Friday, December 17, 2010

Gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread cookies

All my life, I've been searching for really good gingerbread cookies. And all my life, until now, I've failed, 'cause most recipes are meant to be structural more than delicious -- they're meant to be hard, sturdy, sorta tasteless but good material for building a gingerbread house. But as a food, as a delicious cookie, they totally fail.

These, on the other hand, are the cookie I plan to make from now on, 'cause they're soft and chewy and full of flavor. They're the gingerbread cookies you've always wanted to come out of your oven. Make them -- you won't regret it.

Gingerbread Cookies
From Cook's Illustrated

3 c flour
3/4 c dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
12 tbsp butter, softened and cut into pieces
3/4 c molasses
2 tbsp milk

1. Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal.
2. Add the molasses and milk and mix until a soft dough is formed.
3. Chill the dough at least 45 minutes.
4. Roll the dough 1/4 inch thick and cut out your shapes, spacing them 3/4 inch apart on your baking sheet.
5. Bake at 350 degrees about 9 minutes, until they are set in the centers and the dough barely retains an imprint when touched very gently with a fingertip. Do not overbake!
6. Cool on sheets for 2 minutes, then remove to cooling racks.
7. When cooled, decorate (I used Wilton cookie icing in a bottle).

Chocolate toffee cookies

Chocolate toffee cookies

I probably don't need to say anything besides "chocolate," "toffee" and "cookies," do I?

Oddly enough, these ended up being those cookies that sound great but look totally unimpressive and really don't go over that well right away. But later... later, a few hours or a day later, you pick one up and take a bite, and then you notice how awesome they are, how almost brownie-like, how rich and fudgy and delicious. And then you wonder where they all went, 'cause surely, there was a full plate here a minute ago. :)

Chocolate Toffee Cookies
From Smitten Kitchen

1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
16 oz bittersweet chocolate, chips or chopped
1/4 c butter
1 3/4 c brown sugar
4 eggs
1 tbsp extract
5 1.4-ounce Heath bars, coarsely chopped (I used the same weight in fun-size bars -- in hindsight, the toffee-to-chocolate ratio was a bit off, so I might use more if I used the little ones next time)
1 c chopped walnuts
Sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
2. In another bowl, microwave the chocolate and butter, stirring and heating until smooth.
3. In a larger bowl, beat the sugar and eggs together until thick. Add in the chocolate, then the vanilla, then the flour mixture. Stir in the nuts and toffee.
4. Chill until firm, about 45 minutes. Optionally, form into logs and chill in plastic wrap, so you can slice and bake them later.
5. Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets (the parchment keeps the toffee from sticking to the pans). Sprinkle with sea salt.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 13 minutes, until the tops are dry and cracked. Cool on sheets (they'll continue to bake slightly as they cool).

Forgotten cookies

Forgotten cookies

I wouldn't normally turn to Emeril Lagasse for a cookie recipe. I mean, he's more known for being the bayou-cooking guy, right? Bam, lots of spices? But this recipe looked good anyway, and it was well-reviewed, and I'd never made meringues before.

Overall, I'd say that these are tasty, but there's not much cookie to them -- they're pretty much all chocolate and nuts. They're also flourless, meaning that your celiac friends should love them. :) And they're easy, so you should love them, too. In fact, they're so easy that you don't even have to watch the oven, 'cause they bake overnight, all on their own.

Forgotten Cookies
From Emeril Lagasse, via the Food Network

2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2/3 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c chocolate chips
1 c chopped walnuts

1. Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add in the cream of tartar and beat until fluffy.
2. Add in the sugar, a bit at a time. When half of the sugar has been added, pour in the vanilla. Add the rest of the sugar slowly and keep beating until the sugar dissolves and the meringue is shiny and tight.
3. Carefully fold in the chocolate and nuts.
4. Spoon by teaspoon-fulls onto parchment-lined baking sheets (the parchment is important, 'cause they'll stick to the pan otherwise).
5. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. When it's fully heated, put the cookies in and turn off the oven.
6. Walk away. Go to bed. When you get up the morning, they will be cookies.

Linzer cookies

Linzer cookie

It's cookie season!

Every year, I try to do at least three new kinds of Christmas cookies -- you know, the fancy ones you only make in December, not the regular kind you make the rest of the year. I try to balance out my picks between chocolate, fruit and spice kinds. And this year, I upped the ante by deciding to put the results into gift packages for a few people on my holiday card list.

I picked out my recipes, which in itself can take a week or two. I plotted out the perfect date to do all of this baking. And then... I had surgery on my finger, which severely impeded my ability to bake (as well as to blog, sadly). But fear not, 'cause there's always Mom, and she was eager to help. With her assistance, I got everything done, including these delicious Linzer sandwich cookies.

The only trouble I ran into was that I didn't have a cutter small enough for the centers -- I ended up using the mouth of an empty (cleaned) soda bottle. Well, there was one other problem, too, I guess, and that was that these were really awesome, but by the time I packed some up to ship, there were hardly any left. I'd make a double batch next time.

Linzer Cookies
From Baked Perfection

2 1/3 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 c sugar
3/4 c butter, softened
2 eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract

1 c chocolate chips
1 c seedless raspberry jam

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, eggs and almond extract until creamy. Add the dry ingredients, a bit at a time.
3. Chill dough until firm, at least 45 minutes.
4. Roll out 1/8-inch thick and cut with a scalloped 2-inch cutter, cutting the centers out of half of them.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 8-9 minutes. Let cool.
6. Melt the chocolate chips. Spread about a teaspoon of chocolate on the flat side of each whole cookie. Let sit for a moment, then spread a bit of raspberry jam over the chocolate and top with the cookies with holes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Apple tart

Apple tart

The great thing about knowing how to bake (and keeping some staples in the house at all times) is that if your honey decides to make a nice dinner, while he's out in the kitchen cutting up his ingredients, you can say, "Hey, how 'bout I make a dessert?" and in a little while, presto, dessert. That was what happened here. I started with "maybe I'll make a nice dessert," and then went to "hmm, I've got some apples in the fridge that I need to use up," and a few Internet searches later, I found this recipe.

