Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Baking Cookbooks

I recently added 3 new baking cookbooks to my ever-growing collection.  Whenever I am in a bookstore, I always browse for new baking books, even though I have more than enough.  I have 11 that focus on cookies, brownies and bars.  Cakes and cupcakes - 7.  Chocolate - 3.  And I have 18 that are general baking cookbooks that cover a wide range of baked goods.  That doesn't include the many Taste of Home magazine publications I have, some of which are specifically focused on baking, or the countless Wilton Yearbooks and other publications that I own, or the general cookbooks that include chapters on baking.  Still, I am always on the hunt for a new find.

My poor family must really want to grimace when we visit Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia almost every year.  If you've never been there, it's a historic farmers market that's been in existence since 1860.  We love to visit Bassetts for the best ice cream in the world (banana) and many of the other food vendors.  There are several bakeries, including Flying Monkey Bakery, which has been featured on Outrageous Food for their Pumpple Cakes, apple and pumpkin pies baked inside vanilla and chocolate cakes and covered in buttercream.  Yes, I said pie baked inside cake.  But that topic is for another time.....the reason I mentioned Reading Terminal Market is that they have a shop called the Cookbook Stall that sells nothing but cookbooks and kitchen tools.  Can you imagine having to forcibly drag me away from such a place?  We tend to spend only about an hour or so at the Market when we go (which has always been at lunch time, and this place gets mobbed by tourists and all the local business people on their lunch breaks), and so far, I have been good about not spending too much time there.  But the next time we go I am going to give the Cookbook Stall the attention it deserves!

Anyway, two of my recent cookbooks came from Amazon and cost me nothing, as I was using up a credit and a gift certificate code I'd redeemed after earning points through  These books were 101 Gourmet Cake Bites for All Occasions by Wendy Paul, and Flour; Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang.  I was tempted by the Cake Bites book because I have several publications focusing on creating adorable cake pops, but nothing that really addresses coming up with creative flavor combinations for the cake pops/bites.  This book fills that void and features recipes for cake bites/pops like Raspberry Cheesecake, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Cherry Cordial, Mint Brownie, and Rosemary Lavender.  I think I am most intrigued by Churro, Root Beer Float, and French Toast.  I can't wait to try these out.  It's a good thing I work at a school full of appreciative taste testers!  (Of course, my kids are usually very happy to try things, too, even though they are pretty tired of cake after all my years of teaching cake decorating classes.)  This book features about 20 pages of cake bite/pop design ideas, too.

I hesitated to buy the Flour cookbook, then went ahead and added it to my shopping cart after reading a review that convinced me I would not regret purchasing it (thanks Amazon reviewer Justin S!)  I've only had the book for a week but I can already tell it will fast become a favorite.  I made the banana bread, even though I'd been completely satisfied with the banana bread recipe I'd been using for years.  The Flour recipe stomped all over that old banana bread recipe I used to make - I plan to forever use this new recipe!  I bought a big bunch of bananas at one of my last trips to the store and I'm looking forward to making it again before the end of the week.  There are also recipes for Homemade Oreos, Homemade Pop Tarts, and Homemade Fig Newtons, along with recipes for croissants, doughnuts, and other treats I am looking forward to making.  My only complaint is the lack of photos.  All of the photos in the book are full color and full page, which is great.  The downside is that there is a lot of unused white space in the book where the recipe directions end; these spots would have been perfect for photos.  I'd rather have more photos of smaller sizes than have all that wasted page space.

Finally, yesterday my daughter and I made a trip to our local independent bookstore.  She had some cash that was burning a hole in her wallet and wanted to look for a new WebKinz, and the bookstore has been a good source for specific WebKinz she's wanted in the past.  I, of course, could not resist peeking in the bargain corner and found A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman.  I glanced through it pretty quickly and convinced myself it was worth the $10 bargain price.  Once home, I paged through the whole thing and determined my gut instinct had been correct.  It covers the gamut from breads and rolls, pizza, scones, biscuits, muffins, cookies and biscotti, bars, cakes, pies, cheesecakes, etc.  There is a recipe for raised doughnuts that hints they are almost as good as Krispy Kremes, so that will be one of the first recipes I try.  You can visit Marcy's online magazine for bakers, BetterBaking.

Good thing that it's cooling down quite a bit this week here in southeastern Wisconsin, because I've got a feeling my oven is going to be in marathon mode.  I'll keep you posted on how things turn out!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Late on Labor Day: Boston Cream Pie Cake for Club Baked

I had pretty much figured out by last weekend that baking this go-around's recipe for Club Baked wasn't going to happen in a timely fashion.  If you haven't already figured it out, Club Baked is a group of baker/bloggers that is baking their way through the book Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, owners of Baked NYC (and brilliant cookbook authors.)  On the 1st and 15th of each month, we all publish a blog post discussing our baking experience (and hopefully sharing photos of said experience) with a chosen recipe from Baked Explorations; all of us in the group own the book.  There is a different "host" each time, and that host chooses the recipe and shares the recipe for the rest of the world in his/her blog post.

