Saturday, October 31, 2009

Snickery Hidden Treasure Cookies

Snickery Hidden Treasure Cookies - first made May 1, 2006 from Cake Mix Cookies by Camilla V. Saulsbury

Here's another way to use up leftover Halloween candy. Although the recipe specifies Snickers, you can also use Baby Ruths, PayDays, etc. The only candy I wouldn't recommend is $100,000 bars or Rolos. The caramel centers are too hard when the cookies cool and are jarring to eat with the cookie when you have to chew and chew the caramel part. Plus I'm not sure if the caramels will leak out of the cookie, ruining the effect of the "hidden treasure".

1 18.25-ounce package yellow cake mix
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 bag mini-size chocolate-covered caramel nougat candy bar pieces (e.g. Snickers), unwrapped

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Position oven rack in middle of oven. Set aside an ungreased cookie sheet.
2. In a large bowl place half of the cake mix along with the eggs and oil. Blend with an electric mixer set on medium-high speed 1-2 minutes, until blended. Stir in the remaining cake mix until all dry ingredients are moistened.
3. Cut candy bars in half to create square-shaped pieces. Shape dough into 1 ½ inch balls. Place a candy bar half into the center of a ball of dough, shaping the dough around the candy to cover completely.
4. Place dough balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
5. Bake 9-11 minutes or until dough is just set. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.


Cocoa Kiss Cookies

Cocoa Kiss Cookies - first made October 7, 2005

Here's a great way to use up any leftover Hershey's kisses - you know the ones you bought that were wrapped in fall colors but you can't really use them once Halloween and Thanksgiving are over unless you pick out just the ones in the silver foil. Although Hershey's has come up with a plethora of different varieties on the Hershey's kiss, use the one that's solid chocolate, whether it be dark, milk, or white or any combo. Don't use the caramel kisses with these or anything with a soft center as they'll just melt and leak out of the cookie dough.

This is a simple cookie from Hershey's Classic Recipes book - you make a chocolate dough, wrap it around the Hershey's kiss and roll into a ball and bake. I like to freeze them first then bake them later so the cookies retain more of their round shape. They don't come out round after you bake them but, done correctly, they're not exactly shaped like a Hershey's kiss either. They're more of the shape of the Baci candy. This helps camouflage that there's a Hershey's kiss inside.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup Hershey’s cocoa
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 bag (9 ounces) Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolates
Powered sugar

1. Beat butter, granulated sugar and vanilla in large bowl until creamy. Stir together flour and cocoa; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until blended. Add pecans; beat until well blended. Refrigerate dough about 1 hour or until firm enough to handle.
2. Heat oven to 375˚F. Remove wrappers from chocolate pieces. Mold scant tablespoon of dough around each chocolate piece, covering completely. Shape into balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set. Cool slightly, about 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. Roll in powdered sugar. Roll in sugar again just before serving, if desired.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Bars

Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Bars - first made January 20, 2003

Since it's Halloween, thought I'd post some recipes that can use up any leftover Halloween candy. If you have peanut butter cups leftover, you might like to use them in this recipe from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle. This makes really good brownies and the "surprise" part is the peanut butter cup that's in the middle of each piece. The tricky thing with this brownie is lining up the peanut butter cups correctly and then knowing where to slice so that the peanut butter cup is (ideally) in the middle of the brownie or at least somewhere in there so you don't see it coming out the side. I sliced the top brownie in half so you could see the inside but the brownie on the left bottom has a PB cup peeking through so you know I was off by a bit.

What I've found helps is to not completely submerge the peanut butter cups or else you'll completely lose sight of them. After you make the brownie batter, wait a few minutes as the batter will stiffen up. This will help support the weight of the peanut butter cups as you arrange them in the pan so they don't sink straight to the bottom. The downside of the more stiff batter is it's harder to spread over the peanut butter cups without rearranging them. The recipe calls for only 16 peanut butter cups so 4 rows of 4 but I find that cuts into relatively large pieces. I prefer to do 5 rows of 5 or 4 rows of 5.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
16 miniature peanut butter cups

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325˚F. Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil so that the foil extends 2 inches beyond 2 opposite sides of the pan. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the pan.
2. Place the butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water and heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and cool the chocolate mixture until tepid.
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Stir until blended.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium speed until blended. Gradually beat in both sugars, mixing just until blended. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate mixture and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture, mixing until blended.
5. Scrape half of the brownie batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Arrange the peanut butter cups evenly over the batter, in four rows of four cups each. Press down lightly on each cup. Scrape the remaining batter over the cups and carefully spread it into an even layer, without moving the cups. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool the brownies completely in the pan on a wire rack.
6. Using the ends of the foil as handles, lift the brownies out of the pan. Cover the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
7. Remove the plastic wrap from the brownies and invert them onto a cutting board. Peel off the foil. Reinvert the brownies and cut them into 16 squares.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week or freeze up to a month.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Basque Cake

Basque Cake - October 30, 2009

Of all the things we made at CIA, Basque Cake has to rank as one of my all-time favorites. Perhaps it's just the simplicity of the cake after all the fancy stuff we made. Or maybe just because it's so good. Basque Cake is a vanilla butter cake filled with pastry cream. The edges are a little crisp and the middle is soft and gooey with the goodness of butter and pastry cream. I don't make it that often though because it's so rich with butter, sugar and pastry cream and I want to keep on fitting in my clothes.

The recipe calls for baking in a 10-inch springform pan but I made these in a molten chocolate cake pan with 6 individual-sized cups with removable bottoms. My friend Annie the Baker and I found these pans on sale at Shackford's, a wonderful little kitchen store in Napa. They were on sale and there were 2 left so Annie and I each got one. Using the pans with removable bottoms is great because you can just push the cakes up when they're baked and take them out intact. There was enough batter and pastry cream left over that I also made a cake in a ramekin and an 8" round cake pan. Don't try taking it out of the pan(s) while they're still too hot or they'll break apart. Also, if you're going to use any pan with a removable bottom or a springform pan, line the bottom of the pan with foil. There's so much butter in the batter that some of it leaks out when it's first placed in a hot oven and you don't want that dripping in the bottom of your oven.

To make this cake, you're going to need a kitchen scale to weigh everything accurately. I don't have the volume measurements for this, only weights. Every baker should have a food scale anyway - you can be much more accurate when baking if you weighed rather than volume measured everything.

Basque Cake

1 pound butter, softened
1 pound sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs, at room temperature
13 ounces cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dark rum
8 ounces pastry cream
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 325˚F – 350˚F.
2. Grease and flour 1 10-inch cake pan or springform pan. Put parchment paper on bottom.
3. Cream butter with sugar and vanilla. Do not overwhip; use paddle attachment. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt, and gradually fold into butter mixture with wooden spoon.
5. Spoon into large pastry bag fitting with a plain tip (#9). Pipe approximately half of the mixture in a spiral onto bottom of prepared pan. Pipe extra ring around inside edge of pan to prevent filling from sticking to sides of pan.
6. Stir rum into vanilla custard. Spread evenly over mixture inside of outer ring, using small spatula or palette knife.
7. Pipe remaining mixture in spiral over filling.
8. Bake in preheated oven 45 to 60 minutes or until center of cake springs back when lightly pressed. Cool in pan on wire rack 15 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely.
9. Dust top with sifted confectioners’ sugar just before serving. Alternatively, spread mixture in pan instead of piping it.

