Galaxy Whoopie Pies

Galaxy Whoopie PiesFor the past two years, I’ve participated in a recipe round-up of Oscar-inspired treats based on the films nominated for Best Picture; thanks to Haley who is so kind to invite me back time and time again! If you’re a dear friend/long-time reader (or maybe my mom? Hi, Mom!), you might remember the Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs I made two years back for The Grand Budapest Hotel or the Chocolate Stout Cannoli I dreamt up for Brooklyn last year. For this award season, I was super excited to be paired with the film, Hidden Figures, which immediately inspired these Galaxy Whoopie Pies!

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at the galaxy-themed dessert trend for a while now, but I won’t lie – making homemade buttercream and tinting all those colors both felt a little intimidating and like a lot of work. While delicious work it is, indeed, making those gorgeous, nebulous swirls is easy peasy with the right supplies.

Jackson, Vaughan, & JacksonBut before we get into the merits of gel food coloring and what size and shape pastry tip to use, let’s talk about Hidden Figures for a sec. If you haven’t yet seen it, do – not only because the vintage wardrobe of pencil skirts and fitted cardigans will make your femme heart swoon, but because you need to know this history of Black women in the space program (or at the very least, the three women whose stories are featured: Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson). It’s a feel-good film, which I get sugarcoats a lot more of the racism and sexism these brilliant women, undoubtedly, faced in their careers at NASA. But it also served as a relevant story of strength and resistance for this presently fraught time. It’s definitely worth a watch even if it casts Kevin Costener as the white man savior who wasn’t even a real person in the lives of Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson. I’m eye-roll-emojiing all over that!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesThese whoopie pies are delicious, but also really smart texturally: they’re moist in the center, but ever-so-slightly dry throughout to accommodate all of the thick, luscious frosting you sandwich between them. The cake has a deep, chocolate flavor, though they’re only slightly sweet, which is important because that gorgeous filling? That’s Swiss meringue buttercream, the richest, most delicious frosting of all! Yes, it’s also a complete departure from the fluffy, marshmallowy fillings of regular whoopie pies, but stay with me. In this recipe, I made a caramel Swiss meringue buttercream that is out of this world and, well, isn’t that just the most appropriate thing considering these are Galactic Whoopie Pies?

Galaxy Whoopie PiesThe ingredients here are all ones you would likely have in your pantry and fridge – Dutch-processed cocoa powder, a few sticks of unsalted butter, brown sugar, eggs, and a few other things. Things really only get fancy when it comes to creating those beautiful swirls of pink, blue, purple, and black. To achieve these intense colors, you’ll need to invest in gel food coloring. You could probably get close with the trusty McCormick set of liquid dyes that are synonymous, for many, with Easter eggs, but because they’re liquid, they’ll change the consistency of your buttercream and may even cause it to separate. Gel food coloring isn’t particularly expensive and you can pick it up at most craft stores and, of course, online. I’ve used my Wilton set for eons and still have a bunch left – a little goes a long way!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesBecause I wanted a great swirl effect, I opted for a large open star tip (#1M by Wilton – I’m not sponsored by Wilton, but I did take a Tuesday night cake decorating class at my local Joann’s a billion years ago and still have a ton of the supplies!) for my pastry bag, thinking the grooves would add a lot of definition and make the most out of all of those beautiful colors. Really, the most difficult part was getting the colors where I wanted them with the food coloring in terms of their depth and intensity. When I was ready to pipe, I simply alternated tablespoons of each color into the bag, used the dull end of a skewer to gently poke through the colors to blend them a bit, and then piped a few test stars until multiple colors came out at once. If you’ve never piped icing before, this is a great way to learn technique and tension, since you’re just piping circles and swirls as opposed to anything too elaborate. Plus, worse comes to worse, you’re going to pop a lid on these anyway!

Galaxy Whoopie PiesTo hammer home these Galactic Whoopie Pies, I played around with some edible pearlescent dust for the lids, as well as some edible glitter stars. I think the dust, in particular, added some visual interest to the lids, causing them to look a little bit like moons and planets with their craggy surfaces. And the stars? Well, they’re just pretty and make this dessert the perfect centerpiece for your Oscars viewing party. Check out the full list of talented folks taking part in this year’s recipe round-up with me below and happy watching!

