Bundt Adoration

BSMbanner_baked-150I absolutely love Bundt cakes. I sense that I have a kindred spirit in Matt Lewis (of Baked), with his glorious collection of beautiful Bundt pans. I’ve tried several times to restrain myself from amassing my own crazy stash of pans – and so far, I feel I’ve been somewhat successful.  That being said, I think I still own a good 4-5 Bundt pans.

The wonderful thing about Bundt cakes is that they are simple and relatively easy to make. You don’t need to bother with frosting – perhaps just a simple glaze to drizzle over the top. This is especially good if you prefer the cake over the frosting, like yours truly. The trickiest part may be unmolding the cake from the intricate crevices of the pan; if you practice making enough Bundts, however, it is possible to learn how to craftily butter and flour the pan for smooth release. You also become more discerning of which Bundt pans are suited for particular batters and cake crumb. For such a humble kind of cake, it can be an art, that’s for sure.

This week’s Baked Sunday Mornings Bundt cake was a “Tunnel of Fudge” Cake incorporating ground hazelnuts for a Tunnel of Hazelnut Fudge Cake.  I swapped out the hazelnuts for ground, toasted almonds – not being a big fan of hazelnuts.  The batter is a dark chocolate batter made rich with the incorporation of dark cocoa.

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The tricky part of making this particular cake is understanding when exactly to take it out of the oven.  You want that thick, under-baked channel of fudgy goodness in the middle of the cake, so you can’t use the toothpick method to determine doneness.  I trusted both my oven’s temp and the suggested 40 minute baking time designated in the recipe.  When I removed the cake from the oven, the top was delicately crunchy, and the sides appeared done.  As it cooled, it caved in a touch, which further confirmed for me that the middle was still soft.  I eased the sides of the cake away IMG_3585from the pan gently with a metal icing spatula to loosen it, and let the cake cool overnight in the pan.

The next morning, I was relieved that the cake released, for the most part, from the pan and onto the plate – aside for one messy chunk on one side.  With some gentle coaxing, I removed the errant chunk from the pan, patched it back onto the cake and dusted it with confectioners’ sugar, to hide the mess and provide final presentation.  The taste of this cake is quite good. The crunchy and chewy texture from the ground toasted almonds is especially pleasing against the soft, gooey dark 10702054_10204916330488264_6542994677940449651_nfudge center.  This cake is really scrumptious paired with a cup of hot coffee.  In place of the hazelnuts, I found the almonds to be just dandy!  This cake is also wickedly good cold.

The second Bundt cake I experimented with this weekend was scheduled quite a while ago with Baked Sunday Mornings, but I never got around to it – possibly because I was out of poppy seeds!  It’s a delightful Poppy Seed Pound Cake with Brown Butter Glaze.  I’ve been eyeing this recipe in Baked Elements for quite some time, and figured I may as well tackle it as we wrap up this book.

IMG_3577A delicate richness in this cake comes from the addition of cream cheese in the batter.  I once made an especially delicious Poppy Seed Cake from Cooking Light that also included cream cheese, so this reminded me of that recipe straight away.  A ribbon of poppy seed filling containing a half cup – yes, a whopping half cup – of blue poppy seeds meanders lazily through the center of this buttery, dense cake. Poppy seed lovers rejoice – this is heavy on the poppy seeds!  I’ve always been a big fan, especially when nutty poppy seeds are paired with citrus – as they are in this recipe, with the bright flavor inclusion of orange zest.

While the cake came out of the Bundt pan cleanly (phew!), I suspected right away that I may have over-baked it a touch – and I did.  It has a delicious buttery flavor and crumb, and the poppy seed trail in the center is certainly whimsical, but I will definitely dial the baking time back a little bit, perhaps to 50 mIMG_3575inutes instead of an hour, the next time I make this cake.  There will be a next time, as I really enjoyed it.  Again, this is another cake perfectly paired with coffee, or perhaps especially, tea.

