She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

Posted: November 24th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 4 Comments »

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I love chocolate.  I love pumpkin.  I love pie.  I had a helper.  So I made a tasty pie, that would work well for Thanksgiving, but is not the regular old cold gelatinous pumpkin pie we’re used to.

First off, you make a crust.  This has a chocolate shortbread press in crust, meaning no rolling out dough!  In a bowl, mix together 4 tbs butter and 4 tbs sugar.  My helper used a pastry cutter.  I suppose you could also use a mixer at a low speed, but a LOW speed.  Add in one egg yolk.  Stir in 1 cup flour, 1 tsp salt and 2-3 tbs cocoa powder until dry and crumbly.  Don’t over mix it.  Press the dough into a 9-inch pie tin, getting an even layer on the bottom and sides.  Put it in the freezer for 20 minutes, and pre-heat the oven to 375.  Then, bake for 20 minutes.  Let cool.

When the crust is cool, make the filling.  Preheat to 325 degrees.  Take one can of pumpkin, 1 cup heavy cream, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp salt, and either 2 teaspoons of pre-made pumpkin pie spice, OR 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 ginger, 1/4 tsp allspice, OR whatever spices you think would be nice, and whisk them together.  Then melt 1/3 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips.  Separate out about a cup of the pumpkin mixture and mix it with the chocolate.  Pour the not chocolatey stuff on into the prepared crust first, and then dollop the chocolate stuff on top and spread it around with a butterknife.

Bake for 70-80 minutes, rotating halfway through.  Let cool, and refrigerate.  Traditionally, pumpkin pie is served cold, but I don’t think you need to, I liked it room-temp.

Help and photo by certain special someone.  (See people, first date cookies work).


Thanksgiving Side-stravaganza

Posted: November 15th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | No Comments »

A couple days ago, I decided to do a balls-out attempt at Thanksgiving Side Practice for dinner.  On the menu was creamy broccoli soup, butternut squash in brown butter, green beans with shallots and breadcrumbs, roasted fingerling potatoes and pecan pie with cream cheese crust for dessert.  Luckily, all of the recipes were successful.  Today, I’m going to write about the squash, beans and potatoes, but expect upcoming posts regarding the soup and the pie.

DSC00265All three of these recipes are from Martha Stewart.  I need to branch out more, I guess, but I scoured Food & Wine (which IS were the soup is from), Real Simple, Body & Soul and Epicurius as well, and what’s nice is that Martha Stewart makes very simple recipes, which work better for my picky family, who will not eat a number of ingredients, including but not limited to nuts (all varieties), sweet potatoes, spinach, brussel’s sprouts, anything remotely spicy, ginger and nutmeg.  So, I saw lots of great looking recipes, but they’d throw in one of those things and I’d nix it from the list of potential dishes.  For example, this recipe: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/creamed-spinach-and-parsnips looks incredible, but there’s no chance anyone in my family except me would touch a parsnip, and my mom’s not supposed to eat spinach.  So for very simple dishes with few ingredients, I recommend Martha.

DSC00266This is the squash.  The recipe can be found here.

I followed it exactly, and fear copyright issues, so I’m not going to re-print it, but I want to make some notes:

1: The cooking times are off, it took longer than 6 minutes for the squash to caramelize, more like 15.

2.  For a veg version, I used Imagen brand “No-Chicken Broth” instead of regular chicken broth, and it came out really well.  I found it at Whole Foods, and it smelled exactly like regular chicken broth to me when I was cooking with it.  Seriously.  You won’t miss the chicken, and you can entertain vegetarians or, if you’re kosher, make it part of a dairy meal.

3.  You can buy pre-cut, peeled and seeded squash at the grocery store.  It saves a lot of time, and cutting, peeling and seeding squash is DIFFICULT.  My mom had to go to the ER for stitches due to a squash incident once.  It’s a short-cut that is totally worth it.

DSC00267Next the beans.  This is an ammeneded version of a recipe in this month’s Martha Stewart Living.  First, boil water in a large pot, and prepare an ice water bath at the same time.  Then, add a pound of green beans per every 2-3 people who are serving to the boiling water, blanch for a few minutes (4 or 5, when the beans get very green).  Drain and pat dry.  You can leave these beans out for a while, for timing purposes.  When you’re ready for the next step, heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil per pound of green beans you made in a large skillet. Add one thinly sliced shallot (which are basically the same as a small onion) per lb of beans, and cook over medium heat until it is golden.  Add beans, and cook them until they’re hot, a minute or two.  Lastly, stir in 2 tbs of seasoned breadcrumbs per lb of beans.  Serve immediately (before the beans get all floppy and cool).  The breadcrumbs add a different dimension to regular beans.  They’re pretty good.  Try to get some very fresh and firm beans.  Trimming is optional, depending on personal taste.

DSC00268Lastly, I made fingerling potatoes.  The recipe is http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/rich-roasted-potatoes

I only have some minor adjustments.  Firstly, strangely enough, did you know there are many varieties of fingerling potatoes?  Yeah, excessive.  I had Russian Banana fingerlings.  I’m not sure it matters.  I also used more thyme than Martha recommends.  It really infuses them with flavor.  That’s important.  Also, feel free to cook them a little longer than she says.  Just check and make them as brown or not brown as you want them.

At the end, I think all of these are making it to my Thanksgiving table!  Hurray!


Brussel’s Sprouts in Wine Sauce

Posted: November 12th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 1 Comment »

As promised earlier this week, I made Brussel’s Sprouts with mushrooms with white wine.  They were quite easy.  First, cut the stems off two cups of brussel’s sprouts and halve them.  Place them in a heavy skillet with 1 tsp lemon juice and 1/4 cup white wine (use a good quality dry variety).  Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.  While they’re cooking, slice 8 or 9 mushrooms (I used cremini, but any variety will do).  Add the mushrooms, as well as pepper and oregano to taste, cover, and simmer another 10 minutes.  Voila, you’re done.

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The end result, they’re pretty good, if I do say so.  The Brussel’s Sprouts are infused with wine flavor, and the plainness of the mushrooms balances out the punchiness of Brussel’s Sprouts.  And they are punchy, which is why a lot of people dislike them.  Broccoli can probably be subbed in, and it would have a much milder flavor.  Don’t be afraid to use a LOT of oregano, it really needs it.

These are a contender for a Thanksgiving side, though I might sub in broccoli.  Brussel’s sprouts have a very strong flavor, and I think might not necessarily be a crowd pleaser.

Anyway, more Thanksgiving side dishes to come!  Let’s get some good stuffing into the mix!


Thanksgiving Side Dish Try Out #1

Posted: November 8th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 4 Comments »

As I mentioned previously, I am going to be making Thanksgiving dinner this year.  Because I’m not so much a cook as a baker, I’ve decided in the upcoming couple weeks, I’m going to try out side dishes to go with the meal until I find satisfactory starch-, green veggie-, cranberry- and stuffing-oriented dishes for the big day.  Today, I tried out Creamy Potatoes with Herbs from the Low-Fat Good Food Cookbook, located on the shelf of the family I babysit for.

To prep, scrub (peeling optional) 4 medium-sized potatoes, chop into big pieces, and boil until soft and drain.  While they’re boiling, preheat the oven to 350.  Mash the potatoes in a large bowl.  Then, with an electric mixer (amazing that I always find a way to use that mixer…), add in 6 ounces of Neufchatel cheese (found next to the cream cheese at the grocery store), 1/4 cup skim or lowfat milk, 1 egg, and about 1/2 tsp basil, thyme, and whatever other herbs you’d like (I added rosemary for good measure).  Mix well.  Then, stir in one diced green bell pepper.  Spread into a sprayed 8 or 9 inch square pan and bake for 30-35 minutes (amazing that I baked the potatoes…)

DSC00254The end result was okay but not amazing.  The herbs were lovely.  Really lovely.  The potatoes were a little dry.  I think part of the reason for this is that mashed potatoes, the famous American comfort food version, are usually made with lots of heavy cream and butter, and Neufchatel has about 16 grams less fat per ounce than butter, and 4 less than heavy cream.  Hence, while the potatoes aren’t bad, they’re not what one really craves from mashed potatoes, especially on a holiday.  And while in theory, the bell pepper should add some moisture, the contrast between the crunchiness of the bell pepper and the smoothness of the potatoes is kind of odd.

The verdict: these potatoes are an okay lower fat/calorie alternative for everyday, but not making it to the Thanksgiving table.  I’ll try out another starchy recipe, perhaps using fingerling potatoes, a new thing of mine.

Coming later this week:  Brussel’s sprouts and mushrooms in a white wine sauce.  Will I be able to help rid Brussel’s sprouts of their bad name, or contribute to the stereotypes?


Raw Egg Whites, What’s the Deal?

