Friday, December 30, 2011

Champagne-Raspberry Gelées

In the spirit of the New Year, and because we all have likely eaten our fair share of cupcakes, candy, ham, tamales (my family's tradition), and cookies during the holiday season, I propose these Champagne-Raspberry Gelées as a light, fun dessert for your New Years Eve soirees.  

The original recipe is from Epicurious and is made with prosecco instead of champagne.  I love prosecco, but I used what I happened to have on hand and they turned out beautifully.  If you're looking for an inexpensive, but high quality sparkling wine to use in this recipe, I suggest Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee, which is available at mainstream stores such as Target or major grocery stores.  You can usually find it on sale for seven bucks a bottle.  I also love Zonin Prosecco from Trader Joe's, which runs you the same per bottle.  

Other than the bubbly, the only other ingredients you need are two packets of plain gelatin, some raspberries (you could also use blackberries or strawberries), a bit of sugar, and a lemon.

For the Champagne-Raspberry Gelées: (Original Recipe From Epicurious)

2 cups (9 ounces) fresh raspberries
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 750-ml bottle champagne or other sparkling wine, divided
3 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (measured from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)
Place raspberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a medium bowl; toss gently to combine. Let stand at room temperature until raspberries release their juices, tossing occasionally, 20-30 minutes.

Place 1/2 cup champagne in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over and let stand 5 minutes to soften.  In the meantime, put 1 cup champagne to a boil with remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat; add gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.

Transfer gelatin mixture to a large pitcher. Add raspberries with juices, remaining champagne, and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, stirring to dissolve any sugar.

Using a spoon, divide raspberries equally among coupe glasses or other small wide, shallow glasses or cups. Divide champagne mixture equally among glasses, about 3/4 cup per glass. Chill gelée until firm, about 3 hours. 
Gelées can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Belated Christmas Post

What a whirlwind this holiday season has been!  It seems like it ended as quickly as it came.

A couple of weekends ago, Mr. Pixie Crust and I went on a trip with my sister and her boyfriend to Solvang. If you're not familiar with Solvang, it's this little dutch town just past Santa Barbara, California. It is one of my favorite weekend trips to take because it's an adorable little village with pastries galore, a Hans Christian Anderson Museum, and fun, reasonably priced wine tasting rooms. Plus, it's only about a 2 hour trip from Los Angeles, but feels like such a getaway.

This particular weekend was their holiday "Wine Walk." In addition to drinking way too much wine, I had a lot of fun shopping in a small store where I bought the below cupcake stocking- isn't it too cute? Mr. PixieCrust was slightly overwhelmed by the glitter and sugary themed merchandise of the store, particularly since I kept asking his advice on what to buy (the mint chip ice cream cone ornament, or the chocolate ice cream cone ornamnet? The cupcake tea towel, or the cupcake wrapping paper?)

These cupcakes were inspired by the gingerbread house ornaments I saw in Solvang.  The gingerbread houses are made from rolled fondant, cut into pieces and constructed with royal icing, just like a regular gingerbread house.  The snowmen are made by making varied sized fondant balls and stacking them just like a real snowman.  The scarves were made from strips of fondant and the mouth and eyes were created from edible food pens.  The nose is an orange rainbow chip sprinkle.

I don't expect you to make these cupcakes today, or tomorrow, but I hope you'll keep them in mind for next season.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chocolate Peppermint Christmas Cupcakes (GF)

As many of you probably know, "National Cupcake Day" was a big trending topic on Twitter yesterday. In recognition of this special day loved by cupcake connoisseurs everywhere, I decided to do a Christmas Cupcake post.

These cupcakes are a deliciously moist chocolate cake filled with peppermint pastry cream and topped with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream. If you're an avid pinterest user, or just follow a lot of baking blogs, you've probably seen these frosted Christmas tree cupcakes. They're festive and clever, as well as super easy to make.

Another easy and impressive cupcake floating around the web are these "North Pole" cupcakes. I've made both versions with purposefully non-traditional Christmas colors, just because I like that sort of thing.

For the Chocolate Cupcakes Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

2/3 cup superfine sweet rice flour
1/4 cup sorghum flour
3/4 cup potato starch
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp good quality cocoa powder
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flours, starch, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat eggs with paddle attachment until foamy. Add sugar and mix for another 5-6 minutes until thick and fluffy.

While eggs are mixing, heat milk and butter on stovetop until butter melts.

Reduce mixer speed to low and pour in hot milk/butter. Add flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time until combined. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full with batter and bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.

For the Peppermint Pastry Cream:

3 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
8-9 candy canes, broken up into large pieces
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 tbsp cornstarch
1-2 drops pink food coloring

Heat the whipping cream, vanilla extract, and candy canes in a small saucepan over medium heat until cream is hot and bubbly and candy canes are almost all melted. Strain mixture to remove leftover hard pieces of candy and place back in sauce pan. Add food coloring.

