Do-Re-Mi Just Okay Cupcakes

Saturday, June 30, 2007

I'm going to publish my Sound of Music Sing-a-Long Saturday in two sections. First, the baked goods.

The hills (or my lawn) is alive with the sound of cupcakes!

I tried to make Frosted Chocolate-Buttermilk Cupcakes (sans the cream cheese frosting) from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, along with Baking Illustrated Simple Chocolate Frosting (page 345).

Well, I just ate two of know, just to make sure. And I'm not crazy about them. I used dehydrated buttermilk today. Have you seen this? Cook's Illustrated says it is okay to use...but I'm not sure if I used it correctly. The instructions on the buttermilk say that you add the dehydrated stuff to the dry ingredients and add water to the wet ingredients - basically, don't rehydrate it before using. However, they only have measurements for 1 cup or 2/3 cup. I needed 6 tablespoons and I couldn't figure out how I could keep the wet and dry separate. So, I mixed up one cup and grabbed 6 tablespoons from it.

The cupcakes are pretty dense but not too moist. Remember I made the Chocolate Sheet Cake from Baking Illustrated? That had real buttermilk and was quite moist. I wonder if it is the recipe, me or the buttermilk. Anyway, I think I should try that recipe again with real buttermilk and see if it makes a difference.

I also made the Simple Chocolate Frosting. It was pretty easy and had only two ingredients: heavy cream and semi-sweet chocolate. First, you bring the cream to a simmer and pour it over the chocolate chips. Cover with foil for 5 minutes and then whisk it up. I popped it into the refrig for an hour and then whipped it up for 2 minutes. You could also not whip it and leave it dense.

I think I should have done that. I might have overwhipped it - what do you think? Is this "medium-stiff peak" (as the recipe dictates)? It was very mousse-y and light, but perhaps a little too light? Hum. I'm going to have to try that recipe again too. And, when I whipped it, I ended up with a boatload of extra frosting!

By the way, I went to Penzeys Spice store (from a recommendation from my friend, Julie). It is great! I got some Dutch processed cocoa powder, real nutmegs pods, cream of tartar, cardamon, and some other spices. If you want to visit, you'll have to come to Torrance, California - the only store in all of California. I overheard the cashier say that Pulitzer Prize winner, Jonathan Gold shops there! Don't forget to check out his top 99 summer restaurant recommendations...sadly, I have been to only a few on the list. I must do more research!
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Punny Apple Cake

Friday, June 29, 2007

Okay. Prepare yourself. I made the most punny cake ever. Ever.
Ready? Remember, I warned you!

Apple c-Phone
(That's Cake Phone!)

Get it? Today, June 29, 2007 is the launch of Apple's much anticipated iPhone!

Oh great. I hear the moans already. Sure...I'll just stick to baking. (You really missed out. I tried to make an apple pie last night but my crust looked AWFUL so I abandoned those plans...but then it would be: Apple (p)i(e)-Phone. Ha ha ha.

Fine. I'll talk about the baking item. First, I woke up at 4:30 am for this baby! This Apple Cake is from "American Classics" by the editors of Cook's Illustrated (page 342) and involves putting a layer of sugar on bottom of the Bundt pan and a bunch of granny smith apples. Then, a light batter is plopped on top of the apples. The sugar caramelizes (just a bit) and, according to the food chemistry specialists at Cook's Illustrated, the Bundt cake allows it to cook up nicely because there can't be a soggy middle. (Again, the wonder of the Bundt pan never ceases to amaze me!)

Next up: Tomorrow, I'm going to the Hollywood Bowl's SOLD OUT Sound of Music Sing-a-Long!!! Not only do I know the lyrics, I can pretty much recite the dialogue. Of course, I'm working on a food-related costume and pic-a-nic meal. Stay tuned!

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Non-Violent Pound Cake - SF Trip

Monday, June 25, 2007

On Sunday, June 24, 2007, my friend Sumi hosted her book club for a brunch in her San Francisco apartment. We had a vast amount of fresh veggies, cheeses and chicken. They read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and she wanted the brunch to reflect the fruits of the earth!

We used fresh fava beans for the first time. These are too cool. They are quite the insulated little bean!

They have their large outside green capsules....You pop out the inner bean....Then, after a quick blanch, you peel off another layer to reveal this cool green bean!

Sumi put the fava beans with fresh corn and potatoes with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette.

She also made a heirloom tomato salad and yummy free range chicken breasts.

I cut up all these lovely fruits into a fruit salad and made a pound cake from Baking Illustrated (Sumi had the book!) The pound cake's crust was a little too brown but the inside was tasty. And when you cover it with fresh whipped creme and berries, you really didn't notice!

