I love you...

like a [phat] kid loves [cheese]cake

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cheeseless Cheesecake


I don't usually make raw foods, mostly because I find no need to, and because life is more interesting with a little heat added, whether it derives from my oven or from me ;]

As finals drained the UC Berkeley population one by one, there seemed to be little hope of seeing any friends in a normal state of mind unless we had one final group hangout before we died. Hence, we decided upon a potluck the weekend before Dead Week began.


As usual, I offered to contribute dessert. My original plan was to make a cheesecake, which is my favourite dessert, nay, food, in the world (This is also a hint to anyone interested in winning me over: cheesecake. Thanks). But I was running short on money, and cream cheese isn't exactly the cheapest ingredient out there, so I decided for a simpler version that required no baking. There was also a twist to the batter: coconut butter.


If you have not heard of coconut butter, never fear, because I hadn't either until I saw this recipe. The only coconut substance I knew of besides the actual fruit was coconut oil, which rather than any culinary purpose, served to moisturize my hair when I go to India. So what the hell is coconut butter?

It is basically pressed coconut meat from which oil is extracted to form a solidified fat that is very stable and imparts a subtle flavour to foods. I found it easily in the nut butter section at Berkeley Bowl [this store never fails me, seriously], and with a bag full of Pink Lady apples and cashews, set to work.


Some adjustments I made to make this recipe more friendly: Top with fresh apples instead of dehydrating them, because let's face it, who really has a dehydrator lying around at home. I also used maple syrup to bind the crust together, and I used a combination coconut butter that was blended with other nuts for more flavour. This also means that my cheesecake does not turn out white but a speckled grey. It still looks good though, and nobody complained!

Ideas for next time: Different nuts [Almonds? Pecans?]; pure coconut butter


Apple Cashew “Cheesecake”

Crust:

  • 1 C Almonds
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

Topping:

  • 3 Apples, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1/4 C Agave
  • 1/2 t. Cinnamon
  • 2 T Coconut Butter
  • 1/3 C Crust

Filling:

  • 2 C Cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
  • 1 t. Lemon juice
  • 1/2 C Coconut Butter (softened in dehydrator)
  • 1/4 C Agave
  • 1 t. Vanilla
  • 1 t. Cinnamon
  • 1/4 t cloves
  • 1/4 t nutmeg

Read Through This Recipe Before Beginning

2 hours before: Combine apples, agave and cinnamon. Cover and let the apples macerate.

Make crust: Place almonds in food processor. Process until finely ground. Add maple syrup, processing until well mixed. Press mixture into an 8" spring form pan. You may have extra crust. Place in refrigerator.

Make Filling: Combine all ingredients in food processor. Process until smooth. This will take a bit. Pat over crust and return to refrigerator.

Finish Topping: Combine apples, coconut butter and any remaining crust you might have. Press over top of cheesecake. Return to refrigerator and chill for 2 hours before serving. Slice with sharp knife. Serves 8.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Procrastination Post #2: Pumpkin Chiffon Cake


I'm posting this recipe now even though I made it months ago for a birthday. I nearly forgot about all the pictures I had taken for it until my friend noted that since I clearly am not studying for my final exam right now, I might as well be productive and update. Well said, well said.

Hopefully this marks the last of my many pumpkin posts, but no guarantees as I still have nearly a full can left in my fridge. I had used a dollop to top my breakfast yesterday [choopped Pink Lady apple, Greek yoghurt, maple syrup, almonds] just to see how it would taste, and because I had run out of cereal and I was really craving something wintery for the chilly Berkeley morning.

Back to cake. I love the flavour combination I did here: pumpkin and cardamom. I tend to add cardamom in a lot of my baked goods because [a] I am Indian, [b] I have an entire jar full of the green little pods that I stole from home before embarking to college, and [c] it is sooo good! It adds a distinct taste to baked goods and brings up memories of good times in India and drinking chai. And since I was making this for a fellow brown friend, I figured I would throw some into the mix.
I am a very messy baker

The cake is a chiffon variety, meaning that you beat egg whites separately and fold them into the batter to make the cake light and airy. Even though there is no butter, it stays moist from the pumpkin puree and the yolks, which are beaten well at the beginning. Make sure when you beat your whites that your bowl and whisk are completely free of water, or else they won't whip to soft peaks and your chiffon will be a chiffail.

