Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cakes

18 Dec

I got nothing here. Nothing! Busy times. And hey, I only promised 52 weeks of pancakes, not unsolicited, unwelcome rambling. One thing: I like peanut butter just fine, but not really peanut butter in things. So I was biased. But the rest of the family loved these.

Oh, and maple syrup was passable, but a berry topping would have been much better. There.

I hear these are good

I hear these are good

Griddler…out!

The cakes recipe:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (organic)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (cage-free)
  • 1 cup whole milk (organic)
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (organic)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (organic, no-stir)
  1. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees
  2. Preheat your oven to 160, or engage your warmer drawer
  3. Combine dry ingredients, except brown sugar, in large bowl
  4. In separate, smaller bowl, mix rest of ingredients together completely
  5. Add the wets to the dries and whisk together until mixed
  6. Butter griddle and ladle batter onto it using a 1/4 measuring cup
  7. Watch for bubbles and flip, roughly 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown

Note: These guys go on the griddle rather thickly, so you’ll want to try to spread them thin if you can, lest the outsides burn while the insides never cook through.

Carrot Cakes with Sweet Neufchâtel Spread

11 Dec
Carrot cakes

Carrot cakes

The Griddler has taken ill. If you encountered someone lying face-down, flat as a board on the sidewalk this weekend, it was not an extension of the planking meme, nor one of our city’s thousands of college students resting their eyes in the Ped Mall. No, that would have been me, whacked out on cold meds and eating some concrete while I waited to regain consciousness. It’s been that kind of several days around here. At many times lately, I have felt like Jim Morrison in the “desert” looking for my spirit guide. I even mistook my son for a raccoon earlier this morning and had him taken away by animal control. But worry not–this delirium too shall pass…as soon as that kangaroo stops telling me to take my temperature again.

It’s a good thing I have most of the next several months of cakes planned out, because that crudely scribbled-upon piece of notebook paper was my only tether to reality in my stupor. It spelled out exactly what I needed, which was a start. I was able to sense my way to my food co-op, like a rat relying solely on muscle memory through the darkened warehouse he’s long occupied. Measurements proved difficult, but I managed, and in the end came away with some damn good cakes.

We chose to make the cakes early and refrigerate them for dessert later, as well as for breakfast for a couple of days hereafter. These buggers really aren’t too bad for you, and the copious carrot in them has to amount for something in the daily ascent of the food pyramid. That we sullied them with sweet cheese spread is not lost upon us, but it’s Sunday, and Sunday is no day for calorie vigilance in our household.

One note: These cakes are unbelievably easy, except for the relatively time consuming aspect of processing the carrots. You’ll want to clean them well, cut them small with your knife, and chop small batches at a time unless you have a much more powerful food processor than ours. It’s a bit of a guess as to how many carrots will get you to your 2+ cups–for me it was about 15, though they were bunch carrots, so smaller (and much juicier) than the behemoths at many big supermarkets.

I have very little else to say, except to wish on a star for me. Like a cat, I want only to be alone when I’m failing, and there’s a shrub that looks mighty inviting right out the window here. Mahalo.

Pants: On, but only because I forgot to take them off, which is its own kind of sad all together. What about my son? What son?

Planning: I love lamp.

Gathering: Yes.

Execution: I don’t believe in it, no.

Results: Yes.

Crossover Potential: Yes.

The cakes recipe:

  • 1.25 cups all-purpose flour (organic)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (cage-free)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla (organic)
  • 1 cup whole milk (organic)
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar (organic)
  • 2.25 cups carrots chopped finely in food processor (organic)
  1. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees
  2. If you’re eating these hot, preheat your oven to 160, or engage your warmer drawer
  3. Combine dry ingredients, except brown sugar, in large bowl
  4. In separate, smaller bowl, mix rest of ingredients together completely
  5. Add carrot mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together until mixed
  6. Butter griddle and ladle batter onto it using a 1/4 measuring cup
  7. Watch for bubbles and flip, roughly 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown
And the spread recipe:
  • 8 oz. package of Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla (organic)
  • 1/4 sugar (organic, pure-cane)
  • Dash each of cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, and ginger
  • Splash of whole milk
  1. Combine in bowl and mix using handheld mixer until smooth

Note: Recipe adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/all-american-festivals/carrot-pancakes-with-cream-cheese-spread-recipe/index.html

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cakes with Bananas Teetotaler Topping

4 Dec
Critics

Critics

The shared cakes experience is becoming commonplace with our weekends as of late. And really, I couldn’t be happier. As noted before, I think cakes are meant for gathering, so it only enhances the experience to share them as often as possible. Stopping over to the house this week were good friends Emily, Scott, and their daughter, Claudia. The conversation was brisk (if a bit, er, off color, as is our wont), the help with devouring the cakes was appreciated, and Claudia’s willingness to run our boy ragged–begetting a long afternoon nap–was the keystone around which we structured one hell of a Saturday. Well done, folks, and stop by again. I was unable to secure a good shot of the cakes/topping this week, but I’ve included a pic at right of my two most important critics discussing their overall impressions after breakfast.

As for the food, I punted a bit on the cakes this week, recycling my old buttermilk oatmeal recipe with the small and easy twist of adding chocolate. My energy instead went into the topping.

