Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Couple of Cupcakes

I was tasked with making the cupcakes for a family holiday party a few weeks ago (I say tasked but I actually volunteered). I spent a fair amount of time deliberating over what kind of cupcakes to make. I had to make something that would accommodate a large number of people, not all of whom are adventurous eaters. There were also some little children in attendance. Eventually I decided I would just make chocolate and vanilla mini-cupcakes with chocolate and vanilla butter-cream frosting. For the Chocolate I used the basic recipe that underlies my Mexican Chocolate Cupcakes (minus the cinnamon), and for the vanilla I used the famous Magnolia Bakery recipe (which I got here). I have to say, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not a huge fan of the magnolia bakery recipe. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re also nothing special. I tend to think they taste a little like muffins. But perhaps that’s just the nature of plain vanilla cupcakes. These cupcakes were a hit though, everyone was happy to have them, and there were no complaints. I found that the frosting recipe I used did not make enough, so I increased it here.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes ~ 30 minis

1 stick (1/2 Cup) unsalted butter
¼ Cup cocoa powder
3/8 Cup of water
1 Cup sugar
1 egg
¼ Cup well shaken buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
1 Cup all purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp Salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over low heat. Add in the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Then add the water and mix until smooth again. Remove from heat

2. One at a time mix in the sugar, egg, buttermilk, and vanilla

3. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt

4. Sift the dry ingredients over the wet, and whisk until well combined.

5. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake for 9-12 minutes, or until cupcakes have set and a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let set.


Vanilla Cupcakes

Makes ~ 48 minis

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flours and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat for 1 minute after each addition.

2. Combine the milk and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour, followed by half the milk mixture. Continue alternating like this until everything is added. Beat only just enough to combine.

3. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.



1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 
4 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar 
2 Tbs vanilla bean paste (or extract) 
3 – 4 Tsp milk (any kind) 
2 T cocoa powder

1. Beat together the butter and confectioners sugar until smooth. Beat in the vanilla.

2. Beat in enough milk that the mixture is still, but pipable (you don’t want it to be too firm).

3. Remove half of the frosting from the bowl. This is the vanilla frosting. Beat the cocoa powder into the remaining half. This is the chocolate frosting.

4. Decorate the cupcakes with the frosting, top with sprinkles if desired.




Out of Office

Hey All, I'm going to be out of town for the next couple of weeks. I have backlogged some posts, so there will still be some automatically scheduled updates, but I won't be around to respond to comments. Hope you all have a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Tradition

Not every year, but many years, my mom makes us a Buche de Noel (Yule Log) for Christmas Eve. It is a process that usually takes her a fair amount of time, and often involves her cursing like a sailor. Well, this year, with my new found blog and baking habit, I thought I would take a crack at it. A friend of mine was having a holiday party, and I thought it would be the perfect thing to bring along. I approached the recipe with some trepidation, as I had only ever tried one other roll cake, and it did not turn out well.  I used the recipe from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, which deviated in many ways from a traditional buche, which has a genoise cake and buttercream filling. Her buche instead uses a flourless soufflĂ© cake, and is filled with whipped cream, then covered in ganache. Having no experience, and wanting something easy to start with (her recipe was very straightforward), I decided to use her suggestions, and, I was very happy with the results. This cake is not very sweet in the way a traditional American cake often is. Apart from the meringue mushrooms there was only about 1/3 of a cup of sugar in this whole recipe (excluding the sugar already in the chocolate). However, the tastes in the cake come together really well, and the lack of sweetness didn’t bother me. If anything it really brings out the richness of the chocolate.

I adorned my cake with meringue mushrooms, which no buche is complete without. If you want additional adornment, my mother used to make a simple green frosting that she would use to pipe vines and leaves. I was too lazy to go to that much trouble. The Cake Bible also suggests marzipan leaves and meringue pine needles, both of which struck me as too much work.

Assembly instructions for this recipe are at the bottom, though you may wish to make the ganache and meringue mushrooms once you have filled the roll and left it to set.

Happy Holidays!

