Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Eclairs

This month's Daring Baker's challenge was Chocolate Eclairs, chosen by Meeta K of "What's for Lunch, Honey?" and Tony of "Tony Tahhan". (Thanks guys, it was a learning experience, as always.) This was my second attempt at choux pastry (the first being the peppermint cream puff ring) and I've come to realize I'm not really feeling the love for cream puffs or eclairs.

To me, it totally depends on how good your filling is. The pastry themselves are a little bland. Cute, but bland.

It's been such a busy month, I barely got them made. I'm afraid I don't have any entertaining stories or witty discussion about them. (I know, I know...would I like some cheese to go with that whine, lol?)

As for the puffs... I made a peanut butter glaze for dipping the tops.

The only pictures I got were of the cream puffs and not the eclairs.

It was my first time making chocolate pastry cream and it turned out nicely and tasted good.

These kind of reminded me of peanut butter stalagtites, or maybe peanut butter board game pieces. Cute, huh?

Thanks so much for stopping by, and feel free to check out the other Daring Bakers and their creations.

If you'd like the recipe, you can visit Meeta or Tony's sites at the links above. For the peanut butter glaze, I didn't really measure, but the ingredients were approximately:

Peanut Butter Glaze
3 Tablespoons peanut butter
1/3 to 1/2 C. powdered sugar
milk to thin to desired consistency

Mix all ingredients well with a spoon. Adjust amounts to taste.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cookie Carnival: Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

Ewwww, biscotti… hard, dry, tasteless, break-your-teeth biscotti. I’ve only had it one time before and that about sums up my impression of it.

As I embarked on this month’s Cookie Carnival recipe, Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti, I was prepared to pitch the freshly baked cookies in the trash and declare smugly “I knew it!”.

But, as usual, I didn’t know. (If anything, this baking blog has been a humbling experience.)

In case you don’t know, biscotti are a twice-baked cookie. First they are baked as a log, then the log is sliced into pieces and the pieces returned to the oven for round two. I, not wanting the experience to be a total bust, held some of the pieces back and didn’t bake them a second time.

Here's the log of cookie dough ready for the oven. I rolled the dough in saran wrap to help form the log and then refrigerated for about 30 minutes to firm it up a bit first.

Here's the baked log being sliced into pieces. It spread more than I thought it would.

To my complete and utter surprise, I actually liked this biscotti. Even the twice-baked version. And the once-baked biscotti? They were awesome! I loved them so much I wanted to marry them.

The only thing I changed in the recipe was the whole hazelnuts that get mixed in at the end. I still haven't recovered from the hazelnut-skinning fiasco from last month’s Daring Baker’s Challenge, so I used roughly chopped macadamia nuts instead. I really liked the crunch they added. I will definitely sub macadamias again.

Oh, yes, I WILL be making these again. Fo sho!

Many thanks to Kate at The Clean Plate Club for hosting Cookie Carnival. I can’t wait to see what September brings.

Here's the recipe... give it a try!

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, husked
3 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Grind 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts in processor. Set aside. Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Beat butter and sugar in another large bowl to blend. Add eggs and vanilla and almond extracts and beat until well blended. Beat in flour mixture. Mix in 1 cup whole toasted hazelnuts, chocolate chips and 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts.

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece on baking sheet into 2 1/2-inch-wide by 14-inch-long log. Place logs on prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart (logs will spread during baking). Bake until logs feel firm when tops are gently pressed, about 35 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheet 15 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Using long wide spatula, transfer baked logs to cutting board. Using serrated knife, cut warm logs crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Arrange slices, cut side down, on 2 baking sheets. Bake biscotti until firm, about 15 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool completely. (Chocolate-Hazelnut Biscotti can be prepared ahead. Store in airtight container up to 4 days, or wrap in foil and freeze in resealable plastic bags up to 3 weeks.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

TWD: Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte

I just want to get this out of the way before we get started... I have no idea how to take good photos of ice cream. Is there some special refrigerated room that professional ice cream photographers know about that the rest of us don't?


