Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cookie Carnival: Chocolate Roll-Out Cookies


Hey folks, I haven't baked since before Christmas (for which my thighs are thankful). But I do have some posts to catch up on.

The first is for Cookie Carnival. In the spirit of the holidays, our leader Kate, from the Clean Plate Club, chose roll-out cookies in our choice of chocolate or vanilla. I had been wanting to find a chocolate roll-out cookie for some time, so that's the one I chose. The Chocolate Roll-Out Cookie recipe is from Dorie Greenspan and can be found----> here.

Let me tell you what happened with these cookies, it's kind of funny. In a moment of supreme pre-holiday organization, I decided to mix up all of the cookie dough for my Operation Baking Gals care package (more on that later), as well as my Cookie Carnival entry on one day. I think it was 4 or 5 recipes worth. My plan was to bake all of these cookies the next day. Well, you know the old "best laid plans of mice and men"... I got my Baking Gals cookies baked, but not the Cookie Carnival cookies. So I had this bowl of yummy, sandy, salty, chocolatey dough in my fridge for almost a week.

I'm sure you can see where this is headed.

Over that week, I kept snacking on the dough and by the time I went to bake them, there were only a few cookies worth of dough left (I had made 1/2 a batch). It actually turned out perfect because I needed some cookies for Santa. So anyway, here are all 4 cookies I made for Cookie Carnival, minimally decorated.


And how were they, you ask? Very good! They kind of reminded me of sables, in that they were a more sandy textured cookie. I would definitely make these again. I like the look of the dark chocolate cookie with the bright white cookie icing.

I used an icing recipe I picked up a long time ago during my cake and cookie decorating days. It's a modified royal icing. It sets up hard, but isn't cloyingly sweet and hard like regular royal icing.

Alice's Modified Royal Icing

1lb sifted powdered sugar
3 Tbl. Meringue Powder
5-6 Tbls water
1/2 cup butter, softened
pinch of salt

Mix meringue powder and water in a bowl using a stand mixer or hand mixer. Add the powdered sugar and mix for a few minutes. Add butter and salt and mix until well blended, several minutes.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

TWD: Tall and Creamy Cheesecake


Hey everyone! Hope you all had a great Christmas! I'm just getting back into the swing of blogging, and this week's Tuesday's with Dorie pick was a perfect excuse. On this week's menu was Tall and Creamy Cheesecake, chosen by Anne of AnneStrawberry.

(Oh, and before I get started, I'm dying to hear what everyone got for Christmas! What was your favorite gift? ...I'll share my prizes in a later post.)

I've made quite a few cheesecakes in my day, so I decided to make one of my favorite cheesecake flavors, apple cinnamon. Mmmmm... yum!


Here's what I did... first, I had some homemade apple pie filling (a canned filling such as Comstock would also work), about a half cup. (By the way, I halved the recipe and baked it in a 7-inch by 2-inch tall cake pan.)


I added about a half cup of my prepared cheesecake batter to the apples and mixed.


I set the apple cheesecake mixture aside. Then, I added half of the remaining cheesecake batter to my pan with my graham cracker crust. I layered the apple cinnamon cheesecake mixture on top of that.


I thought it looked like it needed more, so I added a little more straight apple pie filling.


Then I covered with the rest of the cheesecake batter very nearly to the top of the pan. (Notice the pan is in the water bath, but with no pesky aluminum foil wrap? That's because I don't use spring-form pans for cheesecake anymore. You can read about how I do it toward the bottom of this post.)


Finally, I sprinkled some of the cinnamony liquidy part of the filling on top, just for something different.


Since I added the liquidy apple filling, I baked for about 10-15 minutes longer to make sure the cheesecake was baked through.

I liked the splattered, artsy look on the finished cheesecake. As you can see I got some cracking, but strangely enough the cracks followed my cinnamony sprinkling. I thought it added character.


The verdict? I give it two thumbs up. I have a couple of favorite cheesecake recipes already, but I could easily add Dorie's to the list. It was light and creamy, just like I like. Oh, I forgot to say that I used half cream and half sour cream. I don't like my cheesecake tooooo tangy, just a little bit tang is fine for me.

In addition, I liked the crust. I've never pushed it up the sides before, but I really liked the look of it.

