Saturday, May 28, 2011

Currant Cream Scones and Homemade Clotted Cream

Tea and scones are a quintessential combination. Add some clotted cream and jam, and you could swear you were in England. The compliments I received when I made these scones tell me that I'm not the only one who loved these. The texture is perfect and the currants give them a little extra sweetness.

The clotted cream was a new adventure for me. I was asked to make scones and provide clotted cream for 80 for an annual Spring Tea. I went searching for clotted cream and found out that it is quite expensive to buy already prepared. I had to find a way to make it myself.

Most clotted cream recipes I found told me that I had to find heavy cream which was not ultra-pasteurized - not an easy task where I live. I'd spend 2 hours and $10 in gas to drive to Whole Foods for the non-ultra-pasteurized variety, and then I'd spend twice as much for the cream on top of that. It wasn't happening.

I read that someone tried adding a little buttermilk to the ultra-pasteurized cream and it worked wonderfully. Then I remembered that you make homemade creme fraiche by adding buttermilk to cream and then it thickens the cream after sitting out at room temperature for a day or two. It made sense, so I tried the buttermilk method and it worked for me too. Just remember to plan ahead, as the cream needs to cook for 12 hours and then chill for another 4-8 hours. The good thing is, there's not much more to it than that!

Currant Cream Scones
from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet
Note: These scones are made with cream as opposed to my other favorite scone recipe made with buttermilk. In fact, the recipes are almost identical, which I only realized when I tripled the cream recipe and doubled the buttermilk recipe. Both recipes make excellent scones, so try both and decide which one you like better!

Another note: if using currants, look them over and try to remove any itty bitty stems that you see.

Another note: these lend themselves well to making ahead. You can freeze or refrigerate the unbaked scones (directions below), but try to bake the scones within 4 hours of serving for best results.

2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter (4 oz) (cold, cut into pieces)
1 cup (8 oz) heavy whipping cream (cold)
1/2 cup (7 ounces) dried currants (if not soft and pliable, soak in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and pat dry)

For the Topping:
1 egg, lightly beaten with a teaspoon of water (egg wash)
Turbinado sugar or other coarse sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

3. Using your fingertips, work the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse cornmeal. A few larger pieces are fine and will actually add to the flakiness of the scones.

4. Stir in the currants, then add the cream. Blend together quickly using a spatula until it just comes together. Do not over-mix. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead only enough for the dough to hold together - about 5 to 10 times.

5. Divide the dough in half and shape each into a flattened circle about an inch thick. Cut each circle into 6 wedges. I use a metal pastry scraper to cut the dough. Alternatively, you can shape the dough into one larger square, again about an inch thick and cut that into smaller squares of any size you like. At this point, you could wrap the circle of scones in plastic and freeze until you need them, up to a month. You do not need to thaw the scones before baking them.

6. Transfer the fresh or frozen scones to a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet. If making these the night before, cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and place the entire sheet in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to bake, brush each scone with egg wash using a pastry brush and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

8. Bake for 14-16 minutes until golden brown and firm when pressed lightly on top.

Homemade Clotted Cream
makes about 2 cups

4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup buttermilk
a pinch of salt (optional)

Place the heavy cream and buttermilk in an enameled cast-iron pot or other heavy-duty pot with a lid. The cream and buttermilk mixture should ideally be 2 to 3 inches deep, so adjust your cream amount or your pot size accordingly.

Place the pot, covered, into the oven set at 180 degrees F and cook for 10-12 hours, or until the cream on top looks a dark yellow color (see #1 above).
Note: some ovens will turn themselves off after a period of time, so check it every once in a while to make sure it is still on.

After 10-12 hours, remove the pot from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight, or until well chilled.

Using a spatula, remove the thick clotted cream from the surface and place into a bowl. Use a large slotted spoon to remove any remaining thickened cream from the pot. The cream which is left in the pot may be refrigerated and used in any recipe calling for heavy cream.

Add a pinch of salt, and vigorously stir the clotted cream in the bowl, adding more of the leftover liquid cream to reach the desired consistency, until the mixture is fairly smooth and uniform in texture.

Serve with scones and jam.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Brownie Dice Pops

I have been having fun getting creative with brownie pops!

These dice are pretty simple to make. Follow the instructions for basic cake pops, but shape the brownie balls into squares.

Insert the sticks and cover the pops with white candy melts. Once dry, pipe the dots on using black royal icing and a piping bag fitted with a small round tip, and let dry on a styrofoam block.

Wouldn't these be great for game night?

Hope your May is going well and the sun is shining on you!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Marzipan Desserts May Madness

It's a crazy time of the year, and lots of things are coming out of my kitchen! I wanted to share some of them with you.

First, my son turned 12 and he requested a chocolate cake with mocha buttercream - not hard to believe since he loves the mocha frappe from Starbucks. It was really good! It's the same chocolate cake recipe used in the Grasshopper Cake from the Baked Cookbook. I've decided that it's now my favorite dark chocolate cake. The cake freezes quite well when double wrapped in plastic wrap. Still moist and good as the day it was made.

