Saturday, January 28, 2012

Restart - Corn Muffins

So, I just found out that the oven has no window.  How will this ever satisfy an eternally curious soul like mine?  My mum calls the pup bat gua, which in Cantonese means "curious about things that have nothing to do with you."  I wonder if I'm the same, although I have a rather more vested interest in whether my muffins are burning than the pup's interest in my latest cake.

It's been a while since I last posted, due mostly to the onset of stress.  During the winter I meant to bake and blog a great deal more than I did, but applying to scholarships and internships, working, trying to study for next semester's classes and wanting to see my friends got in the way.  I even considered pausing this blog for a while, growing more and more despondent over my food situation.  In the fall of 2011, I lived in a dormitory room with a kitchen for 200 people and a mandatory, expensive meal plan, trying to avoid the greasy, overcooked and under-seasoned mess that passes for campus food.  

A pleasant eggy aroma filled the air as I pulled them out of the window-less oven.
This semester, however, fortune brought me a room in a lovely apartment on campus, the ability to shop and cook for myself, and a nice view of the parking lot.  Last Wednesday, I finally found the opportunity to purchase groceries and sat down at the table to crunch into an apple.  Three months past apple season, it was still pure bliss.  Honey-sweet at the first bite, slightly tangy closer to the core, the juice burst from the apple onto my tongue.  No apple on campus even compares.  Besides, the apple cost almost half of what the pale, tired, overpriced apples on campus would have.  

With groceries and a kitchen at my disposal, it's far past time to bake.  I've cooked for breakfast, lunch and dinner, only splurging on a date with my boyfriend last night (our first real date in 5 weeks!).  Macaroni and cheese from Pioneer Woman (halving the recipe, and still making enough for 5 people!), brown rice and sauted mushrooms, roasted broccoli with some guidance from Alton Brown, simply oatmeal on the stove (oops, too much water, made 6 cups...).  There are leftovers enough to feed me for the next four days, and I love it.

So, of course, this morning I felt like cold cereal and milk.  Okay.  But see, I made up for it!  I made corn muffins!  I've made this recipe before, but usually in my 9" round cake pan where it is supposed to go.  I don't have any square pans, just a 9" x 13" and a 12-cup muffin pan, so muffins it was.  Also because I'd rather have 12 small, portable edible items than 1 large one that scatters crumbs everywhere, plus you still have to wash the thing.  Cupcake wrappers it is :) 

I found the recipe on AllRecipes, the top-rated item if you search "cornbread."  I'm fond of it since it's very simple, and easily adapts.  In my case, I haven't gotten around to buying butter (gasp!), but I do have vegetable oil for cooking.  I also reduced the sugar, and the result is a sturdy little chunk of sunny, corny sustenance, crisp on top and somewhat soft on the inside.  They would be softer with less cornmeal and more flour, I think, but that's part of their charm.  My one note would be that they get rather dry after the first day.  I'm still trying to fix this.  Oh, look, my suitemate just grabbed one as she went out the door, and will be the first tester of the bunch.  My friend is picking me up at 2pm to get more groceries for the week, and will be my second.  Ah, I enjoy having varied tasters again who are not related to me...

A compact little bit of sunshine in my day.

Corn Muffins adapted from
Makes 12 muffins, or 1 8" square pan

½ cup vegetable oil (canola if you have it, or melted butter)
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (substitute with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar and regular milk)
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt

1 large (medium works) mixing bowl
1 rubber spatula
½ teaspoon measure
½ cup dry measure 
1 cup dry measure (optional, 2 halves make a whole, obviously, you roll your eyes at me)
2-cup liquid measure
1 12-cup cupcake pan 
12 cupcake liners (optional, but I was lazy and didn't want to scrub another pan) 


1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Line the cupcake tin with liners, or grease. 

2. In the large/medium bowl, mix the oil and sugar.  If using lemon juice or vinegar to make buttermilk, mix it in the measuring cup now.  Add the eggs to the oil and sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. 

3.  Mix the baking soda into the buttermilk, then stir it into the eggs mixture.  Add the cornmeal, flour and salt, then stir until there are only a few lumps remaining.  Fill each cupcake tin cup almost all the way up.  You should have 12 muffins.

