Thursday, November 19, 2009

I've Moved!

Although I do love to bake, I also cook. So I started a new blog to archive all my recipes, not just the sweet treats I make. I'm going to be posting to that blog only from now on. You can find me at Hope to see you there! :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Best Buttermilk Pancakes

Sometimes it's the simplest recipes that are the best! I made mine with blueberries and they were so good, I didn't even need any syrup!

Best Buttermilk Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or slightly less table salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 1 tablespoon extra for brushing griddle (I’ve made these pancakes with and without the butter mixed in, and can say with confidence they work either way. They’re just richer with it, of course.)

1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen and thawed (optional)

1. Preheat an electric griddle to 375°F, or place a griddle pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and 4 tablespoons melted butter, and whisk to combine. The batter should have small to medium lumps.

2. Test the griddle by sprinkling a few drops of water on it. If the water bounces and spatters, the griddle is hot enough. Using a pastry brush, brush the remaining 1/2 teaspoon butter onto the griddle. Wipe off the excess with a folded paper towel.

3. Using a 4-oz. ladle, about 1/2 cup (for a 6-inch pancake), pour the batter in pools 2 inches apart. If you wish to make blueberry pancakes, arrange a handful over the cooking pancake, pressing them in slightly. When the pancakes have bubbles on top and are slightly dry around the edges, about 2 1/2 minutes, flip over. If any batter oozes or blueberries roll out, push them back under with your spatula. Cook until golden on bottom, about 1 minute.

4. Repeat with the remaining batter. You can keep the finished pancakes on a heat-proof plate in the oven at 175°F. Serve warm.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cherry Crumble Bars

This is my favorite recipe of Laura's. The chocolate chip cookies are my favorite cookie but this is my favorite recipe of far. I have a lot left to try. The buttery cherry-almond combo here is very good. I'm being very reserved because if I unleashed my enthusiasm for this recipe, I'd probably be put in a straight jacket in a padded cell.

Cherry Crumble Bars

Cookie base and topping
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup almond paste (not marzipan)
1/4th teaspoon almond extract
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ cup sliced almonds (Reserve for topping)

2 cups frozen cherries
3/4th cups sugar
3 Tablespoons water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
Pinch of salt

1/3 cup powdered sugar or more if needed, whisked or sifted
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
1/4th teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 inch square pan with foil and grease lightly with vegetable or olive oil.

In a food processor add flour, sugar, salt and baking powder and process to fluff and combine. Add almond paste and almond extract and pulse to combine. Add cold butter pieces and pulse until crumbly. Remove 1 cup of the mixture and set aside for topping.

Put the rest of the mixture into the pan, spread out evenly, and press with the bottom of a measuring cup to make a crust. Bake for 15-17 minutes until crust starts to brown slightly around the edges. Remove and leave the oven on.

Meanwhile dump all the filling ingredients into a saucepan and cook on medium high heat until thickened some and translucent. About 8 to 10 minutes. Spread the filling over the crust.

Sprinkle the top with the reserved crumb mixture and top with the sliced almonds. Bake for about 28 to 30 minutes or until the filling bubbles and the top is golden. Let cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack.

Whisk or beat the icing ingredients together, drizzle over bars.

Hint: To easily remove bars from the pan freeze for 30 minutes and lift out by the foil edges. Peel off foil and cut into squares or diamonds.

Veronica's Notes: I've also made this successfully with a can of tart cherries. To do this, put a (14.5 oz) can red tart cherries packed in water in the saucepan, water and all, along with the other filling ingredients but omit the water & lemon juice. It won't have the same deep red color as the frozen cherries give, so you can add some red food coloring if you wish.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Favorite Cookies

Cookies are my favorite food group. I have never met a cookie I didn't like but have never had a favorite until fairly recently.

And the winner is.... [drumroll]


I never thought a chocolate chip cookie would win my heart--I thought something more exotic & cutting edge would eventually beat out all the others--but, alas, I've fallen prey to the classic. The classic done EXTREMELY well--actually, it is pretty cutting edge with the yummy brown butter & all the toasted goodness!

I have baked up countless batches of chocolate chip cookies--ever on the hunt for the perfect recipe. None were bad but none left me with the feeling that I'd found the best. Until I found this one.

Allow me to introduce you to the creator of this recipe, Laura Flowers: culinary genius and food blogger extradinairre. (That should be the title of her biography--LOL!) Every week she posts new recipes--most of them her own--for everything from cookies to pizza (those are my favorite) to salads & pasta dishes. I have tried several and have yet to be disappointed. And I'm eternally grateful to her for bringing the torture of my endless search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie to an end!

