Thursday, April 28

Again - {Cocoa Nib Florentine Ice Cream Sandwiches}

Whispering, the graduate student smiled. "Have a great summer!" She said eagerly, collecting my exam and stepping aside so I could pass to leave the room.

...What?


I'd known then, as I was handing her the small stack of papers that comprised my final exam, that this was the end of my fourth semester at MSU. I'd known that this week was coming for some time. But to finally hear it - from the mouth of an instructor - was a little bit of a shock.

I left the room with her last lesson neatly stashed in my mind, my hoodie zipped and my head buzzing.

Her last "instruction" caused an epiphany which lead me to realize just how important this last year has been. I feel like I just moved into this apartment. It's almost impossible to believe that I'll be packing it up over the next few days and moving out shortly thereafter. I'm relieved that all the stressful classes I've had this semester are finally, actually, drawing to a close, but I am so sad to see what's become normalcy change so drastically.


I hate writing posts like this, particularly because I feel like stuff like this happens pretty frequently considering my situation with school (new semesters & new living quarters are quite commonplace, after all), but this year has really been a big deal for me. Freshman year was absolutely life-changing, but this year seems like it was more significant. It was less of a "transitioning into the real world" kind of year and more of a "well, here it is. Now what?" deal.

I loved it.

Because of the differences, I think it goes without saying that I've grown a lot. For starters, I've got more confidence now than I've ever had before. I'm not afraid to talk to strangers, I've asked cute boys for their phone numbers (GIRL POWER!) and I've come to understand that people aren't inherently inclined to dislike anyone which is something I've learned to use to my advantage.


I've met and become close to some seriously awesome people this year and I am so, so, so happy and very thankful to have had the opportunity to do so. I even feel that I've become closer to my family, despite the distance, just because I know that they support me and the person I'm becoming 100% of the time.

I've learned to eat more healthfully thanks to my friends, which is a big deal to me. Sure, I eat stuff that's bad for me (have you seen my blog?), but I appreciate simple foods like eggs, cottage cheese, fruits, vegetables and oatmeal more now than I ever could before. Plus, that stuff's all got the benefit of being cheap and delicious, which leaves my wallet not-so-empty and my stomach full. Score.


I could sit here and continue discussing the more minute changed I've gone through, but I don't want to sound preech-y or full of myself. I think personal growth has become the underlying theme to my blog and, in a way, it seems kind of selfish to speak about myself so frequently. But, at the same time, I really like having this as a resource for reflecting on memories and events from different stages in my life. I know I don't have a particularly interesting life, so I hope you guys don't mind it too much!

I chose to go with ice cream sandwiches for this post because they remind me of sitting on the porch in the summer, looking back and watching the world go by.

I've been in that kind of mood lately.

Occasionally a little teary-eyed like ice cream melting in the sun, but mostly relaxed

Appreciative.

Happy.

I'll be back here soon enough.

Cocoa Nib Florentine Ice Cream Sandwiches

Cocoa Nib Florentines via BraveTart
I was worried that the florentines wouldn't hold up as ice cream sandwich cookies, but they work really well! They're very loud and crunchy when frozen though - so be careful if you've got sensitive teeth. Makes about 1 dozen sandwiches - with extra florentines.

Printable Recipe

1 7/8 c (170 g) pecans
1/2 c (57 g) cocoa nibs
~2/3 c (85 g) flour
7 1/2 tsp (14 g) cocoa powder
1/2 c (113 g) butter
7 3/4 tsp (37 ml) honey
~3/4 c (142 g) sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp espresso powder
1 tsp + 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350F and prepare 2 parchment lined baking sheets. Have a 3" cookie cutter on standby.

Chop the pecans and cocoa nibs until no large pieces remain (go for nerd-sized chunks, according to Stella!). Add the flour and cocoa and set aside.

In a medium pot, combine the butter and honey over medium heat, stirring frequently until melted. Add the sugar, salt, and espresso powder, then bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to ensure that the sugar dissolves. Once it begins to boil, remove from heat and add the vanilla and dry ingredients, mixing just to combine.

Use a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon to portions the dough. Drop onto the lined baking sheets, leave about 4” between each cookie - these guys spread! Bake 13-15 minutes or until they've spread and are dark and lacy.

Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the pan for about a minute, then use a 3" cutter to stamp perforations into the soft cookies. Don't try to cut - just make a good indentation. Allow the cookies to cool completely.

Once cooled, break the excess off of each cookie. Reserve the crumbs for another use (I suggest eating them with peanut butter and banana on toast).

Vanilla Ice Cream

4 egg yolks
3/8 c (75 g) sugar, divided
1 c (237 ml) whole milk
1 c (237 ml) heavy cream

Place the egg yolks and 1/4 c of sugar in a medium-sized heat-proof bowl and whisk until ribbons form when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Set aside.

Heat milk, cream and remaining 1/8 c sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and pour about 1/3 of the hot mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly to temper. Pour the tempered yolks back into the pan and continue cooking over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened.

Pour cooked custard into a bowl and press a sheet of plastic wrap to the surface. Chill overnight and then freeze according to your manufacturer's directions.

Friday, April 22

Say - {Mocha Cupcakes}

All he had to do was laugh.

Wearing yesterday's clothes, I woke up on my friend's living room floor hopelessly tangled in an unzipped sleeping bag. It was early - around 6:30 - and I was groggy from overeating and staying up too late the night before. Across the room from me, J was sleeping on the futon, chuckling as I stretched and unwound the sleeping bag from my limbs.

"I was talking in my sleep, wasn't I?"

He exhaled sharply with a laugh before delivering his response - "yep" - as the smile across his lips widened.


My sleep talking wasn't something I was cognizant of until college, but I'm completely aware of the quirk now. Initially I didn't believe it when my first roommate, S, told me that it was happening, but after a few weeks I had to accept it as truth. S, being a legitimate insomniac, gave me almost daily reports of the ridiculous and grievously articulate (though not necessarily coherent) things I would say in my sleep. She thought it was funny and told me that it didn't bother her, so I, too, tried to laugh it off. However, after being told one morning that I had been literally screaming about a mutual friend being kidnapped while I was asleep, it started to bother me. A lot. Like, to the point that it makes me nervous to sleep in the same room as someone else.

Which was why waking up wrapped in that sleeping bag across the room from J was so uncomfortable for me. Feeling tangled and constrained in my conscious state made me fearful for how much the sensations had been amplified and potentially expressed in my sleep. Added grogginess and embarrassment made me wish I could slip back into unawareness and peace; never to hear the words that had spilled from my mouth in the night like drool on a pillow...

But I couldn't.

He began the recount in the worst way: "yeah, you spoke really clearly."

I was almost certain I'd made a fool of myself.

"It didn't make a lot of sense, though," he continued.

Incoherent, I thought with relief. I suppose that's a good sign.

"You said '68. It is.'"

I laughed.

Yes. It is 68. This, friends, is the kind of genius that resides in my uncensored self. Aren't you jealous? Through my fear, embarrassment and supposed incoherency, I am discovering the secrets of the universe.

But not really.


I honestly have no idea what that could have possibly been a reference to. Occasionally I'm able to piece things together, but most of the time I have no idea what I've been talking about or why I've been talking about it.

So I just continue laughing.

...And also hoping I don't wake someone screaming about a kidnapping in the middle of the night ever again.

Ever.

Mocha Cupcakes via Browneyedbaker/My Baking Addiction/One Ordinary Day
The coffee flavor in these cupcakes comes primarily from the frosting, but you can taste it in the chocolate cake, too, which I hadn't expected. These go fast!

Makes 1 dozen.

Printable Recipe

1/2 c (118 ml) strong brewed coffee, room temp
1 1/2 tsp espresso powder (I used instant coffee)
1/2 c (118 ml) whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 c (189 g) flour
1/3 c (30 g) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c (118 g) butter, room temp
1/2 c (99 g) granulated sugar
1/2 c (71 g) brown sugar
1 egg, room temp

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a cupcake pan with 12 liners and set aside.

Mix the espresso powder/instant coffee granules into the brewed coffee. Add the milk and vanilla set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the egg and beat until fully incorporated, scarping down the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter, and mix slowly to combine. Scrape down the sides and add half of the coffee mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and continue alternating wet and dry, ending with dry. Mix just until combined.

