Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plum Prints

I had an order for decorated sugar cookies this week.  (Happy 95th Birthday, Helen!)  Anytime I make cutout cookies, I use the No Fail Sugar Cookie recipe from Cake Central

6 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups sugar (white granulated)
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract or desired flavoring (I like almond myself)
1 tsp. salt

Instructions

  1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
  2. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. 
  3. Mix dry ingredients and add a little at a time to butter mixture. Mix until flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together.
  4. Chill for 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Roll to desired thickness and cut into desired shapes. Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until just beginning to turn brown around the edges. 
  6. This recipe can make up to 5-dozen 3” cookies.
Literate Baker notes:  I use a full tablespoon of vanilla and a teaspoon of almond extract.  Also, the baking time depends greatly on the size and shape of the cutter used.  Mine take up to 14 minutes to bake.

In addition to cutouts, I use this dough as the base for thumbprint cookies.  Since I had a little bit of dough left over and lots and lots of plum jam in the fridge (see Jam On It), I decided to make a few. 

Given the syrupy nature of my jam, I should have anticipated the ooze factor.  I did not.  For the record, these things stuck to the nothing-sticks-to-it parchment paper.  Seriously.  They were, however, extremely tasty.  Since I only managed to use up about two tablespoons of jam, I'll probably be going back to my usual Nutella/lemon curd/raspberry filling next time.  And continuing to look for things on which to slather plum jam.  Not a bad past time, really, for one always looking to...


Keep it sweet. Pin It

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sweet & Salty Giveaway!

The Literate Baker is now a Foodbuzz Featured Publisher!  Foodbuzz is a food blog community that brings together cooking, baking, dining, and all sorts of foodie adventure.  It's a great place to visit if you love to read about or write about food.

To celebrate, I'm announcing the very first Literate Baker Giveaway!  Given the amount of excitement over the fleur de sel caramel post, I've decided they're the perfect item for the occasion. I'll make them fresh, wrap them individually, and ship them right to your door.


So, how does one get in on all the sweet and salty action?  Well, it's as easy as stuffing your face with chocolate-covered pretzels!  Simply post a comment below answering the following question: What's your favorite marriage of salty and sweet?

I'll choose two winners at random--one person I know and one I don't.  That way, all my family and friends who already read can tell people about it and not lessen their chances of winning.  (Hint, hint.)  It also prevents that pesky cronyism thing.  Additionally, I might learn about tasty goodness I've yet to experience.  A win-win-win, if you will. 

US entrants only. This giveaway will run through October 5th at 11 p.m. EST .  Winners will be notified via an update to this post on October 6th.

UPDATE:  The winners are Julie and Angela.  Please email theliteratebaker@gmail.com to arrange for delivery of your caramels.  Thanks to everyone who entered!  We'll be doing another giveaway soon, so stay tuned.
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Baker About Town: Les 3 Brasseurs

I had the pleasure of spending this past weekend in Montreal.  All in all, it was a fabulous trip.  We paired ridiculous amounts of food with equally ridiculous amounts of bike riding.  (Although the scale begs to differ, I feel as though they balanced one another.)  Although I did not have the opportunity to indulge in one of the many and alluring patisseries I passed, I did enjoy a fun lunch and a really nice dessert at Les 3 Brasseurs, or The 3 Brewers.

The specialty of the house is the "flamm," a thin-crust pizza that you can order either savory or sweet.  I devoured a delightful goat cheese and tomato concoction, then resigned myself to sharing dessert.  We ordered a banana flamm with vanilla ice cream.


It was si bon (so good).  Reminiscent of Bananas Foster, it had caramelized brown sugar and just the right meltiness.  My only regret is that I didn't get to eat more of it.  If you find yourself in Canada, give Les 3 Brasseurs a go.  My advice?  Split a savory flamm and get an entire dessert for yourself!

P.S. Montreal is officially bilingual, but you should be prepared for beaucoup de francais.  In that spirit...

Gardez-le doux. Pin It

Friday, September 24, 2010

Say It with a Giant Cookie

You know it's an office birthday when...  On second thought, I don't know if I want to know how some of you would answer that.  In my office, you know it's a birthday when there is a giant cookie in the back on top of the mini fridge.