Galaxy Whoopie Pies
Yields 8 whoopie pie sandwiches; whoopie pie cake recipe borrowed from here

Ingredients

For the whoopie pies:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the caramel buttercream:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • small pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Pearlescent dust (I used lilac) or edible glitter stars, optional

Directions:

For the whoopie pies:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in another small bowl and set aside. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, then add egg, beating until well combined. The mixture should be pale and very, very shiny. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

Spoon level, 1/4-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 buttered large baking sheets. Gently smooth each mound and spread them slightly with an offset spatula. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the caramel buttercream:

First, make the caramel by adding sugar into a small saucepan with enough water to give it the texture of wet sand. Cook the sugar and water mixture on low heat until it has dissolved, then raise the heat to high and let cook until it turns golden. Swirl the pan gently, intermittently, but do not stir or attempt to stir in crystalized bits of sugar on the sides of the pan, as it could cause the caramel to seize. Don’t walk away during this stage as the sugar can burn very quickly.

While sugar is cooking, add cream to a microwaveable bowl or cup and microwave for 30 seconds, just until it begins to warm. When the sugar has turned golden brown, remove it from the heat and pour in the cream in a slow, steady stream, whisking to incorporate thoroughly. Add a very small pinch of kosher salt and whisk once or twice more. If any crystallization occurs, place the caramel back over medium heat to melt. When finished, caramel may appear thin, but it will thicken as it cools.

To make the buttercream, begin by combining the sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl and place over a pot of gently simmering water. Whisk the sugar mixture constantly until it becomes smooth and shiny. Continue whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F, then remove the sugar mixture from the heat and pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled. You can test this by feeling the side of the bowl. Your egg whites should be smooth, shiny, and peaked.

Next, switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the room temperature butter one piece at a time, beating until smooth. Do not add too much butter too quickly, or beat the mixture at too high of a speed, or the buttercream may break. When all the butter has been added, switch back to the whisk attachment and beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth. If it appears to separate briefly, continue beating and it should come back together. If at any point you get true separation – you’ll know because it will look like a horrifying mess of watery liquid and big globules of fat from the butter, don’t panic. Scoop out about half the mixture and warm it in the microwave for a minute or so. Add it back to the mixer and beat on medium, graduating to high, and it should all reincorporate.

Once the buttercream is ready, stream the caramel into the buttercream and beat to combine. If the caramel has cooled too much in the meantime, or has solidified, just give it a gentle heat on the stovetop. The buttercream is now ready to go. If you’re not going to use it immediately, place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it, to prevent it from drying out.

When you’re ready to fill your whoopie pies, separate out the buttercream into four containers and tint each one to the desired hue of pink, blue, black, or purple. Fit a pastry bag with your tip of choice, then fill the bag with alternating tablespoons of each color. Once filled, I used the dull end of a skewer to push down inside the bag and gently blend the colors. Be especially careful if you’re using a plastic, disposable pastry bag, so you don’t risk puncturing it. Test your buttercream by piping a few stars and swirls on a paper plate or napkin. You’re ready to fill the whoopie pies when multiple colors emerge at the same time.

Fill each whoopie pie with a generous swirl of galaxy buttercream, then pop a lid on and decorate the top to your heart’s desire with pearlescent dust, edible glitter, or just leave them plain – they’re pretty as a peach no matter how you finish them.

Chocolate Stout Cannoli

Chocolate Stout CannoliIt’s that time of year again – Oscars season! Once again, I’m thrilled to join Haley and a host of other food bloggers in coordinating a round up of Oscars-inspired recipes for 2016. This year, I was paired with the book-turned-film and romantic period drama, Brooklyn, starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson. Brooklyn tells the story of a young Irish woman, Eilis (Ronan), who immigrates to the United States in the early 1950s and falls in love with a charming, working-class Italian-American boy, Tony (Cohen). While a number of things punctuate their evolving relationship and cause Eilis to struggle with questions of “home” – where she ultimately wants to makes it and with whom – her’s and Tony’s love sustains. And that’s how we get here, to Chocolate Stout Cannoli – a recipe that merges Irish and Italian flavors that are bound to make you swoon!Chocolate Stout Cannoli
Chocolate Stout Cannoli
The trick to cannoli – and especially these, with the addition of a kind of stout caramel – is a little bit of planning and patience. They’re not complicated, but require you to put a little thought into them. If you don’t have the time to drain your ricotta cheese overnight or reduce your stout by two-thirds, maybe wait until you have a window to allow these things. While runny cannoli filling isn’t the worst problem in the world – it is, of course, always tasty – you won’t be able to pipe and fill the shells to match the image in your head. Take the time with these; your patience will be oh-so-rewarded!

Chocolate Stout CannoliSimilarly, the stout reduction takes time and some attention, but don’t let that dissuade you! Reducing the chocolate stout and then adding honey to sweeten it causes it to form a soft, rich syrup that gets folded into your thickened ricotta filling and that is then joined by mini chocolate chips. The syrup gives the cheese a smoother, velvety texture and imparts a slightly hoppy, never bitter, flavor that plays really, really well with the semi-sweet chocolate. Chocolate stout cannoli are tremendously delicious and, I think, pretty unique! Consider serving them at your Oscars party as a sweet addition to the buffet – I promise that they’ll be a hit!

Chocolate Stout CannoliOn that note, I hope you’ll check out what the rest of the Oscar Blog Party contributors have made for the 2016 Academy Awards. I can’t get enough of the creativity in this group of bloggers and I think you’ll find so much inspiration in what they’ve imagined. Check out our posts from last year here and our newest set for the 2016 Oscars below the recipe!

Chocolate Stout Cannoli
Makes 8 large cannoli

Ingredients
2 cups of whole milk ricotta cheese, drained overnight
1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar, plus some more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1-1/4 teaspoon of orange zest
3/4 cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 cup of chocolate stout
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions
Set up a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the ricotta cheese into the strainer. Set in the refrigerator overnight to drain.

On the day you want to serve the cannoli, add the chocolate stout to a small pot and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to a low simmer and allow to cook until the stout reduces by two-thirds, stirring occasionally. When the stout as reduced, add the honey and stir until dissolved. Once again, bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes or until the liquid is bubbling thickly – keep an eye on it during this process. When the syrup has formed, immediately remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, spoon in your drained ricotta and incorporate the half cup of confectioner’s sugar. Add the cinnamon and orange zest. While it is still warm, add two tablespoons of the stout syrup and stir. Taste and add more if you’d like the addition of more of the stout flavor. You can really adjust this to your liking. Last, stir in a half cup of mini chocolate chips and then place the ricotta mixture into the refrigerator to chill for an hour.

When ready to serve, remove the filling from the refrigerator and either spoon into a piping bag and fill with a flourish or load up the shells by hand with a long-handled spoon. You can dip the ends of your cannoli into the remaining mini chocolate chips should you wish. Serve immediately.

Oscar Blog Party 2016 Contributors

2016 Oscars Inspired Recipes

The Big Short: Jenga Veggie Towers with Creamy Cilantro Dip from Flour Arrangements

Bridge of Spies: Bitesize “TV Dinner” Meatloaf Appetizers from Pickles Travel

Mad Max: Fury Road: Ruby Red Grapefruitcello from Making It With Stephany

The Martian: Homemade Cheddar and Chive Tater Tots from The Honour System

The Revenant: Crock Pot Ribs from Dining With Alice

Room: Victoria Sandwich Cake from Savoury Table

Spotlight: Cheesy Boston Clam Dip from Cheap Recipe Blog

Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsI’m so thrilled to be joining Haley and six other food bloggers in this challenge to create a recipe and post for one of the 2015 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture. I was paired with The Grand Budapest Hotel, a quirky comedy from writer and director, Wes Anderson, and created these Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs in response. As per most of Anderson’s movies – Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Royal Tenenbaums, among others – The Grand Budapest Hotel features an all-star cast. Part murder mystery, part art heist, part coming-of-age tale, the film grants roles to some of Anderson’s usual suspects, like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, but also some new additions such as the lead opposite Ralph Fienne’s Monsieur Gustave, Zero, the Lobby Boy, played by Tony Revolori. Without question, though, my favorite character in the film whose screen-time is far too brief, is Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, also referred to as “Madame D.”

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsMadame D., played by the incomparable weirdo that is Tilda Swinton, is the wealthy widow who visits The Grand Budapest regularly for its timeless service and the affections of Monsieur Gustave – a paramour of many an older lady. Madame D.’s first moments on screen are also her last, as she is murdered for her fortune shortly after. Stuffy, fancy, and lavish in her dress and accoutrement, Madame D. was, immediately, my inspiration going into this Oscar blog challenge. The image of her full, graying beehive and rich ochre dress quickly coaxed the idea choux pastry from my brain, developing, with time, into these gorgeous lemon chantilly cream puffs.

