Sunday, February 26, 2012

52 Week Photo Project [Week 8]

This week's Paint the Moon theme is "simplicity." Earlier in the week I came up with the below photo but wasn't 100% happy with it. I mean, I like how it turned out but it wasn't very original and certainly didn't tell a story. So today I played around and came up with one that reflects the simple pleasures of life for me. None better than curling up with a good book and a cup of hot tea on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Poor rejected photo

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Death by Chocolate Cupcakes

These are the cupcakes I would have made for Valentine's Day if only my husband weren't such a freak. He's not a fan of chocolate so I'm thinking these cupcakes with four different chocolate elements would probably kill him. Once again my book club comes to the rescue! I know those gals wouldn't ever think there's such a thing as chocolate overload. In fact, they seem to embrace this kind of indulgence.

The cupcakes are inspired by one of my favorite desserts: Marcel Desaulniers' Death by Chocolate Cake. I miss living in Virginia where I could just hop in my car for a day trip to Williamsburg, sometimes expressly for the purpose of getting a slice of that cake from The Trellis. To. Die. For. Hence the name, I suspect. I don't know if I'll ever be ambitious enough to tackle making the seven-layer cake myself. That's right; I said seven. Seven layers of chocolate elements including brownie, mousse, cocoa meringue, and oodles of ganache. I'm starting to get a sugar buzz just thinking about it. It's just as rich as you'd imagine. No, make that richer than you imagine. Your imagination cannot possibly behold the majesty of that cake. And let me tell you from experience that if, by some superhuman display of gluttony, you are able to eat an entire slice by yourself in one sitting you will receive a look of shock, horror, disgust, and, I like to think, a little envy from your server. I've only done that once as I prefer to savor my leftovers the next day and continue the sugar high. Alright, I'll also admit that even I felt a little ill after that particular feat.

So until I pluck up the courage to make the entire cake I figured I could incorporate some of the elements into a cupcake. My favorite part of the cake has to be the surprising crunch from the meringue layer so I knew I had to incorporate that somehow. For Valentine's Day I piped the cocoa meringue into large heart shapes so they can serve double duty as a delicious element and cute toppers. The cupcakes are filled with chocolate mousse and the underside of the heart has a dab as well to help adhere it to the cake. The rich chocolate cupcakes are dunked into ganache twice for an extra thick layer. I'm pleased to report that a lot of the experience of eating the cake is here with my cupcakes. My success with these makes me think I just might be able to handle making the real deal one of these days. Don't worry; I'll be sure to share the cake if I do.

Chocolate Cupcakes
Recipe from Southern Food

8 ounces butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa, such as Valrhona or high-quality, such as Scharffen Berger*
3/4 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour, stir before measuring
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

*If you're using a standard baking cocoa (not Dutch-process or high-quality) add 1/2 teaspoon more of baking soda to the dry ingredients.

1) Line 24 cupcake wells with paper liners. Heat oven to 350°.

2) Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat; add cocoa, stirring until smooth. Whisk in the water and remove from heat. To the warm cocoa mixture, add the sugar, sour cream, 1 tablespoon vanilla, and eggs; whisk until smooth. In another bowl combine the flour, soda, and salt. Add all at once to the first mixture, whisking until well blended.

3) Scoop batter into prepared pans. Bake for 18 to 24 minutes, or until cupcakes spring back when lightly touched. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans and let cool completely on rack.

Chocolate Mousse Filling
Recipe from Death by Chocolate by Marcel Desaulniers

6 ounces semisweet chocolate , in 1/2 oz pieces
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 egg whites
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1) Ahead of time, put mixing bowl into the refrigerator to chill.

2) Heat 1 inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat (If you are not fortunate enough to own a double boiler, just stack a small saute pan on top of a small sauce pan. The lip of the saute pan should be just a bit wider than the sauce pan so that no steam escapes. Be very careful to keep any moisture out of your chocolate while you are melting it, or else it will seize and be very difficult to work with).

3) Place 6 oz of semi-sweet chocolate in the top of the double boiler and tightly cover the top with plastic wrap (do not allow the wrap to touch the bottom half).

4) Allow the chocolate to melt slowly, about 9 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Keep at room temperature until needed.

5) Place 1 1/2 cups heavy cream in the well-chilled bowl of an electic mixer. Whip on high (using the balloon whip attachment) until peaks form, about 1 minute. Set aside.

6) Whisk 3 eggs whites in a large stainless steel bowl, until soft peaks form (about 3 minutes).

7) Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form, about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

8) Add a quarter of the heavy cream to the chocolate and whisk quickly, vigorously, and thoroughly, then add it to the eggs whites. Now add the remaining heavy cream. Fold everything together gently but thoroughly, and put it in the fridge until needed (for at least one hour).

Cocoa Meringue Hearts
Recipe adapted from Death by Chocolate by Marcel Desaulniers

4 egg whites
1⁄8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa , sifted
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1) Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 225° F.

2) Put the 4 egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt into the electric mixer bowl. Whip on high (using the balloon whip attachment) until soft peaks fom - about 45 to 50 seconds.

3) Gradually add 1 cup sugar while still on high. Continue to whip until the peaks are stiff, about another 1 1/2 minutes.

4) Remove the bowl and use a spatula to fold in and thoroughly combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsp cocoa, and 1 tbsp cornstarch.

5) Fill a pastry bag with the cocoa meringue (if you have no pastry bag, fill a Ziploc bag and snip off one of the corners). Pipe 24 hearts onto parchment paper, about 2.5" big.

6) Place the meringue in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 200°F and bake for an additional 1 hour, 30 minutes.

7) Remove the meringues from the oven and let cool on a rack for about 45 minutes before handling.

Chocolate Ganache
Recipe adapted from Death by Chocolate by Marcel Desaulniers

3/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
11 ounces semisweet chocolate , in 1/2 oz pieces

1) Heat heavy cream and butter in a 2 1/2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.

2) Put 11 oz semi-sweet chocolate in a stainless steel bowl. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth.


1) Using a Bismarck tip or the cone method fill each cupcake with chocolate mousse. You should have some left over for step 3.

2) Holding each cupcake by the base, dip tops of cupcakes into ganache. Place on a wire rack to set. Once done coating all of the cupcakes dunk them all a second time. Let sit at room temperature to set.

3) Immediately before serving, place a dollop of chocolate mousse on the bottom of each meringue heart and place on top of cupcakes.

Hoosier Homemade - Cupcake Tuesday

Friday, February 17, 2012

52 Week Photo Project [Week 7]

Smooth Criminal

This week's Paint the Moon theme is "smooth." Just like this smooth hunk of white chocolate. Oh yeah, baby.

Alright, I did not steal this chocolate. No criminal activity involved here. But the post-Valentine's Day sale price was a bit of a steal. :)

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Zero Bar Hi-Hat Cupcakes

You may have noticed by now that I tend to use any major and minor holiday as an excuse to indulge. Valentine's Day is no exception and because the only presents my husband has on his wish list are big ticket items we skip giving each other gifts and I bake him something sweet every year instead. This year I got my inspiration when he bought a few of his favorite candy bars a couple of weeks ago. Many of you probably have no idea what a Zero bar is. Understandable. They're one of the few white chocolate candy bars out there so, like me, you probably pass them up in favor of something more, well, chocolaty.

Candy Blog described the essence of the Zero bar far better than I ever could. "It looks like a bar of the future. Something that robots would eat. Or maybe robots would bring them to us. They’d enter the room through the shooshing automatic door with a tray full of snacks that we munch on while watching TV beamed directly into our optic nerve." It's a white fudge-coated bar filled with almond, peanut, and caramel in some sort of nougat-like configuration. Not bad but wouldn't those flavors be even better as a cupcake? A cupcake covered in a ridiculous amount of frosting and then dunked into chocolate? Heck, wouldn't anything be better with that particular treatment?

Thus was born the Zero Bar Hi-Hat Cupcake: Light and fluffy almond-flavored cake filled with both peanut nougat and caramel, a blend of white chocolate and peanut butter frosting piled high on top, then dipped into a white chocolate coating. Even I thought I was going a little overboard with this one.

Despite being a bit of a Herculean task to eat one of these cupcakes the flavors all shine through nicely. I had to interrogate my husband to see if it was at all reminiscent of a Zero bar and he confirmed that it is. Mission accomplished!

As a side note, I noticed while mining previous blog posts for frosting recipes that many of the cupcakes I make are absurdly complicated. To the point where they probably put off most of you readers from ever attempting any of them. I think I should point out that if you're not feeling as ambitious as I you could usually make substitutions to save a few steps. For example, with these cupcakes there's no reason why you couldn't use store-bought caramel or even just stick a piece of a chopped up Zero bar into the middle of each cupcake instead of making the filling. Believe me, there are plenty of recipes I look at online and think I would never be skilled enough or want to put that much time into baking something. I don't want my recipes to be the kind that get ignored for that reason.

Almond-Flavored Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup granulated sugar
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.

3) Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.

4) Combine the milk, vanilla, and almond extract and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

5) With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Add the second egg, again beating for 30 seconds.

6) Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat briefly, just until smooth.

7) Scoop the batter by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tin. A muffin scoop works well here.

8) Bake the cupcakes for 23 to 25 minutes, until they've domed, and are a light golden brown around the edges. They'll spring back when pressed gently on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

9) Remove the cupcakes from the oven, cool in pan on a rack for ten minutes. Then remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on the rack.

Caramel Filling:
Recipe adapted from Sprinkle Bakes

1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
Pinch of salt
1/8 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons heavy cream, at room temperature

1) Melt the sugar over medium heat in a large pot. With a wooden spoon, stir the sugar as it melts and cook until it becomes a deep amber color.

2) Add the butter and salt and stir it in until melted.

3) Pour in the heavy cream (mixture will foam) and whisk until you get a smooth sauce. You may have some lumps but keep stirring until they have melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Pseudo Nougat Filling:
Recipe adapted from Cake Central

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup marshmallow cream
1/4 cup malted milk mix
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1) Cream butter, shortening, and marshmallow cream together. Add malted milk, vanilla, and cream or milk and continue to cream until well incorporated. Beat on high for a minute until fluffy. Fold in the chopped peanuts.

2) Using the cone method fill each cupcake cavity half with caramel and half with nougat filling. Be sure to trim the excess cake off the bottom of each cone and replace just the top portion to cover the filling.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Recipe from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp heavy cream or milk

1) In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together confectioner's sugar and butter until creamy. Add peanut butter, beating well. Add milk and beat until smooth and creamy.

White Chocolate Buttercream
Adapted from BBC Good Food

90 grams white chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 to 2 cups powdered sugar

1) Melt the chocolate over a double boiler, stirring often. Cool.

2) Beat the butter and powdered sugar until creamy. Beat in the chocolate and continue to beat at medium-high speed until fluffy.

3) Using a spatula "paint" white chocolate frosting on one side of a piping bag and peanut butter frosting on the other side. (I found that my frostings kind of blended together despite this method working with other recipes in the past, so there's really no need to be precise here. You won't be getting that two-tone effect anyway from the frosting so feel free to just jam it all in there.) Pipe onto cupcakes using a large round tip in a tall spiral pattern.

4) Put the cupcakes in the freezer while you make the white chocolate coating.

White Chocolate Coating
Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 cups white chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

1) Combine chocolate and oil in a medium heat-proof bowl set over a medium saucepan of barely simmering water; stir until melted and smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, and let cool about 15 minutes.

2) Holding each cupcake by its bottom, dip cupcake in the chocolate to coat frosting, allowing excess to drip off. Transfer to a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack. Spoon more coating around edge of cupcake and any exposed frosting; none of the frosting should show. Let cupcakes stand at room temperature 15 minutes before eating.

Hoosier Homemade - Cupcake Tuesday

Monday, February 13, 2012

52 Week Photo Project [Week 6]

This week's Paint the Moon themes were "topsy turvy" and "linear." I couldn't think of a thing to do for the topsy turvy theme but the linear one seemed wide open to me. I've been looking for lines everywhere I've been the past week. I've noticed them everywhere from the aerial tower on my way to work to the fence in front of the old folks' community up the road. Ultimately I decided to go for something abstract and I actually like how it turned out. So here's my entry for week 6.

Alright, yes, it's a fork taped to the window. And yes, I accidentally left it there all day so any neighbors walking by probably wondered what the heck is wrong with me.

52 Week Project Photo Paint the Moon Photoshop Actions PSE

Saturday, February 4, 2012

52 Week Photo Project [Week 5]

All by myself...

This week's Paint the Moon theme was inspired by Annie's realization that she doesn't come out from behind the camera often enough. All of her family photos are missing one important thing: her. I was touched by her story about losing her brother and regretting not taking more pictures of him on the sly. He was so camera shy she was left with very few pictures of someone she'd cherished and lost. I adore my family and spend lots of time flipping through old photos of us all.

That said, while I liked the idea behind the theme I also struggled with it. It only served to remind me that I'm all alone without close family or friends near me. All I have are oodles and oodles of pictures of those I love. At least I could get those photographs to pose with me without complaint. Not one complained about looking fat or having a bad hair day!

