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.


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.


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.