Monday, January 31, 2011

Birthday Cake (part 2)

This is the second part to making my husbands birthday cake. In this post I’ll show you how to make all the components of the cake (filling, buttercream and glaze). In the final part (part 3 coming in a week or two) I’ll show you how to put it all together. I’ll apologize up front, this is a long post but the recipes are easy and the results in the finished cake are out of this world. It’s all worth it, I promise. So let’s get started.

My husband wanted a chocolate and raspberry cake so I decided to make chocolate cake with raspberry filling and raspberry buttercream and then glaze the entire cake with more chocolate. I won’t lie. . .it was yummy! There is only one piece left and I’m sorely tempted to scarf it down before my husband gets home from work. Yah, yah, I know, it’s his cake; but I don’t like to share when it comes to cake. It’s a problem, I need help. . .

So here we go, we’ll make the raspberry puree/sauce/filling, then the buttercream and then the glaze. The puree/sauce and glaze can be made several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator or freezer. You’ll want to make the buttercream the same day you use it. Trust me, it just works better that way.

Raspberry Puree/Sauce/Filling

Start off with a 10-12 oz. bag of frozen raspberries.

Add them to a sauce pan and put the heat on medium.

Cook and stir until the raspberries start to breakdown and the juices start to flow.

It’s OK if it bubbles a bit but you don’t want a boil and keep the heat at medium so you don’t burn the sugar in the raspberries. You want to cook it down until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. What you want to end up with is a thick yet “pourable” sauce.

Once you think you’ve got it to the right thickness pour it into a fine strainer set over a bowl.

Stir it all up and mash it about until all you’re left with is the seeds.
Those go in the trash.

What you’re left with is about 3/4 of a cup of thick raspberry puree/sauce. Now set this aside (you can freeze it if you like) until it’s time to make the buttercream.

NOTE: For the raspberry filling you can use store bought jam. I, however, do not like seeds and have a hard time finding seedless raspberry jam or filling so I do the following. Make another batch of the puree/sauce. Once you get to the stage above, put it in the microwave and reduce it further to the consistency of a jam or jelly. Pretty easy, huh?

Now for the Raspberry Buttercream:
I use a slightly adapted version of Nick Malgieri’s “Easy Meringue Buttercream”. I highly recommend his book “How To Bake”. It's one of my favorites.  A bit of a warning here: once you make buttercream this way you’ll never go back to shortening and powdered sugar again. This is super silky but not too sweet and delicious! So let’s get to it.

The ingredients are simple: Butter at room temperature, sugar, egg whites, salt (forgot to show it) and the raspberry puree.  I love these powdered egg whites and use them because there is no chance of any yoke getting into the mix and totally deflating you meringue; they are completely safe from a food safety standpoint; they keep on the shelf forever and lastly I’m not stuck with a bunch of yokes in the end. Feel free to use the liquid egg whites in the carton or separate your own. Whatever you like, just make sure you end up with 1/2 cup of egg whites (from approximately 4 eggs).

Put 1 cup of sugar, 8 teaspoons of the powered egg whites and a pinch of salt to your mixing bowl. I do this right in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer. You can use a separate bowl just make sure it is heat proof; you’ll use it as a “double boiler”.

With a whisk, mix it all up until you can no longer see the powdered whites.
Then add 1/2 cup water and whisk it together. If you are using liquid egg whites just add 1/2 cup of egg whites to the sugar. No water is needed.

Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (not boiling and water should not touch the bottom of the bowl). Whisk gently but constantly until the mixture reaches 140°F and the sugar is dissolved. It will take just a few minutes to get there. Use a thermometer. This is a fancy schmancy one my husband got me for Christmas one year. It’s great, I’m spoiled, but any kitchen thermometer will work.

Now put the bowl on the mixer and with the whip attachment, whip the egg whites, on medium speed, until completely cooled. If you put your hands on the outside of the bowl you shouldn’t feel any heat. If you do, keep going, you want them COMPLETELY cooled!

When the meringue is done it will be thick, glossy, cooled and almost doubled in volume.

Now comes the tricky part. Add 3 sticks of butter, one tablespoon at a time, to the meringue mixture, with the mixer on medium low speed. Keep adding until all the butter is in there. Don’t worry if it looks clumpy and “wet”, kind of like runny scrambled eggs. Once all the butter is in, turn the mixer to medium high and whip it until it is thick and creamy. This may take a while but don’t give up, it will get there. I said, “DON’T GIVE UP”, the butter will eventually emulsify and you’ll get a creamy spreadable buttercream.

See, told ya so, it will get there, be patient!

