Sunday, December 30, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Biscoff Spread Cookies

Biscoff Spread Cookies
This cookie butter is better than Nutella.  Yeah, I said it.  Not too sweet and has a cinnamon and gingersnapish taste.  I had no idea what I was in for when I stuck a tablespoon inside this jar and found myself constantly going back for more.  Extremetly addictive - these cookies were meant to cure a sad and gloomy day.  Soft, cakey, buttery melt in your mouth cookies that satisfy an excuse for breaking the diet.

I really tried to ignore the Biscoff bandwagon until I had them on my trip to Italy when flying Swiss Air.  The European cookie is popular with coffee until some genius made it into a spread.  The spread is made of Speculoos cookies which can now be found in Trader Joe's grocery stores (called Speculoos Cookie Butter).  If you don't like chocolate you will like this spread.  If you don't like peanut butter you will like this spread.  Even if you like both you will like this spread.  The cookie butter is everything you want it to be and more and thats why these cookies are perfect.

Biscoff Spread Cookies

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Biscoff spread
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
approx 1/2 cup coarse sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in Biscoff spread, egg and vanilla until smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually incorporate the flour mixture until the cookie dough comes together and no streaks of dry ingredients remain.

Place sugar for rolling in a small, shallow bowl. Shape cookie dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar. 

Transfer to prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 10-13 minutes, until cookies are very lightly browned around the edges. Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dr. Seuss Inspired Birthday

I'm always trying to be creative for each of my son's birthdays. I have to say this particular birthday really brought out the "Wonka" in me.  Every detail was exciting, surprising and whimsical.

If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are changed by adult society. ~Jean Piaget

Dr. Seuss themed buffet table.

Swedish fish, pop chips, gold fish, swirled cookies and skittles all reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss book.

Cat in the Hat cupcakes.  These were my red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  You can find the recipe here.

Save the best for last.  A Seuss inspired...

rainbow cake!

The kids had a wonderful day and each child left with a 'Cat in the Hat' hat!

Probably the most fun I've had at a child's birthday party and I am happy it was my son's.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Homemade Oreos

Thomas Keller's Oreos

White and dark chocolate filled cocoa cookies: the sophisticated Oreo.  The first bite of these cookies sends you traveling back to a stress-free time with flavors of the salty cookie and sweet chocolate filling. It is the ultimate balance.  It's like the cookie goes inside your brain and pushes the nostalgia button.  Yeah, it's that good.

Thomas Keller's Oreos
from The Essence of Chocolate, by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 3 tablespoons
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa plus 1 tablespoon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
15 tablespoons (7 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, at room temperature

1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz white chocolate, finely chopped
2 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped

To make the filling: In a small saucepan, bring the 1/3 cup of cream to a boil over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the white chocolate, making sure it is all immersed in the cream. Let stand for 1 minute then whisk to completely melt the chocolate and incorporate it.

Transfer the filling to a small bowl and let it stand for 6 hours, or until it thickens enough to spread. If the filling hardens too much, it can be rewarmed in the microwave.  Repeat the same steps for the dark chocolate filling with the remaining cream.

To make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 F with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt on low speed until combined. With the mixer still on low speed, add the butter a few pieces at a time until it is all in the bowl. The dough will be sandy at first, but it will eventually begin to come together. When it does, stop the mixer.

Transfer the dough to a work surface and form it into a block about 5 by 7 inches. Cut the block into 2 pieces. Working with one half at a time, roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it is 1/8-inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut rounds from the dough and place them 1/2 to 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. You can reroll the scraps of dough once to cut more cookies.

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the cookies cool on them for 5 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely.

To assemble the cookies: Turn half of the cookies over so the side that was down on the baking sheet faces up. Whisk the filling briefly to fluff it up. Transfer the filling to a pastry bag and cut a small hole in the tip of the bag. Pipe about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the white chocolate filling in the center of each cookie you flipped over. Top with another cookie, which is filled with the dark chocolate filling and gently press the cookies together until the filling spreads evenly to the edge. The cookies keep in an airtight container for 3 days.

Makes about 24 sandwich cookies

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fig and Mint Tart

Fig and Mint Tartlet
This deliciously satisfying, elegant miniature tart has a cream cheese and honey filling and topped with fresh figs, mint and pistachios.  Figs are thought to have been first cultivated in Egypt. They spread to Ancient Greece and Rome were later introduced to other regions of the Mediterranean by ancient conquerors and then brought to the Western Hemisphere by the Spaniards in the early 16th century. In the late 19th century, when Spanish missionaries established the mission in San Diego, California, they also planted fig trees.

Enjoy the flavors of  fall?  Try my pumpkin french toast!

Therapeutic topic of the week: 
by Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating

The key to understanding the profound link between metabolism and stress is the central nervous system (CNS). The portion of the CNS that exerts the greatest influence on gastrointestinal function is called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This aspect of the nervous system is responsible for getting your stomach churning, the enzymatic secretions in the digestive process flowing, and keeping the dynamic process of nutrient absorption into the bloodstream on the move. The ANS also tells your body when not to be in digesting mode, such as when there’s no food in your belly or when you’re in fight-or-flight response.

Two subdivisions of the ANS help it accomplish its dual task of digestive arousal and digestive inhibition: the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The sympathetic branch activates the stress response and suppresses digestive activity. The parasympathetic branch relaxes the body and activates digestion. It might be helpful to think of these two parts of the nervous system as on-and-off switches.

