Monday, April 30, 2012

Perfect homemade pizza dough

Tonight, we made our own pizza for dinner and we all loved it! This time, I used a new- and I have to say fantastic- recipe for pizza dough. It produced the best pizza crust we have ever had- better than our local take-out pizza, which we really like.

Perfect Pizza Dough

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 envelope (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups (22 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting work surface and hands
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Olive oil or nonstick cooking spray for oiling the bowl


Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. Add the room-temperature water and oil and stir to combine.

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle. Briefly combine the dry ingredients at low speed. Slowly add the liquid ingredients and continue to mix at low speed until a cohesive mass forms. Stop the mixer and replace the paddle with the dough hook. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, put it in a deep oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for about 1 1/2- 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

When ready to make your pizza, place a pizza stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven to 500° for at least 30 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Use a chef’s knife or dough scraper to divide the dough into three or four pieces. Form each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball and cover it with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.

Working with one piece of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, shape the dough, then transfer it to a pizza peel that has been lightly dusted with semolina or cornmeal. Top as desired. Slide the dough onto the heated stone. Bake until the crust edges brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. Enjoy! 

So thankful I found the recipe for this pizza crust on: Annie's Eats

Friday, April 27, 2012

Classic Creme Caramel

Creme Caramel has been one of my most favorite desserts ever since I was a little kid. My Mom used to make it all the time. Then, when I became a teenager and developed an interest in baking/cooking, I started making it myself. It is a simple, yet really elegant dessert and certainly a very classy finish to any dinner party.

Creme Caramel is actually the French name for this yumminess. In the U.S. it is more commonly known as flan. It is equally delicious, whichever way you prefer to call it. :)

In order to make it, you will need about 6 ramekins and a deep baking pan which can accommodate them.

For the custard:
2 cups whole milk
4 eggs
1 cup sugar

Heat the milk until very hot but not boiling (at this stage, if you want to shake things up, you can infuse the milk with different kinds of tea, citrus peels, vanilla beans, etc by letting them steep for about 15-20 minutes and then discarding). Separately, in a medium-size bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until really pale. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg/sugar mixture and mix until well incorporated. Let cool. 

For the caramel:
3/4 sugar
1/4 water

In a medium-size heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring sugar and water to boil over medium-high heat whisking constantly. When mixture starts to boil, turn heat to medium-low and stop whisking. Continue to simmer until mixture turns golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Quickly pour into ramekins, swirling to coat bottom and sides.

Preheat oven to 350F.
To prepare your water bath, pour about an inch of hot water in a deep baking pan.

Pour the egg custard mixture on top of the caramel and set your ramekins into the baking pan. Add more water if necessary, the water should come to about half way up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake for about 35-45 minutes or until the middle still jiggles a bit when shaken as the mixture will continue to cook and set when refrigerated.

Let the water bath cool off for a few minutes and remove the ramekins. Let them cool off to room temperature. Refrigerate a couple of hours before serving, and up to 2 days.

To serve, gently loosen the edge of the creme caramel with the tip of a sharp knife to help release the custard and cover mold with an inverted serving platter. While holding the platter against the mold, flip over. Gently lift off mold. Caramel will fall as a liquid sauce over the custard.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bird's nest cupcakes :)

I made these bird's nest cupcakes for the Orthodox Easter party we went to on Sunday. My kids helped me decorate them- they placed all the "eggs" in the nests. :) It was a really fun project!

The cupcakes were our now favorite chocolate/peanut butter recipe combo.

For the recipe, click here. This is my original chocolate cake recipe with peanut butter cream cheese frosting. For cupcakes, bake only 18-19 minutes.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Carrot Cake for Easter

Happy Easter to all my Christian Orthodox  friends! We went to a party yesterday and I made this carrot cake to take there. I decorated it with jelly beans in bright colors, so the kids have fun. :) This cake is THE best carrot cake you will have in your life! I absolutely guarantee it! I am forever grateful to our friend, Don Cotrell, for sharing this recipe with me!


2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/4 tsps baking soda
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsps cinnamon
3 large eggs
2 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups white sugar
8 oz crushed pineapple with the juice
1-1/2 cups shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and line two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans with parchment or wax paper.

