Thursday, November 10, 2016

Strawberry Basil Bundt cake

Let me say up front that this is a boxed cake.  I saw it in World Market and thought it sounded interesting, and it didn't have any weird ingredients.  (Well there's basil, but I digress...)

I was making it on a weekday evening to take to a work party the next day.  When I opened the box, there were 3 unmarked, foil-looking plastic bags.  I searched them all over looking for some identification --- there was supposed to be a batter mix, a swirl mix, and a glaze mix --- but I couldn't find anything.  I figured the largest bag must be the batter mix and the middle-sized bag, the swirl mix.  The instructions were to mix up the cake batter and reserve 1 cup.  To that reserved cup you were to add the swirl mix.  The swirl mix, from what I could tell, was just strawberry-flavored powdered sugar.  Didn't seem TOO odd --- the cake mix wasn't terribly sweet, so a swirl of a more potent flavor seemed reasonable, but was a little disappointing.

I made the cake per the directions, swirling the two batters together, and it baked up fine.  I left it to cool overnight, with the intention of glazing it during lunch the next day. 

So the next day, I start to prepare the glaze.  I pick up the packet and there I see, in fine type, "Swirl mix".  Well now, isn't that interesting.  No wonder the mix I'd used had looked like powdered sugar.  It WAS!  But a little (okay a lot) of extra sugar in the cake wouldn't hurt anything.  But how would the swirl mix be as glaze?  I was about to find out.

I opened up the packet and it was a dark pink powder, sort of like dry Jello.  It tasted mildly sweet, like strawberry, and a bit tangy.  I added about a cup of powdered sugar and a tablespoon or two of water until it was a glazing consistency, and forged ahead.

Conclusion:  In the end, it all worked out fine.  The cake was quite sweet, and the glaze came out tasting a bit like candy and had these strawberry "bits" in it.  A little went a long way --- it somewhat overwhelmed the rather delicate cake flavors --- but everyone thought it was great.  It's a decent cake mix, and those two flavors do actually compliment each other nicely.  But now I feel compelled to bake it again to see what it's like when done right!  Only this time, I would cut the oil (1/2 cup) in half, as it was a bit rich.  In the end, a fun experiment.

Recipe:  Strawberry and Basil Bundt Cake Mix by Sof'ella

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Spooky chocolate coffin muffins

I couldn't resist a coffin pan, even though I knew it would have an extremely limited use.  Coffins!

It's called a brownie pan, but you could use any recipe that produced a somewhat sturdy bake.  (They were a little troublesome getting out of the pan, so you wouldn't want anything really light and delicate.  Be sure to grease it well.)  I used this recipe for chocolate zucchini muffins, then piped in skeletons of cream cheese frosting.  A healthy and spooky breakfast!

Monday, October 3, 2016

October ABC challenge: classic Dutch apple pie

Generally I like to mess with recipes, make them my own.  And I certainly have ideas about what I like in apple pie.  But since this is a challenge recipe, I felt I should make it fairly closely to the original; I didn't want my changes to affect the authenticity of the recipe.  I had to make substitutions for what I didn't have, and then some other changes to accommodate my personal tastes (such as adding salt and reducing the sugar.) The salt came in the form of salted butter.  I suspect the crust of the original recipe would be very sweet like a cookie, which I didn't want, so I cut the sugar there.

Here's what I used:

300g 150g (1¼ cup) self raising all-purpose flour 
150g (1¼ cup) whole wheat flour
1 7/8 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
200g (14 tablespoons) cold, salted butter, cut into pieces
150g 67g (
1/3 cup) soft light brown muscovado granulated sugar
1 tablespoon dark molasses 
1 tablespoon ice water (as needed)
¾ egg (35g)
¼ beaten egg for brushing


1 kg (2 pounds) tart apples (2/3 Pippin, 1/3 Braeburn)
fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
50g (
¼ cup) sugar

Process all the dough ingredients except for the egg in a food processor until you have a mixture resembling bread crumbs. Add the 3/4 egg and process again briefly into a smooth dough. Divide the dough into two unequal pieces, about 2/5 and 3/5.  Shape the larger piece into a thick disc and the smaller into a rectangle.  Wrap tightly and refrigerate for an hour.

