Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TWD: Creme Brulee

When I read that this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe would be Creme Brulee, I was seized with something close to dread. Not only had I never made Creme Brulee before, but I had never even tasted it before. I kid you not. Not a single spoonful of this iconic dessert had, to this point, passed my lips. After an unfortunate flan incident in my childhood, any dessert that consists chiefly of solidified egg yolk (ice cream, of course, being the sole exemption) was no friend of mine. So, no custard, no pots de creme, and no Creme Brulee.

But then there was Dorie. I trust Dorie. Dorie's recipes have never let me down. If Dorie could produce a decent Creme Brulee, maybe it was possible to love egg-based desserts. In any case, my curiousity began to get the better of me, and I was dying to try my hand at it. If I couldn't eat it, at least I'd learn to make it. Everyone else in the world seems to think Creme Brulee is a wonderful idea. It seemed wise to learn how to prepare it.

So, I bought some suitable custard cups, the heavy cream, the eggs. I spent many long moments trying to puzzle out how, exactly, I was going to caramelize the sugar on top. I didn't want to go out and purchase a chef's torch for a dish that might get made approximately once. Ultimately, I decided to go with a standard-issue propane torch, only to learn from my husband that we have no such thing in our household (which probably speaks volumes about how handy we are in the arena of home repairs). I made a mental to borrow a torch from my dad, who not only is an avid all-around handyman and has plenty of torches (I felt certain), but is also a professional chef and could act as my wingman.

Right before the weekend, as I was all set to make this, my sous chef (read: daughter) spiked a fever of 103.5 and her tonsils camouflaged themselves as Brussels sprouts. All my careful plans were derailed. No way was I going to try the flame-thrower approach to dessert with a child that sick at home. So I found myself making custard last night and thinking - hard - about how to caramelize that topping today and still get it written up and posted by the 11:59 p.m. deadline.

And then I read the TWD message board, and Sweet Charity suggested caramelizing the sugar separately and pouring it over the chilled custard. Brilliant! I'd caramelized sugar that way before, and not too long ago. That was my way out of this quandary; I threw some sugar, water, and a little corn syrup to bind it into a saucepot and cranked up the heat.

Caramelizing sugar on the stovetop may not be as action-packed as toasting a dish of custard with a blowtorch, but it's not for sissies, either. For starters, the sugar is boiling at a temperature of somewhere around 350 degrees F. Like melted plastic, it spins out into long strands when stretched, and if you get it on your skin, it burns until it cools down. (And speaking of melted plastic, the last time I made caramelized sugar this way, my spatula melted and stuck to the side of the saucepot, so I now use only metal or wood utensils when working with melted sugar.)

That said, if you're careful, it's a piece of cake to make your Creme Brulee this way. I combined 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon light corn syrup, and about 11/2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stirring constantly, once the sugar has caramelized - turns the color of honey and just begins to smell like a toasted marshmallow - remove it from the heat. Use a small ladle or gravy spoon to scoop about a tablespoon onto the surface of the well-chilled Creme Brulee in the ramekin. Carefully tilt and swirl the ramekin so the melted sugar coats the top of the custard. It will bubble up briefly, then cool into a glassy crust almost immediately.

Creating the Creme Brulee surface this way means you lose out on the roasty-toasty dark patches and end up with a fairly even topaz crust. It also means you lose out on the opportunity to set your oven mitts afire. So, it's a toss up.

When we sat down as a family to sample the Creme Brulee (I'm comforted by the fact that unlike their mother, my children won't grow to adulthood ignorant of the pleasures of Creme Brulee), I learned that I've been missing out on something really, really, REALLY good all these years. Now I see what all the fuss was about; this stuff is amazing. It's not like flan or custard or pudding. It's different. It's special. As everyone finished and spoons were scraping the bottoms of ramekins, I asked for comments.

"I think you're on to something here, Mom," said my son. "Maybe this can be the dish you start bringing to all those family gatherings." (Hmmm. Creme Brulee for the Super Bowl Party? I'll think about that one.) My husband offered, "It's good. Great. Really great." And my daughter, recovered of her sore throat, spooning up the last little bit, said, "I'm disappointed." "Really? Why?" I asked.

"I'm disappointed there's not more."

