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like a [phat] kid loves [cheese]cake

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cocktail in a Cupcake?

My healthy get-as-much-iron-as-I-possibly-can kick continues, especially after my relapse on Wednesday where I spent most of the day on the sofa munching on cereal and consoling my gargantuan megrims and hebetude by plowing through Season 2 of "How I Met Your Mother." Bee tee dubs, if you have never seen this show before, go watch it right now. In the course of six days it has become one of my favourite shows, and I'm determined to be all caught up by the time the new season begins in September. Luckily, being sick allows me to waste, I mean UTILISE my time watching episode after episode. Story of my life.

This summer, I practically lived at the SigEp fraternity house baking. The guys there are the healthiest health nuts I have ever met, but now that I need to eat uber healthy, I can finally appreciate their obsessions, and it's allowed me over the past couple months to hone my own baking into products that are more nutritious yet still delicious!

My latest concoction is an adaption of a recipe I found off of Baking Bites. Nicole came up with an awesome idea of infusing a lemon drop cocktail into a cupcake, complete with vodka and everything. It sounded so unique I had to give them a try. I didn't have strawberries, so I used blackberries instead, creating a purple swirl in the cakes, along with whole wheat flour so that I get my iron dose. I also wanted a distinct lemon flavour, so I used lemon juice instead of zest.

At first, the batter was super thick, and I was worried that these would just turn out hard. But they came out great! The texture was nearly like cornmeal cakes, which I attribute to the blackberry seeds. You couldn't really taste the vodka, which I'm not sure is a good or bad thing; I think it would be interesting to actually have that flavour come through and counter the blackberries and lemon.

You can get the original recipe here if you are interested in making both and comparing them!

Ideas for next time: Blackberry or citrus-flavoured vodka, different fruit filling

Blackberry Lemon Drop Cupcakes

1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 cups whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk [any kind, I used nonfat]
1/2 cup vodka
2 cups fresh, halved blackberries

Preheat oven to 350F and line 18 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and lemon juice.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a measuring cup, combine the milk and vodka. Working in three or four additions, alternate adding the flour mixture and the vodka/milk mixture, ending with an addition of dry ingredients. Only mix until no streaks of flour remain visible. Stir in blackberries gently by hand to create a swirl effect.
Divide batter evenly into prepared muffin tins.

Bake for 16-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool cupcakes on a wire rack.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Just Want to Get a Fat Melon and Eat It

My favourite thing about summer is the produce, hands down. There are so many delicious things that we get to eat that just aren't as good in the other months. Things like berries, squash, green beans, it's all so delicious!

Melons are a huge part of summer. While I am not a huge watermelon fan [it tastes like water to me], hand me anything else and I'm game. Lately I've been trying out different melons other than the usual cantaloupe or honeydew to see if I can wrap my taste buds around them [hence the title of this blog, a phrase I said while pondering my new discoveries while on the MUNI in San Francisco. Needless to say, it did attract some odd stares.]

Some of my new favs are:

Crenshaw: Light orange interior with a yellow peel that feels waxy when ripe
Charanteis: Resembles smaller versions of cantaloupe
Galia: Hybrid of a cantaloupe and honeydew; green interior

When I bought my first crenshaw melon, I wanted to do more than just eat it plain, although I did do that for half of it. The weather had been pretty warm lately, so I decided to use the other half and make a semifreddo, a sort of half-frozen ice cream made with whipping cream, eggs, and sugar. Since it isn't churned, it doesn't freeze and there are no ice crystals, which makes it softer. They are usually served in moulds, like the doughnut-shaped versions at A16 in San Francisco, but any type of pan at home is fine to freeze it in. I like freezing it in a loaf pan so I can slice it and serve with some almonds as garnish.

Since my melon was uber ripe by the time I used it, I didn't have to use much sugar. When you make this at home and use fruits, pay attention to the fruit's natural sweetness and add sugar as you prefer; the recipe version might be too much or too little.

Ideas for next time: Different fruits/melons, some sort of garnish [berries, mint syrup]

Melon-Brown Sugar Semifreddo

  • 1 pound peeled chopped crenshaw melon (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar sugar, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Almonds [for garnish]

Line loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving an overhang at each end. Purée melon with 1/3 cup sugar and salt in a blender until smooth. Transfer to large metal bowl and stir in yolks. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and beat with mixer until pale, thick, and tripled in volume, about 10 minutes.

Remove bowl from saucepan and set in a large ice bath. Continue to beat until cold, about 6 minutes.

Beat cream with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in other large bowl using cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Fold whipped cream into cantaloupe mixture gently but thoroughly.

Pour mixture into pan and freeze, loosely covered with plastic wrap, until firm, at least 5 hours. Uncover top and invert semifreddo onto a plate. Garnish with almonds.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fee Fi Fo FIG

I don't know about you, but every time I go to Berkeley Bowl to buy some figs, they are just so expensive! I mean four dollars for a basket of Black Missions? No, thanks; that's nearly three loads of laundry!

Thank goodness for friends who have mass amounts of random fruit trees growing in their front yard. True story. Now it's just a five-minute walk to fill my bag full of figs, and they are free! I mean, as long as he gets to eat some of whatever I decide to bake with them, which is reasonable enough.

These figs are not Black Mission though, sadly. Black Mission figs are really moist and must be eaten as soon as possible, as they go bad quickly. They are also very common dried, but I prefer the full fruit. The figs that I used here were Calimyrna. They are green and not as moist or as sweet as Mission. They also have very tough outer skins, so many people like to peel them before use.
I decided to utilise the figs to make a strudel. I had been reading up on some blogs about strudel dough, and it didn't look too hard to make so I thought I'd try my hand at it. The finished dough is super stretchy, but it's actually quite fun to maneuver! Make sure you have a large surface so that you can work with the dough and not have any uneven thicknesses. I actually used the recipe from Daring Bakers. Check out my BlogRoll for some other great strudels that bloggers cooked up!

Being the lazy college student that I am, I decided not to peel the figs. Instead, I just boiled them down with some maple syrup and a dash of lemon juice to create a pulpy filling. The syrup makes the entire mixture sweeter and holds the filling together. Plain sugar would work fine, but the final product might be more liquidy and harder to put into the strudel.

Before baking, the strudel may not seem like much, but don't trip chocolate chip; it will rise! And you will have fat fig strudels before you know it!

Ideas for next time: Flavour the dough with something; Black Mission fig filling

Maple-Fig Strudel

2 cups Calimyrna figs, washed and quartered
1/2 cup maple syrup
A dash of lemon juice

Strudel Dough:
1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

For the filling: Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until figs are soft and mixture has reduced nearly by half. Mash the figs as you go along as to create a jam. Turn off heat and set aside to cool.

For the dough:
Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.

Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.

Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).
It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.

Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle and spoon fig mixture onto half of it, leaving a half-inch border all along the sides. Fold the other half over and pinch to seal the edges.

With a knife, cut vents all along the strudel. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until the strudel has puffed up nicely and is a golden-brown. Sprinkle with brown sugar just before serving, if desired.