Monday, March 31, 2014

Butterscotch Toffee Shortbread Cookies

Butterscotch Toffee Shortbread Cookies - made dough March 21, baked March 30, 2014 from Taste of Home
I do most of my baking on the weekends and bring in what I've made to work on Mondays. I missed last Monday and apparently I threw my coworkers off. They insist I've "got them trained" to check the kitchen when they come in on Monday morning so missing last week was like not holding up my end of their Pavlovian conditioning. Okay, that's a lot of pressure. To alleviate it, I made up some cookie dough ahead of time just in case I get to any Sunday night and don't have an offering to bring in the next day. Nothing easier than taking out frozen cookie dough and baking off a couple of sheets at the last minute.
This was an easy dough to make, especially if you get the Heath bar baking bits (includes toffee and milk chocolate) rather than having to chop up whole Heath bars. I get mine by the bag from the baking aisle at Target. The original directions say to roll out the dough and cut with a cookie cutter. To be honest, I don't have that kind of time. Plus I don't like cutting out cookies when it also means trying to slice through toffee bits and butterscotch chips with a cookie cutter - messy. Instead, I split the dough in half and rolled into logs then wrapped the logs in wax paper, put them in a freezer bag and stored them in the freezer until I needed them, aka Sunday night. If you freeze the logs rather than chilling them in the refrigerator, let them thaw for about 10 minutes before you turn your oven on to preheat. They'll be easier to cut cleanly and evenly. If you try to cut the frozen logs, they're harder to slice properly and may even crumble. I didn't really time these in the oven and although the directions say to bake for 10-12 minutes, this is one cookie you don't want to underbake or you won't get the snappy shortbread texture. Bake until golden brown almost all over and the middles are still a little pale. These were nice little shortbread cookies, especially with the crunch from the toffee bits and the extra flavor from the butterscotch chips. One of my coworkers came into my office and confessed she "took three". Can't ask for a better endorsement than that.
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butterscotch chips, finely chopped
1/2 cup milk chocolate English toffee bits
  1. In a large bowl, cream butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, cornstarch, and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Fold in butterscotch chips and toffee bits. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until easy to handle.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4" thickness. Cut with a floured 2-inch fluted round cookie cutter. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Alternatively, roll dough into logs, wrap in wax paper and chill or freeze until ready to use. If freezing, allow to thaw for 10 minutes before slicing.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Let's Talk About Treatsie Again

Treatsie - March 19, 2014, 2nd order
I had first heard of and blogged about Treatsie last month when I ordered a taster box for myself and a 3-month subscription for a friend's birthday. My friend loved the first box she received and is looking forward to the next two. I myself enjoyed the taster box and meant to go back to order again but time got away from me (WHY is it already the end of March?!?).
But since I had ordered, I was in their customer database and have been getting promotional emails from them. I hadn't had any time to take advantage of them as most of the coupons have only had a 24-hour shelf life and I've been too busy to follow up. But I got one on March 19 for National Chocolate Caramel Day with a coupon for 20% off "any caramel product". Caramel, did you say? Back to the website I went.
CC Made Classic Caramel Popcorn
The Treatsie website is rather efficiently organized. You can browse products by certain filters: new arrivals, best selling, type, brand, by box and by flavor. Since I was there for a purpose, I went through the Flavor navigation route and clicked on "Caramel" to see what I could use the coupon on. The first product that caught my eye was CC Made Classic Caramel Popcorn. My mouse finger involuntarily twitched and that caramel popcorn was in my shopping cart before my brain finished processing "....corn". Mission accomplished.
But wait! Did you know Treatsie only charges a flat $5 shipping fee no matter if you order 1 item or 20? The finance nerd in me insisted I had to leverage that flat fee. I was going to pay that $5 anyway and if I only got the caramel popcorn, wow, that was a little unfair to burden that poor popcorn with all of the shipping cost. But hey, if I added the Tcho Tchunky Tchotella and the Almond Toffee with Milk Chocolate, they could share the expense. And I had a 20% coupon that applied to my entire order as long as one item was a caramel product so it was really like getting free shipping as long as I bought at least $25 worth of treats. See, I excel at rationalization.
Toffee made of ingredients I recognize
Except....after I loaded up my shopping cart and entered the coupon code, I got an error message saying none of the items in my cart qualified for the discount. Um, CARAMEL popcorn doesn't qualify for the caramel discount? Splutter. Why? Now, normally, when I run into issues like this, I would just give up and not bother to proceed. It's discretionary spend and calories I didn't need anyway so I can be just as easily talked out of ordering as I can in persuading myself to order. If I had been on amazon or Target or Costco's website, I would've just walked at that point. But Treatsie is a small business promoting other small businesses so I was willing to make a little extra effort to put my order in and give them the business. And it had almost nothing to do with suddenly wanting some caramel corn.
I emailed the contact email listed on their site, forwarding the promo email I'd received, explaining the caramel item in my order, how I had found it by clicking on "caramel" in their Flavor section, asked if there was a glitch, and if not, what products qualified for the discount? To my (pleasant) surprise, I received a response within minutes from Jamie, the co-founder of Treatsie, explaining they had originally set up the coupon code for caramels (e.g. the actual caramels they sell on their site) but that I had brought up a good point so they changed it so that the coupon could also be used for products that had caramel in them. Like my popcorn.
Wow. Okay, this is why I love supporting small businesses. Timely response. Check. Straightforward explanation. Got it. Reasonable accommodation. Double check. And I got to communicate with someone empowered to make the change and who did make the change immediately. I got a straight response, I didn't get fobbed off and I wasn't given excuses. Right after I got Jamie's response, I completed my order, including the coupon code and everything was processed without a hitch. By Jamie's response and follow through, Treatsie just ensured they got a repeat customer by a simple, common sense handling of the situation. So many times you hear horror stories about customer service issues but this isn't one of them.
By the way? The stuff I ordered? Top notch. Can't wait to try more soon as I log more miles on the treadmill.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Momofuku Milk Bar Corn Cookies

