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

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 whiskey. (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!"

17 December 2014

Bake All the Fruitcakes!

A few years ago, I bought a copy of the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012) for a ridiculously low post-Christmas price. I'm not a huge Paula Deen fan, but I've enjoyed many of her recipes and the DVD seemed like a good buy. It collects every page of the magazine from the first issue in 2005 through the end of 2012. It's searchable, bookmarkable, printable ... and (most important of all) contains all the recipes my mother and I shared back and forth when she was still a subscriber. Au Gratin Carrots? Yes. Horseradish Mashed Potatoes? Yes. Mushroom Lasagna? Yes.

And all five totally awesome fruitcake recipes from the November/December 2008 issue! I say totally awesome, but I've only made one of the five -- the fabulous "Tropical Fruitcake" with pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts, and white rum -- so how can I be sure of the other four?

I guess I'll just have to bake more fruitcakes this winter! The "Traditional Fruitcake" doesn't interest me -- that's the one my mom bakes, so I know it's perfectly fine -- but I'm really looking forward to trying "Plum Ginger Fruitcake" (the batter is infused with green tea!) and "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake" (because who doesn't love cranberries and walnuts?). Can't quite make my mine up about "Ambrosia Fruitcake" as I'm guessing, flavor-wise, it's supposed to be reminiscent of ambrosia salad and I just remember that my uncle's ambrosia was deathly sweet.

Baking three fruitcakes requires a serious laying on of supplies, so I started totting up a list of ingredients I'd need:
  • 16 cups flour
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 5 cups candied orange peel
  • 4 cups chopped pecans
  • 4 cups sliced almonds
  • 4 cups chopped walnuts
  • 4 cups chopped macadamias
  • 4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 4 cups candied pineapple chunks
  • 3 cups chopped dried apples
  • 3 cups dried cranberries
  • 3 cups chopped dried plums
  • 2 cups candied citron
  • 2 cups crystallized ginger
  • 2 cups candied lemon peel
  • 2 cups glazed red cherries
  • 1 cup raisins
I already own some of the ingredients, but it's a good thing we're in the heart of Baking Season and so many ingredients are on sale! But where am I going to store it all??

31 October 2014

Halloween Spritz Cookies

My mother used to bake spritz cookies for Christmas every year and, as a child, they were the cookie I loved to hate. They were pretty, yes, but they were horrible little beasts to assemble. My mother had a Mirro cookie press -- the kind you have to turn the handle at the top of the barrel while holding the bottom level with the baking sheet until enough dough has come out to see the shape of the cookie and then you have to carefully lift the cookie press straight up so as not to ruin the design. It never really worked out well when I had the running of it and, when I started baking on my own, I vowed I'd never bake spritz cookies because they were just to darn fiddly.

Yet ... here I am with an Oxo Good Grips Cookie Press. A cookie press I was given for Christmas last year. After I specifically asked for it. Because I am mad, I tell you, mad.


I used the spider, web, and pumpkin cookie disks to shape my Halloween spritz. I thought the web and pumpkin would be the easiest shapes to press, but the webs turned out to be annoying little beasties. Of course, I started with the webs so when they wouldn't come out properly I thought it was because the baking sheets weren't chilled enough! And then I thought maybe the dough needed to be chilled. And then, finally, I decided to try the spider disk ... and the spiders came out perfect from the first!

Stupid webs.

The pumpkins also shaped and stuck to the baking sheets just fine. I don't know what it was about the webs, but they really didn't want to release from the press.

I used the recipe for butter cookies that came with my Oxo Good Grips Cookie Press, figuring the recipe had been formulated especially for the press and was thereby a good starting point ... so I am still a bit grumpy and confused about why the webs were so difficult.

Since I was making Halloween spritz I divided the dough into two bowls and colored it with Americolor Soft Gel Paste Food Colors. I was afraid to use too much black, because my mouth kept telling me the cookies would taste "black" even though my brain knew that was nonsense.


The dough looks rather gray in the photo, but the cookies baked up pretty dark.


The orange was just ORANGE from the get go and didn't bake up any less vibrant.


Overall, I'd say I enjoyed my first attempt at spritz cookies and am looking forward to making more as we head into Cookie Season. The Oxo cookie press does take a little getting used to as using it isn't quite as straightforward as the instructions suggest (I would say I pressed a good dozen duds before I got the hang of it), but know that I've figured out what I'm doing ... it beats the socks of my mother's old screw-style cookie press!

01 October 2014

Figgy-Figgy Fall Bundt Cake

Monday night, I was trying to reorganize my kitchen so that I could finally get rid of the rolling cart that holds all my vinegars, oils, and lunch boxes. I've owned the cart since 1994 (bought it at Ames, yo) and am well past any feelings of guilt about tossing it. Goodbye, cart. Hello, additional people space.

Because shuffling the contents of one cart eventually meant shuffling the contents of five cupboards, I ended up elbow deep (and a bit snarly) in my baking cupboard around nine o'clock. Why had I bought dried figs again? How many packages of raisins does a person need? And lets not talk about the bags of white chocolate chips! And the confectionery sugar! Oh, the confectionery sugar!! Clearly, I needed to Bake Something.

And I did! A dense cinnamon-y fall bundt full of figs, raisins, and pecans. It is more a quick bread than a cake, but you bake it in a bundt pan and "bundt cake" sounds right ... whereas "bundt bread" sounds decidedly odd. My recipe is based on "Healthy Fig Bread" from Nordicware's Bundt Entertaining, but I feel I've made it even more healthy (and delicious) with the use of buttermilk and white whole wheat.

Figgy!

My only complaint is that I can clearly see beige-y flakes of oatmeal among the darker cake and I don't like the aesthetic at all. Otherwise, it's a very tasty cake and a little piece, with a nice cup of tea, goes a long way. I love how the cake is absolutely studded with fruit -- none of that sunk-to-the-bottom nonsense I've had with some cakes and I think some of that success might be due to combining the fruit and nuts with the wet ingredients before adding the dry as this leaves the fruit kind-of suspended. Or maybe I'm just rationalizing baking magic?

Figgy Bundt Cake

A dense cinnamon-y fall bundt full of figs, raisins, and pecans.

Yield: 12-24 slices

Cook time: 00 hrs. 45 mins.

Total time: 01 hrs. 15 mins.

Tags: bundt cake, baking, cake

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ cup chopped figs
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup old-fashioned (rolled) oats
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan. (The cake won't rise much so you're probably okay with an 8-cup pan, too).
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, and butter. Add figs, raisins, and pecans.
  4. Add flour ("dry") mixture to the egg ("wet") mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are just combined. Spoon into pan.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes or until a cake tester jabbed into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on rack. Remove cake from pan and cool completely on rack.

As with many quick breads, this is better the next day.


I chopped the figs by removing their stems, slicing them lengthwise, and then crosswise into small pieces. They were very sticky and squishy and yum ... I may have eaten as many figs while preparing the batter as went into the finished cake. Whoops.

This coming Sunday, I'll bake up a bunch of white chocolate and pecan oatmeal cookies for work and that will use up one of the partial bags of morsels. I have only three or four recipes I make with any regularity that use white chocolate and even then they don't use that much ... so I really have no idea why I ended up with so many bags. Oh, I know! Poor organization skills!

20 June 2014

Celebratory Cookies


"Spumoni Chunk Cookies" I made for a retirement party. The recipe starts with Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix and then tarts it up with pistachios, dried cherries, and semisweet chocolate chunks. I've made these cookies several times now, but I admit this was the first time I actually stuck with the recipe -- I've used toasted walnuts or pecans -- because pistachios are not something I usually have on hand. (If you can find shelled salted roasted pistachios, well, good on you. I bought mine still in the shell and, in shelling them, probably put as many in my tummy as in the measuring cup).


I thought I had a bag of Nestle Toll House chunks left from Christmas, but couldn't find them when it came time to bake and ended up buying a bag of Hershey's Baking Melts. Based on the packaging illustrations, I was expecting thumbnail-sized rounds, but opened the bag to find surprisingly big 'uns. A bit too big for these cookies, I thought, so I ended up chopping them in half. Unlike with the pistachios, no chocolate ended up in my belly!


The cherries were the last of the Nuts.com sour (tart) cherries I'd bought for fruitcake last December. They're excellent cherries -- slightly sweetened with a real intense punch of cherry flavor. They look a little bit like raisins once they've baked into the cookies, but once you take a bite you know you're dealing with CHERRIES. There's no confusing these with anything else!


