Bundt Binge (baby edition)

I’ve been doing that hyperfixating thing I do and continue to experiment with bundt cakes.  this time it’s  because I bought a pan that makes 12 itty bitty ones. Perfect size for sharing with friends.  It is a Nordicware “brownie bite” pan. The recipe below has only been tested in that type of pan.

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background: baked in a cold pan. foreground: baked in a hot pan. Same batter. WILD.

Here’s my complaint though: what’s so great about the full size bundts I have made is the great almost crunchy outer crust they  get.  And my sense is that the crust develops because that outer layer of batter spends an hour in contact with hot metal.   The tiny bundts bake in 15 minutes – and they’re only every fluffy and spongy.  HOWEVER.  I have a work-around.

This recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen, which is in turn adapted from Barefoot Contessa.

Turn on oven to 350. Put your pan in the oven as it heats. Don’t grease the pan or anything, just pop it straight in, empty.

Put the zest of two oranges in your mixer bowl and rub a cup of sugar through it so that the oils are released and the sugar and zest are fully mixed together. Cream a stick of butter into this sugar mix.

Juice one orange. put about 1/8 c OJ in a bowl with a 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons full fat plain yogurt, 2 eggs, and a splash of vanilla.

In another bowl, weigh out 195 g (about a cup and a half) of flour, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt.

Add the wet ingredients to the creamed butter and mix until combined.  Add dry ingredients in 2 stages, turning mixer on slowly so as not to end up in a cloud of flour.  Mix thoroughly.  Add half a bag of the tiny chocolate chips.

Remove your now-hot pan from the oven. Spray it quickly with baking spray. I am sure that there is some compelling reason that this is a bad idea, but I don’t know what it is.  Spoon batter into pan, filling each cup about 2/3 of the way.  Put in the oven for 15 minutes. My oven is uneven, so I have to rotate the pan halfway through the bake time.

(This amount of batter will make 18 – so a pan and a half. Once I flip the cakes out, I just respray and refill, working quickly while the pan is still hot.  Seems to work fine.)

While the cakes are baking, put the rest of your OJ – which in my case was about a 1/4 cup – in a small saucepan with 1/4 cup sugar.  Cook until sugar is dissolved.

When the cakes are done, invert them onto a wire rack.  While hot, drizzle and brush with the syrup. Once cool, make a ganache and dollop some on the top of each.

I’ve made these both starting with a cold pan and starting with a hot pan.  While they taste nice both ways, the author, along with both Reviewer 1 and Reviewer 2, felt that they were significantly improved with the crustier edge that seems to come from baking in a hot pan.

Bundt Binge

I have baked three Bundt cakes within the past 8 days.  In my defense, I’ve been tinkering with a recipe and trying variations.  Here’s my favorite.

Turn oven to 325 and thoroughly grease a bundt pan.

Cream two room temperature sticks of butter with 2 cups of sugar.  It is not necessary to fully cream, but at least incorporate mostly.

In a bowl, combine 4 eggs, 1 cup Buttermilk, a dash of vanilla and the zest of a lemon. In another bowl, combine 385 g (approx 3 cups) flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt.

Add all of the wet ingredients to the mixer with the butter, start to combine.  Add all the dry stuff.  Mix on medium speed 2-3 minutes or until thoroughly incorporated and smooth.

relocate batter to prepared pan; put in oven.  Set a timer for 50 minutes.

When the timer goes off, put 75 g (1/3 c) of butter, 3/4 c sugar, and about 4 tbsp of lemon juice into a saucepan.  heat until the butter is melted. You don’t want to bring it to a boil, and in fact, you don’t even want to thoroughly melt the sugar.

After an additional ten minutes of baking, test the cake by stabbing it to see if it is done.

Take out of the oven. stab about 20 times all over the top surface.  Slowly pour or spoon the syrup over the cake still in the pan.  If you cake is correctly baked, it will shrink away from the sides of the pan as you do this.  It is ok – desirable even – for some of the syrup to run down between the cake and the pan.  make sure all of the syrup goes onto/around the cake.

