Monday, April 29, 2013

Lemon Coconut Bars

Lemon Coconut Bars - made April 20,2013 from My Baking Addiction

In case you haven't noticed, I'm going through a teeny, tiny lemon-coconut flavor combination obsession phase.  That would explain why I tried out yet another lemon bar recipe with coconut when I've stuck so long with my standby lemon bar recipe.  This one turned out okay.  The coconut I sprinkled over the lemon curd layer sank into the layer rather than staying on top which I expected so halfway through baking, I took it out and sprinkled more coconut on top to stay on top.  That worked but it still didn't come out as well as I had hoped.  This was more of a coconut lemon bar than a lemon bar with coconut.  I think I prefer the latter.  I also prefer Alice Medrich's crust and the method of baking the lemon bar with the pure lemon layer, glazing it with lemon royal icing and sprinkling toasted coconut on top.  The flavor was still good but the tartness of the lemon is more muted with the sweetness of the coconut.  I prefer more of a flavor contrast. 
Texture-wise, I always like the chewiness that coconut adds to any dessert so this was still good; it just isn't my favorite lemon bar recipe.  I know I sound like I'm damning by faint praise but remember I bake all the time and have a high bar.  My friends tell me my "okay" rating usually translates into a much higher-than-okay point on their food rating scales.  In fact, one of the people who partook of one of the Boston care packages rated this one her favorite amongst the three desserts in the package.  So it's all a matter of taste and preference. The nice thing about dessert?  There's no wrong answer.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup cold butter 
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup flaked coconut 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour and confectioners' sugar; cut in the butter until crumbly.
  3. Press into the bottom of baking pan. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, lemon juice and baking powder until well mixed. Pour over crust; sprinkle coconut evenly over the top.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Baking for Boston: Peanut Butter Pound Cake

Peanut Butter Pound Cake - made April 20, 2013 from Glimmer Twin Fan

Boston has been on my mind since the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  I've consciously avoided the news coverage on the perpetrators - I think justice should be done but I refuse to rubberneck over the darker side of humanity. It would keep me too focused on the horror people can do to one another and there's just too much of that in the news. I would much rather pay attention to and be inspired by the heroes the tragedy brought out: the first responders who rushed into the danger that others fled from, the bystanders who helped injured men, women and children, the police who worked to keep people safe, the journalists who sought to do responsible, accurate reporting despite the danger of their surroundings and so many more examples of courage, compassion and goodness.

Not surprisingly, one of my coping mechanisms to deal with tragedy is to bake.  Most importantly, it's also to share what I've baked.  Which is what I did with the next 3 recipes (the other 2 to follow).  My friends in Boston and in one case, the newsroom where one of them works, were the recipients of these.  I like to share and I couldn't think of a more deserving group.
What went into my Boston care packages
It's always hard to mail anything with frosting in a care package but I really wanted to make this cake.  I'd seen it on pinterest a little while ago and I knew pound cakes kept better over several days and are better able to survive being mailed.  It's hard to send a frosted bundt cake through the mail and expect it to make it intact after a 3000-mile journey though so I baked them in these paper loaf pans and left them in there to cool before I frosted them with the chocolate peanut butter frosting.  I kept the frosting fairly contained within the loaf pans and it was easy to completely encase them in plastic wrap, put each in a ziploc bag and line them up side by side in the mailing box, wedged in so they wouldn't move.  I covered them with those plastic air packs from my (many) amazon shipments so that there would be no space to move between the loaves and the top of the box.

That was the practical aspect of mailing them.  Now for the taste.  This made a lot of batter so I was able to get 5 paper loaf pans and a ramekin out of them.  The ramekin was important since that was my taste test serving.  First, let me set up that I'm indifferent to peanut butter.  I like it well enough but if I had to prioritize a list of flavors, peanut butter wouldn't prevail over chocolate, caramel, coconut or lemon, for instance. Second, I've previously mentioned I'm not a big fan of frosting.  I either like my cakes plain or with just the barest smidge of frosting. I've been known to scrape frosting off of cakes and just eat the cake, no matter how many times my frosting-loving friends roll their eyes at me.  Now that I've done that set up, let me tell you......OMG, I loved this cake.  The texture was amazing and the peanut butter flavor wasn't overwhelming.  I also - OMG - really loved the frosting.  There, I said it.  I loved the frosting.  Not too chocolaty, not too peanut butter-y but a perfect blend of the two flavors.  Plus it was a nice creamy texture that went well with the cake.  Love.  I did discover later that I had likely underbaked the loaf pans a tad (I kept one back to bring to work and mailed out the other 4) but, based on the feedback from my recipients, I don't think it was too underbaked as they seemed to like it.  I got a flurry of very nice thank you emails from the newsroom - it's always nice to hear people enjoyed what you sent them :).  That was my tiny, tiny little part in trying to do good for others after that tragedy.