Now add the 3/4 cup of raspberry puree/sauce. And beat about 2 to 3 minutes just until it’s all incorporated.

What you end up with is a lovely deep pink, intensely flavored buttercream. Congratulations! Now go ice that cake (or wait a week until I post part 3, then “Go Ice That Cake!”)

Last but not least, the Chocolate Glaze (this is super easy, in fact so easy, I forgot to take any pictures. But I have faith that you can do it. I believe in you!) Again this is very slightly adapted from “The Whimsical Bakehouse” by Kaye and Liv Hansen, another one of my favorite cake books.:

Here is what you need: Light corn syrup, semi-sweet chocolate, butter and heavy cream. You can use some super expensive, artisan made, imported chocolate if you like. Me? I’ve had great results with plain old Nestle Morsels. 

Chop up 12 oz. of chocolate and put it in a heat proof bowl. (Of course if your using the morsels, no chopping needed.)

In a medium saucepan add 1 cup heavy cream, 5 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons corn syrup. Heat over medium heat until butter is all melted and you just start to see tiny bubbles around the edge of the pan, just before it starts to boil. But DO NOT BOIL!

Now pour the hot mixture over the chocolate and using a whisk, stir until smooth. If you’re super particular you can pour the glaze through a strainer to make doubly sure is is smooth. I never do, I live on the edge, I’m a risk taker. 

You can refrigerate this to use later if you like or use it the same day. It should be about 100°F for glazing the cake so if you have refrigerated it, melt it slowly over a double boiler until smooth and liquid and then cool to 100°F.

OK now, there you have it. All the stuff you need to assemble and finish your cake. Part 3 will be posted in a week or so, so stay tuned, you’re really going to love how it all comes together.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Blue Cheese Buttermilk Biscuits

A couple of months ago I was making a recipe that called for a few ounces of blue cheese and wouldn't you know it; when I went to the store I forgot to get the blue cheese. I ended up at Costco later that day and being too lazy to go back to the grocery store, I wound up with a Costco-sized bag of blue cheese crumbles. Of course my recipe only called for a couple of ounces so there was LOTS left over. I popped the bag in the freezer hoping it would keep longer there and set out to find more recipes that use blue cheese. News Flash, there aren't a lot! I've made blue cheese dressing (which my kids informed me they don't like) and blue cheese stuffed dates. Pretty yummy but not something for the regular day to day rotation of foods. Well this weekend I need to create some sort of appetizer so my mind immediately went to the blue cheese. Here's what I came up with: Blue Cheese Buttermilk Biscuits. The ultimate plan is to use them to make some sort of finger sandwich, maybe with some roast beef and cherry preserves. Hmmm, I'll have to think on that, but for now, here are the biscuits.

Blue Cheese Buttermilk Biscuits

Here's what you need: All purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, pepper, shortening, blue cheese (See how big that bag is!) and buttermilk.

Mix together the four, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Then cut in the shortening. You can use a couple of forks or this handy tool called a "pastry cutter". You want to get all the shortening worked in until the mixture has the look of coarse cornmeal. Work quickly because you don't want the shortening to melt.

Next add the blue cheese and cut in again only this time not so finely. 
Leave some visible chunks of cheese.

Sprinkle in the pepper. The recipe calls for a lot because I wanted these biscuits to have a spicy "punch" to them. If you're not too into pepper you can back off on it or leave it out all together. I'm in to pepper these days so I liked it. 
Use your judgement.

Now pour in the buttermilk and stir it around until it comes together as a dough and cleans the side of the bowl.

It will be pretty sticky and wet but that's OK, you'll end up with very tender and flakey biscuits. 
Just make sure you don't mix too much. Just until it all comes together.

Plop it out onto a well floured cutting board, sprinkle more flour on top and toss it around until you can form it into a ball. Keep that surface well floured but don't overwork the dough. NO KNEADING! Form it into a disk and roll out with a well floured rolling pin.

Then cut your biscuits into whatever shape you like. I rolled my dough a little thicker than 1/4 inch because I wanted them to be on the "crispy" side, feel free to go a little thicker (1/2 inch or so) for a softer biscuit center. I also used a 2-inch cutter because I wanted to use them to make finger sandwiches. Use a bigger cutter if you like bigger biscuits.

Lay them out on a baking sheet either greased or lined with parchment or a Silpat mat. I LOVE the Silpat mat. If you do a lot of baking you'll find them invaluable.

Now into the oven, preheated to 450°F, for 8 to 10 minutes. I went the full 10 because, again, I wanted crispy biscuits. These would be great with any beef dish, tangy and peppery, or just alone for lunch with just a bit of butter. 


