Monday, July 12, 2010

Organic, All-Natural, Raspberry Jam

In honor of my Grandpa and love for his delicious raspberry jam that he made every summer I can remember, I made my first batch this weekend. My Grandpa's jam was definitely the best ever. Super sweet and fruity and absolutely incredible on an english muffin (with butter). My favorite way to eat it. I recall him liking it on shredded wheat with cream cheese or something very odd, and very old person-ish. I wanted to do things a little different though. Even though he for many years picked his own raspberries, I can't say for sure they were organic (i.e. not sprayed with pesticides). Although, they may have been because every time he dragged took me berry picking it seemed way out in the middle of no where and seemed like a family owned farm. Who can say though. Also, I'm not really sure why he took me other than for the company because I had about 5 minutes of actual berry picking in me. The rest of the time was spent half under the raspberry vines trying to avoid the hot July/August sun and probably saying "Grandpa, are you done yet? It's so hot. Let's go home." And "I want some jam already." Being difficult and lazy at any rate. I've never done too well in the sun.

So, like I was saying, I wanted to do things differently. I wanted this jam to be organic. Use naturally-derived pectin. And use organic cane sugar and less of it. I ended up using Pomona's Universal Pectin (from citrus peel) at my mom's suggestion and the recipe for freezer jam that came with it. This pectin is nice for those of you who either like less sugar or are trying to restrain yourselves and eat less of it (I currently am). I probably eat my body weight in sugar weekly. This pectin is activated by calcium and not sugar so you can use as little as you like. I ended up doubling the sugar anyways because I find cane sugar to be much less sweeter and I figure if I want this to taste anything like my grandpa's it's got to have more than 2 cups of sugar per batch. His probably had that amount in a single pint. The recipe is quite easy and the jam turned out well. Not as good as my grandpa's and not nearly as sweet, but still, sweet enough. I'm not sure if it jelled as much as his even though I added a good deal of pectin/calcium. That remains to be seen though since it's been refrigerating for awhile now.

Collin and I hand picked the raspberries from an organic farm in Monroe. Probably half of them were ripe but the other half could have used more time on the vine. Since the summer has been so late here in the northwest I think people picked all the berries too early and any hopes of getting ripe ones later when they are ready probably is a lost cause. If I make it again, which I'm planning on doing since I only picked enough to make 5 pints, I may end up buying them or picking at another farm. I also really want to make blackberry jam too. My other favorite.

So here's to you Grandpa. My jam isn't as good as yours but I have a feeling you would like it anyway.

Also, Family, this is going to be your Christmas present so I hope you like it!

Photos and Berry Picking Assistance by Collin Monda

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Crème Brulée

I know what you're thinking. Crème Brulée? Really? Like I'm ever going to make that. Way too hard.

If that's not what your thinking, then good, because that's what I thought when I first set about making these. I thought this is going to be hard, but I can do it. As it turns out, it's one of the easiest things to make. Really.

Here's what you do:
Adapted from Mark Bittman-New York Times
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Boil enough water to put in a baking dish that covers your ramekins half way.
3. In a saucepan, heat heavy cream and vanilla extract to a simmer
4. Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until light in color.
5. Take about a quarter of the cream mixture and pour into the bowl while stirring with a whisk. Once the eggs have tempered, pour it all back into the saucepan and keep stirring until combined.
6. Divide mixture into six small ramekins. Put them into a baking dish and place in oven.
7. Pour the hot water you prepared earlier into the baking dish until it is halfway up the ramekins. Easier to do this step when you have the filled ramekins already in the baking sheet while it is in the oven.
8. Bake for 30 minutes or until the center of the custard is wobbly like jello and the edges are firm.
9. Carefully remove each ramekin from baking dish and let cool. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
10. When ready to eat, place about of teaspoon of sugar on top of custard and move the ramekin around to get an even layer.
11. Torch sugar until it browns. Let it sit for about a minute to cool and harden. 

Pretty easy right? Surprised? The hardest part is probably acquiring a little blow torch, which really isn't that hard at all. You can find them at any kitchen supply store and sometimes even at the grocery store. I got mine at World Market for $19.99. For a person who normally has severe buyer's remorse, I've never looked back on buying this item. So handy and so fun!

Photos by Collin Monda

Obligatory Fourth of July Inspired Cupcakes

As I'm sure many of you have guessed, or know first hand, I am not really the type of person to make cutesy things or themed things or anything that requires much craftiness. I applaud those that encompass these attributes but I'm just not like that. Putting a blueberry on a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting is about as far as I'm willing to go with an Independence Day theme. It's not so much laziness, or uncreativity as it is stubbornness and intolerance.

