Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Strawberry Bars Forever

I often get asked how my husband and I stay in such great shape what with all the baking I regularly do. My secret is that much like a shark, I never stop moving. "But Kate, you're sitting down to blog right now," you say? I'm tapping my foot at about a 50 mile an hour rate. Like a bumblebee on crack, I fidget. I assume fidgeting, along with intense workouts and dogs that will riot if not walked, helps me stay in shape. I enjoy really rich desserts, but every once in a while, I just want something light and low-cal. But usually when I hear the words "healthy dessert," I either assume it's actually cardboard or that whoever is trying to pitch it lives in a magical fairy-tale land full of whimsy and is completely insane. But as it turns out, that magical fairy-tale land happened to look quite a bit like my own kitchen this week. And while I may be heavy on the crazy, I've been told I'm not certifiably insane, so just go with me on this. What if I told you that you could eat a warm, sweet, glazed dessert for under 250 calories, AND I promise it isn't cardboard? No gimmicks! I'm starting to feel a lot like a used car salesman though, so let me wrap up the pitch and show you the damn dessert already. The low-cal dessert of your sweet-tooth-loving dreams has arrived:
I'll take five.
Dripping, yes, dripping with vanilla glaze, these strawberry oat bars are next-level goodness. Very rarely does a person get to eat a delicious dessert and not hate themselves immediately following (this can't just be me, but I am crazy, so who knows). Upon consumption, you have to remind yourself that feeling like a worthless sack of empty calories with lost Olympiad dreams simply isn't necessary! What I also love in a dessert is when it can double as breakfast (I am but a simple human). I've shared the merits of breakfast pie and breakfast cake before, but this is actually an acceptable breakfast because it has oatmeal in it. Although I will always argue the line between pie and turnover is thin and should be crossed, oatmeal is pretty damn normal where breakfast is concerned. Think of this as fully-constructed overnight oats. Baked for your taste buds' pleasure.
I have so much leftover oatmeal. I guess I could eat it for breakfast...but bacon exists, so yeah...
If you're not totally sold on the idea of a healthy dessert that's actually delicious, one, you're really hard to please and I feel sorry for the people that love you, and two, what if I told you that you already have everything you need to make these in your kitchen? Because I did. And I go through strawberries like, well, someone who really likes strawberries. A lot. So give your pantry a peruse and gather up:
  • 1 cup Quaker Old Fashioned Oats (not the mushy quick-cook kind)
  • 3/4 cup All Purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 6-7 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 16 strawberries, diced into quarters
Start by preheating the oven to 375 and line an 8x8 round or square pan with Parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, salt, and ginger together. Once combined, add in the melted butter and mix until all ingredients are damp. In a small, separate bowl, mix together the cornstarch, lemon juice, and sugar and set aside.
Press half of the crumb mixture into your prepared pan.
Top with the chopped strawberries. Then take the bowl of lemony sugar and pour over all the berries.

And finish off by sprinkling the rest of the crumb mix on top.
Bake for 40 minutes, until the top layer is golden brown and your house smells like brown sugar heaven. I was nearly drooling by the time these were done...Pavlov would've had a field day with me. Let cool on a rack for 10-20 minutes before placing (while still in the pan) into the fridge or freezer to fully cool and set. I placed into the freezer for a half an hour.
Which was really hard because, loooook at how yummy and golden.
I mean really, now you're just showing off, oat bars. You're not allowed to look as delicious and drool worthy as a cake.
Carefully, very, very carefully, remove your fully cooled strawberry oat bars from the pan (if you care about presentation). Clearly, I do because ugly photos means no likes on Facebook, and that makes me a sad panda. I found it best to take a sharp knife around the edge of the pan to separate any sticky areas, and then used the knife to lift out one corner so I could grab on to the Parchment paper and just slide it out on to a plate. It sounds complicated because it is. There was a lot of  low, hushed cursing at this point and prayers to several deities, but the dessert made it in one piece since it was a little frozen. Had I not needed presentation photos for some greedy jerks that read my blog...have I told you thanks for reading lately? My heart, much like my strawberry bars, is slightly frozen, so I'm not great with the gratitude.
Because without glaze, this is just breakfast food.
Glaze. There are few things in life that glaze can't make better. Bad day? Put some glaze on your pie. Put some glaze on your carrots. Put some glaze on your rolls. I'd put glaze on top of frosting if I wasn't positive it would give me diabetes. Simply gather up a small bowl, half a cup of powdered sugar, one teaspoon of vanilla extract, and one tablespoon of milk. Mix your ingredients together and get ready to drizzle, baby.
Pretty sure this is the definition of food porn.
At this point, you're ready to eat. Sliced into 8 larger bars, that's only 230 calories per bar. I know. Seems too good to be true. Certainly you're about to eat some cardboard with glaze on top of it. But on a scale of one to Ryan Lochte, I'm not even lying a little, not even lying a Lochte. Heat up your bar in the microwave so things are ooey gooey warm, and you will not be disappointed. The strawberry is a very versatile fruit. So versatile, in fact, you forget you're basically eating oatmeal for dessert because paired with the berries, glaze, and wonderful brown sugar, you've got guilt-free sweets for days! Or for a few days if you have to share...which is unfortunate. Because I promise you once you get a bite of these bars with their tart crunch and silky vanilla glaze, you're gonna want to keep these gems hidden. But I find if you tell people it's a low-cal, healthy dessert, they really do look at you like you're crazy and reach for the ice cream over your magical fantasy treat that only exists in fairy-tale land. They don't have to know it's real, but I can guarantee you one look at these bars and the only thing they won't believe is that they actually have redeeming nutritional value. But I'm okay with people thinking I'm insane if it means I get more dessert to myself. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
It's...berry...delicious. Second blog in a row ended on a terrible pun. How oat-terly terrible.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Orange You Glad I Bake?