Pastry Cream

Pastry Cream - October 30, 2009

One of the first things we were taught to make in culinary school was pastry cream. My CIA chef instructor said bakeries used this in many of their offerings and was one of their staples. It's pretty simple to make but there are techniques you should use to make it successfully. The original recipe below is straight from my CIA recipe book and yep, it's that sparse in instructions since we were shown how to do it and the recipe is pretty much the bare bones of how to make it.

I hadn't made pastry cream in years and I think I've lost the knack as when I was heating up the whole mixture, mine started clumping instead of thickening gradually. Fortunately, the baking gods invented strainers and I was able to strain mine into respectability. When you make this, whisk the sugar/cornstarch/eggs until blended then temper with the hot milk, meaning add the milk a little at a time, and whisking to incorporate the milk fully into the custard. When you put the whole thing back in the pan and heat to boiling, keep stirring it constantly. I think that was my mistake as I was trying to clean up and wash the dishes instead of keeping a constant stir of the mixture over the stove. But it still tasted pretty good to me. I'm not much of a pudding or custard-type dessert person but I'll make an exception for pastry cream. I can eat this thing like pudding. I made half of this recipe in order to use it for Basque Cake. Oh and when you've finishing making it, cover it with plastic wrap directly over the pastry cream itself, not over the rim of the bowl. This will prevent a skin from forming over the cream.

1 quart milk
8 ounces sugar
3 ounces cornstarch
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
Vanilla extract to taste
3 ounces butter

1. Heat milk.
2. Mix sugar and cornstarch, then add eggs.
3. Temper in milk.
4. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add butter and vanilla.
5. Strain and cool.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chocolate Wafer Sandwich Cookies

Chocolate Wafer Sandwich Cookies - October 29, 2009

I don't make sandwich cookies that often. They're usually easy to make but they take longer than drop cookies and I don't always have that kind of time when I'm working. But since I'm on vacation (!), I figured today would be a good day to try one. Most sandwich cookie recipes are generally the same - make the dough, chill it, roll it out, cut out the shapes, bake, make the filling, put two cooled cookies together with the filling to make the sandwich cookie.

A good sandwich cookie to me will offer complementary flavors between the filling and the cookies and contrasting textures which is typically crisp cookies and soft fillings. That's what I like in a sandwich cookie anyway. This one didn't disappoint. It's also from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook and offers the option of a vanilla cream filling and a chocolate filling. Since the cookies were already chocolate, I opted for the vanilla filling. You'll notice the original recipe calls for equal parts shortening and butter. I deviated and used all butter. I can't stand the idea of eating shortening as is, even if you mix it with butter and sugar. Martha, what were you thinking? My instincts were right and the vanilla cream filling made with all butter was pretty tasty (it's butter, what's not to love?).

What I liked about these sandwich cookies was the chocolate cookie was crisp so it was perfect with the creamy filling. And the filling was just the right texture, not runny or too hard, and held the cookies together quite well. One other note about making sandwich cookies: after you bake them and they're cool, match the ones that are closest in size to each other before you start applying the filling. Even though I used the same cookie cutter for all the shapes, some came out in slightly varying sizes. You don't want one big cookie and one smaller one sandwiched together - it just looks weird.

Chocolate Wafer Sandwich Cookies

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Vanilla Cream Filling or Chocolate Cream Filling

1. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla; beat to combine. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture, and beat to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
2. Turn out the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, and divide in half. With floured hands, shape each piece into a flattened rectangle, wrap with plastic, and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Place one rectangle of dough only a lightly floured work surface. Roll out dough to a scant 1/8-inch thickness, stopping every so often to release the dough by running an offset spatula underneath. You should end up with a rectangle that’s about 14 by 11 inches. Transfer dough to a prepared baking sheet, and freeze until very firm, about 30 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.
4. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Place one rectangle of dough on a clean work surface. Working quickly, cut out rounds using a 2” cookie cutter. (If the dough begins to soften too much, return to the freezer for a few minutes.) Using a wide metal spatula, transfer rounds to parchment-lined baking sheets, about 1 ½ inches apart. Gather together remaining scraps, reroll, and cut out more rounds. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining rectangle of dough.
5. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until the centers of the cookies feel firm when lightly pressed, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. Using an offset spatula, spread 1 tablespoon desired filling onto the flat sides of half the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, keeping the flat sides down. Unfilled cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Once filled, cookies are best eaten the day they are made, but they can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Yield: about 2 dozen sandwich cookies

Vanilla Cream Filling

1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all ingredients. Beat on medium high speed until fluffy and light, 3 to 4 minutes. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Let soften at room temperature before using.

Chocolate Cream Filling

4 ½ ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (1 cup)
¾ ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup (half of one 14-ounce can) sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt chocolates in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water, stirring occasionally. Add condensed milk, butter, and extract; stir to combine. Continue to stir over simmering water until all ingredients are smooth, 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool slightly.

Linked to Everyday Sisters blog

Classic Crumb Cake ala Martha Stewart

Crumb Cake - October 29, 2009

In case you're wondering why I'm baking so much today when I said I wasn't really baking this week because I was on vacation and wouldn't have anyone to give the baked goods to, I was able to find some willing recipients today. My friend Karen and her husband Rex are building a house and their construction crews have been regular recipients of what I make. I was in a baking mood so I arranged for Karen to come pick up all the stuff I made today for the crew. Which was nice because it allowed me to try out several new recipes today.

One of those recipes was the Classic Crumb Cake recipe from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook. At first I was worried because the crumb topping recipe made a lot of crumb topping. As in, there was more crumb than cake when I was layering them in the pan. And the amount of butter listed for the crumb toppping is NOT a typo. I was worried Martha had gone off her rocker with that much crumb mixture but as it turned out, it actually worked. I guess that's why they call it crumb cake. This is not the same as streusel coffee cake which has a lighter layer of streusel on top. A crumb topping doesn't usually contain nuts whereas most streusel toppings do.

Watch the baking time on this cake. I actually timed this one and took it out when the recipe said to (and you know how haphazard I am sometimes about timing things). I almost didn't take it out on time because the middle part of the crumb topping still looked a bit wet and I thought it should be more crumby. But I also know a cake with this kind of texture should never be overbaked or it'll be dry. For my oven, it was the right call because the cake turned out moist with a nice soft texture. The crumb topping was delicious - just turn a blind eye to how much butter and sugar is in it (as I did with the shortbread).

1 ¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups sour cream

Crumb Topping
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Generously butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture and sour cream; beat just until combined.
3. Spoon the batter into the pan, and smooth with an offset spatula. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Before serving, dust with confectioners’ sugar, if using.

Crumb Topping

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
3 ½ sticks (1 ¾ cups) unsalted butter, room temperature

1. In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt; cut in the butter using a pastry blender, until large, moist clumps form. (Alternatively, mix together in a food processor.) Topping can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Butter Shortbread

Butter Shortbread - October 29, 2009

I love shortbread. I rarely make it because when I do, I'm forced to acknowledge how much butter is in good shortbread. Hard to be in denial when the recipe is staring right at you. Shortbread is very straightforward to put together - you mix the ingredients until you get a nice dough and pat it in the pan as evenly as possible. The tricky part with shortbread is the baking time. All the directions say to bake the shortbread when it's golden brown all over but that's really very subjective. If you bake it too long, it's too crispy and the butter can taste burnt. If you don't bake it long enough, the shortbread isn't crisp and is somewhat chewy which is not the texture you're going after with shortbread.

