Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rum Raisin Cupcakes

September's cupcake of the month flavor was inspired by the ever popular (well, at least cult-like popular) "Talk Like a Pirate Day," which is coming up the 19th of this month. If you aren't familiar with this festive holiday, it's really quite a simple celebration of grammar: you just have to drop your "arrr"s all day.

In the piratical spirit, I felt like rum was the only neccessARRRy ingredient. Unsure of what kind of pairing would go with Rum that would compliment but not overwhelm it, I decided rum raisin. Inspired by an ice cream flavor that my friend Becca used to order back in my Brooklyn days. Now personally, I'm not a fan of raisins, so I had to resort to the opinions of my taste testers to see if the recipe was a winner. Luckily, it has passed the test.

My recipe was fairly straight-forward, but a little time consuming. I made a pretty standard "off-white" cupcake, but used all brown sugar and added a couple tablespoons of rum in place of some of the milk (and actually forgot vanilla.... I will probably use vanilla though if I make them again).

While those were baking, I soaked some small dark raisins in rum and brown sugar and put them over a double boiler until the raisins seemed plump and the liquid had turned syrupy. Not a very technical explanation, so if I had to guess, I'd say I used 1 cup of raisins, 2-3 tablespoons of Rum and 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Once that was ready, I put it into my food processor, added about 1/4 cup of roasted pecans and pureed it into a sticky paste. I actually added more rum to thin the solution out a bit so it was more spreadable.

Then I made some butter rum glaze. Over medium heat, melt 6 tablespoons of butter, 3 tablespoons rum, 3 tablespoons water, and 3/4 cup of sugar. I let the solution boil a little and then took it off the heat and let it cool. It does form a skin, so you can either cover it or mix it once in a while to keep it fluid.

Finally, I made rum buttercream which was just a regular buttercream recipe that used rum instaed of milk. 1 C butter, room temperature beaten until fluffy. Gradually add 4+ cups of powdered sugar and approximately 4 tablespoons of rum and whip until creamy and fluffy.

To assemble, spread raisin puree/compote evenly over the top of the cupcake. Using a pastry brush, cover compote with glaze. Top with buttercream and of course, a little raisin so everyone knows what to expect.

4 Flavors

A simple way to add variety to your life, I made a batch of devil's food cupcakes and topped them with 4 different flavors of frosting. Only a little extra time for each frosting, but totally worth it to spice things up.

Flavors, clockwise, starting from front.

Flavor 1: Strawberry
Regular buttercream frosting, but with fresh strawberry puree instead of milk. I topped the cupcake with the frosting, then spotted it with a couple sesame seeds and mint leaves to make it look like a strawberry top. No food coloring was used, but it could be cute to make it a little richer in red color.

Flavor 2: Kahlua
Buttercream made with Kahlua instead of milk and topped with a sprinkling of cocoa powder.

Flavor 3: Grand Marnier
Buttercream made with Grand Marnier instead of milk. Should have added orange juice or rind to the frosting mix, because the Grand Marnier by itself wasn't quite cutting it. I did top it with candied orange rind pieces, but it didn't add enough flavor.

Flavor 4: Hazelnut
First I spread a little Nutella on the cupcake, then I put on a layer of Frangelico buttercream. Topped with a hazelnut.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pignoli Cookies

These cookies are one of my favorites. Definitely a treat, these moist, chewy and flavorful cookies are made almost entirely of almond paste. In fact, they could be gluten free if you chose not to use the moderate amount of flour that's suggested in the batter.

These cookies are apparently Sicilian in origin. They are often made around the holidays, but I see no reason to not enjoy them year round.

The recipe is very easy. I used a food processor to make the dough, which made it very easy and quick. Most recipes called for almond paste in a can because it's softer, but I only have access to the tube kind, so my quantities were off by an ounce, but nothing seemed to be ruined because of it.

  • 1 (8 oz) Can Almond Paste
  • 1/2 C Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 C Powdered Sugar
  • 1/4 C Flour*
  • 2 Egg Whites (this amount can vary depending on how moist the dough gets. Start with 1 white and only add more if necessary)
  • 8 Ounces Pine Nuts
  • Extra Powdered Sugar To Finish (I forgot to do that part - woops)
Preheat to 300 F.

