Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mac and Cheese with Polish Sausage

True to my intentions to learn how to cook, I started off today with a fairly simple recipe: Mac and Cheese with Polish Sausage from The Most Decadent Diet Ever by Devin Alexander. I figure you can't go wrong with pasta and there were few enough ingredients that the recipe wasn't intimidating. But, like all my past cooking attempts, I did have to go into a bit of a production before I started cooking.

For one thing, I had to go buy ingredients since I literally had none of them in the house. So off to Trader Joe's I went. Fortunately, Devin Alexander also seems to be a TJ's disciple and I was able to find all the ingredients easily enough. I even planned ahead to the next several recipes I'd be cooking from her book and stocked up on those too - imagine that. Then I had to invest in a few cooking gadgets/utensils I don't have so a few simple recipes added up to more $$s than any person could reasonably expect. However, I'm trying not to be a flash in the pan (haha) with this cooking thing so I'm looking on these purchases as an investment and that I won't automatically be defaulting to TJ's ready-made Chicken Tikka Masala so quickly. I even bought a meat mallet for an upcoming Chicken Piccata recipe and I envision using it on future occasions, you know - on meat.

Anyway, back to the Mac and Cheese. This was easy enough even for my limited cooking skills. The biggest pain was grating the block of light cheddar cheese but even that wasn't a big deal. The cheese melted easily enough in the pot but once I had everything mixed up and was portioning it out into single serving sizes, the cheese seemed rather stringy. And cleaning up the pot was a huge pain in the arse since the cheese didn't really want to come off. That's what you get with low-fat cheese, I guess. As for the dish itself, it tasted okay. The kielbasa added nice flavor to it but overall, this dish was pretty bland. And I followed the recipe faithfully so for once, it wasn't me or my screw up. I think I'll add a bit more salt and some pepper to the rest of the servings to try to liven it up. I've already said I have bland taste buds so when even I find something bland, you know it's really bland.

4 ounces extra-lean kielbasa or smoked turkey sausage (3 grams of fat or less per 2-ounce serving)
1 cup dried elbow macaroni
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup fat-free milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 ½ ounces (1 ¾ cups) finely shredded Cabot’s 75% Light Cheddar cheese or your favorite low-fat Cheddar

1. Bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a full boil.
2. Cut the sausage into ¼-inch-thick slices.
3. Add the macaroni and the sausage to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the macaroni is cooked al dente, about 5 minutes. (It should still have a bit of bite to it.) Drain.
4. Meanwhile, mix the flour with just enough milk to form a paste in a small bowl. Slowly add the remaining milk, stirring as you do, making sure to remove any lumps. Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Pour the milk mixture into the saucepan. Stir in the salt. Add the cheese and continue to stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until the cheese is completely melted and the mixture starts to thicken. When the mixture is almost smooth, stir in the cooked macaroni and sausage until it is well incorporated. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Old-Fashioned Glazed Orange Cake

This is the last thing I've baked in 2009 and will be the last thing before my baking hiatus for the month of January. The original name was Old-Fashioned Glazed Lemon Cake from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley but I swapped out the lemons for oranges to make an orange cake with an orange glaze. The original recipe is below with lemons but you can easily substitute oranges. Or try the original with lemons as that's good too.

Tomorrow, New Year's Day, I'm headed to my parents for lunch to celebrate the new year with them and some of my mom's relatives. Most Filipinos, especially (cough) the older generation, don't care for sweets. No chocolate, no sugar, nothing overtly sweet at all. So I settled on a citrus cake as a safe bet that hopefully they won't consider too sweet. I like this cake because it has a nice tender crumb but also the texture of a good pound cake. The orange flavor blends nicely with the butter flavor and the glaze, with bits of orange zest, tops it nicely. I like to take about half the glaze and cover the cake with it while it's still a little warm (not hot). The glaze melts into the cake without sliding off too much. Then once it's completely cool, I cover it with the rest of the glaze. The first layer of glaze that somewhat melted into the cake gives it added moisture and flavor into the cake - yum.

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
Grated zest of 2 large lemons
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 2 ½ tablespoons)

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups to 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, well sifted
Finely grated zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 ½ tablespoons)

Additional unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the pan

1. Preheat oven to 325˚F. Grease a 10-inch Bundt pan and set aside. Using a wooden spoon, or the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy and pale. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl.
2. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a small bowl. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Don’t overmix; just fold gently until the batter looks well blended. Fold in the lemon zest and juice.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Bake the cake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze.
4. For the glaze: in a medium-sized bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sifted sugar and the combined zest and lemon juice, alternating one then the other, until a creamy, pourable consistency is achieved.
5. In cake onto a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Spoon the glaze over hot cake and allow to cool completely before cutting. Best the day it is made, it will keep fairly well, in an airtight container at room temperature, for up to 3 days.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A cooking blog?

It's no secret that I can't cook. People assume that because I can bake, that I can cook. That's like saying because I can drive a car, that I can also ride a motorcycle and drive an 18-wheeler. Um, no. Actually, I shouldn't say I can't cook. Does being able to boil water for pasta and heating things in the microwave count? Truth is, I've never bothered to learn how to really cook and to become good at it. In today's world of convenience food, I've skated this far in life without learning how to do more than the basics. I don't eat fast food anymore and haven't for years (try reading Fast Food Nation and watching SuperSize Me in the same timeframe and see if you walk into a McDonalds or Burger King ever again) but places like Trader Joe's and Costco were made for cooking simpletons like me and they do all the work. Open package, remove any overtly plastic-y or metal things and put in microwave. Voila, dinner. Don't knock TJ's Chicken Tikka Masala until you've tried it. Even comes with basmati rice.

I also have bland taste buds and am a picky eater so all those ingredients in a recipe, half of which I don't eat most of the time, just don't inspire me to cook. The times when I've attempted it, I left out the ingredients I don't eat and ended up with some strange (and usually tasteless) concoctions. However, we're coming up on a new year and while I shy away from all things to do with "New Year's Resolutions" as seemingly too fleeting to be any good, it's easier to feel motivated to try to hone my cooking skills once again.

Actually, the real crux of the matter is, I don't bake in January. Too many people (plus me) are on a diet or trying to eat healthier and I don't want to sabotage their efforts (or mine). So if I can't bake, I need to do something. Might as well try to learn how to cook....again. I don't aspire to be a Julia Child or even to become a great cook. I just want to be able to put together some decent meals without it being a production. I can whip up almost any baking recipe with just the ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator but for a simple recipe of "real food", I will literally have to write down all the ingredients needed that I don't have (likely all of them), go make a special grocery shopping trip, and in some cases, figure out if I need to buy whatever pan(s) are needed or if I can make do with what I have. I do have pots and pans (more or less) but the only one I really use is my small frying pan since I can make scrambled eggs. Oh, and a pot for boiling water for pasta. All the other stuff I gathered over the years in my previous and aborted attempts to learn how to cook so I have a hodgepodge of cookware, none of which are really top quality since I wasn't going to invest in something I know won't capture my attention for very long.

This time, however, I've learned enough to set realistic goals. I'm only going to make simple dishes that don't require massive amounts of ingredients or lots of chopping and slicing (I suck at that too). Preferably food I can pack into containers and bring to work for lunch so they have to take kindly to being reheated. I can microwave with the best of them.

