Monday, December 28, 2009

a VERY white christmas


Since I've been home I have not done any baking. Well, I take that back. I actually made one batch of molasses-ginger cookies, but those are about the easiest thing in the world to make and took a total of 20 minutes (including baking time). Other than that, I have pretty much sat in front of my computer or in my bed the whole time, wishing I was in Florida or some other equally warm climate. If you don't keep up with the news (like myself) it snowed here on Christmas. Rather, it blizzarded here for THREE DAYS STRAIGHT. Beginning Christmas Eve we were stuck in our house and we weren't able to get out again until December 27 because the snow as too deep. Let me tell you, that is one fine way to spend four days (please note the depths of sarcasm in that sentence). You might say, Elizabeth, why didn't you bake all kinds of things since you were stuck in the house? And I would tell you that after a while being stuck in the house makes you just lose your resolve to do anything! Have no fear, this week I will at least be baking a cake because we will be celebrating my mother's birthday (it was on December 15 and I wasn't here to celebrate). This is a good thing, because there has been a noticeable absence of cake in my life since i returned home.

Instead of baking, I have watched a lot of television on the internet, worked a bit on my thesis, and read a ton of NY Times online, making up for my lack of news-reading during the semester. Today we are leaving the house and going to have Christmas (three days late) with my grandmother. so I wish you a Merry Christmas!

Here is something else happy in my world...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chocolate Babka



Now that I have my fancy, schmancy new mixer I've been able to try recipes that really require a heavy duty stand mixer for success. A few months ago I encountered a recipe for chocolate babka, but a)its relatively time consuming and b) it needs a stand mixer (at least, in order to be made in any semblance of a realistic time-frame). So, I bookmarked it and figured I'd try it someday or when I was at my mom's house.

I finally decided to break out the recipe this past Thursday because I wanted to give my professors a holiday gift to thank them for the semester. The recipe makes three large loaves, but I decided to make two large and three small (in order to give the small ones away as gifts). Let me just begin with a small disclaimer: DO NOT read the recipe if you have a fear of butter, chocolate, butter + chocolate or calories. It could ruin babka for you forever. If you feel you can continue, then the recipe is listed below.

Chocolate Babka
from smittenkitchen.com

1 1/2 cups warm milk, 110 degrees
2 (1/4 ounce each) packages active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
3 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature
2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Streusel topping (below)

- Pour warm milk into a small bowl and pour yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
-In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.
-Combine flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer (using the paddle attachment).
-Add the egg mixture and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated.
-Change to the dough hook and add two sticks of butter. Beat (with the dough hook) until the flour and butter mix is a smooth dough, about ten minutes.
-Put dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a couple of times. Butter a large bowl and put the dough in it, covered by plastic wrap. Set aside until doubled (about an hour).
-Put chopped chocolate, remaining cup of sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir. Use a pastry cutter to cut the remaining 1 1/2 sticks butter into the chocolate mix.
-Butter three large loaf pans (or two large, three small) and line with parchment paper.
-Beat remaining egg with cream and set aside.
-Punch back the dough and put on clean surface to rest for five minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces, keeping two covered with plastic wrap while you work with one.
-On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a 16-inch square (or so...) until its about 1/8 inch thick.
-brush the edges with egg wash and crumble 1/3 of the chocolate filling on the dough. Roll it up tightly and pinch the edges to seal.
-Twist 5 or 6 turns and brush the top of the roll with egg wash. Crumble some of the chocolate filling on top of the left half of the roll and fold the right half on top. pinch together the edges and twist two more times.
-Put it into the prepared pan and repeat with the remaining dough.
-Brush the loaves with the egg wash and crumble the streusel topping on top. Loosely cover each with plastic wrap and let sit for 20-30 minutes.
-Heat oven to 350 degree and bake for about 55 minutes, rotating halfway through. Lower temp to 325 degree and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.

Streusel topping

1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and use a fork to stir together.

**Note: I didn't use all of the chocolate filling because it was nearly impossible to fit it all in!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies, Cookies....



A couple of weeks ago a professor in the department asked if I sold my cookies. I replied "yes" (even though I haven't sold any before, but I'd sure like to!). He then ordered three dozen, we agreed on a price and a date of delivery. Since then, I've made three dozen iced sugar cookies (two dozen Christmas and one dozen Hanukkah) and I'm pretty cookied out for this season.



I really enjoy making these cookies because you can decorate them all kinds of ways, but they take quite a while (five different steps). I'm really happy with the results, however, and if art history doesn't pan out, I can always have a backup career in cookie decorating...




Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'Tis the Season




The season of holidays!!!! Once Thanksgiving rolls around every year it signals the beginning of the holiday season. I know this is the case for most people, but for my family this is even more true. We have my mom's birthday in early December, my birthday (on December 27 in case you were wondering, although this year I'm thinking of skipping it since I'm turning 25...err 24), Christmas, New Year's, my brother's birthday in late January and we really don't end the party until Valentine's day. Add eight days of Hanukkah into the mix and its basically a constant celebration from late November until early February. This is especially true since my brother and I celebrate Christmas with both families and our birthdays with both families--every holiday in replay. 


To start the season right, Aaron and I decided to invite a few friends over for a Christmas/Hanukkah gathering (or what we like to call the Jesus and Judah party). We got a miniature Christmas tree, but its a bit sparse on the ornaments at this point. I also bought a really pretty poinsettia from one of my professor's daughters as a fundraiser for her school orchestra. We baked some gingerbread men, which you can see featured above as well as some mint cupcakes and other assorted treats. 



Sunday, December 6, 2009

A couple favorites




When I was recently in NJ, Aaron's mom mentioned that she was looking for a standard yellow cake recipe. I totally understand that because I like to have some standby recipes that I know are delicious and reliable, especially when it comes to cake because I like to change it up with filling and icing. I have several standby chocolate cake and cupcake recipes, but it took me a while to find a yellow cake that I really like. I know that everyone loooooves chocolate (and I do too), but I really love yellow cake because its so buttery and moist. 


In the end, I finally found these two recipes that I'm pretty happy with. I think its easier to overcook and dry-out these cakes than many chocolate ones (such as devil's food), but with careful baking they're both really good. Plus, if you make them you can typically get reactions like the one seen below: (I love Meg's face in this picture)



The first recipe (pictured at the top) is a Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
from smittenkitchen.com



3 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup buttermilk
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract



1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, butter the parchment paper and dust with flour.
2. Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Mix on low  for 30 seconds. Add the butter and 1 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Mix on low just until blended and raise the speed to medium beating until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk. Pour one-third of the egg mixture into the cake batter at a time, folding after each addition. Pour 1/3 of batter in each pan.
4. Bake for 26 to 28 minutes. 
5.Turn out onto wire racks and cool completely.


Cake #2 (second picture)
from smittenkitchen.com



4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken



Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, butter and dust with flour.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until fluffy and then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until combined after each addition.  Beat in buttermilk at low speed until just combined. Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing after each addition just until incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in two cake pans, Bake until golden 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. 

Friday, December 4, 2009

Arrival!!!



My new mixer is here!!!!!! It was delivered last night, to my doorstep in a gigantic box and now it is sitting on my kitchen counter, all shiny and new and just waiting to be used. In case you are out of the loop (or living under a rock) my mom bought me this mixer for Christmas/birthday.

I am so excited and cannot wait to make something, unfortunately it will have to wait a few days at least until I get finished with a few school things.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Cookies




Yesterday, I was sitting in the graduate student office at school and one of the professors came in and asked me if I sell my cookies. He wants to buy some of my iced sugar cookies (pictured above) to give to his family for the holidays! I brought some of them to the department last spring and I guess he remembered them. So, I have to think of how much to charge him since they're really not that difficult to make and don't cost that much--it is really just an excuse for me to make Christmas cookies. Once my mixer arrives (rumor has it TOMORROW!!!!!) baked goods will be flying out of my kitchen--at least after the middle of next week when I turn my papers in. After that, I have to grade finals, but baking can be a break from the monotony.



In other news, Aaron and I went to NJ for Thanksgiving and had a great time filled with too much food (like every Thanksgiving, of course). For the most important part of the meal--dessert, people--his mom made a pumpkin pie and an apple pie and his aunt brought a chocolate cake shaped like a turkey(yes!). I was especially happy about the addition of the cake because although I like a good pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving as much as the next person I have always been partial to cake. This may have to do to my upbringing (yes mother, i am pointing to you) and the fact that cake was considered an acceptable breakfast food, but whatever the case I don't have a problem with it.



I also heard, via my family, that Thanksgiving in Omaha had four--count them FOUR--pies for a total  of ten people as well as an apple streudel! I can't believe I missed all of that dessert. I was also sad that I missed my Aunt Judy's trademark chocolate pie that she makes at holidays. Its basically like eating fudge with a crust and whipped cream and in recent years she's started making a chocolate cookie crust instead of a traditional pie crust (are you drooling yet?). Unfortunately, I don't have a picture on hand, but I want to include the recipe here. It is actually pretty simple and I think could be made into individual sizes pretty nicely as well.


Aunt Judy's Chocolate Pie


3 cups milk
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 t. salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 t. vanilla extract


Combine milk and chocolate in medium saucepan and place over medium heat, whisking frequently until chocolate is melted. Separately, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk. Add chocolate slowly while whisking. Add the egg yolks and whisk. Cook over moderate heat, whisking almost constantly for 6-8 minutes until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Reduce to a boil for about 2 minutes. Whisk constantly. Remove from the heat and add the butter, stir until smooth. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and cool for 30 minutes. Remove the plastic wrap and stir in vanilla. Pour the pudding into the pie shell and cool for at least three hours.