Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pineapple Teriyaki Meatballs

Pineapple Teriyaki Meatballs - made by my niece on December 26, 2011, recipe adapted from Food Network

Here's another good appetizer to serve at a party if you've got one coming up.  My niece made these for my sister's after-Christmas party earlier this week and they turned out beautifully.  Everyone loved them and they were gone before the end of the night. She made a few changes from the original recipe - noted below.
Flash fry to brown the meatballs for color
After frying, line on a baking sheet to prep for baking in the oven
She used Lawry's teriyaki sauce for the glaze 
After baking, spear with a toothpick and pineapple on top, squeeze fresh lime over all
1 slice white sandwich bread
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce (teriyaki)
5 scallions
1 1/4 pounds ground pork
3 large cloves garlic, finely grated
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled ginger (about a 2-inch piece)
1/3 cup water chestnuts, drained, rinsed and chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 to 4 teaspoons Asian chili-garlic sauce
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
Pineapple chunks (halved)
  1. Tear the sandwich bread into small pieces, then toss with the milk and soy sauce in a large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, mince the scallions.
  3. Add the scallions, pork, garlic, ginger, water chestnuts, egg, cilantro, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the bowl with the bread; mix until combined. Gently form into golf ball-size meatballs. Put the meatballs on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 to 4 hours.
  4. Teriyaki sauce: Stir the hoisin sauce, mayonnaise, 11/2 tablespoons lime juice, the chili-garlic sauce and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. (Instead of making the teriyaki sauce, my niece used Lawry's pineapple teriyaki sauce and pineapple juice.)
  5. Heat about 1 1/2 inches peanut oil in a large, wide saucepan over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F. Add the meatballs in batches and cook, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. (She flash-fried the meatballs in hot oil , brushed with glaze then finished cooking them by baking in a 400 degree oven.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pictorial guide to making lumpia

Lumpia are Filipino egg rolls and I've posted a recipe for them previously but my mom and my nieces made them again for my sister's Christmas party so I took the opportunity to take step by step pictures in case anyone wants to see how to make them.  I think the recipe my mom uses varies slightly from the one I posted, mostly because she doesn't actually use a recipe but it'll get you close.  These are great appetizers to serve at New Year's Eve parties or any other kind of party as a crowd pleaser.

Make the filling mixture
Cut the original won ton wrappers into 4 squares
Place a small amount of filling in a log shape at one corner of the square
Bring up the bottom tip over the filling
Fold the bottom tip over the filling

Fold the left and right corners in like you're making an envelope
Roll the lumpia into a small log and seal the edges with a mixture of cornstarch and water
Line them up and cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate until you're ready to fry them
Deep fry in hot oil until golden brown all over
Drain in a paper-towel-lined colander to absorb excess grease
Enjoy (and workout before and after to offset fried foods :))

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Florida Brownies

Florida Brownies with Nutella Crunch Topping - made December 17, 2011, brownie from Nick Malgieri's Bake! book

This is an easy post since I had already posted the recipe as the brownie base for the Almond Joy Brownie Bombshells.  I had a lot of batter leftover after making the mini brownie rounds for the base so I poured the rest into a 9 x 9 baking pan and baked it as a normal brownie.  I couldn't imagine giving it away plain though so I did add the nutella crunch topping to give it some depth and texture.  Once these set, just cut into squares, wrap the squares in plastic (I wrap two squares together to make one wrapped package) and put in freezer storage bags for freezing if you're not eating or giving away immediately.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Banana Bread - another easy holiday gift

Petra's Banana Bread - made December 17, 2011, the latest out of countless times

Got more holiday parties to attend between now and Christmas?  Need to bring something to the family gathering?  Need an easy hostess gift?  I don't know about you but most of the people I know, including myself, already have enough "stuff".  And even if they don't, you don't always know what "stuff" people want or don't want and you don't want to give somebody something they won't like or will end up gathering dust or end in the Goodwill pile.  Which is why I like to give consumables.  And if it's something they can freeze for later, even better, since, if you're fortunate, we're in the season of plenty, food-wise.  But you can't eat everything at once.  Or at least, you shouldn't :).  Which makes this recipe for banana bread a perfect and easy holiday gift.  Besides lemon bars, this is what I'm asked for most often.  This also freezes really well.

