Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bakery Review: Brown Butter Cookie Company

Brown Butter Cookie Company - tried September 5, 2013
2013 is almost over and I've been trying (and not succeeding) to get caught up on all my blog posts. Still not there yet but almost. I meant to get this post up months ago, literally, but it kept getting pushed down my draft list. Technically I've never even been to the Brown Butter Cookie Company on the Central CA coast or ordered from there. But one of my coworkers was visiting her family in Cayucos, CA and was nice enough to bring back an assortment of flavors from there for all of us to try.
She even had them nicely marked in the conference room where we gathered so as I took a half piece of each cookie, I made note of what I was sampling. I also had the foresight to jot down a few brief notes so I could remember my impressions (4 months) later. I tried 6 flavors: Espresso, Coconut Lime, Original, Cocoa, Cocoa Mint and Citrus.
The Brown Butter Cookies are essentially shortbread cookies in a variety of flavors. The flavored ones didn't taste as buttery as the original but they all had the shortbread texture. The Cocoa Mint tasted like Andes candy. I'm not fond of mint and chocolate combined so that was my least favorite. My favorite of all 6 flavors that I tried was surprisingly the Coconut Lime. I say surprisingly because I'm not normally a big fan of lime in sweets. Love it in savory dishes though like my uncle's lime-cilantro marinade for the fresh fish he catches. But the Coconut Lime cookie was really good. I not only liked the lime flavor but also the chewy bits of coconut in the cookie. They were really bitty coconut bits but added a nice chewiness to the cookie.
The Brown Butter Cookie Company does take online orders in case you're not lucky enough to know someone in Cayucos or in Paso Robles, CA where they've opened a new retail store who could bring you back some cookies. I just like their story of being a small family business that two sisters opened and have grown since 2008. Another good source for foodie gifts that can be shipped next time I need to send a present.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Caramel Apple Crisp

Caramel Apple Crisp - made December 21, 2013 from Hil's Blog
I bake so much during the holidays that you'd think I'm stuffed full of desserts at any given moment. Alas, all I make is usually for everyone else. It isn't uncommon for me to bake for hours on end and when my kitchen is full of the fruits of my labor, I wonder why I'm hungry. It's usually because I'm so focused on baking everything and getting it packaged up to give away that I don't take a break to eat. That may sound odd when I'm literally surrounded by baked goods but I don't lick the bowl or snitch cookie dough and if I'm making a recipe I've tried already, I don't bother to taste the finished product.  If I'm trying out a new recipe, I'll only cut myself a sliver to see how it turned out and if it's okay to give away. Otherwise, I need every piece of brownie, every slice of cake and every cookie for my gift packages so not much of it ends up in my stomach (this answers the question I always get during the holidays: "why don't you weigh 300 pounds?"). Because I don't eat much of what I make. Cue world's tiniest violin.
So it's nice to indulge in my own personal dessert for my consumption. Which is what this apple crisp was. The recipe makes 2 servings but I only needed one so I made half of it, using a small Granny Smith apple. I put it in a small ramekin so I ended up with a little too much topping. But this was still very good, especially on a cold winter night, still warm (but not hot) and topped with vanilla ice cream. Apple cobbler/crisp is one of my favorite winter desserts. The main difference between this one and my standard apple cobbler recipe is there are oats in the topping as well as caramel sauce over the apples, underneath the crumb topping. I don't think the caramel sauce added anything significantly different to the crisp so if you want it less sweet or are saving on calories, you can leave it out. Either way, this was a nice indulgence.
2 medium apples, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoons quick-cooking oats
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 to 2 heaping tablespoons Butterscotch Caramel Topping
Ice Cream (optional)
  1. Place apple slices in two small, greased ramekins.  Spoon Butterscotch Caramel topping over the apples.  In a bowl, combine flour and brown sugar; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add oats and cinnamon.  Sprinkle over apple slices and caramel.
  2. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until tender. Serve with ice cream if desired.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bakery Review: Suite Foods Liege Waffles

