TwD: Limoncello Cupcakes from Baking Chez Moi

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This week’s assignment, limoncello cupcakes, incorporated the popular Italian liqueur throughout three parts of the dessert: the cupcake, the syrup, and the frosting. Although I’m not a huge fan of lemon, I am always a fan of liqueur!

Making these cupcakes was simple enough, as each step brought its own little thrill. I will say that I’ve zested plenty of lemons and rubbed the zest into sugar numerous of times before, but this time I could actually smell the lemony fragrance permeate through the air when I stirred the lemon sugar. It was pretty snazzy. I also decided to go ahead and do the optional orange marmalade cupcake centers. I hadn’t planned to do so, but I was already at the store buying Greek yogurt for the recipe, and I thought, “Why not?” The soaking of the cupcakes immediately out of the oven was kind of nifty because I could hear a sizzle of the syrup against the hot pan with each stroke of the pastry brush. I’m not sure whether I was supposed to do this, but I had enough syrup to do a double pass over each cupcake. Hopefully, they were appropriately soaked.

I say hopefully because I’m in the middle of a cleanse and was unable to taste these cupcakes myself. However, I did bring the entire batch to a select few co-workers at the firm. Their reactions varied as follows: “There’s orange AND lemon marmalade?”, “I keep saying ‘yummy'”, “That was on point!”, “I will be having another cupcake, so get ready.”, and just general muffled approval while eating. It may have also helped that I made a double amount of frosting, so there was plenty to add to each cupcake. Obviously, these were a hit! I can’t wait to try them myself or at least drink the rest of the limoncello once my cleanse is done!

These limoncello cupcakes were made as a part of Tuesdays with Dorie. If you’d like to join our baking group, pick up a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and bake along!

TwD: BCM Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars

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In Dorie’s introduction to this week’s assignment, crispy-topped brown sugar bars, she said her friend described these as what “Rice Krispies Treats would have been had they been born in France.”

After tasting these bars, I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. Leave it to the French to take something has simplistic as Rice Krispies Treats and make them fancy enough to serve at a party with their brown sugar cookie base and bittersweet chocolate topping layer. However, Dorie herself suggested that the Rice Krispies be caramelized for an added flourish.

To be honest, I was going to skip the caramelization part because I’ve never had great luck with caramelizing anything. The first few steps were easy enough, but when it came to browning the sugared Krispies, my Krispies looked white, dry, and like they weren’t even going to stick together. Then the magic happened. I noticed a few Krispies here and there start turning a beautiful brown color. Pretty soon, all the bits were brown and sticking together. Voilà! After topping the bars, I had enough caramelized Krispies left over to sprinkle over a small bowl of vanilla bean ice cream. Definitely worth it.

These crispy-topped brown sugar bars were made as a part of Tuesdays with Dorie. If you’d like to join our baking group, pick up a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and bake along!

TwD: BCM (Not Really) Lemon Madeleines

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I’m no stranger to making madeleines. These tasty little cakes that are scalloped on one side and super-humpy on the other have appeared on my blog six different times featuring six different flavors.

In this week’s Baking Chez Moi assignment, Dorie took the madeleines a step further by adding a lemon and powdered sugar glaze to the domed sides. Well, I didn’t have any powdered sugar to make the glaze and didn’t feel like running out to get any on Sunday when I made these. I suppose I could’ve picked some up on Monday, but I had to cover the Bulls-Grizzlies game that same evening and knew I wouldn’t have the discipline to not eat these cakes until then. So, instead, I brought them to work to share with a select few co-workers sans glaze on Monday, which still turned out to be a hit!

Although these were supposed to be lemon favored from the glaze, that clearly didn’t happen in my case. I was also out of honey and again refused to make a trip for an item I only needed a tablespoon of, so I used organic agave nectar instead. These madeleines were still tasty nonetheless. I’d definitely make them again. And maybe I’ll try out the glaze next time.

If you’d like to join our baking group, pick up a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and baking along with us!

TwD: Baking Crème Bruleed Chocolate Bundt Cake with Dorie

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This week’s assignment, crème brulee chocolate bundt cake, turned out to be a huge hit at my office Valentine’s Day potluck last week. Everyone was thoroughly impressed with my plated “sample”. But, needless to say, the most fascinating aspect of the cake’s assembly was the use of my kitchen blowtorch that I brought from home.

Because Dorie indicated that the cake be served immediately once assembled, I had to set up everything separately because my colleagues were going to eat the potluck main dishes first. This meant I had to cute a slice of bundt cake, spoon on the crème brulee cream, sprinkle the sugar, torch the sugar, and garnish with fresh rapsberries every time someone was ready for dessert. But, it was worth it because everyone enjoyed the “presentation” when I was done. (Btw, I thought it best to skip the Chambord on the raspberries since I was serving this dessert during work hours). The nicest compliment I got all day was that this cake was “to die for”. That’s some serious cake love!

As for the preparation of the cake and the sauce, both parts were fairly straightforward. However, I did have to bake my cake an extra 10 minutes because the cake was still liquidy when I did the toothpick test. I also appreciated the fact that I could make both parts in advance, seeing as I was covering the Bulls game the night before the potluck and had no time make anything then.

If you’d like to join our twice monthly baking group, pick up a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and baking along with us!

ffwD: Croquants

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Woo-hoo! This is my first ffwD post in a long while, and I think I picked a good recipe for my return!