I use the same recipe I've always used since college and the only thing that varies is how much I make and how long it lasts.  Or doesn't last. When I went to Winnipeg for my cousin's wedding, I brought 4 batches of banana bread (each batch makes 4 small loaves or 2 regular loaves).  They might've lasted a day, maybe 2, not counting the loaves my aunt hid in the freezer to try and space out their consumption.  The last time I brought some to my sister's house, one of my nieces got mad at her twin, my sister and my sister's boyfriend because "they ate it all" while she was sleeping.  Guess that'll teach her to be the last one in the house to wake up when there's banana bread on the table.

There are many ways banana bread can go right and many ways it can go wrong.  Even though I've shared this recipe with everyone who likes the bread and asks how to make it, I still get a lot of "mine doesn't taste as good as yours".  Hmm, not sure what to say other than "but that's the same recipe I use".  Or maybe they would just rather I made it instead of them, lol.  I've made this recipe so many times I can probably bake it in my sleep and I rarely eat it myself anymore since I don't need to taste test it.  I made it again last weekend and had a taste - hey, it is pretty good :).  I'll reiterate the basic tips for good banana bread, regardless of which recipes you use.

Normally they should be even more ripe than these for banana bread
The bananas have to be really, really ripe.  As in to the point of blackened skins and banana mush texture that you wouldn't normally eat anymore, no matter how much you like bananas.  The ones I used this past weekend were still a little too firm for my liking and not quite ripe enough but I was out of time to let them ripen further as I needed banana bread for baked gifts I was giving away to church friends the next day.  So I made do. 

If you like chunks of banana in your banana bread, puree 2/3 of the bananas called for in the recipe, then mash in the remaining 1/3 with a wooden spoon.  That way you'll have part of the banana that is the liquid mush texture needed for the batter while still retaining some  banana chunks in there.  Some people have suggested roasting the bananas for better flavor.  I tried that once and it didn't work as well as I expected.  I think my bananas were either too firm (it's harder to roast softened banana mush) or I didn't roast them long enough for the caramelized flavor to come out.  I'll have to try it again someday.

I also don't like "stuff" or other flavors in my banana bread.  You should taste banana in banana bread.  Not nuts, not raisins, not cinnamon or nutmeg, nothing.  Heck, Petra's recipe doesn't even use vanilla extract.  It's just pure banana.  Which is one of the reasons I like it.

And of course, don't overbake banana bread.  You don't want to underbake it either since the bananas already add moisture to your batter and underbaking just makes it more gooey than is good.  Baking just right means the toothpick inserted at the ends come out clean but in the middle just barely comes out with moist crumbs.  If it comes out coated with batter, it still needs to bake some more.  This recipe has more of a cakey texture than a chewy bread texture so it's a little lighter than most quick breads.  The sweetness will partially depend on the ripened state of your bananas (the more overripe, the sweeter) so you may want to adjust the sugar content if you like it less sweet or more sweet.  I like to have the banana speak for itself so I might cut back on the sugar but I've never added more sugar than this recipe calls for.

The great things about banana bread during the holidays is 1) it's a year-round fruit so you can get good bananas almost anywhere and don't have to wait for it to be in season and 2) it's easy to bake in pretty paper loaf pans for gift giving.  I love these loaf pans because they're sturdy enough to bake in and are a good way to present mini loaves for gifts.  Not to mention no pans to wash after using. To use them, fill them halfway with your batter, place them on a baking sheet (don't crowd too closely against one another) and bake in the oven.  Once they're baked, let them cool, then wrap them in clear plastic or aluminum foil and put in a holiday cellophane bag with a twist tie.  Easy gift.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Marathon Baking Session - tips and tricks

Ready, Set....Turn on the Oven!

