“How-To” Baking – Buttercream Frosting 101

cupcakes-690040_1920

Buttercream frosting is made from a combination of butter and sugar whipped together to create a light, airy delicious finishing touch for cupcake and cakes. All but the American version add eggs to the base and instead of powdered sugar, uses granulated sugar instead. There are six different types of buttercream frostings: Italian, Swiss, German, French, American and Pudding-Style. American buttercream tends to be the most sweet as it relies heavily on the use of powdered sugar. The other variations of buttercream tend to be a little lighter and less sweet.

When making buttercream, there are a few general guidelines to be aware of to ensure a delicious finished product every time!

  • Use room temperature ingredients. Cold butter and eggs will make it difficult to incorporate the ingredients into a smooth, silky buttercream. Butter should be just soft enough to break off pieces easily but it shouldn’t look melted and greasy.
  •  Separation during mixing is common. Buttercream can sometimes look a little curdled and messy at certain points, to solve this problem simply continue to vigorously whip the ingredients together.
  • Buttercream can be flavored and tinted. Choose pure extracts for the most flavorful result. Tinting works best with a buttercream that is whiter in color.
  • Buttercream can be made ahead of time. Stored in an air tight container, buttercream will keep for up to a week in the fridge. To bring buttercream back to its smooth, spreadable consistency first bring it to room temperature. Then, in a slightly warmed bowl, mix the buttercream using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer and whip until it becomes nice and smooth.

TYPES OF BUTTERCREAM

AMERICAN BUTTERCREAM – This is thick, dense frosting that is very sweet and rich. It’s very easy to make, simply cream together butter and powdered sugar until smooth and silky. Vanilla extract is added for flavoring.

This is a good choice when not a lot of frosting is called for. Due to its sweetness, it might be unappealing in large quantities.

SWISS BUTTERCREAM – This uses a Swiss meringue as its base. Egg whites and sugar are heated over a pot of barely simmering water until the mixture reaches a temperature of 160ºF, this is the point at which the eggs will be considered safe for consumption and no longer raw. The egg white mixture is slightly cooled and then whipped until it develops “stiff peaks“. Room temperature butter is then added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.

This is the perfect choice for layer cakes and especially for frosting that needs to be tinted. Its bright white color means it will take nicely to the addition of coloring.

ITALIAN BUTTERCREAM – This is similar to Swiss buttercream only it uses an Italian meringue as its base. Sugar and water are cooked together until it reaches a temperature of 240ºF. It is then carefully added to egg whites that have been whipped to form “soft peaks“. The hot syrup will cook the eggs enough so they are no longer considered to be raw. The combined mixture is whipped until “stiff peaks” form. Room temperature butter is then added and the mixture is whipped until smooth and silky.

This is a great choice when making layer cakes, it’s perfect for both the filling and the outside. It also has a beautiful, glossy appearance thanks to the meringue base.

FRENCH BUTTERCREAM – This is made in a similar fashion as the Italian buttercream only it uses both egg whites and egg yolks for its base, this is know in the pastry world as a pâte à bombe. Because this buttercream contains egg yolks, it has a much richer flavor, color and texture. A mixture of sugar and water is cooked to a temperature of 240ºF. It is then poured into the egg mixture while the mixer is running. Once the mixture is fully cooled, room temperature butter is added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.

This is a great choice for making layer cakes. Because of it’s slightly yellowish hue, it is not the best choice for tinting.

GERMAN BUTTERCREAM – This is made using a pastry cream as its base. Cooled pastry cream is whipped, room temperature butter is added and the mixture is whipped together until smooth and silky. To improve the texture, occasionally a small amount of powdered sugar is added.

This is a great buttercream to use for in-between the layers of cakes or to fill cupcakes.

PUDDING-STYLE – This starts with a thickened dairy base that is similar to pudding. The cooled pudding base is whipped with room temperature butter until it is light and smooth.

This is a good buttercream to use for making different flavored fillings for cakes and cupcakes. Good choices for flavorings are chocolate, caramel and butterscotch.