4. Bake at 375°F for about 20 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack.  They stick to the wrappers if eaten right away, but it's rather worth it.  Enjoy!

Sturdy and filling, a perfect afternoon snack.  Or a mid-morning one :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dad's Birthday - Mocha Pound Cake

I'm so excited!  We have a stand mixer!  WE HAVE A STAND MIXER!!!!!  

It's so pretty... and shiny....

And it even morphs into a hand mixer!  We actually have possessed one before, although it did not morph.  Around the time my best friend's family got one, we bought a delightful KitchenAid ($200! 0_o) and I loved it from the second it hit the counter.  Sadly, my doting mother decided that it was too expensive and took up too much valuable kitchen counter space, and it was returned, paying no heed to my wails and tantrums and rending of garments.  She did acquiesce to a purchase of a handheld mixer, which I promptly loved to death over the course of the next 4 or 5 years, until this buttercream frosting.  I didn't say it then, but I suspect that the mixer was simply old, and the stress of changing speed so much finally caused it to crack.  Of course, Murphy's Law stated that my mixer would have to go kaput when mixing speed was crucial to the success of the recipe, when I was making it for someone else, when I was in a rush.  Let that be a lesson to all.  What lesson?  Not rushing, I guess...   

In any case.  The mixer arrived on the day between my mum's birthday and my dad's birthday, just one day late for the castella cake that I whisked by hand for an hour and half (!), but perfectly in time for my dad's desired cake.  It was actually the castella cake that my mum loved and finally agreed to buy a new mixer, but that post may be a while in coming yet.  It's a work in progress: delicious, but not yet perfect.  The next cake I make will be the fifth.  Luckily, with a mixer, the whisking time should be cut to 15 minutes.  I love having a working mixer!

For the new mixer's maiden cake, I borrowed a recipe from 17 and Baking, who got it from a friend, who got it from The New York Times.  I love it when recipes pass through many hands, don't you?  The batter is lovely and has that creamy, buttery quality, but I would expect nothing less.  Even though I reduced the sugar, I'm surprised at how well this cake turned out.  A perfect balance of coffee aroma and mild coffee flavor, smoothed by the butter and sugar.  I frosted and served it 2 days after it was baked, and the crumb was delightfully soft and comforting, dense in the way a pound cake is supposed to be.  Moderately chocolaty, just sweet enough, and lightly flavored with a little more coffee, the whipped cream frosting complemented it quite well, if I may say so myself.  The only change I would make is to make the effort to serve the cake on a flat plate.  Most of the plates in our house aren't quite flat, and I ended up with too much cream between the layers of cake.

The filling somewhat squished out when eaten, but no matter, still delicious.

Coffee Pound Cake adapted from 17 and Baking
Makes 1 8" round cake, about 2½" tall

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons granulated instant vanilla coffee (substitute plain if needed, see next line)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (2 teaspoons if you only have plain instant coffee)
½ cup half and half
2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional, to sour the half and half for buttermilk)
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 stand or electric mixer, or wooden spoon, rubber spatula and large bowl
1 medium bowl (for flour mixture)
1 balloon whisk (for flour mixture)
1 rubber spatula
¼ teaspoon measure
1 teaspoon measure
1 tablespoon measure
¼ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure
2-cup liquid measure
1 8" round cake pan (I used a springform, with parchment on the bottom)
Butter and flour for the pan


1. In the 2-cup liquid measure, mix the half and half with the coffee and stir to dissolve.  Once it is dissolved, add the lemon juice if desired to thicken the half and half into "buttermilk."  I'm not sure if there's a difference in taste or texture, but I usually do.

2. Butter and flour the cake pan.  Preheat the oven to 300°F. 

3. In the large bowl or mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing completely before adding the next.  Add the vanilla extract and mix thoroughly.

4. In the medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  

5. Using the spatula, fold about half of the flour into the butter mixture.  When it is completely combined, add about half the coffee mixture and fold gently.  Then add in about half the remaining flour, the rest of the coffee, then the rest of the flour in the same manner.  I found this tip about the flour on one of The Little Teochew's posts, but I cannot find the post again, alas...