Scoop batter into the prepared liners. Bake 17-20 minutes or until the cupcakes spring back when pressed. Cool on a rack in pans for 3 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pans and allow to cool thoroughly before frosting.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Please click here for a step-by-step guide to making Swiss Meringue Buttercream and troubleshooting tips!

1 1/2 c (300 g) sugar
7 egg whites
27 Tbsp (381 g) unsalted butter, room temp
2 Tbsp instant coffee
2 Tbsp warm water

In a double boiler, cook the egg whites and sugar over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved (test by rubbing some between your fingers. If it's completely smooth, it's done). Pour into another bowl (a stand mixer is preferable) and whip on high speed until room temp. Then, on a medium-low speed, add the butter, waiting until each piece is completely incorporated before adding the next. The buttercream may turn into a soupy curdled mess during this process, but if you continue beating it for a few minutes it will become light and fluffy. While it's beating, combine the water and instant coffee. Pour into whipped buttercream as you would an extract, and beat to combine.

Thursday, April 14

Adult - {Hazelnut Biscotti}

"Whisk Kid?"

I've heard it before.

A lot.

From friends, family, coworkers, peers - you name it. The subtle stress at the end of the title paired with a slight sneer just screams this undefinable kinda-sorta-pseudo-disgust with my headline of choice. As if I'm blatantly making an attempt to fool you, my dear readers, into thinking I'm some 3-year-old fumbling around the kitchen. 'Cause that's obviously what I'm up to.

"You're not really a kid, you know," they tell me. "When are you going to change that?"


Who says I'm not a kid? Yeah, I'm 20. I've realized that my age no longer ends in "teen," but I'm not any more adult now than I was a month ago. The only really defined plans in my life at the moment are to complete school and have a grand old time working this summer. That's as far as it goes. I have hopes and dreams, but in the grand scheme of things, I don't know anything truly concrete about my future.

I do my own taxes. I pay bills. I buy groceries. I cook myself dinner (or not). I set my alarm in the morning and I decide how to spend my time. With age I've been granted independence and responsibility, but that doesn't make me any more grown up than anyone else. I'm learning -- we all are. Every new experience is just that: new. We're all testing the waters.

Observing actions and reactions.

Discovering consequences and rewards.

When it comes down to it, I honestly believe that there are no adults. Some people are older. Some people are wiser. Some people have more experience and some people are more qualified than others to make important decisions. It's all true, but what does it mean? You can't argue that we're all just kind of bumbling around in our lives; hoping for the best, trying to make good things happen and finding joy in discovering where our lives are taking us.


It's how I felt when I "was" a kid, and it's how I feel now.

Nothing's changed.

I will never be an adult.

And I don't wanna.

Hazelnut Biscotti slightly adapted from BraveTart
I was really pleased with how these turned out and like that the recipe author didn't use butter. It's uneseccary (she explains why on her blog!) and you won't miss it at all, I promise!

Makes about 2 dozen 6" biscotti.

Printable Recipe

2 c (284 g) flour
1 1/2 c (298 g) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 2/3 c (198 g) hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
4 or 5 eggs, room temp

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

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add the vanilla. Begin adding the eggs one at a time, mixing well to incorporate after each addition. After adding the fourth egg, check to see if the dough is wet enough to clump together. If so, skip the fifth egg. If not, add it.

Divide the dough in half and form a log on each sheet. Shape it so that it is the same height and width throughout, about 2 inches smaller than the desired length of the final biscotti. Bake 20 minutes until puffed, spread and firm. Cool for five minutes on a rack, then slice into 1" pieces with a serrated knife. Place slices back on the pan with one cut side up, and bake 8-10 minutes until very dry. Flip cookies and bake another 8-10 minutes. Cool completely on a rack and store in an airtight container at room temp.

Thursday, April 7

Prof D - {Orange Pull-Apart Bread}

Prof D had a unique way of distributing graded papers. With a controlled flick of his wrist, the stapled sheets spun effortlessly over our desktops, stopping with a quiet shuffle as they reached our chests.

As a professor, and as I'm sure you'd guess, he was quite casual. I spent a lot of time hanging out with him before and after class discussing everything from music to politics, enjoying the fact that he - my very first college professor - respected me enough as a student to get to know me.


