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

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.


Dad’s Baked Mac and Cheese

Posted: September 17th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 2 Comments »

Land O Lakes: Fat Free Half & Half, 946 ml

In the house where I grew up, my dad did the cooking.  My dad is a good guy, and I love him dearly, but most of his cooking was what I call “man food.”  This means that if it involves little to no flavoring, a minimum of ingredients, and something you stick in the oven, forget about, and then eat when the timer goes off, we ate it.  Seriously, I grew up eating baked potatoes 6 days a week (I have never actually made one in my own home).  However, he has a few jackpot recipes that are not only very easy, but very tasty.  One of them is for his (low-fat!) baked mac and cheese.  The trick to making this low-fat is using Land-o-Lakes’ Nonfat half and half.  How they get half and half to be nonfat, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know, but it makes a good mac and cheese.

To make this recipe, you need:

a whole box of rotini pasta (you could probably sub in some other shape of pasta, but my dad always uses rotini)

3 tbs butter

1/2 cup of bread crumbs

1 pint nonfat half and half

12 ounces of grated extra sharp cheddar

2 tbs flour

1 can whole tomatoes (yes, mac and cheese with tomatoes.  Try it.  You’ll like it.)

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan, mix in the bread crumbs, and set this aside.  Cook the pasta as per the directions on the box, drain and put in a large bowl.  In a large saucepan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and mix in the flour.  Then add in the half and half, and bring to simmer over low heat.  Mix in the cheese, stirring until it is thoroughly melted.  Put this in with the macaroni.  Drain the juice from the tomatoes, and mix them in.  Put everything in a 9×13 inch baking pan, and top it with the breadcrumb mixture, coating it evenly.  Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until the sauce bubbles.

The one caveat about this recipe is that it doesn’t save well.  You should really try to eat it while it’s fresh.  Also, my dad and I both never put pepper in anything because we like people to put in as much as they personally like, but this is superb with some freshly ground black pepper.  It makes a huge difference.


Baked… Samosas?

Posted: September 10th, 2009 | Author: bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla | 5 Comments »

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While baking sweet things is my passion, a girl can’t eat goodies alone.  What I’ve discovered is that I can make healthy versions of some awesome foods by employing my baking skills.  Samosas are my favorite of this genre.  They are a traditional Indian dish, which are usually deep friend – not exactly the healthiest thing in the world.  But, these are delicious and pretty healthy, and are hand-held and easily portable (I made these for a picnic with our very own Kosher chick, Rita, and some other friends).  And, I get to use several favorite baking tools, including my pastry brush, rolling pin, and cookie trays.

First, make the dough, by mixing up 2 1/2 cups flour, a pinch of salt, and 1 cup yogurt or buttermilk (nonfat is fine, and to make them vegan, use soy yogurt).  Use your hands to mix and then kneed the dough for about 5 minutes (wash your hands first!!!).  Wrap the dough in saran wrap and put it in a fridge.

Next, make the filling.  Peel 2 large or 3 small potatoes (for a twist, use sweet potatoes, which are tasty and have lots of nutrients), cut them into 1-inch cubes, cover them with water in a saucepot and boil until those suckers are nice and soft.  Drain ‘em and mash ‘em, just like regular mashed potatoes.  Set aside.

Heat up 1-2 tbs butter or olive oil (again, oil if you want a vegan version) in a skillet, and throw in a cup of minced onion (any variety is fine), 1 tbs of grated ginger, 1-2 tbs minced garlic, and about a teaspoon each of mustard seed and coriander (careful – the mustard can be spicy).  Saute until the onions are soft, keeping a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn.  Add this, as well as 1 1/2 cups of uncooked peas (frozen works well), to the potatoes, and gently mix it up.

Next is the messiest part. Pre-heat the oven to 425 and oil a cookie sheet.  Flour a surface, and keep some extra flour out, as well as a small bowl of water and a pastry brush.  Pinch off about an inch wide ball of dough, and roll it out into a 5 inch (ish) circle. (yes, rolling pins have a use other than cookies).  Put in about a tablespoon of the potato-pea mix stuff in the center of the circle.  Then brush the outside of the circle with water, fold it over, and press it together with a fork to make a seam.

Bake the samosas for 15 minutes at 425, and then turn the oven down to 375 for 10 minutes.  While they bake, make the dipping sauce: put 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 3 tbs brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic, and a little salt into a small saucepan, heat to boiling, then simmer for about 10 minutes.  Stir so the sugar dissolves.

Yeah, these are totally high maintenence, but they are so tasty!  And portable!  Yum!