Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Guilty for Gigi's

Although Chicago is my home and probably one of the greatest food factories in the Midwest, I have been traveling about for a little over a month. This means, there's a plethora of other foods I've tried and baked in other cities, homes, states, etc. That doesn't mean I'm not going to share them with you though, oh no, especially when it comes to Gigi's Cupcakes.

My trip to Georgia was a long 11 hour car ride to a place where, in reference, there was mostly banjo music and beer discussed. Both are not ideal for a girl like me. Yet when my boyfriend and I had settled a bit into his apartment and decided to venture out into Athens to discover what it had to offer, I found out it wasn't quite the stereotype we had heard. Of course it wasn't Chicago, but not banjo music on the corner either. In fact, I knew I was okay when we found a Starbucks, Ben and Jerry's, Five Guys, and a cupcake shop all within walking distance of each other. I salivated a little, then texted one of my favorite baking partners, Ashley, about this new little cupcake store I had discovered named Gigi's. Of course, she's not new to the south (or cupcakes!) and told me they were wonderful, so I knew I had to try it out.

My last day in Athens, Georgia just before I waited at the bus station for my 21 hour bus ride, we got dessert at Gigi's. I was impressed alone by the cute counter tops with high stools to sit at, rack of t-shirts and Gigi gear, as well as the colorful array of cupcakes that sat beneath the glass. The thing I first noticed: "HOLY FROSTING!" GiGi does not skimp out, but instead uses the frosting very decoratively to create a tower of swirl that stands beautiful and doesn't look like you could destroy it. Of course, this made me a little skeptical to the countless complaints I hear from other foodies about the cake to frosting ratio, but I wouldn't turn down a cute cupcake due to that.

My boyfriend and I split a White Midnight Magic Cupcake. Beautiful name, although I had trouble remembering when I had to order and did a back bend to reread the sign beside it, but got me giggly as the kind, hard working girl got it out for us.The magic is the great combination of dark chocolate and cream cheese that still is light and fluffy. Dark chocolate cake and dark chocolate chips make me excited on it's own, but their frosting was extremely interesting. In fact, so interesting I probably annoyed my boyfriend. I was so determined that it couldn't be cream cheese frosting (this was before we looked it up) due to the fluffy and almost sugar granule texture that made it up. My boyfriend said it was like a marshmallow Peep and I agreed excitedly. He hit it on the nose. A Peep. That same fluffy, sugary, treat that I adored so much, yet lightly topping a cupcake. It also wasn't as thick since it had that dark chocolate mixing so well with it.

So not only does Gigi have this beautiful selection, but as we watched a large crowd fill in and out of the small store, we realized a menu full of cupcakes showed the variety of selections they offer. With a rotating schedule, but orders available for all their varieties, it was no wonder the crowd that flowed in and out of Gigi's. Everything from college girls in their sweats, families, nurses, mothers, to men came in to get a cupcake and enjoy it then or picked up boxes full of the great treats. I had to snoop online and found you can meet the cupcakes, which is probably the cutest phrase a cupcake company could come up with. Just a taste of their variety includes: S'mores, Banana Split, Lemon Ice Box, Kentucky Bourbon Pie, Merry Margarita, Wedding Cake, Texas Milk Chocolate, Birthday Surprise, Hunka Chunka Banana Love, and Champagne. There are even daily specials such as the Cherry Cordial we saw.

Not only was the small cupcake store just what I needed to feel comfortable in Athens, but they're quite the chain; locations range from Alabama, Texas, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, North Carolina, to Colorado. This is not just some itty bitty cupcake store, like I had thought. Yet, the cutest part? The hometown feel. I was pretty much a giddy school girl when I saw the painting to the left. Two Bulldogs, the University of Georgia's Mascot, kissing over their cupcakes and the Gigi's Cupcakes logo. How could you not love it? If I end up with my boyfriend in Georgia, I will apply to Gigi's in a heartbeat. Not only for the cupcakes, but for the fact that they have Gigi's merchandise that includes a "Ms. Princess" t-shirt with a cupcake on it. It might be for kids, but I want it!!

It just goes to show that people appreciate cupcakes no matter where you are, especially with that hometown feel and that sweetness to keep you coming back for more.

- Mollie

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Boyfriend's Birthday = Ice Cream Cookie Cake

Today is my boyfriend's birthday!

Yet, to both of our displeasure, we are not in the same state or even time zone today. He's in Georgia at Graduate School and I'm back home getting ready to travel to London. Very different places, not to mention he had class today so it wasn't all that fun for him.

