Category Archives: baking

Carrot-Ginger Cake with Orange Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

This weekend was my friend Peter’s birthday and I promised him a carrot cake (his particular favorite). I made a magical carrot cake transporter. Carrot cake is one of my favorite cakes to make and I prefer cream cheese frosting over buttercream or whipped frosting. This particular recipe is courtesy Martha Stewart.

I started this recipe on Friday night after a particularly long, hard week at work and school. The new job is exciting and draining, not leaving much time for cooking or even eating. I’ve lost about four pounds since starting this job, which I am happy about, but I wish I did have more time in my day to fuel my body. I’ve broken down a couple times because my blood sugar has been so low.

I was excited to bake this cake. I’ve been looking forward to baking something for a while now. This recipe caught my eye because it takes you beyond the typical carrot cake with walnuts and raisins. It contains ginger and toasted pecans instead of raisins and walnuts. I love ginger and prefer pecans over walnuts. The orange-ginger cream cheese frosting was just perfect, particularly since this cake is not the typical moist carrot cake.

 

This was four layers of deliciousness. I was happy the cake wasn’t overly sweet because this frosting is quite sweet.

I thought the cake turned out hideous, but everyone else seemed to think it was beautiful.

 

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French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache

Amy and I had our second round with French macarons last week before my mountain climbing trip (more on that later). These turned out even better than the first batch. We used the same Martha Stewart recipe as last time. This recipe has worked well for us so far and I highly recommend it.

This time around we decided to use chocolate ganache as the filling instead of jam. Neither of us liked the flavor of the game with the macarons. Also, we used red food coloring to make bright reddish-pink macarons as opposed to the yellow ones we made before. The deep pink color was nicely set off by the dark chocolate ganache. For the chocolate ganache we used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything. This is one of the most successful recipes I’ve had from one of his cookbooks, especially in the dessert section.

Recipe from Martha Stewart’s website:

Ingredients

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup almond flour
2 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar

Directions:
1. Pulse confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a food processor until combined. Sift mixture 2 times. Note: We did not use a food processor for this. We simply mixed the two together with a rubber spatula in a bowl and then sifted. I prefer to dirty as few dishes/utensils as possible when tackling a large project late at night.

2.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk whites with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and whisk until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low, then add superfine sugar. Increase speed to high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, about 8 minutes. Sift flour mixture over whites, and fold until mixture is smooth and shiny.

3. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip, and pipe 3/4-inch rounds 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets, dragging pastry tip to the side of rounds rather than forming peaks. Tap bottom of each sheet on work surface to release trapped air. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until macarons are crisp and firm, about 10 minutes. After each batch, increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, heat for 5 minutes, then reduce to 325 degrees. Note: We did not use a pastry bag. Amy forgot it at her house and we didn’t want to waste time going over to her house to get it. Instead we used a Ziploc bag with the a corner cut. This actually worked much better than the pastry bag that we had purchased at Beverly’s Fabrics and Crafts.

4.Let macarons cool on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. (If macarons stick, spray water underneath parchment on hot sheet. The steam will help release macarons.)

5.Sandwich 2 same-size macarons with 1 teaspoon filling. Serve immediately, or stack between layers of parchment, wrap in plastic, and freeze for up to 3 months

Chocolate Ganache Recipe
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients
1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, roughly chopped

Directions:
1. Put the cream in a pot and heat it until it’s steaming. Put the chocolate in a bowl, pour on the hot cream, and stir until the chocolate is melted and fully incorporated.
2. Refrigerate for about twenty minutes until thickened. This will make it easier to spread on the macarons.

 

Macarons Attempt #1

Today Amy and I attempted our first batch of macarons. I have been waiting to attempt this allusive French cookie for a while now and finally took the plunge. The rumors floating around the internet are that this is incredibly difficult and there are many ways to fuck it up. There are also rumors floating around that Elvis is still alive and Madonna is a woman, but you can’t believe everything, now can you?

Whipping the egg whites to soft peaks.

Now macarons are difficult to make. They are not straightforward, simple, or quick. They are time consuming, require multiple steps, and you need to pay attention to what you are doing. They are more complicated than souffle, but I think a lot of things are more complicated than souffle, such as unlocking my front door after I’ve had a couple of beers. They are definitely worth the time and really it’s quite fun to make these little guys. Having a partner in crime definitely made the whole process more enjoyable.

