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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers November--Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

Wow. Wow! This cake is incredible. It's way better than I expected. I mean, I knew it would be good, but I thought it would be sticky sweet. You'd think from the title that it would be, right?

I know, I did, too!

But with the tricky use of extra salt in the frosting, it's melt-in-your-mouth perfect. I was told it's the best cake I ever made. I just might have to agree. It's moist, delicious, not overly sweet, and the best part? Easy to make. Only three components in this one, and not one of them is difficult or too time consuming.

This recipe is from Shuna Fish Lydon and you can find it here on her blog: Click me! Click the link and make the cake. Really. You don't even need any outrageous ingredients for this one!

This month's challenge is hosted by Dolores at Culinary Curiosity, Alex at Blondie and Brownie,
Jenny from Foray into Food, and alternative baking help from Natalie at Gluten a Go-Go.

I only have one teeny complaint with the recipe, and that is with the caramel syrup part. I've never made caramel syrup before, so I didn't really know how long it should take. It sits in the pan on the highest heat, until "smoking slightly and dark amber." How long will this take? Five minutes? Ten? Half an hour? Mine wasn't just smoking slightly after a few minutes, it was steaming. A lot. And unfortunately, I don't have stainless steel pans. I have Calphalon Anodized Aluminum pans, so looking for the amber color without burning my face off was no easy task. So a simple "This will probably take about 10 minutes" would have been wonderful. Also, an estimate for about how long it would take to get to the right "syrupy" consistency would have been helpful (by the way, roughly 10 minutes on both counts). OH! Greatest tip ever! When pouring the cold water into the hot syrup, it'll pop and sputter and all of those bad things you don't want it to do, so a fellow DB'er gave this tip: Make a foil cover for your pan ahead of time, with a hole in the middle for pouring the water through. Works GREAT!) I had to make the syrup twice because it didn't get dark enough the first time, and my syrup just tasted like plain old sugar. Oh, and you don't have to stir the water and sugar, also not in the directions--but I've read a lot of recipes and figured that was the case.

But fortunately, the results were worth the effort. Did I tell you this cake is awesome?

So some of the DB'ers were saying (in early returns) that the frosting was too sweet, so some additional salt would be good. I used at least half a teaspoon, and may have added a half more, but my entire family was crowded in to the kitchen and being extremely distracting. (Still love you guys!) So it's an add to taste kind of thing. But that salt (along with the browned butter!) just completely makes the frosting. I only added one tablespoon of the syrup to the frosting, and the rest was cream--to loosen up the sugar in there and make it creamy. Could have eaten it right out of the bowl.

We also had the option to make caramels using this recipe: Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007
. I wasn't really planning on making them, but the syrup we made earlier? It was just sitting there in the pan on the stove top. My husband asked what I was going to do with it, and really, I had no idea. So he quickly scanned the caramel recipe, and reheated the syrup, followed the directions, and reduced the remaining ingredients slightly. We poured it into the prepared pan and hoped for the best. We love experiments! It hardened pretty quickly, so we thought we'd get a pan full of toffee. That would have been fine, too, but after four hours, we had the most delicious vanilla salted caramels. Nice, right? Sometimes I hate that he can make just about anything work in the kitchen, and I have to work at it, hehe. But at least I get to enjoy the results. And I swear, I do all of the cooking on this blog! Except the pizza, the grilling, and most of the deep frying--those are his specialties. ;) (I did fry the egg rolls, though!)

I used two 9" pans for this, since I didn't have a deep 9" cake pan. They baked for about 18-20 minutes. Definitely watch for the sides to pull away from the pan and do the toothpick test.

Would I make these recipes again? Absolutely! Every single one of them. Even the syrup. ;) Thanks for the challenge this month, Dolores, Jenny, Alex and Natalie! And special thanks to Shuna, for making herself and her recipe available to the Daring Bakers. It's one of my favorites so far!

PS-- The pecans are candied pecans I just happened to have on hand from Trader Joe's. They go amazingly well with the cake!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

100th Post, Top 10 from the First 100, and a Giveaway!

Hi everyone! It's been a while, right? Not only have I been busy, but also not making too much that's post-worthy, and had a hard drive crash last week didn't help one tiny bit. I lost all of my bookmarks, all of my RSS feed subscriptions, and...AND...this one breaks my heart the most... every single one of the photos that I'd uploaded from my camera, but not edited yet. Including all of my fall foliage ones from this fall, and some food photos. My laptop had to revert back to factory settings. ugh. I've taken steps (well, actually, my husband did) so that this never happens to me again. Three times is three too many.

Sigh. Onward and forward.

It's my 100th post! I never thought when I started this blog that anyone except my friends would read it. I know, everyone says that, right? But it's true! And Feedburner tells me that I just got my 101st subscriber, so that's also very cool. Thanks, subscribers, and anyone and everyone else that reads my blog. You are all the best!

I'm going to recap my top 10 viewed posts, according to Google Analytics. Some you may have already seen, and some may be new to a few of you. So here we go, and stay tuned to the end of the post for the giveaway!

The Countdown:


Sesame Chicken and Noodles

I'll probably say this about every one in the top 10, but this is one of our favorites! Easy and not too bad for you, from Cooking Light.


