Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Planter Project

First, dear readers, I have to share some news. We are moving from our little oasis, our nest of marital bliss. This is not so exciting, but we found a new place and I'm sure we'll have fun there too.

Secondly, right before I found out we had to move, I got this burning desire to plant something. To plant a lot of things. I never wanted to have to buy tomatoes or herbs again. Undaunted by our profound lack of yard, I set to work building a planter. Slightly ill-conceived, but functional for now. Lunch today was balsamic reduction, mozzarella, tomatoes and basil-from-the-planter, so today it's a success.

I broke out our circular saw for the first time to cut down lots of 8'x2"x1" boards. I read all the cautions very carefully, because I knew Eric would be upset to see me fingerless.

I made up the shape on the spot, and if I was going to do it again, I would make it shallower and wider. My plants are pretty smashed in together. And, filled with dirt, it weighs about 200 pounds. I'm still hoping, hoping we can move it though.

I cut a sheet of....whatever that holey board is fit the bottom to allow excess water to drain. I worked furiously all day because I knew that the project would go over waaaay better with Eric if I was done with it when he saw it for the first time, than if the thing was still in pieces all over the porch.

I filled the bottom with gravel to help with drainage too. (Eric came home and said "You bought rocks and dirt???" But he thought it was great over all.)

It actually took 3 50-pound-bags of dirt to fill the thing.

I planted rosemary, basil, parsely, two types of mint, cilantro, oregano, tomatoes, and then our neighbor gave me some tiny little pepper plants. Yes, all that in that little space. Next time I'd do it differently. It's 3"x2"x2"

Oh, see how my darling plants have grown!! It's thrilling to see how much they grow every week. They are all doing fantastic except for the oregano, which now that I think of it may have been thyme. Anyway, its dead.

I hope I can move it in a month with out emptying it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tres Leches Cake

The sad cake pictured above was the one and only time that my Sky High cake book failed me. I was excited by the prospect of a layered tres leches cake- I'd never seen one before.

And it turns out, there may be a good reason for the absence of layered tres leches cakes. This one failed, for sure. All the egginess sank to the bottom of the layers, becoming a hard, plastic-like shell. What's worse, I spent an hour stirring dolce de leche on the stove, and it turned out grainy and was only meant to be whipped into the cream for the frosting. The recipe is definitely fixable, but I won't have time to mess with that mess for a long time.

Anyway, I decided to go with one of the more traditional recipes, all of which consist of a basic sponge cake soaked in a mixture of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream or half and half, all covered in sweetened whipped cream and cinnamon. Hard to go wrong there.

I sifted through many, many recipes, trying very hard not to make the Pioneer Woman's recipe, because seriously, a million bloggers out there have blogged about the recipe. But in the end, you can't argue with a million bloggers all claiming that Ree Drummond's Tres Leches Cake is the reason they get out of bed in the morning. So I tweaked it and made it- several times. For me, for the restaurant, and for a potluck. And it was very good. But I have a feeling that any good sponge cake recipe could yield you very similar results, if you'll forgive me for saying so.

I never cease to be astounded by the magical and versatile properties of eggs. I feel an egg post coming on soon...

And really, this cake is awesome in general. It's like the best parts of cake and custard combined.

Tres Leches Cake adapted from the Pioneer Woman

1 cup flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
5 eggs
1 cup sugar, divided (3/4 and 1/4 cups)
1 t vanilla
1/3 cup milk

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 cup heavy cream

3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
Cinnamon, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 9X13 in pan.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks in your mixer with 3/4 cup sugar until thick and pale. Stir in the vanilla and the milk. Stir the egg mixture gently into the flour mixture.

Wash the mixer bowl, and beat the egg whites with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on high speed until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold the whites into the batter, trying not to lose the volume. Don't over mix. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30-40 minutes. It's done when the knife or toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool. At this point you can transfer it to a pretty dish that has a rim, or you can keep it in the baking dish. Stab the cake all over with a fork. Combine the three milks in a spouted containing and mix well. Slowly, in stages if necessary, pour the milk mixture over the cake. It should all absorb into the cake eventually. It is best to refrigerate it overnight to allow complete assimilation of cake and milk.

The next day, beat the heavy cream and the 1/2 cup of sugar in your mixer at high speed until thick. Don't over whip, or it will get grainy and eventually turn into butter.

Spread the whipped cream over the cake and sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve. Enjoy.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a shot of the finished, sliced cake. But if you feel the need for in-depth photo documentation of the whole process, check out the Pioneer Woman's site- she always documents every single step and detail of her dishes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cranberry-Cherry-Chocolate Chunk Cake

I wonder if others share my affinity for cranberries in baked goods. Fresh cranberries, not dried. I love the tangy, bright flavor nested in sweet cake next t0 smooth chocolate. This cake sports not only cranberries, but cherries too.

It's a pretty easy cake when you need a cake and don't have time to wait for the layers to cool and make frosting. Like when the dinner rush at the restaurant starts in an hour and there's no dessert in the case. It tastes best slightly warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Cranberry-Cherry-Chocolate Cake, inspired by the Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake, found on Smitten Kitchen

1 cup AP flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 t salt
3 eggs, room temp (let sit in hot water for a few minutes)
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped cranberries
1 cup chopped cherries (I used frozen for both fruits)
3/4-1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350. Line the bottom of a 9-in springform pan with parchment.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together. Using a mixing with the paddle attachment, whip the eggs until pale and thick. This will take 5 plus minutes.

While the whipping action is happening, brown the butter. Cut the stick into pieces and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally (more often towards the end) until the butter turns brown and smells nutty. The butter will continue cooking after you turn off the heat, so don't wait too long to take it off. You can always dip the bottom of the pan in cool water to stop the cooking process if it's getting too dark.

Add the sugar to the eggs while whipping, whip a couple more minutes then turn to low. Alternate adding the flour and butter to the egg mixture. Mix until just barely combined- don't over mix. Watch out for butter pockets in the bottom of the bowl.

Pour into the spring form pan, and sprinkle the top with the chocolate, cranberries and cherries, alternating to ensure even distribution. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, anywhere from 30-50 minutes.

Let cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Potato Rosemary Bread

Because of all the potato in it, this bread has remarkably tender crumb. The rosemary is just about the best herb when it comes to bread- it's spicy and floral and refined, and it feels like you're dumping a bunch of pine needles into your dough, which is kind of fun.

It does require a pre-ferment, so refer to the biga post for the recipe.

Potato Rosemary Bread, from the Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
Makes 2 one pound loaves

1 1/2 cups (7 oz) biga
3 cups plus 2 T (14 oz) unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 t (.38 oz) salt
1/4 t black pepper (optional)
1 1/4 t (.14 oz) instant yeast
1 cup (6 oz) mashed potatoes
1 T olive oil
2 T (.25 oz) chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 cup to 1 cup (7 or 8 oz) water, room temp
4 T (1 oz) coarsely chopped roasted garlic (optional. I left this out.)

Take the biga out of the fridge about an hour before starting the bread. Cut it into about 10 pieces to help it warm up faster.

Stir together flour, salt, pepper and yeast in a large bowl or in your mixer bowl. Add the biga pieces, mashed potatoes, rosemary, oil and 3/4 cup water. Stir or mix on low speed until the ingredients come toether. Add more water if needed.

Knead for 10 minutes on a floured counter or mix in the mixer for 6 minutes. Add more water or flour as needed- the dough should be cohesive, pliable and tacky, not sticky.

Once the dough can be streched into a thin "windowpane" between your fingers with out tearing, then you can put the ball of dough into an oiled bowl and cover. And if you're adding garlic, you can flatten the dough and sprinkle it on top, then knead for another minute.

Let rise at room temperature for 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

Now shape the loaves. You can either form a "boule" circle loaf by creating tension on the top of the loaf by pulling the dough down and tucking underneath or make dinner rolls.

Proof for another hour or two until the loave doubles in size again.

Preheat your oven to 400 and brush the bread with olive oil. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes, rotate, and bake another 10-20 minutes. When done, the loaves will be golden brown and the temperature in the middle should be 195 degrees.

Cool for an hour before slicing.

Delicious with spaghetti, grilled, or straight up.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Walnut Bleu Cheese Sourdough

I've been experimenting with my sourdough starter recently. I'd like to understand what I"m doing, beyond feeding it once a week and adding more flour to the part I want to turn into bread.
I'm reading The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott, which is a super-informative book about natural leaveners and hearth baking. To hear them talk, the only way to make real bread is to skip the yeast and fire in a hand built oven that burns wood. My boss keeps talking about moving the oven he built several years ago to the farm...I hope it happens. Then I could make real bread.

In the meantime, I offer Walnut Bleu Cheese Sourdough, which apparently is Peter Reinhart's favorite. I made it a couple weeks ago and Eric and I brought a loaf with us to Durham, North Carolina. (Along with some Potato Rosemary bread, which I will post next). This cool cat Gretchen who thinks blogs are lame lives there, and we like her enough to visit. (We like her a lot, actually) Our good friends Leah and Drew came too, and we had a blast. Leah has a blog, which I think is good reading. She and Drew build sweet things around their house.

The coolest part about this bread is the color! It's purple! Do you know why it's purple? You're thinking "The bleu cheese, duh" right? WRONG! It turned purple after I added the toasted walnuts and before the bleu cheese. Weird, I know. It's the oils in the walnuts.

For this bread, make your sourdough as you normally would, and add 25 percent toasted walnuts and 15-20 percent crumbled bleu cheese. This will seem like an absurd amount, breaking and spilling out of the dough at every side, but it will work in the end, even if it requires some guerilla shaping of the loaves. Add the walnuts during the last two minutes of kneading and fold in the bleu cheese carefully at the end of kneading. (Press out the dough and sprinkle one third of the cheese on it, roll it up and repeat this two more times.)

As soon as I really, truly figure out this sourdough thing, I'll post my findings, but in the mean time you can check out The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (which is a must have bread book. The Authority, some say.)

Here are links to his sour dough bread recipe

(note: if you don't have hours and hours to let your bread rise, or if your starter is new, you can add 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast to the bread to ensure a 90 minute first rise and a 60 minute final proof. Is this cheating? Opinions differ. You decide. Bear in mind that the bread is definitely less sour if you use yeast.)

...but I recommend buying the book so you can read all about bread and how to bake it.

MMmmm, we grilled the bread with butter for dinner at Gretchen's house. We ate it with local spinach, sausage and chutney.

This post was submitted to Yeastspotting

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The BIGA recipe

A biga is a piece of dough that has been allowed to ferment slightly, that is then added to a bread recipe to improve the flavor and texture.

To make a biga

Stir together:
2 1/2cups (11.25 oz) unbleached bread flour
1/2 t (.055 oz) instant yeast

3/4-1 cup (7 or 8 oz) water

Make sure your dough is tacky, not sticky. Knead for 4-6 minutes (or use a dough hook on medium for 4 minutes), until the dough is soft and pliable.

Coat a bowl with oil, dump in the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to ferment at room temperature for 2-4 hours. Allow it to nearly double in size.

Remove from the bowl and knead lightly to degas. At this point, you can either use the biga in a recipe, or cover again and leave in the fridge overnight, which further develops the flavor. (Overnight is recommended.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Strawberry Cake II

Isn't this just the picture of lovliness?

...standing in stark contrast to this despicable mess.

I had such high hopes for this cake. The layers were gorgeous. I wanted to take my time and make the cake pretty and dainty and tasty. It is strawberry cake layers from Sky High with White Chocolate frosting. Then I got greedy and thought, Chocolate Ganache! Homemade Strawberry Jam! This will be the cake to end all cakes!

