Sunday, December 26, 2010

Killer Biscuits for Christmas Brunch

A Handsome Crowd
Ah, Christmas. It's the time of year that brings out the best and worst in all of us. It's when people come together to bask in the glory of Christmas lights and rip each other's eyeballs out of their sockets. My family is your (mostly) typical dysfunctional American family. We love each other and enjoy spending time together, but after awhile we go bat crazy.This Christmas was no different.

It all started on Christmas Eve with a rushed photo session, even though we built extra time in this year to account for a certain two-year-old's lack of cooperation. You see, my family's Christmas Eve tradition is getting dressed up, taking pictures of the family in front of the tree, and then going out to eat. This year I was very excited about wearing my purple satin sheath, and I daresay I looked quite lovely. Everyone arrived on time for photos, but a certain family member felt it was necessary to yell and make everyone hurry through the photos. Because we only had more than a half hour before we needed to leave for the restaurant, but for some reason, said person felt that we had to rush and take off right away. Right. The most difficult part of the photo session was the two-year-old, my dear nephew, who just did not want to be held nor stand still. Then there was trouble with my dad's camera remote. Oh geez. So it's already a little stressful, but we head to the restaurant anticipating a wonderful dinner.

But wait, there's more! We had made reservations for 12 initially, then changed to 11 when the restaurant confirmed our reservation earlier in the day. When my big bro, Frakah, her husband, and I arrived at the restaurant, my big bro checked us in and notified them that there were 10 of us- 9 adults and one child. Simple and easy, right? Wrong. Because this was the year that will go down in infamy as the great seating fiasco of 2010. hen we got to our table, I headed for the far end because our family tends to be reluctant about making anything easy (hey, I got to the table first, so I took the closest seat and now you'll have to climb over my shoulders to get to your seat). I thought I was doing something right. I should have known better. My sister in law came from behind trying to take the end where there was no place setting, so I tried to explain that either everyone in my row needed to move don one place, or we needed to move a setting for my SIL. My always-right mother started going off about how there is an extra place setting because she told the person who called from the restaurant earlier that there would be eleven of us. I said, non, big bro checked us in as 10. Well, even when I'm right, I'm wrong apparently, and everyone eventually sat down, but by then my mom did her sassy arms thing she does when she's mad, my sister started crying, and I was so upset I just didn't want to be anywhere at that table. So, yeah, Christmas fiasco: check.


The strangest gift I've ever received

Luckily, our food was delicious, thanks to Mama Mia (PDX). I enjoyed a delicious butternut squash ravioli with a browned butter sage sauce and balsamic reduction. And, cannoli for dessert (gotta love cannoli)! When we got back to my parents' house we held our sibling exchange, wherein all the siblings exchange gifts. This year we did it white elephant style, which was rather tricky to plan for. We each bought one $30 gift and one $5 gift, gave them to my mom who wrapped the $5 gifts identically and the $30 gifts identically. When we came together, little nephew drew a name from a box and that person chose a gift. The big laugh of the night came when I opened my $30 gift. It was a creepy picture of all the siblings, but what I didn't know was that there was a gift card behind the picture. When I opened it, I thought someone had spent $30 on a frame. Instead, it was $30 of hilarity.

Christmas morning was another story. No fiascos here. Oh, no. Instead, we engaged in what is becoming a bit of a tradition in our house: brunch. We love brunch. Whenever there is an occasion, we usually decide to have brunch. Why not? Brunch contains all of the best foods anyway. Our brunch consisted of baked french toast, hash browns, smoked salmon hash, cinnamon bun bread, scrambled eggs (my way, mostly), sausage gravy, and biscuits. I know what you may be thinking- meh. No, you are wrong. These biscuits were little clouds sent down from Heaven, intended for my intestinal tract. Oh yes, these were some killer biscuits. And, they were incredibly easy to make! I was concerned because the recipe makes 18 biscuits, but as I write this, there is only one left (6pm the day after). I would seriously fight someone over the last biscuit. I'm considering holding it hostage in my room to be eaten tomorrow. But I digress...you probably just want the recipe, right? Okay, here you go. But if you're feeling generous, why don't you share with me one of your holiday traditions?


Biscuits

Mother's Biscuits
from Mother's Best by Lisa Schroeder

6 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, for dredging
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

1. Heat the oven t 450 degrees F. Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine the self-rising flour, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is the size of peas.

3. Combine the buttermilk and heavy cream in a measuring cup. Pour it into the butter-flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until mostly incorporated. Then, using your hands, mix until just incorporated- no more than 3 or 4 quick kneadings. (Don't overmix, and don't worry that the batter is wet, goopy, and nonuniform. It is OK to have some pockets of flour and chunks of butter. That's what will make the biscuits flaky and moist. The most important thing is not to overmix!)

4. Put the all-purpose flour in a shallow bowl. Using an ice cream scoop with 1/3 cup capacity, scoop out a heaping portion of the batter and drop it into the flour. Sprinkle some flour on top, pick up the dough, and cup it in the palm of your hand. Gently jiggle the dough in your palm so that the excess flour falls away, leaving just a light coating.

5. Starting in one corner, arrange the biscuits in a row down the long side of the pan so you have a row of six. (You must start the first one very close to the corner and place the next one nearly on top of the first in order for all six biscuits to fit.) After filling the row, place two more biscuits across the short side (you should now have 3 across and 6 down). Continue scooping and arranging the remaining dough in pieces directly next to each other (they should be touching and just slightly squished) in rows until you have used all the dough.

6. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the biscuits start to brown, and then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake until the biscuits are light brown all over, being sure to rotate the pan now and then (so the biscuits bake evenly), another 20 to 25 minutes. You'll know they're done when the biscuits start to pull away from each other, they don't have any bounce left when poked, and a knife inserted between some of them in the middle of the pan comes out clean.

7. Remove the pan from the oven, brush the tops of the biscuits with the melted butter, and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting into individual biscuits and serving.

