Wednesday, February 25, 2009


This past week has been a little bit crazy. There's always work, and I've been trying to train for a 10K which I hope to run the end of next month (operative word being "trying"), and I was getting ready for an Oscar party a good friend was hosting--which turned out so nice and fun! I usually get sucked into the glamor of the Oscars, and the Academy Awards is the one award show I watch every year. One year in high school, I got to work at the Academy Awards bringing people up to the press box in the elevator. I was so thrilled, and I remember seeing Marisa Tomei that year, who had won for best supporting actress for her role in My Cousin Vinnie. She was surrounded by photographers and reporters, looking elated, and I fell in love with her dress (I think it was a Chanel?) and thought she was adorable (she looked great this year too). I've been an Academy Awards devotee ever since.

For the Oscar party, my friend laid out a red carpet with gold balloons in her house, and we invited some ("some" grew to be about 25) good friends, a number of whom have young children now--and for once, this was an event I didn't bake for at all. My friend who hosted the party made a chocolate cake with a frosting reminiscent of thick chocolate milkshake--thinking about it now makes my mouth water. It was all a little chaotic with kids and food everywhere, so I don't think I even really watched much of the Oscars at all. But it was worth missing to catch up with friends, at least as best I could amid the noise--though I was able to catch the last award (and, in my mind, the most important award) for best picture, which went to Slumdog Millionaire (hooray!).

So all that to say...I didn't bake anything new this past week at all. In thinking about what recipe I could possibly share with you for this post, I decided on red velvet cupcakes--which, in the world of cupcakes, deserves its place on the red carpet as far as I'm concerned. (Unfortunately, they don't look as red in the pictures as they did in real life.)

Red Velvet Cupcakes
(I don't remember where I got this recipe from)
Makes about 18 cupcakes

2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch-processed
1 t. salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
2 T. red liquid food color
1-1/2 t. baking soda
1 T. apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350F degrees, and line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt with a wire whisk. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy and light in color. Mix in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla, scraping down the bowl in between eggs. Combine the food color with the buttermilk, then add the buttermilk mixture and flour mixture, alternating between each mixture in 3 turns. Mix in the baking soda and vinegar until combined. Pour the batter into the cupcake wells. Bake on the middle rack for approximately 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the frosting, you can use a cream cheese frosting (but without the orange zest; and which I read somewhere is not the traditional frosting even though I've only ever had red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting), and garnish with chopped pecans on top.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

For a rainy day.

I love being lulled to sleep by the rhythmic sound of rain. Waking up to the same sound is a close second. The sloshing from the downpour and cars driving through puddles has the ability to transport me away and I just want to lie there and listen to the steady splattering. I can ruminate about the where all that rain water goes after it splashes against my window or reminisce about rainy days as a child when my mom would serve me a breakfast of hot sweetened milk and toasted french bread before school. It sometimes makes me long for simpler days that way.

The past couple of days, we've been having a bit of a rain storm (not really that stormy--I live in California) and it's been pretty nice waking up to
the pitter-pattering against the roof. Monday was extra-special since I had that day off from work, so not only did I have an extra day to lie in bed and listen to the rain, I could spend all morning in my pajamas, nursing a steaming cup of tea (I'm a tea person, though I also love the way coffee smells). And that's pretty much what I did. There are few perfect mornings like that.

I took advantage of my leisurely morning and made a gingerbread from the Williams-Sonoma Dessert cookbook. When I go to the mall, I sometimes like to pass my time at the Williams-Sonoma store, where everything is so shiny and bright. Their cookbooks are kind of like that, too, with big, beautiful, colorful pictures for every recipe, and are maybe even more suitable for the coffee table than the kitchen. I don't know why I picked this recipe, it doesn't have anything to do with rainy mornings, except that it looked easy to make and the kind of thing you could have with tea like in Remains of the Day, though I don't know if the English really do have gingerbread with their tea. That evening I brought some of the gingerbread to a friend's place, who served it with ice cream--which I don't think the English would do while having tea--but any way you'd like to have it, it's kind of nice for a rainy day.

