one 36 hours later. I thought the second batch mellowed out the crunchy kasha more to my liking.

Recipe Credit: Design Sponge (note that I used a newer Dorie Greenspan alteration, not on the internet, that has a few adjustments: 1. Reduce the amount of light brown sugar to 2/3 cup and 2. replace the 1/4 cup of cracked rye with a 1/4 cup of Kasha (buckwheat groats). She recommends Wolff’s medium granulation. Another substitute would be 1/4 cup of finely chopped toasted nuts.)

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. A typical cookie mess.

Recommended For: Anyone Who Thinks Adding Whole Wheat Flour To Anything Makes It Healthy, Adventurous Types, Sweet and Salty Fans

Not Recommended For: Whole Grain Haters, Picky Eaters, Purists

 

Moroccan Almond Semolina Cookie Time!

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Dorie Greenspan’s new cookie book looks perfect. Everything I’ve tried so far from various magazine/internet articles has been a winner, so I think it’s time for me to go buy a physical copy. This Moroccan Almond Semolina cookie was the first recipe on my list. In my opinion, semolina desserts are the best. (but so are almond flavored sweets….and lemony scented dessert….and also anything with a splash of orange flower water….so here you have it, a cookie that combines all of these elements!)

If you’re not one for the specific texture of semolina, I’d definitely move on to another cookie. No sense in messing with that crucial element here. However, one item that can be omitted is the orange flower water. If you’d like you can try adding an equal amount of rose water instead, or perhaps a little extra lemon zest. It also says nothing at all is fine too. I’d really suggest trying it out first- it adds a lovely floral hint to the cookie.

This recipe seems to be both very specific and versatile all at once. What is specific is the flavor and texture. The versatility comes in when and where it can be used: I can see this working as part of a whole holiday cookie platter, as a teatime snack, or at a springtime or Easter brunch. Play around and see what makes the most sense!

Recipe Credit: Dorie Greenspan via NY Times

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars. Not bad considering it involves a little powdered sugar

Recommended For: A Different Kind of Cookie Platter, Holiday Parties for Adults, Days When You Want To Bake Cookies But You Only Have Canola Oil, Not Butter

Not Recommended For: Kids Parties, People Who Dislike Orange Flower Water

The Best Bread Ever? Yeah, Maybe.

This one was intense.

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It is a homemade bread recipe for the slightly deranged. It is a homemade bread recipe that takes 3 days of your time, albeit with long gaps. It is, in a nutshell, the neverending homemade bread recipe.

Ok, maybe this is all a slight exaggeration. But I will warn you once more, you have to be really, really into baking for this one. Your entire weekend will be planned around the fermentation schedule. The whole process might feel a little excessive but the results, however, are magical. To make bread this good, this flavorful, this, well, artisanal tasting might just be worth all the long, patient suffering endured beforehand. It has brought me to the dark side of baking, or at least taken over any weekend when I decide I want a fresh loaf.

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Here is my most important suggestion to anyone that wants to try this recipe for the first time: read the directions first, maybe even twice. It might also help to watch the posted video to get a sense of the steps involved. Trust me, familiarizing yourself with the steps will be useful later. You’ll end up referencing the written recipe many times over, unless you are a pro at memorization.

Anyways. So you’re ready to do this. The only part of the recipe I felt was a little off, timing-wise, was how long the poolish, or yeast starter, took to properly ferment. It says the initial fermentation will take 12-18 hours, which from my experience is too short. In the 3 times I have baked this bread, it has taken 24 hours, 16 hours, and 22 hours respectively. Maybe the process is slowed because of the yeast I’m using combined with the temperature in my kitchen. The poolish is supposed to be ready when a tiny piece floats in a cup of water. The first time I was trying this “float test” the pieces kept sinking, making me think that the yeast was bad and the whole concoction was done for. Not true. Eventually it floated to the top, luckily before I gave up on the entire process. So don’t worry if this first step takes longer than 18 hours.

