Wednesday, December 29

Round Up

I just wanted to let you guys know that due to the fact that I'm spending some time away from campus over break, I don't think that I'll be able to post a recipe this week!

However, I'd hate to leave you with nothing, so how about a round-up of some treats from this year's archives that might be good for a New Year's Eve celebration?

Grapefruit Cupcakes with Honeyed Italian Meringue Buttercream
Citrus fruits are in season, and your guests are sure to appreciate the surprising and refreshing taste of these little cuties!

Chocolate Cherry Swirl Cupcakes with Cherry Buttercream
By using purchased cherry jam, and jarred maraschino cherries, these are quick to put together.

Meringue Cupcakes
Serve these with seasonally inspired accompaniments, like citrus or pears.

Vegan Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes
These make a great conversation starter, and they taste great, too!

Double Chocolate Cupcakes
Quick and delicious - your guests will be begging for the recipe!

Cream Liqueur Cupcakes
You're bound to have a bottle or two of Irish Cream around the house at this time of the year. Why not put it to good use (besides coffee)?

Coffee Pots de Creme with Pistachio Biscotti
A little caffeine fix for a late night!

Chocolate Caramel Tart
Like a Twix, but better.

Heaven and Hell Cake
A true show stopper that will leave your guests raving!

German Cheesecake
Mmmm.... Cheesecake... Serve with your favorite fruits!

Chocolate Brioche French Toast
An ambitious and delicious breakfast for the first day of the new year.

Happy new year to all of my lovely readers!

All the best in 2011,

Thursday, December 23

Beast - {Gingerbread House}

Considering the amount of baking I do, it probably comes as no surprise that I've made a lot of mistakes in the kitchen. Extremely loose custards, flaming cupcakes, charred pies, under-baked cakes, painfully dry cookies, crumbly fudge, exploding dough and hopelessly burned sugar - I've been through it all. I've experienced the acrid smell of such mistakes time and time again, and felt hours of work slip undesirably through my fingers in the form of a non-compliant dough too many times to count. Not surprisingly, my long-lived obsession with French macarons resulted in many disappointing failures due to sheets upon sheets of of flat, cracked, bubbly shells bring pulled from the oven in my efforts to master the art of making the frustrating little buggers.

Through the difficulties, I try to be understanding and calm, but sometimes it just doesn't go that way. I'll admit that flops have brought me to tears on more than one occasion, and also that I've thrown away entire cakes and trays of cookies out of complete anger and frustration.

I keep finding myself hastily typing annotations of explanations for specific actions, but doing so isn't terribly important. I'll share the blanket explanation that I'm occasionally overly-passionate about what I do with you, but I don't even know that that's particularly necessary.

I don't want to give you the impression that I stand in the kitchen throwing fit after fit because that's simply not the case. Especially lately, now that I understand more of the science and methodology to baking, flops aren't so hard for me to stomach. Sure, there is the pain in my wallet of wasted money, but I know that there are often ways to salvage whatever I've made (or someone to pawn it off on) and also that mistakes... Well, they happen. Sure, I still get frustrated and upset from time to time, but not to the extent or frequency that I did in the past.

However, because certain people have seen me through some of my *ahem* "episodes," they're familiar with my baking wrath and they know what triggers it.

Which is why I often find P, concerned and troubled with his head on my shoulder and arms around my waist asking, "what can I do?" the second he sees my scrunch the corner of my lip in disappointment. Befuddled but calm and standing over a rack of cooling fail-cakes, I'm considering prospective tactical frosting applications to hide uneven surfaces, effectively masking their ugliness (bumps, bubbles, weird browning) with prettyness (fluffy, buttery, colorful, waist-expanding frosting). P, on the other hand, whom I met at the height of my macaron obsession (the poor guy), has seen me become very upset over a number of failures and has clearly been scarred for life. But instead of shrinking his wide shoulders into his chest in fear of my wrath, he puffs out his chest, confidently raises his head and begins to conjure up a number of creative fixes for the issue at hand. Dead-set on ensuring that I handle the flop well, P's at my side to stop me before I burn the place down with my handy-dandy brulee torch.

Not that I would ever do that, of course.