Recipe Notes:

  • You do not want your layer of caramelized sugar to be too thick, or it will be overly crunchy and unpleasant to eat - like a lollipop lying prone over your custard. Spoon just enough on to glaze the surface.
  • When you remove your custard from the refrigerator prior to adding the melted sugar, take a close look at the surface. If there is any moisture there - e.g., droplets of condensation - use a napkin to gently blot it away.
  • Serve your Creme Brulee immediately after you apply the caramelized sugar topping. Waiting will allow the sugar to soften and melt down into the custard. (It will still taste delicious, but you'll miss out on the signature crunch.)
  • I followed Dorie's recipe to a T except that I didn't have whole milk on hand, so I replaced the 1/2 cup of whole milk with 1/4 cup skim milk plus 1/4 cup cream.
  • The texture of this was soft, silken, and utterly smooth; mine wasn't runny at all. I LOVED that it did not require a water bath.
  • Make sure you use very good quality flavorings in this recipe as they'll really stand out. I used double-strength pure Madagascar vanilla extract from the Spice House, which was superb.

Thanks to Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake for choosing this recipe! I learned a lot from preparing it, most importantly that Creme Brulee and I have a lot of catching up to do.

If you'd like to prepare this one yourself, pick up a copy of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yoursand get to work! You can find this recipe on pages 392-394.

To see what other TWD members created, check out the blog roll!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy New Year! Roasted Plum Tsimmes

Please allow me to preface this recipe with a disclaimer: I'm not Jewish. In fact, I'm an evangelical Christian. I've never had the pleasure of celebrating Rosh Hashanah, and before today, I had no idea what was served for meals during this holiday. So what, you're probably wondering, is a girl like me doing posting a recipe for Tsimmes?

I have a friend. Let's call her Deborah. (That's actually her name, so it's a legitimate thing to call her.) My friend Deborah is one of the most loyal, supportive, encouraging friends one could hope to have. I cherish Deborah's friendship. Without it, my life would be a bit dimmer, certainly less sweet.

Deborah, unlike me, is Jewish. And so, she is celebrating Rosh Hashanah. To show Deborah just how special she is to me, and to wish her a happy New Year, I wanted to make something special for her. Because food is such an important part of my life, professionally and personally, and because Deborah's ongoing enthusiasm and enduring support are in no small part responsible for my efforts on this very blog, I decided to make a recipe for her. A holiday recipe, hopefully something that she would, and could, enjoy eating.

Please note that I do not say a holiday dish. As it happens, my friend Deborah and I don't live near each other. Ours is truly a relationship of the modern era, carried on over phone lines and through the ether via broadband. So, this post, and the recipe it contains, is my Happy New Year tidings to my dear friend.

Now, not having the slightest idea of what to serve for Rosh Hashanah, and because I wanted to surprise Deborah with this post - Surprise, Deborah! - I did a bit of research to find out what sorts of foods I could work with. According to one very wonderful Web article on Jewish foods, the central culinary themes for Rosh Hashanah would revolve around three main foci: "sweetness, roundness, and fullness." I researched a few traditional dishes, and then took the classic presentation and made a few adjustments to personalize the dish - adjustments that hopefully are in keeping with the aforementioned themes.

Once I had developed a recipe I liked, I turned to another, newer friend, Ari, for a bit of advice. Ari was patient enough to answer all of my questions and kind enough to vet my list of ingredients, and I'm grateful for her help. (Happy New Year to you, too, Ari!)

The final steps were preparing, taste-testing (that is, feeding the dish to my intrepid and charmingly game daughter), photographing, and posting - the blogger's version of gift-wrapping.

So, to my dear friend Deborah and her family, and to everyone else celebrating Rosh Hashanah, I hope you enjoy my attempt at wishing you a very happy, healthy new year by way of oven love.

Shana Tovah!

Roasted Plum Tsimmes with Honey-Apple Juice Reduction

In my adaptation of the classic dish, I chose to cut the traditional carrots into coins (roundness), to use plums (fullness, roundness), and to incorporate both honey and apple juice (sweetness).
  • 4 medium carrots, washed and peeled
  • 4 purple or red plums (not Italian)
  • 1-inch-piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Slice carrots into coins with a crinkle cutteror a regular chef's knife. Place in a medium mixing bowl.

  3. Using a very sharp paring knife, cut around the circumference of the plums, going all the way down to the pit. Taking one half in each hand, twist gently and the fruit will separate into halves. Remove pit with the tip of the paring knife. Slice plums and add slices to carrots in bowl.