Another helpful suggestion is to diligently weigh out all the ingredients on a digital scale, including the water and salt. This step makes for more accurate measurements and a properly baked loaf. (apparently some people have questioned the salt content of the recipe overall. I had no problem with the saltiness when using the scale.)  Following the timings and steps for the kneading, mixing, and multiples rises is also a process in itself but all crucial to help you achieve the impressive final result.

The “slap and fold” step is the most hands-on and fun part once you get used to it. A more extreme version of normal kneading, this process is perfect to do with this stretchy, goopy dough. If you look over the written directions and want to cry from confusion, just watch the video linked to above. This step might feel a little messy and weird at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly, and it really goes help to develop the gluten strands.

After all the kneading, slapping, and various rises involved, the dough still always seems pretty soft to me.  The mass will spread out as far as it can after I invert it onto parchment paper in preparation for baking. None of this effects the end result. The loaf perfectly fits into my 5.5 quart Dutch Oven and bakes within the suggested times, usually closer to the low timing while in a 475 degree oven.

Waiting a few hours for the bread to cool is torturous. My last suggestion is to bake it at the very end of the night. Instead of hovering over the bread to cool you can simply wake up to a happy breakfast. The end product is outstanding, robust with an intense crust. Feels fancier than what you thought you could make at home.

Some other notes:

  • I do not have rice flour, so I used the suggested backup of cornstarch/flour. It was fine.
  • I also do not have a razor or lame on hand to slash the dough. A knife was my substitute, which barely works. No effect on the end flavor.
  • My marble slab was the perfect place to work on the “slap and fold” step of the recipe. This accessory along with a bench scraper makes for an easier process.
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Recipe: BA’s Best Bread Recipe

Kitchen Mess: 3 out of 4.

Recommended For: Masochists, Weekend Bakers, Things To Do During A Snowstorm, Bread Obsessives

Not Recommended For: Impatient Bakers, Busy Schedules, The Person Who Would Rather Buy A Loaf At The Bakery Down The Street And Be Done With It

James Beard Buttermilk Loaf

I’m on a big bread kick right now. Evidence Pic #1:

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Buttermilk Loaf

This homemade bread obsession is mainly because I want to become more scientific about the whole process; to really understand the why and how of the steps involved and to accurately forecast the end results. I’ll post my various observations/recipes over the next month, or until it gets too hot to bake indoors.

Last month I received the classic James Beard bread book as a gift, with the suggestion to start with the Buttermilk bread recipe. Now’s the time to mention that I’ve been conditioned since an early age to dislike white bread. My mom had a strict “No Wonder Bread” policy in the house growing up. What that really means is that we had no factory-made fluffy white bread that could be squished and rolled into a small ball hanging out in the house, ever. It is one of those food rules that I’ve carried into adulthood, despite not always making healthy meal decisions on a daily basis.

Despite my initial trepidation I decided to go with the white bread recipe. Two reasons for this: 1. Buttermilk is always my friend and 2. Any warm bread fresh from the oven is also my friend. Plus it makes sense to go with the first recommendation, right?  Upon opening the physical cookbook (a used copy) I noticed  a handwritten edit to this particular recipe, an edit that was hard to avoid because it was written over the original type in bold pen. The markings on the page called for a 1/2 tablespoon salt instead of, well, something else.  I assumed it was 1 tablespoon because any more than that sounded absurd, and no proper recipe book would have a measurement reading of less than 1/4 tablespoon without switching to teaspoons. This is before I realized that the recipe already has a life of it’s own on the internet and has posted on a lot of recipe sites and blogs. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon, which many seem to think is excessive.

I went with the edited version of 1/2 tbsp. The recipe is very straightforward if you are used to baking homemade loaves.: proof the yeast, add the ingredients, knead for 10 minutes, let it rise, punch down and shape, rise again, bake, eat.

