May the Birthday Month!

This will be a very short post, but I just wanted to let you all know why I might not be able to post very much for the next few weeks. 

We have five children: four boys and one girl (she’s the youngest :). And the oldest three boys have birthdays all in May! So May is always a busy month for us.

I attempt to be really, really supermom this month because they each get their own cake and we do something special together on the days of their birthdays. Yesterday, we went to Legoland!

Ian also requested a chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream. 🙂


I didn’t really get a good picture of the cake when it wasn’t sliced. But boy, was this cake good! Which surprised me because the layers didn’t rise very much. I used Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for Devil’s Food Whiteout Cake. I used a plain vanilla butter cream instead of the meringue frosting though. 

I think I’d need to double the recipe to get the height I would want in a layer cake, but this cake did turn out better than I expected!

The next cake is a chocolate chip cookie pizza. I’m tempted to try making a deep dish version!

Using a Bread Maker to Start Challah Bread

Our bread maker is an old Toastmaster that we have had a long time, and it has been through A LOT. It’s a little bit beat up with a lid that doesn’t fit on quite right, from when it fell off the kitchen counter a few times. Fortunately, it still works… mostly. We are kind of in the market for a new bread maker, but in the meantime, I use our old faithful Toastmaster. I might be a little bit sad when it has to go.

Bread makers don’t seem to like me very much, so I don’t use them very often. The bread I make in them always falls! So lately, I’ve been using our bread maker just to start doughs for me. It’s been great for starting cinnamon roll dough and challah bread dough!

I don’t think the recipe I use is really authentic. I made challah rolls for Easter lunch and that dough had honey in it. (By the way, those rolls were amazing. I was practically dropping a few on the floor by accident, just so I could eat them.) This one does not. The recipe is just from the manual that came with our Toastmaster. Somehow, that manual has survived up until now, though its cover is falling off and it’s getting a little tattered on the edges.

Challah Bread Dough

  • Servings: 1 large loaf
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, room temperature, plus enough water at 80 degrees F/27 degrees C to equal 1½ cups
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4½ cups bread flour
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast

Glaze:

  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp water

Topping:

  • 1½ Tbsp poppy seeds, optional

Directions

Place eggs, water, vegetable oil, sugar, and salt in the bread pan. Then, place bread flour into the bread pan and spread it out to the edges of the pan. Make a little well in the middle of the flour and pour the yeast into it.

Use the dough cycle on your bread maker.

When dough cycle is finished, place the bread dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into thirds, making three 13-inch-long ropes with tapered edges. Pinch ropes together at one end and braid together. Pinch together at the other end and secure braid.

Transfer braided dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Combine glaze ingredients and brush onto braid. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and bake at 350 degrees F/177 degrees C for 25 minutes, or until done.

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I can’t describe how much I love this bread… This recipe makes a HUGE loaf. It’s enough to feed my family and then some. After making the bread topped with poppy seeds once, I usually leave them off now. I make sure to do the egg glaze though. It just gives the bread a really beautiful color.

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Sometimes I succeed at making a pretty braid, and sometimes I don’t. I’ve also overproofed the dough. It doesn’t seem to matter though. My family eats this bread up no matter what it looks like.

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Challah loaf with poppy seeds as a topping

My kids will request this bread. If we have it around, they ask for me to use it for grilled cheese.

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This is a second loaf I made that I sprinkled flake salt on.

So if you have a large family who loves homemade bread, this is a really simple one to do! It looks pretty and it tastes great and leftovers will get eaten up as soon as possible!

-Lynn

Strawberry Limeade Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

I have mentioned before that cake, specifically layer cakes, is not my forte. Just because it is not my forte though does not mean that I should not make one once in a while.

For our Easter lunch a few weeks ago, I wanted to make a cake. At first, it was just going to be a lime bundt cake. I had some homemade strawberry jam though in the fridge that I needed to use for something, so then I came up with the bright idea of a lime layer cake with strawberry jam and white chocolate frosting in the middle.

I had been itching to make a lime cake recipe I found on the internet for quite a while, so I was glad to finally have the chance to make it!

Find the recipe for key lime cake here: Key Lime Cake From Scratch

The above link also includes the recipe for a white chocolate buttercream frosting.

Find the recipe for homemade strawberry jam here: Small Batch Strawberry Vanilla Jam

I didn’t get to take any pictures of the actual process of making this cake, but I can talk a little bit about some of my mistakes (which always seem to be many when I am baking a cake!).

Mistake number one: I didn’t use enough lime zest! I think I used the 6 key limes as stated in the recipe, but I don’t think I ended up with enough lime zest.  I probably also should have used a little bit more lime juice. The cake itself definitely needed more oomph to it.

Mistake number two: Sprinkling day-old lime zest on the frosted cake. The lime zest lost its bright green color overnight. I don’t think I need to say what it looked like after sitting in the fridge overnight. I really should have used fresh zest on the cake.

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Mistake number three: I thought the cake layers were flat enough after baking and that I didn’t need to level them. I was wrong. I really should have sliced off  just a little bit. Because the top of the bottom layer wasn’t flat, the strawberry jam in the middle of the cake kept trying to slide out and down the side of the cake.

Mistake number four: Not doing a crumb coat when frosting. I was in a hurry. I guess I really shouldn’t make cakes when I am in a hurry. Or maybe I should just stick to bundt cakes!

Mistake number five: Using white chocolate buttercream frosting. Because the cake needed more lime flavor and thus wasn’t tart enough, the whole cake was too sweet and just didn’t have enough variances in flavor for me. A cream cheese frosting might have worked better in this case.

Mistake number six: Inferior chocolate candy eggs for the decoration. Those candy eggs in the picture were quite literally only for decoration. I bought them in bulk from a nearby grocery store and they just didn’t taste very good! Even Josh didn’t like them and that is saying something right there!

There weren’t any complaints from the kids about the cake itself, and none from Josh, so that is a good thing. I have to admit though; I think the key lime-mint bundt cake I posted about more than a month ago is still my favorite cake I’ve made so far.

Maybe I will try this recipe again when I am making a cake only for my family. And when I can taste more than one slice!

-Lynn

White Chocolate Chip Cranberry-Orange Scones

The past three weeks have been a lot busier than I expected them to be! I posted about the macarons I tried to make for the refreshments after my son’s concert on April 8th. Those all ended up being eaten up by my family. Instead, I made chocolate chip cookies, Mary Berry’s lemon drizzle traybake, and sugar cookie custard fruit mini-tarts for the refreshments, all with the help of my mother-in-law. I really could not have made all of those desserts without her help.

And then, just to make things more crazy for myself, we had an early Easter lunch at our house on April 15th. So most of the week before that, I spent prepping the house and the food for Saturday. I’m glad I didn’t have to make all the food for Easter lunch! I did make a strawberry limeade cake with white chocolate buttercream frosting for one of our Easter desserts; I’m not sure if it tasted good or not because I only got one slice! I will try to post about that bake soon.

This past week was spring break for my kids from homeschooling. We drove to a nearby resort and it was so much fun! I had the chance to play with my kids, which is something I don’t always get to do. It was actually pretty nice to take a break from baking. But now, I am ready to get back to baking again.

In February, I made white chocolate chip cranberry-orange scones for the ladies’ tea room at our church’s Leadership Conference and never wrote down the recipe, so today, I decided to make it again. This time, I kept track of all my ingredients. If you would like to go straight to the recipe, scroll all the way down.

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I was making smaller scones (but not quite mini-size) so I chopped my white chocolate chips and using a pair of scissors, I snipped my dried cranberries into smaller pieces. I also soaked my dried cranberries in a little bit of water and an 1/8 tsp of orange extract before mixing them into the dough, just to make sure they weren’t too dry after baking in the scones. I never fully mix my dough in the bowl because I am afraid of overmixing.

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I dumped the dough out onto a floured surface and worked the rest of the flour into the dough using my hands.

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It doesn’t take too long for the dough to come together like this. Maybe 5 to 10 minutes.

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I doubled my usual scone recipe and patted the dough out into a rectangle that was around 16 inches by 9 inches. I wanted it to be 24 inches by 6 inches, but I didn’t want to pat the dough out too thin. The 16 x 9 rectangle was probably easier to work with anyway.

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I used a bench cutter and a ruler to divide the rectangle as evenly as possible. My cuts along the longer side were 2 inches apart, while the shorter side had 3 inch cuts. As shown above, there were 41 scones. I did end up with some scones that were larger than others or were an odd shape.

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When will I learn not to bake two cookie sheets at once? This was my second bake of the day and I was ready to be done, but I should have been more patient and baked only one sheet at a time. Because of my impatience, most of the scones in this batch ended up almost burned on the bottom. They weren’t so burned we couldn’t eat them though, so I was glad of that.

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I did like the golden brown color on top of the overbaked scones though! Maybe next time, I will use the convection feature on my oven when I bake these.

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I made my usual powdered sugar glaze to drizzle over the scones and added about an 1/8 tsp of orange extract to the glaze just to give it more orange flavor.

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I was afraid that the orange flavor would be too subtle, but my oldest son said he was able to taste the orange. Twelve of these scones (the nicest ones I could pick out that weren’t burnt) went to our church bookstore, but the rest stayed with us for breakfast. They were gone by this morning, and I have to confess that I was the one who probably ate most of them because they tasted so good!

White Chocolate Chip Cranberry-Orange Scones

  • Servings: 21 to 42 depending on how you cut the dough
  • Print

Halve the recipe if you do not need 42 scones.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 Tablespoons sugar
  • 10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 2 cups heavy cream (note: if desired, add the juice of the orange used for zest to a measuring cup then add the heavy cream to the measuring cup until you have 2 cups total of liquid)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, soaked in water or orange juice, snipped into smaller pieces
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips, chopped
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1/4 tsp orange extract
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Icing:

  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 3-5 tsp heavy cream
  • 3-5 tsp water
  • 1/8 tsp orange extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl; flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and orange zest. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter to coat pieces with flour. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the heavy cream, orange extract, and vanilla extract. Fold everything together just to incorporate as much of the flour as possible; do not overwork. Fold the cranberries (make sure to drain off any extra liquid from the cranberries) and chopped white chocolate into the dough.

Dump the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface. Knead the dough lightly until it comes together and there are no more streaks of flour in the dough.

Pat the dough out into a 16 in. x 9 in. rectangle. Using a bench cutter, make cuts along the longer side at every 2 inches, and along the shorter side at every 3 inches.  You will end up with around 42 scones.

Use the bench cutter to transfer each scone to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Brush the top of each scone with heavy cream and bake the scones one sheet at a time on the center rack of the oven for 12 – 15 minutes (15-20 minutes if making the larger scones), until golden brown.

Let scones cool on a wire rack before drizzling glaze over them.

To make the icing, mix together 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 3 tsp of heavy cream, and orange extract. Add 1 tsp of water at a time and mix until the icing is your desired consistency.

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Dual Macaron Fail

In mid-January, Josh bought me a new oven, and I LOVE it. A few weeks ago though, I tried to bake macarons in it for the first time, and they didn’t turn out! Needless to say, I was very disappointed and set out to figure out what I was doing wrong.

Originally, my posts about these two macarons were going to be recipe posts, but since the macarons did not turn out right, well, you will get some pictures of failed macarons instead!

Josh has been wanting me to make lavender macarons for a while, and I even bought lavender flavoring a long time ago in preparation for this. I was too scared to use a full teaspoon of flavoring so I reduced my lavender flavoring to 1/2 teaspoon.

I bought my lavender flavoring from Beanilla.com. You can find it here.

I also tried out two macaron mats from Williams-Sonoma. These saved me a lot of time, but I’m not quite sure if they are going to work for me. I will mention later what I think I need to do, but it will require more experimentation.

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I did add food coloring to make the macaron shells purple, but as usual, the color “fades” out after baking.

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My first mistake with the lavender macarons: I think I overmixed the batter. Usually, I can tell when I need to stop, but this time I mixed a lot longer than I usually do.  I didn’t end up with any hats this time after piping them out, but the texture was all wrong after the macarons baked.

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My second mistake: Baking on the wrong rack.  I baked my first batch on the top rack of my oven. Oops! That was a bad idea and I ended up with a small triangle of macarons that looked okay, but the macarons on the outer edges looked like mini-volcanoes!

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My second tray of macarons turned out looking better, but they almost seemed overbaked after the recipe bake time of 12 minutes total. So that would be mistake number three. Their feet also weren’t quite level. On this second tray, I changed my oven setting to convection (we splurged and paid $100 extra for true convection, which means there is a heating element by the fan) and baked the tray on the middle rack.

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I had been wanting to make Italian meringue buttercream for a macaron filling for a while, so even though these macarons didn’t turn out right, I went ahead and made the Italian meringue buttercream anyway.

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Sadly, my son Matthias is not a fan of marshmallow, and this is basically a homemade marshmallow cream. So he didn’t really like these macarons.

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It was a surprise to me that these “volcano” macarons tasted better than the traditionally-shaped macarons. In fact, these were all eaten up first. I think my kids saw these as a novelty. They had fun eating them!

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These macarons almost looked pretty (and you can tell that the purple faded out of the shell), but they were a tad too crispy for me, even with a day or two in the fridge after being filled. The flavor was fine though, which was a relief. I didn’t want the lavender flavor to be overpowering. One picture I forgot to take was of the inside of the macaron. Even though it looks pink outside, it was purple inside!  If I have another chance to experiment with these, I will definitely need to add more food coloring and reduce my bake time by 2 minutes.

My second attempt was actually a few days after I made the lavender macarons. I wanted to make double chocolate macarons for the refreshment reception after my son Corran’s band concert, but after a frustrating afternoon of lopsided macaron shells, I had to give up and make chocolate chip cookies instead, along with a lemon drizzle traybake from one of Mary Berry’s books… which will hopefully be a post soon!

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This time, I mixed the batter until I felt it was enough (and did the V-test with my spatula) and ended up with my little hats again. I think I need to practice until I get no hats. But in the meantime, little hats are good because it means I didn’t overmix the batter.

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These are the only macaron shells I got that had level feet. These were baked on parchment paper in a quarter sheet pan. I wrote earlier that I need to experiment more with my new macaron mats.  All of my lopsided macarons were baked on those two mats, so I am wondering if I need to put the mats on a rimmed sheet pan like this one from Williams-Sonoma, instead of on a large cookie sheet.

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Lopsided macaron shells that were baked on the new macaron mats on a large cookie sheet

I also reduced my bake time by 1 minute each rotation. So I baked these macarons at 325 degrees F using the convection setting, on the middle rack, for 5 minutes. Then, I would rotate the pan and bake for another 5 minutes.

This method produced macarons with a texture closer to what I was expecting. Once I gave up on making them for the reception, I decided to let my family have these lopsided ones. I filled them with a chocolate glaze (from a batch of eclairs I made last week… yet another thing I need to practice: choux pastry!) and also the Italian meringue buttercream that I used for the lavender macarons.

The chocolate-filled ones were more popular than the buttercream-filled ones, so I will have to remember that for next time!

We just finished eating the macarons today, so that means I can start prepping for another go at them soon. I’m not sure when that will be, but hopefully before the end of the month!

Thanks for reading!

Lynn

 

 

 

Chocolate Bouchons

I don’t remember how I came across this recipe for chocolate bouchons, but as soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to try it using a set of cake tins that Josh bought me at the end of last year.  These tins are a little bit bigger than what should be used for the recipe, but they worked out pretty well. I think bouchons are meant to be bite-sized, but these were more of a single serving dessert size. I am just glad that I found a recipe that I can use for these tins since they cost quite a bit!

This was also the first time I’ve successfully made a cake without using baking soda or baking powder in the batter. I have tried a few times before using these cake tins (and a different recipe) and the cakes didn’t rise properly. They were underbaked, dense, and inedible in the bottom layer while the top half was spongy and light. I still haven’t figured out what I did wrong with those cakes. Maybe I will give them another try now.

A few words about this recipe: it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. And the chocolate cake was AMAZING. My chocoholic son Corran has already asked me to make them again. Gwennan was watching me write this blog post, saw the chocolate cake pictures, and asked, “Mommy, can you make those today?” Yes, I think these little cakes were a big hit with my kids.

These cakes would be even better with ice cream. Sadly, we didn’t have any ice cream at the time so we had to eat the cakes without. But that was a small sacrifice because have I mentioned that these were amazing?

Recipe from Delish: Thomas Keller’s Chocolate Bouchons

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Let’s start with the chocolate. I love Guittard, but I’ve only ever bought the Guittard chocolate chips, not the bars. Valrhona is very, very expensive, and since this was my first time baking these, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t go with the expensive chocolate. Maybe next time I’ll try to have Valrhona on hand.