Suite Foods Liege Waffles - arrived December 11, 2013
Late last month, I bid in an online auction hosted by Tina, author of Pinay in Texas Cooking blog ("Pinay" is the term often used to refer to Filipino women or Filipinas, most commonly used by Filipino women referring to themselves or their fellow countrywomen). She was holding the online bake sale to donate the proceeds to the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Due to my schedule, I couldn't participate as a baker with goods to offer for the auction so the least I could do was participate as a bidder for one of the auction items up for sale.
I bid on and was fortunate enough to win 2 dozen Liege (Belgian) waffles from Suite Foods. I had never heard of Suite Foods but it turns out they're right here in the Bay Area so they're quite local-to-me in San Francisco. My waffles arrived in the mail as promised, each individually packaged. They're billed as sweet and flavorful with crunchy bits of pearled sugar and let me tell you, they don't lie. These waffles are delicious. I put them in the freezer when I got them and I've been having one almost every morning, warmed up in my toaster oven just until they're warm through and through and the outside had a slight crunch but the waffle is still soft. The bits of pearl sugar in the waffle itself add terrific crunch and sweetness. Also as billed, you don't even need syrup or butter on them. I prefer them plain, all the better to savor their goodness, without any distractions. I'm so glad I got a chance to taste these. I checked out their list of retail partners on their website and it looks like I can also find them at Whole Foods nearby once my stash runs out. Nevertheless, I've added their waffle shop on my list of "must visit" places the next time I'm in the city. Highly recommend if you're a waffle fan.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Icing

Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Icing - made December 18, 2013 from The Baker Chick
We had a holiday potluck at work last week and I signed up to bring dessert. How.....not shocking. I remember back in the day when potlucks meant everyone signed up for a dish and brought something homemade. It was always interesting to see what people made, who could cook and, er, who couldn't. Usually there were one or two outliers who couldn't or wouldn't cook or didn't have time and they would sheepishly bring in something storebought, earning some good-natured ribbing.
Nowadays, it seems like the reverse is true where storebought is the norm and homemade goods are less common and garner comment, "wow, you made that?" I think it's a sign of the shifting times where people work longer hours, have more commitments, less time, there's a greater abundance of (some) well-made storebought items and a potluck means picking something up from Costco, Trader Joe's or Whole Foods on your way to or from work right before you need it. When someone is in the office until 10 pm or has to run around picking up kids or taking care of pets or some combination of all three, whipping something up for the office potluck probably isn't high on their list of priorities. So I really can't judge. (Well, I can but in this case, I won't.)
And although I know what it's like to work long hours, especially during this time of the year, I'll sacrifice sleep and (sadly) some of my workout time to bake something to bring. It's not even a sacrifice (except for the lack of sleep part) since I love to bake. At first I was going to make the Red Velvet Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake again since that was a big hit when I first brought it into the office but I had just gotten a sampler pack from Spice Island which contained all the spices I needed for this Pumpkin Bundt Cake recipe and it seemed like the perfect time to try them all.
Normally when I make spice cake or anything pumpkin and the recipe calls for a variety of spices, I usually opt out of all of them except for cinnamon and occasionally nutmeg simply because I don't like my baked goods to be overly spiced. But that would defeat the purpose of my spice sampler so I stuck to the recipe religiously. That was probably a good thing because this cake was delicious. You can't taste any individual spice (at least I couldn't) but they all blended well together to make a nice, fluffy pumpkin cake. I was really good about not underbaking it too much so the texture was moist but not mushy. And of course, as for the icing, brown butter, how do I love thee, let me count the ways.
Pumpkin Bundt Cake and Kahlua Fudge that I brought to the potluck
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs

1 stick butter, melted and browned
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously spray a 10-inch bundt pan with cooking spray and dust with flour; set aside.
  2. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until well combined.
  5. Alternately add the  flour and pumpkin mixtures, mixing on low speed, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Do not overmix.
  6. Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula.  Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool 5-10 minutes before loosening cake with a small spatula and inverting. Let cool completely before icing.
  7. Icing: Pour the browned butter into a bowl and whisk in the powdered sugar and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Add the milk, a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
  8. Spoon or drizzle over the cake and serve.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Restaurant Review: Ramen Halu