As you can imagine, this bread is excellent fresh out of the oven. The pillowy softness balanced with the crunchy crust and was perfect with butter and jam. The buttermilk was very apparent and had an excellent tangy flavor when eaten warm. Unfortunately after a day or so it seemed to have lost that special tang, eventually toasting up like basic white bread. (…and making the soft-pillow texture move towards boring bread territory. Dare I even say Wonder Bread territory?)

Because of the quick falloff in quality, I would suggest repurposing the bread leftovers around day 2. Maybe throw stale chunks in a food processor to make bread crumbs, toast squares in the oven to make salad croutons, or soak thick slices in an egg/milk batter to make decadent french toast.

I think my cookbook edit of 1/2 tbsp seems to be appropriate, though I would definitely try 1 tbsp next time to be sure. It might also depend on the type of buttermilk used.

Besides the salt measurement debate, there is another point brought up elsewhere online that I would like to agree with here: the dough in this recipe can easily make 2 loaves instead of 1. The pictures I took here are a perfect illustration of this opinion. The loaf was crazy high – in fact it was almost twice as high as the bread pan. Next time I will maybe try 2 free form loaves and adjust the time as needed.

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This barely fit in one loaf pan.

Recipe Credit: James Beard’s Buttermilk Bread

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. I’d say this is a typical amount of breadmaking mess- ending with 2 bowls, a bread pan (maybe 2?), and a flour-covered spot from kneading. Really the part I hate cleaning the most is the cooling rack.

Recommended For: Buttermilk lovers, anyone in need of both a half loaf of fresh bread and a cup or two of fresh breadcrumbs

Not Recommended For: Anyone who likes to wait a day before eating a slice of bread. (is there anyone out there who does this, really?) 

Christmas Cookie Platter

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I take Holiday cookie platters very seriously. Once I start baking a batch during the month of December, I immediately move into this slightly crazy meditative state, not stopping until I’ve made at least 5 varieties in a weekend. (You do have to enjoy baking or else you’ll make yourself miserable) If I had more time this I would make at least 8 batches. They make great gifts for neighbors, work parties, etc.

Variety is of the utmost importance. I like to make one cut-out recipe, something spiced, and maybe a filled version as well. I also listen to feedback from my taste-tester family and friends and make amendments as needed.

This is a variation of a cookie platter that I’ve made for many years. Some of the recipes I’ve been making for 5-10 years, and one standard has been part of my family celebrations for at least 20.

The Almond Cookies are the old favorite, originally from an old Slovak-American cookbook that was my grandmother’s. The cookbook is long gone, but the written version remains in my records. Enjoy.

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Almond Cookies / Makes 4 dozen

Cream 1 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Add 1/2 tsp almond extract and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 2 egg yolks, beat until light. Add 2 2/3 cup flour sifted flour and 1/2 tsp. salt, mix well.

Roll into 1 inch balls. Drop in the 2-previously-separated egg whites and place 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Press down each ball with 1/2 an almond or a fork (or both!)

Bake for 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

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Other recipes: 

Polish Apriot-Filled Cookies: Highly recommended and so worth the work.

Coconut-Orange Snowballs: Also highly recommended, and a little less time-consuming.

Christmas Cutouts with Vanilla Icing:  A solid recipe, though perhaps not my favorite cookie overall.

Molasses Crinkles: Good, but I’m remembering another recipe for molasses cookies that I enjoyed more. I’ll have to revisit this later…

 

Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Streusel

Yes, it is impossible to hide: I have a strong and obvious obsession with pumpkin pie. Yes, this is my second pumpkin pie recipe I’ve written about in a month. My main excuse is that Thanksgiving is around the corner. Also, I think when you love something as much as I love this dessert, you should have a couple of versions on hand. This is an old favorite that I tend to come back to from time to time.

