Congrats to The Radical Cupcake Organic Bakeshop and Bakery Nouveau!

6 Dec

The Radical Cupcake, an organic bakery with an eye (or stomach?) for different dietery needs, earned a place at number 5 on King 5’s The Best of Western Washington’s list for wedding cakes! Marissa, the woman behind The Radical Cupcake, can do it all. I have eaten her cookies and cupcakes, but she also makes chocolates very well. She books up very quickly, so if you would like to commission her to prepare sweets for an occasion, contact her as soon as possible. The Radical Cupcake is a Green Bride Guide approved vendor.

Our friends at Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle won first place for bakeries!  I really enjoy their twice baked chocolate croissants.  They are divine.  The selection of breads and other fancy treats is almost endless.  Please visit the website, which is gorgeous, and plan a trip for your bread for the week, lunch with a friend or a special confection.  The staff will take great care of you.

Cookies and Caps

18 Nov

Last weekend, I went on a baking and knitting binge. I baked homemade bread, apple cake (which has become a household fave), and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  Between mixing ingredients, peeling apples, and waiting for the dough to rise, I knitted two baby sized beanies.

Baby beanies? Is there news? Not quite… Each year our office celebrates the holidays by adopting a family and collecting donations for local charities. This year, one of the projects is knitting winter hats for the Salvation Army. As a knitter who prefers buying yarn and finding cool patterns on Ravelry, to the intricacies of finishing intermediate level projects, baby hats are the perfect segue into winter crafting.  I started the caps on Tuesday and have finished four. My goal is a contribution of 20 adorable hats.

Enough about knitting, what about the cookies?

Cookies are one of the most rewarding foods to bake from scratch. Whether you like them warm from the oven or cooled to chewy perfection (that’s me), a tasty cookie recipe can give you the confidence to pursue more challenging baking feats. Plus, you truly can taste the difference. While I will always treasure my pre-lactose sensitivity childhood memories of cold milk and piles of Oreos, these days I prefer a crumbly cookie, made with real butter and without high fructose corn syrup.

Here are a couple of tips for getting cookies from good to great:

Use real butter. When I baked in high school I used Country Crock because I could scoop it into the measuring cups. Please don’t do that. Real butter is must when baking.  While you may use Smart Balance for your toast or broccoli, make it butter for baking.

Allow the butter to soften for several hours before baking. Another baking habit that I changed was giving butter time to soften gradually instead of warming it in the microwave. This will provide a consistent texture when you slice the butter into pats to mix with the sugar.

Allow eggs to warm to room temperature This helps the eggs incorporate easily into the batter, and prevents curdling. When you pull out the butter to soften, grab a couple of eggs too. If you forget, you can warm them by placing the eggs under lukewarm water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Mix, mix, mix the ingredients. Once I made a batch of cookies where I didn’t mix in the salt very well. Some of the cookies were fine, but others were salty, and not in the good salted caramel way. I didn’t blend the ingredients and the result was a lack of uniformity. Chocolate chips need not be uniform, but the batter should be as well blended as possible.

Chill your dough. This helps the cookies not to get too flat. For these cookies, I’ll usually place the balls of dough on the baking sheet in the freezer for a few minutes before baking. I will also put the cookie dough in the fridge while the cookies are in the oven.

Rotate the pan halfway through baking time. I picked up this tip in the Grand Central Baking Book. Just like the uniform batter, consistent heat makes for a good looking and tasty batch of cookies.

Next time you are craving something sweet, break out the butter and flour and make some of your special cookies. If you are new to baking, I recommend starting small and simple. I baked cookies for years before considering making a cake or pie. This recipe, from the Grand Central Baking Book is great for beginners. Enjoy!

*Moriah*

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Grand Central Baking Book

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter at room temperature

1 cup white sugar

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 eggs at room temperature

2 teaspoons real vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups quick or rolled oats

2 cups of chocolate chips (I used a combination of 3/4 cup of Ghirardelli chips from a previous batch and 1 1/4 Toll House)

Cream together the butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla.  In separate bowl mix all of the dry ingredients (except the chocolate chips).  Combine the wet and dry ingredients until just mixed, then add the chocolate chips.  Place scoops of cookie dough on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes or until edges are slightly golden brown but the center is slightly undercooked.  Tap the pan a few times on top of the stove to remove any invisible air bubbles, then let the cookies finish cooking on the hot pan before removing.



Warm Apple Fritters

5 Nov

In the spirit of the season, my parental units invited me to join them at award winning Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm for their annual Apple Festival.  After wrestling with the mud in the parking lot and taking a look at some odd-looking baby fowl with white feather legwarmers, I met my folks on the farm.  Initially, I was tempted by the idea of buying some cider.  This cider is not just any cider; this family knows the ropes.  They make cider that is delicious chilled or hot, AND they also mix the cider with blackberries, raspberries or strawberries, if you are so inclined.  I was inclined.  I sampled the strawberry apple cider and plucked some out of the fridge to purchase before leaving.  The resulting marriage is a crisp, sweet, true to flavor, seasonal libation I cherish.  Add a nip of your favorite complementary liquor in the safety of your home, and it becomes a libation in the true sense of the word.

Now I’m aware that this is a baking blog and you can take comfort that I do have something to report.  Lattin’s Cider Mill and Farm has an area where it purveys all kinds of apple inspired treats.  There are the aforementioned ciders, apple pies, donuts and even jams.  When you walk into the building, you can smell them: freshly fried apple fritters.  They fry these apple fritters and serve them shortly after allowing them to cool a bit.  I ordered two, gave one to my father and inconspicuously took a photo of the other for the benefit of this blog before indulging.  The fritter was warm and soft.  It tasted less like apple and more like sweet, buttery and slightly caramel glazed dough.  Since it is called an apple fritter, it could have had more apple taste-dad agreed.  However, to be frank, squishy apples in baked goods do not resonate with me so I was happy with the result.  The size was just right and though there were some flavors I was unable to identify (my pop mentioned apple’s constant companion, cinnamon), I would have ordered another if I had actually eaten a sensible breakfast.  Another apple treat I enjoyed was Moriah’s apple cake.  Please see Moriah’s post and recipe for a sinful apple Bundt cake on this blog that rivals Lattin’s goodies. I’ve eaten it for breakfast on more than one occasion, too.

~Lucienne

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

We take a break from baking from scratch to take part in the annual indulgence of overly packaged, high fructose laden, preserved-well-until-2011 candies of this lovely holiday.

Creepily Yours,
Moriah and Lucienne

Mwahahahaha!

Falling for Pumpkins

29 Oct

I love autumn in Western Washington. It is by far the region’s most prominent season, with the kaleidoscope of red and yellow leaves, cool, crisp air, and bubble gum pink sunsets that seem to precede dinner almost overnight. Cozy blankets and SmartWool socks woo Northwesterners back indoors to  prepare for the drizzly, dark doldrums of winter. On the up side, it also marks the return of beloved scarves and knee boots, individually packed holiday candies, and malty seasonal beers. Fall is essentially a list of my favorite things.

Amid the leaves and warm beverages, there is an autumn standout – the pumpkin. Pumpkins truly define fall. Piles of chubby orange spheres line grocery storefronts on beds of crunchy leaves, awaiting their transformation into a uniquely carved Halloween lantern. They are found on doorsteps, mantles, window stickers, and $3.00 Old Navy tees. However, the best way to enjoy pumpkin is in a dessert.

Last year, Lucienne and I bonded over Smitten Kitchen’s to die for Pumpkin Cupcakes. They were the catalyst for this very blog. This year’s standout pumpkin dessert is the Joy of Cooking’s classic Pumpkin Bread. To summarize this recipe in two words: flavorful, and a word many women abhor, moist. This melt in your mouth seasonal quick bread pairs nicely with coffee or orange juice for breakfast, or with red wine for a post-dinner treat.

Below is the original recipe, listed with my preferred variations (e.g. butter instead of shortening).

*Moriah*

PUMPKIN BREAD from the Joy of Cooking

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together:
1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine in a small bowl:
1⁄3 cup water (or milk – I used water and it turned out well)
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla

Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar plus 1⁄ 3 cup packed brown sugar

Beat in one at a time:
2 large eggs (be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula)

Add and beat on low speed just until blended:
1 cup cooked or canned pumpkin puree (I used Trader Joe’s organic pumpkin puree)

Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the vanilla/water mixture, beating on low speed or stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Fold in:
1⁄2 cup chopped pecans

Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.

Baking is a Piece of Cream Cheese Apple Cake

15 Oct

apple cakeGrowing up, my Mom worked full-time in a busy office and like most adults, she was always tired in the evenings. I remember wondering how she could be so wiped out from sitting at a desk all day. In my adolescent mind, meetings and preparing reports didn’t really compare to a draining teenage schedule of student council car washes, working out geometric proofs, and running lines at basketball practice.

Fast forward ten years and guess who has joined the ranks of sleepy-eyed desk jockeys? I spent six of the past ten days in all day meetings and by the time I arrived home, I was utterly exhausted…from sitting…at a desk. Needless to say, I did not bake nor blog during my weeks-o-meetings.

After a couple restful days of straightening up the house and reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, I pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks and whipped up a delightful cream cheese apple bundt cake. As the warm apple cinnamon aroma filled my house, I realized that if I would have mustered up the energy to peel three granny smiths, my Kitchen Aid mixer would have happily completed the job. I could have enjoyed a homemade cake with my morning coffee rather than succumbing to mediocre meeting donuts.

This perfectly sweet apple cake reminded me that home baking does not require a huge time investment. If you choose a simple, seasonal recipe, and have the basics on hand, preparing a dessert from scratch is a worthy weeknight feat.

This Cream Cheese Apple Cake recipe is from a fantastic baking book titled, The Grand Central Baking Book. Every recipe I’ve used from the book is easy to follow and super tasty. I haven’t had a chance to visit the actual Grand Central Baking Company in Seattle, but if I can create “sweet Jesus that is good!” caliber desserts in my humble kitchen, the actual bakery will have me dancing in the floured aisles.

Check out Grand Central Baking Company’s Baker’s Blog to read about this recipe and find more freshly baked, Northwest treats.

*Moriah*

Cream Cheese Apple Cake

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (8 ounces/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2-1/2 cups (1 pound 1.5 ounces) granulated sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/4 pounds tart apples, peeled and diced (about 3 cups)
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

Prepare to bake.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour the baking pan.
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together and set aside.

Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar.
Put butter, cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat ingredients on medium-high speed until mixture is very light in color-almost white-and the texture is fluffy. This will take about 6-8 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl once during the process to ensure that butter is evenly incorporated.

Add eggs and vanilla.
Crack eggs into a liquid measure and add vanilla. With the mixer on low-speed, slowly pour mixture into the bowl allowing eggs to fall in one at a time. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

Add dry ingredients and apples.
Add sifted dry ingredients on low-speed; stop mixing as soon as flour is incorporated. Fold apples in by hand using a stiff spatula and scrape batter into the prepared pan.

Bake.
Place pan in the middle of the oven and bake 60-75 minutes rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. When cake is finished, a wooden skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Allow cake to cool 15 minutes before removing it from pan. Cool completely and cover with a thick dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

Coffee, Burritos & Beards? Read On…

8 Oct

Moriah and I have recently discovered two neat places. The first place is QB, or Quality Burrito, and the food is amazing. The second place is a charming, dimly lit coffee shop called Sizzizzis. Both places have one delicious treat in common: cupcakes. These cupcakes are unique because they are vegan, but you wouldn’t know it. Complemented by delectable, creamy frosting that does not leave you guessing what the flavor is, the cake is moist and substantial, but not too dense. If you wanted to fool your vegan-skeptic friends, surprise them with one of these decadent desserts and tell them after they are licking their lips with satisfaction. They won’t know what hit them. I have tried mango and lavender, which were both tasty. I have also tried others that didn’t resonate. But my two all-time favorites so far are chocolate cake with blackberry frosting, and ginger cake with strawberry frosting. The cupcakes are baked locally by the Bearded Lady Food Company in Olympia, WA.  Despite the name, I’ve never encountered a hair.