Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Icing

We had a birthday in our family recently, and as is tradition, the birthday-haver gets to request any flavour combination of cake and icing, and then I do my best to make it. This time around: strawberry cake with strawberry icing. I looked at a lot of recipes online, and then came up with a hybrid version of my own which uses both strawberry jello and freeze-dried strawberries in the cake, and a strawberry cream cheese icing. The result is a moist cake with an intense strawberry flavour.

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 1 box Betty Crocker Super Moist Vanilla Cake Mix (any white or yellow cake mix will do)
  • 1 box strawberry Jello
  • 1/2 cup canola oil (as per cake mix directions)
  • 3 eggs (as per cake mix directions)
  • 1 oz. freeze-dried strawberries, crushed to powder and reconstituted into a purée

Method:

1. Preheat oven according to package directions.

2. Mix together powdered cake mix and Jello powder until well combined. Add wet ingredients (as per package directions; the above is what mine called for but yours may vary) and beat well.

3. Gently whisk in reconstituted strawberry purée.

4. Bake according to package directions — this makes a pretty moist cake and so it may need a few more minutes. Cake is done when the top is springy and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

5. Cool in pan 10-15 minutes, then remove and finish cooling on baking rack. If you’re making this a day ahead, pop the cake into the refrigerator once it’s come down to room temperature.

Ingredients for the icing:

  • 4 oz. plain cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 oz freeze-dried strawberries, crushed to powder
  • 2.5 cups icing sugar

Method:

1. Using a hand mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter together on low speed.

2. Add the strawberry powder and blend in.

3. Add icing sugar, 1/2 a cup at a time, blending until it has a nice spreadable texture. You may want to use more sugar or less depending on how sweet you like your frosting.

4. Slap it on the cake and enjoy! This makes enough to frost two nine-inch round cakes with a joining layer in between.

It’s aliiiiiiiiive!

… the yogurt, I mean. I made yogurt. This is exciting to me.

A while ago I found a second-hand breadmaker for sale on Nextdoor, and I’ve been making all of the bread we eat. I bake 2-3 loaves every week, depending a bit on the size they come out and who’s home for which meals. But we’ve stopped buying bread at the store entirely, and even accounting for the cost of ingredients this change will save us about $175/year. It’s not break-the-bank money, but it’s nothing to be sneezed at, either! Little changes like this add up, after all. But it got me wondering: what else could I be making for cheaper than I can buy?

Enter this recipe from The Daring Gourmet for homemade yogurt. My mother made yogurt for a time when I was a teenager, but her method involved leaving the milk and starter in the oven overnight, to be kept warm by the pilot light. Since moving out I’ve always lived in apartments with electric ovens, and so making yogurt never even crossed my mind. But this recipe uses something I do have: a slow cooker.

As it turns out, making yogurt is pretty darn easy. You simply fill your crockpot with milk (mine holds about 3/4 of a gallon) and heat it up to 180 degrees F. Using milk straight from the fridge, that took about three hours for me. Then you turn it off and let it cool down to 110 degrees — that took another two, two and a half hours. At this point you should also get your starter yogurt out of the fridge to come up to room temperature.

When everything’s sitting nicely at 110, you take a little of the hot milk and add it to your starter, just to temper it before everything goes back into the slow cooker. Stir the starter in very gently, then put the lid back on and wrap it all up for a cozy night in a bath towel:

That sign was for me as much as anyone else. I couldn’t wait to see how/if it would turn out!

In the morning, I unwrapped the towel, lifted the lid, and voila: yogurt. So  easy! So cheap! So yummy! We ate some of it straightaway for breakfast, and then I set the rest to strain through cheesecloth for a few hours to thicken it up a bit.

And here’s the result: somewhat more than a litre of yogurt (besides what we already ate), 18 oz or so of whey (which I can use instead of water in the bread I make for an extra protein punch), and a small container set aside to act as starter for the next batch. Perfect. And the best part is that assuming I make this once a week, we’ll be saving about $200/year just on our yogurt costs. If it lasts us more than a week we’ll be saving even more. Like I said: the little things add up.

Happy yogurt!

And then there was Easter

Clergy families around the world are heaving deep sighs this afternoon: We made it through Holy Week. Phew!

This year I made hot cross buns for our Easter morning breakfast, from this recipe (foodnetwork.com). They came out very well, though I will note that the dough was so sticky that it was almost impossible to work with when it came time to knead. Next year I will increase the flour by half a cup or so and see if that does the trick. They tasted just as they ought, and I am especially pleased with getting the icing right. Often I have trouble hitting the right consistency without going over, so this time I added my liquids a quarter-teaspoon at a time. That was a bit tedious, but it definitely paid off!

