Saturday, February 27, 2010

Maple Banana Crunch Pancakes

For the King Arthur Flour and Pure Maple Syrup baking contest I mentioned in the last post, I also created a breakfast recipe. I had thought of submitting my two sugar cake variations (apple cinnamon and maple walnut), but did not want to give up my family recipe for a contest. All recipes become the property of the sponsor, whether or not they are a finalist. So I went with something that I thought sounded good, but wasn't a family recipe.

For this recipe, I make buttermilk pancakes with chopped walnuts. I beat in a few tablespoons of pure maple syrup into softened butter for a little extra flavor. The main topping combined maple syrup, bananas and vanilla. I simmered maple syrup with vanilla for a few minutes, then added in sliced bananas and reduced the mixture for 15 minutes. This really combined all the flavors into one.

The final result was very tasty. Like the maple blueberry pound cake, I am afraid that the recipe isn't as complicated as the judges are looking for. I just made two recipes that I thought had a good combination of flavors and textures and tasted good in the end. No matter what happens, I am most proud of that. I will always opt for good taste and flavor over exotic and over worked. If nothing comes else comes of this contest, I am happy with the chance to be a bit creative and to start thinking outside of the box. Only great things can come from creativity, hard work and a little inspiration.

Maple Blueberry Pound Cake

King Arthur Flour and Pure Maple Syrup came together to offer a baking contest. The restrictions were that King Arthur Flour and 100% maple syrup needed to be included in the submitted recipes. There were three categories for adults: breakfast, savory and dessert.

For a dessert recipe, I opted to alter my grandmother's lemon pound cake recipe. This recipe makes a large cake in a bundt pan. I took out the lemon zest and added vanilla, blueberries and 3 tablespoons maple syrup. My first attempt at this cake did not go as planned. The recipe told me to add the baking powder at the very last before pouring into the pan. I just about forgot to add it, since I am not used to adding in another dry ingredient even after the vanilla. In the final product, the blueberries clumped on the bottom of the pan and were a batter-y mess since the suggested cooking temperature was only 300F. I cooked the cake a lot longer than the recipe called for, but it still did not cook through like I wanted.

On my second attempt, I coated the blueberries in flour before adding them to the batter. I added the baking powder with the other dry ingredients since that is what I am used to and the chances of me forgetting it in the future will be greatly diminished. I also chose to cook the pound cake at 350F, which is closer to a typical cake baking temperature. This second cake is something I am proud of. The blueberries still migrated more than I would have liked, but at least the cake cooked entirely through within a reasonable amount of time.

I thought about adding a maple glaze, but actually did not have a chance to test out my idea before submitting the recipe to the contest. I had wanted to sift some powdered sugar and add a few tablespoons maple syrup. I am not sure if I would have needed a little bit of milk to make the glaze spreadable or not. I wish I had spent the time to test this out, I think it would have added a layer to the recipe.

This was my first big baking contest that I have entered. I don't think that I created complicated enough recipes for them to go far (the other recipe being the maple banana crunch pancakes), but I definitely learned a lot in the process. Hopefully that will help me in the future, should I decide to enter more contests. I think the biggest drawback is that any recipe, even one that doesn't make it to the finals becomes the property of the sponsors. The recipes that I am most proud of are dear to me and I hesitate to give those away (in particular, my sugar cake and apple 'n honey cupcakes). I guess there are advantages and disadvantages to baking contests.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mimosa Ice Cream

I have been a very busy little baker and chef the last several weeks, so I am still attempting to catch up on here all the lessons I have learned.

I had a bottle of champagne left over from our New Year's Brunch that I wasn't completely sure what to do with. I decided that it would be fun to make some alcoholic ice cream with it. I really didn't know how to go about doing this, so it was all a guess.

I started with a basic ice cream recipe:
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

I wasn't sure how the liquid in the orange juice and champagne would change the consistency of the ice cream, so I combined 2 cups OJ and 2 cups of champagne in a 2 quart sauce pan. I scraped out the seeds from a vanilla bean and added the bean and seeds to the pot. I simmered the mixture until it had reduced by more than half. I let it cool and stored the concentrated mimosa in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day I made the ice cream base. Instead of the 1 cup whole milk, I used 1/2 cup of the mimosa concentrate with 1/2 cup evaporated milk. I chose this in hopes of preventing too much water in the recipe. I placed it in the ice cream maker and hoped for the best.

I haven't used my ice cream maker in a long time, possibly a year or two. I froze the bowl like I was supposed to and poured the mixture in for the manufacturer's recommended 20-30 minutes. Well, after 30 minutes, the mixture was still very slushy. I can't seem to remember if that is normal or not. I transferred the ice cream to a Tupperware container and covered with a piece of plastic wrap to help prevent ice crystals from forming and placed it in the freezer, hoping for the best.

