Foodie Friday: Tiramisu Cake

Tomorrow we’ll be celebrating my husband’s birthday, and this year I’ve promised to bake him a tiramisu cake. Back in May, I decided to bake a tiramisu cake for our marriage anniversary because we both love tiramisu. I experimented with that cake again for Father’s Day, and now I’m confident I can get the exact results I’d like. Much of my inspiration came from Smitten Kitchen, which had the most detailed recipe out there — and the prettiest pictures, too! There are six specific parts to my version: espresso extract, espresso syrup, a genoise cake, a zabaione, the mascarpone mixture, and whipped cream. As you can tell, it’s very involved and very not conducive to a step-by-step picture post — never fear, pictures will be here, but not for each individual step and part. Let’s start with our ingredients for each part:

Espresso Extract
4 tablespoons of instant coffee or espresso powder
4 tablespoons of boiling water

Espresso Syrup
1 cup of water
2/3 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of espresso extract
2 tablespoons of Kahlua Mocha (or coffee liqueur of your choice)

3 egg yolks
1/3 cup of sugar
3/8 cup of Kahlua Mocha (or Moscato/ Marsala/ Brandy/ other spirit of your choosing)

Mascarpone Mixture
8oz tub of mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup of powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract (no imitation nonsense — the cost is the same, use the real thing!)
1 tablespoon of Kahlua Mocha (again, you can use a different spirit of your choosing — I go for a coffee flavor throughout my cake)

Whipped Cream
1 cup of cold heavy whipping cream

Coffee-flavored Genoise Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) of melted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract (again, the pure way is the right way!)
2 tablespoons of Kahlua Mocha (or other coffee liqueur of your choosing)
1 tablespoon of espresso extract
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder (okay, not orthodox in a genoise cake, but I like the little extra lift)
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Pretty intense, I know. So, let’s get down to creating this lovely round piece of heaven.

To make your espresso extract, boil the water. In small container, measure the instant coffee/ espresso powder, then pour the boiling water over it. Stir to dissolve the granules. Cover loosely and set aside.

To make your espresso syrup, heat the water and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the espresso extract and Kahlua, stirring to combine. Allow the syrup to simmer until the syrup begins to thicken. You should have over a cup of syrup reserved — of course, you could halve the recipe if you don’t enjoy the soggy, cake-y goodness that usually comes with tiramisu. We happen to love every coffee-flavored syrup-soaked bite in this house, though.

To make a zabaione, either get out your double boiler, find two pots that fit together, or get a metal bowl that will sit atop one of your pots. Put enough water into the bottom pot, but don’t put in so much that it touches the bottom of your top pot/ bowl. Heat the water. In your top part, mix the yolks and sugar until fluffy and yellow. An electric mixer really facilitates this process. Once your yolk mixture looks pale yellow and creamy, stir in the liqueur and place on top of your simmering water. Mix constantly for about 10 minutes, or until fluffy and thick like custard. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate.

To make the mascarpone mixture, whisk or use your electric mixer to combine the ingredients into a fluffy, creamy mixture. Refrigerate. Ignore the desire to eat it as is.

To make the whipped cream, pour the cold cream into a cold bowl (it’s recommended that you use a metal bowl, but I’ve had luck with plastic, too). Get your electric mixer, attach the whisk, and beat the cream until it’s about doubled in size and forms stiff peaks. Be careful not to over whip your cream, or else you will end up with butter.

To make the cake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. If you’re confident in your genoise baking skills, omit the baking powder. Set aside. Next, melt the butter and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat your eggs and sugar constantly. You’re going to want a very fluffy, airy cake batter with lots of wonderful little air pockets. Carefully pour in your flavoring ingredients while beating your egg and sugar mixture. Once your mixture looks like it’s about doubled in size, gently fold in the melted butter with a spatula. You don’t want to over mix it, or you will risk deflating all the air you’ve beaten into the batter. Then carefully fold in the dry ingredients, again being diligent not to over mix. Pour the batter into two grease cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes. I find that my oven bakes them in 20 minutes. Allow your cake layers to cool for a bit.

