Sunday, April 24, 2011

Butterfly Hell.

If you have self-diagnosed yourself with ADD, as I have, don't make these butterfly cupcakes.  The cupcake itself is easy to make but the chocolate butterfly takes patience, patience and more patience.  I, unfortunately, have very little of it.  These cupcakes look so pretty, but I will never see them in my house again, not unless one of my very brave friends tries to make them and brings one over.

I made these cupcake a few years ago when I first started baking and it was on a very hot summer day for a friend's picnic, which was a giant mistake.  The chocolate butterfly wings that you have to make are very temperamental. Hot sun equals melting disaster, and when it's hot enough in the kitchen to make you sweat, it's to hot for candy melts. Baking candy melts are little round pieces of chocolate that come in many different colors and flavors, and you melt them in the microwave so you can pipe them into a mold or a design. Watch out, because in very little time they harden back to solid chocolate. Work fast!!  These little suckers also melt very easily on hot days. I've learned my lesson.  I'm not going to lie, when I made these this weekend there were several distasteful words that came out of my mouth. Sorry, Ma.

When I made these the first time I used canned frosting and boxed cupcake mix. Hey, don't judge, I had just started baking!  But I've learned over the last few years that nothing compares to a homemade cupcake. In all honesty, it doesn't take that much more time to make them from scratch than it does from a box. Also, the homemade cupcakes won't fall apart while you're eating them like the boxed ones. Those are all just fluff. This time I chose a simple chocolate cupcake from Martha Stewart. Now, I love Martha, but I will admit not all of her recipes work for me. Actually, a lot more than I'd like to admit. So, believe me when I say this one is super easy and it works out great.

I'm a really big fan of cream cheese frosting. In fact, it's my favorite. I love the tang and sweetness of it, so naturally, that's what I chose to use with the chocolate cupcake. It's so easy to make and it tastes so much better when you make it yourself, just like the cupcake.  I'm not bragging here, I honestly do feel if you just put in a little more effort you will get something that tastes that much more amazing. Also, by making it yourself you know exactly what you're putting into it.  I can't even understand some of the ingredients that the Betty Crocker lady is putting into her frosting which allows it to sit on the supermarket shelf for months.

The moment you've been waiting for! You get to finally see the process that had me wanting to rip my hair out. Here are the instructions for the 'Monarchs', and It's from the book 'Hello, Cupcake!'. The title of the book sounds so cute, but don't let it deceive you...

What you need :
24 chocolate cupcakes (recipe follows)
2 cups dark cocoa melting wafers
2 cups orange melting wafers
3 tablespoons white nonpareils
3/4 cup chocolate frosting (recipe follows)
2 cups vanilla frosting tinted yellow (recipe follows)
brown candy-coated chocolates (M&M's)

1. Place the templates for the wings and antennae, which I'll give you a picture of, on 2 or 3 cookie sheets lined with wax paper.

2. Place 1 cup of each the dark cocoa and orange melting wafers into separate ziplock bags. Do not seal the bags.  Microwave for 10 seconds to soften.  Massage the wafers in the bags, return to the microwave, and repeat the process until the candy is smooth, about 1 minute total.  Press out the excess air and seal the bags.
3. Snip a 1/16-inch corner from each bag.  Working on one wing at a time and using the melted dark cocoa, outline the template on wax paper.  Go over the outline several times to thicken.  Fill in with the orange melted candy.  Tap the pan slightly to flatten.  Using a round toothpick, pull the dark cocoa into the orange to create the wing design.  While the candy is still liquid, sprinkle the upper portion of the dark cocoa outline with the white nonpareils.  Repeat with the remaining melted candy, melting additional wafers as needed.  Reheat the candy in the microwave for several seconds if it becomes too thick.  Place the cookie sheets in the refrigerator until set, about 5 minutes.  Follow the same procedure to make the antennae, using only the melted dark cocoa. 
4. Spoon the chocolate frosting into a ziplock bag, press out the excess air, seal, and set aside. Tint the vanilla frosting pale yellow with the food coloring.  Spread the yellow frosting on top of the cupcakes. 
5. Carefully peel the chilled wings and antennae from the wax paper.  Place 2 brown chocolate candies, 1/2 inch apart, on top of the cupcakes to form supports for the wings.  Press the inside edge of a pair of wings into the frosting about 1/4 inch apart, allowing the wings to lean on the chocolate candies. Gently press the antennae into the frosting at the head of the butterfly.  Snip a 1/8-inch corner from the bag with the chocolate frosting.  Starting at the antennae, pipe 4 or 5 beads of frosting down the length of the body, drawing the frosting into a small point on the last bead.  
6. Let out a deep breath.