And the happiest person about that topping may have been my wife. I am not all too fond of bananas in general, and her pleas for any kind of banana cake have been dismissed outright up until this weekend. When she told me about Emily’s love for the banana/chocolate combo, I figured the time was right to stretch my limits a little and embrace new cakes horizons. I struck out for a Foster recipe, but quickly realized that would have to be seriously altered. I would have been a terrible pirate with my absolute disdain for rum, in any amount, mitigating effects of myriad other ingredients be damned. I just couldn’t do it. (Although the whole igniting the contents of my skillet was incredibly tempting.) So I went with more of a virgin Bananas Foster–a teetotaling concept with which my typical philosophy about life is diametrically opposed–and did the best I could.

I think the full Foster would have been even better, at least for those who can enjoy that topping in its full, so I welcome feedback from anyone who takes my bastardized version and gives it a whirl.

Pants: On x 2 = classy kitchen presentation!

Planning: The only thing I needed to do was devise a banana topping I could palate, which mostly had to do with, like mentioned, going the Foster route minus the rum.

Gathering: Just the bananas, though that did pose a bit of a challenge. I had to dig through the options to find four that were perfect for sauteing–no easy task. Most of the choices were way too green. Might be something to just keep in mind, depending upon your access to good produce and the time of year in which you’re looking to try this recipe on for size.

Execution: Pretty easy, though I did make all the cakes first and keep them warm before starting on the topping. With the constant stirring, the topping requires a level of vigilance that precluded multitasking. I was sure to have everything I needed for the topping measured out in small ramekins, too, so I could just dump while minding the stirring. Then it was just a matter of not going too long with the bananas in the pan, unless you’re after more of a banana puree mixed into the syrup (which might not be bad at all).

Results: Reports were good, and I managed to find a banana topping I kind of liked. Not “liked” as in I expect to do these again for, oh, say a year or more, but liked quite a lot all the same.

Crossover Potential: I really don’t know on this one. I can say that the leftover cakes have been amazing all weekend out of the fridge, so there is some serious merit in making far too many. (Hint: make far too many)

The cakes recipe:

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup milk (2%, organic)
  • 1 cup wheat flour (organic)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (organic)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar (organic, pure cane)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs (cage-free)
  • 1.5 cups buttermilk (Kalona Supernatural Buttermilk)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (organic)
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • Chocolate chips to taste (Ghiradelli, semi-sweet)
  1. Combine milk and oats in a small bowl and set aside
  2. Sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt
  3. In separate bowl, whisk eggs; then add buttermilk and whisk together; finally, add vanilla extract and oil and whisk all together
  4. Add dry mixture to wet mixture and whisk briskly (whiskly?), fearing not the lumps
  5. Fold in oats/milk mixture
  6. Refrigerate overnight
  7. Arise, remove batter from fridge, and consume coffee!
  8. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees
  9. Preheat oven to 175 degrees
  10. Add as many chocolate chips as you see fit (read: many), and fold into the batter
  11. Oil griddle
  12. Ladle batter onto griddle using 1/3 measuring cup
  13. Watch for bubbles and flip until both sides are golden brown–roughly 1-2 minutes per side (These guys cook QUICKLY!)
  14. Keep completed cakes warm in your preheated oven while you turn the rest of that batter into cakes; re-oil griddle before each new batch
And the topping recipe:
  • 1/2 cup butter (organic, unsalted)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar (organic)
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (organic, with sugar)
  • 4 firm, ripe bananas, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • Pecans, cashews, or other nuts for topping
  1. Start butter in 10″ skillet over medium/high heat until about half of it melts
  2. Add rest of ingredients except banana slices and stir continuously until sugar melts completely and mixture thickens
  3. Reduce heat to medium and add banana slices, folding them into syrup and rotating continuously until softened but not mushy

Sweet Corn Cakes with Cranberry-Orange Syrup

27 Nov
Sweetest corn

Sweetest corn

The Griddler and company had company again this week, this time in the form of one set of grandparents (my wife’s folks, Allen and Shirley). Perhaps the most ringing endorsement for the cakes and syrup was the fact they both walked out of here in one piece on Friday. They may have been ruined from corn for years to come, but they were intact. They either loved the cakes and syrup and sure knew how to make the cook feel good. Either way, The Griddler tips his hat (and apologizes for the post-sugar high hangover later in the day).

They were visiting for Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving brought the potential for some thematic interweaving with the cakes this week. Turkey cakes sounded gross, so I pulled in two other Thanksgiving table staples–corn and cranberries.

These cakes are blasphemy in some ways, seeing as how I’m a born-and-raised Iowan. Really, they would have been perfect a few months back, at the height of sweet corn season, when I could have bought an ear at any number of roadside stands or farmer’s market tables and gone truly local with things. But alas, in sweet corn season my cakes adventure had not yet begun. So canned it was.

The cranberry thing was a bit of a stretch for me. I’m not terribly fond of cranberries in general, and cranberry sauce as a Thanksgiving table offering makes me cringe. But with the help of my old friend, Google, I cobbled together enough disparate parts of various cranberry sauce/syrup recipes to come up with something that, on paper, seemed at least passable, if a little, er, caloric.

In my first pass with the syrup, I actually used pure maple syrup instead of the sugared variety. The result, however, was way too tart, even with the sugar and orange juice–they were no match for the abundant cranberries. I ended up adding sugared maple syrup in anyway, which toned down the tart, though threw the balance off in a way that doesn’t totally reflect what you’d get from the recipe below. Call the one below my best guess for next time. And if you like tart, go with the pure maple and forget all about my mitigation.

All in all, these are probably my favorite so far. Think cornbread, but denser and moister with super sweet/tart topping. I mentioned some crossover potential below, but that’s only a sampling. Make them once, and surely ideas will spring to your own mind. I would love to add some sweet peas into the mix and go with a honey/butter spread on top. Or sub the sugars for some salts and get crazy on the savory side of things. These things may even reemerge at some point down the road in a new form all together (zombie cakes!).

On to it.

Socially acceptable for but one of us

Socially acceptable for but one of us

Pants: Apparently it’s OK for just one of us to go pantless with guests–and that one is at right. But I’m not bitter (damn it!).

Planning: Only planning was making sure enough time had passed between Thursday’s feasting and the morning cakes–had to have some moderation this weekend.

Gathering: Just the fruits.

Execution: The batter was a bit runny after I first mixed it. I added some extra dries (flours and corn meal) in equal parts and mixed until it thickened a little. Even then, the cakes were pretty thin when ladled onto the griddle. This was probably because of the oil in the batter coupled with the fact I used honey instead of sugar. You could adjust either or both of those variables to thicken things.

Results: Excellent! The combination was nice. The cakes themselves came out sweeter than I anticipated, and really could be enjoyed with maybe a brush of honey and nothing else, cornbread style. That being said, this was one of my favorite syrups. My breakfast comrades report their own approval, so I think we can call it a winner, too.

Crossover Potential: So vast. Cutting the sugar and upping the salt would make for some great savory cakes. Visions of avocado and salsa dance in the head.

The cakes recipe:

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (organic)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (organic)
  • 1/2 cup corn meal (organic)
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1.25 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1.5 cup buttermilk (Kalona Supernatural Buttermilk)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk (organic)
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten (cage-free)
  • 1 cup sweet corn, strained (organic, canned)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract (organic)
  1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees, or engage warmer drawer
  2. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees
  3. Whisk dry ingredients together
  4. Whisk wet ingredients in a separate bowl (hold back on corn for now)
  5. Add wet ingredients to dry and and use whisk to mix together
  6. Add corn to batter and mix
  7. Melt butter on griddle
  8. Using 1/3 measuring cup, ladle batter onto griddle; watch for bubbles and flip when they appear, 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown
  9. Keep finished cakes in warmed oven while you prepare the rest
And the syrup recipe:
  • 1.5 cups cranberries (frozen, organic)
  • 3/4 sugar (organic, pure cane)
  • 3/4 cup orange juice (juice of 1 Valencia orange, the rest supplemented with organic, no sugar added bottled juice)
  • 1 tsp. orange zest (from the Valencia)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup with sugar (organic)
  1. Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan and mix well
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to keep sugar from sticking and scorching
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for ~10 minutes, until cranberries pop and the syrup coats the back of a spoon

Note: The syrup was derived from various sources. The cakes were adapted from http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/08/sweet-corn-pancakes/

Sweet Potato Cakes

20 Nov
Stack

Stack

Mad schedule this weekend. The cooking and eating of the cakes was wedged into an already busy Sunday morning, the preparation occurring over the course of the couple of days before it. I needed something simple, and so I turned to the sweet potato cakes that had been in the mental hopper for a while now.

Let me start by stating in no uncertain terms my typical disdain for sweet potatoes. I like sweet potato fries in a burger basket with a pint of Guiness, and enjoy them as a complement to a serving of home fries at breakfast. Baked sweet potato, though, is gag-worthy for me. Even baking and spooning what I did to get my puree about put me over the edge. But something about it as a central ingredient in something like these cakes turns my usual dislike on its head.

I say this because I know there are others like me. I’ve had the conversation with those people many times before. And to those of you, I say you’re right to be skeptical–that stringy, malodorous, weirdly textured baked version of the sweet potato is indeed odd, at best. But it works in cakes. It really does.

I first overcame my fear of the sweet potato via some breakfast cakes at a local haunt here in Iowa City. My wife orders them all the time, and I used to react in much the same way I do when she preps a tuna melt in our kitchen. I was desperately hungry one morning, though, and in a “state” (we were in our 20s and kid-free–I was no stranger to that “state”) that precluded any kind of critical palate. My wife couldn’t finish her sweet potato cakes that day, and I threw caution to the wind. I’ve been a convert ever since.

Really, these cakes are almost identical to the Flapjack O’ Lanterns from a few weeks back, save for some different spicing. Owing to this, I knew they would be dense, sifting be damned. So I decided to go one better in an effort to introduce some variation. I attempted to make the sweet potato cakes so dense they were hard to swallow. I did not sift my dries, but mixed them lightly, at best. And when I added the wet ingredients, I barely mixed at all—just enough to say I did (and even then it was a white lie). Mission accomplished–holy hell were they dense. And I mean dense as in kind of dangerous for little ones. Our son loved them, but kept coughing and reaching for his water. My wife even had to sweep his mouth at one point. (And if that ain’t appetizing at a breakfast table, I don’t know what is!) Even the dog hacked a bit following the bite he was afforded.

I pass that along just in case it isn’t your thing. Sifting would help, as would maybe beating the final mixture with a hand mixture to force a little air into it. Hell, you might even try some separating and folding of your eggs if you’re really worried about it.

Pants: I had just finished a run, so was cooling off, so no. (And no, the ridiculousness of running before the cakes feast is not lost on me.)

Planning: Just had to carve out some time in the schedule, which was no small task this week. That I roasted and pureed the potato as my Saturday evening activity is the clearest statement on where my reality currently resides than anything else I can imagine.

Gathering: Just the tater–rest are kitchen staples these days in our household.

Execution: Pretty easy since I scheduled the most time-consuming portion of the recipe for the evening before. I cannot stress enough the absolutely preposterous density of these things. It makes them a bit unwieldy on the griddle. You have to be vigilant–I browned one too long. Go low and slow with the griddle–nothing above 350. And hell, dense is what I was seeking, and the end result was worth it, which leads us to…

Results: Another winner all around. The  boy kicked his feet against his chair and purred while he ate (and choked). I know not of a truer endorsement than that (minus the choking). Keep your beverage close at hand.

Crossover Potential: As noted, they’re not at all unlike the Flapjack O’ Lanterns, which is to say they are almost identical to the Flapjack O’ Lanterns. The crossover potential from those previous cakes applies here, too.

The cakes recipe (for roughly 8 cakes):

  • 1.25 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg (micro-planed using real nutmegs, courtesy of old buddy, Tony!)
  • 2 large eggs (cage-free)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (organic)
  • 3/4 cup pureed sweet potato (organic, freshly roasted)
  • Whole milk for adding to processor with sweet potato (organic)
  • Maple syrup (organic)
  1. Pierce a medium-sized sweet potato a few times with a small knife, wrap in foil, and bake for 60-75 minutes at 350 degrees–it’s done when the knife enters it without resistance
  2. While still hot, unwrap potato and cut lengthwise in half; using spoon, scoop out the meat, avoiding the peel, and plop into food processor
  3. Reset oven to warm setting, around 170 degrees (or engage warmer drawer if you have one)
  4. Add a splash or three of whole milk to the potato in the processor, then process until pureed completely
  5. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees
  6. Mix the dry ingredients lightly with a whisk
  7. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the wet ingredients
  8. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing with a wooden spoon until just combined
  9. Keep completed cakes in warmed oven while you make the rest

Almost-Healthy Cakes

13 Nov
Almost healthy

Almost healthy

My latest pancake endeavors, while delicious, have been nothing more than veiled excuses for over-indulging in desserts (not “deserts”), plain and simple. Desserts (again, not “deserts”) as meals, no less. Scared that my act would grow tiresome–and cognizant of the thinning patience of my wife and son with my weekly offerings–I had to mix it up. I decided to introduce a modicum of health in so doing. And then I mostly negated it. But still, I did introduce it first. That’s something.

Multigrain cakes made me nervous. The good ones I have had are among my favorite breakfast items, period. But the bad ones? Yama hama. The bad ones I have had are not worth even the crappy, over-sugared syrup under which they drown. So I engaged this week’s idea with a healthy dose of skepticism and perilously low expectations.

But, as you’ll read, things went swimmingly. My grains had the right balance, my spices were intermingled responsibly, my dairy…well, my dairy was overdone, sure. But we were once more doing cakes for dinner, on a Sunday, the one day of the week on which I throw all gastronomic caution to the wind for my choices. I couldn’t send myself to bed feeling too healthy later in the evening, lest my circadian rhythms be incorrectly queued in ways that would impact my entire week to follow. (What? Sunday, and no butter coma?) So, with one foot in the granary and the other knee-deep in the dairy, I made my most algebraic cakes to date, balancing that healthy and unhealthy side of the equation in ways I was never able to balance actual algebra problems.

Certainly, an actual healthy version of these cakes should be obvious. Trade buttermilk for something lighter, perhaps even–gasp–skim milk, the butter for margarine, the maple syrup for just berries. You get the idea. Perhaps one day I’ll find occasion to do so, but I wouldn’t bet on seeing it in this space. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a few million more times before I’m gone–I do cakes once a week, not once a day. It’s my griddle and I’ll griddle irresponsibly if I want to.

Pants: Our washer and dryer (seriously) melted down this weekend; we’re rationing pants until the new ones arrive, and I couldn’t risk any spillage whatsoever. (Too defensive?)

Planning: I just had to decide on my balance for grains for the cakes, and really, that decision was not final until I stood before the various options at my local food co-op. Other than that, my planning was minimal, as many of the ingredients were ones I have on hand.

Gathering: See above

Execution: My brain said “healthy” but this session was all about my heart, I guess. What started as an honest quest for healthy cakes finished as an exercise in total mitigation of inherent heart-healthiness. It was a zero sum proposition from the start, really, seeing as how I allow myself but this one indulgence each week. Daddy needs a gut-buster once in a while.

Results: Really excellent. I began having second thoughts about my grains as the batter came together. I worried about what my creativity might beget. But they were tasty, and dairy abundance aside, not ridiculously bad for you.

Crossover Potential: Endless. Various grain mixtures, toppings, nuts and other crunchies thrown in…

The cakes recipe:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (organic)
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour (organic)
  • 1/3 cup corn meal (organic)
  • 1/3 cup consisting of flaxseed meal (organic) and brown rice flour (organic), evenly split
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup milk (whole, organic)
  • 2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar (pure cane, organic)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1.5 cups buttermilk (Kalona Supernatural Buttermilk)
  • 2 eggs (cage-free)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted (unsalted, organic)
  • Canola oil
  • Crushed nuts and/or pieces of fruit to taste
  • Maple syrup
  1. Mix oats with your whole milk and set aside to soak
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients
  3. In separate bowl, mix wet ingredients except for butter until smooth
  4. Add in oats/milk mixture
  5. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees
  6. Preheat oven to 175 degrees, or activate warmer drawer on low
  7. Stir melted butter into batter with wooden spoon
  8. Brush griddle with oil; repeat between batches
  9. Ladle batter onto griddle with 1/4 measuring cup, sprinkling nuts and/or fruit into each cake
  10. Watch for bubbles–flip and repeat until both sides are golden brown, roughly 3 minutes per side
  11. Keep finished cakes in oven while the rest are prepared

Note: A simple search through cookbooks or on those worldwide interwebs will yield countless variations on the multigrain cake. Mine is an amalgam of tastes I’ve liked in my favorite breakfast haunts, as well as pieces I’ve mentally inventoried from recipes I’ve read. Get creative.

Hot Cocoa Cakes (or, The Griddler flies solo)

6 Nov

Not burnt, just super chocolate-tastic

OK, so solo may not be entirely accurate. A nefarious stomach virus has swept through our household this weekend, though, so help with devouring these cakes was minimal at best. I was functionally solo. If I were a really good husband or father, I would have made some 7-Up Saltine Cracker cakes. It was that kind of weekend.

It bears noting that the bug never bit me. Never does. Save for a few, er, self-induced cases of the collywobbles over the years, I always manage to steer pretty clear of the nausea that occasionally besets others. My mom says I was like that as a kid, too. If that weren’t the case, this weekend’s cakes adventure may have been interesting. I sure as hell don’t think the cocoa bent would have been something I could have mixed, smelled, or tasted at all. For that reason, I offer a tip of the cap to my wife for trying them at all, pallid and hollow as she was by the time they were ready.

You’ll notice no reference below to this recipe, and that’s because it was largely something I made up as I went. Or perhaps calling it something of a composite is more appropriate. A number of years ago, I made some S’mores on the grill that used sweetened mascarpone cheese in lieu of marshmallows. That opened my mind to the possibility of substituting over-priced cheese for the mallow. While dollops of sweet cheese in a hot cup of cocoa sounds a bit gross to me, I thought this would be a great opportunity to marry the idea of the mallow replacement with the cocoa essence. Hence, the Hot Cocoa Cakes were born.

The cakes alone are also partly inspired by a red velvet pancake recipe I collided with a number of months ago. I still plan to try that one at some point, so I will spare you the details on how they differ, although they barely differ at all.

Oh, and I know, I know–Neufchâtel cheese again. But I am head over heels for that stuff after last week. I just can’t quit it so soon. And frankly, if I don’t work it into my cakes when I can, I may never have it at all. I’m a surprisingly healthy eater for my other meals throughout the week. So, you may be getting a steady dose of variations on the Neufchâtel cheese spread for a spell. I promise to give you as much creativity as can fit between those rather small confines, though. The Griddler is nothing if not adept at brandishing creativity over things that may not deserve it for periods of time that can never be justified. I am a snob about pancakes, after all–perhaps the easiest thing in the world to be snobbish about. This ain’t exactly the Culinary Institute of America, if you haven’t noticed. I mix batters and reduce syrups without pants. Putting together a 5,000-piece puzzle of the Sistine Chapel is hard, but it isn’t painting the Sistine Chapel. (And on a side note, I hate puzzles more than I hate parades.)

One last thing: These cakes, more than any I’ve made, are dessert. No matter the time of day, day of the week, week of the year–context be damned. Dessert. Not a meal. You’ve been warned.

Pants: Nope

Planning: Nothing, really, unless you count the number of times plans had to change on the fly given the weekend’s circumstances. Saturday morning became Saturday evening became Sunday morning became Sunday evening, solo. And cakes with dinner became cold cakes as a late dessert as I watched Dexter.

Gathering: Just had to secure some good cocoa and another package of the dynamite Neufchâtel I had discovered last week. Kind of in love with that stuff.

Execution: Pretty easy, though I did need to dance with the ingredients a bit. The dry ingredients had to  be just the right balance of bitter and sweet, and it took a few rounds of add-stir-taste-repeat before it tasted right. The spread, on the other hand, was perfect from the start. Not that it is at all difficult, but still. Perfect.

Results: All kinds of good. As much as I loved the hot cake–especially when the spread, cold from the fridge, got just the right amount of melty–the cold ones later in the evening with the spread cold, too, was unreal. Best way I can think to describe it is like a Swiss Cake Roll, but better. No hydrogenated fillers or mummification-by-preservative.

Crossover Potential: Enormous, especially with the spread. The cakes are rich, as one might imagine considering the ingredients. Mixing some blended berries into the spread would be good. Mascarpone in the place of the Neufchâtel would be a treat, too. And I would be lying if I didn’t admit at least a passing temptation with squirting a bunch of caramel sauce in place of the spread.

Also–in a nod to the S’mores part of the inspiration–some graham crackers crumbled into the batter might be pretty damn awesome.

The cakes recipe:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (organic)
  • 1/4 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (organic)
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar (organic, pure cane)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • Healthy pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (organic)
  • 2 eggs (organic, cage-free)
  • 1.25 cups buttermilk (Kalona Supernatural Buttermilk)
  • Butter for griddle (organic, unsalted)
  1. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees
  2. Preheat oven or warmer drawer to 175 degrees
  3. Whisk together all dry ingredients
  4. Whisk together wet ingredients in separate bowl
  5. Add wet ingredients to the dry, and whisk together until blended and smooth
  6. Butter griddle (Tbsp. or so)
  7. Ladle batter onto griddle with 1/4 measuring cup, reapplying butter to griddle and keeping finished cakes warm in oven as you prepare the remainder
And the spread recipe:
  • 8 oz. Neufchâtel cheese (or some other soft cheese)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (organic, pure cane)
  1. Mix in small bowl with handheld mixer until smooth; refrigerate and spread cold over cakes

Note: Double your run the day after

Flapjack O’ Lanterns with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread (or, Tony Rides Shotgun)

30 Oct
Giant stack of Flapjack O' Lanterns

Giant stack of Flapjack O' Lanterns

A little history.

Flapjack O’ Lanterns are on their ninth year for my wife and me. That first time we made them was in a little house we rented on the north side of Iowa City. I think we had a single spatula that had been melted on one side, a giant Tupperware container that served as a mixing bowl, and money only for the can of pumpkin puree (and a rubber check for the rest of the ingredients). We had no griddle, and instead made the cakes, one at a time, on the small frying pan we possessed (which was warped). I don’t even remember who we cooked them for that first year, though my money is on my usual partner in crime (brother from another mother, James).

There forward, Flapjack O’ Lanterns became a part of every Halloween weekend. Friends rotated through during these nine events, some returning, some getting to work the next day on desperately making alternative plans for the next Halloween weekend. I think these cakes are pretty damn fine, but really, I wouldn’t know if they weren’t anyway. They’ve become about much more than just the cakes. Hell, they embody the very things that inspired this whole Griddler project to begin with, notably the conversations and camaraderie that occurs around them.

And now a little more history.

Tony rides shotgun for The Griddler

Tony rides shotgun for The Griddler

I’ve never taken cakes on the road, but this year our family headed east a few hours to visit some dear friends, Tony and Kate Guzzaldo, in Illinois. When Tony (pictured at right) asked if I was bringing the cake show on the road, my only thought was: I thought you’d never ask. Tony is an old college friend and roommate of mine, from a time when he had more nicknames (most of which deserve their own blocks of text entirely) than I had clean pairs of boxers. He and his wife, Kate, are two of the greatest people I know, so the idea of foisting the Flapjack O’ Lanterns upon them at long last was an excitement all my own.

So, after Tony served us dinner Friday night–a dinner he had spent all day preparing–he and I struck out for the local grocery store in search of my outstanding ingredients. He turned over his kitchen that night as I prepared batter, and again Saturday morning as I griddled my autumn offering. We all ate, and chatted, and even shared some leftovers with some friends who arrived later in the morning–a perfect milepost to an as-always great weekend with the Guzzaldos. The fact that cakes were prepared and griddled in the same kitchen Tony used to delight us with homemade pastas and pizzas all weekend was an honor The Griddler does not take lightly.

Rundown time.

Pants: We were guests in someone’s home. We have some decorum.

Planning: I plan all year, every year, for this day. And really, none of the planning has to do with the cakes. If there’s one recipe I know, it’s this one. The only real planning involved coordinating with Tony about some ingredients logistics. I also packed my spatula and griddle, as well as the measured dry ingredients for Saturday morning expediency. I prepared the cream cheese spread early, too, for the sake of minimal work on our weekend away.

Gathering: An assist from my wife again, and she came through with aplomb. I asked for cream cheese, organic, and preferably local. She found me some Wisconsin Neufchâtel at our local food co-op. Score one for awesome spouses!

Execution: The Griddler was happy to have help this weekend, and happier still that it was in the person of a dear friend. Dude rides a hell of a shotgun. Always has, really, so the flapjack assist was no surprise. Special thanks to his lovely wife, Kate, and their incubating unborn in the proverbial oven.

The only note I can think to pass along about execution is the actual griddling of the cakes. They’re quite dense, and can take some extra time to cook. Don’t expect much in the way of bubbles to flag you. Get in there with the spatula and peek instead, looking for the color of pumpkin pie (ish) before flipping.

Results: The conversation was great. I hear the cakes weren’t too shabby, either.

Crossover Potential: Extra cakes in the fridge, along with any leftover pumpkin cream cheese spread, makes for one honey of a decadent snack over coffee. So does the spread with a loaf of pumpkin bread. And Kate suggests using the spread as a cookie icing, to which I retorted: I like your moves, Ms. Guzzaldo.

The cakes recipe (for roughly 8 cakes):

  • 1.25 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp. orange peel
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp. pumpkin puree
  • Maple syrup for drizzling (if desired in addition to the spread…HIGHLY recommended)
  1. Preheat griddle to 350+ degrees (though not quite 375)
  2. Sift together the dry ingredients
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the wet ingredients
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, whisking together until well combined
And the pumpkin cream cheese spread recipe:
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Healthy pinch each of cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Mix using electric mixer until smooth; keep cold in refrigerator

Note: Cakes recipe is culled from years of my own tweaks and modifications, and I couldn’t tell you their original source if I wanted to. I don’t think they bear much resemblance to whatever that recipe was anyway. Spread recipe adapted from http://www.bhg.com/recipe/cheese/pumpkin-cream-cheese-spread/

Maple Bacon Cakes

23 Oct
Bacon cakes

Bacon cakes

What was that I was saying last week about three in a row being a streak? Yeah, I’m feeling a little cocky, got a little pancake swagger going now. Look out, world.

Saturday came late this weekend. Owing to some Saturday plans with my dad, the cakes came Sunday, and for dinner instead of breakfast. Not that pancakes for dinner are in any way foreign to this household, mind you. And given the time of day, I thought I would bust out the one recipe I was holding that seemed built for dinner.

Let me start by saying there is absolutely nothing original about loving bacon these days. It is most certainly the “in” thing. I could go on about how long I’ve loved it, about how much of it I consumed as a kid. I could tell you how my love affair never stopped, how it ran parallel to my love for cakes through my early adult years to now. But none of that would set me apart. Bacon doughnuts, chocolate covered bacon, bacon muffins–that beautiful meat has foisted itself on to any number dishes. And rightfully so.

The whole idea of mixing the bacon with the sweet used to be the dirty little secret of breakfast. “Oops, I got some syrup on my bacon” was delivered over cups of coffee with all the sincerity of a campaign speech. We hid in the closet all those years, ashamed of how delicious we found the combination of bacon with _____. Someone kicked that door down, though, and now bacon is everywhere. Including in our cakes this week.

The results are detailed below, but I do have two words for you: tread lightly. These things are ridiculously good, but equally as dangerous. They are rich beyond belief, what with the candied bacon, maple syrup cooked into the cakes themselves, and the bounty of butter at every step of the way. Make ’em big, and one is plenty. You’ll never want a salad so much in your life as after a plate of these monsters. Plan to make them on an evening like ours: Sunday with nothing on tap but some shows on DVR that ain’t going to watch themselves. By the last bite, you get that mouth-hanging-open feeling, the one where the taste still dazzles but you would just as soon let the food fall back out rather than send it to join what’s already sitting like a brick in your stomach. This recipe will make about nine cakes, which can serve anywhere from 9 to 18 people, really.

Oh, and subtract the bacon and maple syrup, and this is probably the best straight-up buttermilk pancake recipe I have ever made. Excellent cakes with all kinds of creative potential.

Pants: It was after six by the time the cakes were ready. Don’t be ridiculous.

Planning: Planning dealt mostly with the second job I took for the month leading up to these just to afford the syrup used. Seriously, though, don’t skimp on the syrup, but don’t go in blind, either. It’ll set you back a bit.

Gathering: I needed to replenish some staples, but really, most of what I needed was in the house already. I had the bacon in the freezer for quite a while, and this was just the occasion I needed to thaw it and put it to use.

Execution: A cinch. One could probably fry the bacon instead of baking it, though having the option to sugar it up on a cookie sheet is easier. Also, you cut down a bit on your grease, and considering the bacon’s role, that is probably a good thing. I tried to imagine using bacon like my grandma would have cooked in these cakes, and can’t envision tasting anything but the meat. That’s fine when the meat is flying solo, but maybe not so much here.

Results: I have hit on this plenty above, I think. Short version: Excellent, dangerous, awesome, terrible, awesome. Really, you could cut out the maple syrup drizzle into the cakes on the griddle. That or the brown sugar on the bacon. Both are independently great. Together, maybe a bit much.

Crossover Potential: Dear me…where do I start? Two cakes bookending any sandwich you can imagine, cakes by themselves with a fresh cup of mud, cakes frozen in mass quantities for months of breakfasts and inches more of waistline–the possibilities are endless. And did I mention the sandwich idea?

The cakes recipe:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (organic)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (kosher, or less if using table)
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar (organic, pure cane)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (organic, free-range)
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 4 Tbsp. butter, melted (organic, unsalted)
  • Brown sugar
  • 10 slices bacon (cured)
  • Maple syrup (organic)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet sprayed with canola oil, sprinkle with brown sugar, and bake for ~20 minutes, or until crispy. Allow to cool on a paper towel (to absorb grease) and then cut into small pieces into a bowl.
  2. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a bowl. In separate bowl, mix eggs and buttermilk. Pour wet mixture and butter into dry ingredients and whisk until barely combined, leaving medium-sized lumps in the mixture.
  4. Butter thine griddle.
  5. Using a 1/2 measuring cup, ladle batter onto griddle, sprinkle in bacon bits, drizzle with maple syrup, and flip when bubbles start to form (~3 minutes). You’ll have to be expedient with your adding of the bacon and your drizzling so as not to burn your cakes.
  6. Lightly drizzle other side of cakes with syrup and move to the warming drawer of your oven (a covered plate if you don’t have one) while you cook your others.

Buttermilk Oatmeal Cakes with Almond Syrup

15 Oct
Oatmeal Cakes

Oatmeal Cakes

They say one good Saturday of cakes is a fluke. Two, though, could be the start of a beautiful streak. (They do say that, right?) The griddle was deftly commanded once more today, marking the second consecutive week of a winning Saturday morning.

Now, with a little more long-range planning, this is the recipe I would have tried last week, moving last week’s to this week. You see, there is folding to be done with this week’s cakes, but it was light folding, at best, or perhaps more appropriately, low-stakes folding. The folding here did not carry the threat of undoing the fruits of the manual labor involved with peaking egg whites. No, this folding was more a product of keeping the batter mixed only as much as it needed to be. “Combine gently” could have worked just as well, I think. The whole preparation would have been a most proper training ground for the higher-stakes folding associated with the ricotta cakes last week. But my pancake gaze is more at my feet than on the horizon right now.

Be warned with these cakes–they’re chewy, dense, hearty. One or two and you’ll feel sated. More than that and you may well do best with a day on the couch. These cakes have that sticky comfort texture that makes you want to lie down on a warm bed of them and shotgun a glass of the almond syrup.

The best thing about this recipe was the make-ahead nature of the batter. Being able to rise and already find myself at the “preheat” stage of things was most welcome for a Saturday morning, especially following last Saturday’s sweaty, laborious morning of frantic prep. I also did the syrup the night before, and would recommend the same, though be warned–the resultant mixture will look like a science experiment in the refrigerator the next morning, what with the freakishly delineated layers of liquid matter and all. I just zapped it in the microwave for a minute, stirred with a fork, and repeated that a few times until it looked once more as it had in the pan.

One thing to keep in mind about the cakes ‘n syrup combo is the outlandish amount of butter used. If you are at all afraid of butter, this could be your worst nightmare. I, for one, love butter, and considering the relative dearth of it in last week’s cakes, I was beginning to get the shakes. I will say this–for the love of good taste everywhere, use real butter. Use it for the cakes, the syrup, and the griddle. Do not give yourself over to the sway of the low this and reduced thats of the dairy aisle. You’re not eating these daily. If you were, I could see the merits of trimming some of the fat from the ingredients. But since you’re not, submit to the splendor of real butter.

Pants: On…ish. We’ll stop there.

Planning: Very little. Owing to that independent study of folding last week, the only spot for potential hiccups was mitigated. I did have to verify just what in the world rolled oats were, and how they differed from what I had always imagined oats to be (they do not differ…and I do not possess much oats knowledge).

Gathering: An assist from my wife yet again, whose Friday dash to the store saved me a hurried lunch break at work. The ingredients lacked some of the exoticism of some of my previous trials, so even the few ingredients we needed were easy to locate. However…

At 7:00 on Friday night, I realized I was 1/4 cup short on buttermilk. This meant steeling myself once more for the outdoors after having already holed up for the night. Pants, jacket, glasses–all had to be affixed anew for a jaunt to secure a $.48, half-pint container of buttermilk. That I carried my tiny container to the checkout line with a four-pack of Guinness only added to the intrigue for my friendly cashier. Don’t judge me! I said with my eyes.

Execution: Beyond simple. The cakes, the syrup, the folding…all a snap. The only thing to arm oneself with is a long-view of things–preparation of the batter enough in advance to refrigerate overnight, but not so far in advance that some of the more volatile ingredients (eggs, butter, milk) are left with the opportunity to wield their volatility through idle times in the fridge. You dig?

Two in a row

Two in a row

Results: Terrific. As my wife mentioned after her first cake, they really sneak up on you and fill you faster than you would imagine. This recipe could easily feed 3 or 4 people. The boy was most pleased again with the cakes, and again, that was the best part for me. The syrup was a bit much for him as his sweet tooth has yet to be cut completely. But he loved the cakes. Score.

Crossover Potential: Mountain of warm cakes to nestle upon for a Saturday morning snooze. Oh, and leftover cakes with various spreads would be good, too.

The cakes recipe:

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup milk (2%, organic)
  • 1 cup wheat flour (organic)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (organic)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar (organic, pure cane)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs (free-range)
  • 1.5 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp. canola oil
  1. Combine milk and oats in a small bowl and set aside
  2. Sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt
  3. In separate bowl, whisk eggs; then add buttermilk and whisk together; finally, add vanilla extract and oil and whisk all together
  4. Add dry mixture to wet mixture and whisk briskly (whiskly?), fearing not the lumps
  5. Fold in oats/milk mixture
  6. Refrigerate overnight
  7. Arise, remove batter from fridge, and consume coffee!
  8. Preheat griddle to 350 degrees
  9. Preheat oven to 175 degrees
  10. Butter the hell out of griddle
  11. Ladle batter onto griddle using 1/3 measuring cup
  12. Watch for bubbles and flip until both sides are golden brown–roughly 1-2 minutes per side (These guys cook QUICKLY!)
  13. Keep completed cakes warm in your preheated oven while you turn the rest of that batter into cakes
And the syrup recipe:
  • 3/4 cup butter (organic, unsalted)
  • 1.5 cups sugar (organic, pure cane)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1.5 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp. almond extract
  1. In medium saucepan, melt butter, then add sugar and buttermilk
  2. Bring to a boil over medium/high heat; reduce to low boil and add baking soda
  3. Let bubble for 5-10 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken
  4. Add almond extract and simmer for a few minutes more
  5. If making ahead, prepare to reheat and remix the next day, as your ingredients will

Note: Syrup recipe from a combination of online sources. Cakes recipe adapted from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/10/health/nutrition/10recipehealth.html