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One year…

…twelve cakes. Hello, strangers! The crazy singing cooking lady does still exist, and after many years, she now has the time to devote to those things called precious hobbies. And this year, she is on a mission to accomplish a very tasty resolution: to bake at least 12 different cakes using different techniques in one year.

And we are off to a jolly good start.

First things first. If you have not seen the episode of Chef’s Table that features Christina Tosi, please do yourself a favor. Drop everything, starting with the post, and pull up your Netflix queue. Christina is the creator of my first cake of the year, corn blueberry cake. If you are confused by the title of the cake, hang with me. We have some ground to cover.

This cake requires a few… nontraditional ingredients. For starters, allow me to introduce you to one of my new best pantry friends: freeze dried corn. Get yourself a box from Amazon and enjoy the following cake or, even better, the glory that is crack pie. Once you’ve acquired your delicious corn and decided how to use it, throw some in the food processor and grind it into a fine powder. Another pantry addition is corn flour. You can get it by Bob’s Red Mill or I used Masa so I will finally have an excuse to make my own tortillas (though do you really need an excuse?) Finally, when you’re picking up your corn flour, also add some powdered milk to your cart (has your family tried our powdered milk? Thanks NPR, for never failing to make me hear this ad). No, I don’t recommend you drink it. But it adds a delicious depth of flavor to baking, somehow. I think Christina refers to it as the msg of baking land, and she could not be more on point.

Alright. Let’s get to baking Christina’s Corn and Blueberry sheet cake. You need a fair amount of goodies:

For the actual cake:

    • Nonstick cooking spray
    • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
    • 4½ cups sugar
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 cup buttermilk
    • 2/3 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
    • 1½ cups cake flour
    • 1¼ cups corn powder
    • 1/4 cup plus 1½ tablespoons corn flour
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Then we need some blueberry sauce:
    • 1½ teaspoons cornstarch
    • 1½ teaspoons water
    • 1/2 lemon
    • 12 ounces blueberries
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Now for some corn crumbs:

    • 2/3 cup milk powder
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
    • 2 tablespoons corn powder
    • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Finally, we need some frosting:

    • 1 stick plus 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 3¼ cups powdered sugar
    • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
    • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sour cream
    • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • And to put the whole thing together:
    • 1 recipe corn sheet cake
    • 1/2 cup whole milk
    • 1 recipe sour cream frosting
    • 1 recipe jammy blueberry sauce
    • 1 recipe corn crumbs
Let’s start with the cake. Go ahead and crank the oven to your standard 350. Grease two quarter-sheet pans with nonstick cooking spray and line them with parchment paper, or just line them with silicone baking mats. Now let’s make the base of the cake.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together starting on low so as too avoid sugar flying all over your kitchen (did I learn that the hard way?), then medium-high for 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl halfway through this process, and again at the end of it.

Add your eggs, one at a time, beating on medium-high for 1 minute after each addition. After you add the last egg, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on high for 4 more minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. Things should be starting to look smooth and puffy.

Whisk together the buttermilk and oil, and with the mixer on medium speed, stream them into the batter very slowly. It should take you about 3 minutes to add all of this mixture. Scrape down the bowl, increase the speed to medium-high, and paddle for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is almost white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogeneous. Don’t rush this, or your mixture will split and we don’t want any streaks of fat or liquid. Stop and scrape again.

Whisk together the cake flour, corn powder, corn flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Then, with the mixer on very low speed, slowly add the dry mixture and mix for 45-60 seconds, just until your batter comes together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix for an additional 45 seconds to make sure no lumps of flour or powder get left behind. Divide the batter evenly between the quarter-sheet pans and, using a spatula, spread the cake batter into even layers.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pans front to back halfway through baking. The cakes will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and DENSE. Your cakes are done when you can poke the edge and the cakes should bounce back slightly; the centers should no longer be jiggly. This might take an extra 3-5 minutes.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack or, in the fridge while you make your other ingredients.

Let’s make some blueberry sauce.

To start, mix together the cornstarch and water to make a slurry. Juice the lemon into a small saucepan and add the slurry, blueberries, sugar and salt. Bring everything to a boil over medium heat. Knock the heat back to low and continue cooking until the blueberries blister and the mixture turns dark blue, 5-6 minutes. The blueberries should still maintain their shape and not break down completely. Cool the sauce before using.

Last ingredient for today: corn crumbs!

Heat the oven to 250. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Mix the milk powder, flour, cornstarch, corn powder, sugar and salt. Add the melted butter and toss, using a spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.

