World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: baking

Dirty Snowballs

 

These are a family favorite.  Being New Englanders we always called them ‘dirty snowballs.” I don’t think that needs much explanation.  They are simple and elegant and most of the work can be done ahead of time.

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  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, room temperature (takes about 20-30 minutes)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups AP  flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder diluted in warm water (optional)*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Note:  If you would prefer a peppermint flavor substitute espresso powder for 1 teaspoon peppermint extract.

Step 1

In a bowl measure out the AP flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Step 2

Combine in a mixing bowl the cocoa powder, about 2 teaspoons of the espresso liquid (if using),  granulated sugar and vegetable oil.  It should be well-mixed and glisten, shiny (means the oil is integrated with the dry stuff).

Step 2

Add the eggs one at at time — wait about 30 seconds after adding one before adding the next one. Finish this step by adding the vanilla.

Step 3

Mix the dry ingredients ever so slowly into the chocolate mixture on low speed until just combined–do not overmix. Go gentle into the batter of night folks. Keep the batter in the bowl, or transfer into a smaller one and wrap the bowl in plastic wrap.  Chill for 4 hours or overnight. This batter is better if made the day before and chills for 8 hours. It never hardens completely it is firm with give.

Step 4

Preheat the oven to 350°F,  line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or baking mats. Place confectioner’s sugar in a wide bowl as you need space to roll many at a time. Using two spoons get about a rounded teaspoon of the chilled dough and roll them into 1-inch sized balls using your hands Work quick as you want these firm and cool. Roll the balls in the confectioner’s sugar and place on the cookie sheets (you should be able to get a dozen or so on each baking sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool a few minutes, transfer to a wire rack to cool.

 

 

 

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Peach Pecan Pound Cake

A tongue twister of the most southern kind…

While rooting around for ideas for a simple summer fruit dessert for a dinner party I came across a peach pound cake in Southern Living.  Frankly, it made me anxious.  Not the ingredients, although peach schnapps is a little out of the ordinary.  It was the methodology. Pound cake is simple but there are small tips that will guarantee success.

All ingredients need to be of the best quality you can source.

Bring all butter, eggs to room temperature–it takes about 30-45 minutes. Really, this makes a huge difference.

Cream the butter and sugar together so the finished cake is fluffy and light.

And the final step that I take is one that will probably make many wonder.  Start the baking time in a cold oven.  That’s right, fill the pans, pop in the oven then turn the oven on. Bake for about an hour, test with a toothpick and when clean pull out from the oven. There are many bakers who say this is true with older ovens or less professional-quality ovens (apartment ovens!) as the heating begins at the bottom.  Others say it forms a better crust.  All I need to know is that since I started using these tips and this technique my results are consistent. It was shared by  Tom Hudgens and his “The Commonsense Kitchen”  during a butter making class.

So while I liked the idea of the original magazine recipe, I needed to make it my own by altering the method, adding honey, pecans (how Southern is that?) and cinnamon. Inspiration arrives in many forms.

peach pecan pound cake

Peach Pecan Pound Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups AP  flour
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups butter, softened, cubed
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup peach schnapps
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups diced fresh peaches (skins can remain)
  • 2/3 cup pecans broken into smaller pieces

Method

Do not preheat oven.  Butter and flour dust 2 loaf pans or a large bundt pan.  Tap the pan/s to remove excess flour.

In a bowl combine flour, cinnamon and mix  together. Set aside.  Take a generous pinch or two of the flour mix and sprinkle and toss over the diced peaches.  This will prevent the fruit from sinking to the bottom.

In separate bowl combine peach schnapps, milk, vanilla and honey.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together, until the mixture is cohesive, light in color and fluffy.

Using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon alternately mix in the eggs. Now add the milk-peach schnapps liquids and the flours by hand in 3-4 additions, blending in each addition only partially before adding the next one.  Mix until just combined so as  not to overmix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, speading evenly. Each pan/s should be filled about two-thirds full.

Place in cold oven.  Turn oven on to 325F.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cook in pan for 15 minutes; turn out cake on to a rack.

notes:

~if you don’t have cake flour just use AP flour instead.

~to finish the cake dust with confectioner’s sugar or make a lemon icing and drizzle over the top (mix 1 cup confectioner’s sugar with 2-4 teaspoons lemon juice depending on the consistency sought).

~serve on it’s own or with vanilla ice cream

Apricot-Almond Cake

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1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
13 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 apricots, cut in half and pitted, then cut the halves again
1/4 cup slivered almonds mixed together with 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease and lightly flour with cornmeal an 8″ round cake pan or an 8″ springform pan, tapping out any excess flour. Set aside.

