Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy Gingies!


Yes, I'm still posting all of the things I made for the holidays.  I still have several more before I'm done, so just sit tight.  I promise, these are all great recipes, and next year, they will make one heck of a "things to bake for the holidays" post. 

I'm not entirely sure why, as I'm not a huge gingerbread person, but this year I really wanted to make gingerbread things.  I already shared the Espresso Gingerbread cake with you, and now it's time for something a little more traditional: gingerbread cookies.  I usually stay away from cut-out cookies, because decorating them is an exercise in frustration for me, as I am rubbish as decorating.  But this year, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it.  And I have to say, I think they came out pretty cute!  Even that little guy in the middle there, who lost his arm during the cooling process.  The two things that made a difference for me were that I kept the designs simple (they all pretty much have the same design), and I used a little squeeze bottle for the icing.  I bought a whole bunch of them in a tub at Michael's a while back, and they are pretty great for this.  So much easier to control the icing, as you don't have to mess with a piping bag or anything messy like that.  And, they have caps, so if you want to stop decorating for a while, you can just put the cap on the bottle and walk away!

Anyway....

These are soft chewy gingerbread men.  I like them that way.  They stayed soft for a really long time, which made me really happy.  I made a recipe and a half -- I was going to make a double batch, but I didn't have enough molasses.  I think it made me about 4 or 5 dozen little men.  I gave all of them (except a few rejects and broken bits) away in cookie plates for work.  I got several compliments, and one person even said they were the best gingerbread men she'd ever had! 

Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
Source: America's Test Kitchen "Family Baking Book"
Makes about 20 cookies (depending on the size of your cutter)

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup light molasses*
2 tablespoons milk

*fp note: i had full-flavor molasses and golden brown sugar in the house, so that's what i used. didn't notice anything off about the flavor in mine.
  1. Process the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt together in a food processor until combined, about 10 seconds. Add the butter and process until the mixture is very fine and sandy, about 15 seconds. With the machine running, add the molasses and milk in a steady stream through the feed tube and continue to process until the dough comes together, about 10 seconds.
  2. Divide the dough into 2 even pieces and roll each out to a 1/4-inch thickness between 2 pieces of parchment paper (fp note: here's my trick when i have to roll something to a certain thickness: i take a toothpick and make a mark on it at the desired thickness. then i can just poke the toothpick into the dough and see where the dough is in relation to the mark.).  Leaving the dough sandwiched between the parchment, stack them on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, 15 to 20 minutes (you can also leave them in the fridge overnight if you want to).
  3. Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Working with one piece of dough at a time, transfer it to a clean counter and gently remove the top sheet of parchment. Stamp out cookies using cookie cutters. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets with a thin metal spatula, spaced about 3/4 inch apart.
  5. Bake the cookies until they are light golden brown and show a slight resistance to touch, 8 to 11 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through baking. (Do not overbake)
  6. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving or decorating.
Royal Icing
Source: "One Sweet Cookie" by Tracey Zabar
Makes so much more than you will ever need.  Seriously, make like 1/3 of this recipe.

1 pound confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 large egg whites

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the confectioners' sugar, cream of tartar, and egg whites together until light and fluffy. (fp note: start really slowly, or you will end up with a cloud of sugar. another trick is to drape a kitchen towel over the machine until the sugar is incorporated enough to not float away)

Pipe the icing onto the cookies in your preferred design, or spread with an offset spatula.

fp note: if you make 1/3 of this recipe, i would use a hand mixer or even a whisk for this. on egg white is so little that the whisk attachment won't be able to reach it in the bottom of the bowl.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The recipe that ate my kitchen


You see that pretty, shiny, bright orange stuff in that photo up there?  That stuff is Carrot Confiture (preserves).  Yes, you read that right  -- carrot.  I saw it being made on a tv cooking show - French Food at Home, and I knew I had to make it as a gift for Dear Friend K.  K likes weird things, so I thought this was right up her alley. 

But, that pretty, shiny, bright orange stuff took over my kitchen the first time I made it.  Witness:


As it was cooking, it bubbled and splattered so much that my kitchen looked like some sort of alien war zone.  I am still finding it stuck in weird spots!  The night I made it, after I had cleaned up the wreckage, I looked in the mirror, and found it on my face and in my hair.  And the worst part? Even after all that, I still ended up with this mess:

Yeah. I burned it.  So all that mess and it was a total waste. 