This pie tends to impress people thanks to a killer trio of layers: a decadent spiced bottom crust, a very creamy and soft center, and an overly generous streusel topping. It is especially appealing to anyone who is a fan of ginger. It’s what you make to rope in the pumpkin pie haters wandering your dinner crowd, the one that occasionally creates a convert.

I think the crust recipe is both amazing and frustrating at once. Amazing because the addition of fresh ginger and ground cloves are everything to this recipe; frustrating because the crust tends to quickly shrink and then burn by the end of the lengthy baking time. The flavor is there, but there’s something a little off with the overall ratio and baking times. I would try to cover the crust with foil during much of the baking time. Also, if you have your own favorite crust recipe I’d suggest using it here. Perhaps adding ginger and some cloves to a tried-and-true crust will be sufficient.

The interior custard is softer than other versions of squash pie, yet I tend to only let it cook the suggested 50 minutes before adding the streusel.  Any longer and the whole pie starts to overcook. The streusel topping is finished by 25 minutes at the most- I would check on it after 20 minutes to be sure. I think the overall spice of the pie is best after resting at least 12 hours, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to make this before serving.

The pie is very sweet- maybe overly so- and hardly needs any accompaniments. The end result is also messy, even bordering on ugly once you slice it up. Exactly why I went the dark-and-mysterious-photo-route instead of showing it off. Some things are better off being consumed than incessantly styled.

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Sliced and over being photographed. Waiting for a fork.

Recipe Credit: Bon Appetit

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. Not too bad, though watch out for streusel crumbs on your counter.

Recommended For: Ginger Fanatics, Thanksgiving, Pre-Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Nostalgia in January

Not Recommended For: Trying to Use Less Heavy Cream, The Only Dessert Amongst Friends Who Hate Ginger

 

 

Brown Butter Pumpkin Pie

Lately there seems to be a sort of pumpkin backlash out there. I get it, the proliferation of “pumpkin spice everything” was pretty intense for a few years. But the hate is strong, too strong in my opinion. I don’t see why one should act like it’s fun to be OVER pumpkin. Pumpkin is basically essential to the season, right? No sense in beating a squash down because of a few cloyingly sweet latte versions.

Pumpkin pie is incredibly important to my overall baking repertoire. I tend to try about 2-3 new versions every November. I usually go back to an old beloved standby that involves a crumble topping. What can I say; I love butter crusts and crumble topping, and to have an orange-hued spiced squash custard sandwiched in-between these two details is pretty much the best.

It was that time of year when I end up having a pie pumpkin handed to me as part of my weekly CSA package. You’re either gearing up to make soup or pie with that sort of gift, and I usually go towards door #2. All I needed was a recipe. I decided to go with a version from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds cookbook, as I am a big fan of their bake shop. In fact I used to live dangerously close to the storefront for a couple of years. It is really, really difficult to not go in a top-notch pie store constantly when you’re right down the block.

This recipe is overall strong, but in the end it’s really not close enough to my favorite kind of pumpkin pie. It’s well-balanced, creamy, and flavorful, all positive remarks, but just not exactly my thing in the end. Maybe this sounds too harsh, but it shouldn’t- in fact, my personal pie preference shouldn’t deter anyone from trying this recipe out. The brown butter flavor adds a lovely full touch and their pie crust always makes an impressive base.

The oven temperatures listed worked perfectly for me, and I would likely use canned puree next time instead of roasting the pumpkin. My puree was slightly more watery than the canned stuff, which made it slightly softer than I would have liked. One more thing to mention: the word “butter” is definitely in the recipe name and don’t forget that detail. This is an full-fat pie. (Only a word of warning, as most pumpkin pies worth eating are going to be decadent no matter what.)

Always served with a little whipped cream.
Always served with a little whipped cream.

Recipe Credit: Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Kitchen Mess: 2.5 out of 4. A typical pie-making mess.

Recommended For: Fall Weekend Desserts, Holiday Potlucks

Not Recommended For: Evil Pumpkin Pie Haters, People Who Like to Habitually Diet?