6. Gently scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  With such a thick batter, it helps to go in a circle with the spatula, slowly moving the batter outward until it's vaguely uniform.  It doesn't need to be perfect, but approximate symmetry (approximate!) will lead to more even rising.  Bake at 300°F for about 75 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean or with only tiny crumbs.  Cool for about 20 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto an oven rack to cool completely.  Enjoy!  Or, wrap it up, wait a couple of days and see the crumb and flavor develop to a new height :)

The cake turned out pretty good on its own, too.

Mocha Whipped Cream straight from the flames of It's on Fire!!!
Makes about 2 cups of whipped cream 

1 cup heavy whipping cream
5 tablespoons white sugar
¼ teaspoon granulated instant coffee 
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 large bowl 
1 balloon whisk
¼ teaspoon measure
1 tablespoon measure


1. Whip cream until it begins to thicken, then add sugar, coffee and cocoa.  Whip until the cream starts to form stiff peaks, but be careful not to churn it into butter.  I over-whip just until it can hold up as frosting.  Adjust flavorings to taste.  Enjoy!  Hopefully with some cake :)

Happy Birthday, Dad!
Postscript:  Hey, look, today is Friday the 13th!  Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary has happened today... 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Holidays - Peppermint Chocolate Crinkles

And why did it take me so long to get this post out?  I had no pictures.  Sigh.  I made these cookies the day before Christmas, shipped them three days later, and throughout the entire process, I somehow had none.  Luckily, my brother liked them enough to request a repeat performance.  Yay, pictures! 

I don't normally name my photos, but I'm calling this one "Luxury of Home."

I realize that the holidays may be "over" for many people.  I am convinced that I can keep celebrating from Thanksgiving to Chinese New Year, due to the sheer number of days that different groups of people can call celebratory :)  

These cookies are a typical example of holiday cookies, and I've seen them in many a cookbook.  This recipe was slightly tweaked from the website Real Simple.  Quite happily, I'm home now, and have the use of an electric mixer, albeit broken and only usable on the third setting.  Despite this handicap, I'm reminded of the beauty that is properly creamed butter and butter-based rather than oil-based cakes.  Once I mixed the butter with the eggs, the dough turned into a smooth, creamy frosting that melted on your tongue (excuse me, I like the taste of dough).  Butter and oil have their pros and cons, but for the time being, I'm going to admire the beauty of fat from dairy sources.

These cookies are not nearly as dramatic as I had hoped, but I'm wary of overly sweet holiday (or anytime) confections.  I suppose that I'll have to truly overload on the powdered sugar for the cookies to stand out.  Either way, they're quite good, sturdy yet tender inside, sweet and darkly chocolatey, with just a hint of peppermint.  Lovely for the holidays, any one (or many) you celebrate.

Or you can build an igloo with the little snowballs.  I'm partial to that option, myself.

Peppermint Chocolate Crinkles slightly tweaked from Real Simple
Makes about 4 dozen cookies or so, depending on size

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons baking powder 
¼ teaspoon salt 
½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature 
1 cup light brown sugar*
large eggs 
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

1 large mixing bowl
1 medium mixing bowl (optional, you can just toss all the dry ingredients into the butter)
1 electric mixer
1 rubber spatula
¼ teaspoon measure
½ teaspoon measure
1 teaspoon measure (optional, only for baking powder)
¼ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure
1 sifter/strainer (for cocoa powder if your cocoa is lumpy)


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a cookie sheet as you please.  I used parchment paper, which is in the original recipe, but truthfully, I use parchment paper whenever I can.  I think you'd be able to get away with just greasing the cookie sheet or using a nonstick sheet, but I also suspect the powdered sugar may melt and stick. 

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs one at a time.  Add the peppermint extract and cream until light and fluffy.

3. Sift the cocoa if you have a sifter and if your cocoa is lumpy.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.  Using the rubber spatula, mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture.  You can also use the mixer on low, but I find the spatula to be less messy, i.e. less flour everywhere.  You will have a dark, very sticky, but malleable dough.

4. Form the dough into balls and drop into the powdered sugar, coating completely.  Press gently on each ball until the balls are somewhat flattened, about half as tall as they are wide.  Arrange on the cookie sheets and bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes.  Allow to cool for around 5 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy!  They ship well :)

Bring some cheer in the form of chocolate :)

I used dark brown sugar and it didn't make any difference.

