Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Good, Better, Best Cookies

Good, Better, Best Cookies - made May 29, 2017 from Dorie's Cookies by Dorie Greenspan
This was the name of the cookies in Dorie Greenspan’s cookie book but it doesn’t really tell you what this cookie is. In the original recipe, the “good” was represented by making just the cookies, “better” was to make the filling and serve these as sandwich cookies and “best” was to dip half the sandwich cookies in chocolate.
As you can see, I didn’t bother with the part about dipping into chocolate but I did get to the “better” stage (sort of) by making as sandwich cookies. Although I cheated and used straight cookie butter instead of making the filling in the recipe. C’mon, if you’re going to make a cookie butter sandwich cookie, I firmly believe the sandwich filling should be cookie butter in its unadulterated glory.
The cookies themselves were based on ground almonds. I didn’t have whole or slivered almonds to grind but I did have some almond meal I had bought for another recipe (which I haven’t made yet) so I figured it would do. In hindsight, it might’ve been better if I had ground up almonds as I was a little unsure of how much almond meal to use and it seemed my almond meal was finer than any almonds I would’ve ground in my food processor. But I made do and this seemed to turn out okay.
The dough was good to work with, which was just as well since this calls for rolling out to an even thickness so you can use a round cookie shaper to cut out uniformly-sized and shaped cookies. I did chill it briefly to make the dough easier to work with but I don’t think I rolled it out thinly enough as they still made for slightly thick cookies. I wasn’t sure whether these were supposed to be crisp like a shortbread or chewy. I suspect if I had rolled them more thinly and baked them longer, they might’ve gone into crisp territory but mine were a little thick and I never bake them “longer” so they were more chewy.
In general, I thought these were good, especially sandwiched with cookie butter. But I think I would’ve liked them better if I had ground the almonds myself instead of using almond meal. The almond meal was too uniformly fine whereas ground almonds would’ve had bits of almonds in the dough and that would’ve provided a nice texture contrast to the smooth cookie butter filling. Taste-wise, the cookies themselves didn’t seem to have much flavor and I’m not sure whether to blame the almond meal or not. Again, it would’ve been better to make the recipe as is and ground toasted almonds for both better texture and flavor.
My final caveat is my usual reminder about my picky taste buds which influence my assessment of a recipe. While I thought these were "okay", I did get at least one rave review of them at work so someone thought they were more than okay.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sliced or slivered almonds, lightly toasted (or 4 ounces almond meal)
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
1 tablespoon cold water
1 cold large egg yolk

1/2 cup Biscoff spread
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon milk or more as needed
  1. Cookies: Put the flour, almonds, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a food processor and pulse until the almonds are ground. Scatter the pieces of cold butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is worked in and the mixture looks like moist crumbs.
  2. Lightly beat the cold water into the egg yolk and, pulsing the machine, add the yolk in 3 additions. Using long pulses, process until the dough forms clumps and curds.
  3. Turn the dough onto the counter, divide in half, gather each piece into a ball and shape into a disk.
  4. Working with one piece of the dough at a time, roll the dough between pieces of parchment paper to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Slide the parchment-sandwiched dough onto a baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour or refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Cut 2-inch circles into the chilled dough and evenly space on baking sheets. Bake the cookies for 11-13 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom and top. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
  7. Filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the Biscoff, butter and salt until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the confectioners' sugar. Add milk and continue beating until smooth and desired consistency is reached. 
  8. Turn half of the cookies bottom-side up and spread with filling. Sandwich with the other half of the cookies, bottom-side in and top side up. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough May 21, 2017 from The New York Times
I wouldn’t call this a Levain Bakery copycat recipe and it isn’t meant to be one. Instead, it’s a jumbo chocolate chip cookie with sea salt sprinkled on top. I’ve come across several variations of the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies. I don’t think they’re an urban legend like the Neiman Marcus cookie but there are several versions because the New York Times printed several versions over the years.
I know I’ve tried an earlier version and didn’t think there was anything special about them so I wondered what all the fuss was about. That earlier one was fine but it just seemed like a typical chocolate chip cookie. Remember, I have jaded taste buds though.
This version was pretty good. It did make for a nice big cookie with crisp edges and it caramelized nicely for a chewy texture in the middle. It’s not a cakey-cookie in terms of texture but was a chewy cookie-cookie texture. The sprinkles of sea salt, which the original authors insisted was a must to send this over the edge, was fine but I liked the cookie just as well without it. I’m not big on the salty-sweet with chocolate chip cookies as I prefer the flavor profile to be more focused on the chocolate and the brown sugar caramelization.

