Baking from a Box

 

My friend Joanie asked me if I would make up a batch of cupcakes from a box mix. She was curious about whether they would live up to the name associated with the high-priced mix.

“Would it be the same if I made it vs. a professional chef?” she asked.

Presenting me with the challenge of using a boxed mix I told her I would give it a whirl.

She wants to know:

Would I make any changes to the directions?

Is it easy like baking from a box promises?

Are the results as promising as the names on the box: in this case, Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa and the German Chocolate Cupcake and Frosting Mix.

The mix is distributed by Stonewall Kitchens although nowhere on the box does it say where the mix was put together.

So, here goes.

First, the mix costs $13.95 for 12 cupcakes.

My first thought is “expensive”. Is it worth the money?

I notice the frosting mix contains cornstarch which is something I wouldn’t use as in my opinion, it is a cheap way out of proper thickening techniques. But we will see.

Inside the box are three bags: one contains the chocolate cake mix, another granular frosting mix and lastly, a small bag of sweetened shredded coconut.

I need to supply:

  • 1-1/2 sticks of butter
  • 2  whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks (I see macarons in the near future!)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

The directions seem to be simple enough, so I pull the eggs and butter from the fridge and go for a run while they come to room temperature.

Instead of using plain cups for the cupcakes, I am going to use the fun flower ones I found out shopping one day.

Fast forward to finished baking these. All I can say it they are definitely NOT worth the price, let alone the extra cost of a fancy paper cup. Not only did they not turn out, they were also hard as rocks one they cooled.

They also had a funny smell as they were baking. Usually when you bake chocolate, the aroma is thick in the air. The aroma from these had you checking the bottom of your shoes.

Nice expensive cupcake mix
Don’t waste your money!

Now after that fiasco, my curiosity was up, how would the normal cake mixes found in the grocery store work out?

So I hauled up to the grocery and bought one of each kind of German Chocolate Cake Mix; there were three.

All three had me supply eggs, oil and water. That’s it. Frosting was extra, but was that tiny bag of coconut in the expensive mix worth the $13? (No)

So I made each of these mixes, each mix made 24, the expensive mix made 12.

I made a quick coconut caramel frosting from scratch to frost the cupcakes with, and I used the frosting mix from Barefoot Contessa’s box. It was OK, nothing great and it looked rather dull. I’m wondering if they ever passed this box mix by Ina to see if she approved. I can’t imagine they did.

So at the end of the day, we had so many cupcakes and bowls of coconut frosting lying around, Robert was afraid of us eating them all.

I wrapped plated of the cupcakes up in cellophane and sent Robert around the neighborhood giving them to all our neighbors.

One little boy was asking his mom why they didn’t have anything good around the house to eat, like cupcakes, the night before.

When he answered the door and Robert was standing there with an entire plate of cupcakes, all he could say was “Really! Thank you! Thank you so much!” Grinning ear to ear, he disappeared into the house with a plate of cupcakes. I could imagine him hiding them in his room so his older brothers wouldn’t get any.

I love sharing the sweets I make because if I didn’t, #1, we would weigh as much as a horse, #2 I wouldn’t make them just because of #1.

And I do love to make pastries, bread and lots of great food. Sharing it is the only way to keep from wearing it.

As a side note, I did make macarons from the egg whites, I should have given away more of them. I need to add a few more miles to my running schedule.

I did figure out that if you are going to bake cupcakes, forget the boxes and make the batter from scratch. It will be cheaper by far and you will know exactly what you are eating.

My advice? Joanie, get your money back.

If you want to use a mix Duncan Hines or Pillsbury or any of the organic mixes work just fine.

My opinion is Contessa needs to go back to the kitchen to re-work her box mix.

I never would have done this if Joanie didn’t ask.

 

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Bread Insanity: Baking Bread on the Grill

I have Bread Insanity. I hope it isn’t contagious.

Ever since last August  I have made all of our bread. Today, we are completely out so I need to make some.

This is the hottest record-breaking heat wave this area has seen since the 1800’s. Today it is 105°F outside with at least 80% humidity or more. I decided not to run today because of the heat, why do I decide to bake bread?

I need to make bread but certainly don’t want to crank my kitchen ovens up to 450°F for an afternoon on the hottest day of the year and the hottest day of June ever recorded here.

So I decided to bake the bread on the grill. Brilliant!

We have a wonderful workhorse of a grill that is over 10 years old. It is stainless steel and cranks 60,000 BTU‘s. Sweet.

I have learned to control the heat chamber like an oven so , bread gets to be baked outside today.

I have never done this before so it will be interesting how it turns out.

Up goes the umbrella to provide the courtyard with shade.

Tea and Thermometer while watching the grill waiting for the bread to bake.
105 F outside; hottest June ever recorded here. The grill set at 450 F raises the temp in the courtyard just a wee bit.

A clean table-cloth is placed on the table, fresh big glass of iced tea is poured and ready to sip with a straw. (Sip with a straw and you get the coldest part of the drink)

Bread is rising; grill is heating.

I have two loaves: one a traditional artisan loaf baked free form and the other in a cast iron pot.

Dough rising in a cast iron pot

I wonder if the heat retention of the cast iron will have any influence on how the loaf bakes.

Since it is so warm out, I leave the loaves on the table, covered, to rise in the warmth. Which happened quite quickly today.

After the grill had warmed for about 10 minutes, the first loaf goes in. The sheet pan fits.

No window to peek in like the oven has.

Timers start. 30 minute countdown begins, then temp to see if it has reached 190°F internally.

I realize I can’t go inside for very long because I need to monitor the temperature and keep it steady at 450°.

Grill temperature nearly there

Sweat. Drink tea, sweat more drink more. I am drinking un- sweet tea with lemon and mint to keep hydrated. Ugh, it sure is hot.

The only running I have done today is to the ladies room.

Damn it gets hot out there quick!

The courtyard is maintaining an ambient temperature between 118°F and 125°F with no air movement. Ek.

Outside temperature in the courtyard

Drink more and wonder about this idea of baking bread on the grill on the hottest day of June ever recorded here.

It must be Bread Insanity. There is no other explanation.

I wonder if I could grill a pie?

First loaf done!

Second loaf done! This is the one in the cast iron.

Finished loaves cooling

Cooling loaves

Ready to eat

Baked Crispy Kale Chips

If you love potato chips, you will probably love baked crispy kale chips too.

They are so simple to make, quick and nutritious, and you can’t stop eating them!

The shared bounty this week was baby kale.

ImageHere is how you make the baked crispy kale chips.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet pan with parchment. Do not use an insulated baking sheet pan.

You will need:

  • 1 bunch fresh kale
  • olive oil
  • sea or kosher salt (do not used iodized table salt)

Prepare the kale.

To make the chips, remove the leaves from the kale stems. Do this by holding the leaf and pulling the stem off from the back side of the leaf. This removes the stringy stem all the way down the leaf.

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Tear the leaves into bite size pieces, but not too small. Wash and spin dry in a salad spinner. Place the kale in a bowl, season with a light drizzle of olive oil and a light sprinkle of salt.Image

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Spread the kale on the baking sheet and place in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes. The younger and more tender the kale, the less time it takes to crisp.

When the chips are crispy and slightly brown on the edges, remove from the oven and serve.

If you live in a humid area, the chips may need re-crisping by simply placing them in a warm oven for a few minutes.

They have a lovely earthy flavor that complements many dishes. The chips make a great snack and are something different to put out at your next party.

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Spread the kale on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes

When taking a chefs certification once, I used the kale chip to compliment a dish of Lobster and Israeli Couscous with Grapefruit Emulsion. It was the perfect compliment as it brought  warm earthy “umami” flavors which really made the dish pop.

Applesauce Cake with Oatmeal Streusel

Applesauce Cake

Applesauce Cake

This applesauce cake goes together quickly. The cake is moist and delicious and ever so yummy. A dollop of whipped cream or ice cream makes it irresistible!

  • 1/2 cup soft butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup applesauce – smooth or chunky
  • 1/2 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Oatmeal Streusel Topping

  • 1-1/2 cup uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup soft butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Thoroughly combine the ingredients in a bowl; the mixture should be crumbly.

Set aside to top the cake batter before baking. Save any left over streusel mix for another use.

To make the cake:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F (175°C)

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

On low-speed, add applesauce and vanilla.

Measure flour and spices into a bowl.

Add nuts and raisins to the flour, stir. Add flour mixture to the wet mixture. Mix until just combined.

Grease and flour an 8 x 8 inch square cake pan. Pour batter into the cake pan.

Top with Oatmeal Streusel Topping.

Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Top with whipped cream or ice cream, serve warm.

Cinnamon Palmiers

Cinnamon Palmiers is a fancy name for left over puff pastry sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and baked.

When I was a child, I recall my father making a similar treat from left over pie dough. This is a great way to use all your puff pastry or pie dough scraps; no matter how small they are.

Spread dough strips with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar

Fold the long edge to the center line

Fold opposite edge to center line also. Then fold in half along the center line.

Cut into finger width slices

Place sliced side up/down on a baking sheet; well spaced

Tips:

Fold carefully!

Use a sharp knife to slice for a clean edge.

Keep your pastry cold for best results.

Line your baking pans with parchment paper to prevent sticking.

If you want some, set some aside because these things disappear quickly!

Cinnamon Palmieres and Tea

No Knead Bread

As far as bread making goes this if fast, tasty, chewy bread with a crispy crust. This method creates a wonderful artisan loaf.

Best of all, this no-knead method does not require the use of a cast iron dutch oven or 18 hours of proofing time!