This week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe, Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte, was chosen by Amy of Food, Family, and Fun. Thanks Amy! This was my first ice cream torte and it was exciting to see it come together.

The verdict? I thought it was OK. I like chocolate, and I like raspberries, but I'm not a big fan of them together. (I know, I'm weird. I don't like watermelon either.) The ganache and ice cream were really delish on their own, though. I could see changing up the flavors a bit and trying this again... maybe using mint ice cream, for example.

Hubby enjoyed it, he ate two pieces in one sitting.

Since my pants are busting at the seams lately, I halved the recipe and used a 5-inch pan.

Which reminds me that I wanted to share some information about what size pan to use if you want to halve a recipe that uses a round pan. They aren't exactly half on the nose, but they're pretty close.

The first number shows the original size round pan and the second number shows what size pan to use for half a recipe. So, in the first case for example, if the recipe calls for a 14 inch pan, half a recipe would use a 10 inch pan.

Whole : Half
14 : 10
12 : 9
10 : 7
9 : 6
8 : 5 or 6
6 : 4

OK, that's all for now... up next week? Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters. I'm guessing they're going to be fantabulous.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TWD: Granola Grabbers

Only 6 days, 8 hours, and 19 minutes until school starts. But who’s counting?

Yes, it’s that magical time of year again when mothers (and possibly fathers, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles or whoever) look forward to the time when kids march single file onto the school bus and out of their hair. For a few hours anyway. Whew!

Speaking of school, I don’t think these Granola Grabbers (chosen by Michelle of Bad Girl Baking) are going to last long enough to make it into those brown paper lunch sacks. They are sooooo addictive.

“Everything But the Kitchen Sink” might be another name for these cookies. Seriously, I've never seen this much "stuff" in a drop cookie before. I thought the amount of granola, nuts, raisins, etc. looked like a lot compared to the “wet” ingredients, but to my surprise, it all came together nicely and made for a moist, chewy cookie.

I changed them up a bit. First, I added ½ teaspoon salt rather than ¼ teaspoon to help cut the sweetness, since some of the other TWD bakers reported that they were too sweet. In addition, I used ½ currants and ½ raisins since I was at the bottom of the raisin box. I soaked them both in boiling water and amaretto to plump them up. Once the cookie dough was mixed up, I split it into three and left one part plain, to one part I added chocolate chips, and to the remaining part I added cinnamon chips (that dough is pictured below).

I thought the chocolate chip version was the best, but the other two were very good as well. I really enjoyed the peanuts in them. They were like a pumped-up oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

If you'd like to give these a try, please stop by Michelle's blog or check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking: From My Home to Yours".

By the way, here's what I'm going to be doing in 6 days, 8 hours, and 24 minutes, LOL.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Calling All Cherry Pie Bakers...

...novice pie maker desperately needs your help!

Egads, I attempted my first cherry pie this week, and although it tasted divine, it was the ugly duckling of the pie world! Not to mention the soggy bottom crust, the burnt-in-some-places, raw-in-others top crust. Oh, and then there was the tapioca that I thought would magically dissolve in the oven, but didn't. (WAY not pretty!)

Cherry pie baking experts are probably turning over in their graves all over the country (you know, the deceased ones).

I had heard Trader Joe's morello cherries were perfect for pie, so I started with those. An internet search turned up a recipe on Ivillage's Garden Web. I monkeyed with it a bit and ended up the recipe below.

Let me walk you through the disasters one by one. I'll start with... the tapioca. I used small pearl tapioca. After baking, the filling ended up looking pretty much like it does in the "before" shot, except it wasn't liquidy. I guess it was somewhat set. But it was not attractive. Is there some other version of tapioca?