Spread the clusters on the lined sheet pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. We should get a clumpy sand-like mixture. Let it bake until just starting to brown around the edges, and your kitchen smells ridiculous. Cool the crumbs completely.

Oh wait, the all-important sour cream frosting! YES you want sour cream. This cake begs for acid, and this is the perfect complement with sour cream and lemon.

Mix the butter, powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 6-8 minutes, scraping the bowl down once to make sure there are no butter lumps, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then, with the mixer on low, stream in the sour cream and lemon juice and continue creaming until the puree is fully emulsified and the frosting is smooth and fluffy again. Increase the speed to medium high and mix until the entire mass is bright white, silky, and shiny. It should hold medium soft peaks.

Let’s put it all together!

Put a piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat on the counter. Run a knife along the edges of one of the quarter-sheet pans of cake to loosen it from the pan, then flip that cake onto it and peel off the parchment or mat from the bottom of the cake. Clean the quarter-sheet pan and line it anew with clean parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Place the cake you just unmolded back inside the pan. Dunk a pastry brush in the milk and soak the cake with the milk. Then, spread half of the sour cream frosting in an even layer over the cake. Sprinkle half of the corn crumbs evenly over the frosting. Use the back of your hand to press them lightly into the frosting, anchoring them in place. Top the crumbs with an even layer of blueberry sauce. Loosen the other cake from its own and invert that cake directly on top of the frosting. Peel off the parchment or mat from the bottom of the cake and cover it with the remaining frosting. Garnish the frosting with the remaining corn crumbs.

Move the cake to the freezer and freeze for at least 12 hours to set the cake and filling. Go get some sleep, you’ve been in the kitchen all day!

At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull it out of the freezer and, using an offset spatula pop the cake out of the pan.

Transfer the cake to a cutting board and fill a mug with hot water. Use a chef’s knife to trim the edges of the cake so you are left with flush, smooth sides, submerging the knife in hot water between cuts and wiping the blade clean. Defrost the cake on the fridge for at least 3 hours before you slice and devour it. Meanwhile, enjoy your delicious cake scraps and go for a walk or run to prep your stomach for all the delicious incoming butter.

There you have it. One down, 11 to go. You have to taste this cake to believe it-it’s like the most wonderful lemon bar you’ve ever had. Dense doesn’t even begin to describe it. It hits every mark on your taste buds-sweet, sour, salty, tangy. It’s work, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint and is a true testament to the power of the simple corn kernel.

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These brownies…

…are, without a doubt, the best brownies I have ever eaten. A good friend (who also happens to be my sister-in-law) gave me one of David Lebovitz’s cookbooks a while back and I could not resist baking one last thing before my final semester of school starts. In the introductory paragraph, David says “I’ve made a lot of brownies in my life, and these really are the best.” I could not agree more.

For “Robert’s Absolute Best Brownies”, you need:

  • 6 tbsp butter (salted or unsalted)
  • 8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans, toasted and chopped (I used pecans)

Heat the oven to 350 and line a 9-inch square pan with parchment or foil, leaving about an inch of overhang. Grease the parchment with cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter over low heat, then stir in the chocolate until it is melted and smooth. Take it off the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla until smooth again.

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Then, beat in the eggs one at a time. Last, add the flour and beat “energetically for one full minute.” David really emphasizes beating the batter vigorously for a full minute, as this is what Robert advises. Apparently, excellent brownies will not result unless you enthusiastically beat the batter for this specified amount of time. I didn’t risk not following the instructions, and it was well worth it. Anyway, beat the batter until it is glossy and smooth, then stir in your nuts of choice. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

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Bake until the center feels almost (key word, almost) set, which will take about 30 minutes. As David directly says, “don’t overbake.” Let the brownies cool completely in the pan, then lift the parchment or foil out of the pan to remove the brownies. Prepare for your field trip to heaven.

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I really don’t know what else to say other than MAKE THESE RIGHT NOW. I am practically at a total loss for words, as these brownies are amazing, fudgy, rich, wonderful gooiness that I want to eat all the time. I might not ever buy a box mix again as, after eating these, that would be disappointing and might even feel sacrilegious, since these are practically as easy to make and are way more delicious.  In fact, it’s lunchtime. I’m going to go eat a brownie and love every minute of it.

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Hamburger steak…

…doesn’t sound particularly exciting, does it?  Well, what if I told you Julia Child had a recipe for it? Interested yet?  You should be.