I like to use a rectangular tart pan with a removeable bottom when I make shortbread, rather than a round tart pan like so many recipes call for. When it's the shape as the second picture above, it browns more evenly all over whereas when you use a round tart pan, the edges get brown first then it seems like the middle takes forever to brown while the edges get more and more brown.

This recipe is from Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson and is a nice, simple shortbread recipe. I think I baked this one just a trifle too long as it was just the tiniest bit too crispy. But when it comes to shortbread, I'd rather overbake than underbake (this is probably the only time you'll see me say that). When I was baking it this morning, I was also working out at the same time while it was in the oven so I didn't reach it in time to take it out properly.

Once you have the shortbread to desired doneness, when you take it out, give it a couple of minutes then, while it's still hot, take it out of the pan (pans with removeable bottoms make this really easy) then slice it. When shortbread cools, it hardens and crisps up so it's more difficult to cut evenly. So cut it while it's hot and you'll get cleaner knife cuts. This one turned out pretty well with a good buttery taste but I have an even better recipe for shortbread that I'll post later. It's got butterscotch and toffee bits and goes really well with a buttery shortbread. But that'll be a future post.

Butter Shortbread
1 ¼ cups unsifted bleached, all-purpose flour
¼ cup rice flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup superfine sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

About 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, for sprinkling on top of the baked shortbread

Bakeware: fluted 9 ½-inch tart pan (with a removable bottom)

1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Film the inside of the tart pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
2. Sift the all-purpose flour, rice flour, baking powder, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper.
3. Cream the butter in large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until smooth. Blend in the superfine sugar and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes longer on low speed. Blend in the sifted flour mixture in two additions, mixing slowly until the particles of flour are absorbed and a soft, smooth dough is created. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula to keep the dough even-textured. The dough will be soft and lightly sticky.
4. Transfer the dough to the tart pan, and lightly press it into an even layer. Prick the shortbread with the tines of a fork in about 15 random places.
5. Bake the shortbread in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until set, and an all-over medium tan color on top. The shortbread must be baked through, otherwise the core will be tacky.
6. Place the pan of shortbread on a cooling rack and immediately dust the top with granulated sugar. Cool for 10 minutes.
7. Carefully unmold the shortbread, leaving it on its round base. After 10 to 15 minutes, cut into even-sized wedges, using a sharp chef’s knife. To slice cleanly and neatly, the shortbread must be cut while still warm. Cool completely.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Toasted Almond Cookies

Toasted Almond Cookies - made 12.1.07

My friend Linda and her husband are Blue Diamond Almond growers and Linda is always so kind and generous as to keep me well-supplied with almonds. Whenever I'm going to meet her, I search for recipes that use almonds so I can bake them for her, using the almonds she gave me. I can't think of a more fitting use for them.

This recipe is from The Weekend Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge. I've tried a fair number of recipes from this cookbook and they generally turn out pretty well. This was really easy to make and the cookies don't spread much upon baking. Toast the almonds first to bring out their flavor. The almonds from Linda are whole almonds so I toast them first then once they're cool, I put them through a coarse grind in my nut grinder. A nut grinder is one of the essential baking tools that I can't live without. They're easy to use, much easier to clean than a food processor and they get the job done quickly. They're also pretty cheap so if you don't have one and like to bake with nuts, you might want to invest in one. Get a good one that lasts forever. In all the years I've been seriously baking, I've only had to replace mine once. Over 20 years and only on my second nut grinder? That's a pretty good investment. And I don't think I paid more than $10 for either one. Here's a link to one that's similar to what I have:

I think the nuts work in this recipe because the cookies aren't cakey and their vanilla flavor provides a good backdrop for the toasted almonds. They're a bit fragile though so I wouldn't recommend shipping them anywhere. Oh, and the recipe calls for a small amount of almond extract but I don't like the taste of almond extract so I substitute vanilla. Seems to work just fine.

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of table salt
1 yolk from large egg
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted

1. Position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 350˚F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking liners.
2. In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar and salt. Beat with an electric mixer (stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or handheld mixer) on medium speed until well blended. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and almond extracts and beat until combined. Pour in the flour and toasted almonds and beat on low speed until the dough begins to clump together. The nuts will break up a bit, but that’s okay.
3. Using a small ice-cream scoop or 2 tablespoons, shape rounded mounds of about 2 tablespoons dough on the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 ½”. Using your fingers, press down on each mound to flatten slightly.
4. Bake 1 sheet at a time until the cookies look dry on top and the edges are golden brown, about 17 minutes. Transfer the cookie sheet to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Using a spatula, lift the cookies from the sheet onto a rack and let cool completely.

Storage: Layer the baked and cooled cookies between parchment or waxed paper in an airtight container. They can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

White Chocolate Coconut Macadamia Cookies

White Chocolate Coconut Macadamia Cookies - first made November 2, 2005

Thought I'd continue the trend of blogging about the cookies where I don't mind if it's got nuts in them. Most of them are because the nuts are a crucial part of contributing to the cookie itself, not that you're just randomly adding nuts to cookie dough. For instance, it's hard to make White Chocolate Macadamia cookies without - well - macadamia nuts.

I love these cookies. White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies are fairly common. I like these because of the addition of coconut as well. They don't spread too much, the edges are crisp when the cookies are newly baked and cooled and the middles are soft and chewy. This recipe is from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. I typically will make the cookie dough first, portion it into dough balls and freeze the cookies. Then I'll bake the frozen cookie dough balls when I need fresh-baked cookies. As always, toast the nuts first. You can use white chocolate chips if you're in a rush but I like to buy a block of white chocolate (Trader Joe's has them at reasonable prices) and chop them into chunks. I never used to like white chocolate at all but I've found recipes I like that use them so I've learned to like it, especially paired with macadamia nuts or offsetting a dark chocolate brownie batter.

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, and the salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugars until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, the milk and vanilla extract and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and beat thoroughly. Stir in the white chocolate, the coconut and the nuts. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden.
4. Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Buttery Tea Balls

Buttery Tea Balls - first made many years ago

Remember when I said I don't like nuts in cookies or brownies? Well, this is one of those exceptions where you not only add nuts to these cookies but they taste much better with them than without, for both flavor and texture.

I got this recipe from my cousin Bernadette who lives in Canada and also likes to bake. The original recipe name for these are Buttery Tea Balls but they're also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes. Essentially, they're a buttery shortbread-type cookie with toasted pecans, rolled in powdered sugar while they're still warm, then rolled again once they've cooled. The powdered sugar not only adds sweetness but also gives this cookie a melt-in-your-mouth quality.

This cookie only takes minutes to whip up, is easy to make ahead of time, ships well, and looks good when served at parties, making them an ideal cookie for the busy holiday baking season. A couple of simple tips when making this recipe: First, toast the nuts to bring out their flavor. This cookie doesn't have a lot of ingredients so what you do use should be tasty. Second, don't overbake these as they will dry easily and be crumbly rather than melt in your mouth. Lastly, don't be afraid to roll them in powdered sugar. The first layer of sugar will almost melt into the cookie when they're rolled warm but that's okay. You'll roll them again once the cookies are cool and the second layer will adhere, giving them a pretty white coating. Don't roll them too much though - you don't want them completely whited-out. Let some of the cookie peek through the sugar coating. And sift the powdered sugar before rolling the cookies. Then you don't have to worry about pesky lumps of sugar sticking to the cookies.