Buche de Noel

Chocolate Cloud Roll

¼ cup + 2 T sugar (divided) 
6 large eggs, separated 
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted 
¾ tsp cream of tartar 
1 T unsweetened cocoa

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 17 x 12 jellyroll pan. Line the pan with foil, leaving overhangs on the long sides. Grease and then flour the foil (it is crucial that you do this well).

2. In a mixing bowl beat ¼ of the sugar with the egg yolks for five minutes, or until they are light and fluffy. Add the chocolate and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. In a different bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 2 T of sugar, beating until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly.

4. Fold ¼ of the egg white mixture into the yolk mixture to lighten it. Gently fold the remaining whites into the yolks. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading evenly with a spatula. Bake for 16 minutes, the cake will have puffed and will spring back when lightly pressed.

5. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, sprinkle it with the cocoa powder. Take a clean dish towel, wet it, and wring it out. Place the towel over the cake while it cools.


Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream 
2 T granulated sugar 
2 T cocoa powder 
1 tsp instant espresso powder 
½ tsp vanilla

1. Put all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine. Place the bowl and whisk attachment for your mixer in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

2. Using a mixer set on medium speed, whip the cream to soft peaks.


Dark Chocolate Ganache

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate 
1 2/3 cup heavy cream 
2 T Frangelico

1. Break the chocolate into pieces. Place in the bowl of a food processor and process until very fine. Heat the cream to the boiling point. With the food processor running pour in the heated cream. Pulse until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the Frangelico. Let cool until the ganache has reached a spreadable consistency (this can be expedited by putting it in the fridge or freezer, but watch it closely to make sure you don’t over cool it and have to start over.


Meringue Mushrooms

2 large egg whites 
¼ tsp cream of tartar 
½ cup + 1 T superfine sugar 
Cocoa powder for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. In a mixing bowl fitted with a clean whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium speed while gradually adding 2 T of the sugar. When soft peaks form add 1 more T of sugar and increase speed to high. When stiff peaks form gradually beat in the remaining sugar.

2. Using a pastry  bag fitted with a ½ inch tip (for me this was just a bear coupler), pipe mushroom caps and stems onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment. To pipe stems, keep the bag close to the sheet, rising slowly while squeezing, so that domes form. Use the tip of the bag to smooth any point that remains when you remove the tip. To pipe stems, start close to the sheet and rise quickly, so that you pipe tapered columns that end in a point.

3. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until meringue is crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

4. Dust the caps with cocoa powder. To assemble mushrooms, I just stuck the pointy end of the stems straight into the bases of the caps. Others suggest piping a little raw meringue or using chocolate to hold these together.



1. Lifting with the foil overhang, gently slide the cake from the pan onto the counter.

2. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the cake

3. Beginning with the side closest to you, Use the foil to lift one edge of the cake and begin to roll it. As you go check to make sure the cake is not sticking to the foil. If this goes unchecked it will remove large strips from your cake. If any parts of the cake do come lose (mine did), use a little bit of whipped cream to stick them back on.

4. Once the cake is rolled, put it in the fridge for an hour to set.

5. Remove the cake from the fridge. Cutting at a diagonal, remove 5-6 inches from the cake. This will be used to make the branch.

6. Spread ganache over the cake. Try to use a light touch. Especially when it comes to the ends. Place some extra ganache where you want the branch to go on, and place the branch there, pressing it into the ganache. Cover the branch in ganache as well. Remember this is supposed to look like a log, so the ganache doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth or even.

7. Use the times of a fork to make a grain pattern in the frosting. At the ends and top of the knot move the fork in a circle. Cover and refrigerate until one hour before serving. Only attach the meringue mushrooms just before serving.

8. Serve

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cardamom Snaps

Another recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens website, these cookies are similar to ginger snaps, but with a nice cardamom flavor. Molasses cookies aren’t my favorites, but I have a very hard time saying no cardamom (it’s a personal favorite flavor of mine). I thought these came out very nicely, soft and chewy, with a good flavor of cardamom, though the molasses is definitely the dominant flavor. As a plus, they came together in only a few minutes which is always a plus.


Cardamom Snaps

Makes about 36

¾ cup shortening 
1 cup packed brown sugar 
1 tsp baking soda 
2 tsp ground cardamom, divided 
1 tsp cinnamon 
¼ cup mild molasses 
1 egg 
2 ¼ cup AP flour 
¼ cup granulated sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat shortening on medium speed in a mixer for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, baking soda, 1 ½ tsp cardamom and cinnamon. Beat to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

2. Add the molasses and egg and beat to combine. Beat in the flour until the dough comes together.

3. Combine the granulated sugar and the remaining ½ tsp cardamom in a bowl. Roll the dough into one inch balls, and roll the balls in the cardamom-sugar mixture. Space the balls two inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for ten minutes, or until tops are cracked and edges are set. Let cool on a wire rack.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gingerbread Houses

I am officially half way done with law school. This afternoon I took my last final of the semester, and now I am on break. However, not being done with finals yet didn’t stop me from making some gingerbread houses over the weekend. I think people tend to think of gingerbread houses as a child’s activity, and to a degree I think I that’s true. But of course part of the holidays is being childish. People decorate, they make cookies, they look forward to presents, and if they’re doing it properly embrace at least a little of the childishness of the season. And of course there’s no better excuse to act childish than needing a break from law school finals.

I got the recipe I used for the gingerbread houses here. The recipe was really simple to make, though it took a lot of flour. I also broke one of my spatulas trying to turn the dough, so be careful, this stuff gets thick. For decorations use pretty much whatever you can think of. This recipe makes enough dough to make one house of the dimensions provided, plus a lot of extra cookies to cut out as men, Santas, trees, snowmen, or whatever else you might choose. If you’re planning on eating the cookies I recommend cooking them for a minute or two less than you cook the house parts for.

To make a gingerbread house you need to start by cutting out templates. I used the dimensions provided here.

Gingerbread House

Makes 1 house plus cookies

6 cups all purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
4 teaspoons ground ginger 
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbsp) butter, softened 
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar 
2 large eggs 
1 cup dark molasses 
1 Tbsp water1. Mix together the dry ingredients, flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

2. Cream together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, molasses and water. Beat until fully combined. Add half the flour to the mixture, and beat to combine.

3. Combine the dough with the remaining flour and knead together (it gets a bit thick for a mixer). I actually found it easiest to use my hands to knead it together. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours.

4. Take the dough out of the fridge and divide into halves or quarters. Working on a well floured surface, roll out the dough until it is an even thickness of ¼ inch thick. Spread a little flour on top of the dough, and gently press a template onto the dough. Using a sharp knife cut out the dough shapes.

5. Bake the cut out shapes for 12-15 minutes, or until browned and dry. Rotate the sheets half way through. Remove from the oven, trim off any pieces of the gingerbread to correct the pieces.

6. Let cool completely


Royal Icing

2 egg whites 
¼ tsp cream of tartar 
2 ¼ cups powdered sugar

1. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until frothy.

2. Beat in the sugar on high speed until frosting is smooth, glossy, and thick.



1. Cover a piece of cardboard or a baking pan with tin foil. Pipe a line of royal icing where you want the front of the house to be. Press the bottom edge of the front piece into the frosting. Use a heavy can to support it.

2. Pipe a line of frosting at a right angle to the front of the house, where one of the sides will be. Press the side into the icing. Pipe some frosting up the corner between the two pieces of gingerbread, both on the inside and outside of the house. Repeat this process with the other side of the house, and then the back. Allow the royal icing to set for a few minutes, until the house can stand on its own.

3. Pipe frosting all along the upper edges of the house. Apply the two roof pieces, and pipe some frosting at the crest of the roof between them. Hold the roof pieces in place until they will stay up on their own. Attach the chimney with a little more frosting.

