Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate... Everything

Forgive me, bloggers, for I have sinned. It has been 35 days since my last cupcake post.

On June 17th, I admitted to a friend that I was over cupcakes. I told her I was tired of them and that they were, frankly, getting on my nerves. Her response: "So what are you going to blog about?"

Not that... I didn't know.

But look at me now! Over a month's worth of blog posts. None of them with a cutesy cupcake gumming up the works! And... you know what? I have a cupcake for you today and it's a good one. And I enjoyed making them and I think all me and cupcakes needed was a little time apart.

Without further ado, I present Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cupcakes with Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting.

You can find the recipes for both the cake and frosting on the back of Hershey's Cocoa Powder containers, but since I'm just too good to you guys... and since I haven't shown you my cupcakes in a while... I'll post the full recipes at the end of this post.

Now, I must warn you that these cupcakes are not for those ambivalent about chocolate. These cupcakes are unabashedly chocolate through and through.

The cake is basic and very devil's food in flavor. Rich but not too rich to be enjoyed comfortably. I used this chocolate cake for the Course II finale cake and it was excellent paired with the Wilton buttercream icing that is lightly flavored with vanilla and almond.

The Perfectly Chocolate Frosting is the stuff that really puts the cupcake over the edge. With a whopping 2/3 cup of cocoa powder in about 2 cups of frosting, I should have seen this coming. The overall flavor here is clearly Hershey's chocolate. And that's a good thing, but be sure to have some milk handy when tackling these cupcakes.

Aaaah... I must admit. It feels good to be back.

Now the recipes:

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake

2 c sugar
1-3/4 c AP flour
3/4 c Hershey's cocoa
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 c milk
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c boiling water

1. Heat oven to 350F. Ready pans or cupcake tins.
2. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into pans.
3. Bake 22-25 minutes.

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Frosting

1 stick (1/2 c) butter or margarine
2/3 c Hershey's cocoa
3 c powdered sugar
1/3 c milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Melt butter. Stir in cocoa.
2. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to spreading consistency. Add more milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups. [This is the yield... not the vanilla measurement. For a second there, I was looking at the cocoa tub with this face: (o_0)]

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wilton Course II Finale

After many pounds of icing and probably more complaining than was necessary, I finished Wilton Course II and built this graduation cake.

Today, I learned how to do the basketweave and the rope border that goes around the top and bottom there.

That bird was made early in Course II with color flow icing; he's not my favorite, but he was a large part of the course so I had to include him to graduate legitimately. You'll not see him in the following pics. :)

Course II's main focus is flowers and borders. Each class we learned a few new flowers and a couple of borders. We used royal icing for these flowers, so they are nonperishable and they set up hard. (That's what... never mind.)

I used all the flowers I learned to do in the class on this cake. You can hopefully recognize Victorian roses, pansies, violets, apple blossoms, daisies, and primroses. The only flower I didn't include (only because I forgot) was the chrysanthemum.

Even though I complained about the homework (each class requires a different amount of icings in various colors and consistencies, some classes require cakes), the Wilton courses have both been fun and super helpful. I couldn't have done any of this when I started... so that should tell you a lot.

In conclusion, if you are thinking about taking a Wilton cake decorating class, stop thinking and just do.

[Incidentally, this is pretty much exactly what my classmate told me when I was nervous about starting the basketweave on my cake. So... I just started... and immediately did it wrong and had to have my instructor straighten me out. :)]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Day in the Life

So... I don't know if you know this, but I aim to please you guys. Sure, I blog endless cakes because I like to bake and I like to write, but... really... if I'm being honest with myself, I know that I blog all kinds of tasty treats for y-o-u.

And though this blog is now pretty much devoted to food stuffs, it didn't start out that way. I started this blog completely without capitalization or a theme of any sort. I blogged about my day or someone else's. I blogged about moving away from my friends two years ago and I blogged about why I liked blogging. As you might assume, I didn't have many readers at that point. I'd say there were probably 3. And that's being generous.

I guess I had been blogging about a year when I wrote my first post about food. From that point on it's a long and probably uninteresting story, but I'll just say that it seems that you guys most enjoy posts about food.


