Wednesday, February 20, 2013

100 Day Cake

If you have elementary age kids you probably know about the 100 day festivities.  This wasn't anything that was celebrated when I was in school, but has become a big time party in some schools.  My daughter's kindergarten teacher loves celebrating with the kids and can take any holiday and turn it into a wonderful memory where the kids not only have fun, but learn tons.

As a room parent I was tasked with making a cake for the celebration, her only request was that it be shaped like the number 100.  I spoke briefly with the other room parents, and discussed some ideas. I walked away with a vision in my head and was ready to get the supplies to execute my plan, when a couple of days later I was given a bag filled with candy and told to go make the cake.  I felt like I was on an episode of Chopped - the candy edition.

I am attracted to simple colors and pattern schemes.  Before being given my challenge basket I had thought I would outline each cake using 100 M&M's per cake, like the number one in the picture.  What I was given was - 10 licorice rounds, 20 Junior Mints, 30 red and brown peanut M&M's, 40 blue and green peanut M&M's, 50 Milk Duds, 60 Gum Drops, 70 Dark Chocolate M&M's, 80 Reese's Pieces, 90 Sour Patch Kids and 100 Jelly Beans.  If you're counting that is a lot of candy.  I made a couple of changes to what I was given because I wanted to have two cakes that were nut free, so I substituted the peanut M&M's with Hershey Chocolate bars and brown M&M's - I also did this so I could go back to my comfort zone of a simple color scheme and pattern.

It took some work to get all the candy on the cakes, but it was a lot of fun to make.  The kids were definitely impressed by the amount of candy, but I was even more impressed by how quickly 25 kindergartners ate the cake.  Within 15 minutes there were only crumbs and those were being savaged over pretty quickly.   It was a fun day and nice to be able to put smiles on so many little faces.

Yellow Layer Cake
(makes 2  9 inch round cakes)

printer ready

2 whole eggs
2 yolks
½ cup whole milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 ¾ cups cake flour, sifted
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
16 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature cut into 16 pieces

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease cake pans line bottom of pans with parchment, lightly dust with flour.

In small bowl combine eggs, milk and vanilla.  In the bowl of a standing mixer combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, beat on lowest speed for about 30 seconds.  With mixer still running add butter one piece at a time.  Mix until butter and flour begin to clump and form pea sized pieces.  Add one cup of the egg mixture and mix at lowest speed until ingredients are fully incorporated, then increase speed to medium high.  Beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about one minute.  Scrape down bowl.  With mixer running at a medium low speed add remaining egg mixture in a slow steady stream.  Once all the egg mixture is added increase speed to medium high for 15-20 seconds.  Mixture will look slightly curdled.  Divide batter equally between pans.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.  

Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan.  Ice and decorate as desired.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Five Minute Bread

I love making bread.  Because it can be time consuming and requires advanced planning it is not something I do as often as I would like, but when I do get around to making it I find it very therapeutic and relaxing.  Kneading can put me in a trance and the smoothness of a good dough is just heavenly.  Then there is the smell and taste of a fresh loaf of bread - it is hard to beat.

About a year ago I got Artisan bread in Five Minutes and had grand plans of never buying store bought bread again.  I had built this concept up in my head so much that I was nervous about starting.  A year later and I hadn't done anything except read the book about 3 times.  Finally this past weekend I got around to making my first batch of dough and I am now wondering why I waited.

If you aren't familiar with Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois bread baking philosophy, the concept is that with just five minutes of work you can produce fresh bread every day.  To start a large batch of dough, which in most recipes can make up to 4 one pound loaves,  is made. This isn't a starter as you would use in a sourdough, but a very wet ready to use batch of dough, that can last up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Each time you are ready to bake a loaf you "cloak the dough," break off a piece the size of a grapefruit, let it rise,  then bake.  A simple process that makes a wonderfully crusty and flavorful bread.

I highly recommend checking out Artisan bread in Five Minutes.  The authors provide the reader a thorough explanation of the process while at the same time make it very easy to follow.  There are a lot of great variations once you have mastered the basic concept and there are even some great recipes that use the bread once baked, such as  Panzanella and Portuguese Fish Stew.