But! to try and make up for me not being there, his birthday being on a Tuesday, and the loneliness that involves a birthday without that group of friends beside you, I made him a birthday cake last Friday before I left on the bus Saturday. I stole his car Thursday, loaded up with ingredients, hid them, and then while he was taking a 3 hour nap on Friday I baked. I think the best part of that was that he woke up and asked "Were you cooking?" and I told him no. He assumed it was some weird dreams. tehehe.

The recipe came from my good friend Betty Crocker: Here.

It is entitled: Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Dessert.
I call it the Ice Cream Cookie Cake.

It took me a while to debate between this or Brown Eyed Baker's Root Beer Float Cake. Yet, when it came down to it, my boyfriend looooves ice cream, ice cream cakes, and cookie cakes. So what would be better than mixing it all together?

Not to mention the ingredient list was pretty simple:
  • a 1 pound 1.5 oz bag of Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookie mix
  • 1/2 cup margarine, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 7.25 oz bottle of hard shell chocolate topping (like the Hershey or Smuckers ice cream kind)
  • Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (it says 6 cups, I got a big thing and used however much I wanted and had leftovers)
You begin, of course, by preheating to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. You should then either spray, butter, or cover in tinfoil a 13 x 9 inch pan. I did tinfoil since a lot of reviews said it was hard to get the cookie crust off the pan. Then you stir in a bowl the cookie mix, softened margarine (or butter), and egg to form a soft dough. This may be more difficult than you expect,especially if you're like me and you're used to brownie or cake mix that uses oil and not margarine. The softened margarine is a lot less liquidy and it'll take more effort to mix it together to get a consistent soft dough.

Then you take a cookie sheet and spoon out 5 cookies worth of dough. I just used a teaspoon and made smaller cookies, since they'll just be crumbled on top of your finished product and you'd rather have more to spread over the bottom of the pan.  Bake these 9 to 11 minutes, if you make them smaller it may only take 8 though. Then cool them for around two minutes, remove from the pan and finish cooling on a cooling rack. The two minutes isn't as important, but you don't want them to fall apart when you take them off because they're too hot. I know, seems silly since you are crumbling them, but that's a lot later and the crumbles don't belong on the stove or the counter.

While they're cooling, you can begin the grueling task of putting the rest of the cookie dough into the bottom of the 13 x 9 inch pan. This is one sticky job. A lot of people recommended using wax paper to press the dough down, since it's messy, but I don't mind really getting my hands in there. Instead I wet my fingers lightly and used them to press the dough after I spooned a bit into each section. Doing it in sections also helped me be able to spread them across the pan evenly. It reminded me a lot like trying to press pizza dough into a round shape - the only difference is the enormous difficulty you'll have trying to get it all evened out. You want it even like cake batter, but it's a lot harder to spread across when one side is thicker. It took a lot of time, but ended up being kind of fun having doughy fingers afterward. Once it's even and you feel satisfied with the dough, bake it for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cookie is set. Then you have to cool it for quite a while - it says 30 minutes, but mine took closer to 45 minutes to completely cool (which is what you want).

Beginning the ice cream process on top of the chocolate
When it's finally cool to the touch, spread the hard shell chocolate topping over the baked crust. Again, recommended 1/3 cup, but I just made sure it was a nice, pretty even layer over the entirety of the cookie crust. Flash freeze that for 10 to 15 minutes in the freezer to help it set quickly. Also: NEVER keep a bottle of the hard shell topping in the fridge. It says not to, so read that and do it. Instead keep it in a cupboard or other room temperature state, because it'll become a shell and not come out of the bottle until you re-melt it if you keep it in the fridge. I was really frustrated after the cookie had cooled and I had to hold the chocolate topping bottle under hot water to get it to melt.

                                                                 Speaking of melting... you see that transition there? Pretty nice.

You'll want the ice cream to soften just as you're taking the crust with the frozen topping out of the freezer. This way it'll be ten times easier to spread evenly over the crust in the pan. Which, again, is pretty time consuming and more difficult than you think. Especially since i wanted not too thick of a layer and for it all to be even. Those cookie dough bites just get in the way! I used my hands, a spoon, and a butter knife to help me even it out all across. The hands might be more risky if it's for more than just your boyfriend, but either way make sure you clean your hands a lot.

With ice cream set, even, and beautiful you crumble your baked cookies on top. This may be the most fun, especially if you steal nibbles like I did. Smoosh the cookies up and make them whatever size you'd like on top. Then drizzle more chocolate topping over the cookie crumbs and ice cream however you'd like. As you can see, I did a swirl and waves for a fun ice cream topping look. Cover this and then freeze for 2 hours.

When you're ready to surprise your boyfriend, or just serve up your delicious Ice Cream Cookie Cake, let it thaw for around 5 minutes and cut into it. Just be sure that you aren't serving up the tinfoil as well.
Doesn't it look yummy?