Enjoy!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Eggnog Creams and the Cookie Party

Ahh, Christmas Cookies!
So today I went to my second out of three cookie swaps I am a part of this Christmas season. I only decided on what cookie to take last night, which is very last minute for me, but you must remember that I began my Christmas cookie baking before Thanksgiving. I was feeling a bit uninspired this week, and after those amazing chocolate mint cookies I made last weekend, I had no idea what to do with myself. So, last night I found myself perusing my mom's 2010 copy of America's Test Kitchen's Holiday Cookies magazine. In it were many yummy-looking recipes, but none appealed to me more than the Macadamia-Eggnog Creams (minus the macadamia nuts for me). I had everything I needed on hand (minus the macadamia nuts), so I went ahead and prepared the dough, which needed to chill in the fridge for an hour. I left it there overnight, since it makes no difference. When I woke up this morning, as soon as I was done with breakfast, I turned on this week's episode of Millionaire Matchmaker and started rolling, cutting, and baking my cookies.

I am hooked on Millionaire Matchmaker. I can't explain it. I like Patty's no-nonsense approach to finding love for rich people. I also like the freak show of some of the strange people she pulls into her office. I guess this was a sidebar, but oh well. Now you know where I stand.

Unfinished Cookies

Back to the cookies, I remembered that I don't like rolling out cookies as I was trying to roll out these cookies. I do not like the method this magazine prescribed, so I went to my own tried-and-true method. I used four cookie cutters: a bell, a star, a tree, and a snowman. I really like decorating the trees and snowmen. Once I got to the baking part, everything was a breeze. The cookies really only needed 6 minutes in our oven, and they came out looking puffy and barely golden on the edges. Once they were cooled, I packed them in a plastic container and prepared the rum glaze to take with me to the cookie party. The glaze was such a cinch to put together, and I used our aged rum because you can really taste it in the glaze.


Some Crazy Girls

The party was quite fun. My friend Kelsey invited me to her annual cookie swap that she and her family and friends do each year, and it was at her mother-in-law's house. There were lots of cookies, and it turns out three of us brought cookies for decorating. Everyone was impressed with my Martha Stewart sprinkles in blue and white (which, by the way, can be found at Michael's). Decorating cookies is always fun, and we joked about having a competition for prettiest cookie/weirdest cookie. All in all, a good day with some delicious cookies. I actually think that these eggnog cookies will become part of my annual Christmas cookie repertoire.

Pretty Cookies!


Eggnog Cookies
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Holiday 2010 Holiday Cookies

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 lrg egg, room temp
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp eggnog
2 tbsp rum
2 cups powdered sugar

1. Combine flour, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt in bowl. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add egg and beat until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and alternate additions of flour mixture and 1/2 cup eggnog, mixing after each addition until combined. Divide dough into quarters, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, 1 hour.

2. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Toll each dough quarter on a lightly-floured flat surface to 1/8-inch thickness.Using cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges are light brown, 6-10 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool 10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

3. Whisk remaining eggnog, rum, and powdered sugar together until smooth. Spoon scant teaspoon glaze over cookies, then decorate with sprinkles- be creative!

Enjoy!

Tree and Snowman

Monday, December 13, 2010

Baking Compulsion, Part 2 wherein I bake cookies, crackers, rolls and truffles

Super Duper Chocolate Mint Cookies
So my baking compulsion is getting a little out of control. Not only do I feel the need to keep my hands busy with baking, but I feel the need to be perfect at it. I want to make the best cookies, the best cakes, the best everything, really, and it's just too much. This weekend the stress got to me. Granted, my perfectionism isn't limited to baking. I'm also a perfectionist with my schoolwork (I'm allergic to anything that is not an A) and really any work that is examined or seen by another person. This might make me a type A personality, but it also means I'm a good baker. I'm lucky in that respect.

Dinner Rolls


This weekend my baking compulsion kicked into high gear and I produced cheese crackers, super super chocolate mint cookies, two kinds of truffles, and homemade dinner rolls. And it all turned out fantastically. I consider myself lucky. I won't get into the nitty gritty of my baking this time, except to say there was some watching of Prancer and Meet Me in St. Louis (both great movies). For my cookies, I had been dreaming of turning my famous Super Duper Chocolate Cookies into mint chocolate cookies, and that dream came true in what I believe to be the perfect cookie. To make the mint cookies, all I did was decrease the amount of coffee powder to 1 tsp and decrease the vanilla to 1 tsp and add 1 tsp peppermint extract. Then, instead of white chocolate chips, I added a cup of mint M & M's. 


For the rolls recipe, I used the one found here.


Peppermint Truffles


Truffles

Ingredients (yields ~ 18 truffles)

Chopped hazelnuts or
Cocoa powder, sifted or
Crushed candy canes
3-1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3-1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp Frangelico or Peppermint Schnapps
1 tbsp hot coffee
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

1. Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl.

2. Heat cream over medium-high heat until it reaches a boil. Immediately pour hot cream over bowl with chocolate and whisk until smooth.

3. Whisk in liqueur, coffee, and vanilla.

4. Cover mixture and transfer to refrigerator for about an hour.

5. Using a small ice cream scoop, make scoops of chocolate mixture and place on a lined cookie sheet. Transfer back to fridge for another 15-20 minutes.

6. Remove truffles from fridge only 4 at a time to prevent unnecessary melting. Roll dollops into balls with your hands (remember, doesn’t have to be perfect) and roll in either the hazelnuts, cocoa powder, or candy canes.