  4. Sprinkle grated ginger over carrots and plum slices; drizzle with olive oil. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper; toss to coat evenly.
  5. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray or brush with oil. Pour carrot mixture out onto baking sheet and spread into a single layer. Roast at 400 degrees F until fork tender, about 15 minutes, turning over once with a wide spatula.
  6. While the carrots and plums are roasting, prepare the honey-apple juice reduction sauce. Place apple juice in a small saucepan and stir in honey and lemon juice.
  7. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium-low and let simmer actively until the sauce is reduced by half and is somewhat syrupy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter or margarine, if using.
  8. Place roasted carrot mixture in a serving bowl and pour sauce over. Garnish with toasted chopped walnuts if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 side-dish servings.

Scones Four Ways

Scones by dawn's early light

Last week, my mom invited me to attend a ladies' tea at her church. Always up for a good tea-and-fellowship afternoon, I happily agreed . . . and was summarily recruited to bring scones. For forty. No problem - of all the things I could have been asked to bring to a tea party, scones are probably my favorite to make.

Of the countless versions of basic scone recipes out there, I tend to like cream scones, which I find stay fresh and moist a bit longer than the butter-based variety. Because scones are at their best eaten soon after they leave the oven, I knew I wanted to bake them on the day of the tea, which didn't leave me a lot of time for preparation. Again, no problem - with this recipe, I didn't need it.

The night before the tea, I prepped four batches of the base recipe (below), combining the dry ingredients in resealable plastic bags. I decided on four varieties: Lemon-Poppy, Ginger Spice, Almond, and Cranberry-Orange-White Chocolate Chip. With everything set up and ready to go, I left the mixing and baking for the morning.

If the lighting in these pictures looks a little strange, it's because I decided to leave the natural early-morning light unadjusted. How I love to bake before anyone else in the house is awake! Just me and my mug of bracing black coffee, the cat waiting more or less patiently for her breakfast, the oven ticking as it preheats. And then, the inevitable sleepy voices calling, "Mom, are you baking? What's for breakfast?" The rest of the family gets up on the right side of their respective beds, lured by the scent of freshly baked scones. Which, in this case, they were forbidden to touch. (Kidding!)

This base recipe can be customized any number of ways; I've included four here. The cream in this recipe acts as both fat and liquid, so please don't try to replace it with a lower-fat substitute like whole milk - the results will be disappointing.

Refrigerating these (and most other baked goods) will hasten staling, so keep any leftovers tightly wrapped on the counter or freeze them if you want to store them for a longer period.

Cream Scones ~ Basic Recipe
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream or whipping cream, plus additional for brushing
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

  2. Combine flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Pour cream over dry ingredients. Mix just until dough clings together. Flour hands and fold - don't knead - dough over a few turns until it coheres. (You really do not want to overhandle the dough - just pat it into shape. Kneading will develop the gluten in the flour and give you tough scones.)

  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat or roll into a 1-inch-thick round (about 8 inches in diameter). Cut into 8 or 10 wedges or use a circular biscuit cutter to cut into rounds.

  4. Place scones on baking sheet, spacing them about an inch apart.

  5. Brush scones with cream; sprinkle with sugar if desired. Bake for about 15 minutes, until tops and bottoms are golden.

  6. Let scones cool slightly on rack; serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 to 10 scones.

~ Lemon-Poppyseed ~

  • Add 1 tablespoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons poppyseeds to dry ingredients. Stir 1 teaspoon of pure lemon extract into cream before adding to flour mixture. Combine 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest and sprinkle over scones after brushing with beaten egg (instead of cream); bake as directed above.

~ Almond ~

  • Add 1 teaspoon of pure almond extract to cream before adding to flour mixture. Brush scones with beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar and sliced almonds before baking as directed above.

~ Ginger Spice ~

  • Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground ginger to flour mixture. Brush scones with beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar before baking as directed above.

~ Cranberry-Orange-White Chocolate Chip ~

  • Add 1/2 cup white chocolate chips and 1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries to flour mixture. Stir 1 teaspoon orange extract into cream before adding to flour mixture. Brush scones with beaten egg before baking as directed above.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Becoming a Daring Baker . . . My First Challenge

Lima Bean Spread and Sesame-Poppy Lavash

After long months of coveting the Daring Baker badges on other food blogs and wondering if I could possibly take the daunting leap of joining, I finally decided to throw my hat into the ring. Waiting almost a month between the time I signed on and the date the challenge was revealed, I was a little nervous. What if it was something I'd never tackled before? What if it required equipment or, worse, time I didn't have?

Sesame-Poppy Lavash

When the challenge was finally given, I breathed a huge, happy sigh of relief. Lavash! And a spread - vegan - to go with it! (Thanks to Natalie of Gluten A Go Go and Shelly of Musings From the Fishbowl for this historic gluten-free/vegan challenge!) That's right up my alley. No, I hadn't made this sort of flatbread before, but I had long wanted to. In fact, I'd wanted to make this exact recipe - from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice - so that was an extra bonus.

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper Lavash

I resolved to make my lavash in plenty of time to make another batch if the first one tanked, photograph it in perfect lighting, come up with a spread that was really unique. Of course, life intervened, and I ended up making my lavash LAST NIGHT, and my spread this afternoon, after running to the grocery store for the primary ingredient, which I was sure I had, but no, turns out I did not.

The Windowpane, or Membrane, Test

Happily, the lavash came off without a hitch. The dough (I made mine with unbleached wheat bread flour, so it was the gluten-containing variation) was a snap to pull together, and the texture and timing were all spot on. Rolling it out proved simple too. Because I have a tiled counter, I rolled it out on a parchment-covered butcher-block cutting board, then transferred the parchment to the baking sheet. I used a plastic pizza wheel to cut the dough into strips before baking.

I made two batches, one with sesame seeds and poppyseeds, and one with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Both were good, but the latter was definitely more of a hit. Next time, I'd chop up some garlic and add that with the seeds. I had some trouble making the sesame and poppyseeds stick, so I might brush the dough with egg white (obviously, not a possibility with this vegan challenge) or spray with oil spray instead of water before sprinkling the seeds over.

Now for the spread . . .

I wanted to make something a little different, so I decided on a lima bean puree. I used large, meaty Fordhook lima beans, simmered in stock and flavored with garlic, rosemary, and Italian parsley. So, so good. If you are not a vegan or vegetarian, you can replace the veggie stock with chicken stock; either works well.

Hope you enjoy my offerings as much as I enjoyed my first outing as a Daring Baker!

The Recipes

~ Lima Bean Spread ~

  • 1/2 small yellow onion, diced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon stock or water
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 pound frozen Fordhook lima beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled or 1 teaspoon fresh, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  1. In a medium saucepan, sweat the onions and the garlic in 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon stock until soft. Do not allow to brown.
  2. Add 1 cup stock and lima beans to pot. Increase heat and bring to a boil; decrease heat and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until beans are tender. If using dried rosemary, add 5 minutes before the end of simmering time.
  3. When beans are tender, add salt, pepper, parsley, and olive oil. Stir and remove from heat. Process with an immersion blender until reasonably smooth. Taste for seasonings.
  4. Chill and serve with lavosh and cut veggies.

Makes about 1 pound of spread.

~ Lavash ~

  • 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe) ~I used unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
  • 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
  • 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar ~I used sugar
  • 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil ~I used olive oil for the flavor
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature ~I used full amt. of water
  • Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

    1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.
    2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bread-Dough-Has-Been-Mixed-Long-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Or for Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
    3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).
    4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors. Or for Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.
    5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.
    6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).
    7. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.
    Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers. Thanks for the recipe adaptation, Natalie and Shelly!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

TWD: Dimply Plum Cake

I was so excited to try this recipe, mainly because I had a few pounds of rapidly softening plums on hand, but also because plum cake invariably reminds me of my sweet German grandmother, my oma, turning out great sheet pans of warm, lightly sweet plum kuchen. Every Sunday Oma would make a cake, just in case there were visitors. And in late summer, just before canning season began in earnest, you could count on that cake being ridged with sweet-tart plum slices, sprinkled with coarse sugar, and served with a dollop of whipped cream.

I might never have made this wonderful cake, though, had it not been chosen as a Tuesdays with Dorie selection. (Thank you, Michelle of Bake-en, for choosing this one!) I'll confess that plum cake was never my favorite as a child, and that I was always secretly glad when Oma made her blueberry version. So this was the perfect opportunity to kill a few birds with one stone: satisfy the TWD post for this week, revisit my memories of Oma, use up the plums currently aging in the fridge, and serve my family a culinary snapshot from my childhood.