 

Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce

Quick Saucen

Growing up in an Italian household homemade tomato sauce was a given, I didn’t even know what “jar sauce” was as a kid. But really good tomato sauce takes time and sometimes time is the last thing I have. So when I need sauce in a pinch, whether it be for a pasta meal or to just toss on some meatball heroes, I make this Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce. It’s done in only minutes and it tastes great, far better and fresher than any jar sauce in my opinion.

You can use a can of regular crushed tomatoes in this recipe but I find that using really good quality tomatoes is actually better since the sauce doesn’t have hours to simmer and develop flavor. I like to use a can of whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes, I just give them a quick squeeze to crush them up before adding to the pan. They are excellent and with the addition of just a few choice ingredients, you have a delicious tasting and quick sauce perfect for whatever Italian dish you’re serving up. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup grated onion
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • Handful of fresh chopped basil
  • 1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

Melt butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add parsley, salt and pepper and cook another 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute.

Add to the pan the crushed tomatoes and sugar. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer . Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the sauce from the heat and add in the fresh basil and olive oil. Adjust seasonings and serve.

**Tip – This can be used as the base for a slow cooking “Sunday Sauce” as well. Start by browning one pound of sweet or hot sausage (removed from the casings) in a little oil. Remove the sausage from the pan leaving the fat behind. Skip the butter and sauté the onions in the sausage fat. Add in the spices and garlic and after sautéing for a minute, add in 1/2 – 1 cup of good red wine to deglaze the pan. Cook until most of the alcohol is burned off. Continue to follow the steps above allowing the sauce to simmer for 2-3 hours, or longer, for best flavor.**

“How-To” Cooking – Compound Butter

butter-2225228_1920

Compound butter is nothing more than softened butter that has sweet or savory ingredients whipped into it. It’s typically rolled into a log, chilled and then sliced into pats that can be used to flavor food such as steaks, fish, vegetables, chicken, toast, waffles or even scones. The flavor combinations, both sweet and savory, are endless.

To make compound butter, take softened butter and mix in the sweet or savory ingredients. Transfer the compound butter to either parchment paper or plastic wrap and gently roll into the shape of a log. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before slicing into pieces for serving.

Cinnamon Maple ButterServe with pancakes, waffles, muffins or sweet potatoes

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbs pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Brown Sugar Cinnamon ButterServe with toast, pancakes, or French toast

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbs dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Berry ButterServe with muffins, scones, waffles or pancakes

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cups berries, diced (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries etc)
  • Dash of granulated sugar

Garlic Herb Butter Serve with steak, fish or vegetables

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbs fresh chopped herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary etc)
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Cilantro Lime ButterServe with Mexican inspired dishes 

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbs cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Zest of 1/2 a lime

White Wine and Herb ButterServe with chicken, pasta, or fish

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbs herbs, chopped (basil, thyme, tarragon, etc)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • Splash of white wine

Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

Dark Chocolate Caken

I absolutely adore this Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake! It is hands down one of the BEST chocolate cakes I’ve ever had, better than a bakery cake and blows away any box mix. The best part? It takes no more effort to make this cake then it does to whip up a boxed cake mix and it’s made with ingredients that everyone has on hand. All you do is combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, add all of the wet ingredients, mix and bake. How easy is that?

I generally like to make this cake as a bundt but it also works great for layer cakes and cupcakes too! Just be sure to adjust the cooking time as needed depending on the baking vessel you are using. You can frost the cake with traditional canned frostings or try using a delicious Swiss Meringue Buttercream . I also love to drizzle it generously with rich chocolate ganache and top it with a few mini chocolate chips. Feel free to be as creative as you like as it’s the perfect “base cake” for almost anything you can think up. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 large egg
  • 1 cup (8 oz) brewed coffee, cold
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Combine all of the dry ingredients and mix well. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add all of the wet ingredients. Mix until smooth, batter will be very thin. Bake 35-40 min or until a toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs.

Cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes then loosen the cake from the pan and turn out onto the wire rack. Cool completely. Dust generously with powdered sugar.

Love the pan? Click the link below to order!