Chocolate Cupcakes:
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 cup hot water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream, room temperature

Cream Cheese Frosting:
 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
Place the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on medium speed just until combined.  Don't whip! Add the sugar and mix until smooth.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting:
 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
Place the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on medium speed just until combined. Again, don't whip! Add the cocoa powder and sugar, mix until smooth.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cocoa and hot water until smooth. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Melt butter with sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from heat, and pour into a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat until mixture is cooled, 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add vanilla, then cocoa mixture, and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, and beating until just combined after each.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 15 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

If you make these, I will be dying to hear how they went. I hope they go wonderfully, but if they don't, we can commiserate together.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

chocolate surprise

Growing up on a farm just across the woods from my grandparents was amazing.  Especially when you have a grandmother that seemed to bake almost everyday. Her cookie jars were always filled and there were eager hands always reaching into them. Mine probably being the plumpest.  I always thought she made them just for the grandchildren, but now that I look back on it I think my Grandpa ate just as many as we did.  The two cookies I distinctively remember her having most of the time were called Shit Balls and Surprise Cookies. While both of those names could have you wondering what kind of household my grandmother ran, I promise you they were both edible.  I am lucky enough to have two grandmothers that love to bake and cook and garden. It's also pretty cool that they don't mind me calling to ask questions every once in a while. I'm pretty sure that's why my Grandma Alice finally had a cookbook made, which is filled with all sorts of recipes that her, my great grandmother, great-aunts and my grandfathers family had used. By giving us the book she wouldn't be getting calls every other day on how to make a meatball.  Don't worry, it wasn't just me calling. I have more cousins than you would even care to count.

As kids, most of my cousins were obsessed with the shit balls. To be honest I never really enjoyed them that much.  They are a no-bake oatmeal cookie and I'm convinced that the only reason they all loved them so much was because it was the only time, under any circumstance, we were allowed to swear. The word shit was always said a bit louder than the word balls.  My personal favorite of the two was the chocolate surprise cookie. It was a soft, cake-like cookie with a marshmallow melted on top and chocolate frosting over the marshmallow.  They are the sweetest cookie you could ask for.  Grandma always had tons of different cookies to choose from, but as I remember it these were the two we fought over. 

The reason I started baking was because grandma gave us that cookbook she had made.  I was now able to get a little piece of home to shove in my face when I felt the need for sweets.  To be honest, Grandma had some flops in there, but there are also some of my favorite cookies, bars and pies in that book. Oh, and rhubarb slush. Which I managed to make last summer with a very brave friend of mine. That slush was the most stressful kitchen experience I've ever managed to have. It makes me realize how patient of a person  my grandma is, her being able to make gallons of it and all.  

Some of my grandma's cookie recipes aren't the easiest to follow. I think over time she just memorized them and would bake that way. I, however, need to follow directions. So, when a recipe of her's says, "cool and frost with boiled chocolate frosting", where is the recipe for the chocolate frosting?!?! Uffda. I need to know specifics, grandma! For me, baking isn't like cooking, I can't just dump stuff in and see what happens.  Don't worry, I finally found a recipe that had specific instructions and I had that cookie tasting  just like I remember it. I used butter instead of shortening and all-purpose flour instead of cake flour, which is what she used.   If you decide that the shit ball cookie is more appealing to you just send me an email, I'll ask grandma if I can give you the recipe.

 Surprise Cookie:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
12 large marshmallows, cut in half horizontally
1/4 cup butter
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk 


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, milk, and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add reserved flour mixture; mix on low speed until combined.
Using a tablespoon or 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto ungreased baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies begin to spread and become firm, 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove baking sheets from oven, and place a marshmallow, cut-side down, in the center of each cookie, pressing down slightly. Return to oven, and continue baking until marshmallows begins to melt, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
For frosting, mix together all ingredients. You may need to add more milk (slowly) until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency. 
Spread about 1 tablespoon of frosting over each marshmallow, starting in the center and continuing outward until marshmallow is covered.

This cookie is so incredibly easy to make.  The only somewhat difficult thing is making the frosting.  If you mix it by hand it will get so lumpy and runny.  Use your hand mixer and it will work out perfect and be nice and smooth. Also, before you frost your cookie remember to let them cool completely or the marshmallow will move all over and it could be a mess. Happy baking!!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wicked Good

I love making birthday cakes for people.  It's honestly one of my favorite things to bake because it's a treat that was especially made for that one person. I think there is something special about that. The little boy I work with asked me to make him a cake for his birthday and he even had a request all ready for me. This 6 year old wanted a Boston Cream Pie. He had never had this cake before, and neither had I. I had never made, tried or even seen a Boston Cream Pie before. Probably because I always assumed it was a pie. Nope, I was wrong. It's definitely a cake and a challenging one at that. I almost just made a different one to see if he even remembered what he asked for, but little kids seem to remember everything.  It's kind of insane. He asked for this cake weeks before his birthday and proceeded to ask for it every single week leading up to it, there was no tricking him. So, I accepted the challenge and made the damn cake.

This cake requires a lot of reading. Honestly, when a recipe is an entire page long I normally skip over it assuming it's much to difficult for my baking skills.  I read over this recipe I bet five times before I finally made it. I found the perfect recipe in Cook's Illustrated magazine.  I love this magazine because they give you each step in detail so you really can't get it wrong.  It's America's Test Kitchen, they know what's up.

Wicked Good Boston Cream Pie

Pastry Cream
2 cups half-and-half
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of table salt
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

1. PASTRY CREAM: Heat half-and-half in medium saucepan over medium heat until just simmering.  Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.  Add flour to yolk mixture and whisk until incorporated. Remove half-and-half from heat and, whisking constantly, slowly add 1/2 cup to yolk mixture to temper.  Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to half-and-half in saucepan. 
2. Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens slightly, about 1 minute.  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, whisking constantly, 8 minutes. 
3. Increase heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until bubbles burst on surface, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove saucepan from heat; whisk in butter and vanilla until butter is melted and incorporated.  Strain pastry cream through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl.  Press lightly greased parchment paper directly on surface and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
4. MAKE CAKE:  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.  Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl.  Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted.  Remove from heat, add vanilla, and cover to keep warm.
5. Whip eggs and sugar at high speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes.  Add hot milk mixture and whisk by hand until incorporated.  Add dry ingredients and whisk until incorporated. 
6. Working quickly, divide batter evenly between prepared pans.  Bake until tops are light brown and tooth pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. 
7. Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan, about 2 hours.  Run knife around edge of pans, then invert cakes onto wire rack.  Carefully remove parchment, then reinvert cakes.
8. TO ASSEMBLE:  Place one cake round on large plate. Whisk pastry cream briefly, then spoon onto center of cake.  Using offset spatula, spread evenly to cake edge.  Place second later on pastry cream, bottom side up, making sure layers line up properly.  Press lightly on top of cake to level.  Refrigerate cake while preparing glaze.
9. FOR THE GLAZE:  Bring  cream and corn syrup to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat.  Remove from heat and add chocolate.  Whisk gently until smooth, 30 seconds.  Let stand, whisking occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.

10.  Pour glaze onto center of cake.  Use offset spatula to spread glaze to edge of cake, letting excess drip decoratively down sides.  Chill finished cake 3 hours before slicing.  Cake may be made up to 24 hours before serving. 

