Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Crème Brulée

creme brulee closeup

[recipe here]

Oh, how I have been looking forward to this day! Delicious, crispy caramel shell, atop a sea of creamy goodness. Darling crème brulée, you are possibly the best non-chocolate dessert around. Mari, I thank you profusely for picking it for this week's TWD challenge :)

creme brulee with cream and egg

Honestly, I had no idea that making crème brulée would be so easy! The only really hard thing about it was that looong wait for the custards to chill before torching 'em. Three hours at least?! Intolerable. ;)

cream heating up

Confession: I didn't have any milk around... so I used all cream. (I know, who has cream but not milk?? Weirdo.) I didn't think it would really hurt anything (except maybe my arteries), so I went ahead with it.

egg mixture with whisk

My custard did take a much longer time to set up in the oven than the recipe said it would. I thought it was the lack of milk, but I read that a bunch of other bakers had the same issue. Anyway, it still ended up being yumtious!

custard pre-baking

I also cut the recipe down to 1/3 of the original, which turned out to be the exact right amount for four of these adorable, tiny ramekins I found at Whole Foods.

custard post-baking

As some of you know, I had some issues getting my spankin' new blowtorch to work (btw, thanks again to Sula for the awesome gift!!) My words of advice for new blowtorch owners are:

  1. Do not attempt to fill it with the butane canister UPRIGHT. (Worst diagram ever!) They both need to be upside down, or the torch will just fill with air.
  2. When you are "bleeding" something, the thing you want to be bleeding is the AIR out of the TORCH.
  3. If it is not working, invest in some compressed air, and use it liberally to blast all surfaces (and innards) of the torch.
  4. Check out this website (click the Maintenance button and scroll down to Maintenance Guide) for more troubleshooting tips.

Anyway, I eventually got it working :)

butane torch

The stop motion video is back! I thought it would be cool to relive the caramelization :)

And here is my favorite part:

creme brulee closeup - cracked


Love it.

Thanks again for the pick, Mari. You rule! :) The recipe is over at Mari's blog, Mevrouw Cupcake. Also, don't forget to check out all of the other wonderful bakers at TWD! Note that the lovely ladies in charge are capping the group at the end of October, so it's now or never if you are thinking of joining us! :)


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lemon Blueberry Basil Cupcakes

cross section of cupcake

[skip to the recipe]

I was really intrigued when I learned this month's ingredient for Iron Cupcake:Earth was basil! Don't get me wrong, I love basil; but I'd never considered using it in a cupcake before. In any case, I welcomed the challenge!

(I also didn't have any basil left over for my garnish... so I went a little crazy with the food coloring, as you can see above ;) )

closeup of basil

I felt that basil was close enough to mint that the flavors would work in a similar way. So, I decided early on to use lemon and blueberry as my two other cupcake flavors.

cupcake with painted basil background

The cupcakes ended up being delicious! I incorporated the flavors together by making a lemon cake with blueberry sauce filling and topping it with basil buttercream. I made the buttercream by flavoring a simple syrup with chopped basil, which really brought a super concentrated basil flavor to the syrup.

cupcake striptease

Iron Cupcake:Earth is a monthly competition for the best cupcake using the theme ingredient. The voting begins on September 27 on No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner!

This month's prizes are provided by the following sponsors!
HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson

With no further ado, here is my recipe for Lemon Blueberry Basil Cupcakes!

Lemon Blueberry Basil Cupcakes
Adapted from Lemon Layer Cake on foodnetwork.com. For me, this made 15 cupcakes with a #16 disher. It was a very light and fluffy cake, and the batter tasted almost like a mousse. Not that I ate any of it...

  • 170g cake flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t baking soda
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 160g granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 t vanilla (I use vanilla paste, because I always splash the extract everywhere)
  • zest of 1/2 lemon (zest the whole thing and use half in the Blueberry Syrup)
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1 recipe Blueberry Sauce (below)
  • 1 recipe Basil Buttercream (below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/175 degrees C. Ready a cupcake pan with baking liners, or place liners on a baking sheet if they are sturdy enough. Sift together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt).

Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium for a minute until smooth, and add sugar gradually. Increase speed to medium high and beat for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and lemon zest. Reduce speed to low and add lemon juice.

Add dry ingredients alternately with the milk. Beat until just combined; do not overbeat.

Distribute the batter among the cupcake liners. (One good thing about using the nut & party cups is that you can fit an odd number of them on a baking sheet.)

cupcake batter in liners

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the tops just begin to brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Let the cupcakes cool on a cooling rack until they are room temperature. Fill cupcakes by using a melon baller or similar tool to scoop out the middle, then fill the hole with Blueberry Sauce and cover with the top of the piece you scooped out.




Once all of the cupcakes are filled, spread or pipe on the Basil Buttercream. I decorated these by painting stripes of gel food coloring inside the piping bag and piping with a large closed star tip.

food coloring paintbrush

inside of piping bag

finished cupcakes

Blueberry Sauce
Adapted from Blueberry Sauce on joyofbaking.com. I filled my cupcakes very full, so I didn't have much left over.

  • 1 dry pint blueberries, washed, with stems picked off
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 100g (1/2 c) granulated sugar
  • pinch salt
  • zest from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 c (120g) water

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients except blueberries together. Mix until all is dissolved.

Add the blueberries to the saucepan and place over medium heat.

Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until it thickens. Cook longer if you want it to be thicker. Cool.

blueberry syrup in saucepan

Basil Buttercream
This is an Italian Meringue Buttercream, adapted from post-gazette.com.

  • 4 egg whites at room temperature (you can use reconstituted dried egg whites or meringue powder also)
  • 1/4 t cream of tartar
  • 3 T superfine sugar
  • 1 recipe Basil Simple Syrup (below)
  • 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60g) water
  • 2 1/2 sticks (285g) butter at room temperature, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces

In a saucepan, combine the Basil Simple Syrup, sugar and water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk egg whites on low until they froth and then add the cream of tartar. Increase speed to medium high and whip until soft peaks form, and gradually add the 3 T of sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form.

While the egg whites are whipping, continue to heat the sugar solution until it reaches a hard-ball stage, 250 degrees F/125 degrees C.

With the mixer running at medium high speed, carefully pour the hot syrup into the mixer bowl, in between the side of the bowl and the moving whisk. Be careful of splatters! Once it is all in, let the mixer run at high speed until the mixture cools and the bowl is cool to the touch.

Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and begin adding the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, adding the next one when the previous one is no longer visible. Once all the butter is in, continue beating the mixture until it is smooth and creamy.

Basil Simple Syrup
Adapted from Minted Simple Syrup on foodnetwork.com. This uses one part water to two parts sugar. If you want to make it ahead of time, this should keep for one or two weeks in the fridge.
  • 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60g) water
  • 140g (5 oz) basil

Chop up the basil by making stacks of the leaves, rolling the stacks into a tube and chopping the tube into strips.

basil stack

basil roll

chopping the basil

In a medium saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water. Add the basil and bring to a boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

chopped basil pile

boiling syrup

Cool and strain out the basil.


Enjoy, and don't forget to check out the Iron Cupcake:Earth blog!

photo of finished cupcake


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Dimply Plum Cake

piece of plum cake with fork

[recipe here]

After the glorious abundance of cookies over the past few weeks, I read a little grumbling on the blogs of my fellow TWD'ers about the amount of chocolate we were using. To that I say: There can never be too much chocolate. However, the grumblers got a bit of a respite this week, since Michelle of Bake-En chose the Dimply Plum cake. Despite the lack of chocolate, it was a very tasty treat! ;)

pile of plums

I was lucky enough to find some of the Italian prune plums in our local market, from Red Jacket Orchards. They looked gorgeous, but the pits were tenacious and I had to really pry some of 'em out.

spreading the batter in the pan

The batter came together easily. I stuck to Dorie's flavoring suggestion and used a drop of the Supreme Spices' cardamom. The batter itself was so tasty—I really liked the subtle mix of orange and cardamom.

plum halves on top of batter

Since the prune plums were an oblong shape, the plum halves were quite tall, and I kind of thought they weren't going to end up being "dimples".

cake in the oven

Luckily, I was wrong :)

cake just out of the oven

There was so much liquid in the plums when the cake came out of the oven! After the required 15-minute cool time, it hadn't all been absorbed back into the fruit, so I gave it another 15 minutes. It still wasn't all absorbed, but at that point I was too impatient to wait any longer, so I flipped it out of the pan.

cake after cooling

The cake tasted very good, and the plums were really juicy and delicious. Personally, I liked it even better the second day, when the cake got even moister and the flavors melded together.

tea set

We got this lovely tea set from one of A.'s coworkers, and I had to photograph it!

piece of plum cake with fork

Yet another delicious TWD success. Now go look through the blogroll and get the recipe from Michelle's blog for the recipe!


Friday, September 19, 2008

Trip to Greece, Part II: Santorini

Read Part I: Crete
Read Part III: Athens
View all images in my gallery

[Warning: another image-laden post ahead!]

Although we had a wonderful time in Crete, we were eager to head to the island of Santorini (AKA Thira), which is famous for its breathtaking views. Seriously... it did not disappoint.

view of the caldera

Thousands of years ago, a giant volcanic explosion transformed Santorini from a round island into something akin to a crescent, which surrounds a caldera filled with water. The view out over the caldera was almost surreal, like being inside a giant painted dome. The island itself is quite small, and it seemed like every step we took revealed a more beautiful view of the cliffs and the blue water.

We stayed at a hotel called the Santorini Princess. It was so gorgeous, and everyone there was very attentive (almost to a fault!) It was much quieter than our hotel in Crete, and there weren't really any kids around.

Santorini Princess

Once we got settled in our room, we went to the hotel restaurant for lunch. They started us off with little crispy breads and dips, which they said were made with "Philadelphia cheese".

breads and dips

Of course, we had to get the spanakopita. It was wonderful.


Then some really delicious meatballs and a sausage casserole:

meatballs in sauce

sausage casserole

And finally, the Santorini Sensation, that I used as the inspiration for cupcakes!

Santorini Sensation

That night, we experienced our first Santorini sunset, and it was GORGEOUS. Everything kind of stops around this time of day and people just kind of stand there and watch the sky. Even the people who live on the island stop to enjoy it.

sunset with moon

The next day, we walked from our hotel to the main city of Fira. (Of course, it took much longer than it should have, because I kept taking photos the whole way ;) ) On the way, we stopped at Remvi Restaurant for a snack. It wasn't the best, but pretty tasty.

Requisite bread:


Followed by eggplant dip and more spanakopita.

eggplant dip


After that, we finally got to Fira, and A. immediately downed two gyros while I was drooling over the dessert cases.

gyro #1

gyro #2

dessert case

Check out the biggest gyro meat hunk ever:

gyro spits

We then stopped into a grocery store just to see if it was very different from our own. There was a lot of fresh produce, including white eggplant, a Greek specialty, and figs. Although most things were pretty similar, the cheese selection was like a gourmet shop here in the states.


white eggplant


The weird things included the eggs not being refrigerated, and the huge selection of boxed wine.


that's good boxed wine

We went to the Taverna Nikolas for dinner, as recommended by our Lonely Planet guidebook. It tasted pretty much like diner food -- solid, tasty, not taking any chances. We got the moussaka, which was easily the most filling thing we ate on the entire trip!


After dinner, we watched the sunset at Tropical Bar, which actually had an American bartender and some good beers. The view was gorgeous, and so was my vodka pineapple.

drink at Tropical Bar

I couldn't pass up the opportunity for some gelato -- this is stracciatella.

drink at Tropical Bar

The next day, we headed to Oia, the city which gives Santorini its whitewashed image. It was beautiful and quaint.


I enjoyed a refreshing frappe and did some more dessert case drooling.


dessert case in Oia

The sunset in Oia was spectacular!

Oia sunset

I persuaded A. to let me get some dessert to bring back to the hotel! Victory :)

blueberry cake

On our last day in Santorini, we went snorkeling during the day and relaxed at the hotel afterwards. A. decided to try some Metaxa, a brandy that is advertised everywhere in Greece. Reactions were unfavorable.

that's bad Metaxa

Our last dinner was basically 4 courses of delicious cheese. The most spectactular of the dishes was this cheese flambe, served here by our favorite waiter, Igor. (Forgive the blurry pic!)

cheese flambe

And with that, our Santorini adventure was over. Luckily, we still had a couple of days left to spend in Athens... stay tuned for the last installment! :)

By the way -- if anyone knows what kind of flower this is, let me know!! :) I think it is adorable!

mystery flower