Whisk together sugar, eggs, egg yolks, and cornstarch. Slowly add in hot cream mixture, whisking continuously to temper the eggs. Add mixture back into sauce pan and heat longer (if necessary) until thickened. Strain one more time through sieve and place in fridge, covered with wax paper or plastic until fully cooled.

For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 sticks butter, unsalted

Combine egg whites and sugar in heat resistant bowl. Place bowl over a pan of simmering water, creating a "double boiler" and continuously whisk until egg white mixture reaches 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove bowl from water and whisk egg whites/sugar using hand mixer or stand mixer until thick and fully cooled. Once fully cooled, add butter in piece by piece, mixing well after each addition. Once butter is fully incorporated, switch to paddle attachment and add vanilla extract. Mix for 2-3 minutes.

To Assemble:

Using a small paring knife, cut out the center of each cupcake. Fill each cupcake with pastry cream by using a plastic bag with the corner cut or a pastry bag. Once all cupcakes are filled, decorate as follows.

To Decorate:

For the North Pole Cupcakes

Preferably the night before decorating the cupcakes, cut out small squares of white fondant and allow to dry (lightly covered) overnight. Using an edible food pen, write "North Pole" on each square.

Using candy sticks or candy canes of your choice, stick into center of frosted cupcake. Attach "sign" to each candy cane with a bit of melting chocolate.

For the White Christmas Tree Cupcakes

Using a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip, frost each cupcake starting from the outside rim of the cupcake and make each subsequent layer narrower, so that the frosting resembles a tree shape. Create ornaments by using round or ball sprinkles of your choice (you can also cut small circles with fondant). The star topper was created by cutting small stars out of rolled marshmallow fondant. The stars were painted with a thin layer of corn syrup and rubbed into edible glitter.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies (GF)

For those of you who are Pinterest addicts, you might recognize this cookie because it is totally one of those "most pinned" celebrity status recipes. These beautiful glittery lemon sandwich cookies were originally posted in Epicurious and are an obvious choice for holiday cookie baking and entertaining. They look like little sparkling ornaments and are crumbly, light cookies that melt in your mouth.

In order to give these cookies a more refined taste, I used meyer lemons instead of regular lemons, which are sweeter. I also made my own filling, rather than the one provided with the recipe.

For the Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies: (gluten free)
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup almond meal
2/3 cup sweet rice flour
1/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, unsalted
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp meyer lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

*Recipe adapted from Epicurious. Non-gluten free readers may replace flour mixture with 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour and 2/3 cup cornstarch, per the original recipe.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. Choose sanding sugars of your choice and pour liberal amount of each color into separate small, deep bowls. Sift together flours, starches, xanthan gum, and salt. Set aside. Cream together butter and powdered sugar. Add lemon zest, juice, and vanilla extract. Using hand or stand mixer on low setting, slowly add flour mixture.

Measure out scant teaspoons of dough and shape into balls. Drop balls one at a time into sanding sugar, tossing and turning to coat completely. One baking sheet is full, place in freezer for 5-10 minutes (chilling the dough helps the cookies keep their cute shape in the oven). Bake cookies for 10-13 minutes.

For the Meyer Lemon Filling:

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 stick butter, unsalted
2 tbsp whole milk or cream
1/2 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2-3 tbsp meyer lemon juice (depending on tanginess preference)

Combine all ingredients in bowl of stand mixer and beat with paddle attachment until fully combined and creamy.

To assemble, use a heavy duty freezer bag (snip the corner off with scissors) or a pastry bag to pipe a small amount of filling on one side of each cookie. Sandwich together.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chocolate Pots de Creme

Is it just me or does it feel like Christmas is going to be upon us any minute now?

Somehow, Mr. Pixie Crust and I are booked every weekend in December. Last night was our first Holiday event- an indie music concert sponsored by KCRW (NPR). Adult concerts are fun! The show was at a beautiful old theater in downtown LA, which was a vast contrast to the small ska/indie concerts I frequented during adolescence- small, divey clubs packed with jumping, moshing and sweaty teenagers. It was truly fantastic to have a cushioned seat and no one stepping on my feet or pushing me into the tangled arms and feet of a mosh pit.

I'm sure there are holiday parties on the horizon that you all are hosting or attending and for those occasions, chocolate pots de creme make a rich and delicious dessert, yet are extremely simple to make. You can even make them 2 days before serving.

The garnish is simply a fresh mint leaf and a "pine cone" made out of sliced almonds stuck into a ball of fondant. For the pine cone, I highly recommend using marzipan instead, if possible, fondant was kind of a pain to use- I had to add a little water and shortening to each little ball to increase pliability. I like the addition of the garnish because it gives this dessert a wintery, yet elegant touch.

For the Chocolate Pots de Creme (from Epicurious)

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F. Bring cream and milk just to simmer in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Whisk yolks and sugar in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot chocolate mixture. Strain mixture into another bowl. Cool 10 minutes, skimming any foam from surface.

