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Baby Shower Sugar Cookies (and an announcement!)

As far as events go, nothing wins the prize for the highest concentration of cuteness in a single place at a single time quite like a baby shower. Is it possible to NOT decorate cute baby sugar cookies when you’re putting on a cute baby shower to celebrate with the cute pregnant mommy-to-be on the upcoming arrival of her cute baby?

No. Not possible.

My brother and his wife just brought their first baby into the world, and I couldn’t NOT make sugar cookies for her shower. So here’s the lineup:

Ducklings. Cute.

Baby bottles. Precious.

Teddy bears. Darling.

I’d love to hear which is your favorite!

Now, as long as you’re here and we’re talking cuteness and babies, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of my family:

Yes, we’re expecting Baby #3 (another boy!) in November, and we are absolutely thrilled. I can totally do this “mother-of-three-boys” thing. Totally. But check back again after this little guy is born, because reality has a funny way of setting in sometimes.

I’ll be sure to keep you all updated, and in the meantime, I’ve got delicious stuff for you coming up. . . Stay tuned.

Tangled Cupcakes

In the last few weeks, I haven’t been able to browse the food blog world without feeling like the girl who got picked last in gym class. Why? Because these days everyone is blogging about barbecues and picnics and homemade ice cream out on the porch at dusk.

Meanwhile, Utah somehow got stuck in March. It’s actually stuck in what would normally be March, except March this year got stuck in January. At any rate, we’ve been in a perpetual state of chilly and rainy. I’ve been making soup and pot roast and hot cocoa and all sorts of other wintery comfort foods that the food blog world isn’t interested in this time of year.

These cupcakes were made for a darling little girl’s fifth birthday. The theme was Disney’s Tangled, and her mom asked for something including the color purple (think Rapunzel’s dress), with cute springtimey flowers (think Rapunzel’s hair).

Purple cupcakes with spring flowers? Just the springtime boost I needed.

For the record, dark-and-cloudy-day-after-dark-and-cloudy-day makes for really frustrating food photography. . .

For the other record, these were chocolate cupcakes (still in love with this fudge cake recipe) with gumpaste flowers and a simple buttercream icing. Have I posted a buttercream recipe on here? NO? Better fix that.

Buttercream Icing

adapted from Wilton

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon clear vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract, optional

2 pounds (about 8 cups) powdered sugar

1/4 to 1/3 cup of milk, depending on desired consistency

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond, and mix until combined.

Slowly mix in the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. The mixture will get very thick. Add the milk, a little at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. Beat until fluffy.

Cover with a damp towel until ready to use. This icing will store up to two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator. (Let it come to room temperature, and re-whip before using.)

Chocolate Mousse Cake

There is a time for choosing the easy road.

There is a time for taking the shortcut and doing things the fast way.

But there is also a time for setting aside several hours to tackle something that will make you look back at all the dirtied mixing bowls in your sink, and chocolate shavings and splattered cream on your counter, and say,

That was totally worth it.”

I can’t remember the last time something this rich and decadent came out of my kitchen. That one cheesecake (oh heavens) comes close, but I really think this puppy wins the prize. That bottom layer of flourless chocolate cake ought to tell you enough. And when you add layers of dark chocolate and white chocolate mousse . . . well . . .

As much as I would love to tell you to drop everything and make this right now, this isn’t a dessert to make on a whim. This is a serious act, and has to be completely premeditated. In return for the preparation, time, and attention you give it, this cake will treat you right.

This isn’t difficult to make, but (as the recipe book points out) the hardest part is making sure the ingredients are at the right temperature. So pay attention when it says “room temperature.” You’ll want to separate the eggs while they’re still cold, but after they’re separated, let them sit for a while. And don’t try to rush the chocolate cooling by putting it in the fridge. Just keep stirring, and be patient. It’s worth the wait, I promise.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

adapted from KAF Baker’s Companion, and a little from Annie’s Eats

for the cake:

10 ounces (1-2/3 cup chopped) high-quality semisweet chocolate

4 large eggs, separated, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature

middle layer:

10 ounces high-quality semisweet chocolate

1-1/2 cups heavy cream, divided

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin, softened in

2 tablespoons cool water

top layer:

7 oz. (a little over 1 cup chopped) high-quality white chocolate

1-1/2 cups heavy cream, divided

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin, softened in

1 tablespoon cool water

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9- or 10-inch springform pan by lightly greasing the bottom and lining it with a parchment round. If you have Bake-Even strips, wet them and wrap them around the pan. If not, the cake should be baked in a water bath (a pan with about 1-1/2 inches of hot water) so the edges don’t dry out. If you’re using a water bath, wrap the springform pan in two layers of aluminum foil so no water will seep in while the cake bakes.

