Cupcake Hero: Cocoa Cupcakes with Zebra Frosting

May 29, 2008 at 12:49 pm | Posted in cupcakes, events, sweet things | 37 Comments

cocoa cupcakes with zebra frosting 

There has been something conspicuously absent from my diet the last few weeks.  Yeah, that’s right, where’s all the chocolate?  Trust me, I have noticed this and I aim to correct it now, thanks to Laurie and her cocoa powder-themed May Cupcake Hero event.  What’s more, Laurie has a prize from Askinosie Chocolate up for grabs!  Even if I’d been stuffing myself with the food of the gods lately, that’s all the incentive I need to make up a batch of cocoa cupcakes.

First things first, I had start with a good cake, and I knew I wanted it to be cocoa all the way through.  I poked around for a chocolate cupcake recipe that would incorporate cocoa as well as buttermilk (whenever I have an already open container in the fridge, and I really try to use it up).  Of course it was Ina to the rescue!  She had one that sounded pretty good in her book Barefoot Contessa at Home, but it made 14 to 15 cupcakes.  What a weird amount, and I certainly didn’t want that many…I didn’t even want half that.  So I cut it back to a third and somehow still wound up with six cupcakes.  I was a math major in college and even though those skills are a little rusty these days, I’m pretty sure six times three doesn’t equal 14 to 15.  But six was actually perfect, so don’t think I’m complaining.

The frosting was a little trickier, as I didn’t have any good gimmick planned ahead for my cupcakes.  Suddenly last week I realized it would be Memorial Day weekend back in the States (which you can forget all about when you’re so far away that it’s almost winter where you live), and in New York all the Mister Softee trucks would be out in force.  I began to feel quite sad thinking about the annoyingly catchy tune broadcast from the trucks’ speakers and my favorite soft-serve twist cones (which I have always called a “zebra” cone).  So zebra frosting it was gonna be, in buttercream form, of course!

cocoa cupcakes with zebra frosting

I used a favorite whole-egg buttercream from Baking Illustrated.  The amount yielded in the recipe I provide is likely more than you will need for six cupcakes (it’s probably better suited to 12), but I’ve found that trying to do a really small amount in the KitchenAid doesn’t work well. One egg isn’t enough for the whip to pick up and aerate. Just use what you think you will need and save the rest as plain to flavor and use for another batch anytime with the next couple weeks. Although, if you have a hand-held mixer (I do not), then you may have fine results making just half the provided amount.

The trick to piping it zebra-style is to first set aside half the frosting you are using in one bowl (to be left as plain vanilla). Put the remaining half in another bowl, and to that, whisk in sifted cocoa (a teaspoon at a time) until you get the desired color and taste.  Then take a piping bag fitted with a wide tip and hold it wide open in one hand. Spoon in the vanilla frosting down one side of the bag and the chocolate down the other, so that the two are divided down the center. If you look into the bag, it will essentially look like a black and white cookie. You may have to squeeze out the first little bit into a bowl until you get the two halves coming through the tip.

The twisty frosting was oh-so-cute, and the cakes were moist and black as night. I didn’t even recognize the pastel cupcake liners I used!  They held up well in the fridge, too.  We ate ours over the course of three nights, bringing them up to room temperature first.  And I don’t know if it was because we’d been so chocolate-deprived, but we inhaled those cocoa things in all of two bites!

Cocoa Cupcakes makes 6 regular-size cupcakes
adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home (here’s a link to the original)

4 T (2 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 T + 2 t granulated sugar
3 T + 2 t light brown sugar, packed
1 medium or large egg, at room temperature
3/4 t pure vanilla extract
1/3 c buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
2 T + 2 t sour cream, at room temperature
2 t brewed coffee
1/3 c + 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c good cocoa powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/8 t kosher salt

-Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

-By hand, or using a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and two sugars until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Add the egg, then add the vanilla and mix well.

-In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

-Add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it’s completely blended.

-Divide the batter among the cupcake pans. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean (keep an eye out so you don’t overbake).

-Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely on a rack before frosting.