Momofuku Milk Bar Corn Cookie Mix - made March 22, 2014, recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi
Have you heard of Momofuku Milk Bar? I hadn't until I received this cookie mix and their baking book as a gift last year. According to their website, "Momofuku Milk Bar is the bakery-inspired dessert branch of David Chang's Momofuku Restaurant Group". Okay, I confess I had never heard of the Momofuku Restaurant Group either. But that could be explained by the fact that their brick and mortar locations are only in New York City and Toronto, not exactly within my culinary eating sphere unless I hop on a plane. Which I've been known to do but it's been years since I was in New York City and a couple of decades since I've been to Toronto.
Nevertheless, if there's one type of box mix I don't turn my nose up at, it's this kind: high end product made by a small business and focused on taste and quality rather than mass production with ingredients I can't pronounce. And you can buy it at Williams Sonoma, not Safeway. I've never had a cornmeal cookie so I didn't know what to expect. I'm not a huge fan of cornmeal or cornbread since I don't generally like the grittiness and, to me, the taste is just okay. But I was game to try this. Like all high-end mixes, it comes with the dry ingredients and the recipe instructions to add butter and egg.
The instructions gave me a bit of pause because it calls for beating the butter, sugar mix, and egg for 10 minutes. 10 minutes? Geez, that's a lifetime in cookie mixing. When you beat a cookie batter that much, you're adding a lot of air into it which conventional wisdom says will lead to a cakey cookie. And we know how I scorn those. But I was committed to seeing it through and for once I didn't cheat and think I knew better than the Momofuku people. I followed their instructions to the letter. Although I admit, I turned the mixer off as soon as the 10 minutes were up and not a second more. After adding the dry ingredients, I ended up with a cookie dough that looked like thick cornmeal batter. I portioned it into golf-sized dough balls and froze them to bake off later.
You can see from the dome shape that the cookies didn't spread very much, just a little at the edges. I baked off one cookie in my little toaster/convection oven and took a bite after it had been out for 10 minutes, like I normally do with chocolate chip cookies. Ugh, too gooey. So I let it cool completely and tried it again. That's when things got interesting. The outer edges and some cornmeal-y bits on top had cooled to an airy crispness and, contrary to my expectations from that 10-minute mixing period, the cookie wasn't cakey. Instead it was almost "fudgy". It was moist, a bit dense and chewy which is how I like my cookies and the airy crispness was a great contrast to the "fudginess" of the middle.
So I loved the texture of this cookie. However, I wasn't sure at first if I liked the taste. Usually I know after one bite whether I like the taste of something or not. Not so with this cookie. I ate the whole thing and I still wasn't sure. It had a cornmeal aftertaste I didn't think I was fond of but I was so lured in by the texture that I was conflicted. So the next day, I baked another cookie, let it cool properly and tried it once more. It took a few bites but by the last bite of that second cookie, I had convinced myself I did like both taste and texture. It took a little getting used to but my taste buds acclimated to the flavor and I really, really liked the texture. On the third day, I baked a third cookie just to be sure. I'm nothing if not thorough. Yup, I like these cookies.
If you don't have access to the Momofuku Milk Bar Corn Cookie, here's the recipe from their baking book. It has ingredients I don't normally stock and would have to buy as specialty ingredients so it might be cheaper to buy the mix if you can get it, unless you plan to bake multiple batches of this then the investment in corn flour and corn powder might be worth it. I recommend freezing the cookie dough first, baking from frozen dough and only baking until the edges are golden brown and the middle isn't shiny or raw looking. Eat at room temperature for optimal texture. The directions from the book says to flatten the cookie dough balls but I like my cookies puffy so I skipped that step. It also says to beat the dough for 7-8 minutes but the mix said to beat for 10. Mine still came out with the great texture by beating for 10 minutes.