This recipe is a winner in my book. Speaking of books, please check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking: From my Home to Yours" for the recipe, or visit Anne's blog above.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

No Daring Bakers


My apologies to Hilda of Saffron and Blueberry and Marion of Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. I will not be making December's Daring Bakers Challenge, the French Yule Log.

If it were any other month, I might have. But December? It just isn't in the cards.

My hat is off to all of the bakers that were up to the challenge this month. It really is a beautiful confection and I'm sure it tastes lovely.

See you next month!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TWD: Real Butterscotch Pudding


You never know what adventure, baking or otherwise, the Tuesday's with Dorie baking group might present on any given week. Take this week, for example, where the adventure included exposing my child to a double dose of sin... swearing and alcohol.

Let me back up a bit and explain. There's a store in our area called The Party Source. It's one of the greatest stores EVER. For any type of holiday or celebration, this place has got the goods.

Don't want to cook? they have food and appetizers galore. You forgot the balloon bouquet or need grass skirts for your luau party? They got 'em. Need those sample size bottles of booze because you're making REAL butterscotch with REAL Scotch, and you don't really need a $40 lifetime supply of Scotch? Gotcha covered!


So anyway... it's Sunday afternoon and I'm on a mom-and-son outing. Our destination just happens to be close to the Party Source, so I think, "great!" I'll swing by and get some Scotch (I was going to sub Brandy in my butterscotch pudding and hope for the best). So there I am with the 7-year old, trying to hustle my bustle and find the single malt Scotch amongst the collection of sample sized bottles. As I'm searching, I keep hearing my son saying, "Mom, look at the name of this one!". Oh niiiice, the Scotch section is right above the bottles of "Hot Damn", which are directly at kid eye level. He keeps pointing out the colorful names as I'm searching, searching... (what the heck is single malt scotch anyway?) I see blended scotch, I see single malt Irish whiskey, but no single malt scotch. ("Mom! Look at this one...") Finally, I grab a bottle (never did find the single malt Scotch) and got the heck out of Dodge.

I can't wait to see where my son shares this little gem of an experience. Oh, yes... He. Will. There's no doubt in my mind that this "mom took me to a liquor store" story will pop up at a moment that will ensure maximum embarrassment.

Ooooh, the things we do for Tuesday's with Dorie....


Speaking of TWD, this week's pick was by Donna of Spatulas, Corkscrews & Suitcases. Donna chose Real Butterscotch Pudding.

And a fine pick it was! Wow, this pudding was delicious and addictive. It was a far cry from pre-made or boxed-mix pudding, which is the only butterscotch pudding I've ever tasted. I can't say I'm too crazy about the premade version, but home made? I would definitely make this again. Now I'm kind of sorry I didn't buy the lifetime supply of Scotch.

OK, Merry Christmas y'all! I hope everyone enjoys a happy, stress-free holiday. Christmas hugs to all of you wonderful bakers :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cranberry Chess Pie


No, not that kind of chess.

The other kind of chess... as in pie. The kind of pie typically attributed to the Southern US. There's plenty of speculation as to where the pie got it's name. The explanation I like best is the one where the sweet southern lady says "it's 'jes pie!"

I really had no idea what to expect with this recipe. I've often wondered what chess pie tasted like, and I had the ingredients on hand and leftover pie dough handy, so I went to mixin'. It was very easy to throw together.


I made two mini pies since I didn't want to waste ingredients in case it didn't turn out, or we didn't like it. It looked good coming out of the oven.


I wonder if I didn't bake it long enough. The bottom didn't seem set.


The verdict? Even though it didn't appear to be thoroughly cooked, I could still get a sense for how it tasted. It seemed like the cranberries were so tart, and the filling was so sweet, my mouth didn't know what to think. Like the flavors competed with rather than complimented each other. I wish I knew was "real" chess pie tasted like so I could form a more educated opinion.

For me, I guess the jury is still out on chess pie. I'd be interested to hear if anyone knows what it's supposed to taste like. You can find the recipe here.

OK, until next time... happy baking!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TWD: Buttery Jam Cookies


This week's Tuesday's with Dorie pick was Buttery Jam Cookies, chosen by Heather of Randomosity and the Girl.

