Monday, September 28, 2009

Brownies and Recipes

So I remade the brownies from the AIDS walk for a party at Collin's sister and boyfriend's place for the Australian football championship and I have to say they were amazing. It probably was because they were fresh out of the oven but they were one of the best brownies I've had. Granted, I'm not a huge brownie fan, but nevertheless they were great. 

Also, I have had several "complaints" (haha I find this kind of amusing) that I haven't been adding the recipes to the blog. I will start doing this right away. I realize it's kind of the whole point of doing this blog but I felt in the beginning it was more about the process and the analysis of the types of desserts in general and less about the specifics of the recipe. But, the people have spoken and I must appease the few that actually do read this so here is a fresh start. 

My fav brownie recipe so far:

P.S. If you ever need a recipe for something sweet, check out this website. It has such great stuff. I feel a little guilty ransacking it all the time, but it is amazing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

AIDS Walk Bake Sale

I was asked to make a couple of things for the upcoming bake sale at Collin's sister's office (NBBJ)  for the AIDS walk in Seattle so I made some vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with a kind of mint colored buttercream (I wanted it to be more grayish blue) but it turned out mint....still looked pretty, but don't know how that happened (used blue food coloring). I also made some brownies with a semisweet chocolate ganache. I tasted the brownies and they were pretty good (really chewy and with frosting, my favorite kind). 

The vanilla cupcakes turned out really well (looks wise, I didn't taste) and puffed up nicely, but the chocolate however, seemed to condense rather than rise. They shrunk away from their paper liners and became small little cupcakes. Seemed fine but looked a little messy with the papers hanging off. The chocolate cupcakes called for a chocolate fudge frosting but I had so much vanilla buttercream that I decided to just frost them all with it and it looked rather pretty against the chocolate color. 

All of the recipes I really liked; the batters were thick and smooth, especially the vanilla. The brownies, like I said were really chewy and moist so I might have to make those again for myself. I usually am not a brownie person because they are more often than not hard and crispy. Not a fan. 

All in all, I'm glad I contributed. I work in an HIV research lab and should have participated in the walk to do my part but perhaps baking for a cause is good enough? I guess it's better than nothing! 

I was planning initially to make white buttercream frosting and sugar cookies and pipe on red ribbons and am glad I didn't. Way too kitsch. I figured people would probably spend more money on pretty cupcakes rather than something kitschy. Who knows though. Hopefully they make some money!

Photo by Collin Monda

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tarte Normande aux Pommes

So I recently signed up for a local, organic produce delivery system called Full Circle Farm ( It's fantastic-check it out!) and included in this week's bundle was four deliciously ripe pears (poires, you'll see why my tart has pommes later) which immediately inspired me to make a French tarte. Beautiful fruit are best displayed in a tart. The only problem was I have never made a tart of any kind, let alone pastry dough.....cakes are my thing, not pies....yet. 

Pastry dough, I quickly learned is a huge pain. Like all things in my life I jump right in and try it out. It comes from having little to no patience. Things went pretty well once I combined the ingredients but soon after that things began to crumble, much like my dough, pretty rapidly. Julia (Who else would I use for making a French tart) tells me that the dough should just stick together but not be sticky. Ok? So I added just enough cold water for the dough to bind but once I started to blend the fat by kneading it with the heel of my hand, the dough didn't stick together at all but just fell apart. I added more water and more water and still it never really was a cohesive mass. I think it went too far in the sticky realm, but what could be done? I refrigerated the dough and in a couple days went to finish my tart but the pears had gone bad and Collin had eaten a couple so I switched to apples......

I attempted to roll out my dough and somehow was surprised that it still wasn't sticking together even though I had done nothing to magically transform it and had to add yet more water. I was able to roll it out to about 8 inches in an oblong shape an decided to forgo my plan of using an 8in springform pan and used my oval Le Creuset caserole dish instead. Couldn't bear the frustration of rolling it out any longer. Like I said, pastry dough is not my thing. I don't even like to eat it so it is decidedly not my friend. 

I put it in the pan, attempted to make some decoration around the edge with a fork but some of it just crumbled off and some of it stayed with the fork marks. Whatever. I moved on. 

I decided to kind of combine Julia's Tarte Normande with her Tarte aux Pommes. I wanted the fruit to be on top so I used the basic tart part for that and I wanted it to have custard, but under the fruit, so I used the Normande part for that. It was a bit confusing but I managed it. I cooked the apples in their sugar and cinnamon (I evidently decreased the amount of apples called for and used the same amount of sugar....not a problem for me) seperately and cooked the custard in the partially baked shell and then layered the apples on top and baked for a bit longer. Covered it with powered sugar at then end. It turned out rather pretty and I was pleased.

However, the custard either cooked too long and became a bit thick or it soaked in completely to the crust because it was nearly impossible to distinguish crust from custard. The apples were delicious though, but Honeycrips always are (my favorite apples). The custard/crust was nice and vanilla-y because I added vanilla instead of apply brandy (didn't have it....who does?). It was tasty and pretty which I guess is all that matters in baking. At some point here I've got to learn how to make a decent pastry dough. Mom? Sasha? Anybody? Julia is far too confusing. 

Photo by Collin Monda

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Red Velvet Cake

This is probably my favorite cake. I always liked it but I have come to love it. It is the most rich, moist, and delicious cake I have ever made. It definitely lives up to the name "red velvet". The recipe I've been using, although not authentic or special in any way, is the Paul Deen recipe which was her grandmother's. I love it because it has a lot of EVERYTHING. Including butter, sugar, and red food coloring. I'm not sure if I should divulge to you exactly how much red food coloring it does contain, but lets just say that it isn't that incredibly rich, deep red color from just a few drops from the squeeze bottle. In fact, no measuring in drops or tablespoons is even necessary. This cake is unique in both taste and ingredients. Part of what makes it so good is that it contains a chemical rxn (well aside from the usual ingredients involved in the baking process....."cooking is chemistry" as my mom always says) involving baking soda and vinegar. This is the reaction.