Blue Cheese Buttermilk Biscuits

2 C. All Purpose Flour
1/4 t. Baking Soda
3 t. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
1/2 C. Shortening
4 oz. (approx. 1C.) Crumbled Blue Cheese
1/2 t. Pepper
1 C. Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450°F.
In a large bowl, combine four, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Cut in shortening until mixture resembles course meal.
Add blue cheese cutting in but leaving some distinguishable bits of blue cheese.
Sprinkle in pepper and toss around to combine.
Add buttermilk and stir with a fork until mixture leaves sides of bowl and forms a soft moist dough.

Turn out onto a well floured surface and toss dough until no longer sticky. Form into a disk and roll out to little over 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch round cutter and place on a greased cookie sheet (best option is to use a silpat mat).

Bake at 450°F for 8-10 minutes until tops are light brown.
Makes about 30 2-inch biscuits.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Birthday Cake (part 1)

My husband's birthday is coming up at the end of the month so I need to make him a Birthday Cake. Now I love to cook, the kitchen is my “happy place”.  It's where my soul is soothed and if I'm cooking, I'm at peace, I'm in the zone and all is right with the world. All that being said, my passion is baking and cake decorating. I think it's the melding of the graphic artist in me and the baker in me. I love it. The creativity, the challenge, the sugar, oh my!

Being self taught in the arena of cake decorating I'm going to share here with you all I've learned over the past 15 years of trial and error. We'll start with this first post on the baking of the cake, but stay tuned, there is more to come on filling, icing and decorating. This isn't so much a recipe but instructions and tips for getting the best possible result. So pay attention, each step is important! There will be a test. . .ha ha, just kidding. Did I make you nervous, didn't mean too. Forgive me.

First of all I'm going to “out” myself as a user of boxed cake mix. I think because I'm a fairly proficient cook/baker that most assume that I make the cakes from scratch, but I don't. I've never hid that fact or tried to hide it but it's a common assumption. So I'm fessing up, and here are the reasons. Hey, they taste pretty good. They're easy and inexpensive. And when taking on a decorating challenge it simply saves time and steps. Maybe someday I'll try baking the cakes from scratch, but that's a lot of trail and error and we'll save that for another post. Now get ready to bake a cake.

Here is what you'll need to get started: A box of your favorite cake mix. Oil, eggs and water.  2 8-inch round cake pans (Get your self some good quality cake pans with straight, high sides. They aren't too expensive and give you a nice even cake.) Wax or parchment paper. (Either will work but wax paper is a lot less expensive.) Approximately 2 tablespoons of flour. And some “bake even strips”. (Those weird looking silver coils right there on the bottom left. They are sometimes called “magic strips” and you can find them at your local craft or cake supply store. Again, inexpensive and so worth it.)

First you need to soak the “bake even strips”. I just coil them loosely in a bowl filled with water. It helps to weight them down with a plate on top. The idea is to get them good and saturated.

Now to prepare your pans. Using the bottom of the cake pan as a guide, trace a circle onto the wax or parchment paper. Just use a knife to trace around, it will leave a mark on the paper that you can use as a cutting guide. If you use a pen, pencil or marker make sure it is “non-toxic”. Then cut out two circles the exact same size. Boy it's really hard to photograph wax paper. If you plan to bake a lot of cakes you can buy parchment circles pre-cut from a cake supply store, but this is just as easy and a bit less expensive.

Generously grease the bottom and sides of your cake pans. I like to use shortening because it won't brown the edges of your cake but you can use butter or vegetable oil if you like.

Now lay one of the wax paper/parchment circles in the bottom of the cake pan and smooth it down using a paper towel. You want to get any air bubbles out by starting in the center and wiping out towards the edges. Then grease the top of the paper. It should almost disappear on the bottom of the pan. Now sprinkle about a tablespoon of flour into the pan and shake it all around so the bottom and sides are covered in a light dusting of flour. Dump the extra flour out.  Prepare both pans in the same way. 
OK, that's a lot of prep, are ya ready to start mixing you cake?

Just a word on cake mixes: I ONLY USE DUNCAN HINES. EVER! In my opinion it's the best. The few times I've tried a different brand I've been thoroughly disappointed. So the recipe adjustments I'm giving here are for Duncan Hines. If you're using something different, sorry, but you're on your own. OK, rant is over, let's continue. 
Add the cake mix, water, eggs, and oil to a large mixing bowl, making the following adjustments from the directions on the box:  Preheat oven to 325°F, decrease water to 1-1/4 cups, use 3 eggs and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. (These changes are Duncan Hines recommendations for making tiered cakes. The cake is a bit less moist, you'll never notice, but is much easier to handle and cut.) Trust me.

