Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kid's Thumbprint Cookies, a Big Hug and Then I Cry

You know how sometimes you have something you need to do that weighs on your mind, nagging nagging nagging you to DO IT so you can cross it off your list and feel the elation of procrastination overruled?

This is not one of those moments.

This is the last recipe in Baking From My Home to Yours for the group of bakers known as Tuesdays with Dorie. As much as I've itched to do my own thing these last few months, I've been dreading this day because of its last-ness. And because I have no words without tears about this, it's best that we proceed to the recipe.

I can only assume that as we neared the end of the book, our fearless leader Laurie asked Dorie Greenspan if she'd like to host the last pick, and what she would like that to be. And Dorie's pick this week is one of those crazy technique recipes that I used to scratch my head over in the early days and now I just go with without questioning. Dorie wasn't done teaching me, showing me new ways to do things.

These cookies are a peanut butter thumbprint cookie rolled in egg white and then peanuts. The dimple is filled with jam or chocolate chips. I opted for bittersweet chocolate chips. The recipe wasn't fussy until it came to dipping the balls of dough in frothy egg white before rolling them in chopped peanuts. In honor of Dorie, I didn't alter the recipe this week because I always tweak it. My balls of dough were a tiny bit bigger than they were supposed to be, but they were done in 11 minutes not 15-18 as the recipe suggested.

The cookies were good, though I didn't swoon the way I did over the other thumbprint cookies in the book. Maybe my tastebuds were depressed about it being the last recipe. Dunno, but I needed a big hug after finishing the last recipe from a book and a group that has been, well, a big hug for me these last few years.

To Dorie, your book changed my life. Truly. You taught me how to BAKE, and to make things I never would have attempted. That confidence seeped into other areas of my life, and opened me up to greater personal and yes, even professional success. The creative yearning I felt inside finally had an outlet, and I no longer had to stifle it in pursuit of my career. I always feel your presence and hear your calm encouragement in the kitchen, especially when the going gets tough. I have had failures, but I learned from them, and I have had successes, and I learned from them, too. It all added up to a strong and stable foundation of dozens of things a baker knows by instinct. I no longer assemble recipes; I am a baker. My heart is full and my eyes overflow with tears of joy, sadness and gratitude. Thank you.

To Laurie, whose personal mission to bake her way through the book started this group, I am forever grateful. You invited us on your journey, never complaining when hundreds of unruly individuals made managing the group more of a labor than a labor of love. That generosity hasn't gone unnoticed, and we love you for it.

I am not an easy person to get close to and yet I have made many friends in this group, and the entire group has been warm, welcoming and supportive. To my buds Margaret, Nancy, Kayte, Tracey and Di - I love you all. Anytime, anywhere.

Tuesdays with Dorie will continue on with another of Dorie's books, Baking with Julia. I contemplated staying on to explore that book, but it didn't speak to me the way Baking From My Home to Yours or Paris Sweets does. I want to return to some if not all of the BFMHTY recipes I missed, revisit old favorites, and take what Dorie taught me to other books, other projects. And so the sadness of the ending merges with the excitement of new beginnings. I can hardly wait to get back into the kitchen.

"The reward of a thing well done is to have done it" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

UPDATE: Due to overwhelming pressure from a few friends (you know who you are!) I took another look at Baking with Julia and decided to stick with the group when they start the new book in February. I'll also be revisiting the 78 recipes I skipped or that were made before I joined the TWD in October 2008. Look for the first one soon!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Scones 2.0

I don't generally repeat a recipe I've previously posted but this is a rewind week for Tuesdays with Dorie so I'm making an exception. The first time I made these scones, I didn't post the recipe because it was a bit of a mess. It's taken a few tries, but I finally got it to the point where it's almost too good to share.

These scones are oh-so-light. Normally, when I pick up a scone it feels substantial. These are feather light, and they are fluffy and tender without being like eating cake. The hazelnut flour gives them a neat flavor and texture. The chocolate chips are a nod to loving chocolate for breakfast and wanting these to be evocative of Nutella. They're perfect to enjoy in the afternoon with a cup of tea, or in the morning for breakfast. You can leave them out if chocolate chips in your scones is not your thing.

