Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts

13 April 2016

Yumptious Tea Brack

Finally got around to baking King Arthur Flour's "Tea Brack" on Sunday. As I understand it, tea brack is the baking-powder-and-tea version of barmbrack, a yeasty bread usually served in Ireland at Halloween with different fortune-telling objects (a coin, a thimble, etc) baked into it. I'm still leery of yeast doughs, so this yeast-free version sounded perfect.


I used Barry's Gold Blend tea and Jack Daniel's Single Barrel (not Irish whiskey, but all I had on hand) to soak the fruit as I thought a little whiskey never went amiss with tea. The tea-and-whiskey soaked fruits were plump and yumptious. I used soft, vacuum-sealed fruits from Nuts.com because I find their products consistently good and quite reasonably priced for the quality I'm getting. I freely admit nearly as many dried plums (prunes) went into my belly as went into the cake! (I love dried plums, even back when they were still marketed as prunes and most often associated with grandmas and "regularity").

This cake is a little time-consuming, yes, but in a distinctly non-fiddly "do this and go away for an hour" way. I threw all my fruits together in a big bowl with the tea and whiskey, covered them with a tea towel, and then went off to tidy the living room. Then I assembled the dry ingredients in another bowl, got the egg out, and tidied the kitchen a bit. By the time the fruits were ready to go, I'd done enough that I felt truly accomplished for a Sunday morning.


As I lacked a 8" baking tin that was at least 2" deep, I used my 9" springform pan and wrapped the base in foil, just in case there were leaks. The cake rose up quite beautifully as it baked, but the walls of the pan were high enough to prevent spillovers. Baking tins I've seen in my English mother-in-law's kitchen seem to run much deeper than the ones I'm used to in America. I don't know why this is so -- perhaps because English cakes tend to be denser, fruit-based ones? But how does that explain the sponge cake?

But how does it taste? Heavenly. Moist, dense, fruity. Of course, I'm partial to fruitcake. And tea. And whiskey. People who do not like those things will probably not enjoy this cake. While a plain slice is perfectly delightful on its own, toasting it in a pan and then smearing it with good butter just brings it to a whole new level. Obviously, consume with tea (or whiskey!). Appropriate for breakfast, tea, or whenever you're feeling snacky. Remember, it's got fruit in it (And whole grains! And flavonoids!) so it must be good for you.

I'm tempted to make this tea brack at Christmas using a "Christmas" tea blend, cover the top with royal icing and pass it off as an easy Christmas cake. Seriously, I love the fruitcake recipes I use, but they each make cakes meant to be consumed by waaay more people than I know who like fruitcake. And there's no point telling me to freeze it, because even I (!) don't want fruitcake in July.

06 April 2016

Cookies for Orderly Cupboards

The addition of two bags of flour has caused my usually orderly baking cupboard to descend into chaos. Every time I open its doors to get out the walnuts or refill the sugar pot now, a partially used bag of dried fruit or chocolate morsels throws itself at me. "It's too crowded it here," they cry. "We don't know where we're supposed to fit! DO SOMETHING!"


So I turned a bunch of them into cookies! (Possibly not what they had in mind). I started with a Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix leftover from Christmas and just tarted it up with random baking add-ins. Because I used a lot of add-ins (too many?), I ended up with more cookies than cookie sheets. I just let the first pan cool on the porch after the cookies had been removed from it to the cooling racks and then re-used it, parchment and all, for the last batch.

These cookies came out pretty deliciously. I mean, they would have to be at least "okay" as the mix makes them mostly foolproof. The flavors and textures were quite good, although I think I would have preferred almonds to macadamias and a bit of orange zest wouldn't have gone amiss. Still, my coworkers kept telling me how delicious the cookies were, so what do I know?

Cookies for Orderly Cupboards

Yield: about 32 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 17.5 oz pouch Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup crystallized ginger chips
  • ⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped small
  • ½ cup unsweetened dried flaked coconut, crumbled between your fingers
  • 1 cup 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup unsalted raw macadamia nut pieces

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Line 2 half sheet pans (13"x18") with baking parchment.
  2. Place cookie mix, butter, and egg in your stand mixer's bowl. Attach bowl and flat beater to the mixer. Turn to Speed 6 and beat until a soft dough forms. Add in remaining ingredients and continue to beat until combined.
  3. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart.
  4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool cookies on pan for 2 minutes then transfer to cooling racks and allow to cool completely.
  5. Store cookies in a tightly covered container until needed.

23 March 2016

Can't Have Too Much Flour!

Last week, King Arthur Flour offered $3.14 shipping on all orders over $31.41 in honor of Pi Day and I, of course, seized the opportunity to stock up on flours! Oganic all-purpose and white whole wheat are my regular buys, but the Irish-style and spelt flours are new to me. I'm definitely looking forward to experimenting with them!