My honey ate it with some suspicion, thinking, as I had when I first saw the recipe, "apples and cream cheese???" But he liked the taste, and so did I. I think they were going for something that would be like a traditional fruit tart, with its pastry cream filling, but knowing that pastry cream would be a bit sickening with cinnamon-sugared apples, it's swapped here for a nice cream cheese filling. You wouldn't think the combination of flavors would work, but it totally does. And the nuts on top add a nice crunch.

Apple Tart
From Joy of Baking

1 c flour
1/3 c confectioners' sugar
1/2 c butter, cut into small pieces

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 c apples, peeled and cut into slices (about 3-4 apples)

1/3 c sliced almonds

1. Mix together the flour, confectioners' sugar and butter with a pastry blender or food processor. Press it into a tart pan with a removable bottom, then put it in the fridge.
2. Cut up the apples and toss them with the cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.
3. Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla in a good-sized bowl. Spread this over your crust.
4. Top with the apples. Sprinkle almonds on top.
5. Place pan on a cookie sheet, then bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Drop the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees and continue to bake for another 25-30 minutes, until the apples and golden and soft and the filling is set. Cool on a rack before cutting.

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie

Thanksgiving is all about tradition. So when I asked if I could make the pies this year (knowing that the threatened alternative was boughten pies -- the horror!), I knew I'd better deliver something good or else I'd never hear the end of it.

I heard plenty of it anyway, though. And by "it," I mean "that's now how we do it!" As in "no, you DON'T pre-bake the crust, I NEVER do!" And "you don't have to bake the crust, the can doesn't say to!" And especially that one -- "That's not how the can says to do it!!!" Ah, the all-hallowed can. Mom was referring, of course, to the recipe on the back of the Libby's pumpkin puree can, the recipe she's used every year, and apparently, if I wasn't following that recipe, I was doing it wrong and I was going to ruin Thanksgiving.

I'm happy to say that my pies were just fine, thankyouverymuch. Nobody complained about them at all. Though I think that next time I make them, I'd probably try using light brown sugar, 'cause the dark brown gave the pies a darker color than I'm used to and a bit of molasses flavor that, well, it wasn't bad, not at all, but I'm not used to that, either. Tradition, dontchaknow.

But am I making them next year? Doubtful. I'll leave Mom to her crust-in-a-box (*shudder*) and her sacred back-of-the-can recipe and take on some other part of the meal instead.

Pumpkin Pie
From Cook's Illustrated

One pie crust (I used half of this crust recipe)
2 c pumpkin puree
1 c brown sugar (the recipe calls for dark -- I might use light next time)
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c heavy cream
2/3 c milk
4 eggs

1. Prebake your pie shell at 375 degrees, lined with foil and weighted down, for about 25 minutes on the lower rack of your oven. Remove foil and weights and bake 5 or so minutes more, until light golden.
2. Meanwhile, as the crust is baking, mix the pumpkin, sugar, spices and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a sputtering simmer. Cook about 5 minutes.
3. When the crust comes out of the oven, move the oven rack to its lowest position and turn up the oven to 400 degrees.
4. Whisk the cream and milk into the pumpkin and bring to a bare simmer.
5. In a bowl, whisk the eggs. Then, slowly whisk in a bit of the pumpkin. Continue adding a bit more at a time until the egg mixture is warm. Then, slowly whisk it into the rest in the pan.
6. Pour filling into pie shell. Bake about 25 minutes, until filling is puffed dry-looking and lightly cracked around the edges. Cool on rack before serving.

Chocolate gingersnap tart

Chocolate tart

Thanksgiving this year presented a challenge, in that not only did I overextend myself for my parents' holiday, but my boyfriend was going to spend the holiday with his parents instead and was wondering if I could whip something up for him to contribute to the holiday table. It had to be something sort of holiday-ish, fancy enough for a holiday dinner, but it also had to be something that would keep in the fridge for a couple of days, 'cause I was already booked up in the days before Thanksgiving with making pies for my parents' dinner.

And then, I came across this recipe. It's holiday-ish, in that it has a gingersnap crust and ginger is a good fall/winter holiday flavor, and everybody loves deep, rich chocolate. Plus, tarts always look fancy, even if they're simple, and this one's pretty easy to put together. And it kept just fine in the fridge for a few days, too. The only thing I didn't like about this was how the crust came out, 'cause this is another of the umpteen recipes that calls for a food processor, and I don't have one, so I couldn't get the crumbs as small as I'd have liked.

I'd advise you to keep the slices tiny when serving this. The filling is like a truffle, super-rich, so you probably won't want a whole lot of it.

Chocolate Gingersnap Tart
From Smitten Kitchen

8 oz gingersnap cookies (about 32 cookies), pounded (or food-processed) into crumbs
1/4 c butter, melted
Pinch of salt
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (60% cacao; use chips if you can find them)
1 c heavy cream
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1/4 c sugar
1 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp pepper
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1. Pound or process the cookies into crumbs. Add the butter and salt and mix until moistened. Press into the bottom and sides of a tart pan with removable sides. Place pan on a baking sheet.
2. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, flour, pepper, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
3. In another bowl, cook the chocolate and cream together in the microwave until just melted, then whisk together to combine.
4. Slowly whisk the chocolate into the egg mixture. Pour mixture into crust.
5. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the edges puff and the center is set. Cool on rack 20 minutes, then remove sides of pan and cool completely before cutting.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pumpkin bread

Pumpkin bread

You'd think I would have learned my lesson about pan size from the ill-fated apple bread, and y'know, I did, or I thought I did. After that fiasco, in which I only had 8-by-4 pans and the recipe called for 9-by-5s, I thought, y'know, 9-by-5 is a more common loaf size, so I might as well buy a pair of those, just to have for the next time.

So when I decided to make pumpkin bread, I figured I was all set. I've got the most common size, 9-by-5. And I've got the other, less-common size, 8-by-4. I've got two of each, which is about how many loaves any recipe is likely to make. I was all set, right? Yeah, no. 'Cause this recipe, as if trying to mock me personally, calls for three pans, and they're 7-by-3. 7-by-3??? Do they even make 7-by-3 loaf pans??? I've never seen one. It was hard enough for me even to find the 8-by-4 ones. I've never even heard of 7-by-3.

