Tuesday, December 22

Sweet Treats - {Linzer Cookies}

I've been slacking on making Christmas cookies this year. It's terribly difficult to believe that although I've been home for nearly a week, I've only just pulled my first batch of Christmas cookies from the oven. But between moving out then in, saying goodbye then hello, cleaning then making messes, and baking for every other occasion under the sun (ok, I may be exaggerating a bit), I simply haven't found the time!

By this time last year, I had piles and piles of beautiful cookies haphazardly dotting the beat-up landscape that was once my kitchen. The sweets rested, snugly nestled in boxes, some ornamented with sprinkles or slickly blanketed by royal icing. Among splatters of waedyward cookie dough, a thick dusting of flour and a few of those inexplicable and awful sticky spots that I always seem to find when I'm cleaning up (anyone else come across those? I hate them!), they patiently awaited delivery to friends.

Relatives.

My hips.


But, as I said, I've been slacking. These Linzer Cookies are but one item on a long list of things I hope to bake in the next three (OMG!!) days.

But the cookies aren't lonely in the kitchen; yesterday when P came to visit, he brought a tray of cookies he and his mom had baked the day before and a giant whisk (a Christmas gift - it's amazing. You'd be jealous!). Then, within 10 minutes, he was making bread from scratch, by hand, with no recipe. Very impressive, very good and very pretty. I wish the batteries on my camera weren't dead, because it's so much prettier than any bread I've ever baked!

Anyway, I'm keeping this post short. I've got some errands to run!

I'm hoping I'll be able to bake more Christmas goodies soon, but just in case I don't get the chance, Happy Holidays!


Linzer Cookies Via Joy of Cooking
Printable Recipe

1 c (145 g) blanched almonds
2 c (250 g) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 c (237 g) butter, softened
2/3 c (131 g) sugar, divided
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
Zest of 1 lemon
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
1/2 cup (118 ml) seedless Raspberry or Black Currant Preserves or Jam (I made my own using this recipe)

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Toast the almonds on a baking sheet for about 8-10 minutes (or until lightly browned and fragrant). Once the nuts have cooled, place in a food processor and process with 1/4 cup of the sugar from the recipe until finely ground. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract, egg yolks, and lemon zest. Beat in the ground nuts. Add the flour mixture beating just until incorporated. Divide the dough in half and shape into two rectangles about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap the two rectangles of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least one hour and up to several days).

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove one rectangle of dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 2 to 3 inch cookie cutter cut out the dough. Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Use a smaller cookie cutter to cut out the centers of half of the cookies on the baking sheet. (You will be sandwiching two cookies together and there will be a small 'window or cut out' in the top cookie so you can see the jam underneath.)

Reroll any scraps and cut out the cookies. Remove the other half of the dough from the refrigerator and roll and cut out the rest of the cookies. Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes or until they are very lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Assembly:
Place the cookies with the cut-outs on a wire rack and lightly dust the tops with the confectioners' sugar.

On the bottom surface of the full cookie (top of cookie will face out) spread with about a 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of jam. Place the cut-out cookie on top and gently sandwich them together, making sure not to smug the confectioners' sugar. Using a small spoon, fill the cut-out with a little more jam.

Sunday, December 20

Hello and Goodbye - {Caramel Cake}

I'm in a bit of an odd spot right now.

These past few weeks have gone by very quickly.

Too quickly.

As the semester wound down, I found myself wanting to do more. Experience more. I wanted more from time and I wanted more of it. Studying was, of course, very important as finals week rolled around, but it was the time I spent with people that I wanted more from. Sitting with my back to K's while we studied for exams at our desks, was painful; I was distracted because I felt that I was wasting time. While it was time well spent, it was time I would never get back. Time I couldn't spend talking to her.

I wondered if she felt the same.


I met K the second week of school, playing ping pong in the dorm's rec room. We got along really well, and met for lunch almost every day. Because there had been an issue with her assigned roommate that prevented her from making it to the school, K was in a single. And, although I was on good terms with my old roommate, I decided to move in with K when she asked me to a few weeks later.

Living with her last semester made it so much more enriching for me. She became one of my best friends. With a fondness for desserts, a love of Pink's 5 for $25 panties, an interest in traveling and better English than me, K and I discovered that we were a perfect match.

But, as you may have guessed, something's changed. The trouble is, K's an international student, and her semester abroad was over.