 Nordic Ware Platinum Collection Heritage Bundt Pan

Easy Peasy Ala Vodka Sauce

ala vodka sauce_n

If you’re looking for a quick, easy and delicious pasta meal this will be your next favorite recipe! Whenever I am short on time, not in the mood to make “Sunday Sauce” but want pasta and need something my kids will love, this is my “go-to” dish. I love to add prosciutto to the sauce however, it’s just as yummy if you don’t have any on hand. The key to making this scrumptious is fresh basil, lots of grated cheese, and an extra splash of heavy cream.

I feel this sauce is best over a ridged, sturdy pasta because it allows the sauce to stick really well and get in all of the yummy nooks and crannies of the pasta. I usually do a  nice penne rigate but you can also use rigatoni if you prefer. I’ve also made it will gemelli pasta which was delish as well.

One quick cooking tip, you can make this sauce ahead of time however, I recommend NOT adding the cream until you’re about to serve the pasta. Ala vodka sauce has a tendency to separate if the cream is cooked too long in the sauce so a few minutes before your pasta is done, add the heavy cream and warm the sauce through. This recipe is enough sauce for exactly one pound of pasta. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3-4 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 6 oz diced prosciutto, optional
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • One can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 – 1 cup grated cheese
  • handful of fresh chopped basil
  • Parsley, for garnish
  • 1 lb pasta

Instructions

Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the onion (and prosciutto if using) and cook until softened, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute or two more.

Slowly add in the vodka, allowing the alcohol to burn off for a minute or two. Add in the crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, Kosher salt, black pepper and cheese. Stir, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, about 10-12 minutes.

Boil the pasta while the sauce is simmering.

Right before serving, add in the heavy cream and fresh basil and stir gently until well combined. Allow the sauce to heat through, about 2-3 minutes. Toss with the hot pasta and serve. Garnish with parsley.

ala vodka gemelli

The BEST Beef and Broccoli

Beef and Broccoli

I LOVE Beef and Broccoli but often times when you order it from a take-out restaurant it’s overly sweet, super fatty and the meat can be less than desirable. Years ago I came across this recipe online and the FIRST time I made it was the LAST time I ordered this meal from a take-out place. It’s seriously THAT good! This is also a great meal to make when you’re short time as it comes together very quickly, you can even marinate the meat ahead of time! My super picky eaters love this meal and don’t even add ketchup which is shocking since they add ketchup to absolutely everything! I love to serve this over buttery rice which is another super quick thing to make. Just add butter, water, salt and pepper to the rice, bring to a boil and let simmer. If you need it made even quicker, don’t hesitate to use Minute Rice intead.

Be sure when making this dish that you use low-sodium soy sauce, the regular version will result in the meal tasting overly salty. This recipe calls for flank steak, which I don’t care for, so feel free to substitute in whatever steak you have on hand. I’ve used a sirloin, London broil, and even pre-sliced stir fry meat and it’s all been delicious. Lastly, if you don’t have fresh broccoli in the house you can use frozen instead, I like the Steam Fresh® bags because they are super easy and cook quickly. If you are using frozen broccoli and cooking it in the microwave, skip the step below where you sauté it in the oil, that’s for fresh broccoli only. Simply add the cooked broccoli at the end right before serving. Enjoy!

Ingredients

For the meat marinade

  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbs cornstarch
  • 1 tbs low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbs water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs flank steak, sliced into thin strips

For the sauce

  • 1/2 c low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1 tbs sherry
  • 3 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 heads broccoli, crowns only
  • Sesame seeds, for garnish

Instructions

For the marinade – Whisk together the baking soda, sugar, cornstarch, soy sauce, water, and vegetable oil in a large bowl. Toss the steak with the marinade to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, then proceed below.

In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, flour and sherry until smooth. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over high heat until shimmering. Add the broccoli and sauté 3 minutes, stirring often. Transfer broccoli to a plate. (skip this step if using pre-cooked frozen broccoli)

Reduce heat to medium-high. Carefully add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the hot pan. Add the marinated meat and half of the sauce mixture and sauté for 3- 4 minutes, stirring often, until the meat is cooked through and no longer pink.

