Thursday, September 26, 2019

Red Velvet Brain Cake

Halloween is getting closer! I know it's only the end of September but really.... I mean.... it's basically Halloween. Sue and I start planning our Halloween shenanigans in the summer as we are both a little holiday crazy so by the time we get to September we're anxious to get things started. 
Anyway, I made this gruesome cake last year and decided it needs to be a staple at all our Halloween parties. It's just sooooo gross yet delicious. And really, how often do we get to say that about things?

Brain Cake 

Red Velvet Cake
3 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp baking cocoa
pinch salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 Tbsp vinegar
2 - 3 Tbsp red food dye
1 cup buttermilk

Marshmallow Fondant
1 lb bag mini marshmallows (16 oz)
3 Tbsp water
1 tsp red food dye
2 lb icing sugar
(Butter, to grease your hands)

Also needed
1 jar Raspberry Jam
1/2 cup-ish Vanilla Frosting

Prepare the red velvet cake - preheat oven to 350. Using a "soccer ball sized", oven safe bowl, first spray with cooking spray and then place a couple of strip of parchment paper criss cross in the bowl (See photo below for clarification.) Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking soda, cocoa, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until creamy, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the oil and then the eggs and vanilla, beating well in between each addition. Add in the vinegar and red food coloring. 
Alternately beat in the dry ingredients with the buttermilk into the wet ingredients. 
Pour into the prepared bowl. 
Place a small, shallow, "cereal bowl sized", oven safe bowl, into the middle of the cake batter and press down gently. This helps the cake to cook faster.  
Cook at 350 until toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean - about 20 - 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool about 20 minutes in the bowl on a wire rack. 

Gently remove the small bowl from the middle. Let cool completely. (Don't worry if you have a hole right through the cake. You will be covering the cake in fondant so you won't see it. 

Gently invert cake onto a serving tray and remove from the bowl. 

Using a serrated knife, trim the cake so it is more brain shaped. (NOTE - I used the trimmings to cover the hole on top and create a little more domed appearance.) 
Crumb coat the cake with a thin layer of vanilla frosting. Use a knife to carve a shallow line down the middle of the cake separating the two brain halves. 

Place cake in fridge while you make the marshmallow fondant. 
Prepare fondant - Place marshmallows and water in a microwave safe bowl. Heat approx 40 seconds and then stir. If marshmallows are not completely melted, heat another 20 seconds, stir, repeat if needed. Stir until smooth. Stir in the red food dye. 
Add in the icing sugar about 1/3 at a time. You may need a little bit more icing sugar if it is very sticky. 
Place some icing sugar on a flat work surface and scrape the fondant onto it. Cover your hands in a bit of butter to prevent sticking and then knead the fondant until it is not sticky and is fairly firm. You may need to add more icing sugar as you knead. 
Pull off tablespoon sized pieces of the fondant and roll them between your hands to form "worms" about 2 - 3 inches long. Start placing these on the cake in a wiggly, zig zag pattern so as to look like a brain. See the photo below to get a better idea of what we mean. Make sure to NOT cover up the line down the middle so the brain looks like it has 2 halves. 

Warm a bit of raspberry jam in the microwave for about 20 seconds. I use about 1/2 cup at a time. 
Use a pastry or basting brush, brush the melted jam over the fondant liberally. Be sure to cover all the fondant and the white bits of frosting peeking through. The gooier the better! 

Chill until ready to serve!
We also made poison pudding shots and they looked extra creepy sticking out of the cake!

You can fill the cake center, if you want to.... we actually placed the small bowl we baked in it back in there for more stability. You can see it peeking out in the photo below. 

So gruesome!

The most time consuming part of this cake is rolling all the little "worm" shapes to make the brain squiggles. 

Totally worth it though. You'll have people talking if you bring this to your next Halloween get together. 
A couple of notes: 
1.) The brain squiggles do not have to be uniform. In fact, it looks better if they are not. 
2.) If you are not filling the center of the cake then definitely put the bowl back in there for stability. It can start to collapse under the weight of the fondant. 
3.) The cake can be made ahead of time and frozen until needed. The fondant can be made a few days ahead of time and refrigerated until needed. Just remember to take it out and let it come back to room temperature before trying to work with it. 
4.) I use canned vanilla frosting to crumb coat the cake as you only need a little bit - but feel free to make your own if you prefer. 
5.) You can use any red jam you like to cover the cake but just be sure it doesn't contain seeds!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

I have been trying to come up with an amazing giant cinnamon roll recipe for a long time. Somehow they always just did not meet my expectations. They were missing that certainsomething that made them special. 
Well... I have good news. 
Great news, actually.
I have discovered the best tasting humongous cinnamon rolls ever. In the history of ever. 
I know... I know.... pretty bold claim. Thing is, it's accurate. 
They are super tasty without any frosting but when you add a smear of the salted caramel cream cheese icing... LOOK OUT... you'll be hooked. 
Make them, you'll see.
Oh, you'll see. 

Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

1/3 cup hot water
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (not fast rising)
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup warm milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
4+ cups flour

1/2 cup butter, melted
1+ cup brown sugar
1+ Tbsp cinnamon

Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8 oz) brick cream cheese, room temp
1/4 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup caramel sauce (or to taste)
1 tsp sea salt

In a small bowl, whisk together the 1/3 cup hot water, yeast, and 1/4 tsp sugar. Set aside to allow the yeast too bloom. (It should take about 5 - 8 minutes)
While yeast is activating, whisk together the 1/2 cup sugar, warm milk, melted butter, oil, vanilla, and eggs. 
Whisk in the salt and baking powder and then whisk in the frothy yeast. Slowly stir in the flour until a firm but still a little bit sticky dough forms. Knead for 2 minutes, adding a spoonful or two of flour if dough is too sticky. Place the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover, and set somewhere warm to rise for an hour (until doubled in size). 
Once doubled, punch dough down and placed on lightly floured work surface. Roll dough to a 12 X 17 rectangle. Spread the melted butter over the surface of the dough and then sprinkle with the brown sugar and cinnamon (I put approx measurements but I always end up adding a bit more just to make things gooier!) Roll up, jelly roll style, with the short end closest to you. 
Slice into 6 rolls (2 inches across each). 
Line a 9 X 13 pan with parchment paper and place the buns equal distance apart in the pan. 
(Note - Please note in the photos below I have doubled the recipe to make 12 buns and placed them on a large cookie sheet instead of in two 9 X 13 pans.)

Place somewhere warm, cover with a clean tea towel, and let rise another hour (until doubled). 

Preheat the oven to 350. 
Cook the buns in a preheated 350 oven until deep golden brown and cooked through, approx 30 - 40 minutes, turning at the halfway point. 

Let cool about 20 minutes before trying to remove from the pan. If they look a little under cooked in the middle of the pan then leave them in the oven extra time - better a little too long than not enough!
(FYI - Photo below is of a single batch in a 9 X 13 pan.)


You can serve as is...

Or you can whip up the frosting and spread that on!
To prepare frosting - beat the cream cheese, icing sugar, caramel sauce, and salt until smooth. Spread on cooled buns. (If serving immediately then you can spread on warm buns but - wait until they are cool if you are not serving them until later as the frosting gets all melty.) 

FYI - These freeze very well. 
If you prefer regular cream cheese frosting simply beat the cream cheese with 1/2 cup icing sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla, and leave out the salt and caramel. Easy peasy. 
If you double the recipe (which is never a bad idea IMO) then roll the dough to 24 X 17 instead of 12 X 17, and cut into 12 instead of 6. 
Ginormous, cinnamony rolls that, I have to say, are my favorite cinnamon rolls I have ever made. Definitely keeping this recipe forever. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sushi Donuts

I usually make deep fried donuts and not baked so haven't had much use for my donut pan. Sue found a photo on Pinterest of sushi donuts so we thought that would be a fun way to get some use out of the pan. Sushi donuts are the perfect appie to bring to your next family get together or party. (Also, they happen to be gluten free too!) They may be a little fussy to prepare but they can be made a day ahead so the clean up can be out of the way too. The topping possibilities are endless - if you can slice it super thin you can use it - and the filling ideas are pretty open too! 