For the cake:

Chop the chocolate into small chunks. Melt it slowly on low heat in the microwave, 1 minute at a time, until about 75% melted. Stir slowly until the rest of the chocolate melts.

While the chocolate finishes melting, place the room-temperature egg whites in a large, grease-free mixing bowl with about a third of the sugar. Using an electric mixer, start beating on slow speed, gradually increasing the speed. Beat until the whites begin to look fluffy. Add the remaining sugar, salt, and vanilla, and continue to beat until the sugar has dissolved and the meringue is shiny, nearly soft-peak stage.

Next, using a whisk, stir the soft butter into the melted chocolate until completely incorporated. Then whisk in the egg yolks. Using a wire whisk, fold half of the meringue into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining meringue with a rubber spatula, being sure to mix in the heavier batter at the bottom of the bowl. Gently fold until no streaks remain.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the cake in the oven. Bake for 26-28 minutes. The top will be shiny, and a cake tester inserted into the center will come out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. As it cools, it will sink and lose some of it’s volume; that’s okay. Refrigerate the cake for 1 hour, then run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment circle, and replace the ring from the springform around the cake; it will be the mold for the two mousses.

For the middle layer:

Chop the chocolate and place it in a medium-sized heat-proof bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of the cream to a boil and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Stir the chocolate and cream mixture gently, until smooth; if the chocolate doesn’t melt completely, heat it briefly on low in the microwave, and continue to stir until melted.

While the chocolate is melting, soften the gelatin in a small dish with the cool water. Once it has softened, heat it on low heat in the microwave, stirring to dissolve. When the gelatin mixture is completely free of lumps, stir it into the melted chocolate. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream, being very careful not to overwhip it. It should just hold a soft peak.

Check the chocolate mixture. It must be free of lumps and the temperature should be about 80 degrees F – warm enough to keep the chocolate from setting up, but not so hot the whipped cream melts when it’s whisked in. Add about half of the whipped cream to the chocolate and whisk and fold as you did while making the cake. Fold in the remaining whipped cream once the first half is whisked in. When the chocolate and cream are evenly blended, pour the mousse over the top of the cooled cake in the ring. Use an offset spatula to smooth the top. Return the cake to the refrigerator.

For the top layer:

Repeat the directions for the middle layer, using the white chocolate.

Pour the white mousse over the top of the chocolate mousse and return to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 4-5 hours before serving.

When it’s ready to serve, remove the ring by running a thin knife gently around the edge of the pan, then open the lock and lift it off. Slice the cake with a warm, wet knife, wiping it off between slices; this will ensure a pretty presentation. Garnish with chocolate shavings or curls, chocolate sauce, or fruit. Yields about 16 servings.

This dessert may be made ahead and frozen for up to several weeks. Or you can prepare just the cake layer and freeze it, filling it the day you’re going to serve it.

 

 

 

Coconut Cream Pie

I’ve had a head cold with a vengeance all week.

I don’t get sick very often, but for the last seven days I’ve been walking around talking like my nose is plugged (because, ha, it is), and marveling at the nasty tricks my body plays on my poor victim sinuses.

Now is not the best time to bake treats because I can’t give them away, and I can’t let them stay in my kitchen. Because then I eat them. And I love eating cookies, but I don’t love eating all four dozen, especially when my body is screaming for notcookies.

On the other hand, putting together a coconut cream pie seemed like a completely sensible thing to do. Yeah, I don’t know either.

There are several variations of coconut cream pie out there. Meringue topping vs. whipped cream. Pastry crust vs. graham cracker crust. Coconut milk vs. heavy cream.

