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 Brownie Cookies

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Alright.

Let me just get this out of the way real quick.

I’m single. And so naturally, I kicked off this Valentines Day the same way any single person would: filing my taxes.

Because there’s nothing like W-2s, Student Loan Interest statements and the IRS to get you in the mood.

But that refund I’ll be getting in give or take a few weeks? That’s enough to make me smile.

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I think there’s this assumption that single people get bitter, lonely or depressed at Valentines Day, but I’ve never found that to be the case for me. I think it’s great that people want to go out of their way to express love or appreciation for each other today- just as long as it’s a habit that they practice for the other 364 days of the year as well. I think that it’s important for single folks to practice expressing love and appreciation for themselves, and other people in their lives that aren’t spouses or partners.

I also think it would be great if Charlie Hunnam wanted to surprise me with a bouquet of red roses, then take me out for a romantic dinner, decadent dessert, and a walk on the beach. But I have an uncanny premonition that this isn’t going to happen, so I’m deciding to content myself with other slightly more realistic things instead.

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Right now my house smells like a bundle of exotic spices and herbs, and it’s all coming from a Dutch oven of Moroccan chicken tagine that I’m preparing for me and my family’s dinner tonight. There won’t be any romance over the meal, but my stomach’s already starting to growl in anticipation. And just in case you haven’t noticed, I have the decadent dessert on lock too.

I’m talking about rich, fudgy Red Velvet Brownie Cookies guys.

Also one of the best cookies I’ve ever made- and I’ve made more than a few cookies in my life, let me tell you.

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I knew I wanted to do a Valentine’s Day themed recipe for the blog, but was having trouble finding some inspiration. Then I went to Walmart and while I was down the candy aisle, I saw these bags of Red Velvet M and M’s.

Which you know, I just had to have.

But aside from the candy, I started thinking about ways I could incorporate them into a dessert. Cake didn’t seem like a good choice, and brownies ALMOST made it. But I thought that for candies, cookies made more sense. When I had trouble deciding between the two, I figured that there had to be a way to compromise. And wouldn’t you know it, I was right.

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I first got the inspiration for this recipe from a Taste of Home magazine clipping I’d saved for a while. However, the author of that recipe needs to give it some major tweaking; the batter is far too wet and loose for cookies- even fudgy brownie ones. I added an extra cup of flour and chilled the dough overnight to firm it up. Also, I added red food coloring to give it a subtle, but rich red hue. Finally, the Red Velvet M and Ms were  pressed into the cookies the second after I took them out of the oven.

Happy Valentine’s Day AND a very Happy Fiesta Friday #55 to all of us gathering at Angie’s The Novice Gardener. Shout out to  Suzanne @apuginthekitchen and Sue @birgerbird for co-hosting this week; you guys are the real MVPs lol.

Who needs a Valentine when you have these cookies?

…Meh, actually I’d still really love Charlie Hunnam to  be my Valentine and take me out tonight. But I’ll settle for these instead, I guess.

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Red Velvet Brownie Cookies

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Recipe Adapted from Taste of Home

Ingredients

  • 2-2/3 cups (16 ounces) 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking chips
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. instant espresso powder
  • 1- 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 package (11.5 oz. ) semi-sweet chocolate chunks
  • About 1 cup Red Velvet M and M chocolate candies
  • Red food coloring

Directions

1. In a large saucepan, melt chocolate chips and butter over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat; cool until mixture is warm.

2. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla and, if desired, espresso powder until blended. Whisk into chocolate mixture.

3. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt; add to chocolate mixture, mixing well.
Squeeze in desired amount of red food coloring. Fold in chocolate chunks; let stand 10 minutes, then refrigerate overnight or at least for one hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350°. Drop by 1/4 cupfuls 3 in. apart onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake 12-14 minutes or until set.

5. Press M and M chocolate candies into tops of cookies, about 4-5 candies per cookie. Cool on pans 1-2 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.

 

Checkerboard Layer Cake

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One year ago today, I thought that I was absolutely crazy.

I had tried to talk myself out of it for months, giving all kinds of excuses as to why the idea in my head was a bad, terrible, even abysmal one that would never lead to anything.

I didn’t know anything about blogging. I mean ANYTHING.

