Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kitchen Appliance Survey

Y'all know I love my Kitchenaid mixer with a love that knows no bounds. But we have a conundrum in our house.

Recently we've been doing a lot of our cooking from scratch- fresh homemade breads, pastas, and sauces. We've been using our Kitchenaid daily and our little food processor has come in very handy. (I think this is the food processor we have currently.)

So, the question is this: Is it better to get some attachments for our mixer (pasta, slicer, shredder) or to upgrade and get a larger food processor?

Mainly I think we would use either for shredding/chopping. We have a mandolin, which we use regularly, but we're looking for something to make the whole process quicker/easier.

I'm drawn towards the attachments because of my love for the Kitchenaid, but also because you can use those attachments for cheese. (Mmmm, cheese.) But in the long run, I'm not sure if that's the smartest way to go.

Do you have any Kitchenaid attachments? A big food processor? Do you prefer one over the other? Have any other tips or advice?

Lay it on me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Soft Pretzels

Who doesn't love soft pretzels? They are always so tempting, but how do you know if they're fresh?

Easy, make them yourself.

I'd had this recipe on my "to-try" list since about December of 2008. It just kept getting shuffled to the bottom of the list because I tend to gravitate towards sweets (obviously).

Last month, my husband came home from a friend's birthday party raving over the soft pretzels. Wouldn't you know it, they were from the very same recipe I'd been wanting to try.

This month, we've been trying to make everything we eat at home from scratch. Homemade breads, sauces, pastas, etc. It seemed like the perfect time to finally retrieve this recipe from the bottom of the list, dust it off, and eat pretzels.

It certainly didn't disappoint. After a minor mishap with the yeast (I might've used 4 tbsp instead of tsp- whoops! Not to worry though, we used that activated yeast to make bread) everything went pretty much according to plan.

I was thrilled to roll out the pretzel dough and was pleasantly surprised to find that my "pretzel crossing" skills weren't gone, just dormant. (I worked at a bagel shop for about a year while in High School. Learning to make the pretzel bagels have that perfect cross seemed a useless skill at the time.)

The recipe yielded 8 big ole soft pretzels. If I make it again (ok, when I make it again) I think I'll go for smaller pretzels. The recipe also includes some delicious queso dipping sauce. Because if there's one thing that makes soft pretzels more yummy, it's hot spicy cheese. Mmmm.

Note: I used regular old light brown sugar from the grocery store, instead of Muscovado, and my pretzels came out just fine.

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Resolution: Chocolate Croissants

Over a year ago my husband got me a very generous gift certificate to Sur La Table for my birthday. I quickly signed up for one of their new baking classes (Tarts!).

I was a little disappointed in the class. It moved a bit too slowly for me, and I wanted to experience making more than just two kinds of tarts. I chose to use the remainder of my gift certificate (along with the coupon I received for taking the course) to purchase some items at the store. One of the things I purchased was their new book, The Art & Soul of Baking. All of the tarts we made were from the book, as well as all the recipes used in their other baking courses. I reasoned that since the class felt too slow to me, if I owned the book, I could teach myself.

The book is wonderful. It has primers before each chapter with tips and things to avoid to be successful with each type of baked item (each chapter is a type of baked good ie pastries, cookies, breads, etc). There are all sorts of great techniques and photographs.

There are probably at least 50 things I wanted to make just from reading the recipe's title- and there are over 250 recipes in the book. But the book just sat on my shelf, collecting dust.

No more!

After conquering my fear of cheesecakes, I resolved to try one new recipe from the book every month. This past weekend, I decided to tackle one of the recipes: Croissants.

After two days of making my dough block, laminating my butter, and I don't even know how many envelope and book folds I still don't know why I started with such a complicated recipe. Probably because I love Chocolate Croissants.

People, this is not an easy baked good. I started on Saturday morning, by making both my dough and my butter (and I'm not using the proper terms because the book is at home, and I don't remember them) blocks. That was probably the easiest part. Both have to sit in the fridge for a bit, to cool down and the dough needs to proof (expand/rise).

After that, I spent the majority of my Saturday rolling and folding and rolling and folding the dough. I should have used a ruler to ensure I was rolling and folding to the appropriate dimensions, but I'm not that kind of baker. Putting the laminated butter (which means- I mixed up my butter with a little flour, that helps create the flaky layers in the finished pastry) into the dough was fairly easy- roll out butter into a flat rectangle, lay on top of dough, fold dough over.

Every turn (fold) of the dough got tougher. After the last turn, I told my husband there was no way we were eating croissants until Sunday. I was too exhausted.

Sunday morning, I got up, and got my dough out of the fridge. I rolled and I rolled and I rolled, but I never got the dough down to that magical 1/4 inch that the book called for. I gave up and just cut the croissants thicker than what the recipe said. I wrapped them up, complete with my grated chocolate inside, and popped them into the oven.

People- if you EVER get a hankering to make croissants? One tip- do NOT use sideless baking pans. That was a big ole mistake on my part. Technically, from what I understand, the butter is not supposed to melt out of your croissants onto your baking sheet. However, I obviously did something (or more than one thing) wrong, because it totally did. And my sideless baking sheet resulted in a ton of melted butter dripping all over the oven, the pan, the floor, myself, my dog, and who knows what else. The second pan was fine because it had sides- but the damage was already done. All that melty butter from the first pan? Caused my kitchen to smell like burnt butter and smoke like we had a fog machine running.

The croissants turned out ok- the bottoms were clearly soggier than intended. I can safely say that I was probably baking beyond my abilities and I won't be craving croissants for quite some time.

If I do get a craving for them? Well, I'm sure there's a good bakery nearby.

Here's my helper dog, Wallace, who always seems to forget that flour doesn't taste nearly as yummy as it looks:

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cupcakes

Oh my god you guys.

Look, I know it must seem to you (all four of you who read this blog) that I am forever gushing over some new amazing recipe for cupcakes (or other sweet treats). I think that's only because by the time I post the dessert here, it's already been taste tested by reliable sources (aka not just my husband who has to like whatever I make- though he doesn't always like everything). It's rare that I will post about something that didn't last long enough for anyone outside of my household to try.

This though? This. Is unbelievable.

I am a huge chocolate chip cookie junkie. In years past I often lamented my ability to make a prefect looking chocolate chip cookie. More recently, I embrace that my cookies come out either too puffy or too flat. Because the important thing is the taste. And I love the taste of a good chocolate chip cookie. If I had my druthers (and weight gain were not an issue), I would probably bake a batch of them a week.

But, I digress. The point of this post is the Chocolate Chip Cookie Cupcake. Not my obsession with chocolate chip cookies. Ahem.

A few fridays ago, my husband really wanted cake. I did not want to bake another cake (so soon after the mini cakes and the cake truffles). He rarely requests specifics of my baking, so I set about finding a simple cupcake recipe- one which called for ingredients already in my pantry. I spotted this (in my Martha Stewart Cupcakes book), and called it out to my husband. Once he gave me the green light, away I went.

The recipe is pretty straight forward and quick. It doesn't actually call for frosting, but I love frosting more than is healthy. So, I whipped up a quick almond swiss meringue buttercream (and if you've never used half vanilla half almond extract in a frosting, you haven't lived!) to top them. Perfect combination.

The recipe made about 22. Only 4 of those ever left our house.

I used some super cute cupcake papers that I've had on hand since my birthday back in Sept. I got these at Bake It Pretty (thanks K for the gift certificate!). Look, even the bottom of the paper is cute.

By request, the recipe on Martha's site. I used chocolate chips instead of chunks- it's what I had on hand.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Getting Over My Fear of Cheesecakes: Bakeover II

I hear you out there. You're surprised that I'm scared of making a cheesecake. That's ok, you can be surprised. Or you can laugh at me. I'm cool with that. But, I am.

Or I was.

Maybe it was the waterbath, or the fact that cheesecake can crack and I hate imperfections. I don't know what it was. I love eating cheesecake, so it wasn't the taste that's kept me from baking one for so long.

When I told Danger Kitten about my fear of cheesecakes and admitted my desire to bake the Raspberry Cheesecake cupcakes (from Martha's Cupcake book), she told me she'd help me out. See, she also wanted to bake those cupcakes. Unlike myself, however, she had baked a cheesecake before.

Two weeks ago Danger Kitten, her husband, our friend L, and her husband all came over. The boys (my husband included) were bottling up three kinds of beer (that they brewed a while back- you can read more about that at Brewfus Alewise's blog, he's Danger Kitten's husband) so we ladies decided to have another Bakeover.

Danger Kitten and L walked me through the crust process. Once the crusts were ready, we doled out the cheesecake and raspberry concoction. It was a nice little assembly line. Look at those beauties up there. Mmmm.

Too bad, as a cheesecake novice, I didn't realize they had to chill in the fridge for FOUR HOURS after baking to set. Whoops. The boys? They were a little disappointed. Thankfully, I had Cake Truffles to soothe their needs for sweets and Danger Kitten had brought Vanilla cupcakes.

These little raspberry cheesecake cupcakes came out just delightful. Totally worth the process. And they helped ease me into cheesecakes. They were somehow less scary because of their size.

I didn't manage to snap any good pictures of them after they were baked and set, sorry about that. But I think you can see from the "pre-baking" photos how delicious they were.

And because this was still during the Olympics, I decorated one in theme.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Cake Truffles

Mmmm, cake.

But what do you do with all those left over cake bits after you level your cake and put it all together?

Cake truffles, my friends. Cake truffles.

If you haven't already visited Bakerella's website, go there now. I'll wait. Bakerella does amazing things with her leftover cake crumbs and pieces.

A few weeks ago I went to a dinner party with some friends. I offered to bring dessert because, well, it's what I do. I made minature chocolate cakes (with yummy orange swiss meringue frosting in the middle). I ended up with a LOT of cake bits left over. And I didn't want to waste them.

Viola, cake truffles. I've made these before (as Cupcake pops) and they are always a huge hit. You take your cake bits, mix them with frosting, and dunk in chocolate. That's it. It's easy, but time consuming- be forewarned. And it makes a lot.

The ones you see above are chocolate cake (my favorite Martha one-bowl recipe) with vanilla buttercream (also homemade) in both white chocolate and chocolate coatings. We like to keep them in the freezer in our house.

I bet once you eat one, you'll need to eat at least two more.