Chocolate Cheer Classic Favorites

Almond Joychas (Or, Sad Shibow Has A Dad)

So my cousin George (‘sup yo!) came up with THE. MOST. BRILLIANT. name for my next sweet treat. I know caps are obnoxious, but the Kanye just passed through me, so forgive.

Allow me to explain the awesomeness of this name. My dad, Sebastian, is known for a few things, including: 1. The mustache he’s had probably since birth that he refuses to shave “until one of you girls gets married” (so yeah, he’ll be mustachioed for while) 2. The catch phrase “Ok, time to go!” 3. His sweet dance moves (No joke. He wins the dance-off. Every time.) and 4. His pet name, Joy.

Many of the men, and some of the women, in my Indian-Catholic family have “good names” and “pet names.” My mom affectionately (I guess?) refers to Dad as Joycha. And so, George challenged me to come up with a dessert known as the Almond Joycha by Easter Sunday. As he stated,  “it could be a play on the classic Almond Joy with coconut, almonds, and chocolate or something entirely different. As long as it fits the name.” Now, in my mind, “fits the name” means the treat has to include two things: almonds and Joycha. What better way to honor the dance machine who made me than with a sugar and almond-filled concoction?

I decided to veer away from actual Almond Joys in order to fancy up the dessert a bit. Actually, let’s be honest: I’ve been craving rainbow cookies for, like, years and am too lazy to roll into my local bakery to buy a pound (also, they’re kind of expensive). Rainbow cookies–which I will be baking in a couple of weeks, so keep an eye out– are typically made with either almond paste or almond filling, and have a cake-like texture with a  sweet, subtly nutty taste. I tweaked the recipe to my liking.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from this recipe for rainbow cookies:

8 oz of almond filling*

1 cup of softened butter

1 cup of granulated white sugar

4 eggs, separated

2 cups of all-purpose flour

1/4 cup of raspberry jam

1/2 cup of sweetened coconut flakes

1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon of butter

*Now, you could use almond paste for this recipe but a. it’s significantly more expensive and b. the texture makes it more difficult to work with and blend into your other ingredients.

Preheat your oven to 350°F, and line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with enough parchment paper that the ends hang off two sides of the pan. In a large bowl, cream together the almond filling, butter, sugar and egg yolks. Have another bowl ready for your egg whites. Having some trouble separating your eggs? The easiest thing to do is to tap your egg lightly with a fork, then use your fingers to break the egg into 2 halves. Holding the halves over your egg whites bowl, toss the yolk between the two shells, letting the whites drip out, like so (yes, it will be gooey):

You gotta keep 'em separated.

When your egg yolk/almond mixture is fluffy, stir in your flour to form a dough. Now, move on to the egg whites. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer at medium speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks begin to form. This should take about five minutes. It took me ten, but only because I don’t know how to properly attach the beaters and they flew off mid-mix. I spent two minutes saying words not meant to be uttered on Easter Sunday, and spent another three scrubbing those suckers clean. When puffy and peak-filled, fold the egg white mixture into your dough, and spread the mixture into your pan. Bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Taste-tested pre-frosting several times by my lovely sister Sylvia

While that’s baking, combine your chocolate chips with a tablespoon of butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat the chips in 15-second intervals, stirring after each nuke, until the mixture is melted and smooth.

As soon as my cakey cookie was done, I stuck the pan directly into the freezer for about 15 minutes. If you’re more patient– like, eons more patient– you can let it cool on a wire rack. Either way, when it’s cool to the touch, pick up the cake by the parchment paper flaps (See how handy those are?) and place it onto a cookie sheet or smooth surface. Cut out squares or rectangles (or both if you’re creative/geometrically challenged like I am).

Here’s where things get…complicated. I am positive that there is a neater way to accomplish this, but, well, I yam who I yam. I dunked one side of each cookie into my melted chocolate and placed it on a cookie sheet to cool. Then, I spread jam on the tops and sprinkled coconut over the sheet until each cookie was covered. Lastly, using a butter knife, I spread the rest of the melted chocolate over the top of each cookie, then placed them in the refrigerator to allow the chocolate to harden. Mess? Yes. Mess. Also, delicious.

I would recommend NOT doing what I did here. Use a knife to spread the chocolate on.
Half-finished product, before they were re-cut to near-perfection. Those are mustaches. So you know.

