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Archive for February, 2010

These are some very serious cupcakes. You’re almost certainly going to have to go to the store before you can make them. They require you to make your own caramel. You’re going to have to wash a small mountain of dishes. But they are mighty. I used them to bribe people to help me move (it worked); I gave a couple of leftovers to my new mama friend, the one whose baby brought you those tasty, tasty cookies.

chocolate cupcake with salted caramel frosting.jpg

The mightiness of these cupcakes comes in many forms. First, there’s the one-two punch of melted chocolate plus cocoa powder. There’s the knock-you-upside-the-head richness created by over a pound of butter and the better part of a dozen eggs. But the richness somehow manages to mesh perfectly with a lightly-textured cake, and if you can stop eating the caramel with your fingers…well, you’re a better person than I am.

By the way, this recipe is being posted just a few days after I cooked it (not my usual MO) because my Dad specifically wrote to me to ask where it was. And also so that after you eat six of them, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel frosting
Adapted from Cupcake Blog. The original is well worth checking out: it has a sneaky method for making a batch that’s half regular and half gluten-free cupcakes, as well as much snappier styling than what I’ve got.

For the cupcakes:
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 sticks butter (that’s 1 1/2 c.)
2 1/4 c. sugar
8 eggs
1 1/4 c. flour
4 T. cocoa powder
1 1/2 t. baking powder
pinch salt

For the salted caramel
4 T. water
1 c. sugar*
2 T. Lyle’s Golden Syrup**
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 T. butter
1/2 t. lemon juice***
1/2 t. fine-grain sea salt

For the frosting:
2 sticks butter (1 c.)
8 oz. cream cheese (regular or reduced-fat; not fat-free!)
3-4 c. powdered sugar

Before you start:
Put the butter and cream cheese for the frosting on the counter to soften.

Make the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350.

Break the chocolate into pieces, either by hand or with a knife if necessary.

chopped chocolate.jpg

Put it and the butter in a large bowl and microwave in thirty-second increments, stirring in between, until nearly smooth. Then remove and stir until completely smooth. Stir in the sugar.

Check with a fingertip to make sure the mixture is not still hot. If it is, let it cool for a few minutes. When it’s not too hot to touch, stir in the eggs. I recommend doing this one or two at a time (eight is a lot of eggs) and stirring vigorously until they’re thoroughly incorporated.

Stir in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the cocoa powder as well, sifting if there are any lumps. Mix until combined.

Scoop into lined or greased cupcake tins. Fill the cups only about 2/3 full so they don’t overflow. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pans (at least back-to-front; switch racks if you have them on two) and bake for about ten more minutes, until the tops appear just dry and a toothpick comes out clean. You can make the caramel while they bake!

baked cupcakes.jpg

[Note: for me, this made 26 cupcakes. For the extra two, you can use foil or silicone baking cups, both of which are strong enough to stand up on a cookie sheet. Put one of your pans of cupcakes on the sheet too and just tuck the extras in at the edge to save space.]

Make the caramel:
[A word to the wise: this would be a good time to make sure chaos-prone members of your household are not underfoot. Sugar syrup burns aren’t so fun, and you’re going to want to give this part your undivided attention.]

Combine water, sugar, and syrup in a deep saucepan and stir to combine. (I like to use a nonstick pan for easy cleanup, but it does make it a bit harder to judge when the caramel is done because of the dark interior. The “deep” part is the most important one, though!) Put the saucepan over medium heat. Cover and cook for two minutes.

Then remove the cover and turn the heat up to medium-high. If the mixture isn’t already boiling, it will start. Cook it without stirring from now on. (This helps keep the sugar from crystallizing.) Instead, you can shake or swirl the pan.

You’re just going to cook it until it turns a nice, dark amber. The syrup is already a bit dark, so it can be tricky to tell exactly how this is going. It will boil for some minutes — I’d guess three to five — and then start darkening in color. (What’s happening is that the water is boiling off before the sugar starts to caramelize.) So look for the color to start changing towards darker. But also, don’t worry too much: I under-caramelized mine slightly, and it’s still excellent.

When it’s dark amber, remove it from the heat and wait a few seconds, then carefully pour in the cream and stir to combine. The mixture will bubble and steam, so keep your face away from the pot.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, lemon juice, and salt.

Measure out one cup using a metal cup or by pouring it into a Pyrex measure.

You’ll probably have a few tablespoons left over; you can pour these on to foil to cool. I just ate mine, but you could use yours for cupcake decoration, too. You’ll need to throw it in the freezer if you want to do this in some way other than drizzling!

salted caramel

Make the frosting:
You’ll need to wait until your caramel goes from burning hot to merely warm for this part.