Folks, this was one amazing cake, I'm serious.  Whisking that pastry cream, for what seems an eternity, was entirely worth it. My pal suggested that I just use vanilla pudding instead, but after having the real deal I don't think it could even compare. The glaze, which resembles a ganache, set so perfectly on top and was so shiny!  I made this for some dinner guests before I made it for the birthday party, and I think they would agree when I say this was perhaps the best cake I've ever made. Needless to say, the birthday boy was pretty jazzed as well. I really hope you get a chance to make this cake. If you do please leave a comment or a picture and tell me how it went! You have to put in some time and effort, but it's completely worth it. Happy Baking!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Yesterday my pal, Donnie, and I went to the Kraut Kickoff in Henderson, Minnesota.  Henderson is a small town in the southern part of the state, and I'm not going to lie, it's not the easiest place to get to during flood season. Every main road going in to it was closed, so we were on back roads for a good hour before we finally found it. Thank god Donnie has a smart phone.  We finally arrive in Henderson for the kickoff and it's a lot smaller than I expected it to be.  It's pretty much like the town I grew up in where everything is on Main Street and that's the town. It was held in a small town hall sort of building that was connected to the bar and then a restaurant. They obviously don't like to go outside to get from one building to the next. This little gathering was just the kickoff to the giant Kraut Festival later this summer, therefore we were the only non-residents there. They had bingo, which I won, beer tastings, bean bag tournament and a sauerkraut recipe contest.  

The recipe contest was probably the biggest deal they had going on other than bingo.  Donnie made an older gentleman friend that we called, Bruce. When he found that we traveled from Minneapolis just to come to this kickoff, he wanted to make sure we had a good time. He brought us over so we could be apart of the special tasting of the food table before the rest of the crowd, but Gladys, a woman we had befriended earlier in the day, wasn't having it.  Gladys said we had to wait until all the important people were done judging  and then we would be first in line to try potato-kraut mush. I guess she said it much nicer, but that's what I heard in my head. 

The competition had about 15 or so different items to choose from and some of them tasted like feet.  A lot of these contestants used canned kraut in their recipes and I just don't think it's the same. I have to admit, the sauerkraut chocolate cookie was actually very tasty. I never would have imagined that it would be, but you can't really taste the kraut in there.  It just seemed to keep the cookie super moist and cake like.  But the sauerkraut empanada was a little much. There were raisins in it and some sort of meat and when I say some sort of meat, I mean I couldn't even tell what I was eating. When it's coming from a stranger that freaks me out.  Who knows how clean their kitchen is. That last statement makes me realize how much I really am like my mother. Crap. 

After we made sure to register to win a tractor and ate as many of those contest entries as we could stomach, we skipped town before it got dark.  I have a feeling the Kraut Kickoff gets pretty wild once the sun goes down.  

I think the reason I'm so picky with Sauerkraut is because my grandmother has canned it for as long as I can remember and probably before I even existed. It's the best kraut I've ever tasted. I can't believe I'm telling you this, but I can just sit in the kitchen and eat it out of the jar. As a snack. I know, I'm disgusting but you've got to try this stuff, I think she needs to market it.  These people at Kraut Fest have got nothing on Grandma Eva. 

Using grandma's canned kraut, I wanted to make my own sauerkraut dish after trying a lot of those interesting ones at the contest, and by interesting I mean nasty.  I found a recipe and it seems like a traditional Midwest casserole, because cream of mushroom soup is involved.  I've never cooked with cream of mushroom soup before, and my mother would be so disappointed in me for not having done so. It was a must have ingredient for so many different casseroles I had growing up.  I think the reason I've always avoided  is because you get a weeks worth of sodium out of one of those little cans of condensed soup. The recipe I found is so easy and it doesn't cost much at all for the ingredients. I now realize why we had to have it four nights out of the week growing up.


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2 (10 3/4 oz.) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 1/3 c. milk
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 tbsp. prepared mustard
2 (16 oz.) cans sauerkraut, rinsed and drained (Grandma's!)
1 (8 oz.) pkg. uncooked medium noodles
1 1/2 lb. Polish sausage, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 c. (8 oz.) shredded Swiss cheese
3/4 c. whole wheat bread crumbs
2 tbsp. butter, melted
Combine soup, milk, onion, and mustard in medium bowl; blend well. Spread sauerkraut in greased 13 x 9 inch pan. Top with uncooked noodles. Spoon soup mixture evenly over top. Top with sausage, then cheese. Combine crumbs and butter in small bowl; sprinkle over top. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until noodles are tender.  Makes 8 to 10 servings.

This casserole was too much, it was so rich!! Maybe it's just because I'm not used to this sort of meal anymore and all the sodium and cheese. This is like a once every few years kind of casserole.  Trust me, I'm not complaining, how can you complain when it's sausage, cheese and sauerkraut all in one dish.