Simply put, the same part of our brain that turns on stress turns off digestion. And conversely, the part of the brain that turns on the relaxation response turns on full, healthy digestive power. Eating healthy food is only half of the story of good nutrition. Being in the ideal start to digest and assimilate food is the other half.

Here’s a favorite client story of mine that will help make things a little more practical when it comes to the stress/digestion connection:

Chen, a charismatic forty-six-year-old doctor of Chinese medicine, was plagued by nagging digestive upset despite overall great health and a vast knowledge of natural healing. He felt that maybe it was time to look at his diet and requested my help. When I asked some basic questions about his eating habits, I was quite surprised by the answer. Chen would stop at McDonalds on his way to work and eat two Egg McMuffins for breakfast in the car while rushing through city traffic. For lunch he’d zip to the same McDonalds and eat two Big Macs in the car as he drove back to the office. After work, he ate two slices of pizza. Chen informed me that he wanted to feel better but he wasn’t willing to cook, bring a lunch to work, eat vegetables, or give up McDonalds. Go figure.

I told him I suspected I could actually help him despite the impossible limitations he was giving me to work with. Here is the simple strategy to which Chen reluctantly agreed. He had to eat his Big Macs while the car was parked and take twenty minutes to enjoy them slowly and sensually. I asked him to do the same with his Egg McMuffins at breakfast. He needed to take time to slow down with food, and with life. He needed to breathe deeply before, during, and after his meals.

Two weeks later Chen called me in an excited state with some wonderful news to tell. First, his digestive symptoms had disappeared. And then he said, “You won’t believe this, really, but I hate Big Macs. I’ve been eating them for fifteen years and I can’t stand them. Have you ever tried to savor a Big Mac? You can’t. You have to eat it fast and smother it with lots of ketchup to hide the taste.”

Chen was not a relaxed eater. He had plenty of patients to see throughout the day and seemingly little time for self-nourishment. The simple act of taking time to slow down and eat shifted him from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance, and his digestive upset quickly disappeared. When this happened, his body wisdom was finally able to give him feedback about his food choices, and he subsequently gave up Big Macs naturally and effortlessly. He didn’t need to use his willpower to resist a favorite food or exert mental force to make better choices. All he did was savor a Big Mac.

Are you beginning to understand the metabolic power of relaxation? Can you see how eating in the natural and necessary state of parasympathetic dominance can yield breakthroughs with food and metabolism?

Fig and Cream Cheese Tartlette Recipe

1 lb my homemade or store-bought pastry dough
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup (5 1/2 oz) cream cheese
3 tbsp of honey
1 tbsp orange juice
12 to 16 figs, each cut into 6 pieces
Handful of green shelled pistachios, halved
1 bunch of fresh mint, ripped or roughly torn
Special equipment: miniature round tartlette fluted pans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll out the pastry on a floured counter to the thickness of a 1/4 inch and use it to carefully line the pan. Homemade pastry is will be quite crumbly. Don't worry, you can patch it together in the pan. Press the a plastic straw against the pastry all round the edges to coax it into the fluted grooves. Trim off the excess around the top. Put in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, or until firm.

Remove the tart from the refrigerator. Take a piece of parchment paper slightly larger than the pan and scrunch it up, then unscrunch it and line the pan with it. Fill it with pie weights or dried beans and "blind bake" in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the paper and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

For the filling, put the cream in a bowl and whip until beginning to thicken, then fold it into the cream cheese and mix with the honey and juice. Put the filling in the tart case, then arrange the figs on top and scatter over the nuts and mint.

Tip: This tart is best eaten on the day it is made.

Adapted from Lorraine Pascale

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gluten Free Cupcakes

Gluten-Free Cardamom Cupcake with White Chocolate Buttercream

Finally, a cupcake you don't feel so bad about. This was my first time experimenting with rice flour and it made my cakes light and fluffy and moist. The hint of cardamom and the delicate sweetness from the white chocolate was perfect.

Gluten-Free Cardamom Cupcakes with White Chocolate Buttercream Recipe

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup boiling water
6 eggs, separated
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups rice flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk

For the Chocolate-Cardamom Ganache
1 teaspoon cardamom pods, crushed
1/2 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the White Chocolate Buttercream
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 oz good quality white chocolate, melted, cooled


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Melt the chocolate in the boiling water. In a small mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy and stiff but not dry. Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and vanilla on medium speed until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well. Blend in the melted chocolate. Sift together the rice flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the chocolate mixture, beating after each addition until smooth. 

For the ganache: Crush the cardamom in a spice grinder. Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring the cream and cardamom just to a simmer over medium-high heat; pour the mixture over the chocolate. Let stand, without stirring, until cool. Beginning near the center and working outward, stir the melted chocolate into the cream until the mixture is combined and smooth (do not over stir).

Fold in the Chocolate-Cardamom Ganache into the batter. Fold in the beaten whites. Fill the cupcake liners halfway and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

For the buttercream: Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved.

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool, about 10 minutes.

With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. Using a flexible spatula, fold white chocolate into buttercream mixture. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day.

To assemble: When the cupcakes are cool to the touch, prepare a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Fill the bag with Chocolate Buttercream and pipe the tops of each cupcake.

Cake recipe adapted from Hollis Wilder via Food Network

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Blackberry Coffee Cake

Blackberry Coffee Cake
A firm, moist cake with bursts of fruity blackberries topped with a delicious crumble of brown sugar and chocolate.  Genius is the person who invented coffee cake but then made it even better by adding berries and chocolate.  Coffee cake is meant to be eaten with coffee, obviously.  The sweetness of the cake helps balance the bitterness of the coffee and we are in harmony.  Where did coffee cake originate?  Food historians generally agree the concept of coffee cake most likely originated in Northern/Central Europe sometime in the 17th century. Why this place and time? These countries were already known for their traditional for sweet yeast breads. When coffee was introduced to Europe these cakes were a natural accompaniment. German, Dutch, and Scandinavian immigrants brought their coffee cake recipes with them to America. The first coffee cake-type foods were more like bread than cake. They were simple concoctions of yeast, flour, eggs, sugar, nuts, dried fruit and sweet spices. Over time, coffee cake recipes changed. Sugared fruit, cheese, yogurt and other creamy fillings are often used in today's American coffee cake recipes.

Therapeutic topic of the week:  Explaining the Psychology of Comfort Food

by Anneli Rufus June 22, 2011

When the recession hit, you could hear the words buzzing from the cell phones of every restaurant consultant in America: "It's time for comfort food." But under the mashed potatoes and meatloaf lies a question: What does "comfort food" really mean? What about it actually comforts us?

Let's look at some big-time comfort foods: Fried chicken. French fries. Chocolate cake. When people talk about comfort food, the obvious explanation is that it's all about nostalgia and missing Mommy. But that's also cultural. Look at lutefisk, natto and the reddish-black blood sausage I was served once by a sad Belgian who took comfort in what struck me as something you might see in a hospital. And really, it takes more than this to create the rush of sensations that make us feel safe, calm, and cared for. It's a complex interplay of memory, history, and brain chemistry, and while some basics apply — most of us are soothed by the soft, sweet, smooth, salty and unctuous — the specifics are highly personal.

In a certain cheese shop in my town, there is a rack of rolls. Gleaming golden outside and airy, stretchy, satiny inside, they're sourdough and only vaguely square as if cut by clowns. One fits in my palm, then my sweatshirt pocket, which it must because this is the acid test by which I define comfort food: It's small. It's portable. It can be consumed silently. My comfort food must never call attention to itself. It must be dazzlingly bland, like Zen koans. Rolls. Marshmallows. Mochi. One round bowl of rice.

For you, of course, it's something else. Celery, say, or vindaloo or wings. A friend of mine craves slick, sticky, flamboyant food that she can stir with slow, exaggerated swirls to make a sucking sound. This is her comfort food.

When you begin to eat, your eyes, hands and mouth start the chain of command. Then the brain kicks in. Sugar and starch spur serotonin, a neurotransmitter known to increase a sense of well-being. (It's what makes Prozac work.) Salty foods spur oxytocin, aka the "cuddle chemical," a hormone that is also spiked by hugs and orgasm. Hence, potato chips. Mice unable to taste the difference between regular and extra-high-calorie food in a recent study preferred the high-calorie kind, which suggests that fattening food appeals simply because it is fattening. Which makes sense, given how much fuel our prehistoric ancestors burned crisscrossing savannahs, fleeing carnivores and chasing prey. Fat is a good balm for the fear of starvation.

There's also how the brain links emotion, memory, and sensory stimuli. Popsicles nibbled to break childhood fevers, pizza when your track team won, coconut on your honeymoon: The brain associates good experiences with specific flavors, fragrances and textures, coding them as harbingers of happiness. Henceforth, even when you neither have a fever nor have won a race, eating Popsicles still brings the rush of relief and pizza feels like a reward.

But buried in this (like the caramel at the heart of a Milk Dud) is the deeper question of what counts as comfort.

Neuroscientists define it as the opposite of stress. Whether with pharmaceuticals or firearms or flannel sheets or funnel cake, we seek to de-stress by any means necessary. The brain reaches its relaxed, restorative comfort state when we feel safe and/or when we receive rewards and/or when we feel part of something bigger than ourselves – a culture or a community.

Security, reward, and connectedness: Each of these three feelings activates a different portion of the brain, and each of these is more or less crucial to each of us, which further explains why we don't all relish the same comfort foods. A competitive person or one who feels chronically undervalued cherishes foods that the brain has coded as rewards. A loner finds no comfort in those foods the brain links with community. An abused person who lives in fear might hoard safety foods.

When we feel endangered, unsung and/or lonesome, we eat.

Food is a fort we build. Rolls in my pocket feel like ballast. As a former anorexic, I imagine they will keep me safe because they are small, round, clean, dry and can be eaten stealthily. Someone else might feel most secure when eating pudding, say, because she ate it in the playroom before knowing the meaning of pain.

Food is the gift we give ourselves. My husband beams as if it's Christmas whenever Sriracha sauce or tonsil-searing salsa make him sweat. His Jewish/Danish DNA never predicted this. He grew up in a capsicum-free home. Yet kimchee signals "treat" to him, because hot-spicy foods were his private discovery, not something that was ever given to him but something he gave himself. They are his prize, and thus they comfort him in that explosive, pore-widening way by which hot saunas heal. (Which makes me think: Is it reincarnation? Given that some people find comfort in what they grew up with, and others specifically in what they didn't grow up with, do we choose our comfort foods or do they choose us? Does this process parallel the ways in which we acquire other preferences — for bondage, say, or for stiletto heels or hairy men?)