7. Package as you wish and store in the fridge until ready to serve.


Cheese Crackers
Oat-and-Cheddar Crackers
from December 2010 Food & Wine

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 lrg egg, lightly beaten
Egg wash: 1 lrg egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 tbsp milk
Demerara or Turbinado sugar

1. In a small bowl, combine the oats and milk and let stand until the oats soften slightly, about 5 minutes.

2. In a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and pulse a few times to blend. Add the cheese and butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Stir the beaten egg into the softened oats, then scrape the oats into the food processor. Pulse until a dough forms. Scrape the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and gently knead a few times until thoroughly blended. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap it up and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Work with half of the dough at a time: on a lightly floured work service, dust the dough with flour. Cover with a large sheet of plastic wrap. Roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Quickly cut the dough into 1 1/2 inch squares or stamp out different shapes. Brush off any excess flour and transfer the squares to one of the baking sheets. Refrigerate for at least 5 minutes, until the squares are firm. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

4. Lightly brush the squares with the egg wash and lightly sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 16 minutes, until the crackers are golden brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool before serving or packaging.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ginger Molasses Cookies, or, The Day I Realized I May Have a Compulsive Baking Disorder

Ooh, cookie jar!
Hello friends! So my baking was nearly sidelined this week when I contracted a yucky cold, but luckily today I woke up feeling like things are getting better. Frakah was supposed to come bake with me, but alas, she too has contracted the nasty cold making its rounds in my family. So I sat there eating breakfast this morning, trying to figure out what to do with myself. Sure, I had finals to study for and a 3 page memo to type up (which, unfinished, is 3 pages at this moment), but my hands were feeling a little restless and my brain a little useless. The dejected half of me got crafty made some salt scrub to give away as gifts (surprise!), but the baking warrior in me would not let this day, one of few weekend days before Christmas, go to waste. I felt a mysterious need to bake something, as if I would not be complete without baking something today. It's like baking has become a compulsion for me, something I can't help but do. So, what to make, you ask? Ginger Molasses Cookies!

I Have always had a fondness for molasses cookies. I love that chewy, warm, thick taste. To me, molasses cookies are like the Cabernet Sauvignon of cookies. And I love me some Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, my dad poured me a glass while I was baking these very cookies. So anyway, my next decision was which recipe to use. I've been so happy with every recipe I've baked out of my Grand Central Baking Book that I just had to try its recipe for Ginger Molasses Cookies. I could not be happier with the end result, which is warm and delicious. The ginger heats up your tongue while the molasses gives a nice aftertaste, and the outside is crispy while the inside is chewy. All in all, a lovely Christmas cookie. Enjoy!

What a lovely pan of cookies!
Ginger Molasses Cookies
from The Grand Central Baking Book

3 cups (15 oz) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp
2 cups (14 oz) granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling
1/2 cup (6 oz) unsulfured molasses (not black strap)
2 eggs, at room temp
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Measure the dry ingredients (flour through cloves) into a bowl and whisk to combine.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and molasses on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is lighter in color and fluffy. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl several times during the process.

While the mixer is running, crack the eggs into a small bowl and add the vinegar. Reduce the speed to low, then slowly pour in the eggs, letting them fall in one at a time and incorporating the first egg completely before adding the next. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl once during the process.

Gradually add the dry ingredients (in 2 to 3 additions) with the mixer on low speed. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl once, to fully incorporate the butter and sugar.

Scoop the dough into balls about the size of ping pong balls and roll the balls in sugar, then arrange them on the baking sheets, 6 per pan. Press each ball into a 3/4 inch disk.

Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies should be rich brown in color, with crackly tops. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets.

Yummmmmm...
Note: I baked my first batch a little longer, as the cookies didn't look quite done. I used a medium cookie scoop to scoop the dough. This produced 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Baking Extravaganza, Part I

A Delicious Pair
 Over the course of the next few weeks, I intend to do lots of baking. I want to bake cookies and brownies and crackers and truffles and barks and toffees and and and... You get the picture. So my sister and I got an early start on our baking this weekend. Hey, if the tree is already up in the living room , I think it's perfectly acceptable to start Christmas baking.

So Frakah and I put in a steady stream of Christmas movies (The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold, anyone?), and baked some Chocolate Mexican Wedding Cookies and Orange Nutmeg Cookies. We started on the Chocolate Mexican Wedding Cookies first since they needed to chill the longest in the fridge. The recipe comes out of an awesome Ghirardelli Chocolate cookbook I picked up in Monterrey last year when I visited one of my best friends. The recipe was actually pretty easy to prepare. The hardest part was lugging out my mom's super-heavy food processor to grind the pecans. Frakah took over the creaming process while I handled the dry ingredients and the dough came together in no time. While the dough chilled in the fridge, we prepared the dough for the Orange Nutmeg Cookies. I had the luxurious duty of grating orange zest and nutmeg. Needless to say, my hands smelled nice afterward. Again, Frakah took over the wet ingredients while I measured the dry. Once the dough came together, it too went into the fridge. We had a half hour to relax before it was time to roll the Orange Nutmeg dough into logs.

Pre-Powder
After chilling, the Mexican cookie dough was ready to be rolled into balls and baked. The dough was very tender and crumbly after coming out of the oven, so I'm sad to say there were a few casualties when I transferred the cookies to wire racks. While warm, we rolled the cookies in a mixture of powdered sugar and cocoa. There was another casualty or two, but it was a tasty casualty.

The Orange Nutmeg Cookies, after chilling, were covered in egg wash and rolled in turbinado sugar. They looked so blingy and fancy before going into the oven. Frakah and I dreamed of fancy cocktail parties with these fabulous-looking cookies. They even looked and smelled delicious fresh out of the oven.

To celebrate our first baking success of the season, Frakah and I enjoyed some homemade eggnog lattes. I brewed some espresso in my stove top Italian coffee maker while Frakah whipped up the special stuff. We tinkered the recipe a bit to make it more eggnogy (what is eggnog without nutmeg and booze?). I suppose I should delay the recipe no further so that you, too, can enjoy the fruits of our success.

Chocolate Mexican Wedding Cookies
from The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temp.
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground pecans
1/2 cup Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa

To make the cookies, in a large bowl, cream the butter and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, pecans, ground chocolate, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix until well blended.

Powdered
Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and chill for 1 to 2 hours, until firm.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Place the balls 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the cookies are firm to the touch. Cool for 1 minute on the cookie sheet, and then transfer to a wire rack.

To make coating, sift powdered sugar and ground chocolate into a shallow bowl. While the cookies are still warm, roll them in the coating.

Note: Our cookies took less time in the oven. We produced about 44 1-inch balls.