½ lb unsalted butter at room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup finely chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. In a large bowl, mix the butter, ½ cup sugar, vanilla, flour, salt and nuts until they form a dough. Roll the dough into 1” balls in the palm of your hand.
3. Place on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the bottoms are slightly brown.
4. To coat: Place the remaining 3 ½ cups sugar in a shallow dish. Using a spatula, remove the balls from the baking sheets and while still hot, roll them around in the sugar. Let cool and roll again

Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies

(Note: while I'm on vacation from work this week, I'm not really doing any baking since I don't have anyone to give the baked goods to - instead I'll be blogging about stuff I've made in the past)

Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies - first made July 2006

While a milk chocolate chip cookie consumed 10 minutes out of the oven probably ranks as one of my favorite desserts to eat, some days I just like the simplicity of a sugar cookie. It's plain and no fuss. A lot of sugar cookie recipes don't come out that well - they're often too sweet, too mushy/raw or sometimes too dry if they contain too much flour. Sugar is considered a liquid ingredient. While it may go into your batter dry, when sugar heats up, it melts, thereby contributing to the spread of a cookie. The problem I have with most sugar cookie recipes is they spread too much. They might taste good but they come out thin, especially if you don't have a convection oven which most regular home bakers don't.

I like this recipe because it doesn't spread too much and it has an excellent taste and texture. The edges are crisp and the centers are soft. It isn't blah like most sugar cookie recipes I've tried. This recipe is from Baking Illustrated, the same authors as Cooks Illustrated.

Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies

2 cups (10 ounces) lower-protein unbleached all-purpose flour, such as Pillsbury or Gold Medal
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar plus ½ cup for rolling dough
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 375˚F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
2. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, cream the butter, the 1 cup granulated sugar, and the brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg and vanilla; beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl as needed.
3. Place the ½ cup sugar for rolling in a shallow bowl. Fill a medium bowl halfway with cold tap water. Fill a medium bowl halfway with cold tap water. Dip your hands in the water and shake off any excess (this will prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and ensure that the sugar sticks to the dough). Roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a 1 ½-inch ball between moistened palms, roll the ball in the sugar, and then place it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, moistening your hands as necessary and spacing the balls about 2 inches apart (you should be able to fit 12 cookies on each sheet). Using the butter wrappers, butter the bottom of a drinking glass and then dip the bottom of the glass in the remaining sugar. Flatten the dough balls with the bottom of the glass until they are about ¾ inch thick, dipping the glass in sugar as necessary to prevent sticking (after every 2 to 3 cookies).
4. Bake until the cookies are golden brown around the edges and their centers are just set and very lightly colored, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets about 3 minutes; using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Boston baked goods

October 21-26, 2009 - I just came back from a trip to Boston and one of the things I like to do when I travel is check out the local bakeries and sample the local fare. I research ahead of time where I might like to go and they're based on a combination of recommendations from people I know, yelp, and sometimes cookbooks I have from those places. I end up eating a LOT of sweets - the pics above are just a sample of what I consumed in less than 5 days :).

The first picture is from Ye Olde Pepper Companie Candies in Salem, MA whose sign boasts that it's the oldest candy store in America, having done business since 1806. They've certainly been around long enough to get it right. The candy I bought included a caramel milk chocolate truffle, milk chocolate toffee and a cashew milk chocolate turtle (no surprise, I'm a big milk chocolate fan). Every single last one of them was divine. I also got a piece of fudge (not pictured) that was fabulous. Ye Old Pepper Companie can brag as much as it wants - it deserves every kudo. The truffle was a creamy well of soft caramel enrobed in smooth milk chocolate, the turtle was a wonderful combination of cashew nuts, caramel and chocolate, the fudge was just the right texture and richness without being overly rich or overpowering and the toffee was pretty good.

The second picture is from Rosie's Bakery - there are several of them in Boston and I went to the one in Cambridge. What I like about Rosie's is it's what I consider a homey bakery. Not too fussy or high end and seems to focus on basic comfort sweets. These types of places are a gem because you can usually find their stuff tastes good as opposed to a more high end place with a lot of beautiful looking desserts but aren't necessarily tasty. The plate holds an M&M cookie, a chocolate chip shortbread cookie and a piece of German Chocolate cake. I had the cake first (as breakfast :)) and it was good - moist, despite the fact that I had a corner piece (I generally prefer middles, not edges or corners for the moistness factor) and the coconut topping was excellent. Unlike most german chocolate cakes, this didn't contain nuts in the frosting but that didn't detract from the taste or texture of the cake. The weakest of the bunch was the chocolate chip shortbread cookie. It looked good but I didn't think the taste was anything special. I love shortbread but shortbread cookies, as opposed to the more traditional shortbread baked in pans and cut, sometimes aren't the same - this one had a dry, crumbly texture without the "snap" of good, crisp shortbread. The chocolate chips and nuts also interfered with the taste of the butter which is the point of having shortbread in the first place.

The bottom picture is from Finale's and is their Boston Cream Cake, a version of Boston Cream Pie. It's probably the prettiest dessert I had in Boston but I wouldn't say it was the best. We made beautiful desserts like this in culinary school so I know exactly how this was put together. It was gorgeous but I'd give it only a B for taste.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fudge Brownies with White Chocolate and Toffee

Fudge Brownies with White Chocolate and Toffee - October 19, 2009

The original recipe name is Fudge Brownies with White Chocolate, Toffee and Pecans but since I don't add nuts to brownie batter (most of the time), I'm taking the liberty of changing the name. This recipe is from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook and its ingredients are more traditional than the last brownie recipe I tried from this book so I had high hopes for this one. It didn't disappoint.

You’ve heard me say before that I normally like to make a recipe as is to see how the author(s) intended for it to turn out then I make my own tweaks afterwards. With this recipe, I decided to tweak it a bit in the first trial. Nothing material to really change the actual brownie but more to make it more accommodating to my preferences. First, since it called for another 12 x 18” pan, meaning lots and lots of brownies, I cut the recipe in half and used an 8” square baking pan. If I was going to work tomorrow, I would’ve baked the full recipe and given the brownies away but since I’m on vacation and already have 2 other batches of brownies to take on my trip to Boston to my friends, I decided I didn’t need that many brownies.

It actually worked out pretty well though to cut the recipe in half and use an 8” baking pan since the brownies came out to just the right thickness. I also omitted the nuts (you know why). When the brownies were done, I sprinkled chopped up chunks of white chocolate on top, returned the pan to the hot oven for a few minutes until the white chocolate had softened then I spread them as a layer on top of the brownie. While the white chocolate was still soft, I sprinkled the toffee bits on top so they would adhere when the brownie cooled. Once the white chocolate sets, it should be more firm than frosting and provide a nice contrast to the dark fudginess of the brownie. I have to confess I didn’t/couldn’t wait for the white chocolate to set and just had a piece while the brownie was still warm and the white chocolate was still melt-y. YUM.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
12 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

¾ cup toffee pieces
¾ cup chopped pecans
1 ½ cups white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Grease a 12 x 18-inch jelly roll pan.
3. To make the brownie: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, the baking powder and the salt. Set aside.
4. In a medium-size saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate with the butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Cool for 5-10 minutes. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl and mix in the sugar, the eggs, and the vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle the toffee and the pecans evenly over the batter. Bake 25-28 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into center of pan comes out with moist crumbs attached. Do not overbake.
5. Let cool for 20 minutes, then sprinkle the white chocolate chunks over the brownies.
6. Allow to cool to room temperature, or overnight, before cutting and serving.

