A Swing and a Hit: Home Run Bars

A couple of months ago, I came across a recipe for carmelized crispy rice cereal (I think rice Krispy is trademarked) in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi and it’s like a door opened to a crunchy, sweet but so browned it’s almost bitter land.  The possibilities were so inspiring that the next three weeks of recipes feature this versatile ingredient.

One of the beauties of caramelizing anything is that you get to control how deep you go.  I’ve tried several versions and prefer mine darker but not yet burned.  Think Cracker Jacks.

In fact, Cracker Jacks are what inspired this picnic and BBQ ready dessert bar.

How do you feel about a peanut buttery blondie base polished with a layer of chocolate and topped with crunchy caramelized crispy rice?

Homerun you say?

Exactly!

Homerun Bars

For the Caramelized Crispy Rice

Ingredients

  • 2 C crispy rice cereal (have had good results with both regular and brown rice versions)
  • 3 TBS water
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. In a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan add sugar.  Then add water and mix until sugar dissolves.  This is the last time you are going to want to touch the mixture until you take it off the heat the first time.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil (don’t stir) and allow to simmer until the syrup just starts to brown.
  4. Remove from heat and mix in cereal (I find a rubber spatula works the best). Gently mix cereal until ever last piece is covered in syrup.  By the time you there, everything will have dried and look like its dusted in snow (and now we know how they make Frosted Flakes).
  5. Return to heat over a medium burned and fold constantly.  The sugar will start to melt and caramelize.  Keep folding until you reach desired depth of caramelization.  I know the version I like is done when the sugar starts to smoke.
  6. Spread cereal on parchment lined baking sheet and allow to cool completely.
  7. From here you can store in an airtight container in big hunks.

For Homerun Bars

Ingredients

  • 1 C peanut butter (crunchy or smooth–I use smooth because I like to add-on whole peanuts)
  • 1/2 C butter, softened
  • 2 C golden brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 C all purpose flour
  • 1 C peanuts (I like slightly salted)
  • 1 TBS vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces chocolate (chips will do fine)
  • 1 batch caramelized crispy rice

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line a 9X13 pan with parchment.
  2. In bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and peanut butter until smooth.
  3. Beat brown sugar into butter mixture in three stages, allowing the mixer to run for a couple of minutes after all of the sugar has been added.
  4. Beat-in eggs one-at-a-time, combining completely after each egg.  Beat in vanilla.
  5. Turn off mixer.  Add flour and mix on lowest speed until just combined.  Fold in peanuts by hand.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan using a spatula to level it out.
  7. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center of the dough comes out with small crumbs (about 35 minutes).
  8. Remove from over and allow to cool completely.
  9. Melt chocolate in microwave (30 seconds at a time at 50% heat until all chips melt with mixed).  Stir in oil.
  10. Using an off-set spatula, “frost” cooled blondies with chocolate.
  11. Slightly press caramelized rice into still warm chocolate.
  12. Allow chocolate to set-up.  Cut and enjoy.
  13. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.

Hawaiian Rolls

Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t like Hawaiian bread?

Yeah, me either.  While most than just fine served warm and topped with butter, this enriched and slightly sweet bread is a delicious tableau for a whole host of other concoctions.  Think bread pudding.  Think French toast.

When TD decided to try out pulled pork on his Big Green Egg for Memorial Day Weekend, I knew it was time to try my hand at these Southern California mainstays.  I’ll admit it felt a little like taking on Goliath considering we live in the city that calls itself home to the King’s Hawaiian headquarters.  But as you know, I like to live on the edge.

First things first–can you guess the secret ingredient?  Think Hawaii.

Nope…not coconut but close: pineapple.  Makes perfect  sense.

These rolls are really fun to make (and not because the stand mixer does most of the work) but give them time.  The enriched dough has both eggs and butter in it, meaning the first and second rise will be on island time.

I couldn’t find an original recipe from King’s so used one from King Arthur Flour instead.  The recipe calls for a couple of tablespoons of potato flour.  Despite following my own rules and reading the recipe through days in advance, I forgot to pick up potato flour so I just omitted.  I don’t think it made a noticeable difference but just to be safe, I’ll include next time and report back.

If sliders in any form are on your Fourth of July festivities list, consider trying your hand at a homemade version of these summer icons.  They’ll make your guests feeling like royalty (sorry, I couldn’t help it).

King’s Hawaiian Rolls

from King Arthur Flour

makes 16 buns

Ingredients

Sponge

  • 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • 1 TBS instant yeast
  • 2 TBS water

Dough

  • 1/2 C pineapple juice, canned
  • 1/4 C (4 tablespoons) softened, unsalted butter
  • 1/3 C brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk, white reserved
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 C all purpose flour
  • 2 TBS potato flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt

Directions

  1. For the sponge: In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the sponge ingredients. Allow the sponge to rest for 15 minutes.
  2. Add the pineapple juice, butter, brown sugar, eggs and yolk, and vanilla to the sponge mixing until well combined.
  3. While the wet ingredient mix, in a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining flour, potato flour, and salt before adding to the liquid ingredients.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet dough in stand mixer.
  5. Beat with the flat beater for about 3 minutes at medium-high speed; then scrape the dough into the center of the bowl, switch to the dough hook, and knead for about 5 minutes at medium speed. It may have formed a very soft ball, but will probably still be sticking to the bottom of the bowl.  If the dough isn’t coming together, add a tablespoon or two of flour.
  6. Lightly grease a large bowl; round the dough into a ball, and place it in the bowl. Cover, and let rise until very puffy, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. 
  7. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ pan.
  8. Gently deflate the dough. Divide it into 16 equal pieces, by dividing in half, then in halves again, etc. Round each piece into a smooth ball. Space the buns in the pan.
  9. Tent the dough gently with lightly greased plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in the pan for 1 hour, until it’s nicely puffy. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  10. Mix the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon cold water, and brush some onto the surface of the rolls; this will give them a satiny crust.
  11. Bake the rolls for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 190°F on a digital thermometer.
  12. Remove the rolls from the oven, and after a few minutes, turn them out onto a cooling rack.
  13. Serve warm. Store leftovers, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, the nectar of a sound relationship

IMG_8466

I was a bad food blogger and did not take process pictures of the red velvet cupcakes featured in the previous post. Bad, bad blogger.

My husband is from the midwest. I’m from Southern California. What this means is that while our native tongues may be the same, our cultural icons aren’t always. In our relationship, nowhere is this more present than at the dinner table. When we first started dating, he’d never had a churro and I’d never even heard of a strange concoction he called red velvet cake.

Back at the start of the century, when our courting commenced, red velvet cake hadn’t yet burst onto the trendy LA baking scene. In fact, I doubted its very existence. For months we had to take a stroll down the baking aisle of every grocery store we visited looking for evidence of this mysterious cake variety. Not once did we find any. So set was my husband on proving himself right however that around the holidays he had his dad send a box from Tennessee.

So, it did exist!

Well, one box of red velvet cake is all fine and good until it is gone. So, I womaned up and found a few recipes for red velvet cake. After much experimentation and too much money spent on Schilling red food coloring, I found a winner. Of course, this was just about the time that red velvet cake became the next big thing in Los Angeles. While our local grocery stores now carry the boxed stuff, and every bakery seems to offer it in cake and cupcake form, this recipe is pretty darn easy to make and much better if you ask me.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 2 round cakes or about 16 regular size cupcakes.

For cake

2.5 C all purpose flour

1.5 C sugar

1 t. baking soda

1 t. salt

1 t. cocoa powder

1.5 C vegetable oil

1 C buttermilk at room temp.

2 large eggs at room temp.

1 ounce red food coloring (see note)

1 t. white vinegar

For frosting

1 lb light cream cheese, softened (full fat works well too through I like the lightness of the reduced fat)

4 C sifted powdered sugar

1 C unsalted butter, softened

1 t. vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Lightly oil and flour 2 round cake pans (8” or 9”)

Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle (or large bowl) mix together buttermilk, eggs, oil, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.

With the setting on low, slowly add in dry ingredients until just combined. Batter will be very wet and oily looking.

Divide cake evenly in prepared pans. Bake for about 30 minutes rotating halfway through until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Removed cakes from oven, let sit for 5 minutes. Run the edge of a butter knife around the rim of the cakes, loosening them. Invert pans on to cooling racks, let cakes cool completely.

Frosting

In standing mixer fitted with a paddle or a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine all ingredients on low. Once combined, increase speed to high and whip mixture until light and fluffy. Use immediately.

Notes:

Red food coloring: an ounce is a small bottle of the stuff. In our neighborhood, this runs around $4. However, gel food colors such as the ones made by Ateco are less expensive and will get you more bang for the buck. You can find them in restaurant supply stores, suburban cooking shops like Sur La Table or can order them all over the place online (just enter in “Ateco food gel” as the search term).

The cakes don’t rise a whole lot. When I’m making a layer cake, I usually bake two batches and use three of the layers (you can freeze the fourth for later assuming it doesn’t get eaten on the spot like it seems to in our household).

For cupcakes, fill to a generous ¾.

What’s Your Dream?

For years I’ve had this fantasy of constructing UCLA’s Royce hall out of gingerbread. This year, I’m going to make it happen. AND, I’m going to blog about it here, in excruciating and illustrated detail, because that’s the kind of girl I am.

Why Royce Hall? Well, it’s only the iconic symbol of the institutionalization that represented the first eight years of my adult life. Huh? I went to UCLA. For a long time. Royce Hall is the building I fell in love with while on a college visit and it heavily influenced my decision to go to UCLA (I was 17 with the decision-making skills of a 17-year-old, pretty buildings were persuasive). Many moons later, I stood on the stage of Royce Hall and was hooded as a learned scholar. Most recently, on a cool fall evening, Royce Hall is where I saw Gandolf (Sir Ian McKellen) drop his pants and show off the family jewels in a production of King Lear. In my book, any place that would let me be a doctor (at least philosophically) and display a grown man’s junk is storied enough to be (temporarily) immortalized in baked good.

Let’s suspend disbelief and set aside the fact that I’ve never made anything out of gingerbread for a moment. I’ve spent some serious time with Legos and Lincoln logs—heck, I was like the diorama queen in the 4th grade. I’m also very enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is important. Besides, I’ve already ordered the brick stamper-roller. So, there is no going back now.

To set the mood I feel it appropriate to take a look at the grand dame herself. From the Front:


Side:

After significant design modifications and some fun with math, I came up with the following models (some of the diagram has been lost in translation). If my foam board modeling works out, my version will be 23” at its widest, 15” deep and 11” at its highest. By my count it will require 17 templates and 55 pieces (not counting the back tower detail or whatever shenanigans I can think up for the landscaping).

Floor layout:



Front diagram:



Side diagram:

Back diagram:


This weekend my goal is to build this baby out of foam board.