That evening, my husband and I tried the ice cream...the orange flavor came through well, but there isn't much in the way of the champagne flavor. But the consistency is good, so that is encouraging. I think this is a good step in the right direction...perhaps in the direction of Bailey's Irish Cream ice cream or even Guinness ice cream. I definitely think its possible, especially with a stronger flavored alcohol. I just need to stop by the store to pick some up to give it a try.

Sugar Cake

One of the recipes given to me at my wedding shower was for something called sugar cake. This was evidently one of my great aunt's specialties, though I cannot remember ever trying it. Like a lot of recipes passed down, parts of the recipe were a bit vague. But since it was a family recipe, I figured it was worth the effort to decode it. I spent a lot of time looking at the ingredients and trying to fully understand them before starting. Some of the ingredients, like brown sugar, butter and canned milk had no measurements associated with them. I really had no idea what this cake should look like or taste like.

So I just dive right in, trying to figure it out as I went. The recipe calls for yeast and since it is dissolved in warm water before use, I assumed it was active dry yeast and not instant yeast. According to my understanding, instant yeast can be added directly to the ingredients without needing to be dissolved first, like in a bread machine recipe.

As for the canned milk, since I add brown sugar to the recipe, I guessed that it meant evaporated milk and not sweetened condensed milk. Though the amount was still a mystery since all it said was that I would need less than a can. Well, what size can is that talking about?!? I went with a larger can and used less than half for each of the two cakes the recipe makes.

My first attempt at baking this cake did not go as planned...well at least that is what I am assuming. It did not seem to look done, so I ended up baking it for a lot longer than the recipe suggested. The result was a crunchy mess on bottom and a soggy top. The second cake from that batch went much better. I added less milk and cooked it less.

It tastes like a cinnamon roll! Since it seemed to have a soft, moist consistency with a sweet cinnamon flavor, I am guessing that I am much closer to the intended recipe than on the first try.

I made the recipe again, with the two cakes that it makes. This time I added some chopped dried apples with the cinnamon and I used both maple syrup and brown sugar as the sweeteners. For the second cake, I sprinkled chopped walnuts on top in addition to using both maple syrup and brown sugar. Both of these resulted in soft cakes that I am guessing resemble the intended recipe.

So I think have this recipe somewhat figured out. I still need to measure the exact amount of canned milk I use so that I can be consistent, but that doesn't seem to be a difficult task. The next step will be to make the sugar cake (or one of its variations) for some of my family in North Carolina who remember the original creation. Then I will know for sure if my interpretation is anywhere near where it should be. In the meantime, I think this is another recipe to add to my books as one to keep for a long time.

What to do with the extra honey whipped cream?

When making the apple 'n honey cupcakes the other day, I had quite a bit of honey whipped cream left over. I just simply couldn't let it go to waste! I brainstormed for a while to think of what I wanted to make with it and decided on a version of whoopie pies. Usually, these are chocolate cake-like cookies with a filling, but I wanted to change it up. I wanted to make a peanut butter version with the honey whipped cream in the center. My husband is a big peanut butter fan, so he was excited by this idea.

In looking through various recipes on, I found a highly rated version of the chocolate whoopie pie using a Devil's Food cake mix that was prepared as the box directed, except that only half of the water called for was used. So I found a peanut butter cake recipe that I liked and planned on making it as the recipe called for, except with half the water. It didn't quite turn out like I had hoped. I didn't think to reduce the buttermilk that was also in the recipe, so of course it was too runny to turn drop onto the cookie sheet like cookies. I should have thought that one through a little more. So I added the remaining amount of water and baked the batter in two greased and floured 9" pans and sprinkled some mini chocolate chips on time. I cooked the cakes at 350F until they were cooked through.

Then came the decision on how to present the cakes. I could use the honey whipped cream as a filling for a two layer cake, then make a chocolate ganache topping or I could just leave it as two separate cakes. My husband suggested the latter. I topped the cakes with the honey whipped cream, swirled it to make it look nice, then melted some more mini chocolate chips with a little bit of oil and drizzled it on top. The end result was actually quite nice! I still want to work on the cookie version, since that sounds good to me.

So lessons learned:
1. I need to remove even more of the liquid from the recipe if I want a shot at making this into drop cookies. Maybe I can find a fluffy and puffy peanut butter cookie recipe if that doesn't work.
2. Always be prepared to improvise if something doesn't turn out just the way I planned, especially when changing around recipes into something different. The final product here was great, even though it wasn't what I was planning on.
3. No matter how excited I am to taste the cakes, do not attempt to lick the metal knife used to loosen the cake edges just before turning out on a rack! The sugar obsessed part of my brain evidently took over briefly...I need to rein that in at times.
4. Remember to re-whip the whipped cream before using. It was a little flatter than I would have liked when I spread it on the cakes. The pretty swirls I tried to put into the frosting just fell a bit flat.
5. Another idea for this cake would be to use a whipped cream with stiffer peaks and possibly use a kitchen blow torch or broiler to gently color the top of the whipped cream. This would make for a nice presentation, particularly if there is no chocolate drizzled on top.

