Sunday, March 30, 2008

Daring Bakers March Challenge: Dorie's Perfect Party Cake

Ahhh, Daring Bakers, how I love thee. This month's challenge was a recipe from Dorie Greenspan, the "Perfect Party Cake." This cake is light, fluffy, and perfect for embellishment with berries and buttercream. It is made with lemon zest and a little bit of buttermilk, so there's a nice tangy undertone, which only enhances the sugary goodness of the whole cake.

I am still working on being a cake decorator. As it stands, I'm decidedly not going to be, say, featured on Ace of Cakes any time in the near future. I can decorate a mean cookie, but when it comes to cakes, I freeze up. I'm working on it though. So my cake, which was filled with raspberry preserves and swiss buttercream, and topped with buttercream, gum paste flowers, and fondant bunnies, is a little sloppy looking. I love love love the Daring Bakers, though, because I posted about my difficulties, and I got all kinds of advice and support. So the next cake is gonna be awesome:

I actually spent Spring Break planning this cake. I made the gum paste flowers on Tuesday, the bunnies on Friday, and the cake that Sunday. I brought it in to rehearsal for my actors that Monday--and it was a hit. I highly recommend checking out all of Dorie's recipes--there's group of bakers who do "Tuesdays With Dorie," where they bake a different recipe and post about their experiences with it every Tuesday. It's kind of awesome.

Anywho, I'm off to finish editing my thesis...more soon!


Friday, March 28, 2008

Coffee a Cookie.

I thought I couldn't top the last cookie. But I think this one (almost) literally takes the cake.

I didn't have much on hand yesterday, but I had the itch to bake a batch of somethings. So bake a batch of somethings I did. I remembered that a friend of mine happened to be a huge fan of crumb cake, and that he'd been having kind of a bad week. It seemed the only thing to do was bake some crumb cake-like cookies. My only problem was how to get the crumb cake part on the cookie. With my red velvets and boston cream pies, I fill the insides with the frosting. With the strawberry shortcakes, I fill the insides but sort of work the strawberry cream throughout. But a crumb cake is topped with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and all purpose flour. If I filled a cookie with that, it would just bake into the cookie, all uneven and fairly awkwardly. If I just put a crumble on the top after the cookies baked, it would all fall off. Not my idea of a good cookie.

So I decided on coffee cake. More specifically, coffee buttercream frosting, which would allow me to press a crumb cake-like topping onto the cookie, which would keep the insides awkward-free and the tops attached. So I took my basic cookie recipe and quadrupled the brown sugar, took down some of the white, and added a little bit of espresso for taste. I didn't have my usual buttercream recipe with me in the kitchen, so I improvised. Oh Oh OH my god. It's SO good. (Related anecdote: I came home after rehearsal last night, and my roommate asked me, "Kay, what is that stuff you have in the fridge." I replied, "Leftover Coffee Buttercream Frosting, why?" Quoth she, "I hope you don't mind, but I tasted it. And then took a big spoonful. It's amazing.")

I went through two batches of these last night. Two! And both times they just...disappeared. I'm SO happy with these. I love when mad experiments work out right. I love baking cookies. And most of all, I love sharing them with my friends. When they're smiling, so am I.

Baking could easily be a religion. I think it might actually be mine. After all, pure vanilla extract is the ultimate Good.

Here's a (visual) taste of the Coffee Cake Cookie:


Monday, March 24, 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Adventures in Marshmallow Fondant...

I have so much whipped strawberry pastry cream in my refrigerator. I don't know what to do with it! I made it for the strawberry shortcake cookies and used maybe three tablespoons tops. I could make about 20 more batches if I wanted to.

Now that I'm finished with my thesis, I'm feeling a little purposeless. Yes, I've been making phone calls and finalizing plans for my post-graduate life, but there are still large chunks of time, where all I can think to do is to kick my roommates out of the kitchen and just bake.

I had some homemade marshmallow fondant in the fridge from an experiment last weekend, as well as the aforementioned whipped cream, and so it seemed that the obvious thing to do was to make (Chocolate) Strawberry Cream Pie Cupcakes. And since strawberry pies usually have graham cracker pie crusts, I had to make graham cracker cupcakes. With lots and lots of cocoa powder.

The fun thing about these cupcakes (one of the many) is that I substituted finely crushed graham cracker crumbs for the majority of the flour. There was a fairly protracted baking time, at least in terms of cupcakes, but so worth it. Besides, I wasn't in a rush.

Once the little lovely cupcakes had cooled, I cut out the centers and filled them with that whipped pastry cream, which, might I add, is thick with pieces of fresh strawberry and fresh strawberry juice:

Yummy. So I still had some fondant that needed to be molded into something happy, and, since it's finally spring here and Easter is on its way, I decided to be corny and make happy little Easter bunnies. My roommates came home from class and found me on my knees, pressed against the counter, adding details to the bunny faces with a toothpick. I think they think I'm nuts. Fortunately, they're right. And the bunnies came out well.

Then I realized that the bunnies needed some grass in which to hide their fondant eggs, so I had to make a stiff butter cream frosting and dye it green. For grass.

The result was great. I'm not a decorator by ANY means...but I'm really proud of these really happy spring cupcakes.

(Chocolate) Strawberry Cream Pie Cupcakes

And the best part about all of this? My long-lost friend Nina came to visit Gainesville last night, and the bunnies were there to mark the occasion!

I'm submitting these guys for the Spring Funny Cuppy we'll see how that goes!


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Best Recipes....EVER.

I cannot even begin to describe how good the two recipes you are about to read taste. Really.

So, let's start with yesterday's cupcakes, which I made for this month's Cupcake Hero contest. As soon as I heard that this month's special ingredient was marshmallow, my mind began to whir. I had no desire to do a rocky road or some sort of spring themed marshmallow-y cupcake. I wanted to do something different. And then I thought,"What flavors go well with marshmallow?" The answer? sweet potato. The result of an afternoon of experimenting in my kitchen was an extremely sticky, absolutely sinful, spiced Sweet Potato Cupcake with Marshmallow Creme Filling. Oh god. The responses from my friends ranged from "Oh my god, this is by far your best recipe ever" to contented silence because their mouths were full of cupcake. I'm SO happy with this one. The marshmallow creme was a pain in the rear end to work with, but the end result was worth the sticky hands and the insane clean up.

Say hello to my sticky little friends...

Today's kitchen adventure was even more rewarding than yesterday's, and that's saying something. I finished the first draft of my thesis at 3:30 this afternoon--and I was in the need of a little catharsis. I ran to my kitchen and flung open the refrigerator door. I was confronted by a carton of strawberries, which were so gorgeous and ripe and waiting to be baked into a cookie. Thus was the Strawberry Shortcake Cookie born. A regular strawberry shortcake is made by putting whipped cream and fresh strawberries between a pastry or a scone. My cookie is a very soft sugar cookie filled with a whipped pastry cream and fresh strawberries.

I had a hell of a time making the whipped cream, mainly because I don't have a mixer and have to whip the cream by hand. But it was so worth the effort. When I brought the cookies to rehearsal this evening, I watched my friends' eyes grow big and bright as they took their first bites. These are the best cookies I've made to date, I think. And I still have a ton of whipped cream left. I'm thinking that I'll have to make at least another batch. At least.

Strawberry cookies forever!

I'm contributing these amazing little morsels of strawberry goodness to the Strawberry Seduction roundup. Check it out after April 4th!

I'm so happy with these two recipes. Now the question is: will I be able to top them?


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Luck 'O' The Irish...

[EDIT]: BY THE WAY: Check out my head shot photography page. It has been updated! Now, on to your regularly scheduled posting. [/EDIT]

I honestly thought about going for the cliché and baking green cookies. I managed to quell the urge, however. Instead, I went for the next best thing: more beer bread!

Now, here's the thing about beer bread: while the basic recipe is always the same, with every new beer you add to the main ingredients, you change the taste and texture, sometimes entirely. As you might remember, I did make beer bread for Super Bowl Sunday--two different loaves, actually: Black Lager and Honey Porter. I remember the Lager being distinctly better than the Porter, at least as per my roommates and their friends' between-play comments.

But for St. Patrick's Day, I decided to add a little cliché to my non-green bread: Guinness. Oh my gosh, the smell that pervaded my house as it baked....mmmmmmmm. I brought the loaf to my rehearsal, and it was gone within minutes. The bread was so rich and flavorful, I can hardly imagine using any other beer ever again. I don't know how well it keeps that amazing, moist goodness, as even the second batch (baked at the request of my friends) barely lasted more than 20 minutes, but I can only assume.

This bread is definitely worth every second of its long bake time. And, it is quite possibly, the best way to add a little Irish to your St. Patrick's Day.

Guinness Bread

Now, how to do easter without falling into the usual bunny-and-eggs clichés....?


P.S. I'm taking part in this month's BreadBakingDay, which you can read about here. Yay for March celebration breads!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Perfect Day for Bananafish (Cookies)

I believe very strongly that fiction has the ability to change lives--in fact, I've had my life changed by several authors, whose works I continue to read and reread whenever possible. Among them are included: Norton Juster, who wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, which made me first fall in love with the power of the English language (and decide that I wanted to be a writer); Kurt Vonnegut, whose Cat's Cradle I encountered at a very difficult spiritual time in my life and learned that I was not alone in my feelings of cynicism and (then) almost hostile agnosticism (which came from a mixture of feelings of abandonment by god and shock at being duped into believing all my life); Mikhail Bulgakov, whose The Master and Margarita is still, to this day, my absolute favorite work of fiction; and Tom Stoppard, who wrote The Real Inspector Hound, which inspired me to become a playwright and The Real Thing , which is one of the most simply complex and powerful pieces of theatre I have ever encountered.

So when I saw the Novel Food round-up being hosted by Champaign Taste and Briciole, I had no idea how I could a) pick a piece of literature that has had a profound enough impact upon me to inspire a recipe and b)write a recipe that could represent a work that means something to me. But I've been thinking long and hard about it, and it came to me this past weekend: J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."

"Bananafish" is not a novel, but a short story, which is the first of his published Nine Stories. The first time I read it, I cried. It's one of the most powerful short stories that has ever been written...and yet it is so simple, so utterly honest that it has enchanted, and continues to enchant, me completely. After "Bananafish," Salinger wrote the novellas Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour, as well as the novel Franny and Zooey, which all revolve around Seymour, the young man who spends his last day on earth on a beach helping a little girl look for a bananafish. Among other things.

I don't want to give anything away, because I highly suggest that you find a copy of this story and read it. Then read it again and keep it somewhere that you can grab it whenever you feel the need to have your reason for being alive reaffirmed.

Until then, enjoy my Perfect Day for Bananafish Cookies:

The cookies are a sort of variation of the checkerboard cookies, although they're SO much softer and, I think, much tastier. The banana flavor is not overpowering by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, my roommate, who says she's not a fan of banana flavored anything, loves them.

It took a long time to make the cookies, because a) they're refrigerator cookies and had to be frozen before the dough could be manipulated and then refrozen once they were shaped, and b) I had to find a way to make the fish shape stay when I wrapped the chocolate banana dough around the regular banana dough. It was a struggle--I went through two different variations of the banana cookie recipe before I was satisfied--but SO worth it.

"On the sub-main floor of the hotel, which the management directed the bathers to use, a woman with zinc salve on her nose got into the elevator with the young man.
'I see you're looking at my feet,' he said to her when the car was in motion.
'I beg your pardon?' said the woman.
'I said I see you're looking at my feet.'
'I beg your pardon. I happened to be looking at the floor,' said the woman, and faced the doors of the car.
'If you want to look at my feet, say so,' said the young man. 'But don't be a God-damned sneak about it.'
-"A Perfect Day For Bananafish by J.D. Salinger


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cocktail Cookies!

After the success of my Cuba Libre cookies, I decided to continue experimenting with the leftover alcohol that's been sitting on the top of my fridge. (Since I'm not going to drink it, I might as well put it to good use, right?)

Yesterday I created my own bar mix (which is basically a simple sugar syrup with lime juice--you can buy it prepackaged at the store, but where's the fun in that?) and used that in the place of some of the regular sugar in my recipe. And, of course, I added a couple tablespoons of rum and/or a tequila triple sec mix. The cookies are topped with a glaze that is basically just a cocktail with a little extra sugar.

I made two different batches; the first is a Mojito cookie, which is a mix of rum, lime, and mint. They turned out absolutely wonderful--the rum bakes beautifully, and the cookies are soft and puffy. I also made a Margarita cookies, which is tequila, triple sec, and lime, although I don't like the way tequila bakes. That's not to say that the cookies didn't turn out well; they just don't taste as soft and cakey as the ones with rum. I think I also need to add more lime to really enhance that margarita flavor. They're a little sticky and shiny because of the bar mix in the glaze, but that makes them all the more fun.

Mojito and Margarita Cookies

Also, I made a new website. It's from a free web host, so it's not fantastic, but hey! It's got a much more interactive menu, where you can check out the four different types of cookies I offer as well as the recipes you've all seen on this site in a handy-dandy list form.

Enjoy: Kay's Cookies


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mmmm Peanut Butter

The other night, a friend of mine mentioned that he loves cookies with peanut butter cups inside of them. All it took was that one offhand mention, and suddenly my mind was whirring with the possibilities. Peanut Butter Cup Cookies. Mmmmmm.

But, of course, since I'm insane (and bored out of my mind...and avoiding my thesis), I made my own peanut butter cups. I have a candy mold from Wilton, that amazing, wonderful company that has pretty much corned the market on baking supplies, and I had a jar of peanut butter, chocolate chips, and graham cracker crumbs.

Once I'd frozen my peanut butter cups, the only logical next step was to decide what kind of cookie to stuff them inside. The only logical answer, of course, was peanut butter cookies. I made the dough, formed them into balls and then made a small depression in the center with my thumb. I sprinkled a little bit of that graham cracker into the depression, and then pushed a peanut butter cup into the cookie--and then sprinkled with a tiny bit more graham cracker. I tested them out on my friend last night and I think we have an A+ plus cookie here.


Peanut Butter Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

I have SO many new cookies I want to try. I wish spring break were over so I had more people to feed!


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Check, Mate!

I officially hate Spring Break.
It's been exactly one day, and I'm already bored to tears. All three of my roommates have gone home, and most of my friends are off on exciting trips to New York, Europe, or various beach-y locales. I'm stuck here--although, fortunately, I will be visited by two of my best friends from high school at various points this week.

I began working on my thesis yesterday, but I was so thoroughly uninterested in it that I took a break to bake. I ended up making a very neat little confection, known as the checkerboard cookie. The cookie is made up of chocolate and vanilla dough, enhanced by a splash of lemon juice and some ground walnuts. I mean, that's not what the original recipe calls for, but I thought I'd take some (very important) liberties with it. I also played with some spices to make the basic sugar-cookie-type recipe a little more exciting.

The best part about this cookie is that the dough is meant to be frozen and kept for future use, so I baked a small batch, but I'll still have enough dough left in reserve for when my friends come home. And they just look so damn cool:



Friday, March 7, 2008

You'd Like a Menu, You Say?

So, I realized that, while Blogger does a lovely job with providing labels for each of my posts (so that if you want to filter out my random posts and get straight to the cookies, you can), I really needed just a plain old straightforward menu.

So here it is: The official menu

And I'll be updating it constantly, so that you'll know what new flavors I've been tinkering with.

I'm also kicking myself because I didn't take pictures of them before I brought them to my friends' house last night, but I came up with a recipe for a Cuba Libre cookie in honor of Fidel Castro's momentous decision to get the hell out of office. Unfortunately, Cuba is not exactly libre yet. But the cookies are damn good.

It's an interesting flavor mix; I took my Better Than Chocolate Chip recipe and deleted the chocolate chips while taking out half of the sugar (replacing it with a honey/coca cola/rum syrup). There's a splash of lime juice in the syrup, as well as in the rum and coke glaze. It's not too sweet and it has a very smooth flavor with a nice little citrus kick at the end.

I wish I had a picture for you, but until then, just close your eyes and imagine...

And if you have any suggestions for flavor combinations, I'm all ears!


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Warm-And-Fuzzies

Guess what I woke up to yesterday?


I'm so touched. And happy. I have some wonderful friends.

Yesterday, I made my Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Better Than Muffins and brought them to rehearsal. We ended up using the bowl as a prop during a fight scene, and one of my actors couldn't concentrate on his lines because he was so worried about dropping a single muffin. Like the title of this post says, I've got the warm-and-fuzzies.

More food to come...


Sunday, March 2, 2008

An Apple A Day...

I'm going to blame it on my little sister Katie. It started when I baked an apple pie for Christmas dinner...a pie that soon became an integral part of Katie's every meal for the next week. As soon as the pie was gone, however, I could sense the air of dejection that followed her into the kitchen. It seemed silly to bake another apple pie, especially since I had wanted to bake some fancier New Year's desserts, but I knew I needed to give Katie her daily apple pie fix.

The answer?

Apple Pie Cookies, of course!

The recipe is comprised of a pastry/cookie shell filled with a traditional apple pie filling (loaded with little pieces of crisp granny smith apples) that has been thickened with extra brown sugar. The cookie is filled with lovely fall-type spices: allspice, nutmeg, and, since I'm obsessed with it, tons of cinnamon.

Katie (and the rest of my family) LOVED them. So it's a recipe that I've kept near and dear to my heart these last 2 months.

And then I stumbled upon the "Apple a Day" blog event:

so I thought that now would be the perfect time to whip out the apples and cinnamon and get to work. I can't give away the recipe, so I'm not participating in the event per se, but lots of luck to the ladies and gents who bake up some brain food!


Apple Pie Cookies

Gotta love 'em.

ALSO you should seriously consider checking out my headshot blog, which I'll be updating even more in the next couple of days due to some amazing photo sessions with some truly lovely, amazing people. Click HERE.

Love and Cookies,