Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers - Caramel Cake

Oh my taters. I love caramel. Love it. So much.

Ok _o I ju_t _pilled milk on my keybo_rd _nd _m mi__ing two very import_nt letter_.

Got _ little overexcited _bout the c_r_mel... it h_ppen_...

Due to technic_l difficultie_... picture_ now, coherent po_t l_terz. =)

Update: Here comes a coherent post!

So, my computer is now pretty much completely unusable and I am sitting in the library at school writing this. I can type As and Ss again YAY!!

In any case, this month's challenge was awesome!! It was hosted by Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food, and they chose the most sugar-tastic cake I have ever met... which is really saying a lot! This is of course Shuna Fish Lydon's signature Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting, as published on Bay Area Bites.

Now, I am a caramel fanatic. Really and truly. I love it more th an almost any flavor out there. So I have made my share of recipes involving caramel. I have even made before a cake such as this one, that incorporates caramel syrup into the batter. But I really loved this challenge, because this recipe wasn't just "more of the same" caramel stuff... in fact it seems that there are so many different methods of making caramel and incorporating it into desserts that to me, every recipe is a little different and has something new to teach me!

For instance, I learned that when you dilute caramel with water, the flavor is also diluted, so it is sometimes ok to throw out preconceived notions of exactly what color perfect-tasting caramel should be.

Also, I learned that when you combine caramel with browned butter, it makes a flavor that really I just want to marry and be with forever! I have never before baked with browned butter, but this frosting was a real eye-opener for me and I'm pretty sure it will be appearing in many of my upcoming creations! Cause seriously, I would bathe in that stuff.

I also learned a lot about powdered-sugar-based frosting in general. See, I made this recipe twice. The cupcakes in the photos are from the first time I made it. The first time, I didn't overcook my caramel, so it didn't really add much to the cake in the way of flavor. Also, I followed the recipe exactly when I made the frosting, and I hated it. I LOVED the flavor, but I hated that it was so sweet it made my throat burn. I don't think anything should make your throat burn unless it is hot and spicy... which this frosting was definitely not.

I was almost convinced that the idea of powdered-sugar-based frosting was just a horrible one in general, since I had never before made or eaten any that did not have that gross burning sweet effect on me, and I was planning on remaking the cake using a frosting that incorporated all the same flavors, but was based in meringue instead. But then the day came to remake the cake, and I looked in my fridge at the eggs, and I already had about 10 egg yolks sitting in bowls crying out to me that they needed to be used soon, and I just couldn't bring myself to make meringue and add to the pile...

So I decided to try the same frosting again, but to be really careful about how much of everything I was adding and do it completely to taste rather than by the recipe. I ended up using only about 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, letting the browned butter set up a little, and using a lot more cream and caramel than the recipe called for.

It was soooo dreamy... so perfect. I was in love. Happiness. I will upload pictures of the second cake as soon as I get my computer back! =)

Thank you once again for an amazing challenge, Daring Baker's, and for opening my eyes to the wonders of browned butter and the potential for powdered-sugar-based frostings! <3>

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Muffins for Mixing (mixing sound, that is...)

I mentioned before that I've been blog MIA this semester because of the film I was busy pouring every hour of my life into for 2 months. Well, that's pretty much over now, because its a class involving partnerships, where each partnership makes 2 films during the semester, and takes turns directing. So I directed the first one (ugh!) and am now working on the second one, which my partner is directing. It's still a ton of work and time, but it's much, much less stressful than directing.

The thing about these films is that we want them to be good. And we technically have the means to make them good. We get 1 week for pre-production, 3 weeks to shoot, 1 week to edit picture, and then 2 weeks to edit sound. That's a lot of time spent on one 5 minute film. And of course, we have professional actors who donate their time to us, a bunch of people who help out with the dirty work on set, and our professors and student assistants who are helping us with insane problems every step of the way.

