Sunday, November 29, 2015

Easy pumpkin bread

A simple pumpkin bread that you can you can customize to your tastes - add your favorite chips or top with luscious glaze to make it extra special! Best of all, it's made in one bowl!

My husband told me that a few fast food chains are finally starting to catch onto the pumpkin bandwagon. These "restaurants" (and yes, I am using quotations) debuted pumpkin milkshakes, pumpkin drinks, and other pumpkin-flavored items. What I find ironic about these products is that very few of them actually contain pumpkin. Instead, pumpkin spice is what gives them their flavors.

Me? While I love pumpkin spice, I want something with actual pumpkin puree in it. Not only is the pumpkin smooth and creamy, but it also keeps your baked goods from drying out. I was heading out of town one weekend and wanted to make sure my husband and daughter had something to eat in the mornings so I decided to bake a pumpkin bread.

I tweaked a recipe that I found on King Arthur Flour to cut down the quantity and to make it less sweet. I also upped the pumpkin spices and swapped out the oil for applesauce to reduce the fat. Don't be fooled - this slightly healthier version has lots of flavor and is just as good as its full-fat cousin.

This bread was an instant hit at our house, and Addie has been taking a slice of it to school every day for her morning snack. She likes eating it after school as well, so it is definitely kid-approved.

Easy pumpkin bread
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a standard 9"x5" loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the applesauce, sugars, eggs, water, pumpkin puree and vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Mix until just combined - do not over mix.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking pan and bake in your preheated oven for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the bread to cool completely (preferably overnight) before slicing and serving. Leftover bread should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature and will keep for about a week.

Yield: One 9"x5" loaf; about 8-10 servings

Source: Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Skating Fridays

Lessons From a Hockey Guy


We figure skaters like to joke that hockey players aren't real skaters. The ones that take basic (figure) skating skills are usually the ones that end up being better hockey players. They learn proper edges, turns and other fundamentals that are crucial to their sport.

There is an adult male skater (a former hockey player) that I see about once a week on public ice. He and I have become friendly, and we like to talk about what each of us is working on. I've noticed his nice spread eagles and decided to ask him about it this week since it's an element that I have never been able to do. I've had a few coaches attempt to teach me, but nothing worked.

Hockey guy gave me a few really good tips that nobody else has ever told me about:

  1. You really need to open up your hips. A common mistake is that skaters try to open at the knees, but this will cause your rear to stick out. Similar to a layback spin, a skater must push forward at the hips.
  2. Your weight will not be evenly distributed. He said it's different for every skater, but for him, he has about 60% of his weight on the front (leading) leg and 40% on the back leg.
  3. You will mostly glide near the heels. I always thought you glided on the middles of the blades, but I was wrong.
  4. "Frog" and "lotus" exercises (in yoga) will help you learn to open up those hips.
After he shared this knowledge with me, I attempted a few spread eagles. Big fail.

I came back to the rink the next day and lo and behold, a mini spread eagle appeared out of nowhere! I tried it again the next day and Hockey Guy's coach came up to me and said that it has improved tenfold. I told her that it was because of the tips that Hockey Guy gave me.

Who would have known that a figure skater could learn skating skills from a hockey player? It's very cool, and I'm sure I'll pick up more tips from him!

Here is a video of my beginner spread eagle. It still has a ways to go, but it's a pretty good start considering that I have never been able to do this before.


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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Malted chocolate chip bars

Give chocolate chip bars a facelift by adding malted milk powder. The resulting bars are incredibly crispy on the outside and super fudgy on the inside!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I'm sure most of you have dessert already figured out for tomorrow night, but if you don't, here is a fun alternative to the traditional sweets.

It's been a few months since I last baked with malted milk powder. I made a vanilla malt cake and malted milk chocolate cake for my husband in June. Otherwise, the container of malted milk powder has just been sitting quietly in the pantry.

My brother and his wife were coming to visit one recent weekend and I had no idea what to bake for them. My brother isn't a huge dessert fan (I have no idea how we are related) so I wanted to make something that might win him over. Nothing too fancy and nothing too complicated.


Chocolate chip bars seemed like a good choice. Except they were a bit too boring and uninspired. I remembered the sad and lonely malted milk powder and thought that it would be a great addition to the bars and give them that extra boost of flavor. As it turns out, this was a fabulous idea.

