Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chocolate Chili Tango Cupcakes

Amber invited me to a So You Think You Can Dance viewing party, so the least I could do was make up a batch of dance-themed cupcakes.

My family provided me with some great suggestions like "Make ballerinas out of fondant" and when I refused to buy and mold fondant, they offered, "Oh... make different dance shoes out of fondant."

Right. Thanks.

In talking it over with Kate, I decided that I wanted to make dramatic tango cupcakes. How better to repeat the tango theme than through competing flavors?

Voila, the Chocolate Chili Tango cupcake was born. And, trust me, these cupcakes are dancing as fast as they can.

I used Chockylit's Chocolate Chili cupcake recipe for the cake and the icing (sans chili and cayenne).

Now... the verdict. I don't know what I was expecting, but I think it is soooo weird to be eating a gorgeous chocolate cupcake and then feel the slight burn of ancho chili powder. After tasting the cake, I decided to forgo the chili and cayenne in the icing -- these suckers needed to cool down. And they did! The chili is still there demanding attention, but it isn't as frightening with a nice dark chocolate ganache atop.

What did others have to say?

"Hm. Go with the plain chocolate icing." (commentor who tried a cupcake before it was iced)

"I shant be having one of those!" (commenter who did not, in fact, try the cupcake)

"It's really good."

"I'm not really noticing the chili so much. I'm more thinking this is better than the average chocolate cake. Oh... and now I'm getting the chili."

"I'd like another one..."

And... I think there might have been one cupcake happy dance. But then again, said dancer could have been dancing for any number of reasons.

All-in-all, the Chocolate Chili Tango cupcakes were interesting and absolutely perfect for the dance-themed party. This recipe won't be my chocolate go-to or anything, but it's a fun twist on a classic, for sure.

Don't forget to check Amber's blog for the dish on the rest of the party. Everything was super cute and very well put together. Thanks again, Amber!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Apple Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caf├ęs of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

I guess I didn't really know what a strudel was when I first read about the May challenge.

A strudel is made with a basic dough of water, oil, cider vinegar, flour, and salt

rolled thin enough to read a newspaper through

wrapped around a mixture of apple, rum raisins, cinnamon, sugar, walnuts, and bread crumbs,


and baked for about 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Mine looks okay, but I did a lot of things that I'm not proud of to achieve this mediocre result.

1. I forgot to put the salt in the dough. And did nothing to fix that.

2. I dumped the cinnamon on the apples before mixing it with the sugar. The cinnamon stuck to exactly two apples and made my life harder in the mixing process.

3. I used prefab bread crumbs. In texture and flavor, they resemble sawdust.

4. I pilfered the raisins (and craisins) from our cereal cabinet. Total, to be exact.

5. In preparation for this photoshoot, I gave myself a classic "Mommy, I cut my bangs" haircut. If you didn't notice, go ahead and scroll back up. I know you want to.

In conclusion, the strudel was fine... but definitely improved with ice cream.

If you want to make your own strudel, follow the link for the hosts' blogs at the top of this post. You certainly don't want to repeat anything I did. :)

So here's my question:

What is the last thing you phoned in?

I want details.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hot Fudge Cake (Best Ever!)

Please, please make this now.

You had the day off. And, therefore, no excuse.


Now, if that picture is all you're after, then by all means, drink it in. If you want to know how to make that happen in your kitchen, then read on as I walk you through the process.

Let's see...

I believe that in the last post, I left off right here. For these king-sized chocolate cupcakes, I used the Double Chocolate Layer Cake recipe that Hilary of Let Her Bake Cake posted this week. She got the recipe from Epicurious, but since I followed her version of the recipe, I'll link her. If you haven't visited Let Her Bake Cake, you should hop over there. Her header alone earns my vote!

Back to the cake...

Once the cupcake cooled completely, I peeled the liners halfway down the cupcake and cut off the top. To give you an idea of scale, the bottom halves of these king-sized cupcakes are each about the size of a regular cupcake.

The cupcake halved, I dropped it back into the pan and spread a half-scoop of softened vanilla ice cream right on top of the cake.

When I replaced the cupcake tops, the whole deal stood a bit taller than the tin, but I don't see that as a bad thing. I covered the cupcakes in plastic wrap and then foil and left a little message for anyone who might come nosing around the freezer...

and put those suckers in for the big chill. The ice cream in the middle was set up and ready to eat in a few hours, but since I had to wait to photograph these cuties in natural light, I left mine in the freezer overnight.

Due to an unplanned Memorial Day Festivus, I ran out of time to make my own hot fudge sauce, so I topped these cupcakes with chocolate syrup and whipped cream.

I snuck this one outside to photograph it, and it seems I drew some attention in the process.

The cupcake lasted about 20 seconds. Even my cake-hating brother loved it and requested another.

I suppose you now want to know what I thought of the whole shabang. And, you know what?, I wish I could spell it. I wish there were one word for this euphoria.

Hilary was not kidding when she pointed out that this cake is not only her favorite but the favorite of the interweb in general and Epicurious in specific. The cake is rich, fudgy, and completely melt-in-your-mouth fantastic. Adding a half-inch layer of vanilla ice cream to the cake provided the perfect complement of cool, creamy goodness in the midst of all that chocolate. The whipped cream topping echoes the ice cream in a lighter tone and the chocolate syrup drives it all home.

I'm entering this Hot Fudge Cake Cupcake in Cupcake Project and Scoopalicious's Ice Cream Cupcake Round Up, but that won't help you too much. So I'll repeat my earlier plea: Make this now. It's the perfect Memorial Day snackum.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Workspace

I've been living in the family home for a little over a week now. Our house would be considered "full" during the year when my parents and brother live there. During the summer however, when my sister comes home, its downright cosey. And then... when I come home... it's... you know... kind of tight.

Sometimes when I cook dinner, my Dad hangs around "helping." One night I made Pastor Ryan's Cajun Meatloaf.

At this point in the vegetable seasoning process, my Dad asked, "Can I eat this with a chip?"

When I bake, I sometimes have to contend with other people in my kitchen. Notice all of my ingredients lined up and ready to rock?

And please notice my sister's garbanzo beans, olives, and avocado just to the right.

And now, a mere 10 minutes later, my brother joined the act with his Taco Bell lunch. Wrapper on counter, burrito in hand.

I know I've been spoiled by having control over my previous kitchens. So I'm doing my best to suck it up. :)

And I'm soldiering through. For you, my loves, a chocolate cupcake.

I'll be posting the ooey gooey details tomorrow. If it turns out anything like I'm planning, it will be fantastic.

If you'll excuse me, my siblings are sitting in the backyard under a sprinkler and calling for me. There are perks to this arrangement.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Checkerboard Cookies: REMIX!!!

You might recall my ill-fated attempt at Checkerboard cookies from earlier this week. Because I was sticking to le pantry (as I so often do), I made the dough with margarine instead of butter. Please, I beg of you, do not make this mistake when trying to make a manipulable dough.

Anyway, I had over half of the dough wrapped up and refrigerated because I just couldn't make myself try to checkerboard it again. My mom suggested I fold the brown sugar and cocoa doughs together and just drop them like that.

So I did. I kneaded the two doughs together very briefly and then rolled them up, wrapped the log in wax paper, and froze the whole deal again.

Slicing and baking (15 mins at 350) the suckers was a pleasure. It was so easy and rewarding that I almost forgot how aggravating the earlier process was. Silly me.

A note about these cookies though: I had one straight from the baking sheet last night and it was only okay. Mid-cookie I turned to my mom and asked, "Is this good?" That's a pretty clear sign that it probably isn't. When hot, the flavors in the cookie were almost too much. The cocoa seemed strong and almost bitter. I dipped the rest of that cookie in milk and enjoyed it alright.

I put the cookies on a plate and went to bed. This morning I nabbed one while I contemplated breakfast (I know... so wrong) and my word was it good. These cookies are soft and the brown sugar and cocoa work amazingly well when cool. Do yourself a favor and enjoy these cookies the day after. You will not will not be disappointed.

I might have already had 3 of these cookies today. o_0

In other news, the May 31st deadline for Scoopalicious and Cupcake Project's IceCream Cupcake Round Up is quickly approaching! Either get to work on your cupcake or get your index finger ready to vote for mine! :)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Adopt-a-Blogger Interview Part One: Marilla's Kitchen

I am lucky enough to be involved in Dine & Dish's Third Adopt-a-Blogger Event. The goal of this thing is a mentoring partnership between a newbie food blogger (that's me) and a veteran (you'll meet her in a minute) who can show the newbie the ropes. So to speak. The rules to this program are simple: we introduce each other on our respective blogs, chat it up for three months, and do wrap-up posts at the end that offer advice (her) and lessons learned (me). Easy Peasy.

So before I belabor it too much, my blog mother probably could not be cooler. [And I tried to come up with something less lame than "blog mother", but it reminds me of "earth mother" which cracks me up... so I can't stop.] Her name is Marilla and she is the brains behind the super-popular blog, Cupcake Rehab.

She's a graphic designing, cupcake baking, animal loving, blog sensation. Her blog is chock-o-block full of sassy entries about cupcakes of every color, flavor, denomination, textile, orientation (does anyone else get stuck in a list they can't get out of?) and so forth. And... there is a pin-up on her cupcake. Yeah.

Anyway, I'm starting things off with part one of an interview I did with Marilla. And I have to give a nod to Amber for giving me the interview idea. Part One of the interview contains questions focused around Marilla's Kitchen.

Amanda: When did you start baking cupcakes? Did you have one of those “Aha! Moments” that Oprah is so fond of?

Marilla: I started baking in the late summer of 2007. By baking I mean hardcore, twice a week, from scratch baking. I had always baked for holidays and birthdays and stuff, and always had Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker mixes around (I know, most bloggers out there are hanging their heads in shame for me saying that- but those mixes still come in handy!) for those random cake cravings... but I found myself with time on my hands and no employment and while googling for some recipes I found some awesome cupcake blogs and I thought to myself, "That looks like fun!" I'd had blogs before but never thought of having one about cooking/baking until then.

A: As a kid, I hated being involved in the kitchen. It just wasn’t my thing. I’m curious about others’ experiences. What was your experience with cooking/baking when you were young?

M: My mom was always cooking, baking and making things, she's where I inherited my craftiness & creativity from. Every holiday and birthday she'd bake, and she cooked almost every night. I used to love Christmas though because it was time to make magic bars and strufala and sugar cookies in massive amounts, and I liked to decorate the cookies and help out. So as a kid that was always there and it was always enjoyable. But I never was really "into" doing it for myself or others until recently. I was too cool as a teenager, too busy as an early 20-something adult, and then I found myself doing it all the time and loving it. Now its at the point where I really hate when someone else cooks for me, because I want to get in there and make it myself!

A: How do you come up with your cupcake recipes?

M: Most of them I find on the 'net, usually on other blogs... some I find in magazines like Bon Appetit or Gourmet, and of course Martha's magazines. And some are just regular old cook book recipes. I don't really do anything weird and unusual with cupcakes because I'm a firm believer that a savory cupcake is NOT a cupcake, and that a basil flavored cupcake is not fun or cute. I mean, really, who wants a freakin' sushi flavored cupcake with tempura on top? Its gross. So I stick to the basics. No experimentation here.

A: I like recipes that have a lot of little steps built into them. The more complicated the batter, the happier I am. What kind of recipes to you like to follow?

M: I like butter. The more butter thats incorporated into a recipe the happier I am. And I like batter to be thick enough that it doesn't pour out and wreck my liners, but not so thick its like cookie dough. I hate that!

A: How do you handle disasters in the kitchen? Throw it out and try to forget about it? Blog it anyway?

M: I've been lucky in that I've had only a few disasters. One of which was cupcakes, three were cakes and a fourth was candy. The cupcakes made me so angry I couldn't bring myself to blog about it. The cakes, well, two I blogged about because they worked out okay visually and tasted fine, the third I didn't because I just scrapped the idea and let the family eat it. And the candy I just threw out- it was cherry hard candy that was going to be made into hearts to top cupcakes and it never set, it was like mushy Jolly Ranchers. So the shape didn't stay and I ended up with blobs of red cherry candy. I just used another candy to top them and threw away the blobs.