All the flours for me, for me ...

As far as I know, I'd never eaten anything made with spelt until I bought a beautiful loaf of spelt sourdough bread from Bantam Bread Company earlier this month. Ohhhh, that bread. Properly sour (and yet a little nutty) with a beautiful body that not only toasted up like a dream but, untoasted, still held up against even the juiciest, drippiest sandwich fillings. I've been day dreaming about that bread since I finished the loaf. Alas, I currently have no good reason to visit Litchfield!

Look at that beautiful bread! Omnomnom.

But that bread's the entire reason I now own a bag of spelt flour. No intention of trying to copy Bantam's sour dough -- that's well beyond my ken -- but I am looking forward to attempting to other things:

  • "Spelt muffins" (w/ the optional almonds & dates, because who doesn't love dates?)
  • "Cinnamon coffee cake"(seems more like a quick bread than a "traditional" coffee cake, but I won't know until I bake it!)
  • "Brown sugar walnut pennies" (never browned butter before ... irrationally excited by the opportunity)

I also picked up a bag of Irish-style flour which I think is the closest I'm going to get to the wholemeal flour called for in my British cookbooks without spending silly money at an British import store. King Arthur has a lovely-sounding recipe for tea brack I'd like to try out rightnowthisminute except I haven't any prunes. Nor currants. Nor ... raisins! How did I run out of raisins? What a sad matter of things.

15 March 2016

Best Beloved's Unbirthday Cupcakes

Imperial Sugar's recipe for "Caramel Easter Egg Filled Chocolate Cupcakes" showed up in my feed about a month ago and I was immediately smitten. The Husband's birthday was coming up -- forty on the first day of Spring, yo -- and they seemed like just the thing to celebrate with. I know a big honkin' multi-tiered cake is probably more appropriate for a fortieth birthday, but there's only two of us and there's a limit to how much cake I want hanging around ... even if it is for my best beloved. Also, cupcakes keep well and are perfectly tidy foods requiring neither plates nor forks to consume. Cupcakes are best, is all I'm saying.


But ... then I realized I'd over-planned his birthday (presuming it doesn't rain) and there was no way I'd manage to bake cupcakes (or anything else) and keep to The Secret Birthday Weekend Plan, so the lucky duck enjoyed them on his unbirthday weekend!

Alas, I couldn't find "caramel mini Easter egg candies" -- only the bite-sized Mini Cadbury Creme Eggs -- so that's what I used. And I didn't have unsweetened chocolate, melted chopped up bits of 70% bittersweet baking bar and reduced the sugar by two tablespoons. And I didn't have quite enough canola oil, so made up the rest with melted butter. And ran out of all-purpose flour, so used about a half cup of white whole wheat. Really, I should have checked my baking supplies before I started cooking, but I always have all-purpose flour and canola oil on hand. Why would I run out?

Because I keep baking things, obviously. And my baking cupboard, while deep and generally well stocked, is not a limitless Horn of Plenty. Although, thanks to #Choctoberfest and Imperial Sugar, I'm still pretty well stocked with sugar! And chocolate. But, mostly, sugar.


I over-filled some of the baking cups with batter and they, of course, overflowed the edges of the cup when baking, creating a very messy cupcake. To make them a bit tidier, I flipped the cooled cupcakes upside down and then used a round biscuit cutter to trim the excess cake away. They still were professional bakery quality, but looked (imho) quite cute when frosted.

My cupcakes are frosted with store-bought whipped vanilla frosting I tinted with a little yellow gel paste food color. At first, I thought it was too pale, but have decided I rather like the effect of the bold green and blue against the softer yellow.


The Husband was super-annoyed I'd double cupped these and thought I'd booby-trapped them because, seeing the striped baking cup, he thought I'd unwrapped the first cupcake for him and proceeded to bite right through the inner cup. Eep. Oh, I how laughed. Oh, how he glowered. And then very carefully unwrapped the rest of the cupcake.

The cake part of these cupcakes are very good -- light, fluffy, chocolaty-but-not-too-sweet, and with excellent crumb -- but I was less enamored with the creme eggs as they settled to the bottom of the cupcake whilst baking and glued themselves to the bottom of the baking cups. The Husband ate them all quite happily, but as the baker it bothered me. How to keep them from settling to the bottom?

24 February 2016

Whisky-Glazed Chai Shortbread

Before I decided a chai-spiced honey cake would be just the thing for February's Improv Challenge, I briefly flirted with a tea-flavored shortbread. I tried an Earl Grey-infused shortbread first and it was fine, but not quite what I was looking for, so I tried it again with a chai tea blend and it was better -- richer and more aromatic than the subtle Earl Grey version. Either version is easy enough to make -- essentially you're just taking a basic shortbread recipe and adding tea.