We're hurtling towards Christmas in a few days and I'm wrapping up the last of my baking gifts for pre-Christmas giving.  There'll be post-Christmas, pre-New Year's Eve baked-goods giving but I'll worry about that next week.  Last Saturday, I had a mini-marathon baking session.  I love those days and it's one of the reasons I do a lot of holiday stuff like decorating, sending out cards, shopping, and gift wrapping early - so I have time to bake during the holiday season itself and can get together with friends without worrying about how to "get it all done".

If you've still got massive baking to do for the holidays, here are some tips to manage the baking load.  The name of the game when you do a marathon baking session is to plan what you're making and once you turn that oven on, you want your products in and out in the least amount of time.  I don't believe in wasting energy and turning the oven off and on, depending on what you have to bake and how soon something is ready to go in.  Instead, I plan it so once the oven is turned on, it's always got something in it and there's never any downtime for it.  As soon as one thing is done, get the next thing in the oven until the last dessert is baked and the oven can be shut off for the day.

But before you even get started on baking, have a clean kitchen.  It'll clutter up soon enough once you start baking but start out with a clean work area.  While you should always clean as you go, you don't want to waste time cleaning it up in the first place.  Wash all the pans, cookie sheets, measuring cups, spoons, utensils and mixing bowls you need and have them ready.

Once your kitchen is clean, get out all the ingredients you need and group them by recipe.  This gives them time to come to room temperature if needed and also ensures you have all the ingredients you need for everything you're going to bake before you even crack the first egg.  This is your mise en place. If you need to make a quick trip to the grocery store because you're missing something, you'll know exactly what you need for all that you're baking that day and you won't have to interrupt your baking session later on when it'll be more inconvenient.

After you have your mise en place, prep the baking pans first.  It's the easiest thing to do and gives you some structure on the order things go into the oven.  If you have a lot of cookies to bake, get all your cookie sheets ready.  I like to line mine with parchment paper so they're easy to clean afterwards and the cookies don't stick to the pan.  I line square cake pans and brownie pans with foil, lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, no matter what the recipe says.  It not only guarantees easier cleanup but you can lift your brownies or bar cookies right out of the pan, using the ends of the foil as handles.  This way you can cut them on the cutting board rather than in the baking pan.  Muffin tins get lined with cupcake liners ahead of time if I'm making cupcakes or mini panettone paper molds are lined up on a baking sheet if I'm using those.

At this point, the oven's still not turned on yet.  Before you turn it on, do the most time consuming tasks first.  My baking plan for the day included lemon bars, brownies that became both the base for the Almond Joy Brownie Bombshells and Nutella Crunch Brownies, banana bread, Nutella Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies and Diamond-Edged Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies.  Out of all of those things, I already had the cookie doughs made and ready in the freezer.  The banana bread batter is quick and easy to put together so instead, I did the shortbread base for the lemon bars first.  While the crust baked, I mixed the lemon curd layer.

If you're making anything with nuts, those should go in first so you can toast them and they have time to cool by the time you need to incorporate then into your baked goods.  If you're making sandwich cookies, those should go in next, again so they have time to cool before you sandwich them with filling.  Likewise anything that needs to be frosted so they have cooling time before you frost them.  This isn't so much about oven management but time management in general.  If you're trying to keep a certain amount of baking hours throughout, plan your baking schedule to maximize the time you have in the kitchen while also keeping the amount of that time to a manageable level.  It's a bummer if you're so busy in the kitchen that you don't get to spend time with your friends and family outside of the kitchen because you're still baking. 

I baked the lemon bars off first so they would get the longest cooling time since lemon bars are messier to cut if they're warm.  While the lemon bars had their second baking with the lemon curd layer, I worked on the brownie batter  I wasn't done filling the mini muffin pans with the brownie batter by the time the lemon bars were done so I put a cookie sheet of nutella peanut butter oatmeal cookies in next.  Cookies are great to bake in between other things since the cookie dough is ready and they can go in at a moment's notice - just plop the dough balls onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet and into the oven they go.  If you have a limited amount of cookie sheets, it's also good to bake the cookies between other items so your cookie sheets have time to cool before you use them again.  Never place cookie dough on hot cookie sheets - they'll melt part of your dough before the baking even begins and cause more spread than necessary.

