Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!


Saturday, February 26, 2011

King Cake

Is it a cake? Is it a bread? King Cake is a little of both. A yeast bread that is kin to a cinnamon roll, this massive Mardi Gras treat is a must have for any Mardi Gras gathering!

When I originally published my Mardi Gras Cake recipe last year, many people confused it with a King Cake. The Mardi Gras Cake is a local family recipe from New Orleans and is something served at family gatherings rather than big Mardi Gras parties. The King Cake - a luscious yeast bread drizzled with icing and sparkling with green, purple, and gold sugar is an entirely different beast. You can find them with all sorts of sweet fillings. Some resemble cinnamon roll fillings, some sticky bun fillings, some forget the filling entirely. You'll find them in braids (like mine) or circles or crescents. You'll find them with plastic babies baked in for good luck, gold coins, or a bean.

Regardless of the fillings and shapes, they'll all be decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of gold, purple, and green which stand for power, justice and faith. They're really very beautiful and go great with a little cafe au lait or chicory coffee.

So, celebrate Fat Tuesday with your own homemade King Cake!

P.S. If you're wondering about the change in format of the recipes, it has to do with Google rolling out its "Rich Snippets" for recipes. It's one of those changes they make from time to time that really hurt small bloggers and help big corporations. So, to try to keep my recipes somewhere in the mix I've made changes to the format from here on out that requires a lot of hand editing. It can sometimes be messy but I hope you'll still be able to read the recipes easily enough.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mardi Gras Cupcakes


Last year there was the story of Mama and the Mardi Gras Cake, a humorous look at my mother collecting a recipe in a 5-star hotel in New Orleans. This year, I though I might adapt that delicious but time consuming cake with its lovely butterscotch flavor into an easy to do cupcake.

At first I thought of cutting out the centers of the cupcakes and filling them with the butterscotch praline filling used in the original cake and then icing them with the Seafoam icing from the original. But, as I pondered those choices, I realized I really wouldn't be cutting down on the time or the effort. So, I finally decided to go simple. I would adapt the butterscotch cake and then use a vanilla buttercream icing. I'd top it all off with sprinkles in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold.

The result? A great tasting cupcake that looks right at home on a table decorated with Mardi Gras beads or other tokens! Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Capitol Grille's Chocolate Peanut Butter Chess Pie

After a year and a half it seems that Sugar Pies is really garnering some attention. Lately I've had several inquiries about partnering with various companies to test and develop recipes using their products.

In amongst those inquiries I received a lovely note from the folks at The Capitol Grille in Nashville, TN. The Grille is located in the historic and famous Hermitage Hotel (a must see when you're in Nashville!) They have a new pastry chef, Megan Williams, who seems to be creating some delectable desserts. They wanted to share her recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Chess Pie with me to see if I'd be interested in trying it out for the home cook. Well, chocolate and peanut butter developed by a pastry chef - how could I resist?

My version isn't nearly as beautiful as Megan's, I really need a tool to help my crust crimping, but the taste is great. I found the recipe very easy to follow for the most part and would only add a couple things to it to assist the less experienced cook. I chose to decorate the pie with some piped whipped cream (in retrospect, I think just mounding some on top would have been even better!). I also sprinkled with some cocoa and chocolate sprinkles and curls.

The taste is outstanding, the chocolate flavors with peanut butter are classic and this is creamy and rich - almost like a chocolate custard! You'll want to trust the directions on when to take it out. You're going to be really tempted to leave it in the oven too long because of the "jiggle." I suggest you think of this more like you would a cheesecake and look for the same type of set edges and jiggly center you do there.

I found I needed a little bit more than the 1/2 cup of peanut butter to get a nice base (a couple tablespoons).

Even the pie crust was a snap. The original calls for the crust to be made using a pastry cutter or your hands. I've always found I can't work nearly quickly enough with my hands in a pastry dough to get it done before I soften the butter and shortening. So, that leaves two alternatives. If you have a food processor you can pulse the dry mixture and butter/shortening to get the right "meal type" consistency or if you have a heavy duty mixer you can use that. I chose to use my handy Kitchen-Aid Pro for this task and it came through with flying colors (as always). However, if you're terrified of pie crusts you can always use a refrigerated dough, but, this crust is really good as long as you don't overwork it. Without any alcohol or vinegar to impede gluten formation it could get a bit chewy if you beat it and handle it too long.