Food is also the friend who never disappoints or ditches us. Psychologists call comfort food a "social surrogate" — in other words, not quite replacing real companions but reminding us of them. Participants in yet another recent study felt less lonely after writing about—and not even necessarily eating—comfort foods. The psychologists who designed that study theorized correctly that consuming comfort foods soothes us in the exact same ways as wearing our favorite clothes or watching our favorite TV shows. Reminding us of those who love us and/or look and talk like us, comfort food also reminds us of who we are. Away from home, we seek the foods of home.

Of course, all matters of psychology are unrelentingly complex. Comfort food feels good, but — for some of us — in that first rush is also a twinge: For some, comfort food invokes a special hot-faced shame because both food and comfort are so intimate, and using one to do the other borders on self-pleasure. From there, it's just one small step to guilty pleasure, which is what most of us would call caramel corn and curly fries. Perhaps it's because in this crowded, hard world, we have convinced ourselves that seeking comfort is itself embarrassing, as if need makes us weak. We are ashamed to crave the salty, starchy, soft, unctuous and sweet, because we tell ourselves we are too smart to want what the judgmental would call junk—although, surrounded by food that is market-tested to appeal to our most primal urges, we don't stand a chance. If comfort food exposes those urges, a drive-thru window can become a harsh confessional.

Blackberry Coffee Cake Recipe

1/2 packed cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups fresh blackberries

1. For the topping, in a bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, and butter. Using your hands, mix thoroughly, then add chocolate. Mix well with a wooden spoon and set aside.

2. For the cake, preheat oven to 375°. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, vanilla, and melted butter. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon.

3. Pour batter into a lightly greased 8'' round springform cake pan. Sprinkle raspberries over cake, then cover with topping. Bake until well-browned, 40–45 minutes. Serve warm.

Adapted from Saveur

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dates and Walnuts

Date and Walnut Bread

A delicious way to start your Eid with a cup of coffee and this simple bread.  Even better, use this simple recipe and invite friends over for tea and impress them with your baking skills.

Health benefits of dates are uncountable, as this fruit is full of natural fibers. Dates are even rich in several vitamins and minerals. These natural products contain oil, calcium, sulphur, iron, potassium,phosphorous, manganese, copper and magnesium which are great for health. It is said that consumption of one date daily is suggested for a balanced and healthy diet. Dates help in fighting intestinal problems, weight gain, heart problems and sexual problems.

Date and Walnut Bread Recipe

1 cup pitted dates, chopped
3 tbsp orange juice
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan with butter.

In a small bowl, soak the dates in 1 tbsp of orange juice for about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together dates with juice, walnuts, baking soda, salt butter, and water until combined. stir in the sugar and eggs, then stir in the flour just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until the bread is puffed and browned about 50-60 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let it cool completely   Unmold onto a serving plate and turn it right side up.  Spoon remaining  juice onto the bread, a little at a time, so that the bread absorbs all of it.  Cut into slices and serve.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

P is for pumpkin

Pumpkin Cake Roulade

This easy dessert is a great way to try out baking with pumpkin if you have never tried it before.  The pumpkin flavor is just right and does not take over the dish.  Macadamia nuts add a delicious buttery crunch.

Pumpkins are rich in vitamin A and boast a unique mix of both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. They protect the immune system as well as the cardiovascular system, including the fine blood vessels of the brain. It also plays a role in regulating the kind of cell-to-cell communication that keeps cancer in check. Pumpkins are also a great source of potassium, making them a food useful in controlling hypertension and preserving healthy brain function by yet another means.

Therapeutic topic of the week:
Dealing with excess candy.  They're everywhere, you just can't ignore it---from the pumpkin patches on the side of the road to the array of pumpkins lined outside the grocery store, pumpkins are here.  Along with pumpkins come all that candy.  As an adult, the sales urge me to buy candy when normally I wouldn't.  As a parent, when my child comes home with sixty pieces of candy I wonder how to discourage him from eating it.  I can't help but wonder, is all this candy really necessary?

According to a study in the Journal of Education and Behavior conducted at Yale, 284 children between three and 14-years old were given the option of lollipops, fruit-flavored chewy candies, fruit flavored crunchy wafers, and sweet and tart hard candies, or stretch pumpkin men, large glow-in-the-dark insects, or Halloween theme stickers and pencils. Half the children chose the toys. This shows that kids may define the notion of "treat" much more broadly than many of us do.  The key here is to have our children understand that there are rewards other than food.  We also don't want to have such strict candy rules that they hide all half the candy under their bed and binge when they're at school.  Not only are these unhealthy habits, they may grow into adulthood with issues related to food.  Understand that food can be used as comfort to sooth ourselves.  Be creative and teach our children about other treats that don't revolve around eating.

Eating candy as an adult whether you have children or not during this time can be a challenge.  Dr. Judith Beck has a few suggestions  to survive through the season.

Remember: Candy is available year-round!  Drug stores and supermarkets sell fun-sized candy bars year-round, so you don't need to load up now. You can buy candy any time.

Don't buy candy until you need it. Even if it adds a small amount of cost or an additional chore on your already busy October 31st, isn't it worth not having to worry about giving in and expending the mental energy to resist until it's time?

Buy candy that you don't like so much in bulk and just a single serving of your favorite candy. You'll obviously have the most trouble resisting your favorite candy, so buy candy in bulk that you don't enjoy as much-you'll have an easier time resisting it. You can and should buy a single-serving of the candy you like the most. This way, you'll be able to savor your favorite candy without worrying about having to stop yourself from going back for more.