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup peanut butter, creamy or crunchy
5 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup milk, whole or low fat (I used whole milk)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Prepare a large tube or bundt pan by greasing and flouring it. Set pan aside. Update: A couple people have commented that their cake overflowed while baking. This recipe makes a large cake and I used a large tube pan. Only fill your bundt/tube pan up about 3/4 full. Don't let the extra batter go to waste though, make some muffins or a small loaf.
  2. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. On medium speed, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the brown sugar and peanut butter and continue mixing. Add the eggs, one at a time. Wait until one egg is fully mixed in before adding the next one. Add vanilla.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and the milk to the creamed mixture. Alternate between the flour mixture and the milk, using about a fourth of the ingredient at a time. Always begin and end with the dry ingredients. Mix completely.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60 - 70 minutes (adjust baking time based on your pan size(s). Start checking to see if it is done at 60 minutes using a wooden toothpick. Continue checking every 5 minutes to make sure it does not overcook. When the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done.
  6. Remove from the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then remove it from the cake pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  7. Dust with powdered sugar or frost as desired.
Peanut Butter Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter, creamy
2 cups powdered sugar
Milk (amount varies based on consistency desired)
  1. Cream butter and peanut butter.
  2. Add powdered sugar and milk while mixer is set on low. Add the milk one tablespoon at a time until you are happy with the consistency.
  3. Pour over the top of the cake.
For Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting, melt 4 ounces of semisweet chocolate squares, cool slightly, and add to the butter and peanut butter mixture. Proceed with the rest of the instructions.  Don't worry if the frosting is too thick or thin, just add small amounts of milk to thin, or powdered sugar to thicken.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cinnamon Roll Sugar Cookies

Cinnamon Roll Sugar Cookies - made April 19, 2013 from Chef in Training

I've had this recipe pinned forever and had yet to make it.  It was an intriguing concept: cinnamon rolls in sugar cookie form?  The basic principles are the same: you make a sugar cookie dough (actually, it's more like a sour cream cookie in that it's more cakey than chewy), roll it out, smooth a cinnamon brown sugar "filling" over the dough, roll into a log and cut into rounds.  When I first made this, the dough was really soft.  I mean, really soft.  It took some doing and a bit of flour to coax it into a log and wrap it in parchment paper to chill in the refrigerator.  Then, even after it was chilled, when I cut it, I could barely see the filling and it certainly didn't look like there was any kind of spiral action going on.  Fortunately, however, once it baked, the spiral filling did make itself seen.  Mine didn't have the neatest cinnamon-roll appearance but since you frost it with cream cheese frosting, that doesn't matter too much.  I liked the taste of these cookies.  They're a bit cakey while I prefer my cookies chewy but they were pretty good and really are reminiscent of cinnamon rolls without the bother of yeasted dough and rising times.

Although the recipe says to place the cookies in the refrigerator after you frost them and before you serve them, that's more to preserve the frosting.  Refrigerating cookies tends to dry them out.  If you're not serving these right away, I recommend leaving the cookies at room temperature and making the frosting and frosting them right before serving.  I would also recommend baking these the same day you serve them for freshness' sake.  You can always make the dough through the step of rolling the cookie dough with filling into a log, wrap in waxed paper and place in a freezer bag.  Freeze until the day you're serving them.  Let the log thaw (very) slightly before cutting and baking.  I baked a half recipe of these cookies in two batches on two separate days for different occasions and the cookies slice better and bake to better appearance after the dough is frozen at least overnight.

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream
6 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cinnamon Roll Center
8-12 tablespoons softened butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar, divided into 1/4 cups
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon, divided

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons milk, to thin icing
  1. In an electric or stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter. Add eggs, vanilla and sour cream until well combined. Slowly add in the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until well combined.
  2. In 2 batches, place in plastic wrap in a disc shape and chill for at least 2 hours for best results.
  3. Once chilled, cut each disc into thirds and roll into a 1/8 inch thick oval, about 12" x 5". Spread each rolled piece of dough with 1-2 Tablespoons softened butter, 1/4 Cup packed brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Start rolling from the long end closest to you, rolling into a log shape. Using a sharp knife, cut 1/2 inch pieces of dough then placing onto a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 9-11 minutes. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes before removing from baking sheet.
  4. To prepare frosting, beat the cream cheese until softened and smooth, slowly add powdered sugar and milk until desired consistency. Frost cookies then place in refrigerator until ready to serve.  Alternatively, instead of refrigerating, you can bake a batch the day you're going to serve them and frost at the last minute.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Salted Caramel Nutella Chocolate Tartlets

