Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Raspberries

It's official, I really am in love with the King Arthur Flour Company. I check the blog daily (okay, maybe two or three times a day...), have bought and memorized all the cookbooks, and am asking for a subscription to the Baking Sheet for my birthday. Why do I do this?

Because everything is so good.

I love being able to trust a recipe. Recipes abound online, and I am always optimistic about trying them. However, I've made some pretty horrible things from the web, ranging from microwaved cakes to brownies made mostly out of bananas to weird chicken concoctions. I've also found what I'm sure were great recipes that turned out to be nearly impossible to do, like the lemon coffeecake with sticky, persnickety dough I had to cut up into a million squares, or the cupcakes baked in ice cream cones that ended up dripping all over the bottom of the oven.

And those are simple! It should be easy to roll out dough, cut it up, stuff it in a pan, and stick it in the oven. I usually bake with endless patience, and I follow every direction. Somehow, though, something always goes wrong.

Not with KAF, though. (This is turning out to be a total plug for them, I truly don't have any affiliation except for a deep love.) I made this cake, a fancy, layered, complicated cake, in three hours for a birthday dinner- dinner with my then-boyfriend and his parents, no less. I frantically whipped things together, I didn't have enough cake pans, I didn't have a carrying case, I didn't have mini chocolate chips, I ran out of butter, I put it under a salad bowl and seat belted it in the passenger seat for a 20-minute car ride...

And it turned out perfectly.

I made it again here at college, it was the first (and only) baking project I've done in the college kitchen. It's very strange not to have constant access to a kitchen and ingredients, and right now I haven't baked as much as I'd like. I'm still getting the lay of the land. This experience baking was just as frantic as before, only this time I didn't have any cake pans, and had only two hours because I had been locked out! (I stole an extra hour, though. Shh.) It still came out perfectly- though the picture doesn't do it justice. 

I carried it down three blocks of city streets, uncovered, and stored it in our miniature refrigerator. I think this is becoming a pattern with this cake, and my 100% hit rate led me to my final decision:

King Arthur Flour is magical.

Today's good thing of the day is mail. Mail is fantastic. Getting a letter or a package is one of the best feelings in the world, especially when it's from somebody you love. "Brown paper packages tied up with string/ These are a few of my favorite things." Maria said it all.

And related KAF Blog Post

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tiramisu (TiramiSISTER)

I made this tiramisu, with the help of my sister, twice in one week. It was absolutely splendid, even for me, and I am a strict no-coffee person. It started out with a jelly roll, which was a sponge cake baked in a 10x15 pan. We let it cool and cut it into three strips, then brushed it with plain ol' coffee. We made the filling, but unfortunately had only bought one cup of cream at the store, half of what the recipe called for. To maximize the amount of filling we could make, we whipped the cream and folded it into two tubs of creamed marscapone cheese and sugar, instead of just pouring the cream in. We layered the filling with the cake and sprinkled cocoa over the top with a sifter, and TA-DA! A cake worthy of a bakery. Recipe from (seriously, do I have to say it?) King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion.

It's great to bake with other people. Usually I end up turning baking into a very solitary activity, and I forget how nice it is to chat and divide up the jobs with somebody I love. I have trouble relinquishing total power in the kitchen, because I'm somewhat of a control freak- but I mean well, I really do. It's a nice reminder that I'm not the only person allowed to bake in the world; perhaps other people don't share my desire to bake constantly, but that doesn't mean that they can't make some cookies sometimes.

Today's good thing of the day is the Mumford & Sons album Sigh No More. I had the album from my father for a while, but only really started listening when a friend suggested it to me. I've rediscovered it with the help of that same friend, and I can't get enough. It's full of great lyrics and beautiful music and memories, and I know it'll join my list of favorite collections of music (along with my Big Chill soundtrack, which has been a perennial favorite since elementary school). Listening to M&S this summer has helped me realize how to genuinely approach music. I'm finally realizing that I don't need to worry about finding music nobody else has heard of. I don't need to be picky, and I don't need to prove myself by what songs I like to listen to, as I worried about this past half a year. I DO like cheesy country songs, folk music, oldies, pop, Indian tunes, Celtic music, and classical. I like songs that make me feel good and mean something to me. Maybe people will continue to scoff, and I guess that's okay- I'm not a music junkie, and I'm certainly not an expert. I deserve it if I pretend to know more than I do know, but it's all right for me to continue listening to the songs that I love.

