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Inspired Spiral: Swiss Roll

6 Sep

It will come as no shock to anyone that I am a fan of the Great British Bake Off. Almost every episode, I am inspired by at least one of the challenges or history lessons presented. Recently, I’ve been watching old episodes and gathering creativity from them. In one of the episodes I came across, the contestants made Swiss Rolls, often referred to in the States as Jelly Rolls. These consist of sponge cake topped with a cream filling which is then rolled up into a beautiful spiral.

The challenge has its perils. If the sponge is not rolled at the right time, it can crack or break. If the filling is too soft, it will squeeze out the sides, if the sponge is too warm when the filling is added it can melt, and if the cake is not rolled tightly enough from the start, it will simply fall apart when cut.

By now you might be thinking, “NOPE,” or “Why would anyone want to do this?” Well for starters, sheer curiosity, and secondly the internet is FULL of people sharing techniques to avoid these pitfalls. By the time I was finished with my Swiss Roll, I didn’t feel stressed and I had a delicious and oh so light cake to share with Joe. Now, I’m not under a time crunch or fearing pressure from distinguished judges, and neither are you, so remember this is all just fun at the end of the day.

Let’s roll!

Strawberry Swiss Roll

Cake:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup cake flour
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp. sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Powdered sugar (for rolling)

Strawberry Cream Filling:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/3 cup strawberry preserves

Butter, flour, and line with parchment a standard half sheet pan (12×17 in.), then butter and flour the parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Sift together the flour and cornstarch and set aside.

Separate two of the eggs. Set the whites aside, and to the yolks add the two remaining whole eggs and one egg yolk.

Place the egg yolk and whole egg mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer along with ½ cup of the sugar. Beat this mixture on high speed until it is pale yellow and thick. This will take a good five minutes. Add the vanilla extract and beat well. Move this mixture to another bowl and clean and dry the stand mixer bowl.

Sift half of the flour mixture over the egg and sugar mixture and fold in gently, then do this with the second half of the flour mixture. Set this aside.

Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the clean stand mixer bowl and secure a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until the egg whites are very foamy and then slowly add the remaining 1 tbsp. sugar. Continue to beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.

Fold a small portion of the whipped egg whites into the batter to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest.

Pour the batter onto the prepared sheet pan and use an offset palette knife to spread it to the edges in an even layer.

Bake the cake for about 7 minutes, or until it springs back when touched and is golden brown.

While the cake is baking, lay a clean towel at least the size of the sheet pan out on the counter.

As soon as you take the cake out of the oven, dust the top lightly with powdered sugar and invert it onto the clean towel. Remove the parchment paper lining from the cake, dust the bottom (now top) with powdered sugar, and gently roll the cake up in the towel. Place this on a wire rack and let it cool for at least an hour.

Clean the stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment, and place them in the refrigerator to chill for 15 minutes. If you have enough space in your freezer, you can use that too.

While the cake is cooling, make the whipped cream filling. Place the heavy cream, vanilla extract, and sugar in the chilled bowl. Secure the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the strawberry preserves and beat until stiff peaks form. Chill this in the refrigerator while you wait for the cake to cool.

To assemble, unroll the cake gently and spread an even layer of the strawberry whipped cream on top.

Then slowly re-roll the cake, pulling in toward you as you go to tighten the spiral.

Place the cake on a platter, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours minimum.

I like to cut this cake into 12 servings. Use a serrated knife and slow, even strokes as you go. Don’t press straight down or you’ll squish your spiral. Lay the cut pieces on a platter, garnish with powdered sugar and fresh strawberries, and serve!

Honestly, as long as you take your time, it’s really not that hard to do. Beating the yolks and some of the whites separately is what gives this particular sponge the elasticity to roll without cracking or breaking. It is a low-stress sponge, I like to say. And the flavor can totally be of your own design! If strawberry’s not your game, use 1/3 cup of whatever flavor of preserves suits you. You can add some lemon zest to the batter or filling, try a different extract (oooooh almond would be good), paint the inside with flavored simple syrup before the second roll, or even give it a little powdered sugar/milk glaze after rolling. This one is a nice blank slate ripe for creativity.

So, there are some things on TV that you should absolutely try at home without fear, and this is one of them: A perfect little pinwheel to share with friends. What could be better?

Ciao for now,

Neen

Birthday Bakes: Carrot Cake

2 Sep

I love carrots. They’re like the candy of the vegetable world, really. There’s always a bag of them in my refrigerator and I eat them with such consistency that Joe doesn’t even ask me to put them on the shopping list anymore. Much like coffee, he just assumes I’m running low and buys more.

If I’m waiting for something to bake or cook in the kitchen, I’m usually also leaning against the counter dipping carrot pieces in hummus or peanut butter. So it’s kind of weird (now that I think of it) that I’ve never once blogged about carrot cake. Probably because I’m the only one in this household that likes it and I just can’t eat a whole cake by myself.

So when I got the opportunity to make one for a friend’s son’s birthday recently, I HAD to jump at the chance. The natural sweetness of carrots blended into and a soft, tender cake full of warm spices is absolutely a treat. Wrap that up in some rich, decadent cream cheese frosting and we are definitely talking celebration-worthy. And plus, no one can say you didn’t eat your vegetables, right? Let’s make some cake!

T’s Carrot Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups canola oil
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups peeled and grated carrots

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 16 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 oz. butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt

Candy Decorations

  • 6 oz. green candy melts
  • 6 oz. orange candy melts
  • Orange and green sprinkles

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter, flour, and parchment-line two 9 in. round cake pans and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in medium bowl.

Whisk the sugar and oil in large bowl until well blended, and then add the eggs one at a time, beating between additions.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until well-blended.

Stir in the grated carrots.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. I prefer to do this by weight rather than volume because it results in more even layers.

Bake the cake layers for about 40 minutes each, or until a tester inserted into center comes out clean. Allow them to cool in the pans for 15 minutes and then invert onto wire racks, peel away the parchment paper, re-invert and allow them to cool completely. The re-inverting is important because the tops of the cakes will be a little bit sticky, so you want the bottom-side on the cooling rack.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter together on low speed until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated and creamy.

Add the vanilla extract and lemon zest and beat until combined.

Taste the frosting and then decide whether or not to add the pinch of salt. Cream cheese brands can really vary salt content-wise, so you may or may not need it depending on your preference.

Now onto the fun stuff! I always think it’s easier to trim and frost a chilled cake, so I usually wrap and refrigerate layers for a few hours or overnight. Carrot cake has enough oil in it plus added moisture from the grated carrots that it won’t dry out at all as long as you wrap it up well.

Take a look at your cake layers. If they’re even and flat, leave them alone. If you have any doming, it’s a good idea to trim them with a serrated knife.

Put one layer on a cake board. If you have one, set that on a turntable. Place a layer of frosting on top of the cake layer (about ¾-1 cup of frosting) and then stack the second layer on top.

Then place a large dollop of frosting on top and frost the top and sides of the cake using a spatula or offset palette knife.

I have these cake scrapers to smooth the sides, but you can just as easily use the flat side of a knife, bowl scraper, bench scraper, or a plain old flat spatula.

Once you have a nice even coat, put the rest of the frosting into a piping bag for decoration. You can also use a gallon sized plastic freezer bag with the corner cut off for this.

Don’t be intimidated! Keep it simple with small swirls of frosting around the top and bottom or go nuts with patterns. At this point, it’s going to be delicious no matter what. Play around a little. You can always scrape a decoration off and throw that frosting back in the piping bag. If your hands are warm and the frosting gets a little soft, refrigerate the piping bag briefly and return to work when it has cooled.

You can also decorate in a way that allows you to practice as much as you want by using some candy melts, which are just colored vanilla candy you can buy at most craft stores and also online. I melted about 6 oz. of green and 6 oz. orange melts and drew these little carrots on some parchment paper, then sprinkled them with colored sugar.

They set up quickly and stick easily to frosting, so it’s a relaxed way to do more intricate decorations. I also used candy for the lettering on this cake by pouring the melted candy into letter-shaped silicone molds.