But our friendship was a turbulent. Prof D and I had very little in common apart from our sharp tongues and sense of humor, which made for some pretty intense conversations and debates. He liked to start with his involvement in radical/extremist groups as a 20-something, using it as a springboard to get my opinions on ethics and politics, only to challenge them seconds later. But Prof D wasn't arrogant. Although true that we rarely saw eye-to-eye, he was just interested in letting me see things from another perspective. He was passionate enough to make himself remarkably clear in conversation, but refined and collected enough to do so without being obtrusive or overwhelming. He was the only person I'd encountered in my academic career that had ever really made me think.

That said, it took me awhile to warm up to him. Our banter didn't develop until the third or fourth week of class, and he maintained a level of seriousness up to that point that was frightening to a freshman. The first essay he'd ever spent spinning my way had been painted red with ink, marked with a big, fat 1.0 (we use a 4.0 scale at MSU) and stopped at my chest like a speeding car splatting a bug. It was my first college paper, and being graded so brutally made me anxious and apprehensive for both the assignments to come and my relationship-to-be with this seemingly horrid person.

As my classmates shuffled out of class that morning, I sat, dejected, in my seat. I made an effort to piece together my shattered confidence while backpacks zipped and binders snapped shut around me, but it was impossible. Watching the last student leave, I panicked because I wasn't prepared to approach my new and confounding professor to discuss the grade. The words were in my head, but there was no way I could ever vocalize them and challenge his word. What could I, a worthless and inexperienced freshman, possibly say?

"Kaitlin?" His voice pulled me from the frantically spiraling depths of my mind and back to the classroom. "Can I talk to you?"

$*%#.

Sheepishly glancing up, I noticed that his features were not, as I had expected, laced with disappointment. It made meeting his eyes with mine - fleetingly widened with fear and uncertainty - an absolute relief. It was then that I discovered the sincerity and care he'd been concealing beneath his beginning-of-the-year professor mask. There was no anger in his expression; only compassion and understanding.

"I can tell you're not the kind of person who gets grades like this," he said flatly while shifting his gaze to the painted essay on my desk, "so I want to explain myself. You've got a lot of talent - I can tell - but I want to see you grow. I want to see where you can get by the end of this semester, and I want to help make it happen."


I was floored by his kindness and honesty and knew immediately that this would be a turning point not only for the way I viewed academics, but also in how I saw my life. I was, again, at a loss for words, but I composed myself, thanked him and accepted the challenge.

As the semester progressed, I found myself placing an increasing amount of importance on his approval. I worked hard for his class, and got more out of it - a simple 100-level writing course - than I have out of any other I've taken thus far. In one semester, Prof D changed the way I think about everything.

I can't thank him enough.

Orange Pull-Apart Bread slightly adapted from No Special Effects
The original recipe calls for lemons, but I didn't have any, so I went with oranges. What I love about this bread (apart from its buttery goodness) is that unlike most "orange" baked goods, this one actually tastes like orange.

Printable Recipe

Sweet Dough

2 1/2 c (350g) flour, divided, plus additional for kneading
1/4 c (50g) sugar
2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope) instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbls (75g) milk
1/2 c (110g) butter, divided and softened
1/4 c (60g) water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, room temp

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups (284g) of the flour, the sugar, the yeast and the salt. Set aside.

Put 4 tablespoons of the butter and all of the milk in a small bowl. Microwave, stirring occasionally, just until the butter melts. Allow to cool about 1 minute, then add the water and vanilla.

Pour the butter mixture into the dry ingredients and, using a spatula or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir until evenly combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until fully incorporated before continuing. If using a stand mixer, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Add the remaining 1/2 cup (71g) of flour and mix until smooth. If the dough seems to sticky, add 2-3 more tablespoons of flour. Knead until smooth, about five to ten minutes in a mixer or by hand on a well-floured surface.

Place the kneaded dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. In the meantime, prepare the orange paste filling (recipe follows) and oil + line a standard-size bread pan.

After the dough has risen, roll it out on a well-floured surface into a 20 x 12 inch rectangle. Spread the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over the entire surface, then evenly sprinkle over the orange paste filling, pressing gently to adhere. Cut the dough into five 4 x 12 inch strips, then stack them all on top of each other so that you have alternating layers of dough and filling. Cut the stack into six smaller 2 X 4 inch pieces. Take the cut stacks and place them in the prepared bread pan with the just-cut 4" sides facing up. Use your fingers or a butter knife to fan out the layers a little, if necessary.

Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap and set aside to double in bulk, about one hour. While you are waiting, preheat the oven to 350F.

Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden brown. Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and allow to cool completely. Drizzle with glaze (recipe follows), if desired, and let set before enjoying.

Orange Paste Filling

1/2 c (100g) sugar
4 Tbls orange zest, from 2-3 oranges

Place the sugar and zest in a bowl and rub the sugar between your fingers until very fragrant and moist. It should resemble wet sand.

Quick Glaze

A splash of milk
Powdered sugar

Pour the milk into a bowl and sift powdered sugar over the top. Whisk to combine and add enough powdered sugar to form a thick glaze. Pour over the cooled loaf.

Friday, April 1

Twenty - {Chai Cake with Honey-Ginger Cream}

I couldn't help but feel a little chased out as I sat in the backseat of my friend's Jeep. R and H had kindly invited me over for dinner that night, and although everything was great, it all had seemed a little... rushed. After the table was cleared, our typically fluid conversation became stagnant and punctuated by the significant "time to go" of our frequent empty silences.

The dishes were hastily loaded into the dishwasher.

I shouldered my bag and put on my shoes.


I didn't mind the thought of being alone for most of the night on my birthday. The day lost its charm quite some time ago; losing it's luster like a stifled candle back when I was in my preteen years. I didn't necessarily want to be alone, but to be completely honest, I was really looking forward to spending the evening reading the amazing cookbooks R and H bought me (THANK YOU). Even so, lugging my bag down the hall made me feel small and weighted - burdened by the thought that something was wrong between some of my best friends and myself. They'd dropped me so casually...

My loosely-fitted apartment door showed signs of vacancy. No lights were visible around its edges, no sounds spilled from within and its engaged lock signaled my roommate's absence. I twisted my key, completely prepared for the emptiness, but was met with something completely different:

Friends standing around a giant, frosted cookie topped with twenty burning candles.

They started singing.

I started tearing up.

Even now I don't have the words to describe how sweet the whole thing was. The confusing encounter with my friends earlier that night suddenly made sense and I knew that everything was fine.

And it made me realize a few things. I may not have the biggest group of friends, but the ones I do have are amazing. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I'm incredibly lucky just to have them in my life. Sure, our apartment wasn't filled to the brim with people - but that's not how I would have wanted it. My roommate (S, you're awesome) was there along with some of my friends and some of hers.


That was enough.

It was perfect.

And we even had a giant cookie to eat!

Chai Cake with Honey-Ginger Cream adapted from Sky High
The taste of chai tea really comes through in this cake. I really enjoyed it and hope to make it again! As a note, the author recommends using chai tea bags (6 of them can be used to replace the cardamom pods, fennel and tea) for the cake, but I couldn't be bothered. I just used the loose black tea and spices that I use for making actual chai.

Printable Recipe

Chai Cake

1 1/3 c (315 ml) milk
6 Tbsp loose black tea
15 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tsp fennel
1/2" of ginger, peeled and grated
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla
2 3/4 c (390 g) flour
2 c (398 g) sugar
2 3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 c (237 g) butter, room temp

Place the milk, tea, cardamom, fennel and ginger in a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer and let bubble for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let steep 5 minutes. Strain the flavored milk into a bowl pressing the grounds with a rubber spatula to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids and set milk aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350F. Oil and line three 8" cake pans and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla and 1/3 cup of the chai milk. Set aside.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Beat on low to combine, then add the butter and remaining chai milk. Beat on low speed to blend, then raise speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg mixture in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl often and mixing just to incorporate.

Divide the batter evenly among the three pans and bake 26-28 minutes, or until the cakes spring back when lightly pressed in the center. Cool cakes in pans on a rack for ten minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to chill.

Honey Ginger Cream

6 oz (170 g) cream cheese, room temp
6 tbsp (85 g) butter, room temp
1/2 c (118 ml) honey
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
3 1/2 c (547 g) confectioners' sugar

Place all of the ingredients but the confectioners' sugar in a large bowl and beat until combined and lightened. Add half of the sugar and whip to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining sugar, and beat until fully incorporated.

Assembly

Level the cooled cakes with a long serrated knife. Fill and frost with the Honey-Ginger Cream.