These are good cookies ... crumbly and buttery, as shortbread is wont to be, with the distinct aromatic flavors of chai spices and the gentler, more subtle taste of whisky. If you wanted to, you could easily make these "Irish" for next month's Saint Patrick's Day shenanigans by using a good Irish strong tea, like Barry's Classic, and Irish whisky.

Whisky-Glazed Chai Shortbread

Yield: 16 squares

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp chai tea (contents of about 5 tea bags) [Tazo]
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 Tbsp honey whisky [Wild Turkey]

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Spritz a 9-inch square baking pan with a little baking spray.
  3. Pulse the tea and flour in your food processor until the tea is in small pieces evenly distributed throughout the flour. Then add the sugar and butter and process until a crumbly dough begins to form.
  4. Pour dough out into the prepared baking pan and smoosh dough down with your fingers (or the bottom of a small glass) until it is spread evenly across the bottom of the pan. Using a serrated knife, score dough deeply to make sixteen squares.
  5. Bake the shortbread at 375° for 20 minutes, or until it's firm and golden brown. Remove pan from the oven, and after 5 minutes, turn the shortbread out of the pan onto a clean cutting board. Cut all the way through the score marks. Place shortbread pieces on a rack to cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the powdered sugar and honey whisky. Brush glaze over cooled cookies and allow to dry completely on racks. Will keep in a tightly covered container for a week or so.

18 February 2016

Improv Challenge: Tea & Honey

This month for Improv Challenge, our ingredients were tea and honey. Part of me wanted to find a savory recipe, because baking with honey scared me a little ... but this is a challenge, after all, and so I knew I should push myself to cook outside my comfort zone.


The original recipe for this cake, called "English Honey Cake," came from The Best Ever Encyclopedia of British Cooking (Lorenz Books, 2011). I've added tea to it, obviously, and tweaked the amounts a little because, honestly, the amounts of honey and sugar going into the original seemed a touch inordinate. While I wanted a sweet, moist cake I didn't want to create something that would taste overwhelmingly SWEET -- the kind of hummingbird-crack cake where you take a bite and you're done.


I used linden (basswood) honey in this recipe, but clover or orange blossom honey should also yield good results. Linden, which I find rather herbal-tasting when compared to clover or orange blossom, is just what I happened to have on hand. The Polish grocery I shop at stocks an astonishing variety of honey and I am slowly working my way through them (with some help from Google Translate).


Honestly, I wasn't sure how much tea to use in this cake. I knew I wanted a strong tea flavor so I ... basically just dumped in tea until the butter mixture looked "right." Turned out that was five teabags or about two tablespoons. The flavor was good -- think chai gingerbread.


You could probably use any spicy tea blend with this cake. For this particular bake I used Tazo's Chai Organic which is a yummy blend of black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and other spices and it worked out really well -- richly aromatic and flavorful. However, a blend like Tazo's Pumpkin Spice -- black tea, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, & pumpkin -- or Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice tea blend -- "an assertive blend of black teas, three types of cinnamon, orange peel, and sweet cloves" -- might also be quite fun to try.

Chai-Spiced Honey Cake

Yield: 16 pieces

Ingredients

  • ¾ unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp runny honey
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chai tea blend (about 5 teabags worth)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 8 oz self-rising flour

Instructions

  1. Grease and line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  3. Heat butter, ½ cup honey, sugar, and 2 Tbsp tea in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring regular, until butter is melted and everything is well mixed. Remove from heat and let rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Beat the eggs and milk into the cooled mixture. Sift the flour over the top and then beat in until smooth.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the 350°F oven for 30 minutes or until cake is risen, golden brown, and firm to the touch.
  6. Leave cake to cool in pan on a cookie rack for 20 min. Firmly grasp the parchment and use it to gently lift the cake out onto the rack. Allow to cool completely in the parchment.
  7. Put remaining 2 Tbsp honey in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat until honey is very liquidy. Brush over cake and allow to sit until needed.
  8. Remove parchment and cut into 16 squares.


Overall, I'm quite pleased with how this cake turned out. It's a light, spicy cake with a beautiful, rich, honey-brown color speckled with lots of attractive flecks from the tea -- almost looks like a seed cake -- and it smells wonderful. Pairs well with a big mug of unsweetened black tea and reminds me quite strongly of something The Husband's Grandmother Winnie would have kept on hand for "just in case." Definitely worth baking again. Thanks, Camilla, for suggesting February's Improv Challenge theme!




21 January 2016

Improv Challenge: Dough & Chocolate

The Husband really loves eclairs and profiteroles ... but only the "proper" kind that are filled with real whipped cream and not with pastry cream or whipped cream that's been stabilized with "something horrible." So when I saw that January's Improv Challenge called for the creative use of dough and chocolate I thought I'd try my hand at pâte à choux (sounds like "pat a shoe") and make the man some profiteroles filled with chocolate whipped cream.