Zebra Frosting  makes about 2 cups
adapted from a recipe for vanilla buttercream in Cook’s Illustrated’s Baking Illustrated

2 large eggs
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) sugar
1 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt
16 T (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into pieces
cocoa powder to taste

-Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a medium saucepot. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Set the bowl over the simmering water (making a double boiler). Whisk gently but constantly until the mixture reaches 160°F. It should be thin and foamy.

-Transfer the bowl to the mixer and whip until light, airy and room temperature. This should take about five minutes. Reduce the speed and whip in the butter, piece by piece. If it looks curdled halfway through, it should come together as you add the remaining butter.

-Once all the butter is incorporated, beat on high speed for about a minute until light and fluffy. You can refrigerate, covered, for a least a couple weeks, or flavor straight away.

 -To flavor, eyeball the portion of buttercream you will need for the amount of cupcakes you have.  Let come to room temperature if chilled.  Set aside half the frosting you are using in one bowl (to be left as plain vanilla) . Put the remaining half in another bowl, and to that, whisk in sifted cocoa, a teaspoon at a time, until you get the desired color and taste.

-Take a piping bag fitted with a wide tip and hold it wide open in one hand. Spoon in the vanilla frosting down one side of the bag and the chocolate down the other, so that a line basically forms down the center, separating the two. If you look into the bag, it will essentially look like a black and white cookie. You may have to squeeze out the first little bit into a bowl until you get the two halves coming through the tip. Then frost your cupcakes in a twisty swirl.

SHF#43: Meyer Lemon Ice Cream Bombe

May 24, 2008 at 11:28 am | Posted in events, ice creams & frozen, sweet things | 33 Comments

meyer lemon ice cream bombe

I don’t often make this kind of thing at home.  I’ll leave the plated dessert nonsense for work, thanks very much (although this is not even close to restaurant-worthy).  But R was in Korea for four days this week, and I had too much time on my hands.  Also, I thought he’d like having a special dessert when he came home.

I’ve called this a “bombe,” but if you’d like to think of it as “baked Alaska,” that’s fine, too.  I originally thought to do some version of this as a means to use up some extra sponge cake in the freezer and some yolks in the fridge.  I could have gone in any number of directions flavor-wise, but I wanted to send Tartelette one more entry for her Sugar High Friday (an event started by Jennifer The Domestic Goddess) citrus extravaganza, so I settled on a meyer lemon ice cream bombe with orange caramel sauce hiding in the center.

meyer lemon ice cream bombe

If you’re into making ice cream, then this isn’t too complicated if you start the whole process a couple days ahead.  Make your ice cream custard and caramel sauce one day, run the ice cream and mold it the next.  Then the day of, assemble, make your meringue and plate up!  And if you’re not into making ice cream, then I think store-bought would do just fine, and would save a lot of prep.  Having cake in the freezer and a silicone semi-spherical mold (like this) in the cupboard helps, too.

meyer lemon ice cream bombe

The ice cream is snappy, and combined with the meringue, is a bit reminiscent of LMP.  The orange juice and zest in the caramel help temper some of its sweetness.  This is like a self-contained ice cream sundae, and it’s good!

Meyer Lemon Ice Cream Bombe– makes 6 individual bombes (of this size)
Note: If you don’t have a silicone mold, you can put a large scoop of ice cream onto cut cake circles and just serve the sauce on the side.  I don’t give a recipe for the cake here, but I used scraps from the jaconde used in my opéra cake (any relatively thin sponge cake will do).

Day 1: Make the custard base for the meyer lemon ice cream (recipe below; save your egg whites for the meringue) and chill in the refrigerator. Put your ice cream machine canister in the freezer, if necessary. Make the orange caramel sauce (recipe below) and chill.  If you don’t already have cake available, make or buy the cake and freeze.

Day 2: Freeze the meyer lemon ice cream base according to your machine’s instructions. Using a spoon, fill the cavities of your dome molds with the ice cream, making sure to nudge it against the side of the molds, and level off each one with an offset spatula or the back of a knife. Lay your silicone molds on a sheet pan and freeze for about 4 hours. Once semi-hardened, using a spoon or a small ice cream scoop, hollow out a cavity in the middle of each mold. This cavity will hold the caramel sauce, so be sure to leave enough ice cream “cushion” around it. Press plastic wrap against the exposed surface of the ice cream and return the molds to the freezer overnight to harden.

Day 3: No more than a couple of hours before serving, cut out cake circles using a round cutter that matches the diameter of the bottom of the mold. Take the tray holding the silicone molds out of the freezer. Using a spoon or a squeeze bottle, fill the cavities in of each bombe with orange caramel sauce. Lightly press a cake circle onto each bombe, and pop out of the silicone mold. Place back on the sheet tray, cake side down (the caramel shouldn’t leak out). Return the tray to the freezer. Prepare the Swiss meringue (recipe below) and use a small offset spatula to cover the bombe.  Either brown the meringue with a kitchen blowtorch, or bake in a preheated 500°F oven until meringue is deep brown in spots, turning the sheet pan as needed for even cooking, about 3 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve (or you can return the bombes to the freezer for up to a couple of hours, if necessary).

Meyer Lemon Ice Cream Base
modified from a recipe on Epicurious

Note: The xanthan gum in the recipe is optional, and helps keep ice crystals from forming as the ice cream sits in the freezer. It is a powder and can be found in most health food stores.

1 1/2 c heavy cream
1 c milk
3/4 c sugar
2 T finely grated fresh meyer lemon zest
1/8 t salt
6 large egg yolks
2/3 c fresh meyer lemon juice
pinch of xanthan gum (under 1/8 t)

-Take about half of the sugar and put into the bottom of a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Add the lemon zest and rub into the sugar using your fingers. Add the cream, milk and salt to the pan and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat and set aside for about ten minutes to infuse the flavor of the zest.

-Beat yolks and the remaining sugar well in a large bowl, then add hot sweetened cream in a slow stream, whisking. Pour custard into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until a candy or instant-read thermometer registers 170°F and custard coats back of spoon, about 10 minutes.

-Pour through a sieve into a clean bowl, then stir in meyer lemon juice. Cool custard, stirring occasionally, then chill until cold, preferably overnight, before freeing in an ice cream machine.

Orange Caramel Sauce


1 c sugar
1 T light corn syrup or golden syrup
pinch of salt
1/4 c water
1/2 c heavy cream, heated
2 T unsalted butter
zest and juice of half an orange

In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, syrup, salt and water until the sugar is completely moistened. Wash down any sugar that is stuck to the side of the pot with a wet pastry brush or wet fingers. (Sugar granules on the side could cause your caramel to crystallize.) Allow it to boil undisturbed until it turns deep amber in color (380°F.). Immediately remove it from the heat and slowly and carefully pour the hot cream into the caramel. It will bubble up, so stand back.

-Use a whisk or wooden spoon to stir the mixture until smooth, scraping up the thicker part that settles on the bottom. If any lumps develop, return the pan to the heat and stir until they dissolve. Stir in the butter and the orange zest and juice. Cool. Store in a jar in the refrigerator.

Swiss Meringue
Note: If you are afraid you will not be able to work quickly enough rather than pull out the full tray, you can remove the unmolded bombes from the freezer and meringue them one by one, returning each one to the freezer before removing the next.

4 egg whites (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup sugar

-Combine sugar and egg whites in large metal bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Set bowl over saucepan of gently simmering water and whisk until mixture is hot to the touch and all the sugar has dissolved, about 2-3 minutes. Remove bowl from over water. Using the stand mixer fitted with the whip or a handheld electric mixer, beat meringue at high speed until very thick and billowy and room temperature, about 2-3 minutes.  

-Place sheet tray with unmolded, assembled bombes on work surface. Mound 2 heaping tablespoons meringue atop ice cream on 1 cake round. Spread meringue evenly over to cover, sealing meringue to plain cake border and swirling decoratively. Repeat with remaining desserts.