A: Do you have a favorite kitchen disaster story you can share?

M: There was this one disaster that I mentioned above... I was so disappointed in it, I didn't even WANT to photograph or blog about it. It was cupcakes, and I didn't even bother to FROST them! It wasn't really a disaster so to speak, I didn't blow up my kitchen or set anything on fire... it was just a recipe that came out really bad. And that recipe was Paula Deen's red velvet cupcake recipe. They came out as muddy brown colored dry little rocks. Gross. I threw them in the backyard for the squirrels. It took me a long time to trust a Paula recipe after that, because I refuse to believe I could've messed it up that badly. I've since discovered the Magnolia Bakery recipe and its amazing. I'm scared to try Paula's again. I still can't understand to this day how I used so much red food coloring to get mauve-ish colored cupcakes? There was another one too- an applesauce cake that I was making for Christmas 2007. I mixed everything together and it seemed fine. I didn't use a pan the size they recommended though, and when I started to bake it, it sort of overflowed out of the bundt pan and all over the oven. I told my mother hysterically and she told me to calm down and put a sheet pan under it, which I did. It kept overflowing, it was like some kind of weird science experiment. I was convinced it wouldn't come out okay but it did, the bottom was all uneven and lumpy but I just cut it off and nobody noticed. I did blog about that experience (though without pictures for some odd reason), because I thought it was something that might happen to others and wanted to show them it was okay. Nobody was EVER gonna see those cupcakes though.

There you have it. I think you can tell from this interview that Marilla is a pretty cool chick. I am excited to hear more about her blog and her readership, and you can look forward to hearing about that too in upcoming posts. In the meantime, check out Cupcake Rehab and all the cool cupcakes Marilla has to offer. Those of you with dogs might be interested to read about a few treats she has made for her dog, Indy. :) And those of you who wear clothes or own objects (I don't judge) might be interested in her store.

Now go forth and try not to be jealous of our pairing.

Maine Vay-Cay

Last week my Mom, Dad, and aunt made the fairly short trip from Virginia to Maine. I functioned as their cruise director through Vacationland, and I think I did a pretty adequate job.

I took them to some local highlights:

Governor's: Here we are with the Governor himself. Governor's is the home of all things big-portioned and fried. They are also home to the Federal Deficit, a $17 dessert that includes three sundaes, a brownie, banana, biscuit, piece of pie, five American flags, and a but ton of ice cream and whipped cream.

Now that I see how long this explanation is getting... you might see a Governor's post in the near future.

Continuing on...

Paul Bunyan: He's reputedly the largest Paul Bunyan statue in the world. Everyone needs their picture with him, even if his head doesn't make the shot.

Hollywood Slots: My aunt and dad were incredibly lucky and both of them actually won money. My mom lost, lost, lost, but then won $27 and made up for all the previous losses. I just lost. Of course.

I did, however, buy a raspberry/jalapeno jam. Big win!

Stephen King's House: This one is pretty self-explanatory, so I'd like to just give you some of the quotes of the excursion.

Mom: "Oh... there's a car in the driveway..."
Me: "Probably Stephen King's even."

Aunt: "I touched the gate real slowly, half-expecting an alarm to go off." [The gate was wide open just outside the shot. -_-]

Candlepin Bowling: I still stink at the bowling, but I love it. The little handheld ball doesn't hurt my fingers like the big giant bowling balls. My family loved it too.

After sharing with my family what the Greater Bangor Area has to offer, I took my family a little bit further out. We went to Bar Harbor, but you won't find any pictures of that. I guess the fam wasn't terribly impressed. What they were impressed by was...

ACADIA! Beautiful, right?

(You'll have to just bear with me. My mom was taking most of the pictures on this trip, so it seems that I show up in a lot of them.) Please enjoy some shots of me. In Acadia.

Now this is a rare treat. A picture of me and my mom. We took this picture at a random overlook on the Loop Road.