For Julia’s bifteck hache a la lyonnaise (aka, ground beef with onions and herbs) You need:

  • 3/4 cup finely minced onions
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 1/2 lbs lean, ground beef
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. thyme
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp. butter + 1 tbsp. oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine or beef stock
  • 2-3 tbsp. butter, softened

Melt the butter and cook the onions low and slow for about 10 minutes until they are tender, but not browned. Put them in a mixing bowl and stir them a bit to help them cool slightly. Then, add the beef, softened butter, seasonings, and egg. Use a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. This surprised me a bit–I’ve made a lot of burgers, and always hear (and believe) that you have to be quite careful with ground beef because it is easy to over-mix it. However, what Julia says goes, and I tried the wooden spoon. It worked perfectly and it was kind of nice to not have raw meat all over my hands. Once the meat is well mixed, shape it into about 6 patties that are 3/4 inch thick. Right before you cook them, roll the patties lightly in flour, shaking off any excess.

Put the other butter and oil in a big skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter foam starts to lessen, cook the patties 2-3 minutes a side, until nice and golden. Take them out of the skillet and keep warm in the oven while you make a little sauce.

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Get any excess fat out of the skillet, then add the wine or beef stock and boil it quickly, scraping up any browned deliciousness as it boils. Cook the sauce until it is reduced and a bit syrupy. Take the skillet off the heat and swirl in the butter a bit at a time until it is completely incorporated.

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Pour the sauce over the warm patties to serve.

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Believe me when I say this hamburger steak is absolute glory. Tender, melts-in-your-mouth, flavorful glory. And it actually comes together really quickly, too. Thanks for being a genius, Julia!

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…makes a ton of bread dough. I know I am starting to sound redundant, but really. An absolute ton. I finally finished the original batch of dough (remember, this is after an enormous loaf of brioche and a dozen fruit-filled pinwheels) by making a dozen little brioche muffins.

For healthy “muffins” you need:

Start by greasing a muffin pan. Shape your dough into a loose ball by stretching the surface of the dough to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn after each pull.

DSC_0728 Then, divide the dough into 12 equal portions that are about the size of a golf ball. Use the same stretch and pull method to smooth each portion into a ball and place them in your greased muffin tin.

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Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap (I used a kitchen towel) and let the dough rest about 40 minutes. Then, heat the oven to 375. Right before you bake, brush the muffins with the egg wash and dust with sugar. Bake the dough in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes, until browned and firm. Let the muffins cool a bit before devouring.

DSC_0734We enjoyed these several ways–all by themselves out of the oven, with a bit of butter at breakfast or for dessert, and dipped in our veggie chili at lunch.

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One recipe. Fifteen products that we ate and did not feel one ounce of guilt about devouring. All that is to say, this dough is definitely worth your while!

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Stuffed chicken…

…is actually a lot easier to make than it looks (or at least I always thought it looked difficult). However, I found the following recipe in a recent issue of Food Network Magazine and couldn’t resist trying it.

For a nice way to jazz up a basic chicken breast, you need:

  • 8 oz spinach
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (don’t forget to trim them)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 8 oz ditalini (I just fixed the whole box)
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

Start by mixing about 2 cups of the spinach, the feta, and 3 tbsp water. Then, use a paring knife to make a pocket in the chicken breasts. Cut into the thickest part of the chicken and continue cutting along the side to make a nice deep pocket that is about 2 inches wide. Stuff your spinach mixture into the pockets, season each side of the chicken with salt and pepper, and marvel at how easy that was. Then, heat the oil in a deep skillet. Place the chicken rounded/stuffed side down to seal the chicken. Cook until it starts to brown, about three minutes. Flip and repeat on the opposite side. While you’re waiting, start a pot of water for the pasta.

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When you’ve browned both sides, add the chicken broth, vinegar, and tomatoes to the skillet. I thought I had some sun-dried tomatoes in my pantry, but only found dried chiles. So, I heated a little stock and threw an ancho chili in it to soften. Then, I chopped it finely and threw it in with the liquids. Anyway, after you’ve added the liquids and whatever tomato or pepper you have, partially cover the skillet and let the chicken finish cooking for about 15 minutes, until it is just cooked through.

DSC_0723Salt your boiling pasta water and cook the ditalini (one of the world’s greatest pastas, no??) for 10 minutes. Put your remaining spinach in a colander and drain the pasta over it to wilt the spinach. Then put everything back in the pot along with the mint and 1/4 tsp salt. Remove the chicken from its skillet and slice; toss the remaining pan sauce with the ditalini.

DSC_0724Top a plate of ditalini with some of the sliced chicken.

DSC_0727Yum! Then again, I am convinced that any dish that includes ditalini is culinary gold. I just love the stuff. It also helps that this dinner comes together in a snap and honestly, who can resist chicken stuffed with cheese and served on top of pasta?

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Hash brown casserole…

…has been a staple in my family’s recipe arsenal for as long as I can remember. Potatoes, sour cream, cheese…it’s comfort food at its best. Schatzi recently had the great idea to take our base recipe and modify it to make a main course. We came up with about a dozen ideas to try, and this “Italian” version was our first creation.

For Italian hash brown casserole, you need:

  • 2 lbs frozen grated hash browns
  • 1 pt sour cream
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 lb ground Italian sausage (I used hot, but use your favorite)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 10 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups Corn Flakes, crushed
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Brown the sausage in a large skillet. Then, add the onions, garlic, herbs, and diced tomatoes and let everything soften for 3-5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

DSC_0701Preheat the oven to 350. Meanwhile, mix the sour cream, cream of mushroom soup, and tomato paste.  Then, add the potatoes, mozzarella, and meat mixture from the stove. Season again with salt and pepper.  Press everything into a 9×13.

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Bake for 30 minutes. While the casserole bakes, crush the Corn Flakes and mix them with the melted butter. Add an extra sprinkle of the basil, oregano, and Italian seasoning. After 30 minutes, spread this mixture over the casserole and return it to the oven to bake another 15 minutes.

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When the timer buzzes, your cheesy, spicy (or sweet, if that is your sausage of choice) casserole is ready to be devoured. I suggest using a spork as your weapon of choice, as I recently discovered that a spork is the absolute best tool for comfort food consumption.

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Give it a try. Or, if you just want an excellent potato casserole, omit the meat, spices, tomatoes/paste, and replace the cheese with cheddar. Either option is certainly a solid decision.

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Leftover bread dough…

…can make some truly delicious things. Remember that whole wheat brioche? Turns out, tasty pastries can be made with some of that leftover dough. So, to use more of my nutritious dough, I decided to make fruit-filled pinwheels for a brunch with some fantastic people. This recipe can be found in that same cookbook, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. To make *somewhat* pretty pinwheels, you need:

  • 1 1/2 lbs whole wheat brioche dough
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. lemon (or other citrus) zest
  • 1/2 cup fruit preserves
  • egg wash (1 egg + 1 tbsp water)
  • 12 almonds (I skipped these)
  • sugar, for sprinkling

Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper.  Then, mix the cream cheese, zest, and honey.

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Sprinkle a bit of flour on your refrigerated dough and cut off a 1 1/2 lb chunk. Shape it into a rough ball by stretching the top of the dough and tucking it under the bottom, rotating a quarter turn until you’ve done all four sides. With any luck, yours will probably look prettier than mine!

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Roll out this dough into a 1/8 inch-thick rectangle that is about 11×15 inches. Add any flour you need if the dough starts to stick, but add very little to keep it moist.  Then, take a pizza cutter and make 3 cuts along the length of the dough and 2 on the short ends to make a total of 12 squares.

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Take a square and add about 2 tsp. cream cheese filling and 2 tsp. of the preserves. Eyeball it, honestly–it’s going to overflow either way. Cut a slash at each of the 4 corners of the square. Brush every other point with egg wash, which will act as glue when you fold the points to make the pinwheels. Lift an egg-washed point up and to the middle of the square, followed by every point (i.e., the ones you brushed with egg wash). Press each of the folded points together in an attempt to seal them in the middle over the filling. Cover your pinwheels loosely with plastic wrap and let them set for about 40 minutes.

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Now I’m not going to lie to you. Not all of my pinwheels were this pretty. In fact, some of them looked like a gift from a deranged Easter bunny…

Anyway, heat your oven to 350. After the 40 minutes are up, brush the pinwheels with the remaining egg wash and dust them with sugar.  If you’d like, press an almond into the middle of each pinwheel. Bake your pinwheels for 20-25 minutes, until they are set and golden brown.

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See, I told you not all the pinwheels were beautiful!  They do expand a bit while baking.  Nevertheless, do not be discouraged.  Despite perhaps looking a bit of a mess, these little pastries are quite delicious. In fact, I’d actually recommend these over the loaf you can also make! And, regardless of how mangled-looking they may turn out, they are sure to impress guests. I figure, you’ve already made healthy bread dough from scratch. Why not give something slightly fancy a try?

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