Now, I am sure you are all wondering: what did Joycha think? And why isn’t his proud mug to be found anywhere in this post? Well, sadly, Joycha is perhaps the only member of the family who is not a fan of my venture into blogging. I can’t say I am not disappointed, but I can say that he is OLD. My guess is that he knows not what a “blog” is. Someone hand the man a dictionary and a cupcake, because he is a grouch. Fortunately, the rest of the clan–including George– seemed to love them. Ok, time to go!

Classic Favorites Muffins

Sad Shibow and the Quarter-Life Crisis Muffins (Now With Bananas!)

Yup. Eyeore. Were going there, guys.

You guys! Saturday morning I was brushing my teeth and found what I am desperately trying to convince myself was a blond hair sticking out of my scalp. I am brown. I have black hair. It’s black. It’s just black, and it doesn’t turn any other colors because I am not a mood ring. And yet…this.

Anyway, I had a weird weekend. Saturday was Record Store Day, which I like to check out despite the fact that I am, sadly, record player-less. I met up with a fellow vinyl enthusiast who owns an umbrella with a flashlight on the handle and who also has what is easily the most hooked-up entertainment system I have ever seen. I was florescent-green with envy. I have met my nemesis, and he carries a flashlight umbrella. Ella. Ella… oh also, my umbrella gave out pretty quickly in this weekend’s monsoon (I suppose since I cannot go to India, India has decided to come to me), which only brought me further down.

In all seriousness, I can’t really pinpoint why I got the blues, but it looks like it’s hit: the quarter-life crisis.

I am a nerd. Always and ever shall be. I’m used to blueprints, instructions and steps. Cramming + writing + timidly raising my hand once in a while + homeworking + stressin’ like whoa= diploma and honors and stuff (nerd!). It’s gotten me through high school, college, and graduate school, and I’m darn proud. But now…now what? There aren’t any more guarantees. There aren’t any more sure things. There are only muffins.

That was a poor segue. Still, this is a baking blog, so, you know…go with it. I’d promised my cousin Jenny, who is pregnant with her second child (Hi Jen! Yay!), something banana-and-chocolate-chippy. A couple of days post-freakout, I walked into the kitchen, breathed in the scent of hella-ripe bananas, and got cookin’. I’m kind of picky when it comes to recipes, and since I was in sort of a mood, I decided to go with a recipe I’ve trusted for years (also the very first entry in my recipe book), and build upon it. Here’s what I say you need, which means here is what you need:

4 very ripe mashed bananas

3/4 cup of brown sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of unsweetened applesauce

1 tablespoon of softened butter or vegetable oil

1 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

3/4 cup of mini chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Angrily sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. Once it’s blended, mix in the eggs one at a time, then throw in your applesauce, butter or oil and bananas. Fold in the mini chips, but try not to overmix. You want the mixture to be mushy and lumpy. Sounds attractive, right?

FYI, if youre in more of a bread mood, switch to a 9x5 jelly roll pan

Leave them in for 12-15 minutes. Mine were done in exactly 13 minutes, because I am Eyeore and the number most New York City buildings try to avoid seems to visit me pretty often. Uhh… anyway, take them out when the tops are slightly browned and a toothpick inserted comes out just a bit moist.

I kept a couple of these behind, just to test them/cheer me up. Here’s what the inside looked like before I devoured it.

Om nom nom.

Who am I kidding? Just looking at this picture makes me feel better. I’m going to go listen to some Phoenix and eat another muffin. Deuces, homies.

Classic Favorites Fancy Pantsy

Put on Your Fancy Pants! It’s Classy Twinkie Time

I am not a fan of Twinkies anymore. I can’t really explain why, but it might have something to do with the Twinkie defense. Ahhh! Twinkies! Murder! Ahh! Or, it might have something to do with the fact that the cream filling always made me lightheaded. Yes, I said always. My childhood motto was “I’ll try anything fifteen times, even if it makes me sick the first time.” I think I hate tap dancing for the same reason.

This is me in my Twinkie-loving days. How I managed to stand still long enough to point out my name is a mystery.

My cousin Darren suggested that I make “fancy Twinkies” for the blog. Well,  what’s fancier than red velvet? Probably lots of things, but red velvet cake rules! So, today, it’s all about Red Velvet Twinkies with Cream Cheese Filling.

So, I’m not sure if Red Velvet Twinkies exist. Basically, I combined a red velvet recipe I found with a Youtube video I found for how to make Twinkie molds. I’m a genius! Actually, I’m a person with a lot of time on my hands! Hooray for Sundays! And exclamation points! !!!

Unless you have the actual Twinkie pan from Hostess (yeah, it’s a thing)–which sort of seems useless to me because I’m not obsessed with cylindrical-shaped baked goods– that video will be of use to you. It wasn’t as annoying to make the molds as I thought it would be. All’s you need is a spice bottle, lots of foil and a couple of hands, preferably hands with fingers.

Fold a large piece of foil in half, then in half again, until you’re left with a square that you’ll be able to wrap around your chosen spice bottle. Tuck the sides in until you have what looks like an aluminum canoe:

This recipe left me with a very lucky 13 Twinkies, and I used one 9 x 13″ pan and one 8 x 8″ pan.

By far the messiest and most trying part of this whole experiment was making the red velvet batter and pouring it into each individual mold. My kitchen and Mets (Let’s go Mets!) t-shirt are now splattered with red splotches. Oh man…Twinkie defense… red splotches… ahhh!

Here’s the recipe for the red velvet cake:

1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon of baking powder

3/4 teaspoon of baking soda

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup of softened butter

3/4 cup of sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup of buttermilk*

1 tablespoon of red food coloring

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon of vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

*Ok, many of us do not have buttermilk at our disposal. I usually do, but it’s sort of tough to find. Or, it’s at least easier to find milk, which is something most of have or can run out and purchase fairly quickly. If you don’t have buttermilk, measure out half a cup of milk and add in 1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar. Let it sit for about five minutes and you’re set.

You’re going to need three bowls for this. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, which should be pretty large and larger than the other two bowls you’re using if possible, whisk together butter and sugar. If you’ve got an electric mixer, it’ll make this step easier. Add in eggs, one at a time. In your third bowl, combine your buttermilk, vanilla, vinegar and food coloring.

Your three players. Yes, my flour bowl is the largest, I know. Do as I say, not as I do, kids.

Here’s where things get interesting, and really red if you’re one big mess like I am. Pour about a third of the flour mixture into your butter/egg/sugar bowl and mix until just combined. Next, add your food coloring mixture into the same bowl. Alternate, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, until everything is fully mixed. And this is why you should have your butter/sugar stuff in the largest bowl. I did not do this, and this is why my kitchen now looks like a crime scene.

Your batter. By this point you should be bright-red. If you're not, then, um, I'm just a mess of a person, man.

Coat your molds with a non-stick spray, then get pouring. Add about an inch of batter to each mold. It won’t look like a lot, but these will expand and puff out in the oven. Pop them in for 17-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Basically, what I’m saying is the toothpick should be the only non-red thing in your kitchen at this point, unless the toothpick was red to begin with, which is sort of weird, no?

In the meantime, let’s get crazy and make our own filling. Now, cream cheese frosting is probably the easiest, and definitely the yummiest, to make from scratch. It takes about five minutes and four ingredients. Five! And four! Numbers are awesome.

Here’s what you need:

1 8-oz. package or tub of cream cheese (I used reduced-fat because it’s all my local grocery had and this came out perfectly)

1/4 cup of softened butter

1 cup of confectioner’s sugar

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

In a small bowl (yes, you’ll be washing bowls until next week, but it’s worth it, I promise), cream together your cream cheese and butter, using a mixer if you have one. Add in the vanilla, then pour in sugar in increments, whippin’ it good every few additions. Once it’s fully incorporated, taste the goodness and pat yourself on the back for making frosting. You are a champ.

Back to the red velvet goods. Once cooled, start peeling off the foil and admire.

They kind of look like Hot Pockets, right?

Time to get filling! There are a few ways to do this. If you are a nerd like I am, you have an icing decorator. Mine looks like this:

It’s super convenient and kind of fun to use, especially if you were into Nerf when you were younger. To get filling, use the tip of the decorator to insert three small holes into the back of each Twinkie. Slowly and carefully fill in each hole with enough of your cream cheese that the Twinkie starts to expand just a bit. If you’re without an icing decorator, use a chopstick or similarly-shaped object to create these little cavities. Then, fill a resealable plastic bag with your frosting, cut off a tiny tip of one corner of the bag, and get in there.

Success! Take that, Hostess!
Your filled and flavorful finished treat.

And yes, one of my Twinkies did explode. And yes, it was awesome.