Friday, July 31, 2020

Oatmeal Fudge Bars

Oatmeal Fudge Bars - made July 12, 2020 from Everything Chocolate by America's Test Kitchen
Another name for these could be Oatmeal Revel Bars. The mark of a revel bar is the same oatmeal-based dough is used for the base layer as well as clumps of it crumbled on top. The filling in between is typically chocolate.
Some recipes combine melted chocolate and sweetened condensed milk but this particular one uses butter and egg as the liquids. It also uses espresso powder which I added as coffee or espresso also seems to be popular flavors for military care packages.
This is a good bar to send in hot weather. It's sturdy and ships well. You could try substituting shortening for the butter as a further guard against the heat. I didn't with this batch since I was trying the recipe for the first time and wanted to see how it would turn out as America's Test Kitchen intended it to.

From the sliver I tried, this is another good bar cookie. The chocolate espresso filling is a perfect foil against the oatmeal layer and crumble which isn't too sweet.
Crust and Topping
1 cup (3 ounces) quick-cooking oats (I used old-fashioned)
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar
3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/4 cup (1 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 ounces) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Crust and Topping: whisk together oats, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir in melted butter until combined. Reserve 3/4 cup oat mixture for the topping. Spread the remaining oat mixture into prepared pan and pat into an even layer. Bake until light golden brown, about 8 minutes. Let crust cool completely on wire rack, about 1 hour.
  3. Filling: whisk together flour, brown sugar, espresso powder and salt in bowl.
  4. In the top half of a double boiler over hot water, melt chocolate chips and butter, stirring together until melted and combined. Cool slightly for several minutes. Whisk in egg until combined. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated.
  5. Pour filling in an even layer over cooled crust. Sprinkle evenly with reserved oat topping. Bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
  6. Let bars cool completely in pan on wire rack before cutting and serving.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars - made July 12, 2020 from Averie Cooks
I'm back with another bar cookie recipe. Everything I bake is all going into military care packages, lest you think I'm eating an awful lot. Okay, sometimes I am, but it's typically not what I'm blogging. Unless it's something incredibly amazingly good, in which case, I'll flag it for you.
This is something I only tried a sliver of since I wanted to pack up most of it. Peanut butter and chocolate seems to be a popular combination with military service members (or anyone besides me) and Averie Cooks is always a great source for good recipes.

So this was a natural choice as I could be fairly confident it would turn out and equally confident I wasn't likely to eat a lot of it. For peanut butter lovers, this is a good bar cookie. For peanut butter chocolate lovers, this is a great bar cookie.

The (thick) batter is easy to mix up and you don't want a thick batter to make a dense bar which is the perfect texture for a bar cookie. You definitely don't want to overbake it or it can easily be dry. The toothpick test is a little tricky since you need to test the peanut butter part without running into a chocolate chip.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 heaping cup peanut butter
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chocolate chips + 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Whisk together melted butter and brown sugar until combined. Add peanut butter, egg and vanilla extract, mixing until combined and smooth. 
  3. Add flour and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in 1 cup chocolate chips. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle top with remaining chocolate chips.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted near the center (avoid the chocolate chips) comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs, not raw batter. Cool completely.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Basil Pesto from Just a Taste

Basil Pesto - made July 10, 2020 from Just a Taste
I love pasta with pesto. Pesto is one of the easier things to make and could potentially be one of the healthier things I eat, considering it's mostly comprised of basil leaves which are green and grow out of the earth. What? That's as close to "leafy greens" as I typically get.
One downside of pesto when I eat out at a restaurant (back in the good ol' days, before March 2020) sometimes though is it's too oily due to an abundance of olive oil used. I like making my own pesto to control the oiliness factor. Yes, olive oil is supposed to be better for you than most oils but I still don't like my pesto too oily.
The bad thing though is if you don't use enough oil or liquid, the pesto can be dry. Hard to imagine dry pesto but if it can be done, I can find a way. I skimped on the olive oil here but substituted a little chicken broth. I don't think I used enough but this still turned out fairly well.

