Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mini Cakes

Here we go! Mini-baking—my new favorite food experiment. How perfect is this: the ability to have a homemade treat without filling your kitchen with a pile of cupcakes or feeling forced to settle for a store bought monstrosity.

A few years ago, I received a stack of tiny cake pans for Christmas. They’re so stinkin’ cute! If you happen to be lucky (or, like me, spoiled!) enough to have mini cake pans, feel free to break them out for this recipe. If not, never fear! Simply remove the labels from two 14.5 ounce cans and wash them well. Voila! A recycled mini cake pan!

Mini Chocolate Cake (makes 2 cakes-in-a-can, or one 2-layer mini-cake)

1/4 cup milk
1 ½ tablespoons pasteurized egg product (such as Egg Beaters)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Spray the insides of two clean 14.5-ounce cans with nonstick spray. Trace the bottoms of the cans onto parchment paper, then cut out the circles and line the bottoms of the greased cans. Line the sides of the cans with 10”x4.5” strips of parchment paper. Set aside. Alternately, butter the bottoms and sides of two mini cake pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together milk, egg, and vanilla.

Place a wire-mesh sieve over the bowl of a stand mixer. Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into bowl. If you’re not working with a stand mixer, sift dry ingredients into a medium mixing bowl.

Add butter and half of milk mixture; beat at low speed until dry ingredients are moistened. Again, if you’re not using a stand mixer, use a handheld-mixer for this part—see the tip at the end. Increase speed to medium and beat until batter has lightened and increased in volume, about 45 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl.

Add remaining milk mixture, and beat until well blended, about 20 more seconds.

Scrape batter into cans or pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes for mini-pan cakes and 30 minutes for can-cakes. Cool 15 minutes on wire rack. Loosen edges of cakes from pans using a small sharp knife; invert cans and remove cakes. Discard parchment paper and allow to cool completely before frosting. Cut in half crosswise; frost between layers and on tops and sides of cakes.

A little visual tip:
The cake in the foreground was created with a mixer, the cake in the background was beat by hand. The choice is yours. Although after leveling them in order to frost, the uglier background cake did yield more cake scraps to munch on…

The following recipe yields enough frosting to frost one 2-layer mini-cake
Small-Batch Chocolate Frosting
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted (you can substitute a dark chocolate candy bar for bittersweet baking chocolate if you’re determined to save a few pennies—just make sure it’s P.H.O.-free!)
1/2 tablespoon milk
Cream the butter with an electric mixer, and then pour in vanilla. Add powdered sugar gradually with the mixer on low speed. Beat in the melted chocolate. Slowly add milk, about a teaspoon at a time, with mixer on low speed, until the frosting is spreadable.
Until next time!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homemade Dunkaroos

Remember Dunkaroos? Those little packs of kangaroo-shaped cookies, complete with a cup of icing for dipping? A perfect idea for lunchboxes, but they were so artificial. Needless to say, those little devils were full of p.h.o. and all sorts of preservatives. Who wants that in their lunch?
So without further ado, I present a recipe so simple, it's almost cheating.
Homemade Dunkaroos
1 c butter, softened
3/4 c sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 c flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder

To make your Dunkaroos, you'll need a cookie press. This one used to be my Grandmother's--thank you Gmom! The beauty of using a press is two fold: 1) All of your cookies will be uniform 2) You get to choose the shape--keepin' things interesting!
Onto the cooking...
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar

Beat in the egg and vanilla

Sift all of the dry ingredients together

Then gradually blend the dry ingredients into the wet

Choose an insert--this one's a Scottie--and fill your cookie press
Camels! I made a few butterflies, too!
Space the cookies a couple inches apart on an ungreased, nonstick cookie pan. Bake 10-12 minutes, turning the pan once.

And now, what good are these little beauties without the icing? I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, and found a pack of Dunkaroos in my lunchbox, I felt obligated to stick my finger in the container and dig out all the icing. The homemade version is no different. Dunkaroos just aren't Dunkaroos without the icing. Since most recipes yield enough to frost whole cakes, and because my lunchbox doesn't need 3 cups of icing, I scaled it down.
I started with 2 Tbl of softened butter

Creamed the mess out of it

Added a scant cup of powdered sugar and stirred to combine 
Did someone say chocolate?
Then I added cocoa powder, half a teaspoon at a time, until it looked tasty, and poured in a tiny bit of milk

Just the right amount!

The perfect lunchtime dessert!
Why I should never talk on the phone while baking!
Until next time!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Simple Saltines

Alright, here's the deal. I hate p.h.o. You know, partially hydrogenated oil? That stuff is nasty. And it's all over the grocery store. It's in chips, cakes, cereal, pastries, crackers, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream, icing, frozen entrees, margarine, shortening...the list goes on and on.
The culprit

This oil is evil for many reasons, but I'm only going to focus on three here.
1. It raises bad cholesterol and even lowers good cholesterol.* In other words, your body does not process this man made junk the same way it deals with fats that occur in nature. Instead, it goes haywire and knocks your health off balance.
2. It makes everything it’s in taste like plastic. Never mind the fact that its entire purpose is to stabilize processed foods’ taste and texture and increase their shelf life to near infinite bounds. Year-old Twinkie, anyone?
3. It tries to take all the fun out of baking at home--but that's where p.h.o. loses its power.
I refuse to let highly processed, store bought, preservative-riddled confections ruin my fun. Join me, won’t you? Let’s get cooking!

*Follow this link (and this one!) to learn more about the evils of trans fat

The internet is a-buzz with folks making their own crackers. What a delicious way to give p.h.o. the middle finger! Homemade crackers are the ultimate show-off food. And so simple to make. We’re going to start with the simplest cracker—the humble saltine.

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
Oil for brushing
kosher or sea salt for sprinkling

Meez. (a.k.a. mise en place, or "set in place")

Pulse the flour and salt in a food processor. This entire recipe can be done by hand, no worries if you don’t own a food processor—delicious crackers can still be yours! Simply whisk the flour and salt together.

Add the melted butter and pulse until coarse. If you’re doing this by hand, keep whiskin’!

Slowly add the water while the machine is running. It will not form a ball, it’s not supposed to. It will be very crumbly. By hand: add water and use two forks to work it in, moistening all the flour. 

Pour the whole mess into a gallon zip top bag, moosh it all together, and form a disk. Make sure to push as much air out of the bag as possible. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This allows the gluten to relax and will make the dough easier to roll out.
Preheat your oven to 400°F and brush two baking sheets lightly with oil.
Divide the dough in half and roll thin on a lightly floured counter. Seriously, roll it super thin. I’d use a pasta machine if you’ve got one. If you think it’s thin enough, go thinner.

Roll the whole sheet up around your rolling pin, transfer it to the baking sheet, and score into squares – about 2”x2”—with a pizza cutter. Don’t worry about separating the crackers, they’ll shrink as they bake and break themselves apart. Any that don’t do this during baking are easily separated once cooled. Brush lightly with oil, sprinkle with salt, and poke a few holes to keep puffing to a minimum.
Bake 8-10 minutes until toasty on the edges.  These critters brown quickly, so keep an eye out!

They’ll crisp up as they cool and keep for a few days in an airtight container. If you live in a humid climate, you may need to recrisp these. Just put them in a 350˚F oven for a few minutes.
Happy healthy snacking! Can’t wait to hear what you paired your treats with! :]