Posted: November 7th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 4 Comments »

So, I have discovered the way to make perfect royal icing.  This is the smooth icing traditionally found on cookies.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never prefected it, and have struggled to find the right consistency.  It involves very few ingredients, but comes out very well.  You need confectioner’s sugar (aka powdered sugar), flavoring of your choice (many people love lemon juice, I prefer a VERY small amount of vanilla extract), and… raw egg whites.  You stir them all together, finding the right consistency, using food dye for color or leaving it white, then put it in a pastry bag IMMEDIATELY (it hardens quickly), ice to make your desired design… something I personally need some practice at, seeing that I just realized that the raw egg whites make the perfect royal icing… and voila, it’s sweet, tasty, and hardens to a beautiful shiny finish.

So if it’s so perfect, what’s the problem.  Well, the raw eggs of course.  I have to say, I am skeptical of using and eating raw eggs.  I’ve looked online for health guidelines, and here’s what I’ve discovered after weeding out some of the craziness (amazingly, there’s a lot of crazy health related information online).

1.  Raw egg whites are NOT as bad for you as raw egg yolks, but still potentially contain salmonella.

2.  The body cannot digest raw eggs.

3.  Body builders like to eat lots of raw egg whites, but it can cause a biotin deficiency.  I’m not sure what that means.

4.  Fake egg whites don’t have as good a consistency for cooking, but lack the salmonella risk.

5.  People who are allergic to eggs are usually allergic to the white, not the yolk.

So what’s my opinion?  Well, I’m still a little wary of the salmonella risk, and the fact that it’s not digest-able.  But, I also think that the tiny amount of raw egg white you’d get eating a cookie with royal icing is probably negligable.  I also wish that the fake egg whites were better to cook with, because then I’d get perfect royal icing and not risk food poisoining.  That being said, I think it might be a good idea for pregnant women and people with health issues to avoid the royal icing.  But I’m not a doctor, unlike the many, many “experts” on the internet who seem to know everything about health and what to eat.  For now, I think I’m going to continue to use raw eggs and work on my cookie decorating skills.  What do you guys think?  Am I crazy to consume small amounts of raw egg for the sake of prettily iced cookies.  I mean, look at what you can do with royal icing:

That’s SO pretty!  So pretty…. I swear, I’m gonna learn how to do that.

Also, I have a treat for you blog-readers and myself.  As I mentioned previously, my dad had his knee replaced (he’s recovering now and doing better every day), and will not be able to make Thanksgiving dinner.  He officially asked me to take over.  I know that I’m the baker, not the cook, but what I figure I’m going to do is practice all my side dishes over the next couple weeks to see what I can make.  The final meal will consist of turkey (which I won’t practice until I actually get home), stuffing of some sort, a green vegetable dish, a potato dish (no sweet potatoes, my dad and brother don’t like them), cranberry sauce, dessert and wine.  It will only be my parents, brother and I, so I don’t need to go too crazy.  But, I’m going to leaf through the magazines, websites and cookbooks, and try to bring some good recipes to you.  And I will bake as many of them as possible, but you might also get to find out how Bakezilla tries to sautee, grill, fry, poach and cook in ways she is not accustomed to.  I can’t promise there won’t be some flops, but hopefully there’ll be some winners.  And, if there’s anything you can recommend, please do, I’ll try it out.  Hopefully my thanksgiving table will look as good as these:


Browned Butter Birthday Cake

Posted: October 17th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 4 Comments »

Birthdays, to me, mean one thing: cake (okay, and champagne).  I know people will make other favorite desserts on birthday, but to me, you can’t have a birthday cobbler or tart, it’s just not right.

I think the reason people look for alternatives is because traditional, yellow or white birthday cake, is kind of boring/tasteless.  But, it’s also tradition, and really symbolizes the occasion.  And since I have a birthday to go to tonight, I decided to try to remedy this.  So, I got out this random cookbook I bought at a used bookstore, where I found a tasty cupcake recipe and adapted it to a cake.

You know how butter smells delicious when you heat it up to cook something in?  This works on that principle.  It’s a pretty basic cake recipe, but heating the butter changes the flavor immensely, and for the better.

First, take a stick of unsalted butter, heat it in a heavy skillet, and cook until it turns dark brown, stirring often.  Pour it into a bowl, cover and chill (this takes a while, you can go off and do something else in the meantime).

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a cake pan.  Use whatever size you want/have, just remember to vary cooking times.  I made a small cake and only a third of the recipe today.

In a medium sized bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Set aside.

Mix together the browned butter and 1/4 cup shortening.  Then, slowly add in 1 1/4 cups of sugar.  Then, add 3 eggs, one at a time, and 2 tsp vanilla.  Then, alternately mix in the flour mixture and 3/4 cup milk.  Put it in the pan, and bake.  My small pan took 25 minutes, so a bit longer for a large pan.  Just watch it and take it out when it passes the knife test.