NaHCO3 (aq) + CH3COOH (aq) ----> CO2 (g) + H2O (l) + CH3COONa (aq)

So CO2 is produced (the bubbles/foam) and you're left with a dilute solution of sodium acetate in water. The CO2 is what allows the cake to rise. It seems as though it causes it to rise only slightly (just enough) because overall the cake is quite dense and produces relatively thin layers (recipe calls for 3 layers). You could make two thicker layers. 

Here is the recipe:

I never get tired of making this cake. It is that good. Also, traditionally the cake calls for cream cheese frosting but I have been know to substitute it for buttercream (if I'm making it mostly for myself...). Just an extra something. Also, it says to mix in the coconut and pecans before you frost the cake but I sprinkle on the coconut after. It gives it more texture and just looks better than having the coconut mixed in and hidden. Also, I don't add pecans. I hate nuts in desserts but mainly I just think it takes away from it's texture and it's beauty. Leave the outside pure white and when you cut into it the inside is bright red. Very impressive. A good cake at anytime, but especially for the holidays!

Photos by Collin Monda

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Carrot Cake

For the first "official" cake of the cake club I was asked by several people to make a carrot cake. My least favorite cake except for maybe fruit cake. But, since I've never made it and never liked it I thought it would be a good chance to try my hand at it and hopefully like my own creation. This was not the case. Everyone else seemed to love it though!

The cake batter however was delicious (yes, I ALWAYS try it) and I felt hopeful that my opinion would change despite the large chunks of walnuts (I hate nuts in desserts) and mostly cream cheese, cream cheese frosting (not a favorite to say the least). It was fun to make though, especially piping the carrots on top, even though I completely winged that. The first couple were a little askew and I should probably have piped the leaves but didn't feel like washing the pastry bag twice. It's a complete hassle. 

I thought it was interesting though that the carrot cake came about during the Middle Ages because carrots, beets, and other "sweet" vegetables and fruits were used as a way to sweeten the cake when refined sugar supplies were low or too costly. Another fascinating anthropological fact is that carrots were first used and cultivated in the 7th century AD in Afghanistan and were purple instead of orange! Eating a cake with so much beta carotene justifies it enough for me. If I was to make this cake for myself, which I tried to suppress the desire to do this this time, I would have cut the walnuts way down so they were barely even chunks and used buttercream (my favorite!) instead of cream cheese frosting. I would probably still leave in the whole lemon's worth of zest though. It was a nice touch and added a bit of tartness to counter the sugar. If you like carrot cake this was a good one. If you don't, it probably doesn't matter if it was good or not. I still may never come around. Vegetables in cake? No thanks. 

Made Collin a couple cupcakes from the batter. They may have turned out better. Less chunks of walnuts. 

Photos by Collin Monda

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


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Thursday, September 3, 2009

German (American) Chocolate Cake

For my boyfriend's uncle's going away party (going to art school in New York) I made a German Chocolate Cake (his professed favorite...and one of mine too!). While looking for a good recipe, I did a little research and discovered that German Chocolate Cake isn't really German at all, but rather (Samuel) German, who developed the specific chocolate used in the recipe in 1852. I felt a little taken advantage of to say the least. All this time, thinking that the reason I liked that cake so much, must have been related to my heritage. It is sadly American down to the very last ingredient. Oh's still pretty great, even if the recipe is only as old as my Great Grandmother. I also found out that the sides are traditionally left unfrosted, which normally goes against everything I stand for, but in the hopes of giving this recipe a bit mor legitimacy I stuck with the aforementioned "tradition". 

The cake was relatively easy to make and included the always effective way of adding your dry ingredients alternately with your wet, in equal portions, always starting and ending with the dry. For some reason I just love this. So practical and so very specific. If this sounds too fussy for you, perhaps the resulting batter will change your mind. It's always perfectly smooth and evenly mixed. 

I baked the cake for about 5 minutes less than the recommended minimum time and it could've gone in for even a bit less. Wound up making three thinner layers so it didn't need as much bake time. 

Frosting was a cinch since the sides were left bare. All in all, not too bad to make and well worth the effort. Delicious. Even I almost couldn't handle the richness and chocolately-ness. It's an intense cake. Perhaps coffee or even milk would have been a better pairing than champagne? Hmmm, no. 

Photos by Collin Monda

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Cake Club

So I've decided to take the advice of a friend and start a blog about the things I bake, namely cakes (my favorite). I will be making a treat weekly for the recently founded: "cake club" at the request of my co-workers. I will be the one making the cakes and they will be the ones eating them (well I will be eating them too!). I figure, why not at least take a picture of all the sweets I make and perhaps say a thing or two about the difficulty, if it tastes good, and if I would change anything about the recipe. I have not quite moved on to mastering any recipes of my own, but I do usually change a thing or two when making cakes etc. For instance, I follow Julia Child's example and never skimp on the butter. In fact, I usually judge a recipe's worth by how much butter it calls for. If it contains less than a stick, depending on the type of desert, it usually isn't worth making. It just wont be good (sorry to be so cruel to the butter-poor recipes, but it's true). So no healthy food here, just delicious, sugar and butter rich deserts. Mostly cakes. We were made to want sugar and fat so why not give in to that wonderful evolutionary trait every now and again? If not weekly? Or daily....depending.