Bourbon Cherry Brownies (Gluten-Free!)

Brownies paired with whiskey. True Love.

Last summer we made a batch of cherry bounce – cherry-infused bourbon – from sweet summer cherries. We shoved them to the back of the refrigerator and promptly forgot about them – or at least tried to forget about them. It’s hard to forget about bourbon and ripe, deep red cherries even when they’re hidden behind the milk and eggs.

Remember this beautiful stuff? We made it again.

The results were ready for Christmas. We shared the wine-dark bourbon with family and friends. The burgundy liquor was festive: a good color for deep winter holidays.

But what of the cherries?  The cherries were for us.

Red and delicious

The cherries lost the edge off their vibrant red, but retained their juicy flesh and took on the complex aromas and psycho-pharmacological qualities of Kentucky bourbon. Boozy cherries? Don’t mind if I do.

Big chocolate chunks for big chocolate ooze

The cherries had a different fate.  Fortified by their alcohol content, they waited in the dark recesses of our fridge.  Now it’s Valentine’s Day, another holiday for baking. It’s time for warm, gooey bars and cookies, eaten straight from the oven with your love. It’s time for brownies eaten in slow sensuous bites. So, the two were united in an act of love: boozy, drunken cherries and dark, bitter chocolate slowly heated side by side in a fudge-y brownie batter.  The bourbon cooked off slowly in the oven, leaving a hint of fruity sour mash.  A new beginning for a new love.

Warm brownies for a cold day

We recommend pairing the brownies on a romantic evening.  Pair them after dinner with straight bourbon whiskey.  Pair them at midnight with champagne.  Pair them in the morning with Irish coffee.

Share some warm boozy brownies when you snuggle up on a cold Valentines' Day

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Coconut Lavender Mochiko Cake (Bibingka)

This is a submission to the Kulinarya Cooking Club May 2011 challenge. The theme, “Flores de Mayo” was chosen by Sefie of Sefie Eats and Connie of Home Cooking Rocks. For more information, visit the Kulinarya Cooking Club blog.
 
While even my mom was unfamiliar with the Flores de Mayo fiesta (I guess it isn’t big in Zamboanga?), we did celebrate May Day in our house.  My post focuses on May Day, as it is also celebrated with flowers.
 

Mochiko cake stacked up nice

I:

Every day, on my way to work, I pass a small flower shop. I’ve never gone inside, but I always stare as I walk by. They have all the usual arrangements of roses and baby’s breath, daisies, lilies. They have little ceramic pots housing colorful delicate orchids. They have ferns and cactus. The only thing that ever tempts me to visit inside is a small basket of lavender that sits on a table outside the main door. I smell the perfume as I pass, always thinking “maybe I’ll pick some up on my way home.”

3 eggs, coconut milk, evaporated milk and half a stick of butter

II:

May Day is an ancient European celebration of spring. It has its origins in pagan religious ceremony, but in modern times has become a secular celebration revolving around flowers and dancing observed on May 1st.   My Irish great-grandmother taught me to make May Day baskets filled with flowers and candy. I was to drop them off on neighbors’ doorsteps, ring the door bell and hide from sight. They got the gifts, but I got the pleasure of giving.

It's a thick batter, but whisk-able the whole way through

III:

One May Day when I was very young, I came home to a mochiko cake (bibingka) cooling on the counter. I made a basket with paper and tape and filled it will dandelions, lilacs and lily-of-the-valley. I wrapped a slice of warm cake in foil and place it in the center like a jewel. I dropped the basket on my favorite neighbor’s doorstep, rang the door bell and dashed back to my house.

Lavender flowers show through before adding the coconut flakes

IV:

I compromise. No fresh lavender, but I spring for dried lavender from the food co-op. The dried lavender blends into sugar and I beat the sugar into another May mochiko cake.  The cake is chewy and dense, rich but not too sweet. The edges are pleasantly crisp straight from the oven. Lavender flower fragrance laces the cake underneath a crunchy coconut crust. A gift for all this May!
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Oven Gots Character

Baked in my oven for the first time a couple of weekends ago.  I can’t call it a disaster, but I can’t call it a raging success either.  It was a bumpy road, but I think I got my oven’s “character” figured out in the end.  I baked three different recipes (we called this my birthday baking spree)

  • Lemon Yogurt Cupcakes with Lime Frosting (aka Sprite cupcakes)
  • Blueberry Muffins
  • Cheddar Herb Corn Muffins

Each recipe taught me different things about my own oven and about baking with an unfamiliar oven in general.

Cupcakes

Starting with the cupcakes may have been a mistake.  I was all set to make a lemon version of the yogurt cupcakes I fell in love with in July.  I halved the recipe, substituted lemon extract for vanilla and didn’t realized until I’d started mixing it into the wet ingredient that I was using whole wheat pastry flour.

Other than those things I followed the recipe exactly. After about 15 minutes, a glorious lemon-y done-cupcake smell wafted from the oven.  Which I ignored.  But there’s five minutes left according to the recipe, I thought.  Alas, but my nose was right.  By the time the 5 minutes was up, there was a slightly troublesome, lemon-y over-done cupcake smell wafting from the oven.

Ooooops.