So, this baking blog will temporarily be hijacked by my cooking attempts - come along for the ride. At best, you can laugh at my efforts :).

Before I inflict that torture on you though, I have another recipe to share from a real cook - my mom. This is for Minced Chicken with Lettuce Leaves or Mushu Chicken as we call it in my family. It's my niece Lauren's favorite dish that my mom makes. Whenever the girls are in town, Lauren asks for Mushu Chicken and my mom makes it for her (c'mon, have to feed the grandchildren and all). I don't know where she got the original recipe so I can't cite the source here. All I've got is a well-used recipe card. Incidentally, this is exactly the type of recipe I'm talking about that's my Waterloo - too many ingredients and too much chopping, slicing and dicing. But it's really tasty - enjoy.

Minced Chicken with Lettuce Leaves

1 head lettuce
6 dried Chinese black mushrooms
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
5 boned, skinned chicken thighs
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
2 green onions
One 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
3/4 cup minced water chestnuts
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
Freshly ground white pepper

1. Separate the lettuce leaves, wash dry, wrap in a cloth and chill for at least 1 hour.

2. Cover the dried mushrooms with warm water and let stand for 2 hours. Drain and squeeze water, discard stems, mince and reserve.

3. Toast sesame seeds until golden.

4. Mince chicken thighs and reserve.

5. In a small bowl, combine oyster sauce, soy sauce, sherry and sugar. Stir well and reserve.

6. Heat wok over high heat, add vegetable oil and quickly swirl surface of pan. Add minced chicken, green onions, and ginger. Stir fry 2 minutes over high heat.

7. Add water chestnuts and mushrooms, stir fry for 2 minutes.

8. Add sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, oyster sauce mixture and cornstarch mixture. Stir fry until well blended and slightly thickened, 1 or 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chicken Adobo

Few dishes epitomize Filipino cooking like adobo. It's a vinegar-and-garlic-based dish and can be made with pork ribs or chicken. My mom has made adobo throughout the years and never seemed to follow a recipe but her adobo always came out really well and is one of our family staples. This last time, she showed me an actual recipe (huzzah!) that she had been using lately as we all really liked that version of adobo. It was a recipe she'd cut out of the newspaper but it turns out it was from a Filipino cookbook a friend had given me a couple of years ago - Memories of Philippine Kitchens: Stories and Recipes from Far and Near by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. Which, of course, I'd never cooked from since I'm just not a cook but I liked reading the cultural tidbits associated with the different recipes. But now I have an actual recipe to post! This recipe calls for using baby back ribs but my mom made it with chicken. She cut up a whole one and used all the parts except for the back of the chicken as she said that had too much fat.

Baby Back Ribs Adobo (but with chicken)

1 cup organic apple cider vinegar (preferably aged in wood)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 small bay leaves
1 or 2 large jalapeno chiles, left whole
1 side of baby back ribs (about 2 pounds), cut up into individual or 2-rib portions)
2 teaspoons rock salt
6 garlic gloves, peeled
2 teaspoons Tellicherry peppercorns
Steamed rice, for serving

1. In small bowl, combine vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves and jalapeno. Arrange ribs in baking pan and season with salt.
2. Using a mortar and pestle, gently pound garlic cloves and peppercorns until they are combined and coarsely ground. Rub spices into the pork. Pour vinegar mixture over ribs, turning meat to coat evenly with the liquid. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
3. When you’re ready to cook ribs, transfer ribs and marinade to large, heavy saucepan. Bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook until meat is tender and falling off the bone.

Molten Chocolate Cake - Gale Gand

I've been MIA for a few days because of the holidays and also because I'm slowing down on the baking. I think I pretty much hit the baking peak the week before Christmas in terms of volume. Fortunately, for Christmas Day dinner, I only had to make sure there was enough for 7 people. Per my sister's request, I made molten chocolate cake (aka lava cake) for dessert. I got this recipe from and it's from Gale Gand. I have several of her cookbooks although I admit I haven't made many recipes from it. This lava cake was pretty good but, as with most recipes with a high concentration of chocolate, make sure you use "good chocolate". I prefer Lindt or Valrhona but Trader Joe's also carries good chocolate.

Lava cakes are simple and easy to make but the baking of them can be tricky. If you don't bake it long enough, it's raw batter instead of "lava" chocolate. If you bake them too long, then worst case scenario, you have a dry cake and best case scenario is you have a cake but no lava. I made the batter for this earlier in the day so I wouldn't have to do anything at the last minute. I portioned them out into individual ramekins, covered each one with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator. When we were nearing the end of Christmas dinner, I preheated the oven and popped the cakes into the hot oven.

Because they had been refrigerated, they were nowhere near baked, even for lava cakes, at 6 minutes. I left them in for about 10 minutes but in retrospect, that wasn't enough time. The top half of the cake was just right but the bottom half was still more batter than cake and even a bit cool so they definitely hadn't had time to bake long enough. I had batter left over so I made a few more ramekins of lava cake the next night when my sister's boyfriend, Patrick, was over and she had asked for lava cake again for him. This time I baked the cakes a little longer but now it seemed I baked them too long as the bottom of the cake baked and there was still the fudgy middle but the top of the cake I had was just a bit "tough". Taste-wise, I like this recipe. But I will have to play with baking times to really get it to the right combination of cake and molten cake.

8 ounces plus 6 tablespoons butter
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
6 yolks
6 eggs
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup flour

1. Melt the chocolate and butter together. Cool slightly.
2. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks and eggs then mix in the powdered sugar.
3. Whisk this into the chocolate mixture then whisk in the flour.
4. Fill 12 greased 4-ounce foil tins with the batter and refrigerate until ready to bake, or bake immediately.
5. Bake in a preheated 450˚F oven for 5 to 6 minutes from cold, or 4 to 5 minutes from room temperature. Turn out of tins immediately onto the plate.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chocolate Pan Cake with Fudge Frosting

Chocolate Pan Cake with Fudge Frosting - December 21, 2009

If you ever need a quick and easy chocolate cake with frosting and you don't want to mess with making separate layers, waiting for the cake to cool and frosting it, use this recipe. You bake it in one pan, you make the frosting while it's baking and you spread the frosting right over the cake when it comes out of the oven. The frosting partially melts on top of the cake and it's just all chocolatey, fudgy goodness. Not to mention, this cake is light, has a tender crumb and is moist. The recipe is from A Country Baking Treasury by Lisa Yockelson and as I've mentioned before, was the best $5 I ever spent on a bargain book at a bookstore. This recipe alone is worth more than the $5, not to mention all the other great recipes I've gotten from it.

The batter for this cake is pretty liquidy and contributes to how light it bakes up and its moistness. It calls for a high baking temperature and a relatively short baking time so don't take your eye off the clock for this one. The main drawback to it though is because the cake batter is so liquidy, it's prone to lumps of flour. Cake flour is notorious for lumping. You can sift it beforehand but when I make this recipe, I make it because it's easy and I'm pressed for time. When I'm pressed for time, I don't sift. Which is sloppy baking work on my part but the taste of this cake makes up for any minor lumps here or there :). Oh and I never add pecans to this - it doesn't need it. Try making it with a little less powdered sugar than a whole 1-lb box. The full pound makes it a bit stiffer in consistency. You don't want the frosting too soft though as remember that you're going to spread it over a hot cake and it'll melt. Sometimes the butter in the frosting gets too hot when you pour it over the cake so it separates a bit. Don't worry about it - once you have the frosting spread out the way you want it, just blot it gently with a paper towel to take a little of the shine off. It'll still taste good.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into rough chunks
4 tablespoons unsifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups unsifted cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup buttermilk, blended with 1 teaspoon baking soda, at room temperature
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Fudge Frosting
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon light cream, at room temperature
1 box (1 pound) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Lightly butter and flour a 9 x 13 x 2-inch cake pan; set aside. Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
2. For the cake, place the butter, cocoa, and water in a large saucepan, set over moderately high heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Sift together the sugar, flour and salt into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk together the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Pour the hot butter-cocoa-water mixture over the sifted dry mixture and beat on moderate speed until thoroughly blended. Add the whisked egg mixture and continue beating on low speed until the batter is a uniform color, about 1 ½ minutes. Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
3. Bake the cake on the lower-third-level rack of the preheated oven for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and dry and the cake shrinks slightly away from the edges of the pan.
4. About 10 minutes before the cake is done, make the fudge frosting. Place the butter, chocolate, milk and cream in a large saucepan, set over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted down completely. Remove from the heat and beat in the sugar by cupfuls with the vanilla and salt. Blend in the pecans.
5. As soon as the cake is done, remove it from the oven to a wire cooling rack. Immediately spread the frosting evenly over the top with a flexible palette knife. Let the cake cool in the pan.
6. For serving, cut the cake in squares directly from the cake pan.

"My New Brownie"

My New Brownie - December 20, 2009

Okay, these aren't "my" new brownies but rather Judy Rosenberg's from Rosie's Bakery. This is from her Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book. You might recall my earlier blog post about her brownie recipe from her first book that I was in such raptures about. This is another recipe she had come up with. I tried it out and it turned out pretty well but I might have to give props to the first recipe over this one. This one isn't bad but to my jaded taste buds, the other one was a bit better. In any case, these are moist, rich and fudgy so you can't really go wrong with either recipe. Just don't forget to use the "good chocolate".

My coworker, Mitali, tipped me off to Cost Plus World Market's chocolate and I've been using their 99% cacao chocolate for my unsweetened baking chocolate needs. 3 ounces for $1.99 isn't bad. It's not as cheap as the Baker's unsweetened chocolate that you can find at any grocery and which will do in a pinch but investing in good chocolate is always a good idea, especially in a recipe like this where chocolate has such a starring role.

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease a 9-inch square pan with butter or vegetable oil or line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the top of a double boiler placed over simmering water. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes.
3. Place the sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl, and pour in the chocolate mixture. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix until blended, about 25 seconds. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. Add the vanilla. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the eggs one at a time, blending after each addition until the yolk is broken and dispersed, about 10 seconds. Then scrape the bowl and blend until the mixture is velvety, about 15 seconds more. Scrape the bowl.
5. Add the flour on low speed, and mix for 20 seconds, stopping the mixer once to scrape the bowl. Finish the mixing by hand, being certain to incorporate any flour at the bottom of the bowl. Stir in the nuts, if using.
6. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.
7. Bake the brownies on the middle rack of the oven just until the center has risen to the level of the sides and a tested inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs, about 35 minutes.
8. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a rack to cool for 1 hour before cutting the brownies into 2 ¼-inch squares with a sharp knife.
9. Leave the brownies in the pan, at room temperature, covered, for up to 2 days. After that, layer them in an airtight plastic container with plastic wrap, parchment or waxed paper between the layers and store for another 2 days in the refrigerator or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. They are delicious cold or at room temperature.

Fantasy Bars aka Dulce de Leche bars

Fantasy Bars - December 20, 2009 from Fearless Baking by Elinor Klivans

If your fantasy involves chocolate, white chocolate and caramel in a brown sugar bar cookie, these are aptly named. I'm renaming them Dulce de Leche bars because that's what I used in the recipe instead of caramel and it helps me remember what they are. Besides, my fantasies change in any given day, haha.

The recipe calls for making caramel from scratch but when I'm baking for the umpteenth time for dozens of people, I take shortcuts where I can. Substituting dulce de leche for caramel is an easy choice to make. For those of you who don't know what it is, dulce de leche is a milk-based sauce and is made by heating sweetened milk until it resembles and tastes like caramel. In short, it's fabulous. I get the jar from Williams Sonoma which costs an arm and a leg, not to mention having a horrible number of calories. Obviously I care about neither of these things when it comes to baking with it.

This recipe calls for baking the bars for 35 minutes and not being able to rely on the toothpick method since the caramel filling the middle interferes with the toothpick test. I dutifully baked it for the required 35 minutes and even timed it but I think I should've baked it longer to give the bottom crust time to bake a bit more. It was a bit mushy which is fine and didn't interfere with the taste but since the filling is already mushy, I'd prefer the bar cookie part to be a bit firmer. I omitted the nuts on this one and used white chocolate chips instead of chopped white chocolate since I didn't have white chocolate on hand. Overall, it's pretty good but I think what I preferred most about it was the dulce de leche. If I had used real caramel, it might be a trifle too sweet for me.

Cookie Dough
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ pound (2 sticks) soft unsalted butter
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup (about 6 ounces) white chocolate, chopped in about ½-inch pieces, Callebaut or Lindt preferred
1 recipe caramel sauce (¾ cup), cooled until warm to touch, about 30 minutes

1. Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a 9 x 9 x 2-inch or 11 x 7 x 2-inch pan with heavy aluminum foil that extends over 2 ends of the pan. Butter the inside of the foil in the pan.
2. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together into a medium bowl or onto a piece of wax paper and set aside.
3. Put the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture looks blended together thoroughly, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the mixture from the sides of the bowl and any that becomes caught in the beaters as needed throughout the mixing process. Mix in the egg and vanilla until they are blended in and the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing just until it is incorporated and there is no loose flour. Use a large spoon to stir in the chocolate chips. Spoon half of the cookie dough in large clumps evenly over the bottom of the lined pan. Use your fingers or a thin metal spatula to smooth the dough into an even layer that covers the pan bottom. Set the remaining dough aside.
4. Make the filling: Spoon the walnuts and white chocolate pieces evenly over the cookie dough. Leaving about 1 ½-inch edge bare, drizzle the caramel sauce evenly over the walnuts and white chocolate. Some of the caramel will spread to the edge. Refrigerate the pan until the caramel sauce is firm, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and drop pieces of the reserved cookie dough evenly over the firm filling. Spread the dough evenly over the filling to cover it completely.
5. Bake the bars for about 35 minutes, until the top feels firm and is lightly browned. Testing with a toothpick does not work, as the thick filling makes the toothpick come out wet with filling. Cool the bars for about 3 hours at room temperature. The chocolate will still be soft, but this is fine for serving or cutting. The chocolate becomes firm after about 8 hours or overnight. To firm the bars more quickly, cool them for 1 hour at room temperature, then refrigerate them for 2 hours.
6. Carefully lift the aluminum foil liner with the bars from the baking pan. Use a small knife to loosen the liner from the sides of the bars. Cut the bars into 35 pieces, cutting 5 rows lengthwise and 7 rows across. The bars will be slightly smaller than 1 ½ inches square. Use a wide spatula to slide the bars off the foil liner. Serve at room temperature. Vanilla, chocolate or caramel ice cream makes a good accompaniment, if desired. Leftover bars can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Chunky Chocolate-Covered Coconut Candy Cookies

