Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Daring Bakers - Traditional British Pudding

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

The challenge this month was to make a traditional British pudding using suet as one of the ingredients. From the beginning I was nervous because I had never made, nor even seen a British pudding, and I had no idea what suet was. For those of you that are thinking the same thing here is a brief description of both.

Not being British it took me a bit to wrap my head around the fact that they use the word "pudding" to mean many different things. "Pudding" can be a black pudding and white pudding, a sort of meat and grain sausage. It is also used as a generic word for dessert. It also can be any dish cooked in a pudding bowl or pudding cloth, normally steamed or boiled but sometimes baked. And finally, as an endearment (for example, "How are you today my pudding?"). For this challenge the third meaning, a dish cooked in a pudding bowl or cloth, applies.

Now, on to suet. Suet is the hard but flaky fat found on the inside of a cow or sheep around the kidneys and that area of the body. Suet in its raw form crumbles easily into small chunks. It also melts at quite a low temperature, which has an effect on how it works in cooking. Suet can be rendered, which is basically melting it and then straining out any larger pieces, or it can be used in its raw form. So basically we would be making our own shortening.

For this challenge we were given the option of making a savory or a sweet pudding, and total control over the ingredients even to the point of substituting butter or margarine for suet. The method of cooking was the main component of this challenge and we were given the option to steam or boil the pudding. As I started pouring over recipes I realized that there were a lot of options. I also knew that I wanted to make a savory and a sweet. When I came across this video showing how to make Spotted Dick, a traditional British pudding, I knew I had to try it. It is basically a sweet spongecake with golden raisins shaped in the form of a log.

I did use butter in this version because the suet was still frozen from the butcher. The dough was a bit stickier than I thought it would be once it was all mixed together but I was able to get it rolled up decently in the waxed paper. I ended up making two loaves instead of one because of the size of my steamer. You can see that as they steam the loaves swell larger, so they did end up touching each other in the pan but it did not seem to affect their final product. The paper stuck to the spongecake a bit but it maintained its overall structure in spite of it. I made a vanilla custard to go along with it and added some fresh strawberries. My husband and I both thought that the Spotted Dick actually tasted better without the custard but that might be because we are not used to eating custard.

My second British pudding I decided to do a savory pudding with a suet crust. I poured over more recipes and there were a lot, let me repeat a lot, of recipes for steak and kidney pudding. While I know this probably would have been the most traditional I could have gone for I just could not bring myself to buy, cook, and eat kidney. So when I saw this video showing how to make a steak and mushroom pudding I opted for that instead. I did not render the suet, instead I just crumbled it onto the scale to make sure I had the correct amount. There was not much of a smell and it was basically white crumbs, but after crumbling it a bit I did start to get grossed out by the sound it made tearing off the little strips of connective tissue. I could tell it was similar to shortening even at that point when I went to wash my hands and it took hot water and soap to get the greasy feel washed away.

It was very easy to make and tasted delicious, almost like a meat filled pie, but I don't think I'll be making it again, at least not a savory pudding. The savory puddings with a suet crust have to be steamed for about 5 hours and I have learned that 5 hours of steaming is not good for my pocketbook nor my house. Why you ask? First off, my gas stove has got be cranked to about medium high to keep the water boiling which creates the steam, and having the burner on medium high for 5 hours straight uses way more gas than I would ever use to cook a meal. Secondly, I didn't realize that it would put so much condensation into the air that my 110 year old wood framed single pane windows would have water running down the glass and pooling up on the wood frames below. By the way, that process alone created quite the smell. The kitchen smelled great but you would walk out into the living room, dining room, and even our bedroom which is the farthest room away and wonder what the smell was. I realized after my second trip in that it was the wood on my windows releasing an unpleasant odor that only 110 years of being in existence could create. I could have used my slow cooker but there was no way that it would get water up to the boiling point and keep it boiling for the length of time needed to cook the pudding. So while my husband and I enjoyed the final product, we did not enjoy the cooking method as much.