I used 1 and a half bars of Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate. I’ve mentioned before that my kids are huge fans of dark chocolate, so I figured I could get away with the 60% chocolate.

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I don’t really enjoy chopping chocolate much, but these did work beautifully in the batter. I usually only chop chocolate for chocolate chip cookies. I’d better be careful or I’m going to stop buying chocolate chips altogether and buy only chocolate bars for baking!

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I had a feeling I would only need 12 of these tins for the cakes even though there are 16 of them. I decided to use my nylon pastry brush to butter these tins. I’ve used my fingers before and the rims of these tins can be sharp. I dusted them with flour over a bowl so that I could reuse the flour that fell out of the tins. I also cut a piece of parchment paper to the same size as the baking tray to line it. Doing this makes it easier to clean the tray after baking.

I did sift my dry ingredients and made sure to beat the eggs and sugar together for 3 minutes. What I liked best about this recipe: it uses real butter, not oil.

Once I needed to fill the tins, I strayed from the recipe. My chopped chocolate had a hard time making it through the hole I had cut for my pastry bag, so after a few false starts, I just scraped the cake batter into the tins with a spatula. This made for a messy set of tins! But at least I didn’t have exploding cake batter from my pastry bag.

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I filled each tin about halfway since they are larger than the timbale molds called for in the recipe. I let the cakes bake for about 20 minutes at first, but they weren’t done at that point, so I gave them 5 to 10 more minutes.

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The cakes were done when a toothpick tested clean with just some melty chocolate from the chopped chocolate in the cake. Some of the batter did leak out of the tins and onto the tray, but it wasn’t too bad. I let these cool for about half an hour in the tins and then pushed each cake out of its tin into a muffin pan liner.

The recipe says that these taste like brownies, and they really do! They aren’t quite as dense as a brownie though, so I guess their texture is somewhere between a cake and a brownie. Whatever they are, they for sure were delicious and I will be making these again. Just not this week…

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Jumbo muffin pan liners were perfect “plates” for these cakes after dusting the cakes with powdered sugar.

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This is not the best picture, but it is the only one I have of one of the cakes after slicing. You can see that the top did fall a bit in the middle. This cake didn’t last long after this picture. I let my kids come in and eat the rest of it and it disappeared in about 30 seconds.

The recipe says that these are best eaten the day they are made, but they were good the next day as well. I know that not everyone will have this set of cake tins, timbale molds, or a bouchon pan, but perhaps a popover pan would work or even a mini cupcake pan or regular cupcake pan. I think I will try this recipe in a mini cupcake pan next time and see how it works!

-Lynn

Note: To clean my round cake tins, I let them sit in a mixing bowl in water for a little while and they are much easier to clean. Hopefully, my next experiment with these tins will be mini cheesecakes!

 

 

Flashback Friday: Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossoms

Living in Washington, D.C. when Josh was stationed there from 2003 to 2008 was not always easy, but there were two events that I loved, and we tried our best to experience annually: Cherry blossom time in the spring and Christmas at the White House in December.

Since it is cherry blossom time in Washington, D.C. now (article linked here about how peak bloom was March 25), I thought I would post about it. It’s been 9 years now since we moved back to SoCal after living in D.C., but I imagine that it is still much the same and still beautiful during cherry blossom time.

The following pictures are all from either April 2006 or April 2008.

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Two-year-old Corran at the Washington Monument. This boy is now taller than I am! At this age, Corran was very interested in space shuttles and rockets, so to him the Washington Monument was a “rocketship stuck in the ground.”

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Cherry tree by the Washington Monument – April 2006

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It is magical to walk under these trees. Yes, there were crowds everywhere, but somehow, it didn’t matter very much. We were all there to experience beauty.

These, of course, are not cherry blossoms! These are tulips at the Floral Library run by the National Park Service. The Floral Library was always a must-see when we were at the Tidal Basin for the cherry blossoms. It is a lovely photo opportunity and a wonderful place to take your children.

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Jefferson Memorial with cherry blossoms in foreground

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A close-up of the cherry blossoms.

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When you visit D.C., be prepared to walk, and walk, and walk some more! We went to this area numerous times when we lived there and still did not get to everything that there is to see!

-Lynn

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The White House in spring