Chunky Chocolate-Covered Coconut Candy Cookies - December 20, 2009

I would simply call these Almond Joy Cookies just to shorten the name. The recipe actually calls for Mounds bars to be used but since I prefer milk chocolate to dark, I use Almond Joys instead. I first made these back in 2005 to use up some leftover Halloween candy. While they have the same basic ingredients as a regular chocolate chip cookie, they're a bit sweeter and using the candy in them not only sweetens the dough but makes the cookies crisp around the edges. When I first made them a few years ago, I cut bite-size Almond Joys into big chunks. This time, I cut the bite-size pieces into smaller chunks. This seemed to make the cookies spread a bit more. I'm not a fan of spread so next time I would probably keep the chunks fairly big. The only issue with these cookies is, depending on where the candy is located in the ball of cookie dough, it'll leak out, as you can see from the bottom right cookie in the picture. It doesn't affect the taste but if you like a more predictable spread, try to keep the candy pieces from the edges of your ball of cookie dough.

"Almond Joy Cookies" - first made November 16, 2005 from Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson

6 packages (1.9 ounces each) chocolate-covered coconut candy (such as Peter Paul Mounds), cut into small chunks
1 ½ cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons shortening
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Chill the candy: Place the cut-up candy in a baking pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Refrigerating the chunks of candy will prevent them from breaking up too much when mixed into the dough.)
2. Mix the dough: Whisk the flour and salt in a small bowl.
3. Cream the butter and shortening in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderately low speed for 3 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute on moderate speed. Add the light brown sugar and beat for 1 minute longer. Beat in the egg. Blend in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently to keep the dough even-textured. On low speed, add the sifted mixture in 2 additions, beating until the particles of flour are absorbed. Mix in the candy chunks, coconut and chocolate chips. The dough will be chunky.
4. Chill the dough: Cover the bowl with a sheet of food-safe plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 325˚F in advance of baking. Line several cookie sheets or rimmed sheet pans with lengths of cooking parchment paper.
6. Shape the cookies: Place heaping and domed 2-tablespoon-size mounds of dough about 3 inches apart on the prepared pans, placing them about 9 mounds to a pan.
7. Bake and cool the cookies: Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 16 to 17 minutes, or until set, with pale golden edges. (The tops should not look like glistening unbaked cookie dough.” Let the cookies stand on the pans for 1 minute, then remove them to cooling racks, using a wide offset metal spatula. Cool completely. Store in an airtight tin.

Bake and serve within 3 days

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars

Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars - December 19, 2009

I'm doing a lot of baking to give out to church friends tomorrow (Sunday) and for my coworkers (Monday). When you need to bake for a large number of people and want to have a variety of stuff to give away, bar cookies that are easy to make and turn out well are a godsend. I don't like to make large batches of the same thing but prefer smaller amounts of different things. When I bake so much, making the same thing over and over again would drive me crazy because I like baking all sorts of different stuff. Which is why I probably wouldn't do well baking as a job as that's what 95% of those jobs are.

This recipe is especially easy to make, especially when you're pressed for time, because it starts with a cake mix. The additions of toffee bits, chocolate chips and nuts liven up the texture and flavor of this bar cookie. Do yourself a favor though and strain the cake mix before you use it. Boxed cake mixes are notoriously lumpy and if you use it without straining it first, you're forever trying to mash out the lumps in the batter. I always run mine through a large sieve I got when I was in culinary school. It makes sifting a breeze and is well worth the time up front to get it right. Last thing you want when you bite into a bar cookie, cake or whatever is a lump of flour (or cake mix).

Chocolate Chip Toffee Bars - made December 19, 2009 from Cake Mix Cookies by Camilla V. Saulsbury

1 18.25-ounce package yellow cake mix
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 large egg
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (e.g. walnuts, pecans or peanuts)
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 10-ounce package toffee baking bits, divided

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (or 325°F for dark-coated metal pan). Position oven rack in middle of oven. Spray the bottom only of a 9 x 13-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray (or foil line pan).
2. In a large bowl, mix cake mix, softened butter, and egg with an electric mixer set on medium speed until blended and crumbly; stir in nuts and 1 ½ cups chocolate chips. Set aside 1 ½ cups of the crumb mixture. Firmly press remaining crumb mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes.
3. Pour condensed milk evenly over partially baked crust; top with 1 ½ cups of the toffee bits. Sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture and remaining ½ cup chocolate chips evenly over top.
4. Bake 25-28 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup toffee bits. Transfer to wire rack and cool completely. Cut into bars.

Brownie Shortbread

Brownie Shortbread - December 16, 2009

While I don't like to try new recipes around the holidays since I'm pressed for time and can't afford failures I can't use, I did take the risk with this one as it seemed like it would turn out. Crisp shortbread base with a brownie layer on top - what could go wrong? When I first read the recipe though, I thought there must be a typo as the brownie layer doesn't contain any flour. So it seemed like it would be supremely fudgy or like a flourless chocolate cake on top. And so it was. It still turned out pretty well as the shortbread layer was crisp and provided a nice contrast to the soft brownie layer. The texture did seem a bit grainy to me though and I think I would have preferred a little flour in it for a more robust brownie. But this is one of those cases where I'm my own worst critic and my coworkers would probably roll their eyes at how picky I am. Because the plate I left out at work pretty much disappeared in under an hour which is always a sign that people like something. So I guess it wasn't that bad.

The only thing I didn't follow to the letter in the recipe was using a food processor to make the shortbread dough. I was feeling lazy about bringing mine out and cleaning it up later so instead I chose to cut the butter into the flour and sugar with two sharp knives. This is how I made the shortbread crust for my lemon bar recipe and that one always turns out so I figured doing it that way for this one would still be okay. And it was.

Brownie Shortbread - made on December 16, 2009 from All-Butter, Fresh-Cream, Sugar-Packed Baking Book by Rosie’s Bakery

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 pieces

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease an 11 x 7-inch baking pan with butter.
2. For the base, process the flour and sugar in a food processor about 15 seconds. Add the butter and process until the dough comes together, 20 to 30 seconds.
3. Pat the dough gently over the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake on the center oven rack until it is lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Place the base in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to cool completely. Keep the oven on.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the topping: melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Cool slightly.
5. Beat the eggs, sugar, and baking powder together in a medium-size bowl with a whisk. Add the chocolate mixture and stir vigorously with the whisk until the batter is blended. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the base.
6. Bake the bars until the top rises and forms a very thin crust, about 20 minutes. The center will drop as it cools. (A tester inserted in the middle may come out with a fudgy, crumbly batter on it, but it should not be liquidy.) Cool completely on a rack. Cut the shortbread with a thin knife.

Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies - December 14, 2009

You'd think with all the baking I've been doing that I would be adding more to this blog but I've been baking so much I haven't had time. I've also been going out almost every night this week so every spare moment is spent in actually baking instead of writing about it. Plus some of the stuff I've been baking I've already posted about. During the frenzied holiday baking season, I don't try out a lot of new recipes in case they don't turn out. Case in point, I tried a new fudge recipe last night and it didn't turn out. Too grainy and didn't have that creamy texture I was going for. I should know better than to try a recipe on the package of the jar of marshmallow cream.

This one is a tried and true recipe - Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies from Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson. I like that it doesn't spread much and stays thick and chewy. I used the Guittard milk chocolate chips for this one as they're bigger than the Nestle tollhouse morsels. I tend to make a lot of cookie doughs ahead of time so I can bake them off at the last-minute when I need them. This is especially crucial when I'm not home much between working and going out. This past week, no matter what time I've gotten home, I've turned my oven on the minute I walk in the door and start pulling cookie dough out of the freezer to get ready for the next day's social events. It's so much easier to get things done when I have stuff prepped ahead of time.

Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/3 cup quick cooking (not instant) rolled oats
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons unsifted bleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ pound (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups firmly packed light brown sugar, sieved if lumpy
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
2 large eggs
2 ¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line the cookie sheets with cooking parchment paper; set aside. The baking sheets need to be heavy to prevent from the bottoms of the cookies from overbrowning. Double pan the sheets if necessary.
2. Place the rolled oats in a food processor fitted with the steel knife. Cover and process, using the 3-second on-off bursts, until reduced to moderately fine bits, like a coarse-textured powder. Set aside.
3. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl.
4. Cream the softened butter in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderately low speed for 2 minutes. Add the light brown sugar and beat for 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute. Blend in the vanilla extract and melted, tepid butter. Blend in the eggs. Remove the mixing bowl from the stand. Mix in the processed oats. Add the whisked flour mixture, chocolate chips and coconut and stir to form a dense but somewhat sticky dough, using a wooden spoon or a flat wooden paddle.
5. Take up generous 3 tablespoon-size mounds of dough and form into rough mounds about 1 ¾” in diameter by 2 inches tall. The height of the mounds is important if the cookies are to bake up pudgy and chewy textured.
6. Place the mounds on the lined cookie sheets, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Place nine mounds of dough on each sheet.
7. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 13 to 15 minutes, or until softly set, pale golden around the edges and a spotty pale golden on top. The bottoms of the cookies will be light golden-colored. Let the cookies stand on the sheets on cooling racks for 10 minutes, then remove them to sheets of parchment papers, using a wide, offset metal spatula. Cool completely.

Freshly baked, the cookies keep for 2 days.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chocolate Peanut Buttercups

Chocolate Peanut Buttercups - December 13, 2009

The title pretty much says it all - this has a graham cracker peanut crust which supports a chocolate cake filled with a peanut butter cream cheese filling and topped with chocolate ganache. You're supposed to garnish it with chopped peanuts but I ran out. Overall, this was pretty good. I ran out of chocolate cake batter though so had to stretch it out towards the end. The peanut butter cream cheese filling was also a little stiff compared to the softer cake batter so getting it in as an even dollop of filling was problematic. I admit I didn't try that hard either.

This is one of those recipes I'd like to make in smaller pans, like muffin tins with removable bottoms. The only pan I have with removable bottoms is my molten chocolate cake pan and it makes for some big peanut buttercups. I made smaller ones in a regular muffin tin but I had to line each one with aluminum foil so I could take it out of the pan easily. Those didn't look as pretty as the ones in the molten chocolate cake pan.

The recipe calls for ganache which I made but I'm not a fan of ganache. Ganache is simple chocolate and heavy cream melted and whisked together. While a boon for serious chocoholics, I don't find it sweet enough for me and would prefer a more traditional chocolate frosting. But still, this is a cute little cake to make for holiday baking.

Chocolate Peanut Buttercups - recipe from the July 1999 issue of Chocolatier Magazine

Peanut-graham cracker crust
1 cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts, finely chopped
½ cup graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted

Chocolate batter
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Peanut butter batter
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk

Chocolate glaze
¼ cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 tablespoon dry roasted peanuts

1. Make the peanut-graham cracker crust: Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350˚F. Place twelve 4-ounce metal baking cups or ceramic ramekins on a baking sheet. In a medium bowl stir together the peanuts, graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter until well-combined. Press 2 tablespoons of the crumb mixture into the bottom of each baking cup. Bake until slightly firm, about 5 to 7 minutes. Reserve.
2. Make the chocolate batter: In a medium saucepan over low heat, stir together the butter, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate until melted and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat; cool 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, brown sugar and granulated sugar until well-combined. Stir in the melted chocolate mixture. Fold in the flour and salt until just incorporated. Reserve.
4. Make the peanut butter batter: In small bowl, beat together the cream cheese, peanut butter, sugar, and yolk until combined.
5. Assemble the chocolate peanut butter cups: Drop 2 tablespoons of the chocolate batter on top of the peanut crust; level with a small spatula. Form 1 tablespoon of the peanut butter batter into a disc; place over the chocolate batter. Top peanut butter batter with 2 more tablespoons of the chocolate batter. Repeat this process for the remaining baking cups. Bake 18 minutes on a baking sheet until the centers are set. Transfer baking cups to a wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
6. Make the chocolate glaze: In a small, heavy saucepan over high heat, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the chocolate. Whisk until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the ganache to a bowl; cool until thick enough to spread, about 15 to 20 minutes. Place baking cups over low heat for 5 to 10 seconds if necessary to loosen the bottom. Unmold and place crust-side-down on a serving platter. With an offset spatula spread 1 heaping tablespoon of the glaze over top of each chocolate-peanut butter cup. Garnish with peanut halves.
Lark's Country Heart

Lemon Orange Sour Cream Cookies

Lemon Orange Sour Cream Cookies - December 13, 2009

It's a busy social week this week as I have lunch and dinner with different friends nearly every day this week. I like to bring goodie bags of things I've baked for my friends whenever I see them so I have a mountain of baking to do. I'm somewhat prepared by having cookie dough in my freezer ready to bake off at the last minute before a social gathering and I have brownies baked in the last few days that I've already cut up, packaged and have in the freezer, also ready to go at a moment's notice. But still, I have more baking to do. This morning I woke up early before church to tackle this recipe. It's from the 2nd of Rosie's Bakery's cookbooks that I got recently called Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book. With that title, what's not to love?

In any case, I decided to give this recipe a try to contrast with the chocolate treats I've already baked. The recipe contains sour cream which past experience tells me this will make a cakey cookie. And so it did. I didn't have any oranges in the house but plenty of lemons so I used lemon zest and made it an all-lemon cookie. I baked the first batch for precisely 10 minutes which is what the recipe calls for. It seemed to be a bit early to take out but I always err on the side of underbaking. Good thing too because once they were cool, they tasted perfect. I left the last cookie sheet in there a minute or so longer and they were overbaked. The thing with cakey cookies is they don't necessarily taste dry but their flavor definitely seems to bake out of the cookie. So don't overbake these.

