Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Naturally Gluten-Free: Coconut Cassava Bars

Hello world! These are my baby steps back into the food blogging/photography world. A little scared...a lot clumsy (I swear I've somehow forgotten even the basics of how light works! =X)...and learning things again bit by bit (I hope) with each attempt!

Coconut Cassava Bars
For today's shoot, I chose coconut cassava bars inspired by one of my favorite nutrition blogs, Nutrition to Kitchen. Similar versions of this cake can be found in Vietnamese and Filipino cuisine. These bars are mildly sweet and just a little bit salty (partly due to the addition of cheddar cheese!); soft and chewy in a way that's reminiscent of mochi cake (not surprising once you learn cassava is used to make tapioca); rich with coconut flavor (from the milk as well as sweetened coconut strings known as macapuno); naturally gluten-free; and ab-so-lute-ly addicting to nibble on. Please do give it a go, and let me know what you think!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Recreating The Baltimore Bomb (Chess Pie with Vanilla Fudge Cookies)

I've always enjoyed eating pies, but they've never consumed my daydreams the way cupcakes and macarons have. Perhaps its their rustic appearance and less portable/adorable packaging. Or perhaps its the added step of having to make pastry dough in advance (a pie without a homemade crust is not a pie worth making IMO). Either way, my thoughts rarely turn toward pie unless autumn's on the horizon.

Baltimore Bomb Pie
At least that's how it used to be until an unassuming slice from the aptly named Dangerously Delicious Pies (DDP) in DC blew me away at first bite. Its name was The Baltimore Bomb, and I guarantee it's like no pastry you've ever tasted. DDP created The Bomb especially for the city of Baltimore, Maryland, using their famous Berger cookies, which are equal parts vanilla cookie and chocolate fudge. The inspired twist was to suspend these decadent cookies in a traditional Southern chess filling. The fudge melts down to bestow its gooey goodness to the entire pie, while the tangy custard reigns in the richness of the chopped Berger's. I strongly encourage everyone in the DC area to experience the real deal at DDP, but I think this recipe hits pretty close to the mark and captures all the elements that make the Baltimore Bomb Pie so exceptional and addictive =D.

P.S. - Please pardon the mediocre photo! I only had 15 minutes during the workday to grab a shot in front of my office building AND it started raining as soon as I got outside. The taste was fantastic though so I wanted to make sure I had a photo for this blog post to tempt you to try the recipe (please do!).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chocolate Guinness Stout Cupcakes with Baileys Frosting (Happy St. Patrick's Day!)

Happy St. Patrick's Day, dear readers! It's actually not a big day for P and me 'cause it's a bit like St. Paddy's Day every day around here (lol can you guess what P stands for now? =p). The joke started a few years ago when we went shopping at Old Navy close to a certain holiday. A cute green St. Patrick's Day tee was on sale, so I got it for him with the justification that he could wear it any day rather than just the one and he totally does wear it all the time (yay!). But then again, I just asked if he'd wear it later today, and all I got was a huge eye roll. Don't worry though, I'll keep working on this...I've still a few hours yet.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! (Chocolate Guinness Baileys Cupcakes)
In the meantime, I want to share a really delicious Irish-themed (by which I mean boozy ^-^) cupcake recipe with you. I have my coworker and friend A to thank for requesting these chocolate cupcakes full o' Guinness stout and Baileys Irish cream. Her repeated guidance as I prepared to make these was "Remember. There is no such thing as too much Baileys!" I agree in theory, but many of you bakers will already know that runny frosting is a bit of a nightmare. I found a happy medium using my special cold cream cheese technique to keep the frosting firm while adding more liquid than usual.