Midnight Brownies

Midnight Brownies - October 19, 2009

These brownies probably got their name because they're both a dark chocolate brownie as well as the add-ins are Midnight Milky Way bars. But you can add almost any kind of candy to them as they're pretty versatile. This is one of my favorite brownies because of their taste, texture and how thick they come out of the pan.

The recipe is from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle and I've gotten some consistently great recipes from this cookbook. Sometimes Midnight Milky Way bars are hard to come by so I substitute regular Milky Ways (for the nutless version) and/or Snickers bars. Around Halloween, these are great to make since those candies are abundantly available and often go on sale. After Halloween, I'm always stocking up on bags of Halloween candy that I can bake with.

This brownie also travels well. I cut them into individual portions, wrap them in plastic wrap, stick them in the freezer then pull them out when I'm packing my suitcase. Same goes if I ship them somewhere.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Five 1.76-ounce Milky Way Midnight Bars, chilled and cut into large dice
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
5 large eggs
2 cups superfine sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325˚F. Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil so that the foil extends 2 inches beyond 2 opposites sides of the pan. Lightly grease the foil.
2. Sift together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Stir until combined. In a small bowl, toss the candy bar chunks with 1 ½ teaspoons of the sifted mixture.
3. In the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water, heat the butter and unsweetened chocolate, stirring occasionally until melted. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to tepid.
4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs for 1 minute to blend, then add the sugar and whisk for 45 seconds, or until just incorporated. Whisk in the chocolate mixture, then the vanilla extract. Sift the flour mixture over the top and slowly whisk it in, mixing until just blended. Stir in the candy.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly, and smooth the top, using a rubber spatula. Bake the brownies for 45 to 50 minutes, or until puffed and set. A toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies should come out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
6. Cool the brownies completely in the pan on a rack. Using the ends of the foil as handles, lift the brownies out of the pan. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm enough to cut.
7. Cut the brownies into 16 squares.

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

Molten Lava Cakes

Molten Lava Cakes - first made 12.24.08 for Christmas Eve dessert

One of my sister's favorite desserts is lava cake. In fact I think it's her only favorite dessert because no matter what I bake, whenever we have family get togethers and I ask her what she wants me to make for dessert, her answer is invariably the same: "lava cake!"

Lava cakes were the rage some years back and you'd be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that hadn't had it on their menu at some time or another - they're basically individual-sized chocolate cakes baked at high temperatures and taken out before the center has fully baked, creating a "lava" of molten chocolate in the middle. Ideally, they're served warm (not hot) with vanilla ice cream. Some recipes call for making a ball of truffle or fudge that's frozen then dropped in the center of the batter so when the cake is baked, the chocolate is still liquid in the middle. You can do it either way but the simplest is the first way.

Essentials of a good lava cake and lava cake recipe: high quality chocolate, high temps so the outside of the cake bakes quickly and baking just the right amount of time. You want the outer edges of the cakes to be baked while leaving the center a liquidy pool of chocolate, but not so underbaked that it's simply raw batter. To this day I remember one of our chef instructors at CIA demonstrating lava cakes and he took it out too soon so the middle was literally raw batter instead of liquid chocolate. Trust me, there's a difference and it's usually a couple minutes' worth of baking time in the oven. You should also bake lava cakes in small individual-sized ramekins. They're so rich that you don't want large portions. Plus it's easier to control the ability to bake it just right with smaller ramekins.

I'm a ramekin freak and went through a period of haunting Crate & Barrel, Sur La Table, and Williams-Sonoma, buying any kind of ramekin(s) that caught my eye. Thankfully, I've managed to control myself in recent years but I still have an inordinate amount of ramekins. The more to bake lava cakes in, I say.

I got this recipe from and it's Paula Deen's recipe. Hers calls for orange liqueur but since I'm diametrically opposed to ruining good chocolate with a fruity flavor, I substitute either Kahlua or Godiva chocolate liqueur. The only problem with lava cakes is because they're meant to be served soon after baking and eaten warm, I don't get the chance to experiment with different recipes all year, unless I'm going to be the one to eat all of them. Which I'm not. So every year, when my sister asks without fail for me to make lava cake for dessert, I try out a new recipe for it. This was last year's version.

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
10 tablespoons butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange liqueur

1. Grease six 6-ounce custard cups. Melt the chocolates and butter in the microwave or in a double boiler.
2. Add the flour and sugar to chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur. Divide the batter evenly amongst the custard cups.
3. Place in the oven and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center will be runny. Run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto dessert plates.

Macadamia Shortbread Brownies

Macadamia Shortbread Brownies - October 17, 2009

This is one of my exceptions of no nuts in brownies. You make a shortbread crust, sprinkle the top with chopped macadamias and bake until golden before pouring the brownie batter on top and baking the whole thing. What makes the nuts in these brownies work is they're part of the crisp crust, not the fudgy brownie itself so they provide a texture contrast against the rich fudginess of the brownie. It wouldn't work as well if you actually added nuts to the brownie batter. Plus, these are macadamia nuts, a step up from the more plebian walnuts and pecans.

This recipe is from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet cookbook. I met Alice Medrich when she did a cooking class demo at Sur La Table some years ago and she autographed my copy of Bittersweet for me. She's the one I learned the trick of lining baking pans with foil - you turn the pan bottom side up, shape a sheet of foil over it, turn the pan over and drop in the foil that's now shaped like the inside of the pan. Nothing could be easier. Your pans last longer this way too since all you have to do once you bake something is lift the whole thing out of the pan with the foil and cut it on a cutting board instead of the pan. Prior to this, my baking pans had knife marks in them. Not anymore.

I like this recipe because the shortbread crust is crisp and buttery and provides both a texture and taste contrast to the rich, smooth fudginess of the brownie itself. Plus they look pretty. The same advice as in earlier posts - use the best quality chocolate you can find. It'll make the brownie much more worthwhile. I use Lindt, Valrhona or Ghirardelli.

Bittersweet Chocolate Brownies
6 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate (66% - 72%)
7 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cold large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Macadamia Shortbread Crust
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup untoasted, unsalted macadamia nuts, chopped medium-fine

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F.
2. To make the crust, combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a bowl. Stir in the flour to make the dough.
3. On a square of foil or wax paper, pat or roll out the dough to a square slightly smaller than the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan. Sprinkle the dough evenly with the nuts and press them in. Cover with a 12-inch square of foil and then a tray or piece of cardboard. Slide your hand under the bottom piece of foil or paper and invert the dough onto the tray. Remove the top sheet of foil or paper. Lift the foil and dough off the tray and into the pan. Press the dough, on the foil, evenly into the bottom and press the foil up the sides of the pan.
4. Bake until the crust is nicely brown all over, 15 to 20 minutes.
Make the brownies
5. Combine the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test.
6. Remove the bowl from the skillet. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and salt with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring until the first one is incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the flour and beat with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the batter is smooth, glossy and beginning to come away from the sides of the bowl, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the nuts, if using.
7. Spread the brownie batter evenly over the hot crust and bake until the edges puff and begin to show fine cracks, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack.
8. Remove the brownies from the pan by lifting up the ends of the foil and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 25 squares with a heavy knife.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Kisses

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Kisses - first made long ago but most recent documented date November 26, 2008

This is a perennial favorite if you like peanut butter and chocolate together. The peanut butter cookie dough is super easy to make and easy to handle. Roll them into balls, bake them then top them with a Hershey kiss as soon as they come out of the oven. During the busy holiday baking season (or at any other time), make them into dough balls, put them in freezer bags and keep in the freezer until you’re ready to bake them.