In a food processor, pulse the almond paste into small pieces, and add the two sugars and the flour (* recommended, but could make it without). Once those are mixed thoroughly, begin to add the egg whites a little at a time, just until the dough comes together.

I used a small cookie scoop to divvy up the batter. At each spoonful, I tossed it with the pine nuts and placed on a parchment lined cookie sheet. No need to flatten - a sphere of cookie dough will bake into a nicely rounded mound that is super moist and chewy on the inside while crisp outside.

Bake for about 25 minutes until lightly browned. The pine nuts will add such a nice warm and nutty flavor to the already super almondy dough - amazing.

Once they cool, I suppose that's where you're supposed to sprinkle them with powdered sugar. Go for it. I'm sure it's lovely.

I was only able to get about 10 cookies from this recipe, but they are totally worth it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Black and White Cookie

A true New York specialty, I definitely miss having a good black and white cookie after grabbing a sandwich at the deli. There is a lot of history and culture surrounding the black and white. It is by definition a cookie that is actually cake. Supposedly created when bakers had leftover batter, they just added a little extra flour to thicken it up so it wouldn't spread too far on the pan. Proof that some of the most amazing things are based on very simple ideas.

There is also quite a ritual that goes into eating the cookie. Which side do you like better? Do you eat the black or white first? Do you take a little bit of each? I was reminded of a Seinfeld episode that touched on the process of eating the cookie and it's ability to defy racial barriers. Regardless of which side you like or eat first, the cookie is overall quite delightful. Spongy like cake, with a high cake to frosting ratio, it is the perfect sweet end to any meal.

After an experiment and advice described by smittenkitchen's entry (thanks), I ended up making my cookie dough by varying my basic off-white cake recipe. Yielding only about a dozen large cookies, this recipe can be doubled, halved, made into a bunch of small cookies, made into bigger cookies (not recommended, as the cookies are actually quite fragile and will easily break in half if made too big). They are also best served fresh. Deli's tend to wrap them in plastic wrap to ward off the elements, but I doubt if you brought these cookies to a party there would be any concern for what to do with leftovers. They also don't do so well with stacking because the glaze is tacky and although "hardened" - still pretty moist. putting layers of wax paper in between the cookies seemed to work well enough to keep them separate for transport though.

Ok, so recipe goes:

  • 6 tbs butter, room temperature
  • 1 C sugar
  • 3/4 C flour*
  • 3/4 C cake flour*
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/8 C milk
  • 1/2 tsp lemon extract
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375˚. Line baking sheets with parchment.

Sift together dry ingredients. I usually don't sift, but this time I thought it would be important to keep the cookies light and incorporate both flours evenly. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Mix milk and extracts together. Beginning with dry ingredients, gently mix into butter, alternating with milk, ending with dry, being careful not to over-mix.

Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. *I found that they were hard to make into perfect circles, and might have been easier to work with if I added a little more flour, probably up to 1/2 cup more at most. Depending on the size you make the cookies, bake for 10-15 minutes, but check to make sure you just lightly brown the edges.

As they're cooling, start the glazes.
My proportions are not generous, but the recipe can be easily added to even as you're working, so if you need more you can make it as you go.

White Glaze:
  • 2 C powdered sugar
  • 1/4 C boiling water

Slowly mix water into sugar, making sure not to put too much water in. You might not need all of it. I like the consistency to be easy to spread and not very drippy.
So, these cookies are actually frosted on their bottom side, covering up the baking brown. Using a frosting or butter knife, spread the white glaze on one half of each cookie. The glaze develops a skin quickly, so make sure to move quickly so your unused frosting doesn't get too crystallized.
You will have about half the frosting left. Place that over a pot of boiling water to make a double boiler and then, add to glaze base:

Chocolate Glaze:
  • 1.5 oz dark or unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp corn syrup
  • 1 tbs cocoa (optional, but I think it makes the "black" side look richer and darker than without)

Whisk together over the heat until chocolate has melted. This glaze is even more sensitive to thickening and crystallizing while you're working with it, so be sure to have more boiling water handy to thin it out as you work. Spread chocolate along other half of cookie.

Let them set up for a while before diving in, but then enjoy! I was told by a kind lady in my office that these were better than some she's had at Deli's in both New York and LA. My only defense was that I knew mine were very fresh, and that the deli's might not have been as much. Of course I'd love to believe that mine were actually better, but in the interest of keeping the peace, I will "look to the cookie."