I like to leave the peel on apples. Core apples and cut each into 4 equal wedges, then cut each wedge into 5 thick slices; sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent oxidation.  Add the cinnamon and sugar and stir to coat. Cover and set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease an 8-inch round springform baking tin.  Roll out the disc of dough to an 11-inch circle.  Working quickly, before the dough becomes too soft, fit it into the bottom and up the sides of the tin; cut off excess.  Press out any air pockets and repair tears or holes with the scraps.  (Alternatively, you can simply press pieces of the dough into the tin and skip rolling it out.Add the prepared apples. Make sure to distribute the apple slices evenly to fill the pie so it is firmly packed. (The apples will shrink during baking).  With the remaining rectangle of dough, roll out and cut strips to make a lattice on top of the apples, pinching it to the bottom crust to secure. Brush the top lightly with the 1/4 beaten egg, adding a bit of water to the egg to make it easier to brush. Bake the pie for 60 to 70 minutes, until browned and the apples are soft. Leave to cool.  Run a knife around the inside of the crust before releasing the pan.


Once again, as always, I am frustrated by the recipes from this blog because they don't come together as described.  Using all the ingredients, I had a powder instead of a dough.  I had to add a tablespoon of water to get it to come together.  I even measured by weight, not by volume, so that was not the issue.  In addition, I had no trouble at all getting the apples into the pan, and in fact even added an additional apple at the last minute to fill it up.  Perhaps Dutch springform pans aren't as deep.  (Mine was 3".)  Otherwise, this was a pretty straightforward recipe.

Conclusion:  Not sold on this.  The crust was rather soft, with a sandy texture, very much like a graham cracker crust, which I don't care for.  It didn't give a nice contrast to the soft apples.  Also, because this pie is so deep, the proportions of filling to crust are very uneven.  You have to utterly destroy your slice in order to get crust and filling in every bite, otherwise you end up eating a lot of apple and then have a shortbread cookie to finish.  Surprisingly, I didn't think it had enough salt, even with all the salt in the butter.  As it was, this pie came across more like just baked apples.  The whole thing seemed a little bland, but it wasn't bad.

Recipe:  Classic Dutch Apple Pie via Weekend Bakery.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

September ABC challenge: speculaas-spiced honey bread

We just moved into a new office building and everyone was going to be unpacking and getting organized first thing Monday morning.  I thought I'd ease the way a little and bring in some fortification.  This spiced bread recipe seemed like the perfect thing, but in muffin form for easy handling.  I had an idea in mind as to how this was going to turn out, and I was excited, but it didn't quite work that way.  Partially, that was because I baked in muffin tins instead of a pan, which caused them to bake faster.  But otherwise, it was the recipe.  True, I didn't follow it exactly, but I don't think my changes should have had any impact on the results.

Here's what I used:

125 g (1¼ cups) fine whole grain, stone ground, dark rye flour
125 g (1¼ cups) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch 1/4 teaspoon salt
65 g (4½ tablespoons) melted butter
110 g (1/3 cup) honey
110 g (1/2 cup) sugar
2 teaspoons speculaas spices (recipe below) or gingerbread /pumpkin pie spices
1 egg
200 g (7 ounces) buttermilk mix of Greek yogurt/milk

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease or line an 8×8 inch baking tin. (I used muffin tins.)  In a bowl, combine the sugar, honey, speculaas spices and melted butter and give it a quick whisk. Beat in the egg. Combine the flours with the baking soda and salt. Sift in the flour in about three stages, alternating with the buttermilk. Whisk until you have a smooth batter. Pour the batter into the tin and make sure it is evenly distributed. Bake for 25 minutes, then turn down your oven down to 350° and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the gingerbread from the oven and let it cool in the tin for about 30 minutes. Wrapping it in foil while still warm helps it stay moist. 

Speculaas spice mix (two quantities given -- all measurements are in teaspoons)

cinnamon                          3 ¼           1 5/8
ground cloves                    1                 1/2
grated nutmeg                     3/4            3/8
ground white pepper            1/2            1/4
ground aniseed                  1                  1/2
ginger powder                      1/2            1/4
cardamom powder                1/4            1/8
      totals                            7 ¼          3 5/8 

I'm not sure why they have you start at a higher temperature.  Baking soda, unlike baking powder, doesn't need heat to react.  And I baked the second tray at 350, since that's where the oven was, and they turned out the same.

I used my fluted muffin tins for this, thinking the cakelettes would be cute and perfect for work.  But the batter rose so much in the oven that the first batch, though I filled them only 3/4 full, came out completely round.  I put only about a heaping tablespoon in each cup in the second tray, and at least they came up only to the top of the cup, but still the tops are so rounded that I can't set them out with the decorative side up.  They look ridiculous.

As with every recipe I've made from this site, my batter was WAY too thick.  I added about 1/3 cup of water to it, just to loosen it up a bit, and it was still too thick.  I had to pat it down with a wet finger or I might have ended up with peaks and valleys from where the batter held its shape.  Consequently, with all the mixing, and perhaps also due to the high percentage of baking soda, I ended up with large holes.  My home economics teacher would not have been pleased.

Not a nice texture. 

Conclusion:  Very disappointing.  Very bland, and you can taste the baking soda.  Not at all what I had expected.  They rose tremendously while baking, so I think the soda could probably be cut in half.  (I wonder if there's an error in the recipe and it was supposed to be baking powder.)  And they definitely need more spice.  Just seems like the proportions are all wrong on this recipe.

Original recipe:  Dutch speculaas gingerbread cake with rye, buttermilk & honey via Weekend Bakery

Monday, August 1, 2016

August ABC challenge: Croûte d’abricots (apricot and almond tart)


I have access to the BEST apricots ever, but the season is short and early here, so I knew I had to get on this recipe.  (And my lavender was in bloom.) Nonetheless, when I went to my favorite apricot vendor to buy the fruit, he was already out for the season.  But his peaches were in, so I bought several yellow and white peaches.  They looked a little green still, but he said they were ready.  I was skeptical.  Unfortunately, they did not fair well on the way home, and the riper ones became so bruised I barely had enough to get some decent slices.  (The unripe fruit was still perfect.)  Not only that, but they didn't taste good.  This was not a good year for stone fruits.  I was so disappointed.  But I salvaged what I could, dipping the slices in sugar to try to sweeten them up a little.

I've noticed that, so far in this challenge source, the consistency of my doughs never match that of the originator.  For example, she says to "pour" the batter into the pan -- I had a thick, sticky mass that I had to carefully pat down.  She must be using giant eggs.  I also noticed that my honey was rather stiff, so maybe that was the problem.  By the way, although there are dramatic differences in the flavor of various honeys, I've never been able to distinguish lavender honey from clover honey from any other variety.  I used sage honey.

I didn't have a small tart pan, so I used a pie pan from Marie Callendar's, which measured 7 inches across the bottom.  Other than the honey, the only other change to the recipe I made was to increase the salt.

Here's what I used:

50 g beurre noisette
120 g almond flour
50 g (lavender) honey
1 3 pinches of salt (using a pinch measuring spoon)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon dried, organic lavender
icing sugar to prepare the tart pan
4 to 6 fresh apricots, stoned and quartered
Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Brush an 8-inch shallow tart pan with butter and dust with icing sugar.

Make the beurre noisette by slowly melting the butter over a low flame until nut brown and the milk solids have toasted. (No need to strain.)  Set aside and leave to cool. In a bowl (or the butter pan), stir together the almond flour, honey, egg, salt, and lavender flowers.  Add the brown butter and whisk until smooth.  Pour into the tart pan and spread evenly. Press the apricot quarters in the mixture, arranging them the way you like best.  Bake for about 35 minutes.  Keep an eye on the crust and make sure it does not brown too fast, otherwise turn the oven down to about 320º F from the point of perfect crust color.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool and firm up slightly before releasing it. When cooled completely, dust with icing sugar and serve.

I checked this at 30 minutes and it looked a little dark on the edges, but not quite done in the center, so I turned the temperature down and left it another 5 minutes.  It was still hard to tell if it was done because it gets rather juicy.  For appearances sake, I would have preferred it be less dark on the edges.  I didn't try it until the next day, and by then the peach juice had soaked into the base, so it wasn't dry.  I don't know if it would have been dry if I'd had it right away.  Whipped cream was a great addition.

Conclusion: This was good, and surprisingly light.  It's not very sweet either, so it could be eaten plain for breakfast, or dressed up with whipped cream as a dessert.  I think it would have been much better with the apricots -- they have more flavor and that bit of tartness that would contrast nicely with the somewhat bland almond base.  There was only a hint of lavender, which was just the right amount.  A little lemon zest would also be a nice addition to the base.

Recipe:  Croûte d’abricots with lavender & honey via Weekend Bakery.

Friday, June 3, 2016

June ABC challenge: cheesy cookies

Cheddar shortbread -- that's what we're dealing with here. You really want to use a sharp or at least medium cheddar for optimum flavor.  And since I used salted butter, I omitted any added salt.  I also reduced the recipe to 1/4 of the original.

Despite having a large collection of cookie cutters, I never seem to have what I want.  I was looking for something cheese-themed (a mouse?) or June-themed (a flower?), but didn't have either.  I opted for the mushroom because... when else am I going to use it?  The original recipe made 40 cookies; my cutter was a little smaller than called for, so I got 15 cookies and a small, leftover blob.