Chocolate Caramel Tartlets - made April 19, 2013, recipe adapted from David Lebovitz
I had one of those baking weeks where I had two key ingredients on hand (a quart of milk and a little sour cream) but was missing other key ingredients (buttermilk, heavy cream). So naturally when I was looking for something to make when I met my cousins for dinner last Friday, I kept coming across recipes that needed buttermilk and heavy cream.  Honestly, it's like going to a black and white ball and you've got the strappy shoes and the little black dress but only eye-searing pink or lime green accessories. You either make do or you go without. I had no time to go to the store or I was being stubborn and wanted to use up what I already had before I bought something else.  Or I was just going to improvise.  Which is what I did with these tartlets. 

I had all the ingredients for the tartlet dough so that was easy enough.  The dough turned out somewhat soft so I chilled it for 30 minutes first before rolling into dough balls, dropping in mini muffin tins and using my tart shaper from Pampered Chef to make the tart shells.  I love this thing.  It's such a huge time saver and makes neat little shells, not to mention it minimizes working the dough too much with your hands.
Since I didn't have heavy cream to make the caramel, I used ready-made salted caramel from Williams Sonoma which I warmed up slightly for easier pouring and filled the cooled and baked tart shells with the caramel.  I also couldn't make the ganache because I didn't have heavy cream so I topped off the caramel with a layer of nutella, also warmed slightly for easier pouring.  A few sprinkles of fleur de sel and ta da! - Salted Caramel Nutella Chocolate Tartlets were born.  These may not have been what David Lebovitz had in mind (his original recipe is below) but it worked for me.  If you need a little chocolate, caramel and/or nutella fix, these are bite-sized goodness.  The tart shell was chocolaty but not sweet so it made for the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the caramel topped with the hazelnut chocolate of the nutella.  Plus the sprinkling of fleur de sel brought a bit of the salty to go with the sweet.

Chocolate Dough
4 ounces (115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (110g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (35g) rice flour
(or use 1 cup, 140g, all-purpose flour, total)
6 tablespoons (50g) cocoa powder, natural or Dutch-process

Salted Caramel Filling
4 ounces (115g) soft, salted butter caramels
3 tablespoons (45ml) heavy cream

4 1/2 ounces (130g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons (90ml) heavy cream
flaky sea salt
  1. To make the tartlet dough, beat the butter and the sugar just until smooth in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or by hand. Add the egg, salt, and vanilla, and beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, rice flour, and cocoa powder, then mix it into the creamed butter.
  2. Butter the indentations of two mini-muffin tins with 12 places in each, or one mini-muffin tin with 24 places. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll each into a 3/4-inch (2cm) ball. If the dough is too soft at this point, chill for 30 minutes.  As you work, put the dough balls in the indentations of the muffin tins. Take your thumb and press the dough down in the center of each indentation, then use your thumb to press the dough up the sides (or use tart shaper if you have one).  Freeze the pans of dough for 20 minutes (I refrigerated instead of freezing and that worked fine).
  3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
  4. Bake the tartlet shells for 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough appear dry and cooked. Remove from oven and use the handle of a wooden spoon to widen and smooth the inside of the little tartlet shells (or use the tart shaper if you have one), pressing the dough that’s puffed up somewhat firmly against the sides. Let cool completely, then remove the tartlet shells from the muffin tins – the tip of a paring knife might be needed to help aid them out – and set them on a wire cooling rack.
  5. Make the caramel filling by warming the cream with the caramels in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring, until the caramels are melted and the mixture is smooth. Divide the caramel into each of the tartlet shells.
  6. Make the chocolate ganache by heating the cream in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for a minute, then whisk the chocolate into the cream until the mixture is smooth.
  7. Top each tartlet with some of the ganache and take a butter knife or small metal spatula and swipe off the excess. Sprinkle each tartlet with a few grains of sea salt.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Caramel & Chocolate Chip Brownies

Caramel & Chocolate Chip Brownies - made April 13, 2013, recipe adapted from The Whimsical Cupcake

I've hit 200 followers - woo hoo!  I know that's probably a modest number compared to other bloggers but considering how busy I am and how I have to squeeze in time to work on my blog (mostly on weekends), I'm pretty happy with it.  Now I have almost as many followers as baking books, lol. 

