Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Saint Joe gets invited to Easter...

Jeesh! Spring Break just flew by, bookended by major holidays. It seems like we had hardly finished St. Patty's corned beef before it was time to make the Easter ham! And in the middle, I tried (but failed) to celebrate La Festa di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's Feast). I am neither Catholic nor Italian, so this was a new one on me. But when I read about zeppole di San Giuseppe on my favorite Montreal blog, I knew I had to try and make them myself. Of course, they are a Lenten pastry, but I wasn't able to make them on the official day (March 19) as I had run out of heavy cream, and Cyd couldn't be bothered to bring some home from town! So I made them for our Easter dessert on Sunday, which I do understand is completely inappropriate. Regardless, they were tasty and quite festive. This type of zeppola is basically like a cream puff; it's made from the same kind of pate a choux but fried, like a Italian version of a crueller. And it's either filled with sweetened ricotta or, more traditionally, with pastry cream (I opted for the latter as I consider pastry cream to be its own food group). Then it's topped with a cherry and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Pretty basic elements, but delightful nonetheless. Mine kind of mutated and became all crazy-looking as I fried them, but it just gave them a whimsical, Seuss-like quality that I found enchanting. Plus, the mutant ends were extra-crispy and delicious! ;-)

As for the rest of our Easter dinner, we whetted our appetites with devilled eggs with a few minced pickled jalapeno slices and a little zucchini relish mixed in. The main attraction, of course, was a spiral-sliced ham glazed with an absolutely delicious mixture of a quarter cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and a half-cup of my homemade honeybell marmalade. YUM! I also cooked some Italian Romano (green) beans in the crock pot all day with bacon, onions, and chicken broth. And the piece de resistance was the ultimate three-cheese scalloped potato dish! I don't always have the best of luck with homemade scalloped potatoes--mainly, because it's often so hard to get the potatoes done all the way through. But this recipe was super-easy and super-delicious. I found it on Epicurious, and since it had nearly 300 positive reviews since 1999, I felt confident that it would turn out well. Indeed, I declare it the definitive Easter side dish which definitely warrants a repeat appearance on a future holiday table.

Scalloped Potatoes with Three Cheeses
(Source: Rick Rodgers, Bon Appetit, November 1999 via
Makes 12 servings

3/4 cup (packed) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
3/4 cup crumbled Danish blue cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/3 cup (packed) freshly grated parmesan (about 1 1/4 ounces)
4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (I used Yukon Golds)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
3 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Mix cheddar cheese, blue cheese and parmesan in small bowl.

Arrange half of potatoes in prepared baking dish, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle onion over, then flour. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle half of cheese mixture over. Top with remaining potatoes, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons butter. Reserve remaining cheese.

Bring milk to simmer in medium saucepan (I did this in a Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave). Pour milk over potatoes (milk will not cover potatoes completely). Cover baking dish tightly with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Uncover dish (liquids in dish may look curdled); sprinkle potatoes with reserved cheese mixture. Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender and cheese is deep golden brown, about 45 minutes longer. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Cover and rewarm in 375°F oven about 20 minutes.) Remove from oven; let stand 15 minutes before serving.

St. Joseph's Day Zeppole (Zeppole di San Giuseppe)
Sal Joseph Scognamillo of Patsy's Italian Restaurant)
Makes 12

2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
6 eggs
vegetable oil for frying (Scognamillo uses peanut oil)
2 pounds ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 maraschino cherries

Bring water, butter and salt to a low boil. When boiling, add flour and stir for about 1 minute until thoroughly mixed. Take off fire, move to mixing bowl and let cool 10 minutes. Mixing at a low speed, add 1 egg at a time (this is important, says Scognamillo), allowing each egg to completely blend in. Put batter in a pastry bag or a freezer bag with a hole cut into a corner.

Cut wax paper into 3-inch squares and lightly dust with flour. Pipe dough into round doughnut shapes onto wax paper (the hole should be about 1 inch wide).

Heat oil to 350. Carefully slide batter off the paper into the oil, frying 3-4 doughnuts at a time, making sure not to crowd the pan. Fry for 7-8 minutes, turning every couple of minutes, when the bubbling of the dough stops. (They're done when both golden brown and double in size and all bubbling ends, says Scognamillo.) Allow to cool and slice horizontally.

Mix ricotta, sugar and vanilla extract in another mixing bowl on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add chocolate chips and mix for 10 seconds. (Or, if you prefer, make your favorite pastry cream instead.)