Having watched six seasons of The Great British Bake Off, I'd seen enough cooks make pâte à choux that I was pretty sure I could handle it. I still read many recipes -- both online and in actual printed cookbooks -- before I decided I would be smart to just follow an established recipe rather than attempt my own amalgamation. In the end, I turned to King Arthur Flour's "Easy Mini Puffs" recipe. It worked like a charm and the forty (slightly misshapen) bite-size puffs have kept well, unfilled and ungarnished, in a sealed container on the counter for five days now.


I have been filling the profiteroles as needed with a sweetened chocolate whipped cream I made by combining heavy cream and instant hot cocoa mix in my 1 pint iSi Creative Whip. It's delicious -- light, sweet, and almost gently chocolatey.

Chocolate Whipped Cream Filling

Ingredients

  • ½ pint heavy cream
  • 2 pkts Swiss Miss milk chocolate hot cocoa mix

Instructions

  1. Whisk the heavy cream and cocoa mix together until the powder is completely dissolved.
  2. Pour into a 1 pint iSi Creative Whip. Screw on an N2O whipped cream charger cartridge and shakeshakeSHAKE.
  3. Can immediately be used to fill profiteroles or refrigerated until needed.

The profiteroles are garnished with an easy chocolate sauce I made by combining dark chocolate, whole milk, butter, and sugar. This sauce keeps well in the fridge, although it needs to be warmed a little to get it back to a pourable consistency.

Chocolate Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 oz whole milk cream
  • 1 oz butter
  • 1 Tbsp white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 2 oz good-quality dark chocolate (use at least 70% cocoa solids)

Instructions

  1. Heat the cream, butter, and sugar, in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the chocolate, stirring, until it's melted and smooth.
  3. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  4. Drizzle over profiteroles or refrigerate until needed.


Overall, I'm pleased with my first attempts at pâte à choux and profiteroles. Choux pastry is nothing to fear and I'm looking forward to making more (bigger) puffs in the near(ish) future. Thanks, Melody, for suggesting January's Improv Challenge theme!



09 October 2015

Choctoberfest: Chocolate-Raspberry Meringue Cookies

The generous folks at Imperial Sugar sent me a case of their extra fine granulated pure cane sugar for #Choctoberfest. In case you're not impressed by that, let me point out that a case of Imperial Sugar is forty pounds of sugar. Think of all the things I can create with that amount of sugar! Think of all the cups of tea The Husband can sweeten with the bits he "borrows!" Seriously though, The Husband likes his black tea sweet and too often I have gone to bake something only to find the bottom of the sugar canister coated with the merest scraping of sugar as "someone" has drunk up the rest. That's not going to happen now. Even he can't use that much sugar in his tea!

Astounded by Imperial Sugar's generosity, I decided to bake meringue cookies with their sugar as it's such a simple recipe -- not much more than eggs and sugar -- and I thought it would give the sugar a chance to shine. Sugar doesn't just make these meringue cookies sweetly delicious, but it binds with the egg proteins, increasing their strength and elasticity, creating the fluffiest meringue. Science!


While I've made meringue with regular ol' granulated sugar, it can give the meringue a grainy texture which is not terrible in something like Eton Mess, where the meringue is smashed up and mixed with many other ingredients, but I didn't want gritty cookies. Imperial Sugar doesn't seem to make a superfine sugar, so I just whirred the Imperial Sugar granulated white around in my food processor until it resembled fine beach sand. This doesn't take long to do and allows me to feel even more smug about my kitchen skills.


These cookies are a trifle on the large size -- I like a generous cookie -- so you might want to use teaspoonfuls instead of tablespoons if you prefer a more delicate and ladylike cookie. Also, you could mix some cocoa powder in with the chips and raspberries for a more chocolaty meringue.

Also, feel free to use semisweet or bittersweet (yessss) chocolate in these cookies. The Husband does not enjoy dark chocolate and I love The Husband and want him to be happy, so I stuck with milk.


Chocolate-Raspberry Meringue Cookies

Yield: Approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 large egg whites at room temperature
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 4 oz white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 1 oz freeze-dried raspberries
  • 5 oz milk chocolate morsels

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Position racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Using your fingers, gently break the raspberries so none remain whole, being careful not to crush them into dust. Set aside.
  3. Pour white sugar into your food processor and whir around until it resembles fine beach sand. Set aside.
  4. In the scrupulously clean and dry bowl of your stand mixer, use the wire whisk attachment to whip egg whites with cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla until the whites form soft peaks.
  5. Slowly add sugar, beating until stiff peaks form and mixture becomes very white and glossy.
  6. Gently fold in the crushed raspberries and chocolate chips, taking care not to deflate the batter.
  7. Drop mixture by tablespoonfuls on to the parchment paper.
  8. Bake for 1½ hours, rotating the pans from top-to-bottom and front-to-back halfway through baking.
  9. Turn off the heat and let the meringues cool completely in oven, about 2 hours.