So that's how my afternoon went.  While something was baking, I was already mixing up another thing.  If I wasn't ready, I baked a sheet of cookies so the oven was always in use and none of the energy went to waste.  As everything baked, more and more of my kitchen was overtaken by baked goods in various stages of completion: loaves of banana bread cooling on a wire rack (they must be taken out of the pans to cool or else they'll steam and stick inside of the loaf pans), lemon bars cooling and waiting for the sprinkling of powdered sugar on top, brownie bases waiting for the coconut topping and enrobing in chocolate, cookies cooling, etc.  By the end of the afternoon, I had what I needed to give away the next day.  Then it was just a matter of packaging everything as gifts.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nutella Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Nutella Peanut Butter Cookies - made cookie dough December 17, 2011 from Everyday Insanity's blog

Really good with nutella swirled in
I got the original recipe for this from another baker's blog (please click on the recipe title to go to Cindy's Everyday Insanity blog for the original recipe).  I loved how they stayed thick and just looked yummy.  Plus I'm a Costco shopper myself and have those big jars of peanut butter and nutella that I "have" to use up.  No better time than the holidays when I have a lot of baked gifts to give and enough reliable standbys that I could afford to take a chance on a little recipe experimentation.
The unbaked cookie dough balls - freeze first before baking
The baked version of the cookies
I did modify it slightly though so I am listing my changes below as well as spelling out the instructions a bit more for any newer bakers.  Plus I added directions of what I usually do when I make cookie dough: make into dough balls and freeze for baking later.  It also appears from the original recipe that you're supposed to mix the nutella thoroughly into the batter to give it a uniform appearance.  I took it a different direction and instead just dropped dollops of it throughout the batter and was careful not to mix it too much.  Instead, I left it as swirls, like the almond butter and nutella swirl cookies.  Not surprisingly, my version came out looking different than Cindy's.  But I hope just as good.  These were definitely reminiscent of the almond butter and nutella swirl cookies.  They didn't spread much and stayed thick.  Underbaking them slightly gives a very moist, dense texture that partners well with the nutella swirls mixed in.  They are more fragile that way though so you want to make sure these cool and firm up a bit before moving them.  They also wouldn't survive being mailed so it's best to enjoy them in person or giving them away on plates or some kind of flat surface.  I stacked a few on each plate for my giveaways, surrounded by the Almond Joy Brownie Bombshells and that seemed to work.

1 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used smooth)
1/2 cup golden brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup Nutella

  1. Mix flour, oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder and salt together and set aside.
  2. Beat butter in the bowl of a mixer until soft; add peanut butter and beat to combine until lump free.  Add both sugars and beat until combined, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add egg and vanilla, mix another minute. 
  4. With mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients till just combined. 
  5. Stir in Nutella by hand but do not mix in completely - you want swirls of it through the cookie dough.
  6. Portion into cookie dough balls and place in the freezer to firm up for 30-60 minutes.  Once they're firm, either place dough balls in freezer storage bags to bake later or else bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Homemade Almond Joy Brownie Bombshells

Homemade Almond Joys - made December 17, 2011, adapted from 2 different recipes

Ever since I made the homemade Twix brownie bars, I've been wanting to make a homemade Almond Joy brownie version as well.  Almond Joys are another favorite candy from childhood because they're milk chocolate, coconut and almonds.  I don't like Mounds as well because they're dark chocolate but I love Almond Joys.  Nowadays I don't really eat them except as a topping to a brownie but I thought it would be fun to make these.  They turned out a bit bigger than I expect so I decided to name them Almond Joy Brownie Bombshells.