For this recipe, you just have to be organized. I make the dough first, roll them into balls and while the first batch is baking, I’m unwrapping the Hershey kisses so they’re ready to push into the cookies as soon as they’re out of the oven. Don’t make the dough balls too big. You don’t want a big peanut butter cookie with a (comparatively) little Hershey kiss in the middle. Make them proportional. These don’t spread much which is good. And be sure you push the Hershey kiss into the center of the cookie as soon as you take the cookie sheet out of the oven. The point is to have the Hershey kiss melt slightly into the hot cookie so it adheres to the cookie when the cookie cools. Don’t move these around a lot either once you push the Hershey kiss in. Both the chocolate kiss and the cookie will be soft while they’re still warm. It’s important to let them cool completely before moving them around.

This recipe is from an old "Cookies" baking book from so long ago that I don’t even remember buying it. In fact, my mom might have bought it for me when I was a kid and I’ve been baking from it ever since. This is another one of those recipes where I’ve liked this so much, I don’t try a lot of similar recipes because I’ve already found the one I like. If you’re a real peanut butter fiend, you can substitute Reese’s peanut butter cups for the Hershey kisses but I like to use the pure chocolate kiss myself.

½ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
48 milk chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F.
2. In a medium bowl, beat together butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, ¼ cup granulated sugar, egg, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy.
3. Add flour and baking soda, beating until thoroughly blended.
4. Shape dough into 48 balls, using a rounded teaspoon for each. Roll balls into 3 tablespoons granulated sugar.
5. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden. Immediately top each cookie with a candy kiss, carefully pressing down firmly.
6. Remove cooks from baking sheets, cool on racks. Makes 48 (1 ¾”) cookies.

Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Brownies

Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Brownies - first made July 3, 2007 from Fearless Baking by Elinor Klivans

This brownie has been described as an inside out peanut butter cup. I think it’s even better than that. You make the peanut butter brownie batter, spread half in the bottom of the baking pan, sprinkle a layer of milk chocolate over it then top that with the remaining batter to cover the milk chocolate completely. When it’s baked, you literally have a layer of chocolate between two peanut butter layers. The original recipe calls for chopped up milk chocolate to be sprinkled over the bottom layer and that's what I did with my first attempt, pictured here. Now I buy the plain Hershey chocolate bars (the regular size, not the minis or the thick, king-size bars) and fit them like puzzle pieces over the bottom peanut butter brownie layer to make a near-solid layer of chocolate. Once you bake them, cool and cut them, you have a nice even milk chocolate layer in the middle as opposed to the erratic chunks of chopped up chocolate. Plus, it’s less time-consuming to go with the whole chocolate bars.

When I first made this recipe, I had a taste test piece like I always do. Usually when I try a new recipe, I’ll have one piece, judge it, make notes about how the recipe turned out and whether I would change anything then I don’t eat anymore and instead take the rest into work. With this recipe, I enjoyed it so much, I’m sorry to say I think I ate 3 pieces. Oink.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ pound (1 stick) soft unsalted butter
1 cup smooth peanut butter, room temperature
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces milk chocolate, such as Lindt or Dove Bar, broken into about ½” pieces

9” square baking pan

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 9 x 2” or 11 x 7 x 2” baking pan.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt onto a piece of wax paper or into a small bowl and set aside.
3. Put the butter and peanut butter in a large bowl and stir with a large spoon until they are blended together. You may see a few specks of butter. Stir in the brown sugar and granulated sugar, mixing until they are incorporated and there is no loose sugar. Stirring vigorously, beat in the eggs and vanilla until the mixture looks smooth. Add the flour mixture and stir just until it is incorporated and there is no loose flour. Spread about two thirds of the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly with a thin metal spatula or a nonsharp table knife. Scatter the milk chocolate pieces evenly over the batter. Drop spoonfuls of the remaining batter over the milk chocolate, using a rubber spatula to scrape all of the batter from the bowl. Use a thin metal spatula or the table knife to spread the batter evenly over the chocolate. The chocolate will be covered, but may show through the batter.
4. Bake for about 35 minutes until the top feels firm when gently touched and the edges are light brown. Inserting a toothpick as a test doesn’t work because the warm milk chocolate clings to the toothpick. Cool the brownies thoroughly in the pan for about 1 hour. Cut the brownies into pieces and use a thin metal spatula to remove them from the pan. Wrap individual brownies in plastic wrap and store at room temperature up to 3 days. Wrapped brownies are ready to pack in lunch boxes or picnic baskets. These brownies can be served with a scoop of chocolate or peanut butter fudge ice cream.
5. Individual brownies can be wrapped in plastic wrap then heavy aluminum foil and stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost the wrapped brownies as needed.

Hot Milk Cake

Grandma Lilly's Hot Milk Cake - October 11, 2009

(I may seem like I'm going out of chronological order with the postings but I baked this cake on October 11 then froze it and brought it into work today.)

The name of this recipe is Grandma Lilly’s Hot Milk Cake and is from the Treasury of Country Baking by Lisa Yockelson. I had blogged earlier about her Best Vanilla Pound Cake recipe being one of my favorite pound cake recipes for its simplicity and taste. What makes this particular recipe unusual is the way it’s made. I’ve never boiled milk and butter then added it to the batter but it does make for a smooth, shiny batter. Follow the instructions exactly so you get the result the author intends you to get. It was easy to make and for the most part, I liked it. Texture-wise, it felt like a cake that couldn’t make up its mind to be a light pound cake or a dense sponge cake. There were elements of both which is a bit unusual. Taste-wise it was similar to the Best Vanilla Pound Cake so I liked it but if I had to make a vanilla cake, I’d probably go with the true pound cake recipe.

Grandma Lilly's Hot Milk Cake

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup milk
2 cups unsifted cake flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting, optional

1. Lightly butter and flour a plain 9” tube pan. (Do not use a tube pan with a removable bottom; the cake batter will seep out.) Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
2. Place the butter and milk in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over moderate heat. Sift the cake flour with the salt onto a large sheet of waxed paper. Beat the eggs in the large bowl of an electric mixer on moderately high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. With the mixer on moderate speed, beat in the sugar in 3 additions, beating well after each portion is added. With the mixer on low speed, blend in the vanilla. Beat in the flour in 2 additions. When the butter and milk mixture has reached a full, rolling boil, remove it from the heat and pour it into the flour mixture as it revolves in the mixture. The beaters must be turning and the bowl moving while the milk is being added. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to make an even-textured batter. Lastly, add the baking powder and beat for 1 minute at moderate speed. Quickly pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
3. Bake the cake on the lower-third level rack of the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until nicely risen and golden on top; a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean and dry.
4. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 to 6 minutes, then invert onto a second cooling rack. Invert again to cool right side up. Dust the top of the cake with sifted confectioners’ sugar, if you like.
5. Serve the cake cut in medium thick slices.

Chocolate Brownies with Cream Cheese Icing

Chocolate Brownies with Cream Cheese Icing - October 13, 2009

There are many brownie recipes out there and I feel like I’ve tried them all or at least most of the variations. Most people have pretty strong preferences for their brownies and I’m no exception. A “good” brownie is moist, fudgy, chocolatey, and nutless (unless they’re on top and caramelized in some fashion). I don’t like cakey brownies and dry brownies aren’t worth a tooth mark in them.