If the cookies stick to the paper when you try to remove them then they are not baked properly. Reheat the oven to 200°F, put the cookies back in, and then turn off oven. Leave for about 2 hours and they should be fine.

These cookies will keep well in an airtight container on your kitchen counter for several weeks ... if they last that long!





Don't forget to enter the giveaway for fabulous Choctoberfest prizes!

08 October 2015

Choctoberfest: Dark Chocolate-Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

For today’s #Choctoberfest with Imperial Sugar recipe, I’ve used dried tart cherries, toasted slivered almonds, and bittersweet chocolate morsels in a scrumptious crisp-yet-slightly-chewy oatmeal cookie. Warm, crispy-on-the-outside-with-slightly-chewy-inside oatmeal cookie are my weakness. Freshly baked chocolate chip? Peanut butter? Snickerdoodle? Sugar? They’re all fine, but I don’t feel I NEED to eat them. But a warm oatmeal cookie? I go full Cookie Monster.

These cookies use a combination of brown sugar and white granulated Imperial Sugar. Brown sugar tends to make baked goods more moist and white makes them crisp so I thought using the two I might give me the combination of crisp-yet-chewy combo I craved. In this, I think I was quite successful and may try combining brown and white sugars in other chewy cookie recipes.

If you’ve not toasted almonds before, fear not for it is quite easy! Just heat your oven to 350°F. Lay the nuts on a cookie sheet in a single layer and bake 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are fragrant and golden. You do need to keep an eye on them, because they will burn, but stirring every few minutes seems to help with that. You can also toast almonds in a skillet, but I tend to burn them when I try the skillet method!


If you don't have access to white whole wheat flour, all-purpose is a fine substitute. I use white whole wheat simply because it makes me feel more virtuous and no-one I bake for can tell the difference between cookies baked with white whole wheat and all-purpose. They can spot "regular" whole wheat recipes from a mile away, though, and turn their noses up every time. Ugh. Picky people.

Anyway, to the cookies!

Dark Chocolate-Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup + 3 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅓ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • ⅓ cup dried tart cherries
  • ⅓ cup toasted slivered almonds

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Beat butter in a medium bowl at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add sugars, beating at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg, beating until blended.
  • Whisk together flour, cocoa, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Stir in chips, cherries, and nuts.


  • Drop dough by tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto parchment paper-line baking sheets.


  • Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets 2 minutes. Transfer to wire racks, and let cool completely.






Don't forget to enter the giveaway for fabulous Choctoberfest prizes!

06 October 2015

Choctoberfest: Bittersweet Raspberry Blondies

My first recipe post for #Choctoberfest with Imperial Sugar and I'm telling you how to make blondies when you're probably all expecting some decadent ooey-gooey chocolate explosion of a brownie. Well. Here's the thing -- I prefer blondies to brownies. Yes. I know. WEIRD. But, seriously, these blondies are vastly superior to your standard brownie, don't take any more time to make, and are just so fine! They're the perfect combination of a sugar cookie and a brownie -- dense and fudgy like a brownie, but the flavor is pure sugar cookie. The addition of almonds and raspberries make them seem extra fancy -- rich and decadent -- but they really are so easy to make and go down a treat with a cold glass of milk. Or big mug of sugary tea. Or tiny glass of dessert wine ...

Baking chips. Some for the blondies, some for my belly.

While I love blondies, I don't like them too sweet so when I threw this recipe together one afternoon I opted for bittersweet chocolate morsels instead of white (which is what I usually find in blondies) to try to balance the sweetness of the brown sugar and berries. I think I was successful, but these bars are still very rich, so feel free to cut them smaller than I did!

These are most delicious served warm so the chocolate is a bit gooey.

I used King Arthur Flour's white whole wheat in this recipe, but the same amount of all-purpose would work just as well. White whole wheat adds an air of virtuousness to these blondies, legitimatizing my tendency to scarf them down like nobody's business! Also, if you want to play around with it, I'm betting blackberries and pecans would make a tasty variation.

I did not line the pan with parchment the first time & it was pretty much impossible to remove the baked bars.