This is the third and last dessert I made for our family get together last weekend.  The original recipe from The Whimsical Cupcake (click on the recipe title to take you to her blog post) used Oreos in the brownies.  I opted to use caramel and chocolate chips.  I used her brownie recipe though as it looked so thick and scrumptious on her blog.  Hers came out thicker than mine.  I think I need to use a slightly smaller pan next time if I want that thickness.  This is essentially a cocoa brownie and the chocolate flavor you get is entirely dependent on the type of cocoa you use.  For deep, dark chocolate flavor - and there's almost no point in eating a brownie that doesn't have it - use high quality cocoa like Scharffenberger or Pernigotti.  You want a dark cocoa for that chocolate flavor.  If you're ever in any doubt about the quality of the cocoa and the richness of its taste, compare the colors of a Hersheys or other "grocery store" cocoa against Pernigotti or Scharffenberger.  The difference in color is remarkable.

This is a good brownie to pair with caramel because the dark chocolate of the brownie is complemented nicely by the sweetness of the caramel.  Although the directions say to mix until just combined, do mix it enough to make a glossy thick batter.  As long as you're mixing it by hand, there's little risk of overmixing and making a cakey texture but you do want to mix it enough to emulsify the melted butter into the batter.  Otherwise your brownies will be greasy as the butter will run out if it's not mixed enough.

1 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup flour
⅔ cup cocoa powder (measure then sift to get rid of lumps)
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup salted caramel sauce (homemade or store bought - I used the one from Williams Sonoma)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9×13 baking pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Leave an inch hang-over on each side for easy removal once the brownies are done.
  2. Melt butter in a medium bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Measure flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a small bowl and whisk to combine.
  4. Stir the sugar into the melted butter. Beat in the eggs one at a time until each is combined. Stir in the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Remove from oven, drop dollops of caramel over the hot brownie and smooth thinly over top layer (it doesn't have to be even). The caramel should melt over the hot brownie. Scatter chocolate chips on top of the caramel. Let cool to room temperature, then cut into squares.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Brown Butter Caramel Snickerdoodles

Brown Butter Caramel Snickerdoodles - made April 13, 2013 recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pods

I've done Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles, Vanilla Pudding Snickerdoodles, Snickerdoodle Blondies, and I could've sworn I've done Brown Butter Snickerdoodles but apparently I haven't.  Let me rectify that.  And I'll throw in some caramel while I'm at it.  Because I used the Kraft caramel candies, the caramel was more chewy than melt-y once the cookies had cooled.  It was still good though and added to the chewiness of the cookie.  It was hard to get a clear picture of it but you can see it in the inside of the cookie below.

One thing I did find challenging: I always form the cookie dough into balls and freeze them overnight before I bake them.  Before I baked these, I rolled them in the cinnamon sugar but had a hard time getting the cinnamon sugar to adhere to the frozen dough.  I don't know if that's because of the composition of the dough with the brown butter in it but it was unthinkable to have a snickerdoodle that wasn't covered in cinnamon sugar so I persisted.  Through trial and error, I discovered letting the dough balls thaw for even a few minutes allowed the coating to stick more.  So I would suggest you take the dough balls out of the freezer right before you turn on your oven to preheat, then roll them in the coating right before your oven reaches the desired temperature.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, sliced
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt (I used sour cream)
1 cup caramel squares, cut into 1/4's

For Rolling the Cookies:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Sea salt, for sprinkling on top of cookies (optional)

  1. In a medium bowl, Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  2. To brown the butter, heat a thick-bottomed skillet on medium heat. Add the sliced butter, whisking frequently. Continue to cook the butter until melted. The butter will start to foam and browned specks will begin to form at the bottom of the pan. The butter should have a nutty aroma. Watch the butter carefully because it can go from brown to burnt quickly. Remove butter from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the brown butter and sugars. Mix until blended and smooth. Beat in the egg, yolk, vanilla, and yogurt (or sour cream) and mix until combined. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  4. Form the dough in a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Measure out 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a disk.  Place caramel in the center of the dough and wrap the cookie dough around the caramel, covering it completely.  If freezing the dough balls, place in freezer bags and freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar. Roll the slightly thawed dough balls in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place dough balls on a large baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Make sure the cookies are about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the cookie tops with sea salt if desired.
  7. Bake the cookies 8-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown. The centers will still be soft. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, or until set. Transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack and cool completely.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pecan-Crusted, Coconut-Topped Lemon Bars

Pecan-Crusted Coconut-Topped Lemon Bars - made April 12, 2013, recipe adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich

I don't often try new lemon bar recipes since I already have one that I like but they're one of the desserts I'm asked for most often and when I get tired of making the same recipe, my recipe ADD tendencies kick in and I go sniffing around for a new one to try.  I needed these for a family picnic but wanted to kick things up a notch from the typical lemon bar.  I was still smarting from overbaking the Lemon Coconut Blondies so I wanted redemption.  I modified this recipe from Alice Medrich, using her crust recipe but making the lemon layer more in line with my tried and true lemon bar recipe.  Then going the extra pound mile with a lemon royal icing glaze sprinkled with toasted coconut.

