Monday, April 25, 2011

Blackberry Banana Muffins

I cannot study at home.  It's impossible.  There are way too many distractions.  I might want to go back to bed and take a nap.  I might pull up a movie on Netflix to watch instantly.  I might wander over to the kitchen and spend my entire morning making cookies. 

No, it is much better for me to walk around the corner to my favorite cafe, with its incredibly creamy chai lattes and assortment of brownies.  Or one and a half more blocks from there to another amazing cafe, with their on-site roasted coffee, madeleines, and Nutella rolls.  Yes, these places are much more conducive to studying.

While the second cafe definitely wins out in the breakfast pastry category, their muffins leave something to be desired (and I'm sure this goes for all bakery muffins).  I was initially excited to try their Blackberry Banana Muffins, but the muffins weren't very banana-y, and the blackberries had all sunk to the bottom, creating a hole in the middle of the muffin.  Fortunately, those two problems are pretty easy to fix, and I set about making my own version of the muffins.

These muffins were a success.  They were best fresh out of the oven, of course, but they also made a pretty tasty breakfast the following two days.  I lightly coated the blackberries in flour before adding them to the muffin batter to prevent them from sinking, and it definitely did the trick - needless to say, muffins are much better when they're whole instead of hollow.  The whole wheat flour added a slightly nutty flavor to the muffins, as well as an excuse to eat them for breakfast.  I sprinkled the tops of the muffins with turbinado sugar before baking them, and I loved the extra crunch and sweetness it contributed. 

Not a fan of blackberries?  Neither is David.  I substituted the blackberries in half of the muffins for a combination of white and semisweet chocolate chips, and he gave them two big thumbs up.

Blackberry Banana Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large bananas
1 large egg, room temperature
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces blackberries (defrost if using frozen)

Turbinado sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease or line a 12-muffin tin.

Whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mash the bananas.  Mix in the egg, melted butter, milk, and vanilla extract.  Stir the banana mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined (don't overmix). 

Lightly coat the blackberries in flour and gently fold them into the muffin batter.  Divide equally among the muffin tins.  Sprinkle each one generously with the turbinado sugar.

Bake until the tops are pale golden, about 28-32 minutes.  Transfer to rack to cool.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Churros con Chocolate

In my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Granada, Spain.  From my first day there, I heard about churros con chocolate, but didn't know what they looked like or where to get them.  I went to bakeries and asked for churros con chocolate, but they didn't have any.  I checked the coffee shops, only to find out that the coffee shops were actually primarily bars.  Halfway through my semester, I finally found some at a place called Cafe Futbol.  The treat was not, as I had originally suspected, like Mexican churros filled with chocolate.  They were more donut-like, smooth instead of rigid, unadorned and accompanied by the thick Spanish hot chocolate that you were supposed to dip it into.  It was love at first bite.  My friends and I went there about once every other week to eat churros con chocolate, though we started going more and more during finals as we realized that we would soon have to leave everything in Spain behind.

Once we returned to San Diego, I searched for Spanish restaurants and cafes in the area that might have churros con chocolate, to no avail.  It didn't occur to me to try making them myself until three years later, when I was searching for a recipe for my host mom's chorizo lentil soup and stumbled across a recipe for churros con chocolate.  I excitedly tried the recipe, trying to improvise and use a cookie press, as I didn't have any large frosting tips.  It did not turn out so good.

Cafe Futbol churros

I shelved the idea in favor of new projects, until a tapas bar opened near my apartment and reminded me of my favorite Spanish treat.  I decided to try again, using a different recipe and a large coupler instead of a star tip.

These churros are smaller, but taste just like I remember - crispy on the outside, soft and custardy on the inside.  The hot chocolate is rich and thick - almost like a cross between fudge sauce and pudding.  Served together, they're as warm and comforting as cookies and milk.

Churros con Chocolate
Adapted from Chocolateria San Gines, Madrid, Spain

8 cups vegetable oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar

Heat oil to 360 degrees Farenheit.

Heat water, butter, and salt to rolling boil in a 3 quart saucepan.  Add flour and stirr vigorously over low heat until it forms a ball (about 1 minute).  Remove from heat.

Beat eggs until smooth, and add to saucepan while continuously stirring mixture.