My partner in debasing French food: Amy

We started with a journey to Safeway where they did not sell almond flour. They sell three million different brands of peanut butter and a package with three thousand boneless, skinless chicken breasts but they do not sell almond flour. Bummer. This meant we had to take an extra trip to Whole Foods on 41st Avenue to get almond flour. Before going to Whole Foods we bought a pastry bag (it was actually called a cake decorating bag) and an assortment of tips, which we ended up using none of. At Whole Foods we bought our almond flour which was ridiculously expensive. Seriously. They’re almonds. Ground up. Why do they cost twelve dollars for a pound? Sigh.

Our stiff peaks could have been stiffer.

When we got back to Amy’s apartment, we started the macaron making process. And yes it is definitely a process. We used Martha Stewart’s macaron recipe because we both find Martha to be an anal retentive, attention to detail kind of gal which is perfect for this sort of endeavor. We started with two egg whites in the stand up mixer on medium and mixed them until they were foamy. When they are foamy add a pinch of cream of tartar. Then beat some more until you achieve soft peaks. Soft peaks will fall over. Your eggs will look like marshmallow fluff. When your egg whites look like marshmallow fluff, then add a 1/4 of superfine sugar and beat on high until you achieve stiff peaks. To tell whether or not your peaks are stiff enough hold the bowl over your head for ten seconds upside down. If they do not come out then they are stiff enough. If they come out then well you need to start over again.

The mixture after the flour/sugar was added as well as food coloring. 

*In the real world, stiff peaks will not fall over at all. They will look like stiff, puffy clouds. You do not need to hold a bowl upside down over your head. *

Now while this is going on, the other person should have been sifting the cup of confectioner’s sugar and 3/4 cup of liquid gold (almond flour). We did not sift it enough. IT WAS FINE. NOTHING BLEW UP. In retrospect we could sift it more.

When your peaks are stiff (ours could have been stiffer and STILL NOTHING BLEW UP), then begin to fold your sifted flour and sugar mixture in. You want to fold it gently in a figure eight pattern just like you would with a souffle or any other sort of meringue. Make sure that you are only adding in about a 1/4 cup of your flour/sugar mixture at a time as to not overload your egg whites. Once you have mixed in all your flour then add your food coloring. We decided on yellow. I used five drops of yellow and it came out a nice, light buttercup yellow.

Now you get to do the messy part or what for us was the messy part because our twelve inch pastry bag was too small. Scoop your mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a crescent moon tip or be like us and just go bareback. It worked fine. We got mostly circle shapes. We had a kidney shape. It was cute. There were also Mickey Mouse ears but we’re not going to talk about those. Now squirt out your mixture in a circular shape on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Oh by the way you should have pre-heated your oven to 375 at this point.

Once you have made your circles let them sit for about ten to fifteen minutes to develop a skin. Yes, they start growing organs. They are magical. During this time also decrease the temperature in your oven from 375 to 325. Once your macarons have grown skin, put them in the oven for five minutes. Then rotate the cookie sheet and cook for another five minutes. Then take them out of the oven and let them cool before removing them from the cookie sheet. Fill with buttercream frosting, ganache, a mixture of marscapone and jam, or coagulated blood.

We got feet and our tops were smooth. We achieved a lot this first batch, but we still need to work on it.

If you would like more exact instructions check out Martha Stewart’s recipe: http://www.marthastewart.com/318387/french-macaroons

This Bun Was Just Right…

This is a review of a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen and an update for which burger bun we are going to use for our food venturing.

The recipe we used was the Light Brioche Burger Bun from the Smitten Kitchen which everyone on the interwebs has been raving about for months. These turned out delicious. Maddy had to tweak the recipe a bit. The first time Maddy made it we both failed to see that a cup of water was required in the first set of directions, which was not in the ingredient list. We ended up with a ball of dough that could be used as a WMD. The second time through we had to another cup of flour because it was too wet of a dough, more like a batter. Making this brioche was sort of like Goldilocks and her porridge: we had it to make it just right.

They came out soft with a crisp golden crust. They were slightly sweet and buttery. They were not as eggy or rich as brioche usually is. I think they will be an excellent vessel for our burgers.

I brought the leftovers to my 7 pm class. Two of my classmates tried one out and both agreed that was very good bread.

Light Brioche Burger Buns 

from the Smitten Kitchen

Makes 8 4 to 5-inch burger buns

3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Sesame seeds (optional)

*note the water is not listed in the ingredients*

1. In a glass measuring cup, combine one cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, beat one egg.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf. *Saying this dough was sticky is a complete  understatement. It was the consistency of cake batter. We had to add an extra cup of flour. Our buns were still very tender.*

3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours. (In my freaky, warm apartment this only took an hour.)

