Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pie tips

I am slowly learning my way through the minefield of pie baking. For those who are learning along with me, I find that this handy site has great tips for any pie baking questions you have.

I feel like pies have been neglected in this era of trendy cupcakes and such. Someone needs to bring them back! (Watch out, cupcake fans, I'm about to utter heresy.) I feel cupcakes are inherently... sort of selfish? I mean, you just have your one cupcake, for you and you alone. But a pie? Now that is something to share. Pies are inherently... homey.

Anyone ever see that movie, Waitress? If any movie can make you love pie, that one can. :) And the TV show, Pushing Daisies, naturally.

Banana Split cupcakes

Banana cake with strawberry buttercream, topped with chopped nuts and chocolate syrup.

I wanted to make these cupcakes for a while. It's quite a simple concept, but I haven't seen the flavor around a lot. Think about it -- banana cake, strawberry buttercream, chopped nuts, and hot fudge on top. Mmmm.

I only made a half dozen of these cupcakes (basically cut my recipe down by a third), so I only smashed about half a banana to put into the batter.

Alright, so it ended up being seven cupcakes in total. What is that? A baker's half dozen?

While the cupcakes were baking, I made my buttercream. It's the basic buttercream, but I added strawberry jam in there. And I'm sure you all know this already, but when you're filling your piping bag, be sure that there aren't any air pockets! You don't want to be on a piping roll, and then suddenly have your work be ruined when your piping bag decides to cough out on you. Literally!

The cupcakes, cooled and mid-decorating. (I drizzled Hershey's syrup on top, and sprinkled on some chopped peanuts.)

What these banana split cupcakes REALLY need? Maraschino cherries! Wouldn't they have been PERFECT?! I thought so, too. I combed my entire supermarket looking for maraschino cherries, and I couldn't find them. Not even in the mixed drink section. SIGH. Imagine there are maraschino cherries on them, because that's what I imagined they'd have.

I'm giving some of these cupcakes away. I had found these cute little cupcake boxes at the arts and crafts store. They're perfect! And they have these cup-holder-type holes to keep the cupcakes in place. Ha, take that, Magnolia.

Ta-da! Remember to imagine the maraschino.

Macaroon cheesecake

Coconut cheesecake in graham cracker crust, topped with toasted coconut and served with pineapple topping.

The folks at work had been asking me for another cheesecake for a while, so when I saw that cream cheese was on sale at Giant this week, I took it as a sign to finally follow up my peanut butter cheesecake with something else. But what?

Coconut seems to be on my mind this month. Macaroon cheesecake it is!

I took a cue from my key-wi lime pie and after pressing in the graham cracker crumbs, I dusted the bottom of the crust with shredded coconut.

In my normal cheesecake batter, I substituted the regular milk for coconut milk.

I also added some shredded coconut into the cheesecake batter. With the added sweetness of the coconut and the coconut milk, I cut the sugar in the recipe by half a cup.

While the cheesecake baked, I toasted some shredded coconut by heating it on a frying pan. I also made some pineapple topping (diced pineapples, lemon juice, honey, apricot jam), just in case folks wanted a little something extra.

The final product, all assembled. I didn't want to take the springform pan apart just yet, so bear with me. But you get the idea.

It was quite good! :) I'm pleased with the results.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Key-wi Lime pie

Kiwi and lime custard in coconut graham cracker crust with coconut meringue.

PIE. I actually love making pie, and I'm sad that I haven't had the opportunity to share my pies with you yet. But summer is a-comin', so that will soon be remedied. Like, now.

This pie originates from this idea I had about key lime pie. Which, you know, is kinda boring by itself. To me. So I decided to sort of temper and sweeten the flavor of the lime with some kiwi!

I juiced about.... 2 kiwis and 3 limes. Treat kiwis the same way you do when you juice anything -- stick a fork in and twist and squeeze.

Don't worry too much about the kiwi seeds. They add character.

Next, I softened up some sweetened coconut by boiling it in evaporated milk. I let it sit, and thicken, and it became this sort of chewy macaroon mass of coconut.

I had my pie plate ready with an already-baked graham cracker crust. (I'm using a glass pie plate here, since I know I'm going to be sticking this thing in and out of the oven, but I'm pretty sure a disposable plate would work fine, too. But why use disposable when you don't have to, eh?) Once the crust and the coconut mix were cool, I spooned the coconut onto the bottom of the crust, making this sort of coconut layer on the bottom.

On top of that, I poured my kiwi-lime custard. Which was probably the easiest part of this whole thing -- egg yolks, condensed milk, and juices.

Into the oven it went. While the custard baked, I made a meringue using egg whites and sugar. I also mixed in some shredded coconut at the last minute.

Once the pie was out of the oven and cool, I spooned the meringue on top. Don't smooth it out! I intentionally made peaks and valleys in the meringue to make it look better once it finally gets toasted.

Under the broiler it went. I really wish I had a blowtorch! I had been meaning to get one, but never did, so I had to settle for sticking it under the broiler and just watching very closely. Turn it as necessary -- this should only take a minute, so don't leave the pie under the broiler and walk away!