I basically just put two recipes together to make these.  Coincidentally, they both had Florida in their titles so that seemed to cry out to put them together.  I made the coconut filling from the Florida Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Patties recipe below, except I left out the milk chocolate coating and used milk chocolate candy melts instead.

For the brownies, I used Nick Malgieri's recipe from his latest book, Bake, that I had borrowed from the library awhile back.  I didn't beat the batter as much as the recipe directed though as I didn't want really light and airy brownies.  I just needed a good brownie base for the coconut topping to sit on.  Instead of a 9 x 13 pan, I half-filled mini muffin tins for a little round base, centered a whole roasted almond on top of each one and topped with a small scoop of the coconut filling.  I still had a lot of batter leftover even after making 48 mini brownie bases so I poured the rest into a 9 x 9 pan and made them as regular brownies which I then topped with the nutella crunch topping.

bad lighting at night, pic a little blurry
For the bombshells I melted the candy melts and carefully spread it all over each one, coating them as completely as possible except for the bottoms.  It's more difficult to do evenly with these than the Twix version because the coconut was a little sticky and didn't want to stay put on top of the brownie base but it wasn't too hard.  If you don't want them too big, you might use less of the coconut filling on top of each one and mash it a little flat.  Overall I thought these came out pretty well.  They look like gigantic truffles and definitely had the homey look rather than the professionally-dipped look, lol.  But I liked them.  I ran out of the coconut filling and had leftover little brownie bases so I put those in a ziploc freezer bag and stuck them in the freezer.  They can easily be "repurposed" at a future date for a future dessert: drop a couple in a bowl, warm up in the microwave and top with vanilla ice cream.

Left the almond out of the taste test piece because it wouldn't stay put

Florida Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Patties

1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups (5 ounces) coconut, unsweetened or sweetened, packed
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, cut into small pieces (if using milk chocolate, add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil while melting)

1.    Make the coconut filling: In a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, butter, egg white, and salt until very liquid and warm to the touch, about 10 minutes.
2.    Remove from the heat and, with a spoon, stir in the coconut and vanilla until well combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, up to overnight.
3.    When ready to coat the coconut, in a small heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate.  When almost melted, turn off the heat and let the chocolate continue to melt completely, stirring occasionally.  Keep the bowl over the warm water.
4.    Form the balls: line a small tray with parchment paper.  Using a scant ounce of the coconut mixture, roll into a small ball and place on the parchment-lined tray.  Repeat with the remaining mixture, forming 18 balls.
5.    Arrange 18 paper or foil minicups on the tray.  Gently place one of the balls into the warm melted chocolate and, using two forks, roll the ball in the chocolate until well coated.  Lift (do not pierce) the coated coconut ball with one of the forks, allowing some of the chocolate to drip back into the bowl, and carefully place in one of the prepared cups.  Repeat with the remaining coconut balls and melted chocolate.  Refrigerate until the chocolate has hardened and use as desired.

Florida Brownies

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces premium unsweetened chocolate, cut into ¼-inch pieces
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ¾ cups sugar
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

One 9 x 13-inch baking pan, lined with buttered foil

1.    Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 375⁰F. 
2.    Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Let the butter get hot and start to sizzle after it’s melted.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate all at once.  Gentle shake the pan to submerge all the chocolate in the butter. Set aside.
3.    Combine the eggs, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  First whisk by hand to mix.  Whisk in the sugar by hand.
4.    Whip on medium-high speed for 10 minutes, until very light.
5.    Whisk the butter and chocolate smooth and scrape into the mixer bowl.  Whip on lowest speed just until smooth, then stop the mixer.
6.    Sift the flour onto a piece of paper, bend the paper and slide the flour into the bowl.  Mix again on lowest speed until the flour is absorbed.
7.    Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to give a final mixing to the batter.
8.    Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
9.    Bake the brownies until they are firm, but not dry, and the point of a paring knife inserted in the center of the pan emerges with moist crumbs clinging to it, about 35 minutes.
10.  Cool in a pan on a rack.  Unmold the brownies to a cutting board and remove the pan and paper.  Cover with another board and invert the whole stack.  Remove the top board and wrap the brownies on their board in a double thickness of plastic wrap.  Keep the brownies at cool room temperature overnight before cutting.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Baked gifts