2. Mix flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon together.

3. Separately, beat oil, sugar and eggs WELL.

4. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture

5. Fold in pineapple, carrots, coconut and walnuts (if using)

6. Bake at 350 F for about 40-45 minutes (but you may start checking at 35 minutes because different ovens take different time).

Note: One trick I have started using when baking my cakes is wrapping a wet tea towel around the cake pans and securing it with a pin (one that is all metal, no plastic on it), then baking the cakes just like that in the oven- don't worry, the towels don't burn because they are wet- they just dry out and brown- make sure you use old towels for this. :) This way, the cakes bake very evenly on top and the sides do not get too hard in order for the center to bake through- which seems to be a tendency for this particular recipe, as wonderful as it is. The wet towel strips around the cake pans during baking totally solved this problem for me and the cake was extremely moist throughout. Give this a try! Of course, you could also use ready store-bought baking strips from stores such as AC Moore but the tea towels work great for me. :)

I frosted the cake with a simple Cream Cheese Frosting:


1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsps vanilla extract

Cream the butter and cream cheese well. Add the powdered sugar gradually, covering your stand mixer with a towel to avoid sugar flying all over the place. :) Add vanilla extract and beat until fluffy.

This frosting can be made with a lot less sugar but for my purposes, I need it stiffer in order to pipe it when decorating, so the 4 cups make just the right consistency- and I haven't had anybody complain about it being too sweet. :)

Special thanks for this fabulous carrot cake recipe to my husband's co-worker, Don Cotrell. This one is a keeper!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Guitar cake

I made this guitar cake last May but I just realized today that for some strange reason I never put it up my blog. Shame on me! So, I am hurrying up to rectify this omission. :) It was actually one of the most challenging and rewarding cake projects I have ever undertaken. When I agreed to make it, I knew I could do it. I just didn't have a clear idea of how long it would take. :) It was fun (and daunting at times) but so worth the experience! The whole cake was covered in buttercream (even though it may look like fondant- but this is just because of my amazing skills at smoothing buttercream out to perfection :))). And even though it may look like chocolate buttercream, it was actually regular vanilla with brown gel food coloring (Wilton) because this was what my friend requested- vanilla cake on the inside too. The cake was in fact for her son  who was graduating from high school and going to study guitar in college in the fall, so we gave him a guitar cake. :)

I followed pictures of a real classical guitar, created my own template and tried to make the cake as authentic as possible. The research and planning process took me a couple of weeks. :) Making the actual cake- three days. :) 

It turned out 26 inches long! 

And here is the cake with the personalized text on it:

And here is the pat on the back I got from my friend who ordered the cake:

"The graduate LOVED it... And so did the rest of the family. Yum! ... The cake was not only beautiful, it was delicious! We gobbled it up. Thank you! Your cake making skills are incredible!"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

More chocolate cake! :)

"Back by popular demand", I had to make another dark chocolate mocha cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting. The occasion was the Easter party we attend every year and the request came from none other than my husband. :) The hostess was delighted too. :)

 To see the recipe for this cake, click here. 

Before we left for the party, I decided to add "Happy Easter"on top of the cake too, so here it is with the writing on top before it got all carved up. :))

Monday, April 9, 2012

Lemon-raspberry rose cake

We had very special friends visiting from out of state this past weekend. We hadn't seen them in almost five years, so we were thrilled! Needless to say, I just had to make a special cake for their visit. I baked a lemon layer cake (which was my vanilla cake recipe with the zest of 1 lemon and 1 tsp lemon extract added to the batter- click here for the vanilla cake recipe). Then, I made a raspberry mousse filling out of raspberry fruit yogurt, whipped cream and gelatin. To add a little more of the raspberry flavor, I "poked" the cake and soaked it with raspberry jello (before it had set). It was pretty to look at too, once we cut into it, plus it produced a very moist cake. The frosting I made was a lemon-flavored buttercream which I actually mixed with cream cheese to make it more tangy. This, however, didn't work 100% successfully with my idea of making a rose-covered cake because the cream cheese frosting made the roses on the side of the cake "sag"- as you can see on the pictures. So, next time I make a rose cake, I will definitely be using a stiff consistency buttercream. I do like the rose design and will be making it again in the future.

A close-up of the roses on top. I sprinkled some pink "fairy dust" (as my daughter calls it) and pearls on top, to make it even more feminine.