Oh my. This may be one of my favorite versions of lemon bars.  You may want to double the recipe below and bake in a 9 x 13-inch pan. Yep, they were that good.  I'm normally not an advocate of nuts in baked goods but chopped toasted pecans in the crust was an inspired touch (thank you Alice Medrich). Don't cheat and not toast the nuts or you won't get that good toasted flavor.  I made several desserts for our family gathering (to follow in the next couple of posts) but I think these were the hands-down winner amongst my relatives.  It got the highest accolade not just from my parents but also my aunt and uncle: "it's not too sweet".  High praise indeed.

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup toasted nuts (I used toasted pecans but you can also use hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, etc)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
zest from 1 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed (please don't use that bottled stuff, you want a real lemon for optimal flavor)

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, just enough to make the glaze a runny consistency
1/2 cup toasted coconut
  1. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. For the crust: Place the flour, sugar, salt and nuts in a food processor.  Pulse until the nuts are finely ground.  Add the melted butter and vanilla and pulse just until the dry ingredients look damp and the mixture begins to clump around the blade.  Remove the dough and knead it a couple of times to be sure it is evenly mixed.
  3. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the crust is fully baked, well browned at the edges and golden brown in the center.
  4. For the topping: Whisk sugar, flour and baking powder together.  Add eggs, lemon zest and lemon juice, whisking until smooth.  Pour over hot crust and bake 20 to 25 minutes longer, or until the topping no longer jiggles when the pan is tapped.  Set on a rack to cool completely in the pan.
  5. Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice, whisking until smooth.  Pour evenly over baked lemon bars and sprinkle with toasted coconut.  Let glaze set and lemon bars cool completely before cutting.
And for your viewing pleasure, some of the other food we had at the family gathering:

My uncle caught this fish - 25 inches and 9 pounds - it was tremendously delicious

My mom's BBQ ribs - they were the first to go

My cousin's fried rice

My cousin's chicken satay skewers - always a favorite

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Crock Pot French Toast

Crock Pot French Toast - made April 12, 2013 from 366 Days of Pinterest
I normally use my crock pot for savory dishes and have yet to try a dessert recipe in it.  I've been leery about it given how watery anything I've made has come out in the slow cooker and I'm not in favor of watery desserts.  But I had discovered a family-owned grocery store several miles from me and in my quest to buy local, I also found that they sold challah made by a bakery just a few towns south of me.  I tried it and unfortunately it wasn't as good as the challah I buy from Trader Joe's. On the bright side though, I was able to let this loaf sit on my counter untouched for a few days with the intent of using it for bread pudding.

I found this recipe on pinterest (of course) and decided to give it a whirl.  It's just as easy as any other crock pot recipe I've tried, maybe even easier.  You cut the bread, mix the custard and let the bread soak in the custard mixture overnight.  It took even less time to mix the pecan topping the next morning to pour over the bread mixture in the crock pot.  This only took a couple of hours on the high setting.  The edges were a little firm but not dry and it was really good bread pudding (or call it French toast if you prefer).  It's always hard for me to get a good picture of bread pudding.  But this tastes better than it looks.

If you want to plan ahead, I would recommend this for a Mother's Day brunch - just set it to cooking in the crock pot a couple of hours before you need it then serve with no muss, no fuss.  Whether you're the mom who doesn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen on your day or the kids/hubby who want to make something special for your mom on her day, this is a good option.  The original blog I got it from mentioned bringing it to a potluck brunch and it easily works for that as well since you can serve it warm out of the crock pot.

1 loaf of bread sliced or diced (I used a 1-lb loaf of challah)
6 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup butter softened or melted
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Dash of nutmeg
  1. Whisk together eggs, milk and cinnamon and pour over diced bread in a large bowl. Cover an let it soak overnight in the fridge or at least 4 hours. I soaked mine overnight.
  2. When ready to bake, spray the inside of the Crock Pot (4-6 quart sized works best) to avoid sticking. Pour in bread mix.
  3. In a small bowl mix together butter, brown sugar cinnamon, pecans and nutmeg. Crumble of the top of the bread mixture. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours or on high for 2 hours. Let sit for 15-20 minutes and serve.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

Chocolate Butterscotch Swirl Brownies - made April 10, 2013, recipe adapted from The Brownie Experience by Lisa Tanner

I had this written up yesterday but didn't get a chance to post it.  Then I heard about the bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon today and it seems really unimportant right now to talk about brownies and baking.  I'm thankful all my Boston friends are safe, that my runner friends weren't running the Boston Marathon this year and I grieve and pray for those who were impacted by the senseless tragedy.  And many thanks to all the first responders and everyone who rushes to help those impacted. 