I had high hopes for this recipe from Magnolia Bakery because when I was in New York , I had a fantastic brownie from Magnolia. It was moist, fudgy and covered with a white chocolate layer sprinkled with nuts on top. I’m not excessively fond of white chocolate but it worked as a great contrast to the fudgy “true” chocolate of the brownie itself. This is a different brownie since it’s covered with cream cheese frosting instead of white chocolate but I figured Magnolia would know how to make good brownies and have good brownie recipes. Hmmm. There may be an exception to every rule. My first hesitation with this recipe was when I saw cake flour being used instead of all-purpose flour. Cake flour is great when you want soft or light-textured cakes. In a brownie? For the kind of texture I like in my brownies, maybe not. But I’ll try any new recipe at least once and will give it a fair shake. I’m an equal opportunity baker after all.

The second off-putting aspect of this recipe was the size of pan it required. Most brownies are made in a 9 x 13 pan at the largest. This called for a 12 x 18 jelly roll pan. They mean serious volume with this brownie. Conceivably, I could have cut the recipe in half and adjusted the pan size but to be truly accurate with the recipe, I would’ve needed a 6” x 9” pan or a pan that totaled to 54” in its dimensions. I don’t have such a pan so I decided to make the recipe as is. I had a bunch of meetings the next day and coworkers I could give it to anyway so I figured none of the brownies would go to waste. But I did “cheat” anyway and baked the brownies in a 9 x 13 pan and an 8” square pan, eyeballing the amount of batter I spread in each pan so they’d each have the same level of thickness. I also cut the frosting in half since I only had 8 ounces of cream cheese on hand, not the full pound the frosting recipe called for. I had mocha frosting left over from the devil’s food cake recipe I’d made the night before so I used that to frost the 8” pan and used the cream cheese frosting for the 9 x 13” pan.

So how’d they turn out? I can’t say I’d give them a glowing review. The texture was kind of funny to me – not the typical denseness of my preferred fudgy brownie but it was both dense and light at the same time, more like a cross between a flourless chocolate cake and a cakey brownie. Kinda weird. Of course, it could also be due to the fact that I’ve been baking (and eating) a lot of sweets lately and I’m getting pretty jaded. If it isn’t absolutely fabulous, then it’s just “okay” to me. To other people, it was great. I had people fighting over the ones I handed out today and I got several emails and IMs thanking me and telling me they liked it. But I’m my own worst critic on many things, including what I bake. This recipe didn’t pass muster with me and I’m not likely to make it again. They are too many other brownie recipes to try or too many good ones to re-make.

3 cups cake flour (not self-rising flour)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
9 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

1 pound (2 eight-ounce packages) cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
6 cups confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Grease a 12 x 18-inch jelly roll pan.
3. To make the brownie: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, the baking powder and the salt. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Lightly beat the eggs, then add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Add the vanilla extract. Add the chocolate and mix until well incorporated. Add the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into prepared pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into center of pan comes out with moist crumbs attached.
5. To make the icing: In a medium-size bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and the butter until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla extract. Gradually add the sugar and beat until well incorporated.
6. Let the brownies cool completely, then ice with cream cheese icing.
7. As an optional icing, try this fudge frosting: In a small saucepan, combine ¾ cup heavy cream and 12 ounces semisweet chocolate and place over very low heat. Stir constantly until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar until dissolved. Allow to stand until firm.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Easy Devil's Food Cake with Mocha Buttercream

Easy Devil's Food Cake with Mocha Buttercream - October 11 & 12, 2009

A good chocolate cake is hard to make. Mixing and baking chocolate cakes is easy enough but having them turn out well is another matter. I've tried dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of chocolate cake recipes and I'm not satisfied with most of them. Cakes dry out too easily if left in the oven for just one minute longer than necessary and they come out gummy if you take them out too soon. Even if you master the texture and come up with a tender, moist crumb, sometimes they're lacking in flavor or they're too chocolatey (yes, there is such a thing as too chocolatey).

Of course, that doesn't stop me from trying to find good chocolate cake recipes. This one is from the Family Baker by Susan G. Purdy. It was easy to make but would it pass the taste test? I baked the cake layers last night but since it was late and they wouldn't be cool enough to frost by the time I went to sleep, I covered them tightly with plastic wrap and let them sit for a day. I made the frosting tonight after work and assembled the cake tonight. The taste test? Hmm, unfortunately, to me, it was just okay. It was moist enough but I couldn't decide whether I liked the chocolate flavor or not. This was made with cocoa and I used my favorite brand - Pernigotti from Williams Sonoma which has a nice, deep chocolate flavor. I don't know whether it was just my natural prejudice of "day-old" cake not being fresh enough or whether I, for once, was not in a chocolate mood.

On the plus side, the frosting turned out pretty well and I'm not usually a frosting person. I'm especially not fond of buttercream as too often it's slick and "too creamy" meaning I don't like the slick, almost greasy texture. But this frosting had less slickness than traditional buttercreams and the mocha was a nice contrast to the chocolate and added good flavor. I don't drink coffee but I love coffee-flavored stuff, especially paired with chocolate. When I was a kid in the Philippines, my favorite ice cream was mocha made by Magnolia, a local company. When we came to the States, mocha ice cream was hard to find when I was younger. In my college days, I discovered premium ice cream ran to mocha but nothing was still as good as the mocha ice cream I had in the Philippines.

Lastly, I didn't do a very good job with the layers - take a closer look at the picture. The bottom layer is thinner than the top layer meaning I didn't divide the batter evenly enough between the 2 cake pans. Also, they're not lined up very well as the bottom layer juts out more than the top. In culinary school, we learned to hide the deficiencies in cake layers by filling in with frosting when needed but that all gets exposed as soon as you slice the cake.

Easy Devil's Food Cake with Mocha Buttercream

2 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sifted regular, unsweetened cocoa
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Mocha Buttercream
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 to 6 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, as needed
1/3 cup sifted regular unsweetened cocoa
½ cup double-strength regular or espresso coffee or 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder dissolved in ½ cup boiled water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Position racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat it to 350˚F. Coat the pans with shortening, then sift on a layer of cocoa; tap out excess.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa.
3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until well blended, then beat in the vanilla and eggs. Add all the dry ingredients and the buttermilk and, with the mixer on lowest speed, beat a full 60 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and beater. Beat on high speed about 3 minutes, until the batter is smooth, light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and beater again.
4. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top feels springy to the touch and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the layers in their pans on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then run a knife between the cake sides and the pans, top each layer with a plate or wax paper-covered wire rack and invert. Lift off pans. Cool the layers completely on wire racks.
5. To prepare the buttercream: In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until very sort and creamy. Slowly beat in about 2 cups of the sifted sugar, then scrape down the bowl and beater. Add 2 more cups of the sugar, cocoa, coffee and vanilla, beating until completely smooth and very creamy. Add the remaining sugar as needed to bring to spreading consistency.
6. To assemble the cake: Place a dab of buttercream in the center of the foil-covered cardboard disk or on a serving plate. Center one layer on the desk. Spread the layer with about 1 cup of the buttercream, top with the second layer, and then align the cake sides. Spread icing over the cake sides, then the top.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Black and White Chocolate Pudding Cake

Black & White Chocolate Pudding Cake - October 11, 2009

When I first read a recipe for pudding cake, I was intrigued. How could you pour water on top of cake batter and have everything come out okay? It just seemed - well, weird. So I never really made pudding cakes before but always wanted to try one. Today, because I had a fresh carton of milk to use up before it expired next week, it seemed like a good time to try it.

This recipe is from The Family Baker by Susan G. Purdy and touts itself as "one of the easiest cakes to make". Since I had just taken two layers of a devil's food cake out of the oven and popped in a "hot milk cake" to take its place (more about those in a future post), easy sounded good to me. And it was. Mix up the cake batter, spread it in the pan, sprinkle a layer of cocoa and sugar on top, and pour a cup of boiling water over it before sliding into the oven. And whaddaya know, when it comes out, it's both cake and liquid fudge mixed in with much of the fudgy liquid pooled at the bottom. Whoever discovered this was a genius.

Unlike lava cake which is baked in small ramekins at a high temperature and taken out while the center is still liquid, pudding cake is a random combination of cake and fudge sauce in every spoonful. Like lava cake, it's meant to be served warm with ice cream. The nice thing is pudding cake can be made in a single pan so no messing around with individual-sized ramekins. On the other hand, this recipe isn't as rich as the other lava cakes I've tried in the past. Still, it's got a homey touch to it in both taste and appearance. I'd consider it a poor man's lava cake (nothing wrong with either).

Black and White Chocolate Pudding Cake
1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, divided (2/3 cup and 2/3 cup)
½ cup sifted, unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed, divided (¼ cup and ¼ cup)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
¼ cup canola or other mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup white chocolate, very coarsely chopped, or white chocolate chips (largest size available) or semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup boiling water

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350˚F. Butter an 8” square baking pan and set it aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, 2/3 cup of sugar, ¼ cup of cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir to blend, then mix in the milk, oil, vanilla and white chocolate. The batter will feel quite stiff. Spread it in the baking pan.
3. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining ¼ cup cocoa with the remaining 2/3 cup sugar. Spread this evenly over the batter in the pan and pour the boiling water on top. Do not stir.
4. Bake the cake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top looks crisp and crackled and a cake tester inserted in a cakey area comes out clean. Cool the cake a few minutes, then serve warm, spooned directly from the pan. Top with vanilla ice cream or unsweetened heavy cream.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pumpkin Cake with Brown Sugar Icing

Pumpkin Cake with Brown Sugar Icing - originally made on 12.31.08

Since I dissed pumpkin for so many years, I feel the need to atone by blogging about some of the great pumpkin recipes I've discovered once I got over my mental block about pumpkin. This is a pumpkin cake with brown sugar icing - yeah, it's as rich as it sounds. This is from Fearless Baking by Elinor Klivans which is a recipe book I've really enjoyed trying recipes from. Elinor Klivans has some other books but I've found one of her cookie books to be pretty much all the same recipe with minor variations of the mix-ins you add to it. One recipe has the same ingredients except you add milk chocolate chips instead of semisweet or throw in white chocolate chips too and she seems to consider that 3 different recipes. (Read: ripoff if you buy the cookbook.) Not so with Fearless Baking. I've gotten some good recipes from it, including this one.

The cake itself is super easy to make. The only liberty I took with it is the recipe calls for adding the pecans on top once you have the batter in the pan. Previous experience has taught me that even if you add the nuts to the top, while baking, the nuts will sink into the cake anyway and once again we have that I-don't-like-nuts-in-cakes problem. So I waited until the cake was almost done then added the pecans to it so they would stay on top and not sink into the cake. It worked.

Pumpkin Cake
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup canola or corn oil
2 large eggs
¾ cup pecan halves

Brown Sugar Icing
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup whipping cream
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

1. Mix the cake: Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Butter or rub with oil the bottom and sides of a 9 x 9 x 2-inch or 11 x 7 x 2-inch pan.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger onto a piece of wax paper or into a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Put the pumpkin, granulated sugar, and oil in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to blend each thoroughly into the mixture. The mixture looks smooth and shiny. Decrease the speed to low and add the flour mixture. The batter is ready when the flour is mixed completely into the batter. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the batter from the bowl and spread it evenly in the prepared pan. Scatter the pecans evenly over the top.
4. Bake the cake: Bake just until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. The cake can be iced when it is warm or has cooled, but let the cake cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before adding the icing. Use a small knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan before adding the icing.
5. Make the icing: Put the butter, cream, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan and cool over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, stirring often. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla just to blend it into the mixture. Set aside to cool slightly for about 30 minutes. Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Pour the slightly cooled sauce over it and use a whisk or electric mixer to beat the icing smooth, about 1 minute or less. It will change from a brown to a light brown color. Immediately pour the icing over the cake in the pan. Use a metal spatula to spread it evenly, if necessary. If the cake is warm, the icing spreads by itself. Icing will drip down around the edges of the pan and thinly coat the sides of the cake. This is good. Cool the cake and icing thoroughly, about 3 hours, but mark the portions in the top of the icing as soon as it is firm enough to hold the mark. Cut the cake into 9 squares. A thin metal spatula and a pancake turner work well together to help lift the cake squares from the pan. Serve the cake cold or at room temperature.

Pumpkin Upside Down Cake

Pumpkin Upside Down Cake
It's October so we need to start talking about pumpkins. First, I never liked pumpkin when I was growing up. We didn't really eat it when I was growing up as you can imagine it's not a traditional Filipino food. Second, I based my dislike of pumpkin solely on pumpkin pie which is what I thought was the only thing you could do with pumpkin. It sounded good when you read about it in cozy Little House on the Prairie-type books. But the reality of it was different and I didn't (and still don't) like pumpkin pie - maybe because the first couple I tried weren't that good. I didn't like the texture and it seemed overspiced. But third and most importantly, I was wrong about pumpkin. You can do more with it than put it in a traditional pumpkin pie. And in the right recipe, it's fabulous.

My eyes - and taste buds - were first opened when I attended a Sur La Table cooking class in Los Gatos, CA where Emily Luchetti, the former pastry chef of Stars, gave a cooking demonstration of recipes from her then-newly published cookbook, A Passion for Desserts. She made this recipe for Pumpkin Upside Down Cake that was simply delicious. You make a caramel sauce, pour it in the bottom of the baking pan, add toasted pecans and cranberries, cover it all with a pumpkin cake batter, bake it then flip it over when you take it out of the oven. Delicious. Note the exception here from my previously stated bias about nuts. I don't normally like nuts with cakes unless they're baked on top and don't get into the cake itself. Technically these are baked on the bottom but they end up on top. Regardless, toast the nuts first to bring out their flavor. Ironically, the caramel, which is a liquid that you'd think would soften the nuts, actually help them retain a somewhat crisp texture when the cake is cooled. And that makes everything okay.

My other bias is against using fruit or berries in desserts. I don't even normally like cranberries and you won't find jellied cranberries on my plate at Thanksgiving. But cranberries are perfect with this cake as they provide a tart contrast to the sweetness of the caramel and the cake. Use raw ones and they'll soften and cook just right when the cake is baked. I may have a lot of odd or rigid preferences in certain things when it comes to baking but I'm happy to find recipes that prove to be the exception. It makes me believe I could probably like many things, if I could just find the right combination for them in baking.

Pumpkin Upside Down Cake
8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups cranberries
4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour the brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the cranberries and pecans. Place them in the pan over the brown sugar mixture.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil. In another bowl, sift together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Carefully spread the batter over the cranberry pecan topping.
5. Bake the cake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Place a large plate or platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake and plate together, then remove the pan. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.
6. Let cool completely before serving.