For icing, you can also brown the butter first before making a regular buttercream (which tastes good but looks ugly) or just make a plain buttercream, which I did here because I wanted it to look nice and birthday-ey.

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Two Dilemmas

Posted: October 15th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 2 Comments »

Today, I will be blogging about my personal culinary problems.  It’s going to be a therapy session.

The first problem: runny icing.  I tried making half moon cookies for the little girl I babysit last week, and I ran into a major problem.  The icing was so runny that it soaked through the cookies and was impossible to work with, even with my attempted quick fix solution of adding extra confectioner’s sugar.  I was irritated, and didn’t have enough time to figure out how to fix the problem.  So, I did some research on what to do when your icing or frosting is runny, so that you, fair readers, will know what to do in a pinch.

Number one – and this should have been a “duh” for me – refrigerate it for an hour or so.  Helps icings and frostings harden up.

Number two – corn starch.  Cheap, easy to find, thickening agent.  Blend that in.  Make sure you blend it good, though, so it doesn’t make lumps.

Number three – adding more powdered sugar does help, but you could make it  go further by halving the icing you’ve made and only adding it to one half.

Number four – not really a solution in this instance, but I read a frosting recipe that calls for marshmallow fluff along with butter, confectioner’s sugar and a dash of milk.  That would probably make a very firm icing good for decorating cakes with flowers, etc.

My second dilemma is more of a request for readers and fellow pretty girls.  As the weather gets chillier out, I am reminded that the holidays are fast approaching.  And, it looks like this year, I’m going to have to make a turkey for the first time in my life, as my dad is having knee replacement surgery and probably won’t be up to the task.  So, I am calling on you, dear friends, to give this baker instructions on how to make a good turkey.  Seriously, let’s remember that I’m the one who makes dessert, not dinner, so I am going to need help over the upcoming weeks!


Pumpkin Spice Cake

Posted: September 27th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 2 Comments »

Yesterday, at the last minute, our very own improvisor, Joh, and I decided to have dinner.  The plan was for her to come over, make dinner at my place, and I would provide the dessert and the wine.  So, she made a very tasty asian style chicken noodle soup, and I made a pumpkin spice cake, because we all know our Joh loves the pumpkin, and I had a can in my cabinet.

I made this recipe for Thanksgiving last year because my dad doesn’t like pumpkin pie (yeah, weird, right?), and got it from http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/pumpkin-spice-cake-with-honey-frosting?backto=true I follow it exactly, so I’m not going to re-post it here, just to give you my notes.

For the holiday, I made it exactly as she recommends, in a 9 inch square baking pan and with the honey frosting.  It is a moist spice cake with a very traditional cream cheese frosting (the honey flavor doesn’t really shine through, to be honest).  The adults at the table liked it okay, the children thought it wasn’t sweet enough (it’s not birthday cake-y).

I decided for my purposes tonight, I was going to tweak it a bit.  Firstly, I made it in a loaf pan, making it more of a quick bread than a cake, which it rightfully is.  (A quick bread is any bready thing that uses baking powder or soda instead of yeast – banana bread, muffins, etc.)  Just changing the shape made it seem more like truth in advertising.

Secondly, instead of frosting, which I found okay but not great, I made whipped cream to serve on the side.  Homemade whipped cream is super easy to make, and tastes far superior to reddi-whip.  All you do is take a cup of cream, about 3 tablespoons of confectioner’s sugar, and a teaspoon or two (depending on taste) of vanilla, and whip them on high speed with a mixer (preferably with a wisk attachment) for 7-10 minutes.  Don’t over-whip, because then you’ll have butter, but don’t under-whip, or it’ll be runny.  I taste test intermittenly to make sure I have the right consistency, it’s not all that scientific.

I found this spice cake works much much better with the whipped cream.  It was a great taste combination.  And since it was served on the side, the left over cake can be used as a tasty breakfast, sans cream.  It goes well with coffee, which is great, because coffee is necessary for survival.

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Sugar Cookies, Two Ways

Posted: September 26th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 1 Comment »

My roommate always tells me that my baking is how I’m going to get a man.  And, earlier this week, I went on a first date with a guy saying he wants a girl who “can make a killer batch of cookies.”  I realized here that I had an opportunity to win over a man, if not with my charm or good looks, with something I’m much more confident in: my ability to make cookies.

I decided I was going to make some refrigerator cookies using ingredients I had in the house.  So, I used my grandmother’s tried and true sugar cookie recipe:

Mix one cup sugar, 3/4 cup soft shortening (you can buy soft shortening in the store, or mix together regular shortening and butter, roughly equal parts), 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Grammy always subbed in 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract, but she loved her lemon more than I do.  If you’re a big lemon fan, go for it) and two eggs in a large bowl.  When they are thoroughly mixed, add in 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt (I love sea salt for baking).  Mix until just combined.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.  These belong to the family of “regriderator cookies,” which are the kind of cookies that are rolled out and cut into shapes.  Their dough must be cold to do so.

For my date, I decided to make “grown up” cookies.  So I rolled them out on a floured surface (also flour your rolling pin, it makes life easier) cut them into stars (the only non-Christmas shape I could find), and placed a candied pecan and white sanding sugar on each.  You bake them at 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes, just until the edges lightly brown.

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I only used half the dough for my date (afterall, it’s two adults, how many sugar cookies can we truly eat?).  They did, come out very good.  The pecans brought out the flavor and texture of the sea salt nicely, and the white sanding sugar made them sparkle (like I hope my personality did).

The next day, I babysat a first grader, who was having a little picnic with her friends after school.  So I decided to finish off the dough and make cookies for these (may I say, adorable) little girls.  For these, I make a white chocolate ganache (white chocolate chips melted with cream).  Note: put this on AFTER the cookies are baked and cooled, not before!  I made it a little too thin because I was trying to use up all the cream in my fridge before it went bad.  So it was sticky, but the kids really liked it (something about seven year olds and sticky really works).  I then applied rainbow sanding sugar, because, again, these were for children.  The white chocolate really brought out the sweetness in the cookies.  It was hard the believe it was the same batter as the other cookies, a simple switch of toppings (lightly sugared pecans to full on sweet white chocolate) really changes the flavor.

DSC00244The end of the day, I used my Grammy’s very classic recipe to make two very different types of cookies for two different audiences.  And… I not only have a second date tomorrow, I’m considered the coolest babysitter at the playground by some very discerning first grade girls.  I think my Grammy, who used to bake treats for the firefighters up the street (who she called “her boys”) would be very proud of me for using my baking to win over people’s hearts and stomachs.  This one’s for her.


Nuttier than a Fruitcake

Posted: September 20th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 1 Comment »

BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes

Yoda once said that “there is no try, there is only do.”  What he did not mention is that there is also fail.  I have been reading BakeWise by Shirley Corriher, which is a great book and full of amazing information about baking, when I came across her recipe for a French fruitcake.  Fruitcake is the butt of a lot of jokes, and not particularly popular any longer, and the recipe looked kind of tough, so I figured I’d challenge myself and make one.  What I’ve learned is that there is a good reason why fruitcake is the butt of jokes.  And that is because it’s gross.

To start with, you need to buy candied fruit, Corriher recommends a mixture of fruit peels and cherries.  I found this type of mix at a grocery store, in a container that said “Old English Fruit and Peel Mix.”  This should have tipped me off immediately, as any English foodstuff is bound to be horrific.  And this wound up being the grossest part – it’s weird tasting and hard.  You can’t eat the cake without getting a bite of nasty, bitter, British orange peel.

Another mistake I made was that when I was filling up my loaf pan, I thought there was too much dough.  But I figured that the recipe had to be written in a way that it didn’t rise too much.  I should have trusted my instincts, because it overflowed and made a mess of my oven.  Here’s a tip: if your loaf/cake/muffin tin is more than 2/3 full, you gotta take some of that dough out of there.

However, there were some good points to this.  Firstly, included in the recipe were a cup of pecans, that you roast for 10 minutes at 350, and then mix them with two tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of salt.  They were delicious.  Too bad most of them went into the cake, because the couple I ate alone were amazing.  Try this as a snack.

Another good thing was that this recipe reminded me of the importance of using parchment paper.  If I teach you anything about baking, it’s that you should always butter the pan, and then line it with parchment paper.  Try it.  Nothing you make will ever stick again.

Lastly, remember it’s okay to fail.  I made a dry, weird-tasting fruitcake that weighs about a million pounds.  But, I learned some lessons about what works and doesn’t.  And why some foods should go down in the history books and be the butt of jokes.  The cake itself is dry, which my mom says is how fruitcake is supposed to be.  Some people like dry baked goods.  Like scones.  Incidentally, those people are also British.  I think that says it’s all.  Next time, I’ll take these lessons and make something spectacular.