I also ran out of the glaze since I treated it more as a frosting - once it cools, it thickens/hardens. So if you make this, double the glaze recipe for 1 cookie recipe. Either that or I just had a heavy hand with the frosting. The cookies themselves weren't too lemony but the frosting was and added a nice touch. These cookies are pretty fragile though so once again, not suitable for mailing.

Lemon Orange Sour Cream Cookies

The Cookie
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon cake flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons grated orange zest
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons sour cream

The Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper, or lightly grease them with vegetable oil.
2. Sift both flours, the baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a small bowl and set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, sugar, orange zest, and vanilla in a medium-size bowl until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl.
4. Add the egg and mix on medium speed until blended, about 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl.
5. Add the sour cream and mix on medium-low until blended, about 8 seconds.
6. Fold in the flour mixture by hand. Then blend with the mixer on low speed for 5 seconds. Scrape the bowl with the rubber spatula, and mix on low speed until the batter is smooth and velvety, 10 seconds. Give the batter a stir or two with the spatula.
7. Drop the batter by large rounded tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets.
8. Bake until the cookies have puffed up, are firm to the touch and are just beginning to turn golden around the edges, 10 minutes. Let the cookies sit for 2 to 3 minutes. Then slide the sheet of parchment onto the counter (or, using a spatula, carefully transfer each cookie to a sheet of aluminum foil or waxed paper on the counter), and let them cool further.
9. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: Place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium-size bowl. Add the butter and lemon juice, and beat vigorously with a whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
10. Once the cookies have cooled, drop generously rounded ½ teaspoons of the glaze onto each cookie and spread with small butter knife. Allow them to sit until the glaze hardens, about 2 hours (or pop them into the refrigerator for 1 hour).
11. If you plan to eat the cookies that day, leave them sitting out. To store them, place them in an airtight plastic container with plastic wrap, parchment, or waxed paper between the layers. Store them in the refrigerator if you plan to eat them the next day. Otherwise, place the container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. Bring the cookies to room temperature before eating.

Makes about 24 cookies

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Coconut Black Bottom Bars

Coconut Black Bottom Bars - December 11, 2009

If you like coconut, cream cheese and chocolate, this is the brownie for you. It's made like a typical cream cheese swirl brownie but you add coconut and chocolate chips to the cream cheese batter. I use mini chocolate chips for the cream cheese batter as the regular-size ones seem too big with a batter as soft as cream cheese. But I do use the normal chocolate chips for the chocolate brownie batter. Although the recipe calls for baking for 30 minutes, this actually takes up to 45-50 minutes in my oven. At 30 minutes, the toothpick comes out with raw batter on it, even close to the sides. But don't wait for the toothpick to come out clean or it'll be overbaked by then. At 45-50 minutes, it's still moist but not raw and remember the chocolate sets when it cools.

Coconut Black Bottom Bars from Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson

Coconut Cream Cheese Topping
2 packages (3 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Fudge Bar Cookie Batter
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons bleached cake flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled to tepid
4 large eggs
1 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Film the inside of a 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Mix the topping: Using an electric hand mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl on moderately low speed until smooth. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla extract. Blend in the coconut and chocolate chips.
3. Mix the batter: Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper. In a small bowl, toss the chocolate chips with ½ teaspoon of the sifted mixture.
4. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk the melted butter and melted chocolate until smooth. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until blended, about 15 to 20 seconds. Add the sugar and whisk until combined, about 30 seconds. Blend in the vanilla extract and melted butter-chocolate mixture. Sift the flour mixture over and stir to form a batter, mixing thoroughly until the particles of flour are absorbed, using a whisk or flat wooden paddle. Stir in the chocolate chips.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
6. Assemble and swirl the sweet: Spoon the coconut cream cheese mixture on top of the fudge batter. Carefully swirl together the cream cheese mixture and chocolate batter, using the tip of a round-edged table knife. When swirling the two mixtures, do so in careful gliding movements. Overswirling the batter will create a muddy look.
7. Bake, cool and cut the sweet into bars: Bake the sweet in the preheated oven for up to 30 minutes, or until set. Let the sweet stand in the pan on a cooling rack for 3 hours. Refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes, or until firm enough to cut. With a small, sharp knife, cut the sweet into quarters, then cut each quarter into 6 bars. Remove the bars from the baking pan, using a small offset metal spatula.
8. Refrigerate all bars not served on baking day in an airtight container.
Bake and serve within 3 days

Margaret's Oatmeal Hotcakes

Margaret's Oatmeal Hotcakes - December 11, 2009

I have no idea who Margaret is but this was the name of the recipe from Bread for Breakfast. If you ever need to use up leftover buttermilk, this is a good way to use it. I will often try out recipes that call for buttermilk but I usually only need a cup or 1/2 cup or less and I hate to waste ingredients so I try to combine what I make to use up what I have. This one uses 2 cups and is easy to make in a pinch. Be warned though - this doesn't make light, fluffy pancakes. With this much oatmeal, you can expect it to be pretty hardy. One normal-sized pancake fills me up for most of the morning. I cook the entire batch then freeze them, separated by wax paper and warm one up for breakfast on the weekends (need protein during the weekdays). What I like about these is they're tasty enough on their own that I can actually eat them without butter or syrup so it helps keep the calories down. But then again, I also have pretty bland tastebuds so maybe it's just me. I've never made the syrup recipe below so you're on your own with that one.

Margaret's Oatmeal Hotcakes from Bread for Breakfast

2 cups cultured buttermilk
1 ¾ cups quick-cooking rolled oats
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour or white spelt flour
¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup light olive oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots (or combination of the two)

Warm maple pancake syrup
1 cup pure maple syrup
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon golden rum (optional)

1. Mix together the buttermilk and oats in a medium bowl (I use one with a plastic lid). Refrigerate overnight.
2. In the morning, remove the mixture from the refrigerator. Sprinkle the flours and sugar over the oats. Add the eggs, oil, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and whisk into the oatmeal mixture. The batter will be thick; thin it with a little more buttermilk, if you like. Stir in the cranberries or the apricots.
3. Heat a griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat until a drop of water skates over the surface and lightly grease. Using a ¼ cup measure for each pancake, ladle the batter onto the griddle. Cook until bubbles form on the surface, the edges are dry and the bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn once, cooking the other side until golden, about 1 minute. Serve immediately, or keep warm in a 200° oven until ready to serve.
4. To make the warm pancake syrup, combine the maple syrup, butter, and rum in a small saucepan or microwave-proof bowl. Heat slowly until the butter is melted. Serve immediately.

Makes 6-8 hotcakes

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Scones

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Scones - December 10, 2009

I normally don't eat scones. I have nothing against them, especially warm from the oven and slathered with butter. But as traditional breakfast fare, I don't eat a lot of carbs first thing in the morning and prefer protein (eggs, sausage, etc) for breakfast. Plus many scones are often larger portions and once you have one, they tend to sit in your stomach like a rock - not the best way to start the day. Yeah, I don't have to eat the whole thing but it's there.

