Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, 2011! Yellow Layer Cake with Fudge Frosting

I don't usually make new year resolutions, but thanks to the disaster that is this cake, I'm making an exception this year. I resolve to successfully assemble and frost a layer cake before 2011 comes to an end. Do you remember my first post? A delicious German Chocolate Cake that was hideous as could be. How about my first attempt at Carrot Cake? Misshapen layers and uneven frosting. I'm surprised that Cake Wrecks hasn't already accused me of stealing their idea. And now there's this monstrosity.

Before I forget to say anything nice about this cake, I should tell you that it is absolutely the best yellow cake with chocolate frosting I've ever tasted. The rich, buttery flavor of the cake pairs perfectly with the intensely chocolatey fudge frosting. If only it looked as delicious as it tastes. I won't bore you with the details of how it went wrong, but in the end I had to peel the top layer off with my hands and try to cover all the leftover crumbs with the little frosting I had left. Then, like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound, I tried to disguise my cake wreck with rainbow nonpareils. Sprinkles make everything better, right?

At this point, I would normally start pouting like a six-year-old and throw the whole thing in the trash, unable to bear the sight of its imperfection. But after tasting a few pieces of that top layer as I peeled it off the rest of my sad little cake, I couldn't care less what it looked like. It was that good.

So happy birthday, 2011. Let's hope that by 2012, this cake will be forgot and never brought to mind.

That was lame, I know.

Yellow Layer Cake
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-1/4 cups cake flour
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened and cubed


1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

2. In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Measure out 1 cup of this mixture and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Run the mixer on low speed for about 30 seconds to combine the dry ingredients. With the mixer still running on low, add the butter one cube at a time, and continue to mix until the butter and flour form pea-sized clumps.

4. With the mixer still on low, add 1 cup of the egg mixture. Once it's incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy. Slowly add the remaining egg mixture. Stop the mixer, scrape the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium-high about 15 seconds more.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cakes to loosen them from the pans. Invert each pan onto a plate and peel off the parchment paper. Re-invert the cakes onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

Fudge Frosting
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook: Heart Health Edition

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup baking cocoa
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla


1. In a medium saucepan, combine granulated sugar, cocoa, milk, butter, corn syrup, and salt. Heat to boiling, stirring frequently. Allow the mixture to boil for 3 minutes, then remove the pan from heat and allow to cool for 45 minutes.

2. Once the mixture has cooled, stir in powdered sugar until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: Hamilton Beach 6-Slice Toaster Oven

I keep surprising myself with the kinds of things that end up on my wish list now that I'm an adult and have my own home. Example: I was super excited to receive a walk-through baby gate from my parents for Christmas, which will eliminate us having to set up and take down (or climb over) the non-walk-through gate we have been using to keep Charlie contained in the laundry room.

Another example is this toaster oven. I've been wanting to replace my old toaster oven ever since we accidentally turned it on with a loaf of bread sitting on top of it, the plastic from which melted onto the top and forever left its mark. Even though it still worked, it looked tacky, and the baking tray that came with it was irrevocably tarnished with three years' worth of the charred remnants of meals past.

So, when CSN Stores offered me another opportunity to review one of their products, I knew that a new toaster oven was in my future. I chose this particular oven because it matches my kitchen, it comes with a baking tray, and it was relatively inexpensive.

This oven has three different control knobs (temperature, function, and timer) which are fairly self-explanatory, although I did double-check the manual just to make sure I was using them correctly. Then again, I tend to double-check most everything. The oven heated quickly and cooked my food very evenly. In case you were wondering, I decided to christen my new oven with a Meatballs & Mozzarella Lean Pocket. Gourmet, I know. One aspect I really like is the timer, which goes as high as 30 minutes, whereas my old toaster oven's timer only went up to 15 minutes. My only complaint is that there was a bit of smoke and a burning smell when I first turned it on, but the manual says that this is normal during the first use.

The bottom line? If you are as boring as I am and have a toaster oven on your wish list, I think this one would be a good choice!

FTC Disclaimer: This product was purchased in part with a gift code provided to me for free by CSN Stores; however, all opinions stated above are my own.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas 2010: Gingerbread Men and Sugar Cookies

Christmas would not be complete for me without frosted sugar cookies. And even though I knew I had to work every day during the ten days leading up to Christmas, I was determined to make them. And not only sugar cookies, but gingerbread cookies as well. I had the best laid plans. I would make the dough on the 22nd, cut out and bake the cookies and make the frosting on the 23rd, decorate the cookies on the 24th, and eat the cookies on the 25th.

Well, as you probably guessed, things went awry.

Somehow, I ended up making the dough, cutting out the cookies, baking the cookies, and making the frosting between 10pm and 2am on December 23. I couldn't see my countertop. My lazy, glue-like substitute for royal icing was everywhere. Everywhere. I forgot to buy shortening and was short a 1/2 cup of molasses. It wasn't pretty, and it certainly wasn't going according to plan. But at least I could still look forward to decorating the cookies on Christmas Eve with my sister.

Little did I know that Christmas Eve had other plans for my sister and me. (No, it should not say my sister and I. Check it.) These plans included, but were not limited to, an epic search for the last iPod nano on South Hill, a detour to Burger King to obtain ice for the finger on which my sister shut a car door, and a last minute stop at Safeway in hopes of finding anything resembling sourdough bread.

Needless to say, I was feeling a bit Grinchy at that point. But some time later, the Christmas spirit worked its magic, and the cookie decorating happened. And they turned out to be very cute and very delicious, just as I had hoped. Christmas was saved.

Mary's Sugar Cookies
Adapated from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

3 cups powdered sugar
2 cups butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar


1. Cream butter in a mixer at medium speed for about 1 minute. Add powdered sugar, and continue creaming about 1-2 minutes. Add eggs, vanilla, and almond, and mix until fully incorporated.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients just until incorporated.

3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Divide the dough in half, and place one half on a floured surface. Roll out the dough until it's about 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into shapes with cookie cutters, and place the cookies on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

5. Bake the cookies 7-10 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Cool completely before frosting.

Gingerbread Cookies
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

1/3 cup butter
1 cup  brown sugar, packed
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup cold water
7 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon


1. Cream butter in a mixer at medium speed for about 1 minute. Add brown sugar, and cream 1-2 minutes more. Add molasses and maple syrup, and mix until combined. Reduce the mixer to low speed, and add the water.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix just until incorporated.

3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Divide the dough in half, and place one half on a floured surface. Roll out the dough until it's about 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into shapes with cookie cutters, and place the cookies on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

5. Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes, or until no impression remains when touched lightly. Cool completely before icing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Upcoming product review!

I guess CSN Stores must have known that it was my birthday because they are giving me another opportunity to review one of their products! The only problem now is deciding what to get. They have over 200 websites selling everything from bakeware to shoes to flat screen TV stands! Last time, I got a set of two Calphalon baking sheets, which I just used yesterday to make chocolate chip cookies. What do you think I should get this time?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chewy & Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's December 12. You were probably expecting birthday cake, or maybe some kind of Christmas cookie. A fruitcake, perhaps? All I have to say is it's my birthday, and I'll make chocolate chip cookies if I want to (a la Lesley Gore, of course).

This is by far the most unusual chocolate chip cookie recipe I've tried. Not only did it involve browning butter, but also it required a finicky process of whisking and waiting and whisking and waiting some more. Somehow, this results in a cookie that is soft, chewy, and crispy all at once. Although I wouldn't call this the perfect chocolate chip cookie (as America's Test Kitchen does) I would say that they are worth the extra steps involved.

Just know that once you put in all that extra effort, if you're anything like me, you will completely ignore the instruction to let the cookies cool completely before serving. First of all, what is the point of making chocolate chip cookies if you're not going to eat them warm? Second of all, who serves chocolate chip cookies?! Unless by "serving," they mean placing the cookies on a cooling rack just long enough that they don't fall apart when you pick them up. Now that's a happy birthday, if you ask me.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine flour and baking soda in a medium bowl.

3. Melt 10 tablespoons (5 oz) butter in a skillet over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the butter turns a dark golden brown. Remove skillet from heat and transfer butter to a large heatproof bowl. Stir in remaining 4 tablespoons butter until completely melted.

3. Whisk the sugars, salt, and vanilla into the melted butter until fully incorporated. Add eggs and whisk until smooth. Allow the mixture to rest for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat this process two more times; the mixture should be thick, smooth, and shiny.

4. Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, just until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.

5. Scoop the dough into approximate 3-tablespoon portions, yielding approximately 16 cookies. Arrange the dough on the baking sheets, about two inches apart.

6. Bake the cookies one tray at a time for about 10-14 minutes. The cookies should be puffed and golden brown; the edges will be set, but the centers will still be soft. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and allow the cookies to cool completely before serving eat the cookies as soon as you are able to pick them up in one piece.

Just in case you were wondering what the small objects in the background of the last picture were, here's a closer look...