Ramen Halu - dinner on December 16, 2013
It was still "hot soup weather" a couple of weeks ago, i.e. chilly, so I met my friend Cindy for a bowl of ramen at a new-to-me place called Ramen Halu. I'm not a ramen gourmand but enjoy a good bowl of ramen nonetheless so I was happy to try a new source for it.
Inside Ramen Halu
Ramen Halu is fairly small, maybe a little smaller than Kotetsu and on par with Orenchi (which I still haven't written up and at this point probably need to try again so I can have a more recent experience there) but it could still seat a fair number of people comfortably.
Cindy and I both got the Ramen Halu. Since it was my first visit, I always have to get whatever dish is named after the restaurant itself. The broth was thick and, as with other ramen bowls, the first few sips were very tasty. But also like at Kotetsu, by the time I had consumed half the broth, it was getting rather salty towards the end.
The noodles were good, not quite at chewy as at Kotetsu, and thinner than I expected. I was anticipating thicker noodles, partly because the menu describes them as thick noodles but they weren't quite that thick. The biggest thing I'd hold against them though is their standard ramen bowl didn't come with a soft-boiled whole egg like Kotetsu and Orench's ramen does. It was still good but if I had to compare with the other two ramen places, I like having the egg so its lack was a disappointment. On the plus side, the prices were on par with the other ramen places and we didn't have to wait for a table. The service was fairly prompt and it was still a good bowl of ramen noodles.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sour Cream Fudge Cake

Sour Cream Fudge Cake - made December 15, 2013, adapted from Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson
Merry Christmas!  I'm still putting up posts from stuff I made last week but my baking season is winding down. I probably have enough sugar running through my veins by now to rival a C&H factory. But I'm always a week or two behind in posting so the sugar will keep on coming on my blog for a little longer.

During high baking season, aka all the days leading up to today, I'm a time management fiend. Even when I'm not actually in the kitchen, I'm thinking about what I need, how much of it, when I can get it all done, and what needs to happen. It's all choreographed in my head before I even get up in the morning. So it's a good thing I love to bake or I'd be really stressed right about now, lol.

I hadn't planned to specifically make this cake a couple of weekends ago. Matter of fact, it's been in my files for awhile and I could've sworn I've made it already because it was so familiar. So either I have made it but don't remember it (and the search function on blogger wasn't working every time I tried to search my blog for it), Lisa Yockelson's recipes are so similar that I've made something like it but not this exact one, I've had this recipe so long and have become so familiar with it that I think I've made it but actually haven't or some combination of all three.
I decided to stop making myself crazy with "did I or didn't I" questioning and went ahead and made it. I did modify it slightly though as the original recipe got its chocolate flavoring just from the 4 ounces of melted unsweetened chocolate. It didn't make for a very dark chocolate batter and was more milk chocolate in color. So I cut back on the cake flour and added a tablespoon of Pernigotti cocoa instead. It made it a little more chocolaty but not too much so I probably could've added a little more cocoa and been fine.

In any case, this still turned out pretty well.  The crumb was tender but not too light, just sturdy enough to hold up the weight of the frosting. The frosting was almost like a fudge layer as it did set once it had cooled. That could've been my fault though as, like I do with all the frostings I make, I didn't use all the powdered sugar the recipe called for and just kept alternately adding the sugar and the milk until it was the consistency I wanted. The butter did separate out a little once I spread it over the hot cake and that was partly due to not using all the sugar but also partly because of the heat from the cake causing it to melt. I blotted it with paper towels until it stopped glistening with melted butter while it was still warm then let it set as it cooled. This was a good chocolate cake although I admit, I'd done so much baking last weekend when I made this that I could only handle a sliver for the taste test. But this is a good crowd pleaser cake to make, especially if you're making up care packages and goodie bags for 23 people. I cut the pieces fairly small so it stretched to make it into most of the goodie bags.
1 ¾ cups unsifted bleached cake flour minus 1 tablespoon

¼ cup unsifted bleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons or 8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 ¾ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream whisked with ½ cup buttermilk

Fudge Cake Frosting
6 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons unsifted confectioners’ sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled to tepid
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup milk

