Saturday, June 30, 2012

Coconut Cream Pie

Coconut Cream Pie - made June 24, 2012 from the Culinary Institute of America's Baking & Pastry Arts certification program

I never used to think I would like coconut cream pie, partly because I don't ordinarily like custard-y desserts but mostly because all the coconut cream pies I had seen had mile-high whipped cream topping and I don't do whipped cream, aka flavored air with calories.  Then when I was in culinary school, we made coconut cream pie and once I tasted it, my reaction was "where have you been all my life??"  What helped me get over my unwarranted prejudice is by then I had already gotten hooked on the CIA's pastry cream recipe and this coconut cream pie recipe was very similar in how the pastry cream was made; the main difference was the addition of coconut.  I also tried the pie without whipped cream and I was hooked.

The recipe below is straight from my CIA recipe binder so the directions are sparse and this is enough to make a full-size pie (at least an 8-9" pie).  If you end up with more filling than you need, separate out what you need for the pie before you add the coconut and use the leftover as regular pastry cream.  Or you can do what I did and bake it as mini pies, as many as you have crusts and filling for.

20 ounces milk
2 ounces sugar
1.5 ounces egg (1)
1 ounce egg yolk (2)
5 tablespoons cornstarch
2 ounces sugar
1 ounce butter
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
¾ cup shredded coconut

Unbaked pie crust(s)

1.     Line pie pan(s) with pie dough, prick the bottom, line with parchment paper and beans or pie weights and prebake.  Let cool.
2.     Combine eggs, cornstarch, sugar and a little of the milk to make a paste.
3.     Boil the milk with the sugar, temper the starch and bring back to a boil.
4.     Add butter, vanilla and coconut.
5.     Pour custard into pie pans and put into refrigerator.
6.     When cool, decorate with whipped cream and toasted coconut. (Or if you're like me, leave off the whipped cream.)


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Banana "Napoleons"

Banana "Napoleons" - made June 23, 2012

I can't claim these as real napoleons since they technically only had 1 layer of puff pastry and napoleons are supposed to have multiple layers.  I originally started out with the intention of creating a napoleon with 3 layers of pastry, 2 layers of pastry cream and 2 layers of bananas.  Alas, I didn't take into account the puff pastry, well, puffing up quite so much.  They literally went airborne and it would've been impractical to try to mush them into 3 layers or else I'd end up with a crumbly mess.  Puff pastry doesn't take kindly to being mushed down.  Instead, I cut one piece through the middle, filled it with pastry cream and bananas and called it a dessert.

This is a simple one to make for those summer days when you'd rather be outside than in the kitchen.  It only requires about 15 minutes of baking time and you can prep the pastry cream ahead of time.  I cheated on the puff pastry by buying the ready-made kind by Pepperidge Farm.  I know, I know, I'm supposed to be more snobby than that but in this rare instance, the store-bought version was just fine, especially since I didn't have the time or materials to make puff pastry from scratch.

After you thaw the puff pastry according to the package directions, slice it with a pizza cutter (for straight cuts) in the size you want to make your dessert.  I sliced one sheet into thirds lengthwise, then each strip into thirds again to make rectangles.  Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar to taste and bake according to the package directions.  Bake until golden brown then let cool for about 5 minutes before slicing in half and layering with pastry cream and sliced bananas.  Serve immediately.

The advantage of this type of simple dessert is you only have your oven on for a short period of time, as opposed to longer baking times for cakes or pies or multiple cookie sheets, which may be a factor during hot summer months.  You can also make the pastry cream a day ahead and keep it in your refrigerator until you're ready to use it.

Now, another take on the same dessert is, before baking the puff pastry, you slice it in the size you want for each individual dessert, cover all but the edges with pastry cream, layer sliced bananas on top of the pastry cream and bake until the pastry is golden brown.  Because it's weighed down by the pastry cream and bananas, it won't get the same rise so it's a bit more manageable.  The bananas will also roast for more flavor.  Once they're baked, sprinkle the bananas with granulated sugar, brulee them then top with ice cream.  Serve immediately.  I have to confess, I liked the second way better because of the taste of the baked bananas and the puff pastry being easier to eat without crumbling.