I don’t really keep coconut milk as a staple in my kitchen. And I thought a pastry crust sounded tasty at the time. And I just really like whipped cream. So, this pie is a product of my own personal tastes. But here are a few hints if you want to change it up:

  • If you prefer meringue topping, take a look at this post from Simply Recipes, which gives a good meringue recipe and explanation of the process. After you pour the coconut filling into your pie shell, you’ll want to immediately put the meringue topping on, while the filling is still piping hot.
  • If you prefer a graham cracker crust, you can use the recipe in this post and simply bake up the empty crust at 375 degrees for 13-15 minutes. Let it cool completely on a rack before you pour in the coconut filling.
  • If you prefer coconut milk, just substitute that for the regular milk in this recipe. And take out the coconut extract, unless you really want a coconut kick.

Coconut Cream Pie

adapted from Lion House Bakery

for the pastry crust:

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cold butter, cut into cubes

3-4 tablespoons ice-cold water

for the filling:

2 cups milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon butter

2/3 cup sugar, divided

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 egg yolks

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

3/4 cup flaked coconut

for the topping:

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

4 tablespoons powdered sugar

(1/2 cup toasted coconut, for garnish)

Directions:

For the pastry crust, combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into the flour until pieces are about the size of large peas. Add the cold water one tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork until the dough is shaggy and holds together, without being soggy. Form the dough into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take the dough disc out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Roll the dough on a lightly-floured surface, into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a pie pan, and trim and flute the edges.

Line the pie dough with aluminum foil and fill with 2 cups dried beans, or pie weights. Bake for 12 minutes, then remove the foil and pie weights and bake for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are golden brown. Gently pat down any pastry that is puffing up in the center of the crust. (The dried beans are no longer good for eating, but you can save them to use as pie weights in the future.) Allow the crust to cool completely on a rack.

For the filling, place half the milk (1 cup) in a large saucepan along with the heavy cream, butter, and 1/3 cup of the sugar. Heat over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted and milk is scalded.

In a small bowl, mix the other cup of milk together with the cornstarch until completely smooth.

In another small bowl, whisk egg yolks well; add remaining 1/3 cup sugar, and the salt, and whisk very well. When the milk mixture on the stovetop is ready, slowly add the egg mixture, stirring constantly for about half a minute. Allow mixture to cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently. This gives the eggs time to cook and start thickening.

Add reserved milk and cornstarch slowly to the hot mixture, stirring constantly to avoid formation of lumps. Continue to stir for at least 2 minutes, then stir occasionally for the next 10-15 minutes.

When pudding is thick, stir in the vanilla and coconut extract, and the flaked coconut. Remove from the heat and pour into the prepared pie shell. Smooth the top. Cool on a wire rack, then chill in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours. Top with whipped cream and toasted coconut when ready to serve.

For the whipped cream, combine the cream and vanilla in a medium-sized, chilled mixing bowl. Mix on high speed until the cream starts to thicken, then add the powdered sugar and beat on low speed just until soft peaks hold their shape. Do not overbeat.

To toast the coconut, spread it on a lined baking sheet and broil in the oven on low, just until edges turn light brown. Watch it closely, because it will overbrown very quickly.

 

 

 

 

New Site is Up!

**Update: Wonky sidebars have been fixed in Safari and Chrome. My husband is hiding his head in shame. And he says SD readers are way too savvy. Who knew that 30% of you were on Chrome?

This is a short and sweet post to announce that the new design has been launched! If you’re viewing the site in Safari or Chrome . . . well, thanks for your patience. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the sidebars are a little wonky. It’ll be all fixed by the end of the day. So go ahead and explore around a bit! I’ve also updated the Meet LaChelle page and the Recipe Index, and there are even more cool updates and sweet baked goods on the horizon. Thanks for visiting!

Coming Soon!

Reason #193 why my husband rocks:

He’s a web designer.

Which, for me, translates into having someone around who not only knows how to give my little blog a new logo and a badly-needed redesign, but is just as excited as I am about the whole project. Oh, and he does it for free. Or at least in exchange for hot meals and clean laundry.

I thought I’d give you guys a sneak preview because hey, I like you. And I’m just bursting at the seams with anticipation.

And I just wanted to show off that clever little logo. What a man.

logoshot

Just in case that isn’t enough to keep you coming back, I’ve got a coconut cream pie in the works. Don’t touch that dial.