1.       Preheat oven to 350⁰F.  Line a 9 x 13” baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2.       Sift the cake flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper.
3.       Cream the butter in the large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderate speed for 2 minutes.  Add the granulated sugar in 3 additions, beating 1 minute after each addition.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition.  Blend in the melted unsweetened chocolate and vanilla extract, mixing until the batter is a uniform color.  Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to keep the batter even-textured.
4.       On low speed, add the sifted mixture in three additions with the sour cream-buttermilk blend in two additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
5.       Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan.  Smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
6.       Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until set and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
7.       Have the frosting ready 10 minutes before the cake is baked.  Place the confectioners’ sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.  In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter, melted unsweetened chocolate and vanilla extract.  Blend the ingredients well to create a smooth mixture.
8.       Pour and scrape the chocolate mixture over the confectioners’ sugar.  Add the milk.  Using an electric mixer, combine the ingredients together on moderately low speed until thoroughly mixed and very smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl to keep frosting even-textured.  The frosting should be smooth and creamy; if it’s too dense, add a tablespoon of milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency. 
9.       Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes.  Carefully place generous spoonfuls of the frosting over the surface of the cake, and gently spread it over the top of the cake, using a flexible palette knife.  The frosting will smooth out as the heat of the cake softens it.  As the cake cools, the frosting will set. 

10.   Cool the cake completely before cutting into squares.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bakery Review: Susie Cakes

Susie Cakes - visited December 7, 2013
The day I went to Penzey's, I parked my car further away and had to walk down the street to get there. I was innocently walking by looking for Penzey's storefront when I just happened to walk past this bakery named Susie Cakes. A bakery? Right in front of me? You can probably guess what happened next. Although I will say I did refrain from walking in right that minute and went to Penzey's first because I really was on a mission. But after I had my Penzey's experience, I did have to walk past Susie Cakes to get to my car so naturally I detoured inside.
My first reaction was, "OMG, why have I never heard of this bakery before and what took me so long to discover it?" Granted, it's not in my neighborhood and further away but it isn't like it's on Mars or anything. And we know I travel far and wide for baked goods. Susie Cakes is exactly the type of bakery I love. It's bright and spacious with lots of light, the better to see the baked goods on display.  Most stunning is the array of very tall, very mouthwatering layer cakes under high glass cake domes. Think 50s diner that screams homemade goodness. Sometimes you just know something is going to be good just by looking at it. Such is Susie Cakes.
It can probably go without saying that my biggest problem was choosing which form(s) of luscious, empty-but-I-don't-care calories I wanted to consume. Past experience says I shouldn't get more than 2 items. I can certainly eat more than 2 (oh boy, can I) but it would take me more than 2 days to consume a third item and that puts any baked goods past my freshness window. So I had to restrict myself to 2.  At least on that day. The red velvet cake looked amazing but I had just had red velvet so I told myself to get something else. There's only so much red dye #5 I should probably consume in a short timeframe. I almost got a slice of the towering coconut cake because of my love for coconut but the description by the cake stand said it had pineapple in it and that violated my coconut-only principles for coconut cake. Instead, I went with the German chocolate cake to provide both a coconut and chocolate fix and the 5" mini apple pie.
Slice of German Chocolate Cake - $5.50
I was quite impressed with the care that the nice man behind the counter took in packaging up my purchases. Each was individually boxed and the boxes were lined with parchment paper inside so you could easily lift out your item with damaging it or getting frosting or crumbs on yourself. It transferred easily to a plate, ready for that first forkful. Then I was even more impressed because the cake was freaking amazing. Four layers of chocolate goodness sandwiching coconut pecan frosting/filling. It was rich so I had to eat slowly but all the better to savor it, right? The cake was moist and had the perfect cakey but fudgy mouthfeel. It's the kind of cake you don't just eat but you experience. If you've ever had a stereotype of blue ribbon, prize-winning layer cakes in small town America at the country fair, that's the kind of homey goodness I would associate with Susie Cakes. Nothing fancy but just simple goodness. Truthfully, I prefer that over haute cuisine baked goods any day.
5" apple pie - $8.95
After a suitable period, i.e. enough time had passed to ingest a few bites of cake and let my blood sugar settle, I moved on to try the pie. I didn't think it could be better than the cake but I was wrong. First, it was just pure apples, something I had the bakery man confirm before I purchased it because apple pie should only contain apples. No nuts, no raisins, nothing but apples and pastry. Susie Cakes' pie exceeded all my expectations. The apples weren't too tart or too sweet, the crust was flaky and the top crumb topping was the best. Instead of just scattering crumbs on top, they squeezed them into streusel clumps which then baked with a nice crisp texture to contrast with the softness of the filling and flakiness of the crust. Genius.

