Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Skillet Cornbread

It's Thanksgiving tomorrow, and so far I've spent my day cleaning, baking, and cleaning some more. I actually braved the grocery store yesterday, but I came back four pears short, so unfortunately I'm going to be headed back that way again today. Wish me luck. Yesterday I got stuck behind an incredibly confused young lady who spent at least 15 minutes staring at the spices in the baking isle, which was already so packed that there was no way around her. I wanted to offer help, but she looked so annoyed that I was too chicken to say anything. Anyway, most of the things I'm making for Thanksgiving unfortunately won't be posted till after Thanksgiving, however, this is one staple that EVERY good southern family needs during this holiday weekend. Skillet Cornbread. mmmmm, the crispy crusty outside, the sweet honey-crumbly goodness, the beautiful rich yellow color... I could go on forever.

This corn bread is one my grandmother used to make, my mom has made my entire childhood, and I started making the day I got my cast iron skillet. It's a trusty, good ol' Betty Crocker recipe.

Skillet Cornbread:

1 1/2 cups yellow, white, or blue cornmeal (i use yellow)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups buttermilk*
1/4 cup shortening + extra for greasing skillet
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 taspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
honey for drizzling

*if you don't have any buttermilk make your own using 1 1/2 cups milk + 4 tablespoons vinegar.

Start by heating the oven to 450. Use shortening to grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round cast iron skillet, then put in oven to heat.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl stir all ingredients until well mixed. Beat vigorously for 30 seconds, then pour into hot skillet.

Bake in skillet for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Serve warm with butter and honey.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gingerbread Men

It's just that time of year - time for apple cider, gingerbread, planning for thanksgiving, and wearing thick sweaters. Okay, I know I live in Texas so the thick sweaters aren't happening so much, but at all the rest is true.  And, in the spirit of fall and cool crisp weather, I decided it was time for gingerbread! This recipe comes from The Joy of Baking, and I was very happy with it. 

Gingerbread Men: 

3 cups (420 grams) all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
2/3 cup (160 ml) unsulphured molasses

Confectioner's Sugar: 
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons milk or light cream
Assorted food colors - if you want your gingerbread men to be colorful.

For the Ginger Bread:

Start by mixing together flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, then set aside. 

Next, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and molasses and beat until incorporated. Divide the dough in half, and wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight. Preheat the oven 350 with rack in the middle of the oven - Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or use a nonstick cookie sheet) 

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Use a gingerbread cutter to cut out the cookies.  With an offset spatula lift the cut out cookies onto the baking sheet, placing the cookies about 1 inch apart. 

Bake for about 8 - 12 minutes depending on the size of the cookies. Small ones will take about 8 minutes, larger cookies will take about 12 minutes. And if you make really tiny ones like I did, then they take 4 to 5 minutes depending on how soft you like your cookies. They are done when they are firm and the edges are just beginning to brown.  
Remove the cookies from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for about 1 minute. When they are firm enough to move, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Confectioners Frosting: 

In an electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth and well blended. Add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugarScrape down the sides of the bowl and beater. Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes).  Add a little more milk if too dry. Place the frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip and decorate the gingerbread men as desired, or just spread the icing on with a tiny spatula.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Spice Cake with Caramelized Pears and Maple Buttercream Icing

I'm not sure how many of you heard, but sadly, Gourmet Magazine has published its last issue. This recipe is one i found in the last ever issue, and it is amazing. Gourmet Magazine, you will be missed.

So as I've mentioned before we're a little broke right now, therefore, instead of giving friends crappy $10 gifts they'll throw away after the obligatory month of display, I'm baking them birthday cakes and they get to take the left-overs. So far - no complaints. My friend Kristy had a birthday last week and managed to get in to Austin and I offered her a cake of her choice. She asked me "umm... is there anything with cinnamon in it?" and I immediately went to my issue of Gourmet Magazine and pulled out this Spice cake. It is, without a doubt, the most complicated recipe I've ever posted. But believe me, it's worth the trouble.

A few notes on the maple buttercream icing: Buttercream icing is actually one of the hardest things I think I've ever made. It's very finicky and you have to be very careful to follow these instructions perfectly, or i promise you will end up with buttercream soup. Also, real buttercream icing has uncooked eggs in it (the eggs do get heated, but not thoroughly enough to kill all possible bacteria), if you are anywhere close to as paranoid as I am then I highly suggest using pasteurized eggs. Also, if you make your buttercream icing the day before you can refrigerate it, however, it will need to be revivied. Buttercream icing can actually be refrigerated up to 1 week in advance. The trick to reviving it is to bring it all the way to room temperature (you can put it over a warm water bath) then to whip the hell out of it. Seriously, on super high speed, for at least 2 or 3 minutes, possibly longer.

For Spice Cake:
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs

For Caramelized Pears
2 1/4 lb Bartlett or Bosc pears (about 5)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp brandy

For Maple Buttercream
4 large egg whites at room temp for about 30 minutes
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup maple sugar (this can be found at Whole Foods, although it's a little expensive, you can also make this, ask me if you're curious)
1 1/3 cups pure maple syrup
4 sticks unslated butter, cut into tablespoons and softened.

The Gourmet Magazine suggests using 3 (8-inch) round cake pans, but I didn't have any, so I used 2 9-inch round cake pans and adjusted the cooking time slightly.

Spice Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 with rack in the middle and butter and flour your cake pans. (Cake can be made 1 day ahead and wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temp).
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl stir together milk and vanilla.
Beat butter and sugars with an electric or stand mixerat medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Then add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk/vanilla mixture (beginning and ending with the flour mixture) and mixing until just combined.
Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops, then rap the pans on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles (or you can have fun and make a lot of noise like me by dropping them on the counter from several inches up). Bake until pale golden and a wooden pick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes for the 3 8-inch pans, or about 20 minutes for the 2 9-inch pans. Cool cakes in pans on racks for about 10 minutes then run a knife around the edge of pans and invert cakes onto racks. Turn right-side-up and cool completely.

Caramelized Pears:
Peel and core pears, then coarsely chop (or make your husband/boyfriend/significant other do this).
Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides*, then saute pears, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.Stir in the sugar, lemon juice, and brandy - cook over high heat, stirring, until juices are deep golden and pears are tender, about 5 to 8 minutes.

*really that means until the butter has just completely melted, otherwise you'll burn it and have to toss out the first try like I did.

Maple Buttercream:
(just a reminder, please, please, make sure your butter is completely at room temp)
Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt using cleaned beaters at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add maple sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.
Boil maple syrup in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, undisturbed, until it reaches "soft-ball stage" (That's around 238 to 242 on a candy thermometer) - about 3 to 7 minutes.
With mixer at a low speed immediately pour hot syrup in a very slow stream down side of bowl in to egg whites, then beat at high speed scraping down side of bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula, until meringue is cool to the touch, about 6 minutes. It's really important that the meringue is cool, if you need to, put the bottom of the bowl over an ice bath for just a minute or two.
At medium speed add butter 1 tbsp at a time, beating well after each addition (if the buttercream is still soupy after about half the butter is added, then it's time for the ice bath). Continue beating until buttercream is smooth - it's okay if the mixture looks a little curdled before all the butter is added, but it should come together before the beating is finished.

To assemble the cake:
Put 1st layer on serving plate (can use pieces of aluminum foil to prevent getting icing on the plate) then spread with buttercream and top with pear filling (half or all depending on how many cakes you made). Top with second cake layer and either frost cake with remaining butter cream, or repeat with another layer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nigella Lawson's Doughnut French Toast

If there is one thing that I really love, it's NPR. I know it's really dorky, you don't have to tell me. But the other day I stumbled across an NPR interview with Nigella Lawson on eating well. This does not necessarily mean eating healthily. This is not to say that the two cannot or do not overlap. However, it is absolutely a wonderful feeling to sit down with a plate of something utterly delicious in front of you and not wonder "how many calories are in this?" Eating well is about enjoying your food.

So anyway, in this radio interview, Nigella has brought some of her food for the host to try, and he's eating while he's talking to her. Just listening to him eat this french toast I was absolutely famished, he couldn't even finish a sentence, he kept making yummy noises and getting caught with his mouth full. Naturally, I had to have this french toast that was so delicious it prevented the NPR radio host from having coherent conversation. When my friend Jess came to stay with me this weekend I decided it was the perfect opportunity. It was rich, eggy, and sugar crusted. In short, all that I could have asked from a recipe entitled 'doughnut french toast.'

