Hodgepodge and Baking Pans

Forgive me blogosphere, for it has been over a week since my last blog post.

To get back into the swing of things, I am posting a hodgepodge of recipes I tried this past week to make an end of summer sweet treat. You see, I've had donuts on the brain lately. Ok fine, doughnuts if you'd prefer. And no, I'm not in any respect referring to the round sprinkled things you can buy at Dunkin Donuts; I mean real, old-fashioned cakey donuts. I've attempted donuts before with pretty good success (my favorite recipe is from the Joy of Cooking), but never without seeming to use a whole bottle of vegetable oil. Not wanting to use all the oil in my possession in one fowl swoop, or create the mess associated with it, I was dead set on finding the perfect baked donut recipe. Only one problem... I don't have a donut pan. Yes, there is such thing as a donut pan. They basically look like a cupcake pan that got flattened a bit with a stem in the center of each cakes center. If you happen to have a muffin top pan, you might be able to get away with using that, your donuts just won't come out with a hole in the middle, so they'll be more of a filled variety. Unless, of course, you also have a donut cutter. (If you wanted to get really creative and save your pocketbook, you could just use some circle cookie cutters, which are much more reasonable for a multitude of purposes.) Whew. All this crazy bakeware; I know what you're thinking.... what's next, an edges-only brownie pan, or a mini multi-tiered cake pan, or even a cake-sicle pan. Yes, this multitude of baking pans you haven't even imagined yet DO exist, with varying degrees of practicality. (Find some of my other ridiculous bakeware favorites : here, here, here, herehere, oh and here too. And that's just scratching the surface!)

Anyways, to the point. While I don't own a donut pan (and I'm not sure if I want to seeing as I don't plan on making donuts every gosh darn weekend), I do however, have a cupcake pan. So, I decided I'd have to settle for donut cupcakes instead. Which actually worked out okay. (By the way... if you do find yourself with a donut pan in your pantry, by all means use it! And let me know how this recipe comes out in true "baked" donut form!)

For the "glaze" I made a vanilla bean caramel sauce recipe I'd been dying to try, and instead of a "jelly" filling, I made a more "end of summer" appropriate nectarine compote (a recipe I actually took from a homemade pop tart recipe, strange, I know). And voila, there you have a deconstructed donut cupcake.

It wasn't the most outstandingly creative dessert I'd ever made, but it wasn't half bad either. And it helps that I am also obsessed with fruit and caramel sauce lately. (Make one good batch of caramel and it kinda goes to your head.)

If you'd like to give one, or all of the recipes a go yourself, they are listed below. Enjoy!

Baked Cake Donuts
adapted from Sur La Table

yields one dozen
2 cups cake flour, sifted
3/4 cup vanilla sugar or granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Prep your donut pan with a little non-stick cooking spray. In a bowl, combine the melted butter, buttermilk and beaten eggs. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the cake flour, vanilla sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Pour in the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Spoon the batter into the wells of you pan (roughly 2/3rds full). An easier/cleaner option is to pour the batter into a ziplock bag and snip the corner or use a piping bag and pipe the batter into the pan. Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until the tops of the donuts spring back when lightly touched. Do not over bake. Allow to cool in the pan for a couple minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Finish the donuts by shaking them in bags of powdered or cinnamon sugar. Or glaze them with chocolate.

adapted from Buzz Bakery's Peach Pop Tarts Recipe
1 to 2 tablespoons honey, depending on the sweetness of the peaches (or whatever fruit you're using)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups peeled and chopped peaches (about 5 to 6 ripe peaches)

Make the peach compote: In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon of honey and the cornstarch. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, combine the peaches and cornstarch mixture and cook until the fruit comes to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook until the fruit breaks down, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Taste for sweetness and add more honey as needed. Remove the compote from the saucepan and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

makes about one cup

1 cup sugar

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 vanilla bean split lengthwise, seeds scraped (pod can be used to scent sugar, if you like)