Adapted from Dessert from Williams-Sonoma
Makes one 8" round cake, about 8 slices

Dry ingredients:
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1-1/2 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground cinammon
1/4 t. grated nutmeg
1/4 t. salt

Wet ingredients:

6 T. butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I prefer light)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup warm water

powdered sugar for dusting
vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and grease a 8" round cake pan or square baking pan, dusting it with flour.

Mix the dry ingredients together by hand with a wire whisk in a bowl. In another bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar together on low to medium speed until fluffy. Continue mixing on low, adding one egg at a time until combined well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix in the molasses on low. Pour in the flour mixture and mix until the ingredients are just combined, then add the water and mix until the batter is even and smooth. Pour the batter into the pan and bake on the middle rack until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Allow the gingerbread to cool in the pan. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with the vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The sweetest thing.

I admit it, I ripped this post title off of the U2 song. I was listening to my iTunes as I started writing this, and I thought it'd be the perfect title. Valentine's Day is Saturday, and it seems to either evoke disdain or anticipation. I get the sense that it's a little more fashionable to just not care about it. It's a commercial enterprise they say, a way for jewelry stores and restaurants to prey on couples by creating high expectations that need to be fulfilled (usually, it's the women with the high expectations, I would expect--and I can say this, being one myself).

In spite of what people say (and I do agree that Valentine's Day is commercial) I don't mind the concept really--to give a little more love to a special someone, because we probably don't always do it the other 364 days of the year. I think it's rather sweet. And
I've always found that it's the little things that count, like washing the dishes left on the kitchen counter or making someone a cup of tea. Maybe Valentine's Day also doesn't have to be about a romantic interest, and maybe it could include anyone we loved--a dear friend, a supportive brother, estranged relative? We'd probably do well to give a little more love all around.

I was flipping through Marcy Goldman's A Passion For Baking this past Sunday, looking for something to make for an informal dinner gathering at a friend's house. We were having homemade pizza(!), and what better dessert to go with pizza than some rich, chewy and chocolatey brownies? Marcy Goldman includes a recipe for a fudge brownie mix that can be packaged in a jar as gifts, and I thought that would be so cute (and inexpensive!) to give to friends! Seldom have I met a person who did not at least like chocolate. And isn't chocolate anything the universal gift that says "I love you"?

I thought it would be a good idea to test the "brownie mix in a jar" recipe before I started giving them out, so I made them for the pizza dinner.
I sprinkled chocolate chips on top after spreading the batter into the pan, and lightly pressed them down with a spatula. I cut the brownies before they cooled completely, so it was a little sloppy with the melted chocolate chips, but it certainly didn't affect the taste! I had another brownie the day after, and they were even better. I would be more than happy if someone gave me this "brownie mix in a jar"! And after baking them up, I would make sure the person who gave it to me got a corner piece, because that's my favorite.

Fudge Brownies
Adapted from
Marcy Goldman's A Passion For Baking
Makes about 24 brownies

Dry ingredients (these can go into into a jar or other air-tight container as a gift*):
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 t. baking soda

1/8 t. salt

2-1/2 cups sugar

Wet ingredients:

1-1/2 stick of butter (or 3/4 cup), melted
4 large eggs

Optional add-ins:

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup nuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Grease a 13"x9" pan.

In a mixing bowl, mix the melted butter with all the dry ingredients, then add eggs and mix until combined. Spread the batter evenly into the pan. Bake on the middle rack for approximately 25 minutes, then allow the pan to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

*The nuts can be added to the jar, if you're giving it as a gift. Keeping the ingredients in layers makes for a prettier presentation, too. Print out instructions on a card and attach the card to the jar with a ribbon for the perfect gift.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Think green.