Orange Nutmeg Cookies
from The Grand Central Baking Book

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temp.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, at room temp.
2 tbsp finely chopped orange zest
Egg wash (mix an egg, 1 tbsp water, and pinch of salt)
Turbinado sugar, for rolling

Measure the flour, salt, and nutmeg into a bowl and whisk to combine.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar together on medium speed until very smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Add the egg and orange zest and reduce the mixer speed to low.

Add the dry ingredients and mix just until they disappear into the dough. Chill the dough for approximately 30 minutes so it will be easier to handle.

Shape the dough into 2 logs 2 inches in diameter, then chill for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. I used wax paper the shape and cover the logs.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly brush each log of dough with the egg wash, then roll in the turbinado sugar, using some pressure so that the sugar adheres to it. Slice the cookies 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies are ready when the edges have browned slightly and the centers are light golden brown.

Note: Our cookies took significantly less time in the oven. We also learned thicker is better. We made maybe 3 1/2 dozen cookies. Maybe.

Eggnog-Flavored Latte
adapted from Coffee by Avner Laskin

2 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp rum
2 cups milk
4 servings espresso, short
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1. Place the egg yolks and sugar in an electric mixer and blend until smooth and bright yellow.

2. Whip the cream and rum until it forms stiff peaks and fold into the egg yolk mixture.

3. Heat the milk in the microwave until it is just below boiling. Fill each mug halfway with hot milk.

4. Prepare espresso and pour 1 serving in each cup.

5. Top each glass with 3 or 4 teaspoons of the egg and cream mixture. Grate nutmeg on top and serve.

Note: This makes four servings, We cut it in half and made 2 and still had cream left over.

Enjoy!

Eggnog and Cookies!


Friday, November 26, 2010

World Peace Cookies

World Peace Cookies
Well, folks, it's here. The Christmas Season has begun, which also means that cookie season is here. In fact, I got into the cookie spirit a little early this year and made some cookies on Tuesday. They were very easy to make and happened to require ingredients I'd already had on hand.

I think I got into the spirit so soon this year because of the significant change in the weather. Winter arrived early in the Pacific Northwest, bringing some premature snow flurries and freezing temperatures. We usually only get maybe one or two snows a year, and those are usually between December and February, so this was definitely an early start. But I knew this was coming based on the number of squirrels and birds gathering peanuts in my parents' backyard and the fact that my feet have been permanently cold for weeks.

So to help make winter a little brighter, I opted for some World Peace Cookies, which are essentially a chocolate shortbread with chocolate chunks. They're soft, crumbly, chocolatey and delicious. And they make me super-excited about cookie season. And I think these hold true to their name, for they inspire me to seek world peace. But chocolate usually has a calming effect on me. Can't say the same for some other people out there...

I took the recipe from another blog, which you can find here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tiramisu!

Tiramisu!
Let me preface this post by saying I love tiramisu! Exclamation point! It is decidedly my favorite dessert of all time. I actually judge Italian restaurants by their tiramisu. If they can't make a good tiramisu, then what are they good for?

Tiramisu is actually a fairly easy dessert to make, if you ask me. A good tiramisu should be creamy and have a distinct coffee flavor. It's basically a fancy Italian trifle.


Yummmmm...
 I've made this particular recipe for tiramisu a few times before. It has always been quite a hit with everyone. This week I made it for family dinner. We were planning to have salad, lasagna and bread, so an Italian dessert was in order. Enter: tiramisu.

Classic Tiramisu
from allrecipes.com

6 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 1/4 cups mascarpone cheese
1 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
2 packages ladyfingers
1/3 cup coffee liqueur

1 tsp unsweetened coca powder, for dusting
1 square semisweet chocolate

1. Combine egg yolks and sugar in the top of a double boiler, over boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whip yolks until thick and lemon colored.

2. Add mascarpone to whipped yolks. Beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside.

3. Split the lady fingers in half and line he bottom and sides of a large glass bowl. Brush with coffee liqueur. Spoon half of the cream filling over the ladyfingers. Repeat ladyfingers, coffee liqueur and filling layers. Garnish with cocoa and chocolate curls. Refrigerate several hours or over night.

Note: The longer this sits, the better it will taste. My ladyfingers were particularly crisp, so they were not softened enough after sitting in the fridge for six hours. I may recommend more liquid for crispy ladyfingers. I used Kahlua Especial.

Monday, November 8, 2010

An Afternoon Tea with Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake

Ah, afternoon tea. It's one of my favorite things. Nothing feels more special and relaxing than sitting down to a nice spread of food and hot tea. I've been doing afternoon teas for several years now, usually with my sister or sister-in-law. On a good day, every one's here for tea.

I know some people may have their reservations about afternoon tea. It does sound awfully fancy and hoity-toity. But it's not! Sometimes it is, and though I like it that way, I know far too many people who don't. Afternoon tea at home is much more, well, homey. I usually whip up whatever I can by way of sandwiches and try to bake some sort of scone or cake. We do use fancy tea cups, but none of the dishes match. We even use fancy little tea spoons, but that just makes it fun. Even my nephew wanted in on the tea fun!

So today's spread featured a smoked salmon and potato galette, asiago cheese bread, sweet potato cupcakes, and a buttermilk chocolate chip crumb cake. The tea was a vanilla rooibus. All was delicious.

Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake
from Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson

Butter Crumb Topping
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tsp vanilla extract

Buttery Buttermilk-Chocolate Chip Batter
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bleached cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups superfine sugar
3 lg eggs
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 miniature chocolate chips, for sprinkling on top of the baked cake
Confectioners' sugar, for sifting over the baked cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 13 by 9 in. pan.

Make the topping. Thoroughly mix the flour, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Drop in the chunks of butter and, using a pastry blender, cut the fat into the flour until reduced to small pieces about the size of large pearls. Sprinkle the vanilla extract over. With your fingertips, knead the mixture together until moist, clumpy lumps are formed.