Bittersweet Raspberry Blondies

Yield: 16 bars (cut 4x4)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking spice mix [Penzeys]
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste [Nielsen-Massey]
  • ¾ cup bittersweet chocolate baking chips [Ghirardelli]
  • 4 oz fresh raspberries
  • ⅓ cup flaked almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease 8x8 baking dish and line with parchment paper so that there is a bit of overhang -- this will make it MUCH easier to get the baked blondies out later.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, or in large bowl with hand-held mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy.
  4. Add egg and vanilla. Beat until blended.
  5. Add flour mixture to egg mixture. Beat on low speed until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
  6. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Scatter raspberries and almonds evenly over batter. Bake until edges are golden brown and center is set, about 35 minutes.
  7. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Remove blondies from pan, cut into 16 pieces (4 rows by 4 rows) and serve.






Don't forget to enter the giveaway for fabulous Choctoberfest prizes!

23 September 2015

September Fruitcake

In preparation for Chocotoberfest, I went cleaned out and reorganized my baking cupboard. For days afterward I was so smugly pleased with myself … until I went to get something from the front closet and realized there was a box of baking supplies on the top shelf. Yes, waylongtimeago, I had more dried fruits and nuts than would fit in the baking cupboard so I threw them in box in the closet and then (conveniently) forgot.

What I found in the closet:
  • Cocoa nibs, 1 oz
  • Glazed diced citron, approx ½ lb
  • Gazed lemon peel, diced, approx ½ lb
  • Glazed orange peel, diced, approx ¼ lb
  • Glazed pineapple wedges, approx ½ lb
  • Glazed red cherries, approx ½ lb
  • Macadamia nut pieces, 1 lb
  • Meringue powder, 10 oz
  • Pecan pieces, approx 1 lb
  • Parrot Bay Coconut rum, 200 ml
  • Pineapple Jack Pineapple Coconut Rum, approx 500 ml
  • Shredded coconut, 1 lb
Yes, these are almost all leftover fruitcake ingredients. While they’ve in the closet and I don’t need to go crazy trying to use them up ASAP, their very existence keeps ... hanging over me ... making me feel mentally itchy and uncomfortable in the same way crowded spaces do. It’s easier to just bake a fruitcake (yes, fruitcake in September) and use them up than teach myself to live with them. Also, I'm going into the hospital soon (October 5, but my monkey brain keeps treating it like tomorrow), so my general level of anxiety has changed from it's usual low level "background noise" to something resembling a prickly hedgehog lodged in my chest. Am I desperately trying to distract myself with baking? Hell, yes.


Since I had all the ingredients -- probably because I fully intended to make this fruitcake last winter -- I made Paula Deen’s "Ambrosia Fruitcake" from Cooking With Paula Deen, Nov/Dec 2008 issue collected on the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012). I’ve made four of the five fruitcakes featured in that issue now and, while the "Tropical Fruitcake" remains my favorite, the "Ambrosia Fruitcake" runs a close second.

Because I didn't have quite enough candied orange peel on hand -- the recipe calls for 2 cups and I had a scant ½ cup -- I added in candied lemon peel and citron until I reached the required amount. I'm sure this changed the flavor of the fruitcake somewhat, but it was still very good -- moist and tropical tasting with the candied cherries lending a welcome burst of red against the general beige-i-ness of the cake.


The article says all the fruitcakes can be baked in two 10-inch loaf pans rather than one 10-inch tube pan. Usually I just bake the fruitcakes in the tube pan, then cut the baked ring into quarters and send it along to work, parents, etc. Since it's September, however, I thought I'd do the loaf pan method and then store one, wrapped in coconut rum-soaked cheesecloth and foil in the fridge until December to see what would happen. Hopefully, what happens is that I have a delicious rum-soaked cake just when I need one!

Toasted coconut topping looks cute but flakes off as the cake is cut :(

31 December 2014

Three-Bite Christmas Cheesecakes

I wanted to do something decadent for Christmas Dinner, but not overwhelmingly so. Mini cheesecakes seemed just the thing and when I stumbled across Paula Deen's recipe for "Hazelnut Mini Cheesecakes," I knew I'd struck gold. What do we love? Nutella. And Ferrero Rocher. And Frangelico. What's in these cheesecakes? Hazelnuts. Chocolate. Frangelico.

It was meant to be!

Pulverized chocolate graham crackers.

Now, making cheesecake is actually The Husband's thing, so I was a little nervous making these ... but I needn't have been! The instructions are quite clear and the whole thing turned out much more easily than I'd feared. The hardest part, actually, was making the chocolate graham cracker crumbs simply because I wasn't sure how fine a crumb they should be. I guess, maybe, you can buy the crumbs ready-made somewhere? I've certainly bought the plain graham cracker crumbs before (yes, LAZY). I ended up processing half the box of chocolate graham crackers down to something that looked a lot like black almond flour and decided that was probably good enough.

"Finely"(ish) chopped hazelnuts.