I'm not sure how the tradition began.  It might have started with my aversion to mass-produced grocery store cakes and lack of time to bake, cool, and assemble a homemade cake one evening after work.  Of course, as we all know, I have a soft spot for cookies and frosting.  However it happened, it was a good thing.  Here's how you can make your next office birthday (or laundry day or Project Runway night) special.

1) Buy one disposable pizza pan and two packages of refrigerated cookie dough.  Nestle was on sale this week, so that's what I bought.

2) Reserve 4-6 cookies to bake separately for immediate consumption.

3) Smush the remaining dough together on the pan.


4) Bake 15-20 minutes.

5) Decorate with whatever frosting you have left from the previous weekend's cake orders (or buy those fun little tubes).


6) Eat cookies you baked separately and admire handiwork.

7) Bring giant cookie to work and enjoy tasteful office festivities. 

8) Do not think about drunken coworkers in their underwear.

9) Keep it sweet. Pin It

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Cake Scrap Sandwich

One of the first things I learned about stacking cakes is that they have to be level.  At first, this was the source of much angst.  I'm not the most precise; I also have an astigmatism.  All that changed when my husband and mother-in-law gave me the daddy of all cake levelers, the Agbay.  It's beautiful.  Really.

Now my cakes are level and split evenly every time.  In addition to superior stacking, good leveling has another perk: cake scraps.  Delicious on their own. Divine when rolled into cake shots.  Downright irresistible when sandwiched together with leftover frosting.

Although you can make a cake scrap sandwich with any bits and pieces you have on hand, I'm especially fond of those from square cakes.  Perhaps it's because they look like bread.


Now, I haven't done this, but the fact that there is cream cheese frosting nestled between my slices of red velvet has got me thinking... What if I were to slather it with butter and grill it?  It would be like grilled cheese meets Nutella panini.  Okay, I have to go now.


Keep it sweet. Pin It

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cake Bling

No, I don't mean a diamond and ruby cupcake around my neck (although that would be fun).  I'm referring to the trend of jewelry for cakes.  I think this probably started with sparkly monogram cake toppers for wedding cakes.  It has morphed into all manner of metallic and rhinestone accoutrements.

This weekend, I did my first blinged-out wedding cake.  It had a rhinestone ribbon around the base of every tier and a rhinestone monogram topper.  I must admit, I was a little bit skeptical at first.  The final result, however, was really quite beautiful.  The flowers softened what could have been a very cold design and the lighting in the ballroom was just right.  The cake literally sparkled.


Oh, and for those of you who are interested in such things... The top tier was milk chocolate cake with raspberry.  The second tier was yellow cake with strawberry filling.  The third was red velvet with cream cheese.  The bottom tier was chocolate with cookies and cream.  And yes, there are scraps of all four left over.  First come, first serve.

Moral of the story?  Don't be afraid of a little sparkle.  Apparently, even desserts like to accessorize.  Glam it up and...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Baking Haiku

I'm not a very good poet.  This may be because I write it only when I feel incredibly morose.  It may also be because my brain gets iambic pentameter, but doesn't get iambic pentameter.  My friend Leslie's ability to write a sonnet on command fills me with a mixture of jealousy and awe.

The exception to this is haiku.  I've always had a soft spot for haiku.  Seventeen syllables strung together in ways that would make Yoda proud, haiku has the ability to be profound or absurd; it can speak about deep human truths or twinkies.  Sometimes, it can accomplish all of that at the same time.  In that spirit, I've decided the world could use a few more haiku about baking...

Melted chocolate,
sugar, butter, pinch of flour:
the torte of my dreams.

Perfectly chewy.
Aspirational cookie,
elude me no more.

My overfilled pans
bubble, spill; batter ignites.
Smoked delicacy?

Warm chocolate chip,
This is cookie seduction.
She smiles, says, "I baked."

Okay, so these may not move your soul, but that doesn't make them any less fun.  If you haven't dabbled in haiku, give it a try.  (The only hard and fast rule is that you write three lines of five, seven, and five syllables.)  If you have, share one of your favorites with me.  Play with your words, play with your food, and always....


