Sunday, January 30, 2011

Inspiration from See's Candy: Scotchmallow cupcakes

Walking into a See's Candy store never fails to make me sentimental. My parents would always include one of those kids Holiday boxes in our Christmas stockings and anytime we went to our local shopping mall, the big treat was to go on the carousel and pick out 6 sugar sticks or a sucker from See's. My two favorite chocolates from See's have been and will forever be: the Mocha (probably an early warning sign of my impending addiction to coffee) and the Scotchmallow.

A Mocha inspired cupcake promises to be a future adventure on Pixie Crust, but today, I'll share the Scotchmallow inspired cupcake I created. This cupcake has a good balance of having the flavors of a Scotchmallow candy, without being overly sweet. I will recommend, however, that you make sure you fill each cupcake with enough caramel and include enough marshmallow fluff to taste marshmallow-y enough (excuse the technical language ;) ). The actual chocolate cake recipe is AWESOME. Funny enough, I had yet to have discovered the perfect chocolate cake recipe: one that is light and fluffy, but also moist and rich enough. I actually stumbled upon this fantastic recipe on the back of the Swans Down cake flour box. I altered it slightly, but the base recipe is truly close to perfectly formulated, in my opinion.

If you decide to make these cupcakes, one tip I would offer is to make the caramel sauce the night before to cut out one less thing to do the day you bake, assemble, and frost the cupcakes.

Chocolate Cake Recipe
Yields 24 cupcakes


2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (I used Swans Down)
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup boiling water

Sift the flour and set aside. Whip the butter in an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment until creamy. Add the granulated sugar to the butter and mix until creamed. Add the brown sugar and continue to mix on medium/high for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Add the melted baking chocolate. Mix in the baking soda last.

Add the flour in batches, alternating with adding sour cream. Mix on medium until well combined- do not over mix!

Lastly, remove the bowl from the mixer stand. Add in the boiling water and hand stir until combined.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, until cake springs back to the touch and/or an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Homemade Caramel Sauce (caramel recipe courtesy of Giver's Log)

3-4 quart saucepan
candy thermometer

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cut butter into evenly sized cubes and melt over low heat in large 3-4 quart saucepan.
Once butter is fully melted, add brown sugar, being careful to avoid the sides of the pan. If any stray sugar crystals fall onto side of pan, carefully brush off with a wet pastry brush.
Once butter and sugar are fully combined, add corn syrup and condensed milk. Clip on candy thermometer to side of pan.
Cook mixture on low heat (still continually stirring) for about a minute or two. Increase heat to medium and continue to cook/ stir until mixture reaches 225 degrees. Once the mixture is removed from heat, stir in vanilla extract.

NOTE: Giver's Log gave 230 as the temperature to remove caramel from heat for it to form a sauce consistency, however, my sauce was still too hard when cooked to 228 (my oven and stove get crazy hot {so hot, my oven melted my adorable Anthro kitchen timer}, so I'd chock it up to different appliances and varying candy thermometers). If your sauce turns out too hard (once it's completely cooled and consistency is determined) gently reheat the caramel and add a couple table spoons of cream and water, stirring until fully combined. The mixture should be slightly more runny than desired when warm because it will continue to thicken once it's fully cooled.

Marshmallow Swiss Meringue Frosting
(Swiss meringue base courtesy of Martha Stewart Online)
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
3 sticks butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 jars marshmallow cream

Cook egg whites sugar in metal bowl placed inside (not touching) a pot of boiling water. Continually whisk mixture over heat until it reaches 180 degrees. Pour hot egg mixture into mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk until soft peaks form, then add butter in a piece at a time, whisking well after each addition. Once well combined, switch to paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes.

Add vanilla and marshmallow cream (add as much as desired to taste- I added 1 whole jar) and mix for another minute or two.

Cupcake assembly instructions:
Once cupcakes have fully cooled (you may even want to put them in the fridge for 1/2 hour or so to make the cutting easier), use small paring knife to create a 3/4 inch circular hole in each cupcake. Do not cut all the way through the bottom of the cake.
Using a pastry bag and medium round tip, fill each hole with the caramel mixture and replace cake in hole. (you could skip this part if easier, since no one will see the caramel hole once the cupcakes are frosted).

After the cupcakes are all filled, use a pastry bag fitted with a large star attachment to pipe on frosting.
Decorate as desired. I chose to use some adorable pearl sprinkles I recently bought from Bake it Pretty, but if I had more time, I would have piped more caramel mixture onto the frosting, as well as some chocolate ganache or chips!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sangria Tarts

While I am a wine lover and, I daresay, a burgeoning connoisseur, there aren't many cocktails that tempt me anymore. One drink that I continue to develop a deeper love for each day, however, is sangria. What I love about this mixed drink is that there are really no rules to it. There are so many different ways and wines that can go into making this drink: choice of fruit; white, red, dry or sweet wine; type of additional hard alcohol used; type of juice (if any) mixed in, added sugar or fizz, etc.

Some restaurants and bars (I've had especially good luck at a couple of Spanish restaurants and Tapas bars in the LA area) nail it. While others have disappointed me with syrupy sweet, barely recognizable sangria. My usual recipe (first showed to me by my good friend Jessica) includes a good dry red wine (I usually use a Syrah or Cabernet), Triple Sec, oranges, berries, apples, orange juice or pomegranate juice, and a sparkling element (sometimes a sparkling JUICE, which takes care of the last two ingredients in one swoop).

I decided I wanted to make a tart that is infused with the flavors of sangria. And what better way to do this than start by mixing up an actual pitcher of it?

Because this drink IS so loose with its rules, the batch I created in conjunction with my tart was made with white wine and non-traditional hard alcohol. The white sangria turned out great, but I would still like to try making these tarts with a red wine based sangria.

My White Sangria recipe:

Liquid Components:
(1) bottle dry red wine (I used a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc)
4 oz Limoncello (leftover from our Italy honeymoon)
3 oz Vermouth (hence the non-traditional component)
Fresh squeezed juice from 1 large navel orange (strained of seeds/pulp)
2 oz grenadine syrup

Fruit Components:
(1) Large navel orange sliced in rings
(2) Nectarines, pitted and sliced into wedges
(2) Plums, pitted and sliced into wedges
(1) cup fresh blackberries

Beginning with the oranges, slice the fruit. Slice one of the oranges and set aside. Slice the other orange in half and squeeze into a separate container until all of the juice is extracted. Strain and then put into the glass pitcher. Slice the plums and nectarines, and along with the blackberries, place into the pitcher. Pour the vermouth and limoncello into the pitcher, followed by the whole bottle of wine. Stir very well and then put mixture in the fridge to chill and absorb the flavors of the fruit for AT LEAST two hours.

Tart Recipe:

Shortbread Cookie Crust:

(4) cups all purpose flour
(4) Sticks cold butter, cubed
(1 1/3) cup confectioner's sugar

(3) nectarines, pitted and sliced
(4) plums, pitted and sliced
1/3 cup, plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch
about 1/2 cup reduced sangria

Sift together confectioner's sugar and flour by hand or in food processor. In an electric mixer (or food processor) fitted with a paddle attachment, combine sugar and flour with cubed butter, adding butter slowly. Once mixture begins clumping up, stop mixer. Using 6 mini tart pans with removable bottoms (or one large tart pan with removable bottom), separate dough into each one and press down so it is distributed evenly on the bottoms and sides. Once dough is in tart pans, put the pans in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Cut up the remaining 3 nectarines and 4 plums into small-medium sized wedges. Combine with blackberries into large mixing bowl. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar to the bowl and mix well.

After Sangria has been chilled for 2 hours, remove from fridge and take out 1 cup (8 oz) from the pitcher and add to the fruit and sugar mixture. Allow fruit to steep in mixture for an additional 1 1/2 hours, stirring fruit every so often.

Once fruit has steeped in sangria mixture for the appropriate amount of time, strain fruit and pour liquid into a small saucepan. Gently boil until mixture reduces to about 1/2 or 1/3 cup. In the meantime, combine 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 2 tablespoons sugar in small bowl.

Once sangria is reduced to about 1/2 cup, pour back onto fruit and add in cornstarch/sugar mixture and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Stir well.

Remove tart pan/s from refrigerator. Scoop fruit mixture and a couple spoonfuls of liquid into each tart shell so that each type of fruit is about equal and so that the fruit is fairly level in the tart (not too overflowing or poking out high from crust). Add a few crumbs of cold butter, evenly spaced to the top of each tart. Use additional crust dough to cut even sized strips for the lattice topped tarts.

NOTE: It's less time consuming and just as tasty to do a "cobbler" like topping instead. If you choose to go this route, only make half of the crust recipe listed above.

Serve tarts plain or with whipped cream or ice cream. Pair with a tall glass of white sangria.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Neapolitan Layer Cake with Malted Milk Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I've been wanting to make a Neapolitan layer cake for some time now. In order to really heighten the homage to a favorite ice cream flavor, I decided to incorporate malt powder to give it a more fun, soda shop effect. Even though it's the middle of winter, this weekend in Los Angeles has been beautiful and surprisingly warm, so it doesn't seem too out of the blue to choose to bake an ice cream inspired cake today.

I absolutely love malt, but I have never tried baking with it, so in order to not make it an overwhelming flavor element to the cake, I decided to add malt powder only to the vanilla swiss meringue buttercream that covers the cake. While I used homemade cake recipes for each individual flavored layer, you could definitely use cake mixes instead. Just remember that each box will typically make more than one 9x2 pans worth of cake (all of my recipes were converted to halves or thirds of the original recipe). One of my favorite tricks in using cake mixes is via "The Cake Mix" doctor who uses cake mixes for all of the recipes in her baking books, but does not follow the box instructions and instead adds her own ingredients to make moist, delicious, deceivingly homemade tasting cakes.

The version I made also incorporates layers of strawberry cream cheese frosting and chocolate buttercream as glue to keep the layers together. It's a bit more time consuming, but upon tasting the finished cake, I think the separate frosting flavors add the extra element of necessary flavor and texture.

I made all three cakes in one day and made the frostings and put the cake together the following day. Be sure to line the bottom of each round cake pan with parchment paper in order to prevent sticking. When you put the cake together, be sure to put each layer top down. You will need to level the tops of the cake by slicing the round top with a serrated knife, so that they align correctly in layers.

To put the cake together, place the chocolate cake top side down on a cake plate or platter. Spread a generous layer of chocolate buttercream onto the top of the cake. Carefully place the strawberry layer on top of the chocolate buttercream. Once in place, spread a generous layer of strawberry buttercream onto the top of the strawberry. To finish, place the white cake on top and cover the entire cake with the swiss meringue malted milk frosting.

For the Cakes:

White Cake (Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's "Perfect White Cake" Recipe

• 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
• 1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising) plus more for pans
• ½ cup sour cream
• 3 large egg whites, lightly beaten
• 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 3/4 cups sugar
• ¼ cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 1 9-by-2-inch round cake pan, tapping out excess flour; set aside.

In a medium bowl, lightly whisk together, sour cream, water, egg whites, and extracts. Into a second medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 30 seconds. With machine running, slowly add the sugar and cream together the butter and sugar. Beat for 2+ minutes in order for sufficient air to be whipped into the butter.

Add one-third of the flour mixture and one-third of the sour cream mixture, and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Add remaining flour and milk mixtures in 2 separate batches beating between additions to fully incorporate. Scrape down sides of bowl, and stir by hand to finish.

Pour batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (25-30 minutes).

Chocolate Cake:
(Recipe Courtesy of Martha Stewart Online)

1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for pans
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups sugar
1 large egg plus 2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour one 9-by-2-inch cake pan, tapping out excess flour. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined.

Pour batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (25-30 minutes).

Strawberry Cake

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cups sugar
1 stick butter
½ cup buttermilk
1/3 cup strawberry puree (boil until reaches 1/3 cup)
1 tbsp strawberry gelatin (extract would work as well, but Jello is cheaper if you don't have any!)
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 egg
2 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour one 9-by-2-inch cake pan, tapping out excess flour. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, beat in egg and whites, one at a time. Beat in vanilla and strawberry gelatin. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk until well combined. Lastly, fold in puree.

Pour batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (25-30 minutes).

To make the strawberry puree:

Defrost a 16-oz bag of unsweetened frozen strawberries. Puree strawberries in blender with 1/2 cup sugar (you may need to work in 2 batches). Once pureed, strain mixture through sieve. Then, pour into small sauce pot and bring to a boil. Heat over stove for 5-10 minutes until mixture reduces to about half original volume.

Strawberry Buttercream:

Combine 1 1/2 sticks softened butter (at room temperature) and half a brick of cream cheese (4 oz) until well incorporated. Add in 1/4 cup of strawberry puree, 1 tsp vanilla, a few drops of red food dye for color, and a pinch of cornstarch to increase thickness. Slowly mix in confectioner's sugar until frosting is light and fluffy (add about 2-2 1/2 cups). I usually DON'T measure the powdered sugar I add to buttercream, rather I slowly add it in until the frosting reaches the consistency and sweetness I'm looking for.

Chocolate Buttercream:

Combine 1 1/2 sticks softened butter (at room temperature) with 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, and about 2 cups confectioner's sugar until frosting is light and fluffy.

Malted milk swiss meringue buttercream (Swiss Meringue Buttercream base from Martha Stewart Online)

1 1/4 cups sugar
5 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt
4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons malted milk powder

Heat sugar, egg whites, and salt in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pan of simmering water, whisking until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Return bowl to mixer, and whisk, gradually increasing speed from low to medium-high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 10 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add butter, a few pieces at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in vanilla. Switch to a paddle attachment and add 2 1/2 tablespoons malted milk powder. Beat until air bubbles are gone, 2 to 3 minutes more.

NOTE: Don't worry if your buttercream seems runny or a weird texture, it will puff up to a beautiful fluffy, smooth consistency after a minute or two of beating it with the paddle attachment.

Remember to serve this cake at room temperature. As tempted as many of us are to put EVERY baked good in the fridge, it's not only unnecessary for many desserts, but for cakes made with butter, it causes them to not taste as moist and rich (since butter is a solid fat- it solidifies at cold temperatures, versus cakes made with oil, which generally taste better after a bout in the refrigerator).