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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chocolate Cherrybomb Fruitcakes, or Senor Cuervo says,"Feliz Navidad!"

Having survived a Dickensian Christmas (which I mean, unfortunately, more in a Tale of Two Cities French Revolution, cataclysm and consumption sort of sense than a Christmas Carol / Cricket on the Hearth roast goose & figgy pudding one - although there were elements of Gabriel Grubb and the Goblins, and medicinal toddies were administered - but I digress), and fortified with a meal of Kinky Friedman-style brisket (spiced Texas-style but prepared in the oven like Bubbie's because it's just too frickin' cold to go out and build a fire for smoking), I'm finally sitting down to bring you that Edible Fruitcake recipe that I promised everybody, oh, Thanksgivingish.

Edible Fruitcake?  Is there such a thing?  Watch and learn, young Padiwan.

Oh, I've also been waiting for somebody to post a photo of one for me to steal, to wit:

Chocolate Cherrybomb Fruitcake in festive setting,
Courtesy Amy Nadel Romanczuk
This begins as The Joy of Cooking's Fruitcake Cockaigne recipe (which my mother and I would prepare many years to my father's derisive comment of,"What happened? Did you lose the old one?").  It takes a left turn with the arrival of the chocolate, cherries and tequila, or as I like to think of them, The Three Amigos.

So, a little advance preparation.  24 hours-ish before you plan to make the fruitcakes, place 20 oz of dried cherries (by an odd coincidence, the exact size of the bag at Costco) in a bowl and cover with Tequila.  Give it an extra half inch or so.  It doesn't have to be especially good tequila, but it shouldn't be paint thinner, either, and you're going to need about three cups of it.

The next day, drain the freshly minted cordial off of the cherries. You may feel a temptation to have a shot, to which I suggest you succumb without trepidation or remorse.  You may also wish to try the cherries, as long as you're not planning to drive.

There are those hearty souls who can maintain strict dietary discipline during the holidays (or, as The Black Adder would have it, "The Gorging Season").  I am proud to say that I am not among them, approaching the span from Thanksgiving to New Year's with the attitude of Eat What You Want and Die Like a Man.  Since I have managed to lose 100 pounds with this approach, I see no reason to entertain opinions to the contrary.

Let's bake!

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Take your drained cherries, and add about two cups of Macadamia or other nuts, coarsely chopped and 12 oz. chocolate chips or chunks. Because "too much chocolate" is as nonsensical as "ceci n'est pas une pipe".  Toss them together with 1/2 cup flour.  This will keep all the goodies from sticking together in one big clump.

Sift together another 3-1/2 cups all purpose flour, 3/4 cup cocoa,  1 tsp. baking powder and 1/2 tsp. of salt, along with 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper.  Trust me.

Shave or chop 2 oz. of good quality unsweetened chocolate.  Last year this time I scored about half a dozen bricks of Scharffen Berger at 75% off from Williams Sonoma, where someone was laboring under the misapprehension that this is a seasonal product.  May you experience similar blessings.  Add it to 1 cup half and half (be strong - it's waaay too late to shave off any calories now).  Microwave and stir for 30 seconds at a time, until it is nicely melted.  Throw it in the fridge to cool off a little.

Beat 3/4 cups unsalted butter until light and creamy.  Gradually add 2 cups of sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Beat in (one at a time) six eggs.  Add 1 tsp vanilla.

On low speed, alternately beat in the flour mixture and the chocolate cream until well combined.  Finally, fold in all the chunky bits - put some muscle into it!

Now, you have some options.  You're going to end up with about 15 cups of batter.  

For presents, I like to bake these off in 1 cup mini bundt pans, which take about 35-40 minutes.  

Since these come six to a batch, that also allows me to bake off half a muffin pan (15-20 minutes) which we eat immediately.  Delayed gratification, humbug!

You can also bake it off in a couple of loaf pans (clocking at about an hour), until you get a clean toothpick test.

Let the cakes cool thoroughly.  Wrap each cake in cheesecloth, brush or soak down with the cherry tequila (if it's still around).  You can substitute other liqueur (GrandMa works well) or straight tequila, depending on the hardiness of your intended recipients.

Store in an airtight container (where it will keep for months - if you're generous with the liquor, you could just make them now for next Christmas).  Do not expose to open flame.

