Archive for January, 2014

January 22, 2014

The perfect cupcake

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Well, I think I can conclude that I am on a bit of a baking kick at the moment.  The irony of course being that following New Year’s, most people resolve to have less sweets in their lives.  But thus far I’ve been doing a pretty good job of “disposing” of the various desserts in places other than my thighs.  Most recently, I made a batch of what has become a staple in my repertoire: chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  It is easily one of my strongest, most mouthwatering offerings.  This is likely due to the lovely chocolate cake recipe I have, entitled “Presto! Chocolate cake” from the Mousewood Restaurant New Classics cookbook, given to me by the Greek’s dear mother.  It is one of many cookbooks distributed by Mousewood Restaurant, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant located in Ithaca, NY.  They certainly have plenty of recipes to spare, considering that their menu changes daily, and just the one cookbook I own comes with many delectable, granola-friendly goodies such as a “Carmelized onion tart”, “Greek stuffed zucchini”, and about five different recipes for grits.

Now, because chocolate is a magical thing, I have tried my fair share of chocolate cake recipes, including one from Epicurious.com that calls for strong, black coffee and is denser than lead when finished.  So, I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the matter.  Furthermore, the Mousewood recipe receives, by far, the most compliments for its moistness and chocolatey-ness from the various human guinea pigs I’ve served it to.  It is the unanimous winner!

I struggled with whether or not to publicize their recipe in my blog.  After all, it isn’t officially available anywhere online.  But it has been previously published in at least two other blogs before me.  The recipe also includes a glaze that I don’t include here, I do my own little touches here and there, and I think I give them their due credit.  So, I have decided it is just unobjectionable enough to pass muster (I’m a scientist and am therefore compelled to cite everything: a reflex, at this point, as habitual as breathing!).  The recipe can be found below as well as the link to the frosting recipe I used which uses less butter and a touch of sour cream making it a little more tart than others.  Note: this can be a tad jarring to those more accustomed to the sugar shit you buy in plastic canisters at the grocery store that I clearly have an unfavorable opinion on.  Enjoy!

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Presto! Chocolate cake

1 c. unbleached white flour

1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 c brown sugar

2 large eggs

¾ c water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ Cream cheese frosting recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter and dust with flour an 8- or 9-in. cake pan
  2. In large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt
  3. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time and blend well after each addition
  4. In small bowl, combine water and vanilla.  Add flavored water by thirds to the creamed mixture, alternating with flour mixture and beating after each addition
  5. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until a knife inserted in center comes  out clean and cake begins to pull away from the sides, about 30 to 35 minutes.  Bake cupcakes for about 20 minutes

Makes one cake round or about a dozen cupcakes so double the recipe for a layer cake

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January 9, 2014

Christmas cookies and last-minute-knitting-crunch-time

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Graduate school is about sacrifice.  The time and energy that must be devoted to my new endeavor in order for it to be a successful one means many things: less time spent with family and friends, less time for the other things I enjoy doing,…and inherent poverty.  This holiday saw the spectacular convergence of these three themes.  First, in what I can only describe as a remarkably coordinated show of charity, most of my loved ones mercifully declared this year a no-gift-exchange-year.  For the remainder, I very ambitiously (and ultimately unsuccessfully) tried to knit gifts for most of them.  Sadly, planning multiple projects, starting them way too late, and then spending nearly zero time working on them ended pretty predictably.  And as such, I have spent the majority of my post-Christmas downtime furiously trying to get those finished.  Currently, that saga remains unconcluded…

Also, while I did manage to bake several pies this year (as per usual), the Christmas cookies I had planned did not come about until after the holidays, which worked out exceedingly well for my colleagues who got fresh cookies upon returning from winter break.  Incidentally, any (and I do mean ANY) extra foodstuffs that you might need to get rid of need only be placed within view of a pack of scientists.  Ravenous creatures.  Anyways, I’m simply happy I got them done at all…annnnd I finally (finally!) used the decorator set the Greek bought me forever ago that I had yet to use.  Now, I normally don’t go in for decorated sugar cookies.  I get it: the fun is in decorating them!  But I usually only like to bake things that taste, well, good.  And happily I think I achieved that!  I used this recipe from The Washington Post for the cookies (I found I needed at least twice as much cream cheese to get the dough to the correct consistency), this one for the royal icing (with a dash of blue food coloring!), and this one for the decorator frosting.

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Notice all the little specks from using Sugar in the Raw!

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God bless standing mixers!

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Aw, the Greek helped decorate a cookie.  Um, adorable!

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All-in-all, not a bad effort for my first attempt.  Mind you, this is the goal: http://www.flickr.com/photos/irinalapko/4210474976/…a photo taken from my stepmother, Irina’s, blog, which can be found in my blogroll.  So, not quite there yet.

And about that decorating set, cheap piece of crap broke two-thirds of the way through.  So, any recommendations for a new one that, say, doesn’t break on its first time out would be appreciated.

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