Sunday, September 25, 2011

Crazy Dietary Cakes

It seems as though all of my friends at Wes have come back with new food allergies and dietary restrictions.  At least four have come back being dairy- and gluten-free.  It seems to me that we have switched places.  I used to be a vegan that almost never ate carbs.  Now the basis of my diet is yogurt and cereal.

I am never afraid of a baking challenge, but when birthdays come up for these poor people that can't have flour or butter, finding a cake to suit them can be slightly problematic.  My friend, Annika, approached me this week and asked for help baking a cake for her housemate with these crazy dietary restrictions.  Luckily, she'd already decided to make her a flourless chocolate cake, so I was spared having to invent a recipe.  I helped her find a good one on Foodgawker, and eventually found this very simple yet elegant recipe, with only three ingredients!

Annika and I don't get to spend much time together, so this was a great time for us to bond and catch up.  After we made the cake, we even snuck in a great Zumba Fitness® session in my living room!

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Recipe adapted from here.

8 large eggs
16 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 sticks Earth Balance (or other butter substitute)

My super-complex egg-separating system.  Cracking one at a time over one bowl and then transferring each into the mixing bowl ensures you won't ruin the all the eggs if one egg is bad or you get shells.
Line the bottom of a spring-form pan with parchment paper and then grease the sides.
Beat eggs until doubled in size.
Food scales come in handy when you need 16oz of chocolate chips and they only come in 12oz packages.
Melt Earth Balance and chocolate chips over a double boiler until smooth.
Once smooth, remove from heat.
Fold in eggs, 1/3 at a time.
When finished, the batter should be smooth.
Pour into pan and bake at 325°F for 25-30 minutes.  (Original recipe recommends using a water bath, but I find this step unnecessary and inconvenient, so I never do).
Remove from oven when the top is still slightly jiggly but bounces back when you touch it.
The cake is supposed to sink.  Don't worry.

I couldn't be there for the presentation of this cake, but Annika took pictures for me, and assured me that it was delicious.

I highly recommend this recipe to anyone else with strange dietary restrictions.  It is very easy to make, and it's so decadent that no one else will be able to tell that it's dairy- and gluten-free!

Love and cookies,

A Spanish Sorpresa

Last fall, I was gallivanting around Madrid and Europe with an incredible group of people in the Vassar-Wesleyan Madrid program.  Since returning, we have had several reunion dinners where we all get together and reminisce about our times abroad and talk about how much we love each other (the copious amounts of wine probably lead to the latter).

This weekend, my friend Jane's boyfriend came from Vassar to visit (they met on our program), and brought along a wonderful Spanish surprise: our friend, Helios!  Helios was one of our beloved monitores, the Spanish friends our program hires to show us around the city when we first get there.  We all fell in love with our first Spanish friends and were very sad to leave them behind.  This year, however, Helios is a language fellow at Vassar, which means we'll get to see him!  When I saw him through the window as I knocked on the door, I almost dropped my cake.  When our friend Annie came in and saw him, she screamed and they were locked in the most beautiful 5-minute embrace you'd ever seen.  It was a night of reconnecting, remembering how to speak Spanish, and of course, in true Spanish fashion, excellent food and wine.

I decided to make Tarta de Santiago, an almond cake characteristic of Santiago de Compostela, the city in Galicia where we had our orientation to Spain, to honor the place where all these beautiful friendships began.  I bought a cookbook of Galician desserts while we were there, but was very disappointed to find that it is cheaply made, missing lots of key steps, and just about impossible to follow.  (And this doesn't even have anything to do with the fact that it's in Spanish and metric units)!
Stacy and I did a lot of improvising, but in the end, I think it turned out just like the real thing.

Tarta de Santiago (Almond Cake)
Recipe adapted from Postres tradicionales de la cocina gallega.
Makes 2 8" round cakes.

2 sticks unsalted butter
8 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups ground almonds
Confectioners' sugar (to garnish)

Our food processor didn't work, so Stacy ground all the almonds in our coffee grinder.  What a trooper.
Beat together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth.  Gradually mix in flour until well-combined.
Almonds should be ground very finely.
Add ground almonds one cup at a time until batter is thick and smooth.  Do not overbeat.
Line the bottoms of pans with parchment paper.  Grease and flour the sides.
Pour half of batter into each pan and smooth out the tops with a spatula.
Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then on wire racks.
My cakes rose unevenly, so I cut off the tops and then inverted them on the serving platter.  (Notice all the tunnels from over-beating: Exhibit A for why you shouldn't do that).
This is the characteristic symbol on top of every tarta de Santiago.  It's the cross of Santiago.  Cut out a design of your choice on a piece of paper and place it on the center of the cake.  Use a fine mesh sifter (I used a tea-ball) to dust the top with powdered sugar.
Gently peel off the paper stencil.  If there is any smudge, lightly wet the tip of your finger and brush it off.
I would have to say that it was pretty close to the real thing, even though we guessed our way through the recipe.
I didn't need the second cake, so I gave it to my housemate to take to her Great Gatsby-themed swing dance party.

Some pictures from the reunion:

Once cut, it still looked pretty awesome
So happy to be reunited!
Well, after a weekend of baking and fun and friends, it's time to get my butt in gear and get some studying done.  I am also teaching my first Zumba Fitness® class at Wes today, and I'm super-nervous.  It definitely makes me feel better to know that all my VWM friends will be there to support me.  ¡¡OS QUIERO!!

Love and cookies,

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Emulating a Madrileña Birthday

One year ago, Stacy turned 20 in Madrid.  Even though we had only been in the city for a week, and none of us really knew each other, we decided it was no excuse not to celebrate her birthday.  I found a cake at the pastelería near my house, and carried it around for hours as we decided where to eat, eventually deciding upon two restaurants in La Latina.  After dinner, we gobbled down the cake in about 2 minutes in the middle of a dark plaza with plastic forks.

2 minutes after
One year later, Stacy is my best friend, and turning 21 at Wesleyan.  It's funny how much can change in a year's time.  In order to celebrate both her birthday, and the bizarre way in which we all became such close friends, I decided to recreate her 20th birthday madrileña cake.

Chocolate Sponge Layer Cake w/ Whipped Cream and White Chocolate Shavings
Cake recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens' New Baking Book
Yield: 1 double-layer 8" cake

Cake Ingredients
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
6 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Neighbor Cookies

After a failed first attempt at baking something to give to our neighbors, my housemates and I decided to try again.
146 High-Class
Dan the told me that he first developed a crush on me when I sent him a care package of cookies, and that it was my famous oatmeal raisins that won him over.  My housemates and I decided that if my cookies are good enough to earn me a boyfriend, then they must be good enough to win over our neighbors.  We used the tried-and-true recipe from my favorite childhood cookbook, reproduced in the care package post, but doubled it and then instead of raisins we added dried cranberries to half the dough and chocolate chips to the other.  I also made them much smaller than usual, to assure we had enough to give away.  Aside from some slight burning on the bottoms due to a bad cookie sheet, they turned out really well, and now we have a potluck with our neighbors on Sunday!

Oatmeal Cranberry and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients (for doubled recipe):

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cups quick rolled oats
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chocolate chips
4 Tbs granulated sugar (for rolling)
Ingredients (oats are missing)
In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients, minus the sugars and oats
In a large mixing bowl, beat sugars, eggs, butter, and vanilla on medium until combined
Suzie the sunbeam (my therapist) happily working away in her new home
Add dry ingredients to the wet.  Then mix in oats
Divide dough in half. Add cranberries to one bowl and chocolate chips to the other
Use the same technique as described here.  Roll dough into Tbs size balls, roll one half in granulated sugar, place apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets, and then press down with the bottom of a glass.

Bake at 325°F for 8-10 minutes
Cool on sheets for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks
Slightly burned bottoms.  It's ok, we'll master this oven yet.

Now that I've gotten some sufficient baking out of my system, it's time to crack back down on those grad school applications!  Good thing I have a few leftover cookies to help me get through them...  Stay tuned for Stacy's birthday cake this weekend!

Love and cookies,

Saturday, September 10, 2011

All-Moved-In Muffins

Well, I am finally safely and soundly back at Wes and have already survived my first week of classes.  After my crazy summer, it feels so good to be back into a routine and living a life that is my own.  I feel at home and at peace.  I am taking really neat classes, seeing all my friends, and enjoying every minute of my senior year to the fullest.

One aspect of senior year I'm very excited about is my living situation.  I am currently sharing one floor of a beautiful wood-frame house on campus with three wonderful people.  The four of us share a passion for baking and cooking, which is great since we have a very spacious (and now very well-stocked) kitchen.  The neighbors next door are not Wesleyan students, but have reached out to us to be friends.  They wrote on their kitchen window which faces ours: "Hi new neighbors, we are Fort Awesome.  Who are you?"  We were quick to respond with signs in our own window, and are eager to make new friends.  The best way for me to make friends (and apparently boyfriends) is to bake things for them, so we decided the next step in reaching out to our neighbors would be through food.
All ready for the first baking adventure in the new kitchen!
Stacy, one of my closest friends on campus, came over to help me bake some cookies as my house's gesture of friendship, but unfortunately, we lacked two very key ingredients for the ones we wanted to make.  We decided that instead, we would just turn the chocolate-chip cranberry cookies into muffins  since we had all the necessary muffin ingredients.  We used the basic muffin recipe from Better Homes and Gardens' New Baking Book and then added dried cranberries and chocolate chips.  Unfortunately, since we are still in the process of building our baking supply stock, we did not have anything to use to grease the pans.  I decided to use my silicone cupcake trays instead.  WHAT A MISTAKE.  I really hate using them.  I think they make everything turn out a weird texture, and apparently they burn the bottoms super easily.  The muffins turned out unsuitable for gifting, so we kept them for ourselves and decided to bake cookies as a house instead on Sunday.  If you actually have greasing materials, try these muffins.  Maybe they'll turn out better for you.

Cranberry Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from the basic muffin recipe in this book.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
generous handful of dried cranberries
4 oz chocolate chips

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl
In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients
Stir together until mostly combined
Add cranberries and chocolate chips and finish stirring until combined.  DO NOT OVERSTIR.
Spoon batter into well-greased cupcake trays.  Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes.
Do not use silicone, or you will get oddly textured and slightly blackened muffins like these
Well, I hope you have better luck if you try these yourself.  Maybe tomorrow our cookies will be presentable enough to give to the neighbors so we can be friends.

Here's to a great semester of baking, studying, and friends.
Love and cookies,