Feelin’ kinda Sunday

Sunday Night CakeBSMbanner_baked-150Sunday is probably one of my favorite days of the week.  Despite the impending threat of “back to work” on Monday morning, Sunday is the day on which you can rest and recharge – and if you’re not an early churchgoer, you can do anything and everything you like in your pajamas, all day if you so wish.  For some folks it’s laundry day.  For sports enthusiasts (and I would not be one of them), Sundays usually mean an afternoon game on TV, inviting friends over to watch over snacks, beer, and/or steaming bowls of chili.  Sundays can also mean a quiet afternoon sipping coffee, reading a good book or planning for the week ahead – at home or in a cozy coffee shop.  Simply put, Sundays are all about pausing for comfort in your busy week, and this week’s recipe fits right into the Sunday groove.

If Baked’s tower-high three-layer cakes are not your thing, you may want to add this recipe to your recipe files.  Inspired by Edna Lewis, the Sunday Night Cake from Baked Explorations is the creation of Baked’s former employee and talented baker Eric Wolitzky (one of the competing bakers on the original Top Chef Just Desserts). It is a sweetly simple cake – light tan in color due to the inclusion of brown sugar, spiced with cinnamon, touched with the subtle tang of sour cream, and crowned with an almost pudding-like, dreamy chocolate frosting.  It’s unapologetically quirky and carefree, a cake to have fun with.  It doesn’t strive to win any beauty pageants.

Sunday Night CakeBest of all, this cake is a snap to make and perfect for one of those “it’s Sunday night/I’m done in by the busy weekend/I need something sweet to cap it off” panic moments. Feel free to add a bit more cinnamon if you’d like.  I used Penzey’s Vietnam Extra Fancy Cinnamon (the best) and added an extra 1/4 teaspoon, because I’m a cinnamon fanatic.  When I discovered that my light brown sugar had gone rock-hard, I used dark brown sugar, so my cake may be slightly more tan in hue and have a slight molasses flavor, a nice complement to the cinnamon and sour cream flavors.  The decadent frosting is just as easy to put together, and I dare you not to want to eat it straight from the bowl.  I added a pinch of salt for flavor and found that my frosting whipped up to a thicker consistency than expected.

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Now that all of us have posted it this wintry Sunday morning, what are you waiting for?  Go get your ingredients ready to whip it up this afternoon!

The link: Sunday Night Cake at Baked Sunday Mornings

By the way, blasting this song in your kitchen while making this cake is a must.  Your family may look at you oddly, but they’ll get over it.  It will lighten your day and put a bouncy spring in your cake crumb.  It will make it even better.  Trust me.

Next week: Cheesy Focaccia with Caramelized Onions and Sautéed Spinach

Pistachio panic

Lemon Pistachio Cornmeal MuffinsBSMbanner_baked-150It’s a cold and windy Friday afternoon in Milwaukee, and I’m busy in the kitchen making Lemon Pistachio Cornmeal Muffins, this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings assignment.  It’s not an assignment I’m tackling with much aplomb.  Cornmeal?  Yes.  Lemons?  Absolutely!  Pistachios? *womp womp* God Lord, NO!  I seriously wish I could man up and power through these things, but I just…can’t.  To my credit, I stuck true to the recipe and used pistachios when I could have easily substituted almonds… but it was a stretch, let me tell you.  The Baked guys are pretty well known for their unique flavor combinations, and this one is obviously no exception.  I love their recipe for Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins, and they were a tremendous hit at a cafe I used to bake for here in town.

It’s really hard to explain my disgust for most nuts.  It may have its genesis in the fact that I nearly choked on a cashew one Christmas at my grandmother’s when I was about 4 years old (and cashews are the MOST repulsive of all nuts to me).  I’m fairly certain that most of it is due to texture, combined with a taste that just makes my stomach churn – and not in a good way.  Seriously.  It’s unfortunate, because nuts are a pretty heavily-favored ingredient in many baked goods.  I do like almonds and pecans.  I maintain, however, that – even if I were an ardent nut lover – I would never, EVER ruin good brownies by stirring in nuts.  Brownies are meant to be pure, unadulterated, dense chocolate bliss.  But I digress.