The rest of the TWD bakers have chosen other recipes to rewind in this, the next to the last week for us. You can see what they made here. Next week we will be making the last recipe in the book, which was chosen by Dorie herself. Every time I think about writing that post, I tear up.


Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Scones - adapted from the chestnut scones in Baking From My Home to Yours
Printer-friendly recipe

1 large egg
3/4 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons/210 grams all purpose flour
3/4 cup/84 grams hazelnut flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons/112 grams unsalted butter, cut into bits and chilled
3/4 cup/128 grams semisweet chocolate chips

Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Stir the egg, cream and vanilla extract together.

Measure the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and let run for a minute or so to combine the ingredients. With the mixer still on low, drop in the butter and mix on low speed until the mixture is pebbly. You’ll have pea size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and everything in between.

With the mixer still on low, pour the liquid ingredients over the mixture and mix for five seconds then add the chocolate chips and mix until the dough almost comes together; it may be sticky.

Lightly flour a work surface, and place the prepared baking sheet nearby. Before turning the dough out of the bowl, gently press any stray flour into the rest of the dough with a flexible bowl scraper if you have one or a spatula if you don't. Turn the dough onto the floured work surface, dip the bowl scraper in flour and use it to coax the dough into a neater circle about an inch high. Using a 2" round cutter, dip the cutter in flour and cut out the scones, keeping your cuts as close together as possible to minimize waste. Gather the scraps and cut as many scones as you can. Place the scones 2" apart on the prepared baking sheet and place in freezer while you preheat the oven (at this point, the scones can be frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight. You don’t need to defrost the scones before baking - just add about 2 minutes to the baking time).

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400F.

Bake the scones for 17-19 minutes, or until their tops are golden and firmish. Transfer the scones to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving, or wait for the scones to cool to room temperature.  Makes about 14 scones.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Caramel Cheesecake Bars

I know what you're thinking...and yes, we did just have cheesecake bars recently, but these are as different from the lemon cheesecake bars as a dog is from a cat. Both have four legs, fur and can be domesticated to varying extents. But that's where the similarity ends. And so it is with these cheesecake bars.

Like so many good things I make, I found these on Tracey's Culinary Adventures.

And also like so many things I find on Tracey's website, the recipe was in a cookbook I own. For those of you who mastered the lemon cheesecake bars, these will be very familiar. I really like Alice's crust: it's almost a batter you spread in the pan...no fussy crust, no stress.

They're so easy, especially if you have the caramel already made, and although cheesecake isn't a favorite, these were otherworldly due to the salted caramel swirl, in spite of being a tiny bit overdone. Next time, I'll probably use my own caramel recipe (you can find my caramel 101 here) and add flour de del to it.

Caramel Cheesecake Bars - adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy thanks to Tracey
Printer-friendly recipe
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour

3/4 cup caramel sauce (recipe below)
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 oz) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

To make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 F with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a 13x9 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang so you can lift the bars out after they've baked.

Combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the flour until just incorporated - the mixture will be soft, that's fine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan and press into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Let cool completely. Turn the oven down to 325 F.

To make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then add the sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl in between. Transfer 2 tablespoons of this batter to the 3/4 cup of caramel sauce and stir to incorporate. Pour the remaining cheesecake batter over the cooled crust and spread evenly.

Dollop the caramel sauce mixture over the filling. Use a toothpick to gently marble the caramel, being careful not to scrape the crust while you are doing it. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges are puffed and the center is just barely set.

Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let come to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably 24. Use the parchment sling to lift the bars out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into squares with a long sharp knife. The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Salted Caramel Sauce - adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 teaspoon flour de del or grey sea salt

Add 1 cup of water to a 2-qt saucepan. Gently add the sugar to the center of the pot - it will mound, that's fine. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, uncover the pot and insert a candy thermometer. Continue cooking until the mixture registers 300 F and is just starting to develop some color, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat under the pot to medium and cook until the syrup is amber and registers 350 F on the thermometer, about another 5 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the cream into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. If it simmers before the syrup is ready, just take it off the heat and set aside.

Remove the caramel from the heat and add about 1/4 of the warm cream to the pot. It will bubble furiously so be careful. Once the bubbling subsides, add the remaining cream. When it stops bubbling, whisk gently to incorporate fully. Add the butter and the salt and whisk to combine.

Set aside 3/4 cup of the salted caramel sauce for the cheesecake bars. The remainder can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.

Makes about 2 cups

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

The other day, a coworker bought red velvet cupcakes at one of those fancy cupcakes stores and shared them with the office. Amid the oohs and aahs, no one seemed to notice that the frosting was overly sweet, the cake blah, and the general experience disappointing. This isn't a complaint directed at this kind gentleman, but an indictment of what passes as a good cupcake (hint: looks matter).

I was so disappointed in what felt like false advertising that I was determined to find a red velvet cupcake recipe that would make people swoon, that deserved the acclaim, and that we could all eat and feel like it was worth the calories.

I didn't have to look far to find what I wanted. Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted this red velvet cake back in 2007, and she noted many people had made it quite successfully as cupcakes.

The recipe didn't disappoint. For red velvet lovers, the cupcakes were swoon-worthy. For the rest of us, they were a pretty darn good cupcake.

Note:  You're working with red food dye here, so be careful not to splash it all over your kitchen. I have very porous light granite countertops and was careful to the point of paranoia. I think next time I'll just spread newspapers on the counter and not worry so much about making a mess. Be careful when you put the bowl, etc. in your sink. If the water splashes the batter around, you could have quite a mess.

Red Velvet Cupcakes - Adapted from "The Confetti Cakes Cookbook" by Elisa Strauss by way of Smitten Kitchen
Printer-friendly recipe
Yield: 36 cupcakes (I got 24 standard cupcakes and 24 minis)

3 1/2 cups/450 grams cake flour
1/2 cup/47 grams unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cups/450 grams granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces-3 standard bottles) red food coloring or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. Turn off mixer, add the food coloring and drape an old (but clean) kitchen towel over the mixer to control splashes. Turn mixer on lowest setting, wait ten seconds then turn off the mixer. Remove towel, turn mixer to low and add the vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

Fill cupcake papers 3/4 full, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in pans 2 minutes, then remove cupcakes to cool on a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting-Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
6 cups/684 grams confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed (or use a hand mixer) for 5 minutes. Turn off mixer and add butter, then beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Turn mixer to low and slowly add the sugar and vanilla. Continue beating on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chocolate Espresso Cookies

Everyone is searching for meaning in their lives. The one true love, deepest calling, and perfect job absorb many of us well into our 50s and beyond.

Me, I've been fortunate to tie down all the above, so my searching is now directed to something more mundane but just as elusive: the most ethereal chocolate treats. A couple of weeks ago I posted another chocolate cookie, and I wondered if this recipe could come close or even surpass the perfection of the Jacques Torres Mudslide Cookies. I'm sure M. Torres wasn't losing any sleep because the Mudslide cookie is in a league of its own.

I made these cookie's for Di's Second Annual Virtual Cookie Exchange.  Some of my favorite bakers are participating (I am, ahem, late as usual). Di will post a round up on her blog, Di's Kitchen Notebook.

These cookies, which I saw in Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich, have a similar truffly interior, but I missed the sprinkling of flour de del on the tops. M (who was traveling when I made the Mudslide cookies) proclaimed these "excellent" in waves of "mmmm" sounds. They were best while still warm so the crunch of the edges contrasted more sharply with the soft interiors. When cooled, the inside was chewy and the border lost some of its crispness, but was delightful for the aforementioned truffle-like interior.

I made quite a few changes to Alice Medrich's recipe, which you can find in the book, but here is my version, which I think is a little easier but loses none of the flavor or texture that makes these great.

Chocolate Espresso Cookies (adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich)
Printer-friendly version

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped 
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups/9.33 ounces sugar
1 1/2 tsp espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate discs (or substitute chopped bittersweet chocolate)

Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a heatproof bowl set over a simmering pan of water, melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate. Stir until the butter and chocolate are melted. Remove bowl from the pan and set aside while preparing the rest of the recipe.

Beat together eggs, sugar, espresso powder, and vanilla until pale, about 5 minutes. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and then add the flour and bittersweet chocolate discs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon liners. Drop the dough in heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the tops are cracked and the edge resists collapsing when pushed lightly with your finger but the center is still softish. Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes before transferring to metal racks.