Saturday, January 21, 2012

When Life Gives You Cake, Make Cake Pops!

When baking, especially to order, one thing you can always be sure of is having leftovers. Leftover frosting, leftover filling, leftover cake. And in an effort to be as resourceful as I can be, I always try to find ways to use these leftovers so I don't have to discard them.
Often times, this involves the use of my freezer, which, by the way, is constantly overflowing with such leftovers. Freezers have the capacity to prolong the shelf life of so many different kinds of foods. If you are ever wondering if something is freezable and for how long, do a test run with a sample of the food you want to freeze. The success of freezing foods is almost solely reliant on the way in which you wrap and seal your food. You will probably be surprised at the wide array of foods you can freeze. Of course, once you do realize the true potential of your freezer, you'll run out of room and need another one, like I do...

The most efficient way I have found to save leftover cake and frosting is by making cake balls - bite sized balls made of cake and frosting that are utterly poppable. Of course, you don't need leftover cake and frosting to make these. You can make a batch of both specifically for the purpose of making cake balls! :-) They are such a cinch to make! Take your cake (leftover or not) and crumble it all using a food processor or your hands into a bowl, leaving no big chunks. Then take some frosting and mix it in. Keep adding frosting until the mixture becomes the consistency of a thick cookie dough. Roll 1" balls out of this mixture and place them on a wax-lined cookie sheet. Transfer them to the freezer for about 30 minutes. Once they have hardened, place them in one layer in a freezer bag that has been lined with wax paper on both sides. Make sure your bag is completely sealed and store in the fridge for up to 3 months! These yummy cake balls are an easy treat anytime you are having a hankering for some cake (which for me is quite often). Just eat them frozen or pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds at 30% power and they're ready to go.

If you want to take it a step further, once you've rolled the balls and placed them in the freezer for about 30 minutes, you can take them out and dip them in melted chocolate or candy melts. Then roll them in sprinkles or nuts or coconut or whatever appeals to you and voila! You've made cake pops. Once dry, these too are freezable for up to 3 months in an airtight freezer bag. As a precaution, I wrap my cake pops individually in a small square of saran wrap and then bag a bunch of them together, pushing as much air out of the bags as I can before sealing and storing them in the freezer. Thaw them in the fridge for 24 hours prior to eating them.

Wasting as little food as I can in the kitchen is so important to me ethically and financially. Often times, it take just a few extra minutes to throw something together that is easy, delicious, and can extend the shelf life of your food. Whether it's leftover dinner or leftover cake, it's important to be aware of what we use, what the true life span of our food is, and to cut our waste in any way we can. So enjoy cake balls out of your freezer!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Truffles & Tempering

Well, I don't know about you, but when I am making a cake or cookies or some sort of sweet treat, testing out the dough before it goes in the oven is a necessary step. Sampling the raw version of my baked goods is quite enjoyable although not the safest these days. Case in point: chocolate chip cookie dough. Who needs the oven when you've got chocolate chip cookie dough? Mix all the ingredients in the mixer, add the chocolate chips, done. Dessert is ready.
Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so, as there have been many an eggless chocolate chip cookie dough truffle recipe floating around the food blogosphere for quite some time.

(Do you see my silly husband's face in this picture?)
These truffles are better than sinking your spoon into chocolate chip cookie dough. Why? Because they are covered in a thin layer of chocolate. One is all you need to satisfy your craving. I chose to temper my chocolate before I coated the truffles because I wanted my chocolate to be shiny with that snap when I bit into it.

Tempering is a means of rearranging the crystalline structure of the cocoa butter in the chocolate to a uniform, more stable state. When you just melt chocolate and use it, the crystals in the cocoa butter are scattered, leaving the chocolate dull and unable to set hard. The easiest way I have found to temper chocolate is as follows. You can use chocolate chips, though using a good quality block or bar chocolate yields a better result:
1. Heat about 8 oz of chocolate over a double boiler until melted (about 110F), keeping a few ounces of chocolate for later on in the process. Make sure you are using a thermometer for the best results. A double boiler is a small pot of water that's come to a simmer with your bowl of whatever it is you are melting (in this case, chocolate) on top. Under no circumstances do you want even a drop of water to meet your chocolate. The chocolate will seize and be rendered unusable.
2. Once your chocolate is melted, take it off the double boiler and start rapidly mixing the chocolate, adding in small bits of your reserved chocolate (already tempered) to lower the temperature slowly until you get to 88 - 90F for dark chocolate, 86 - 88F for milk chocolate, and 80 - 82F for white chocolate. This is called seeding.
3. When the chocolate is at this temperature, it should be tempered. How do you test it? Coat the back of a spoon with the tempered chocolate. It should set up dry and hard within minutes. You should maintain the tempered chocolate at this temperature while you are using it by placing it on the double boiler or adding reserved chocolate as necessary. You may add vegetable shortening by the teaspoon to thin out the chocolate for dipping. You can use this chocolate to coat cookies, truffles, candy or pour into chocolate molds. Refrigerate when you are finished and your chocolate should set up within a few minutes to a nice gloss and a satisfying snap.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles
(Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens Special Interest Publications: 100 Best Cookes, 2011)

1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 T vanilla extract
3T milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
8 oz dark chocolate, tempered
vegetable shortening, as necessary

In a mixing bowl using an electric mixer (stand or handheld), beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy (about 1 minute). Add the vanilla extract and milk and mix to combine. Slowly add the flour until the mixture is well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula. Roll the dough into 1" balls and place on a lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate the dough balls for about 20 minutes while you temper your chocolate as directed above. Once the chocolate is ready, remove the dough balls from the fridge and dip each one individually into the tempered chocolate, tap off the excess and place back on the lined cookie sheet. Allow the truffles to completely set up in the refrigerator.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ringing in the New Year with Pizza!

Hey everyone! Hope your 2012 is treating you well so far.. As you well know about me, by now, I like traditions.. Creating them, parttaking in them, enjoying them with my family. This year for our New Year's Eve celebrations, I decided to throw a pizza party dinner. We prepped and baked 6 different smallish pizzas - even pizza for dessert..!

It all came about because I had two orders due last week, one actually on New Year's Eve. So I wanted a dinner that was fun and memorable but easy to throw together. Pizza was the winner by far, but not just your run of the mill cheese pizza. The pizzas we decided on were: pepperoni, margherita, ham & pineapple, buffalo chicken with blue cheese, and we needed to throw in a plain pie for the kids, just in case. That's only five, you're saying...? Well, the final pizza was the piece de resistance - a dessert pizza a la Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar in NYC. (they have locations elsewhere, too -

Needless to say, we all had such a fun time assembling and consuming these pizzas that we've all voted on making this the *new* New Year's Eve dinner tradition! Each year we'll bring back old favorites as well as try a few new pizza combinations. It's a much needed easier, less fussy, more casual dinner to the festive, more elaborate Christmas one the week prior.
Below is the recipe I use for pizza dough. I've made it several times and it has never failed me. Homemade pizza is such fun to make, since I love working with yeasted dough. I think I'm addicted to yeasted doughs. They smell amazing both in preparation and while in the oven. When I see my dough rising as it should, I feel like an accomplished chef (far from it in reality)! Yeast is not difficult, it is merely particular in it's process. So don't be afraid and try homemade pizza today!

Pizza Dough
(Makes 4 1-lb crusts)
(Adapted from My Baking Addiction)

2 3/4 c water (temperature: 115 - 120F) *Use a Thermometer!
1 1/2 T granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 T Kosher salt
1 T sugar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
6 1/2 c All Purpose flour

Combine the water, yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix to incorporate the ingredients. Then add in the olive oil and mix. Using the scoop and sweep method, so as not to get too much flour into your dough, measure 6 1/2 c of flour into the yeast mixture. Using your flat beater, mix on medium speed until the dough starts to look uniform. You may do this by hand as well or with a wooden spoon, but be sure to mix until just combined and not to knead the dough at all. Once the dough is uniform, transfer it to a large (5-6 quart) container that has been slathered with a little olive oil. Let it sit in a warm place (I usually place my towards the back of my stovetop), lightly covered for about 2 hours. It will have at least tripled in size. At this point, transfer it to the refridgerator for use within 1 day. If you plan to use the dough after 1 day, place the dough in a doubled-up airtight plastic bag and freeze it. You may divide the dough however you need it and freeze it that way as well. When you are ready to use the dough, take it out of the freezer and let it sit on your counter for a few of hours to defrost.
Preheat your oven to 495F.
Dust your working surface liberally with flour and plop the dough on it. Using floured hands, stretch and form your shape, leaving a little lip for the crust. Top it with whatever toppings you desire. If you are using savory ingredients, brush some olive oil onto the crust of the pizza. Bake the pizza for 10 - 12 minutes. Remove and serve.
If you are using sweet ingredients, brush the pizza with melted butter and bake for 10-11 minutes. Take out the pizza and add your sweet ingredients and bake for an additional 3-4 minutes just to melt the ingredients. Enjoy the fruits of your labor! :-)

Homemade Pizza Sauce:
1 28oz can of chopped tomatoes
1/4 c olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 T dried oregano
1t dried basil
1t dried parsley
1t salt
1/4 t pepper

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until well combined. This sauce can be frozen in individual packets for up to 3 months or refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Tried and True Pizza Variations:
1. Ham and Pineapple: Top pizza with pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese as you would for an original pizza. Then chop up pieces of ham and canned pineapple and toss over the cheese. Bake as directed above.
2. Blue Cheese & Buffalo Chicken: To make the buffalo chicken, toss precooked chicken (I used storebought rotisserie chicken) with the buffalo sauce (2 T melted unsalted butter, 1/4 cup hot sauce such as Frank's). To make the pizza sauce, combine 1 T mayonnaise, 1 T sour cream, 1 T yogurt with a 1/4 t garlic powder. Spread this sauce on the rolled-out pizza dough. Top with the buffalo chicken, mozzarella and 1/4 c blue cheese crumbles. Bake as directed above.
3. Margherita: Top pizza with pizza tomato sauce. Then place slices of fresh mozzarella atop and bake as directed above. When you take the pizza out of the oven, lay basil leaves over top. Let sit for a few minutes until the basil wilts. Serve.
4. Dessert Pizza: Brush the rolled-out dough with butter and bake for 10-11 minutes. Remove pizza from the oven and spread peanut butter on crust. Then top with milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, marshmallows, chopped up bananas, and toffee crunch (or any other toppings you prefer). Bake for an additional 3-4 minutes. Enjoy!