Monday, August 8, 2011


This was by far the best loaf of bread I've made to date. I know I can expect something to go wrong every time I bake, but as I get more experienced the obligatory mistake generally gets less dramatic. The exception here is with bread. I mixed potato starch flour up with potato flour. I put it in a gigantic baking pan. I burned the bottom, I undercooked the inside. I couldn't get it to rise, I poured boiling water into the yeast. I failed to knead it enough (I almost always have too-sticky bread dough, but I'm scared to add too much flour). I forgot to cover it when it was rising. The list goes on and on.

Interestingly enough, this phenomenon also applies to travels to our local grocery store. Every time you go there, you will see somebody you know. Sometimes it's nice and even enjoyable, but generally if you are not necessarily looking your best, the more likely it is you'll see somebody you either want to impress or don't want to see.

Back to baking. Usually all the bread turns out to be delicious despite slight setbacks, but this challah was challah. It was fantastic. It had the perfectly sweet, billowy/chewy inside (that texture is difficult to describe). The dough wasn't sticky and it rose up spectacularly and braided like a dream. Plus, since it was a nice "little bubble" bread, I didn't have to do a sponge overnight, which I often never have time to do.

Today's good thing of the day is rainy days. We've had a couple so far this summer, and they are heavenly. I can sit on the screen porch and read and listen to the rain and dream. It's my favorite kind of weather.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tomato Ravioli with Spinach, Prosciutto, and Ricotta Filling

One of my favorite things to do when I come home is to make pasta. It seems difficult, but the truth is it's very easy, only few people think to do it. The flavor is fantastic, to boot.

We always have a carbohydrate, a protein, and a vegetable for dinner, and since I love to cook I usually insist on making everything from scratch, to my family's dismay- "couldn't we just do something easy tonight?" Cooking is soothing to me, though, and it's so satisfying to have a day with no time constraints whatsoever, so the possibilities are limitless. The problem is, though, that I can only make bread so often, and usually I don't think ahead enough to make a starter. One day, then, I decided to make pasta- without a pasta maker!

I rolled and rolled the dough, and spent forever slicing it with a knife, but in the end a rolling pin could only do so much. Finally I got a pasta machine, and (with a little practice) I was making linguine like it was my calling.

I've learned a few things. First, fake eggs (my poison of choice for any baking endeavor that doesn't require separation) are just fine, if you're not a purist. Honestly, you can't tell the difference, and you don't have to worry about salmonella or fat. Second, the food processor is great, and you just need to grind up the ingredients until they look like cornmeal. When I first tried this, I didn't believe it, so I added a lot more olive oil and then formed it into a ball. That's really not necessary, because the dough is supposed to be, well, rubbery and not-sticky. Once you roll it flat and chop it into ribbons, it's perfect. Third, you can catch it and hang it from a baking rack between two chairs to dry, but be careful that the cats don't reach it or else they will bat it onto the floor and it will break.

This time, I got to use my new ravioli mold. I found the pasta dough in the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook and chose a filling from Giada De Laurentiis's Everyday Pasta. I used fat-free ricotta, which was fantastic. This is another reason I love homemade food: you can control exactly what you're eating. Ravioli are a family favorite, but you can't buy ravioli made with fat-free eggs and fat-free ricotta.

We made an olive oil with two minced garlic cloves that we crisped up in a pan to drizzle on top, and steamed some asparagus for the side. It was a great dinner on a beautiful summer night.

Today's good things of the day are local Humane Societies. We've been volunteering there a lot, which basically means that I get to go pet cats and play with dogs for hours on end. There are a lot of beautiful, kind animals there, and even if you can't adopt one it's so wonderful to just spend a little time loving them. I know a lot of people stop there after work for half an hour and walk a dog for a bit- there's no pressure, just a lot of furry friends. If you're so inclined, I encourage you to check them out!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, America!

Happy Fourth of July!
This flag cake is off of a great baking blog called 17 and baking. I saw it on the most recent post, and knew right off the bat that I had to make it. It reminded me of another cake I made last year, a rainbow one (cool colors on the bottom, warm on top) with white icing. The "Big Reveal" invoked many oohs and aahs, and the theatrical, showy part of my soul rejoiced.

I usually don't focus as much on how baked goods look, because in my experience a beautiful cake is not necessarily the most delicious one. Given the choice between an absolutely circular cake with plastic-looking fondant and perfect sugar figurines and a sideways, gooey, rich chocolate concoction/mess, I know exactly what I'll choose. I'll take an Avalanche Cake over a sugar sculpture every time.