K went back home, for good, early Thursday morning. I cried as I hugged her goodbye, and many times the night before. However, as wet as my eyes were and as much as I miss her already, I'm happy for the amount of time I was able to spend with her. That I got to meet her. That we got to share all the experiences we did over this semester. Looking back on it, I now see those hours spent studying during finals week with our backs to one another as time very well spent. We understood that we each needed that time to work. We were sharing the college experience. We were happily sharing the truly boring and mundane moments of life. That's a true friend.

It's not always about words, because words cannot express how much I will miss living with her. Words can't even explain how thankful I was for the opportunity. Words are even failing me now as I try to scrawl out a simple "goodbye" to her because this isn't a goodbye. Although our relationship will never be the same, words can do one thing: keep us in contact. K, you've made my life so much better - I miss you so much!


I've just finished my first semester of college. I've watched my best friend drive away in the bitter cold of an early December morning, while I stood waving, outside, in my pajamas. I've changed a lot since August, and I've been through so many new experiences thanks to her and everyone else I've met. Despite how sad I feel, I'm not unhappy; I am truly grateful that things have turned out the way they have.

Life is good, and I know it will only get better.

And, of course, it all starts with a cake. The first thing that I did when I finished unpacking after coming home for winter break was pull the flour and sugar out of the cabinets. I missed my grandma's birthday in my hectic struggle to do everything I'd planned before the semester ended, so I knew I owed her something special. This caramel cake is the one recently featured by the Daring Bakers with just a few changes. The most obvious being a layer of crisp meringue as a filling between two of the layers. It's something I'd discussed with P and K previously, but we were all unsure about how it would turn out. I know it sounds kind of bizarre, but trust me when I say that it really adds something special and interesting to the cake. It's something I will do again in the future.

Being at home has been completely different than living in the dorm, but it's definitely not bad. Although I miss K terribly, I am happy that we at least have our own families and friends to welcome us at home.


Right now, that's all I need.

Caramel Cake via Shuna Fish Lydon
This was a DB challenge recipe that I altered only slightly. It's very sweet!
Printable Recipe

Caramel Syrup
This makes a little more than you'll need, but I'm sure you can find some use for it.

4 c (795 g) sugar
3 c (710 g) water

Combine sugar and 1 c (237 ml) water in a saucepan. Cook, whisking occasionally only after sugar has been dissolved, until amber. Slowly pour in the remaining water (it's gonna steam, bubble and sputter - be careful!!!) to stop the caramelizing process and cook until reduced and sticky between two fingers after cooling on the back of a spoon.

Caramel Cake
I substituted half of the milk in the original recipe for sour cream. I'm sure it would be fine if it was all milk!

1 c + 4 Tbls (296 g) butter, softened
2 1/2 c (497 g) sugar
2/3 c (156 ml) caramel syrup, cooled
4 eggs, room temp
4 tsps vanilla
4 c (500 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 c (118 ml) milk, warmed 10 seconds in the microwave
1/2 c (118 ml) sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Oil and line two 6-inch pans.

Cream the butter, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the caramel, and then the eggs, one by one. Add vanilla and beat until incorporated.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, powder and salt. Sift half into the wet ingredients, mix, add the milk and sour cream then mix again. Sift in the remaining flour mixture and mix just until combined. Pour into pans and bake 35-45 minutes.

Meringue Disk
When I did these, I ended up having to whisk the meringue by hand because both the kitchenaid and hand beater were malfunctioning! I was exhausted! This is going to make way more than you need, but I think you should make some meringue cookies anyway :P

6 egg whites
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 c (298 g) sugar

Preheat the oven to 180F (82C). Trace a dark six inch circle on a piece of parchment, then flip over on a baking sheet. Set aside.

Whisk the whites until foamy, then sift in the cream of tartar. Continue beating. When they come to soft peaks, begin sprinkling in the sugar and whip until they hold stiff peaks. Place in a piping bag fitted with a large, open, circular tip and pipe fill in the circle you drew on the parchment with a connected spiral of meringue. Use excess to make cookies. Bake until firm (about an hour), but do not let them brown! Turn off the oven and remove the cookies, but let the disk cool inside for a few hours. When dry, trim the edges, if needed, with a microplane zester so it's the same size as the cake layers.

Italian Meringue Buttercream For step-by-step directions for making Italian Meringue Buttercream, please click here!

1/2 c (126 ml) water
2 c (420 g) sugar
10 egg whites
1/2 c (106 g) sugar
2 c (474 g) butter, softened, cut into small pieces
2/3 c (155 ml)caramel syrup (or more, to taste)

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer.

Head the 2 c sugar and water on the stove to 245F stirring occasionally only after the sugar has been dissolved. When it is within the range 0f 230F to 235F, begin whipping the egg whites. When they get to soft peaks, begin adding the sugar and continue whipping to medium peaks, being careful not to overbeat. When the syrup is the correct temperature, slowly pour it into the eggs with the mixer on high. After fully incorporated, beat the frosting 7-10 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temp (I usually go a little longer than this; often times the bowl is not room temp when I begin adding butter. If the mix seems to soupy, put it in the fridge for a few moments, and try briefly chilling some of the butter in the freezer before adding). Begin adding the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, beating until fully incorporated. The frosting will deflate a little, but it's ok. Keep whipping until the frosting comes together (mine came together after adding just 4 of the 6 sticks of butter, so I didn't put any more in). Add the syrup and whip to combine.

Assembly
I recommend chilling the cake layers in the fridge, well wrapped, for at least an hour after they have cooled completely before you begin assembly!

Trim and split both layers. Put a layer of buttercream on the bottom round, and place another layer on top. Put the meringue disk on top of the cake, and top with another round. Spread with more buttercream, and add the final layer of cake. Crumb coat and chill for at least 30 minutes. Frost with remaining buttercream.

A Tale of Two Cakes - {Black Forest Cake and Peanut Butter Cake}

It was the best of cakes, it was the worst of cakes.

Sitting side by side on my bed and typing awkwardly on a laptop balanced between our laps, P and I conversed through MS Word. In the bizarre, urgent and secretive exchange, he and I discussed what we would bake that evening while keeping our intentions completely private.

From across the room, K raised an eyebrow at our behavior as she gently rocked the channel-changing button on the remote. You could almost see the realization spread over her face; the faint curiosity and slight fear that she always associates with baking where P and I are concerned. After three months of living in a comfortably-cramped dorm room with me, K had quite clearly concluded that it's often just best not to ask when I'm sitting within a halo of open, annotated and earmarked cookbooks.

I have gone off on so many baking/food related rants this semester... That poor girl!


Anyway, P had told me earlier that he was in a baking mood and asked me if I had any suggestions as to what we could whip up. I reached immediately for my laptop, frantically opened up Word, and slightly frightened P in the process. But no sooner had the words "Black Forest" left my fingers, letter by letter and key by key, P's fingers ushered mine aside and danced "for K?" quickly over the board.

We were totally on the same page. It was time for cake.

But after buying ingredients and setting up in the kitchen, P and I began to question the cake. Four layers tall and filled with whipping cream, we were sure that this behemoth was going to fall, especially after we failed to stabilize the cream with gelatin. Rolling the bowl of soupy white foam back and forth, I contemplated its use. Although delicious, I decided that whipped cream is unstable and unsuitable for use as cake filling or frosting.

Then I used it anyway.

Take my advice. Don't do it.

P and I had baked four six-inch layers, which meant there was enough for two cakes. Not wanting the remaining two layers to go to waste, I suggested that P make his own. You should have seen the look on his face - he got so excited! In a frenzy, he immediately began scrawling out ideas, chattering excitedly about how he hadn't expected this and how unprepared he was. It was sexy in a way that I'm sure only a person obsessed with baking like myself can truly appreciate. Otherwise, it was just really cute. He said it was going to be the first cake he had ever made from scratch from start to finish. Totally awesome!


ANYWAY!

We were frosting our two very different cakes at the same time. P filled his effortlessly with alternating layers of vanilla buttercream and peanut butter ganache, while I struggled with the whipped cream and cherry jam. There was an epic battle taking place within me - an internal struggle as I pitted authenticity against structure and flavor against strength. I had no choice but to go with the whipped cream, so, as I said, I did.

And as I said before. Don't do it.

After the monstrosity was filled and stacked, it wobbled and shook precariously as I walked it to the freezer. It didn't happen, but I was certain on more than one occasion over the course of the 15 foot journey to the freezer that the cake would surely topple and fall. Watching the cream filling bulge from between the levels as I set it on the shelf was the final straw. Screw authenticity - I was going to frost the entire pain in the butt with a buttercream exoskeleton. That oughta teach it to behave!