Back to these muffins.  The first step involves chopping a 1/2 cup of raw, shelled pistachios in a food processor. You first want to chop them up coarse, reserving a 1/4 cup of coarse pistachios to sprinkle on the tops of the muffins.  Grind away at the rest of the pistachios until they are somewhat close to being a powder.  I took it as close to POWDER as I could.  If I’m going to diminish those nuts in any way, I’m going to obliterate them as much as I can.  Whisk the finely-ground pistachios with your dry ingredients, which includes a healthy helping of cornmeal (yay for disguising the pistachio’s texture even further).

The wet ingredients for these muffins include eggs, sour cream, lemon juice, lemon zest, and melted butter.  I nearly cried at the thought of sacrificing a whole 3/4 cup of good sour cream into these muffins, but I plowed through (I could eat sour cream by the spoonful out of the container, I love it so much).  Simply make a well in the center of your dry ingredients, pour in the wet, and gently fold it all together.  I used a big muffin scoop to scoop out the batter into regular-sized (not jumbo) muffin pans which I lightly buttered.  As a finishing touch, I sprinkled the coarse pistachios on top, then popped all of the muffins into the oven for about 15 minutes to bake off.  Meanwhile, as if I were attacking a pestilence, I vigorously scrubbed every bowl and utensil that touched anything pistachio in scalding hot water!

Lemon Pistachio Cornmeal MuffinsAfter removing the muffins from the oven, I let them cool in the pans for about 10 to 15 minutes, after which they came out of the pan quite easily.  I wish that the muffin tops on my homemade muffins would puff up and out as large as the ‘muffin top’ around my (body’s) middle (HA!), but sadly – at least with these muffins – it was not to be.  They were discouragingly flat on top and not too pretty, presentation-wise.  For this reason, I might suggest baking them in decorative or brightly-colored muffin papers if you are making them for an event or special party.

If you’re a lemon and pistachio fan, and generally enjoy cornmeal muffins, these are a good recipe for you to make.  You’ll adore them for their unique combination of flavors.  Believe it or not, despite my distaste for pistachios, I (only a small bit begrudgingly) sampled the fruits of my labor.  You see, I wanted to be a good sport.  And you can see my first taste in this week’s video:

Despite my surprise response in the video, I should note for you that I could not finish the muffin.  The couple bites you saw me take were pretty much it, before I was done.  My eyes also became red and itchy for a while afterwards.  I don’t know if this was an allergic reaction or not… very odd.

The immediate flavor is definitely lemon, heightened by a nice chewiness from the cornmeal, finished with a small kick of toasty pistachio.  This aftertaste is, obviously, what kept me from eating my entire muffin.  I didn’t want things to get ugly, so I stopped.

Would I make these again?  Probably not.  I picked at one, my boyfriend ate another, but these muffins will probably end up tossed.  This week was another example that, however much I adore and revere those fabulous Baked guys, not every recipe is a winner for everyone, even a big fan like me – and that’s okay!  Different strokes for different folks, right?  This should not stop you from checking out this relatively simple recipe if you get a kick out of any of the ingredients that go into them.  Click on the recipe link above (first paragraph, title of the recipe in purple) and make sure you check out how my fellow baker friends enjoyed this week’s recipe.  I know I will be in the minority on this one!

Next Week: Sunday Night Cake  ~ finally, back on track with flavors I enjoy!  Don’t know what Baked means by “Sunday Night” Cake?  Well, you can bet that it doesn’t include bananas, malt, or pistachios!  Stay tuned…

Lemon Pistachio Cornmeal Muffins

Frittering away

Bananas Foster Fritters BSMbanner_baked-150You may be surprised to know that in all of my baking adventures, deep frying is a brand-spankin’ new one for me.  Prior to this recipe, I had never attempted a doughnut, cruller, or fried treat of any kind.  It hasn’t been necessarily because I am frightened of hot oil, it’s just that…

Okay, I’m a little frightened of hot oil.

This week’s recipe for Baked Sunday Mornings is a new twist on a classic, somewhat 1950’s-style dessert: Bananas Foster.  Traditionally, according to that ever-so-trustworthy source, Wikipedia (ha!), Bananas Foster is “a dessert made from bananas and vanilla ice cream, with the sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. The butter, sugar and bananas are cooked, and then the alcohol is added and ignited. The bananas and sauce are then served over the ice cream. Preparation of the dish is often made into a tableside performance as a flambé.”