Just be careful using a fork to break it apart, the other side might fly across the room - aka what happened to my boyfriend. It was a sweet, simple tasting, warm dessert for my love's special day. I hope you can make your loved ones smile with it too.

- Mollie

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Family Meals: Summertime

Take 1 apartment. Add a flood and sewage backup. Toss in an almost ruined computer. Fold with a block away from friends. Bake for 20 minutes as packing and zip car are produced. Combine. What does this make? Family Dinners between two apartments and 5 people.

This was my last week in Chicago. As stressful as it was, it was bliss to have a group of amazing friends so close that were willing to house us and put up with us for so long. They helped us pack, clean, move stuff, and dealt with our kitten and late night shenanigans. So in return we brought ALL our food over to share, eat, and cook together. Of course, this was our family dinners. And really, family dinner isn't complete without a delicious dessert.

Our biggest accomplishment was a fruit tart which combined a Costco size box of Bisquick I brought over, fresh fruit, and whatever else we had in the baking department together. To say the least, it was a fun adventure for Caylie and I.

Caylie working on the glaze for the tart.
First off, I made the dough. It was a simple 2 cups of Bisquick, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup soft butter, and 1 egg. The instructions say to mix the Bisquick and sugar first, then cut in the butter until crumbly, then mix in egg until the soft dough is formed. I just threw all the ingredients into a bowl and mixed it all up into a soft dough. Although this probably is the less-than-ideal, it still turned out okay. Sometimes instructions aren't hard and fast rules. The one you should follow, though, is to make sure your pan, sheet, or whatever you're placing your crust into is greased and floured. We just greased it and some of it was quite hard to get out of the tart pan, losing it's fun shape and becoming more of a crumble. Spread the dough across the greased and floured pan, press into all the spots and when ready bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes and cool completely.

While a lot easier than your typical tart crust, it does have more of that buttery, Bisquick flavor rather than the usual tart crunch. It's not the same and some will poo-poo it, but for a quick fix it's not bad. It just may feel less like the usual tart, but it's got a nice sweet crumbly taste to it.

The filling was from a cook book of Caylie's that she took care of and seemed quite simple.
Ingredients include:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 6 large egg yolks (oops we used whole eggs!)
  • 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temp
You begin with bringing the milk to a boil. While that's working on it's bubbly self (keep an eye on it!) whisk the yolks (or just whole eggs like we did) with sugar and cornstarch until well blended. Keep whisking though and drizzle in about 1/4 cups of the hot milk, you know, once it's been boiling for a bit and not overflowing or anything horrid. Once the 1/4 cup is nicely mixed in, you can slowly add the rest of the milk. Once this is nicely mixed up you can change the heat to medium (if it isn't already) and start whisking with all your might. Bring this to a boil and keep it there for 1 to 2 minutes before removing from heat.

Now that you've got your egg, milk, sugar, and cornstarch mixture off the heat you can whisk in the yummy vanilla. Let this sit for 5 minutes, let yourself have a break, and then you can whisk in bits of butter until the cream becomes smooth and silky. This filling looks beautiful as is, but you'll want it to cool in a sealed bowl (with plastic wrap most likely) until cool. The freezer helps quick it up, but you don't want it to be frozen! We got impatient with this and ended up adding it to the crust a little too fast - nothing bad happened, but it doesn't have the same tart flavor when it's still warm.

When the filling is finally cool, and you're dying to eat it, you can pour it into the crust and arrange any types of fruits on top in whatever style you'd like. We had fun adding strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. This is probably my favorite combination ever, because I am a berry fanatic. The sweetness and great combination with the tart filling makes me pretty excited. Our layout wasn't very fancy, but this is where you can let yourself just have fun with it - or add your own creative flair!

When you're just about done arranging your fruits, you'll want to start on the glaze. It's pretty easy as long as you don't let it cool down because you're distracted by berries and then have to heat it all up again. Trust me. All you do is mix 1/3 cup jelly (whatever flavor you'd like! we used apricot) and 1 teaspoon of water and bring to a boil in a saucepan.

Once it's boiled you can glaze the tart. As you can see, Caylie has had practise before and knows what she's doing. The pastry brushes are always the best. I'm kind of in love with mine for various things. If you want you can always make a little more to do a layer of glaze, but just a little brush over all the berries is fine as well. It all depends how much sweetness you'd like on top of your naturally sweet fruits.

Now feel free to dig in and enjoy!
The filling is really great, and better when actually cold and not still warm like we did it. Berries are always a perfect summertime dessert, especially with the coolness of the tart and filling having been refrigerated. You don't even have to worry too much about the oven heating up the kitchen with this little sweet treat. Remember you can always decide on your own fruit combinations as well!

Cool down with this dessert and enjoy your family dinners! (I know I did.)

- Mollie