Some of my friends were having a Costa Rican-themed party to watch Jurassic Park.  And I said, "I’ll bring dessert!", because that’s what I do.

Only I had no idea what a Costa Rican dessert was.  A bit of googling, and I had a list of possibilities:  Tres Leches (one person was lactose-intolerant, so that was right out), rice pudding (same problem), panna cotta (too hard to transport).  And then I found a site that mentioned orange custard and orange pound cake.  I figured if I did both, everyone would have something they could eat.

So I stocked up on oranges.

Oranges

I made the custard first.  It was pretty simple – cream some butter and sugar, add a few eggs, some flour to thicken it, then some orange juice and orange zest.  One that’s all combined, add a cup of milk.

I didn’t want to put it in individual ramekins, because they’re a pain to transport, and I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have a matching set anymore – I had 3 sets at one point, but a few have broken out of each set. Now I have just the right amount – only they’re in three different size.

So I figured I’d put it in my smallest CorningWare casserole. In retrospect, I should have doubled it to fill the casserole better, but I didn’t realize that until it was in the pan. 

Orange Custard

It took longer to bake then the recipe called for, but I expected that.  I started checking on it at 45 minutes, but it wasn’t really finished until it had been in for an hour.

 Orange Custard

I was worried the edges would over-cook, but it came out remarkably even.

While it cooled, I made the pound cake.

This was a very odd pound cake recipe. The technique was more like a biscuit dough – the dry ingredients got combined first, then the butter was worked into the flour.  Once it was crumbly, the liquid went in.

When everything was mixed, it was still disturbingly lumpy.  But my dough matched the pictures in the recipe, so I took the chance and poured it into the pan.

Luckily, the oven was still pre-heated from the custard.

Orange Pound Cake

60 minutes later, and it was done.  While it was cooling, I reduced down some orange juice and sugar into a glaze.  When it was ready to come out of the pan, the glaze got brushed on top to soak into the cake, making it amazingly moist.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture once the glaze was on it, so you’ll have to imagine a shinier version here.

They both got great reviews.  I think the custard was supposed to be softer then it was, so I may have overcooked it a bit.  No one complained, certainly, and I liked it a lot.

The pound cake was also a hit – the orange really jumped out at you, and the cake flour made it light, and the glaze made it moist.  It’s going in my regular rotation of "desserts to take places".  I think it would be equally good with grapefruit or lemon.  Maybe even lime, with some coconut added.

All in all, I considered them both a success.

( see the custard recipe )

( see the pound cake recipe )

(The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.)

Quick breads!  I used to make a lot of quick breads, but I haven’t done one in a while.  So I took the opportunity this month to make two – a Beer Cheese Bread and a Lemon Bread.

They were both simple – mix the dry ingredients, add the wet, pour in a pan, and bake.   I did the beer bread first.

When I used to skydive, the woman who ran the kitchen made amazing beer bread.  It was thick and crusty and always warm.  Every beer bread I’ve had since has been compared to it.

This one had two kinds of cheeses – a sharp cheddar and asiago, plus sautéed green onions.  I put too many onions in it – the recipe called for a cup, but I accidentally grabbed the two cup measure out of the cupboard, and didn’t realize it until I was putting dishes in the dishwasher.  But I like green onions, so we didn’t mind.

Beer Bread 

After baking for an hour:

 Beer Bread

It was really good.  It was even better toasted the next day.  And I expect it will be good again tonight.

Then I made a lemon bread.  This one had lemon zest and lemon juice.  It was supposed to make two loaves, but I only have one small loaf pan, so I made one loaf and baked the other half into muffins.

Lemon Bread

It was also really good, particularly with the Meyer Lemon jam we got on Saturday from Revival Market. I also picked up some smoked lard there, which is going to have to make it’s way into biscuits soon.

I’m going to make one more loaf this month – the America’s Test Kitchen Banana Bread.  It needs very ripe bananas, and they’re still not quite ready, so it’ll wait until later this week.

It was a fun, easy month.  Now I just have to find homes for more of this bread…

( see the recipes )

(Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!)

After  months of really complicated, pretty desserts, it was nice to have a simple recipe. I really cooked and baked myself out over the holidays, and I was dreading the thought of making more sweet things.

So, scones.  I’m sure that’s the proper word for them, but I just call them biscuits.  And I have to admit that I already had a biscuit recipe that I love, so this was going to be a hard sell – but you can never have too many biscuits, so I gave it a shot.

I made them to go with a roasted chicken for dinner.  They took about 20 minutes, and half of that was getting my oven preheated.

The fat in them is grated butter, so I put two tablespoons of butter into the freezer early in the day. When it was time to start, I sifted the flour, baking powder, and salt together, then rubbed in the grated butter.  The texture I was going for was "Coarse beach sand", and it was easy to get there without melting the grated butter.   Then I added half a cup of milk to finish the dough.

After they were mixed, I patted them out on a cutting board, folded them over  a few times for layers, then cut them out.  The first few I patted too flat, and they didn’t rise much, but the later ones I did better on.

Then bake for 10 minutes.  I brushed the tops with more melted butter to brown them:

Scones

They were good – they’re certainly more biscuit-looking then my recipe.  I’d probably make them if I wanted to impress a dinner guest or something – but if I just want a quick biscuit to cover in butter and jelly for breakfast, I’ll stick with my old recipe.

( see the recipe )

(Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.)

This month was a dessert I’d never heard of before – San Rival.  It’s Filipino – layers of meringue with nuts, separated with layers of buttercream.  I did both the meringues and buttercream in chocolate. 

The base started with 10 egg whites. They got beaten with a cup of sugar and a bit of cocoa.  Once they get to stiff peaks, a cup of finely chopped nuts gets folded in.  The recipe calls for cashews, but I had walnuts, so I used those.

The layers get baked in cake pans.  The recipe was written for one large "cake", but I thought they’d be cute as mini desserts. So I baked them in layers:

IMG_6011 IMG_6013

Then took a biscuit cutter and cut out small circles of each layer.  Other people said their layers came out too crunchy for cutting, but mine were only very crunchy around the edges.  I could have baked them longer, but I liked the texture as they were.

On to the buttercream.  I’ve made buttercream a lot, and so I knew what to expect.  I beat the eggs, cooked the sugar, poured it in slowly, let it cool, and added the butter.  I don’t even get nervous anymore when it looks just about to break – I just let it settle.

 IMG_6014

I had fresh eggs, which had very yellow yolks, so my buttercream came out pretty cream-colored.  At the very end, I added 2 ounces of melted and cooled chocolate.

Then the assembly. I stacked the meringues, piped the buttercream on them, and sprinkled walnuts on top:

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A whole plate:

IMG_6017

They came out really good. I like this buttercream recipe better then my current one – it’s much lighter.  Vanilla meringues with the chocolate filling would look impressive, too.  This one is going into my rotation for guest nights!

( see the recipe )

When I was a kid, I went to school with a few kids from a church that made peanut brittle every Christmas.  It came in rounds the size of pie tins, and it was the best peanut brittle I’ve ever had.

I’ve made a lot of peanut brittle myself over the years, but none of it was as good as that was. 

Then I picked up a copy of Sweet Confections.  I’ve been a huge fan of BonBonBar for years, so when I heard she was closing shop, I got in one last order of candy bars – and a copy of her cookbook.

It’s been taunting me on the counter for a couple of weeks, and finally I managed to get all the ingredients together for her peanut brittle recipe. 

It starts with sugar, corn syrup, and water in a pan, cooked to 250F.  Then, you add the peanuts and some butter, and stir, until  it gets to 320F. I’d never tried that before – all the other recipes I’d tried cooked the syrup, then just poured it over the peanuts.

Add a bit of kosher salt, some vanilla for flavor, and baking soda for texture, then pour it out onto parchment paper.

Peanut Brittle The recipe said to spread it with an offset spatula, but I don’t have one, and my marble rolling pin was already out on the counter, so I sprayed a silpat with pam, laid it on top, and ran the rolling pin over it a few times.  I ended up with perfectly flat brittle.

Peanut Brittle 

After half an hour of cooling, I broke it into pieces.  It shattered perfectly.

Peanut Brittle

And it was really good.  It’s very peanut-y, the candy is caramelized enough to give it depth, and the kosher salt gives it tiny pockets of saltiness.  You could add cinnamon or cayenne pepper (I like ancho chili pepper, too, for smokiness), but I didn’t.  It was good just the way it was.

I’ve made 4 batches over the last week.  They’re all gone now.  And the best measure of a brittle is how fast it disappears!

( see the recipe )