To make the buttercream, add 4 ounces of melted and cooled chocolate and 2 teaspoons of espresso powder to Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Chocolate and espresso is a marriage made in heaven.

I went to the Penn Avenue Fish Market in the Strip last week and got some sushi grade salmon. The fishmonger was nice enough to give me refresher on how to cut it for sushi. We had some great sushi and salmon rolls for dinner that night - sushi rice, salmon, cucumbers, carrots, red peppers and a little wasabi paste. The first roll was delicious, but the nori wasn't big enough and they fell apart. The second try turned out pretty well I think! I could eat sushi every day. I have even eaten it for breakfast. I think I need to visit Japan.

My friend Jen had a birthday too. She requested these coconut cream filled coconut cupcakes. I'd forgotten how good they are. And don't they look pretty in these multi-colored cupcake papers?

Finally, the senior lacrosse players at our school had their senior dinner and I made each senior a lacrosse jersey sugar cookie decorated with their number and name. Congratulations Seniors!

Happy Baking!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Garden Plan for 2011

{You're in the right place - I just spruced up my header, added some color and cleaned up the place a little. Spring cleaning my little blog is a lot easier than Spring cleaning my house, so I started here!}

Spring has finally arrived here in Pittsburgh. It has been so dreary up until now -- gray skies and very wet. On Mother's Day, the clouds decided to go elsewhere for a few days and it's been absolutely beautiful. The break from the cold weather gets me itching to start the garden and get things growing again.

Even the cat is enjoying the sun - and the fact that the mower is in the shop. She's channeling a lion in the safari I think.

I asked for one thing for Mother's Day and my husband and kids came through - love you guys! Here's a picture of my present...

No, I didn't ask for dirt - well, maybe I did... I asked for them to prepare a spot in the garden to grow my vegetables. I got some prime real estate next to the house outside the kitchen - sunny and perfect! I know my tomatoes are going to love it there.

On Friday, I took a drive up to Prospect, PA to a family run greenhouse called Jesteadt's. They have at least 6 greenhouses and even more large cold frames full of veggies and herbs, annuals and perennials - and the prices can't be beat. Where else can you find a pack of 12 healthy tomato seedlings for $1.95? Oh, the tomato sauces and pizza sauces and soups I'll be making come September!

I don't grow a large variety of vegetables - I leave that to
Kretschmann Farm which does a great job of growing organic produce. They have delivery drop-off locations all over Pittsburgh. In a few weeks, I'll be going every Thursday to pick up my CSA box and see what surprises it holds.

The vegetables I'll be growing this year are:

Roma Tomatoes
Italian Plum Tomatoes
Beefsteak Tomatoes
One Early Girl Tomato
Jalapeno Peppers
Bell Peppers

To me, there is nothing more gratifying than having a pantry full of home grown canned tomatoes and a freezer full of soups to get through the winter.

My garden herbs in 2011:

Lemon Basil
Sweet Basil
Italian Parsley

I love to have fresh herbs right outside the kitchen door to harvest whenever I need them. The herbs bring a bright freshness to summer meals and makes it easy to make a great meal with just a few fresh ingredients.

Even if you don't use herbs in cooking, they produce some of the most beautiful flowers in the garden, and the bees and butterflies just love them.

Here are some of my favorite recipes using fresh herbs:

Favorite Marinade for Steak (rosemary, thyme)
Butternut Squash Soup (thyme, chives)
Greek Salad (oregano)
Basil Pesto (basil)
Tomato Salsa (cilantro)

I would love to hear what are you planning to grow in your garden this year. Do you have a favorite recipe using fresh herbs? Please share!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Quick and Easy Cake Decorating

I'm always looking for ways to spruce up a cake without messing with piping bags and tips. To be honest, washing piping bags and tips, in the words of a certain 6-year-old I know, "isn't my gig", so I try to avoid it if I can. Using an offset spatula to make swirls and stripes can be just as pretty and can save a lot of time.

Lately, my favorite way to spruce up the sides of a cake is shown here. The trick is to have a nice thick layer of frosting at least 1/2 inch thick around the sides of the cake.

Decide which side of the cake will be the back before you begin and start each row at the back because you'll see that the last swirl is hard to finish without running into the first swirl just a little.

Then, holding a large offset spatula parallel to the working surface, begin the top row of swirls. Rock the rounded tip of the spatula into the frosting and then slide and rock the spatula backward, away from the indent you just made, while easing up on the pressure. The spatula does not lift from the icing completely until you have finished the entire row. Repeat the rocking and sliding until you have gone all the way around the cake. Starting at the back of the cake again, repeat the process for additional rows.

The cake you see here is a small 6" 4-layer cake and two rows were perfect. My typical 8-inch 3-layer cake will take three rows of swirls.

It's pretty, it's quick, and clean-up is a breeze!

If you want to get fancy, you can get out your piping bag and use this method of decorating to get a similar effect.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Making Brownie Pops

Cake pops are everywhere these days - you know, balls of cake mixed with frosting which are covered in candy coating. These are a little different - they are balls of pure fudgy brownie - no icing mixed in - then coated with candy coating. I think they are a step up from cake pops in their texture and taste - which is to say that they are amazing.