By the time my film was nearly finished, I was so unbelievably grateful to everyone who had helped me along the way, that the least I could do was bake some of them a good breakfast on sound mix day! After our 2 weeks of building sound (we don't record production sound at all, so we have to build the whole soundtrack from scratch), there is one day during which 2 amazing sound mixers work from 8 in the morning to 6 at night, spending 2 hours with each of us, making sure that our sound is basically perfect and finally locking everything in and making us finished for good.

It's a long day, a stressful day, and a relieving day all at once, and my 2 hours happened to be the very first, starting at 8 AM. So naturally I brought breakfast, in the form of these delicious muffins!

Strawberry Lime Muffins
(adapted from this recipe)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups uncooked oats
1 cup sugar
2 cups milk
1 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
zest and juice from 3 small limes

1. Preheat oven to 425 F and line muffin tins with paper cups.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, oats, sugar, and lime zest in a large mixing bowl.
3. Whisk together the milk, butter, eggs, vanilla, and lime juice in a separate mixing bowl.
4. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture until just combined.
5. Fold the strawberries into the batter.
6. Fill the prepared muffin cups about 2/3 of the way each.
7. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. This makes about 24 muffins.

They are hot and delicious right out of the oven, but just as delicious at room temperature the next day! =)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes of Creamcheeesyness! A.K.A. Alex Cupcakes!

You may have noticed that I've named these cupcakes after a person called Alex.

This is because Alex is an amazing person who did something amazing for me - so amazing that there was absolutely no way I could thank her enough short of making her cupcakes and then naming them after her.  Which I like to think is somewhat of a high honor? 
(Although really, I'd do it for anyone if they asked me to... or even if they just mentioned that they enjoy cupcakes... yeah, I'm really just a compulsive cupcake giver.  There are worse things in this world to be.)

I know you're wondering now what exactly it was that Alex did to merit this delicious gift, but it is something SO incredibly sweet that honestly I can't describe it on this blog because, well, there are enough sweet things on here as it is.  But I will say that because of her, I was able to attend one of the best concerts of my entire life, and there I got to meet (and hug!) Jimmy Gnecco, of whom I have spoken before.  

It rocked.  And so does Alex.  And so do these cupcakes that bear her name.  

These are chocolate cupcakes with orange zest added to the batter, which brings a surprisingly powerful and fragrant orange flavor to them... after tasting these, I think I will be using orange zest much, much more often in my baking!  They are filled with a honey cream cheese mixture, and topped with a whipped chocolate orange ganache.  Soooooo goood!

Oh, and Alex loved them.  She said that they were gone after a day and even accused me of flavor altering wizardry, which I took as a compliment.  =)
So if you have someone you need to thank exuberantly, these cupcakes certainly do the trick!

For the cupcakes:
(adapted from this recipe)

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of half an orange

1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line cupcake tins.
2. Cream the butter with the sugar and orange zest and beat until light and fluffy.
3. Add eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla, beating after each addition.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.  Add 1/3 of this mixture to the batter, and mix to combine.  Then add half of the milk, followed by another 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the last of the milk and then finishing with the last of the flour mixture.
5. Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 of the way full with batter, and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  

For the filling:

4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp heavy cream

1. Beat together all 3 ingredients until smooth and well combined.

For the topping:

3/4 cup finely chopped semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp grand marnier

1. Place the chopped chocolate in a mixing bowl.
2. Heat the cream until it begins to boil, then immediately remove from heat and pour over the chopped chocolate.
3. Let sit for a couple minutes, then whisk until smooth and mix in the grand marnier.
4. Cover and chill.
5. When the ganache is set, whip it with an electric mixer until it is a stiff, spreadable consistency.  

To assemble:
1. Once the cupcakes are cool, cut out a small bit from the center of each one.
2. Spoon the cream cheese mixture into the newly hollowed cupcake centers.
3. Pipe or spoon the ganache onto the cooled, filled cupcakes, and then they are finished and delicious!