March 30, 2010

About similarities and differences, about good days and bad days, and small kitchens, and wish lists, and my still not perfect biscuits


I know, I know...the title is ridiculously long...and so will be this post...but today I woke up in a very weird mood. I should say in a very "depressed" mood. I know that people like to hear only good things, and for sure they do not look around for new blogs of depressed bakers...but that was my mood these days so...what the heck...that's what I'm going to be writing about in this post (although, I promise, there is a happy ending). Somehow I believe that blogs are just a form of modern-day-personal-diaries with the difference that people die for having somebody finding them and "spying" into them :-)

So why did I wake up in a gloomy mood these days? First of all, last week was a busy and tiring week for me and also for Wally. The result was that we did not see each other much and this, by itself, would be enough to put me in a bad mood (I should be worried if that wasn't the case, right?). Sunday night he also played at a festival in San Francisco (amazing show!) and we end up going to be late and tired. When I woke up yesterday morning I was still tired but I'm on holiday so that wasn't a problem. However, as I look outside the was raining! The wonderful spring weather of the past two weeks has decided to leave Oakland exactly on the first day of my holiday and on the second day of holiday (and apparently for the entire week). So much for my plans of long energetic walks!

There is also another, bigger, issue that contributed to my "depressed" mood of this morning. I am still waiting for my working permit, which means that I have not been employed (nor paid) for three months and I won't be for who knows how much longer. Sometimes, in life I feel in constant transition...I know, it's a contradiction...a transition is - by definition - temporary...but I really feel I simply jump from one thing to another, as well as I jumped from one country to another in the past years (I am not jumping from one husband to another though :-) ). I always felt I am not able to "put roots" in a place or to stick to a plan or to finish something I have started with great enthusiasm. In the last couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about all this, up to the point of questioning my decision of dropping out of my PhD program (but rationally, I am really convinced that was one of the best decisions I've taken in my life).

Anyway, I know this period of transition will after all finish but in the meantime it seems endless and it is very frustrating. So, yesterday morning I woke up in this weird mind set and it took me some time to really wake up and get active. I finally went out to run some errands and by the time I got back it really started to rain harder. That's when I decided to watch a movie on Netflix. The problem is that when I am in such a weird mood no movie is really going to entice me. Not hoping for much, I open the webpage and.....the very first movie among the "suggestions for you" was Julie & Julia. I hadn't watched that movie yet but since when I started the blog many friend have been telling me "Oh you remind me of the movie Julie & Julia! Have you seen it? You must have seen it!" almost to the point of becoming annoying. So at this point, I HAD to watch that movie.

I'm sure many of you food bloggers out there had my same reaction. I REALLY identified myself with Julie. The way my blog started was actually pretty similar to hers. It was indeed my husband suggestion, as a means for me to express myself and to talk about something I like doing and that takes my mind away from my job, my problems, my bad moods, my insecurities. I also went (hmmmm, going actually) through the same phase Julie went through: wondering if all the effort I put into the blog is worth; asking myself if there might be someone out there reading it; thinking about how can I have people to read it, follow it, use it. I even question my baking skills, the originality of the recipes and/or of my blog. After all, there are thousands of food blogs out there. Why should somebody stop at mine? Why should somebody choose to come back to it? Even right now, I am sure I am not writing anything new. Many people will have thought the same. But that is not point. The point is that in this "depressed" mood I have been asking myself the wrong questions and I have lost sight of the true meaning that this blog has for me. As I said at the beginning of this post, a blog is, after all, a personal diary. It is meant first of all for me. It has a meaning first of all to me. It is useful first of all to me. And it is first of all about me and about my experiences with baking, for good or for bad. 