Linked to Sweet Treats Thursday
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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Golden Orange Buttermilk Cake

Golden Orange Buttermilk Cake - made June 23, 2012, recipe adapted from Cakes to Die For by Bev Shaffer

My orange tree is still valiantly trying to grow oranges.  I counted 3 little ones that have made it just barely past the tiny little bud/blossom-I-might-become-an-orange-someday stage.  So I wait with bated breath to see how they play out.  In the meantime, I've got to buy the oranges I eat and use for baking.  Although oranges are available year round (if you're fortunate), I tend to associate them with summer and bake with them more often in the warmer months.

This is another I-have-to-use-up-my-buttermilk baking recipe I dusted off from my "Still Need to Make" recipe folder.  I amass recipes and dump them in that folder on my computer for baking someday. I classify this one under picnic cakes that'll withstand summer temps because it's easy to make in a bundt pan, slice and serve without worrying about a thick frosting melting off of it or it getting stale too quickly.  Overall this was a good basic pound cake.  The cake itself was more of a vanilla butter pound cake than a true orange cake so for more orange flavor, I made some adjustments (modifications below) to the original recipe as to what I would do the next time I make this cake.

I'm still on the lookout for a cakey orange cake with a fluffy texture rather than a dense pound cake texture though.  This wasn't it so the search continues.

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (more if desired for more orange flavor)
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

Orange soaking syrup
1/4 cup - 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons fresh orange juice, pulp free
1 to 2 tablespoons water or additional fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest, optional but recommended for more orange flavor

1.     Heat the oven to 325F.  Grease and flour a 10” tube pan or 12-cup Bundt pan, tapping out excess flour.
2.     In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3.     In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. 
4.     Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until blended.  With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk until well mixed.  Scrape bowl.  Stir in the orange zest and orange juice until combined.
5.     Spread batter into prepared pan.  Bake for 50 to 66 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  While the cake is baking, heat the ingredients for the soaking syrup, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved completely.
6.     Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Then run a small spatula around the inside edge of the pan and carefully remove the cake by inverting on a wire rack lined with wax paper.  Brush with the soaking syrup until all syrup has been absorbed.  Cool completely.
7.     For the glaze: in a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, orange juice, orange zest and just enough water or additional orange juice until the desired consistency is reached.  Drizzle over cooled cake.  Serves 12-14.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Vanilla Cupcakes for Vanilla King

Yellow Butter Cake - made June 22, 2012, recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook and made into cupcakes

One of my favorite shows on TV is Cupcake Wars on Food Network.  Every Sunday night, you can find me in front of my TV, stressing out with the cupcake bakers on how to pass the taste challenge (Round 1), the taste and presentation challenge (Round 2) and creating a display and baking 1000 cupcakes in 2 hours (Round 3) with 4 baking assistants and a bearded carpenter clad in plaid.  When I first started watching the show, it stressed me out so much I almost couldn't watch it.  It reminded me too much of culinary school and the daily stress of making desserts in time for the lunch deadline (you don't sit down and eat lunch until the desserts are done, plated, on display and your station is clean).  I've since gotten used to the show so now I can actually distance myself enough to enjoy the cupcakes they're making rather than cringing in empathic sympathy for what the contestants are going through.

What fascinates me about the show is all the flavor combinations they put together.  My idea of the perfect cupcake is a well-made, moist, plain (i.e. non-filled) cupcake topped with the thinnest layer of frosting and no decorations that I would otherwise only pluck off and never eat.  Cupcake Wars goes to the opposite end of the spectrum and the most exotic (or sometimes just plain weird) flavors are baked into the cupcakes, they're filled with "stuff", thickly topped with frosting and decorated in all sorts of ways.  Most of them are probably cupcakes I wouldn't eat but some of them sure look pretty.  And some do put together flavor combinations I would probably like.

The cupcake corer
Despite my aversion to fillings in cupcakes, I decided I'd try it out - namely because I found a cool new baking gadget to play with - the cupcake corer.  Granted, a small knife or the large-enough end of a decorating tip could accomplish the same thing: making a hole in the cupcake, extracting the bit of cupcake and leaving a hole or well in the center to be filled with filling.  But for $4.99, no tax and free shipping, I felt I could indulge in a new baking gadget.

I was meeting my cousin and her son, Vanilla King, for dinner and I needed something befitting his moniker - I gave it to him, after all, since he's the only kid I know who not only prefers vanilla but actually doesn't like chocolate.  Doesn't like chocolate.  Had to repeat that because my brain can't comprehend it. In any case, what better cupcake for Vanilla King than a vanilla cupcake filled with vanilla pastry cream and topped with vanilla icing?  I used Martha Stewart's recipe for Yellow Butter Cake and made a half recipe into cupcakes.  Turns out I didn't have regular cupcake liners on hand so I used the mini panettone molds instead.  They made for a bigger, taller cupcake than I intended but oh well.
Filled with pastry cream
The cupcake corer actually worked but because of the size of my cupcakes, it couldn't make a very deep hole before the lip of the corer ran into the top of the cupcake.  I thought it would be okay without my enlarging the holes manually with a knife but it turns out I should have because there ended up not being very much filling in the cupcakes.  With regular cupcake liners, I think it would've been okay.  I used the CIA recipe for pastry cream because it's my favorite.  If you're only making 1 batch of cupcakes, a half recipe of the pastry cream would be more than enough.

The recipe for the cake was pretty good.  I still have an underbaking problem so they probably turned out a little heavier than Martha intended but the taste was nice and buttery.  Next time I would bake it a minute or two longer and use more filling.  Good thing there's no possibility of my appearing on Cupcake Wars any time soon.  Or ever.
Because Vanilla King is 7 years old, I had to add sprinkles to his cupcakes
Needs more filling
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups milk

1.       Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter two 9” round cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2.       In a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3.       In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Beat until combined after each addition.
4.       Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and smooth with an offset metal spatula.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centers come out clean, 30 to 35 minutes (20-25 minutes or less if you’re baking as cupcakes).  Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes.  Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment and reinvert.  Let cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted (more or less, depending on the consistency you want your frosting)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons milk, adjust with confectioners’ sugar for desired consistency

1.       With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
2.       Reduce speed to medium.  Add the confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed; after every two additions, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate frosting, then return to medium. 
3.       Add vanilla and milk, and beat until frosting is smooth.  If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 10 days in an airtight container.  Before using, bring to room temperature and beat on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cocoa Fudge Cake with Chocolate Nutella Frosting

Cocoa Fudge Cake with Chocolate Nutella Frosting - made June 17, 2012 from Yummy Healthy Easy blog
I was in the mood for chocolate last weekend and although it was sweltering hot, I sucked it up to make this easy chocolate cake recipe.  I knew just from looking at the ingredients with its high proportion of liquid ingredients that the batter would be thin and the cake would be moist.  And I was right.  As advertised on the original blog, (click on the recipe title to get the cake recipe), this cake was very moist and deliciously fudgy.  Don't underbake it as it'll turn out too gummy but bake until the toothpick comes out clean or with a few moist (but not wet) crumbs.  The quality of the taste however will largely depend on the quality of your cocoa so use the good stuff (do I still need to say that?).  A dark cocoa works best to give it full flavor.
I skipped the icing recipe though to do my usual fast, no-fail frosting.  I melted some chocolate chips with nutella, blended smooth and spread on the cake.  I didn't measure how much of each but you can play with it according to taste and texture preference.  If you want the frosting to remain somewhat soft and fluid, use more nutella.  If you want it to set slightly, almost like a soft fudge, use more chocolate chips.  There's really no getting it wrong.  However, given how moist this cake is, it's best not to slice it until you're ready to serve or else wrap completely in plastic, preferably directly wrapping the cake in plastic so there's no air trapped between plastic and cake.  Otherwise the cut ends will dry out faster and you'll lose the goodness of the moist texture.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 cup hot water

1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Combine cocoa, sugar, salt, flour and soda. 
  2. Add the oil, buttermilk and eggs. Mix well, then add the water. 
  3. Pour into a greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Remove cake from pan while warm, not hot.
  4. For the icing: boil the sugar, cocoa, milk and butter in a saucepan on the stove for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vanilla. Stir until cool or thick enough to adhere to the cake. Pour quickly before it sets.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Brown Butter Coconut Dessert Shells

Banana Split in a Brown Butter Coconut Dessert Shell - made June 17, 2012, recipe adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

I adapted this coconut dessert shell from a Dorie Greenspan recipe.  It was 100 degrees last weekend and I don't fare well in sweltering temperatures so I wanted a no-bake option, something I rarely do because I like baking.  But I also like not sweating buckets while I'm in the kitchen so I tried this out.  The original recipe called for making the coconut crust in a pie pan, blending some pureed bananas with chocolate ice cream and using that as the filling for the "pie".  I was not up to being that grandiose about it since I was just looking for an excuse to eat ice cream and justify it as "I need a new post for my blog".  So I went with dessert shells.
Set of 4 shells