The bars had a crispy, crackly top like a brownie. The insides of the bars were rich, gooey and fudgy all at the same time. And the bars had a good malted flavor to them too. It wasn't overpowering but it wasn't hiding in the shadows either.

My brother and his wife loved these bars. We sat on our outside patio and ate these while the sun started to set. The heat made the bars slightly melty, so we had to lick some chocolate off of our fingers afterwards. The malt flavor is still a bit subdued, but the bars were still awesome and a bit more sophisticated than your standard chocolate chip bar recipe. While this may not be a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, it's one that freezes well, can be cut into small or large slices, and contains chocolate (which is always missing during this holiday, in my opinion).

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Malted chocolate chip bars
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup malted milk powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups chocolate chips of choice
Directions
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.  Generously grease or line a standard 8"x8" baking pan and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, mix together the butter, sugars, malted milk powder and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the egg and mix until well-combined.

Turn the mixer down to low and slowly add in the small bowl with the dry ingredients.  Mix until everything just comes together. Turn the mixer off and fold in the chocolate chips by hand. Save about a 1/2 cup.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and smooth out the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the reserved chocolate chips on top.

Bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the top starts to turn golden brown. Allow to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Bars should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator. They will keep for about a week.

Yield: One 8"x8" pan; about 16 bars

Source: Barely adapted from Warm Vanilla Sugar

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fall spice cake with cream cheese frosting

This fall spice cake is perfect for autumn-with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cloves, it is sure to wake up your tastebuds. You'll want to eat the cream cheese frosting on its own!
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that my college roommate is 2 days older than me. We have made it a tradition to celebrate our birthdays together every year. Fortunately, we have been able to celebrate almost every year together since graduating college. I think there were maybe 1 or 2 years where we haven't be able to make our schedules work.

This year, we were joined by our college suitemate, who was also in town for a work function. It's neat to know that I've known this ladies for over half my life. I'm lucky that we've stayed in touch and have remained good friends.


My former roommate made an elaborate brunch for us the next morning and asked if I would be willing to make something sweet. Although I wasn't sure if I would have the time to bake something that week, I made some time and even got Addie to help out.

I had forgotten that my roommate's nephew was coming to brunch  - he has several food allergies so I would feel awful if he wasn't able to eat the cake. Thankfully, the ingredients in this cake were suitable for him (minus the sprinkles) so he was able to enjoy our birthday cake after all. I got a lot of compliments on the cake and let my friends take some slices home with them. They all loved the fall spices and especially the frosting, and I have to agree with them 100%.

All in all, I had a fantastic weekend, and I hope to hang out with my friends again soon. I'll have to bake another cake for them the next time we see other!

Fall spice cake with cream cheese frosting
Cake
  • 2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 and 3/4 cups light-brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
Frosting
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • 3 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Directions
Bake the cake: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease two 9" round baking pans and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cloves. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, mix together the brown sugar, vegetable oil and applesauce on medium speed until well combined. Add the eggs and vanilla.

Turn the mixer to low and alternately add the flour and buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning with the flour.

Evenly divide the batter into your two prepared pans and bake in your preheated oven for 28-32 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add in the powdered sugar and vanilla. If the frosting is too runny, add more powdered sugar. If it is too stiff, add a splash (about 1/2 teaspoon) of milk until you achieve your desired consistency.

Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer, cut side up, on a cake plate or platter. Add about 1/4 cup of frosting on top and spread with a spatula. Place the next layer, cut side down, on top. Frost the tops and sides with a thin layer of frosting and refrigerate. This is called creating a crumb coat. Once the frosting sets up, frost the cake with a thicker layer of cream cheese frosting and decorate as desired.

Cake should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.

Yield: One 9" cake; about 10-12 servings

Source: Cooking Classy

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Skating Fridays

Mission Accomplished - Double Salchow!


Last Friday, I mentioned that I have been working on my double salchow for a few weeks. I kept having a mental block and was having trouble getting the "snap" after the jump takeoff. Coach B gave me some prep exercises for the jump during our lesson last week and put me in the harness. I had some OK attempts, but she concluded that I was jumping too early and trying too hard to "muscle" the jump.

