Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Basket and Carrot Cake Recipe

On the eve of Spring I made this basket of goodies for a customer. I'm not one to typically create baskets for orders, but occasionally I make it happen. This basket was filled with hazelnut truffle "eggs," carrot cake pop "bunnies," and homemade lemon marshmallow "flowers." Take that, Peeps.

The hazelnut eggs were a simple mix of semi sweet chocolate, a spoonful of nutella, cream, and a drop of frangelico that I coated in semi-sweet chocolate and decorated with colored white chocolate and decorating pearls. I'm not one to use white chocolate very often either, and when buying the chips found that some brands of white chocolate don't even contain cocoa butter! I believe a friend of mine had pointed this out once before, but because I rarely shop for the stuff, it didn't really sink in until this time.
The lemon marshmallows were just my basic marshmallow recipe that I added yellow food color and lemon extract to. I admit, the lemon extract tasted a little bit too fake to me, so if I make them again, I will probably just add zest to the recipe instead. I sprinkled them with yellow sanding sugar on one side, and powdered sugar on the rest of the sides once I cut them with the flower cookie cutters. There were scraps to be consumed after cutting. :)

The carrot cake pop bunnies were pretty cute, but super fragile. I melted white chocolate and using a paint brush (one that I use only for baking/decorating, btw, not a used paint brush or anything) to lay out the ears on some parchment paper and let them cool in the fridge until firm. White chocolate, however, is hardly ever that firm, and found that even the warmth of my fingers was melting them when I tried to stick them onto the white chocolate cake pops. As well, any tipping of the pops onto their side would snap the ears off, so I had to be very careful about keeping them upright the entire time. I don't think I would make these again just because they were cumbersome and fragile.

But, if you're feeling daring, below is my favorite carrot cake recipe which is what I used to make the filling. It's great as a cupcake or a full cake anyway. I made a 9x13 cake for this recipe since I was simply destroying it to make cake pops with anyway. Here's a picture of them when I made cupcakes though, just cuz it's cute.

Carrot Cake
(unknown source, but thanks for it!)

Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Trying not to make a mess, gently add in powdered sugar. After about 2 cups of sugar, add the vanilla and continue to add more sugar. I find that cream cheese frosting usually holds its own without any other liquid, but if it really seems too stiff, go ahead and add a smidgen of milk to smooth it out. But be careful, as it can get runny all too quickly.

- 12 ounces, approximately 2 1/2 cups, all-purpose flour, plus extra for pan

- 12 ounces grated carrots, medium grate, approximately 6 medium
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 10 ounces sugar, approximately 1 1/3 cups
- 2 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/4 cup firmly packed
- 3 large eggs
- 6 ounces plain yogurt
- 6 ounces vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour a 9x13" cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

Put the carrots into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together, and then add the carrots to this mixture until they are well-coated with the flour.

In a separate bowl combine the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and yogurt & oil. Mix wet ingredients into dry until just mixed (don't over mix).

Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45-55 minutes or until top is golden, cake is pulling away from the sides, and your finger springs back when you tap the top of the cake.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow cake to cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese
2-1/2 - 3 C powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Trying not to make a mess, gently add in powdered sugar. After about 2 cups of sugar, add the vanilla and continue to add more sugar if needed (taste test). I find that cream cheese frosting usually holds its own without any other liquid, but if it really seems too stiff, go ahead and add a smidgen of milk to smooth it out. But be careful, as it can get runny all too quickly.

At this point, you can destroy the carrot cake to make cake pops. Smash together some cake with some frosting until it holds together easily, then roll into 1" sized balls. Add popsicle sticks to the center of them and put them in the freezer for at least 10 minutes, or until you're sure they are stuck to the sticks pretty well.

Melt white chocolate and add a bit of vegetable oil, and dip each pop into the chocolate. I thought that the white chocolate was a little harder to work with (maybe it got solid quicker than chocolate, so was harder to spread a thin layer on the pops) so had to keep microwaving the chocolate to keep it spreading consistency. I put the pops on a piece of styrofoam to keep them upright while they cooled. I then added the ears to the tops of each pop. Do it quickly as the white chocolate gets too firm if you wait too long.

I didn't even bother adding a cute little face to the bunnies, but if you're up for it and like decorating, it could be a cute addition.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Apple π Day!

It's that day again. I feel a little bad for not having come up with something more clever this year, but I haven't ever posted an apple pie recipe anyway, so why not. Every baker has to master this at some point.

I loosely followed a recipe from Simply Recipes, except I made a different crust recipe and used half granny smith and half Braeburn apples. I also made sure I had enough filling and crust left over to make a batch of these li'l apple pie bites.

Vodka Pie Crust
Most recipes calls for part butter, part shortening, but my kitchen is an all butter kitchen...
Makes enough for a pie top and bottom.

- 2.5 cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 sticks cold butter
- 1/4 cup cold vodka
- 1/4 cold water

Whisk together the flour, salt and sugar and then cut in the butter with a pastry blender, 2 knives, a food processor, or whatever your preferred method may be. Once the butter is about the size of peas, pour the liquid over and let it set for a minute to soak in. Gently knead the dough until it just comes together - don't over do it. Split in half, flatten into discs, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour or so, until firm.


Apple Pie Filling

- 2/3 cup sugar
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg (I grated it fresh)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3 pounds of 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices of peeled and cored cooking apples
- 1.5 tbsp brandy
- 1 tsp vanilla

I had never made an apple pie with brandy or vanilla in it before - I have no problem whatsoever recommending those both in your mix! The aroma alone was divine.

So, I have this fancy table top device called an apple peeler/corer that is so easy to use (and makes the most amazing intact strings of apple skin you've ever seen!). It also slices the apples to just the right size for pie making purposes. I don't even make pies all that often, but would be completely sad to not have this device on hand for the few times I do; it's just that cool.

Anyway, once you've prepped your apples, however you choose to do that, put them in a large bowl and sprinkle the flours and spices over them, followed by the brandy and vanilla. I let this mix macerate for quite a bit while I worked on rolling out dough and sundry other multi-tasking chores. The smell is pretty intoxicatingly delicious, be warned.

So yes, at this point, you can roll out the dough if it has chilled long enough. Fit the bottom crust into your pie pan and trim the excess dough off the sides, and then fill the bottom crust with nice even, compact layers of apple slices. Be sure to fill it pretty high, as it will shrink down a bit once baked. Then roll out the 2nd piece of dough to make the top. To attach the top to the bottom crust, get your fingers wet with a little bit of water and run them along the seams before placing the top crust over the bottom. You can use a fork like I did to lightly squeeze the seams shut, or just use your fingers. I then carved a nice little π stamp into the top of mine (you should poke holes of some kind in the top to help with venting).

Now you can preheat your oven to 375˚ and pop this pie into the freezer until the oven is warmed up; It's just a nice way to make sure the butter is nice and solid before you pop it in the oven, ensuring a flakier crust. Bake for 15 minutes, and then drop the temperature to 350˚ and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the top is nice and brown. If the edges are getting browned too quickly, you can cover them with a rim of aluminum foil. I typically put a layer of aluminum foil down below the pie while baking, just in case the juices ooze out. I got lucky this time and had no spills. It was quite a lovely pie. Tasty too, though I admit, the filling didn't come out in perfect slices. Guess I have more experiments to do after all, to truly perfect the apple pie.

Happy π Day!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Vegan Samoa Cake Pops

This will officially be my first vegan recipe post. I am by no means a vegan (easiest indicator might be the 12 pounds of butter that I keep in my fridge at all times), but there are sometimes requests from friends for recipes, or people who ask if I bake anything that accommodates their dietary restrictions, so I figured it would be good to get a couple recipes in my back pocket for such occasions. I would like to try a couple more vegan recipes, as well as gluten free. Sugar free will be a harder test for me, as I'm really not a fan of artificial sweeteners, but we'll see what I come up with.

For this recipe, I had been thinking about making Samoa cake pops since my Somoa cupcake recipe turned out so well and since I have a new found appreciation for this thing called a cake pop. But as it happened, a couple weeks back, I noticed Trader Joe's started selling coconut oil in the jar. I wondered if I could use that as a butter replacement in baking, even though I hadn't really seen any recipes that called for it (mind you, I don't actively peruse the web for vegan recipes, so I'm sure there are a ton out there that just haven't hit my radar). So yesterday I had these 2 unrelated ideas floating through my mind and decided I might as well try putting them together: Samoa cake pops + vegan. The use of coconut butter seemed like the perfect opportunity since coconut is already a flavor for Samoas. As well, not having much experience with dairy and egg free baking, I was worried about how well a vegan cupcake would present: Would it rise well? Would the crumb hold together or fall apart without eggs? Would it be dry or moist? Not knowing how all these factors would pan out, the idea of being able to smoosh the cake dough into a cake ball did alleviate a lot of my concerns about presentation. In simpler terms, it was a cop out.