Once you’ve decorated your cake, put it in the refrigerator to let all of the frosting and decorations firm up. You can leave it uncovered if you are serving it that day, or box it up if you need to store overnight.


This cake is warm, spicy, and sweet. The smooth, luxurious cream cheese frosting compliments the spices, especially the ginger (in my opinion) without being overwhelmingly heavy. The little candy decorations give a nice vanilla crunch that adds a lovely bit of texture to the whole dessert.

To see the smile on Tobias’ face as his mom opened the cake box was the ultimate reward. There is nothing better than helping to make someone’s special day even sweeter.

Happy cake baking!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Pruning a Process: Turtle Caramels

23 Aug

I made some pecan turtles recently. For the uninitiated, turtles are groups of 5 pecans topped with caramel that glues them together, that are then covered with melted chocolate to create the “shell.” They are so, SO good.

While they were exceptionally delicious, they were, well…a bit of a task. First of all, you need a lot of space to put together all of the little clusters of nuts on sheet pans, then you need to not only cook the caramel to a precise temperature, but also shock and cool it down to a specific temperature. Then you can glue the nut clusters together with said caramel, wait, melt the chocolate, and put the shells on. It’s a messy process that left dribbles of caramel and melted chocolate all over my counter tops, and also left me looking for somewhere to store multiple sheet pans of drying candy.

There’s a better way. For REAL. Literally the only benefit to doing the process that way is that they look like little turtles when they’re done. There is a far simpler way to get all of the same textures and flavors while removing a lot of the steps and pans. Much less candy thermometer stress too. And they’ll still be pretty…not that your taste buds will care. They will be far too busy enjoying the fruits of your not-so-hard labor.

Turtle Caramels

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 oz. (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • One 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 6 oz. pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 16 oz. dark chocolate OR dark chocolate compound coating. I used Ghiardelli Dark Chocolate Melting Wafers for this batch because it is VERY humid and I didn’t feel like tempering chocolate. Not as shiny of a finish, but equally good in flavor. Wilton Candy Melts work well too and can be easily found at craft stores.
  • Sea salt flakes (optional, but tasty!)

Line an 8×8 in. baking pan with parchment paper so that there is an overhang on all sides. Set aside.

To make the caramel, combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and kosher salt in a saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil.

Once boiling, add the evaporated milk slowly, a little bit at a time over the course of 10 minutes. It’s going to bubble and hiss after each addition, which is why it is important to take your time.

After all of the milk has been added, cook while stirring constantly until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped pecans.

Pour the mixture into the prepared 8×8 in. pan and let cool completely. It will take several hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Once cool, cut the pecan caramels into squares using a pizza wheel or very sharp scissors.

Next, it’s time to coat the caramels. If you are using dark chocolate, melt 75% of it over a double boiler over low heat and then add the remaining 25% off the heat. Stir until all of the chocolate is melted. If you are using the melting wafers or other compound coating, simply melt all of it in a double boiler over low heat while stirring. Don’t have a double boiler? Neither do I. I use a mixing bowl set in a steamer insert over a few inches of water that is not touching the bottom of the bowl.

Put one square of pecan caramel on a fork and dip it in the chocolate, coating it completely. Shake the fork gently to allow the excess to drip off and then carefully move it to the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with a few sea salt flakes (if using).

Repeat until you have coated all of the caramels.

Once the chocolate has set, you can store the squares in an airtight container between layers of parchment or wax paper.

Crunchy toasted pecans suspended in rich, creamy caramel all wrapped up in a chocolate shell, and finished with just a touch of salt to balance the sweetness. All the delicious goodness of a turtle with half of the steps and pans. And this way, you get some of everything in each bite.

Simplified for sooner sharing, these undercover turtles are sure to bring smiles all around. And that’s the part of the process that really matters anyway.

Ciao for now,

Neen

My Favorite Oatmeal Cookies

20 Jul

I love oatmeal cookies. They pair well with lots of different additions, but are also delicious left perfectly plain with a hint of spice. You can do fun things with the texture too. Make them thin and lacy, thick and cake-y, crunchy, or chewy and soft. But my favorite oatmeal cookies, combine lots of textures and have deep dark spice and caramel flavors. The recipe has gone through many iterations as I tried to find the combination of ingredients that gave me the nutty, chewy, crunchy, spicy-sweet cookie I was seeking. I really like where it’s at now, but you know I’d never promise not to play around with the recipe in the future. My imagination is already running off…

I digress. Back to the treats at hand. These are a really special little bite despite their innocent appearance. Let’s fill up the cookie jar!

Toasted Oatmeal, Pecan, and Coconut Cookies

  • ¾ cups rolled oats, toasted until fragrant*
  • ¾ cups quick cooking oats, toasted until fragrant
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • ½ cup (sweetened or unsweetened) shredded coconut, toasted until golden
  • ½ tsp. baking powder**
  • 2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp.  cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Pinch fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg

*To toast the dry ingredients, just turn the oven to 350 degrees F and spread them out on separate baking sheets. The oats and nuts usually take 7-10 minutes and the coconut takes about 2-4 minutes.

** This weird thing happened when I started taking my medication for rheumatoid arthritis. I was finding that some of my baked goods tasted…off. There was this funny aftertaste that I could not get rid of and I had no idea what it was. I realized one day when I accidentally left some baking soda out of a recipe that OH, that’s that funny taste. This particular recipe can absolutely be made with ½ tsp. of baking soda or baking powder. Use what you have on hand.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Combine the butter, shortening, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt, and beat until smooth and creamy.

Add the egg and beat until well combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour and baking powder and beat until incorporated.

Finally, stir in the oats, pecans, and coconut and beat until well distributed.

Use a small cookie scoop (mine is 2 tsp.) or spoon to drop the dough onto the sheets. I got three dozen this way and placed 18 per sheet. Gently press the cookies down with fingertips to flatten.


Bake for 11-12 minutes or until golden at the edges and lightly brown on the bottoms. Cool on a wire rack or eat them warm because YES.

So yes, I’ll admit there are some extra steps to this recipe, but they really are worth it to achieve all the crispy, chewy, crunchy goodness here. The warm spices make them a super comforting accompaniment to any cup of coffee, cocoa, or tea. Definitely a good evening porch-sitting cookie for summer.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Bite-size Sweets: Mini Strawberry Pies

30 Jun

It may be obvious from some of the recipes on this blog, but I love miniaturizing foods or making single servings. Little cookies or cakes that are a few bites at most are perfect to me, as is anything that can be frozen and revived without much loss of quality. A lot of this comes from a practical place. Neither Joe nor I have a particularly huge appetite, so making a whole cake or pie often means a lot goes to waste. It’s easier to make cupcakes or logs of cookie dough that can be frozen and portioned out when we want them. Right now there’s a bag of cinnamon rosettes, some of those chocolate and vanilla striped cakes, and a handful of flaky layer biscuits too. The point is, I really hate wasting food, so a lot of my cooking reflects that.

I was thinking about what to do with a fresh jar of strawberry preserves and immediately thought of this jam tart, which is one of my all-time favorite recipes. I knew though that we’d each have a piece or two and then we’d get a little bored of eating it. But I was kind of stuck on the idea of pie, and remembered that hand pies reheat pretty well from the freezer. So I decided to size them down a little further and make these cookie sized, a perfect few bites of rich pastry and sweet strawberry filling. And the best part is that you can store them in the freezer and toast or warm in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes and have them just as good as fresh.

Mini Strawberry Pies

Crust:

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tbsp. sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp. ice water

Filling:

  • 2-3 tbsp. strawberry preserves

Egg wash:

  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water

Method

You can find the method for making the pastry crust here, in my apple pie recipe. Follow the instructions just until the part where the ice water is added and the pieces are pressing together.

Turn the dough pieces out onto a sheet of parchment paper and press them together. Place another sheet of parchment on top and roll out to 1/8 in. thickness. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes, or until very firm.

Using a 2 in. round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out 24 circles. If the dough gets soft while working with it, just put it in the freezer for 5 minutes. You may have to re-roll and re-chill the dough to get 24 circles. Place the circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Top half of the circles with a rounded ½ tsp. of strawberry preserves.

