Thursday, January 28, 2010

sweetness at the bottom of the birthday pie...

I have been fortunate enough to maintain many of my childhood friendships... and Monica is one of these friends. Her birthday is TODAY (Happy BIRTHDAY Mon) but we celebrated last weekend. I wanted to bake her a really good dessert. I wanted to bake her something that would really show her how much her friendship means to me. I decided to bake her a key lime pie.

Yep. Monica is a fan of the key lime pie. It's sweet but with that edge...kinda like Monica :0) Since I'd never made this kind of pie before I figured I needed to use a source that I could count on: a recipe that would be fail-safe. I opened up the hummingbird bakery cookbook. Remember... I used it for my lemon poppy seed cake? Everything that I've tried from it has so far been successful... so I figured I couldn't go wrong with this recipe. I was right. Not only was this pie simple to make, but the burst of lime brightened up a cool January evening.

Note: This pie is made in 3 steps; with necessary cooling time between each step: the crust, the filling and finally the meringue topping. I made the crust and filling the day before and then topped the pie about 2 hours before I presented it to Monica. So plan ahead!

Monica loved it. And really at the end of the day, that's all that really matters. So thank you again hummingbird bakery - another successful recipe from your cookbook of goodies.

Key Lime Pie
3 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 1/3 c. butter, melted
8 eggs, separated
2 x 300 ml cans of condensed milk
freshly squeezed juice and grated zest of 5 limes (I actually only had 3, so I added 2 tbsp of lime juice)
1 1/4 c. white sugar

Grab your 9-inch pie dish. The recipe book says to grease it... I forgot to :0)

Preheat your oven to 325 F.

For the crust: In a large bowl (or in your food processor) combine the melted butter with your graham cracker crumbs. You want to really incorporate the two together. Press the graham cracker crumbs into the base and sides of the pie dish (use the ball of your hand to flatten and compress the crust).

Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes - the crust will be golden and firm. Place on a wire rack to allow to cool completely.

When the base has cooled you'll be ready to start the filling (about 40 minutes... or you can place it in the fridge for about 15 minutes to rush up the process).

For the filling: Preheat the oven to 300 F.

Put the egg yolks (keep the egg whites, covered, refrigerated until ready to use), condensed milk, lime juice and zest in the bowl of your stand mixer. Using your whisk attachment and beat everything together . You want this to be very well incorporated.

Once your filling has been well whisked, pour it into the cold crust and bake for about 20 - 30 minutes... the filling should be firm to the touch but still slightly soft (not wobbly) in the centre (mine took 30 minutes to bake, but I checked at the 20 minute mark).

Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cool completely on a wire rack. When ready, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.

When you're ready to top the pie...

The Meringue: Preheat your oven to 300 F.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the egg whites with the whisk attachment until frothy (a medium to low speed). Slowly incorporate the sugar (1 1/4 c.), increasing the speed of your stand mixer until you reach top speed. You want to get to the stiff peak stage.

Spoon the meringue on top of the lime filling, making sure that the entire pie is covered (meringue and crust should touch). Create peaks and swirls in the top of the meringue with a tablespoon.

Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the pie and bake for another 8 minutes - you want the meringue to be evenly golden on top... you'll know when it's ready. Just keep a close eye on it.

Allow to cool completely at room temperature before serving. Garnish with some more lime zest if you have it... the pie is beautiful either way :0)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the white nut... the coconut!

The cupcake. A perfect treat for any occasion. Especially a birthday celebration! I made this mini little treats as an extra dessert for Céline's Thai themed party (the birthday cake was the mango-ginger cheese cake).

It was the first time I had tried any recipe from my new cupcake cookbook... some people liked the result (I being one of them), some people weren't too keen... so I guess I'll leave it up to you to decide.

I turned to cupcakes; a fine selection of sweet treats for my baking inspiration that cold January day... the pictures are absolutely beautiful, the flavour combinations make my mouth water... and since I had just bought the book, I figured I should give it a chance. I'm glad I did. The trick with cupcakes is not over baking them... I think I left these in a little too long... I'll remember that the next time I attempt to bake them.