These were a soft butter cookie, flavored with our choice of jam and a touch of ginger. From Dorie's description, I was expecting a butter cookie flavored with ribbons of sweet, fruity jam, which I was looking forward to. But it was not to be, since the jam was thoroughly mixed in.

Once I got over my disappointment about the lack of jammy ribbons, I decided I liked them. The day they were baked, the ginger was a little much, but by the second day the ginger flavor seemed to have mellowed and I enjoyed them more.

I used cherry preserves and so mine had a little extra pizazz in the form of chunks of cherry.




I would make these again, they were quite tasty. For the recipe, please check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking: From My Home to Yours", or see Heather's website, above.

OK, see you next week, when the TWD bunch attempts authentic Butterscotch Pudding... made with real butter and real Scotch (I'll have to share my Scotch buying adventure with you then.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sweet Potato Cheesecake


OK, I admit it, I've gained weight since I started blogging. I am so kicking myself because I had lost weight before I started. I was just about where I wanted to be, weight-wise, before my latest obsession raised its calorie-laden head.

Confessions of a yo-yo dieter.

I'm starting to wonder if it's in a women's genes to have food issues. If we're heavy, we're trying to lose weight, or if we're not trying, then we're feeling bad about ourselves. If we're losing weight, it's like a campaign, a war to be fought and won. An enemy to conquer. If we're at the weight we want to be, it's a constant vigilance to maintain. And like a candle in the wind, it can be gone in an instant. Yesterday I was fine, today I am fat.

Here's my question of the day... do you have food issues? Are you happy with your weight? Have you gained weight since you started blogging? Do guys have these issues?

Speaking of gaining weight (cough, cough) how about a slice of Sweet Potato Cheesecake? *insert cheesy smile* (I know, I know, it makes no sense to be crying about gaining weight and then talking about cheesecake. No sense at all.)



I ran across this recipe at 4 Reluctant Entertainers, a fantastic website with so many mouth-watering recipes. (Click on the link for the recipe.)

This was a luscious, creamy cheesecake. More subdued than pumpkin cheesecake, but still delicious and spicy. I served this at our Thanksgiving get-together and asked guests if they could figure out the "mystery ingredient". Everyone said pumpkin.

While I'm on the subject of cheesecake, I wanted to share one of my favorite cheesecake tips, since I've baked more than a few in my day. (I know, I'm all over the place tonight.)

Here's the deal, you don't have to bake your cheesecake in a spring-form pan, which is shocking to hear, I know. Every recipe you've ever read includes a spring-form pan, but I'm here to tell you it's not required. I never use them anymore. I always use my 2" deep cake pans. Well, except for one time I went way out on a limb and used a Wilton character pan. (FYI, I brushed it liberally with melted butter and then coated that with sugar before adding the batter to the pan.)


One really nice thing about using regular pans is that you can totally dispense with that whole "wrapping the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil" business, if you feel the need to use a water bath. In addition, you can use any size pan you want, which is helpful when you're reducing recipes, and you don't have to mess around with the bottom of the spring-form pan at serving time.

So anyway, here's what you do... line your cake pan with a piece of parchment paper cut to the size of your pan and bake your cheesecake just like you normally would. Cheesecake usually puffs up a little, but then shrinks back down, so you can fill your pan almost to the top. Cool, refrigerate overnight.

Here's Mr. Cheesecake, ready to be freed from the pan. (Please ignore that big cheesecake fart on the top.) Run your knife around the edge of the cheesecake.


Fill your sink, or a large bowl, with hot tap water (don't use boiling water, it's too hot and will melt the cheesecake) and dip the bottom inch of the pan in it. Count to 10 or 15.



Remove the pan from the water and dry the bottom of the pan.



Lay a piece of wax paper over your cheesecake.



Then a cutting board.



Place your hands on top of the cutting board and under the pan, and flip the whole thing over.


OK, people, this is the part that might be scary, but just trust me on this. Pick up the pan and cutting board and give it a good whack on the counter. Cheesecake out yet? No? Repeat a few more times. If Mr. Cheesecake is still in the pan, it's time to show him who's boss. Pick up the pan by itself, still upside down, and give it a good healthy whack on the cutting board. If that doesn't work, go back and warm up the pan bottom a bit longer and repeat the steps.

It's not as intimidating as it sounds. I've never had a cheesecake stick to the pan.