The glaze crowning this cake is heavenly.  It begins with brown butter – need I say more? – and incorporates powdered sugar, milk, orange juice, orange zest, and finally, (more) toasted poppy seeds.  It provides a wonderful extra punch of citrus and poppy flavor.  I did find that it was a bit thick when I attempted pouring it onto the cake, and it didn’t drizzle down the sides as I wanted it to, so I thinned it with more milk to achieve this effect a touch more.  It didn’t yield the prettiest results – there’s nothing to quickly ruin a perfectly turned-out Bundt than a gloppy-looking glaze – but I think the ribbon of poppy-seed filling is the “a-ha” moment of this cake when sliced, anyhow.

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To try your hand at both of these lovely Bundt cakes, head on over to Baked Sunday Mornings via these links:

Tunnel of Hazelnut (or Almond!) Fudge Cake

Poppy Seed Pound Cake with Brown Butter Glaze

By the way, I used Baked’s signature Bundt pan to make both of these cakes.  I know, perhaps I am hawking it a little bit more for my friends at Baked, but truly, this is a great investment for any baker. It’s been worth every cent I paid for it. This is a standard Bundt pan to end all standard Bundt pans.  I adore my fancy, swirly Heritage Bundt, but not all Bundt cake recipes work in it (it has very sharp, peaked crevices that can really grab the cake crumb).  If you want to go for a good, fail-safe, heavy-duty pan that will do the job – and release the cake easily – try out Baked’s pan.  It’s fabulous.

Enjoy!

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Muffin-top musings

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BSMbanner_baked-150Faithful followers of my blog will recall that within the past year and a half, I’ve been pretty good with watching what I eat and exercising.  This is no small feat for yours truly, especially given that my diet consists largely of sugar, butter, eggs, flour, and chocolate in various delicious combinations.  I managed to whittle myself down about 30-36 pounds within a year, but confess that I’ve probably packed on about 10-15 more in recent months.  Still not too bad; I’m at a healthy weight for my age and height and I manage to walk and run as often as I can, with a week or two of cheating once in a while.  I’ve successfully run three 5Ks and am training myself for a 10K.  I’m grateful that I have gotten myself into these better habits.

Friends have remarked upon my weight loss and said, “How can you bake and eat all of those things you bake – and still stay so THIN?”  I won’t go so far as to say I am overly thin, but believe me, it is a struggle that requires lots of self-restraint. This is especially so when it comes to ice cream, potato chips, or making yummy treats like this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings assignment: Chocolate Cheesecake Muffins.  I realized going into this that I might be faced with the battle of the good ol’ ‘muffin-top’ (in more ways than the obvious one) all over again, if I’m not careful.  A good exercise in self-control is definitely in order.

IMG_3545Baked’s recipe from Baked Elements is pretty simple, but has several steps to it, so plan ahead and read the recipe thoroughly.  I have a bad tendency to skim a recipe and – feeling I have a good gist of it – forge blindly ahead.  As a result, I made three mistakes with this recipe: I neglected to fold the white chocolate into my cheesecake filling (luckily, I remembered to do so right before assembling the muffins).  Then, I forgot to toss my dark chocolate pieces in flour before adding them to the muffin batter to keep them from sinking. Finally, I had to open up the oven while the muffins were baking and reach in to sprinkle each muffin with sanding sugar.  Don’t be like me: read your recipe!

The inclusion of a tablespoon of white vinegar in the ingredients is intriguing.  Every so often, you may come across a recipe that contains an unusual ingredient and you have to wonder, why was this included?  In my past baking experiences, I’ve come to understand that vinegar often adds not only a slight tang of flavor which provides some balance to other flavor notes, but it also provides a bit of tenderness as it interacts with baking powder or soda in a batter.  My only guess with this recipe is that it provides the latter.

The recipe yields a dark chocolate muffin which I’m certain on its own is wonderful, but in this instance is jazzed up by the middle pocket of cheesecake, studded with bits of white chocolate.  I wasn’t a fan of the white chocolate inclusion and feel that, in all honesty, it can be left out.  It may have just been the quality of the white chocolate I used (which was actually Ghirardelli white chocolate chips), but I found that it actually caramelized a bit during the baking process.  While ‘caramelized white chocolate’ is a bit of a new rage in baking these days, I’m noIMG_3552t sure it produces an attractive result with these muffins.  The cheesecake filling on its own would have done quite nicely.

