Archive for July, 2012

It’s the 27th!  Daring Baker’s reveal date, almost forgot!  This month, we were challenged to make crackers.

Personally, I’d rather buy a box of crackers than make them from scratch.  It was like one of our challenges way back when . . . we had to make graham crackers, only to smash them up for a graham cracker crust.  Well, there was a little bit of smashing going on this month, but not too much.

I decided to make Ritz crackers and Cheese Nips.  I chose Ritz crackers (from this lovely blog) because they were the easiest to convert into a dessert.  If you read my blog, I’m definitely more of a dessert baker.  And the Cheese Nips (found here) were selected because I had a block of amazing habanero cheddar cheese in my fridge and thought it would produce really good crackers.

The Ritz cracker dough was quite sticky.  I halved the recipe and made it in my mini food processor, then rolled out the dough between sheets of wax paper.  I don’t have many small cookie cutters, so I went with hearts over simple squares or rounds.

Crackers are kind of tricky because you need to bake them enough so they’re not soft inside, but you don’t want to burn them either.  They definitely require a careful watch.  But once they were out of the oven, I moved on to part 2 and sandwiched them with peanut butter, then dipped the whole thing in melted white chocolate.  Okay, those were pretty great.

The Cheese Nip dough was a bit easier to work with.  I mixed it using my Kitchen Aid mixer then rolled out the dough with my pasta maker (which I have yet to use on actual pasta).  It was kind of fun watching the flat little squares puff up during baking.  Basically made of cheese, water, and flour, I didn’t know they’d rise so well.  But the finished product didn’t have the kick that I was looking for by using the habanero cheddar.  The crackers worked well on cheese cracker chicken though.

So crackers really aren’t that much trouble to make.  But again, I think I’ll stick with buying them.

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

Ritz Crackers:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp + another 1/2 tsp salt for topping
  • 6 tbsp cold unsalted butter + 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Put the flour, baking powder, sugar, and 1/2 tsp of salt in the food processor.
  3. Pulse to combine.
  4. Add cold butter a few small pats at a time, and pulse to combine.
  5. Add vegetable oil.  Pulse to combine.
  6. Add water a little bit at a time.  Pulse to combine after each addition.  The dough should start to form a ball.
  7. Roll dough out as thin as you can.  Mine ended up being all different thicknesses.  Don’t sweat it.  They are homemade!  If you are really concerned, Jeffrey had luck using a pasta maker to make the dough all one thickness – great idea!
  8. Use cookie cutters to cut the dough out.  You can make them Ritz-shaped or any shape that you like.
  9. Poke holes in the dough in the Ritz pattern or any pattern you like (smiley faces would be fun!).  Keep in mind that the holes are not just decorative; they help the crackers to bake correctly – so be sure to poke some.
  10. Bake the crackers on a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet for ten minutes or until the crackers just begin to brown.
  11. While the crackers are baking, melt the remaining butter and mix in the remaining salt (Some people said that my crackers weren’t salty enough.  Add more or less salt to your taste.)
  12. As soon as you remove the crackers from the oven, brush them with the salty butter.

Homemade Cheese Nips:

Makes approximately 15 dozen crackers


  • 1 8-oz. block extra sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons ice water


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cheddar, butter, and salt until soft and homogenous. Add the flour and mix on low speed; the dough will be dry and pebbly. Slowly add the water and continue to mix as the dough coalesces into a mass.

Pat the dough into a disk, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375˚. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each into a very thin (1/8 inch or less) 10×12-inch rectangle. Using a fluted pastry cutter, cut the rectangles into 1-inch squares, then transfer to the baking sheets. Use the tip of a chopstick to punch a hole into the center of each square.

Bake for 17 minutes or until puffed and browning at the edges. Watch carefully, as the high fat content of the crackers makes it a fine line between golden delicious and burnt. Immediately move the crackers to racks to cool.


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A little catch up

I’m getting pretty lazy on my blogging.  So it’s due time that I catch you up on my adventures in and out of the kitchen.  We’re going to rewind all the way to Easter.

Last year, I made an Easter duck cake, decorated in pastel flowers.  This year, I wanted to make something a bit lighter, to round off dinner nicely without being too rich or heavy.  So I chose to make a pavlova.

I’ve never made a full scale, traditional pavlova before.  If you remember a Daring Baker’s challenge two years ago, I made mini chocolate pavlova’s with ganache.  So after hunting around for a recipe, I used a recipe provided by one of my fellow Daring Kitchen bakers, Audax Artifex.  And for the topping, I folded whipped cream into pastry cream to add just a tad bit of richness.

The finished product was pretty good, though I did have some issues with the pavlova cracking.  I tried to cover up those imperfections the best I could with the cream, berries, and peeps (hey, it was Easter).

After Easter came a Bob Schneider show . . . or not.  He canceled it due to illness 12 hours before the show and 1 hour after I had finished making him cookies.  No problem, I was to see him two weeks later in Chicago so I individually wrapped the macarons and oatmeal white chocolate/cranberry cookies, packaged in two freezer bags, and preserved them in the freezer until that time.  I did remake the Bob Bars though because those are really easy.

Next up, the Fray.  These boys play bigger venues now, unlike the tiny 300-500 capacity joints I used to see them at six years ago.  So when they went on tour playing some mid-sized, general admission venues and excluded Phoenix, I boarded a plane to see them.  Let me just say, the Tabernacle in Atlanta is a pretty cool place.

