Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake

It’s Halloween and I’m helping to throw a Halloween party.  As part of that I’ve made a pumpkin cheesecake (recipe courtesy of Good Housekeeping).  It’s my first attempt at a real cheesecake and not one of those refrigerator varieties.  I think it’s turned out well, though I have yet to cut into it as the party is tonight.  The recipe isn’t overly complicated.  There is a water bath, but it’s nothing too hard to deal with.

Crust mise en place

This is the mise en place for the graham cracker crumb crust.

Crust dry ingredients

The graham cracker crumbs and sugar go into a bowl.

Crust mixed together

Then get mixed together with the melted butter until thoroughly coated and slightly moist.

Crust in the pan

The crust gets pressed into the bottom of a springform pan.  The crust then gets baked for about 10 minutes to set up.  After cooling on a wire rack, it is ready for the cheesecake batter.

Pumpkin cheesecake mise en place

Next up is the batter for the cheesecake.  This is the mise en place for it.

Cream cheese about to be mixed

First, the cream cheese gets mixed until it is smooth.

Cream cheese all mixed

Then the sugar gets mixed in.

Pumpkin and other goes in.

The pumpkin, sour cream, and spices also get mixed in.

Batter fully mixed

Finally, the eggs get mixed in, one at a time.

Ready for baking

After making sure that the batter is thoroughly mixed, it goes into the springform pan.  The pan here is wrapped in aluminum foil and placed into a large roasting pan.  The foil helps make sure that no water gets into the cake since the springform pans isn’t water tight.

At this point, boiling water goes into the roasting pan and everything goes into the oven to bake for an hour to an hour and a half.

Topping mise en place

While the cake is baking, the topping can be made.  This is the mise en place for the topping.

Topping ready to be mixed

It’s a quick and easy topping.  Everything just goes into a bowl.

Topping ready for spreading

And gets whisked together.  When the cheesecake is nearly done, the topping should be spread on top the cake.  The cheesecake goes back into the oven to bake for another five minutes.

Fully baked

Here is the final cheesecake cooling on a wire rack after baking.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

It’s fall now and nothing says fall to me like pumpkin bread.  Pumpkin bread is a type of quick bread.  While it’s called bread, it is really more of cake in the shape of a loaf of bread.  This recipe could also be used to make it in the shape of a normal cake and then iced.

This recipe is extremely easy to make and is very forgiving of mistakes.  You could use fresh pumpkin and make it a little more “home made” but would result in a much more involved recipe.

Here is the recipe that I use:

3 cups Granulated Sugar

1 cup Vegetable Oil

4 Eggs

15 oz Canned Pumpkin

3 1/2 cup All Purpose Flour

2 tsp Salt

2 tsp Baking Soda

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Nutmeg

1 tsp Cinnamon

1 tsp Ground Allspice

2/3 cup Water

Mise en place

Here is the mise en place for the pumpkin bread.

Oil and sugar

First the sugar and oil get mixed together.

Oil and sugar after mixing

Here they are after being creamed together.

4 beaten eggs

Next up is the eggs.  They get lightly beaten before being added.

Eggs mixed into the oil and sugar mixture

This is the mixture after the eggs were added.

Pumpkin gets added

The pumpkin goes in and gets mixed well.

Dry ingredients

The dry ingredients all get measured out into a separate bowl and mixed together.

Final batter

Then the dry ingredients get mixed into the pumpkin mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the water.  This alternating procedure lets you get all the flour mixed in without clumping or over mixing the batter.

Loaf pans ready for baking

The batter gets evenly divided into two loaf pans.  They get baked in a 350 degrees oven for 40-60 minutes.

After baking, still in the pan

When it is done the bread should have pulled a little away from the sides of the pan and a skewer should come out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf.

The loaves should be cooled for about 10 minutes in the pans before turning out and cooling the rest of the way on a wire rack.

Final loaf

Here’s the final loaf.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Portuguese Sweet Bread

This week I decided to make some Portuguese Sweet Bread.  It is sometimes called Hawaiian bread due to its popularity there.  The recipe for this once again came from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

This bread is somewhat rich from the butter and egg.  It is also a little citrusy.  The bread is good on its own, but makes for some outstanding French toast.

Mise en place for the sponge

This is the mise en place for the sponge for the bread.

Sponge's dry ingredients

First, the dry ingredients go into a bowl and mixed.

Sponge all mixed

The sponge gets water added and mixed together.

The sponge after fermenting

The sponge sits for an hour or two until its extremely bubbly and ready to collapse onto itself.