The plums I used for this cake were bright red on the outside - the photo isn't color enhanced - with mellow gold-colored flesh. I didn't have cardamom, so I replaced that with dried ground ginger, because I really like the combination of plum and ginger. Finally, I did not have a fresh orange on hand to zest, so I added orange extract to the batter. I was very pleased with the end result - the cake was perfectly moist and subtly spiced.

I made one more modification, which you've no doubt already noticed. While I was prepping my workspace to make this recipe, my daughter ambled into the kitchen and pointed to the picture of the Dimply Plum Cake in the Baking: From My Home to Yoursbook. "You're not going to make that one, are you?" she asked, looking distinctly uneasy. "Actually, I am. I thought you loved plums," I said. "I do. It's just that they look . . . so . . . so . . ." Here she frowned and trailed off, leaning over to more closely inspect the picture in the book. I walked over to join her. And then I remembered what I had never liked about plum cake when I was a kid. It wasn't the taste. It was the look of those plums, glistening and yellowish, wrinkly, skins dark against the pale crumb of the cake.

I realize that plums and eggplants have a lot in common. Both are aesthetically lovely when raw, both taste delicious when cooked, and both can be downright unappetizing in the latter state. Think, for example, of eggplant parmigiana. Heavenly on the palate, but on the eyes? Not so much. (All those seeds, all that black rind.) And plums, I'm afraid, fare equally poorly, and while a child may be famously good at overlooking physical flaws in his or her loved ones, the same does not hold true for his or her foodstuffs.

So, to minimize the visual effect of the plums' heat-induced metamorphosis - again, the very thing that makes them so delicious is the thing that makes them so unsightly - I opted to slice them rather than halve them. I then arranged the slices in alternating rising and descending rows.

I realize that some may think this violates the "dimpliness" of the cake, but I would disagree. True, we were missing the characteristic dimples of the plum halves, but the slices themselves became quite dimpled as they baked on top of the cake. But better still were the dimples in evidence the next morning when I served this at breakfast.

Interested in making this cake for yourself? Check out page 41 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. And stop by the Tuesdays with Dorie site to see what my fellow bakers have created!

Monday, September 15, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Chunkers

This week's installment of the Tuesdays with Dorie baking fest, chosen by Claudia of Fool for Food, was an interesting conglomeration of chocolate, nuts, and fruit: the Chocolate Chunker*. I made a few essential changes, but on the whole, the character of the cookie stayed the same: chunks of sweet, crunchy, chewy, and gooey held together in a matrix of rich chocolate cookie. If you like chocolate, this is your cookie. If not, consider make this one for a chocolate-loving friend, spouse, or teacher!

Some recipe notes:

  • Don't refrigerate this dough prior to baking. I tested two batches, one refrigerated, one not. They both tasted the same, but the refrigerated dough produced cookies that were drier and looked more crumbly. The dough that I baked without refrigeration produced cookies with smooth, rounded, more attractive tops.
  • These don't spread at all. Where you plop them onto the baking sheet is where they shall remain.
  • I let mine sit on the baking pan for about 3 minutes before removing them to the cooling rack. They are quite soft when they first come out of the oven; if you move them too soon, they'll fall apart.

The Changes . . .

I omitted the raisins and added chopped dried sour cherries in their place. I don't hate raisins; I think they are excellent, imperative even, in oatmeal cookies, morning-glory muffins, and Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars - and that's about it. Raisins in chocolate baked goods? Not so much.

I omitted the ounce of unsweetened chocolate and instead used a decent-quality 60% dark chocolate (Ghirardelli chips) for the bittersweet. I melted this with the butter in the microwave, not a double-boiler.

I used chopped dry-roasted, salted peanuts, as suggested. Pecans would have been good too.

Yum! These are best warm and melty. Sigh.

(p. 70 of Dorie's book)

Kiwi Green Tea Fizz ~ A Cocktail

I know it's September because my family is back to school, long yellow buses meander down my street before the dew is even off the grass, and I'm packing lunches instead of picnics. But it's still in the eighties and the leaves on the trees are as green as they were when we were first planting the tender little tomato seedlings that are now yellow-leaved and laden with pounds of perfectly ripe fruit. Fall may be imminent, but I'm not ready just yet to let go of summer.

In honor of this fine short-sleeve weather, and perhaps to stretch it out just a bit longer, I put together a cocktail that is late-summer green, fizzy as a Friday evening, and a sweet good-bye to the last batch of summer sorbet. Cheers!