And now it is Friday and I haven't fully decided what I want to create this weekend. Perhaps a bunch of gnocchi so that I can have a stash in the freezer. I also have a recipe for whole wheat tortillas I would like to try. Maybe even make some sticky buns or cinnamon rolls...I guess I will figure out what inspires me when the time comes!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Apple N Honey Cupcakes

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would name a bakery if I ever opened one and finally decided on Sugar Bear Sweetery. Sugar bear is an affectionate nickname that my mom uses often and since my return to the kitchen was inspired by her and my other family, I thought the name was fitting. I also liked the idea of sweetery rather than bakery, it just seemed a bit more unique.

So from there, I started to wonder what sorts of items I would like to make. I wanted something with honey to go along with the Sugar Bear name. One of the recipes that had been passed down to me was an applesauce cake recipe from my grandmother. I thought this would be a great base for a cupcake, with a few changes:

1. This cake was originally meant to be baked in a tube pan, but switching to cupcakes does not make much of a difference.
2. The recipe called for Crisco, but since many people are trying to steer away from trans fats, I changed that to butter.
3. I added vanilla (a favorite of mine...I am guilty of just pouring in extra vanilla without measuring it in many cases, but I actually put in a defined amount this time).
4. I added an extra spice other than the cinnamon and cloves called for in the recipe. That spice is my secret.
5. The original recipe calls for the addition of raisins and chopped nuts. While these work well in the cake, I decided against them for the cupcakes.
6. I put some of the batter into the lined cupcakes, then added a dollop of apple butter before adding more batter to fill the cups 2/3's full. This was a great idea, it adds a nice soft surprise in the center and keeps the cupcakes especially moist.
7. I went with a whipped cream frosting that was sweetened with honey rather than sugar. I wasn't sure how sweet this would end up, but it resulted in a perfect combination. And of course I had to add some vanilla to the frosting.
8. The amount of whipped cream frosting was a lot more than I needed. I will have to think of how I will want to use that in the next few days because I would hate to throw it away!

I took all but a few of the cupcakes into work and they went fast! I was very excited about that. I had begun to question the idea of having whipped cream frosting rather than a powdered sugar frosting that would set up harder. But people were commenting that the frosting was just perfect for the intensity of the cupcake. The first words out of my mouth after tasting the first cupcake was "It tastes like Christmas!" The apple flavor and spices are just so warm and Christmas-like.

I stored the few cupcakes that I set aside for myself and my husband in the refrigerator. I would take one out for me an hour before I wanted it so that it would be closer to room temperature, but my husband wanted his still cold. Both ways seemed to work well, it just came down to personal preference. Though they didn't last that long, I would guess that these cupcakes could be stored well in the refrigerator for about 5 days.

So overall, I believe this was a great success! One of the few times that I think I will keep the recipe just the way that it is without tweaking it when I make it again. Well, maybe I would make a double batch next time!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why start this blog?

After much internal debate, I have decided to enter the world of blogging. This seems the easiest way to keep track of all my progress without constantly having to email myself my updates from various computers.

So here is a little about me...I am in my late twenties, recently married and work full time as a research technician. I used to bake fairly often, but life somehow got in the way. I like to share the vast majority of the items I make with the people I work with, but there was someone at my last job that was allergic to eggs, so I didn't bake quite as much as I once did. Then I started getting into triathlons and the training took up much of my free time. Along came my future husband and the whole 'free time' thing seemed to disappear even more. Moving from an hour and a half away, starting and new job, buying a house and wedding planning took over my life.

One of the pluses from all the wedding planning was a renewed interest in baking and cooking. I remembered just how much I enjoyed being in the kitchen creating. For my shower, many friends and family members gave me recipes, including some from my grand mother and an aunt that had passed away. This have become very special to me. I loved the idea of having the culinary and pastry influences from various people so much that I gathered most of the recipes and put them into a bound book. That book is getting much use and has been a great springboard into my return to the kitchen.

So I spend time each week planning what I want to create over the weekend. It is not limited to sweets by any means. I am trying to teach myself as much as I possibly can since culinary school isn't an option at this point in my life. It is more expensive than we can handle and would be several hours each day. To address that issue, I have turned to those gathered recipes, the internet and books as my teachers. I am learning more and more all the time and it is only fueling my desire to understand the concepts and 'why's behind many of the things we do in the kitchen. The more I grasp the basics, the more I will be able to manipulate those basics into creating new and exciting recipes that become my own.

I have been creating many different dishes over the last month or two, so it will take me a little while to catch up on here. I just realized that I need a way to keep track of my various attempts at the culinary and pastry arts so that I don't forget the successes (and failures), the ways I think I could improve the next time, and the valuable lessons I learn along the way. You are more than welcome to take this journey with me and I hope we all learn just a little more than we did yesterday.