We were supposed to publish our blog posts about this time's recipe, Boston Cream Pie Cake, on September 1st.  I knew it wasn't going to work for me.......that day was the first day of school, and the first day back to work for me, since I am employed as a special education aide at an elementary school.  The last days of August were a little crazy, and I figured I'd get around to making the recipe over the long Labor Day weekend.  On Friday night, my mom called and asked if she and my dad could come out to visit with my family and take us out to dinner sometime during the weekend, as we had not seen each other in a while.  This was the perfect opportunity to actually make the cake, instead of just thinking about it or planning to get to it...I'd make the cake and we could all have it as our dessert after our dinner out with my parents on Labor Day.

On Sunday, I made the pastry cream(s).  All of the Boston Cream Pie recipes that I've come across have pretty much been the same.......two layers of yellow sponge cake with a vanilla pastry cream in the middle, then chocolate ganache poured over the top.  However, with the recipe from Baked Explorations, the baker turns part of the pastry cream into chocolate pastry cream.  When the cake is assembled, it goes cake, chocolate pastry cream, cake, vanilla pastry cream, cake, chocolate pastry cream, cake, chocolate ganache.  I debated whether I wanted to go this route......did I really want to mess around with two types of pastry cream?  Did I really want to work with four layers of cake?  Ultimately, I decided to make the recipe exactly as written.

And therein lies the rub.  This morning, I had a heck of a time with the milk sponge cake.  The cake batter seemed very odd to me.....very foamy and runny, and I doubted each layer would rise to the height necessary for me to be able to cut each cake into two layers.  I was right.  When my cakes came out of the oven, they were very flat and fairly dense.  I turned them out of the cake pans when cool enough, and they were only a quarter of an inch tall!  Knowing I wasn't going to use it, I tasted a corner of the cake and not only did it feel like a sponge, but it tasted like one, too!  Not much flavor at all.....I'd read that a lot of the other baker/bloggers had had difficulty with the cake and/or didn't like the texture or taste, so I pulled out one of my Nigella cookbooks and made new cakes using the recipe for Victoria Sponge.  I'd followed this recipe before to make Boston Cream Pie at least once before, so I knew it would turn out much better than this first attempt.  Sure enough, these cakes had a lighter, softer texture and much more flavor.  Here is my cake (I made 8 inch squares instead of rounds, 'cuz I'm cool like that) before the ganache.....

and after the ganache was poured.....

Here's what the sliced cake looked like.  I'm glad I ended up going with both types of pastry cream.  I had to quickly grab my camera to capture those two beautiful drips of chocolate ganache glaze oozing so prettily down the cake!

So, all in all, I am glad I made this, but in the future I will likely use the pastry cream and chocolate glaze recipe components, but rely on Nigella's tried and true Victoria Sponge for the cake.  I'm an experienced baker and it takes a lot to frustrate me, but that first cake did it and I don't expect to want to give it another try.

This recipe was hosted by Brooke's Bountiful Kitchen.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday Night Cake: Club Baked

I'm really glad I joined Club Baked.  I like knowing that on or around the 1st and the 15th of the month, I'm going to be baking something, and it's likely something I haven't made before, even though I've owned the book we are baking from, Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, since it was published.  I also enjoy the glee in my kids' eyes when they ask, "Is this for us?"  Because I'm a cake decorating teacher, I often have to bake cakes or cupcakes to take to class to help me illustrate the decorating techniques I'm teaching, and I also bake treats for various meetings and things I attend.  Ryan's and Katie's eyes light up when they realize a baked treat isn't leaving the's all for us.

This time, the Club Baked selection was hosted by Julie of Little Bit of Everything and we baked Sunday Night Cake.  My husband Dave teased me because I was supposedly being conformist by actually baking the cake on a Sunday night.  (I was not in the mood for such teasing and told him that because of his sarcasm, he wasn't getting any cake!)

Sunday Night Cake is a pretty simple cake lightly flavored with cinnamon, topped with a pudding-like chocolate frosting.  The cake is very simple to make; the frosting requires a little more work, but the end result is a wonderful cake that's perfect for family dinners, potlucks, etc.

After mixing the cake ingredients together, I had a wonderful, smooth and silky batter.  The scent reminded me a lot of oatmeal cookie dough, probably because of the cinnamon.

I filled my square cake pan with batter.  (Oops, looks like I got a little bit on the island!)

While the cake was baking in the oven, the kitchen was filled with a wonderful aroma, which was soon overpowered by the chocolate aroma when I made the frosting, which begins similar to a pudding cooked over the stove, then gets whipped with a mixer and butter is added to it.  I probably whipped my frosting a little longer than needed, because I wanted a lighter, less pudding-like frosting.

The end result was a light spice cake topped with rich chocolate frosting.  When I read the recipe, I wasn't sure about this cake, because I am not a huge fan of combining the flavors of cinnamon and chocolate.  Still, I enjoyed this cake.  (So did Ryan and Katie.  I believe they both said OMG when they took their first bites.)  I think the next time I make this, I will follow a suggestion in the recipe and top the cake with powdered sugar instead of the chocolate frosting.  Even better, I think it would be good with the Honey Buttercream featured in another recipe in this cookbook, or with a cream cheese frosting.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chocolate Mint Thumbprint Cookies

It's time for another edition of Club Baked!  Yes, I am baking my way through one of my favorite cookbooks, Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, along with my new blogger friends, fellow baker/bloggers in Club Baked.  This time we made Chocolate Mint Thumbprint Cookies and our host was Jamie of Random Acts of Food.  Thanks, Jamie!

I was ready for some baking therapy this week after learning that a telephone job interview I had lined up for a job I was really excited about was cancelled.  Yuck!  Sometimes when I get in a funky/depressed/my life sucks kind of mood the only way out is to BAKE (and, of course, consume!)  I got out my ingredients for the cookies and started.

I chopped my chocolate and melted it along with the Andes candies bits, and it looked silky, shiny, luscious, like this:
Then I got my other cookie ingredients together, including two wonderful sticks of butter:

The butter and other ingredients were mixed together in my mixer (which I sometimes call my Boyfriend):

And the cookie dough was thick, sticky and fudgy looking, almost like thick brownie batter:

I have a tendency to not be very precise when it comes to measuring dough into equal balls, as the recipe indicated, so I used a tablespoon to measure it out, then roll it into a ball and roll it in coarse sugar.  Then I used the back of a teaspoon to create the little hollow, or thumprint, of the cookie.  The unbaked cookie shells looked like this:

After my cookies had baked and cooled, I filled them with the wonderful filling, which is made up of cream, white chocolate and peppermint extract.  My filled cookies looked like this:
We ate some of the cookies soon after they were filled, not waiting for the filling to set.  I then put them in a container in the refrigerator, and I must say that I do prefer the taste of the cookies when they are chilled.  The recipe says they can be served at room temperature or chilled, but I think the mint flavor comes through better when they are cold.  Even though they are chilled, the cookies don't become rock hard and are still nice and chewy.

I'm really glad we made this recipe for Club Baked , because I may have otherwise overlooked this great recipe, thinking it would be too complicated.  They were rather easy to make and quite delicious!

Thanks for stopping by to read!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Farm Stand Doughnuts - Club Baked

I've been a fan of Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito for a few years.  While I've never had the pleasure of meeting them or visiting their bakery, Baked NYC in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I quickly became enamored of the them and their luscious recipes when I purchased their first book Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, in 2008.  Their second book, Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, was published in 2010.  Imagine my glee when I found Club: Baked, a group of baker bloggers that were baking their way through Baked Explorations.  I quickly decided to join the group, and the first recipe I made during this bake-off is Farm Stand Buttermilk Doughnuts Three Ways.

I am in love with doughnuts (isn't everybody?!) and I have made them at home at least a half a dozen times.  I've made yeasted raised doughnuts and cake doughnuts; the Farm Stand Buttermilk Doughnut is a cake doughnut made yummy by way of ingredients like buttermilk, sour cream, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg (you cannot beat the flavor of fresh nutmeg!)  While I have one of those cute little Babycakes min-doughnut makers, I decided to stay true to form and fry these doughnuts in my small Rival home fryer.

The dough was very easy to put together, simply a matter of mixing the dry ingredients, separately mixing the wet ingredients, and gently combining the two.  I patted the dough to about 1/2 inch thickness on my floured Silpat mat and cut out doughnuts using a doughnut cutter that is 2 1/2 inches across.  With this cutter, I was ultimately able to produce 18 small doughnuts and about the same number of doughnut holes.  (The recipe says it will make 10 large doughnuts, using a larger cutter, plus doughnut holes.) Here are some of my cut doughnuts before frying.
The recipe indicates to fry the doughnuts between 365-370 degrees F.  My Rival fryer does not have a very precise temperature gauge, and instead of testing the oil temperature with a thermometer, I did a test doughnut.  I fried it on one side for about 2-3 minutes, then flipped it and let the other side cook for about the same amount of time.  That doughnut came out pretty dark and had a thick outer crust when I tasted it after it had cooled a little.  It did not seem burned, but just a little too crusty.  I turned down the fryer temperature setting to be in the 350-360 range, and from that point on, I fried the doughnuts for about 2 minutes on each side, and that worked well to ensure that the doughnuts were cooked all the way through but weren't too dark on the outside.  One of the biggest challenges with frying doughnuts, beignets, etc. is you don't know if the inside is done until you break it open.  I would suggest always doing a test doughnut and using that as your guide, rather than trying to precisely follow the instructions.

I debated changing up the topping/glaze recipes a little, but ultimately decided to make them according to the recipes in the book, which include chocolate dip/glaze, vanilla glaze, and cinnamon sugar.  I used bittersweet Ghirardelli baking bar for the chocolate dip, and my son Ryan said the doughnut had a little bit of a coffee taste to it from the slight bitterness of the chocolate.

My vanilla glaze came out very transparent rather than looking like white frosting glaze, as the doughnut in the cookbook's photo did.  I used vanilla extract vs. vanilla paste, so as soon as I added that amber colored extract to the vanilla glaze made with powdered sugar and milk, it turned an opaque tan color.  On the doughnuts, it looks a lot like the clear sugar glaze used on glazed raised doughnuts.

One of my favorite toppings for cake doughnuts is cinnamon sugar.  I just ate one of those doughnuts this morning (made last night) and even though doughnuts may be best served immediately after cooking, this doughnut was darned good.  The number of glazed doughnut holes has dimished since last appears these are also a favorite.
All in all, baking these doughnuts was a fun experience, and even though I've owned Baked Explorations since it was published, I had not made this recipe before this, instead favoring another cake doughnut recipe I had.  Now that I know what a winner this recipe is, I think I will make it often.  Probably the next time I make them, I will bake them in my little Babycakes doughnut maker to cook them without oil and save on the calories.

Thank you to Gloria, the Ginger Snap Girl, for hosting this go-around of Club: Baked.  I really look forward to baking more wonderful treats with the rest of the Club: Baked group, and getting to know all of you!  Happy Baking!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Happy Day for Cakes

Just when I was stressing about my cake decorating classes for July and whether or not I'd have enough students for the classes to run, the phone rang.  A potential student for my daytime class.  We discussed the supplies, cost, etc., and she said her mom would likely take the class with her.  The phone rang again within the next hour.  Another potential student for the same class.  Looking good that the daytime class will run, and there is still another week plus until it begins.  Within the next 45 minutes, I got another call from a mom that is interested in taking my evening class with her daughter.  If all these people sign up, I should be golden.  But just in case, I plan to have a demo table at the store (I teach at Hobby Lobby) sometime (maybe twice) next week to generate some interest.

My ten year old daughter Katie wanted to bake something today.  I tried to talk her into chocolate chip cookies (I am addicted to Jacques Torres' version, see recipe below), but she wanted chocolate cupcakes.  We tried the recipe in my copy of Hello, Cupcake! by Karen Tack.  Now the cupcakes are cooling and waiting for Katie to come home from a friend's house.  She wants to practice piping on them.  And she wants to sign up for one of my classes!  That sweet girl of mine.....

I can't verify that the cookie recipe really comes from Jacques, but it's been credited to him on many websites.  Even if it's not his, the recipe rocks.  I have never bothered with the chilling part, I bake them up right away.  I typically bake them at 325 degrees for 18-20 minutes, using a medium ice cream scoop to scoop the dough.

Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons
(8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or chips, at least 60 percent cacao content
Sea salt.


Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Source: Jacques Torres

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bake Me Happy

This blog has been sitting inactive for too long now. I'm going to switch over the general theme of this blog to one of my passions.......baking. I will write about favorite recipes and my latest baking experiences, plus also review my favorite baking cookbooks.

I've loved to bake since I was a teenager (and that was more than 20 years ago, in case you're keeping track.) Baking is often very therapeutic for me, and it helps alleviate stress and anxiety. Sometimes I get manic about it, like "I have to bake something NOW!", even if it's something simple like chocolate chip cookies from store-bought refrigerated dough. Sometimes I bake things that are very simple and use ready-made products to create a luscious dessert or treat, but more often than not, I am a from-scratch baker.

I have been a Wilton cake decorating instructor for over 6 years, and I enjoy it immensely. However, when I make cakes for my family I typically keep it simple. I love looking at complicated cake designs and cake pops that look like cute little sheep, but I don't think I'd ever have the patience to make them myself. I occasionally make cakes for others, but I don't have a home cake business. The reason I love being an instructor is that it doesn't seem like work......I would hate to have all of my weekends tied up making cakes for other people. That would take the fun out of it.

Even though I am a cake decorating instructor, my favorite thing to bake is cookies and bar cookies. I have several cookbooks that focus on this type of treat, so expect a lot of discussion about cookies and bars!

I hope you'll visit me often and share your baking stories!
~ Maria