Sugar Sweet Sunshine

On Sunday afternoon, my roommate, another suite-mate and I decided to venture out into dreary New York City on a little adventure that would finally take us out of the dorm room after being tucked inside all day. Even in the first weekend back at school, I had loads of homework, but was luckily able to finish almost all of it by Sunday afternoon. Anyway, recently I found an article in TimeOut magazine that has a map of all the cupcake shops that are worth trying in NYC. Now, I like to think that I know quite of few of these shops already and have frequented many of them myself, but I thought it would be fun to take the map and try to cross of as many of the shops as possible that I’ve been to. Here is an account of our first stop…

So Sunday afternoon the three of us made our way to Sugar Sweet Sunshine down on the Lower East Side. Ironically enough, as we made our way past Houston and into Soho, we commented on how close this section of town actually is to our dorm, but how rarely we even walk the few blocks down there. It really is a whole different world. Cobblestone streets, cute little shops, many more things in Chinese (as you make your way towards China Town), and just an entirely different ambiance than the East Village. I’ve decided that I really must go down there more often, given how incredibly close it actually is.

From my impression of the website, I expected some pink and flower filled little shop playing classical music while serving cupcakes and tea. This was not the case, but what I saw was so much better. With mismatched wallpaper across the walls, vintage cushions and chairs, polaroids across the wall, exposed kitchen, and hand written signs, Sugar Sweet Sunshine is the kind of bakery I would want to go and hang out at any day. Although it was a little crowded and the line flow was not the most practical set up, it was still a fantastic looking place. It all came together with bakery thongs that they were selling next to the register.

On to the cupcakes! Between the three of us, we shared two classic (white cake, white frosting) and one red velvet. I would rate these as some of the better cupcakes I have had in NYC. Not only were they super cheap – 1.50 – by New York standard, but they had the perfect texture and taste. The frosting was deliciously buttery and the red velvet had some flavor in it that I still can’t put my finger on, but was absolutely mouthwatering. I gobbled my halves up in all of two minutes, because they were just so GOOD! As we sat at our table, we noticed that they also sold tiramisu in a cup. They had big bowls of tiramisu and would take a big spatula and put a whole hunking heapful into a cup for your enjoyment. I will have to try that the next time I go, which I’m hoping is very soon 🙂

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Rocky Ledge Bars

So I’m back to baking in my tiny little dorm room kitchen. I guess I can’t really complain given that most dorms don’t even have kitchens, but after the luxury of using my oven back home last weekend, I guess I still feel a little bit spoiled. That being said, I’m super happy to be back in NYC. I had a great time in Israel and North Carolina, but it was still so nice coming back and seeing my roommate and suite-mates. Classes are back in full swing and I’m already swamped with homework even in the first weekend.

That being said, Friday night we still had to have a bit of fun 😉 We had a big game night – mostly involving cranium and a super intense game of charades. There were about 11 of us and we all had loads of fun. I decided to make rocky ledge bars for our little soiree. I was almost going to make cupcakes, but then realized that those were way too involved for the hour I had designated for baking on Friday afternoon. They were super easy to make – although the brown sugar we had was rock solid and I had to spend 15 minutes softening it up in the microwave – but otherwise it was basically just dumping a bunch of chips, caramels, and marshmallows and a bit of cookie dough and popping in the oven.

I only got time to take a picture of the mixture, since they were all gobbled up during game night. As you can see, it’s just a jumble of amazing things. I kind of skimmed the recipe and decided to add more or less of whichever chocolate/caramel/marshmallow I liked. A+

ROCKY LEDGE BARS

(Adapted from Martha Stewart Cookie Book)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 18 soft caramel-candy cubes, coarsely chopped (I used these nifty little caramel balls that I found instead and used 1 cup)

DIRECTIONS:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Line with parchment paper, allowing a 2-inch overhang on the longer sides. Brush parchment with butter (not overhang)

2) Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

3) Using an electric mixer (I used a wooden spoon, since I didn’t feel like taking out the mixer), mix butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; mix until well combined.

4) Mix in flour mixture until combined. Fold in half of each of the marshmallows, chocolates, butterscotch chips, and caramels.

5) Spread batter in prepared pan. Scatter remaining marshmallows, chocolates, butterscotch chips, and caramels on top.

6) Bake until top is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.

7) Let cool on a wire rack. Lift out of pan, and transfer to a baking sheet. Refrigerate until set, at least 30 minutes.

8 ) Remove parchment, and cut into about 16 triangles. Bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Scones Part II

So I’ve always been a big fan of scones. Well, actually, more my dad is a big fan of scones, which in turn has led me to become a big fan of scones. Last year, I found a recipe that I personally thought was fool proof. It was super easy, you could add any additions you wanted – blueberries, blackberries, chocolate chips – and they almost always turned out scrumptious. This past weekend, I decided to take a chance and try a new recipe. I decided to use Alton Brown’s recipe. I love his recipes, and this one was no exception. There is really never any excuse not to make fresh scones, because they are so easy and quick to make. I added some frozen bluberries to mine, cut them up into circles (I usually make triangles), popped them in the over, and voila – delicious scones.