To get the feel for things I started off with the Master recipe which uses white flour, yeast, salt and water.  Later in the book are additional recipes that experiment with other flours and flavors.  I definitely have more to learn, but overall I was very happy with my first try.  I have to admit that one thing I did find a little disappointing is that there is no kneading - in any of the steps - and while this is a great time saver it doesn't provide the "therapy" I am sometimes looking for when making bread.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Baked Oatmeal

It's time for another Secret Recipe Club reveal, which means I was introduced to another wonderful blog filled with mouthwatering recipes.

This month I was partnered with Tessa over at the Cookin' Chemist.  She has a lot of recipes on her site which made the selection difficult.  The recipe index is nicely organized and made the selection process a little easier.  I decided to go with something for breakfast, but even after narrowing it down to breakfast items I still had over 30 different recipes to choose from.

The final decision was based on the fact that I had one, and only one, ripe banana on my counter.  When I came across her recipe for Baked Oatmeal To Go I knew I had found the recipe.

This is a super easy recipe that can be made up quickly the night before or even in the morning.  Tess uses a food processor to blend the liquid ingredients, but I made it in just one bowl which speeds up the clean-up process and still results in a great final product.  I didn't make this batch with the kids, but suspect it would be a great recipe to get them involved with.  If you don't use the food process there is a lot of hands on activity that would be very enjoyable and easy for them to do.  Plus they can add their favorite mix-ins - I did pecans in mine, Tess used blueberries in her recipe, but any nut or berry, fresh, frozen or dried, would be great -  which would allow more hands-on involvement 

The muffins are very filling  and provide a great source of energy to start the day.  There is a nice hint of sweetness, but nothing over the top.  Perfect for grabbing on your way out the door for work or school.  I highly recommend making a batch for yourself and while your waiting for them to come out of the oven go check out some more of Tess's recipes.

Baked Oatmeal (from the Cookin' Chemist)

1 over ripe banana
1 cup applesauce
1 egg
1 1/4 cups Almond milk (any type of milk will work)
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
2 Tbsp. ground flax seed
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup pecans roughly chopped (or your favorite mix-in blueberries, dried fruit)
2 Tbsp. maple sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.  Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

In large mixing bowl mash banana  until smooth. Add applesauce, egg, milk, honey and vanilla stir until combined.  Add oats, flax seed, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder salts and pecans, mix until combined.
Using a large scoop fill muffin cups, muffins will not rise while baking so fill the cups to the top or desired size. Sprinkle tops of muffins with maple sugar.  Place in oven, bake for 25-30 minutes.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Chocolate Orange Cake

We have had a lot of oranges around the house recently.  I seem to buy them every time I go to the grocery store plus we have been getting them in our regular vegetable delivery from Washington Green Grocer.   The kids love snacking on them.  They are juicy, sweet and wonderful to eat, but everybody is starting to get tired of them.  Which means it is time to start baking and cooking with them.

First up was a Chocolate Orange Cake from Feast by Nigella Lawson.  I was very intrigued by this recipe by this recipe for two reasons, one it is made in the food processor and two, it uses the entire orange.  This cake doesn't just have a little orange zest or juice for flavor it has 2 entire oranges.  Which results in a super moist and flavorful cake.

Chocolate Orange Cake
2 small oranges
6 eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups ground almonds
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder (use the really good stuff)

Grease a 9" round cake pan, line with parchment.
Put oranges in saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil.  Once boiling reduce heat and let simmer for 2 hours or until oranges are soft.  Drain water and let cool.  Once cool, cut oranges in half remove any large seeds.  Using a food processor pulp oranges until no large pieces remain.  Add eggs, baking powder, baking soda, ground almonds, sugar and cocoa powder, process until completely mixed.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour.  Check at the 45 minute mark as you may need to cover the cake with aluminum to prevent burning.

Let cool completely before removing from pan and topping with with Chocolate orange zest.

Chocolate Orange Glaze
zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup cream
3 ounces dark chocolate
1/2 tsp. Cointreau (optional)

In small saucepan combine zest and cream.  Over medium low heat bring to a simmer, let simmer for 5 minutes to infuse orange flavor.  Pour over chocolate.  Let it stand for 5 minutes before stirring until smooth.. Let mixture stand for 10-15 minutes before pouring over cake.