WordPress or Blogroll? How should I know? Wait. What’s the difference between them anyway? (This was a serious, actual conversation I had with myself at the time, I kid you not.)

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I didn’t know anything about photography.  I got my first real digital camera for my 24th birthday, and I knew virtually nothing about operating it besides pressing the button that would actually take the pictures. Food styling? Natural Lighting? Props? What were those things? I sure as heck didn’t know.

There were literally millions of other food blogs out there; what reason did  I have to think that anyone out there would take any notice of it? Not a single one.

Despite all of those misgivings and factors working against me, a year ago today I pressed the ‘Publish’ button. A year ago today, I published the very first blog post on Cooking is My Sport.

My tiny blog baby is one year old, guys. I can’t believe it. When I first started this thing, it was purely an experiment- I told myself that if no one showed interest in my posts, I could always just quit and delete the whole thing, with the world being none the wiser. And for some strange, but wonderful reason, that didn’t happen.

And it’s all because of you people.

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I’ve said it before, but today on my blog’s anniversary I can’t help but say it once again: to every single person who has ever visited CIMS, liked a post, commented on one, or followed my blog- you have my immense gratitude.

Thank you. Thank you. And THANK YOU.

Most of all, thank you all to the wonderful new friends and buddies I’ve made through blogging. Thanks for sharing your wonderful blogs with me and always showing mad support ❤

This has been such a wild ride of a year. I feel like I’ve learned so much- not just about blogging, but photography as well. Check back to my first posts if you don’t believe me.

Wait no, don’t do that. My photography is horrifyingly God-awful on several dishes.

Eh, whatever.  You’re welcome to look if you’re brave enough. And regardless of poor pictures, the food is still spot on, so there’s that.

I knew I wanted to make a special cake to celebrate my blogs’s birthday, and this one certainly is special. The checkerboard layer cake is one of those things that for a lot of people that haven’t made it before, is a real mystery. They just can’t figure out how it gets done. I used to be one of them myself. Then, earlier this year, my grandma and grandpa remodeled their kitchen. While emptying it out for the contractor, my grandma decided to get rid of a good number of her old appliances and cookware- fortunately, most of them got passed on to yours truly. One of the things I got was her checkerboard cake pan set. When I was trying to think of what type of layer cake to make for the blog anniversary, I thought of the set and immediately decided that this would be the one.

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Now, if you don’t have a checkerboard cake pan set, have no fear: you can still make this cake. All you really need are 8″ or 9″ layer cake pans, and bowls/cookie cutters that measure 4-5″ and 2-3″ inches. You also don’t have to automatically go with white and chocolate cake as your flavors: as long as they’re different colors to create the checkerboard pattern, it’s fine. I will say this though: try to use cake recipes that aren’t overly moist. Since this cake requires multiple steps of assembly, super moist cakes can have the tendency to be really fragile and crack with too much handling. The cake shouldn’t be as dense as pound cake, but not as soft as a twinkie either- a perfect medium is what you’re looking for.

I didn’t think I would like this cake a much as I did. Chocolate cake isn’t my favorite, and I’m honestly more of a yellow cake lover than a straight white one. However, I found this to be VERY good. There’s just something about the blending of flavors that creates the perfect blend between the sweetness of the white cake and the slight bitterness of the chocolate cake that just really works together. The vanilla butter cream is delicious enough to eat by itself on a spoon- straight up.

So, I know what you’re thinking: there’s a crap load of frosting on this cake. I know. And I can explain. See the original plan was to use the butter cream to make these lovely, artistic peaks with a spoon, and  needed a rather thick layer of frosting to do so. I just forgot one thing:

I am not artistic by any stretch of the imagination. It took me about 5-7 minutes of attempting this elaborate, peak design to figure out that it just wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t making peaks- more like craters. And no one wants to see craters on a layer cake. So, I just smoothed it all out and called it a night. Yeah, it’s thick, but so what? You get extra vanilla butter cream to eat- who’s gonna complain about that? Not I, said the Jessica.

