Peppermint Chocolate Layer Cake with Peppermint White Chocolate Buttercream Icing

Rich chocolate cake stacked high with layers of Peppermint White Chocolate Buttercream Icing and finished off with more buttercream, chopped up candy canes, and peppermint bark

I hope everyone had a relaxing Christmas Holiday, things are settling back down around the homestead and the marathon cookie baking and decorating has come to an end. Now that we’re heading into the New Year, things are also calming down at work and I should be back to having consistent days off which will hopefully allow the blogging schedule to fall back into place.

This week’s recipe came about because I was asked to bring a dessert for Christmas dinner.  I’ve been intrigued (read obsessed) with MilkBar’s layer cakes (and their corn cookie and crack pie). The gang over at MilkBar always seem to come up with these fanciful flavor combinations for their cakes and they have a distinct visual style with their unfrosted sides. It’s been ages since I’ve baked a layer cake, so I thought it would be kind of fun to try my hand at building a MilkBar style towering marvel.

Over the years via interviews and various cooking segments, Christina Tosi (the genius behind MilkBar) has shared how she goes about designing and assembling these cakes with the cake itself, the frosting and a textural element as the basic components. In this case because of the holiday I opted for crushed candy canes and crumbled peppermint bark for my textural elements. I also decided to use peppermint oil rather than peppermint extract, because it provides an intense wallop of peppermint flavor. You can certainly use peppermint extract, it just takes a lot more extract to provide the same intensity of flavor and that will impact the texture of the frosting. I was able to find food grade peppermint oil at a specialty shop, but you should be able to find it easily enough on the interwebs.

As it turns out, I must have given away our cake pans when we moved from NJ to CA. So I had to go out and buy new cake pans. I opted for 7″ inch springform pans figuring that the springform would come in handy for assembly, transport and unveiling. I lucked out and was able to find 3 identical pans at Homegoods.

There’s basically three stages to creating this cake, first its the baking of the cake, then making the buttercream and then the last part is the assembly of the cake itself. The whole process took about 8 hours, which includes the time the cake had to chill in the fridge so the icing could set up and help hold the.cake together so It could be transported to its destination.

Part 1…the cake

Ingredients

  • 3 cups AP flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint oil
  • 8 oz. melted extra dark chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 8 tsp extra dark cocoa

Place a clean glass or stainless steal bowl over a pot of lightly boiling water to make a double boiler. Break the chocolate into small chunks and place into the bowl, stir until all the chocolate has melted. Set aside to let cool. While the chocolate is cooling, assemble the rest of the cake ingredients. In a large bowl, combine, flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cocoa and set aside. In another bowl, mix the oil, water, sour cream, vanilla extract, peppermint oil and eggs lightly until combined then slowly pour into the dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined by hand or with an electric mixer. Slowly mix in the melted chocolate. Divide batter evenly between 3 prepared 8″ cake  pans and bake in an oven preheated to 350 for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Because I used smaller pans and filled them to about half full, the cake took closer to an hour to bake for me. Remove from the oven to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then remove from the pans and let cool completely before icing.

Part 2….the Icing

Ingredients

  • 1lb unsalted butter (softened and room temperature)
  • 12 oz white chocolate chips
  • 1lb powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp food grade peppermint oil
  • 2 TBS corn syrup
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream

Use a double boiler or microwave to melt white chocolate chips and set aside to cool. Once the white chocolate has cooled but is still liquid, whip butter in a large bowl or stand mixer with whisk attachment on high speed until the butter turns pale yellow. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and add vanilla extract and peppermint oil and whisk on medium speed until flavoring is incorporated. With the mixer on low, slowly drizzle in the white chocolate and add the corn syrup*. Turn the mixer off and scrap down the sides. Add ⅓ of the powder sugar and turn the mixer on to low, mix until the powered sugar is thoroughly incorporated, turn off the mixer and scrap down the sides between each addition. Continue until all the powdered has been added. You should hear the motor of the mixer slow down. Now gradually start adding the heavy whipping cream. Your looking for a nice spreadable/pipable texture that’s not too loose. The icing should be airy but still hold a peak so you may not need all the cream.

Part 3….Assembly

Some assembly required. A springform pan and a sheet of clear vinyl hold the cake together during assembly.

 

  • large spoon or piping bag with large tip to apply icing
  • 1 cake pan
  • 1 cake board
  • a 10″ wide strip of acetate of clear vinyl.
  • clear tape
  • crushed candy canes
  • broken up pieces of peppermint bark

Cut the acetate of vinyl so that the length is equal to the circumference of the cake pan with 1″ overlap. The acetate/vinyl is what will allow you to build up the layers of the cake.  Level all three cakes, crumble the tops and set aside, you’ll use them to form the bottom layer of the cake.

