Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Week 24 of 52: Chocolate Cake (aka "to die for chocolate cake")

I really could have thought of a more intriguing name, but frankly, it is all about the chocolate. Last week, I had such a craving for a piece of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, I can't believe I waited until Sunday to make this dessert!

Thinking back, I don't know if I have ever made a chocolate cake. Nor do I remember anyone in my family making one, apart from 9x13 sheet cakes from a box that my mama would make on occasion. I guess it really wasn't in my family.

But a craving is a craving, and after searching for a great inspirational recipe (I went back to Rosie), I have created the four-layer, dark chocolate frosted, chocolate cake.


To Die For Chocolate Cake

Cake Ingredients
4 0.4oz squares of unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 1/2 c flour
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 T espresso coffee powder, dissolved in 1 c hot water
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 345F. Grease two 8" round pans. Line with parchment rounds.

Melt chocolates in a small bowl in the microwave, at 20 second bursts, stirring in between until smooth.

Sift sugar, flour, baking soda, salt into a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk coffee, water, sour cream, and oil.

With the mixer on low, stream liquids into dry ingredients slowly until incorporated (less than 1 minute). Add the eggs and mix just until blended. Pull bowl out and fold in the melted chocolate and chocolate chips.

Divide batter between the two pans and bake until the cake top rings back and a toothpick comes out clean, roughly 35-38 minutes.

Cool completely before frosting.
Frosting Ingredients
1 T espresso coffee powder
1/4 c baking cocoa
1 stick unsalted butter
5 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 c half and half, cold

Beat all ingredients in a standing mixer using a paddle or whisk for 15 minutes, or until fluffy.

Cut layers of cake in half, and frost in between for three layers of frosting plus the top frosted.

Adapted from The Rosie's Bakery All-butter, Cream-filled, Sugar-packed Baking Book, by Judy Rosenberg.

Week 23 of 52: Far East Dark Chocolate Cookies

This week's dessert is an east meets west...ginger and chocolate.
I got my inspiration from two places. The first was a recipe I found a long while back for a chocolate cookie that cracks and is covered with powdered sugar. I really had forgotten about it until I saw a post on MarocMama's website (www.marocmama.com). This blog is run by Amanda, another American married to a Moroccan. That is how I found her. So this past week, she posted a picture and a tease about some cookies that she baked and that she would be posting the recipe soon.
Well, one of the cookies looked like the cracked cookie, but another one was named "almond ginger sesame." A lightbulb went off, and in the kitchen I went. I only had the cracked recipe to work from, so I improvised with the spicing, and came up with this new cookie (a girl at the office said it reminded her of Chinese food!).


Far East Dark Chocolate Cookies
1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 0.4oz squares of unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 c powdered sugar, divided
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa
1 T corn starch
1/4 t sea salt
3 t ginger, freshly grated
1 t almond extract
1/2 c powdered sugar
2 T sesame seeds
Almond slices or slivers
Preheat oven to 350F. Prep cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.

In a small bowl, melt 1/2 c chips and chocolate in the microwave using 20-second bursts, stirring until smooth. Set aside.

In another bowl, sift 1 c of powdered sugar, cocoa, corn starch, salt, and ginger.

In the stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Add 1 c of powdered sugar and almond extract and mix until it looks like marshmallow creme. On low speed, add in the dry ingredients until just incorporated. Pull out bowl and hand mix in this melted chocolate and 1 c chips. The dough will be very stiff.

Using a cookie scoop, scoop out 1" balls, roll in hands, dip in powdered sugar with sesame seeds. Place on prepped pans, and press an almond in the top.

Bake for 10 minutes, cookies will crack.

Cool on racks and store in an airtight container.
Adapted from flourless deep dark chocolate cookie on www.picklee.com.

Week 22 of 52: Banana Bread - 3 ways!

This week is banana bread week. Why you ask? Because I am a picky banana eater. In other words, I buy bananas and unless I eat them in the first 2 days, I end up with spotted bananas that either get used for smoothies or banana bread. And this week...I had nine...or yes, nine spotted bananas!

I am starting with the basic recipe that my Gramma Harris used and that my mama and I have used to make every banana bread ever. And since I have three loafs to make, I had to get to thinking.
If you are anything like me...well, let me sympathize! But if you are, then you stand in front of your baking pantry the same way I stand in front of my closet. "Oh, that pink/tan flowered skirt will go great with that black/tan striped shirt! And that polka dot shirt is definitely going with those striped pants." I must say...I like to mix and match. I learned to dress myself before they invented Garanimals...'nuf said.

