Sunday, February 15, 2015

Temporary Redirection

This blog has been rather quiet for some time, but it certainly hasn't been due to any lack of activity. For a while now I've been working on a plan to devote more time to "the baking thing", and while this seems rather counter-intuitive from the perspective of this site, that required less time devoted to writing about it and more time actually doing something about it. First up, the condo and the bills associated with it had to go. If I was ever going to give baking a real shot I'd need to leave my stressful and time consuming job, but to do that I had to get rid of the expensive mortgage and bills that depended on that job. And so I spent months and months doing various home improvements and going through rounds and rounds of purging. It's amazing how much stuff you can amass in nine years! For a long time people couldn't come and visit me without leaving with bags and bags of random things from my many seemingly bottomless closets. I had a friend come over and help me sort though the remainder of my things for what I'd actually need and what could eliminated/donated, and then I had another friend come and help move furniture and stage the place. Once everything was about as ready as possible, I called a realtor...and this is where the entire plan fell apart. I knew the market was bad and I certainly wasn't expecting to make money on the sale, but the picture he painted for me was so bleak that I dropped the whole thing for six months with a slightly depressed air of defeat.

Things stayed pretty stressful at work as the people around me kept changing, and the workload kept increasing, and my mindset about the whole thing kept deteriorating, but it wasn't until spring when I'd decided that I needed to stop waiting and start making serious changes, no matter the cost. There would never be a perfect time and so now will just have to do. I put my home on the market and began planning for the future. It took dozens of showings and several months of keeping the house clean and my bed made every morning, but I got lucky and several months after the whole thing started, I'd received an offer. The call actually came on my birthday and I immediately started calling family and whooping for joy over the phone. Closing, of course, took a few months, and being a bit skittish and superstitious, I waited until everything was final before putting in my rather generous notice at work, so it wasn't until Christmas that I found myself living back at my parent's house with all my remaining stuff in their basement, homeless, jobless, but absolutely ecstatic with life and how things turned out.

Before I devote all my time and effort into making baking, and possibly blogging, a full-time career, I've decided to take a few months sabbatical and travel the world. So all this is to say that don't count me out on this blog just yet, I'll definitely be back, but for now, if you want to follow my travels please visit me at Baker Gypsy. I'd love to hear from you as I feed this travel bug.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup and Little Goat Bread

This is probably going to be the only time that I make a recipe, have something new to share with you, get a picture taken and a post put together all within 24 hours! Don't get used to it, there's no way the stars will align in quite the same way again.

While you're here though, I have some things to share with you. First of all, yesterday brought a new addition  to one place near and dear to my heart, Chicago's French Market. Mostly because that's where I go when I don't have time to pack a lunch for work, and while there are lots of great places there to pick from, it's always nice to see a new option, especially when its a new venture by the can't-do-anything-wrong Stephanie Izard, who brought her Little Goat Bread sandwiches and freshly baked loaves east a few blocks to a stand right across the street from my office. The line was predictably insane at lunch time, but I went a bit late and waited patiently for the slightly harried but undeniably cool under pressure Stephanie to hand me my roast beef sandwich stuffed with kimchi and pickles. Not bad, but the best part was the wreath shaped loaf of carrot, cumin and walnut bread. YUM! This crusty loaf with chewy insides was incredible. The spices were right on and the large chunks of walnuts baked in were lovely. If you're in the neighborhood, I highly recommend you make your way down there and pick up a loaf to try for yourself. As for me, I had mine in hand and I just had to make something extra special to go with it.

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup 3

I had some broccoli in the fridge waiting for inspiration and some shredded cheddar leftover from another recipe so I decided that a nice cheesy broccoli soup would be perfect. I wanted something a bit lighter or at least more packed with veggies, I mean broccoli soup sounds healthy, but all that goes out the window when you add three pounds of cheese and butter. I did a bit of research and landed on a lovely recipe from another never-fail source, America's Test Kitchen. They had a great method for cooking down the broccoli faster, didn't use too much cheese, only a little bit of butter and no cream. It came out delicious, and that spoon in the picture is purely for show, I used the bread to mop up the soup and I'll do it again tomorrow.

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup
adapted slightly from America's Test Kitchen

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 pounds broccoli, florets roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsps dry mustard powder
Pinch cayenne pepper
1tsp salt
2–3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 bunch baby spinach, roughly chopped leaves (I left out the stems)
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated fine (about 3/4 cup), plus extra for serving
Ground black pepper

1. Heat butter in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides and the butter begins to brown and develops a light nutty scent, add broccoli, onion, garlic, dry mustard, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water and baking soda. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook until broccoli is very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring once about halfway through. You may think that the cup of water will not be enough, but for me, the lid of the dutch oven kept all the steam inside and the cup of water provided the perfect amount of liquid to keep things going and nothing burned or even stuck to the pot.

2. Once the broccoli is nice and mushy, add the broth and 1 cup of water and increase heat to medium-high. When mixture begins to simmer, stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer half of soup to a blender, add cheddar and Parmesan, and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer soup to medium bowl and repeat with remaining soup. You can also just leave everything in the pot, add the cheeses and use your immersion blender to puree the lot, that'll save you some extra dishes to wash. Return soup to Dutch oven, place over medium heat and bring to simmer. Adjust consistency of soup with up to 1 cup water if you like, but I kept mine as is because I like thicker soups. Season to taste with salt and pepper and server hot with a slice or two of your favorite crusty bread.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gluten Free Cheddar and Polenta Waffle Sandwich

I just realized that it has been months since I've written about anything that wasn't cake or dessert related, and while even my blog name has "cake" in it, a girl's gotta eat too, no matter how busy things get. Last week I dropped by a friend's house with a bag of groceries and I waited on the doorstep until she came home, tired and starving from a long hard day at work. Once inside, she poured us two glasses of wine and told me about the crappy day she had while I heated up the waffle iron and mixed up the batter. This is the fastest breakfast/lunch/dinner idea ever and we were sitting down and catching up (ahem...venting) before you could say "Can I get a refill on the wine?"

It went so well that I had to make them again when my cousin and my sister came by for breakfast. Okay, by the time they got going it was lunch, but this would have worked for either meal. I also made dessert waffles, but I have a feeling they need more work before I can share them with you. As for these, I'm told they freeze really well and can be reheated in a toaster, but I've made them twice now and I have no leftovers to speak of, so I can neither confirm or deny that claim.

  Cheddar Polenta Sandwich

Gluten Free Cheddar and Polenta Waffle Sandwich
Adapted from Joy the Baker, who in turn adapted it from Lena Kwak of The French Laundry. I swapped out the cheddar for gruyere, and cut down the butter a bit (I know, I know, but it didn't need the extra). I also used the gluten free mix I used before in my scones. Seriously, this stuff is awesome!

1 cup water
1/2 cup dried polenta
6 Tbsp (3oz) unsalted butter, cut into large cubes
1 cup milk
1 cup Jeanne's GF flour mix
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 egg
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 Tbsp chopped chives

sliced Granny Smith apple
several slices of prosciutto or salami
several slices of brie
fresh spinach or baby greens

- Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan, add polenta and cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the butter until melted and incorporated.  Mix in the cold milk and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, garlic powder, and cayenne.
Pour the cooled polenta mixture over the dry ingredients,  add the egg and whisk until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated.  Fold in the cheese and chives just until the mixture is uniform. Waffle batter will be thick.
- Cook waffles according to waffle machine instructions, but keep an eye on it, I found that my waffles needed an extra few minutes on the iron to crisp up and finish cooking.  The batter doesn't expand too much but you probably want to stick to about 1/4 cup of batter for each section.
- Top one waffle with the brie as soon as it's out of the iron, top with several slices of apple, a slice or two of prosciutto or salami, and some greens and top with another waffle. Squish it down a bit or it may be too tall to stuff into your mouth, but I'm sure you'll figure out a way to make that work. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chocolate Blackberry Forest Cake

I love random dinner invitations and when you are invited by someone who's a fantastic cook, well that just makes it that much better. So when friends I haven't talked to in months called (I'm terrible at staying in touch) and invited me for dinner, I signed right up before I even asked "What'cha makin'?".  It was a few days later, over OMG pork! and a few glasses of wine that we broached the subject of a birthday cake for their son's birthday party. I usually prefer making cakes for adults because kids tend to not like it when you get too creative and get very picky, but the cool thing about my friends' kids is that they'll try almost anything, so the only thing off the table was booze. In hindsight the coffee I added was probably not really appreciated either, but there wasn't THAT much and I didn't even think about it until it was too late. Plus, if you are not good at planning ahead and your berries are still frozen, adding hot coffee helps extract every bit of juice from them when you sieve them, plus it boosts the chocolate flavor in the cake making the addition doubly useful.

Blackberry Juice

I'll admit that the blackberry puree got a bit lost in the cake, what with all the cocoa and coffee in there, but I believe it still added a dimension to the flavor and supported the theme. The cake came out light and fluffy and beautiful. I had to take a picture of the mix before I stirred it up, it looked too much like a funky lava lamp or the surface of Mars.

Chocolate Blackberry Batter

I debated adding fresh blackberries in between the layers, but it's not exactly blackberry season and I definitely wanted an intense layer of blackberry to cut through the sweetness of the frosting, so I whipped up a quick jam. I guess I could have bought it, but it's hard to find it seedless, plus I had everything to just make my own on hand, and my own wouldn't be as sweet as anything found in stores, so win win.


I also debated on making a chocolate mousse filling, but I wanted the cake to stand tall so I went with something sturdier. The addition of caramel instead of just warm cream makes the ganache sweeter and gives it more character, but I did make sure to use dark chocolate only to make sure the sweetness didn't get out of hand (the original recipe used milk chocolate, and I usually disagree with that on every level).

Chocolate Caramel Ganache

The most fun were the decorations, so while the cakes were on their racks cooling, while the ganache was coming to room temperature, and while the jam was setting up, I sat down and played with fondant. (The meringue mushrooms were made the night before).


Once it was all layered, spread, frosted, piped, topped and swirled, I think it came out rather well. The cake is taller then it seems, but I wanted to show you the top more then the height. The birthday boy seemed pretty excited when I took the cake over and kept peeking into the box. And I, of course, stayed for dinner once more (P.S. H, if you're reading this, I still need that lamb recipe!).

Chocolate Blackberry Forest

Chocolate Blackberry Owl

Chocolate Blackberry Hedgehog 

Chocolate Blackberry Forest Cake
Chocolate caramel frosting was adapted from Bon Appetit, the cake recipe was generously adapted from Love and Olive Oil, the rest I kind of threw together as I went along.

Blackberry Coffee Puree:
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blackberries (I used frozen and it worked just fine)
1 cup freshly brewed coffee

Blackberry Chocolate Cake:
3 cups sugar
2 2/3 cups  flour
1 1/4 cup dark or dutch-processed cocoa powder
3 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 3/4 cups blackberry puree, recipe above
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Caramel Ganache Frosting:
27 oz dark or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar 
1/2 cup water 
2 1/4 cups whipping cream

Quick Blackberry Jam:
1lb fresh or frozen blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp no-sugar needed pectin


1 8oz package of cream cheese, at room temp
1 4oz stick of butter, at room temp
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 batch of Meringue Mushrooms from Joy of Cooking
Some fondant and candy coating for the owl and hedgehog
Some fresh blackberries

Blackberry Puree: 
- Combine your berries and the coffee in a blender and puree until there are no chunks. 
- Strain 1 3/4 cups of the mixture into a measuring cup and discard the seeds and solids.

Blackberry Chocolate Cake:
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter and line three 9-inch round baking pans with parchment paper. Butter parchment. Also prepare 1 cupcake cup if you're making the tree stump.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Add eggs, buttermilk, blackberry puree, oil, and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Divide evenly among prepared pans (and one tiny cupcake cup).
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (check on the cupcake at about 20 minutes to make sure it doesn't overcook). Remove from oven and place on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Run a small knife around the edges of each pan, then gently invert onto wire racks and allow to cool completely.

Chocolate Caramel Ganache Frosting:
- Put the chopped chocolate into a large bowl, or the bowl of your mixer, and set aside. 
- Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber color, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 10 minutes. Do not walk away as it can go from deep caramel to burnt in no time at all. 
- Carefully and slowly add whipping cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over low heat until any hard caramel bits dissolve and mixture is smooth. Pour caramel over chocolate; let stand 1 minute to allow chocolate to soften, then whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth. 
- Let the chocolate-caramel frosting come completely to room temperature, giving it a stir now and then so that the top doesn't crust over, about 2 hours.

Quick Blackberry Jam:
- Combine the berries, sugar and lemon juice in a medium pan set over high heat and cook for about 10 minutes until the berries soften and release most of their liquid. 
- I didn't want seeds in my jam so at this point I removed everything off the heat and strained it, pressing on the solids to get every bit of juice out. You can do this or skip this step if seeds don't bother you, your call.
- Pour the strained juice back into the pan, bring to a strong boil and let it bubble for 2 minutes. Stir in the pectin, allow the mixture to come back to boil and let it simmer for 2 minutes. 
- Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Don't worry if it still looks a little thin, the pectin will start doing it's job and everything will thicken as it cools.

- Place one of the cake layers on a plate and spread about a cup of the ganache over it, going all the way to the edge. Spread some of the blackberry jam over the ganache, stopping about an inch from the edge. Top with another layer of cake an repeat. Top with the final layer of cake and spread a thin layer of frosting around the top and sides. Chill the cake for 20 minutes or so to let it firm up.
- Reserve some frosting for the stump (if you're doing that) or decorations, and spread the rest over the sides and top of the cake. Decorate with reserved frosting and maybe a few fresh blackberries and chill for at least an hour to let it set. Serve at room temperature.

- If you want to recreate the forest like I did you'll need to place your baked cupcake on top of the cake and frost that as well. Pipe some of the frosting around the trunk with a round tip to simulate the roots and bark and draw the cracks on top with a toothpick.
- Make half a batch of the meringue mushrooms as described at the Joy of Cooking link provided above. I also painted the bottoms of the caps with some chocolate to simulate the gills of the mushrooms (and make sure that the caps stayed on).
- Make the owl and hedgehog shapes out of fondant and paint with some colored candy coating. I used a candy diamond for the owl's beak and two candy eyes. For the hedgehog I used two large blue sprinkles for the eyes and used small scissors to snip along his back to create the spikes and painted him with some melted chocolate.
- Make a quick cream cheese frosting by whipping the softened cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar with some green food coloring until uniform and light. Use the grass tip and pipe all over the top of the cake to simulate the grass. Place your mushrooms and critters on the grass, and maybe a blackberry cluster like I did to show what's inside, and chill for at least an hour to let it set. Serve at room temperature. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chocolate Butterscotch Cake

The weather has been rather ADD around here lately. Yesterday was warm and sporadically sunny, but great big lazy drops of rain would fall on me whenever I ventured outside and would stop whenever I went back in. I try not to take such behavior personally. Today it's cold and drizzly with a 5 minute lightning and thunder storm that popped in to say hi and dissipated before I could even find my umbrella. Despite the weather, my sisters came over last night and we went out to a lovely new restaurant over in my neighborhood, Found. The friendly bartender recommended a bottle of Cahors, and explained that it's the original French malbec, before Argentina got their hands on it, and is often cheaper than it's more popular cousin (I count that as the one new thing I learned that day). The delicious kale salad, the fried oyster tacos, the pistachio meatballs, the impossibly crispy chicken wings, and the decadent Turkish coffee gelato sundae were only surpassed by the 3 hour conversation as we lingered at our table and flipped through books that were technically part of the decor. If you're in the area, or thinking of visiting, I'd definitely recommend you stop in for a while, you won't regret it.

But you're here for the cake, not restaurant recommendations or my gripes about the weather, and this one does not disappoint. This cake seems smaller in the picture then it was in real life; it's like the messages written on rear-view mirrors in cars, so please come closer. This baby consisted of 4 layers of butterscotch cake, each layer drizzled with a bit of chocolate rum sauce, filled and covered with generous layers of butterscotch frosting, and garnished with ganache for an extra accent of chocolate. In real life, this cake came out huge. The towering beast was made for a friend's birthday a few months back and after it fed over 30 people there were nothing but crumbs left on the plate (which is why, once again, there are no pictures of the insides).

Chocolate Butterscotch Cake

Chocolate Butterscotch Cake
Adapted generously from Martha Stewart and the sauce is from Death by Chocolate. Note: The frosting will require some time to cool and set so you should start on that early, or even the day before to make sure you have everything ready when you go to assemble the cake.

For the Frosting:
12 ounces unsalted butter (3 sticks), 1 stick left whole, 2 sticks cut into small pieces, softened
2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp coarse salt
20 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

For the Cake Layers:

Pam baking spray, for pans (or some melted butter and flour)
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 tsp coarse salt
10 ounces (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp dark rum
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature

For the Chocolate Rum Sauce:
6 oz unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
8 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa, sifted
3 Tbsp dark rum
1/4 tsp salt
4 tsps instant coffee
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache Garnish (optional):
6oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp unsalted butter

1. Melt 1 stick butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until dark golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add brown sugar, cream, and salt, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, and cook for 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, and let cool.

2. Once the sauce has cooled and thickened turn your mixer on low and with the machine running, add remaining butter, a few pieces at a time, and beat on low until incorporated. Raise speed to medium, and beat for 2 minutes. In another bowl, beat cream cheese and confectioners' sugar on medium-high until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add brown-butter mixture to cream cheese, and beat until smooth. Cover, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours (or overnight, beating on low speed before using).

3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans with Baker's Pam, line with parchment, and coat parchment (or grease and flour with a bit of melted butter and a light dusting of flour). Set aside.

4. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

5. Beat butter and brown sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then add vanilla and rum. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk. Raise speed to medium-high, and beat for 2 minutes. Divide batter among pans.

6. Bake cakes until golden brown and testers inserted in centers come out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks, and let cool slightly. Invert cakes onto racks. Let cool completely.

7. Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil and lower the heat, then allow to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool completely.

8. Chop up the chocolate and put into a bowl. Heat up the cream and the butter in a small pan just until the first bubbles appear at the edges then pour over the chocolate. Whisk everything together until the chocolate is all melted and incorporated and set it aside to cool to room temp and thicken.

9. To assemble the cake, trim tops of the 2 cake layers and then halve each one diagonally to make 4 layers, and place one on your serving plate, cut side up. Brush 1/4 cup chocolate rum sauce on the cut side of each cake layer including the one on the serving plate. Spread 3/4 cup frosting on the bottom layer, top with another cake layer sauce side down, spread more sauce on that and repeat, stopping when the last layer is up on top. Basically you want some sauce on both sides of each layer except the top and bottom with frosting in between. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top and sides (your crumb coat). Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour, and then spread remaining frosting on top and sides of cake. Pipe on your decorations with the cooled ganache or you can just rewarm it a bit and pour it over the top letting it drip down the sides if you like. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours (or up to 2 days, covered).