I think green is my favorite color. I "think" because it kind of depends on what mood I'm in too, like when I want fun shoes or in choosing my stand mixer, I like red, or when I want a bright top, I sometimes like orange, but only if I'm wearing it with jeans, otherwise pink sometimes does the trick. And then there are M&Ms. I don't eat them often, but if I have them, usually they're in my trail mix and I only eat the green ones, but if I'm in the mood for more chocolate, I'll eat the orange ones, too. Green seems to be the color I always come back to. The color just speaks fresh, calm, and clean.

These days, or maybe it's always been the case, green also represents the color of environmental responsibility. I have some friends, a couple, who decided to take steps beyond putting plastic bottles in recycling bins, and started their own compost in their backyard. It was the first time I'd known someone personally to do something like that. Sometimes I think that what little I do won't make a difference, but they showed me that even if there is only the hope that every little thing can count, and if we can do something, then why not?

I helped throw a baby shower for these friends this past weekend, and how appropriately, though probably not intentionally, they chose the baby shower theme color to be a moss green. Since I was baking cupcakes for the shower, I was trying to think of a flavor that would work with the color, so I came up with lime cupcakes! Kiwi just didn't seem right, but lime was more feasible. I don't see lime as a cake or cupcake flavor very often, or at all, but if lemon is a popular flavor, then why not lime? Using a recipe for yellow cupcakes from The New Best Recipe, which has great recipes for every course of a meal, I added lime zest and lime juice, and they turned out wonderful! And for the frosting, instead of the cream cheese frosting which is often used on lemon cupcakes, I wanted a fluffier and softer texture, so I made a lime curd and mixed it with whipped cream. I have extra frosting in my freezer now, which tastes amazing on its own, like a mousse!

I can't claim that these cupcakes are environmentally friendly, but when you read the instructions on how to make the cupcake portion, you'll see that you don't waste much effort. The cupcakes come out pretty close to perfect even if all you do is throw all the ingredients together in the bowl and mix! Unfortunately, when I made these for the shower, I forgot to add the baking powder for half of them, so they didn't rise and were dense! It was late, and I served them anyway, and some guests thought they were meant to be like that!

Lime Cupcakes
Adapted from The New Best Recipe
Makes about one dozen

1 stick or 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, plus 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 t. vanilla
The zest and juice of one regular lime (not key limes, which are small; if using key limes, use 2 or 3)

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and line the cupcake pan with liners.

Cream the butter in a bowl using a mixer on low to medium speed. Once light and fluffy, add all other ingredients and mix together until combined and smooth.

If this last step seems too risky, cream the butter with the sugar, then combine all the wet ingredients (buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, lime juice and zest) and mix together. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt), then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until the batter is smooth.

Divide the batter equally among the cupcake wells in the cupcake pan, and bake on the middle rack for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then cool the cupcakes on a cooling rack.

Lime Curd Whipped Cream Frosting
Adapted from

For the lime curd:
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of sugar
the zest and juice of 2 regular limes (about 1/4 cup of juice)
3/4 stick of butter, cubed

For the whipped cream:
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup of powdered sugar

green food coloring (optional)

In a saucepan whisk the eggs, sugar, lime juice and lime zest together. Over low heat, add the butter and continue to whisk the mixture. Continue doing so until it thickens and begins to bubble. You can increase the heat gradually if the mixture does not thicken. Once you can see whisk marks in the curd, remove the saucepan from heat and pour the curd through a sieve if it's a little lumpy. Allow the curd to cool and refrigerate the curd in a covered container until chilled (I did this overnight).

When ready to make the frosting, beat the heavy cream and powdered sugar with the whisk attachment on high until stiff peaks form. Add a little green food coloring just enough to tint the frosting (a couple of drops if using liquid), and fold in about 1/4 cup of the lime curd, then add another 1/4 cup
(you'll have leftover lime curd). Chill the frosting to allow it to set. Frost the cooled cupcakes with a spatula or piping bag.