A Whirlwind Tour of this Summer’s Baking (Sky High cakes, NY Times chocochip cookies, Dorie’s sticky buns, Baked’s red velvet and more…)

This post will have absolutely no demure qualities.  It won’t stay on one topic, it won’t tell a simple story, it won’t follow a timeline and it certainly won’t know when to quit.  What it WILL do is be so jam-packed with sugar (deftly spun into delectable stuff-in-mouth treats), that hopefully any readership will overlook the ramshackle quality of the medium and revel in the sucrose-crusted message.  The message being of course, Baking Is Fun, or Don’t Let Liz Near An Oven If You Don’t Want Dessert.  :D

I’m starting this patchwork recap with one of my favourite cakes in existence: the sinfully, brick-thickly rich, sticky and tongue melting Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with PB Cream Cheese Frosting and PB Ganache from Alisa Huntsman’s Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes, my go-to bible for birthdays and Occasions™.  My jaw first dropped to the floor concerning this beauty after seeing Deb from Smitten Kitchen fall in love with it.  Soon after, it was mine.  Mwahahaha!  Also, this is basically one of my favourite straight-up chocolate cake recipes ever now.  It’s made all in one bowl, is remarkably moist and fluffy and deeply flavoured, and best of all – it makes three layers.  The possibilities with three layers are endless, obviously.  And um, More Cake > Less Cake.  Obviously!  :P

Next up, well, I might as roll out the other Sky High cake I made recently-ish, the Chocolate-Hazelnut Gianduja Cake.  So Light!  So Ethereal!  Not quite sure that “chocolate” should be the first word in the title, and to be completely honest I didn’t find it quite as mind-blowing as the PB Monster (owing to the cake itself being slightly chewy, and I’m not the only to notice this), but I thoroughly enjoyed this actually, and the guanduja/whipped cream topping is SO simple but SO right.  The exact kind of thing you want with tea that won’t spoil your dinner the slightest whiff, but will fill your mouth with a fluffy breeze of hazelnut, egg white and sugar.

And then….

Dorie again!!  Have I told you?  Have you guessed?  That she is like my pastry goddess and total mistress of recipe wisdom?  I haven’t had a failure from her at all, in fact, that’s not describing it well at all.  Let’s reverse the shade of that sentiment.  I haven’t had less than 110% over-joy using her recipes.  Not only do they taste good, but I swear there is a soul to them, a way they have of speaking with a clear voice that some baked goods only strive to.  Her pecan sticky buns showed me the way of brioche, wherein a mixer bowl full of GOO (butter, sugar, flour, eggs), suddenly transformed into a densely knit web of spidery, sweet, and stretchy strings, nearly alive with the yeast perfuming it.

It started innocently with the pecan buns just as they’re written, a big batch made for work, stinking up the joint with well… you know.  That smell of cinnamon and bun.  Heh.  Later though… I had my hand at a creative spin for the home version, and came up with Coconut-Ginger-Brazil Nut sticky buns with a coconut milk glaze, and gosh-darn I wish I’d had Pandan instead of vanilla, ’cause I would have used that, too, but there’s always later.  Hmm, “later” when I start getting into all those southeast asian tropical-styled chiffon cakes that seem like they were perfectly designed for idly biting bits off, spooned up with intensely aromatic pineapples and avocado ice cream and sweet coffee under sweltering jungle scenes/street markets.  Hee… in time, I’ll be there. :)

*drumroll pls*  ……….

{{{{{{{ A Vegan Moment!   }}}}}}  !

Geez, not that I deserve that fanfare, being such a failed vegan, but it makes me really excited to show something animal-free, whenever I can.  These scones are doubly classic Liz-style, too (the baking style of a few years ago), because I didn’t follow a recipe at ALL, but went by feel and instinct and something called “whatever the hell is in the pantry”.  Scones are so very forgiving like that, and these ones turned out rather perfectly – nutty and delicate, made with 3 kinds of flour, 2 kinds of oil, organic cane sugar, some cardamom, buttery chunks of cashew and cranberries dotted throughout.  As long as there is enough fat in the dough, a fair amount of baking powder, and some Yummins stuffed in (and enough liquid to turn that into a reasonable dough), I figure you can make ANY scone your imagination desires or ingredients require, no recipe needed at all.

MMMGrarrrrCUUUKIES—cookies——mmmmyum—*cue incoherent chewing*GRARARARAR  heheheee.

Yeah, so you remember that epic Chocolate Chip Cookie experiment/revelation/debacle/debate spearheaded by one very interesting article in the New York Times?  The one that ramped many people’s wisdom concerning cookie-baking and increased the general deliciousness of Tollhouse-alikes everywhere with a few simple secrets revealed to us all?  Namely, let your dough rest for at least 24 hours, make ’em huge, and don’t forget to adequately salt?  No?  You don’t remember?  Oh shit, well, here’s the link: the Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.  You’re welcome.

(yeah and I know my chocolate use in these ones pictured above is woefully mundane – I mean, those were were actually Chipits, for Eek’s Sake.  Normally I make it a point to use only the nicest and hand-splintered chocolate I can find for these things – Lindt, Ghirardelli, Callebaut, whatever.  What you may also notice, however, is the inclusion of white chocolate.  Mmmmmmmm)

Later these cookies saw the creative home version which included a cupboard raid of — wait for it —- candied ginger, maple syrup, coconut, chocolate-covered quinoa, flame raisins, organic chocolate discs, brazil nuts, flax seeds, cinnamon and BIG OL HUNK OF COCOA CAMINO MINT CHOCOLATE IN THE MIDDLE.  Oh, and Fleur de Sel, of course.  *dies*  Only the best for my sister.

In my mind: parties necessitate cakes, and large parties necessitate many many tiny cakes.  We had a sparkly glammy take-the-house-down party-thing here with a guest-list that crept up through the facebook records, and naturally I found enough time to pop 150+ little red velvet cupcakes out from the company stand-mixer.  All frosted with cream cheese frosting/L<3VE, and sprinkled with sprinkly sprinkles all rainbow and glassy.  The table was positively crammed with some of the nicest red velvet I’ve ever tasted.  Here’s the recipe if you’re interested.  I adore the step of blooming (or brewing, or steeping) the cocoa powder before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.  Every step of this recipe is worth it.  It was a foamy-lush and magical batter and the cake itself tasted, well, like velvet.  And, as you can see, not a single freaking crumb left over, like not a single tiny speck in the morning.  *sigh*  pefect, no?

*takes a deep breath*

*looks up….. *looks around…. *wonders if she should make another strawberry cream cheese bagel covered with local strawberries for a quick snack*  ~.~

Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?  And I made it through a tiny amount of the photos on my hard-drive, well done everyone!  Stay tuned for more random everything-words, and I would apologize for that or something, but… nah.  ;)

Cupboard-Crammed Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from the New York Times recipe

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies

  • 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

(alternately, you can just use 3 3/4 cup all-purpose flour)

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 pounds (4 cups) MIX-INS

(candied fruits, dried fruits, coconut, toasted nuts, seeds, chocolate-covered things, spices like cinnamon or ginger, cereal, candies, CHOCOLATE of any flavour)

  • Fleur de sel

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes (or do this by hand, it is possible). Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla and maple syrup. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

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