I guess this about wraps this post up. Once again guys: thank you SO much for all the support you’ve given Cooking is My Sport over the past year- I can’ wait to see what next year holds 😉

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Checkerboard Layer Cake

Recipe Adapted from Hershey & Melissa@My CakeSchool

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION: Page 1, Page 2

Ingredients

For Chocolate Layer:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup, plus 6 tbsp. flour
  • 6 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup veg. oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup boiling water

For White Cake Layer:

  • 6 tbsp. unsalted, soft butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 6 tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream:

  • 2 lbs. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups solid vegetable shortening
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup milk

Directions

For Chocolate Layer:

1. Grease & flour 1 9-inch cake pans. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Mix sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add egg, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed in a stand mixer for 2 min.

3. Stir in boiling water and pour batter into pan (it’ll be thin). Bake for 30– 35 min, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10min, then remove to wire rack.

For White Layer:

1. Keep oven at 350°. Grease/flour 9-inch cake pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Combine the egg whites, milk and vanilla extract.

2. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then add half of the milk mixture. Add the rest of both, continue to alternate beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

3. Pour batter into pan and bake for 25-30 min, until cake passes toothpick test. Cool in pan for 10 min, then move to wire rack.

For Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream

1. Cream shortening, butter & vanilla until smooth. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time and milk. Mix on medium speed for 8 min, scraping bowl sides & decreasing speed to slow on last two minutes.

S’mores Brownies

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People ask me all the time:

“What do YOU like to cook?”

“What’s YOUR favorite recipe?”

“What’s the best thing you’ve ever made?”

And that’s why I’m here now. Not only to show you what I love to cook…but how YOU can make it too.

Okay. Maybe I swiped that little intro from the Food Network show, “The Best Thing I Ever Made.” (Great show, by the way. I wish they’d put out more new episodes of that and “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” instead of the ‘game shows’ they keep just throwing at the wall and hoping that they’ll stick.) But it really is true that people do ask me those kinds of questions, especially when they find out that I have a food blog. I also get asked a lot of random questions about ingredients, dishes, recipes and other cooking related subjects that people need help with in their kitchens- like I’m the resident Julia Child, or something. It’s flattering, and most of the time, I really can give some kind of helpful advice.

But there is the left-field query that I have absolutely no clue how to answer-to which I quickly give an off the cuff reply based upon the .2 seconds I’ve had to actually consider it. Then I say a silent prayer that the advice  I’ve given won’t result in a ruined dish or in them burning their house down.

Don’t act like you haven’t done it too.

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But seriously though, the question “What’s the best thing you’ve ever made?” has always kinda been difficult for me to answer. The truth is, I’m a fan of ALL the food I cook, because I cook the way that I would like to eat. Pinpointing one or two dishes among them as favorites makes me draw a blank…

Most of the time.

Every once in a while, I’ll try out a new recipe and right after I try that first bite, I will LITERALLY let an audible “Oh my GOD!” slip out of my mouth out of sheer shock and disbelief of the nirvana that’s happening in my mouth. Sometimes, I do make a dish that is literally so delicious, so supremely perfect, that I just can’t believe it.

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These brownies were one of those dishes. It all started innocently enough. My older sister asked me to make her some brownies. Then my twin sister asked me to make her some. Then my Dad’s birthday came up and he wanted some. Well, since everyone was getting their own variations of brownies, I decided that I was getting left out, and thus  deserved some of my own too. Am I right? Am I RIGHT?

S’mores is one of my favorite ‘flavors’; I’ll eat it in just about any form. The thought of putting it in a brownie seemed like a tasty idea, so I clashed together a couple of ideas I’d seen on Food Network and the Rachael Ray magazine, and ended up with this dish of brownies.

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Guys.

I wasn’t prepared. I really wasn’t.

After I put that first bite in my mouth, it was suddenly like everything around me stopped. The world was on pause, and suddenly it was just me and the most flawless brownie I’ve ever had in my life. I actually think my eyes may have rolled back a little bit. Nothing else mattered. Every other brownie I’d had up to that point ceased to exist- they were just cheap imitations of the word.

I don’t know how to pick out what I love the most about these: the brownie itself is just so perfectly thick and balanced, with just enough chew to distinguish it from chocolate cake (boo for ‘cake brownies’), but not so dense that it’s like fudge (I don’t like overly rich brownies). It’s a perfect base for the other ingredients. The graham cracker crust on the bottom gives a texture to the smoothness of the brownies and is a wonderful ‘vanilla flavored’ compliment to the chocolate flavor of the brownie. And the marshmallows? Don’t get me started. They’re the sweet, gooey glue that gives the whole thing that campfire S’mores authenticity. Put together, they’re literally one of the best things I’ve eaten. No joke.

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The last time that I made the recipe for My Grandma’s Banana Pudding, my twin sister Jas said that it was so good that it almost made her want to start dancing. For some reason, that compliment really stuck with me- and not just because it buffed my ego. I started thinking about how interesting it was that food can literally give someone so much satisfaction and happiness that they want to start dancing. The more I thought about it, the more awesome I realized that was. Later for all these people that are demonizing certain foods as ‘bad’ or something we should be ashamed of for enjoying. Nowadays the world is filled with so much evil and unhappiness that I believe that we should grab onto all the things and people that make us happy and just embrace the heck out of it. 

If something that you cook for someone has the power to make them so happy they wanted to start dancing- then I say, make it. Spread some of that happiness around….even if it’s for yourself.

 I’m a huge fan of the Pharrell Williams song from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, “Happy”. To me, this song is just all kinds of awesome. I was listening to it the other day as I was writing this post and I suddenly had what I think is a pretty good/fun idea for the blog. From now on, whenever I post a recipe like these S’mores Brownies or My Grandma’s Banana Pudding– recipes that just make me, or the people in my life literally feel so ‘happy’ that we want to dance, I’ll be tagging the post with the Happy Stamp below. I also intend on creating a new section for it in my Recipe Index and updating it for the recipes that I’ve posted thus far. That way, anytime you guys need to find a recipe to cook that’s been tested and guaranteed to spread some happiness to a loved one, or even to yourself, you can find it here 😉

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S’mores Brownies

Recipe Courtesy of Food Network Magazine & Rachael Ray Magazine

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups, crushed graham crackers
  • 1 stick, plus 6 tbsp  butter, separated
  • 3/4 cup, plus 3 tbsp sugar, divided
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
  • 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 whole square graham cracker

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang. Coat the foil with cooking spray.

2. Mix the crushed graham crackers, 6 tbsp melted butter, 3 tbsp sugar together and press onto the bottom of the pan. Bake until golden, about 8 minutes; cool.

3. Melt 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips and 1 stick butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring. Off the heat, whisk in 3/4 cup each light brown sugar and granulated sugar; cool slightly.

4. Whisk in 4 eggs, one at a time, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

5. Stir in 1 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread in the pan. Bake for 45 minutes.

6. Remove brownies from oven and turn on broiler. Spread marshmallows and milk chocolate chips  over top of brownies and place back in oven. Bake until marshmallows melt and just begin to brown, about 1 minute.

7. Break whole graham cracker into shards. Remove brownies from oven and press graham cracker pieces into melted marshmallows.

8. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes.  Run hot water over a metal knife to make slicing the brownies easier and less messy.

My Grandma’s Banana Pudding

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Happy Fiesta Friday #26, you guys! I am SO honored to be co-hosting this week’s party with the lovely Prudy@ButterBasilandBreadcrumbs. She’s one of my closest blogger buddies and I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather co-host with. I hope most of you guys that are following me are joining in the fun with us- if you’re not, you’re just really missing out. Go ahead and click on the picture link at the bottom to find out how you can link up with us, we’d love to have you. As this is my first time hosting, I wanted to make my contribution to FF a special one and I really think I succeeded with today’s post.

When I shared the recipe for Banana Yogurt Popsicles, I said that it was based upon an original recipe for Southern Style Banana Pudding that my grandma makes for our family, albeit, a more ‘healthier’ version. I received a lot of requests from you guys asking for the real thing, and because I love when people ask me about food, I decided to go ahead and make some for a photoshoot to share on the blog.

I’ve already shares several of my grandmother’s recipes with you guys, but I never really went into any detail about the cook behind this oustanding food that I was blessed enough to grow up with and in turn, learn to make myself. Behind all food is a story and here is no exception. Yesterday I called up my grandma to ask if she’d mind if I shared a bit of her story, and fortunately she said  it was okay. I’d love to share some of the story with you guys, if that’s okay.

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This is my grandmother, Selma Leander Sanders. She’s my mom’s mom and probably one of the strongest, bravest people I’ve ever met. Her smile and laughter are some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. She’s the first of 3 daughters born to Isaac and Lily Mae Haynes 79 years ago in  Carson, Mississippi. Isaac was unique among many African Americans in the Jim Crow South in that he not only owned his own land, but also employed black and white laborers to help work his farm that Selma and her sisters grew up on. I only met him once in my life and by that time he was in his nineties and ailing in health. But my Mom tells me that when he was younger, he was a real riot, always telling funny stories and playing practical jokes. He was a real family man, willing to do any and everything for his children. My great grandmother Lily was very quiet and reserved. She died before I was able to meet her, but my Mom said that she had an uncanny sixth sense about everything. If you were having a bad day, she’d call you and ask if everything was alright. My grandma definitely inherited that from her, she can take one look at me and know whether or not something’ wrong with me or not.

My grandmother attended Alcorn College, where she met my grandfather, Willie John Sanders. (Random fact: my grandfather attended Alcorn at the same time as Medgar Evers; he still has his yearbook and Medgar Ever’s picture is right there. How cool is that?) When they married they, like many Black people in the South at the time, migrated up north where there were more employment opportunities in the car assembly plants.

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After settling in Lansing, MI, my grandparents soon began having children of their own; three daughter to be exact. While my grandpa worked at the GM auto plant, my grandma worked at home as a homemaker and mother to their children. There, she consistently cooked and baked both simple and elaborate foods for her family, that they still rave about to this day.

My grandma’s cooking is the reason why  never had any problems with eating my vegetables growing up as a kid. My grandpa is 80 and she’s 79, and to this day they still keep a vegetable garden in their backyard that we all love to eat from. One of the only foods I could eat every single day for the rest of my life and never get tired of is a bowl of cabbage greens from the garden, with a hunk of her cornbread- literally one of the best things I’ve eaten in my life, hands down.

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My grandma knows how to make stuff that would make both inexperienced and experienced home cooks break out into a sweat. When I first began seriously cooking for myself, it was one of my greatest hopes that I would someday, somehow get proficient enough to be able to pull off her ‘signature dishes’; the foods that we as a family always attribute to Grandma and all look forward to eating whenever we see her. To date, my proudest moments in the kitchen have been when I’ve succeeded when trying out some of her recipes. She’s getting up there in age and there are times when she doesn’t feel as able to make some of the more complicated things that she used to when she was younger. I’m grateful that I’ve taken the initiative to learn how to do these things myself so that the tradition of her food can continue to be enjoyed by our family without exhausting herself. This Banana Pudding is one of her best ‘signature dishes’. I recently made it for the 4th of July and when I took it over to her house for dinner, I received her stamp of approval-which is how I know for sure that I did it right.

The custard is definitely the star of this banana pudding. It’s sweet, smooth and the ‘glue’ that makes the wafers and bananas mold together perfectly. Guys, this stuff is so good, you won’t even have words. You’ll just sit there, shaking your head back and forth as you keep spooning the pudding into your mouth. That’s what everyone at the table was doing when I last made this, and I’m pretty sure that it’s the same thing you’ll be doing too. Even people in my family who don’t really eat bananas love this pudding. I’m super psyched and proud to share this recipe, as well as the inspiration for my cooking at today’s Fiesta Friday- because it all really does start with my grandma.

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My Grandma’s Banana Pudding

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, plus 2 tbsp
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp banana extract
  • 5 large bananas, sliced
  • 22 oz. crushed vanilla wafers, (2 11 oz. boxes)

Directions

1. In a large saucepan, combine evaporated milk, cornstarch, brown sugar and salt over medium high heat, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Mixture will begin to thicken and form a thin foam across the top.

2. As mixture thickens, transition to mixing with a wooden spoon until it is smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and set aside for about 2 minutes.

3. Add 1/2 cup of milk mixture to the egg yolks and whisk together to temper. Pour egg yolk & milk mixture into the saucepan, then add the extracts.

4. Pour custard into a separate container and place in the freezer for about 20 minutes, or until moderately cooled down.

5. To assemble: using a glass trifle dish, punch bowl, or other large container, layer the pudding in this order: 1) crushed vanilla wafers 2) sliced bananas 3)custard. (See notes for layering tips)

6. Once you have finished layering the pudding, cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight until set. Serve with whipped cream.

*Use a spatula to spread the custard evenly

* Don’t worry about the bananas, wafers, or custard covering each other completely; they’ll mold together perfectly when setting up overnight.

 

Classic Vanilla Cupcakes

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Do any of you guys watch the show ‘Cupcake Wars’ on Food Network? It gets a pretty bad rap, but I still enjoy it. Apparently there are a good amount of other people that do too, because it’s been on for a few years now. I like to see the creative ideas that the competitors come up with for crazy ingredients, then I like seeing them create 3 of their own signature cupcakes with the different fillings and flavors and frostings. Of course it’s not a perfect show: for one, the host really gets on my nerves with his lame jokes at the different time markers throughout the competition. I feel like if one of the other Food Network personalities were hosting it, the show would be stronger. Just my opinion. This may be just me and my suspicious nature, but I’m not so sure that I buy the whole “1,000 Cupcake display” that they claim to make the competitors put together at the end for a special event. Maybe it’s a few hundred cupcakes, but  from what I’ve seen in most of the episodes, it really just doesn’t look like that many.

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Before I watched the show I didn’t know that there were such things as ‘cupcakeries’ that specialize in putting out gourmet style cupcakes. I blame it on my hometown. It’s lame when it comes to Foodie Culture. But even if we did have a cupcake bakery that sold $8.00 cupcakes, I’m not so sure that I would be bum-rushing the doors to get some every week. #1, when it comes to desserts, I don’t usually have extreme cravings for regular cake- pound cake is ALWAYS welcome, but my cravings for typical, moist cake are far in between. #2, I’m a simple girl when it comes to my favored cake flavors. My favorite type of cakes are a golden yellow cake with milk chocolate frosting, and  a french vanilla cake with white frosting- both of which I think would be a waste of money to buy at a cupcake bakery. If I buy something from there, I’ll probably try to get a wacky, loaded flavor like a caramel apple pie cupcake, or a banana pudding style one, or something like that. If I want a  normal, ‘plain’ cupcake, chances are I’m just going to make it myself.

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This may sound weird, but I actually really love it when people I know specifically ask me to make them something that they’re craving to eat. It makes me feel kinda special that they’re letting me feed the craving of something that they love.  Good food  makes us happy. When I serve someone good food, I get to be apart of making somebody happy- and even if the happiness is temporary, that’s not something I think should be taken for granted. We could all use a little bit more of making somebody else happy especially when so many of us struggle (and fail) to make ourselves happy. Focusing on other people’s happiness is a lot less trouble than focusing on our own, am I right? Of course right. One of my friends recently had a birthday and she wanted some vanilla cupcakes to celebrate it, so I was happy to make these for her.

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I’m really happy with how these turned out. The cake itself is moist, soft and golden. This was also my first time making real buttercream frosting, and I think it was  a huge success. It’s not like that lardy, crap that they make in store bought cupcakes that makes you want to barf and that you just end up scraping off- no, I’m pretty sure that this is the kind of frosting that you may even like more than the cupcake itself. Yep, it’s that good. And the nonpareils? Well they’re there because I think they look pretty and cute- just like the whole idea of cupcakes themselves.

These little babies are my contribution to this week’s Fiesta Friday, hosted by Fae@Fae’s Twist and Tango and Suzanne@apuginthekitchen. Every week I get so pumped about bringing my dish to this awesome link up, as well as getting the chance to see what everyone else has been up to in the kitchen to bring. Have a good weekend guys!

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Classic Vanilla Cupcakes

Recipe Courtesy of ‘Bake’ by Edward Gee

 CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 extra large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

Frosting

  • 1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • Nonpareil sprinkles, to decorate

 Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Place 12 paper liners in a muffin pan.

2. Put the butter and granulated sugar in a bowl and beat together until pale and creamy. Gradually beat in the eggs and vanilla extract. Sift in the flour and baking powder, then fold in gently.

3. Divide the batter evenly among the paper liners and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until risen and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

4. To make the frosting, put the butter into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 2-3 minutes, or until pale and creamy. Beat in the cream and vanilla extract. Gradually beat in the confectioners sugar and continue beating until the buttercream is light and fluffy.

5. Use a small spatula to swirl the frosting over the tops of the cupcakes. Decorate with sprinkles.