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.