If your butter and cream cheese aren’t soft, soften them with a brief stint in the microwave on 50% power. (Use fifteen-second increments; you don’t want them melty.)

Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together until they’re uniform in texture.

Sift in 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix to combine. (Start on a low speed if you don’t like your kitchen covered in sugar, yes? You can also throw a towel over the top of a stand mixer.)

Beat in the reserved cup of caramel. Then sift in more powdered sugar until you reach the desired taste and texture. The frosting will get stiffer as you add more sugar, but I found that three cups was about enough for me. It made for a relaxed kind of frosting — it’s spreadable even straight from the fridge — but it was as much sweet as I could take, even balanced with the cream cheese.

And Bob’s your uncle!****
Frost the cupcakes and try not to eat them all.

*This is a time when regular old granulated white sugar, or the closest thing you use to it, is your friend.
**Ok, so you could actually use corn syrup here — go for the light stuff — in a pinch. It gives me a belly ache though. Lyle’s is cane syrup and can often be found in the international foods aisle (along with other imports from the strange lands of England or Ireland). If not, there’s always the internet
***I wildly prefer Santa Cruz Organics lemon juice, which I can also get at my local natural food store, to regular bottled lemon juice.
****I learned this phrase when I was in Britain and I have an unreasonable love for it.

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This recipe has made it up here solely by popular acclaim. When I first made it, I was pretty surprised: the cookies are thick but crunchy, very sweet and very buttery all at once. I was ready to file the whole thing away as an interesting experiment when I brought them to a baby shower — which, possibly predictably, turned out to be full of people who love thick, crunchy, sweet, buttery cookies. So if you make these and love them, you have my friend’s baby to thank for it.

oatmeal white chocolate cookies

When I bake cookies, I put one rack in the top third of my oven and one in the bottom third. I put in two sheets of cookies at a time, and halfway through, I rotate them, switching racks and turning the back to the front. I have never, as far as I can remember had cookies fail because of this brief exposure to room-temperature air, so I recommend it as a way to get twice as many done in one batch!

White chocolate oatmeal cookies
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated via Smitten Kitchen (where Deb salts them)

1 3/4 sticks of butter (that’s 14 tablespoons, if you’re counting)
1 c. white sugar
1/4 c. light brown sugar*
1 c. flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
pinch salt
1 egg
1 t. vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. oats**
6 oz. white chocolate (chips or chopped)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Soften the butter (either by organizedly leaving it out overnight or in the microwave) and cream it with the brown and white sugars. Add the egg and vanilla.

Then mix in the flour, leavening, and salt and mix to combine. Finally, add the oats and white chocolate and stir until they’re evenly distributed.

Form fairly big cookies — the balls of dough should be close to two inches in diameter — and place them on the cookie sheets, smushing them slightly with your hands or a spoon.

oatmeal white chocolate ready to bake

Bake 14-18 minutes until golden brown, rotating the sheets halfway through. Let cool for a minute before removing them to a cooling rack. Exercise caution when transporting these cookies, as they are prone to crumbling if not handled gently.

*Normally I don’t respect light brown sugar and dark brown sugar as different entities, but in this case, the cookies themselves are very light in color, so the light brown sugar preserves both that and the crispiness.

**Old-fashioned oats are your best bet, but quick-cooking work too.

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“Foods I didn’t discover until adulthood” are getting to be a theme on this blog, which I’m pretty sure is because there are so darn many of them. As a young child, I only ate three things we could reliably get outside of the house: hamburgers (well-done only, no pink), pepperoni pizza, and spaghetti with red sauce. Add a father with equally, er, selective tastes and you get a childhood with fairly limited cuisine.

potatoes and cauliflower

So that’s how it happened that I didn’t discover Indian food until I went to live in England for a year when I was twenty. (Other discoveries of the same year: sushi, falafel, and portobello mushrooms. Also wine and kir. It was a good time.) And then, for years, I ate amazing Indian food in restaurants, but utterly failed to recreate anything like it at home.

Fortunately for all of us, that era is past. The secret, it turns out, is really great garam masala. I buy it from an Indian grocery, but you can also get it online, and it is the difference between “random bunch of Indian-inspired spices” and “YUM.” This recipe for potatoes and cauliflower (aloo gobi) is a little less saucy than most restaurant preparations, but every bit as tasty.

Indian-style Cauliflower and Potatoes
Adapted from Madhur Jeffrey’s World Vegetarian

Canola oil for the pan
About 1 pound of potatoes
About 1 1/2 pounds of cauliflower
1 onion
About an inch-long piece of fresh ginger
1/4 t. turmeric
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. garam masala
1/2 t. salt plus more to taste
black pepper to taste

First, wash the potatoes. Chop into one-inch chunks. Line a plate with paper towels and set it to the side.

Heat a large skillet with a lid* with a about three tablespoons of oil and the same amount of water over medium heat. When it is hot, add the potatoes and cover. Cook until the potatoes are cooked through, 7-12 minutes.

While this is happening, chop off the stem of the cauliflower, and then chop it into florets, no more than about an inch and a half across. It’s okay to cut large natural florets into smaller pieces with a knife.

Then remove the lid from the potatoes and allow the water to boil off. (You can check to make sure they’re done by poking with a fork or toothpick; it should easily pierce all the way through.)

Fry the potatoes until they are golden brown, stirring only occasionally, 3-5 minutes per side, adding oil as needed to prevent sticking. When the potatoes are done, use a spatula or slotted spoon to remove them to the prepared plate, and line a second plate with paper towels.

Add the cauliflower to the remaining oil (add more if needed!) and cook, stirring only occasionally, until it is soft and caramelized on the edges, 5-8 minutes. While it is cooking, peel and chop the onion.

cooked cauliflower

When the cauliflower is done, use the spatula to turn it out onto the second plate. Check to make sure there are a couple of tablespoons of oil in the bottom of the pan, then add the onion. As it softens, grate the ginger.**

When the onion is soft, add the ginger to the skillet and cook half a minute, until it is fragrant. Add the other spices and stir to coat everything, then add the potatoes and cauliflower back in, along with three tablespoons of water. Stir everything to coat, then turn the heat down, cover, and allow to cook for about five minutes.

This recipe makes about four servings and reheats beautifully. It also doubles well, but the vegetables really get some of their flavor from their contact with the pan during the initial frying (which caramelizes them to that lovely golden brown), so you may need to do that step in batches.

*The lid doesn’t have to belong to the pot, just to cover it or the contents reasonably well.

**I love a microplane grater for this; my favorite is a big flat one like this.

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Granola muffins

I post a lot of breakfast recipes because I have breakfast problems. I like to eat it, but I’m a pickypants about traditional breakfast foods: I don’t like eggs, I only eat oatmeal under select circumstances, and the yeast in bread gives me bellyaches. In the winter, it seems too cold for yogurt, my usual breakfast staple, so I do a lot of breakfast baking.

granola muffin with butter

These muffins are made with granola right in the batter. The granola is softened by soaking it in milk before adding it to the muffin batter, and the resulting muffins are very moist and only slightly sweet. Like many muffins, I like these best split and buttered; I often put mine in the toaster oven in the morning to help get them to a butter-melting temperature.

Granola Muffins
Adapted from the New York Times

1 c. granola*
1/2 c. milk (whatever you have is fine)
2 eggs
1/4 c. honey
1/2 c. plain yogurt or sour cream
1/4 c. canola oil
1 t. vanilla
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease or line twelve muffin cups. Put the granola in a bowl, pour the milk over it, and let soak for at least 20 minutes.

soaking granola

Mix together the eggs, honey, yogurt or sour cream, canola oil, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt) and stir just to combine, then fold in the granola.

Fill the muffin cups about 3/4 full and bake the muffins for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Because they are so moist, it’s a good idea to let them cool for ten or fifteen minutes before removing them from the pan, especially if you’re not using liners.

granola muffin

*I think any granola would work here. I used the stuff I make myself, which starts off pretty chewy. If you use a really crunchy store granola, you might want to soak it a little longer.

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Popcorn chickpeas (not a typo)

When I first became vegetarian at age 17, I’d never seen a bean outside of a minestrone soup, so you can understand how it might have taken me a while to come around to them. I used burritos, where the beans are combined with strong flavors and other textures, as my gateway food, but soon moved on to white bean soup and other, simpler preparations. This, however, is by far the simplest one I’ve fallen for yet:

popcorn chickpeas

Did you know chickpeas pop in a hot pan? It’s not as spectacular an inside-out action as with popcorn, but they distinctly make popping noises and do a little dance. Also, it turns out, they get really tasty.

Popcorn chickpeas
I think that this first came to me through Serious Eats, but I wouldn’t swear it

About 1 T. olive oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic or 1 t. crushed garlic from a jar
2 c. cooked chickpeas or the contents of one 15 oz. can, drained and rinsed
1 t. dried rosemary
salt and pepper
2 T. parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Don’t get too much higher than this or they won’t pop!

popcorn chickpeas - pan

Add the garlic to the oil and cook for about 30 seconds. Then add the chickpeas. Stir to coat them with the oil, and then wait patiently. They’ll start to darken on the bottom and then pop. Shake or stir the pan occasionally.

popcorn chickpeas - cooking

You can see in that photo that sometimes the skins come off the chickpeas; I usually pick them out, although there’s no reason you can’t eat them.

