Sunday, May 26, 2013

Lemon Perfection Bars

  What a week! With the show going on, graduation around the corner and my sister's graduation today I've been in a whirlwind of activity! It's been very exciting but I can't wait to sleep in and finally begin my senior summer of laze. I've been baking for each of the shows so we always have fresh delicious snacks for the audience to enjoy during intermission. There is, of course, the traditional cookies and brownies. Last night we had someone make fantastic oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. However, I've heard that there are people out there who don't love chocolate. It's been a difficult idea for me to come to terms with, as I never choose a non-chocolate option over a chocolate option. Rather than force my completely unbiased views on all of the audience, I looked into making a non-chocolate option. 
I remember a few years ago my family decided to clean out our attic (scary scary time in my life...) and we had a series of tag sales. For these, my older sisters baked up a storm of things and lemon bars became one of the favorite, and easiest, staples that they provided. So, I did some research and I decided to stick my hands into the lemon bar business. Here's what I've come up with for today!

Oven Temp: 350 F
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 20 minutes and 20 minutes
Ready-In: 55 minutes

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup lemon juice*
1/4 cup powdered sugar 

*Fresh lemons are best. This is about 3 lemons. To maximize juiciness, pop in the microwave for 15 seconds before juicing. Additionally, mix in 2 tablespoons of lemon zest to the lemon mixture for a flavor bonus.

 Preheat oven to 350 F.
Soften butter if not already in the microwave.

In a medium bowl, blend together softened butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar. 

It should form a soft, pliable dough

Press evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 pan. Bake for 18-23 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm and golden.

In another bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup flour. 

Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice.

 Our eggs come from my cousin's farm! They are fresh and exceptionally delicious. Also, I find the varying shell color to be very pretty!

Pour over the baked crust. 

Bake for an additional 20 minutes in the preheated oven. 

Gently dust the top with powdered sugar!

Let the bars cool completely before serving. They need to firm up and the flavors need to combine.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Red Velvet Mini-Cakes with Sugared Pansies and White Chocolate Ganache

Gosh, I can't even tell you how hectic this week has been, or how hectic next week will be. I'm producing a student production at my high school and opening night is this Thursday. To say I've been busy would be an incredible understatement, but gosh, it is the best kind of busy. It's all the little things that are my guilty pleasure - organizing mundane things, keeping track of minute details, talking to businesses like I'm some kind of important person who deserves their time and money... All the things that attract me to the business world. I've been enjoying it. I like the stress. But honestly, when Saturday rolled around and it was time for me to resume my normal, low-key life, gosh was I the happiest little munchkin. I sat down thinking of something new to bake, and my mind raced with ideas! Baking has always been my stress relief and I suppose THIS was my body's way of telling me it was about time. 

Spoiler! Today's recipe will produce this.
I wanted to do something cute, a little spin-off of an old classic. As a cupcake fanatic, I decided they would be my base. I wanted to use the cupcake tins to make flat-topped cupcakes without wrappers so they looked  like miniature cakes and treat them like mini-cakes rather than just frost the top like cupcakes. Using red velvet seemed like a good choice, because red velvet is notorious for being denser than most cakes, which seemed like a good base for something without a cupcake wrapper.

Oven Temp: 350 F
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Bake Time: 20 minutes
Decorating Time: 15 miuntes
Ready-In: 1 hour

1 1/4 cup sifted cake flour  
pinch of salt
2 tbls cocoa powder
1/4 cup butter, at room temp
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg at room temp
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 milk with 1 tsp lemon juice)
1 tablespoons liquid red food coloring
1/2 tsp white distilled vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 F and place rack in center of oven. Carefully butter each cupcake pocket in a cupcake tin. Flour the butter pockets and set aside.

 In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.

Beat the butter until smooth and soft. Add the sugar and mix until fluffy. Add the egg beating well after each addition, then mix in the vanilla and beat until combined.
I always find it rather cumbersome to go out and buy buttermilk, so I usually just make it myself by mixing a teaspoon of lemon juice into 1/2 of milk. 

It has to sit for 5 minutes before use. When ready, whisk the red food dye into the buttermilk. 

Slowly, alternately, add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture.

In a separate cup or bowl, combine the vinegar and baking soda. Allow the mixture to bubble to its heart's content and then quickly fold gently into batter.
Working quickly, divide the batter evenly between the twelve muffin cups. As this is a dense recipe, make sure to smooth the tops off.  

 Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely. This will give them enough time to shrink down so they should be easy to pop out. Before you proceed to frosting/decorating them, they need to me completely cooled so the frosting will stick better.

As the cakes were baking, I prepared my sugared pansies. These are very pretty and very easy to do. Gently wash your flowers (cut as close as possible to the bud) by dipping them in cool water and blotting them dry. 

Gently drying

Next, whisk an egg white until gently bubbly, with no clumps. Delicately paint the flowers with a q-tip or a small paintbrush. Coat in superfine sugar. Place on wax paper to dry.


While the cakes are cooling, begin making the frosting. I wanted to pair them with a white chocolate ganache, because I wanted the smooth look of a fondant on a cake. The traditional choice, of course, would be a cream cheese frosting.
Here's a helpful ganache how-to that I found the first time I made ganache.

Ganache is really easy. It's just equal parts cream and chocolate.
Start by warming the cream until it's just boiling. Pour over the chocolate chips. Allow to sit for several minutes. Slowly begin stirring to incorporate the chocolate into the cream. It will take several minutes for them to mix together. You know it's mixed when the chocolate is entirely melted and small air bubbles are visible. You don't want to over mix though!
If the cream isn't warm enough for everything to melt, either microwave briefly, or make a double boiler. Allow to sit overnight. 
Allow to cool for a few minutes to thicken up. I found that when melted, the white chocolate was semi-transparent, but I didn't want to pour it over the cakes until it started to looking pretty white. If you pour when it's too warm, it will just glide off. I chose my least appealing cake to be my experimental one.  
As the ganache is cooling, decorate with anything you want to have held in place. 

Lots of little things to go here and there, but the finished project is quite pretty!


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lancelot Begs Forgiveness

Oh gosh....I know there are no good excuses for having no post, but, I was out of town most of the weekend and got back much later than I had anticipated. I  have an AP test tomorrow, and although I can assure you that I'd much rather be baking, I need these precious few hours to study. I will get you a new recipe ASAP, but for the time being I hope these pictures of Lancelot assuage your anger, if not your hunger as well.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

S'more Brownies

Talk about decadence. These little guys will leave your sweet tooth completely satisfied. This weekend I knew I wanted to make something s'more based - some kind of s'more deconstruction. I considered many possibilities. I struggled to find a medium in which to carry the s'more elements. I'm sure you're probably thinking that brownies are a pretty logical base, carrying out the chocolate flavor with a smooth consistency. Well, I knew I wanted to top with a graham cracker crumble, something that would imitate the crumble on a coffee cake. This brought my mind to muffins! I imagined a play on muffins with marshmallows like blueberries and graham cracker crumble like the sugar crumble. Finally, though, I decided to go with brownies. Gosh, it was a tough 10 minutes trying to figure out what to do.
Anyways, I made a quick sketch of the ideal s'more brownies. Brownie base with chocolate crumbles, and marshmallows, topped with graham cracker crumble. Beautiful.

Oven Temp: 350 F
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 35-40 minutes
Ready-In: 1 hour

1 cup butter, melted
3 cups white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
3 chocolate bars (hershey's are great), chopped up
6 graham crackers, crumbled
3 tbls butter
1 tbls milk 

Of course, you can use any brownie recipe, but I just took the opportunity to try out a new one. You may notice there is no baking soda or powder here. And there are four eggs, where most recipes call for two or three. This maximizes fudginess and flavor. I'd also recommend my favorite one-bowl brownies to expedite the baking adventure.
 Also, it's wonderful to spend some quality time with Hershey.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. You really must use a 9x13, a 9x9 is too small for this batch.

An inspiring compilation of ingredients

Combine the melted butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. 

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each, until thoroughly blended. 

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a bowl. Gradually stir flour mixture into the egg mixture until blended. 

Stir in about 2/3 of the chocolate crumbles and 1 cup of marshmallows. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate and marshmallows on top.

 Crumble up graham crackers, mix with 3 tablespoons melted butter and milk to make a crumble. Sprinkle liberally the crumble on top. 
Bake in preheated oven until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool before cutting into and devouring.