1/2 cup heavy cream

Before you begin, make sure you have everything ready to go - the cream and the butter next to the pan, ready to put in. 
Heat sugar on moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart or 3-quart saucepan. As the sugar begins to melt, stir vigorously with a whisk or wooden spoon. As soon as the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring. You can swirl the pan a bit if you want, from this point on. (This recipe works best if you are using a thick-bottomed pan. If you find that you end up burning some of the sugar before the rest of it is melted, the next time you attempt it, add a half cup of water to the sugar at the beginning of the process, this will help the sugar to cook more evenly, though it will take longer as the water will need to evaporate before the sugar will caramelize.) As soon as all of the sugar crystals have melted (the liquid sugar should be dark amber in color), immediately add the butter to the pan. Whisk until the butter has melted. Once the butter has melted, take the pan off the heat. Count to three, then slowly add the cream to the pan and continue to whisk to incorporate. When you add the butter and the cream, the mixture will foam up considerably (this is why you must use a pan that is at least 2-quarts (preferably 3-quarts) big). Whisk until caramel sauce is smooth. Let cool in the pan for a couple minutes, then pour into a glass mason jar and let sit to cool to room temperature. (Remember to use pot holders when handling the jar filled with hot caramel sauce.) Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Warm before serving.


A "Super Awesome" Homemade Life

I am a reader. An uber reader actually. (At times I've been known to read an average of a book and a half to two plus a week. I'm talking 300-400+ page books). Sadly, lately I've been slacking. I just haven't been in a reading mood. Which is unusual for me. But, anyways... last week, I got back into the swing of things. To ease myself back into the process, I'm starting with a "half cookbook, half recounting a family life with the kitchen as it's heart" style book called A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (also known as the creator of the infamous blog, Orangette). I'm slowly but surely making my way through the book, savoring and salivating at every page. Each chapter/recipe I read, the more I want to keep reading. But I'm trying to pace myself because at the same time, I don't want it to be over.

Today, I got a sneak peak of a menu at a new restaurant opening soon. Since it hasn't opened quite yet, I can't reveal deets (don't worry you'll hear all about it soon enough), but I do have two words for you : donut sandwich. 'Nuff said, right? Anyways, the menu is half carb-a-licious and half farmers market delight. Surprisingly, after taste testing this blend of carbs and farm fresh noshes, I was still hungry for more in the evening. Sometimes eating fresh and delicious things just makes you hungry for even more fresh and delicious-ness. Am I right? And for some reason, I had my heart set on pancakes. So I thought I'd take a gander through the Orangette archives. Since I'm currently reading her first book (she's in the process of writing her second, possibly titled Delancey about opening a restaurant in Seattle with her husband), I thought it would be appropriate to try one of her recipes on for size. I was in luck. I found this posting for Jimmy's Dutch Baby Pancakes.

Part souffle - part pancake - all goodness. I was not disappointed. Topped with clarified butter, lemon juice and ye old powdered sugar, you can't really go wrong. And, with only a few ingredients, it's super easy to whip up. I'd never made Dutch Baby pancakes before, but they are for sure going to be a household name from now on. I halved it since I was only serving myself and didn't plan on completely carbing-out and eating a whole "baby cake" by myself (which was wise because I found myself struggling to eat half even though my eyes wanted to eat the whole thing). Trust me, it's worth a try. And you'll feel like your life is pretty super awesome and satisfying after making & eating it as well.

Jimmy’s Dutch Baby Pancakes
Jimmy likes to make his babies in two 6-inch cast-iron skillets, but you can also make this recipe in a single 10- or 11-inch one.
For the pancakes:
4 Tbs unsalted butter (or, if you’d prefer to try it as we did with today’s happy butter accident, try using 6-8 tablespoons, and then do not add clarified butter when serving)
4 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup half-and-half
For the topping:
4 oz clarified butter (or, if you’re not into clarifying, simple melted butter will do)
Juice of 1 lemon
Powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide the 4 Tbs butter between two 6-inch cast-iron skillets, and melt it over low heat. In a blender, whir together the eggs, flour, and half-and-half. Pour the batter into the skillets over the melted butter. Slide the skillets into the oven, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the puffed pancakes from the oven, transfer them to a plate or shallow bowl, and pour on clarified butter, sprinkle on lemon juice, and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately. Serves two.