But how to make the caramel vegan? I thought this was going to be a big stretch, and after doing a quick search, did not see any recipes out there for a caramel sauce made with anything other than butter and cream. But why not coconut oil and coconut cream? I mean, I'm no scientist, so don't have any reason to back my hypothesis that this might actually work, but I do have the tools and the gall to try it, so I did. I do not recommend making this vegan-ified caramel sauce for your first go-round at making caramel sauce though. There were a couple distinct differences in how it came together that unless you know what to expect, you would probably assume you botched it halfway through (well, at least I did). Most striking "problem" was that once the sugar had browned and I put the coconut oil in, the combination was not what they would literally call a "solution" - the fat floated on top of the sugar in a completely clear, separate layer. Butter usually incorporates itself with the sugar much more uniformly. I thought for a second that maybe there was just too much water to fat ratio in the coconut oil, but knowing that butter actually has a really high water content itself, I figured that wasn't the problem. In any case, since I had already gotten that far, I figured, why not? and dumped the coconut cream in. It reacted similarly enough to how I would expect regular cream to react in that it foamed up violently and I had to whisk it steadily to start incorporating it all. Instead of removing the caramel from the heat like you would if you were using dairy, I continued to cook the sauce over a low heat as I whisked it, as well as scraped the bowl as some of the caramel had simply hardened and was sticking to the whisk and the sides and needed to be re-warmed to soften up again.

After a couple more minutes of whisking and scraping, I decided that most of the sugar had transformed into the soft caramel sauce, but there were still chunks of hardened sugar attached to my whisk and the pan when I was done. I accepted that, and let the sauce cool. I still wasn't sure if it was a success, as the cooling process could have still had an effect on the outcome, but luckily, a couple hours later everything was still looking nice and caramelly, and un-separated. Success! Definitely tasted like a very coconutty caramel sauce.

That cake managed to turn out fairly well, too. I followed this recipe with a few modifications that I'll describe below. The end result was that it baked to a nice round top, but it fell once it cooled. The cake was VERY moist, and dense, but otherwise had a pleasant flavor and texture. I do think it fell apart much more easily than an egg bound cake, but it wasn't dismally crumbly.

The cake was so moist (and oily) that I don't think it needed a binding agent to form it into cake balls, honestly, but I wanted to get the caramel flavor incorporated, so drizzled a bit of the sauce over the cake crumbs to make them into the balls. I want to make sure nobody here who is reading this so far thinks that just because these are vegan that they are healthy. Pretty sure these were more oily than any other cupcake I've baked. Maybe coconut oil is one of those healthy fats or something (fingers crossed).

Vegan Coconut Caramel Sauce
Adapted from Simply Recipes
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 tbs coconut oil
- ½ cup coconut cream

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium low heat, slowly melt sugar until it is lightly brown and smells caramelly (careful not to burn the sugar). Add in coconut oil until melted. Working quickly, whisk coconut cream into mixture (it will foam up). Keep whisking over the heat until most of the hardened caramel has softened and the sauce is incorporated. Let cool.

Vegan Coconut Cake
adapted from Culinate which was reprinting of a recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

- 2 cups coconut milk
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2½ cups flour
- 4 tbsp cornstarch
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup coconut oil
- 1½ cup sugar
- 4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350˚. Spray cake pan with a little bit of vegetable oil. No need to flour the sides or anything, since you're just going to destroy the cake anyway.
Mix together coconut milk and vinegar. Supposedly this would make soy milk curdle, but I don't think that the same principle applies with coconut milk. I did it anyway because I think the vinegar reacts to the baking soda.
Whisk together the dry ingredients.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat coconut oil and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract, and then reduce speed of mixer and in 3 parts, add flour mixture, alternating with the milk mixture until incorporated.
Spread mixture into prepared pan and bake for about 45-50 minutes, or until top is golden brown and springs back when you tap the top.
Let cool. Cake will fall slightly.

Prep a bowl of chocolate for dipping. For the full vegan effect, make sure your chocolate does not contain any milk solids. Pretty sure most high end "semi-sweet" chocolates would qualify as vegan, but your standard nestle chips won't make the cut. Melt about 8 oz of them in a bowl (I just microwave them in 30 second increments until most of the chocolate is melted, and then I just stir it until the rest of the chocolate melts). I add in about 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil at this point to make sure my chocolate doesn't bloom, which is a real problem I have when doing chocolate dipped items. The oil seems to help a lot.

Once cake and sauce are cool, demolish the cake and mix caramel sauce into cake until balls are easily formed out of the mixture (hey, use your hands! why not). Form roughly 1 inch sized balls of the mixture and lay out on a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. I typically freeze them for about 10 minutes so that they are a little more sturdy for dipping. Don't freeze for too long though. The next step involves poking the popsicle stick through the tops of each, so make sure they're not too firm to do that. Once the cake balls have their popsicle sticks, dip each one in the chocolate until covered, let the excess chocolate drip off, then roll lightly in toasted coconut. Put back on parchment until chocolate has set.