Two days after my lesson, I was back on the ice for a practice session. I was playing around with the double salchow on a pretty crowded session and was not having any luck. Then all of a sudden, I landed on one foot, swung my free leg to check out of the jump and then stopped to think about what just happened.

"EVA!!!"

I looked around and saw my choreographer (who was teaching a lesson at the time) yelling for me near the boards.

"Did I just land my double salchow?"

"YES!!!"  (Choreographer comes over to give me a high five)

She tells me to do it again and of course I can't. You know, the whole pressure of everyone watching.

I tried to grab another successful attempt on video, but to no avail. My choreographer tried as well and the jump ran away and hid.

I managed to land two more during my practice, and my choreographer saw one of those two subsequent attempts. This time she was halfway across the ice when she screamed my name.

So there you have it. I officially landed a clean double salchow on Sunday, November 15, 2015. I'm writing that one down and have at least one witness to prove that I'm not crazy.

I hope to capture one on video to share with you soon. Assuming I can continue landing these, of course.

I can't tell you how happy I am to have finally landed a clean double salchow!


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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chocolate and pumpkin spice cookie butter bars

If you love pumpkin, then you will absolutely love these chocolate and pumpkin spice cookie butter bars. Pumpkin spice cookie butter and chocolate chips are sandwiched between two layers of soft and chewy pumpkin bars. It's a bar dessert that's perfect for fall!
Are you as crazy about pumpkin spice cookie butter as I am? After I tried my first jar, I went out and bought three more. Obsessed? Maybe. I could have easily eaten the contents of each jar with a spoon, but I wanted to bake something that featured the pumpkin spice cookie butter.

I was somewhat strapped for time when I decided that I wanted to make dessert. We were Facetiming with my parents and had only about 40 minutes until we had to attend a classmate's birthday party. Needless to say, I didn't have a lot of time to dilly dally around. Cookies sounded awesome but would require portioning out and multiple pans. Bread would be a good option but we already have a few loaves of another variety hanging around. Cheesecake bars were tempting but I didn't have time to make the multiple layers.
So what's a girl to do? I finally settled on making some pumpkin bars. I could mix everything in one bowl, and the filling didn't require any extra dishes or bowls to make. Call me sold.

I mixed the batter up very quickly and allowed half of it bake for 8 minutes while I washed my  measuring cups and spoons. Once that was done, I spread on the pumpkin spice cookie butter and sprinkled on some chocolate chips. Then I added the remaining batter on top and placed everything in the oven. I was able to bake these, talk to my parents, and take these out of the oven by the time we had to depart for the party.


My husband taste tested the bars while Addie and I were at the party. He said that they were really good, and this is coming from a guy who used to not like pumpkin. I tried one and agreed that the bars were pretty fantastic. The soft and chewy base and top were perfect, and the filling of chocolate and pumpkin spice cookie butter were warm and gooey.

If you don't have pumpkin spice cookie butter, you can simply substitute with Nutella or any other chocolate type of spread. You can omit the chocolate chips or add other flavored chips (white chocolate and cinnamon come to mind). The bars are flexible to suit your tastes and are a perfect way to celebrate the fall season.

Chocolate and pumpkin spice cookie butter bars
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • About 1/3 cup pumpkin spice cookie butter
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a standard 8"x8" square pan and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl if using a handheld mixer, mix together the melted butter, pumpkin and sugars on medium speed until well mixed. Add the egg yolk and mix until smooth.

Turn the mixer to low and add in the baking soda, salt, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cinnamon and vanilla extract until everything is well incorporated. Slowly add in the flour and mix until everything just comes together.

Press about 1/2 of the batter onto the bottom of your prepared pan (I used my hands). The mixture will be a bit sticky. Bake for about 8 minutes in your preheated oven.

Remove the pan from the oven and spread a thin layer of pumpkin spice cookie butter on top. Then sprinkle with chocolate chips. Finally, dollop the remaining batter on top and gently press down and try to cover as much of the chocolate chips as you can. It's OK if some parts aren't covered.

Bake in your oven for another 17-20 minutes or until the top turns golden brown. Allow the bars to cool before slicing and serving.