P.S. from our good friend Erin, whose resourceful Irish instincts led him to discover that if you wring out the cheesecloth, it gives you a nice shot of cherry-chocolate liqueur to go with your cake.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cupcake Camp, fit the Fourth - Squaring the Circle, and Bonus Emergency Cupcakes

Vanillarama, or everybody needs a little contrast
So . . . this one started out as "What would be the best contrast to all this weird stuff I'm baking", and then went aft agley.
Plane Vanilla
This begins life as the classic Magnolia Bakery recipe:

  • 1 1/2 c. Self-Rising Flour
  • 1 1/4 c. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 c. (2 sticks) Unsalted Butter, softened
  • 2 c. Sugar
  • 4 lg. Eggs, room temperature
  • 1 c Milk
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Thoroughly spray down a "Perfect Brownie Pan" with Pam, and line the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper.  This will save you a world of misery later (can you tell I made several batches?).  Or, if you want boring ol' round cupcakes, set up two cupcake pans with cups

Combine the flours and set aside.  Mix the milk and vanilla and set aside.

Cream the butter until smooth in a large bowl.  Go with the electric mixer, unless you're feeling very Lou Ferrigno.  Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. 

Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat.

Pour into the pan.  If you're making square cupcakes, reserve about 1 cup of batter and bake it separately (unless you're up for a fair wee mess).  I just threw it in a little cast iron pan for the kitchen elves.

Bake about 20-25 minutes for round or 30-35 minutes for square, until you get a clean toothpick test.

Let cool until cakes begin to separate from pan, then remove to a cooling rack.  If you want a nice crispy crust all the way 'round, lay out the depanned squares on a cookie sheet, and bake another 5 minutes.

Vanilla Fondant
  • 1 c. Light Corn Syrup
  • 1 c. Shortening
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 2 pounds Confectioners' Sugar
  • Seeds scraped from 1 Vanilla bean (for flavor and speckles!)
Stir the shortening and corn syrup together. Mix in the salt and  both vanillas, then gradually mix in the confectioners' sugar to form a stiff dough. 

You can knead with a dough hook or work out your frustrations by hand. 

If the dough is sticky, knead in more confectioners' sugar until it is smooth. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

To use it, roll out on a clean surface that has been dusted with confectioners' sugar until it is about 1/8 inch thick.  A silpat is a big help  Drape over cakes and trim to fit.

Emergency Cupcakes!!!

So . . . we're relaxing a few evenings ago, and Christina asks me,"You made all those cupcakes for cupcake camp . . . where are my cupcakes?"

Could you deny this woman cupcakes?  Me neither.
It's tennish, the only butter I have on hand is frozen rock-hard, so an oil-based recipe is obviously in order.

A little Google, a few tweaks to make it interesting, et voila:

Emergency Cupcakes

  • 1/3 c. Olive Oil (always have a big jug handy)
  • 1/4 c. Greek Yogurt (had a nice homemade batch in the fridge
  • 2/3 c. Sugar
  • 3 lg. Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Vanilla Extract
  • 1 1/2 c. All Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside

Mix olive oil, yogurt, and sugar. Blend until completely mixed and smooth. Add  eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and blend until well mixed.

Slowly add flour mixture and blend until smooth and creamy.

Fill the muffin cups 1/2 to 2/3 full and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until tops are light brown or until and a knife inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. 

Remove from oven and cool on wire rack, or eat immediately, depending on  the severity of your particular cupcake emergency.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cupcake Camp III - when the going gets weird, the weird turn Pro . . .

Onward to the "Most Unusual" Champion . . .
West Poplar Persimmon Pavlova Passion - Photo Courtesy Dee Dee Arthur
West Poplar Persimmon Pavlova Passion
A crunchy cupcake with a juicy filling . . .

Meringue Cups

These can be done waaaaaayyy in advance.  Kept in a cool, dry place meringues are stable for weeks.  The resemblance to styrofoam is not coincidental, although they are much tastier.

You will need:

  • large Egg Whites
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Cream of Tartar
  • 1-1/4 c. granulated Sugar
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and line your cupcake pan with papers.  These don't do great in a greased pan, no matter how theoretically nonstick it may be.

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until foamy.  If you have a copper bowl, that's a bonus.  I recommend some variety of electric mixer, unless you really need a workout and don't mind people speculating about why one arm is so much bigger than the other.

Add the salt and cream of tartar, and beat more until the whites form soft peaks.  Beat in the sugar a little at a time until all the sugar is incorporated and the meringue forms high glossy peaks.

Spoon enough meringue into each cup to fill half way.  Use a butter knife to spread up the sides of the cup and create a (somewhat asymmetrical) cup.  Don't try to get them perfectly even; the wabi-sabi is part of their charm, and, besides, that way lies madness.

Bake for one hour.  If they start to brown, turn down to 225.

Turn off the oven, prop the door slightly open, and let them cool.

