Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumbles with Gluten Free Almond Topping

Every season has distinctively different flavors. Fall features apples, pears, pumpkin & warm spices.  Summer has stone fruits, like peaches & nectarines & cherries, and ice cream. Winter calls for juicy citrus like grapefruit, oranges, lemons & limes, but also warm chocolaty flavors.  And to me, spring tastes like berries & rhubarb.

Luckily, since our local HEB grocery store carries rhubarb in their freezer section, every season can taste like rhubarb.  But somehow, I’ve been waiting until spring to really utilize it.

While I love rhubarb on it’s own, whether in sauces, or pies, or cakes, or other desserts, I do also love pairing it with strawberries. Coincidentally, we have also reached the part of the year where the grocery store is bursting with strawberries (and most of the time, they’re on sale).

I created this Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble with several purposes in mind.  One, I was itching to taste the delightfully spring-y combination of the rhubarb with the strawberry--especially since Texas has nearly skipped spring & gone directly to summer.  And secondly, I was brainstorming a delicious (and photogenic) dessert for the finale dinner of an upcoming food photography workshop with Helene Dujardin and Clare Barboza.

Their latest workshop was this past weekend in Gulf Shores, Alabama (which I will talk about in my next post), and the crumbles were definitely a hit!

Most crumbles (or crisps) are often created in a big baking dish & then scooped into individual servings after baking.  But I’m discovering how much I like to create individual crisps.

Individual crisps are instant portion control--great for people like me with an insatiable sweet tooth).  They allow each serving to have the crunchy edge of the topping, which is one of my favorite parts, and reduce the risk for any soggy topping.  They usually bake a little faster. They can even fit into my toaster oven at home when I make a smaller batch. And they’re just really cute :)

I also love to make things that are easily modified to be gluten free.  Crumbles are seriously easy to make gluten free.  Almond Flour (or just almonds ground up in a high speed blender, like Helene’s Blendtecthat I used at the workshop) makes up the bulk of the delicious topping.  And just a little cornstarch helps thicken the fruit juices during the baking process.  Super simple and no unusual ingredients are required.

As an added bonus, the crumbles can be made in advance and re-warmed, both to heat the fruit & re-crisp the topping, just before serving.

While the fruit & topping are delicious on their own, I like to finish mine with a little Chantilly Cream (sweetened whipped cream).  Just a little dollop makes them even prettier & even tastier.

Topping adapted from here 
Filling & assembly my original creation 

Almond Streusel topping (gluten free) 
makes enough for 8 to 10 crumbles

3/4 c Almond Flour (or almonds ground fine in a high speed blender-- I used a Blendtecfor the version I made at the Workshop)
1/4 c Brown Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
2 Tbl (1 oz) butter, cold, cut into small cubes

  1. Stir together the almond flour, brown sugar, & salt.  
  2. Rub the cold butter cubes into the dry mixture until it resembles coarse crumbles 
  3. reserve in the refrigerator until ready to use.  

Strawberry Rhubarb Filling & assembly 
Makes enough for 8 servings 

3 c Strawberries, hulled & sliced
3 c Rhubarb, cut into bit-sized slices
1/2 c Granulated Sugar, divided
2 Tbl Lemon Juice
4 Tbl Cornstarch
2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
Chantilly Cream, as needed for serving

  1.  Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium sized bowl, stir together the rhubarb, strawberries, half of the sugar, and the lemon juice.  Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Once the fruit has macerated for at least 10 minutes, Take the remaining sugar & stir it together with the cornstarch. Add the sugar/starch mixture to the fruit & stir to combine.  Add the vanilla bean paste. 
  3. Place small ramekins onto a rimmed baking sheet. Portion the filling into the ramekins & top with several tablespoons of the streusel topping. {I used mini latte bowls from Anthropologie & I used approximately 1 heaping 1/2 cup of filling and 2 heaping Tablespoons of streusel topping} 
  4. Place the ramekins onto a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden, approximately 45 minutes, depending on the size of the dishes, or until the filling is very bubbly and the top has browned.  
  5. Cool slightly & serve with Chantilly Cream or vanilla ice cream.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Toasted Marshmallow Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

Since I started this blog, over 3 and a half years ago, one of my most popular recipes has been for Chocolate Stout Cake, made with Guinness beer.  I may be a little bit partial, but it has been one of my favorite cake recipes too.