Keep it sweet. Pin It

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jam On It

As promised in the Purple Plum post, I attempted my first jam.  At first, I was only going to make freezer jam.  (One of the things my father instilled in me was a healthy fear of botulism.)  However, when I went shopping for pectin, I was seduced by the mason jars. I decided it couldn't be that hard.

Inspired by the Cinnamon Plum Tea Jam from Stonewall Kitchen and Republic of Tea (which was sadly discontinued), I settled on a recipe for Cinnamon Plum Jam from allrecipes.com.

I read the directions over and over and over.  I sterilized everything in a giant pot of boiling water.


I ground the plums in the food processor.  They looked remarkably unappetizing.


And then something magical happened.  The yellow pulp and the purple skins became the most beautiful shade of garnet.  It was jam!  I ladled it into jars and did the boiling water process thing so as to avoid the whole botulism thing.  I let the jars cool.  I pressed the lids.  No thwucka-thwucka.  Nice.


I put what didn't fit in jars directly into the refrigerator.  A couple of hours later, I tasted.  The good news is that it tastes amazing.  The bad news is that it didn't completely set.  (The comments made on the recipe hinted that this might be a problem, solved by adding more pectin.  I had only bought one box, though, so I did not try this.)  The other good news is that the soupy texture I have may be better suited to being poured over waffles or ice cream, both of which are way better than toast.

For my first attempt at jam, I'm quite satisfied.  I have a feeling the fruits of my labors (I know, I know) will be popping up in other culinary endeavors.  I'm thinking a tart, maybe some thumbprint cookies.  Definitely some grown-up spin on PB&J.  Stay tuned and...


Keep it sweet. Pin It

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's the Great Pumpkin Roll, Charlie Brown!

I'm not sure why, but roulades have always frightened me a little.  I think the idea of dumping a cake onto a tea towel, rolling it up, unrolling it to fill, then re-rolling it has always seemed rather unnatural.  Yet, I do love eating them.  What this means is that I'm generally restricted to specimens from the bakery or grocery store.

No more!

This weekend, I tried my hand at one of my favorite rolled cakes, the pumpkin roll.  I used the recipe I mentioned in a previous post for Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling with two minor changes.  First, I added vanilla extract to the cake batter.  Second, I used toasted pecans instead of walnuts.  Oh, I also doubled the recipe, because I just didn't buy that "serves 10-12" nonsense.  I used a half-sheet pan instead of two small jelly roll pans.

The initial roll.
One giant pumpkin roll.


The pretty half that fit on a platter.

It was a huge hit.  Of course, it's hard to go wrong with pumpkin, nuts, and cream cheese.  That said, I will make a couple of minor adjustments next time.  I'll make a single batch of batter, but still bake it in a 12x18 pan (for 10 minutes, perhaps?).  I'll then be able to spread the filling thinner.  More roll for my roll, if you know what I mean.

Moral of the story:  Roulades are fun and not that difficult.  Even if you get some cracking (I did), they come together and look really impressive.  They're the swirly way to...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Friday, September 10, 2010

I Picked a Peck of Purple Plums

How many is a peck?  I don't know, but I probably didn't pick that many.  I did pick a lot, though, from the tree in my yard.  Fun aside: my husband and I planted this tree about five years ago.  We bought it in late fall from a garden store that was going out of business.  It had no leaves at the time and we endured months of teasing from my mother-in-law about the "dead stick" planted in our front yard.  It just goes to show that sometimes you need to have a little faith!

Dead stick?  What dead stick?
My pseudo-peck.
 So, of course, the burning question became... What to bake?  I adore pineapple upside-down cake and had vague memories of seeing a plum-y variation somewhere.  So I popped onto Epicurious.com (yes, I go there a lot) and found a recipe with great reviews.

Bon App├ętit | June 1995
by Mary Jo Thoresen
 
Ingredients
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
6 large plums, halved, pitted, each half cut into 6 wedges

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup milk

Lightly sweetened whipped cream

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir 6 tablespoons butter, brown sugar and honey in heavy medium skillet over low heat until butter melts and sugar and honey blend in, forming thick, smooth sauce. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides. Arrange plums in overlapping concentric circles atop sauce.
Mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat remaining 6 tablespoons butter in large bowl until light. Add sugar and beat until creamy. Add eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in extracts. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk, mixing just until blended. Spoon batter evenly over plums. Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool in pan 30 minutes.
Using knife, cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Place platter atop cake pan. Invert cake; place platter on work surface. Let stand 5 minutes. Gently lift off pan. Serve cake warm with whipped cream.
 
Since my plums were small, I halved them.  I think I used eleven or twelve.  I also doubled the amount of vanilla and almond extracts in the batter.

Plum placement.
Successful inversion.
The cake was both pretty and delicious.  The honey really added something extra (I used honeysuckle honey that I bought at the Fair) and the texture of the cake was just right.  I had vanilla ice cream on hand, so I served it with that instead of whipped cream.

So, this was great, but I barely put a dent in my plum stash.  Hmmm... I think I feel a jam coming on.  I've never made jam.  Perhaps the time has come.

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Maple Mojo

For my final nod to the Great New York State Fair 2010, I'm going to offer an homage to all things maple.  In the Horticulture Building at the Fair, there is an entire corner booth devoted to it.  I like to go to there.

At the maple booth, you can buy the usual goodies:  maple syrup, maple candy, maple cream.  This is where I always buy my syrup because I'm partial to the darker "Grade B" variety that they say is "for cooking," but which I happily pour on my pancakes and waffles as well.  If you haven't tried it, you should.  Of course, if you swing the other way and want the lightest light amber, they have that too.

In addition to the traditional maple fare, the booth boasts a veritable plethora of tasty maple delights.  Maple sno-cones and ice cream are wonderful when the weather is warm; a maple cream doughnut with maple coffee is nice if it's nippy.  My absolute favorite, though, is the maple cotton candy.  Imagine all the fluffy fabulousness of cotton candy with the taste of pure maple...


Since you can't actually have any of this, I'll point you in the direction of something you can have.  This recipe for Maple Pecan Scones comes from Epicurious.com.  Not only are these the best maple scones I've had, they might just be the best scones I've had.  Ever.  I was dubious about the only maple flavor coming from extract, so I brush the tops with real maple syrup before baking.  I may also make maple butter to smear on them, but that's just me and I, as we've established, like to...

Keep it sweet.


 
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Baker About Town: Pascale Bakehouse

I've been meaning to try Pascale Bakehouse for months.  One of the newer branches of the Pascale restaurants, the Bakehouse is a casual downtown lunch spot nestled in the historic Hotel Syracuse.  Since it's only open for lunch and I rarely indulge in a weekday lunch out, it had remained on my "must try" list.  That changed last Friday.  Sort of.  I didn't actually get lunch, but I managed to score a nice variety of baked goods to sample.

I was first seduced by a big glass case that was home to five of six very pretty cakes, including a flourless chocolate and a carrot.  I was intrigued by the mocha caramel cream, which was already sliced and ready to go in little plastic clamshells.



I'm sad to say that I was a bit disappointed.  I could detect no mocha at all in the cake itself; there was a nice coffee flavor in the decorative frosting swirls, but there were only a couple of those.  Without the balance of coffee, the overall effect was very, very sweet.  The cake was pleasantly moist, however, and the caramel offered a nice richness.

When you walk up to the counter, your eyes can't help but be drawn to the giant glass jars filled with cookies.  I was torn, but ultimately decided against snickerdoodle in favor chocolate chunk and chewy ginger.




The chocolate chunk cookie was good.  The chocolate was chopped, so there was a nice balance of chunk with flecks of chocolate throughout.  It wasn't quite as chewy and I like my cookies, but few are.  The true gem of this visit, however, was the chewy ginger cookie.  Chewy it was, with a perfect blend of sweet and spice.  Even better, there were pieces of candied ginger hidden beneath the surface.  They added texture as well as little bursts of ginger flavor. 

I will return to Pascale just for one of those cookies.  No, that's not true; I will return to Pascale for lots and lots of chewy ginger cookies.  I'd encourage you to do the same.  They're open 7:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; lunch is served 11:00 until 2:00.

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fried Dough vs. Funnel Cake: Fair Food Showdown

As the Great New York State Fair winds down, we take a moment to ponder some of the deep-fried goodness that makes fair-going so fabulous.

