Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Crispy (Oven) Fried Chicken

Crispy (Oven) Fried Chicken - made February 24, 2012 from rummaging in my freezer, fridge and pantry

Every once in awhile, I like to throw in a post on "real food" just to confuse people.  "But this is a baking blog" you might say.  Well, yeah, but there are occasions where I actually cook.  Just to break up the monotony of take out or microwaving meals.  This is a super simple recipe that I made up, mostly inspired by the fact that I wanted to use up the last of my buttermilk and since the panko crumbs on the banana fritters were so good, I thought they'd be good on oven-fried chicken too.  Many versions of this use crushed cornflakes but I didn't have cornflakes and I did have panko crumbs left over so it was a no-brainer to substitute.  It also had the added advantage that I didn't have to crush cornflakes into crumbs since panko crumbs are already..... well, crumbs.

Because it's cooking, I felt free to not measure like I do with baking so you'll have to bear with the loosy-goosy directions.  Thanks to the panko crumbs, these had a crispy coating without the mess and calories of frying.

Combine for the initial coating (makes enough for at least 4-6 pieces of chicken)

1 cup bread flour (you can also use all-purpose flour, I just used bread flour because I had some)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon all-spice
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
(feel free to substitute in any other spices - I just used these because they were what I had)
Roll chicken pieces in flour mixture until evenly coated.  Dip in 1 cup of buttermilk in a shallow bowl.  In another shallow bowl, roll to coat in panko crumbs (use as much as needed to cover chicken completely). Place in shallow baking pan and bake in a 350 degree oven until done and outside is golden brown and crisp (30-40 minutes).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dulce de Leche Snickers Brownies

Dulce de Leche Snickers Brownies - made February 25, 2012, original recipe (Fudgy Brownies) adapted from The Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg (book #196)

Sick of brownie recipes yet?  If you are, skip this post.  But if you do, you're going to miss out.  I love dulce de leche and I like Snickers.  I don't know why I've never put them together in a brownie before when I think I've made just about every combination I like already.  But I have rectified that oversight with this brownie.  I did modify the recipe slightly and my changes are reflected below.  I took these pictures when the brownie was just barely cool so they look a bit gooey.  They did firm up when they cooled to a nice chewy consistency.  I used Valrhona 90% dark chocolate so these were a walk on the dark side.  You can make them a little less dark by using a 60-70% semisweet chocolate but since I was adding dulce de leche, I went with the darker chocolate to offset the sweetness.

The dulce de leche wasn't as pronounced as I would've liked but I think that's because I couldn't use as much as I had intended because there wasn't much batter, even for an 8-inch pan.  I think this concept would work better with a larger brownie recipe.  But hey, the Snickers rocked.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
7.5 ounces 70% bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Dulce de leche, in dollops, to taste
½ cup – 1 cup Snickers, chopped, to taste

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line an 8 x 8 x 2” baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Melt the butter and chocolate together in the top half of a double boiler over gently simmering water and stir until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.
3. With a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon, beat the sugar and salt into the chocolate mixture. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour and mix vigorously until the batter is very glossy and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
4. Spread half the batter into the prepared pan. Drop dollops of dulce de leche randomly over batter and cover with remaining half of the batter. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs. 5 minutes before brownies are done, sprinkle remaining chopped Snickers over the top and let soften over the brownie in the heat of the oven.
5. Remove from oven and let cool. Remove the brownies from the pan and let cool completely before cutting into 2-inch squares.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Banana Fritters

Banana Fritters - made February 24, 2012 from Sweet Seasons by Richard Leach (book #195)

I've had this book for so long I can't remember when or how I got it, whether I bought it or whether it was a gift.  It's also gone through 2 house moves with me, staying intact and nicely pristine in its plastic shrinkwrap the entire time.  I finally broke open the shrinkwrap to thumb through its pages looking for a recipe to include in my baking challenge.  Only then did I finally realize that 90% of the recipes are "too fancy" for me to use a lot.  Not unless I throw a lot of uppity dinner parties, which is unlikely because neither my friends or I are all that uppity. I do have uppity taste buds but they can be satisfied more by how something tastes than how fancifully it's presented on a dessert plate.  However, I did manage to find this recipe in with all the fancy.  I love fried bananas and I liked the concept of using Panko crumbs instead of regular bread crumbs.  Plus, honestly, anything deep-fried, eaten warm and served with ice cream?  Can you really go wrong?

And yes, that was a rhetorical question because these were awesome.  I love bananas in their wholesome healthy state and I love them fried.  The coating batter was light and the panko crumbs gave these a really nice crunch.  This is a super simple dessert to make for guests; these fry up in no time and should be served within minutes of frying.  For added decadence, serve with a side of warm hot fudge sauce. It would be like taking an upscale version of a banana split to a whole new level.

