Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Bread

After making my cheesecakes for the fall festival (see my last post), I was left with half a can of pumpkin puree. What to do with half a can of pumpkin? So last night I Googled "recipes using half can of pumpkin puree". I found lots of suggestions to mix it with mashed potatoes and things like that, but that didn't sound appealing. Finally I found something up my alley - Pumpkin Bread.

I hadn't planned on doing anything immediately but after reading the recipe I had to make it. Since it was on a whim I found myself lacking a few things, but I made some substitutions and alterations.

First, I used salted butter instead of unsalted.

I used a 1/2  teaspoon of allspice instead of 1/4 teaspoon of allspice, to make up for the 1/4 teaspoon of cloves that I lacked.

I panicked slightly when I saw that I had no baking soda, but I read somewhere that for every teaspoon of baking soda you need, use two teaspoons of baking powder. So since the recipe calls for one teaspoon of soda, I added two teaspoons of powder to the 1/2 teaspoon already called for in the recipe.

The last substitution I made was olive oil instead of vegetable oil.

I baked my bread for an hour, then added four or five minutes, and the toothpick finally came out clean.

The best pumpkin bread I have ever tasted!

It turned out BEAUTIFULLY. Originally, I was going to make icing to drizzle overtop (using the same icing recipe I used on my pastries), but the bread was sweet enough on its own with a bit of confectioner's sugar. It was moist without being squishy or dense, the outside was sweet and slightly crunchy - I just can't say enough good things about this recipe. Even after all the changes I made, it still turned out amazing. I think I'll just make it the same way next time!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Cinnamon Crust

Around this time of year, my town has a little festival celebrating the season and its harvest. It's corny, I guess, but it's something we all sort of look forward to at the end of the summer. There are vendors selling locally made items and lots of fried food being sold - fried Oreos, Reese's cups, and basically anything else you can think of that shouldn't be fried can be found fried at this festival.

There are a few events held around this time, too - various races and contests. One such contest is the Baking Contest. This was the first year I was aware of it and so I decided to enter.

One of the requirements for entering is the recipe must contain a fall fruit or vegetable - persimmons, apples, and of course, pumpkin. Since I wasn't sure of what I was going to be up against since this was my first time entering, I decided to go with something I had made before - Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Cinnamon Crust. Last time I made these, I didn't use this recipe, but I can't remember what recipe I used last time, and this seemed similar enough.

The only variation I made in this recipe was instead of freshly grated nutmeg, I used the ground nutmeg we already had in our cupboard.

I wanted something fancy to present my cheesecakes in, so I bought some brown PaperChef Lotus Cups. However, they did not all fit in my muffin pan, so since they were sturdy enough I just put them all on a flat baking pan to cook.

I cooked my cheesecakes for fifteen minutes at first, just because I'm paranoid about my cheesecake cracking as they have in the past. Then I put them in for five minutes. Then five more minutes. At this point they'd been in the oven for twenty-five minutes so I went ahead and pulled them out. In hindsight I probably should have left them in for just a few minutes longer, but they turned out fine enough.

A minute after pulling them out I placed a roasted pecan half on top of each one. (To roast, I placed them on a pan lightly sprayed with cooking spray, and left them in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about four minutes. I roasted a few extra just in case any burnt, and I'm glad I did.)

The finished product.

They turned out rather pretty, didn't they? I thought the baking cups made them look kind of small, but that wasn't much of a big deal. I put them on a pretty green plate to be festive for the contest.

I didn't get to taste one of my own cheesecakes until after the contest was over because when I made them last night, they still had to be refrigerated to set, and we were too rushed this morning. But when I finally got to taste one, I was happy with them. The cheesecake part itself wasn't particularly sweet, but the crust compensated for it nicely. The crust was delicious. Next time I make these I think I'll add some sugar to the cheesecake though.

In the end, I didn't win the contest, but I wasn't at all upset because the woman who did win made an AMAZING cake. It looked like a basket with leaves and pumpkins all over it, and if my cheesecakes had been chosen over that, I would have wondered who rigged the contest. Next year, though, I'll know what kind of talent I'm up against, and I'll be more prepared. ;)

I love fall.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cherry Danish Pastries

My grandpa's birthday is today, and about a week ago he mentioned that his favorite baked goods are Danish pastries. After talking to my mom I learned he digs cherry stuff too, so for his birthday I have made him cherry Danishes, according to this recipe from

First of all, when I read through this recipe for the first time, before I'd gathered my ingredients or anything, I knew this recipe might be beyond my skill level. That's probably not being modest enough, honestly. Still, I like to give myself credit, and I figured I wouldn't tell my grandpa I was making these so that if they turned out horribly and I had to throw them away, he wouldn't be disappointed.

It's not a necessarily difficult recipe to follow - the instructions are clear, and it's fairly simple in regards to ingredients - but it is labor-intensive, and a bit of haste is required when dealing with the butter/flour mixture...but we'll get to that.

So I started out by adjusting the recipe to make 12 servings, rather than 36. My grandpa has multiple health issues and, though I'm sure he'd love to receive 36 Danishes, I know I'd feel bad if he had a heart attack or something because of it. However, the adjustment was only made to the ingredients. The recipe remained for the original serving size of 36. In most recipes this wouldn't be an issue but this recipe calls for certain amounts of ingredients at different times, so I had to do a little math (which has never been my strong suit).

So here's what I came to. In step 1, it says to cream together the butter and 2/3 cup of flour. For my 12 servings batch, however, I creamed together the butter and 3 tablespoons plus 1 3/4 teaspoons flour. Figuring that out was relatively easy.

In step 2, it says to mix the dry yeast and 3 cups of the remaining flour. After doing some math, I figured out that I needed to mix 1 cup of my remaining flour to the dry yeast. That left me with 1 2/3 cups of flour for the rest of the recipe.

After kneading my dough, it became firm and pliable with about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of flour still left over. Not wanting to make my dough too tough, I discarded it and left my dough to rise.

Upon pulling the cold butter sheets out of the fridge to fold into my dough, I found myself having to scrape the butter off of the wax paper rather than it coming off in the nice, simple sheet it was supposed to be. Still, this wasn't a big deal as I just spread the butter mixture around with a knife. To me there seemed to be a LOT of butter - when I pressed the edges to seal in the butter and rolled over it with my pin, butter oozed out the edges. I tried as well as I could to keep it contained but there was just so much, I had to let some of it go. The butter coated the cutting board I was using as a surface and got all over my rolling pin, a problem I somewhat remedied by placing a sheet of wax paper between the dough and my pin.

The butter seemed to be absorbed by the dough during its thirty-minutes stints in the refrigerator, at least some of it was. It was still pretty buttery when I got it out to place the filling. For filling I used Smucker's Cherry Preserves. It took me a minute to figure out how much to put without putting too much or too little. Then I folded over two corners to make it pretty. And for a final touch, I brushed them with egg whites for a nice shine.

How they looked before they went into the oven.

Beautiful, right? Wrong. The heat of the oven must have made the butter too slippery or something, because when I pulled them out of the oven (after 8 minutes), they looked like this.

How they looked when they came out. Blurghh.

I was about to damn the whole project but my mother, always an optimist, convinced me to press on. In the end I'm glad I did, but at the time I was rather depressed.

I added a bit more preserves to each one, hoping to save at least a few of the least-crappy looking ones for my grandpa's birthday. But then I remembered the icing.

This recipe, which I found simply by typing "danish pastry icing" into Google, made perfect icing. To apply it to the pastries, I cut the tip off a gallon baggy and drizzled it back and forth across each one. For such a simple recipe, this icing is tasty - and totally saved my Danishes!

See for yourself.

I was so happy. They still didn't turn out the way I expected them to look, but I'm not complaining - at least they turned out somewhat pretty.

Not too bad, after all.

As for the taste, we took one of the ugly ones and split it amongst ourselves. I thought the pastry was bland, especially for all the effort I'd put into it. It wasn't very flaky either, although that could very well be directly linked to my skill level. Oh, and something else - the recipe specifically said NOT to grease the pan, so I didn't - but the bottom of a few of the pastries stuck to the pan.

We'll see how my grandpa likes them. I'll update this once I have his expert opinion.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dunkers

So my husband has been out of work with a kidney stone. He's been feeling really low for a while so when he asked me to make him cookies, I could hardly refuse. Even though he asked me at two in the morning.

So I used My Baking Addiction's recipe for Cookie Sticks. I omitted the peanut butter and peanut butter chips since I don't like peanut butter cookies and added a bunch more chocolate chips.

These didn't last long.

They turned out nicely, a little tougher than I prefer my cookies but not crunchy by any means. I'm just weird and like my cookies and brownies gooey. :)

As you can see, the cookies being cut into strips made dunking into milk much easier and convenient. My husband was pleased.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Frosting

My son recently turned one, so for his birthday I decided to go with an UglyDolls theme. Their website is here, if you haven't heard of them - they're super cute and I've been a fan for forever it seems like. I got one of the stuffed animals when I was in high school and when he was born, he seemed to take a liking to it. I knew before he was even born that I wanted to do a monster theme for his first birthday party (yes, I'm one of those moms who plans everything out years in advance...) but until about two weeks before the party, I didn't know I was going to focus specifically on UglyDolls.

Anyway, my point is, I baked his cake from scratch and arranged the creature called "Big Toe" in fondant on top of it. This is Big Toe -

 I assume he is called Big Toe on the basis of his shape?
- and this is my cake.

Not quite as spectacular as I had envisioned, but oh well - it was for a one-year-old.
I used this recipe from Sweetapolita for Fluffy Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting. As always, I made a few variations, although I didn't make as many this time.
It is supposed to yield an eight-inch two-layer cake, and I made it instead as a 9"x13" sheet cake. The second variation I made was one of convenience - the recipe for both the cake and the icing calls for sifted flour and confectioner's sugar. However, the only sifter I have barely holds a cup, so it's ridiculously time-consuming to sift so much flour. I'm hoping someone will gift me with a decent-sized sifter this Christmas - hint hint.
So in lieu of sifting, I whisked the dry ingredients for a good while, hoping it might help my cause. I knew this would affect the fluffiness of the cake, and I was right. The cake was denser than most cake but not in an unappealing way.
In my opinion, the icing was a bit too buttery tasting. I followed that recipe exactly, substituting vanilla extract for the vanilla bean as the recipe advises. It just tasted too buttery to me.
Here is a close-up of the fondant Big Toe (that sounds kind of gross).
Cute, right?

I used Wilton fondant, color mist, and icing colors to create this little guy. He was thicker than I'd planned but it was my first attempt at fondant and I was feeling kind of stressed about the party being in an hour. The color mist, though convenient, had a rather unsavory taste that I wasn't too keen about. But it served its purpose of turning the fondant blue. For the nose, I rubbed on some red icing color. I did the same with the black bits.

I made a separate cupcake for my son to eat/destroy, so here's a picture of that.

His cupcake, on his cool robot plate.
We put a few blue sprinkles on it for decoration and then plopped a big "1" candle in it.
The cake went over well, only one piece was left over and it was devoured shortly thereafter. It seemed to be a hit, but next time I'll hopefully have a nice sifter, so it will be even better.