The first bread was inspired by a packet of instant chai that I had. I love the drink, so it has to be good in bread, right? The second was inspired by the vast number of recipes I have seen using PB2. In case you haven't heard of this, it is a powdered peanut butter that gives you the flavor of peanut butter, but less fat and calories. The final one was a given - cocoa and coconut. Need I say more?

Basic Banana Bread Recipe
1 c sugar
1/2 c shortening
2 eggs
3 bananas, crushed
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 c chopped nuts

Cream sugar and shortening together. Add eggs and crushed bananas. Sift dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture. Add nuts and vanilla. Bake 1 hr at 350F in greased and floured loaf pan.

Chai Banana Bread
Replace 1 c nuts with 1/2 packet of instant chai drink mix.
Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Banana Bread
Replace 1/2 c shortening with 1 stick unsalted butter. Omit nuts. Add 2 T PB2. After filling pan, top with 1 c white chocolate chips.
Cocoa Coconut Banana Bread
Omit nuts. Add 1/4 c unsweetened baking cocoa and 1 c sweetened, shredded coconut.
This makes a great muffin, too!

Week 21 of 52: Koloches

This past week my father asked my mother to make him some koloches. These are a Czech pastry that my father's mother taught my mother how to make. This is one talent of scratch baking that my mother has. However, I am a fan of just one type: poppyseed. My mother brought a few down for hubby and me, but they were apricot. It's sort of like running a hot bath only to find the water is cold. Wholly disappointing.

So, I explained to my mother that it was time to teach me how to make them. This would be Week 21 dessert. And it would give my mother the opportunity to make up for the box carrot cake she made for our birthdays last fall!

As noted, this was a gramma Harris recipe. Gramma Harris was the second oldest of 13 siblings. She was born in Czechoslovakia in the 1890s. She came to the U.S. with her parents and eventually settled in Iowa. My father, an only child, would road trip our family to his parents home in eastern Iowa fairly regularly. And no matter what, gramma always had fresh koloches made...and tons of them. I will explain later why this is significant. Mainly she would have three kinds: apricot, prune, and my favorite...poppyseed. I would devour them. They were always just the right fluffy, chewy, sweet, gooey, deliciousness.

My mother soon was taught how to make these for when we were not able to go to gramma's house, and has carried on since she died. Making them is truly an art. Mostly, mama makes them for holidays. And 9 of 10 batches are perfect. But no matter the practice she has had, sometimes the dough can get a tad tough. Not bagel tough, but think wheat versus white bread.

I had some sort of idea that making koloches was simple. Frankly, it is dough, you raise it, you roll it, you cut it out, fill, bake and done. How hard could that be. Ha. Little did I know. Five hours later and all we had to show for effort was 18 koloches. One batch. 18. Let me just say...not planning to make this a habit!

But for those wanting to endeavor, enjoy. They are so worth it!

Gramma Harris' Koloches


Eggs are separated, while yeast is developing on the stove.

Make a well and add your tempered eggs and yeast mixture.

Do not overmix or the dough will become tough.

Let rise covered with a clean towel in a warm place. Gramma would put her bowl under the blankets at the foot of her bed!

After about an hour, the dough should be double in size.

Turn it out on a lightly floured surface and knead just a handful of times and then roll out to about 1/4".

Using a coffee mug with a floured rim, cut out rounds of dough and make an indention with the bottom of a smaller glass.

Fill with poppyseed filling and top with an almond sliver.

Do not reuse scraps for koloches. Instead roll out and fill and wrap up like a package. For these, I filled with almond paste.

Brush with milk and bake until lightly golden brown. About 9 minutes, but this will vary with each oven so watch them.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Week 20 of 52: Ginger Cake with Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

I think as I move through my decision-making process each week to determine what dessert to attempt next, I find my eclectic upbringing in my younger years to be a huge influence.

By the time I was in 5th grade, I had lived in a suburb of Boston, a small town near Lansing, College Station (Gigem' Aggies!), and Ankara, Turkey.  My father worked for the USDA and it resulted in moving a lot, at least until 5th grade when we landed in Iowa. And despite leaving for a year, I have been in this state ever since.

But in addition to my varied addresses, diverse cultures are a part of me. My heritage includes Czech, Irish, German, Cherokee, and English. My grandmothers both spent many hours in the kitchen and somehow, I think I soaked it in even though it may not have been conscious.

Strange though, despite never having lived in Thailand, I have a strong liking for pad thai, ginger, and peanut butter.  And so, when I start to think of howto create a new dessert, I always think of how I can incorporate dinner into them. For some reason, I think that I am trying to find a way to have my dinner and eat it too (insert laughter here!).

So without further explanation, enjoy this week's cake!

This week, I had a craving for ginger.  Not sure exactly why, but the smell of it is enticing to me.  I have not had a ginger cake before and so I had to do a little bit of research to get this one worked out.

Ginger Cake w/Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting
2 c flour
2 t baking powder
¼ t salt
8 T (1 stick) butter, unsalted, room temperature
½ c brown sugar
3 eggs
1/3 c vegetable oil
Zest from one lemon
1 t vanilla extract
1½” of grated fresh ginger
½ c crystalized ginger, finely chopped
1 c sour cream

Adapted from http://www.lhj.com/recipe/ginger-pineapple-snack-cake/, “Barefoot Contessa - Parties!” Lemon Cake, and www.southernfood.about.com/od/lemoncakes/r/bl1102f.htm.
½ c creamy peanut butter
¼ c (½ stick) butter, unsalted, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese (in the brick form, fat free)
1 T vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
3½ c powdered sugar

Adapted from http://www.cupcakeproject.com/2008/06/strawberry-cream-cheese-frosting-recipe.html.
Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly spray with oil two 8” cake rounds.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar (the more you cream and whip in air, the fluffier the cake – so cream according to your preference). Add in eggs, one at a time, then the remaining ingredients until mixed.  Slowly add the dry ingredients by the large spoonful and mix until just incorporated (do not overmix).

Split batter between the two cake rounds and bake for 30 minutes.  Sides should be golden and top should be set and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.
Let the cakes cool slightly in the pan, then set out on a rack to cool completely.

In the meantime, make the frosting.  Cream all ingredients except the powdered sugar.  Then slowly add the powdered sugar until you get the consistency you desire (I like it creamy and not too stiff, so I stopped at 3½ cups, but it also depends on the oil content of your peanut butter and the fat content of  your cream cheese).

I frosted only the tops of the cakes, but you can frost everything, again depending on your preference.  But I would suggest saving some of the frosting, just to put on a spoon and eat.  It is that good!


Week 19 of 52: ??? Posting to come

Week 18 of 52: Ramen Banana Dessert

I just returned from a weekend trip to Omaha and it was a blast. I enjoyed time with my mama as it was just us girls. Let's just say...we ate, we shopped, we ate, we shopped, did I mention eating and shopping! This was the leftovers from the first night in Omaha...it just got out of hand after that...hahaha.

The whole trip though, I was excited to get home to try out this recipe. I found it on the Food Network and just couldn't resist using ramen noodles for a dessert. In college, I lived on them. In fact, my husband and I still eat them when we don't feel like a heavy dinner, but love the spice of the chili-flavored ones.

I hope that the name has intrigued and not turned you off.  This turned out to be something like a rice pudding - only instead of the texture of small rice, there is the long, thin texture of a noodle. It tastes good warm, but can also be eaten ice cold.

I hope you enjoy!

Ramen Banana Dessert

3 packages ramen noodles, seasoning packets discarded
4 T unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
2/3 c sugar
1 14-oz can coconut milk, lite
1/2 c sour cream, lite
1 1/2 t almond extract
1/4 t ground cardamom
Sea Salt
1/2 c golden raisins
1/4 c crystallized ginger, chopped
2 bananas, thinly sliced - riper is better
1/4 c shredded coconut
Slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 8" square metal pan. Cover bottom of pan with thinly sliced bananas.

Soften ramen noodles by placing in a bowl of very hot tap water. While this is working, hand mix eggs, suagr, coconut milk, sour cream, almond extract, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl. Once the noodles are softened, drain and toss with melted butter and add to mixture. Add raisins and ginger and mix until well combined.

Pour into prepared pan. Cover with coconut and top with almonds.

Bake for 60-70 minutes until golden brown and set. Let cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/banana-coconut-ramen-pudding-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback