Thursday, May 28, 2009

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake (or Cupcakes) with Instant Fudge Frosting

Mom, don't worry, you didn't have a "senior moment" and miss your granddaughter's 7th birthday. Annie's teacher wanted to celebrate the summer birthdays before the year-end, so Annie requested this cake to share with her school friends. I had fun making this 8" triple-layer cake. I only wish I had had the chance to snap a picture of a piece cut from this cake. The crumb of this cake was a little denser than some and moist, just the way I like it. The icing was easy as pie and delicious - all made in the food processor. Here are some comments I got from Annie's fellow first graders:

"This is the best cake I have ever had!"
"Which cookbook did this come from? I need to tell my mom so she can bake this cake!"

--I am not making this up - and this is a big reason that I bake, and why you should be baking too (or letting me bake for you!) Homemade with the best ingredients is so much better than the cakes and icings made from the box! And though they're only in first grade, even they can appreciate something homemade and delicious.

I used the same recipe to make cupcakes for a friend's baptism, adorning them with real chocolate sprinkles.

I am loving the cookbook this recipe came from called Sky High, Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes.  I've tried several recipes and they have all turned out perfectly - and I love the combinations the authors put together. No doubt you'll be seeing many more postings here from this book.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
from Sky High, Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne
makes one 8-inch triple later cake or two 6-inch triple layer cakes

4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans or spray to coat with vegetable oil. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and grease the paper.
Put the eggs and yolks in a medium mixing bowl, add the vanilla and 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Whisk to blend well.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl; whisk to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients and with the mixer on low, blend together. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing only until thoroughly incorporated. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared pans.
Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes; then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.
To assemble the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread 3/4 cup of the frosting over the layer, right to the edge. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and use all but 3/4 cup of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. With an offset spatula, smooth out the frosting all over. Place the remaining frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip and pipe a shell border around the top and bottom edges of the cake.

Instant Fudge Frosting
makes 5 cups

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons half-and-half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Then process until the frosting is smooth.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cupcake of the Month - Coconut Cupcakes

I've made these coconut cupcakes three times in the past month - they haven't failed me yet and they are a new soul sista's favorite. They do require a bit of time and there's a mile-long list of ingredients, but the result is worth all the effort. They're kind of like coconut cream pie in a cupcake...mmm!

So our very own jennifer juniper had a birthday this month and we celebrated in classic soul sista's style. There were crafty handmade gifts, delicious chicken salad on croissants and champagne punch made by the treat girl...

and of course the obligatory birthday tiara and pink feather boa.
Happy Birthday Jen! Even though you're 29 now, you don't look a day over 28! (Actually, you don't look a day over 6 with that tiara on!)

Coconut Cupcakes
from Baked, New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
Makes 24 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening, at room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup ice water
2 large egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
For the coconut pastry cream:
2 cups half and half
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
For the Coconut Frosting:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup coconut pastry cream
For garnish:
1/2 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

Make the coconut pastry cream:
Set a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl.
In a medium saucepan over low heat, bring the half-and-half to a simmer. Off the heat, add the unsweetened coconut, cover and let steep 20 minutes. Strain and discard the coconut.
In another medium bowl, whisk the egg yolk with the sugar, flour, and salt until the mixture is pale, about 1 minute. Whisk half of the warm half-and-half into the egg mixture, then pour that mixture into the remaining half-and-half in the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until boiling and thickened. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through the sieve and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate the pastry cream for about an hour, or until chilled.
Make the coconut cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two 12-cup cupcake pans with paper liners.
Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixer to low. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix on low for a few more seconds.
In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Fold the coconut into the batter.
Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and place them on a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the coconut frosting:
In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil and had thickened, about 20 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla extract and 1/2 cup of the freshly-made pastry cream and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put it into the refrigerator to chill slightly, then mix again until it is the proper consistency.
Assemble the cupcakes:
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium tip with the remaining coconut pastry cream. Puncture the center of a cupcake with the tip and squeeze approximately 1 tsp of coconut pastry into the cupcake. Repeat for all cupcakes. (I cut a hole in the cupcake with a thin serrated knife, removed the plug, filled the cupcakes, and replaced the plug.)
Frost the top with coconut frosting and sprinkle with shredded coconut.
You're done! (whew!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New York City - A Culinary Peek

Whew! What a couple of weeks it has been! And it doesn't seem to be letting up. Besides baking up a storm in the past two weeks, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the fabulous NYC with my son and all of his classmates who also each brought one parent along. We had a jam-packed schedule including visiting Ellis Island, Rockefeller Center, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The United Nations, and seeing the Broadway Musical "Wicked".
Those tourist attractions were great, but I have to say that I loved happening upon the terrific bakeries and delis along the way. In the financial district, we came upon this huge deli called Oliva. They had a case full of pastries,

a case full of wraps and paninis,

and case full of kabobs and the makings for a delicious vegetarian quesedilla. They even had sushi, a salad bar, pizzas and soups to choose from. We thought that if this store was close to where we worked or lived, we might never cook again!
Closer to our hotel near central park on 7th Avenue we stopped for tea and a sweet bite to eat at Le Pain Quotidien. The apricot tart and pistachio Marzipan tarts were the perfect mid-afternoon treat.

There was an amazing bakery called Ferrara in Little Italy with such a large selection, it was hard to choose what to try. My son chose a cookie with raspberry filling and some elephant ears. I chose the sfogliatelle, a crispy phyllo-like dough with a not-too-sweet ricotta filling -- just don't ask me how to pronounce it!

Here's a closer look at some of their offerings...

If you've got a weak stomach, stop reading here, otherwise, read on...Just around the block we found these frogs for sale in Chinatown...

And squid...

and the entire block smelled like fish...we rushed out of there in search of the next pastry shop!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Favorite - Brother P-Touch Label-maker

I was reorganizing my pantry today and it reminded me of a true favorite. I just love my labelmaker! There is no better way to feel organized than to have your belongings in neat containers which are labeled with their contents.

I use my labelmaker for so many things - files folders, bins, and kids' stuff just to name a few. But mostly, I use my labelmaker in the kitchen on everything from baking pans (they don't burn) and tupperware (so the teacher or a neighbor knows who to return it to), to containers of different types of beans, rice and flours.

My entire house needs to be organized so badly, but I feel instantly better when my pantry is organized (because I spend so much time in the kitchen!) Now I can get back to baking!


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