Today I made them for Laura's "Project Cookie" and mailed them to her friend Ted & his platoon in Iraq (if you are interested in participating, click here for more info). Well, I mailed most of them (minus the usual dozen I can't keep from eating every time I make them!)

What this recipe taught me:

*Browning half the butter adds a subtle, unique & delicious flavor and leaving the other half alone helps the cookie's texture.
*Toasting the nuts heightens their flavor.
*Using a small amount of vinegar doesn't change the flavor but aids in producing a softer cookie.
*Toasting & grinding oats & using them in place of some of the flour also aids in bringing the flavor and texture to a new level.

OK, so are you ready for the recipe or what?!

Laura's Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft to the touch
3/4 cups fresh light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon real vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar (You won’t taste it, I promise.)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups good quality all purpose flour
1 cup walnuts (Optional, but refer to notes for flour & chocolate changes.)
¾ of a 12 ounce package Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (I just use a full bag of whatever kind I have--I know, I'm a heathen!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a nonstick skillet melt 1 stick of the butter over medium heat until foamy and lightly golden brown. Pour into a bowl and wipe out the skillet.

3. In the skillet over medium heat, toast the oatmeal stirring often until fragrant and some of the oatmeal is light golden in color. About 3 minutes. Transfer the oatmeal to a food processer and grind until fine and powdery. Set aside.

4. Spread the walnuts onto a plate and microwave in 30 second increments 2 or 3 times until toasted, stirring in-between. Let the walnuts cool slightly, and chop to desired size.

5. Mix in a stand mixer the softened butter, browned butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and vinegar into the and beat on slow to combine, and then on high speed until fluffy and lighter in color.

6. Add the eggs and mix until combined. Add the oatmeal and baking soda and beat for another minute. Next, add the flour half at a time and mix on low speed just until incorporated.

7. Add the chocolate chips and toasted walnuts. Mix on low until incorporated.

8. With a size 50 cookie scoop or a generous tablespoon, drop the dough onto parchment paper 3 inches apart.

9. Bake for 11 minutes or until golden around the edges. Remove from oven and let set on the cookie sheet for 3 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

Makes about 45 cookies.

1. If omitting nuts, add ¼ cup more flour to the batter and the whole bag of chocolate chips.
2. Cookies are best baked shortly after mixing the batter together. There is no need to refrigerate the dough.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nutty Toffee Popcorn

Although I have an overabundance of saved recipes that I have yet to try, I still couldn't resist purchasing Taste of Home's "Bake Sale 2009" magazine when I spotted it on the shelf at the grocery store. I want to make everything in the book (it doesn't hurt that pictures accompany each recipe!), but this is the first thing I've tried.

It is really hard for me to stick to a recipe exactly, and this one is no exception. Come on, a recipe with toffee in the title and none in the recipe? That had to be fixed! So here's my version.

Nutty Toffee Popcorn
Adapted from Glenna Hale's recipe in Taste of Home's Bake Sale 2009

½ cup popcorn kernels
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup whole almonds (I used roasted & salted)
1 c butter
2 c packed brown sugar
½ c light corn syrup
½ t cream of tartar
½ t baking soda
½ t rum extract
½ cup toffee bits (like Heath baking bits)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Pop kernels (I use an air popper) and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle the nuts over the top of the popped popcorn and set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the brown sugar, corn syrup and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil, without stirring, for five minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, you can clamp it to the side of the and wait until the mixture reaches 300 degrees F).

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda & rum extract until mixture is light and foamy. Immediately pour over the popcorn mixture & stir to coat well. Bake in a large roaster pan or two jelly roll pans for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. The last time you stir, when only 15 minutes remain, sprinkle the toffee over the top, stir and return to the oven.

When it has baked an hour, lay sheets of waxed paper on the counter and spread the popcorn over it to dry, breaking up the pieces with a spoon as you spread it out. Once it has cooled, store in an airtight container. I usually just put mine into gallon-sized Ziploc bags. In this case, I only needed one b/c only half the popcorn survived to the packaging stage!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tunnel of Fudge Cake

This is an old recipe--a Pillsbury Bake-Off winner from 1966! As the cake bakes, it mysteriously develops a "tunnel of fudge" filling. This is the first time Dennis & I have tried it and we both agree with the 1966 Bake-Off judges--it's a winner!

Originally a Pillsbury fudge frosting mix was stirred into the batter but when that product was discontinued, Pillsbury updated the recipe (with powdered sugar & cocoa to replace the mix) so that we could continue to enjoy this timeless classic.

Tunnel of Fudge Cake
Don't scrimp on the nuts or it won't work!