Here's what I used, with my changes in italics and strikeout (yield 10-15 cookies):

25g flour (about half whole wheat)
25g cold salted butter, in cubes
25g good quality, mild cheddar cheese, finely grated
1/4 egg yolk (about 1/2 teaspoon)
a pinch of salt if cheese is mild
mashed garlic, about 3 pea-sized balls, optional 

Rub the butter with the flour; add the cheese and garlic and mix. (I got a dough with just the butter and flour, so cheese had to be kneaded in.)  Add egg yolk and quickly form a dough. If it feels too sticky just add a little extra flour. Rap in cling film, shape into a flat disc and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Preheat the oven 355ºF to 390ºF conventional setting.  (This equals 309 to 340 convection.)  Roll dough out thinly, to about 1/10 inch thick, between two sheets of cling film and cut with a 1.5-inch cookie cutter.  Arrange the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes (I baked mine only 15), adjusting the temperature if necessary, until golden brown and crisp.  Cool on a rack.

I used a small convection/toaster oven and started with it set at 325. But 6 minutes in, they were already starting to brown, so I reduced the temperature to 300. (The thermometer continued to read 325, and even went up slightly after a while, but that could have been because it was against the side of the oven rather than sitting on a rack.)

Conclusion:  These were a little too salty, so unsalted butter is definitely in order (unless you're making them very spicy, in which case extra salt is a good thing.)  They had a light and delicate texture, and were nicely flavored. (Not as cheesy as Cheez-Its, but still noticeable.  The garlic was very mild.)  You definitely don't want to over-brown them, because that toasted flavor would overpower any other flavor.  These would be nice served with a cool, mild sour cream dip.  They're also good spread with just the tiniest amount of jam.

Recipe:   Easy Peasy Cheesy Cookies via Weekend Bakery

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May ABC Challenge: No Knead Brioche

I've never had brioche -- at least not that I'm aware -- so I really didn't know what I was going for.  Which can be challenging, but at the same time good because I don't know whether I failed or not.  I suspect I did fail, technically, as someone said brioche should be light and airy, and this loaf definitely isn't.  But it tastes really good, so as far as I'm concerned it was a success.

I cut the recipe in half, but otherwise made it as directed.  I did not weigh my egg, though, and it looked a little on the small side.  Nonetheless, my "dough" was EXTREMELY wet, more like batter, so I added another two tablespoons of flour.  (That would be the equivalent of an additional 1/4 cup in the whole recipe.)  The end result was workable, but just barely, and only straight out of the refrigerator.  It didn't shape up smoothly as hers does in the video -- more like sticky lumps.  The second "rise", which wasn't so much a rise as a melt, with the dough just oozing together, the individual balls were barely discernible.  (This dough never rose until it was baked, but others made a similar comment.)

During baking, only the center rose.  I was having a little trouble with my oven temperature, which might have been the problem.  It produced some lovely mini volcano shapes, though, when toasted.

For a small loaf, here's what I used:

125g all purpose flour
50g unsalted Kerrygold (European style) butter, melted
35 g water at room temperature
1 egg (medium, about 110 g)
25g (1¼ tablespoons) runny honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

In a bowl, combine egg, honey, water, salt, and melted butter and whisk, somewhat vigorously, for about 30 seconds. Add the instant yeast to the flour and sift it into the mixture. Again, with enthusiasm, whisk for 30 seconds until your dough looks smooth and homogeneous. Cover your bowl and let the dough rest for two hours at room temperature. Place the dough on a floured work surface and do one or two stretch and folds. If your dough is very "elastic" and cooperative, do a few; if it starts to resist you can stop. (Mine was not resisting at all, so I did about 4 or 5.) Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with clingfilm and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. (Mine rested 48 hours.)

To shape, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll them into balls. Place the balls two by two in a baking tin, well buttered or lined with baking paper. Cover and leave to proof for 2 to 3 hours, depending on the temperature of the dough and of the room. (Perhaps I should have just let mine sit until it was fully risen, but the dough was so heavy I don't know that it ever would have. It didn't seem to be moving at all.)

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. (If desired, brush the brioche with egg wash before baking, and/or brush it with melted butter directly after baking.) Bake at 375ºF for about 10 minutes, then turn down the oven to 320ºF and bake for another 15 minutes. If the top browns too quickly or gets too dark, cover it with aluminum foil to protect it. Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes in the pan; cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing.

Conclusion:  This was delicious, very buttery, but I'm sure I did it wrong.  The video shows soft, plump balls of dough after the second rise, just like regular bread.  Mine didn't rise at all until I baked it, and then only in the center.  The final texture was closer to pound cake, or even shortbread.   Or maybe I made a giant Madeleine.  But I'm not complaining.

Recipe:   Brioche:  The no knead version via Weekend Bakery.