But I was determined to make pumpkin bread, and this recipe sounded the most promising, so I soldiered on. I ended up with two 8-by-4 loaves, which were a little overdone on the outside, 'cause I had to ensure that the insides were done all the way. And I broke in my new mini-loaf pan with the leftover batter, producing three little loaves that actually came out perfectly (and they're delicious, too!). Next time, maybe I'll just make a couple of batches of the minis.

Pumpkin Bread
Recipe from AllRecipes

3 1/2 c flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 c oil
2/3 c water
3 c sugar

1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.
2. In another, larger bowl, beat together the pumpkin, eggs, oil, water and sugar. Beat in the dry ingredients just until combined.
3. Pour batter into greased and floured pans (though I didn't bother with either in my nonstick mini-loaf pan, and they came out fine). Bake at 350 for 50 minutes for three 7-by-3 loaves (if you can actually find those pans), or less time for minis (mine took around 30 minutes) -- they'll be done when a toothpick in the center comes out clean.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Biscuit quest


I am on a quest. A quest, for the Holy Grail... of biscuits. And sadly, this is not them, either.

Granted, these aren't bad. If you wanted to slather some salted butter on them, or pour gravy over them, they'd be divine. They're nice and soft and light and have a nice tang of buttermilk.

But sometimes, you want the bad stuff. Sometimes, you know you can make French fries in your oven from real potatoes, but you just want the ones from McDonald's, even though you know how bad they are for you. And sometimes... well, sometimes you want biscuits so good that they don't need gravy, or honey, or butter, or anything at all.

I'm talking about the power duo of horribly-unhealthy, ridiculously-delicous biscuits: KFC and Cracker Barrel. Say what you want about their food or its nutritional value -- those biscuits are heaven. But despite my repeated attempts, I just can't figure out how to make them myself, from scratch. Is it the chemicals and preservatives that makes them so good? I don't know. My quest continues.

In the meantime, I'll share these, 'cause they're still pretty decent biscuits, as long as you're planning to put something on them. They're good. They're just not great.

Adapted from AllRecipes

2 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Dash of salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 c butter, slightly softened and cut into pieces
3/4 c buttermilk

1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
2. Mix in the buttermilk and knead the dough just until it comes together.
3. Pat the dough out onto a floured surface until it's about an inch or so thick, then cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter (or the rim of a glass, if you don't have a cutter).
4. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, until the tops are barely browned and the bottoms are golden.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pumpkin cupcakes

Pumpkin cupcake with a jack-o'-lantern on top

I just couldn't hold out anymore. Despite the pile of apples I still have, I just can't take another apple recipe, especially when pumpkin season is already upon us and Halloween is just days away. So I caved and stocked up on cans of pumpkin puree (if it's good enough for every chef on the Food Network, it's good enough for me), and here we go, it's pumpkin time.

This recipe was a nice combination of practicing things I know and new things I hadn't tried, 'cause I decided to make these Halloween-y and make my own jack-o'-lantern decorations. I'd never worked with fondant before, and I'd always heard it tastes horrible, so I did a little research online, and what I discovered is that Duff Goldman's brand of fondant is actually supposed to taste pretty decent. I won't buy a product just 'cause it has a famous chef's name on it, but if the product is actually good, I'm all for it. And this stuff's not bad. It tastes like buttercream, really buttery buttercream. I wouldn't want to eat a ton of it, 'cause it's basically chewy frosting, but it's not bad.

Fondant pumpkin Finished jack-o'-lantern

I was really impressed with how these came out, too, 'cause I had a picture in my head of how they'd look, but I've never worked with fondant before, so I was prepared for them to look stupid. But they don't. They look adorable! And they're just like I pictured in my head. I put together some fondant, some gel food color and an edible-ink pen, and I created these cute little buggers. Even my boyfriend remarked, "aw, those are kinda cute." :) They're not all identical, but I wasn't trying for that -- I figured that you almost never see two pumpkins alike in nature, so mine wouldn't be, either.

And oh yeah, the cupcakes are pretty tasty, too. They also made the house smell so good that I had all I could do not to scarf them all down straight out of the oven, cooling and frosting be damned.

Dry ingredients I will not eat them now, I will not eat them now...

Pumpkin Cupcakes
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 stick, room temperature
1 c dark brown sugar
1/3 c sugar
2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 eggs
1/2 c buttermilk mixed with 1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 c canned pumpkin (NOT pie mix, just pumpkin)

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
2 c confectioners’ sugar
1/4 c maple syrup (the real stuff, not pancake syrup)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line muffin cups with cupcake papers.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars on medium until fluffy.
3. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt and pepper.
4. To the first bowl, beat in the eggs one at a time.
5. Beat in the dry ingredients and the buttermilk mixture, alternating between them, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
6. Beat in the pumpkin until incorporated.
7. Fill the cupcake cups about 3/4 full. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.
8. Let cool a few minutes, then de-pan onto a rack to cool completely.
9. Beat together all of the frosting ingredients on medium until fluffy. Pipe or spread onto cupcakes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apple bread

Apple bread

Today's lesson: Sometimes, size does matter.

See, I had this idea that if one loaf of apple bread was a good idea, two would be even better, so I should double the recipe. And that would have been a great idea, except for one thing: I didn't notice until I was actually putting the batter in the pans that this recipe calls for a 9-by-5 loaf pan, and I have 8-by-4 loaf pans. I thought "well, heck, what's the worst that can happen -- maybe they'll be a little tall, puff up a bit over the top of the pan, no big deal," and I went ahead and filled those pans full.

What actually happened was that when I put them in the oven, the batter started spilling over the sides of the pans as if it was fleeing for its life, some of it hitting the bottom of the oven in a big, batter-y pile that started to smoke up the kitchen a bit. Um, oops. (Now, if I had been thinking, I would've at least put a pan or some foil or something on the rack below them, just in case this happened. But I digress.)

I had planned on taking one of these loaves to work, but after seeing how misshapen they looked, I couldn't bring myself to put one out for public consumption (and silent criticism). Guess I'll just have to eat them both. Good thing they're still really, really tasty. I'd make this again, but I'd definitely scale the recipe back for my pans, maybe a one-and-a-half batch for the two pans. I might try swirling the topping into the batter, too, 'cause when I de-panned them, a lot of the topping fell off.

