Thursday, 24 July 2014

Birthday Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Ganache

The best part of any birthday is the cake - it just isn't a proper birthday celebration without one.  I love baking birthday cakes - and every July I try to make something new and different for my mom.  Two years ago, it was the Big Berry Birthday Cake, and last year it was this pretty pink ombre vanilla cake.  I couldn't decide what to do this year, and I was waffling back and forth for a while before deciding to go with a simple vanilla cake base, a proper chocolate ganache filling, and something pretty on top.

I have seen and heard the term ganache many times without really understanding what it is.
Ganache is a glaze, icing, sauce, or filling for pastries made from chocolate and cream. Ganache is normally made by heating cream, then pouring it over chopped chocolate of any kind.  
Thank you Wikipedia.

Perfect. I had leftover whipping cream from this pie, and I certainly never need an excuse to buy chocolate.  I read up on how to make chocolate ganache, and most sources cited the same thing - the ratio of cream to chocolate depends on what you intend to do with it - if using as a filling, use a 1:1 ratio.

I also tried a trick from The Law Student's Wife on how to bake the most moist cake ever.  Well, half of the trick.  She recommends letting the cakes cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, and then wrapping in plastic wrap to seal in the moisture until cool.  The second step is the brush the top with a sugar-water mixture before icing...which I did not do.

I cannot even tell you how delicious this cake was - Perfection.  It deserves the title of Birthday Vanilla Cake.  I would even consider this over the chocolate version for my birthday cake.  And that is definitely the highest compliment from a life-long chocolate cake devotee.

Birthday Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Ganache
Cake recipe from Chatelaine

Vanilla Cake
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour                          
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

2/3 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 2 9-in. round cake pans* and line bottoms with parchment.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, cream softened butter together with granulated sugar using a hand mixer. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in 1 tsp vanilla.  Add one-third of flour mixture, then add half the milk. Repeat, ending with flour mixture.
Divide evenly between the two cake pans.
Bake in centre of oven until a cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean, about 24 minutes.  Cool in pans on a rack for 10 min, then turn cakes out onto rack. Remove parchment. Cool completely, about 30 min.

Chocolate Ganache Filling
2/3 cup chopped chocolate (I used 50% dark, but any kind will do)
2/3 cup whipping cream

Chop chocolate in small pieces and put in a heat safe bowl.  Heat cream up until just before boiling, and pour over the chocolate.  Resist the urge to stir (although I did, and mine turned out fine) for a few minutes.

Let cool to room temperature.  Pour into a larger bowl (big enough to whip in) and whip until it turns into a smooth, fluffy consistency.  To be honest, I almost gave up.  I thought I had done something wrong - it didn't appear to be changing consistency after I had been whipping for a few minutes, but my persistency paid off. Spread ganache thickly on the top of the bottom layer and gently place the top layer on top.

Frost with your favourite icing and a pretty strawberry flower.

*Note:  this recipe makes 2 thin layers of cake.  I recommend using 8 inch pans for a slightly thicker layer, or doubling the recipe and using some batter as cupcakes.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Strawberry Cream Pie with Pecan Shortbread Crust

Helllllooooo Summer!

As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew it was speeding to the top of my summer baking list.  It's strawberry season in Ontario - and the pickin's are good.

I think the strawberries could easily be substituted with what ever berries or fruit you like - blueberries and peaches immediately come to mind.

Strawberry Cream Pie with Pecan Shortbread Crust
from The Law Student's Wife 

Pecan Shortbread Crust
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon icing sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cups unsalted butter, melted

Fresh Strawberry Topping
1 cup mashed plus approx. 20 nice ripe strawberries (1.5 quarts)
1/2 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Whipped Cream Cheese Filling
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup (4oz) ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup icing sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a deep 10-inch pie dish and set aside.

2. Start with the crust. Melt the butter. Set aside.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, icing sugar, and pecans. Pour in melted butter and mix until combined. Press into the prepared dish. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely to room temperature. This is important.

3. Wash and hull your strawberries.  Mash 1 cup of strawberries, leaving some small chunks.  It's OK if you overestimate the number of strawberries needed to mash - just eat them : )  Add the mashed berries to a small saucepan along with the water.  Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add at all once to the berries in the saucepan - bring to a boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.  This is where Erin suggests to add a few drops of red food colouring.  I did not do this.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.

4. Pick out the best looking, ripe, red strawberries, approximately 20 or so.  Cut the tops off so that they stand up.

5. Whip the cream. In a different bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, adding in the icing sugar gradually. Add vanilla. Continue to beat until completely smooth.  Fold in the whipped cream. Once your pecan crust is cool (and not before!), spread the cream mixture on top (make sure to leave room for the strawberry sauce!) and refrigerate for a half hour.

6. Place cut strawberries over the top of the cream in whatever design you want. Add as many as you can or leave spaces - entirely up to you.  Spoon your cooled strawberry sauce over top of the berries, in between the berries, so that all the cream is covered.  There will be some leftover, which is great, because it is delicious - I plan to eat mine over vanilla ice cream.

Chill pie at least 2 hours before serving.  Yum!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Chocolate Honey Squares

The after-school snack is a pivotal time of day when you are eight.  A bad day at school can be transformed by the quality of the after-school snack.  While my eight year old self rarely turned down any kind of snack (unless it was, let's say, a tuna fish sandwich), some snacks are most definitely 5 star. While homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies hot out of the oven reign supreme, saltine crackers topped with peanut butter and rainbow sprinkles are good in a pinch. These, however, were one of the best after-school snacks ever.  This blew my mind when I was a kid - chocolate rice krispy squares? Mom sure raised the bar for snacks that day.  I believe this recipe originally comes from a Fry's cocoa recipe booklet - a well-used, stained slip of paper - the trademarks of a great recipe.

Chocolate Honey Squares

1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup cocoa
1/3 cup honey
3 cups mini marshmallows or 30 large marshmallows
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups rice cereal

Melt butter in a large saucepan.
Blend in cocoa.
Stir in honey and marshmallows.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth.
Remove from heat.
Stir in vanilla.
Add rice cereal, and stir until well combined.
Press lightly into a greased 8 or 9 inch square cake pan.
Cool, cut into squares.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Cheaters Black Forest Cupcakes

Ok, I totally cheated.  I needed a dessert to bring into work for a pot-luck and it was a busy week.

Here is the simplest black forest cupcake ever.  And it doesn't need to be refrigerated, as we swapped traditional whipped cream frosting for the regular kind.  Always helpful for potlucks.

Whip together cake batter.  Divide into 24 cupcake liners.  Spoon 1-2 tsp of cherry pie filling on top and pop in the oven following cake mix instructions.

While baking, chop or shave dark chocolate and prepare your favourite vanilla frosting.

Once cupcakes are cooled, frost cupcakes, scoop out a cherry from the cherry pie filling and plop on top, and sprinkle chocolate shavings on top.  Ta-da.

You need:

  • 1 box chocolate cake mix
  • 1 can cherry pie filling
  • chopped dark chocolate (plus some for eating)
  • vanilla icing (enough for 24 cupcakes)

The rest of the cherry pie filling can be used in this recipe - it's almost as good as the blueberry version.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Birthday Chocolate Cake

I usually only bake cakes for celebrations - birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.  One Thursday afternoon not too long ago I was toiling away at work - staring at the neverending dreary rain outside, when the following thought came to my mind:  'Why not bake a cake tonight?'  Indeed, why not? A sinfully rich chocolate double layer cake, just because?  No pressure to  make it look perfect - no rushing to get it finished in time for the party. Just bake, admire, and enjoy.  A whole cake, just for us.

I did have one other reason.  The last time I used this recipe was for a birthday cake.  I have used this recipe in the past with outstanding results.  It's my go-to chocolate cake recipe.  I don't know what happened the last time - it was dry.  It was dry, and I was disappointed.  And, in the world of baking, there are not too many worse things than a dry cake.  So - this was redemption.  And what a sweet redemption it was!  To my relief, it was almost better than I remembered.  Sigh of contentment.

Birthday Chocolate Cake
from chatelaine 

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Fry’s
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325F.
Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl. 
Cream butter with granulated and brown sugars in a larger bowl.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well in between.  Add vanilla and continue to mix.  Add in 1/3 of the flour mixture and add half of the buttermilk. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk.  Pour batter into two greased 9 inch round cake pans.  A parchment or wax paper liner is always a good idea (Mom's tip).
Bake at 325 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Mine took closer to 30 minutes this time around. 
Frost with chocolate icing, take a moment to admire, then dig right in. Unless of course you are supposed to be saving it for a special occasion.  In that case, hands off.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Almond Energy Bars

Another adventure, another travelling treat!   We recently travelled to Iceland for our anniversary and I threw this together a couple of days before we left.   Iceland is an expensive destination, so we brought snacks with us to save a bit of money.  We planned to go on several long day trips (10-11 hours long) with unpredicatable weather - snow, rain, sunshine -  and always always wind. 

It needed to be substantial, strong, and packable.   So here they are - Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Almond Energy Bars.  These are rich and so so good.  Base of peanut butter and crammed with peanut butter chips, chocolate chips and slivered almonds - and they travelled much better than I expected - a bit crumbly, but still delicious even a week old.  

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Almond Energy Bars

adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugars in a medium sized bowl. Add egg, beat into mixture before adding peanut butter and vanilla, mix until well combined. Add the flour mixture into peanut butter mixture, and once nearly combined, add in the chips and almonds. Mix well until all ingredients are well combined. Bake in a 9x13 greased pan for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. If using a slightly smaller pan (thicker bars) continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Energy Bar consumption at Geysir 

Thar She Blows!
Energy Bar consumption between tectonic plates

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Red Wine Cupcakes

I have been busy (or lazy?) lately, and have not been baking or blogging as much as usual.

I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and I was intrigued.  The result was interesting.  Maybe I didn't add enough cocoa, or maybe not enough red wine.  It didn't really taste like chocolate...what did it taste like?  It was unique.   My husband and I couldn't quite put our finger on it.  It grew on us though, and I would make these again, maybe with more cocoa and/or more red wine, and maybe with some oil or buttermilk to moisten it up a bit.  They were a tad dry, and continued to dry out over a couple of days.

Red Wine Chocolate Cupcakes
slightly adapted from 'Red Wine Chocolate Cake' by Smitten Kitchen

1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup red wine (I  used Shiraz).
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup cocoa
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add egg and yolk, beat well.  Mix in vanilla. Add the red wine (It's okay to take a sip first).  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cocoa.   Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture until well combined.
Spoon into lined cupcake pan, about 2/3 full.   Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle cupcake comes out clean.  I topped mine with a dollop of vanilla buttercream.