Divide custard mixture among six 3/4-cup custard cups or soufflé dishes. Cover each with foil. Place cups in large baking pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of cups. Bake until custards are set but centers still move slightly when gently shaken, about 55 minutes. Remove from water. Remove foil. Chill custards until cold, about 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Double Vanilla Birthday Cake (GF)

Like many other 20-somethings I know, I'm in the midst of what you might call an early adulthood crisis. I'm a few years out of college and I have a full-time job, but it's definitely not what I would call the job on the path to my dream career. In fact, I sort of just fell into doing what I do.

I've always been a dreamer and someone who thrives on creative pursuits. And while my job now is certainly not an area I imagined myself working in as a doe-eyed college student, I am definitely enjoying the fact that I have plenty of time to figure out what I really want to do.

My job can be really frustrating at times. I hate battling traffic at rush hour every morning and evening. I dislike the particular monotony of office culture- eating at scheduled times, taking 15 minute breaks in the sad, gray employee lunchroom, sitting at a desk for 8 hours- it just stunts creativity. I could go on...

What I love, however, is pretty much everyone I work with. One person who fits into this category is my co-worker, Susan. When I found out it was her birthday yesterday, I came up with this recipe for a Double Vanilla Birthday cake, which is a vanilla bean sponge cake layered with vanilla bean French buttercream and topped with a fondant flower.

PS: Vanilla beans are normally really expensive, so usually I'll use vanilla bean paste instead, but if you have a Trader Joe's near you check out their holiday baking section. The stores in Los Angeles are selling two Madagascar Vanilla Beans for FOUR DOLLARS, which is extraordinarily cheap. I've totally stocked up on them. I also shared my excitement with the cashier there, who looked pretty amused by my reaction.

For the Vanilla Bean Sponge Cake (makes two 7 or 8-inch cakes):

1/3 cup superfine sweet white rice flour
2 tbsp sorghum flour
1/4 cup, plus 1 scant tbsp potato starch
2 tbsp cup corn starch
1 3/4 teaspoon(s) baking powder
pinch xanthan gum
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
One half of a vanilla bean
1/4 tsp Salt

Butter and flour pans and line bottoms with circles of parchment paper. Set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flours, starches, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat eggs until foamy. In the meantime, heat milk and butter together on stovetop until milk is hot and butter is melted. Turn off stove.

Add sugar to eggs and continue beating for 5-6 minutes until batter becomes creamy and fluffy. Cut vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds into batter.

Add milk and melted butter and beat until combined. Add flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Once batter is fully combined, pour equal amounts into each pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Insert a toothpick and gently press the tops of the cakes to check when

Allow cakes to cool in pans for about 15 minutes.

For the Vanilla Bean French Buttercream:

1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 vanilla beans

Combine water and sugar in a small sauce pan and heat until temperature reaches soft ball stage- 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. While mixture is heating, add egg and egg yolks to bowl of a stand mixer and beat with whisk attachment. Once syrup reaches appropriate temperature, immediately remove from heat. With mixer running on low-medium slowly pour sugar syrup into eggs to "temper" them. Once all syrup is added, continue to mix on medium- high with whisk attachment until mixture has fully cooled. Cut up butter into small pieces. Once mixture is cooled, add butter piece by piece, mixing well after each addition. Once butter is all incorporated, switch to a paddle attachment. Add vanilla bean seeds. Mix on medium-high for about 2 minutes. Add food coloring as desired (I used AmeriColor Yellow).

Frost cake and decorate as desired.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Browned Butter Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting (GF)

I hope all of you had a happy Thanksgiving! I'm sharing one of the two desserts I made for Thanksgiving dinner- Sweet Potato Cupcakes filled with cinnamon pastry cream and topped with marshmallow frosting.

It really seems like Christmas came earlier this year- this climate of early festivity has of course been driven by consumerism and marketing by major retail corporations, but personally, I'd rather focus on the seasonal charm of it all. I started listening to Christmas music a couple of weeks ago, so that pretty much shows where I stand on the subject. You see, I know many people who staunchly say that Christmas music should not be played, nor Christmas movies aired or viewed, until after Thanksgiving. I'm usually with them, but this year I was kind of into the fact that I could listen to vintage holiday songs in the midst of miserable Los Angeles traffic earlier in the season.

I am also one of those people that continues to bake with pumpkin and sweet potato through Christmas, so I hope you are too! These turned out pretty tasty- I recommend them for your next holiday get together.

Browned Butter Sweet Potato Cupcakes (Gluten Free) (makes about 22 cupcakes)

1 cup superfine sweet rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup superfine brown rice flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks butter, unsalted and browned (see below)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sweet potato puree
1/4 cup water

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flours, starches, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. Line 2 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners (I found that this recipe only made 22 cupcakes, but I tend to fill my cups a bit fuller).

Cut butter into slices and place in small saucepan over medium heat. Melt butter and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until butter turns a light brown shade and smells nutty. Once browned, place butter in a plastic dish and put in fridge or freezer to cool completely.

Once butter is cooled, place in bowl of stand mixer with sugar and cream together for 1-2 minutes. Add eggs one at time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract. Once batter is thick and creamy looking, add dry ingredients, in three additions, alternating with water and sweet potato puree. Fill cupcake liners about 1/2-2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes.

For the Cinnamon Pastry Cream:

2 cups whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs

Place milk, vanilla, cinnamon stick and ground cinnamon in a saucepan and heat to a boil.
While the milk is heating, mix the cornstarch, sugar and salt.
Gradually add the eggs to the dry mixture and mix until smooth.
Slowly add 1/3 of the hot milk while whisking constantly. Then, pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or spoon until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.
Remove the cinnamon stick.
Pour into a large shallow bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap or parchment to prevent a skin. Cool down a bit before putting in the refrigerator.

For the Marshmallow Frosting:

-2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
-1 7-ounce jar Marshmallow Fluff/Creme
-1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
-1/4 cup heavy cream
-2 tsp vanilla extract, or 1/2 vanilla bean

Combine butter and marshmallow cream. Add in confectioner's sugar, cream, and vanilla. Mix until fully combined and creamy.

To Assemble:

Core out the center of each cupcake using a small paring knife. Fill a pastry bag with cinnamon pastry cream and pipe into each cupcake. Frost and decorate as desired.

I made homemade marshmallows earlier in the week, so I melted these down and added water instead of using marshmallow cream in the frosting. Homemade marshmallows are like another world compared to the store bought kind- they're like soft, delicately sweet pillows. I even really enjoy the store bought ones, but they really can't compare with these. They're also super easy to make. Check out the recipe on my past Scotchmallow Heart Candies post.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Strawberry Sponge Ruffle Layer Cake (Gluten Free)

I am a total sucker for all things girly. When I was in the middle of wedding planning a couple of years ago, I saw ruffle cakes like this one EVERYWHERE and I was smitten. Not only because the all over ruffles create such a pretty, feminine effect, but because the cake struck me as being inspired by the fashion of the season also. Ruffles are still very in, but they were REALLY in a few seasons ago. This fact inspires me to create a cake with a sequined effect as an homage to the current season (post to come).

This particular cake is a strawberry sponge cake filled with cream cheese strawberry frosting and covered in vanilla swiss meringue buttercream. The cake turned out DELICIOUS. It's wonderfully moist and has Nestle Strawberry Milk powder to create the strawberry flavor.

For the Strawberry Sponge Cake

*Makes four 7-inch round layer cakes

2/3 cup superfine sweet white rice flour
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup, plus 1 1/2 tbsp potato starch
1/4 cup corn starch
2 1/2 teaspoon(s) baking powder
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup milk (you may also use another non-dairy milk)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup powdered strawberry milk
1/2 tsp Salt

Butter and flour pans and line bottoms with circles of parchment paper. Set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flours, starches, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat eggs until foamy. In the meantime, heat milk and butter together on stovetop until milk is hot and butter is melted. Turn off stove.

Add sugar to eggs and continue beating for 5-6 minutes until batter becomes creamy and fluffy. Add vanilla extract.

Add milk and melted butter and beat until combined. Add flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Once batter is fully combined, pour equal amounts into each pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Insert a toothpick and gently press the tops of the cakes to check when

Allow cakes to cool in pans for about 15 minutes.

NOTE: Due to my limited oven space and the fact that I only have two 7-inch cake pans, I mixed and baked two sets of 2 cakes separately. It wasn't too much more work this way since this is a pretty easy and quick cake to mix up.

For the Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

2 sticks unsalted butter
2/3 block of cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup of strawberries, diced
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place sliced, washed strawberries in food processor and chop using short pulses until strawberries are diced into very small pieces, but NOT pureed. Set aside. Cream butter and cream cheese together until well combined. Add powdered sugar and mix until fully incorporated. Add vanilla. Add strawberries and mix until just combined.

For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
4 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 sticks butter, unsalted
2 tsp vanilla extract

Slice butter into small pieces and set aside. Combine egg whites and sugar in metal mixing bowl. Create a double boiler by placing over an appropriately sized saucepan filled with simmering water (stove should be kept on). Whisk egg whites by hand on stove top (do not allow water to enter the mixing bowl) until temperature registers 160 degrees, or until all of the sugar is melted and egg whites are foamy. Place mixing bowl on stand mixer and beat using whisk attachment until mixture is a thick meringue and is fully cooled. Once mixture is cool, add butter in piece by piece and slowly until all is incorporated (mixture may appear curdled, but it will whip up nicely, don't worry). Once butter is incorporated, use paddle attachment to beat for another 2-3 minutes.

Add vanilla and pink food coloring- mix until fully incorporated.

To assemble/decorate the cake:

Place one cake layer on a round cake board, or cake stand. Spread about 1/3 cup of the strawberry cream cheese frosting on top. Place another cake layer on top of the first later and repeat with remaining layers/frosting until all four layers are stacked.