This recipe was originally Chocolate Butterscotch Swirl Brownies but I substituted peanut butter for the butterscotch chips to make it a peanut butter chocolate brownie instead.  I like butterscotch but wanted to do the peanut butter rice krispie topping so I went with peanut butter for the base brownie as well.
Swirl the two batters together before baking
I ended up modifying the recipe more than I expected, mostly because I didn't have a few of the ingredients and partly because a couple of brownie recipes I've tried from this book haven't been spectacular.  I was hoping to up the yummy quotient with a few changes but was only marginally successful.  The texture was a bit weird. It wasn't dry but neither did it have that fudgy gooey-ness I was going for.  It was almost a halfway point between cakey and fudgy while being neither.  Taste-wise, it's hard to go wrong with a peanut butter and chocolate combination and as always, I like the crunch of the rice krispie topping.

6 ounces semisweet chocolate
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 eggs

Peanut Butter Rice Krispie topping
1 cup chopped peanut butter cups, Snickers or some combination of both, optional (I left them out)
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 - 2 cups Rice Krispies (or more if you wish)
  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Line a 13 x 9 x 2” pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Melt chocolate chips over very low heat; set mixture aside.  In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt.  In a large bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and vanilla; beat until creamy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Gradually stir in flour mixture.  Divide batter in half.  Blend peanut butter into one half of batter.  To remaining batter, thoroughly stir in melted chocolate.  In pan, alternate “globs” of peanut butter and chocolate batters checkerboard fashion until both mixtures are used.  Swirl together with a knife to marbleize.  Gently smooth top of batter with a small metal spatula to make an even layer.
  3. Bake about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs.  Do not overbake.  5 minutes before removing from oven, sprinkle with chopped peanut butter cups and/or Snickers.  Remove from oven when candies have melted slightly.  They will not/should not melt completely.
  4. Melt 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter and 1 tablespoon butter in the top half of a double boiler set over hot, not simmering, water.  Stir until smooth.  Add Rice Krispies and stir until coated.  Pour over baked brownie and smooth into an even layer.  Cool completely in pan before cutting into bars.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Honey Spiced Glazed Chicken

Honey Spiced Glazed Chicken - made April 5, 2013 from Nutmeg Nanny

I've slacked off on the cooking lately and needed an easy recipe to make before I defaulted to my takeout habits again.  This recipe was very easy and for once I left my slow cooker in the cupboard.  This only needed a baking pan and an oven.  It's got some spice so if you have blander taste buds (ahem), cut back on the pepper flakes and chili powder. As someone with bland taste buds, I say that with all firsthand experience and authority of what not to do. Otherwise the honey and cider vinegar add a nice flavor contrast to the spice.

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix spices together and set aside.
  3. Mix honey and cider vinegar and set aside. Un-tuck chicken thighs so they are flat. Cover both sides in seasoning, set flat onto foil-lined, lightly greased shallow pan.  Bake 10 minutes and pour honey mixture evenly over chicken.  Continue baking, turning over once until chicken is cooked, another 15-20 minutes.  Cover lightly with aluminum foil to prevent the honey glaze from burning.  In the last few minutes, broil to golden if desired.
  4. Take chicken out of oven and let rest for a few minutes before serving.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Salted Caramel Lava Cake

Salted Caramel Lava Cake - made April 7, 2013 from Vegetarian Nirvana

I haven't had much time to bake lately and/or blog so my blog write ups have been brief of late and I'm still working through a small backlog of recipes to put up.  I actually went a few days without baking anything.  I know, I know, that's like saying I took a deep breath and didn't let it out for a few days.

But last weekend, I was in a chocolate mood and my handy pin board offered up several interesting possibilities.  I chose this one because it promised decadence all the way.  And wow, did it deliver.  You can follow the recipe as is with the caramel squares in the middle or you can do what I did: I put a caramel-filled milk chocolate Dove candy in the middle of the ramekin over a layer of batter then a dollop of salted caramel on top of that then covered the whole thing with a little more batter.  Eek.  So good.  Because the caramel center is obligingly molten, you don't have to be as concerned about the chocolate cake being molten.  You definitely don't want to overbake it but don't underbake it too much either.  The recipe technically makes 4 servings but given its richness, I advise making 6-8 servings out of this recipe.  6 will be small, 8 will be mini size.  But trust me, a few spoonfuls of this is enough for you to give proper homage to decadence and the calorie gods.
Topped with The Milkiest Chocolate (Jeni's Ice Cream)

