Saturday, April 26, 2014

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Growing up, I enjoyed and looked forward to Black-Bottom Cupcakes at almost every Christmas and family gathering as my aunt would make them in addition to many other dessert offerings. Cheesecake and chocolate cake just go perfectly together. Rather than wait for these few occasions, I decided to try making them on my own. After trying the first one warm from the oven, I couldn't believe I had waited so long to make them. They look rather impressive but are super super simple to make and even easier to eat, especially in mini form.
This recipe from David Lebovitz works and tastes great, which is why it's everywhere. I do recommend using coffee in the cake batter if you can because it definitely adds to the chocolaty flavor of the cake. If your cream cheese is not exactly at room temp, you can warm it up a bit in a double boiler or give it a good mix with a mixer for a few minutes. Besides, a few lumps of cream cheese never hurt anyone. So, even if you forgot to leave the cream cheese out, you can still make these as a last minute dessert as they take almost no time at all. I think they're best the day they're made, but you can store them in an airtight container for about 2 days.

Black Bottom Cupcakes
Recipe from David Lebovitz via Serious Eats
Makes 12 regular cupcakes or about 30 mini cupcakes

Cream Cheese Filling
8 oz (225 g) cream cheese, room temp
1/3 cup (65 g) granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 oz (60 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped or mini chocolate chips

Chocolate Cake Batter
1 1/2 cups (210 g) all purpose flour
1 cup (240 g) packed light brown sugar
5 tbsp. (30 g) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt, half the amount of fine table salt
1 cup (250 mL) coffee or water
1/3 cup (85 mL) vegetable oil
1 tbsp. white or cider vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Position a rack in the center. Line a regular muffin tin or 2 mini muffin tins with cupcake liners. If you only have one mini muffin tin, you can bake them in batches.

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese with the sugar for a few minutes in a mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Mix in the chopped chocolate.

For the cake batter, in a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, mix together the coffee, oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just blended.

Evenly fill the lined muffin tins about 3/4 of the way up with the cake batter. Then evenly dollop small spoonfuls of the cream cheese filling on top of the cake batter. Bake the cupcakes for 12-15 minutes for mini cupcakes and about 25 minutes for regular sized cupcakes. Let cool for a few minutes in the muffin tin before removing cupcakes to a wire rack to cool further.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Soft Pretzel Bites

Hmmm, what's there to say about these delicious little bites of goodness? Mine didn't turn out nearly as lovely looking as the original post at Two Peas and their Pod, but it was still good nonetheless. If you love pretzels, you'll love these. Since they're bite sized, you can choose to have a handful or just a few. I expect you'll be having more than a few though. I witnessed my little cousin gleefully popping one after another into her mouth and I'm sure you'll want to do the same once you've had a taste. Besides the ease with which you can consume these, the greater surface area per pretzel bite also provides a larger coating area for whatever you'd like, be it parmesan cheese as I've done here, cinnamon sugar, cocoa sugar, etc. The original recipe has a delightful looking cheese sauce that you could also serve these alongside.
I'd recommend not making them too small though because I found myself wishing there was a larger percentage of soft fluffy pretzel in the middle to the chewy golden brown exterior. Of course, that's just me, you can make them however you want. You can also use the same recipe for large pretzels. Although these take a bit of time, there's nothing like a fresh pretzel straight from the oven. Once these cool, you can reheat these in the oven. They may also freeze well, though I would recommend doing so without coating them so that the coating doesn't burn when you reheat them.

Soft Pretzel Bites
Recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod
Makes 5-6 dozen pretzel bites

1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115 deg F)
2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 package (2 1/4 tsp) dry active yeast
3 ounces(6 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 tsp kosher salt, halve if using fine table salt
4 1/2 - 5 cups(22 oz) all purpose flour
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
Egg wash (1 egg beaten w/ a tbsp. of milk or water)
coarse sea salt, parmesan cheese(optional)

Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer with a dough hook. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes.

Add about 4 cups of flour and the salt, mixing on low speed until it comes together. Add the remaining flour slowly as needed. On medium speed, continue kneading the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl.

Form the dough into a ball with your hands and place in an oiled bowl. Coat the dough with the oil and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm spot until it has doubled in size, about 1 - 1.5 hrs.

Preheat the oven to 425 deg F. In a pot, bring the water to a boil and add the baking soda.

Divide the dough into 8 parts. Roll each into a long rope, about 20 inches in length. Cut the dough into 1 inch pieces to make pretzel bites. Boil the pretzel bites in batches for about 30 seconds before removing and placing on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Try to spread the pretzel bites out so they are not touching. To make large pretzels, shape each rope into a pretzel shape and proceed in the same way. Brush the pretzel bites with egg wash and sprinkle with salt or desired toppings before baking.

Bake for 15-25 minutes until the pretzel bites are golden brown. Let the pretzel bites rest for 5 minutes before eating. Pretzel bites can be kept in an airtight container for a few days, reheat in a toaster oven before eating.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

New York Style Bagels

I've never been to New York, so I can't vouch for the authenticity of these bagels, but they're good, trust me. In true NY style, or so I've been told, they are chewier and denser than bagels you may find elsewhere. I've tried them with several different toppings and so far, my favorite is sesame. The sesame seeds add a fragrant nutty toastiness and allow you to still appreciate the bagel's own flavors.

