Happy Accident

Ok so usually baking is a rewarding venture for me.  I find a recipe, I follow it, make some tweaks here and there, get a yummy result, and get compliments from whoever I share it with.  Lately, though, I’ve had mixed results and mixed feelings.

This story starts out happy.  There was a birthday cake to be made.  In an effort to use up some extra buttermilk, I strayed from the standard family chocolate birthday cake recipe, to a version that trades regular milk for buttermilk.  It’s an Ina Garten recipe, and it turned out great.  So great, in fact, that it’s making my family rethink the traditional family birthday cake recipe.  With these chocolate cake recipes in my arsenal, buying a chocolate cake mix from the store is out of the question these days.

Fabulous cake: check.  Now onto the frosting.  My plan was to make “White Mountain Frosting” or “Seven Minute Frosting.”  Typically a combination of egg whites, sugar and water that yields a light fluffy frosting.  I have tried two different recipes three separate times (following the recipe to letter).  I can not get the frosting to fluff.  It falls flat no matter what I try.

To mitigate my repeated frosting disaster I used the flat frosting (which still tasted quite good) as the frosting between the cake layers, and a “glaze” for the top of the cake.  Then to disguise this monstrosity, I made a quick, easy chocolate frosting to cover the outside of the cake.aftermath

Crisis averted.  The funny thing was that the combination of the two frostings made for a very moist cake.  The flat White Mountain Frosting was almost like having a layer of marshmallow fluff under the chocolate frosting.

I guess some days the frosting fluffs, and some days it doesn’t…

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Yields 2, 9 inch rounds, recipe from Ina Garten

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder, more for pans
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed coffee

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare pans by spraying with non-stick spray and coating with cocoa powder.  If you want to be extra cautious, cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of your cake pans.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.
  4. Add the wet to dry gradually and beat with an electric mixer.  Finally add coffee gradually.
  5. Bake at 350 for 35- 40 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before you remove the cake from the pans.almost done

Flat White Mountain Frosting

From a very old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar (my mom’s hypothesis is that this recipe is lacking the right about of sugar)
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 2 Tbs water
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Method

  1. in a small sauce pan combine the water, sugar, and corn syrup.  Cover and bring to a strong boil.  Take the lid off and bring to 242 degrees (use a candy thermometer).
  2. While the mixture is boiling, whip up the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  3. When the mixture has reached the right temperature, very slowly add it to the egg whites while you continue to beat them.  Add the vanilla and beat for about 7 minutes.  At this point the frosting is supposed to fluff up, but in my case it didn’t.  You win some, you lose some.

Chocolate Frosting

From an old Hershey’s Baking Chocolate wrapper

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • dash salt

Method

  1. Using a small saucepan over low heat or a microwave melt the butter.  Add the chocolate in small pieces and melt it with the butter.
  2. Put melted butter and chocolate in a bowl and add sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt.  Beat with an electric mixer until it reaches the desire consistency.  To thicken up the frosting place the bowl in an ice bath while you mix it, or refrigerate for a few minutes before frosting.Ready for FrostingSo. Much. Frosting.
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Broccoli: Simple and Fabulous

I love broccoli.  Usually I think it’s best if it’s simple.  I recently needed to bring a vegetable side dish to a friend’s house for dinner.  I went back and forth between a few different options.  It’s always tricky picking a dish for a pot luck.  I don’t really know what other people are bringing, I don’t know if the host or certain critical mass doesn’t like a certain ingredient, and in this case I didn’t even know how much to make.

After hemming and hawing over a few different options I decided to keep it simple stupid: roasted broccoli.  I checked the food network website because this was something I could picture Ina Garten making.  That’s the funny thing when you’re a Food Network fan, when I’m thinking about certain dishes, I can usually pick a chef from the line up that probably has a recipe that I want to use for it.

Ina had a good looking recipe for roasted broccoli with garlic and parmesan.  Bingo.  I was eating this broccoli like candy, and so were my friends.  So easy, so quick, do delicious.

Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Broccoli

From Ina, scale the amounts to fit the size of your group

Ingredients

  • Broccoli crowns rinsed and cut into florets
  • minced garlic cloves (about 1 clove per serving)
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper, crushed red pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1/3 cup per every 3-4 servings

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425.  Line cookie sheets with foil.
  2. Combine garlic with about 1/4 cup olive oil and pour mixture over broccoli.  Toss broccoli so it is coated with oil (add oil if needed) and pour out onto baking sheet(s).
  3. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Roast broccoli in oven for 20-25 minutes.
  4. Remove broccoli when edges of florets start to get brown.  Toss warm broccoli with parmesan and serve.

Something Different but Something Special

The other day I saw Ina make an interesting cake on her show on the Food Network: Mocha Icebox Cake.  The great thing about it is that it’s not the typical mix the batter, bake the cake kind of deal.  This cake is layers of chocolate chip cookies, and a filling that is the consistency of something between whipped cream and mousse.  It also is somewhat reminiscent of a really light and creamy cheese cake because it’s make with mascarpone cheese (Italian version of cream cheese).  In general it’s a great light dessert that is different than your run of the mill cookies or cake.  Plus it’s no bake, even Ina bought the cookies to use in it!  This cake was definitely a crowd pleaser!

Mocha Icebox Cake

From Ina at the Food Network

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
  • 12 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua (optional)
  • 2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder (or instant coffee)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 24 oz. store bought chocolate chip cookies (preferably thin and crispy from the bakery section of the store)

Method

  1. Use electric mixer to whip together all of the ingredients except the cookies.  Beat until the mixture has stiff peaks like a thick whipped cream.

    The Set Up

  2. To assemble the cake use a spring form cake pan.  Cover the bottom of the pan with cookies, break pieces of cookie to cover the whole bottom.  Spread a layer of the batter on top of the cookies.

    Bottom Layer

    Work in Progress

  3. Repeat the process of a layer of cookies then batter until you run out of batter or space.  I made about four layers (I also added a layer of plain whipped cream on top with the left over heavy cream, mascarpone, and sugar that I had).

    Into the freezer we go…

  4. Chill cake in fridge overnight or freezer for several hours to set.  Remove spring form right before you serve it.  Use a serrated knife to slice it in order to get through the cookies.

    Ina’s photo

    I forgot to take a picture after the unveiling, but mine actually looked very similar to Ina’s.

Nothing Beats a Classic

First order of business: Happy Birthday to my Best Best Friend Karla!

Sometimes when I’m in the mood to bake and I haven’t gone shopping for specific ingredients, I play the pantry game.  What can I make (that I would want to eat) with the items that I already have?  I’m usually short on anything perishable, but if I have butter, the answer is usually: shortbread.  And frankly, it’s hard to get better than shortbread.  Delicious.  Plus you can eat it with some tea and pretend to be British and sophisticated.

Classic Shortbread

Adapted from Ina on the Food Network

yeilds 20 cookies (depending on the size you choose)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb unsalted butter (that’s 3 sticks)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 oz. Semi-Sweet Chocolate (Ina uses bitter-sweet)
  • chopped nuts or sprinkles for decoration

Method

  1. Cream together butter and sugar with electric mixer.  Add vanilla.
  2. Sift in flour and salt.  Mix until dough starts to come together a little bit.
  3. Turn the dough out onto the counter and form into disks to chill in the freezer.
  4. Allow dough to chill for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 350.
  6. Roll dough out to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch think and use desired cookie cutters to cut shapes.
  7. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.  These are probably better a little on the blond side.
  8. Allow cookies to cool.  Heat chocolate up in microwave for 30 seconds at a time.  Use a fork to stir chocolate and make it shiny.
  9. Use fork to paint chocolate on desired portion of cooled shortbread cookies.  Dip chocolate portion into chopped nuts or sprinkles.  (During the holidays these look great with red and green bead sprinkles)
  10. Stick them in the frige or freezer to help accelerate the cooling process.