Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Break From Cake: Snickerdoodle Ice Cream Sandwiches

As we prepare to usher out Summer, at least via the calendar, I would like to share a treat that combines the cinnamon tones of coming Autumn days and the refreshing ice cream burst of dwindling Summer nights: Snickerdoodle Ice Cream Sandwiches. As a born and bred Northerner, I had never heard of a Snickerdoodle. I encountered the cinnamon-sugar delights a few years into my tenure as a Southern transplant and, like slightly sweetened iced-tea and cheese grits, these little yummies made it easy to succumb to the Southern way.

A few months back, issues of Women's Day magazine mysteriously began showing up in our mail box. I did not subscribe to the magazine and John says he did not purchase the subscription for me either. I personally think the subscription is some kind of divine act meant to bring me these amazing ice cream treats! The cinnamon sweetness of the cookie combined with the rich ice cream is out of this world! The flavor combination is reminiscient of my favorite Mexican restaurant treat: sopapillas with ice cream.

The Snickerdoodle cookie recipe came together very easily. I usually don't care too much about uniformity in my cookies, but with these being the "bread" for ice cream sandwiches I wanted them to all be roughly about the same size. A small ice cream scoop with a release handle did the trick nicely. I just went with store bought ice cream as the recipe suggests but some super creamy ice cream of the homemade variety would be lovely too.

The mint chocolate chip flavored ice cream I used was chosen by my daughter. Personally, I would have perferred to stick closer to the sopapilla flavor combo and gone with some vanilla, but this was good and the color is more interesting. So go ahead, usher in Fall and hold onto Summer all at the same time. I promise, it will be a delicious experience!

Snickerdoodle Ice Cream Sandwiches
From the July issue of Women's Day

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups ice cream

Heat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar and 2 Tbsp of the granulated sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated.

In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and remaining 2 Tbsp granulated sugar. Form the dough into 1½-in. balls, roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and place on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 in. apart. Bake until set and edges are slightly golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Form sandwiches with 2 cookies and ¼ cup of ice cream. Serve immediately or freeze, covered, for up to 3 days.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Classic Cakes: Carrot Cake Cupcakes

After a blistering hot summer in Atlanta, we have recently had a bit of relief with some 65-70 degree temperatures. The cooler weather feels like a signal to blog my favorite Carrot Cake recipe.

For years I made the Carrot Cake recipe my Mom had given me. I believe it originated from her Betty Crocker cookbook. The recipe called for baby food carrots. I made it many times before I finally admitted it was a bit dry and not very good.  A girl cannot be without a go-to carrot cake recipe, so off I went in search of the moist and delicious recipe that gave carrot cake it's famously good name. I found a true winner in Ina Garten's Carrot Cake Cupcake recipe.

Her recipe calls for grated carrots instead of the baby food, and vegetable oil, which I believe is the secret to this cake's moist and fluffy texture. I like my carrot cake plain, I know that may be blasphemy to some; however, I omit the nuts and raisins. I have also baked this recipe many, many times divided evenly into two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans and it has come out wonderfully every single time.

The cream cheese frosting recipe I use is my Mom's. It is wonderful! Plenty of cream cheese taste and not overly sweet. I believe I doubled the recipe to have enough to ice all the cupcakes.

I made this particular batch of cupcakes for a bake sale at John's office. I wanted to go with something classic, that had mass appeal, to help raise as much money as possible for the cause: the Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk & Fitness Program. All the cupcakes I sent in sold, and the extra ones I made for us disappeared pretty quickly too. John is burning off the extra calories tonight as he completes the run. As for me, I have to admit, I couldn't resist eating one, or two..and a half of these. They were so worth it though, and I'm sure I burnt off the calories running around after the kids :)

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

2 cups sugar

1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 extra-large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups grated carrots (less than 1 pound)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the sugar, oil, and vanilla together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs, 1 at a time. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add 1/2 of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add the grated carrots, raisins, and walnuts to the remaining flour, mix well, and add to the batter. Mix until just combined.

Line muffin pans with paper liners. Scoop the batter into 22 muffin cups until each is 3/4 full. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and cook for a further 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

For the frosting, cream the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the sugar and beat until smooth.

When the cupcakes are cool, frost them generously and serve.

Cream Cheese Frosting  (double)

2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 oz. cream cheese (softened)
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsps butter (softened)
Beat until smooth

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Break From Cake: Better Blueberry Muffins

I do love my go to blueberry muffin recipe, but I will admit it does have one serious flaw: Not every bite of muffin contains a blueberry. Adding enough blueberries to achieve a taste of berry goodness in every bite would probably seriously mess with the chemistry of the recipe. So, I looked to The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook for a recipe that maximized the blueberry to muffin ratio.

As usual, the Test Kitchen did not disappoint! Their trick to upping the blueberry quotient in the muffins is to make and add a blueberry jam. Genius! The swirl of blueberry jam provides a taste of berry in just about every bite.

My husband, John, loves blueberry muffins and I made this version to serve him this past Father's Day. He loved them! The leftovers also freeze well and John was quite disappointed that my daughter Cadence and I polished off the rest of the batch in the following weeks. We just couldn't resist, they are so yummy!

I made just a few tweaks to the recipe. First, I eliminated the Lemon-Sugar Topping. I find blueberry muffins to be sweet enough as is so I never add extra sugar although most recipes do suggest a topping. Lastly, I used frozen blueberries, instead of the suggested fresh ones, because that is what we had in the house at the time.

Making the blueberry jam does add another step to the muffin making process, but I promise, it is very worth it!

Blueberry Muffins
Slightly Adapted from America's Test

2 cups blueberries
1 tsp sugar plus 1 1/8 cups
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Adjust and oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a standard-sized muffin pan with vegetable spray. Bring 1 cup of the blueberries and 1 teaspoon of the sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing the berries with a spoon several times and stirring frequently, until the berries have broken down and the mixture is thickened and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. I used frozen berries to make the jam and they produced a substantial amount of water. I made a paste of flour and water and slowly added it and stirred it in at the end of the cooking process. Transfer to a smal bowl and cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the remaining 1 1/8 cups sugar and the eggs together in a medium bowl until thick and homogenous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in the butter and oil until combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg mixture and remaining 1 cup blueberries into the flour mixture until just moistened (the butter will be very lumpy with a few spots of dry flour, do not overmix.)

Using a 1/3-cup measure or an ice cream scoop (I prefer the ice-cream scoop), divide the batter equally among the prepared muffin cups (the batter should completely fill the cups and mound slightly). Spoon 1 teaspoon of the cooked berry mixture into the center of each mound of batter. Using a chopstick (this is what I used and it worked great) or skewer, gently swirl the berry filling into the batter using a figure-eight motion.

Bake until the muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes before serving.