Luck O’ the Irish Soda Bread

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St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday I fully support. In some ways it is kind of like the kick-off party to spring: it brings in lots of fun, friends and booze. Plus, it’s the only holiday where bearing my freckles is not only acceptable, but encouraged.

The best part of St. Patrick’s Day, in my humble opinion, is Irish soda bread.

Irish soda bread is kind of a funny thing, because when made well it is FANTASTIC and when made poorly it is coarse, dry and just not very good at all. My first experience with Irish soda bread was of the latter variety and I was not particularly excited to give the bread a second chance. However, I had to make it for Home Ec in high school, and much to my surprise, I absolutely loved it. Just goes to show that a good recipe really makes a difference.

I have been using that same recipe from Home Ec ever since. I will note that this recipe yields an Irish soda bread that is moister and cakier than most traditional varieties. I happen to like that better. If a drier bread is what you’re after, then this recipe is not for you. However, I have found that you can compensate for this by overcooking the bread a little. A LITTLE.

The difference between a doughy bread, a slightly crunchier, drier bread, and a burnt bread is, in all seriousness, 5 minutes (or less). So be careful. Generally I find cooking the bread the full 60 minutes will give me a bread that I am very happy with.

So give it a whirl! Let me know what you think! And most importantly, have a very happy St. Patrick’s Day!

One more thing! Don’t skimp on the raisins!

Happy Eating 🙂

3 ½ c flour

¾ c Sugar

2 tsp Baking powder

½ tsp Baking soda

½ tsp Salt

¾ butter, soft

1 egg

1 ¼ c Buttermilk

½-1 c Raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease pan.
  2. Measure flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Mix softened butter to the flour mixture. It should look fairly crumb-y when it is mixed.
  4. Mix buttermilk and egg together in a separate bowl.
  5. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and mix well. The mixture will be VERY thick. Stir in raisins.

1 large loaf = 55-60 minutes or 4 or 5 small loaves = 30 minutes

Dinner Party: Browned Butter Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Browned Butter Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 

Holy hot pants, Batman! This recipe is indescribably awesome. The cake was moist, flavorful, rich and tasted appropriately pumpkin-y. The cream cheese frosting really accented it well.

I think what I like most about this confectionary creation is that both the cake recipe and the frosting recipe stand well on their own. They make one heck of a dream team, but they could definitely release successful solo albums if they so desired.

I love cinnamon (see: Cinnamon and Banana Crumble Muffins)! The cinnamon worked beautifully in this cake, both highlighting the sweetness and the pumpkin flavor simultaneously. It was just really great. Not overwhelming in anyway, and my dad said he would have liked it if I hadn’t told him there was pumpkin in it (high praise from a man who would form a lobbyist group against vegetables).

A slice of yumKeep it easy on the frosting though. While the frosting recipe I’ve listed below (from Cake Boss by Buddy Valastro) is just dreamy, overindulging on the frosting could cause the end result to be a little too sweet. I made one batch of frosting, and used about ¾ of it to frost the cake. My guests and I felt this was appropriate. There was enough frosting to add a presence, but not enough to over sweeten and steal the show. Note: I take a little bit of sugar with my sugar… so if I’m putting out a potential sugar overload advisory then take heed.

A word on cream cheese frosting: it melts.

I would not recommend it for a frosting amateur, like myself.

The cake is so moist!

The cake is so moist!

You have to work very quickly, because as it warms up, it melts and thins and becomes a sticky mess. I was legitimately up to my elbows in frosting. I had grander design plans, but ended up not being able to execute them. At one point I found myself torn between throwing the half frosted cake at the wall and crying in a cream cheese covered heap on the floor. The spiky frosting design you see in the picture was a last minute improvisation, which I undertook to save my sanity.  All things considered, I think Plan B worked better than I initially hoped for (success?).

So, if you glean any value from my blog (any at all) I hope it is that cream cheese frosting is not for the faint hearted and heavy handed.

But then again… anything that tastes that good is surely worth the effort!

Happy Eating 🙂

Cream Cheese Frosting (Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro)

16 oz cream cheese

8 tbsp unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cups powdered sugar

  1. Put the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and paddle at medium speed until creamy (approx. 30 seconds).
  2. With the motor running, pour in the vanilla and paddle for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, a little at a time, and mix until smooth, approx 1 minute after the last addition.
  3. Use right away (seriously!), or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

The Little Gingerbread House That Could

I saw the string lights in the store and HAD to have them.

This year was the first year that I made a gingerbread house. Not the first year I made one from scratch… the first year I made one at all. I’m not quite sure how it’s escaped my attention for so long. Well, it has no longer!