Funnel cake.  Fried dough.  Both are fair and festival staples.  Both are a beautiful marriage of carbs and grease.  Both are a perfect vehicle for powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, chocolate sauce, cherry pie filling, or any combination thereof.  Yet, for all the ways funnel cakes and fried dough are similar, they aren't.  And just about everyone has an opinion on which is better.  The Literate Baker takes a closer look...

Fried Dough
Fried Dough is just that--a piece of dough (think pizza) that is stretched and fried.  The latent air bubbles explode in the hot oil, creating huge pockets of air.  The texture is chewy with just the right balance of thin and crispy spots.  If you're a topping type, fried dough definitely gives you a nice solid base on which to pile, plop, and smear them.


Funnel Cake
Funnel Cake begins with a batter rather than dough.  True to its name, it is made by pouring the batter directly into hot oil through a funnel.  A swirly, cross-crossing pattern creates a cake that holds together but easily pulls apart into crispy little bites.  The texture is definitely lighter than fried dough, perhaps a bit sweeter as well.



What do you think?  Post your preference in the comments section and we'll see which cuisine reigns supreme (yes, I have Iron Chef on in the background).  My preference?  I prefer friends who'll share.  I get a little of both and we all get to...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fall Rituals: More Pumpkin

So, yeah, I'm a Starbucks girl.  I wasn't always.  There was a time when coffee was an occasional thing, like at a restaurant with dessert.  Ah, those were the days.  Now, a morning without an iced coffee is a very bad morning indeed.

A few days ago, I got an email from Starbucks enticing me to enjoy fall rituals with them.  Since then, at least a half-dozen people have commented to me how excited they are for their first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season.  I smile.  I nod.  I don't get it.  For all my love of pumpkin, I just don't enjoy it in my coffee.  With?  Yes.  In?  No.

This morning, I was admiring (with no intention to purchase) the pumpkin cream cheese muffins.  While I was distracted by the half and half, my coworker Elizabeth bought one for me.   The last thing I need to stuff in my mouth right now is a muffin, but I've never let that stop me.  We brought it to the office and promptly sliced it up so everyone could have a taste. 


For a mass-produced baked good, I have to say, it was really good.  The cream cheese filling was rich and not too sweet.  The toasted pumpkin seeds on top added a fun textural element.  The cake itself was moist with just the right amount of spice.  I'd definitely have it again.  That said, I'll definitely start working on a version of my own.  I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, enjoy your pumpkin latte if you're so inclined.  Enjoy the fabulous stem on this award-winning specimen from the State Fair. 


Enjoy whatever fall rituals make you smile.  And enjoy any opportunity you have to...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Next Best Thing to a Raspberry Beret

I'd like a raspberry beret.  I would probably look absurd, but I'd like one nonetheless.  I'll refrain from making a joke about it being warm and not wearing much more.  (You're welcome.)

But, alas, I have no raspberry beret.  What I do have is a really good raspberry filling recipe that I'll share with you.  (You're welcome.)

Good-on-Everything Raspberry Filling

12 oz frozen raspberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water, divided
1 T lemon juice
4 T cornstarch
1 T raspberry liqueur

Bring raspberries, sugar, 2/3 cup water, and lemon juice to almost a boil in a small saucepan.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pressing to extract as much liquid/pulp as possible.*  Return mixture to saucepan.  Add cornstarch that has been dissolved in remaining 1/3 cup water.  Stir constantly over medium-low heat until mixture is thickened and just bubbling.  Remove from heat and add liqueur.

*You may add a few of the seeds back in if you like the texture.  You may also put the seeds out in your backyard; this will make for very happy birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.

The flavor of this filling is wonderful.  It's bright and not too sweet and truly captures the essence of raspberries.  As you would imagine, it makes a really good cake filling.  It's also a superb replacement for raspberry preserves in bar and thumbprint cookies.  I've put it on French toast and ice cream, too.  I'll be honest here, I've eaten it directly from the bowl.  I have not yet used it as a doughnut filling, but now that the idea has dawned on me, I think I'll have to.

You're not likely to find this kind of raspberry awesomeness in any secondhand store.  I'd be willing to bet, though, that it could put a smile on the face of even Mr. McGee (leisurely, do-nothing employees notwithstanding).   

Keep it sweet. Pin It