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup cold water
4 bananas, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 cup Panko bread crumbs                    
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

1.   Heat oil to 350⁰F. 
2.   Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder in a mixing bowl.  Whisk in cold water until smooth.  Place bananas in the fritter batter, coating lightly.  Roll in the bread crumbs.  Deep fry until golden brown, 5 minutes.  Dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookie Brownies

Oreo-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookie Brownies - recipe adapted from The Essential Chocolate Chip Cookbook by Elinor Klivans and Chocolate Ecstasy by Christine France (book #194)

A friend sent me a link to a blog that showed a triple layer brownie: chocolate chip cookie crust on the bottom, Oreos in the middle and a brownie layer on top.  It was a great concept but both the bottom and top layers were made from (shudder) box mixes.  You know how I feel about mixes.  My snobby baking soul can't handle them except on rare occasions and only if enough other ingredients are mixed into the base mix so that you can't taste the mix-iness of the finished product.  But, regardless, the brownie was a great concept so I decided to recreate it my way: from scratch.

You can use almost any chocolate chip cookie recipe for the bottom layer but go for the ones that spread or aren't too cakey.  I chose this one as it was part of a recipe that uses the chocolate chip cookie as a crust for a tart.  I adapted the brownie recipe from Chocolate Ecstasy: that recipe called for oil but I substituted in butter for better flavor and increased the flour from 2/3 cup to 3/4 cup for slightly more substance.

I liked how this brownie turned out.  I originally baked the chocolate chip layer for only 10 minutes since I was afraid of overbaking it once I layered the Oreos and brownie batter on top but it probably would've been better to bake a few minutes longer to just barely past the wet dough stage.  Still, it was pretty good.  The base was buttery and moist and the brownie layer was all chocolate glory with the flavor being fortified by a good-quality dark cocoa (I always use Pernigotti).  And I don't have to rhapsodize about Oreos in anything - they speak for themselves.

This was the last thing I made during my nieces' visit last weekend and I packed them up for them to take back to their respective schools and friends.  They gave it the highest accolade in their collegiate vocabulary: "these are bomb".  The brownies were also classified as "sick" which apparently doesn't mean what my generation thinks it means but is actually also a positive accolade.  I really must keep up with the latest lingo.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Crust
Source: The Essential Chocolate Chip Cookbook by Elinor Klivans

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
½ cup light brown sugar
6 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1.   Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Line a 9-inch square baking pan and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
2.   Sift the flour, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
3.   In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smoothly blended, about 1 minute.  Add the egg and vanilla and mix until blended, about 1 minute.  On low speed, add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips.
4.   Layer evenly in the prepared baking pan and bake for 12-15 minutes.
5.   Line top with Oreos, making an even layer.
6.   While crust is baking, make brownies as directed below.  Pour brownie mixture and return pan to oven.


Source: Chocolate Ecstasy by Christine France

5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
½ cup butter
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1.  Melt the chocolate and butter together and cool slightly.
2.  Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together.  Stir in melted chocolate-butter mixture.  Beat until evenly mixed.
3.  Sift flour and cocoa powder into the bowl and fold in thoroughly.  Do not overmix.
4.  Pour brownie batter over Oreo layer, covering them completely.  Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the brownie comes out with moist crumbs.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies with Nutella

Peanut Butter Cookies with Nutella - made February 19, 2012 , recipe adapted from Milk & Cookies by Tina Casaceli

Both my nieces were visiting last weekend which was a rare treat since one of them goes to school further away and we don't get to see her as often.  Being the doting aunt, I asked her what she wanted me to make for her visit and to bring back to school for her friends.  One of her requests was for peanut butter cookies.  So I made this cookie using the "base" peanut butter cookie recipe from Milk & Cookies.  I also added my own twist by dropping small dollops of nutella into the cookie dough as I was scooping it into dough balls.

The taste of the cookie itself was pretty good.  I was a bit concerned when I was making it though because it called for an awful lot of butter.  I bake with butter all the time and rarely blink at how much I use but 1 1/2 cups seemed like too much for a normal batch of cookie dough and I even wondered if it was a typo.  But I soldiered on and stuck to the original recipe just to try it.  The dough came out pretty soft and sticky so that told me this would likely spread, even if frozen first and even baked on the convection setting.  I was right.  The cookies were also pretty fragile, definitely not good candidates for a care package so I'm glad my nieces were here in person to eat them.  I had to pack them carefully for their respective trips home.  If you try this recipe, you might want to cut the butter down to 1 cup and see how that works.  I advocate doing the nutella dollops too as that turned out pretty well.

1 ½ cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup (8 ounces) smooth peanut butter
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
2. Put the butter in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle. Begin beating on low speed. Add the brown sugar, increase the speed to medium, and beat for about 4 minutes or until light and creamy. Add the peanut butter and beat to incorporate; then, beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
3. With the motor running, gradually add the flour mixture, beating just to blend. While the dough is still streaky, remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the paddle clean.
4. Lightly flour a clean, flat work surface.
5. Scrape the dough onto the floured surface. Lightly flour your hands and finish mixing the dough by using a gentle kneading motion, working until the dough is just blended. Do not overwork the dough, you want to be certain that all of the ingredients are just blended together.
6. Scoop the dough into dough balls and refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for at least an hour.
7. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325°F.
8. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
9. Remove the dough balls from the refrigerator and unwrap.
10. Place the balls, about 2 inches apart, on the prepared baking sheets. Using your palm, gently flatten the top of each cookie slightly. If you want to make the traditional cross hatches of a peanut butter cookie, press the surface with the tines of a fork.
11. Bake cookies for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.
12. Remove from the oven, let sit on cookie sheets for 1 minute then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool. Store airtight, at room temperature, for up to a week.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cocoa Waffles

Cocoa Waffles - made February 18, 2012 from Baking Style by Lisa Yockelson (book #193)

My homemade version
It's National Pancake Day and normally I would pay homage to one of my favorite breakfast foods with a pancake recipe but today I am bucking the trend in favor of another breakfast-but-I-eat-it-for-dinner favorite: waffles!  I love waffles.  I love the traditional waffles smothered in butter or syrup (for some reason I don't like to mix both, it's one or the other for me, usually syrup for waffles, butter for pancakes).  And when we went out for my mom's birthday dinner a few weeks ago, I also loved the chocolate waffles we had for dessert at Outback Steakhouse.  So much so that I decided I had to make them myself.

This is the version from Outback Steakhouse - truly decadent and so good.  Four of us split this and it was perfect for sharing.

But first, uh, you might remember that I've been on my baking challenge for well over a year now.  The goal was to make at least one recipe from every cookbook I own and the "prize" at  the end of it was I would allow myself to buy Baking Style by Lisa Yockelson, one of my favorite cookbook authors.  When I started on this challenge, Baking Style hadn't even been published yet and it seemed easy enough at the time to swear off buying any new cookbooks until I was done with the challenge.  After all, I had so many cookbooks that I was afraid to count them.  All I knew is I have somewhere around 200 cookbooks and the only reason I didn't know the exact number is when I started actually counting them, when I hit 200 and there were still more, I stopped counting because I didn't want to know.  Tallying the count as I made a recipe from each book was the official way to count them because then I've ensured I've used them.

I broke the challenge a few months ago when, in a moment of weakness, I ended up buying Baking Style because it was on sale and I had a gift card.  Honestly, I just couldn't be expected to pass it up at a bargain, now could I?  So then I promised I would still continue with the challenge and not make anything from the book until I was done.  Um, yeah, I broke that promise too with this recipe.  In my defense, it was the only book out of several dozen that I checked that actually had a chocolate waffle recipe.  And I wanted chocolate waffles.  Plus I can justify almost anything when it comes to making sweets.  I'm still going to continue with my baking challenge, mostly because I actually am close to finishing by now and I always finish what I start.....most of the time.

So on to the waffle recipe.  I screwed up the first time I made this.  My nieces were visiting and I was making this at my parents' house for our dessert.  I mixed together all the dry ingredients at my place and had the liquid ingredients separate but measured out, ready to go for putting together at the last minute.  Which worked out great except I forgot the butter I had ready to go in my fridge.  As in I really forgot they were supposed to have butter in them when I was mixing the batter at my parents'.  The waffles still turned out pretty well despite being butter-less but they were more cakey and soft than waffly-crisp.  So I made a second attempt, making the batter properly the next day in my own kitchen.  This time there was more crisp around the edges although they were still somewhat soft.  I was afraid to cook them too much in my waffle iron because I didn't want to burn them.  But I figured out a good way to deliver on the texture - if you want them crisp, reheat them later by toasting them in the toaster oven.  Don't burn them though.  Just toast them enough to get the outside crisp but the inside should still be soft and chewy.  Flavor-wise, this was really good with an enhanced chocolate flavor fortified by both the cocoa powder and the unsweetened chocolate.  Use a dark cocoa for the full chocolate flavor.  And don't forget the vanilla ice cream on top of the warm chocolate waffle.  For super decadence, serve with hot fudge sauce and some chopped-up Oreos.

2 cups unsifted bleached all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups plus 3 tablespoons superfine sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
4 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling on finished waffles

1. Preheat a 2-grid deep-dish (Belgian-style) waffle iron (each grid measuring about 4 ½ by 4 ½ inches).
2. For the batter, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and superfine sugar into a large mixing bowl. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk the melted butter, melted unsweetened chocolate, eggs, buttermilk, heavy cream and vanilla extract. Pour the buttermilk mixture over the sifted ingredients and stir to form a batter, using a wooden spoon or flat wooden paddle. Mix in the chocolate chips. The batter will be moderately thick.
3. Spoon a generous 1/3 cup batter into each grid, cover the iron, and cook until baked through (at the medium heat setting, if you waffler has one), following the directions supplied by the appliance’s manufacturer. Lift up the waffle squares onto individual plates, dredge with confectioners’ sugar, and serve immediately.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Toffee Buttermilk Scones

Toffee Buttermilk Scones - made February 12, 2012, recipe adapted from Tartine by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson (book #192)

I modified this recipe from Tartine.  The original recipe called for using currants but I'm not a fan of currants so I substituted toffee bits instead.  This made a lot of scones (almost 2 dozen) so if you don't need that many, you can easily make only half the recipe.

