Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Four Layer Mini-Devil's Food Cake

School has started up again in South Texas.  My friend, Jane's, daughter is a senior this year, so I wanted to make her a little something special to celebrate the day!  Plus, as you know, I'm looking for any reason these days to bake for other people! :)
I saw this 4 layer, mini-cake in Bon Appetit awhile back and thought it was SO CUTE!  It looks just like one of those cakes we made with the "Easy Bake Oven" only on steroids.  Jane's daughter is a real chocolate lover, so I thought this would be the perfect treat!
It was so easy to make this cake!  I thought the layers would be tricky, but the "trick" is to use two bamboo skewers (the kind you use for kabobs on the grill)!  Just push them in through the top of the cake and it stabilizes all four layers while you frost the sides.  When everything is frosted, just pull the skewers out and frost over the holes-- Yay!  No "leaning tower"!
I'm not sure how many people this cake will serve.  Maybe four if the recipient is generous.  Maybe one if you feel like just digging in all by yourself :)

4 Layer Mini Devil's Food Cake (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)
1 stick unsalted butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 Tbl. cocoa powder
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour-- Sift to remove lumps-- I didn't do that and you can detect small white bits in     the baked cake-- live and learn:(
1/2 tsp. baking soda
dash of salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter
5 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups or so of powdered sugar
2 thin skewers (The bamboo type for grilled meats work great!)

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Spray 4 mini-layer cake pans (5" diameter, 2" deep-- they are usually springform-- like for mini-cheesecakes) with Pam.
Put the chocolate in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over.  Allow to sit awhile and then whisk to combine well.
Cream the butter and brown sugar about 3 minutes in a stand mixer.  Add the eggs and beat until fluffy.  Add the buttermilk and the vanilla and mix well.  Add the flours, baking soda, and salt and beat just a bit, then pour in the chocolate mixture.  Beat everything together until smooth, but don't overbeat.  Pour into the prepared pans.  Set them on a baking sheet and place in the oven.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until they test done with a toothpick.  Don't underbake them though because they need to be firm enough to stack up!
Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out on a rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting by beating the butter until fluffy.  Add about 3 cups powdered sugar, the vanilla, melted chocolate, and 2 Tbl. milk.  Beat well, adding milk and / or powdered sugar to make a smooth, fluffy frosting.  
Put one cake layer top side down, on a small plate.  Frost the top generously, then put the next layer, on the same way.  Repeat with the third layer, then put the fourth layer top side up.  
Push two skewers through the whole cake, each a little to the right or left of center.  This will keep the cake layers straight.  Hold the skewer tops while you gently frost the sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting.  Refrigerate the cake about 15 minutes to set the frosting.  Now you can frost the whole cake generously without getting things all "crumb-y".  Frost the top of the cake with the skewers still in it.  Refrigerate the cake again about 15 minutes.  Remove the skewers and frost over the holes with little dabs of frosting.  Refrigerate the cake at least an hour to set the frosting well, but it tastes better if you leave it out awhile before serving so it's not super cold.
Present to the nearest chocoholic!


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Farro and Tuna Salad with Fresh Herbs + Okra!

August is HOT in south Texas!  Day after day of 100+ weather can wear on anyone, but the good news is that we still get to enjoy ripe, red tomatoes and fresh green herbs from the garden-- well, those that haven't burned up in the heat yet :)
Anyway, so have you tried farro yet?  It is a very ancient grain originally from Italy.  It's a "whole grain" with all the nutritional good stuff associated with that; plus, it tastes terrific!  I buy the quick-cooking type and it's ready in 10 minutes.  Farro is good served hot as a side dish or cold as a salad so when I cook it, I make a lot and freeze it in baggies.  It thaws in no time and still tastes freshly made.
This salad uses cold farro and canned tuna, so it comes together easily and quickly.  The fresh herbs and avocado give it a wonderful summer taste that goes great served on a sliced red tomato!  The dressing is super easy and light.
Some people say they lose their appetite in hot weather, but that's never been my problem:)  However, I think this salad will perk up any appetite-- even in the "dog days" of summer (why do they call it that?) !

Farro and Tuna Salad with Fresh Herbs (serves 2)
1 cup of cooked farro
1- 5 oz. can good quality tuna, drained
2 Tbl. sliced red onion
1 Tbl. chopped fresh chives
1 Tbl. chopped fresh oregano
1 Tbl. chopped fresh mint
1/2 avocado, cubed
1/3  cup chopped cauliflower
2 Tbl. capers
1 large tomato, cut into thin wedges
Salt and pepper

Dressing:  2 Tbl. fresh lemon juice mixed with 3 Tbl. olive oil and 1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all the salad ingredients together except the tomato.  Taste for seasoning.  If you have time, cover and allow to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes, but if not, it will still taste yummy!
Put the tomato wedges on two plates.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well.  Divide onto the tomato wedges and serve!

Baked "Fried" Okra

So here's a little extra recipe you might enjoy!  I LOVE fried okra, but now that I need some alternatives to fried foods, I developed this recipe and it tastes great!  The coating is fat-free and high in fiber, so it doesn't take anything away from the veggie nutrition.

Unfried Okra (serves 2, but I could eat the whole recipe myself)
2 Tbl. ground flax seed (not as hard to find as you would think-- I found it in the baking aisle)
2 Tbl. whole wheat bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
few grinds of pepper
1 egg white, beaten to a froth with a fork
16 or so, small, fresh okra, washed and dried
Preheat the oven to 425F.  Put a wire rack on a baking sheet and spray it with PAM.
Combine the ground flax seed, bread crumbs, garlic, pepper,and salt.
Roll the okra in the egg white, then in the seasoned crumbs.  Put on the wire rack.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the okra is tender and the crumbs are dry and crisp.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sweet-Sour Lime Shortbread Cookies: Baking for Friends!

What a fun afternoon I've had!  It's been awhile since I've gotten to bake anything due to our new healthy eating plans (!), but today was all about baking for friends!  Sweets for the sweet as they say!  
I made a buttermilk pie for one of Ben's godsons today.  Jack is one of my biggest pie fans and I guess no matter how much I have to cut back on making pies for Ben, Jack will probably be willing to consume my "projects"!  Buttermilk pie is already on one of my posts though, so today I'll tell you about "Sweet-Sour Lime Shortbread Cookies"!  
Wow!  These are so yummy and a bit different because they have a sweet / sour taste that is very intriguing!  The secret is something called "sour salt" or citric acid, which is the same stuff in "SweetTarts"-- remember those?!  Citric acid is also used to prevent peaches, apples, etc. from getting brown once you've cut them.  It's a natural product that is in all citrus fruits.  You'll use only a total of 1/2 teaspoon or so.  I buy it in the "bulk foods" section of my grocery store so I can just buy a little bit. 
I adapted this recipe from one on the "King Arthur Flour" website.  It called for lime oil and I'm not sure where to get that, so I substituted grated lime zest (contains natural lime oil) and I think it was probably an adequate substitute!  
Anyway, these cookies are wonderful for showers or "ladies' parties", but they are also fun for anytime because of their unexpected ZIP!

Sweet-Sour Lime Shortbread Cookies (makes 4 doz. small cookies)
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbl. fresh lime juice
grated zest of 1 lime
1/4 tsp. citric acid (sour salt)
1 large egg
2.5 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the salt, baking powder, lime juice, zest, and citric acid and blend well.  Beat in the egg.  Add the flour and slowly combine to make a smooth dough.
Use a 1-inch scoop to portion out the dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets or roll the dough into 1-inch balls.  The cookies won't spread much, so they can be rather close together.
Bake the cookies for 15-16 minutes, or until they are browned on the bottom.  Allow them to cool for 10 minutes on the sheets, then shake them around in a bag that contains:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. citric acid (you can add more-- depends how strong a sour taste you want!)

Then place them on a rack to cool completely.  Before serving, shake the cookies in the bag again to coat with the sour-sugar.  
These cookies freeze well.  Freeze after the first coating of sugar, then coat again right before serving.