These cupcakes were actually such a hit with P and my coworkers that I only got a single bite of one. So I've decided to use their descriptions rather than my own for this post:
  • The Boy called these "seriously dangerous" and a combination of "F yea and awesome!"
  • Guinea pig coworker N may have moaned a little while eating his cupcake.
  • Coworker B called these the "best thing ever!"
  • Coworker C, who works in Pricing, when asked if the cake was moist enough drew me a bell curve showing me that on a scale of 1 to 100 (completely dry to terribly moist) with 50 being the ideal level of moistness these cupcakes were a 48. 
    • On a side note, I'm a crazy perfectionist so I tweaked the cake recipe in response to his feedback. Hopefully the recipe below makes a perfectly moist 50-worthy cupcake now.
  • Coworker N liked the cupcake and was kind enough to be my hand model for the photo above (thanks!!).
Now if those reactions don't get you running to the kitchen, I don't know what will! I truly do hope you'll give these a shot. Either way, hope you all have a fantastic (and safe) St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Wheek Wheek! (Guinea Pig Cake Tutorial)

Guinea Pig Cake Process
I had a Work Hard, Play Hard kind of weekend and I'm gonna be honest with you, my body just can't bounce back like it used to in college! In fact my head's pretty mad at me right now for not going to bed 2 hours ago lol. But I had to type up this post now 'cause I couldn't wait another second to share my first carved cake with you! My good friend E is a guinea pig lover (and proud mama to 6 adorable lumps of flesh and fur piggies), so I volunteered to make a guinea pig-shaped cake for her big 3-0 party this weekend. I was pretty scared to carve a cake for the first time, but I'm so glad I went for it because (with P's help) I was able to make something we all found super-cute. I looked at a LOT of cake versions of this adorable rodent and EVEN MORE photos of real pigs before settling on my own path. Kinda really hoping not to see another guinea pig photo for a few months, as cute as they may be...

Nonetheless, I wanted to share some notes (before I forget!) on how I made this cake in case any of you have pig-lovers as friends/family/clients/selves. Wish I'd thought to document the initial cake carving/spackling process, but I'm hoping the 3 pre-buttercream shots below are still helpful. If you have any additional questions about how I made this Wheek-tastic cake, don't hesitate to leave a comment or shoot me an email!

Guinea Pig Carved Cake
Makes one approximately 11 x 5 x 5-inch cake

12 or 14-inch Cake Drum (sturdy base board)
Three 8-inch square cake layers 
***I made 1.5x batch of my favorite chocolate cake with 1 extra egg and 1/3 cup less coffee
Chocolate Buttercream
Vanilla Buttercream
Black, Brown, Yellow, Pink and Green gel OR powdered food coloring
Spatula (for frosting between cake layers)
Sharp Knife for Carving
Piping Bags (optional)
Medium Paintbrush (used for food ONLY, with coarse bristles for best texture)
LOTS of Paper Towels
Gumpaste (for eyes, ears, and nose)
Vegetable Oil (for painting the eyes)
Smaller Paintbrush (for painting the eyes)
Wilton Tip #233 (or other grass piping tip)

I started off by cutting, filling, and stacking my cake layers with chocolate frosting to make a 10 x 5 x 4-inch rectangular cake. Crumble any leftover cake into crumbs and combine with enough frosting to make an easily moldable material for spackling the cake. (If you've ever made a cake pop, this is essentially what goes into cake pop fillings.). Chill rectangular cake for at least 30 minutes, then start carving! Use back and forth motions with a sharp knife to cut away small pieces of cake at a time. I just looked at a LOT of photos of guinea pigs (including my friend's actual pigs) and became familiar with their shape from different sides. To start with, you'll want to smooth out all the top corners and carve more toward the middle to create a subtle "waist" between the main guinea pig body segments. I'm not great at thinking in 3D, so this part was nerve-wracking when I thought I could only cut away. BUT (and you can call this cheating but I won't care =p) once I started using the mixed paste of cake crumbs and frosting as spackle, both building up the shape and cutting it away, I was able to just have fun. The angle, size, and shape of the head also stumped me for quite a while, so I just kept building up the cake "butt" with more spackle haha. So if you noticed that this (pig) baby's got some back, the credit/blame falls squarely on these here shoulders...**cheeeeeesy grin** 

Guinea Pig Cake Process
If you find the cake getting too soft to carve well, simply stick it back in the fridge for 10 minutes to firm up again and then continue working. When you're happy with the shape, chill the cake again to set the shape. While you're waiting on that, reserve about 1/2 cup of vanilla buttercream, then divide up and color the remaining chocolate and vanilla frostings to make the shades you want for the fur. I used black gel food coloring to darken chocolate buttercream and a mixture of vanilla frosting, chocolate frosting, and brown and yellow gel colors to create the lighter shade of brown fur on the pig. 