When I was a wee child, I played soccer. I didn't so much play as I did sign up to get free orange slices at halftime. I mean, clearly I didn't join because I have a natural inclination for the sport. I have the coordination of a baby giraffe and a drunk toddler all wrapped up in one wobbly package. But damn if I didn't love those orange slices. I've always been a fan of fruit, seeing as it is the natural dessert of the food world. Bless the person who came up with fruit and dessert fondue. I remember in my youth my mom used to melt chocolate Symphony bars and dip strawberries in them to get us to eat anything other than McDonald's apple pies for dessert. Although, looking back, she probably also made this dessert because children drive you crazy, and every once in awhile you need to indulge in some really good chocolate to cope. She has also always been a fan of chocolate and orange combined together. I was introduced to the orange Milano cookie by my mother. I don't care who you are, when you bite into an orange Milano you get the distinct impression of what it must have felt like to be Italian nobility: "Servant--tell chef I require a dessert that has both chocolate and cream, but I must be able to eat it with my fingers without making any mess at all."  Talk about the good life. I'm still a huge fan of any flavor Milano cookie, but the orange will always reign supreme. I decided I needed to take this love to the next level, so naturally that means baking it into cake form. Say ciao! to the orange chocolate Milano cake, named as such for its shockingly identical taste...
Brown and orange, not just for the five remaining Cleveland Browns fans.
Like most of you, I've spent the last week and half living and breathing all things Olympics. I wonder how long synchronized swimming routines take to master and what it must feel like to be able to get your entire body perfectly inline with someone else's. I've yet to even master synchronized walking with my own two legs, so things like diving, swimming, and gymnastics leave me feeling relatively underwhelmed by my existence and generally concerned I may well step off a curb wrong and simply fall over dead one day. I was not blessed with a streamlined physique and proclivity for athletics. I was blessed with the ability to bake my ass off though, and I feel like this is worthy of a medal of some sort. Or at least a hearty thumbs up. And I can guarantee you that if you make this orange chocolate Milano cake, people will want to laud you with medals, well wishes, and for two seconds forget people with superhuman abilities exist (looking at you, Ledecky. There's only room for one Katy in this blog).
This is what a medal podium looks like in the baking world.
I searched high and low for the perfect orange chocolate cake recipe, and I was relatively shocked that Pinterest offered me nary a recipe up to my standards. It's like one of those moments when you Google something relatively simple and yield no results. I managed to quell the confusion and decided to go full Martha on this cake and just do it my damned self. Insider trading aside, she's a pretty big baking inspiration. To make my orange chocolate Milano cake, you'll need:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour, plus 2 TBS
  • 4 TBS Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 TBS Hershey's unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg at room temp
  • 1/2 cup of milk at room temp
  • 1/4 cup veggie or canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 TBS pure orange extract
  • 1/2 cup nearly boiling water
While it's a lot of ingredients, everything falls together with nice ease. You can use a 9x9 or 8x8 circular or square pan for this recipe. Just be sure to grease the hell out of the pan. I even put down Parchment paper first and greased that since this is a very dense cake.