In a rare, full-on, multiple-photo Marzipan tutorial, here's how to make them...

Supplies needed:

8x8 cake pan

small cookie scoop

lollipop sticks

2 bags of candy melts (you may not use them all)

cello bags - optional

curling ribbon - optional

styrofoam for drying the pops - any scrap piece which is big enough to hold 30 pops will do

First, you make a batch of fudgy brownies such as this recipe. I got about 30 brownie balls from one batch of brownies. I haven't tried it, but you could probably use a boxed brownie mix if you like, as long as the brownies are moist and will hold together when shaped into a ball. If the mix has chocolate chips mixed into the batter, you may have a harder time rolling them into nice round balls. A cakey brownie would probably not work here unless you mix in some kind of binder like icing. The goal is to have your brownies just slightly undercooked so they hold together when shaped.

After the brownies have cooled completely, pull them out of the pan using the overhang of parchment or foil which you used to line the pan, and transfer the block of brownie to a cutting board.

Cut the outside edges off the brownie as this part would be too crispy and get in the way of your ball-rolling. Nibble on the brownie edges while you work.

Crumble the remaining brownie into pieces into a bowl and mush the pieces together a little.

Using a small cookie scoop, portion out the brownie balls and then roll the balls in your hands to make them round and smooth. Set the brownie balls on a cookie sheet and then place the cookie sheet into the refrigerator (or freezer if you will not be coating them within a few hours), covered with plastic wrap, until ready to coat and decorate. I made some square just to experiment with an idea I had.

Pull the brownies out of the freezer, if frozen, a let them warm up slightly while you prepare the candy melts. They should still be cold and firm when you begin to work with them, but if they are too cold, you may have a hard time inserting the lollipop stick. If using refrigerated pops, use them directly from the refrigerator.

In a microwave safe bowl, heat about 1/2 a bag of candy melts 30 seconds, then stir. Heat in additional 15 second intervals, stirring between, until completely melted. Over-heating the candy melts will cause the mixture to seize up and render it unusable. Throughout this process, you may need to reheat the candy melts if they start to cool and thicken. In this case, add a few more candy melts to the bowl and reheat at 15 second intervals as before.

Insert your lollipop stick into the flattened side (flattened due to sitting on the cookie sheet) about halfway (no more) into the brownie.

Dip the end of the lollipop stick into your melted candy melts.

And insert the stick into the pre-made hole. The candy will be the glue, making sure the stick won't move as you are coating and decorating the brownie.

Set the brownies aside to hardened the "glue". I placed the round ones on their sides with the stick resting on the side of the sheet pan. You could place these in the fridge or freezer to speed up the hardening process, especially if your kitchen is warm. I wash my hands at this point because, in the next step, the hand that was handling the brownies will be holding the lollipop stick and keeping the lollipop stick clean and white is a good thing.

There are different ways to coat a cake ball. If your melted candy is deep enough, you can dip the entire pop into the candy, give it a gently swirl and pull it out, or you can hold the brownie over the bowl of melted candy at an angle as shown in the blurry picture below. Spoon the candy melts over the brownie, turning the brownie as you go, until all sides and top are covered. Holding it at an angle causes the excess coating to cover the top of the brownie.

Gently shake off the excess, while constantly turning the brownie pop, until there is no more candy dripping from the brownie. If you want the pop to be completely covered with decoration at this point (see first photo), spoon your sanding sugar, sprinkles, jimmies, finely shredded unsweetened coconut (my favorite) , or whatever, over the pop now. Otherwise, set them aside to dry plain.

To make striped brownie balls, once the first coating is dry, and making sure the candy melts are liquid enough, splatter candy melts over the coated brownie, turning the brownie pop as you splatter. Let the excess drip off, then spoon over the sprinkles. The sprinkles will stick anywhere that the candy is still wet. My candy melts for the second batch were a little "gloppy" and didn't stream off the spoon as easily as the first time I made these. I can't explain it.

Once completely dry, slip the brownie into a plastic candy bag and tie a ribbon around the bottom. A 3" x 5" flat cello bag is the perfect size for these.


Classic Unsweetened-Chocolate Brownies
adapted from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich
Makes about 30 brownie pops

Note: You may double this recipe and use a 9x13 pan.

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick or 1/4 pound) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional - I omitted)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray an 8x8 pan with spray oil.

Place the chocolate and butter in a medium to large heat-proof bowl (big enough that you are able to add all of the ingredients to this bowl) over a pan of simmering water (a double boiler). Stir frequently until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is hot to the touch.

Remove the bowl from the double boiler and stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until the first one is incorporated before adding the next. Fold in the flour only until you can longer see traces of flour.   Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth to even it.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the brownies just begin to pull away from the side of the pan. A toothpick inserted should come out with a few moist crumbs.  Allow the brownies to cool completely, then follow the instructions above for shaping and dipping.


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