1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups butter, room temperature
6 eggs
2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups chopped walnuts

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
4-6 teaspoons milk

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube cake pan or 10-inch tube pan. In large bowl, combine sugar and butter; beat until light and fluffy--about five minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar; blend well. By hand, stir in flour and remaining cake ingredients until well blended. Spoon batter into greased and floured pan; spread evenly.

Bake at 350°F. for 45 to 50 minutes or until top is set and edges are beginning to pull away from sides of pan (don't bother testing for doneness as the fudgy tunnel will leave a wet toothpick even when the cake is done). Cool upright in pan on wire rack 1 1/2 hours. Invert onto serving plate; cool at least 2 hours.

In small bowl, combine all glaze ingredients, adding enough milk for desired drizzling consistency. Spoon over top of cake, allowing some to run down sides. Store tightly covered.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lemony Orange Cake

We recently celebrated my Dad's 61st birthday and I meant to only provide a Better Than Banoffee Pie (a wonderful recipe courtesy of Kitchen Bitch), but I've been in an experimental baking mode lately and we ended up having a dessert-athon with three cakes in addition to the pie...all for only 8 guests!

The surprise favorite turned out to be this Lemony Orange Cake. It is heavier than a regular cake, but lighter than a pound cake and extremely moist with a wonderful orange glaze that locks in the moisture. The citrus flavors make it the perfect summer treat.

Lemony Orange Cake

1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3 ounce) package instant lemon pudding mix
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract

1/3 cup orange juice
2/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup butter

Grease & flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

In a large bowl, stir together cake mix and pudding mix. Pour in the 3/4 cup orange juice, oil, eggs and lemon extract. Beat on low speed until blended. Scrape bowl, and beat 4 minutes on medium speed. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Once it's cool, fit the Bundt pan back over the cake and flip it over so the cake is back in the pan. In a saucepan over medium heat, cook 1/3 cup orange juice, sugar and butter until it comes to a boil and continue to boil for two minutes. Pour the glaze over the bottom of the cake and use a spatula to spread to the sides so that it drips down evenly on all sides and on the inside circle. You don't want all the glaze sitting on top, you want it to drip down so it can soak into the cake evenly. Allow to soak for 10 minutes, then place a serving plate on top of the pan & flip it over so that the cake comes out on the plate. Glaze will dry so that the cake can be covered with plastic wrap until serving. If made more than two days in advance, store in the fridge. Don't worry--it will stay moist even if made several days ahead!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Egg White Chocolate Buttercream

Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible is literally my cake bible. It contains recipes for the only from-scratch cakes that ever turned out any good in my kitchen, and her buttercreams & fillings are all superb. I have yet to try a recipe in it that has failed, not only because they are excellent, but because she is very specific in her directions and gives plenty of tips for beginners.

This chocolate egg white buttercream is one of my favorites because it's relatively simple (believe me, she's got some majorly complicated ones in that book) but extrememly delicious. I'd compare it to a light mousse. It's firm but airy and kind of dissolves on your tongue...sometimes it's like I'm eating rich chocolate air...but it does have substance so that's not exactly right. How about I let Rose do the talking...

"This special version of chocolate buttercream is the color of rich milk chocolate and has a more assertive chocolate flavor than the traditional one made with egg yolks. In fact, it is just as smooth and even easier and faster to prepare than Classic or Neoclassic Buttercream because a sugar syrup is not needed.

"This buttercream is airy yet, because of the whites' structure, has more body than a buttercream made with all yolks. It is an excellent texture and flavor for both chocolate butter cakes and chocolate genoise."

Thanks Rose, that about sums it up. Except I like it on any chocolate cake, any yellow cake, or white cake. I just like it period. It is NOT your typical frosting and I've found that frosting haters (the women in my family) usually enjoy this one, along with everyone else that is normal (frosting lovers).

Classic Egg White Chocolate Buttercream
Makes 4 3/4 Cups, enough to fill & frost a two layer cake

10 oz bittersweet chocolate (I always use semi-sweet chocolate chips)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter (must be room temperature)
4 large egg whites (must be room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar

Melt the chocolate using a double boiler or in the microwave. I use the microwave & stir ever 15 seconds (after an initial 30 seconds). This time I accidentally did 45 seconds initially and that caused enough heat for the chips to completely melt as I stirred them. Do not overheat or the chocolate will seize up & you'll have to start over. Once melted, set aside to cool completely.

Beat the butter until smooth & creamy & set aside.