My final pudding was decided on after I saw so many people post the yummiest looking photos of chocolate pudding. I had decided to steer away from chocolate since I do many other desserts with chocolate, but it called my name and since it was relatively easy to do I did it at the same time that the savory pudding was cooking. I'm sure having two steaming pots going, one for 5 hours and the other for about 1 hour, didn't help the dew point being reached in our house. I think that of the three this is the pudding that I would make again. Go figure, it was chocolate. It only took about 45 minutes to steam and it was like an individual serving of chocolate cake. A scoop of ice cream would have gone nicely but I only had a tall glass of cold milk to accompany it. 
This post is already long as it is so I am just going to post the links where I got the recipes instead of actually typing out the entire recipe. Enjoy!

Recipe and Video for Spotted Dick
Recipe and Video for Steak and Mushroom Pudding
Recipe for Very Chocolate Pudding (I made only half of the recipe that is posted and it made two 8 oz. ramekin sized cakes)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I believe these may be my son's favorite cookie. He could have cared less about the chocolate peanut butter cookies and he does not mind chocolate chip or sugar cookies, but for some reason these oatmeal raisin cookies had him coming back for more and more and more and . . . I'm sure you get the picture.

I planned to bake a batch of these, divide them into three groups with a few leftovers for home, and deliver them to three friends. That was the plan. I ended up having a few more than I planned at home because a good portion of the batch baked up so differently than the others that I didn't think they were fit for public consumption.

 I don't know if you can see in the picture above but I tried to line them up on the cooling rack in the order that they came out of the oven, first ones to the far right and last batch to the far left. Notice how the cookies on the far right are very thin, and I mean so thin that there were holes in some spots when I lifted them off the cookie sheets. They cooled to a hard crunchy cookie that still tasted good but their look was kind of blah. Yes, those are the cookies that remained at home. I couldn't bring myself to hand over cookies that looked less than desirable to someone outside of our house. The next row is a bit better, no holes but still very thin and crunchy. The third row were probably the best as far as looks and texture. The final row was very dense and they barely spread at all. My thoughts are that the butter somehow did not get distributed evenly throughout the dough and the first cookies had a lot of butter and the last cookies had a lot of oats.

Although they were yummy, I think I might just stick to the recipe on the back of the Quaker Oats box or look in my handy dandy cookbook for future oatmeal raisin cookies. Enjoy! (I didn't use walnuts since I was taking them to people and wasn't sure of nut allergies.)

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Source: Annie's Eats and Deborah's Culinary Confections

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla until well blended. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add to butter mixtures, stirring until just combined.

Fold in rolled oats, raisins, and walnuts. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons about 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until edges are lightly brown. Cool 2 minutes and remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mini Angel Food Cake

I love the idea of mini desserts! They are incredibly cute, they are fun to make, and they make it seem like you are not eating as many calories as you really are. What's not to love about that? While searching for ideas for mini desserts I came across the idea of mini angel food cakes. Since I had yet to make angel food cake from scratch I wondered what better way to accomplish it than to make it in a mini version.

I have to admit that it was a bit more messy than if I had just made one cake in a regular shortcake pan, but where is the challenge in that.

Here are a few tips: Make sure you sift the confectioner's sugar and flour together, it does make a difference. Also, your batter should almost resemble meringue in it's thickness. Please, use cupcake liners unless you want a very yucky cupcake pan to clean out. I tried both and you can see the difference in the way they turned out. The cakes on the left were baked in a cupcake liner, the ones on the right were baked in the pan. They both tasted equally yummy but I think the taller, skinnier ones are prettier for serving, and you will not have that mess of a pan to clean out. Enjoy!

Angel Food Cake

12 eggs (I really only needed 11 whites)
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

Separate eggs; discard the yolks or refrigerate for another use. Measure egg whites, adding or removing whites as needed to equal 1-1/2 cups. Place in a mixing bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If making cupcakes, prepare your cupcake pan. Sift confectioners sugar and flour together three times. Set aside.

Add cream of tartar, extracts, and salt to your egg whites; beat on high speed. Gradually add sugar, beating  until sugar is dissolved and stiff peaks form. Fold in flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time. (If you have a Kitchenaid Mixer use the flat beater on speed 8 or 9 to beat the egg whites, then once it gets to stiff peak consistency, take it down to 1 to fold in the flour.) Gently spoon batter into pan. Cut through batter with a knife to remove air pockets (both full size and cupcakes).