Place the cake board at the bottom of the cake pan, then form a cylinder with the acetate/vinyl and place it into the cake pan, making sure that the cylinder is snug against the sides of the cake pan. Tape the top and bottom of the cylinder.

Spread a thin layer of icing on the cake board and pack the crumbled up cake into the bottom of the cake pan and top with a layer of buttercream. I find that its easier to use a piping bag for this rather than trying to spread with a spoon. Sprinkle the buttercream with crushed up candy canes and peppermint bark. Continue layering cake, buttercream and candy until get to the top layer. Frost the top layer and sprinkle with more candy canes and peppermint bark. Place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the cylinder and place in the fridge to chill for at least 6 hours or overnight. This will allow the frosting to firm up which will help keep the cake together.

To serve, tip the cake onto its side and remove the cake pan, keeping a hand on the cake board so that it stays in place, turn the cake back up upright and place it onto a cake stand or plate. Cut the tape and remove the vinyl/acetate cylinder.

Enjoy….

* The corn syrup is necessary for texture and to help stabilize the frosting. Honey or agave will not substitute in this case because they’ll solidify and turn gritty when the cake is chilled.

Holiday Hiatus

Just letting you all know that we are going on a little Holiday season break here at itstimefordinner.com. We will be back the beginning of the year with all new content. In the meantime, check out my Holiday Treat Series. You’ll find the link to all my past Holiday Treat recipes and videos from years past, which I hope will  inspire your Holiday baking.

Happy Holidays and I’ll see you in the New Year.

Christmas Cookies 2018

This weeks post is going to be short and sweet. No pun intended. I’m in the midst of baking and decorating this years batch(es) of Christmas Cookies. So, I’m just going to share my favorite recipe for cut-out style sugar cookies and some tips to get the best results and then get back to decorating.

So the first thing to note is that I use a shortbread recipe versus a tradition sugar cookie recipe. I prefer the shortbread for a few reasons, there’s fewer ingredients, its simple and consistent and because it doesn’t have any leaveners in it, it reduces the likelihood that cookies will puff up and spread out.  Secondly, make sure to chill the dough for at least an hour before rolling and try to roll the dough between ¼” and ½” thick. Lastly, once you cut out the cookies and lay them out on a baking sheet, chill them for 30 minutes. These steps will help prevent the cookies from spreading out too much and give you a nice smooth top for decorating.

Recipe

3 ½ cups sifted AP flour
1 ¾ cup / 3 1/2 sticks softened room temp unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract or flavoring of you choice

In a large bowl or stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until doubled in volume and becomes a pale yellow. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and add the extract and salt and mix for a few moments. Gradually stir in the flour. Blend on low until flour is well incorporated. The dough may still be crumbly or even loose and that’s ok. Just make sure there are no visible clumps of flour, especially at the bottom of the bowl. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and clean off paddle.

Turn dough out onto waxed paper and form into a 1-2 inch thick disk. Wrap in wax paper and place into a zip top bag and chill in the fridge for at least one hour. To bake, take dough out of the fridge and let warm up for about 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325F, roll out dough on a board dusted with powdered sugar. For cut outs I’ll stick to rolling the dough out to between ¼ and ½ inch thick and use a 3” cutter. I’ll yield about 3 dozen cookies. Place cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until the bottom of the cookie starts to turn golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Cookies need to be completely cooled before decorating.

If you don’t have cookie cutters, no worries. Just use a really sharp knife and cut into bars also jelly jars make decent cutters in a pinch. As for decorating: lightly coat the cookie with corn syrup and apply sanding sugar or sprinkles or dip into white candy melt and use edible markers.

 

 

Coquito – aka Puerto Rican Egg Nog

So what the heck is Coquito? Well, its a popular drink in Puerto Rico and with the Puerto Rican diaspora. Its a coconut based rum drink that’s seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg similar to egg nog. Coquito iss popular during the Christmas Season and is frequently given as a gift to loved ones, friends and co-worker

Some claim that its roots stem from Spanish sailors that were familiar with egg nog and decided to use the local coconuts to make a similar drink. I personally (based on zero research) think that its probably a coconut based boozy version of  turtle-nut horchata which is something that Spanish sailors were familiar with and  some home-sick sailors probably thought the fatty richness of coconut would be a good substitution for rich, meaty, turtle-nuts.

Coquito doesn’t require any specialized equipment to make, though I’d suggest a funnel which makes getting the fairly thick drink into narrow mouthed bottles.  It’s fairly common for folks to save up all their rum and wine bottles through the year to use for their coquito gifting. TJ Maxx (who had some for $1.99 the other day) , Micheals and 2nd hand shops are my go to for looking for nice flip top bottles for gifting.

Recipe

1 can full fat coconut milk (preferably Goya)

1 can Creme de Coco such as Coco Lopez

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 can evaporated milk

¾ cup white Puerto Rican Rum such as Don Q*

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground clove

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp ground nutmeg

1 cinnamon stick

Mix all the ingredients together in a pitcher or bowl and then divide amongst bottles. This recipe will make enough to fill 1 750ML bottle with a a little left over. Served over ice with a cinnamon stick for garnish.

*my preference is for Don Q because it is a true Puerto Rican Rum from Ponce, PR. Though Bacardi is labeled as such and widely used for Coquito, it is a Cuban rum and is just distilled in Puerto Rico for the North American market.

Post holiday leftovers (repost)

Pot Pie

One of the challenges we have after a holiday is a lot of leftovers. I get bored with eating the same thing over and over again. Having a way to change up those leftovers keeps things fresh and avoids waste.

An approach I take to deal with the leftovers is to make pot pies. This works great for just about any type of roast whether its roast beef, a roasted turkey etc. The one pictured above uses ham. This is also a great way to use up leftover veggies, like those from crudité platter or even roasted vegetables.

If I’m really feeling like taking the easy road, I’ll use canned cream of chicken soup that I’ll dilute with chicken or vegetable stock as the binder for the filling, more often than not I’ll use a mornay sauce. Once you’ve heated up the binder, add the raw vegetables to the binder and cook until softened. Roasted veggies and meat will warm through in the oven. I try to have about ½ cup of meat and ¾ cup of veggies per person. You can then spoon everything into a casserole dish or into a deep dish pie plate. Top with the crust then bake until the crust is cooked. Though I prefer to use individual ramekins for pot pies rather than large casseroles. I’ll place the pot pies in a 375ºF oven for about 15 minutes so the filling is warmed through.

I’ll top the warmed up pot pies with biscuit dough. I’ll split the raw biscuit dough in half, place on top of the ramekins. I’ll butter and season the top of the biscuit and return them to the oven. Bake until the biscuit is fully cooked and has a nice golden top. It usually takes about 10 to 12 minutes.

Secrets to a stress free Thanksgiving Dinner

It’s hard to believe but Thanksgiving is this Thursday. There is not going to be an actual recipe this week as I’m planning and prepping for T-day. But I thought I’d share with you how I plan for a stress and drama-free Friendsgiving.

The best advise I can share is plan plan and plan ahead. I start deciding on what I’m going to prepare in late September. Now this may seem odd, because you may assume that the menu is already decided with it being Thanksgiving after all. Well not so fast. I actually don’t care for Thanksgiving food it’s not something I grew up eating and as I’ve mentioned in past posts on the subject, I’m not a fan of turkey. In fact I just cooked my first whole turkey in 30+ years of cooking this past summer.

Ok so back to the planning. I decide my menu, Then I start to send out reminders to my friends and co-workers via the social medias letting them know if they don’t have other plans they’re welcome to come over. I also set the expectation if they’re unfamiliar with how Thanksgiving works here that I don’t serve typical Thanksgiving food. That way if they have visions of that perfect Rockwellian Thanksgiving dinner they’re not gonna find it here. The other reason we prefer a more casual non-traditional menu and meal is our dining room only sits about 8 comfortably we just don’t have the room for a large formal sit down dinner.

So now that I’ve got people thinking ahead about what their plans may be I start making a shopping list. I frequently have vegan and vegetarian friends over so I start to think about what menu items I can make vegan as well as entree ideas that are fully vegan.  This year we’re going to have BBQ. I’m going to smoke a pork shoulder and a couple of turkey breasts and grill a couple of sides of salmon. For vegan options I’m going to make a dish with butternut squash, corn and black beans in the style of bbq baked beans.

When I grocery shop starting back when I first plan my menu through the weekend before Thanksgiving, I will buy bits and pieces for the meal and store them in the pantry and freezer and cross the items off my list as I go. This prevents us from blowing our entire grocery budget for the month on a single meal and allows me to spread out purchasing the more expensive items. The week leading up to Thanksgiving I will try to grocery shop in the early morning just as the grocery store opens or late at night just before closing. This allows me to avoid the crazy lines. Alternately, try home-delivery its a bit more expensive but if you don’t want to deal with the crowds its a life saver.

If you are planning to roast a large cut of beef or pork or a turkey and have purchased it frozen or been storing it in the freezer like I have, remember that to properly defrost a bird or large roast it takes 4 hours per pound in the refrigerator. so if you have a 20lbs bird thats almost 5 full days to defrost, which means you have to start thawing that bird the Friday or Saturday before turkey-day. So make sure you’ve cleaned out the fridge and have enough space to properly thaw a large bird or roast.