Anyway, I feel like I've learned to handle these things appropriately, but the reputation still sticks. My mom has told me that she's afraid to come in the kitchen while I'm baking, and I've even seen P afraid to scrape the sides of my work bowl with a spatula. I think that I'm allowed to spazz over something every once in awhile and I'm certainly not saying that I'm any less passionate than before, but I'm doing my best to turn their opinions around and to see that I don't panic over everything.

Which is why I think making this gingerbread house was good for everyone involved. I stayed calm despite the fact that pieces burned, cracked, were cut wrong and needed to be re-baked, which is something that H can - and did - attest to. Sure, it was annoying to redo things, but that's to be completely expected for a project like this. I was prepared to spend lots of time backtracking and reworking when I started taking measurements and scaling, which is why it didn't bother me all that much when things went "wrong" during the process. Taking this on was a learning process for myself in so many ways, and although it sounds cheesy and dramatic, I've grown from it. I think I may finally be proving to people that I'm not a complete psycho in the kitchen.

Just a partial one.


I realize the format for this entire post (writing and photos) is a little different than what you're used to seeing on Whisk Kid, but I promise to get back to normal on the next post. I just wanted to share this project with you and wish you all HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I hope you spend lots of time with your family, drink too much eggnog, eat too many cookies, finish at least one candy cane and are able to relax during and after all the festivities.

Also, just one more thing before I leave you to that tray of Christmas cookies...

Because the holiday season is nearly over and I don't really have space for this beast in my apartment, it's going to have to "go" quite soon, if you catch my drift. After it's fulfilled its role of centerpiece at our Christmas gathering, the gingerbread house will no longer have a purpose. I know it's sad, but you can't argue that it isn't true and I'm not as attached to it as you might think I would be after 5 days of work. Anyway, H wants to take some of her own pictures with the house, and P wants to punch it, but then what?

How would you destroy something like this?

My Grandpa told me that I should ask for your opinion, and since he and my Grandma are both pretty awesome, I figured I should do it. Also, I'm really excited to hear your input! I can't make any promises that I'll be able to document the event in photos, but it could happen...


What do you think?

Gingerbread House
Unfortunately I don't have templates to provide, but I scaled up this floor plan, making as few simplifications as possible, and made my templates out of white printer paper. I was inspired by the houses here and here, and also by H who told me I should just GO FOR IT last week.

I wish I could have included as much detail as the linked houses (particularly the second one), but I was running out of time before I had to come home for the holidays and I also knew that I could work on this thing for weeks if I got to into it, and I was afraid to go that route.

I scaled, baked, and decorated the beast in H's, P's and R's apartment because their kitchen is significantly larger than my own, and I want to thank them for allowing me to take the whole thing over for such a long time. You guys are the best!

The house has is lit with Christmas lights. A single strand fills the interior and shines through the poured sugar windows.

Upon completion the house was driven to my Grandparent's place, an hour away from MSU, where it will stay until I drive it back to campus toward its eventual demise.... Muahahahahaha

So, without further ado, the recipes I used are as follows:

Gingerbread via Rock Recipes
It is important that you do not use warped baking sheets or cooling racks when making your gingerbread. Some of my pieces are warped, and although they fit together ok, it would have been better if they were flat. I made 7 batches of this.

2 1/2 c (355 g) flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp powdered ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1/2 c (118 ml) dark molasses
1/4 c (59 ml) water
1/2 c (118 g) butter, room temp
1/2 c (100 g) sugar

Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves and allspice in a large bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the molasses and water and set aside.

Finally, in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. SLOWLY add the molasses and water mixture while beating, being careful not to break the emulsion. If this happens and the mixture looks curdled, beat on high speed until it comes back together. After all of the molasses and water has been added, mix in 1/3 of the dry ingredients until incorporated. Repeat until all the flour is gone, then wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.

Roll the dough directly onto a floured sheet of parchment paper trimmed to fit your baking sheet. Roll until the dough is about 1/4" thick, then cut out your shapes. Pull away excess dough, then slide the parchment onto your baking sheets and freeze the cut pieces. When you put the sheets in the freezer (or porch or fridge if you don't have space), preheat the oven to 350F. When the pieces are completely solid (frozen is ideal), bake them until they are very dark and dry, but not burned. Cool on the pans for about five minutes, then transfer to cooling racks.

