Lots and lots and lots of caramels:

Chocolate-covered caramels

Chocolate-covered caramels

Mostly apple cider, but you can see some fleur-de-sel peeking out in the rear.

Here’s a closer shot:

Fleur de Sel Caramel

Fleur de Sel Caramel

Mmmmm.

Oh, the recipe, you say?

Essentially, I use the Fleur de Sel Caramel recipe from Epicurious.  I kick the fleur de sel up to a Tablespoon, plus sprinkle some on the caramel after pouring it out, plus some on the finished chocolates, because, well, FLEUR DE SEL AND CHOCOLATE. yummy.  For notes on technique, and all the lessons I’ve learned, check out the post on Apple Cider Caramels.

Also, there were pralines:

Pecan Pralines

Pecan Pralines

And Buckeyes (apparantly, I forgot to snap a picture when I’d covered them in chocolate.  So, here you have it: NAKED BUCKEYES.  Hide the children, not for the sensitive or delicate, etc.):

Nekkid Buckeyes (definitely up to no good)

Nekkid Buckeyes (definitely up to no good)

What are Buckeyes, you say?  (What are you, Southern?)

Buckeyes are a tasty, crunchy peanut-butter and rice krispie treat dipped in a combination of milk and dark chocolate.  They are addictive.  You cannot eat just one.  They are fluffy and crunchy and sweet and chocolatey, and it’s a darned good thing I took all of the leftovers to the office holiday party, let me tell you. The recipe came from a good friend, and is dead simple.  There’s something similar here, but they don’t use the Rice Krispies, which I think really make it something awesomely special (my version calls for equivalent measurements of rice krispies and peanut butter, i.e. 3 cups).

So, that’s what’s been happening! Don’t forget, you have until Sunday the 13th to place your holiday orders from SugarPunk (so I have enough time to bake and ship/deliver before we leave on the 19th for lovely Arkansas and then Chicago).

Or, you could wait until the last minute and sign up for the Dessert of the Month club (details forthcoming)…

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake

The other day, Zoe of Zoebakes made this scrumptious Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake, and I knew I had to have one for my very own (plus, that it would make a very pretty addition to the Thanksgiving spread).

It was (is) DELICIOUS.  I can’t taste the bourbon, nor could anyone else, but I’m sure it’s in there doing something – the flavor is just wonderfully complex and smooth, the texture soft and silky.

The recipe went fairly straight-forwardly, although I decided early on to skip the sugared cranberries and just go with pomegranate seeds instead for the garnish – still pretty and elegant. I also went for the easy way out and made a graham cracker crust, which I think went fabulously with the cheese cake – just the right richness of flavors to complement the pumpkin.

I didn’t use a foil tent to bake it, and ended up with the double prophylaxis of cake strips and water bath, which might be why it took well over an hour to set up enough to do the sour cream layer – but it didn’t crack!  :)

The biggest gap, I think, was in the removal of the cake.  “Refrigerate for a couple of hours” does not get me from cake in pan (non-springform, mind you) to cake on plate.  I wasn’t falling for that one.  After giving it some thought, I stuck the cake in the freezer for a couple of hours, then rested the bottom in a pan of very hot water for about half a minute, and then carefully upended the cake onto a layer of parchment paper.  Came out smoothly – go me!  Only lost a little bit of the edge to the paper, too.  Thawed beautifully, transported without any fuss, and was enjoyed by many.

Is still being enjoyed by us – there weren’t enough people at Thanksgiving to eat it, the carrot cake, and the chocolate tarts, so we have leftovers.  Time for another party!

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake
By ZoeBakes

Batter

1 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups [4] roasted pumpkin or canned
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon (corn or potato starch)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cheesecake topping:
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 graham cracker crust

Preheat oven to 325° and prepare an 8 by 3-Inch Round cake pan with parchment and the graham cracker crust. [I prebaked the crust for 10 minutes] Set aside.

To prepare cheese cake batter:

Mix together in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment the soft cream cheese and brown sugar, until smooth.
In a separate bowl combine the pumpkin puree, eggs, sour cream, vanilla and bourbon. Slowly add to the cream cheese mixture, scraping down the sides often.
In another bowl whisk together the sugar, starch, spices and salt. Add this to the cream cheese and pumpkin mixture. Beat on medium/low speed until well combined, scraping down the sides often.

