Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers, November: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting


Daring Bakers unite! It's that time of the month again (no, that other time) when the Daring Bakers show the fruits of their labors--the baked goods that resulted from a secret recipe assigned to them by the month's host(s) at the beginning of the month. This month's challenge:

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (, as published on Bay Area Bites (

This month's hosts:
Dolores, Alex, Jenny, and special non-gluten consulting by Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.

I made cupcakes instead of a cake, and they were pretty homely and sedate. Can we dress them up a bit? Can we???


My friends Teresa and Klute hosted an Election Night party, and most of us (really all but one) were Obama-cheering voters, so I made Cupcakes for Change. Here are Teresa and Klute, showing their support (of rich, sweet, buttery cupcakes). Thanks to Chris W. for taking the photo!
photo by Chris Wasserman





Notes that might help:

I baked my cupcakes in nut cups, but since there was shrinkage away from the sides, cupcake papers would've been better, since they probably would've pulled in with the cake. Still, the cake tastes great! Word of warning--these don't dome the way you might expect cupcakes to. I filled the cups just over halfway, and while some threatened to creep over the edges, most baked level with the tops of the cups, which is what I was hoping for.

The caramel syrup was a little tricky for me even though I'm fairly comfortably working with sugar and caramel. The recipe says to check for stickiness to tell when it's done, but you have to wait for it to cool first. The temperature of the stuff in the pot just continued to rise as I waited for the tester on the spoon to cool. Be careful not to wait too long--don't lost that dark amber color.

As one of Lydon's writers mentioned when troubleshooting the recipe, the batter does look like it breaks when I add the milk, but it smooths out again when I add the dry ingredients, so if it looks grainy, just keep on truckin'! wink

The frosting is killer (figuratively, maybe literally). The scale for frosting to sugar-high is about 1/8 inch of frosting per mile of sugar high. Watch your butter when browning--you might burn it (or the milk solids in it) if you turn your back on it for too long.

I started later than I'd intended, so my caramel syrup, still somewhat thin and dark amber, was still too warm when I needed it. I asked my boyfriend to gently whisk it while I worked on other things. When he handed it back, it was cool, but it was also milky, pale, and fluffy, like whipped honey or dulce de leche. Since it was still somewhat viscous, I decided to use it in both the cake and the frosting, anyway. From what I can tell, it worked out fine.

I had a thin coating of caramel syrup stuck to the bottom of my pot. Soaking it in water will dissolve the caramel. Even if there's a bunch of it, as if you'd burned a bunch to your pot, soaking it will work, though it will take awhile. If you're in a rush, just pour a bunch of water into the pot and boil it out--the sugar will just combine with the water, and you can pour it out.

I'm storing my caramel syrup in the cupboard, since it's just sugar and water, just like simple syrup, which I also store in the cupboard. Time to pass out! See you in the completed forum! ;D

Weeks after the fact, I stirred the caramel (it had separated a bit) and drizzled it over the pumpkin pie cheesecake I made for Thanksgiving dinner. Oh yum!

courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (, as published on Bay Area Bites (
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt, and cream the mixture until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month. To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pacific Rim, Week 11: Korean

After two weeks, class met up again last week, this time for Korean cuisine. There was a running theme through most of these dishes: meat (as in beef), heat, and pickled veggies (mostly kimchi, the pickled cabbage). Like most Pacific Rim cuisines, Korean food has strong ties to Chinese cooking, and like Chinese food and the rest of Pac-Rim cooking, Korean food has strong regional ties. We didn't learn any of that, though--we just cooked!

Clockwise from short ribs at noon: Bangja Gui, Ramen Noodles Korean Style, Mandu, with Maewoon Ojingau Bokum peeking out just under the short ribs
Pacific Rim, Week 11: Korean

Ramen Noodles, Korean Style. I never met a Ramen noodle I didn't like. I lived off Ramen during my second year in college, and even though it was just the 10-for-a-dollar packs, I slurped up every noodle. I tried to ensure I wouldn't fall over from MSG poisoning by mixing it up with some of the free condiments from the university's student union/cafeteria . . . this is turning into a whole other post, so I'll stop there. I'll just say that there's something eternally satisfying about these soft, flavorful noodles that gives them a permanent place in my heart, and in my stomach.
Pacific Rim, Week 11: Korean

Kimchi Jiege--Kimchi and Pork Soup. My mom used to make kimchi in a giant plastic jar stored in our garage. I never questioned why the stuff didn't rot--the idea of pickling was over my head until recently. Knowing now about the preservative powers of vinegar, I was dubious about the tastiness of a soup based on vinegary cabbage; I shouldn't have worried--it went wonderfully with the sweet pork (I've said it before and I'll say it again, meat such as lamb and pork taste sweet to me), and there was a perfect stitch of red heat that laced through the soup.
Pacific Rim, Week 11: Korean

Maewoon Ojingau Bokum--Chili-hot Squid with Vegetables. "What are those fat noodles," asked a classmate who didn't work on the dish. Those are actually slices of carving squid. The squid was cooked perfectly in this dish, but I felt like the noodles, while tasty, were extraneous.
Pacific Rim, Week 11: Korean

Mandu--Golden Korean Dumplings. Mmmm. They're dumplings. You have to have a dumpling for a brain to not love them.
Pacific Rim, Week 11: Korean

Korean Beef Short Ribs. According to Chef, Koreans/Asians like their beef chewy so you can really rip into them. I always figured that my parents cooked meat well-done to ensure that all the little buggies that might be living in the meat would turn to ash. Anyway, while a big chunk of short rib should have a long, slow cook, these thin bits turned out just fine.
Pacific Rim, Week 11: Korean

Egg noodles. Period. Well, fried, and then period.
Pacific Rim, Week 11: Korean

Beef for Bangja Gui--Barbecued Beef in a Lettuce Wrapper. I charred up a lot of flank steak for these. Nothing makes you voracious like standing over the grill for a good part of the evening. This was pretty tasty, though, so I call it worth it!
Pacific Rim, Week 11: Korean


Buy foodstuffs like kimchi from places where you know the inventory is in constant rotation. Just because it's pickled, doesn't mean it can't go "off."

Here, if you're familiar with sauteeing shrimp, you can use the same instinct when cooking squid--call it done just before it actually looks done. It will finish cooking with the carryover heat. It takes just a few minutes. Unfortunately, you don't get the color change you do in a lot of shrimp varieties, but it will turn a bit more opaque. I actually found Chef's recipe online here, so you can brave it yourself!

No matter the country of origin, I like my dumplings the same way--crisped to start, steamed to finish. You start them off in a saute pan with oil to crisp them, flippin them so they fry a bit on both sides, then adding water and putting a lid over the pan to steam them until they're cooked through. When you're cooking meat dumplings like these, don't understimate how long you need to steam them, or they'll be coming up raw!

While you can fully cook the short ribs on the grill and serve them then, you can tenderize them a bit by steaming them for awhile longer after grilling them.

The beef for the lettuce wraps benefits from being grilled, but you neither want to use giant hunks of beef in your lettuce wraps nor slice the beef too thinly and risk having them fall through the grill. Grill them in chunks, let them rest, then slice them thinly to make for manageable wraps.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Autumn ice cream roundup

Here in Phoenix, daytime temperatures still reach the mid-80s. While I believe that it's never too cold for ice cream, even a reasonable person will agree that the mid-80s are still warm enough to warrant a scoop or three. As a companion post to August's roundup, here are the flavors I've been playing with:

Chocolate chip oatmeal cookie ice cream with whole wheat pound cake, with delicious oatmeal cookie praline from David Lebovitz and pound cake from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. The cake was fine, but the ice cream elevated it--those praline pieces were delicious even though I was sure they wouldn't taste like actual oatmeal cookie chunks.
chocolate chip oatmeal cookie ice cream with whole wheat pound cake

Chocolate-covered raspberry gelato. This was all right. I would've preferred ripples of raspberry throughout, but the coulis just melted through the chocolate ice cream. I wonder how actual chocolate-covered raspberries mixed in would be.
chocolate-covered raspberry gelato

Peanut ice cream with chocolate chips. This was a very good recipe, but it emphasized why the trouble of tempering chocolate for straciatella-like chips is well worth the time and effort. Chocolate chips like these belong in baked goods; they're no fun as frozen choco-bullets.
chocolate peanut ice cream

Berry sherbet with fleur de lait, both variations from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, which I may keep checked out from the library until next summer. I'd been wanting to make sherbet for awhile, and with milk I needed to use up and a carton of blackberries and raspberries, I found my inspiration. Oh so yum! The fleur de lait is now a fast favorite, tasting like softserve gelato.
berry sherbet and fleur de lait

Overall notes:

-I usually lose nothing in using sweeteners like honey, Splenda, and agave syrup in place of sugar, and in most recipes, I gain a lot through its warm, fruity sweetness.

-I also lose nothing in using recipes that don't call for eggs. Cornstarch recipes make for just as smooth, rich, and creamy a batch, without the fussy technique that incorporates egg yolks.