Taste&Create IX: Hummus and Pita Chips

May 23, 2008 at 6:42 pm | Posted in events, savory things | 10 Comments

hummus & pita chips

With pita or raw veggies, in a fried egg sandwich on Turkish pide, or on a bagel…hummus if so good.  I know it’s ridiculously easy to make, but it’s something I never do myself.  You know, I make my own baba ghanoush, and opening up a can of chick peas is certainly less involved than roasting an eggplant, so what’s the excuse?  In Brooklyn, it was perhaps understandable because I was spoiled by having Sahadi’s and their amazing hummus practically around the corner (then I would skip up the block to Damascus Bakery for fresh pita!).  Now there’s no Sahadi’s, so there’s also no excuse.   

Min from The Bad Girl’s Kitchen is my partner in crime for this month’s edition of Taste&Create.  I’m making Middle Eastern food for dinner tonight, and I found a great, lemony hummus recipe on her site.  Made in the food processor, it’s done in under five.  Needing something to go with my/her hummus, I also made Min’s pita chips.  They were salty and crunchy and a perfect companion to my bowl of hummus.

hummus & pita chips

Thanks, Min, for weaning me off the store-bought stuff with your great recipes!   Also, thanks as always to Nicole from For the Love of Food for hosting T&C!

SHF#43: Lemon Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze

May 18, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Posted in cakes & tortes, events, simple cakes, sweet things | 28 Comments

lemon yogurt cake with marmalade glaze 

Do you ever find yourself with one or more of the following things in your refrigerator?:

  1. An extra lemon that you bought a week ago, and is now just rolling back and forth every time you move something around it
  2. A huge tub of plain yogurt (because the plain only comes in huge tubs, but that’s what you like to eat on your granola) that you don’t know if you’ll be able to finish before it turns icky
  3. A jar of grapefruit marmalade that looked so beautiful, you had to buy it at the farmers’ market, but now it’s been open forever because it’s actually too thick-cut to be enjoyable on your toast or PB&J

Well, today I realized I had all three and I needed to do something about it.  That something was to bake a lemon yogurt cake with marmalade glaze.  Yogurt cake is a cousin to pound cake…the cousin you call on when you don’t quite need all those pounds, if ya know what I mean.  The yogurt keeps it tender and a little oil keeps it moist.  It has a light texture that’s a bit spongier than pound cake.

This is particular recpie is one that my friend P photocopied for me from Bon Appétit magazine a few years ago.  I only have the recipe itself, and not the article associated with it, but I noticed that it bears a striking similarity to a recipe I’ve seen in Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.  After a little Internet research, I found that it is in fact a Dorie recipe– a slightly altered version of what’s in her book.  While I’ve made another lemon yogurt cake here before, I’ve actually baked this one a few times, too, with assorted maramalades on top, making my own small tweaks along the way.  I prefer to cut down a bit on the oil in the original version and ramp up the lemon. I’ve made those changes in the recipe below, but I link to the original as well.

This cake is happy and sunny; sweet but with a little pucker from the marmalade.  And loaf cakes are easy to make, giving you the sugar high you’re after with minimal effort.  Speaking of which, I’m sending this over to Tartelette who’s hosting a sweet-tart, citrusy version of Sugar High Friday (started by Jennifer The Domestic Goddess) this month!

lemon yogurt cake with marmalade glaze

Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze– makes one loaf pan
modified from a recipe in Bon Appétit by Dorie Greenspan, February 2005

For the cake:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 c plain yogurt (whole-milk or low fat)
1 c sugar
3 large eggs
finely grated peel from 1 lemon
juice of half a lemon
1/3 c vegetable oil

For the glaze:
1/4 c lemon, orange, or grapefruit marmalade
1 t water

-Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.  Generously butter 8 1/2×4 1/2×2 1/2-inch metal loaf pan.

-Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl.

-Combine yogurt, sugar, eggs, lemon peel and lemon juice in large bowl; whisk until well blended. Gradually whisk in dry ingredients. Using rubber spatula, fold in oil.

-Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan.  Place cake on baking sheet in oven and bake until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

-Cool cake in pan on rack 5 minutes. Cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Turn cake out onto rack. Turn cake upright on rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap and store at room temperature.)

-Stir marmalade and 1 teaspoon water in small saucepan over medium heat until marmalade melts. Brush hot mixture over top of cake. Let glaze cool and set before cutting.

