Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sour Cream Streusel Coffee Cake

I might like a good superlative as much as the next person, but I'm not one to throw around words like "amazing" and "the best" lightly when it comes to a recipe. In fact, I probably wouldn't use them myself to describe this particular coffee cake. I will say, however, that the lucky people who got to eat this cake used those exact words to describe this moist, tender, light and crazily addictive cake.
Backtracking for a moment, the reason that I wanted to make this cake in the first place was twofold: I had a mostly-unused container of sour cream sitting around in my fridge that was looking for a recipe to work itself into and I had a package of Nutorious nuts that were also looking for a job.
Nutorious is a Wisconsin company that makes gourmet candied nuts. I'm not necessarily a big nut fan, but theirs are really outstanding. They use a mix of nuts and they come in flavors like Cherry Vanilla and Cranberry Orange. It is easy to breeze through one of their bags in no time flat, especially if you have someone to help you much, but the company goes out of their way to point out how good the nuts are in various recipes, so I wanted to try them out in something. I ended up using a mixture of their Original and Cherry Vanilla flavors with excellent results, as the candy coating blended right into the cake. Any candied or sweetly spiced nut will work in this recipe, and you can always opt for plain, toasted nuts, too. Nutorious mixes walnuts, pecans and almonds, so try to use a blend if you're not using theirs.

Sour Cream Streusel Coffee Cake
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup chopped candied/toasted nuts (Nutorious or other)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream (light is fine)
1/3 cup chopped candied/toasted nuts (Nutorious or other)

Prehat oven to 350F and lightly grease a 9-in square pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together all topping ingredients until wet crumbs are formed. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter until light. Beat in vanilla, followed by the eggs, adding them one at a time until mixure is smooth.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to sugar mixture, alternating with sour cream in two or three additions, until well mixed. Stir in nuts and scrape into prepared pan. Top with streusel mixture, spreading it into as even a layer as possible.
Bake for 35-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Serves 12.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Flourless Chocolate Mini Cakes

Flourless chocolate cake is a little bit overdone. And by "a little," I actually mean "quite a lot." It was the hottest dessert that a restaurant could serve for a while, but now it has fallen back into a comfortable, but permanent, position beside cheesecake on almost every single dessert menu.
That said, the reason that it became a dessert menu-staple is that flourless chocolate cake is very good and is still very popular. The rich chocolate dessert is difficult for chocolate-lovers to turn down.
As a belated Valentine's Day treat (as you might guess from the little heart-shaped pans that I used), I baked up a batch of mini flourless chocolate cakes.
Fudgy and flavorful, these cakes are not too sweet by any means. I used a 65% dark chocolate for these and would only go up to a 70% without adjusting the sugar level. I know that it's popular to get as dark as possible without increasing the amount of sugar in something, but that is one trend that is starting to get old. Of course dark chocolate is good - I just think that desserts still need to have some balance and that you're always going to find that a slightly sweeter dessert, when compared to a bitter one, is going to be more popular with guests.
I used Reynold's Fun Shapes pans to get the oh-so-sweet heart shapes of my cakes, but these can also be made in a regular muffin tin.

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes
14 tbsp butter (2 sticks minus 2 tbsp)
7 oz bittersweet/dark chocolate (65 or 70%), chopped
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a cupcake pan or set 12 foil molds (like the hearts that I used) on a baking sheet.
In the microwave, working in 30-second increments, melt together the butter and chocolate in a large bowl, stirring after each time increment. When melted, stir int the sugar and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before whisking in the eggs one at a time. Once all the eggs have been incorporated, whisk in the cocoa powder and vanilla extract.
Pour batter evenly into prepared pan(s) and bake for 10 minutes. Turn off oven and let cakes sit inside for an additional 10 minutes. Remove pan to a wire cooling rack and cool completely.
Use a spatula to gently turn out the cakes before serving.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container.
Makes 12.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Red Velvet Cake Sandwich Cookies