Apple Bread
From Tasty Kitchen
Yield as written: One 9-by-5 loaf

1/2 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
1/4 c milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 c shredded apples
2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 c brown sugar
3 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, cold, cut into pieces
1/2 c walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray the loaf pan with nonstick spray.
2. In one bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the milk, eggs, vanilla and apples. (Mine looked like a gloppy, nasty disaster right about now, but fear not.)
3. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
4. Beat the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Pour batter into pan.
5. In a bowl, crumble together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, butter and nuts. Sprinkle over the batter.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes, then de-pan and cool on a rack.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Apple crisp

Apple crisp, mmmm

It's been way too long, hasn't it? Sorry about that, mythical reader. But I've been buried under a pile of apples, and a lot of what I've done with them hasn't really qualified as baking. One week, I made apple butter, which was just a slow-cooker thing. Another week, I made turnovers, but if refrigerated puff pastry is good enough for Alton Brown, it's good enough for me -- still, it didn't really seem to qualify as "home-baked," not enough to blog about.

So here we are, weeks later, and I've finally gotten around to what might be one of the most universally-loved apple dishes out there: Apple crisp. Yum! Apple crisp has to be right up there with apple pie, if not a very close second, as far as apple dishes go. And it's so much easier, 'cause you don't have to make a pastry (though the pastry I posted for apple pie is surprisingly easy) -- you just have to crumble some stuff together and mix some stuff together, slap it in a pan and bake it until you can't resist the smell coming from your oven any longer. Heck, you don't even need utensils to make it, other than peeling and cutting the apples. Once that was done, I just used my hands.

Apple Crisp
Adapted from Tasty Kitchen

8 apples, peeled, cored and cut up into pieces
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 1/2 c flour
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 c rolled oats
2 sticks butter, cut up

1. In the biggest bowl you've got, mix the cut-up apples with the lemon juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Spread in the bottom of a 9-by-13 baking dish.
2. Crumble together the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl with your fingers. Sprinkle evenly over the apples.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, until the top is browned and the filling is bubbly.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Peanut butter bars


I have two things to say about this recipe:

1. If you have any sort of reason to bake for other people, make these.

2. If you like them, make an extra batch, 'cause you won't be bringing any home with you afterward.

They're not only really good, but people freakin' LOVE them -- I've yet to have leftovers, ever, no matter who I've fed them to, even though the recipe does use a rather large pan. As long as nobody's allergic to peanuts, they're a surefire winner, like a bar cookie and a peanut butter cup had a baby, or like "the perfect PMS food," I've been told.

Peanut Butter Bars
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

2 sticks butter, softened
1 3/4 c sugar
1 c peanut butter (creamy)
1/2 tsp salt (if using unsalted butter, which I always do)
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1 1/2 c chocolate chips

1 1/2 c chocolate chips
1/2 c heavy cream
1 tbsp butter

1. Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the peanut butter, salt, eggs and vanilla. Beat in the flour.
2. Fold in the chocolate chips.
3. Spread in a buttered 9-by-13 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40-45 minutes, until golden and puffed and a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs on it.
4. Cool completely.
5. Mix chocolate chips, cream and butter in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. Repeat until you have a smooth, melted mixture.
6. Spread this ganache over your bars and let it cool and set before cutting.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Apple pie

Mmm, pie

Rarely do I find myself recapturing the magic of baking, that feeling of "oh my god, I made this?" It's pretty exciting, eating something that tastes amazing, bought-from-a-store amazing, even straight-from-the-best-bakery-in-town amazing, and knowing that you actually created that, all by yourself, from nothing. And it's even more amazing when what you're eating is the single most iconic dish of your childhood, the dish you begged your mom for but only got as a rare treat, the food so perfect that most store-bought versions paled in comparison.

The short version: Holy crap, you have got to make this! I'm ashamed to say it, but it's better than my mom's. It's the best apple pie I've ever tasted. My boyfriend (and apple-peeling assistant) raved about it, too. There's just one catch to this recipe -- you'll need to make a trip to the liquor store. Yes, another recipe with alcohol in it. But you don't taste it. It's just there for food-science reasons, to hold the dough together without creating gluten. It all bakes off in the oven, and what you're left with is flaky, golden bliss. :)

Dough ready for chilling Apples all mixed up
Ready for the oven Fresh-baked pie

Apple Pie
Adapted from "Cook's Illustrated"

2 1/2 c flour, plus more for rolling out dough
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
12 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1/2 c shortening, chilled and cut into pieces (I use butter-flavored Crisco)
1/4 c cold water
1/4 c vodka, chilled

About 8 apples, peeled, cored and cut up into slices
About 3/4 c sugar (use less if you're using sweeter apples, more if they're tart ones)
2 tbsp of so of flour (again, if you're using really juicy apples, use more...)
1 tbsp or so lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice

1. Place flour, salt, sugar, butter and shortening together in a large bowl and cut together with a pastry blender or a couple of forks until you don't see any white flour anymore (it should all be yellow, coated with fat).
2. Pour the water and vodka over the top and fold together gently with a rubber spatula (or your hands) until you have a sticky dough.
3. Divide the dough into two balls. Place each on a piece of plastic wrap, flatten into a 4-inch disc and wrap securely. Chill at least 45 minutes in the fridge (or cheat like I did and put it in the freezer for a little bit -- you just want to make sure it's chilled).
4. In an extra-large bowl (the biggest one you have in your kitchen), mix the apples, sugar, flour, salt, lemon juice (to taste -- I just used a few sprinkles out of one of those little lemon-shaped bottles) and spices (again, to taste -- I went with my mom's method, shake some out until it looks good, mix it up, add more if needed).
5. Roll out one piece of dough on a piece of floured waxed paper until it's big enough for the bottom of a glass pie pan (hold the pan upside-down above the dough to check if it's big enough). Line the pan with the dough, leaving the ragged edges draped over the edge of the pan. (Some people swear by rolling the dough up onto your rolling pin, then unrolling it into the pan. Me, I place the pan upside-down on the dough, put my hand under the waxed paper, flip the whole thing and peel the paper off. Whatever works for you, go with it.)
6. Fill the pie bottom with the apples, heaping them up in the middle. (They will shrink, so don't be afraid to go big with your pile.)
7. Roll out the second piece of dough, making sure to roll it a bit bigger so it will cover the heap of apples and drape over the edges a bit. Use that dough to cover the pie (any way you can manage -- I picked the whole paper up and plopped it on top of my pie, which kicked up a lot of flour all over my work space but got the job done).
8. Crimp the edges of the pie together (you can use a fork, if you want -- I use two fingers pushed together). Trim off the excess by running a knife around the pie underneath the rim. Use the knife to poke some holes in the top of the pie for steam to escape.
9. Place a big piece of foil on the bottom rack of your oven to catch drips (trust me, there will be some). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
10. Bake the pie for 25 minutes to an hour or so, until crust is golden and filling is bubbly (it will start sneaking out the vent holes).