Pour into prepared pan. Gently tap the cake pan several times on the counter to bring any air bubbles to the surface.

Bake in a water bath and with a foil tent [as I said, I skipped this step], for about 45-55 minutes or until
set, slightly puffy and no longer wet looking. [It took me more like 70 minutes]

While the cake is baking mix together all the ingredients for the topping, set aside.

Once the cake is fully cooked very gently spread the on the sour cream topping with an Offset Spatula .

Bake uncovered with the topping for an additional 5 minutes.

Remove the cake and allow to cool slowly still in the water bath. Carefully run a thin blade knife around the edge of the warm cake so that it won’t crack.

Put in the refrigerator to cool for at least a couple of hours.  For absolute safety, freeze for a couple of hours before removing from the pan.  After freezing, warm the bottom of the pan briefly to re-melt some of the butter in the crust, and then up-end onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or something else nonstick, and reverse onto your platter or serving dish of choice.

Decorate with pomegranate seeds, cranberries, etc.

Pomegranate seeds on cheese cake

Pomegranate seeds on cheese cake

Cranberry-Orange Bread

Cranberry-Orange Bread

People are actually starting to give me money for food!  I am so excited by this development.

Also exciting is that I finally broke down and bought myself a food processor.  I’ve owned a little bitty one for years, but never a large one.  So I got this one. It came Thursday, and I spent all Friday using it to make pie crusts (about 15 so far).  I am IN LOVE.  This is the second-best large purchase I’ve ever made for the kitchen — the first is my beloved Kitchen Aid, which has been going strong for 15 years now, and I expect will for another 15.  I did pick up a secondhand 6-quart for the kitchen, and it handles doubled recipes and bread nicely, but it shall never replace my old favorite in my heart or in my home kitchen. But back to my food processor.  It has two big buttons on the front  – “ON” and “OFF/PULSE”.  The buttons, bless them, are so nice and big and easy to push that when my arms start to get tired of pulsing, I can scoot the machine to the edge of the counter and use my hip.  Ergonomic all the way!

One of the things recently ordered from the business was a loaf of the cranberry-orange bread, so now there are pictures.  One of the things I need to do is go through and bake one of everything on the list so that I can take pretty pictures for the website.  Someday, when I have free time.  Heh.

This is a pretty straightforward quick-bread – the thing to remember about quick breads is that the less you mix them, the lighter the final result will be.  It’s okay to still see flour – by the time you get it all into the pan, it’ll be mixed enough.

Cranberry-Orange Quick Bread
Recipe adapted from this one on recipezaar

Ingredients

* 2 cups all-purpose flour (I use White Lily)
* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 cup butter, softened
* 1 tablespoon orange zest
* 3/4 cup orange juice
* 1 egg
* 1 cup cranberries, chopped (fresh or frozen)

Directions
1.     Grease/spray bottom only of a 8×4 or 9×5 loaf pan.
2.     Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Add margarine and mix until crumbly.
3.     Add peel, 3/4 c orange juice, and egg; stir until moistened Add cranberries.
4.     Pour batter (it will be thick) into pan and bake until a knife comes clean from the center.
5.     For a 8″ loaf, about 75 min; for a 9″ loaf, about 55-65 min at 350F (watch after about 50 min, depending on your oven).
6.     Loosen sides from pan, remove & cool completely.

Cranberry Orange Loaf

Cranberry Orange Loaf

We’re in Arkansas for the weekend, so no baking, but when I get back, it’s time to make filling for a few dozen pies…

Sweet Potato Cake

Sweet Potato Cake

Every month, the Cake Slice Bakers take a recipe from the year’s chosen cookbook (currently Sky High : Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes, by Huntsman & Wynne) and bake it up for your delectation.

This month’s offering heads into some definitely unknown territory – the Sweet Potato Cake is three layers of spiced sweet potato cake, filled with orange cream cheese icing and frosted with Chocolate cream cheese icing. Sweet potatoes, orange, and chocolate? I was definitely curious enough about it to give it a whirl pretty much as written…

I did have some quibbles with the way the recipe was written – when someone tells me to “bake 12 ounces of sweet potatoes, peel, puree, and set aside one cup for later”, I expect that the first time the recipe calls for sweet potatoes I’m using the part that didn’t get set aside, which is what I did. However, ‘later’ never came – after I’d baked the cakes and was making sure I had everything ready to put the frosting together, I noticed that I still had a forlorn-looking cup of sweet potato puree sitting on the counter.

“Hmm,” says I. I re-read the recipe. No further sweet potato usage. Checked it twice, even. Nope.

The part I used was about the same quantity, thankfully, but it could have been something of a wreck, there.

(I do wonder if the funny blotches were because of not enough puree, or because I didn’t fold in the egg whites thoroughly enough.)

Why the weird white blotches?

Why the weird white blotches?

Managed to get my cream cheese out to come to room temperature hours ago (go me!), but went to put together the frosting and realized that I’d not done the butter. Drat. I’ve been having bad luck lately with microwave defrosting (it worked for a while, but now there seem to be hot spots and I get melty bits), so I was thinking about mashing it up for a bit to warm it (It was already 10pm, and I want to sleep sometime, hence the not naturally warming it) when I remembered a trick I’d learned from someone years ago and forgotten ’til this moment. Which is why I wrote up most of this post with a stick of butter tucked up against my nice warm skin :) (This is not a trick to do with food you intend to sell, obviously, but as long as everything stays in its wrapper I feel that friends and fellow volunteers are more than fair game for body-warmed-butter.)

Butter and cream cheese played nicely together, but when I added the (melted, now room temperature) chocolate, instead of melding nicely it froze up solid into little chunks. So we shall pretend that we meant it that way, neh? It’s so pretty with its little flecks, is it not?

The icing, already sort of soft, did not get any firmer when adding 2 TB .25 tsp worth of liquid to it, oh no. Another cup of powdered sugar and I could be fairly certain that it wouldn’t explode its little buttercream boundaries and go all over everywhere, but barely.

The first layer came out beautifully! It was so pretty I thought about just making three cakes, but decided to continue.

The first layer - so pretty!  That's orange frosting in the middle.

The first layer - so pretty! That's orange frosting in the middle

I toyed with the idea of not frosting the sides, letting the natural beauty of my little stars shine through, but remember that soft icing? As soon as I put the second layer on, it squished something fierce.

Thinking ahead (forecasting, provenance of the higher apes, ook), I refrigerated the cake and the icing so that the third layer would not squish out all of the frosting when I placed it on the other two. Success! One more layer of icing, another stint in the fridge, and then the final decoration. (I was sad that I hadn’t saved more orange icing, as it would have made a nice top layer. Good to remember for next time.)

Finishing off the cake with the chocolate frosting

Finishing off the cake with the chocolate frosting

Taste-wise?  So far I’ve only had the frosting – the cake itself is going to a volunteer appreciation dinner tomorrow night (it barely, barely fit into my cake carrier – whew!).  The frosting is really sweet, and the combination of really sweet cream cheese and unsweetened chocolate just clashes, to my mind.  The orange was tasty, but again, so achingly sweet.  Shall report back when I find out how it all tastes together!

Recipe:

Sweet Potato Cake
from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Cake:
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato (12 ounces)
3 cups of cake flour**
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of cloves
5 eggs, separated
2 and 1/4 cups of sugar
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons of butter, at room temperature
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla
1 and 1/4 cups of milk

(**The recipe calls for cake flour and if you only have all-purpose flour on hand, you can substitute 3/4 cup (105 grams) all purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (30 grams) cornstarch.)

(*If fresh sweet potato is not available where you live you may use canned sweet potato, yams, and pumpkin puree)

Makes a 9-inch triple layer cake, serves 16-20 people

1. Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Prick the sweet potatoes in 2-3 places, place on a small baking dish and bake for 1 hour or until the potatoes are very soft. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

2. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees. Butter the bottoms and the sides of the pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper also.

3. When the sweet potatoes are cool peel off the skin and remove any dark spots. Cut the potatoes into chunks and puree in a food processors. Puree until smooth. Measure out one cup of potato puree and set aside [to use in just a minute :)].

4. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Set aside.

5. In the bowl of electric mixer add the egg whites and attach whip attachment. Beat on medium speed until egg whites are frothy. raise the speed to high and gradually beat in 1/4 cup of sugar. Continue to beat until the egg whites are moderately stiff.

6. In another large bowl with the paddle attachment, combine the sweet potato, butter, vanilla, and remaining sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl after each egg yolk is added. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and milk in alternately in 2-3 additions. making sure to begin and end with the dry ingredients.

7. With a large spatula, fold in one fourth of the egg whites into the batter to lighten. Then fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks remain. Making sure to not over mix or this will deflate the batter. Divide the batter among of the three pans.

8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then turn out the cake layers onto a wire rack and cool completely at least 1 hour.

9. To assemble the cake, place one layer flat side up on to a cake stand. With a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round tip and filled with chocolate cream cheese icing, pipe border around the edge of the cake. Fill the center with the orange cream filling smoothing it to the edge of the border. Place the second layer on top and repeat the process.Place the third layer on top and use all the chocolate cream cheese frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake.

Chocolate Cream Frosting:
makes 3 cups
10 ounces cream cheese*** at room temperature
1 stick of butter at room temperature
16 ounces of powdered sugar; sifted
1 and 1/2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate melted and slightly cooled

(***1 cup of cream cheese maybe substituted with 1 cup pureed cottage cheese OR 1 cup plain yogurt, strained overnight in a cheesecloth OR equal amounts of neufatel cheese)

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar to cream cheese butter mixture. Making sure to scrape down the sides the sides of the bowl. Then beat until light fluffy 2-3 minutes.

2. Measure out 1 cup of frosting and set aside.

3. Add the melted chocolate to the remaining icing in the bowl and beat until well combined. If your chocolate seizes all up and therefore your icing isn’t chocolate-colored, add some cocoa powder, about a tablespoon.

Orange Cream Filling:
1 cup of reserved cream cheese icing from above.
2 tablespoons of frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/4 teaspoon of orange extract

1. Stir together all the ingredients until well mixed.
If it’s a runny, gloppy mess, add more powdered sugar until it isn’t.

Or, When Things Don’t Quite Turn Out.

That’s right, I share with you my failures as well! Well, some of them. The photogenic ones.

The original source for this recipe was BakingBlonde‘s lovely post on the topic. I mean, look at those pictures? Who wouldn’t want to make these cookies?? I don’t even like peanut butter, and I still thought they looked awesome, so I gave it a shot (plenty of other people like them, and it’s always a struggle to find recipes that aren’t dry as bones).

In the beginning, all looked well:

Beautiful raw cookie dough

Beautiful raw cookie dough

(They’re sprinkled with powdered sugar because this dough just <b> drank</b> up the powdered sugar I’d rolled them in, and I wanted my crackly crust.)

It wasn’t until I checked on them near the end of baking time that disaster struck. Instead of lovely, high cookies with deep crinkles, I had this:

Flat, flat, flat cookies

Flat, flat, flat cookies

Well, the crinkles are there, but they were oh so very flat. Extremely flat. Still tasty, if PB cookies are your thing – they were moist and delicious, and held up at my in-laws’ house for over a week (I don’t know how they do it). And I bet they’d be really great with some chocolate ganache sandwiched between two of them. But still, not what I was going for.

This recipe made a lot of dough, so I’d rolled and frozen the other 3/4ths of it. I decided to give them a second chance. Cut off the rolls, dropped the pieces into powdered sugar, and popped into the oven. This time, they came out higher, but drier (the dough had obviously done what PB cookie dough likes to do and hidden away all of the moisture while it was resting in the freezer). Still nothing like BB’s lovely pictures.

Ah, well, the search continues. Anyone have a PB cookie recipe they’d love to find at their local coffee shop?

The Recipe:

From BakingBlonde‘s grandmother, among other sources

Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup powdered sugar (or more as needed for rolling)

Preheat oven to 350.
Line baking sheets with parchement paper.
Place powdered sugar in shallow bowl.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Once combined beat in the white sugar, and brown sugar until well blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
In a large bowl wisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently add to creamed mixture and mix until almost combined.
Chill dough for 10-20 minutes.
Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls. Genlty roll the dough balls into powdered sugar and place dough balls on parchment lined baking sheets. Carefully press down on each ball with a glass to flatten tops slightly.
Bake for 10-12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until top is crinkley and edges are set. Cook on sheet for 10 minutes and transfer to baking rack to finish cooling.

My good and dear friend Tammy (of Tammy’s Tastings, and if you’re anywhere Ann Arbor Michigan, you should check her out and have her do a chocolate or wine tasting for your friends; and if you’re not, she ships her DARNED TASTY CHOCOLATES all over, just sayin’) is having a birthday today (er, yesterday – but I started the post before midnight, so I think it counts), so I made her a cake!

Sadly, she lives far, far away, and so cannot help us eat it. But here are some pictures:

An adaptation of Dorie's Perfect Party Cake

Isn't it pretty?

Aaaaand, a closeup:

A closeup shot of those lovely raspberries

A closeup shot of those lovely raspberries

And one more, for fun:

Such a pretty ring

Such a pretty ring

Thanks and kudos to Culinography, from whom I borrowed the recipe (she acquiring it from Dorie). I’d type it in and everything, but it’s midnight and I’m going to bed now.  Basically, I used candied lemon peel instead of lemon zest, and replaced the raspberry preserves with lingonberry preserves (ran out).  Other than that, pretty much as written.  Taste report tomorrow :)

Happy Birthday, Tammy!

The one thing every good baker needs to have in his/her repertoire is a no-fail recipe for cinnamon rolls, right? But I’ve never really had one – I love them, but a little too much, if you know what I mean. Best to avoid the temptation of an entire pan of cinnamon rolls altogether by just not making them at home. Also, I lived in Chicago for a number of years, and with Ann Sather right around the corner, with its World-Famous Cinnamon Rolls, there was really just no point to making them.

I’ve accumulated various recipes, over the years – I have a recipe that I was assured (by the pastry chef at one of the major downtown hotels in Chicago) was identical to the one Sathers uses (there’s also one here that claims to be official). I probably should have started with that one, but What Geeks Eat’s Brioche Cinnamon Rolls came up onto the screen, and I couldn’t help myself.

I don’t often make yeasted doughs, for a few reasons. One, I only (currently) have a smaller Kitchenaid mixer (the 4.5Qt), and it really doesn’t like doing bread dough. It complains. It hops. It heats up. It packs its bags and starts to head for the door when it sees one coming. I love my Kitchenaid (don’t tell it that I’m planning to acquire a second, larger one, shhh), it’s been a faithful companion to me for over 15 years now and I plan to have it for another 15, so I try to avoid making things that tax it too much. The RSIs mean that I can’t knead dough by hand, so that’s also an automatic limiter on any type of yeasted dough.

Second, the only time I’ve ever had good success making yeast doughs that raised well was when I was taking the breads class at the community college. I don’t know if it was the incredibly fresh yeast, or the proper temperature space in which it could rise… I just know that it’s never that easy at home. Even with fresh yeast bought from the grocery store (as opposed to dried), I have trouble. This time it was finding a warm place for the dough to rise. All summer, it’s been nicely hot and humid, perfect dough weather. But do I make these in the summer? No! I crave warm, yeasty breads in the fall and winter, when my house rarely rises above 65F and the humidity isn’t much to speak of.

This time was no exception. We’ve had a nice cool snap, and the house was around 68F or so. I made the dough and put it in the fridge to rest overnight; took it out in the morning and let it warm up for an hour, then rolled it out and formed the rolls. So far, so good:

Raw Cinnamon Rolls

Raw Cinnamon Rolls

Then, waiting for them to rise. “Wait until doubled in bulk”. Right. Half an hour later – no action. I have an electric oven (I know, I know, I hate it too), so that’s not really useful. Maybe if I put the oven on 200F and crack the door, and put the rolls on the stove above it… An hour later, still little action. Completely opened the door of the oven and sat the sheets of rolls onto it, turning them regularly so that the butter wouldn’t melt, and eventually they started to puff a bit, which would have to do, as I have other things to do than to babysit stupid cinnamon rolls.

Baked them up (oops, overbaked the first batch), slathered them in glaze, and…

Finished Cinnamon Rolls

Finished Cinnamon Rolls

Well, I can say that I’d do some things differently next time. First of all, smush them all in a pan together rather than separating them out. I like soft edges on my rolls, and these all had pretty firm walls. The dough was light enough inside, but the texture was still just not what I am going for in a cinnamon roll. It was more bread-y than anything else, and I like them softer and richer than that. I’d use nuts (probably pecans) inside. I’d wait to glaze them until they’d completely cooled.

So, not there yet. But at least I didn’t eat the entire pan…

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