This was easy to make but, similar to biscuits and pie crust, you want to handle the dough as little as possible so gluten doesn't develop and so the texture is more tender than chewy.  I think I was only marginally successful as they weren't super flaky-tender as some other scones I've made but still, they came out fairly well.  I think what helped was that the crunch from the coarse sugar on top provided a nice contrast and some sweetness to the scone itself.  I used vanilla sugar I had gotten for Christmas (I love getting good ingredients as presents) to sprinkle on top of the scones and it was a nice touch.  The toffee bits were good too but to have more of a butterscotch flavor, next time I think I'd add chopped up butterscotch chips and perhaps substitute some of the granulated sugar for brown sugar.

4 ¾ (24 ounces) cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very cold
1 ½ cups buttermilk
½ cup Heath bar toffee bits

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Large crystal sugar or granulated sugar for sprinkling

1.   Preheat the oven to 400⁰F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.   Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a food processor.  Add the sugar and salt and pulse briefly to mix.  Cut the butter into ½” cubes and scatter the cubes over the dry ingredients.  Pulse on and off so that you don’t break down the butter too much.  You want to end with a coarse mixture with pea-sized lumps of butter visible.
3.   Add the buttermilk all at once along with the toffee bits and mix gently with a wooden spoon or pulse briefly to mix.  If the mixture seems dry, add a little more buttermilk. 
4.   Dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it.  Using your hands, pat the dough into a rectangle about 18” x 5” x 1 ½”.  Brush the top with the melted butter and then sprinkle with the sugar.  Using a chef’s knife, cut the dough into 12 triangles.  Transfer the triangles to the prepared baking sheet.
5.   Bake the scones until the tops are lightly browned, 25 to 35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sables au Chocolat

Sables au Chocolat - made February 11, 2012 from La Maison du Chocolat by Robert Linxe (book #191)

French is supposed to be the language of love.  I also say it's the language of food because almost every edible sounds classier in French, lol.  Sables (pronounced "sah-blay" and no, don't pronounce the second "s" in there) au Chocolat sounds more upscale than "chocolate cookies".  I've only been to Paris once and I did the usual touristy things like climb the Eiffel Tower and L'Arc de Triomphe and do a day trip out to Versaille.  But my favorite part about France was being able to walk into any hole-in-the-wall food shop and get the best bread ever.  I don't know if it was my imagination but everything just seemed to taste better in Paris, especially the fresh baguettes.

One place, however, that I missed out on, simply because at the time I didn't know about it, was visiting La Maison du Chocolat, a confection-boutique chain of high-end chocolates by chocolatier Robert Linxe.  I didn't know about it until after my trip and I could kick myself for not making a point of going there.  I haven't returned to Paris since then but it's definitely on my bucket list to go visit.  For now, this recipe book will have to stand in for it.

The picture of these cookies in the recipe book is what moved me to try them but I have to admit I'm a little disappointed in how they turned out.  I thought they would crisp up and have more of a snap to them, like maybe the upscale cocoa version of the Oreo cookie.  Not so, mes amis.  Instead they were not moist, not dry.  They were just....there.  So then I tried covering half the tops with chocolate to give them a little punch.  Eh.  Just okay.  And I did follow the recipe to the letter, including timing them in the oven since they were chocolate cookies and it's hard to tell by looks alone if chocolate cookies - excuse me, sables au chocolat, are done.  But they are how they are.  Perhaps I need to stick to the all-American brownie after all.

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar

1.   Combine the confectioners’ sugar and the cocoa powder in a bowl and mix to blend.  Set aside.
2.   Place the butter in a mixing bowl, add the cocoa powder mixture and beat until smooth.  Add the eggs and beat vigorously.  Add one third of the flour and fold just to blend with a spatula; do not overmix.  Repeat for the remaining flour, adding in two more batches.  Form the dough into a large ball and refrigerate for 2 hours.
3.   About 30 minutes before baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Form the dough into little sausage shapes, about 1 inch in diameter, and roll in the granulated sugar.  Return to the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
4.   Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Slice the dough sausages into circles about ¼-inch thick and arrange on a nonstick baking sheet. 
5.   Bake for 12-15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool before serving.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine Sugar Cookie Cake

Valentine Sugar Cookie Cake - made February 13, 2012 from my own experimentation

I'd been seeing "sugar cookie cakes" around the foodie blogosphere lately - they're essentially sugar cookies but made as bar cookies topped with frosting or as "cakes".  I like sugar cookies but find them a pain to roll out, cut, ice, decorate, etc.  So the idea of a sugar cookie cake where you simply spread the batter in the pan, bake, cool and frost was appealing.  I was on another "gotta use up buttermilk before it expires" recipe quest so I made up this recipe adaped from several different ones I'd seen, including one for buttermilk sugar cookies from one of my cake books.  My first attempt didn't quite turn out as I had envisioned.  For my original results, I had too much cookie dough for the 9 x 13 pan I used so the sugar cookie cake came out thick.  Which normally wouldn't be a problem but it called for baking them long enough for the middle to bake which means the ends came out a little dry.  So it's better to make them a bit thinner with less batter and underbake (very slightly) rather than fully bake them.

The recipe below is my second attempt. I made less batter and baked in a smaller pan.  It had a lighter texture than my first attempt and was much more moist.  Actually it was more cake than cookie but that's okay.  Instead of a sugar cookie cake, I could've accidentally just invented a good vanilla cake too, lol.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2-3 tablespoons of milk or just enough to get the consistency you want
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a few drops of red food coloring (enough to make a Valentine pink)
  1. Line a 9 x 9-inch square baking pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, 1-2 minutes.  Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla and vanilla bean paste. 
  3. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk
  4. Spread into prepared baking pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out just barely clean. Cool completely and spread with icing.
  5. For the icing: Beat butter until creamy and no lumps remain. Add 1/2 cup of powdered sugar at a time and beat until light and fluffy, adding milk as needed for desired consistency. Add vanilla extract and red food coloring until you have the desired color. Beat until evenly colored. Spread over cooled cake.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Valentine Cookies - get your red, white and pink on

Valentine Cookies - made February 8, 2012, recipe adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn

I've already blogged a few Valentine's Day-appropriate recipes in the past that have the red velvet  theme going:
Red Velvet Cookies
Red Velvet Sandwich Cookies
Red Velvet Brownies with White Chocolate Frosting
Red Velvet Pancakes
Red Velvet Cake
Red Velvet Cupcakes

But I also wanted to try out a new Valentine Cookie, also still using red velvet as the base.  I have a one-track mind.  I adapted this recipe from the Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn.  The original recipe was for chocolate cookies but since red velvet is a form of chocolate, I decided to see how it would turn out using a red velvet cake mix instead of a devil's food cake mix.  And to give it that Valentine's flair, I used the Valentine package of plain M&Ms instead of chocolate chips and nuts.  I admit, I'm girly girl enough to like all the pink, red and white schmaltzy  stuff. 

These turned out somewhat decent but I wouldn't rave about them.  I was hoping they would have crisp edges and chewy middles like a chocolate chip cookie.  They were fine, more chewy all around than I would've preferred but they didn't wow me.  And I like to be wowed.  I think the missing link is they didn't really taste like anything.  Good red velvet has that chocolate flavor.  These just tasted like....cookies.  But I refused to be defeated.  If I wanted that chocolate flavor, I was going to get that chocolate flavor.  So I went with the obvious and coated them in chocolate.

1 package (18.25 ounces) red velvet cake mix
1/3 cup water
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted
1 large egg
6 ounces (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup chopped nuts

1.   Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2.   Place the cake mix, water, melted butter and egg in large mixing bowl.  Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase speed to medium and beat for 1 more minute.  The cookie dough will be thick.  Fold in chips and nuts.
3.   Drop heaping teaspoons of dough 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  Bake the cookies until they have set but are still a little soft in the center, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cookies rest on cookie sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Cheesecake Brownies with Oreos

Marbled Fudge Brownies - made February 4, 2012 from Great Chefs, Great Chocolate, edited by Julie M. Pitkin (book #190)

My niece was visiting me last weekend and, as has become our tradition when she spends the night, we eat and we bake.  Besides the apple pie we made, we also baked these brownies for her to take back to her friends.  Because I can't resist tinkering when it comes to brownie recipes, I also added chopped up Oreos to the chocolate batter, partly because I like Oreos and partly because it gave us an excuse to snack on a few while she was chopping them up to add to the batter.

Because the ratio of cream cheese batter to chocolate batter was nearly 1:1, I would consider these to be more like cheesecake brownies than simply "marbled" brownies as the original name declares.  I also didn't marble them much on purpose just to keep the two batters distinct.  I liked the addition of the Oreos because it gave the brownies a little crunch.  The recipe calls for making them in four 4 x 1" round pans but I used an 8 x 8-inch pan which I lined with foil and sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, thus eliminating the need for dusting with unsweetened cocoa.  The 8-inch pan made the brownies of a nice thickness.