Yes, that's a wide range of baking times, because you really can't just leave it and come back to a pie X minutes later. You have to watch it. Crust getting too brown around the edges too soon? Slap some foil on those edges. Top too brown already? Ditto, tent it with a piece of foil. Like your apples crunchy? Pull the pie rather early. Like them soft? Leave it in there and test it with a toothpick until you're happy with the filling's texture. Most people will want to produce a pie that reminds them of their mom's, and most moms make their pie differently, so use your judgment -- keep an eye on it and cook it until you're happy with the result.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hazelnut blondies


Usually, I make it a policy not to make things that require me to buy ingredients I'll have a hard time using up. This goes double for recipes involving alcohol, 'cause I hardly ever drink -- bottles of liquor will just sit around in the back of a closet or in the fridge, collecting dust. But this recipe made me break the rule, 'cause it's a hazelnut recipe, and I freakin' love hazelnuts. Plus, it looked easy, and the last time I tried to make blondies, they failed pretty hard, so I was looking for blondie redemption.

I've never bought Frangelico before, and what struck me about it, aside from the cute bottle that looks sort of like a friar, is that when you smell it, it actually smells pretty good, like hazelnuts with a hint of alcohol, but also, if you smell it a second time, a little bit like artificial chocolate flavoring. I guess that's why the chocolate cake shot was invented. I suppose that might be a way to help me use up the rest of the bottle. :)

If you don't like hazelnuts, by the way, I don't think it would be a problem. I bet this base would be good without the liqueur and nuts and white chocolate and with, say, walnuts and chocolate chips, or whatever your heart desires.

Hazelnut Blondies
From "Family Circle" magazine

3/4 c butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico)
2 c flour
1 c chopped hazelnuts (save your sanity and buy them pre-chopped in a bag)
1/4 c white chocolate chips

1. Cream together the butter and brown sugar. Beat in the egg, vanilla, liqueur and salt.
2. Stir in the flour, then the nuts until incorporated.
3. Spread in an 8-by-8 pan (I line mine with foil for easy blondie/brownie removal) and bake at 325 degrees for about 35-40 minutes, until the top is nicely golden. Let cool.
4. Melt the chocolate chips and drizzle over the blondies.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blueberry cupcakes

Pretty purple cupcakes

I've had two things in the kitchen for the past month or so that I've been itching to use. One is a few more bags of blueberries in the freezer from our berry-picking expedition last month. The other is two sets of really nice, professional-grade, extra-large pastry tips (a few of them so big that I still haven't found a coupler to use them with, and I have an extra-large coupler already). Those two things finally came together yesterday, in some most unusual cupcakes.

Now, let's be clear -- these aren't muffins (though they did end up with a little bit of a sugary crust on top that's reminiscent of muffins). These aren't your typical white cake base with blueberries thrown in. Oh no. These are BLUE. Well, alright, they're more like purple, but that's the color you get when you mash up blueberries. I suppose I could've food-colored them to death to make them actually blue, but the natural color is pretty, so I left well enough alone.

The berry flavor of the cake is pretty subtle, but the frosting adds a nice hit of flavor to balance it all out. I actually tried filling them, too, using some leftover blueberry puree... um, bad idea. It was drippy, counter-staining carnage. It might still be a good idea, but you'd need to either thicken the hell out of it with cornstarch first or else just use some jarred blueberry preserves. I'll also lay a little of the blame on the fact that I'd never tried to make filled cakes before, so I don't exactly have the technique down. Ah, well. After one disastrous-but-still-tasty test cupcake, I decided to leave well enough alone with the rest of them.

Blueberry puree Fresh-baked cakes

Blueberry Cupcakes
Adapted from The Casual Baker

About a pound of blueberries

1 c butter
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c blueberry puree
2 c + 2 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
6 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/2 c blueberry puree
Few drops vanilla
2 1/4 c confectioners' sugar

1. Place the blueberries in a saucepan with a little bit of water. Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top (use your own judgment, based on how tart your berries are). Cook until the berries soften and become a tickened sauce. Cool slightly, then puree with a stick blender or in a regular blender or food processor.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar.
3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the milk, vanilla and blueberry puree.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.
5. Dump the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and beat until blended.
6. Fill muffin cups (greased or lined with papers) about two-thirds full.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let sit 5 minutes, then depan and let cool on a rack.
8. Beat together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and blueberry puree until thoroughly combined. Beat in the sugar, adding more if needed, to crease a smooth frosting.
9. Frost cupcakes with a knife or pipe with a piping bag and large tip.

Om nom nom

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Corn pancakes

Corn pancake

Sometimes, a recipe just falls into your lap and cries out, "make me, make me right now!"

The other day, my boyfriend went to a dinner party, and of all things, he decided to bring me back corn -- two ears of leftover, already-cooked corn. What am I gonna do with this? No idea.

And then, Smitten Kitchen posted this recipe. And as I looked down at the sad little heap of leftover chow fun I'd been about to dig into for breakfast, I knew that it was fate. Pancakes, you would be mine.

I looked at the recipe, and then I wasn't so sure -- "I know I don't have any cornmeal," I thought. "Probably no buttermilk, either." But amazingly, I did have some buttermilk tucked away in the back of the fridge that was actually still good, and as for the cornmeal, well, while I'm sure the pancakes would've been even better with it, I used oat flour instead (got almost a whole bag to use up still after making granola bars) and they were still really tasty.