Brush the edges of each circle with the egg wash and then place another dough circle on top, pressing the edges to seal, and then crimping the edges with the tines of a fork. Use a sharp knife to poke vent holes in the top of each pie.

Place the pies in the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the oven is preheated, brush the top of each pie with the egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar (if desired).

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the bottoms and edges are golden.

Serve warm or room temperature. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for a few days. For longer storage, freeze on a baking sheet and once they are firm, move them to a freezer bags and seal.

These are delicious little bites that you could certainly make with other fruit preserves. Treat yourself to something sweet and then save the rest for when you’re really craving them again. It’s like baking for yourself a bunch of times all at once. Awesome!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Un-puzzling Apple Pie

30 Nov

I’ve been after the perfect apple pie for a while. There are so many variables: What kind of fat in the crust? Cooked or uncooked filling? Cornstarch or flour? What kind of apples?

And I’ve encountered all of the usual problems too: Under-baked crust, melted or broken crust, mushy apples, watery filling. With every pie I’ve baked, I’ve had a chance to learn a little bit more about what works and what doesn’t.

The good news is that I’ve combined several methods that turn out a pie with a flavorful, flaky crust, and a filling that’s sweet-but-not-too-sweet and that holds together when sliced.

Here we use a pretty traditional all butter pastry, but stay mostly hands-off and also chill it several times throughout the process to keep it workable and stable. For the inside, I wanted to avoid a watery filling, but pre-cooked ones make the apples too mushy by the time the pie is baked, so we’ll instead take time to extract some juice from the apples, make it into a syrup, then toss the apples with that and cornstarch to create a filling with the perfect consistency.

Let’s do it to it!

Apple Pie

Crust:

  • 2 ½ cups unbleached, all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and chilled in the freezer for 10-15 minutes)
  • ¼ – ½ cup ice water

Filling:

  • 3 lbs. apples (Good varieties that will not break down are Honeycrisp, Fuji, Granny Smith, Macintosh, or Cortland). I used 3 large Honeycrisp and 3 Granny Smith for a balance of tart and sweet.
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch

Prepare the crust by combining the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and mixing.

Add the butter in chunks, pulsing between additions, until the mixture is a sandy, pebbly texture.

Slowly add ice water while pulsing, until the dough holds together when pressed between fingers. Do not overmix.

Turn the mixture out onto a countertop and gather into a ball. Divide the dough in two pieces and flatten into discs. These weighed about 12.5 oz. each. Wrap these in plastic wrap and chill for 30 min – 1 hour.

To make the filling, peel, core, and slice the apples. I also quarter my slices.

Toss the apple slices with the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and allow this to sit for at least 30 minutes, but up to an hour is fine.

Meanwhile, roll out one pie dough disc into a 12 in. circle, fit it into a pie pan, and trim the edges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Roll the other dough disc into a 12 in. circle, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Then place a strainer over a bowl and pour in the apples. Allow them to drain for 30 minutes, or until ½-3/4 cup of juice has accumulated.

Take the pie dough circle on the baking sheet out of the refrigerator before you begin the next step to allow it to get slightly pliable.

Put the juice and the 2 tbsp. of butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and boil until it reduces to about 1/3 cup and is syrupy, about 7-10 minutes.

In a bowl, toss the apples with the cornstarch and then toss with the reduced syrup.

Fill the pie crust with the apple mixture.

Gently wet the edges of the crust and place the top crust over the filling. Trim the edges and then crimp with a fork. Cut 5 slits in the top. Wrap the pie in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F and place an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet on an oven rack placed on the lowest setting.

Once the oven is preheated, unwrap the pie and cover the edges with an aluminum foil ring to prevent the crust from overbrowning. Bake the pie for 45-55 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and tender when poked through one of the slits. Remove the foil ring during the last 10 minutes of baking.

Allow the pie to cool for at least 4 hours before slicing.

Hope you have a chance to try this one during the holidays. It’s sure to make them merrier!

Ciao for now,

Neen