Monday, February 26, 2018

Millionaire's Shortbread

Millionaire's Shortbread - made February 19, 2018, shortbread layer only from Sugar Spun Run
 I received multiple requests for this recipe and that’s always a good sign. I didn’t quite make it up “from scratch”. More like I had a vision of what I wanted this to be and cobbled a couple of different recipes to make my vision an edible reality.

I’ve made Millionaire Shortbread Bars before; they’re essentially a shortbread layer with a caramel layer in the middle topped with a ganache layer. They’re supposed to be “rich”, hence the play on the name. I’m not a big fan of ganache though since it’s often too rich for me, being chocolate and heavy cream, and frankly, ganache isn’t sweet enough. Plus I used dulce de leche last time instead of caramel and wasn't wild about it. Not to mention the rice krispies I used in the top layer back then couldn't hold a candle to feuilletine.
My vision for these bars was to have the shortbread, salted caramel and the Nutella-chocolate-feuilletine layer I’d made for the Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars be on top instead of the bottom this time. I plucked the shortbread layer from this recipe then cheated by skipping making the homemade caramel and instead used a jar of salted caramel from Trader Joes. The feuilletine topping was super easy to make and I did say I’m now obsessed with feuilletine so I had to use it. Plus I’ve written it so much that I can now spell it correctly without having to look it up each time.

Given the multiple requests I’ve had for the recipe, I’d say this was well-received by my coworkers. You can substitute your favorite shortbread recipe if you wish but I don’t advise going for super-buttery shortbread as the bars are already pretty rich with the caramel and the feuilletine topping. I love the shortbread base, the sweetness from the caramel and the crisp-crunch from the feuilletine.  My feuilletine obsession continues.

Shortbread Crust
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 10-ounce jar salted caramel sauce (I got mine from Trader Joe's)

Chocolate Topping
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
10 ounces (about 1 cup) Nutella
5 ounces (about 2 cups) paillete feuilletine

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add egg yolk and vanilla extract; beat until combined, scraping down sides of bowl to keep even textured.
  4. Add salt and flour in 3 additions, mixing until just combined. Do not overmix. Press dough evenly into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until edges are light golden brown. Cool slightly.
  5. Heat caramel until of pourable consistency. Spread evenly over shortbread crust. Let cool completely.
  6. Chocolate topping: in the top half of a double boiler set over hot water, combine chocolate and nutella. Whisk until smooth and completely melted. Stir in feuilletine. Spread topping over bars, covering caramel completely. Smooth into even layer. Let set before cutting.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Cookie Butter Bread Pudding

Cookie Butter Bread Pudding - made February 17, 2018 modified from Wine and Glue
Ah, cookie butter, how do I love thee? Let me count the pounds. I also love bread pudding so it’s almost surprising I haven’t married the two together before. I pinned this recipe long ago but only just got around to making it now. Shame. Because it was delicious.

Just a couple of cautionary notes: I changed the directions slightly to temper in the melted cookie butter before you add the milk. That will help ensure the cookie butter is well blended with the eggs before you add more liquid. It’s harder to fully incorporate the cookie butter after you add the milk because it’s not as liquid-y as the milk so they don’t emulsify well together. You also want the eggs and milk to be at room temperature because if they’re cold from the refrigerator, it cools down the warmed-up cookie butter too fast and you end up with bits of cookie butter, no matter how much you whisk the mixture. 

Ultimately, it wasn’t a big deal and the cookie butter does melt into the bread pudding during baking. I also recommend soaking this overnight so the liquid will have time to be fully absorbed into the bread for that perfect bread pudding texture. This doesn’t have a strong cookie butter flavor in the bread pudding itself so you can both increase the amount of cookie butter in the custard as well as – highly recommend – melt some cookie butter and drizzle it over the top of the bread pudding once it comes out of the oven.

If you’ve never had bread pudding while it’s still lukewarm, this is a good one to start out with. The top is crisp, the bread pudding has firmed up enough not to be overly mushy and the warm cookie butter drizzled on top just sets it off. Loosen that belt and have a slice.
5 eggs, room temperature
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup cookie butter, warmed in microwave for 30 seconds
1/4 cup sugar
5 cups cut up challah (I used a loaf from Trader Joe's)
  1. Whisk together eggs, sugar and cookie butter until well combined. Add heavy cream, milk and vanilla, whisking until mixture is uniform.
  2. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray. Layer in bread and custard mixture, covering bread pieces completely with the liquid. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes or until completely cooked through.
  4. Optional but recommended: Heat another 1/2 cup of cookie butter and drizzle over top of bread pudding. Serve warm to lukewarm.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars

Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Bars - made February 10, 2018 from The Kitchn
Have you ever heard of feuilletine? Props if you have, even more if you know how to spell it correctly without googling it. Feuilletine is made of crushed crepes Dentelle. What are crepes Dentelle, you might ask? Think of them as really thin, crispy crepes crossed with really thin crispy sugar cones. In other words, delicious. Feuilletine look like broken bits of cornflakes but please try the real thing because they’re not cornflakes and so you’ll understand why I’m disproportionately thrilled that I finally found the name of these things that made up with crispy praline wafer layer in the Hazelnut Bliss cake from La Patisserie. I don’t think they’re the same as what was in my friend’s wedding cake long ago but they deliver an amazing crispy texture. Like a Ferrero Rocher but better. 

Once I discovered the name of this ingredient that just makes a dessert, I had to look around for recipes that use it. Surprisingly, Pinterest didn’t yield the usual treasure trove of options I’d come to expect. On the contrary, use of feuilletine was not only somewhat limited but also seemed mostly from outside-the-US blogs and websites. Has it not caught on that widely in the United States? Must I now make it my mission to make sure everyone knows what they’re missing? Fine. Let’s start with this recipe.
The bottom layer couldn’t be simpler. Melted chocolate, warm Nutella and feuilletine. What you will find amazing (or was that just me?) is that, similar to how I mix in rice krispies for my Nutella crunch topping, the feuilletine doesn’t get soggy but remains crisp. No lie. Then the ganache is also easy to make: chop the chocolate, heat the cream, pour over, whisk until melted, add the butter to also melt. Although I have to confess, I screwed up slightly somewhere. I think my ganache mixture might’ve been a little too hot when I added the butter because no matter how much I whisked the mixture, the butter separated out slightly. Which is a sign the mixture is too hot and the butter didn’t emulsify properly with the chocolate and cream. 
My sins were apparent when I chilled the bars to set and the slightly separated butter formed its own little pockets of solid butter sitting on top of the ganache. Eek. It isn’t the end of the world though. I scraped off the most obvious bits and tried to smooth out the top so my ganache sins weren’t readily apparent. Even with my doctoring, this still tasted really good. As in, my coworkers said “OMG, these are really good” and “get these away from me or else I’ll eat them all” good. 
If you can’t find feuilletine in your local store (I’ve never seen them, even in uppity high end food specialty shops), try amazon. I bought a small-ish container to try it out but I may need to re-order in larger quantities. My feuilletine obsession has begun.
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
10 ounces (about 1 cup) Nutella
5 ounces (about 2 cups) paillete feuilletine

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces (1 cup) heavy cream
2 ounces (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature
  1. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper, allowing the parchment to hang over the long sides of the pan to act as handles.
  2. In a large bowl, combine melted chocolate and Nutella and stir until smooth. Fold in the feuilletine until combined. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Use a sheet of wax paper to press the mixture into a smooth, even layer. Chill in refrigerator while making the filling.
  3. Filling: Place the chocolate chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat; pour hot cream over the chocolate. Let mixture sit for 2 minutes to melt chocolate. Add the butter pieces and whisk until ganache is very smooth.
  4. Pour the ganache over the crust and smooth with an offset spatula. Transfer to the refrigerator until set and firm, about 1-2 hours. Slice into bars and garnish with whole toasted hazelnuts if desired. Serve chilled.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bourbon Snickerdoodle Blondies

Bourbon Snickerdoodle Blondies - made January 28, 2018 and again on February 4, 2018, modified from Broma Bakery
I have a coworker who likes to drink and is a connoisseur of fine liquor. This is foreign territory for me since I don’t drink alcohol and have never cared for the taste. Plus we all know I like to eat my calories, not drink them, the occasional virgin strawberry daquiri notwithstanding. She also loves snickerdoodles so when I saw this recipe for bourbon snickerdoodle blondies, it seemed like the perfect ultimate dessert to make for her. She even supplied me with the bourbon. Which was good since I really didn’t want to buy a bottle just for 3 tablespoons to use in the recipe.
I myself like a good snickerdoodle blondie so I was hoping the alcohol would burn off and provide a decent undertone. My first inkling of trouble came when I practically passed out from the fumes of the bourbon when I added it to the batter. Uh oh. Okay, I’m either very sensitive to alcohol or a lot of burning off would need to happen before I eat this. I baked it for the recommended 30 minutes and the toothpick test showed a clean toothpick but I suspected it was still not done so I left it in for another 5 minutes. Only visions of dry snickerdoodle compelled me to take it out after 35 minutes as you know I’m paranoid about overbaking.
Turns out I needn’t have worried. Also turns out overbaked blondies were the least of my worries. First, the bourbon taste didn’t burn off and I could barely stomach the crumb of the taste test I had of this. Eek. I really don’t like alcohol. Second, the blondies were far from overdone and in fact, were quite underdone. Even the corners and the edges seemed barely baked. Plus there was a tinny taste to the blondies that I couldn’t fully attribute to the bourbon so it might’ve been the cream of tartar. I took some of the pieces to my coworker for her to try and I don’t think she liked them either, despite her love of whiskey.  I hate to say it but I think this is the worst thing I’ve ever made.
2nd attempt, sans bourbon

However, I blamed it on the bourbon and the underbaking so I tried making it again. I hate giving up on a recipe, especially one that seemed so promising. For the second attempt, I omitted the bourbon altogether and instead substituted 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of whole milk. I also decreased the cream of tartar by ½ teaspoon. To take care of the underbaking, I baked this for 45 minutes, a full 10 minutes more than the maximum time called for in the original recipe. The results were better, although still not as good as I would’ve liked. This time the taste was much better (to me) without the bourbon but the blondies still seemed too underbaked. Not as bad as my first attempt but if I make these again, I would likely make them for even longer.
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 tablespoons bourbon whiskey (can substitute 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons whole milk)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar (cut to 1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 9 baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the melted butter and sugar on high speed for 30 seconds. Add in the eggs and bourbon; mix for another 30 seconds.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cream of tartar and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined. Spread evenly into prepared baking pan.
  4. Mix together sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over top of bars. Bake for 30-35 minutes (in my oven, took at least 45 minutes) until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out mostly clean. Cool completely before cutting.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

"My Best" Chili

"My Best" Chili - made January 14, 2018 from Bakerita

I have really bland taste buds so I normally don't go for spicy food. I'm one of those people whose mouth goes on fire, my eyes water, my sinuses clear up, my tongue burns and I turn red if the food is too spicy. Okay, I'm exaggerating slightly. Very slightly. But I'm still not into spicy food.

So whenever I make chili, I use the normal chili powder (read: mild) from Penzey's. I made this chili and while the ingredient list might look a little long, it's actually pretty quick to put together. Mix up all the spices in a small bowl first then just dump it all in when it's time.
This turned out as chili should and was easy to make. But I have to admit, I'm used to chili being a little spicy which this was not. Next time I might branch out and go for a little more heat from the chili powder.

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 pound bulk Italian sausage, mild, casings removed
1/2 pound bacon
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, drained
1 15-ounce pinto beans, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups beef stock
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
  1. Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Crumble the ground chuck and sausage into the hot pan and cook until evenly browned. Drain off excess grease.
  2. In a different pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Crumble and add to stock pot. Cook the chopped onion and pepper in the bacon drippings for about 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add to the stock pot.
  3. To the stock pot, add in the drained beans, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and beef stock. Season with chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, oregano, cumin, basil, salt, pepper and paprika. Stir to blend, then cover and simmer over low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add 2 hours, taste and adjust salt, pepper and chili powder if powder if necessary. The longer the chili simmers, the better it will taste.
  5. Remove from heat and serve, or refrigerate and serve the next day.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Bakery Review: La Patisserie

La Patisserie - visited January 14, 2018
I've been giving myself a break from baking since the holidays. It's my once-a-year hiatus. Leading up to Christmas, I use up all the baking ingredients I'd been stockpiling and see the bottom of my pantry shelves. So January's larder is rather sparse since I don't replenish my supplies.
It's also a chance for me to eat a little healthier since I'm not taste testing new recipes on a weekly basis. But, it doesn't quite mean I give up sugar entirely. Similar to my perusal of Manresa Bread, I also decided to check out La Patisserie, again before church so I can pick up some baked goods to share later with my parents.

La Patisserie is the kind of bakery that has a lot of fancy-looking desserts in its display cases rather than racks of freshly baked loaves of bread. Which should probably be obvious from its name.

I like the feast for my eyes as I kept snapping pictures on my phone. Not sure how it all tasted though because to keep that kind of well-stocked look, you never know how long the goods have been in the display cases. I like to think they're fairly fresh but I've had bad experiences before where a scrumptious-looking cake turned out to be dry because it's been in the refrigerated cases for too long.

Fortunately, I didn't have that experience here, at least not with what I tried. I decided to try the bear claw, similar to my earlier quest for my coworker to find good bear claws.

I wanted to try a little of the round loaves of pastries, especially some delicious-looking strudel and danishes but alas, the lady behind the counter said they only sold them whole and not by the slice. Bummer.

Instead, in addition to the bear claw, I bought the Hazelnut Bliss. Based on the description, I wondered if the "chocolate praline wafer" would be that light, crunchy, airy texture I'd once had in my friend's wedding cake, which, many years and dozens of wedding cakes consumed at my friends' weddings later, I still remember to this day.

I had the bear claw as that day's breakfast. Sad to say, I was disappointed. I suspect, given the random few pastries in that basket, it was a day-old bear claw. It was dry, not flaky or buttery and not very tasty. The filling was sparse as well. I wouldn't get it again.

Fortunately, the Hazelnut Bliss more than made up for it. It was delicious. Not dry at all and the praline wafer layer was exactly the texture of my friend's well-remembered wedding cake. It was also similar to the layer in the plaisir sucre I enjoyed so much from Laduree. That was worth the trip.

With its praline wafer layer, chocolate cake, white cake and mousse layers, this cake was beautifully made and artfully presented. The whole thing was covered in hazelnut ganache but it was more like a firm fondant. It also wasn't too sweet, which meant, of course, that my parents liked it as well. Although La Patisserie has a lot of offerings, it's hard for me to imagine I'd like anything else better than this cake.