As for the chocolate muffin, it wasn’t quite as decadent as I anticipated.  I felt it was lacking something and, despite 2 teaspoons of salt, was a touch bland.  I really can’t put my finger on why these didn’t ‘wow’ me all that much.  Perhaps it needs a touch of vanilla extract; maybe a teaspoon.  They also were a bit dry and could have possibly benefitted from a little more oil to keep them moist.  Then again, I suspect I over-baked these, as the cheesecake center was also strangely lacking in moisture and unattractive (see photo above), so take care not to bake these too long.  Would I make them again?  Quite possibly, but they aren’t a showstopper by any means.  I suppose I was expecting these to rise above the ‘humble’ expectations one would associate with muffins, and they really didn’t all that much.  That being said, they are fantastic with a good cup of coffee.

One additional note: if you’re a bit skeptical about baking anything straight in a muffin tin, sans liners or baking papers, follow your gut with these muffins and use liners, to be safe.  I followed the recipe and baked my muffins right in the tins with a good coating of canola IMG_3544spray.  I was able to coax my muffins out of the muffin tins by jerking and shaking the pan while they were still a bit warm (after the 15 minute muffin tin cool-down stipulated in the recipe).  It was a bit humorous to do so and have them ‘pop’ out of the tins gradually, one at a time, but I found that there were still several I needed to pry out with a metal icing spatula.  Unfortunately, there were also a couple that were unmitigated, stuck-in-the-cup messes I prodded out with my fingers.  If I were to make these again, I might use some nice foil or pretty parchment liners.  I also yielded about 2 dozen in standard muffin pans, rather than the 1 dozen yield noted in the recipe.  I even had some extra cheesecake filling remaining.

If you feel ready to take a slight break in your exercise and diet routine to splurge on one of these muffins, I suggest you try these out and head on over to Baked Sunday Mornings and whip up a batch:

Chocolate Cheesecake Muffins

IMG_3553Don’t forget that you will need to toss out your calorie counter.  Only temporarily… as you devour one… okay, maybe two of these treats.

Next week, Baked Sunday Mornings tackles a tempting tunnel of fudge cake from Baked Elements.  Given that the fudge is swirled with toasted, chopped hazelnuts, I may need to beg off making this one, as you know I am not a huge fan of nuts (with the exception of almonds or pecans).  I’m wondering if a swap-out of hazelnuts for almonds might be acceptable?  It’s something to consider.

Believe it or not, the Baked Sunday Mornings crew has nearly completed Baked Elements!  We are all very excited for the release of Baked Occasions in October.  While I personally have managed to work along with the gang through a majority of Baked Elements, here are the recipes I skipped – either due to dislike of the recipe, or just because I needed to take a hiatus for a bit.  If any of these recipes sound tempting to you, please visit Baked Sunday Mornings and read up on how my fellow, talented bloggers fared with them. I’ve set up the links for you.  Simply click on the name to view the recipe – “In the Oven” – and check out the other bakers’ results via the “Leave Your Links” or “Round-up” pages.

Crunchy Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Oopsy Daisy Cake

Lime Angel Food Cake with Lime Glaze

(I did, in fact, make this, but did not blog about it; it was a complete flop for me!)

Sunrise Key Lime Tarts

Easy Candy Bar Tart

Turtle Thumbprint Cookies

Bourbon, Vanilla, and Chocolate Milk Shakes

Malted Vanilla Milk Shakes

Milk Chocolate Malt Semifreddo with Chocolate Syrup

Malted Madeleines

Cinnamon Chocolate Souffles

Cheddar Corn Souffle

Poppy Seed Pound Cake with Brown Butter Glaze

Lemon and Black Pepper Quiche

Lemon Pecorino Icebox Cookies

Bananas Cake

Banana Mousse Parfait

Banana Whoopie Pies

Banana Caramel Pudding with Meringue Topping

Banana in a Blanket

…and I did make, but did not blog about:

Classic Carrot Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Here are some of my carrot cake photos:

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In this same vein, I do have a final, somewhat sad note to make…

Many of you may have noticed what I have called a ‘catastrophic’ rise in butter prices recently.  As butter is basically an essential bedrock of most baking, I unfortunately may need to cut back on my baking activity for a while – at least until the prices are somewhat reasonable for me to afford again.