4. Apply decorations as you choose, make more royal icing to add decorations as needed.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Spiced Pumpkin Dunking Sticks

Well, its finals time, which means I’m hunting for just about anything to do other than study. A friend of mine recently sent me looking at the Better Homes and Gardens holiday cookie recipes, and I must say a lot of them look pretty appealing. I didn’t want to go to the store, so I picked a recipe I already had all the ingredients for (believe it or not I did have a spare can of pumpkin sitting around). When it came to piping them out, the website’s instructions said to pipe them out into a corkscrew motion, which I found to be impossible. The dough is far too thick for any kind of piping. Instead I rolled the dough into logs with my hands into logs about 4-5 inches long and 1 inch thick, and baked them like that, which worked fine. I also didn’t have a lemon, so I used orange juice in its place in the glaze. I thought these cookies were ok, but a friend I gave them to raved about them.


Spiced Pumpkin Dunking Sticks

Makes About 20

1 cup butter, softened 
½ cup sugar 
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
¾ tsp baking powder 
½  tsp ground nutmeg 
½ tsp ground ginger 
¼ tsp salt 
¼ tsp ground cloves 
1/3 cup canned pumpkin 
1 egg 
1 tsp vanilla 
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat the butter on medium speed in an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and cloves, and beat until fully combined.

2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the pumpkin, egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the flour and beat in on low speed until combined. This might be a strain on your mixer, so you may have to beat in the last of the flour by hand.

3. Using a wide tip, pipe the dough using a corkscrew motion, making cookies about 4 to 5 inches long. If you can’t make this work (which I can’t), just use your hands to roll the cookies into logs about 1 inch thick and 4 – 5 inches long.

4. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, or until just firm to the touch.

5. Let the cookies cool completely. Once Cool, glaze (recipe follows).



1 ½ Oz. Cream Cheese

1 T unsalted butter, softened 
¼ tsp finely grated lemon peel 
1 tsp lemon juice 
¼ tsp finely grated orange zest 
¾ cup powdered sugar 
2-3 tsp milk

1. Beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the lemon and orange peels, the lemon juice, and the sugar.

2. Mix in enough milk for the glaze until it can be drizzled.

3. Drizzle the glaze over half of each cookie. Let sit for about 3 hours, or until glaze is set.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Say Chowda!

It being finals time, I made myself a big pot of soup, as per my finals tradition. I do it so that I can have something better than lean cuisines to eat, but don’t have to go to the work of cooking every night. This recipe started out as a recipe for corn and poblano chowder from epicurious, but I substantially modified it. The result is something that is almost close to a loaded baked potato soup. It’s got a pretty solid kick to it, but I like it a lot. It will definitely serve me well through finals, and is good on any cold night when a hearty meal is needed.

Corn and Poblano Chowder

Makes 6 – 8 servings

5 strips bacon 
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped 
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped 
3 cloves garlic 
3 large poblano chilies, roasted and skinned, seeded, chopped 
3 redskin potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes 
2 14 3/4- to 15-ounce cans cream-style corn 
1 16-ounce package frozen corn kernels, thawed 
2 14-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth 
1 cup fat free half and half 
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
6 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese 
2 lbs frozen, precooked salad shrimp, thawed

1. Put the onion, celery, garlic and poblanos into a food processor and pulse until the vegetables are finely diced (don’t liquefy them), set aside. Cook the bacon until it is crispy. Set aside to drain on a paper towel.

2. Pour 1 -2 tablespoons of the bacon grease into a large pot over medium high heat. Add the finely chopped vegetables and sauté until soft, about six minutes. Add the potatoes, and the next 5 ingredients (through cayeene) to the pot. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and let simmer until potatoes are soft and flavors are blended, 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Reduce heat. Once the mixture has stopped bubbling add 2/3 of the cheese, 4 Tablespoons of the cilantro, and 4 of the five strips of bacon, crumbled (reserving the remainder of each for garnish). Continue cooking just until cheese is fully melted an mixed with the soup (1-2 minutes). Add the shrimp just before serving. Serve garnished with cheese, bacon, and cilantro, and with a nice crusty bread or oyster crackers on the side.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Amongst the cookies I made for my holiday party last week (the third, some roll out sugar cookies, won’t be featured because they got eaten before I could take pictures) were rugelach from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours. I thought of all the cookies I made for that night, these were my favorite. I didn’t use currants in this recipe, because I didn’t have any, but I think they would have been good.