16 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1 egg
1 1/3 cups (225 g) flour
1/4 cup (45 grams) corn flour
2/3 cup (65 grams) freeze-dried corn powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  1. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes.
  2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, corn flour, corn powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Using a 2 3/4-ounce ice cream scoop or a 1/3-cup measure, portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature; they will not bake properly.
  4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle and spread. After 18 minutes, they should be faintly browned on the edges yet still bright yellow in the center; give them an extra minute if not.
  6. Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or an airtight container for storage. At room temp, the cookies keep fresh for 5 days; in the freezer, they will keep for 1 month.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pie review: Heidi's Pies

Heidi's Pies - visited on March 12, 2014
Earlier in March, I was giving a presentation at a Business Forecast Summit being held an hour away from my house. It was an all-day thing although fortunately my session was only an hour. At the end of the day, I was anxious to beat the traffic home. My normal commute to my office is less than 20 minutes but this was far enough away that I was facing at least an hour on the road each way, more during the afternoon commute. I'm one of those people who cannot handle long commutes. I live and work where I do for a reason. Mainly so I don't experience road rage every time I get into my car. Fortunately, this was a once-in-awhile thing so I figured I could suck it up this time.
What made it palatable is I also figured, since I was in the neighborhood anyway, I would stop off at Heidi's Pies on my way home. This was literally on the way back from the summit as Heidi's is located just off the freeway (or one of the freeways) I needed to take to get home. I've been meaning to try out Heidi's Pies ever since my coworker, Queen of Cheap Eats, told me about it. But it was too far away for me to make a special trip for it, especially with the price of gas these days, so I wasn't able to go until now. Since I didn't go for a meal but just came for a slice of pie to go, I can't really classify this as a restaurant review and they're technically not a bakery. So I guess it's more accurately a "pie review".
I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I liked the baker's racks full of whole pies waiting to be called upon behind the counter. They also had a big flat screen TV near the front that kept flashing a loop of the different pies being offered. I think I had some vision of a small business, non-chain version of a Marie Callendars, like a cozy diner out of the 50s. But you know the drawback with anything out of the 50s? It's more than 60 years old. Flat screen TV notwithstanding, Heidi's Pies did feel a bit "old" when I walked in. I was there late afternoon so it was too early for dinner and the place was almost completely empty. It actually looks smaller on the inside than the outside would have it appear.
But I wasn't there for a meal. I just wanted a slice of pie to go. Being me, it had to be a slice of the apple pie. There was one lady behind the counter who was very nice, called me "hon", and packaged up my pie slice very promptly. It was a good-size piece but I admit to being taken aback that it was $5.45. The place wasn't exactly swanky-cute like Susie Cakes in swanky-expensive Menlo Park and I think I expected such a no-frills place not to have a frilly price. But never mind, I told myself, maybe the slice would be so good, it would be worth almost the cost of a whole pie.
As I expected, afternoon/evening commute traffic was bad so I had over an hour to wonder about it. Add in some additional time when I made myself be a grown up and have dinner first before breaking into my pie dessert. I'd like to be able to tell you this was the best pie I've ever eaten. However, I can't. It was good, not bad, not great. I don't think it was worth $5.45 to be honest; it was good but not something I'd go miles out of my way for. But, as always, I'm glad I tried it and now I know. If I was in the neighborhood again, I'd probably go once more and try a different flavor. Queen of Cheap Eats says their banana cream pie is awesome so that goes on my foodie bucket list.
Ice cream addition is mine - you can't have apple pie without ice cream

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache - made March 21, 2014 from Averie Cooks
I've been trying to clean up my pinterest boards. By "clean up", I meant deleting pins of recipes I pinned awhile ago and never made, thinking if I haven't made them by now, I never will so why am I still keeping them pinned? Answer: turns out I'm a virtual hoarder. I have one pin board titled "Baking Recipes I Want to Try". Once I do try a particular recipe from that board, I move it to another board called "Pinned Recipes I've Already Made". That's how I keep my organization freak happy. At its peak, the first board had over 300 recipes while the second board now has almost 275. So I've made some progress. But not quite enough, hence my virtual decluttering attempt.
At which I failed miserably. I think I ended up deleting two pins from a board of 300. I kept getting distracted by long-ago pinned recipes and thinking I should make that one or try this one. It was my someday syndrome again. Someday I'm going to make this. Problem was, I had so many recipes on my pin board and kept adding more that I kept losing sight of the ones I had pinned earlier. So I compromised and did the sensible thing. I broke up the want-to-try recipes into categories, specifically cakes, cookies and I left the original board as all other desserts. So I still have almost 300 recipes to try but now I've got them classified more cleanly. My inner hoarder wasn't distressed at any more deletions and my organizer freakishness was swooning.
Now it's so much easier to choose which recipe to bake. Like when I was in the mood for a quick, simple cake recipe, I just went to my Let Me Eat Cake pinboard and selected this one from Averie Cooks. I've had lots of success with Averie's recipes and this one was no exception. If you like the fluffy, cakey texture of box cake mixes but want a chocolate cake that actually has chocolate flavor (inner baking snobbery peeks out), this is the cake recipe for you.
This was a really good chocolate cake. Of course, use a high quality cocoa powder so the chocolate flavor will shine through. You'll see the addition of coffee in the batter but if you're not a coffee lover, never fear, this isn't a coffee chocolate cake. The coffee just enhances the chocolate even further but doesn't contribute to the taste. I'm not a coffee drinker but I don't mind coffee-flavored goods. I could detect a hint of the coffee in the background against the chocolate but it doesn't detract from the cake at all. My only down note is I'm not a big fan of ganache as it's a little too rich for me and not sweet enough in general but that's a taste preference and nothing to do with the recipe. Otherwise, this was a fantastic chocolate cake.
1 large egg
1 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces sour cream
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup brewed coffee, room temperature or warm
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line a 9-by-9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine egg, sugar, yogurt, oil, vanilla, and whisk until smooth and combined. Add coffee and cocoa powder; whisk vigorously until batter is smooth and free from lumps.
  3. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and whisk vigorously until batter has just combined, about 1 minute. Pour batter, which is a loose and fairly runny batter, into prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes, or until top has set and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Allow cake to cool in pan completely, at least 30 minutes, before adding ganache or frosting the cake, or before slicing and serving. Unfrosted cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or store frosted cake in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Chocolate Ganache 
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (about 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips)
3/4 cup cream or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Place chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl and heat on high power for 1 minute to soften chocolate; set aside. 
  2. In a small microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, heat the cream (I used half-and-half) on high power just until it begins to bubble and show signs of boiling, about 60 to 75 seconds. 
  3. Pour hot cream over chocolate and let it stand about 1 minute. 
  4. Whisk vigorously until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth and velvety. Add vanilla and stir to combine. Set bowl aside for about 10 minutes, allowing ganache to cool and thicken a bit. 
  5. Whisk mixture briefly before pouring all of it over the cake. Lightly smooth and spread the ganache with a spatula or offset knife. Allow ganache to set up for at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving the cake; or speed this process up by placing pan in the refrigerator or freezer briefly.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Banana Dream Cake

Banana Dream Cake - made March 15, 2014, recipe adapted from The Novice Chef
Banana Cake Take 1
Over the past few years I've talked intermittently about my love for the banana cake from Icing on the Cake. I go there every year around my birthday and buy myself a piece as my birthday cake. There's a hiking trail near there that I sometimes go to and, after a long hike, I have no problem justifying a stop at Icing on the Cake to get my favorite cake (good thing they sell it by the piece). Heck, I've even built into my pre-retirement, post-Corporate America plans that I'm going to apply for a baking job there just so I could learn how they make the banana cake.

It should even come as no surprise that I've also tried endless recipes of different banana cakes to find THE recipe for it. There have been a few where I've come close on taste but not on the fluffy texture. Most banana cakes I've made have been too moist or too dense or both. The fluffy has eluded me. So when I saw the picture of this cake from The Novice Chef, hope sprang eternal again as the pictured cake looked close to my Holy Grail of banana cakes. Could this be it? Could this be the one?
Just by looking at the original recipe, here are a few things I knew right off the bat before I even baked it: this would be moist, not just from the amount of liquid ingredients (the milk) but also from the sour cream. It would not taste lemon-y even though there's lemon juice in it. The acidity of the lemon juice is needed to activate the baking soda and add to the leavening of the cake. It would not likely be greasy because the applesauce allows for a lesser amount of butter to be used. I actually thought it might not be banana-y enough because a cup of bananas didn't seem like much for a 3-layer cake. I admit I erred on the side of banana and added a generous cup of it. Beyond that, I followed the recipe to a tee. Final result? This was so close to the cake texture I was looking for. Close. Really close. But not quite. And still not as fluffy as what was pictured on The Novice Chef.

However, it did set my baking wheels turning. With a few tweaks, I felt sure I could come even closer. The first thing I had to accept is: it is NOT the recipe that makes the cake. Or at least not just the recipe ingredients. It's the technique. This was a great recipe to start with but I had to make some adjustments. First, remember that bananas add a lot of moisture to a cake. More moisture means denser cake if you don't compensate with additional baking time. I'm always terrified of overbaking so I underbake more often than not. And that's a big part of my problem.
Banana Cake Take 2
But let's tackle one problem at a time. Because I use very, very overripe bananas, flavor wasn't going to be an issue if I used a little less banana. Instead of a generous cup, I used a scant cup. So not as much moisture going in. Second, to achieve a fluffy texture, the batter has to have more air beaten into it. I don't like to overmix batter because that'll develop the gluten from the flour and make the texture tough. So the time to beat more air into the batter is before you add the flour. It's also before you add the eggs. If you overbeat batter with eggs in it, you inadvertently can make a meringue texture from the foaminess of the eggs and get a crust on top. So the time to beat air into the batter is when you're creaming the butter and the sugar together. Most recipes say to beat until "light and fluffy" but that leaves so much room for interpretation and I often interpret that incorrectly. This time I beat it a little longer than I normally do. I normally only beat for a minute, this time I beat for 3 minutes.

Finally, my biggest weakness - baking time. I know what my problem is but I don't know what my problem is. And with this cake, it was actually hard to tell when it was done because the toothpick does come out "clean" so you'd think it was done. But while it wasn't too underbaked the first time, I knew I could've baked it a little longer and that would've been a huge factor in getting the fluffy texture I've been obsessing over looking for. The second time around, I factored in not just whether the toothpick came out clean but also how easily it went in. A denser cake will provide more resistance while a more baked cake will let the toothpick go in more easily. It's hard to describe unless you have a comparison at the same time but I've Monday morning quarterbacked a lot of underbaked cakes so my baking instincts can usually tell me when something needs to stay in the oven a little longer. I just usually second guess myself and ignore those instincts but this time I muffled my baking insecurities and just let the cake layers bake. And bake.
Result of the second cake? Still close but still no cigar. Sigh. I thought I was on the right track but I don't think my changes made a discernible difference in the fluffiness. And, one of my guinea pigs coworkers confessed she liked the first cake better than the second cake. Argh. But, no experiment is wasted. Now my baking wheels keep on churning on the next things to test. I think I need a recipe that uses cake flour (lighter texture) as well as baking powder (more leavening). So the search continues and my pre-retirement plans to work at Icing on the Cake still remain on my bucket list.
1 scant cup mashed overripe bananas (2-3 bananas)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 1/8 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
4 ounces applesauce

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 packages (12 ounces) cream cheese, softened
5 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cinnamon, for sprinkling
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Spray 3 round 8" round baking pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment rounds.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla, sour cream and applesauce. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk. Stir in banana mixture.
  4. Divide batter (about 2 1/2 cups batter in each pan) into prepared pans. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and immediately place in freezer for 45 minutes. This keeps the cake moist by immediately stopping the baking so the cake does not continue to bake when you remove it from the oven. Note: I skipped the freezer step because I didn't have room in my freezer; instead, I ran a spatula around the sides of the cake and overturned them onto plates lined with wax paper as soon as I took them out of the oven to stop the baking from the heat of the pans.
  5. For the frosting: In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in vanilla.
  6. Add confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until frosting is smooth.
  7. Assemble the three layers with a thick layer of frosting in between each layer. Then apply a thin crumb coat on the top and sides. Place in the refrigerator to harden the crumb coat for 10 minutes. Then apply a thick, even layer around the outside of the cake. Sprinkle on a little cinnamon on top and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Restaurant Review: Kahoo (ramen)

Kahoo - dinner on March 10, 2014, 3.5 stars on yelp, 1108 reviews
I met my friend Cindy, the one I'd given the Texas Fudge Cookies to, for dinner a couple of weeks ago at a new-to-us ramen place, Kahoo. Kahoo has several locations so I guess they're a mini "chain" in our area. We'd already tried Ramen Halu the last time we'd met for dinner; Cindy was in the mood for ramen again and suggested Kahoo. The one we went to has a bit of a weird location. It's in a strip mall just off the freeway, which is fine, but it's rather tucked away in that strip mall so if you don't know where to look, they might be hard to find. The inside was also smaller than I expected. It's L-shaped with the short part of the "L" being the entrance way and the long part being where most of the tables and the counter seating are.
Yelp reviews warned about long wait times when the place is crowded but fortunately Cindy and I met early enough, just after 6 pm on a Monday, to be able to get seated right away. Kahoo filled up before we left but we got there before things got too busy. The music is a bit loud or I'm just old but it was nothing too eardrum-splitting.
Chicken Karaage
We split an appetizer of Chicken Karaage which is another name for breaded, fried, boneless chicken (hello, yummy). You can dip the chicken in a sauce but I'm not a sauce person so I liked it as is just fine. I've had Chicken Karaage before at another ramen place but it was way too salty. This one was not. It was perfectly seasoned, not greasy and the chicken was just right, not too thin, not too thick.
As for the ramen, we both ordered the Shoyu Ramen; it was the standard ramen with a soy-based broth. There's a salt-based broth but I opted for the soy sauce. There wasn't much cha-su pork in the ramen but what there was of it was delicious. I also liked the broth. Unlike the other ramen places I've tried, the broth remained the same flavor, i.e. it didn't become more and more salty as you consumed it. Points for Kahoo on that one. My only minus is it's definitely a carb-based meal. There was only half of a soft-boiled egg (other places often include a whole one) and only a few bits of pork which I think they could've increased. But the ramen noodles were nicely chewy and, as mentioned, the broth was good. For under $10, I'd go back again for good ramen. (Note: they do offer a low-carb ramen bowl, sans the ramen noodles, which seems counter-intuitive to me but for anyone low-carbing, you still have options at Kahoo.)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Cro-Nut

The Cro-Nut - from Paris Baguette, March 13, 2014
Have you heard of the cro-nut? It's a croissant and doughnut combined, hence the name. Legend or, er, wikipedia, has it that it was invented by chef Dominique Ansel in New York City. The croissant part comes from the fact that it's a laminated dough (butter folded into sheets of dough and folded over and over again) and the doughnut contributes not only the round shape but the sugar coating, the filling and the glaze on top. It's actually pretty genius when you think about it; this is the kind of food modification I can deal with.
I'm actually behind on the cronut craze because it was invented last year and I'm only trying it out just now. In my defense, I'm not crazy enough about either croissants or doughnuts to go out of my way for them, even when they're combined, so it would have to be literally in front of me in order for me to try it. And by lucky happenstance, it was exactly that, in front of me, when I was at Paris Baguette last week. I was actually at a food court next door getting takeout for my dinner and stopped off at Paris Baguette to see if there was anything I wanted for dessert. Lo and behold, there sat a tray of cronuts. So I bought one for $3.75. Not exactly cheap if you think of it as a doughnut (Stan's Donuts are 85 cents each) but in line with croissant prices.
Overall, I thought it was pretty good. When I took the first bite, I classified it mostly as a croissant because of the flaky texture. And I'll be honest. I didn't see what the fuss was about. Yeah, it was good but a "craze"? Hmm, that's pretty grandiose. I should also mention though that I'd had this after my takeout dinner so I was rather full and one bite was all I managed of the cronut that night. I returned to it the next day when I was more hungry and gained a greater appreciation for it. Once I wasn't stuffed full of orange chicken from the night before, I could appreciate the doughnut half of the cronut. The filling was a light citrus pastry cream/glaze, probably the exact same as the glaze on top. The sugared coating combined with the flakiness really did make it a perfect hybrid of a croissant and a doughnut. If you like either or both of those, the cronut is worth experiencing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Deep Dish Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Pizookie