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange two to three inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap lightly coated in nonstick spray and let buns rise in a warm place for one to two hours. (Again, this only took one hour in my apartment and I suspect, you’ll also only need an hour for a second rise.)

5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor.*We did not do this and we still had a nice crust* Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with one tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Burger Bun Test #2

I never posted burger bun test #1 because it was such an epic failure. It was an attempt to make french bread rolls which did not turn out too well. They tasted fine but they never got bigger than a bouncy ball from one of those coin machines. This time I tested out a recipe from Epicurious that was supposed to make for a tasty burger bun. It certainly made for a delicious dinner roll, but burger bun it is not.

The texture of the rolls was very dependent on where they were placed in the oven. The rolls cooked at the bottom of the oven got these cute, bulbous sore like things on them and a nice shiny glow. They matched well with the burger I cooked this morning with BBQ sauce, avocado, and an Australian cheddar cheese. According to Andrew, the texture of these was much better than the texture of the other batch.

Now these were the rolls that I baked in the center rack of the oven. They definitely came out less airy, but with a decidedly more burger bun appearance. I didn’t think they tasted any different than the ones cooked on the bottom rack, but their texture was definitely less airy and more dense.

Onto the insides. There are definitely some visual differences between these two.

The exterior has a nice, shiny finish from the egg wash that I gave it. The inside is very airy with the exterior texture being chewy. As I stated before, an excellent dinner roll, but definitely not what I’m looking in a burger bun. It was lacking a crumb of any kind and was far too dense.

The exterior finish is dull. The interior does have some air pockets, but not as many as the other batch. I didn’t mind the texture or the taste of these, but I enjoy a dense bread with some tooth to it. Andrew did not like the texture of it at all.

Here is the recipe directly taken from Epicurious.com

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup warm water (105-115°F)
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tsp sugar, divided
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 large egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
 Bring milk to a bare simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and cool to 105 to 115°F.Meanwhile, stir together warm water, yeast, and 1/2 tsp sugar in mixer bowl until yeast has dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)

Add butter, warm milk, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar to yeast mixture and mix with paddle attachment at low speed until butter has melted, then mix in eggs until combined well. Add salt and 4 cups flour and mix, scraping down side of bowl as necessary, until flour is incorporated. Beat at medium speed 1 minute.

Switch to dough hook and beat in remaining 2 cups flour at medium speed until dough pulls away from side of bowl, about 2 minutes; if necessary, add more flour, 1 Tbsp at a time. Beat 5 minutes more. (Dough will be sticky.)

Transfer dough to a lightly oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled, about 2 1/2 hours.

Butter 2 large baking sheets. Punch down dough, then roll out on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 14-inch round (about 1/2 inch thick). Cut out as many rounds as possible with floured cutter and arrange 3 inches apart on baking sheets. Gather and reroll scraps, then cut out more rounds.

Loosely cover buns with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until they hold a finger mark when gently poked, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.

Brush buns with egg wash and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are golden and undersides are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped, 14 to 20 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool completely.

Boeing 747 and Lemon Bars

What do Boeing 747 and Lemon Bars have in common? Not much really besides how I spent my Friday morning and afternoon.

I had the amazing opportunity this morning to go to the NASA-AMES Research Center in Mountain View, California. My boyfriend’s company contracts for NASA so he has an official NASA badge and we were able to go around in some of the restricted areas. We were mostly in the Crew Vehicle Systems Research Facility. The most important and awesome part of the day was when I piloted a Boeing 747 simulator in one of their labs. One of Andrew’s co-workers, Matt, helped me pilot the plane around the San Francisco Bay area. The map in the simulator has amazing fidelity; I could see both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Golden Gate Park, Half Moon Bay, Oakland, and the 280 Freeway in the Silicon Valley. I thought I did a pretty poor job and Matt had to take over the controls a couple times, plus he did all the work with the throttles, but both Matt and Andrew said I did a decent job for it being my first time piloting. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had ever.

After piloting the simulator, Andrew and Matt took me to meet Wayne who demonstrated the virtual 360 degree control tower that they are building for an imaginary airport. They simulated planes landing, taxing, and departing along with changing the weather patterns, the location of the tower, and the path of the airplanes. The amount of thought and details that go into air traffic control is just incredible. I had no idea how complicated the flight patterns were or how much detail you have to pay attention to.

Finally, Andrew showed me the project that he has been working on. His project takes place across three different lab rooms in their section of NASA. One room is for the controllers, one room is for the pilots, and another room is for the computer engineers, which is what Andrew does. He showed me how his program works on the controller and pilot end of things. He showed me how to do a couple simple switchovers. I enjoyed seeing what he does with his life for most of the day, especially after being together for nearly two years.

I’m incredibly lucky to have someone so intelligent, innovative, and sweet to share my life with, plus I got to fly a freaking Boeing 747 simulator!

I even got a neat badge:

You’re not allowed to smile in these pictures. That’s why I look like I’m going to kill everyone.

After a lunch at Hunan Chili in downtown Mountain View, which I thought was rather mediocre Chinese food, but the boyfriend liked it and it was rather cheap for how much food you got, I came home and discussed with my friend Maddy our ideas about vending at the San Francisco Underground Market. Something we most definitely want to do are lemon bars since they’re a favorite of mine and most of the time I do a pretty job good making them.

This time around I used a recipe from Food Network since I was not that impressed by the recipe in the Mark Bittman book. I found his recipe made too much filling and it took too long to cook creating a weird, crispy brown layer around the filling which was rather gelatinous instead of creamy.

Ugh. My pan looks so dirty. 

Classic Lemon Bars Courtesy of Food Network

For the Crust:

  • Vegetable oil, for greasing
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Filling:

  • 4 large eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 8 lemons)

1. Mix the crust ingredients together in the food processor. This will give you a very loose crumb. You will be tempted to add more butter. Do not add more butter. It’s not necessary. All you need to do is pack it very well into the pan. If it cracks a little oh well, you can cry about that some other time. It shouldn’t crack. Mine didn’t crack and if it did I wouldn’t cry about it. Lemon bar babies.

2. You should have heated your oven to 350 degrees. I forgot to tell you that. You should do that while you’re mixing your ingredients together in the food processor. Now their recipe says something about a 9 by 13 inch pan. Now, that’s great and all if you have that size pan, but I don’t. I split my crust between two different sized spring form pans. My crust came out uneven. I had a terrible two’s sized meltdown about this later. There was crockery being thrown across my minute kitchen, people lost limbs due to this. You put the crust/s in the oven for twenty-five minutes or take it out when you smell burning, which is what I did. You want to let these cool before you add the lemon liquid mixture or there will be nuclear fall out.

3. Mix together your filling ingredients. You need to use a whisk for this. If this were a Martha Stewart recipe she would probably tell you to use a wooden spoon, but it’s not so use a whisk. Your filling will be very liquid-y (that’s not a word by the way), but don’t worry about it. Unless you’re me and you’re using a spring form pan that doesn’t close all the way and the filling starts leaking all over your pristine stove-top and you have to transfer the pans to cookie sheets and the pans end up sticking to the cookie sheets. Yeah, I messed up all over the place with this recipe, but it still turned out good. Bake for about thirty minutes or until the filling is set (meaning it doesn’t jiggle like your thighs will).

The filling for these was delicious. I only used about a 1 cup and a 1/4 of sugar and not the two cups and it came out wonderfully tart. I wasn’t overly impressed by the crust on this and I think I will use the crust from the Mark Bittman recipe next time and the filling from this one. The filling was tart, creamy, and just oh-so good.

Lemon Bars

The sunshine has turned to rain and we are finally back to winter here in the San Francisco Bay Area after two weeks of weather in the low seventies. I made these lemon bars last weekend when the sun was shining and I actually wanted to venture into my backyard to get a lemon. I wasn’t sure if I was going to post these because the end result photos ended up turning out bad, but I liked the recipe so much and they tasted delicious I figured I should share the goodness with everyone.

I love lemon flavored desserts. I used to make them quite often when I worked for a family that had a lemon orchard. Now,  I don’t make desserts too often because I don’t live in a house with five other people to eat them. I do, however, have a bunch of lemon trees in my backyard that are filled with fruit. We were having guests over and I thought that lemon bars would be a nice addition to the buffalo chili and cornbread that we would be serving for dinner. I’m sorry I didn’t get any pictures on the buffalo chili because it turned out amazing.

These lemon bars were pretty easy to make, but mine did not turn out that super electric yellow like the ones you get at the store, or like the last time I made them. I’m not sure if it is because of the recipe or because I used raw sugar instead of granulated white sugar, which I never use anymore. I was eating them for days afterward, trying to limit myself to one a day.