This is a really nice pie and a great way to bring a scrumptious restaurant dessert home and I urge you to give it a try!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Coconut Lime Bars

Recently, I got a new cookbook titled Crazy about Cookies by Krystina Castella. Since I'm crazy about cookies, I thought it might make for some great inspiration for new cookies.

I really have enjoyed looking at the recipes and beautiful pictures in this book. Sure enough, there are lots of recipes and combinations I've never thought about and some that have given me ideas for new versions. The only drawback I've encountered with the book is the layout. Instead of placing the ingredients directly above the directions, they are listed as a sidebar. This makes it a little tough on multi-page recipes to figure out at a glance which ingredients go where. The typeface of the ingredients list is also exceptionally small. When trying to read it in the kitchen it's easy to mistake the minute portion measurements. In the first recipe I tried from the book for Brownie Cookies, the 1/4 cup of butter looked like 1/2 cup in the tiny typeface. As a result my cookies spread too much in the oven. They were still good, but not as thick as I would have liked. I only discovered my error when I looked at the recipe again holding the book closer to my aging eyes.

I decided to forge ahead however and try another recipe from the book. This time I chose a Lime Coconut Bar cookie. These are excellent, with a lot of tangy lime flavor, a buttery crust with coconut pieces and a layer of coconut between the filling and the crust. Simply delectable!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pecan Crusted Chicken over Spring Mix Greens with Caramel Citrus Vinaigrette

On Friday I found out that an old high school friend would be traveling through the area. We reconnected on Facebook some time ago so she let me know she'd be in the area and we decided to have lunch. She was also traveling with her mom, whom I hadn't seen in years either.

Jamie and I co-edited our high school paper our senior year. We also worked together in the library. I hadn't seen in her in almost 27 years - the day of our graduation.

We spent a lovely afternoon catching up with each other. I decided for lunch to try a recipe for a Pecan Crusted Chicken served over Spring Mix Greens and topped with a Caramel Citrus Vinaigrette. Dessert would be my favorite Lemon Mousse.

The recipe I chose came from Food Network and was very tasty. I'd only make a couple adjustments to it for better presentation, though. The original of the recipe (given below) calls for simply marinating the chicken breast in buttermilk then rolling in crushed pecans. I found that this process didn't really hold the pecans to the chicken very well. I spent a lot of time "repairing" the crust. I think using a two step process might work better: marinating the chicken in buttermilk, dipping in flour and pecan meal mixture, dipping into buttermilk, then rolling in crushed pecans. I believe the crust would then be more secure. The next time I make this, I will try that procedure.

Regardless of the aesthetics, the meal was a hit. Everyone loved the chicken and the unusual combination of caramel and citrus in the salad dressing. The lemon mousse, as always, was well received (it is one of my favorite desserts).

The great thing about this meal is it can be done well ahead of time. I love dishes that I can do so that I don't spend the entire time my guests are here in the kitchen cooking. The chicken can be cooked up to a day ahead as well as the salad. The dressing only takes a few minutes to prepare and can be done well before the guests arrive. The mousse is best done a day ahead to chill nicely and allow the fresh lemon flavors to permeate completely. Then you can spend time enjoying your guests!

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Hostess Cupcakes" - For Adults

I've been enjoying the PBS series Pioneers of Television. The other evening their episode was on local kids' television. That long gone era of local TV hosts was a great time for us older folks. Kids today really don't have any programming specifically for them which is sort of sad. Everything seems geared not only for adults in the afternoons but also the lowest common denominator among adults.

When I was a kid growing up in South Carolina our top local kids' show was Mr. Knozit on WIS-TV out of Columbia. Mr. Knozit was actually Joe Pinner, the local weatherman. Each day he hosted a studio audience of kids and showed cartoons and brought in special guests. The series debuted in 1963 and outlasted many local kids' shows until 2000.

In the early 70's I was priveleged to be on Mr. Knozit. I don't recall the exact year, but for my birthday I was to have my party in Columbia on the Mr. Knozit show. We packed up a caravan of cars with my friends and school chums and set off for the studios of WIS-TV near the state capitol. It was quite an experience, complete with a real party afterward at Howard Johnson. I was a little taken aback though, because during the taping of the show "Mr. Knozit" asked me what my favorite gift was. I hadn't received my gifts yet - that was happening later at the party. So I replied that I hadn't gotten any gifts yet.

"Well, just make something up."

"But, I haven't gotten my gifts, that would be telling a fib."

"It's OK, because this is going to be shown after your party."

"I don't know what I'm getting."

"Just make something up, like "a truck' or 'a fire engine'."

Confused, I finally consented to lie on air and mumbled "truck" when he asked me. Honestly, I wish I had a video of that appearance to see how accurate my memory of that event is.

A couple years later, I would make the rounds of local kids' TV when I won the annual "Clown Contest" hosted by Mr. Knozit at a local mall. The contest was an annual event coinciding with the circus coming to the area. Kids would dress up like clowns and the winner would get to join the circus on opening night!

I, of course, had extra help. My brother who was a part time entertainer in local clubs and his friends took over my costuming and makeup. I went in as a 10-year-old boy and came out a woman clown with a huge rear end, huge feathered hat, and rhinestone eyebrows. Let me tell you something, spirit gum on your eyebrows hurts like crazy - especially when you're 10! I also wore a hand dyed wig made of about 5 or 6 pounds of old timey mops. It was quite the outfit, let me tell you! (Somewhere there are photos... Sis?)

Anyway, I ended up winning the contest and made the rounds of local kids' TV shows. For a few weeks I was quite the little celebrity - features in our local paper complete with photo spread, TV appearances, and finally - the Circus!

At the circus I was treated to a backstage tour where I met the real clowns who were actually pretty impressed with my team of make-up artists and costumers. I also got to meet Michu who was billed as the smallest man in the world. He was quite exotic to me since he was so tiny and also from Hungary. Later on he would play "Alf" on TV.

Such good times, and a big part of all of it were those childhood food treats. From the ice cream and food at the Howard Johnson's to those little pre-packaged treats we ate in front of the TV while watching our favorite afternoon show, it's amazing what we ate. Twinkies, according to urban legend, can survive a nuclear holocaust and be right there waiting for whatever mutant life forms come along next. Of course, their manufacturer, Hostess, had a full compliment of snack cakes and treats for the kiddies. One of the all time favorites is the Hostess Cupcake. This little chocolate cupcake featured a vanilla creme center made of some unidentifiable sugary substance topped with a super sweet chocolate coating and decorated with white icing squiggles. Cute and, when you're a kid craving sugar, pretty darn good.

For us adults, however, the sugary sweetness of the Hostess Cupcake tends to leave us a little flat. Having spent a lifetime developing our palettes, we crave something with more flavor depth. So, why not update?

There are lots of "copycat" recipes out there for this childhood favorite. Most of them seem to be focused on recreating it exactly as it is in the grocery store. Honestly, I don't quite get the point. If that's your goal, then just go buy them, it's a lot easier.

Updating the taste for adults is much more satisfying. Creating a more complex cupcake with layers of chocolate flavor filled with a vanilla creme that mimics the texture of the original but with more flavor and less sugar rush takes these from after school snack to after dinner treat!


The only adjustment I might make to these in future is to use more of a ganache inspired frosting that provides a little more glossy finish than what was called for in this recipe from Cook's Country. While I did like the taste of the frosting, I think one that can be poured over the cupcake for a smoother finish would be nice.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Monkey Bread from Scratch


Here at Sugar Pies we're still two feet off the ground thanks to the Packer's Cinderella season and Super Bowl win! What a game! Of course, we're die hard Packer Backers since Michael is a Wisconsin native and grew up close to Green Bay.

We had a great time Sunday watching the game with Snow, the magic Packer dog, and pigged out on Buffalo Wings, Fried Chicken, and other delights. Meanwhile, Michael's sister Janis, down in Miami celebrated with traditional beer brats!

