Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Better than the Bahamas: Golden Rum Cake

St. Patrick's Day is known for it's drunken debauchery, but I am just not a fan of beer. I'd much rather spend the holiday trying out new boozy baking, so that's exactly what I did.

After having a rum cake at La Palma in Chicago, I desperately wanted to bake my own rum cake. I couldn't get enough about the sweet rum that keeps the whole cake moist, sweet and a little kick to it. I found this Golden Rum Cake Recipe at AllRecipes and convinced my boyfriend to let me make it when I visited him in Georgia. Truthfully, it wasn't that hard. Boozy cake on St. Patty's will always be welcomed.

Golden Rum Cake
via Allrecipe and Jackie Smith

    For Cake
 -  about 1 cup chopped walnuts
  - 1 package of yellow cake mix
  - 1 3.4 oz package instant vanilla pudding mix (I used the no sugar one)
  - 4 eggs
  - 1/2 cup water
  - 1/2 cup oil (vegetable is what is listed, I used a Smart Balance which is a blend of canola, soy and olive)
  - 1/2 cup dark rum (Got a little captain in ya?)

   For Glaze
  - 1/2 cup butter
  - 1/4 cup water
  - 1 cup white sugar
  - 1/2 cup dark rum

 1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour your Bundt pan - make sure it's thoroughly coated, I had problems with a part of mine sticking and breaking.
 2. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the bottom of the pan. You can use more/less walnuts depending on how much your pan can hold or how much you'd like.
 3. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup rum. Blend well.
 4. Pour the batter into your pan over the chopped nuts.
 5. Bake for 60 minutes (checking periodically) on center rack until a toothpick or knife stuck in comes out clean. It'll be a nice light golden brown.
 6. Let the cake sit in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip onto a serving plate. Here's where you'll find out if you greased the pan enough. Mine stuck and I had to use a knife to loosen the edges up - and I still had it fall apart a bit.
 7. While the cake is cooking in the pan or on the serving plate, make the glaze. In a sauce pan, combine the 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup water and 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, continue boiling it for 5 minutes while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the 1/2 cup of rum.
 8. Brush glaze over the top and sides of the cake. Allow the cake to absorb the glaze so it gets moist and boozy. Continue glazing the cake until you use it all up or it's so glazey that it might fall apart. If any parts broke, use the glaze to help it stick together and get the glaze into the center of the cake
 9. Serve and Enjoy!

I made this cake in the afternoon and had it ready for late that night when my friend's came over. They had just been on a cruise to the Bahamas and were stopping by on their drive home. Even though they had rum cake in their bags, they wanted to try mine. In fact, they said it was better than the Bahamas' rum cake. This was probably one of the greatest compliments I've gotten.

So if you need a little boozy baking, or want to pretend you're in the Bahamas, try out this rum cake for a moist, sweet treat.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How you say... motivation: Berry Streusel Bars

I often go through fits of saving recipes, e-mailing them to myself, or bookmarking the links to go back and bake them. Often, I forget about them or can't find what I want. This time, I purposefully went back in between studying to make a list of my top three low-calorie treats to try.

The winner of this batch was... Recipe.com's Streusel Strawberry Bars.

- 2 cups butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar (I used 1 cup of Splenda sugar blend)
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups of flour (I used whole wheat, but you can use all purpose)
- 1 cup of pecans
- 2 cups of preserves

1.  In a large bowl beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until combined.
     Note: Due to our failure at having a mixer right now, I tried using a blender. This was tough. And we had to slowly let it into the blades to mix it together. This is why you need a mixer. You'll need to scrape the sides of either way you mix though to get it all together.
2. Beat in eggs.
3. You can either beat in some of the flour with the mixer, or do as I did and mix together the flour and pecans by hand. The note here is the mixture will be crumbly. I didn't notice this and mine was not crumbly, possibly due to a lack of flour. This isn't awful, but makes it difficult to set aside 2 cups of this mixture to crumble on top to make the layers.
4. Press the mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13x9x2 inch pan or two different sized pans. I used a round cake pan and a longer oval pan so I could try using two different preserves.
5. Spread your preserves on top of the mixture to within 1/2 inch of the edges.
    If you listened to the directions to get the crumbly mixture, then you can sprinkle reserved mixture on top of the preserves to make the layers. If you failed, like I did, you can just go onto the next step and pray for the best.
6. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
7. Either drizzle on top icing, or just put some powdered sugar on top, and cut into bars.

The oval strawberry one pre-baking
Their powdered sugar icing recipe:
   Combine 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in additional milk, about a teaspoon at a time, until you get a drizzle consistency - so it's creamy, but able to let slowly drop from your spoon/fork/spatula.

I had a hard time with the consistency of the powdered sugar icing and the thicker mixture early on. Mine was more like a dough, which ended up being extremely tasty, but wasn't crumbly like before. Although it worried me at first, it was still really delicious, so don't be too worried if it isn't crumbly and you can't make that top layer.
Blueberry one pre-baking

I also may have had a delicious turn out because I used the best preserves I have ever had. The Thelen family farm in Wisconsin does the best jams and I used their strawberry and blueberry. They sell them on the road during the warmer weather as well as at Farmer's markets. I'm lucky enough to be related to them - so I can go picking strawberries with my aunt and watch as the jam making happens. A lot of hard work goes into them and it is the best. Smucker's ain't got nothing on the Thelens.

But if you need motivation, or just a sweet and fruity treat, these Berry Streusel Bars are a great treat that can feed a crowd or last all week.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Touchdown! Baking and Football.

