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.