Cupcake Hero: Rhubarb-Filled Yogurt Cupcakes for Mother Earth

April 30, 2008 at 5:55 pm | Posted in cupcakes, events, sweet things | 28 Comments

rhubarb-filled yogurt cupcakes

Kermit the Frog summed it up best when he sang, “It’s not easy being green.”  I tell ya, you want to buy organic products, but they’re nowhere near local.  You take your own tote bags to the grocery store, but you still have to practically wrestle the plastic ones out the the cashier’s hands.  You try to recycle as much as possible, but then your neighbor throws her baby’s dirty diapers into the plastics recycling bin (nice!).  And it’s expensive, even more so in Sydney than in New York.  You should see the amount of cazash I plonk down at the growers’ markets here ($27 for an organic chicken last week!), and the enviro-friendly cleaning products cost a small fortune.

What’s a little frog to do?  The best she can, I guess.  I’m happy to see that a lot of bloggers have gone green during April to celebrate Earth Day.  These may not be the most kid-friendly cupcakes, but I wanted to make something earthy, delicious and maybe even slightly healthy for Cupcake Hero‘s own celebration of the planet.  We all know that cupcakes make the world go ’round! 

These should be called “rhubarb-filled yogurt cupcakes with lemon butter icing and pistachios,” but that’s a little long, don’t cha think?  To make these, I used as many organic and/or local products I could.  The exceptions are the baking powder and baking soda (which I think exist in organic form, but I couldn’t find them at the health food store) and the icing sugar (which although not organic, and certainly not local, is unrefined).  The pistachios, lemon and rhubarb came from a local farmers’ market, and everything else from either the regular grocery store (which stocks a good range of organics) or the health food store.  None of these items even required a car ride…all were picked up within reasonable walking distance from my place.   And, while I am the first to admit that my giant collection of cupcake papers borders on the crazy, in efforts to make as little waste as possible, I baked these au naturel .

rhubarb-filled yogurt cupcakes

The cupcakes are delicious, moist and not too sweet.  Their brown color comes from Alter Eco’s organic ground cane sugar.  This is more like a soft brown sugar than a white granulated one.  The cupcakes domed a bit in the oven, which at first had me a little peeved, but then I used it to my advantage, as they appear to have a huge mound of frosting on top, but really the amount is quite modest. My favorite part is hidden inside–the rhubarb compote, which you can modify according to your own sweetness preference.  I made a big bunch, because whatever doesn’t get used in the cupcakes is amazing on top of oatmeal or with granola and yogurt.  The icing is so simple, and it is great with the rhubarb.  The refined icing sugar (I used Billington’s) is less harshly sweet, if you know what I mean, than regular powdered sugar and it is and a beautiful ivory color…I should always use this stuff.

rhubarb-filled yogurt cupcakes

Rhubarb-Filled Yogurt Cupcakes makes 6 regular-size cupcakes

-Start by making and chilling the rhubarb compote (process below).

-Bake and cool the yogurt cupcakes (recipe below).

-If your pistachios have papery skins on them, blanche them for a minute in boiling water.  Drain them, and once cool enough to handle, slip off the skins.  Chop them roughly.

-Make the lemon butter icing.

-To fill the cooled cupcakes, use a small knife or round cookie cutter to cut a plug out of the center of each (going in from the top).  Save the top bit of each plug.  Fill each cavity with rhubarb compote.  Cover with the top bit so the filling is not exposed.

-Top with the icing and sprinkle on the chopped pistachios.

Rhubarb Compote
Note:  This is more of a process than a recipe, and can be adjusted depending upon the amount of rhubarb you have and how sweet you would like it to be.  I’d use at least 6 stalks, and any leftover compote is great on oatmeal or with yogurt.

-Trim off the tops and bottoms of each stalk of rhubarb.  Use a pairing knife to peel away any strings. Cut into 1-inch pieces. 

-Weigh the cut rhubarb.  Measure out sugar equal to 1/4 to 1/3 of the weight of the rhubarb, depending on how sweet you’d like it.  If you don’t have a scale, you can eyeball or use cup measurements.