When they’re cooked to your liking, stir in the rosemary and season to taste with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat. Be careful not to oversalt; you’re going to add salty cheese in a minute! Turn the contents of the pan out into a bowl (I line it with a paper towel in case there’s any excess oil) and sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top.

I like these best fresh out of the pan, but they reheat well, too, and make a good snack.

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Oven brown rice

For a long time, I was one of those otherwise-competent cooks who could not make a pot of rice to save her dinner. Then I ate a seriously restricted diet for six weeks to try to nail down some food sensitivities and rice was one of approximately eight foods I was allowed to eat, so I learned to make white rice on the stovetop. Brown rice continued to elude me, though. It took forever. If it wasn’t burnt, it was mushy. Or crunchy. Or sometimes both. And then a miracle occurred: someone taught me to make brown rice in the oven.

brown rice - cooked

This recipe isn’t perfect: it still takes forever. I’m not sure there’s any help for that unless you’re willing to abandon your principles for converted rice (a move I don’t recommend if you care about rice texture). But if you are afraid of rice — or even if you’re not — it is the one for you. It takes ten minutes of attention and an hour of waiting, and best of all, it comes out perfectly every single time.

A word about pans: I have successfully made this in both glass and stoneware pans. I have attempted it in metal pans several times and have never gotten good results: the pan itself gets so hot that you end up with crispy rice in the corners, and no matter how carefully you scoop it out, you always end up getting some mixed in with the good rice and aaaaargh. Also, if you are cooking for more than a couple of people, you can double the quantities and bake for the same time in a 9×13 baking dish.*

Oven-baked brown rice
Adapted from The New Best Recipe by the folks at Cook’s Illustrated

1 1/2 c. rice**
2 1/3 c. water
pinch salt

Put the water in a saucepan or tea kettle and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 F and put the rice in your square baking dish.

brown rice

When the water boils, pour it over the rice and immediately cover the pan with foil. You want to make sure it’s really sealed so the steam stays inside. Heavy-duty foil is awesome here; if you use lighter stuff, you might want to do a double layer.

brown rice - covered

Stick it in the oven (carefully, right? because of how the pan is full of boiling water?) and bake for an hour. Remove the whole thing from the oven and then pull off the foil, watching out for steam escaping when you first open it. Fluff with a fork before serving.

*I know someone is going to ask me if you can freeze this. The answer is “it depends.” Some people claim that frozen brown rice (cooked, cooled, and frozen in plastic bags) is totally fine, while others find the texture of rice frozen at home to be unacceptable. I am very picky about rice texture, so I don’t freeze mine, but if you do, tell me how it works!

**I can often get brown basmati at my supermarket, and I like it quite a bit. Failing that, I find long-grain to be the best general-purpose rice.

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I have recently learned that there are some people (and by “some people” I mean “my mother”) who have never eaten latkes. I find this pretty much inconceivable. The two women I remember my mother doing social things with when I was small were both Jewish, and latkes have pretty much jumped the Jewish shark anyway and now can be made even by goyim like me.

latkes

I read a whole bunch of latke recipes, and they all pretty much agree on the critical ratio: about one pound of potato per egg. I used all-purpose flour and a relatively large quantity of onion, and made my latkes small so that there would be a lot of crispy per pancake. And they were pretty good: beautifully browned, crispy all over on the outside without being too mushy or eggy in the middle. If I had a Jewish grandmother, I like to think she’d be proud.

Potato Latkes

2 lbs potatoes (Russet are usually recommended, but I only had Yukon Gold and they worked fine)
1 large or 2 small onions
2 eggs
1/2 c. flour
salt and pepper
oil for frying

Peel the onion and potatoes and grate them, either on the coarsest holes of a box grater or in a food processor. I just grate them both into one pile without worrying about keeping the potato and onion apart.

Now you want to get the moisture out. You can do this by putting them in a colander and smushing them down with your hands or a spoon, but the easiest way is to wrap them in cheesecloth and just twist away on the top as the water drips out the bottom.

potato squeeze

Crack the eggs into a bowl and mix them with a fork to break up the yolks. Then add them to the potatoes, followed by the flour and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well so the flour gets evenly distributed.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet with a couple of tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Peanut oil is traditional — it takes high heat well — but canola works too. While you’re waiting for it to get so hot it shimmers, line a plate with paper towels.

When the oil is hot, drop the latkes in and flatten them slightly with the back of your spoon or a spatula. Don’t pack them in too tightly or they’ll be hard to flip later. Cook until they’re golden brown around the edges.

fry fry fry

Then flip and cook until the other side is golden brown before removing to the paper-towel lined plate.

I like them best fresh out of the skillet, but they can be reheated in the oven or toaster oven, either directly on the rack or by placing a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet and the latkes on top of that. Bake at 400 F until hot and crisp.

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