Right when I landed in Atlanta, I headed on over to the venue to scope out the scene and to try to deliver the cookies so I didn’t have to hold on to them the entire night.  Well, it took a lot longer than I thought it would.  I waited over two and a half hours, talking to random security guys and photographers (who snapped some pics of me and the cookies) until I finally spotted Isaac (Slade) and pointed to my box . . . of cookies, guys!  He sent over his tour manager to collect, at which point I found out the show had sold out while I was waiting to drop off the cookies.  But these guys are so good to me, he added my name to the guest list last minute.

After that, I had to take some pictures with fans and sign autographs.  Okay, not quite.  But some girls had seen Isaac say hi to me and wanted to know how I knew him.  A picture was requested with the Fray’s psycho fan (me), but I politely declined.

After the show, my celebrity status increased when Isaac put a picture of my cookies on their facebook page.  In the course of 30 minutes, it received over 1,000 likes.  Yeah, that made my night.  What didn’t make my night though was sleeping at the Atlanta airport for four hours, trying to avoid beggars asking for money.  Hello?  I’m sleeping at the airport.  I don’t have money!  Actually, I’m just too cheap to spend money on a hotel for three hours.

My cookies with over 1,800 likes on facebook.

When we were young.

All grown up.

Next!  What?  Did you think I was done?  I have a lot of catching up to do.

The next thing to come out of my kitchen was coca cola cupcakes to celebrate the life of a coworker who passed away.  My office held a potluck with all his favorite things.  Basically, it was a lot of junk food.  He liked popcorn, chips, hotdogs, licorice, and coca cola.

The cupcakes turned out light and fluffy, with just a hint of the coca cola flavor.  I made my own frosting with a coca cola reduction to give it more of the cola flavor.  Topped with cola gummy bottles, they were rather cute.

Following cupcakes was my first foray into baking with rhubarb.  I’ve wanted to see what rhubarb was all about for a long time, but never got around to it.  So I made a strawberry/rhubarb crumble. Hmm . . . check that off the list.  Maybe some day, I’ll give it another shot.  It was like eating jelly with crunchy oatmeal bits on top.  Not terrible with ice cream, but not really my favorite.

Then came Father’s Day.  Perfect!  I could bake for my dad and satisfy my craving for carrot cake all at the same time.  Lately, I’ve had a thing for tall cakes.  I don’t really like short sheet cakes.  So I baked the cake in a 9×13 inch pan and cut it in half to stack.  Easy enough, but the frosting was another story.

I’ve come to find that cream cheese frosting can only really be made with full fat cream cheese.  Do not try to be healthier and use the reduced fat variety.  The frosting will be too runny and require way too much powdered sugar to get to a thicker consistency.  I had to refrigerate often to set the frosting.  Even with this minor setback, by adding little modeling chocolate decorations, the cake still turned out nicely.

Are you still with me?  Almost caught up, folks.

Sourdough.  Yes . . . again.  Third time’s the charm?  Well, kind of.

I used a different recipe, found on this blog.  It used a little bit more starter than the last recipe I tried.  And it definitely had a stiffer dough than the previous attempt, so I was pretty optimistic.  Unfortunately, the dough didn’t rise at all during baking so I was still left with a flat round.  BUT, it was eatable.  My sister visiting from France even requested I make it again.  I just might, but next time I’ll probably cheat and use a loaf pan so it has no choice but rise vertically.

Last, but not least, a birthday cake for my mom.  Last year, I made a pretty massive cake and took the leftovers to work for my coworkers.  I decided to go tall, but not quite so big.  I made a yellow cake, scaling the recipe to 1 1/2 since I have 9 inch cake pans.  I really need to buy 7 inch cake rounds.

I split each cake in half so it’d have 4 layers, and alternated the layers with caramel frosting and vanilla frosting, topped with chocolate ganache (because I ran out of frosting and didn’t have enough powdered sugar to make more).  The cake crumbs leftover from leveling the cake became cake balls to adorn the top.  Left over modeling chocolate in the fridge yielded some pansies, sort of.  My mom loves pansies, but I don’t have any molds or flower cutters so I have to make everything by hand.  The flower shapes were okay, but food coloring gel doesn’t stick well to modeling chocolate.  Food color pens seemed to adhere better, but the color doesn’t flow as well.  Nonetheless, all the components came together nicely and the cake was a success.

Phew!  There you have it.  Now you’re all caught up and I’ll do my best not to accumulate three months of baking for one blog post.   The recipe for Coca Cola cupcakes are below.

Coca Cola Cupcakes:

2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups small marshmallows
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup CocaCola®
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coca cola
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar (or more, if necessary, to thicken up the frosting)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, sift sugar and flour. Add marsh- mallows. In
saucepan, mix butter, oil, cocoa, and CocaCola. Bring to a boil and pour over dry
ingredients; blend well. Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk just before adding to
batter along with eggs and vanilla extract, mixing well. Pour into well-greased cupcake molds. Remove from oven and frost immediately.
To make frosting, boil the coca cola in a small saucepan until reduced to a thick syrup.  In mixer, whip butter and add the vanilla, coca cola, and powdered sugar.  Mix until smooth.  Spread or pipe on cupcakes.

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