The only drawback to Susie Cakes is they ain't cheap. Just those two items came to $14.45. For that amount I could've had lunch and a drink elsewhere instead of a mini pie and a cake slice. Or purchased a dozen items at Asian bakeries like Sheng Kee and Paris Baguette. But still, there's something to be said for the indulgence. I don't think I'd go that often, partly because of the distance and partly because even one cake slice is a big indulgence on the calorie meter as well as the wallet. But for an occasional treat, I'd definitely go back as well as recommend it to others. Just based on those two items I tried, this might even rival my favorite bakery, Icing on the Cake. And you know how I feel about them.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Browned Butter Crinkles

Browned Butter Crinkles - made December 15, 2013 from Mmm....Cafe
This is one of those recipes where it had me at "browned butter" in the title. The cookies were easy to make and I formed them into thick discs before freezing them.  When I had my marathon holiday baking session, I just popped them into the oven to bake while I made the frosting. I'm not a big fan of frosted cookies but since that's what earned them the right to use browned butter in the title, I had to make the frosting.
But my secret confession is I hardly ever follow the exact measurements when it comes to frosting. I know that goes against the "science" part of baking where everything is supposed to be exact but when it comes to frosting, I'm a rebel. Since I'm not a frosting person and find most frostings too sweet and applied too thickly on baked goods, I tend to do my own thing.  Meaning I started with half the amount of powdered sugar the recipe called for, added the browned butter and vanilla then alternately mixed in powdered sugar and heavy cream until the frosting was the taste and consistency I wanted. I know I didn't want it too sweet because I wanted the browned butter flavor to come out and not be overpowered by the sugar.
For the most part, I think the tactic worked.  The recipe made too much frosting for the 2 dozen or so cookies I ended up with but that's probably because I didn't pile the frosting onto each cookie.  It set like a royal icing which was good because I could wrap each cookie individually in plastic wrap and stack them gently on top of one another in the treat bags and boxes I made up and didn't have to worry about the frosting smearing anything. Although the frosting worked decently well with the cookies, I also thought the cookies were good without the frosting. It's just a basic sugar cookie when it's "naked" but still good. Although I guess then they would just be called "crinkles" without the sexy brown butter appellation.
2 sticks butter, softened 
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/3 cups flour
sugar for rolling cookie dough balls in  
  1. Beat the butter and sugar together. Add the egg yolks and salt and mix well. Add the baking soda and vanilla extract then fold in the flour. Stir until combined.
  2. Form balls the size of walnuts and chill for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Roll each of the balls in sugar and press flat with the bottom of a glass and place on an ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let the cookies stand for 1 minute on the cookie sheet. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely, then frost with browned butter frosting. 
Browned Butter Frosting 
1 stick butter (4 ounces or 1/2 cup) 
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream or more for desired consistency
  1. In a small skillet, brown butter over medium heat until golden brown flecks appear. Butter will become a little foamy. Stir now and then to make the butter cooks evenly. Remove from heat and cool slightly. 
  2. Add butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and cream to a large bowl. Beat on medium high until a creamy texture to your liking forms. Spread onto cooled butter crinkles.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Kahlua Fudge

Kahlua Fudge - made December 14, 2013, recipe adapted from La Phemme Phoodie
I don't want to jinx myself but it's possible that I might have, just maybe, broken my fudge curse. You know the one where I can't make homemade fudge from scratch to save my life without it turning out dry, crumbly and grainy, or, if I use marshmallow creme, that it isn't so sweet that even my sweet tooth trembles in trepidation.
Jez's fudge recipe helped by not failing on me. Then this recipe for Kahlua Fudge from La Phemme Phoodie gave my fudge ego a nice little boost by coming out creamy and actually tasting like it had kahlua in it.  But in a good way. I changed up a couple of things to stack the fudge odds in my favor.  First, I let it boil for only a scant 5 minutes. I think the other times I've made fudge and let it boil for the full amount of time in the recipe, it's always come out a little too firm.  This time I didn't overboil it and while a bit soft at room temperature, newly chilled, it was just right. Even soft at room temperature was still a good creamy consistency. Second, this time I used mini chocolate chips for the semisweet chips.  That helped them melt faster and made for a smoother texture without me madly stirring it trying to get the chips to melt and having the fudge set too soon. The milk chocolate chips were still the regular size so they took longer to melt but still melted okay without too much effort.
Once I spread this in the pan and smoothed the top, I layered plastic wrap directly over the top so it wouldn't form a skin and let it cool. For once I left out the nuts even though I prefer my fudge with toasted almonds. But I wanted to see what it would taste like simply flavored with Kahlua. Although I don't drink, I don't have any issues with liqueurs like Kahlua or Grand Marnier or Godiva chocolate liqueuer (c'mon, it's Godiva. And chocolate) for flavoring. The Kahlua paired nicely with the chocolate and I like the creamy consistency.  At last, I finally made fudge how it should be.
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup salted butter
1/3 cup Kahlua
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate pieces
1 cup milk chocolate pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Line an 8" square pan with foil.
  2. In a 3 1/2-quart saucepan, combine sugar, marshmallow creme, milk, butter, Kahlua and salt. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; add all chocolate. Stir until melted. Add vanilla. Turn into prepared pan and smooth top.
  3. Cool on wire rack for 30 minutes and then refrigerate until firm. Cut into small squares and serve.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My first foray into Penzey's