Everyone at the party really loved these cookies and several people asked me for the recipe, only to appear visibly distressed when I explained I'd tarted up a cookie mix. The Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix yields a perfectly fine cookie and, with all the other ingredients added in, the cookie base wasn't a significant player in texture or flavor, anyway. If you want to go all out, by all means do use your favorite from-scratch cookie recipe. I needed to bake quite a lot of cookies in very little time between several other obligations and using a cookie mix saved me from Freaking Out and Baking Angry. No one wants to eat angry cookies.

Anyway, there were 35 cookies at the start of the party and 0 cookies were left at the end, so I think it's pretty clear these cookies were a success!

18 June 2014

Cake Baking As An Act of Contrition

Monday night, I had the house to myself. I had a fairly large to-do list and every intention of Getting Things Done. And then I decided to chuck it all and bake a cake. Because sometimes cake is the important thing. Sometimes, cake is love. Or, at least, an apology.

I haven't been sleeping very well lately. Some of it is caused by the Hamster Wheel of Useless Thoughts. And some by a tiny bladder. And, yes, some of it is due to The Husband's snoring. Still, there's no good excuse for sitting bolt upright in bed in the wee small hours of the morning and shouting at my best beloved that I am going to murder him if he doesn't stop snoring.


So, this cake? This cake is an apology. Baking it was an act of contrition. There is no crumb of this cake that was designed to please me. Every morsel was assembled with The Husband's tastes in mind. Chocolate sponge -- light, moist, and tender-crumbed. Chocolate mousse -- creamy, light, rich. Chocolate buttercream -- rich, dark, deeply chocolatey. And crunchy Maltesers for garnish, because every cake needs a little bling.

And, wow, did this cake go over well! It may very well be one of the best cakes I've ever baked.

Recipes used or adapted:

25 April 2014

Downton Abbey Spring Tea In The Making

I spent today baking for the library's Downton Abbey Spring tea. Tomorrow's tea. No little panic percolating through my veins, darlings. No, I am just a big bag of terror. Why did I say I'd take on the sandwiches? Why didn't I sit back and wait for someone else to volunteer? Mostly, because there's no-one else. This tea was (mostly) my idea.

Oh, my god, the pressure. The expectation. And I can't even blame Daisy.

It's been years since I baked scones from scratch and even then, they were drop scones. None rolling or cutting required. Just plop, sprinkle with sugar, and bake. I was terrified they'd come out flat and chewy from being overworked, but they're actually pretty okay. Not the cream scone of my teatime fantasies, but good enough for sandwiches.


The sandwich recipe, "Blueberry Heart Scones with Smoked Turkey," from Winnie-the-Pooh's Picnic Cookbook (Dutton Books, 1997), called for a 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter but I went with round because that's the shaped I owned. Anyway, I can just imagine what the Dowager Countess of Grantham would have to say about heart-shaped scones!


Probably something biting about nursery foods.

As the sandwiches seemed a little plain with just smoked turkey and cranberry-orange conserve (actually Stonewall Kitchen's Orange Cranberry Marmalade, because where do you find cranberries in April?) I added a few watercress leaves to each sandwich ... and, with that bit of greenery, they were transformed into something delightful.


I also made "Mini Orange-Pecan Muffins with Black Forest Ham" from the same cookbook. Because the muffins were a bit on the sweet side -- perfect for breakfast with pot of strong black tea -- I spread only the bottom of my test muffin with cranberry-orange conserve and spread the top with Dijon mayonnaise. No watercress garnish for this gem, but I splurged and picked up some orchids blossoms from the produce section to decorate Saturday's platter.



For fear of soggy bottoms, I did not assemble any of the sandwiches ahead of time. I did cut all the scones and mini muffins in half and cut the deli meat into appropriately-sized strips, but I'll assemble everything tomorrow about an hour before the tea starts so that the flavors have a chance to work, but nothing gets soggy. That's the plan, anyway. I'm pretty sure much of tomorrow will be spent in a state of pure panic. Quiet, invisible panic no-one else need be aware of. The ladies will have their tea and party games and, no doubt, a marvelously good time.


If only!

19 April 2014

Lazilicious Easter Cupcakes

It's Easter and you know what that means! Yes, the Internet has exploded with adorable bunny cakes and Easter sweets. Feel you can't compete, but should still make an effort, anyway, because you are a conformist at heart? These cupcakes are perfect for you.


