Archive for April, 2008

Daring Bakers April Challenge: Cheesecake Pops

April 27, 2008

This was my second Daring Bakers Challenge! I feel like I’ve been lucky as far as challenges go. To be completely honest, I was pretty relieved that I joined the DBs after the Julia Child french bread challenge as I’m really not sure that’s something I’m ready to tackle. I’ve actually got a loaf of bread in the oven right now, but it is of the “almost no knead” variety, and it is about as much of a yeast endeavor as I am prepared to take on.

Anyway… I really liked making these pops. The cheesecake part was really simple. I didn’t realize until the last minute that there was no butter in the recipe, and I think that yielded a very creamy and un-greasy cheesecake. The chocolate part was no problem either. I have to admit, I kind of wish I had tried white chocolate, because as much as I love dark chocolate and cheesecake, I somehow don’t love them together. I think, for me, the dark chocolate is just a bit too strong against the soft flavor of cheesecake. Next time I might add a vanilla bean to the batter to get more flavor out of the cheesecake part. I might also try milk chocolate as a coating, which I think would be less intense. Regardless, these are fun to make, and if nothing else, are hopelessly cute. I would definitely suggest giving them a try!

Check out the thousands of other delicious-lookin cheesecake pops made this month by Daring Bakers HERE.

Cheesecake Pops, adapted from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs (I used 3 eggs when I baked half the recipe without a problem)
2 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, seeded
¼ cup heavy cream

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks (I just used bamboo skewers, although this really wasn’t the best idea)
1 pound chocolate, chopped or in chips
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (I ended up using a bit of butter…)
(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.
In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.
Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.
Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.
When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 to 2 hours

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.
Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paperlined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.
Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.


Results: Make Martha Cringe

April 25, 2008

I have to admit I’m a little bit sad… I had really hoped that “Make Martha Cringe” would generate a bunch of responses.  I got a few comments and some people expressed interest, but in the end, I only got one (awesome) entry!  Maybe this is what happens when events first start?  Maybe no one wants to be tacky?  Oh man.. I’m still going to try again next month anyway and see if maybe it’s just going to take a little while to catch on.

Well, about the gorgeous photo you see above… My friend Kyle from Kumo-Art made “Shrimp and Fish in an Herb Sauce” and styled it with a decidedly 70’s feel.  I LOVE IT!  Way to go, Ky.   I have to admit though, I was hoping for something a bit more gaudy, but that doesn’t take away from how great this styling job is. 

My cousin also sent me this awesome picture of a “meat tree”, which was kind of exactly what I was looking for.

I hope these pictures inspire you for next month!!

Cashew Cardammmmmm…

April 21, 2008

Cashew Cardamom Cupcakes

If that was a bit too corny for you, I’m sorry! It’s just what popped into my head. So here’s a quick little post about these cuties. I am testing recipes, and one that I was really drawn to was the Cashew Butter Cardamom cupcakes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I’m really loving anything involving warm spices right now so I couldn’t help but try these out.

The verdict: They were good! OK, I’ll admit, not my favorite, but good. Here’s the thing… I pretty much need some sort of fruit, (preferably a strong citrus flavor-lemon please!) or chocolate to make me love a dessert. So as good as these were, I, personally, wasn’t thrilled. I do know some other people, however, who gobbled them up!

I’m not going to post the recipe, since I pretty much lifted it directly out of VCTOW, which you can (and should) buy here if you don’t already have it. The only thing I changed was that I made a cashew-butter cream cheese frosting instead of the one suggested in VCTOW (they called for soy milk powder, which sadly, I did not have).

Stay tuned, I will be testing more recipes soon! If anyone has any suggestions/requests, let me know!!

vegan cupcakes take over my life

April 15, 2008

So… I have charged boldly forth into the world of vegan cupcakes. Yes, vegan cupcakes are quite the trend these days, and because of that I kind of resisted heading in that direction, but you know what? I think I like vegan cupcakes better (shhhhh!) than traditional cupcakes. If made correctly, they are much, much less work, tastier (I don’t particularly love the flavor of butter and I think without it, one can taste the actual flavors in the cupcakes more clearly), and moister. I swear. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a number of bad vegan cupcakes, but I have also had many, if not more, terrible cupcakes made with butter, eggs, and all sorts of other supposedly delicious things.

Here’s where I’m going with this. I’m not going to make a big deal about it because I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but I may have the opportunity to be a dessert provider for a cute little restaurant. They specifically expressed an interest in vegan desserts, so that’s what set me off on this path. Now, whether that actually happens or not, I now have the perfect excuse to test recipes!

