Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lesson #108: Red Velvet Cheesecake

I had a few red velvet recipes that I've been wanting to try lately. First, it was these red velvet cherry cupcakes. Next up is this red velvet swirl cheesecake. Even though I haven't liked red velvet desserts in the past, both of these recipes are really good. When I lived in Tucson, some of my friends and I sometimes went to a dessert restaurant/coffeehouse (linked here in case you interested...it looks like they changed a bit because they never used to serve non-dessert food). One of my friends always used to get the red velvet cake, and every time with no exception, she would realize that it didn't taste as good as it sounded. Maybe that's why I have a bad association with red velvet cake?

Anyway, this cheesecake is fun to make and tastes even better . You make a cheesecake batter, divide it in half, and flavor half with cocoa powder and red food coloring. Next, you swirl the cheesecake which is fun if you are super artistic or have an eye for perfect swirl (neither of which describes me!). I came to the conclusion that it tastes creamy and a little chocolatey even if it's not swirled perfectly!

 LESSON LEARNED: Remember the graham crackers I made for yesterday's post? Yep, I totally used the leftover crackers to make this crust! It turned out even better than using store bought graham crackers.

Recipe for Red Velvet Cheesecake

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lesson #107: Frozen S'mores

Last weekend I was in the mood for an ice cream dessert and an involved baking project. I brainstormed for a while and finally decided to make a winter version of a s'more. Because I was looking to challenge myself, I decided to make everything homemade.

Here's the list of what I made from scratch: marshmallows, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and graham crackers. Incidentally, I was explaining to my mom that I was making homemade graham crackers and she gave me a look of disbelief :) I replied, "It's really not hard. Just some whole wheat flour, molasses, and honey plus a few other ingredients".   At the finale of my baking project, I was pretty psyched with the end result.

Of course, you could buy some ice cream, torch store bought marshmallows (using a gas flame - we use a big blowtorch because my husband saw what people use on cooking competitions, thought it was cool, and bought me one for Christmas), dollop on hot fudge sauce, and sandwich between traditional graham crackers. I'm sure it's still equally delicious!

LESSON LEARNED: If you make homemade graham crackers, it's best to roll them pretty thin. I baked this batch a little thicker and it was hard to bite into when sandwiched between ice cream.

Recipe for Frozen S'mores

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lesson #106: Toffee-Almond Cookies

I feel like this cookies should come with a disclaimer. WARNING: Once you try one of these cookies, you will feel the urge to eat another (another and another....). Seriously, these cookies are really good. They have a TON of both toffee and almond flavor. The secret is ground almonds in addition to the toffee/chocolate bits in the cookie dough. I originally tagged this recipe because my mom absolutely loves anything toffee, and even though I'm not a huge toffee fan, I thoroughly enjoyed these cookies.

Just to give you a heads up, these cookies have to chill in the refrigerator for about a day before you make them. This helps the flavors develop, but speaking from experience, the raw cookie dough right after it's mixed isn't bad :) Another point to keep in mind is that this recipe makes multiple dozens of cookies. I baked off about half a dozen, portioned out the rest using a cookie scoop, and froze the cookie dough balls. You can bake them up from their frozen state as you need them by adding a few minutes onto the baking time. Enjoy!

LESSON LEARNED: Using bread and cake flour in these cookies result in the perfect chewy, yet tender bite.

Recipe for Toffee-Almond Cookies

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lesson #105: Turtle Sundae

If I owned a dessert restaurant, this would definitely be on the menu. Here's how I would describe my ice cream creation.

Turtle Sundae
Salted Caramel Ice Cream - Dark Chocolate Hot Fudge - Honey Praline Pecans & Walnuts - Hand-Whipped Cream

Sounds fantastic, right? I was in the mood to create a multiple component ice cream dessert and this was the result. The ice cream was smooth, nutty, and slightly salty, The fudge sauce was rich and ultra thick. The nuts were sweet and salty. The whipped cream was light and delicious. Yes, I whipped it by hand because I figured I could use a little arm workout before indulging in this treat :)

LESSON LEARNED: All of these individual components come together to create a fantastic ice cream dessert!

