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    Entries in artificial colors scare me (11)

    Friday
    Oct252013

    Let's Make Whoopie for Halloween!

    Whoopie pies, that is.  Growing up in Utah, we didn’t have whoopie pies.  The closest thing I ever had before moving to New England was a Hostess Susie Q, and those are not whoopie pies.  For those of you who have never had a whoopie pie, let me assure you, you are seriously missing out.  Since moving to Massachusetts they have become one of my favorite treats.  I mean, what’s not to love?  Chocolate cake loaded with tons of fluffy frosting that you can pick up and eat straight from your hand. Laaaaaa.  Yes, that’s me singing about cake.  We’d better get started.

    Here’s what you’ll need. 

    For the cake:

    ½ cup butter, softened
    ½ cup sugar
    ½ cup brown sugar
    1 egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    2 cups flour
    ½ cup cocoa
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    ½ teaspoon baking powder
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 cup buttermilk

    For the icing:

    ½ cup butter, softened
    1 Tablespoon vanilla
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    2 cups carrot juice

    Preheat your oven to 350°.  (Yes!  I remembered!)  Ahem.  Next, line a sheet pan with parchment. 

    Maybe you can cut straighter than me.  Looks like I was drunk when I did that.  Oh well, it’ll work.  Sift your flour, cocoa, soda, powder, and salt into a mixing bowl. 

    Cocoa has lots of lumps. 

    Just press them through with the back of a spoon or your fingers.  See?  Nice and fluffy with no lumps.

    Now, just whisk it until everything is evenly distributed and set it aside while you start on the wet ingredients.  It is very important that everything is room temperature.  If you’ve forgotten to pull things out ahead of time, you can place your egg into hot water for 10 minutes, and you can microwave your buttermilk for a few seconds, just to get everything to room temperature.  If you introduce cold ingredients to your butter, it will get hard… I mean stiff… I mean... whatever, not going there.  So, put your room temperature butter into your mixing bowl along with both sugars. 

    Cream them for a minute or two until it’s nice and smooth.

    Add your room temperature egg and vanilla.

    When those are fully incorporated, scraping everything down so that nothing is left out.  Then it’s time to start adding the dry ingredients and buttermilk.  (By the way, if you don't have any buttermilk on hand, and have all the other ingredients, you can read about buttermilk substitutions here.)  Add about a third of the dry ingredients. 

    Then half of the buttermilk.

    Repeat until everything is added.  I like to just leave the mixer running on a low speed while I do that.  Don’t forget to scrape everything down again.  I know, I’m a total nag.  So, whoopie pies are traditionally fairly large.  Since they’re handheld, I prefer them to be a much more reasonable size for a single serving.  I mean, if you have to cut it in half, what’s the point of being able to pick it up, right?  So, scoop a barely domed tablespoon of batter, and drop it onto the sheet pan. 

    You’ll probably have to use a spatula to scrape the batter out of the measuring spoon.  Or, if you have a small cookie scoop, that would work well for this.  Leave a couple inches between them so they can spread. 

    Place the pan into your preheated oven and bake them for 8-ish minutes.  When they’re done, you would be able to press them gently on top and they’ll spring back.  They should look something like this:

    Want to make big, traditional whoopie pies?  Scoop out ¼ cup of batter and drop it onto the baking sheet. 

    Make sure you leave plenty of room again. 

    Bake them for about 12 – 13 minutes, using the same test to check for doneness. 

    Allow them to cool for a few minutes on the pan, and then remove them to a cooling rack.  Or, if you don’t have a cooling rack, (apparently I haven’t bought those yet) you can just slide the whole sheet of parchment off of the pan and reline it for the next batch.  While they’re cooling, it’s time to start on the icing.  Because I’m making these for Halloween, I wanted them to have orange frosting.  If you want to leave it white, or if you want to just add a few drops of artificial coloring, you’re welcome to skip the next step.  If you want orange icing using a natural option, pour 2 cups of carrot juice into a small sauce pan over medium high heat.  I just used a small bottle of this:

    Bring it to a boil and allow it to reduce, occasionally swirling or stirring to keep it from burning.

    When it has given up most of its water, the bubbles will begin to stack up on top of each other and it will begin to thicken somewhat.  You’re shooting for about 2 tablespoons.  Pour it into a small glass dish and set it somewhere to cool.  I just put mine out on the porch since it’s so cold.  You can see here how thick and intensely colored it is.

    Now for the icing.  This time you want to whip the butter before you add any of the sugar. 

    Mix in one tablespoon of vanilla.  No, you didn’t misread that.  I said tablespoon.  Now, sift in 2 cups of powdered sugar. 

    I’m going to be a nag again here.  Please, please use organic powdered sugar.  It really makes a world of difference in flavor.  Ok, stepping down off my soapbox.  Now, mix until it comes together and starts to look like icing, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl periodically.  When it’s nice and fluffy and smooth, add the reduced carrot juice.  If you’re not using the carrot juice, add 2 tablespoons of cream or milk instead.  Mix until it’s a nice even color, then sift in as much of the remaining sugar as it takes to make a good spreading consistency.  I used the whole cup, but it’s pretty humid here.  When you’re finished, you should have something resembling this:

    Take one of your cooled cake cookie things, and turn it upside down.

    Spoon on lots of icing.  (probably a heaping tablespoon for the small ones)

    Spread it out a bit. 

    Then place another cake on top. 

    Voila, you have made a whoopie pie!  After icing and sandwiching all of the remaining cakes, place them into the fridge to set up.  Pull them out for about 20 or 30 minutes before serving or eating. 

    Maybe you prefer the big ones, but personally I like them small. 

     

    See, perfect size for holding and eating.

       

    Friday
    Feb082013

    With These Cookies, Who Needs a Valentine?

    As you may know, we’re not really big fans of Valentine’s Day around here.  This year, that happens to be a good thing, because Hubby will be out of town for work.  In some marriages, leaving town on your wife’s birthday and missing Valentine’s Day would be grounds for divorce, so it’s lucky he’s married to me.  Not saying he doesn’t owe me.  I have a feeling there might soon be a lovely piece of Le Creuset with my name on it.  But I digress.  I decided Valentine’s Day was a perfect excuse for my first attempt at making those soft sugar cookies I listed as something I want to try in our year end post.  It did not disappoint. 

    Here’s what you’ll need:

    • ½ cup butter
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 2 eggs
    • ½ cup sour cream
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 3 cups flour
    • ¼ cup cornstarch
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • ¼ teaspoon salt

    As always, make sure your ingredients are all at room temperature before starting.  In a mixing bowl, beat your butter so it’s nice and soft, then add the sugar. 

    Cream those together until it becomes light in color.  It’ll probably take two or three minutes. 

    Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly in between. 

    When those are incorporated, go ahead and add the vanilla. 

    Next comes the sour cream.  If you forgot to pull it out ahead of time like I did, just put it in a plastic bag (with a little extra to make up for the bit that will stick to the bag) and place it in warm water for a  few minutes.

    Then simply snip off the corner of the bag, and squeeze it into the bowl.

    At this point, it won’t be a very appealing batter, but don’t worry. 

    In a separate bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients.  I actually sifted mine because sometimes cornstarch can be a bit lumpy.  And speaking of cornstarch, you’re probably wondering why on earth I’m putting it in sugar cookies in the first place.  Well, believe it or not, there is a purpose.  The cornstarch lowers the protein level, making the cookies more tender. 

    Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix just until al all comes together. 

    At this point, the dough is way too soft for rolling and cutting, so lay out a piece of plastic and glop on about half of the dough. 

    Then roll it into a nice log shape.  Repeat with the other half and place them both into the fridge overnight. 

    Before baking the cookies, you’ll want to start on the frosting.  The first batch I made using the fabulous frosting I made for my raspberry cupcakes.  Fabulous cookies + fabulous frosting = uber fabulousness, right?  Wrong!  I call that fabulous frosting for a reason.  It is… on cake. With these cookies (which are also fabulous) it was horrible.  Did I mention this was my first attempt?  Ok, so after much pondering, I finally decided what these need is something that is more closely related to fudge than frosting.  I know, it sounds like I’ve gone off the deep end, but stick with me, and you’ll see what I mean. 

    Here’s what you’ll need:

    • ¼ cup cream
    • ¾ cup water
    • 2 ½ cups sugar
    • 2 Tablespoons brown rice syrup (or corn syrup if that’s all you have)
    • 3 Tablespoons butter
    • 1 Tablespoon vanilla

    Now, because these cookies usually have pink frosting, and because it’s Valentine’s Day, I also decided to make my frosting pink.  As you know, we don’t use artificial dyes, so I made my own coloring.  I happened to have blood orange juice on hand, but really any red juice will do.  If you have pomegranate or cranberry or something, it’ll work just as well.  Bring 1 cup of juice to a rolling boil. 

    Allow it to cook down until you have somewhere about 2 Tablespoons.  It took mine about 6 or 7 minutes.  The color will become very deep.  Mine is a bit reminiscent of a saucepan of blood, no? 

    Anyway, pour the red stuff into a small heatproof dish and set it aside to cool. 

    Next up, butter a pyrex pan, set it atop hot pads or a kitchen towel, and place 3 tablespoons of butter inside it. 

    Place the cream, water, sugar, and syrup in a large saucepan over medium heat. 

    Stir constantly until the mixture comes to a full boil. 

    Place on the lid and leave it for 2 minutes. 

    During that time, wash your spoon or get a clean one (it needs to be absolutely crystal free) and grab a small dish of ice cold water.  When you remove the lid, it’s time to start testing for temperature. 

    Dip in the clean spoon, and drop a little bit into the cold water. 

    When it’s ready, you should just be able to scrape it together into a blob and pick it up.  It won’t really hold any kind of shape. 

    When you get to that point, carefully pour the very hot liquid into your prepared pan. 

    As it sits, the butter will melt, so just walk away and allow it to cool for a while. 

    This is probably a good time to start on the cookies, so preheat your oven to 350°.  Go ahead and pull out one of your logs of dough.  Place half of it onto a generously floured surface.  (I find it easier to work with half at a time.)

    Sprinkle the dough with flour and roll it to about ½ inch thick. 

    A 2 – 2.5 inch cutter works best for these. 

    Pat off any excess flour from the top and bottom, then place them onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  They will spread slightly, so leave an inch or so between them. 

    Bake the cookies for 10 – 11 minutes.  They will be nicely domed and dry on top, but no signs of browning. 

    Immediately move them, parchment and all, to a cooling rack. 

    Now back to the frosting.  If you’ve made fudge, this process will be very familiar to you.  First, just do a quick check to make sure it hasn’t crystallized.  Sticky/syrupy is what we’re shooting for.  Perfect. 

    For what will end up a nice pastel pink, add 1 Tablespoon of your homemade food coloring.  Also, add 1 Tablespoon of vanilla.

    You’ll need a sturdy utensil for this part.  I like a wooden spatula.  Basically just start stirring.  Scrape the edges toward the center and just kind of gently move it around until the butter, color, and vanilla are incorporated. 

    I know exactly what you’re thinking right now.  “Taneasha, I don’t know what you’ve been smoking, but that is NOT pastel pink.”  And you’re right, but trust me, it will be.  Just keep stirring.  Slowly, it will start to become slightly opaque.  But still very syrupy, so keep stirring. 

    A bit more opaque.

    Even more opaque, but still quite runny. 

    And finally, a mixture that is opaque, no longer shiny, and still soft, but will hold its shape.  Now, there are a lot of factors that come into play in determining how long this process will take, so I can’t really tell you that.  It might take 15 minutes, or it might be closer to an hour.  Just know that once you see it becoming opaque, it will eventually happen. 

    Spread it as thick or thin as you like.  The ones  you see in the store have just about as much frosting as cookie, so that’s what I did. 

    And speaking of the ones in the store, they are loaded with all kinds of preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and who knows what else, and they’ve got nothin’ on these.  Not to pat myself on the back too much, but as first attempts go, this one was a homerun.  Just look at the amazing soft interior of these cookies. 

    How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?  Do you just use it as an excuse for sweets like I do?  Or do you go all out with chocolates, roses, and dinner at a fancy restaurant?