Mix the batter. Sift the dry ingredients (flour through salt) onto a sheet of wax paper. In a small bowl, toss the chocolate chips with 1 1/2 tsp of the sifted mixture.
     Cream the butter in the large bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the sugar in 3 additions, beating for 1 minute after each portion is added, then beat another minute. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 45 seconds after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract. On low speed, alternately add the sifted mixture in 3 additions with the buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the sifted mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently to keep the batter even-textured. Stir in the chocolate chips.
     Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
     Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the cake batter, taking care to cover the four corners and long edges. Use all of the topping- the covering will be generous.

Bake and cool the cake. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until risen, set, golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
     Place the pan on a rack. Immediately sprinkle the 3/4 cup chocolate chips on top of the cake. Cool completely.   
     Sift confectioners' sugar lightly over the top of the cake just before cutting into fingers or squares directly from the pan.

Note: this cake is very sweet, so the powdered sugar is optional- it looks pretty, but can be a bit too much.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Peanut Butter Cookies


Peanut butter cookies are more American to me than apple pie. I don't really have a lot of respect for apple pie as I think it has a very strange texture. I like the cinnamon, I like the crust, but I don't like the strangeness of the cooked apples. Maybe I've only ever tried bad apple pie. But anyway, peanut butter cookies are good. They're especially good fresh out of the oven.

I honestly think you can't go wrong with peanut butter cookies. I've never had a bad peanut butter cookie. As long as they're sweet and salty and a little soft in the middle, they're quite delicious. But I have to say, I think I found the best recipe for peanut butter cookies.

I again went to The Grand Central Baking Book by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson (I highly recommend this book). The recipe is a classic- no extra peanuts or panache, just a straight-up peanut butter cookie. And it tastes awesome fresh off the baking sheet. So, without further ado, here is the recipe.

Peanut Butter Cookies
from The Grand Central Baking Book

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

15 oz all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
7 oz granulated sugar, plus more for dusting
7 oz packed light brown sugar
9.5 oz peanut butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Measure the flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is lighter in color and fluffy. Add the peanut butter and cream for another minute. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl several times during this process.

While the mixer is running, crack the eggs into a liquid measuring cup and add the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low, then slowly pour in the eggs, letting them fall in one at a time and incorporating the first egg completely before adding the next. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl several times during this process.

Gradually add the dry ingredients (in 2 to 3 additions) with the mixer on low speed. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl once, to fully incorporate the butter and sugar.

Scoop the dough into balls the size of ping pong balls. Arrange the dough on the prepared baking sheets, 6 per pan. Lightly dust with granulated sugar before pressing with a fork to make a crisscross pattern and press the cookies into 1/2-inch thick disks.

Bake for 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. The tops of the fork marks and the edges of the cookies should be brown and crisp and the middle should be soft. Let the cookies cool on the sheets.

Enjoy!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Making Whoopie (Pumpkin Whoopie Pies)

I like whoopie pies. I have liked them ever since I visited Amish country with my family more than ten years ago. Whoopie pies are almost like two thick cupcake tops with frosting in between. In other words, totally delicious.

This weekend I was planning to attend a pumpkin recipe swap and was in need of a simple pumpkin recipe that I could whip up in between a visit to the pumpkin patch and studying. I also needed a recipe for which I already had all of the ingredients. Enter: pumpkin whoopie pies.

I found this recipe in a neat little cookbook titled, Whoopie Pies : Dozens of Mix 'em, Match 'em, Eat 'em Up Recipes. The nice thing about this cookbook is that the cake recipes and frosting recipes are separate so that you can mix and match to your own tastes. So I decided upon the pumpkin cakes with maple frosting. The result was delectable.

This was, as I said, a very easy recipe to put together. I had two moments of panic: the consistency of the liquid ingredients before the dry were added looked a little off to me, and I was also afraid the the frosting was not going to come together because it looked grainy. Not to fear! The magic always happens toward the end! The cake batter was nice and thick and ploppable, and the frosting was thick and fluffy.

The verdict on this recipe was favorable. Everyone seemed to enjoy them, especially the frosting. They honestly make me think of pumpkin scones. The cake is thick, but soft and spicy. The frosting is fluffy and sugary with a hint of maple. They are a little big, though, so do I suggest sharing them. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
from Whoopie Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell

For the cakes:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp.
1 1/2 cups solid pack pumpkin
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the dry ingredients (flour through salt) onto a sheet of waxed paper.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the brown sugar and butter on low speed until just combined. Add the pumpkin, then the egg, beating well. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or 2-tablespoon scoop, drop about 2 tbsp of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for about 15 minutes each, or until the cake begins to crack and are firm to the touch. Let the cakes cool on the sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.


for the Maple Frosting:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp milk
2 tbsp maple syrup

In a medium bowl, beat the butter on low speed with a hand mixer until creamy. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, with the mixer on low until incorporated. Add the milk and maple syrup and beat on medium for 3 or 4 minutes to incorporate, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically.

To assemble the pies: Take two similarly-shaped cakes and spread some frosting on the flat side of one cake, and place the flat side of the other cake against the frosted side.

Notes: the cakes will hold the shape that you scoop onto the tray. You should be able to fit 12 cakes onto a baking sheet. Make sure to remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently when preparing the cake batter to make sure everything is evenly Incorporated. When preparing the frosting, I combined the milk with the syrup and added a little bit to the sugar/butter mixture each time I added sugar.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Super Duper Chocolate Cookies

These cookies come with a disclaimer: I am not to be held liable for any action, reaction, or lack of action that is the result of eating this cookie. Another disclaimer: these cookies will not always be perfect. This weekend, however, these cookies were perfect. Divine, actually. Every bite I took of every cookie from this batch was a spiritual experience. Every cell in my body warmed and tingled at the taste of these cookies. Oh yes, they there that good.

My super-duper chocolate cookies are developing a reputation among the people who have had the privilege of eating my baked goods over the past couple of years. I cannot honestly remember the first time I made these, nor how long ago it really was. The recipe is out of my favorite cookbook, The New Best Recipe, but with my own minor twist which makes it a quadruple chocolate cookie. The recipe calls for cocoa powder, semisweet chocolate, and my addition of bittersweet chocolate chips and white chocolate chips. The better your chocolate, the better the cookie (I always use Ghirardelli).