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa for dusting (didn't use)

Fudge Mixture
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 eggs
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
Oreos, chopped (use as much or as little as you like), optional

Cream Cheese Mixture
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg

1.   Preheat the oven to 350⁰F.  Butter four 4 x 1-inch round molds (I used one 8 x 8-inch pan, lined with foil and lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray) and dust with the cocoa.  In a double boiler over barely simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring to combine thoroughly.  Set aside to cool slightly.
2.   In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until well combined.  Add the chocolate mixture and stir well to incorporate.  Stir in the flour and salt until blended, but do not overmix.  Add the chopped up Oreos if using.
3.   Cream cheese mixture: In a medium bowl, beat  the cream cheese and sugar until well blended.  Add the vanilla and egg and continue to beat until smooth.
4.   Fill the prepared molds (pan) three-fourths full with the chocolate mixture, then top off with cream cheese.  Using a fork, swirl the layers 2 or 3 times, using a folding motion.  Be careful not to overmix or to scrape the sides or bottom of the pan, or the brownies could stick.
5.   Bake the brownies for 35 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the centers are somewhat firm.  Let cool on a wire rack and unmold.  Serve with chocolate sauce and your favorite ice cream or dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Apple Pie for National Pie Month

Apple Pie - made February 4, 2012, crust from Nick Malgieri's Perfect Pastry (book #188) and filling from Pie Town, New Mexico 2011 cookbook (book #189)

Did you know February is National Pie Month?  Just  thought I'd mention it so you don't think February is just about the Super Bowl and Valentine's Day.  The pie deserves some love too.  Many people love pies and I'm no exception.  Except for me, the only pie in the world is apple pie.  Sure, there's pecan pie and chocolate pie (which I'll never eat again after watching The Help), coconut custard pie, etc and those are well and good too.  But for fruit pies, only apple does it for me.  With ice cream.  Not whipped cream but ice cream.  I don't like whipped cream.  To me, whipped cream is flavored air with calories.  Plus, if something is going to look like ice cream, it should be ice cream.  And with apple pie, it can only be vanilla ice cream.

The pie gives the ice cream something to sit on

My sister and her boyfriend went to the Pie Festival in Pie Town, New Mexico last year and brought me back the cookbook that all the pie festival participants contributed to, sharing their prize-winning recipes.  You can tell they're probably a bunch of pie experts as, on some of the recipes, the directions are alarmingly vague: "mix ingredients together as you would any pie crust".  Uh, what if you don't normally make pies or have never made pie crust before?  If so, clearly, you're not entering any contests in Pie Town, New Mexico anytime soon.  But of course I have to make something from the pie festival cookbook for National Pie Month.  So I compromised - I used the Flaky Pie Crust recipe from Nick Malgieri's Perfect Pastry cookbook and the apple pie filling recipe from one of the apple pie recipes in the Pie Town cookbook.  Even for the filling recipe, I added my notes in italicized blue font just to flesh them out a bit.

Bear in mind I'm not a pie maker by any means.  I know just enough to be dangerous but I don't make pies anywhere near as much as I make brownies, cookies, cakes, and the like.  However, I was fairly pleased with how this turned out.  The pie crust uses all butter so it was appropriately flaky-to-die-for, not to mention deliciously buttery.  The filling was also good, not too tart or too sweet, although my niece, who I made this with, and I probably cut into the still-warm pie a little too soon because the juices all ran out after I took out the first piece.  But it did solidify enough later after it had cooled without being too gelatinous.

Oh, and if you don't want to waste perfectly good pie dough scraps, do what I did: gather all the scraps and make into a round "cookie", sprinkle with vanilla sugar and bake along with the pie.  We ended up with a buttery, sugary crust-cookie that was really good.  I would've taken a picture of it so you can see what I mean but I'm afraid we ate it too fast for the camera to capture.

We had to make sure we had enough ice cream

Flaky Pastry Dough
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, about 10 ounces
¼ cup cake flour, about 1 ounce
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, 8 ounces, cool
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water

1.   Combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, salt and baking powder; cut up and add the butter, and gently toss to coat. 
2.   Rub in the butter until the mixture looks sandy.  Sprinkle over 3 tablespoons of ice water; toss with a fork.  Add another tablespoon of water if necessary.  Press the dough together.  Wrap and chill.

Apple Pie
To: Honor IV. Burrell (I don't know who this is but it's what's listed in the book)

5-7 tart apples (I used Granny Smith)
¾ - 1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons flour
Dash of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 recipe plain pastry (I used the pie crust recipe above but you can substitute your own)
2 tablespoons butter

1.   Prepare apples and slice thin.  Mix sugar, flour, spices – add to apples. 
2.   Fill 9-inch pastry-lined pan.  Adjust top crust. Crimp edges and cut slits in top crust to let steam escape. Dot with butter (note: it's a little unclear whether she means to dot the butter on top of the crust or underneath it.  I went with underneath the top crust and egg washed the top crust itself before putting it in the oven) Place pie pan on a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Bake in hot oven (400 degrees) for 50 minutes. If crust is browning too quickly, lower temperature to 375 degrees.  If apples are not tart, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or grated lemon peel, if desired.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Banana Coffee Cake

Banana Bread with Nutty Streusel - made Feburary 3, 2012 from Miette by Meg Ray with Leslie Jonath (book #187)

Now that the holidays are over, as you can tell, I'm back to trying out new recipes and back on my baking challenge.  Much as I love baking for the holidays, I also love constantly trying new recipes.  One thing I made over and over for my holiday gifts was Petra's banana bread.  So you'd think I'd be sick of making it by now.  And in a way, I am.  But I still can't resist trying out a new recipe, especially since I still had overripe bananas on hand. This recipe from Miette includes a streusel so it was a little different from my usual recipe.  Besides, you gotta love streusel.  I also liked that in the description of the recipe, the book describes it as being more cakey, which is also like Petra's recipe.

This came out pretty well.  I wouldn't say it's better (or worse) than Petra's recipe but I liked it too.  The texture was cakey more than quick-bread-y.  The banana bread itself  is not as sweet as Petra's recipe but that could also be due to the nutty streusel topping imparting a complementary toasted pecan flavor.  But overall it is sweeter because of the streusel.  It's actually more like a banana coffeecake because of the streusel so I'm renaming it for my own purposes.  Overall, thumbs up.
Nutty Streusel
½ cup (2 ounces) pecan pieces
¼ cup (2 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (1 ½ ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Banana Bread
2 ¼ cups (11 ounces) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups (10 ½ ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup vegetable oil
4 medium soft, but not black, bananas (about 1 pound total) peeled and roughly mashed
½ cup (2 ounces) pecan pieces

1.   Liberally butter four 5-by-3-inch or two 8-by-4-inch loaf pans and dust with sifted flour.  Tap out the excess flour.
2.   Preheat the oven to 350 F.
3.   To make the streusel: In a food processor, add the pecans, sugar, flour, butter, cinnamon, vanilla and salt and pulse until coarsely combined.  Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 5 days.
4.   To make the banana bread: sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
5.   In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the sugar, eggs, and vanilla on medium speed until well combined and lightened in color, 4 to 5 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and drizzle in the oil, whisking until combined.  Add the banana mash and whisk just until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and pecans to the batter in three additions, whisking just to combine after each addition.  Do not overmix.
6.   Divide the batter between the prepared pans.  Sprinkle the tops with the streusel, dividing it evenly.  (You may not need all of the streusel if making the smaller loaves.)  Bake until the breads have risen nicely and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes for the small loaves and 45 to 50 minutes for the larger loaves.  Transfer to wire racks and let cool in the pans for 20 minutes.  Run an offset spatula around the edges of the pans, then invert the cakes onto the racks and let cool for about 20 minutes longer.  Serve right away, or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to serve, up to 3 days.  To freeze, wrap tightly in a second layer of plastic and store in the freezer for up to 2 months.  Serve at room temperature.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chocolate Fudge - another fudge fail

Chocolate Fudge - made February 1, 2012 made from Hallelujah! The Welcome Table by Maya Angelou (book #186)

Do you like your fudge dry, crumbly and/or grainy?  If so, let me make your fudge for you.  Because that's how my last couple of attempts to make fudge have turned out.  I know there are "no-fail" fudge recipes out there that use marshmallow creme and/or evaporated milk to minimize the risk of graininess but I was trying to make "real", old-fashioned fudge the old-school way.  Ha, that was a mistake.

If you've ever read any of the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, they were always making fudge amongst their high school crowd with Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Carney, et al.  They must've had a knack for it because no one ever complained about grainy fudge.  Although it is a work of fiction after all, as fictitious as my making non-grainy fudge.  I knew I was taking a risk though since the instructions were a bit sparse.  I did try the old-fashioned soft ball test of dropping a bit of the boiling fudge mixture into ice-cold water until it formed a soft ball.  It took forever for the fudge to get to that stage and I was afraid of overcooking it.  But actually I think I undercooked it because I cheated and also used a candy thermometer to see when it got to 220 degrees F or "soft ball" stage.  By the ice-cold water test, the fudge formed a soft ball at 210 degrees so I finally took it off since it had been boiling for over 20 minutes and the thermometer hadn't budged a degree above 210 for 10 minutes.  So I got insecure about it and took it off the burner.  I followed the rest of the instructions to a T but my fudge still ended up grainy.  Sigh.  Epic fail.

Someday I will conquer old-fashioned fudge making.  Today was not that day.