Anyway, go rummage around in your pantry until you find a cake mix. Prepare it according to the instructions on the back of the box. Go back to your pantry and find the cupcake liners. Line a mini cupcake pan with the mini cupcake liners. Fill each cup with a scant tablespoon of batter. Bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool. Repeat until no batter remains. Frost however you like (I prepared a frosting mix leftover from a boxed cake kit I made ... ummm ... last spring). Decorate with Malteser mini bunnies, Cadbury mini eggs, or whathaveyou. Eat.

16 February 2014

Baking for My Love: Lemon Madeleines

The Husband is quite keen on madeleines, but I've made both the madeleine recipes found in Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking and didn't want to start repeating them this early on. (Not that The Husband would mind, but I find it ... uncreative). Anyway, I found a recipe for Lemon Madeleines on the Williams-Sonoma website and decided to give it a try since it's very similar to the two recipes I've tried.

Lemon Madeleines for My Love

And, you know, these madeleines were pretty darn fabulous. Light and mildly sweet, bright, and perfectly balanced between cookie and cake. The recipe made a dozen madeleines and they lasted, maybe, a day in our house. (Once they'd cooled, we found warming them in the microwave for 8 seconds each revived them nicely).

These madeleines get their lemon flavor from a teaspoon of zest so, if you'd like a stronger lemon flavor, I'd recommend swapping the quarter teaspoon of almond or half teaspoon of vanilla extracts out for lemon extract. We thought the light lemoniness provided by the zest was perfect and I doubt I'll change a thing when I make them again.

The recipe is also found in Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Paris so, if like me, you're getting through the bitter dregs of winter by fantasizing about spring in Paris (or Florence or Barcelona), you might want to borrow a copy from your library for inspiration.

02 February 2014

Baking for My Love: Chocolate Madeleines

As the orange madeleines from William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking (revised edition) went over so well, I decided to tackle the chocolate version. The recipes are almost identical, but the chocolate recipe obviously omits the orange zest and adds cocoa powder. Interestingly, it also omits the almond extract and uses a full teaspoon of vanilla. I'm pretty sure red raspberry extract would also work well and I may try that next time. Oh, yes, there will be a next time. I envision a monthly baking of madeleines. Chocolate raspberry madeleines. Ginger madeleines. Lemon poppy seed madeleines. Chai spice madeleines.

Except. I'm baking for The Husband and he's not going to want anything more adventurous that chocolate raspberry. Drat.

*sobs into her floury apron*

Chocolate Madeleines

I found it a bit odd that the two recipes were not found side-by-side in William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking (revised edition), but fell 147 pages apart -- the first in the chapter on cookies and the second in the chapter on chocolate. Why did you do this, editors? All the recipes in the chocolate chapter could easily have been integrated into the rest of the book -- chocolate madeleines with cookies, chocolate opera cake with cakes, etc. Is it simply because chocolate is a big deal to most humans? Am I just being pedantic and weird?

Probably. And, yes.

As with the orange version, this recipe makes twelve madeleines and they are best served warm with a light dusting of confectionery sugar. I found them rather richer than the orange ones -- the orange ones were so light and fluffy and zesty that I managed to eat four without blinking, but the chocolate ones were darkly, deeply chocolaty (surprising, because I just used Hershey's Dutch-processed cocoa) and two more than sufficed with a pot of Earl Grey. The Husband does not agree with me on this and he happily ate five chocolate madeleines with his afternoon cuppa. It's possible that it comes down to chocolate tolerance. If you love chocolate, you'll want to eat all the madeleines. If you don't, then you won't. I'm very much a citrus and berry girl.

19 January 2014

Baking for My Love: Orange Madeleines

I'm a bookish cook, so baking madeleines seems an obvious thing and yet I've spent years avoiding the things because they sounded tricksy and every resource seemed to have a different opinion about what they should be. Mostly, I think, because everyone wants to bake Proust's madeleines and no-one has that precise recipe?

As I don't want to bake Proust's madeleines any more than I want to read Proust, I was willing (purely out of love for The Husband) to attempt the two versions in William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking (revised edition). The Husband seemed quite excited by the idea of madeleines -- they are very photogenic cookie-cakes (cake-cookies?), after all -- and they seemed high on his list of Things I Must Bake.

