Monday, April 30, 2012

Sweet Sixteen: May Flowers

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So I thought that it would be a good idea, what with all the beautiful sunshine we'd been having, to plant some seeds last weekend. And ever since it's been cold and raining nonstop. Well, I'm crossing my fingers that all these April showers really will bring lots and lots of May flowers! And hopefully some green beans, too. I love green beans.

But until those flowers start blooming, enjoy this week's roundup of amazing edible flowers!

(Left to Right, Top to Bottom)

Friday, April 27, 2012

S'more Bars

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I was chattin it up with a friend last week about my sudden urge to buy a tent. And go camping. On the beach. And that, of course, reminded me how bad I'm pretty much always craving s'mores.

Unfortunately, I don't have a grill and I'm kind of scared of flaming gas stovetops. So my best option was to whip up a fat pan full of s'mores!

These bars have a nice thick layer of homemade graham cracker, smothered in a thick layer of marshmallow and coated with creamy ganache. The only thing they're missing is a little charcoal stuck in the mallows. But maybe that's not such a bad thing...

S'more Bars [click to print]
Makes about 25 squares

For graham cracker crust
  • 1-1/3 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter
  • 2 T. plus 2 tsp. honey
  • 2-1/2 T. whole milk
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
For marshmallow fluff
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1-1/3 c. light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/3c. powdered sugar
For the chocolate layer
  • 2 c. milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 9x9 or 8x8 pan with parchment paper or generously coat with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together flour, sugar, soda, salt and cinnamon in bowl of stand mixer. Fit mixer with paddle attachment and beating on low speed, add butter. Continue beating until mixture looks like coarse meal.

In a separate bowl, whisk together honey, milk and vanilla. With mixer still on low speed, add to flour mixture and continue beating until just combined. Press dough evenly into bottom of pan.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. It should be a little firm to the touch. And it will smell amazing. Allow graham cracker crust to cool in pan on wire rack while you prepare marshmallow layer.

In large bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy. Add syrup, vanilla and salt. Beat with mixer on high speed until thickened (about 10 minutes). Reduce mixer to low speed and beat in powdered sugar. Add vanilla and mix until combined. Spread marshmallow fluff over graham layer. If you spray a spatula with cooking spray it's a little easier to spread.

Place chocolate chips in medium bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a simmer over low heat. Pour hot cream over chocolate and allow to stand for 1-2 minutes. Stir or whisk mixture until chocolate is completely melted and texture is even. Pour over marshmallow layer and spread evenly. Allow to set in fridge until firm.

Source: Base adapted from Cherry Tea Cakes; Marshmallow adapted from 6 Bittersweets

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Banana Bread French Toast with Vanilla Bean Syrup

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The weather has been insane lately. First it's all hot and boiling, then torrential downpours followed by snow in PA? What! I'm shivering at work again and wishing for something deliciously cozy to warm me from the inside out. Perfect time for french toast, I think. Growing up, my mom would whip up the toast and my dad would slowly stir some homemade vanilla syrup on the stovetop. It's so good!

And then I remembered how absolutely perfect banana bread french toast is and my mouth started watering. Which could be a little gross except I'm home alone right now so nobody can judge me. A huge, fluffy dollop of fresh whipped cream makes this pure heaven.

Banana Bread French Toast with Vanilla Bean Syrup [click to print]

For the egg coating

  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

For the syrup

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (OR extract)

Prepare egg mixture by gently beating egg with fork. Beat in milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Dip thin slices of banana bread in egg mixture, lightly coating both sides, and toast in frying pan until both sides are cooked and just dry to the touch.

Combine sugar, water and butter in small saucepan. Heat to a simmer (not a boil or you'll get hard candy!), stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Stir in vanilla and remove from heat.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lemon Silk (aka Fool-Proof Lemon Curd)

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Doesn't "curd" just sound kind of gross? I mean, really. Who wants to take a big bite of curd or slather a thick layer of curd on a fresh piece of bread or stir a spoonful of curd into perfectly good whipped cream? Ugh. Lemon Silk just sounds so much more appealing than Lemon Curd, right?

Lemon Silk is kind of like deliciously glorified homemade pudding. It has a really strong lemon flavor, so you better like lemon if you're gonna make this stuff. Rather than just eating it straight, I suggest making a batch of Lemon Rolls with Vanilla Bean Icing (recipe coming very soon!).

It can be kind of tricky to get a perfectly smooth texture using the traditional double-boiler-egg-whisking method. After you cook it you usually have to strain out any lumps or bits of cooked egg. This is a much easier, fail-proof way to get a good, creamy batch of lemon silk without any of that ickiness.

Lemon Silk (aka Fool-Proof Lemon Curd) [click to print]
Makes about 2 cups
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, cubed 
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 2 egg yolks, large
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
In medium size, heat proof mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, incorporating well between each addition. Beat in lemon juice, eggs and salt until well combined; don't worry if it looks kind of curdled right now, it will smooth out as you cook it. 
Place bowl over simmering pot of water, but don't let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Whisk mixture over low heat until the butter melts and the texture smooths out. Increase heat to medium, whisking constantly to prevent scorching. The mixture will begin to thicken and you may see a few slow, fat bubble appearing; that's okay, but if there are a lot, it's boiling and you should immediately reduce heat. 
The curd is done when it coats the back of a spoon and your finger leaves a clear path when drawn through. Pour into clean bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap against surface of curd. Store in the refrigerator for 7-10 days or in the freezer for a couple months. 

Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz and Fine Cooking

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Creamiest, Richest Chocolate Ice Cream Ever

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And, drumroll, ice cream maker required! That means all you have to do is cook the base on the stovetop, whisk it up and freeze it up. Surprise!

So you have absolutely no reason to not make this dreamy stuff on a sweltering high-80-something-degree day in mid-April. And that's good news.

I would apologize for the overwhelming ratio of awesome photos to entertaining dialogue, but I'm not sorry. I was too busy stuffing my face to be more clever.

It's really a matter of self-preservation. My dear K-House still hasn't turned off the heat and on the a/c so it's a bit warm up here on the top floor! I basically have to consume such an exorbitant amount of ice cream to simply counteract the extreme heat so I don't pass out.

I'm sure you can come up with a similar excuse.

Oh, and thanks to that sweet sister of mine for (mostly) patiently taking hundreds of pictures this weekend. What can I say, I was in the baking mood and she's got mad photo skills. Woot.

And, yes, those are rainbow sprinkles showering down from the heavens. 

Creamiest, Richest Chocolate Ice Cream Ever (no ice cream maker required!) [click to print]
Makes about 1 quart
  • 14 oz. (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 c. whole milk
  • 3/4 c. heavy cream
  • 1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 c. cocoa powder (use a really good kind, it makes a difference)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 tsp. potato starch*
  • 2 T. cold water
In heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together condensed milk, whole milk and cream. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate, cocoa, vanilla and salt. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the cocoa is fully dissolved.

In small bowl, stir together starch and water until dissolved. Whisk into chocolate mixture and return to medium heat. Cook mixture, whisking constantly; be sure to scrape sides and bottom to prevent burning. Continue cooking and whisking until mixture thickens, about 8-10 minutes. It will thickly coat a spoon and be about the consistency of warm Nutella and if you don't know what that looks like, you aren't living.

Pour mixture into heat proof bowl and allow to cool uncovered for 30 minutes. When bowl is cool enough to handle, cover with plastic wrap (don't press to surface of chocolate) and refrigerate overnight.

Remove from refrigerator and whisk to dissolve any skin that may have formed. Press plastic wrap against surface of ice cream to create an airtight seal. Cover bowl with lid or another piece of plastic wrap and freeze until firm enough to scoop.

*Can substitute with cornstarch if you want, but I prefer potato starch because it has a less noticeable flavor.

Source: Adapted from A Cup of Jo

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sweet Sixteen: Earth Day

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Earth Day is one of those holidays that you usually forget about until you're surrounded by a bunch of over-excited elementary school children screaming and running and digging holes all over the place to plant new flowers. Oh, man. I loved 4th grade. This week's roundup of tasty treats is sure to please the kid in all of us!

(Left to Right, Top to Bottom)

Friday, April 13, 2012

13-Layer Caramel and Fudge Smith Island Cake

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I'm not a superstitious person. I've walked under about 8,000 ladders in my day, I've broken two mirrors in the last month and my neighbors had a black cat named Eggy that crossed my path as often as possible. And just look how I've turned out! Excellent, if I say so myself.