In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form when the beater is raised. (Veronica's note: if you're using the same beaters you used to beat the butter, wash them thoroughly before using them on the egg whites or they won't ever fluff up or get stiff. Fat is the enemy when it comes to beating egg whites!) Gradually beat in the sugar until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Beat in the butter by the tablespoon. If the mixture looks slightly curdled, increase the speed a little and beat until smooth before continuing to add more butter (In my experience, sometimes the curdled look won't go away until all the butter has been added). Add the melted and cooled chocolate all at once and beat until smooth and uniform in color. Use immediately or place in an airtight bowl. Rebeat to restore texture.

You can store it 3 days at room temp, 2 weeks refrigerated, or six months frozen.

*Note : While it is necessary to cook egg yolks for a buttercream to prevent bacterial growth, raw egg whites are far less prone to this problem.
*Veronica's note: I know people are seriously paranoid about raw eggs, but I've made this a lot and can promise you that no one has gotten sick off of it yet--even after more than three days at room temp. I know, I live on the edge.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

1955 Almond Burnt Sugar Cake

I found a 1955 copy of Household magazine at my parents' house recently, and the beauituful coconut cake gracing the cover compelled me to flip through the pages. Once I found the section of cake recipes that the cover promised, I scanned them over and came to an "Almond Burnt Sugar Cake" that caught my interest because I remembered reading that the use of burnt sugar began during the Great Depression.

Indeed, this burnt sugar cake is a perfect example of the resourcefulness and creativity that was stimulated during those lean times. Expensive ingredients were nearly unattainable and to keep things from getting redundant, housewives invented new ways to flavor desserts without actually having to purchase anything extra, such as burning sugar & turning it into a syrup before adding it to a cake.

Sadly, we have nearly forgotten this inexpsensive and tasty flavoring because many of us rely on mixes and fast fixes in this age of convenience & cheap substitutes. Before stumbling upon this magazine in my Dad's abundant collection of old books, I'd never in my life tasted burnt sugar and when I found the recipe for the burnt sugar cake, I knew it was high time I bring this tiny piece of history back to life.

The cake I made is in the lower left corner, and I obviously had more trouble with mine than whatever chef whipped that beauty up.

The funny thing about burnt sugar is that it doesn't particularly smell or taste good in its syrup state, but once added to cake or turned into frosting, the slight bitterness subsides and what remains is a flavor very similar to caramel and brown sugar, but different enough that I wanted to keep tasting it to try to ascribe it some elusive adjective. It was a pointless endeavor because burnt sugar is its own flavor & the only way to describe it is, "burnt sugar." And it is wonderful.

I have to admit that the cake as a whole was somewhat disappointing. The velvety light batter, so silky I wanted to lie in a bed made with it, held such promise! Alas, though I pulled off a series of time-learned stunts to ensure a glorious result, I still ended up with a cake that was slightly dry & crumbly, and with icing that was more like a grainy liquid caramel (seriously, half of it ran off the cake and I had to keep scraping off the growing pool around the bottom) than the fluffy/creamy stuff most cakes are frosted with. Don't get me wrong, the flavor was divine, but the textures weren't. If you are a baking pro, perhaps you can pull it off with greater success than I, but even if your result is similar to mine, I think you'll appreciate the flavor & your loved ones most likely will not be complaining (mine aren't). In fact, it's probably just the cake snob in me that finds anything wrong with this recipe at all.

As for me, I won't be trying this recipe again (I plan to incorporate the burnt sugar syrup into another cake recipe to see if I can enhance the crumb) but I feel I should share the original with you, to fulfill my objective of keeping this piece of history alive.

*Pictures of ads from the magazine follow the recipe.

My cake is pictured on a reproduction of the Depression-era Madrid-pattern crystal glass cake plate, a gift from my father.

Almond Burnt Sugar Cake
From Household Magazine, March 1955

3 cups sifted cake flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
3 eggs, unbeaten
1/3 cup burnt sugar syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

Prepare burnt sugar syrup as directed in recipe below. Sift cake flour with baking powder, soda and salt. Cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar gradually, beating until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Stir in 1/3 cup of burn sugar syrup and the vanilla, blending well. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, stirring until smooth after each addition. Pour into 2 oiled and wax-paper-lined, round 9-inch layer cake pans 1 ½ inches deep. Bake in moderate oven (350 F) about 35 minutes. Remove to cooling rack and cool in pan about 10 minutes. Remove from pans, peel off wax paper carefully, and complete cooling. Frost with Burnt Sugar Frosting.

Burnt Sugar Syrup: Place 1 cup sugar in heavy saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar melts and turns golden brown. Lower heat and gradually add ½ cup boiling water. Stir until sugar dissolves and syrup is slightly thickened. Cool. Blend in water, if necessary, to make 2/3 cup syrup.