Not one to let failure get me down, I went back to the interwebs to figure out what I did wrong.  You see, the recipe that I found on CookingChannelTV.com was not all that specific, so I sort of had to guess.  In the recipe, you boil carrots until they are tender, and then it just says to puree and then cook with sugar and lemon juice.  I wasn't sure if that meant I should keep the water, or drain the carrots, so for the first attempt, I kept the water, which turned out to be a gigantic mistake.  I learned this after I went searching on YouTube for video of the show where Laura Calder makes the stuff.  After I watched the video, I tried again.

The second batch was a success, and not nearly as messy!  The stuff is very sweet, but I thought it was pretty good.  Not sure I recommend making it, unless you want to for the novelty of it.

Carrot Confiture
Source: French Food at Home, Laura Calder
Makes 2 cups

1 pound carrots, peeled
Water, as needed
2 cups sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons
10 whole almonds, chopped
2 tablespoons Cognac

Slice the carrots and put them in a saucepan covered with water.  Boil until very soft, then DRAIN, then run through a food mill to puree (fp note: i don't have a food mill, but i do have a potato ricer, which i used for this. i think it worked just fine.).  Return to the saucepan.  Stir the sugar into the puree, and add the lemon juice and zest.  Bring to a boil, and cook until glassy and jammy.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir through the chopped almonds and the Cognac. Cool. 


Thursday, December 29, 2011

A tradition has begun

I love holiday traditions, especially those that involve food.  Last year for Christmas, I made Dear Friend K chai tea mix, not expecting the overwhelmingly positive response I got from her.  So, I determined this year that I will do my very best to make her something every year that involves chai flavors.  This year, I made chai biscotti.  You see, K moved far, far away, so anything I made for her had to be able to stand up to shipping across the country.  Biscotti are hardy little suckers.

I have to say I was not thrilled with these.  They tasted good, but I felt like they needed more chai flavoring.  More intense spices.  Maybe I will try to remake them with more spices.  But, in the meantime, I added a dark chocolate drizzle, because really, what can't be improved by adding some chocolate to it? 

Chai Biscotti
Source: Kitchen Trial and Error
Makes 24

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 black tea bags, cut open and the tea loose
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Using a mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, then add the sugar, spices and tea. Mix until creamed. Add the baking powder and salt and mix until combined. Add the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until incorporated.
  3. Dived the dough roughly in half (eyeball it). Using wet hands, roll each half into a log about 12 inches long. Lay the lot onto the sheet pan and gently push the log down until it is about 3/4 inch high. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the tops are just starting to crack and brown.
  4. Let the logs cool on the pan for five minutes and then transfer to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut each log into about 3/4 inch pieces. Lay the pieces back on the sheet pan, bottom side down, leaving room between the cookies. Bake an additional 12 minutes, or until the sides feel dry to the touch.
  5. Cool on a cooling rack and store in an airtight container.
  6. If you want to do the chocolate drizzle, melt some dark chocolate in a boil over a pan of simmering water.  When it is melted, drizzle over the biscotti and let set before storing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Looks like a bakery cake"



Yes, another bundt cake.  What can I say? They are easy to make, and always look pretty (unless the cake sticks to the pan and makes a mess, but we won't think about that).  This is another cake that I made for a party.  I had to work, so I sent the cake with the Hubster.  When I arrived at the party later, I got what might be one of the nicest compliments.  A friend said to me that when she first saw my cake on the table, she looked and it and decided she wasn't going to have any because "it looked like a bakery cake".  But, when she found out I made it from scratch, she had a piece, and said she loved it.

I liked this cake.  I generally prefer to make chocolate desserts, but this seemed festive and different, and for some reason this holiday season I want to make gingerbread things.  It wasn't hard.  The hardest part was actually finding ground cloves.  In the end, I couldn't find them ground, so I bought whole cloves and ground them in my spice grinder.

Espresso Gingerbread Cake

1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup very strong brewed coffee or espresso, cooled to just warm
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

Glaze
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons brewed espresso (or 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water)

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with baking spray.

Whisk the molasses and coffee together in a measuring cup. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, espresso powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

In the  bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. One at a time, add the eggs and egg yolks, beating well after each addition and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the mixer on low, alternately add the dry ingredients and coffee mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat just until the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Run a knife through the batter to eliminate air pockets (or you could gently tap the pan on the counter a few times). Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto the rack to cool completely.

To make the glaze: add the confectioners' sugar to a small bowl (or a glass measuring cup, like i do). Gradually whisk in the espresso until you reach your desired consistency. Drizzle the glaze over the cake (put something under the cooling rack to catch the drips!).  Let the glaze set before serving.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Not what I should be eating for breakfast..."