Sushi Donuts

Sushi Rice
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
scant 1 Tbsp coarse salt
2 Tbsp sugar
3 cups uncooked sushi rice
water (to cook according to package directions)

mashed avocado

Topping Ideas
toasted seaweed
toasted sesame seeds / black sesame seeds
imitation crab
smoked salmon

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, salt, and sugar. Set aside. 
Cook the 3 cups of rice according to the package directions. Remove from heat when cooked and transfer rice to a large bowl. Stirring constantly, slowly add the vinegar mixture until fully incorporated. Let cool for at least 20 minutes. 
Line a donut pan with saran wrap and place a small bowl of water on your work space. Place a scoop of the rice into one of the donut pan holes and use your fingers to very firmly press the rice into the pan. (Dip your fingers into the bowl of water to prevent the rice from sticking to your fingers)

Repeat until the pan is full. 
Carefully spoon the mashed avocado into the pan on top of the rice. Be careful not to fill too full! You can put it in a Ziplock bag and snip the corner off to pipe it in for a less messy way to fill them. 

Place another scoop of rice on top and very firmly press it down on top of the avocado to fill the pan. Repeat with the entire pan. Chill the pan in the fridge for about half an hour - to make sure the rice is firmly chilled and will stick together. (Longer may be necessary.) 
When sushi donuts are chilled, gently flip them onto a serving tray and remove the plastic wrap. 

Top with your favorite toppings. The secret is to slice your topping very, very thin so they will mold to the shape of the donut. 

I believe we got 12 donuts from the amounts listed above but I'm not totally sure! Sorry about that. I am posting this quite a while after we actually made them so I can't remember. (Oops)

Have fun decorating with your favorite toppings. I found the toasted seaweed was the easiest to work with as it stuck really well to the rice and was easy to cut into shapes with scissors. 
You could do a wasabi or sriracha mayo for the filling if you want something a bit spicier, or some finally diced crab in mayo. Anything creamy would work.  

A great opportunity to let out your inner artist. 
Have fun with textures and colors and feel free to put on as much or as little topping as you like! Completely up to you! Serve with soy sauce/gluten free soy sauce, wasabi, ginger... all the usual sushi accompaniments. 
As mentioned above, you can make these a day ahead of time but be sure to keep them covered so the rice doesn't dry out. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Moist Jumbo Pumpkin Muffins

I may have gone a little crazy with the size of these muffins. Thing is... when you want a delicious, moist, crumbly pumpkin muffin you want a big one. I'm not wrong about that. 
This recipe is very basic and has very little in the way of bells and whistles. You probably have all of the ingredients in your pantry right now. (The only thing I had to pick up was a can of pumpkin but, as it's now cooler weather time, pumpkin becomes a staple at my house too.) 
I made these, perhaps a little too big - if that's even a thing... you could make 7 jumbo muffins if you don't fill your pans quite so full. You could make 12 regular sized muffins if you don't have the jumbo tins. 

Moist Jumbo Pumpkin Muffins

1 3/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling) (2 cups)
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 6 cup jumbo muffin tin with butter and set aside. 
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a bigger bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, oil, and vanilla. 
Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just mixed. A few streaks of flour is okay - you don't want to over mix or your muffins won't be as fluffy. 
Scoop the batter evenly into the 6 cups.

As you can see... I filled mine very full... you could fill 7 cups instead of the 6 if you are worried about it being too full. (12 regular size)
Bake at 375 until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean and tops are a light golden color, about 25 - 35 minutes (Depending on your oven. I rotate my muffins in the oven at the ten minute mark and then start checking at 20 minutes. Tops should appear dry.)

Let cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Then carefully run a butter knife around the edge of the muffin and remove it from the pan. 

I like to cut mine in half for serving...

And, of course, a healthy dose of butter makes things even better...