We also made “resurrection cookies,” sometimes called “empty tomb cookies,” though much better known just as meringue! The idea is that you recount the story of the crucifixion as you make the meringue cookies, giving each ingredient a symbolic interpretation. They get put into a warm oven overnight (which you seal up with masking tape to represent the seal on Jesus’s tomb), and when you get them out the next morning the cookies are hollow like the empty tomb — at least, that’s the idea.

This is the recipe I used for these, and they came out terribly. I mean, they’re passable as meringues, but they didn’t hollow out at all, or even set in the middle. They are also cloyingly sweet — almost inedible even to my (very) sweet tooth. Next year I will have to just use my regular recipe, which has less than half the sugar called for here, and I will leave the oven on for 10 minutes or so once the cookies are in before turning it off. I like the concept; the kids were pretty engaged; the only problem was the recipe.

Culinary adventures aside, it’s been a lovely Easter. We went to the church egg hunt yesterday (where a good time was had by all), the service this morning was beautiful, the choir played an excellent April Fools joke by coming in with Joy to the World after the intro to the Hallelujah Chorus (which we did sing properly afterwards, I hasten to assure you), everyone ate way too much sugar, and then we had simultaneous meltdowns circa 3 pm. As one does.

A blessed Easter to you and yours. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Personal banana cream pies in a meringue shell

I thought of a dessert. And then I made it. And you can too.

Ingredients for the meringues:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Ingredients for the vanilla cream:

  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

You will also need:

  • an electric mixer
  • a mixing bowl
  • piping bag, or homemade ziplock version
  • stove and oven
  • pot and whisk
  • bananas
  • strawberries (or something else) for garnish (optional)

To make the meringue shells: beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla at a medium speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar 1 Tbsp at a time and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Carefully transfer into piping bag.

Pipe circles onto parchment paper with an approximate 3-inch diameter. Pipe walls. Bake at 300 degrees F for 35 minutes; turn oven off and leave meringues in oven an additional hour (don’t open the door!). Remove to cooling rack.

For the cream: combine sugar, salt, and corn starch in a small pot. Add milk and gently combine. In a separate bowl, whip egg yolks (by hand). Cook milk mixture over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens — about 5 minutes (or longer if you turn on the wrong burner, not that I would know anything about that). Pour a little of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, give them a good stir, and then pour the milk-egg mix back into the pot. Continue cooking another 2 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and cool.

For the filling: mash up some bananas and cover the bottom of your meringues.

Spoon cooled vanilla cream over banana mixture. Pause to admire all of the holes in your meringues the cream is finding for you.

Garnish with strawberries (or something else — or nothing — it makes no difference to me) and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Well, I’ll be darned.

Recently I came across a recipe for pan pizza that (1) branded itself as “foolproof”, and (2) promised to taste the way Pizza Hut used to taste in the nostalgia-tinged remembrances of our collective childhood. So I decided to make it.

Of course, I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand — I used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, and active dry yeast instead of instant yeast, and regular salt instead of kosher salt, and shredded mozzarella from a bag instead of grated off a block. Oh, and our oven only goes to 525 degrees instead of 550 as the recipe specifies. And my kitchen is too cold for anything to rise as well as it needs to. But you can’t put a word like “foolproof” on your recipe without expecting some challenge.

Here was my result:

Two perfect pan pizzas. I’ll be darned. It was foolproof after all.

Next time I’ll give it probably about 18 minutes in the oven instead of 15 (accounting for being 25 degrees colder than specified) to get the crust a little crisper on the bottom, but it was pretty much spot-on. It was saucy and cheesy, with a crisp-bottom and an airy, chewy crust. It was time intensive but much less laborious than my regular pizza recipe, and so I think that this will become my go-to (assuming I can consistently remember to start the dough the night before). And best of all, the kids ate it… which is always a win in my books!

Recipe: Banana Muffins

Banana muffins

We like banana muffins in this house (I meant to take a picture of the whole pile, but we started eating them instead!). This recipe makes a dense, not-too-sweet muffin that’s full of banana flavour. Optional add-ins are cinnamon or chocolate chips.

Ingredients:

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mash bananas in a mixing bowl. Add butter; stir until combined. Add sugar, egg, and vanilla and mix well.

Sprinkle baking soda and salt over batter and mix in. Add the flour and stir until combined.

Pour into greased muffin tins — this recipe usually nets me about 16 muffins.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until done.