Archive for the ‘Cake’ Category

Baking Challenge: Crunchy-Topped Cocoa Cake

September 15, 2011

This week’s recipe is one I’ve made a few times before, so the only challenge involved was timing its preparation and baking to work around the prep and baking of a chicken pie in order to have both done early enough that my dinner guest would be able to eat before midnight.  I’m much better at baking than cooking.  Generally when I shoot to have a meal done at 6, we end up eating at 8.  Nevertheless, I did get both the chicken pie and the cake done and fed my guest in a semi-timely manner.  This recipe comes from a little book my best friend got me called Hershey’s Cocoa Easy Baking.  It’s pretty straightforward, it always turns out moist,  and between the rich chocolate cake and the caramelized topping, it is sinfully delicious, so it’s one of my standard go-to recipes when I need a great dessert to come together quickly.

Crunchy-Topped Cocoa Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder (I once used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder in this by accident, and it was a happy discovery.  It made the cake even more awesome, and I’ve used it ever since.  I highly recommend trying it with that variation.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Broiled Topping (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour an 8-inch square pan.  Stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Add water, oil, vinegar and vanilla; beat with a spoon or whisk just until the batter is smooth and well blended.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  I’ve never been a big fan of the toothpick test; it’s not the most reliable.  I judge whether a cake is done as my mother taught me.  I tap the surface of the cake lightly.  If it springs back into place, it’s done.  If it sinks a bit, it needs longer.  Meanwhile, prepare Broiled Topping; spread on warm cake.  Set oven to broil; place pan about 4 inches from heat.  Broil 3 minutes or until top is bubbly and golden brown.  Remove from oven.  Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

Broiled Topping

Combine 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter or margarine, 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar, 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans are good), 1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes and 3 tablespoons light cream or evaporated milk in a small bowl until well blended.

Voila!

What are you still doing here?  Go bake this.  🙂  Bis bald!

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Baking Challenge: Coconut Cake

August 22, 2011

It’s two-for-one week here at The Gumball Machine.  I actually managed to bake twice.  I was motivated; I had a guest.  My uncle’s birthday is in two days, and since I won’t be with him then, we celebrated tonight.

I had a coconut cream cupcake from a “gourmet” bakery recently, and aside from tasting like coconut, it was remarkably similar to the plain white cupcakes I bake at home, only it cost more.  Since Uncle likes coconut too, I decided to play with flavoring his birthday cake to try and recreate it.  It was quite tasty, but I don’t recommend using it as a birthday cake if you’re going to have candles.  When Uncle blew them out, coconut flew everywhere!

Coconut Cake

1 white cake mix, plus what it says to add (usually oil, water & egg)
1 tsp butter extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, plus extra for top

Mix cake as directed on the package, except add coconut extract and butter extract before beating the batter.  I learned from a professional baker (via a mutual acquaintance) that when using coconut flavoring, adding an equal amount of butter extract brings out the coconut flavor better, so I took her advice.

When the batter is beaten, fold in the coconut.  Bake according to box directions, but watch your baking time.  This baked up faster than I expected.  Allow to cool completely, frost with Coconut Buttercream, and sprinkle shredded coconut on top.

Coconut Buttercream

1/3 cup butter or margarine
4 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
scant 1 tsp vanilla
scant 1 tsp coconut extract
scant 1 tsp butter extract
Additional milk and/or powdered sugar if necessary

Beat butter until fluffy.  Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, beating well.  Slowly beat in the 1/4 cup milk and flavorings.  Slowly beat in remaining powdered sugar.  If icing is too thick or thin, beat in additional milk or powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency.

Coconut Cake

Happy Birthday, Uncle!

Baking Challenge: Lemon Drizzle Squares

August 8, 2011

Okay, so I am baking every week.  I’m just not blogging quite as promptly.  I’ll try to work on that.  Last week’s recipe was number 174 in the “1001” book.  It was a sticky, lemony “upside down” kind of cake, and it was yummy.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Three of my co-workers tried these flavorful little squares yesterday, and when asked how they liked them, they all nodded blissfully with full mouths and wide eyes, making muffled but enthusiastic  “MMMmmmMMM” sorts of sounds.  And once they’d swallowed, they all asked for the recipe, so I’m going to go ahead and say this one’s a keeper.

Lemon Drizzle Squares

heaping 2/3 cup softened butter or margarine, plus extra for greasing
1 cup superfine sugar (again, granulated is just fine, no pun intended)
2 eggs
finely grated rind of 1 lemon (I cannot stress enough how much I love the microplane)
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour  (if you don’t have self-rising, sift 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder into every 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup milk
confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Syrup

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 7 inch square cake pan and line with parchment paper.  I questioned the necessity of doing both, but I understood the reasoning once I turned out the cake.  It is extremely sticky.  The paper makes cleanup much simpler, and the greasing keeps the paper from sticking.

Place the butter, sugar and eggs in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy.  Stir in the lemon rind, then sift in the flour and fold into the mixture.  Stir in the milk.  Spoon the batter into the cake pan, smoothing the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.  I found this baking time to be accurate.  Even if it’s already browning, don’t poke the cake halfway through to see if it’s firm like I did.  It wasn’t, and it fell and made a sinkhole in the middle.  It still tasted fine though.  Leave the pan on a wire rack.

To make the syrup, place the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.  Do not boil.  I never went over simmer on my knob; keep it low.  Prick the warm cake all over with a fork, and spoon the hot syrup evenly over the top, allowing it to be absorbed.

Let cool completely in the pan, then turn out the cake, cut into 12 pieces, and dust with sifted confectioners’ sugar.  Enjoy!

Lemon Drizzle Squares

I found a couple of new cookie books on mom’s shelves, and I’ll be trying out a delicious-sounding new recipe this week (assuming I can narrow it down to just one out of all the recipes I’ve marked), so stay tuned!

Baking Challenge!

July 12, 2011

I love baking.  It appeals not only to my sweet tooth,  but to my O/C tendencies.  Baking is very precise.  You follow the recipe, add exactly the right amount of each ingredient in the right order, and voila!  Tasty treat.  The only trick is learning when to take things out of the oven.  Baking times in recipes (much like yields) are almost never accurate, so you’ve got to watch things and learn to recognize when they’re done.  But once you’ve got that down, you’re golden.  A light golden brown, to be exact.  I haven’t found general cooking to be the same.  Cooking is more intuitive.  You can leave this out, throw that in and play with your recipes a little.  I’m not good at improvisation.  I like to know exactly what I’m doing, step by step.  So though I’m making an effort to learn basic cooking, I prefer to bake.

I was given two very nice recipe books this year:  “Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book” (a re-print of the original from 1963) and “1001 Cupcakes, Cookies & Other Tempting Treats.”  Both of them are excellent.  They have many unique recipes, and it’s fun just thumbing through them.  I’ve experimented with some recipes over the last few months, but there are still many I want to try!  So, like my good friend over at The Kelly Kitchen, I’ve decided to set a baking challenge for myself.  My goal is to try one new recipe each week, and post it here with my own notes.  I’m a terrible procrastinator, so if I actually meet my challenge, I’ll probably wind up baking every Sunday night.  If you know where I live, feel free to drop by of an evening for some sweets and a glass of milk!

I started off gung-ho, and actually did two recipes in one night, but then I stalled out and didn’t bake for two weeks, so I guess that evens out.  We’ll see how I do this week.  The first recipe is a variation on a traditional peanut butter cookie from the Betty Crocker book.  It substitutes honey for the brown sugar, and eliminates half the shortening.  I found they browned much quicker than the peanut butter cookies I usually make, and they had a more chewy texture.  They got kind of stiff after they’d been in Gladware for a week, but I microwaved them for 10 seconds, and they tasted perfect.  So here’s the recipe, as printed in the book.  My own notes are in italic.  The Betty Crocker book sometimes has amusing little commentaries and anecdotes under the recipe titles, and I’m including them just because I get a kick out of them.

Peanut Butter Cookies
So rich, good with anything; a favorite with men and children.  Many homemakers double the recipe since these cookies disappear quickly.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Mix shortening, peanut butter, sugars, and egg thoroughly.  Blend all dry ingredients; stir into shortening mixture.  Chill dough.  Skipping the chilling step makes it very sticky to work with, especially if you do the honey variation, but I’m impatient, so I did it anyway.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll dough in 1 1/4″ balls.  Place 3″ apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  Flatten crisscross style with fork dipped in flour.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes.  I don’t do the fork thing.  I roll the dough into balls, and flatten them with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.  It makes the cookies more uniform, and gives them a nice sugar-crystallized top.  Dip the glass in a bowl of sugar between cookies.  Otherwise they’ll stick.  Also, they don’t take nearly that long to bake.  Mine took 6-8 minutes.  Watch them closely, and when they begin to brown on the edges, take them out!  They are easier to remove from the pan if you let them cool for a few seconds first.

Honey Peanut Butter Cookies

Make Peanut Butter Cookies (above) except use only 1/4 cup shortening and use 1/2 cup honey in place of brown sugar.

The second recipe I baked that night was simple vanilla cupcakes with basic buttercream icing.  I hadn’t made cupcakes from scratch until I got the “1001” cookbook for my birthday.  I’d always used a cake mix and had good results.  I tried one recipe in the book before doing these vanilla cupcakes (peanut butter cupcakes with cream cheese icing) and they didn’t turn out particularly well because I misread the recipe and divided it into 24 cupcakes instead of 16.  They were too small, so they baked too quickly, overcooked, and dried out.  So I made sure to fill each cupcake paper 1/2 to 3/4 full for the vanilla ones so they were big enough.  These recipes yield a more dense type of cake than I’m used to from cake mixes.  They aren’t as light and fluffy.  They’re almost more muffin-like, but they’re still tasty.  Here’s the recipe:

Vanilla Cupcakes

generous 8 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup superfine sugar (I used regular granulated; it was fine)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
scant 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour (if you don’t have self-rising, sift 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder into every 1 2/3 cups regular flour)

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two 12-hole muffin pans with 18 paper liners.  I only did 13 or 14, but some of them were big; you could probably stretch to 18.  Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then sift in the flour and fold into the mixture.  Spoon the batter into the paper liners.  Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden and springy to the touch.  Mine took a few minutes more since I only did 13 or 14.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Top with buttercream icing.

Buttercream

1 cup butter, softened
1 tbsp cream or milk (Cream is richer, but milk works just fine.)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Place the butter and cream in a bowl and beat together.  Gradually sift in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.  I also added a teaspoon of vanilla to give it more flavor.

Stay tuned for this week’s challenge:  margarita cookies!  I’ve got limes chilling out in the fridge; should be quite a party!