Kiwi-Green Tea Fizz

Makes 2 cocktails

2 large scoops kiwifruit sorbet
4 ounces Green Tea Liqueur
2 lime wedges
12 ounces chilled ginger ale (can use diet)

Place one scoop of kiwifruit fruit sorbet in each of two highball glasses or stemmed wineglasses.

Pour 2 ounces Green Tea Liqueur into each glass.

Squeeze a lime wedge into each glass. Divide ginger ale between the two glasses, pouring slowly to minimize foaming.

Add a straw and serve immediately.

Variation: Replace ginger ale with 4 oz sparkling white wine (such as Prosecco) per serving.

Notes: This is a fantastic cocktail for a party, by the way. It's fun, festive, and quick to assemble ~ no blender required. StickyGooeyCreamyChewy, I'm bringing the Kiwi Green Tea Fizz to your Blogiversary Bash!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Operation Baking GALS: Round 2

Taking part in the Operation Baking Gals 2 event was such a great experience. The hardest part was choosing which cookies to send. At first, I considered sending a batch of Dorie Greenspan's wonderful Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters. But after reading the posts of several other Baking GALS, I realized that was a common choice, so I decided to go a different route.

After a bit of searching, I came up with three recipes that seemed to fit the bill: no chocolate, no peanut butter, likelihood of making the journey to Iraq (where my soldier and his troops are stationed) in one piece. It's not easy to find cookie recipes that aren't too crunchy (don't travel well) or cakey (ditto) that don't have some form of chocolate, peanut butter, or some combination of the two. But in the end, I selected Lemon Sugar Drops, Chewy Coconut Butter Cookies, and Cranberry-Walnut Granola Bars.

All three had to be packed differently to preserve the integrity of their particular texture. I wrapped each granola bar individually and stacked them in the box. The Lemon Sugar Drops were layered between paper towels in a plastic container that was then taped shut. The Chewy Coconut cookies were stacked and double wrapped in groups of 5, then laid end to end in a narrow (Converse) shoebox.

To take up the extra space in the box and prevent jostling, I used small packages of hard candy and dry air-popped popcorn. Hopefully, the box and the cookies inside it will arrive bearing the well wishes and good tidings it was sent off with. Thanks, Susan, for taking on the Herculean task of getting this project off the ground and keeping it running!

And now . . . the cookies!

Lemon Sugar Drops

~tender and cakey in the center, crisp exterior, lightly lemony

Lemon Sugar Drops*

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 egg
2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Colored sugar for decorating (I used yellow and pale green)

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

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your standing mixer, combine sugar and butter. Beat at low speed (use paddle attachment on standing mixer) until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract, lemon extract, lemon zest, and egg. Gradually add flour and baking soda, scraping down the sides of the bowl while mixing.

Use a medium cookie scoop to drop portions of dough about 2 inches apart on paper-lined baking sheet. One at a time, roll tops and sides (but not bottoms) of dough balls in colored sugar, pressing lightly to coat with sugar. If desired, flatten dough balls by gently pressing with the bottom of a measuring cup or the heel of your hand. [Recipe note: I patted mine down a bit but didn't really flatten them.]

Bake for about 10 minutes, until the edges just start to turn golden brown. Leave on baking sheet for one minute and then remove to rack to cool completely.

This makes about 21/2 dozen cookies.

*Recipe adapted from "To Roll or Not to Roll" Sugar Cookies, by Gold Medal Flour
~ * ~

Chewy Coconut Butter Cookies

~buttery, sweet, chewy . . . delicious

Chewy Coconut Butter Cookies

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine butter and sugars. Beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment until smooth and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and coconut extracts and continue beating. Scrape down sides of mixer, and spoon in flour mixture, beating till combined. Add coconut and mix.

Transfer dough to a smaller bowl and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a medium-size cookie scoop to drop dough about 3 inches apart on baking sheet.

Bake cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the centers are golden brown. Let sit on pan for 1 minute, then remove to rack to cool completely.

~ * ~

Cranberry-Walnut Granola Bars

~sweet and chewy, perfect for an energy boost; made with honey, walnuts, rolled oats, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and dried cranberries

For the Cranberry-Walnut Granola Bar recipe, please click here. Just replace the almonds in the recipe with walnuts for this version. Or use both, if you'd like!



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