Fluffy Coconut Cupcakes
2 c. self-rising flour
1/2 c. flaked coconut
1 c. white sugar
1 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp coconut extract
4 1/2 oz butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line 36 mini muffin cups with paper liners.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, coconut extract and melted butter together.

In the bowl of your free standing mixer with your paddle attachment, combine the flour, coconut and sugar. Make a well in the centre and pour in the wet ingredients.

The batter will become quite thick and fluffy - resembling almost a pancake batter.

Divide the batter evenly among the paper liners - about 2 tablespoons per mini cupcake liner.

Bake for 12 minutes (this is where I over baked a bit... no more than 15 minutes!) , remove from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting each cupcake.

Coconut Frosting
2 1/4 c. icing sugar
1 1/2 c. flaked coconut
2 1/2 oz butter, softened
1/2 tsp coconut extract
2 tbsp - 1/4 c. hot water

In the bowl of your stand mixer (use your paddle attachment again), combine the icing sugar and coconut. Add the butter, coconut extract and enough hot water to make a spreadable icing, adding it by the tablespoon.

Once the frosting is ready, place it in a piping bag (about 1/4 c. at a time), grab a tip that is quite large so that the icing can be piped easily. Pipe the icing and then (optional) sprinkle with toasted coconut flakes to decorate.

I think these cupcakes were adorable... one-bite treats for everyone to enjoy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

poppy seeds... oh what a wonderful cake they make!

I spent yesterday afternoon with some of my favourite people. I know... I seem to have a long list of favourite people, and it's true! I've surrounded myself with pretty awesome folks- but these aren't just people - they're my Ottawa family :0)

Marie-Jo, Phil and Olivier took me in many years ago when I needed a place to stay... they supported my decision to move to Scotland, come back to Ottawa, allowed me to crash on their couch (again) and continue to lure me in with the promise of wonderful meals and even better company. The least I can do is bring a cake (or a pie) whenever I stop by (or when they host a family gathering of sorts).

Yesterday I brought them this lemon poppy seed cake. Sigh. It's from the hummingbird bakery cookbook... I made it twice last week, and want to make it again. A dense cake with the tartness of lemons and the crunch of poppy seeds. I increased the amount of lemon zest since I believe that there is no such thing as too much lemon. I think it's the perfect cake to bring when visiting people you really like...especially lemon crazy people like my family.

Described in the book as a "moist, tangy cake that is perfect with your afternoon cup of tea"... I can attest that it's excellent with brunch and shared with your favourite company!

Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake
6 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 c. + 1 tbsp white sugar
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tbsp poppy seeds
2/3 c. milk
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 egg whites

Preheat your oven to 325 F. Grease a bundt cake pan (butter or cooking spray) - or you can use mini bundt pans and make many (6) mini loaves (I did both - hence making this recipe twice in a week).

Put your butter, sugar, lemon zest and poppy seeds in the bowl of your freestanding mixer and beat everything together (using your paddle attachment). You want to make sure that the batter becomes quite fluffy - really cream the butter.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the wet batter in 3 separate additions. Beat thoroughly until all the ingredients are well incorporated and fluffy.

Time to beat your egg whites. You want to beat them in a separate bowl (glass is preferred) until stiff peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the whisked egg whites into the cake batter - you don't want to over mix and loose the volume the egg whites bring to the batter; so just incorporate everything.

Pour the batter into your prepared bundt pan and bake for about 30 minutes (the cake should bounce back when touched, don't do the toothpick test).

This cake called for the addition of a lemon syrup (and pouring it over the warm cake)... however I ended up burning the syrup. I wasn't paying attention and it boiled a tad too long :0)

I allowed the cake to cool a bit (10 minutes), then removed it from the pan and had it cool completely on a wire rack.