Stir in the broccoli and remaining sauce. Sauté 1 minute more. Serve over rice and garnish with sesame seeds.

Chef Emerson’s S’mores Truffles

Emme Truffles

My daughter and little chef-in-training, Emerson, loves to cook and bake and the other day she asked to whip up a fun dessert. She decided to make these scrumptious and super easy S’mores Truffles. Aside from a little assistance with the measuring she made these completely by herself. They are a great dessert to make with your kids as they require minimal ingredients, most of which you should have in the house. Also, depending on their age, it’s something they can make themselves with little to no help which is fantastic for building up confidence in the kitchen.

If you don’t like s’mores or don’t have any marshmallows and graham crackers on hand, feel free to change these truffles up. Use the base truffle mix, roll them into balls and then coat them in crushed cereal, cookies, sprinkles, toasted coconut or even dusted with a little cocoa powder. They are also just as delicious plain as they are coated or in this s’mores version. Let your little one experiment and see what yummy concoction they are able to think up. This recipe makes about 20-25 truffles depending on how large they are rolled. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream or half-n-half
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 20-25 miniature marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers

Instructions

Combine the cream, salt and vanilla extract in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine the chocolate chips and vegetable oil in a large microwave safe bowl. Heat in the microwave on high in 15 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until the chocolate is completely melted.

Pour the cream mixture into the melted chocolate and stir gently until well combined. Pour into a parchment lined 8X8 pan and refrigerate for about an hour.

Scoop out about a tablespoon of chocolate, wrap it around one marshmallow and roll into a ball. Roll the truffle ball in the crushed graham crackers and then place on a dish. Repeat until all of the chocolate has been used.

Store the truffles in an airtight container in the fridge, they will keep for a few days.

**Tip – A melon baller or small cookie scoop works great for scooping the chocolate.**

chef emmen

My little chef hard at work!

(Pampered Chef Glass Mixing Bowls – 3 Piece Set$35)

Pampered Chef, Anyone?

giant cookie_n

I have been a fan of Pampered Chef ® products for going on twenty years. TWENTY!! (I can’t believe it myself) They have so many wonderful products that not only make life easier in the kitchen but they actually last too!! My original garlic press is ancient at this point and it still looks and works fabulous! Some of my favorite pieces over the years have been their cookie scoops, mandoline slicer, Quick Stir Pitcher, spreaders, serving pieces and of course, their stoneware. Featured above is the Pampered Chef Pizza Stone and as you can see, it’s not just for pizza!! When I am feeling too lazy to drop individual cookies my kids and I like to make a “cookie pizza” instead! Delish!!

Being both a food blogger as well as a huge fan of their products I felt it would be a great idea to marry the two and officially become a Pampered Chef Consultant. Please feel free to use the link below to safely order products through my personal website and have them shipped directly to you. If you have questions about any of the products on the site please do not hesitate to reach out to me by email or in the comments section.

As always, thank you for supporting my blog and my new endeavor as a Pampered Chef Consultant too. Enjoy!

Kristen’s Online Pampered Chef Launch Party

Glazed Pork Chops with Roasted Potatoes, Carrots and Onions

Pork Chops_n

Pork chops are perfect for a quick and inexpensive meal for the whole family. I picked up a pack of six boneless pork chops on sale for just under $7!! Coupled with a nice bed of hearty vegetables you end up with a filling meal that comes together quickly since everything is made in one pan. I consider that a win in my house!

I came across this recipe on the “Recipe Tin Eats” blog, you can find the original recipe right here . I made just one minor change to the recipe by increasing the amount of Worcestershire sauce and decreasing the amount of soy sauce called for in the recipe. I love the rich flavor of Worcestershire and prefer it to the salty bite of soy sauce. I also added some carrots and onions into the mix. It is important you that you pre-bake the vegetables, if you start them raw with the pork chops the vegetables will be underdone and hard. If you find that when the pork chops are finished the vegetables are not yet fork tender, remove the pork chops from the pan and set them aside covered on a dish and continue to cook the veggies for a little longer.

Feel free to use either boneless or bone-in chops for this recipe, just be sure to increase or decrease the cooking time as needed. For thinner, boneless chops decrease your cooking time and for thicker bone-in chops increase the cooking time slightly. Pork chops are cooked through at about 160ºF with little to no pink remaining when cut. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 tbs Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 tbs ketchup
  • 1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • tbs brown sugar
  • tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 4 pork chops, boneless or bone-in
  • 1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/4 lb baby carrots
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Cube potatoes. Toss potatoes, carrots, and onions with 2 tbs olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet or pan. Bake for about 25 minutes.

While the vegetables are baking, make the marinade. In a large resealable bag, combine the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, 1 tbs olive oil, garlic and apple cider vinegar. Add the pork chops and gently squeeze the bag to coat the meat.

Remove the veggies from the oven, stir, and arrange the pork chops on top. Drizzle the pork chops with half of the marinade. Return to oven and bake for about 10 minutes if using boneless chops, a few minutes longer for bone-in.

Remove the tray from the oven, flip the chops, drizzle with remaining marinade and bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Once the pork chops are cooked through, place under the broiler for just a minute or two to give them a little browning and caramelization on the tops.

Serve hot drizzled with pan juices and a side of veggies.

**Tip – The pork chops can me marinated a few hours before cooking.**

“How-To” Baking – Types of Flour

Flour is made from finely milled wheat or other grains and it is what gives structure and texture to baked goods. Different flours have varying levels of protein and fiber which will affect the final baked product therefore, it’s extremely important to choose the right flour when baking. For example, a high protein flour will yield a great chewy, elastic pizza dough but for a flaky, tender pastry a low protein flour is essential. Below are the most commonly used flours in baking.

All-Purpose Flour – Milled from a mixture of soft and hard wheat, all-purpose flour has a medium protein content of around 10-12% which is perfect for a variety of baked goods such as pie crusts, breads, and biscuits. All-purpose flour comes in bleached and unbleached varieties and while they can be used interchangeably, there are some subtle differences between the two.

Bleached flour uses chemical agents to speed up the aging process. Foods made with bleached flour will have a brighter color, softer texture and more volume. It’s perfect to use when making pie crusts, pancakes, muffins or cookies.

Unbleached flour ages naturally after being milled. It has an “off-white” color that only dulls further as it ages. Unbleached flour has a denser texture making it perfect for baked goods that need a little more structure such as yeast breads, pastries, and eclairs. Because it takes longer to produce unbleached flour, it’s generally a little more expensive than its bleached counterpart.

Self-Rising Flour – During the milling process, both baking powder and salt are added. It’s commonly used in the South and is best for tender biscuits, pancakes and muffins. To make self-rising flour at home, combine 1 cup pastry flour with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt.

Whole Wheat Flour – Milled from the complete wheat kernel, both the bran and germ, this type of flour is higher in fiber and retains more nutrients than other flours. In baked goods it will impart a nuttier flavor and denser texture which is why it’s often mixed with all-purpose flour in baking. Because wheat germ is high in oils, whole wheat flour is prone to rancidity making it more perishable than other flours. Store for 3 months at a cool temperature and then transfer to the freezer.

Cake Flour – This type of flour has the lowest protein content, only 5-8%, which makes it ideal for use in delicate baked goods such as sponge cakes and other pastries. It also has a very low gluten content which gives this flour the ability to absorb more liquid and sugar ensuring moist cakes.

Pastry Flour – Made by grinding soft wheat into a fine flour, pastry flour has just a bit more protein content that cake flour, about 8-9%. It is perfect for creating light and flaky baked goods such as pies and tarts. To make pastry flour at home, combine 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour with 2/3 cup cake flour.

Bread Flour – This is the strongest of all flours with a high protein content of 12-14%. Because of the high protein content it is able to give excellent structural support in baked goods such as yeast breads and pizza dough. The extra protein also provides a chewier texture, better volume and nicer browning. Bread flour can be found in white or whole wheat varieties, both bleached or unbleached.

Gluten Free Flour – Made from a variety of nuts, grains and starches but most commonly found ones are made from rice flour blended with potato starch or tapioca.bake-1706051_1920