Turn out onto baking racks upside down until completely cool and dry.  The gymnastics help minimize weeping.

Store in an airtight bag or tin until ready to use.

Persimmion Curd

You might wonder,"why Persimmons"?  Why not?

Especially if you have awesome next-door neighbors like Bob and Clara.  Both in their 80's, Bob is a retired horticulturalist who has a delightful and rambling micro-farm in the front yard, and Clara is one of the longest serving volunteers at the Charleston Public Library, who are damned lucky to have her.

Anywhoo, they have two enormous and prolific persimmon trees out front, and Bob brings us sackfuls of them.  Since we can't possibly eat them as fast as they come during peak season, I scoop them out and freeze the pulp in ice cube trays, making for an easy, fruity addition to desserts and smoothies for months to come.

And that's why.

So . . . 
  • 5 Egg Yolks (funny how that works out)
  • 1 c. Sugar
  • 1 c. Persimmon Pulp
  • 1 Lemon, zested & juiced
  • 1 stick Butter, chilled and cut up into pats
Put a couple of inches of water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Whisk together yolks, sugar, persimmon and lemon in a bowl that will sit comfortably on top of the saucepan without touching the water.  Lower the heat so the water is barely simmering, and sit it there.

Whisk for 7-10 minutes, until the curd begins to thicken and will coat the back of a spoon.  Now the fun part!

Remove the bowl from the heat, and begin to whisk in pats of cold butter, one at a time, waiting for each one to melt.  The curd will become deliciously thick.

Let cool, and refrigerate until cold.  This will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, so it's a great do-ahead as well.

Pouring Persimmon Curd - photo courtesy of Eugene Mah
You'll want to pour the custard into your cups just before serving, so you don't end up with soggy bottoms, as nobody likes that.  As you can see, this is not a precision operation.  Decorate with Pomegranate arils.

And that's that.  Enjoy! 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cupcake Camp - fit the Second, Chocolate Afterburn

As promised, we're moving on to the second major project of our Cupcake Camp Quarto . . .  
The Lowcountry Locavore Legend.

Mmmmmmmm . . . . Baaaaaaaconnnnn!!  Photo courtesy Eugene Mah.
Let's start with the Bacon, shall we?

Candied Bacon

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with foil; insert a rack and coat thoroughly with Pam.

Lay out one pound of thick cut Bacon in a single layer, and bake until bubbly, about 30 minutes.


1 c.      Brown Sugar
1 tsp.    Cayenne Pepper
1/2 tsp   ground Cinnamon

Spread out in a pan.

Remove the bacon from the oven to the pan of sugar, and sprinkle, pat & smoosh until the bacon is thoroughly coated.  The Bacon will be hot! (That's for the lawyers.  I'm assuming the rest of you are smarter than that.)

Spread out the bacon once again on the rack, and return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until the sugar is melted and bubbly.

Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.  A good sharp metal spatula is a boon in removing the bacon from the rack.

Cajeta (Goats' Milk Dulce de Leche)

This recipe can be cut in half - but why would you?

A full recipe will do about 5 dozen cupcakes, but it's just as good on ice cream.  Or a spoon.  Or your fingers.  Possibly your significant other.  But I digress.

You will need . . . 

1/2 gallon of Goat Milk (you can use cow milk, or antelope)
(Yes, use whole milk.  Look at the next ingredient, for God's sake...)
8 cups Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean, split, or 2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
2 tsp. Baking Soda

huh?  Baking Soda?

Yeah, Baking Soda.  This helps to lower the pH of your mixture, for two important reasons:

1. It keeps the milk proteins from clumping up, and making Dulce de Lumpy

2. It encourages Maillard Reactions, browning the sauce and creating thousands of complex flavor compounds.

Throw everything in a slow cooker on High, and cook Uncovered for about 10 hours, stirring occasionally.  From personal experience: tell everybody in the house not to cover it, or they inevitably will.

When it gets nicely golden brown and starts to thicken up, let it cool off and store in the fridge (it will keep for quite some time).
Now we're gonna need something to put this all on  . . .

Spicy Chocolate Cupcakes

The base for this one is from Cook's Illustrated.  In its slightly peppier incarnation, it plays out like this:
  • 3 oz. finely chopped Bittersweet Chocolate
  • 1/3 c. Cocoa
  • 3/4 c. strong hot Coffee
  • 3/4 c. Bread Flour
  • 3/4 c. Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 3 oz. Olive Oil
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 2 tsp. White Vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 mashed Scotch Bonnet Pepper (or 1/4 tsp. Cayenne)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground Cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 325.  Ready a cupcake pan with papers or grease & flour.

Remove seeds, ribs & stem from the pepper (careful!  Use gloves and avoid your eyes!).  Mince fine, place in a bowl and microwave (covered) for 30 seconds.  Mash well with a fork.

Add the chocolate and cocoa to the bowl, pour coffee over the whole mess, and whisk until smooth. Put it in the refrigerator to cool.

Whisk flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking soda together in another bowl.

Whisk oil, eggs, vanilla, and vinegar into the cooled chocolate mixture until it's smooth.  Add the flour mixture and whisk until  smooth.

Divide batter into cups.

Bake until the cupcakes are set and springy, about 15-20 minutes.

Let cool, and assemble with Cajeta, Candied Bacon, chopped Pecans, and optional Benne Wafers.

I don't know about y'all, but I'm exhausted.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cupcake Camp - Aftermath and Recipes, fit the First

     What happens when you combine 5000 cupcakes, 400 sugar crazed foodies, and a generous dash of imagination?  Cupcake Camp!

     When I saw the signs around town, I had to jump in.  I spent much of last week prepping ingredients for four different concoctions:
  • "The Lowcountry Locavore Legend" - a spicy chocolate number with cajeta icing, local pecans, benne wafers and candied bacon
  • "Bubba's Breakfast" - a savory shrimp & grits cupcake with homemade pimiento cheese
  • "West Poplar Pavlova Persimmon Passion" - a meringue cup with persimmon curd and pomegranate seeds (which won "Most Unique" in the Amateur division)
  • "Plane Vanilla" - a square vanilla cupcake with vanilla fondant icing
      I've had lots of Facebook requests for the recipes, so we'll start with the farthest out and work our way back to reality:

Bubba's Breakfast, sexy photo courtesy of Carol Linder Photography
Bubba's Breakfast
it's kind of a project . . . but you can do the parts in advance.

Grits Cupcakes

1 c. leftover grits (cold, not hot, or you'll get pancakes instead of muffins)
1 c. bread flour (so you get a little structure)
3 tsp. baking powder
1 Tb. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. shortening (Lard would not be amiss)
1 c. milk
1/4 tsp. Garlic & Herb Mrs. Dash or similar seasoning 

(Penzey's has some goodies.  I could give you a long list of things to mix up, but, Really?  This isn't "Food Should be Tedious".)

Pour it all into a bowl, mix well, pour into cupcake pans and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until the tops start to turn golden and the cupcakes feel "set" (The toothpick test isn't going to help).  They will flatten out a little as they cool, and will stay creamy inside.

OK, now we need some cheese . . .

Pimiento Cheese

1 pound Sharp Cheddar Cheese (I used half white and half orange, 'cause it's pretty)

1/2 pound Soft Goat Cheese (I used homemade sharp cottage cheese from Jeremiah Farms' milk and Flora Danica culture, but that's just showing off.  Recipe to follow.  Cream cheese would probably do fine as well; this was mostly to get creaminess with a minimum of mayonnaise, which I abhor.)

3 big honkin' cloves of fresh Garlic, minced fine (because I don't believe in subtlety)

4 oz. jar of diced Pimientos

1/4 tsp of Sriracha (available at any Asian grocery, 
or at Amazon, since we're pimpin' the blog).  Or more.  I vote for more.

1 Tb. Mayonnaise (bleah, but it does improve the texture)

Grate up the cheddar, throw everything in a bowl, and mix it up well with a fork.  Alternately, you can toss it all in the food processor and pulse a few times.  You don't want to make paste; just get everything mixed and keep it chunky.

Keep it in the fridge. (Or freezer - this is a big enough batch for about 6 dozen muffins. Or an idle afternoon with a box of crackers and a six pack.)  If you make it in advance, you'll want to let it warm up a little before you spread it on the muffins.

And last, but not least - Shrimps!

Garlic Broiled Shrimp

This is a riff off of Ina Garten's Roasted Shrimp Salad recipe.  Click here for the pre-mutation version.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss 2 pounds of Shrimp with:

1 Tb. Olive oil and 1 minced clove of fresh Garlic 
(or better yet, Roasted Garlic Oil.  Stick around, we'll get to that one soon)
1 tsp. kosher Salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground Black Pepper
1 tsp spice mix (yeah, Mrs. Dash again.  Sue me.)

Spread the shrimp out in a single layer on a baking sheet, and cook for 5-8 minutes (largely depending on size) until pink & firm.

Again, this makes a lot more than you need for one batch.  This is a couple of batches plus dinner.

I think y'all can figure out the rest for yourselves...

Enjoy!  Tomorrow we'll bring you that hot mess o' chocolate.