These freeze very well so they work as a make-ahead, travels-well breakfast or snack. After school the kids can pop one in the microwave for a minute and have a delicious treat. 
You can, of course, add in chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, or nuts, or raisins but it is totally not necessary. Simplicity is the key for these bad boys. 
So moist. So tender. Basically the best muffin ever. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Spicy Tornado Pickles

I'm not a huge fan of spicy things. Quite the opposite... Sue, on the other hand, enjoys some heat in her food, and her daughter and our nephews LOVE spicy. These pickles are definitely for people who like hot BUT can very easily be modified for wimps like myself. :)
These look so impressive on the table (something about spiralized food just looks so cool) and, other than the deep frying, are quick and easy. (Not that deep frying is complicated, it just makes me nervous!) I imagine you could bake these but they just wouldn't be the same. 
Have pickle fans in your house? Give these a go! You'll be everyone's favorite. 

Spicy Tornado Pickles

12 pickles
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 - 2 cups crushed spicy Dorito tortilla chips (such as the flaming hot)

ranch dressing

Oil for deep frying

Place pickles on wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for a few hours. Take a knife and carefully cut around the pickles on a slight angle from top to bottom - the skewer will prevent the knife from going all the way through the pickles. Carefully (and very gently) slightly pull the pickles apart so they spread down the skewer. Don't pull too hard or you will break the pickle apart. 

Place on paper towel to slightly dry the pickles.
Whisk eggs in a shallow bowl and set aside. Place flour in another shallow bowl and set aside. Lastly, placed crushed tortilla crumbs in another shallow bowl and set aside. 
Take one pickle skewer at a time - first dip it in the beaten egg being sure to get the egg in all the crevices. Then dip it in the flour being sure to thoroughly coat. Dip it back in the egg again and then roll in the tortilla crumbs. Use your hands to make sure the crumbs get into all the cracks. FYI - the smaller the crumbs the better they will coat the pickle. 
Repeat until all the pickles are coated. 

Heat your oil in a large pot to 350 degrees (I find a thermometer works best for this). 
Carefully place one or two pickles (depending on the size of your pot) into the oil and cook for 1 minute. turn pickle over and cook another minute. Coating should be golden and crispy. Remove from oil and place on paper towel to drain for a minute. 

When all of your pickles are cooked, place them on a serving platter.

You can serve them just like this with dipping sauce on the side or....

You can drizzle them with the ranch and sriracha and make them look all purdy.

If you are a fan of crunchy and spicy then *voila* here is your new favorite appy/snack. 
Myself, a not-so-spicy kinda gal, I use regular or cheesy Doritos crumbs to coat mine and don't drizzle any sriracha on top. Same delicious crunch without the heat. :)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Fruit Pizza

Sue and I have been a little sporadic with our posts this summer because things have been crazy around here. Sue has been working all summer and I recently went back to work after having several months off. Hopefully things will be getting back to some sort of a routine and we can get back to posting a little more regularly!
I wanted to share this pizza before summer was completely gone as summer fruit is perfect for decorating it with. Any kind of fruit will work - just be sure to use fresh and not frozen. Frozen tends to bleed into the crust and make it not as pretty. 

Fruit Pizza

1 batch Sugar cookie dough (homemade or store bought)

1 8 oz brick cream cheese, room temp
1/4 cup butter, room temp
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla

your choice of fruit 

1/3 cup apricot or crab apple jelly (or any very light/clear jelly)

Press your sugar cookie dough onto a parchment paper lined pizza pan. Bake at 350 until cookie is lightly browned on top - about 12 - 15 minutes. (You don't want to over bake it or your crust will be crunchy.) When done, remove from heat and let cool completely. 

Prepare sauce - beat together the cream cheese, butter, icing sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Spread evenly onto the cookie crust. 

Now comes the fun part! Decorate with your fruit. I used strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, green grapes, and mandarin oranges. When you have it decorated how you want it heat up the jelly in the microwave for about 20 seconds - just enough to have it liquefy. Using a pastry or basting brush, brush the jelly over the top of the fruit, letting the extra drip down on to the pizza. (You may or may not need all of the jelly. Once all the fruit is covered you can stop.)

Chill until ready to serve. 
This is such a pretty dessert and a great recipe to get the kids involved. They love putting the fruit on top. Use your favorite fruits to change it up... you could even add a few little extras like chocolate chips or nuts or coconut if you wanted to. 
A simple treat that is still impressive enough to bring to your next family gathering!