Honestly, I think I could have used regular graham cracker crumbs, because we couldn't really taste any chocolate when we ate these. Hazelnut, yes. Chocolate, no. And there was the scent of Frangelico, but no taste of it. If anything, I feel the cheesecake batter would have benefited from a teaspoon or so of vanilla bean paste. Or, The Husband's suggestion, raspberry extract.

Certainly, these would be very good drizzled with raspberry coulis. Many of my mini cheesecakes collapsed a bit in the middle as they cooled (I suspect I'd beaten too much air into the batter), creating the perfect "cup" for sauce of some kind. When I served them after Christmas dinner, I topped the cheesecakes with fresh whipped cream and a Ferrero Rocher so no-one could see the indentations!


Overall we liked these cheesecakes, but we didn't love them. Oh, we were certainly happy to eat them all up over the course of Christmas vacation, but every time I ate one, I was reminded of how much better it could be. Definitely orange or vanilla extract next time, beaten on a lower speed, and maybe grease the pans a bit to keep the baking cheesecakes from creeping up the sides? It's definitely a recipe worth fiddling with.

Paula Deen's "Hazelnut Mini Cheesecakes" from Cooking With Paula Deen, Nov/Dec 2007. Also available on the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012). Can't locate a copy on your own? See if your friendly local library can help you out.



29 December 2014

Packing Cookies

My father had asked me to bake him something for Christmas, which is also one of the reasons why I made those short-cut peanut butter blossoms. I also gave him a nice wedge of the cranberry-walnut fruitcake and half a batch of short-cut linzer bars.


I'd intended to give him the whole batch of linzer bars, but it turns out The Husband actually likes slivered almonds and I ended up holding half the batch back for him. I've been married for fifteen years now and I still can't remember what The Husband will or won't eat. I say it's because he keeps changing his mind about things, but he says it's because I'm not paying attention. Which is possible, but I swear he was much more selective when I married him. That may have had more to do with culture shock than taste preference, maybe? Regardless, he likes almonds. Or, at least, sliced almonds with raspberry jam and sugar cookie base.

This short-cut Pillsbury recipe for "Linzer Bars" is both fabulously simple and delicious. I did double the amount of jam and almonds, because the original amounts called for seemed a bit scant, but then I like a jammy cookie. This recipe could easily be made with just about any jam and nut you like and I'll probably be trying it soon with black raspberry jam and blanched slivered almonds.

I wanted to make a nice presentation with the cookies so I bought a round tin at Job Lot and filled it with pairs of cookies I put in seasonal cupcake liners. I figured two cookies to a liner was both a nice look and a decent serving. Dad could just reach in and pull up a liner rather than rooting around all the cookies. And, importantly, the jammy Linzers wouldn't get a chance to fuse to each other!


I put the peanut butter blossoms on the bottom, then a circular divider repurposed from a box of Thornton's, and a layer of bars. It looked quite pretty and the cookies seemed to keep well. Although it probably doesn't matter how well they'd keep, because Dad and The Husband had eaten nearly all the Linzers by the time we left him after Christmas dinner!

This may be for the best as the leftover blossoms kept at home in the same container as the Linzers (with no divider between them) went unappetizingly soft as they absorbed the moisture (I assume) from the jammy bars. Meh. I'm still learning.

27 December 2014

Pretty (Lazy) Peanut Butter Blossoms

Growing up, peanut blossom cookies were one of the first cookies I learned to bake. First, I was old and trustworthy enough roll the dough into balls and coat them in sugar. Then, I could put the kisses on the hot, soft cookies. Then, I was old enough to make the dough myself. Frankly, I loved making molded cookies and, thankfully, my mother's Christmas cookie repertoire was dominated by them. Peanut butter blossoms. Russian tea cakes. Jammy thumbprints. Chocolate crinkles. Yum!

Pretty blossoms waiting their turn in the oven ... and then a kiss! Oooer.

So, there's really no excuse for these lazy cookies. I know exactly how to make peanut butter blossoms from scratch. And yet, as soon as I saw this variation on Pinterest, I rushed to put a tube of refrigerated sugar cookie dough on my shopping list. And a bag of kisses, obviously. Because I would have cookies almost instantly. No measuring. Limited mixing. Dirtied one bowl, one measuring cup, and one spatula. Baking the fruitcake seemed to dirty nearly every dish in my kitchen (I am still not a tidy cook) and I wanted cookies without the washing up.

A kiss for the cookie, a kiss for my belly, a kiss for the cookie ...

Yes, there's nothing to these cookies. Just a tube of sugar cookie dough, a half cup of creamy peanut butter, and a bag of chocolate kisses. I did fancy them up a bit by squishing the dough through my cookie press and found that doing so created the perfect balance of cookie and chocolate so Yay, me.

I also found a nifty way to neatly and easily load the cookie press, which is to roll the dough into tubes slightly smaller than the dough chamber and just drop them right in! I know it's an obvious thing, but I spent so much time faffing about with doughy spoons when I made my Halloween spritz, trying to get all the air pockets out so the press would work properly. I could have saved myself so much time (and sworn a lot less).

Logs of dough. Yes, I know they look like poo.

Anyway! The cookies were very crisp and surprisingly peanut-y considering the small amount of peanut butter used. As always, I think they're best when the kisses are still a bit soft and melty, but they were still pretty darn tasty two days later.

24 December 2014

Fruitcake Season: Cranberry Walnut

While I reallyreally wanted to kick off Fruitcake Season with Paula Deen's "Plum Ginger Fruitcake," my mother made disparaging noises when I described it to her and, since I am responsible for Christmas dessert, I decided to go with a safer, more traditional flavor combination. My mother does like fruitcake, by the way, but she is a very traditional baker and ingredients like green tea and Chinese five-spice powder make her very suspicious.


So, perhaps less excitingly, I started Fruitcake Season with "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake." Assembling and baking was just as easy as when I make its sister, "Tropical Fruitcake." Always there is a worrying disparity between the amount of batter created and the amount for fillings to be added. But the point to remember is that the batter is there more to mold the bits of fruit, nut, and peel into a cohesive whole than it is to be cake. Or, more simply put, it's fruitcake.


The raw batter was deliciously fragrant, by the way, and tasted better than any spice cake batter I've ever made. I did use a mix of cinnamon, mace, and allspice instead of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves called for ... simply because I always use mace instead of nutmeg and did not know I was out of ground cloves until I started baking. (I went through my spices twice when I was writing up my list of necessary fruitcake supplies and I swear I saw ground cloves then).

Also, despite a basement full of spirits, I did not have any orange-flavored liqueur and ended up substituting Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur. I could have used regular ol' Jack Daniels, but I worried that would be too harsh. Orange liqueur would be a little sweet and mellow, like honey whisky. (Just to be safe, I threw in a teaspoon of orange extract with the vanilla).


Once I added the fruit, nuts, and peel to the butter-and-flour mixture, the batter became intensely dense and was increasingly difficult for my KitchenAid Professional stand mixer to handle. This happens every time I make a fruitcake, so I've learned not to freak out and worry my stand mixer will explode. I am, every time, extremely grateful to the Christmas fairies who gave me my shiny red workhorse. I don't think I could easily make these dense batters with the smaller tilt-head stand mixer unless I wanted to finish mixing by hand -- my mother does this and ropes my father into wielding the spoon because she doesn't have the strength!


The raw batter fills the 10-inch tube pan pretty much to the top, but that's okay because even with two teaspoons of baking powder this cake has minimal rise and there's absolutely no danger of it overflowing the pan, dripping all over the oven's heating element, and making a terrible burning smell. Do I sound like I speak from experience? I have had a few overflowing bundts. It's not fun. (It also took 3.5 hours in my oven, but I've suspected for sometime now that my oven no longer runs as hot as it used to).


Paula Deen's "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake" from Cooking With Paula Deen, Nov/Dec 2008. Also available on the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012). Can't locate a copy on your own? See if your friendly local library can help you out.


22 December 2014

Fruitcake Supplies

My order of dried fruits, peel, and nuts has arrived from Nuts.com! See it in it's orange splendor!


  • 1 lb. Diced Apples (Unsulphured)
  • 1 lb. Sliced Cranberries
  • 1 lb. Plums (No Pit)
  • 1 lb. Glazed Red Cherries
  • 1 lb. Glazed Pineapple Wedges
  • 1 lb. Coconut - Shredded
  • 1 lb. Macadamia Nut Pieces
  • 1 lb. Sliced Natural Almonds
  • 1 lb. Pecan Pieces
  • 1 lb. Chopped Walnuts
  • 1 lb. Glazed Orange Peel (Diced)
  • 1 lb. Glazed Lemon Peel (Diced)
  • 1 lb. Glazed Diced Citron
The tiny (compared to the others) green bag holds a generous sample of raw organic cacao nibs! Hurrah, a new ingredient to play with. Later. After Fruitcake Season.

I also picked up three four-pound bags of sugar for $1.49 each and one five-pound bag of King Arthur all-purpose flour for free with the purchase of two McCormick spices (and I had a 50¢ coupon off one McCormick spice that the store doubled!). I'm not usually very thrifty about my baking supplies, but fruitcakes require a lot of stuff and I not 100% sure baking four or five fruitcakes over the course of the winter is the Best Idea Ever so ... let's economize when possible without cutting corners or using untrustworthy ingredients.

Oh, a fruitcake-baking we will go! First, up Paula Deen's "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake!"