Bake for about 40-45 minutes (full size cake) or 13-15 minutes (cupcakes) or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire rack. For full size cake, immediately invert pan and cool completely before removing cake from pan.

Garnish with macerated strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream.

Macerated Strawberries
see previous post

Whipped Cream
16 servings

1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar

Chill the mixing bowl, beater, and cream in the fridge for 15-30 minutes beforehand.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in vanilla and sugar until stiff peaks form. Make sure to not over-beat as cream will then become lumpy and butter-like.

Macerated Fruit

I came across a dessert recipe that called for macerated strawberries. I thought, hmmm, I don't know if I've ever heard of macerated strawberries. What might those be? So, I typed it into the computer and found out that basically macerated fruit is when you soak it in liquid so that it absorbs the flavor of the liquid. It also typically makes the fruit a bit juicier and sweeter because of the liquid that it is absorbing.

Many people already know how to macerate fruit. It's often done using a bit of sugar and lemon juice and then letting your fruit sit in the fridge for a few hours so the sugars and liquid absorb into the fruit to make it juicier. In fact, I have been macerating fruit for years and just never knew that was the term that was used to describe the process. I did find some interesting information though when I started researching. There are many "agents" that you can use to macerate your fruit, for example sugar and lemon juice, alcohol, and balsamic vinegar just to name a few.

Here are a few websites on the basics in macerating fruit:
basic instructions -
another basic -
with balsamic vinegar (haven't tried this one yet) - balsamic vinegar

Hmmmm . . . now what should I use those macerated strawberries for . . .? I guess you'll have to wait and see.

Friday, April 16, 2010


I can get stuck in a rut. When I go out to a restaurant I often order the same thing every time I'm at that restaurant. I figure that if I know I like that particular meal then why not go with something I know I like instead of risking not liking something as much and then being disappointed. Sad, I know. So imagine my surprise when I decided to try a new guacamole recipe after making it for the first time in my life just a few months ago.

I would not consider myself a huge guacamole connoisseur. I love avocados, I just haven't made a lot of guacamole. I think the fact that just in the last few months I have finally started cooking with raw onions is a big part of this. Before this last year any recipe that used raw onions I tended to shy away from. I'm still not a huge fan of onions but I seem to be better able to tolerate them if they are chopped very, very small. So, back to the guacamole.

I had a get together a few weeks ago and I decided to be daring and try a new recipe. I think it's always fun to try a new recipe when you have many other tasters available, but it can also backfire on you and taste absolutely disgusting and then you feel totally embarrassed. I decided to take the risk so I typed "world's best guacamole recipe" into my computer and I found this website, Raw Food Hypocrite. What I thought was great about this particular post is that the writer summarized what ingredients go in most guacamole and then linked to their top five guacamole recipes. I tried the number one recipe and have to agree that it is a winner.

The only change I made to the original recipe was using dry cayenne pepper instead of the Texas Champagne cayenne pepper, and then experimenting with the amount of cilantro I added. Enjoy!

World's Best Guacamole

3 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
juice of 1 lime
1 medium ripe tomato, diced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
4 dashes cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste
parsley, chopped fine (optional garnish)

Mash the avocados in a bowl with a fork until slightly lumpy. Stir in the lime juice, tomato, cilantro, onion, and garlic. Add the cayenne pepper, cumin, sugar, and salt. Mix well. Sample and add more seasonings if desired. (Make sure you sample with the chips you will serve it with; sometimes chips can be more salty than others and that can change the taste of your guacamole.)

Cover the bowl and chill or let sit at room temperature for about an hour to let the flavors blend.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Iron Cupcake Challenge - Tiramisu Cupcakes

Iron Cupcake Challenge round two, here I come! This month's challenge theme is Italy and tell me what is more Italian than tiramisu? I guess you could have answered pizza, pasta, or wine, but that would not have been the answer I am looking for. I did seriously think about (and even found) some savory "cupcakes" that were actually mini pizzas. But when I think of cupcakes I think of sweet so tiramisu inspired cupcakes won out over pizza cupcakes.

There are quite a few recipes for tiramisu cupcakes, everyone from Martha Stewart to the food network to Joe Schmoe has a recipe. I bookmarked about 4 or 5 different ones that sounded like they could work but I couldn't make up my mind at the time. After going about my business for a few weeks I realized that the challenge date was getting closer and I'd have to make a decision sometime soon. Hmm, I know, I'll make a batch of the two that sound the best and my husband can take them into work for his drill weekend as a taste test kind of thing. That will work.

Scratch that. After perusing the recipes I realized two things: one, there was really only one recipe that stood out to me this time as the one that I would like to bake, and two, this isn't a professional competition so why waste money on somewhat expensive ingredients just to make two batches of taste test cupcakes. Ahhh, I just may learn the art of saying no (especially to myself) and not putting too much on my plate one of these days.

So, back to the recipe.These were really fun to bake! Surprisingly, almost all my cupcakes turned out the same size so I must have done something right when squeezing the batter into the cupcake liners. Also, these were probably the most beautiful cupcakes I've ever made and that was even before the icing was piped on. The way the espresso glaze mottled the spongecake just baffled my mind. Gorgeous!

I slightly adapted the cupcake recipe and did end up completely changing the frosting recipe that I had planned to use. I started to make the one included with the cupcake recipe and realized right away that it wasn't quite what I was looking for in my tiramisu frosting. I ended up going with a fluffier version from Martha Stewart. Enjoy!

Tiramisu Cupcakes
Source: and Martha Stewart

2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
8 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk

Tiramisu Glaze (prepare when cupcakes have cooled) (I only used about half of mine)
1 cup hot espresso
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate syrup (I used Torani Chocolate Syrup found in the coffee aisle)
2 ounces Kahlua
1/2 ounce Myers Dark Rum or Brandy

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 - 8 ounce package marscapone cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
cocoa powder, chocolate covered espresso beans, and/or chocolate shavings for garnish

Cake Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pans with cupcakes liners (aluminum might work best). Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Beat the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 15-24 minutes, or until top springs back. (My mini's baked 10 minutes and the full size baked 13 minutes.) Let cool for thirty minutes, then remove from pan and cool an additional 30 minutes.

Glaze Directions:
Melt the sugar into the hot espresso in a large mixing bowl by mixing by hand with a whisk. Then add chocolate syrup, kahlua, and rum/brandy. See assembling directions.

Icing Directions:
With an electric mixer, whisk heavy cream until stiff peaks form (be careful not to overbeat or cream will be grainy). Add vanilla, and whisk until blended. In another bowl, whisk together marscapone cheese and confectioner's sugar until smooth. Gently fold whipped cream into marscapone mixture until completely incorporated. Put icing in a piping bag.

Assembling the cupcakes:
Take a toothpick or a fork and poke several small holes in the top of each cupcake. (I made about 7 holes with a toothipick.) Spoon about 1-2 teaspoons of espresso glaze over the top. (Place a bowl underneath to catch drippings so you can reuse the glaze.) Then dip the top of each cupcake into the glaze to ensure that it is evenly covered. It shouldn't be soggy, just covered enough that the cupcake looks light brown.

Pipe icing onto each cupcake. Lightly dust cupcakes with cocoa powder and top with espresso beans and/or chocolate shavings.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring Flower Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies are so versatile. I love them!

I think I have found my new "go to" sugar cookie recipe. While I like the version I tried for my Valentine heart cookies, this one was so much tastier and you don't have to chill them. That's right, you just mix them up, roll them out, and bake them. No chilling required. I was a bit skeptical at first because I have grown up making sugar cookies and they have always needed to be chilled prior to rolling them out. In fact, I thought it might be a typo in the recipe, but I figured I would see what happened when I made them. Turns out, the recipe was typed out correctly and no refrigeration is needed!

I also used a new royal icing recipe and found that it worked equally well. One thing I learned with my flowers is that I don't need to pipe an outline because the outline never really blends into the other frosting. You can see in the photo that the yellow center was piped and then the center was flooded. The outline wouldn't blend in for anything. For the petals I just flooded the cookie without piping an outline and I was MUCH happier with the results. Enjoy!

Basic Vanilla Sugar Cookie
Source: Treats

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract and mix until egg is completely incorporated. Add flour, baking powder, and salt; mix until no trace of dry ingredients remain.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4" thickness and cut shapes using cookie cutters.

Bake for about 18 minutes or until golden brown. (My cookies only took about 12 minutes to bake. The next time only 10 minutes, so keep an eye and a nose on them because you can smell when they are perfectly done.)

Royal Icing
A half batch of icing was enough for the cookies above.

4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup meringue powder
food coloring

Mix powdered sugar and meringue powder until well blended. Slowly add water and mix until you get the consistency that you want. Add food coloring to achieve your desired color. Use pastry bags with #1 and #3 tips or plastic squeeze bottles to decorate.

For outlining: consistency should be like glue paste
For flooding: add enough water so that when you lift a spoonful of icing it runs back into the bowl and blends into the other icing in about 2 to 3 seconds

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Egg Cupcakes


Anybody want to find these Easter eggs hidden around their house? These "eggs" were my first attempt at using an idea from my cookbook Hello Cupcake. I think they actually turned out pretty well for my first try at constructing a multi-step cupcake where the presentation pretty much makes or breaks the dessert.

The base is a chocolate cupcake (I believe I used a "dressed up" box mix), the grass is green tinted frosting, and the eggs are graham crackers that have been frosted and decorated. Creating the eggs is the most time consuming part of this dessert. Using a tracer, you cut each graham cracker into an egg shape by filing down the edges. Then you carefully frost the top and sides of the cracker (without getting your fingers onto it and smooshing the frosting) then sprinkle or dip it into decorating sugar. You attach the egg to the cupcake with a glob of green frosting, then you pipe the grass around the edges of the cupcake underneath the cracker. After it is attached you can decorate your Easter eggs however you like.

Be warned, when eating it is a bit difficult to get all the components in one bite, especially if you try to eat them right after you make them. If you wait a few hours, or better yet the next day, the graham crackers have softened enough that they don't break to bits immediately upon biting into them. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chicken Not-Pie

April Fool's 2010 can be counted as a success! Don't you love the look on your husband's face when he just put something in his mouth that he was not expecting. I love trying to find a good food fool for at least one of our meals on April Fool's Day. Last year it was ice cream sundaes that took on the appearance of taco salad bowls followed by a meatloaf with mashed potatoes that looked like an iced sheet cake. Yes, both the food and the order of food last year had to do with April Fool's. This year I was planning to do another main dish and a dessert but time just got away from me. Plus, logistically I figure that if they already know the prank for the first part of the meal it kind of takes the fun out of the second part and it's a bit of work to connive and plan in secret and pull these things off.

This year I found a website that had many, many, many (did I already say many) fun ideas on ways to dress up your meal for April Fool's. Some were dinners, some were breakfasts, but most were desserts that were made to look like breakfast and dessert. By the way, even though the breakfast pranks look really fun I still have yet to make one. There is something that feels inherently wrong about serving my family pound cake for what is supposed to be one of their healthiest meals of the day. You could surmise that we don't have any sugary breakfast cereals hanging around our pantry and you'd be correct.

Let me introduce you to this year's April Fool's food prank, Chicken Not-Pies!

It might look like an uninteresting, completely bland and boring chicken pot-pie, but au contraire. It still has a flaky pie crust for the top, just like a regular pot-pie but the filling is where we steer away from the norm. Instead of a gravy base with chicken, peas, carrots, corn, and potatoes, we have a vanilla pudding base with candy and fruit pieces mixed in. The chicken is replaced with pieces of white chocolate bar, the corn and carrots are shaped pieces of starburst, the peas are shaped pieces of jolly rancher chews, and the potatoes are small pieces of bananas.

You might be thinking, okay that looks neat but I bet it tastes terrible. I thought the same thing but it is surprisingly good. It's not like creme brulee or anything (which by the way I have never made nor eaten so I wouldn't technically know what it tastes like), but it is pleasantly nice. The veggies are a bit chewy for my taste but the flavors actually mixed pretty well. A bite consisted of a bit of crust, a bit of pudding, and a bit of fruit flavor. Not too bad once you got used to the chewy vegetables. Maybe if vegetables always came in this form more kids wouldn't have an aversion to eating them!

If you want the recipe you can click the link here. There are many other fun fake-out foods to peruse as well. Enjoy!