baking

Fast-acting relief for those chocolate cravings

When I was growing up, we weren’t really a brownie household. Cookies, sure, but brownies? Maybe occasionally, but they weren’t one of those staples at every get-together. Evidently, I’m making up for lost time, because this is now the second brownie recipe I’ve tried this year. If I’m being honest (which I am, because I just said so), I had made this second recipe once and they disappeared almost immediately, so what you’re seeing here is the second-recipe redux.

I didn’t go out looking for a brownie recipe, but when I saw this one on Life, Love, and Sugar, I was intrigued. It’s got eight ingredients (nine if you count the fact that I used a blend of regular and dark cocoa powder in mine), it makes a small square pan’s worth, and it doesn’t require any advanced baking techniques. I was sold.

Not pictured: the flour or sugar, but otherwise, this is alllll it takes.

The process is really quick: mix your wet ingredients together in one bowl…

…your dry ingredients in another…

…and then add the dry to the wet and combine.

Some of my more eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that there was a bag of peanut butter chips on the counter in the picture up top (go on and scroll up; I’ll wait). The first time I made these, I made them plain, just to see how they were. Since they came out so well, we decided this time to change it up a bit and add a mix-in to keep things interesting.

Once everything was folded in to our satisfaction, we spread the batter in our parchment-lined 9″ square pan.

They took a wee bit longer to bake than the recommended time in the recipe, but were they ever worth the wait!

That amazing, crackly top will never cease to impress me. They sliced like a dream, too.

Interesting discovery: although warm-from-the-oven brownies are much ballyhooed, these ones actually taste a little bit better at room temperature – the flavours come through better.

Apart from the baking time (and the peanut butter chips), the only change I made from the original recipe was using 1/3 cup regular unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 1/2 tablespoons of black cocoa powder. I use a blend of cocoas whenever I make cupcakes, too, and it gives them a certain je ne sais quoi.

And there you have it: moist, chocolatey perfection.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Like the Teddy Bears’ Picnic, only slightly gorier

I’m not going to bore everyone with a bunch of backstory and details, except to say that I made these for a recent birthday (the last small-bubble get-together before the latest lockdown). The birthday boy loves gummi bears (really loves them), and when I saw something like this on Pinterest, I knew I had to make them. The best part is, they’re so simple that you don’t really need to have a webpage open to follow along.

Without further ado…

Step one: Bake cupcakes. Any kind will do, but I did chocolate just because. Make or buy some chocolate frosting, and frost each cupcake with a thin-ish schmear using an offset spatula. You want to have frosting left over.

Step two: Tint your remaining frosting with black gel colour. You don’t have to get it black-black, but something vaguely dark grey would be good. We want to make these cupcakes look like barbeques, and this darkened frosting is going to be used for your grill. If you don’t trust your freehand drawing skills, trace the lines using a toothpick first so that you’ve got something to use as a guide.

Step three: This is the fun part! Grab some bamboo skewers – the ones I used are longer than a standard toothpick but shorter than the kind you actually barbeque with – and force those gummi bears onto them. Don’t listen to their little squeals. I used two different sizes because when I was at Bulk Barn I couldn’t decide which size would look more to-scale on a cupcake, but you do you.

Step four: Lay your skewered bears across your “grills” and hope people don’t think you’re macabre.

I put my very first skewer in rainbow order because that’s how my mind works and I have problems with randomness…but I tried to live large and let go for the others.

These went over really well – the birthday boy loved them, which meant it was easier to send some home with him later on so I didn’t wind up eating them all.

I think these could be fun for a summer birthday as well, or a backyard cookout.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Like Bert and Ernie…Bogie and Bacall…

I’ve been trying to behave. While everyone and their grandmother is Instagramming homemade sourdough or who-knows-what, I’ve been squelching my urge to bake, because how many cookies do I need to eat, seriously? I’m not saying I miss going into the office, but I miss having an outlet for all that baking.

I had to give in, though, when I found the recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting on Sally’s Baking Addiction. Cupcakes were required, and immediately. How could I say “No” to chocolate and peanut butter? Besides, I reasoned, I could share these with my parents – there was no way my dad was going to complain about that combination.

I started out with my usual chocolate cupcake recipe, which I can almost make in my sleep. How good are they? The cat thought she needed to try them.

Why, kitty, why???

The frosting recipe was simple enough to follow, but made a way bigger batch than I’d usually use. Naturally this meant I had to go nuts piling it on, right? I mean, if I’m going to bake something utterly unnecessary, I might as well go whole-hog.

It was also really stiff, and I realized after piping the first couple that I should have added a touch more milk to it in order to soften it up. Normally, I hold a cupcake in one hand and rotate it as I pipe with the other; this stuff was a two-hand job. My hands were shaking so badly trying to get enough pressure on the piping bag that a casual observer might have thought I have some sort of neurological problem.

Despite the stiffness, the frosting wasn’t at all dry or hard, even after a couple of days. And its firmness may have been beneficial when one of them toppled off its plate onto the floor; it flattened a little bit but didn’t make a huge mess the way a softer frosting would have. In any case, they went over really well and were the perfect excuse to bake something.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Good Vanilla Hunting

Although I am not by any stretch of the imagination a professional baker, I’m a relatively experienced one. I understand how to not overmix, how to check for doneness, and how to fold in the cheese. And while I accept that there are some things I will likely never have the inclination to attempt (croquembouche, anyone?), my Moby Dick white whale continues to be vanilla cupcakes.

It should be such a simple thing, right? But nearly every recipe I’ve tried has left me underwhelmed: they’re either dense, or dry, or some combination of the two. Maybe it’s because my chocolate cupcakes are fail-proof and so moist-moist-moist that vanilla pales (and fails) by comparison, but it still drives me nuts. My go-to cookbook, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, has a vanilla recipe that’s really similar to the chocolate, but with two tablespoons of cornstarch (and no cocoa, obviously). Was that what made it not-perfect? I’ve tried varieties that call for cake flour rather than all-purpose, to no avail. (I’ve also since read tips that recommend adding cornstarch to your A.P. if cake flour is unavailable, which really makes me think there’s a connection there somehow.)

Recently I came across this recipe, and was hopeful. Straight-up all-purpose flour, no separating of eggs (not that I inherently dislike separating eggs, but anything that calls for just the yolk or just the white invariably leads to wasting the unwanted part, unless you have an excellent recipe-stacking strategy to use up those leftover yolks or whites, which I do not), nothing funny.

And…they weren’t bad.

They came out a little browner around the edges than I would have liked, but all things considered…not bad. The batter was thicker than pretty much all of my other scratch recipes, and I think I overfilled them a bit because of this, which in turn necessitated baking them a minute or two longer than might otherwise be prudent. Whether because of bake time or simple batter composition, they were just a wee bit on the dry side, too. I could see making them again, but filling the cups less full – and mayyyybe adding an extra tablespoon of oil to the batter for moisture?

I topped them with a root beer buttercream icing, which paired so perfectly with the vanilla cake, like having a root beer float. Oh, and because you’ve probably noticed the liners by now…

Yep, those are absolutely Christmas liners. Everyone’s socially distancing – who was going to see these anyway? But look how pretty they are!

After my underwhelming success with vanilla, I went back to my old standby – chocolate – for a Father’s Day treat. There was pretty much no doubt in my mind that they had to be topped with peanut butter frosting.

To add a bit of texture and interest, I put a few Reese’s Pieces in a baggie and smashed them with a rolling pin before sprinkling the aftermath on top of the frosting.

This is the best combination…

They’re practically moist enough for themselves and the vanilla cupcakes, if cupcakes worked that way.

Light and moist and perfect, no crumbling at all.

Has anyone had tremendous success with light, moist vanilla cupcakes? Or am I better off box-mixing it?

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

The only kind of blackout you want in the winter

You guys! I’m so glad the holiday season is behind us, and I can get back to my somewhat regular baking schedule. Anything I made over the holidays felt like an obligation rather than something I wanted to do, and with so many store-bought options around (I’m still eating dominoes), it felt futile anyway.

I was itching to bust out my cupcake pans and bake something just for the heck of it, and finally got my chance a couple of weeks ago. Oh, it felt goooood!

A couple of years ago, I had made this Brooklyn Blackout Cake for my mom’s birthday, and although cakes make a lovely presentation for special occasions like birthdays, they’re a pain to store the rest of the time. And although the homemade pudding filling turned out most excellently that time, I didn’t feel like standing over the stove having chocolate splatter at me.

Instant gratification pudding to the rescue!

After baking and cooling a dozen chocolate cupcakes (made with a 2:1 ratio of regular to dark cocoa powder), I made two boxes of instant chocolate pudding, but used only half the milk called for. In other words, two cups for both boxes instead of two cups for each. That gave me an ultra-thick pudding that wouldn’t run all over the place.

I cored the cupcakes, setting the cores carefully aside instead of just eating them (for example). I loaded up a piping bag with my pudding and filled each cupcake, then spread a generous layer on top instead of frosting.

The finishing touch? I grabbed one of my cores and crumbled it on top of each cupcake for that crumb topping finish.

Crumbs on top of your frosting (or “frosting”) might sound weird and dry, but the cake is so moist that dryness isn’t an issue.

Look at that luscious chocolate filling!

On the whole, I’m extremely happy with how these turned out, and how much easier they were to make and store than their layer-cake counterpart. My taste-testers gave them two thumbs up, so it looks like we have a winner.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

craftmas, Other Crafts

On the fourth day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a last-minute Christmas quickie!

(Get your minds out of the gutter…)

I’m not going to do a big, long how-to, but keep it simple: I used this tutorial to create some golden snitch chocolates for a friend’s stocking.

They came together really quickly; I had Discord open in the background while I worked (because apparently I keep glue at the computer desk), and it took less than 10 minutes to get all three made.

There’s no way these were getting back in the cellophane sleeve, so instead, I’ve tucked them into a little organza bag to go at the very top of his stocking, and hopefully keep the wings from getting crushed.

Thanks for looking – Merry Christmas! 🙂

baking

Cuban Lunch: The [insert scary-sounding gerund here]

This is a short one, because Halloween is imminent and I still have to do my nails, gather together the components of the two different costumes I’ll be wearing (yes, I’m insane), and finish planning a birthday party – the latter has nothing to do with Halloween, but still falls close enough to feel like it.

Remember my Cuban Lunch that I shared the recipe for last year? Two very exciting (or not) addenda to that. First, I’ve managed to find the commercially-manufactured resurrected version, which worded thusly sounds a bit Halloween-y in its own right.

It’s a beaut.

Second, I still think I prefer my homemade version, and so I made up a batch to hand out to a few lucky individuals at work as an early Halloween treat.

Because it’s already unseasonably cold around these parts, I was able to stash these in the garage for about 45 minutes to let them really firm up before packaging them for delivery.

Aren’t those bags cute? Each one contains a baggie holding four chocolates, sealed for freshness (if they last that long).

Thanks for looking – have a spook-tacular Halloween! 🙂

baking

He’s not a monster; he’s just misunderstood.

My dad’s got a bit of a thing for cookies. If you were to drop him into the middle of a bakery (or heck, even the kitchen at home), he will see past all the other treats and head straight for the cookies, irrespective of type. When I asked him back in June what type of dessert he wanted for Father’s Day, he asked for – and got – cookies. They were “fancy” ones, a chocolate cookie filled with a peanut butter fondant, but still.

A while ago, I had seen this post on Craftster…and then I went back and looked at it a few more times for good measure. It was a really neat looking cake, and I knew I had to try one like it. I normally prefer cupcakes to a cake for a birthday or other festive occasion since they’re less of a pain to store if you have leftovers, but I had already done Cookie Monster cupcakes once, and besides, the idea of the cake being his whole head was too good to pass up.

I didn’t want a giant cake, since I wasn’t really baking for a crowd, and I knew my 6″ pans would be perfect Bonus: one 12-cupcake recipe’s worth of batter divides perfectly between the two pans. Plus, the slightly smaller circumference/diameter meant the ping-pong balls I bought to use as eyes would be perfectly proportionate.

I ❤ perfectly proportionate ping-pong balls. “See” what I did there?

I started with my usual most famous dark-chocolate cake (because, um, have you met my family?) and made a small batch of peanut butter frosting to smear between the layers. For the crumb coat and fur, I made what was possibly the largest batch of blue-tinted vanilla buttercream ever, because this was not going to be one of those cakes whose frosting technique could change in the event of a blue-icing shortage. In all my remarkable foresight, I kept it just a little less stiff than I normally like my frosting – I didn’t want to have to force it through the grass tip like some sort of Play-Doh extrusion.

A quick image search for “Cookie Monster cake” shows a lot of cakes whose entire mouth area (that’s a very specific medical term) consists of cookies, like CM just couldn’t help himself. I didn’t want to do that because a) I don’t love the aesthetic of it, and b) unless you eat the cookies immediately upon serving, they’re going to get either soggy or stale, and that’s a waste of perfectly good cookies. I had toyed with the idea of tinting some of my frosting black to draw in a mouth, or even leaving the mouth as negative space (like I did here), since the cake is pretty dark. But! I’m so happy with the solution I hit on: after applying my crumb coat (ironic foreshadowing/nominative determinism alert!), I used a toothpick to trace a mouth shape and then filled it in with chocolate cookie crumbs. They kept the space from drying out and don’t have the ick factor of black frosting. And then…presto, pipe the fur around it like usual. Of course, I couldn’t leave him completely cookie-less…

I learned some valuable frosting tips, too. When piping at a 90° angle to cover the sides, start at the bottom and work up, and gravity will let the “fur” fall into place. And if your buttercream is on the soft side and prone to softening further just from holding the piping bag in your hot little hands, don’t overfill the bag – some of the frosting will commit hari-kari and throw itself onto the kitchen floor from the top of the bag, and you will, repeatedly and with increasing frustration, have to shoo away with your foot the cat, who will look at the overpriced and specially formulated food in his bowl like it’s poison but who will enthusiastically eat dust bunnies and flecks of dirt, and now unnaturally-blue frosting, from the floor. Who needs to explain that to the vet? You’ve been warned.

Cat-herding issues and all, I’m so happy with how this turned out:

The peanut butter centre was the perfect compliment to the dark chocolate cake, and not as sweet as more blue vanilla buttercream would have been.

As birthday cakes go, this was a pretty good one. He definitely didn’t see it coming, and that made it so much more fun. But, whoosh, I don’t know that I want to see blue frosting again for a while. 😉

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

How do you spell “fun”? F-e-t-t-i!

Back in the spring, I had made some cookies to share with my coworkers in celebration of what was admittedly a rather arbitrary anniversary. Oh, I didn’t make a big deal of it, plastering “Five Years Since I Accidentally Took the Elevator to the Wrong Floor” banners across my cubicle walls, or anything like that. I packaged them unceremoniously in a Gladware container, scrawled “Funfetti Chocolate Chip Cookies” in green Sharpie on a folded piece of notepaper, and dropped the whole works in an obvious place in the communal kitchen. Free food always moves, and by eleven o’clock that morning, they were gone.

Do you want to know the difference between a “normal” person and a social committee member? The “normal” people instant-messaged me to say thank you, or how much they enjoyed them. Awww. One of the social committee members led with an instant message that started out like that, but turned into, “You should make some for our bake sale! I’d totally buy some! My kid’s two favourite things are chocolate and rainbows.” And so, it came to pass that I was going to be part of the sale.

I’m not going to torture you with a long and complicated recipe, insisting that you not overmix and taking a tape measure to your prepared cookie sheets to determine exactly how far apart your portions of dough are. I’m going to KISS (Keep It Super Simple; or Keep It Simple, Stupid – depends on how surly you feel).

Are you ready?

Take your favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe. In this case, the tubes of dough from the refrigerator section of your local superette does not count as a recipe.

When you get to the point where you’re about to stir in the chocolate chips, add in half a cup (or more, depending on the size of your recipe and your own aesthetic preferences) of rainbow sprinkles – jimmies, not nonpareils.

Bake as prescribed in the recipe.

Enjoy your colourful homemade treats.

I used my grandmother’s recipe, which yields a not-overlarge batch of cookies, and which bakes up nice and chewy, with just the slightest crispiness at the edges. They proved just as popular at the bake sale, even when people had to pay for them – by ten o’clock, only one package was left.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

The cake is a lie. (And so were the cookies, cupcakes, etc.)

A confession: for years, I thought that all recipes everywhere were part of a giant conspiracy theory to prevent others from replicating the originator’s success. Who were these weirdos baking cookies at 375 for 10 minutes? The only thing that was a recipe for was failure, and burned cookies galore. Now, admittedly, I knew for years that my oven ran hot, thanks to an oven thermometer (the best six bucks I ever spent!) as recommended by Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. If I wanted 350, I set it for 325. I also adjusted baking times downward, because the times called for in recipes were generally far too long, and although you can certainly add to baking time once something’s in the oven, you cannot take it away. It was a system that served me well for oh, ages and ages.

Sometime in January or February, I gradually came to the realization that all was not well with the oven. The 25-degree window I had come to know and tolerate was failing me. If the dial was set for 325, I was seeing 375; if I cranked it down to 300, I got 315 or so. What I didn’t quite twig to for a while was that I now had the kitchen-appliance equivalent of a traditional Greek song: it would start at a manageable tempo (or temperature) before stepping on the metaphorical gas to the point where your feet can’t keep up or putting frozen “chicken” strips in for longer than ten minutes required one person to fan the smoke alarm to keep it from going off and one to hold the back door of the house open to clear out the resulting haze.

New stove? Oh, yes, new stove. Only now, recipes looked like a foreign language to me. Is that really 350, or just “bake in a moderate oven”, like old-time recipe books like to say? When I finally screwed up my courage to take the plunge and try baking something, it made sense to try a recipe I’ve baked dozens of times before, right? Instead, I tried my hand at a new-to-me variety of mini cheesecakes. The chocolate-peanut butter people in my life won this round.

I compared making cheesecake to a baking trust fall before, but I’m honestly not sure which time was more stressful: when the oven was running even hotter than I realized and I didn’t know what I was doing, or when I was worried that somehow the new oven wouldn’t run hot enough.

I shouldn’t have worried, because these came out beautifully. In fact, I suspect the ones I made for my mom’s birthday got just a tiny bit overdone – this batch was smooth, creamy, and not the least bit dense.

Rather than make the chocolate whipped cream called for in the recipe, I used my remaining 4 oz. of cream cheese to make a half-batch of the cream cheese-whipped cream frosting from the pumpkin spice latte cupcakes I made last fall, sifting in 1/4 cup of cocoa before beating the cream cheese. It generated the perfect amount to pipe generous-but-not-mountainous swirls on top of each cheesecake, with enough left over for my taste testers to lick out the bowl and not fight over it. I couldn’t be happier with the results, and I think I have the perfect Father’s Day dessert figured out.

Thanks for looking – and remember, always use your oven thermometer! 🙂