Get rid of left overs! Give them away, donate them, bring them in to work, or simply throw them away. If you have the sabotaging thought, "I can't throw the candy away because it would be a waste of money," remind yourself, "Either way the money is already gone. Eating the candy won't bring it back." One way or another, if you can limit your amount of exposure to leftover candy, you'll make it so much easier on yourself. 

Pumpkin Cake Roulade Recipe 

3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar, divided
3/4 cup flour
1-1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
4 oz. (1/2 of 8-oz. pkg.) Cream Cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups thawed Whipped Topping

HEAT oven to 375°F.

GREASE 15x10x1-inch pan; line with waxed paper. Grease and flour waxed paper. Sprinkle clean towel with 1/4 cup powdered sugar.

MIX flour, spice, baking powder and salt. Beat eggs and sugar in large bowl with mixer on high speed until thickened. Add pumpkin; mix well. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Spread onto bottom of prepared pan; sprinkle with nuts.

BAKE 15 min. or until top of cake springs back when touched. Immediately invert cake onto towel; remove pan. Carefully peel off paper. Starting at one short side, roll up cake and towel together. Cool completely on wire rack.

BEAT cream cheese and 1/2 cup powdered sugar in medium bowl with mixer until well blended. Add whipped topping; mix well. Carefully unroll cake; remove towel. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake. Reroll cake; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour. Unwrap and sprinkle with remaining powdered sugar just before serving.

Adapted from Kraft

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Delicious Mess

Eton Mess

Eton mess is a traditional English dessert consisting of a mixture of strawberries, pieces of meringue and cream, which is traditionally served at Eton College's annual cricket game against the students of Winchester College.  The dish has been known by this name since the 19th century and was originally made with either strawberries or bananas mixed with ice-cream or cream.

The word mess may refer to the appearance of the dish, or may be used in the sense of "a quantity of food", particularly "a prepared dish of soft food" or "a mixture of ingredients cooked or eaten together". A popular, though thought to be untrue, myth is that Eton mess was first created when a meringue dessert was dropped accidentally, but what could be salvaged was, and it was served as a crushed meringue with strawberries and cream.  Whatever the reason it was created, it is a delicious bit of mess.

Light, airy and slightly sweetened cream mixed with berries and pomegranate is the perfect end to a heavy meal.  The balance of crunchiness from the meringue with chocolate chips is a perfect touch.  Whip it up in no time for unexpected guests for what seems to be an extravagant dessert.

Therapeutic topic of the week:
Stress and food intake. You really do crave rich foods when stress is unrelenting. And a very special and well-meaning collaboration between your brain and your body makes you do it. We seek chocolate, ice cream or napoleons, scientists have discovered, not just because they taste good. It's actually the body's attempt to put a brake on the runaway machinery of chronic stress. "One of the functions of stress hormones is to move energy around," explains Norman Pecoraro, Ph.D, a postdoctoral fellow on the San Francisco team. The escalating levels of cortisol released in chronic stress usher the excess calories straight to your abdomen, where they get deposited as fat. By virtue of its location, abdominal fat has privileged access to the liver. That allows it to be quickly mobilized for energy.

Here's the mark of the body's brilliance. Those fat deposits are absolutely crucial. They send out some metabolic signal that feeds back to the brain, telling it to shut off the stress response. Those who eat cream puffs and chocolate are trying to give the body what it needs to dampen output from their stress system, Pecoraro says. "Eating seems to ameliorate some of the symptoms of depression, so you won't feel as anxious. This seems to be the body's way of telling the brain, 'It's OK, you can relax, you're refueled with high-energy food.'"

The catch is, consumption of calorie-rich foods may make us feel better and function better, but it's bad for long-term health. The stresses we face today are not like the eat-or-be-eaten stresses we faced when our bodies evolved. Nowadays we're up against long-term job insecurity and romantic rejection. The stress goes on and on and we feel immobilized by it. The energy reserves do not get used up.

There is a way out, Pecoraro says. There are other ways to shut off chronic stress. There's exercise, yoga, meditation, hot baths and, yes, sex. They all stimulate the same pleasure centers in the brain that make us seek comfort food. Relaxation techniques may work even earlier in the process, by reducing the psychological perception of stress in the first place.

"In the short term, if you're chronically stressed it might be worth eating and sleeping a little more to calm down, perhaps at the expense of gaining a few pounds," says Pecoraro. "But seeking a long-term solution in comfort food—rather than fixing the source of the stress or your relationship to the source of the stress—is going to be bad for you."

Written by Hara Estroff Marano, published on November 21, 2003.  Original article published in Psychology Today.

Eton Mess Recipe
2 cups strawberries
1 cup raspberries
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
2 cups whipping cream
1 package of chocolate chip meringue cookies (store bought or homemade)

Hull and chop the strawberries and put into a bowl with raspberries and pomegranate seeds.  Add the sugar and pomegranate molasses and leave to macerate while you whip the cream.

Whip the cream in a large bowl until thick but still soft. Roughly crumble in a few of the meringues cookies - you will need chunks for texture as well as a little fine dust.

Take out about half a cupful of the chopped fruit, and fold the meringue cream and rest of the fruit mixture together.

Arrange in four glasses or in a mound, and top each with some of the remaining macerated fruit.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Banana chocolate craze

Chocolate Banana Upside Down Cake

There is something unusually gratifying about baking a cake. This one requires no frosting, which means only one thing: it goes in your mouth faster.  I used a smaller baking pan than what the recipe asked for causing the bananas to slide to the side.  It actually looks beautiful this way!  Just be sure to put a baking tray underneath to catch the excess drips.