This is what my blog has to show, no matter whether somebody finds it and spy into it or not. So thanks to my husband, who gave me this great idea and keeps supporting it; thanks to all the food bloggers out there who give me wonderful ideas and tips every day I read them; thanks to those who read my blog and to those who will not read my blog (too bad you don't get to read my thank you :-) ). And thanks even to my small, badly equipped, cheap kitchen...because without it I could not be doing all this :-)

After all these considerations, I decided to exploit once again my tiny kitchen. Lately I have been trying to find the recipe for some great biscuits. I have found an amazing post that taught me a lot about biscuits and has a recipe for Perfect Buttermilk Biscuits. Mine still did not come out so perfect (I'm sure because of the changes I have made) but if this blog is about my baking experiments I want to post also those that do not give me quite the result I was expecting (in this case because the biscuits did not rise a lot). Hey, there were still pretty good though...just not perfect :-)

My Still-Not-Perfect Biscuits

Yield: 6 Biscuits

1cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I like King Arthur too, as the author of the above post)
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt 
2 tbsp unsalted butter (chilled and cubed)*
6oz buttermilk (chilled)
2 tbsp sour cream

* I did not use lard as suggested in the recipe simply because I did not have it at home, not for any aversion towards lard. I'm Italian, lard does not intimidate me :-)

Preheat oven to 500° F and set oven rack to the center of the oven.

Combine dry ingredients in a big bowl and stir. Add chilled butter mix until the the mixture looks pebbly (do not over mix).

Gently stir in the buttermilk (use a fork) and the sour cream until just incorporated. The dough will be very wet and sticky at this point.

Turn onto a generously floured board and generously flour the top, and fold over, flour, pat, fold, flour until workable but still a little tacky. This should take about 5 folds. Try not to add too much flour, as that will toughen the biscuits, and do not knead the dough, which would also toughen the biscuits. Simply fold and pat out flat. The final pat before cutting should leave your biscuit dough about 1/3 inch to 1/2 inch thick.

Cut biscuits using a floured biscuit cutter or the floured rim of a drinking glass and put them on a baking pan prepared with a baking sheet or lightly greased or sprayed with nonstick coating, with the sides just kissing each other.

Put them in the oven, close the oven door, and turn the temperature down to 450° F. Bake for 10-12 minutes. If you have a convection oven, use the convection fan and cut the baking time down to 9-11 minutes. The circulating air will create a taller and more evenly baked biscuit. The tops of your biscuits should be a lovely brown, and the sides will be considerably lighter. Remove these from the oven and serve them immediately.

March 29, 2010

Happy Monday: Lemon Cake


It's Monday again and it's a very fine Monday indeed for me. It's spring break week so I will not be working for the entire week (yay! much more time for my baking experiments!) and Oakland is in full spring mood: it's sunny, it smells flowers everywhere, trees are's simply gorgeous. Needless to say, this weather put me in a terrific mood and made me very energetic. So for this Happy Monday I really wanted to make something to make Wally feel the same way. I wanted something sweet, fresh and puffy. All these qualities are combined in this amazing loaf: a spongy dream that smells vanilla and taste zesty lemon.

Happy Monday to everybody :-)

150 gr butter, softened (1/2 cup and 2 tbsp)
145 gr white sugar (2/3 cups)
3 eggs
75 gr all-purpose flour (1/2 cup and 1 tbsp)
75 gr cornstarch (1/2 cup and 1 tbsp)
7 ml vanilla extract (1 tsp)
45 ml lemon juice (3 tbsp)
75 gr confectioners' sugar (1/2 cup and 1 tbsp)

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan (or smaller if you want it to be high).

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each one. Stir in the vanilla extract, then mix in the flour and cornstarch. Pour into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 60-70 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted into the crown comes out clean. Cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

While the cake is baking, mix together the lemon juice and confectioners' sugar. When the cake comes out of the oven, poke with a long fork or knitting needle all over. Pour the glaze over the top,and let it soak in. Cut into slices to serve.
Enjoy it!

March 28, 2010

Fabulous Cheesecakes


My last post was about my Thank You note to the President of the Board of Directors of the school where I volunteer for the wonderful gift she made me: Dorie Greenspan's "Baking. From my home to yours". In the meantime, I have been working full day for three days so I haven't had time to bake anything else and I have started to feel nostalgy for my new Dorie Greenspan's book.

So when we were invited for dinner at some friends place I had no doubt I would have brought another dessert taken from this magic book and considering how our friends Nat and Terrell love cheesecake I didn't have to think one single second about which cake I was going to make.

Dorie did not disappointed me this time either (of course). The first comment to my cheesecake was "perfect". I could not ask for a better result! Here is the recipe of this fabulous cheesecake that I presented together with a strawberry coulis that really gave the final perfect match. Needless to say....the cheesecake did not survive long. In fact, the pictures are not so great because I was not able to make people wait before cutting it and eating it :)


For the Crust
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Cheesecake
2 lbs (four 8oz boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two

For the Coulis
1 cup frozen unsweetened strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

To Make the Crust

Butter a 9″ springform pan – choose one that has sides that are 2 3/4″ high (if the sides are lower, you will have cheesecake batter left over) – and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminium foil.

Stir the crumbs, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. ( I do this with my fingers.) Turn the ingredients into the springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs over the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don’t worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach slightly above or below the midway point on the sides. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake..

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

To Make the Cheesecake Batter

Put a kettle of water on to boil

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at a medium speed until soft and creamy; about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat for another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition – you want a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the sour cream and/or heavy cream (I had a lot of heavy cream in the fridge so this time I have used all heavy cream and it made it sooo tasty and rich. Next time I will try with all sour cream or a combination).

Put the foil-wrapped springform pan into a roasting pan that is large enough to hold the pan with some space around it.

Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula , just to make sure that there is nothing left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and scrape the batter into the springform pan. The batter will reach the rim of the pan. (If you have a pan with lower side and have leftover batter, you can bake the batter in a buttered ramekin or a small soufflé mold.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into it to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top should be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.

After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster – be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.

When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and refrigerate for at least 4 hours; overnight is better.

At serving time, remove the sides of the springform pan – I use a hairdryer to do this – and set the cake on a serving platter.

To make the Strawberry Coulis
In a medium saucepan, combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Transfer to a blender.

Purée until smooth, strain, and set aside to cool before serving (what is left can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week).

Source: Dorie Greenspan, "Baking. From My Home to Yours".

March 23, 2010

Thank you Heather: these brownie buttons are for you


The other day I finished my shift at school and when I entered the office the director told me there was a wedding gift for me from Heather Gatti, the President of the Board of Directors of the school. On a chair, there was a huge package wrapped up with beautiful dish towels, a red silky ribbon and a few miniature kitchen tools. I was so excited! Once I opened, I went from excited to esthatic. There were two baking pans (one for mini muffins that I always wanted but was still in my wish list), measuring cups and spoons from Sur La Table and duh duh duh duh....THE most amazing book I could have ever received: Dorie Greenspan's "Baking. From My Home to Yours". OMG! In that moment I didn't know whether to faint for the emotion or to go home and start baking. Of course, I chose the second option :-)

Once I got home, I really didn't know which recipe to choose first. They are all soooo! I want to try them all and I will. In the meantime, these were part of my Thank You note (I kept only a couple for me too....well, I have to try all my recipes, right? :) )

So, THANK YOU Heather!

Brownie Buttons

Grated zest of 1/2 orange (optional)

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
For the Glaze (optional)
2 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two miniature muffin pans, each with a dozen cups, and place them on a baking sheet.

If you’re using the orange zest, combine the zest and sugar in a small bowl, rubbing them between your fingertips to blend; set aside. Whisk together the flour and salt.

Melt the butter, chocolate and brown sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula and keeping an eye on the pan so nothing overheats or burns. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and cool for a minute or two.

Stir in the vanilla, egg and the zest, if you’re using it, into the chocolate mixture. When the mixture is well blended, add the flour and stir only until it is incorporated. You should have a smooth, glossy batter.

Spoon the batter into 16 of the muffin cups, using about a teaspoon of batter to fill each cup three-quarters full. Put 1 teaspoon of water in each empty cup.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until the tops of the buttons spring back when touched. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 3 minutes before carefully releasing the buttons. Cool to room temperature on the racks.

To Make the Optional Glaze (not so optional in my opinion!):

Melt the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir constantly and don’t leave the chocolate for even a minute- white chocolate scorches easily. As soon as the chocolate is smooth, remove from the heat.

One by one, dip the tops of the buttons into the chocolate, twirling the buttons so that you get a little swirl at the center of each one and the excess chocolate drips back into the bowl. Refrigerate the buttons for 15 minutes to set the glaze.

Playing Around:
Substitute lemon zest for the orange, or try and equal amount of very finely chopped ginger instead of the zest.

Makes 16 cookies.

Serving: serve these with milk, coffee or even sniffers of single-malt scotch
Storing: covered, these will keep at room temperature overnight. If you wrap them air-tight you can freeze them for up to 2 months, glazed or not.

Source: Dorie Greenspan, Baking. From My Home to Yours.

March 22, 2010

Happy Monday: Orange Berry Muffins


Mondays are always a hard day for many people. Waking up and going to work after the weekend is hard, even more now that the springs has literally arrived in Oakland. This morning is a wonderful sunny morning and I feel lucky for not having to go to work on Mondays morning at least for this semester. Today, I am just not going to work at all, so I wanted to have a nice thought for all those that are waking up or already at work and bake something yummy, soft, and "springy" for Wally (and for me :-)).

I chose these orange berry muffins and I couldn't choose better! They are yummy, spongy, light and they totally smell like spring. Having breakfast with one of these muffins put me in a very good mood. Also, thus far this is the best muffin recipe I have ever tried....thanks to Dorie Greenspan, of course!

Orange Berry Muffins

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
About 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries - fresh, preferably, or frozen (not thawed)
Decorating sugar, for topping (optional)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin pan, which needs neither greasing nor paper cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Pour the orange juice into a large glass measuring cup or a bowl and pour in enough buttermilk to make 1 cup. Whisk in the eggs, honey and melted butter.

In a large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough - the batter will be lumpy and bubbly, and that’s just the way it should be. Stir in the blueberries. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. If you want to top the muffins with decorating sugar, sprinkle on the sugar after the muffins have baked for 10 minutes. When fully baked, the tops of the muffins will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

Makes 12 big, spongy, yummy, irresistible (ok you got the idea) muffins.

Source: Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours

March 20, 2010

How to make husband and wife equally happy


Wally really likes chocolate chip cookies. I'm not their biggest fan simply because I don't love bittersweet or dark chocolate. However, I do love white chocolate. I could never have enough of it! So I thought that black and white chocolate chip cookies would have been the perfect "compromise" to make both happy. They really did the trick :)

Of this recipe I also love the mixing of brown and white sugar. It gives them that something extra that make them already a favourite in the house.

Black and White Chocolate Chips Cookies

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
6-ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
6-ounces white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars. Beat in eggs one at a time, along with the vanilla extract. Gradually beat in flour mixture (I like making these cookies by hand but if you are used to make them with an electric mixer you should beat it at a low speed). Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for 12 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned at the edges.

Let them cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
They can be easilty stored in an airtight container.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

March 14, 2010

Lemon Scones


After the diet-breaking chocolate peanut butter cake I decided I wanted to make something lighter. Also, it's Sunday evening and (as every Sunday) I am already getting organized for the week. My first thought goes, of course, to Wally's breakfast. Wally does not usually have breakfast and being Italian for me this is a sort of heresy. However, I discovered that he does like having scones because he can carry them with him and have them on the train on his way to work. So lately I got into making scones on Sundays. I had never made scones in my life until probably a month ago. I don't have a "grandma" recipe for scones because we do not make them in Italy so it took me a long time on the internet to find out a bunch of recipes that entice me. I found several recipes that I want to try so there might be many scones posting in the coming Sundays.

This time because I had a lot of lemons at home that I was craving for using but also because there is no egg in the dough. Working with children I have started to pay more attention to recipes that can accomodate their food allergies. There are a couple of kids at school that are allergic to egss, so I figured this would be a wonderful recipe to make with them. I will try it soon at school. In the meantime, I did them for us and, as I wished, they turned out very fresh and light. So, any time you want something light to indulge yourself at breakfast, these scones are a great choice.


2 cups all-purpose flour (I used bread flour for these scones)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
Additional sugar 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add milk, lemon juice and lemon peel, stirring just until mixed. Turn onto a floured surface; knead gently a few times and shape into a ball.

On a greased baking sheet, pat dough into a circle about 1/2" thick and 8-1/2" in diameter. Using a sharp knife, cut wedges in the dough, being careful not to cut all the way through. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Pane, pane, pane...can I have more bread please?

On Saturdays I usually have time to do more time-consuming goodies and today I was really craving for an old love of mine: pane (bread). Of all the baked goods, bread is definitely my favourite. I love every type of bread: plain bread, focaccia, rolls...any time I can, I try a new one. So when today I saw the recipe of this brown sugar raisin bread I thought "I HAVE to make it". Unfortunately, my oven is not very good for bread: the bread cooks quickly outside but does not cook well inside. Nevertheless, it still came out My big thank you to Brown Eyed Baker, from whom I literally stole this recipe.

Brown Sugar Raisin Bread


1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1-1/4 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 cup warm milk (105-115 degrees)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 Tablespoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
6 to 6-1/4 cups bread flour, plus more as needed
3/4 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup dark raisins

For the filling:

2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
mixed with 4-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

In a bowl, sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the granulated sugar over 1/2 cup of the water and stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the remainig 3/4 cup water, the milk, butter, the remaining granulated sugar, salt, egg and 2 cups of the flour. Beat on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the yeast mixture and 1/2 cup of the flour and beat for 1 minute. Add the raisins, then beat in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Switch to the dough hook. Knead on medium-low speed, adding 1 Tablespoon at a time if the dough sticks, until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes. Transfer the dough to a greased deep bowl and turn to coat it. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Lightly grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Divide the dough in half and roll or pat each half into an 8-by-12-inch rectangle. Lightly sprinkle each rectangle with half of the filling, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides. Beginning at a narrow end, tightly roll up each rectangle into a compact log. Pinch the ends and the long seam to seal in the filling. Place each log, seam side down, in a prepared pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough is about 1 inch above the rim of each pan, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Preheat an oven to 350. Bake until the loaves are golden brown and pull away from the sides of the pan, 35 to 40 minutes. Turn the loaves out onto wire racks and let cool completely. Makes two 9-by-5-inch loaves.

March 12, 2010

Reese’s Cup Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake: how to kill a diet


Today I feel lucky for several reasons: my husband, my life, my job...but most importantly the fact that I am not a chocolate craver. I do not particularly love peanut butter either. Growing up in Italy my addiction was Nutella (which is not chocolate, as many of my American friends claim. It's nutmeg cream! That's very different!) but I had never had peanut butter until my 20s, when travelling and living abroad made me acquaintant with it. Now I like it but I definitely do not look for it or rush to the store because of a craving. Ain't I lucky? This should be enough to avoid losing shape (altought, it turns out, this is not true).

Then why did I decide to make this cake today? Well, every day I ask Wally "What would you like for dinner?" or "What would you like me to bake?". Usually the answer is "I don't are the cook" or just "Something yummy". This doesn't really help me decide. But yesterday evening I asked for a more specific question "Which ingredients should there be in the cake?" and the answer was a decise "Chocolate and peanut butter". Wow...we are improving, Amore. So, here is it: a chocholate peanut butter cake. I have looked online for hours before deciding that this was the cake I wanted to bake, the cake with the right combination of chocolate and peanut butter. I might even like this cake! ooppsss goodbye diet.

For the cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup milk
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (optional)

For decorating:

Peanut butter frosting (makes 1 1/2-2 batches):
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

mini Reese’s cups, halved and/or chopped

The cake
Preheat the oven to 350° and prepare two 9×2” round cake pans with cooking spray and parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until thoroughly blended into the butter. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk; add the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (beginning and ending with the dry ingredients). Mix each addition only until it is blended into the batter. Scrape down the bowl and add the melted chocolate, if using, folding it in with a spatula. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cakes feel springy to the touch and start to pull away from the sides of the pans. Transfer to wire racks to cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cardboard circle covered in foil. Spread peanut butter frosting on top of the cake layer. (If desired, sprinkle with chopped Reese’s cups.) Place the second cake layer on top of the frosting. Frost the top and outside of the cake with remaining peanut butter frosting. Decorate with halved and chopped Reese’s cups as desired.

Peanut butter frosting
Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.
Inspiration: Smells Like Home

March 10, 2010

Homemade snickerdoodles are better!


Wally, my husband, LOVES cookies. I like them too but sometimes I feel there is not too much "to play with" in making cookies so I spend hours online trying to find recipes that have something different from others. For my first post about cookies, however, I have decided to go for a classic: snickerdoodles. A lesson that I've learnt pretty quickly when I moved to the US is that Americans looooove cinnamon and put a big amount of it whenever possilbe. I like cinnamon but I tend to find it annoying when there is too much of it. The nice thing of homemaking is that you can control the doses of each ingredient...that's why I like homemade snickerdoodles: I can put the right amount of cinnamon so that Wally still love his daily ration of cookies and I can enjoy them too. Here is my recipe*, adapted from Joy of Baking:

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, the salt, and the baking powder.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until smooth (about 2 to 3 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is soft and sticky, you can cover it and refrigerate it until it's firm enough to roll into balls (one to two hours will be enough).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape the dough into 1 inch (2.5 cm) round balls.

Coating: In a large shallow bowl mix together the sugar and cinnamon.
Roll the balls of dough in the cinnamon sugar and place on the prepared pan, spacing about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Then, using the bottom of a glass, gently flatten each cookie to about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick.

Bake the cookies for about 8 - 10 minutes, or until they are light golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Can store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for about 10 - 14 days.

Makes about 6 dozens of cookies.

* I actually used half doses. I know that bakers always say never to upsize or downsize doses but sometimes I do downsize the recipe, above all when I am experimenting. 6 dozens of cookies seem too much to me.

My first Wilton Decorating Course


Last month I have started to take the Wilton Decorating Courses. That was also what made me take the final decision of starting this blog. I felt I was learning one more skills I was getting passionate about: after baking also decorating. The first course is titled "Discover Cake Decorating" becuase it really goes over the basics of icing a cake, making the easy border and a few decorative flowers with buttercream icing. I don't particularly like the icing that you learn to make in the Wilton courses but it is still good to learn one more type of icing....above all for a beginner like I am....yes because in Italy we do not really decorate cakee, cookies and cupcake with icing. Actually, unless you are a professional baker you have high chances of having no idea of how to make icing (like myself until a year ago).

So, this course for me was A LOT of fun and I have actually learnt much more than I thought I could. As first post I am just going to post some pictures from the first course. I am not posting the recipe of the cakes because I usually used very basic white or chocolate cakes to practice.

I am a good baker but I didn't start very well as decorator. The icing of the very first cake didn't come out very well because I used the wrong icing consistency for the final coat (in fact, you can still see the crumbs) but overall I think the cake is pretty! I usually bake very good cakes but this is really the first cake I decorated all by myself....if you can call it a real decoration!


On our third class we learnt to make the rose. I was very scared and pessimistic about my abilities to make roses but all in all now I am really proud. Also, I tried to make them with the teacher icing and they came out marvellous at the first try. This gave me confidence and made me understood that the fact that my initial roses were not smooth was not a matter of my hand but of my icing :-)


After that I got to practice with several small flowers.

I love making flowers and I was looking forward to use them to decorate a cake. Here is the final cake of my first course. I have to admit...I felt very proud of myself with this cake...even the teacher told me I did a good job. I think it's so cute!