Recipe for Turtle Sundae

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lesson #104: Ciabatta Bread

This bread has everything you want in a bread: a crispy crust, soft & spongy inside, and an incredible depth of flavor. The recipe takes a little planning ahead because you make a sponge (a mixture of flour, water, and yeast) the night before and a little hands on time folding over the bread to create pockets of air, but it is TOTALLY worth it.

One surprising technique to creating a crispy crust is to use a squirt bottle to spray the dough in the oven during the first few minutes of baking. The steam helps to create a golden, crunchy crust that you typically see on artisinal bread. It's so good! Even though I'm known for eating the soft, spongy part of the bread first, the crispy crust is AMAZING.

Since this recipe makes two loaves, I found that you can easily freeze the bread (wrapped in foil) and reheat in a moderate oven until warm and crispy. The bonus is that you already did the work of making the bread and can enjoy it later with dinner - like we did with spinach lasagna!

LESSON LEARNED: Using a squirt bottle to spray water on the dough creates a crispy crust on this bread.

Recipe for Ciabatta Bread

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lesson #103: Lemon-Glazed Citrus-Yogurt Pound Cake

This pound cake reminds me of a similar lemon pound cake at Starbucks. It's tart, yet sweet, and has a refreshing lemon taste. It would be the perfect accompaniment to a glass of tea or coffee.

What really impressed me with this cake is that it held up very well over time. After a few days, it was still incredibly moist and even tasted more lemony. This is probably due to a lemon simple syrup which is brushed over the cake and a lemon powdered sugar glaze over top. The cake is light and fluffy (not dense and heavy as pound cakes tend to be) because of cake flour in the batter. You also add grapefruit juice to boost the citrus flavor and yogurt to help the cake remain moist. Overall, the recipe is definitely a winner in my book!

LESSON LEARNED: Adding grapefruit juice, in addition to lemon zest, to the batter boosts the lemon flavor without tasting like grapefruit.

Recipe for Lemon-Glazed Citrus-Yogurt Pound Cake

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lesson #102: Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies

On Valentine's Day I realized that I had not used my heart shaped cookie cutter this year and thought there was no better time than the present to use it. If I don't make heart shaped cookies around Valnetine's day, when would I make them?

I didn't want to make my typical flat sugar cookie, so I decided to make these super soft sugar cookies. They are light & fluffy and have a yummy powdered sugar frosting on top. I quickly added some red and pink sprinkles on top, and voila, I had some heart shaped sugar cookies just in time for our Valentine's Day dinner!

LESSON LEARNED: Don;t forget to use your seasonal cookie cutters! Hopefully by writing this I'll remember to make my bunny and egg shaped sugar cookies :)

Recipe for Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lesson #101: Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

My father-in-law is unable to eat gluten or diary, but I wanted to include something for him in a care package I sent to my in-laws, so I searched the library for a gluten free cookie cookbook. I love browsing the library (especially the cookbook section) because you never know what you'll find!

I ended up finding a few gluten-free cookie books and chose a recipe that I thought would ship well since the package was going from Cleveland to Atlanta. It was a bonus that this recipe contains no butter or dairy so I didn't have to substitute margarine or oil.

The cookies have a pretty intense peanut flavor due to peanut butter and chopped peanuts. I thought they tasted pretty good and the texture of the cookie was best right after baking. We keep a cookie (after shipping the rest!) in an airtight container to see how the texture changed and they weren't quite as crispy after a day or two. I've modified the recipe to create a small batch, so they can be eaten fairly fast.

LESSON LEARNED: This cookies are best enjoyed right after baking.

Recipe for Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lesson #100: Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cake

Happy Valentine's Day! Or more importantly to my blog, it's my 100th post! Yay! I can't believe that I've posted a HUNDRED recipes since the end of August. To be completely honest, I kinda stressed over what I was going to bake for this occasion. I browsed baking books, TV shows, and other blogs for a few days to find some inspiration. I finally settled on a chocolate covered strawberry cake. Little did I know what an adventure it turned out to be.

First, take a look at the finished product. Looks yummy, right?
Trust me, it tasted as yummy as it looked. However, this is not what I envisioned when I began the cake(s).

I looked through baking books written by some notable pastry chefs. I quickly fell in love with a four layer white chocolate cake with layers of strawberry butter cream frosting encased in a dark chocolate glaze. The recipe was pretty time consuming (the directions spanned over 6 pages!), but I was ready for the challenge. I began by gathering all my ingredients and getting out my baking scale. I was completely determined to make this cake and I set aside an entire day for baking.

