Perfect Smurfect

>> Sunday, March 30, 2008

OK, so I never thought I would fall in love with a cake pan. But I have. Its true. Can you blame me? Is this not one of the cutest things you have ever seen? Does it get much more charming than this? Well not in my book it doesn't. That's why I chose to use my little cake pan for this very delicious cake.

Lemony white cake, filled and frosted with buttercream and raspberry preserves spread upon each layer, topped with whipped cream, coconut and fresh raspberries. Sounds like heaven, right? Well it is. It was this months Daring Bakers challenge, and it is Dorie Greenspans Perfect Party Cake.

Just so happens that this month is my mothers birthday and a perfect party cake is just what I needed. So thank you to Morven for hosting such a perfect challenge for the month of March, and my Mother thanks you too. She loved it!

Oh, and cant you just picture a smurf living in it?

Dorie Greenspans Perfect party Cake

To make the giant cupcake I doubled the cake recipe and filled the pans about 1/2" from the tops. The layers took about 1 hour to bake in the cupcake pans.

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt1
¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make The Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full three minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.Remove the bowl from the heat.Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about five minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.Spread it with one third of the preserves.Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine. Storing the cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Feel free to drop in on the other Daring Bakers to see how their cakes came out as well.


Just Monkeying Around...

>> Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm not sure why its called Monkey Bread. I did a Google search but didn't come up with much. Some suggested because its more fun than a barrel of monkeys (well it is fun but I'm not sure that's the reason for the name). Others suggested its because monkeys pick at things and in order to eat this bread you have to pick it apart (I find this theory to be a little more likely, although not very appetizing). Apparently Nancy Reagan served it every year for Christmas in the White House and thought the name had to do with all the monkeying around you had to do to make it. I say the verdict is still out on where the name originated from. But whatever the reason for the name of this silly loaf of bread we truly do enjoy it.

Easter morning Abe was still sound asleep while Caleb was up early and anxious to see what the Easter Bunny had bestowed upon him. So instead of waking Abe (who had awoken at 3:00 am and had fallen back to sleep) we all made Monkey bread together. This helped keep Caleb's mind off of chocolate bunnies and the small bounty that filled his Easter basket.

This is a quick version that can be whipped up in no time, its made with canned refrigerated biscuits. I know there are more complex recipes out there where you make your own dough, but this is a really easy version to make with the kids.

Making Monkey Bread together also made for a very nice Easter tradition. Believe me, this is not something you will want to have around the house very often. Biscuit dough covered in sugar and cinnamon and than drowned in butter and more sugar. Yes, I think once a year will be plenty of monkeying around for us!

Monkey Bread
adapted from Pillsbury website

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cans refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (we used Pillsbury Grands)
1/2 cup chopped pecans, we left these out for the boys but both Cyn and I agreed that they
would be a welcome addition.
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted

Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 12-cup fluted tube pan.
In large plastic food-storage bag, mix sugar and cinnamon. Separate dough into 16 biscuits; cut each into quarters. Shake in bag to coat. Arrange in pan, adding pecans among the biscuit pieces.
Mix brown sugar and butter; pour over biscuit pieces.
Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until golden brown and no longer doughy in center. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn upside down onto serving plate; pull apart to serve. Serve warm.


Kiss Me Im Irish

>> Monday, March 17, 2008

When I was a kid I had a shirt that said "Kiss me I'm Irish". I can remember being SO embarrassed to wear such a shirt, thinking everyone would go around kissing me all day! Could there be anything more embarrassing than that? Oy, kids!
Saint Patricks Day has always been one of my favorite "holidays". Yes, you guessed it, mostly for the food. Every year my brother and my father come over for a big corned beef and cabbage dinner. I know a lot of people don't like it, but it truly is one of our favorite meals.
This year is no different. I have three corned beefs sitting in my fridge waiting to be simmered for hours with its fine accompaniments, carrots, potatoes, onions, and of course cabbage. Yes, I said three. Everyone gets kinda cranky when there are no leftovers to take home.
This year I also decided to make my own Soda Bread. Seems whenever I pick up a loaf at my local grocery store it is more of a hard loaf of rock than a loaf of bread.
You can find the recipe here, it is from an old issue of Bon Appetit. The story that goes along with the recipe is also quite touching, so be sure to read it. The only thing I did different was I cut the sugar down from 1 cup to 1/2 a cup. Also, instead of using a skillet I baked mine in my 5 quart dutch oven, and it worked great. This recipe makes a beautiful loaf of tender and delicious Soda bread that any Irishmen (or woman) would be proud to serve on Saint Patricks Day.


My Most Comforting meal

>> Thursday, March 13, 2008

To me there is nothing more comforting and homey than a perfectly roasted chicken. I have tried many methods for getting that crispy skin and and tenderly juicy meat. This seems to be the method I turn to again and again. Its pretty simple and straight forward.

Buying a good quality bird really does make a difference. My local grocery store now carries Bell & Evans all natural chicken, which I think is worth the few extra dollars.

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chicken

1 4-5 lb. all natural chicken
1/2 stick butter, room temp.
small bunch fresh rosemary, divided, half of it chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, cut in half
2 med. size onions, peeled and cut into wedges.
olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Season inside cavity with salt and pepper. Set aside in roasting pan.
In a small bowl mix together butter, garlic, salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary.
Loosen skin on chicken by placing fingers between the meat of the chicken and the skin, being careful not to rip the skin. Do this on the breast meat and also the legs of the chicken. With your fingers stuff the butter mixture between the meat and the skin, trying to cover as much of the bird as possible. Squeeze half of lemon inside cavity of bird, placing that lemon inside cavity. Stuff cavity with 1/2 of onion and the rest of the rosemary (you do not need to chop it). Drizzle outside of chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over bird and, if there is room, place lemon inside of cavity. Scatter the remaining onion in pan around bird. Drizzle onions with olive oil.
Bake for 1 to 1- 1/2 hours (depending on size of bird), or until juices run clear.
And if you really want an awesome dinner, serve the chicken with these potatoes.

Roasted Garlic Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

1 head garlic
olive oil
3 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes.
1/2-1 stick of butter (whichever you prefer)
1/2 cup half and half
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the top off of a head of garlic, exposing the individual cloves. Place garlic on a piece of foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap foil around garlic and roast in oven for 30-45 minutes, or until tender. Set aside.
Place potatoes in large pot of boiling water. Cook until tender. Drain potatoes and put them back in the pot you cooked them in. Add butter, half and half and buttermilk. Let butter melt a bit and mash with a potato masher. Squeeze garlic cloves from their skins and mix into potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Add more buttermilk for creamier potatoes. Serve hot and go to bed happy!


Chock Full Of Goodness

>> Monday, March 10, 2008

Its been a while since I have made cookies. It took me a bit to get over the cookie frenzy of 2007. But I did, and I'm glad to say I am back to baking, what I like to call, charming little bundles of goodness.
This recipe came from the Culinate web site. What I like about them is they are made without flour and they are packed with nutrients: Oatmeal, cranberries, walnuts, choc chips, peanut butter, all rolled into one. Makes me feel like I am giving the kids more than just a sweet treat, but a sweet treat with some added benefits to it. They are a deliciously chewy and very satisfying cookie. I adapted the recipe to suit our tastes, and you should do the same. I was thinking coconut might be a nice addition. And next time I would definitely add more nuts.

Full Of Goodness Oatmeal Cookies

3 eggs
1¾ cups packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups creamy peanut butter
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 tsp. baking soda
4½ cups rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a very large mixing bowl, cream the eggs and sugars together with an electric mixer. Add salt, vanilla, peanut butter, and butter.
Add chocolate chips, cranberries, toasted walnuts, baking soda, and oats. Stir until everything is combined.
With a tablespoon, scoop up cookie batter and drop onto cookie sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand about 3 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool.


What to do on a Friday Night

>> Friday, March 07, 2008

I love pizza! Who doesn't, right? I don't eat it that often, it isn't exactly health food. But I do try and make it at home for the kids and I do try and make it a bit healthier than the standard take out version. Although sometimes the only thing that will do is that thick crusted, greasy, cheesy, lots of sauce, pepperoni and black olive that we get from our local pizzeria....and then I remember how I feel after I eat it... not so good. But I digress.
I try and make it a bit healthier than that last one I described. Turkey pepperoni, light on the cheese, lots of veggies. One of my favorite pizza toppings is caramelized onions. Cut up two onions. Saute in a bit of olive oil over low heat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until golden brown. You can also add a bit of sugar to kick up that sweetness a little (just a pinch). And if the onions start to stick to the pan while they are cooking just sprinkle in a bit of water. You might want to make extra because they are great on sandwiches and in salads too.
But this last pizza I made came from the things that were in my fridge, and it was delicious!

Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Green Olive, Brie Pizza With Cornmeal crust

This pizza has a lovely salty, sweet flavor to it. But you can also do it with just the caramelized onion, bacon, and Parmesan cheese for a little lighter version.

For the Dough

The cornmeal dough is adapted from Julia Child's, The Way To Cook. It is a very easy dough to make and makes a nice thin crispy, delicious tasting crust. makes enough for two large size pizzas.

1 package instant yeast
1 tsp. sugar
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cornmeal
1 Tablespoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
4 Tablespoons good olive oil

In large bowl mix together yeast, sugar, flour, cornmeal and salt . Add milk, water and olive oil and mix until combined. Dough will be fairly wet and sticky.
Place ball of dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 90 minutes, punching down once.


Just use as little or as much as you want to suit your tastes.

good olive oil
Brie cheese, sliced
caramelized onions
bacon, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces and cooked until crisp (about 4-5 slices)
green olives, sliced
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Roll pizza dough on lightly floured baking pans or pizza stones. Brush dough with olive oil. Top with brie, green olives, bacon, caramelized onions, and grated Parmesans cheese. Sprinkle with more olive oil.
Bake in bottom rack of oven for 15-20 minutes.
Serve on your finest china, on the couch, in front of your latest Netflix! Enjoy!


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