Spread a thin layer of swiss meringue buttercream all over the cake until covered, but very thinly (the cake does not need to be perfectly covered because the ruffle layer will also be added).

Fit a large pastry bag with a #103 Ateco tip. Fill pastry bag with remaining swiss meringue buttercream. With the narrow part of the tip facing you, point pastry bag and tip straight down, making left to right motions to create ruffles. Continue around the entire side surface of the cake.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sugared Cranberry White Chocolate Cheesecake (Gluten Free)

Believe it or not, I’m already in the holiday spirit.  Basically, if your local Macy’s Department Store were a person, that person would be me.

It may be a little too early to start thinking of Christmas, but I think that anything decorated with these sugared cranberries would be delightful not only for Thanksgiving, but Christmas too.  They’re such a beautiful rich red tone, kissed with a light frost of sugar.  And they’re SO easy to make.  

In addition to the sugared cranberry garnish used in this recipe, I used a beautiful and tasty fresh cranberry curd to top the cheesecake.  And I have a funny story about this cranberry curd recipe.  

Well, it’s funny depending on who you are in the story… The curd recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s book “How to be a Domestic Goddess,” which I do not own, but still was able to utilize the recipe due to the wonders of the internet.  My husband used to watch Nigella Lawson’s show when he was a younger, single guy because she’s easy on the eyes.  He made the mistake of telling me an old story about his brother trying to take the television from him at their parent’s house to watch sports, accusing him of only watching her show because he thought she was “hot.”  Anyway, it was a mistake of him to tell me this because I can get crazy jealous at times.  I completely admit it. 

Case in point- directly proceeding his re-telling of this story, I set about to point out every Nigella Lawson cookbook we saw at bookstore (accompanied by a glare that said “what do you think about this?  You better not want to look at it!), told him about every Nigella Lawson interview I heard on NPR, and glared at him when he nervously informed me that Nigella Lawson was a guest star on Top Chef Masters a few seasons ago (Mr. Pixie Crust works for the company that composes the music for the Top Chef series).  I know, I know…I realize I’m nuts.  And he truly is the sweetest, most patient man.

Anyway, in true “me” fashion, I sheepishly told him that I was using her cranberry curd recipe for this cheesecake and he had a good time teasing me.  He also asked if I was going to post a picture of her, so…

And now onto the recipe...this particular dessert is a white chocolate cheesecake topped with cranberry curd and encased in a gingersnap crust. 

For the White Chocolate Cheesecake:

Gingersnap Crust:
2 cups finely ground store bought gingersnap cookies (Trader Joe’s has a really good gluten free option, which I used)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

Pre-heat oven to 330 degrees.  Lightly butter the sides and bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan.  After gingersnaps have been finely ground in food processor, process 2 cups of the crumbs with butter until incorporated and mixture is similar to wet sand.  Press crumbs at the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan.  Set aside and begin making filling.

White Chocolate Cheesecake Filling (Adapted from Food Network)
4 (8 oz) blocks of cream cheese, softened
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
8 ounces good-quality white chocolate (I used Ghiradelli baking chips and it turned out great)
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tbsp sorghum flour*
½ tbsp potato starch*

**For non-gluten free readers, the original recipe calls for 2 tbsp AP flour, instead of sorghum flour/potato starch

Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer at medium speed until fluffy, then beat in sugar. Add whole eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating well at low speed and scraping down bowl after each addition.  Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth, and remove from heat.  Beat in flour and vanilla until just combined, then add melted chocolate in a slow stream, beating until filling is well combined.  Bake in middle of oven until cake is set 3 inches from edge but center is still wobbly when pan is gently shaken, 45 to 55 minutes.  Run a thin knife around edge of cake to loosen, then cool completely in pan on a rack. (Cake will continue to set as it cools.) Serve at room temperature or chilled.

For the Cranberry Curd Heavily adapted from Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess"
·  1/2 pound fresh cranberries
·  1/2 cup, plus 1 tbsp water
·  3 1/2  tablespoons unsalted butter
·  3/4 cup, plus 1 tbsp sugar
·  3 large eggs

Combine water and cranberries in a small sauce pan.  Cover and place over low heat until cranberries are softened and “popped.”  Pour cranberry mixture in blender and puree.  Once fully pureed, pour through a fine mesh sieve back into sauce pan (you will need to rinse it if there are chunks of cranberries leftover.”  Add eggs, butter, and sugar to cranberry puree.  Turn heat on low and stir continuously, watching carefully so that the eggs do not cook and “scramble.”  Continue to heat and stir until mixture has thickened enough to coat back of spoon.  Remove from heat and allow to cool on stovetop.