Not too long ago, A friend of ours had a birthday & I was in charge of making some cupcakes for her birthday party celebration.  I love it when friends have birthdays because it gives me an excuse to make cake (or other dessert, if they are not cake people).

I asked her what kind of cake she would most like & immediately she requested cake with Guinness in it.  Excellent choice.

When brainstorming the icing, I thought about several options...  A simple chocolate ganache icing is lovely, as is the rather labor intensive Guinness-flavored buttercream I’ve previously posted about.  But, then I thought of marshmallows....

The peeps I made at Easter & brought to our brunch with friends were extremely popular.  If the peep meringue/marshmallow can be piped into shapes, why couldn’t it be piped onto the top of cupcakes?

As I opened the pantry to get out the sugar for the meringues, I had to move a bottle of Torani Toasted Marshmallow syrup, and a second inspiration hit: toasted marshmallow flavored marshmallows!

Just by adding a couple tablespoons of toasted marshmallow syrup to the meringue while it is whipping, the regular marshmallows flavor is deepened.  Easy peasy. Torching the marshmallow toppers just before service elevates the cupcakes to a higher level. So beautiful & so tasty.

p.s. Today also happens to be the birthday of my youngest sister.  Happy Birthday, sister!  

adapted from Epicurious.com
yields 24+ cupcakes
Note: due to the beer in this recipe, it cannot be adapted to be gluten free, unless you’ve found a gluten free stout....  

1 cup (8 fl oz) Stout Beer, such as Guinness
2 sticks (8 oz) Unsalted Butter
3/4 c (60 g) Cocoa Powder, preferably Dutch-process, sifted--I used Green and Blacks Cocoa
2 c (11 oz) AP Flour
2 c (14 oz) Granulated Sugar
1.5 tsp Baking Soda
3/4 tsp Salt

2 large eggs
2/3 c (159 g) Sour Cream
  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line cupcakes pan with 24 papers.  
  2. In a microwave-safe bowl, add the beer & unsalted butter.  Microwave until the butter is melted.  Whisk to combine the two.  Add the cocoa powder & whisk until smooth & there are not any lumps.  Set aside to cool slightly. 
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, soda & salt until the ingredients are well blended. 
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the sour cream and eggs.  Add the slightly cooled cocoa/stout/butter mixture.  Mix on low speed just to combine. Scrape down the sides. 
  5. Add the dry ingredients in several additions & beat on low speed until just combined.  Finish by removing the bowl from the mixer, scraping down the sides & stirring with spatula to ensure all the flour is combined.  
  6. Portion the batter into the muffin pans, filling the cups approximately 3/4 of the way.  I like to use a portion scoop.  (There may be leftover batter & I usually portion it into a large ramekin & bake an “extra” cake). 
  7. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through the process, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the center cupcakes comes out clean.  
  8. Transfer to a rack to cool, removing the cupcakes from the pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle.  Allow to cool completely. 

Note: this recipe MUST be made in a 6 qt mixer.  If yours is smaller, divide it into two batches.  And make sure that you use the splash guard.... You really, really do not want to be burned by super hot sugar.... 