Red velvet cake is one of my favorite types of cake. It is a buttermilk cake with a hint of cocoa - just enough for flavor, not enough to make it "chocolate cake" - that has a gorgeous red hue. The red, in theory, comes from the interaction between baking soda and cocoa powder, but more often than not food coloring is added. Some people are put off of the cake by the food coloring, but they're the ones missing out on a delicious cake.
Instead of going with a regular cake or cupcakes, I opted for cake-like sandwich cookies, more similar to the whoopie pies that I made a few weeks ago than to, for example, Oreos. The cookies are moist and tender and the filling is a mascarpone cream cheese mixture that adds just the right amount of flavor and sweetness. The cookies themselves are actually low fat, although the presence of the filling makes up for that fact. I added a little bit of buttermilk as a nod to the traditional red velvet cakes, but I have to admit that you can't really taste it. You can, however, taste the cocoa, the vanilla and the delicious filling.
These are best if eaten within a day or two of being made.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Red Velvet Cake Sandwich Cookies
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp buttermilk
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1/2 tsp red food coloring (more, if necessary)

Preheat oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the egg whites, followed by the applesauce, buttermilk, vanilla extract and red food coloring. Add additional coloring, if needed, to reach desired color. Keep in mind that the color will dim slightly with baking, but I try to shoot for a burgundy/brown color. Stir in flour mixture until batter is smooth and no streaks of flour remain.
Drop batter two tablespoonfuls at a time onto the prepared baking sheet, forming 2-inch in diameter rounds.
Bake for 10 minutes, until set but not browned. Cookies should spring back when lightly touched, like a cake.
Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely

Makes about 40 cookies.

Mascarpone Cream Cheese Filling
4 oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract (vanilla paste is even better)
1 tbsp milk
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

Beat together mascarpone and cream cheese until well combined. Beat in vanilla and milk. Add in confectioners sugar, scraping down the bowl as you go. When it has all been incorporated, beat on high speed for 1-2 minutes, until icing is very smooth and thick, but not stiff. Add more confectioners sugar, if necessary.
Spread filling between pairs of cooled cookies.
Makes about 20 sandwich cookies.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Sour Cream Lemon Shortbread Bars

Since I love lemon, you might think that I love lemon bars. Unfortunately, this is not true. More often than not, lemon bars are just plain awful. The lemon filling is usually either gummy or too gelatinous and the base is almost always bland, soggy or both. The lemon flavor is rarely as clear as it could be and, while lemon bars shouldn't be as tart as the filling for a lemon meringue pie, where the meringue acts to temper the semi-tart lemon flavor of the filling, it should still be bright enough that one bite sends the "this is lemon" message to your brain. In short, I usually pass on lemon bars.
Of course, if I make the bars myself, I have no problems eating them. This recipe seems to solve all the lemon bar problems that I just listed, turning out bars that are as close to perfect as I can recall having.
The base is a light and tender shortbread cookie, which crumbles gently into your mouth and retains some crispness in spite of the moist topping. The topping is just thick enough to hold together well and has a bright, but not overly tart, lemon flavor. In fact, the flavor is tempered by the addition of some sour cream, which gives the bar a great mouthfeel.
I used my Baker's Edge pan to ensure even baking. Don't have one yet? No worries - just use a 9"x13" baking pan and plan to take a couple of minutes off the final baking time.
I topped these off with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, but that is entirely optional. The whole batch will be gone in a flash - with or without the extra sprinkle.

Sour Cream Lemon Shortbread Bars
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into several pieces

Lemon Topping
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 tbsp sour cream
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
Zest of 2 lemons (1 generous tbsp)

Preheat oven to 350F.
In the bowl of a food processor, whizz together the flour, sugar lemon zest and sald. Add in butter and pulse until mixture reaches a crumbly, sandy (with some pea-sized chunks of butter remaining) pieces. Press evenly into the Baker's Edge pan (or 9"x13" pan) bake for 16-19 minutes, until just slightly golden at the corners.

While the crust is baking, beat together the remaining ingredients until smooth. When the crust comes out of the oven, pour in the lemon filling while it is hot, then return pan to the oven.
Bake for 25 minutes, until set and slightly browned at the corners.
Set pan on a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 16 large bars.