Recently some readers have asked me to post about my personal life and to include pictures. Of me.

So here we go... a post about me. Completely free of dessert.

A (Semi)Normal Day for Amanda, Summer 2009

Monday mornings start with Wilton classes, so those mornings are quite hectic. There is a lot of running, flailing, and general messing about the kitchen before I shower in a frenzy, throw on some clothes and run out the door, having forgotten at least one thing.

All other mornings, though, start with bad hair and cereal.

After a glorious bowl or two of something fantastic (this morning it was Island Vanilla Kashi), I shower and debate over the perfect costume for today.

I don't usually take a myspace quality mirror pic, but... for you... anything.

This day, like many, I headed to my favorite little coffee shop and sat down with coffee and the current read. However, there were a couple of things that went down a little bit differently than usual. First, I drank iced coffee instead of hot. Second, as I was pouring skim milk into my coffee, a twenty-something there with her boyfriend told me she liked my "really cute outfit" and as a result, I ended up spilling a bit of milk on the counter. Typical reaction.

Other than that, the coffee shop visit was same as it ever was.

I left the coffee shop for the grocery store where I bought another strange collection of things needed for a baking project. Pina Colada mix and three boxes of pudding-free yellow cake mix... and apparently the face that those ingredients require. :)

About 5:30 the family starts trickling in and then the day is no longer my own. I don't remember what we did for dinner this night, but it doesn't matter since I promised you a food-free post anyway.

This pink t-shirted night I, very untypically, ended up at a karaoke bar where I was blessed by the song stylings of a fellow named Cookie. (Click through if you dare, but don't say I didn't warn you.)

This summer, regardless of whether I spend my days on the beach, in the coffee shop, or stressing over job applications and the like, my nights end pretty predictably. Without an ounce of regret, I can tell you that I spend my evenings with four of the hottest ladies in Miami.

Tonight Dorothy got married. Again. And she wore the most structurally devastating dress I think I've ever seen. The toilet paper roll deep-V is really something, isn't it?

And now... before Rose and Miles finish their conversation about moving on after previous marriages, I'm going to turn in. It's been a long day.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Mexican Lasagna by Any Other Name

Pioneer Woman and Pastor Ryan call this dish Mexican Lasagna . And... I guess that's their prerogative since it is... their dish.

But, I don't like the idea of a "Mexican Lasagna." It seems an awkward move for both Mexicans and lasagnas. The term "Mexican Lasagna" only makes sense in the most bizarrely Taste of Home way.

You know what I'm talking about, right? Anything with corn or salsa becomes "Mexican", "Italian" usually always refers to the salad dressing, and every third recipe starts with rolling out canned biscuit dough? The only thing that even remotely resembles lasagna about this dish is the fact that ingredients are piled in by layers. The layers aren't even repeated like a traditional lasagna.

So, since I "adapted" this recipe by cutting it in half and nixing the cilantro, it clearly needed a new name.

My mom and I brainstormed this a bit and came up with a name that immediately felt right. We called this crowd-pleasing dish The Layered Luchador.

You probably won't find bigger fans of Jack Black's Nacho Libre than my dad and sister. So the luchadors (Mexican wrestlers) are a very respected group in our home. Whether you have or have not seen the movie, please enjoy this tiny clip that shows what a sassy, out-of-shape luchador looks like.

My sister can recite the film on command (and even when we are commanding her not to), so if you want a glowing review of the film, you'll have to ask her. I can only speak to the dish. The dish is really easy to pull together. Beyond the browned meat and rice/veg mixture, all other ingredients go into the luchador un-fooled around with. And... there really was nothing cuter than having my 20 year old brother come home from working all day ask if there was any leftover Layered Luchador.

In my opinion, the Layered Luchador was better the day it was made. There are tortillas baked into the thing and they really gave up the ghost when refrigerated and reheated. That said... my family absolutely loved the Layered Luchador leftover and they ate it for a couple of days until they put away that giant 9x13 monster.

And finally, when browsing my mom's memory card this morning, I found a picture that had to be the subconscious start of the Layered Luchador.

Here we are on Christmas morning last year. My brother was clearly chillaxin before my sister struck (wearing the Luchador mask I gave her) and I followed (wearing the hat she gave me and the tattoo sleeve that I don't even remember).

And there you have it. The edible Layered Luchador and the personification of the same that preceeded it by six and a half months.

Follow the link above to Pioneer Woman's site for the detailed instructions for Mexican Lasagna, but puhlease... call it by any other name. And be sure to let me know if you come up with something better.

Save me a piece of that corn for later!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Day at the Beach: Cake Edition

Today I finished and dropped off my most complicated and nerve-wracking cake to date.

The client (please notice the badassery of my use of that word) was throwing a beach-themed staff appreciation party complete with mocktails, leis, and many inflatable beach... thingys. After much consideration and conversation, the client decided that the cake shouldn't have an inscription.

Hmm... Being quite new to cake decorating, I had to think long and hard about a cake that would look interestingly beachy without a written focal point.

And those of you who were curious about the 3D Wilton cake pans that I messed up yesterday will now have all your questions answered.

Ta Da!

It's a beach ball cake. A beach ball. On a beach. Or the ocean connected to that beach. Whatever.

I decided to get a little abstract with the swirly bits around the ball and the edge of the water. I like the whimsy they bring to the otherwise straightforward cake.

The clients were thrilled with the result. They thought the cake was adorable and that I should make a living out of such cakes. And they just about lost it when I told them that though the sheet cake is a basic yellow pound cake, the beach ball is made of a three-layer pina colada cake with crushed pineapple filling.

Everyone's happy.

Except for my family who got to watch the whole process without getting to eat the final product. :)

Anyone wanna go to the beach?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hoisin Turkey Lettuce Wraps or... Ima P.F. Yo' Chang

Cooking for my family is... interesting.

My sister eats low carb/ high protein. My dad wants meat with a side of meat, ridiculously hot and spicy if at all possible. My mom wants only what she's had before, and not as spicy as it was the last time. My brother is quite picky but he's only around for about 20 minutes, 15 of which are spent in the shower. And... I love food!

So trying to figure out what to make for this brood is not unlike a Food Network Challenge.

Last week, however, I found something that made everyone happy.

Everyone. We all loved these Hoisin Turkey Lettuce Wraps.

I started with Rachael Ray's recipe for Chicken Lettuce Wraps,substituted ground turkey for chicken cutlets, and dropped the bean sprouts and sesame seeds for the above mentioned reasons.

Ta Da! The crowd pleasing lettuce wraps!

I even made the lettuce wraps again at a friend's house for a nice light lunch. And guess what?! My friends liked the wraps too! Even baby Isabella ate it!

I'm just sayin'.

The combination of crisp, fresh, chilled lettuce and the warm, browned, hoisin flavored turkey, onion, red pepper, and water chestnut is just too good.

So do yourself, and everyone around you, a huge favor and make these lettuce wraps soon. But just be prepared for everyone and their mother to ask you if you got these wraps (or perhaps the idea for them) from P.F. Chang's. Just smile and slowly back away, delicious lettuce wrap in hand.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reality TV Shows and the Cakes that Love Them

Let's just start this post with a little bit of honesty. Reality TV is fun to watch. It's easy to make fun of and it's pretty addicting. My family watches a fair amount of television, most of it of the reality persuasion.

One of my family's favorite reality TV shows is Big Brother. For us, it means summer and pizza and friends coming over. It also means trashy young people fighting to stay in a living arrangement that requires extrememly awkward physical challenges, weeks of restricted food allowances, hours of painful small talk, and scores of conspiracy theories.

Clearly, Thursday night's Big Brother 11 premiere demanded a cake.

I used the Big Brother occasion to try a recipe from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes. I haven't bought the book yet (I am working on it!), so I followed the recipe for Chocolate Sour Cream Cake and Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Icing according to Smitten Kitchen.

**Alert: it's a wonderfully simple one-bowl chocolate cake with a creamy rich peanut butter icing.**

These two make a really cute couple. They really bring out the best in each other.

But what's this? A ring o' cake?

Hahahaha... here begins my awkward first attempt at a carved cake. :) I wanted the Big Brother cake to be a hot tub since so much of the houseguests' time is spent either cannoodling or at least scheming in the hot tub out back.

I used cinnamon graham crackers to signal the wood paneling on the outside of the tub. And I frosted the ring o' cake so I would have room inside the cake for water.

I used Wilton recipe icing for the water, writing, and other decorative elements. I filled the hot tub with blue water, a dark blue Big Brother logo, and white hot tub bubbles. That done, I piped the houseguests names around the edge of the tub and finished her off with a reverse shell border.

So is it ridiculous? Is it a bit much? Sure. And probably.

But it was tasty! (And it made watching Big Brother mostly bearable.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stuffed French Toast (Two Ways)

I. Love. French Toast.

It is my go to comfort food and my easy breakfast, lunch, and dinner (usually not on the same day, but I wouldn't rule it out either). So when my working family left dinner up to me, I declared this Wednesday "Made-to-Order French Toast Night."

I took full advantage of the opportunity and made myself lingonberry-stuffed vanilla almond French toast.

Yeah. It's my new favorite.

And my dad went with a chunky peanut butter-stuffed vanilla cinnamon French toast.

There really is nothing easier or more satisfying (relatively) than good French toast.

Here is all of my French toast wisdom:

- One beaten egg covers two of these stuffed French toasts.
- A splash of milk should make the egg more soft yellow in color than orange-yellow.
- For the vanilla almond, I did 1/8 tsp of each extract.
- For the vanilla cinnamon, I did 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and (surprise!) a shake of cinnamon.
- Don't spread the filling all the way to the edge of the bread. You don't want a messy skillet and fried peanut butter or lingon would certainly make for a mess.

I wish I could get more specific but I don't measure much when it comes to French toast.

So what came to mind when you read "Made-to-Order French Toast Night"? What is the craziest thing you'd put in or on French toast?

P.S. After a Bakewell tart, numerous pb&l sandwiches, and tonight's French toast, I'm almost out of Lingonberry preserves. o_O

Monday, July 6, 2009

Blueberry Oat Bars (Updated)

My sister strikes again!

She's always asking me for things (eggs and bacon, usually) but this time she struck dessert gold. On a recent trip to Starbucks, my sister tried a Blueberry Oat Bar and fell in love. We still had a bunch of blueberries leftover from the cheesecake disaster and the banana blueberry buttermilk muffins, and homegirl knew exactly what I should do with them.

I started with the Almost Starbucks Blueberry Oat Bar recipe I found here and made minor changes for partial Splenda use.

Start by combining the following in a large bowl:

1 and 3/4 c. Quaker Oats (quick or old fashioned)

1 and 1/2 c. AP flour, 1/2 c. brown sugar Splenda (packed)

1/2 c. chopped nuts, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt.

Stir that together and add...

3/4 c. butter (melted) and stir until mixed.

Press crust into 9" x 13" or pan, reserving 3/4 cup for topping. Bake crust for 10 minutes.

While crust is baking, put 2 c. blueberries, 1/2 c. granulated sugar, and 2 tbsp water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Make a little mixture of 1 tbsp water, 2 tbsp cornstarch, and 2 tsp lemon juice. Pour into blueberry mixture and stir and cook for about 30 seconds or until mixture thickens.

Spread blueberries on top of partially cooked crust.

Sprinkle remaining 3/4 c. of crust on top of blueberry layer. Bake for another 18 to 20 minutes until topping looks slightly browned.

And enjoy this treat on my sister.

The fresh blueberries are absolutely fabulous and this bar really showcases them.

Be warned that this "bar" is really more crumbly than anything else. It is wicked good -- but I don't know that it would stand up as a literal bar. Cut it into bars and serve it with a fork.

UPDATE: When completely cool (as in overnight), bars are very barry. Again... patience... not my strong suit. I'm working on it!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Blueberry Banana Buttermilk Muffins

After the early disasters of this week, I needed to make something simple that was sure to come out right. Enter this lovely muffin.

Bananas, blueberries, buttermilk, streusel, heaven. These muffins are easy to throw together and quite the dream to eat.

The crumb is tender, thanks largely to the buttermilk, and the fresh blueberries provide that quintessential summer sweetness. The banana flavor was light since my banans (not a typo) were yellow and without spot or wrinkle.

So do yourself a favor and make these muffins. I started with a Taste of Home recipe for Banana Buttermilk muffins and made my own little changes.

In bowl of stand mixer, cream 1/2 c. softened butter and 1 c. sugar.

Add 2 eggs, one a time, mixing well after each.

Add 1 tsp vanilla and 2 large ripe bananas (mashed) and mix.

Combine 2 c. AP flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 4 tbsp buttermilk powder in another bowl. Mix with fork.

Add dry ingredients to mixer in thirds, alternating with 1 c. water. (If you use actual buttermilk instead of the powder, you would add 1 c. now instead of the water.)

Dust 1 and 1/2 c. fresh blueberries with small amount of flour. Remove bowl from mixer and gently fold berries in.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 to 3/4 full. You can fill the cups without worrying; mine were quite full and they baked up instead of up and out. Perrrfect.

Make a streusel topping out of 1/4 c. flour, 1/4 c. packed brown sugar, 2 tbsp cold butter. Cut the butter in with a fork or pastry cutter. Sprinkle a heaping tsp of the topping over each muffin.

Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 16-20 minutes. Cool for 5 in the tin and then remove to a wire rack.

Oh my word. Enjoy.

I tossed some pecan pieces on the tops of some of the muffins. It was a good choice, but only if one likes pecans on one's muffins.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Red, White, and Blue(berry) Cheesecake

Disclaimer: This post gets a full on "Disaster" tag. Not that "Near Disaster" tag that I've been giving recipes that almost worked or that worked but not how I expected them to. Here's why.

Yeah... let's just start with the visual. We'll go ahead and let the cheesecake stand in for white, but do you see anything that even a little bit resembles red or blue?

Nah. Me neither. I forgot how unblue blueberries really are. I thought about enhancing the fillings with red and blue coloring but quickly threw that option out the window. And then I threw something else.

See that area at about 8:45 where the crust kind of blends into the cheesecake? Yeah... I had a little water bath issue and ended up flooding my cheesecake at that very point. I tried to remedy the situation by throwing a paper towel on my cheesecake to soak up the water before it absorbed. I don't know either.

So my colors are off, and I flooded the cheesecake, but... the polka dot technique will still wow people.

No... no, I'm afraid it won't. You see, there is a reason I couldn't find any examples of people polka-dotting cheesecakes with fruit flavors. The polka dot cheesecake technique is done with cocoa because cocoa thickens the cheesecake filling rather than thinning it.

Do you see polka dots in my cheesecake?

Perhaps here?

No. The thin fruit fillings mostly showed up on top of the cheesecake even though they were piped into the cheesecake. I don't know how it happened; that's why it's a disaster.

This is about as close as we got to polka dots. A mushroom-shaped blueberry blob. And... it makes sense that it be mushroom-shaped because my sister thought the uncut cheesecake resembled some type of poisonous mold. If the rest of the cheesecake were successful, I'd have covered the top with... something... but this disaster didn't even merit that much effort.

My sister found and photographed this dot. It's getting there but still not right. I now know for a fact that fruit polka dots do not hold up in cheesecake like cocoa polka dots do. Fair enough. Lesson learned.

How did it taste? (you might ask.)

Good! I used the cheesecake recipe from the Daring Bakers April challenge and it came through again. I chose iced oatmeal cookies for the crust this time and I would highly recommend that. It got rave reviews from my testers. Also, if you use the iced cookies you can omit the sugar called for in the crust. I did and no one missed it.

In conclusion: Cheesecake with random pockets of raspberry flavor (the blueberry, for some reason was barely discernable --- again, disaster) and an oatmeal crust - very tasty. Fruit polka dots - very unsuccessful.

Any questions?