Since my boss celebrates Hanukkah, I try to give her a food gift that would be appropriate for the holiday.  Last year I made a challah.  This year I made rugelach.  Truthfully, I've been wanting to make rugelach for a long time, and then I saw a recipe from one of my favorite bakers, and it was a sign.

I got this recipe from Confections of a (Closet) Master Baker.  Please check out her site.  Her book is also wonderful.  I received it as a gift a couple of years ago from a dear friend, and it was so inspiring to me. 

The recipe for the rugelach dough is amazingly delicious.  I could eat it plain, but it was so so good with fillings.  As you can see in the picture, I made two fillings (well, "made" is a generous term): strawberry pistachio and Nutella.  I prefer the Nutella, but that isn't a shock, now is it?

The boss loved these.  The day after I gave them to her, she came in and declared that rugelach are not what she should be eating for breakfast, but boy were they good with coffee.

Rugelach
Source: Confections of a (Closet) Master Baker
Makes 36

2 packages (1 pound) cream cheese
1 pound unsalted, room temperature butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk
4 cups all-purpose flour

  1. Cream together cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt until creamy. Add vanilla and milk. Mix until incorporated.
  2. Slowly add all flour until just combined.
  3. Using your hands turn the dough out onto a floured surface and lightly knead until smooth.
  4. Divide the dough into three even pieces.
  5. Pat each piece of dough into a circle and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour.
  6. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12 inch circle (fp note: i can never make things roll out into pretty circles. do the best you can, but no one will know in the end)
  7. Score the dough into 12 pieces. Don't cut through just yet, you'll find that unless you have a pie marker, you won't be as good at this as you'd like (totally true). Once you are happy with your score marks, go ahead and make your cuts (fp note: i used a pizza cutter. worked really well).
  8. At this point, you can either smear the whole circle with your choice of filling, or you can separate all of the pieces and smear them individually.  I found that things were messier if I smeared the whole circle, so I recommend doing them individually, even if it seems like a pain.
  9. Roll each triangle of dough, starting at the wide end, into a crescent.
  10. Brush each piece with a little milk and sprinkle with sanding sugar.
  11. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Issa Boon-t-t"



If you get that reference, you get a cookie :)

A programming note: I have been baking A LOT in the last week or so.  I have a ton of recipes to share with you, so I'm probably going to keep the banter on the short side until I get through all of the holiday baking.  But, it's worth it, as I have some fantastic stuff to share with you!

You all know that I love Baileys.  LOVE IT.  It is easily my favorite alcohol to bake with.  In fact, I don't normally like alcohol in desserts at all, but I do love Baileys.  Earlier this year I tried to make a Bailey's pound cake, and was not super-pleased with the results.  I came across the recipe for this cake in my googly reader (which is pretty much where I find all of my inspiration these days).  At first I was turned off by it, as it uses boxed cake mix and pudding mix.  But, I needed to bake up a dessert for a party, and I was short on time, so I threw this together.

It was a total hit.  This cake is delicious.  The pudding mix makes it really moist and there is just the right amount of Baileys to be flavorful without being over powering.  And it comes together in a snap. 

The only thing I will say is that I thought the glaze as the recipe instructs came out way too thin.  I actually ended up pouring the too-thin glaze on, and then making more, thicker, glaze.  So, I would use more powdered sugar and/or less Baileys.  But I will print it as I originally found it, so you can decide for yourself.

Bailey's Bundt Cake
Serves 12

1 box yellow cake mix
1 box chocolate pudding mix
3/4 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
all ingredients required for cake as directed by box mix

Preheat oven to the temperature recommended on cake mix.  Spray your bundt pan with baking spray (the kind with the flour in it).

In a large mixing bowl, mix together cake mix, pudding, eggs, water, oil, and Bailey's.  Mix at low speed to incorporate, then increase speed to medium and mix for about 2 minutes.  Pour into prepared bundt pan and bake according to package directions.

Cool for 15 minutes in the pan and then flip it out onto a wire rack to cool completely before glazing.

Bailey's Glaze

6 tbsp powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp Bailey's Irish Cream

Mix powdered sugar and booze in a small bowl or glass measuring cup (I use the measuring cup -- easier pouring).  Pour over cooled cake.

Monday, December 12, 2011

These are not cupcakes

These are not cupcakes.  Cupcakes require cake and frosting, and these have neither.  

These are peanut butter milky way blondie cups.  They are a blondie base, with peanut butter and bits of Milky Way bar mixed in, and cooked in a mini muffin pan.  I stuck a slices of Milky Way on top after they baked, just because I had extras, and I thought it would be cute. I’m sure you could bake these in a rectangular pan and cut them up like regular blondies if you wanted to.  But the cups are so much cuter!

I made these for a coworker’s birthday.  We had a big show that day, and I knew this would make a lot and be easy for the crew to eat on the go.  They were very popular.  I barely got a couple for myself!!

The original recipe says to bake these in a regular muffin pan, but they are really rich, so I highly recommend making them in a mini muffin pan.  If you make them in the mini pan, shorten the baking time (I think mine took 12 minutes, but every oven is different - check them after 10 minutes).  Otherwise, these were super easy, and so good.  Make them. Make them soon!

Peanut Butter Milky Way Blondie Cups

Source: The Sweets Life
Makes about 70 mini cups

10 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder

1 cup Milky Way fun-sized candy bars, coarsely chopped (about 10 ten fun-sized bars), plus more for garnish if desired
  1. Preheat oven to 325. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.
  2. Add butter and sugar to a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until butter is melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool for for 5 minutes. Stir in the peanut butter until melted and set aside for another 5 minutes to cool.
  3. Whisk in the eggs and the vanilla extract with the peanut butter mixture. In a separate bowl, mix together salt, flour and baking powder. Add dry ingredients all at once to the wet ingredients, stirring just until incorporated. Mix in chopped candy.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared muffing pan, filling each cup about ¾ of the way full. Bake for 10-15 minutes for mini cups, until a toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake - err on the side of underbaking. Remove blondie cups and cool completely on a wire rack.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

International Desserts, Month Three


This month, we taste two of my favorite Indian desserts: Kheer, and Gulab Jamun.  Kheer is otherwise known as Indian Rice Pudding.  Gulab Jamun are fried balls of milk solids, soaked in a sugar/honey syrup.  These are both common items on Indian lunch buffets, which I happen to love.  I'm not a big fan of curry, but there are so many other Indian food options that I do love, so Indian food will always be one of my favorites. 

This post is actually a super bargain deal!! You get not one, but THREE different recipes!  Okay, one of the recipes is actually for something you have to make in order to make the Gulab Jamun, but that's just semantics, really.

Since I had never made any of these recipes, or really much of anything like them, this was a learning process for me.  I also relied on what I knew these desserts were supposed to taste and look like, based on what they are like in the restaurants.  The kheer was pretty simple, and came out just as I expected.  The Gulab Jamun was a different story.  I'm pretty sure I messed up the khova - as I don't think it was supposed to come out brown, like this:


But, since I wasn't sure if it was good or not, I went ahead and made the balls out of it.  They came out okay at first.  The taste was pretty good, but they weren't as solid as they normally are when you get them in a restaurant.  And, they pretty much fell apart after a few hours in the sugar syrup.  So, that was a quasi-fail.  It's a good thing I only made a half-batch, so I only had six golf ball-sized balls. 

The kheer was creamy and wonderful.  It took a little longer than I was expecting to thicken up, but I just remained patient and let it do it's thing, and that worked out in the end.  I ate it warm the first night, and I've been enjoying it right out of the fridge since then. (BONUS - the hubster does not like kheer, or really any rice-based dessert I've ever made, so I get to eat all of it! Score!)

I sort of cobbled these recipes together from various internet sources.  I kind of took bits from one recipe, combined with bits from another one, and made sure I used recipes that had ingredients I knew I could find (no rose water) at a regular store.  For me, with the exception of the whole milk, I had all of the ingredients in the house, so that was definitely a bonus.

Let's start with the Khova:

Khova

1.5 liters (6 cups) whole milk

Bring the milk to a boil in a deep, heavy-bottom nonstick pan.  Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer the milk, stirring occasionally until the milk completely thickens to something that looks like the texture of ricotta cheese.  This should take about 1.5 hours.  Set aside to cool.


Gulab Jamun

1 cup khova
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of baking soda
oil, for frying

Sugar Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar, honey, or agave, or a combo of the 3

Mix khova, all-purpose flour, and baking soda, and a little water (start with a tablespoon).  Knead this mixture gently to form a dough.  Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes.  This is a good time to heat up your oil for frying.

Meanwhile, make the sugar syrup. Combine water and sugar in a small sauce pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Allow the syrup to simmer for 10 minutes, until thread consistency has been reached.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Roll small balls of the dough. You can make either round balls, or little ovals - it's your choice.   Fry in the hot oil for a few minutes, until golden brown.  Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.  After the balls are all cooked, put them in the sugar syrup, and allow to soak for 3 to 4 hours (or be like me, and wait for 20 minutes and then dig in.)

Kheer

1/3 cup of basmati or other white rice (I used jasmine because it's what I had in the house)
1 liter milk
1 teaspoon clarified butter
4 cardamom pods
1/4 to 1/3 cup honey (depending on how sweet you want the pudding)
2 tablespoons golden raisins (I skipped these)
2 tablespoons slivered almonds, lightly roasted (I used way more of these)

Wash the rice. Over medium heat, heat the clarified butter.  Add the rice and stir until it turns translucent and a light pink or tan color; about 10 minutes.

Stir in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium high heat.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes to an hour until the milk reduces to about a third of what you started out with.

Peel the cardamom (this was seriously the hardest part of the entire recipe). Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, crush the cardamom. Stir in the cardamom, honey, raisins and almonds.  Serve warm, at room temp, or cool. 




Friday, November 18, 2011

Fun to say, and to eat.



Clafoutis.  Just say it.  Cla-foo-tee.  Fun, right?  Because of the name, and because of what it is, I have wanted to make a clafoutis for a while, I just never got around to it.  A clafoutis is a custard, and it is a thing of wonder.  So light. So fluffy.  Most clafoutis that I have seen have had berries in them, and they were a summer thing.

One of my favorite blogs, Gina’s Skinny Recipes, recently had a recipe for a pumpkin hazelnut clafoutis.  I have always had a good experience with her recipes, so I figured I would try this one out.  And, I happened to be looking for pumpkin recipes.  A couple of weeks ago, some friends gave me a pumpkin! I think it was actually a leftover from a pumpkin chucking thing they do around Halloween. But, I was happy to have it, and promised to do good things with it.  I roasted the seeds (which were devoured almost immediately), and then I turned the rest into pumpkin puree.  The one pumpkin (of average size) made me almost 6 cups of puree!  Needless to say, I will be making many more pumpkin desserts.  

But I digress.  

I am so happy I made this clafoutis.  It was very easy to put together, and so, so tasty.  It is sweetened with agave nectar, and the finished product is not super sweet.  Gina suggests it be an alternative to pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.  Um, yeah, no.  No one gets between me and pumpkin pie.  Not it they want to keep all of their fingers.  But, this stuff is tasty, even if it won’t be replacing pumpkin pie for me this year.  You should try it.

One quick note: the original recipe calls for the seeds from one vanilla bean.  I didn’t have that, and those things are kind of expensive.  You can substitute an extra teaspoon of vanilla extra.  Or, I have vanilla bean paste, which is what I used.  The paste is vanilla beans in a vanilla goo, and you can use if 1:1 for vanilla extract.  It’s kind of pricey, so I only use it for things where it would actually make a difference, like this.  So, I used 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste.  

Pumpkin Hazelnut Clafoutis
Serves 10

Ingredients
3 large eggs
2 large egg whites
10 tbsp light agave nectar
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
pinch of salt
1 cup 1% milk
1 tsp vanilla extra
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
⅛ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp nutmeg
⅛ tsp ginger
⅔ cup pumpkin puree
baking spray
⅓ cup chopped lightly toasted hazelnuts

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Spray a 9-inch pie plate with baking spray. Add the hazelnuts to the dish.

Place the eggs, egg whites, agave, milk, vanillla extract, vanilla bean paste, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt in a blender.  Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Add the pumpkin puree and blend well.

Add the flour and pule until well combined.

Pour the batter into the pie dish.

Bake for 15 minutes, the lower the heat to 375 and bake until the center is just set, about 12 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Minty Chocolate Goodness



Sometimes I buy random baking items when I see them in the store, with no purpose for them in mind.  A while back, a coworker introduced me Andes mint baking chips.  It’s a bag of little bits of Andes mints, all ready to be tossed into cookies, or brownies, or whatever.  When I brought the bag home, the Hubster threatened to eat the whole bag before I had a chance to use them.  But, I hid them in the back of the cabinet, and they stayed there safely until I remembered I had them and used them for these cookies.

I was originally going to whip up a batch of brownies, and toss the Andes chips in the brownies.  But I wanted to make something new (to me).  I found these cookies in my googly reader and I was off.  One of the selling points for this recipe was that I had all of the ingredients on hand (well, basically).  I didn’t have any extra-bittersweet chocolate, as the recipe calls for, so I just used 5 oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  

The batter for these cookies is a bit misleading at first.  It is very loose, like a brownie batter. But, after it sits for a few minutes, it really does thicken up.  I put the batter in the fridge for about 10 minutes, and then kept it there while each batch baked, but that’s mostly because that’s what I always do.  

Even though the directions are a little different than you normally see in a cookie, they are pretty simple.  Beating them for 10 minutes at first seems to take FOR.EV.ER, but other than that, they are a snap to make.  Give them a try!

Chocolate Mint Chip Cookies
Source: Bakers Royale, adapted from Epicurious
Makes 28 cookies
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
⅔ cup sugar
½ tablespoon espresso granules
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 ounces Andes Mint Baking Chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place eggs, sugar, espresso granules and vanilla in a bowl and beat on high for 10 minutes. Add in baking powder and salt and beat on high for another 5 minutes.

Place the butter in the top of a double boiler, and add the semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate. Heat until the butter and chocolate melt. Remove from the heat.  

Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until partially combined (streaks will be visible). Add the flour to the batter and gently fold it in. Fold in the Andes chips. Set aside the batter for five minutes to thicken.

Drop a tablespoon of batter onto the prepared baking sheets and bake until puffed and cracked, 9-11 minutes.  Cool on the baking sheet a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reading Comprehension Fail

Alternate Title: How I thought I ruined two batches of baklava, but it turned out okay in the end.

For this month’s international dessert, I chose to make baklava.  This was actually the Hubster’s suggestion, since he loves the stuff, and so do I.  What’s not to love?  Super sweet, chewy nuttiness, and layers of phyllo dough.  Good stuff.

First of all, I know I have said many times that I don’t put nuts in baked goods, and that is still true.  But when the baked good basically IS nuts, I’m okay with it, like in baklava, or pecan pie.  I just don’t like them when they are mixed with other, non-nut ingredients. I know it’s a weird inconsistency on my part, but I don’t really care.

Like I mentioned in the alternate title, I made two batches of baklava.  The first one was a wreck:


You can’t really see it in the photo, but it wouldn’t stay in nice pieces when you took it out of the pan.  And then there’s the obviously over-cooked top layer.  I just put it in the oven for the recommended amount of time without bothering to check it towards the end, which is always a mistake.  Don’t do that.  Also, when I made the syrup, I wasn’t paying attention to it while it boiled, and it ended up boiling over the pan.  I lost quite a bit of the syrup that way (and had to clean up a huge mess on my stove), so maybe there wasn’t enough to stick the layers together.

So the first batch was a bust.  I set out to make the second batch (this is getting expensive at this point, buying all those nuts and the phyllo dough).  Making baklava isn’t that hard, once you get the hang of dealing with the thin, fragile sheets of dough.  Other than that, it’s just whizzing up some stuff in your food processor and assembling.  So, I made the second batch, thinking to myself “hey, this is pretty easy!!”. After I had assembled it, before it went in the oven, I thought to myself that the nut filling still seemed like it was missing something, even though I was sure I had followed the recipe.  But, just to make myself feel better, I checked out the recipe one more time. After I had put the whole thing together.  As I scanned down the list of ingredients, I saw it.  There it was, staring at me: ⅔ cup of sugar in the nut filling.  ⅔ of a cup of sugar that I had forgotten to include, both times.  At this point, there was nothing I could really do, other than swear at myself a little bit and stick the darn thing in the oven and hope for the best.  Or, barring that, at least I could tell you about my spectacular failure.  

Thankfully, the second batch came out pretty darn good.  The top layers are really crunchy, even after being drenched in syrup, and there is quite a bit of syrup that hangs out on the bottom of the pan, but it’s pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.  It’s very sweet, but I think that’s kind of the point, right?  You can really taste the cinnamon and allspice in there too, which I just love.

Now a few notes:

I could never find rose water, so I omitted it.  I looked at a lot of other recipes that didn’t include it, so I didn’t worry much about it.  I would have liked to have had it, but it wasn’t worth searching all over town for, and I didn’t have time for ordering it online. Maybe in the future.

You have to cut the sheets of phyllo dough to fit the bottom of your pan.  For me, this meant cutting the large sheets (as they come in the package) in half, and then trimming a little off of two edges.  I found this easiest to do with a pizza cutter.  It cuts smoothly, without dragging, like a knife sometimes can.  And I used a ruler to get a nice straight edge.  When working with the sheets of dough, it is important that they don’t dry out.  I kept a moist paper towel on top of the stack of sheets when I wasn’t using them.  When you brush on the butter, start at the middle and work your way out.  This reduces tearing and shifting.  And be patient.  Layering the phyllo dough isn’t a quick process.


Baklava
Source: Alton Brown
Makes 28 pieces
For the filling:
1 (5-inch piece) cinnamon stick, broken in to 2 to 3 pieces, or 2 teaspoons ground
15 to 20 whole allspice berries
6 ounces blanched almonds
6 ounces raw or roasted walnuts
6 ounces raw or roasted pistachio (unsalted)
⅔ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon rose water
1 pound phyllo dough, thawed
8 ounces clarified unsalted butter, melted

For the syrup:
1 ¼ cups honey
1 ¼ cups water
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 (2-inch) piece of fresh orange peel

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the cinnamon stick and whole allspice into a spice grinder and grind. (fp note: i have a little coffee grinder that i use just for this. they are pretty cheap.)

Place the almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sugar and freshly ground spices into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, but not pasty or powdery, approximately 15 quick pulses. Set aside.

Trim the sheets of phyllo to fit the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch metal pan. Brush the bottom and sides of the pan with butter; lay down a sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Repeat this step 9 more times for a total of 10 sheets of phyllo. Top with ⅓ of the nut mixture and spread thinly. Spritz thoroughly with rose water (or just water, like i did). Layer 6 more sheets of phyllo with butter in between each of them, followed by another third of the nuts and spritz with rose water. Repeat with another 6 sheets of phyllo, butter, remaining nuts, and rose water. Top with 8 sheets of phyllo brushing with butter in between each sheet. Brush the top generously with butter. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and cut into 28 squares (fp note: trying to cut 28 squares evenly was probably the most challenging part of this recipe for me, and i didn’t get it quite right). Return pan to the oven and continue to bake for another 30 minutes.  (fp note: as i said before, i overcooked my first batch. for the second batch, i did 20 minutes for the first cook, and then 25 for the second cook). Remove pan from the oven, place on a cooling rack, and cool for 2 hours before adding the syrup.

Make the syrup during the last 30 minutes of cooling. Combine the honey, water, sugar and cinnamon stick and orange peel in a 4-quart saucepan set over high heat. Stir occassionally until the sugar has dissolved. Once boiling, boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and discard the orange peel and cinnamon stick.

After the baklava has cooled for 2 hours, re-cut the entire pan following the same lines as before. Pour the hot syrup evenly oven the top of the baklava, allowing it to run into the cuts and around the edges of the pan. Allow the pan to sit, uncovered, until completely cool. Cover and store at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to overnight before serving. Store, covered, at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sometimes, simple is the best


I make all kinds of stuff that is full of lots of ingredients, different flavors, whatever.  And it's usually very good.  But sometimes, you need something simple.  Something like....white sandwich bread.

I have always bought sandwich bread.  It was just easier that way.  But last week, in an effort to avoid yet another trip to the store for one stupid thing that I ran out of, I decided to make my own sandwich bread.  I had a day off from work, with nowhere to go (and my car was in the shop, so I had no way to get anywhere anyway), and all of the ingredients I needed on hand.  Seemed like a no-brainer to me.

I have to say that one of the things I love about baking is the smell that fills my house when something is in the oven.  The smell of bread is just so amazingly homey.  It always makes me hungry.  It's especially torturous when you have to let the loaf cool before you can cut it and try a slice.  In addition to the smell, I find the waiting stressful, because you put in all this work, and hours of your day, and you have no way to tell if the loaf turned out okay. 

This bread was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  Really.  I had to seriously restrain myself from eating the entire thing in one sitting.  As it was, it only lasted a few days, and I ate probably 90% of it.  About 6 days after I made it, the Hubster went looking for it, couldn't find it, and assumed I had frozen the rest of the loaf.  Um, yeah, no. It was all consumed.  And now, I have been ruined to all store bought breads.  I am back to my regular stuff from the store, and it tastes and feels like styrofoam.  No good.  I think I will be going back to making my own.  So worth it.

This recipe is pretty simple and easy to follow.  It's from America's Test Kitchen "Family Baking Book", which is sort of my baking bible.  I knew they wouldn't let me down. 

American Sandwich Bread
Source: America's Test Kitchen "Family Baking Book"
Makes one 9-inch loaf

Note: If you don't have bread flour, all-purpose flour can be substituted, but the resulting loaf will be a little shorter, which a slightly denser crumb. You will need about 1 tablespoon of melted butter to brush over the loaf before baking.

1 cup warm milk (110 degrees)
1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for brushing
3 tablespoons honey
3 1/2-4 cups bread flour
1 envelope instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 teaspoons salt

  1. Whisk the milk, water, butter, and honey together in a large liquid measuring cup. Combine 3 1/2 cups of the flour, yeast, and salt in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the milk mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.
  2. Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.  If after 4 minutes more flour is needed (if the dough feels sticky), add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom (fp note: i think i added about 1/4 cup of the 1/2 cup of extra flour.  just take it slowly and see what works for you).
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (fp note: my house is generally on the cold and breezy side, so when i need a warm place for bread, here is what i do: when i start mixing the dough, i turn the oven on to about 200.  when i put the dough into the bowl, i turn off the oven, and put the bowl in the oven.  keep the door closed as long as you can -- i check around 1 hour. that warmth lets the dough rise.)
  4. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gently press it into a 9-inch square.  Roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the seam closed. Place the loaf, seam side down, in the prepared pan. Mist the loaf with vegetable oil spray, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place (i put it back in the oven, but don't turn it on or anything) until nearly doubled in size and the dough barely springs back when poked with a knuckle, 45 to 75 minutes. (i got distracted and let mine rise for longer than it should have, so the dough had kind of blossomed over the side of the pan on one side. i just tucked it in and went on. made the top a little funny looking, but still tasted great.)
  5. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. (if you use my oven trick for letting the dough rise, make sure you take out the bread before you preheat the oven!!) Brush the loaf lightly with melted butter, then spray lightly with water. Bake until golden and the center of the bread registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the loaf halfway through baking (when i went to rotate the loaf after 20 minutes i thought it looked like it was going to get too brown. so i loosely covered it in aluminum foil. the loaf ended up coming out slightly pale, but i'm okay with that.). Cool the loaf in the pan for 15 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, before serving.  Just try to wait that long. I dare you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The cookiest cookie of all



I am going to share with you a recipe that I didn’t think I would ever share.  These cookies are something that I make on a regular basis, and they also something that I have messed around with a lot, with varying degrees of success.  They are my favorite type of cookie to make for myself.  They are all of the things a good cookie should be – chewy, soft, sweet, and inviting.

We’re talking about Monster Cookies.

What’s a Monster Cookie?  Well, it’s basically a cookie that has all sorts of fun things added to it.  When I make these, I usually just open up my cupboard and see what I have in there.  There are certain things that I always add, things I really like to add, and things that I never add.  Usually the “never adds” are because I tried them once and was really unhappy with the results.  Here are my lists:

Always Add:
Old-fashioned oats – you can add whatever oats you want, but I like the chew and heft that the old-fashioned ones give the cookies.
Chocolate chips – whatever I have in the house, usually some mix of semi-sweet and milk chocolate.

Like to Add:
White chocolate chips
Peanut butter chips
Toffee chips
Fun chocolate-based candies (Peanut butter M&Ms are especially great)

Never Add:
Nuts
Marshmallows – if you put them in the dough, they melt into the cookie by the time they are done baking, and you don’t get any marshmallow flavor or texture from them, so it’s kind of a waste.
Rice Krispies – these things turn into tiny rocks when you bake them.  No bueno.

The time I made these cookies for the ones you see in the photo, the cookies came out especially well, which is why I decided to share them.  I had friends coming over, and I whipped them up really quickly.  They were amazingly good.  I made them with the oats, a couple handfuls of semi-sweet chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips, toffee chips, and a  handful of peanut butter chips.  I went easy on the peanut butter chips, because the Hubster prefers them that way.  The things we do for love. Also, I doubled the recipe you see below, and just baked off about a dozen cookies and froze the rest.  I think I got a couple of dozen cookies out of it. Maybe more.

The dough, like most cookie dough, freezes well.  Unless I’m taking them somewhere where I know that all of the cookies will be eaten, I only bake what I need and then scoop and freeze the rest of the dough.  Also, the more stuff I add in, the bigger the scoop I use, so that I can get all of the goodness into each cookies.  The one I used for these was about an inch and a half in diameter.  When I use bigger scoops, I drop the oven temp a little and bake them a little longer.  For this size scoop, I went with 325, and about 18 minutes. 

Monster Cookies


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
Add-ins of your choice



Directions
1.


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream the butter with the sugars using an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy (approximately 30 seconds)


2.
Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.


3.
In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder. Mix in oats and other add-ins by hand, using a rubber spatula


4.
Using a scoop (mine is about 1.5-inch in diameter), drop cookie dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and delicious. Cool on the sheet pan for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely before eating or storing.