If I blogged about everything I've baked since Thanksgiving, whether a new recipe or a previously made one, you'd see a flood of daily postings, sometimes multiple times a day, especially on the weekends.  But instead, here are some (not all) of the care packages and baked gifts I've sent out or given away to family and friends so far this holiday season.  As I've posted previously, part of the fun of giving away baked treats is packaging them up to look pretty.  I don't do a lot of fancy-looking desserts as I focus more on taste than decoration but I rely on the packaging to make a nice presentation.  Most of this stuff I got from Michaels and Target.  The labels I ordered online.

I have another marathon baking session coming up this weekend so stay tuned....
Brownies and Lemon Bars

Holiday Caramel Treats and Almond Butter & Nutella Swirl Cookies

Diamond-Edged Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies

Buttery Tea Balls, Almond Butter & Nutella Cookies, Alton Brown CCC

Red Velvet cupcakes, Red Velvet Cookies and White Chocolate Toffee Macadamia Cookies

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Baking Fail - when the baking gods forsake you

Sometimes even tried-and-true recipes can fail.  Or at least I've proven they can.  I wanted to make Red Velvet Cookies for a friend last weekend because I know how much she likes cream cheese and these had the cream cheese frosting on top.  Plus 'tis the season for red velvet.  I've made these cookies countless times so you'd think they'd come out consistently well each time.  Apparently.....not so.

Everything was fine at first - mix the batter, melt the chocolate, preheat the oven.  When I make this recipe, I let the melted chocolate cool a bit since I didn't want to add it hot to the batter and possibly melt the butter, thereby changing the texture of the recipe.  But it was cold in my kitchen early Saturday morning and I was (again) multi-tasking on other baking projects so it appears I waited a little too long and the melted chocolate cooled a little too much.  As in, when I added it to the batter, instead of being warm enough and free flowing enough to blend seamlessly with the rest of the (probably also cold) batter, parts of it seized up and became little solid chocolate flecks.  Uh-oh.  I couldn't heat up the batter enough to melt the chocolate and I didn't have time to start over with a new batter.  So I decided to plow forward and hope for the best.  Besides having solid flecks of unsweetened chocolate in the batter, it was also more pink than red because the chocolate hadn't added to the batter in enough liquid form to give it more color.  Darn.
uh, those chocolate bits are not intentional chocolate chips - baking fail
One thing I always watch out for with this cookie recipe is to bake it properly.  I followed the directions of having the oven at 375 degrees and I knew I would have to pounce on it at 7-9 minutes to take it out in time for a fudgy texture.  If it bakes even a minute or two too long, it becomes more of a spongy-cakey texture and that's not what I wanted.  Well, I checked it at 8 minutes and to my surprise, the cookies were already puffed up and looked done rather than underdone.  Shoot.  Took them out, slid in another cookie sheet and this time strove to take them out sooner.  I also lowered the oven temp to 350, thinking my oven might be too hot.  If I had hoped the unsweetened chocolate flecks would melt a little into the cookie dough, I was doomed to disappointment.  They remained fleck-ish.

Second cookie sheet came out at exactly 7 minutes.  Looked a little underdone but I wasn't taking any chances.  Put the third cookie sheet in and raised the oven temp back to 375 as 350 seemed a little too low.  By this time, the first cookie sheet actually looked decent and not underdone as the cookies had cooled and settled into fudginess.  Hmm, I think I may have been psyched out byt the baking gods.  Third cookie sheet baked fast again but I think I got them out at the right time.  Now it was time to frost and taste test  them.  Ironically, the first cookie sheet turned out the best, the second was too raw and the third was okay.  I had already frosted all of them so I couldn't put the second sheet back into the oven to bake a little more.  Almost total fail.