Burnt Sugar Frosting
1/3 cup burnt sugar syrup
½ cup almonds, blanched and halved
2 ¼ cups sugar
¼ cup butter
½ tsp soda
¼ tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Place 1/3 cup burnt sugar in 4-quart, heavy saucepan. Add almonds and stir over low heat for one minute. Remove almonds from syrup to cookie sheet, separating them with fork. Add sugar, butter, soda, salt and milk to syrup in saucepan. Cook to soft ball stage (234 F). Cool. Sir in vanilla. Beat until creamy. Spread on top and sides of layers. If frosting gets too stiff, add few drops hot water. Decorate with the caramel-coated almonds.

*Veronica's notes: be sure ALL your cake ingredients are at room temperature (including the syrup). When cooking the frosting, I recommend using a dutch oven or stock pot as the mixture boils up 2-3 times it's uncooked volume. It boiled over in my 3-quart saucepan and probably would in a 4-quart as well.

Household Magazine's 10 Tips for Better Cakes

1. Begin with high quality ingredients.
2. Have all ingredients at room temperature.
3. Be sure baking temperature is correct.
4. Use the pan size specified in the recipe.
5. Measure ingredients exactly, using standard measuring cups and spoons.
6. Always sift flour before measuring.
7. When using an electric mixer, scrape sides of bowl and beaters often during mixing.
8. Use low speed to blend and medium speed for beating.
9. Cool butter cakes in pan (upright) on cake rack for 10 minutes; then remove from pan.
10. Before frosting, cool cake thoroughly and remove excess crumbs from surface.

Now you know when instant oatmeal was invented--1955! Also, the picture is too small to see it (darned Picassa), but Quaker Oats used to also make "Mother's Oats" which had a picture of a mother with her son on the canister, pictured to the right of the Quaker Oats container we still see today.

I wonder when Kellogg's got the idea that putting the word CONSTIPATED in bold black letters at the top of their Allbran ad wasn't the best way to appeal to someone's appetite?

Karo makes it "extra good?" Well, isn't that swell!

This is one part of history I'll happily leave behind!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

PMS Pie, AKA Five-Layer Toffee Pie

When you start screaming at the pot of water because it hasn't boiled yet, then start slamming drawers while searching for your pasta server, and eventually start throwing utensils on the kitchen floor and then start grabbing things off the counter with intent to break as many of them as know it's time to make this pie. You can tell your friends that it's Five-Layer Toffee Pie but you and I both know it's just a cure for PMS.

*Warning: this sucker is RICH so cut into small slivers if you are not actually suffering from PMS. Otherwise, this pie serves one.

PMS Pie (AKA Five-Layer Toffee Pie)

1 store-bought Oreo cookie crust (or make your own)
2 cups dulce de leche*, room temperature
1 (8-oz) container Cool Whip, thawed
1 (8-oz) bag toffee bits (you won't use the whole bag but you'll need something to sustain you until the pie is assembled)

Sprinkle some toffee bits over the bottom of the crust...

Spread the dulce de leche over it (oops, started on the next step b4 I took the pic)...

Sprinkle on some more toffee...

Spread on the Cool Whip...

And then top it off with more toffee.

It's best to refrigerate it overnight so that the dulce de leche firms up but if you're thinking about taking a meat cleaver to the back of your neighbor's head for parking in front of your driveway again, by all means--dig in immediately!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dulce de Leche

My method of making dulce de leche is probably the most commonly used, but I'm posting it here because two recipes using dulce de leche will follow and I want to include instructions on how to prepare it.

This is the cheater's way of making it. Go elsewhere if you want the stuff with real cream and vanilla bean seeds. This blog is for the non-food snobs. Me? I can be both but I prefer to cheat when it comes to dulce de leche.

Dulce de Leche

1. Remove the label from a can of sweetened condensed milk. (This is the only ingredient, by the way.) I use Eagle brand.

2. Place it in the bottom of a pot on it's side and cover with water at least an inch above the top of the can.

3. Put it on the stove, put the lid on, and turn the burner to high. You will let it boil on high for 2 hours. Alternately, you can simmer it on medium for four hours but it turns out exactly the same so I do it on high to save time.

4. Check the water level every half hour or so and add more water to keep it above the top of the can. DO NOT LET THE WATER LINE FALL BENEATH THE TOP OF THE CAN, OR THE CAN COULD EXPLODE, RESULTING IN SERIOUS INJURY.

5. Have I scared you into never trying my method yet?

6. Once it has boiled for two hours, turn off the heat and carefully remove the can with tongs.

7. Allow to cool completely, then open and use as you wish. Some just wait until the can is managably warm before opening, but I'm not so brave. The fear of the can exploding in my face keeps me from attempting anything of the sort. I usually let it sit overnight or just stash it in the cupboard if I won't be using it for a while. It has a long shelf life, even after cooking. I'm not sure how long, because the longest it's ever lasted on my cupboard shelf is one month. I'd say you've got until the expiration date on the can, but I'm not making any promises.

I opened this can today, one month after making it--still perfect!

Veronica's tip: I use a stock pot and cook several at once so I have them on hand. Also, I recently found prepared dulce de leche in a can at the grocery store on the Mexican food aisle so if preparing dulce de leche yourself doesn't appeal to you, check to see if your grocer sells them. The kind I found looks like this (and it looks & tastes exactly the same as the kind I make):

When it's done, you'll have some lovely thick, caramelly stuff like this. Heaven!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cake Mix Cakes

I'm way behind on blogging, so I'm going to combine several into one here.

I've been on a cake mix bend for a while, so I decided to share some of the awesome recipes I've tried. These have all been approved by me, my husband, dog, random relatives, neighbors & coworkers. They are absolutely outstanding--try them all! I guarantee you won't regret it.

Honey Bun Cake

1 (18.l25 0z) box yellow cake mix
2/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 container (8 oz) sour cream (1 cup)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped pecans (optional--I didn't use)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Grease with shortening and lightly flour 13x9-inch pan, or spray with baking spray with flour.

In large bowl, beat dry cake mix, oil, eggs and sour cream with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Spread half of the batter in pan.

In small bowl, stir together brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon; sprinkle over batter in pan. Carefully spread remaining batter evenly over pecan mixture.

Bake 44 to 48 minutes or until deep golden brown. In another small bowl, stir powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until thin enough to spread. Prick surface of warm cake several times with fork. Spread powdered sugar mixture over cake. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Store covered at room temperature.


1 (18.25 ounce) package white cake mix
1 (14 ounce) can cream of coconut (NOT coconut milk)
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (16 ounce) package frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 (8 ounce) package flaked coconut

Prepare and bake white cake mix in a 9"x13" pan according to package directions. While it is baking, toast the coconut in a skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned. Set aside. Mix the cream of coconut and sweetened condensed milk together in a bowl and set aside.

Remove cake from oven and immediately (yes, while it's still hot--very important!) poke holes all over the top of the cake. Pour the cream of coconut mixture over the hot cake--it will soak in through the holes. Let cake cool completely,then frost with the whipped topping and top with the toasted coconut. Keep cake refrigerated.

Veronica's notes: The only cream of coconut I've found has enough to make two recipes. Instead of saving half for later (I saved the last half for a couple months in the fridge--it apparently lasts forever), next time I will just omit the sweetened condensed milk and use all the cream of coconut. Cream of coconut is the same consistency & is just as sweet as sweetened condensed milk but has a coconut flavor, so I think this would have the same result except with a slightly more coconutty flavor!


1 (18.25 oz) Box white cake mix
15 Oreo’s, crushed
1 (8oz) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 (16oz) box powdered sugar
1 (8oz) container Cool whip, thawed
15 Oreo’s crushed
¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract

Prepare cake according to package directions, adding the first 15 crushed Oreo’s to the batter. Divide batter between two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake as directed on box. Remove cake layers from oven and let cool completely on cooling rack.

In mixer cream the cream cheese and sugar. Add vanilla and stir in Cool Whip. Mix well. Add rest of crushed Oreo’s. Incorporate all ingredients until well blended. Fill & frost cooled cake. You can decorated with leftover Oreos and additional Cool Whip.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Razzcherry Pie

I am a cake lover, born to a family of pie lovers. Making pie does not thrill me the way making and decorating a cake can, but in most cases, my family would prefer I bring pie to our get-togethers. I'm making them so often now that I seem to have earned an unwanted reputation and have become, somewhat grudgingly, the designated pie maker amongst my friends and family.

This is how my Razzcherry Pie was born. Dad wanted pie for his birthday celebration last year, so I did an experiment to come up with a cherry & raspberry filling. Though delicious, it turned out pretty runny so I tweaked it a bit and tried it again for our belated Mother's Day barbecue this year (because, of course, Mom wanted pie instead of cake). It came out perfect so I thought I'd share the recipe now that I've worked out the kinks.

Veronica's Razzcherry Pie
Prepare to be razzle dazzled!