-The fewer ingredients there are in fruit ice creams and sherbet, the better.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008


No school this week because of Veteran's Day, but I'll be doing my usual school post next week. This week, as I start getting ready to head to my parents' house in California for Thanksgiving, I'm thinking of what I may find there.

Closed suman. Just the sight of them thrills me. Truth be told, the sight of banana leaves wrapped around anything steamed makes me happily anxious, but when I see these thin burrito-like packages, that's A-1 joy right there.
black rice suman

Open suman: steamed sweet rice cake. This one has some "dessert" beans--azuki beans--inside, but just plain rice is more common. The rice is usually first cooked in coconut milk and sweetened with brown sugar before being wrapped in the leaf.
black rice suman

Here's a basic recipe:

1. Rinse and cook two cups of 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a big pinch of salt, and sweet, sticky rice/glutinous rice/purple rice/etc. in 2-1/2 cups of coconut milk, just as you would if you were regularly cooking rice in water. Shake the can of coconut milk up before using it. Cool rice once it's fully cooked (nice and tender).

2. While rice is cooking and cooling, prepare the banana leaves: wipe them clean with a damp cloth, remove the spine, pass the leaves over flames to loosen the fibers, and tear along the fibers into 4x4 pieces so you have small sheets of leaf. Tear smaller pieces into "strings" that you can use to tie your suman closed.

3. Wrap 2 or 3 tablespoons of the cooled rice in the banana leaves, tying the ends with the banana leaf strings. You can wrap them as you would wrap lumpia, or roll them in the leaf and tie the ends off.

4. Steam the suman, preferably in a bathtub-sized steamer, for 30 minutes.

Can't find banana leaves? I'd assume that tamale husks or tamale papers would work. Can't find those, either? I've heard of some people using "food-safe" plastic wrap or just regular saran wrap, though I wouldn't in good conscience recommend it. Instead, try just scooping the rice into ramekins and steaming them that way.

If you don't want to add sugar to the recipe, you can cook it with just the coconut milk, salt, and rice, and dip the suman in sugar as you eat it for your merienda--what Filipinos and Spaniards alike call their afternoon snack. Read more!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Post from the Past*: Labor Day burgers, Burrow style

*These are posts I wrote a long time ago, but didn't post when I wrote them--I figured now would be a good time because I don't have class this week or next.

How to grill burgers, Burrow style
Labor Day burgers

Since I'm in a condo, I don't have a grill, but I do have a grill pan. I won't get that nice smokey flavor that a charcoal grill will impart, but I can get that yummy, deep, charred flavor on a grill pan. I don't have a toaster or toaster oven, either, and while I could just toast the bread under my the broiler, I thought a simple pan would save energy (and keep the kitchen from heating up too much).

Toasting the buns
Labor Day burgers

Woot for toasty! You could brush them with some melted butter before toasting, too, but here, I just wanted crunch, and a platform that wouldn't submit and collapse to grill juices--a burger pet peeve of mine. When it comes to most sandwiches, even grilled cheese, maybe even especially grilled cheese, I love toasted bread.
Labor Day burgers

One is ground chuck, the other is a portabella burger. Just slide them on, and don't touch them for 5-7 minutes. Then flip 'em and grill 'em for anothyer 4-6.
Labor Day burgers

Cheddar is better
Labor Day burgers

Labor Day burgers

And yeah, I put my veggies on the bottom. I consider it extra protection for the bun from burger juice. No, it doesn't prevent your tongue from tasting the burger, since you get it once you start chewing, and no, it doesn't get more wilty than if you put it on top (heat rises, yeah?). I totally think this stuff out too much. ;)
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Monday, November 3, 2008

Mother's Circus Animal cookies

I know, I'm a bit late on the circus train with this salute, but better late than never, I always say!

Mother's Circus Animal cookies: RIP 10/08

Like many people who've been blogging about them, I had Mother's Circus Animals cookies as a sometimes treat. When I found out about their bankruptcy and abrupt closing, I made a note to find a bag the next time I went grocery shopping, especially when Hun told me he'd never tasted them. I was disappointed . . . okay, I was alarmed when I found that they were gone from the shelves, and the other Mother's cookies were also rapidly disappearing. I remembered having seen special Halloween editions on display racks, so I wandered the store, looking for them. Huzzah, because I found them! And Hun agrees--they're a wonderful sometimes treat! If you're a fan, get those Mother's cookies while you can! The last local grocery store I went to had absolutely none left. =/ Late last week, I did find them fully stocked at Target, and yup, I bought a bag. I may (will probably) buy another if I see them again.

Someone did mention seeing identical cookies under the Keebler brand, but I haven't tried them, so if anyone can report on their similarities (or differences), let us know!
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