Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ultimate Chunky Monkey Cake

Oh hi there! See this big cake? It tastes as decadent as it looks. And guess what. You don't have to cover your kitchen with mini chocolate chips to get them coated along the sides. Today I went on Studio 5 to show the unbelievably simple technique to cover the sides of a cake with toppings. It is essentially three easy steps: frost the sides of the cake only, leaving the top "naked," pick up the cake with one hand on top and the other on the bottom and roll it in your topping of choice, and then frost the top and finish. See? Easy! And the best part is that you can use this technique with any topping on any cake. The options are limitless! Funfetti with sprinkles, carrot cake with walnuts, hummingbird cake with toasted coconut, spice cake with slivered almonds, chocolate cake with Oreo crumbles, pumpkin cake with graham cracker crumbs... see what I mean?

Now about the name. Chunky Monkey is a flavor of Ben and Jerry's ice cream that combines banana, chocolate, and walnuts. But I was thinking, chocolate is amazing with peanut butter, peanut butter is awesome with banana, and banana is scrummy with chocolate (that's about my favorite Mary Berry word- scrummy). Putting these three flavors together just made sense, so I added chocolate chips to my favorite banana cake and encased it in fluffy peanut butter frosting and more chocolate (always more chocolate).

Being on the show was fun! The staff was so helpful and nice, and Brooke is as beautiful and as gracious a host in person as she seems on TV. Thanks for having me on, Studio 5!

Ultimate Chunky Monkey Cake 

Moist banana cake studded with chocolate chips is encased in fluffy peanut butter frosting, encrusted with mini chocolate chips, and drizzled with chocolate ganache in this decadent cake.

For the chocolate chip banana cake:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup buttermilk
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups mashed banana
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a stand or electric hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the mashed banana. Mix until well combined. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. After each addition mix only until just combined, and add the chocolate chips with the final flour addition. Mix just a few seconds with the mixer, and finish blending together by hand, scraping the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl to ensure everything is evenly mixed.

Divide the batter between two 9-inch round cake pans, lined with parchment paper and greased. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the cakes to loosen the sides and turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely before assembling the cake.

For the peanut butter frosting:

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons cream
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar

Using a stand or electric hand mixer, blend together butter, peanut butter, cream, vanilla, and salt until well combined and very smooth, about 4 minutes. Add in the powdered sugar gradually, and mix on medium high speed until fluffy, approximately 4 minutes. 

For the ganache drizzle:

1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon butter

Heat cream and butter in microwave until just boiling. Pour over chocolate and allow to sit for 10 minutes (avoid the temptation to stir it too soon). Whisk to combine until smooth.

Cake assembly:

2 layers chocolate chip banana cake
1 recipe peanut butter frosting
1 bag mini chocolate chips
1 recipe chocolate ganache

Spread mini chocolate chips on a tray. Stack the cake layers with frosting sandwiched in the middle, and coat the sides of the cake with frosting, leaving the top bare. Carefully lift the cake, placing one hand on top of the cake and one on the bottom. Turn the cake on its side, like a wheel, and roll it on the tray of chocolate chips, so that the sides of the cake get a nice coat of chocolate chips. Place the cake on a cake plate, and frost the top of the cake. Drizzle chocolate ganache over the top of the cake (a condiment bottle works great for this). Finish cake decoration by piping a border along the top and bottom edge of the cake. 

A few recipe notes:

Cake flour. I like to buy small quantities from the bulk food section at my grocery store. it tends to clump together, so sifting is critical! Unless you like to bite into gummy clumps of flour in your cake. My vintage sifter broke in my last move, so I just use a mesh sieve and shake my dry ingredients through and into the mixing bowl. 

Buttermilk. Did you know it doesn't go bad in the fridge? In a pinch you can sour regular milk (or milk substitute like almond milk) by adding a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice. You can also keep powdered buttermilk in your pantry, but since the real stuff can last in your fridge for forever, you might as well keep it on hand for baking, or for fluffy delicious buttermilk pancakes. It really does taste better.

Peanut butter. Really seriously, don't use the delicious natural stuff. If you're a peanut butter purist, just get a jar of the processed stuff just to use for recipes like this one.

Butter. Use unsalted butter. It is hard to judge how much salt to add to a recipe when using salted butter, and the taste is especially noticeably in frosting if over salted. If you do use salted butter, be cautious in how much salt you add, and taste along the way to make sure you don't add too much. 

Cake pan prep. Lining your cake pan will make it so much easier to pull it out of the pan to cool. Simply trace your cake pan onto parchment paper, wax paper, or even printer paper, cut it out, and place it in the bottom of your pan. I like to spray my pans with nonstick spray before putting the paper in, then I spritz a little on top of the paper, which makes it easier to get it off the bottom of the cake. Brushing softened butter into the pan also works like a charm.

Freezing your cake. I often like to make my cake a day or two in advance. After they have cooled completely, I wrap each layer in plastic wrap and freeze them. Just make sure to put your layers on a flat plate or tray so that they don't get misshapen. Frozen cakes are easy to work with. They won't break apart as you frost and decorate, and won't give off as many crumbs. Just make sure there's enough time for the cake to thaw before you serve it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Witchy Cupcakes, My Pretty

There are a million witch hat cupcakes in Pinterest. Hershey Kisses with some kind of cookie for the brim... Oreo chocolate ice cream cones... or even little witch hats made out of cupcake papers. It's been done.

They're all pretty cute, but don't fancy the idea of eating a plain ice cream cone along with my cupcake, and the Hershey kiss hat has been done so many times. Plus, I have this delicious recipe for chocolate cream cheese frosting that uses black cocoa just begging to be piped into the shape of a witch hat.

The piping technique is simple. Pipe the hat brim around the cupcake using a petal tip (the kind you use to make ruffles). Then using a large round tip, pipe the peak of the hat. Easy peasy!

Once I had this concept in mind, I started thinking about the cake. I've used the black cocoa cream cheese frosting on red velvet cupcakes that were Minnie Mouse themed before, and I immediately started wondering about a green velvet cake recipe. I found this green cake recipe that uses  puréed spinach to give it a green color, and used it as inspiration to develop my own green velvet cupcake recipe.

The color is perfect-- for Halloween cupcakes. Deep green muddied a bit by the cocoa, very witchy. And you can adjust the color a bit by varying the amount of cocoa (if you use 1/4 cup less cocoa, use 1/4 cup more flour, etc.). Because these cupcakes use oil they are very moist and the chocolate flavor is subtle and nice, like a good red velvet. 

The frosting hats turned out well. Next time I might add more powdered sugar to stiffen it up a bit so that the peaks will hold their shape better (cream cheese frosting is usually softer than regular buttercream). I'd recommend starting with three cups powdered sugar, adding more until the frosting holds its shape.

One thing I love is that you get these intense colors using all natural ingredients. How cool is that?!

Witchy Green Velvet Cupcakes with Black Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cupcakes:
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup oil
1/2 cup fresh spinach puree
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3+ cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start by prepping your spinach puree. I put a few handfuls of spinach into my Blendtec and ran it on high speed for 30 seconds (earplugs, please!), then added more as needed until I could tell I had 1/2 cup in there. Then I added in the 1/3 cup water to the blender to help it run a little easier, and blended it until super smooth.

Next mix together your eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the oil, puree (and water if you didn't add it to the puree), and vanilla. Mix until your batter looks nice and green. Sift together your dry ingredients, and add them into your batter until just combined. I like to use the mixer for just a few seconds and finish mixing by hand to ensure that it is evenly mixed but not overmixed.

(If you're worried about color, start with just 1/4 cup cocoa mixed into your batter. If you like the color, then add in 2 1/4 cups flour. If you don't mind it mixing up a bit darker, add the remaining 1/4 cup cocoa and 2 1/2 cups flour).

Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full, turn oven temperature down to 325, and bake cupcakes for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting,  mix together the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, salt, and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and well combined ( 2-4 minutes). Add the cocoa powder, then gradually add in the powdered sugar. Continue adding in powdered sugar until frosting is stiff enough to hold the witch hat peak.

Pipe your little witch hats, and don't tell anyone their eating a vegetable in cupcake form! 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Autumn has got to be one of my favorite times to bake. Fall flavors lend themselves perfectly to baking: warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, pumpkin, fresh local apples, and rich caramel. Besides that, nothing warms me up on a crisp day like turning on the oven.

Now let's talk caramel apples. I adore them. You know, the big ones that are also dipped in chocolate and rolled in chopped nuts or candy? I love those things, but can almost never justify the price. I mean, it's an apple! But my love for caramel apples inspired me to create a caramel apple cupcake.

I started with an apple cake recipe. I found one in an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (Pies and Cakes, 1968), and adjusted it a bit. It is chock full of apple flavor, using chopped fresh apples and apple juice, and has just a bit of spice to add warmth to the flavor. I used apples from my in-law's tree, but any kind will do.

Next I needed a caramel frosting. I looked at loads of recipes. Several cooked butter and sugar, like penuche frosting. I adore penuche, but it is a heavy thick frosting and I don't know that it would pipe very well. Other recipes called for prepared caramel sauce or dulce de leche in varying amounts. Some used a few tablespoons, while others called for entire jars of caramel. I wanted a rich caramel flavor, but I didn't want to compromise the texture of the frosting. I ended up using a recipe from Real Simple that called for 1/2 cup. Instead of buying caramel sauce I made my own, and it turned out wonderful! I made dulce de leche in my electric pressure cooker using canned sweetened condensed milk, and had some leftover for fresh apple dipping (yum). I also increased the salt to 1/2 teaspoon to give it more of a salted caramel taste.

Spiced Apple Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream

For the cake:

2 c flour
1 c sugar
1 1/2 t baking soda
2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 c dark brown sugar
1/2 c butter
1 c apple juice
1 1/2 c apple, peeled and finely chopped
2 eggs

For the frosting

2 c unsalted butter
3 3/4 c powdered sugar
1/2 cup dulce de leche (make your own in your crockpot or pressure cooker*)
1 t vanilla
1/2 t salt
toppings, as desired (chopped nuts, sprinkles, pretzel bits, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Add the butter and apple juice, mixing well, Add in chopped apple and beat until ingredients are incorporated. Add eggs and beat well until batter is fluffy.

Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until cupcakes are golden and test done.

For the frosting, beat the butter, caramel, vanilla, and salt until fluffy (approximately 2 minutes). Gradually add powdered sugar, then beat on medium high for 4 minutes.

Give each cupcake a generous piping of frosting. I used a large round tip to mimic the look of an actual caramel apple. If you'd like, roll the edges of the frosted cupcakes in your favorite caramel apple topping and finish off with a paper straw "stick." You could also top with an apple slice or drizzle with more caramel.

*A note on homemade dulce de leche: the crockpot method for making dulce de leche takes 6-8 hours, so it will take a little planning ahead. The pressure cooker method took 18 minutes, plus the time to reach pressurization and to depressurize, and to cool down in the fridge. You may want to start making the dulce de leche before you start baking. Also, the finished sauce is too thick to drizzle, but you may be able to thin it down with milk if you want to top your cupcakes with more caramel.