This does come at an interesting time, however, as – with the impending release of Baked Occasions – I am considering no longer doing Baked Sunday Mornings.  Honestly, the weekly baking schedule is too much, time and expense-wise.  I have enjoyed blogging and posting with this fabulous group of folks, but do not feel it is feasible that I continue.  Rest assured, when they are scheduled, I will be sure to post blogs and photos for the recipes I tested for the book, and I will also return from time to time when a recipe really piques my interest, but I’m not sure I can bake my way through the entire book with the group.  With my full-time 9 to 5 job plus play rehearsals, finding the time to whip up a recipe, write about it, take photos, edit, and post the blog has become a bit too much to squeeze in.  If you subscribe to my blog, please stay tuned for many future wonderful things in store, as I don’t intend to completely go away. I just may not be here as often as I would like.

Thank you to all of you for your understanding.  I feel so fortunate and lucky to have so many fans of Neufangled Desserts!  Happy baking!

One tough (sweet) cookie: from candy dish to cookie jar

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BSMbanner_baked-150Last week, I was absolutely thrilled to finally dive into a recipe for Baked Sunday Mornings which immediately caught my eye when I received Baked Elements – the Chocolate Chunk-Pumpkin Bread Pudding.  It was scrumptious, and lived up to all my expectations and then some.   This week, we tackle a recipe that I was a little less than enthused with when I saw the recipe and photo in the book: Candy Bar Cookies.

Apparently, Renato from Baked was inspired by European treats to create the recipe for these cookies, which feature a small candy bar – or piece of candy – IMG_3518completely encased in cookie dough, baked, then capped off with a finishing coat of melted chocolate.  While this is an intriguing concept and I admire his fortitude to recreate it, I personally subscribe to a train of thought that if you want your candy or your cookie, why go to all of the trouble of putting them together to eat them?  Why not just eat the candy bar, and avoid all of the steps to put these cookies together?  Obviously, I’m a big proponent of instant gratification when it comes to chocolate!

It is a slightly intensive recipe.  First, you put together a cookie dough I found quite troublesome, consisting of, basically: flour, sugar, salt, dark cocoa, butter, and an egg yolk.  No vanilla, no leavening agents of any kind.  Once mixed together in a mixing bowl, Baked mentions that the dough will have a sandy texture, which indeed, it does.  To gather the dough into a ball and wrap it up as a disk for a quick chill, I needed to dump it all out onto a counter, push it together with my palms, and knead it pretty brutally – the heat from my hands transferring to the butter and melting it a bit more in the dough – to get the dough pieces to bind and adhere together.  I did follow the recipe and chilled the dough for over an hour – a point which, in hindsight, I realized was not necessary.  The dough was perfectly fine to roll out immediately after kneading it together. 

Once the dough is rolled out, I used a 2-inch round cookie cutter to cut out circles of dough, which is then wrapped around individual pieces of fun-sized candy bar.  (Side note: I’ve always felt “fun-size” was a terrible misnomer for those little candy bars you buy at Halloween – isn’t a larger candy bar more “fun” than a smaller one? Ha! Plus, they do seem to shrink more and more as years go by!).  I went for the suggested Mounds candy bars, cut in half, and also Reese’s mini peanut butter cups, which I did not cut; splitting the dough in half among the two candies.  I rolled the balls of dough and candy gently between my hands, put them on a baking sheet, and baked them off.  The cookies came out a rather unattractive pale brown, but never fear – the finishing touch, once cooled, was to dip the cookies in a luscious coating of melted chocolate. 

IMG_3512Baked suggests the pretty effect of double-dipping the chocolate, first in white chocolate, then dark.  It’s difficult for me to find good white chocolate here in Milwaukee outside of baking chips containing emulsifiers, so I skipped this and just coated mine in dark chocolate (the cookies with Mounds in them) and milk chocolate (peanut butter cups).  Plus, I’m going to be honest – by this point inIMG_3511 the process, I was bored already with putting these cookies together.  I wasn’t going to get more fussy with the decoration. To designate which cookies were which, I sprinkled the tops of the Mounds cookies with a bit of toasted coconut, and the peanut butter cup cookies with white and dark sprinkles.IMG_3508

The cookies turned out better than I imagined, looking like little truffles bathed in a smooth coating of chocolate.  They would look pretty displayed in a bowl or gift box, perhaps nestled among some mini paper cupcake liners.  I was disappointed when I bit into them, although the taste result was something I could have predicted from the get-go.  They are overly sweet; almost so much so that my mouth hurt eating them.  I cannot imagine how much sweeter these would be coated with both white and dark chocolate.  These might be favorites with children, or an adult with a massive sweet tooth.  I have always considered myself one of these, but not so much here. I know for certain I did not mess up my sugar measurement in the cookie dough; these are just all around sweet because of the cookie and candy combination.

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All due respect to our Baked friends, I think these are a pass for me in future baking.  As I anticipated, these were just not exactly my kind of cookie.  While “fun” in some respects (“fun” being the word Jake uttered when he first tried them), I think I’ll just stick to eating my candy bars and/or chocolate on their own, no cookie required!

You can find the recipe at:

Candy Bar Cookies

…and see if these sweet gems were hits or misses with my fellow Baked Sunday Mornings bakers.  I’ve observed that several times, without any intention on my part, I seem to be the contrary male among the group (if not the only male baker, at this point!), so I have a feeling the other bakers will greatly enjoy this one!

Previews for Baked’s new book, Baked Occasions, are steadily leaking out to the public via Facebook and Baked’s homepage, and it’s a beauty of a book.  In case you’re wondering why my blog is coming out with such ferocious weekly frequency, our anticipation of this book is exactly why.  We’ve upped our Baked Sunday Mornings baking schedule to wrap up Baked Elements.  I can’t wait to tell you the recipes I was fortunate to test.  For now, however, in respect to Baked and the publishers, mum’s the word!  Until next week, my friends…

Pumpkin All Year-Round

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BSMbanner_baked-150I’m not one of those people who relegates pumpkin solely to the autumn season.  I typically have about 3 cans at a time of pumpkin puree stashed away in my cupboard.  If we’re going to keep it strictly fall-themed, I look at it this way:  when July comes around, I am already rooting for crisp air, color-changing leaves, sweaters and jeans… and chances are pretty good I am pining for pumpkin too.  Intense sun, begone.  Bring on fall.

Before I wax even further poetic on a squash, I better jump right in with this week’s assigned recipe.  With the dawn of September, Baked Sunday Mornings is beginning to wrap up the pumpkin-themed chapter in Baked Elements, and what better way to do that than making an absolutely scrumptious Chocolate-Chunk Pumpkin Bread Pudding.

IMG_3488When I first received this book, I’m fairly certain my jaw dropped when I fell upon the page with this recipe.  I mean – think of it: a homely, spiced bread pudding made with a delectable chocolate-studded pumpkin bread?  Sign me up, please.  Why did it take me so long to make this?

Your first try with making this may feel a little labor-intensive, but the results are well worth it, trust me. You could probably start out by using regular day-old bread for this pudding, but why?  Baked suggests making your own pumpkin bread as the base for this pudding – and with their easy chocolate-chunk pumpkin bread recipe, you’ll want to take them up on the suggestion.  You don’t even need to break out the mixer for this bread (or the custard for the pudding, come to think of it); it’s all whisked and whipped up in bowls, so just go for it.  Using homemade pumpkin bread deepens the flavor of this dessert – and overall, it just makes perfect sense.

Think chocolate and pumpkin sounds like a strange combination?  Once you try it, you’ll be hooked.  The warm flavor of the pumpkin matched with the earthy chocolate are a match made in heaven.  I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips in this pumpkin bread.  A good-quality, chopped up bar of chocolate would be heavenly, but I didn’t want to deal with the fuss of chopped chocolate flecks all over my counter.  I find the Ghirardelli chips to always be reliable, with a pleasantly smooth punch of good bittersweet chocolate flavor.  They also have a disk-like size to them that is larger than an average chocolate chip, so they substitute well for the chocolate chunks called for.

Once your bread is fully baked, cut it up into cubes, spread the cubes out on a sheet pan, and toast them for a bit – tossing them occasionally with a spatula for even toasting.  When making bread pudding, it is essential for the bread cubes to be somewhat dry, so they soak up all of that luxuriant custard.  I actually toasted my pumpkin bread cubes for a touch longer than the recipe advises, as the bread is quite soft and moist, particularly with the inclusion of the chocolate, which stays all soft, gooey, and melty in the warmed bread.  Let the toasted bread cubes warm for a bit while you make the custard.

The custard consists of 2 eggs and 4 egg yolks, which are the principal thickening agents of the pudding, whisked together with dark brown sugar, half and half, more pumpkin (stock up on a couple cans before making this recipe; or use your own homemade puree), melted butter, vanilla, and a wonderful mix of fall spices.  As the ingredient list notes, it helps to have your half and half and eggs at room temperature so that when you whisk in the melted butter, it doesn’t solidify.  As for the spices, I always like to recommend Penzey’s Vietnamese cinnamon, which provides a higher ‘heat’ than typical Cassia cinnamon.  I was also intrigued by the touch of cayenne pepper included in the spice mixture.  Unfortunately, I was out of cayenne, but I dumped what little bit I had into the custard.  As a companion to the cinnamon, I’m sure it provides a nice, subtle bit of heat to the flavor of the pumpkin pudding.  A good majority of the bread cubes are then soaked in the custard for about a half hour; a cup or so of remaining cubes is tossed with some extra melted butter for a good crunchy texture on the top.

IMG_3499I toyed with the idea of baking the bread puddings in individual ramekins or muffin tins, but decided to stick with baking the pudding off in a glass 9″ x 13″ buttered baking dish this time around. I like the rustic look of a square-cut piece of bread pudding.  When you pour the custard and soaked bread cubes into your baking pan, don’t panic if it seems like a lot of custard; the beautiful alchemy that occurs when a bread pudding bakes off in the oven is that the bread cubes almost expand and absorb the custard even more.  The creaminess of the custard and crumb of the bread meld into an irresistibly silky texture.

I baked the pudding for about 50-55 minutes.  When I removed it from the oven, I found that I did need to sponge off a bit of grease from the buttered bread cubes, which had puddled on the surface, but that’s really a minor gripe that is easily taken care of.  Let the bread pudding cool for about a half hour, then dust the entire pudding with confectioners’ sugar, slice it up into squares and serve.  I drizzled each serving with Baked’s standard caramel sauce (slightly warmed to drizzle easily), and this was a perfect, fitting complement; if you prefer a dollop of whipped cream, I’m sure that would work just as nicely.

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Honestly – one bite, and I discovered that this may just be my favorite recipe in Baked Elements.  I’m relieved it lived up to my high expectations!  Fresh from the oven, this is a delightful dessert for a chilly fall or winter’s night, and it makes a good amount, so it’s perfect for a dinner party or gathering with friends.  It may even be a good substitute for that traditional pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.  As Matt mentions in the recipe preface, you might be tempted to warm up a slice for yourself for breakfast with a cup of black coffee.  That’s exactly what I did as I sat down to write up this blog.  I simply cannot rave enough about this dessert.  It’s just amazingly good.  You’ll have to try it for yourself to see what I mean.

IMG_3501To do so, follow this link:

Chocolate-Chunk Pumpkin Bread Pudding

And be sure to visit the blogs of my fellow Baked Sunday Morning bakers, to see how they fared with their bread puddings.  If this recipe doesn’t reinforce my firm belief that pumpkin is an ingredient to be savored and treasured all year-round, I don’t know what would!

I also cannot contain my excitement that in almost a month, I will be attending Baked’s new store opening and book launch for Baked Occasions in TriBeCa!  I have been invited to this event as one of the recipe testers for this new book, and I am thrilled to meet up with some of my fellow BSM bakers, as well as Matt and Renato.  The countdown starts now!