Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Maple Oat Scones


When I was 18, I worked at a grocery store Starbucks. The grocery store was pretty busy, which meant the Starbucks usually was too. On Saturday mornings, we usually had a perpetual line of customers from 6 am until noon without a single break.

But I'd say that one of the hardest parts of that job was staring at the pastry case all day and trying not to eat everything in it.

At the time, my favorites were the raspberry twist and the cranberry orange scone.
And the almond bear claw.
And the toffee almond bar.
And the cinnamon twist.
And the chocolate cream cheese muffin.
And the maple oat scone.

Can you see why this was a problem?

Not that we were allowed to eat a single crumb without paying for it. We couldn't even take home the pastries that were leftover at night; we just had to throw them away.


One night, I had a particularly strong craving for a maple oat scone. It was half an hour before closing, which was usually when we emptied the pastry case. As I was throwing away the leftover scones, I decided to take just a small bite. And right at that moment, a customer walked up to the register to order.

Of course, I didn't want her to see that I was eating something because not only was I not supposed to eat the pastries without paying for them, but also I wasn't supposed to eat period while I was working. So I figured the best thing to do was to try to swallow it as quickly as I could.


Bad idea.

I immediately started choking. The customer just stared at me, not sure what was going on. I needed water. I tried to grab a cup and ended up knocking over half the stack in the process. Finally, I was able to take a few sips and dislodge the scone from my esophagus.

By that point, my eyes were watering and my voice was hoarse. The customer looked horrified. I tried to act like I wasn't completely humiliated. "Sorry about that. What can I get for you?"

Despite this experience, I have no ill feelings toward maple oat scones. And since Starbucks stopped making them, I decided to make some for myself. The scone itself has the subtly sweet flavor of brown sugar, maple syrup, and oats, which pairs perfectly with the not-so-subtly-sweet maple glaze.

I'm not ashamed to say that I ate two three of these yesterday. Without incident.


Maple Oat Scones
Adapted from Eating Out Loud

For the scones:

1 & 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup oatmeal, finely ground
1/2 cup oatmeal, coarsely ground
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, chilled
1 egg
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the glaze:

1 & 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons maple extract

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cube the butter, and add it to the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender (or clean hands), cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the pieces of butter are pea-sized or smaller.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the heavy cream, egg, and maple syrup. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. Do not over mix. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it until it holds together.

3. Pat the dough into a 7-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Cut the circle into eight wedges, and carefully place the wedges onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops and sides of the scones with an egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon heavy cream). Bake for 20 minutes.

4. While the scones are baking, prepare the glaze by whisking all of the glaze ingredients together in a medium bowl. If the glaze is too thin, add more powdered sugar; if it's too thick, add more cream. Once the scones have cooled completely, spoon about one tablespoon of glaze over each scone. (If you don't wait for the scones to cool, they will absorb the glaze). Use the back of the spoon to spread the glaze evenly over each scone.


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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chocolate Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Filling and Chocolate Buttercream


Every year, I manage to ruin Stephen's birthday cake.

The first year we lived together, I decided to throw him a "surprise party". His family never made a big deal about his birthday when he was younger, so I wanted to give him the birthday party he never had. But, it wasn't really a party. It was just me, an apartment decorated with streamers and balloons, and a birthday cake.

I don't remember for sure, but I'm guessing Betty Crocker had more of a hand in making the cake than I did. What I do remember for sure is that I didn't level the cake layers. And because the bottom layer was so domed, the top layer broke into four pieces and began sliding down the sides of the cake. At that point I didn't really have time for a backup plan, so I stuck some candles on it and resigned myself to moping. Stephen thought it was hilarious.

I don't recall what happened the next year, but I'm sure it was horrifying. Probably so much so that I've completely blocked it from my memory.

By the third year we lived together, Betty and I had gone our separate ways. The cake I made from scratch was absolutely delicious. But by no means did that prevent me from promptly throwing it in the trash and buying a cake at Safeway when the top layer slid halfway off the bottom layer and wouldn't go back. (This time too-thin frosting was the culprit). The perfectionist in me couldn't bare to look at it.