Using a hand held mixer, but turned off. Give the batter a good mix just to get things combined. Then turn you mixer on medium (mine goes from 1 to 5 so I set it on 3 here) and mix for one minute. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides, turn the mixer to low (1 on my mixer) and mix for one more minute and not one second more! Use a timer!

And here you go, nice smooth batter.

Now divide the batter into your two prepared pans. Use a measuring cup so you can get it as even as possible. To level out the batter give the pans a little spin on the counter. The centrifugal force will even the batter out to the edges. Now lift the pans off the counter about 1/2 inch and drop them down. Give them 2 or 3 firm raps on the counter. This will force the air bubbles to the top and you'll have less chance of having large holes inside your cake.

Now get your “bake even” strips, remember, the ones you were soaking in water. Wring them out good. They should be pretty damp but you don't want them dripping. Now wrap one around the outside of the cake pan, pulling it snug, and secure it with a pin. Do this to the other pan as well. Now into the oven they go. On the center rack, at 325°F, for about 30 minutes. Start checking them at about 28 minutes. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Here's what they should look like when they are done. See how nice and even the cake rose in the pan. No big hump in the middle, no big cracks. You can thank the “bake even” strips for that. Now leave them be for at least an hour. You want them to cool thoroughly.

Once thoroughly cooled, the edges of the cake should have pulled away from the side of the pan. Run a knife around the edges just to make sure and flip the cake over onto the counter. (You may want to lay down a piece of wax paper to prevent sticking.) Now just peel off the paper circle and flip the cake back over. (Save that paper circle, you'll use it later.)

The cake should already be pretty flat on top but you can use one of these gadgets (wire cake leveler) to level it off or just use a serrated knife. Then if you want more layers go ahead and split one (or both) cake layer(s) in half. I  wanted 3 layers so I just split one, leaving me one thick layer and two thinner layers.

Remember that paper round you saved, you can use that between split layers (if you split them) to keep them from sticking together. And the last step. . .

Wrap the cake layers tightly in plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer. OK now, don't freak out about the freezer. If your cake is tightly wrapped and you have a decent freezer this will keep your cake nice and fresh tasting for a couple of weeks. It saves you from having to bake, ice and decorate all in the same day. Most bakeries, from the grocery to very high end establishments, send their cakes to spend some time in the cooler. Keeps 'em fresh, makes 'em easy to handle. And that's all I've got to say about that. 

Whew, that was a long post and a lot of steps just to bake a cake. Check back in a week or so and I'll continue on with how to fill, ice and decorate.
Happy Baking

Monday, January 10, 2011

Followers and Five Minute Cake

This post is dedicated to my first two followers, Frank and Lara. Over a year ago I posted this recipe in my Facebook notes and Lara suggested I start a food blog. I scoffed. . . I was a scoffer. Me? A writer? About food? Wow, she must have been crazy to think I could do something like that. Perhaps crazy like a fox because here I am, blogging and writing. . . about food. Thanks Lara! I'm also dedicating this to Frank, my first official follower. Frank and I work together and LOVE LOVE LOVE to talk about all things food. I can always rely on him for honest assessments about the recipes I make. He inspires me to keep cooking. A month or so ago I passed this recipe along to Frank, just for fun. A couple of days ago he told me how much fun he and his kids had making it. . . and it left me craving it. So I decided to include it as my next entry.
Thanks Frank!
Thanks Lara!
Thanks to all my future followers!

5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake

Again, this ain't no highfalutin (how the heck to you spell that?) chocolate cake. I wouldn't serve it to company or boast about it's culinary merits. It won't win in a cooking contest and since it uses the microwave many chefs will probably "poo-poo" it. But I like it. Kids like it. It's easy. It's fun. It's totally weird. And it's chocolate. 'Nuf said.

A bit of a warning though. The texture is odd, I mean really odd. Sort of spongy, eggy, almost like a pudding rather than a cake. It definitely is helped by vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or whatever you like. Eat it right away, when it's still warm. It doesn't save. OK, you've been warned!

Here is what you'll need. Flour, sugar, cocoa powder, an egg, vanilla, vegetable oil, milk and chocolate chips. Chocolate chips are optional. You could use anything here, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, nuts, coconut, or nothing, whatever you like. I like the mini chocolate chips because they tend not to sink down to the bottom of the cup as much as the bigger chips.

Stir together the flour, sugar and cocoa powder. I like to use a small whisk for this. The original recipe tells you to mix it all in the mug that you'll cook it in, but I can never get it throughly mixed so I like to use a bowl.