This is bound to become my go to scone recipe from now on. I used low-fat cream but stuck with both shortening and butter. I’m sure you could just go with butter if you didn’t want to use shortening, but I had both on hand, so I figured why not. I also brushed the tops with some a little bit of left over cream to give them a bit of a shine when they were done. All in all, very good 🙂

SCONES

(Adapted from the foodnetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup addition of choice (I used blueberries)

DIRECTIONS:

1) Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2) In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix well.

3) Cut in butter and shortening.

4) In a separate bowl, combine cream with beaten egg then add to dry ingredients. Stir in fruit.

5) Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Roll dough out and cut into biscuit size rounds. Brush with extra cream.

6) Bake for 15 minutes or until brown.


Banana Cupcakes

First post of the New Year!! I know it’s already two weeks into the 2010, but I’ve just returned to North Carolina where I have a full service kitchen and supplies. I spent the past three weeks visiting my mom in Israel. It was loads of fun, but her kitchen is nothing to write home about. She had a baby oven, a hot plate, and well, that was just about it. I was able to make a few different dinner meals with our limited appliances, but no baking. Needless to say, I still ate lots of delicious things during my visit. In my opinion, food – especially dairy products – are just better in Israel. I guess that’s why they call it the land of milk and honey. 😉 I had a hot chocolate almost everyday from either Aroma or Cafe Hillel. Both for superior than any hot chocolate you can get at an American cafe. I could go on and on about all the food I ate in Israel, but I’ll spare you my rant.

Now that I’m back in Raleigh – I head back to NYC tomorrow – I’ve jumped into baking once again. Last night, we had the whole family over plus a few extra friends for our usual Saturday/Sunday night meal together. Instead of actually cooking a meal though, we ordered thai. I guess when I think about it, we order Thai food more often than regular meals. Okay, that’s not true at all, but sometimes it feels like order food from them all the time.

Anyway, for Chanukah I got a new cookbook – Baked – and I decided to make banana cupcakes. My original intention had been to make monster cookies, which resembled kitchen sink cookies with peanut butter, but after realizing that they had to be put in fridge for 5 hours, and guests were coming in about 2, I come to the conclusion that those were a no go. And then when my dad pointed out to me the 4 incredibly blackened bananas sitting on the counter, banana cupcakes seemed like the way to go.

The cupcakes themselves were very yummy. Much lighter then banana bread, and a little sweeter as well. (Side note – my dad made banana bread the other day and FORGOT to put SUGAR in it. He tried to hide his error by saying you could just put jam on it to sweeten it up, but there was no lying, it was lacking sweetness). Back to the cupcakes – they were easy enough to make. Given the bananas, they were a little thicker than basic cupcake batter making them easier t scoop into the tin. My dad was in charge of the icing. It was actually a vanilla pastry cream. It was a rather tedious thing to make – heating half & half, whisking for 6 minutes, and straining through a sieve. Once it was strained and in the fridge, it seemed to be thickening up nicely, but the first time we took it out of the fridge to try and frost them, it was just like pudding, falling everywhere. So we put it back into the fridge for another 45 minutes or so and it thickened up nicely. I’m not sure I’d make it again – it was much more like pudding than frosting – but for the banana cupcakes, I think they actually complemented each other well.

BANANA CUPCAKES WITH VANILLA PASTRY CREAM

(Adapated from BAKED)

INGREDIENTS:

CUPCAKES

  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (I used 4)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

PASTRY CREAM

  • 3 cups half & half
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tbs. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

CUPCAKES

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two 12-cup cupcake pans with paper liners.

2) Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl and set aside.

3) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes.

4) Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl, add eggs, and beat until just combined. Scrape down the bowl again and add the bananas.

5) Turn the mixer to low, add the flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, in three addition, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

6) Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 way full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes our clean.

7) Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let for 20 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and place them on the rack to cool completely.

PASTRY CREAM

1) Set a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl.

2) In a medium saucepan, bring the half & half to a simmer and keep warm.

3) In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together until the mixture is pale, about 1 minute. Whisk half of the warm half & half into the yolk mixture, then pour mixture into the remaining half & half in the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 6 minutes.

4) Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through the sieve and press and piece of plastic wrap directlcy onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming.

5) Put in the fridge for about 1 hour, or until chilled. (I’d say more like 2 hours).

ASSEMBLY

I simply took the cream, put it in a plastic bag, snipped off the end, and attempted to frost them presentably. Since the cream is simply that – more cream like than thick frosting like – it tended to pour over the sides of the cupcakes, but with a slice of fresh banana on the top, they looked okay. Depending on how thick your cream turns out, I think there are countless ways to frost them – whatever floats your boat 🙂