Saturday, December 29, 2007

In search of red velvet perfection

Growing up in Pennsylvania in a Pennsylvania Dutch family I had never eaten or even seen, that I recall, Red Velvet cake. I'm sure it was out there, somewhere, but no where in my world. Then we moved to the South. Here in Lower Alabama Red Velvet cake is practically a staple food item. It shows up everywhere and is always greeted with delight. I remember the first time I tasted Red Velvet cake. I was about ten years old, and it was a discovery of pure delight! I loved everything about it. The cake was impressively tall, at least three layers, and moist with cream cheese icing full of pecans. And the color... vibrant Christmas red. I was instantly in love! My mother however, did not share these sentiments. We rarely, almost never, had any foods with food coloring in them, much less a cake made with a whole bottle of the stuff. Mom never made it for us, but I knew the cake would be a part of any gathering we went to, especially any church function. As an adult, I out grew of my love for the red confection and had never made the cake myself. I was recently asked to make cupcakes for a Christmas party. I wanted to make something festive and thought how cute red velvet cupcakes would be. Having never made the cake myself, I didn't have a tried and true recipe of my own. My back up plan is usually to call Mom. That was out in this case. So I searched my cookbooks and the internet. I first tried a recipe from the Joy of Cooking. It was pretty good, but not as moist as I would have liked. I thought this may be becuase I was using a cake recipe and need to use a recipe that stayed moister for cupcakes. On my second attempt, I almost made Paula Deen's recipe for but was a bit put off by the 1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil. I was hoping to find a recipe using butter. I came across this recipe on recipezaar. It used butter instead of oil, so I decided to give it a try. However, I gasped in horror at the 2 ounces of red food coloring. That's two whole bottle's of red dye...Yikes!!! So instead I used 2 TBL of food coloring. It seemed like plenty to me. The batter was very red. These cupcakes were pretty good as well but not as flavorful as I would have liked. Maybe all that food coloring is the key?!
The cream cheese frosting however, was great. I made it in the food processor. It's a super quick and really good recipe from The Joy of Cooking. It's great for decorating with although it does get a bit soft and needs to be put back in the fridge to set up again. I had fun decorating the cupcakes and used them for several parties I catered during the holidays.

But I'm still searching for that red velvet cake I remember from my youth. Next time I may give Paula Deen's recipe a try, after all she's the grande dame of Southern cooking.
Cream cheese frosting recipe
Food processor method:
8 ounces cold cream cheese
6 TBL unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups confectioner's sugar
Combine in food processor and pulse just until smooth and creamy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Southern Comfort

Here is my entry for the Click photo event. The subject for December is nuts. With pecans in abundance here, I decided to use them in my entry for the contest. These mini bourbon pecan pies are a real bite of southern comfort!
Go here for the recipe.
Check out all the other participants on Junglbundi. Wish me luck!!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yule Log

The DB'rs strike again! This time we've gotten into the Christmas spirit making a yule log. I was excited when I found out this was our challenge, because I've never made one before. I have however made other rolled sponge cake desserts, such as a pumpkin roll, a Thanksgiving staple. For this challenge we had to make a genoise cake filled with and iced with a butter cream. Then decorated with meringue or marzipan mushrooms. So here's mine! I filled and iced it with the coffee flavored buttercream. I spread layer of chocolate on the cake before filling it with the buttercream.

I really didn't have any problems with the recipe. My cake stuck a little to the parchment paper and cracked a bit on the last roll, but I was able to cover it with the buttercream. The buttercream was great! So rich and decorating with it was easy. I made the cake on Friday and served it for my mother's birthday on Sunday. It was a beautiful birthday cake although my nephew, five, wanted to know why grammy wanted a log cake for her birthday!
This was a really fun Christmas challenge. Be sure to check out all the other Daring Baker's logs!

Yule Log(from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert)Daring Bakers Challenge #14: December 2007Hosts: Daring Baker Founders Ivonne (Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lisa (La Mia Cucina)Posting Date: Saturday December 22, 2007 or Sunday December 23, 2007 (Note: To accommodate the fact that some of you want to serve this for Christmas, for the first time we're allowing you to choose your posting date. You can post on the Saturday or the Sunday.)
Recipe Quantity: Serves 12
Recipes:Plain Genoise:3 large eggs3 large egg yolkspinch of salt¾ cup of sugar½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)¼ cup cornstarchone (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.Coffee Buttercream:4 large egg whites1 cup sugar24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened2 tablespoons instant espresso powder2 tablespoons rum or brandy1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.Meringue Mushrooms:3 large egg whites, at room temperature¼ teaspoon cream of tartar½ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugarUnsweetened cocoa powder for dusting1.Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.2.Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ½ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¾ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¾ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ½ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.3.Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.Marzipan Mushrooms:8 ounces almond paste2 cups icing sugar3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrupCocoa powder1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.7.Smudge with cocoa powder.
Assembling the Yule Log:
1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.
2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.
3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.
4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).
5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.
6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.
7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.
8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.
9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.
10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.
11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Christmas cookie by any other name...

For many, me especially, memories and traditions of Christmas are tied to cookies. Which cookie is as diverse as the people themselves. Growing up always had a variety of different cookies every year. Sugar cookies, thumbprint cookies, chocolate kiss cookies, and several others would be included in our Christmas tradition. For me however, Russian Tea Cakes were always my favorite. It was the only time of the year that we made them. They're rich, buttery with a little crunch from the nuts, and just the perfect bite size. They even look like Christmas, like little snowballs. Which is another one of the several names this cookie goes by. They're also known as Mexican wedding cakes, snowdrops, southern pecan butterball, Italian nut cookie and I think there are a few more out there. It seems almost every culture has a version of this melt in your mouth shortbread nut cookie. Historically, this cookie has been a reserved for celebrations;weddings, christenings, and for many including my family, Christmas.
This is a simple cookie to make, with only a few ingredients. Because there are so few ingredients in the cookie, using high quality butter and vanilla extract are the secret to making this cookie great. My favorite part of making this cookie is rolling them in the powdered sugar after they come out of the oven. When you drop them into the sugar is tricky part. Too soon and the sugar melts and you burn your fingertips, too late the cookie cools the sugar doesn't stick well. These are all part of my memories of making this Christmas cookie. Oh and you can't eat just one. They're just begging to be popped into your mouth.

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts ( I always use pecans, but you can use almost any nut you have on hand.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar

1. Heat oven to 400ºF.
2. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.
3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.
5. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again

This is my entry for the Eat Christmas Cookies event hosted by Food Blogga. Drop by and check out all the other great cookies from around the world!!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Drop in and Decorate

I love making Christmas cookies. I usually make several different kinds over the Christmas season and end up eating way too many and giving them away to family and friends. Which I'm sure is greatly appreciated, but this year I came across the Drop in and Decorate cookies for donation, started by Nine Cooks. King Arthur Flour joined in and made up a kit you can use with everything needed to throw your own party. What a great idea! Bake cookies have your friends come by and decorate them, and then donate the cookies to charity! Not only is it a really fun excuse to have a party but you get to do something nice for others as well.

My next door neighbor works for a Senior Center. She was thrilled with the idea and took all the finished cookies to distrubute among the residents at the facility.
I invited everyone to drop in on Sunday from 2-5 p.m. What a party we had! At first some people were a little intimidated by the pastry bags filled with Royal icing. However, once they gave it a try, they were ready to decorate everything in sight!

We decorated dozens of sugar cookies and put them into cellophane bags tied with ribbons. They were adorable when finished and it was a wonderful feeling knowing the smile they'd bring to someone else this holiday season.

I decided to have the party a little too late to order the King Arthur kit, but Nine Cooks has all the recipes and ideas on their site. The cookie recipe is very tasty and rolls out easily. I also made a batch of sugar cookies from another recipe and although very tasty it was MUCH more difficult to roll and cut out.
So invite your friends and family to come over and have your own Drop in and Decorate party. It will fun stress-free party that will bring a little Christmas joy to others!

We had a couple artistic decorators!
What's for lunch honey? is hosting this month's Monthly Mingle, so drop by and check out all the other Drop in and Decorate parties going on!

Friday, December 7, 2007


Peabody has moved into a new home recently, and invited me to her virtual housewarming party. Well she's extended the invite to anyone interested in coming, but I still feel special! So what to take... Peabody is the Queen of Confections, so I thought I'd bring a savory dish. I noticed from her latest post that there was snow on the ground at her house. I decided she needed a warm comfort dish. So I'm bringing Risotto with green peas. Enjoy! Congratulations on your new house, Peabody. I hope you have a wonderful party with lots of great food:) !!
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Saute onions in oil and butter in large heavy bottom pot for 3 minutes. Add rice, stirring for about 2 minutes. Stir in wine until absorbed. Add 1 cup of broth. Continue cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed. Gradually stir in remaining broth1 cup at a time, cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup. In the last five minutes of cooking I stirred in 1/2 cup of frozen baby peas. Remove from heat. I like to add a couple tablespoons of butter at this point. I also add in about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cooking Interlude

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but the apron has made a stunning return to fashion! For decades now the apron has been scorned by many as a symbol of the repressed woman, doomed to a life of drudgery in the kitchen. My how things have changed! Just check out Once Upon a Tart's blog. She had everyone pulling out the the stops in her Brownie Babe competition to win one of her adorable aprons. Nowadays the apron has become less about utility and more about fashion and fun. So in that vein, and because I've seen so many cute aprons on the web lately, I decided to give apron making a try. I wanted mine to be completely fun, not at all practical, and very Christmasy. I haven't sewn anything in quite a while, but luckily my younger sister has and she's also made several aprons. We had a design in mind but couldn't find a pattern that was exactly what we wanted. We ended up modifying a pattern she had that had the basic elements of what we needed. I think it came out so cute and have already had someone ask to buy one! Woohoo!

So, it's back to cooking which is even more fun in my cute apron!

Check out the rickrack, which has made quite a return to fashion as well. I guess all things old are new again, but with a modern twist!