Let the cake sit for three hours in the pan.  Then, invert the cake onto a plate or rack.  If the syrup has behaved correctly, it will have made a delightfully sugar crust on the cake.

Variations: You can also go with the original version from the New York times, where instead of lemon, you put 2 tsp of vanilla into the cake batter and use 2 tsp vanilla + 3 tbsp water in the syrup in place of the lemon. I am also currently testing a version where all the fluid in the syrup is bourbon. I’ll report back.

I am writing this down.

If I don’t write it down, I will forget, despite my best intentions.

This week in “what should I make for dinner”:

-cook 1/2 cup farro in 1.5 c water til it’s done.

-roast a sheet pan full of rings of red pepper and quartered or halved brussels sprouts, all tossed with salt, pepper, roasted garlic powder, and smoked paprika. Roast about 20 min.

-whip up a vinaigrette of mustard, juice of 1/2 a lemon, sugar, salt, pepper, mixed herbs, white wine vinegar and olive oil.

-Combine all of the above in a bowl and revel in the way Brussels Sprouts soak up dressing.

 

Next week, back to baked goods.

Is it still a baked good if it’s a salad?

If I am still using an oven for part of the process, I can still include it here, right?

I’ve been exploring legume, vegetable and grain salads to pack for work lunches. I don’t have a microwave, and I kind of hate sandwiches, at least on the regular.  Last week, I made a carrot and chickpea thing with a lemon tahini dressing and a cabbage and farro slaw.  Will make the carrot dish again; not sure about the slaw. It’s a lot of cabbage.

This week is a variation on this warm beet and farro dish.

My process:

  1. wrap several whole, oiled beets in tinfoil and put on a baking tray.*
  2. Throw out the beet greens.  those things are gross. I have never warmed up to them despite several attempts.
  3. surround them with oiled chunks of a head of cauliflower that you’ve salted and peppered.
  4. put in a 400 degree until they are roasted; depending on size, it’ll be 45 min to an hour.
  5. Cook farro.  (I have the Bob’s Red Mill brand, and its 1 c farro to three cups water; takes 35 ish minutes).
  6. Make the dressing:
    1. I used white wine vinegar instead of sherry vinegar
    2. I added dill
    3. I made twice as much, because I was adding all these other veg not in the recipe. I also tend to prefer a heavily dressed salad.
  7. chop up a brick of feta.
  8. Drain the farro.
  9. remove the tray of veg from the oven.
  10. Peel the beets and chop into bite size pieces.
  11. render the cauliflower into pieces of a size you want to eat if you haven’t already.
  12. combine the warm farro, the beets, the cauliflower, the feta and a can of drained chickpeas in  bowl and dress.
  13. Eat warm or cold.
  14. clean your kitchen so it’s no longer slightly pink from the beet processing.

*A note on beet roasting: I roast my beets whole with the peel on.  if you oil them and wrap them in foil, when they come out of the oven, unwrap the foil and rub them with a dry paper towel. this removes the peel without losing edible beet layers and it also makes your kitchen look less like a murder scene than if you peel by hand while they are raw. It does require you to hold a hot beet, but i find bunching the tinfoil around the side I am not rubbing tends to work just fine.

 

Better Living through Brownies

A few weeks ago, I made biscotti. However, I experimented with my classic recipe and this happened:

burnt biscotti

That is humiliation and despair in a photo, right there.  Alas.  The humiliation has been slightly offset by how many people have recently stopped me in the halls to tell me they liked something else I baked.

