mise en place

wedding cake: the chocolate

Can I tell you guys a secret? Lean in close, because this one’s a doozy:

Moving is EXHAUSTING. We started on Thursday and we still have quite a ways/a bit of more furniture to go before our office and workout/bulk storage/random room look livable…But luckily, with Laurel’s help, our living/dining room and bedroom look much more presentable now (if still a bit depressing because we haven’t put any photos up yet).

AND, most importantly, our kitchen is set up. And it is glorious and I’m a little bit obsessed with it. Wanna see?

When Chris and I were looking for apartments, our priority list went roughly: (1) good kitchen, (2) hardwood floors, and (3) a roof. We hit all three with this one!

Bonus kitchen nook, with an extra prep surface Chris MacGyver’d from his old media cart!

And look at all that cabinet space…I have a feeling any apartment after this one is going to be a bit of a letdown.

And now, back to baking. Considering that this cake was meant to be sturdy and stackable, I was pleasantly surprised by how moist and plush it still managed to be—even after overnight freezing (essential for decorating). Deb from Smitten Kitchen filled it with ganache, but I wanted to do something with almond and the vanilla tier was already reserved for mango curd, so by my highly scientific process of elimination, this is what I came up with.

Actually, that’s a lie—the filling you see in this photo isn’t the one I’m most satisfied with; I re-made this cake in one tier for my mom’s birthday with a filling that was more almond-y and less pudding-y than the one I made for my parents’ party. I’m posting the final version here; don’t be alarmed!

Chocolate (Wedding) Cake with Almond Filling
3 cups cake flour
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon [I left this out—I figured the almond would give it enough flavor interest and didn’t want too many competing flavors…plus I’m not crazy about the chocolate-cinnamon combo, and clearly this anniversary party was about what I wanted. *cough, cough*]
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 sticks (12 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
1 package marzipan [usually in the baking aisle, next to almond paste and pie fillings]
3-4 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
2. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened, scraping down the sides and bottom frequently. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Whisk the eggs and coffee together an add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans; each pan will take about 3 1/4 cups of batter.
4. Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Carefully turn them out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners once cooled, flash-freeze on a rack for 30 minutes to 1 hour [meaning, don’t cover the cake with anything, just leave it open to the freezer air—this part is essential, as I found out when I made my mom’s cake and just wrapped them and stuck them straight into the freezer, where they bent around the food stuff already in the freezer, resulting in funky spaces between the layers when I assembled]. Triple-wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.
5. For the filling, cut the marzipan into chunks and place in a food processor. Process up a bit and drizzle in the milk a little at a time until you reach a spreadable, jam-like consistency.

Source: adapted from Smitten Kitchen

anniversary wedding cake!

So, Josh (the little brother) and I threw our parents a surprise 25th anniversary party a couple weeks ago. And somehow, I decided that this was a good idea: 

It must’ve turned out well…because pretty soon, it looked like this: 

Recipes to come! …just as soon as I finish packing. aka never. 

almond chocolate chip cookies

So, obviously I have a thing for almond. I’ve tried almond bread, almond cake, and almond muffins. Clearly almond cookies were next. 

These cookies were (/are…still got some in my freezer) deeelish. The almond flavor is subtle (probably would’ve been stronger if I hadn’t been too lazy to go out to the store and buy the actual almonds the original recipe calls for), but definitely there. And the oats, which you give a whir in the food processor before mixing into the dough, keep the baked cookies nice and chewy, even after freezing and thawing in my lunch bag. 

Almond cookies: check!

Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 12-oz. bag semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup whole almonds, toasted and chopped [I left these out]

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Finely chop oats in a food processor; mix in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl and beat in the eggs and extract.
4. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches and mix until just blended. Gently fold in the chocolate chips and almonds.
5. Drop dough in rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheets, two inches apart.
6. Bake until cookies are golden, about 13 minutes. Cool the cookies on sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to wire cooling racks.

Source: Hmmm…I thought this was a Giada recipe, but now I can’t find it anywhere… 

blueberry buckle cake

Chris’s mom is pretty famous for her blueberry buckle. I’d never even heard of blueberry buckle until Chris brought it in for snack senior year (oh, high school snacktime) and offered me some. Um, helloooo delicious blueberry cake with crunchy topping. You are my new favorite. 

One of the magical things about the recipe is that it works for pretty much any time of day. Chris’s family usually eats it for breakfast, but when I forced my mom to make it, she subbed in some peaches and we had it for dessert. And this time around it was an after-dinner thing, too—the perfect thing to round off a summer meal. 

This actually isn’t Chris’s mom’s recipe. I know, I know. We had a half-carton of buttermilk left over from something else and I wanted to use it up, so I ventured off into the other versions out there in blogworld. I’m not sure how much of a difference the addition made, but it was still delicious, and that contrast of plush cake with crunchy topping was still there. Yummm. 

Blueberry Buckle Cake
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch cake pan and set aside.
2. To make the topping, in a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Rub in the butter using your fingertips until the mixture is crumbly. Set the topping aside.
3. To make the batter, in a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the sugar and butter. Add the egg and vanilla; mix until smooth. Alternately add the buttermilk and the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, ending with flour. Stir only enough to blend. Gently fold in the blueberries.
4. Pour the batter evenly into prepared cake pan. Sprinkle the topping over the batter and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the buckle cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a knife. Holding the cake pan in your left hand, gently tip the cake out onto your right hand, remove the pan, and gently place the cake onto a serving dish. Consume.

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod 

whole wheat oatmeal almond muffins

First thing’s first—I gave the blog a makeover! You can see the new version at http://msenplace.wordpress.com. I’m going to try to keep posting here, too, at least for a while, because I do like the Tumblr community, but I’ll probably be switching over permanently eventually when I get tired of typing everything twice. Definitely let me know what you think! 

After my whole wheat almond bread transformed into loaves of sour blah, I was left longing for another episode of almonds and whole wheat flour. Coincidentally, it was also about time to make some more muffins for my second breakfasts. So I woke up one lazy Saturday morning and knew immediately what I wanted to Google. 

These were some solid little muffins of joy. The flavor combination worked really well—I managed not to screw everything up by messing around with the extracts, too! High fives all around. 

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Almond Muffins
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 lightly beaten egg whites
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons natural, unsweetened applesauce
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the oats and buttermilk. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake papers or grease with cooking spray.
2. While the oven preheats and the oats soak, whisk the flour, powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. In a separate large bowl, combine the egg whites, sugar, honey, butter, applesauce, and almond extract. Fold the oatmeal mixture into the egg white mixture in the large bowl, stirring only until combined. Next, fold the flour mixture into the large bowl, stirring only until combined.
3. Divide the batter between the 12 lined cups. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool slightly in their papers on a rack. Serve warm or allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Source: adapted from The Kitchen Sink Recipes 

super peanut butter drops

I am a peanut butter fiend. I’m one of those gross people who eats spoonfuls of peanut butter straight out of the jar. I loooves it. So of course, when I found this recipe that has peanut butter, peanut butter, and more peanut butter in the place of regular butter, I was obviously on-board. 

Because there was no butter to whip, these came together extraordinarily easily. And they baked up into beauuutiful, crackly-topped, soft cookies. Chris claims the peanut butter wasn’t overwhelming, but they were peanut buttery enough for me, and suuuper rich from all that peanut butter. Plus, they froze up really well, so I was able to bring one in for work every day for four weeks or so. It’s a much classier way of meeting my craving, I think. 

Super Peanut Butter Drops
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. In the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment [or with a plain old spoon], combine the peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and baking soda until well-mixed.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour, mixing until well combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Using a cookie dough scoop or your hands, form the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls, slightly flattening each one, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
5. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies are slightly puffy and light brown around the edges. [Don’t overbake them! You should almost be thinking that they need another minute or two when you take them out.] Let cool on a wire rack.

Source: The Curvy Carrot 

pasta with slow-roasted tomatoes, artichokes, and garlic scapes

Can we talk about how delicious tomatoes smell when you’re roasting them slowly? 

And also about how funky garlic scapes look? 

Together, they could do no wrong. This was another one of those rare moments when I wanted something light and simple, something that would go well with the salmon my dad was grilling that night. And I found this recipe, added some garlic scapes from that week’s CSA, and got to work. 

The end result was obviously yummy, since there were so few spaces in this recipe where one could mess up. And one, I believe, did not. This combination was simple and light, didn’t fight with the richness of the salmon. If you were to sprinkle a little (orrrr a lot) of Parmesan on top, I bet it would be even tastier. But, well, that night I was just too lazy. 

Pasta with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, Artichokes, and Garlic Scapes
2 cups grape tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
drizzle of olive oil
1 lb. pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups artichoke hearts
1 bunch garlic scapes, chopped
1/4 cup freshly chopped basil

1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and set aside. Cut the tomatoes in half and place on the prepared baking sheet. Place the cloves of garlic on the baking sheet with the tomatoes. Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes for about 3 hours. [I think I actually took mine out early, after 2.5 hours or so, because they were already shriveled up into little tomato candies and I was already yelling at Chris for snitching some.]
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
3. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the garlic scapes and cook until tender. Add the roasted garlic and saute a minute more. Stir in slow-roasted tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in freshly chopped basil and season with salt and pepper.
4. Carefully drain the pasta. Combine pasta and sauce in a large bowl. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and serve warm.

Source: adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod 

chocolate-glazed donut muffins

Dear donut muffins,

Welcome to my life. You are delicious. From the moment I heard about you, I knew I’d have to try you out. Donuts that don’t involve deep-frying and the inevitable burning infernos that follow? Check. 

The first time I made you, I dipped you in melted butter and rolled you in cinnamon-sugar and nom. It really was just like a donut, somehow—and not just any donut, but those cinnamon donut holes from Dunky’s that I used to get all the time when I was little but haven’t had in forever. 

This time, it was chocolate glazed. And it was shiny and pretty and good. And still magically tasted just like donuts. Please stay in my life forever.  

Best regards,

Chocolate-Glazed Donut Muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
scant 1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
2 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 12 muffin cups. 
2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with the canola oil, butter, milk, and vanilla [hint: mix the butter in with all the ingredients besides the egg first to avoid oh-so-appetizing cooked egg bits in your muffins] until well-incorporated. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, combining gently.
3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tins with an ice cream scoop and bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.
4. To make the glaze, combine the chocolate chips, butter, corn syrup, and vanilla extract in a double boiler. [Sadly, this is one of those situations where a microwave won’t suffice—trust me, I tried, and I wound up with little candied bits of corn syrup. Yum?] Stir until everything is incorporated and smooth.
5. Dip the tops of the muffins into the glaze and immediately top with sprinkles.

Source: Elly Says Opa 

mushroom and sausage barley risotto

So, I kinda like playing around with weird hippie-grains. Chris and I still have a bag of bulgur wheat rolling around from one of our gourmet food runs that we haven’t quite figured out what to do with yet. (Seriously, how does one cook bulgur wheat?)

Ergo, despite the fact that I’m not really into risotto (I know, what’s wrong with me?), I was excited to try this recipe out. And who knew that barley was so cheap? It was hiding amongst the dried beans in the grocery store—a whole pound for 99 cents! A bahhhgain! 

Also, pretty tasty once you’ve stirred it into some onions, mushrooms, and sausage. I added the sausage part because I wanted some protein in there, but you could definitely leave it out if necessary and still have the nice mixture of meaty mushrooms and slightly-resistant barley. Strange grains FTW! 

Blerghhh, awful photo. Sorry, peeps. 

Mushroom and Sausage Barley Risotto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 links bulk turkey sausage, casings removed
12 oz. cleaned and sliced cremini mushrooms
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme 
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup pearl barley
6 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Saute the sausage, stirring to break up the meat, until cooked through and browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and saute until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. 
2. Add the mushrooms and saute until they have released all of their liquid and are golden brown, about 10 minutes. You can add 1 to 3 tablespoons water if they start to stick.
3. Stir in the herbs and garlic, then add the barley and stir to coat for 1 minute. Add 4 cups of the broth and bring to a boil over high heat.
4. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium and add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed, until the barley is tender but still slightly firm. You may not use all of the broth, but you will use most of it.
5. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, stirring until incorporated. [I actually left the butter out because I thought the sausage had added enough fat and richness, but I know that’s kinda risotto-sacrilege, so feel free to keep it in.] Season with salt and pepper to taste. [But make sure you taste it before adding anything! Sausage is a salty bugger.]

Source: Brown-Eyed Baker 

whole wheat almond bread

Y’know what’s almost better than almond cake? 

Almond bread, with whole wheat flour in it. That I can eat for breakfast. Done. 

This was one of those recipes that I saw on Thursday and made on Friday, because it sounded just that awesomesauce. And oh, it was. Almond milk + extract + sliced goes really well with the nutty flavor of whole wheat, it turns out. I ended up with two beautifully craggy loaves that could have lasted me all week, with a slice drizzled in honey every morning. 

Emphasis on “could have.” Because, sadly, I found out that apparently things baked with almond milk in them go sour if you leave them out on the counter after three days or so. So very, very tragic. I mean, I know that kinda sounds physically impossible, but honestly, there’s absolutely nothing else in the ingredients that could’ve ended up tasting so funky after a few days. I mean, it’s obviously still worth it for the glory of that first loaf I finished, but next time, I think I’ll keep it in the fridge and/or freezer. Or, you know, be generous and give someone else the second loaf, rather than squirreling it all away for myself. But probably just refrigerate. 

Whole Wheat Almond Bread
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sliced, toasted almonds, divided
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch bread pans with non-stick cooking spray. 
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and almonds. In a medium bowl, whisk together honey, eggs, almond milk, and melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Fold until the batter is evenly mixed; small lumps of flour are okay.
3. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out dry. Set the pans on a wire rack and cool 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the pans; invert onto the wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. KEEP REFRIGERATED!!!

Source:  The Way the Cookie Crumbles