However, sometimes I adore a beautifully decorated cupcake or a colorful cake if it remains inviting to eat (AKA it still has lots of icing). I think that this cake is in a nice spot. It makes an impact, but it's neither so intricate nor so perfect that anybody would have second thoughts digging out a nice big forkful.

The good thing of the day is Harry Potter. This might make me (okay, definitely makes me) a geek. However, after years of resistance, my younger sister is finally motoring through the books, in order to be prepared for the midnight premiere of the last movie. I feel like a proud mother duck, watching all the movies and discussing all the books with her. All of my other friends have memorized them as I have, but initiating another person into the Ms. Rowling's magical world is, in a goofy way, inspiring. Let's hope she likes them!

(White layer of cake is Elegant White cake, red and blue layers are Classic Yellow Cake, and frosting is Easy Buttercream, all from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


These were from a while ago, but I rediscovered the picture today. Alors- on the blog!

I felt very sophisticated, making baguettes. I've made bread before (with varying degrees of success, due to my unfortunate habit of reckless improvisation), and King Arthur Flour has never led me astray, so I really couldn't worry. However, making something that everybody recognizes is actually a little bit intimidating. Instead of safely introducing some clever, new concoction to eat, you're setting yourself up for comparison. The person who lived in France and munched bread straight from the patisserie with fresh brie... the sinful red velvet cake at the restaurant last weekend... homemade chocolate chip cookies from mom... I don't like the thought of presenting people with some washed-out, overbaked facsimile of a baguette. It's much simpler to make something and pretend "it was meant to be this way!" even if something isn't quite right.

These baguettes were lovely, though. They were crunchy and golden outside, with an airy, soft interior, just the way a baguette should be. I imagined that three baguettes would be overkill, even for my eager host family's appetite. I imagined slicing the loaves, and I figured that it would last ages. I ran upstairs to get my camera, but when I got back down, half the loaf was gone! I was shocked, because my family always cuts up baguettes. We use a quarter of a loaf through an entire meal. A split second later, though, I realized that the rest of the world just tears off the stuff, and I scolded myself for being surprised. These are the dangers of leaving baked goods out on the counter! You have to be quick to take pictures.

It's all for the better, though. I'd much rather have people eat the things I bake with gusto, because that's the main reason to bake! Who doesn't want to be appreciated?

Today's good thing of the day: Enthusiasm. I appreciate people who appreciate things. Sometimes, I meet people who might go overboard with their hunger for life once in a while (or all the time). I believe that if somebody means well, and is friendly and happy, they never deserve to have people think badly of them. I have friends who fit this description. Some are best consumed in manageable quantities, but unless somebody is truly unpleasant, there's no reason to bemoan their energy. This is definitely advice I should give myself on a daily, hourly basis- but I'm trying.

(Side note: these baguettes are lovely with Nutella)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Family Cookies

This week, I had to do a French project on a food that meant something to my family, but of course I focused more on the "make food!" aspect. I couldn't think of a recipe that was very traditional in my family that I could bring into French class and discuss. My great aunt's birthday cake and our favorite crumb cake would be too difficult to transport. I couldn't say enough about pretzels with ham to fill up a presentation.
I decided to just page through my new copy of King Arthur Flour Whole Wheat Baking and find something that appealed to me, which luckily I did. These really epitomize my family. I love oatmeal cookies. My mother is crazy for peanut butter cookies, my sister is a chocolate chip cookie lady, and I substituted half the chocolate chips in the original recipe for walnuts for my dad (healthy Omega-3!). In addition, these have no flour, so with a little tweaking my aunt could have these gluten- and dairy-free.
So here is my adaptation of "Nutty for Oats" cookies: "Family Cookies!"

2/3c smooth peanut butter
4T butter
3/4c packed light or dark brown sugar
1t vanilla extract
1/2t salt
1/4t baking soda
2 large eggs
2 1/2c old-fashioned rolled oats
1c chocolate chips
1c walnuts

Heat the oven to 350F and grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper.

Grind 1 cup of the oats in a food processor for 30 seconds.

Cream the first six ingredients in a medium bowl, then beat in the eggs.

Add the oats, chocolate chips, and walnuts.

Drop onto pans with a teaspoon and bake for 11 to 13 minutes, or until just set and beginning to brown around the edges.

Cool on pans, and enjoy!