Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How To Make Cake Flour

Don't you hate when you go to your pantry to bake only to find out you don't have cake flour or didn't even know you really needed cake flour? Ya, that's the worst. Before you hop in the car and run to the store, stop. You don't have to! Seriously. You can make cake flour in your own kitchen and I bet you already have everything in your pantry to do so. Want to bet? Wanna? Wanna?!

Okay, I'll stop teasing. All you need to make cake flour is regular all-purpose flour and cornstarch. That's it! Did you think it would be that easy? I sure didn't. I don't know why I thought it would be so difficult and I don't know why I never thought to figure this out before. Silly me. No more buying extra expensive boxed cake flour anymore! Here's how you do it: for every cup of flour, remove two tablespoons of flour and then replace with two tablespoons of cornstarch. Then sift, sift and sift again. Do this at least three or four times to get it nice, light and fluffy. Ta da - you now have cake flour!

flour + cornstarch = cake flour!

sift and sift and sift

Now you never have to make an unnecessary late night trip to the store to buy cake flour again!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cake

Chocolate + salted caramel = a match made in heaven. There is just something about that salt that make everything taste that much better. I can't explain it and no, it's not crack. I promise.

This cake was a cake that was very special to me. This cake was a surprise for the captain's momma for her surprise retirement slash congrats on your new home party. The captain was able to pull off the amazing surprise of getting all brothers and his sister (who live states away!) to come to town. You should have seen the look on her face when he showed up with his siblings. It's was amazing! I don't know how his mom didn't cry. I almost did. Good thing she didn't because then I would have started too. That would not have been a pretty sight. Let me just leave it at that. Keeping such a big secret was really hard and I honestly felt bad having to fib to her about where the captain was, but it was all worth it. Really, really, worth it. It was such a great moment to see her so happy with all her kids!

Okay, enough mush. Back to cake! Since this was a special occasion, I wanted to make a very special cake. Not just any cake though. I must have torn through ten cookbooks and spent hours online trying to find just the right recipe. It's not easy to find the perfect cake! Kris loves chocolate just like her son, so I knew it had to be something extra chocolatey. It couldn't just be plain chocolate though. It needed a twist. Something different. Something special. Then came the dark chocolate salted caramel cake. Just perfect and something I knew she would love. The combination of chocolate and caramel is pretty hard to beat.

This cake does take a little bit of work, but it's really worth all the effort. This cake is towering with three layers of chocolate cake filled with caramel swiss meringue butter cream and then covered in a decadent dark chocolate frosting that is sprinkled with fleur de sel. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is. I know it sounds fancy, but just trust me here - if I can make this cake, so can you. I promise! With a little bit of patience and time, you will have a cake that is perfect for any occasion and one that will be requested time and time again. If it's not, I promise to come to your house and make one for you. Seriously. Wait, what did I just get myself into? Yikes.

prepping station - guess I forgot to take an ingredient picture. Oops. I was probably too excited to make cake!
prepping the caramel swiss meringue

cooling cakes
adding in the homemade caramel!
just keep whisking, just keep whisking...

look at those layers!

frosted and topped with caramel glass!

want to know how to make this? find out at the end of the recipe!

inside of the cake!

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Cake (slightly adapted from Annie's Eats)

For the cake:
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2¼ cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2¼ tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. brewed coffee
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:
1 cup sugar, divided
¼ cup water
¼ cup heavy cream
Generous pinch of sea salt, such as fleur de sel
4 large egg whites
1½ cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the frosting:
12 oz. good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
¼ cup very hot water
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. (18 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
Fleur de sel, for finishing

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Grease the edges and the bottoms of 3 8-inch baking pans Line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper and grease the top of the papers. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Mix on low speed to blend.  Add the vegetable oil, buttermilk, coffee, eggs, and vanilla to the bowl and mix on low speed until well blended and completely incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool in the pans about 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.  Remove the parchment paper.

To make the caramel buttercream filling, place ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a medium saucepan.  Mix in the water.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.  Stop stirring and let the caramel cook, gently swirling from time to time, until it is a deep amber color (test a drop on a white plate or bowl if necessary), watching it carefully to avoid burning. Remove the mixture from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream and then the salt.  Set aside and let cool.

Combine the egg whites and the remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. The bowl should be cool to the touch. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (or longer - don’t worry, it will come together!)  Blend in the cooled caramel until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

To make the frosting, place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.  In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and water and stir until smooth.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar and salt.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  With the mixer on low speed, gradually blend in the melted and cooled chocolate until well incorporated.  Blend in the cocoa powder-water mixture until smooth.

To assemble the cake, level the cake layers if necessary.  Place one of the cake layers on a cake board or serving platter.  Top with half of the caramel buttercream and smooth in a thick, even layer.  Place a second cake layer on top and smooth the remaining caramel butter cream over that.  Place the final cake layer on top.  Cover the top and sides of the cake with the chocolate frosting and smooth with an offset spatula. Before serving, sprinkle with fleur de sel.

