Mini Chocolate and Red Velvet Cakes

minicakes2I love the idea of mini cakes because they’re so cute and festive and don’t require a cupcake pan. I’ve had my eye on these rainbow mini cakes on Molly Yeh’s blog. I decided to try my hand at a simpler, two-layer version (mostly because I was too lazy to go out to buy matcha powder for the green tea layer…next time).

I like a huge cake to frosting ratio (i.e. waaaaaay more cake than frosting because I don’t really like frosting, except for the carrot cake cream cheese variety) so I left my minis naked. But the frosting recipe definitely makes enough for you to frost the tops and sides if you so choose.

Mini Chocolate and Red Velvet Cakes

Assembly:
Make one portion each of the chocolate, red velvet, and buttercream recipes below. Freeze cake layers for at least one hour, or overnight. Use round biscuit cutters to cut out rounds (I used 2-inch and got about 20 mini cakes total). Frost and decorate as desired. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Magnolia Bakery Super Rich Chocolate Cake

(Original source)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla
  • Scant 1/2 cup boiling water

Method:

  1. Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees or conventional oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together eggs, milk, oil and vanilla in a separate bowl. Whisk the egg mixture into the sugar-flour mixture by hand until combined. Whisk in boiling water just until combined. The batter will be watery.
  3. Pour batter into parchment lined 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 22 to 25 minutes in a convection oven or 25 to 30 minutes in a conventional oven. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Southern Red Velvet Cake

(Original source)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1/2 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9″ x 13″ dish with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.
  3. Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.
  4. Pour batter into prepared cake pan. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove the cake from the oven. Invert onto a plate and then re-invert onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely.

Vanilla Buttercream

(Original source)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Method:
Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Yield: enough for 2 dozen cupcakes or 1 (9-inch) layer cake

minicakes1

Southwest Pork and Bean Stew

I love making stews in winter. They’re easy, hands-off, and they make the house warm AND delicious-smelling. What’s not to like?

southwest pork and bean stewWhile back in Seattle we ran across a brand of heirloom beans called Rancho Gordo. I used their Rebosero beans (a Mexican variety that is sort of a cross between red and black beans) for this recipe, and they worked great. (I prefer the texture of freshly cooked beans, but you could easily substitute canned for this recipe if you’re short on time.) What I really liked about this recipe was the use of molasses and orange zest, which provided a complex sweetness that wasn’t overpowering or cloying. You can adjust the heat to taste by raising/lowering the amount of cayenne or jalapenos. Rice/tortillas and guacamole make fine accompaniments for this hearty one-pot meal.

Southwest Pork and Bean Stew

Adapted from Simply Recipes
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 pounds of pork shoulder or butt, trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 jalapeños, more or less to taste, seeded, stems removed
  • 2 Tbsp cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons molasses (I used blackstrap)
  • 2 long 1-inch wide strips of orange zest
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 15-ounce can black or red beans, liquid included OR ~2 cups cooked beans + 1/2 cup water or bean broth
  • More salt to taste
  • Juice from 1 – 2 limes
  • Cilantro for garnish

Method

  1. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt over the pork pieces and let sit while you prep the other ingredients.
  2. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a thick-bottomed stew pot on medium high heat. Add the pork pieces to the pot and brown them on all sides.
  3. Once the pork pieces have browned, add the chopped onions to the pot with the pork. Lower the heat to medium and cook until the onions are translucent, about 7-10 minutes more.
  4. As the onions are cooking, work on the garlic spice mixture. Place the garlic and the jalapeños in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until minced. Then add the oregano, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, and cornmeal and pulse everything until ground.
  5. Once the onions are cooked, add the spice mixture to the pork and onions. Add the molasses, orange zest, and water to the pot. Bring it to a simmer and then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cover and let cook until the pork is completely tender, about 2 hours. Stir occasionally and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
  6. When pork is tender, remove the orange zest and add the beans to the pot and cook for 20 minutes more on low heat. (Note: if using freshly cooked beans, add ~1/2 c. water or bean broth.)
  7. Remove from heat, and stir in the lime juice. Add more salt to taste.
  8. Serve garnished with fresh cilantro. Great with rice and fresh guacamole.

Canadian Pea Soup

I don’t like peas.

As a child, I’d put up a fuss every time peas and carrots were served for dinner. I hated their mealy, mushy texture and ability to make everything else on the plate taste and smell like peas.

So I was skeptical when, back when we were dating, my now-husband mentioned that he wanted to make me “delicious” Canadian pea soup. In my mind, “delicious” and “pea soup” were not compatible phrases, even when love was involved.

peasoupAnyways, David waited until we were married before testing out this recipe on me. And…I was surprised. It was, indeed, delicious pea soup. HOWEVER, it was not green pea soup. It’s yellow split pea soup, a traditional French Canadian dish. I haven’t tried looking for yellow split peas anywhere besides Toronto, but here they are readily available in the bean aisle in your average supermarket.

This soup is homey and hearty — just the thing to warm you up in subzero Canadian winter weather. It’s also a forgiving recipe — I’ve altered the number of veggies, depending on what I have on hand. And though traditionally made with a ham hock, I’ve also substituted smoked pork bits and leftover ham with good success. It’s also super easy — just pile the ingredients in the pot, bring it to a boil, then simmer til delicious!

Canadian Pea Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 ham hock (or meaty ham bone, or ~1/2 lb. ham)
  • 2 cups dried yellow split peas
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that rises to the top.
  2. Lower to a simmer, cover, and cook for 2-3 hours or until peas begin falling apart and the ham meat is cooked and falling off the bone.
  3. Remove from heat. Remove meat and set aside. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprig and discard.
  4. Puree soup in batches in a food processor / blender (or use an immersion blender) to desired consistency.
  5. Chop meat and return to pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chinese Coconut Cocktail Buns (Gai Mei Bao)

buns1My dad works in Chinatown in Seattle, and when my brothers and I were young he’d occasionally bring home a bright pink box filled with Asian bakery treats. These coconut buns (or gai mei bao) were always a family favorite. I’ve been searching for a recipe for awhile, and when I bit into one of these I knew I’d found it. The best part of gai mei bao is the buttery coconut filling, and this recipe doesn’t just nail the flavor — it allows for a generous amount in each bun. These buns are a great introduction to Asian baked goods; and even the non-coconut fans in my life gladly scarf these down.

There are a lot of steps to this recipe; don’t be intimidated! It all comes together quite easily in an afternoon. If you want to split up the work, make the dough on the first day and proof overnight in the fridge. Take out the dough about an hour before you want to wrap the buns so it can get to room temperature. During that time, make the filling and topping.

buns2This recipe calls for a couple unusual ingredients (caster sugar and whole milk powder). I found everything I needed at Bulk Barn, though your local Asian market should also carry them. If you have difficulty locating caster sugar (which is basically superfine sugar — NOT powdered), you can whiz regular granulated sugar in the food processor for 10 seconds or so. This recipe also incorporates the tangzhong method, which involves cooking a portion of the flour with liquid in order to give the bread a longer-lasting soft texture. These buns keep well for a few days (I recommend microwaving a few seconds after the first day), and make a delicious breakfast alongside bacon and a cup of coffee.

(Note: I weigh my ingredients — highly recommended! — when making these buns, but have included approximate US equivalents below.)

Chinese Coconut Cocktail Buns (Gai Mei Bao)

Adapted from Christine’s Recipes
Makes 16 buns

Tangzhong Ingredients (will make a little more than needed for this recipe):

  • 50gm / 1/3 c bread flour
  • 250ml / 1 c water (could be replaced by milk, or 50/50 water and milk)

Tangzhong Method:

  1. In a small saucepan, slowly add liquid to flour and mix until smooth. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, whisk or spatula to prevent burning and sticking while you cook along the way.
  2. The mixture will gradually thicken. Once you notice some “lines” appearing in the mixture for every stir you make with the spoon, it’s done. Remove from heat.
  3. Transfer tangzhong to a clean bowl. Cover with a cling wrap sticking onto the surface of tangzhong to prevent from drying up. Let cool. The tangzhong can be used immediately once it cools down to room temperature. Leftover tangzhong can be stored in fridge for a few days. (Note: The chilled tangzhong should return to room temperature before adding into other ingredients.)

Bun Ingredients:

  • 160 ml / 2/3 c milk, warmed (any kind will do)
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 160 gm / 2/3 c tangzhong (for method, please see above)
  • 6 gm / heaping 1 tsp salt
  • 70 gm / 1/3 c caster sugar
  • 10 gm / 2 tsp whole milk powder
  • 360 gm / 3 c bread flour
  • 10 gm / 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 40 gm / 1.5 tbsp butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

Filling Ingredients:

  • 180 gm / 13 tbsp butter, softened at room temperature
  • 80 gm / 2/3 c caster sugar
  • 50 gm / 1/2 c cake flour
  • 60 gm / 4 tbsp milk powder
  • 90 gm / 1 c unsweetened desiccated coconut

Topping Ingredients:

  • 35 gm / 1/3 c cake flour
  • 40 gm / 3 tbsp butter
  • 20 gm / scant 1/8 c caster sugar
  • 1 egg, whisked (with a splash of milk, optional)
  • Sesame seeds for sprinkling on top, to taste

Sugar glaze (optional):

  • 1 tbsp sugar + 1 tbsp water

Method:

  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk to activate. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and milk powder.
  3. Once the yeast is active and bubbly, add egg and tangzhong and stir to combine.
  4. Make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients. Slowly add the wet to the dry ingredients, incorporating with a spatula or wooden spoon. Dough will be sticky at first. Once in a cohesive ball, add melted butter. Knead until dough becomes smooth and soft, yet pliable (~8 – 10 minutes).
  5. Cover dough with cling wrap or a linen towel and set aside in a warm area until doubled in size (or proof in the refrigerator overnight).
  6. While dough is proofing, make filling and topping (see below).
  7. Transfer proofed dough to a clean floured surface. Gently deflate and divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Form into ball shapes. Cover with cling wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
  8. Roll or press out each portion of the dough into an oval shape. Place a portion of filling in the middle of the oval lengthwise. Fold the bottom third up over the filling, then fold the top third down over the other layers (like a letter). Pinch seam closed. Turn bun over and tuck the ends underneath, pinching to seal.
  9. Transfer bun to a parchement lined baking tray with seam facing down. Repeat this step with the remaining dough portions and fillings. Cover with a plastic wrap and let them proof for about 45 to 60 minutes, or until doubled in size.
  10. Preheat oven to 350F.
  11. Lightly brush whisked egg on the surface of each dough. Pipe two lines of toppings and sprinkle some sesame seeds. Baked for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. About 5 minutes before finished, remove from oven and brush tops carefully with sugar glaze, if desired. Return to oven. Remove from the oven and brush on a second coat of sugar glaze. Let cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Filling:

  1. Combine the butter and sugar well. Sift in in milk powder, cake flour, and coconut. Mix to combine.
  2. Form filling mixture into a long tube. Divide into 16 equal portions. Set aside. (I like to put in the fridge while dough is proofing to make it easier to handle.)

Topping:

  1. Mix the softened butter with sugar well. Sift in the cake flour and combine well.
  2. Transfer into a ziplock bag and snip off a corner. Pipe over the tops of buns after egg wash.