Use this tool or a razor blade to slash the dough

For best results it is highly recommended you have a pizza stone  for baking your bread on and a pizza peel for getting the bread in and out of the oven. Also, you will need a broiler pan (something sturdy that won’t warp in high heat) for adding water to create the steam that makes the crust crispy and a razor blade or bakers peel for slashing the dough. You can find both the pizza stone and the peel for less than $20.00 total, even less if you are a clever shopper. (Hint: check out Target.)

Are you ready? Grab the flour and let’s get cooking!

No Knead Bread

      • 3 cups water 100°F
      • 1 tablespoon yeast
      • 1/2 cup sour dough starter (or 1 additional tablespoon of yeast for a total of 2  tablespoons)
      • 4 1/2 cups King Arthur AP or bread flour (use any brand you like)
      • 2 cups whole wheat flour
      • 2 tablespoons non-iodized salt (kosher, sea, etc)

Mix the starter and yeast with the water. Allow this to sit and bubble while you measure the remaining ingredients.

Measure the flours and salt into a large bowl.

Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast, starter and water mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix it all together.

Cover the bowl with an oiled piece of plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise for the next two hours. If your home is chilly, use the oven on a proof setting or set at 100°F. A gas oven with a pilot light is often enough warmth to proof the bread.

Risen Dough

The dough should double in size. Depending on how warm your proofing area is, this may take longer or shorter time than 2 hours.

Now here is where it gets tricky.

The dough is very wet and sticky. You do not want to handle it very much.

Heavily flour your working station and your hands.

Remove 1/2 of the dough from the proofing bowl and place on the flour.

Flour the work station

Shaped Boule

Shaped Loaf

Cover any sticky spots with flour so the surface feels smooth and not sticky. Using a well floured rolling-pin, work the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.

Fold the left edge over 2/3’s of the bread, fold the right edge over the folded left side. You should have three layers. Turn the bread 1/4 turn, roll and repeat 4 times.

Lastly, roll into a rectangle. Take the edge closest to you and begin rolling the dough into a cylinder.

Peel with a good layer of cornmeal

Place a good layer of corn meal on the surface of the pizza peel; place the loaf on the peel, near the edge so the dough does not have a long way to slide when placing into the oven.

Shape and cover with towel to rise

Cover with a clean towel and allow to rise for about an hour.

In the meantime, while the oven is cold, place the pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven. Place the broiler pan on the bottom shelf and remove the top shelf. You want the bread to have plenty of room to rise!

Pre-heat the oven to 450°F. The oven needs to heat for 30 minutes at 450°F before baking. This ensures the temp is good and hot which is necessary for great ‘oven spring’.

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in something it is easy to pour,  like a kettle.

Once the oven has heated for 30 minutes and the dough has been rising for an hour, and the water is boiling, it is time to bake the bread.

Now, you are going to look at it and say it is floppy and loose and not going to work. Trust me, just go through the process, be patient!

You have to work quickly here. Decide what you are going to do and do it!

Take the peel with the bread on it; remove the towel. Using a razor blade or bakers peel, make 3-4 deep slashes across the top of the bread. This prevents the bread from breaking while it expands in the oven.

Open the oven door and with a quick firm motion slide the bread to the baking stone from the peel. A quick forward back movement is all it takes as long as you have enough corn meal on the peel.

Hint: Once the bread hits the stone, don’t move it.

Quickly close the door.

Put oven mitts on your hands to prevent steam burns. Take the kettle of boiling water; open the oven door, pull the broiler pan out enough to easily pour the water into the pan. CAREFUL, it steams! Fill the bottom of the broiler pan by 1/2 inch. Quickly close the oven door so as not to let all the steam escape.

The steam is what creates the crispy crust. Commercial bread ovens have “with steam” options, home ovens do not.

There are several theories as to how to add steam in the home kitchen.

One will tell you to spray the bread with water while it is cooking.

Folks, if you spray cold or warm water on a 450°F light bulb in the oven, it will burst.
Same with your baking stone: CRACK! So this is not a good method.

Another is to brush the loaves with water just before putting them into the oven.

This dough is already wet. Additional moisture would hinder a smooth slide from the peel to the stone.
Besides the dough is so tender that brushing it at all would collapse whatever has risen.
Slashing is all it can take.

The broiler pan method is most useful.

It does not endanger the stone or bulb.
Just protect yourself from a nasty steam burn.

After you have added the water and started to create the steam, close the door quickly then set the timer for 15 minutes.

Make sure you have more boiling water at the 15 minute mark; open the door and add more water for more steam.

Note the color and the rise on the bread! The amount the bread rises once it hits the heat is referred to as “oven spring” and this bread formula has great oven spring. Yay!

In about 10 more minutes, remove the bread from the oven and take its temperature.  When the bread reaches 190°F the bread is done. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack until it is cool.

Slice and enjoy!

Loaves and Boules No Knead Bread

No Knead Loaf

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