There are two things I like about this recipe. First it's got a tender crumb and isn't heavy or "bread-y" like a typical scone. In fact, it's almost like an oatmeal cake. Second, it's got oatmeal and makes me feel like I'm eating somewhat healthy as long as I ignore the sugar, flour and butter that's also in the recipe. This scone is so buttery from the butter and buttermilk that you don't even need to slather butter on it. I love to eat it warm from the oven but it also tastes good at room temperature. These are a bit fragile and not like one of those scones that can be thrown like a rock. The recipe calls for kneading them, shaping and cutting them but I take the easy way out and drop spoonfuls of the dough/batter into a mini scone pan. One recipe will fill all the cavities of the pan so it's perfect. Oh, and I also leave out the currants since I don't like them and I didn't need to add any extra buttermilk.

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Scones - made December 10, 2009 from Bread for Breakfast

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar or raw sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter, cut into small pieces
1 ¼ cups quick-cooking rolled oats
½ cup currants
1 cup cold buttermilk, plus more, as needed

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl or in the workbowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the all-purpose and whole wheat flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a fork or with the electric mixer on low speed, cut in the butter until it has the texture of soft crumbs. Add the oatmeal and currants, and toss to combine.
3. Stir in the buttermilk until the dough forms in a soft, shaggy ball, adding more buttermilk 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently about 10 times, or just until the dough comes together. Roll or pat out the dough into a rectangle 1 inch thick, 9 inches wide and 12 inches long. Cut with a sharp knife or pastry wheel to form 12 squares (3 cuts across and 4 cuts down).
5. Place the pieces ½ inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and cool to the desired temperature on the baking sheet. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Triple Chocolate Devil Drops

Triple Chocolate Devil Drops - December 8, 2009

Technically, this is only a double chocolate devil drop because the third chocolate was meant to be melted white chocolate drizzled over the chocolate chocolate chip cookie. But I baked these last night and I don't have that kind of time on the weeknights to mesh with garnishes. I made the dough last weekend, portioned it into dough balls and put them in ziploc bags in the freezer. The dough was pretty soft so I had to shape them into balls, put them on a plastic plate and freeze them first before they were firm enough to be placed in ziploc freezer bags.

These came out pretty well - they were soft and moist and I got a couple of comments at work that they were like "little cakes" or "little devil's food cakes". Good enough for me. This recipe is from one of my favorite cookie books: The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle. The only drawback is they're pretty fragile and are a bit too moist to stack well. I wouldn't recommend them as a care package cookie for mailing. Time these carefully in the oven. I underbaked a batch and they came out a tad too mushy. Otherwise, they're nice, rich and chocolatey.

Dark Chocolate Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup nonalkalized cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels

White Chocolate Drizzle
4 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped

Make the cookies
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Gently whisk together to blend.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla extract. At low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating them with the sour cream in two additions, and mixing until just combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies 1 inch apart. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until no impression is left when you touch a cookie very lightly with a finger. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.
Garnish the cookies
5. In a double boiler, melt the white chocolate over barely simmering water, stirring frequently. Scrape the melted chocolate into a small sealable plastic bag and seal the bag. Using scissors, cut a tiny hole in one of the bottom corners of the bag.
6. Arrange the cookies on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Drizzle white chocolate over the cookies in thin parallel lines. Refrigerate the cookies for 5 minutes, or just until the chocolate is set.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sunken Kisses

Sunken Kisses - December 7, 2009

Note to self: when you plan to make a peanut butter and chocolate kiss cookie, make sure you have Hershey's chocolate kisses. I had made the cookie dough this past weekend but didn't bake them off until last night to bring into work for a meeting this morning. But when I got home last night, I discovered I had exactly 5 Hershey's chocolate kisses, not a whole unopened bag like I had thought. Or if I had said bag, I've hidden it so cleverly that I can't actually find it.

Fortunately, I did have Reese's miniature peanut butter cups from Halloween so I used those instead. They might look a little weird in the picture but they did just fine. Not being overly enamoured of peanut butter, I don't care for Reese's so my taste test cookie was with one of the 5 remaining Hershey kisses. Baker's privilege.

I mentioned in an early post how I had a recipe for these that I've been making for years (the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Kiss Cookies link) so I don't often try new recipe variations for it since I liked the recipe I had. This one isn't that different from my original recipe and it turned out pretty well. This is also from Rosie's All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed Baking Book. As you can guess, once I get a new baking book, I obsess over it for awhile so expect more recipes to be tried from that book in the near future.

This one was well-received at work and I got more than a few comments on how moist the cookies were. Hmmmm. Not to brag but I try to always make my cookies moist :). A dry cookie is a waste of calories and chewing effort. If your recipe for a peanut butter cookie calls for butter and peanut butter with no shortening, it's easy to make moist cookies. Make sure you don't overbake it either.

Sunken Kisses
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup (lightly packed) light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
½ cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
48 Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses, removed from their wrappers

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or grease them lightly with butter or vegetable oil.
2. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together into a small bowl and set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, brown sugar, ¼ cup of the granulated sugar, the peanut butter and vanilla in a medium-size mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Stop the mixer twice to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. Add the egg and blend on medium speed until it is almost incorporated, about 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl.
5. Add the dry ingredients on low speed and blend 15 seconds. Stop the mixer to scrape the bowl and paddle then blend until the dough is smooth, about 5 seconds more.
6. Measure out 48 rounded teaspoonfuls of the dough and roll them into balls with your hands.
7. Dip one side of each ball in the remaining ½ cup granulated sugar (optional) and place them 2 inches apart and sugar side up on the prepared cookie sheets.
8. Bake the cookies until they are light gold, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the sheets from the oven. Immediately top each cookie with a Chocolate Kiss, wide side down, and press it firmly in the center of the cookie to imbed the kiss.
9. Carefully remove the cookies from the sheets and place them on a plate or cooling rack.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars - December 5, 2009

If you like peanut butter blondies, you'd probably like this recipe. It's quick and easy to make and it tastes like a typical blondie but it's peanut butter instead of brown sugar. I'm not a huge peanut butter fan so for me, this was just okay (there's that being picky thing again). I would prefer the milk chocolate and peanut butter brownies from Fearless Baking by Elinor Klivans that I posted previously. That's probably my favorite peanut butter brownie.

Perhaps blondies in general just aren't my thing. Most of them are too sweet. This one isn't because it's got the peanut butter to offset the sweetness but blondies also tend to be cakey and when I eat a bar cookie, I prefer something fudgy and chewy. Am I unenthusiastic enough about this one yet? LOL. This was another recipe from Rosie's All-Butter..... baking book. If the award-winning brownies were a 10, I'd give this one a 5.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup commercial smooth peanut butter
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (tightly packed) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease an 11 x 7-inch baking pan with butter or vegetable oil.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a medium-size mixing bowl and set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter, peanut butter, both sugars and the vanilla until light and fluffy, about 1 ½ minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. Add the eggs one at a time and beat on medium speed until partially blended after each addition, about 10 seconds. After the last addition, beat until blended, about 30 seconds, stopping the mixer twice to scrape the bowl.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix with a spatula until the flour is absorbed. Then mix on low speed until blended, 7 to 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl, especially the bottom.
6. Add the chocolate chips and blend for several seconds. Scrape the bowl. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.
7. Bake the bars on the center oven rack until the edges are deep golden and the center is lightly golden and slightly puffy, 25 to 30 minutes. The center will drop when the bars are taken out of the oven, creating a chewy texture. Cut the bars into squares after they have cooled a bit on the rack.