Repeat until all the pieces have been cut, baking similar-sized pieces together to ensure even baking. Remember to only roll the dough onto cooled baking sheets so as not to melt it, and also to freeze each batch before baking to stop spreading.

Royal Icing adapted from Rock Recipes
I have no idea how many batches of this I made, but I know it must have been a lot! I'm only giving the sugar measurement by weight because I believe that is the only way to get it right.

440 g confectioners' sugar
3 egg whites, room temperature

Place both ingredients in a large bowl and beat until very stiff, about ten minutes, being sure to scrape the bowl from time to time. Store tightly covered in the fridge.

To thin for flooding, add 1 tsp of water at a time, mixing with your spatula to incorporate. Flood icing is ready when a trail drizzled from a spatula settles back into the icing in 3 seconds.

Thursday, December 16

Sum - {Lemon Meltaways}

Uncomfortably plastered to the walls of the hallway, I located two old group members amid a sea of unfamiliar faces. Designated as a random group by our TA months previously, the three of us weren't particularly close, but I knew them and was happy to be able to identify them so readily. In a large class, it's easy to stay anonymous for the entire semester, but, luckily, that it didn't happen to me.

With open stances and frequent glances, the pair wordlessly welcomed me over. As the gap between us closed, generic before-exam pleasantries fell lazily from my lips and resonated in my ears. The three of us, I soon discovered, were remarkably calm, coming to a consensus over our preparedness for the impending exam. Our studying methods were discussed and our opinions on the provided practice exam were shared. Truth be told, we were secretly feeling quite confident and proud of the effort we'd put into studying, but as had been the case many times before, we were all sure we were going to do poorly anyway.

That's just how the class is.

But we were all smiling and happy anyway. Regardless of how well we did on the exam, the course would finally be over when we turned them in, and we were all relieved for that, at the very least. Courses such as this one, "weeders," were designed to be difficult and to keep people from easily obtaining their degrees. The fact that we were even remotely sure that we wouldn't fail the course overall was enough because it was clear that there were so many other unfortunate students who would.

Right now I'm hoping for a 2.5/4.0. I know it's not great. It will be the lowest grade I've ever received. But honestly? I'll be genuinely happy with it. This has been a rough semester for me in terms of classwork and homework, especially when compared to those of freshman year. Fortunately, however, the difficulty has helped me learn to be less stressed about my courses and grades because I'm realizing that grades... Well, they aren't everything. Of course they're important, but as long as I'm doing my best with the provided material, struggling isn't such an awful thing. Even though this particular course was hard for me (and a lot of other people), it was one of my favorites because it was a challenge and I didn't know anything about the material.

Which is good. That's why I'm in college. I'm here to struggle. I'm here to learn. I'm here to work hard.

...Also to do a little baking on the side.

So, to anyone taking finals, good luck! To anyone who's completed them, or recently graduated (hi, P) congratulations!

Lemon Meltaways adapted from Martha Stewart
These tart cookies are one of my favorite kinds to make during the holidays! Mrs. Stewart recommends rolling the dough into a log then slicing and baking, but I like to roll out the dough and slice out even-sized cookies. Makes about 10 dozen.
Printable Recipe

1 3/4 c + 2 Tbls (265g) flour
2 Tbls (14g) cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
12 Tbls (170g) butter, room temp
1 2/3 c confectioners' sugar, (260g) divided
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Freshly squeezed lemon juice from 2 lemons
1 Tbls pure vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, cream the butter and 1 c (157g) sugar until fluffy. Add zest, juice, and vanilla, then beat until fluffy.

Sift half of the dry ingredients over the butter and mix until combined. Sift over the second half and mix until just combined.

Divide the prepared dough into 2 or 3 parts and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours until thoroughly chilled. Meanwhile, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

After chilling, roll out one portion of the dough to a thickness of 1/4" - 1/8" on a lightly-floured surface. Using a small cutter (about 1"), cut out as many rounds as possible and transfer to the lined sheets. Re-roll scraps and place cut-outs in the freezer for at least 1 hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 350F (165C) and place remaining 2/3 c (103g) sugar in a large plastic bag. Bake cookies, spaced 1" apart, until just barely golden, 10-15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool slightly, 8-10 minutes, then drop the cookies into the sugar-filled bag and shake to coat.

Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, December 4

Watch - {Chocolate Caramel Tart}

I have no clue what's going on.

