Posts tagged cream cheese
Monday, June 14, 2010

carrot cake

carrot cake

Today, I have cake for you. Not just any cake – carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I know, it’s been all cake and sorbet and more cake around here lately, but we are entering picnic and barbecue season, and doesn’t carrot cake just makes you want to take a picnic blanket to the park along with lemonade and potato salad and slaw, and just sit under a tree for hours with friends, feasting and lounging away. My favorite weekend days is when your biggest accomplishment for the day is eating. There is nothing, and I mean, nothing wrong with that.

carrots!walnuts
dry ingredients mise

Saturday was that lovely kind of a day: my biggest accomplishment consisted of cooking some supper that involved a roast chicken, some guacamole and some pasta with tomato sauce and sausage – I know, lots of random things, but food had to be rescued and cooked. I also found excellent use for these plates – sliced kiwi looks amazing on them. When you start the day around noon, have brunch at 2pm and then for the rest of the day you resolve – no plans, no obligations – it is, I will tell you, an amazing day. Weekends like these are my favorite.

eggs

But this post isn’t so much about lazy weekends, as it’s about carrot cake. A carrot cake for my friend Bill’s birthday. The very same Bill of the mascarpone cake fame, except this time, I’m not a year behind in writing about it.

cake battercream cheese frosting

For Bill’s cake, I looked through every baking book I had (surprisingly few feature carrot cake, actually) until I came across a recipe that made me do a double-take. The recipe was called “Big Bill’s Carrot Cake” – it was as if cake fates have led me straight to it. Now, Bill isn’t particularly big per se, but the title sounded so commanding and the recipe was so perfect, that I decided then and there that this was going to be the cake. Besides, with the recipe coming from the one and only Dorie Greenspan – how could you go wrong?

carrot cakecarrot cake

If you’re like me and believe in the universe speaking to you via baked goods (because when you’re looking for a cake for your friend Bill and you find a recipe with his name in the title – is that not the universe sending you a sign?), then you will put to rest all the other recipes. Dorie knows her cakes, and after you read through any book by her, you feel like she’s your fairy godmother of baking. You know her. You trust her. You’ve had conversations with her while you baked from her books. She has never steered you in the wrong direction. She has never, ever, let you down. Her recipes are detailed, exact, certain, full of the kind of instructions you want to have in so many other books. Few baking personas are as universally adored and revered as Dorie – perhaps because she makes us all feel competent, even if a recipe looks intimidating. She whispers softly to us, “You can do it.

carrot cake
i was tempted to reverse the candle order

Well, friends – meet my new favorite cake. It even outpaces the peanut-butter chocolate one I’ve been so enamoured of. This is a cake that’s got it all – spice, nuts, raisins, a tangy cream-cheese frosting. It’s not too sweet, the frosting doesn’t overpower. It’s a perfect picnic cake, after-dinner cake, Mad Men themed birthday cake. It is, despite that long list of ingredients and preparation instructions, is manageable and unfussy. And it’s a cake that is going to be made a few times over in my kitchen this summer season – and I hope in yours as well.

bill's piece

Continue reading carrot cake.

Friday, March 12, 2010

red velvet cupcakes with orange zest

red velvet cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes leave me on the fence. On the one hand, I’m pretty obsessed with them, unable to turn down one when offered to me. On the other hand, I have massive guilt pangs making them because all that food coloring seems to be the antithesis of what I like to do here. It’s like loving cheesy poofs. You know they’re bad for you, but you just can’t quit them. Or at least I can’t. There, now you know my junk food Achilles heel. I’m sure everyone’s got one.

en attendant

I suppose we all need our “snack of shame”, as I like to refer to my cheesy poof love. And so long as we don’t abuse it, we’re in good standing. So what is it about red velvet cake that makes even the biggest food snobs who eschew artificial everything line up to get a slice? It might be the only time I actually use artificial color (excluding some color experimentation with frosting). And I feel like I should feel ashamed about it, except I don’t. I actually feel ashamed not being ashamed. See my dilemma?

red velvet mise and morning coffee

According to Wikipedia, red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1920s and that beets were used to color it only for a short period of time. The cake then gained prominence in Canada in the 40s and 50s at the Eaton department stores. And the resurgence of the cake’s popularity is owed in part by its feature in the movie “Steel Magnolias”, where a groom’s cake is a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo.

red velvet cupcakes

To me, red velvet cake has always seemed a very Southern dessert: festive, decadent, delicious. I am not sure what is so Southern about it, but I’ve been obsessed with it enough to make as many different iterations of it as possible. The first version was featured here some time ago here. And this is the one that I’m most excited about because this recipe – is definitely a keeper and much better than the earlier version. It comes from the Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook and the addition of orange zest brightens the cake batter up and complements the cream cheese frosting. The buttermilk gives the cake a nice tang and a moist, light crumb, which, when you bite into it, tastes pretty darn heavenly. To me, a dense heavy cake is a total killjoy, so this was a pleasant surprise.

red velvet cupcakes

But most importantly, I got two thumbs up from this guy here, who ate his cupcake with such zeal, it was gone in mere minutes. And then he promptly requested another.

seal of approval

Continue reading red velvet cupcakes with orange zest.

Friday, December 18, 2009

white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream-cream-cheese frosting

white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream frosting

I often joke that my friends no longer allow me to attend their parties without baked goods in tow. Cupcakes – to be more specific. Cupcakes topped with frosting generously slathered on, or piped in tiny dots, or with semi-Impressionist-looking flowers. But cupcakes in their most shining glory – a tiny, single-portion cake made just for you. It’s cake – personalized and it doesn’t get better than this. Somehow, in its miniature form is just that much cuter than its bigger cousin, but then again, baby anything is much cuter than its adult version.

