Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding

While all desserts are commonly referred to as "puddings" in England, this is actually not a pudding as we know it, but more of a cake. It is indeed sticky though, especially with the molasses infused toffee sauce. And, what English dessert (I mean pudding) would be complete without the addition of some type of sauce, be it custard, toffee, caramel or cream!? I've ordered this dessert at a restaurant in England and was interested to try making it myself. On a recent visit to my mum, I made this for her and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

The other sticky ingredient in this dessert are the dates. The first step was to take the pitted dates and boil them with some water and baking soda to soften them. They were added in with the other ingredients as the basis for the cake batter.

The recipe I used, indicated baking one large cake in a mold, but I have this pan with the cute individual bundt cakes and decided to try that. It worked quite well, but I probably could have put just a little less batter in each one.

They baked perfectly though and came out of the pan just right (thanks to Pam Baking spray). I made the toffee sauce with dark brown sugar, molasses and heavy cream. It turned out very good, but I would probably try corn syrup or something else instead of molasses next time as with the high molasses content of the dark brown sugar it had a stronger flavour. I drizzled (and eventually poured) the sauce on top of the pretty little cakes to let them soak in the creamy sauce - sticky goodness!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns always remind me of lent and while I've had them before from a grocery store or bakery, I've never baked them myself. They are a sweet bun with spices and the dough smells similar to cinnamon rolls. They are typically made during lent and eaten particularly on Good Friday with the cross on top symbolizing the crucifixion. So, given the time of year, this was my challenge this past week and it was definitely more challenging than I thought for as simple as they seem to be. They require yeast for leavening and you just need to be patient and go through the steps. However, they were very fun to make and the outcome was hearty and delicious.

With using yeast for the leavening (to allow the dough to rise), it does require a hot liquid to be added to activate the yeast. I heated a cup of milk to 110 degrees and added in with the yeast and other ingredients. Once all the ingredients to the dough were mixed together, it needs to sit to allow enough time for it to rise. This time allows the yeast to emit enough carbon dioxide to allow it to rise. Here is my dough before and after rising - it worked!

After rising, I kneeded the dough a little and then measured out 24 (somewhat) equal pieces. I used the help of my kitchen scale to make sure they were pretty close with each being around 2 oz. so I didn't have different sized buns when I baked them.

Now it was time to place my 24 pieces of dough in the baking dish and wait yet again. The dough is to sit for another hour or so to rise before baking. Here are my individual buns rolled out into balls and then after rising. Yeah - it worked again!

Before baking, I traced the cross on top of each bun with a sharp knife to guide where the icing should be and brushed on an egg wash for a little glisten. They were to bake until golden brown on top and then I let them cool before taking them apart (I resisted temptation) and they broke apart perfectly. I mixed together a simple icing and chose to pipe the crosses on top. They were worth the wait and were great with a cup of tea. I'd take 40 days of these buns!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Applesauce Spice Muffins

I don't know whether I'd call these muffins or cupcakes. Anything with frosting on top seems to be more officially a cupcake. Either way, they are very tasty and would be perfect with a hot cup of tea or coffee - morning or afternoon. I had some leftover cream cheese frosting from the Valentine cupcakes and extra applesauce that my mother-in-law had made so this was the perfect recipe to come across. The taste is reminiscent of carrot cake with the mixture of spices that is used, but it is a smooth batter with the creamy frosting to finish it off. These were fairly easy to make, especially since I had the frosting already made. I actually chose to bake them just in the tins without cupcake papers and with using the baking spray, they came out of the muffin tins perfectly. I used to always question how much batter and how to easily get it in the tin. The easiest thing for me to do is scoop the batter in using a 1/4 cup measuring cup and just make sure they are all as even as possible so the muffins look consistent after they are baked. These would be perfect for a weekend treat for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea. If you're interested in making them, check out the recipe from Martha Stewart. Again, my husbands' colleagues will be receiving a new treat tomorrow morning.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Strawberry Cream Cheese

I went to a friend's place for a play date and she had fresh strawberry cream cheese she bought from a local bakery to serve with bagels. I was just about to call and ask specifically where she bought it so I could get some, but I realized how very easy it would be to make. I used just three ingredients - cream cheese, confectioners (powdered) sugar and strawberries (see below for the recipe). You could add more powdered sugar if you like it to be sweeter, but it was so creamy, fresh and tasty on my toasted bagels for breakfast this past week. It was easy mixing all the ingredients together in my food processor as it chops the strawberries nicely. Or, you could finely chop the strawberries first and cream it together with a wooden spoon or spatula also. I stored it in an air tight container in the refrigerator and it kept nicely for several days. It would be a great idea for a brunch or breakfast gathering to make a few different kinds with a variety of fruits.

