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Tuesday
Jun292010

Mac Attack: Chocolate Peanut Butter Macaroons Recipe

Macaroons don't really get much attention these days--these slightly frumpy, lumpy coconut cookies receive far less attention than their glamorous cousin, the macaron.

But there's a variation which ought to make you take notice: the Chocolate Peanut Butter Macaroon. The result of some kitchen experimenting when I was testing out a recipe for Angel Food Cake Macaroons from The Cake Mix Doctor Returns , this was a decidedly happy outcome, resulting in a cookie which is chewy, moist, and incredibly rich. So rich that adding frosting is excessive, though? Not a chance. Sandwiched with some leftover frosting from my Hartford Election Day cupcakes, these macaroons even approach being cute--but more importantly, they're an absolute dream to eat.

Note: While I used a cake mix recipe for the macaroons, I have a feeling that adding the peanut butter and cocoa to just about any plain coconut macaroon recipe would probably work out fine.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Macaroons Recipe

Adapted from Angel Food Macaroons from The Cake Mix Doctor Returns

- Makes about 48 small cookies -

Ingredients

  • 1 package (16 ounces) Angel Food Cake Mix
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth, or lightly grainy textures, work best--don't use chunky. Or low fat)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • You'll need: Parchment paper, for lining baking sheets

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Place the cake mix, water, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl; mix in your electric mixer on low speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down sides of the bowl. Increase speed to medium and beat for one more minute. 
  3. Add your peanut butter and cocoa powder and mix on low speed just until incorporated.
  4. Fold in the coconut.
  5. Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on your prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the macaroons until they are set and just browned lightly on the edges--about 10-12 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper with macaroons on top onto a wire rack to cool for five minutes. Using a small metal spatula, remove the macaroons from the paper. You can re-use the parchment paper if you still have any dough left over as the macaroons will come off quite cleanly.
  7. If desired, once cooled, turn over frost the bottom (flat side) of half of the macaroons and sandwich together with a second one. I used the leftover frosting from this recipe, and man, was it good.
Tuesday
Jun292010

Cake Byte: The Essential Baking Company wins top honors in Francophile Fruit Tart Contest

Sweet news from Seattle's Essential Baking Company:

With an Aprium Raspberry Tart topped with a chorus line of high kicking cookie cancan dancers, The Essential Baking Company brought the Moulin Rouge to Seattle and took home the top prize in yesterday’s 2nd Annual Francophile Fruit Tart Contest, sponsored by the French American Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest.

Represented by assistant dessert chef Jennifer Volk, EBC’s Parisian-themed entry in the contest features fresh apriums, an apricot-plum hybrid, and raspberries baked on almond financier cake in a buttery tart shell, topped with apricot glaze and the cookie cancan dancers.

After placing second by only a slight margin in the 2009 competition, EBC came back strong this year to win it all. Judging criteria included: use of seasonal products, creativity with the Parisian theme, visual artistry and appearance, technical skill, and flavor and texture.

Congratulations to Essential Baking!

Monday
Jun282010

Look to the Cookie Sandwich: Black and White Ice Cream Sandwich Cookies

Paul Simon once sang that "everything looks worse in black and white". Clearly, the guy had never sampled a black and white ice cream sandwich cookie. 

Now, technically the black and white cookie isn't a cookie at all, but a cake--a drop cake, to be exact. So you know what that means? This is basically a trinity of awesome: cakey cookies, sweet frosting, and creamy, rich ice cream. 

And due to its technical cake status, it's what I've decided to enter as my entry in the TLC Cake Crew's first challenge! Curious to hear more?

And once baked, cooled, and stacked, these babies make you remember what summer desserts are all about: pure, unadulterated joy.

In fact, there's only one thing about this black and white treat that might give you pause: if you choose to alternate the alignment of the frosting and ice cream flavors, which side do you eat first?

For the full entry and recipe (including cookies adapted from David Lebovitz's newest book, Ready for Dessert), visit Serious Eats! But for the reader's digest version, here are the instructions for assembly--have one scoop of vanilla, and one of chocolate ice cream, ready for each sandwich.

