A Southern Grace: April 2012

April 30, 2012

powdered sugar powwow


Let's be honest--cheesecakes take a lot of work to make, especially when compared to a batch of cupcakes. You've got the endless beating of the cream cheese before and after adding your sugar and eggs. You've got the repetitious scraping of the bowl. You've got the foil and the water bath and the hour of baking and the hour of cooling and the hours of refrigerating. For someone who appreciates a little instant gratification, a cheesecake is not an apt choice!

What's more, I don't necessarily like the way cheesecake tastes or feels in my mouth, but I do like the concept of strawberry cheesecake, especially if the strawberry portion overwhelms the cheesecake part. With that in mind, I made some cupcakes that would hopefully mimic everything I love about strawberry cheesecake and omit all that I dislike.

The cupcakes are a dense vanilla pound cake, the filling is a simple cream cheese frosting mixed with a bit of strawberry pie filling, and the frosting is a buttercream flavored with strawberry jam. There's plenty of strawberry flavor, just a wee taste of cream cheese, and all kinds of sweetness--just what I like. Some might argue that I've done just as much work on these as I would on a cheesecake, and to these people I say, "You're absolutely right." However, I like the end result much, much better.

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes
(makes about 18 cupcakes)

1-1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream cheese filling:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry pie filling

Strawberry buttercream frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda into a medium bowl; set aside.
With a mixer in a large bowl, cream butter and white sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with sour cream.
Scoop the batter into each cupcake liner, filling about 2/3 full.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in tin for 15 minutes. Remove from tin onto a cooling rack.
To make the cream cheese filling, cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in the vanilla. Mix in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, then fold in the pie filling. To make the frosting, with an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed; after both additions, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate frosting, then return to medium-high. Frosting will be very pale and fluffy. Add vanilla and jam, and beat until frosting is smooth.
To fill the cupcakes, carve out a cone-shaped hole (and immediately eat the cone)(after schmearing it with frosting, of course) and carefully squirt or spoon the cream cheese filling inside. Apply frosting generously to cupcakes and devour.

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April 23, 2012

my muse?


I feel like whenever I'm searching for a way to give whatever I happen to be baking an inspired twist, I turn to the Almond Joy. That kind of makes her my muse, right? I use the feminine pronoun because I've decided that an appropriate name for this muse must be Joya. Joya d'Almond.

Too silly? Nah. Regardless of what she's called, or if she's ever called anything at all, she does good work. This latest creation began as a simple batch of cream cheese brownies, but ended up as almond brownies with a coconut cream cheese swirl.

That's what I call gooey.

Lots of different textures (I used both shredded coconut and coconut extract to flavor the cream cheese filling) and lots of delicious flavors join forces to create a decadent and relatively easy and quick dessert!

Joya d'Almond Brownies
6 tablespoons butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup almonds, sliced

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg yolk
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch square pan with non-stick spray or grease lightly.
Melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave or over low heat, stirring until smooth. Beat in the sugar and eggs. Mix in the flour, cocoa powder, and salt, then add in the vanilla. Stir in the almonds. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese, egg yolk, sugar, and coconut extract until smooth. Stir in the shredded coconut. Distribute the cream cheese mixture in eight dollops across the top of the brownie mixture, then take a dull knife or spatula and swirl the cream cheese mixture with the chocolate batter. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the batter in the center of the pan feels just set. Let cool, then cut the brownies into squares, rectangles, hearts, what-have-you.

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April 14, 2012

pleasantly plump


Ben and Jerry of Ben & Jerry's are freakin' geniuses, for many reasons.

Obviously, they've figured out how to have successful careers doing something amazingly exciting. Plus, their flavor combinations are almost always sensational and the names of those combinations are loads of fun. Yeah, I'm a little envious.

I've taken a cue from one of those tremendous flavors, hilariously dubbed Chubby Hubby. It's essentially vanilla malt ice cream with hunks of pretzel and swirls of chocolate and peanut butter. My cupcake version consists of vanilla malt cupcakes filled with a chocolate ganache and topped with a peanut butter cream cheese frosting. If I had had some pretzels on hand, they would've been featured prominently on top of the frosting, but alas, I did not.

So, these are Almost Chubby Hubby Cupcakes, or alternatively...

Pleasantly Plump Chump Cupcakes
(makes 24 cupcakes)
2 cups cake flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup malted milk powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 ounces butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups cold water
4 large egg whites, room temperature

Ganache filling:
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons corn syrup
7 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 ounce butter, room temperature

Peanut butter frosting

Prepare the ganache first, so it can begin to set up as you make and bake the cupcakes. Bring the cream and corn syrup to a simmer, remove from the heat, and add the chocolate and butter. Let it sit for a few minutes, then whisk until melted and blended.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 cupcake tins with 24 cupcake liners and lightly spray the top surfaces with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, malted milk powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and shortening at medium speed. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla and beat at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the ice water and occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter. Using an ice cream scoop or measuring cup, fill the cupcake liners about 3/4 full of the batter.

Bake the cupcakes for 20-22 minutes, switching positions halfway through, until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean. Let the cupcakes cool in the tins for 10 minutes and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely, then carve out a cone-shaped bit from the top. Squirt or spoon in some of your semi-soft ganache. Make the frosting and apply it to the tops of each cupcake. Eat!

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April 8, 2012

happy easter to all...


...and happy birthday to me (and anyone else who happened to be born on this day...)!

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April 3, 2012

dream on


Have you met frangipane? I only recently made her acquaintance (she lets me call her Fran), but I can already tell that we're gonna be pals.

For the less informed, frangipane is essentially a combination of pastry cream, almond paste, and ground almonds. While I typically can only tolerate the taste of almond extract in very small amounts, there's no defeating the power of rich, luscious pastry cream. It makes the almond extract exponentially more enjoyable. Combine that with a subtly favored almond cake, a layer of sweet, tart raspberry preserves, and a smooth, tasty coating of almond buttercream frosting, and you have one heck of a magnificent dessert.

If you pay any attention at all, you've probably noticed that I often do two things to my layer cakes: 1)cut each layer in half horizontally, and b)apply some sort of moistening agent to each layer. I do so hate a dry cake, and taking these steps seems to hold off the dessication long enough for the cake to be consumed. Bakerella suggests loading a spray bottle with a simple syrup, and that's an idea I may try in the future to save myself a few minutes.

So, not only do the moist pieces slice neatly, but if you make it a point to get a bite containing each and every component, you'll experience a blend of the nutty, the tangy, the sweet, and the splendid. Good on you, Fran!

Raspberry Almond Dream Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3/4 cup (about 7 ounces) almond paste (not marzipan)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg (you can use pasteurized egg, as this is not cooked!)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Raspberry preserves

Almond buttercream:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2-3 tablespoons milk, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 cups almonds, toasted and crushed

First, make your frangipane, as it can be kept in the fridge for weeks. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the almond paste until it is crumbly. Add the butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, egg, flour and salt, and continue to pulse until the mixture is combined and smooth. Cover tightly and refrigerate until needed.

Now, the cakes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Combine the sugar and the butter and beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until very light. Beat in the extracts, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly-mixed and well-aerated. Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops with a spatula.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the tough--a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Cool completely, then cut each layer in half horizontally. (It helps tremendously to freeze the layers for about 30 minutes first.)

To make the frosting, beat the butter with an electric mixer for a few minutes. Add the extract and milk and briefly blend. Add the powdered sugar gradually until the frosting is thick enough to spread easily. If the frosting is too dry, add additional milk until the desired consistency is reached.

To assemble, liberally brush the four sides of exposed cake with the raspberry preserves. Divide the frangipane into thirds and slather it between the halved and preserved layers (stacking as you go), then frost the sides and top in a decorative fashion. Press the toasted almonds into the sides, if desired. Chill for a bit to let things mingle, then slice and serve!

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