Friday, March 25, 2016

"The Best" Lemon Bars

The Best Lemon Bars - made March 13, 2016 from Your Home-Based Mom

Almost everyone I know loves lemon bars and almost every lemon bar recipe I see claims it’s “the best”. I have very jaded taste buds so I rarely go into the superlative when I’m describing something unless it really, really deserves it. It doesn’t mean it isn’t good if I don’t call it “the best”. Only that there are so many amazing recipes out there that are super fantastic that it’s hard to claim any single one recipe as “the best” of anything.

So I don’t know if this is THE best lemon bar recipe I’ve ever tried. It’s good. It’s fine. My normal go-to lemon bar recipe is also quite good and I don’t know if I would choose this one above that. The good thing is it’s not really a competition. Both are good. Both can be made easily and eaten even more easily. Crisp shortbread crust, lemony topping, sweet vanilla glaze – not much not to love here.  If you’re a lemon bar fan, give this recipe a whirl. It’s good for using up at least 1 lemon.
Oh and true confession time, I probably left this in the oven for 5 minutes longer than I should have. I was busy doing something on my computer and the time got away from me. By the time I checked on these, the top was golden brown all over and edging more towards “brown” than “golden” – eek. The good thing with lemon bars though is they’re hardy enough to withstand a few minutes’ neglect because the topping is more of a custard and not a cake to dry out. And the bottom came out a little crisp but not burnt and not crunchy-hard.  Dodged a baking bullet. Whew.

1/2 cup butter, cold
1 cup flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons lemon juice
grated rind of 1 lemon

3/4 cup powdered sugar
lemon juice to make soft glaze
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8 pan with foil, lightly spray with cooking spray.
  2. Cut together butter, flour and powdered sugar until mixture resembles coarse meal and press into an even layer into prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes.
  3. Mix together sugar, flour and baking powder. Add in eggs, lemon juice and lemon rind.
  4. Pour over hot, baked crust and bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges are golden brown and mixture is set.
  5. Mix together powdered sugar and enough lemon juice to make a glaze soft enough to drizzle over lemon bars while they are still warm. Glaze, let cool then cut into squares.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Frosted Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

Frosted Cinnamon Sugar Cookies - made dough March 12, 2016, adapted from I Heart Naptime
You know how I always say that I only have 1 taste test cookie or taste test piece of whatever I make and I give the rest away? But if something is really, really good, I’ll have a second piece? Compared to all I bake, it’s relatively rare when I like something enough to have more than 1 piece of it. And that includes even my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes. A warm chocolate chip cookie 10 minutes out of the oven is the peak of culinary dessert nirvana for me but even so, I’m fine only having one cookie and no more. At least not until I make the next batch days or weeks later. But eating one after the other of something? Very rare for me. I’m a moderate; I don’t overindulge like that.

So it says something when I flag that this cookie is one of those rare ones. I honestly didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. I figured I would like the cookie well enough because it had all the right elements I look for in a good cookie: it didn’t spread, it was soft, moist and chewy and it tasted good. No, make that: it tasted great. Much as I love chocolate, when it comes to cookies, I actually prefer vanilla. I even liked the frosting. Hello, not a frosting person but I liked the frosting. Actually, I made up the frosting recipe based on modifying the original one that came with the recipe.  And I liked it paired with this cookie. The cookie would be good without the frosting but it was great with it.
I waited for the first batch to cool so I could frost the cookies, had a taste test cookie and thought “hmm, that’s really good.” Then “Wow, that’s really good.” So, although it was supposed to be a rest day, I went and did a 40-minute workout, came back and had a second cookie. There you go, that’s how much I liked this cookie.