Once you know what things to keep in mind, I find these bagels very simple to make. They're similar to making pretzels in that you have to boil the dough before you bake them, but in this recipe, there's no baking soda in the water which I prefer. You do have to keep an eye on the dough so it doesn't rise for too long, but the steps are not difficult. You don't have to be super delicate with the dough. As long as the bagels pass the float test, you don't have to worry about them rising too much because they're meant to be a bit dense. Unlike typical bread recipes where you're aiming to keep as much moisture in the dough as possible. For bagels, you actually want to add as much flour into the dough as possible.
Of the few bagel recipes I've tried, this one worked the best and it can be done in one day. This recipe was one of the first that I saw when I started reading blogs and it's on quite a few blogs because it works. I might try using all purpose flour to make some softer California style bagels for one of my sisters, but I urge you to try this one first.

Recipe adapted from Ultimate Bread via TSG
Makes 8 bagels

2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (110-115 deg F)
3 1/2 cups (500 g) bread flour, plus more for kneading
1 1/2 tsp fine salt

To 1/2 cup of the warm water, add the sugar, then the yeast, do not stir. Let the mixture sit for five minutes before stirring to dissolve.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook or in a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and pour in the yeast mixture. Pour in about half of the remaining 3/4 cup of warm water. Mix the dough on low speed or with a wooden spoon until it comes together to form a firm ball of dough. Add in the remaining water as needed.

Try to mix in as much additional flour as possible kneading with your hands or a stand mixer for about 10 minutes. If it starts getting tough for the stand mixer to knead the dough, switch to kneading it by hand. You want to end up with a moist, yet very firm dough in the end.
Place the dough in a large bowl brushed lightly with oil, cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the dough is doubled in size, about 1 - 1 1/2 hrs. Punch the dough down and let it rest for 10 min.

Divide the dough into 8 equal parts. Shape each piece into a dough ball by pulling the dough into itself from the top to the bottom while turning in a circular motion so as to create more tension and smoothness on the surface of the dough ball. This may be done with one or two hands. (More detailed pics available at TSG)

Press a finger through the center of each dough ball to form a ring shape. Stretch the bagel so that the center hole is about 1/3 the width of the bagel. Place each bagel on a lightly oiled lined baking sheet. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let them rest for 10-20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425 deg F in the meantime and bring a large pot of water to a boil.

To test if the bagels are ready, place a bagel into a small bowl of water. The bagel should float within 10 seconds. If it doesn't, dry the test bagel and let it continue to rest, covered with a damp towel. Check every 10 minutes or so until the bagel floats.

When the bagel floats easily, you are ready to boil the bagels. Gently place as many bagels as you are comfortable handling at one time into the boiling water. Boil for 1 minute(up to 2 minutes for chewier bagels), then flip them to the other side and boil for another minute. With a slotted spoon, move the bagels to a lined baking sheet lightly coated with oil.

Top the bagels with desired toppings as they come out of the water so that the toppings stick. Once all the bagels have been boiled, bake them for 20 minutes on the middle rack, rotating the pan halfway through. Cool for a few minutes before slicing into them.

Bagels will last for several days in an airtight container. Wrap in foil and reheat in a toaster oven or slice in half and toast.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Hundredth Time's the Charm

So, in a twist of events, these muffins were actually made relatively recently. I decided to make them.................because I had ripe bananas and I wanted to try out a recipe from The Model Bakery Cookbook. I've made banana muffins many many times before, not exactly close to a hundred times, maybe closer to twenty, but basically I've made them a lot of times in various forms from chocolate to healthy whole wheat banana muffins, you name it. Up to this point, there wasn't really any banana muffin that I was particularly happy with or at least enough to post until this one.
This, my friends, is a banana nut muffin to top all banana muffins. The texture is not cake, nor is it banana bread, it's just banana muffins. When they're fresh out of the oven, you have a delightfully crisp muffin top exterior and a steamy soft interior, but they're just as delicious the next day or the day after that. As always, use bananas that are ripe, but the recipe adds that the bananas should not be so ripe that they are black as that will give them an off flavor. If I were to make any changes at all which I would do so ever so carefully, I might take out just a bit of sugar. I wouldn't want to sacrifice the texture though, so I'd have to try it to be sure. Here's basically the original recipe which is wonderful as is.

Banana Walnut Muffins
Recipe slightly adapted from The Model Bakery Cookbook
Makes 9 muffins

1 1/2 cups (220 g) unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine salt
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 mL) vegetable oil
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 large egg, room temp
1 cup (225 g mashed bananas), about 2 medium-large bananas
1/2 cup (55 g) chopped walnuts, plus 2 tbsp. more for topping

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 deg F. Line a muffin tin with 9 liners.

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl. In a medium bowl with a  handheld mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the sugar, oil, and lemon juice together on high speed for a few minutes until pale. Beat in the egg.

On low speed, add the flour mixture in thirds alternately with the mashed bananas, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula as needed. Mix in the chopped walnuts.

Evenly scoop the batter into the lined muffin tin using an ice cream scoop. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tbsp. of walnuts over the top of the muffins. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the muffins are golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool further. Store muffins in an airtight container, up to a day is best.