Back to these cookies. I feel like I should start naming my batches of cookies, because really, every batch is not the same. I don't know what it is that made these turn out so perfectly, but the result was amazing. The baking gods were surely smiling down upon me as I was baking them. Maybe it was Barbara Streisand- I was watching Funny Girl as I baked. Maybe it was the pajamas- I don't usually bake in pajamas. Or maybe the temperature of the kitchen, combined with the temperature and freshness of the ingredients, led to the perfect conditions for the perfect cookie. No matter. Without further ado, here is the recipe:

Super-Duper Chocolate Cookies
adapted from The New Best Recipe

Makes roughly 2 1/2 dozen

2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
½ cup (1 ½ oz) Dutch-processed cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
16 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp instant coffee or espresso powder
10 tbsp (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 ½ cups packed (10 ½ oz) light brown sugar
½ cup (3 ½ oz) granulated sugar
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Sift together first four ingredients in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler (in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water); remove from heat. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla lightly with a fork, sprinkle the coffee powder over to dissolve, and set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and creamy, 5 seconds. Beat in the sugars until combined, about 45 seconds; the mixture will look granular. Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the egg mixture until incorporated, about 45 seconds. Add the chocolate in a steady stream and beat until combined, about 40 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer at low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not over beat. Add the chocolate chips and incorporate using a rubber spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the consistency is scoopable and fudge-like, about 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets using a size 20 ice cream scoop (about 2-in).

5. Bake until the edges of the cookies have just begun to set but the centers are still very soft, about 8-10 minutes (depending on your oven), rotating the baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets about 10 minutes, slide the parchment with the cookies onto wire racks, and cool to room temperature.

Enjoy!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Boozy Banana Bread or Banana Bread Fit for a Pirate

You heard that right. I just made a banana bread that has liquor in it, and that liquor is rum (as in yo ho ho and a bottle of). You see, I just started taking evening classes, so my non-work hours are filled with studying, and when I think of studying, I think of snacks and booze. Okay, that might be a little stretch of the truth, but hey, we're all grown-ups here, right?

The real name of this banana bread is Bananas Foster Bread. Bananas Foster is one of my favorite desserts (keep in mind I have at least 10 favorite desserts). When I went to New Orleans with my dad 7 years ago I ate Bananas Foster at every restaurant that served it. The combination of bananas, butter, brown sugar and rum is genius. And that, my friends, is precisely what makes this bread so awesome.

The recipe itself is very easy to put together. Except the part where I had to let the heated banana mixture cool- I'm really not that patient. Luckily, I had studying to keep me occupied! The upside was being able to cut into the banana bread while it was still warm (because I hate waiting for things to cool, but I always do if the recipe says so). That just gave me a thought- baking is all about rules, just like the law, and I'm taking classes to become a paralegal so I can work with the law. Interesting...

But I digress. Here's the recipe:

Bananas Foster Bread
from Cooking Light October 2010

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana
1 cup packed brown sugar, divided
6 tbsp butter, melted and divided
1/4 cup rum, divided
1/3 cup plain fat-free yogurt
2 large eggs
6.75 oz all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup ground flax seed
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/3 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Combine banana, 1/2 brown sugar, 5 tbsp melted butter, and 3 tbsp of rum in a nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat; cool. Place banana mixture in a large bowl. Add yogurt, remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, and eggs. Beat with a mixer at medium speed.

3. Weight or lightly spoon flour into measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through allspice) in a small bowl. Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat until just blended. Pour batter into a 9x5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour or until a wooden pick comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes in pan on wire rack. Remove bread from pan; place on wire rack.

4. Combine remaining 1 tbsp melted butter, remaining 1 tbsp rum, and powdered sugar; stir until well blended. Drizzle over the warm bread.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ray-Ray's Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies

What can I say about my chocolate chip cookies? For the longest time I never wanted to share this recipe because I wanted to be the girl who made the best chocolate chip cookies. But then I started to fear that that was all that I was known for, heck all that I was liked for, and realized that I was being silly hording the recipe. Besides, half the magic of baking is in the baker him/herself.

Many people claim to have the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I find that hard to believe. Part of the problem is that there seem to be three camps of chocolate chip cookie lovers (kind of like different camps of brownie lovers, which I'll have to cover later): crunchy/crispy, cakey, and chewy. I'm very much a chewy girl. I've never been into much of anything crunchy, and if I want cakey I''l have cake. Chewy, however, can only be found in the perfect cookie. It is the perfect combination of salty, buttery smoothness and sweet chocolate.

I have made this recipe for at least 7 years now (wow, I've known these cookies for 7 years?!), and have shared them with friends and family. Everyone who has tasted one of these cookies has raved about how awesome they are. I've even made them for friends' birthdays, because what better gift than a home-baked batch of goodness?

I must say that this recipe requires a keen attention to detail. The slightest change to the recipe will make an entirely different cookie. Even the temperature in the kitchen has an effect on the outcome. If you want to make the cookies just as I make them, you will have to follow this recipe to a T. Trust me, it's worth it.

The Chewy
from Alton Brown

Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp whole milk (must be whole- the fat is needed)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Hardware:
Ice cream scooper (#20 disher- mine is an Oxo)
Parchment paper
Baking sheets
Stand Mixer with paddle attachment

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat. On a piece of parchment paper, sift together flour, slat, and baking soda and set aside (the piece of parchment can be used for one of the baking pans and will save you from having to clean another bowl).

Pour the melted butter in the mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tbsp milk, and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes (at least- maybe longer if your kitchen is warm).

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Using the medium (size 20) ice cream scoop, scoop the dough onto the parchment lined baking pan (I recommend baking one sheet at the time and putting the dough back in the fridge while one batch is baking), 6 cookies per sheet. The cookies will be big, so give them room to spread. Bake until golden brown along the edges, but still a little raw in the center (my oven takes 7 or 8 minutes, depending on the humidity in the kitchen). The key is to not overcook them. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks. Store in an airtight container.

