Saturday, May 29, 2010

Quick Chocolate Buttercream


I totally had birthday cake for breakfast this morning. You see, when you are the birthday girl, you are practically forced into doing that by the last errant slice of birthday cake that your mom tucked away in the fridge, knowing that you'd want it later on. I know, my mom is the best. Surprisingly, though, I'm not here to talk about cake. If you want a really fabulous dark chocolate cake, this one is my favorite, but you probably knew that already. What I'm going to tell you about is the buttercream.


Silky, smooth, luscious, lovely chocolate buttercream. Holy cow, this one is for the books! And it's the quick kind, meaning no heating up egg whites, no worrying whether they will whip up or not, no curdling and ensuing tears, and if you've ever made Swiss Meringue buttercream, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Forget all other quick buttercreams you've ever known, guys. Break up with them and never look back. This one is Mr. Right.


There is a reason it works, of course. First, you do a bit of whipping, and then you add unsweetened cocoa powder and powdered sugar very very slowly, so that the butter has a chance to incorporate all that goodness. Then, you whip some more. Ta-daa! Lick-the-bowl good. Oh, yes, yes it is.


Quick Chocolate Buttercream
Frosts 24 cupcakes or a 2 layer 9" round/8" square cake
(I found the proportions online somewhere, but I don't remember where, sorry...)

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature [I use very lightly salted butter; if you use unsalted, you can add a pinch of salt to bring out the chocolate flavor]
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder [My favorite is Valhrona dutch processed for a little bitterness]
1/2 cup whole milk
3-4 cups of powdered sugar (more or less to achieve desired consistency)

Whip the room-temperature butter on medium speed with the paddle attachment for 2-3 minutes. Shift to low and add cocoa powder slowly, one teaspoon at a time, until fully incorporated. Still on low, add in the powdered sugar (also one teaspoon at a time), alternating with the milk, to achieve desired consistency and taste. Then, beat on medium speed until very light and fluffy, another 3-5 minutes. Add in more sugar if consistency is too thin.

[tip: to make a clean cut in a cake, put it in the refrigerator for an hour to let the cake and frosting harden a little. Then slice with a very sharp cake or bread knife, wiping the knife with a damp paper towel after each cut.]

Continued after the jump...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Perfect Breakfast Muffin

Breakfast carrot muffins

For some time now, I've been on a quest to discover the perfect breakfast muffin. Though I love the rich, buttery taste of a good cafe muffin as much as the next girl, and much more so with a good sprinkling of streusel and sparkly sugar on top, I don't want to eat this every day. Maybe I've grown up (oh, these dreaded words) and maybe I've just become more picky about what I put in my body and when, but for breakfast, I want something that's not only good, but also that's good for me.

Breakfast carrot muffins

People, oh, people. These are the proverbial IT. When I took the first hot muffin out of the oven, soft and sweet-smelling, deeply golden and flecked with dark, jewel-like nuggets of cranberries, and when I took that first bite, chasing it with a cool gulp of fresh milk, I had to sit down for a moment because I was a little overwhelmed by how much I loved these.

Breakfast carrot muffins

It's the whole package, the earthiness of whole-wheat flour, the complex not-too-sweet sweetness of brown sugar, and that smell - the homey, vanilla-y, spicy smell of a freshly baked muffin. It got to me. I'm sold. Bring it on. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I immediately ate three. These are addictive, especially when warm.)

Breakfast carrot muffins

The Perfect Breakfast Muffin
Hacked quite a bit from Gourmet, May 1998
Makes 18 muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups sugar (1/3 brown, 1/3 white)
1/4 pound carrots (about 2/2.5 cups, coarsely shredded)
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries or chopped dried apricots
3 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large apple (coarsely shredded) [I used Gala]

Preheat oven to 350°F. and butter or line eighteen muffin cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, and then whisk in the sugars.

Coarsely shred the carrots and chop the pecans. Add the carrots, pecans and dried fruit to the flour mixture and toss well.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, yogurt and vanilla extract. Peel and core the apple and coarsely shred. Stir the shredded apple into the egg mixture and then add to the flour mixture, stirring until batter is just combined well and there aren't any large dry spots.

Divide batter among muffin cups and bake until puffed and golden and the tester comes out clean, 15-20 minutes (I had to bake for 25).

Cool muffins in cups on racks 5 minutes before turning out onto racks to cool completely. Muffins keep in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days [I also flash freeze mine in a tray and then drop into a large freezer bag so I can take one out for breakfast every day].

Continued after the jump...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Baked Frittata

Baked frittata

I feel guilty that I haven't told you about this frittata yet, not just because I make it all the time, but because it's so easy, so delicious and so infinitely adaptable, that everyone should have something like it in their bag of tricks. I pull this particular one out when I have eight ten twelve guests for brunch (even if one of them is a small itty bitty person) and I don't want to spend the whole day in the kitchen in preparation for the event. Don't get me wrong, I love my guests... but this weather - this warm, lovely, springy weather that brings hints of honeysuckle and strawberries in the air - is tempting me to spend time outside, and so something has to give. Fortunately, in the case of this frittata, it's definitely not taste.

Baked frittata

There's really nothing to it - you break 12 eggs into a big bowl, add in some whole milk and a pinch of salt, pepper and whatever herbs you have lying around, and pour the whole thing over fresh-from-the-market vegetables (or not, I won't tell), sprinkle a handful of cheese on top, stick the whole thing in the oven and forget about it for an hour or so until the guests arrive. It bakes up tender and golden, warm and a little crusty on top and around the edges. It's also especially irresistible during a Sunday brunch, when the sun is pouring into the windows and Louis Armstrong is playing on the radio. Mimosas help too, but don't tell my mom I'm advising it.

Baked Frittata (with spinach, cheddar and cherry tomatoes)
serves 10-12

Needless to say, you can throw whatever herbs, vegetables and cheeses into the mix. Sundried tomatoes, asparagus and goat cheese might be nice, as would sauteed leeks and gruyere. A handful of chopped green onions would be really great too. I like to throw in a bit of chopped parseley and dill or sprinkle in some herbes de Provence for an added fragrance and freshness, but the whole point of this dish is that you should follow your own imagination and make it any way you want.

12 eggs
1 1/2 - 2 cups whole milk
1 lb spinach, stems removed (or use organic frozen chopped spinach, defrosted)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
a large handful of grated cheese (cheddar, gruyere, mozarella, etc)
handful of chopped parseley and dill
1 teaspoon salt

Turn the oven to 400F. Butter a 9"x13" pan.

If using fresh spinach: melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet, chop the spinach and sautee it with garlic for several minutes until wilted and soft. Squeeze out excess liquid. If using frozen: defrost and squeeze out excess liquid, then mix in the garlic.

Spread spinach in the bottom of the 9x13 pan. Halve the cherry tomatoes and scatter them on top of the spinach. Scatter the parseley and dill on top as well.

Break 12 eggs into a large bowl and whisk with the milk, the salt and the pepper until fully combined.

Pour over the vegetables. Some will float - that's ok - in fact, it's good. Grab a large handful of grated cheddar (or other cheese of your preference) and scatter on top of the eggs.

Set into the oven and bake until golden and completely set in the middle, about 60-70 minutes (jiggle to make sure - an extra 5-10 minutes in the oven won't kill it).

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