 For the 4th of July, Collin and his family, joined me, and my family down at my family's beach house in Cannon Beach Oregon. I felt immediately compelled to bake something tasty and something, ok with a bit of a reference to the 4th. But not too much. Having just slam dunked the red velvets 200 times over for the wedding last weekend and not being too sick of making them, I made one more batch and frosted them as normal with the cream cheese frosting. And to make it EXTRA festive, I plunked a cute little blueberry on them. My cleverness knows no bounds. They turned out pretty good though I think and even though they are simple and really not cleaver at all, I like them better that way. Simpleness is good. What did you expect? A perfectly hand-piped image of the american flag blowing in the breeze with the cream cheese frosting poking through making the stars and stripes? No way. I could suggest a blog or two where you would find something like that though.....

In all seriousness, if you've never made or had a red velvet, which is shocking to me (the eating part), please please make some or buy some and enjoy it. It really is fantastic.

Oh and I piped the frosting in a slightly different way this time. I had an epiphany while watching an add for a new cupcake show on TV (that's right....a show about cupcakes. Nice). There was a split second shot of them piping on frosting and I realized I need to start using a much bitter tip. A big round tip. I normally don't use a tip at all, just the screw piece at the end and didn't even realize I should use a bigger bag and a bigger tip. So I switched over and and am quite pleased with the results. 

I'm posting a ton of photos mainly because Collin did an extra beautiful job on these. Amazing.

Photos by Collin Monda

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wedding Cupcakes

For Collin's Uncle Steve and new Aunt Lacey I was asked to bake a couple different kinds of cupcakes and some brownies. After doing a taste test of a few, we decided on the always popular Red Velvet Cupcakes as well as the Devil's Food Cake Cupcakes with Chocolate Butter Cream. I gathered my materials last week which included the modest 7 POUNDS OF BUTTER and oh let's see 10 POUNDS of Powdered Sugar, 30 eggs, among other astonishing quantities. I'm not one to flinch at lots of butter but 7 pounds is enough to make me feel a little light headed. I took the day off on Friday and baked for a good 10 hours. For some reason I thought it would take me much less time but I'm not sure why. It was a baking marathon that is for sure. I never really stopped. There was little to no waiting because every time I put a batch in to the oven, I would start the next one. It was a low intensity endurance race. Never was I flustered or out of breath, but by the end of the day I felt like I really had run a marathon. Exhausted was an understatement but it was fun to see what it would be like to actually bake for a living and not just doing it once or twice a week for a couple hours each. This was a test and I think I passed pretty well.

200 cupcakes. 100 of the Red Velvet and 100 of the Chocolate. 3 pans of Peanut Butter Brownies.

When we arrived in Wenatchee for the wedding I got set up and started frosting. This might have been more challenging than the actual baking of the cupcakes. In my previous post, I mentioned how I'm not a good waiter. Patience is not one of my virtues....At any rate, the frostings were carefully chilled the whole way over so they didn't spoil. Cream cheese frosting frightens me. But they took awhile to come back to room temp even in 85 degree weather! I tried my best to pipe it on but it took so much muscle power that my arms were shaking. But still I tried. I tried to warm it up with my hands and that didn't really work. You just have to let it do it's thing and wait. Lesson learned. You can't force cream cheese to warm up. You just have to let it. Annoying. The chocolate was slightly more complying but that's only because it waited for the cream cheese to go first. After struggling for a bit with the frostings, I finally got them all done and topped with a bit of decoration (coconut for the red velvet and shaved chocolate for the....chocolate).

In the end they turned out pretty good if I say so myself. And I think everyone liked them so it was a success.

If was a gorgeous wedding and I'm so happy to have been apart of it!

Congrats to Steve and Lacey!

Photos by Collin Monda

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Long Overdue Devils Food Cake (the best chocolate cake you'll ever have)

I can't tell you how many times I've made this cake. It has to be in the upper 20s by now. I could probably make it with my eyes closed. It's not a difficult recipe but requires a few extra steps than your normal, simple cake, but believe me, it is worth it. I know I say on here that "such and such is the best thing I've ever made" or "this is the tastiest thing ever" etc. etc. What can I say? I'm an extreme person. I either love it or I hate it. And in most cases, if something exceeds my expectations, it's really GOOD. I have high standards for the things I bake and will honestly tell you if something is not that good or if it's ok and there are ways to improve it. This cake, however wonderful, was no exception. It still needed it's improvements. And when I say improvements, I mean, don't make shortcuts like I do, just follow the recipe. I swear I made this 6 times before I was like, OK FINE, the recipe is the best way to do it!! I didn't really ever think of this until the last time. Hmmmm. What it comes down to is that I normally resent it when recipes call for cake flour. It just annoys me. Why do I need to buy special flour when it turns out the same in the end anyway? Why do I need to spend $4 on 32oz of flour? Not going to happen. 

Devil's Food Cake is a wily beast and doesn't hold to such conventions. 

So I've held out this long on the cake flour and after testing time after time my preferred unbleached flour and having the devils food cake cave in on my every time, I did a bit a reaserch. The first thing I discovered was that unbleached flour actually can not hold room temperature butter in suspension. I guess this makes a certain amount of sense? I didn't care to think about the science behind this too hard and took the internet's word for it. I tried it with bleached white flour. Nothing changed. They still caved in. I should say that all the other times I've made it, they did cave in a bit but the deliciousness of the cake made me never care that they did. It is so dense and so moist, who cares that there isn't a perfect dome on top? The taste was a siren song and I never cared to correct it's structural deformeties....

....Until I was asked to bake them for a wedding. 

I couldn't allow them to look the way they did at someone's WEDDING even if they tasted amazing. It would be humiliating and shameful. So I set down the path of perfecting these perfect tasting cakes and after altering a half a dozen variables I buckled and bought cake flour, as well as actually waiting for the unsalted butter and the eggs to be room temperature. I'm a very impatient person. Very. So these things are hard for me. Waiting is not something I do well. I usually put butter out the night before to avoid the waiting and if for some reason I forget or I run out the next day I microwave it a bit. Shameful. The eggs I usually use cold since you can't really microwave them, that just sounds like trouble. Scrambled egg inside it's shell...But to keep with the real recipe I used room temperature ingredients (I had Collin hold the eggs to bring them up to I said, I'm not a good waiter). You also have to wait for the hot water/chocolate mixture to cool which is so difficult for me I usually put it in the freezer instead of the fridge. But as long as you don't leave it too long, that doesn't seem so wrong. 

So with the combination of cake flour and room temp eggs and butter, the cupcakes were a success! No caving in, perfect little flatish tops and the same wonderfully dense texture. I guess there's some science behind smooth, bleached, lifeless flour holding on to the soft butter for dear life and not allowing the cake to deflate. 

I can tell you that this really is the best chocolate cake I've ever had or made. I'm sure my lab would agree since it's the usual request for all birthdays. Nothing really compares to devils food cake. I've learned this the hard way after trying countless other chocolate cake recipes, they just aren't the same. Give it a try and see for yourself. 

To top of the cupcakes I just use chocolate buttercream. For a cake I use a simple ganache that has been refrigerated overnight. It turns into mouse-like frosting. Amazing. Ah those milk fats.....miracle workers. 

I've happily converted the amounts in to ounces/cups. Your welcome. 

Rose's Heavenly Devils Food Cake:
adapted from Rose's Heavenly Cakes
1 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup dutch processed cocoa
1 cup boiling water
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 oz cake flour
1 1/2 cups light brown Muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a medium heat-safe bowl combine the boiling water, the chocolate and the cocoa and mix until smooth. Place the bowl into the refrigerator/freezer to cool.

Butter and flour two, 9 inch cake pans and line with a piece of parchment or put cupcakes liners in your cupcake tin. 

In a bowl, mix together the egg yolks, eggs, vanilla and sour cream and set aside.

In your stand mixer using the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt for a minute on low speed. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the ingredients are crumbly. Scrape down the sides and add the egg mixture, beating for 90 seconds until light and well blended.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and add the cooled chocolate mixture while mixing on low speed. Once added raise the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds, until slightly fluffy.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and with a couple of strokes from a silicone spatula scrape down the sides and bottom to mix in any remaining chocolate and then pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 30 minutes until the cake springs back when lightly touched or a toothpicks comes out clean when inserted.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Slide a butterknife carefully around the sides of the cake to release and then carefully remove onto the rack to cool completely.

Frost with Chocolate Buttercream:
(enough for a cake, plenty for cupcakes, half this comes up just short for 24 cupcakes)

1 stick butter
3/4 cup cocoa powder 
~1/4 cup warm milk (or as much as needed)
1 tsp. vanilla. 
32 oz. powdered sugar (2 lbs)

Or frost with Chocolate Ganache: (Plan accordingly)

Dark Chocolate Ganache:

8oz dark chocolate (I like 60% Dark Chocolate Chips)
1 cup heavy cream

Bring the cream to a simmer and pour over the chocolate. Allow to sit for one minute. Whisk until smooth. Refrigerate overnight and allow to come back to room temperature before frosting the cakes.