Preheat the oven to 350. I only have one giant mixing bowl in our what I call "somewhat" furnished condo (seriously, what furnished kitchen doesn't come with a pasta strainer), so make do with what ya got. Dump all the dry ingredients together and whisk until well incorporated. Then add in the egg, milk, veggie oil, and extracts and blend well. Finish off by adding in the hot water (carefully) and mixing.
So smooth. So dreamy. Like the Ryan Lochte of cakes.
Pour into your prepared baking pan. This cake will rise a bit, but it will not spill out of an 8x8 pan, I promise. It took my cake 30 minutes to finish baking throughout, but if you use a 9x9 pan, it will probably take less, so start checking for doneness (spell check doesn't believe this is a word) around 25-28 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before using an angled spatula to ensure your edges are not sticking to the pan before removing to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
I am also sans cooling rack, so this went on my cake round and directly into the freezer for 45 minutes. I do recommend freezing before crumb coating.
When we finally get to Florida and I can unpack my entire kitchen, you'll hear my sobs of happiness from a ten mile radius...especially when I'm reunited with my stand mixer. I apologize profusely to any of you who have tried to make my buttercream frosting with a bowl and hand mixer; it is not for the faint of heart.
But you're gonna have to do it again..
This makes a large enough amount of frosting that you could get fancy and torte your cake and fill the layers with frosting. I thought about it, but since I'm trying to have some semblance of healthy desserts in my life, I opted to skip the inch-thick additional layer of frosting in the middle of the cake. Trust me, it is still delicious enough without it. So to make enough frosting for the cake and for you to shamelessly shovel several spoonfuls into your mouth for taste testing purposes, you need:
  • 1/2 cup of softened butter (1 stick)
  • 1/4 cup of Hershey's Cocoa Powder
  • 1/4 cup of Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa Powder (if you want an even lighter chocolate flavor, omit this and use 1/2 cup of the regular powder instead, but trust me when I say you want the dark cocoa powder)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 1 tsp pure orange extract
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 5 tablespoons of milk 
Cream the butter until fluffy, then add in the cocoa powders, extracts, two cups of powdered sugar, and two tablespoons of milk. Blend well, make a huge mess with your hand mixer, curse the life you took for granted that had a stand mixer in it, scrape the bowl, add in the remaining two cups of sugar and three tablespoons of milk, and realize cake baking can get pretty emotionally draining outside your normal kitchen.

Also realize you've been tricked into a crappy photo montage.
Crumb coat your cake once it is fully cooled; once again, I do recommend freezing this cake because it is extremely moist, so even frosting a crumb coat might be tricky. Slather a nice layer of crumb coat on your cake, throw back into the freezer for thirty minutes, and longingly gaze upon the bowl of frosting.
Or you could be more productive, gathering an orange, zester, knife, and fitting a piping bag with a 1M tip. Zest a bit of the orange before cutting it for garnish. Let the zest sit out to air dry for easier handling later.
Messy, rustic, chic, all the same.
You can smooth this frosting using the Viva paper towel trick, but I wanted to make it swirly since it was so nice and creamy. I applied my second layer of frosting over the entire cake with a small angled spatula and then came back over every inch of cake with it while swirling the spatula in wavy S patterns. I then took my remaining frosting and loaded it into the piping bag. I simply topped the cake with large, mounded stars, but you could do large shells or rosettes as well. Any of them would be pretty!

But much like me in high heels, these large, mounded stars make this single-layer cake look even taller.
I finished up my decorating by dusting the top of the cake with orange zest and a couple small slices of oranges. You could get really fancy and candy orange slices to top the cake with, but that takes two hours, and I was busy wondering what the actual rules for Olympic men's field hockey were and why everyone that plays this sport is ridiculously attractive, so I already had a full day.
This. cake. Orange my God (surprisingly kept the orange puns to a minimum in this blog. What a navel  novel idea). It is rich. It is moist. It tastes exactly like an orange Milano cookie. So to answer the question, yes, it is possible to make an orange Milano even better because you can turn it into cake. You could even garnish this cake with orange Milanos to have some sort of cake-cookie inception situation happening. This yields 10 slices of cake with each slice ringing in at just under 450 calories. I know, not light or healthy by any means, but I really did feel like an Italian noble while I ate it, so my waistline is just going to have to deal with it. After feeling so inferior while watching the Olympics, I deserved five minutes of feeling better than everyone who doesn't eat cake. I may not know the sweet taste of athletic victory, but I do know exactly how good it feels to devour chocolate orange Milano cake, so in your face, coordinated people of the world. If competitive cake eating ever becomes a thing, I'm bringing home the gold. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Not trying this cake would be a pith-y. Get it? What an a-peeling pun. Okay, I'm done, I swear.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Dessert and Brunch Are Essentially the Same Thing Anyway.