Dorie Greenspan’s Rugelach

Makes 32


4 oz. Cold Cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces 
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces 
1 cup AP flour 
¼ tsp salt


2/3 cup raspberry or apricot jam, or marmalade 
2 T sugar 
½ tsp cinnamon 
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup plump, moist dried currants 
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup mini-chocolate chips


1 large egg 
1 tsp cold water 
2 T coarse decorator’s sugar (or regular)

1. Make the dough: Let the cream cheese and butter soften on the counter for 10 minutes (you don’t want them fully softened). Put the flour and salt in a food processor, scatter the butter and cream cheese over them. Pulse the machine 6 – 10 times, then scrape down the sides of the bowl and run the bade until the dough forms large curds. Don’t work it so long that it forms into a ball on the blade.

2. Divide the dough in half, flatten each half into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

3. (These things are mixed in three separate bowls, don’t mix them all together) Heat the jam in a saucepan over low heat until it liquefies. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together. Mix the nuts, chocolate and currants together.

4. Take the dough out of the fridge, let it rest just until it is soft enough to roll out. On a lightly floured surface, roll out half the dough into an 11-12 inch circle. Spoon or brush a thin gloss of the jam over the dough. Sprinkle have the cinnamon and sugar mixture evenly over the jam. Scatter half the chocolate mixture over the dough. Cover the filling with a piece of wax paper and gently press the filling into the dough.

5. Use a pizza cutter to divide the dough into 16 triangles. The easiest way to do this is to cut the dough into quarters, and then cut each quadrant into 4. Starting at the base of each triangle, roll the dough up until each cookie becomes a little crescent (like a crescent roll). Repeat with the remaining dough half. Refrigerate the rolled up cookies for 30 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the egg and water together. Brush the cookies with the glaze. Sprinkle a little sugar over each cookie. Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are puffed and golden, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Let cool completely on wire racks.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheels

I know it’s been awhile, but with going home for Thanksgiving and studying for finals I just haven’t had much time to cook lately. Fortunately I threw a holiday party last night, and so got the opportunity to make some new Christmas cookies, which will appear over the next week or so. This first recipe comes from Alton Brown, and I have to say I thought they were disappointing. While these cookies make a great presentation, I thought the flavor was lacking. The peppermint came through ok, but the chocolate didn’t. In addition I thought the whole cookie wasn’t quite sweet enough, and tasted of flour. Maybe it was just me, but I don’t think these are worth the trouble of making again.

Alton Brown’s Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheels

Makes 36

3 cups AP flour 
¾ baking powder 
½ salt 
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 
1 cup sugar 
1 egg, beaten 
1 T milk
3 oz. Unsweetened Chocolate, melted 
1 tsp vanilla 
1 egg yolk 
1 tsp peppermint extract 
½ cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies (I ground them pulsing in a food processor)

1. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder, and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer cream together the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy.

2. Add the egg and the milk and beat to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, turn down the mixer speed to low, and add the flour. Beat until the dough pulls away from the sides.

3. Divide the dough in half. Use your hands to mix the chocolate and the vanilla into half the dough. Mix the egg yolk, peppermint extract, and crushed candy into the other half of the dough.

4. Sprinkle powdered sugar onto wax paper and roll out the chocolate dough into a rectangle, until it is about a ¼ inch thick. I used a cookie sheet as a guide for size. Repeat with the peppermint dough (I used the cookie sheet to make sure that the two doughs were the same size).

5. Lay the peppermint dough over the chocolate dough, making the edges flush. Push the edges together. Using the wax paper to help, roll the dough into a log. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or up to a day.

6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Use a knife to cut the log into ½ inch slices, rotating ¼ turn after each cut to make sure the log stays round. Place the cookies on a parchment or silpat with one inch between each cookie.

7. Bake for 12 -13 minutes, rotating the sheets half way through. Let cool on the pan for a minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.