I plan to brine my pork and turkey and cook them the day before Thanksgiving so I actually need to push my thawing schedule ahead by 2 days. This will make sure that the pork and bird are thawed on Tuesday so I can brine them for at least 24 hours before I go to roast and smoke them.

Another area that becomes a problem when cooking for the holidays is leveraging limited cooking space and oven access. One way I avoid the fight for the oven is that I don’t usually make a Thanksgiving dessert. I will take advantage of store bought options or ask my guests to bring desserts. The other advantage of this is I don’t have to have those items compete for fridge storage. I also invested in a turkey roaster and take advantage of my grill and smoker for additional cooking options. Granted the fact I live in Southern California does make that option easy. But the turkey roaster is pretty inexpensive and big box stores often have them on sale this time year. You should be able to pick one up for under $50. Also some models have an insert for warming trays so you can use them like chaffing dishes.

Since we’re doing bbq, I decided that I will do cold sides like salad, Cole slaw and elote. This way I don’t have to worry about reheating  a bunch of dishes for service. I also plan to use the turkey roaster and smoker to cook my pork and turkey. This will leave my stove top and oven free for other uses. I plan to smoke the pork shoulder the day before. Then I’ll heat it with bbq sauce just before service.

Well that’s my $.02. I hope ya’ll have a great holiday surrounded by your loved ones and good food.

All Purpose BBQ Rub

  • 1 ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup coarse sea salt
  • 3 TBS Spanish Paprika
  • 3 TBS Ground Cayenne
  • ¼ garlic powder
  • ¼ onion powder
  • 3 TBS dry mustard
  • 3 TBS freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and store in an airtight container

Its the most wonderful time of the year….Tamale Season

Freshly steamed pork tamale with salsa verde

It’s hard to believe its November already and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. One of my favorite things about this time of year and into December is the abundance of tamales. Its not uncommon here in Southern California to be approached in a grocery store parking lot or along the streets by someone selling home-made tamales. I have no qualms about buying these tamales and hopefully soon the city of LA and all of LA County will make it easier for street vendors to get permitted and be able to vend legally.

If you ever had a chance to watch tamales being made by hand you know that its a labor intensive process. Which is why people tend to only make them once a year.  Its definitely something that requires some planning and prep and you can’t reasonably expect to be done in a couple of hours. Heck, just soaking the corn husks takes a couple of hours.

The first stage of making the tamales is to prepare the filling.I’m partial to pork filling with a nice tomatillo salsa. You’ll find my Chili Verde recipe here. Its important to save the cooking liquid from the pork but strain the solids out and season it well with salt. You’ll want to use this as the broth for your masa.To make my filling,  I shred the pork from the Chile verde and then add chicharrone molido (cooked pork belly that’s been ground) and my green salsa and test for seasoning adding salt and pepper as needed then I set the filling aside while I prepare my corn husks and masa.

The masa is in my mind the most important part of the tamale. I blandly seasoned masa means bland boring tamales even if you have a really flavorful filling. So its really important to season your stock well and season your masa. The ratio for masa is 3 parts Maseca, 2 parts stock and 1 part fat, then a good amount of salt and 11/2 TBS baking powder. I prefer lard or bacon fat over shortening because I feel its more flavorful and since a tamale is only as good as its masa we want to take advantage of any opportunity to add flavor.  If you have a butcher or a really good Latin market, you should be able to buy unfiltered pork lard (aka manteca de cerdo).

Consequently, if you live near a really good Latin market you can also find pre-made masa for tamales. I feel no shame in using Northgate Gonzalez‘* prepared masa. Its well seasoned and consistent and no matter how you may try homemade masa isn’t. Northgate sells masa by the pound so you need to have an idea of how many tamales you hope to make and the size. The downside is that its definitely more expensive to buy the pre-made. It’s on sale this time of year and I think I paid $.99 per pound. You can buy a 5lbs bag of maseca for a couple of bucks and you can use it for other things.

Here’s what you need for tamales

  • Masa
  • chile verde filling
  • corn husks or foil to wrap tamales (if you use corn husks you’ll need to soak them in hot water for about 90minutes to soften them up so they’re easier to work with
  • A large deep pot with a lid so you can steam the tamales

Here’s a video to show you how to make masa followed by another video demonstrating how to fill, roll and tie the tamales.

And remember the next time your tia, abuela or co-worker is sharing their tamales know that a lot of time, love and work went into them.

*Northgate also sells sweet masa for sweet tamales as well as Guatemalan style masa. I’m partial to the Anaheim Northgate off of Lincoln and State College. Its huge and I can do all my shopping there as well as finding Latin Caribe spices and brands i.e. Goya.

Editorial comment. I receive no compensation from Northgate…but I love them