After that, stick it in the freezer to let the custard set and harden.

All the layers, once it's cut:

It was quite tasty! Not quite as sour as a normal key lime pie, but still tart. Nice and chewy from the coconut. The light meringue compliments the heavy custard nicely.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chocolate Pecan cookies

Chocolate chunk cookies with pecans and oats.

I made another batch of cookies for Irene's birthday. These were just of the normal variety, because I still hadn't quite figured out how to hide the banana flavor just yet.

Just your garden-variety cookie. I chopped up a block of semi-sweet chocolate into chunks, and chopped up some pecans. Those, along with some rolled oats, went into the cookie batter.

All mixed together, onto the baking sheet they went.

Now, you're wondering about me using parchment paper for baking. Yes, it does help in that your cookies don't stick to the baking sheet, but I am under the belief that you just need to grease and flour your baking sheet really well, and parchment paper isn't really necessary. Reduce your paper waste if you can, you know?

Having said that, you wonder why I'm baking with parchment paper. This paper above was actually reused from the time I made the vegan cookies. The vegan cookie batch was my first time using parchment paper on a baking sheet -- just to see what everyone was fussing about -- and I honestly could not see any obvious benefit from it.

So this is me, telling you, baker a baker, that you really don't need it. Trust me, because I've tried it.


I boxed the cookies and shipped them off to Irene's lab, where she's spending half the summer doing bird research. I hope they keep well!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Vegan Tropics cookies

Vegan cookies with banana, pecans, and coconut.

For Nanda's birthday, I wanted to make her something vegan, since she always shares her vegan goodies with me. So I did some research about vegan baking (something I had never tried before). I found some great tips on The Post Punk Kitchen website (I already own this girl's cookbook, which is great, too).

I wanted to naturally make vegan cookies -- meaning, I didn't want to cop out and use an egg replacer. So I went the banana route, which can be a good substitute for eggs. (Half a banana per egg.) I also used vegan margarine in the place of butter. Which is basically all you need to worry about in terms of making cookies vegan! Yay!

Now, the problem with putting banana in anything is that it makes the whole thing taste like banana. Indeed. It doesn't matter much in something like... brownies, because the chocolate does well to mask the banana. Well, here, I went with the banana flavor, instead of fighting it. Nanda isn't a fan of chocolate, so I incorporated some shredded coconut, pecans, and rolled oats, to make a sort of tropical-themed cookie.

As they're waiting to be put in the oven:

The banana makes the cookies come out a lovely golden color. And the coconut and oats give the cookies a great chewiness that I love. (I love cookies that are crisp on the outside and chewy inside. And these were! Yay!)

That really wasn't too bad at all, for my first attempt at vegan goods.

Red Velvet cupcakes

Red velvet cake with cream cheese icing and red decorating sugar.

Apologies for not updating! My internet was down for a grand total of two weeks, so I didn't get a chance to update my baking activity as it was happening. I'm back-dating these entries in May to more accurately reflect when and what I made.

Red velvet cupcakes always confound me. As a kid, I was never quite sure what they were made of, and even now, knowing exactly what they are, I still can't quite figure out what it means to be "red velvet."

Red velvet is a Southern cake recipe that is basically known for its color. The theories range -- some folks think the red is from the reaction of the cocoa powder and vinegar and buttermilk, some think it's because Dutch processed cocoa (more widely available then) was reddish, some think it's from food color, some think it's from beet juice.

Me? I'm of the modern opinion that red velvet just means a red cake with a little bit of cocoa powder in there to make things interesting. Oh, also, use buttermilk. But you had already been doing that with your cakes anyway, right? ;)

In the following picture, I had added red food color and about half a cup of cocoa powder to my buttermilk. I incorporated that mixture into my batter, along with my flour mixture.

After the two are mixed together...

It looks like blood cake batter! Count Dracula would be happy.

Now, for this cake, I made a cream cheese frosting, but I made the grave error of attempting a frosting with lowfat cream cheese. I have made cream cheese frosting before, but always with normal whole fat cheese. I just wanted to see what would happen with the lowfat variety. Disaster! For some reason, the confectioner's sugar disintegrated the cream cheese, causing it to lose its firmness. I had basically made cream cheese frosting soup.

Tasted good, though.

The lesson here is to use whole fat everything in baking! :) What was I thinking?

I carefully ladled the frosting on top of each cupcake so that it wouldn't drip off, and let the frosting set in the fridge.

You know what? It doesn't look bad, all things considered. And it tasted awesome.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

To Bake - May

With growing season rolling around, I'm hoping to take advantage of any fruits that crop up. I can't wait for June, which is peak berry time, which means -- PIE TIME. (And other berry related desserts. But mostly pie.) In the meantime, I've got some other baked goods to tackle.

- Red Velvet cupcakes

- Vegan White Chocolate Chip cookies for a friend's birthday (this is pending me finding these nondairy white chocolate chips... if not, I'll devise another vegan cookie)

- Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies for another friend's birthday

- Key-wi Lime pie

- Naan

- Macaroon cheesecake for work

- Banana Split cupcakes