If you are missing the butter, don't worry, there is more than enough in the buttercream frosting on top and in between the layers. For an extra crunch [I love cakes with crunch], I filled the inside with Kix cereal. It's weird, I know, but trust me when I say that it was a success. Plus, who doesn't love Kix?


I hope to bake something new this week once my week of hell is over. I do have that pumpkin in my fridge, along with a pear.....maybe some chocolate pear cakes? Wait and see!


Pumpkin Chiffon Cake with Cardamom Buttercream

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
6 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
7 large egg whites, room temperature
2 tbsp white sugar

Buttercream:
2.5 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
3 tablespoons milk
4 cardamom pods, crushed and ground in a spice mill

Filling: Kix cereal, or any other cereal of your choice

Cake:
Preheat oven to 325F. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, 1 1/3 cups sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Mix egg yolks, pumpkin puree, vegetable oil and vanilla extract together in a small bowl. Pour pumpkin mixture into flour mixture. Stir until mixture is well-combined and no streaks of flour remain. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add in additional 2 tbsp sugar. Continue to beat to soft peaks.

Gently stir 1/3 of the egg whites into pumpkin mixture to lighten it up. Fold in remaining egg whites until batter is uniform in color and there are no streaks of white visible.
Pour batter into an ungreased, 9-inch pan. Gently tap the side of the pan once or twice to eliminate any large air pockets.

Bake for about 50-55 minutes, until the top springs back when gently pressed. Invert pan over a cooling rack until completely cool, 3 hours or overnight. When cool, carefully separate the cake from the pan with a thin knife and invert onto a serving platter or cake stand.

Buttercream:
Beat sugar, butter, milk and cardamom with electric mixer at low speed until well blended and smooth. If frosting becomes too thick, beat in additional milk by teaspoonfuls until the frosting is of spreading consistency.

To assemble:
Use a serrated knife to cut the cake horizontally into two equal layers. Place a piece of wax paper on a plate and put one layer on top, cut side up. Frost the sides and middle, and fill with Kix cereal. Top with second layer and complete a crumb coat. Refrigerate for ten minutes, then frost the rest. Garnish however you like.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sleepless in San Francisco

I should be studying. I really should.

But if I go through one more day without poring through food blogs and concocting culinary combinations in my head, I will go crazy. Can school just be over with so I can stop reading textbooks and start making pastries?

Usually, I bake some sort of dessert every other day. It's good practise, and I'm sure that my roommates and friends don't mind all the sugar I load them up with. I get critiqued, they get food. Win.

This past Sunday, there was a potluck dinner for Riffle [Relay for Life]. I had promised to contribute a cake of some sort, but there was a problem. Not only had studying for finals began, but that Saturday was my roommate's birthday, which meant clubbing adventures in San Francisco, Jager bombs, coming home at 430am, and going to work at 530am.

If you're doing the math, that does indeed mean that I didn't sleep. So at one hour before potluck time, I was screwed. So I pulled out all the random ingredients I could find in my fridge and came up with this: a chocolate chip pumpkin bundt cake.


Not bad, right? I've always loved the pumpkin/chocolate combination after I had cakes with the same flavours at work, but I never had recreated the yumminess at home. I added some of my own twists by finishing off the pumpkin spice soy milk I had and topping the cake with sesame seeds, just for kicks. It looked beautiful, and I still made it to the potluck on time!

Okay, back to studying. Good luck on finals!


Sleepless in San Francisco Cake

Cake:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour, divided
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup golden brown sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup pumpkin spice soy milk

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoons of unsweetened pumpkin puree
Sesame seeds, for garnish

For cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter 12-cup Bundt pan. Spray pan generously with nonstick spray. Dust pan lightly with flour.

Mix chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons flour in medium bowl.
*Mixing the chocolate chips with a little flour before adding them to the batter helps the chips stay evenly suspended in the batter and evenly distributed throughout the baked cake (otherwise, they may sink to the bottom).

Sift remaining flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt into another medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar in large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract and maple extract. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with soy milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chip mixture. Transfer batter to prepared pan, spreading evenly.

Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean and cake begins to pull away from sides of pan, about 1 hour. Cool cake in pan on rack 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack and cool completely.

For glaze:
Combine powdered sugar and pumpkin puree in medium bowl. Whisk until smooth. Spoon glaze decoratively over cake and top with sesame seeds; let stand at room temperature until glaze is firm, about 1 hour.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Super-Secret Scones





I've spent the last week experimenting for Thanksgiving to assure that my desserts will be perfect for the actual day. That meant buying various ingredients and trying them out in different proportions until I found the right combination that is sure to succeed. I feel confident with my final products, so let's see on Thursday how my guests feel!

However, my splurge of Thanksgiving ingredients left me penniless for basic apartment staples, mainly cereal, and if you know me, then you know that my cereal consumption is off the charts, especially when I've got an epic case of the drunchies.


I am also addicted to the entire meal of breakfast. I never leave home without eating breakfast, even if it means being late to class/work/friends. The rumours are true: it is the most important meal of the day! Usually when I wake up in the morning, I'm starving as it is, so going without my morning meal is just a recipe for heightened crankiness, sarcasm, and even sadism on occasion. [Whoa, is that really how you spell that word? For some reason I always thought 'occasion' had two "s"s]

Since I'm not going home for the break until Wednesday, I need some breakfast food to sustain me for two days. To use up my leftover ingredients, I opted for something pretty simple: scones! My tweaked recipe reveals a healthier version that can be frozen the night before and popped in the oven while you get ready in the morning. 2o minutes later, you have yourself a wonderfully warm scone topped with some orange blossom honey [the best honey there is. No, really].


The reason for the title of this post is my secret ingredient for the scones: ricotta cheese! It is extremely moist and gives the dough body without the added fat that comes from butter. Plus, it is so mild that you don't even taste it in the final product. The scones benefit from a more tender crumb and some extra protein as well.

I shaped the scones into rounds using an ice cream scoop, but you can just as easily form the traditional triangle shape. Just make sure that your work surface is floured and your hands are wet so the dough doesn't stick to you.

If you are a batter taster like I am, don't worry that it doesn't taste so sweet; the cranberries and honey make up for that once they are baked.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!



Super-Secret Scones

1 large egg
3/4 cup NF milk
1/4 cup non-fat ricotta cheese
1 2/3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/3 cups old fashioned oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp BP
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter, grated
1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries
Orange blossom honey, to glaze and for garnish

Line a baking sheet with a Silpat and set aside. If you don't have a Silpat, you can use parchment paper [NOT wax paper] or just grease the sheet well.

Whisk the egg, milk, and ricotta cheese together and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the butter to the dry ingredients, using your fingers to quickly incorporate the butter and flour mixture.

Pour the egg/milk/ricotta mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon just until the dough, which will be wet and sticky, comes together. Add the cranberries.

Still in the bowl, gently knead the dough by hand or turn it with a rubber spatula about 8 to 10 times. Use a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop to portion out 12 scone dough balls. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and freeze at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Warm some honey in the microwave and lightly brush over frozen scones. Bake for 20 minutes or until their tops are golden and firmish. Transfer them to a rack and cool for 10 minutes. Serve with additional honey.

Calories per scone: 150

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My World According to Pumpkin


I find that during desperate times [aka writing this group Marketing brief the day before it is due], I find solace in updating this blog. Economically, the opportunity cost of this action is atrocious, yet my personal utility soars, so ultimately, it balances out.

The pumpkin shortage seems to be in better shape now, which means that I can buy lots of it and bake! I already stocked up on a few 30-ounce cans, which means that my life will be filled of orange goodness until I get sick of it. I experimented with a couple of recipes in the past few weeks to see what I could come up with.


My first creation was a pumpkin rice pudding. I used less sugar than the recipe called for since I decided to top each slice with warmed maple syrup instead. I also used whole-wheat flour as usual, for more iron. Make sure to use short-grain or Arborio rice; it melds together with the rest of the dessert. Long-grain becomes too chewy after being cooked and then baked.

My second creation was so good that it is now a part of my Thanksgiving menu! To me, no Thanksgiving is complete without pumpkin pie. I wanted to twist the traditional recipe a bit, so after perusing through my pantry, I came up with these individual tarts with coconut tuiles. I was a bit worried that the coconut would overpower the pumpkin, but it worked out really well. Lucky for me that I learned how to make tuiles during my interview at Camino restaurant, so I could put my skills to the test! All they need now is a little caramel sauce garnish, and voila!

Pumpkin Rice Pudding

2/3 cup short-grain rice [I used Arborio]
5 cups non-fat milk
8 yolks 2/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon

Make rice: Heat rice, salt, 4 cups milk, and remaining 2/3 cup granulated sugar in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until very hot.

Transfer to a large metal bowl set over a large saucepan of simmering water (or to a double boiler) and cook over low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender and most of milk is absorbed, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. (Add more simmering water to saucepan if necessary.) Remove pan from heat and keep rice warm, covered.

[Note: This can be made the night before if needed]

Make pudding: Lightly whisk yolks in a large bowl, then whisk in vanilla, ginger, 1 1/3 cups pumpkin purée (reserve remainder for another use), and remaining cup milk. Gradually stir in warm rice, then pour mixture into a buttered 2-quart flameproof shallow baking dish (not glass). Set baking dish in a roasting pan and bake pudding in a hot water bath, uncovered, in oven until set, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Serve with warmed maple syrup.

Pumpkin Tarts with Coconut Tuiles

For the crust:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick grated butter
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla

For the filling:

4 large egg yolks
½ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp salt
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup whole milk

For the Tuiles:
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup egg whites
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

For the tart:

Combine the flour, powdered sugar, coconut, and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse to combine. Scatter the grated butter over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. In a small bowl lightly whisk the yolks and vanilla together. Dribble the yolk mixture through the processor tube while pulsing until clumps form. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead very lightly just to incorporate any dry ingredients that haven’t been mixed in. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.

Grease twelve miniature tart pans or muffin tins. On lightly floured surface or on parchment paper, roll the dough into 1/8-inch thickness. Cut the dough into circles a couple inches larger than the pans. Carefully transfer the rolled dough into the prepared pans and press the dough onto the bottoms and up the sides of the pans. Cut the excess of the dough. Dock the bottoms of the crusts with a fork and freeze for at least 30 minutes. If you are not planning to bake right away, wrap the crusts tightly and keep in the freezer until needed. Do not defrost before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line the frozen crusts with parchment paper, then with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for about 15 minutes, until set. Carefully remove the parchment and bake the crusts for another 10-12 minutes until light golden. Transfer the crusts in its pans to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature before filling.

For the Filling:

Reduce the oven temperature to 300F after prebaking the tart crusts.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks and maple syrup until combined, followed by the pumpkin puree, spices, and salt. Gradually whisk in the cream and milk into the mixture; don’t whip too much air into the custard base.

Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a liquid measuring cup. Place the cooled tart shells onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone mat. Divide the custard between the prebaked tart shells filling them just a bit below the rim. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the filling appears softly set at the edges but still jiggles. Watch it baking; a minute too long and the texture will be grainy.

Cool the tarts on the pan on a cooling rack. After completely cooled, refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

For the Tuiles:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line 2 large cookie sheets with a Silpat.

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix together the coconut, sugar, egg whites, flour and the 1/4 cup melted butter. Drop about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the coconut mixture onto a prepared cookie sheet. With an offset spatula, pat the mixture into a thin, flat, oval. Make two at a time, or the cookies get too cool and will not roll

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tuiles are golden. Working quickly, remove the tuiles and roll around a greased rolling pin. Keep them there until they are cool and carefully remove to reveal the twisted shape. Store carefully until ready to use.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

To Recipes and Beyond!

Before I blog about upcoming Thanksgiving adventures and Blue Bottle coffee, check out my article in the Daily Cal about reading a recipe and what it's all really about!

http://www.dailycal.org/article/107472/to_recipes_and_beyond_

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wake Up to Good Health


Bad news: My anemia came back.

And so did the reduced hemoglobin/low red blood AND white blood count/RBC diameter, meaning less oxygen intake.

Fail.

This basically means going back to my healthy regimen of no desserts and whole grains. Gym is out until I can regain better oxygen circulation, and I need to work on getting more sleep and less stress, which sadly, seems highly unlikely given the life of a double major.

But one can always dream.


To kick off my, well, health kick, I borrowed a recipe from Baking Obsession for buckwheat-oat scones. As you know, I have an undying affinity towards buckwheat, and although the final product looks nothing like scones, they definitely taste like them: moist, and crumbly.


I wanted to assure that my sugar intake was levelled, so I substituted half the sugar for chopped dates [I had some leftover from carrot cake a week back], and used fat-free milk to thin the batter, although I'm sure you can use any other type and it would turn out fine. Ideally, scones work well with buttermilk, so if you can find a low-fat or fat free version, I recommend using that instead. You can also substitute buttermilk with milk and a teaspoon of lemon juice, which gives the acid needed to activate the baking soda. But if you don't mind slighty flattened scones, do what I did and just use milk.

These scones are pretty hearty due to the buckwheat and oats, so make sure you have a glass of milk or tea ready close by!


Date-Oat-Buckwheat Scones [Doatwheat?]

  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 4 tbsp (½ stick; 55g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped dates
  • 1 cup milk, cold + about 1 tbsp for brushing
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • About 1 tbsp raw coarse sugar (like turbinado)

Preparation:

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat.

In a large bowl, whisk the first 9 ingredients. Add the butter and work into the flour using a pastry blender or your fingers (my preference here).

Don’t be too heavy-handed, small butter pieces are still should be present.

Add the chopped dates, mix to combine. In a glass liquid-measuring cup, combine 1 cup of milk and the vanilla extract, then pour into the dry ingredients, stirring with a fork. The dough will be sticky; that’s the way it should be.

Transfer the dough onto a generously floured surface, and fold it over 3-4 times. Transfer the dough onto the prepared baking sheet and flatten into a 9-inch square. Score the dough with a back of a large knife into smaller squares (I made 16).

Brush with the remaining milk and sprinkle with the raw sugar.

Bake for about 30-32 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a rack until warm. Store in an airtight container if you plan on keeping them for more than a couple of days.

Serves 16.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Make a Date with Carrot Cake

I realised that I have eaten more carrot cake in these past three weeks than I have eaten all year.
FSM, the on-campus cafe, has become my haven for studying Accounting, Econ, Psychology, and whatever else I have been lazy about until the night before the midterm. Every time I go there (which is nearly everyday), I order the same thing: A small-nonfat-sugarfree vanilla latte and a slice of carrot cake. Multiply these slices by four to five days of FSM fun, and that is a lot of cake.

Unfortunately, that also means a lot of calories, and since I clearly am not going to the gym (that is two hours I could be studying!), I needed to figure out a better version of my go-to textbook food than layers of carrots, sugar, and cream cheese frosting.

My solution was a carrot cake sweetened with dates. Although dates do pack a hefty dose of calories they are fat-free and an excellent source of fiber, so you feel fuller for a longer period of time and avoid uncessary snacking. I consider them 'good' calories, in the same group as nuts and avocado.

Further health kicks included whole wheat flour, yoghurt, and almonds (remember, good calories). Instead of cream cheese, I used the leftover dates to create a date frosting to spread on top. It complimented the dates in the cake nicely and added sweetness, but not overpoweringly so.


Ultimately, one slice of cake equated to 211 calories, versus 400 for a typical store-slice. Success? I think so.

Now back to Marketing.


Make-a-Date Carrot Cake

2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup almonds, chopped
1 stick butter, melted
3/4 cup dates, pitted and finely chopped
1.5 cups carrots, finely shredded
1/2 cup yoghurt (I used nonfat Greek plain)
2 eggs
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup light soy milk
1.5 tsp Cinnamon
.75 tsp salt
2.5 tsp BP

Date Frosting:
  • 1 cup pitted Medjool dates
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9x5x3 / 8-cup loaf pan (or 8x8 cake pan) and line it with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the almonds and set aside.

Stir the dates into the melted butter, breaking up the dates a bit.

Stir the carrots into the date-butter mixture, breaking up any date clumps as you go. Whisk in the yoghurt, eggs, and soy milk. Add the flour mixture and stir until everything just comes together. Spoon into the prepared pan. Bake for about 50 - 60 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean in the center of the cake - it'll be less if you are using a standard cake pan. Remove from oven and let cool.

While the cake is baking make the date frosting.

In a medium saucepan, bring water and dates to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add vanilla and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Place mixture in a blender with the cinnamon. Pulse until smooth and completely blended. When the cake is cool, spread the frosting over it.

Serves 16.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two Ways with Apples


I am not a huge fan of apples by themselves, which I attribute to my freshman year when the only fruit that the dining commons ever supplied were apples and bananas. I mean, I know an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but really? It just becomes so damn boring after a while! What happened to all the other seasonal produce like pears, quince, and (my favourite) persimmons?

Fall is indeed apple season, and apple season means lots of baking, which invariably turns into pie. There are a multitude of methods to construct an apple pie (I add sharp cheddar to mine), but after some time, even that becomes mundane.
However, when my friend suddenly thrust a box full of apples from Whole Foods at me--for free, so obviously I couldn't resist--I knew I needed to use them sooner or later (preferably sooner; if I waited too long then I would end up with mass mushiness that has no use except for apple puree or applesauce). I wasn't in the mood for pie, but I did want to use up as many apples as possible before they mushified.

Some searching led to two new ways with apples: roasted and baked into a tart. Now, I know you may say that a tart is nearly the same thing as a pie, but I had my reasons. I learned how to make a new type of dough at my pastry stage last week, crunch dough. It has a higher butter content so that when baked, it becomes super flaky and just shatters beautifully once cut into with a satisfying crunch. My recreation used whole-wheat flour and a touch of anise seed and turned out well. I found out later that my butter/flour ratio was too high, but from sole improvisation, I was content. The glaze was actually condensed milk!

As for the roasted apples, think of it as a sort of an crumble. The layers were sandwiched with a buckwheat streusel that provided a nice nutty flavour. I added some chopped almonds as well for extra crunch, since the apples would be soft once baked off. A dollop of cinnamon cream would be perfect for either of these two creations, but since I had none, I just sprinkled some of the spice into the mixture and left it at that. There will be extra crumble, so you can either save it for future use or add an egg white like I did and bake them off as cookies!

Ideas for next time: Proper crunch dough


Roasted Apples Layered with Buckwheat Crumble


1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
Pinch of salt
a handful of raw almonds, chopped


Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add the flour and salt and mix. Add the chopped almonds and mix until crumbly. If the dough is too thick, add some more buckwheat flour.

Slice 4 apples horizontally. Keep the top, but core the rest of the layers. Place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the crumble in between the layers and in the cavities.

Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes or until tender. You can baste them with a bit of melted butter in the process if the apples seem a bit too dry.


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Freeform Apple Tart

3-4 apples, thinly sliced Pinch of cinnamon 1 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour 1 tsp anise seeds 6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces Pinch of salt 2 Tbsp sugar 2-3 Tbsp ice water 1/2 cup almonds, chopped Condensed milk, to glaze

Combine flour, sugar, anise seeds, and salt. Add butter and mix with hands or a pastry blender until crumbly. Drizzle in water, one tablespoon at time, until mixture comes together as a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least half an hour.

Roll out dough on a floured surface until roughly the size of a pizza pan. Don't worry if the edges are ragged; this will be a freeform tart! Sprinkle with almonds. Starting from the outside, arrange the apple slices in a spoke like fashion all the way around, working your way in until the tart is filled.

Fold over the edges of the dough into a rough crimped shape. Using a brush, glaze the crust with condensed milk and sprinkle with sugar. Sprinkle cinnamon over the apples.

Bake at 400 until crust is golden-brown. Cool on a rack before serving.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bar-None Bars


Why are these bars named as such? Because they are best, bar none [get it?] And because they are so good that they will soon be none left!

I made these a couple of weeks ago while both my roommates were away. Having the place to myself can be nice and allows from some inner-reflection-bonding time, but let's face it: that lasts about ten, maybe fifteen minutes at the most, and then I just become bored and lonely....and hungry.

The best thing about these bars is the layers. Each bite reveals five [yes, count them!] luscious layers of goodness, and each layer sings with every person's favourite desserts and snacks:

Chocolate cake crumbs: Oreos; the innocence of childhood and dunking cookies in milk

Chocolate chips: Everyone's favourite cookie; eating them straight out of the bag

Walnuts: Nutty crunch; toffee; brittle

Coconut: Tropical dreams; miniature candy bars; India

Dulce de Leche: Smooth golden caramel, but richer; total gooeyness

Combined, they are magic, and you will be fighting your friends for a piece. I make this claim only because it is the utmost truth. After dropping off some extra bars at my friend's apartment, the treats made their way around the room. They passed the precious foil-wrapped desserts back and forth until in no time at all, there were indeed none left.

Bar none? I think so.