Now's also a good time to color the 1/2 cup of vanilla buttercream reserved above a vibrant grass green for later. I used a combination of gel and powdered food coloring. Cover and set aside for later.

Guinea Pig Cake Process
Once the cake has been chilled enough, it's time to add the fur-textured buttercream. I spent as much time figuring out the best way to do this as I did studying guinea pig shapes (is it just me or do those both make me sound ultra cool?? and not weird at ALL). The keys to getting a fur-like look with buttercream are (1) to use a paintbrush (one reserved for FOOD use ONLY) with somewhat coarse bristles, (2) to apply the different-colored sections from the back of the cake toward the head, and (3) to wipe your brush off VERY well whenever it touches more than one color at once.

Guinea Pig Cake Process

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Day Late OR 364 Days Early? (King Cake Cake Pops!)

King Cake Cake Pops
I know Mardi Gras was technically yesterday, but can you really blame me for wanting to keep the party going? I made these King Cake^2 Pops for a birthday celebration at work today. And based on 100% statistically sound exit polling, these treats would be a welcome offering year-round =p. The filling is a 6 Bittersweets original cake full of sour cream, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cream cheese. Dressed up in a slim candy coat and sparkly colors, these are my most party-ready cake pops yet! I suggest you grab on to any excuse you get to make these, whether it's Mardi Gras, a birthday, or even just Hump Day =).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Big, Fat, Chewy, Perfect: The Best Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Perfect Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies 4
I rarely use the word "perfect", and never in reference to my own baking (being my own worst critic and all...). It's a term too often used to describe the generic and mundane rather than the extraordinary. But it's also incredibly subjective with meaning that varies as much as the individuals that use it. So when I tell you that the GIF below is 100% how I reacted to my first bite of these thick and chewy gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, I want you to understand that I'm not using the word frivolously =D. And lest you think this an exercise in self-congratulations, I openly admit to making only minor tweaks to an already incredible recipe by Alanna of Bojon Gourmet

While I'm aware on some level that multiple types exist, the only CC cookies that my brain registers are crisp around the edges, chewy in the center, oozing with melted chocolate chunks, and bursting with a flavor akin to butterscotch. All of us who share this concept of Cookie Nirvana as well as an interest in gluten-free baking owe Alanna a huge debt of gratitude. With some slight tweaking of the types/proportions of grains, she's created a GF cookie that stays chewy in the center, 
spreads like a wheat cookie, and is equal or superior to any CC cookie I've ever tasted (conventional OR GF)! For you skeptics out there, know that all my guinea pigs coworkers loved these, and not one could tell they were gluten-free. 

Perfect Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
Perfect Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies 3
In this day and age I'm willing to bet that most of you have had reason to contemplate gluten-free cooking. Whether you're baking for a friend with celiac disease or just experimenting with alternative grains, I'm confident your search for The Best (Gluten-Free) Chocolate Chip Cookie will be over as soon as you whip up a batch of these. And being a gift that keeps on giving, I wouldn't be surprised to see other GF cookie posts popping up soon using this base as the starting point...I truly hope you enjoy this "perfect" recipe as much as I have and would love to hear about your results if you try it!

Perfect Best Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe
P.S. - I didn't use any ole pecans for these cookies, but Jumbo Raw Georgia Pecans I received from Oh! Nuts. Although I did receive these for free for my holiday baking, I can honestly say (and have said before on this blog) that I loved and paid for their products long before they ever offered me free samples. There's so much to love about Oh! Nuts that it's hard to know where to start. First, there's the incredible taste and freshness. These pecans are huge, fresh, and have a hint of natural sweetness that makes them addictive right outta the bag. Speaking of the bag, I love that all Oh! Nuts products come in a sturdy bags that stand upright, are resealable, and have a window in the front so you can easily identify the right product in your pantry later. Anyway, I'll stop gushing as you surely get the point by now. Oh! Nuts is a wonderful supplier of bulk nuts and candy, and I can't recommend them and their products enough! =D