Bananas Foster FrittersBaked has turned this swanky dessert into Bananas Foster Fritters (from Baked Explorations), incorporating nearly all of the traditional ingredients listed above, including banana liqueur.  Thankfully, the recipe does not include a flambé presentation (I can picture my singed eyebrows even now as I type that), but it does include frying up some delightful little banana, rum, cinnamon, and allspice fritters in some pretty hot oil, paired with a luscious dipping sauce that is… well, something pretty spectacular.

A few things about this recipe to start:  instead of banana liqueur, I opted to use Baked’s suggestion to substitute vanilla extract.  I’m not a huge banana fan (I really only like it in baked goods), so buying even a small bottle of banana liqueur – were I successful even to find the stuff – seemed excessive for only the 2 teaspoons used in this recipe.  I also fried the fritters in canola oil rather than vegetable oil.  My suspicion is that you can use either, just be sure to keep an eye on your oil as you heat it, so it doesn’t burn.  I used a high-sided, cast-iron Dutch oven and attached a metal probe digital thermometer to gauge the oil temperature.

You can see the progression of my fritters in this photo - notice the more burnt fritters at the top?

You can see the progression of my fritters in this photo – notice the more burnt fritters at the top?

The batter itself is very simple to make.  While I heated up the oil, I chilled the batter, which I somewhat regret doing – and you’ll see why.  Per the recipe instructions, I heated my oil up to 375 degrees.  When I scooped up the balls of dough and dropped them into the oil, they sizzled and crackled and burnt within seconds!  So – obviously, my oil was far too hot.  I was able to turn it down about 10-15 degrees, but I continuously flipped the fritters around in the oil with a pair of tongs as they were frying up, rather than letting them fry for “2-3 minutes on each side” as the recipe states.  I would say the length of time each fritter was in the oil was maybe 1 minute TOPS, turning constantly.  If I had let them fry for 2 minutes each side, they would have been extremely burnt and inedible.

I typically had 1-2 fritters in the oil at a time, which isn’t a bad idea, as you never want to overcrowd your skillet when frying.  Once done frying, I plopped them onto a cooling rack lined with 2 layers of paper towel to cool slightly and drain some of the excess grease.  None of my fritters were a nice golden brown.  Even with the precautions I took, most of them had some burn to them, which was unfortunate.  Given that this was my first time venturing into frying, I cut myself a little slack and playfully dusted them, as suggested, with a combination of powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Here’s the reason I think chilling the batter didn’t do the fritters any favors:  when I split open a fritter, the insides were still gooey and underdone.  I have a feeling that when the cold batter hit the very hot oil, the outside cooked up excessively fast, and to prevent them from completely burning, I needed to remove the fritters before they cooked all the way through. Bummer.  The good news?  The fritters contain no eggs, so even eating them underdone isn’t really a dangerous or bad thing – as it’s basically pureed banana and nothing unsafe.  It’s just a touch disappointing if you are expecting a typically fluffy, cakelike, doughnut-typical texture inside your fritters.  I did attempt making some smaller fritters to see if I could avoid the underdone texture inside, but even a few of these were gooey. *sigh*  I have a feeling that this is probably something that only gets improved upon with frying practice!

Bananas Foster FrittersThankfully, there’s a saving grace with this recipe, and it comes in the form of a delectable Rum Dipping Sauce that you will quick put together to serve with these fried bites.  It begins with dark brown sugar, melted together with butter and cream in a saucepan.  Add a couple tablespoons of dark rum and a teaspoon of vanilla, finished with a pinch of cinnamon: perfect. Delicious.  I seriously just stepped away from my computer and dipped my finger into the container I had in the fridge.  So good.  The fritters are incredible dipped in this sauce, capturing the very essence of Bananas Foster.  As Matt Lewis’s preface to this recipe suggests, this sauce is also a perfect accompaniment to pancakes or French toast.  If you want to see me extol the virtues of this sauce even further, you can watch me go a little crazy – maybe too crazy – over it in this video, where I elaborate a little further on my frying experience.  Enjoy. (and note that I started my intro a little earlier than the video began – no worries, you didn’t miss me saying anything other than “Hi from Neufangled Desserts!”)

