Tres Leches Cake

I had never had Tres Leches cake until pretty recently. Of course I had heard of it but I guess growing up in suburbia where even our Mexican restaurants are over-Americanized, it wasn’t a popular menu item.

So a friend and I decided to go to a local Mexican restaurant late one Sunday night. He swore they had the best Tres Leches cake around. And they did. It didn’t matter that I had no comparison for reference, the dessert was god damn delicious. Fast forward a few months and I was craving the sweet milk filled airy cake bubbles and whipped cream topping. Determined to sink my teeth into a piece as soon as possible, I set out to recreate it and thankfully, came across Alton Brown’s recipe below.

This recipe is super straightforward but has incredible results so do yourself a favor and try it out!

Alton Brown’s Tres Leches Cake

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Cookies and Cream Cheesecake Cupcakes

Few sweet treats evoke memories of being a kid as much as an Oreo cookie.  Whether you enjoyed them dunked in ice cold milk as an after dinner treat or during the hot summer months in the form of cookies and cream ice cream, there’s something special about that sweet cream filling sandwiched between two perfect chocolate wafers.

These individual cookies and cream cheesecakes deliver all the deliciousness of an Oreo – and more.  And the real surprise here is that they are simple and quick to whip together.

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Oatmeal Pumpkin Creme Pies

As the fall season winds down and thoughts of gingerbread overrule that of pumpkin, here is one last recipe to celebrate the star ingredient of the passing season and to use up the lone can of puree lingering in your pantry.

Oatmeal Pumpkin Creme Pies


These soft and chewy oatmeal creme pies will immediately bring you back to your childhood as they taste very similar to the commercial lunchbox staple.  However, the addition of pumpkin elevates this treat without making it lose its simple appeal.

Ingredients

(makes 12 sandwich cookies)

Printable Version

For the cookies:

1 cup softened butter (unsalted)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups quick oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
For the Creme Filling:
1 pint heavy whipping creme
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Using a stand or handheld mixer, cream together the butter and both sugars.  Once the mixture is light and fluffy, beat in eggs, one at a time.  Once the eggs are incorporated, add the vanilla extract on low speed.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour together with the salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add the dry mixture to the butter/sugar mixture and combine mix in (use low speed).  Using a spoon, stir in the oats.

Using a tablespoon as a guide, scoop out the dough and form into balls.  Place on greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges are brown.  The cookies may still seem uncooked at this point but remove and let cool on a rack.

To assemble the filling, whip together the heavy cream and sugar until fluffy and small peaks form.  Carefully, using a spatula, fold in the pumpkin puree, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Place about 1 tsp of filling on a cooled cookie.  Find similar size cookie and create sandwich.

Any leftover filling is excellent stirred into a piping hot cup of coffee!


Irish Coffee Cupcakes

In my family, no gathering is complete if it doesn’t end with a  perfect Irish coffee.  The combination of coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and cream is so smooth, creamy and rich you won’t even want dessert.

So what’s the perfect way to celebrate St. Patrick’s day?  Besides the Corned Beef and Cabbage & Irish Soda Bread, these Irish Coffee Cupcakes should definitely be on your list.

Fluffy coffee cupcakes & Jameson spiked buttercream mimic the strong flavors of the real thing and soon may be a new tradition in your family.

Sláinte!

Irish Coffee Cupcakes

Coffee Cupcakes

adapted & tweaked from the Cupcake Bake Shop (original recipe here)

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon dark roast coffee grounds
1/2 cup strong brewed, dark roast coffee
1/4 cup milk

Jameson Buttercream

3 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup butter (at room temperature)
1 tablespoon Jameson Irish Whiskey
2 teaspoons strong brewed, dark roast coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla

To make cupcakes:

Place room temperature butter in a mixing bowl and beat on high until softened, about 45 seconds.  Add sugar to the butter and beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until it is light and fluffy.  Add in Jameson & vanilla until combined.  Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through coffee grounds) in a separate bowl.  In another bowl, combine the milk and coffee.

Working in thirds, add flour mixture to the sugar & egg mixture and beat to combine.  Once incorporated, mix in a third of the coffee & milk mixture.  Continue adding the flour & coffee mixtures until it is all combined.

Fill cupcake papers about the third of the way.  Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.  Makes about 20 cupcakes.

To make the Jameson Buttercream:

In a mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and butter until soft and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add in the Jameson, coffee & vanilla and beat until combined.

Frost cooled cupcakes with the buttercream.  Garnish with dark chocolate shavings & green sprinkles.

Sláinte!

Reducing Food Waste (& Your Grocery Bill)

Until recently, I was living at my parent’s home & commuting everyday into the city.  As trying as this time was (as any post-graduate living with their parents can attest to) it was also a good time to save money, something you don’t appreciate until you are paying an arm & a leg for a NYC apartment.