Special note: There is one ingredient, a special ingredient, that is not listed but should always be included when baking: love. That's what my friends tell me makes these cookies so good.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Healthy Banana Bread

Well, I always thought banana bread was healthy- it has bananas in it, doesn't it? Apparently, a standard banana recipe isn't quite as good for you as you think, what with all the butter and sugar. But I have found a recipe that really is healthy. Low in fat, low(er) in sugar, and it has ground flax seeds (you know how I feel about flax seeds) in it!

Anyway, with the weather being as sad as it has been lately, banana bread just seemed like the right thing to make. It has that homey quality, like you could just curl up in a cozy chair with a blanket, some tea, and some banana bread. Banana bread also reminds me of this older lady who lived across from me when I lived in New York- she lived in the basement, I think, but I only knew her as Nana. She made good banana bread. She may have even given us banana bread in little paper baggies at Halloween. But since then, I've always told myself I want to be like that when I'm old. I want to be that little old lady who makes the best banana bread. I also want to be the little old lady that scares the crap out of little kids because they think I'm a witch who will put some voodoo spell on them if they come near my house. Banana bread seems friendlier...

So this week when my mom's new issue of Cooking Light came, I read it cover to cover, and lo and behold, there were four different recipes for banana bread. Say what?! I decided to start with the first recipe- Basic Banana Bread. I hope to try the others soon (Bananas Foster Banana Bread and Peanut Butter Banana Bread- I'll pass on the chocolate walnut one). The recipe looked simple enough and I had a bunch of speckled bananas sitting on the counter, crying out to be used in something delicious.

Delicious indeed. The recipe was very easy to put together and the end result was great. The bread is super-moist and full of fall flavors. It was so yummy, I decided to keep it mostly to myself and not take any in to work (a rarity indeed)...

Basic Banana Bread
from Cooking Light October 2010

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas
1/3 cup plain fat-free yogurt
5 tbsp butter, melted
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
6.75 oz all purpose flour (about 1.5 cups)
1/4 cup ground flax seed (I use Bob's Red Mill and keep it in the fridge)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed. Add granulated and brown sugars; beat until combined.

3. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients. Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat until blended. Pour batter into a greased 9x5-inch loaf. Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan; cool completely. Enjoy!

Note: The recipe includes a glaze, but the bread is moist and sticky as is, so I thought a glaze would be too much.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Leisurely Breakfast

"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast."
-John Gunther

Never have truer words been spoken. You see, I am not a morning person, and I am certainly not to be messed with before breakfast. I cannot face the day before I've had my breakfast and the better the breakfast the better my day. So it goes without saying that having the house to myself on a Saturday morning can make for one great breakfast.

My Saturday breakfast of choice typically consists of oatmeal and coffee. But it's not just any old oatmeal, it's oatmeal my way. I can be somewhat experimental with oatmeal because I feel that the possibilities are endless. Oatmeal is like the rice of breakfast- it's all about what you add to it.

Coffee, on the other hand, I tend to do one of three ways: drip, French press, or Italian coffee (I love my Italian coffee maker). Saturday are usually French press day, but today I was really hankering for some Italian coffee with whipped cream. I filled the bottom with water, put the grounds in, and set it on the stove while I prepared the oatmeal...

I generally use quick oats because I'm always famished in the morning and the quicker I can get the breakfast in my mouth, the better. I always cook the oats in nonfat organic milk- water is so Depression-era (I say this sarcastically, but seriously, no water). While I was heating the milk on the stove top, my Italian coffeemaker began to bubble over. In a bad way. Turns out I had put too much coffee grounds in the pot so that it couldn't close all of the way, so the pressure caused the liquid to seep out of the sides as opposed to being pushed up into the upper chamber. I wound up with a very small amount of thick coffee, so I had to start up my drip coffee-maker.

Meanwhile, my milk started to bubble over on the stove, so it was time to throw in the oats. This was turning out to be a very chaotic breakfast indeed. No problem though, I set the timer and turned my attention to a peach I had in the fridge- time to slice it for the oatmeal!

Once the oatmeal finished cookie, I threw the chunks of a small peach in the pot, added a spoonful of brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon and some vanilla. I always add vanilla to my oatmeal, unless I use coconut extract. I put a lid on and returned it to the flame to warm up the peaches. When it was warm enough, I poured it into my bowl and sprinkled ground flax seed on top for some extra nutrition (another ingredient I always add to oatmeal).

Next, my coffee was finished brewing so I poured what little Italian coffee I had in a mug and poured the drip-brew over top of it. I left a little room in the mug to put some real whipped cream on top. The end result, though not what I intended, was delicious.

Peach Oatmeal a la Ray-Ray
1 recipe oatmeal cooked in milk (quick or old-fashioned according to your tastes)
1 small peach, cut into small chunks
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground flax seeds

Once the oatmeal is prepared, throw in the peach, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir over heat until peaches are soft. Pour oatmeal into bowl and add the flax seed. Enjoy.

Wellesley Fudge Cake

Ah, at last I have made Wellesley Fudge Cake. It all began last year when I was perusing my mom's new issue of Cook's Country and I saw a picture of an absolutely delicious-looking chocolate cake. I read the accompanying story and recipe- it was a Wellesley Fudge Cake. Apparently back in the early 1900's fudge was contraband at Wellesley, and therefore students would have secret fudge-making parties. I think that if college kids of my generation were sneaking off to make fudge, I may have fit in a little better with my peers... Anyway, this cake came about because tea parlors in the area started making fudge cake et voila! Wellesley Fudge Cake.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, I was discussing potential birthday cake with Frakah (my birthday is at the end of October), and remembered Wellesley Fudge Cake, but could not remember where I had seen the recipe. I knew it was in a Cook's Country or Cook's Illustrated, but I had quite a stack to sort through in order to find it. When I did find it you can believe I was very, very happy.