4 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate squares
4 ounces butter (1 stick or 8 tablespoons)
1/3 cup of sugar 
2  large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Some butter for greasing 4 3-inch diameter, ramekins
6-8 caramel squares
a little rock salt/sea salt
100% cocoa powder for dusting ramekins, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Butter the ramekins. Dust with cocoa powder (optional)
  3. Cut each caramel square into a few smaller pieces and press some salt onto them and set aside. If you leave them whole they might not melt all the way through.
  4. Melt the chocolate and butter in the top half of a double boiler set over hot, not simmering water.  Whisk until combined.  Add the sugar.  Whisk in the eggs and incorporate.
  5. Stir in the flour. Work the flour in gently to combine. 
  6. Divide batter among the 4 ramekins.
  7. Gently push the salted caramel bits into the batter covering them.
  8. Place ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake between 10-14 minutes. The cake is ready when it has a domed appearance, the center is a little moist and the edges of the cake, dry and firm. Remove from the oven, insert a knife and go around the cake, invert onto serving plates, garnish wth salt and serve.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Oreo Cupcakes

Oreo Cupcakes - made April 2, 2013 from Stockpiling Moms

Do you know that once you open a package of Oreos, you should eat them shortly thereafter if you want them fresh and still crunchy?  Honestly.  Usually when I buy a package of Oreos, I already have a recipe in mind to use them in so an open package doesn't stick around long in my pantry.  I try not to actually eat them straight out of the package but prefer to incorporate them into baked goods.  Say cupcakes, for instance.

This turned out to be a good vanilla cupcake recipe.  It was moist and tasted good.  The addition of the Oreos added good flavor and a little crunch but I think if you wanted a plain vanilla cupcake recipe, you could also omit the Oreos and serve these unadorned.  If you want to keep the crunch of the Oreos as garnish, don't sprinkle them over the frosting until right before you serve it.  Otherwise the exposure to air plus sitting on top of frosting will soften the Oreos.  I prefer the crunch so I sprinkle the chopped up Oreos on top of the frosting at the last minute.
24 Oreo halves, with cream filling attached
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1⅔ cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk
20 Oreo cookies, coarsely chopped

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Oreo cookie crumbs
24 Oreo cookie halves
  1. Preheat the oven to 350? F. Line the wells of two cupcake pans with 24 paper liners. Place an Oreo halve in the bottom of each liner, cream side up. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir together with a fork to blend and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Blend in the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, beat in half of the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Add the milk and beat just until combined, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients. Gently fold in the chopped Oreos with a rubber spatula until evenly incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.
  2. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners. Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. Make your own frosting or buy store brand.
  4. To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Blend in the vanilla extract. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar until incorporated and smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the heavy cream to the bowl and beat on medium-low speed just until incorporated, then increase the speed to medium-high and whip for 4 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  5. Frost the cooled cupcakes as desired. Sprinkle with Oreo crumbs and garnish with Oreo halves.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Lemon Coconut Blondies

Lemon Coconut Blondies - made March 30, 2013 from Crazy for Crust
This was such a promising recipe and I'm sure it would've been great....had I not committed the cardinal baking sin of overbaking it.  Me, the Queen of Underbaking.  But I was busy doing something else and forgot about it.  It wasn't a total loss as the taste was pretty good but it would've been better if I had taken it out a few minutes earlier so the texture would've been more moist.  It's very easy to overbake blondies.  I don't advise it.  The texture was a bit dry and rather cakey.  Had I baked/underbaked it properly, it would've been moist and chewy.  But I love the lemon-coconut combination so I will have to put this on my "try again" list so I can taste what it really should've been like.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest from about 1 lemon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 cup coconut

1/2 cup white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon heavy cream
Extra coconut, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.
  2. Cream sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Mix in lemon juice and zest. Add baking powder, salt, and flour and mix. Stir in coconut. Spread into prepared pan.
  3. Bake at 350 for 23-25 minutes (check at 15-20 minutes!!). Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.
  4. To make the frosting: Melt butter and white chocolate together in microwave. Stir in powdered sugar and vanilla. Stir in cream to get desired consistency (I used 1 teaspoon). Spread a light coating evenly over the top of your bars and sprinkle with extra coconut.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Knock Off Cheesecake Factory Bread

Knock Off Cheesecake Factory Bread - made March 30, 2013 from Rae Gun Ramblings
I was high on the success of the Lemon Monkey Bread and thinking "hey, yeasted doughs aren't so hard or so time consuming" so I decided to try my hand at another bread recipe I'd pinned on pinterest.  My friend Jeannie and I like to go to Cheesecake Factory and, like many of its patrons, we like the dark bread that's usually served warm in the bread basket and is the first to go.  Outback Steakhouse also serves a dark bread that's equally yum.  I've always wanted to try making something similar.

This recipe was easy to make but hard to handle.  The dough was too soft and sticky, even after mixing and kneading it (via dough hook) to develop the gluten.  So, instead of rolls, I opted to drop the soft, sticky dough into mini loaf pans for its second rise.  Much easier to deal with.  Overall, this was similar to the Cheesecake Factory bread but I wouldn't call it exactly like it.  It looks the same and if I'd had a baking stone to bake it as rolls (if the dough hadn't been so soft), it would've been a bit more crusty.  Flavor-wise though, I think the molasses gave it more of an aftertaste and "bite" that wasn't in the original CF version or the Outback version.  It was still good but I think next time I would cut back on the molasses and increase the cocoa powder slightly.

3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup molasses (try 1/8 cup)
1 1/8 cup all purpose flour (increase for 1 1/4 cups if dough is too soft)
3/8 cup wheat flour (increase to 1/2 cup if dough is too soft)
1/2 tablespoon cocoa (try 1 tablespoon)
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp instant coffee
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/8 tsp yeast (1/2 packet)
1/2 tablespoon oil
egg white for brushing loaves
oats for sprinkling
  1. Dissolve the coffee in the water. Add yeast and let bubble. Add sugar, cocoa, salt, and oil. 
  2. Add half the flour and the molasses and knead or beat with dough hook in a stand mixer. Continue adding flour and beating until dough pulls away from the bowl. You want it sticky but manageable. 
  3. Place in oiled bowl and allow dough to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size. Shape into rolls or loaf. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with oats. Allow to rise. 
  4. Bake at 350 F 20-35 minutes (time varies depending on the size of the roll/loaf). To tell if it's done pick it up and thump the underside it will sound hollow when it's finished.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Lemon Monkey Bread

Lemon Monkey Bread - made March 29, 2013, recipe adapted from Bakerlady and Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
I took last Friday afternoon off for Good Friday and I had intended to make hot cross buns since I'd never made them before and they seemed holiday appropriate.  But I didn't have currants and I got sidetracked (squirrel!) by one of the recipes I'd pinned on pinterest for Lemon Monkey Bread.  The original recipe called for using ready-made frozen dough but since I had the afternoon off, I decided to take the time and make the dough from scratch.  I used the recipe from Baked Explorations for their Monkey Bubble Bread but instead of dipping in melted butter and cinnamon sugar, I went with lemon to mark spring and Easter.  I'm really glad I did because this worked beautifully.  The lemon gives it lots of flavor and the sugar crunch was the perfect texture atop the bread.  If you're short on time, you can use ready-made bread dough but the Baked recipe is pretty easy to make and came out well so use that if you can.

Monkey Bubble Bread recipe from Baked Explorations:
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
  1. Line a 9 x 9" square baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a small saucepan, warm milk to slightly above room temperature then remove it from the heat, add the yeast and whisk to dissolve.  Do not warm milk to more than 110 degrees or it'll kill the yeast.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, sugar and salt until combined.
  4. In a small bowl, beat the egg with a fork and add it to the dry ingredients.  Mix on low speed until combined.
  5. Keeping the mixer on low, slowly stream in the milk until combined.  Add the melted butter and mix until the dough comes together.  Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook attachment.  Continue to mix on medium speed until the dough becomes silky and tacky but not sticky, 8 to 10 minutes.  The dough should mound together and easily come off the bottom of the mixing bowl.
  6. Spray the bottom and sides of a large bowl with cooking spray.  Place the dough in the bowl and roll it around to make sure it is completely covered in oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm area until the dough has doubled in size, approximately 1 hour. If you don't have a "proof" function on your oven, turn your oven on to its lowest setting, let it heat up to just past 100 degrees and turn oven off.  As long as your oven isn't too warm, you can let your dough rise in it - just make sure it's not warmer than 110 degrees or you'll kill the yeast instead of letting the dough rise.
  7. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Use your clean hands to push down and deflate the dough.  Remove it from the bowl and pat it into a mound.  Cut off equal pieces of dough and roll into balls.  If the dough is too soft to roll smoothly, shape with your hands and gather the edges of the dough, tucking it underneath to form balls.  Place the balls in even rows in the prepared pan 9 x 9" pan.  Don't crowd the dough balls as they also need room to rise.  If you have too many, use a slightly larger pan.
  8. Mix lemon zest and sugar together in a small bowl. Sprinkle HALF of the lemon sugar mixture over the dough balls. Cover and let rise till doubled.
  9. Sprinkle remaining sugar mixture on top. Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from pan.
  10. Combine glaze ingredients. Drizzle over bread while still warm.