Archived entries for baking

Hurricane Party: White Velvet (lemon) Cake

It’s a little embarrassing, but it is undoubtedly true: we city mice get a little het up when Mother Nature decides to throw a fit. We forget, here in our concrete and glass eyries, that her wrath is mighty, indeed; and so, when she gets angry, we tend to freak out just a little, because we have NO IDEA what to do. And so, we improvise (once we stop wringing our hands). If you’re the MTA, that means you shut down. If you’re a normal human being, you lay in a supply of water and canned goods. If you are a ridiculous human being, you stock up on vodka and cigarettes. If you are DOUBLE ridiculous, you go out into the storm with a cake.

Guess which category I fell in.

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Well, what was I supposed to do? It was the first birthday of the world’s cutest baby. Like I could possibly let that go by unmarked? Pssh. No no. Little C was going to have birthday cake, no matter what Irene had to say about it! And so, I spent the beginning of my hurricane shepherding a pearlescent, violet-covered lemon cake down to south Brooklyn. I was the recipient of a surprising amount of commentary on the way from fans of my “hurricane cake” (Personal favorite: “Yeah, that’s right! We’re New Yorkers! Irene can’t take away our cake, am I right?”); never let it be said that Brooklyn doesn’t know how to appreciate baked goods.

The journey, however, was not the complicated part. The complicated part was digging up a recipe for lemon cake that would satisfy me. You may have gathered by now that I am…the slightest bit persnickety when it comes to cake. I want it dense. I want it moist. I don’t want any of this airy-fairy sponge cake bullshit. No no. I want cake with HEFT. However, there aren’t a lot of white cakes out there that fit the bill; as such, I’m sure you can imagine my elation when I stumbled across a recipe for white velvet cake(!). Given my well-documented obsession with red velvet cake, I could not help but take the discovery of this recipe as a sign from the heavens–and I am going to stick with that assessment.

Forget the cake; I'll nibble on the baby.

Forget the cake; I'll nibble on the baby.

You see, this cake was, in a word, BODACIOUS. Honestly. Rich, moist, flavorful, just-dense-enough…completely amenable to a little last minute citrus-related transmogrification… Without question, my new go-to white cake. With. Out. Question. Little C’s mama, Lady A, has remarked on more than one occasion that this cake has been haunting her dreams–it’s that good. Which it is. It really, really is.

Which I guess is the silver lining to an entire city being completely unprepared for a hurricane: fewer people out and about with whom to fight over the last slice!

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Love makes you do the wacky: Blueberry pie.

Looking at my Con Ed bill, it’s hard to believe that technically, we’re still at least a couple of weeks away from the real dog days of summer. It is hot here, the sort of heat that renders asparagus limp and rubber-soled shoes sticky to touch. It’s the kind of weather that complicates my relationship with my kitchen; I love it dearly, I do, but I can’t bear the thought of a single second in its sticky embrace.

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Usually, this doesn’t present much of a problem–after all, there are plenty of delightful no-cook meals out there–but it does offer up a heavy dose of irony: it’s the perfect time of year to make fruit pie (berries! peaches!), and I can barely stomach the thought of turning on my oven. Combine that with the…complicated relationship that pie and I have cultivated, and you’re looking at a whole world of missed opportunity. At least, until recently.

Turns out, there is nothing on this green earth that Dr. Boyfriend enjoys so much as blueberry pie. And there are few things I enjoy so much as perfecting dishes that I know people love. Also, winning. Duh. Combine these three characteristics, and one thing becomes clear: I would master fruit pie. Oh yes.

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In order to achieve this, there were two problems I needed to overcome: first, I needed to find an idiotproof crust recipe. Second, I had to figure out how to keep the filling from being too runny–typically, my fillings collapse under the weight of their own deliciousness. Not a pretty sight. As I so often do in these situations, I turned to the internet. And hoo boy, internet, did you deliver.

First, I found what must be an utterly idiotproof crust recipe. Unsurprisingly, it came from Cook’s Illustrated. Surprisingly, it kind of recast everything I know about crust. Example: the dough that I set to rest in the refrigerator was very moist–kind of tacky, actually. It meant I had to flour my rolling surface heavily–which I’d been warned against doing in the past–an absolutely necessary step that somehow left the crust still tender and flaky (rumor has it that overflouring one’s crust makes it tough).

Second, I discovered the secret to a non-gelatinous, non-runny pie filling: quick-cook tapioca. I can’t really offer any further commentary, other than to say that this crazy ingredient achieves what flour, arrowroot, and cornstarch have all failed to conquer: it makes the filling cohesive, coherent, and not the least bit icktastic. Amazing.

All in all, the result was beyond what I’d hoped–I have a new crust recipe, and a newfound confidence in the kitchen. Also, someone for whom I’ll cheerfully turn on my oven in July. If that’s not winning, I don’t know what is.

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More secret weapons than you can possibly imagine: Incredibly awesome chocolate chip cookies

A Scene*: We meet our heroes checking the weather for the day. The time is far too early. The day is not important.

Shiv: I’m not sure I understand what the weather is supposed to be doing; it’s going to be sunny, but raining at the same time? That icon is confusing.
Doctor Boyfriend: That’s not actually rain, it’s blood. It means that we should expect the apocalypse.
Shiv: For serious? But I don’t have any clean socks. I’m not ready.
Doctor Boyfriend: You can do laundry here. I will not send you back to New York unprepared for armageddon.
Shiv: It’s ok, I can wash my socks at home. I need to locate my flaming sword, anyway.
Doctor Boyfriend: Wait, you don’t know where that is? How do you lose a flaming sword?
Shiv: I mean, I *think* it’s under my bed. I’m pretty sure. Yeah, it’s got to be there.
Doctor Boyfriend: You know, if ever there were something you should keep track of…
Shiv: What, the end of the world is coming because I lost something in my apartment?  God is not only vengeful, but petty? Is that what we’re talking about?
Doctor Boyfriend: Well–
Shiv: Wait, no. No more military theology before coffee. Bigger question: am I going to need an umbrella?

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As there was no coffee to be had (I know, I can’t talk about it) we made these cookies instead; I’m hoping they’ll work as a peace offering if the sword is not where I think it is. And, frankly, I think they might–these cookies are (if I may say so myself) pretty flippin’ tasty. After years of trying, I think I have almost perfected the recipe–the cookies are dense and chewy, but not leaden. They’re buttery, but not greasy; sweet, but not too sweet. Of course (because I am so difficult to please), the recipe is probably going to remain a work in progress for the rest of eternity; where cookies are concerned, I am ever in pursuit of biggerbetterfastermore. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to mention them in the comments!

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*Content edited slightly for my brain’s inability to retain things verbatim.

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Blondies have more fun: Malted milk butterscotch blondies.

For all my dilettantish tendencies (see also: adventures in swordfighting/roller derby/gilding/laser etching/etc), I am in many ways a creature of habit. I am exceedingly fond of my ruts. Nowhere is this more evident than in my eating habits. You may not have realized this, but I am a seriously repetitive eater. It’s part of the reason I started blogging about recipes–coming up with new and fabulous things for y’all leaves me no choice but to branch out. If left to my own devices, I’d probably spend the rest of my life living on miso salmon, roasted brussels sprouts, and this totally wicked quinoa salad I put together last week (but that’s a different post)–delicious, but dull. It’s not that I’m not interested in new foods; I just take a weird comfort in eating the same thing.

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Which brings me to Sunday. Lady A and I had made a date for hanging out, baby snuggling, and baking. As I pondered what to make, my mind of course glided along the old standbys: black forest cookies, citrus pound cake…all the things I know and love. I came close to suggesting we make one of these, when a tiny voice in the back of my head called me out: “Wuss! Weenie,” it said. “What, are you afraid to try something different? Afraid to try something craaaaaaazy?

Well, much like Marty McFly, I don’t cotton well to being taunted. And so, in a fit of defiance (against my own brain, yes, I know), I decided to take a different tactic. After a brief consultation with my holy bible of baking, I decided to walk on the wild side of the street: I decided to make blondies. BUT NOT JUST ANY BLONDIES: malted milk butterscotch blondies.

Yeeeeeaaaahhh.

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And you know what? It was an adventure. The batter did not do what I expected it to (it was super thick–the spoon actually stood up in it. After I’d turned it out into the pan); it didn’t smell the way I’d anticipated; it looked different than I thought it might when it finished. But: the finished product was spectacular. I-could-barely-keep-my-hands-out-of-the-pan-spectacular (notable mainly because my sweet tooth is not a particularly demanding mistress). Rich and malty and butterscotchy, these things are a hit of sugary adrenaline straight to the brain.

It was a small step outside my comfort zone that really paid off. I recommend that you also take a small step outside yours–you may find yourself with a new favorite! So branch out. Try something new. Grab your best girlfriend and the cutest baby you know, and go to town.

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Just out of the ordinary: Aztec Chocolate Cupcakes.

If you’re on this site, you are probably of the same mind as I am, but I’m going to just go ahead and say it out loud: I love the Internet. It’s the ultimate playground for a misanthrope with an esoteric shopping list such as myself. Seriously. It’s where I get my news, my entertainment, my lessons in cookery, my clothing, everything. It’s also where I stumble across such useful articles as this.

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Fascinating!

I mean, before reading that, I had no idea that my intent was malicious when I brought in delicious baked goods to share with my colleagues. I thought I was just sharing something that I’d wanted to make; thank goodness I have the Daily Mail to tell me that secretly, what I want to do is distend the army of gorgeous women that I work with (and, in the interest of full disclosure, I work with some ridiculously beautiful women)! I feel so much more informed right now. So much more aware of who I am as a human. So full of evil glee. *ahem*

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Now that I have revealed my innermost evil to you all, let’s talk about the delights that have formed the most recent weapon in my campaign to infect my colleagues with delicious treats: Aztec Chocolate Cupcakes! Essentially, it’s the gourmet Hostess cupcake of my dreams: chocolate cupcake with cinnamon and chili, topped with a luscious cinnamon-chocolate glaze. It’s a flavor combination I’d been contemplating for some time, enamored as I am with Mexican hot chocolate and all things cinnamon, and this seemed like the perfect vehicle. I was not wrong. The cinnamon and chili took what was originally just a perfect chocolate cupcake, and made it something warm and magical; the cinnamon-infused glaze gave it an unctuous richness.

Now, if chocolate and chili is not your jam, I’d still like to ask you to check out this recipe–omit the spices, and you’ve got what I consider to be a perfect chocolate cupcake base, an ideal canvas for your chocolate flights of fancy. It’s moist, has a lovely, light crumb, and takes to experimenting with enthusiasm. I personally plan to try at least a few more riffs on it in the near future, though I’m not yet sure what form or flavor profile that will take.

I’ll probably end up asking The Internet.

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