You can serve this cake the a sprinkle of fleur de sel or you can make the caramel glass as a topping! To make the glass, heat up equal parts water and white sugar over medium to medium high heat and cook until golden brown. Once the sugar is done, pour in strings on parchment paper and let cool. Once the caramel is cooled, break it up and place on your cake for decoration!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Italian Wedding Soup

Did you know that January is national soup month? I didn't and now you know too! 

I love soup. Wait, correction. I really love soup. Soup comes in so many varieties that it's hard to find one that you won't like. Some like it creamy, some like it chunkier and some like it simple. I like it all. Surprise, surprise. When I go with creamy I love broccoli and cheddar soup.When I go with chunkier I usually like a thick chicken noodle. When I like something simple a black bean or lentil soup usually does the trick. See, I told you I liked soup. I really haven't met a soup I don't like. You know what makes soup even better? Dunking crackers or the perfect grilled cheese in the soup. To me, dunking makes the soup that much better.

I have been trying to find the next perfect soup recipe to try and then came along a recipe for Italian wedding soup. Why did I not think to try to make this soup sooner? I love Italian wedding soup and that's not just because I am Italian. Seriously. This soup is perfect and has a little something something for everyone. This soup consists of mini meatballs, lots of fresh spinach, tiny tiny pasta and lots of chicken broth. What could be bad about that, right? Right! This soup was flavorful, hearty and so so delicious. Even better, it was so simple to make and it makes a lot of soup. Lots and lots of soup! Here's how to do it. Get a big pot ready!

The first part of this soup is making the teeny tiny meatballs. I was a little intimidated about making these meatballs because to be honest, for an Italian girl, I have yet to perfect the science that are meatballs. Someday, I will make the perfect meatball, but as for the ones in this soup, they turned out pretty darn delicious. The original recipe called for only ground beef, but if there is anything I've learned about making meatballs is that they also need Italian sausage too. Oh, and garlic. Lots of garlic! How could this recipe not use garlic? Then again, I love garlic in everything. Maybe a little too much garlic. Nevertheless, once the meat and other ingredients are all combined, you just roll them into little balls - go as little as you can, mine were a little big- and then put them in the fridge to firm up. Do not skip this last step! If you don't, your meatballs will fall apart in the soup. Broken meatballs make for a sad sad soup.

While the mini meatballs are chilling, you start base of the soup by celery, onions, garlic and carrots in the pot (a big pot - this makes a lot of soup!) until they are soft. Then you add in the chicken broth, let simmer and then comes the best part - adding in the meatballs! I was a little worried that boiling them for a long period of time would make them tough, but I was wrong. So wrong. Those little balls of joy turned out flavorful, tender and delicious! Once the meatballs are swimming around, add in the fresh spinach and small pasta. I used acini de pepi. You can find this in most stores these days. If you can't find that pasta, you can use orzo or any other small pasta you can find. Just make sure to not add to much. That was my mistake. The 3/4 cup I added didn't seem to be enough, so I added double the amount, if not more. Boy was that wrong. As the captain would tell me, I should have just followed the directions. Ya, I don't always listen. Those little pastas took awhile to expand and once they did, they took over the whole soup and absorbed all the broth. Please promise me that you won't make that mistake! Other than that, this soup is just perfect. It's always been a favorite and now it's really my favorite. I am pretty sure if you try this soup, it will soon be your favorite too. The captain even gave this one two thumbs up. If that doesn't say a great recipe, I don't know what does!

soupy ingredients

dry meatball ingredients
the best way to mix up meatballs = your hands!
up close and personal with the meat balls

mirepoux = onions, garlic and celery
bock bock chicken broth.

be careful when adding the meatballs. Don't burn yourself
this soup will make you strong like Popeye!

letting everything simmer makes the favors so much better

soup is served!

Italian Wedding Soup (adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

For the Meatballs:
1 pound ground beef (or 1/2 lb lean ground beef and 1/2 pound mild italian sausage)
1 small onion, grated
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons Italian bread crumbs (add more as needed, you want the mixture moist, but not too wet or too dry)
1½ teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 egg whites

For the Soup:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
½ cup sliced carrots (approximately 2 carrots)
½ cup sliced celery (approximately 2 stalks)
1 clove garlic, minced
12 cups chicken broth
Salt & pepper to taste
¾ cup acini di pepi or other small pasta
8 ounces fresh spinach, chopped

Combine all ingredients for the meatballs and shape into small (½-inch) balls. Place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Melt butter in the now-empty stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot and garlic, and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently add the meatballs to the soup and cook for 7 minutes. Add the pasta and cook for an additional 6 minutes. Add spinach and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Cover again and allow to simmer for another 30 minutes or so. Allowing it to simmer for a little longer allows all the new flavors to meld together.

Pair this soup with a grilled cheese sandwich for dunking and a glass of wine and you have the perfect meal. Also note, this recipe makes a TON of soup and it freezes great!