And this is how it looked when we cut into it:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lemon-Blueberry Cupcakes with Whipped Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

I love any citrus flavored dessert! I decided to make some lemon cupcakes and whipped up a light, fluffy lemon cream cheese frosting to go on top. I filled the middle of each cupcake with some of my homemade blueberry preserves. The final result was quite yummy. :)

Lemon Yogurt Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
zest of two lemons
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin pans with cupcake paper liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a larger bowl, stir together yogurt, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, and oil. Add in dry ingredients and stir to combine.

Divide batter evenly into muffin pans. Bake for 18-19 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the  center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans for about 10 minutes. Take out on wire racks and cool completely before filling and frosting.

Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa :

I filled these with my homemade blueberry preserves. You could also use store-bought raspberry preserves, or any other filling of your choice. I use the wide end of a large Wilton piping tip (such as 1M) to make the hole in the center of each cupcake. Then I put about one teaspoon of the filling inside.

Next, pipe your frosting on top..This is what I made for these cupcakes:

Whipped Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3- 4 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsps lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until smooth.  Mix in lemon juice and lemon extract. 
Separately, whip the heavy cream in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until it forms stiff peaks (be sure not to over whip or it will curdle). Fold cream cheese mixture with whipped cream. Stir gently by hand until blended. Refrigerate for at least an hour, so it sets a little bit and can be piped. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dark chocolate cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting

I made this delicious cake for a dinner party we had last night. If you like dark chocolate and peanut butter combinations, you are sure to love it!


Dark Chocolate Cake
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsps baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans – Line with parchment, then butter and flour the pans (or use “PAM for Baking”).

1. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
2. In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Gently whisk.
3. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine – scrape up from the bottom to make sure all the flour is incorporated.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack to complete cooling.

Recipe adapted from:

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting:

I came up with this recipe after pouring over dozens upon dozens of peanut butter frosting recipes.This is the version I ended up with, after some experimentation. :)

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar, sifted (depending on how thick you want the consistency for piping)
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

In the bowl of your electric mixer (have I ever mentioned I love my KitchenAid? :) fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and the butter until creamy and smooth. Add the sifted powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating on low. Mix in the peanut butter and the vanilla extract. Spread as filling between the cake layers and frost the top and sides of your cake. I had just enough to pipe some rosettes on my cake too.

If you would like to add another chocolate kick to the cake, feel free to make a chocolate ganache and pour it over the top of the cake... :)

Chocolate ganache:

6oz dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Bring the whipping cream to a boil in a little saucepan. Watch it carefully, because it may boil over. Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Pour the hot whipping cream over the chopped chocolate. Stir a little until the chocolate melts. Pour over the cake before it sets.

I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fool's Day cupcakes :)))

Today, I cooked these mock cupcakes for April Fool's Day. :) They are really mini meatloaves with mashed potatoes piped for "icing".

Mini meatloaves:
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella or cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp minced dry onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 lb. ground beef or turkey, or a combination of both
  • 3-4 tbsps ketchup
  • 1-2 tsps mustard
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly spray a muffin pan- this recipe makes about 10-12 mini meatloaves.

In a large bowl, combine egg, milk, cheese, quick oats, oregano, minced dry onion, garlic, cumin, parsley, black pepper and salt.  Add ground beef/turkey and mix well. (I usually do this part with my hands.)

Evenly divide the meat mixture in muffin pan. In a small bowl, mix ketchup, mustard and sugar.  Evenly divide the glaze over each mini meatloaf.

Bake, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until meat is done.

Recipe for the mini meatloaves adapted from:

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

3lbs Russet or Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and quartered
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 oz cream cheese, softened, cut into small pieces
1/2 stick butter, softened, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Bring potatoes and garlic to a boil in a large pot filled with water. Cook for about 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Drain. Return to pot. Turn burner on low. Mash potatoes and garlic with a potato masher until they are creamy and with no lumps (whenever my husband is around, I ask him to do that for me, since- let's face it- this is the most labor intensive part of making mashed potatoes :). Turn burner off. Add cream cheese, butter, milk, salt and pepper. Mash until everything is well incorporated.

I wait for the mashed potatoes to cool off a little bit, so I can handle them without burning myself, and then fill them in a pastry piping bag fitted with a star piping tip (I think I used Wilton 2D for this batch). Pipe on top of the baked mini meatloaves to make mock cupcakes. Enjoy!

Print recipe

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