Still with me? We’re not finished yet. We still have to mix our filling and frosting, soak our cake layers, and assemble the beautiful thing. Get out your cocoa powder because you’re going to need that for garnishing. Here’s how we’ll do it:

Tiramisu Filling
Half the mascarpone mixture
Half the whipped cream

Gently fold together the zabaione and mascarpone mixture. Then gently fold in the whipped cream. Resistance is futile — you might as well lick the spatula. If it’s a little runny, you can whip the mixture a bit to help thicken it up.

Tiramisu Frosting
Half the mascarpone mixture
Half the whipped cream
A drizzling of espresso extract

Whip the frosting to fluffy perfection.

We’re finally ready to assemble our cake. Take the first cake layer and begin soaking it with half the espresso syrup. Be careful and patient about it — you want to have an evenly soaked cake, and you don’t want to make a sticky mess.

First soaked layer

Once you have soaked the bottom layer, spread the filling evenly across the cake layer.

Tiramisu Filling

Place your top cake layer atop the tiramisu filling. Soak the top layer with the remaining syrup.

Second soaked layer

Then spread your frosting on top of your cake, careful smoothing it down the sides of the cake.

Frosted cake

Finally, dust the top of your cake with cocoa powder. Voila! You are now ready to cut a slice and enjoy the Italian “pick-me-up!”

Tiramisu Cake!


Thankful Thursday (July 29th)

I’ve had nearly a month to spend more time with my family and get some preliminary work done on starting my own business. While the conditions of this impromptu vacation weren’t the best, the fact that we’ve been able to make things work out thus far has been a blessing. I don’t know for how much longer this “vacation” is going to last, but I’m still approaching it one day at a time — of course, with a few back up plans tucked neatly away in an electronic folder.

During this month, I haven’t worried about violating someone’s dress code — I dress in what I consider appropriate attire for the particular task. No heels or dress shoes have been required unless an interview was in the immediate future. I’ve leisurely sipped my tea while checking emails and job hunting. I’ve prepared quite a few meals for my family. I’ve relaxed on the couch when the kids were napping. I haven’t felt pressured to lay down and sleep in the middle of the night while the baby wanted to play, giggle, coo, and socialize. (For a while there, we did actually have him on a proper day/night schedule, but he’s fought his way back to staying up late, taking a late night nap, and waking up in the wee hours of the morning.) I’ve enjoyed the air conditioning and the freedom to stay inside if I don’t want to go out into the disgusting heat wave — it’s been dangerously hot, with plenty of warnings to avoid prolonged trips outside.

So while I don’t know where life is taking me exactly, I know the journey thus far has been interesting and full of learning experiences. I know I’ve been working towards making the most of what I have and utilizing my talents and skills to steer things in a favorable direction.


Mindful Monday: Pay Attention with Respect and Interest

Over at The Mindfulist they asked a very valid question: what does it mean to pay attention with respect? First let me ask you some valid questions. How often do you find yourself in a conversation with a person, watching the person nod, rolling out “uh-huh,” “yeah,” and other such fillers? How do you feel when you can identify that a person is essentially not really listening to what you’re saying? Does it make you feel disrespected, boring, and possibly annoying? Now, how many times have you been guilty of the same? You’re rushed — you have a project due, you’re late for an appointment, something — and you’d prefer the interruption to be a short as possible. Of course, this can be very detrimental in both the short and long term in many regards. Perhaps you’re ignoring or being ignored by a spouse. Perhaps you and a co-worker need to work closely on a project. In so many cases, a failure to communicate properly can destroy relationships of all kinds.

So what does it mean to pay attention with respect and interest? Simple — when you’re having a conversation with someone, actually take the time to listen thoughtfully. Actually listen to the words, the vocal inflection, the facial expressions, and the gestures. When prompted to respond, respond thoughtfully. Don’t just nod, utter “uh-huh,” or say “yeah.” Actually take the time to thoughtfully respond with respect. Show interest in the person and the conversation. Think of that person who always listens and always knows the right things to say, and then learn from that person. Taking the time to listen and pay attention can make all the difference with regards to communication. And when something’s wrong? Never hesitate to ask the people in question to clarify a situation — nothing is quite as bad as allowing a miscommunication to destroy relationships and lives, no matter how trivial the damage may seem.


Foodie Friday: Cornbread

For dinner tonight, I made some cornbread with breaded chicken and salad. Cornbread is so simple yet so delicious, and it goes so well with chicken dipped in barbecue sauce. I’m also a big fan of making it in muffin form — technically, my cornbread recipe is a muffin recipe. Despite the fact that it’s been blisteringly hot outside, a batch of cornbread definitely needed to be the star of the plate tonight.

1 cup of flourIngredients for cornbread
1 cup of cornmeal
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup of butter (or oil)
1/4 cup of sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Melt the butter (if you choose to use butter) and allow to cool. Grab a bowl and a whisk, crack open the egg, and beat it. Whisk in the cooled butter slowly or else you’ll end up with a scrambled egg in your bowl. Pour in the cup of milk while whisking. Add the sugar — it’s a wet ingredient in my book. Whisk in the cup of cornmeal until combine. Whisk in the rest of the dry ingredients until combined and smooth. See? Simple!

Cornbread batter Pour the batter into whatever you’d like — an 8″x8″ pan, a 9″x9″ pan, a muffin pan, a  mini-muffin pan, anything! You can have as much fun with this recipe as you’d like. Today I used my 9″x9″ baking pan because I was actually in the mood for nice square little pieces of cornbread. Once you’ve put the batter into the baking pan, put it into your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes for bread and 15-20 minutes for muffins. Prepare the rest of your dinner while you wait for the cornbread to bake. I cut chicken breast into small chunks, coated the chicken pieces with flour, dipped them in a barbecue sauce batter*, and covered them with bread crumbs. I fried the chicken in a mixture of olive oil and vegetable oil on medium heat, ensuring I cooked them thoroughly on both sides. My distraction patience was rewarded with a lovely cornbread.

Baked cornbread

Leave the cornbread to cool while you finish preparing the rest of your meal. Avoid the temptation to slice right into that golden brown top — it’s still too hot and needs to cool off before it can be properly cut into delicious golden squares of corny goodness. Usually about 5-10 minutes will do. Once it has cooled, go ahead and cut it into as many slices as you’d like. I chose to slice it into 12 pieces today, since I usually end up with 12 muffins. Serve up your cornbread with your desired meal, grab a glass of lemonade, and enjoy!

Yumminess*As a quick aside, the barbecue sauce we used is a homemade recipe that Brian created. I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s in it, but I can tell you that it’s seriously delicious. To make a batter out of barbecue sauce, pour about 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of sauce into a bowl, beat in an egg, whisk in enough flour (about 1/2 cup) to make a batter, and voila! Barbecue sauce batter. I used some bread crumbs to help keep add a little extra crunch because I love crunchy chicken.


Thankful Thursday: Beating Down My Door

It would seem this time around, people are beating down my door to interview me. I don’t know how that will translate into ending this period of unemployment, but I most definitely can’t complain that my information is catching attention and moving to the top of the piles. I suppose really all I needed was the encouragement — be it welcomed or not — to look outside of confines of a single academic institution for opportunities. This week I have had three job interviews scheduled, and I can’t be more grateful to know that there’s interest in my skills, experience, and knowledge.

In addition to that, I have had a freelancing gig offered to me, and I need to get everything squared away for that. My brilliant husband also created a very wonderful name and logo for my business, and I’m very excited to get that much closer to living my dream. I’m still researching market prices for the services I will be providing and determining what exactly I’d like to offer, but the pieces are falling into place.

And should life be taking us on a very new, different path right now, we have at least one home opened to us so that we can start life from scratch elsewhere and get back on our feet. I’m feeling pretty confident that even the worst case scenario at this point won’t be as scary as it could be. I’m taking it one day at a time, I’ve got plans, I’ve got deadlines, and I’m confident that I will not lose. I am remembering my emblem creating in Dr. Ulmer’s class nearly four years ago, and I don’t think I could have possibly imagined at that point in time how accurate my emblem really is.


Mindful Monday (July 19th)

Sitting here quietly listening to the piano solo net radio station while lying on the futon underneath the spinning ceiling fan, I realize I have a moment of peace. It may be a short moment of tranquility, but it is a lovely moment indeed. The breeze from the fan brushes against my face, blowing my bangs across my forehead. If I close my eyes, I can imagine the breeze is that of the ocean, calming my soul with its salty scent. I pause between key strokes to soak in the peaceful atmosphere that has settled into my living room. I hesitate to imprint these calm thoughts onto the permanence that is the Internet — nothing goes away on the Internet, I’m told. The warm mug of chamomile is now a fixture of the past, its soothing flavor still lingering on my tongue. The hour is late, the children are sleeping soundly, and thoughts of bedtime began to take center stage in my mind. At the moment, my mind is flittering among many heavy, serious thoughts. But for just this moment, life is peaceful.


Don’t You Know Who I Am?

I’ll admit it — I’ve had some pretty rough days in the past couple of weeks. Some days I’ve coped better than others, but days like yesterday? It’s all I can do to just coast through my day. I sat up thinking about things. I couldn’t shut off my mind. This happened the night before, too — come to think of it, nearly every night my typical train of thought involves this state of upheaval. It can get pretty depressing. And then, I came to a realization.

Earlier this year, I discovered that I survived a threatened miscarriage. I somehow defied the odds for a whole ten months (approximately 46 weeks). Throughout my childhood, I defied odds. When I was five, I fell back and hit my head on a sharp corner in my room. I laid down in my bed to take a nap after that fall because I felt tired. Had my parents not come in to check on me, I might not be here right now. We moved around so much throughout my childhood, and yet I still managed to graduate high school with honors and go onto my first and only choice of college. In fact, I was a fairly good kid — I got picked on for being a goody-goody! Even though I got pregnant young, I still managed to graduate college with my Bachelors. You don’t even want to know what my first apartment was like — the fears of violent assault loomed over my head every single day for nearly two and a half years of my young adulthood. I made it into a nicer apartment. That second apartment? My neighbors caused a fire that destroyed nearly every apartment in that building — except for mine. All of our stuff was safe and secure. Perhaps one of my most defining moments in life happened when I gave birth to my youngest within the confines of my own living room — even though his two older siblings had been c-section babies. The tale of this great accomplishment has circulated the Internet many times.

Don’t you know who I am?! I’m not some push-over. I’m not a wimp. I’ve clawed my way out of worse situations, and this whole messy ordeal will become nothing more than an unpleasant memory of a less than stellar time. It will become nothing more than fodder for my ambitions — ambitions to become something so much more than just an ordinary person blazing a trail to the grave. No, I’m not going out without a fight. It’s not always fun to have to fight through it, but I can do this. I have something much more important than several zeros before the decimal point on a paycheck. I have something much more than power in an influential company. I have ambition. I have determination. I have a proven track record. For crying out loud, I’m practically legendary among the circles of ICAN! People now come to me for advice on who to hire! Don’t think for one second I can’t do this. Just watch me. I will come out ahead, and I will come out a better person.


Foodie Friday: Homemade Pizza

Being a transplanted New Yorker, I have very high standards with regards to pizza. I expect nothing but the best, and more often than not I find pizza outside of The City to be quite lacking. While we have been fortunate enough to acquire the delicious pizza from Pizza Vito’s, it’s not always economical to order out. I have been perfecting my own pizza making skills for a few years now, and I can attest to how simple it is to make your own pizza from scratch. Here’s what you’ll need:

3 cups bread flourIngredients
1 tbsp yeast
1.5 tbsps sugar
3/8 cup & 3/4 cups warm water — keep separated, and make sure it’s not to hot to the touch!
3 tbsps cups olive oil
1 tsp salt

In a bowl, combine yeast and sugar. Making certain the water is not too hot (you will kill the yeast if it’s too hot), pour in the 3/8 cups of water. Whisk gently then leave it alone to proof.

Proofing the yeast

When the yeast mixture looks foamy, it has finished proofing. Be careful not to let it sit too long, lest you desire a beer-y smell in your dough.

Proofed yeast mixture
Now, there are many, many ways of doing this. Everyone has an opinion, but here’s how I do it. I drizzle in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil, pour in the teaspoon of salt, and add 1/2 cup of bread flour. Mix it together to make a “sponge” — from here you can choose to let it ferment and become a sour dough starter, or you could continue on with the process. Depending on my mood and the amount of time I have, I’ll let it hang out and ferment a bit to add some flavor. Usually, I’m more inclined to continue with my slow additions to the dough. To the start, add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 of water at a time, stirring after each addition.

Adding more flour and water

Once you’ve worked up to all of the water and 2 cups of the flour, you should have a nice, sticky dough. Add another 1/2 cup of flour or so before turning it out onto a floured surface. Basically, you want to make sure the dough isn’t going to stick to your hands and the surface rather than forming a lovely dough. Sprinkle some flour on top of your turned out dough.

Ready to knead

Now comes the fun part — kneading! For about 5 to 10 minutes, knead your dough. Add flour as needed. Keep in mind that the amount you need in the end will be contingent on the atmospheric conditions — dry or humid weather can affect the dough. Squish it. Fold it. Work air into it. You want the gluten strands to form and the dough to get nice and airy. Air pockets are a good thing!

Kneading is fun!

After you’ve kneaded your dough, form it into a ball. Grease the bowl with olive oil, or you can be lazy like me and spray the bowl with canned, sprayable oil. Put the dough ball in the center of the bowl, grease/ spray it, and cover it with a tea towel or greased/ sprayed plastic wrap.

Dough ball ready for the first rise

Put the bowl somewhere nice and comfy, preferably about a nice 80 degrees. Yeast likes warm, lovely weather. Now walk away. Leave it alone. No peeking! Your dough needs to rise and double in size for about an hour. Go for a walk. Watch some TV. Play. Watch paint dry. Shoo!

After the first rise

An hour later, your dough will have doubled in size and is ready to be reformed into a ball. Resist the urge to literally punch it down — you will deflate all of those lovely air pockets and have a lousy end result. Trust me on this one! Place the reformed dough ball back into the bowl for another 30-45 minutes and go about your business again. See? It’s pretty easy as long as you can distract yourself between the rises.

Ready for the second rise

Now that your pizza dough has risen, it’s time to get your pizzas prepped for baking. Preheat your oven to about 400 degrees F. I split the dough into two because I like traditional thinner crusted pizza. You could, of course, make a thick crusted pizza if that’s your thing — but you really should separate it. I promise you, there’s nothing as glorious as a New York style slice of pizza, flopping under the weight of gooey, delicious cheese. After separating the dough I’m a little unorthodox and roll it out with a rolling pin. You’re more than welcome to try flipping your dough around like the pros, but be careful. Pizza dough only needs a small bit of persuasion to become a horrible, messy accident.

Ready to form into pizza crust

Roll out the dough into either a nice circle or rectangle, depending on how you’d like to enjoy your pizza. Sometimes a nice Sicilian style pizza can be fun, you know. A good way to transfer your dough to the baking sheet (or paddle if you have a nice paddle and pizza stone — lucky you) is to fold it over twice gently. Place the dough on the pan and unfold it carefully. You can manually spread it out a little more if needed.

Rolled out and ready for sauce

Now poke the dough lightly with a fork to ensure the crust doesn’t puff up too much. Of course, you can skip this step if you like. I happen to like the end results with this method, so that’s what I do. Now it’s time to add some sauce of your choosing. You could make it from scratch, open up a jar and use it straight, or you could doctor up some jarred sauce. I assure you any method is just fine. Spread out the sauce on the crust to ensure even coating.

Saucy pizza!

Sprinkle a thin layer of mozzarella before adding toppings. This part is also fun because there are endless possibilities. In this particular instance*, I used pepperoni. Then add another little sprinkling of mozzarella. I like to sprinkle some “parmesan” — really, it should be called parmigiano — and parsley on top. The parm adds a little extra flavor, and the parsley looks pretty on the pizza. I figure some people sprinkle parm on their pizza right before they eat it, why not just bake the flavor into it? And the flavor is absolutely worth it.

All set to go in the oven

Switch your oven from bake to broil (or don’t). Put the pizzas into the preheated oven for 7:30 minutes. After 7:30 minutes, switch them so both pizzas cook evenly. Bake for another 7:30 minutes. Cooking times will vary based on preferences and oven efficiency. You may need more time if you want a crisper crust, but be careful.

Pizza time!

Voila! Homemade pizza. Slice that delicious pie up, and enjoy!

*Last night, I actually made pineapple pizza, but the pizza looked less than photogenic. This particular pizza was actually from a previous instance.