Here he is... free! (That's the bottom, in case you wondered.) Now go get your serving plate, place it upside down on the bottom and flip it over.


Voila!


So there you go, you're no longer a slave to your spring-form pan.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I have been cutting back on the amount of sweets that pass my lips. I've been halving, and sometimes even quartering, recipes, sharing with neighbors, and (gasp!) even throwing away some of the leftovers, especially with those recipes that are only marginal.

OK, later!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TWD: Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies


I'll admit when I saw that Ulrike of K├╝chenlatein had chosen Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies for this week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe, I was skeptical. You see, I've tried lots of sugar cookie recipes and I have what I think is the best one.

Mine are cakey and have that sweet buttery saltiness that I've grown to love. I bake them until they're just set (no brown bottom-side allowed!) and they're nice and soft. At this point, if I try a new sugar cookie recipe (which I rarely do), it's only to confirm that mine really is the best. (I can't take credit, though, the recipe came by way of a friend who is a cookie-baking queen.)

I have to admit that I am quite biased on this issue (bordering on arrogance, I know).


The thing is, everybody feels that way. They think their sugar cookies, or their mom's or grandma's or Aunt Josephine's, are the best. Now that I think about it, I don't know why anyone would serve sugar cookies to guests, LOL. Well, at least not if the guests were bakers.

All that being said, I thought Dorie's sugar cookies were pretty darn good. They were close to mine... not quiiiite as good, but they would certainly do in a pinch.

And the idea of doing them as slice and bake cookies... I'm smacking myself in the head wondering why I never thought of that. Sooooo much easier than rolling and cutting.



I made several different versions, all starting out with a log of dough that had been chilled in the refrigerator overnight. For the first set, I made stripes of white and purple sanding sugar on a paper towel and rolled the log through that. Then sliced and baked.




I took it one step further with some of the purple-stripey-edged cookies and pressed the tops into more sanding sugar. I was surprised to find this was my favorite one.


Lastly, I made Trios, which graced the cover of Gourmet magazine's Christmas issue either last year or the year before (different recipe, of course).

The first thing I did was to cut the log of cookie dough in half, and then each half in half again. Then I sliced the new, smaller logs into pieces, in an effort to get evenly sized pieces. (If I did this again, I would try to make them a tad smaller. I thought the smaller cookies turned out best. The goal is to try to get teaspoon sized pieces.) Finally, I rolled the pieces into balls, grouping the balls from each log together.






Next, I took each ball and flattened it ever so slightly, then pressed a well in the center using my finger and the end of a wooden spoon. (I would make the wells larger next time.) Then I placed three balls together, just barely touching. You want to see empty space in the center of the cluster.


Then I grabbed three different jams from my stash and very carefully placed a little gob of each kind in different wells. I used my 1/8 teaspoon measuring spoon for this part (which was quite tedious and not as easy as you might think.)




Then baked... for, I don't know, 10 minutes or so. I always watch for when the cookie no longer looks shiny. I don't wait until I start to seeing browning on the bottom... that's too long for my taste buds.

For this recipe, I think I would chill the Trios for 10-15 minutes first to prevent spreading in the oven. The larger ones spread a little and they weren't quite as cute as the smaller cookies.

OK, that's the report from this corner of the world. If you 'd like to check out this recipe, please visit Ulrike's site above (look for the American/British flag button to see the post in English). Also, please stop by the Tuesday's with Dorie website and check out all of the other bakers and their sugar cookies (blog roll is on the left side, scroll down.) My recipe can be found HERE, by the way :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Egg Nog Panna Cotta


I'm not sure, but I'm guessing Egg Nog Panna Cotta translates roughly to Egg Nog Jell-O. Which is exactly what it is... egg nog and powdered gelatin.

Don't let the fancy name fool you, this dessert is SO easy to make. I used a recipe found ---> HERE.

These little baby jellies were a nice change from the typical sugar coma-inducing holiday desserts. They were light and refreshing and just sweet enough to satisfy those after dinner cravings.


Recipe Notes:
I used more like 3-4 tablespoons of water to bloom the gelatin. After the called-for 2 tablespoons the gelatin just seemed too solid. I'm not sure if it mattered since it was added to the hot egg nog.

To unmold the desserts, I first swirled the molds in a bowl of hot water for maybe 2 to 3 seconds to loosen the panna cotta from the sides of the mold. You might not need to do this if you sprayed the mold first with nonstick spray. I forgot to do that part. I used a clean finger to gently pry away the panna cotta from the mold. If the sides didn't come away cleanly, I gave them a second quick dunk in a bowl of hot water and then tried again. Be sure to dry the outside of the mold after setting in water.

I used a number of different metal molds. I ended up liking the taller panna cottas better than the shorter ones. Next time I would skip using the smaller molds altogether.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Apple Crumb Pie


For this month's "You Want Pies with That?" recipe, we were to base our pie on our favorite Christmas song. My favorite is O Holy Night.

(Believe me, it was no easy task trying to figure out how to relate a pie to the birth of Jesus.)


As I was running ideas through my head, my mind kept wandering to the part of the Christmas story you rarely hear about... what it was like for Mary. I mean, really like.

The poor girl is "great with child", and what's she doing? Riding a mule (I'm assuming so, anyway). Traveling. Trying to find a place to stay, but finding none. Then there's the small matter of giving birth. Then comes the parade of visitors.


I remember those last few days before my kids were born. All I wanted to do was lay on the couch in my underwear feeling sorry for myself... all achy and big as a house. What if, when the time came to go to the hospital my husband had said "hang on a minute, hon, I gotta go saddle up the mule"?

Did they even have saddles back in Mary's time?


I can't help but think that Mary would have really enjoyed a piece (or two) of this homey, comforting apple crumb pie after baby Jesus had been tucked in, after all of the visitors had laid their heads down to sleep or been sent on their way, and the hubbub finally died down.


This recipe comes from my mom's cousin's good friend, Yvonne Busing. She's is no longer with us, but her memory lives on with this recipe. I did change it up ever so slightly, but I don't think she would have minded.

APPLE CRUMB PIE

Filling
Enough for one standard deep dish pie.

8-9 cups* apples, peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced into 1/8 to 1/4-inch slices (for a regular 9-inch pie pan, use 6 cups apples)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

* I used 2 large Granny Smith, 2 large Pink Lady, 2 small Jonathon, and 2 small Ida Red apples. I felt like I could have used another apple

Crumb Topping
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsalted butter

Pie Crust
Enough for one double crust pie crust or two single crust pies. For this pie, I made the whole recipe and froze half the pie dough.

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, chilled
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1/2 cup shortening, chilled, cut into chunks
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. ice cold water


Directions

Prepare filling - Spray a non-stick skillet with cooking spray. Heat pan over medium heat and add apples. Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender and just start to break apart, 5-10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to pan and stir gently, cooking for a minute or so. Remove pan from heat, and using a slotted spoon, remove the apples and place in a large bowl, leaving as much of the liquid in the pan as possible. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add the liquid to the apples and stir. Set aside to cool while you prepare the pie crust.

Prepare pie crust - this recipe comes from the Joy of Living and directions are shown in this YouTube video.

Mix flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and shortening to flour mixture and cut in to flour mixture using a pastry blender until mixture has pea-sized chunks. Add water and stir with a rubber spatula until mixture comes together and forms a ball when squeezed between your fingers. If the dough is too dry to form a ball, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time until it does.
Form dough into a ball. Divide ball in half and form each half into a disk. Cover well in plastic wrap and chill for thirty minutes. Place second disk in the freezer for later use if not using for another pie.

Prepare crumb topping - mix all ingredients together well, using a fork. Once mixed, I used my fingers to clump the topping together into small balls, pea-sized to small gum ball sized. It's OK if not all of the topping is in balls.

Assemble the pie - Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove pie dough from the refrigerator. (If dough has been in the refrigerator longer, you may need to let it sit at room temperature to soften slightly before rolling out, approx. 10 minutes). Roll out pie dough according to directions in video, above. Lay crust in deep dish pie dish and tuck into bottom, making sure not to stretch the pie dough. Trim edges and flute or press with a fork. Add cooled filling to the pie dish.


Cover filling with crumb topping, distributing evenly.


Refrigerate unbaked pie for 30 minutes.

Bake 40 to 50 minutes, covering edges with a pie protector or aluminum foil as needed to prevent over-browning, maybe after first 20 minutes of baking.