Saturday, November 5, 2011

You'd-Never-Guess-They're-Vegan Chocolate Cake Balls

Another birthday at work. This time the birthday boy is lactose intolerant. He seems to be totally OK with that, but let me tell you, I would die. I LOVE my dairy products.

Once I tried making a gluten free cake for a student, and it was a disaster. It tasted like cardboard and had the consistency of sand. Not appealing at all. I decided this time making a special dietary needs dessert it was going to be good. And, I didn't want anyone to say, "Well, it's good if you're lactose intolerant and didn't know any different."

So, I went looking for lactose free cake recipes. After searching the internet, I decided upon this recipe for a chocolate cake. The author guarantees it's the best chocolate cake ever, and plus, it's vegan. I made a few modifications and decided to use a vegan version of my favorite chocolate frosting instead of the recommended chocolate glaze.

The recipe said to prepare the cake batter in the pan. I was a little wary of this and decided to grease and flour the pans, and prepare the batter in a mixing bowl. When I took both cake rounds out of the oven, they looked perfect, and I was most pleased. However, after letting them cool for ten minutes, I loosened the sides of the cakes and tried to flip them out onto a cooling racks. I say "tried" because I was not successful. Those cakes were both completely stuck. When I finally got them out, I was left with chunky piles of chocolate cake.

Arrgh! What was I going to do? It was already 10 p.m.

That's when Katie reminded me when a cake fails, make cake balls. And, that's what I did.

How did they turn out? Well, everyone loved them. If I wouldn't have said anything, no one would have even known they were vegan. They tasted exactly like my cocoa fudge cake truffles.

I think if I were vegan or lactose intolerant, I would be making these quite often. But after second thought, maybe not. These little babies are dangerous around me. I just can't stop at one, two, five, ten...

As it turned out, Katie has a student in her writing class who is also lactose intolerant. Katie always makes treats when they do their peer reviews. The cake balls were also a huge hit in her class. Word about them seemed to spread across campus. A student came up to me and told me how incredible my wife's cake balls were, and then later, I overheard a student talking about how her teacher brought these amazing cake balls to class.

So, that should inspire you to make these even if you're not vegan.

I'm sure this recipe could make a great cake, but Katie and I still haven't figured out the secret of getting it nicely out of a pan. I'm going to try parchment paper next.

Below is a photo of Kyle, the birthday boy, and me. It may look like we are fighting over the cake balls, but that is actually my oh-how-I-absolutely-love-desserts look, and that is Kyle's this-guy-is-nuts look. Happy birthday, Kyle!

Give me cake balls! Nom, nom, nom!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

I'm back!

Did you miss me?

Did you even know I was gone?

Well, the family and I had the amazing opportunity to spend the summer in Vienna directing the BYU study abroad. While I had a wonderful time full of exciting experiences and fantastic food, it's taken me until now before I felt I was caught up enough with my real life that I could post anything on this blog. 

This was taken at Demel's Cafe, the imperial bakery. Liam and Tomas are enjoying a typical Viennese dessert called "Mohr im Hemd" which a steamed chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. When life slows down a bit, I plan to learn how to make some of the out-of-this-world desserts we had in Austria. And of course, I'll share them here.

Since returning, I have done some baking though. I've kept up the tradition of bringing something into the office when one of the students has a birthday. I don't know what it is, but there's always a cluster of birthdays around October and November, my busiest time of year at work.

First off, we had Erika. Good thing for Facebook. I would have probably missed her birthday all together. It was late at night, and I needed something quick and easy, yet still have that "wow" factor. I thought back to the days when Katie and I were newlyweds, and we went through a cheesecake phase. We were so into it, I think we made one a week. I hadn't made a cheesecake for a long time, and I immediately thought of this chocolate orange cheesecake, one of our favorites. After a quick run to the store for some cream cheese (Which, by the way, you can't do in Austria because the grocery stores close early.), I was ready to start. By the time David Letterman came on, it was in the oven.

The cheesecake, as always, was a hit. Everyone thought it was a lot more work than it really was. If you've never tried making a cheesecake before, this is a good one to start with.

Happy birthday, Erika!
*My mom just informed me I posted this recipe before. Rats! Oh well. I'll just have make another one of our favorite cheesecakes and post it to make up for the goof.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Blackberry Scones for our Royal Breakfast

Yes, along with millions of other crazed Americans fascinated with British royalty, we watched the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton. The rest of the family was promptly in front of the TV (or should I say telly) at 2 a.m., and I stumbled downstairs shortly thereafter.

Nigella Lawson, a British food writer and one of my favorite contributors to National Public Radio, gave suggestions for making a royal breakfast fitting the occasion. And even though in England they are more of a tea time confection, Nigella recommended making scones. 

English scones are more what Amerians thinks of as biscuits, and biscuits are what the British call cookies. During our bed and breakfast days, Katie and I made our version of English scones with white chocolate and cranberries. They were very popular, but I have no idea of their authenticity. My only experience in Great Britain is a layover at Heathrow. Someday I hope to do some research in person.

For our little viewing party, I decided to try a new recipe for scones using blackberries. Blackberries are not in season and terribly expensive, so I used frozen. Frozen works fine but is a bit messy. But, the result was mighty fine.

I've always heard the English eat their scones with clotted cream, an extremely thick cream with an extremely high fat content (I'm sure the "clotted" refers to your arteries). Since clotted cream isn't sold here, Katie and I chose to top the scones with vanilla yogurt. Not only a healthier choice, but just what the scones needed. Absolutely brilliant!

I plan to try these scones with other seasonal berries. But for now...

I'm feeling sleep deprived...

and need a nap.

My best to Prince William and Princess Catherine. Good night.

Simply smashing!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chocolate Caramel Brownies

At work, the employees upstairs celebrate Treat Fridays, where someone is assigned to bring treats to enjoy during break time. Since I bake a lot and bring my experimentations into the office, the group upstairs usually asks me to participate and sign up for a Friday.

I put my name down months ago but completely forgot it was my turn this past week until I got a nice little reminder note. One thing I didn't think about when I signed up was that I gave up sugar for Lent, and Easter is later this year. I had a choice to make. I could either bring something healthy or make a dessert and not get to have any myself.

It didn't take too long to decide. I do have a reputation to uphold. So, it had to be sugary goodness all the way.

To find the perfect recipe to try, I referred to the Ivy Bake Shoppe Cookbook, a source of many family favorite recipes. I've almost worked my way through all the desserts, but I hadn't tried this recipe for Chocolate Caramel Brownies.

I admit I was initially shocked to read the recipe called for a box of cake mix. For me, there is pretty much only one exception to prefer a cake mix over scratch, and that is with this recipe for Chocolate Angel Food Cake. However, this cookbook has produced enough winners that I trust the Ivy Cafe.

I was not disappointed. Or, I should say that everyone who tried the brownies wasn't disappointed. In fact, everyone loved them, and several asked for the recipe. This is one way to kick the standard brownie up several notches, and they are incredibly easy. The hardest thing is unwrapping the caramels. I may even try next time replacing the caramel mixture with dulce de leche. Mmmmm...

Good thing Easter is less than a week away. I'm almost sure I will be making another batch. I just hope the past month and a half has taught me some restraint.

Probably not.

I can only imagine what this chocolatey, caramely, gooey temptation tastes like. Only. Six. More. Days...

Monday, April 4, 2011

I've Been Got!

Like I said in my last post, there was a birthday at work. Richard turned 24 on Friday, and I was in the mood to bake something new.

I recently read somewhere about a cake with orange curd and strawberries. I can't remember where I saw it, and I didn't read through the recipe. But, I thought the flavor combination sounded great. I decided to create my own version.

First of all, I chose to use pound cake. For Christmas, I received Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible, and in my opinion, her pound cake recipe is first rate. I then made a batch of orange curd. Though I've made lemon curd, this was my first attempt at orange curd. Because I'm still off sugar for Lent, I had to rely on my wife, Katie, that it tasted good.

To assemble the cake, I cut it horizontally into four layers and spread a layer of orange curd between each layer. This is where I started to have a bit of trouble as the cake started to do an impersonation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. No matter how I tried to level the cake, the layers kept sliding. I had to think of something, and I had to do it quick.

First, I stabilized the layers of cake with various kitchen implements. This bought me some time to think what I could do to save the cake. I looked in the refrigerator and found some cream cheese. I decided to make a cream cheese frosting. Maybe that would hold the layers together.

Well, it did...sort of. And let me tell you, it was no easy feat to frost.

It still wasn't the prettiest thing, but I still had some really nice looking strawberries. I halved them, and stuck them into the frosting. This seemed to be the structural support the cake needed. It looked quite amazing considering that just minutes earlier I was considering tossing the thing out the window and stopping by Krispy Kreme Donuts on the way to work to pick a dozen glazed for Richard.

Not too shabby—don't you agree?
When we gathered up the coworkers and students to sing "Happy Birthday," the cake was met with unanimous ooohs and aaaahs. Richard was touched. As we were taking a group photograph to remember the occasion, Richard gave the following speech.

I would like to thank everyone for the birthday wishes, and I would especially like to thank Curtis for making this amazing looking cake for my birthday on April 1st even though it isn't really my birthday.

You mean to tell me that Richard has had me thinking his birthday was April 1 for over a month now, and it's not his birthday? His birthday is actually in December?

In today's vernacular, I was punk'd for April Fools Day.

Good one, Richard!

Happy April Fools Day, Richard! But, watch your back next year...
We all had a great laugh, and then I cut into the cake. This is when the Leaning Tower of Pisa finally fell over. The more pieces I cut, the bigger mess it became. However, everyone loved it. Some even said it was the best thing I've made yet.

I won't post the recipe for this tasty mess because I plan to do some more experimenting after Easter when I can actually enjoy a piece. I'm not sure if I will try something other than pound cake, or if I'll try to assemble it differently. So, check back in about a month to see what I've come up with.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Red Velvet Chocolate Squares (A Sugar Free Surprise)

It's been over a month since I last posted anything.

I'm sorry.

However, I do have an excuse—sort of.

I decided to give up sugar for Lent. I'm not Catholic, but I really like the idea of Lent and have observed it for the past several years.

Giving up sugar hasn't been too terribly difficult. I do have the occasional cravings, but the dreams about candy have finally subsided. One recurring dream involved going out to dinner with my family and my parents. I had a giant stash of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups under the table. Every time no one was looking, I would shove one in my mouth. I felt so guilty but couldn't stop.

Needless to say, baking treats that I can't try doesn't seem to be much fun. I could have made healthy recipes to post, but I found it best to just stay out of the kitchen.

The reward? I've dropped 8 lbs.!

Last week, I received the Costco "magazine" in the mail. It's basically all advertisements for stuff they sell. I usually give it a quick glance before tossing it into the recycling. As I thumbed through the pages, I stopped on a picture of an amazing looking chocolate dessert. I thought maybe I would hang onto the magazine and try out the recipe after Easter. However, as I read through the ingredients, not only did I notice some very interesting and odd ingredients, I noticed the recipe didn't use any sugar. I could try it now!

The recipe comes from Rocco DiSpirito's new book, Now Eat This! Diet. The odd ingredients in these red velvet chocolate squares are beets and red beans. This reminded me of some rather tasty desserts I tried in China that had red beans in them.

I followed Rocco's recipe exactly, and decided to test it out on my kids. Of course, I didn't tell them what was in squares. If they had known, they would never have tried them. All three kids ended up loving them and would have finished off the pan if I had let them.

I then put the chocolate squares to the ultimate test—the in-laws. While not picky eaters, they're probably not the most adventuresome eaters either. I still don't think they ever gave my peanut butter pizza a fair try. Without knowing they were sugar free and made with beets and beans, the in-laws offered glowing compliments.

I highly recommend these red velvet chocolate squares. I liked them so much that I think I will check out Rocco's book.

For those of you wondering if it will be after Easter before I post again, do not fear. One of my students has a birthday Friday. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to make, but I have a feeling it's going to be grand. Stay tuned!

Never have vegetables tasted so good!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Macadamia Fudge Torte

I was going through pictures on the camera and found some photos of a cake I just realized I never posted. Rachel, one of my student employees, had a birthday in December, and I made this Macadamia Fudge Torte. We celebrated Rachel's birthday appropriately by singing "Happy Birthday" in our best opera voices, as is our custom, and all enjoyed the cake, Then, Christmas happened...

Now, I'm getting caught up. This is a recipe I wanted to make sure I posted because it's been a family favorite for about fifteen years. In 1996, it was the Pillsbury Bake-Off million dollar grand prize winner. You do have to use a box cake mix, which I am generally opposed to; however, this cake is worth every penny of that million dollars. I've also modified the recipe just slightly. For desserts, I never use "low fat" or "light" ingredients, and I topped the cake off with dulce de leche.

Interestingly, this cake uses pureed pears in the batter. I have no clue why. For all I know, you could easily use applesauce. However, this last time I made the cake, a student came to me and said, "What's that flavor? I think I taste pears." Wow, those are some highly developed taste buds.

This cake is always a showstopper, and it's very easy to make. If I received a dollar for every compliment for this cake, I could actually someday become a millionaire.

Give it a try, and enjoy!
Rachel, the birthday girl, who is also worth a million

I'm salivating. I think I need to make this again.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Last Second Entry—S’More Lamingtons

Mr. P extended the deadline to enter the Re-Inventing the Lamginton Contest, so I thought I'd give it one more shot. Of course, I've left it to the last minute to post the recipe and only have a few minutes left, so this will be a brief post. And, please pardon any grammatical or spelling errors.

For my first two entries, I did Argentine and Austrian inspired Lamingtons. I thought I'd do another international version. However, I couldn't come up with any good ideas. Actually, I came up with some pretty horrid ideas. How does a Japanese Lamginton with seaweed and little dried fish sound? See what I mean? Not so great.

After much contemplation, I decided to make a totally American Lamington. But, what's totally American? It seems like all of our cuisine has been borrowed from somewhere. After looking through some vacation pictures of the family in Carpinteria at our favorite beach, I knew what I had to make—Lamingtons based on that famous campfire dessert, S'Mores.

I made the Lamgintons out of graham cracker pound cake filled with marshmallow cream. I then covered them in chocolate and sprinkled each with graham cracker crumbs. They were somewhat messy, but that just added to the authenticity.

My family has certainly enjoyed my Lamington experimentations, and they certainly loved these s'more versions. My son even said, "Dad, You're the best Lamington maker in the world." I'm not sure about that, but that's compliment enough to know these are pretty darn good and that you should give them a try.

The picture's not the best, but that's what you get when you're in a hurry.

If it's too cold for camping or you want something a little more gourmet, these will do the trick.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Re-Invent the Lamington Contest Entries—Alfajore Lamingtons and Sacher Lamingtons

I just looked at my calendar.

January 26...

Hmm... Do I have something going on today that I can't remember? It sure seems like I do. But what?

Aaaaah! It's the deadline for the Re-Inventing the Lamingtons Contest! I wanted to enter the contest last year, but never got around to it. When I saw that Mr. P was holding the contest again, I decided I was not going to procrastinate and submit an entry. Now, it's the last day, and with the time difference, I probably only have a little bit of time to get this entry posted.

I'll let you read through Mr. P's entertaining blog for the history and background of the contest. But basically, a lamington is an Australian dessert consisting of squares of cake with a jam filling covered in chocolate and shredded coconut. For this contest, you just have to get creative.

So, I would like to submit two entries.

First, I give you the Argentine inspired Alfore Lamingtons. I actually created it last year after the first Re-Inventing the Lamington Contest had already ended, so click on the link to read all about them. These are sooo incredibly good. I have made them several times, and they always receive rave reviews. In my opinion, you can't go wrong with Dulce de Leche.

Seriously YUM, YUM YUM!
And now for my second entry—the Austrian inspired Sacher Lamington.

Vienna is possibly my favorite city in the world, and it's famous for the Sachertorte. In 2009, I was fortunate enough to celebrate my birthday at the Sacher Hotel and enjoy a slice of heaven. The Sachertorte is a chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle and covered in a dark chocolate ganache.

I decided to create a Lamington based on this cake. For the cake, I wanted something dense that could easily be dipped in chocolate. I chose to make two loaves of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Chocolate Bread. For the filling, I used my wife's marvelous homemade apricot jam. After cutting the cake into squares and spreading on the jam, I covered the Lamingtons in semi-sweet chocolate. Since the original Lamington is covered in shredded coconut, I wanted to add one more ingredient. However, coconut did not seem to fit well with the Sachertorte theme. I looked around the grocery store for inspiration and basically came up with nothing until I hit the candy aisle. I decided to sprinkle shavings of the best and darkest European chocolate I could find, which happened to be Lindt's Excellence 99% Cocoa Bar.

Here is the result.

To be really authentic, serve your Sacher Lamington with a big dollop of whipped cream.
I brought these to a dinner party recently, where they were a huge hit. I definitely plan to make them again.

Well, there you have them, my two entries in this year's Re-Invent the Lamington Contest. I've already begun thinking of other countries to inspire more Lamington recipes. Hopefully, Mr. P will sponsor the contest again next year, and hopefully, I will be a little more on the ball.

Wish me luck!