They didn’t burn, thank goodness, but they were rather dry.  Not at all the wonderful fluffy but moist bites of heaven I’d envisioned.  Oh well.  In the end the lime frosting was good enough to hide some of the dryness.  I just wished  there was better cake for singing “Happy Birthday” with.

LESSONS LEARNED: 1) My oven is a bit hotter than my last. 2) When getting to know a new oven (and experimenting with a recipe in a familiar one), follow your nose – if it smells done, it’s time to check on it.

Blueberry Muffins

I decided to kept things simple when I started on the muffins the next morning and not substitute anything in the recipe since it was one I’d never tried before.  I was using the recipe posted by Smitten Kitchen back in August and followed it to the letter, but, figuring my oven too hot, reduced the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

This time I kept my nose  working as well.  About 5 minutes before the designated time, I started to notice the done-muffin smell from out in the living room.  I ran to the oven to check on the muffins.  They were done! (As indicated by the clean toothpick).  They were so delightful that I’ve made them twice since my birthday weekend.

LESSON LEARNED: 1) My oven is even hotter than I originally suspected. 2) Using an un-tweaked tried-and-true or new recipe from a reputable source makes monitoring progress in a new oven easier.

Cheddar Herb Corn Muffins

After the morning’s muffin success, I was feeling confident enough to try a tweaked version of Spicy Santa Fe Cornbread from Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Purdy.  It’s a recipe I made many times back in Santa Fe.  However, my apartment in Santa Fe was at an altitude of ~7500ft above sea level, so I used the high altitude recipe in the book.  My Brooklyn apartment is ~50ft above sea level, clearing calling for the modified version of the recipe.  (Thank you, Susan Purdy, for putting sea level directions in that cookbook)  All I changed in the ingredient list was addition of frozen corn instead of salsa, jalapenos and olives and oregano, sage and cumin instead of cayenne pepper.

As for the oven, I lowered the oven temperature by 25 degrees and set my timer for 5 minutes less than the time indicated in the recipe.  And… it worked!  The muffins smelled perfect when the timer went off and were perfectly done!  Success!

LESSON LEARNED: 1) My oven won’t burn everything I put in it! 2) Do apply observations from previous trials to make even an experimental recipe come out perfect!

*****

Oh.  Recipes?  Soon, my darlings.  Soon.

My Soul Mate – Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes

This post was originally written for an old blog in 2010 and brought over to Kensington Kitchen in February 2011 because we hate losing good recipes.

If it’s possible to be in love with a cake recipe, I think I found my soul mate this morning.

Alright, back to the beginning.

I’ve been thinking about pineapple upside down cupcakes since last fall. They were going to be a birthday gift for someone until organic chemistry and molecular biology lab got in the way. I think that person got a beer instead. In any case, the idea was lost in the sands of time…

More recently, though, there was need of a host gift. A dear friend has moved into a apartment that likes to host parties. Nothing sophisticated, mind you. More like frat parties for those with full time salaries. One of these parties is the so-called Pineapple Pub Crawl. Since our friend is hosting us for the weekend, the boyfriend and I, of course, want to bring a offering. Given the theme and my boyfriend’s memory for baked goods he wants me to try making, it was only natural that these cupcakes would re-emerge.

After some interwebs investigation, I settled on a traditional topping on a tangy yogurt cake. I highly recommend the yogurt cake. It’s like the love child of a rich coffee cake and fluffy buttermilk pancakes. I want to have my own little love babies with this yogurt cake. (Was that inappropriate?) *Ahem* By that I mean: I’m pretty sure this cake is going to go into heavy rotation in my kitchen (well, as heavy as rotation can get when I bake sweets about once every other month). In any case, I’m keeping this recipe forever. It’s going in the recipe file right by my sister’s favorite meatballs, Mom’s pancit and Dema’s Irish Stew.

A couple other notes about the recipe. The blogger-adapted version that I started with called for Greek-style yogurt like Fage. I used homemade whole-milk yogurt, made from a normal plain unsweetened yogurt starter and strained. I’m pretty sure that any nice tangy yogurt would do. I also reduced the sugar in both the syrup and cake. One thing that I should have reduced was the butter. The amount of butter in this recipe is ludicrous. Next time, I’ll try stepping the butter back to 1 1/2 sticks.

The photo does not do these babies justice.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes
makes 36 cupcakes

Topping
(loosely taken from Epicurean and About.com)
2/3 c brown sugar, packed
1 c butter, melted
1 frozen package or can pineapple tidbits (thawed and/or drained)
36 morello cherries, drained

Cake
(adapted from Big City Little Kitchen, who adapted it from Gourmet’s “Golden Cake”)
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks (16 tb) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups plain, unsweetened yogurt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2. Prepare cupcake pans.

Mix brown sugar and butter in a small bowl and distribute evenly between the 36 cupcake spaces (~1 tbsp per cupcake). Press a cherry in the middle of each space, with pineapple arranged decoratively around it. Put aside.

2. Prepare the cake batter.

Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt). Set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, then vanilla. Beat in half of the flour mixture, then the yogurt. Lastly, beat in second half of the flour mixture. Note: the yogurt will begin to react with the baking powder and soda. This will result in some bubbles, which is completely normal.

3. Add batter to cupcake pan. Fill each space to about 2/3 capacity.

4. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. Done when golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.

5. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Then run a knife along the edges to release from pan. Invert on to a plate or cooling rack and cool completely.