Assembly of Black and White Ice Cream Sandwich Cookies

(makes about 12 sandwiches using the recipe linked above)

Get out your ice cream, and let it sit outside of the freezer for 10 minutes or so to soften a bit before assembling. I used a carton of Neapolitan ice cream so that I could grab spoonfuls right along the chocolate-vanilla line to sandwich between my cookies. Turn one of the unfrosted cookies so that the flat side is up; place a nice-sized scoop of vanilla-chocolate ice cream directly on top. Using a spoon, lightly flatten the top of the scoop to make room for the rounded bottom of the cookie that you'll be placing on top. Place the frosted cookie on top, and gently press down so that the sandwich comes together. Using a butter knife, gently smooth the sides of the ice cream so that it is flush with the edges of the cookie.

Wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper, and store in the freezer for at least one hour to allow the ice cream to set. Enjoy immediately upon removing from the freezer.

Saturday
Jun262010

Big Fun: An Enormous, and Delicious, Cinnamon Roll

Have you ever wondered "what would happen if you baked a package of pop-n-bake cinnamon rolls as one long, continuously huge cinnamon roll?".

If so, you're not alone. And happily, I have the answer: it's basically the easiest way ever to make a big pile of awesome. And, ah, you know, work your way toward morbid obesity.

The finished product vaguely resembles a cross-section of a very old tree--but in this case, each ring in its spiral is a layer of delicous.

Now, I'm not quite sure if these pictures really convey scale. If you need a realistic idea of the scale of this thing, consider the size of a football player's head, in a helmet, and you'll be getting the idea.

A Very Large Cinnamon Roll

Serves 1-8, depending on how hungry you are

Ingredients

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Place one of the rolls in the center of a large, lightly buttered baking pan (either 9x9 or 9x13-inch). Unroll the next one and continue it in a spiral around the first one; repeat with the succeeding rolls until you have one long, continuous snail of a cinnamon roll.
  3. Bake 25-29 minutes or until browned.
  4. Spread with the provided icing.
  5. Enjoy. 
Saturday
Jun262010

Cake Byte: Urban Craft Uprising, Summer 2010 Edition!

OK, sweeties. If you're in Seattle, it's time for some serious awesome. If you're not in Seattle, it's time for a road (or plane!) trip. 

Yup, that's right. It's time for the Urban Craft Uprising, Summer 2010 Edition. Oh, and I did the offical artwork for it this time. Awesome, right?

It's back, bigger and badder than ever, including an array of amazing vendors (including CakeSpy, This Charming Candy, Secret Stash Sea Salts, Mucho Design, and so many more!)--and, have I mentioned that is on the same day as the Mobile Chowdown? Like, hello awesome!

Here are the details:

Urban Craft Uprising

July 10 & 11, 2010 (Sat. and Sun.)

Seattle Center

For more details, visit the official website!

Saturday
Jun262010

Executive Sweetness: The Cake Committee of New York

File under "Best Thing, Possibly Ever": The Cake Committee.

I know, I know. You love it already. But what is it, exactly?

Per Charlotte Druckman in the T Magazine in the NY Times, it all began when

Last summer, Peter Ting, a London-based ceramist, gathered friends (mostly artists or design-world recruits), all of whom had one thing in common: a love of baking. The group began hosting Thames-side teas for which each member would whip-up a “little” something. Invited guests would be asked to pay a relatively minor cover charge, which granted them unlimited access to the parade of desserts. The “caterers” would pocket none of the proceeds to cover their baking costs. Instead, 100 percent of the funds went to whichever local charity the Cake Committee deemed fit for the occasion. As silly and quirky as the enterprise sounds, these sweet salons draw a swank bunch, and are known to raise about $1,500 each. One year in, the Committee has satellites across the world, from Maine to Singapore and, as of Thursday night, New York City.

Although organizers referred to the event as a "helping-hands, at-home operation" nonetheless, the New York chapter didn't feature traditional homespun bakesale fare, opting instead for luscious cuatro leches cakes, nut-filled Italian wedding cake, and strawberry coconut cake.

When all was said and done, the $20-entry for all you can eat dessert ended up making over $1400 for sweet causes, and will be split between the Friends of the French Culinary Institute, which raises money for need-based scholarships to the FCI, and The Center, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community organization in the West Village.

Of course, altruism aside, the author ultimately concludes that it's a sweet deal for attendees too:

On the way out, over-indulgers smirked guiltily while the weary bakers were already talking about which cakes they’d bring to the committee’s next meeting, in September. After all, Schwan mused, “What is life but happiness, cake and love? After a night of cake, you wake up and realize, irony is very passé.”

All of which begs the question: when are you going to start your own chapter? Here's to making the world a sweeter place.

For the full article, visit the T Magazine page.

Friday
Jun252010

Sweet Love: A Bakery Crush on Freshly Baked, Los Angeles

Now, there are countless reasons why Freshly Baked, a gourmet cookie company in Los Angeles, deserves your love and sweet affection.

But if pressed, I'd offer these up as some of the primary reasons:

 

  1. Their mission statement, as stated on the front page of their website, may bring tears to your eyes: "Forget about carbs, sugar, and fat grams. Our cookies are meant to be eaten, not analyzed."
  2. Said cookies come in flavors which give shout-outs to, but aren't quite, traditional flavors: for instance, Peanut Butter Chocolate Pretzel, Oatmeal Coconut Chocolate Chip, Strawberry White Chocolate, Banana chocolate Chip Walnut, and Root Beer Float (!). Oh, and they do something called the "OMG" which is comprised of half cookie, half ice cream. Like, OMG!
  3. The cookies all come in hand-graffiti'ed boxes with Keith Haring-esque designs, so that like snowflakes, no two are alike. I'm tempted to say something about the anti cookie-cutter effect...
  4. The company has a sweet story: owner Eric Weston has had a love affair with the cookie since he was a wee lad (he'll show you an adorable photo) and while a talented actor-comedian he decided to take his penchant for unsusal cookie creations to the local LA Derby Doll arena and see if he could sell his wares to all the local hipsters. To his great delight (and theirs), he was a hit and is now delivering his goods to all the hip coffee shops all around town!

 

Of course, these cookies were recommended by Cake Gumshoe Renee, who says that the "cookies are crackalicious, seriously. I'm very persnickety about my cookie selections, but his Nutty Bavarain Love Biscuit (peanut butter chocolate pretzel) cookie makes me want to curse with pleasure."

Freshly Baked will soon be debuting a cookie truck which will deliver mobile cookies throughout LA; til then, cookies are currently available at various coffee shops in the Los Angeles area, and can be special ordered for local delivery or nationwide shipment; find out more on their site, freshly-baked.com. Oh, and you can follow them on Twitter, if you're into that.

Friday
Jun252010

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links


Happy Friday! Let's hang out on the internet in these places:

Via the New York Times: Move over Soy Vay sauces. Chozen is a new kosher ice cream with mix-ins that would make Tevye happy. 

Snazzy snickerdoodles: Cinnamon cardamom snickerdoodles by A Sweet Spoonful, as discovered on Food News Journal.

Whoopie! Save the date for the Whoopie Pie Festival 2010, coming up on September 18 in Lancaster, PA!

Extreme Red Velvet! Amped-up Red Velvet Cupcakes on Shelterrific.

Sweetness you can hold onto: the Yummies handbag by Bored, Inc.!

Sweet obsession: Wyeth-esque paintings of retro sweet foodstuffs by Vic Vicini.

Clever crafts: paper cupcake stands, discovered via Not Martha (pictured above)

I'm just going to say it: I kind of love the mini Birthday Cake Donuts at Starbucks (pictured above)

Kings of Pastry: A new documentary about sixteen French Pastry chefs competing for the collar of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France.

The perfect companion to TastyKake art: a TastyKake computer mouse! (Pictured above--thanks Stacy!)

Have you not heard of Gooey Butter Bites? Poor, poor you.

Ice cream sandwich taste test. Need I say more? 

Sweet memories: rediscover the Biscochito, official state cookie of New Mexico! (pictured above)

Wednesday
Jun232010

America the Sweet: United Cakes of America, and Hartford Election Cupcakes

Let's talk for a minute about the new book United Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State by Warren Brown, owner of the CakeLove empire in the DC area.

I love the idea of this book: a sweet show of patriotism, dedicated to celebrating the cakes unique to each region of the USA, including recipes and stories.

And for the most part, I love the result: it's beautifully designed, well written, and so far, the recipes are tasting most excellent. 

My only reservation about the book isn't so much a complaint about the content as a wish that even more had been done to delve into the history--including the hows and whys--of each region's cake. Several of the entries--Hartford Election Day Cake, Hummingbird Cake, and Red Velvet Cake, for instance--come with insightful histories and thoughts on why the cakes might have come into their own in a certain region, and I found these to be the most fascinating parts of the book. However, other entries are more loosely tied to a region, simply inspired by other flavors popular in the area rather than truly zeroing in on the region's cake specialty. For instance, the Washington entries are for Apple Cake and Coffee Buttercream, respectively. While both apples and coffee definitely have a strong presence in Washington, and I have no doubt that the recipes are delicious, I wouldn't consider these cakes that really represent the area.

But you know what? If the only reservation about this book is that I wanted more, that's really not such a bad thing. 

Here's one of my favorite entries so far, the Connecticut cake: an updated version of Hartford Election Day Cake, which was probably an American adaptation of English fruitcakes, which has since evolved into the below delicious spice cake. Spicy and flavorful, these cupcakes are quite light, but don't worry--a healthy dollop of the old-fashioned milk buttercream (which, by the way, smells and tastes so good that you might just want to lick the bowl) anchors them down quite deliciously. And it's a perfect recipe to dress up in red, white, and blue for the 4th of July!

Hartford Election Day Cupcakes

Makes about 11 cupcakes

Dry ingredients:

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) superfine granulated sugar
  • 5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon  nutmeg, freshly grated
  • Pinch of allspice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon baking soda

 Wet ingredients:

  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) butter, melted
  • ¼ cup half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 egg yolk

Procedure 

  1.  Preheat the oven to 325°F and place the rack in the middle position. Lightly coat a cupcake tray with nonstick oil-and-starch spray and line 10 of the cups with paper liners.
  2. Measure and combine all the dry ingredients in a deep bowl. Whisk lightly for about 15 seconds to blend.
  3. Combine all the wet ingredients in a container with a tight-fitting lid and shake well for 15 seconds.
  4. Lightly whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. This should take about 15 seconds.
  5. Scoop or pour 2 ounces of batter into the paper-lined cups. (Using a food scooper or ladle works best.)
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the tops of the cupcakes are golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of one comes out clean or with just a few crumbs.
  7. Cool the cupcakes for five minutes before removing them from the tray. When they are room temperature, frost or decorate them with Old-Fashioned Milk Buttercream (recipe below).

 Old-Fashioned Milk Buttercream

Yield: Enough for one 9-inch layer cake or 24 cupcakes (note: it is more than you'll need for the cupcakes, but it tastes good enough to eat by the spoonful)

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 ounces (¼ cup) all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) superfine granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 Optional garnish: sprinkles, decorating gel, etc.

 Procedure

  1. Quickly whisk together 4 tablespoons of the milk with the flour. This slurry will be somewhat thick, so whisk thoroughly to make it smooth. Press out any lumps with a flexible spatula, if necessary.
  2. Whisk in the rest of the milk and transfer the mixture to a 2-quart heavy-bottom saucepan. Bring to a simmer for about 30 seconds over medium heat, whisking the whole time.
  3. Remove the pan from the stove and place plastic wrap directly against the milk’s surface. (This is the best method to prevent a skin from forming.) Cool to room temperature.
  4. Combine the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix at medium to high speed for 5 minutes.
  5. Pour the cooled milk-and-flour mixture into the bowl and beat for another 5 minutes, or longer, as needed to achieve a spreadable consistency.
Tuesday
Jun222010

Taking it to the Sweet: Making the World Sweeter With Free Treats

We could all take a cue from Miss Rumphius, a children's book written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

Early on in the book, the main character's grandfather offers a life lesson, urging her to see the world, seek adventure, but says that ultimately, "you must do something to make your world more beautiful".

And with that principle as my guide, I've done this in the most simple way: by putting out sweet treats for people passing by my retail store. 

Why do this? Well, a couple reasons. True, it does bring customers in (and this helps with my rent and keeps my pugs in puppy chow).

But even more so, it's an incredible thing to see people's reactions as they pass by.

There is a certain magic to seeing people's faces light up as they unexpectedly encounter a tray of brightly colored cookies, cupcakes, or even Pop-Tarts broken into bite-sized pieces. Especially in a neighborhood which is best known for its disaffected hipsters. It's fun to see them smile.

As for the sweets themselves? Sometimes they are homemade, and sometimes they are store-bought. Truly, though, (yes, I'll admit it!) the sweets themselves are almost secondary to the idea that this gesture is meant to take one out of the sometimes dull routine of everyday life--if only for a sweet and fleeting moment.

After all, who isn't just a little delighted by the prospect of a free cookie or treat, just because?

And it's fun to muse on the possible sweet implications: for instance, if encountering unexpected treats brightened one person's day enough so that they smiled at the next person they saw on the street, and that act put that person in a better mood...well, just think of the sweet domino effect this could all have.

Here's to a sweet week for all!

Want to see the magic for yourself? I'll be putting these out today (while they last!):

Total sweetness, brought to you by CakeSpy Shop, 415 E. Pine Street, Capitol Hill, Seattle.

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