So, following the victory, I decided to do a Monkey Bread. This recipe is adapted from Cook's Country and features a yeast bread base. It really is much, much better than the kind where you pop open a can of refrigerated biscuits and roll them in butter and sugar and plop them into a cake pan. The bread is chewy and fresh versus the rather dry and flaky result from canned biscuits. This really is a great morning recipe. However, eat it quickly, this doesn't do well sitting around for more than a day as it tends to dry out and the caramel "goo" becomes hard. You can reconstitute it somewhat by rewarming, but it's not nearly as good as when fresh.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chocolate Strawberry Valentine Delights

Chocolate and strawberry is such a sensual combination both visually and in terms of taste. Of course, with Valentine's Day nearly upon us chocolate covered strawberries are in evidence in lots of high end stores and chocolatiers.

I decided to use this great combination but simplify it a bit. I started out with a chocolate flavored sponge cake then covered it in semi-sweet chocolate. I then filled it with a strawberry cream cheese filling which also served as decoration on the top. These are delightful treats with a great chocolate flavor and that wonderful strawberry flavor mixed in. The cream cheese gives just a touch of tang to the filling and keeps the whole thing from being too sweet.

As I looked at these after finishing, I realized this could do double or tripe duty since I'd used my Madeleine pan for the cakes. Switching to a colored fondant or white chocolate these would make lovely little Easter Eggs. Since it is also Super Bowl weekend (Go Packers!) I realized they could also serve a great "footballs" when properly decorated. I wish I'd thought of that one before I'd finished with them all as a little chocolate mint "football" bedecked with the Green Bay logo would have been a great treat for the game.

These are very versatile and not at all hard to do. You can be as creative as you like with the decoration. I opted for a simple row of pink stars on mine, but sprinkles or piped hearts or other designs would be beautiful as well.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Valentine's Day Strawberry Heart Cookies

I've been looking for some Valentine's Day recipes this year. There's lots of super fancy stuff out there and some really cheesy stuff too. (Cheesy not in terms of ingredients, either.)

I finally decided to try a couple ideas I'd had kicking around in the back of my mind. Both are pretty simple. The first is a simple strawberry flavored Spritz cookie shaped like little pink hearts. These can be dressed up however you like. I decided to keep them pretty simple with just some coarse sugar sprinkled on them. However, if you're in a more creative mood you can decorate them with other types of sprinkles or even write on them in Royal Icing like those little candy hearts we all traded as kids.

Regardless of what you decide to do, these are a quick little Valentine's Day treat and a bag of these tasty little cookies makes a great adult gift for your favorite Valentine.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Top 10 Baking Tips

Baking is both an art and science. So many people I talk to tell me they can't bake. What they really mean is that they've never taken the time to learn properly how to do it. Baking is different from cooking because it's more precise and relies on combinations of ingredients to achieve a result. Unlike sauteeing a piece of chicken where you're working with one ingredient, baking requires juggling several ingredients at once and then applying some catalyst to change the structure of those ingredients into a new dish.

But really, baking doesn't have to be hard. The major requirements are patience, precision, and perseverance. Not everything is going to work the first time you try it and it might take a couple tries for advanced techniques before you get the hang of it. Sometimes even old tried and true recipes can fail if you're having an off day. That's happened to me before with my favorite Lemon Meringue Tart. I've turned out gorgeous versions and then on days when I've hurried or been distracted turned out messes.

Regardless, here are some tips that will help you in the kitchen. Most of these I've learned the hard way.

Derek believes in the mise en placeMise en Place photo © 2008 Ann Larie Valentine | more info (via: Wylio)

1. Mise en Place - that's a fancy chef term for getting all your ingredients together at one time before beginning your dish. I ignored this for years and invariably would find myself one key ingredient short at times. So, now I gather all my ingredients beforehand and measure everything out in prep bowls before beginning. I also measure my dry ingredients onto a piece of parchment paper. This makes it very easy to pick them up and get them into the mixer without spilling them all over the counter!