Next add in the egg. Stir it all up, it will be kind of thick and gummy.
Then add the milk and oil and stir until smooth. You don't need to "beat it",
 just get it all good and mixed together.

Next add the vanilla and chocolate chips if you're using them.

Pour it into a microwave safe mug. This one holds 14 ounces and is kind of tall and skinny. You could go bigger but DO NOT go smaller. You'll get yourself into trouble.

Microwave it on high for 3 minutes. You'll want to grab your kids and watch because this is pretty cool. As it cooks it rises straight up out of the mug, a good 3 inches or more, and you're convinced that it's going to fall over but it doesn't. It's magical. This awful picture was taken just after 5 minutes and you can see the cake drops back down into the cup.

Let it cool a bit. The mug gets pretty hot, so be careful.

While it cools get something to go along with it. Whipped cream, ice cream, powdered sugar.  I let some frozen strawberries thaw, sprinkled them with a bit of sugar and mashed them up with a fork.

Then tip it out upside down onto a plate. WOW, that plate is orange. Looks pretty awful. Remind me to not use that plate for a photo EVER again! But see, it looks weird.

Cut yourself a big thick slice, oh, about an inch will do. Top it off and enjoy. This is definitely enough for two, three if you're all willing to share. 


4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug (MicroSafe, we used a 14 oz. mug)

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well.
Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Restaurant Style Mexican Rice

For my first post I wanted to showcase something spectacular. Something that would really knock your socks off. Something with a big "wow" factor. But as I was making Mexican food last night for dinner and I had my iPhone handy I thought I throw this at ya. It's not particularly difficult, spectacular or gourmet. What it is is easy and tasty. So without further adieu. . . my first  recipe post.

Restaurant Style Mexican Rice

My husband hails from a small, somewhat rural, town in Southern California, and consequently LOVES Mexican food. In fact, in his small hometown, just about 75% of the restaurants are Mexican Food joints. He loves Mexican Food so much that he would eat it every day if he could. Evidenced by the fact that he took me to many Mexican Food places in the course of our dating. At about month 4, I lied, and told him I didn't like Mexican Food just so he'd take me someplace else. I know, risky, he could have broken up with me right then and there. But, thankfully, he didn't. Hmmm, he must have liked me more than Mexican Food. Wow, he must like me A LOT.

It's been over 18 years now and I did fess up to the lie and have cooked and dined on my share of Mexican Dishes. Somehow, though, good restaurant style rice has always eluded me. I'm embarrassed to say I've tried just about every pre-packaged mix out there, a recipe given to me by an old Mexican Lady, a complicated recipe from a well know chef, and many others. But no "thumbs up" from the husband until I came up with this simple but tasty concoction.

Restaurant Style Mexican Rice
Here is what you need: Rice (medium or long grain, but don't use Jasmine, too fragrant for this dish), Chicken broth (you'll need a little more than one can to make 2 cups. I didn't have another can of chicken broth so I used some beef broth I had leftover from another recipe to make up the difference. It worked just fine. So use what you have.), a can of diced tomatoes and chilies (RO*TEL), garlic powder, onion powder, salt and vegetable oil. Oops, I forgot to show the pepper, you'll need that too.

Put the tomatoes and chilies, garlic powder, onion powder and salt into a blender. Make sure you mix up the tomatoes and chilies before you measure and get some of the juice in there. You'll have some of the "RO*TEL" left over but just throw that on your taco, burrito or whatever else you're having with the rice. 

Blend it up until it's nice and smooth. Then set it aside.

In a medium saucepan, set on medium-low heat, saute the rice in the vegetable oil until toasty and brown. Keep your heat on the lower side and take your time. If your heat is too high the rice will start to "pop" just like popcorn and you don't want that. Also, keep stirring so it all browns nice and even.

Here is what it should look like. Mmmm, toasty.

Now add in the blended mixture and the chicken broth and give it a good stir. Add pepper to taste. I like A LOT of pepper. Let it simmer, covered, for about 15 to 20 minutes until most of the moisture is absorbed. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

And here you go. Simple but familiar. (I apologize for not having a nice dish and a bit of cilantro for a nice presentation, again, this blog is a work in progress. :)

Restaurant Style Mexican Rice
by Becky Bakes
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder
1 t. salt
3/4 C. Ro*Tel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chiles
1 C. Long Grain White Rice
3 T. Vegetable Oil
pepper (to taste)
2 C. Chicken Broth

Blend the garlic powder, onion powder, salt and Rotel until smooth. 
Set aside.

In a  2 qt. saucepan, saute rice in oil until toasted and brown.

Add blended mixture, pepper and chicken broth. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.