Tron Light Cycle Cake

Tron light cycle cake - front

Am I allowed to make a Tron cake if I’ve never seen Tron?

Well, I did anyway. I’m still not entirely sure what these bikes are supposed to actually look like, but after lots of time staring at Google Images and grilling my husband, who hasn’t seen the new Tron, but knows everything about the original . . .

I think I came close.

Tron light cycle cake - side view

Just, don’t compare it too closely with any photographs. It’s a chocolate cake, for crying out loud, not an actual bike.

Moral of the story: Just make it shiny.

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal Raising Cookies stacked

I didn’t eat very well in college, but I’m entirely confidant that I’m surrounded by other people who also didn’t eat very well in college, so, no judgments here.

Mom, if you’re reading this . . . I had lettuce and tomato on my whole grain sandwich today for lunch.

A typical day in my college career went something like this:

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie with bite

  • Race out the door in the morning with a bagel or banana. (With a quickly-thrown-together peanut butter sandwich for later.)
  • Sit in classes. Feel starved.
  • Eat my peanut butter sandwich between classes.
  • Practice the piano. Feel starved. Why didn’t I pack more than a sandwich?
  • Consider going to the food court to buy something healthy, like fruit. Dismiss idea because it’s 65 cents for a puny little bruised apple, and I don’t want to leave the Fine Arts building because it’s cold outside, and someone might steal my practice room.
  • Go to the vending machine down the hall and buy a 2-pack of big chewy oatmeal raisin cookies, because they’re the most filling and least unhealthy thing available, for the least amount of money – 50 cents!
  • Practice the piano some more until I’m feeling starved again and can’t justify buying any more vending machine stuff.
  • Go home and whip up something quick and cheap and atrocious for dinner.
  • Give in to the urge to bake brownies at 11 pm with my roommates.

That was the life. Those oatmeal raisin cookies in the purple package are a big part of my college nostalgia. I can’t remember all the words to our college fight song (Go BYU), but pressing F4 on the vending machine in the basement of the HFAC will never leave my memory.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I’ve searched far and wide to find an oatmeal cookie recipe yielding a similar texture to the vending machine variety: soft and chewy, rather than thin and crispy. And (why am I not surprised?) King Arthur had the answer for me.

The trick with this cookie is to not let it bake too long. That’s how the trouble with crispy cookies happens. Also, I wrapped these up and let them sit overnight, and they melted in my mouth the next day. Perfect.

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

adapted from KAF Baker’s Companion

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup vegetable shortening (trans fat-free)

4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2-1/4 cups brown sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

3 cups rolled oats

1-1/2 cups raisins

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the shortening, butter, oil, and brown sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla and coconut extract.

Stir in the flour mixture, in three additions. Stir in the oats and raisins.

Drop the batter by spoonfuls onto a parchment-lined (or mat-lined) baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 10 minutes. Bake for 13-15 minutes. They should still be light tan; don’t let them brown, or they’ll be crisp instead of chewy. Let them cool on the sheet for 5-6 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack; they’ll be delicate when warm, then chewy as they cool.  Store in an airtight container. Makes about 4 dozen.

Castle Cake

Castle Cake

Birthdays may not be a big deal to some people.

Castle Cake - turrets

But when the man I love sticks with me for another ride around the sun, I feel pretty lucky.

Even when he goes and requests a complicated birthday cake.

Castle Cake - door

Happy birthday to my sweet husband.

Troubleshooting Recipes for Baking – Part 1

Instant Yeast

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally I hear from a disgruntled reader saying something like, “I tried your recipe for whatever, and it was just awful and it didn’t turn out at all, and it burnt a hole in the ozone, and my kid ran away from home. . . ”

I’m really sorry. Rest assured I don’t post recipes here unless I’ve had complete success with them. There are lots of “not-bad-but-not-fabulous” recipes that I just don’t bother taking the time to photograph and do a write-up. And, of course, everybody’s taste is different. That isn’t the poor recipe’s fault.

The thing is, there are several factors that can influence how your baked goods turn out:

  • Altitude
  • Weather outside
  • Type of baking pans
  • Type of ingredients
  • Temperature of ingredients
  • Measuring methods
  • Mixing methods

. . . we’ll keep it to that for now.