52 Week Project Photo Paint the Moon Photoshop Actions PSE

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What I'm Loving

I have a bunch of recipe posts I should be putting up but I haven't gotten around to editing the photos and actually writing those posts. In lieu of a proper post I'll give you a quick recap of what I'm loving in life right now.

I am loving that we found a forever home for our foster dog. In a matter of days a friend of a friend, who just so happened to be looking for a dog to add to her family, got in touch and we arranged for her to pick Major up two days ago. I've been missing him terribly since then but know that he's in a much, much better place. He's got a big yard to run around in, an owner who clearly fell in love with him at first sight (and how could she not?), and two dog siblings to play with. He no longer has to sleep in his crate at night so it sounds like he's got it pretty good.

And as much as I enjoyed his presence I now know that we are not meant to have a dog in our home. The cats never really adjusted and seem so much happier and freer now that he's gone. Not to mention that owning a dog is a completely different experience from owning a cat. 'Nuff said.

I am loving Game of Thrones. I know I'm about a year behind in discovering the joys of this wonderfully done fantasy series full of murder, intrigue, political drama, and heroic mutant wolves and I am kicking myself for waiting this long to tune in. Although this means that I'll only have to wait a few months between finishing season one and watching season two when it begins airing in April. I'd enjoyed Peter Dinklage in films before but have completely fallen for his character here. I've already been warned that there are many character deaths in the series so I'm trying to not get too attached to any of them but that's been impossible with him. Does it get any better than the scene where he begins recounting his "crimes" from childhood on? I had to laugh aloud as we were all left in suspense by never getting to hear the end of this sordid confession: "I once brought a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel..."

I am loving Essie's Smokin' Hot nail polish. As with all Essie polishes I've tried the color in the bottle isn't what actually shows up on your nails. That's not necessarily a bad thing as the results are always great. Sometimes it's a fun surprise. But I know to do a quick image search online before buying any to see how it looks on others' nails. What I love about Essie's colors is that they're utterly unique. Smokin' Hot is hard to categorize as it's a deep purple with a gray tone. Almost works as a neutral because of that. Anyway, that was my girly post for the year. You'll rarely see me talk about makeup or clothes since I don't think I'm an authority on those subjects. In fact, the reason why I had to steal someone else's photo is because my own nails look like a kindergartener's art project.

I'm loving Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz. I'd been wanting to read it since before it came out as I was hearing great reviews from the get go. My library finally got a copy and I have eagerly been picking it up every night to read more and more of it. But, like a fine meal, I find myself wanting to savor it rather than tear through the 400 pages as I normally would. Grant Achatz is the co-founder of Alinea, regularly ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world. It's one I've had on my list of places to one day visit for years but reading this book has catapulted it to the top of the list.

The guy's had a fantastic career including a brief stint at Charlie Trotter's and he learned a lot from his time at The French Laundry, the restaurant I visited to celebrate my 30th birthday last year. Once he set off on his own to run his own kitchen is when the real innovation began. I find myself drooling at the descriptions of his dishes, part Thomas Keller-inspired fine dining meals and part molecular gastronomy experiments. I also find myself woefully disappointed in everything I'm having to eat during the course of reading the book as my meals pale in comparison. No offense to my cooking, but thawed out leftovers of that buffalo chicken pasta casserole I made three weeks ago just aren't going to make me happy when reading about Achatz's take on the classic pb&j. Only his version consists of peeled grapes, still on the vine, wrapped in a paper-thin layer of toast with peanut butter magically nestled within. Or his version of pepperoni pizza, a bite-sized nugget made with spices and powders meant to emulate the taste of pepperoni (tomato powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and fennel pollen). The mozzarella is then browned in a pan and the rendered fat set aside to cool until it solidifies into a butter-like substance that can be spread onto a potato-starch "crust." Genius! And can you imagine the joy of cutting into an inflated mozzarella balloon filled with tomato water for his version of a caprese salad? I love the idea of having fun with food like that. Not to mention his passion for cooking, which is something I'm developing a new appreciation for as I get older. Where's the fun in life if you're not passionate about something?

I haven't even gotten to the real meat of the book, Achatz's struggles with mouth cancer that threatened to impair his ability to taste assuming he survived the treatments. Obviously he did survive to tell the tale, and what a tale it is! If I could drive to your house and force you to read one book this year it would be Life, on the Line.