The talk about bounties, draft picks, and Peyton Manning leaving all make me miss football season. There is nothing better than screaming your heart out as you try to coach your team through the television. I love everything about football and, as we all know, I love baking. This is why my baking adventures with my friend Ashley for the Super Bowl were some of the best.

This past year we created a collection of hand pies, sugar cookies, and brownies to keep the crowd fueled for cheering on the Giants. It seemed to do the trick. I mean, I couldn't stop eating them and from how quick they went I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one.

The hand pies we were determined to do after Ashley texted me a picture of heart shaped ones. We thought it would be fun to do football shapes (with her new football cookie cutter set) and fill them with blue and red berry fillings. One set, our first attempt, was with canned cherry filling. I kept just eating the filling by itself, but it tasted even better in tiny crusts (despite the fact that the cherries were much bigger and the filling wanted to spill out). The hand pies are really easy to make with any kind of filling, canned or homemade. Ashley made a mixed berry one for our other batch that was heavenly.
via Foodista: similar to the ones that Inspired ours.

To make your hand pies just take premade pie dough and lay it out on top of wax paper and cut out whatever shapes you want. Make sure the shape you use has enough of a center to it to actually fit a good amount of filling though, or what's the point? This was difficult when we closed them up, because we wanted more filling than some of the football shapes could handle. Don't worry, I cleaned up the extra filling so it didn't go to waste. The best method to closing them that we found was to put one of the shapes on top of the other one after putting the filling on the lower one, then press down at the edges with your fingertips. Once they look sealed, use the tines of a fork to create the sealed pie edge look. It also looks nicer and gets crispier if you do a light egg wash over the top before tossing them in the oven.

The sugar cookies and brownies were boxed mixes that were spiced up by a few substitutions - such as the brownies had cola in them. The best part about that, though, was frosting our mini-jerseys. They were adorable and the butter cream frosting popped when we added the food coloring. It's kind of a fun, childish joy to frost the cookies with your friend, giggling as you lick your red (or blue) finger tips... and then the bowl.

Football and baking might not seem like your typical combination, but trust me, everyone enjoys something sweet and watching the game doesn't change that.

- Mollie

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Browning Bananas and a Craving for Cookies

It's that time of the year when the snow begins to thaw, it starts to rain more, and we throw out that old pair of snow boots. Jackets get lighter. The sun shines more often. And the Girl Scouts set up their stands around town to sell cookies of all flavors. Sadly, I wasn't able to buy my Girl Scout cookies before Lent - where I gave up chocolate and candy. Now all I can do is drool over samoas and tagalongs from afar. This drooling has led me to craving cookies like the cookie monster.

This morning I discovered that our last two bananas were starting to turn brown. This is usually the key sign to make banana bread, but it didn't interest me as a baking adventure. I wanted something new. And I still desperately wanted cookies. This meant in between classes I would scour the internet for recipes (on cooking light, all recipes, real simple, and my recipes). I found a lot of awesome recipes, but this idea I fell in love with: Banana Oatmeal Cookies.

An episode of Good Eats got me into using Oats, especially for their health benefits. Plus I could make a healthier snack that didn't break my lenten promise - or hopefully my waistband. I set out later that night on a fun baking adventure adapted from this original recipe at all recipes.com.

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

 - 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
 - 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
 - 1 teaspoon salt
 - 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
 - 3/4 teaspoon (generous) ground cinnamon
 - 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
 - 1 teaspoon cornstarch
 - 1 cup sugar (I used splenda half and half blend, meaning I only used 1/2 cup)
 - 1 egg
 - 2 medium mashed bananas
 - 1 3/4 cups cooking oats
 - 1/2 cup pecans (or your favorite nuts, preferably chopped)

 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease baking sheets.
         Since we actually don't have any cookie sheets here right now (go figure), I used a mini cupcake pan and a pizza brick to hold my dough. The mini cupcake can made adorable little muffin shaped cookies. My sister called them muffins, but they're softer inside with a nice crunch outside.

2. In a medium bowl, add flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

3. Cream together the greek yogurt, cornstarch, and sugar.
          I decided to use greek yogurt instead of the 1 cup of shortening, to cut down on fat and give it a moist and soft texture inside. I found out that it's good to add cornstarch to your recipes from the Livestrong website for tips on baking with Greek yogurt. It keeps the yogurt soft and from clumping or really mixing up the texture of the baked goods. They also recommend keeping some of the original, such as butter or oil, but I just avoided that all together and went with all Greek yogurt. This is okay with cookies, but might not work as well for cakes.

4. Add egg, banana, oatmeal, and nuts to the mixture and mix well.
         This step was interesting since I don't have a stand mixer or a hand mixer. I started off doing step 3 in a small food processor. This worked fine until all this stuff was supposed to get tossed in. The egg and banana were more important to get really blended - so I added them into the food processor and got that mixed in while I added the oatmeal and nuts to the dry mixture.

5. Mix together the wet and dry ingredients.
        This is where it was fine for me using the small food processor. It all gets put together. Of course, it may have taken me longer to get everything incorporated, it works if you would like to focus on the egg and banana in the wet mixture and the oatmeal and nuts in the dry. They are combined very quickly.

6. Drop by teaspoon fulls onto cookie sheet - or into a mini cupcake pan. Or whatever way you feel like mixing up this recipe.

7. Bake at 400 for around 15 minutes, or until they just start to brown. For smaller cookies (or muffins) they end at 10 minutes, but the larger are about 15. Let them cool completely and store in a closed container to keep that moist banana flavor.

Trust me, this is a sweet treat you can keep coming back to and not feel bad about - either for a Lenten promise, your waistline, or your heart health.

- Mollie