Any time you make big chocolate chip cookies, I advocate using either the mini chips to get more chocolate in every bite or use big chocolate chips or chunks as befitting a behemoth cookie. You can use the regular Tollhouse-sized chocolate chips if you had to but it isn’t as impressive. Go big or go mini but don’t go regular. It's hard to tell from the pictures but I actually did use Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips that are slightly bigger than Tollhouse. But the cookies were so big in size that they made the chips look smaller than they are. Guittard milk chocolate chips might've been a more size-fitting choice.
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8.5 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8.5 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 lbs bittersweet or milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
sea salt
  1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl; set aside.
  2. Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.
  3. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds.
  4. Fold in chopped bittersweet chocolate. Press plastic wrap against dough and chill for 1 hour. Portion into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 72 hours but at least for 24 hours.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough balls onto sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes then transfer cookies onto another rack to cool.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Slow Cooker Korean Beef

Slow Cooker Korean Beef - made May 20, 2017 from The Recipe Critic
I’m still making simple meals in my two-quart slow cooker and this was another easy one. You cut the flank steak into strips, toss it with cornstarch in a Ziploc bag, mix the sauce ingredients together in the slow cooker, add the meat, turn cooker to the high setting and leave it alone for a few hours until meat is tender.
Usually when I make anything in my crock pot, I end up with something soupy and/or watery. I was pleasantly surprised with this one that the sauce was actually thick rather than watery. I suspect tossing the meat with cornstarch and having that be part of the cooking process from the beginning was the main reason this sauce didn’t get watery.
I was also surprised that the flank steak got tender fairly quickly. I’m not familiar with the different cuts of meat and had thought it would take longer to tenderize, like stew meat. But I think I overcooked this in the sense that the beef was really, really tender. As in fork-tender and could cut with a fork. Not a bad thing but next time I probably wouldn’t bother to cut the strips very thin or small. I didn’t have any green onions to chop up and garnish this with or the dish would have looked prettier but overall, this is a tasty, easy meal.
1 1/2 pounds flank steak
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup beef broth
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
sesame seeds and chopped green onion, for garnish
  1. Cut flank steak into thin strips. In a ziploc bag, add flank steak pieces and cornstarch. Shake to coat.
  2. Add the sesame oil, minced garlic, soy sauce, beef broth, brown sugar, onion and red pepper flakes to the slow cooker. Stir. Add coated flank steak and stir again until coated in the sauce.
  3. Cook on high for 2-3 hours or on low for 4-5 hours until steak is cooked throughout and tender. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lemon Swig Sugar Cookies

Lemon Swig Sugar Cookies - made dough May 13, 2017 from The Recipe Critic
I don’t know if Swig Sugar Cookies are more popular or well known in other parts of the country but they’re not that common where I live. I only heard about them through the internet and since I don’t buy store bought cookies (Oreos and Biscoff cookies being the rare exceptions), if they’re sold in the supermarkets in my area, I’ve missed them completely.
So it’s just as well that I’m a cookie snob and prefer to make my own anyway. If you’ve never had a “swig sugar cookie”, they’re best described as a cross between a cakey shortbread and a sugar cookie.  Every recipe I’ve seen makes them large and they’re frosted with some kind of vanilla frosting (not a glaze or a thin icing but an honest to goodness frosting) which can easily be tinted different colors, depending on your preference, mood or occasion. Or you can leave untinted and flavor it instead.
Which is what this version does in making a lemon cream cheese frosting for the cookies. The dough itself is easy to make and great to work with, having a smooth consistency, not dry or crumbly or oily or sticky. Make the dough balls into the size of a golf ball – or thereabouts – then press gently with the bottom of a glass. Not too hard as you don’t want them to be thin and they will spread a little, though not much.

I erred on the side of caution and only pressed so that the top dome of the dough ball was flat and I was left with a thick, chubby disk. Which I then froze overnight. When it came time to bake them, they spread slightly and when I took them out, I dipped the bottom of the glass in granulated sugar and pressed more firmly. You want to get those iconic “edges” to the cookie that comes with all that bottom-of-glass pressing. Plus a very slight indent or well to better hold the frosting. You only want to frost the center of the cookie and leave a ring of outer edge unfrosted and exposed. That makes for easier handling. Plus it’s prettier.

I really enjoyed these cookies. And when I say “enjoyed” and “cookies”, I meant I ate three. Three big cookies. Spaced out over 24 hours but still…. That’s two cookies above my usual taste test ration. So you know I can sincerely tell you these were great cookies. If you’re a vanilla fan or one of those people who “don’t do chocolate” or have nut allergies or simply have a pulse, these are delicious cookies to try out.