Put cream in pastry bag and fill center of zeppole. Press the top of pastry onto the bottom. (Scognamillo also puts a dollop of cream over the hole to serve as a base for the cherry.) Top zeppole with a cherry, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More Marmalade Madness, or Why Cyd is My Hero

I have been remiss in sharing some really great news. My roommate recently got a raise at Dunder-Mifflin...and it was a BIG one! She really deserved it, plus it sure helped get us through this skyrocketing fuel oil season, let me tell you! So we are very grateful for the serendipitous timing of that raise. CONGRATS, Cyd! :-)

Shortly after this financial blessing, I sent her a silly email like I do, saying, "You buy me this!" with an accompanying link to an extravagant item. Now you must understand, we always do this, and it's just a joke. Like she'll send me a link to a brand-new Nissan Murano, or I'll send a link to a fabulous house for sale in the area, etc. Again, I reiterate, it's just a joke. So I sent her an email with a link to a French hand-hammered copper preserving pan that I have always longed for. I found it on Amazon for about half price, but half of an astronomical amount is still ridiculous. Yet when I went to pick her up from work that night, she handed me a printout. I thought, oh no, she's bought herself yet another pair of overpriced shoes! But when I read it more closely, I started to get all choked up when I realized that she had ordered the Mauviel pan for me! I said, fighting back my tears, "It was just a joke! I was just kidding! You didn't have to do this! You shouldn't have done this!" She just laughed and said, in all sincerity, that she was happy to be able to do it, and that she knew I would get a lot of use out of it. Can you believe that? Is that the most amazingly generous gesture ever? Cyd ROCKS! And just LOOK at it! Bask in its warm, coppery glow! Feel its hypnotic power!

So since it's Spring Break, and I have some free time, I thought it was time to return to my Marmalade Madness mode. I still need to make another batch of the wonderful honeybell marmalade, but to break in my GORGEOUS new preserving pan, I decided to try yet another June Taylor recipe--Grapefruit and Meyer Lemon Marmalade. Doesn't that just sound incredible? Well, it must have been my magical copper Mauviel, but this may have been my best batch of marmalade so far! Even if you only have a humble kettle made of some modest metal, I urge you to give this one a try. It offers a puckery burst of bittersweet sunshine when winter still lingers.

Grapefruit and Meyer Lemon Marmalade
(Source: June Taylor, via
The New York Times, Feb. 13, 2005)

5 pounds grapefruit, rinsed (I used an entire eight-pound bag, which held nine medium-sized fruits)
5 Meyer lemons or small regular lemons, rinsed (I used Meyer lemons)
1/2 cup lemon juice (from 2 to 3 additional lemons--again, I used Meyer lemon juice)
2 1/2 pounds sugar (I pushed this to 3 pounds=personal taste)

1. Remove the grapefruit skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut the peel into 1/8-inch slivers; stop when you have 3/4 cup. Slice off the ends of the grapefruit and the remaining grapefruit peel and pith. Remove grapefruit segments, reserving membrane. Stop when you have 5 cups of segments. (I ended up using nine grapefruits to get enough segments, when five pounds was less than six grapefruits...hmm, curious).

2. Cut the ends off the Meyer lemons, deep enough so you can see the flesh. Leaving the peel on, remove the segments of lemon and reserve the membrane. Cut the segments crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces. (Not being a fan of super-bitter marmalade, I decided to remove the Meyer lemon skin as with the grapefruit, slice it very thinly, cut off the rind from the lemons and discard, supreme the segments, and reserve the membranes for pectin.) Put membranes from the grapefruit and Meyer lemons in a jelly bag and tie closed. (In the jelly bag--my trusty Bed Bath and Beyond cheesecloth tied up with kitchen twine--I also added the leftover grapefruit peels and the Meyer lemon halves that I juiced but did not peel.)

3. In a wide and deep pot (or a fabulous French copper preserving pan if you're lucky enough to have one!), combine the grapefruit segments, grapefruit peel, lemon pieces and jelly bag. Add lemon juice and 2 1/2 cups water. Simmer until the grapefruit peel is tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool. (For me, this is usually the end of day one. It makes it much more humane to split the work over two days.)

4. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Working over a bowl in your sink, squeeze the liquid from the jelly bag; keep squeezing and wringing it out until you extract 1/3 to 1/2 cup of pectin. Add pectin and sugar to the pot. Place over high heat and boil, stirring now and then, until marmalade is between 222 and 225 degrees and passes the plate test*. (Spoon a little onto a plate and put in the fridge for 3 minutes. If it thickens like jam, it is done.)

5. Meanwhile, put 6 (to 8) sterilized 8-ounce canning jars and lids on a baking sheet and place in the oven (I just keep mine in the water bath canner as it comes to a boil). When jam is done, remove jars from the oven. Ladle jam into the jars, filling them as high as possible. Wipe the rims. Fasten the lid tightly. Let cool. If you don't get a vacuum seal, refrigerate the jam**. Makes 6 8-ounce jars of marmalade. (I got 8!)

*My marmalade, as usual, never did get past 218-219 degrees (perhaps it's time for a new candy thermometer?). So I rely on how it looks and if it crinkles on a cold plate when pushed with your finger. Despite Ms. Taylor's warnings to not go much past 45 minutes, my marmalade is always runny if cooked for less than an hour. Usually it's about an hour and ten minutes on my stove, even with the fancy French cookware!

**Again, I like to play it safe, so I avoid the "open kettle" method. After jarring up the marmalade, I processed it in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. (This also ensures that I may legally sell the product in New York State if I feel compelled to part with any!)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Top o'' to Ye!

I trust that everyone had their fill of green beer and such shenanigans today? Being that I'm trapped in Obers' Corners without transportation this week, I didn't go anywhere or do anything special today--unless you count walking with Prunelle up to the mini-mart this afternoon to get some brown sugar. (Yippee.) But staying home was fine by me, truth to tell. I had grand plans for a most excellent meal in celebration of St. Pat's, and I worked on it (off and on) all day. But DANG if everything didn't turn out fabulously delicious!

Basically, I made the same dinner as last year (more of a roasted than boiled dinner, but with all the traditional elements). In addition to roasting parts of the "boiled dinner," the other key to success that I have learned is to not skimp on the quality of the corned beef! Now I am a budget shopper and can pinch pennies with the best of them, but I implore you: do yourself a favor and pony up for a better quality (yes, more expensive) corned beef. It makes all the difference--it really does. And if you don't know which one to choose, ask your butcher. The fine fellow at Hannaford (grocery store) led us to a really great one this year.

Then to go along with the corned beef and cabbage and roasted root veggies, I made another version of beer bread, this one with the savory additions of sharp cheddar, mustard and dill. Yum! Thanks to Zabby over at GardenWeb's Harvest Forum who alerted me to the recipe. It came from a recent issue of Toronto's Globe and Mail, so please blame them for the cultural stereotyping, not me. But I got another great beer-laden recipe from the same article, a Chocolate Guinness Cake via Nigella Lawson. It's a real winner--crisp on the outside, incredibly moist on the inside and with a bit of a tang from the beer and from a good amount of sour cream. You don't need a mixer to make this cake, so it's easy. And it's so moist, it doesn't even require frosting, just a sprinkling of powdered sugar, a dollop of whipped cream, or a sidecar of ice cream. I opted for the latter, and I spied the perfect recipe on Smitten Kitchen for homemade butterscotch ice cream, which was the ideal companion for this lush, chocolate cake. (Okay, I suppose my theme is ruined because it's butterSCOTCH not Irish, but then again, if it's no' Scottish, it's crrrrappp!)

Cheesy Beer Bread
(Source: Toronto Globe and Mail, March 15, 2008)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt (sounds like a lot, but you need it)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup chopped dill (I used one tablespoon of dried)
1 cup grated aged/sharp Cheddar cheese
12 ounces wheat beer or lager (avoid a dark beer--use something mild in flavor)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 350 F. Generously butter a loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper (I used a glass pan and didn't need the paper).

Combine all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the dill and cheese and stir to coat with flour. Stir in beer and mustard until mixture forms a dough. You may need to knead dough with your hands to bring it together.

Turn the dough into a buttered loaf pan and use a damp hand to smooth the top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until light golden and firm to touch (more like 50-55 minutes!). Makes 1 loaf. This is great toasted!

Chocolate Guinness Cake
Toronto Globe and Mail, March 15, 2008, adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast)

1 cup Guinness beer (actually, I used a local caramel porter that was perfect for this)
1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I swapped out 1/4 cup of dark/black cocoa here)
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Garnish: icing sugar or whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch spring-form pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Pour Guinness into a large saucepan over medium heat. Add butter and heat until melted. Remove from heat, whisk in cocoa powder and sugar and reserve.

Combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl and beat until uniform. Add sour cream mixture to Guinness mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk in flour and baking soda. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out with crumbs clinging to it.

Place tin on a rack and leave to cool completely. Before serving, dust with icing sugar or lightly sweetened whipped cream, or serve with ice cream.

Serves 8 to 10

Butterscotch Ice Cream
(Source: Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Sunset Magazine)
Makes one quart

1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)
pinch of salt (optional)
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 cups half-and-half
6 large egg yolks

1. In a 1- to 2-quart pan over medium heat, stir brown sugar and butter until butter is melted, sugar is dissolved, and mixture is bubbly, 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup whipping cream until smooth; remove butterscotch mixture from heat. Add vanilla and bourbon, if using. Also, add a pinch of salt (optional).
2. In a 3- to 4-quart pan over medium-high heat, combine remaining 1 cup whipping cream and the half-and-half; bring to a simmer.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, beat egg yolks to blend. Whisk 1/2 cup of the warm cream mixture into egg yolks, then pour egg yolk mixture into pan with cream. Stir constantly over low heat just until mixture is slightly thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Immediately remove from heat.
4. Pour through a fine strainer into a clean bowl and whisk in butterscotch mixture. Chill until cold, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours; or cover and chill up to 1 day. (To fast-track the chilling, use an ice bath for about 20 minutes.)
5. Freeze mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve softly frozen, or transfer ice cream to an airtight container and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours or up to 1 week.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Ok, so it's still ridiculously icy outside, and we have had one snowstorm after the next for months now. But as of today, I'm officially on Spring Break, so I declare it to be spring, regardless of the calendar or the stupid weather! My students clearly agree, because some of them are already rocking the shorts and flip-flops on the days when it gets up to 40 degrees! (It's a North Country thing.) Moreover, Daylight Savings Time has VASTLY improved my spirits. It is so wonderful, for example, to get done with my office hour at Plattsburgh State on Mondays at 6:45pm and then walk to my car in broad daylight! Of course, it's a little harder to watch movies for the first hour of my Wednesday night film class now (even with the shades closed, the room is BRIGHT), but you won't hear me complain. And look who else apparently got the springtime memo?

You GO, girls! My faithful next-door neighbor discovered these treasures in the coop last weekend. So we enjoyed a special homegrown omelette with lots of cheese and thinly-sliced spring onions. (See? A theme!) Along with our savory eggs, I unearthed the other loaf of Dorie Greenspan's brioche from the freezer and made her FAAAAAABULOUS bostock with it. It's perfect for breakfast or brunch--even for dessert--as it is made with brioche or challah or any other similarly eggy bread slathered with a luscious almond cream, topped with sliced almonds, and baked for just 10-15 minutes until the top is puffed and golden and the bottoms of the slices are also browned. Easy and SO YUMMMM-MY!

Dorie Greenspan's Bostock
(Source: Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan)

6 tablespoons butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons flour
1 tsp cornstarch
1 large egg
2 teaspoons dark rum or 1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice challah or brioche into 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick pieces. (Slightly stale is okay, and perhaps preferable.) This recipe makes eight slices of bostock.

Cream the butter and sugar in a food processor or stand mixer. Add the ground almonds until blended. Add the flour and cornstarch and mix until incorporated, then add the egg. Process for about 15 seconds so the cream is homogenous. Add either the rum or the vanilla, pulse or mix just until blended.

Put about three tablespoons of almond cream on each slice, leaving a little border around the edge. Scatter some sliced almonds on the top, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the tops are puffed and golden. Serve warm.

Friday, March 07, 2008

A Tale of Two Dogs

No, no, I'm not talking about these dogs...

...or even this old lady...