And here I am doing some sort of jig on the Sand Beach. This beach is often ranked as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. At first I thought that was just silly, but it is really gorgeous how the Sand Beach is enclosed in mountains.

One of the main(e) attractions in Acadia National Park is Cadillac Mountain. The height of the mountain and its Northern position make it the first place that sees the sunrise in North America. Needless to say, my mother laughed out loud when I mentioned this. We did not attempt to see the sunrise. My mother suggested we catch the sunset, and then we LOLed at her. Anyway... in that shot, I'm walking back up Cadillac after exploring a bit.

And this picture was taken on the top of Cadillac. Perhaps I should mention that the Loop Road has a little offshoot that winds around Cadillac. It is the ultimate drive-thru park experience.

In conclusion, I need a tan.

What? Like you weren't thinking the same thing as you looked at those pictures! Don't even try that.

It's one thing to be ghosty white in Maine in May, but its entirely another to be pale in Virginia in May. Hmmm... what to do...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Checkerboard Cookies

I have always always always wanted to bake a checkerboard cake. I have absolutely no idea how one bakes a checkerboard cake, but I want to do it. I know there is a pan involved that is somehow different. And special. And checkered? But I know nothing beyond that.

So when I found Checkerboard Cookies on SweetToothFairy Blog,I got very excited. For a few reasons.

1. They have checkerboards. Duh.

2. The ingredient list is super simple.

3. The multi-step process will be the perfect distraction since I'm stuck in the house with bathroom renovators today.

4. My family is constantly demanding sweets for one occasion or another and a frozen log o' cookies will be too easy to slice and bake as desired.

That's settled. The Checkerboard Cookies are the perfect costume for today. If you don't get the reference, please enjoy this short clip from Grey Gardens.

Best. Movie. Ever.

Alright, back to the cookies. I adapted this recipe from SweetToothFairy Blog because it's posted there in grams. I don't weigh things just yet, so I did awkward google assisted conversions. You may want to check my work.

Here are the ingredients:

3 and 1/3 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 c butter
1 and 1/3 c sugar (SweetTooth used brown and so did I. I highly recommend it.)
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
4 tbsp cocoa powder (I ended up using 6 because I wanted a serious color/flavor contrast.)

And here is what you do with them:

Mix flour and baking powder together in a medium bowl. In another large bowl (I'm living large and using my mom's Kitchenaid stand mixer these days. Holla!), beat butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly. Add vanilla.

Once everything is all mixed in well, divide the dough roughly in half. One should be 4 tbsp less than the other. I didn't get all that technical though, I just eyeballed it. Wrap up the bigger blob of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it. Mix the cocoa powder into the smaller blob of dough and then wrap and refrigerate with its buddy. Leave them both in there for at least an hour or up to 24.

Once you pull them out of the fridge, then you have to do the checkering. Check out SweetToothFairy Blog for good directions, but the basic idea is that you cut rectangular strips of the chocolate and vanilla cakes and then stack them on each other. Bottom layer: choc, van, choc. Second: van, choc, van. Third: choc, van, choc. Re-refrigerate the brick-like structure you build and then later roll the whole thing in another layer of vanilla dough. (I didn't do that.)

My dough proved an absolute bear to work with. And I know exactly why. Remember when I excitedly said that my parents' kitchen was stocked for this recipe?

Well... it almost was. My parents don't use butter. They just don't. So they don't have it. They have boxes and boxes of margarine. Yeah. You can see where this is going. I had to use the margarine because I was excited about checkerboards but very much stuck inside the house.

So... when I removed the dough from the refrigerator, I realized I would have real problems. They were no more solid or workable than when I put them in there hours ago. I moved the doughs to the freezer after rolling them out between wax paper, but even that only really worked for the chocolate dough.

I finally got something somewhat workable by continuing to freeze the doughs, but I would not AT ALL recommend using margarine in this recipe. Find butter. Even if you have to crawl to the store on your knees and elbows. Or churn it yourself. Trust me.


This is what I came up with.