Next, the edge. On my very first pie ever (which was, like, two pies ago), I cut the crust flush with the edge of the pie plate, then scrunched the edges, and it ended up shrinking. So this time, I cut it maybe 1/2-inch past the edge of the plate and scrunched it. To my dismay, part of it ended up falling off. Ugh!

Up next is the undercooked in the middle, but burnt on the edges top crust. SOOOO not winning any county fairs with this one.

If you can help, I'd love to know how to improve this to the point where I won't be completely embarrassed to take it out in public. It did taste good.

Not So Pretty Cherry Pie
(Bake at your own risk)

2 Jars Trader Joe's Morello cherries (about 5-6 cups), drained, liquid reserved
2/3 C. reserved cherry liquid
3 T. small pearl tapioca
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. almond extract
1 t. lemon juice
1 C. sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 T. butter

Drain cherries. Add 2/3 c. liquid into mixing bowl. Add tapioca, salt, almond extract, lemon juice, then cherries and sugar. Mix and let stand while making pastry.

Fit pastry into bottom of 9" pie pan. Trim 1/2" beyond outer rim of pan. Fill with cherry mixture. Dot with butter. Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Moisten rim with water.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 40 to 45 minutes.

As a consolation, I did think this little guy was cute :)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

TWD: Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

I’m grateful that Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity chose Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream for this week’s Tuesday's With Dorie recipe. It forced me to dig through my cluttered, overcrowded cupboards and find my ice cream maker, which I bought years ago and used once. I forgot how easy it is to use and how fantastic the end result is. A hearty "Thank You", Dolores!

My initial impression of the ice cream was that it had a noticeably tangy sour cream taste. Once I got used to that, I decided I liked it very much. Hubby wasn't too excited though, he turned up his nose when I mentioned the sour cream part.

I didn't have enough blueberries, so I subbed some pluot (a plum/apricot conflaguration).

I cooked the fruit with sugar and lemon...

added heavy cream and sour cream, then whizzed it in the blender…

then let the ice cream maker work it's magic.

How easy is that? Washing the dishes was the hardest part.

So, there you go! Next week’s recipe is Granola Grabbers... perfect for back-to-school.

If you'd like to try this ice cream, you can find the recipe at Dolores' site mentioned above, or better yet, pick up a copy of Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking: From my Home to Yours".

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I'm in Love!

or at least I'm spreading the love...

I am beyond flattered that my first award is from Farida of Farida’s Azerbaijani Cookbook . Farida has one of the greatest blog entries ever with her zebra cake. Isn't that fantastic?

She gave me this totally adorable award...

And I'm going to pass it along to a few of my favorite blogs:
Gigi Cakes
She's Becoming DoughMesstic
Whisk: a food blog
The Food Librarian
Ezra Pound Cake

Please go check them out and I'm sure you'll see why they're among my favorites.

Thank You so much, Farida! Mwah!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Toffee Crumb Bars

It's a good thing I joined several baking blogs, following along and baking a specified recipe with a group each week or month. Otherwise, every entry in this blog would probably be a chocolate chip cookie recipe, or some variation thereof. My blog would be titled "1001 Ways to Make Chocolate Chip Cookies". And the only person reading it would be my mother. (Ah, thanks, mom :) )

There's something magical about the buttery, caramelly cookie, with the chocolate chips suspended through out... (smiling wistfully at the thought).

This week's version of chocolate chip cookie something's started out as Blackberry Crumb Bars, a recipe found in a recent issue of Everyday Food magazine.

I took out the blackberries and substituted chopped semisweet chocolate, chopped Heath bars, and white chocolate.

To assemble the bars, I first spread half of the crust batter in the pan and added a layer of white chips (which seemed to disappear in the final product).

Then came the rest of the crust followed by a layer of chopped Heath bars.

Next, I added half of the crumb topping and then sprinkled with chopped semisweet chocolate.

Lastly, the rest of the crumb topping was added.

Baked for 45 minutes and voila!

The verdict? They were quite good. Not exactly perfect, but still good. The base was more cakey than cookie-ish. I tend to like a cookie base... more of a brown sugar taste, you know? Now, the crumb topping was perfect. I would keep that if I were to try to develop a crumb type bar.

Come to think of it, they were more like a chocolate chip crumb cake, a skinny one, that is.

I'll bet the the original recipe, with the blackberries, would be very tasty.



6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, and 1/2 cup (1 stick), room temperature, plus more for pan
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 C. white morsels, or more, to taste
2 Heath bars, broken into pieces, or more to taste
2-3 oz. semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
(OR, 10 oz. blackberries in place of the chocolates if making the original recipe)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line bottom with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides; butter and flour paper, tapping out excess.

Make topping: In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; add 1 cup flour, and mix with a fork until large moist crumbs form. Refrigerate topping until ready to use.

In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat room-temperature butter, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy; add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture. Spread half of batter evenly in pan; sprinkle with white morsels. Spread remainder of batter in pan, then top with Heath bar pieces. Sprinkle half of chilled topping over top, then semisweet chocolate, and finally remainder of chilled topping. (If making with blackberries instead, spread blackberries over batter and then top with the chilled topping.)

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Using paper overhang, lift cake onto a work surface; cut into 16 squares.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

TWD: Black and White Banana Loaf

I wanted to title this post “Only My Body is Getting Older”.

I can almost hear you asking “what the devil does that have to do with this week’s Tuesday with Dorie recipe?” (This week's recipe is Black and White Banana Loaf, chosen by Ashlee of "A Year in the Kitchen".)

You see, I was going to write about the fact that I recently rejoined the work force after a 7 year stint as “chief-cook-and-bottle-washer” (i.e. professional mom). And how I finally got to take sweets in to *my* work. And how I got to act all humble and say “aw shucks, it was nuthin” when everyone oohed and aahed about how scrumptious the banana loaf was.

But then I got to thinking about how long I’d been away from work and how long I'd worked before that and I made a startling revelation. Startling, I tell you! I don’t know how this happened...

I started my career 20 YEARS AGO!!!

20. Years. Ago.

If you’re young enough to have never made this type of declaration, let me clue you in… the next thought immediately following is something along the lines of “When did I get OLD?!??!” Years of denial came to a screeching halt. old, Old, OLD… NESS... at my doorstep.


My grandma once said, when she was near the end of her life, that she always felt the same age inside. Now I understand what she was talking about. I think my mind’s age is 30-something. Not 20-something, because much of that decade seemed a time of growth and change (or turmoil and struggle, depending on how you look at it).

OK, OK, enough of the drama queen bit. I’m actually OK with being 40-something. I finally feel comfortable and at ease with myself. I’m not really that upset that I’m not a gorgeous young babe anymore (BWA, HA, HA, slapping hand on table).

Anyway, I don’t even remember what my point was… oh yes… banana loaf.

You can see the pictures I took as I layered the plain and chocolate banana cake batter, above. I didn’t run my knife through the batter afterwards because I wanted to see what it would look like without.

I could see baking batch after batch of this, just to see how the patterns turn out!

Quite a few of my fellow bakers said that their batter was runny and that layering was difficult. My experience was the opposite... I thought the batter was thick. I can only guess that batter consistency depended on the size of bananas used. Maybe?

I followed the directions to a T, even though I kept stopping as I went… “bananas… chocolate… rum?... nut-MEG? LEMON!? Together!?!” But I stuck with it. In the end, I'm not sure I would classify this as banana dessert. To me, the rum was the most prominent flavor, with the nutmeg and chocolate following close behind. I thought it tasted good... kind of a chocolate goes tropical kind of flavor.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what my work mates thought of the banana bread… I forgot to bring it in. (30-something year-old mind, my butt! It’s probably closer to 100! LOL)

So that's that!

Up next week is Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream. Until then, please stop by Tuesdays with Dorie to find out how the other bakers fared with their banana loaf.