I tossed the pesto with some linguine and shrimp to make shrimp pesto pasta, always a favorite. My mom's version is better but I'm not going to quibble.
If you don't have a basil plant to grow your own basil (which I've done in the past and it's surprisingly easy, even with my black thumb), Trader Joe's sells a package of basil that's pretty high quality and not too expensive. That's what I used here. I love Trader Joe's and it's one of the few places I've gone to (always masked) since the pandemic and staying at home became a thing.

2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and thoroughly dried
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, toasted pine nuts, salt and pepper. Pulse the ingredients together until well blended.
  2. While the food processor is running, drizzle in the olive oil and continue blending, scraping down the sides as needed, until the pesto is pureed. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Store in refrigerator until needed.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Easy Oatmeal Cookies

Easy Oatmeal Cookies - made dough July 8, 2020 from Averie Cooks
I have a favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe already but I've tried many good recipes from Averie Cooks so I thought I'd try this one as well.
The advantages of this recipe is it's easy to mix by hand in a bowl and doesn't require chilling. So it's a good recipe for a novice or someone who doesn't bake that often. That would not be me so I didn't take advantage of the touted benefits. I mixed it in my kitchen aid and did my usual thing of portioning into dough balls and freezing before baking.

So I can't tell you how these would've turned out otherwise but they did turn out well. It's a standard oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe. It didn't topple my current favorite recipe but it was still good. And if you make it the easy way like Averie suggests, I'm sure it would still turn out well.

1 large egg
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned whole rolled oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium-size bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add egg and vanilla extract; mix briefly just to combine. 
  3. Add oats, flour, baking soda and salt, mixing until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Portion into dough balls and evenly space on baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are set and middles no longer look raw. Remove to wire rack and let cookies cool completely.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies

Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies - made July 7, 2020 from Six Sisters Stuff
One of my favorite cookies (yes, the list is long) is Almond Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies. It's one of the cookies I love so much that I rarely make it or else I would eat the whole batch. No, I'm not kidding. I love the flavor, the texture and the decadent swirls of Nutella in each chubby cookie.

Considering how much I liked them, it's a little surprising that I haven't thought to do the whole swirly Nutella thing in peanut butter cookies before. I've swirled Nutella in chocolate chip cookies and sometimes substitute Nutella swirls for the chocolate chips. But I didn't think to do it in peanut butter cookies. Until now.

Credit for the combination and the recipe go to Six Sisters' Stuff. Credit for the updated look of the "crosshatches" using the pointed end of a meat mallet rather than criss-crossed fork tines goes to my friend Annie the Baker. I've rarely used my meat mallet for meat. But it's very familiar with peanut butter cookie dough.

For the most part, this worked really well. You never want to mix the Nutella into the cookie dough since you want distinct swirls of Nutella in each cookie. Making the crosshatch indentations can be a bit tricky as only the peanut butter cookie dough, not the Nutella, will carry an impression. The Nutella will simply stick. I dip the mallet in granulated sugar before making the indentations to keep the mess to a minimum while still achieving the indentations.

I say "for the most part" because, while this was a good cookie, I think I prefer my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe instead. So I'd probably make that recipe and swirl it with Nutella. Then I would have a peanut butter version along with the almond butter version that I like so much. Regardless, swirling Nutella in any flavor cookie can only be a good thing. Try it.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Nutella
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until no butter lumps remain. Add peanut butter and cream until mixed.
  2. Add egg and vanilla extract; beat until just combined.
  3. Add flour, baking soda and salt, mixing until just combined; do not overmix.
  4. Warm up Nutella in a small bowl for 20 seconds in the microwave. Drizzle over cookie dough and swirl until marbled but not absorbed into dough. Portion into dough balls and lightly press with pointed side of a meat mallet or fork tines to make the cross hatches. Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space cookies and bake 8-10 minutes or until cookies are set and middles no longer look raw. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Bakery Style Soft Sugar Cookies

Bakery Style Soft Sugar Cookies - made dough June 28, 2020 from Gluesticks
Although I already have a favorite recipe for Sugar Cookies and an even bigger favorite for Brown Sugar Cookies, I think I had pinned this recipe from Gluesticks around the same time as the other two but had never made it before so it seemed like I should try it out.
What I like about this recipe is, as you can tell from the pictures, the cookies don't spread much. Or hardly at all. Which makes them a nice thickness.
The reason they don't spread is the recipe calls for more flour than usual, considering the amount of butter and shortening. The dough was a bit dry when I mixed it up so I did end up adding a little extra vanilla extract. It was still a little dry but I didn't want to add too much liquid or it could affect the composition (spread) of the cookie. So I formed the dough balls by hand and the heat from my hands helped the dough stick together a little better.
Because the dough is more dry and less butter (as displaced by the shortening), you definitely don't want to overbake these. Err on the side of underbaking as these can have a dry mouthfeel even if "perfectly" baked. I underbaked like I usually did and, while the cookies weren't dry exactly, they didn't have as much of the "fudgy" texture an underbaked cookie usually has (see pictures from Brown Sugar Cookies to see what I mean).
The flavor was still good though. The original recipe called for almond extract but I don't like almond extract (almonds yes, almond extract no) so I used all vanilla extract and even a little vanilla bean paste. The upside is these were sturdy cookies so I felt fine vacuum sealing them and adding them to the military care packages I was sending out. These should survive the mail just fine and not arrive as crumbs.
1 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons almond extract (I substituted vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
  1. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, shortening and sugar until fluffy and well combined. Add egg, vanilla and almond extract. Mix to combine. 
  2. Whisk together flour, cornstarch and baking powder in a separate bowl. Add in thirds to butter mixture, mixing after each addition until just combined. Do not overmix.
  3. Flour a clean work surface and roll dough into a large ball. Roll out to desired thickness and cut into desired shapes. Line up on a baking sheet, cover and chill for 30-60 minutes, optional but recommended.
  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space chilled cookies. Bake 10-12 minutes. Remove to wire rack and let cool completely. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Coconut Blondies

Coconut Blondies - made June 25, 2020 from Shutterbean
Still going through my blondie bar phase. All these bar cookies were going in care packages as fast as I could bake, cool, cut and vacuum seal them. I and the rest of the Soldiers Angels Angel Baker team were trying to get baked goods out to every service member who had signed up and had a mail stop date coming up in the very near future. The window was closing to mail out to ensure the packages would arrive in time so I put on the turbo boost of bar cookie baking.

This was one of them. I'm not fond of nuts in baked goods but, as I have to remind myself, I'm not the one eating these and not everyone has the same prejudice I do about it. This recipe made a 9 x 13 pan so I knew I could get enough bar cookies out of them to supply 2-3 care packages.
Whenever you bake with nuts, toast them first to bring out their flavor. In culinary school, our chef instructors always said if the nuts are going inside the dessert, toast first before adding. If they're going on the outside, no need to toast as they will toast during baking. As with many other things in life, I chose to ignore that instruction and I toast the nuts regardless of whether they're baked on the inside or outside. I prefer the taste and texture of toasted pecans (and almonds) in particular to feel just fine ignoring professional advice about it.
As you'd expect in a blondie, this was sweet with just the right brown sugar overtones. The coconut adds great chewiness but it really is the toasted pecans (ha) that add both an additional crunch but also cuts the sweetness of the bar cookie.
If the top is getting too brown but the blondies aren't done yet, lightly cover with foil when the top has reached the desired color, usually just past the halfway mark.
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted and cooled
2 cups sweetened, flaked coconut, divided
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Measure brown sugar into mixing bowl and pour melted butter over it. Mix to combine. Add vanilla and mix to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture in two additions, beating on low speed after each addition until just combined.
  4. Stir in pecans and 1 1/2 cups coconut. Spread batter into prepared pan, smoothing top into an even layer. Sprinkle remaining coconut on top. Bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting and serving.