Leftover bars should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature and will keep for at least a week.

Yield: One 8"x8" pan; about 16 bars

Source: Slightly adapted from Crazy for Crust

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cinnamon toast overnight French toast bake

Love breakfast but don't always have time to make it in the mornings? Try this overnight cinnamon French toast bake! With a super crunchy and cinnamon-topped toast, this dish is sure to start your day off right!

Every Sunday, I make brunch for our family. Sometimes it's more lunch-like, but often times we eat breakfast items. Pancakes and waffles are always on the rotation. While I love cooking for my family, sometimes it takes a while and prevents me from spending more time with Addie in the mornings. We usually Facetime with my parents on Sunday mornings while my husband is swimming so I don't get to hang out with Addie quite as much.

Enter this cinnamon toast overnight French toast bake. I made it the night before and simply popped it in the oven before my husband came home. Foolishly, I forgot to cover the pan and the tops got a bit crispy (but that was Addie's favorite part).

I used plain sandwich bread for this toast and think it would have tasted better with thicker slices of bread. The bread got a little soggy for my personal tastes, but it was still good overall. I loved the cinnamon toast part because it reminded me of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal from my youth, and it was the only sweet part about the dish.

Feel free to top yours with fresh fruit, a sprinkle of powdered sugar, or maple syrup for a sweet finish. This was definitely a great time-saving dish on a Sunday morning and a great new addition to our brunch rotation.

Overnight cinnamon french toast
  • 1/2 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 pound loaf (16 slices) white sandwich bread
  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups milk (I used 2%)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Directions
Make the cinnamon toast: Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the cinnamon and sugar. Line two baking sheets with foil. Place 8 bread slices on each baking sheet. Butter each slice of bread with about 1 teaspoon of butter and then sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. You might have a little bit leftover (save it for the topping).

Bake in your oven for 7-10 minutes or until the tops are crunchy and caramelized. Cut two slices of bread in half horizontally. Set the bread aside briefly.

Generously grease a 9"x13" high-sided baking dish. Place the dish so that the long side is facing you and the shorter sides are to your left and right.

Arrange the toast: Place one cut slice of toast in the upper left-hand corner, with the cut side facing left (toward the side of the pan). Fan 7 full slices of toast on top so they overlap. Add another halved slice as the final slice. Turn the pan 180 degrees and repeat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, salt and vanilla. Pour evenly over the arranged bread. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.

Bake the french toast: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle any leftover cinnamon sugar on top of the casserole and make sure it's covered with the aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes in your preheated oven and then remove the foil and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. As you can see from my photos above, my toast baked a little bit too long without the aluminum foil.

Allow the toast to cool a bit before serving. Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container and will last for a few days.

Yield: about 8-10 servings

Source: The smitten kitchen cookbook, pages 7-8

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Skating Fridays

Not Seeing Double...Yet


One of my goals for this year was to consistently land a double salchow. I am sad to report that I haven't accomplished this yet. But, I have to admit that Coach B and I have not worked on this element much this year. We've been focusing on my skating skills, spins and other jumps.

I landed a cheated one in August 2014 and haven't successfully landed one since. We've been working in the harness and I can execute them just fine. Once the harness is off, my brain starts to freak out.

My takeoff looks to be correct so far, and my main problem is the "snap" immediately afterwards. I am noticing that my jumping leg (my right leg) kicks up too high and opens up instead of tightening to snap in. I feel like a "Google doctor" where I can diagnose myself but can't fix what's broken!

Here is an attempt from earlier this week. It's obviously not the best, but I am hoping to still land one by end of year.


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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pumpkin spice cookie butter banana bread

A dense yet soft banana bread packed with pumpkin spices and Trader Joe's pumpkin spice cookie butter. You'll want to eat the whole loaf in one sitting!

Help. I think I have a problem. I believe I'm officially obsessed with Trader Joe's pumpkin spice cookie butter. I first heard about it a few weeks ago and rushed to my nearest TJ's store to find it. Thankfully, they were in stock so I grabbed a jar.

I was so smitten with the product that two days later, I took Addie with me to buy 3 more jars of the stuff. My sole purpose was to buy more pumpkin spice cookie butter. Of course, I left the store with about $30 worth of other things, but that's a problem for another day.

Addie kept telling me that she wanted me to bake banana bread for her. I'm not sure what was causing her obsession with banana bread, but I decided to merge both of our recent food crushes together into one creation. I could have added pumpkin puree or chocolate chips to this bread but decided to keep it simple this time.

This bread disappeared in about 2 days. My husband, Addie and I demolished it so quickly that I am glad that I bought 3 more jars of pumpkin spice cookie butter. I definitely need to make this bread again because it was definitely one of the biggest hits of the year with my family.

If you have a Trader Joe's nearby, RUN to buy yourself some of this cookie butter before they start stocking the holiday items. (I was not paid to say this; I simply am a huge fan of this fabulous Trader Joe's product!)

Pumpkin spice cookie butter banana bread 
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 overripe, medium sized bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin spice cookie butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a standard 9"x5" loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, beat together the egg and sugars until well blended. Add the mashed bananas, applesauce, cookie butter and vanilla extract.

Transfer the banana mixture into the large bowl with the dry ingredients and gently fold until just incorporated. Do not over mix.

Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake in your preheated oven for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Leftover bread (ha!) should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature and will keep for several days.

Yield: One 9"x5" loaf; about 8-12 servings

Source: Adapted from two peas & their pod

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dry salted caramel from Alinea

Don't let this unassuming powder fool you. Once you take a bite of it, the powder turns into a caramel liquid and tastes like heaven. This fun recipe comes from 3 Michelin-starred Alinea.
Those of you that follow Eva Bakes on Facebook know that I was lucky enough to make a reservation at one of the world's top restaurants, Alinea. This Grant Achatz restaurant has earned 3 Michelin stars, which is the highest rating a dining establishment can have. Naturally, it became one of my bucket list restaurants to visit.

My husband and I happened to be in Chicago for a conference. And since our 10-year wedding anniversary was approaching at the time, I thought it would be fun to celebrate at a fancy place. Not just any fancy place, but Alinea. My husband's jaw dropped when he found out how expensive the meal would be, but I told him that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.



I stalked the webpage on a daily basis and was thrilled when reservations finally opened up for the week we would be in town. And rather than have traditional dinner reservations, Alinea requires guests to pre-pay for their entire meal up front. This prevents no-shows from occurring. It's brilliant, I tell you.

With our meal completely paid for (minus drinks, which are extra), we walked into the dining room and were just giddy. I loved the idea of having no menu and allowing the kitchen staff create our meal. We enjoyed 12 courses, including 3 dessert plates. We left the restaurant feeling full, happy, and entertained. Each dish had its own story, and the wait staff did a phenomenal job explaining the meaning and how we should experience it.

I was especially intrigued by several dishes and did a bit of Googling to see what recipes were available for me to try recreating at home. I found this dry salted caramel, which sounded simply astonishing. A dry caramel powder was supposed to be placed in glasses. Then once someone placed some powder in their mouth, the powder would liquify and turn into a smooth caramel sauce. I had to try it.


I found my tapioca maltdextrin powder on Amazon. The first recipe I found online did not work - my caramel failed to harden so I turned it into a caramel sauce instead. The second recipe worked much better and I was able to successfully make the dry salted caramel. One thing I learned is that the caramel base recipe below makes a TON. I used 1/4 of the recipe and still had extra caramel left over, so keep that in mind.

How did it taste? Amazing, as expected. Once a spoonful of caramel powder hit my mouth, my salivary glands melted it into a liquidy caramel. I started chewing and some caramel stuck to my teeth, just as caramel should. I gave Addie and her babysitter a small portion each, and both said that they loved the dish as well. I'm super excited to have tackled a food chemistry project and hope that I try a few more in the future.

Dry salted caramel from Alinea
Caramel base (Note: I highly recommend using 1/4 of the caramel base recipe below; you will STILL have leftovers after all is said and done)
  • 350 grams (12.3 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 365 grams (12.9 ounces) glucose (can substitute corn syrup)
  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 500 grams (1 pound and 1.6 ounces) heavy cream 
Dry salted caramel
  • 200 grams (7.4 ounces) caramel base from above
  • 65 grams (2.3 ounces) tapioca maltodextrin powder
  • Maldon sea salt, for sprinkling
Directions
Set a silicone mat (or a piece parchment paper) on a large baking sheet and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the sugar, glucose, butter and heavy cream together until it reaches 230 degrees F. Your ingredients might get "stuck" at 200 degrees F and seem to not get hotter after this, but be patient. It may take another 5-10 minutes for the temperature to start creeping up. Make sure it hits 230 degrees F because the sugar starts to break down at that stage. If you take it off the stove too early, your caramel will not harden.

Once the liquid reaches 230 degrees F and becomes a deep amber color (I let mine go to 240 degrees F), take the saucepan off the stove. Then pour the caramel onto your prepared sheet pan and allow to cool to room temperature. The caramel cannot be warm or else the recipe will not work.

Portion off 200 grams (7.4 ounces) of the cooled caramel and add it to a food processor. Add the tapioca maltodextrin powder and pulse in your food processor until the mixture becomes powdery.

Evenly distribute the powder into 8 equal servings (small, clear glasses work well here). Sprinkle the tops of each glass with a small pinch of sea salt.

Serve immediately. Any leftover caramel should be stored in a cool, dry place. Remember, once the powder comes in contact with liquid, it will liquify.

Yield: About 8 servings

Source: Adapted from Molecularrecipes.com and Alinea Newb

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Skating Fridays

Slow Week


Last week, things were crazy busy at work. I had to facilitate a few meetings and was unable to make my normal freestyle sessions. With that being said, I still managed to skate 3 days last week (as opposed to the 5-6 days on a normal week).

I told Coach B that I was only skating 3 days that week, and I was surprised by her response. I expected her to be disappointed and to half joke about my true commitment to skating, but she said that sometimes a break in a skater's practice schedule is good. I did seem to skate pretty well during the freestyle times that I was able to make, and I also think it gave my brain and body a chance to recover and relax from the previous week's practices.

Coach B said that she has seen a lot of progress in my skating since we started working together 3 years ago. She knew she had her work cut out for her when we first met, and I had a LOT of kinks to work out in my skills. Of course, I still have a long way to go, but it's reassuring to know where I've come from and know that I am a completely different skater than I was 3 years ago.

I'm excited to see how I progress over the next year or so. And I'll try to take a break every once in a while. Not too long of a break, of course, but just enough to recharge my batteries.


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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Pumpkin cookie butter blondies

Have you tried Trader Joe's pumpkin cookie butter yet? These blondies are chock full of pumpkin spices and pumpkin cookie butter. Nothing screams fall quite like these bars!
You all know that I am a slow adapter. It took me forever to finally try (and bake) macarons, I waited a few seasons before watching ER on television in my youth, and I was a late adapter to Apple products. One thing that I was actually pretty quick to try was Trader Joe's pumpkin cookie butter.

As soon as I heard about this product (hello, Fearless Flyer!), I knew I had to have it. My family and I drove to our nearest Trader Joe's and I had one goal in mind: buy the pumpkin cookie butter.

Once we entered the store, we split up. I made a beeline for the baking aisle and almost heard a heavenly choir welcome me as I approached the stash of pumpkin cookie butter. The guy at the checkout told us that he had to limit himself to one jar because otherwise he'd eat the whole stash. He said that the product would not last long and that I would have to stock up pretty quickly before all the peppermint and holiday products arrived.

The minute we came home, I ran to pull out a plastic knife. My husband chose a spoon. I dipped my utensil into the pumpkin cookie butter and let Addie have a taste. She didn't seem too impressed. My husband said that it was amazing, and I agreed once I was able to get a hold of the jar. My first idea to bake with this golden deliciousness was to create some blondies.

I took a classic blondie recipe and doctored it up a little bit. I added some pumpkin pie spice and a good amount of pumpkin cookie butter. I thought the pumpkin spices were still a little too subtle, so I may up the amount of pumpkin pie spice to 1 teaspoon next time (changes not reflected below). My husband, on the other hand, said that the spices were perfect. I might also add some white chocolate or cinnamon chips to the next batch of blondies. The bars had a nice crispy and crackly top and a nice pumpkin undertone. The texture was soft and chewy, just the way blondies should be.

These blondies were pretty epic, even though they look fairly unassuming. And if it's not too late, I highly recommend running to your Trader Joe's and buying a few jars of their pumpkin cookie butter before it's too late.

Pumpkin cookie butter blondies
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin cookie butter (I bought mine at Trader Joe's)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a standard 8"x8" baking pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the brown sugar and mix until well combined. Turn off the heat and set aside. Allow the mixture to cool slightly. Once the brown sugar mixture has slightly cooled, add in the egg and vanilla and mix well.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and pumpkin pie spice together.

Add in the brown sugar mixture and fold with a spatula until everything is well combined. Transfer the batter to your prepared baking pan.

Bake in your preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the bars to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Bars should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator and will last for several days.

Yield: One 8"x8" pan; about 16 servings

Source: Inspired by Cooking to Perfection

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Asian pear tarte tatin

A stunning way to showcase Asian pears (or apples if you prefer) - this tarte tatin is basically a fancy French term for an upside down pie!
Is it weird that most of the French terms I know are cooking or baking related? I have no idea how to say "Where is the bathroom?" but I know how to properly pronounce croissant and tarte tatin. A traditional tarte tatin is something that I've been wanting to bake for a while, but I've just not made the time to purchase all the fruit for. Call me lazy on that front.

I used to love Asian pears growing up, but my mom would always cut them up and bathe them in salt water to prevent them from browning. I absolutely hated the layer of salt on the sweet, juicy pears and still can remember how the taste made me feel. Since I have bad memories of eating Asian pears plain, I had to find a better way to enjoy them.

Our biweekly CSA delivery arrived with 5-6 Asian pears. I knew I would not be eating these plain, so I turned them into an Asian pear tarte tatin. Since the texture of Asian pears is similar to an apple, I thought these would hold up well in the dessert.

The list of ingredients for this tarte tatin is fairly minimal. And you can use a pre-packaged pie crust if you don't want to make one from scratch. Save the other crust for a rainy day (or make Aunt Jo's pecan pie). And don't be afraid of "the flip" - when you transfer the tarte tatin from the skillet to your serving platter. If the pears don't all come out in the flip, you can easily pick them up and re-arrange them to your liking.

We called this an upside down apple (pear) pie so entice Addie since she had not heard of a tarte tatin before. She was a huge fan of it and especially enjoyed the crust and the caramel sauce. She didn't believe me when I told her that the fruit was pears rather than apples and I believe she accused me of lying at one point.

So the next time you find yourself with an abundance of Asian pears, regular pears or apples, considering making this tarte tatin. It's a great alternative to a classic apple pie, but without the hassle of creating a lattice top.

Asian pear tarte tatin
  • 4-6 Asian pears
  • 1, 9-inch pie crust dough (I used this one) 
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
Directions
Roll out the pie dough to a 10" circle. Place on waxed paper and refrigerate while you prep the pears.

Peel, core and slice the pears into quarters or smaller slices (I cut each pear into sixths).

In a heavy-bottomed skillet (preferably a cast iron or stainless steel one), melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved. The sugar will appear a bit clumpy and then liquify. Once the liquid starts to bubble vigorously, add in the pears.

Stir the pears around every once in a while to coat them. Once the liquid turns to a deep amber color (this will take about 15 minutes), turn the stove off and take the pan off the heat.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Using tongs or a fork, arrange the pears in the pan so that the round sides are on the bottom of the pan. If you like, you can create a pattern for the fruit for a nice presentation.

Take the pie crust out of the refrigerator and gently place it directly over the apples. Tuck any extra crust underneath itself. Prick the top of the crust all over with a fork.

Bake in your preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until the crust turns golden brown.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the crust. Shake the pan a few times to loosen the apples from the bottom.

Place a large round plate or pan over the top of the skillet. Using oven mitts, hold both the skillet and the pan/plate together and flip them over so the skillet is now on top (upside down). If any parts of the tarte are still stuck to the pan, loosen them now and place it on top of the pan. Feel free to arrange it for a better presentation. Drizzle any remaining caramel sauce over the dessert.

Serve warm and with scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and will keep for several days.  You can reheat in the oven or in the microwave if desired.

Yield: About 8-10 servings

Source: the kitchn

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