So we’re going to take those first three on the list and talk troubleshooting today. I’ll tackle the others in another post. I’ll also try not to get carried away, but the truth is, I could go on and on about this stuff. It’s SO COOL.

One more thing: I’ve done a crazy amount of reading and hands-on research, and can feel confident sharing what I’ve learned. But if you see something here that you think is completely false? Let me know! If you’re very polite, I’ll listen.

Let’s dig in.

Eggs

Altitude

This is a big one. My home here in Utah sits at roughly 4,500 feet. That’s . . . pretty high up. The higher you get, the lower the air pressure. Remember Chem 101 back in college? Pressure plays a big part in chemical reactions, especially where heat is involved.

Altitude will have the biggest impact on foods with a delicate crumb. So, mostly cakes. But also muffins, quick breads, and some cookies. At high altitude (over 3,000 feet), the gases produced by the leavening expand more quickly, and cause the cake to “fall” before the heat has had time to set the cake’s structure. The liquids in your batter will also evaporate faster and at a lower temperature than they will at sea level. So your cakes and cookies can dry out more.

Yikes. You still with me?

The simplest adjustment to make is to raise the oven temperature by 15-25 degrees (F) and decrease baking time however much you need. That will allow the structure of your cake to set faster. For a lot of your non-cake baked goods, it might be the only adjustment you’ll need to make.

Sometimes you have to actually play with the proportions:

  • You can try decreasing the baking powder and baking soda by 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon, so your cake won’t rise too quickly.
  • You can decrease the sugar by 1-2 tablespoons per cup. Too much sugar can weaken the structure of the cake. But be careful with that, because too little sugar will make your batter too dry. It’s a fine line to walk.
  • You can increase the liquid by 1-3 tablespoons per cup. Sometimes you can do this by adding an extra egg, depending on the recipe.

The moral of the altitude story is: there are no hard and fast rules for adjusting for altitude, because every recipe is different, and every baker is different.

The key is to experiment around and see what works best for that particular recipe. In your kitchen.

Flour scoop

Climate

Have you ever tried to make Divinity on an humid day? Neither have I, but that’s because I hear it’s a disaster — it’s just one of those foods that turns into a mess if the humidity is off.

Cookies baked on a rainy day will end up a little differently than cookies baked on a dry day. Utah’s air is pretty dry, as any disillusioned BYU freshman from out of state will tell you. (Also, barometric pressure from day to day will influence the outcome.) In this way, some of your problems are going to be similar to your altitude issues, especially when it comes to flour. Flour is like a sponge. In a humid climate, it won’t absorb as much liquid. And that affects your dough. Of course.

Butter cube

Baking Pans

It’s a good idea to use the size of pan the recipe calls for. The pan size will affect how much batter you should put in, and what temperature you should bake it at, and how long it should bake. If you use the right size of pan, then you aren’t throwing off all these other details.

The material of your pan also makes a difference:

  • Pans with a darker finish will cook more quickly, and can brown your goodies too much. You might need to adjust the baking time, and possibly cover with foil to prevent overbrowning. Depending on the recipe.
  • Glass pans (such as Pyrex) conduct heat better than metal. For some foods, that’s good, and for others it’s not. Ceramic/stoneware doesn’t conduct heat as quickly as metal, but that’s not an issue for some foods, such as puddings and casseroles, where a precise temperature isn’t as critical.
  • Silicone is great for it’s nonstick properties and bending-it-to-get-the-stuff-out properties, but remember that baked goods low in sugar or fat may not brown well enough in silicone.
  • Aluminum with a dull finish is generally going to be your best bet with baking. It’s a great conductor, and it won’t over-brown your baked goods.
  • Stainless steel is also pretty good, and easy to clean, although it doesn’t conduct as well as aluminum. Sometimes you’ll see a combination of the two, which is fantastic.

One more note: Cookie sheets with a thick base will bake and brown more evenly than those with a thin base. Cookies baked on a thin cookie sheet are more likely to be darker on the bottom, and the danger of overbaking or uneven baking is greater. As a side note to this note: A silicone baking mat (I am in love with my Silpats) also helps to prevent overbrowning.

Is that enough for one day? Yes. But stay tuned for Part 2!

Measuring spoons