Rosie's Award-Winning Brownies

Rosie's Award-Winning Brownies - December 5, 2009

When I went to Boston for vacation back in October, my friend Hildy told me I had to try Rosie's Bakery. Obliging - and sucker for bakeries that I am, especially when traveling, I visited one of the Rosie's Bakeries in Boston, this one located in Cambridge (see post on Boston baked goods). Since then, I've been looking up the 3 baking books published by Judy Rosenberg who started Rosie's Bakery. Yeah, I was supposed to be on a cookbook buying ban through the end of 2009 but I lasted a year already. No need to go for sainthood.

Anyway, I found one of her baking books, Rosie's All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed Baking Book on eBay for a Buy It Now price of $1 and a reasonable shipping charge so one click of the mouse later, that sucker was mine. I got it in the mail last week and immediately tried a few recipes from it. This was one of the first and yowza, it was good. Now bear in mind, over the course of my baking life, I've tried literally hundreds of different brownie recipes. Not because I was searching for the perfect "one" (unlike men and the idea of a Mr. Right, there's no harm in having more than one brownie favorite....really), but because I love brownies and like trying new recipes.

When I made this one, I tried the taste test piece when it was still barely lukewarm and I had frosted it with another one of Rosie's recipes (she called it a Chocolate Orgasm which is basically the brownie recipe plus frosting). Best.Brownie.Ever. Maybe I was just in the mood at the moment for something rich and chocolatey. Maybe nothing beats a very fresh brownie. The texture was fudgy without being overly mushy. The chocolate was a dark chocolate offset by the sweeter frosting. Much as I dislike Rachel Ray's mannerisms, I have to admit it was a "yumm-o" moment. I had another piece the next day to see if it was as good. Unfortunately I might've come down from my brownie high by then. It was still good but not as orgasmic as something called a Chocolate Orgasm might be. But remember, I've been told I'm overly picky (and I'll cop to it). So give them a whirl and see what you think.

Rosie's Award-Winning Brownies
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 325˚F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan with butter or vegetable oil.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler placed over simmering water. Cool the mixture for 5 minutes.
3. Place the sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl and pour in the chocolate mixture. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix until blended, about 25 seconds. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4. Add the vanilla. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the eggs one at a time, blending after each addition until the yolk is broken and dispersed, about 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl after the last egg and blend until velvety, about 15 more seconds.
5. Add the flour on low speed and mix for 20 seconds; finish the mixing by hand, being certain to mix in any flour at the bottom of the bowl. Stir in ½ cup of the nuts.
6. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of nuts over the top.
7. Bake the brownies on the center oven rack until a thin crust forms on top and a tester inserted in the center comes out with a moist crumb, about 35 minutes. (The center of the brownies should never quite rise to the height of the edges.)
8. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a rack to cool for 1 hour before cutting the brownies. Serve the next day (it takes a day for the flavor to set).

Chocolate Orgasms

1 recipe Rosie’s Award-Winning Brownies
1 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate
¼ cup evaporated milk
1/3 cup sugar

1. Prepare brownies and allow them to cool completely. Don’t cut them yet.
2. To prepare the frosting, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler placed over simmering water.
3. Pour the evaporated milk into an electric blended and add the sugar and the melted chocolate. Blend the frosting on medium-low speed until it thickens, about 50 seconds (the sound of the machine will change when this process occurs.
4. Using a frosting spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the surface of the cooled brownie and allow them to sit for 1 hour before cutting.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes - December 2, 2009

Think of this as a brown sugar cupcake with chocolate chips. It's very tasty but the texture was a bit dense once the cupcakes cooled. I find cupcakes are also tricky because if you bake them too long, they become dry. If you don't bake them long enough, they're heavy. You have to nab them at the just-right stage which isn't always easy to do. I always tend to err on the side of underbaking so my cupcakes are sometimes on the heavy side. They're the perfect texture when they're warm out of the oven but dense up a bit when they cool.

But, here's a trick - warm them up before serving them. This is also tricky if your cupcakes are already frosted but you just have to monitor them closely in the microwave. It also depends on your frosting. Buttercreams and cream cheese-type frostings will melt very easily. I used a chocolate butter frosting with these and they held up well to having the cupcakes heated slightly. Just microwave them for 10 seconds at a time and check to see if that's enough or if they can withstand a little more heat. I wasn't wild about how the frosting turned out because it was a little too stiff and didn't look very nice once it was frosted onto the cupcake - talk about amateur hour when I finished frosting the cupcakes. I should've added more milk to the frosting to get it to more of a spreading consistency. But it was late when I was making them because I got home late from work that night and I was dead on my feet and just wanted to get them done so I went with what I had and called it a day. I served them at work and to my Fantasy Football league at lunch the next day.

The frosting recipe I used isn't the same one below since I wasn't in the mood for a glaze on these - I wanted a frosting. But I'll post the original glaze recipe anyway since that's what the recipe called for. Someday I'll make these cupcakes again and try them properly with the glaze.

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Cupcakes by Elinor Klivans - made December 2, 2009

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup whole milk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

2/3 cup Chocolate Fudge Glaze, slightly warm

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Line 18 muffin tin cups with paper cupcake liners.
2. Make the cupcakes: In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on low speed, mix the flour, brown sugar, and baking soda to blend them. Add the butter and mix until the butter pieces are the size of peas, about 2 minutes. You will still see some loose flour. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. Mix in the egg and vanilla. The batter will still look dry. Mix in the sour cream and milk until the batter looks evenly moistened; you may still see some lumps of butter. Mix in the chocolate chips.
3. Fill each paper liner with about a generous ¼ cup of batter, to about 1/3 inch from the top of the liner. Bake just until the tops feel firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. If the toothpick penetrates a chocolate chip, test another spot. Cool the cupcakes for 10 minutes in the pans on wire racks,.
4. Carefully place a wire rack on top of one pan of cupcakes. Protecting your hands with pot holders and holding the pan and rack together, invert them to release the cupcakes onto the wire rack. Turn the cupcakes top side up to cool completely. Repeat with the second pan of cupcakes.
5. Add the chocolate glaze: Use a fork to generously drizzle thin lines of the topping over each cupcake. Let the cupcakes sit at room temperature until the glaze is firm, or refrigerate the cupcakes for about 15 minutes to firm the topping quickly. Serve at room temperature.
The cupcakes can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Yield: 18 cupcakes

Chocolate Glaze

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
9 ounces (1 ½ cups) semisweet chocolate chips
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and butter (and corn syrup, if making the glaze) over low heat until the cream is hot and the butter has melted. The mixture should form tiny bubbles and measure about 175˚F on a thermometer; do not let it boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate chips and let them sit in the hot cream for about 30 seconds to soften. Add the vanilla and whisk the sauce until it is smooth and all of the chocolate is melted.
2. You can use the sauce warm or let it sit at room temperature until it reaches the thickness desired. To store it, pour the cooled sauce into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Reheat as much sauce as is needed by spooning it into a saucepan and heating over low heat to soften or melt. For the glaze, let it sit at room temperature just until it is thick enough to spread.

Yield: Scant 2 cups glaze