I decided to make another syrup just prior to serving the cake. Bring the juice of a lemon, 1/4 c. sugar, and 1/2 c. water at a boil and allow it to reduce a bit. Pour the warmed syrup over the cake so that it can drip over the top and add a pretty sheen to your presentation. It was lovely.

Monday, January 18, 2010

an extra special birthday cake

We pulled out the bubbly on Saturday night... a momentous birthday celebration in honour of my friend Céline. Her daughter, the wonderful and talented chef, prepared a spicy green curry and a flavourful beef curry. Her son dressed up the rice by cooking it with coconut milk and kaffir leaves... and I brought along a treat or two.

I wanted two things: to stick with Thai flavours and keep the dessert as light as possible. I lucked out when I found the following cheesecake recipe... all thanks to my Party Cakes cookbook. I haven't pulled it out in a while (actually not since August when I baked a different birthday cake), but I really do have to remember to use this book more often... Mich Turner created some beautiful recipes that seem to just hit the right note (or taste buds).

One thing I did change when putting this together: I increased the graham cracker base (butter and graham cracker crumbs are doubled in the recipe that follows), and made 2 cakes rather than the 1 that the recipe calls for. I ended up with a cream cheese topping that wasn't as thick as a regular cheesecake... but I prefered the cream cheese to graham base ratio - more 50/50 rather than the 75/25 you would normally get.

Another bonus about this cake... no baking required. You just need to plan ahead (this isn't a last minute dessert) since this cake needs to set overnight. Other than that, this is easy as pie... or I should say... easy as cheesecake!

Mango & Ginger Cheesecake
2/3 c. butter
4 c. crushed graham crackers
12 oz. cream cheese (1.5 packages), at room temperature
2/3 c. white sugar
2 drops vanilla extract
1 3/4 c. heavy whipping cream
7 oz fresh mango (1 large mango, peeled and pitted)
1/4 c. preserved ginger (in syrup), chopped

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the crushed graham crackers, mixing well. Divide the mixture in half between two 8 inch round pans (springform or tin) press well into the base and refrigerate for 1 hour or until set.

Using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy; start at a lower speed, increasing the speed as the mixture beats so that it becomes fluffier.

Add the cream to the mixture and beat everything until stiff and smooth (about 3 minutes) - you don't want to over beat, otherwise the mixture will separate.

Meanwhile, peel and pit your mango; then process the pieces in your blender until you get a thick purée (add a little water if you need to help the blender along).

I honestly grabbed a handful of conserved ginger... so my estimation of 1/4 c. is really just that, an estimate. So grab some ginger and finely chop it.

Stir the mango puree (half or all, depending on how much mango flavour you like) and the chopped ginger into the cream cheese and cream mixture.

Pour the batter on top of the graham cracker bases, spread the top evenly and refrigerate overnight.

When you're ready to serve, remove from the springform pan (or cut them out of the tin pans) and place on a pretty plate.

A perfectly light cheesecake that isn't too sweet or rich... It hits the spot and made all of us around the table very happy.

Bonne fête Céline! mouah!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

the best cupcakes ever...according to my fan

I had a really awesome New Year's Eve... I spent the day playing in the snow with some of my favourite people... giggles and big smiles were the order of the day!

So when we all came in for our celebration dinner I wanted to quickly whip up a little treat for the little hobbits... cupcakes seemed like the perfect dessert. Not only did they turn out (and I was able to use some left over frosting from a cake I'd made the day before) but I was informed that I make the "best cupcakes ever"... :0)

I won't lie - I'll take the compliment and share the recipe with all of you... after all, don't we all like to think we make the very best cupcakes? Try this one and you should be hearing the same rave reviews.

Lemon Cupcakes
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 c. butter at room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c. whole milk

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line your muffin pan with 12 cupcake liners (large sized). Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a larger bowl and with your electric mixer (I wasn't at home and didn't use my stand mixer... but obviously you could use yours with the paddle attachment), beat together the butter and sugar (medium speed) until smooth and light in colour (2 minutes).

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each into the batter. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla extract to the mixture and continue to beat for another minute or so.

At a low speed, and in 3 additions (3 flour, 2 milk), add the flour and milk alternately to the batter (beginning and ending with the flour). You want to combine everything but not over mix... so as soon as it's smooth you're good to go!

Fill each paper liner with the batter (about 3 tablespoons worth). Bake for 20 minutes, or until the toothpick comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack (I actually cooled mine on the counter-top... no wire racks, but they still turned out A-OK).

Once they have fully cooled you're ready to frost them!

Beware... I actually halved the recipe below (I'm giving you the complete recipe) and ended up with enough frosting to fill a 9 inch layered cake (the filling between the layers) AND half of these cupcakes... plus I still have some frosting in my fridge. It seems to go a long way... or maybe I just don't put enough frosting on my cupcakes!? But at least we know that it'll keep in a air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Classic Chocolate Frosting
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 c. butter at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c. heavy cream, at room temperature (briefly heated over low heat)

Put the unsweetened chocolate into a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water (1 inch deep). Stir the chocolate until it is melted and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of your stand mixer (you'll use your paddle attachment for this recipe) combine the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and butter - beat at a lower speed for a couple of minutes - you want a smooth texture. Beat in the melted chocolate, adding the vanilla and cream. Beat until everything is super smooth; about 3 minutes. The result should be a nice thick consistency, easy to smooth onto your cupcakes with a butter knife or to pipe on with a piping bag.

Top with sprinkles and your cupcakes are good to go!

If your cream wasn't at room temperature, you could have quickly warmed it on low heat in a saucepan...

I thought I'd used low heat... but apparently now low enough and I ended up with the following dilemma.... the hot cream melted the butter in the frosting! I was able to solve that problem by chilling the frosting in my fridge for 30 minutes...
the butter solidified and the frosting was ready to be used!

I also used my Lemon Meringue butter cream frosting (July blog)... I had topped and iced a cake with it and had some left over from that too. Cupcakes seem to be the best way to use up my left-overs and make very happy hobbits ;0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

a real holiday cake

A HAPPY BELATED NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL!!!!!! 2010 is looking to be a wonderful year - big plans and lots of baking on the horizon for me! You? Did you make any resolutions? How about trying this recipe? :0)

I have loved this cake since I was in high school and my friend Robin's mother would bake it. It became my "go-to" recipe when I wanted to impress people with a cake that is full of flavour, has a punch of chocolate, but is moist and light. It's the kind of cake that you make and can either serve with afternoon tea, for dessert or even as breakfast (perfect for that chocolate fix).

I made this for Christmas with my family - and we ate away at it over the course of the visit... I also brought some of it along to another Christmas (and birthday) celebration... and my wonderful hostess Céline absolutely adored it too! I could eat this anytime, anywhere, any place. I heart this cake. Thank you Robin and Barb for sharing it with me. And as promised Céline, here is the recipe :0) Bonne année à tous!

Apple Chocolate-Chip Spice Cake
1 c. butter, room temperature
2 c. brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 c. water
1 tbsp vanilla
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cloves
2 c. finely chopped and peeled apples (about 4 medium sized apples)
1 6 oz. pkg of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 325 F. Grab your bundt cake pan and spray it with non-stick spray or grease it with some butter... make sure you grease the middle well so that the inside of the cake doesn't stick when you try and remove it from the pan.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. You want to really get the light and fluffy texture - so let it cream for several minutes, increasing the speed as the mixture loosens up. Beat in the eggs (one at a time), the water and the vanilla. Continue to mix everything until smooth.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and spices.

Beat the dry ingredients into the wet mixture at a low speed (stir on the kitchenaid). You just want to incorporate the flour. Toss in the apples and chocolate chips and again stir only enough so that they are evenly distributed within the batter.

Pour the batter into your greased pan and bake for 75 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack in the pan for about 30 minutes, then remove the cake and completely cool it on the wire rack.

You can dust it with powdered sugar if you like (Barb used to do that), or leave it as is... either way, this cake is well worth the effort. I promise.