Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Green Velvet Cheesecake Swirled Shamrock Brownies

This idea and recipe are totally from The Novice Chef's Marbled Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies.  She made incredible red velvet heart brownies marbled with cheesecake.  I was so in love with hers and wanted to bake them myself.  However, with St. Patrick's Day on the horizon I decided to make green velvet brownies in a shamrock shape.  They turned out okay, but The Novice Chef's look much better.  I can say, though, that they are DELICIOUS!!  This recipe is a keeper.  AND, she used the cut-out scraps to make a milkshake.  Wow.  She's a genius!  You should definitely visit her site, she has a lot of great things going on.

Green Velvet Cheesecake Brownies
recipe and idea from The Novice Chef

Green Velvet Layer:
3 1/4 cups  flour
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons milk, divided
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons green food coloring
2 teaspoons white vinegar

Cheesecake Layer:
2 8oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Grease 13x18 inch jelly roll pan (I used a cookie sheet with raised sides)
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder, set aside.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons of milk, vanilla extract, green food coloring,  and white vinegar.

  • Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until completely combined.
  • The batter will be very thick, this is the texture you want.

  • Remove 3/4 of the dough and place it in a medium bowl.
  • Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk into the 1/4 of dough, set aside.

  • Pour remaining 3/4 of the batter into pan.  Spread batter smooth with a spatula, making sure it reaches the edges of pan.

  • In stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar until creamy.
  • Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth with no lumps.

  • Pour cream cheese mixture on top of green velvet brownie layer and spread until smooth, again, until it reaches the edges.

  • Drop spoonfuls of remaining green velvet batter on top of the cheesecake layer.

  • Using a knife, drag through green velvet and cheesecake to create swirls.

  • Bake for 30 minutes (or until center is set and no longer jiggly), rotating pan 1/2 way through.  
  • Let cool completely before cutting shapes with a cutter.
As I said, these taste phenomenal, but they could have been a little cuter!  I have something to aspire to, which is fine because I will make these again. I think I will use a little less green food coloring next time.  I did scale it back from 1 tablespoon the red velvet called for, but I think these still turned out a little too dark.  Anyway, my husband LOVED them.  Since he is not a sweets eater, I'm always thrilled to find something to bake for him on special occasions.  

Tomorrow, I'm going to take a break from green and make something springy and colorful.   Stay tuned!

"Top Of The Morning To Ya" Peach Pies

Okay, so these are really a variation of a theme, but I really enjoyed the stenciled Conversation Heart Cherry Pies and thought it would be cute to make a St. Patrick's Day version.  The fundraiser on St. Patrick's Day I'm donating  sweets to is coming up and these will be a fun addition to cupcakes, cookies, and brownies I'm planning to bake. Since I already had the Celtic Stencils on hand from sugar cookies I made a few months ago, all I needed was:
  •  pie crust dough
  •  a cookie cutter 
  •  peach filling 
  • edible food powder 
  • a food paintbrush.
Stenciling is pretty simple.  You just need to be very careful when lifting the stencil in such a way you prevent the colored powder from spreading itself outside of the design.  While I had no problems while stenciling cookies, for some reason the pie crust was more challenging.  I don't have an explanation for this, I'm just making note of it.  Some of them got really messy with spatters of green powder and I couldn't use them.  To see the step-by-step process of putting together these pies, please click here for the details.  

In keeping with St. Patrick's Day, I wanted to use the colors found in the flag of Ireland: green, white, and orange.  Green would be represented by the stencil color, white by the crust, and orange by the peach filling.  I experimented with two colors of powder, dark green and light pearl green:

Sealed them up and placed them in the oven:

They cooked up nicely, but I thought the light green (top pie) was too light and the dark green (2 middle pies) were too dark, so I mixed the two and came up with a dark-ish sparkly green (bottom 2 pies) that I was happy with:

Did I mention I love peach pie?  Well, I love all fruit pies, actually:

I love how quickly these little pies bake up.  The prep time is minimal, especially if you don't stencil and, instead, sprinkle powdered sugar on them after they've cooled.  Also, they are wonderfully portable.  My friend Amy was visiting me from Buffalo this past weekend and I gave her a few for the plane ride home.  She suggested adding some coarse to the top crust before baking.  I think that's a fantastic idea and I'll definitely do that for the bake sale!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Make Your Own Shamrock Shakes - Even Better Than the Real Thing!

I didn't believe it when I read the claim...a copycat recipe for Shamrock Shakes?  I could believe a tasty mint shake, but one that tastes like THE Shamrock Shake?  Is it possible to re-create it right in our kitchens?  In a word:  Yes!  Here's how you do it:

McDonald's Shamrock Shake Copycat Recipe
Recipe by Naptimechef

3 cups good quality vanilla ice cream
1 3/4 cups 1% milk
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
green food coloring

Put all of the ingredients into a blender and blend.  That's it.  Seriously.

 Here are my notes:

  • I used 2% milk and it turned out fine.  I also used French Vanilla ice cream, which may alter the taste just a bit.  Next time I'll use plain old vanilla just for comparison.
  • I have a blender, but I don't really blend things, so I didn't know which setting to put it on.  I used a little of each!  None of them seemed to combine all of the ice cream and milk, so I used a spoon to push the ice cream down (after turning the blender OFF, of course) and mix it up a bit.
  • I wanted my shake a little thicker, so I used almost all of a 1.5 gallon carton of ice cream.
  • This makes about 3 full beer mugs of shake.  You can easily make it for one or two people by playing around with the measurements.  It's certainly not an exact science, as some like their shakes thick, and some like them thin.
  • A little mint extract goes a long way.  If I had added one drop more than 1/2 teaspoon, it would have been too strong.  Again, though, it's a preference thing.
  • The dye did not mix up in the blender, I had to mix it by hand, after the ice cream and milk were blended.  I started with two drops of liquid green dye and ended up using quite a bit more until I reached the pale, green color I wanted.
  • To store the leftovers I poured the shake back into the ice cream container and put it in the freezer.  When I am ready to serve more, I'll blend it back up and hope it tastes good.  :)
  • It's delicious and I loved it.  You should make it, too!!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Amazing Apple Fritters

OHHHHH...these are so good I wish I could eat them everyday.  Actually, they are so easy to make it is totally feasible to bake some up everyday.  It just wouldn't be the most healthy choice one could make.  ;)  Ah, but who am I to judge?!

I'd been very excited about about baked donuts and made a several varieties, including my personal favorite - Apple Cider Donuts.  Of course, baking rather than frying is much better for you, and donut pans make it easy to whip up a batch.  However, sometimes fried is the way to go and it just has to be done!  This is the case with Apple Fritters; they are just one of those if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it type of treats.  So, I sucked it up and got out the oil, ready to give these a try!

Homemade Apple Fritters
Recipe very slightly adapted from Seemingly Greek

1 heaping cup of all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
dash of salt
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (depending on how much you would like)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 - 1 1/2 cups of your favorite apple, chopped about the size of a peanut
canola oil for frying
apple cider and confectioner's sugar for glaze
  • Chop apples into small pieces

  • Mix dry ingredients together.
  • Slowly add the wet ingredients MINUS apple, until combined, taking care not to overbeat.
  • Gently fold in apples.  Batter should be consistency of a light cake mix.

  • Heat oil to about 360 - 375 degrees.  Use a skillet or pan that will allow dough to be completely submerged while frying.  (To test oil, drop a bit of batter into oil and if it rises to the top the oil is ready.)
  • Use a soup spoon to place 4-5 scoops of dough into oil.  Be careful not to overcrowd.
  • Watch for underside to turn golden brown, and then carefully flip over, continuing to fry until done (about 35 seconds per side for golf ball sized fritter).
  • Test one fritter to ensure they are frying all the way through. Adjust the cooking time if necessary.
  • Use tongs
Okay, this is a really simple process.  Honestly, it is.  You just need to have a little knowledge of frying before you begin.  Which, I didn't.  So, I learned the hard way (and after the fact of my first batch of fritters!).  Without arming myself with some simple information, I ended up with this:

Every single one of them burned.  So, I will share a few tips to keep in mind so you don't burn yours, as well.  

  • First, use canola oil.  I used vegetable oil.  Canola oil is ideal because it has a higher smoke point. This means the oil can reach higher temperatures before smoking up your kitchen (or, in my case, your whole house.  I smelled like a fritter for days...).
  • If you are not using a deep fryer, make sure you use a stovetop pan that will allow the oil level to be high enough the fritters will be completely submerged.  If not, the fritters will rest on the bottom of the pan and scald.  Like the picture above.  Ugh.
  • The 35 second frying suggestion is just that - a suggestion.  I found mine were not cooked all the way through.  Definitely test one in the first batch so you know you are on the right track.
  • It's best to use a deep fry/wok strainer to remove fritters.  I didn't have one at the time, so I used metal tongs.  Just be sure to use something that can stand up to the heat.
  • Place fried fritters on a plate covered in paper towels, which will absorb excess oil.
Following those guidelines, I made a new batch.  This time, perfection!  A nice golden brown nugget filled with apples and cinnamon with a slight crunch.  I could have stopped there and enjoyed them, but why not  kick it up a notch and glaze the fritters?  This is the easiest part:

Apple Fritter Glaze

2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup apple cider

In a medium sized bowl, add cider to sugar.  Whisk until combined and glaze is smooth.  Use tongs or a spoon to coat fritter with the glaze.  Immediately set on a baking rack with waxed paper underneath to catch drippings.  If you don't have apple cider you can substitute water or milk.

Mmmmmm.....just typing this I'm restraining myself from making a batch right now they were so good!  I love them and can't wait for house guests to visit so I can make fritters for them.  They will be great for breakfast.  I cannot vouch for how well they keep after a day, as they did not last that long.  My taste testers loved them as much as I did, but we had to sample several to be certain.  Next thing we knew the plate was empty.  Wonder how that happened?!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Blueberry Port Wine Brownies

My last post was Guinness Extra Stout Brownies, however, as I mentioned maybe 100 times, I don't like beer!  So, while the Stout Brownies were extremely rich and chocolately, at the end of day, I could still detect the taste of beer!  Which brings me to my next thought...Port Wine Brownies!  Now, that's something I can get behind!

I'm not a great lover of wine, and certainly no expert when it comes to it's finer points.  In fact, my husband and I visited Sonoma Valley this past fall and traveled the wine trail.  It it took us three days to sip a drop of wine.  We are vodka people.  Sonoma is spectacular, picture perfect, and home to some amazing restaurants, but I'll take a nice French Martini over a glass of wine any day.  So, yeah, I don't know a good wine from a bad one, but I do know I love Blueberry port wine.

I know it's a contradiction, but I really enjoy visiting wineries.  I love the smells and organized rows of grapes going on and on as far as you can see.  I'm fortunate enough to live near some wonderful little wineries on Long Island and I enjoy taking guests out for a lazy day of lunch and tastings.

Most people are surprised there are so many to tour so close to NYC, and equally surprised the wines are not half bad!  My favorite winery is Duck Walk, home to my beloved Blueberry Port Wine, a wonderful dessert wine that pairs excellently with dark chocolate.  Naturally, I decided to experiment with combining the two.  Brownies.  Yeah!

Blueberry Port Wine Brownies
adapted from Dying For Chocolate

1 cup Blueberry Port Wine
3/4 cup butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Grease bottom of 9x13 inch pan
  • In a small saucepan, simmer port wine until it's reduced to 1/4 cup
  • Pour into large bowl and set aside
  • On top of a double boiler (or heatproof glass bowl placed over a pot of boiling water) melt butter and chocolate.
  • Pour into wine and whisk until smooth

  • In double boiler, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla.  Whisk until very light and thick.
  • Pour into chocolate mixture and which until combined and smooth.

  • Add flour and mix until combined. 

  • Pour batter into greased pan.  Add walnuts if desired.
I added walnuts to 1/2 of the batter
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean.  The original recipe said to bake for 40-45 minutes, but mine were done much sooner, so check while baking.
  • While brownies are cooling, prepare the port wine ganache:

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chocolate
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons whipping cream
2 tablespoons Blueberry Port Wine
  • Whisk all ingredients in small saucepan over medium low heat until combined and smooth.

  • Pour ganache over brownies, let set until chocolate sets.

I wanted to try the brownies both with and without the ganache, so I poured it over half  of the brownies.  After taste testing, I preferred the ganache covered brownies.  They were richer and more chocolately with the coating.  The 1/2 with the walnuts did not cut very well into squares, even though they were completely cooled.  They were tasty, just crumbly.  The ganache half cut nicely.

I could taste a hint of the port, but it's not overwhelming by any means.  Two taste testers agreed.  I really liked them, however, what I really love in Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Brownies.  In every comparison, boxed brownies are the winner for me!  If you like to experiment with different brownie recipes, I definitely recommend this one.  You can substitute red wine for port and they will be just as tasty!