Thats when it started going downhill, because you see, I layered the jam between the chocolate and the white chocolate cream cheese, and the layers slid everywhere. It was all I could do to keep them together. And then I ran out of frosting. And I kept trying to make it prettier, and everything I added made it a little worse. I've concluded that this could've been avoided by either not including the jam, or by putting the jam on the bottom, next to the cake so it could be absorbed a little bit. This cake could've been gorgeous. It tasted gorgeous.

This recipe makes a lot of cake. Three thick Layers, even with 6 cupcakes-worth removed. Also, I added a few drops red food coloring to enhance the pink color.

Strawberry Cake adapted from Sky High
4.5 cups cake flour
3 cups sugar
5 1/4 t baking powder
2/4 t salt
3 sticks butter, softened
1.5 cups pureed strawberries (you can use fresh or frozen. If frozen, then thaw in a bowl and puree with the juices)
8 eggs whites
2/3 cup milk
White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat to 350. Line 3 9-in round cake pans with parchment paper. You could also use square pans for this recipe.

In the bowl of a mixer, blend the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and strawberry puree and mix until blended, then raising the speed to medium high and beating til fluffy. The book promised that the batter would look like strawberry ice cream at this point, and they were right on!

Combine the egg whites and milk, and slowly add to the ice cream batter, scraping down the bowl sometimes, until they are fully incorporated. Do not over mix.

Divide the batter among your batter receptacles and bake for about a half hour, until a knife or a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool completely before frosting. (Best to turn out the pans after 15 minutes and cool on racks.)

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting adapted from Sky High
2 8-oz blocks of cream cheese (calls for cold from the fridge so the frosting doesn't get too soft.)
1 stick butter
6 oz white chocolate, melted and cooled
4 cups confectioner's sugar

The original recipe didn't call for butter....but I like butter so I added some. It was also wary about over heating the frosting in the mixing process by over beating. I paid no attention to this and beat the fluffy mercilessly into the frosting. This resulting softness could have contributed to the cake sliding fiasco.

Mix the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the white chocolate and beat until fully mixed. Slowly add the confectioner's sugar.

Now you can freeze the strawberry layers if you want, to make the cake frosting process go smoother. You can also apply strawberry jam and melted chocolate to the cake, in that order, before laying frosting between the layers. I would not recommend glopping white chocolate ganache, and then white chocolate ganache mixed with jam haphazardly onto the top of the cake in an effort to save its looks.

People seemed to like the cake a lot, and the cupcakes were delicious, but very sweet. I think I'm done with strawberry cake for awhile.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I am incredibly pleased to be able to offer you an archive page now, featured just under my logo at the top of the page.
Now you can browse all my recipes without scrolling through page after page!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting

This is not my favorite kind of cake. I'm more of a chocolate overload plus fruit kind of girl. However, it is a favorite of many, so it's a great one to have in your repertoire.

It is, in fact, my co-worker Cynthia's favorite, and the one she requested for her birthday last week.

Cynthia is awesome. My favorite moment with her was when it became apparent that she thought Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings were the same series, just different installments. (you know, like, "Harry Potter and the Return of the Half-Blood King" in which Harry must destroy Voldemort by throwing his magic ring into the volcano in Mordor. I guess Gandalf and Dumbledore could be pretty easy to confuse.) When I set her straight, she said "No wonder my Grandkids be lookin' at me so strange."

After googling "Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting" and considering my options, I decided to go guessed it...Smitten Kitchen. It's almost embarrassing how often I reference those recipes. Deb just seemed so confident about the cake, and it's hard not to trust her.

And so, its in her capable hands I leave you:

Instant Fudge Frosting

I HIGHLY recommend this cake. So next time it's requested for a birthday or event, please please please do not reach for the box of cake mix, and try this one out. It won't disappoint.

I got a big carried away with the frosting for the restaurant's cake. It morphed into a sea urchin.

Ooooo trippy....