This weekend’s project was the Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies from King Arthur. I would make two addenda:

  1. The stage where you cook butter and sugar until glossy is weird. I don’t think I left it long enough.  When I added the cocoa etc and mixed, it was fine, but as it cooled it turned into what looked like coffee grounds.  I just forged ahead and added the eggs and some elbow grease and it whisked smooth. But I did have a real moment of terror there.
  2. The other commenters are right.  after you make the brownie batter and the cheesecake batter, you need to put a solid 75% or more of the brownie batter into the pan first, then the cheesecake, then dollops of brownie.  My cheesecake layer got almost lost.
  3. I added a raspberry and lemon drizzle, because I thought the flavor palate needed something bright in it.  I simmered raspberries with sugar and lemon juice and a little cornstarch.  I also strained out the seeds, then brought it back to a boil.  It didn’t set up quite as much as I would have liked, but it makes a nice addition, I think.  It would have set better if I’d added more sugar, but I wanted some tartness to offset the density of the brownie itself.

Cherry Lemon Cheesecake

I’ve started a new baking project, and – you guessed it – it is fiddly and has lots of staggered steps and is going to take all day.

Step one is to get cream cheese out of the fridge NOW, while you’re thinking about it.

Step two is to make a crust.  You can do graham cracker if you like. You could do a short crust pastry. I did my “beach pastry” – so named because it needs no tools and little effort and is therefore an excellent pastry to make on a beach vacation when you’re feeling lazy.  To do that,  combine 1 1/3 cups flour and 5 tbsp sugar.  Melt 10 tablespoons butter. Pour over the flour and mix with a wooden spoon to combine.  work together lightly.  Dump into a metal tart tin.  press dough bits into a flat bottom and up the sides.  I pressed the shell kind of thin using the bottom of my measuring cup and trimmed the edges.  Bake this shell at 350 for about 30 min.  It will work better if you line it in foil and bake it full of pie weights or dried beans for the first fifteen minutes or so.  It is worth noting that when I take the beans out, I sort of smush the bottom down if it’s risen at all, and I do that again when it comes out of the oven. When finished, set aside to fully cool.

Step three, when fully cooled, is to make some sort of cheesecakey filling.  I was initially going to use a Smitten Kitchen recipe, and then I realized it called for FOUR packs of cream cheese. I don’t want to make that deep a cheesecake; I’m after something more like a dense but shallow tart.  So I dug out my box of recipes, and found one of the go-to recipes from the relatively early days of my baking ‘career.’  At one point I could throw together this tart without the recipe, but the specifics faded from immediate recall as I went through my brownie phase and my biscotti phase.  It was more of a custard as it used two eggs.

This time, I wanted something denser, so: warm an 8 oz brick of cream cheese to room temperature.  Aren’t you glad you got it out several hours ago when you started the crust?  beat soft cream cheese with 75 grams of sugar.  add one egg and mix till combined and not lumpy. At this juncture you could also add more or less any flavoring you wanted – a dash of something like chambord, a little citrus zest, whatever floats your boat. I’m opting not to add any flavoring to this mix itself, though, because….

Step four is to pour that mixture into your cooled tart shell and retrieve from the freezer the cherry  mixture left over from when you made cherry filled chocolate cake a few weeks ago.  Thaw it out (maybe you should have gotten it out when you got out the cream cheese) and carefully pipe a spiral of it into the custardy base.  if you want fancy patterns, run a knife tip through to swirl.  Put it in an oven at 325 for about 20 to 25 minutes and let it cool completely.  Possibly even pop it in the fridge so it’s well set.

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This is a great time in the process to wander off, drag the pieces of an exercise bike up two flights of stairs, and assemble said exercise bike.  No need to use it, since moving and assembly is definitely itself a workout.

Step five (hah, you thought we were done, but no!) is to make Lemon Curd.  I’ve always had the best luck with Alton Brown’s method.  Put a pot of water on to boil.  Zest and juice four lemons, though you may not need all four to get the juice you need depending on the size of the lemon.  cut a stick of cold butter into pats. separate five eggs, and freeze the whites to use in something else later.  In a metal bowl that will fit in your pan but not touch the water, whisk together egg yolks and sugar, adding 1/3 cup lemon juice and the zest.  put this over simmering water and whisk consistently until it coats a spoon – this takes anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes, depending.  Take off the heat and add pats of butter, a few at a time, mixing constantly until all are incorporated fully.  let chill.