Mise en place for the dough

This is the mise en place for the dough, minus salt.

Butter, milk, and sugar

The butter, sugar, and dry milk are measured and ready for mixing.

Creamed butter and sugar

Then they all get creamed together.

Dough with the eggs and extracts

The eggs and extracts get mixed into the butter until smooth.

Kneaded dough

Then the bread flour gets kneaded in for about 10 minutes.  It should pass the windowpane test, when the dough can be spread out so that you can see through it.

The fermenting dough

The dough shaped into a ball and set in an oiled bowl.  It then has to ferment for about two hours.

Shaped and proofing

At that point, the dough get “punched down” and reshaped into a ball.  It then gets placed into an oiled pie tin and left on the counter to proof for another two hours.

Close up of the proofing dough

Here is a shot of the dough, with the skin pulled tight.

Dough baking

After the proofing period, it gets brushed with egg wash and baking in the oven for 50 minutes.

Bread after baking

After baking, the crust gets a deep mahogany brown.

Sliced bread

And here is a final shot of the bread in slices.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spicy Peanut Butter Cookies

This week I bring you my own recipe for spicy peanut butter cookies.  Peanut butter cookies are some of my favorite kind of cookie.  These were inspired a few years back by finding a spicy peanut butter in a grocery store.  It was “The Heat Is On” peanut butter from Peanut Butter & Co.  They make some other great peanut butter flavors that can also be substituted in this recipe.  This particular spicy peanut butter add heat with chili powder, cayenne peppers, crushed red peppers, and paprika.  The resulting peanut butter cookie isn’t overly spicy, but has a nice flavor and a slow burn that hits you over time.  The spicy peanut butter can sometimes be found in normal grocery stores or Whole Foods.  If you can’t find any, the company does ship it on their website.

Here’s the recipe (makes about 3-4 dozen cookies):

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 & 1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup spicy peanut butter (The Heat Is On)

1 cup softened butter

2 large eggs

2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Some extra granulated sugar

mise en place

Here is the mise en place for the cookies.

Creamed butter and sugar

Like most cookies, these start with creaming the butter with the sugar.  In this cake, it also includes the peanut butter.  Some peanut butter cookie recipes call for adding the peanut butter after the dry ingredients have been added, I’ve found it easier to do at the beginning.  Mixing at the end tends to cause you to over mix the flour and you end up with tough cookies.

Two eggs

Here are the two eggs about to go into the cookie dough.

Mix in the eggs

Here is the cookie dough after adding the eggs.

Mixed in the dry ingredients

This is the final cookie dough after the dry ingredients have been mixed in.  It should still be pretty sticky, but firm enough to shape into balls and hold its shape.

Rolled into balls

The dough then gets rolled into balls about 1 & 1/2 inches in diameter and placed onto a baking sheet.  I always prefer using a silpat covered air bake cookie sheet when baking cookies.

Pressed and ready to bake

Then dip a fork into the extra sugar and press down each cookie twice.  Once in one direction, the second time in the opposite direction.  You’ll want to dip the fork into the sugar between each press so that it doesn’t stick to the cookie.  If you are making different flavors of peanut butter cookies, you can experiment with different utensils and creating a different pattern on top each flavor of cookie.  That way you can tell which flavor is which.


Here are the cookies after baking for about 11 minutes.  There is one missing because my wife couldn’t wait until I took the picture to eat one.

Close up

And of course, here is a close up of one of the cookies.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Road Block Threadcake

A few weeks ago I learned of the Threadcakes contest from Threadless.  It definitely sounded like something that I should participate in, so my wife and I set about planning.  Having only made one carved and fondant cake prior to this cake (an armadillo grooms cake), we had no doubt that we’d get anywhere near to winning. 

The competition basically is to create a cake based upon one of the shirts that Threadless sells.  We decided upon the Road Block shirt.  It wasn’t so detailed that it would take forever to create or be hard to cover with fondant, but was interesting enough to make a good cake.  If you want to skip to the entry page at Threadcakes you can go directly there.

For the cake we used the chiffon cake recipe from the Culinary Institute of America’s Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft.  We used a store bought fondant for covering as well as store bought pre-mixed gum paste. We used a simple vanilla butter cream frosting rather than the more complicated icing I’d normally use.

Mise en place

Here is the mise en place for the cake.

Wet ingredients

The wet ingredients get measured out.  This is the first of two half-sheet cakes that we made for the cake.  Each half sheet cake used about 25 eggs.