2. Weight instead of eyeballs. Oftentimes a recipe will tell you to divide a dough in halves quarters or even smaller parts. You can try eyeballing the divisions but often you'll find that your parts are different sizes. If you're doing something where various layers are flavored and then reassembled this can lead to a messy end result as your layers will not match up properly. An easy fix is to simply weigh your dough on the kitchen scale (a must have tool) and then do the math and make sure each piece measures out exactly the same. Then you won't end up with one or two pieces that just don't fit with the others. My First Ever Digital Kitchen Scalephoto © 2010 jamieanne | more info (via: Wylio)

3. Buy Cookie Scoops! For years I measured cookie dough just like my Mama. If it called for a teaspoon measure I pulled out a teaspoon and tried to make it work. If it called for a tablespoon then out came a tablespoon. The problem was, no two sets of silverware are exactly the same. In addition getting the dough off the spoon was always a hassle. Invariably, it ended up involving a couple spoons and cookies that varied in both size and shape. Finally, I decided to buy several cookie scoops in different sizes. Now, I have no problem getting the right amount of dough and all the cookies come out the same size and proper shape.

4. Separate bowl for eggs. This is one that took me a long, long time to learn. Mama never believed in dirtying more dishes than were necessary when cooking so she cracked her eggs on the side of the bowl and in they went. Of course, sometimes she'd have to stop and try to fish out egg shell that fell into the batter as well. That's always a pain. Finally, I learned that it's much easier to crack the eggs into a separate bowl first. Then if some shell falls in you aren't fishing around in a big bowl of batter trying to get it out. Worse, you aren't missing it entirely in a big bowl of batter and serving someone a slice of cake that's "extra crunchy!"

5. Buy an oven thermometer. You will be surprised at how far off your oven really is. I thought my oven was fine but found that things browned weirdly. When I finally got a thermometer and stuck it in the oven, I discovered that my oven was pretty accurate up to about 350° after that it went haywire. So, with the oven thermometer I can adjust the temperature more accurately for even baking.

Biscuits on Parchmentphoto © 2010 Dan | more info (via: Wylio)
6. Line your baking sheets. Many people swear by the expensive Sil-Pat liners. Personally, I prefer plain old parchment paper because it is more versatile. I use it in my Mise-en-Place (see tip #1), I use it to line my baking sheets, I use it to keep my counter clean, I use it to wrap things, I've even used it to jot quick notes when working with a recipe! Regardless of what you choose, lining your baking sheets will help you tremendously. Cookies and other treats won't stick and it'll make clean up much easier. Many older recipes call for a "greased cookie sheet" but you can skip the mess by simply using a piece of parchment paper instead. The only times parchment isn't handy is when doing pressed cookies where you need a little "sticking power" to get the cookie out of the press. Otherwise, line those sheets!

7. Half-Sheet Catch-All. When baking pies it's annoying to have one spill over the edges and get all over the oven. Placing the pie plate on a half sheet pan helps eliminate this problem. If the pie bubbles over the baking sheet catches the excess and keeps it from burning on the bottom of the oven. I also find this is helpful when using muffin tins or Madeleine pans. It's not that things overflow in that case, but it makes taking the pans out of the oven much easier. It also helps keep them level in the oven. I usually put a wire rack on the baking sheet then place my pan on top of that. It allows for air circulation around the pan while making it much easier to take it out of the oven without inadvertently crushing whatever I'm baking with a potholder.

8. Wooden Skewers. I always keep a package of wooden skewers handy in the kitchen. They're very useful for everything from testing whether a cake is done to giving a quick beat to eggs to stirring chocolate. You can reuse them or if you're a more disposable type, toss them in the trash when you're done. Regardless, they're a great tool to have around.

IMG_6009.jpgphoto © 2010 Michael | more info (via: Wylio)
9. Copy your recipe. Most of us have multi-function printers these days. Putting a big cookbook on the counter while trying to mix up a recipe can be pretty messy (especially if you're like me and don't have a lot of counter space). Sure, you can invest in all sorts of gadgets designed to keep your cookbook clean, but there's an easier way. Go to your multi-function printer and copy your recipe onto plain paper. That way, it doesn't take up much space and if it gets covered in batter, you can toss it when you're done. Your book stays nice and clean.

10. Read your recipe. Before you begin, read your recipe several times. This is especially true if you are working with a new recipe or technique. Read it over so that you can have a general idea of what steps are involved before you begin. The more familiar you are with the steps and ingredients, the less likely you will be to leave something out or mix up a step. Never, start on a recipe before you have read it thoroughly and have a grasp of what it entails.

So, there you have my Top 10 Baking Tips. I hope they help you out and if you have tips you particularly like to use in the kitchen please let us know about it in the comments!

Happy Baking!

 
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