Having never made one before, I initially underestimated how time-consuming this project would be. If you do not have several hours on 3 consecutive days to commit to the project then you should probably either make a gingerbread house with a kit or decorate Christmas cookies.

That said, I feel very proud of whatGingerbread House (side) I’ve accomplished and I did have a lot of fun.

I chose this recipe, which I found on epicurious.com. The cookie is tasty and flavorful. My house is also very sturdy (it has been decorating my window sill for about a week and looks no worse for the wear).

A word of caution before using this recipe: it makes A LOT of gingerbread. I could have constructed a gingerbread metropolis and New York State would have been forced to assign it a zip code. I didn’t make the templates that are specified in the recipe, I bought cookie cutters from Target. My cookie cutters were much smaller than the template, but still yielded a nice sized house. I had plenty of extra gingerbread to make gingerbread men, Santa and all eight of his reindeer. I also made a very pretty Christmas tree that I wanted to add to my gingerbread house display. You may have noticed that there is no gingerbread tree in any of the pictures I’ve posted. That is because someone ate my tree! I would recommend that you hide your construction materials from watering mouths and snatching fingers until you are ready to assemble the house.

For the most part, the project ran quite smoothly. I did have a bit of difficulty when I was cutting the dough. After cooling the dough overnight, I needed to let it warm up slightly before I could roll it out. There is a very small window of time when the dough is warm enough to be worked with, and yet not too warm, which causes the dough to lose its shape. My gingerbread became somewhat crooked when I transferred it to my baking sheets. I think this is because of the molasses. While you never want to let any refrigerated cookie dough become too warm, once the gingerbread warmed up (~10 minutes) it would no longer hold its shape properly. This resulted in my house’s edges being not quite even.  Despite that, I did not have many difficulties assembling the house and you can’t really tell it is uneven unless you look at it closely.

Gingerbread House (aerial)

I did have a few hiccups with my choice of red licorice. I bought a cheap one that was wrapped up like a rope in its packaging. Unfortunately, this caused the licorice to have a curve to it and thus my door is crooked. I was going to use the same material to make windows, but when the door did not turn out as planned I opted to nix the windows. I would definitely recommend buying licorice that is in straight lines in its packaging. That should have remedied the problem. Also, I think choosing a really thin licorice, like I did, puts a lot of pressure on you to be very neat in your icing application. Even if my door was straight, the icing seeping out from under it looks messy. I think a thicker licorice would minimize that.

Overall, I would say this was a really fun project. It is ideal for a small group of people to do together.  My brother helped me decorate the house. When I told him he could not eat the house until after I built it, he suddenly became very determined to help me finish. I wonder if this has anything to do with the mystery of my missing Christmas tree? Anyway, despite his ulterior motives he did come up with the idea to put icing on the chimney. Initially I was annoyed that he went rogue with my icing, but then I realized that snow on the chimney was really adorable. I’ll never admit this to him though. It is a hard day in the life of an older sister when you realize your younger brother thought of something clever that you didn’t.

I hope you enjoyed my Christmas project. I am now in the process of putting together a dinner party for some friends, which should be lots of fun. I am also very excited because, from the deep recesses of a cupboard, I just unearthed  my grandmother’s cookbook from the 1940’s. Will provide updates as I make progress on both the dinner party and investigating The Settlement Cook Book (possibly will occur simultaneously).

Aren't the Christmas tree lollipops adorable?

Happy Eating 🙂

Snowflake Cake: To Fondant or Not to Fondant?

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If you look closely, you should be able to see the sparkle from the cake dust. It creates a very nice snowy effect.

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Having the fondant stick around an edge was tricky. I think it worked reasonably well.

If you are anything like me, then you love to watch baking shows. I like the ones with competitions, the ones about a bakery and the good ol’ fashioned this-is-how-you-make-this-at-home ones. I like it all.

While salivating in front of my TV I did notice that fondant has become very trendy. I come from a family where everyone has a homemade birthday cake, and frosting from a can is unthinkable. I don’t even like thinking about it now.

I had never tried a cake with fondant. I had no idea what it was really like. It was just a big sugary question mark in my mind. I had heard some rumours that fondant isn’t very tasty. Maybe I’m too conventional, but I was apprehensive about putting something that isn’t tasty on my very tasty cake.

Still, some of the work that people do with fondant is really amazing. I always marvel over Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes (not the surrounding drama, just the cake decorating). Fondant enables you to do decorative things that are probably impossible to do with buttercream. Also, a layer of fondant over your cake creates a nice, neat, flat surface, which is harder to do with buttercream (you may have noticed that my frosting skills can use some improvement).

There are definitely valid reasons to use fondant. My question was, “Is it really worth it?” Expertly decorated or not, cakes are meant to be eaten. I have an endless amount of appreciation for extreme cake decorating (when the cake looks like a pirate ship, or the Eiffel Tower etc), but if the taste does not live up to the pretty picture… then I just don’t see the point!  So to bring an end to a lot of ado… I went to Michael’s and bought fondant.

My initial reaction is that kneading it into a workable texture is a lot like playing with Play Dough. No complaints from me there. My next step was to do the obvious: rip off a tiny piece and taste it. Now I have complaints: I found it to be flavorless and it felt like I had swallowed some gum. Footnote: you can flavor fondant, but that isn’t going to fix the gum-like consistency issue. Still, I’d come so far… I took out the rolling pin and covered my counter in confectionary sugar. In my opinion, the time to back out is well before you’ve made a mess of your kitchen.

I made some very pretty snowflakes (I felt like being festive for the holiday season), which I dusted in pearl cake dust (also, from Michaels. I am definitely a big fan of the cake dust). I pressed the snowflakes onto the cake (vanilla buttercream is the most delcious adhesive). The snowflakes that bend around an edge in the cake did not stick quite as well as the ones that were completely flat, but I suppose that is to be expected.

I thought the cake was very pretty (for a first fondant attempt). I would like to be a little more ambitious next time. Still, this was only my first date with fondant, so I’d like it get it know it a bit better before things get wild.

Much to my relief, on the finished product, you could not even taste the fondant. It seems that in small doses, fondant blends into the background, which is a good thing. I’ve never tried a cake that has a lot of fondant on it. I encourage anyone who has to leave a comment sharing your thoughts. I don’t know what to expect from a cake with a lot of fondant, but I am curious.

I also readily acknowledge that I did not make my fondant myself. I don’t know that it would make a significant difference in taste. I find that DIY is usually better than store bought. The reason I did not make the fondant from scratch is that since I had never used it, I really had no idea what kind of consistency I should be looking for. By the time I finish using the package of fondant I bought, I will probably be comfortable enough to try making it myself.

I’ve included the recipe for both the vanilla cake and vanilla buttercream. I love them individually and together. I’ve experimented with different recipes on occasion, but this is what I always come back to. Some things are classic for a reason.

I am planning to make from scratch a very extravagant gingerbread house. Keep on watch for the results. I may even break out the fondant.

Happy Eating 🙂

Vanilla Cake

2 2/3 cup sifted flour

3 ½ tsp baking powder

¾ tsp salt

¾ cup butter

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

1 cup milk

  1. Lightly butter and flour 2 9’’ cake pans and preheat oven to 375F
  2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla extract.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  4. In a separate bowl (I just use the measuring cup) combine flour, baking soda and salt.
  5. Alternate between adding flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool before removing from pans. The cakes should be completely cool when you frost them.

Vanilla Buttercream

1 lb Domino Confectioners 10-X Sugar

½ cup soft butter

1/8 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla extract

3-4 tbsp milk

  1. Cream 1/3 of sugar with butter and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Blend in vanilla extract, 2 tbsp milk and remaining sugar into the mixture.
  3. Gradually still remaining milk into frosting until desired spreading consistency is reached.

Cinnamon and Banana Crumble Muffins

Cinnamon and bananas is one of my favorite flavor combinations. I even contemplated it as a name for this blog because I love it so much! I found this recipe on allrecipes.com and I think it is really delicious. If you are skeptical, on allrecipes.com it has 5 stars and almost 7500 reviews. If almost 7500 people can agree something is delicious then it is probably worth investigating. Right?

I did tweak the recipe slightly…

I added 1 tsp vanilla extract and 3 tsp cinnamon to the muffin batter and in the muffin crumble used 1/4 tsp cinnamon instead of 1/8 tsp cinnamon. In my opinion the cinnamon was not at all overpowering, and gave a nice undercurrent of flavor to the muffins. If you aren’t hot for cinnamon then try the original recipe first. You can always spice things up next time.

In addition, I strongly recommend using very ripe bananas. The recipe does not specify this, but I am. If you use bananas that are not ripe enough your muffins will not have a strong and rich banana flavor. I once made banana bread (one of my all time favorite recipes, I will post it next time I make it) with yellow bananas without many spots… it wasn’t the same, trust me! Or don’t. Your choice entirely. Either way, if you have thoughts, a similar recipe or other recommendation let me know.

Happy Eating 🙂

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End result. Wish they rose a little bit more, but were very delicious!

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Ideal banana muffin/bread bananas. Penguin sticker: optional.