The first recipe I tried was a kind of combination of a few recipes from VCTOW, or, for the lay-reader, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I was wooed by the idea of mexican hot chocolate cupcakes, but I also had a request to make the cupcakes sugar free. I also didn’t have corn flour, which is called for in the mex/choc cupcakes, so I smushed a few recipes together, a bit from here, a bit from there and got:

Vegan Agave Sweetened Spiced Hot Chocolate Cupcakes, Philadelphia Style
Adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World
(makes 12 cupcakes)

For the cupcakes:
2/3 C soy milk
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2/3 C light agave nectar
1/3 C canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 C all-purpose flour
1/3 C cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne
(I also added about ¼ cup of almond meal to the second half of the batter.  You can too, it was good!)

1.    Preheat oven to 325°F.  Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.
2.    Mix the soy milk and the apple cider vinegar in a large bowl.  Allow this mixture to sit for a minute until it curdles.  Beat in the agave nectar, oil, and vanilla extract.
3.    Measure the dry ingredients into a small bowl and sift them into the wet ingredients.  (If you’re going to add in the almond meal, do it now).
4.    Mix only until smooth.
5.    Pour into the cupcake liners (this should make 12 cupcakes).  Only fill 2/3 of the way.
6.    Bake 20-22 minutes, or until a knife or a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Be careful not to over (or under) bake.
7.    Let the cupcakes cool before you frost them.  Seriously.  Just wait.  I promise, even if you’ve got to eat one right off the cooling rack, it’ll taste a LOT better at room temperature.

For the frosting:
(I just used a simple pourable vegan ganache to frost these babies.)

1.    Melt about half a bar or dark chocolate, two or three tablespoons of soy milk, and a few tablespoons of agave nectar (to taste) over very low heat.
2.    Let the ganache cool a bit, then pour over cooled cupcakes.
3.    I decorated them with slivered almonds because it was cute.

*These are less sweet than your average cupcake.  If you’re open to that, I think they’re pretty good!

Even better the second time

April 11, 2008

Well, I loved my multigrain version of the NY Times No-Knead Bread so much that I just had to make it again. I’m happy to say, this time it was even better. I only made a few changes. (If you missed my recipe the first time, it’s here)

  1. I increased the yeast to almost half a tablespoon
  2. I added even more seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flax) and millet
  3. I used a combination of 2C bread flour and 1C spelt flour
  4. I let it rise a bit longer than before… about 22 hours for the first rise and then two for the second rise
  5. I punched down the dough a bit during the second rise. I don’t know, I just thought this would help!
  6. I let it bake about five minutes longer

The bread was amazing (so much so that I have another batch of dough rising right now)! Here is a summary of how it was different from my first loaf. I think the numbering matches up so that the changes I made should correspond with the effects I think they had (yes, I am that nerdy, oh well).

  1. This one was less dense, with a better, more delicate crumb. There were all these amazing little air pockets in the finished loaf.
  2. More delicious!
  3. Again, more delicious!
  4. Same as number 1, and a deeper, more pronounced and yeasty/bready flavor that I really liked.
  5. This second loaf was taller than the first, which was, admittedly, kind of flat.
  6. Better crust!

So, all I have to say is, if you have not made this bread yet, MAKE IT!!!!! Don’t be afraid to play with the recipe. I did, and I am so, so, happy with the results. As a former yeast-o-phobe, I’m also still pretty amazed that I, Caitlin, actually made bread, and a good bread at that! My best compliment was from Mark. I gave him a quarter of the loaf to take home, and today he informed me that ate the entire thing last night, toasted, spread with goat cheese, and drizzled with honey. He said it was the best bread he had eaten in a long time. Look, I’d like to take the credit, but I really can’t (well, maybe I’ll take some credit for being so bold with the grains). This is just one keeper of a recipe.

The most awesome part of this bread was that it inspired us to have a picnic with the bread as the guest of honor. We also had:

  • a salad of mixed greens with lemon-dijon vinaigrette and heirloom tomatoes
  • pan-seared tilapia, prepared simply with lemon and fresh cracked pepper
  • a mini spinach and parmesan frittata
  • peppered goat cheese, and another melty, delicious cheese (can’t remember what it’s called!)
  • apricot and strawberry jam to go with the bread and cheese

Yes, I know it’s excessive, but that was pretty much the only meal we ate all day. Really people, what kind of gluttons do you think we are?

Sidetracked: I made bread!

April 9, 2008

I know, I know, I promised something involving cake and lemon curd. Well, as is typical of me, I got sidetracked. That post isn’t ready yet, but this one is! So, the other day I had an amazing little pull-apart multigrain roll (the loaf form is pictured there) at Metropolitan Bakery. I don’t really eat bread that much, mostly because I like other food better, but this roll was completely worth it. This is coming from a girl who has never, not even once, had toast and jam for breakfast. I would prefer oatmeal or eggs any day. I am just not really a bread person. Until now. Well, there’s got to be a first for everyone, and let me tell you, this bread was awesome. It was incredibly grainy, which I love, and had the perfect amount of elasticity. I ate it like I ate croissants as a kid, pulling gently at the interior of the roll to separate out thin layers of bread, placing them delicately into my mouth and savoring every bite.