Continue reading white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream-cream-cheese frosting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Consider this a lesson in scale. Something no cookbook will really tell you. You won’t see in the notes something like “If multiplying batches, strongly suggesting NOT trying to mix them all in one batch as your kitchen equipment is designed for home-sized batches, not bakery-sized ones”. Pretty obvious, right? And yet it wasn’t to me, until a few days ago. But now I know – when scaling things in multiples, you might want to do a few batches, to save your sanity and your equipment. In any case, this is a cautionary tale, just for you.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frostingpumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

As a total aside, I often wonder how various people cook under pressure. Like when you realize that what you’re doing might not work out, or that you missed a crucial step in the process (not that it’s ever happened to me; goodness, no!) and are trying to add this step later, and you get all focused and tense, or maybe you just remain completely cool as a cucumber, or maybe you hum? Me, I become sullen, focused, quiet. I want to be left alone; I don’t want to converse. I just want to get through the bump in the road and get beyond it. I tend to scrunch up my nose and purse my lips and squint a lot. Did you envision that lovely visage? Yes, that’s me, trying to focus. Stunning, I know.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

So, back to scaling and home kitchens and fun with all that. If you’re ever asked to do a larger-scale baking job, you should consider a thing or two. Like, the fact that you have a kitchen for home use. Or the concept of batches. Or the fact that perhaps even though you have a “Professional” strength mixer, your 5 quart bowl is anything but a professional size. Because you know, if you were um, say, a bakery, you’d be making dozens of cupcakes, not a mere dozen. And perhaps, you, dear readers, would have the foresight to consider all that, but lately, I’ve been in a whirl of work and travel I think my brain is full. I ought to sit down and think for a minute, but I don’t have that minute. Sigh.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

The other thing you want to make sure you’re good at, if you’re scaling a project like this, is multiplication and fractions. Now, fractions – I got this. In fact, I’m all over fractions, being that I work in finance. But if fractions ain’t your bag, get some help from a math-inclined friend, because when you are looking at 5/8 of a teaspoon measure of something and have to multiply it by three, that’s when you wish you really did pay attention in your math class.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

So how did I get to baking four dozen cupcakes in one sitting? Well, last weekend my friends Bill and Josey tied the knot, and I think my friends and I set some kind of a record for non-stop dancing at a wedding because that is pretty much all we did. And a few weeks prior to the wedding itself, Josey and Bill sheepishly asked me if I would make cupcakes for their rehearsal dinner. In response, I enthusiastically started to jump up and down. They took that as a yes.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Because fall is full of amazing flavors and smells, I wanted to make cupcakes that would celebrate the season. And when I think of fall, I first think of pumpkin. I can’t go a block without seeing them displayed in stores, at farmers’ markets, on steps of brownstones (albeit the decorative pumpkins aren’t the ones you eat). I decided that I wanted to do a spiced pumpkin cupcake with a cream cheese frosting sweetened with some maple syrup, and thought (what naivete!) that I was being original and genius at creating something new. But when I excitedly wrote a friend about my new baking project, she responded, sounding a bit been-there-done-that “Oh like the cake David Leite made and Smitten refashioned into cupcakes?”

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

A few google searches later, I realized that my ideas were hardly original. And not only did Deb go ahead and make cupcakes, she piped the most beautiful roses on them as well. I’ve never piped any flower onto any cake or cupcake, so I watched the “how to” videos on YouTube ad infinitum. Please note: watching how to pipe roses and making them are two very different things. Which would explain for why my roses look out of shape and so, um, deconstructionist looking. I found that the cream cheese frosting was soft and was difficult to pipe, and my hand wasn’t used to making rose petals. If anyone can think of any tips as to perfect the matter (other than “practice, practice, practice”) I am all ears. But I do fear that I may just have to beg a bakery to take me under their wing for a week where all I do is play with frosting.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

A word or two about batches. They are (or seem to me) key in home baking where you are working with smaller bowls and containers. If you were to take this particular recipes, I recommend the following: take the ingredients below, multiply them by 3 and then divide by 2 to get your 2 batches. That way you measure everything out exactly, and not eyeball it (like, ahem, some people here) which then necessitates a few Hail-Marys in hopes that your eyeballing was good enough not to wreck a batch of cupcakes. You can also weigh your ingredients and do batches that way, as Lisa brilliantly suggested to me last night.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Also, for cookware, I seriously recommend having 2 muffin trays. I think 2 is not an unreasonable number to have and you will certainly need it at one point or another, so stock up accordingly. The ones I like you can buy either here or here. I generally shy away from dark colored non-stick bake ware and find this non-descript light metal work best.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

In the end, this is all non-tricky stuff. The cake batter isn’t finicky. The frosting comes together like a dream. It’s sort of an easy process, but if you do wind up making four dozen cupcakes, be sure to give yourself a day to do it. Piping flowers takes time and is much trickier than it looks. But if you know what you’re going in for, you are prepared, you remain calm and you emerge triumphant, with boxes of cupcakes whisked away to a rehearsal dinner or whatever event you’re making them for. Your forehead will remain uncreased; your nose – unscrunched; and instead of pursing your lips, you might even be smiling to yourself as you lick the frosting off your fingers.

Continue reading pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting.