Sweet snack alternative: Puffed wheat “kettlecorn”

15 Apr

I came upon some puffed wheat cereal in the store and decided to give it a try as a nice whole-grain option for breakfast.  I expected it to be more dense, but it is so light and airy that it immediately reminded me of popcorn.  I was really excited to roll with that and try to put my own spin on it, making a healthier kettlecorn using maple syrup.  The end result makes a yummy snack, but I won’t lie that there was a moment after I finished where I was like “Ohhhh, I just made honey nut cheerios…”.  I could probably just buy honey nut cheerios, but I like to think this is an “elevated” version.

The candy coating on this snack is very minimal, so you don’t get the same kind of clumping that you would expect from caramel corn, which has that satisfying bite to it.  You could definitely play around with the recipe, increasing the coating so that there are more crunchy clumps, with the caveat that the sugar/fat content will go up.  The final result also does not taste strongly of maple, or honey, but rather has a general sweetness that you may or may not prefer.  Regardless, this was a fun experiment, and I think the puffed wheat has a lot of potential in other snack/baking recipes, so I’m excited to keep playing with it.

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Puffed Wheat “Kettlecorn”

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

7-8 cups puffed kamut or puffed durum wheat

1 cup slivered almonds or nuts of choice

1/2 cup pure maple syrup (I also added a drizzle of honey, couldn’t resist)

2 tbsp. butter + 2 tbsp olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 200°F and line a large pan with parchment paper.

2) Pour the puffed wheat and nuts into a large bowl, and set aside.

3) Set a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the maple syrup, butter + EVOO, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a low boil.

4) Cook the mixture to 230°F, thread stage on a candy thermometer. To test this, allow a drop of the syrup to cool, then pull it between two fingers; if it forms a thread between your fingers, it’s ready.

5) Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in vanilla and add the baking soda. Stir thoroughly, the syrup will foam up.

6) Immediately pour the hot syrup over the puffed wheat and pecans, and stir until it is evenly coated.

7) Spread the mixture onto the parchment-lined pan. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15-20 minutes to prevent burning.

8) Remove tray from the oven and allow to cool.  This can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days (if you’re in a high-humidity area, it may or may not lose some of the crunch).

Eat!  This would be a great dry snack at the movies, or even eaten just like any other sweet cereal with milk in the morning.

 

 

Sneak attack: Better for you brownie cake

11 Apr

beet7

I’m on a roll, guys.

I just couldn’t hold back with this one.  I have repeatedly tried to come up with a healthier brownie recipe that is just as swoon-worthy as the not-so-healthy variety, and while some of my attempts have met with success, they never quite achieved the element of swoon I was going for.  Either not sweet enough, or too dense, or just “meh”.  I might have turned the corner with this one though.  I had a hard time deciding whether this fell into the brownie category or the cake category (hence my cop-out hybrid title).  It’s a cake-like brownie, because of how deliciously moist and fluffy it is.  Can’t complain.  In my next attempt I might try playing with the proportions of flour, leavener, and egg, to see if I can get a fudgier consistency.  Another idea is to melt the chocolate chips into the batter instead of mixing them in whole.

Why the sneak attack?  Secret ingredient: BEETS!!  Note that I do not have a natural love of beets.  They will always taste at least a little bit like dirt to me.  But in this recipe, the earthy flavor is totally buried and undetectable, so the beets instead lend only their color (like red velvet cake!), moisture, and nutrients.

Beets and chocolate are not a new combination to the food blogosphere, and several sources helped inspire the idea, however other than the not-so-secret ingredient, this recipe is entirely my own. Others out there look equally delicious, but still include butter or processed sugars, and I wanted to see if I could have success with healthier substitutes. See for yourself!

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beet2

beet4

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Ingredients:

1 c. beet puree (I got this from two medium beets, roasted or boiled until fork tender, and pureed in a blender)*

¼ c. extra virgin olive oil

¼ c. honey (mine was the creamed variety, but I think liquid would be fine)

¼ c. agave

1 tbsp. chia seeds

¼ c. almond meal

16 drops liquid stevia

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

¾ c. oat flour (or whatever flour you have/prefer)

½ c. cocoa

½ c. chocolate chips (Optional, but I can’t resist. Good quality dark chocolate is best, I use a 72% disc that I buy in bulk at a local market)

 

Instructions

1)Prep your beets by roasting or boiling until fork-tender. (This part takes the longest. I left my beets whole and it probably took an hour of boiling, so I’d recommend cutting them in smaller chunks first)

2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

3) Puree the beets in a blender (I had to add a couple splashes of milk to get things going), and measure out a cup. It should be a similar consistency to applesauce.

4) Add the beet puree to a mixing bowl, along with the olive oil, honey, agave, chia seeds, vanilla, stevia, and salt. Stir to combine (I used my KitchenAid).

5) Add the almond meal and eggs. Stir to combine.

6) Add the baking soda, flour and cocoa, a little at a time if necessary, stirring to combine.

7) Stir in chocolate chips (or nuts, etc).

8) Pour into greased pan and bake for 15 – 20 minutes if using a 9 x 13 pan, or 25+ in a smaller pan, until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.*

*I got nervous looking at the amount of batter, and ended up using a 9”x13” pan because I was afraid in a smaller pan the edges would burn before the middle was ready.  This was probably unnecessary. They came out perfect after exactly 18 minutes in my oven, but are on the thin side. Next time I will take my chances on my 8”x8” so I have a thicker final product.

What’s for breakfast: DIY energy bars

9 Apr

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Really I like to call this the DIY Bonk Breaker, but I’m afraid to get sued. Don’t sue me, Bonk Breakers, I love you.

I decided to try these recently because I’ve been making an effort to cut back on processed sugars (and on spending money).  I have always had a sweet tooth.  I can sit down and eat an entire bag of candy, or pint of ice cream, or plate of cookies, in a single sitting.  Not just once in awhile, but often.  This started when I was a kid and started making some allowance money and friends and I would go to the 7-11 after school and buy candy (I’m from a small town, we were bored.  At least we weren’t doing drugs).  I became kind of a hoarder of sweets, and still am.  This surprises some people because I am also an athlete who runs and/or bikes 5-6 times a week.  When I’m being active, I need sugars to fuel me, so what I’m really trying to curb is my “off-time” indulgence, when I’m hanging around the apartment, etc.

I’m doing this by limiting my intake to my mostly own baked goods and confections, using natural sweeteners with a lower glycemic index.  As with fats, America’s relationship to sugar is complicated, and it’s hard to parse the research.  Start looking at labels on the store bought food you buy, and you’ll see that added sugar is in practically everything, so I’m trying to be more conscientious.  At the end of the day, not all sugar is created equal (sucrose/glucose/maltose/whatever are broken down differently in your body), but sugar is still sugar and should be consumed in moderation.   Anyway, on to business…

The first step in this recipe (for locals) is: go to Sahadi’s.  Their bulk food section is a magical place, and one of the reasons I may never leave Brooklyn.  This recipe was (lightly) adapted from the beautiful Minimalist Baker blog recipe, which uses only 5 ingredients.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup packed dates (pitted) + 1/2 cup dried cherries or other dried fruit of choice (look for all-natural, no added sugar)

1/4 cup honey or maple syrup or agave, or combination

1/4 cup all-natural peanut butter (add ¼ tsp salt if unsalted)

1 cup raw unsalted almonds, loosely chopped

1 1/2 cups rolled oats (I use quick-cooking)

Optional add-ins:  1 scoop protein powder of choice (I use vanilla whey protein and it’s tolerable but somewhat overpowers the overall flavor), other kinds of nuts, vanilla extract, sunflower seeds, chia seeds (I usually add 2-3 tbsp), raw cacao nibs (I add another couple tbsp, for crunch), flaked coconut, toasted oats, etc.  The recipe is very forgiving so you can adjust ingredients pretty freely if you stick to similar proportions of wet/dry.

These are no-bake bars, but you’ll need a food processor*.
Instructions:

1. If the dates don’t feel sticky and moist, soak them in warm water for 10 minutes and drain.

2. Meanwhile, process your oats and almonds together to grind them more finely, which should take less than a minute (this part is optional, but the finer grain helps keep the bars from being crumbly and really closely matches the softer dough-like consistency of a bonk breaker). Add to a mixing bowl.

3. Add your drained dates (and other dried fruits, if using) to the processor, and process until only small bits remain (a minute or so). Should be very sticky and dough-y.  Add to the oat/almond mixture, along with the PB, honey (or other natural sweetener), and any other optional ingredients.

4. Mix either by hand (have fun with that), or with a stand mixture and paddle attachment.

5. Once thoroughly mixed, transfer to an 8×8 dish.

6. Press down very firmly until densely packed and level.  Set in ‘fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes to firm up.

7. Cut into 6 even bars or serving size of choice**.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week (room temp is probably fine if just for a few days).

*If you don’t have a food processor and are very determined, you can try chopping the dates/fruit as finely as possible.  Your end result will be less doughy and potentially crumbly, so make sure to press into the pan firmly, or add a bit more PB/honey for hold.

**I’ve been increasing this recipe by 50% and it’s my breakfast for a week.  At that serving size, it’s a lot of calories, but it’s a whole meal (most important meal of the day!), and keeps me full all morning.

Nutrition breakdown, for the recipe and generous serving size given above (approximated):

325 calories
7 g fiber
13 g fat
9 g protein (even without protein powder)
48 g carbohydrate
28 g sugars

How it stacks up against a Bonk Breaker:

Very similar texture.  Main difference is the protein source.  This recipe gets most of it’s protein from nuts, which makes it higher in total fat (but still low in saturated fat).  Bonk Breakers use rice protein isolate, brown rice flour, etc, which I haven’t gotten my hands on yet. This recipe is also high in fiber, so depending on what you’re used to, you may want to limit your intake during exercise. They also have a decent amount of sugar, although as natural sweeteners they come with a few nutrients and are lower on the glycemic index, compared to table sugar.  It’s still less than what’s in a bottle of Gatorade, and not much more than a large apple.

Butter: Bad Headline, Good News

8 Apr Featured Image -- 260

eatwater:

My foodie friend and soul sister at over at Brayfood.wordpress.com has some must-read insight on butter and the complex issues around our oft-misguided feelings towards fat.

Originally posted on brayfood:

“Butter is Back” Mark Bittman (or one of his editors at the NYT) proclaimed in the headline of a recent Op-ed , which jolted people into internet activism last week (otherwise known as commenting/sharing/liking). Based on a recent review of studies on the effects of saturated fat on heart disease in the Annals of Internal Medicine , Bittman concluded that it was time people stopped fearing fat, and swap their margarine for the real deal. This sparked a wave of criticism from the medical community, the margarine industry, and the American Heart Association among others.

The problem is most readers seem to miss the mark on the underlying point of the article. If you read the the whole article it is obvious Bittman is  not promoting slathering butter on your bacon, rather he is saying butter (and fat in general) are not bad for you in moderation, especially when they come from…

View original 411 more words

A Winter’s tale, part deux: Heart healthy chocolate chip cookies with olive oil and oat flour

18 Feb

Hello, gentle readers.

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

This is something of a continuation of the Winter’s lament from my last post. As previously mentioned, I’ve been obsessed with chocolate chip cookies lately. One day I made the mistake of doing the butter math in my head, and came to the conclusion that I’d consumed well over a pound of butter so far this season, in homemade cookies alone. Paula Deen would be proud, but me? Not so much. As a runner, I often excuse my sweet tooth because I run off a lot of those calories and try to eat balanced meals for the most part (sometimes “balance” means salad for lunch so I can have pizza for dinner, but you get the idea). While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with splurging on dessert if you have an otherwise healthy lifestyle, I think I’ve been taking it too far with my cookie game. Hence, this post.

I’ve always heard that olive oil is a more heart healthy fat because it’s low in saturated fat and cholesterol (for more science speak, read on here). Olive oil also has a pretty distinct taste, but I had seen it incorporated into cake recipes and other sweet treats, so I figured there had to be a chocolate chip cookie out there somewhere that used EVOO instead of butter. I also wanted a cookie that didn’t rely on AP flour, which doesn’t really provide any nutritional benefits. I often use whole wheat flour, but it can overwhelm the other ingredients with its hearty flavor and grittier texture. Enter, oat flour. Look for oat flour sold in bulk at specialty markets and Whole Foods and it’s super cheap and easily replaces AP flour in most recipes, with the added benefit of lots of fiber and protein (Bob’s Red Mill also sells it pre-packaged).

The final result? A cookie that is crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, and leaves you feeling full and satisfied. For recipe, see below.

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Chocolate chip cookies with olive oil

Adapted from this recipe

Ingredients:
2 ¼ cup oat flour (or flour of choice)
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1-2 cups chocolate chips*

*To each their own. I used a bag of Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chunks, they melt great. I think next time I will add almond slices and chia seeds.

Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine sugars, vanilla, olive oil, salt, and baking soda. Beat in the eggs one a time. I strongly recommend a stand mixer as the dough is unusually dense/sticky and tough to work with by hand. Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl, and around the bottom, to thoroughly combine. Gradually beat in the flour and stir in the chocolate chips.

*A note (novel) on resting the dough: I am a firm believer in the power of letting your cookie dough rest before baking (for more on the science behind this and other aspects of cookie baking, check this out). I found that to be especially beneficial here because of the distinct flavor of olive oil. In order to reconcile my gotta-have-it-now attitude toward CCCs, and the benefits of resting my dough, I’ve gotten into a habit of baking only one small tray right after I’ve made my dough, and then refrigerating or freezing the rest for at least a day. When I made my first tray of these cookies following this protocol, the results satisfied my craving, but I was not terribly impressed because they had a distinct aftertaste (probably exaggerated by the fact that I slightly overbaked them, leaving the crisp edges tasting slightly bitter). When I made the remaining batches a day or two later I was a complete convert. I couldn’t taste the olive oil at all, made sure not to overbake them, and they were the most perfect chewy texture and rich balanced flavor.

Place spoonfuls of dough a couple inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet (or greased sheet). Apologies for not having any photos of the dough before baking.

Bake for 8-11 minutes, until lightly golden at the edges and set. Watch carefully at the end of baking time as these overcook quickly, so it’s better to take them out a bit early if you’re unsure. Allow to cool for a bit to set up, and enjoy!

A Winter’s tale: Sweet potato brownies

13 Feb

Let’s pretend it hasn’t been almost a year since I did this…

Did someone say "yum"?

Did someone say “yum”?


If you are in the Northeast, you know we have been having a particularly brutal winter. As you might expect, this weather does not lend itself to healthy eating habits. For me this means that for the past couple months I have been obsessed with chocolate chip cookies. Seriously obsessed, I think about them all the time and about how I will get my next fix. If I wanted to right now I could share a recipe for the most delicious browned butter chocolate chip cookie you’ve ever eaten, but I can’t do it. I’ve made three batches of said cookie and have eaten 95% of the results myself. I have no portion control when it comes to CCCs. Which is why you’re getting this post instead, about a healthier alternative to a fudge brownie. With no butter/oil and only natural sweeteners, they are packed with nutrients and fiber that will leave you with little baker’s remorse. I will not lie and say that they are as rich/amazing as a brownie packed with real butter and sugar, but armed with the realistic expectations I just gave you, they are pretty damn good, and provide much less guilt if your Winter habits mirror my own.

The final result is definitely chocolatey, though I would up the ante even more next time with additional cocoa powder, maybe a dash of espresso powder, and nuts or raw cacao nibs for texture (or chocolate chips if your desire for a healthy dessert only gets you so far). The texture is super moist and fudgy, and for me falls somewhere in between a fudge brownie and a chocolate bread pudding. Very yummy. Recipe below.

Sweet potatoes mixin'

Sweet potatoes mixin’


Adding the chocolate

Adding the chocolate


Sweet potato brownies
Adapted from Deliciously Ella

Ingredients:
2 medium to large sweet potatoes
2/3 of a cup of ground almonds (almond meal/almond flour)
1/2 a cup of whole wheat flour or flour of choice (I’ll try oat next time, and I might add another 1/4 cup)
1 egg
2 oz chopped unsweetened chocolate (I used two Baker’s squares)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup pure maple syrup + 1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Stevia extract (dropper-full)*
Chocolate chips for topping (optional)
*the original recipe calls for 14 pitted dates to sweeten the batter, which I didn’t have, though I think it would be great.

Instructions:
Heat up the maple syrup with the milk for about 20 seconds in the microwave to warm it, then add the chia seeds and stir. Leave out while you prepare the recipe so that the chia seeds have time to absorb some liquid.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, then peel the sweet potatoes. I wrapped mine in foil and baked at 375 for an hour or so, but still had to zap them for a few minutes after that. You want them very soft so that they’ll mix into a creamy consistency, so next time I’ll probably chop them into large chucks and steam them instead of baking whole.

Once soft, add them to a stand mixer and beat on medium-high until it’s a smoooth consistency. Add the chopped chocolate while the sweet potatoes are still warm, so it melts and blends in. Add cocoa powder and mix. Add chia seed-syrup-milk mixture, 10 drops of stevia extract (or healthy sweetener of your choice, to taste), and the egg. Beat to incorporate. Mix in baking powder and salt. Lastly mix in flour. (This is the point where I forgot to add cacao nibs, so do so here if you’re so inclined).

Spread batter into a greased 9 x 9 baking dish and cook for about 20-25 minutes, until you can pierce with a fork bringing it out dry (or dry-ish, might take a bit longer). Allow it to cool for about ten minutes. If you still need a bit more richness, like I did, sprinkle dark chocolate chips on top, and press gently into the surface. Cut and enjoy!

Crunch on this: Baked apple chips

8 Mar

First batch (thinnest slices=flattest crispest)

First batch (thinnest slices=flattest crispest)

I made a batch of these on a whim, with the idea that if they turned out well they could be crumbled and used as a dessert topping, similar to toasted coconut. For whatever reason I was super skeptical that I could bake these at home and get the crispy texture I was looking for. I’ve only ever had dried apple slices, which have a more rubbery texture, and I had this mental block where figured that that was the only way to snack on them. Well, my mind is officially unblocked. Mind blown, in fact. These baked apple chips are so easy to make, so yummy, and so crisp (like seriously about the same texture as Pringles). I was shocked at how much flavor they retained even after baking. The only downside is that you can only make about an apple’s worth at a time, which are all too easy to devour in 5 seconds. Still though, if you’re having a lazy Sunday it’s easy to just keep popping batches in the oven. Also, I got a mandoline for Christmas last year and I don’t know if I could have gotten these results without one, but I’m sure those of you with better knife skills can make do without. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bowl of these waiting for me! Pics then recipe.

My new favorite toy

My new favorite toy


image
Before

Before


After

After


Second batch (thicker slices=curlier chip, smaller, more crunch but longer baking time)

Second batch (thicker slices=curlier chip, smaller, more crunch but longer baking time)


Pretty

Pretty

Baked Apple Chips
*my variation is adapted from multiple sources

1 granny smith apple
1 lemon slice (or just cut a lemon in half and use one half)
1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar (optional)
Tools: mandoline slicer (recommended) or a very sharp knife and two steady hands

Instructions:
Remove two of your metal oven racks.

Preheat oven to 200 Farenheit.

Slice your apple very thin*. Briefly rub each piece with your lemon slice (I used half a lemon and squeezed gently as I went). Lay a large piece of parchment paper on one of your removed oven racks and lay out your apple slices, in a single layer. Use as much paper/space as you have room for. Repeat with second oven rack if one isn’t big enough. Sprinkle slices with cinnamon sugar, if using. Gently replace prepared oven racks in oven, towards the middle if possible. After you close the oven door, take a wooden spoon and gently wedge the handle in the oven door so that it stays very very slightly ajar (it just needs a crack so that the moisture from the apples will vent). Bake for 1-1.5 hour**.

These are best eaten immediately (not hard to do, trust me). They should keep overnight, but longer than that and they get gradually chewier (I tried to counteract this by keeping them in an airtight container with some rice, but not totally successful).

*My mandoline slicer has three settings, so I tried the first batch on the thinnest setting, which produced chips just a little thicker than tissue paper, which was delicious, though more fragile if you need to transport them. For the second batch I used the middle setting, resulting in slices about 1/16 inch thick. If you are using a knife, aim for 1/16. Finally, a note on texture/chip shape: I found that my tissue-paper-thin slices stayed relatively flat and didn’t shrink as much as my thicker slices, which curled noticably. This might be because they were more adhered to the parchment paper (and needed to be removed carefully, as opposed to the thicker pieces, which did not stick). I still can’t decide which batch I liked best, and will let you decide for yourself.

**Baking time may vary depending on the thickness of your apple slices. For my first, tissue-thin, batch I checked them after 55 minutes, thinking I would need to flip them and keep baking, and was surprised to find that they were perfect. For my second, thicker batch, they needed about an hour and 15 minutes. You’ll have to use your judgement. If they are not totally chip-like when you check them, note that they will crisp up a little as they cool, but they should be browning (in my experience the pieces that are still white/light don’t crisp up completely). Also, if you are using both oven racks, you may want to switch their positions halfway through for even baking.

Triumphant return: Vanilla cupcakes with chocolate ganache filling and caramel buttercream frosting

26 Feb

cupcakefinishedaerial
I am continually working on this thing we call follow-through. I am sorry to have been absent for so long. I apologize to my 2-3 followers. A small group but no less important. I’m honored that anyone cares what goes on in my kitchen.

This baking adventure was inspired by a lovely piece of news I received recently that a close girlfriend of mine is getting married. (Get ready guys, it’s starting!). Said friend is doing this wedding on the quick and on the cheap, and as such I am lucky enough to contribute something to the big day…cupcakes! Myself and another friend of the brides will be baking a cake (other friend) and cupcakes (me) for the reception and I could not be more excited. I have three months to prepare and have been given no parameters as of yet, aside from deliciousness. My first test batch came this weekend and already we have a contender. I adapted this recipe from the food network website and it was a lesson in always reading the recipe all the way through before executing. It was downsized from a restaurant version and the quantities in the frosting and ganache were completely insane. Of course I didn’t realize this ahead of time and it turned into quite the debacle, but who am I to complain about leftover caramel sauce, frosting, and chocolate ganache?? So anyway, I made due and it was so crazy worth it I cannot appropriately describe. Without further ado, recipe after the photos…

Fresh from the oven.

Fresh from the oven.


Holed.

Holed.


Dollops.

Dollops.


NOMNOMNOM

NOMNOMNOM

Vanilla cupcakes with chocolate ganache filling and caramel buttercream frosting

Adapted very loosely from http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/coconut-cupcakes-with-chocolate-ganache-filling-topped-with-caramel-buttercream-frosting-and-toasted-coconut-recipe/index.html
*don’t be like me, read through this whole recipe and plan accordingly for time

For the cupcakes:

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate Ganache Filling, recipe follows (recommend making a few hours ahead or the day before, the cooling time is a b*tch)
Caramel Buttercream Frosting, recipe follows (again, best make the caramel sauce early)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a regular-size cupcake pan with 18 cupcake liners.

For the cupcakes:

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar, in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the mixer with a paddle attachment, or using an electric hand mixer, add oil to the dry ingredients and mix on low until fine crumbs are formed. Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract and mix on low until combined. Stop and scrape the bowl and paddle, and then mix on medium speed until smooth and uniform (a minute or two).

Fill the cupcake liners three-quarters full with batter and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes completely after baking.

To assemble: core each cupcake with an apple corer or a melon baller to create a pocket for the filling (a small spoon and some chutzpah will also work fine, it doesn’t need to be pretty). If you have a pastry bag, put the ganache filling into it and fill each cupcake (I don’t have pastry bags so I spooned it in gently and that worked fine as well). If the ganache is very soft at room temperature, as mine was, I recommend putting the cupcakes in the fridge for a few minutes at this point so that it temporarily firms up and doesn’t smear and discolor the frosting. When you and the ganache are ready, pipe the caramel buttercream frosting on top of the cupcakes in a circular motion with a pastry bag until completely covered. Or, do like I did and spoon a glob on top of each one and then spread it gently from the center to the outer edges of the cupcake. Once frosted, drizzle with leftover caramel sauce. Devour.

Notes: Don’t you dare discard the cored cake pieces! Reserve them in a small bowl and make your own cake balls as a bite size dessert snack! Directions: mix reserved cake bits with leftover buttercream frosting (you won’t need much, but when I did this I didn’t measure I just added until it “looked right”, probably about 1/2 cup. Mix it with a spoon or your hands until it’s about the texture of cookie dough. Then roll into balls and either dip into leftover ganache, or melt some chocolate in a double-boiler and dip to coat completely. I used the ganache, the only downside being that the ganache doesn’t harden at room temperature, so you can’t really coat the balls, you just dip and refrigerate for a delicious, if messier, treat. Sooooo good!

Chocolate Ganache Filling:

1 cup (8 oz.) semisweet dark chocolate (I used the Baker’s squares)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces unsalted butter

Melt the ingredients in a saucepan over low heat. Stir the mixture constantly until melted and smooth. Be careful not to burn. Remove from the heat to cool completely. Notes: This will take awhile. You can speed things up in the fridge, or keep it in the fridge overnight if making ahead of time, just know that it will firm up and will need to be (very gently) heated just before you’re ready to use, just enough so that you can stir it easily. It should be about the consistency of chocolate pudding when you fill the cupcakes.

Caramel Buttercream Frosting:

Caramelsauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste

Buttercream:
2 sticks butter
2.5-3 cups powdered sugar (more or less to taste)
1/4 caramel sauce

Stir 4 tablespoons butter, heavy cream, brown sugar, white sugar, and vanilla together in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave at 1 minute intervals, stirring between intervals. The caramel will be thick and bubbly when done. Add salt and stir. Let cool completely to incorporate into the buttercream. It might separate a bit, but just stir until uniform when ready to use. Note: This is where I really got screwed when I made these because the original quantities in this recipe were FOUR TIMES what I have listed here. I ended up with about 6 cups of caramel when the frosting only calls for 1/4 cup. But I digress…

In a large bowl with an electric hand mixer (or stand mixer with whisk attachment), whip the 2 sticks soft butter until creamed. Add the powdered sugar and 1/4 cup cooled caramel and mix until the ingredients are evenly incorporated and the frosting is smooth and creamy. This frosting is extremely sweet and a little goes a long way, so you’ll probably have extra. Be warned!

New favorites: Oatmeal banana cake with salted caramel topping

22 Dec

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Guys.  New favorite.  And I’m proud to say it’s pretty much the product of my own kitchen intuition, kitchintuition if you will.  Actually, the banana cake part of this recipe is part accident, part intuition.  I spent a little over a month in Italy last Summer while finishing up grad school, and found myself limited in both the supplies and the appliances that I was familiar with, however I couldn’t just not bake for five weeks.  I found a trusted banana bread recipe and took it to the market with me, however my Italian is pretty much nonexistent and I couldn’t find either brown sugar or baking soda or powder.  I also didn’t have a loaf pan.  I ended up buying white sugar only, and a few disposable tart pans (secret: anything I baked during those five weeks came out of those tart pans).  With that and the bananas, flour, and butter at home, I was able to improvise, and the result was this amazingly moist, dense (but soft) cake, that me and my two roommates demolished in less than 24 hours.  After that I kept thinking of all the ways I could dress it up once I was back in familiar grocery store territory.  What you have here is the first of what I’m sure will be many variations. Recipe to follow after the pics.

 

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Banana Oatmeal Cake:

3 overripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of flour

¾ cup quick-cooking oats

Mini chocolate chips for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and oats, mix. Pour mixture into a buttered tart pan or spring-form cake pan lined with foil (I used one with a 10-inch diameter. If using the mini chocolate chips, sprinkle a layer over the top of the cake now (I’d recommend enough so that you are mostly seeing chips on top), and press gently into the batter.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

Caramel Topping (+assembly):

1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon heavy cream (*optional if you don’t have it)
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sea salt for sprinkling

In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, then add cream and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for 2-3 more minutes, stirring it well. It will thicken a bit as it cooks. Remove from the heat and add vanilla, and then quickly pour it over cooled banana cake. It will begin to set as soon as it is poured, so quickly spread it over the top of the cake (it remains pliable, but hard to spread evenly once it cools).  Sprinkle fairly generously with flaky sea salt over the top.  Et voila! Socks will be knocked off.

**Other possible additions to try: adding a layer of chopped nuts or toasted coconut, making a chocolate or peanut butter ganache instead of caramel sauce, adding a leavener for a more traditional fluffy cake, etc, etc.

 

Seasonal experiments: Cranberry caramels

11 Dec
Delightful.

Delightful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I recently bought myself a candy thermometer and have been pinning a bunch of ideas for caramels and other candies.  The apple cider caramels from Smitten Kitchen have been getting a lot of attention and look amazing, however the urge to make something came over suddenly the other day and I couldn’t find raw unpasteurized cider in my neighborhood.  Plus, I knew if I made them they would be perfect as-is and thus not really require a separate Hungry Bear blog post.  What I did have on hand were some frozen cranberries, which I decided was worth a try in adapting to the SK recipe.  Overall I think they were hugely successful.  The texture came out perfect, and the color is pleasantly surprising (kind of a mauve) for a caramel.  They also taste great, though less cranberry-y than I would have expected given how tart the syrup is.  If I make these again I might use less sugar to compensate for the sugar in the syrup.  The final product is rich, but subtle, and I think a great alternative to regular caramel or toffee, perfect for this time of year.  Enjoy! (Recipe to follow after the pics)

Strained syrup.

Strained syrup.

All the components, getting friendly.

All the components, getting friendly.

Heating up to boil.

Heating up to boil.

C'mon firm ball stage.

C’mon firm ball stage.

Can you say "yum"?

Can you say “yum”?

Looking suspiciously like raw meat here, but much better!

Looking suspiciously like raw meat here, but much better!

Half dozen yummy treats for a friend.

Half dozen yummy treats for a friend.

Give them to your friends in little handmade paper boxes!

Give them to your friends in little handmade paper boxes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cranberry-infused caramels:

*Adapted from Smitten Kitchen apple cider caramels.

-One batch of cranberry syrup, via Smitten Kitchen. *Optional: add 1 tsp of vanilla while simmering for a subtle added flavor.
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or apple pie spice, alternatively)
1 teaspoons flaky sea salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
Vegetable oil for knife and parchment

First whip up a batch of the cranberry syrup.  I followed the SK recipe (plus 1 tsp vanilla), strained it through a small metal strainer, and was left with just shy of a half cup of syrup (if you get more than half cup I would discard the extra or even cook it down a little further). *Bonus: the cranberry bits you strain out make about 1/3 cup of yummy cranberry relish that would be great to save and use on pancakes, in oatmeal, with turkey, etc.

Before starting the caramel, prep the ingredients and assembly.  Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment, and brush with oil.  *Warning: do NOT use aluminum foil, as I did, or you will spend an hour picking out the bits that stick to the finished product (even if you butter/oil it). Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.

Get your butter, sugars, and cream ready.  Now you can pour the cranberry syrup back into the pot you used to make it (just make sure there are no chunks left), and heat it on low for a few minutes to warm it up again.  Stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream.  Heat on medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 250 degrees.  *This should only take 5-10 minutes, but I strongly advise you don’t guesstimate if you are lacking a thermometer.  It’s worth the $10 to have one around.  If you do go ahead without a thermometer, you can test it by dropping a spoonful into cold water.  If it is firm, but malleable, it’s ready.  But be warned, the process goes fast, and if you leave your mixture boiling while testing, it may get to hot and become hard when it cools.

At 250 degrees, immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and stir to combine. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm.  This takes a few hours, or you can speed things up in the refrigerator (if left too long it will be hard, but softens up again in room temperature). Once cool, lift the caramel by the parchment paper onto a cutting board. Use an oiled knife, re-oiling as needed, to cut the caramel into a size/shape of your choice (I used a pizza cutter to finish up). Wrap each one in waxed paper or plastic wrap, twisting the sides to close.

Gift idea: I used some decorative paper to make little folded boxes to put these candies in as stocking stuffers/party handouts.  I used this video tutorial , adjusting size to a 25x25cm paper, for a 5x5x5 cm box.  Also, in the last steps, instead of closing both ends, I closed the bottom side, and pinched the top together, punched a hole, and tied a bow.  The fit about half dozen candies in each.  So cute!

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