You can see that my rectangular strips of cookie dough were very much wider than they are tall, so my bricks turned out very flat and wide. That wouldn't really be a problem, I guess, but they certainly are not ideal. I didn't wrap them in dough because the vanilla dough was the worst to work with. Nothing would have gone right with that experiment.

After seeing the cookies, I knew exactly how they needed to be presented and consumed.

Their tall skinnyness begged for a scoop of icecream. And a strawberry. For luck.

Mmm... That was a good idea.

The cookies themselves were really tasty. The brown sugar flavor was perfect and light and the added cocoa powder I threw in really packed a punch. My mom and I enjoyed the cocoa flavor paired with a texture that was like a softer shortbread. Almost crumbly, but still softer than crispy. So the flavor and texture of this recipe with margarine was great. Trying to wrestle the dough into checkerboards... not so great.

But! I am excited about trying this recipe as God and SweetToothFairy intended it though. The checkerboard cookie will not have the last word!

Also... because the vanilla dough was so hard to work with, I ended up adding chocolate chips to the leftover of one log and dropping them on the cookie sheet. They were pretty tasty. Might need some salt, in my opinion.

I have one log of each dough left in my fridge right now. I might try some stuff with it today. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thank You! (cupcakes)

for sticking around the past couple of weeks while I packed up my life and moved halfway down the East Coast. My blogging frequency definitely went down as well, but, let's be honest, my daily blogging was not easy to maintain. Anyway, I'm settled. ish. And I've got a whole new crowd to bake for.

My first batch of VA cupcakes were requested by my mom in appreciation of her boss's big to-do over Receptionists' Day earlier this week. Since most of my cupcake things are packed and who-knows-where, I wanted to go simple on these cupcakes. I used Martha Stewart's One Bowl Chocolate Cake recipe and halved it roughly. I say "roughly" because when I halved 3 eggs, I used 2.

The batter was wicked liquid and that made for some... messy distribution.


While the cupsters were baking, I melted some Tiffany blue candy melts and poured them into a sandwich-sized ziploc bag. There was no wax paper to be found, so I piped onto another gallon-sized ziploc. It was classy.

This is only the second time I've piped candy melts, and the first time I piped lettering. I am pretty pleased with the results.

Some of the more spindly connections broke when I lifted them from the plastic, but I did enough extras to make things work. I ended up spelling out "Thank You Victoria!" with one letter per cupcake, but I guess you could have figured that out on your own. You can see some of them in the background of this shot.

The cupcakes were a big hit in the office. When asked by a coworker for a cupcake, the recipient, Victoria, said, "Um... it's cream cheese icing. Hell no!" And then capitulated and gave her a cupcake anyway.

Speaking of that cream cheese icing, I used Cassie's perfect cream cheese again. It's fabulous and there really is no reason to use any other process. The icing, unsurprisingly paired very well with Martha's cake.

Blogger's Note: Upon review, or "preview" I guess, I realized that this post is more awkward than usual. I'm not changing it. Just know that I know. You can look forward to more coherent posts in the future, I'm sure.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The View from My Tassel

I usually don't bore you with pictures of myself doing things other than baking, but my header clearly includes "Teaching" and "Other (Mis)Adventures in Maine" and I do believe that graduation falls into both of those categories. Loosely.

So suck it up and enjoy my (mostly phone picture) slideshow.

Last week I graduated with a Master of Arts in English. In order to recognize masters candidates, my school has a hooding ceremony in which we all get... hooded. And... if you'll remember, my roommate and I have been working diligently towards hotness for hooding. This is us before we got ready for the shindig.

No... we don't usually match. But most times.

I think I achieved hotness:

And then promptly covered the hotness with a formless robe and a hood. Here I am licking my lips and getting ready to be "draped". I had to make the picture awkward, of course.

This post-hood picture reminds me of one taken of me at my kindergarten graduation. Exact. Same. Face.

And now I want to give you a couple of pictures that just prove that I carry on intelligent conversations. With adults.

With PhDs!

And mostly because he'll hate it, here is a shot of me with Evan and his wife Kim.

So there you have it: the view from my tassel.

Forthwith, you may now call me Master Amanda. I think it's appropriate. And it reminds me of David Copperfield in the best androgynous way.