Wet ingredients all mixed

The wet ingredients get mixed and then set aside.

Dry ingredients

Then it’s time for the dry ingredients.

Ingredients mixed

Then the wet meets the dry in slow increments.


And once again a merinque gets made.

Meringue getting folded in

And then folded slowly into the mixture to give it an extra fluffy texture.

Finished cake batter

There was so much batter that I wasn’t sure it’d fit into my large kitchen aid mixer, so for the first batch I ended up splitting the batter into two bowls.

Ready for baking

Then the batter goes into the pan and into the oven to bake.

After baking

Here is the cake after baking.  A half sheet cake is quite a large cake.

Cake corner close up

A nice close up of a corner of the cake.

Cake base gets started

Now comes time to start carving.  This is a leveled piece that is ready for frosting.  This piece will eventually become the base of the final cake.

Second layer for the base

The base gets frosted and stacked two cakes high.  The whole thing was then frosted and put into the fridge to harden the frosting so that applying the fondant is easier.

Coloring gum paste

Then it was time to color all the gum paste and fondant for the cake.  I did them all in one sitting and then set them aside inside plastic bags to keep them soft.

Forming the ice cream truck

Then it was time to frost and carve the ice cream truck for the cake.  It was three cakes high.

Iced ice cream truck

Here is the truck after carving and icing.

Rolling out fondant

This is the orange fondant for the base of the cake all rolled out.  I ended up doing a poor job of rolling and in the end you could definitely tell that the fondant wasn’t all of the same thickness.  I’ve earned a new appreciation for rolling pin spacers, though since the pieces of fondant was so large, I would have needed a larger rolling pin.  Also, you’ll notice here one of my favorite kitchen item, the rollpat.  It is basically a large version of a silpat that is specifically designed to roll things out on.  I don’t end up getting to use it often enough since I rarely have space for it to be laid out.  It is also the perfect surface for kneading bread.

Covered base

The base of the cake gets covered with the orange fondant.  We ended up getting tears at most of the corners.  Also, I’m not quite sure how to get the vertical edges to be perfect.  We ended up using kitchen scissors and cutting the excess down off the edges and then smoothing the pieces together.

Early walrus

Here is an early incarnation of the walrus.  We decided to make him out of rice crispy treat since it would be easier to shape that way than trying to carve cake.

Gum paste legs

Then it was time to make the ice cream man.  He is made entirely from gum paste.  These are early legs that turned out too large for the cake.  Also, we discovered that putting some vegetable shortening on your fingers and working a little into the gum paste will stop it from drying out so quickly or sticking to your fingers.

Drying gum paste

Here is the gum paste ice cream man drying.  Next to him is two sets of tusks for the walrus.  We made two because we weren’t sure of the final size of the walrus.

Shaping the walrus wrinkles

Here is the walrus after being covered with fondant and in the process of further shaping of the fondant.

Walrus underside

And just to prove that he is rice crispy treat, here is the underside of the walrus.

Cutting out windows

We put squares of the grey fondant onto the ice cream truck where the doors and windows would be.  Then covered the entire truck with white fondant and cut out the windows and doors.  After that we combined black gel food dye with vodka to create a dye to paint on the details of the truck.

Finished walrus

Here is the walrus with his large tusks and having been sprayed with some black spray food dye for shading.

All finished pieces

And here are all the final pieces, prior to assembling them on the cake.

The base

And now it’s time for assembly.  Here is the base of the cake.

Base and walrus

The walrus goes on first.

Base, walrus, and ice cream man

Followed by the ice cream man.

Adding dowels

Then we put some dowels into the cake to hold the ice cream truck up off the cake so that the wheels would look more realistic.

Adding ice cream truck

Then the ice cream truck went onto the cake.

Finished cake

Here is the final cake with all pieces on.

Walrus face

And a close up of the walrus’s face.

Ice cream man

And the ice cream man.

Ice cream truck

And the ice cream truck.

Alternate view of the cake

Here is the cake from a different view.  My wife insisted on painting on the headlights for the ice cream truck so that it’d be more realistic.

Piece cut out of the base

And then came the hard part.  For the competition you had to take pictures of you cutting into everything to prove that it was cake.

Piece of the base

This is the piece we cut out of the base.

Piece of the truck

And this is the piece cut out of the ice cream truck.

Ice cream truck with a piece cut out

This is ice cream truck after the carnage.

All in all it was a fun process, even if it took longer than we thought.  But we definitely learned a lot about cake decorating and got a new appreciation for those that do it for a living.