Penzey's - visited December 14, 2013
Do you have a Penzey's in your area? I had only heard about them recently from friends who loved to go there. Then I discovered there's a local one not too near me but within driving distance. I always meant to go but since it's farther away, I never made it. I'd fallen out of the habit of shopping just to shop so I couldn't justify driving there just to see the place. When one of my coworkers discovered I had never been but she knew how much I love to bake, her first reaction was "you've got to go to Penzey's!" And to help me see the light of what I was missing, she was kind enough to give me a gift card to Penzey's. It isn't like I needed an incentive to go but it did give me purpose and justification to make the drive over (thanks, Michelle!).
Which I did and it was fun. Penzey's is a spice shop but that seems like such a modest oversimplification to describe the store. Every conceivable spice lines their shelves, neatly arranged in some flavor palette that probably makes sense to most cooks. Spices, extracts and "powder" products commonly used in baking like cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, cloves, dried lemon peel, cocoa, and vanilla extract are neatly displayed in an area meant to emulate a kitchen. Spices for barbecues like jerk rub are in one section, other seasoning spices line up next to them.  If you're an avid cook, Penzey's is akin to FAO Schwarz for kids. I can see chefs and gourmands alike spending hours at Penzey's much like I geek out at the library or Williams Sonoma. I know so little about cooking that I can't even do justice to a description of Penzey's so if you have one near you, I'd say it's definitely worth a field trip.

I did appreciate all the baking spices though and stocked up on my favorite Vietnamese cinnamon as well as unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder and lemon extract. Their prices were pretty reasonable, especially since I don't believe in buying spices in large containers. Spices are at their most flavorful when they're fresh and by the time you go through a bottle, it'll have lost some of its initial punch. It's better to buy spices in small containers and replenish them as needed. Says the person who has geriatric garlic powder in the spice drawer..... But hey, at least my cinnamon is used up and purchased fresh regularly.  Nothing but the best for my snickerdoodles.
Oh and if you're still shopping for Christmas gifts, if you have any cooks on your gift list and/or anyone who's gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or has other dietary requirements and the usual food baskets won't do, spices are a great gift. Anyone who cooks at home can always use them and you can have fun picking which ones you think they'd like best.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Different Kind of Lemon Doodles