So it's been awhile. Ever since Bakefest 2016 at the beginning of July, we had to play the "we're moving, so everything in the pantry must GO" game and I had nothing to bake. I've literally never had so much ramen in so many different ways before in my life. I cringe every time I hear a crinkle wrapper opening. Too soon. But now that we've settled into our long-term temporary abode (this is not an oxymoron if you're in the military) in the actual Land of Enchantment portion of New Mexico, I finally had the chance to go grocery shopping and NOT at a Walmart. You know you've been outside of civilization for too long when entering a real grocery store makes you so happy you almost cry. I've gone from no Targets to THREE. I've gone from no Chickfila to one that is two minutes away. I've gone from cow poo smell and desolate wasteland (think Mad Max) to mid afternoon rain and mountains. I'm, dare I say, happy. Aside from the soul-crushing fact that Blue Bell ice cream is absent from Albuquerque. Call me Icarus, thinking I could fly that close to the sun and have it all. Well, I may not be able to have Blue Bell until November, but dammit, I can still bake.
Where there's an oven, there's a Kate.
These little beauties are blueberry crumble bars. Not to be confused with blueberry cobbler because blueberry crumble bars are a handheld item. This is really one of the only differences, I suppose. But I've always wondered if there was any way to have cobbler like everywhere and anywhere I go, so I've solved a longstanding personal problem with this recipe. These can work excellently for brunch or as a dessert. You can top them with ice cream to make them absolutely divine, but people might judge you if you starting eating ice cream at 10:30 a.m. ...and yet they're perfectly okay with you getting loaded on champagne. It's a fickle world we live in, people.
New kitchen, same crappy photos!
It takes longer for these bars to bake than it does to pretty much quite literally throw them together. I actually had to go out and buy most of my ingredients since we showed up to our townhouse with a box full of cereal and pretty much nothing else in the way of food, but you've probably got most of what you need. Gather up:
  • 3 cups of flour
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 cup of butter (COLD)
  • 1 egg
  • Fresh blueberries (I used 1 lb, feel free to use 2 for extra goodness)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
Start by greasing an 8x11 or 9x13 pan and preheating the oven to 375. Fun fact! Our new place has a gas oven/stove, and I forgot that it always smells like the house might explode when you cook with them. Good times.
It kind of looks like cornbread at this point.

 In one bowl, mix the flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Cut the butter into small pieces and then use two forks to incorporate the butter. This is a really obnoxious process, but our furnished place didn't come with a pastry cutter (I know, right? Don't they know who I am?). Add in the egg and blend...things will be very thick and kinda crumbly...hence the name "crumble" bar. 
You missed my smartassery.
Press half the batter into the bottom of your greased dish. I used an 8x11 dish (because it was all our house came with. Recurring themes...). But this yields really thick bars, and I like more dessert for the punch. If you use a 9x13 pan, you'll probably need to use 3/4 of the batter but the bars will be thinner.
If you eat enough blueberries, will your skin turn blue? These are my deep thoughts.
Take your remaining half a cup of sugar, the cornstarch, and the lemon juice and whip into a thick paste. Fold in the blueberries and really make sure they all get coated.
But like, how many blueberries would it actually take to turn your skin blue?
Dump your blueberry mix on top of the batter mix. Use a spoon to even out the blueberries. You're gonna want an even distribution of crust to berry. Trust me. I'm a professional. Or something.
Can you get blueberry poisoning? Because that would probably happen before your skin turned blue.
Take the remaining batter mix and press it on top of the blueberry layer. I honestly had a handful or two leftover. You want enough to cover the berries but not so thick a layer that it won't brown up on top without burning the bottom crust layer.
Because daaaamn it looks good all nice and browned.
Baking time will vary depending on the size of the pan you use. With the 8x11, I baked for 45 minutes and broiled for 5 to brown the top crust. You'd probably need to reduce baking time 5-10 minutes in a 9x13, but still broil to get the crust golden. Now, the hard part: put in the fridge for several hours to cool. I wanted dessert and fast after going for so long without baked goods, so this went into the freezer for two hours to set.
Totally worth it.
Now, here's the shocking part: one of these little bars will ring in at only 300 calories. Not terrible in the realm of dessert, especially since I know ways of making one slice of cake run you nearly 900. Gluttony, thy name is Kate. But with Florida really looming on our horizon now, I must unfortunately actually reel in the old sweet tooth. The great thing about these bars is that they are nice and sweet while not breaking the old calorie bank. Until you "Kate them up" and add ice cream, anyway. The first night we had these, we decided that for future consumption to warm them up in the microwave for 30 seconds to make them ooey gooey in the middle, which was a total win. But then we also decided a scoop of homemade vanilla from Blue Bell would make these taste absolutely heavenly. Subsequently, I spent the following day running around every store I could think of frantically searching for Blue Bell. I got really twitchy. And then really sad when the cashier at the commissary told me Blue Bell isn't sold out here anymore. I died a little when I placed a carton of Breyers in my cart. It made do, and I was reminded with each scrumptious bite that complaining about ice cream is a problem I'll gladly take after living for over five years in an area that sanctimoniously crushed souls and enjoyed it. Now excuse me while I go enjoy that mountain view some more while bopping up and down like an overeager toddler on sugar because I've earned it. 'Til next time my fellow eaters!
Ultimately, still delicious. But you better believe we're trying this recipe again when we return to the promised land with Blue Bell. Why yes, I am so Texan it hurts. How did you know?