For the sugared cranberries (From Cooking Light Magazine):
2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups fresh cranberries
3/4  cup superfine sugar (you can make your own by processing regular sugar for a minute in a food processor)

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring mixture until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer; remove from heat. (Do not boil or the cranberries may pop when added.) Stir in cranberries; pour mixture into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Drain cranberries in a colander over a bowl. Place superfine sugar in a shallow dish (I used a glass pie plate). Add the cranberries, rolling to coat with sugar. Spread sugared cranberries in a single layer on a baking sheet; let stand at room temperature 1 hour or until dry.

Note: The steeping liquid clings to the berries and helps the sugar adhere.  Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.

For the Whipped Cream Topping:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Beat whipping cream using stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment.  Once cream begins to thicken, slowly add sugar.  Continue beating until whipping cream is fully thickened.  Place whipping cream in pastry bag fitted with large star tip and decorate as desire.

To Assemble:
Tip:  Make the cheesecake and cranberry curd the night before the cheesecake will be served.  Allow the cranberries to steep overnight as well.

Allow cheesecake to cool and fully set for at least one hour after baking.  Pour cranberry curd onto cheesecake, moving pan or spreading with offset spatula to create an even layer.  Cover and refrigerate overnight. 

The next morning, make the whipped cream topping and coat the cranberries in sugar. 

Decorate the cheesecake by piping with whipped topping and finishing with groups of sugared cranberries placed on top to garnish.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Simple Banana Cupcakes with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting (GF)

I’m not one to get up on my soap box about food issues. Don’t get me wrong, bring up most other social and political subjects and you might not be able to shut me up... food has just never been one of them. When Mr. Pixie Crust and I first embarked on our gluten free and (temporarily) dairy free diet, we started to become more and more interested in watching documentaries that discuss raw food and organic produce and animal products. I think it was one of those things where we felt better about not being able to eat (delicious) processed junk food when we convinced ourselves how much healthier we would be.

One particular documentary that we enjoyed is called Vanishing of the Bees. It focuses on Colony Collapse Disorder, which is a phenomenon impacting more and more honeybee colonies in the U.S. Essentially, bees are dying off from pollinating crops that are treated with pesticides because of the impact of the chemicals on honeybees’ immune systems. In addition to the use of pesticides, many beekeepers feed bees processed sugar and water, instead of natural plant nectars, which extenuates the problem of weakened levels of immunity.

All this is to say that bees are integral to humanity’s ability to maintain a proper diet of fruits and vegetables and they are currently being hurt by the very people who need them. To try to do my part (as teeny tiny as it is) I’ve decided to buy carefully sourced organic, raw honey from now on. The particular honey used in this recipe is from Trader Joe’s and is from a part of India where the beekeepers actually climb the trees to collect the honey. Cool, huh?

In addition to buying organic honey, I’ve been trying to remember that bees are important social creatures and not just scary insects out to sting me (I’m a wuss with any and all types of bugs).

Anyhow, you are going to love these banana cupcakes- they are not only simple to make, but are perfectly moist and rich. You would never guess that they are gluten free.

For the Banana Cupcakes (Gluten Free)
Makes 2-dozen cupcakes

3/4 cup superfine sweet rice flour
2/3 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup almond flour
3/4 cup potato starch
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, unsalted at room temperature
3 tbsp canola oil
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups mashed very ripe banana (about 3-4 bananas)
1/4 cup water

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners, set aside.

Measure and sift together flours, starches, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Using a stand or hand mixer, cream together butter, oil and sugar. Add vanilla. Add 1/2 of the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Add water and 1/2 of the mashed banana. Add the rest of the dry ingredients, mix and add the rest of the banana. Continue mixing until well combined. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl and mix for a few seconds before using batter.

Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full and bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

For the Honey Cream Cheese Frosting:

3 sticks cold butter, unsalted
1 8 oz block cream cheese
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup honey

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat butter and cream cheese together. Once well combined, add honey. Lastly, add vanilla and confectioner's sugar. Frost cupcakes as desired.

I frosted my cupcakes by using a large round pastry tip and applying round mounds of frosting, small mounds on top of larger mounds. I then cut out a hexagon shaped piece of black fondant, dabbed with water, and dipped into black sanding sugar. The yellow center is a large yellow sprinkle.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chocolate Dulce de Leche Cupcakes for Dia de Los Muertos

Happy Dia de Los Muertos! To celebrate Day of the Dead, I made these chocolate dulce de leche cupcakes topped with fondant sugar skulls.

The dulce de leche recipe is a bit of work, so feel free to buy dulce de leche, or try to brave the old "can of condensed milk in a pot of boiling water" method...I tried this once, but it did not go well for me! I wish I could say that this recipe is my grandmother's, but it's Alton Brown's. What can I say, the guy is definitely not Latino, but I love his recipe since it's literally milk and sugar simmered together until caramelized.

For the Chocolate Cupcakes (Gluten Free)

2/3 cup superfine sweet rice flour
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup pre-sifted almond meal
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp potato starch
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter
3 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 cup hot water

Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners and pre-heat oven to 350. Sift together flours, starches, and xanthan gum and set aside. Using a stand or hand mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add in eggs one at time, then add in vanilla extract. Melt chocolate in double boiler or microwave and add to mixture, mixing well. Add baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients in two additions, alternating with sour cream. Once fully mixed, add 1 cup hot water and hand stir to incorporate evenly. Bake for about 20-22 minutes, until cupcakes spring back to the touch.

*Readers who are not "gluten-free" may use this cake recipe

For the Dulce de Leche Filling (courtesy of Alton Brown):

1 quart whole milk
Approximately 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

*NOTE: You may need to make 1 1/2 or two times the original recipe to have enough dulce de leche to fill each cupcake and use the remaining candy in the frosting.

Combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla in a large, 4-quart saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the baking soda and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered at a bare simmer. Stir occasionally, but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook until the mixture is a dark caramel color and has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. If not using right away, store in refrigerator in a sealed, airtight container.

For the Dulce de Leche Frosting:
1/3 cup Dulce de Leche
3 sticks unsalted butter
2 tbsp cream cheese
2 tbsp milk or cream
2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 vanilla extract

Combine butter and cream cheese in bowl of stand mixer. Using paddle attachment, mix together until combined. Add dulce de leche and mix well. Add 1 cup confectioner's sugar, 2 tbsp milk, and then the other 1 cup of confectioner's sugar. Add food coloring as desired.

To Assemble:

Using a small paring knife, remove the center of each cupcake, without touching the bottom of the liner. Once all cupcakes are cored, fill pastry bag with dulce de leche (no tip necessary) and fill each cupcake. Lastly, frost and decorate as desired.

To Make the Sugar Skulls:

I simply found a drawing of a Dia De Los Muertos skull that I liked, sized it appropriately, and printed it. I then cut it out, place it on a piece of rolled white fondant and used a paring knife to create the skull shape. Lastly, I let the fondant dry for a bit (this makes it easier to draw on) and drew the faces with edible food pen.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jack Skellington Cupcakes

Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorite Halloween AND Christmas movies. In the spirit of the season, I thought it would be fun to make some Jack Skellington cupcakes. They were surprisingly easy to make. Rolling out, cutting, and drawing Jack's face on the fondant is a bit time consuming, but definitely not very difficult since his features are pretty simple.

I simply cut out this template of Jack's face (you will need to adjust the size) and laid it out on each circle of fondant. Because I don't trust my own drawing skills, I then traced Jack's features with the end of a thin paintbrush. After the features are impressed on the circle, I filled them in with a black edible food pen. If you don't have a circle cutter, I would suggest investing in one- it makes it much easier to create clean shapes.

The actual cupcakes are a simple chocolate cake with vanilla bean frosting. These are not gluten free because I haven't created a fabulous chocolate cake in the Pixie Crust test kitchen yet.

For the Chocolate Cupcakes (makes 24):

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup hot water
1 cup sour cream

Line two 12-cup cupcake pans with paper liners and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift cake flour and salt together. Set aside. Cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Once light and creamy, add vanilla extract using a stand mixer. Melt baking chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Add chocolate to mixer. Add dry ingredients in two additions, alternating with sour cream. Once fully combined, add hot water and stir to mix.

Bake for 20-24 minutes until cupcakes spring back to touch.

For the Vanilla Bean Frosting:

3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla bean paste
2 tbsp cream cheese (for taste and texture to cut the sweetness a bit)

Cream butter and cream cheese together. Add in powdered sugar. Mix until light and fluffy. Add vanilla bean paste and food coloring.

To assemble:

I like to place fondant decorations over the icing so that the frosting still peeks out. That way, someone could choose to remove the fondant topper and still have a good frosting: cake ratio.

Frost cupcakes with pastry bag fitted with star tip, don't pipe frosting on too high. Add Jack head to the top of each cupcake.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pumpkin "Trick or Treat" Cupcakes (GF)

It feels so nice to be posting again. I've had a really busy couple of weeks, including a work conference (for my 9-5 job, which is not nearly as interesting as pastry) in Palm Springs.

In addition to being busy, I've been feeling a bit like a scientist in the kitchen now that I've switched over to exclusively gluten free baking. It's so exciting, but so different! And so frustrating! I made about 4 attempts yesterday at the perfect GF yellow cupcake and have yet to have succeeded. Luckily, these pumpkin cupcakes turned out beautifully.

These cupcakes are pumpkin with brown butter frosting. They are inspired by a "trick-or-treat" pumpkin basket and when you look at them, you can't help but get nostalgic. I love Halloween and today I spent a full day of child-like fun with Mr. Pixie Crust painting pumpkins to put outside of our apartment. He is a true artist! I'm so impressed by his raven pumpkin!

Mr. Pixie Crust and I had a conversation today about Halloween and what we used to dress up as. Neither of us have ever had the inkling to dress up as anything too spooky. In fact, I pretty much only wanted to be "pretty" characters growing up- a princess, a fairy (I was a fairy probably about 7 times), a mermaid, Cleopatra, a ballerina, etc. I guess some things never change!