If you’re making these for a crowd and don’t want to have such big servings, rather than making them smaller, which I think detracts from the bold-as-brass, look-at-me impression you want them to make, go ahead and make them jumbo or large-sized but cut them in half after you frost them. Then serve with the halves lined up to still look like whole cookies. People can take then take a half as their serving. But after they take a bite, I bet you they come back for the other half.

1 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1/4 cup reserved
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 cups flour

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups confectioners' sugar (or less if you prefer less sweet and more tangy frosting)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt; set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, vegetable oil, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, confectioners' sugar and water. Add in lemon juice and lemon zest and mix briefly to combine. Add eggs and beat until just combined.
  4. Slowly add in flour mixture until just combined. Do not overmix. Roll the dough into golf-ball sized balls and place onto prepared baking sheets.
  5. Dip the bottom of a glass into the reserved 1/4 cup sugar and press onto each dough ball to slightly flatten the cookie.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly brown. Do not overbake. Remove to wire cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.
  7. To make the frosting: beat cream cheese and butter until creamy and well combined. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add confectioners' sugar, one cup at a time, until desired flavor and consistency. Beat until smooth and frost each cookie with frosting.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet

Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet - made May 7, 2017, modified from Primavera Kitchen
It’s been awhile since I made this and I didn’t do the write up immediately after so my memory is a little fuzzy on this dish. I think it was fine as far as cooking my own savory food goes and I liked all the base components of ground turkey, sweet potatoes and (Penzey’s) spices. It was also one of those simple, one-dish meals I like to make so I can’t quibble with that.

From the pictures, it looks a little dry but it isn’t a dish that’s meant to be soupy.  I added a little pizza sauce but mostly because I had a jar from an earlier pizza-in-my-cast-iron-skillet meal and I wanted to use it up. 
Overall, a simple healthy meal. 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound extra-lean ground turkey
1 teaspoon garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup yellow pepper (I left it out)
1 1/2 cups sweet potato, diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of red chili flakes
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup pizza sauce, optional
Parsley for garnish, if desired

  1. In an iron cast skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add ground turkey and garlic, stirring to break up the turkey as it cooks. Stir occasionally until turkey is cooked.
  3. Add onions and yellow pepper; cook until onion is golden brown, Add the sweet potatoes, chili pepper, salt and pepper. Add the pizza sauce if using.
  4. Cover the skillet and cook until sweet potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.
  5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. When sweet potatoes are tender, add shredded mozzarella cheese and place skillet in oven to melt the cheese. Once cheese is melted, remove skillet from oven. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cookie Butter Thumbprints

Cookie Butter Thumbprints - made dough April 30, 2017, adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies
I loved these cookies. Straight up, no lie. They have a shortbread "shell" and they're filled with cookie butter. I don't think I need to say much more, do you?

But I'm a "talker" (or blogger) when it comes to desserts so I'll expound a bit more. First, the dough was easy to make and easy to handle, always a plus when making cookies. I used my smallest cookie scoop to make small cookie dough balls. It's not like the cookies spread much but you don't want big thumbprint cookies. They're more cute when they're dainty, not behemoth.
Use the rounded side of a 1/2 teaspoon to press the indent in the center of the warm cookie, halfway through baking and right when you take them out of the oven. You want a nice size well in the middle of the cookie, not so shallow that you don't have room for a dollop of cookie butter but not so deep that you press a hole into the cookie.
Warm the cookie butter for about 10-15 seconds in the microwave, just warm enough to spoon smoothly into the center well of the cookie where it can smooth out for maximum prettiness. I like the pairing of a vanilla shortbread cookie with the cookie butter filling and this makes for a cute tea cookie.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter, confectioners' sugar, salt and vanilla on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  3. Beat in the flour, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium until just combined.
  4. Form balls using 2 teaspoons of dough for each. Place balls 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake 10 minutes, remove from oven and press thumb into cookies (a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon also works) to make deep, wide indentations. Rotate pan and return to oven beat until light brown at the edges, 7 to 9 minutes more. If the indentations begin to lose definition, remove cookies from oven and press again. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Warm cookie butter slightly so that it's easy to pour. Fill indentations with lukewarm cookie butter and let cool completely.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Snickerdoodle Skillet Biscuits

Snickerdoodle Skillet Biscuits - made May 6, 2017 from Coupon Clipping Cook
This recipe for snickerdoodle skillet biscuits seemed right up my alley. It uses my cast iron skillet, my Penzey’s Vietnamese cinnamon and it’s a bread product. No fail, right? Well, sort of.

Don’t get me wrong; the concept is amazing. I like biscuits, I like cinnamon sugar, I like bread products baked in my cast iron skillet. This was good but I don’t know if I would call it great. And for that, we can blame my inability to make light and fluffy biscuits probably more than the recipe. I’m always (overly) mindful of not overhandling biscuit dough or else you risk developing the gluten, warming up the butter and not getting light-as-air biscuits.
Which means I try to handle the dough as little as possible. Which turned out to be the default for this dough because it was way too sticky and wet for me to get a decent handle on it. The flouring and rolling out part of the directions took a nose dive as I would’ve had to add another cup of flour just to get this to not stick to every surface including my hands. I did the best I could but the dough stuck to everything and I ended up shaping the dough rather than cutting it out.
I don’t know if it was that amount of handling or just that I’m cursed by the baking gods but these biscuits came out just okay. The outer part was good because it developed into a nice sweet crunch from the cinnamon sugar coating and baking in the skillet. But I wouldn’t say the insides were fluffy-soft like a good biscuit. It was simply bready. And these were only good warm. After they had cooled, the cinnamon sugar coating became moist and the outsides lost their crunch. So this is another recipe where it’s best made when you’re going to serve it soon after it’s out of the oven.

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Grease 8" cast iron skillet with 1 teaspoon butter and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, add the flour, baking powder, salt, milk, sugar, cream of tartar, egg and cubed butter. With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. 
  3. Add beaten egg and milk, mixing the ingredients with a fork until dough forms.
  4. Sprinkle a light coating of flour on a large cutting board and add the dough. Knead the dough a few times until texture becomes sturdy enough to roll. Add a light coating of flour to a rolling pin and roll out the dough to 1 1/4" thick. Using a 3"-wide biscuit or cookie cutter, cut the dough into 4 large biscuits.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Coat all sides of a biscuit with the cinnamon sugar mixture and lay it in the skillet. Repeat for the with remaining 3 biscuits so that each biscuit is leaning against one another.
  6. Bake until the biscuits turn a light golden color, about 16 minutes. Remove from oven and serve while hot, topped with butter.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Bakery Review: Cutesy Cupcakes

Cutesy Cupcakes - visited May 20, 2017
It’s been awhile since I had a new cupcake bakery to review. Actually, it feels like it’s been awhile since I’ve tried or sought out any new bakeries. I’m still having (more than) my share of sweets but I’ve been rolling my own, so to speak.

But a friend of mine told me about Cutesy Cupcakes. Actually, I think our conversation went something like:
Her: Have you tried that new cupcake place?


I think I went there within days of finding out about it. According to their website, Cutesy Cupcakes was a contender on Cupcake Wars a few years ago but they didn’t win. I don’t know which episode they were on but I watch the reruns regularly so I will have to keep an eye out for them.

Their location provides both cupcakes and ice cream as well as various drinks and their prices for cupcakes are on a sliding scale. The more you buy, the cheaper the individual cupcakes are. I limited myself to two. At least for this initial visit. Since my Boston sojourn last year, I’ve been sampling vanilla cupcakes more than chocolate whenever I try a new bakery. I’ve discovered that vanilla cupcakes are so simple that it’s a mark of a good bakery to have an excellent vanilla cupcake. There’s no disguise you can make that wouldn’t be apparent in a bad vanilla cupcake. But a good one will stand on the simplicity of its ingredients.

The shop itself was cute. It’s not meant for a big crowd as there weren’t many tables or places to sit but if you wanted to swing by for a cupcake or ice cream with a friend or two, it’s a good option. The ladies behind the counter were very friendly and quite nice, happy to provide service with a smile and a cupcake.
My other flavor choice was a salted caramel chocolate cupcake with caramel buttercream, a drizzle of salted caramel, sea salt sprinkles and a chewy caramel on top. Is that a cupcake that spells my name in glitter or what?

Each cupcake was in its own specialized cupcake to-go container which I thought was clever and pretty packaging. It not only allowed you to transport them safely but the clear plastic clam shell case showcased the cupcakes in individual glory. It was definitely a step above those cardboard cutouts meant to anchor cupcakes in place but then covered them in a box.

The cupcakes themselves were also pretty good. I don’t know if I would necessarily be able to distinguish them from another typical cupcake bakery. That status is reserved for Crumbs Bake Shop, Sprinkles and Sibby’s. Cutesy Cupcakes had more frosting than I care for (I scraped off half of it) but they’re better than I could make. I don’t have a light hand with cupcakes and tend to underbake them so I can’t achieve the soft fluffiness of a Crumbs cupcake, for instance. But Cutesy’s vanilla cupcake was good and attested to pure quality ingredients that could make a vanilla cupcake stands on its own. The salted caramel was good as well even if I scraped off more of the frosting and just went with the cake and caramel candy on top.

Next time I go back, I want to try the red velvet. They were out when I visited and had only put out a new tray just as I was leaving. I can’t eat three cupcakes so I’ll save that for next time.