Although I am leaning quite heavily on P's shoulder, the two of us are clearly existing in our own separate realities. Stationary in front of the television, I find myself unable to focus on the screen for any measurable period of time. I can't even remember when we started "watching" the movie, but considering the fact that I also don't know what's happening or who that guy - who appears to be rather important - is, it's not really much of a surprise. P, on the other hand, being arguably more normal than myself, has no trouble immersing himself in whichever reality is being portrayed in the pixels onscreen.

Which is, by no means, a character fault; in fact, I'll admit that I'm a little jealous of his ability to drop life for a few minutes in favor of make-believe. It's just that I get bored sitting on the couch for so long. I always find myself focused on the futon's stitches, immersed in texts or simply thinking just 20 minutes into a show; all the while knowing that I'm losing my already small grip on the plot. A problem which, of course, leads to me asking questions, many of them stupid and obvious.

However, I won't have you be mislead; I do have a few favorite shows and movies that are capable of captivating my interest, such as The Office, which is uncomfortable and dysfunctional in all the right ways. Then there's Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, which is so fluid and beautifully narrated, that I could watch it for hours without complaint. I'm also a fan of Donnie Darko, a crazy, dark and bizarre cult movie that is completely captivating for an apparent weirdo like myself. Oh, and let's not forget Inglourious Basterds! I can't readily explain its appeal, but man - it is one fine film!

Is that weird?

Anyway, although I sometimes wish I could be "normal" and truly watch a movie or television show with complete disregard to reality, I kind of consider it a boon that I can't. It leaves me so much more time to study and do homework and suck up to my profs and... Oh, who am I kidding? All it really does is leave me time to bake or browse Tastespotting and Foodgawker. Maybe to pester my friends with nonsensical e-mails or check in with my family. Or, you know, aimlessly browse the internet. I'm pretty good at it. You'd probably be surprised.

But those things are all more productive than watching TV or doing homework anyway... Right?

Chocolate Caramel Tart
This is best served chilled and in small slices.

Chocolate and Toasted Almond Sable crust adapted from Craft of Baking
Printable Recipe

1/8 c (15 g) almonds, finely chopped or ground
1 1/8 c (160 g) flour
1/4 c (23 g) cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tbls (142 g) butter, room temp
1/4 c + 1 Tbls (56 g) sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
Sanding sugar, if desired

Toast the almonds in a skillet over medium-low heat until nicely browned, being careful not to burn and stirring often. Pour into a medium bowl and add the flour, cocoa and salt. Stir to combine and set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter until lightened, then add the sugar and beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, stir until completely combined. Add the dry ingredients in two parts, mixing just until combined.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F (160C) and remove dough from fridge. Roll out, on a flour-dusted surface, to fit a 8" or 9" tart pan. Transfer to pan, dock and freeze until the oven comes to temp. Par bake 20-25 minutes, until firm and dry

1/3 c (65g) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c (60ml) cream

Place sugar and salt in a shallow pan and pour water over the top to moisten. Without stirring, cover and heat until the sugar is dissolved. If necessary, swirl pan to distribute sugar. Once dissolved, remove lid and cook, without stirring, until amber colored. Remove from heat and add the cream in a slow stream, whisking constantly and being careful when the caramel bubbles up. Pour into the cooled tart shell, then chill in the fridge until cooled before adding the ganache.

Chocolate Ganache
2 oz (56g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped finely
6 oz (168g) semisweet chocolate, chopped finely
3/4 c (200 ml) cream

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream in a pan until it begins to bubble up the sides. Pour over chocolate and let rest 7 minutes.

The chocolate should be melted, so begin slowly whisking the ganache from the center outward to combine. Once mixed, pour over the caramel and chill until set.

Friday, December 3

Solitary - {Chocolate and Almond Marshmallow Sandwich Cookies with Hot Chocolate}

Resting crookedly on its hinges, I provide a gentle lift to the bedroom door to ensure a silent close for a sleeping roommate. A fleece blanket drapes itself gently over my shoulders as I stand in the living area, it's knots and loose scraps my only companions at this early hour. Between the cabinetry and counters, a simple back and forth results in a bowl of Cheerios, which I carefully carry to the coffee table. Although the contents awkwardly attempt to converse, I ignore the uninspiring bowl's persistent "oooooooo" and focus, instead, on the day ahead.

A similar routine, I must admit, to last year's. Quiet. Contemplative. But this alone thing isn't something I'm used to. I grew up eating breakfast with D at the kitchen counter, chatting with my mom in the living room or sitting across from dad at a small restaurant. Last year, as a freshman, I spent most mornings with P or K, often finding someone else to join when the two of them were unavailable. But this year, being the only early-riser in an apartment for two, there have been many days in which I haven't spoken a word until well past noon. Waking with thoughts destined to be unspoken, my mind rumbles and hungers for a familiar exchange of words and reflection; a nutritious side to the bulging bowl of cereal on the coffee table before me.

But I don't really need it, I tell myself as I crunch through a spoonful of cereal, and I believe it. Internalized and accepted, it's truly a comfort to know that I'm capable and, at the heart of it, happy to be alone. It also has the benefit of making the mornings that I do spend with others even more appreciated than before, which makes me see just how much I value all the individuals that I am so lucky to have in my life.

So I take my time, reveling in the moments without noise and distraction and loosely plan the day. Bundled up in the fleece blanket, it's almost as if I have all the time in the world...

This is my entry to the Holiday Recipe Exchange. Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap, sponsored by Scharffen Berger!

Hot Chocolate, a recipe provided by P
The cinnamon, cayenne and salt do not impart a true taste to the cocoa, but serve more to amplify the taste of the chocolate. Be sure to taste before serving and adjust as desired. Makes 2 servings.
Printable Recipe

2 1/2 c (590 ml) milk
1/8 c (18 g) brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 c cocoa
1/8 tsp cinnamon
pinch cayenne
pinch salt

Combing all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Pour into mugs and serve.

Chocolate and Almond Marshmallow Sandwich Cookies
These take a little work, but the texture contrast of the finished product is really wonderful!
Printable Recipe

Chocolate and Toasted Almond Sables adapted from Craft of Baking

1/8 c (15 g) almonds, finely chopped or ground
1 1/8 c (160 g) flour
1/4 c (23 g) cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tbls (142 g) butter, room temp
1/4 c + 1 Tbls (56 g) sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
Sanding sugar, if desired

Toast the almonds in a skillet over medium-low heat until nicely browned, being careful not to burn and stirring often. Pour into a medium bowl and add the flour, cocoa and salt. Stir to combine and set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter until lightened, then add the sugar and beat until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, stir until completely combined. Add the dry ingredients in two parts, mixing just until combined.

Divide dough into thirds and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 30 minutes.

Remove dough from fridge and roll out, on a flour-dusted surface, to 1/8"-1/4" thick. Cut out cookies and transfer to a lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sanding sugar, if using, then bake 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool on pans.

Marshmallows via Alton Brown
This can be done using a hand mixer, but a stand mixer will produce a much fluffier mallow!

1/4 c (40 g) confectioners' sugar
1/4 c (30 g) cornstarch
Nonstick spray
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 c (237 ml) ice cold water, divided
1 1/2 c (298 g) granulated sugar
1 c (237 ml) light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Combine the confectioner's sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside. Spray a 9" x 13" pan with nonstick spray, and pour in the sugar/cornstarch mixture. Tip the pan to coat all sides, then reserve the excess in a small bowl.

Place the gelatin in the bowl of a stand mixer and add 1/2 c of the water. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Refrain from stirring the pot; simply swirl it to distribute the granules. Uncover after the sugar has dissolved, and put a candy thermometer into the pot. Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the gelatin, being careful not to hit the beater or the bowl. Once all of the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping.

When ready, pour into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula to spread. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover and reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit, uncovered, for at least 4 hours and up to overnight to set.

Turn the marshmallows onto a cutting board and cut into desired shapes (to match the cookies or simply for cocoa) using a greased knife or pizza wheel. Dust all cut sides with the remaining sugar mixture, and store in a covered container until ready to use.

Chocolate chips

Place a handful of chocolate chips into a small bowl and microwave for 15 seconds. Stir the chocolate, then microwave for 15 seconds, stirring again. Continue this process until the chocolate is smooth.

Using an offset spatula, carefully spread the melted chocolate onto the flat side of a cookie. Press a marshmallow into the chocolate, then repeat with one more cookie to complete the sandwich.