These four ingredient croquants (unskinned hazelnuts, sugar, egg whites, and flour) were easy to assemble after staying late at work Thursday night. However, it helped that I already had all of the ingredients in my cupboards! Now, after baking my first batch of croquants for the suggested 10 minutes, the cookies turned out very pale on top, had lightly browned bottoms and sides, and stuck to the parchment when I tried to lift them after they had cooled. They were also only slightly crispy on the outside and still chewy on the inside.

Because of these results, I baked the subsequent batches for 12 minutes each. The 12-minute bake produced nicely browned tops, sides, and bottoms and allowed for easy lifting from the parchment after cooling. For my oven, 12 minutes was obviously the way to go. As for the taste, these are extremely sweet (and crispy!) cookies, probably due to the one and a quarter cups of sugar to 1/2 cup of flour in the dough. Definitely serve these with hot tea to help mellow the taste and the texture!

As a hilarious side note, because it’s been such a long time since I’ve baked for a post, I was completely scatterbrained during my last three batches. For the first scatterbrain batch, I put the croquants in but forgot to turn on the timer. The second scatterbrain batch, I turned on the timer but forgot to put the croquants in the oven. For the last scatterbrain batch, I placed the croquants in the oven, turned on the timer, and somehow turned off the oven because it was the last batch. I ended up throwing those away. When I told my surgeon friend (Codename: Candelabra) about the three batches, she laughed and said, “I don’t even know what to say about that.”

These croquants were made for French Fridays with Dorie, a group of bloggers who are cooking their way through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours.

TwD: BCM Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

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I’m back! No, I am really back this time. After a whirlwind 10 months of a new job, a new side hobby, and traveling, I’ve come back to start 2015 on the right foot with multiple resolutions! (In case one of them falls at the waistside, I still have motivation to keep going with the others.)

That being said, my three resolutions are 1) limit my beef and pork intake, focusing mainly on fish. Chicken is acceptable when absolutely necessary. 2) Re-start my Rosetta Stone lessons to learn Tagalog. 3) Post at least once a month for ffwD and TwD. So far, I’m doing well on all three, and I still have one more week to get my January ffwD post in!

Now, as for this brown butter and vanilla bean weekend cake, it was a breeze to put together since the butter was melted and browned on the stove. I’m always fond of cakes that don’t require “room temperature butter”. I’m pretty impatient when it comes to waiting for butter to soften.

The cake itself was tasty but slightly dry in my opinion. I brought some slices to work, and the reactions ranged from the silent devouring of an entire slice in one or two mouthfuls to “amazing” to “it’s a little vanilla-y”. But, overall, I think it was a hit. However, next time, I’ll probably serve it with some berry compote or alongside afternoon tea instead of standing alone.

If you’d like to join our twice monthly baking group, pick up a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and baking along with us!

Welcome to fall weather!

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I know. Autumn doesn’t officially start for another 2.5 weeks. But Saturday was the first day since back-to-school and football season started where the temperature in Chicago was below 70 degrees! Many of my friends could not dread this more, but I absolutely love cooler weather. The combination of bright sunshine, vibrant blue sky, and a chill in the air gets me in the mood to bake! That, and to wear sweaters and scarves again…

Anyway, I recently recorded an episode of America’s Test Kitchen, and while I don’t particularly care for the pointless Chris Kimball and his obnoxious demeanor, I do find the female hosts rather entertaining. The episode I recorded featured this walnut pumpkin bread. I wasn’t planning on baking this for myself since I’m not down with pumpkin, but I was going to visit my friend who LOVES pumpkin bread. Seriously. She would buy this stuff so frequently at Starbucks that she could tell when they changed the recipe. (She wrote a letter of complaint and received a ton of free Starbucks coupons. Though, I don’t think they changed the recipe back to the original.)

Back to the bread. This is a pretty simple recipe, and you end up combining all the ingredients in the same pot where you cook the canned pumpkin. The smells from all the spices give your house a heavily scented, home-y aroma. And, the streusel topping is a fun twist. Although I usually don’t care for ATK recipes (they seem a bit joyless from the meticulous amount of testing done), this recipe was right on the money as the bread was a hit with my friend and her family! That being said, I’ll eschew my displeasure of ATK recipes when it’s one I don’t normally make, like pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Bread
(from America’s Test Kitchen)

Makes 2 loaves (or 1 lg loaf and 3 mini loaves)

Topping
5 tbsp packed (2 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt

Bread
2 c (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 c (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 c packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
4 oz cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces
4 lg eggs
1/4 c buttermilk
1 c walnuts, toasted and chopped fine

Instructions
1. FOR THE TOPPING: Using fingers, mix all ingredients together in bowl until well combined and topping resembles wet sand; set aside.
2. FOR THE BREAD: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Whisk flour, baking powder, and baking soda together in bowl.
3. Combine pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in large saucepan over medium heat. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1½ cups, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pot from heat; stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese until combined. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until no visible pieces of cream cheese remain and mixture is homogeneous.
4. Whisk together eggs and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine. Fold flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until combined (some small lumps of flour are OK). Fold walnuts into batter. Scrape batter into prepared pans. Sprinkle topping evenly over top of each loaf. Bake until skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let breads cool in pans on wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove breads from pans and let cool for at least 1½ hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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