Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cookies that travel

I have a couple of friends that I have recently wanted to send cookies to, but these friends live on the other side of the country, so I needed a cookie that would travel well.  Not too fragile, longer shelf life, and of course, tasty.  Shortbread cookies fit the bill for this particularly well. 

Please allow me to extol to you the virtues of the shortbread cookie.  They are tasty when made in their original, unflavored way, but they are so versatile!  You can add any number of flavorings to get all kinds of different tastes!  It also helps that they are super simple to make, and you can make the dough days ahead and just let it hang out in your fridge until you're ready to slice and bake!  I'm actually going to share with you two different shortbread recipes -- not just different in final product, but also different in preparation.  Honestly, I liked both cookies, so you pick which method you like best.

Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies
Makes: 2 dozen or so

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea bags
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, tea, and salt, until the tea is just spotted throughout the flour. Add the confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and butter.  Pulse together just until a dough is formed. Place dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, and roll into a log, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Twist each end of the wrap tightly, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Slice the log into 1/3-inch thick disks. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Baked until the edges are just brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

White Chocolate & Cherry Shortbread Cookies
Source: Love and Olive Oil
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

2/3 cup maraschino cherries, drained
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
12 ounces good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 drops red food coloring
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Pulse cherries briefly in a food processor until finely chopped. This should produce about 1/2 cup of chopped cherries.  Spread them out on a double layer of paper towels to remove any excess liquid.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and sugar. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add the drained cherries and 4 ounces of the chopped chocolate. Pulse briefly to combine. Finally, ad the almond extract and food coloring.  Knead the mixture until it comes together in a smooth ball.  (fp note: cover any surfaces with plastic wrap that will be in contact with the dough. food coloring makes a mess, yo.)

Divide dough in half, and roll each half into a cylinder approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter by 10 inches long.  Roll up in parchment paper or plastic wrap, twisting ends to seal. Refrigerate for at least  1 hour or until firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Working with one log at a time, slice it into disks about 3/8" thick and place on parchment lined baking sheets. Back for 10 to 12 minutes or until centers are set and bottoms are lightly golden. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.

To prepare the white chocolate drizzle:  Melt the remaining white chocolate with the veggie oil in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring constantly to prevent burning.  When it is cool enough to not burn you, but still liquid, put it in a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (fp note: normally i would put it in a squeeze bottle, but i don't have a funnel, so getting the chocolate into the bottle was too much hassle.).  Drizzle the melted chocolate on the cooled cookies and leave them alone until the chocolate has set. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sweets for my Sweetie

It's that time of year again! That's right, it's the Hubster's birthday!  And, true to tradition, I sent him to work with cupcakes.  But not just any cupcakes.  You see, for the Hubster, simple is not really better.  More is better, so whatever I was going to make had to have lots going on.  The cupcakes we chose this year are banana split cupcakes. 

The basic idea:  banana cake, with strawberry and pineapple filling, whipped cream frosting, chocolate drizzle, sprinkles, and a cherry. 

I have to be honest and tell you that I haven't actually eaten one of these.  I sent the majority of them to work with the Hubster, and there is one ugly one left in the fridge.  I might get to it tonight, but I'm not sure about that.  But, I did eat some of the cake, and it was really tasty, and I KNOW I love the frosting.  So, really, what's not to like?

I found this recipe over on Annie's Eats.  She has a wonderful blog, and you should check it out if you haven't already.  I did make a few changes:  I made a different frosting, and I made a milk chocolate gananche instead of semi-sweet.  The reason I made different frosting is because I wanted something a little more stable than a traditional whipped cream frosting.  The one I made, which came from America's Test Kitchen, has cream cheese in it, so it is more stable, has more body, and a nice little bit of tang.  The recipe I used is reflected below.

Banana Split Cupcakes
Source: Annie's Eats, with frosting from America's Test Kitchen
Makes about 30 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
12 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
1 1/3 cups mashed ripe banana (about 4 bananas)

For the filling:
1 lb strawberries, hulled and diced small
2 tbsp confectioners' sugar
12 oz. crushed pineapple, drained

For the frosting:
1 8oz block cream cheese, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream

For the ganache:
8oz chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp light corn syrup

For garnish:
Multi-colored sprinkles
Maraschino cherries

To make the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt; whisk together and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium low and add in eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the mashed banana until well combined. With the mixer on low speed alternately add the dry ingredients and buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing only until just incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling each about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the strawberry filling:
Combine the strawberries and confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl. Toss well, smashing slightly with a fork. Allow the berries to macerate at least 20-30 minutes.

To fill the cupcakes, cut a small cone out of the center of each cupcake with a paring knife or small biscuit cutter. Add a teaspoon or two of the strawberry filling to the center of each cupcake. Top with a teaspoon or two of the crushed pineapple.  Cover with a disk cut out of the cake you cut out of the center.

To make the frosting:
Whip the cream cheese, sugar, salt and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the heavy cream and whip until stiff peaks form. Add the frosting to a piping bag fitting with a large round tip. Pipe a swirl of frosting onto each cupcake and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To make the ganache:
Place the chopped chocolate in a heat proof bowl.  Bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chocolate; let stand 1-2 minutes. Whisk together until a thick, smooth ganache forms. Blend in the corn syrup. Let stand at room temperature at least 10 minutes so the ganache is not hot. The longer you let it hang out, the thicker it gets.

To finish the cupcakes, pour a spoonful of the ganache over the whipped cream topping of each cupcake (fp note: do this over something. the ganache makes a mess). Garnish with sprinkles and maraschino cherries before the ganache sets. Chill until ready to serve.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Water horses need love too! and sprinkles.

Most people, when making cut-out cookies for Valentine's Day, would choose a shape that is more easily associated with the holiday, like hearts, or cupids.  I, on the other hand, would like to challenge that a little.  Yes, those cookies are shaped like hippos.  What do hippos have to do with a holiday that is about love?  Well, I say they do, so there you go.  And they have pink icing, and some of them have heart sprinkles, so they are festive.

The cookies themselves are chocolate sugar cookies.  So good.  And easy to make! I used the recipe from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, and I would definitely use it again.  I added about a teaspoon of instant espresso, because I usually do when I make chocolate things.  It's tasty and it accentuates the chocolate flavor.  But, if you don't already have, don't feel like you have to run out and buy it just for this.

The royal icing recipe is the same that I used for my gingerbread men from Christmas.  I like it because it doesn't use meringue powder, or any other ingredient that I don't already have in the house. If you feel squicky about the raw egg whites, then you should find another recipe that you like better.  As you can see, my icing technique leaves a lot to be desired.  There are lots of tutorials on the interwebz that will teach you how to do it really well, so I'm not even going to try.  For me, getting the cookie covered, and adding some sprinkles was enough.

Let's talk about the sprinkles.  I have a lot of them.  It's slightly ridiculous.  I know I show you three different kinds of sprinkles in the photo, but I actually used 5 kinds.  My faves are the ones in the photo.  And yes, the silver stars are edible.  Those sprinkles, like the hippo cookie-cutter itself, were a gift from a friend, and they were both so fun to use! 

Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Makes a good amount. I don't remember how many it made.

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, also room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso (optional)

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa and baking powder (fp note: i find i get the best results from sifting everything together.  removes any lumps and mixes everything, in one step.).  Set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and salt on medium until creamy, about 1 minute.  With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is fully combined before adding the next.  Add the vanilla and instant espresso.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater as needed. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined, with no pockets of flour.  Divide dough into two portions and shape each portion into a 1-inch thick disk, and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Lightly flour a sheet of wax paper.  Transfer the chilled dough to the wax paper and top with another sheet of paper.  Roll the dough out to1/8" thickness, using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the paper.  Cut out your shapes and place on the baking sheet.  Re-roll the scraps as much as you want.  (fp note: at this point, when i have a full sheet of cut outs, i put the sheet in the fridge for about 15 minutes.  i feel like this reduces spreading.) Bake cookies just until the tops look dry, but are still soft, about 8 minutes.  Let cool on the sheet for a couple of minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

After the cookies are completely cooled, frost to your hearts' content!  (fp note: hearts'? hearts? heart's? i don't know.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

International Desserts, Month 6

I know I said last month was month 6 of international desserts, but, well, I goofed.  So, this is actually month 6 of this. 

A friend of mine suggested some time ago that I make a traditional British dessert, Banoffee Pie.  Banoffee Pie is a graham cracker crust, sliced bananas, toffee filling, and whipped cream topping, with shaved chocolate thrown in for a cute garnish.  Really, a super easy dessert, once you make the toffee. 

Let's talk about the toffee.  I'm not the biggest fan of it, but that's not really the point.  When you make it, you take the label off of a can of sweetened condensed milk, put it in a large pot, cover it with water, and boil it for 2.5 hours.  Make sure you keep it covered with water, or apparently the can will explode and not only will you not have the toffee you need, but you will have a huge mess to clean up.  I find doing things like this a little dicey.  I mean, you can't see into the can, so you won't know if you did it right until several hours later, when the can is cool enough to handle.  But, the good news is that you can do more than one can at a time, as long as your pot is big enough, and they supposedly keep forever in the cupboard.  As for the pan, use the biggest one you have -- you will thank me later.  I used my largest pot, and I wish I had something that was a little taller, because I ended up having to add more water a few times. 

The reason I chose this month to make this dessert is because I was going to spend the day at a friend's house, watching Downton Abbey all day (fantastic show. you should watch it). I thought it was fitting to bring a British dessert to eat while watching a British show.  I made them mini, in my mini tart pan, because, well, mini food gets eaten faster.  They were so cute.  And yes, I cheated and used canned whipped cream and mini chocolate chips on top.  I didn't feel like dealing with making whipped cream at my friend's house. 

The only other change I made was I did a baked graham cracker crust, because I knew it would hold up better to being mini-fied.   I have printed the original crust recipe here. 

Banoffee Pie

fp note: i halved this recipe, and it made me almost 2 dozen tiny tarts.

400 grams graham crackers, crushed into crumbs
200 grams butter, melted
2 cans of condensed milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 large ripe bananas
chocolate, for shaving as garnish

  1. Combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter.  Press the mixture into a pie pan and chill. Boil the cans of condensed milk for  2-2.5 hours, making sure they stay fully submerged in the water at all times.  Set aside to cool.
  2. When cool, spread the toffee on the crust.  Slice up the bananas and place on top of the toffee layer.  Whip up the whipped cream and spread over the bananas.  (fp note: oops, did that backwards. my bananas were on the bottom.) Grate some chocolate over the top for garnish.
  3. Either chill the pie or serve immediately!