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Strawberry Cake

One of my goals for our Florida trip was to pick strawberries. Loads of em. I located many, many farms near Lakeland, where the air show was, but on the Sunday (the day we meant to pick) it rained all day long.

This meant a long, wet day in St. Petersburg, where almost everything is closed on Sunday. This meant catching up on reading while eating fantastic reuben sandwiches at the Lucky Dill Deli, and it meant soggy clothes in the tent that night.

Fortunately, we'd made plans to visit Eric's friend Josh in Gainesville on the way home, and we dragged him along to pick berries right outside town. (Thanks Mom for the google search to locate the place!) I so wish the camera had not somehow stayed on in its case, running down the battery all day. I would've loved to show you rows and rows of bright, ripe berries.

And in case you're interested, Eric picks fast, fast, fast, filling up 2 buckets while I was on my first and Josh had only just covered the bottom of his. I like to think that I take only the best berries while still working efficiently. Josh stares at each berry for a full minute before deciding to commit it to his bucket.

We ended up picking 18 pounds of berries, which we laid out carefully in the back seat of our car, and drove off with visions of jam and jelly, sauces and shortcake.

My first project was this strawberry cake, which I have to confess was kind of disappointing. I searched forever for a recipe that did not involve strawberry gelatin and white cake mix, and I finally decided on this one, from recipezaar, which got good reviews. I didn't get a picture of the inside, but you can trust me that it was not bright pink as I'd been dreaming, but more of a mudding pinky brown. It tasted very moist, but all in all just "meh." (Odd, everyone over at recipezaar loved it.) Once covered with cream cheese frosting it tasted pretty good, but not at all like fresh strawberry.

Now this was about two weeks ago, but FORTUNATELY for all of us, I have recently discovered that my own dearest Sky High cake book has a recipe for strawberry cake hidden in the back with the wedding cakes. And I am making it tomorrow and I'm going to tell you how it is.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting (And Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze)

A few weeks ago, peanut butter re-entered my life in full force. It's always had it's place, you know, in peanut butter and banana sandwiches and peanut butter banana cakes, but that peanut butter torte bumped it up several notches in my dessert roster. And this cake? It sealed the deal.

(First of all, let me say if you're going to put sour cream in a cake, you've got my attention.)

The chocolate sour cream cake in this recipe is moist and tender, and just about melts into the peanut butter frosting inside your mouth. It's like the cake and frosting are one; meant to live in symbiotic cake bliss...

And (as if you needed more convincing) this cake doesn't even require a mixer!

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting adapted from Sky High (buy this cook book.)

2 cups AP flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 T distilled white vinegar
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350. Line the bottoms of three 8-in round cake pans with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda into a large bowl and whisk to combine. Stir in the oil and sour cream (at this point it tastes like thick brownie batter mmmmmm). Gradually whisk in the water, then the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs until thoroughly mixed. Divide among the cake pans.

Bake for 35 minutes (more like 25 if you're using 9-in pans), and use a knife to test the middle.

Let cool on racks. (I like to wrap mine in plastic wrap once they're cool and pop in the freezer until I'm ready to frost. It makes the frosting behave; it stiffens on the cold layers. This is especially important as this week was the first really hot, humid week we had here. The cake almost died in transportation.)

Make your Peanut Butter Frosting:

(ok, I lied a little bit. This part is best done with a mixer).


12 oz softened cream cheese
1 stick softened butter
5 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter (not natural)

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat a few minutes more before adding the peanut butter, then beat until completely blended.

Frost your cake, and top with Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze:


8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
3 T smooth peanut butter
2 T light corn syrup
1/2 cup half and half

In a heat-proof bowl set over boiling water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter and corn syrup. Heat, stirring often, until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in the half and half.

This part can be messy....Carefully pour the glaze over the cake, letting it run down the sides in attractive drips. You might want to do this on a rack over a baking sheet. It's best to refrigeratethe cake for a half hour or so before cutting or moving, just to let it set up.

Nom nom nom nom.