Masala Mania

Lately, I seem to be on a Masala kick. Maybe I'm watching too much MasterChef. Or maybe I'm just mourning the loss of Veerasway (their closing was announced earlier this month, after Chris and Angela Lee's appearance at Lolla's Chow Town under the name of Juhu Beach). Regardless of the root of the reason, I partially blame my obsession on the fact that I recently found a tub of Tikka Masala from Costo in the back of my freezer.

So tonight, I defrosted it and made some of the masala with rice and veggies. Instead of paneer (which is what you usually find in a masala dish), I used some goat cheese for some added creaminess. It also pairs well with Chicken, Shrimp, Cauliflower, or Tofu.

Making it also reminded me of my ambition to make my own paneer someday. It's actually not that difficult, I just don't usually have whole milk in the house so I haven't gotten around to making it on my own quite yet. A while back, I took a cheese making class at a local Whole Foods in which we made both a fresh ricotta and paneer. If you find yourself having a masala obsession as well, why not add your own paneer for that little extra something?!

Here's the paneer recipe from the class, in case you're feeling ambitious. If you beat me to it, let me know how it turns out! Ha.

makes 3-4 cups
active time: 15 minutes
start to finish: 2.25 hours
1 gallon whole milk
2 teaspoons fine salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
Line a colander with dampened cheesecloth, and place it in or over a bowl.  In a large heavy pot, bring the milk to a full boil. Add the salt and lemon juice, and remove from the heat. Gently stir around the edges as the milk separates and the curd forms in the center. Let sit for about 2 minutes. Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined colander, and gather up the edges of the cheesecloth to form a package. Twist and press gently, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Place a plate over the paneer, and weigh it down with cans or a bowl filled with water. Let stand at room temperature until firm, one to two hours. Cut into cubes. Paneer will keep for up to five days, but will taste best the day it's made.


Jeni's Ice Cream is Splendid

This weekend I took a trip to visit a friend in Kentucky. While there, we decided to take a quick day-trip into Nashville, TN. We got some quality walking time in at the Vanderbilt campus, did some shopping in Hillsboro Village (including some gems: Pangaea and the Nashville Clothing XChange), and even ate at restaurant called Jackson's where I splurged on a Pimento Cheese Panini. However, the highlight of this day trip for me, by far, was that we took a jut over to East Nashville to visit Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.
(*Note: watch the video on the website. Yes, that's an order. After watching, you might begin to understand why we took a day trip almost entirely to go to an ice cream shop. It's addicting-ly cute and creative, making the product look all the more appealing. And the song is catchy too. I've watched it at least 20 times. I'd like to see you resist. See. Told you. Addicting.)

Some of the varieties we indulged on were the (mostly seasonal) flavors of Goat Cheese with Red Cherries (tasted like a cool cherry cheesecake), Rockmill Golden Ale & Apricots (basically a beer ice cream with fresh apricots mixed in), Salty Caramel (salty and just the right amount of bitter), and Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate (rich but not overwhelming). To boot, most of the ingredients used to make these splendid ice creams is sourced from local farmers markets. 

Goat Cheese with Red Cherries

Not only were the flavors fresh and delicious, but the decor was also very cute and organic. Flavors are listed on large chalkboards covering the wall behind the counter. 

And the tables showcased fresh picked flowers in Ball jars. I even saw a note by the register saying thank you to a neighbor who actually donated the flowers in the store from his home garden. Love!