And so, if you curious to know whether my fear of hot oil and frying has been assuaged, I can happily tell you: somewhat.  Like any new process in the kitchen, I’ve concluded it is craft that is perfected with practice, and I am not typically a huge fan of fried treats, so my practice will only come over an extended period of time.  I enjoyed the flavor and playfulness of these fritters, and will tuck this recipe away as one to attempt again should a curious desire to fry something up come over me.  If anything, I know that I will delightfully accept any excuse to cook up that scrumptious rum sauce again!  In the meantime, however, I think I fare better with Baked’s layer cakes, bar cookies, tarts and pies!

Get out the oil and make your own Bananas Foster Fritters by clicking on the recipe name (in purple) up above, which will link you to the Baked Sunday Mornings website.  Before you fry, check out how my fellow bakers fared!

Next week ~ Lemon Pistachio Cornmeal Muffins (Lemons, cornmeal – yes, but pistachios…? Yuck!  Baked Sunday Mornings hasn’t started out 2013 with the happiest ingredients/recipes for yours truly!  Malt, bananas, now pistachios? Still, I will make them!)

Bananas Foster Fritters

For the love (or hatred) of malt

Malted Milk Chocolate Pots de CremeBSMbanner_baked-150As far as desserts go, I find pots de crème simply marvelous.  Subtle, smooth, and almost filled with sex appeal, they are the simple, yet stunning and elegant little black dress of desserts.  If you’ve never had pots de crème, trust me:  one taste and you will completely understand why I wax poetic.

At first glance, pots de crème (pronounced “poh de krehm”) may appear daunting – but honestly, Martha Stewart and her antique ramekins and bain-marie (that’s a water bath) be damned, pots de crème are amazingly easy to make.  You can bake these charming little custards up and stash them into your fridge a day before your dinner soiree.

Baked Sunday Mornings is breaking in the New Year with Malted Milk Chocolate Pots de Crème, from Baked Elements.  Everything about the name of this recipe sings to me, except for one word: MALTED.

My passion for these pots de crème is counter-balanced by a somewhat persnickety disgust for malt.  Yep.  I’ve said it before and this occasion prompts me to say it again: I really dislike malt.  I’m one of those folks who expects a milkshake when he orders a milkshake, not a yucky malt.  I prefer my dairy concoction to taste like chocolate, or vanilla, or strawberry – unsullied by that nasty malt aftertaste.  While it’s traditionally characterized as a nutty flavor, my taste buds just do not register it as such.  It’s difficult to describe.  As a child, I never acquired a taste for malt, and it has carried over into my adult years as well.  While my friends chomped down on Whoppers malted milk balls, I glared at them askance while savoring my bars of pure, unadulterated chocolate, trying to figure out what the rage was all about.

Malted Milk Chocolate Pots de CrèmeMy commitment to baking through Baked’s books with the Baked Sunday Mornings crew is a solid one, however, and as malt reared its ugly head in my direction this weekend, I needed to stay up to the challenge.  As much as I hesitated for a slight moment as I measured out and dangled the malted milk powder over the heavy cream in the saucepan, I had to surrender and just do it.  The malt swiftly plunged into the cream and there was nothing I could do about it.

Pots de crème typically start with whole milk and/or cream being gently boiled on the stove before being briskly whisked into several egg yolks.  In this recipe, malt powder is stirred into a whole glorious 2-1/4 cups of heavy cream and heated to a slight boil. I’m sure this is entirely me, but I was not reassured by the aroma of the malt powder being boiled in the cream (you will get my precise description of it below… keep reading for now). This warm mixture is then added to good-quality milk chocolate.  As milk chocolate is somewhat the star of this dessert, Baked suggests using a fine-quality chocolate.  I used Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Chips, but if you want to use fancier, go right ahead!  The warm, malted cream melts the chocolate, and all is whisked into a nice, subtly-chocolaty homogenous mixture.

Now, for some strange reason, separating eggs always makes people want to turn and run, screaming, out of the kitchen – or, at the very least, in search of a fancy egg-separating gadget to help them along.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite classic films, Woman of the Year, where Katharine Hepburn was trying to make waffles for Spencer Tracy for breakfast.  She read “separate three eggs” and ended up cracking 3 eggs, separately, onto 3 separate plates!  What her character didn’t quite understand was that, when a recipe says to “separate eggs”, you want to carefully remove the yolks from the white.  Honestly, the very best tool is your hands.  Get your hands nice and soapy and washed up first.  Take your egg, crack it, and drain it into your other hand, extended with an open palm over a bowl to catch the whites as they slither through your fingers.  It sounds rather gross, but doing it this way, you will actually feel when the white has completely separated from the yolk.  You just know.  Really!

For the pots de crème, you will only need the yolks, so save all of your whites for making an angel food cake.  In most of my baking, I usually remove the gross chalazae – or, that white, squiggly part of the egg which suspends the yolk in the white – and discard it.  While this is typically optional (and rather picky of me, I know), when making a pudding or custard recipe like a pot de crème, I almost feel it’s an essential step.  The last thing you want is a chewy, disgusting piece of egg in your silky-smooth pudding.  Yuck!  The chalazae typically clings to the yolks; you can’t miss it.  Take two fingers and gently pinch it away from the yolks and toss it out.  Ick!  Wash your hands again when finished with your egg-separating.

Combine the 5 egg yolks with sugar and fleur de sel, then steadily pour in the warm chocolate mixture, whisking constantly so that you do not scramble your eggs.  Strain this mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a tall pouring vessel or pitcher to remove any cooked egg bits and to ensure the best smooth texture for your pots de crème (Baked mentions this is an optional step – I would strongly advise doing it!).  Pour the custard evenly among 6 to 8 4-ounce ramekins set inside a roasting pan.

Cooking the pots de crème in a water bathRemember that fancy word for ‘water-bath’ I mentioned earlier?  You’re about to create your own bain-marie for your pots de crème, and it’s a truly trustworthy technique I’ve employed several times – both with pots de crème, and with cheesecakes to prevent large cracks across the surface.  The water surrounding the custards gently heats and regulates temperature during baking, and prevents them from baking almost too fast. Carefully pour hot water into the pan until it reaches nearly halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Set the roasting pan in a 325-degree oven and bake the custards for about 30 minutes, until the edges seem set and the middles are slightly jiggly.  Remove from the water bath, cool, then chill in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight.  Voila!  Elegant dessert done!

Malted Milk Chocolate Pot de CrèmeA smattering of lightly-chopped malted milk balls is all that remained to dress up these pots de crème.  I think the most blissful moment in eating a pot de crème, almost like eating a crème brulee, is the first spoonful. Unlike a crème brulee, however, your spoon sinks into the thin, almost spongy top layer of custard (rather than cracking through caramelized sugar) into the dense, thick, silky deliciousness below.  I was pleased to note that my malted milk chocolate pots de crème had baked nearly perfectly – slightly thicker on the sides and thinner in the centers.  Your aim is to have a uniform, thick custard texture throughout, but if you find that the centers puddle a bit, no worries.

So – how did I feel about the malted milk chocolate pots de crème, you ask? Well, you can read on for my response… after this (surprise!) video in which I elaborate:

I was pleasantly surprised.  I didn’t dislike them, but I wasn’t head over heels in love with them either.  The malt is sharp and pungent, and almost what might contribute to what I felt was an overwhelmingly salty taste.  Despite this, it was a fair complement to the milk chocolate.  My immediate taste picked up the malt, followed by a warmer, almost ‘hot chocolate’ flavor as I dug deeper into the pot de crème.  The crushed malted milk balls add a nice, crunchy contrast to the smoothness of the custard, though I found myself wincing when I chomped into an especially large piece.  It would appear that – while I appreciated this recipe in most regards – it did not alleviate my malt distaste too much.

Malted Milk Chocolate Pot de CrèmeWere I to make these again, I might opt for deeper chocolate flavor by taking Baked’s alternative suggestion to add half milk chocolate, half dark chocolate.  I might also decrease the fleur de sel by a 1/2-teaspoon, though my suspicion is that the saltiness is attributed primarily to the malt. Or – I may just stick to my favorite chocolate pots de crème recipe from Martha Stewart (sans malt, of course)…

Malt lovers rejoice!  This is a great go-to dessert recipe for you.  Satisfy your craving by directing your browser to this link: Malted Milk Chocolate Pots de Crèmeand please check out how my other baking friends fared! Until next time, friends…

NEXT WEEK ~ Bananas Foster Fritters (Yes, I do some magical work with frying in hot oil.  This should be interesting…)

Malted Milk Chocolate Pots de Creme