My only problem was having more money meant that I had more to spend on my weekly groceries.  Compounding this problem was that at the end of the week, I often found myself wasting food.

Although my new found budget constraints makes smart shopping a necessity rather than just a ‘nice to do’, weekly food planning is something that can help anyone who is looking to waste less, on a budget or not.

To make it easy, dedicate 20 – 30 minutes a week before you do your shopping to do the following:

  • Take inventory:  What’s in your fridge, freezer & pantry.  Check dates & see if there is anything you should use up soon.
  • Glance at your calendar:  Even though life can throw you a curve ball sometimes, loosely try to plan out your week.  Are you planning on working late Tuesday night?  Hopefully it’s more like drinks Wednesday with your girlfriends.  Whatever it is, make sure to have a few backup plans ready.
  • Pick & Choose: Don’t carve your weekly menu out in stone.  If your plan falls through it will only discourage you.  Instead, make a 4 column list – breakfast, lunch, dinner & snack.  Keeping in mind your inventory & schedule, start filling in each of the columns seeing where you can reuse leftovers or get double use out of purchases.  From here, decide what is absolutely needed from the store. Use this list as you go through the week, picking & choosing depending on what works for you as each day unfolds.

By doing this you should see a dip in your weekly food budget as well as the amount of food you waste each week.  To give an example, here is my list for the week…

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Rhubarb Strawberry Sorbet

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A few weeks ago I was given homegrown rhubarb from some very nice people. Since it was my first time cooking or baking with rhubarb I contemplated what to do with it. The obvious choice, Strawberry Rhubarb pie, came to mind. The more I thought about it though, a pie just wasn’t what this batch of rhubarb was destined to become.

My memorial day plans included visiting my rhubarb suppliers at their gorgeous home in Rhode Island and I wanted to bring a rhubarb treat as a thank you. I began to think of all the things I love about Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. That’s it! What better way to kick off summer than with rhubarb sorbet! Knowing that I would need to balance the tart flavor of rhubarb with a sweet fruit, I turned to its tried and true companion the strawberry.

It seemed like smooth sailing until I came upon a few obstacles in my sorbet making process. First, most recipes for sorbet called for corn syrup – for the most part I despise corn syrup. Why ruin something so fresh and natural from a home garden with an artificial and mass produced product? Second, I didn’t have an ice cream maker. The absence of both of these items could have led to a less than stellar sorbet consistency. After giving it some thought, I decided to use a simple syrup in place of the corn syrup and add some alcohol, specifically the orange-flavored liquor Cointreau, to reduce ice crystals.

Now I was off and running, I made the first batch of sorbet the Sunday before I left for my weekend in Rhode Island. I had to make the sorbet without a blender since I was not in my own home and did not have one available. Personally, I loved the consistency that the pulp added. The sorbet seemed much more natural and homemade with it included.

The following Friday we arrived safely at our destination and prepared for a fun & sun-filled weekend. Saturday morning we helped in the garden and I saw first hand where my rhubarb came from (there’s so much of it!).

cutting rhubarb

The plan was to have company over that night for dinner and sorbet would be the star of desert. Since I had made only 2 pints back in NY, I needed to make some more before everyone arrived and began retrieving more rhubarb (sidenote: the correct way to harvest rhubarb is to pull it from its roots and then cut off the leaf on top)

rhubarb

cutting stemsThe correct way to cut rhubarb

Unfortunately, the second batch of sorbet was not ready until our other BBQ on Sunday night – but everyone at the dinner party had a taste from the first batch and it was a hit! The sorbet was a slightly tart thanks to the combination of rhubarb and lime zest yet perfectly sweet from the strawberries & syrup. Looking ahead, this sorbet will be a great way to preserve rhubarb into the hot summer months when we are all looking for a cold, refreshing treat.

Rhubarb Strawberry Sorbet
(makes about 2 pints)
3 cups rhubarb, sliced (about 5 medium stalks)
1 lb strawberries, diced (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons lime zest
2 tablespoons Cointreau (or other orange flavored liquor)
3/4 cup simple sugar (equal parts sugar & water combined until dissolved)

In a large saucepan combine rhubarb, strawberry, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon lime juice and 1 teaspoon lime zest. Simmer over medium-low heat until a fruit is soft and becomes liquid forms, stirring occaisonally, about 20-30 minutes. Let mixture cool until room temperature.

Rhubarb & StrawberryRhubarb & strawberry cooking down

fruit cooling downFruit mixture cooling down

Once cooled, stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon lime zest and all of the Cointreau. Begin adding the simple sugar one tablespoon at a time and adjusting to your taste (should be slightly sweeter than you would want the finished sorbet to be).

Place in a shallow tupperware container, cover and place in the freezer. To reduce ice crystals and produce a sorbet with better consistency, stir every hour for the first 4 hours and then freeze overnight. The next day, scrape the sorbet and make fluffy before pushing back down into the tupperware.

sorbet before freezerSorbet in Tupperware before going into the freezer

Before serving, place in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes so that the sorbet can soften. Serve and enjoy!

sorbetPansies are edible 🙂

Practice Makes Perfect

Perfection is something I often strive for while cooking or baking. I often have such grand visions of what the final product will be while doing the work, that I am completely bummed out when reality doesn’t meet my expectations. As I have gotten more experience in the kitchen, however, I have tried to remind myself that practice makes perfect and there will always be a second chance for me to perfect my creations. Cooking should be fun and getting upset over the mishaps (burnt cheesecake to recall a recent one) never amounts to much fun at all.

That was definitely the lesson I kept in mind as I set out on my first experience using fondant to decorate a cake. I knew the end result would never be perfect but I was pleased with myself for even trying and in the end, making a pretty decent cake.

To start I used Martha Stewart’s recipe for Tender Lemon Cake.

Cake

Creaming together the butter & sugar for the lemon cake

Sorry, I did not take any pictures of the cakes once they came out of the oven but I will tell you that I baked three round 6 inch cakes. I only used two in the actual final cake because I was nervous about making the cake too tall on my first attempt to cover in fondant (plus my brother was bugging me for some).

Perhaps I was trying to channel Martha Stewart in hopes that my cake would come out better, because I used another one of Martha Stewart’s recipes – Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

Buttercream

Beating together sugar & egg whites

Now, I don’t know why I didn’t look at how much the recipe made (10 1/2 cups) but the fact that it called for NINE sticks of butter should have tipped me off. I have enough buttercream in my fridge to decorate an entire wedding cake!

Butter

Cut up butter for buttercream frosting

Once the cakes were cooling and I was finished making the buttercream, it was time to use the fondant. I bought pre-made Wilton’s fondant and used icing dye to make it a gorgeous lavender hue.

fondant

Rolling out the lavender fondant


covered

Covered Cake

As you can see it’s not the best looking cake. I had some issues with tearing & trying to make the sides smooth (there was a lot of excess that bunched along the sides)

Here are some tips I will keep in mind next time I work with fondant:

1. Use less buttercream on top (hence the bumps on top)

2. Roll fondant out a bit thinner

3. Let buttercream set before placing fondant on top (I was too impatient)

4. Smooth fondant to the bottom of the cake plate once placed on top, then cut off excess. Hopefully this will prevent some of the bunching & rippling.

piece

Piece of cake 😉

Okay, not really that easy but here is the cake as it was being served for our Mother’s Day dinner. I was supposed to decorate more with buttercream and gum paste flowers but ran out of time!

The most important part, though, is that the cake tasted wonderful! The cake itself had a hint of lemon and was light and moist and the buttercream, although very sweet on its own, was mellowed out by its lemony companion. Needless to say I will be using both recipes again.

Along with the baking & fondant practice I practiced making some decorations with gum paste.

Gumpaste

Can you guess what this is?

It needs to be painted and fixed up a little bit to really be able to tell what it’s supposed to be.

All of this baking and decorating is really getting me excited for the big surprise I have planned coming up in the next couple of months! You’ll need to check back and see the big reveal 🙂

Piece of (Crumb) Cake

I don’t think I have ever met someone who does not like crumb cake.  In fact, if I did meet someone who turned their nose at this close to perfect creation I would strongly suggest they seek professional help.

What makes the crumb cake so perfect, you ask?  Well,  it could be the light, moist cake at the bottom or maybe it’s the tasty cinnamon & sugar crumb mixture sprinkled on top.  And I’m sure all of that butter helps it out a bit.  But no, not for me.  My love for crumb cake is because of its sneaky way of making it OK (maybe more than OK) to eat cake for breakfast.

The brilliant ingredient in this crumb cake recipe (originally from the December 2007 issue of Gourmet) is the addition of fruit jam or preserves which keep the cake moist and adds another layer of flavor.

You will find yourself going back to this recipe over and over not only because it is delicious but also a cinch to make – you don’t even need a mixer!  Perfect for dessert or for breakfast with a cup of coffee.  It also makes a great gift for a party and always pleases a crowd.  Because, like I said earlier – who doesn’t love a crumb cake?

Jam Crumb Cake
Recipe from Gourmet, December 2007
(the original recipe calls for raspberry jam but in this version I substituted blackberry)

Check here for recipe

dry ingredients

Wet ingredients

Jam

Jam swirls

Crumbs

Going into the oven

Finished Jam Crumb Cake

Finished Jam Crumb Cake