2/3 c Cold Water
2 packets gelatin
14 oz (2 cups) Sugar
1/2 c Water
2 Tbl Toasted Marshmallow Syrup
2 tsp Vanilla Extract

  1.  Bloom gelatin in cold water in bowl of mixer  
  2.  stir together sugar & water & heat to softballs stage
  3.  With mixer running on low, pour syrup over gelatin.  Increase speed to medium for 3 minutes. Put on the splash guard.  Increase speed to high & beat for 3 additional minutes.
  4. Add the toasted marshmallow syrup & vanilla extract. Beat on high for an additional 7 minutes (splash guard is not necessary) 
  5. While the marshmallow is whipping, prepare a large piping bag by fitting it with a large star tip (I used an Ateco 828).  
  6. Once the marshmallow is very thick & holds its shape/a stiff peak, use a portion scoop to scoop it into the prepared piping bag.  
  7. Pipe rosettes onto the top of each cupcake, starting from the outside and ending in the center with a slight peak. Work quickly so that the marshmallow does not set up in the mixing bowl or in the piping bag.  
  8. Pipe any remaining marshmallow into star shapes on a sprayed, parchment-lined pan. 
  9. Allow the marshmallow-topped cupcakes to set at room temperature for an hour, then transfer to an airtight container. 
  10. Just before serving, torch each cupcake to caramelize the marshmallow & burn it slightly. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

If you follow me on Instagram, you may notice that I’m participating in Project Life 365.  I’m not just taking a photo every day (& instagramming it), but Project Life has created a specific word or phrase that the photo for that day should embody.  I’ve tried (and failed) several previous 365 projects, but so far, I have been successful with this one (fingers crossed).

Each photo I take for Project Life 365 is hashtagged with #projectlife365 and with a hashtag for that day’s word or phrase. Some days the theme is more challenging. Some days, I know instantly what image I would like to take.

Regardless, it’s fun to be a part of a community of photographers, both amateur and professional, all taking part in a common daily challenge.  I love scrolling through each day’s images & seeing how others have been inspired by that particular day’s theme.

Last week, one of the challenges was #upside_down.  Being the food-oriented person that I am, I immediately thought of an upside down cake.  And, it just so happened that I had an almost too ripe pineapple begging to be used. Voila! Project Life 365 inspired me to make this cake.

Several times in the past I have made pineapple upside down cake--my first ones probably with boxed cake mix.  But my later versions have all used the pineapple upside down cake recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.

When I discover a recipe that really works, it’s sometimes hard to try a new one for fear that it may not turn out as well as the previous version. I love that his recipe calls specifically for Vanilla Bean Paste--one of my favorite ingredients--and fresh pineapple--sometimes the canned pineapple is a little too mushy for me.

While Keller’s recipe suggests using a silicone pan, I did go out on a limb this time & I used my beloved cast iron skillet as the baking pan instead of the silicone.  We now use the cast iron on nearly a daily basis, and it practically lives on one of the back eyes of the stovetop!  My pan is well seasoned at this point, but I still gave it a brushing with some melted butter, just to add some extra insurance.  It worked perfectly!

There’s always something both wonderful and terrifying about building a dessert upside down.  The fruit has to be rearranged backwards, because what is the top when you’re assembling it will become the bottom once it is baked.

And I always feel a bit of hesitation before unmolding the dessert, because there is that element of surprise or unknown.  But I do love the feeling of satisfaction when the dessert is unmolded & the beautiful, slightly caramelized pineapple designs are visible.  I think it’s the perfect way to portray #upside_down.

Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home

note: the pan schmear makes more than what is needed for a single cake, but it is difficult to scale it down. I have tried just using all of the smear, but sometimes, I have found too much schmear makes the cake a little soggy. Store any leftovers in the fridge for a future use.  Or heat them to a boil (to dissolve the sugar) and use it as an extra sauce to pour over the already baked cake before serving. Also, if you can’t find Vanilla Bean Paste, feel free to substitute Vanilla Extract.  But as I mentioned before, VB Paste is one of my favorite ingredients, so even if you have to order it online, I highly suggest getting some!   

Pan Schmear 
1 stick/4 oz Unsalted Butter, room temperature
1 1/2 Tbl Honey
1/2 tsp Rum (I substituted Bourbon because I did not have any rum)
1 c Brown Sugar, packed
1/4 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste

  1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together all the ingredients.  Mix until smooth & slightly fluffy.  
  2. Spread 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the mixture into the bottom of a 9" silicone pan (or in my case, a lightly greased cast iron skillet).  Set aside.  

