Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Baking against Butter: Caramel Brownies with a pound to spare

There is a situation at my house.

I went to check the freezer the other day, and was confronted by ONE, SOLITARY, MISERABLE POUND OF BUTTER.

You may be looking at me like how can you possibly be planning to use an entire pound of butter?

A statue of Benjamin Franklin made out of butter. Can you tell I've been spending a lot of time studying US History lately?
Picture courtesy of
Um,  do you want brownies or not? I have a baking blog. I put butter in EVERYTHING. I have a screensaver that says

Happy people eat dessert, and if you're going to eat dessert, it had better taste good, and if it's going to taste good, you have to add butter or carcinogenic chemicals, and butter is SO much tastier and healthier than chemicals. Therefore BUTTER MAKES YOU HAPPY.


I tell you I do not know how my kitchen arrived at this state. I am used to having I-kid-you-not twenty blocks of reserve butter holed up in my garage (you would be shocked at how quickly we go through it.) Usually my mom stocks up on good-quality butter when it's on sale and we stash it in the freezer for consumption by my baking fanaticism, but I guess we haven't bought any in a while and now due to my negligence our supply has run perilously low.

So I had an unfamiliar experience while preparing to make this recipe, which was calculating if I would have enough butter to make this dessert. It was an unsettling process. Butter is just one thing I don't want to have to worry about while baking. Sort of like how you don't want to wonder if you have enough toilet paper to last you until your next trip to the store.

Thankfully, this recipe only took about half a pound, and boy did it do justice to my half pound of butter! I've escaped the scourge of butterlessness for now...but still living dangerously!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

V8465: A Coat without Sleeves

Last weekend was my class's Junior Ring Ceremony.

Nothing much actually happens at the ceremony. The juniors receive their personal class rings (well not me, I used my mom’s and plan to spend the savings on fabric ;) ), listen to speeches by class officers, and parade across a stage with a symbolically lit candle. It’s pretty much like graduation but without the circumstantial significance.

So why, you ask, did I go?

So I could make myself a new dress, of course ;) 

Me and my awesome sponsor, the other reason I decided to go :D
Because I wanted to have this dress in time for the ceremony, I made it from stuff I had around the house. In said house, there is this coat pattern, V8465, that I have liked for a really long time. I was really close to using it for the second article of clothing I ever made, which was a bright red fur coat, but I ended up using a different design instead. So I have this beautiful coat pattern around that I have never used:


Monday, February 10, 2014

Chocolate Bundt Cake (and how to get it out of that stunning pan)

I made the mistake of looking up bundt cake pans on Amazon one day...

And you didn't think you needed a new bundt cake pan ;)  

(Here's the link, in case you need more eye candy :D). 

Here is my bundt cake pan: 

Admittedly not as dramatic as a pumpkin, but altogether superior because it does not place seasonal limitations on my bundt cake. I mean really, a couple of components, beautiful presentation, mouth-watering taste, chocolate: this is going to be a year-round staple.  (And you can probably tell my pan gets some wear.)

I suppose I should comment upon the difference between chocolate bundt cake and regular chocolate cake. Now you might not think you care, but it's actually really important because if you can prove the distinction it means you can have chocolate cake twice as often :D  My standard normal-round-pan cake is incredibly soft and delicate. When you cut it open you can see the system of air pockets. I can report with conviction that it would not survive extraction from a bundt cake pan. It is covered in traditional icing, essentially whipped butter and powdered sugar with some cocoa powder thrown in.

Bundt cake is generally denser and has a sturdier crumb so that it will hold its shape. I notice that it tends to develop something of a thin crust on the outside, which also helps maintain the structure, especially if your pan features crisp lines. And because there is no way you are going to spackle those beautiful designs, it is covered with ganache, which is essentially a melted mixture of cream, chocolate, and butter. And of course, there's the distinctive circular shape with a hole in the middle. 

Remember that scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding?
Image courtesy of Oh Heather
Unfortunately, that beautiful pan can quickly become prohibitive if you don't know how to get your cake out of it in one piece. Often, just buttering doesn't work well enough. Instead, what I now do is make a type of paste: a mixture of powdered sugar, melted butter, and in this case cocoa powder that I use to coat the inside of the pan.

It's thicker and it doesn't run down into the bottom of the pan, so it gives the cake better coverage. And it WORKS. Not only do you not have problems getting the cake out in the first place, but when it emerges the lines are exceptionally crisp and the design is clear. I don't really have a recipe for this paste--I just sort of melt butter and throw equal parts sugar and cocoa in until I get the right consistency--but I'll do my best below!

Here's the recipe!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Two Recipes for Spinach Ravioli

Ravioli is not for the faint of heart. I'm pretty sure my kitchen looked like some sort of exotic disaster zone after my mom and I finished making dinner. There were so many pots, pans, bowls, cutting boards, cookie ravioli sheets, wooden spoons, appliances, scraps of wax paper, and balls of pasta dough adorning my kitchen that you couldn't see the island counter, the stove, or the sink. And then there were the ravioli themselves

What is sauce for, am I right?
That said, for those with a heart as robust as their stomachs, these were totally worth it. They are delicious, restaurant-quality, and pretty technically easy. Not easy as in yes there is a lot of hand-manipulation, but easy as in they worked remarkably well. This is the first time I've given it a go, and despite a few purportedly (but not actually) calamitous glitches they were delicious!

What's also nice about ravioli is that you can make them from pretty much whatever you have sitting around, and since there is so little filling per ravioli it is really easy to scrounge leftovers. I'm looking forward to making some with stuffed-pepper filling left over from our Super Bowl party!

After slavering over diverse potential ravioli recipes, I wanted to experiment at least a little, so I made two different fillings, both with spinach as a base (we had spinach for a side the night before). (Plus I had to throw away a third butternut squash filling because of sour shallots so subtract the defunct and divide by two and the clutter situation would really have been reasonable!). In one of my recipes, I mixed the spinach with ricotta and covered the ravioli with pine-nut brown butter sauce. My other dish was spinach, parmesan, and prosciutto-filled pasta with a white wine, cream, and cheese sauce.

The fillings were really easy to make and don't really require a recipe (don't panic: I'm not leaving you hanging). I think making two sauces also added to the general chaos of the process. Next time I make ravioli I will try a single filling with a single sauce and see if I can't turn it into a manageable dinner.

What follows is: 1) generic directions for how to assemble ravioli (just in case you already have the perfect flavor combination eating a hole in your stomach), 2) my recipe for spinach-ricotta ravioli with pine-nut brown butter sauce and 3) spinach-parmesan prosciutto ravioli with a white wine, cream, and cheese sauce.