Almond Crust
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 16 pieces
4 to 6 Tbsp ice water, very cold
milk & coarse sugar for top crust

Rasberry-Cherry Filling
1 (10-oz) package frozen raspberries
2 (14.5-oz) cans sour pitted cherries, drained well (juice reserved)
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp butter
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp red food coloring (optional)


The night before you make the pie, put the raspberries into a colander and set it over a bowl. Put the whole thing in the refrigerator and by the time you use them, they’ll be thawed and drained. Save the juice.

For the crust (which can be made up to two days ahead), I recommend using a food processor. Process the almonds until very finely ground—about the texture of cornmeal. Add the flour, salt & brown sugar, then pulse a couple times to combine. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal & pieces are no larger than peas. Sprinkle 4 tbsp ice water over the top and pulse until it starts to clump together & holds together when you pinch it with your fingers. Add additional water if necessary (I personally use 5 tbsp). Form the dough into 2 disks, dust with flour, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. Roll out one of the disks on a floured surface and fit it into a 9 inch deep dish pie plate, trimming off the excess (leave a ½” overhang if you will be using a lattice top crust). Set in the fridge until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees & place one oven rack in the lowest position and one in the middle. If you only have one rack, put it in the lowest position.

Pour the collected raspberry juice into a 1-cup measuring cup (you’ll probably only have a few tablespoons). Add the reserved cherry juice until you have ¾ cup of liquid.

In a saucepan mix the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in the juice and simmer over medium heat until filling is thick and clear (by clear I don’t mean the red will disappear, but that the cloudy appearance from the cornstarch will go away), about 4 to 5 minutes. Since you’ll be adding more liquid after it’s done cooking and the berries will break down and make the glaze juicier, you want to get it pretty thick. If it isn’t gel-like after 5 minutes, whisk in more cornstarch (1 tsp at a time) and cook for another few minutes after each addition until it’s very thick.

Remove from heat and stir in the butter, almond extract & food coloring until the butter is melted and incorporated. Gently fold in the cherries & very gently fold in the raspberries. Yes, the raspberries will fall apart but the more careful you are, the less likely it is they’ll turn to unrecognizable mush. Pour into pastry-lined pie dish and set aside.Roll out second dough disk and cut into 1/2-3/4" strips. Arrange the strips on top to make a lattice, trim them to the edge of the plate (slightly shorter than the overhanging edge), fold the edge over & seal. Pour some milk (I used cream) into a dish and use your clean fingertips to moisten the strips. Sprinkle the strips with coarse sugar (try to get it on the strips but it’s OK if some falls into the filling).

If you are just using a full top crust, seal & flute the edges, brush with milk/cream, sprinkle with sugar and cut steam vents so you don’t have a royal pie explosion in your oven.

Place pie on the bottom shelf of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, and then move to the middle shelf & reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. At this point, you MUST put an oven liner on the rack below the pie, or cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place it below, because the pie will most likely bubble over and make a mess.

Continue to bake until bubbling & the crust is a golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes more. Cool completely (best if made the day before serving) before cutting & serve with vanilla ice cream.

Will last several days on the counter & longer in the fridge.

Blueberry Lemon Trifle

We have several diabetics in our Church group, with whom we joined last Saturday for a barbecue in the countryside. To accomodate their sugar abstinence, I brought two sugar-free desserts: rugelach & blueberry lemon trifle. Both desserts were enjoyed by diabetics & non-diabetics alike, but this is the one I will continue making for myself (Den can fend for himself--the trifle is mine!) because it's low in calories and it tastes FABULOUS! If you prefer to make this with full-fat and full-sugar (oooooh, I bet that would be even better!), follow the suggestions in parentheses.

Blueberry Lemon Trifle
1 sugar-free angel food cake (or 1 pound cake)
1 lemon, juiced
1 1/2 cups skim milk (or whole milk)
1 (8-oz) tub fat-free sour cream (or regular sour cream)
1 (8-oz) tub sugar-free cool-whip, divided (or regular Cool Whip/real whipped cream)
2 packages fat-free/sugar-free instant lemon pudding (or regular instant lemon pudding)
3 pints blueberries, rinsed & dried

Cut the cake into cubes and lay them out on a cookie sheet, then sprinkle the lemon juice evenly over them (I actually dipped my clean fingers into the juice & dabbed the juice on--you could use a pastry brush too) & carefully toss. Don't mash the cake--keep it as pretty as possible. This won't be as difficult with pound cake b/c it's not as delicate so you don't have to be as careful. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the milk, sour cream & half of the cool whip until smooth, then beat in the pudding mixes until it starts to thicken.Set a few blueberries aside for garnish. Put 1/3 of the cake cubes in the bottom of a trifle bowl, sprinkle on 1/3 of the blueberries (1 pint), then spread 1/3 of the pudding mixture over it. Repeat two more times, then spread the remaining Cool Whip over the top & garnish with the reserved blueberries. Chill until ready to serve--can be made up to two days in advance--or just sit it down on the table and dig in.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Brownies Galore!