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsChoux pastry, which creates the actual puff itself, is a recipe that gets a lot of flack for being difficult, but I think this largely stems from American’s lack of familiarity with it. Truthfully, it requires only a strong arm that can endure some vigorous stirring and about 5 minutes of your absolute attention. Why don’t we make cream puffs all the time, right? I know! This version is filled with a mixture of stiffly whipped cream, lightly sweetened, and then folded together with bright, zesty lemon curd. Together, they create an airy, but rich, lemon filling that is every bit as regal as Madame D. herself. I can just see her biting into one with her crimson-painted mouth right now!

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsWhat makes these cream puffs extra fancy, though, is the lemon-enhanced meringue peaks that surround the cream puff lids in swirls and swoops, just like Madame D.’s coif. Set in the oven for just a few minutes, they toast up light brown and taste of the very best campfire marshmallow. They are as whimsical as the film itself, but, dare I say, far more delightful! Check out the recipe for these beauties below, but before doing so, won’t you see what these seven other wonderful bloggers have concocted for their Best Picture pairings?

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Inspired Recipes

I’m so impressed by the level of creativity here and can’t wait to try some of these delicious treats! Now, onto Madame D.’s puffs!

Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs
Yields approximately 10 cream puffs

Ingredients
For the cream puffs
1/2 cup (or 1 stick) of butter
1 cup of water
1 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
4 eggs

For the lemon chantilly cream
1/2 cup of heavy cream, chilled
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of lemon curd
* If the lemon curd is store bought, add the zest of one half a lemon

For the meringue tops
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
A dash of lemon extract

Directions
Make the cream puff shells first, noting that they must cool completely before filling. I often make them the night before and leave them out on the counter, uncovered, overnight. If you put them in a container while they’re even slightly warm, they will get doughty. Once filled, they get soft, and then soggy, as they sit, so if making them for a party or for company, fill right before you’re reading to serve. Ready? Let’s go!

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Crack all 4 eggs into a pitcher, or bowl with a spout, so that they are ready immediately when needed. In a heavy-bottom pot, over medium heat, add the water and butter to the pan. When the mixture is boiling and the butter is melted, add the flour and salt and stir quickly to combine the ingredients. Continue stirring as the mixture integrates and forms a soft ball, which follows your spoon around the pot. The sides of the pot should be clean as the batter forms. Once the batter is ready, remove the pot from the heat and add one egg at a time, mixing vigorously throughout to incorporate each egg. You may need to alternate between a wooden spoon and a whisk, beating in the eggs. Your mixing should be fast and deliberate so that the eggs do not begin to scramble. The batter is finished when the eggs are all added and the mixture is smooth, thick, and holds its shape.

On a parchment-lined baking sheet, form 10 evenly-shaped mounds with a slightly peaked top. I create a larger mound as the base and then a smaller one on top. If your peak comes to a fine point, gently pat it down so that it does not burn in the oven. You may also pipe the batter onto the baking sheet if you prefer. Bake the puffs for about 40 minutes or until they are a medium brown (not golden). Set aside to cool completely.

In the meantime, create the lemon chantilly cream. In a chilled bowl, add the heavy cream and the sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Separately, warm your lemon curd in the microwave or on the stove top, so that it is a very soft gel-like consistency and gently fold it into the heavy cream a bit at a time until it is thoroughly incorporated. If you are using a store-bought lemon curd that could do with a bit of freshness, also fold in the zest of one half of a lemon at this time. Return to fridge and allow to chill.

When the cream puffs are cooled and ready to be prepared for serving, slice each puff horizontally at the point where the two mounds merge, creating a clear, wide base and a peaked top. Very gently, scoop out the base of the cream puff and discard the moist, slightly doughy center to provide maximum space for the cream. In a clean, dry bowl, add the two egg whites and the cream of tartar and beat with a mixer until foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Once they have, pour in the dash of lemon extract and whip just to incorporate.

Preheat the oven to 400°F again. Fit a piping bag with a large round tip and fill with meringue. Pipe swirls of stiff, lemon meringue around the lids of the cream puffs and place on a lined baking sheet. You could also dip and swirl the lids into peaks if you want to avoid the piping work. Bake just the meringue-covered lids for about 5-8 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to set and cool while you fill the base of the cream puffs with the chilled lemon chantilly cream. When ready, top each cream puff with a meringue-covered lid and serve.