I carefully measured all my ingredients to a tee (including egg whites! who measures egg whites in grams? that's right, pastry chefs do!) and set my cakes in the oven to bake. After the recommended amount of time passed, I checked my cakes and they looked done. Honestly, they did! This wasn't my first time baking a cake :) I let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, went to carefully remove them, and the inside was completely uncooked. I set the cakes on a wire rack and the insides fell right through the racks.

Hmmm, I quickly determined that I made a mistake. I must have under baked the cakes. Never a quitter, I decided to try again. First, I had to run to the store because I ran out of white chocolate! OK, so I gathered my ingredients, measured using the scale, and set the cakes in the oven for the second time. I decided that I wasn't going to make the same mistake again and keep checking the cakes to make sure they were done. This time, after 15 extra minutes in the oven, I successfully made the cakes. YES! Now, I only had 4 more pages of detailed instructions :)

I trudged through the directions step-by-step and successfully made the strawberry butter cream and dark chocolate glaze. Now, it was time to assemble. I cut the two cakes in half to create 4 skinny cakes and started to layer the strawberry butter cream. I quickly noticed that I didn't have enough, so I decided to see if I could stretch the frosting that I did have. I ended up with a somewhat lop sided cake, but I decided to continue. Next, I poured the dark chocolate glaze over the cake in a thin layer. So far, so good. I then let the frosting sit for a while to thicken and then applied more glaze along the sides of the cake. Here's where the problems began again!

The glaze was so heavy that it started to seep down the sides of the cake pulling the cake with it. Opps! I had come so far (over 6 pages of directions, two baking attempts, and an extra trip to the store!), I decided to cut the cake and see what happened. Well, it started to fall over. I immediately started laughing uncontrollably and grabbed my camera. Take a look at the mess!
See, the piece on the left is kinda standing, but the second piece flipped off the plate. Notice the chocolate glaze everywhere! My husband (who came running down the stairs when he heard me laughing) and I ate a few bites of cake and tossed the rest. It tasted pretty good, but definitely not worth the work!

Unwilling to be defeated by a cake recipe, I waited a few days before trying again. I decided to change my strategy and recipes. I made the dessert "parfait style" by layering chunks of yellow cake with chocolate and strawberry butter cream garnished with shaved chocolate and fresh strawberries. I used my super-simple one bowl yellow cake recipe and a pretty simple butter cream recipe. No six page recipes here!

Whew, finally my chocolate covered strawberry cake idea came to fruition. I'm now on to my next adventures in baking!
LESSON LEARNED: I need to work on my layer cake skills and sometimes simpler recipes are better.

Recipe for Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cake (the one that worked!)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lesson #99: Peppermint Patty Truffles

Oh, the combination of dark chocolate and mint is one of my favorite flavors! When I saw this recipe posted on another blog, I knew I had to try it out.

This recipe is great because it only requires 5 ingredients and is super simple to make. The biggest selling point is that they taste EXACTLY like the store bought candy. My husband said that if he closed his eyes, he wouldn't be able to tell the difference. I think it was his way of telling me that they didn't look as uniform as the real ones! :)

I did make this recipe twice. The first time I made them into patties, but because I was in a hurry (or perhaps because of my dispositional lack of patience!), I made the patties way too big. The ratio of chocolate to peppermint was off. Next time, I made them into small balls and called them truffles. They were PERFECT bite-size pieces of goodness. Check out pictures from both of my attempts below!

LESSON LEARNED: Bite-sized pieces are the key to achieving the perfect ratio of dark chocolate to peppermint.

Recipe for Peppermint Patty Truffles

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lesson #98: Triple Chocolate Pecan Cookies

Happy Friday! A few days ago I had a chocolate craving and these TRIPLE chocolate cookies fit the bill. Since it's pretty close to Valentine's Day - which is a big holiday for chocolate consumption - it's a perfect time to post this recipe.

The cookie dough has a very thick, rich consistency which reminded me of a brownie batter. The cookies contain cocoa powder, melted semi-sweet chocolate, and chocolate chips. In addition, chopped pecans are added to the dough. The end result is a LUXURIOUS deep chocolate bite. YUMMY!

LESSON LEARNED: Make these cookies on the smaller side since they are pretty rich.

Recipe for Triple Chocolate Pecan Cookies

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lesson #97: Red Velvet Cherry Cupcakes

I'm usually not a big fan of red velvet cake, but these cute cupcakes stole my heart. The cupcakes give a nod towards being a red velvet cake, but incorporate an AMAZING cherry flavor. What's the secret? Reducing a good amount of cherry cola by half and adding a bit of almond extract to the cupcake batter. The frosting is a combination of cream cheese and whipped cream. The frosting is sweet & tangy and has an INCREDIBLY light texture. I might pass on a red velvet cupcake, but never on one of these.

LESSON LEARNED: Reducing cherry cola and adding almond extract give these cupcakes a pronounced cherry flavor.

Recipe for Red Velvet Cherry Cupcakes

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lesson #96: Roasted Cherry Ice Cream

I've been on a roll posting a new ice cream recipe every week. Pretty soon, I will have a ton of ice cream flavors in my repertoire! Last week, we enjoyed this roasted cherry ice cream. My husband is a big fan of fruit-flavored ice creams, so this is a recipe he chose for the week.

Making this ice cream requires a little prep time. Mostly, if you are using fresh cherries, you have to pit all the cherries before roasting them in the oven with a bit of sugar and cornstarch. I have super useful cherry pitter which saves ton of time and red-stained fingers! When cherries are in season in Ohio, I usually go on a cherry pitting marathon where I freeze cherries to use year round. Once you get past the cherry pitting, you make a standard vanilla ice cream base and churn the ice cream. Then, as you pack the ice cream in a container to harden, you layer in roasted cherries. It's as simple as that!

LESSON LEARNED: Using a cherry pitter saves a ton of time!

Recipe for Roasted Cherry Ice Cream

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lesson #95: Milk Chocolate & Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Last week I had one lonely bag of milk chocolate chips left in my pantry and I wanted to use them up. As I was browsing through some recipe books, I came across a milk chocolate and peanut butter cookie and thought it would be the perfect recipe to try.

These cookies are FABULOUS! Two peanut butter cookies studded with milk chocolate chips are sandwiched between a creamy & silky milk chocolate/peanut butter ganache. One note for this recipe is that there is barely enough ganache cover all the sandhich cookies. It leaves no room for tasting or putting a generous amount in between the sandwich. Next time, I think I'll double the recipe for the ganache :)

LESSON LEARNED: Double the ganache for this cookie - you'll need it!

Recipe for Milk Chocolate & Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lesson #94: Cranberry Granola

A typical breakfast or snack in our house is yogurt with granola and fresh fruit. I like it because it's relatively healthy and you can mix up the flavors pretty easily by choosing different fruits or granola. Last time I needed granola, I was in the store and it occurred to me that it was probably easy to make homemade granola and it was probably a lot cheaper too. So, I did some research on some of my favorite food blogs and came up with a base recipe. Surprisingly, I had all the ingredients I needed (except applesauce which I make in the fall), so it's a pretty convenient recipe too.

Now that I've made granola once, I won't go back to store bought again! The granola is a little spicy from cinnamon & ground ginger, pleasantly sweet from a touch of honey and brown sugar, and fruity from the applesauce and dried cranberries. DELICIOUS! 

LESSON LEARNED: Homemade granola is easy to make and tastes better too!

Recipe for Cranberry Granola

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lesson #93: Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Hot Fudge

I had a craving the other day for vanilla bean ice cream layered with hot fudge sauce. I think it was because I was still getting over a sinus infection and this dessert sounded really comforting to me. Luckily, my husband was around, so he became my sous chef and tackled all the tricky parts of this recipe (or at least the parts that I didn't have the energy to do....like chopping a ton of chocolate!).

This new ice cream recipe is interesting because it contains no eggs like my traditional ice cream base. Instead, cornstarch and cream cheese is used to thicken it. The end result was AMAZING! It tasted very similar to premium quality store bought ice cream (you know, the pints that have cute and funny names!). Since the entire book uses this ice cream base, we are excited to try the other flavors!

 LESSON LEARNED: Cornstarch and cream cheese works well to thicken an ice cream base.

Recipe for Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Hot Fudge
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