And while some people will hold fast to their lucky rabbit foot (why is that lucky even? seems kinda creepy...) and skip over sidewalk cracks, I'll be enjoying all thirteen deliciously caramely, fudgey layers of this towering monstrosity.

So Happy Friday the 13th!

13-Layer Caramel and Fudge Smith Island Cake [click to print]
Makes one 13-layer 6" cake

For the Cake: 

  • 3 c. flour
  •  cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 c. butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 c. evaporated milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. water

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line three 6" round cake pans with parchment paper and set aside.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, salt and powder; set aside. In another bowl, whisk together milk, vanilla and water; set aside. Cream sugar and butter. Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating well between each addition. Add dry ingredients, one cup at a time. Add liquid ingredients and mix until just uniform.

Scoop about 1-1/2 c. batter into each pan. Bake up to three layers at a time on the center rack of the oven for 10-13 minutes. Layers are done when the edges are just slightly pulling away from the edge of the pan. Allow cake to cool about 5 minutes in pan before removing to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat process until all layers are baked.

For the Filling: 

  • 1-1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 6 T. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. caramel sauce
In large mixing bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. In a separate clean, heat proof bowl, whisk together egg whites and sugar. Set egg white bowl over pot of simmering water and continue whisking occasionally until sugar dissolves and mixture reaches 160 F. Remove bowl from heat. 

With whisk attachment, whisk egg white mixture on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. When bowl is no longer warm, reduce mixer speed to medium-low and add butter, about 1/2 cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. 

Switch to paddle attachment. With mixer on low, gradually add caramel sauce and beat until smooth, about 3-5 minutes. 

For the Frosting: 

  • 3 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3-5 T. whole milk

Combine sugar, cocoa, butter, vanilla and salt in mixing bowl. Add about 2 T. milk and beat on medium-low speed. Gradually beat in additional milk until desired consistency is reached; you want it to be spreadable but not soupy. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Source: Cake adapted from Somerset County; Filling adapted from Sweetapolita

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Classic Yellow Cake with Chocolate Buttercream

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I'm sure just about every one of you reading this has been affected by cancer somehow. For those of us who  love one of these resilient fighters, you probably feel a lot like me. I'm generally not a violent person, but more than anything, I think, I'd like to kick cancer in the face. Really hard. And with my shoes on.

As the self-proclaimed national sponsor of more birthdays, let's celebrate another 365 days together during Cancer Control Month (hello, that would be this month...April...) with the National Cancer Society.

And what better way could there possibly be to celebrate more birthdays than with some homemade goodness? A classic yellow cake buried in rich chocolate buttercream? There is no better way, that's what.

This is one of Paula Deen's favorites, even though it lacks copious amounts of butter, and therefore, must be tried. It's a great base for so many flavor combinations and tons of bakers use it for a quick mix. It's better than a plain old yellow cake mix but doesn't take much more effort. Hooray for delicious and simple!

And believe me when I say the quality of cocoa powder you use for the buttercream makes a difference. I mean, just regular grocery store brand will make chocolate buttercream just fine, but taste something a little fancier and your tastebuds are gonna go crazy! And aren't you worth it? Oh, yes, you are!

Classic Yellow Cake with Chocolate Buttercream [click to print]
Makes one 3-layer, 9" round cake
For the Cake: 
  • 1 c. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 3 c. self-rising flour*
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c. milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the Buttercream: 
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • 3/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3-5 T. milk
*Don't have self-rising flour? No problem! Whisk together 3 c. all-purpose flour, 4-1/2 tsp. baking powder and an additional 3/4 tsp. salt; substitute this where recipe says to add self-rising flour. 

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking pans with parchment paper or coat with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 6-8 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating well between each addition. Add flour and milk mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and continue mixing until just combined. Divide batter in pans and firmly tap 3-4 times on counter to get rid of any air bubbles.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until done. Allow cakes to cool on wire rack about 10 minutes before removing from pans to cool completely before frosting.

For the buttercream, combine powdered sugar, cocoa, butter, vanilla and salt in mixing bowl. On medium-low speed, beat in milk gradually, one Tablespoon at a time, until it reaches desired consistency.

To assemble, center one cake layer on serving plate and frost top. Stack second cake layer and frost top. Spread remaining frosting around sides of cake and eat it up!

Source: Cake adapted from Food Network

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cadbury Creme Eggs

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So, I ran to CVS after work the other day, only to be met with an awful Easter tragedy. Not a single Cadbury Creme Egg remained on those stinkin shelves. And it's not even Easter yet! Isn't there supposed to be an overabundance of those things so we can all buy extras at half price on Monday? I'm not sure who stocks those shelves, but that's just a shame. 

I mean, really, there were plenty of Peep Imposters (aka Bunnies) and an assortment of lovely pastel-coated chocolate bits. But not a single creme egg in sight. Tear.

Just look at that delicious ooey, gooey center. Beautiful. Not that I wouldn't be thrilled to find a basket full of commercial-crafted creme eggs on my doorstep this Sunday morning, but, dare I say, this version might just be a little bit better than the original. What!

Also, if you have self-control issues but still want the eggs all for yourself but don't want to eat them all in one day, they freeze really well...if they last that long!

Cadbury Creme Eggs [click to print]
Makes about 15 eggies
  • 1/2 c. corn syrup
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. clear vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. yellow food coloring, liquid
  • 12 oz. milk chocolate chips
Combine corn syrup, butter, vanilla and salt in mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, and beat until smooth. Scoop about 2/3 of mixture into separate bowl and put in fridge or freezer to chill. Add food coloring and zest to remaining mixture and beat until well combined; chill about 15 minutes.

Scoop white mixture, about 1 tablespoon at a time, onto parchment paper. Make a small depression in the center of each white and chill. Roll yolk mixture into balls, about 1/2 teaspoon at a time, and chill on a piece of parchment paper until firm to the touch.

Place a yolk in the center of each white and pinch sides of white together to enclose yolk. Roll into an oblong egg shape and return to parchment paper; chill again. If things get too sticky while you're working, you guessed it, chill for a few minutes and then continue.

Melt chocolate in double boiler or in microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, stirring well between each nuke. You can add a tablespoon of oil or shortening to the chocolate to make it easier to coat the eggs, but it won't have as crisp of a crack when you bite into the chocolate shell. Insert a toothpick into each egg and dip in chocolate to coat. Stick egg-topped toothpicks into potatoes until set. Or just drop egg into chocolate bowl and cover with chocolate, tap off excess chocolate and place on parchment paper to harden.

Source: Adapted from Instructables and Not Without Salt

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Peep Brownie S'mores

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I know Easter is about far more than pastel colors and plastic eggs and sugar covered sugar treats, but when I see those Peeps on the shelf, I know it's Easter in America! And while I'm admitting my shame, I'll tell you like it is: I'm an eye-eater. Bite off those beady little eyes and then nibble off the tail. After that, it doesn't really matter if you inhale the entire body in a single bite because those Peeps have been reduced to a sugary marshmallow blob at that point.

These sugar-laden bars are basically upgraded s'mores. Normal s'mores, as any normal person can attest, are pure deliciousness served on a crunchy bed of graham cracker. Now look at that graham crackery, chocolatey, Peepy goodness! I dare say that these s'more are just a little more exciting with their neon animal-shaped counterpart sitting atop a dense brownie and graham cracker crust.

The only bad thing is their eyes kind of melt away during the baking. But it's totally worth it.

Peep S'mores [click to print]
Makes about 20 squares

For Graham Cracker Crust
  • 1-1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs (about 1 sleeve graham crackers, crushed)
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line 8x8 pan with parchment paper and set aside. 

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix until evenly combined. Press mixture into pan with the back of a spoon and bake for 7 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 325 F. 

For Brownie Layer
  • 10 T. unsalted butter
  • 1-1/4 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. plus 2 T. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 20 Peeps
In medium saucepan, combine butter, sugar, cocoa and salt. Stir on low heat until butter is melted and mixture is hot, but not boiling. You should be able to stick your finger in it (and lick it) and not cry. It's going to look kind of grainy and that's okay.

Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Beat in eggs, one at a time, incorporating well between each addition. Stir in flour; when combined, stir vigorously about 40 strokes. Pour batter over crust and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and gently press peeps on surface, about one peep every two inches. Return to oven and continue baking about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool just enough to eat while still warm.

Source: Inspired by Busy Mommy; Crust adapted from Make and Takes; Brownies adapted from Sis Boom Blog
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