I'm talking about the kind of dogs you eat--more specifically, hot dogs and Devil Dogs! I am really embarrassed to post my recipe for Quesadilla Dogs, but confidentially, it may be one of my more ingenious creations, and every time I make them (only once in a blue moon, I swear!), Cyd ooh's and ahh's and says that I should post about them and share this culinary marvel with the rest of the world. It's not even a recipe, just a method of nuking and assembling. Again, I don't advocate these as a mainstay of a healthy diet, but once in awhile won't kill ya, especially on those nights when you crawl home, exhausted and demoralized by a rough work week, and you just can't face any real cooking. On those desperate occasions, this might just get you through in a pinch. I'm not sure how I originally came up with the idea, but it may be because I used to live near Chicago where they love to throw everything on a hot dog but the kitchen sink! And using tortillas probably comes from me never remembering to buy hot dog buns. ;-)

Ok, to make the infamous Quesadilla Dog, you slice up your favorite melty cheese (I like co-jack for this), and place the thin slices haphazardly all over a burrito-sized flour tortilla (I suppose that pre-shredded cheese would make this even easier, wouldn't it?). Deposit said tortilla in the microwave and nuke it for about 30 seconds, or until the cheese is mostly melted. Carefully remove the tortilla to a work surface, and then nuke two hot dogs for about 90 seconds until hot but not exploding. On the surface of the quesadilla (on top of the cheese), squirt some yellow mustard, spread on about a good tablespoon of zucchini relish (this may be the key ingredient!), a generous sprinkling of finely-chopped red onion, and some banana peppers (I like these chopped up a bit, too). Slice the tortilla in half, and roll up one hot dog on each side, weiner wrap-style. And VOILA! I give you, the Quesadilla Dog in all its trashy fabulousness! Believe you me, this is the best hot dog you'll ever eat--sweet, tangy, zesty, goopy, and all-around DEE-LICIOUS!

To extend the motif, you may wish to complete your elegant hot dog meal with a slice of homemade Devil Dog Cake. There was a recipe for this in last month's issue of Gourmet magazine, but I liked Smitten Kitchen's riff on it. She recommended that we use the wonderful chocolate cake recipe from Epicurious (circa 1999), and instead of just topping it with marshmallow frosting, we could make any manner of snack cake simulations, from something like a Hostess cupcake to a Ding Dong/King Don(g)/Ring Ding to a Devil Dog or Little Debbie Devil Square. As I was making this for Cyd who loves nothing so well as a King Dong (that's Ding Dong to those of you didn't grow up in the eastern U.S. or Canada), I decided to fill the cake with marshmallow frosting and then top it with chocolate ganache. The original recipe calls for the cake to be baked in two 10-inch pans (who has that size?), but don't be tempted to use 9-inch pans, as it will spill over. I baked mine in three 8-inch layers instead. And to get the right creme-to-cake ratio, Cyd suggested that I do each layer as a separate filled and glazed cake. What a fine idea! That way I was able make one for Cyd and one for my officemate, Lee Ann, and her sweet little girls, K and E, and keep one layer in the freezer for the next time that Cyd craves a ginormous, mutant snack cake. At least, that was my plan...until June came by my office yesterday and overheard me talking about the cake with Lee Ann and became instantly saddened at the news that I did not bring enough to share (apparently, Devil Dogs are a special weakness of hers). So what else could I do? I defrosted the last layer last night, made another half-batch of marshmallow filling and ganache, and brought the last Ding Dong Cake in for my beloved friend June today. Meanwhile, Lee Ann reported that her kids got a real kick out of the cake (even though I suppose that I should have taken the time to make the iconic white loops on top!), and that the adults licked their plates clean, too! The recipe follows...

Ding Dong Cake
(Sources: Gourmet, February 2008 and Epicurious, but mostly Smitten Kitchen)

Chocolate Cake Layers:
3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut (I used Guittard bittersweet chips)
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms of 2 10-inch* round cake pans with wax paper and grease paper (I prefer parchment for this).

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.

Divide batter between pans (I used three 8-inch pans) and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool layers in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax or parchment paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made one day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

* Note: This cake will overflow if baked in 9-inch cake pans. If you only have 9-inch pans, you might want to 2/3 the cake recipe instead, as following: 2 ounces chocolate, 1 cup coffee, 2 cups sugar, 1 2/3 cup flour, 1 cup cocoa, 1 1/3 tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. baking powder, 2 eggs, ½ cup oil, 1 cup buttermilk, ½ tsp. vanilla, etc. and reduce the baking time by at least ten minutes.

Marshmallow, or Seven Minute Frosting:
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine frosting ingredients with a pinch of salt in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and beat with a handheld electric mixer at high speed until frosting is thick and fluffy, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and continue to beat until slightly cooled. Mound frosting on top of cake. Dust with additional cocoa powder.

Ganache Frosting
(Used in the first and second options below)

1/2 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut (I used Guittard bittersweet chips)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter

Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency). I found that stirring this over a bowl of ice water did a great job of cooling it off quickly and evenly. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. Chilling the cake will harden the chocolate coating.

Make Your Own Hostess Cupcake, Ding Dong, Ring Ding, King Don(g) Cake: Bake two cake layers as directed. Halve one layer horizontally into two thin layers. Place the first one on a cake plate. Take the second cake and cut a large hole out of the center, about 6-inches across—you won’t be using this. As carefully as possible, place this on top of the halved cake layer on the stand. Fill the entire cut-out area with frosting, leaving a half cup aside if you wish to pipe the signature loops or a message across the top. Lay the second halved layer on top of this, sealing the filling in. Spread the ganache coating over top and sides of cake. Once ganache is firm and chilled (the fridge does a great job of this, quickly), you can decorate it with a piping bag or a makeshift one, a sandwich bag with the corner snipped off.

Make Your Own Little Debbie Devil Square Cake: Proceed as above, but bake the two layers in square cake pans.

Make Your Own Devil Dog Cake: Bake two cake layers, in an oblong or long rectangular pan (you can round the edges after you bake it) if you have. Use the frosting only between the cake layers.

Make Your Own Chocolate Layer Cake with Marshmallow Frosting and Filling: Double the frosting recipe and use it as filling and coating on a two-layer round chocolate cake. Set about one cup aside if you wish to tint it and pipe decorations on the cake, either it with a piping bag or a makeshift one, a sandwich bag with the corner snipped off.

And while we’re at it, because it is in a similar vein–Make Your Own Devil's Food White Out Cake in the style of the stunning one on the cover of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. Halve each cake layer horizontally, creating four thin layers. Break one into small crumbs; set crumbs aside. Using a double recipe of the marshmallow frosting, spread some between each cake layer, stacking as you go, and then cover the exterior in the remainder. Press the crumbled cake crumbs into the sides of the iced cake, and just over the top of the cake in a one-inch ring.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Lemon is the New Crack

Ok, people...gather around. I have something of the utmost importance to tell you. In fact, I hesitate to share it publicly for fear of inciting a gold-rush-type panic and consequent shortage of my new favorite food product on the planet. Are you ready? Wait for it....wait for it. No, perhaps before I give it name and summon its hypnotic powers, I will share a pornographic picture--mind you, try not to gum up your laptop with drool.

I stole this image from a lovely gal with the handle of dearbarbz366 over on Flickr. I would have taken a picture of my own, but something mysterious happened to my cookies, and they DISAPPEARED before I was able to snap one shot. Friends, you are looking at the newest offering in the Girl Scout cookie lineup, the Lemon Chalet Creme. HEAVEN...HELP....ME!! These are the best things since, well, the Thin Mint! In fact, for several years now, I have only bought Thin Mints, because the other varieties did nothing for me--they just didn't hold a candle. But this year, I am prepared to boldly say that this is the only Girl Scout cookie ever to give the Thin Mint a run for its money. In fact, as I am not a chocoholic myself, and as enchanted as I am by the combination of lemon and vanilla, I would have to say that, for me, these edge out the Thin Mint! (Yes, I know what an extreme statement that is, and I'm willing to stand strong on that controversial position.)

The cookie has a very similar taste and texture to, of all things, the McDonaldland cookie. (Do they make those anymore? You know, in the shapes of Ronald McDonald and all of his friends?) It's a crispy vanilla cookie but with a bit of spice...cinnamon and ginger, maybe? And then it's sandwiched together with three cute blobs of extremely tangy, lemony filling, much like a lemon version of an Oreo's filling, but much creamier. In short, if you are a lemon lover, they are TO DIE FOR! (But not literally, as they have no trans fat. Ok, let's not discuss calories...) My only gripe is that each box comes with only one tray totalling a mere 14 cookies. That's a quarter apiece! I am going to have to go to the bank and take out a loan to support my new habit throughout the spring (aka Girl Scout Cookie Season)! But it may be well worth it.

Now, anyone reading this in the greater Plattsburgh area, don't you DARE go buy up all the Lemon Chalet Cremes before I can get some more! Girl Scouts, be advised that I will be outside of Sam's Club/Wal-Mart today around 6pm. Please have your mothers bring their mini-vans full of said product for me to buy. Better yet, if one of my work colleagues is reading this and you have a Girl Scout in the family, send her my way ASAP! I'm jonesin', and she's guaranteed a sale! ;-)