You will have quite a bit of powdered sugar left over.  Next time, I'd probably start with 2 tablespoons and go from there. 

Next time, I'd also refrigerate the dough for about an hour, then preheat the oven only as I finished forming the cookies.  The dough gets less sticky and more manageable when cool, and you can put it back into the refrigerator if the dough is sticky again halfway through.  Also, you get time to wash all the dishes >_<

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Secret Desire - Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Happy New Year!  I was looking through my old posts, and thought this would be good.  It sums up a good chunk of what I thought last year, and a little of what I hope for next year.  Here's to being happier in 2012!

Finally, now that the ice cream is all gone, do I have the courage to post this.  Although it was only on my to-do list for a short while, I couldn't quite bring myself to write about a planned and perfectly executed success.  I live in fear of egotism, of arrogance.  If I am too sure of myself, fates are certain that I will become careless and spoil my brief success.  However, I am finding more and more that confidence is a good thing.  Striking the perfect balance of confidence and humbleness leads to great things in life, not the least of which being acing an exam and having studied exactly the correct amount and material.  Something that was rather rare during my last semester.

In this case, it was the Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.  I actually made this last summer, during my fit of enthusiasm about rare and lovely ingredients and excellent food.  I ranted about it here.  These vanilla beans were part of my 18th birthday gift from my best friend, currently in Portland.  I promised to make this ice cream for her during the break, but she left before I realized, and this ice cream will have to wait until summer.  Probably even better then, but I do miss her.  Plus, she deserves to eat this ice cream.  This is some really, really good ice cream.  Former pastry chef at the Chez Panisse David Lebovtiz knows what he's talking about, having published a book called The Perfect Scoop.  I'd love to get my hands on this book...

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream from 17 and Baking, who got it from David Lebovitz
Makes about a quart

1 cup whole milk 
Scant ¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream

2-cup liquid measure
¼ teaspoon measure
1 teaspoon measure (optional, I suppose, but I have difficulty counting, so...)
¼ cup dry measure
Double boiler, or improvised.  I just used an extremely low flame and a paranoid eye.
1 small paring knife to slit and scrape vanilla bean 
1 small bowl for tempering the egg yolks
1 whisk
1 large bowl for ice cream
1 even larger bowl for ice water (larger than the ice cream bowl)
1 strainer for the custard 
Plastic wrap or lid to cover the ice cream bowl
1 freezer or 1 ice cream machine (I don't have an ice cream machine...)


1. In the double boiler or small pot, heat the milk, sugar and salt. While the milk is heating, slit the vanilla bean lengthwise, then scrape all the incredible little seeds into the milk.  Toss in the bean as well.  When the milk is steaming, turn the fire off, cover it and let it infuse for an hour or so.

2.  Right before the next step, set up an ice bath.  Place ice water inside the very large bowl, then place the large bowl inside.  Make sure that none of the ice water spills into the ice cream bowl.  Set a strainer over the ice cream bowl.

3. Whisk the egg yolks together in the small bowl.  Reheat the milk over low fire until it just begins to steam, then whisk a little of the hot milk into the eggs.  Whisk the entire time to gradually heat up the eggs without scrambling them.  This is the process of tempering the eggs.  When the eggs are warm, pour them into the milk and cook, stirring constantly, until the custard is thickened and coats the back of a metal spoon.  Make sure to keep the fire very low.

4. Pour the cooked custard into the ice cream bowl through the strainer.  Include the vanilla seeds, but save the bean pod for another use.  Pour in the cream, and gently mix the cream and custard together until completely cool.  Remove from the ice bath, cover with plastic wrap (or a lid, if you have one) and refrigerate until completely cool, preferably overnight.

5.  If you have an ice cream machine, churn it in that.  If not, simply plop your cooled ice cream into the freezer for an hour.  Then, mix up the semi-frozen custard and cream, making sure to incorporate all the frozen bits on the side.  Plop it back into the freezer for an hour, and repeat for the next 5 or 6 hours.  Enjoy the delicious, creamy, very very vanilla ice cream!

It's the only picture I have since I was busy worrying about breaking the custard, but this picture still excites me :)
Happy 2012, everyone!