-Put rhubarb pieces and sugar into a heavy-bottomed pot.  Add a small splash of water (just to keep the rhubarb from burning) and place over medium heat.  Stir frequently to keep from sticking to the bottom.

-Simmer for several minutes until the rhubarb releases its juice and the sugar is dissolved.  The rhubarb will soften and break down and the liquid should be reduced (although if you have an excessive amount, you can tip it out).  All this will probably take about 10 minutes, unless you are working with a very large quantity.

-Transfer to a container and chill.  This will keep for a week or two.

Yogurt Cupcakes makes 6 regular-sized cupcakes
heavily modified from The 1997 Joy of Cooking

Note: I used salted butter in this recipe, as it is the only organic kind sold here (therefore, there is no added salt in the ingredients list).  If you are using unsalted butter, add a 1/4 t salt in with the dry ingredients.

1 c sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
2 1/2 T salted butter, room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1/2 egg (break egg into a cup, whisk it and pour out half)
1 egg white
1/2 t vanilla
1/2 c plain yogurt (full or nonfat), cool room temperature

 -Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C and spray and flour six cavities of a muffin tin (or line with six paper cups). 

-Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda.  Set aside.

-Beat the butter in a large mixing bowl until creamy.  Gradually add the sugar and beat until light in color and texture.  (The amount was too small for my stand mixer, so I did it by hand.  Handheld electric beaters would also work well.)

-Whisk together the 1/2 egg, egg white and vanilla.  Gradually beat into the butter/sugar mixture until thoroughly combined.

-Add the dry ingredients and yogurt in three parts, alternating and beating smooth after each addition. 

-Divide the batter in the tin, and cook for about 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in the tins for a few minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.  

Lemon Butter Icing makes enough to generously frost 6 cupcakes
adapted from Everyday by Bill Granger

4 T butter (salted or unsalted), room temperature
3 3/4 oz powdered sugar, sifted
2 t lemon zest (finely grated)
2t lemon juice

-Beat the butter until very soft and white.  Beat in the powdered sugar, lemon zest and juice.  (You can adjust consistency with either extra powdered sugar or lemon juice.)

Taste&Create VIII: Greek Feta and Tomato Pasta

April 24, 2008 at 1:07 am | Posted in events, pasta, savory things | 8 Comments

greek feta and tomato pasta

For Taste&Create VIII, I was hooked up with Teresa from I’m Running to Eat.  Teresa is an avid runner and cooks healthy meals for her family.  I had no problem finding something from her blog to highlight here, but I cringe to think of Teresa’s reaction to the billion-calorie sweets I post– sorry Teresa!

From Teresa’s site, I chose Greek feta and tomato pasta, a recipe that she says is a favorite, and although it’s vegetarian, even the carnivores in her family love it.  Since I eat a mainly vegetarian diet, but R could live off steak, that sounded perfect for us.

greek feta and tomato pasta

This came together in a snap.  It’s one of those dishes where the sauce is basically made in the time it takes the pasta to cook–I love that!  Rather than the thin spaghetti the recipe calls for, I used farfalle here.  I wanted to take advantage of the last hurrah for fresh tomatoes before the cold sets in in Sydney, and used cherry tomatoes on the vine, cooked just until they burst.  And since I had a giant bunch of basil on the counter, I tossed some in at the end.  My favorite part of this dish, though, was the feta, which just barely melted from the heat of the pasta, and turned really creamy. 

Thanks Teresa for a great dinner (or lunch…I’ve made it three times already, actually), and Nicole from For the Love of Food for hosting T&C!

Mom’s Banana Apple Bread

April 20, 2008 at 5:35 pm | Posted in book review, breakfast things, cakes & tortes, events, muffins & quick breads, simple cakes, sweet things | 54 Comments

banana apple bread

Well, not my mom’s.  I’m guessing Melissa Murphy’s mom’s, since it’s in her new cookbook The Sweet Melissa Baking Book.  You know, I really don’t like bananas in their raw form (not even in smoothies), but once they are baked into something sweet, it’s a whole ‘nother story.  R does like to have bananas in his cereal, but sometimes he buys more than he can eat.  When that happens, I wrap them up and stash them in the freezer…after I’ve accumulated a few, it’s time for banana bread, cake or muffins!

What makes this particular banana bread extra-special are the bits of caramelized apple throughout.  Most banana bread has a pretty good shelf life and can even get better after a day of so.  This one is no exception, as the sweet apples just meld more into the spiced bread.

I was so happy with this, that I’m entering it into Sydneysider Not Quite Nigella’s Banana Bread Bakeoff event.  If you have a favorite banana bread recipe, go check out her bakeoff, too.

banana apple bread

Mom’s Banana Apple Bread– makes one 1 1/2-quart loaf pan
from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy. All rights reserved. Copyright © Melissa Murphy, 2008

For the apples:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the banana bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups very ripe mashed bananas (2 to 3)

Before you start:
Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan.

To make the apples:
Preheat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and brown sugar and heat until bubbling. Add the apples and cinnamon and sauté until golden and tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

To make the banana bread:
-In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt.

-In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

-In a small bowl, combine the orange juice and vanilla.

-Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the orange juice mixture, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each flour addition. Stir in the mashed bananas until combined. Then stir in the reserved apples.

-Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool further.

*Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The banana bread keeps well wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. For longer storage, freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 3 weeks. Defrost (still wrapped) at room temperature.

Blogging by Mail– Thanks, Amy!

March 14, 2008 at 9:03 pm | Posted in events | Leave a comment

blogging by mail

There was major excitement yesterday when I went to the post office to pick up a box, and it turned out to be my Blogging by Mail package!  Amy from Tart Reform sent along a bunch of goodies to remind me of the States.  She put together a great box, containing:

-Reece’s cups (an all-time favorite of mine!)
-Jolly Ranchers (I haven’t had one in years, and went straight for the best flavor– watermelon!)
-strawberries & cream cheeseball and dessert mix (what could this be??)
-animal crackers
-a Maryland candy bar
-a CD from a band called Damone (I don’t know them, so I’m excited to give it a try!)
-a postcard of the Capitol building (that makes me a little homesick–I spent the first 17 years of my life in the DC suburbs on the Virginia side of the Potomac)

Thank you, Amy!  I have a great selection of snacks to last me awhile!  And thanks so much to Stephanie from Dispensing Happiness, who organized this event, and I know spent hours, if not days, matching up bloggers from around the world!  Little things do mean a lot, and this was great fun!

CH#6: Rum Punch Cupcakes

February 24, 2008 at 5:40 pm | Posted in cupcakes, events, sweet things | 18 Comments

rum punch cupcakes

If you ask me, any time involving rum punch is a good time.  It may have been a decade (or more!) since spring break in Cancún, but rum punch is just as much fun today as it was back then.  For this month’s liquor-laden Cupcake Hero event (hosted, as always by Laurie, and this time with the assistance of Tempered Woman), I wanted to make a cupcake that, while maybe didn’t have quite the same GGW effect (totally kidding–that is not me at all!!) as knocking back a few plastic cups o’ rum punch, at least incorporated some the flavors.  Pineapple, orange, and of course rum, were what I was going for.  And please don’t forget the paper umbrella…

To start off, I made some modifications to Billy Reece’s Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcake recipe, which I used in my cherry-lime rickey cupcakes awhile back.  By modifications, I mean I dropped the vanilla, vanilla and made them rum, rum.  I swapped out all of the vanilla extract and one-quarter of the milk for Caribbean rum.  They did have a different texture than Billy’s original recipe.  Not dry at all, but more dense…almost like a rummy poundcake.  I’m guessing this is because when I substituted 25% of the milk for rum, I took out a portion of the fat component.  I didn’t expect that to happen, but I didn’t entirely mind it either.

rum punch cupcakes

I wanted to make a filling for the cupcakes, but didn’t want to do a lot of work.  I decided to spruce up some more of that Bird’s custard powder I have in the cupboard (any custard mix would do and homemade would be great) with orange zest and Grand Marnier.  I set aside a portion of the cooled orange custard and mixed crushed pineapple into the rest.  (I bough a fresh pineapple and roughly crushed up a good sized chunk of it in my mini food processor.)  Filling done.

Coming up with a frosting was a tricky one.  Meringue didn’t sound right…too sweet and not enough flavor.  And buttercream was too heavy and fussy.  I really liked the whipped cream topping on my cappuccino cupcakes last month.  It was super easy and light, but also needed a bit of tropical flavor.  I took that plain orange custard I had set aside before and folded that into whipped cream, and my frosting was ready to go.  Since whipped cream is not the most stable stuff in the world, I’d recommend doing this part shortly before serving.

These were quite nice; pleasantly boozy but not too overpowering.  And I love anything with a little umbrella!

rum punch cupcakes

You may notice that the recipe below is rather vague in measurements (quite bogan as they say in Australia).  This is because I quartered the cupcake recipe (this gave me four cupcakes, but I could have squeaked out five if I’d made them a bit smaller), and then I basically eyeballed what I’d need to fill and frost them, since there were so few.  I trust that you have good judgement, and if you make too much of something, then consider it an extra snack.

Rum Punch Cupcakes makes as many as you want

-Start with a batch of baked and cooled Billy’s Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcakes, substitute rum for all of the vanilla in the recipe and up to 25% of the milk.  (Not wanting 30 cupcakes, I did a quarter batch, which yields four or five.)

-Make and cool some rum simple syrup.  See here for the recipe for plain simple syrup.  To flavor it, add a splash of rum as soon as you take it off the heat.  (You can make a full recipe of plain syrup and just flavor a portion with rum.  The rest can be saved in the fridge for a month or so and be used to sweeten iced tea or coffee, or to moisten other cakes, etc.)

-Make and chill some orange custard, using your favorite pudding recipe with orange zest and Grand Marnier added to taste, or prepare custard powder according to package instructions, flavoring with orange zest and Grand Marnier.  Set aside about 1/4 of it for filling and the rest for topping.

-Into the filling portion of the custard, stir in some drained crushed pineapple.  This will probably be a couple of spoonfuls, depending on how many cupcakes you are making.  You can used canned crushed pineapple or roughly crush some fresh pineapple in the food processor.

-To fill the cupcakes, use a small knife or round cookie cutter to cut a plug out of the center of each (going in from the top).  Save the top bit of each plug.  Spoon a small amount (about 1/4 teaspoon) of rum simple syrup into each cavity.  This is just to keep the cakes moist…don’t drown them.  Fill each cavity with pineapple-orange custard.  Cover with the top bit so the filling is not exposed.

-Make the frosting from lightly sweetened whipped cream folded together with the reserved plain orange custard (about equal parts).  You can whip it up a bit more if it is not stiff enough to sit nicely on top.

-Top and decorate as you see fit.

Taste&Create VI: Roasted Tomatoes with Basil with Cherrapeño

February 22, 2008 at 5:54 pm | Posted in events, savory things | 12 Comments

roasted tomatoes with basil

For this month’s Taste&Create Nicole from For the Love of Food matched me up with Nic from Cherrapeño.  Nic has a lot of good-looking sweet treats on her blog (I have all the ingredients to make one of them and if I’m able to this weekend, I will), but for events like these, I often like to branch out to the savory side of the cooking world.  Nic grows her own chilies and herbs and puts them to good use on the dinner table.

roasted tomatoes with basil

I decided to make Nic’s roasted tomatoes with basil.  I thought they would be perfect with what I was already making for dinner– broccolini and a vegetable lasagna without tomato sauce. These were so easy to make, it almost felt like a cop out, but let me tell you, they are super flavorful and just burst in your mouth.  No wonder she says they are one of her favorite they’re one of mine, too. 

roasted tomatoes with basil

You can find more detail on Nic’s site, but essentially tomatoes, basil and garlic are slow-roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.  Then balsamic is drizzled on top before serving.  I used some large-sized cherry tomatoes I had and sprinkled on a little sea salt, black pepper and more fresh basil when they were out of the oven.  It’s really a beautiful end of summer side dish.

Thanks Nic and Nicole for a great event!

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