Corn Pancakes
From Smitten Kitchen
2 tbsp butter, plus additional for brushing pan
3/4 c kernels cut from an ear of sweet corn
1/8 tsp salt plus a pinch
1 egg
1 1/4 c buttermilk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 c flour
1/4 c cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

1. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add corn kernels and saute until slightly browned. Remove kernels to a bowl and wipe out pan. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the corn.
2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and remaining salt in another bowl.
3. In the bowl with the corn, add the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and sugar and whisk together. Dump in the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined but still lumpy.
4. Heat up the skillet and brush with butter. Ladle in a quarter-cup of batter or so per pancake. When they're dry around the edges, flip them over; cook until golden on both sides.



Didja ever have one of those recipes that you look at and think, "oh, I should make this... but now is not the time, I don't really have the time to make this," and then you keep thinking that for months? The recipe just keeps taunting you, every time you think of making something, "y'know, I haven't made that yet, and I keep thinking I should make it ... but not today, I don't have the time today." For me, this recipe has been babka. Ever since I made pierogis a while back, I've been thinking about this recipe, how it would be nice to get more in touch with my culinary roots ... but it's yeasted. Yeasted means waiting all day for dough to rise, and I just haven't had it in me. Until now, anyway.

This recipe reminds me a lot of cinnamon bread, and like cinnamon bread, I was kicking myself later for following the recipe -- it seems like they never tell you to roll the dough out very much, and then, you just don't get enough layers of filling. It was even more pronounced with this recipe, 'cause the filling layer was really thick -- my boyfriend said that eating this sort of reminded him of a chocolate-filled doughnut, except not creamy. It's still pretty tasty, but next time, I'd definitely roll the dough out way larger, so when you roll it up, you get more, thinner layers.

Filling the dough Fresh out of the oven

From The Bread Bible
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c warm water
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
3/4 c warm milk
3 eggs, room temperature
4 c flour
1-2 tbsp butter, melted, for brushing dough

3/4 c sugar
1/3 c flour
3 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp butter, cut into pieces

1. Pour the warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the top, then sprinkle on a pinch of the sugar. Let stand until foamy.
2. Whisk together the butter, the rest of the sugar and the salt, vanilla, almond extract, milk and eggs. Add in 1 cup of flour and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the yeast mixture.
3. Add in the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until a soft dough is formed.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky. Be certain that the dough remains soft.
5. Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn it over to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
6. Meanwhile, combine the filling ingredients in a small bowl and crumble them together.
7. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll or pat it into a 10-by-12-inch (or larger if you prefer) rectangle and brush with melted butter. Spread the filling on top, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Roll up the dough into a log and pinch the seams together. Holding one end, twist the dough six or eight times to make a rope. Grease a tube plan and place the rope of dough inside, pinching the ends together and patting it so it's even in the pan.
8. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 45 minutes.
9. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 40-45 minutes, until the loaf is browned, a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
10. Let stand 5 minutes in the pan, then depan and let cool on a rack before slicing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010



Here's a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of many amateur bakers: "phyllo dough." But fear not -- it's not as bad as it sounds, not at all.

Granted, a lot of Web sites make it sound scary, what with their damp towels and their dire warnings not to let the dough get dry, or overmoist, or really anything at all, 'cause surely, you will ruin it, they seem to imply. But I found that really, all you have to do is thaw it in the fridge overnight, then be careful -- unroll it gently, and use a light touch when peeling the sheets apart and laying them down in a stack.

I will say one thing about this recipe -- it takes a while. Plan on a few hours the first time you make it, 'cause you can't really rush such a delicate dough, not to mention that we're talking about a bajillion layers to put together here. But if you take your time, it really isn't all that hard to make baklava (you don't even have to make a dough!), and the reward is well worth the time.

Layering the baklava

Adapted from Allrecipes
1 16-ounce package phyllo dough sheets
1 pound nuts, chopped small (your pick -- I use just walnuts, but almonds and pistachios are also traditional, and feel free to mix them up)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 c butter (at least -- have a full pound handy, in case you need more)
1 c water
1 c sugar
1/2 c honey
1 tsp vanilla

1. Put the water and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a boil so the sugar dissolves. Add the honey and vanilla, then simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Mix together the nuts and cinnamon.
3. In another bowl, melt the butter. Brush some onto the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13 pan. Set the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Layer the baklava as follows:
      - Place 2 sheets of dough in the pan. Brush butter on top. Repeat this 4 times.
      - Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the nuts over the top. Add 2 sheets of dough. Brush on more butter.
      - Repeat the above step until you're out of nuts. You should have about 8 sheets of dough left. Layer these 2 at a time until it's all in the pan.
5. Score the baklava into pieces for serving, taking care not to cut all the way through.
6. Bake for about 50 minutes, until golden and crisp.
7. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava. Let cool.

Monday, August 9, 2010

S'more bars

Smore bars

Here's a fun fact for you: Aug. 10 is National S'more Day! What a good excuse to make s'mores or, if you can't be out in front of a campfire that day, the next best thing -- s'mores in cookie form.

The trickiest part of these was working with Fluff. I must be the only person in America whose mom never bought Fluff when she was a kid -- I wasn't really big on marshmallows, so I guess that's why I never got a Fluffernutter in my lunchbox. So today was actually my very first experience with Fluff, and I have to say, I can see the kid appeal -- so sticky, so sweet, so like a marshmallow but without that dusty exterior or super-firm-chewiness. The culinary appeal, though... well, I can see why it's called for in this recipe, 'cause regular marshmallows just don't give you the right gooey-from-the-campfire texture, but it's a bit of a pain to work with -- it's sticky as hell, somewhat of a challenge to measure (I finally just gave up and eyeballed it) and spread out in the pan.

But it was worth it, 'cause these things are delicious. Treat yourself to a pan in honor of National S'more Day, or any other day, really, 'cause who'd ever turn down s'mores?