Recipe for Strawberry Cream Cheese

Mix the following together in a food processor:

8 oz. low-fat cream cheese, softened (1 box)

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 cup fresh strawberries (stemmed and hulled)

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Latte for Here

Don't you find that most coffee shops just automatically give you your cappuccino or latte in a paper to-go cup? It seems like they used to ask you if it was for here or to go so you actually had a choice. But, now you simply are handed over a paper cup assuming you're on the run, which we often are. In fact, with a child, I tend to seek out drive through coffee shops, like the local Biggby's or Starbucks so I don't have to even get out of the car. However, on this particular day this week, I was not in a hurry and I was happy to not even be asked, but handed my latte in a real china mug at MadCap Coffee in Grand Rapids. It was topped with a nice design in the foam and I sat down to read and enjoy it and some relaxation.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine Cupcakes

I found some Valentine cupcake papers adorned hearts in my baking supplies and thought I would make some chocolate cupcakes for a Valentine's Day treat. I originally intended to make red velvet cupcakes and now know that I need to get gel food coloring as the liquid food coloring just doesn't go as far. And, while red velvet cupcakes are very pretty, I don't particularly like the idea of loading the cupcakes with food coloring. So, instead I just made chocolate cupcakes. I do always use cake flour to make cakes and cupcakes. If you haven't used it before, it's a much more fine flour that makes a more delicate cake. I decided to make cream cheese frosting as I had some extra cream cheese to use. I didn't pipe the frosting as cream cheese frosting doesn't stay put as nicely as butter cream, but used my new small offset spatula to frost them and topped them with some red sugar sprinkles. I ended up making a few dozen of these tasty treats so my husband had some happy colleagues at work the day after Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chocolate Truffles

Valentine's day is approaching and I had mentioned I was in the mood to make chocolates. I was pushed over the edge with recent visits to a few chocolate shops and wanted to try my hand at making truffles again as it's been a few years since I've made them. They are pretty easy to make and only take a few ingredients. You start with chocolate and mix in hot heavy cream to make it creamy and more pliable to make the round truffles. The key is to melt down the chocolate appropriately so it's completely melted. Then, you pour it into the container (I had a purpose for the heart shaped pie plate my dad got me as a gift) and scoop it out to harden a bit more in the refrigerator. Then, you can roll them in cocoa and make the round truffles. They may not look perfect, but they taste perfect and are so smooth and rich. Pure indulgence! I packaged them in small boxes for a few special people. Happy Valentine's Day!

Scones with Strawberry Jam

I have written about the scones we enjoyed in England last summer and the awful scones we had at the Crown & Crumpet in San Fran, but I've yet to write about my own scone recipe. My scones are more of the English style scones that are a biscuit like shape and texture. I don't much care for the triangular shaped scones that most cafe's and bakeries have and they always seem to be very dry, tasteless and covered in huge crystals of sugar. What's special about mine? I always use pure full fat unsalted butter. It's best to use unsalted to control the amount of salt in the recipe and most scone recipes don't call for much sugar, so it's good not to overdo it on the salt, especially for fruit scones. You also must use baking raisins. Most people don't know they exist, but you can buy Sunmaid baking raisins in 1 cup pouches in most grocery stores. They are much juicier for baking unlike those dry pebbles of raisins that come in boxes. They are great for scones, but also for oatmeal raisin cookies and even to put in your morning oatmeal. I use a scalloped biscuit cutter and you can also make different sizes. I usually do this to make some smaller ones more suited for afternoon tea vs. the bigger "breakfast size" scones with the larger biscuit cutter. When baked just the right amount of time, they are moist but not doughy, rise nicely and break apart perfectly without the need for a knife...aside for spreading on the clotted cream and strawberry jam! I enjoyed afternoon tea with Audrey last weekend and used the last of my homemade strawberry jam.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Our Favorite Pasta

When I went to school in England, my friends and I took a side trip to stay in Juan Les Pins, France, (near Nice). This is where this pasta dish started and I've changed and adapted it since. I called it my "Juan Les Pins Pasta" recipe and that's what I jotted down on note paper, brought back with me and is still in my recipe book to this day. One our friends that traveled with us was an aspiring chef and even had his own college cooking show so he would go out and buy great fresh ingredients to cook us wonderful meals in the apartment we rented. Now, it's a favorite of ours and when I ask my husband what he would like for a special meal, this is the usual request. It's an easy pasta dish with penne pasta (or sometimes rigatoni), a tomato sauce with Italian sausage and sprinkled with fresh grated parmigiana reggiano cheese. Last time I made steamed broccoli to have on the side and we always have some buttery garlic bread to dip in the sauce. It's fantastic with a glass of red wine and we enjoyed it with Cabernet last weekend.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A (Pretty) Good Latte

I went to Mary Ann's Chocolates today in East Grand Rapids to pick up a few treats. I was delighted when they handed me my vanilla latte to see it had this pretty fern design they put on the top. Most places just froth the milk, pour it in and hand it over, but they actually took the time to finish it off with flair. It's not only pretty, but it's the best latte I've had in a while. Now that I'm back home and Audrey is napping, I'm going to sit in front of the fire with my book, enjoy my chocolate truffle I got there and finish my latte.