I’m sure most of you can relate, but I’m pretty much unable to eat something I like without wanting to go home immediately and figure out how to make it myself. So that’s what I did, I set out to learn to make bread. Now I have to be completely honest here. I have tried to make bread once before, but it was an utter failure, so I decided not to count it. I used a whole-grain bread mix, which I think was a bit too old (I’m trying to avoid saying “rancid”, but, well, there you go) and the bread just didn’t taste right. I also added way too much flour during the kneading and the resulting loaf was a little bit dense. Let’s just say you could probably use it in place of a dumbell.

This time, I decided to start fresh. Like everyone else in the past two years, I went straight for the NY Times no knead bread recipe. I have never tried it and thought it was about time. I had to add some seeds and grains and some whole wheat flour, of course, but other than that, the recipe is just the old standard. I’m happy to say it was a complete success! I even cheated and used a pot with a glass lid since I don’t have a dutch oven, and it still worked.

For the first time EVER, I had toast and jam for a late night snack, and it was wonderful.

NY Times No-Knead Grainy Bread

2 ¾ cups whole wheat bread flour, more for dusting
¼ cup oatmeal
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
3 teaspoons salt
*a few tablespoons each of millet, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, or whatever else you have

Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, seeds/grains, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 11⁄2-pound loaf.

Note: My loaf didn’t rise as much as other loaves I’ve seen in the past. Maybe the whole wheat flour and all the grains weighed it down? Oh well, it was still great, but next time I think I’ll try adding a little bit more yeast. Has anyone else had any success with whole wheat variations of this bread?  (Edit: I did add more yeast, and I let the bread rise longer.  It worked!  See my second attempt at this bread here).

A look back and preview of things to come

April 6, 2008

The look back: grapefruit used to make grapefruit curd for the March Daring Bakers challenge.


The preview: cake layers for…???


More soon!

Event: Make Martha Cringe! (Good food behaving badly)

April 2, 2008

(scroll down for event rules)

Let’s talk for a second about the current state of food photography. These days, it’s all about natural beauty. We want to see food glow, basking in just the right amount of gorgeous natural light. We want to see just how fresh and green that spinach is (maybe it was just picked- maybe there’s a second bunch of greens in the background of the shot with the dirt from the garden still gracing its roots)! We want to see how each grain of organic bhutanese red rice clings delicately to the next. I think we could all agree that the current trend in food photography is a good one.

Now… here’s the deal. Yes, we can make our food look gorgeous, fresh, and vibrant. It’s a challenge. It’s fun. We love it. But sometimes it’s just so… pristine. I don’t know about all of you, but every now and then I just get an itch to rebel and make my food look really, really tacky. Maybe it’s just me, but with so much “pretty” food around I think it might be pretty satisfying to see some food looking outlandishly kitschy and garish. Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time, anyone remember the 70’s? Lookin good!

I really love the “garni” on the plate in the back. Classy, no?

Sexy! (I believe these are called “Tomato Wheels”)

So let’s do it. Let’s put our skills to good (or bad) use and revive gratuitous food styling, at least for the purpose of this event. Now, let me make this clear… I’m not interested in bad food, or even bad photography. The food should be something that actually tastes good, and the photographic composition should be deliberate. As for the styling, go wild! Bring on the tacky lighting, fussy structuring, inappropriate props and garni, and arranging of food in compromising positions. Let’s have fun with it. Let’s break all the rules. Let’s Make Martha Cringe.

Yeah baby! (Shrimply delicious??)

Update: There is no restriction on ingredients this month.  Go crazy!

Here are the rules:

  1. Prepare (or create) a recipe involving, style it to your heart’s content, and write a post including your cringe-worthy photo and the accompanying recipe. Please link back to this announcement in your post. Posts must be new, although I seriously doubt that you have any old posts that would be appropriate for this event 😉
  2. You MAY use photoshop or another editing program to alter the color/lighting of your photo.
  3. E-mail me (caitlin DOT larussa AT gmail DOT com) Please make sure that Make Martha Cringe is written in the subject line.
  4. In the e-mail please include:
    • the URL of your entry
    • your name, and your blog’s name
    • the name of the dish
    • your approximate location
  5. The deadline for entries is Sunday, April 20, at midnight (eastern standard time). (I will post a roundup sometime the following week).

The winner (judged this time by me) will receive a mystery prize and will have the privilege of helping me judge the next round.
I can’t wait to see some really awful styling. Bring it on!

If for some reason you need some more inspiration, I’ll just leave you with this…

Good luck!