Close up
I have to admit though, this didn't turn out as well as I wanted.  While I'm a rabid fan of coconut, this was too much coconut and dominated the crust.  Taste-wise I still liked it but I think it would've been better to have more of a coconut cookie crust rather than an almost pure coconut crust.  Less is more.  Next time I'd make coconut wafer-type cookies, pulverize them into crumbs, add some melted butter and form them into the shells.  Or else still use this recipe, let it cool and set, then crumble and use as a topping instead. Oh well, at least I got to eat some ice cream.

1 stick (1/2 cup, 4 ounces) butter
2 cups coconut
1/2 cup crushed butter cookie crumbs (I used Pepperidge Farm Chessman cookies)
  1. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until the butter browns and emits a nutty aroma.  Don't let it burn - you want browned flecks at the bottom, not black.  Add coconut and cook, stirring over low heat, for 1 minute.  
  2. Remove from heat and add cookie crumbs.  Pat into dessert shell pan or shape as shells in a muffin tin.  Let cool completely.
  3. Slice a firm ripe banana and place in the bottom of the shells.  Top with ice cream and drizzle with hot fudge or caramel sauce.  Garnish with toasted chopped peanuts or almonds.
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Black & White Cookies

Chocolate Chocolate Black & White Cookies - made dough June 3, 2012 from Chocolatier magazine, Spring 2007 edition

Still on a baking rampage.  I've always wanted to make Black and White Cookies which are normally cakey vanilla butter cookies that are glazed half with vanilla icing and half with chocolate icing.  This recipe goes one step further on the chocolate scale and glazes over a chocolate chocolate chip cookie.  Seemed like a good trial run for Black and Whites.

Unfortunately, this isn't an easy dough to do my usual process: make the dough, scoop into dough balls, freeze, bake later.  The dough came out too soft, more like a stiff batter than a typical cookie dough.  So I had to chill the batter for an hour before they became firm enough to even scoop, freeze the dough balls then put them in freezer bags.  And even then, I could only put them in a single layer or else they would soften and stick to each other.  Even when frozen, they didn't get that hard.  That was only strike one against these cookies.  The glaze was strike two.  It wasn't hard to make but the white icing was just a bit too runny so once it was on the cookie, it became more opaque rather than staying white.  Plus, let's face it, I'm not the best icer in the world and my black and whites didn't turn out perfectly iced.

But here's the kicker - these cookies are amazing.  As in, really, really good.  Had-more-than-1-cookie good.  They were more like little cakes in cookie form, not too sweet, not too rich but just right.  I think I baked the first baked to just done but the second batch which I underbaked was even better.  So shave a minute off the baking time in your oven and take them off the hot cookie sheet as soon as possible so they don't continue baking.  I liked them best when the edges were baked and the middles were just barely past raw-looking.  If you bake them long enough for the middles to puff and look done, they might be overbaked.  If you don't want to bother with the glazes, the cookies are perfectly fine eaten plain.

Chocolate-chocolate chip cookies
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (10 2/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups (about 8 ounces) premium semisweet chocolate chips

Vanilla and cocoa glazes
4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
4 ½ tablespoons light corn syrup
10 tablespoons hot water, divided
1 – 1 ½ teaspoons pure almond extract, to taste
¾ cup unsweetened Dutch Process cocoa powder, sifted

1.     Make chocolate-chocolate chip cookies: Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350˚F.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2.    Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.  Mix well. Set aside.
3.    Place softened butter in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment.  Beat on medium to medium-high speed just until butter is smooth and creamy.  Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
4.    Turn mixer to low speed.  Add reserved flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour.  Mix just until each addition is incorporated, as over-mixing can lead to a rubbery cookie.  Stir in vanilla extract and chocolate chips.
5.    Using 1-ounce (2 tablespoon) scoop, place level scoop of dough about 1 ½” apart on prepared cookie sheets.  Bake about 15 to 17 minutes, or until cookie bottoms are lightly browned and tops are dull (I found the best baking time in my oven was ~12-13 minutes).  Transfer immediately to racks to cool.  Cool completely.  Store in airtight containers at room temperature until ready to glaze.
6.    Prepare plain glaze: (Note: If made too far in advance, glaze can partially set up, making it difficult to smoothly ice cookies.) Prepare glaze only after cookies are cool and when you are sure to have time to complete the icing task.  Combine confectioners’ sugar, cream of tartar, corn syrup and enough hot water (about 5 tablespoons) to make thick, but easily spreadable glaze.  Whisk well to remove any sugar lumps.  (Whisking will also make glaze appear whiter and more opaque.)
7.    Flavor glazes: Stir in almond extract and then divide glaze into two equal portions.  Add sifted cocoa powder to one half and whisk again to break apart any cocoa lumps.  Gradually add hot water (about 5 tablespoons) to cocoa mixture until it is same consistency as plain glaze.  To keep glazes from drying out, cover them flush with plastic wrap whenever they’re not in use.
8.    Decorate cookies: Fill one parchment paper cone halfway with plain glaze and another with cocoa glaze.  Cut small (less than 1/8” diameter) hole in tip of each cone.  Reserve rest of glaze for cookie base-coats.  Working with one cookie at a time, use small offset spatula to paint thin base-coat of cocoa (or plain) glaze over entire cookie bottom (flat side).  Before glaze sets up, pipe contrasting plain (or cocoa) glaze in spiral on top of base-coat.  To create a marbled pattern, immediately draw a toothpick or trussing needle through two glazes.
9.    Let glaze dry at room temperature about 1-2 hours before handling or packaging cookies.  Store at room temperature in airtight containers.  Cookies, glazed or unglazed, are best eaten within a few days.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Brown Sugar Coconut Cookies

Brown Sugar Coconut Cookies - made dough May 28, 2012, baked various times from Baking Style by Lisa Yockelson
2nd baking attempt - much better texture and more moist
 If you can't tell, I'm still obsessing over Baking Style.  There are so many recipes I want  to make.  To continue my love of and homage to coconut, and because I was still stockpiling cookie dough in my freezer to bake off when I needed it, I went with this recipe.  The picture in the book looked so good and did I mention my love of coconut?

I made the dough ahead of time and have been baking it at various times when I need something to give away or bring somewhere.  The first time I made this, I tried to get it to look all-over golden brown like it was pictured in the book.  The edges came out crisp which I really liked but the middle was a little dry, which I didn't like.  So the next time I baked it, I did my usual underbaking thing and only baked it until the edges were golden but the middles were still pale.  While it didn't have the same crisp-crunch as the first batch, I liked it much better because the whole cookie was moist.  I can't abide dry cookies - they're a waste of chewing effort.  I also liked the fact that the cookies stayed thick and didn't really spread.  This is a perfect candidate for a Coconut Macadamia Cookie if you want to throw some macadamia nuts in there.  Another winning recipe from this book.
1st baking attempt - baked too long, edges were crisp but middle was dry
2 cups unsifted bleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
1 ½ cups firmly packed sweetened flaked coconut

1.    Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg onto a sheet of waxed paper.
2.    Cream the butter in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderate speed for 2 minutes.  Add the light brown sugar and beat on moderate speed for 1 minute.  Add the granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute longer.  Blend in the egg, vanilla extract, and milk.  On low speed, blend in the sifted ingredients in 2 additions, beating just until the flour is absorbed.  Work in the coconut.
3.    Roll the dough into logs about 1 ½”-2” in diameter and wrap in food-safe plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for 2 hours.
4.     Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line several heavy cookie sheets with parchment paper.
5.     Slice the logs thickly (your choice how thick but about 1/3-1/2” in thickness).  Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes or until set and with golden edges (I only baked mine for 10-11 minutes).  Let the cookies stand on the baking pans for 1 minute then transfer them to cooling racks.  Cool completely.  Store in an airtight tin.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Coconut Toffee Tarts with Chocolate Nutella Topping

Coconut Toffee Tarts - made June 9, 2012, recipe adapted from Doughmakers Cookbook

I have this bad habit of amassing baking ingredients because I never know what recipe will catch my fancy and I need to be prepared for that impulse bout of baking.  So when I "just happen" to be at Target, I might grab an extra package of chocolate chips, another 5 pounds of flour, a bag of sugar, etc.  I won't even confess my acquisitive sins when I'm at Costco (that's right, those 4-lb packs of butter do go into my cart on almost every visit).  It's not such a bad habit, at least not until it hits a critical point when my pantry is stuffed and I can no longer fit anything in my freezer because of the masses of cookie dough, individually wrapped brownies, frozen bags of almonds, macadamias and pecans, and packages of coconut.  If I'm ever cut off from the world because of a natural disaster, my sweet tooth and I would survive just fine.....and for an indefinite period of time at that.

But I try and use what I have when I do get hit with those fits of baking madness.  And anything with a brown sugar crust and a coconut-almond filling topped with melted chocolate is a good kind of madness.  My love of coconut continues - I adapted this coconut toffee blondie recipe and made it in tart form in my little tart pans.  And you thought those tart pans were neatly tucked away in my kitchen cupboard.  Which they were.  Until now.

The "toffee" in the title refers to the brown sugar crust and the brown sugar in the topping rather than real toffee but you can always add some if you like.  I made a full recipe of the crust and patted the dough into 4 tart pans; there was just enough dough for it.  So I only made half the topping recipe as I knew I wouldn't need more than that for 4 tarts.  If you want to make this as a regular bar cookie, make the full recipe of both the crust and topping and bake in a 8 x 8" pan lined with foil.  I also melted some chocolate chips with Nutella to get a quick, no-fail chocolate topping.  Depending on your ratio of nutella to chocolate chips, the top may or may not set but there's nothing wrong with a soft gooey chocolatey topping.  Lastly, I sprinkled the top with toffee bits in keeping with the "toffee" in the title.

This turned out to be coconut-almond-brown-sugar-toffee-chocolate heaven.  The crust was crisp and buttery, the coconut filling was chewy, the nutella-chocolate added even more decadence and the toffee gave it a nice crunch.  As in, "I'm going for a run after I ate 1/4 of 1 tart and it was worth every calorie" kind of goodness.  These are pretty rich so you may even want to make them in mini-tart pans or mini muffin tins for bite-sized gooey rich decadence.

4 tablespoons butter, softened
¼ cup solid vegetable shortening
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup flour

Almond-Coconut Topping (make only 1/2 recipe if you're making as tarts)
2 eggs
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted

1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup Nutella 
Toffee bits for sprinkling on top, optional

1.     Preheat oven to 350°F. 
2.     In a bowl, cream the butter, shortening and brown sugar.  Blend in the flour.  Press the mixture evenly into the bottoms and sides of ungreased tart pans.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly golden.
3.     While the crusts are baking, prepare the topping: Beat the eggs.  Add the brown sugar, vanilla, flour, baking powder, salt, coconut, and almonds and stir well.
4.     Spread the partially baked crusts with the topping and bake for 25 minutes more, or until the filling is golden brown.  
5.   Melt chocolate chips and Nutella over low heat in the top half of a double boiler over hot water.  Stir until smooth.  Spread over each tart and cool completely.  If desired, sprinkle with toffee bits and/or chopped toasted almonds.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies - made June 10, 2012, recipe adapted from Doughmakers Cookbook
1 plain, 1 super peanut-ized
Tomorrow, June 12, is National Peanut Butter Cookie Day.  Seriously, who thinks up these commemorative days?  And how clever are they??  Although peanut butter cookies aren't the first thing I'd eat after days of being stuck in a no-sugar zone (or something equally horrifying), I did want to give it proper homage on its day.  I had to fight the instinct to add chocolate - I have this recipe for a thumbprint cookie that has a chocolate peanut butter filling in the center.  Plus, did you know they actually make chocolate peanut butter?  Or I wanted to at least add some chocolate chips to the peanut butter cookie.  But no, it's not Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Day.  So I held fast and went with a purist version.  Just peanut butter.

I did substitute butter for shortening for this recipe though.  Although I know shortening would prevent spread, I prefer the taste and texture of butter.  So I decided to chance it.  It was hot the day I made the dough so my butter got a bit soft which meant the resulting dough was soft.  I had to chill the bowl of dough first before I scooped it into dough balls then I had to freeze the dough balls for at least an hour before I flattened each with the pointy side of a meat mallet to get the indentations I wanted rather than the traditional criss cross.  I got the idea from my culinary school classmate, Annie, who has a successful cookie business and is a peanut butter cookie fiend in her own right.  For anyone in Napa Valley, look up Annie the Baker cookies and try some - you won't be sorry (she also takes mail orders).

For the indents, just dip the mallet in granulated sugar, press down on the dough ball, lather, rinse and repeat for all the dough balls.  Don't freeze the dough balls for too long or you'll have a hard time pressing down with the mallet.  You can freeze the cookies further after you've imprinted on them.
The unbaked version with the mallet indentations
My backup plan in case the cookies spread too much and didn't hold the indentations was to drizzle a peanut butter icing and sprinkle chopped peanuts on top for garnish.  Then claim, "I meant for them to turn out that way." Turns out they spread a bit but still kept the indentations somewhat so I only garnished half of them.  7 minutes wasn't very long in the oven and they still looked a little wet in the middle so I baked them an extra minute or two.  They turned out peanut butter-fudgy which is the consistency I like in my peanut butter cookies so I'm glad I went with the butter instead of the shortening.  They are a bit more fragile this way though so I wouldn't advise these in care packages that you have to mail.  But overall, thumbs up....even without any chocolate add-ins.
The baked version

¾ cup peanut butter
½ cup solid vegetable shortening (I used 1/2 cup unsalted butter)
1 ¼ cups firmly packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda

Garnish (optional)
4 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream, just enough for a drizzling consistency
chopped toasted peanuts
1.      Combine the peanut butter, shortening, sugar, milk, and vanilla in a large bowl and beat until well blended.  Add the egg and mix well.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and mix until just blended.  If dough is too soft to scoop into balls, chill for an hour first.
2.     Roll the dough into 1- to 2-inch balls.  Place in freezer for no more than an hour.  Dip the pointy side of a meat mallet in granulated sugar and press into each ball, taking care to flatten only enough to get the indentations but not making the cookies too thin.  Freeze for several more hours.
3.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
4.    Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until lightly browned, and cool on a wire rack.
5.  For the optional garnish, melt the peanut butter for 30 seconds in the microwave.  Add powdered sugar then just enough heavy cream to thin.  Blend thoroughly until smooth.  Spoon into ziploc bag, cut a small hole in one corner and pipe onto the cookies.  Sprinkle with chopped toasted peanuts. 

Also posted on Trick or Treat Tuesday

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Buttery Toffee Cookies

Buttery Toffee Cookies - made dough May 30, 2012, baking off as needed, recipe from Land O Lakes Cookies

I have some social gatherings coming up and I needed something on hand that I can bake off the night before so I have fresh baked goods to bring while still being mindful I only have a limited time after work to get it all baked, cooled and packaged up.  The perfect solution is making cookie dough ahead of time, freezing it and baking it the night before you need it.  Word of caution: after you mix the dough, portion it out into dough balls, then freeze it.  Do not freeze the whole thing in one block then try to chip bits off a frozen block of cookie dough to bake.  I know that sounds obvious but I've had a couple of friends freeze the whole bowl of cookie dough.  They can (facepalm) tell you it's much harder to scoop out balls of dough when it's frozen than when it's newly made.  Just sayin'......

The recipe said this makes 4 dozen cookies.  Ha.  I don't know what size cookies they were referring to because my regular-size ice cream scoop made 14 cookies from 1 batch of dough, not 48.  I liked this cookie.  It wasn't too sweet and although it was cakier than I normally like my cookies, it actually made for a nice texture to go with the toffee.  If you want a purely non-chocolate option, go with the toffee bits rather than chopped-up, chocolate-coated toffee.  I don't know that I would add chocolate chips to this dough though because the cookie itself is so subtly flavored that chocolate chips might actually overwhelm it.  It doesn't have the brown sugar or butterscotch flavor typically associated with chocolate chip cookies but if you want a plain vanilla or butter cookie, this is a good option.  As always, don't overbake them or they'll be dry.  You want to bake them just long enough for the edges to be golden and the middles to just barely not look raw.  If the middles look "done", then they're overbaked.

½ cup sugar
½ cup butter, softened
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 (1.4-ounce) bars chocolate coated toffee, chopped

1.     Heat oven to 350˚F.  In large mixer bowl combine sugar, butter, egg and vanilla.  Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy (3 to 4 minutes).  Reduce speed to low; add flour, baking soda, and salt.  Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until well mixed (1 to 2 minutes).  By hand, stir in chopped toffee. 
2.     Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets.