Malinda Russell’s Washington Cake

Gather round guys. Hi(story) lesson time.

The ‘official’ independence day for the United States is July 4th, as the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain was signed by the colonists of the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776. However, if we’re going to get down to brass tacks, the facts are these: freedom in the colonies was at that  time only extended to white men and women; the independence/emancipation of the sizable population of Africans who had been stolen from their homes & transported to the colonies through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade were not included in the Constitution, nor were they granted their freedom after the Revolutionary War.

A widely held belief is that the Emancipation Proclamation that President Abraham Lincoln authorized and put into effect in 1863 during the Civil War is what ultimately freed the slaves. This is somewhat inaccurate.  The official laws of the post-Civil War United States did not grant freedom to all African Americans until the ratification of the 13th amendment in 1865, almost 90 years after the Revolutionary War (and even then, there was still a loophole to that amendment if the individual had committed a crime, see Ava Duvernay’s “13th” documentary on Netflix for more on that). Without getting too bogged down into historical details, I’ll just say this: the EP was a military tactic that specifically freed slaves in the Southern rebel Confederate states that had committed treason against the Union and were then considered enemy territory, but had been won and occupied by the Union Army during the war. It left out slaves within the border states as well as territory within 3 Confederate states that were under Union control.

Why am I saying all of this?

Well, next Monday will be June 19th.  Even though the Emancipation had taken effect on January 1st 1863, the slaves in the state of Texas, widely isolated from the North and Southern parts of the country did not even receive word of it until June 19th 1865, after the Civil War had ended and President Lincoln had been assassinated. Many of these freed people of Texas commemorated June 19th as the day of their emancipation and made it one of celebration and religious ceremonies. Like any other celebration, this included good food.

(There’s a point to all of this, and I’m getting to it now, I swear.)

Malinda Russell was an African American woman born in 1820 in the state of Tennessee. Because her grandmother was freed by her owner, her subsequent children and grandchildren were also freed. By her account, Malinda wanted to immigrate to Liberia where there was a colony of former African American slaves, but was robbed by one of her traveling companions & forced to stay in Virginia. She worked there and in Tennessee again as a washerwoman, nurse, cook, and later kept a pastry shop. After this, she moved to Michigan where she published “A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen ” in 1866. The pamphlet that Malinda published became the first cook book published by a Black woman in the United States.

As an African American, I am the descendant of slaves myself on both sides of my family, so the date/celebration of June 19th, holds a particular historical significance to me. Second, like Mrs. Russell,  I’m a Black woman from Michigan who loves to cook/bake, and can do it rather well. (I’d also love to write a cookbook of my own one day, knock on wood)

Her story resonates with me. Her food resonates with me. Therefore, I decided I would pay tribute to the lady, her story and her food in this post.

This is, hands down, one of the best cakes I’ve ever made. The texture inside is SO tender and moist. When I first took it out of the oven, I was concerned that despite being the right temperature, I’d under-baked it because it seemed a little wet in the center of the tube. Nope. It wasn’t underdone in the slightest. It was just perfect.

I can’t claim to have altered this recipe too much; it’s practically perfect enough all on its own. My personal modification was to add orange zest and juice to the batter to give a citrus flavor to what’s already a dynamite butter cake, then add an icing also flavored with orange juice. If you’d like to try another citrus, like lemon, lime, (heck maybe even grapefruit), I think you’d get equally wonderful results.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #176, co-hosted this week by  Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

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Malinda Russell's Washington Cake

Recipe Adapted from “American Cake” by Anne Byrn

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temp
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange juice
  • 2-3 teaspoons milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan and set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl. Beat until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 1 minute. With mixer still running, gradually add the sugar and salt beat until mixture becomes light and creamy again. Make sure to frequently scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure even mixing.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for about 15 seconds each. Turn mixer off.
In a small bowl combine the baking soda with the buttermilk. In a medium size bowl combine the flour with the cream of tartar. Alternate between adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture to the butter-egg mixture; start AND end with the flour and be sure to remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula to ensure even mixing. Fold in the orange juice and zest last, stirring until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing with a spatula. Tap the pan a few times on the counter top to help prevent air bubbles.
Place on middle rack of oven and bake until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out just clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. (Pound cakes are done at an inner temp of around a 195-200°. Fahrenheit)
Allow to cool in pan for about 25-30 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar with the orange juice and just enough of the milk to make a thick icing. Use the tines of a fork to drizzled on top of the cake, then allow icing to harden completely.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Biscotti

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When I first started baking cookies, I used to get frustrated a lot. I really wasn’t that good at it for a while. I hit a lot of…speed bumps that would get in the way of me getting the results that I wanted.

These speed bumps varied from recipe to recipe but if I had to rank them, I’d say that the number one issue I would have MOST frequently is spreading.

Just about all of my cookies would spread into flat, thin pancakes. I absolutely HATED it.  To this day the memory is triggering.

For some recipes, flat cookies (although not aesthetically pleasing) aren’t so bad and will pass. However, when it comes to others, a flat disk just won’t do for looks or taste.

If you look up practically any cookie recipe on this blog, I’m just about positive that the directions will direct you to chill the dough in the fridge for at least one hour before baking. I’ve intentionally modified recipes I’ve read elsewhere and chilled my dough even when they do not direct to just because from my experience, most traditional drop, cutout or rolled cookie doughs DO need to be chilled at least a little while to minimize spreading and give them the right height and lift.  They just do. Trust me on this, guys. If your cookies frequently spread in the oven, start chilling the dough in the fridge for at least an hour, bake, then get back to me and tell me that it didn’t help your results.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of maybe…two or three instances where I made cookies that I didn’t refrigerate the dough and still got the results I wanted. The subject of today’s recipe is one of those exceptions: biscotti. Why doesn’t biscotti need to be chilled? Well for one, the dough isn’t nearly as wet as other cookie doughs. Wet/moist cookie dough makes cookies that spread in the oven. (Remember that for other recipes; this why chilling them in the fridge helps.)

Biscotti dough is usually first shaped into an oblong mass on a sheet pan, then baked as a whole in the oven until just set. After that, it’s removed and given some time to cool. From there, what would be a giant soft cookie is then sliced into straight or diagonal sticks that are then baked a second time. During this second bake, all of the residual moisture is dried out of the biscotti, giving them that traditional crisp, crunchy texture.

So far as I’m concerned, I think there is but one downside to making chocolate chip cookies from scratch: the resting period in the fridge, which also means that whenever I make them, I’ll have to plan ahead a day in advance to satisfy my craving. This isn’t always ideal. That’s one of the reasons why this recipe is so awesome: it’s a CCC recipe where there’s absolutely no chilling time required and there’s also no need to worry about that pesky spreading problem.

Like traditional biscotti, this dough is first baked in one mass. I spread it in a glass square baking dish, which did help to give the outer edges more definition–if/when you try this, just make sure you line your pan with aluminum foil so that when you have to take it out to slice, it’s one easy lift. After the slicing, the individual biscotti are arrayed onto a sheet pan and baked off for a second time. They won’t spread. Promise. The first bake took care of that problem. This second one is just to take them out of that realm of ‘soft chocolate chip cookies’ to crispy, crunchy chocolate chip flavored biscotti.

Traditional Italian biscotti is intentionally made so crispy that it HAS to be dunked in a cup of coffee or tea just to soften the tight, crunchy crumb enough to bite. These biscotti are certainly not as tough as all that. However, with this recipe I’ve now given you an excuse to essentially, eat a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast alongside your morning cup of Joe or Earl Grey.

You’re welcome.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #175, co-hosted this week by Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Suzanne @ A Pug in the Kitchen.

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Biscotti

Recipe Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter flavored shortening
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 1/2cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces (about 1 cup) coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate

 

Directions

Line a 13 x 9 square pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and shortening for about 3 minutes. Add the sugars and baking soda and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about another 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla, all while scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure even mixing.

Add the flour in batches, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chocolate as best you can.

Spray your spatula with cooking spray, or sprinkle and rub both sides with flour. Spread and press the cookie dough in an even layer in the pan. Bake in the oven for 22 to 25 minutes, until set and the edges are golden brown.

Cool in the pan for one hour. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Use the edges of the foil or parchment paper to lift out of the pan. Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to cut the baked dough into strips/logs. Place them, cut side down, on an ungreased or lined cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until browned and edges are crispy. (They may still be a little soft in the middles. That’s ok.)

Carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely; they will harden and crispen fully as they cool.

Double Ginger Sugar Cookies

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When I was a little girl, there was no food, (and I mean absolutely NO FOOD) that I loved more than sugar cookies.

Not french fries. Not chicken nuggets. Not chocolate. Not mac n cheese (which I never liked and still don’t actually…hush). Not even chocolate chip flavored cookies.

Sugar. Cookies.

To me they were just… the best thing ever.

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If I’m being completely honest, there’s a part of me that still thinks they are. The ingredients of the typical sugar cookie are deceptively simple, yet the recipe itself is still easy to miss the mark on. A poorly made sugar cookie can come in the form of one that’s dry, too crisp, bland, too thick, too crumbly and dozens of other ways that things can go wrong. To date, the worst excuse for a sugar cookie I’ve ever had came from those abominable premade break and bake refrigerated cookie dough. The cookie is just barely palatable in a precious window of time of about….10 minutes after you take them out of the oven. Then, well…they cool/dry into pretty much inedible, bland sawdust.

Blegh.

Stay away. Far, far away from break and bake dough when making sugar cookies, I implore you. Scratch really is the only way to go. I will take a well made, from-scratch sugar cookie over say, creme brulee or a slice of cake any day. I will fight you for the last sugar cookie on a dessert tray. (You think I’m playing. Heh. Go ahead and try me, Buttercup.)

A well made sugar cookie is a perfect dessert, whether eaten all on its own or say, dipped in ice cream or whipping cream or chocolate (try it sometime if you haven’t). Once you know how to make a good one all on its own, it might be a good idea to start branching out and experimenting with creative twists to it…like this one.

I made these as a result of still having an excess of ginger from my homemade ginger tea I was making to ease my stomach issues. I took the leftover ginger from the syrup I made and candied it by rolling the pieces in white sugar and letting them cool until they’d crystallized. It’s a MUCH easier alternative to buying the premade stuff in the spice aisle and it’s quite easy to do. I was VERY curious to see what the spicy, slightly sweet ginger would add to the base of a sugar cookie.

Textures abound in this here recipe. The cookie itself is slightly crisp at the edges, with just the right amount of softness in the center so that biting into it, you get a slight crunch & a chew at the same time that’s intensified by the texture of the candied ginger. I won’t lie, the ginger REALLY does pack a punch; there is both crystallized and ground ginger in the dough and it’s definitely noticeable. The cookies are both sweet and spicy, but I enjoyed the contrast of flavors. Sometimes sugar cookies are stuck between either being too sweet or too bland; the doubled use of ginger here ensures that these are neither. They’re the perfect balance.

As usual, I’m linking this post to the Fiesta Friday for this week, #166, co-hosted this week by Mollie @ Frugalhausfrau and Ginger @ Ginger and Bread.

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Double Ginger Sugar Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Food and Wine

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (3 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks ( 1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Coarse turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Directions

In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, crystallized ginger, ground ginger, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand held mixer) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl to evenly combine. Fold in the dry ingredients, about 1/3 a cup at a time. Mix just until dough comes together.

Shape dough into a long log and freeze log for about 1 1/2-2 hours, until very firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a bench scraper, cut off cookies about 1/8 inch thick and place them about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the coarse sugar if desired.

Bake the cookies in batches until golden and just barely set on top, 8-10 minutes.  Switch the top and bottom racks midway through baking. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on pan before moving to wire racks to cool completely.

Note: No one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Strawberry Supreme Birthday Cake

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It’s my niece’s 4th birthday tomorrow. I have no idea how this kid is four already. I swear it was just yesterday I was sitting in the hospital room when she was wheeled in from the delivery with her mom, swaddled in her little burrito blanket. Time really does fly when it comes to kids, even when you’re just helping raise them.

I know I’m biased, but she really is such a sweetheart. I love her to death and feel blessed to have been able to be a major part of her life.

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I’ve been making her cakes for her day for the past two years. Last years was this Funfetti Cake. This year when I asked her what kind she wanted, she didn’t hesitate to reply: “Strawberry Cake, Auntie.”

I had my marching orders. A Strawberry Birthday Cake it was.

What first comes to y’all’s minds when you hear Strawberry Cake?

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If you’re like me, maybe you thought about strawberry shortcake–which is delicious, but I also knew wasn’t what my niece was talking about. There’s strawberry shortcake; a fluffy biscuit-y cake that’s served with whipped cream and strawberries. Then, there’s the Strawberry Cake; a pink colored cake that usually comes from a box mix. I loved it myself as a kid, and what little kid wouldn’t? It’s pink. It’s EXTREMELY sweet. 9 times out of 10 it’s spread with pink frosting.

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What’s the problem? Well, that cake is just so overly sweet  and artificial tasting. The ‘strawberry’ flavor and color often comes from the addition of a packet of strawberry jello packet. While this may not make a huge difference to a four year old little girl, it sure makes a difference to her 27 year old foodie and baker auntie who doesn’t like to have anything to do with box cake mixes.

I still wanted to give my baby what she wanted though: a yummy, pretty strawberry birthday cake. Guess what? I think I did, even sans cake mix.

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I won’t lie: layer cakes of any kind take patience and time. They can be a labor of love, and this cake is no exception. However, I’ve found that the work can be spread out over two days so that you’re not so rushed or in the kitchen for hours at a time by baking the cakes themselves on Day 1, refrigerating them overnight, then making the filling/frostings and assembling the whole thing on Day 2.

And I do have to say, the work is one hundred percent worth it. I don’t think this cake could be more of a Strawberry Cake if it tried: strawberries are literally in EVERY SINGLE part of it. There are pureed strawberries in the batter. The cake is filled with a fresh strawberry curd. The frosting is mixed with even more pureed strawberries.

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Strawberry on strawberry on strawberry.

The cake bakes up very moist and fluffy. The only downside was that the pureed strawberries in the batter did sink to the bottom of the pans. But that turned out okay too because they just melded together more with the strawberry curd. I’ve made lemon curd before, but never strawberry. This one was extremely easy to do and the result is a tart, smooth curd which gives a real punch of strawberry freshness to the overall taste of the cake. I think it might be the best part, to be honest. The frosting isn’t overly sweet thanks to the addition of the cream cheese to the butter and powdered sugar. And the scoop of the fresh strawberry puree gave it that pretty in pink tint that I knew my niece would love.

Linking this post with Fiesta Friday #161, co-hosted this week by Laura @ Feast Wisely.

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Strawberry Supreme Birthday Cake

Recipe Adapted from Taste of the South Magazine

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Ingredients

For Cake

  • 2 cups fresh strawberries
  • 2½ cups cake flour
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup ice water
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup butter shortening, at room temp
  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temp
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

For Strawberry Curd Filling

  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen sliced strawberries in syrup, thawed and drained
  • 1⁄2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1⁄4 cup butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon strawberry extract

For Strawberry Frosting

  • 1⁄2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1⁄2 cup reserved strawberry purée (from Strawberry Curd)
  • 1 teaspoon strawberry extract
  • 6 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 °. Flour, grease and line three round 8 or 9 inch cake pans with wax paper or parchment paper. Set aside.

Pulse strawberries in a food processor or blender until well blended, but still with some chunks inside. Set aside in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine the ice water, whole milk and buttermilk. In bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and shortening until creamy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla, mixing another 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat just until combined. Alternating adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the bowl, starting and ending with flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl with spatula to ensure it’s well mixed. Remove this mixture to another bowl, & wipe out thoroughly. Using clean beaters, place the egg whites and cream of tartar together in the bowl at medium speed, beating until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, fold the egg whites into the cake batter. Fold in the strawberries. Divide the batter evenly between the three pans, smoothing the tops with spatula. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted inside cakes comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 20 minutes before removing from pans and letting cool completely on wire racks.

For Curd: Pour the drained strawberries into a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Remove and reserve 1/2 cup of t he puree for the Strawberry frosting. In a medium saucepan, add the strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks and lemon juice over medium heat, whisking constantly until thickened; about 7-8 minutes., Remove from heat and add the butter in chunks, then the strawberry extract. Let mixture cool slightly, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours before using.

For Frosting: Cream together the butter and cream cheese in bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one until fluffy. Add the reserved strawberry puree and the extract and mix until just combined. Add the confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time and beat together until smooth and creamy.

To Assemble: Level the tops of each cake. Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one cake layer on the platter. Pipe a border of frosting around the edges of the cake. Spread about half of the strawberry curd inside the border, smoothing with a spatula. Top with another cake layer and repeat process. Top with final cake layer. Spread entire cake with just frosting enough over the top and sides to make a crumb coat. (It should be thin).  Refrigerate cake for one hour until the crumb coat is firm. Finish spreading the remainder of the frosting on the cake, decorating with sprinkles if desired. Remove the parchment strips from the platter before serving.

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Chocolate King Cake

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On the twelfth night after Christmas, January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany begins. In the Christian faith, it’s supposed to celebrate the coming of the 3 Wise Men/Kings to the Christ Child and the bringing of gifts to honor him. It’s also supposed to mark the beginning of the Mardi Gras season that lasts until Fat Tuesday, which is always 47 days before Easter Sunday. Although you may not be able to celebrate with the folks down south in N’Awlins at Mardi Gras, you can still celebrate in your own kitchen with traditional Cajun/Creole foods that are typically eaten at this time of year.

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Muffaletta sandwiches. Catfish. Shrimp n’ Grits. Beignets. There’s a chain of bakeries in my hometown that sells to-DIE-for Packzi, the jelly, fruit or cream filled donuts. I make a pretty mean Jambalaya myself, and last week I shared a recipe for what I think is also a pretty mean Gumbo. (Which you guys absolutely should try for yourselves). This week, four days before Fat Tuesday itself, I thought I would share one more recipe that gets a lot of attention this time of year: the King Cake.

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The King Cake is a staple of Mardi Gras food. It hearkens to the Feast of the Epiphany and the 3 Kings who came to visit the Christ Child, who in the Christian faith was called the King of Jews. Kings come to visit the King, thus yielding the King Cake; pretty self-explanatory. For that reason, a small plastic baby figurine is even tucked into the bottom of the finished product; the person who has and finds the baby in their piece of King Cake is supposed to have good luck for rest of the year.

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Alright, now down to brass tacks.

Although it’s called a ‘cake’ I would actually describe it in taste and texture as closer to a brioche style bread. It’s made with yeast in a very similar way to brioche and provided your dough is made right, the texture should be close to it as well; moist and buttery with a tender chew. Traditionally, King Cakes are filled and rolled up with a mixture of cinnamon, sugar and pecans. As you guys can see, mine…isn’t.

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Why? Well, two reasons. First, nuts are expensive and the old purse strings gave me the side-eye when I asked them about going out to get some. Second, I already had chocolate in the house and I’d say that a chocolate filled cake is just as tasty as one filled with nuts, right? Of course right.

What do you guys think of the finished product? The topping I kept traditional; a powdered sugar icing sprinkled with green, purple and yellow sanding sugar, which are the typical colors of Mardi Gras. And I think it both looks and tastes pretty nice if I may say so myself, nuts or no nuts.

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One thing I will advise is that you follow the tip that I included in the recipe to help maintain the circle shape through the second rise and baking. If you have an oven-safe bowl (like the kind creme brulee or lava cakes are made in) it would be perfect to wrap the ring around and let it proof and bake that way. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Just mist a big ball of crumpled up aluminum foil with cooking spray and wrap the ring loosely around that. Loosen the cake from eiher the bowl or the foil shortly after it comes out of the oven; it’ll make for easier removal. And if you’re so inclined, feel free to slip a plastic baby figurine (or a bean, because who actually has one of those just sitting around) into a slit that you cut into the bottom of your FINISHED & BAKED loaf for that special person to find and get their extra bit of luck for the rest of the year. Aaaaand, that’s it.

Laissez le bon temps rouler, y’all.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #160, co-hosted this week by  Anugya @ Indian Curry Shack and Margy @ La Petite Casserole.

Chocolate King Cake

Recipe Adapted from LouisianaCookin.com

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Ingredients

For Dough

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1/3 cup warm water (between 105° and 110°)
  • 1/2 cup plain sour cream (or 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and softened

For Filling/Top

  • 1 2/3 cups chopped semi sweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons warm milk
  • 1 tablespoon baking cocoa or unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar,
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Yellow, green and purple sanding sugar/sprinkles

 

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with dough hook attachment, combine the warm water with the yeast. Sprinkle the 1 tsp white sugar on top & let sit for 10 minutes, until frothy. Meanwhile in a small bowl whisk together the sour cream (or buttermilk), vanilla extract, eggs and egg yolk. Mix into the yeast mixture and beat for about 1 minute.

Turn the mixer off and add the flour (1 cup at a time), salt and remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Beat at medium-low speed until most of the dry ingredients have been absorbed. Turn the speed up to medium and add the butter in small chunks, beating until combined, about 2 minutes. Flour your hands and a clean surface (like a pastry mat or wax paper. Scrape the dough out and onto the surface (it’s fine if it’s a little sticky). Gently knead it about 5-6 times until it’s smooth and pliable. Spray the mixing bowl with cooking spray and punch down into the bottom. Flip over and punch down one more time. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise until doubled in size for about 90 minutes in a warm place (I usually use my microwave).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Punch risen dough down onto floured surface and roll into a rectangle, about 17×16 inches. In a medium microwave safe bowl, combine the chopped chocolate and butter. Microwave in 30 second intervals until the chocolate is melted and smooth (don’t over-microwave or else chocolate will seize and be unusable; 60 seconds TOPS should do it). Stir in the baking cocoa or cocoa powder & warm milk. Spread in a thin layer over the rectangle of dough.

Starting with one short side, roll dough into a log and pinch the seams thoroughly to seal. Gently lift and place on baking sheet and form a ring, pinching the ends together to seal. (You can use a ball of aluminum foil lightly sprayed with cooking spray or a small oven-safe bowl placed in the center of the ring, to help it maintain its shape). Cover with plastic wrap and damp kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325°. Uncover cake. Use kitchen shears to make 7 (1/4 inch) deep cut into top of dough. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes & covering with foil if browning too quickly. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

For icing, combine powdered sugar with vanilla extract & milk in a small bowl. (If too stiff, add 1 tsp milk until spreadable) Drizzle over top of cake with a fork. Sprinkle colored sanding sugar in alternating colors. Let stand until icing is set.

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Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

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I’m not an artsy person. I wish I was….but I just am not.

When I was growing up in elementary school Art Day was one I viewed with apathy at best and dread at worst, because I knew that my creation wasn’t going to be particularly pretty to look at. Most times I just hoped it wouldn’t be the worst of the worst.

I can’t really draw. I can’t paint. Sculpting with clay and the like never really produced much more for me than misshapen blobs.

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I don’t really have much of an artistic eye or decorating skills either, which is why I feel like sometimes my pictures on the blog suffer from not being ‘styled’ as pretty as I’ve seen them on other sites. Maybe I should take a class or something.

In the meanwhile, I do what I can to make art, ‘my way’. I’ve found that way to be through cooking and baking. I get to be creative with many a recipe canvas, and I’d say that on the whole, my results aren’t too shabby.

Case in point, today’s recipe.

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I view shortbread as a blank, albeit delicious canvas. It’s a great thing all on its own, but to be at its best, I think it’s largely dependent on what you can do to elevate it so that it’s your own artistic creation.

The possibilities of elevation really are endless: Herbs. Citrus. Chocolate. Nuts. Cheese. Tea. I’ve even seen booze flavored shortbread recipes. There’s something out there for anybody and any occasion.

So, naturally it makes sense that there should be one that’s geared towards a particular occasion coming up this week, right? You know which one I’m talking about.

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Last year at about this time, I did a riff on Red Velvet cupcakes that I flavored with the Oreo Red Velvet Cookies and Creme sandwich cookies. It was a big hit that got a lot of traffic, with admittedly, for good reason. After a little bit more brainstorming, and some more experimenting I’m pleased to announce I’ve found yet another way to take these yummy flavored Oreos and use them to flavor another great dessert: shortbread.

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Shortbread is, I think, a fail-proof recipe for baking. It’s almost impossible to mess up because there are only two things you have to get right: properly creaming the butter and pricking the holes in the finished dough just before baking. You get that right and you’ll have perfect shortbread every time, guaranteed. Because of that, it was relatively easy for me to see how it could be adapted into a Red Velvet flavor without compromising on the original very much. I took about 12 of the flavored Oreos and blitzed them in my Ninja until they were a very fine reddish powder; it made about 1/2 cup’s worth. I took that and incorporated it into a base recipe for regular golden shortbread, then also added vanilla and a bit of almond extract to that dough.

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I thought about maybe scraping the filling out of the cookies before crushing them because of the moisture affecting the dough, but ultimately decided against it. I’m glad that I did. The filling I think really helps that Red Velvet/Cookies and Creme flavor really come through in the finished product. To solve the issue of the filling adding too much moisture/pasty-ness, I added about 1/4 cup extra flour, which I think easily solved that problem.

I decorated half the shortbread with a simple white icing and some leftover crushed cookie crumbs, but as you can see I left half plain for the simple reason that I think it tastes pretty darn good all on its own without needing it.

Side note, didn’t the red cookies add such a pretty pink color to the dough? I love that. I love this recipe. It makes me feel like in spite of being artistically challenged with a paint brush or modeling clay, I just may be an artiste in the kitchen after all.

Happy Fiesta Friday #158 (co-hosted this week by Ai @ Ai Made It For You and Petra @ Food Eat Love.). Also, Happy early-Valentines Day to all of you who will be doing something special with a significant other. Have a good steak and some chocolate, or something.

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Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus 1/4 cup if needed
  • 1/2 cup crushed Red Velvet flavored crème sandwich cookies (about 10-12), plus more for decoration (optional)

For Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray two nine inch cake or tart pans with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or  using a large bowl with a hand held mixer, cream together the butter, powdered sugar and extracts until light and fluffy.

Add 2 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time. Then fold in the crushed cookies. The dough should be able to hold together if pressed with your fingers. If it still seems too sticky, you may add the extra 1/4 cup of flour.

Divide the dough in half. Using your hands, press each half into a pan, using a spatula to smooth out the surface. Prick holes evenly across the surface of the dough. (This will keep it from bubbling up during baking.)

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, until deep golden brown at the edges.

Wait for about 2-3 minutes, then turn shortbread out onto a plate. Using a pizza cutter, bench scraper or sharp knife, cut into desired shapes. (Note: you HAVE to cut the shortbread while it is still warm. Cutting it when it’s cold will only cause it to crumble and fall apart).

Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

If decorating, combine the powdered together in a small bowl. If the glaze is too stiff, you can add more milk, teaspoon by teaspoon; don’t add too much though, or it will become too runny to set on the shortbread. Dip a fork into the glaze and allow it to drizzle off the tines and on top of the shortbread in desired design. Sprinkle the crushed cookie crumbs on top. Allow to sit for about 20-30 minutes until glaze hardens.

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PB Sandwich Cookies (with Honey-Cinnamon Filling)

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I can’t think back to a time when there hasn’t been a big jar of chunky peanut butter in one of my cabinets or pantry. I’m crazy about the stuff.

I’m not hugely picky on the brand; Jif, Skippy and Peter Pan have ALL passed the test of my tastebuds–just so long as there’s some there whenever I want it. Even when I went through a ‘health nut’ phase, do you think I turned my back on peanut butter? Tuh. I just spend the extra buck or two and bought the natural chunky pb without the extra hydrogenated oils that you have to stir every once in a while. Wasn’t that much of a difference in taste (albeit it a little less sweet) and it did the trick until I finally caved & went back to the really good stuff. I was NOT going to live my life without peanut butter. No way, no how.

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Can I let you guys in on a little secret?

I never could, and still haven’t grown to like peanut butter and jelly as a combination on a sandwich. Who *needs* jelly when you could just slather more peanut butter on two slices of toasted bread? Jelly can take a hike so far as I’m concerned.

Just shut up, pass me the Skippy Chunky and a spoon, and no one will get hurt.

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Apart from just loving the stuff all on it’s own, I remember that I went through a phase as a kid when I was ka-razy about peanut butter cookies–especially the Nutter Butter sandwiches. I just wanted them all the time. I craved them: ALL.THE.TIME.

You know how when you went to the grocery store with your mom and if you were good (or if she was in a good mood and there was a little extra money) she’d let you pick something out to get? For a while, the ‘thing’ that I would always pick out were Nutter Butters.

At the time it didn’t matter because I had the metabolism of an Olympic athlete, but looking back (now that I definitely do not), I can admit that it was embarrassing how many I could put away.

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However. These are not Nutter Butters.

They are…dare I say it? Yeah, I will.

They’re better than Nutter Butters. Got your attention yet? Good.

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I decided to make these on a random whim, since #1, I felt like baking, #2, I had all the ingredients in the house at the time and #3, I was feeling guilty for not using my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook more often and this was in it. It’s a fabulous recipe that’s fairly easy to put together, and with my personal modifications, it just tasted even better.

I swapped out the recommended regular dry roasted peanuts for honey roasted ones that are lightly coated in sugar. I prefer the taste of honey roasteds, and I also think the ‘roasted’ flavor just comes out stronger in them for some reason. The cookies themselves remind me of the peanut butter cookies that can often be found in the bakery sections on cookie platters sold in Sam’s Club or Costco. They’re soft and chewy with the perfect contrast of texture from the crunch of the honey roasted peanuts that are chopped inside the dough.

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The filling was another modification. Whereas Nutter Butter cookies are just filled with a stiff peanut butter frosting, the filling in these cookies is smoother in texture. Second, the combination of peanut butter, honey and cinnamon makes it so that the overall sandwich isn’t too ‘one-note’ in flavor. Spoiler alert: it works. Really well.

I don’t know if there are words that can adequately describe what this tastes like when it’s warmed up in the microwave. You know, where the cookies are just on the verge of falling apart from softness of the crumb, and the filling is gooey and sticky so that the whole thing just kinda melts together in your mouth and–

Yeah, let me just stop now.

My twin sister pronounced these as some of “the best PB cookies” she’s ever had, and I really can’t say that she’s too far off on that assesment.

Guess that means I’ve got Nutter Butters beat, huh? Rah rah sis boom bah.

Linking up this post to Fiesta Friday #156.

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PB Sandwich Cookies (with Honey-Cinnamon Filling)

Recipe Adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook

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Ingredients

For the Cookies:

  • 1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) honey roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter,melted
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 large egg

For the Filling

  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 5 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pulse peanuts in food processor until finely chopped, about 8 pulses.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in bowl. Whisk melted butter, peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, milk and egg together in second bowl. Stir flour mixture into peanut butter mixture with rubber spatula until combined. Stir in peanuts until evenly distributed.

Using a tablespoon measure, place 12 mounds, evenly spaced on each prepared baking sheet. Using dampened hand, flatten mounds until about 2 inches in diameter.

Bake until deep golden brown and firm to touch, 15 to 18 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Repeat portioning and baking remaining dough.

For the Filling:

Microwave peanut butter until melted and warm, about 40 seconds. Stir honey and ground cinnamon into the warm peanut butter before using a rubber spatula to stir in the confectioner’s sugar.

Place 24 cookies upside down on counter. Place 1 level tablespoon of warm filling in the center of each cookie. Place second cookie on top of filling, right side up, pressing gently until filling spreads to edges. Allow filling to set for 1 hour before serving. Assembled cookies can be stored at room temp for up to 3 days.