One of the funny parts of the brunch was one of Sumi's friends describing her adventures with online dating. My favorite lines from her "matches" include: Well, it's not like I'm a violent person... and So, you are going to hang up on me just because I asked for free legal advice?! Yikes!
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Pam Jam and English Peas - East Bay Trip

This weekend, I went to Northern California to visit some friends and family. On Friday, I felt like Rachael Ray on those $40 a day shows...while talking to my friend Pam who grew up in Berkeley, I say, "I see people walking around with frozen yogurt cups, and I need to find out where they get it." She says, "Try Yogurt Park on Durant" and presto! Yummy Irish Mint and Chocolate frozen yogurt! Like Rachael says, talk to the locals! I got a Berkeley Public Library card and checked out their cool 5-story main library...and picked up a cookbook in the Friends of the Library bookstore!

I had dinner at Cesar on Piedmont with my cousin Stan, his partner David and my other UCLA roommate, Diane who recently moved back to California from Colorado. It was supremely yummy. We had many tapas dishes and stuffed favorites included the patatas bravas (potatoes), fresh (yes, fresh) garbanzo beans with cumin, baby octopus and English peas (yes, these two items do go together) and the bread pudding. I'm going to try to bake some almond cake because it was delicious!

On Saturday, June 23, 2007, I headed to nearby Berkeley and made Pam Jam! This great creation is homemade and homegrown plum/blackberry jam. Pam's family has made it for over 20 years and has the whole process perfected. When I had the jam during grad school at UCLA with Pam, I decided I had to learn how to make jam. Luckily, Pam's family offered to teach me.

First, we picked some blackberries and plums in their backyard.

Aren't these beautiful?!

Pam's parents helped guide us through the process. Pam and her parents all went to Stanford undergrad and all got PhD's at UC Berkeley. Lots of brains went into making this jam!

After adding a whole bag of sugar, we boiled our jam and poured it into our sterilized jars.

The fun part was steaming the jars in their big canning pot. After 5 minutes, you lift the lid and listen for popping noises. You know that pop you hear when you open a jar of, say, store-bought jam? When you can things, you get the opposite sound! It was a lot of fun!

I knew I would have to check my luggage because I couldn't carry on my jam. When I opened my suitcase and unwrapped my jam at home, I found a TSA notice that said they opened the package. I bet they were jealous of my jam and wanted some!

Coming up next, creating my raspberry squares with my Pam (and Mary) Jam!

This is part of the great view from Pam's kitchen. She is growing a bunch of veggies as well in the backyard! It definitely was a weekend filled with foods of the earth!

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High School Musical Cookies

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tonight, my 8 year old niece and I made a quick batch of chocolate chip cookies (Toll House recipe). She was a big help and measured, precisely, 12 ounces of chocolate chips on the digital scale. She was also very good at answering the math-cookie questions: "If we have 6 rows of 4 cookies on this sheet, how many cookies would we have?" She's a math whiz and answered all of them rapid-fire.

She's really, really into High School Musical [link opens to music] from Disney and recently received a set of dolls that sing some of the songs. And, she has a new Hannah Montana battery-powered toothbrush!! You brush your teeth for the length of the song...that sure beats my little beeps from my Sonicare...

Oh yeah, we "tested" the cookies - just to make sure they were suitable to give to others. I think we tested quite a few...just to make sure!
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Tulips, Wooden Shoes, and Mrs. Milman

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I started this post on Sunday night (June 17, 2007). Happy Dad's Day!

Holy Moly! It's finally done. This Martha Stewart's Devil's Food Cake with crazy frosting is made! Although you can't tell from this photo, the cake is actually very, very dark and exudes chocolate-ness.

However, it wasn't an easy ride! I freaked out making the famous Mrs. Milman's Chocolate Frosting. This complete fat bomb has 24 ounces of chocolate chips and a whole quart of heavy cream! I got confused making it. The instructions say "melt...on medium-low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes." Mrs. Milman, on the show (you can see the video at Martha's website), says: "Low heat!" "Keep it on low heat or it will burn" "The secret is low heat." Well, darnit, what's the name of the recipe? Mrs. Milman's... So I'm going to listen to this sweet woman from Cape Codand kept the heat low for 30 minutes until everything was nicely melted...but not really that thick.

You pop the mixture into the fridge and stir the frosting every 15 minutes...for 2 hours. Yes, this totally interrupted my weekend nap. However, after 2 1/2 hours, it still wasn't thick. I thought Mr. Trashcan was going to visit me yet again. Finally, after 3 hours of babysitting my frosting, it thickened and I frosted the cake! Sure, doesn't every cake take about 4 hours to make?!?! (I'm missing Mr. Pillsbury Doughboy right now)

This was the first time I used Dutch-processed cocoa. (Remember my first attempt at this cake resulted in a light brown cake when I used regular cocoa?) Now I know why Martha and other cooks insist on Dutch-processed cocoa. It really rocks. It is dark and rich. It is imported from Holland, and, like all things Dutch, very cool. One of my UCLA roommates has Dutch parents and I discovered Nutella from her. Yes, Nutella is everywhere today - but this was back in the early 1990s so it was like finding a new hazelnut chocolate friend. We ate it on thousands of pieces of bread. Does Nutella have Dutch-processed cocoa in it? Probably not, but my mind worked this way: Dutch-processed cocoa --> Dutch things --> Dutch people --> UCLA roommate --> Living in West LA near the LDS temple --> Eating Nutella, caramel waffle cookies (you can get these at Trader Joe's now, but remember this was the early 1990s so these were a find too!!), and double salt licorice (which I never got the hang of). Now my old roommate has the cutest two girls, and I'm going to their house this summer to bake something with them. I'm going to bring Dutch-processed cocoa.

I also made a chocolate sheet cake from Baking Illustrated (page 342). This recipe has buttermilk in it. I frosted it with the same Mrs. Milman's frosting. I'm going to ask my co-workers which one they like best.

By the way, I took my folks to the new exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum. It is about Japanese American gardens and gardeners. Please try to go if you are in Los Angeles. My uncle is in one of the photos (he is a Bonsai tree teacher and was trained by one of the legends in the field).

P.S. I brought the cakes into work and they say the frosting rocks! Yippee! People liked both cakes, and more people preferred the buttermilk chocolate sheet cake. (I forgot to take a photo of the sheet cake).
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My Ode to the Lemon

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I love lemon. How could you not like this wonder citrus?! Lemon is great. And it is just filled with talent - such a multi-purpose food product. It is excellent with both sweet and savory foods, and it is sour! Wow. Party in the mouth. I love lemon on fish, veggies, lemon drops, Lemonhead candy, lemon curd, lemon bars, and lemonade. And it can make you feel better when you have a sore throat (along with another awesome ingredient - honey).

On top of that, I love the Bundt cake. It is just a perfect shape for a baked good, don't you think? It is also very easy to glaze and transport.

So, I thought I would try to combine two of my favorite things and make a Lemon Bundt Cake! I used the cake recipe from the Food Network and the glaze from I also got to use my cool new microplane zester to get me some lemon zest!

It turned out okay. For some reason, I have this big hole in the cake...I'm sure it was overmixing or undermixing or strange levening agent action. It's also not as moist as I would like... I'm going to need to do some research with Cookwise and figure out what happened. But the glaze is pretty tangy and lemony so it can't be that bad!

Next up, I'm going to try that massive chocolate cake again (previously the "Almost Chocolate Cake") and I'm going to try the most feared baking item: the pie crust. Wish me luck!
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Sunday at the cookies, that is!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

I haven't been able to bake recently - busy schedule that included my nephew's graduation from his Lutheran pre-school. Highlight of the program: 4 1/2-year old girl yelling out one of the Ten Commandments, "Thou shall not commit adultery!!"

Then, I decided to try and bake a little cake for Paris Hilton. (Just between you and me, I was going to bake in one of those little rock hammers that Tim Robbins used in my favorite movie Shawshank Redemption). Just when I finalized the design, she gets sprung! I burned up the plans...and, well, you know what happened. ;)

Today, June 10, 2007 was my attempt at carrot cake and bar cookies. Okay, we'll start with the good news. The bar cookies: Raspberry Bars, Cream Cheese Brownies and Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip bar cookies.

I used Baking Illustrated for the Raspberry bars (page 494) and Cream Cheese Brownies (page 488). My new blade for the Cuisinart came in and I was a food processing crazy person today!! I chopped up my own pecans and chopped veggies for a batch of split pea soup (not a dessert!) I've never used the Cruisinart before, and it is a new friend of mine.

I also want to confess my love for the digital scale. It sooooo rocks! The scale saves a bunch of time measuring flour, sugar, chocolate chips, and other good stuff. It is a good thing, and lets me pretend I know what I'm doing. (At work, we have this incredible amazing copier/scanner machine that makes the fastest .pdf documents that you can email to people...oh, I love that machine...okay, I digress).

The Cream Cheese Brownies were a basic brownie mix with dollops of a cream cheese mixture throughout. I was supposed to marble the cream cheese through it with a knife...but I think it came out dorky. I need to work on my marbling technique. The Raspberry bars were pretty easy, but I think it would be better with a more flavorful jam. Finally, I threw together the Toll House Chocolate Chip bars after I discovered a jelly roll pan under the sink! I cut everything small so you could have all three items and not feel that guilty!

Today, I went to see Ocean's Thirteen at the Mann Westwood Theatre. It was great! No, probably not going to win an Oscar...but who cares!? It was like returning home to bunch of old friends...George, Brad, Bernie, Andy, Matt...and a surprise appearance by Super Dave Osborne! Anyway, go see it for two hours of fun.
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Objects in the kitchen do not look like the picture - Carrot Cake disaster #1

I wanted to make a carrot cake today for a colleague visiting our office tomorrow. I studied the Baking Illustrated recipe (page 337). I compared it to Alton Brown's recipe and thought Cook's might be easier...perhaps mistake #1...

This recipe calls for a lot of food processor usage. You shred the carrot with the food processor and then create a cool emulsified wet mixture to fold into the dry. I added lots of yummy spices: cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves! Yum!

I pulse (food processor verb), mix and pour. I wait 35 minutes. Then another 2 hours for the damn cake to cool. But I noticed right away that my cake was 10 times paler than the book's photo. Ugh...I'm hearing Mr. Trashcan creeping up on me.

I tried the cake that night and it was pretty bland and still very, very pale.... Yes, this bunny food ended up in Mr. Trashcan. Next time, I'm going to try Alton Brown's recipe.

I've gone to the 641.8 section of the library and pulled a bunch of books. I've been falling asleep reading "cream ingredients together" instead of anything on the bestseller list. We'll see if I can get a carrot cake together sometime this decade!
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Blueberry Muffins have finally arrived!

Monday, June 4, 2007

After two failed attempts, I switched over to Alton Brown’s baking book: I’m just here for more food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking that my friend gave me for baking inspiration.

Last night, I used my cool new scale to measure my dry ingredients. I think I’m in love with my new scale. It is too cool! It measures in 1/8 ounce increments! (The weekend I was weighing all the food in the kitchen – plums, peaches, cantaloupe (4 pounds!), pineapple, split peas…) I end up with fewer dishes to wash as I don’t have to drag out all my dry measuring cups. Yippee!

This morning, I whisked together my wet ingredients (Alton considers the sugar a wet ingredient because it dissolves so quickly – who knew!), and carefully mixed the wet and dry ingredients. After being told by countless cookbooks and chefs “Don’t Overmix,” I was afraid to even fold the ingredients together. I used frozen Trader Joe’s wild blueberries again. This recipe calls for BOTH baking powder and baking soda, and I think I finally got them figured out. The resulting muffin is not sweet but a good breakfast food. I think our expectations of muffins have been skewed by those gigantic Costco and Starbuck muffins that are really more like unfrosted cupcakes. This one is smaller and, well, old school. Sorry, Mr. Trashcan, no retro muffins for you today!

We have a potluck on Thursday at work. I’m bringing Broccoli Salad (you know the one with the mayo dressing? Yum!) and a dessert. What should I make?! My new Cuisinart blade hasn’t arrived yet so I haven’t started trying to make pie crusts yet… Oh, the possibilities in baking! :)

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My Affair with The (Little) Man

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I'll confess. I'll tell you the truth.

I made a box cake. And it was good.

After my numerous failures in the kitchen, I broke down and made a box cake for a dinner party tonight. (Don't worry, everyone knew the Little Man helped me).

It was so incredibly easy!!! After making hundreds of boxed cake mixes before my attempt at "real" baking, going back was like returning home. The familiar shape of the box. The Pillsbury Dough Boy smiling at me with encouragement - he is totally saying, "No matter what the hell you do, you'll get a cake from this box because it is foolproof."

It was comforting to see the ingredient list that includes Cellulose Gum, Polysorbate 60 and Xanthan Gum. And those easy-to-follow instructions...something like, "Put water, oil, eggs in a bowl with the secret contents of this magical box and mix, pour and bake." Due to advancements in chemicals and other stuff I can't pronounce, no matter how much you bake it and mash it, you will get a damn good cake. And that's all I wanted. A damn good cake.

From the moment I ripped open the box, mixed, put the cake into the oven AND washed my three dishes (bowl, whisk and measuring cup), less than 10 minutes had elapsed!

Thanks Mr. Dough Boy. Although you are probably 100 years old and you don't seem to prefer wearing clothing in the kitchen... You Rock!

On another note, I went to see the movie Waitress and it was pretty good. You should see it (either in the theatre or on DVD later).

I also went to Sur la Table and got a digital scale for measuring ingredients. Yes, "real" bakers don't measure flour, they WEIGHT it on a $60 scale. Let me finish my delicious boxed cake first before I think about another project...
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