For the Pumpkin Cupcakes:
*For non-gluten free readers, you can try this recipe I used for my Harry Potter cupcakes.

1 cup superfine sweet rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup superfine brown rice flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks butter, unsalted at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners. Set aside.

Sift together the flours, corn/potato starches, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon. Set aside. Cream together brown sugar, white sugar, and butter. Add in vanilla extract. Add in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients in two parts, alternating with water and pumpkin puree. Mix for 2-3 minutes.

Fill liners about 2/3 full and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

For the Browned Butter Frosting
1 stick butter, room temperature
2 sticks browned butter (see below)
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar (or more, depending on how sweet you like your frosting)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tbsp Wilton Orange food coloring gel

Slice two sticks of unsalted butter and place in 1 qt sauce pan. Melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally, and continue to heat until bubbly and light brown (about 4-5 minutes). Be very careful in this step- the butter browns quickly and can burn if you don't watch it carefully.

Set melted browned butter aside to cool completely (I put mine in the freezer for a couple of minutes to speed the process).

Once completely cool, combine browned butter and one stick of regular butter with powdered sugar in a stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until fully smooth and creamy. Add food coloring and mix until fully combined.

To Decorate:
-pastry bag
-small round tip (I used a Wilton 3 tip)
-Mini-sized candy of your choice (I used Nerds, Tootsie rolls, and Mini Reese's Cups)
-Small amount of orange or black fondant
-Orange sanding sugar

To decorate the cupcakes like pumpkins, I used this tutorial from the Hello, Cupcake! book.

To make the pumpkins, place a generous amount of frosting on each cupcake and smooth into a rounded top. Pour orange sanding sugar onto wax paper or a paper plate and gently roll each cupcake into it. You can sprinkle sugar onto any bare spots. Next, use a toothpick to mark indents on pumpkin and use a pastry bag fitted with small round tip to pipe lines onto indents.

Once you've made the pumpkins (minus the stems, unless you make them all into plain pumpkins, which is still adorable-see photo below for proof), cut out the pumpkin face from a piece of rolled out black or orange fondant. Use a bit of frosting to glue each piece on.

Next, place the candy on the top of each cupcake. Put the largest item as far back as you can and then add the smaller items in front. Use a whole piece of licorice for the basket handle by arching over cupcake and pushing each end into it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spun Sugar Spider Web Flourless Chocolate Cake (GF)

Flourless chocolate cakes are one of my new favorite things to make. They're so simple to put together. I love that they use such few ingredients and take hardly anytime at all to mix up and bake. Plus, you don't even need to frost them since they're so decadent!

For this version, I decided to make it more festive by adding some spun sugar "webs" and fondant spiders.

For the Cake (Recipe adapted from Givers Log):

-9-inch springform pan
-Offset rubber spatula
-2 large mixing bowls (an additional large mixing bowl if you use a stand mixer to whip the egg whites)
-A fork (for spinning sugar)
-Parchment paper
-Non-stick cooking spray

-12.5 oz good quality chocolate (I use a mix of bittersweet, dark, and milk)
-5 eggs, separated
-1/4 cup granulated sugar
-1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of the springform pan with an 9-inch circle of parchment paper. Spray the sides of the pan and parchment paper with non-stick cooking spray.
Set aside.

Chop chocolate and melt by heating in microwave in 45 second-1 minute intervals. Stir well after heating. Once the chocolate is fully melted, add in the cubed butter and stir until melted and fully combined. Set aside to cool.

Whisk egg yolks and vanilla extract together until pale yellow and creamy looking.
Pour egg mixture over chocolate and mix until fully combined. If bowl containing chocolate/eggs is not large enough to contain whipped egg whites, transfer to larger mixing bowl.

Using stand mixer with a clean bowl, whip egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar. Once soft peaks start to form, add in sugar little by little. Continue whipping until egg whites form stiff peaks.

Add 1/3 of the egg white mixture to the chocolate mixture and fold until combined. Add in the rest of the whites and continue to fold until combined (it's better to leave few white streaks than to over mix or take the air out of the whites).

Spread batter into springform pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the rack for 19-23 minutes.

For the Fondant Spiders:

I used leftover store bought gum paste (you could also use fondant or marshmallow fondant) to create these little critters. I colored my gum paste with AmeriColor Royal Purple food coloring.


Roll enough medium sized balls (about the size of a gumball) for the number of spiders you want to make. Next, roll the same number of smaller balls sized about 50% of the larger balls. Combine the two balls to form the body. Form legs by rolling small logs and placing underneath body. Shape legs to 45 degree angles. Allow spiders to dry/stabilize for a few hours or overnight.

For the spun sugar web
, I used the recipe and tutorial from Sprinkle Bakes. One extra tip, you REALLY need to watch the sugar as it begins reaching high temperature. I overcooked mine slightly, but luckily, the sugar still spun okay.