The next step was to make chocolate shavings for the exterior. P cleaned up his station (covered in peanut butter buttercream. His cake smelled so good!) as we discussed technique. I'd read about it; the process involved pouring melted chocolate over a cool surface and allowing it to set before scraping it with a bench scraper. It sounded simple enough, and although we had some trouble and didn't get many perfect curls, it was still a fun experience and it produced a lot of very usable pieces!

After decorating, P and I cleaned up and prepared to surprise K with the cakes. They were sliced immediately following their presentations which, of course, fueled a bit of a competition between P and I. With two slices of mine gone and only one of his, we were eager to see whose would be finished first. P emerged the victor a few days later, but I don't credit his victory to sharing with friends. I'm quite certain he snuck into my room for cake while I was in class, the little cheater!

Ha - Just kidding!

Sandy's Chocolate Cake via Allrecipes
This is a very dense, moist and chocolaty cake. If I'm making a chocolate cake, it's going to be this one. Every time. Use half of this recipe if you want to make just one six inch cake!

2 2/3 c (333 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 c (65 g) baking cocoa
1 Tbls baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c (237 g) butter, softened
3 c (426 g) packed brown sugar
4 eggs, room temp
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 c (315 ml) sour cream
1 1/3 c (315 ml) boiling water

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Oil and line either two 9-inch pans or four 6-inch pans. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and add the sugar, then whip until lightened. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Add in about a third of the dry ingredients, then half of the sour cream. Repeat, ending with the dry ingredients. Briefly stir in the boiling water, pour into pans and bake 35 to 40 minutes.

Italian Meringue via Warren Brown
I would use this in place of the whipped cream as a filling for the Black Forest Cake. It's just the smart thing to do! Also, be advised that this will make more than you'll need for one cake, but I am not sure how much it needs to be reduced. Just be aware that you can freeze this; just allow it to come to room temp and whip it before using again.

1/2 c (126 ml) water
2 c (420 g) sugar
10 egg whites
1/2 c (106 g) sugar
2 c (474 g) butter, softened, cut into small pieces
2 tsp flavoring

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer.

Heat the 2 c sugar and water on the stove to 245F stirring occasionally only after the sugar has been dissolved. When it is within the range of 230F to 235F, begin whipping the egg whites. When they get to soft peaks, begin adding the sugar and continue whipping to medium peaks, being careful not to overbeat. When the syrup is the correct temperature, slowly pour it into the eggs with the mixer on high. After fully incorporated, beat the frosting 7-10 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temp (I usually go a little longer than this; often times the bowl is not room temp when I begin adding butter. If the mix seems to soupy, put it in the fridge for a few moments, and try briefly chilling some of the butter in the freezer before adding). Begin adding the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, beating until fully incorporated. The frosting will deflate a little, but it's ok. Keep whipping until the frosting comes together (mine came together after adding just 4 of the 6 sticks of butter, so I didn't put any more in). Add your flavoring and whip to combine.
**For peanut butter frosting, simply add smooth peanut butter to taste.

On The Fly Cherry Jam
This stuff is pretty boozy, just so you know!

2 lbs (907 g) frozen cherries
1/2 c (118 ml) water
1/4 c (50 g) sugar
1 Tbls + 1 tsp corn starch
1 shot cherry brandy

Heat the cherries, water and sugar on the stove until softened and reduced. Sift in the cornstarch and continue cooking until thickened. Add the brandy and set aside to cool.


Peanut Butter Ganache
1 c (237 ml) heavy cream
1 1/2 c (241 g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 c (65 g) smooth peanut butter

Place the chocolate and peanut butter in a medium size bowl. Set aside

Heat the cream just to a boil and then pour over chocolate and peanut butter. Allow to set five minutes, then whisk to combine. Let cool to spreading consistency before using.

Assembly
Split and level layers.

For P's Peanut Butter Cake, put vanilla buttercream on the bottom layer, peanut butter ganache in the center, and vanilla buttercream on the top. Crumb coat and frost with peanut butter buttercream. Decorate with chocolate shavings/curls or as desired.

For the Black Forest Cake, pipe a thick border of vanilla buttercream around 3 of the four layers. Fill each with a layer of On The Fly Cherry Jam and top with a layer of vanilla buttercream. Stack, then crumb coat and frost with more vanilla buttercream. Decorate with maraschino cherries and chocolate shavings/curls or as desired.