Since we had too many satsumas on hand, my first attempt was with the recipe for orange madeleines. A thorough read-through of the recipe actually left me feeling quite confident I could bake a decent madeleine -- they are surprisingly simple cookie-cakes -- and I was away.

Buttered, Floured Madeleine Pan

The recipe says to carefully and thoroughly butter and flour ever ridge of the madeleine pan, because the madeleines may stick otherwise, so I buttered and floured as if Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were looking over my shoulder. And, you know, I think I might have gone a wee bit overboard, because when I went to flip and knock the pan against the cooling rack to release the cookies, they all fell out before I'd even completed the flip. I used a Chicago Metallic madeleine pan and it is, apparently, not joking around about being nonstick.

These madeleines came out looking and tasting just as Essentials of Baking said they should -- perfect little scallop shells of tender, spongy cake. I was so chuffed. We ate them warm, as recommended, with a dusting of confectionery sugar. The recipe makes twelve, which is perfect with tea for two as breakfast and elevenses.

Orange Madeleines

Really, I can't get over how well these madeleines came out and I look forward to baking the chocolate version. While I know a lot of my success has to do with improved baking skills due to time and practice, some has to do with the way Essentials of Baking's is written. It's as if the editors peeked into my brain and then wrote the book specifically for me. The recipes (at least the ones I've read through) all seem quite clear and straight forward and even go so far as to provide instructions for both hand and machine mixing. And amounts are giving in multiple forms of measurement! Honestly, I'm crushing pretty hard on Essentials of Baking.

Orange Madeleines

12 January 2014

Ginger Oatmeal Cookies

I promised one of my coworkers cookies as thanks for all the help he's given me this week, what with so many staff members struck down by winter ailments. I baked him ginger oatmeal cookies as, while he likes cookies, he prefers goodies he can pretend are good for him! Oatmeal is heart-healthy and ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, so ...

Ginger Oatmeal Cookies

Ginger Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Taste of Home
Makes about 24 cookies

Ingredients
½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup molasses
1½ cups white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour's 100% Organic White Whole Wheat]
¾ cup old-fashioned oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp allspice
¼ cup crystallized ginger chips [King Arthur Flour's Mini Diced Ginger]

Directions
Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

Beat together shortening and sugar until it is light and fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix until well combined.

Roll into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Gently flatten with the bottom of a glass. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or just until set. Remove to wire racks to cool.
This cookies were good -- crispy on the outside with touch of chewiness at the center and very rich with spice. I was quite pleased by how well they turned out and my coworker was very happy.

I have shared this recipe at these delicious blog parties:
Swing by and link up your own dishes!

05 January 2014

Baking for My Love: Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

I gave The Husband a copy of William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking for Christmas with the understanding he would select recipes from the book and I would attempt to follow them. It's very similar to the Cake-A-Month plan I gave my dad umptieth years ago, but includes all kinds of baking and is not necessary limited to one item per month. I couldn't decide, when I bought the book, whether this was the best or lamest gift ever, and even though The Husband seemed chuffed, I'm still worried it's a crap gift.


(Because, if I really loved The Husband, I would be baking for him all the damn time. Wouldn't I? Except when I ask him what kind of cake/cupcake/cookie he'd like, he is not capable of articulating his desires and I get annoyed. Who wants to spend hours baking what may be the wrong cake? At least now he can point at the pictures).

tl;dr

I baked some cookies! Beautiful, golden "Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies" with soft, chewy centers and crispy outsides. I was a bit worried when I took them out of the oven, because they were very puffy and looked nothing like those in the book. But after they'd cooled, they looked more the thing.

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

The recipe says it makes thirty cookies and I managed twenty-eight, which was pretty good considering at least two of my cookies seemed monstrously large when compared to their mates. The inconsistency in sizes always amuses me, as I use a cookie scoop and thus they should all be the same. What can I say? I am not the most exacting baker.

Also, I like big cookies (and I cannot lie / You other brothers can't deny ...).

