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.