Oscar Night Soft Pretzels

Oscar Night Soft PretzelsWhile everyone else is prepping their best popcorn butter seasonings (yum!), I decided to go a different route for Oscar night this year and bake off some soft pretzels to graze on. From the red carpet to the closing credits, these O-shaped pretzels will be a perfect treat alongside some spicy mustard, a homemade cheese sauce, and of course something bubbly.

Soft Pretzel DoughYou might think soft pretzels are a bit ambitious for a night that should be spent firmly planted on your couch half-listening to speeches and half-Googling designers from the night’s best and worst dressed lists. Truth is, you can easily do about 50% of the work that these require the morning of (or night before if you’re planning on making them for a brunch) and bake them off right before you’re ready to serve them. These are best hot, of course, right out of the oven, allowing them only enough time to cool so that you can handle them without wincing. They’re good room temperature too, but can easily be re-warmed in a low oven or in the microwave for a few seconds to soften them back up.

Oscar Night Soft PretzelsDepending on the thickness that you roll these, they’re either more crisp or more fluffy and, honestly, if asked to pick which one I lean toward, the jury is still out. I love the deep, yeasty taste that the darker brown, more well-done pretzels take on, but I also swoon at the pillowy interior and soft chewiness of the lighter, thicker rings. Experimenting with shapes will also alter the kinds of doneness and texture you get after their 14 minutes is up; along with the O’s for the Academy Awards, I made a few in traditional pretzel shape, twisted logs, and even tiny pretzel balls. The ability to get creative here is high, if you like.

Oscar Night Soft PretzelsYou can also try out different toppings beyond the traditional coarse salt, which I used for some of these. The rest, I sprinkled liberally with a Montreal-style steak seasoning, which incorporates dried onion, garlic, cracked black pepper, and other spices. It made the pretzels taste almost like an everything bagel. So good! These soft pretzels serve not only as a tasty canvas, but also a festive way to ring in your evening with Oscar…and Lupita Nyong’o who should win every single award up for grabs because – perfection.

Oscar Night Soft Pretzels
Yields 8 pretzels; recipe from here.

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups of warm water
1 Tablespoon of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of table salt
1 packet (or 2-1/4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast
4-1/2 cups of all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
10 cups of water, for boiling
2/3 cup of baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon of water to produce an egg wash
Coarse salt, steak seasoning, for topping

Directions:
Combine the warm water, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for approximately 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to bubble. Add the flour and butter into the bowl and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Next, increase the speed to medium and knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side above the bowl, about 4-5 minutes. Prepare a large bowl by rubbing it lightly with oil. Remove the dough from the hook and place in bowl, covering it with plastic wrap and leaving it in a warm spot until the dough has doubled in size. The rise takes about an hour, but truth be told, the longer the dough sits, the more flavor emerges. For both this reason and the fact that these are a bit time-consuming when having company visit, I allowed my dough to rise for the hour on top of a warm oven (265°F or so), then shut the oven off, let it cool for about an hour and a half, and then popped my bowl in and let the dough hang out in that dark, still slightly warm spot, overnight.

In the morning (or whenever you’re ready for the next step post-hour-long rise), pre-heat your oven to 450°F and bring a large pot of water (about 10 cups) and 2/3 cup of baking soda to a rolling boil. While waiting for it to come up to temperature, divide your dough into 8 evenly sized balls and, on an oiled surface, roll the balls into 24″ logs. Shape the logs into whatever shape you like being sure to press a bit firmly on the places where dough must adhere to dough, like when closing the two ends to form an “O,” for example. When the water is boiling, drop each pretzel (2 maximum, you don’t want them to touch) at a time into the boiling water and allow to cook for 30 seconds. They will initially sink and then float to the top. Gently, with a slotted spatula, remove the pretzels from the water, allowing them to drip off before placing them on a baking sheet that has been lined with either a silicone baking mat or lightly oiled parchment paper. Depending on the sizes and the shapes, you may fill 2-3 baking sheets worth. When you’re ready to bake off the pretzels, brush each one with egg wash and season with your desired toppings. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until they have reached a dark golden brown color. When finished, remove from the pan and allow to cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before enjoying.