Monday, July 11, 2011

Book review and a giveaway

I've always been a huge fan of America's Test Kitchen (ATK). I discovered their TV show on PBS many years ago and every Saturday morning at 11:30am, I'm glued to the TV for 30 minutes. As you may know, the folks at ATK also have a show called Cook's Country. Although I like their cooking recipes, I have to admit, my favorite part is when they talk dessert!! Pretty much any kind :o) So to say I'm excited about reviewing their latest cookbook, Cook's Country Blue Ribbon Desserts, is an understatement. And it doesn't end there. ATK has generously offered to send a copy of this book to one of my readers via this giveaway!!! That could be YOU :o)

*** This giveaway is closed. The winner has been announced HERE. ***
If you're familiar with America's Test Kitchen's work, you'll know that they meticulously test every recipe in their books. Cook's Country Blue Ribbon Desserts is no exception. The book is a sturdy spiral-bound hardcover. It lays flat when you bake from it which is great! With more than a 120 recipes to choose from, it'll keep you busy for a while :o) Almost every recipe contains a section in which they explain how they went about developing the recipe, the pitfalls they ran into, and most importantly, how they resolved them or worked around them. I also enjoyed reading "The American Table" sections which talked about the history of a particular dessert. There are about 7 broad "chapters", containing a vast array of dessert recipes, from pies and puddings, to (cup)cakes, bars and cookies. There's even a chapter called Holiday Cookie Swap! Almost every recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous photograph of the final product and/or helpful step-by-step pictures. Unfortunately, the ingredients in this book are given in volume measurements only. However, there's a page at the end of the book that can be referenced for weight measurements for the most commonly used ingredients in the book. That helped me a lot since I like to use my scale when I bake.

I really have nothing bad to say about this book. Well maybe, the fact that it's so darn hard to pick the first recipe to bake from it because everything looks and sounds so good! I have baked the Tres Leches Cake on page 103. It was such a big hit that I ended up baking it three times in two weeks for various events. Then I just had to try the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies on page 177. I left mine plain but added walnuts for hubby. O-M-G! They're ultimate alright. My new go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, right there! I'm thinking of entering them into the State Fair Baking Contest this summer. Wouldn't it be fun if a recipe from a book called Blue Ribbon Desserts, actually won a blue ribbon? :o) I'll keep you posted!

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies (with walnuts)
I was given permission to print one recipe from Cook's Country Blue Ribbon Desserts on my blog. Although this wasn't an easy task, I happen to looooove carrot cake and when I saw the Carrot Cupcakes on page 161, I knew that was going to be the recipe. I looked at the ingredients list. They're all pantry staples in my house (and yours probably too). A couple of nice things about the recipe: you use melted butter (so easy!), you dump the dry ingredients directly on top of the wet ingredients, and you don't even need an electric mixer.

Mise en place
The only tedious part was peeling and grating the carrots on the small holes of the box grater. If it wasn't for that, it would take less than 2 minutes to get the batter ready :o) I skipped the optional raisins and walnuts. To make things easy on myself, I used my scale to divvy the batter among the pans' cavities. I estimated the batter's weight and divided it by 12. This gave me 60 grams per cupcake.

Weighing each cupcake
Ready for the oven
Into a preheated oven they went. My cupcakes baked in 15 minutes which gave me more than enough time to make the super easy and super quick Cream Cheese frosting. I doubled the frosting because I didn't want to have 1/2 a block of cream cheese in the fridge (which would eventually find its way to the trash can). I figured the remaining frosting can always be frozen. A couple changes I made: I added 1 tsp of molasses. I find it gives the frosting that extra complexity and a caramel-like undertone which I like. I also added a pinch of salt to it. I find that brings out the sweetness more.

Baked to perfection in 15 minutes
Making the cream cheese frosting
After the cupcakes were completely cooled, they were ready for the frosting. Since I wanted to pipe the frosting on the cupcakes, I put the frosting in the fridge to firm up to a pipe-able consistency. This took about 15 minutes. Since it's just the two of us, I only frosted 3 cupcakes and froze the remaining un-frosted cupcakes for an upcoming bake sale benefiting the Susan G Komen foundation.

Finally! A taste test :o)
Verdict: the cupcake has a great flavor. The spices are noticeable without overpowering the cupcake. It has a texture that I would describe as between dense and fluffy, and it's moist. The frosting complemented the cupcake perfectly; it was creamy, not too sweet, with a nice caramel undertone from the molasses.

Now, without further ado, here's how you enter the giveaway. It couldn't be easier:
  • You must be a US resident (for shipping reasons). I apologize to my international readers.
  • Leave a comment on this blog post telling me your favorite America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Country recipe.
  • Don't forget to include your email address in your comment so I can contact you.
  • You have until midnight on Saturday July 16th 2011 (CET) to enter.
  • I will randomly pick a winner on Sunday July 17th 2011. I will email the winner. If I don't hear back within 24 hours, I will randomly pick a different winner.
  • For one extra entry, simply tweet about this giveaway. Come back to this post, and leave another comment telling me that you did (please include your Twitter handle). Twitter message: {Giveaway alert} Cookbook review + giveaway of Blue Ribbon Desserts by @TestKitchen over at @HanaasKitchen:
  • Good luck everyone! :o)

Carrot Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes
(from Cook’sCountry Blue Ribbon Desserts © 2011; reprinted with permission from America’s Test Kitchen)

If you prefer, you can grind the carrots in a food processor rather
than grate them by hand. If you add the optional currants and walnuts,
the cupcakes will need to bake an additional 7 to 10 minutes. This
recipe is easily doubled. Do not use low-fat or nonfat cream cheese or
the frosting will turn out soupy.


8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
8 ounces carrots, peeled and grated on small holes of box grater (see note above)
1/2 cup currants or chopped raisins (optional; see note above)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional; see note above), toasted (see page 130)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces and softened (see note above)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. For the cupcakes: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and
heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake

2. Whisk the melted butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and eggs
together in a large bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients until
thoroughly combined.

3. Using a greased 1/4-cup measure, portion the batter into each
muffin cup. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center
comes out clean, 15 to 18 minutes (about 25 minutes if using currants
and walnuts), rotating the tin halfway through baking. Let the
cupcakes cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire
rack to cool completely, about 30 minutes.

4. For the frosting: In a large bowl, beat the butter and
confectioners' sugar together with an electric mixer on medium-high
speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Add the cream cheese,
one piece at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add the
vanilla and beat until no lumps remain. (The frosting can be
refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Bring the
frosting to room temperature before using.)

5. Spread the frosting evenly over the cupcakes and serve.

Disclaimer: I have received a free copy of Cook's Country Blue Ribbon Desserts from the editors at America's Test Kitchen. All opinions expressed in this blog post are mine.


  1. I made their Coconut Cake for my Mom's birthday last month. It came out great!

  2. Hanaa these look great, good job! I've been eyeing the Baked Manicotti recipe can't wait to try it!. saraw****

  3. Tweeted your message:
    @zx6karen -
    {Giveaway alert} Cookbook review + giveaway of Blue Ribbon Desserts by @TestKitchen over at @HanaasKitchen:

  4. One of my favorit ATK recipes is their Classic Crème Caramel.

  5. I just made the Yellow Cupcakes from their Baking Illustrated cookbook. Great cupcakes. I love America's Test Kitchen!! Love how they test everything so thoroughly.

  6. Your carrot cupcakes look great! I'm going to check out the Saturday show too.

  7. I make home made vanilla extract using their recipe because I use so much of it and it's quite pricey. Homemade extract is much tastier and much cheaper . Win-win, and best of all it's easy. They have a trick that, unlike other recipes I've seen, speeds up the process and it's ready within a week. PERFECT.

  8. I made the chocolate chip cookies and they were great.

    Thanks for hosting this. It is exciting to do a giveaway.

  9. Can't wait to try these when the wife brings them home from work the day of the bake sale. I've wanted her to try and do their choc layer cake, that looks yummy as well.

  10. I'm excited i'm on twitter, I feel so hip!

    bascentsaholic Sara Weyer
    {Giveaway alert} Cookbook review + giveaway of Blue Ribbon Desserts by @TestKitchen over at @HanaasKitchen:
    Favorite Reply Delete

  11. Carrot Cupcakes! They look wonderful and I am sure they taste great too!!


  12. {Giveaway alert} Cookbook review + giveaway of Blue Ribbon Desserts by @TestKitchen over at @HanaasKitchen:

  13. I make their Lemon Cheesecake over and over and over again. My family is grateful.

  14. They have the best recipes. One I tried recently that I really, really liked is their icebox strawberry pie.

  15. Their creme brulee is fabulous!

  16. I recently made their classic blueberry muffins with fresh blueberries. My husband says they're the best muffins he ever ate. You really can't go wrong using their recipes.

  17. Hanaa, Everything you touch in the kitchen turns to gold! Congrats on the new well-deserved undertaking.

  18. I just made the Ultimate Cinnamon rolls from Cooks Country...they were amazing! ATK is a favorite of mine. Every recipe I have tried has turned out great!

  19. Hi Hanaa, thank you for alerting me to your giveaway! You know I like stopping by to see what you are making anyway. These cupcakes look great, I love a good carrot cake.

    I am also a huge fan of all things ATK/Cook's Illustrated/Cook's Country. You really do learn a lot from watching the shows. I have a little weights cheat sheet from CI website taped to my refrigerator for easy reference.

  20. I tweeted. Scones4me:!/Scones4Me/status/91497504415289346

  21. I have never made anything from Ci but am willing to try with this new cookbook. :)

  22. Hanaa, I like the Chocolate Chip recipe.

    Also, just tweeted your post. Actually I tweeted it twice as I forget that I need to copy it and paste from your post :).

    And you know my email!

  23. Love them, and I love their recipes and how details they are....

  24. What a neat giveaway! CI/Cook's Country/ATK is my very favorite recipe resource. Hard to pick a favorite recipe but I made a cheesy chili mac recently that we loved.

  25. Hi Haana! Thanks for stopping by my blog. This books sounds fantastic! Can youb believe I've never made an ATK recipe before? I have been meaning to try their chocolate chip cookie, but haven't gotten around to it yet. It's definitely on my to do list! Your cupcakes look light and fluffy and I love how you piped your frosting. Fantastic!

  26. My favorite recipe is cream scones with currants, and all its many variations.
    Thanks for the chance to win!

  27. My favorite recipe is the CI Pad Thai. Better than restaurants!

  28. I tweeted your giveaway.
    Twitter is anaclanni

  29. I finally made a recipes this morning from America's Test Kitchen website and it was fabulous! I made the Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling. My husband and I loved them, I can't wait to try more recipes!

  30. I LOVE their recipes especially desserts, my favorite thing to make, and could never pick a favorite...if I rattled them off it would take a page or two LOL. Happy baking to everyone!


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