3 cups sugar
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons corn syrup
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped roasted almonds

1. Butter 8 x 8-inch pan.
2. In large, heavy saucepan, bring sugar, milk, corn syrup, and chocolate to a boil.
3. Put a drop of mixture in 1 cup of ice-cold water. When the drop forms a soft ball, remove from heat. If ball does not form, continue cooking and repeat until ball forms.
4. Add butter and vanilla extract to hot mixture. Cool. When saucepan with chocolate mixture has cooled to a lukewarm temperature, beat mixture with spoon until it losses its gloss and becomes thick. Stir in almonds before mixture cools completely. Cool in pan. Cut in desired-size squares.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Orange Chicken made in the crock pot

Orange Chicken - made January 29, 2012

I'm trying to cook more these days so I don't go out to eat all the time. Although, "cook" might be a subjective term. Let's call it, "I took down my crock pot from the high shelf and threw in some chicken". It took a little more effort than that but not much more. Last year I had tried a slow cooker orange chicken recipe from another blog that was pretty good and I was going to make it again but when it was time to assemble it, I didn't have my computer on and was too lazy to fire it up to check that original recipe so I made up this one on the fly instead with the ingredients I had on hand. It came out pretty well, although it could've been more orange-y.  Next time I need to decrease the barbecue sauce and increase the orange marmalade.

I want to use my crockpot more often because it's the easiest way to cook but one issue I always have with whatever I make in it is that it always comes out soupy. Sometimes I'm not going for the soup texture so I end up thickening the sauce with some cornstarch. It still hardly ever thickens up to the consistency I want but taste-wise, it comes out okay. I've made worse, haha.

12 skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
1 cup barbecue sauce (I used Trader Joe's smoky-sweet BBQ sauce)
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 green onions, chopped (green tops and all)
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch
  1. Combine all ingredients except cornstarch.  Cook on low setting in slow cooker overnight or 6-8 hours until chicken is fork-tender.  
  2. Remove 1/4 cup of the sauce and combine with 2 teaspoons cornstarch.  Stir to dissolve and add back into slow cooker.  Stir and let simmer another 10 minutes.  Turn off crock pot and serve.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Citrus Shortbread Cookies - made January 29, 2012, adapted from Desserts to Die For by Marcel Desaulniers (book #185)

This baking book by Marcel Desaulniers (as with all of my posts, click on the book title to go its amazon page, get more info and/or purchase) is full of lots of fancy, impressive-looking desserts.  The pictures alone are guaranteed food porn.  The book isn't really for newbies unless you're a risk taker who doesn't mind taking the plunge on multi-step, multi-layer recipes or have some baking experience and want to tackle something to awe your friends.  I am somewhat in the middle of the spectrum.  While I bake a lot, I rarely have long stretches of time to take on a single, complicated baking production.  And even if the end result is eye-catchingly impressive, I'm more interested in the taste and likely only want a small piece before I'm moving on to the next project.  So that's my long lead in to say that, while this book is filled with all kinds of fancy, I chose one of the simplest recipes in it to make.  The original recipe called for both orange and lemon zests but I don't like to mix my flavors so I made it a pure lemon shortbread cookie.  Also because I didn't have any oranges on hand, ha. It also said to use orange-flavored liqueur but since I wasn't going the orange route, I substituted lemon oil instead.

This could not be simpler to make and the dough was easy to work with, pliable without being too sticky.  I rolled it into a squarish log, wrapped it in wax paper and refrigerated it overnight before slicing and baking the next morning.  I baked it a couple of minutes longer than the recipe called for before I was satisfied with the golden brown color.  I knew that with this type of cookie, it's best not to underbake it because you want it baked enough to have the snap and crisp texture of a good shortbread cookie.  I'm glad I did because this turned out really well.  It was almost as good as my favorite butter cookie from Bakewise by Shirley Corriher.  It's a nicely-flavored lemon shortbread cookie, perfect for afternoon teas or just a dessert snack reminiscent of spring and summer flavors.
¼ pound unsalted butter
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

1.   Preheat the oven to 325⁰F. 
2.   Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle.  Beat on medium for 2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Beat on high for 3 minutes, until the batter is light (but not fluffy).  Add the lemon zest and the lemon oil.  Beat on high for 30 seconds.  Operate the mixer on low while gradually adding the flour and salt, and mix for 1 minute.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the dough, until thoroughly combined.
3.   Wrap dough in plastic wrap.  Roll the dough on a flat surface to form a 6-inch-long and 1 ½-inch in diameter cylinder.  Place the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
4.   Remove the dough from the refrigerator and discard the plastic wrap.  Cut the dough into 12 individual ½-inch-thick slices.  Divide the slices onto 2 baking sheets.  Place the baking sheets onto the center rack in the preheated oven and bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges.  Halfway through the baking time, rotate each baking sheet 180 degrees.  Remove the cookies from the oven and cool to room temperature on the baking sheets, about 20 minutes.  The cooled cookies may be stored in a tightly sealed plastic container for several days at room temperature, or for several weeks in the freezer.

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