Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Herbed Biscuits

Warm from the oven

Do you have any idea how quick and easy it is to make fresh, home-made, flaky biscuits from scratch? Quick, like 10 minutes or less between your great idea to make biscuits and your placing the tray of little beauties inside the warm oven... well, maybe a little longer depending on how long your oven takes to preheat!  You should make these right away.  Omit the herbs if you want biscuits for strawberry shortcake (I'm a firm believer in the biscuit-type shortcake, not the cake-type) or for smothering with maple syrup.  Change the herbs depending on what's in your kitchen.  Use all white flour, or throw in some whole wheat flour if you're so inclined. I am definitely so inclined.  My favorite way to eat biscuits?  Warm from the oven with salted butter, yum....

Before baking.

Herbed Biscuits with Whole Wheat Flour (adapted from King Arthur)

Makes 8-12 biscuits. (I got 9 relatively large biscuits.)

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour (see note below)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons butter, cut in 4-6 pieces

1 cup milk, buttermilk, or water

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder, herbs, and sugar. Add the butter, and use your fingers to blend the butter in.  Keep rubbing the butter with your fingertips, through the flour, until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.  You should have small pea-sized and smaller bits of butter.

Add the liquid all at once, mixing quickly and gently for about 20 seconds until you have a soft dough.  Pat the dough into a rectangle, about an inch or so thick (thicker, maybe 1.5", if you like really tall biscuits).  Cut into biscuits (with a biscuit cutter or a sharp knife).  I have round biscuit cutters, but I usually use a knife so there are no scraps.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
  Serve warm, if at all possible, with salted butter.  


Notes: I've made these with only all-purpose flour, and I honestly couldn't taste the difference with the whole wheat flour. Maybe next time, I'll do half and half with the flours.  Feel free to substitute your own combination of herbs as well.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Math & Cake: Chocolate Cake with Chocolate-Nutella Filling and Brown Butter Frangelico Frosting

Last week, I gave a talk about Math and Cake.  Ok, I had a fancier title, but my "side hobby" in mathematics is an area called fair division.  At some point in your life, you probably needed to fairly divide a candy bar or some other yummy treat between you and a friend:  one of you cut the treat in two, and the other got to choose first.  Fair!  But what do you do if there are three people? Or more?  My college adviser asked me this question on my very first day of college.  He does research in the area, and got me interested in the subject.  Extremely interesting mathematically, but also when else do I get to show pictures of all sorts of cake during a math lecture?!    See my book if you'd like to learn more about fair division and cake-cutting.

This is the cake I made for my talk.  It was sort of a prop, but I figured it'd give the audience something to look at if they zoned out for the math content!  No pictures of the inside of the cake unfortunately, but it went over very well.  Not a crumb left.

Chocolate Cake  (from Epicurious)
3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee (I used hazelnut coffee)
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 300°F and spray 2 10" pans with baking spray (I used 2 9" pans and made an additional 3 inch cake; I've also used just the 2 9" pans before). Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper and spray paper as well. 

Finely chop the chocolate and place in a medium bowl; pour hot coffee over the chocolate. Let stand for one minute, then stir until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

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

In another large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer).  Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well.  Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.

Divide batter between pans and bake in the middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool the cake layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove parchment paper and cool layers completely.

This is a tall cake!

Chocolate & Nutella Frosting   (adapted from Chocolate Chocolate)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled to tepid
1/3 cup Nutella, depending on taste (the Nutella taste is somewhat mild)
Large pinch of Kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 - 4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk, heated to tepid

Beat butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes.

Blend in the melted chocolate, Nutella, salt, vanilla, 1/3 cup milk, and 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar.

Add in the rest of the milk; beat for 1 minute.

Add the rest of the powdered sugar; beat for 1 minute. Use more powdered sugar for a stiffer consistency, less for a softer consistency.

Refrigerate the frosting for 1-2 hours until spreadable.

Brown Butter Frosting (enough to frost/decorate a tall 9" 2-layer cake or a 3-layer 8" cake)

3 sticks butter, browned
1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
6-8 tablespoons heavy cream
6-8 tablespoons Frangelico
Pinch of Kosher salt (optional)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Brown the butter, pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, and set aside to cool.  Wait for it to cool completely.

Pour the cooled brown butter into mixer bowl (paddle attachment).  Add about 1/3 of the powdered sugar, and beat.  Add the caramel syrup, and continue beating. Add half the remaining powdered sugar, and beat. Add the 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of heavy cream, and beat until smooth.  Add more cream if you'd like the frosting to be softer, and more powdered sugar if you'd like it to be stiffer. Add salt if desired.

Refrigerate until ready to use.  Re-whip the frosting right before use. If it's been in the fridge awhile, you might need to let it sit at room temperature for an hour or so until it's soft enough to whip.


Lay one of the chocolate cake layers on a cake board or plate.  Spread the chocolate frosting over the surface, leaving a half-inch border all around the outside.  You can also spread just half the frosting on this layer, and spread the rest on top.  You'll still cover the whole thing with the brown butter frosting.
Place the second cake layer on top of the first, and cover the whole cake with a crumb coat (very thin layer of frosting).  Be careful not to let your offset spatula touch the cake, or you'll get tons of chocolate crumbs in your frosting.  Place the cake in the fridge so that the crumb coat sets. You should be able to touch the cake gently without leaving any impression in the frosting.  Frost the cake again; it'll be easier this time with the crumb coat in place.  Use any leftover frosting to pipe shells, and/or tint some of the frosting and make roses. It's a good consistency as is, but if necessary (if it's very hot or humid out), add some more powdered sugar to make the frosting stiff enough for roses.

For instructions on how to do a crumb coat and how to decorate your cake, see King Arthur's online cake decorating tutorials.

For information on how to pipe roses, see Wilton's tutorial.  Or, take a class at your local Michael's.


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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Tart with a Whole Wheat Crust

I haven't really posted any savory items on this blog yet, but that would be wrong.  As unhealthy as all my desserts are, I'm a pretty healthy eater overall. I'm a vegetarian, I eat lots of fruit and veggies, and besides my sweets, I stick to whole grains as much as possible.

I wasn't always this way.  I remember well the days in college and early grad. school when I would become incredibly sleepy and lose all energy after every meal I ate.  These were the days when I would also regularly get a cheeseburger-without-the-meat (I've been a vegetarian since high school) and french fries at McDonald's.  Even when I wasn't eating junk food for lunch, I still ate things with white flour.  Then it was announced that McDonald's french fries are not vegetarian!  I was angry, of course, at the time, but it all worked out for the best, because I never went to McDonald's again after that.  At about the same time, I started eating pizza with whole grain crust for lunch a lot.  Then  I started eating exclusively whole grains for breakfast and lunch (and as much as possible for dinner as well).  Wow!  I was again a fountain of energy (ask my aerobics classes if you don't believe me), and life changed forever! 

Most whole grain breads still contain a large amount of white flour, often up to 50%, but this crust is made exclusively with whole wheat flour.  It's thin and crispy, and the caramelized onion and blue cheese pair very well.  I'll definitely be making it again.

Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Tart with A Whole Wheat Crust

(Adapted from Food and Wine)

For the Crust

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup cold water

As with most crusts, you can make it by hand or with a food processor.  If you're using the food processor (which I recommend if you haven't made a lot of pie crusts before), pulse the flour with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Add the diced butter and pulse until it’s the size of small peas or just a little larger. Sprinkle in the cold water and pulse again until the tart dough begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat it into a disk. Wrap the dough and refrigerate until it is firm, at least 1 hour. You can add more water if it's not coming together, but only add as much water as you absolutely need.  If there are a few crumbs that don't hold together, you're fine.

If you're doing it by hand, whisk together the flour and salt.  Add the diced butter, and use your fingers to work in the butter until it's the size of small peas.  Add the water, and stir it in with your hands, bringing the dough into a disk.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

For the Filling

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 teaspoons thyme (dried)
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 ounces creamy blue cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

To Caramelize the Onions (you can do this in advance; refrigerate onions until ready to use)

In a large skillet, cook the onions and olive oil over low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and  golden, about 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden, about 15 minutes longer.  Remove from the heat and let the onions cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch round. Wrap the dough around the rolling pin and transfer it to a 10-inch fluted tart pan (9" will work fine) with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the pan and trim off any excess (roll the rolling pin over the top, and the excess dough will just fall off). Use the scraps to patch any cracks. Prick holes all over the bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake until the crust is lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

 Pre-Baked Crust (it shrank quite a bit from the sides)

Spread the onions in the tart shell and sprinkle with the blue cheese, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bake until the cheese is melted and the onions are warm, about 5-8 minutes. Cut the tart into wedges and serve.

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          Sunday, March 21, 2010

          Caramel Cake - The Sequel - with Brown Butter Frosting

          A few weeks ago I posted another caramel cake recipe.  I think I might like that cake recipe better, but this frosting is one of my new favorites.

          Heart-shaped Version

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          Saturday, March 20, 2010

          School Pride Cupakes & Vanilla Bean Paste

          Purple and Gold. Those were my high school colors.  They're also the colors of Williams College, where I teach now.  I can't escape them!  It's been a long time since I wore that little purple and gold skirt to dance at halftime... these days I show my school spirit a little differently.  With cupcakes!  Congratulations to the Williams College basketball team for making it to the Div 3 NCAA Championships!
          You've seen this chocolate cake recipe before, it's my go-to chocolate cake.  I have several other recipes I'd really like to try, but it's hard to make myself stray. What are the chances that I'll like those more than this one?  I only came to this one after spending 3 hours one day reading pages and pages of an egullet thread on the best chocolate cake recipe ever.  It's like when you're at a restaurant, and although several tasty dishes try to pull you to commit, you end up ordering the same thing you did the last 20 times you ate there.  Granted, I don't have that problem all too often, since most restaurants offer only a few vegetarian options - but I do tend to order the "usual" even when I do have choices.  Hell, the baristas at my local coffee shop start pouring my iced tea before I even get to the counter!

          Ok, but let's talk about the real wow factor in these cupcakes - it's the vanilla bean paste in the frosting.  Have you ever used vanilla bean paste?  It's much less scary than an actual vanilla bean, but much more flavorful than extract.  The frosting tastes almost like vanilla ice cream, and it's beautifully speckled with vanilla throughout.

          if you don't go crazy with the butter, the frosting is light and creamy, not overly sweet like powdered sugar frosting can sometimes be, without making you feel like you've just eaten an entire stick of butter.  I know what you're thinking, but no 4 sticks of butter is not going crazy with the butter, given the amount of whites in the recipe. This makes a lot of frosting. If you have extra, store it in the fridge for a few days or freeze for up to a month.  If you are of the Paula Deen, butter is better, ilk, throw in another half a stick, and add a smidge more vanilla too. 

          For the Cupcakes:  makes ~30 cupcakes  (adapted from Epicurious)

          3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate
          1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee (I used hazelnut coffee)
          3 cups sugar
          2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
          1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
          2 teaspoons baking soda
          3/4 teaspoon baking powder
          1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
          3 large eggs
          3/4 cup vegetable oil
          1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
          3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

          Preheat the oven to 300°F and line muffin tins with cupcake wrappers (or just spray with baking spray, I often skip the wrappers).

          Finely chop the chocolate and place in a medium bowl; pour hot coffee over the chocolate. Let stand for one minute, then stir until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap to keep liquid from evaporating.

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

          In another large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer).  Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well.  Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.

          Fill muffin tins about 2/3-3/4 of the way full.  I got about 36 cupcakes. Bake until a toothpick just comes out clean, about 12-15 minutes.  Cool completely.

          For the Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

          7-8 egg whites (a little over a cup, about 8.5 ounces)
          2.5 cups sugar
          1 teaspoon cream of tartar
          4 sticks butter
          1 teaspoon vanilla extract
          2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (you can use extract if you don't have paste)

          In a large heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water, whisk together egg whites and sugar until sugar is melted and mixture reaches 140-150 degrees on a candy thermometer, 7 to 10 minutes.

          Transfer mixture to the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on high until stiff peaks form, 12 to 15 minutes. Add cream of tartar and beat for one minute more.  If the bowl is still warm to the touch, continue beating.

          Make sure your butter is soft, but not melted.  I usually microwave each stick for about 15 seconds, and then squeeze it to make sure it's pliable.  Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter, a few pieces at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla; beat until well combined, about 2 minutes.


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          Sunday, March 14, 2010

          Almond Orange Olive Oil Cake with Brown Butter Glaze

          Happy Pi Day!!  To celebrate, I'm bringing you this, um, cake.  Oops.  No time to make pie this weekend, sorry!  I'll have to catch European Pi Day on July 22 (22/7 is one of the best approximates of pi).

          When I got tenure (over a year ago now), my mom and I wanted to go someplace nice in New York.  The problem with lots of nice restaurants in NY?  Not very vegetarian friendly.  I think we've narrowed it down to Daniel's and Babbo, but our celebration dinner has yet to happen (this summer hopefully!)... in the meantime, this cake is by Gina DePalma, pastry chef at Babbo.

          This cake is perfect for a Sunday brunch or afternoon meeting or any other time when you'd like something (relatively) light and sweet without totally taking you over into a sugar coma.  It's a somewhat unusual combination of flavors with the citrus, the almonds, and the olive oil - but it works!  And it's Italian.  And did you see how there's brown butter in the glaze? You're going to want to start using this glaze on everything. It's yummy.  And no mixer required - just some whisking and stirring - easy. 


          Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake with Brown Butter Glaze

          (adapted only slightly from Gina DePalma)

          For the Cake

          1 cup all-purpose flour
          1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour (you can finely grind the almonds yourself)
          1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
          1 teaspoon kosher salt
          3 large eggs
          3/4 cup granulated sugar
          1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
          1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
          1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
          Grated zest of 1 medium lemon or 1/2 a medium orange (I used orange)
          1/2 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed if possible)


          The first time I made this, I used 1/2 cup lime juice and 1/2 cup lemon juice instead of the orange juice, and used lemon zest instead of orange zest.  I liked it, but it definitely tasted different.  I prefer the cake made as above, but if you're a huge fan of lime, you may want to experiment with adding some lime juice.

          Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spray an 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pan (the 8-inch will give you a slightly taller cake, but it won't overflow if the sides are 2" tall or higher).

          In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

          In a largebowl, whisk together the eggs to break up the yolks.  Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly  for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.

          Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

          Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it to cool completely (right-side up) on a rack.

          For the Brown Butter Glaze and Assembly

          2 tablespoons unsalted butter
          1 cup powdered sugar
          3 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream
          1/2 cup slivered almonds

          While the cake is cooling, make the glaze.  Brown the butter, and let sit (it will continue to get a little darker after you turn off the heat).  

          Toast the almonds:  scatter them evenly over a baking sheet, and bake at 350F for 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned.

          In a medium bowl, add the milk or heavy cream to the powdered sugar and stir.  Slowly add the browned butter, and stir until smooth.  Add more milk/cream if you'd like the glaze to be a little thinner; add more sugar if you'd like it thicker.  Spread onto the cake with an offset spatula when cool, and allow to drip down the sides of the cake.  Scatter the toasted almonds evenly over the surface of the cake. Enjoy!

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          Saturday, March 13, 2010

          Mint Chocolate Brownies for St. Patrick's Day

          It's spring!!  Still a little chilly out there, and it's not very sunny out today... but I saw some flower buds beginning to push their way out of the ground yesterday on a walk.  And the birds have been singing.  It's still light out at 5:30, and tomorrow it will still be light out at 6:30!  And the number one sign of spring for me? I'm wearing my flip flops again!  Hooray for spring. 

          Need to make something yummy for St. Patrick's day?  These brownies converted some mint-chocolate skeptics I know, including me!  Personally, I've always been more a fan of the toffee flavored Andes candies than the mint chocolate ones, but these brownies surprised me.  Yummy, and you feel minty fresh after you eat one!  And, hey, you can always add some green food coloring if you feel so compelled.

          Mint Chocolate Brownies (Adapted from King Arthur)

          For the Brownie Layer

          3/4 cup butter (12 tablespoons), melted
          1 1/2 cups sugar
          1/2 teaspoon salt
          3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa
          3 large eggs
          1 teaspoon mint extract
          3/4 cup all-purpose flour
          1/2 teaspoon baking powder

          Preheat the oven to 350F.  Spray a 9 x 13 pan with baking spray.

          Stir together the melted butter, sugar, and salt.  Mix in the cocoa powder, beating until smooth.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until each egg is incorporated.  Beat in the mint extract.

          In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.  Stir in to the batter, and then pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Use a spatula to smooth the batter.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until set (a cake tester or toothpick should come out with just a few crumbs).  Cool completely.

          For the Mint Frosting Layer

          3 cups confectioners' sugar
          6 tablespoons melted butter
          3-4 tablespoons milk
          1 teaspoon mint extract
          Green food coloring, if desired.

          Stir together all the ingredients until smooth.  Spread evenly over the cooled brownie layer.

          For the Ganache

          1 cup chocolate chips
          1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream

          Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate. Let sit for one minute, then stir until smooth.  Pour over the frosting layer, and smooth.   

          Chill for a few hours, if possible, to make cutting the brownies easier.  Enjoy!

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