Ideas for Next Time: Different type of cookie base/nuts, conversion into a cake


Bar-None Bars

1 cup chocolate cake crumbs [I took leftover cake pieces, dried them in the oven overnight, and ground them in a blender]
1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease an 8×8-inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together cake crumbs, oats and melted butter. Pour into prepared pan and press into an even layer, using your fingertips,the back of a spoon or a spatula. Spread chocolate chips in a layer on the graham crackers. Spread walnuts in a layer on the chocolate chips. Spread coconut in a layer on top. Pour sweetened condensed milk over everything, and drizzle with dulce de leche.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until coconut is golden brown. Cool completely before slicing.
Bars can be served at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 25 squares.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Think Outside the Bag

Ahoye readers,

I am in the process of cramming for two midterms, trying to eat healthy [major phail], and writing my column for this week, so although I have been dessert-ing [roasted figs, anyone?] I simply cannot post until this week of Hell is over. In the meanwhile, feel free to read my latest article in the Daily Cal newspaper here and give me your thoughts. The founder of Tastespotting.com commented!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Besty Zesty Cake - Orange Zest, That Is


Let me tell you about a friend of mine, code name Star Wars [for those of you who know him, this nickname should be incredibly obvi as to who it is, but as you know, everyone in my life must have an alternative name, just to keep things interesting].

Star Wars is the healthiest health nut I have ever met. For the most part, I eat pretty healthily [no fried foods, no potato chips], but this guy makes me sound and feel obese. But he was also my partner-in-crime for various baking adventures this past summer in the SigEp fraternity house. Together, we plundered the house kitchen and devised new methods of dealing with oven dials that worked backwards, multiplying rat populations, stolen Grade AA maple syrup, tupperwares without lids, and the constant shortage of mixing bowls, spoons, spatulas, and baking dishes. Yet despite all these mishaps, we still managed to bake up a storm week after week, satiating the other brothers of the house and experimenting with new and healthier options for desserts. And for better or for worse, he has transformed me into a more conscious baker. Although I am not even close to his level, I, now, prefer whole-wheat flour over all-purpose and limiting the usage of butter. The changes are minimal, yet the results are a healthier product that I can enjoy while still retaining some nutritional benefits.


Since he moved out of the house, our baking sessions had ended, but our desire [or necessity] to restore Team Buckwheat [the name of our powerhouse kitchen duo] remained steadfast. Thus, after countless phone calls, last-minute cancellations, and schedule reconfigurations, we finally set a plan to meet today. His dish was pumpkin bread, while I settled on a recipe I found when reading some filter blogs: Olive oil cake.

I know, that sounds rather strange and even disgusting upon first hearing it, but let me help clear that bias. Olive oil lends a full and fruity flavour to baked goods, and its heart-healthy fats are much better than butter, which would make Star Wars very proud. Incorporating some semolina into the batter makes for a cornbread-like texture that balances with the oil nicely, and the cream and eggs keep the cake moist so that it resembles almost a coffeecake of sorts. In fact, I want to play around with this recipe more to see if I can create an upside-down coffeecake with some fruit. Pears, perhaps?


I am also a sucker for orange zest; one of my signature dishes for potlucks is an orange-ricotta cheesecake. Just a teaspoon livens up any cake and makes it cool and fresh when you bite into it. It is very underused amongst bakers I know, but I really encourage you to try sprucing up your next project with a bit of it, for the results will blow your mind.

In the midst of watching YouTube videos about SlapChop [watch it here, along with all its parodies; the rap video is awesome], both our cakes were a little overbaked, but luckily, neither Star Wars nor I are too picky about slightly overdone goods. A quick flip onto a plate and a knife rendered a warm, golden slice topped with sugary chopped almonds for an extra crunch. The final verdict? Success - as deemed by a taste test from his roommates [we would have been too biased in our assessments].

Oh, and his cake was great, too!


Ideas for next time: Fruit for a coffeecake; different types of nuts; caramel topping

Besty Zesty Cake

INGREDIENTS
2 ea, large eggs, room temperature
3/4 C sugar
1 C whole-wheat flour
1/2 C semolina
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil (not too bitter)
1/2 C cream
1 tbl honey

for topping:
2 tbl sugar
1/3 cup almonds, toasted and chopped

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Oil a cake pan with olive oil.

Combine flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and zest in a small bowl. Mix to make sure zest is evenly distributed. (Easily done with hand.)

Combine oil, cream, and honey in a measuring cup. Give a quick stir to mix everything.

In an electric mixer, cream sugar and eggs with paddle attachment on medium high until pale yellow, about 1 minute. On medium speed, add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the wet ingredients. With every addition, make sure to incorporate without overbeating. Scrape down sides as necessary.

With a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the oiled baking dish. Sprinkle sugar and almond mixture on top. Place in middle rack of oven, and bake until slightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 40 minutes.