Stroopwafels!

stroop-break

I first had stroopwafels in Amsterdam– I wish I could say that I bought them from a street vendor and savored them, still warm, as I strolled the moonlit streets taking in the sights and sounds of the city… but in reality I bought a pre-packaged stroopwafel and ate it on the train as I went back to my hostel for the night. It was still really, really good, though.

Sadly, packaged stroopwafels in the US aren’t quite as good as the ones in Amsterdam, and are much more expensive. I hadn’t quite given up on the dream of having one fresh from the waffle iron, so I decided to enlist the help of my trusty pizzelle iron to try and make my own!

I saw a few different types of recipes– some with melted butter, some with only softened butter; some with yeast and some with baking powder; some with more eggs and some with fewer. And there were a bunch of different recipes for the “stroop” (syrup) filling, involving brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, and “pancake syrup” in various proportions. Eventually I settled on a recipe and went full steam ahead!

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Real Bourbon Vanilla Extract

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So I know that “Bourbon vanilla extract” doesn’t refer to using actual bourbon– it’s referring to vanilla beans from the Bourbon island of Madagascar– but I like bourbon and I like vanilla, so why not combine the two to make an amped-up version of vanilla extract?

The problem is that vanilla beans have skyrocketed in price over the last few years– six or seven years ago I bought a half-pound of beautiful, plump beans for a reasonably low price, and it lasted me ages, but now that I’m in the market for more it was a lot harder to find any reasonably-priced beans. I finally found a source on eBay, but they did give fair warning that the beans are pretty dry and not good for much besides making extract. They turned out exactly as described– thin, shriveled, and dry– and I certainly wouldn’t use these in baking since there’s not much “vanilla caviar” inside at all, but they’re fine for my purposes now.

vanilla-extract-beans

Vanilla extract really couldn’t be easier to make– you just split your beans in half and plunk them into a bottle of your favorite spirit. Like I said, I like bourbon, and for a 750 ml bottle I used about twenty of these extremely dry, tiny beans. I think with better-quality beans you could use about 10-15 instead.

Anyway, I’ll let these soak for about 3 months before I start using the extract. In my experience you can just leave the beans in there, though some people like to remove them and strain out any bits at the bottom of the bottle. I read that you can pour off the extract into a new bottle and just re-use the beans, maybe adding in some new ones and taking out any particularly soggy ones, for a whole new batch– I may try it eventually.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

ginger-cookies

This past holiday season I found myself in need of a treat to make for our neighbors, who were doing us the favor of cat-sitting while we were away in California. The only problem was that I’d already denuded my refrigerator of standard ingredients for baked goods– no butter, no eggs, and I didn’t even have much chocolate in the house! What to do?

Enter the molasses cookie. Spicy and subtly sweet, it sounded like a perfect holiday-themed treat. I found a recipe that eschewed eggs and used oil instead of butter, which also kept the cookies moist and chewy rather than cakey. (seriously, they stayed moist for over a week!) A hefty dose of ginger, both powdered and crystallized, paired with the dark molasses to keep the flavor profile interesting.

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Creamy Chocolate Frosting

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This frosting really is fantastic– it’s light and creamy, silky and smooth, and it has a nicely chocolate-y flavor without being cloying.

Unlike my favorite Vanilla Frosting, which has a thickened flour/cornstarch base sweetened with granulated sugar, this frosting uses powdered sugar for sweetness; however, it avoids the underlying grittiness of powdered sugar frostings by dissolving the powdered sugar in a cocoa slurry made with boiling water. The result is a perfectly smooth frosting without a trace of grit– plus, the water itself cuts the butteriness of the frosting and allows it to whip up into a light and fluffy mass that’s perfect for spreading over a cake. I really just can’t say enough wonderful things about this frosting, so go ahead and make it for your next cake– I promise you won’t be sorry.

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Dairy Free Vanilla Frosting

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To go with the Chocolate Mayonnaise Cupcakes, I wanted to make a tasty dairy-free frosting for the birthday girl. I first thought about doing a standard marshmallow frosting, made of egg whites and sugar and cooked over simmering water. But marshmallow frosting just doesn’t say “frosting” to me– it’s too sticky and sweet, and not creamy enough. Besides, I had horrific visions of a roomful of children, all getting salmonella from not-quite-cooked egg whites, and quickly nixed that idea.

I thought about using canned frosting, but that seemed like cheating, and besides it’s pretty expensive when you’re using it to frost several dozen cupcakes (at least the way I frost cupcakes). So I decided to improvise.

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Chocolate Mayonnaise Cupcakes

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So… about the title. I know, the word “mayonnaise” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when applied to a cake recipe, but using mayonnaise in cakes is actually pretty common, and makes sense– after all, what is mayonnaise but oil, eggs, and a little acid? And when you’re trying to add richness to a cake without adding dairy (sour cream is my usual go-to for stuff like this), it sounds like a great option.

I made a huge batch of cupcakes– half chocolate, half yellow cake– for a joint birthday party this winter, and when I say “huge” I mean “100+ guests HUGE.” And one of the birthday girls was allergic to dairy, so rather than single her out by making her a few “special” cupcakes, I decided to make the chocolate cupcakes dairy-free in their entirety.

I do have a dairy-free chocolate cake recipe that I use for all of my standard chocolate cakes, but honestly, when it came to making several dozen cupcakes I decided that it would actually be easier (if not cheaper) to start with cake mix. Duncan Hines chocolate fudge cake mix is naturally dairy-free, it was on sale at the grocery store, and I didn’t have to worry about measuring out dry ingredients or buying expensive cocoa. Works for me! All I needed to do was doctor it up!

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Bonnet for Dickens Fair

To go with my 1840s day dress I knew I needed something to use as a head covering for Dickens Fair. Unfortunately, while the standard shape for an 1840s bonnet is really a “coal scuttle bonnet” with straight sides like this one:

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… it was not possible to find one inexpensively on short notice. Further complicating the issue was the fact that I’d have to pack or ship the bonnet, which is a pain since bonnets are so bulky, so I couldn’t just make one at home and get it to California easily. What to do?

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