Crushing crumbs Crust in the pan
Chocolate bars in the pan Fluff layer

S'more Bars
From Baking Bites
1/2 c butter, softened
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 c flour
3/4 c graham cracker crumbs (you could use a food processor if you have one -- I put them in a freezer bag and crushed them with a rolling pin)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 big Hershey bars, plain chocolate (the 4.4-ounce ones)
1 1/2 c Fluff

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream together the butter and both sugars. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
3. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, graham crumbs, baking powder and salt. Pour into the first bowl and beat on low until combined.
4. Line an 8-by-8 pan with plastic wrap and press about a third of the dough into the pan. Use the sides of the plastic wrap to lift the pressed dough out of the pan and move it into the fridge to chill (even a few minutes will help make it easier to work with).
5. Line the pan with a piece of parchment paper that comes up the opposite sides of the pan, then grease the uncovered sides of the pan. Dump in the rest of the cookie dough and press it into the pan.
6. Top with the chocolate bars side by side, then spread the Fluff over that. Pull the rest of the dough out of the fridge, peel off the plastic wrap and lay it over the top.
7. Bake 30-35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool before cutting.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Buttermilk honey bread


Don't panic! Wait, come back!

Seriously, I don't know why people freak out so much about making bread. Homemade tastes a million times better than anything you can buy at the grocery store, and while it's harder to make it than to shell out a buck and change, it's totally worth it and not that hard.

Really, there are two main tricky points when it comes to making bread. First is yeast. They're scary little beasties when you don't know what you're doing with them. But they're less scary when you have a thermometer (meat, candy, whatever, anything that can take the temperature of a liquid that you're going to put in food). Just get your liquid, whatever the recipe says to use, measure it out and pop it in the microwave for maybe 20-30 seconds. Then, stir it around with the thermometer a bit, then read the thermometer. You want 105-115 degrees. If it's 120 or so, that's still alright, 'cause it'll cool down a few degrees while you're grabbing the rest of what you need: yeast, first of all (usually active dry, in the little pouches), and sugar, 'cause sugar is yeast food, and if you don't feed them, they won't do anything.

Right, so, warm water or milk, check. Sugar, however much the recipe tells you to use (usually from a pinch to a teaspoon), grab that, sprinkle it into the bowl. Yeast, open the little pouch (or however many pouches/teaspoons the recipe calls for) and sprinkle that in the bowl, too. Grab a spoon and stir it all around a little bit. A few little yeasties will probably stick to the spoon, but that's alright, no big deal. Now, back away. Go do something else for about 10 minutes. The best thing to do is probably to get together the liquid ingredients for your bread, whatever else is supposed to be mixed with the yeast.

Ten minutes later, it should be all foamy, like this:

Proofed yeast

If it isn't foamy, throw it out, get some new yeast and start over -- yeast does go bad sitting in your cupboard, and yours probably has.

The other tricky part about making bread is actually having the time to do it. Bread recipes take a long time, 'cause the dough must be left to rise at least once, if not two of three times, depending on the recipe. Don't skimp on the rising time -- it does a lot for the bread's flavor. Do, however, read the recipe before you start to make sure you have enough time to get it done.

This recipe makes a very neutral-flavored, all-purpose sort of bread. If you want a yeastier, more rustic flavor, there are plenty of more traditional recipes out there, most of them without buttermilk.

Buttermilk Honey Bread
From The Bread Bible
3/4 c warm water
1 tbsp (one packet) active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar

1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp salt
6 c flour, either all-purpose or bread flour

1 egg
1 tbsp milk

1. Proof the yeast: Pour warm water into a bowl, add sugar and yeast, stir, let stand 10 minutes.
2. Put the butter in a large bowl and melt it in the microwave. Immediately add the buttermilk and whisk to combine. Stir in the honey, then the salt.
3. Mix in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until combined.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes, until it comes together into a smooth, uniform ball.
5. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to coat both sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour or so.
6. Punch down the dough (you don't have to actually punch it, but if you have aggression to get out, go ahead). Turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it into two portions, forming each into a loaf shape. Put each into a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise again 30-45 minutes or until doubled.
7. Whisk together the egg and milk and brush over the tops of the loaves. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes, until loaves are nicely brown, pull away from the sides of the pans a bit and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. De-pan and cool on racks.

Granola bars

Granola bars

There are two reactions I love to hear from someone I'm baking for. The first is "wow, this is awesome!" The second, which comes much more rarely, is "you made this? I didn't know you could make this?"

I was thinking the other day of things that I could make for a friend of mine who's a new mom. Usually, I make a lot of things that tend to be not-so-good for you -- in fact, I'm known more for chocolate-chip cookies among my friends than anything else. But chocolate's probably not that great for nursing moms, 'cause they probably shouldn't have a lot of caffeine. But what would be good for a nursing mom? Foods you can eat with one hand while holding the baby with the other. Foods that are actually sort of good for you, to keep her strength up and the baby's, too. But something that's actually tasty.

Then it hit me: Granola bars. They're tasty snacks, and they're sort of good for you, too, with grains and fruit and nuts. Perfect. And they got the second reaction from the new mom: "You made granola bars? I didn't know you could make those. I thought those just came from factories." (Well, usually they do... but why buy something processed and full of chemicals when you can make it and know what's in it? Wait 'til I get around to making Twinkies -- I'll have to remember to send her some. :) )

Granola Bars
From Smitten Kitchen
1 2/3 c quick oats
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c oat flour (can be found in the health-food section of the grocery store, or substitute oat bran or wheat germ, or grind up some oats in a blender or food processor to make your own)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (or more, to taste)
2 to 3 c dried fruits and nuts (your choice -- I used raisins and slivered almonds)
1/3 cup peanut butter or another nut butter (optional -- I left this out)
1 tsp vanilla
6 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 c honey, maple syrup or corn syrup
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tbsp water

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8 pan in one direction with parchment paper, letting it go up the sides. Lightly grease the parchment and the rest of the inside of the pan.
2. Stir together all of the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts.
3. In another, bigger bowl, whisk together the vanilla, butter, liquid sweeteners and water.
4. Pour the dry stuff into the wet stuff and stir (adding the peanut butter if you're using it) until everything's moist and crumbly.
5. Spread the mixture in the pan and press it down, hard, a lot, so it's really packed down good and tight. (You can use a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap to avoid getting your hands all sticky.)
6. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until they're brown around the edges and a little bit browned on top.
7. Cool completely on a rack before cutting, overnight if you can, or in the fridge. (If they're not totally cool, they won't cut cleanly. If you're in a hurry, you can also pull them out of the pan a few minutes after they come out of the oven using the parchment sling -- that'll help them cool faster.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blueberry buckle

Blueberry buckle

It's always nice when your hobby becomes someone else's treat, a situation where someone is actually asking you to do something you love to do. So it is now with my baking -- first with my coworkers, who seem to get excited every time I walk through the door with a plate or my trusty Cupcake Courier (I don't get a commission on these -- I just love mine so much!).

Now, my boyfriend's gone from willing guinea pig ("here, hon, eat this, tell me what you think") to eager customer, so to speak, asking me the other day if I'd make him something else this week that he could munch on in the mornings, since he'd eaten the blueberry muffins all last week and enjoyed them. Ask and ye shall receive -- I'd been eying this recipe for blueberry buckle ever since he bought the farmers' cookbook when we went berry-picking.

Here's one thing I learned, though -- don't trust a farmer to proofread. The recipe they've printed calls for 1/4 cup of salt. A quarter-cup of salt??? Good thing I'm not a blind recipe-follower -- at this point, I have enough knowledge and instinct to know that that had to be a typo. A quick Google search turned up plenty of blueberry buckle recipes, all of them with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, so that's what I went with. The result was delicious, though a little over-iced (you know how it is -- "oh, too thick, needs more milk..." "wait, too thin, add more sugar..."). It's also a tad Bisquick-y ... I imagine there's probably a shortcut version of this recipe out there that uses Bisquick instead. But me, I work from scratch as much as possible. :)

Thawing, rinsing and drying blueberries Batter up
Ready for the oven Readying the glaze

Blueberry Buckle
Adapted from the Winney's Farm cookbook, volume 3
2 c flour
3/4 c sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 butter, softened or melted and cooled
Scant 3/4 c milk
1 egg
2 c blueberries, thawed if frozen, coated with flour

1/2 sugar
1/3 c flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 c butter, softened

1/2 c confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Milk as needed

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 9-inch round or 8-inch square baking pan.
2. With a hand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, egg, milk, flour, baking powder and salt.
3. Gently fold in the blueberries. Spread in pan.
4. Crumble together sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter. Sprinkle over top of batter.
5. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
6. Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, vanilla and milk to make a glaze, then drizzle over cake. Serve warm if possible.

Blueberry pancakes


Our freezer is still packed full of blueberries from our recent picking expedition, so I decided that rather than going out to brunch on Sunday, a homemade breakfast was in order. How better to use up blueberries (aside from muffins, of course) than blueberry pancakes?

Of course, this was right around the time I remembered that blueberries, like the Cookie Monster's cookies these days, are a sometimes food for me -- I really do get tired of them awfully quickly, so I found myself picking around them after a pancake and a half or so. No matter, though. The pancakes were still quite good, so good, in fact, that my boyfriend, not much of a pancake eater, said he'd eat them again whenever I want to make them. :)

Lining up the ingredients

Blueberry Pancakes
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
1 1/2 c flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c buttermilk
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
1-2 c blueberries, fresh or thawed if frozen

1. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
2. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk together briefly until just combined.
3. Heat up and grease your griddle or a large skillet. Pour 1/3 cup or so of batter at a time onto the griddle, then scatter blueberries over the top. When the edges go a bit dry and the bubbles in the batter start to break, flip them over and cook until both sides are lightly browned.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blueberry muffins

Fresh out of the oven

I went blueberry-picking for the first time yesterday, intent on getting some more farm-fresh fruit for my baking endeavors ('cause farm-fresh really makes a lot of difference as far as flavor is concerned). It was mission accomplished, and then some -- we walked away with a total of more than 3 quarts of berries, plenty for me to put up in the freezer to go in cobbler or pie or, well, who knows? Maybe even cupcakes.

But I left one pint out in the fridge, 'cause I knew I had to start with the one dish everyone thinks of when they think of blueberries and baking: Blueberry muffins.

I had intended to use the recipe in Bakewise, 'cause I own a copy and haven't made a single thing out of it yet. But sadly, the book will have to keep waiting, 'cause I had the idea to look up the "Cook's Illustrated" recipe, and their recipes are almost always good, plus, theirs looked way less complicated than the one in Bakewise (I love Shirley Corriher, but damn, her recipes are fussy). I found the "Cook's Illustrated" recipe online, but it, too, seemed a bit fussy -- make jam, just to make muffins? Then, I poked around online a bit and figured it out: They were only doing this because their recipe was created for store-bought berries, which tend to have a lot less flavor. Surely, I wouldn't need to go to such trouble with berries fresh off the bush.

Still, it did call for a lot of bowls, at least five different bowls of prepped ingredients. But ah, well, that's what dishwashers are for, right? And the results were delicious -- they were a touch berry-heavy for me (I probably could've used fewer, since the ones I used were so flavorful), but the lemon-sugar topping provides contrast and keeps the berry flavor from being overwhelming.

Lemon sugar and floured blueberries Ready to go in the oven
Time to eat

Blueberry Muffins
Adapted from a "Cook's Illustrated" recipe reprinted at The Bitten Word
1/3 c sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 c blueberries (1 pint)
1 1/8 c sugar
2 1/2 c flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 c buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 12-muffin pan with nonstick spray.
2. Zest the lemon and mix the zest with 1/3 c sugar. Set aside.
3. Place the butter in a small bowl, microwave until melted and set aside.
4. Rinse and dry your blueberries, then place them in a bowl with a little bit of flour and toss gently to coat. Set aside. (This will keep the berries from sinking to the bottom of your muffins when they're baked.)
5. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
6. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1 1/8 c sugar. (FYI, 1/8 c is 2 tbsp.) Add the melted butter and the oil and whisk to combine. Whisk in the vanilla, then the buttermilk.
7. Stir the flour mixture into the liquids until just moistened -- batter will be a bit lumpy, and this is fine, don't overmix.
8. Fold in the blueberries.
9. Spoon or scoop the batter into the muffin cups; batter should completely fill the cups and mound slightly. Sprinkle the lemon sugar evenly over the tops.
10. Bake 17-19 minutes, until golden and just firm. (I used the toothpick test on mine, even though the recipe didn't say to, and they were done at around 17 minutes.)
11. Let cool in pan 5 minutes, then cool on rack for at least 5 minutes before eating. (Note: When I de-panned mine, they were so moist and berry-filled that they wouldn't stand on the rack without collapsing into the rack wires. I'd advise cooling them upside-down, 'cause the tops are firmer and can take the weight better.)