I brazened it out anyway, picked out the best ones and prettied them up for my friends' goodie plates that day.  They tasted okay.  They just weren't up to my usual standard.  I had made a couple of other things as well but didn't have enough to not give the cookies so I included them and made excuses to my friends later.  That's not something I normally would do but I was pressed for time and had to just deal with it.  This is the kind of thing I hate when it happens and I hate even more having to admit it and blog about it but at the end of the day, it's just a cookie, it's one baking fail amongst other successes and I have forgiving friends :).  Dust off the flour and move on to the next cookie.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Caramel Brownies

Caramel Brownies - made December 10, 2011

This is just a modified version of Rosie's Award-Winning Brownies.  I had melted caramel leftover from the Holiday Caramel Treats and rather than letting it go to waste, I made Rosie's brownies, spread 1/3 to almost 1/2 of the batter on the bottom, spread the caramel layer evenly over it and covered it completely with the remaining batter.  Voila, caramel brownies.

When I bake with caramel, I try to have it be inside the brownie and covered completely.  Any caramel that bubbles out tends to get a bit too hard/chewy once it cools again.  Whereas if you have it inside, it's still soft-chewy and helps keep your brownie moist.  You can use any brownie recipe with the caramel but I recommend brownies that use more dark chocolate or unsweetened chocolate.  The caramel provides enough of the sweetness and will help complement a dark chocolate brownie.  If you use in milk chocolate brownies, it might be a little too sweet.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes - made December 9, 2011 from the King Arthur Flour holiday preview 2011 catalog

It's the season of red velvet.  I've been hankering for a new red-velvet-something recipe and this one fit the bill.  I got it from the King Arthur Flour holiday preview catalog as I'm on their mailing list and I like trying out their recipes.  The downside of using one of their catalog recipes, however, is it almost always calls for an ingredient found only or mostly on their website - it is a product catalog for a reason.  However, usually the more specialized ingredients are optional so I typically do without it or substitute something else.  In this case, I used red food coloring for the "red velvet flavor" and skipped the cake enhancer.

I had the taste test cupcake while it was still warm from the oven and unfrosted.  Almost needless to say, it was delicious.  The texture was soft and it was moist.  You almost can't not like a warm cupcake. The true taste test, however, is when the cupcake is at room temperature.  It was still good but a bit more dense since I probably underbaked it slightly in my abhorrence of dry, overbaked cupcakes.  I still haven't mastered the art of a perfect cupcake.  I like the texture of Sprinkles cupcakes (their red velvet is one of my favorites, along with their banana, pumpkin, orange......actually, I think I like all their flavors except the chocolate one) but mine don't come out as light in texture, no matter which recipe I try.  I don't think it's necessarily the recipe but my timing on when I take the cupcakes out of the oven.  Haven't conquered that trick yet.

I made these for some friends I met yesterday and instead of using the standard cupcake liners, I made them in the mini panettone molds that I ordered from (of course) amazon.  I love using these molds.  They're stiff enough that you can pour the batter in and bake them on a baking sheet, no muffin tin needed.  Plus they're just cuter than cute.  The only downside is if you fill them enough to bake cupcakes to the top, they'll be bigger than a regular cupcake.  Oh, did I say that was a downside?

½ cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter
¼ cup (1 ¾ ounces) vegetable oil
1 ¾ cups (12 ¼ ounces) granulated sugar, superfine preferred
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons red velvet flavor (I used red food coloring)
1 tablespoon cake enhancer, optional
2 large eggs
3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour, sifted
¼ cup (¾ ounce) Dutch process cocoa
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place cupcake papers into two 12-cup muffin pans or lightly grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans (to make a layer cake).
  2. Mix the butter, oil, sugar, salt, color, flavor, and cake enhancer, beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition.
  3. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking soda. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the creamed mixture, one third at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, and bake the cupcakes for about 18-21 minutes, or the cake for 26-28 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes from the oven, cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes, then turn out of the pans to cool on the rack.

Yield: 24 cupcakes or two 9” round layers