Cake & Assembly
1 pineapple
1 1/2 c Cake Flour (I used Jeanne's Gluten Free AP Flour Mix)
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 stick/4 oz Unsalted Butter, room temperature
1/2 c plus 2 Tbl Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
2 eggs, room temperature
1 Tbl + 1 tsp Milk, room temperature

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
  2. Prepare the pineapple.  Start by placing the pineapple on it’s side and cutting off the top and the bottom. Stand the pineapple up on a cutting board, so that it is resting on the bottom cut surface. Use a very sharp chef knife to slice off the skin of the pineapple, following the contours of the pineapple trying to cut only as much as necessary off.  Work your way around the pineapple until all the skin has been removed.  Once all the skin has been removed, turn the pineapple back onto its side & slice it into pieces approximately 1/8-inch to 1/4 inch in thickness.  Use a small circle cutter to cut out the core.  Leave in rings or cut into quarters.  Artfully arrange the pineapple over the schmear in the bottom of the pan.  Remember that the bottom will become the top!  You may not need all the pineapple.  
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour & baking Powder.  Sift if the flour is lumpy.  Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the softened butter & granulated sugar.  Mix on medium speed until the mixture is very fluffy, has lightened in color, and has increased in volume (approximately 3 minutes). Add the Vanilla Bean Paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed. Scrape down the bowl between additions.  
  6. Mix in the milk. Add the flour in two batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Mix just until combined.  
  7. Spread the cake batter evenly over the arranged pineapple slices.  
  8. Bake the cake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan & bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester (or toothpick) inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. 
  9. Allow the cake to cool at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes, but not any longer or else the cake may be difficult to get out of the skillet. 
  10. Run a knife, gently, around the side of the skillet to loosen the cake.  Place the intended serving plate or pedestal over the top of the skillet & flip.  Allow gravity to help loosen the cake.  If some of the pineapple remains in the pan, scoop it out & place it on it’s original location on the cake. No one ever has to know :)
  11. Serve warm.  Cover any leftovers & store at room temperature for up to 2 days.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Round Top Antiques Week Spring 2013

Twice a year, in the spring and in the fall, a GIANT antique festival occurs in the countryside  surrounding the tiny towns of Round Top and Warrenton, TX.  Throughout the fields, farms and towns, booths are set up by thousands of vendors, who come from all over the world.  Visitors & shopper, from near and far, hunt and search through the many wares.  Some booths are organized into specific venues (which may charge an admission fee) and others are just collections of vendor space crammed into a field.  Treasures can be found in a vast price range, from trinkets for just a dollar to very old pieces that go for tens of thousands of dollars.  The festival lasts over two weeks, but many of the most popular sites are open for just the last 5 or so days.  

The March issue of Martha Stewart Living featured a story about the festival. After reading the article several times, I knew that I wanted to go, especially since Round Top is within driving distance of where we live.  We even invited my husband's parents from South Carolina to visit us & together we would go explore the area surrounding the festival.  

We had only two full days to explore the miles and miles of vendors, so I did have to resign myself to knowing there was absolutely no way to see everything.  I started doing additional online research to see what were "must see" things and determined that we really needed to visit the Marburger Farm show one day and explore the fields surrounding Warrenton another day.   

Miraculously, I found lodging at the last minute in Bastrop, TX, so we only had a 50 mi trek every day.  Both Round Top and Warrenton are so small that they don't have much of any lodging options, and whatever options they do have are booked loooooong before the festival.  

Day 1: Marburger Farm Show

Of all the shows, the Marburger Farm show is one of the most curated.  It is one of the shows that is only open the last week of the festival & does require an admission fee, though once you pay & receive your wrist band, you can get back into the show on any future days too.  There are numerous tents, as well as outbuildings, stuffed to the gills with artfully decorated vendor spaces.  I was in heaven!

Unfortunately, it was unseasonably cold the day we visited, with cloudy skies and temperatures only reaching into the 40s.  We tried not to let the less than ideal weather keep our spirits down, though we did end up leaving for a bit to warm up & find somewhere with indoor space to eat lunch. The previous day it had been quite rainy, which thankfully didn't continue when we were there, but we did get to experience immense amounts of mud.  Many veteran shoppers prepared for the mud and wore rain boots--I know when I return for a future show, I will make sure I at least have some rain boots along in the car!  I wore my cowboy boots & they were quite muddy by the end of the day....

I loved the Marburger Farm show best for the inspiration & ideas it gave me. At this point in life, our small budget and small apartment do not allow us the luxury of purchasing expensive antiques. Believe me, there were plenty of things that I would have loved to take home. Beautiful furniture, linens, dishes, decor items, etc that all would have fit our style perfectly.  At least dreaming is free and I can look forward to the thought of perhaps someday visiting the show under different circumstances. 

Day 2: Warrenton & the surrounding areas 

On the second morning, we got on the road much later than I had originally planned and we hit the dreaded Antique Week traffic just outside of Warrenton.  I guess that it is just a fact of life when thousands of eager antique hunters all descend on a normally very tiny town.  

Thankfully the weather was much better for this second day, and we actually needed our sunscreen & hats. We found a field in Warrenton with free parking & set off to see as much as possible. There were booths as far as the eye could see.  This show had a much more industrial feel, mixed in with the vintage, antique and flea market wares. Lots of old (or possibly not old) rusty letters, old doors and windows, sculptural pieces, old street signs, architectural salvage, and even a couple of old airplanes! If you have ever seen the HGTV show Junk Gypsy, this also is where their ever popular booth (and Junk-o-rama Prom) are located.

Overall, the volume of things was quite a bit higher at this flea market/antique fair.  We were not just looking for treasures, we were hunting & digging through great piles for treasures.  And the prices were significantly lower.  Because this show had been open for  a number of days before we arrived, some areas were a little picked over. But at the same time, because the show was winding down, the vendors were more eager to sell things & were more willing to negotiate to lower prices.

We left the Round Top Antiques Week with ideas, fond memories, and a truly unique experience. I did get a few dessert molds & some mis-matched silverware, but primarily this visit was about inspiration & learning.  Already, we're taking what we learned from this show & planning a (hopeful) return in the fall for the next show!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake with Gluten Free Crust

No one is perfect, both in life nor the kitchen.  There is always the potential for things to go wrong, even when we think we have done everything right & followed the recipe to the T.  Even when you have extensive culinary training & experience.  Sometimes the recipe is wrong. Sometimes the problem is “operator error.”

Sometimes  the pastry cream is lumpy. Sometimes the cake is a little dry.  Sometimes the pie shell shrinks. Sometimes the cheesecake cracks. 

In my time of baking for fun & for work & teaching, I have learned a great deal of good baking “tricks”. I know a fair amount about food science & why ingredients behave the way they do.  Knowledge is great, but sometimes it makes us (or more specifically me) feel overly confident or prideful.  And there’s nothing like a cracked cheesecake to take you down a peg on the pride ladder.

I had not anticipated doing a blog post about this cheesecake.  I made it this past weekend for an Easter brunch we had with friends.  But, while I was mixing the batter & crushing the cookies for the crust, I suddenly thought perhaps I should do a post about the cheesecake.  I know some good tricks to ensuring the cheesecake doesn’t crack.

  1. Start with ingredients at room temperature to ensure they combine together better. 
  2. Don’t over mix the batter, as over mixing (or even mixing on too high a speed) incorporates unnecessary air.  That air can cause the cheesecake to puff too high in the oven & then crack when it settles. 
  3. Keep your oven at a low temperature
  4. Remove the cheesecake from the oven when the center is still jiggly.  The center should jiggle, not ripple with undercooked batter.  
I followed all the rules. and removed what appeared to be a perfectly baked lemon cheesecake.  It was beautiful! I set it on the cooling rack & went on to other tasks. Several minutes later, I glanced over at the cheesecake. Aaaand, there were several cracks!   I felt a bit humbled about my idea of sharing the perfect cheesecake.

Yes, I am working with a new-to-me oven in our new apartment.  Perhaps the oven temperature is off? Perhaps I baked it just a couple of minutes too long? Two ladies who would be the brunch are pregnant so I took the risk to ensure everything was well baked to keep both them & their babies safe from exposure to food borne illnesses.  

Some kitchen oopsies are hard to mask, but some you can fix.  The lumpy pastry cream can be strained.  The dry cake can be brushed with simple syrup.  The cracked cheesecake top can be covered. Though, the shrunken pie shell may be a little more difficult....

I had already planned to make a blueberry sauce to serve along side the cheesecake. Once the top cracked, I just revised my plan, thickened the sauce a bit more to make it more of a compote & spread it over the top of the cheesecake.  Cracks covered.

By adding the blueberry topping, no one ever has to know about those pesky cracks (unless those friends are also reading this blog).  Many times, I am overly apologetic about the shortcomings of my desserts. I nit-pick & point out all the things that are wrong & apologize profusely for those mistakes.  But honestly, most people don’t know what is wrong with a dessert until you point out the errors. I do like to make things that are both tasty & pretty, but tasty is the more important of the two.  Even a cracked cheesecake will still taste good.  

My hope is that this post will inspire you to several things.  Be humbly confident in your skills, not proud or over apologetic.  Own what you make--unless it truly is really terrible.... then just throw it away.  Learn from your mistakes. Don’t apologize for every little imperfection.  

Lemon Cheesecake with Gluten Free Cookie Crust
yields 1-9" cheesecake with approximately 12 to 16 servings 

8.85 oz Glutino Vanilla Sandwich Cookies (or 1 package minus about 3) 
2 oz Butter, melted 

8.05 oz Sugar
0.4 oz Lemon Zest (roughly 2 lemons) 
0.8 oz Cornstarch
2 lbs Cream Cheese, at room temperature
 2 ea Eggs, large, at room temperature
0.5 oz Lemon Juice
1 tsp Vanilla
8 oz Sour Cream, at room temperature 

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 F.  
  2. Blitz the cookies in the food processor until they become crumbs.  Mix with the melted butter & press into the bottom of a 9” spring form pan.  
  3. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, remove from the oven & set aside to cool slightly.  
  4. Infuse the granulated sugar with the lemon zest, by rubbing the zest into the sugar (using your fingers work best).  Add the cornstarch to the lemon sugar and mix until there are no lumps. 
  5. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the room temperature cream cheese with the lemon sugar/cornstarch mix on low speed until combined. Scrape down the bowl.
  6. Add the room temperature eggs & mix on low speed until just combined. Scrape down the bowl. Add the lemon juice, vanilla and sour cream and once again, mix on low speed until just combined. 
  7. Pour the cheesecake batter into the slightly cooled pre-baked crust.  Place the springform pan onto a sheet pan & slide into the oven.
  8. Bake the cheesecake approximately 1 hr and  5 minutes, or until the middle is still jiggly, but the batter does not ripple underneath the top crust.  
  9. Cool on a wire rack & refrigerate until ready to consume.  

yields enough for 1-9" cheesecake

12 oz frozen blueberries
5.25 oz sugar (3/4 c) 
pinch of salt
2 Tbl Lemon Juice
1Tbl Corn Starch
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1 Tbl Butter (optional) 

  1.  Heat blueberries, sugar & pinch of salt  over medium heat to release juices. Remove from heat. 
  2. Combine a little of the blueberry juice with the lemon juice & corn starch. Stir to make a slurry & add back into the pot.
  3. Return to stove & heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened & the blueberries have started to break down, at least 20 minutes.  
  4. Finish by stirring in the optional pinch of nutmeg & butter.  Remove from the heat & cool completely before pouring over the cheesecake.  Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.