Fast forward once more to this weekend when I had extra time on my hands to bake a cake. I was soooooo excited to finally bake it and (most of all) to try it. The cake itself was easy to make, though when I turned the pans out on to the racks to cool, some of the cake stayed in the pan (next time I will use parchment paper at the bottom) and I accidentally broke one of the cakes (though it was warm enough I  could kind of push it together).

The frosting proved rather tricky- the sort of caramelization process was a bit prolonged for me. The butter, evaporated milk and sugar just did not seem to thicken as quickly as the recipe said it should. It's also a bit more strenuous to whisk the powdered sugar into the thick fudge, and then the frosting had to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally (which meant more tiring whisking). Frosting the cake was slightly easier than most cake, though I think I broke another piece of cake in the process (we'll never know for sure because the frosting covered, but let's just say my cake looked like it had a tumor on one side).

The end result was delicious and worth the work. It was chocolaty, fudgy and sweet. Very sweet, actually. It definitely pairs well with vanilla ice cream. My younger brother and his wife heated their slices of cake in the microwave (cake is stored in the fridge), and they said it was awesome that way. All I can say is, I'm quite happy with my chocolate cake.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Legends of the Fall: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

As I mentioned in my previous post, the seasons are a'changin' here in the good ole Pacific Northwest. Do you know what that means? It means I need to watch Legends of the Fall, that cinematic masterpiece featuring Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and sweeping shots of Montana (really though, they filmed in Canada, which I find a little disappointing- kinda kills my dream of living on a ranch in Montana if Montana is really Canada...). It also features a lot of death and a few random sexy scenes. It's a good movie and you should watch it, unless you don't want to see some random lady with her hand on Brad Pitt's bottom (I wonder if the actress ever put that on her resume).

Fall time also means oatmeal raisin cookies. Actually, always equals oatmeal raisin cookies because I always like oatmeal raisin cookies. I also don't feel terrible about eating oatmeal raisin cookies because they're sort of a healthy treat- they have oats (fiber) and raisins (fruit). It's a win-win situation as far as I'm concerned. Throw in a Legends of the Fall DVD and it's a win-win-win situation. And now you know how I spent my evening.

I actually recruited my baker-sister, Frakah, to help me make said cookies. Not that I needed help, per se, I just wanted the company. Legends of the Fall and cookies is a nice kind of girls' night if you ask me (though dad crashed on the couch to watch the movie, so it wasn't entirely a girls' night). I chose the oatmeal raisin cookie recipe from The Grand Central Baking Book. I made their Jammers several months back and those were delicious, so I had high hopes for these cookies.

It's a pretty basic recipe with no frills. Sometimes oatmeal needs the spotlight, and in this recipe it shines. I had the task of creaming the butter and sugars (probably the funnest part of baking is seeing something kinda thick and slimy and grainy become something so wonderfully light and fluffy, like Carebear made it) while Frakah measured out the dry ingredients and prepared the pans. Add wet ingredients to butter, then dry to that mixture, and in the end stir in the oats and raisins. The messy part came when we scooped the dough  and rolled them into balls, then flattened them between our palms before placing them on the baking sheets. They baked in the oven until golden on the edges, still wet in the middle. We were a bit confused about how done they were, so the first batch seemed under-cooked, the second was over-cooked, and the third was just right (like the three bears!- speaking of which, Tristan thinks he's a bear in Legends of the Fall!).

We were baking during the first part of the movie and I guess it's been awhile since I've seen it, because I always seem to forget about Samuel, the third brother. And then the part came (SPOILER ALERT) where he dies and I'm like, oh yeah, I forgot about his brutal death. And that's when Tristan goes crazy. Seriously, he holes up in a tent with human organs (from the men he killed who killed his brother). He's never the same after that, though he still manages to have a love affair with Susannah (played by Julia Ormond), but he's still not over his brother's death so he goes on some sort of soul-searching adventure around the world (thus the random lady caressing his bottom). Naturally, Alfred (played by 90s heartthrob Aidan Quinn) can't help but marry Susannah after a fight with his father over absentee Tristan. It's all so dramatic! And every time Tristan returns from somewhere (rounding up horses, war, his travels) there is the most dramatic music ever. I don't see how anyone could not fall for someone with his own score (the movie is kind of about how everyone loves Tristan the most even though he's the freest spirit). And the second half of the movie has surprising death after surprising death- I'm even surprised even though I've seen it a few times before.

So there I was, munching on cookies, watching a big dramatic movie, and generally enjoying my Friday evening in. I realize that I often confuse this movie with A River Runs Through It, so my next task is to watch that one soon. I know it also involves Brad Pitt in jail, brother issues, and a beautiful landscape. Turns out that movie really was filmed in Montana (and Wyoming, to be fair), so now I shall have to watch it. I wonder what cookie goes with that? Anyway, the oatmeal raisin cookie. It is good. Really good. Like, "who needs cinnamon?" good. I think the fact that they're simple makes them easier to eat one right after the other. They would taste really good with some vanilla bean ice cream, but alas, I have none. They also happen to go very well with Legends of the Fall.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
from The Grand Central Baking Book by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson

8.75 oz all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
7 oz granulated sugar
7 oz light brown sugar
2 eggs, room temp
11.5 oz rolled oats
4.25 oz raisins (recipe calls for golden, we used plain)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line multiple cookie sheets with parchment paper (at least 4).

Measure the flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is lighter in color and fluffy. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl several times during the process.

While the mixer is running, crack the eggs into a liquid measuring cup and add the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low, then slowly pour in the eggs, allowing them to fall in one at a time and incorporating the first egg completely before adding the next. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl several times during the process.

Gradually add the dry ingredients (in 2 or 3 additions) with the mixer on low speed. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl once, to fully incorporate the butter and sugar. Combine the oats and raisins in the same bowl used for the dry ingredients, then add them to the bowl and mix together using a stiff rubber spatula.

Scoop the dough out with a scooper that is roughly the size of a ping pong ball, and roll the dough into a ball. Flatten the dough between the moistened palms of your hand and place on the cookie sheet (6 per sheet).

Bake for 8 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. The cookies should be golden brown around the edges and appear slightly underdone and blond in the centers. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets.