Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

I am a sucker for Halloween themed cookbooks. Most of these impulse purchases end in disappointment, the books full of gimmicks and fluff. All filler and no substance.

But over the summer I came across 'Ghoulish Goodies' by Sharon Bowers at Half Price Books and have been happily surprised recipe by recipe. These Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars, which I baked in an 8x8 inch ceramic dish to make them more cake-like, are honest to God delicious.

She sells them as being adult oriented with the whole wheat flour and spices. I sell them as one of the best coffee cakes I've ever had. Even my husband who is VERY annoyingly picky when it comes to baked goods has eaten them like they were running away from him.

So tis the season for pumpkin and things that go bump in the night and baked goods that help you get through a 3 am feeding followed by another at 4 am and 5:30 am. Did I mention my baby is a vampire?

One last thing. I added toasted walnut pieces which I think turned these up to 11. You know you're getting old when you're tempted to add nuts to about every baked good. I can remember being little and wishing like hell my mom had left them out!

Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Bars (or Coffee Cake)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (I was out so used more nutmeg)
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temp
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg, room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1 (12 oz) package (2 cups) semi sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup to 1 cup lightly toasted walnut pieces, if desired

Preheat oven to 350. For bars, grease a 9x13 baking pan and set aside. For coffee cake, grease an 8x8 ceramic pan with nonstick spray and see my tip below.

Combine the all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves in a medium bowl.

Beat the butter, two sugars, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Mix in the pumpkin puree until well combined, then add in the flour mixture in about 3 parts, beating each time until just combined. Use a wooden spoon to fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts then spread the batter which will be a bit on the thick and dry side evenly into the pan.

Bake for 35 minutes, until lightly golden and set.

Alisa's Tip:

For a cake like consistency instead of bars, Bake in a well greased 8x8 ceramic or glass pan at 350 for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 and bake another 10-15 until the sides begin to turn dark but the middle is still quivery. Reduce heat to 300 and bake another 15 or until middle is set, entire 'cake' has risen and a cake tester comes out clean. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy Halloween Cake

I made this cake for my sister Julie's birthday as she loves Halloween. It was supposed to be a rotting skull buried in dirt with pus oozing out of it. But decorating a cake and 7 week olds don't mix so I ended up over heating the icing which began to ooze instead of hold pustule shapes and before I knew it I had to call it a 'doo-rag' and make him a charred dirty pirate instead.

I used a chocolate cake recipe from Nigella that never fails me. I love it because it breaks every baking rule you've ever learned about keeping the dry and wet ingredients separate and painstakingly adding the wet slowly into the dry. You just dump everything into a food processor, give it a whirl and call it a day.

And it turns out EVERY time - moist and rich yet fluffy and light - and as a bonus it fit the skull pan perfectly. The pan can be found on sale right now at Williams Sonoma by the way and is worth every penny if you're a pan hoarder like myself. I sprayed it with nonstick spray and dusted it with cocoa powder before pouring the batter in and the cake released easy-peasy.

The cool thing is (yes I said cool thing in relation to cake baking - I'm five) is that you'll need to slice the inner halves of the skull after baking and cooling to make them flush and flat (so that when pressed together to make a skull it's not kattywompus.)

But this excess cake isn't wasted. You can crumple this bit of cake up with your fingers to make the 'dirt' for the skull to sit on. I had bought a packet of Oreos to grind up to use and found I didn't need to - I had delicious cake dirt!

The icing is where I took a major shortcut with Marshmallow Creme that actually suited my purposes just fine but I bet Pinterest or any other nerdy site could hook you up with an icing that is more profesh if desired.

Well my baby's up from his nap and ready to eat. Until next time - Happy Halloween y'all!

Halloween Skull Cake (Mint Chocolate Chip Cake)
Altered from a recipe by Recipe by Nigellas Lawson, Nigella's Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup cocoa, plus extra for dusting pan
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks soft unsalted butter (I use SALTED)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon good-quality vanilla extract
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
1 cup Andes mint chocolate pieces or semisweet chocolate chips or morsels

Glaze for decorating/icing:

1 teaspoon cocoa
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 (7 oz) carton Jet Puffed Kraft Marshmallow Creme
Black food coloring, or other for coloring the pirate's 'doo rag'
Red food coloring, for blood
colored sprinkles for decorating doo rag
1 candy eyeball or a round peppermint candy for an eyeball
1 silver or gold dragee for center of the eye (use a dot of icing for the glue onto the candy eyeball)
An old steak knife, for stabbing through one of the eyes
Gummy worms, for planting in the 'dirt'

Special equipment: Halloween skull pan, found at Williams Sonoma


Take whatever you need out of the refrigerator so that all ingredients can come room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, putting in a baking sheet as you do so.

Spray both sides of the skull cake pan well with nonstick spray, then lightly but thoroughly dust with cocoa powder. Place the pan on a sturdy flat cookie sheet for stability.

Put the flour, baking soda, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, and sour cream into the processor and blitz until a smooth, satiny brown batter. Scrape down with a rubber spatula and process again while pouring the boiling water down the funnel. Blend again, add in peppermint extract and give a final whirl. Switch it off, then remove the lid and the well-scraped double-bladed knife and, still using your rubber spatula, stir in the Andes chocolate pieces or chocolate chips or morsels.

Scrape and pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and put into the oven for 25 minutes. Carefully rotate the pan to the other side then bake for another 10-15 minutes until the cake has risen all the way and 'puffed' but is no longer jiggly in the center. You want to be careful not to over bake this cake as all the detail in the sides can darken the edges and make them crispy if over baked. Using a cake tester or a strand of spaghetti is good insurance if you're iffy.

Remove the cake and let cool on a wire rack completely then carefully invert onto another greased wire rack. When you're sure the cake has cooled all the way, use a serrated bread knife to 'slice' off the undersides of the skull halves ,making them flat. Save these scraps to crumple into 'dirt' onto whatever plate or cake plate you're constructing the cake on making a nice bed for it.

Meanwhile put the syrup ingredients of cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan and boil for about 5 minutes, to give a thick syrup. Stir in the marshmallow creme and food coloring getting it to the color you like for the doo rag. Use about 1/4 of this mixture, a tablespoon at a time, to spread on the flat inner side of one of the skulls. This will be your glue to stick them together so don't use so much that it oozes out (though no big deal if it does) and add a little at a time.

Once the cake is together and the creme has set (should happen quickly, this stuff is like edible crazy glue) carefully set the skull into the center of the dirt.

Use the rest of the icing mixture to create either a doo rag or pus or whatever you like. If you let it cool a bit to where it's not so oozy, you can use a fork to drizzle 'brain matter' in little circles over the head. If the mixture gets too hard, gently heat it up over a low flame and stir again until it's smooth and oozy.

Finish decorating to your liking using a candy for an eyeball, more 'pus' in the other eye with a couple drops of red food coloring, and plant the worms in the dirt. Stab a steak knife in the empty pus filled eye socket if desired.