This cake's aroma is sweet and comforting with the deep chocolate Valrhona with little bananas peeking though gives a visually stunning appearance.

Chocolate Banana Upside Down Cake Recipe

For the topping:
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 Cup + 2 Tbsp dark brown sugar, packed
2 - 3 ripe bananas

For the cake:
1 1/2 Cups cake flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 Cup + 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 Cup + 2 Tbsp hot water
1/3 C buttermilk @ room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 Cup + 2 Tbsp canola oil
3/4 Cup granulated sugar
3/4 Cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs @ room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the sides of a 9-inch square pan.

For the topping, melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the brown sugar and cook for a minute until blended. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and distribute it evenly across the entire bottom of the pan. Slice the bananas about 1/4” thick and arrange on top of the butter sugar mixture. Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
Whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until thoroughly blended and smooth.
Mix the buttermilk and vanilla extract.

Combine the oil, granulated sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl. The mixture will look like wet sand. Add the eggs and blend well. Whisk in the cocoa mixture. Stir in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just until well blended. Pour into the prepared pan over the bananas and gently tap the bottom of the pan on the work surface a few times to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for about 33 - 35 minutes or until a toothpick tests with a few moist crumbs adhering. Cool 15 minutes. Run a thin bladed knife around the edges. Place a platter over the cake and invert. Cool completely.

Recipe from Pastry Studio

Monday, September 24, 2012

Transition to Fall

Salted Caramel Pecan Crunch Ice Cream

Yes, I know the summer is over and it's now fall but you wouldn't know it in Southern California.  It is still warm enough to have an excuse to make ice cream!  Salted caramel has become popular but it also is considered a fall flavor.  Salted caramel ice cream?  Now that's a California kind of fall.

This ice cream hits all notes with the sweetness of the caramel and a touch of fleur de sel.  The perfect crunchiness of the candied pecans add the right amount of texture.  Serve it in a homemade ice cream cone and you just can't get enough.

Therapeutic topic of the week:
Can TV make you fat?  It obvious that if you're sitting around all day watching television that you're not getting exercise and using energy.  But did you ever think that certain commercials make you eat unconsciously?   John Bargh, an expert in priming behaviors recently studied the effects of junk food commercials.   One study observed the effects of children watching a cartoon and adults watching a comedy.  They either saw commercials with junk food or non-food products.  The adults rated various foods after watching the show while the children had various snack foods available to eat while they watched.

The results showed that both children and adults ate more if they watched the junk food commercials.  Fascinatingly, they did not eat the food advertised in the commercial!  The advertisements primed eating, not necessarily what food was being advertised.  When the adults asked why they were eating, they simply report it was because they were hungry.  They didn't know that they had just been primed to eat.  The scary part is people were eating without knowing that the advertisements were causing them to eat.  Yikes!

So what does this mean?  Turn off your TV!  Or at least record it so you can forward the commercials.

Salted Caramel Pecan Crunch Ice Cream Recipe

Ice cream custard:
2 cups whole milk, divided
1½ cups cane sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pecan praline:
1 egg white
1 Tbsp water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 oz pecans - about 2 cups
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

To make the ice cream, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they’re floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

Spread 1½ cups sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later.) Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it’s just about to burn.

Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go. The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. Stir in 1 cup of the milk.

Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F.

Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Make the pecans.   Preheat oven to 300°F. Put sugar, cinnamon, salt, ground cloves, and ground nutmeg in a plastic bag, shake to mix. Put egg, water, and vanilla in a bowl. Beat until slightly foamy, add pecans and coat well. Lift pecans out of bowl with a slotted spoon and put into the bag of sugar and spices. Shake pecans in bag making sure they are well coated.  Bake 30 minutes on a baking pan lined with silpat or lightly greased aluminum foil. 15 minutes into the baking, stir up the pecans with a fork. Let cool completely.

While the ice cream is churning, chop pecans into small pieces.  Once your caramel ice cream is churned, quickly stir in the pecans, then chill in the freezer until firm.

Ice cream slightly adapted from David Lebovitz
Pecan praline from Simply Recipes

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Clouds of Pomegranate

Pomegranate Meringue Rose Tart

A Middle Eastern inspired tart begins with a buttery pistachio crust and is filled with a orange and rose scented chocolate ganache.  The entire tart is covered in a light pomegranate meringue which you have the option to brown with a blow torch for a beautiful presentation.

Theraputic topic for the week:
Ever wonder why we love to eat?  More specifically why do fatty foods taste so good?  That creamy, smooth chocolate or the buttery, flaky crust.  It almost seems like our tongues know this is supposed to taste good.  We all know of  our ability to taste sour, salty, sweet, bitter and, rather recently, umami (which is the taste produce by the additive MSG).  But can our tongues taste fat? A recent study published in the Journal of Lipid Research by Pepino et al., claims that humans, and other animals, exhibit a protein on their tongue that can sense the presence of fat.  This would help explain why some people are more aware of fat in their food than others.  Perhaps even why we crave fatty foods and why fat tastes so darn good.

Pomegranate Meringue Rose Tart Recipe

For the crust:
3/4 cup pistachios
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup cold water

For the ganache:
12 oz. high-quality semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/8 tsp. rose water

For the meringue:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
4 egg whites
20 drops red food coloring

1. Make the crust: Combine pistachios and sugar in food processor and process until finely chopped. Add flour and process to combine. Add butter and pulse until no large chunks remain. Add egg yolk and water and mix just until combined. Transfer to counter and knead into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. On a floured counter, roll dough to 1/8" thick. Line a 9" tart pan with dough. Prick with fork over the bottom and refrigerate for 1 hour. Heat oven to 375°. Bake for 20 minutes and then let cool to room temperature.

2. Make the Ganache: Place chocolate in a medium bowl and set a fine strainer over bowl. Heat juice in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it begins to simmer. Remove from heat and pour through strainer into bowl with chocolate; let sit for 1 minute. Using a rubber spatula, slowly stir rose water into mixture until smooth. Pour ganache into cooled crust and let cool completely.

3. Make the meringue: Place the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and place on a pot of simmering water. Whisk until sugar is completely dissolved.  Transfer bowl to a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks.  Add cornstarch and cream of tartar.  Slowly stream in molasses and add enough red food coloring to make it pink. Continue beating until glossy, stiff peaks form. Immediately pipe or cover the pie with the meringue. Chill until meringue is firm.

Optional:  Use a blowtorch or the broiler to brown the meringue.

Slightly adapted from Saveur Magazine

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cupcake in a jar

Coconut Cake with Mango Curd and Vanilla Frosting

Sitting at a Starbucks while eating this dessert and blogging.  This is exactly why cupcake in a jar is genius.  It beats getting your hands messy or worrying about getting cake stuck in your teeth.  The beauty is, if you are having a sweet tooth but don't want to eat an entire cupcake; take a bite and stick it in the fridge.  My cupcake in a jar is made with a basic yellow cake drizzled with coconut cream, sprinkled with unsweetened coconut flakes.  The mango curd compliments the coconut and vanilla frosting giving you a little hint of the tropics.  Take it to the park or the beach and add it to your picnic.

Coconut Cake with Mango Curd and Vanilla Frosting Cupcake In A Jar Recipe


For the cake:
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for pans, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
5 eggs

For the mango curd:
1 cup mango pulp
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks

For the frosting:
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup fresh coconut cream
3 cups flaked unsweetened coconut

1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 13"x9″ cake trays, and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Whisk together buttermilk and vanilla in a bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, alternately add dry ingredients in 3 batches and wet ingredients in 2 batches. Increase speed to high, and beat until batter is smooth, about 5 seconds. Divide batter between prepared pans, and smooth top with a rubber spatula; drop pans lightly on a counter to expel large air bubbles. Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Let cakes cool for 20 minutes in pans; invert onto wire racks, and let cool. Using the top of the jar as a cake cutter, cut rounds to fit perfectly inside your jar.

2. Make the frosting: Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form; turn mixer off. Bring sugar, syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup tap water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar; attach a candy thermometer to side of pan, and cook, without stirring, until thermometer reads 250°, 4–5 minutes. Turn mixer to medium speed, and very slowly drizzle hot syrup into beating egg whites. Add vanilla, and increase speed to high; beat until meringue forms stiff peaks and is slightly warm to the touch, about 3 minutes.

3. To make the curd: the night before. puree first 4 ingredients in processor, scraping down sides of work bowl occasionally. Add yolks; puree 15 seconds longer. Strain through sieve set over large metal bowl, pressing on solids with back of spatula to release as much puree as possible. Discard solids in sieve. Set metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°f., about 10 minutes. Remove from over water. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

4. To assemble, place one cake circle inside the jar and press down, drizzle with 1 tsp. coconut cream,  sprinkle with coconut flakes, spread with 1 tbsp frosting, and another cake circle, cream and flakes; top with 1 tbsp mango curd, then repeat cake, cream and flake process. Cover top with frosting, and sprinkle with coconut, pressing it lightly to adhere; chill cake to firm frosting. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Adapted from Saveur Magazine

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Eid Recipes

Dark Chocolate Valrhona Cupcakes with Mango Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Dark chocolate cake meets sweet mango buttercream.  Why not mix high quality chocolate with a classic South Asian dessert flavor?  The ultimate Eid cupcake.

What is Valrhona Chocolate?  Valrhona focuses mainly on high-grade luxury chocolate marketed for professional as well as for private consumption.  Valrhona produces vintage chocolate made from beans of a single year's harvest from a specific plantation, primarily the Grand Crus which is grown in South America, Oceania and the Caribbean.  Yes, it's pricey...but worth the money on such a joyous occasion.

When making this cupcake I originally decided to have a mango curd filling.  After tasting the rich chocolate cake and the mango buttercream together I thought it may become overwhelming, so I decided not to add it.  I couldn't help but smile to think about how my family would react to a mango buttercream and chocolate.  Their reaction was priceless!  Ah, the simple pleasures of life.  Okay, enough about that.  The recipe is posted below, but first the therapy portion of this blog...

Therapeutic topic of the week:

Stress and Alcohol. Gender, family history, and parenting influence drinking behavior. Children in families with multiple risk factors are at greater risk for alcohol abuse or dependence. Some of these risk factors include growing up with parents who: are dependent on alcohol, have coexisting psychological disorders, or use alcohol to cope with stress. Some studies show that regardless of a family history of alcoholism, a lack of parental monitoring, severe and recurrent family conflict, and poor parent-child relationships can contribute to alcohol abuse in adolescents. Children with conduct disorders, poor socialization, and ineffective coping skills as well as those with little connection to parents, other family members, or school may be at an increased risk for alcohol abuse or dependence.

Research and population surveys have shown that people under stress, particularly chronic stress, tend to show signs of more unhealthy behaviors than less-stressed people. Stressed people drink more alcohol, smoke more, and eat less nutritious foods than non-stressed individuals. Many people report drinking alcohol in response to various types of stress, and the amount of drinking in response to stress is related to the severity of the life stressors and the individuals' lack of social support networks. 

A challenging question that continues to be unanswered in the field of addiction is why some individuals are more vulnerable to substance use disorders than others. “Numerous risk factors for alcohol and other drugs of abuse, including exposure to various forms of stress, have been identified in clinical studies. However, the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie this relationship remain unclear. Critical neurotransmitters, hormones and neurobiological sites have been recognized, which may provide the substrates that convey individual differences in vulnerability to addiction” (Uhart & Wand, 2009). More sophisticated brain measures are helping researchers understand what effect alcohol has on specific hormones in the brain.

Alcoholism is a complex medical condition that is believed to be caused by a number of both hereditary and environmental factors. While stress is not considered to be a cause of alcoholism, stressful experiences may lead to relapse of the disease in those who already suffer from alcoholism. 

Dark Chocolate Valrhona Cupcakes with Mango Swiss Meringue Buttercream Recipe


For the batter:
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
Pinch sea salt
1 cup Valrhona Cocoa Powder
1/3 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 large whole egg
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/3 cup coffee, warm

For the buttercream:
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup mango pulp (from ripe pureed and strained mangos)

Sift all dry ingredients together into a bowl.  In separate bowl mix eggs and buttermilk.  Melt butter in a pot and then add the coffee.  Add to butter/coffee mixture to the buttermilk mixture. Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients and mix until just combined, about 1 minute (do not over mix).  Using a spoon or ice cream scoop, portion into cupcake molds. Fill about 1/2 way up.  Bake at 325F for approx 20-25 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the center to check for doneness.

Meanwhile, combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).
Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.
With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla and mango pulp. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day.

Frost cupcakes and decorate as desired.

Cupcake recipe from Derek Poirier
Buttercream recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

Monday, August 13, 2012

Heavenly Chocolate and Caramel

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcakes

Want delicious mouth watering cupcakes?  Try salted caramel.  Ever wonder why salted caramel is such a crowd pleaser?  The flavors of salty and sweet are balanced leaving you satisfied with just one cupcake (or maybe two).  Caramel is great on it's own but add salt and suddenly its a grown up treat. Making your own caramel can take time but the end result is worth the effort.  This cupcake is a chocolate cake with a salted caramel filling and a salted caramel buttercream.  The trick here is to try to leave enough caramel to complete the cupcakes (and stop licking your spoon along the way).  It is also a great cupcake to share during Ramadan or for Eid.

Therapeutic topic of the week:
Depression. There are many models and theories that have had success in treating depressive symptoms. The most effective research based treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Many therapeutic methods have been studied, but cognitive-behavioral therapy is the only modality that has been shown to work effectively. In fact, treatment of depression through cognitive-behavioral methods has the capacity to produce long-lasting, permanent relief from the sadness and loneliness. Depression responds to relatively short-term therapy, depending on the severity of the condition. CBT has a good evidence base in terms of its effectiveness in reducing symptoms and preventing relapse. It has been clinically demonstrated in over 400 studies to be effective for many psychiatric disorders and medical problems for both children and adolescents.

Relaxation techniques help individuals develop the ability to more effectively cope with the stresses that contribute to depression, as well as with some of the physical symptoms of stress. The techniques taught include breath re-training and exercise. Help to bring your body and mind more regularly into a state of relaxation and calm by practicing simple relaxation exercises, ideally on a regular basis to establish a steady relaxing routine at least in part of your life. Practicing relaxation techniques can improve how you physically respond to stress by: slowing your heart rate, lowering blood pressure, slowing your breathing rate, reducing the need for oxygen, increasing blood flow to major muscles, and reducing muscle tension.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcakes Recipe


For the cupcakes:
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup greek yogurt

For the filling:
2½ cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
¾ cup heavy cream, warmed
2¼ tsp. fleur de sel

For the frosting:
1¼ cup sugar, divided
5 tbsp. water
5 tbsp. heavy cream
Generous pinch of sea salt, such as fleur de sel
5 large egg whites
3¾ sticks (30 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature


To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and hot water and whisk until smooth. In another medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and whisk to blend.

Combine the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth and the butter is completely melted. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is cool, about 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the yogurt, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Let cool in the pan about 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

To make the filling, combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has melted into a syrup. Stop stirring and gently swirl the pan, using a pastry brush dipped in water to wipe down any bits of sugar stuck to the sides of the pan. Continue to boil, swirling occasionally, until the mixture is a deep amber color and it registers 340˚ F on the thermometer. Very slowly pour in the cream in a slow, steady stream down the inside edge of the pan, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt.

Let the caramel filling mixture cool just until very slightly thickened and cool enough to handle. Carefully transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a small tip and inject a small amount of filling directly into the center of each cupcake.

To make the caramel buttercream, place ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a medium saucepan. Mix in the water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stop stirring and let the caramel cook, gently swirling from time to time, until it is a deep amber color, watching it carefully to avoid burning. Remove the mixture from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream and then the salt. Set aside and let cool.

Combine the egg whites and the remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160° F and the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.

Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more. Blend in the cooled caramel until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe a swirl of frosting on each cupcake. When you are ready to serve, top each cupcake with a salted caramel or Valrhona pearls if desired.

Slightly adapted from Annie's Eats

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