Spoon dough into piping bag.  Squeeze 4-inch strips into oil.  Fry for 3 or 4 minutes until golden brown, turning once halfway through.  Drain on paper towels.

Spanish Hot Chocolate

2 ounces dark chocolate
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar

Place chocolate and half of milk in saucepan and cook over very low heat, stirring, until chocolate has melted.  Dissolve cornstarch and sugar into remaining milk and whisk into the chocolate.  Cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until chocolate thickens (it will take about 5 minutes).  Remove from heat and whisk til smooth; pour into mugs.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

The only compliment/encouragment I ever got from my piano teacher is that I'm very "stick-to-itive".  I'm not sure if she thought that was a good or bad thing.  At any rate, my stick-to-itiveness came in handy when making this cinnamon sugar pull-apart bread.

I've never worked with yeast before.  I've always been a bit scared, as there are certain things you need to do when yeast is involved, like kneading, rising, and waiting, and those are three things that I am not very good at.  Plus, there are so many opportunities for things to go wrong.  For example, what if while the dough was rising, I left my apartment to run an errand and got distracted by a butterfly and chased it all around town?  The dough would just sit there, and it would keep rising and rising, getting bigger and bigger, until the confines of my apartment complex couldn't contain it anymore, and it would become so big that it gained sentience like The Blob and it would plop its blobby self around the city proclaiming, "Feed me!  Glluuurgh!" and it would just completely smother the entirety of California.  I do not want to be responsible for the destruction of civilization, no siree. 

Still, I knew that I had to conquer my fear of screwing up if I ever wanted to eat this cinnamon sugar pull-apart bread.  Seriously - how could you not persevere when the end goal is this browned-butter-and-cinnamon-sugar-slathered loaf that you pull apart, sheet by delicious sheet?  I love peeling things, like dried glue off of fingernails and sunburnt skin off my shoulder.  So this?  It's like having a sheet of scratch-and-sniff stickers that you can eat.  Plus, if cats can knead, then I should be able to do it, too.  Right?

As it turns out, maybe not.  After letting the dough rise for the first time, I tried kneading the dough, following the instructions given in an eHow article.  After a while, I realized that I still had no idea what I was doing.  It said to turn the dough, but was I supposed to make a quarter turn?  Turn it halfway around?  Flip it over?  And it said to push the dough forward with the palm of my hand, but how far forward?  So confusing!  Then I got the brilliant idea of checking YouTube, and found this very helpful video from Epicurious.  Note to self - check to see if  there's an Epicurious tutorial before trying anything new again. 

As I kneaded the dough, I realized that the dough wasn't becoming elastic, like the tutorial said it would.  Then it occured to me that maybe when the instructions told me to let the dough rise somewhere warm, it meant a place more warm and humid than my San Diego living room.  And you're probably thinking how I could possibly not notice that the dough hadn't risen, but like I said, I've never done this before!  I wasn't sure how it was supposed to look.  I was just glad that it hadn't gained sentience yet.

After reading some internet comment boards, I decided to bring some water to a boil in the microwave, and afterwards, stuck the bowl of dough in with the steaming cup of water, and let it rise for another hour.

So at this point, I had already messed up quite a bit.  I might have overkneaded the dough.  I added the last of the flour before the dough had a chance to rise.  I let the dough sit around for an hour at room temperature.  I wasn't sure if I had completely messed it up or not, but I figured I could try going through with the bread anyways, and try again if it didn't turn out.

I ended up rolling out the dough to 22 inches instead of 20 inches.  Instead of having pretty little squares to stack into the pan, I had crooked rectangles.  Oh well.

I let it rise again, using the same microwave technique.  I got distracted on the phone with my mom and let it rise a little too long.  I forgot to preheat the oven.  The loaf sat for a while before going in.

In the end?  It tasted the way it was supposed to taste (delicious).  Did it look pretty?  Not really.  Did I care?  Definitely not.  After all, it's not the outside, but the warm, soft, cinnamony, buttery inside that counts.

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread
Adapted from Joy the Baker


2 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons AP flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsalted butter (half stick)
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted until browned

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.  Set aside.

Whisk together eggs and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter until the butter has melted.  Remove from heat and add water and vanilla extract.  Let stand until the temperature of the mixture reduces to 115 - 125 degrees Farenheit.

Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and mix with a spatula.  Add the eggs and mix until the eggs are incorporated.  Add 3/4 cup flour and mix with spatula until incorporated.  The dough will be sticky.

Transfer the dough to a large, greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel.  Place in a warm space and let rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

*The dough can be risen then refrigerated overnight for use in the morning.  If you do this, allow the dough to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before continuing to the next step.

While the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg for the filling.  Set aside.  Melt 2 ounces of butter until browned.  Set aside.  Grease and flour a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.  Set aside.

Once the dough has risen, transfer to a lightly-floured surface.  Deflate the dough and knead the last 2 tablespoons of flour into the dough.  The dough won't be sticky anymore, and when you poke the dough with your finger, the indentation will stay.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes. 

Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to 12 inches tall and 20 inches long.  Use a pastry brush the spread the browned butter across all the dough.  Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly over the dough.  Yes, it's a lot of sugar.  Yes, you should use it all.

Slice the dough vertically into six equally-sized strips.  Stack the strips on top of each other.  Slice the stack into six again.  You'll have six stacks of squares.  Layer the dough squares on the loaf pan like dominos.  Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and put it in a warm place to rise again for 30-45 minutes, or almost doubled in size.

While it's rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  When the dough has finished rising, place the loaf in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is very golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let the loaf rest for 20-30 minutes.  Run a butter knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the bread and invert it onto a clean plate.  Place your serving plate on top of the upside-down loaf and carefully flip it over again, so it's right side up.

The loaf can be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for up to two days.  But it probably won't last that long.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Puppy Cake Pops

Remember how in my last post, I mentioned that my sister-in-law asked me to make either an airplane or puppy cake for my nephew's first birthday?  And remember how I cut up a 9x13 cake into the shape of a plane, leaving me with quite a bit of scraps and crumbs?

Well, with the leftover cake scraps, I made some adorable puppy cake pops!

I mixed the cookies & cream cake crumbs with about 1/4 of a canister of store-bought cream cheese frosting (I have no idea why, but store-bought seems to do a better job of holding them together).  I rolled them into quarter-size balls.  I dipped the lollipop sticks in candy coating before sticking them into the cake balls so that the cake wouldn't fall off the sticks.

Once you have your cake pops, here's how you make your puppies:

Puppy Cake Pops
Adapted from Cake Pops


Peanut butter candy melts
Chocolate candy melts
Candy writers (dark brown)
Mini M&Ms
Lifesavers (I used the gummi ones, because I didn't want the toddlers to choke on the hard ones)


Edible ink pen
Clear plastic spoons
Squeeze bottle
Styrofoam block

Dip the cake pops in melted peanut butter candy coating - dunk straight down, lift staight up, and allow the coating to drip back into the bowl.  Stick the pop into the styrofoam block to dry.

To make the ears:
-Draw an elongated tear drop with a Sharpie on the back of the clear plastic spoon.
-Flip spoon over.  On the inside of the spoon, trace and fill in the tear drop with either the candy writer of a squeeze bottle filled with melted chocolate candy coating. 
- Place in the freezer a few minutes to set
- Remove and pop the ears off the spoon and store in a dry place until ready to use

To make the nose:
- Cut a brown mini M&M in half
- Use a candy writer to draw a nose on wax paper.  Let dry and set aside until ready to use.

To assemble:
- Use the candy writer or melted chocolate coating as glue to attach the pieces to the pops.
- Place a drop of chocolate on the back of the pre-made nose and attach to the pop.
- Use the edible ink pen to draw the eyes and mouth
- Use glue method to attach the ears and the Lifesaver collars.
- Allow the pops to dry before serving.

Advice from Alli:
- I actually had a very difficult time with the squeeze bottle method - the candy kept solidifying after a couple minutes in the bottle, blocking off the opening. I would recommend trying the candy writers. Try to make the ears thick - mine were too thin, which made it difficult to "glue" them to the pops.
- Do not refrigerate the pops before assembling and decorating.  The chocolate "glue" would harden before I got the chance to add the appendages.  Furthermore, the condensation on the pops made it hard to draw the eyes and mouth.
- If it's a warm day and you need to transport them somewhere, try putting them in a cooler.  The day of the party was very sunny, and the ears and collars ended up melting off the puppies on the way!