I went a bit brownie crazy early in the week and baked five 9x13-sized pans of three different kinds of them. I mailed two pans to a friend serving in Iraq (this required some mad packing skills & ingenuity on my part) for his birthday and the rest were frozen* until ready to use for two potlucks we were attending this weekend.

Here are the brownies I made (I dare you not to get a toothache after reading them): Mocha-Frosted Kahlua Brownies, Peanut Butter Truffle Brownies and Chocolate Caramel Walnut Brownies.

Although I'm partial to the Kahlua Brownies b/c they are my own recipe, I have to say that the Peanut Butter Truffle Brownies are my new favorite (yes, of all time!). The Chocolate Caramel Walnut Brownies are very decadent, but somehow not as refined (if a brownie can be called refined) as the former two--they remind me more of a juvenile treat but this doesn't keep them from being outstanding. Brownies with thick, gooey caramel and dripping with chocolate chips and walnuts? What could be wrong with that?
I have to apologize to all the people who are going to be aghast that I dared to use brownie mix instead of measuring out flour & sugar, but I just prefer the mix, people! I've made scratch brownies and I just don't like them as much. I guess I should try some more recipes before I set my mind against from-scratch brownies but why mess with perfection when it's this easy? If you're passionate about this subject and have a great recipe that you think would change my mind, please share!

Kahlua Brownies
These brownies are best-sellers at the Flying Pig Gift Boutique. It doesn't matter what kind of outlandish treats I bring in to sell, if the brownies are sitting there alongside them, the other stuff only goes after the brownies are sold out. Which never takes very long.

1 box fudge brownie mix (I like Pillsbury)
2 eggs1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
1/4 cup Kahlua
2 Tbsp. Kahlua
3 tsp. powdered insant coffee crystals**
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

Make the brownies: mix up everything, spread in a 9x13 pan (grease the bottom only) and bake at 350 for however long the box says. Don't overbake unless you like dry brownies. Cool COMPLETELY before frosting.

Make the frosting: Microwave the Kahlua for 30 seconds or until boiling (I use a glass 1-cup measuring cup and fill it 1/2 way to the 1/4 cup line). Stir in the instant coffee and place in the freezer to cool. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 1 minute, stir and then give it another 30 seconds, stirring again. It should be melted but if not, cotinue this cycle in 30 second intervals. Once smooth, set aside to cool. Cream the butter then beat in the cooled chocolate. Last, add the coffee mixture and beat it until everything is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl. Spread over the cooled brownies.

Peanut Butter Truffle Brownies
Recipe from Betty Crocker with instructions modifed by me.

1 9x13 pan of brownies, cooled (if using a mix, be sure to substitute melted butter for the oil)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. milk

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
Directions:Beat filling ingredients until smooth and spread evenly over the cooled brownies. An offset spatula is almost required for this task as the filling is thick and hard to spread. Microwave the topping ingredients in 30-second intervals, stirring between, until smooth (should only take a couple times). Cool 10 minutes, then spread over the filling layer. Again, I would never try this without an offset spatula. The layer has to be spread very, very thin and I can't imagine doing it without one. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before cutting--you want the chocolate on top to be hardened so that the brownies cut easily. I cut mine frozen and that worked fine.

Chocolate Caramel Walnut Brownies
Recipe from the back of a generic sweetened condensed milk label

2 boxes of fudge brownie mix

Caramel Topping
1/2 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
dash of salt
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups walnuts
2 cups chocolate chips

Prepare the brownies according to package directions (except substituting melted butter for the oil) and stick them in the oven to bake according to the package directions. As soon as they're in, start the caramel topping.

Melt the butter in a heavy 3 quart saucepan. Stir in sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Blend in sweetened condensed milk, continue stirring, and heat to 245 degrees (approximately 10 minutes). I heated mine to 250 degrees to no ill result. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Let caramel cool while brownies finish baking.

Pour the caramel over the brownies when they come out of the oven. Scatter the walnuts & chocolate chips over the top and let cool completely before attempting to cut into bars.
Veronica's Notes
*I don't know if naked brownies freeze well, but I've never had a problem with frosted brownies. They retain their moisture and texture perfectly and are never any worse for wear after defrosting. They are a perfect make-ahead treat in any instance when you need to make-ahead or just want to make something to keep on hand in case of emergency.

**If you are measuring the crystals before turning them to powder (with a coffee grinder, morter & pestle or just crushing them with a rolling pin), measure a tablespoon.