If you ask me, Jeni's really is quite splendid. They have store locations in Ohio and Tennessee, however there's a chance Jeni's is sold at a retailer near you. Just incase you're jonesin' for a "splendid" fix. 
(Here in the city you can find Jeni's at some of my favorite places: Olivia's Market, The Goddess and Grocer, and Southport Grocery & Cafe to name a few.) 

Here's to hoping Jeni's will someday expand it's store locations to include the great state of Ill-i-noise!


We Do What?!

We do Threadcakes, but of course. What else would we do? Silly.

Today, I completed my submission for Threadcakes 2011, and just in the nick of time. (In case you've been living under a rock and don't know what Threadcakes is - it's a super awesome contest where you bake a cake and design it based on a Threadless t-shirt.) With entry submissions closing on Aug 15th, I cut it kinda close, but I got it done. I always have unobtainable ambitions, like "this year I'm going to do 50 entries", which is silly because as always, its a struggle to find the time to do one. Regardless, I'm always satisfied with the outcome and have fun doing it regardless of how ambitious (or not) I find myself on creation day. You can view more pics of my entry here. And be sure to take a gander at some of the other cakes in the gallery - but don't say I didn't warn you, it's more addicting than facebook and crackberries, trust me.

If you're feeling inspired, don't fret. You still have 5 more days to enter. And the best part is, regardless of if you win, you have a sweet reward to eat at the end of it - your creation! Now honestly, what isn't great about making your cake and eating it too?!


The Big Cream

The last couple of days, I've been on a Showtime TV watching marathon. I have watched the entire first season (and most current episodes in the second season) of The Big C in nearly one sitting. (Hey now, don't judge - like you've never watched a whole season of Arrested Development in one night, twice. Oh, wait, thats just me? Ok, well, never-mind.) Laura Linney's character, Cathy, in The Big C, is a woman struggling to come to terms with her Stage 4 cancer diagnosis and how to approach cueing in the people in her life. The upside, is that she decides, she might as well not hold back and start living life doing whatever the duck she wants. One reoccurring theme here is her lack of hesitance to indulge in sweets. She goes out to dinner and orders only drinks and (multiple) desserts. When making something savory and tasting it for necessary adjustments, she remarks - "needs more chocolate."

The newest episode in the second season aired tonight, so in honor of Cathy's not-holding-back sweet tooth, I indulged in a sweet treat while watching the show. I still have a TON of vanilla bean ice cream leftover from pastry camp and thought - what fruit goes best with ice cream in the (still hanging onto the last days of) summertime? Why hello, peaches and cream! Some Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce (compliments of Trader Joe's) was also drizzled on top, you know, just for good measure. I think Cathy's character would appreciate it.

What's your favorite end of summertime sweet treat? Don't hold back now...!


Would You Like That, On A Stick?

With all of the Lolla festivities going on this weekend, I got to thinking... if Graham Elliot, the food purveyor of the Chow Town foodie tents a the fest can push Lobster Corn Dogs at his Grahamwich tent, what's left that you can't eat on a stick these days? Especially in the world of sweets...

This weekend, I happened to made some ever so cute Bakerella inspired Cake Pops, so there's cake on a stick.

I've also come across macaron pops, so there's your cookie on a stick.

There's also pop tarts on a stick. Which is kinda like pie on a stick. Yes, pie. Ok, fine, pie lollipops if you want to be all cute about it.

I also recently found out that a new "trend" is to make "push pop" cupcakes. Yes, really. This one really took me aback. If I'm going to eat a push-pop, I'll eat a push pop thank you very much. And if I want a cupcake, I'll eat a cupcake. No need to combine the two. But that's just my opinion.

Whatever the reason for this "sweets on a stick" craze, I'll be interested to see what "pops" up next.

In the meantime, to satisfy your cravings for all things on a stick, here's a blog dedicated to Stuff on a Stick ... both sweet and savory.

What's your favorite thing to eat on a stick?