Deep Dish Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Pizookie - made March 14, 2014, recipe modified from Damn Delicious
You ever have one of those weeks when, by the time you've made it to the end, you're so wrung out that all your good intentions of eating healthy to nourish your body, working out for mental well being, and going into zen mode to refresh your spirit gets drowned out by the call of "screw this, I want a warm chocolate chip cookie with ice cream. Now." Right? Welcome to last Friday.
Only it was such a week that I upped the ante. A normal chocolate chip cookie just wasn't going to cut it. In fact, even chocolate chips weren't going to do. This called for chocolate chunks. I had a slab of milk chocolate my parents had brought back from a trip (yup, I'd much rather have that as a "souvenir" than a t-shirt or a mug, thanks) which I chopped into generous-sized chunks. I wasn't messing around. And I not only raised the stakes to go with a chocolate chunk pizookie but I made it a deep dish brown butter chocolate chunk pizookie. In a size and of a thickness guaranteed to push me beyond comfortable ecstasy straight to semi-consciousness. For the first few bites anyway. As they say on Sesame Street, this is a sometime food.
Normally, pizookies are individual sized and I'd bake them off in small ramekins. This time I went for broke and spread all of the dough into my 8-inch cast iron skillet. Which turned out to yield a pizookie large enough to feed me and 18 of my closest friends. I added the scoops of ice cream and drizzles of warm nutella on top for picture taking purposes but since my 18 closest friends didn't happen to be around when I took this out of the oven, I ended up only taking a few bites.
Which were actually pretty satisfying enough. My only mistake was, because the cookie turned out to be so thick, I didn't bake it long enough. Which I didn't discover until I'd already put the ice cream on top and took a few bites. The outer edges were fine; they were perfect as a matter of fact, warm and sumptuous. But the inner circle and the middle were too gooey, especially when warm.
Nothing left to do except scrape the ice cream off to eat separately and put the skillet back in the oven. I baked it off a little longer but after the second baking, my emotional eating crisis had passed or been stuffed into submission with those first few bites so I left the skillet pizookie for the next day.
Which actually turned out to be even better. By then it had cooled to room temperature, the texture wasn't mushy or gooey, more like "fudgy". And the brown butter flavor was more prominent. Much as I like warm cookies topped with ice cream, I have to admit, this was better at room temperature without the ice cream. I think it was because, in the skillet, the pizookie was too thick so the cookie was mushy/gooey when warm. If I had baked less of it in smaller ramekins like I usually do, it would've baked more evenly and thoroughly all around so it wouldn't have been as mushy. And in small amounts, a little gooey isn't a bad thing.
I had a hard time getting a clear picture of the inside, both due to the lighting at that time of day/almost evening when I made this but also from the deepness of the pan. But you can see a hint of the mushiness below. Regardless, this was a good cookie recipe. I'd advocate baking it in smaller portions; then you can enjoy it warm or room temperature, your choice. I took the cooled cookie, broke it into smaller chunks and placed them in a ziploc bag in my freezer. Next time I'm having an emotional eating crisis, I know what to reach for.
1 7/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup chocolate chunks
Vanilla ice cream
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat an 8-inch cast iron skillet with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  3. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the foam subsides and the butter begins to turn a golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  4. Whisk in sugars and vanilla until well combined. Whisk in egg and egg yolk until well combined. Add flour mixture, beating just until incorporated. Gently fold in chocolate chunks.
  5. Pour mixture into skillet. Place into oven and bake until edges are golden brown but center is still moist, about 20-25 minutes (check at 15 minutes).
  6. Serve lukewarm, topped with ice cream.