In a small bowl, toss the cornmeal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar together with an electric mixer, until pale yellow and creamy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula adding the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the lemon zest and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and blend by hand until just combined. Don’t use mixer as that’s will probably cause the batter to toughen. Gentle fold the dry ingredients into the batter.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. It’ll be thick so use the back of a soon to spread it out to the edges. Place the apricot halves, skin side down, at even intervals on top of the batter. Sprinkle the slivered almonds over the top of the cake followed by the brown sugar on top of the fruit and batter. I placed them just enough apart that when cut into 8 pieces everyone had a piece of apricot. You could leave use more fruit. Bake until the cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.

Notes

Original recipe calls for plums, you could also use peaches with the skins on.

Although I haven’t tried this I am pretty confident that replacing the AP flour with almond meal flour would taste quite good–and gluten free.

 

Eggnog Bundt Cake.

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photo by Sean Timberlake, 2012

Tis the season for eggnog. Creamy, rich and well, eggy.   The origin of the holiday drink varies.  One story says that the word nog derives from an Old English word for strong beer, hence “noggin;” another tale states that the name in Colonial America refers to when colonists referred to thick drinks as “grog” and eggnog as “egg-and-grog”.

Whatever the story may be we drink it once a year mostly in lattés it seems. In Puerto Rico the drink is known as  coquito which involves, baking, cracking and draining coconuts. Ambitious for sure.  Rompopefrom Mexico, features almonds and lots and lots of eggs.

I don’t have a particular desire to drink eggnog but I do like the taste of it–rum, cinnamon, cloves–perfect for holiday baking. Over the weekend I had lunch with friends and decided to surprise them with this holiday cake as dessert. Super easy, and the taste was as seasonal as you need.  Oh, and if you are like me you may need this Leftover Eggnog: 10 Delicious Uses.

PS: Don’t you love the photo? Squiggles on squiggles…

Spicy Eggnog Pound Cake
Adapted from Oxmoor House

Yield: 10 servings in an 8″ bundt pan plus 2 mini loaves

Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
3 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
1 1/2 teaspoon ground pumpkin pie spice
1 cup refrigerated full fat eggnog**

Glaze
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon whipping cream

30-40 minutes ahead of start bring butter and eggs to room temperature.

Preparation

Generously grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan and mini loaf pans.

Slice butter into tablespoons and beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer about 2 minutes or until creamy. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating 5 to 7 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears.

Combine flour, baking powder, spices and salt. Add to butter mixture alternating with 1 cup eggnog, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla and, if desired, brandy.

Bake at 350° for 50 to 55 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. The mini loaves will take about 7 minutes longer. Cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.

Place cake on a cake plate; dust with powdered sugar. Combine powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste or extract and whipping cream, stirring until smooth. Drizzle glaze over cake.

*I recently discovered a cinnamon blend from Penzey’s which I think really contributed to the cake’s taste profile.  It’s a blend of four cinnamon barks: China, Vietnamese, Korintje, Ceylon.  Penzey’s

**Note: I substituted 1/8 cup for some of the eggnog to equal the amount called for–so if you want to do that 2 3/4 cup eggnog and 1/8 cup dark rum. You could also use brandy.

Other tasting adventures:

Ad Hoc Pie Crust.

Pie crust, often the cue of a strong baker, is seemingly simple and at the same time elusive for many. And while ingredients used are important, technique is also quite primary. There are many recipes that play with the amount of flour and the types of fats in ratios and type (lard, Crisco, butter etc.) it is a quest. I think spending time on the method is a bit more important, as it is in making biscuits. Over handle the dough and it will toughen. Go lightly and quickly. The following recipe is one that my long-time friend S. has begun using over the last year. He is a very good pie baker. He made the honey-pumpkin pie pictured above for Thanksgiving. The secret here is the amount of butter revealing a very flaky pie crust.

Ingredients:

Adapted slightly from the Ad Hoc cookbook.

2 1/2 cups AP flour, plus additional for rolling

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 1/2 sticks unslated butter, cut inot 1/2″ pieces and chilled

4-5 tablespoons ice water

Instructions:

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.

Add the butter and toss to coat with flour.

With two forks or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the butter pieces are small pieces resembling grains.

Drizzle 4 tablespoons of the ice water over the top and with a fork mix dough until it just comes together when pinched. If it is dry add a bit more of the ice water (not the cube) until it does stay together.

Quickly, using your hands or a combination of the forks and hands, bring the dough together until it is smooth and the butter is integrated. The less you touch it with the warmth of your hands, the better.

Divide the dough in half, shaped each into a 1″ thick round, wrap well in plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to a day.

Lightly flour the work surce and a rolling pin.

Dust one of the rounds with flour and roll out to a 13″ or 14″ round and about 1/8″ thick. This will be the top of the pie. If making a one crust pie roll out an an inch or more beyond the size of your pie pan so that a crust can be formed.

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