Don’t overbake these! I know I say that with almost every recipe I post but seriously, don’t overbake them or they’ll be more cakey than chewy and they’ll be dry. I shaped the dough balls into thick discs instead of “balls” so that when they baked, they would stay a fairly uniform thickness. They did still dome a bit in the middle but that’s okay, the edges didn’t spread thin. Depending on your oven, I wouldn’t bake these longer than 11-13 minutes, long enough for the edges to get golden and the middles not to look shiny or raw. Let them cool completely before you spread them with frosting. They’ll be moist, chewy cinnamon-vanilla goodness.  Oh, and please, don’t use old, tired cinnamon. You know I’m talking about that bottle you’ve had in your pantry forever because you haven’t used it in awhile and there’s still some left. If you can’t remember when you bought the cinnamon and/or if you remember but it wasn’t during this decade, please go buy a new bottle. Trust me, it’s worth it.
1 cup (8 ounces) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter, softened
2 to 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (to taste and desired consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 teaspoons whole milk (to desired consistency)
additional cinnamon for sprinkling
  1. In a large bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla; mix well. Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt; mix just until combined. Chill 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Roll the dough into golf-ball-size balls, flatten slightly into thick discs and space evenly on baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes (depending on the thickness of your discs) or until edges are golden and middles no longer look raw. Remove and cool completely before frosting.
  4. To make the frosting: beat together the cream cheese and butter until completely combined and no lumps remain. Add up to 2 cups powdered sugar, vanilla and a little milk. Alternately add remaining powdered sugar and additional drops of milk until desired consistency. Beat until light and fluffy.
  5. Frost cookies and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Classic Brownie - swirled with Nutella and topped with Ferrero Rocher

The Classic Brownie - made February 20, 2016, recipe adapted from Brownie Points by Lisa Slater
A brief break from cookie recipes (although I have more coming) to put up my latest hack on a typical (plain) brownie recipe. It’s hard for me to make a plain brownie. I value the simplicity and goodness of a perfectly fudgy brownie as much as the next person but when you’ve made as many brownies as I have, you (or I) can’t resist tinkering.
This is one of my many baking books with brownie recipes in them. I’ve gone through a fair number of them as anyone reading my blog for awhile can attest to and every now and then, I try another one so I can increase the return on my investment of having so many baking books. I’ve thinned out a fair number already but let’s face it, when you have more than a hundred – and I do – that’s still a lot.
The beauty with brownies is they’re pretty forgiving no matter what you add to them. I was doing a clean out of my pantry and needed to use up some Nutella before it expired (because, c’mon, who lets Nutella expire??) and some Ferrero Rochers that I really didn’t want calling out to me anymore. I’ve ignored their siren song for this long and it was best that they be on their way.

To “stuff” the brownie with Nutella, simply layer half the brownie batter in an even layer on the bottom of the pan and dollop Nutella generously over it. And I mean generous. Don’t be dainty; now isn’t the time. No need to try to connect the dollops but don’t let them be too far apart either. Then cover all the dollop-y Nutella goodness with the rest of the brownie batter and bake. The tricky thing will be the toothpick test may not be that useful if you hit a pocket of Nutella when you insert the toothpick. If you did it right, there’s a high probability you’ll hit the Nutella too. What I try to do is insert the toothpick at an angle so I should get some of the toothpick through the brownie itself and not just the Nutella. Timing it doesn’t hurt either but you know I never remember to do that. A few minutes before the end of the baking time, drop the chopped Ferrero Rochers on top so they can melt slightly into the brownie. You don’t want them to melt completely but they should melt just enough to adhere a bit to the top of the brownie. Cool completely, cut into small pieces, go workout then come back and have a piece of rich chocolaty, fudgy goodness.
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Nutella
12 Ferrero Rochers, chopped into quarters
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a 9 x 13" baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Melt butter and sugars in medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking until melted and smooth. Add chopped chocolates and whisk until melted and combined.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking in each one until incorporated.
  5. Add salt and vanilla, stir to combine. Add flour and stir until just incorporated. Beat with wooden spoon until mixture is glossy. Do not overmix.
  6. Pour half of the batter into prepared pan. Dollop Nutella over batter. Cover with remaining batter.
  7. Bake 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted near center comes out with moist crumbs, not raw batter. Sprinkle top with chopped Ferrero Rocher, return to oven for 2 minutes (turn oven off) then remove to cool on wire rack.
  8. Let cool completely then cut into squares.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dark Chocolate Cookies

Dark Chocolate Cookies - made dough February 6, 2016 from Milk & Cookies by Tina Casaceli
I've been back to baking once a week for work, bringing in treats every Monday morning. It's always Monday since I only have time to bake on the weekends. It's much easier then, especially with cookies since I can make the cookie dough at my leisure (typically Saturdays after my workout), freeze it and bake off the dough on Sunday night.

This was a nicely chocolaty cookie, especially when you use the good cocoa like Pernigotti. The dough is easy to work with and portion off into dough balls. I like to press chocolate chips on the outside of each dough ball to make sure you get some extra chocolate goodness in each cookie.

As always, don't overbake the cookies. Time them since it's hard to tell by appearance alone with chocolate cookies whether they're done or not. I can usually get a good sense of done-ness by evaluating the middle of the cookies. As long as the middles are still raw-looking and shiny, the cookies aren't done. But you don't want them completely puffed up and cracked either or that means they're overbaked. Let cool completely for the complete fudgy goodness (as opposed to warm chocolate mushiness).

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (3/4 ounce) Dutch process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (5 ounces) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (5 ounces) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl; set aside.
  2. Cream the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beating for about 3 minutes or until light and creamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar then the brown sugar, baking until very light and creamy.
  3. Combine the eggs with the vanilla. Add the egg mixture in two parts and beat to incorporate, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. 
  4. Gradually add the reserved dry ingredients, beating just until streaky. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the paddle clean. Add the chocolate chips and incorporate with a wooden spoon; do not overmix.
  5. Portion into golf-ball-size dough balls and chill or freeze, covered, for several hours or overnight. 
  6. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls 2 inches apart.
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until middles no longer look raw or shiny. Remove from oven, let cool for 2 minutes then, using a metal spatula, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin(et) Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin(et) Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough February 13, 2016, adapted from Being Spiffy
My nieces hosted us at their new apartment for a Valentine's Day lunch last month and, of course, I had to ask, "what do you want me to bring for dessert?" I thought they might ask for some decadent brownie or lava cake or apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
To my surprise, they both wanted oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. And to my dismay, they asked for the cookies to be made with raisins. Raisins. OMG, who are these people and did they learn nothing from me? I despise raisins. The only thing I dislike more than raisins are raisins in cookies. They're mushy and too sweet. They're grapes gone wrinkly. I mean, they're raisins.
But try as I might, it's hard to get rid of 22 years of unconditional love. The raisins tested those boundaries, let me tell you. But in the end, I conceded. Sort of.
I honestly had every intention of adding raisins (shudder) to the batter. Really. Except when I went to Target to pick up the aforementioned wrinkled grapes, I couldn't find any. They weren't in the baking aisle and I had no concept of where else they could possibly be. And, conveniently, there was no Target employee milling around who I could ask. Really. But in the candy aisle, I did find a package of Raisinets. Needless to say, I've never bought Raisinets (why would I?). But they were chocolate-covered raisins and that seemed close enough.
So I tried out this recipe, added chopped up Hershey kisses (you can use any chocolate chips or chocolate chunks), divided the dough in half and added the Raisinets to one half. I kept the other half pure and raisin(et)-free. It was genius. I loved these cookies with just the chocolate chunks. They were crisp at the edges and satisfyingly moist and chewy in the middle. I can't tell you what the Raisinet half tasted like but my nieces and one of their boyfriends affirmed my "genius" assessment and said they were delicious. Whew. My love for them remains intact. But let's not get that close to testing those boundaries again.

1 cup butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 3.4-ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups flour
3 cups oatmeal
1 cup chocolate chips (mini, regular or chunks)
1 cup Raisinets
  1. On the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugars. Add vanilla pudding mix and beat until combined.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated.
  3. Add in dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Add oatmeal, chocolate chips and Raisinets, mixing with a wooden spoon.
  4. Portion into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Evenly space frozen dough balls on baking sheets and bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden and middles are no longer shiny or raw-looking. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.