Last year, I tried to prevent disaster by making a single-layer rectangular cake. And for the most part, I did. Except that the recipe called for finely chopped unsweetened baking chocolate. And since I neither had a food processor nor a decent knife, the cake ended up being speckled with little flakes of chocolate that I didn't chop well enough. Not a complete disaster, but not a success either.

This year, I took every possible precaution in order to guarantee my success. I lined the cake pans with parchment paper. I refrigerated the cake layers before assembling the cake. I made sure the frosting was the right consistency. I leveled each layer of cake. I refrigerated the cake again after applying a crumb coat. Most importantly, I was patient.

I'm generally a very patient person, but when it comes to baking I'm uncharacteristically impatient. I don't want to wait for things to chill for 30 minutes or cool completely or rise until doubled in volume. I just want to get to the part where I can eat it!

But this year I learned from my mistakes, and Stephen finally got the birthday cake he deserved. The layers stayed together. The frosting didn't have crumbs in it. The cake and frosting recipes were well-executed. (Although, I did almost forget to add the sugar when I was mixing the cake batter!). Best of all, Stephen claims it's the best cake he's ever had. In fact, after taking the first bite, he paused for several moments before asking me, "Have you ever eaten something so good it changed your life?"


As they say, patience is a virtue.

Chocolate Layer Cake
Adapted from Hershey's

2 cups sugar
1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup natural cocoa powder (such as Hershey's)
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat three 8-inch cake pans with nonstick spray. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Spray each pan again and coat with a thin layer of flour.

2. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla, and mix until everything is thoroughly incorporated. Stir in the boiling water; the batter will be very thin.

3. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean. Cool the layers in the pans for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. Wrap each layer in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Make the cream cheese filling and chocolate buttercream (see recipes below). When you're ready to assemble the cake, remove the layers from the refrigerator. If needed, level each layer with a serrated knife or cake leveler.

5. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate. Evenly spread about 3/4 cup of the cream cheese filling over the cake, leaving about 1/2 inch margin around the edges. Top with the second layer and repeat. Finally, top with the third layer. Apply a thin layer of chocolate buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. This is only a crumb coat, so it doesn't need to be perfect. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes.

6. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and apply a final layer of chocolate buttercream, as well as any desired embellishments.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup (8 oz) cream cheese
3/4 cup (6 oz) butter
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
6 cups (24 oz) powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer at medium speed for about one minute. Add the vanilla and beat one minute more. Reduce the mixing speed to low, and add the powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time. Once the sugar is completely incorporated, beat at medium speed for about two minutes or until fluffy.

Chocolate Buttercream

1 cup (8 oz) butter
1 & 3/4 cups (5 oz) natural or dutch-processed cocoa powder
6 cups (24 oz) powdered sugar
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

In a large bowl, combine the powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Beat the butter with an electric mixer at medium speed for about one minute. Reduce the mixing speed to low, and add the sugar/cocoa mixture about 1/2 cup at a time. Halfway through this process, add the milk and vanilla. Once all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, beat at medium speed for about two minutes or until fluffy.

Note: Each of these recipes makes quite a bit of frosting! You could probably get away with half the amount of each (just halve all of the ingredients, and follow the same process), but I usually err on the side of having too much rather than too little. You can always freeze any leftover frosting in an airtight container!

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Blossoms

I lovelovelove fall.

I used to think this made me unique. I thought I was the only one who got overly excited about

cold sunny days
the pumpkin patch
leaves on the ground
back to school
pumpkin spice lattes
halloween decorations
pumpkin scented candles
wearing boots, scarves, and mittens
et cetera

Clearly, I was mistaken. As it turns out, everyone loves fall. At this point, I actually cringe on the inside when I hear people say how much they love it because it makes me feel like a cliché.

But secretly... I still think I love it more than you do.

This should explain why I got overly excited when I saw this at Target the other day:


My head almost exploded. And right next to this were all manner of Halloween sprinkles, cake mixes, and cookie cutters, so my head almost exploded again.

The reason I was at Target in the first place was to get these:


Here's what you need to know about Pumpkin Spice Hershey's Kisses: Buy them. As soon as possible. If you hesitate, you will spend the next year haunted by what could have been. Trust me, I know.

I first found out these existed three years ago. It was mid-October, and I spotted a bag of them sitting on my classmate's desk. I had to have them.

The very next day I went to Safeway to buy some, and they were nowhere to be found. Not a problem. I went to Walgreens instead. Huuuge Halloween candy section, right? Yes. But no Pumpkin Spice Hershey's Kisses. After subsequent trips to Rite Aid, Fred Meyer, Target, and even Wal-Mart (shudder)... I realized that I was too late. There weren't any more anywhere.

Ever since then, I don't mess around. I'm on the lookout for these while other people are still using their grills and wearing sunglasses. You have to play to win, people.

So, to recap: Pumpkin Spice Cookie Mix. Head exploding. Pumpkin Spice Hershey's Kisses.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

If you're thinking that I really do love fall more than you do, you're right. But that's not what I'm thinking. What I'm thinking is... Pumpkin Spice Blossoms!


Blossoms are typically a peanut butter cookie with a chocolate Hershey's Kiss pressed into the center like this. Or like this, if you use peanut butter cups instead of kisses.

I decided to do the same thing, only with pumpkin cookies and pumpkin kisses! Except I made the cookies way too big, and they look nothing like blossoms. It's the thought that counts, right?

This is the first time I've used a cookie mix in years, and although I'm not going to make a habit of it... I have to say I'm very impressed! These cookies are moist, chewy, and super flavorful. I love that in addition to the pumpkin, the flavor from the spices is also very prominent. Way to go, Betty. I wouldn't change anything about these!

Pumpkin Spice Blossoms

Betty Crocker's Pumpkin Spice Cookie Mix
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
Pumpkin Spice Hershey's Kisses

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prepare the cookie dough according to the directions on the cookie mix package.

2. Drop the dough, one tablespoon at a time, onto ungreased cookie sheets about two inches apart. Bake for 6 minutes. While the cookies are baking, unwrap the Hershey's Kisses.

3. Remove the half-baked cookies from the oven and gently press one kiss into the center of each cookie. Return the cookies to the oven and bake 5-7 minutes longer, or until the edges of the cookies are set. Allow the cookies to cool for about one minute before transferring them to a wire rack.

P.S. I think it goes without saying that neither Betty Crocker nor Hershey's paid me to write about their products. I'm not cool enough for that... yet.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fair Food Extravaganza 2011

Stephen's birthday is tomorrow, and I was fully expecting to have a chocolate cake to show for it. That is, until Stephen decided he wanted to go to The Puyallup Fair for his birthday!

As we learned in my last post, I'm abnormally smart. I should probably be the president. And when you're smart enough to be the president, you're smart enough to know this:

krusty pup
+ crinkle fries
+ cow chip cookie
+ scone
+ elephant ear
≠ good day to also eat chocolate cake

Not to worry, though! Chocolate cake is happening next week during Stephen's Birthday: Extended Edition. In the meantime, I'll leave you with photographic evidence of the $42.25* and 8,923 calories we ate today.

*Exact figure.
Approximate figure.

krusty pup!

crinkle fries!

substitute picture for cow chip cookie
+ adorable photobooth film strip!

cinnamon sugar elephant ear
+ evidence that Stephen was actually there!

P.S. I wanted to have a picture of everything we ate, but I was so excited to eat my Cow Chip Cookie that I completely forgot to take a picture of it!

P.P.S. The same thing happened with my Fisher Scone. Oops.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pecan Sticky Buns


I was feeling a bit nostalgic yesterday, and I thought it would be a good idea to read through all of my yearbooks from junior high and high school. It's been five years since I graduated, so it seemed like an appropriate time for that metaphorical walk down memory lane.

But it didn't take long for the nostalgia to fade and disturbance to take its place.

It took me six years to manage a decent yearbook picture. I know that's kind of a cliché, but seriously? In seventh grade, I wore a puffy vest and had my hair in an invisible ponytail.

By eighth grade, my fashion sense showed signs of improvement, but the glare from my glasses didn't do me any favors.

The next year, I was smart enough to wear contacts. Which, unfortunately, did nothing to help the fact that I had recently made the worst hair decision of my life. Yes... a perm. Need I go on?

I will concede that my senior picture turned out pretty well, but I'm thinking after six tries I was bound to get it right by accident, if for no other reason.


And the pictures are actually the least of my concerns. Most disturbing of all were the things people wrote to me.

In seventh grade, no less than five (yes, FIVE) people commented about the crush I had on one of my classmates. And mentioned him by name, no less. What?! It seems to me that what you write in someone's yearbook kind of sums up your relationship and/or how you think and feel about that person. This means that five (yes, FIVE) people defined me as the girl who had a crush on that guy. Excellent.

Seventh grade aside, the pervading theme throughout the comments in the rest of my yearbooks turned out to be how smart everyone thought I was. Which, I know, is a nice thing for everyone to say. But the way people wrote about me made me feel like I was some kind of abnormal phenomenon. Just because I could find a few derivatives and form grammatically correct sentences? I mean, it's not like I was coming up with stuff like this.

One person even offered me money if I graduated from college with a 4.0. (Which, if I'm so smart, seems like kind of a risky offer on his part, amirite?). Fortunately for him, I got a C in Math 126 during my first quarter at UW. Because I totally would have cashed in on that.


I also noticed, as I was browsing, that a few people wrote almost exactly the same thing every year. And not just the usual "I'm so glad we had math together! Thanks for helping me with my homework! Have a great summer! Call me!!!" (Of course, they didn't actually want me to call them).

No, the people I'm referring to wrote about the same specific memory in every yearbook comment. "I'm so glad we had math together this year! Remember when we sat next to each other in science three years ago? That was so fun! Have a great summer!" Or some variation thereof.

I take this to mean that either I didn't make a single lasting impression on any of these people since their one memory of me occurred, or that that semester in science meant a lot more to them than it did to me.

Which leads me to the sincerity continuum I discovered as I was reading all the things people wrote. And I think the easiest most entertaining way to illustrate that continuum would be with actual examples:

(least sincere)

call me

have a nice summer

you kick ass!

hey! it's been a fun year! thanks for being cool!

i hope your summer is awesome! have fun in the sun! maybe i will see you at olive garden again!

i'm sorry that we didn't get any classes together! maybe we will next year! i hope you have a swell summer!

thanks for helping me with math. see you in algebra 2.

spanish was fun. i really liked having you in class to help us do our work. have a great summer.

what's up! thanks for all the rides to my car on random days. you rock! have fun this summer!

good god you are so smart you are going to be like the president or something. and you are super nice. have fun.

(most sincere)

Yes, there were comments that were more heartfelt (and less entertaining) than those ones. But at least 75% of the things people wrote fall somewhere on this scale. Needless to say, I don't think I'm going to be feeling nostalgic again anytime soon.

As usual, none of this has anything to do with what I baked this week. Since it's officially September, I decided to get started on the list of fall recipes I've been anxiously waiting to try since last fall. First up: pecan sticky buns. Which turned out to be time-consuming, challenging, and very sticky... but completely worth it!

If you plan ahead for them to take at least 5 hours from start to finish, if you make sure you aren't out of eggs and that you have the right kind of yeast, if you're not impatient and you let the dough rise for as long as it's supposed to, and if you have a cake pan with tall enough sides to prevent the filling from bubbling over onto the bottom of your oven... then I'm sure everything will go smoothly for you.

Even if it doesn't, your whole house is going to smell amazing (cinnamon + caramel + maple + honey) for hours after you're done baking. And did I mention? These are worth the trouble.

Pecan Sticky Buns
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yield: 8 sticky buns

For the dough:

6 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 & 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
1 & 3/4 cups lukewarm water
4 eggs
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup melted butter

For the filling:

2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

For the topping:

3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/3 cup + 3 tablespoons brown sugar
2/3 cup pecan halves

Directions:

1. Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer in the order written. Mix at medium-low speed with the dough hook attachment until the dough comes together. Transfer the dough to a very large bowl (at least 6 quarts) coated with nonstick spray.

2. Cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for two hours. Then, refrigerate the dough for at least one hour to make it easier to work with.

3. While the dough is chilling, make the filling and topping. For the filling, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. For the topping, combine the melted butter and syrup and pour it into a lightly greased 9-inch cake pan with at least 2-inch sides. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter and syrup, and scatter the nuts over the sugar.

4. When you're ready to assemble the sticky buns, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Spray your hands with nonstick spray and pull out 1/3 of the dough (22 ounces). Return the rest of the dough to the refrigerator to use another time.

5. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and roll it into a rectangle approximately 15 inches by 10 inches. Sprinkle the filling over the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch margin around the edges. Gently press the filling into the dough. Starting with one of the long edges, roll the dough into a log. Cut the log into eight pieces and arrange them in the prepared cake pan. Gently press the buns down so they're touching each other.

6. Cover the pan and allow the buns to rise for about an hour, or until they're noticeably puffy. Preheat the oven to 350°F. After the buns have risen, uncover the pan, and bake the buns for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.

7. Remove the pan from the oven and invert it onto a plate. Lift off the pan, and scrape any remaining topping over the top of the buns. Serve immediately.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Homemade Oreos


You might as well know that I was one of those kids who liked school. I'll even go as far as to say that I miss it sometimes. Not college--that I am glad to be done with. But I miss high school and elementary school. Even junior high.

My favorite part was always the first day of school. I loved going school supply shopping and organizing everything the minute we got home... even though it was only the first week of August and there was still a month before school started.


School clothes shopping was practically the highlight of my summer, and I usually had my outfit for the first day of school picked out weeks in advance. I remember in second grade the first day of school was delayed because the teachers were on strike. Every morning I would wake up and put on my first day of school dress... only to be crushed when my mom told me that school still wasn't starting.

I'm beginning to think that my love for the first days of school is what led me to believe I wanted to be a teacher. I kinda forgot about the part after September and October when everyone is counting down the days until winter break. And the part after winter break when everyone is counting down the days until summer.


For those of you who don't share my love of going back to school, I offer homemade oreos. They're the kind of thing that makes you forget about having to do homework again. And having to wake up before noon. And having to sit at a desk. Inside. Wearing footwear that isn't made out of rubber.

After my underwhelming experiences with homemade pop tarts and homemade hostess cupcakes, I was a bit skeptical about homemade oreos. And to be honest, they don't taste like the ones you buy at the store.

They are so. much. better. I promise they are worth the extra effort. Because the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.


I learned that in teacher school. We had to take a whole class on clever little sayings.

Homemade Oreos
Adapted from Flour Child

For the cookies:

1 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 & 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 egg

For the filling:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two to three baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. With the mixer running on low speed, add the butter and mix for about one minute. Add the egg and mix until the dough comes together and forms a ball.

3. Drop rounded teaspoons of batter (1/2 ounce portions by weight) onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about two inches apart. Gently flatten each ball of dough. Bake for 9 minutes. Allow the cookies to set on the baking sheets for about five minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

4. To make the filling: Beat together the butter and shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer at medium speed. Reduce the speed to low, and gradually add the powdered sugar. Once the sugar is incorporated, add the vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for two to three minutes, or until light and fluffy.

5. Pair the cookies according to size and shape as best you can. Spoon the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. (You could also use a large zipper storage bag with one of the corners snipped off). Pipe about a teaspoon of filling onto one of the cookies in each pair. Top with the other cookie, and press down gently to sandwich the filling.