19 December 2013

Improv Challenge: Lime & White Chocolate

When I saw December's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients were lime and white chocolate, I immediately knew I wanted to make a pudding. Essentially, I wanted something like a pavlova -- a soft meringue nest filled with lime curd mousse topped with white chocolate whipped cream and berries. I've never actually eaten or baked a pavlova, but I've made several Eton Mess and what is that but a deconstructed pavlova?

white chocolate & lime clouds

I used King Arthur Flour's pavlova recipe, because their recipe for Angel Kisses (a meringue cookie) always come out well. While the pavlova recipe makes one big meringue, I chose to make five smaller single-serving meringues. If I'd been a bit neater I could have gotten six meringues from the recipe, but I'm not(and probably never will be) a neat baker.

The meringue recipe only needs five common kitchen ingredients and goes together easily so do give it a try if, like me, meringue makes you a little nervous.

Meringue Ingredients
Meringue Ingredients
Unbaked Small Meringue Shells
Unbaked meringues (the baked ones look almost exactly the same)
Lime Mousse

Ingredients
11 oz jar lime curd [Thursday Cottage]
1¼ cups whipping cream
zest of one lime

Directions
Put curd into the bowl of your stand mixer with the zest and cream, and whisk until thickened and fluffy. Chill 2 hours. (Whisk in a few drops of green food coloring with the cream, if you like, otherwise the dish will be very white).

Ingredients for lazy lime mousse
Lime Mousse Ingredients
White Chocolate Whipped Cream

Ingredients
2 ounces white chocolate, broken into small pieces [Ghiradelli]
1½ cups plus ¼ cup heavy cream

Directions
Microwave chocolate and ¼ cup whipping cream in large microwaveable bowl on high 1 minute or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring after 30 seconds. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Whip the cream in a chilled bowl to soft peaks. Fold in the cooled white chocolate mixture and beat to stiff peaks.

Or, if you have a whipped cream dispenser, pour the cooled chocolate and cream into the container. Replace cap, charge with one cylinder, shake, and maketh with the whip creameth.


white chocolate whipped cream
White Chocolate Whipped Cream Ingredients
Fill meringue shells with lime mousse, top with white chocolate whipped cream, and garnish with blackberries and additional lime zest, if desired. (You will have extra mousse and whipped cream. The mousse will keep. The whipped cream probably won't if you didn't add stabilizer or make it in a whipped cream dispenser).

These lime and white chocolate pavlovas where very light and bright-tasting. Tangy, with most of the sweetness coming from the meringue itself. I'd expected the mousse to be quite sweet as there was a fair amount of sugar in the prepared curd, but it wasn't. It was wonderfully fragrant, though, and made my whole kitchen smell fantastic. I was also rather impressed by the white chocolate whipped cream as the flavor of the chocolate really came through.

These pavlovas are very pretty served as I photographed them, but I admit that when it actually came time to eat them, we found it easier to bash the pavlovas up into small pieces and stir them into the mousse ... Eton mess, all over again.

The meringues will keep indefinitely in an airtight container and the mousse is good for two or three days, so these are easy enough to make ahead.




02 November 2013

He Baked Me A Cake

Saturday night, I came home from work to find the front door locked. I was a bit baffled, as The Husband was clearly home. I knocked, only to be met by unintelligible shouting. Eventually, The Husband let me in, mumbling something about not letting me in too soon. Apparently, he was desperately trying to finish this cake:

Birthday Cake

Yes, The Husband baked me a Victoria sponge for my birthday. He doesn't usually bake and, as he didn't know what any of "the shit" in my baking cupboard was (lots of unlabeled clear canisters only I know the contents of), he went out and bought more baking powder and more superfine sugar and more jam. He was very indignant that he had to go to two different grocery stores as Price Chopper did not have superfine sugar. He "had to go all the way to Stop and Shop" ... as if they are not within half a mile of each other. Adorable man.

To bake this Victoria sponge, The Husband used a mash-up of "Mary Berry's Perfect Victoria Sandwich" and Daniel C Duckett's "Classic Victoria Sponge Cake," because Berry had the right ingredients and Duckett had the right pan sizes. The Husband didn't use Duckett's buttercream, because "WTF? That shit have does not belong in a Victoria sponge!!!" The Husband has strong feelings about cake, you know.

Anyway, totes smashing first attempt. Two golden cake spoons, most assuredly. Sponge was a bit dry, admittedly, but still a good effort all 'round. I mean, look at that:

Piece o' Cake

Is it not a thing of beauty?