Step six is timing dependent. Before the lemon curd is all the way cool, so still pretty pliable, but after the cheesecake IS quite cool and set, spread a thin layer of curd over the cheesecake.  Lemon curd has a pretty punchy flavor, so I wanted to try to keep it a thing layer lest we totally lose the cherry flavor.  I spooned it on and spread it with a small offset spatula. I then lamented that it was now a much uglier cake.  Well, let’s hope it tastes good.

Chocolatey Brioche: Less of a disaster than expected

The first two weeks of the term were quite the experience.  Not bad, but intense.  Also intense: the weather.  We are predicted to have -38 degree Fahrenheit wind chills this coming week, and it’s been quite cold the past few days.  The result:  I have been perfecting the art of the semi-vegetative state and watching a lot of cooking videos. Healthy? No. Relaxing? yes.

I fell down a new-to-me youtube rabbit hole recently, Sorted Food.  I don’t know that I necessarily watch it for the food, but I’m entertained by the five guys who run it.  I am particularly amused by the episodes where they try out pretentious ingredients or stupid kitchen gadgets and make sarcastic remarks about them. What’s not to love about one competent chef (later joined by a second) trying to herd cats while also cooking?  Watching their videos reminds me of the time my mother, a colleague and I made twelve quiche crusts.  30% sarcasm, 30% baking, 40% architectural history.  Seriously, we could have become Youtube stars, except only one of the three of us looks good on camera (not me.)

They also did a set of videos at one point called Big Night In, and it was in one of those that they did this recipe.  It’s a concept I’ve always wanted to try; a year or so ago King Arthur Flour did a version of this but because it called for potato flakes and dried milk I never got around to trying it.

There’s also an irony in my trying this recipe, because a friend of mine once famously tried to do something similar and covered my kitchen in chocolate.  It wasn’t her fault – she’d been given a faulty recipe that was never going to work, but it also started with sandwiching chocolate between layers of pastry.  So this one’s for you, Jessi.

The recipe calls for a jar of Nutella, which I can’t eat thanks to a tree nut allergy, so my day actually started with hunting around for a ‘chocolate paste’ recipe.  And then I had to use up the last of my belgian chocolate to make some. That chocolate paste ends up being a phenomenally expensive component to the dish, but I suppose it’s my fault for only having poncy Belgian chocolate lying around.  Yes, I realize how bougie that sounds.  It’s the food equivalent of “oh, this old thing?”  Also, on a serious note, I think it’s probably worth making your own here anyway, because i suspect it’ll pay off in the end product.

I have only once made a dough like this before (in the disastrous cherry vanilla brie bread), so it’s an uphill slog for me.  I don’t love how hard this seems to be on my stand mixer, but I’m sure not going to do this by hand.  It takes significantly longer to knead it into an elasticy dough than I expected, and it spends a long time looking pretty dire.  And then that magic thing happens where it finally turns into dough and you stand there watching it wondering how long it’s really supposed to be kneaded.

You guys, I’ve really got to stop punching above my weight class.  Maybe I should make a nice straightforward white bread. or a butter cookie.  But noooooo, I have to go and decide to do something fiddly with a thousand steps and some techniques that I’ve never tried before.

Other observations: the twisting was significantly less messy than I thought it would be.  I think it helps that I was quite modest in the application of chocolate spread.  (I have a lot of leftover chocolate spread. Oh no. Whatever will I do.)

…I do believe I’ll skip the part of the recipe where they suggest you serve it with bee pollen.  I do like that my chocolate spread is a darker, slightly less sweet filling than nutella would be, and therefore I think creme fraiche is also not applicable here.

 

Verdict: it is gorgeous and tasty, but the outer bits really need to be dunked in extra chocolate spread.  What I can’t decide is if it’s worth the work.  Maybe if you really wanted to impress people and had lots of time to kill?  As a craft project, it’s great, but I don’t know that it’s practical enough to do with any regularity.