Lemon Doodles - made December 14, 2013 from Chef in Training
Add this to the "I have a lot of lemons and more on the way to use up" list of recipes I was experimenting with since my initial lemon harvest (I plucked 4 more off my lemon tree this past weekend).  I had made a cookie called Lemon Doodles before but it was different from this one. This was more like a lemon sugar cookie or a lemon version of a snickerdoodle but with lemon zest instead of cinnamon to go with the sugar for the coating.  But what really pulled me towards this recipe is you use browned butter.  I've declared my love for browned butter many times already.  But browned butter paired with fresh lemon zest?  We might be talking a whole 'nother level of deliciousness.
And we would be talking sense because this made for a good flavor combination.  The lemon does tend to take over the flavor profile of the cookie but a discerning palate can still taste the browned butter. If you're the type to snitch cookie dough, you might have to pace yourself not to eat it all before any of it is baked. I don't eat cookie dough but this was one of those doughs where I could just stick my nose in the mixing bowl, inhale, and be happy.
The edges are crunchy and the middles are chewy. It really is like a lemon snickerdoodle but without the cinnamon. And as with snickerdoodles, don't overbake these.  They don't spread much so they'll stay puffy but to get that chewy texture, they need to be slightly underbaked.  I deviated from the directions and baked them at a lower temperature but for longer than the 7 minutes specified in the recipe.  At 7 minutes, the cookies were raw little dough balls just barely beginning to brown and still at the "I'm melting" stage rather than baked.
The main reason I didn't bake them at such a high temperature as the original directions said is I know 425 degrees is too hot in my oven and the cookies would likely burn on the outside while still remaining raw inside, especially with the sugar coating which is what aids in faster browning. Feel free to experiment what works best in your oven but keep an eye on these if you're going to play around with oven temps.
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup granulated sugar
zest of 3 lemons
  1. To make coating for cookie dough: Mash zest and sugar together with a fork to create lemon sugar.
  2. To make cookies: Start by browning butter. Melt 1 1/2 sticks of butter in a skillet over medium heat, stir continually until butter starts to foam and is light golden brown. Immediately remove from heat and add remaining 1/2 stick of butter to pan and set aside to cool.
  3. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat oven to 425 degrees. (I baked mine at 375 degrees.)
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine sugar and lemon zest and mix on low speed until well combined.
  5. Add brown sugar, flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix dry ingredients together on lowest speed just until combined.
  6. Add cooled butter, eggs, and vanilla and mix again just until combined.
  7. Scoop out two tablespoons of dough and form into a ball. Roll balls in lemon sugar mixture to coat and place on cookie sheet. Flatten the cookie dough balls slightly by using the back of a measuring cup.
  8. Bake for about 7 minutes and let cool (I baked mine for 10-12 minutes). They are best slightly underdone. When they come out of the oven, the middle should fall in just a little and the cookie should crackle as it settles.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Peanut Butter Brookies

Peanut Butter Brookies - made December 13, 2013 from Shugary Sweets
When you have a lot of baked holiday gifts to give away, 9 x 13 cakes and brownies are a lifesaver, both because they're easy to make and because they can go a long way in a lot of gifts. I needed exactly that so it was a good time to test out Peanut Butter Brookies. "Brookies" are a combination of "brownie" and "cookie" in case you haven't come across that nomenclature before. "Crownies" are the cookie/brownie cutesy word combo.  Regardless of what you call it, the aim is to make the best of both worlds.
Chocolate and peanut butter are always a good flavor combination and usually how I like to eat anything with peanut butter: partnered with chocolate. I didn't have peanut butter chips in my pantry (about the only thing not in there) but I did have the last of the mini peanut butter cups from Halloween to clear out so that's what I used instead.  Plus they look cuter. Yes, I'm a girl and I like cuteness, even in baked goods.
In reading the recipe, I was fine with the brownie layer as it seemed like a standard brownie. I was a little more skeptical about the peanut butter layer because I have a prejudice against shortening but I know that's also a common ingredient in peanut butter cookies. So I went with it. Sometimes suspending skepticism is a good thing because these turned out deliciously. It actually worked to have the shortening in the peanut butter layer because that's what helped give it a little crisp-ness (not crispy but elements of a crisp texture) in part of the peanut butter layer. The brownie layer was wonderfully fudgy and the peanut butter layer offered both a flavor and texture complement that enhanced both layers. All in all, a good offering for the peanut butter chocolate lovers on your gift list.
Brownie layer
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Peanut butter cookie layer
1/2 cup butter flavored Crisco
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup peanut butter morsels
8oz bag Reese's mini peanut butter cups
  1. For the brownie layer, melt chocolate chips with 1/2 cup butter for 1 1/2 minutes in microwave safe glass bowl. Stir until smooth. Add sugar, flour and eggs and combine completely.
  2. Pour into a 13x9 baking dish lined with parchment paper.
  3. For the cookie dough, beat shortening with 2 tablespoons butter. Beat in milk, vanilla, sugars, peanut butter and egg. Add flour, salt and baking powder. Fold in peanut butter morsels and Reese's mini PB cups.
  4. Drop cookie dough onto brownie batter layer. Smooth evenly.
  5. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove and cool completely. Refrigerate and cut into bars.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bakery Review: Smith Island Baking Company

Smith Island Baking Company - December 13, 2013
I meant to get this post up earlier but ironically, I've been so busy with baking over the weekend that I haven't had time to write up much of what I'm doing. Although I also didn't get this cake until last Friday so I couldn't have written it up before then anyway :).
Are you still shopping for Christmas gifts?  The thought of going to the mall making you break out in hives yet you still need to solve your gift conundrum?  Don't know what to get for someone who has everything and doesn't want more "stuff"? Need to send a gift to far-away friends and/or relatives but shudder at the thought of lining up at the post office to mail something? In those situations, I always give food, notably food gifts I can order online and have shipped directly to my recipients.
Enter the Smith Island Baking Company. I saw an article online that listed the top 10 food gifts to give and their coconut cake was one of them. Coconut? My ears, ears and taste buds all stood to attention. I always send my former college roommate, Caroline, a foodie gift for Christmas and her birthday.  She's better than I am in sourcing online places to order from but this time I felt this would be an inspired gift. I had never heard of the Smith Island Baking Company but after going to their website and reading about their story (I highly recommend anyone interested in small businesses to go check it out), I had to try it, not only as a gift for Caroline but yup, I had to get one for me too.
Perfectly packaged for shipping and arriving intact
In a pure moment of serendipidity, for the first time, I also heard of Foodydirect.  They're a local company based in Menlo Park, CA and while I was "out shopping" on Cyber Monday, I discovered Foodydirect and, more importantly, their $10 off coupon for first-time customers.  And most relevant of all, the Smith Island Baking Company was one of their foodie partners I could order from. A match made in culinary heaven.  Foodydirect is currently running a promotion and you can get $15 off your first purchase if you use this referral link (Note: I'm not associated with Foodydirect or the Smith Island Baking Company - I just like to eat....)
Not too much frosting - yay
I placed the order for Caroline to arrive the first week of December but scheduled mine to arrive last Friday. I knew I wouldn't - and shouldn't - eat the whole cake by myself so I scheduled it to arrive when I was making up all my baked goods holiday gifts so I could include slices of the cake with my gifts. Some may call it cheating but I call it still fitting into my clothes by Christmas. I believe in sharing the calories.
The "normal" size piece which actually turned out to be a lot of cake
As you can tell from the pictures above, the cake came very well packaged. The outer box was wedged in amidst dry ice packs inside a styrofoam shipping container, it sat on a cardboard circle, the coconut-dusted frosted sides were wrapped with cardboard all around it and the whole thing was encased in sealed plastic. Not a shred of coconut was allowed to move. Their website says the cakes are frozen as soon as they're assembled then shipped UPS 2nd Day Air when ordered to ensure freshness on arrival. I must admit to their truth in advertising as when the cake arrived on my doorstep, it was still pretty cold and firm to slice. It's actually best to slice it when it's still in that state because with this many layers, it's easy to get more misshapen if you cut it when it's completely thawed.
The Smith Island Baking Company bakes each of those thin layers you see above individually.  So it isn't like they bake one tall round cake and slice it into layers using the dental floss method. They bake every single layer separately then assemble it with frosting and coconut. That kind of effort and attention to detail is almost mind-boggling even to a baker like me but I must say, it was worth every bit of work because this cake was amazing. I loved the taste, the softness of the texture, the mouthfeel, and the chewiness of the coconut. There isn't too much frosting which is usually my issue with cakes; it didn't need a lot because there were so many layers than a very thin frosting layer between each cake layer was perfect. The only drawback - and yes, I know this is a First World problem - is with this many layers, it's hard to slice a thin slice without crumbling or smushing the cake.  Yet if you cut a "normal" slice, there are also so many layers that it actually makes for a lot of cake.  My eyes were bigger than my stomach (although, er, my stomach is feeling like it's catching up quite nicely) and I cut a "normal" piece.  It took me all afternoon over 4 sittings to finish it. It was delicious but even I have a sugar stopping point. I ended up slicing the cake and giving the rest away so I could share the deliciousness with family and friends. I'm so glad I discovered this bakery and am giving myself 6 months before I plunge back in and order their original yellow cake with fudge frosting. Just to see what that's like of course.