Doughnut French Toast:

2 eggs
1/2 cup full fat milk
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
A couple of slices of bread
1-ounce butter (for frying)
1/4 cup sugar

Beat the eggs with the milk and vanilla in a wide shallow bowl.

Soak the bread halves in the eggy mixture for a couple of minutes on each side.
Heat the butter in a frying pan/skillet, fry the egg-soaked bread until golden and scorched in parts on both sides.

Put the sugar onto a plate and then dredge the cooked bread until coated like a sugared doughnut.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

So the other day we made these awesome beer batter onion rings, and they were really good. But, apparently an entire dutch oven full of oil makes your apartment smell like a fast food joint. And, it doesn't matter how much air freshener you spray, or how many candles you light, or how long you leave the sliding glass door open, the smell is incredibly persistent. So i figured that the best thing to do would be to bake something else that actually smells good. This is a pretty awesome recipe from Paula Dean, and I think I've finally abolished the fast-food smell from my pad.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread: 
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs
2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon orange zest (I used lemon zest)

Whipped cream and Zucchini ribbons for serving (I left these off to be healthier)

Start by preheating oven at 350 degrees F. Grease (2) 9 by 5-inch loaf pans.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, spices and baking soda.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy. Add sugar, and continue beating until well blended. Stir in oil, vanilla, zucchini, pecans, chocolate chips, and orange zest (I didn't have any oranges, so I used lemon zest). Stir in sifted ingredients. Pour into prepared loaf pans.

Bake for 50 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove loaves from pans and cool. Chill before slicing. Serve with whipped cream and ribbons of zucchini.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Angel Food Cake

Friday the 30th of October was my little sister's 19th birthday, and being a little broke Justin and I couldn't afford to get her the absolutely amazing gift she deserves, so I offered to make her a cake, any cake. Her choice was Angel Food, which I had never tried before. I actually really didn't know anything about angel food cakes other than that they had a lot of egg whites. Turns out "a lot" means 12 egg whites. And, I thought that I had lots of eggs (we had an 18 carton), unfortunately 9 of the 18 eggs were broken. So, half way through the cake when I started discovering that I didn't have 12 eggs, Justin had to run to the store for me.

The cake actually turned out fabulous, and we chose to do 'buffet' style toppings (everyone ended up using all 3 toppings anyway). I made fresh whipped cream, sliced up a carton of strawberries, and because blackberries were on sale for .69 cents a half-pint, blackberry coulis. YUM.

Angel Food Cake

1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
12 egg whites, very cold
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp salt

*Make sure all of your tools, including your pan, mixer, etc, are clean and completely free of any oil. Even a trace of oil will ruin your cake.

1. Sift together cake flour with 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar

2. In a mixer fitted with a whip attachment, whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, vanilla and almond extracts and salt on high speed until soft peaks form. It will take around 4 minutes. With the mixer still running slowly add in remaining 3/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form. Using your trusty rubber spatula gradually fold in flour mixture until just incorporated.

3.  Pour the batter into a angel food cake pan/ tube pan (no oil or grease!) and smooth the top, carefully smoothing out any bubbles. Bake in a preheated oven until golden brown and top springs back when lightly touched. It should take about 40 to 45 minutes. Invert your pan and let the cake cool completely upside-down. It will probably just sort of fall off the tube pan when cool, but if it doesn't, use a rubber spatula to separate it from the pan. I had no trouble with the sides sticking, but I did need to run a spatula under the bottom of the cake.

As far as toppings for the angel food cake, I made a few choices and served them as sort of a buffet. I made blackberry coulis and whipped cream with strawberries.

Whip cream is easy enough - heavy whipping cream in your mixer, whip until peaks start to form and slowly add powdered sugar to taste.

Blackberry coulis - in a food processor puree a pint of blackberries with 3 to 4 tablespoons of granulated sugar (again, to taste), then strain to remove any chunks or seeds. This can be done with just about any berry.