This one has two recipes in it, Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread and Skillet Smashed Potatoes.

Now, I love the bread, but those potatoes? I'd crawl through three feet of cold snow for some of those potatoes. They're that good.


Raspberry Lime Yogurt Pound Cake

Those of you that have been following me for a while know all about my obsession with raspberry and lime together. Still obsessed!


American Chop Suey

I dug back into my childhood for this one, for the Tastes to Remember event. My mom made this for us all the time. We loved it, and my kids do, too. Make a kid happy today! And you, too, because it's so easy!


Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies

A recent post--my last one, in fact! We really loved these. My husband said these were the best cookies I've ever made, and I've made a lot. (Haven't we all?) Mmmm, cookies!


Pita Bread

One of the nicest doughs to work with, and just so delicious! Fill them with your favorites. We loved them with chicken salad and burgers. Or hot from the oven, and slathered--yes, slathered with butter.


Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Ah, the humble potato. Humble, yes, but this one tuber evokes such emotion in so many of us, doesn't it? Fried, baked, roasted, mashed, covered in cheese, dipped in ketchup--whatever you do to them, they're delicious!


Mango Buffalo Wings with Mango Lime Cream Dipping Sauce

I won the Royal Foodie Joust for May with this recipe--my first entry in the contest, ever. That was fun! And the wings are oven baked, not fried. And so good!


Elfin Shortbread Cookies

The first recipe in my Holiday Baking Series. So simple and so cute, they make a great addition to your holiday treats.

And finally, #1!

Amazing Oven Fried Chicken

Another ridiculously easy family favorite. Great hot out of the oven, and also cold leftovers--think picnic food! Though, for some of us, we'll have to wait till Spring for thinking about picnics. Brrr!

And that's my Top 10, according to Google. Now, more importantly, the giveaway!

To celebrate my 100th post, and to give something back to all of you guys, I'm giving away a copy of Ina Garten's new book, Back To Basics. I don't even have a copy for myself yet, but this book has such great reviews! I love Ina. She can make anything look simple, can't she? And her recipes are always wonderful. I've had no failures yet from her.

To enter, just leave a comment on this post. On Tuesday, December 9th, I'll randomly choose a winner. Gah, that's so close to Christmas, isn't it? Yikes! Anyway, good luck, and as always, thanks for reading!

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Holiday Baking, Week 4: Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies

And oh my gosh, are they good! I have been thinking about mixing pretzels in a peanut butter cookie for about a month now, and I just got around to making them yesterday. I'm also behind a week in my holiday baking series! Stupid cold/flu/knock-you-on-your-butt thing I had. But I'm slowly emerging from my cocoon of tissues and my (nearly) drunken stupor of cold meds, and feeling more like my old self. (Is that a good thing, I wonder? hehe!)

The idea for these came from...well, I don't remember where it came from, but I think it was from one of those candy bars with the chocolate/pb/pretzel combo--my daughter had one a while back. I have a little list I keep near my laptop with ideas for stuff, and this has been on there for a while. I wrote "pb cookies with pretzel pieces and chocolate." I also have a few lime and coconut ideas kicking around on the list. Why lime and coconut in October/November? I have no clue. Cravings, I guess.

These are so easy--just a regular peanut butter cookie, but you add in broken pretzel pieces. I also put a few chocolate chips on top of each one before baking, along with a nice sprinkling of kosher salt. Does it sound funny? Because they taste so good! the kids love them, too. This makes a nice chewy cookie, with some crunch from the pretzels, and a little salt and chocolate action happening on top. And a little bit of peanuts, from the crunchy peanut butter.

The cookie recipe is based on a pb cookie recipe by Sheila Lukins, from her USA cookbook. It makes a nice chewy cookie, with crispier edges. It has 1/2 cup shortening in it, and if you'd rather use all butter, feel free to change that. I find that in these, the shortening gives me the crispy edges and chewy centers.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies
Adapted from Sheila Lukins USA Cookbook Makes 5 dozen good sized cookies.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup solid shortening, at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup chunky peanut butter (I used an organic pb from Trader Joe's)
1 cup salted pretzel pieces
chocolate chips (I always use Ghirardelli Bittersweet ) and kosher salt for toppings

Heat oven to 350°.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, set aside.
Cream the butter, shortening, sugars, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then mix in the peanut butter.
Add the flour mixture a cup at a time and beat at low speed to mix well.
Add pretzel pieces, and turn mixer on low to mix them in and break up any pieces that are too large.
Shape the dough into 1 inch balls and place on parchment lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart.
Press each cookie twice in each direction with a fork to make the classic pb cookie criss-cross design.
Press about 3 chocolate chips gently into each cookie--no need to squish, be gentle.
Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch or two of kosher salt.
Bake 10 minutes. Let cool on sheets for about 2 minutes and transfer to cooling racks.
***Do not over bake! They'll be pale when you take them out of the oven, and will continue to cook
on the sheets for a couple minutes. If you over bake them, they won't be chewy anymore.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies

An idea that's been kicking around in my head ...

See Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies on Key Ingredient.

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